The Flame Burns Deep

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the pokemon (the best thing in the entire world!) characters, the only thing I own is the story and plot itself! I'm not going to make any money off of this, don't sue me, I'm only 13! Sorry for anything I missed!

Foreword

This is my first romance, so please go easy on me as far as how romantic this is. I've spent quite a large amount of time writing this, and it has one heck of a plot. It is kind of a sequel to Pokemon: The First Movie, so don't flame me for the similarities, they were intended! It takes place when Ash is on the way back to Pallet from the Orange League. I hope y'all enjoy it! I think it's a pretty distinctive AAMRN!

The Flame Burns Deep

Prologue: The Search

A tiny white speck darted through the star-filled velvety sky. Its head rotated back and forth, almost hypnotically, as if it were searching for something. And indeed it was. Its glowing eyes, like large sapphire gems, kept ceaseless watch over the forest below it, never blinking nor taking its eyes off the moonlit tops of the trees below. Yet, if you stared long enough at the eyes of this creature, you would realize it was not looking at the trees, but through them. Though it seemed very strange, the creature was not even seeing the trees, but rather was seeing the ground directly below them. Sleeping pokemon were brought into the range of its intense gaze occasionally, but it gave not a second glance at the curled up Rattatas, roosting Pidgeys, or even the rare Pinsir sleeping leaning against a large tree. It was on a mission.

It was nearly daybreak before it heard something promising; the soft, relaxed breathing of five living beings. Its small ears twitched at the sound and something deeply embedded in its brain told it that this was not just the breathing of pokemon, but that of humans mixed in, too. It glided noiselessly to where the noises were coming from, with hope rising swiftly in its brain. It descended ever closer, hoping with all its heart that this sound would be the link it needed to find the two people it had been searching for for exactly, to the day, a year now.

Its eyes were directed to a small, peaceful clearing surrounded by tall pine trees. There its eyes rested on three rectangular objects, approximately four feet apart and six feet long, while about three feet wide. The first was red with bubbles on it, the second gray, while the third was green. Though it had never seen one clearly before, the creature knew immediately that these were sleeping bags. It swooped still closer; to get a clear look at whom was inside them. It squinted its eyes for no particular reason, for its night vision was better than its day vision. Its heart leapt at what it saw.

In the first sleeping bag lay a red-haired girl, around ten or twelve, with sparkling blue eyes. It could easily see she wasn't asleep (how could it see her eyes if she was asleep?) but she lay quite still. Her gaze was focused on the sleeping bag to her right, where a black-haired boy about her age slept. It quickly sped behind a tree to avoid being seen, but stayed close enough that it could watch. Her eyes glimmered with sadness, but a small smile played at her lips.

"If only you knew Ash," she whispered gently, "if only you knew…"

It smiled at this, obviously plotting something in its complicated brain. It had found what it was searching for.

It watched and listened a little longer, trying to see if Misty would say anything else. It knew she had fallen asleep when Ash said "pokeball, go!" enthusiastically in his sleep and she didn't react. With no one awake to spy on, it fell deep into thought, about The Plan, why it had to do this.

It had started when it had first laid eyes on Ash, while rescuing him from certain death at the same time. Ash had gone on to do something so courageous and deeply touching, it felt it had to repay him somehow. It would seem he owed it his life, but it thought nothing of saving him, and anyway, it had known he was special from the beginning and he deserved something that would help him on his difficult journey to being the World's Number One Pokemon Trainer. At first it hadn't known what it could do for him that fit that description without helping him too much. That was until it did some peeking into his mind. It found that Ash had loved Misty from the beginning, but most of the time he didn't realize that he loved her, and when he did there was no way he could bring up the nerve to admit it to her. Knowing that, it knew it had to do more investigating, and moments later had pried into Misty's mind also. It had found that Misty loved Ash more than anything, but on the contrary she had trouble hiding it. They both had one definite thing in common in their perception of each other, though. They both feared rejection from the other. Then it devised a plan, a plan that would bring Ash and Misty together, no matter what the risks.

