Disclaimer - I don't own Pokemon. At this point, that's a very good thing, seeing as I barely have enough time to spend writing up my fanciful fics, let alone if I owned the actual series. . .

Notes - At last, the thirteenth chapter of SKoL is up! I'm so happy to have gotten this far, and curious as to if anybody is still a fan of this fic. It's been too long. . . Sorry for the lack of updates. I had made a deal with myself awhile ago (after putting up chapter twelve) that I would focus on IS since all that was left was the epilogue before coming back to this. And then, when I did finish the epilogue, I just. . . couldn't think of anything. I had about two paragraphs on this thing for so long. . . I hate writer's block. With a passion. Kill it with fire! (Sorry, I've also been watching a ton of Dragonball Z abridged.)

OoOoO

Pokemon - "The Strangest Kind of Love"

Chapter Thirteen - "Help Me Be Who I Want to Be"

Fic Facts:

Summary - Many years into the future, Ash and Misty are both looking to settle down. The only issue is, neither one is very good at keeping a relationship going. Then, by odd convenience, they end up moving in together. . . Pokeshipping fic.

Rating - Teen. Or PG-13. Whichever works for you. The rating is alluded to the fact that there will be adult fluffiness, alcohol, and pregnancy, eventually. Plus it just feels right.

Characters and Ages -

Ash / 23

Misty / 24

Brock / 26

Tracey / 25

May / 19

Drew / 20

Gary / 24

Delia / 45

Professor Oak / 49

(Note that not all of these characters will be that important.)

The idea for this fic was created in August of 2005.

This fic was officially started in March of 2006.

This chapter was officially started October 10, 2010. And it wasn't posted a year later this time! Amazing!

OoOoO

"Ash, wait!" She couldn't help but notice that her tone of voice had sounded a little more desperate than she would have liked. Then again, she hadn't wanted to sound desperate at all so the acknowledgment didn't mean much.

But perhaps it was that tone that caused him to stop in his tracks just as he was about to reach the staircase.

"Hm? What is it, Myst?" He asked, turning to face her with an unreadable expression. He probably knew what she was going to ask of him, was probably dreading it, because as soon as she finally did explain to him what she was feeling, he would have to tell her what she'd already assumed he must have chosen.

He would tell her that he wad waited a long time to hear those words from her but, unfortunately, it had been too long now. Besides, she wasn't the only pretty face around. He had Simone, and she had remained emotionally connected to him throughout the years while Misty had lost contact, only reaching out once every few months. Who cares how close the two of them were now when she could walk away again at any moment? No, he would explain to her, he was a grown man who had been looking far too long for someone to get serious with. He couldn't just wait to see if their fling would develop further while time continued to move onward.

"Ash, uh," but developments had taken place, hadn't they? Misty could still remember being fourteen years old and too anxious to reveal her feelings to an emotionally (and sexually) immature Ash. It was always more complicated when one liked their best friend, wasn't it? Perhaps that was why she'd put distance between them, because she didn't like the odds of those complications coming to pass. "You said if I wasn't okay with it then you wouldn't go, right?" But she was ten years older now, for better or worse, and she had decided she wouldn't mind taking that leap. What would she run the risk of losing other than perhaps this new start with her life?

"Oh, yeah, I did say that." He gave her a strangely tight-lipped smile, as though hoping to spare her grief, before continuing to speak, "Is that what you're saying then? That you don't want me to go with Simone?"

She pretended to think it over, as if she really needed to. Or maybe she did.

"Yeah," she wished she could resume breathing sometime soon, or else she would drown, "th - that's what I'm saying."

"Oh. . . and why is that?"

Misty blinked. She hadn't expected him to need a reason for her to tell him all of this. She had just thought she would tell him to stay and he would. Or maybe he wouldn't. The point was that she hadn't exactly planned for an explanation. But Ash looked as though he would only wait around for the duration of her excuse. . . So what was she to tell him now?

That she was jealous of Simone stealing him from her? That she had just mysteriously realized that her feelings for him were far greater than those she'd been feigning for the past couple months or so? But hadn't she known all along that their relationship had the potential to be something serious and worthwhile? She was just worried after so many failed attempts, worried that she would end up stuck like she'd been when she was younger, wedged between her responsibility to the Gym and her feelings for a thirteen year old Ash. Or worse, she might end up tossed aside because she moved too fast or two slow, because she did or didn't want to commit, because she had expected to take one path in this relationship and had ended up ushered onto another, because her partner had wanted more out of her and she had somehow failed to give.

But she'd known for awhile now that she had just been. . .

