GOTTA CATCH YA NOW!
WRITTEN BY ZARIUS
BASED ON "GOTTA CATCH YA LATER!"
With the Johto League Super Conference behind them, Ash and his friends decide to take a well-earned rest in Viridian City before they began the short journey back to Ash's home of Pallet Town.
As they stood atop a small hill on the road leading into Viridian City, the three friends took in the lush woodland around them. The mixture of scented flowers and brisk air awoke strong nostalgic memories in Ash, memories of family, and of one day in particular.
So strong was the memory that Ash could hear the voices of the past echo all around him.
"You be good to your Mom"
"Can I step into the wild you Dad?"
"Come and catch me"
"Ash? Is something the matter?" asked a concerned Misty.
Ash, on the defensive, looked her in the eye and let out a hefty laugh.
"Never better Misty"
Ash's faithful Pikachu had taken to the green around the travellers, searching for some wild Pokemon to chase about or to even battle so his partner could catch a few. It loved a challenge, and despite being exhausted from his Johto experience, was eager to keep his battle prowess in tip top condition.
But there was to be no playtime of this calibre to come, as Ash beckoned Pikachu to get a move on as they made their way through the forests.
"Hold up a second Ash, Misty's shoelaces have come loose" said Brock.
Ash, however, was drifting in and out again, the nostalgic pull of the voices in his head compelling him to think back to simpler times.
"Don't you leave me behind Ash Ketchum" snapped Misty as she tied her shoelaces together.
For some reason, it was this that caused Ash to snap back out of his trance-like state.
"What? Oh, yeah, sure Misty, I promise" he said dismissively as Misty caught up with them.
"Our first port of call ought to be the Pokemon Centre" said Brock enthusiastically.
Ash and Misty gave each other knowing looks, they knew what he really wanted.
"Keen to try your luck with Nurse Joy again I see" Ash remarked.
"We see Joy in virtually every town" Misty added.
"See, yet never handle. That's all going to change" said Brock, oozing confidence.
Heading into the city, the Pokemon Centre was indeed the first port of call for the young trio, and Nurse Joy was of course there to greet them.
Ash handed in his pokeballs, each containing a well worn-out Pokemon still recuperating from their exhausting battles.
"I couldn't help but notice you're carrying one too many balls, mind if I help lighten your load?" Brock asked, trying his best to conceal his flirtatious intentions by earning his way into Joy's good graces.
Joy, however, was having none of it.
"I'm afraid the ball is out of your court" said Joy, and gripped one Pokeball she couldn't carry by hand in her teeth, carrying all of them over to the resuscitator.
Brock sighed. Misty patted him on the shoulder.
"Nevermind Brock, you'll get the balls rolling some day" Misty.
A distraught Brock looked Ash's loyal Pikachu dead in the eyes, Pikachu gave Brock a thumbs up and a wink.
Having replenished the Pokemon and returned them to their owners, Nurse Joy took some time out to examine the trio that had ventured into her place of work, she was trying to place their faces, as she was sure she'd seen them before.
Eager to prove her hunch was correct, Joy browsed the centre's vast computer database and looked up a list of trainers who had been present at the centre some months prior. She soon struck pay dirt as Misty's profile and information, including her known relatives, was soon displayed on the screen.
Confident she had found her woman, Nurse Joy returned to the centre's waiting room.
"Excuse me Ma'am, you are related to the Gym leaders of Cerulean City aren't you?" Joy asked her.
"Yes, what of it?" Misty replied, curious as to what was up.
"A few days ago, your sisters dropped by Viridian City and requested we pass along a message to someone fitting your description. They have been summoned to a private beauty pageant in an undisclosed region and may be gone for some time, they have entrusted the running of their gym to you"
Misty let out a faint gasp and frustration built up inside of her, she swiftly let Nurse Joy know how she felt
"How could they do this to me? What about all my free time? I've got a life too you know" she said
"I'm very sorry, I wish I could do something" said Joy.
Misty calmed herself, and turned to her friends for support.
"Guys, I really don't know what to say" she said.
Brock seemed pleased at the news, "Trust me, when the Pewter Gym was entrusted to me, I felt like a huge weight had been placed on my shoulders, but boy did I learn to lift"
Misty wasn't buying how sincere he was.
"Brock, you haven't been near your gym in an age, you left it behind to join us, then you shacked up with she-who-must-not-be-named, then came crawling back to Pallet Town when that went belly up. Don't lecture me about the responsibilities of the world when you're still refusing to take any on board yourself"
Brock looked at her with a sheepish expression, he had been firmly put in his place.
