DISCLAIMER: I don't own Pokemon.

I wanted to try a take on the "sleeping together" prompt that was shippy but didn't actually result in any sex. This is what resulted.

As per usual, reviews are appreciated.

As a note, while this fic is entirely readable without reading my prior Pokeshipping Week prompts, there are references to some of the events that were detailed there in one way or another.


"DOWN, PIKACHU! AGILITY, THEN THUNDERBOLT!" Ash barked out the orders to Pikachu. The thrill of Pokemon battling was one of the few times he truly felt most alive, and this was especially so since he'd been in Alola for the past few months. Misty's injuries in Kalos had made it difficult for her to get out into the wilderness, and he refused to go wandering around and leave her to rot in this horrible place, this... school.

Yes, to Ash Ketchum, a school was something like a prison with homework instead of bars and pointless responsibilities instead of chains. And even if Misty was the one who dragged him here in the first place, he'd not leave her to rot here.

As such his Pokemon battling had been with the Alolan locals, and while that was good, he needed more on occasion, and right now, battling it out with a wild Pokemon was something he hadn't done in months.

"PIIIIIIIIKAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA CHUUUUUUUUUUUU!" Pikachu grunted as he rapidly dodged, snapping off Agility as per his master's orders to boost his speed, evading a burst of ice energy, and snapping off a crackling burst of electricity towards the Alolan Vulpix. The strange, ice-based Pokemon still boggled the Pokemon trainer; he'd never seen anything like it.

Which is why he was so desperate to capture it.

Misty had finally recovered fully, however. After pulling some strings with the school - which had been much easier than Ash had expected - he'd managed to get some time off to make up for the field work sessions they'd missed over the last couple of months. He wasn't sure why they'd been so willing to comply. However, little did Ash (and possibly Misty) know, their string of successful bids at saving the world, breaking up insane cults, thwarting Team Rocket, and their own professional accomplishments, had actually made them quite notorious in a rather good way. It also helped that they knew more about pragmatic Pokemon battling than some of their instructors, making them rather valuable to keep around, meaning school officials were willing to make certain allowances for the two that would otherwise be much more difficult. Indeed, they were able to turn Team Rocket raids into something of a boon, since Misty usually took to turning each attack into an impromptu lecture for any nearby students, much to the chagrin of Meowth who usually ended up as her visual aid. With this in mind, pitching a tent outside instead of living separately in dorms, bringing Pikachu everywhere without his Pokeball, and quietly approved opportunities to play hooky were permitted, despite being rather unconventional as per scholastic policy.

It was a wise decision, as well, since he'd probably have been shipped off to the loony bin by now if they didn't.

The Vulpix shrieked in pain, quickly bounding off towards a clearing. It was near their camp, so Ash was careful NOT to push the battle in that direction. But he continued to pursue - it seemed that the Vulpix not only intended not to be caught, but instead of running, it also intended to have Pikachu and Ash make idiots of themselves. Arguably it was doing a pretty good job of that already. It quickly opened its mouth and snapped off a burst of Ice Beam, smacking Pikachu in the chest and knocking him backwards as icy shards flew in every direction.

"Pikachu, you OK?" Ash bellowed out, and quickly the mouse rose to all fours, growling and sparking. He was just getting STARTED. The mouse charged forward, apparently ready to attack with or without Ash's orders. The Pokemon trainer beat feet, getting close to the taunting Pokemon. "Pikachu, ELECTRO BALL!" Ash orders. The Pokemon quickly dived forward, snapping off another burst of Electro Ball. This struck Vulpix right as it was snapping off a burst of Ice Beam once again, the blue ray hurtling through the forest, smashing some leaves off of trees.

...which was followed by Misty's scream.

"MISTY!"

"PIKACHUPI!"

The Vulpix was immediately forgotten. Had that stray shot struck the girl? He grimaced, already feeling guilt. He was CAREFUL. It wasn't too close to camp, and she KNEW he was over here. What could have happened? He jogged forward, gut churning as he hoped he didn't have to do any first aid.

As it turns out, he in fact didn't. The camp itself was fine. However, after months of disuse, Misty had stated she was going to air out her sleeping bag. The girl had already had her fill of running around for the night, so she was busy eating a protein bar, and got entertainment along with her meal.

