Well, everyone… it's been quite a journey, but this novel has finally come to an end. I thought I would never see the end of it, especially after I had written the last three lines of the whole thing way over a year ago. However, here it is: the last chapter, the finale… I hope that you enjoy it and that it lives up to your expectations.

Chapter 12s title of "…never know what's round the bend…" comes from the song All We Wanna Do from both the Totally Pokémon and Pokémon 3: The Ultimate Soundtrack CDs. Congratulations to these reviewers for guessing correctly: Xtreme Gamer, Soft Flame Matthias, neogirl7900, J.C. the Wabbit, kIcK aSs BaStArD, and sumguy. Chapter 13's title is from the song Together Forever from the Pokémon: 2 B A Master CD.

CHAPTER 13: …From Now Until The End Of Time…

"WHAT!" Meowth just stared in horror.

"My sentiments exactly," Max muttered.

"But… but…" The Scratch Cat Pokémon's head whipped back and forth from the sheepish Ash to the blushing Misty, his mouth hung open in shock. "Hows can this be!"

"Because, Meowth," Jesse replied, her voice full of regal arrogance as she leaned back against the back side of the basket nonchalantly with her nose in the air. "We tried to warn you, but you wouldn't listen to us, would you?"

Meowth took his stunned gaze off of the pair of twerps long enough to shoot the woman beside him an irritated glare, then allowed his claws to unsheathe in mounting fury as he caught sight of her partner dancing around in small circles, squealing, "I knewwwwww it! I knewwwwww it!" in triumph, in the cramped space of the hot air balloon basket. "CUT IT OUT, JIMMY!"

"But I told you, didn't I!" James cried, suddenly slinging his arms companionably around Ash and Misty's shoulders and leaning in to inform Meowth, not noticing the two twerps' uneasy stares. "I told you! I told you!"

"This's absolutely absurd!" Meowth yowled, crossing his arms in frustration. He heard a snort of agreement and, out of the corner of his eye, saw Max turn his back to the conversation in favor of the darkening sky in his front-right corner of the basket. Poochyena was holding onto the edge of the basket with his two front paws, barking at Taillow and Swablu as they flew past under the hot air balloon, headed for their nests in the treetops. Max put his arms around the pup, leaned against the side, and stared out at the first twinkle of stars in the distance. At least there was one person that shared in his surprise, Meowth thought.

"It's not absurd!" May spoke up, finally turning around from where she was standing at the front end of the basket to dreamily watch the night sky on her right fade into the setting sun on her left. "It makes perfect sense!"

Brock chuckled, and stirred the pot of stew in front of him as he sat cross-legged on the floor in the back-right corner. With a few more threats of electrocution by Pikachu, the worn-out group had persuaded Team Rocket to allow them to borrow one of their portable cooking stoves, and Brock had immediately gotten to work on fixing them all something to eat.

While Jesse, James, and Meowth had been hurriedly preparing to bring aboard five more human passengers and preparing to launch the balloon, Brock had forced the last of the leftover riceballs into Ash and Misty's hands and demanded them to eat, as it would still be some time before a real meal could be prepared. The two needed no second bidding after going for almost twenty-four hours without any food at all, and the riceballs disappeared quickly. However, no one else had eaten since lunch, so as soon as the balloon was up in the air and he had secured the stove, Brock had gotten to work.

After the balloon had been set on its course toward Fortree City in the north, Team Rocket had tried to persuade Ash and Misty to explain how on earth they had ended up escaping the Haunter, escaping the caverns, and escaping death. Of course, the trio had not come right out and asked; they had used every technique in the book to get the previously-deceased pair to tell the story without sounding like they were interested, as being interested just wouldn't be right with their criminal code.

Once they realized what Team Rocket was after, Ash and Misty, along with May and Max, had certainly obliged in telling the tale while Brock listened contentedly and cooked. Describing the awesome battle and all that followed would help them to remember all of the events forever anyway. Jesse, James, and Meowth had all sat in silence, enraptured by the tale until somehow the conversation had turned to Ash and Misty's new status as 'boyfriend and girlfriend.' The cries of delight and confusion from the trio had permanently put a stop to the account.

Pikachu and Togepi were nestled on top of the groups' backpacks, which were stacked in a pile against the right side, and were watching the stew bubbling in its pot. As Brock stirred and chuckled at the conversation in the center of the basket, Togepi trilled and Pikachu twitched his lightening bolt shaped tail in contented amusement.

"None of you's is makin' any sense," Meowth grumbled.

"Be that as it may," Jesse said, the arrogance in her voice as strong as ever, and smirked at the Cat standing next to her, "you do know what this means, don't you?" After a moment of confusion, Meowth's eyes suddenly grew wide in realization.

James, who had released Ash and Misty to lean against the basket on Meowth's other side, grinned insatiably and crowed, "You owe us big time, Meowth!"

Suddenly, the nervous Pokémon's paws were up in the air and he was shaking his head, stuttering, "Oh, come on's now, you's guys…"

"Oh, no you don't!" Jesse was instantly leering angrily at the Scratch Cat, who quickly cowered in fear behind his paws. "You're not getting out of this one, Meowth!"

"That's right!" James put in, crossing his arms firmly. "We all made a bet, and you're sticking to it! Just because you lost doesn't mean that-"

"Now, waits a minute!" Meowth was suddenly up in arms as well. "How does I's know you's two ain't rigged this!"