With that it snapped out of its 'mental vacation' and focused on the three other living beings that also slept here. The first was Togepi, Misty's baby pokemon, who slept sucked into his shell next to Misty's red backpack to her right, the second was Pikachu, who slept curled up at Ash's feet on his sleeping bag, and the third was not Brock, as it had thought it would be, but a greenish-blackish-haired teenage boy it had never seen before. It frowned in frustration. How would it get him out of the picture for about a week? But suddenly it decided it wasn't time for worrying, on the other hand it was time to celebrate! Being the playful creature it was, it began bouncing ecstatically on the pine branches. It looked skyward; suddenly realizing it was getting lighter. There its aching eyes were greeted with an outburst of color. Small, fluffy, white clouds dotted the vast sky. Their outermost edges were lined with a fluorescent shining pink. Behind them was a brilliant array of orange, red, purple, blue, and even a small hint of green. The stars, though faded, gave the sky a dreamlike effect.

Realizing Ash and his friends would be waking up any moment, it disappeared into thin air, without a trace it had ever been there.

Chapter One: Special Delivery!

Strange, poetic words formed in her head. Though she could hear them, a voice was not saying them.

"A near loss in your life will soon be revealed,

There is only one way this loss can be healed,

The person you love to me is much known,

To that person your love must be shown…"

Then, as swiftly as the words formed, they were gone.

The next thing Misty knew soft gentle sunlight was warming her cheek. She wasn't quite sure, but she thought she heard Ash's voice; though she assumed it was just a dream. She always dreamt about Ash… After waking up a little more though, she realized she really was hearing his voice.

"C'mon Misty, wake up! It's time for breakfast!"

Misty responded with a groan.

"Pleeease Misty-hmmm…wait a minute here…" his voice started sounding frantic. "Hey Misty! Look! There's a Caterpie sleeping right next to you!!!" he yelled enthusiastically.

With that Misty shrieked and leapt out of her sleeping bag and hid behind Ash.

"Where's the bug?! Where is it?!" she asked frantically, her blue eyes darting all over, searching for any sign of a bug pokemon.

Ash was in hysterics. In between his fits of laughing you could decipher the words "knew," "wake," "you," and "up." Misty, obviously not thinking this was the slightest bit funny, whacked Ash with her mallet. Pikachu (who had been awake the whole time) got sick of watching this argument and quite predictably Thundershocked the two. In doing this though, he accidentally shocked Togepi, too, who had (up until the moment) been sleeping. Togepi began crying like mad and Misty was unconscious from the unexpected Thundershock so she couldn't comfort him. Tracey, in a feeble attempt to get to Togepi, knocked over the rice he was cooking over their campfire, spilling it everywhere. When he finally stumbled his way to Togepi, Togepi just cried harder at the sight of Tracey. It was a disaster.

When everyone was finally conscious again, the campsite was clean of rice, and they were all packed up and ready to start hiking again, the sun's brilliant rays were suddenly darkened as a large shadow flew overhead. The five friends watched in awe as a large majestic bird pokemon flew into view, carefully picking its way through the pine branches, and landed gracefully on the ground next to them.

"Pidg-geot," it squawked sharply. The sun glinted against its fierce eyes.

"P-p-Pidgeot?" Ash stuttered, "is it…my Pidgeot?"

Pidgeot shook its giant feathered head no.

"I was going to say, if you were Ash's Pidgeot you would have to have grown a lot," chuckled Misty.

Ash shot her a disapproving glance and asked grumpily, "What was wrong with my Pidgeot?"

"Nothing, I was just commenting on this one's tremendous size," Misty shot back.

"C'mon you guys, I'm sick of all your arguing," sighed Tracey.

It was just then that Ash noticed a glint of white sticking out of Pidgeot's beak. On closer inspection he realized it was a folded up piece of paper. He reached for it, but Tracey got it first. He read it aloud.

"Dear Ash and Friends, hope you get this letter soon. My lab has gone completely out of control! The pokemon are all going crazy! I was wondering if one of you could come help me. If you're interested, just hop on Pidgeot and he'll give you a ride here to Pallet.

Signed,

Prof. Oak"

Tracey paused for a moment, then replied happily, "this is just the chance I've been waiting for! I hope you two don't mind if I go for a little while."

