Without Gary in her life, Misty felt as though she were still trapped. Her body may have been released, but she was not free.

Gentle sunbeams embraced Pallet Town within their morning light. The sun had just begun to peek over the horizon, but its rays were welcomed like the hug of an old friend. Misty smiled softly as the glow warmed her face; ever since her release from the Revivalist's base she had vowed never again to take the daylight for granted.

A humid summer breeze sighed across her face, stirring her hair, and making the already damp air seem all the more muggy. But Misty didn't mind the heat - it was yet another facet of life that she had missed desperately during her nights in that cell.

Misty turned her face into the breeze, enjoying natures comfort for as long as it lasted. She was sitting alone on the front porch of the Oak Mansion in Pallet Town. She had been sitting there for over forty minuets now; all the while trying to decide if she should get up and leave or go to the door and knock.

Gary was in town. He was home for the first time since before his kidnapping. He was paying a visit to his grandfather and older sister.

Misty was not supposed to know that Gary was here. But she and Ash had eavesdropped on a vidphone conversation between the professor and Delia last week. The adults had been discussing Gary's top secret visit home.

Misty had practically hyperventilated when she overheard the news. Ash had had to - literally – clamp a hand over her mouth to keep his mother from hearing them. The two of them had quickly rushed outside to talk about the matter. Misty's instant reaction was telling Ash that she had to see Gary. But Ash had disagreed; he tried to make Misty promise that she would not try and see Gary. He told her that she must respect Gary's obvious need for space.

"If Gary wanted to see you, Misty, then he would have contacted you".

Ash's words had hurt. Misty knew that he was trying to spare her the pain if, perhaps, Gary did not - or could not - have anything to do with her. And despite the possible truth in Ash's words, Misty could not make that promise to him.

Misty had not seen Gary in seven months and six days. She had not seen him, not talked to him, and had not received any word from him in all of that time.

Seven weary months had somehow crept by, dragging Misty along with them.

After the first three months Misty finally consented to going on her date with Ash. It had been enjoyable . . . they saw a funny movie; had dinner at their favorite burger joint. Ash had changed into a clean dress shirt for the occasion. He removed his Pokemon baseball cap, combed his hair, and even sprinkled on some pleasant cologne. Nicer still, Ash had brought her a beautiful bouquet of water lilies . . . her favorite flowers.

It was the prefect, ideal date. It was her dream date in every possible way, except . . . it was with the wrong guy.

Misty's insides churned with guilt, but Gary's face remained vibrant in her mind. She saw him every time she closed her eyes. She could still see him standing there on that godforsaken stage, condemned and alone, with that beast breathing down his neck. The anguish she had felt then was just as potent now. The terrible memory swelled inside her . . . every time the beast panted, Brock's grip on her body had tightened. Brock had carried her away from Gary! Brock took her away from him when he needed her most! Every time she screamed to be released, Gary became farther away. She felt so insufferably helpless.

Brock took her outside and into the light, and the beast engulfed Gary within Its solitary existence.

Gary had detached himself from her. He was trying to protect her – Misty knew that. He had been dragged to a place she was neither wanted nor safe to venture toward – at least as long as that thing controlled his life.

These past seven months Gary had been living someplace in the Orange Islands; but he may as well have been taken to the other side of the world. He felt unbearably distant from her . . . but at the same time: he was in the shadows of every corner that she turned. His was the face she longed for every time the vidphone rang. His words were the ones she desperately needed to see every time the postman placed a letter in her mailbox.

It had been seven months and six days since they had been rescued from the Revivalist's base. For seven months and six days Misty had been home, sleeping in her own bed; surrounded by her family; comforted by her friends . . . spending time with Ash. She had been haunted by seven months and six days worth of nightmares, hospital and therapy bills, and memories. She had endured seven months and six days of everyone – her sisters, her parents, Brock, Ash, Mrs. Ketchem, and even Professor Oak – urging her to forget Gary. At first they had all wanted to rally together and find a means to rescue him . . . but as the months slipped by nobody could find him. Everyone started to accept Gary's fate. They instead tried to pick up the pieces of their own lives and move on.

There was nothing anyone could do. Gary was beyond reach, beyond help. "Forget him," Professor Oak had advised her gently, "if my grandson were able to see you, Misty, he would do so. But he can't." It was easy for the professor to say, for Misty had heard through the Ketchem grapevine that Gary was actually communicating with his grandfather. Professor Oak was the only person alive who Gary was talking to; and he had told her to specifically forget Gary! The professor had said it as though it were a mere normality of life - something that she would simply have to accept . . . to move on as though Gary were dead. Dead! Gary was NOT dead! He had struggled like hell to stay alive! It might have been easier for everyone else to try and give up as opposed to fighting for him. Maybe all their fight had been robbed from them during their treacherous captivity? But it was over now . . . the Revivalists were behind bars.