"Scared." She heaved a breath as she unleashed the truth, Ash raising an eyebrow but remaining silent so that she could elaborate further, "I was scared because, for so many years now, I've gotten my hopes up, over and over. I was such a romantic when I was a kid so as soon as I grew into myself and realized that there were guys who liked what they saw, I was baited. I figured it would be simple. If he could recite a sonnet and flatter me then surely this guy would be my happy ending. But no, it wasn't that simple at all. Daisy, Lilly, Violet - they all made it look so easy, whether what they were doing was right or wrong. I finally figured it out at some point though." She felt her head drop downward automatically as though ashamed, "No matter if they were dating a fan, a model, an actor! They were always the one in control, whereas I. . ." She faltered here, not sure if she wanted to admit to that fault of hers just yet. The truth was that she had always been looking for someone who accepted her, loved her, without any conditions.

"But when you told me how you felt, it was even worse. So many guys have said the right thing to me only to end up disappointing me or being disappointed with me. Ash, you take that fear and add in the fact that you've been my best friend since I was twelve years old and of course I was going to run away!" She hadn't realized that she was practically yelling at him now, nor that he had yet to look offended and was taking it all in stride. "I mean, because I'm always so insecure and I like to hit you when you don't pay attention or when your ego gets so big that your head looks like it's about to fall off, and not to mention I'm loud and. . . and maybe those are good qualities to have in a best friend but in a lover?" She had to stop here and catch her breath, finally giving Ash a chance to catch up.

"And speaking of loud," he started pointedly, deciding to open with a joke. "It's fine, Misty. I really didn't need you to tell me all of that. I just wanted you to admit that you'd be oh-so lonely without me here to keep you company."

"Ash!" She shouted, her panic evaporating into frustration. She had just spilled all of those embarrassingly personal feelings when all he'd wanted was her to whimper for him like a puppy. Worse than that, he was choosing to ignore everything she'd just said, even when she'd more or less admitted to wanting more than a fling with him.

Ash had always been rather dense - a recent testimony to this fact being how he'd openly flirted with Simone while he'd been on a date with Misty - but he really hadn't figured it out? It was probably as Misty had surmised then. He didn't want her anymore. If he did, he would have leapt at the possibility of her saying she wanted to start an exclusive relationship with him.

"It's fine, Myst, don't worry about it," he told her with a wave of his arm. Apparently he had mistaken her despondent expression for anger at him leading her on before, "Let me just call Simone and tell her I won't be able to make it tonight. Then we can just watch television until we fall asleep or something, I guess."

For the first time that evening, Misty felt the twinge of guilt bite at her conscience. Ash sounded like he'd really been looking forward to going out, hadn't he? And what about Simone too? Misty didn't know her well, told herself that she shouldn't feel bad when she was simply fighting for her territory, but still. . . Simone was obviously a busy person. She attended college and worked, she must have been helping out a lot at home too because she had to be living with relatives for a reason, right? Misty felt her stomach churn at the thought that she was indeed ruining a good thing by holding Ash back.

Still, she followed him over to the video-phone anyway, as if worried he would have some sort of trouble communicating the message to her rival that the two of them would not be going out that night.

Ash picked up the receiver and dialed a phone number he had previously committed to memory. Misty couldn't help but wonder if he'd ever been able to remember her phone number. Probably not, considering he'd rarely called her while journeying after she'd left him in Viridian City. And whenever she did receive a call, Brock was always at the front of the line, meaning he was probably the one in charge of such information.

But this was no time to increase her hostility, was it?

"Ah, hey Simone!" Ash explained as the young woman with raven hair (currently bundled up in a towel since she'd just finished showering) answered wit ha smile. She always seemed openly friendly with Ash, didn't she? Misty had never been sure if that was because Simone was a people-person or if she was just that flirtatious.

"Oh, Ash, what's up? I rushed home as fast as possible after we finished closing down. I thought I recognized your phone number when it came up. . ." She tapped a delicate index finger against her chin before deciding to go on. "So what do you need now? Is this about where we're going to meet up later or. . . ?"

"Ah hah, uh, sorry but about that," and he made a very familiar gesture as a hand ruffled the back of his head and he sweatdropped as though embarrassed, "It's just that I won't be able to make it after all."

"Oh, really? And why is that?" Simone's blue-gray eyes subtly averted attention to Misty as if she already knew the answer to her own question. The redhead was torn between the guilt she'd been feeling before, the unnerving tingling in her spine, and the dread that she would always be at odds with this woman when it came to Ash because both of them happened to want Ash. But even now, the same question begged her attention. Why the hell did everyone need justification from everyone else? Ash asking Misty why he should stay home, Simone asking Ash why they couldn't go out. . .

"Why. . . ? Well, that's easy. . ." Ash laughed for a moment, which caused Misty's confusion to grow, "Because our master plan worked, of course!"

