Secrets

Note to readers: This little fic has absolutely nothing to do with Shadows of Time (or any other future fics of mine, for that matter). Also, for those interested, I have not abandoned Shadows of Time. The next chapter is well underway and should be up shortly. This is just a little something that popped into my head and refused to leave me alone until I wrote it down, so here it is. Enjoy.

Disclaimer: I do not own Pokemon, or any of the characters, creatures, places or scenarios connected with it. I have, however, recently acquired a very nice hammock tent that only weighs two pounds, but you didn't really need to know that.

My name is Misty, and I have a secret. It isn't a secret because I can't tell anybody; it's a secret because anybody I tell doesn't believe it. They might pretend to, and smile and nod and say they know how I feel, and they would feel the same way in my place. Only myself and a few others know the real truth.

If you look at a list of the great Pokemon Masters of today, you'll see all the names you would expect. The current Elite Four are on it, of course. The names Richard Hiroshi and Gary Oak are near the top. My name, Misty Ketchum, is on the list under Water Masters. There are other names as well. It's not a long list, but long enough that I won't list them all here.

Now here's my secret: I knew a boy who's name isn't on the list, whose name was never on the list, but who was a greater Pokemon Master than any of them is or ever will be. I knew a boy who was a greater Pokemon Master than any other, past or present, living or dead. I don't think there will ever be another like him in any future. But only those who truly knew him know that my secret is the truth.

The rest of the world would tell you that he was just another young trainer, promising yes, and maybe even good enough to someday be one of the names on the list. But the greatest Master of all time? They look pityingly on me, say sadly that it's just the wish of a grief stricken girl, an attempt to place him high above the rest in the castles of memory. He was a good boy, they say. He had a lot of skill and a lot of luck when it came to battling, but we'll never know, will we?

I know better. I know.

If the pokemon could speak in a language all people could understand, I think they would tell us that they know, too. They could see him for what he was, and so they flocked to his side. And not just the ordinary pokemon (I can almost hear him telling me no pokemon is ordinary), but the legendary pokemon as well. With so many trainers and researchers looking for them, they sought him out, above all others. I think they must have sensed that he was legendary, too; a rare and powerful and beautiful type of human.

My sisters keep telling me that he would have wanted me to go on with life, to be happy. What they really want is for me to start seeing other men, to date someone, anyone really. But they don't understand. I have continued living, after all. My dream was to become a great water pokemon master, and here I am. I'm not counted the greatest yet, and so I keep going. I have my pokemon to look after, as well as his. I don't need another man to go on with life. I don't want to ever love another man. Not after I've loved him, and had his love back, however briefly it lasted. My dreams of romance were always dreams about him, even when he only appeared as the vague, shadowy figure I dreamed of on occasion before we met.

Any love would seem pale and shallow compared with what I shared with him, even if it was equal to the love experienced by most of the rest of the world. Though I wish with all my heart I could have him back with me, I am content with the memory of him. There is no hole in my heart that needs filling. He has already filled it completely.

So I battle young trainers who hope to be great someday, I care for my pokemon and I train them. I teach students about water pokemon and I try to learn more about them myself. And when I'm alone and in need of comfort I take out all of my memories of him and of our journeys together, spread them out and look them over, a gallery of the pieces of our lives that mattered most. Or else I visit my world of might-have-beens. It a beautiful place, though it can be heartbreaking at times; a bittersweet vacation site. It's another secret of mine. I made it out of all of our hopes for the future- his and mine, and put it together with all the little bits of whimsy that seemed to fill our lives. It's not always the same, but he's always there, and so I like to visit it whenever I have the chance.

People think I'm a little crazy, I suppose, but I'm not. I know my might-have-beens aren't real. They're toys. I take them out and play with them when I'm lonely and put them away when I'm done. I have a whole collection of them I like to look at, pretty pictures of our lives as they were going to be.

In my world of might-have-beens, he and I live in a house overlooking the sea. It has two stories with shutters on the windows and a little stone chimney poking out of the roof. It's not a huge house, but the grounds surrounding it are big enough for all of his pokemon, and there's a special pond for our water pokemon to swim in. I think the drive is made of cobblestones, and sometimes we have a garden rambling around the front.

