Ash was sickened. He had never been so sick before after one of his mom's meals, but after the one he had just experienced, he hoped to never have a lunch like that again. It wasn't that what his mom had fixed made his stomach upset. It wasn't that he had eaten too much or had been nauseous before lunch anyway. The fact was, Ash was sick because he had had to listen to the tune of 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star' being hummed all through lunch, purposely bringing to mind the lyrics of 'Battle Hymn of the Tennis Lovers'.
Mrs. Ketchum had had lunch sitting on the table when Ash walked in the kitchen. She had started preparing lunch a little before noon, not knowing when her son and his friends would be back, so that it would be ready whenever they came. She had fixed a whole mess of delicious cheeseburgers and a huge bowlful of appetizing french fries. Mrs. Ketchum had set the table with two places on each side, and had set two small bowls of Brock's Pokéchow on an end. In the middle, she sat the bowl of fries and platter piled high with cheeseburgers. She also set out two bottles of ketchup, a smaller one for the trainers, and a larger one for Pikachu.
Ash's mom set out four glasses and filled them with ice and Coca-Cola. She was sprinkling a small bit of salt onto the fries when she heard the doorknob turn in the foyer. Sure that it was Ash, she was about to go welcome him and his friends in, when she heard a sound of something being set down and some lightly thumping footsteps. Mrs. Ketchum listened to what she thought might be a small sob, and suddenly, Misty burst into the kitchen. She was clutching a fairly frightened Togepi unyieldingly to her chest and her face was flushed pink. She looked up and saw Mrs. Ketchum watching her anxiously. She blushed and quickly sat down at a seat, avoiding further eye contact with her tennis partner's mother. She let Togepi climb onto the table and trot over to her bowl of Pokéchow. Misty selected a cheeseburger from the pile and set it on her plate, but didn't start to eat.
Guessing that Misty would prefer her to leave, Mrs. Ketchum headed to the foyer, surprised that Ash, Brock, and Tracey had not been at Misty's heels. She gently shooed a disgruntled Mr. Mime upstairs, so he would not disturb the girl. She went and stood in the doorway. Again, Mrs. Ketchum thought she heard a small sniffle from the kitchen. She looked back towards the kitchen, puzzled, but suddenly she heard her son calling her. She greeted Ash, then Brock and Tracey. His friends looked happy, but Ash didn't. His face was flushed an awful lot like Misty's was.
Ash didn't seem to want to talk about what had happened, but Mrs. Ketchum was determined to find out what went wrong. She was positive that whatever Misty might be upset about, Ash was upset about, too. Brock and Tracey, leaving their rackets and the ball bucket next to Misty's racket, headed on inside to the kitchen. Pikachu leapt off of Ash's shoulder and followed. Mrs. Ketchum stopped Ash swiftly, even though he didn't look like he was in a hurry.
"Ash, honey, what happened?"
"I know that you lost every game," his mom said, taking his racket out of his hands, "but I know you can do better next time, so don't worry about it, dear."
"I'm not worrying about it," Ash muttered, trying to get away.
"…What's this 'AAML' stuff Brock and Tracey were talking about?"
"Nothing." Seeing his mother's unconvinced face, he added another, "Nothing!", to his sentence.
"Well, all right then," Mrs. Ketchum chided, "Don't tell me then! Go! Scoot! Lunch is on the table. I made cheeseburgers for you."
Ash meandered slowly into the kitchen, not wanting to get there fast, though he was starving. If Brock and Tracey hadn't given up on their teasing yet, Ash figured this might be a long lunch to endure. He walked into the kitchen. Brock and Tracey were sitting at the opposite side of the table from Misty. They were eating their cheeseburgers slowly and not taking their eyes away from Misty, like Pidgeotto waiting to pounce on their unsuspecting prey and humiliate her. Misty's eyes were downcast so that she didn't have to watch Brock and Tracey staring at her. When Brock and Tracey saw Ash walk in, they grinned maliciously at him and Ash saw why. The only seat left at the table was the one next to Misty.
Ash could see them just daring him to seat down next to her. I'll show them, Ash though viciously, and he put on an indifferent expression. He swiftly walked over and sat down in the chair, ignoring them, and pet Pikachu on the head. Pikachu paused from eating his ketchup-covered Pokéchow and purred a bit.
"So, Ash," Brock began, falsely cheerful in a mean way, "How are things going? Your girlfriend looks a bit upset. You ought to do something about it." He and Tracey grinned. Misty continued to stare at the cheeseburger in her hands, but she flinched.
"Maybe you ought to kiss her to make her feel better," Tracey suggested, laughing. Brock laughed, too.
"Be quiet," Ash muttered, choosing a burger from the platter and setting it on his plate. He reached over to grab some french fries, but accidentally touched Misty's hand as she reached to get some, too. Ash pulled his hand away, but the damage had already been done. Brock and Tracey were hysterical. Misty's face flushed ten shades of red. She quickly grabbed some fries, put it on her plate, and picked up her dish and glass. With a horrified look at Ash, she bolted out of the kitchen, into the living room, and out of sight. Ash glared at Brock and Tracey as he grabbed some fries himself and put it on his plate. He ate his food in silence.
For a while, it was quiet. Ash concentrated on his cheeseburger and french fries. Soon, Ash was uncomfortable. It had been too quiet for too long. He glanced up. Brock and Tracey were absorbed with their own food, or so it seemed. Brock was scooting his french fries all over his plate. Tracey was eating his cheeseburger in a weird way. Ash was suspicious.
Ash watched the Pokémon for a moment. Pikachu was adding more ketchup to his Pokéchow. Togepi was looking around mystified, wondering where her adopted mother went. Ash took a sip of Coke.
