Disclaimer - I don't own anything. It's a shame that even has to be said at this point.
Author - Warlordess
Notes - I received a request from HollyLu via private message and inspiration struck. Thank goodness I'm a shojo manga buff! Lol. Also, might I add… Happy birthday to me!
Prompt - Pokeshipping, #45, pretending to hate each other AU.
Title - "Mutual"
Summary - The first time they meet, things end rather poorly. Two years in and the barbed wire makes it hard for any positive developments to stick. Pokeshipping, high school snippet AU.
"... I think… I think he's waking up!" a familiar voice screeched loudly from somewhere before him, but he was still swimming just below the threshold of consciousness so he could barely understand them.
All he knew was that every part of him ached, including plenty of places he didn't even know were capable of feeling such pain. The worst part of it by far though was the splitting headache, which was not helped by any of the rustling sounds or voices that happened to invade his subconscious after the first one had made its hopeful statement a little while ago.
Seriously, if he'd had the choice, he'd shrink away back to sleep as long and as fast as he could but alas… it looked like he really was coming to.
"Ash, um, that's his name, right?" a female voice asked, this time much closer than before. Someone confirmed his identity and she went back to calling his name, "Ash, if you can hear me, please just… flex your fist."
For the first time, he realized someone was holding his hand so, with all the strength he could muster from his state of semi-waking, he did as instructed and increased pressure on the smaller hand encircling his own for a few seconds before his pains increased and he was forced to release it with a grimace of agony.
"Good, that's good… Looks like it wasn't as serious an injury as I thought it might be," the female voice went on with a sigh of utmost relief, and Ash's eyes finally began to blink and peer open, taking in a minimalist view of the sight before him… but all he saw when the darkness began to clear was a vibrant, fiery sun smiling down at him...
It came as no surprise to her when he ambled - limped - through the door for the second time that day.
Ash Ketchum, reckless ne'erdowell - at least as far as she knew of him, always managed to get injured in some way. It generally happened during his free period or physical education, possibly even sciences or home ec, and she remembered the one time he'd come to call towards the end of an apparently harrowing history lesson… not that she could understand how that was even possible.
The bottom line was, from cuts to bruises to the two or so black eyes he'd gotten in the past seven months, to sprains and concussions and stomach pains from overeating (he was always such a glutton, it seemed), the kid was a problem. And more importantly, somehow, he always managed to be her problem.
"Honestly, what is it this time?!" she moaned, hands on her hips as she took in the sight of him edging awkwardly towards the first patient bed closest to the nurse's desk. He generally had a friend to help him out but she supposed even they couldn't always be available to assist in his suicidal endeavors.
After all, what else would you call someone who had a medical record the length of their own arm other than suicidal?
"Ehehe, missed the ball and slipped - think I sprained my knee again," he told her with a smile that didn't reach his eyes. Clearly he was only here because he had to be. One of his brows quirked in aggravation at the mere sight of her.
Well, at least she knew the feeling was mutual.
"Fine," she groaned, having already stepped over to the cabinet full of medical supplies and removing a leg brace from within before turning and pulling an ice pack from the mini-fridge and tossing at him. "Lay back on the bed, take one of the pillows and place it under your leg, and then hold the ice there."
He did as instructed without another word, having effortlessly caught the ice pack she'd thrown at him. It was honestly a bit of a shame. Maybe getting hit upside the head with something cold and hard would be enough of a shock to get him to stop hurting himself and bugging her almost every day… not that either of his concussions had been enough to pull it off, so chances were rather low.
She had to wonder how someone with such great reflexes could constantly get himself into such trouble though.
Misty blew air from between her pursed lips in irritation, refusing to dwell on it. She couldn't help thinking what she did every other time the two of them were forced into close quarters together; generally, being the nurse's student aid was a really rewarding experience, but not when Ash Ketchum was involved.
"So… Nurse Joy's not here again?" he asked casually, distantly, in hopes of keeping her at arm's length and their interaction mild, even though he flinched as he applied the ice to his knee at the same time.
"She's at lunch," the redhead tersely noted, her voice even and tone short.
"Darn, I was hoping I'd get seen by someone who actually knows what they're doing."