"'Rig it?' How on earth could we do something like that?" James cried indignantly.

"Hey, you two," Jesse suddenly whipped around to face the bewildered Ash and Misty. "How long have you all known about your little love-crush thing?"

Misty's light blush grew bright red. Ash finally managed to get out, "Just today," before his voice caught in his throat in embarrassment.

"See?" Jesse leered at Meowth once more. "How could we fix that if they only got together today?"

"You's twos were down in that cavern-"

"They were dead, for Ho-oh's sake!" James cried in exasperation. "You can't talk to ghosts you can't see and tell them to pretend they're in love and expect them to do that for no reason!"

"Now just a second, you three," Brock suddenly put in, his eyebrows raised in curiosity. "Let me see if I've got this right. You three had a bet going about Ash and Misty becoming a couple?" May was watching the entire thing with a big grin on her face. Ash's mouth was slightly open, waiting to see if someone would say something that would let him understand what was going on. Misty's eyes were wide above her reddened cheeks. Max was pointedly ignoring them all.

"Yes, we did," James proclaimed in a dignified manner, "And now Meowth thinks he can back out of it because he was wrong, and I knew they'd get together all along!" May burst out laughing. Misty's face was now hidden behind her hands. Ash's mouth had promptly shut.

Brock went back to stirring the stew with a grin. "I knew I should have accepted that bet with Tracey…" he chuckled quietly. "I wish I had known that other people had bet on Ash and Misty, too." Only Pikachu had heard him, and the electric Pokémon purred jovially and exchanged a knowing glance with the breeder.

"How would you… know…" Ash began, talking almost to himself, but quickly cut his question short. He caught Misty glancing at him in disconcertment through her fingers, before she closed the spaces and continued to keep her red face covered.

Meanwhile, Jesse was shouting, "Fork it over, furball!" with her hand held out in Meowth's horrified face. "It's time to pay up! Your entire paycheck, if you please…"

Meowth's mouth suddenly closed, and he quickly looked away from Jesse's eyes. "Oh…" he said slowly, and began to nod, keeping his gaze on the floor of the basket. "Alright. Justs a second. One paycheck, comin's right up! You's twos got's me fair and squares, alright." Jesse stared at Meowth suspiciously, and James stared questioningly, as the Scratch Cat wandered away from them to dig out his paycheck.

Shoo! Meowth breathed out an internal sigh of relief to himself. Thanks goodness that Jesse and James forgot that when Jesse got's pulled into the bet, the stakes doubled for me to's accommodate Jesse's money! …Heh, can't let them remember that!

As Meowth divided up the bills in equal halves for his two partners, an air of martyrdom about him, May turned back to stare out at the sky with the wide grin still plastered on her face. She crossed her arms and leaned them on the edge of the basket, placing her chin on top to steady her gaze. All she could see on the ground was the forest of Route 119 below them, and the tiny path they had been traveling on toward Fortree City the day before. May suddenly realized just how much had changed in the last day for her little band of friends.

I think, though, it's mostly for the best, she thought, her grin slowly fading into a soft smile. We faced a lot of tough challenges: finding Ash and Misty, figuring out what had happened to them, and defeating that Haunter. But we all made it, and we're all alive. Even better, I think we learned some things, too.

She could see her younger brother standing in his corner out of the corner of her eye, the light breeze from the forward motion of the balloon tousling his short hair. She knew that he wasn't too angry with Ash and Misty for suddenly changing the way the group would be from now on, even though it was likely that the pair would spend more time with each other rather than with herself, Brock, or Max individually. Neither would probably tutor Max on all things Pokémon the way they had before, at least not until all of the changes had settled in to become the new norm.

May felt her smile sadden. Knowing her brother, he was probably just startled and bewildered, and maybe even a bit jealous. After all, Ash and Misty had connected on a deeper level, while Max had lost a chance of making a new friend and partner out of Sableye. But I think he's learned a lot about himself. He's definitely not the crybaby I used to know, or he'd still be whining over Sableye. And he was awesome in that battle against Haunter! He showed a lot of skill and confidence in his abilities; I wish mom and dad had been able to see him. I know he'll make a great trainer someday… but I probably shouldn't tell him or he'll just get a big head! May giggled to herself.

I think Brock probably learned some stuff, too. She glanced around for a moment to watch the breeder stirring the suddenly delicious-smelling stew and calmly ignoring the almost-drooling James that was practically leaning over his shoulder now. After worrying so much last night about Ash and Misty, surely he's realized that he's not solely responsible for all of us, just because he's the oldest. We're all responsible for our actions, and we can take care of ourselves if we need to, just like Ash and Misty did… even if they did almost die.

And, of course… May felt herself grinning once more as she glanced at Ash and Misty, who were watching Brock defending the pot of stew from all three Team Rocket members with only his ladle. Both were smiling now, as all of the fuss was turned away from them, though Misty's face was still dreadfully pink. Ash and Misty definitely learned the most out of all of us. I mean, learning about how much you really care about someone and then finding out that they care about you the same way, too? That's a bunch of stuff to take in. It'll probably take a while for them to get used to being a couple, because now, they have to learn all new things about each other and themselves. May suddenly caught Misty's eye as the older girl glanced away from the defending of the stew. May winked mischievously, and a self-conscious grin appeared on Misty's face. I already caught them holding hands earlier, so I guess they're learning that kind of stuff already.

