Disclaimer: I own nothing; you know the drill

Feedback: Always welcome

AN: Technically, I finished this one ages ago, but when I realised what the theme was for PokeShipping Week Day 3, I decided to just 'bump it up' in homage to the day's theme, considering how I pretty much nailed it without even trying.

A Perfect Match?

Almost a week after her trip to Shamouti Island, Misty was both relieved and anxious to find that her decision hadn't changed.

Since returning to Trovita, when she wasn't training her Pokemon or spending time with Rudy and/or Mahri, she'd gone over everything that she and Ash had discussed during that talk in the hospital, as well as everything she'd never seriously thought about during her earlier travels with Ash.

As hard as it was to recognise how many mistakes she'd made, Misty was particularly ashamed to realise that every way she looked at it, Rudy came up short compared to the young Pallet Town resident where it really mattered.

Maybe Rudy was the more expressive when it came to showing Misty that he thought she was… attractive… but the fact that Ash didn't show how he felt that much just made the moments when he did express his feelings all the more valuable as far as Misty was concerned. She enjoyed being complimented as much as the next girl, but when someone did it as often as Rudy did Misty wasn't sure if she needed to do something different with her appearance to keep up his interest or if he just thought she was so pretty all the time that it became boring to hear it.

Ash, on the other hand… he might not have explicitly called her 'pretty' or anything like that during the Maiden's Peak festival or the Princess Day contest, but the way he'd reacted to seeing her dressed up like that had definitely stuck in Misty's memory (and maybe that Goldeen costume she'd worn when she was roped into acting as Melvin's assistant, but she mainly remembered that one for how embarrassing it had been for Ash and Brock to see her like that).

Sitting up to stare thoughtfully at Psyduck's Poke ball out of a lack of anything else to do, Misty was disappointed with herself when she realised that once she got past Rudy's more active flirting, apart from his genuine care for his sister, she didn't like Rudy's overall personality that much. She had no problem with someone being confident, but the way he'd been so dismissive of Ash when he arrived on Trovita even when he was trying to complete that target test of Rudy's had been a bit harsh; she'd just been too busy enjoying Rudy paying attention to her to think about that at the time.

And the way Rudy acted like he was always going to win his battles while his challengers didn't have a chance…

OK, Ash could get overconfident himself, but he never went into battle thinking of his opponents as pathetic; he just sometimes forgot that he wasn't as good as he might think he was. Even at his worst, he never treated his opponents like they had no chance, but just thought of himself as being good enough to beat anything; his comment about a fight with her being an 'easy win' during his winning streak before they met Lorelai was more of a joke than a serious insult. Maybe Rudy's confidence in his skills was justified given what Misty had seen of him, but Ash was really working on his overconfidence thing most of the time, even if he needed Lorelai to get him off his latest 'streak' during his training on the other side of the island.

Even Ash and Rudy's approach to Pokemon battles was different, and she wasn't just thinking about the fact that Rudy taught his Pokemon how to dance. Where Ash focused on making sure his Pokemon won their fights- she still recalled how panicked he'd been after that close call with Blaine's Magmar in their first battle- Rudy seemed to almost enjoy seeing his opponent's Pokemon unable to do anything to his, such as the way he'd 'thanked' Ash for recharging Electabuzz's batteries. The dancing might be an interesting style of battle that allowed Rudy's Pokemon to evade its opponents' attacks, but Rudy seemed to use it as an excuse to mock his opponent's shortcomings, when in Misty's view a good gym leader should encourage their opponents to develop rather than put them down all the time.

In the end, when she looked at their respective goals in Pokemon battles, Ash was always trying to help his Pokemon win, where Rudy's focus was on making sure his opponents lost; it might seem like a subtle difference, but it was a vital one as far as Misty was concerned.

OK, maybe spending time with either of them meant that her own dreams were slightly limited in favour of what the boys wanted to do, but Rudy seemed to expect her to always come back to him, whereas all Ash 'wanted' from her was her company as he travelled, and he had made it clear more than once that he was willing to take a detour if she had a clear reason for it (him ignoring her suggestions that they not go to Cerulean City early in their travels didn't count because she'd never really told him why she didn't want to go there apart from some stupid impulsive story about Ghost Pokemon she could barely remember).

It hurt to admit that she'd been so self-centred and stupid, but in the end, Misty had only stayed with Rudy because he was attractive and he'd admitted that he found her attractive; however you looked at it, that was a terrible reason to stay with someone she'd just met.