"I do know what I'm doing, thanks so much!" she replied hotly this time, fiery temper ignited at his insinuation. "Just because you decided not to pay attention to me that time when I said the alcohol was going to probably burn, just because you have to go and get yourself hurt all the time, just - just because you don't know how to listen or have any amount of self-awareness or - or…! I know what I'm doing! I've been the nurse's aid for almost two years now, Ash Ketchum!"
Honestly, he knew just how to crawl under her skin, embed himself there, and bury himself into a tiny cove where he could push all her buttons and infuriate her just right. She was half-inclined to just throw the brace at him and have him work it all out for himself. Lord knows he probably could have done so just fine by now since he'd only had a sprained knee three times since the start of their eleventh year.
"Yikes, sheesh, sorry; just don't hurt me, okay Myst?" he begged her, arms up and ice falling uselessly to the mattress from where he'd been holding it before.
"I told you not to call me that, remember?" she stated fiercely with a glare at his familiarity, her neck flushing uncomfortably at such an instigating remark. Little did she know, it was only about to get worse.
"Yeah, I know, that's why I do it," he told her cheekily.
She couldn't contain her anger anymore and plopped herself down rather suddenly and sharply on the corner of the bed, jostling his injured leg and making him hiss as he stiffened from the pain.
"Just roll up your pants leg so I can look at your knee!" she practically yelled, twisting and wrenching at his uniform herself out of impatience.
"Whoa, wait, I - I got it already!" And he did as told, potentially out of fear and potentially out of embarrassment at her attempt to strip him (sort of). "There!" he finished in a gasping breath afterwards.
Misty got to work - hey, the sooner she fixed him up, the sooner he'd leave, right? - and inspected his knee, softly edging her fingers along the contours of his joint and ignoring the raven-haired patient's faint shiver of discomfort.
"Well, it's a bit swollen. Reapply the ice. You should spend the rest of this period here." The admission was so hard for her to say, the prospect of them spending even more time together making her stomach churn. She honestly didn't know if she was capable of handling the guy for longer than twenty minutes. "After you've kept your leg elevated and iced for a while longer, I'll put the brace on and you can head out to your last class of the day.
"Does it hurt?" she asked him next, trying not to sound hopeful at the prospect.
"Uuh, yeah, a bit…"
"I'll give you some anti-inflammatory cream. It's good for swollen joints and muscles."
"O - okay," he numbly agreed to her even tone, again catching the small tin of aforementioned Topricin when she tossed it - this time slightly more aggressively - in his direction.
Then, continuing to watch him distantly, she opened the nearby filing cabinet and started rifling through the documents within. By the time Ash was done applying the medicine, the room suddenly filled with a strange scent that made him wrinkle his nose, the redhead had already found what she was looking for and sat down at Nurse Joy's desk with it.
He groaned, easing back into a horizontal position, stretching to grab the ice and hold it to his joint, before leisurely taking to watching the teenage girl work.
"... What are you doing?" he asked after a few minutes, the stark silence having only been filled previously by the scratching of the pen she was using on the form she happened to be filling out.
"None of your business. Talking isn't necessary for you to get better so be quiet," she told him with finality.
"Can't. Not good at that kind of thing."
And he really wasn't. It was one of the few things about him she did know… so, unless she wanted to spend the next thirty-five minutes waiving his every ill-advised advance, she was going to have to give in to his curiosity.
"I'm just editing your stupid record to include your latest stupid injury."
"Hey, it's not stupid! I'm pretty good at soccer, you know?" he yelped indignantly at her from his face-up position in the bed, knowing that if he tried to sit up, the next time she threw something at him, he probably wouldn't have the reflexes fast enough to catch it. "Just 'cause I've sprained my knee once or twice…"
"Three times actually, not to mention those times you got hit in the head, or the two ankle sprains, or that time you fell and snapped your wrist, or…"
"But not all of those were from soccer!" he told her defiantly with a smirk, thinking he'd won.
"No, you're right, some of those were from science or messing around with your friends during homeroom or your free period, one of your black eyes was from lunch, and I'm still trying to figure out how you got a concussion in history class."
"Don't ask," he warned her.
"Trust me, I won't. I know better." The redhead sighed in frustration, the hand she'd formerly been scrawling across the form with suddenly finding its way to her fringe, where she massaged at her head, doing her best to ease the oncoming headache. "I just - I'm trying to figure out how this all can happen to one person over the course of," and she paused long enough to rifle through his paperwork until she'd found the first incident report form on the bottom of the pile, "less than two years. Jeezus, Ash, you've been in here almost three dozen times since the start of your first year. How do you do that?"