May turned back around to the front of the basket and resumed her previous position. I know I learned some things, too… A quiet sigh escaped her lips, and if her younger sibling had glanced at her at that moment, he would have accused her of drifting off again, what with that vague absentminded smile on her face and her unfocused eyes.

After seeing Ash and Misty get together… I know for sure now what I have to do… I really do love Brendan a lot, and I miss him so much… We were such good friends, after all, and for such a long time… I have to tell him. I have to find a way to get in touch with Brendan, and I have to tell him how I feel about him, before it's too late. I mean, you never know what could happen…

If something did happen to him, and I was never able to see him again, or look into his beautiful silver eyes… I would feel horrible the rest of my life if I had never told him that he's more than just a friend to me… And I could be wasting all of our time right now just worrying that he won't care about me back, when there's a chance we could be spending our time being together… I can't keep waiting forever to tell him because none of us have forever to wait; Ash and Misty almost found that out the hard way, I think… And it's worth the risk of our friendship, to find out if he loves me, too… I'll never be truly happy, I don't think, until he knows how I feel about him, no matter what else follows…

May stared out at the sky, dark on her right and light on her left. Her smile gradually changed from absentminded to resolute. I don't know how I'll start my search just yet, but I will find you, Brendan Birch. I will, and when I do, I'll tell you how much I love you… I will…

Once May had turned away after winking at her, Misty found that her feet were carrying her to the left side of the balloon, away from calamitous scene of the trio of thieves begging Brock to be fed. She leaned against the side, drowning out the noise of voices and listening to the hooting calls of awakening Noctowl in the forest below. Her aquatic eyes were enchanted by the sunset in front of her, and she gazed upon it in deep appreciation. The sun was a blast of brilliant gold, red, and orange, and the sky around it was a cloudy blur of pool blue, pink, and violet before it faded into the dark cobalt of the night, sprinkled with white pinpricks of stars. Misty couldn't help herself; the sky reminded her of the crystalfall.

Probably, she figured, anything she saw from now on that was a rainbow of colors would remind her of that natural marvel, hidden deep beneath the surface of the earth in caverns filled with snow and ice.

And the crystalfall would always make her think of the boy that had confessed his love for her there.

Ash was suddenly at her side, as if he had known she was thinking of him and was wishing that he was next to her. He leaned against the side as well, copying her crossed arms and resting them on the edge of the basket the way she had. His eyes copied her eyes as well as his gaze fixed itself on the dazzling sun sinking below the horizon. Noticing that Misty's gaze had turned to himself, Ash tilted his head to look at her and smiled mindlessly.

Misty knew the skin beneath her eyes had to have grown pink once more as she immediately found her gaze back on the sunset. Team Rocket's enthusiasm (well, Jesse and James', at least) over Ash and Misty's new relationship had somehow made her shy of her soul mate, even though she knew there was no reason to be. He was still Ash Ketchum, after all, and always would be. And yet, seeing Team Rocket's reaction, her mind couldn't stop thinking about how others would respond when they learned the news. What would her sisters back in Cerulean say? Or Ash's mom? Tracey? Gary? Professor Oak? Anyone else they knew? Would people support them the way Brock and May were, or would people cry "WHAT!" like Max and Meowth?

Her voice quivering slightly due to her thoughts and general nerves, she spoke quietly of the setting sun and sky. "It's beautiful, isn't it?"

"Yeah…" Misty felt herself smile a bit as Ash's voice trailed off in wonderment. Then, she realized that his eyes were still on her.

How cliché! Her stomach suddenly incredibly warm in embarrassment, Misty felt her left hand quickly give him a playful shove to the shoulder. As Ash stumbled to the side a pace with a short quiet laugh, Misty forced herself to look him in the eyes once more. Those russet eyes of his were sparkling with contentment and delight, but she could see he was still a bit nervous, too. He was obviously trying his hardest to be the sweet-and-caring kind of boyfriend. Misty felt honored, not believing she totally deserved it. She did fuss at him a lot, after all. And hit him. But she wouldn't do that anymore; she had promised herself that down in the caverns, and it was a promise she meant to keep.

With a pleased sigh, she returned to her position to watch the sunset once more, and Ash did the same. Once their group had finalized the transportation arrangements to Fortree and they had quickly consumed the riceballs Brock had given them, Misty had been able to finally sit down and relax long enough to realize just how hot she was feeling. The summer day was cooling as the sun had begun to sink, but to Misty, it felt as if she was trapped in an oven. The heat in the air was scorching, and after consulting Brock (who felt fine) and Ash (who felt as hot as she did), she realized that the snowy caverns must have caused her to feel this way. She and Ash had been trapped in an environment of snow and ice overnight, and as a result, had actually grown used to the cold, especially after their bodies had been left unattended to and almost froze.

After stowing her aquatic-hued crystal in her backpack for safekeeping, she had blushingly returned Ash's vest to him, relieving herself of quite a bit of warmth. She had let her hair remain out of its normal ponytail, however, after seeing a brief expression of disappointed cross Ash's face as she made movements to put it back up. She had then remembered Ash gazing at her in a stupor when she had first taken her hair down, and that memory had decided it for her. And now, with the evening breeze gently blowing through her loose hair as the hot air balloon floated through the sky, she had cooled down to just the right temperature to feel comfortable.