Misty turned to Ash, a slight lump in her throat as an unsettling and unnerving calm took hold of her
"Ash, say something" she said.
Ash produced a smirk and gave her a wink.
"You'll do great Misty" he said, "Besides, it's only until they come back right?" he said.
"Didn't you hear what Joy said? We don't know how long this pageant will take...and it doesn't help that I can read my sisters like a book, they've been on these kind of extended vacations before, but that was when I was little. Now I'm at the right age, they see fit to just get on their bikes and dash off to wherever and leave me with their workload" Misty continued.
"Oh, speaking of bikes, I have another surprise for you" said Joy, heading outside towards the centre's garage and beckoning the trio to join her.
Joy soon emerged from the garage with a very special gift.
Ash's eyes lit up, while Misty's eyes teared up.
"It's your old bike, the one I 'borrowed' to help get Pikachu to this centre for emergency medical treatment when he got injured protecting me. I remember how mad you were, guess you don't need to follow me around much anymore do you?" Ash joked.
Misty, however, didn't see the funny side, to her this was all coming full circle too fast.
"How can you be so calm about this?" she said, "We're being pulled apart and you seem to think it's like every other day"
Misty's words were falling deaf on Ash, as he was recalling, once again, an altogether different day, and altogether different voices.
The voices were known to him, as echoes of the past tended to be. He could see in his mind's eye, himself at a younger age standing outside his house, his mother behind him and his father in front, a heavy bag slouched over his shoulders, and slowly walking away from the pair
"Can I come into the wild with you Dad?" said the young Ketchum.
His father turned and smiled.
"You know how I get to keep all of my wild Pokemon don't you son?" he said.
"You catch them" said Ash.
"Think of where I am now as something you admire from a distance, but when you're old enough to understand, when you're ready to step into the wild, come and catch me" he said.
Ash wanted to ask him one last question, one he felt he ought to ask someone now.
But first he had to settle for the questions that lay in wait for him in the here and now
"Ash Ketchum, are you even listening to me?" Misty snapped angrily.
"I'm sorry Misty, my mind's been elsewhere" said Ash apologetically.
"Maybe it's me that needs to be elsewhere" Misty said, and dashed off towards the mountains.
"Misty, wait" said Ash, but Misty was too emotionally distraught to pay attention, she needed some space.
"Ash, go talk to her" Brock said.
Ash kept himself closed off.
"Will you guys excuse me? I have to make a call" Ash replied.
"Of course" said Nurse Joy.
As Ash headed inside the centre, Brock was left with a feeling of unease, feeling as if nothing had truly prepared him for these emotional winds of change.
"Neither of them are taking this well, Ash is so distant" Brock said to Joy.
"You three have been together a long time haven't you?" said Joy.
"We've led quite a roller coaster life, but we haven't had to deal with the kind of adventure the real world tends to bring" lamented a saddened Brock.
Back at the centre, Ash contacted his mother Delia via video phone
"Hi Mom" he said.
"When are you due back in Pallet Town sweetie?" Delia replied.
Ash cleared his throat, he let his mind wander backwards into the past one last time, hearing the voices of his father and his child self resonate, taking that final exchange they had not as something to cherish, but as something to heed.
Still apprehensive, Ash responded as firmly as he could.
"That's just the thing Mom, I might not be back for a while" Ash said
"Any particular reason?"
"Mom, do you remember when I set off on my journey to be a Pokemon master?" Ash said.
"Proudest day of my life. You've grown into a great trainer. Your advancements in the Johto league were all the neighbours could watch on tv and talk about the next day. Every step you take further and further into the world beyond Pallet Town takes you that further to filling in the shoes of your dad. I know he's as proud of you as I am"
"How is dad?" Ash asked.
"He hasn't come home yet, but when he does we'll celebrate how far you've come" she assured her son.
"I've been thinking a lot about him lately. I bet you have too" Ash said.
"Every day" she replied.
The tone of the conversation turned less jubilant between mother and son as Ash posed a question
"Does it get harder?" he asked.
Delia fell silent, if only briefly, her smile diminished, she briefly closed her eyes and held her hands close to her chest.
Ash felt a pang of guilt, but felt compelled to continue. Something was eating away at him, a choice memory that had been persisting since they arrived in Viridian City.
His mother's voice soothed his inner sense of uncertainty as she finally responded.