"Just… bad luck, I guess."
"Or a deathwish, or… or…" Misty blinked, grasp tightening on the paperwork a bit as she started refiling it in order to get back to where she'd been before, apparently noticing something for the first time, "... Hey, this is kind of weird."
"What is?" he blinked curiously, staring at her from a distance, and ignoring how topsy-turvy she looked while sideways from his position in the bed.
"Well, I just… I mean, I know that I got to see you a lot but… I mean, I'm only really here when Nurse Joy is at a staff meeting or out to lunch and… almost all of these… My name - my handwriting - I just…"
"I don't get what you're trying to say, Myst."
"I told you not to call me that!" she shouted distractedly before returning to her former task, "This is crazy. I can't believe… that most of these were filled out by me."
"Well, yeah, like you said, you got to see a lot of me over the past two years."
"But this means that I basically was the only one to see to any of your injuries. I mean, Nurse Joy's name is only on one or two of these forms! That's practically impossible unless…"
The redhead stilled, a thought coming to mind, a ludicrous theory that wouldn't make any sense, that she'd be ridiculed for if she tried to say it out loud.
"Yeah, w - well," Ash began in a stutter that didn't phase her, even if she still acknowledged it, "like I said, that's my bad luck."
"Your bad luck, huh?" she asked him, unbridled fury welling up within her but the gears in her head were spinning so quickly that it sputtered to a stop and descended back to its dwelling once more. "Ash, you said you sprained your knee this time from soccer, right? During physical education?"
"That was your last period before lunch," she noted to herself, tapping the pen still in her grasp constantly against the desktop as she worked through her contemplation.
"Yeah, it - wait, how do you know that?"
"Like I said, I've spent the better part of the past two years seeing you, at least twice a week this whole time. I know your schedule, Ash Ketchum… though I have to admit, this is the first time I've seen you twice in a day. Why is that? And why did you wait until after your lunch period - nay, until the middle of your first class after lunch, after PE - to come see the nurse about your knee?" she implored curiously, finally dropping the pen on the desk and swiveling around to meet his cautious and maybe even frightened gaze.
"Uuh, well, this morning - you remember - I just happened to cut myself so…"
"It was a papercut, Ash. You didn't need to come to the nurse's office for that."
"Were you just trying to find another way to grate on my nerves? I mean, dragging yourself in here after your every danger prone activity isn't enough anymore so you decided to amp it up and force me to care for your nonessential injuries too?" she begged him skeptically with a dramatically-raised brow.
"No, that's not-!"
"-Well, it's all I can think of, I mean, nobody is capable of hurting themselves this often on purpose. I'm surprised your mom hasn't had you removed from this school because she thinks you're being bullied or something - wait, you're not being bullied, are you?" she asked, a flash of concern invading both her voice and facial expression.
"No," the raven-haired boy insisted, flushing at her rather flattering sense of unease.
"Oh, good, but then again, now I'm back to square one. You really are trying to drive me up the wall, aren't you? That's your game, isn't it? I mean, what else could it-"
"-Yo, Ash, you still in here, bud? Last period is about to start, you know?" a relatively unfamiliar voice called from out in the hall before a tall, tanned young man by the name of Brock walked through the open doorway.
"Oh, it's you," the redhead sniffed at this new - and just as unwelcome - presence. "I thought you might be absent today since Ash came here alone."
"Uh, well, that was the plan anyway so… I mean, it's not like I'd let him limp around and up a flight of stairs all the way here just because, right?"
"Brock, shut up!" Ash exclaimed furiously from the bed, face lit up like a sun lamp.
"Wait, now I really don't get it," Misty rolled her eyes, drawing in a deep and exhausted breath. This was getting too complicated. She was already worked up from her discovery of Ash's apparent harassment of her, but now she also had to contend with…
"So there was a plan, huh? What was the plan?" But she faltered and gasped, leaping to her feet in an instant, pointing exaggeratedly at her patient from the five meter distance between them. "I was right, wasn't I? I really was! Ash Ketchum, you idiot, I'm gonna make you pay-"
"-No, just a sec, would you calm down?" he yelped in anxiety at her newfound outrage, face still vibrantly red for some reason, trying to find the proper thing to say.