The heat of the summer day had been useful, though. Glancing at her crossed arms, she could see that her skin had gained back a bit of its peachy hue after it had been bleached by the cold and her soul's absence. Ash's skin color was returning to normal as well. Misty had given a great sigh of relief once she had noticed this. She had almost thought that she and Ash would remain as white as sheets forever. The color was coming back to them so slowly, though, that it made Misty wonder if their bodies would have remained pale forever had they been trapped underground in the cold for any longer length of time. She was infinitely glad that they would never have to find out.

Noticing that the noise from the opposite side of the balloon had quieted somewhat, Misty glanced around behind her. Brock had apparently regained his former control over Team Rocket's actions, as the three were sitting still on the floor of the basket. However, all of them were staring hard at the boiling pot of stew and trembling with anticipation, and the look on Brock's face was one of paranoid nervousness, as if he was afraid that the trio would pounce at any moment. His fear was probably rational, Misty thought, stifling a laugh. Of course, Pikachu and Togepi were watching the stew being stirred intently as well. Max and Poochyena had joined them, with Max seated on one of the backpacks and his pup in his lap. After a moment, when it seemed as if James was going to reach his hand out to touch the pot, Brock whipped the ladle out and swung it waggishly at Team Rocket, making the trio flinch and Max laugh dryly. A grin came to Misty's face.

She started to turn her head back to watch the sunset again, when her eyes caught sight of May at the front of the basket, staring off into the distance ahead of them. An expression that had caused Misty much anxiety the day before was on May's face once more; it was that vague, dreamy look that meant that she was thinking about someone important. Misty felt content, knowing for sure that her Ash was not the focus of May's daydreams.

Ah, May… I know I definitely want to meet your Brendan Birch, just to see what you see in him… From what you told me when we were on our way to the last cavern, he sounds quite intelligent and clever, and if he loves Pokémon as much as you say he does, he's bound to be a good person…

It was then that Misty noticed that, beneath May's distant eyes, her mouth was slightly turned down in sorrow. …I know how much you must miss him, May… I really do know… However… Misty smiled softly, remembering the plan she had started to form in her head as the group was leaving the caverns for the last time. After we get to Fortree, I'm taking the first chance I can to find a PokéMart, and hopefully, they'll have just what I'm looking for. I can't wait to see your face when I give you a phonebook as a friendship present! I know that you'll understand why; Brendan's number is bound to be in it, so you'll be able to call him… if you can get up the nerve to, of course!

Misty turned back around to face the beautiful sunset, still smiling about her plan. After a moment, she realized that Ash was looking at her curiously with an eyebrow raised in question. His eyes were compassionate and caring in a way she had known before, though the concern had intensified to a level she could never remember having seen. He must be wondering why I'm not shooting death glares at May anymore… and I bet he's still wondering about what I was so upset about yesterday, too…

In fact, he was. Come on, Misty. You know that you can tell me anything… especially now… especially now that you know, and I know, how… how much I love you… Please, you can tell me… I want to know… I care…

There's too much we need to talk about, Misty thought, and I don't necessarily want Team Rocket, or even the others in our group, to hear what we say, or else we'll never be able to tell everything that needs telling. She shook her head, but upon seeing the deeply hurt look that came across Ash's face, she quickly leaned in and added in a whisper, "Not right now… later…" and tilted her head the slightest bit in the others' direction. Ash instantly nodded, the hurt disappearing from his face as if it had never existed, and he smiled perceptively.

Misty smiled as well, glad that he understood. The fading rays of the sun were glinting off of his russet eyes, making them sparkle the way the russet crystal had when she had discovered it in the crystalfall deep within the snowy caverns. It was such a comforting color that Misty felt as if she could drifting away and get lost in his gaze, as if she could stare into his eyes forever…

And suddenly, she realized that she really had been staring into his eyes for quite a long time, and he was staring into her eyes, too, as if he was enchanted by her eyes' aquatic hue. At the same time, a warm sensation hit her in her stomach, a burning feeling that she had felt before, as if from an out-of-control Fire- type attack, but she never once thought it to be hunger for food, because she knew that Ash was the one that had caused her to feel this way. And she realized with a start that her whole body was tingling with a different kind of sensation upon noticing that her left shoulder was brushing his right as they leaned on the side of the basket facing the sunset, staring so deep into each other's eyes that it felt as if she could pitch forward at any moment and drown herself in those twin pools of beautiful brown. And her heart almost stopped as she realized that she truly had pitched towards him a bit, so that her nose was inches away from his, and they were still staring into each other's eyes. The tingling sensation she recognized as the feeling that had come over her as her spirit and Ash's had embraced on the crystalfall, and remembering what had occurred after that, Misty felt her heart now start to race, and slowly, her eyes began to close as she let her body lean in towards him a little more, and she didn't stop until she felt warmth touching her lips…

Vaguely, in the background, Misty heard the sound of a ladle abruptly hit the floor of the hot air balloon basket, making her realize just how silent the area around her had grown, save for a hoarse gasp of "…what!…" that sounded as if it had come from the youngest member of the group. But she pushed all of that aside in her mind, and let herself fully enjoy and embrace the euphoric feeling that had overtaken her.