"Ash!" He turned his attention to Brock. Brock smiled. "We want to show you something we made…" He and Tracey, snorting with laughter, pushed a plate over to the other side of the table at Ash. Ash rolled his eyes when he saw what they had done. Out of french fries, Brock had spelled 'A A M L' using three french fries for each 'A', four fries for the 'M', and two fries for the 'L'. Above the fry acronym, Tracey had put the cheeseburger he had been eating. He had eaten it into the shape of a heart, and then covered the top with ketchup so that the heart was red. With the ketchup bottle, Brock had squirted little doodles of hearts and tennis balls on the plate. Brock and Tracey laughed as Ash's face turned red like the ketchup.
"It's a present," Tracey explained casually, "For your girlfriend. You can give it to her so she won't feel so bad."
"You guys are awful," Ash spoke to his own plate. He heard Brock begin to hum the first two lines of 'Battle Hymn of the Tennis Lovers'. When he got to the middle, Brock and Tracey burst into song.
" '…If easy winning is your dream, put Ash and Misty on a team!…"
Like Misty, Ash became fed up with their flippant jokes and, gathering his plate and glass, began to escape to the living room. He quickly remembered that Misty had went that way, so he did an about-face and went the opposite direction to the back door. He shut the door firmly, trying to block out Brock and Tracey's snickers, and finished eating the rest of his lunch on the back porch by himself.
Why are they doing this to us? Ash wondered miserably as he ate the last of his french fries. What did me and Misty do to deserve this? Why is it always ME and Misty who are labeled as a… a… couple? With a sigh, Ash collected his empty plate and glass and started to go back to the kitchen. He was about to open the door when he heard Brock and Tracey talking. He stopped and listened.
"Don't you think we're being a little too hard on them, Brock?" Tracey was asking. "I mean, it's real funny and all, but Misty looks about ready to cry and Ash looks really mad."
"I guess we are being a bit brutal," Brock agreed, "But think about it. They've had it coming for a long time now. The whole 'love' thing, I mean. I know that, and you know that. Misty probably knows that, and Ash, well, I'm never sure about him. But they've had it coming."
"It's like everything that's happened like this before has built up to this, right?" Tracey muttered.
"Good. My conscience feels better now. I mean, I don't want to tease for no reason, but if there IS a point to all of it, then that's okay. Besides, I really like the song we made up."
"It's very catchy. You know, I also think the teasing is why they're not doing so good at tennis. I think they'd be a lot better if they didn't have the distraction. Let's keep it up."
Ash took his ear away from the door. Instead of going through the back door, Ash walked all the way around his house and went in the front door. On the stairs in the foyer, Ash saw an empty plate and glass, indicating where Misty had finished her own lunch. Ash didn't see Misty anywhere and he wondered where she went. Just then, Mrs. Ketchum came downstairs.
"Ash, dear, are you finished eating?" she asked, while she picked up Misty's abandoned dishes from the step.
"I'll take those dishes, then." Ash set his own dishes on top of Misty's. Mrs. Ketchum made sure the stack was balanced before heading for the kitchen. "You might want to come tell Brock and Tracey to hurry, Ash. Misty already left." Ash whipped around. Her tennis racket was missing. Ash was about to run into the kitchen to get Pikachu when a thought entered his mind. Quickly, Ash ran up the steps instead, and into his room. He picked around in the mess that was his bedroom, and finally found what he had been looking for. Ash picked up his Pokémon League hat from on top of his vest, which was crumpled on his bed. He put it on. Dear hat, Ash wished hard, please, please, please help me and Misty beat Brock and Tracey at tennis so they can't say that stupid 'AAML' anymore, okay? Will you please bring me luck? I know I usually hope for luck only in battles, but this is a kind of battle, too, don't you think?
Ash raced downstairs, then taking a deep breath, calmly walked into the kitchen. Brock and Tracey were helping Mrs. Ketchum get the dirty dishes ready for cleaning and Pikachu was sitting on the table, waiting for Ash to come get him. Ash was surprised to see that Togepi was still sitting next to Pikachu, because Misty had already left. She was so upset that she couldn't even get up enough courage to go into the kitchen to get Togepi? Brock, Tracey, you guys are too brutal. Ash knew, however, that Misty knew that one of the boys would bring Togepi with them when they went back to the Pallet Town tennis courts. Ash walked over to the table and scooped Togepi up. Pikachu quickly leaped onto Ash's head and tapped the brim of his hat impatiently, trying to urge Ash to leave the kitchen before Mrs. Ketchum could start the machine that made the most terrifying roar ever… the dishwasher. Brock and Tracey only caught a glimpse of Ash before he ran to the foyer, picked up his racket, and went swiftly out the door.
He sprinted quickly down the dirt road, hoping that he could catch up Misty. Soon, he spotted her just ahead. She was walking slowly, holding the very end of her racket lightly in both hands. She let it swing forward a bit in front of her, so that when it swung back, the netted paddle gently tapped her knees. Her head was down. Ash ran and pulled alongside her.
"Misty!" She glanced at him briefly. Ash held out a chirping Togepi to Misty and she took her, and cuddled her close. She locked her eyes on Togepi and wouldn't look at him or say a word. They walked side by side silently for a moment. Then Ash commented softly, "Don't listen to Brock and Tracey. They're being stupid right now. They'll stop soon."
"Yeah, right," Misty grumbled sardonically. Pikachu shifted slightly on his perch on Ash's head.
Ash tried to think of a way to make her feel better. Then, he got an inspiration. "Misty, I have an idea! They won't stop teasing us because they know that it distracts us from playing tennis. That's why we're failing so badly. Brock said so himself! Why don't me and you just ignore them really hard, and concentrate on the tennis, and see how it goes?"
Misty looked up. She was smiling. "That sounds like it could work!"