Ash and Misty nodded no in unison and Misty said quietly, "go on Tracey, we don't mind." Ash wasn't sure, but he thought he heard a hint of pure happiness in her voice. Misty glanced at him, seemingly nervously and Ash glanced back, not even slightly aware of what this glancing was all about.

Tracey looked at them suspiciously and started saying, "oh, I get it, you two want to be *alone* together!"

Misty immediately got a ticked-off mark and pulled out her mallet and held it over his head. "Dare to repeat that?" she inquired angrily. Ash simply fell over at Traceys stupidity.

Tracey sweatdropped and said nervously, "hehehe, but Misty, you *did* say, right before you saved Ash-" Tracey was cut off by Misty saying (in a very PO'ed manner) "*What did I say about Ash, Tracey?!*"

Tracey, who was now very scared of Misty, replied quietly, "just kidding Misty…."

Ash was now very confused at the mention of Misty saving him (recall he was unconscious when she saved him in their adventure with Lugia) Ash shot questioning glances at his friends until Misty whispered to him shakily, "Tracey isn't quite mentally stable, Ash. Don't listen to him."

After getting the few things he didn't have packed up, Tracey leapt onto Pidgeots giant back. Ash, Misty, Pikachu, and Togepi all waved farewell as Pidgeot spread its huge feathered wings and, its claws gripping the ground, launched itself into the air above. Its powerful wings churned at the air, and before the four remaining friends could respond, Pidgeot was just a speck, speeding into the clear blue sky. Then Pidgeot disappeared completely. Ash and Misty stood silent for a moment, staring at the soft blue sky. Pikachu and Togepi stood quietly also. Pidgeots speed was stunning. "Well, that was fast," Ash murmured.

"Fast is an understatement!" Misty said, her blue-green eyes wide in amazement. Suddenly snapping out of the stunned trance she said (with a twinge of uneasiness in her voice) "Well Ash, it's just you and me…"

"Yeah, Ash replied, "and Pikachu and Togepi and Squirtle and Bulbasaur and-"

Misty cut him short with a sigh and yelled, "I meant we're the only HUMANS here, Ash! I wasn't including pokemon!"

"Um…hehehe, yeah Misty, I knew that," Ash said with a small sweatdrop, knowing that if he played dumb any longer he would surely be hit by one of Mistys 'mallets of doom.'

"*Sure* you did," Misty responded sarcastically.

For once, she didn't feel like arguing with Ash, so she changed the subject quickly. "It's just like the old days isn't it Ash…Just you and me and Pikachu."

"Yeah," said Ash, slightly surprised she would bring up the subject of them being alone again. He had noticed she had seemed kinda nervous ever since Tracey announced his departure. 'Could it be she's uncomfortable being alone with me?' he thought, but then quickly dismissed that thought, 'why would she be nervous around me after all the times we've been through together?' Together. That word (when applied to him and Misty) made him blush slightly.

Misty, unfortunately for him, noticed the sudden redness in his cheeks and asked him gently, "is anything wrong, Ash?"

"No!" he answered quickly, "what gave you that idea?"

"I dunno, it looked like you were blushing."

"Well I wasn't!" he shot back stubbornly. He looked at the ground and kicked some dirt while the redness faded from his face and he thought of something to say. He glanced towards Pikachu and Togepi, who both sat quietly on the ground, stern expressions on their usually smiling faces.

"Pikachu?" Ash questioned his electric mouse, " what's wrong buddy?" Pikachu stood, completely silent, as if he weren't hearing Ash at all. Instead he just squinted his deep brown eyes.

"What is with them?" Misty said, obviously as puzzled as Ash, "I hope they're okay…"

Ash repeated, this time more urgently, "what's wrong Pikachu?" Pikachu lowered his eyes, then, in a voice matching his expression said, "pika chu pi, Pikapi, pika pi chu pi… (Translation: "I don't know Ash, I just don't know…)

Chapter Two: A Psychic message

"So Ash, exactly how far are we from any civilization *what so ever*?!" Misty whined irritably.

"Ummm…hmmm, last time I checked, about forty miles," Ash replied calmly.

"Forty miles!" Misty exclaimed, " Ash that'll take us at least seven days to hike! "Complained Misty, who was now getting very fed up with Ash's terrible sense of direction.