"Whenever he or you are far from home, I reach down into my memories and I pick out all of the moments we spend together, and I bring them to the surface. Nothing that brings me such joy could ever be on par with a burden, don't ever think of yourself or your father as something that could bring any day difficulty. The promises you make for tomorrow, are what see you through today"
Ash let these words from the heart ease himself back into the memory of one such promise. One he'd dismissed earlier.
"Don't you leave me behind Ash Ketchum"
The promise he'd made then took his thoughts back further to another conversation, in another lifetime.
"Catch me later" said his father.
"Why not now?" asked the young Ketchum
Ash stepped out of the projected memories, past and present, with renewed conviction, and at peace.
"Is there anything troubling you dear?" Delia asked of her son. Ash shook his head and gently wiped away a small selection of minute tears.
"Nothing Mom. It's nothing. I'll call you again as soon as I can" Ash said.
"I love you sweetheart, catch you later" she said.
She always would keep his Dad close to her.
Ash came out of the centre and found Nurse Joy, he examined the bike.
"You guys did a real swell job" he said.
Nurse Joy beamed with an approving smile. Ash turned back to look at her.
"...But it could do with a slight modification"
A few hours later, Misty had calmed down and had returned from her trek through the mountains, and had caught some water type Pokemon deep in the cavern rock pools. She saw Ash and Brock awaiting her with the bike. Resigned to her fate, Misty took a deep breath and walked over to them.
"Guys, Ash, I wanted to say sorry for..." she began, but quickly cut herself off as she examined the bike, noticing a significant change had been made to it.
"Ash, my bike, why does it have an extra seat?" she asked.
Ash walked over to the bike and stroked the second seat gently with his right hand.
"I thought we could ride back into Cerulean City, you and me, together"
"I'm flattered Ash, but don't you need to head back home?" Misty replied.
"I am" he said.
"Ash, what are you saying?"
Ash gripped Misty's hands tightly with his own. Misty felt a flutter in her chest as her heart beat faster, there was a sincerity in Ash's eyes, something had changed in him.
"I've been thinking a lot about my dad, about a question I asked him when I was younger, he never answered it, he took off into the wild and I've been trying to catch him ever since. My whole journey has been trying to grab something just always out of reach, I can't let this happen again to someone I also admire, someone I care about"
"We'd see each other again" Misty assured him, trying not to blush, "It's only until my sisters come home"
"Then we'll wait for them together, as long as it takes, it's better to have someone keeping you company, let me be there for you the way you always were for me on these travels" Ash argued.
"Your ship needs a captain" Brock remarked, reminding him of something he said the last time he parted company with them.
"How about you Brock? We could always use an extra hand" Misty said.
"Nah, you were right, I need to get back to Pewter City and run the gym, maybe I could work out a bit, put some muscle on so I'm as chiselled as my Onyx" Brock joked.
Ash and Misty mounted the bike, Misty's Togepi was deposited in the basket attached to the front, while Pikachu climbed up Ash's head. The pair waved goodbye to Brock and proceeded to head in the direction of Cerulean City, leaving Brock behind to start his own journey back, but first, he'd try his hand once more at flirting with Joy.
"Are you sure Brock can take care of himself on the way back?" Ash asked Misty.
"Oh knowing him, he'll get a lift from Officer Jenny once she comes over to arrest him for harassing Joy at her workplace" joked Misty.
Ash clung to Misty's back tightly, Pikachu spotted something up in the sky and prodded Ashe's head, prompting him to stare upwards too.
Misty brought the bike to a standstill so she and Togepi could stare upwards at the mesmerising sight also.
High above, a magnificent bird flew over them, a Ho-Oh, native to the Johto region.
"It's beautiful" said Misty.
"It must be heading home" Ash said.
"Just like us right?" said Misty.
"I guess" said Ash.
Misty smiled, she could tell what Ash was thinking,
"You want to try your luck catching something like that?" she asked.
A part of Ash would have jumped at the opportunity, but he opted to stick by his current decision.
"I meant what I said, it's better I leave things to the wild and catch what I already have in front of me"
As the pair resumed their journey, it came to an abrupt halt as the bike fell into a convincingly camouflaged pit.
Thrown from the bike, Ash struggled to get his bearings and almost slipped into unconsciousness. Only Pikachu and Togepie's cries kept him active and alert. He scrambled to Misty's location.
Ash noticed the fall had left Misty with a bruised leg and some minor cuts. He shook her gently, trying to bring her around.
"Come on Misty, wake up" Ash replied.
Much to Ash's relief, Misty came around.
"Anybody ever tell you you're in dire need of a bath?" she said, noticing the specks of grime on Ash's face.