That entertainment being watching an Ice Bean smash through the forest and collide with her airing-out sleeping bag, where it hung, some distance from camp, just in range of the Ice Beam.

Misty snapped her gaze over towards Ash as he burst through the clearing.

"ASH KETCHUM! IS THIS YOUR FAULT?!"

"...I, uh..." Ash blinked. "...a little?"

"'A LITTLE?!' WHERE AM I SUPPOSED TO SLEEP, HUH?!" she demanded of the Pokemon trainer, who clenched his fist.

"- HEY, I was careful! You shouldn't have put your sleeping bag right where my battle was going to be!"

"That doesn't even MAKE SENSE!"

The argument began.

Pikachu watched, meanwhile, as the ice Vulpix crawled towards camp and managed a grin.

The mouse glanced over towards the Vulpix. "Ka, pika chu pika pikachu."

Great, now I have to deal with this for the rest of the night. I hope you're happy.

Vulpix simply smiled. "Vul PIX."

You bet I am.


A couple hours had passed and Ash and Misty were still irate with each other. As to be expected of the two, neither really went and stormed off - when it came right down to it they'd rather bicker than be deprived of each other's company - but that didn't make it any less grating on the ears. Ash himself dug around in his sleeping bag, pulling out - of all things - clean underwear.

"I already SAID I was sorry," Ash shrugged. "What more do you want? I was trying to be VERY careful!"

"Fat lot of good that does me," Misty sniped. The sun had gone down and it was late, time to get to bed shortly.

Ash pulled a bit more underwear from his sleeping bag and stuffed it into his regular bag. How DID his mother manage to pack so much in here? She was really, REALLY serious about him changing his underpants every day, he reflected.

"Well I'm SORRY I can't see the future and predict that you're going to hang out your sleeping bag OUTSIDE the camp!"

"'I'M SORRY' isn't gonna keep me warm overnight! It's gonna be fifty degrees out here!" she retorted.

"I KNOW! That's why..." he reached into his sleeping bag and pulled out one more piece of underwear, stuffing it into the main compartment of his backpack. "...I just emptied out my sleeping bag for you! I figured you wouldn't wanna sleep with all the clean underpants my mom stuffed into it when she helped me pack!" He glanced at his backpack, now with lots of underpants crammed into it. "...however she got them all in there..."

He humphed, dropping the sleeping bag and backing away from it.

"...what?" Misty quirked her brow. This would be far from the first courteous gesture he'd made towards her, although Delia's apparent insistence on clean underwear certainly made it an odd one.

"I'm not gonna make you pay for my mistakes, Misty."

"And I'm not gonna kick YOU out of your sleeping bag, Ash!"

Ash shook his head. "No, we've only got one bag, and it was MOSTLY my fault that yours got frozen. Go on, try it out, it's really warm."

She frowned as she strolled over towards Ash, looking at him eye-to-eye. He'd grown even more over the last couple of years, a change Misty found rather attractive, but made it a tiny bit harder to get leverage during their arguments. She pointed at the bag. "Really warm or not, that's still YOUR sleeping bag. YOU need it."

"So do you!"

"I'll be fine."

"No you won't!"

"Yes I will!"

"Well I'm NOT going to leave you to freeze out here."

"Then what are you gonna do, Mr. Pokemon Master?"

"Well..." Ash paused. "...we could both get into it."

"THAT'S INDECENT!" Misty protested. Truth be told, she would have been fine with it if she weren't still irritated, and knew Ash wouldn't try anything, but as-is, she didn't feel much like being cooperative right that second.

Ash grunted. "Then I guess we'll just sit out here all night until we freeze to death and they find us when the vultures come."

"Fine. By. Me." Obstinately the two sat on opposite ends of a log facing away from each other. Night continued to fall, and with it, the temperatures.

As this happened they slowly began to move closer together, until their backs were touching. Purely for ergonomic reasons, of course, and to help support their posture, not because they were cold. Of course not.

