Vertical Luna

By Maia's Pen

AUTHORS NOTE: This story contains various snippets of Egoshipping, Pokeshipping, and angst. If ANY of the above tends to bother you, then I recommend that you do not read this particular story. Otherwise: Welcome to my story!

Disclaimer: Nope, I still don't own Pokemon.

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The music was loud. Really loud. There were dozens of speakers positioned strategically throughout the club; and each one was physically pulsating along with the electronic beat. Strobe lights were flashing in wild patterns; the erratic brightness caused everyone in the club to appear to be dancing in slow motion. As the techno music grew more intense a second lightshow bathed everyone within waves of neon pink and scarlet. These vibrant colors swirled in every which direction.

Between the dizzying lights and the deafening rhythm Ash Ketchum almost lost his balance. He was trying to make his way down the stairwell which led to the heart of Vertical Luna's dance floor.

Vertical Luna was undeniably the most amazing club in Saffron City. It proudly housed the most massive dance floor in the entire Kanto region. And this dance floor currently had well over seventy youthful bodies grooving freely upon it. But the floor was not the club's only highlight: the club also had an incredible bar. The selection of alcohol was second to none. You could order anything from run-of-the-mill beer to the finest imported wine from Johto. Vertical Luna's barstools were always packed -- and tonight was no exception.There didn't appear to be an empty seat anyplace. It was practically wall-to-wall bodies; Ash had just barely made it inside . . . in fact, he had to slip the bouncer a fifty to even gain admittance.

Everyone on the floor was basically forced to dance pressed against everyone else. Yet despite how awkward Ash found the closeness, nobody dancing seemed to care at all! As the current techno beat began to fade into another song, people began cheering excitedly. Never once did they stop dancing to even catch their breath. The dancers were undoubtedly having the time of their life! And, as soon as Ash located Misty within this crowd of spiraling bodies and lights, he was hoping that he would as well.

Tonight was the night.

Ash was finally going to tell Misty Waterflower how he felt about her. This was it. And nothing was going to stand in his way.

Misty was finally single . . . and she was here at Vertical Luna tonight without Gary Oak.

Ash was not going to waste his chance. Misty and Gary were finally over – over for real this time. It was not a false alarm like all of their other breakups had been. And as far as Ash was concerned: this final breakup was long overdue!

In the eight months that Gary and Misty had been together they had broken up eight times. Now, granted, the longest of these eight breakups had only latest 12 hours . . . but they had still broken up eight times . . .

. . . perhaps 'break up' was the wrong phrase to describe what so frequently transpired between Misty and Gary. Their 'breakups' could hardly even be called 'breakups' since none of them even lasted one entire day. Quite frankly, the more Ash thought about it (and he had thought about it a lot) the more he determined that the reasons for their 'breakups' were ridiculous.

Ash recalled one instance where Gary had refused to go dancing with Misty because he thought it was lame. Misty screamed and yelled because she didn't want to show up at the dance club dateless. Gary stuck to his guns and refused to go with her. Misty threw a hell of a tempter tantrum and then – exasperated - dumped him for an entire twenty five minuets. She had called Ash in tears over the incident. The phone call began with her verbally bashing Gary for being too macho, but then, half way through the conversation she was grief stricken. She had suddenly come to some preposterous realization that she could not stand to be without Gary. Thus, she hung up with Ash, called Gary, and the pair was back together instantly.

Another time they broke up for three whole hours. This time Gary had been too indecisive while ordering at a restaurant. According to Misty he had taken fifteen minutes to chose been a ham sandwich and a plate of spaghetti. His lack of speed with the menu infuriated her and she wailed to Ash that she could not possibly be with someone so inconclusive. She was all the more upset because Gary had yelled back at her, proclaiming: that he could not possibly be with anyone so incredibly impatient and bossy. Well, that did it. Misty could not stand to have her ego challenged any more than Gary could. Henceforth: the three hour breakup ensued. It lasted no longer than three hours because Gary had shown up on her doorstep with a plush Squirtle and (to quote Misty) 'an adorable sorry face'. That was the end of that 'break up'.