"Wait, I'm confused. Ash, didn't you tell her yet?" Brock asked from the doorway, mouth slightly agape at the possibility that he hadn't told her… whatever it was he'd evidently been meaning to tell her.
"No, I haven't, so thanks for barging in and just ruining everything!" the younger boy cried out devastatedly, his one free hand clenched tightly into a fist in response to his foiled plans.
"I ruined everything?! Man, c'mon, you've been here twice today! You've had two chances to tell her and you've just bottled it up and kept it to yourself! I mean, seriously, get with it! She already thinks you hate her, you know? It can't get much worse than this!"
"I - hold on..." the redhead interrupted at this point as Ash breathed in deep, ready to unleash his next furious exclamation. "I think you hate me? No, no, no… There's no think about it. After all," she paused, turned to Brock, bit her bottom lip as the words began to form and flow from her mouth, her mind running a mile a minute already, "I know he hates me. He's spent the last two years hounding - harassing - me, and now I've got proof. There's no way it's just our," she lulled again mid-sentence, letting the enunciation of her last word make its impact on her audience before moving forward, "bad luck that I've been stuck basically almost single-handedly caring for him over these past two years. This was intentional on his part!"
"Well, you're not wrong," the oldest and newest-comer between the three of them muttered under his breath with a shrug.
"Brock!" Ash shouted once more, face so bright it was honestly impressive that it hadn't caught fire yet.
"Look, man, seriously, I gave you - no - I've been giving you the benefit of the doubt here. It's been almost two years. This is ridiculous, crazy, and it's about time it ends for good, okay? Because it's not just this sprain, it's not just today, it's not just this month or year or whatever… You have been chasing this girl since you got knocked out during the soccer club practice early last year.
"Give it up, Ash. You gotta come clean at some point."
Misty, whose own cheeks and neck and ears had ignited at the phrase 'chasing this girl', felt all of her expectations and frustrations suddenly fade away. Those words… had sounded awfully romantic, and to be honest, she'd always been quite the sap. But there was no way, right? It was Ash Ketchum they were talking about here. Mister Dense-and-Danger-Prone-Disaster-Zone himself.
"Just… Can you just give me my bag, please? I may need a cushion if things turn…" But his voice wavered and he gulped nervously at what he was about to finally do.
"Why not use the ones you're laying on?" Brock asked with mild curiosity.
"Because Misty'd kill me anyway if I did since they're currently helping ease the pain in my knee…" Ash replied knowingly with a small smile, ignoring the redhead's flinch at the strange use of her full name from him. He hadn't called her that for a good year or so, not since he'd accidentally learned that referring to her as Myst could get under her skin so easily. "Go to your last class. I'll meet you later… hopefully."
Their third party left the room and it was finally just the two of them once more. Misty's ears were ringing fiercely at everything that had just happened though. Brock's sudden infiltration into their heated and vividly intense company.
"Okay then," the redhead began, taking a seat on the bed he was using for the second time, though this one was thankfully much softer and lighter… though it was probably due to the shock of everything, "Go ahead, Ash. Tell me the plan."
"Well, okay, first of all, it wasn't a plan. I mean, not always, and definitely not at first."
"... Go on," she coaxed almost patiently, and he couldn't help wondering internally if this was going to be the calm before the storm… but it wasn't like he could keep anything from her now, right? So he did what she told him in the end despite his foreboding fear of terrible things to come.
"The first time we met, it was…"
"... When you got your first concussion. Like Brock said, right? After one of your early soccer team club practices? You got nailed upside the head by one of your teammates… I think his name was Gary. He couldn't stop laughing about it even when I told him you could be seriously hurt."
"Anyway, yeah," Ash cleared his throat with a grumble at the mention of his childhood rival but moved on quickly to more important things, "I… you… when I woke up, you were the first thing I saw."
… The vibrant sun smiled earnestly, gratefully down at him as he regained consciousness.
"Wha… what happened?" he groaned, his voice hoarse and the muscles tensing in his throat as another ricocheting pain quaked through him.
"You suffered a head injury during your club meet, Ash Ketchum," the redhead told him informatively, and her voice was just as sunny as her physical disposition, but he had a feeling that was the relief truly kicking in after he'd finally chosen to rejoin the living world.