That's what they told themselves for a good 15 minutes, the unseasonably cold weather rapidly becoming noticeable. But their attempts to uphold their pride became increasingly hard since, in their absence, Pikachu had seized the sleeping bag and was quite visibly toasty warm in its confines, and making no secret of it to either Ash or Misty. Upon sensing the glares both sent him, he stopped and looked. Hm. It is rude to be going on like this when they're out there in the cold.

"Pika chuuuuuuuuuu..."

It seemed to Pikachu that it was time to narrate how warm it was. And so, Pikachu pika'd out, in great detail, how great it was to have a sleeping bag and how horribly cold it was outside and how he was sure that in the morning both Pikapi and Pikachupi would be frozen solid so he could ride them like a toboggan down the hills back to the school easily. He wasn't entirely certain whether he was trying to convince them to shut up and get warm or he was just tormenting them for his amusement, but it wasn't too long before he realized he didn't really care since these goals were hardly mutually exclusive.

Evidently, Misty concluded, Pikachu and Bonnie hailed from the same school of trolling technique. Either that, or one rubbed off on the other, and she wasn't sure which.

Shortly, amidst fantasies of strangling Pikachu, Ash decided to speak up.

"...I think we should reconsider the sleeping bag." He shivered a bit involuntarily.

"Right," Misty replied, her own teeth chattering a bit. "So for the record, tonight, we're the same gender. Let's go get warm, Ashley."

"WHA - " Ash started... then facepalmed. "...that was only a few times..."

Misty did nothing to suppress the giggle.


They'd settled down quietly next to one another, facing away from each other. The sleeping bag wasn't quite a TIGHT fit, it was comfortable, but with two humans and a Pokemon in it, they needed to make sure they stayed in one of a few positions to make sure the others were comfortable.

Silence reigned except for the crickets, which seemed undeterred by the cold. Perhaps the warm Alolan weather had spoiled them already?

"...Misty?" Ash inquired quietly as he looked out into the darkness.

"...hm?"

"...you're not REALLY mad at me, are you?"

Misty paused, and sighed. "...no, I'm not. Not any more than I usually am." She knew that by this point Ash knew she was almost all bark and hardly any bite. She wasn't sure if this relieved her or not; her snapping was reflexive. But he understood her in ways no one else did. In a way, it felt SAFER to be angry with him than anyone else. "...I just wish you'd use that brain of yours for once when it's not a Pokemon battle or when you're trying to play hero."

Ash frowned quietly. His voice sounded a little bit down. "...sorry 'bout that." It was hard to tell whether he was apologetic, angry, sad, or a combination thereof.

Misty decided to press a little bit - maybe she wasn't QUITE as over being angry as she claimed to be. "It's a real shame, too. I mean... you're really smart when you want to be. I've seen you pull ideas out of nowhere that no one else would've thought of and then pull them off. Then stuff like this and..." she shrugged in the sleeping bag.

Ash was quiet for a moment. "...I've always been like that," he said. "I just get really, really excited about some things and I tend to block out everything else. It's..." he paused for several seconds, before settling on an answer. "...caused me a lot of problems. In school."

"...problems?" Misty asked, wiggling slightly in the bag, feeling Ash's back at her's. She felt his muscles tense up.

"Yeah," Ash stated, after a few seconds of hesitation. "I... had a hard time concentrating in school. Everything was just so... BORING. It was difficult to focus on it in a lot of cases. Except when they brought up Pokemon."

Misty smiled a little bit at that.

"Whenever Pokemon were part of it, I did fine. But... it was pretty bad. I think some of my teachers wanted to have me see some kinda therapist or something. I'm not too sure on the details; I overheard it, mostly." He frowned, feeling slightly uncomfortable, but pressed on. "Mom didn't think they knew what they were talking about, though. So she didn't send me to see anyone. I'm glad she didn't. I... didn't really want to change who I was like that, for something like that. I worked a little harder after that, but... still."

Her anger slipped away instantly. The prospect of NOT having an Ash around to bicker with, instead having a placid, quiet, and obedient Ash, quietly horrified her. Within the sleeping bag she reached over to grasp his hand and squeezed it.

"...I'm sorry about that."

"It's alright. I don't think about it much anymore, otherwise I probably woulda told you. I mean, I've told you just about everything else, I think."