"Let's work together, and help each other out when we're on the court, like Brock and Tracey do… like partners should." Misty nodded happily. Ash held out his hand. "Shake on it?" Misty put her hand in his.
"You got yourself a deal, Ash Ketchum!"
"Gosh, you two! Holding hands already?" Brock and Tracey had finally caught up, bringing their own rackets and the jade-colored ball bucket. They were laughing.
"Shut up," Ash defended himself and Misty pompously. He saw that Misty wasn't distraught anymore, as she was shooting both chortling boys what is known as 'the look', the unblinking severe stare only females are able to produce. Brock and Tracey quieted down a bit, as the group of four trainers and two Pokémon approached the tennis courts.
Ash walked under the archway gate to the courts with more confidence than he had when he left it last. With Misty's promise to cooperate with him, and with his lucky hat back on his head, Ash felt ready to break Brock and Tracey's winning streak. Silently, everyone walked back to his or her positions. Tracey handed the ball bucket over to Brock and began his commentary.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Tracey glanced over at Pikachu and Togepi, who were sitting next to the fence again, "and Pokémon, welcome to the second set of today's first match. The first set was won by Brock and Tracey, and the opponents were AAML the whole time!" Brock snickered.
Misty whacked her racket against the ground ominously. "Stay calm," Ash ordered quietly, so only Misty would hear. She took a deep breath, and repositioned her racket, ready to hit the ball.
"The first game will be served by Brock," Tracey finished, "So let Set Two, Game One begin!"
As Brock began his serve, Ash saw that the ball was going to go his way first. Ash clenched his teeth nervously, but was determined to never hear the score 'Ash and Misty, love' again. The ball flew over the net. Ash took a pace backwards, let the ball hit the court once, and then swung his racket forcefully. He hit the ball right back over the net. Ash hadn't hit the ball over the net more than three times in the last set, so Brock and Tracey were surprised at how good he actually hit it. Tracey scrambled to hit the ball, and managed to knock it into Misty's court. Misty had a resolute gleam in her eyes. It's time to get a point instead of just hit the ball back and forth. Misty ran to meet the ball, raising her racket high to reach the soaring sphere. She whacked the tennis ball with a slight twist of her racket and it soared more down than across. Before Tracey or Brock could reach it, the ball touched down on their court. Ash and Misty exploded with joyful shouts. They ran to meet each other and high-fived. Brock and Tracey were completely dumbfounded.
"Well," Misty cried out triumphantly, "I guess that changes the score a little bit than usual, doesn't it!? Let's see, it would be… Ash and Misty, fifteen, and Brock and Tracey, love!"
"Now THAT'S an unlikely pair," Ash joked about Brock and Tracey naively. Misty actually laughed at Ash's joke for once, for she found it a very clever repartee.
"How on earth did they just score?" Brock inquired of his partner.
Tracey shrugged. "I don't know, but you better hurry up and serve again." Brock served, and Ash and Misty were so caught up in celebrating their first score that they didn't see the ball until it was too late.
"This evens the score up a bit!" Tracey announced, "Brock and Tracey, fifteen, Ash and Misty, fifteen."
"This… is war," Misty warned them under her breath.
Brock threw the ball into the air, and batted it hard across the net. Ash dived for it, and smacked it fiercely towards Tracey, who made a dive for it as Ash had, but wasn't as lucky. With a sigh, Tracey picked himself up off the ground, and called out, "The score is Brock and Tracey, fifteen, Ash and Misty, thirty." Brock went to retrieve a new ball from the bucket.
"Great hit, Ash!" Misty called to him encouragingly. Ash smiled. He wasn't used to getting compliments from Misty, but he found that he liked it a lot.
"Here goes another serve," Brock stated tiredly, and he gave the ball his best shot. It went over the net towards Misty, so she rapidly swung her racket as it neared her, and got the ball to touch down on her opponent's court. Needless to say, Brock and Tracey were completely stunned at the sudden turn-around in the tennis match.
"Well… it's now Brock and Tracey, fifteen… Ash and Misty… forty."
"Good job to you, too, Misty!" Ash exclaimed. He gave her a thumbs-up gesture. Misty blushed a bit, but grinned back.
"Pika Pi! Pikachupi!" Pikachu chanted, his paws cupped to his mouth to amplify his voice. Ash recognized his name as 'Pika Pi' and Misty's name as 'Pikachupi', and he beamed. Pikachu was cheering them on now, rather than teasing them. Togepi chirped and waved her paws, but now it seemed as though she was encouraging them on, too, rather than making fun of them.
"Thanks, Pikachu!" Misty called to the Pokémon, "You're a Pika Pal!"
"Pikachu!" Pikachu resumed his chanting. "Pika Pi! Pikachupi! Pika Pi! Pikachupi!"
On the opposite court, Brock and Tracey were disheartened, to say the least. "I can't believe it," Tracey shook his head disbelievingly, "The crowd has completely turned against us! This is insane!"
"So much for audience loyalty," Brock murmured darkly, "And after we made a theme song up and everything!"
"Well, we can't really sing the 'Battle Hymn of the Tennis Lovers' unless Ash and Misty's score is love, can we? It just doesn't make sense if we do."
"How did they get so good!? That's what I'd like to know! Ash used to not even be able to hit the ball at all, much less over the net!" Brock thought for a moment. "Did they practice during lunch, after they left the kitchen?" Tracey shrugged.
"Serve the ball, Brock!" Misty yelled, twirling her racket.
The next serve went in Ash and Misty's favor. As Ash ran to hit the approaching ball, he tripped and fell down. As soon as he did, Ash was sure that Brock and Tracey were going to score, until suddenly, Misty came out of nowhere and smacked the ball over the net in his place. While Brock and Tracey worked on hitting the ball back, Misty helped Ash stand back up. "Thanks, Mist."