Months ago the Revivalists had all been tried and convicted of dozens of crimes: kidnapping, attempted murder, abuse, illegal drug administration, and unauthorized Pokemon battling. You name it, they had been found guilty. The judge had shown no mercy. Almost all of the Revivalists were looking at fifteen to thirty years.

The Seer and Derrick were facing twenty five years to life. The Seer, being an older man, was no doubt destined to spend the remainder of his life in a maximum security prison.

Derrick's lawyer had set up a strong case in plea of insanity. Derrick even told the court the mournful story of his life. But after the judge and jury heard testimonies from Lance and the others about his malicious brutality, they had granted him no sympathy. The court ruled that: if Derrick was well-behaved and he agreed to cooperate with the prison psychiatrist, he might be illegible for parole in twenty five years.

Misty prayed that would never happen. She still could not even hear the name 'Derrick' without shuddering. Not even now, seven months since she had last laid eyes upon him.

Derrick had been so viciously cruel to Gary. Gary had shamed him once, years ago, and he had paid the ultimate price for his arrogant youthful mockeries. Gary had been a downright jerk to everyone back then. But he had changed . . . Misty had been the lucky one to see him change . . .

Her memories of their time in the cell replayed in her mind like a broken projector. Some of the memories were terrifying: Misty remembered the morning she woke up to find Gary cold and stiff on the floor. She thought that he had died – if Team Rocket had not come in when they did and taken him to the sick ward - he probably would have.

Other recollections made Misty tremble from the innocent significance they held. She recalled their first real conversation in the cell. She had asked Gary what he thought was going to happen to them. He had replied instantly: "I don't think it's a smart move to lose a battle . . . but I sure as hell don't wanna win either. Whatever this Revival is, I want nothing do to with it."

If only they had known then what they knew at the end. When Gary had spoken those words he was not looking out for anyone but himself. It was not until they began to depend on one another did everything change. Perhaps the change was for the better, perhaps for the worst? If Gary had known sooner about his grizzly destiny would he have still fought so hard to save her?

The questions taunted her mercilessly, until Misty was forced to search for a happier memory. What she found instead brought tears of regret to her eyes . . .

Misty frowned thoughtfully. "Someone, somehow is bound to rescue us. In the mean time," she leaned in closer to Gary. "You can answer my question about kissing your cheerleaders."

Gary laughed again. "Persistent, I like that," he teased with a wink.

Misty puckered her lips, imitating a pouty kiss. "Come on, Gary. So what's it like?"

He cocked his head to the side, amused by her melodrama. "What's 'what' like?"

"Well," Misty faltered for a moment, rethinking her inquiry. "Well, kissing?"

"Ah-ha!" Gary raised a finger triumphantly. "You've never kissed a guy. So you haven't kissed Ash."

Misty blushed again. "No, okay. I haven't kissed anyone before. I certainly have not kissed Ash!"

Gary flashed an impish grin. "I can show you what it's like. It's easy."

Misty's mouth dropped open offensively. "No way!"

Gary shrugged carelessly. "Just trying to help. Prepare you for the big moment with Ash," Misty thought she heard a bitterness chafe at his tone.

"No. I want my fist kiss to be real. Not a fake lesson-type of kiss. Besides, I am not kissing Ash. I'm not kissing ANYONE! Not unless I am crazy about him, and he is genuinely crazy about me," Misty released an exasperated sigh. "Good Lord, Gary Oak!"

"Just teasing you. You know, 'ha-ha' a joke?" he retorted dryly. "Besides," he added quietly. "I have the same standards as you, Misty."

Another warm breeze stroked Misty's skin, but this time it provided her with zero comfort. Misty squeezed her eyes shut tightly, but the act did little to stop the flow of tears as the memories played on . . .

"Gary, I really can't do this. I'm going to break down. I feel like . . . like I keep falling with each new horrible mystery. And one of these times I won't be able to get back up."

"Don't talk like that! That won't happen," Gary's expression was unwavering. "But if it does, Misty, then I'll be here to carry you."

He said he would be here! More than once . . .

"I don't know what I would do without you."

"I will never leave you. I told you before, I am going to be here for you, Misty,"

Gary promised! He had meant it. She knew that he did. Where was he? She had been falling -- ever since Brock had carried her out of that door. Little by little, as the months crawled by, a tiny piece of her continued to crumble and fall away into nothingness. What would happen when there was nothing left of her? What would happen if Gary never retuned to catch her and hold her together? She needed him! Didn't he understand that?