When Ash slowly pulled away from Misty, his eyes falling back onto the sunset, it took him a moment to realize that his mind had gone entirely blank as soon as he felt himself leaning towards her, pulled in by her eyes. Once he realized this, he became surprised that his first thought afterwards had been that he had another reason to be glad that they weren't ghosts anymore. The first time, on the crystalfall, their kiss had been light and ethereal, but this time… it had been a lot less supposititious… and certainly a lot more… satisfying… and better in general…

May reluctantly broke out of her reverie once she became aware of how quiet everyone had gotten, and she glanced around inquiringly until her eyes rested on her younger brother. Strange, she thought, wondering why Max had one hand covering Poochyena's eyes and his other hand covering his own. She could just hear him muttering, to himself or his Pokémon she wasn't sure, "don't look, don't look, don't look," which almost made her laugh, seeing as how she could just see one of his caramel eyes peeking out through his fingers toward the left side of the basket. Then, she blinked. …What did I miss?

As unnerved as she was by the stunned silence of the rest of her group, Misty had felt emboldened enough by her second kiss with her soul mate to gradually lean her head over to rest it gently on Ash's shoulder. He shifted just a bit to allow her to get more comfortable, making her smile warmly to herself, even through the blush that graced her cheeks. She didn't dare to look around to see what expression was on Brock's face, or on any of the others' faces… she didn't want to spoil the moment, for the moment felt so exhilarating and calming at the same time.

The sun was sinking even lower now, and Misty watched contentedly as the dark blue of the night began to overtake the brilliant colors surrounding the sunset. Yes… it's just like the crystalfall… all of those colors… all of those millions of colors… millions… And Misty suddenly laughed to herself, remembering a pessimistic thought she had had a moment before her soul and Ash's had stopped to rest on the crystalfall. I had thought that there was no way that the others would be able to find us and save us from Haunter's grasp before the hour was up… She could clearly remember thinking, as she gazed upon the crystalfall, "…after all, what are the chances?One in a million?"

Misty felt a smile grace her lips. Even with a one in a million shot, we were still able to persevere and escape the caverns with our lives intact… just like it was a one in a million shot that I would find a crystal that is exactly the same color as Ash's eyes and he would find the crystal that matched mine… just like it was a one in a million shot that both Ash and I would love each other, and not someone else or no one at all… She sighed, at peace with the world.

It just goes to show… that anything's possible…

Ash' shoulder was tingling with warmth where Misty was laying her head. It was a wonderful feeling, just like the feeling he got from holding hands with her. Despite the fact that he had committed himself to being her soul mate and staying with her forever, her presence made him feel freer and more alive than he could ever remember feeling before. Ash smiled at the sunset. Soon, it would be a new day, and with that new day would come the start of a new life with Misty. It would be a new adventure, the likes of which he had never known or dreamed about, but he was more than willing to give it a try.

In exceptionally high spirits, Ash realized that he hadn't been this happy for a long time. Perhaps he had never been this happy, ever. Everything was now absolutely beyond perfection in his life.

Well, except for the fact that he wasn't the greatest Pokémon Master. Yet.

But Misty would be there to help him with that.


Softly, so as to refrain from creating any unnecessary noise in the heavy silence, he stepped out onto the open ice, away from the tunnel and into the dim light of the last cavern. The claws on his back paws dug into the frozen liquid harder than was necessary to keep himself from toppling over, but he was uneasy and full of anxiety, so he didn't notice. His front paws he held close to his sides, tensed and ready in preparation of the brutal and merciless ambush he was expecting and felt had a high chance of occurring.

No attack came.

The cavern was not entirely still, however. Imperceptible shadows wisped back and forth, crossing, colliding, amid and among the stalactites in the back of the cavern and close to the ceiling. Sableye's tensed body began to relax. This was how it should be, what life down here was supposed to be like. The Shuppet were supposed to be there, their skirts wavering in the ethereal breeze they created themselves. Those small, secretive, yet not devious smiles that played upon all of their faces relieved some of the troubles that had filled his mind, and Sableye wondered if they knew what good news that he wanted to hear, but didn't feel like revealing such information for a while, if only to create a fair amount of suspense for him. Their eyes sparkled with that same kind of roguish spark, and the Darkness Pokémon suddenly remembered why he liked to watch them sometimes, even if they refused to speak to him in anything other than whispered illogical verse.

They were the heart of the caverns: mysterious, secretive, but beautiful and grand.

His arms relaxed, and the worry lines across his forehead slowly disappeared. If the Shuppet were out and about, then that meant that… HE was not down here in the last cavern…

At least , Sableye decided warily as the ferocious image of the lavender Ghost- type, crazed and enraged, came into his mind, HE is not active at the moment… I should have expected that instead of an attack… HE may have been able to Teleport away from the cavern of the crystals, but it was in a moment of blind panic… HE probably didn't know exactly what HE was doing; HE just wanted to get away… So I suppose that it makes more sense for HIM to be hiding down here to rest and recover his vision rather than to attack me when I came back… for HE probably knew I would come back anyway, that I would not leave my master… Yes… HE is down here, cowering in pain in that giant hole in the back wall…

For a long moment, Sableye stared across the cavern at the pitch black hole in the very center of the back wall that led into Haunter's den. He didn't detect any movement in the darkness, so with a sigh of both frustration and resignation, he looked away.