"You're welcome." Misty didn't have her racket ready as the ball came towards her, so Ash quickly pushed her out of its path and hit the tennis ball back over the net. Misty was astounded. "Well, thank you, too, Ash."
Ash just grinned. "We make a good team." Misty nodded.
A moment later, Tracey forlornly declared the score. "Brock and Tracey, fifteen, Ash and Misty… advantage. One point to win the game."
"All right!" Ash whispered gleefully, "We're going to win! We're going to win!"
"Ash, don't get too confident," Misty murmured softly.
Ash realized that she was right. He always seemed to get the same way during a battle and the too-much confidence never helped. "Okay."
Brock was holding the tennis ball to be served next, but he showed no signs of actually getting ready to throw it into the air. "Uh, Brock? Are you going to serve or not?" Tracey asked, confused.
"Why should I serve?" Brock chuckled sorrowfully, "They're only going to win the game. It turns out, the ONLY reason they weren't doing good in the first game is because they were distracted. That's the only reason we got a point in this game, too."
"You know," Tracey said thoughtfully, "Not serving is only dragging out the pain of the inevitable."
Brock considered that statement. "That's true. Well, last serve. Here goes!" Brock threw the ball up, and smacked it hard with the racket.
The battle for the last point was the most difficult of them all. Ash and Misty were exceedingly eager to win, so they put forth their best effort of newly-found skill and teamwork. Brock and Tracey had all ready resigned themselves to losing, but this did not mean that they were going to make it an easy win for their competitors. They also played with all of the dexterity and collaboration they could muster. The hitting of the tennis ball was fast, fierce, and fleeting. Pikachu's eyes were wide, as he tried hard to always keep his sight set on the speeding tennis ball. He cheered on his master and his friend with, "Pika Pi! Pikachupi! Pika Pi! Pikachupi!" Even Togepi, who sometimes had a hard time concentrating on the game, couldn't look away.
It came down to Ash to score the final point. He gave his racket a great swing, and by pure accident, his wrist twisted and made the racket hit the ball at a slight angle down. Brock and Tracey had found that Ash always hit the ball high, so they weren't ready for it to hit the court so close to the net. It took a second for Ash to realize that he and Misty had won the game as he watched the ball roll away. When it hit him, Ash exploded in happiness.
"YAHOO! YEA! WE DID IT!" Ash ran to Misty, waving his racket wildly, a daft grin plastered on his face. Misty laughed and waved her racket in excitement, too. She and Ash high-fived and Ash gave a great whoop, thrusting his fist into the air. Pikachu cried out congratulations from the sidelines, and Ash held up two fingers in a V shape for victory. "WE WON! WE WON! WE WON!"
Pikachu ran off to join the winning team and the three of them jumped up and down together in a circle, Ash and Misty chanting, "WE WON! WE WON! WE WON!" Though they were disappointed, Brock and Tracey couldn't help smiling at their over-enthusiasm.
"Ash! Misty!" Brock called to them, breaking up their festivity, "You guys only won one game. Celebrate like that if you have to, but wait until you win a whole set first."
Ash stopped and immediately became very solemn. "He's right." Ash turned to Misty. "We'll continue the party after we beat Brock and Tracey at the rest of this set."
Misty grinned. "Sounds good to me."
As Brock brought the bucket of tennis balls over for Ash to serve next, Ash whispered, "Hey, Misty."
"What?" Misty whispered back.
"I have a question about how you hit the ball."
"What is it?"
"Well," Ash began quietly, "I've been hitting the ball upwards more than straight across because when I tried to hit it straight across, it would just hit the net. How do you hit it straight across?"
"It's your wrist. Keep it straight. A lot of times, your wrist will twist by accident because of the weight of the racket. Hold your wrist very straight when you hit the ball, and it should go exactly where you aim it. I had that problem until I realized it was my wrist."
"Okay, thanks. I wanted to ask before I served so I don't fail so badly."
Brock had watched Ash and Misty whispering as he entered their court, and he grinned slyly. Handing Ash the ball bucket, Brock leaned down and murmured, "Whispering sweet nothings to your girlfriend?"
Ash sent him a loathsome look. "Shut up."
As Brock walked away, he muttered so only Ash could hear, "It's interesting how you never deny it." Ash thought for a moment, and found that this was true. He had never directly said she wasn't his girlfriend.
Ash had a better time serving in game two than he had in the last set. He managed to not give Brock and Tracey any automatic points, though not all of his tennis balls went over the net the first time. Still, it was a big improvement over Ash's previous attempt at serving. I didn't know how helpful my hat really was! I don't think I'll ever take it off again, not even at night!
Tracey sighed as he commentated the final score of game two to the excited, cheering spectators. "Brock and Tracey, thirty, Ash and Misty… win."
"Pika Pi! Pikachupi! Pika Pi! Pikachupi!"
Game three was Tracey's turn to serve again. He tried a new technique by hitting the tennis ball very, very fast and as far towards the ground as it could and still go over the net. He hoped to throw Ash and Misty off guard, but it didn't work too well. Misty figured out what he was doing after his first serve, so she told Ash, and they were both prepared. In agitation, some of the balls did not go over the net, which made Tracey even more uptight. Tracey suffered a bit from a mental breakdown over this, so it was up to Brock to earn the pair their one point of the game.
Tracey couldn't even manage to calm down enough to call out the final score, so Brock announced, "Game three ends with Brock and Tracey at fifteen, Ash and Misty, win," and drug Tracey off the court.
"That net! That STUPID NET!" Tracey howled hysterically. Ash and Misty had a hard time controlling their laughter as Brock had to resort to asking Pikachu to calm a devastated Tracey down. After the Thundershock, Tracey was able to compose himself and bring the ball bucket over to Misty.