Ash recalled a few other 'breakups' that ranged in severity from Misty being jealous over some bimbo that flirted with Gary to Misty eating the last cupcake off of Gary's plate.

Just stupid, unreasonable things.

These outlandish examples were the reasons why Ash never really considered them officially broken up to begin with. These momentary 'splits' were just Gary and Misty frustrated with each other. Ash decided that: declaring a melodramatic 'breakup' was the best way they knew to punish one another. They were just fights, really. And theses fights/ 'breakups' were - of course- always mutual. Neither one of their egos could possibly allow them to be the dumped one.

And so it went . . . and Ash was usually the first one Misty called to complain or cry too. He didn't mind at first, he appreciated the fact that Misty chose him as a shoulder to cry on (even if it was always over the vidphone). Every time Gary and Misty 'broke up' Ash would begin to hope that - this time - it would be for real so that he could finally tell her how he felt about her. Ash had been waiting for a chance with her for years.

Ash never meant to let Misty slip through his fingers. Over the years he had just become so consumed with his travels, his Pokemon, and his victories. The title of Pokemon Master was almost within reach of him now.

Only, all of his professional accomplishments hardly mattered to him anymore. The title of Pokemon Master paled in comparison to the title that Gary had had – the title of Misty Waterflower's boyfriend.

Damn all the time that Ash had wasted! Damn all those years that he could never get back! So many years ago, when he was still just a kid, Ash had left for Hoenn without Misty. He had had a fantastic time traveling the world with Brock, May, and Max . . . but he had left her behind in Cerulean City – never once telling her how he felt. He had just left her . . . left her there all alone for Gary to find her.

It was the biggest regret of his life.

His heart was certainly paying for it now. Day and night he suffered from the mental anguish. Day and night his heart ached for her. Ash's regret stung him like venom. The writhing sting intensified every moment that he went on knowing she was with Gary and not with him. Ash would trade all of his Gym badges in a heartbeat if he thought he could rewind the clock.

Gary and Misty getting together was one hell of a surprise to Ash. Their union hadn't happened anytime soon after he'd left for Hoenn. In fact, Gary and Misty didn't actually get together until years after that. But it was his leaving her behind that ultimately brought them together.

Ash had heard about them from his mother several months ago. Delia Ketchem had told Ash the information over the phone as though it were exciting news – something he should be thrilled about!

Well, Ash was certainly not thrilled; but he managed to keep his misery to himself. His mother was very fond of Misty and she was very fond of Gary, so it only made sense that their togetherness would delight her. Ash had just always assumed that his mother would be rooting for her son and Misty to get together . . . but apparently, she, like Misty, had forgotten him. It all gave potent meaning to the expression "out of sight out of mind."

Ash had been living at the Indigo Plateau for the past three years. He had spent every waking moment training his Pokemon and battling against the toughest opponents in the world. Ash was renting a suite on the plateau and his rigorous training regiment had him confronting every trainer who came to challenge the Elite Four. By living on the plateau Ash has access to an almost constant flow of eager combatants.

He was seventeen now and almost feeling confident enough to challenge The Elite Four again. The key word here is 'again' – Ash was nearing his fifth attempt in the past three years. It wasn't as though Ash was out of his league against the Elite Four; every time Ash attempted the challenge he faired amazingly well. And every time he would make it as far as Karen – the challenger right before Lance the Dragon Master. The problem was: every time Ash reached Karen he would panic. He would actually freeze and become too nervous to even choose a Pokemon. Ash desperately wanted to defeat Lance and become the new Pokemon Master. It was his dream! And Ash KNEW that he was good enough to achieve his dream.

Despite how much he wanted to win, Ash always ended up losing his battle to Karen. Perhaps he just wasn't ready for the dramatic life change that the title of Master would bring? Perhaps he was worried about living up to everyone's expectations? His whole life had revolved around achieving this dream, and now that he was faced with it he was a pathetic wreck of nerves. Pokemon was his life; it didn't make sense to him.