In my world of might-have-beens there are children. Their names and faces change sometimes, but they're always a little bit of me and a little bit of him. There's usually a girl who looks a lot like his mother, except with his eyes.

In my world of might-have-beens, he still holds me every night. I can still feel his hands, a little rough but always gentle, warm against my back and arms and thighs. I still run my fingers through his hair, pretending to try to straighten it even though I know that's impossible, while he rests his cheek against mine and whispers my name as if it's the most beautiful sound he's ever heard.

In my world of might-have-beens we still argue about stupid things, but then I'll look into those deep, dark eyes and he'll smile. It's always the same smile: the one that was his alone, that could turn all the grays to gold and make the sun want to hide its face in shame, and he'll smile it just for me.

In my world of might-have-beens, I still hear his heart beating when I lay my head against his chest, because in my world of might-have-beens the Flagstone Gate incident never happened, and he never left me alone.

I've heard people say that I lost a little bit of my mind when he died. I'm not really considered insane, just not quite normal: the brilliant but eccentric Water Master who has never quite been able to accept the fact that her beloved is dead. But can you blame me? I know I almost believed, when it happened, that my tears would bring him back. I waited for the flash of light, for the unearthly music, and then for him to open his eyes again, that confused expression on his face. It never happened, but I don't think thinking it could for a little while makes me crazy. After all, it wasn't the first time he had died.

But it was the last.

Wishing we had never stumbled upon Flagstone Gate never does any good. We did, and there's not a thing anyone could ever do to change that. Even magic can only do so much. Besides, I have a feeling that even if we hadn't found Flagstone Gate, fate would have found him somewhere else. I guess that's what it means to be chosen.

He went out with a flash, like all heroes do. They always say the brightest stars burn the fastest. I've never met anyone brighter. Some part of me still believes that nothing, not even the forces held in Flagstone Gate, could have taken his life if he hadn't offered to give it first. But he never hesitated to place his life in the path of danger if by doing so he could spare others. Such a bright flame could never stand resting idle. Funny that his name was Ash.

I suppose I'd better explain about Flagstone Gate. It's one of my secrets. Flagstone Gate isn't really a gate at all; it's more of a cave or a cave-like scoop in the side of a hill. It might have been an old stone quarry. It's not much to look at, but evidently someone at some time took the trouble to name it, because there's an old wooden sign nailed to a post in the ground that says "Flagstone Gate" in peeling paint, and somebody else thought to name the neighboring town after it.

We came to it by accident, without knowing what it was, as we were vacationing in the area, along with his mother and Professor Oak. I won't describe everything that happened there or all the events that led up to those last moments. It would take far to long, and nobody would believe it anyway. I will say that the world would not be recognizable if we had not been there and if he had not done what he did.

The end came with an explosion, a star going supernova. He told me to stand clear, and I was already to far away to return to his side before I realized he didn't intend to follow me. I saw him though, at that last moment, and though everyone else will say it's not possible, will say that he must have died instantly, I swear that he looked at me in that last moment. And I'll swear that he smiled: that very special smile of his that could be matched by none other.

When the dust had cleared, it was the professor who found me, on my knees and weeping at his, my Ash's, side, still waiting for my tears to bring him back. I don't know how long Professor Oak had been there or how much he had seen, or even how long it had been since the end of Flagstone Gate. I don't know how he knew to come there. I know I didn't notice him until I felt his hand on my shoulder.

I didn't say anything, and neither did he, for a long while. I was still waiting for him to wake, to open his eyes and tell me everything was going to be all right. Then I just waited. And finally, I laid his head down on the ground and ran my fingers through his hair for the last time, and stepped away.

"He was everything a pokemon trainer, and a person should be," said the professor softly, his voice breaking, and I at last fully realized that he was there.

"But he never got to be the greatest pokemon master of all time." It was a pathetic protest in the face of something so big, but it was the only one I could bring my voice to say. I know it sounded feeble; a lost, plaintive voice crying out for the impossible. But lost and pathetic I felt.

The professor gave my shoulder a slight squeeze. "I think he did," he said. I looked up at him, and saw the tears flowing down his cheeks as freely as my own.