"Trace, you okay?" Misty giggled as he handed her the bucket over the net. Ash chuckled a bit at Tracey, too. Tracey's black hair was standing on end, resulting in his hair looking even messier than Ash's usually did.
"Yeah, I'm okay," Tracey coughed. Both Ash and Misty gave him a critical look. "Really, I'm okay. I just… I'm usually a lot… I mean, a whole lot better at serving than that. …I'll live." Pikachu was laughing hysterically. He had slightly overdone the Thundershock by accident, but as it worked, he found it amusing.
Misty was ready to serve by game four. She regretted that this was her only chance to serve during the set, so she made up for it by starting off each serve with all of her skill. She and Ash had worked hard the whole time to score first, for they couldn't afford to end up with a score of love. Brock and Tracey were dying to scream "AAML! AAML!" but it just wouldn't be the same if Ash and Misty had already scored, so they couldn't. Ash and Misty were able to hold off the chant by scoring first, even though Brock and Tracey were able to score twice after that. Fifteen, thirty, forty, advantage… Ash and Misty pulled off another victory.
A poised, though disappointed Tracey was able to announce, "Brock and Tracey, thirty, Ash and Misty… win… again… for the fourth time… in… a… row." He turned to Brock hopefully. "Please, please, please do a better job at serving than I did. Please."
Brock sighed. "That's a lot of pressure, you know? All I can do is the best that I can."
"Just make sure your best brings us a win."
"I can't make any promises anymore."
Brock was slightly distracted from serving during game five. Pikachu had taken on the job of cheerleader for the team of Ash and Misty and was having a fine time doing so. Out of the corner of his eye, Brock could see Pikachu jumping up and down, doing cartwheels, doing summersaults, and shaking his fist at him and Tracey. "Pika Pi! Pikachupi! Pika Pi! Pikachupi!" Pikachu cheered.
Pikachu just about Thundershock Tracey again when he scored a point for his team, but luckily, Ash was able to yell out in time, "Look out, Tracey!" With a frightened cry, Tracey leapt out of the way just in time as the electricity went passed him and hit the chain link fence instead.
"Chu! CHU!" Pikachu cried angrily when he missed his target.
"Pikachu!" Ash yelled exasperatedly, "Don't Thundershock our opponents! It's just Tracey!"
"Pi-Ka," Pikachu defended, but went back to his cheerleading anyway. Ash saw Tracey breathe a sigh of relief. Ash glanced at Pikachu and sighed himself as he watched Pikachu do a back flip, which earned applause from Misty. I wonder if that's what it's like for Gary with his cheerleaders.
With the diverting spectator doing various acrobatics just off the court, the "distraction" theory Brock had thought up was proved to work on Brock and Tracey, too. "Final score for game five," Tracey announced, "was… big surprise here… Brock and Tracey, fifteen… Ash and Misty… win."
"ONE MORE GAME!" Ash chanted, "ONE MORE GAME!"
"Pika Pi! Pikachupi! Pika Pi! Pikachupi!"
Brock sighed. One more game won by Ash and Misty, and they would win the second set. Brock glanced up at the sky. The sun was already a bit past its zenith, signifying that it was around two o'clock in the afternoon. I hope we can get this over with quick.
Game six of set two was played with Ash serving the tennis ball. He actually got the ball over the net each time he hit it, which made him ecstatic with pride on how fast he had improved. Maybe I'm a natural like Misty, too! Each time Ash served well, or his team earned a point, Pikachu would go into a small cheering frenzy. He would dance around in a circle, electric sparks flying everywhere, chanting very loudly, "PIKA PI! PIKACHUPI! PIKA PI! PIKACHUPI!" Tracey always backed away from Pikachu as far as he could when Pikachu started his routine.
Back and forth, back and forth, the tennis ball went across the net. However, the ending to the game was the most exciting. "Brock and Tracey, thirty, Ash and Misty, advantage. One point to win the game, and the set," Tracey morosely called. Ash threw the tennis ball up into the air, and gave it a smack with his racket. The ball shot like a rocket over the net and Brock smacked the ball back. The intensity of the hitting grew, as each team didn't allow the ball to hit the court. Misty dived for the ball, and managed to hit it back. However, the ball flew high, almost straight into the air. Brock and Tracey both looked up to follow it, but the sun got in their eyes. Ash and Misty couldn't see the ball for the sun either.
By this time, Pikachu had ventured closer to the court in excitement. He then ran out, right onto Brock and Tracey's court, to see if he could see the ball. Suddenly, the tennis ball seemed to reappear. It was headed directly for Pikachu at a high speed. Even if the Pokémon hadn't been in the way, there were no means for Brock or Tracey to have gotten to the ball in time anyway. In his fright, Pikachu did the only thing he could thing of… he Thunderbolted the tennis ball. Ash, Misty, Tracey, and Brock all watched the ball pause in midair, then finish its descent to the ground. It rolled away from where it landed on Brock and Tracey's court, gray and smoldering.
With a sigh, Tracey muttered, "Brock and Tracey, thirty. Ash and Misty win game six, and win set two."
The celebration that Ash and Misty had started after game one was resumed. Pikachu brought Togepi along to Ash and Misty's court so that the two Pokémon could celebrate the upset victory with their trainers. Wiping sweat from his forehead, Brock shook his head in amazement. "I don't believe it," Brock chuckled, "That was probably the biggest comeback in all of tennis history."
"I'd say so," Tracey replied, "This is not over yet, though."
"Game, set, but no match, huh?"
"YAHOO! WE DID IT!" Ash cried happily, swinging Pikachu around and around in the air, "WE WON! WE BEAT THEM! WE- AHH!"