It was true; they'd known nearly all of each other's secrets for years now. This eased her concern somewhat.

"...so you were OK with... coming here?"

"It wasn't my first choice," Ash admitted. "But I wasn't about to leave you, and things have turned out OK for the most part." A faint sigh. "And as much as I hate to admit it - off the record - it... probably won't hurt to have something formal I can actually show someone."

"But you don't like it." Misty pressed.

"It's not my favorite." Ash admitted.

Misty felt a twinge of guilt. "...I'm sorry I brought you here."

"Don't be."

"Why?"

"Because believe it or not, I don't want to just drag you from place to place that only I want. This is... this is your Pokemon journey too, y'know? I mean, that's the whole reason I wanted to go to Kalos last time. I knew you always wanted to go there."

"...that was why?"

"Yeah. It helped that the Kalos League was great, 'n everyone over there was awesome, but still."

Misty smiled a little bit; she'd never realized it. "...thanks, Ash."

She squeezed his hand under the cover, before a furry object down there attempted to get through, forcing them to let go for the moment. Pikachu made a habit of wandering around the sleeping bag to make himself comfortable, and much to her surprise, it was kind of fun to have a dozy little ball of fur wandering around at random.

"...and... I mean... I've spent practically half my life with you, so... I'm not gonna run away or anything. So if you want to go somewhere specific, just tell me, alright? 'cuz... I'm not planning on going anywhere without you."

"I might just hold you to that, Mr. Pokemon Master," Misty replied, tone mock-stern.

"Go right ahead."

"Yeah..." Misty replied. "...to tell you the truth, I've wondered how YOU put up with me sometimes..." she looked out into the darkness of the forest and the slight wave of palm trees as the chilly wind blew through. "I know I'm not easy to get along with. I can get really bitchy and crabby." It was true; there were times she was quite remorseful for her nature. It was a rare individual who got to see the real her.

"'cuz you're like a porcupine," Ash said after a second of thought. "...covered in spikes on the outside so you don't get hurt. Soft and cuddly on the inside."

"...and you keep running into the spines," Misty noted, a tone of actual regret to be heard.

"I dunno. Maybe I keep shoving my face into them 'cuz I see the soft and cuddly under."

Misty fidgeted in the bag slightly. "...Ash?..."

Ash listened quietly. "...hm?"

Misty considered her words. "...off the record... uh..." she went quiet for a moment as she gathered up her courage. "...am I... attractive?"

Ash went silent for several long seconds. Misty paused, wondering if she was going to get an answer.

"...what makes you think you wouldn't be?" he inquired, quietly.

"If I answer that, will you answer me?"

"...alright," Ash hesitated, listening.

Misty sighed. "When I was growing up... well... I was always the 'runt.' Always, always, always. Lily was jealous of me since she wasn't the baby anymore, Violet wasn't sure WHAT to do with me, and Daisy tried to stick up for me a bit but caved since she didn't want to go up against the others, since she was way closer to them." Silent. "...when I was in school, since I played in the dirt people treated me like I wasn't even a girl half the time. Just..." She fidgeted in the sleeping bag for a moment. "...no one's ever... really..."

"Hm?" Ash inquired, bidding her to finish.

"...called me pretty."

"That's 'cuz you're not."

Misty cringed slightly, feeling anger well up within her, only for her to bat it down. He was honest, she chided herself, and she shouldn't have asked -

"Off the record?"

"...yeah?"

Quiet now. "You're... the most beautiful girl in the world." Pause. "At least, to me. I don't give a crap what your sisters or anyone else thinks."

She paused as she processed the information, turning red. "...thanks..."

"No problem... I mean that, too." Pause. "...by the way... you're cuter when your hair's down."

She recalled him mentioning that before. Truth be told she rarely wore her hair in a ponytail anymore because of that, and this cemented that practice. "...I'll keep that in mind." She sighed quietly. "...just... I just kinda wonder..."

"Wonder what?"

"...I... don't know... why no guy's ever really paid much attention to me at all..." she paused. "...unless you count Rudy, or..."

Misty's back, pressed against his, felt his shoulders tighten as though she'd just triggered... something.