"Well, don't blame me! It was Tracey's idea to come this way!"

Misty couldn't think of any good comeback to that except, "well, remind me to give him a good whomping when he gets back!"

"Okay," Ash said, amused that Misty trusted him of all people to remember that, until he remembered he was the only other human within forty miles (he has a great memory, doesn't he?)

A tense silence settled on the four travelers, and all was peaceful for a while. Misty glanced at Ash with a ghost of a smile on her face. She was glad Ash hadn't started the argument over again like he usually did. Misty looked skyward. Faintly through the dense trees she could see the sky. She noticed with some alarm that the bright blue sky was now dotted with dark clouds. They drifted slowly across the sky with an ominous silence. A tiny white speck sped through the sky, just to disappear behind one of the dark puffs of cloud. Misty knew she was probably imagining it, but yet something in her head told her this was not just her imagination. She quickly dismissed the dark thought and began thinking along happier lines. She was actually pretty happy Tracey had left. He had sort of been getting on her nerves lately, yet at the same time she worried that she would accidentally blurt something out that would give away her true feelings towards Ash while they were alone. If he rejected her, she didn't know what she'd do.

"It's a beautiful day, isn't it, Ash?" Misty said cheerfully, seeing no way that comment could start an argument.

"Yeah, pretty nice," Ash agreed, his face to the sun, his eyes closed happily and a bright smile illuminating his face. Misty noticed the clouds were beginning to block out the sun's rays, though, but she didn't mention this to Ash, knowing he would tease her for worrying too much if she did. Yet there was something in the air that was very strange, if not slightly scary. The feeling that she was being watched added to this sensation. She tried to shake it off, but it only got stronger. She suddenly felt very dizzy and began to black out. Something in her brain (that seemed almost familiar…) told her very strongly, yet at the same time pleadingly, 'tell Ash, Misty. Tell him how you feel about him, please, Misty, please. I really don't want to hurt anyone…'

'No!' she told the voice mentally, 'I'll tell him when the right moment comes…Which definitely isn't now!' Suddenly her dream instantaneously came back to her memory; something about love, and losing someone…'You can't hurt Ash!' she said mentally and the voice merely replied 'I am sorry, but I promise this will turn out okay…It hurts me so much to cause pain…'With that the voice faded. Terror filled Misty's brain.

For a moment Misty just stared tremblingly ahead, where Ash, Pikachu, and Togepi (whom she had allowed to stay with Pikachu) strolled casually, before her legs buckled beneath her and she fell into the moist forest soil with a soft thud.

Upon hearing Misty's limp body hit the forest floor, Ash's head whipped around to see what had happened. Her body lay sprawled out on the ground unmoving.

"Misty!" Ash yelled, obviously very worried.

"Chu!" Pikachu yelled directly after his trainer.

"Togi?" Togepi questioned, being much too young to understand. Yet upon seeing Misty's still form he began to bawl.

Ash instinctively ran to Misty, as did Pikachu, but the yellow one turned back to try to calm Togepi, who's sobs were getting louder by the moment.

As Ash reached Misty's side he immediately dropped to his knees. He gently laid his hand on her arm and murmured quietly, "Misty…" She trembled slightly at his touch. "C'mon Misty, wake up, please…" he pleaded with an edge of sadness in his voice.

"Pikapi? Pika chu pi?" (Translation: "Ash? Is she okay?) Pikachu asked as he ran to his friends' side. Togepi sniffled and toddled over also.

"I-I hope so…"Ash answered as he hugged her close. Pikachus face softened and he asked slowly, "Pi chu pika, pikachu pi chu, Pikapi?" (Translation: "You're really worried, aren't you, Ash?")

"No-" Ash started, but decided against lying to his best friend. "Oh, why should I hide it from you? You can't tell anyone…"

"Pika!" Pikachu nodded and quickly silenced to hear what Ash had to say, even though he was pretty sure he already knew what it was.

"I-I really care about her Pikachu, I really don't know why, but it probably has to do with fact we've been through so much together. I've always kinda felt a special connection with her, though…" He looked lovingly at Misty. "She's gonna be okay, Pikachu. I know she is." Pikachu looked at Ash questioningly, "Pi?" (Translation: "How?")