And then . . . when Ash heard about Gary and Misty everything changed. Everything got worse. Ash's priorities took a drastic turn. He constantly felt as though he were walking through a suffocating fog. He could not concentrate on the most basic of tasks. Simply mixing up Pokemon food – a chore he'd done everyday since his tenth birthday – took forced effort and attention. All he could think about was Misty . . . Misty and Gary. . . them.

Ash began losing battles against trainers that were mediocre at best. Prior to his mother's phone call he had been virtually undefeated. The media had begun to buzz around him; there was talk that this would be the year that Ash Ketchum would dethrone Lance.

Only now the year was almost over and Lance was not dethroned. Ash continued down his steady losing streak and the media had no trouble finding another trainer to gawk at instead.

Ash lost so many battles in such a short span of time that he was forced to leave his suite at the plateau and rent a small apartment in Viridian City. He desperately needed to recollect himself in private. He struggled to accept what he could not change, but that noxious fog followed him everywhere . . . he couldn't see straight, he couldn't think straight . . . his own obsessive thoughts resounded in his mind, pestering him day in and out. His mind was a screaming jumble of regret, dismay, and denial . . . these feelings swarmed around him, until, Ash realized that the fog was born of these dark feelings; and that it would not free him until he either let go of Misty or found her again.

The trouble was: that Ash's denial was thicker than his rational. He couldn't believe that Misty was in a serious relationship with Gary – GARY of all the guys in the world! What could they possibly have in common? Misty wasn't even Gary's type! Gary certainly wasn't Misty's type . . . Misty liked humble, nice guys, right? Guys that were sweet, sensitive, and thoughtful . . . a guy like him. Not a snobby know-it-all researcher; not some materialistic womanizer like Gary Oak!

Ash had mildly kept in touch with Gary over the years. Even though Gary had matured considerably since their youth, he still had an ego bigger than his wallet.

It just didn't make sense at all. How did Gary even have time for a relationship? He was working fulltime at a research laboratory in Pewter City; and in his spare time he was supposed to be writing a book on Kabutops evolution! He was NOT supposed to be making out with Misty!

The mere idea of it . . . of them . . . together . . . it was impossible!

And yet . . . they were dating.

Ash remembered telling himself that they would never last one week in that doomful sham of a relationship. But, somehow, eight months later Gary and Misty were still a couple.

Ash hadn't really paid much attention when his mother told him the story of how Gary and Misty had gotten together. But Ash gathered that Misty had stopped by Professor Oak's lab to borrow some of his water Pokemon. Gary was only there visiting on a whim. Somehow the two hit it off. They began dating almost immediately and were seeing one another exclusively by the end of the month.

And so began their eight month long on-again-off-again relationship. Ash cringed just thinking about it.

Ash had been in touch with Misty via the vidphone over his three vacant years from home. But he really only saw her a small handful of times. She, like Gary, was a busy person. She was busy with the gym, busy with her studies, and busy with her sisters incessant drama. Ash had convinced himself that he had all the time in the world to tell her how he felt about her. He assured himself that they were destined to have a future together so it didn't matter how long he was away or how long it took him to confess his feelings. He had just assumed that she was secretly waiting for him all this time - that in her heart she would stay single until he realized his dream of becoming the Pokemon Master. He thought that she had been eagerly waiting for him to confess his undying love for her . . .

. . . Ash understood now – far too late - how absurd his fantasies were. If Misty had ever felt anything for him she had clearly moved on. It was wrong of him to assume how she felt and to expect hat she would give up her own life to quietly wait for him.

He was so idiotically naïve. So stupid! The realization slammed him like a wrecking ball -- shoving him further back into that overpowering fog of regret.

But, now, for the first time in eight months, Ash was beginning to see through the dense despair around him.

His mother had called him just last week with the official news that Gary and Misty were really over this time. They had been broken up for nine days now.

Nine whole days.

This was serious.

This was no senseless petty fight over what movie they were going to see at the theater. This was critical. Nine days was critical. And nine days also meant hope for Ash.

Ash didn't know the details of the breakup, but he knew that this was most likely his last chance to ever tell Misty how he felt.