Unfortunately, even if Misty had made her choice, she still needed Ash to get here so that she could let him know what she'd decided. What worried her right now was whether or not Ash would even show up. After everything he'd said to her, she wanted to believe in him, but at the same time, memories of everything she'd said to him over their journey together, along with her own insecurities about people always passing her over…

Frankly, she was just grateful that Rudy had been away on a meeting of some sort in another part of the Orange Islands when she got back; from what Mahri had heard, there had been some concern about the aftermath of those fluke weather conditions caused by the Legendary Birds' conflict, so Professor Ivy had called the gym leaders together to go over what they knew and make sure there had been nothing else to worry about. Rudy had been anxious to see her when he got back, but he had accepted her 'cover story' that she'd taken another trip and hadn't pushed it.

It had given her some time to think about both of the men in her life without having to worry about anything more than keeping an eye on Mahri, but if Ash didn't get here soon, she didn't know what she was going to do. Rudy might be willing to let her set the pace, but he was starting to look at her in a manner that made it clear he'd realised that she was trying to avoid spending too much time with him, even if he was definitely wrong about her reasons for it.

When she looked down to the pier and saw a Lapras swimming towards the shore, she could have sang for relief; once Ash had his badge, she could make her choice clear (The thought that Ash might lose the match again never crossed her mind). When she saw Rudy and some of the other gym staff heading down to greet their guest, she quickly grabbed her Poke Balls and hurried down after them, taking care to stay at the back of the group despite Mahri's attempts to wave her up to the front.

Right now, no matter how she felt, Ash needed to focus if he was going to have every chance of winning this match, and telling anyone what choice she'd made wouldn't make it easy for anyone to concentrate on the match…

"Rudy," Ash said as he got off Lapras, Tracey looking uncomfortable even as he stood beside him.

"Ash Ketchum?" Rudy said, smiling confidently as he looked at the younger man. "So you decided to come back? Ready for another-"

"Look," Ash cut in, looking firmly at Rudy, "I already completed your target test last time I was here and I've kept up with my training on that score easily enough, so I think we can get down to the battle element; Water, Normal and Fire good with you?"

"Water again?" Rudy looked at Ash in surprise, before he shrugged nonchalantly. "Your call; it's not my job to decide what you want to use."

"Let's just get on with it," Ash countered, arms folded as he looked at the older trainer. "Believe me, I'm ready when you are."

Looking at the two young men as they prepared for their upcoming battle, Misty didn't know if she should feel annoyed or touched at the sudden thought that, in some way, this battle could be seen as being about her as well as just the Badge.

Frankly, it was easier to worry about what kind of strategy Ash had that would let him defeat Rudy's Starmie than think about that kind of thing in depth; even if Ash clearly wanted to focus on the battle right now, Misty didn't want to feel like she was going to play that big a part in something this important to her… friend… when he didn't even know how she felt for certain yet.

As he stood on top of the rock that had served as the site of his most emotionally devastating battle yet, Ash tried not to look up at the balloon floating above them; he knew that Misty was up there, but he couldn't bring himself to look for her. Tracey had spoken to Misty since their arrival, but even if it had been his decision for Misty to come back here, he wasn't sure he was ready to see how she felt when he already felt like his future was riding on this in more ways than one.

Ever since that kiss had prompted him to re-evaluate his old relationship with Misty, Ash had realised that, in his own way, Tracey had been right; he still wasn't sure exactly what he felt for Misty, but he was certain that he… had far deeper feelings for her than any other girl he'd met.

She'd always been there since he started his journey, and he'd always been aware that he valued her opinion more than Brock's for some reason despite Brock being the older of the two, but when she'd kissed him like that…

He'd noticed that Misty was beautiful during the Princess Festival or that time in Maiden's Peak, but that was the first time he'd realised that he'd always found her attractive even when she was normal. His brief 'infatuation' with Giselle aside- something that made him cringe when he looked back on it now and remembered how egocentric she'd been once she started talking- he'd always recognised that certain girls were attractive even without Brock's reaction to them, but Misty managed to appeal to him without her even needed to dress herself up in a particular manner…

He pushed those thoughts aside as the announcer on the Pidgeot above them began to announce the rules; he couldn't let himself get distracted right now, even if thinking about Misty was preferable to worrying about this match. He had faith that Misty's decision wouldn't be affected by the outcome of one match after their last conversation, but if he didn't know what she'd chosen after their week apart, he could make himself focus on what he had to do down here more easily…

As the announcer finished clarifying the rules, Ash gritted his teeth as he reached behind his back to check his Poke balls; he had a strategy for the upcoming match, but part of that depended on whether or not Rudy used the same Pokemon for his type-match battles as he had before.

"All right," Rudy said, after the announcer had confirmed the type match-up for the first battle, "Starmie, I choose you!"

