DISCLAIMER: I don't own Pokemon.
This one was a toughie. Not as tough as Cornered, but a tough one nonetheless. I also didn't want to make it any later than the others had already been so it's a bit thrown together.
EDIT: A lot of minor corrections were made.
The forest near the Mirage Kingdom was a peaceful one at night. The wild Pokemon there didn't seem terribly abundant, and there seemed to be no other human visitors around, and most of the animals were too small or wary of humans to get near them.
It was this isolation that made May feel all the more awkward.
She stood behind a tree and some bushes, the wind rustling leaves quietly. She was peering into a clearing not too far away, and center of it, a log.
One that Misty was sitting on. She'd been sitting there staring up at the sky and the full moon, or at least that's what it certainly looked like when May got there. She was about to approach, when someone else popped up from another direction - Ash.
That was about five minutes ago. Now Ash sat with Misty. He had an arm around her, and despite the fact that she couldn't see their faces, she could tell that Misty was sobbing. A jagged tail was the only thing visible of Pikachu, who was apparently sitting on Misty's lap.
May had come to check on her; her facade of being 'alright' at camp had been visibly fragile. May had come across her after having gone to the nearby river to wash up somewhat. Misty seemed so sad, even her ponytail seemed to be drooping, almost like it was wilted...
She wanted to help them. But even getting close to them seemed to be intruding on something almost sacred. Even being there seemed to intrude somehow, as unintentional as it was. And now, paralyzed with surprise and indecision, she didn't know what to do.
She found out, however, shortly.
"- hey - " a voice behind her began to speak. Startled, May JUMPED and whirled around to confront whoever it was.
It was Brock.
The tense girl sighed in relief. "Brock," she said quietly. "You scared me."
Brock nodded quietly, glancing out towards the clearing, facial features turning slightly more grim. May glanced over to watch the two, Misty's cheerful yellow garb starkly contrasting her sorrowful posture.
"...I... was going to check up on her, but..."
Brock nodded. "Let's leave them alone."
Silently, May nodded, and the two walked back deeper into the woods.
"Did I do the wrong thing, Brock?" May asked, as she walked along. Truth be told, the whole group was feeling the absence of Togepi - now Togetic. "I just... wasn't sure what to do..."
Brock shook his head slowly. "You weren't trying to listen in for no reason. Heck, you couldn't hear anything from there anyway." His feet fell heavily in a pile of decaying leaves as they approached camp. "But I think this time, the ones that can really help Misty are Ash and Pikachu."
May nodded quietly. "...they had a special bond with Togepi, didn't they?"
"You could say that," Brock said. The baby Pokemon should be making a fuss right about now, crabby from being tired before curling up in Misty's bag to sleep for the night. "Actually, technically, Togepi is Ash's. He gave it to Misty, because when it hatched, it saw her first, and imprinted on her as its mother."
"Yeah, I remember about the imprint, but... it was Ash's?"
"He didn't want Togepi to be miserable so he gave it to Misty. But he still had a lot of interaction with it, because so far as Togepi was concerned, he was its father."
May blinked, a little surprised.
"It's... part imprint, part experience," Brock explained. They could see the light from camp not far away, where Max was with some of the Pokemon. The rock trainer leaned up against a tree, uncertain if they should drag May's brother into the discussion. It seemed unneeded, though so he simply stopped a little short of re-entering the clearing the camp was in. "Togepi imprinted on Misty. It was the first thing it saw when it hatched. Plus, saw Ash very early in life, possibly enough to imprint a little on him, too, and saw him with Misty, and he's male. So that was part of it, or at least Professor Oak thought it was part of it. He said there were other external factors."
"Like?" May inquired.
"Well, since it's Ash and Misty..."
May smirked slightly. "...it picked up on that, huh?"
Brock nodded, smirking just a little. "Yep. That's my theory, anyway. I can't really test it and I don't know if I should mention it to Professor Oak."
"What's the deal with them, anyway?" May leaned back, idly putting her hands behind her head. "Ever since she got here, they're like..."
"Something like that. But they snap at anyone who even looks at them like they're together."
Brock nodded, rubbing his chin in thought as to how to best phrase this situation. He decided there was only one way to do it that was both succinct and accurate.
"Is that your professional opinion, doctor?"
Brock smirked, affecting a German accent.
"Ze analysis of Freud iz sound, madame."
May giggled at that.
Slightly more seriously, Brock continued. "Simply put, both Ash and Misty have some... problems. Most people do, but theirs just sorta... I dunno. Mesh, like they do. So it's kind of like they're a couple of balls that are tied together and keep bouncing off of each other, but never really get untangled. And really, they don't want to be."
"That sounds about right." She furrowed her brow in consideration. "Do you know what they were like before they met?"