Instead of the hole, his silver hexagonal eyes took in the fluid patterns of the Shuppet gliding about the airspace of the ceiling. Yes… If they have come out again, then everything must be back to normal… Life down here is calm and peaceful once more…

However, Sableye could tell that the cavern would probably bear the scars of the calamity and violence of HIS rampage forever more; the battle with Haunter had certainly taken its toll on the environment. Smashed stalagmites and broken stalactites littered the icy floor, and a few large pieces of stalactite were bobbing up and down gently in the black water. The thin ice that had formerly separated the thicker icy floor and the black water was gone, broken up by ruthless attacks into millions of tiny pieces, which were floating about the water's surface amongst the chunks of stalactite. Even the thickest of the ice had been punctured by hard blasts of Shadow Balls from Haunter's detached hands.

With a sigh, Sableye wondered if he should try to tidy the ice floor up a bit: break up the large chunks of stalactite, sweep the pieces into the water, try to fill in the holes in the thick ice with snow from other caverns which would hopefully freeze over in time. It felt wrong to leave this place, this home of the peaceful and kind Shuppet, in such disrepair, especially seeing as how a great deal of the damage was his own fault.

He walked out farther until he came to the middle of the cavern, then squatted down to rest, realizing that he just didn't have the kind of bustling energy he would need to get to work and effectively clean the last cavern of as much of the battle debris as he could. Perhaps, if he took a nap, or got any kind of sleep, he would gain the energy he needed. Suddenly, Sableye felt himself almost stifle a yawn. It had been a long period of time that he had been awake, so it wasn't particularly unusual for him to be rather tired, also adding on the demanding events of the day.

Slowly, Sableye stood back up, taking one more wary glance at the giant hole in the center of the back wall. There was no movement, which was even more of a relief now that Sableye knew that he was off to take a nap.

And at that moment, by chance, Sableye's head turned just slightly to the right, and he caught sight of the vaguest bit of movement out of the corner of his eye. Instantly, the violet Pokémon whirled around, his body in attack position and his claws at the ready, and an instant later, he relaxed in surprise.

"You…" The word came out of his mouth unbidden. The frowning Shuppet didn't seem to notice his outburst at first. It – no, she – was staring out at the black water and the back of the cavern just as Sableye had been a moment before. Her face was completely emotionless and expressionless, and her eyes, of all things, betrayed no thoughts or feelings. She simply hovered a few feet away to his right at Sableye's shoulder-height.

As he continued to stare at her, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, she slowly turned towards him, her skirt continuing to billow about gently in the air. Her striped eyes gazed into his silver hexagonal eyes, but as Sableye continued to meet her stare, he could sense naught of what she was feeling, thinking… nothing. And yet, as blank as her eyes and her slightly frowning mouth were, Sableye felt there was something beyond that void, hidden deep inside of her. He knew that she was feeling, thinking, knowing…

She had spoken to him, after all; only two words, for sure, but those two words had been serious and intelligent, unlike the nonsensical prattle of her fellow Shuppet. And she had helped to save him and the humans with her Protect technique; she could battle, something that Sableye was sure that the other Shuppet couldn't do. The Protect had been strong and expertly executed as well, stretching across the entire cavern and holding back an enraged, high-level Ghost- type long enough to allow the humans and Sableye time to escape the last cavern before Haunter came back for one last shot.

Sableye had been afraid for her as HE appeared in the cavern of the crystals, not knowing how Haunter had broken through the Protect. As he had made his way back through the caverns, Sableye's mind was a blur of what might have happened. HE could have beat HIMSELF against the wall so many times that it shattered, or Shuppet could have not been able to hold it up for a long time, or, maybe, HE had blasted through with an extra-powerful attack. He was sure that she would be hurt in some way for helping him, but upon seeing her, he realized that she was without a scratch. In fact, she didn't even look tired.

Realizing just how long he had been staring into her eyes, Sableye suddenly broke the silence, stuttering, "I- I- I'm glad to s- see you're all right… Sh- Shuppet… I- I was afraid th- that Haunter h- had h- hurt you…" Her blank expression never once faltered, leaving Sableye's anxious expression to falter by itself.

Suddenly overcome by Shuppet's relentless stare, Sableye felt a warm sensation burning in his stomach and felt his face grow hot. He had seen humans blush, of course, and was sure that, had he had a skin tone lighter than violet, his own cheeks would have been bright pink. Quickly, he looked away and stared at his feet, scuffing the ice uncomfortably with the claws on his left foot. After a moment of mortification, Sableye chanced another glance at her. She was still staring at him, unperturbed.

"W- well, I- I better go now…" he managed to get out. And she blinked: just once, and it didn't really tell him anything. "I'm g- glad y- you're okay, Sh- Shuppet… I- I think I'm going to go rest n- now… I- If you need anything, y- you know where I am, o- of course…" Certainly she knew where he was, Sableye thought in irritation at his own stupidity. There was only one place in this last cavern that he would ever sleep, and he knew that she did stare at him a lot, so she definitely would have seen him go there.

He was hoping that Shuppet would say something again – anything, really. He didn't know why, but he was dying to hear her speak once more. Her voice had been so lovely and elegant, like an angel…

Of course, after seeing the way she was blankly staring at him still, Sableye knew that asking her to speak was quite a ridiculous thing to even think of, much less think of asking her to maybe, if it would not hurt, smile just once…? That was certainly impossible. Nevertheless, Sableye was feeling happy. He had always thought of her as a sort of kindred spirit before, but now, Sableye knew that he certainly had another ally down in these caverns. Perhaps even a friend. So even if she wouldn't talk to him, Sableye knew that he shouldn't complain. Things had changed a bit for the better, after all, and he should be grateful for that.