"Watch where you're going, Ketchum!" Misty snapped as Ash accidentally collided with her. She held Togepi tighter.
"Sorry," Ash muttered dizzily. A moment later, Ash realized that he had apologized again. 'Don't know what's gotten into me lately, he thought in introspection. However, Misty didn't give him any strange looks this time.
Brock and Tracey arrived on Ash and Misty's court. "Well, congratulations," Brock acknowledged, shaking Ash and Misty's hands in turn.
Tracey did the same. "Yeah, congratulations so far, at least. Are you two sure you've never played tennis before?"
Misty grinned. "I'm positive."
"Well, if you're sure," Tracey glanced up at the sun, "How about one more set to decide the match? I don't think I could play anymore than that without fainting like a Pokémon."
"Me neither," Brock agreed. "Boy, it's getting hot!"
"One more set sounds fine to me," Misty complied in satisfaction, "What about you, Ash?"
"We have to play another set no matter what!" Ash said quickly. "How else are we going to say that we actually beat you two?"
"Beat us?" Brock joked, "We'll see about that!"
"Yeah!?" Misty called to them, as Brock and Tracey took off with the ball bucket back to their court, "Bring it on!"
Brock and Tracey settled back into their familiar positions, Tracey with a ball in hand, ready to serve. Misty was prepared and Ash was getting ready to play, when he suddenly said, "Wait a minute!" Ash raced over to Pikachu and whipped his Pokémon league hat off of his head. "Will you hold this for me Pikachu?" Ash asked, handing his hat to his Pokémon, "The brim keeps covering up my eyes because I'm running around so much, and I don't want to block my vision."
"Pika!" Pikachu nodded, accepting the hat and thanking Ho-oh that Ash hadn't asked him to hold onto the tennis racket or ball bucket. Pikachu placed the hat on his own head, and it was forced to slide around backwards by the weight of the brim, giving Pikachu a peculiar, yet cute look. "Pika Pi! Pikachupi!" Pikachu cheered as Ash ran off back to his position.
Suddenly, as Ash was positioning his racket in his hands, he remembered how unlucky he and Misty had been when he hadn't had his Pokémon league hat on. Ash felt a strange twitch in his stomach, almost a stirring of warning.
" 'Hope it's not a bad omen," Ash muttered quietly to himself.
"What's that, Ash?" Misty inquired, glancing at him questioningly.
"Ready?" Tracey called out. Ash and Misty nodded. "All right! Ladies, gentlemen, and Pokémon, welcome to set three of today's tennis match! This is the deciding set of the match, as Brock and Tracey have won one set, and Ash and Misty have won a set, too. Let game one begin!" After completing his commentary, Tracey threw the ball high, and served.
Misty whacked the ball back across the net. It was returned by Brock. Ash sent the ball pelting towards Tracey, when abruptly, Ash's stomach twitched forebodingly again. Ash became uneasy, and in his apprehension, couldn't even hear Pikachu's cheering. Ash felt unable to move, and watched Tracey hit the ball back across to his and Misty's court.
The ball was flying to Misty's right, and she ran sideways for it. Unexpectedly, Misty felt a strange forewarning feeling in her stomach as Ash had, but had no time to listen to it because the ball was coming on fast. She swung her racket at it, when suddenly, she felt a jerk as her feet became tangled together. She became unbalanced and started to fall. Before she was even half way to the ground, Misty knew that this accident was going to be painful. Her right knee and elbow hit the hard concrete first, followed by her whole right side. Her right arm jerked in a spasm, causing her racket to involuntary hit her left shin hard. She cried out in fright and anguish, dropping her racket from a trembling hand and clapping both hands around her left shin.
"MISTY!" Ash cried out in terror, dropping his racket and rushing to her side. There was a jumble of footsteps pounding the pavement as Brock, Tracey, and Pikachu joined Ash in a circle around the fallen girl. She had curled up tightly on the ground, biting her lip against the pain in her right elbow and both legs. Ash knelt down behind her immediately and struggled to pry her fingers from their hold so that they could see what was wrong. A bit of red liquid leaked from around her fingers.
Brock grimaced. "Oh, boy. This is bad."
Ash's eyes grew wide in fright. "SHE'S BLEEDING!" Ash shrieked hysterically, "WHAT DO WE DO!?" Misty sucked in a moaning sob. Togepi was trotting onto the court to see what was wrong, so Pikachu, placing Ash's hat back on Ash's head, ran to shield the little Pokémon from seeing her injured mother.
"Just stay calm!" Tracey tensely replied, and looked to elder Brock for help. Brock bit his lip anxiously, trying to decide what to do while keeping up his composed appearance. Ash leaned over Misty and clasped his left hand over her own to keep the draining blood contained. Misty's eyes were closed tightly, trying instinctively to block the throbbing pain from her mind.
"All right," Brock evenly started, "I'll run back to your house, Ash, because it's the closest. I'll grab some ice and bandages and Advil, and I'll be right back. Okay?"
"I'll come with you, Brock," Tracey offered to help.
"Okay. Let's go. Ash, if you can, help her get up and find a place for her to sit. And for heaven's sake, don't let her bleed more than she has to. Keep some pressure on it until it stops bleeding. I'll be right back." With that, Brock rushed away towards the archway exit, trailed by Tracey. They disappeared from sight. Ash glanced up and saw Pikachu guiding Togepi to a corner and distracting her, for which Ash was grateful.
When Misty finally realized that Brock and Tracey had left, she forgot holding back her tears. Strangely, she didn't mind weeping in front of Ash the way she minded the others seeing her with her guard down, though theoretically, it should have been the opposite. Tears leaked out of her hurt teal eyes, absolutely breaking Ash's heart.