Maybe she should have stepped off of that porch and into a new life? But every time she tried to gather the wits to leave, she could not seem to find the strength to stand. Her own unresolved emotions were weighing her down. There were too many unanswered questions and unsettled feelings – theses things completely hindered her life. She was trapped! She wanted to be free! Misty just needed to see Gary . . . to know that he was okay with her own eyes. She also . . . needed to know how he truly felt about her once and for all.

Misty felt as though she were standing in the middle of a tightrope – frightened to make a conclusive move. A part of her wanted to turn around and walk back to where it was safe and secure. But the rest of her urged her onward. She had already come this far; she was half way to the other side. Could she really live her life happily if she didn't go all the way? Wouldn't she always wonder what was waiting for her over there? She had come this far. And she desperately wanted to cross - even though she didn't know what to expect. And . . . if she went there – into the unknown- then there would be no turning back. Brock's warning resounded in her mind: "But, Misty, listen: you need to realize that if you decide to pursue your feelings for Gary, then you are giving up Ash forever."

The unknown was what she really loved. Gary Oak was who she really loved.

Misty fixated on the Oak's front door. Inhaling, she took a step down that unsteady tightrope. Misty took one step after another until she found herself knocking on the door.

Within seconds Gary's older sister, May, appeared in the door frame.

Misty had met May a couple of times before at various Oak and Ketchem family events. However, she had never really exchanged more than a few words with the older girl. Therefore, at first, Misty wasn't really sure what to say. Granted she was far from shy, but, she found herself avoiding May's curious blue eyes.

"Excuse me, Miss Oak, I'm not sure if you remember me? I'm Misty Waterflower. I - I'm a-"

May smiled thoughtfully, tucking a few strands of auburn hair behind her ears. "I was wondering if you were ever going to knock, Misty. I looked out the window a half hour ago and saw you sitting there."

Misty felt her cheeks burn with embarrassment, she shifted her weight awkwardly. "I'm sorry. I know that Gary is home spending time with you and the professor. I – I just didn't know if I should interrupt. I just," Misty sighed, meeting May's eyes earnestly. "I know that Gary didn't invite me, but, I just really want to see him, please."

May nibbled her lower lip. "Listen, Misty. Don't take it personally, okay? Gary didn't want to see anyone when he was home. He spent most of his visit in the laboratory with granddad going over research on that Pokemon. He didn't want company. I barely saw him myself."

Misty shook her head, her heart hammering nervously. "Wait! 'When he was home'? As in 'past-tense'? What, did Gary already leave? I missed him! How! I've been outside the door this whole time!"

May raised a hand to silence Misty. "Listen, my brother just left about ten minuets ago. I don't know where he is, but, I know where he's going: the Indigo Plateau," a soft smirk found May's lips and she eyed Misty intently. "As we speak Gary is walking to Saffron. From there, he plans to catch a train to the plateau. He has to present his research to the Elite Four and put on a demonstration with the Pokemon for them. Misty, you didn't see Gary leave because he left through the backdoor. He wasn't trying to avoid you; he didn't even know you were out here. I never told him. He just always leaves through the backdoor. My brother likes to walk through the research fields. The trails are filled with his old Pokemon, and the main trail points him towards Saffron," May raised an amused eyebrow. "My brother moves pretty fast, Misty, you'd better hurry if you're going to catch up with him."

Misty's heart nearly pounded through her chest! Her eyes widened with gratitude towards May.

May smiled knowingly. "Go," she encouraged. "Don't let him get away."

"Thank you!" Perhaps she did not know May well, but Misty could not resist the impulse to embrace the older girl within a quick squeeze. "Thank you!" Misty would have sung her gratefulness had she not been leaping from the porch like a Politoed.

Misty's feet hit the ground with a tremendous thud, but she grinned in spite of the discomfort. Her adrenalin was already coursing wildly through her system! Misty hardly noticed the burning in her lungs as she ran full speed around the Oak Mansion.

The research field was enclosed by a small brown fence; Misty was running too fast to slam on the breaks and open the gate. Instead, she jumped the fence like a gymnast would a hurtle, and sprinted through the pastures before her.

Several Spearow's and Sandshrew's popped their heads out of holes and bushes. The Pokemon watched with extreme confusion as Misty whizzed past them.

Professor Oak's grass was insanely long! It looked as though it hadn't been mowed in months. The foliage scratched at Misty's thighs as she moved. Because of its length, it was impairing her ability to properly navigate the field. The grass was hiding the research trails from her view.

As she dashed onward, Misty noticed a narrow dirt path which was leading in the general direction of the Pallet Woods. The path was so slender that there was no way two people could even walk side-by-side without one being forced into the scratchy grass. The path was hard and rocky. Misty could not detect any footprints to confirm whether Gary had passed by this way or not; but instinct urged Misty keep going. This just had to be the path that May was referring too.