"Rudy was a jerk. He wasn't anywhere near good enough for you," Ash snapped abruptly. It seemed that he had a bit of a grudge.

"Rudy was actually a sophisticated gentleman."

"Jerk."

Truth be told, Misty agreed with both assessments - despite being a sophisticated gentleman, he was also a jerk. "Is that a bit of jealousy I hear?..." she said teasingly.

"...I don't know what you're talking about," Ash said quietly, after a pause.

Of course, Misty couldn't possibly leave this alone.

"What about Geor - "

"Jerk."

Misty grinned to herself.

"And..."

"Jerk."

"You didn't even let me finish, what about - "

"Jerks. All of 'em."

"Who IS good enough for me?"

"...none of the jerks we've run into."

Misty smiled to herself. "Someone's jealous."

Ash met that with a 'hmph!' Unable to deny it, but unwilling to confirm it. Altogether, they'd become more and more honest with their emotions as of late.

"The simple fact of the matter is, Mist, that off-the-record, you are wonderful, and you deserve someone who can actually appreciate that wonderfulness. Someone who cares about you and'll give you whatever time you need. that'll back you up no matter what. That's... that's just plain BETTER than everyone else." A slow sigh, and something muffled followed.

Misty blinked. Did she just hear that right?

"...Ash, did you say, 'maybe a Pokemon Master?'"

Silence.

"...you did, didn't you?" she pushed.

"...yeah."

A slight swallow.

"...well, guess I'm lucky, then." She felt... extremely bashful.

"Why?"

Misty was silent as she concentrated, mustering up all of her courage.

"Because..." her voice gave out on her after an instant or two, but she forced it on.

"'cuz... I'vegotoneusingmeasabackrestrightnow."

Silence for a moment.

"...I'm not a Pokemon Master yet, Mi - "

"To me you are."

There.

Ball was in Ash's court, now. Not quite a confession, but far from a denial. The back of her head stabbed her repeatedly, as if asking, 'WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!' However, they'd had years to ferment their relationship, and she had more than a few guesses as to where they really stood with each other. She suspected he did, too... or hoped so, anyway.

Ash was point silent for the moment, perhaps mulling things over. She felt overwhelmed with a need to fill the silence, to elaborate, to take that idea and ram it through his ultra-dense skull. So, she did.

"I really don't care all that much about fancy titles. They're nice. They're pretty. But that's ultimately the main thing they are. I mean... heck, just... just someone who'd wander all over the PLANET with you, that... that counts for a lot more than having thousands of fangirls trying to get an autograph, and, I mean, fighting against legendaries and WINNING, that's..." She paused for an instant. "...if I REALLY cared about it, which I don't, that's a lot more impressive to me than beating someone with a fancy title in a match that sometimes depends more on who brought what types of Pokemon than anything else."

More silence. She half-wondered if Ash had fallen asleep. She tried to listen for his breath; it seemed unchanged, although the sound of crickets chirping made it a little difficult for her to hear. A question rose up, and she wondered if now was the time to ask it, finally.

"...you said you thought I was beautiful, yes?..."

"Yeah."

"Well, then... uh..."

Ash listened quietly. It was her turn to tense up, at least according to what her back felt like. She chose her words carefully.

"...this... IS off the record, all this, yeah? This... this never happened in the morning?"

"Yeah...?"

"...why... haven't you ever... made a move on me?"

He was quiet for a long time. Involuntarily he pressed his back just a little closer to Misty's, almost as if he was considering countering the question with an attempt at doing just that, instinct and brain at war with each other for several seconds.

Eventually, however, he responded. "Because you are way, way more important to me than getting laid quickly."

Misty blinked. She wasn't sure she had ever heard Ash speak so plainly, or sound so aware, of that particular subject.

"Kinda assuming a bit there, aren't you?" she verbally parried.

"You know what I mean. Not thinking with... other parts."

Misty's lips suddenly felt dry. She licked them before countering.

"You know, Ash..." her eyes flicked to the windy palm trees once again, and the moon overhead. She kept having to gather her courage tonight, and in some ways that was more exhausting on her than doing field work all day. "...you don't... HAVE to think with just one or the other. You might be surprised."