"Wait, what-" Misty had just enough time to ask before Simone responded.

"Wow, so it worked, huh? Good job, Ash!" And they both laughed together, leaving Misty feeling humiliated and isolated. "I almost didn't think it would though. I mean, I was hanging all over you back at work and she just sat there and let it go on." Simone finally turned to look Misty in the eyes and made the first verbal exchange between just the two of them. "You're kind of stubborn, aren't you?"

"Excuse me?" Misty yelped, still waiting for someone to explain what was going on to her. And even worse than that, what right did Simone have to say such a thing to her? The two of them were rather hostile with each other, weren't they? Or at least she had thought so for awhile now. She had always been so bitter towards girls who threatened to steal Ash away from her when she was younger and it seemed that that trait had carried on into adulthood. But perhaps she'd been wrong. . . ?

Ash interrupted her before she could ask any questions.

"A little stubborn? Geez, Simone, you should see her self-destructive behavior! She won't accept help from anyone unless we force it down her throat! She would rather suffer than be happy because she thinks happiness only leads to suffering anyway. . ." He took a moment to draw breath here before continuing, ". . . Not to mention that just ten minutes ago, she admitted to being scared to take a chance with me, and that's why she's been rejecting me for so long." His tone turned suddenly somber here as he continued, "I haven't told her yet that I understand what she means or that I'm grateful she would finally tell me about those fears."

Misty, who had been bristling with fury at the start of Ash's statement, felt her negativity wash away a little bit. He wasn't wrong anyway, was he? She hadn't even thought of it so much before but ever since the beginning she'd been holding herself back where it counted. She didn't get away from Cerulean until she'd fainted and been hospitalized (even though she'd already known she needed to), she didn't ask for any "charity" from her friends until there had been no other choice, she didn't tell anyone about her sisters complaints as to her coming home until she'd been cornered - first by May and then by Ash. She had even hidden the voice mails she'd later received because she thought she deserved the punishment.

And, well, as Ash had just said, she had known for awhile the extent of her feelings for him. After all, it wasn't the first time she'd been jealous or possessive, the first time she'd been shrouded by his words and actions. She just couldn't bear the thought of diving in wholeheartedly just to end up drowning later on.

Misty was sure more than ever that she wouldn't be able to break free from him or the others, and she doubted that would be her only choice if something were to go wrong between them. Ash was her best friend for a reason, even after all these years. But she'd been hurt enough by people that she'd barely known compared to all of her years with him. To be frank, she simply couldn't fathom where he gathered his courage from, to pursue something meaningful with somebody that he'd known for as long as he'd known her.

Even if that was the very same thing she'd wanted all along.

"Well, it looks like you two have some things to work out, huh? Thanks for calling to let me know how it worked out Ash. Good luck to the both of you!" Simone waved at them both with an innocent smile. "See you some other time."

After Ash disconnected the call, Misty realized it was just the two of them again. A hollow discomfort settled in the pit of her stomach. She still had no idea what was going on, but apparently Ash and Simone had planned something together. Whatever it was, it proved Simone's honest intentions, or at least she thought it did.

"Are you ready to talk yet, Myst?" Ash asked her, swinging around to look her in the eyes. Misty felt her face heat up though she wasn't sure if she was anticipating something good or bad based on that question. But she nodded anyway and took a seat in the armchair beside him, as if collapsing from relief.

"Uh. . . What were you guys talking about, how everything went according to plan?" She murmured, anger prickling at the back of her consciousness. She was a smart person after all, and being tricked by Ash of all people? It seemed so impossible, so unheard of. The worst part was that she probably already knew what had gone on. It wasn't such a complex series of events and after she'd gotten over the initial shock. . .

"Oh, that. Well it was getting kind of boring watching you force yourself to take your time with our relationship, plus I'm a naturally impatient guy so I asked Simone to help me out. Admittedly, we might have pushed you a little too hard. But whatever."

"Oh no, Ash, it's not like there's such things as boundaries or a line you probably happened to cross. You know, next time you should just use the literal flaming bridge. One choice over here, the other over there, leading me to the conclusion that I could do myself wrong and be defeated by my own doubt, wallowing in pity because there don't seem to be any second chances." She had her arms crossed and scoffed at him, although her anger had basically dispersed over the past few minutes. Now she was just nervous about where they'd go from here.

"Eh, but you already made your choice so you'll just have to deal with it," he told her with a shrug but a reminiscent wink in his eye, as though the advice hit closer to home than the two of them chose to acknowledge at the time, "Everyone's been there at some point or another, you know? Besides," and his sober expression quickly morphed into a smirk, "you want me, you know you do! Or are you still," he put on a doe-eyed stare and a high-pitched, horrible interpretation of her voice, "scared because for so many, many years you were subjected to torturous rejections that you simply couldn't endure anymore - oof!" He grunted after Misty had decided she'd had more than enough and leaned over to elbow him successfully in the ribs.