Misty ran faster. She was kicking up heaps of dirt and sand as she went. She knew that she was breathing hard; she could hear her own exhausted panting in her ears. Only, her excitement was still dulling her from feeling any physical strain. Misty could no longer feel the sharp grass against her legs; the fire in her lungs; nor the pebble which was rocking back and forth in her left shoe. She pressed forward.

Gary had a ten minute lead on her, but Misty knew that he was probably walking – not running. And, hell, even if he were running she was bound and determined to catch him anyway. He was not getting on that train in Saffron until she reached him.

Out of nowhere, Misty heard a light-footed pounding. She turned her neck to see Gary's Umbreon racing along behind her. The dark canine yapped loudly, encouraging her on. Misty nodded at the Pokemon and continued to charge ahead. The Umbreon hustled along side her, into the grass, and matched her pace.

Misty's adrenaline was waning. She found herself hungrily sucking the air into her throat; she also felt a stabbing cramp in her left side. She winced as her pace slowed.

Then, Misty heard a strange buzzing from overhead. She glanced upward and noticed Gary's ruby-red Sizor flying above her. Sizor nodded at her; and then focused his sight before them -- confirming that she was indeed nearing Gary. Hope seemed to infuse Misty's veins, supplying her with a second burst of energy.

Misty pushed onward, gaining renewed strength and confidence from the Pokemon's assuring presences.

Her breathing was still strangled and the pebble in her shoe had long ago cut into her heel. Misty gasped loudly as she proceeded up a small hill; when she reached the top she paused momentarily to gather her bearings. From the hilltop she could see the trees from the nearby forest. The Pallet Woods were close by, less than a mile. Misty only hoped that Gary was not already in the woods -- she would have a much harder time finding him within the dark confines of the forest.

In unison both Umbreon and Sizor grunted and turned around. Misty eyed them nervously. Why were they going back towards the mansion? She had rather enjoyed having them as brief traveling companions. Was she going the wrong way? Had she somehow taken a wrong turn?

Sizor glanced back at her and nodded again. It seemed like he was telling her to press onward without them now.

Misty was far too short on breath to say anything to Sizor. But she understood that - for whatever reason - the two Pokemon wanted her to go on by herself.

Misty allowed her eyes to scan the field. From her elevated position she had a much better view of the overgrown landscape. Maybe if she looked hard enough she would find some kind of evidence that Gary was nearby?

The dirt trail was beginning to grow even thinner. It was gradually tapering off into only grass. If Misty ran much farther she would be path-less . . . would she be able to follow Gary then? Misty's eyes swept left and right over the field . . . she saw the same thing in every direction: long blades of grass . . . green and yellow and green and yellow and green and yellow and brown and . . . brown?

The remainder of Misty's breath caught in her throat.

Most of the grass here was bright green or yellow -- it was young grass, summer grass. It was not autumn; the grass should not have browned yet. But Misty was seeing some distinctly mocha colored spikes. The spikes were sticking out from the rest, moving along, and nearing the edge of the forest.

Misty did not hesitate: SHE RAN!

She ran faster than ever before!

She tried to call out to him through her parched throat - through her wheezing - but it was impossible. She could not generate any sound. She just had to catch him!

Misty skidded down the hill on her heels, fell onto her backside, scrambled like a madwoman to her feet, and threw herself head first back onto the path!

She bolted like her legs were each strikes of lightning; clashing together like a tropical storm and tearing up chunks of dirt and grass as she blazed onward.

She was gaining on him!

Misty saw areas of grass along the path that had been temporarily bent by his passing.

"G-Gary!" she somehow managed to produce enough breath to formulate his name. "GARY!" she shouted this time.

Ahead of her, Gary's silhouette appeared beneath the forest shadows. His wild mane was ruffled by a warm gust of air. The muscles in his shoulders and back tensed as he heard his name called.

He was clothed in a simple white t-shirt and a pair of dark jeans. The white fabric instantly drew attention to how tanned his skin was. Gary's tan was no doubt an attractive souvenir from his time spent around the Orange Islands.

He had a navy knapsack slung across his back; it was bulging with what looked like manila folders and technical equipment.

"GARY!" Misty yelled again; she was within fifteen feet of him now.

Gary stopped moving. He was standing in the shade as though frozen by her voice. His hands were trembling loosely at his sides.

Misty stumbled to a standstill. She buckled over, resting her hands on her knees, struggling to catch her breath.

Misty peered upward, watching as Gary turned slowly to face her.

Misty smiled up at him sheepishly. She was trying to calm her lungs so that she could speak.