"Here, Misty," Ash choked sadly, "Sit up, and I'll help you sit down somewhere more comfortable." Misty grimaced as she made a weak attempt to sit up, and failed. She didn't let go of her bloody shin the whole time Ash struggled to help her sit up by himself. When he got her up, it was a struggle to get Misty to stand up, too, but as Ash excelled at challenges, he somehow managed. Misty made an effort to stand on one foot and hold the other leg, but she would have fallen down again if Ash hadn't been there to prop her up.
Ash looked around wildly for a place for Misty to sit and wait, until he remembered the wooden backless benches sitting under the pine trees outside the courts. Motioning to Pikachu where he was going, Ash held onto Misty's arm patiently as she hopped painfully across the court, through the gate, and into the pine-needle-strewn grass. Misty gasped in ache as she plopped tiredly down onto a bench. Ash sat down next to her to her left and leaned down to look at the wound.
"Let me see."
"Come on, I need to see how bad it is." Ash was ready to pry her fingers loose from her shin, but her hand went away of its own accord. Blood continued to trickle down her leg into her shoe, but the cut wasn't very large. Ash wished that he had something to block the blood with, until he realized that he did.
"Ash, no!" Misty was horrified as she watched Ash whisk his hat off of his head and press it to the wound. "Not your hat, Ash! It'll be all bloody!"
Ash chuckled sadly. "Nah, it's washable. Remember, if it's been through my whole journey so far and still looks this good, then a little blood won't hurt it."
"Well," Misty murmured slowly, "If you're sure." She sniffed, then burst into tears again. "It just…", she said slowly, "It just… hurts… an awful lot."
"Aw, Misty," Ash muttered sadly, glancing up at her tear streaked face, "I'm sorry this happened."
" 'S not your fault, Ash," Misty whispered. Then she began to weep again. Seeing Ash's appalled face, she added, "Why do you keep apologizing for things, Ash? This is the third time today!" Ash hadn't known that she was keeping track like he was.
"I don't know," Ash explained, pressing down the hat a bit harder. He lifted it up a bit, saw the cut had stopped bleeding, and then set the hat aside. "I guess 'cause bad stuff keeps happening."
There was a pause. "Thank you," Misty blurted out suddenly, and wiped the rest of her own tears away. "The apologies… they mean a lot to me."
Ash smiled a little. "You're welcome." As there was nothing much left to do except wait for Brock and Tracey to return, they sat quietly for a moment, not looking at each other. Suddenly, Ash reached out and gave Misty a tight hug. In Ash's mind, it just seemed like the right thing to do after the whole day's horrible events. Misty was surprised, but glad, to say the least. For a moment, Ash just held her to himself, Misty innocently leaning into him, rocking a little bit back and forth. "It's going to be okay," Ash whispered softly, though Misty had stopped crying a few minutes before. Misty grinned, but Ash's eyes were closed, so he didn't see.
Suddenly, Ash's mind snagged upon an outlandish thought. Why AM I hugging her? Is it because… Ash blushed as voices from the whole day came flooding back to him.
"Tracey was just saying the score! He wasn't… implying anything! You two! You… I can't believe… you all took it… so LITERALLY!"
"Oh, okay! I'll change it then… Brock and Tracey win, with Ash and Misty IN love! Also known as AAML!"
"…Don't they make the cutest pair?…"
Why IS it always me and Misty that everyone says should be a couple? Ash wondered crazily, pulling away from Misty. She almost fell off the bench, since Ash had been supporting her completely. She looked into his eyes in surprise, and when she saw his crimson face, she blushed also. Misty looked away towards the road barely visible through the pine trees. Why did she just blush, too? Do… do they… DOES everyone… have a point?
"I mean, I don't want to tease for no reason, but if there IS a point to all of it, then that's okay."
"They've had it coming for a long time now. The whole 'love' thing, I mean. I know that, and you know that. Misty probably knows that, and Ash, well, I'm never sure about him. But they've had it coming."
What Brock had said caused Ash to think more. Does that mean… that… Misty… thinks that… me and her should… uh… be together? He glanced at Misty. If… if she does… then what… about me?
"Whatcha doing, Ash? Trying to catch up with your one and only soul mate!?"
"It's like everything that's happened like this before has built up to this, right?"
"It's interesting how you never deny it."
Ash had never truly denied that she was his girlfriend, much less denied that he wanted her to be.
"Maybe you ought to kiss her to make her feel better."
The pain in Misty's leg was only increasing the longer the cut from the racket went untreated. She didn't feel like crying anymore, but that didn't mean that she still wasn't hurting. On the inside, Misty's heart was also hurting, wondering anxiously why Ash had stopped hugging her so quickly. She had liked the hug, and perhaps, had even been hopeful. She shot a quick peek at him sitting beside her on the bench. He was staring into space, a small smile playing on his lips. He suddenly turned his head to look at her, not aware that she was looking at him. Ash and Misty blushed at the same time.
Just then, a sharp twinge of pain shot through her leg, and Misty automatically clapped her hand to the slice in her shin. Ash glanced down at her leg, concerned, for a moment, and then looked back up at her face. "Is that where it hurts the most?"
"Yeah," Misty began bluntly, "My other knee and elbow hurts-" She cut herself off as Ash leaned down, brushed her hand away, and lightly kissed the cut. When he straightened back up, Misty was gaping at him.
"I- I- I… well," Ash stammered in diffidence, "well, see, my mom… my mom always used to do that when…" He trailed off, too amazed at his own self to continue the cover up. Misty didn't believe him anyway. "Wh- wh- where d- did you say that you where h- hurt a- a lot, t- t- too?"