"I dunno, I just have a feeling she is," Ash answered before returning his gaze to Misty.

Pikachu looked admiringly at the two people he loved most with mixed feelings. He partly admired Ash for acting so mature, but he had also known all along how Ash and Misty felt about each other.

Suddenly Ash perked up. He gazed into his electric mouses eyes. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" He asked with an evil smile on his face. At first Pikachu cocked his head questioningly, but slowly it drifted into his brain. Soon he too had an evil grin.

"Just a gentle shock…" Ash began.

"Pi pichu pika!" (Translation: "And she'll wake up!") Pikachu finished.

Pikachu balled up his tiny fist and placed it on Misty's hand. Sparks began to fly from his cheeks. Ash let go of Misty for the moment so he wouldn't get shocked and told Pikachu strongly, "be gentle, pikachu." Pikachu nodded his head quickly, "pika chu, Pikapi." (Translation: "I know, Ash")

Togepi, meanwhile, had been watching this absurd scene with great interest, though it was quite obvious the little egg had no idea what was going on.

Pikachu released a gentle shock from his body and sent it through his palm to Misty's. For a moment Misty's body glowed with an electric light, before it faded swiftly away. Three pairs of eyes were intently focused on Misty. Within seconds of the shock, Misty began to shiver. "I-it's so c-cold," Misty murmured gently, seemingly in a dreamlike state judging from the fact her eyes were still shut and she didn't seem aware of her surroundings.

"Misty!"

"Chu!"

"Briii!"

Three joyous voices said happily, seeing her movement and hearing her speak. Without hesitating Ash rushed over to her, took off his blue and white short sleeved jacket, draped it over her shoulders to keep her warm (he realized the temperature had dropped considerably in the last few moments), sat down in the dirt next to her, and wrapped his arms around her. Feeling the extra warmth, Misty abruptly stopped shivering and relaxed.

Pikachu and Togepi looked on the scene and Pikachu said to Togepi quietly, "pi chu ka cha pi pikachu? *Sniff * Pika pi chu pika cha…pi pi pikaa chuu pika cha pi ka pikachu pika… (Translation: Don't the make the cutest couple? *sniff * They grow up so quickly… next thing we know they're going to be getting married…") Togepi just plain didn't get it and asked, "togibriii?"(Translation: "whasat?")

"Pika ka chu pi chu kachu…" (Translation: "You'll understand when you're older…")

Misty was now conscious, but in a state of light sleep. Ash was hugging her gently when her eyes fluttered open.

Once her eyes focused slightly she was surprised to find herself in Ash's arms, his face hovering worriedly over her.

Ash knew that if Misty awoke fully in his arms, he would have to explain what she was doing there, so only seconds after her eyes opened he leapt up (after setting her down gently on the ground) and joined Pikachu and Togepi a few feet away.

Misty's eyes focused fully after a few seconds, and she was utterly confused. One minute she was sure she was in Ash's arms, the next she was lying on the ground with Ash's jacket on her shoulders. Seemingly the only sane explanation was it was a dream, but then why would she have Ash's jacket? Then if it wasn't a dream, that would make it reality, which would mean Ash was really hugging her, but why would he do that unless…unless he felt the same way about her that she felt about him… but what were the chances of that? She quickly dismissed it as one of those things that had no logical explanation.

She slowly sat up, and as she did spots swam before her eyes and a dull ache filled her head. She was careful not to let Ash's jacket fall to the ground, knowing she could possibly use it to wheedle something out of Ash.

When she sat up fully the spots disappeared and the headache faded.

"Are you okay?" Ash asked gently, kneeling down to Misty's eye level, but still where he was last, a few feet away.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Just a little dazed is all."

"Good, I was kinda worried about you," Ash said with a lop-sided smile. Once he realized what he said his face swiftly turned scarlet.

Misty took this as a good sign, and also a good time to pester him more on the subject. "Hey Ash, how'd your jacket get on my shoulders? Did it teleport? Or did it simply walk over and settle itself on me?" Misty asked with a smug smile. He couldn't back down now. Misty had to stifle a giggle at Ash's response to this simple question. His eyes widened and his face turned a shade darker crimson.