She had fantasized hundreds of times about what she would say when she finally saw him again – about what she would do. Misty had had it all planned out like a perfect script from a romance novel. But now, facing him here, Misty was struck speechless. Gary only stood, staring at her blankly and clearly surprised.

Misty's eyes washed over him. Gary was more handsome than she had remembered. The last time she saw him he was wholly exhausted, pale, and shivering. The young man before her now had grown quite a few centimeters in the last several months. As she had noted a moment before, his skin was sun-kissed with a healthy bronze glow. His darker complexion contrasted against his brilliant blue eyes, making them all the more striking. His eyes almost seemed to throw blue sparks; and these sparks immediately ignited the air between them. Gary's lips parted, and he mouthed her name. Although Gary had not been running, he suddenly seemed to be as lack of breath as she was.

"Gary!" an unknown force seemed to propel Misty forward. Gary took a step toward her and Misty rushed into his outstretched arms. "Oh my God," Misty cried loudly and buried her face in his chest. She inhaled his wonderfully familiar scent. His strong hands were wrapped around her back. His face nuzzled into the crock of her neck. His hot breath caused sizzling shivers to jolt down her spine. Misty reached upward, seizing fist-fills of his hair. His hair was so soft it almost seemed to melt through her fingers.

Misty smiled broadly into his chest. In fact, she was grinning so hard that her cheeks began to ache. Gary was laughing gently in her ear, and - for reasons that were completely unknown to her - Misty couldn't help but giggle along with him.

She had a bazillion questions for Gary ping-ponging inside her skull: Why didn't you contact me? Are you alright? Where is the Pokemon? Where have you been? But only one question seemed to dance upon her tongue . . .

"Gary," Misty pulled back so that she could look at him. She instantly found herself sinking into his azure orbs. "Do you love me?"

Gary blinked, startled by her forwardness and glanced to the side. Misty was not easily deterred; she grunted and moved her hands from his hair to his shoulders. She shook him firmly -- forcing him to face her.

Gary tensed, pulling his own hands away from her body. Misty instantly missed the heat of his touch.

"Misty," Gary's voice was a husky sigh, and Misty relished the sound of her name on his lips. "You - you're with Ash now. I can't possibly. . . I don't know how to answer that question anymore."

Misty's head jerked backward. "What? With Ash?"

Gary nodded; the pain in his eyes was slashing at her heart. "About four months ago my grandfather told me about you and Ash. Misty, it's okay, I'm happy for you both."

"No," Misty shook her head, choking back a frustrated sob. "Your grandfather was mistaken, Gary," she gently placed her hands on his face – forcing him to look at her again. "Yes, I did agree to a date with Ash. My sisters and Brock encouraged me to do it. They all told me that I had to give it a try - that I had to forget you and move on. I didn't know what to do! You never called me! It's been over seven months, Gary! Seven months and-"

"I know," he shut his eyes. "Seven months and six days," he breathed so quietly she barely heard him.

Misty gasped. "My God, you've been counting too?"

Gary nodded. His eyes were still squeezed shut as though it were far too excruciating for him to look at her.

"I'm not with Ash. I couldn't. In fairness to him I tried, but I knew that it wasn't right," Misty's voice was steady, but there was an edge of pleading in her tone.

Gary finally glanced at her; his forehead creasing in confusion. "But my grandfather-"

"Ash's mom read way too much into our date! She must have told your grandfather all about it. Ash and I haven't even been on a date in three months. I just couldn't! I couldn't! I want to be with YOU, and I told Ash that. He still thinks that, given time, I'll come around and realize that I'm never going to be able to be with you, Gary. He thinks that if he waits I'll want to try again. Ash has been wonderful and patient and I don't even deserve his devotion . . . but I can't return it! I can't because I'm in love with you, Gary Oak! I should be madder than hell at you for going away, for not calling! But, dammit, we left things so . . . I don't know! Everything was so confusing then. The Revivalist situation was beyond extreme. I thought that maybe once I got settled back into reality my feelings for you would fade; or at least sort themselves out. But in all this time my heart has been telling me the same thing. And believe me: I have searched every corner of my heart and mind. I know how I feel about you, and, Gary, I need to know: do you love me too?"

Gary inhaled, but seemed unable to muster a proper reply. Misty began to tremble fearfully. "Please tell me, Gary! Because, I don't know how to live my life without you in it any more. I can't stand not knowing. If I imagined your feelings for me then please, just tell me. I don't know why I feel this way about you. All I do know is that I never want to let you go again."

Grief overwhelmed Gary's handsome face. Another squall of summer wind whipped through the air toyed with his hair. Misty remembered how silky his hair felt within her fingers; she was suddenly very envious of the wind.