He chose to keep silent long enough to see if she'd bruised or cracked anything while Misty took it all in. She was just about to say something to him when he risked speaking to her again, but in a more suitable tone.

"Look, I'm sorry if you think I went too far or if I did something that was so wrong. The truth is that you. . . well, you're the only one that I want so I guess I might have had some, uh. . ."

"Selfish intentions? No kidding. You put me through a lot of grief tonight, Ash. It seems like all you really wanted was to prove a point or sate your own ego. But-"

"-That's not it, I swear that wasn't what I was going for. Well, maybe a little, but not exactly. What I was trying to say was that nobody should hold themselves back from what they really want. I - I mean, you told me about all of those fears that were keeping you between a rock and a hard place, and then you put yourself on the line anyway. So even if I were to tell you now that I'm only human and there's still a good chance I could hurt you somewhere along the way - maybe even multiple times - despite being your best friend and knowing you so well, what would you say? Would you take it all back and hold everything in for awhile longer?"

Misty contemplated this, as though the knowledge had blind-sided her. Or maybe she had already reached her decision and was just faking it to make him sweat it out a little.

"No," she finally said, "I'd probably tell you the same thing I'd intended to before you interrupted me." He flinched as though expecting bad news even now, waiting out her hard stare. "I. . . want you too, Ash. Only you. Even if it means risking my safety or my expectations or my hopes."

"Yeah. I sort of hoped so," he replied with a small, content grin.

He leaned over to his right as though to embrace her but she leapt up from the armchair and reappeared at the staircase a moment later.

"Wait, what are you doing? Where are you going?"

"Hm? Oh," she faltered long enough to give him a proper explanation, "well, I have work in the morning. I almost forgot about it. Anyway, I have to get up early so I'm going to turn in for now."

"Wa - wait!" This was not how he'd imagined the rest of his night turning out. He had expected Misty to break down and then he would hold her close and comfort her until that comfort had turned into the heat that they would have to strip naked to endure. And then they would do a little bit of this and a little bit of that. . .

And then he blinked, the last part of her statement finally fazing him.

"What did you say you were doing tomorrow?"

"Oh, you know, it's work. I've almost finished my probationary period."

"Your what?"

"Well, I've been there almost three months, part-time, so soon I'll be working alone, without supervision, and. . ." He tuned her out here, trying to figure out when she must have started this mystery job in order to have been there for so long already. That would put her starting date at a week or so after her break-up with Derek Martin.

Come to think of it, Misty had told him on the night of her last date with that guy that she'd found something promising, however the evening's events had put the great reveal on hold and Ash had never bothered to ask anymore from her the next day, eventually forgetting her even mentioning it. Since she'd never elaborated on it, he'd just assumed that all of the time she spent outside during daylight hours was spent looking for a job, not actually holding one already!

"But still, you mean to say you can't even afford a little bit of time for me tonight?" He practically whined at her, stumbling up from the small stool placed in front of the video-phone. But he stopped soon after that, his gaze focused on the index finger Misty raised at him a moment later..

"Ah, you see, I probably would have except for that little stunt you pulled on me earlier. You thought I forgot about it?" She asked him with wide eyes, but her gaze sharpened into a glare a split second later, "You put me in quite a predicament, Ash, let me tell you. How could I say no to a little bit of retribution?

"Vengeance," and the redhead flipped her hand around, her index finger vanishing and her middle finger replacing it, "it's a bitch, isn't it?" And then she leapt up the stairs two at a time, closing the door to her bedroom before hearing him whine in reply.

"Not cool, Myst, not cool at all!" Ash shouted at her in frustration but refused to move just yet so he huffed, crossed his arms, and kicked up his legs across the length of the couch. And still, he couldn't help but wonder where. . .

OoO

The next morning provided evidence that Ash had not yet learned his lesson. He spent the better half of the early morning poking and prodding Misty as she put on her light touches of mascara and as she feathered her hair. He stood outside the door to her room and continued asking senseless questions about the newest secret she seemed to be keeping from him. He would have even shadowed her into the room had she not locked the door on him. However, ten minutes later, she was forced out or else suffer the displeasure of being late. And Ash had realized a long time ago just how punctual she was.

"But you know what? Fine Ash! If you can finally shut up about it, I'll show you exactly where I work. Just please, please, I am begging you to be quiet during the time it takes to walk there. I don't want to have to hurt you. . ." Misty finished, one hand to her temple to show she was nursing a headache and the other slipping on her shoes beside the front door.

"Well I don't know, Myst, that sounds kind of kinky. You definitely caught my attention. . ."