"To be honest?" Brock stated. "No. Ash started out in Pallet Town and took Route 1 due North. The 'bike story' happened there, around the Pallet River, so far as I could tell. She's been hunting him for a bike ever since. By the time they got to me they'd been hanging around for at least two weeks, maybe longer."
"What were they like?" May found herself somewhat curious. Despite Brock's 'elder brother' role, it seemed that Ash gravitated towards the role of a charismatic leader, and Misty his support and lieutenant. It dawned on her that it was probably rather unusual to fall into a group of trainers with what amounted to an existing pecking order, no matter how well this particular group seemed to work.
"At first, Ash came off as... arrogant and inexperienced. Misty, grouchy and crabby. Together, they had this..." he drifted off for a moment. "Thing. I dunno. But I'd never really seen a trainer quite like Ash, and I owe him for bringing my deadbeat Dad home so I could actually go off and have a life instead of trying to care for all my brothers and sisters all the time." He sighed quietly. "...I've thanked him for it before, but he has no idea what a prison that could be. I love siblings to death and if they ever needed it again I'd do it in a heartbeat, but that... isn't the kind of commitment I'm really ready for." He paused, scratching the back of his head.
"And Misty... it was kind of like they'd already made some kind of connection that went way beyond the bike she kept mentioning over and over and over." And over and over and over, Brock thought to himself. "Though by then I'm not even sure how much she cared about the bike. So far as I can tell, she wanted - she needed - friends and a purpose, and Ash gave her both, even if it was just trying to keep him from getting his face beaten in while he was learning the basics of how to REALLY be a Pokemon trainer." He rubbed his chin. "If you had to ask me, I'd say that they were already crushing on each other pretty heavily by then, not that they'd ever admit it."
"Looks like a bit more than a crush by now, even though they're constantly denying it," May said, a faint smirk on her face as she rubbed one arm with the other. The smirk fading as she considered. "Though... they seemed... I dunno. There's something DIFFERENT about the way that they're sad now." In fact, a grimness descended over their entire group, but Misty seemed to be dealing with the worst of it, with Ash close by, supporting her. "I know it's because Togepi's gone but... there's something..." Unfortunately, this was not a television show, and May did not have full, intuitive grasp of what everyone around her was feeling, but she picked up enough to know that this was pretty far from typical. There was an instinctive familiarity to it; though she had never experienced it before, it seemed that there was already something in her brain wired to perceive it.
Brock spoke up, however, rather quickly figuring out what May was grasping for. "Actually, I can sum it up pretty easily."
She winced slightly.
"Togetic is gone, and we don't know if or when it will come back. Even if it does, it's extremely unlikely - almost impossible - things will be the same. It could change in a good way, or a bad way, or just neutral. Even if it's in a good way, though, it might be hard for Misty to accept. It might not even be Misty's Pokemon anymore - not just to baby it, but she might not even be its trainer anymore. It may not even WANT a trainer anymore. It's hard to see someone you care about become independent from you. I've gone through it myself a little, although none of my brothers or sisters has left home yet. You get used to it so it's not really that bad, but I can't imagine what it must be like to have that happen all at once, and not even know quite what the future holds in terms of even seeing them again."
May frowned. "Yeah... I..." She paused. "...I keep on calling it 'Togepi,' and I probably shouldn't..."
"I don't think it'd mind, May, so if it makes you more comfortable, go ahead. We're all grieving, in a way." Brock replied.
May fell silent. She glanced in the direction they came. She thought she heard what might have been Misty sobbing, though it was too far away for that - and a quick glance around revealed that it might have been a wild Pokemon up in the trees of some sort. It didn't seem interested in them, however, so she made no attempt to prepare for battle as she reflected on Brock's words.
That's an appropriate way to see it.
When it came right down to it, the little egg's absence tore a hole in their group. It would be mended, but it likely wouldn't be the same. The thought that eventually everyone would go gnawed at the back of her head, but she pushed it aside. She didn't want to think about that right then.
"Is there... anything we can do?"
Her question was multi-layered. Anything that can be done to help Ash and Misty? Anything to somehow reverse this loss? Anything to avoid further losses in the future?
Brock seemed to pick up on that.
"Be there for them. Unfortunately, this sort of thing is always going to happen. It's a part of life, May. It's not a fun part, but attempting to pretend it isn't there isn't going to solve it, and trying to pretend it isn't happening isn't going to fix things. Eventually, you'll adapt, we all will."
May nodded. She felt... very young and almost slightly foolish under the gaze of the elder trainer.
"That said, it doesn't always end up all bad. This isn't, either. I think... Ash and Misty are really thinking about just what Togetic meant to them now. That's painful, but it's something that'll help them in the future. Maybe for the rest of their lives. Plus, with how much they already depend on each other, this will help them realize even more on just how much they can trust the other to support them. Honestly, considering some of the things I've theorized regarding them, I think both of them need it, whether they realize it or not." He paused, before providing another assessment. "They'll make good parents someday."
May tilted her head. "Think they're that attached?"
