Credit for the inspiration for this goes primarily to Warlordess and Wildtotodile, but I acknowledge the efforts of many other authors in this matter.

"Hi Misty," he says, sitting down on the white-sheeted bed next to her. "How are you?"

She smiles at him, an innocent, wholehearted, and utterly devoted expression. She is sitting close enough that their sides touch. "I'm fine," she says, her words almost sparkling with cheerfulness. None of it is fake, he knows that.

And then she says it. "You do love me, don't you?"

He smiles back, and if his expression lacks the enthusiasm and energy of her own, she doesn't notice. "Sure, Misty," he says quietly.

"You don't love May, right?" Her voice has become worried and anxious, sliding towards desperate.

"Don't worry," he says.

She smiles again, reassured. "Of course not, that's so silly of me," she says, voice light. "You'd never like a dumb girl like that." She turns away from him for a moment, to the other person in the room, a young woman. "You agree, don't you?" she asks. "Ash would never have even looked at her, the underdeveloped little slut." Venom has entered her voice. The woman nods in agreement, silent, the motion reserved and almost timid. "Wandering around wearing practically nothing. And sometimes not even that!" She turns back to Ash, as she always does. She touches his side imploringly. "You remember, don't you, that time she jumped into the hot springs with you? With two boys. Like some whore. It was back when those diglett were causing problems…and she was always fighting with you, you remember, yelling and arguing and whining. She even hit you when she got mad, the bitch. She didn't know anything about pokemon fighting, she never accomplished anything at all, but she'd always try to boss you around." She turns to the other woman again for a moment, her voice growing louder and more upset. "Don't you agree? She was just a stupid bimbo. Just a stupid slut going after a boy younger than her. Couldn't do anything right. No one could stand her, but she was too stupid to even know. Her whole family, even they knew how pathetic and worthless she was. No one could stand her. Don't you agree?" The woman bites her lip slightly, nods, blinks a few times too fast.

"It's okay, Misty," Ash says, and she stops like magic, smiles at him again.

"You understand, don't you Ash?" she says, her voice calmer again. "She didn't deserve to have you. She didn't deserve anything. She should have died. I hope she dies."

"Those are some bad things," Ash says gently, "but I don't know if they're bad enough to die over."

"Don't!" Misty screams at him. "She's making you think that, she's tricking you! She just wants to have you, but she doesn't deserve it, she's just a worthless slut! An ugly, brainless bimbo no one can stand!"

"It's okay Misty. I didn't say that." He holds one hand between his, can't help but rub his fingers over her wrist, feeling the irregularity in the skin, a thin line. "I just mean, I don't know if it's bad enough to be dead over."

"It is!" she says fiercely. "It is! That slut, that whore, how dare she!"

Ash wonders, as he often does when she says this, why other fixtures from his travels, ones more dangerous, or persistent, or obnoxious, don't attract the same hatred from Misty. And then he remembers again, as he always does, and feels ashamed he could forget even for an instant.

"It's okay, Misty," he says again. "It didn't really matter to me, the things that happened." This is a lie and a truth, and he has lost track of which he thinks it is a long time ago.

Misty does not accept this but calms down again somewhat. She looks to the clock. "Your match is soon, isn't it?"

He hates himself for the lie, hates himself more for needing the lie. "Yeah." He smiles at her again, tries to mirror the sunny expression she often gives him, stands and says goodbye.

The woman with them also stands to leave.

"You've come here before," Misty says suddenly as Ash walks into the hallway. "You've come with him before. But I don't know your name."

"M-Mabel," the woman says. She smiles, a less convincing gesture than Ash's, and leaves as well, footsteps echoing on the tile as she walks just slightly too fast.

Outside she collapses against the wall, sobbing. Ash hugs her, tears almost coming to him as well. It is never easy.

"I'm sorry," he says, the words said so often they seem almost a mantra. "You don't have to come."

"I-I do," she says, pulling herself back together somewhat. "She…we didn't really know each other well, but…she was still my friend. And – I – I can't help but feel I'm…"

"You know she's not talking about…you know who she's talking about." Ash recognizes the easy, false platitude he's saying, knows that knowing can't remove you from it. Knows he has nothing better to say. "You know it's not you she hates."

And: "I know," she does say. "I know. But –" She bites her lip again. "I can't feel better, that it's herself."