He left his apartment in Viridian at once and took the first bus home.

These were the events that lead him here - to the Vertical Luna club tonight.

As usual, Ash's mother had been his source for Misty's whereabouts and activities for the evening. Apparently her sisters had convinced her that she needed a girl's night out – a night filled with dancing and drinking. Her sisters wanted to take her mind off of her breakup. Ash had to admit: those Cerulean girls sure knew how to pick a party spot! Although Ash had heard many spectacular things about the club, this was his first time actually going inside Vertical Luna. He loved the place already. The very air seemed to sizzle with the electricity from the techno music.

Ash lingered on the edge of the dance floor, watching with great amusement as countless partiers danced madly before him. Although he was new to this scene, he couldn't help but rock along to electronic beat himself. The club D.J. was amazing -- he was spinning all the hottest dance mixes from across Kanto.

It had been a long time since Ash had gone out drinking with his friends; he was beginning to get truly excited about spending some time with Misty and her sisters. He knew that Misty would be excited to see him even if it was a girl's night out. He was looking forward to surprising her with his visit home, and more so, he was looking forward to what - he hoped – would happen once he told her how much he wanted to be with her. Ash wasn't much of a dancer, but he couldn't wait to hold Misty in his arms as they danced their first dance as a couple . . .

. . . oh geeze, Ash caught himself day dreaming again. He really needed to stop assuming and hoping so much . . . after all, there was a chance that Misty might not want to be with him . . . No! Ash could not allow himself to be pessimistic! He had waited far too long as it was. At this point he had nothing to lose and everything in the world to gain.

Ash shifted anxiously. He hoped that he looked alright. He had passed the club's strict dress code, but he couldn't help but wonder what Misty would think about his new outfit. Ash had purchased a pair of dark pinstriped slacks and a black button down shirt for the occasion. He was use to only wearing ratty jeans and t-shirts, so this whole dress to impress thing was slightly uncomfortable.

Ash's concerns were amplified as a couple accidentally bumped him as they carelessly shook their bodies to the music. He really hoped he would be able to dance like that guy was dancing . . . Ash gulped. His nerves were beginning to climax again - he felt as though a dozen Butterfree's were inside his gut partying along with the dancers.

The pressure was really on . . . he was finally going to spill the emotions that he'd been carrying around since childhood. It was going to feel so good to get it all off of his chest. It was just getting to that point that was the hard part. Ash only hoped that he could gather the wits to speak once he was face-to-face with Misty.

Ash inhaled cautiously and pushed through the crowd before him. His eyes swept back and forth; keenly searching for any sign of Misty. So far he did not see any girls that resembled Misty or her sisters, but he wasn't too worried about finding them. No doubt they were the most gorgeous girls in here . . . all Ash really had to do was locate whichever area of the dance floor that occupied the most men – no doubt every guy would be dancing within arms length of such a lovely quartette of single girls.

Ash made his way deeper into the masses of dancers. He was starting to sweat from being in such close proximity to so many heated moving bodies. Just advancing a few feet was like running an obstacle course; Ash had to duck under one chick's outstretched leg, then leap over a guy who was spinning on the floor!

Ash suddenly yelped as he felt a hand smack him on his back side. He whirled around, hoping that perhaps it had been Misty who so freely frisked him. But to his blatant disappointment it was just some random flirtatious girl. Ash deliberately ignored her advances – there was only one girl in the world for him . . . and . . .

. . . There she was.

Ash's assumption had been correct. The Cerulean sisters were all dancing together in a small circle. And, around them was positioned a much larger circle of ogling guys.

Ash's breath immediately caught in his throat. Misty looked . . . beautiful. And, damn, she could dance! Ash watched in awe as her ginger hair swayed along with the music. The long strands of hair seemed to tickle the backs of her shoulders as she moved. The way she maneuvered her body with the rhythm was incredibly sexy. Her hips twisted hypnotically, her head rolled seductively from side to side; her very body seemed to ride the music like wave. Ash was mesmerized; he no longer had any control over his eyes -- and the sleeveless black dress Misty wore was not helping. Her dress was so form-fitting that it left very little about her figure to the imagination.