"Squirtle, I choose you!" Ash countered, summoning his first Water-type once again, the turtle Pokemon emerging with no sign of fear as it faced the foe that had caused it such pain in their last clash. "Water Gun!"

"Cue music!" Rudy called out, snapping his fingers as music began to play. Just like in Ash's last battle with the Trovita Island gym leader, Starmie began to spin on its central tip, neatly weaving around Squirtle's Water Guns without any of the attacks striking home.

"Bubblebeam!" Ash yelled; Water Gun was good, but he didn't want to just make Starmie tired.

"Keep on dancing!" Rudy yelled as Starmie continued to spin on its tip. A few bubbles managed to make contact given the wider range of this move, but it was clear that Starmie was still evading the worst of the damage. "You're not going to win that way, Ash; didn't you learn anything?"

Just wait… Ash told himself; he wanted to let Rudy play his 'trump card' before he delivered his own.

"Time to wrap this up again," Rudy grinned, flipping his hair back as he smiled upwards (and it didn't matter if he was looking at Misty or not; Ash had to focus right now). "Starmie, spin yourself into-"

"Squirtle, use Hydro Pump!" Ash yelled. He briefly heard Misty yell in surprise that he'd called for that move before Squirtle retreated into its shell and water burst from all of the holes in its shell at once. The sweeping wave of water struck Starmie before it could charge up the ordered Thunderbolt, sending it back to the ground as it looked as confused as it was possible for something without a face to look.

"Follow it up with Skull Bash!" Ash ordered, pointing at the dazed Starmie. The evolved starfish-like Pokemon was so shaken by the Hydro Pump that it missed the opportunity to dodge the next attack, Squirtle striking Starmie directly in the gem. "Now, finish it with Water Gun!"

It might have been excessive, but as Squirtle's Water Gun sent Starmie flying further into the air before it finally came crashing down to the ground, the weakly-blinking gem confirming his victory, Ash felt that he'd made the right choice.

Even if he consciously knew that Misty had told him she hadn't left just because of this battle, that didn't stop him feeling like he needed to do more this time around, and it wasn't just for the sake of his next badge…

"Nice job," Rudy said, his tone grim as he recalled Starmie while fixing his gaze on Ash. "But don't think that this is going to end any differently than last time just because you're trying a few new tricks! Raticate, I choose you!"

"Raticate, huh?" Ash said, smiling in acknowledgement as he looked at the large brown rat; he'd thought a lot about what kind of Normal-type Pokemon Rudy might use given his particular battle style, and was pleased to see that he'd been on the right track with his guess (Chansey, Kangaskhan and Lickitung had been crossed out as he couldn't see any of them as good dancers, but there'd still been some concern that Rudy would go for something smaller and more agile than his own choice). "In that case… Tauros, I choose you!"

He heard a surprised gasp from the balloon above him, but refused to look up; he had a strategy behind his choice of Tauros beyond the fact that Snorlax wouldn't have worked on a narrow battlefield like this, and he was going to go with it.

"Tackle attack!" he yelled, pointing at the Raticate squatting opposite Tauros as the bull Pokemon charged at its foe. Raticate leapt out of the way before the attack could strike, but Ash wasn't concerned about that; he'd expected that Raticate would be as agile on its feet as Rudy's other Pokemon, so the challenge right now was getting a feel for just how fast it was. "Try another Tackle!"

"Keep on dodging it, Raticate!" Rudy yelled, chuckling in amusement after a few moments of battle had simply seen Tauros charge towards Raticate and miss it at the last minute. "Do you really think doing the same thing over and over is going to change anything, Ash?"

"Why change what works?" Ash countered, as he noted Raticate starting to pant.

"Excuse me?" Rudy asked, looking at Ash with a new sense of surprise.

"Maybe your Raticate's fast, but Tauros spends most of its time running around large fields as the leader of a whole herd; Raticate's good, but I'm guessing Tauros is in better shape!" Ash said, smiling as Tauros came to a halt in front of Raticate, the large rat now obviously trying to catch its breath. "Horn Attack!"

"Hyper Fang!" Rudy yelled, obviously recognising that he couldn't keep on dodging. As Tauros charged forwards, Raticate leapt over its head and bit down on the bull's back, but Tauros's horns struck the rat in the side before it could get away.

"Give it a Take Down!" Ash yelled, the bull charging towards Raticate even as it hit the ground. Raticate tried to jump to safety, but the bull was moving too quickly for the rat to get away in time, hitting it in the chest once again.

"Hang in there, Raticate!" Rudy yelled at the bruised and gasping rat. "Hit it with Jump Kick!"