"Gyaa!"

He decided to tail her anyway, out the front door and down the short path to the gate and the sidewalk beyond. The whole time he was forced to endure her hard glare, both daring and tempting him to continue annoying her.

"For God's sake, Ash, you're not twelve years old anymore. If you want my attention, you don't have to work so hard for it. Fighting with me just to catch my eye - that's what an elementary school kid would do to flirt with a girl. It's like pulling on my pigtails. . ."

"Uh huh."

". . . Or pushing me in the sandbox. . ."

"Yup."

". . . Or holding my Goldeen plushie hostage," Misty huffed before turning and noticing for the first time that he wasn't paying attention to her, his eyes glazed over. "Wait, wait! Ash, why the hell do you look like you're reminiscing in fond memories? We fought nearly everyday! Pikachu Thundershocked us all the time! Brock had to carry a pharmacy's worth of aspirin in his bag! Everyone was always laughing at us, saying we obviously liked each other romantically and that there was a hidden meaning to every single word we spoke and. . ." She sounded quite embarrassed when considering such things.

". . . Wait," Ash blinked as if finally understanding what she meant. "A - are you telling me that we were practically dating as early as age twelve?" He actually faltered in his step, a hand sweeping along his scalp as he began to figure it all out, deciphering every moment he would have only gawked at confusedly when he was younger. "So those times when I thought you were interested in other guys like Danny or Fiorello or Rudi, and then when girls like Melody or Macey were acting forward, asking me out or kissing me on the cheek and you just suddenly appeared and had something to say about it. . . Holy crap!" He exclaimed finally, causing her to jump, "We were jealous of each other! We totally liked each other back then! Misty, why didn't you ever say anything?"

She stared at him, eyes wide, trying to come up with the best way to explain those stupid fears she'd had when she was younger. Of course, outright rejection was a probability, but worse than that, she'd always assumed that having a crush on a girl was a foreign concept to Ash. Maybe he wouldn't laugh at her or turn away. . . but staring at her as blankly as her Psyduck until she was forced to withdraw was. . . Well, it was worse that way, wasn't it?

"W- well, why didn't you say anything?" She shrieked at him with a very expressive flailing of her arms. of course, then he proceeded to give the answer she'd expected all along, though it at least seemed to take the spotlight off of her.

"Well, it's definitely not because I just realized all of this barely two minutes ago, that's for sure!"

"Always one step - or should I say ten years - behind. I honestly don't know how you. . ." Misty scoffed, intending to insult him further if only to help soothe her bruised ego. Ash was definitely batting a thousand here. Firstly, tricking her into plummeting through a negative spiral of thought and then, secondly, reminding her of why she'd chosen to give up those feelings she'd had for him all those years ago, even if only to save face. That was to say, she had fully intended to continue insulting him except his next choice of words completely disarmed her.

"Heh," he couldn't help the pretentious - (that's right; egotistical, smart-assed, pretentious) - chuckle that escaped him at first. Misty blinked, about to ask what he meant by it, but he explained himself without further prodding on her part. "I never noticed I was such a little Casanova when I was younger. I mean, all the girls wanted a piece of me. I even had my own best friend falling for me. Oh yeah, I am good."

"E - excuse me. . . ?" Gods, as if his head needed to be inflated anymore! She definitely had something to say about that little line of his but was interrupted by the nearby cathedral bell striking nine o'clock with the start of the new hour. She snapped rigidly to attention at the sound, taking off in near-flight down the street.

"Crap, crap, crap! Now I'm already late!" She shouted in what appeared to be agony.

"Barely," Ash managed to huff as he jogged steadily after her. It wasn't until they'd reached a familiar bend that it seemed to dawn on him just which direction they were headed in, "Wait, Misty, why are we running towards the. . ."

But alas, they weren't just running towards it. They had already dashed past the open gate and up the steep walkway. This wasn't what he'd expected. Not that it didn't make sense but still, he just hadn't seen it coming. Misty was pretty good at keeping secrets, he realized. Hadn't she told him that once? That there were things she'd kept from him for years that she'd never admit?

Misty took a moment to brush herself down with her hands before ringing the doorbell to the Oak observatory and research lab.

"You're working here? How? Why?" He asked her.

"Why not? It's close by, the pay is good, there are benefits, I'll be associated with the Pokemon League again - but on my own terms, and I get to work with Pokemon all day - not to mention the number one authority in the world on Pokemon discovery and study. I don't see a problem."

"It's not really a problem, I was just curious. Professor Oak never needed more than one full-time assistant before, even when Gary decided to become a researcher and send all of his data back home too. I mean, I haven't seen the Professor recently but I didn't think he'd suddenly gotten so much busier, especially with my mom there to help him." He really seemed to be thinking this whole thing through, although his thoughts came to a train-wrecking halt when he caught Misty's bewildered gaze boring into him. "What? Why are you looking at me like that?"