Realizing that he was staring at her yet again, Sableye quickly muttered a "I- I'll see you…" and turned his head away, his face feeling hot once more. Swiftly, Sableye walked away from her towards the left wall, his silver hexagonal eyes on the icy floor.

Had he turned around, he might have glimpsed the very end of Shuppet's mouth twitch upwards for a moment, before she continued to stare at him as before, blankly and frowning. But, of course, he didn't.

After reaching the left wall and gently laying a paw on it, Sableye glanced over at the back wall once more. The giant hole in the center, Haunter's den, was still dark and motionless, and of course the other Shuppet were still floating about near the ceiling, so Sableye guessed it was not risky to ascend. The claws lying on the wall suddenly sunk into the slick rock, and within a moment, Sableye had climbed halfway up the straight marble-patterned wall.

Before Ash and Misty had appeared in the last cavern, it had always been safe to climb across the side wall, thus avoiding the black water, to get to the other giant holes in the back wall. During their game of false and pretended 'friendship', Haunter hadn't seemed to mind Sableye exploring the other holes, as long as he stayed away from the center one.

Upon seeing that these holes led to good-sized alcoves, Sableye was able to determine that the center hole led to Haunter's den, rather than to another tunnel or cavern beyond even this one. One such hole, near the bottom-left section of the wall, had been just large enough for Sableye to stand up in, so it had become his place of refuge…

Along with the place where the remains of his trainer stayed.

As if he was crawling across a horizontal plane rather than a vertical one, Sableye made his way past the broken shards of stalactite and stalagmite and past the black water filled with cold debris without any trouble. Coming to the back wall, he deftly backed down the wall in reverse until he was level with his own den. He climbed inside, and blinked, trying to adjust his eyes to the dimness of the alcove, even darker than in the rest of this last cavern.

For a small nook of cold marble stone, the place had a sort of homey feeling for Sableye. There was a distinct atmosphere of security here, and the Darkness Pokémon knew just why.

"…Sableye?" The ethereal voice was weak and fragile, as if the one who possessed it could disappear at any moment. The frightening thing was, Sableye was sure that his master's spirit really could do just that. Every time he came to this alcove, Sableye always held his breath, waiting to see if his master was still here or not. Concentrating hard, the violet Pokémon could just make out the pale blue outline of his body. He was sitting down, his back against the right wall, with his knees pulled up to his chest. He had obviously just raised his head from resting it on his crossed arms, which lay up the tops of his knees.

"…Is that you, buddy?" Oh, yes, Sableye thought, a sad smile on his face. He had made the right decision by not going with Max and the others. How could he even think about leaving behind the small bit that was left of his master? Sableye crept forward a few paces on all-fours, nodding. His master's soul was blinking gently, as if his eyesight was no longer any good or he simply didn't trust himself to believe that his first Pokémon, his only Pokémon, was here once more.

Suddenly, his master smiled, though it was not the knowing and clever smile that Sableye had known his master to have before Haunter had separated his master's soul and body. Now, it was more of a reluctant and tired smile. He seemed defeated.

"I'm glad you came back, Sableye," the ghost whispered, extending a gloved hand as Sableye approached him and squatted down next to him. He began to pet the violet Pokémon on the head, knowing that Sableye, being part Ghost- type himself, didn't mind his ethereal touch in the least. In fact, Sableye seemed to relax even more at the petting, especially as his ghostly hand scratched at the special place behind the Darkness Pokémon's ear.

"…But I thought…" the ghost continued, then trailed off. Sableye opened his silver hexagonal eyes, which had been closed in contentment, and stared into his master's eyes. Sableye could remember very clearly what color they had been when his master's spirit had been in his body. They had been the same color as Sableye's.

The ghost gestured with a tilt of his head towards the opening in the wall, which led back out into the last cavern. "…I saw… you were battling, Sableye… I saw… I was watching… you saved those people… you saved them… you stopped HIM…"

Sableye's breath caught in his throat. He hadn't known… he had had no idea that his master had been watching the entire time… So long had his master been out of his body that even his spirit had grown frail and lethargic, so Sableye's trainer was more prone to curl up and stay in a stupor for days on end than to spend any time gazing out at the world of the dim last cavern.

"You did an excellent job against HIM, buddy," the ghost praised, petting Sableye once more. This time, Sableye did not relax, but continued to stare at him in surprise. "You battled so well. I'm very proud of you."