Ash's heart was pounding against his ribs like a war hammer, and all he could feel was his own icy sweat as it dribbled down his back. The effect she had on him was amazing . . . but unsettling. He didn't know what to do. He was intimidated beyond words! Misty had never been such a daring dresser before. Ash had always known that she was beautiful, but he'd never seen so much of her before. He had certainly never seen her so carelessly show off her figure to a bunch of strangers at a club. Ash knew that her clothing choice was a bit out of character, but he assumed that her sisters had probably talked her into adorning the skimpy dress . . . not that Ash was complaining or anything.

Certainly her sisters were also exceptionally lovely, but, Misty's beauty was unmatched in Ash's eyes. Daisy, Violet, and Lilly were clothed in party dresses that were equally revealing, but there was a clear difference between them and Misty. A difference that unnerved Ash on a level far more profound than his own insecurities.

Misty's sisters were all smiling and laughing as they danced . . . but Misty simply looked . . . sad.

Her eyes were closed and she seemed to be off in her own private world with the music. Misty's expression was forlorn. It didn't make sense to Ash . . . Misty was having a night out on the town with her sisters, she looked stunning, every guy in the club was practically drooling over her, and yet she didn't seem to care at all. She didn't seem to care about any of it. She just danced alone with her subtle sorrow. Her silent grief physically hurt Ash as he watched her. He would do anything to take her pain away.

Ash forced himself to take three deep breaths and then he took a tentative step towards Misty. Every step he took caused his nerves to grate agonizingly against his courage. Those cursed dancing Butterfree's in his stomach were threatening to make him gag. Ash seriously needed to calm down at once. He did not want to approach Misty and become so flustered that he started stuttering; or worse, be unable to talk or move at all. No, that would not do – that would be a disaster! Ash wanted to sweep Misty off her feet . . . to charm her . . . to hold her in his arms and dance with her . . . okay, sure, admittedly Ash wasn't much of a dancer – but his lack of experience was not going to deter him. He convinced himself that if he were confident and relaxed that he would somehow manage to pull off his plan to woo her. After all, he'd faced seemingly impossible situations before and come out on top. And Ash did not believe that being with Misty was impossible . . . but he really did need to relax his nerves.

Ash glanced tensely from side to side. Misty was too immersed in her dancing to notice him among the heaps of other people. Ash decided that he had time to dash to the bar for a drink. A quick shot of scotch was just what he needed to help him relax.

Nodding assertively, Ash pried his eyes from Misty and rushed toward the closest bar. He reached into his pocket to fumble with some bills; he knew that the drinks were insanely over priced here, but at this point he would gladly pay. As Ash glanced upward from his pockets he saw someone familiar . . .

. . . he recognized that spiky brown hair at once!

There, sitting at the bar with a beer in one hand and a sexy brunette clutching his other, was Gary!

The curvy brunette was clinging to Gary's arm like a wrinkle to fabric. Her other finely manicured hand was resting on his left thigh. Ash had to make a conscious effort to keep his jaw from dropping: not only was the girl insanely hot, but she was here at this moment in Vertical Luna WITH Gary!

Gary was here! NOW!

Ash's thoughts spun woozily inside in skull. He instantly wondered if Gary knew that Misty was here? And if so, was this was an attempt to make her jealous? Ash immediately banished that idea from his mind. If jealousy had been Gary's intention then he would have been on the dance floor with the brunette, not sloped over the bar. Also, Gary would have been watching Misty, not just glumly chugging his beer.

Ash took a closer look at Gary . . . despite the vivacious girl on his arm, he was the personification of Misery in its most crude and utter form.

The brunette was chatting up a storm in his ear but Gary was not the least bit interested. In fact more than once he – rather rudely – shrugged the girl off of him, but the girl merely giggled in her drunken stupor and continued flirting.

Gary was certainly not meeting Vertical Luna's dress code. He was clothed in a pair of baggy cargo jeans and a grey hooded sweatshirt. Ash figured that Gary must have had to pay an extra admission to gain entry dressed so casually.