"Yep. No way to tell for certain, though, but... I don't think one feels quite right without the other. If you compared Ash in Johto between how he was in Hoenn before she came..."
May nodded. "Yeah. He seemed... pretty DOWN sometimes. I mean, never like he was seriously depressed, but... when Misty showed up you could TELL, y'know?"
Brock idly rubbed his chin as he listened. He'd seen the same reaction, too. "Yeah, that's exactly what I expected. So yeah, nothing is impossible, but I think sooner or later that's gonna be the outcome."
May looked up at the sky. It wasn't the same view that Ash and Misty got from the clearing, but the bright moon was visible enough. She folded her hands behind her back, lost in thought.
"...do you think we'll ever see Togepi again?"
Brock didn't hesitate with his answer. "I don't know." Cool, pragmatic, and truthful.
May bit her lip.
"The simple fact of the matter is that Togetic knows where it's going, and we don't. There are some extremely strange things in this world. Some of them even basically intersect this world with others. For all our science and technology, we've only begun to scratch the surface of it all. Whereever Togetic is, that's probably one of them. Whether that will let it come back, temporarily or permanently, isn't something I can answer. Even if it can, there's no telling if it will. Other things might prevent it from coming back, and I can't even guess at what all of them might be."
The girl nodded, feeling somewhat small under Brock's careful gaze. It was times like this she realized one major reason why Brock stuck with Ash and Misty so long - and now, them. He was a natural teacher, and they were all eager students, even if they didn't realize what they were being instructed in."
"That's... that's kind of sad," she whispered.
"Don't feel too bad about it though. Sometimes this sort of thing is beyond our power to control. Togetic did what it had to do. Misty doesn't hate it for that, but it's still going to hurt for a while. She's strong; she'll get over it. So will Ash. Just be there to help them if they need it."
May nodded rapidly. "I don't know what I'd do if I had to release Torchic..." she admitted quietly.
"It's possible that you might need to, someday."
May blinked at that.
"Don't look at me like that," he waved his hand dismissively. "It's not likely, but it's possible. Ash TRIED to release Pikachu but he'd have none of it. Don't worry, like I said, not likely at all. Just keep it in mind in case it DOES come up. Alright?"
May nodded slightly, almost eagerly. Relieved; if someone had told her that releasing Pokemon was a common thing, she'd likely have never gotten into training in the first place. She was in this primarily for the travel, but she knew if she got into it she'd get attached to the Pokemon, most likely. She'd have found another way. She filed away the apparent attempted release of Pikachu, however; that was a story she wanted to hear, but it would be another day.
"Brock? Thanks for being there for us." May said, with a smile.
"My pleasure, May." Brock said. "Shall we head back to camp?..."
May shook her head. "I'm gonna just stick around out here for a little longer if that's alright."
Brock nodded. "Alright. But don't dwell on this too much. It's not good for you. If you don't learn to deal with it well, it can eat you if you let it happen."
May nodded. "I'll be fine." She smiled.
Brock took his leave; fortunately the camp was readily visible, close enough that one might question whether or not Brock really left at all. But May just needed some time to decompress, to analyze, to figure out what precisely what was going on.
She leaned back and stared up at the moon.
Loss is a part of life. A hard notion to accept, even if it was true.
She breathed in the cool night air as these thoughts churned within her. The girl was a young teenager; she hadn't experienced much loss like this before, but eventually, some day, it would come, unless people were grieving HER loss much too soon. Neither was an overly attractive prospect.
One hand trailed down to the Pokeballs that hung at her belt. She patted them gently.
Well then, she thought, if that's the case, then she was going to just need to learn how to make the most of things.
And that night, while Togetic got used to its new responsibilities, and missed its mother and father, and those same adoptive parents came to accept the loss, May grew up just a little bit. And maybe that's one of the things a Pokemon journey is all about.
I'm rather surprised I got this one together. I'm far from Togepi's biggest fan, but this seemed like a very good and believable way to have an outside observer look in on Ash and Misty, and this was definitely glossed over in the anime since they shipped Misty off right back to Cerulean City right after Togepi left. And, much like Misty herself a year afterwards, Togepi was scarcely, if ever, even mentioned again. That said, now I have officially finished a whole Pokeshipping Week, even if the last bit was a tiny bit late, and it was out of order.
I'd like to thank everyone who has reviewed my stuff thus far. I'd be interested in anything you might have to say regarding this one, along with the other stories I've got up (all Pokeshipping Week as of this writing). My stuff aside, Pokeshipping Week has been impressive this year. There have been some very talented writers out there that showed their stuff for it. I'm trying to read through as many as I can, though I haven't had a lot of free time to do it so far.
While I am not going to make any promises, I've had multiple requests to continue writing for the continuity that I've put here. I've got some ideas I've been working on, so with any luck I'll be able to come up with some more things to add here.
In any case, thanks again for reading!