He stood there, half cast in sunlight, half in the shadows of the forest. As Misty had previously felt torn to knock on the Oak's front door, Gary now did not know whether to embrace the possibility of light and warmth, or to surrender fully to the darkness. "Misty," his voice was like a dying breath. "What do you want me to say to that? What do you want me to do?"

Her response was immediate. "Stay. Be with me. I don't want to live my life wondering what could have been . . . what should have been!"

Gary stepped backward, shaking his head. "Don't do this to me, Misty. Not now. After what I have put you through all these months . . ." he shivered. "I don't deserve your loyalty. I certainly don't deserve your feelings-"

"What! What do you mean 'you don't deserve'? Gary, you're a hero!"

He hissed scornfully. "Heroes don't usually see happy endings, Misty. They sacrifice. That's what makes them heroes. And to control my Pokemon I have willingly sacrificed everything that I love."

"Well, guess what," Misty stomped her foot fiercely into the earth, her jade eyes were blazing. "I'm not a hero! And I'm not sacrificing anything anymore – especially not our happiness. I want to BE with you. Please, tell me that you feel the same?"

Gary narrowed his eyes at her gravely. "No, we can't. Whatever there was between us . . . it can never be. Accept it."

Misty grabbed his left hand and squeezed it tightly. "I can't accept it! I refuse to! I won't! It will kill me if I have to watch you walk out of my life again. I am not giving up on us. I will hold onto you for dear life if I must to keep you here. I know that you want to be with me."

He shut his eyes, uttering no response.


His arm trembled beneath her grip, and Misty knew that his willpower was trembling along with it. "Misty, stop, if I don't walk away now -"

"What? You won't be able to? Good! Dammit, Gary Oak, tell me what you really want! I can't believe that you want to leave me."

His face broke. "Misty," his voice broke. "I have spent every day for the past seven months trying to convince myself that I loved you enough to give you up," her heart broke. "I thought that it would be okay, because I knew that you would be happy with Ash. God, you don't even know how many times I've started walking back to you, how many times I have wanted to find you and tell you that I love you! To tell you that I can't stand to be without you . . . that I love you too goddamn much to just walk away and give you up to Ash without a fight. I love you, Misty. There I said it. And if I don't say it once more I will regret it for the rest of my life . . . I love you."

Gary's lips found hers then. His mouth covered hers and Misty was submerged by a flood of hunger and yearning so tender it caused her eyes to sting with unshed tears.

She had not even had a chance to prepare for his kiss, but her lips welcomed his eagerly. Gary's lips were smooth and generous; gently taking charge of her inexperienced mouth and showing her just how much he had desperately missed and longed for her. Misty kissed him back with equal fervor. She had always been nervous when thinking about her first kiss; she always wondered if she would know what to do? But kissing Gary caused a raw instinct to surface within her. Never before had anything seemed so natural . . . so perfect.

His hands cupped her chin, and he smiled shyly as their lips finally parted. Gary was breathing hard, his pants pulsating against her mouth. Misty's own heavy breathing beat right back against his.

"Wow. We should have done that a long time ago," Misty placed her hands over his. He chuckled lightly at her comment, his lips brushing her ear. She could not have masked the hope in her eyes had she tried. "Does this mean that you'll stay, Gary? You'll be with me?"

"Yes, I'm going to be with you," Gary flashed a toothy grin, clearly liking the way that sounded. "But I'm not staying. I have to take him to the Elite Four as soon as possible."

Misty frowned. "Take Him?" Gary nodded, pointing downward to a single Pokeball hooked to his belt. Misty was suddenly nervous. "What? It's INSIDE a Pokeball!" Misty examined the ball again; it was just an ordinary Pokeball, not a Master Ball – not even a Great Ball!

"I am his master now," Gary stated as though the creatures presence inside the ball was common sense. "To make a long story short: it took a lot of hard work on both my part and on Mew's. But my Pokemon is not as vicious as everyone thinks. He just wants to be like all the other Pokemon. And I explained to him that in order to be like other Pokemon he was going to have to trust me and travel with me inside of his ball," Gary shuddered. "After the ceremony, I was hearing voices in my head. I started having memories that were not mine. It was the master's voice . . . the master's memories. My Pokemon actually started to bond with me then, he felt sorry for me and wanted to help. He worked with me to rid the voice from my mind. He's not a bad Pokemon, just misunderstood – kind of like me, I guess . . ." he smiled timidly. "Anyway, Granddad just met him for the first time today. They got along really well. But, I'm not surprised; granddad has a way with all Pokemon. Together, we formulated my proposal and application for his own Pokedex number. If the Elite agree, then he'll be an official Pokemon by the end of the week."

Misty swallowed anxiously. "Oh my God. I didn't know you were going through all of that! It sounds so horrible! I should have been there for you."