Ash frowned thoughtfully, here he was dressed to the 9's and Gary was dressed as though we were going grocery shopping. But did the girls seem to care? Hell no! It wasn't fair. Besides the brunette it seemed like every girl that went up to the bar smiled flirtatiously at him or checked him out. And still, with all of this attention, Gary could not have looked more depressed. He just sat there wretchedly, holding his beer as though it were his only friend in the world.

Ash was convinced that neither Gary nor Misty was aware of the others presence in the club tonight. This was a pure coincidence.

Man, o, man did Ash have some kind of rotten luck.

Ash nearly buckled over as he realized that Misty was only dancing about fifteen feet to Gary's right . . . if Gary even turned his head to the side he would be sure to see her! And then what? What would happen if they saw one another? Should Ash go warn Misty? Or should he go to her at once and just convince her to leave with him? That way he could spare her from seeing Gary at all.

Ash didn't have time to formulate another option. Gary and Misty had tempted fate long enough.

While trying to ignore the brunette Gary turned his head away from her – to the right. Ash looked on helplessly as his old rivals eyes snapped open with surprise. On the dance floor Misty suddenly froze in place. She and Gary became a duo of deathly still statues with in a crazy arena of life. Their eyes locked, fusing together with unspoken emotions. At last Gary's lips fluttered into a timid smile, and Misty also seemed to magically breathe easier. The lonesome suffering that had - only a moment ago - been consuming them had somehow vanished. But this joy was fleeting . . .

Misty's eyes abruptly flicked to Gary's left -- towards the clinging brunette.

Emerald flames seemed to jolt from her eyes. The heated fury in her stare was so potent that both Ash and Gary physically flinched! It was as though they had actually been singed by her anger.

Misty instantly forgot all about her sisters. She charged, fuming, toward Gary! Misty was yelling and screaming. But Ash could not hear her precise words over the thundering music. Misty tore towards Gary like a tropical storm; she was literally shoving people out of her path. Nothing or nobody was going to keep her from getting in his face. Gary bolted upward from his bar stool. His expression was rigid, but his bright blue eyes held an air of pleading. Misty pointed an accusing finger at Gary and the brunette. Gary held his hands up defenselessly; he turned toward the brunette and pointed her to club's exit. The brunette shrugged awkwardly and seemed eager to get away from Misty's crazed temper.

Misty continued to yell even after the brunette escaped from the club. Gary's face softened, he tried to reach out to Misty to calm her down. The bar tender approached them and was ordering them to cool it. They were beginning to attract some negative attention from the other dancers.

Gary reached for Misty again, but she swatted his hands away. She was far outside the realm of normal anger; she was giving new meaning to the word 'furious'.

She was screaming so much that her face was beginning to flush from lack of oxygen. Gary clenched his jaw and threw his hands in the air. He was exasperated. He turned his back to her, noticeably struggling to steady his own temper. With Gary's back to her Misty began to cry. The tragic tears fell freely from her eyes; she buried her face in her hands and fled towards the exit.

Ash was still battling his own paralyzing stun; he could barely absorb this dramatic scene before him. This was not at all how he had hoped this evening would go. Ash's knee-jerk reaction was to punch Gary in the face and rush to Misty's side; but a nagging instinct told him to hang back a few more moments. What was transpiring now was not his business. He needed to let them resolve and accept their breakup once and for all. If they did not come to terms with their separation then Ash would never have a chance with her – ever.

Gary's eyes followed Misty as she rushed toward the exit. For a moment Gary only grit his teeth with frustration; he lingered at the bar as she left him. Then his face began to crumble. His usually so confident expression completely shattered with an emotion Ash could only call . . . fear.

Faster than the techno beat, Gary was chasing after Misty.

Misty's sisters were now also watching the theatrical scene. Lilly made a gesture to catch up with Misty, but Daisy held her back. The three sisters shared a knowing glance – they decided, like Ash, to hold back and wait.