"Well, I was just pretty sure. . . I thought he mentioned telling you. . ." Misty had a finger to her chin in thought, "Ash, Tracey's leaving. He's going on a trip around different regions to find things to use in his next book. And then he'll be touring to help promote the book-" The door finally opened to reveal the very same person they'd been talking about.

"-What?" Ash yelped. No, no; he definitely hadn't been told anything about that.

"Oh, hey guys, good morning!" Tracey greeted with a wave of his arm and a smile.

"Hey, how come you didn't tell me you were leaving, huh?" Ash shouted right away, side-stepping Misty and pointing at the Pokemon Watcher-slash-accomplished author accusingly.

"Ah. . . ? But I thought it was obvious. . . I told you awhile ago that I was starting work on my next book. I had to travel around for the other two, didn't I? Of course I'd have to do it this time too. My publishers said that it's expected of new names on the market."

"What the hell part of the adjective 'dense' do you two not seem to be getting recently? All of those obvious things that are so easy to understand and that I should - of course - be getting. . . Since when don't you think I need things spelled out for me, huh?"

Ignoring Ash's apparent temper tantrum, Tracey held the door open so that the two of them could enter and follow him towards the staircase leading to Professor Oak's private office.

"Actually Misty, you're just in time. A handful of new trainers are on their way here now to pick their starter Pokemon. You should go upstairs and help the Professor set up so you know how to do it alone next time. I'll be there in a minute to open the registry database so you can upload their digital trainer licenses to their Pokedex."

Misty nodded at the mention of this task before starting up the stairs finally to begin her day's work. This effectively left Tracey and Ash alone, though that may have been the plan all along.

"Sorry, I thought you knew. But don't worry. It's not a big deal. I mean, I'll only be gone for a year, a year and a half tops. Besides, this is good news. Now Misty has a job too. She's been working as hard as possible to gain all of the experience she needs. She's really enthusiastic about it. Even if something were to happen and my trip was postponed, I wouldn't want to take this opportunity from her. Would you?"

"No." He'd answered the question without even thinking about it. "She could be happy here with friends and kinda-sorta family. I think it's what I've wanted for her for a long time. Plus she has more talent than to waste away her hours at a stupid convenience store because her sisters can't make or stick to a budget." He gnashed his teeth, a little irritable at the memory of how exhausted and strung-out Misty had been before they'd moved in together. "I guess the same could be said for you. You're my friend too, Trace. I just got used to seeing you around all the time and figured that the monotony of all of us being close by one another was permanent. That wasn't fair of me. So I'll suck it up and wish you luck like I should've done from the beginning."

Ash held out a hand and Tracey grinned, accepting the gesture.

"You're a good friend, Ash," and it sounded like Tracey might have been meaning to add, I know I can count on you. "So it sounds like you've matured some about your feelings for Misty. How are the two of you doing?"

"Oh, uh, heh. . ." Ash laughed anxiously with a hand crawling to the back of his neck. He glanced around to make sure nobody could listen in (bossy redheads who could PWN him in a battle of both wits and physical strength at the top of the list) before responding, "I think I've been, uh, restrained? Or maybe-"

"-Ash, since when are you into stuff like bondage?" Tracey asked with wide eyes, "I mean, since when have you even known about it? I never would have pegged you for. . ."

"Wait, what? No, I'm not talking about that! I was trying to say that I'm pretty sure Misty's grounded me. You know, I thought she needed to admit something to herself, like how she really felt about our relationship, so I sort of tricked her into thinking that there was no other choice in the matter and now. . ." Ash looked suddenly grievously harassed as the palm formerly at his neck rose into his scalp, "now she won't let me touch her at all!"

"You're. . . you're really broken up about this, aren't you?" The Pokemon Watcher asked with a sweatdrop. It was kind of strange to be holding this conversation with Ash of all people. When you'd known someone as long as they'd known each other, you really needed to mentally prepare yourself for the metamorphosis that an adolescent made upon reaching adulthood.

"Of course I am! Jeezus, man, she walks around the house in a tee-shirt, usually one of mine! And there's rarely anything underneath!"

"Uh, Ash, maybe you should. . ." Tracey attempted to hush him, eyes glancing haphazardly up at the Professor's office on the second floor as if in warning, though the younger of the two men didn't seem to heed it.