"I'm glad to see you're up… sort of," she admitted, noting he hadn't actually tried to sit up yet. "The nurse is meeting with one of the health committees so I'm covering for her, but I never expected this to happen. I've mostly been dealing with scrapes and bruises and cramps. I was really worried. I almost called your mom."
"... Glad you didn't," he confessed, knowing just how much of a worrywart his lone parental figure happened to be.
The girl chose not to reply to his rather cryptic sounding statement.
"A - anyway, I'm Misty, I'm the student rep assisting Nurse Joy this term. I just want to do a cursory check-up to make sure everything's okay. I'd like you to rest here for the next hour or so, drink some water, test your bearings, make sure walking and focusing won't be an issue before I can safely discharge you. I'd ask you to wait for Nurse Joy but I don't know how long it'll be until she gets back so…"
The redhead - Misty, he internally noted - seemed to have a thing for rambling when she was worried or panicked about something. It was almost kind of cu...
Uh, anyway, moving on.
"Well, yeah," the current Misty interrupted his flashback with her signature witty sarcasm. "I mean, I was the only one left in the office at that point. Your friends and club members were getting to rowdy so I had to kick them out. Of course I'd be the first one you saw when you woke up, right?"
"No!" the raven-haired trainer instinctively reacted, then regained his composure and tried again. "No, I - I mean, you're right, but there's more to it… I just… This is really hard for me, okay?"
"C'mon, Ash, you need to just spit it out once and for all, like Brock said," she told him, patting him on his good leg a few times for good measure, "It's not like you're confessing or anything, is it?"
"B - but I am!" he interjected just as strongly as his previous statement.
"... Oh. Y - you… you are."
"You really… you were really good at what you did… how you took care of me back then. You had good instincts about how to treat someone who'd gotten hurt the way I had and I… I guess I just… enjoyed that feeling."
"Being cared for?" the redhead asked skeptically.
"No, feeling… safe. And, yeah, maybe a bit of being well cared for but not like that. It just… Look, just let me tell my story."
"Geez, okay already."
"So I liked… like you," he finally told her in as many words but he gave her no time to reflect on such a confession before boldly pushing forward, "but I didn't know it, or what to do with that feeling, and who knew if I was just extra loopy from getting hit upside the head with a soccer ball, right? So I didn't say anything… but you were - like I said - you were really good at your job so when you noticed…"
"Ah!" the girl - Misty, he corrected internally again - yelped and nodded at his head after he'd finally eased himself into a sitting position on the bed, "I thought I got it all but it looks like you're still bleeding!"
"I - I am?" he asked absently, still dazed from his head injury and still enamored by his former vision of his redheaded nursing assistant's likeness to the sun.
"It's alright, that's one thing I have loads of training for," she told him smugly, removing a small first-aid kit from the cabinet behind her and traipsing up to him to inspect the wound up close.
Ash was suddenly faced with glimmering red locks and knowledgeable, intense teal-colored eyes, a serious and firm facial expression less than five inches from his own nose. His heart was beating with the rapidity and force of a jackhammer, his vision blurring from the heat spreading from his chest to his lungs to his esophagus to his ears, cheeks, forehead, fingers…
So he didn't hear her when she said the following.
"I should warn you, the alcohol is probably going to sting a bit, okay? But if you just prepare yourself, it'll be over in a flash."
"So… so let me get this straight," Misty interrupted, clearing her throat. Ash looked up at her and was impressed to see that her own face was colored a flattering pink hue, "That time when you… when I treated you… and the alcoholic swab… You didn't hear me warn you about it because you… were too busy staring at me?"
"Staring, thinking, not thinking, feeling, freaking out… It was all a big mess."
"But, because of that incident, you lashed out at me and accused me of being awful as a nursing aid. You literally said, 'I can't believe they'd let you nurse actual human beings'. And you said something similar today… and you've said something similar almost every time we saw each other these past two years.
"So... " she went on, brow furrowed in concentration as it all started coming together, "... you've liked me all this time. But, out of shock and your own lack of personal awareness, you've spent the last two years torturing me. All because you were so into me that you couldn't pay attention to my warning and couldn't admit that you liked me.
"Wow, Ash, where do I start? How should I respond to such a romantic endeavor?" she finished sarcastically with a roll of her eyes.