Ash's answer was flat and surprisingly quick. "Yeah, and I want to make damn sure I'm worthy of it."

Pause.

"What makes you think you're not?..."

Misty felt Ash's muscles tense once again; it seemed that lying back-to-back gave them a barometer of each other.

"...'cuz I'm a fuckup, Misty."

Now that surprised her. She knew Ash had some self-esteem problems deep down - they both really did - but she'd never heard him quite so explicit about it, making her wonder if it was far more deep-seated than she thought it was at first.

"I've screwed up all the major leagues. I screwed up school because I couldn't make myself concentrate when I was a kid and I think I'm screwing up here for the exact same reason. I've still got those idiots trying to hunt me down over Pikachu. Everywhere I go I stumble into some stupid end-the-world plot and usually miss a chance to kill it right on the spot, and I'm practically DOOMED to do that for the rest of forever until one of them finally kills me because I'm the 'Chosen One,' whoever did the 'choosing' apparently having picked the bottom of the barrel, considering Kalos showed I can't protect you worth shi - "

"Ash, STOP." Misty urged. "You managed to beat out THOUSANDS of people, some who have practiced three times longer than you've been alive, in every one of those leagues. Jessie and James trying to get Pikachu is more a function of them continuing to breathe. Whether you could concentrate or not when you were in grade school doesn't matter - do you see how some of those kids LOOK at you? They're practically in awe! You're almost a teacher yourself. And it's not your fault you keep going into those plans and you can't predict the future, and we'd ALL BE DEAD if you hadn't been there, most of the times NOBODY ELSE could have won. And you've done great protecting me so far. You wanna know what I think? I think whatever is keeping YOU alive is letting you help keep ME alive and vice-versa, so I don't think either of us should plan to be dead in the near future. And quit harping on Kalos! Geez. Did I tell you what the doctor said last week? My rib cage has been completely regenerated, and so has my lung. I've got 99.8% lung capacity - "

"That's still .2% off." Ash's voice was tense; even though he ultimately realized he was being relatively silly, he was fairly adamant about it.

Misty's eyes rolled, her tone almost rolling in sarcasm along with it. "0.2% lung capacity, gee, 1/4th of a second of holding my breath sure will end up being the difference between a life of luxury and living out on the street having Pikachu offer to recharge cell phones for a living. I'd sure much rather have 0.2% of my lung than making sure you're still around. Oh nnnooooooooooo, woe is Misty, whatever shall I do without a piece of lung so small I probably sneeze it up every time I have a cold."

Hearing his name used in vain, Pikachu scrambled around a little in the sleeping bag. He poked his head out of the bag, glanced around, and withdrew under once again. His humans were still being silly.

Ash was silent for a few moments.

A sigh. "...I... appreciate that, Mist, but it's not so easy for me to just... dismiss all of that."

"Yeah? Well, try ME on for size," Misty muttered slightly bitterly. "You already know what happened with my parents. So after that, I'm alone and treated like crap because my sisters had a target to pick on and because Daisy gave in to peer pressure from Violet and Lily to act more like Queen Bitch at a high school than Big Sister for a little kid. So I get to be 'the runt' and I'm STILL the 'runt.' THEN I get treated like crap at ACTUAL school - you know how much guys supposedly like redheads? That doesn't kick in until puberty, apparently, because redhead kids get treated like SHIT, especially tomboys that play in the dirt. THEN I end up getting Pokemon and defend the gym while my sisters are out doing who-knows-what and I get RIDICULED because my battling score isn't QUITE as good as theirs even though I barely got enough training from them to get my license so I'm winging it half the time. And THEN I run away to make something of myself and have to chase around a guy who WRECKED MY BIKE - "

"Misty, I - "

"No, just LISTEN." She closed her eyes. "...guy who wrecked my bike, and then I start /LIKING HIM/ and he ends up my best friend, and on top of that he's about the nicest person I've ever met, and pretty courageous, and smart when it involves Pokemon. Then I gotta compete with his dream, never mind mine isn't going anywhere, which is his head focusing ENTIRELY on Pokemon and then he turns out to be the Chosen One and how the HELL do I compete with that when he's saving us all from extinction?! And I'd like to prove myself to him but every time I get a leg up, he gets a leg up right back, and I can't really talk to him and never could and I'm always so prickly that I'm afraid to get close to anyone and I have this anger control problem so we argue so much that that ends up being the NORM for us and I - "

"STOP, Misty." He felt the conversation going from just a bitter recollection to a tirade, and from a tirade to a run-on sentence, and from there a runaway train of emotion. She didn't deserve it and he wasn't going to just lie there and listen without saying something.