"No, you couldn't have been. He was too possessive of me then. It took time. He's finally agreed to give me my life back. But I have to train him everyday. I have to keep my end of the bargain and make him a real Pokemon."

"Gary? What did you name him anyway?"

Gary shifted his weight, pulling her into a small hug. "I guess I might as well tell you. If everything goes well at the Plateau then the world will know soon enough. But, Misty, you are the first - besides Mew - to learn his identity."

"Okay, I'm ready to hear it. What did you name him?"

"The Pokemon's name is Freedom."

"Freedom?" Misty wrinkled her forehead, facing Gary. "What? Is that . . . a joke or something? He kidnapped us!"

Gary smiled thoughtfully. "Right before I named him all I could think about was you; and about how much I loved you and that we should have been together. But, I knew that because of the circumstances that my love for you would never get a chance – after all, I was doomed to die then. I wanted to be free to be with you more than anything else in the world, Misty. I wanted to be free of my Oak bonds, to be free of the Revivalists, to be free of everything. And my Pokemon was my freedom. The name just came to me . . . and it was a symbol for me. A symbol that: if my love for you truly was returned then maybe –some how, someway - there was hope for us. And –though it has taken a long time – I was right to entrust in that symbol," Gary sighed; his mind seemed to be fading in and out of some very personal memories. "In some screwed up kind of way, we have Freedom to thank for bringing us together. If it weren't for him I would still be cringing every time you walked into a room and you'd still be rolling your eyes at me. We never would have gotten to know one another. We never would have fallen in love. We . . . owe him, in a way. He freed us from our own personal guards so that we could fall in love."

"You're right." Misty glanced to the Pokeball. Its presence still unnerved her, but her fears were alleviated somewhat now that she had a name to put to the Pokemon's face. She also understood that, had it not been for Freedom, she would never have loved Gary. Freedom had released Gary from Its possessive grip and allowed him to come back to her now. Perhaps Freedom was not as evil as he had seemed? Gary trusted the Pokemon, and Misty was willing to try and do the same. After all, if she were going to be with Gary then she was going to have to get use to Freedom being a huge part of their lives -- as much as Togepi would always be. There was only one thing that was haunting Misty's thoughts: "Gary, what if Freedom turns on you like he did his old master?"

Gary narrowed his eyes. "He won't. He knows that I'm not trying to use him or to abuse his powers. I want to help him . . ."

"And," Misty finished for him. "There aren't many other people who wouldn't misuse his powers . . . I see. Gary, I don't know what to say. Are you sure he's under your control?"

"No," Gary smiled faintly. "Nothing is ever certain. But Freedom and I have an understanding. After the first three months of training Freedom, Mew made him realize that it was unreasonable to make me love no one but him. That was when I almost came home to you. But when I called home to inquire about you, my grandfather told me about you and Ash. I thought that whatever transpired between us at the Revivalist's base had vanished – at least for you. I always knew that you cared for Ash and he for you. If you two were happy together I wasn't going to try and butt into that. I figured there was no point; after all, nobody was ever expecting to really see me again. So, I didn't bother coming home. I couldn't risk seeing you . . . I knew that if I did I wouldn't be able to control my feelings. It was better that I stay away."

"But you did come back today?"

"I needed my grandfathers help with Freedom's proposal and . . . I was hoping that I, I dunno . . . that maybe I'd learn something to disprove your affections for Ash."

Misty's lips pressed his again. This kiss was shorter than the last, but charged with just as much emotion. "You did," she whispered. "Will you please stay here?"
"I can't. I'm going to the Indigo Plateau. I have to be there by tomorrow. But I promise that I'll come back for you after. You can come with me!" he grinned. "I've been working out of a small lab in the Orange Islands. It's not too fancy, but there are tons of Water Pokemon there and you can catch them and-"

Gary was rambling on excitedly. Misty giggled again, cutting him off. "I don't care what it's like or what Pokemon are there. I just want to be with you."

"You mean it, Misty? You really want come with me to the Islands? God knows, I want you to come. But, I mean, it's not going to be a fairytale ending. Our personalities are bound to clash from time to time . . . and you'll have to put up with my late hours of researching, my computer equipment all over the place, and my superior knowledge on Pokemon might get on your nerves and-"

"Well, thank goodness you're modest enough to warn me," Misty teased. "Yes, Gary! I'm positive! I'm certain. I've never been more certain of anything. After all we've suffered together I think I can endure late night researching and some messes. As far as your superior knowledge goes: we'll just have to test that boast at a later date."

Gary smirked playfully. "Okay then!" he hugged her again. "I'll be back for you sometime next week probably. I'll call you everyday and-"

"No way, I'm going with you to the Plateau. Right now. Let's go," she tugged his sleeve towards the forest path.