Ash followed after them cautiously. Gary and Misty had both made it as far as the stairwell. Aside from Ash and the Cerulean sisters, everyone in the club seemed to have already lost interest in Gary and Misty. The dancers had already resumed their partying; and since the yelling had stopped the bartender was also no longer concerned.

Misty was facing the wall, sobbing mournfully. Gary placed a gentle hand on her shoulder, but Misty stiffened at his touch. Gary was speaking to her calmly, but of course Ash could not hear him. Misty refused to turn and look at him. Gary's emotional state was failing more rapidly with every second that she snubbed him. He seemed totally lost without her . . .

Misty's pride kept her facing the wall. Gary's blue eyes seemed to dim from exhaustion. His composure was fading fast . . . sighing, he reluctantly removed his hand from her shoulder and slowly took a step away.

Misty's posture tensed. As though she were unable to survive without his touch, she instantly turned around. She spun on her heels and threw herself fervently into Gary's arms.

Ash froze.

Gary and Misty held each other. They held each other as though the fate of the world depended on their love.

Ash's breath hitched in his throat.

Misty nuzzled freely into Gary's chest as though it was the safest, most wonderful place she'd ever known. Gary's lips pressed soothingly upon her forehead, he was speaking to her as he gently stroked her hair. Misty glanced eagerly upward to face him; and the two shared a brilliant smile . . . and then, they shared a kiss. It was not a carnal, fiery kiss . . . it was tender and slow . . . a passionate kiss that whisked them both away with the genuine longing that it held. When their lips parted they both flashed enticing smiles. Gary winked at Misty playfully; taking her hand and leading her onto the dance floor.

The D.J. began spinning another popular techno mix and Gary – although he disliked dancing- held her as they moved together and disappeared beneath the whirling lights.

Ash felt as though his heart had been trampled by a herd of Tauros. But Misty had never looked happier to Ash than she did in this very moment.

Ash stifled a conflicted sob as he slinked backward; up the stairs and out of Vertical Luna.

Ash was drowning in confusion, raw bitterness ravaged his thoughts. What the hell happened back there? He wanted to be with Misty. She and Gary were supposed to be over. They were not supposed to get back together! Ash had thought that Misty was going to tell Gary off . . . not fall into his arms . . . why did that happen? What happened! What the hell happened? Ash saw their fight play out before his very eyes, he watched them kiss . . . but he just couldn't understand why they could not let go of one another . . . unless . . .

Did Gary and Misty really love each other? Were they really that much in love?

Ash's heart was engaged in a furious struggle with his morals. He wanted to be happy with Misty. He wanted her to want him and to need him. He wanted to finally have his chance with her. But . . . Gary and Misty seemed to only need one another.

Ash shut his eyes, the arctic sting of disappointment and heartache consumed him now.

He was too late.

Misty had fallen wholly in love with Gary. And Gary had fallen in love with her. Somehow, someway, Gary and Misty had discovered a side of eachother that was precious.

Jealously twisted inside Ash . . . the envy was painful. But the pain was not lethal; and that perplexed Ash all the more.

Misty was so happy inside Gary's arms. Gary was so happy inside hers.

Yes, they fought. But . . . Ash wondered . . . did they fight so passionately because they loved so passionately?

Did their verbal wars somehow help them to keep their relationship in check? Ash had just witnessed Misty level Gary's ego like a bulldozer. There was no other women alive who would ever be bold enough to put Gary Oak in his place. Misty wasn't afraid to let him know when he was being an arrogant jerk. And, in turn, Gary never hesitated to alert Misty when she was being a whinny, bossy, brat.

They humbled one another; they knocked one another's pride down a peg or two when it was starting to tower.

Was it possible that - because they did love so deeply - they had the freedom to challenge one another like they did?

Yes, they fought. That was what Misty and Gary did best in every aspect of life. They were both fighters - they were use to having to assert themselves to succeed. That was what they did best.

Yes, they fought. But their fights did not even occur that often in the grand scheme of their relationship. As much as Ash hated to admit it: eight times out of eight months wasn't really all that bad. Ash thought back to his youthful travels with Misty – they had fought nearly every single day; hell, she was not an easy girl to be around. If Gary had managed to only have a serious fight with her eight times then that was something else . . .