"I told you, none of that was my intention! I mean, I came back after my next injury thinking I would… well, maybe not apologize, but try to somehow make things right… but you weren't here. Nurse Joy was! And you weren't here the next time either! So I started paying attention to what gets the nurse out of her office, what gets her aid to take her place, and my friends helped. Staff meetings, health class speeches, her lunch break, emergency calls... Except, the next time we did meet…"
This was his chance. He'd had to get between a book and its intended recipient as it was being thrown across the room and it had cost him a black, swollen eye, but at least he'd gotten this far. Now all he had to do was brace himself, make it inside, and get her to listen, and then maybe things could go from there and they could be friends and then maybe… well… maybe more than friends and…
Okay, so perhaps Misty wasn't the only one who tended to ramble in a panic.
"Oh, it's you," the redhead sniffed indignantly, looking up from the text she was reading as he entered the office. "And I guess you happened to snap at someone else when they were just trying to help again?" she asked, nodding at his swollen face with half a smile.
He did his best to grit his teeth and bear the brunt of her sarcasm, though he also couldn't help wondering to himself where the nice, purposeful, compassionate girl from his first visit had gone… before remembering that he'd probably been the one to push her away.
"I guess the first part could be applied to you too," he struck back at her before he could stop himself, "I was really hoping I'd never have to put up with your abusive tactics for medical treatment again," he ended, hopping on the bed and mentally cheering and slapping himself at the same time at the newly affronted expression on her face.
Well… His mom had always told him he was exceedingly stubborn.
"So it was basically all downhill from there," Ash concluded, one hand at the back of his scalp and massaging tenderly, agonizingly, while he fought off the redhead's entreating gaze. "I - I did try, you see? I just… I, you… I know that first time was my fault, but… I didn't expect you to hold such a grudge. I mean, there was a good five months between our first and second meetings, you know? I thought… you'd have cooled down, and we could move on, and… I guess I was wrong.
"But for almost two years I've been trying to get it right. I just wanted you to know… how I feel in the end. And today was going to be the day I finally said it."
"Yeah, I get that…" the redhead scoffed harshly, tone rough enough to make him flinch. "You spent almost two years putting yourself in harm's way, uselessly might I add, because you wanted and continuously failed to make amends for something that was - thanks for finally admitting it - your fault. You spent two years telling me I was bad at the one thing I went out of my way to do to help the student body. You spent two years pretending you hated me… making me think… making me think I hated you…
"You spent two years hiding the fact that all you really wanted was more time together, to get to know me better… to just… be together with me. You're an idiot, Ash Ketchum! And I want you to know that it didn't work!" The redhead suddenly leapt up from her position at the end of his bed, face furiously and vividly red once more, posture stiff, fists clenched, face poised just right for him to not be able to see what expression she was wearing.
"It… I mean, I know… but… what didn't work?"
"It! Your plan to - to make me hate you! To make me think you hated me! To… to make us forever pretend we hated each other! It didn't work be - because I… I like you, you dummy!"
"Y - you do?!" he exclaimed in surprise.
"Be quiet! You made me… you made it turn out this way. So just… shut up and lay there until Nurse Joy comes back from her lunch."
"I… All that time? I thought I was supposed to try and get to my last class."
"Well, there's hardly any amount of your last class to attend so you're going to just lay there until the nurse gets back and then I'm telling her that I'm going to help walk you home."
"Y - you are…?"
"Yeah, I am, because this is what you - we - wanted, Ash, to get to know each other better, to be together… so let's accomplish all that while I help get you home today, okay?"
So, as he was prone to do when it came to Misty's nursing knowledge, he did as he was told and kept his leg elevated, the ice pack and topical cream helping the inflammation while they waited for their school nurse to return to her office.
And then they walked home together, finally learning more about each other than their names and stubborn streaks - ("Wait, you don't want to study nursing when you graduate?" followed by, "Of course not! I'm interested in oceanography and marine biology! I just happen to be good at nursing!") - and, well, it was like Misty had thought all along.
The feelings between them were definitely mutual.
Notes - This was supposed to be a "short fic"! Wtf happened?!
On the other hand, this only intensified my want to write a Pokeshipping high school AU. Goddammit.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed! Please let me know what you thought! Likes, reblogs, reviews! Everything is appreciated! And might I just say, thank goodness I cranked this out. It's been way too many months since I last wrote something!