He squeezed her hand, realizing he was still holding it.

"...I'm sorry if I hurt you. I never realized - "

"No." Misty said firmly.

"But I - "

"Lemme finish, Ash. I didn't say that because I was angry." She sighed quietly. "...I said that because... OK, yeah, I'm frustrated. Have been for a really long time. But that's not the point. It's... well, I'M a mess too! You know? Neither of us are perfect, and I don't want..." She closed her eyes. "I don't want..." She worded this carefully, speaking more slowly once she'd settled on a way to express things.

"...I don't want us to be defined by thinking that there's a mine field between us when there really isn't one, and we both end up afraid of each other."

Silence.

"You don't want to know how many times I've thought I was holding you back myself," she added quietly.

"...I..." Ash was quiet for a moment. He glanced downwards. "I think I get you a bit, but you're... you're wrong, too. You're beautiful and smart and funny, and your sisters are idiots. Maybe well-meaning idiots, but idiots. And... well, you already know what I think of how you look." His voice grew slightly bashful at that; it was strange, he reflected silently, how he was so reflexively shy. He wondered just how things might be different in the morning, even if this conversation somehow indeed stayed off-the-record. "Especially your hair. I don't know why anyone would make fun of it. And... and your dream, if you want to go - "

"Stopping you right there, I don't want to 'go' anywhere. I stuck around because I wanted to, and I still want to. Plus, honestly? Even then I didn't care too much, and when I did, I was making a big deal out of nothing. I learned a lot more running around and doing things than I ever would just about any other way. Who knows what kind of a rut I'd be stuck in if I stayed at the gym after my sisters bailed for their cruise."

Ash didn't know if he should feel absolved or not of this apparent offense that he had perpetrated unknowingly, although from the sound of it, she didn't think he needed to be 'absolved' in the first place. Still, it made him slightly uneasy; cautiously, he continued. "...you don't have to compete with anything, Misty. You always had my attention, even if you didn't know it. After you were gone when I was in Hoenn, before you caught up with us, I got... pretty bad there. I missed you, no matter how many Pokemon battles I managed to get in. That's..." he paused. "...that's one reason I've never... pushed. I just... You DON'T hold me back. You help me go, period. I don't want to fuck this up, Mist. Either with just some stupid fight, or... or any of the other times I've screwed up, or if I'm reading you wrong and after that you don't even want to be FRIENDS anymore..."

Misty swallowed. "Not reading me right..." She closed her eyes and decided to take another gamble. They'd make a lot of dice rolls tonight, so what was one more?

Misty was quiet for a little bit. "...at the risk of pushing 'off the record' into territory I normally would never go near..." She swallowed. She was nervous now. "...considering you shoved your tongue down my throat in Sinnoh and I did it right back... even if it was because we didn't know if we were gonna make it... don't you think at least the last bit is a little unfounded?..."

It occurred to her, quietly, that this was probably the most un-romantic, indirect, roundabout, and altogether bizarre confession (off the record, of course) she could possibly conceive of. This bothered her a great deal less than she thought it would.

"...so... just to make absolutely sure... off-the-record... you... did that because you really wanted to?"

And with that something in Misty snapped.

"ON-THE-RECORD, YES!"

Silence.

"...I just..." he whispered. "...I don't want to fuck this up, Mist. I don't want to fuck US up."

"I don't think you will."

"I hope not."

"Ash, you are the only one who thinks you're a fuckup. Other than Gary, but he's... Gary." She sighed. "...just... one thing..."

"...hm?"

Misty blushed furiously; she could feel her cheeks warm up this time. "...whenever this goes... 'on the record,' and I am very seriously hoping it will... can it be someplace a little more romantic than five minutes away from obliteration?"