It had only been two months since our wedding, you know. Maybe that's part of the reason my sisters are so eager to see me with someone else. Something about me being too young to stay a widow forever.

The headline that appeared in the papers the next day, "Pokemon Trainer Killed in Accident at Flagstone Gate," and the following article did not even begin to explain the truth of what happened. They said nothing of how the wind blowing from the east suddenly ceased and the North Wind came howling down from the hills. They didn't tell of the unearthly howl voiced by all the pokemon gathered around that rocky gully. They never mentioned the lightning that crashed upon the hillside, the flames that swept the grass but left no mark, the shudder that passed through all the leaves of the trees, or the inexplicable silence that followed it all. They didn't tell that for one moment, in that one place, the sun blinked and time froze. I told them, but it still remained my secret.

My reputation wasn't the only one ruined. It is now commonly accepted that the renowned Prof. Samuel Oak has at last gone senile. He's never stopped trying to convince his colleagues of the truth of what happened there. I also believe he spent a long time fighting to get Ash's name added to the list, probably as much for my sake as for anyone's. Of course, they don't know the truth behind his long friendship with Ash, and I doubt that attempting to tell anyone would help matters. But I think it's sad that all the work he's done since that tragedy should be discounted because he refuses to pretend that Ash was anything less than he was. He says he doesn't mind. He must have seen at least part of the same end that I saw.

Delia Ketchum believes us, I think, in the same way any mother would, just maybe a little more. Ash was always her brightest star, so she would never doubt anyone who told her he was the greatest Master to ever live. Of course he was. She gets mostly the same reactions I do when she tells anyone: sympathetic and disbelieving nods and smiles. Oh yes, of course he was. Poor Delia. It's true though, that something went out of her when he died. She walks in a dream world even more than I do, and I think her dreams blend more often with her reality. I wonder if he knew what would become of us when he left.

Tracy believes us in the sense that he would never doubt Professor Oak. I know he was furious when the articles began coming out, the ones that said things like "Famous Pokemon Researcher: Gone Korbatty?" or "Pallet Professor Losing His Touch." He stood by his hero, and ironically has been receiving the same sort of praise Professor Oak used to get from fellow scholars. How much he truly believes of our story, I'm not sure. He was very upset when it happened, of course, but he never really knew him, knew Ash, in the same way the rest of us did.

Ash. It's getting easier to say his name, Ash's name, now. Sometimes it seems I just can't say it. I try to, knowing he would want me to, but it seems the word just won't come out. I don't know why. Other times it seems to be all I can say. Ash.

I think the only other person who really, truly, believes us is Brock. He wasn't there, but he's been Ash's friend and mine long enough to understand. He's kept it as his secret though, keeps it mostly to himself, though he's talked about it with us. I suppose pokemon breeders have to be a bit more respectable than Water Masters. If people are going to trust their pokemon to his care, they want to know he's sane. I don't have that restriction. Weather I keep my title or not has nothing to do with how many pieces people think my mind is in, so I can say what I like.

But he's not completely silent. I've heard him sometimes when I visit, telling stories to his classes about the greatest Pokemon Master of all time, who traveled around the world with a pikachu on his shoulder, meeting legendary pokemon and battling evil. He tells them as if they weren't true, or as if he wants his listeners to think they are but really know they aren't, or as if he wonders if they just might be true. If I'm there, he'll wink at me, because he knows that I already know all the stories just as well as he does, because, after all, they're part my stories as well.

And maybe that's the best way of sharing our secret and keeping it secret at the same time. Just a few days ago, a trainer who came to challenge me told me he wanted to be like the Master in a story he heard, the one who saved the Spirit of the Forest and could ride the North Wind. I told him I had heard the story, and that the Master had started his journey by stealing a girl's bicycle and blowing it up. He laughed, and I knew he would pass on that part of the story, even though he though it was only that: a story.

So there you have it. A handful of lies made up to explain the unexplainable are disguised as history, while the true facts are masquerading as myths. But perhaps that's as it should be. After all, history only lives as long as the facts behind it are remembered. Legends live forever, and are often more real in the hearts and souls of those who love them than any dry page of a history book. And that, I think, is everybody's biggest secret of all.

End

UDW