Ash gripped her hand tightly and brought her to her feet. Pikachu and Togepi high-fived one another once it was clear Misty was simply shaken.
"What just happened?" Misty said, observing the deep crater they were in.
"Someone's cruel idea of a prank, this could have been worse for others, what if some kids were playing nearby?" Ash responded.
"Unfortunately for you, playtime is over" uttered a snark voice from above them.
Ash and Misty found themselves face to face with three individuals towering over them.
"Who are you guys?" Ash asked.
"Prepare for trouble" said Kai.
"Team Rocket?" Misty asked.
"Not quite, we're the Triple K, Kim, Kail and Kai, the best trappers and trainers in all of Viridian City, and we've been tasked by Team Rocket with acquiring that Pikachu, hand him over" said Kail.
Misty stepped forward, shielding Pikachu.
"Oh look, she wants to be a hero" observed Kim.
"Get behind me Ash" Misty said.
"Misty, come on, it's my Pikachu they want, let me in on this action" Ash replied.
"I can handle this myself Ash" said Misty.
"I promised you we'd be all in this together from now on, not one soul's an island woman" argued Ash
"Hey, are you having a quarrel down there?" said Kail.
Ash and Misty looked at each other, their faces red with embarrassment.
"I guess Team Rocket's descriptions of these two were accurate, they are lovebirds" Kim said.
"Enough stalling. Kai, send in your Hitmochan" ordered Kail.
Kai did as instructed and sent Hitmochan into the pit.
"I'm sorry Ash, I guess with you willing to live under my roof, I got a little overprotective" Misty remarked as the Hitmonchan came closer.
"Real world responsibilities, don't let them shake you, let me share them" said Ash.
"Ready Pikachu?" said Ash. Pikachu nodded while Togepi retreated to the remains of the bike and hid.
Ash give Misty a confident and sharp look.
"Ok tigress..pounce" he said.
"Go Politoed" Misty commanded as she set one of her own Pokemon loose.
"Use water gun" Misty instructed. Politoed obeyed and let out a gush of high pressure water at the physically intimidating Hitmonchan. It proved super effective, knocking him out instantly.
The triple K sent in two more Pokemon, Hitmonlee and Hitmontop, which surrounded Politoed.
"Pikachu, thunderbolt attack now" instructed Ash.
Pikachu's delivery of the bolt was swift and devastating to Hitmonstop, stunning him. Politoed used the bubbles attack on Hitmonchan, while Pikachu delivered another ferocious thunderbolt to Hitmontop and Rapid Spin on Hitmonlee. It wasn't long before the team of Pallet and Cerulean's finest had mopped the floor with the forces of the Triple K.
Ash and Misty clambered out of the pit and approached the trio, who all backed away slowly
"Hey, nothing personal you know, simply business" Kim said.
"If this was business, consider this pleasure" said Ash, and instructed Pikachu to again use thunderbolt, Misty joined in with Politoed and water gun.
"I guess these stories about blasting off are also true" the trio all screamed in unison as they were catapulted into the air and vanished into the distance.
"Well, guess Team Rocket won't be paying top dollar for those cheapskates services anytime soon" remarked Ash.
"Yeah, but who's going to pay for my bike, it's wrecked again" said Misty as she climbed back into the pit to pick up Togepi.
"Oh I'll sort that old thing out once we get back to the gym. I need to find something to occupy my time while you're accepting Gym battle challenges" Ash said.
"I'd much rather you challenge me every day, at least I know I'll stand more than a fair chance against you" Misty remarked as she climbed back out of the pit.
"Hey" Ash said, slightly annoyed.
Misty smiled and rubbed her hand gently through Ash's hair, handing him back his hat. She kissed him tenderly on the cheek.
"Relax Ash Ketchum, you'll learn a lot. If you stand by your promise well past my sister's return, then by the time we're done, we'll be the talk of the town, and not just as Gym leaders" she said.
Ash pondered what she meant by that, and his mind again drifted back into the mists of time to something Misty had said to him. An unintentional sign at the time?
"You and I will be married someday too"
"I'll hold you to that" Ash said aloud. Misty, having not been privy to his innermost thoughts, was confused.
"I didn't quite catch that" she said.
Ash laughed and began to run enthusiastically towards the direction of Cerulean city. Misty, clutching Togepi tightly, took off after him with Pikachu dashing alongside her.
"Don't you leave me behind Ash Ketchum" she yelled happily.
"Sure Misty, I promise, just so long as you catch me first" Ash yelled back at her.
Now was as good a time as ever.