Gary laughed. "Easy there, my stubborn little Flareon! You don't have any clothes or travel supplies. Plus, aren't you staying with the Ketchem's? Don't you need to tell Delia that you're leaving? She'll be worried. And isn't your Togepi still there?"

"Togepi doesn't need to come with us to the Plateau. I'll pick up the baby on the way back. And Cerulean City is on the way to Saffron. We can stop at my gym and I'll call Mrs. Ketchem from there. And I can grab my travel bag too! I'll be all set." Misty grinned, thrilled about the prospect of being with Gary from now on. She loved the Orange Islands and had many wonderful memories of her time there with Ash and Tracey. Misty had always planned on going back there . . . perhaps she could even take a stab at the Orange League Winner's Trophy? Or maybe, with Gary's research expertise to guide her, she could even realize her dream of becoming the world's greatest Water Pokemon trainer! After all, there was no better place to train water types than the Orange Islands! Her mind was reeling at mind blowing speeds, Misty found herself bouncing up and down on her toes with anticipation.

Gary stilled her with a disproving glare. "Misty, what about Ash?"

She froze, her thoughts finally catching up to her with an enormous slam. "You- you're right. I can't just leave without telling him. Oh my God, Gary, how do I do it? How can I tell him that I'm leaving? That- that I'm leaving with you?"

Gary leaned down, pressing their foreheads together gently. "We'll tell him together."

Misty blinked, touched by the depth of his affections for her. "Really? You'd do that?"

"Of course," he kissed her nose. "Where is Ash now?"

"It's eleven in the morning – he's probably just waking up."

"This is not going to be easy," Gary voiced her exact thoughts.

"No," Misty agreed flatly. "But I love you. I've told Ash that already. This will not be coming at him out of the blue. He's just got to understand how I feel . . . I think, on some level, he already does. Ash has been putting his life on hold for me. I know he's anxious to explore Hoenn, and he can be free to move on now. I hate to hurt him like this, but this is my life and I'm only going to get the chance to live it once. I've been away from you long enough. I'm not living with anymore regrets."

"I love you, Misty. Thank you for showing me not to give up on us."

"Like you had a choice."

Gary flaunted a sizable smirk, and then he gingerly interlocked their fingers. "C'mon," he took a step back toward Pallet Town.

"Wait, what about the Elite Four?" Misty halted in place. "If we go back to Pallet now we'll never make it to Saffron in time to catch the train."

"I've still got my old red convertible in granddad's garage. And I'm actually old enough to drive it now," he was unsuccessfully smothering a haughty smile.

Misty clapped her hands gleefully. "We get to take your car to Saffron? Cool! That's a great idea. We'll have more than enough time to say goodbye to Ash and get to the train station way faster than we would walking."

"Of course it's a great idea – I thought of it."

Misty playfully swung at him with her right fist. "Just think: we are going to be together. The nightmare is over. There's no more looking over our shoulders. No more being afraid."

Gary wrapped his hand around her waist and they started back up the hill towards the Oak Mansion. "We make quite a pair, Misty. Today we proved that."

Misty poked him in the ribs. "And I'm going to keep proving that to you every single day."

"Oh boy," Gary laughed. "I look forward to it."

As they reached the top of the hill they were greeted by an entourage of familiar Pokemon faces. Blastoise, Umbreon, Sizor, Arcanine, Nidoking, Jolteon, and more than a dozen of Gary's other Pokemon stood eagerly waiting for them. Misty giggled as Umbreon and Sizor rushed to greet her. These Pokemon had known that Misty would get to him. They had known that she and Gary needed each other all along.

Freedom had caused them to fall in love. And the others had helped her and Gary to confess their love. The irony of it all made her smile.

"What are you grinning about?" Gary whispered as they followed his Pokemon to the mansion.

Misty nuzzled against his chest as they walked. "I'm finally free. For the first time since I lost you, I'm free."

The End.

0o0o0o0o0o0 0o0o000o0o0 0o0o0o0o0o0

Authors Note: Well, I'm about to burst into tears over here. My story is over. OMG!

Wow. Thank you all SO much! I want to thank you all personally, so, please, if you are not a member please email me or leave me with your email so I can thank you. I really want to write to you all personally. Your words of encouragement made this story possible. I never would have even written half of it without you all.

BTW: I tried to post this 2 days ago, but for some reason the site would not let me. So, I'm sorry it is late. Feedback would be much appreciated. I've been working on this story for many years and ending it has been incredibly hard on me. Thank you all so much!

And a special thanks to Alex Warlorn. Alex gave this story its very first review and never missed a single chapter. I am forever grateful for his unwavering support.

I wub you ALL very much. This won't be the last you'll read from me – that's a promise! Happy reading and happy new year, Maia