"And then she gets all subtle and seductive in the morning when she knows I'm awake! She'll pretend to be sleeping still and push her chest up to my face and wrap her legs around mine and. . . But as soon as I try to do anything, she pretends to wake up and acts like she never noticed a thing! It's a lie, a lie I tell you! And it drives me insane!" He looked the part too, his hands running repeatedly through his hair before falling limp at his sides. He released a heavy sigh before opening his mouth, perhaps to continue, but Tracey attempted to put a stop to it, pretty sure if he heard anymore then he'd end up imagining such things (which was pretty easy for an artist to do) and then he'd end up with a nosebleed.

"No, seriously Ash, methinks you should quit before you-" But, ah, too late!

"-realize you said or did something you might actually regret?" A third voice rang from the top of the stairs. Both guys craned their necks and caught sight of Misty standing there, a slightly crude smirk on her face, although it was hiding a very uncomfortable blush. Such a thing meant that she'd obviously heard at least the previous few minutes of discussion and was not pleased by it.

"Ah, Misty, we were just-"

"-Tracey, the Professor needs your help accessing the database. It looks like the password was changed recently and you're the only one with clearance to do that." It was an escape if ever he'd heard one, and the Pokemon Watcher risked dashing up the stairs two at a time and running right past Misty even though she looked like she could clearly maim him if she happened to catch him in time.

It was a miracle that she let him go at all.

Ash was definitely stuck between a rock and a hard place at the moment but decided that if he was going down, then he might as well go down in flames. So, with that thought in mind, he turned away from Misty and began to walk towards the long hallway leading to the preserve, probably to go see Pikachu before returning home, and whistling innocently all the while.

"So, what? No excuses? No apologies?" She shouted after him, starting down the stairs as well so that they could have this talk face to face.

"What are you, crazy? Wait! Don't answer that." He turned to face her again before continuing, "Why should I apologize because you're happy? That just seems ridiculous. And what's more is the fact that you can't even seem to admit it. We hit a milestone last night but all you can focus on is the means to that end. Why can't you just accept that you don't mind where we are now?"

"Happy; well I'm definitely not happy with you spreading our business around like some disease! And for the record," she'd finally reached him now and placed a finger to his chest, continuing to poke him with each syllable that she spoke, "I - did - not - know - you - were - aw - ake. But it felt good to lay next to you like that so I couldn't help wanting it to last a little longer! And don't think that I never noticed those little hard-ons you got while you waited for me to move."

"Now hold on just a second! I hope you aren't implying something because there's definitely nothing little about me!"

"Th - that's not what I meant at all!"

"How come you're suddenly so embarrassed about it? For goodness sake, Myst, you're in your mid-twenties! Of course you're going to have sex! Let alone the fact that, as I just found out about twenty minutes ago, we've been leading up to this since we were kids! I'm still trying to figure out why nobody ever told me!"

"I never told you because you would have been too stupid to understand what I was saying! You said so yourself! Every time I even imagined walking up to you and telling you how I feel, every time I wondered about your reaction, it never once included you mysteriously realizing that you obviously felt the same way! Besides, what would you have said? If you're so confident now in thinking you should have been made aware, tell me what you would have done if I had told you!"

"Well I. . . I would have done something! I mean, I probably wouldn't have kissed you or anything and we definitely wouldn't have become a couple because, let's face it, you gave me enough brain damage when we were strictly best friends back then! But I would have said something to let you know you weren't alone somehow! I would have cared!"

"But I already knew you cared, you idiot! The day we separated in Viridian City, you told me everything I needed to hear to know that, somewhere deep down inside that pea-sized brain of yours, you understood my feelings and reciprocated them! Why else do you think I was so content when I left for Cerulean?"

"But if you know I cared, if you've known all along, then why are we fighting?" He finally yelled at her.

"Jeezus, Ash, I don't know! Maybe it's because of the crap you tried to pull last night! You're not supposed to be that guy! You've never been that guy!"

"What are you talking about?" As soon as he'd finished posing the question, the both of them happened to quiet down enough to catch their breath. They stood there, shoulders heaving and faces flushed, Ash waiting for an answer that Misty still didn't have.

"I. . . I mean. . ."

"Oh, Ash?" Both of them jumped before turning around and facing Delia, who had just marched back inside from the preserve hall. She was wearing a large hat and gloves, an apron tied around her slim waist and a watering can in her hand. "Honey, when did you get here? I hope you were on your way to see me!" She gave him a smile and placed the gardening tool on a nearby desk, approaching him and enveloping him into a tight hug.

"Uh, yeah, of course, mom. . ." But more than that, he couldn't help asking when she'd finally let him pull his head free so that he could breathe properly, "So, uh, h - how much of that did you happen to hear?" Because Ash had always kept his sexual activities to himself and his friends, wondering if his mother had even acknowledged the fact that he was an adult. (Then again, she never said anything about him drinking, so who knows?)