. . .a tiny wave of admiration of swelled within Ash. Maybe Gary was more patient than Ash had ever given him credit for? Ash also reflected upon his childhood with Gary – they too had also fought regularly. Gary was not an easy person to be around either. Somehow or another Gary and Misty needed one another . . . they balanced one another out. Their blazing personalities were going to clash, that was just inevitable. But they cared about each other enough to push through it – even if they had to yell and scream to do so. They were willing to fight to be together. Their relationship was much stronger than Ash had given either of them credit for.

Their tempers burned together, but their feelings for one another always overpowered the flames. They loved eachother . . .

A rush of hot tears escaped Ash as he walked through the club's dark parking lot. It was nearly two in the morning; he needed to flag down a taxi to take him back to his apartment in Viridian City. He didn't belong here. He had been a fool. First he overestimated Misty's feelings for him, and then he underestimated her relationship with Gary.

Ash wanted to hate Gary for being with her. Again he was compelled to rush back into the club and punch Gary for ever making her cry. But Ash could not banish the image of Misty's face from his mind . . . when Gary held her she was filled with more happiness and hope than Ash had ever seen in her before. If Ash cared for Misty then how could he hurt the one person who brought her the most joy?

Gary caused her happiness. And Ash knew that he would never be capable of making her as happy as Gary could.

Happy . . .

. . . Misty was incredibly happy. Even when she was fighting with Gary, even when the tears spilt from her eyes . . . even then just his mere presence ignited her spirit. When Ash had watched her dancing she seemed lost, lifeless. When Gary had been at the bar he seemed dulled to the very world around him. Together they were alive.

The realization was excruciating, but Ash could not scorn their fortune. He cared for them both, and he was glad for them. He had been too foolish to go after Misty when he had the chance; Gary had not been such a fool. Gary had fallen for her and had not hesitated to let her know.

Ash exhaled slowly as a bright yellow taxicab pulled up to the curb.

Ash pulled open the passenger door. "Please, take me to Viridian," Ash breathed, averting the drivers probing eyes.

The elderly driver nodded as Ash climbed into the seat beside him. Ash was retaining the most neutral front he could muster; he did not want this stranger to see how emotional he was. "Wait, Sir," Ash glanced up, his tone taking on an air of confidence. "Can you take me to the Indigo Plateau instead?"

The taxicab driver nodded, seemly slightly annoyed that he was going to have to drive such a distance. "Why do you want to go there? You a Pokemon trainer or somethin'?"

Ash smiled softly, clearing his remaining tears with a sleeve. "I'm going to challenge the Elite Four and defeat the Dragon Master," he stated this matter-of-factly, as though he were reciting his daily household chores.

The driver snorted with dry amusement. "Is that so?"

"I'm not going to put off any more of my dreams, Sir. I've waited my whole life to become the Pokemon Master."

The driver frowned awkwardly. "Um, okay. Sure, kid. Whatever you say."

Ash smirked at the man's clear disbelief in his abilities to defeat Lance. Ash wasn't irritated with the man. The driver probably heard an identical boast from Pokemon trainers everyday. Besides, Ash didn't exactly look like the trainer type -- what with his attire that of a party-loving teenager.

Ash sighed as the taxicab turned onto the highway – taking him farther away from Misty. He wasn't sure that his feelings for her would ever fade. But he now realized that he had spent months cursing Gary for stealing away a heart that had never belonged to him to begin with.

The title of Pokemon Master still paled in comparison to the title that Gary had. But Ash was ready for the change that becoming Master would bring to his life. The fog was lifting and Ash could see clearer and breathe easier than he had been able to in eight months.

Misty was happy and, given time, Ash knew that he would find away to be happy for her and Gary. But more importantly: he was going to be very happy for himself when he defeated Lance.

The End.

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AUTHORS NOTE: Thank you very much for taking the time to read my story. Please feel free to review and share your thoughts and opinions. Feedback is very much appreciated and I will happily respond to your comments.

Thank you so much, Maia