"Tauros, try to dodge it!" Ash yelled, but the rat moved too quickly for Tauros to evade. As the rat's foot struck Tauros in the side, the bull roared in pain as it fell to the ground, wincing at the impact. "Tauros, are you OK?"

The roar he received in response to his question helped reassure Ash that his Pokemon was still standing, but he was getting worried; Tauros had been able to keep up with Raticate so far, but both were starting to slow down and Tauros was still a bigger target

"However it's feeling, there's no way it can take this!" Rudy said, looking more confident than he had a right to after the damage he'd taken so far. "Raticate, Hyper Beam!"

"Tauros, Earthquake!" Ash yelled; it was a risk trying something like Earthquake in a narrow area, but with Tauros this tired he needed something powerful with a wide effect to increase his chances of hitting Raticate. As Tauros slammed its front hooves into the ground, the stone pillar shook beneath his feet, prompting Ash and Pikachu to hit the ground before Raticate's own Hyper Beam stirred up a mass of dust around the battlefield. As the dust finally cleared, Ash wasn't sure how to feel when he saw both Pokemon lying unconscious; one draw should be enough for him if he could win the third match, but he would have preferred a clearer victory for Tauros's sake.

"In the match-up of Tauros and Raticate," the announcer concluded from above, "since both Pokemon fainted at the same time, this confrontation shall be considered a draw, which means that the victor of the next round shall decide the full match!"

"Right then," Rudy said, smiling as he pulled out his next Poke Ball. "Time to finish this; Ninetails, go!"

"Charizard, I choose you!" Ash yelled, smiling in satisfaction as his most powerful Pokemon emerged, the dragon-like Fire type looking dismissively at Ninetails.

"You're using that thing?" Rudy said, looking at the dragon-like Fire type in surprise. "You couldn't control it during the target test; what makes you think you can control it now? Ninetails, Flamethr-"

"Charizard, Wing Attack!" Ash interjected. Roaring in confirmation, Charizard flapped its wings once and charged towards Ninetails, striking the beautiful fox-like Pokemon with its left wing and sending it flying into the air.

"What?" Rudy looked at the now-flying fox in shock. "But Misty said-"

"I did say I've been training, right?" Ash smirked at Rudy's shock, not wanting to think about what Misty might have told his current opponent. "Charizard, catch Ninetails and give it a Seismic Toss!"

Letting out another roar of confirmation, Charizard grabbed Ninetails mid-air and then hurtled up into the air. Circling around in the air for a moment, Charizard then dived towards the ground, releasing Ninetails to strike the ground with great force. By the time Charizard had landed beside Ash, it was clear that Ninetails wasn't getting back up, the announcer's voice drowned out as Charizard roared triumphantly into the air while Ash jumped up to give the dragon a hug.

It was a simple victory, but after the mess he'd made of this battle last time, it was a very much appreciated one.

He just hoped that he wasn't about to lose what mattered most…

Watching the battle from above, Misty had never been more grateful to see Ash win a battle.

It wouldn't have made a difference to her choice one way or the other, but now she could give him his second bit of good news for the day, rather than him losing the match and leaving them both in the awkward position of having to see Rudy again when Ash tried for a rematch. Misty felt bad when she heard Mahri crying briefly beside her at her brother's loss, but with Misty's own plans, it was best to give the girl a clean break rather than sending out confusing signals.

As soon as the observation balloon had touched down on the battlefield pillar, Misty only paused to hand Togepi to Tracey before she leapt out and ran past Rudy to practically jump on Ash, their lips meeting in a new kiss that captured everything they'd talked about in their last meeting.

In the back of her mind, Misty vaguely registered a few cries of shock at her actions, along with one or two outraged yells, but she didn't care about any of that; all that mattered was that she was back where she really belonged.

As Misty stepped back from Ash, she gave him a warm smile as she placed a hand on the side of his face. "Just to make it clear… I choose you, Ash."

"…Me too," Ash smiled back, a slightly goofy grin on his face that reminded Misty of his glee when he won his first match in the Indigo League.

Considering how obsessed he'd been with Pokemon for so many years, the idea that she could inspire that level of devotion in him this soon in their relationship…


"Right, that…" Misty said, the mood lost as she remembered the other thing she had to do before she and Ash could move on from Trovita as she turned to look at the gym leader. "Rudy… I'm going with Ash."

"NO!" Mahri yelled, shoving her way past Tracey and the other observers to wrap her arms around Misty's legs. "You can't leave! You shouldn't care if Rudy lost; you're my big sister-!"

"Mahri," Misty said, cutting off the little girl's words before this could become any harder. "I appreciate the sentiment, but I'm not your sister… and I'm not leaving because Rudy lost."