"Hm? Oh, not much. I was just outside in my small plot of land. Sam let me put in a garden here too." She couldn't help sighing lovingly at the thought of how much her husband cared for her. "I only heard you shouting about not knowing what you were talking about. Or something to that effect. . . Oh, Misty! How are you, dear?" And she pushed her son aside, quickly pulling Misty into an endearing hug of her own.

"I'm fine, Mrs. Ketchum, just getting ready for work. You must have really strong hearing if you could understand what Ash was saying from all the way outside. After all, he definitely doesn't know what he's talking about, does he?" And she gave an airy laugh with a cutting undertone, ignoring the glare she received from him.

"Oh Misty, give my Ashy a little credit! He's grown up to be quite the independent young man." And Mrs. Ketchum finally broke apart from her hold on the redhead and stared fondly at her son. "Now, given, he was a little slow on the uptake when he was younger but I like to think - hope - that he grew out of that as he got older."

Ash flinched. It really sucked when his own mom didn't mind bluntly insulting him, even if she didn't realize that's what she'd been doing.

"Anyway Ash, Pikachu was wondering about you this morning so it's probably good timing that you'd show up today. How about I make us all a snack and we go out back to see her?"

"Wow, mom, that sounds great, except. . ."

"Oh, but Misty has to work so maybe it'll just be the two of us?"

"You know what? That sounds great!" Ash smirked, eyes on Misty in wait for her reaction to such news. She didn't seem as torn up about it as he'd hoped, though she was probably just as pleased to be getting away from him. He wouldn't have time to ask any questions about what she'd last said to him during their argument, which would give her time to either falsify an explanation or blow it over with something else.

In fact, she had just the thing.

"Yeah, sorry Mrs. Ketchum, but I really should be going back upstairs." The doorbell rang, interrupting her train of thought. "In fact, those are probably the new trainers coming to pick their starter Pokemon so I'll go let them in. And as for you, Ash, I'll let you off the hook," she waited for a moment to make sure he understood what she meant by saying it that way, "if you agree to tell me everything."

"Everything? What are you-"

"-That's for me to know and you to freak out about until I decide to let you in on it. See ya later!" And she turned tail and ran back towards the front lobby to let the children inside the lab.

His mom didn't seem to be paying him anymore attention, her mind focused on what snacks she should make and if she should include a little extra for her husband and his assistants upstairs.

And as Ash's brain activated to try and figure out what Misty had meant by everything, she in turn discovered that her ploy to distract him had worked for sure.

OoOoO

Notes - Okay so, yeah, this definitely took too long to be written. I'm so sorry, guys. After working my butt off to finally finish IS - (holy poop! It's done!) - I thought I would be able to put this out right after but I think I spent all of my inspiration on that epilogue so. . . yeah. I just couldn't think of anything for a long time and SKoL sat there gathering dust. But I recently felt the beginnings of plot bunnies developing to I took advantage of that. Well, actually, I started on maybe two or three other ideas but then I put them down like a good author because I knew I should be working on this fic instead. Aren't you proud of me?

Also, I'm very upset at you all! How come I posted a one-shot and received only three reviews? And I practically had to bully two out of three of those reviewers! This just makes me sad. I mean, what kind of world do we live in where someone has the time to read something that an amateur author put all sorts of effort and time into and yet they can't take thirty seconds to five minutes to review it? It's really disappointing because I thought it was a good fic (although I've been told it "broke the fourth wall") and the reviewers thought it was a good fic and, given, it wasn't any sort of outright romance, but there was some fluff littered here and there and I just don't get how people can read something from someone they respect or appreciate and not say anything after. By the by, I'm not talking to random people who clicked the link to the fic. I'm stating this message for the two hundred or so people who added me to their alert lists, and the two hundred and fifty or so who have me on their favorites lists.

But whatever. I don't feel like ranting anymore about that. (Though I do have another, completely unrelated thing that I'd like to rant about. . .)

One last thing; please ignore Ash being a whiny little crybaby in this chapter. Oh, wait! One last-last thing! Who else found it hilarious that I made fun of Ash's penis? It was significantly fun to write all of it. . .

Please review this time! I was really excited because chapter twelve received a record number of reviews compared to any other chapter in any other fic I've ever written. I was really excited. I pray that I can break three hundred reviews with this one. . . Please help me reach that goal!

Spoiler - Ash is told what Misty meant by "everything", though it's definitely not what he expected at all, as they begin discussing someone he thought had been cleared of all involvement. And then, later on into the week, Misty turns suddenly abstinent towards a sexually frustrated Ash who thought that he'd been forgiven. But all of this leads up to the coup de grace as she confides in him about her complexity (hasn't been mentioned since chapter one) and Tracey leaving to journey to other regions for his next book.