With a tired chuckle, he continued, "You see, Sableye, I told you that you don't need me to tell you what to do in battle!" Seeing his Pokémon's suddenly horrified face, the ghost managed a laugh. "I'm just kidding, buddy; calm down. But…" The ghostly eyes shifted back to the opening in the wall again. "…why didn't you go with them? You and those trainers and their Pokémon worked so well together… surely they would have wanted you to come with them…"

The spirit almost flinched as Sableye's claws suddenly fastened onto the sleeve of his ghostly jacket and a distressed cry erupted from the Pokémon's throat. One look in Sableye's hurt eyes told his trainer all that he needed to know. "Oh, Sableye… I don't want you to go… I really don't… but I don't want you to be unhappy, or think that you have to stay here with me… you are free, Sableye, you really are…"

As another alarmed cry shattered the silence in the alcove, the ghost quickly lower his knees a bit from his chest and patted his leg. Instantly, Sableye was curled up in his trainer's ethereal lap and was leaning his head against his master's ghostly chest. The pale blue arms were around him in a hug a moment later. "I'm so sorry, Sableye… I didn't mean to make you upset… I just meant that, if you want to go, you can…" Savagely, Sableye shook his head before carefully laying it back against his master's chest. The ghost felt himself smile, though it was fragile and sad. "…Thank you, Sableye… thank you more than you'll ever know…"

And the ghost wished, harder than he had in a long time, that his Pokémon was able to hear his master's heartbeat right now, rather than feel nothing but a strange light sensation of ghostly jacket cloth.

With a tired sigh, the ghostly trainer turned his head back towards the opening in the wall. With himself and his Pokémon in silence, he could just hear the whispering swishes of the skirts of the Shuppet near the ceiling in the last cavern. That made him happy. From what he had been able to see, his Sableye had made friends with one of those Shuppet, the one that had helped Sableye out in the battle against HIM. Had he been in his body, he would have wished to catch the Shuppet, so that Sableye would finally have a companion that was a Pokémon, and not just his human trainer. But he wasn't in his body. Haunter had seen to that.

Staring out at the cold floor outside their den, he could see the broken stalactites and stalagmites littering the ice. The fierce battle came into mind. He had been mesmerized by all of the action, realizing that half of the Pokémon he had seen fighting he had even forgotten the name of. That fact had frightened him; he had been away from everything too long. However, the thrill of the battle had shaken him out of his stupor until the humans and Sableye had escaped out of the cavern and out of sight.

But something about that battle was still bothering him.

It wasn't the fact that those two people had returned to their bodies after Haunter had separated them, which he had been unable to do himself. It had probably been within that hour time limit, after all, right? So it wasn't that…

It had been two of the others, and one very much in particular… His eyes weren't as good as they used to be, so he hadn't known if he had dreamed it up out of nowhere.

Sableye had settled into his own sort of trance in his master's lap, so the ghost was careful as he removed his left arm from around his Pokémon's body and slipped his gloved hand into a pocket in his jacket. A moment later, out came the precious item that he had stared at so often since his separation from his body.

The photograph was only a ghostly impression of the real one, still tucked away in the pocket of the jacket on his body, so it was almost hard to make out the pale blue image. To make it worse, the photo had started out shadowy to begin with. It had been taken by his best friend's little brother at Christmastime several years ago. The boy had just gotten a camera as a present and had been anxious to try it out. However, his best friend's little brother had a severe case of bronchitis at the time (which had corrupted his balance), and adding that to the fact that the boy was also just getting used to the glasses that he had to wear… Well, the photo had turned out both horribly crooked and blurry.

But there was something about that picture that he had always loved: it was the way that he and his friend were standing, back to back and arms crossed, but with big grins on their faces. That had certainly been their relationship: fighting one moment, then playing the next. It was also the first photo that had ever been taken of himself wearing his favorite headband, which bared the symbol of a Pokéball on it. His best friend had gotten him the headband for Christmas, knowing how much he loved Pokémon, and he had gotten her a bandana, which she wore in the photo as well. It was quite a special memory to him. The ghostly version of the headband was holding up his hair even now.

The ghost turned his eyes away from the photo to stare back out at the ice. As he had watched the battle through a bit of a haze, two of the trainers had caught his eye, and that one in particular. She had given him a strange feeling, as if he knew… as if he knew… And he had continued to watch, trying to see clearer, but his eyes failed him.

Then, as several Water- type Pokémon had pounded Haunter with their aquatic attacks, he had called out his best friend's name into the cavern, but only one time before realizing that none of them would be able to hear him anyway. He had retreated a bit, though he still watched the battle. He was confused, wondering why he had yelled out like that. Then, after a moment, he had known why her name had escaped his lips.

He thought he had seen…

But no, it couldn't have been. After all, what were the chances?

One in a million?

And there it is. This is the official end of Cavern Of A Million Colors. I want to give a big thank you to everyone who has ever taken (many hours of) their time to read this novel, an even bigger thank you to those who have reviewed, an even bigger thank you to those who have given in-depth reviews and suggestions, and the biggest thank you of them all to my mom, who has been my editor throughout this process.

Obviously, this is not the entire end of the storyline; just the ending of Cavern. However, due to time constraints and other various issues, this will be the end of my writing on the plot of Million Colors. Hopefully, I will be able to post a lot of extra information on my website, "From The Eevee's Paw" (see my profile page for the address), on Cavern and the storyline that would go on afterward.

I will be taking a break of unknown length from Pokémon to write some fan fiction (probably one-shots; definitely not a novel – this is my masterpiece) for other anime universes. If you would be willing to read any of those stories, I humbly ask for your continued support and reviews. I am sad to leave this Pokémon fan base behind, but there are many characters calling me to write for them, and I think I've given Ash and Misty a lot of stage time in this novel. I am also going to be seriously diving into planning my own original series of three novels, and I have a lot of research and work to do on that!

Thank you again, please review, and I hope you enjoyed the story!