"Then why?" Mahri asked, even as she stepped back from Misty to look tearfully up at her. "Is it-"

"It's not anything you did either, Mahri; I'm leaving because I realised… I decided to stay here for the wrong reasons," Misty said, trying to avoid saying anything that would hurt the little girl's feelings. "Your brother showed me something I thought I needed… but I realised that Ash was always willing to give me what I truly wanted."

"But he's just going around all over the place; Rudy's a Gym Leader-!"

"Mahri, if I was the type of girl who wanted to stay at the Gym because your brother had nicer things to offer me than Ash does, I don't think you'd want me to stay here," Misty said, almost wishing that this conversation was harder; as energetic as Mahri was, Misty was starting to realise just how right she'd been when she mused on how much Mahri defined herself by her relationship with her brother. "I'm going with Ash because I… what I feel for him…"

"Is more than you ever felt for me," Rudy finished for her, looking at the Water trainer in a solemn manner. "What happened?"

"I got a call last week that Ash needed help, and… well, one thing led to another, and I realised something I should have remembered earlier," Misty explained, unaware that she was smiling as she spoke. "Ash is bad at showing that he cares… but I should never doubt that he cares."

"And you doubt-?" Rudy began.

"Rudy," Misty held up a hand to cut him short. "How you both feel about me isn't the issue; how I feel about both of you is. You noticed me when I dived in to save your sister, but Ash has seen me in… well, less flattering situations…"

"Hey," Ash said, stepping forward to give Misty a warm smile as she suddenly glanced awkwardly at the ground. "I know you can be a stubborn pain sometimes, Misty, but that's one of the things I… really like about you; you don't give up no matter what the odds are against you."

"That's one thing we've always had in common, anyway," Misty noted with a smile.

"When we know there's a fight worth winning that we think we have a chance to win, anyway," Ash returned her smile with one of his own, the words an indirect apology for his own past departure that . "It's like I said last week; you may not be supportive in a conventional way, but when I know you believe in me, I feel like I can do anything."

"…I see," Rudy said, his expression solemn as he looked between the two of them, as though contrasting Ash's attitude after their previous match compared to his manner now, before the older boy's gaze focused on Misty. "Did I ever have a chance?"

"I don't know," Misty replied, shifting uncomfortably on her feet. "Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed my time here, and you were… charming… but Ash and I… we have so much history…"

"I get it," Rudy said, holding up a hand in a halting gesture as he smiled awkwardly. "Let's… not make this harder than it already is, OK?"

"Thanks," Misty smiled back, relieved that Rudy seemed to be taking this particular revelation fairly well. "I'll just… actually, I've got everything already…"

"Right," Rudy said, indicating the balloon. "I need to just… get the badge from the main gym, so we can…"

"Would it be easier if Misty and I just flew back on Charizard and met you there?" Ash asked, indicating where the orange dragon was still standing on the edge of the battlefield, letting out a brief snort as Ash acknowledged it while glaring at Rudy.

"Yeah, that sounds good," Rudy nodded, as he took Mahri's hand and headed back to the balloon.

"See you at the Gym, Tracey!" Ash called over to his other friend, who was still staring at him and Misty in obvious shock even as he kept hold of Togepi. With that said, Ash walked over to where his powerful Fire-type was now crouched on the ground, carefully getting onto Charizard's back before holding out a hand to Misty. "Coming?"

"Always," Misty replied, letting Ash haul her onto Charizard's back before the dragon beat its wings and hurtled into the air, Pikachu clutching onto Charizard's head as Misty wrapped her arms around Ash.

It was a small gesture, but as far as Misty was concerned, this short flight would mark the beginning of her and Ash's brand new life together, with all its exhilarating and unpredictable highs and lows… and she wouldn't have it any other way.

Just like she'd said after she'd kissed him, no matter what the future held, she would always choose Ash, just as she had faith that he would always choose her.

AN: For the record, I know that Ash's Tauros never used Tackle or Earthquake in the anime, but I checked Bulbapedia and Tauros can learn these moves, so assume that Ash just preferred to focus on greater power when he used it in the show where his current strategy needed a less overwhelming show of force.

AN 2: In advance, I will state right now that this is as far as I intend to take this particular story at this time, although I like to think that Ash and Misty being in an actual relationship would give Misty more incentive to find a way to stay with Ash when her sisters call her about their planned year-long vacation (Seriously, I hope the show brings Misty back at some point; looking at Ash's female travelling companions, the fact that Misty is the only one to date who left him out of necessity rather than choice should say it all about how much he meant to her)