Ash, despite his own blushage, cracked a bit of a smile at that one. He pressed his back against her's a little more firmly.

"...I promise nothing. I don't really control the nutcases around here or the fact that this entire planet seems to have ways of blowing it up crammed into just about every nook and cranny."

"That's why I said 'try.'"

Silence.

"...oh yeah," Misty said, after an instant. "One other thing I want you to know. And this is staying off-the-record for good."

"Hm?"

"...even if you ARE a fuckup... you're MY fuckup. Don't forget that."

While a few words do not a cure for persistent trauma make, for that moment, Ash didn't feel quite so bad about screwing up anymore.

"That's... how I feel about you, too." A pause, and Ash suddenly registered what he said. He scrambled to fix it. "Not that I think you're a fuckup or anything, I - "

"It's alright, I get it." A pause. "Heh, look at us." Misty said, half-laughing. "We're practically each other's therapists."

"I trust you more'n I would some random guy who wants me to lie down on the couch and tell him if I see a bird in an ink stain." Ash reflected, quiet for a moment. "...Misty?"

"Yeah?"

"Thanks. For bein' you. 'n bein' there. 'n saving me so much."

Misty snorted.

"...you've probably saved me more times." She reached out and grasped his hand quietly. "...I'm glad I met you, Ash. Don't ever doubt that, no matter how crabby or pissed off I get." She knew she might regret those words - perhaps being a little TOO honest there - but at the moment, she didn't care. They connected to each other on a level that things were almost intuitive between them; she was sure he knew it. But it was rare that they could actually put it into words.

Maybe tonight could be the start of doing that more often.

"...I'll remember that next time you fish me out of a river."

With that, Misty snorted quietly, settling down a little in the bag.

Then... decided something else.

She rolled around - much to Ash's surprise - and reached around to hug his back.

"...Misty?" Ash inquired.

"Shut up, Ash. I hardly ever get to do this and nobody's around." She squeezed him, once again settling down. She said nothing more that night.

In truth, there was nothing more to say.


In the morning, field research continued. Truth be told, Ash managed to impress her; he was a good bit more intuitive with the scientific work than she thought he might be. Maybe they'd get extra credit work after all.

Her mind was occupied with some minutia about the water samples they were gathering for Professor Oak as she walked back to camp. She needed a better magnifying lens to inspect the minerals. Slipping through a copse of trees, she approached their camp, but... something seemed amiss.

Her sleeping bag was hung up, drying out after having finally melted. That was unusual, but not unexpected, since she'd done it herself.

...what was, however, unexpected, was Ash's sleeping bag with a thorough sheen of ice on top of it, thicker in the middle, with a large lump in the center.

"...what the..." she muttered quietly, walking forward. Could this be one of Team Rocket's half-baked traps? She moved quickly, reaching over to grasp the edge of the bag with one hand and the zipper with the other, and pulled both back, moving backwards so in case anything tried to ambush her she'd be out of the way.

Her motion was rewarded by a view of what was freezing the bag.

"Vulpix." the ice Vulpix greeted.

"- YOU! YOU WERE FROM LAST NIGHT!"

"Vulpix!" It did not seem to be particularly sorry for its stunts.

"- WHY ARE YOU HERE?!"

"Pix vulpix pix..."

"- NO, YOU DO NOT GET EXTRA POINTS FOR GETTING BOTH BAGS!" She quickly unhooked one of her Pokeballs.

Time to settle the score.


Misty sighed quietly, feeling rather guilty as she hugged her knees, sitting on the log they'd been using as a bench. She was next to Ash, both of whom observed the current state of his sleeping bag.

Now in the middle of a rather huge brick of ice.

"...please tell me you at LEAST caught it." Ash said, rubbing his forehead.

As if to answer him, a whitish-blue Vulpix strolled through the other side of camp, promptly stuck out its tongue at Ash and Misty, and with a THBPBPBPBPBPBPBT that sprayed tiny snowflakes instead of spittle, trotted right off, as though it was now master of the camp, not the humans.

Misty's response to Ash was to the point, if nothing else.

"Shut. Up."