"Well," Misty said slowly, trying to contain her emotion, "My other knee is bruised, but it doesn't hurt much. My right elbow is bruised, too, but it hurts a lot." She bent her arm and pointed to the blackish contusion where her elbow had hit the green pavement. She watched as Ash gently touched his lips to the bruise. When he sat up this time, he avoided her eyes, his face flushed and timid. Glancing around for something to gaze at besides Misty, Ash picked up his bloodstained hat and held it a moment, before putting it on his head. He looked down at the ground, and nervously rubbed some dead auburn pine needles into dust with the toe of his shoe.
"Ash?" Misty asked gradually, not really wanting an answer more than for him to see her reaction to his tenderness. Ash glanced up. Misty was blushing, but her eyes sparkled happily.
Ash had a strange feeling in his stomach, but it wasn't a warning. It was like a bunch of fluttering Butterfree. "Hey, M- Misty?"
"Does… do you… h- hurt anywh-where e- else?"
"…Well, um, yes."
"… I… I think I… hit my mouth when I fell down," Misty stammered uncertainly, wide-eyed at her own words. Gently, she touched her shaking finger to her lips. Both Ash and Misty knew that she hadn't cut or bruised her mouth, and both knew that the other knew the same.
Ash blinked. Then, he smiled.
"Come on, Tracey! Hurry up!" Brock's handful of an Ace bandage, Advil bottle, and a water bottle weighed him down a bit, so he was glad that Tracey had come back with him to Ash's house. Tracey held the ice pack away from his body as they ran so that the leaking water wouldn't drip all over himself. By the time the two boys had gotten to Ash's house, they were out of breath. Mrs. Ketchum had made them sit down and rest until they were able to explain the problem. She then rushed them back out the door with the supplies Misty needed, dismayed that she had kept the hurt girl waiting. Brock looked up ahead and saw the tennis courts coming into view.
"Ash! Misty!" Brock saw them sitting on a bench under the pine trees outside of the courts. They looked up as Brock called to them. Brock hurried to them immediately, and winced when he finally saw the gash on Misty's shin. "Ouch! Misty! What did you do to yourself?"
" 'Wasn't me, Brock," Misty chuckled sadly, "It was that tennis racket."
Brock "tsk"ed a bit as he examined the wound. He noticed that the hat on Ash's head was smeared with dried blood, and realized how Ash had stopped the blood flow. Unrolling the Ace bandage, Brock gingerly began to wrap it around Misty's left shin. Tracey finally arrived on the scene, and handed Misty the ice pack, which Misty promptly applied to her right elbow. "I'll go get Pikachu and Togepi," Tracey said, and they nodded as he went off to fetch the Pokémon.
As Brock finished wrapping her leg, he realized how quiet Ash and Misty were being. He glanced up at them. Misty was holding the ice pack tightly to her elbow, and Ash had laid his hand on hers to help Misty keep it steady. Brock watched the two of them exchange fleeting looks several times before he offered Misty the Advil. Ash held the ice pack in place while Misty put the pills in her mouth and took a drink of water.
"Thanks, Brock," Misty said appreciatively, moving her bandaged leg back and forth, "It feels a bit better now, but I don't think I can walk on it yet. I think that it's not only cut, but bruised, too. Maybe underneath the skin." Misty tried to stand up on only her right foot while still holding the ice pack to her elbow, but this didn't work very well. Ash stood up quickly and grabbed her shoulder to keep her from falling. Misty leaned precariously against his right side, and put her arm around his neck for balance when he put his arm around her shoulders.
"Ready?" Tracey questioned, joining Ash, Misty, and Brock again, all four tennis rackets loaded in his arms. Pikachu staggered slowly after him, holding the ball bucket as best as he could, with Togepi sitting among the balls on top, like a white red-and-blue patterned tennis ball herself.
Brock gathered up the Advil bottle, water bottle, and ice pack that Misty couldn't hold when she was walking. "Yep, we're ready, I guess. Let's get you home, Misty; well, at least to Ash's home, so you can rest."
"Yes, please," Misty muttered, and the assorted band made their way back to the road. As they started on back towards Ash's house, Ash and Misty were in the front, Misty still leaning hard against him. Brock and Tracey were in the middle, and Pikachu, with his cumbersome burden, was far, far in the back. They walked in that formation for a few minutes in silence. Brock watched the front pair slyly; they looked rather cute leaning on each other the way they were.
"Hey, Trace," Brock whispered, nudging Tracey with his elbow, "Check out the lovebirds up there." Tracey grinned mischievously.
"Whatcha doing, Ash?" Tracey shouted to Ash and Misty's backs, "Trying to cuddle with your one and only soul mate!? Is that it!?"
"Yeah, what do you call what you're doing, huh, Ash!?" Brock called out teasingly. Brock and Tracey sniggered.
Suddenly, Ash stopped, Misty pausing beside him. They didn't turn around, or even look around. Out of the blue, Ash began to chuckle. The joking boys were very confused. Brock would have given anything to see Ash's face and figure out what was going on in his mind.
"Oh, I dunno," Ash slowly replied, the tone of his voice as light and cheery as the voices that had teased him and Misty all day for their one miscomprehension. "Maybe AAML?"
Brock and Tracey froze in disbelief. Misty began to giggle, and she leaned harder against her companion, snuggling her head into Ash's neck. Ash tightened his grip around her shoulder affectionately, and they continued on down the road, Misty's injured leg slightly raised from the ground. Brock and Tracey were so stunned at the statement, that they were completely immobilized. Pikachu and his load accidentally bumped into their legs, startling them back to life. "ASH! MISTY! WAIT UP!" Brock and Tracey shouted, and ran to catch up with the two already half out of sight.
Don't you just love happy endings? Well, what else is there to say? It's been a pleasure to write this story for everyone out there, and I hope that you enjoyed it, and please review!