"Well, um…uh…*sigh* I noticed it was getting cold, so I decided you needed it more than I did. I mean, you were unconscious and all." His face was becoming redder by the second.

"And since when do YOU care about ME?" Misty queried. The playfulness had left her voice so it sounded slightly sad.

"Well, you are my friend." Ash said quietly. 'And maybe even more…' he added in his mind.

Misty put a small smile on her face and laid a hand on his right shoulder, resisting the urge to hug him right then and there. "Thanks Ash," she said shyly, gazing into his deep brown eyes. If it was at all possible his face turned even deeper scarlet at that comment. For a moment the two just stared into each other's eyes, neither wanting to ever break that moment. But of course it was just too good to last.

"Pi Pikapi! Pika kachu!"(Translation: "C'mon Ash! Tell her now!")

"No!" Ash answered sharply, breaking the moment.

"What did Pikachu say, Ash?" asked Misty.

"Uh, um, well ya see… he was asking if, er, I mean why you collapsed."

"Oh," Misty said, not really believing that was what Pikachu said, but still starting to become nervous herself.

'How am I gonna get outta this without admitting anything?' she thought uneasily. "Well, I just felt kinda dizzy, then this voice was telling me to..."

"To what?" Ash interrupted questioningly.

"To…um…oh, I forgot." She answered quickly.

Ash raised his eyebrows in disbelief, but he didn't ask anymore about what exactly the disembodied voice was telling her, "and how did that cause you to faint?"

"I dunno, everything just went black after that," Misty answered softly, therefore ending that conversation. Then the two trainers stood silently, side-by-side, under the dark swirling clouds overhead.

Chapter Three: Alone

"Well, I guess we better set up camp here, it looks like a storm's brewing." Misty observed after a few moments of staring at the swiftly darkening sky. Realizing Ash's jacket was *still* on her shoulders, she took it off and handed it to him. "I'm fine now. I don't need this anymore," she told him as he took it from her and put it back on over his black T-shirt. Both the two trainers then kneeled down in the soft dirt and began digging through their backpacks, trying to find the stuff they needed to comfortably spend the night here.

As Misty spread out her sleeping bag, her eyes again drifted to the stormy sky. "Ya know Ash, there are times when I regret not having a tent," she sighed wistfully.

"Hmmm…" Ash responded flatly, "I wonder where my sleeping bag could be…" With that he dumped the contents of his backpack on the ground.

"That's Ash for ya," Misty said to Pikachu and Togepi, "can't even find a sleeping bag in a backpack."

But it took only a quick glance at the scattered objects on the ground to realize that somehow, Ash's sleeping bag just wasn't there.

"Tracey must've taken it on accident," Misty pondered, but then added jokingly, "look's like you're sleeping in the dirt tonight, Ash!"

Ash glanced at the sky, thinking about how *very* fun it was going to be sleeping on the ground in the rain. 'Oh well,' he thought hesitantly, 'I can make a bed out of leaves, I guess…' With that he began gathering leaves piling them up next to Misty's sleeping bag. A gust of wind whistled through the trees. There was something oppressive about it, like thunder (which partly it was) but there was something else, too, something more mysterious and inevitable. The wind snaked its way down to the ground, playing with the two young trainers' hair. Of course, this sudden gust all but destroyed Ash's leaf pile/bed. The leaves gently wafted in the breeze and drifted slowly away. Ash leapt for his remaining leaves, but suddenly stopped.

Somehow, like some magnetic force, his eyes were drawn to Misty. Her hair was blowing softly in the wind and her eyes were fixed worriedly on the sky.

Sensing his gaze, she turned around and looked him in the eye. "What are you staring at?" she asked uncomfortably.

"You…" he said dreamily, then realizing what he said he added hastily, "just thinking about how incredibly scrawny you are!" He then ducked instinctively from the inevitable mallet. Yet when the dizzying plop didn't arrive on schedule he glanced up at Misty, who, luckily for him, decided to give him one more chance. She stood over him with the mallet directly above his head.

"One more word Ash Ketchum, and you will be merely a puddle of bloody pulp on the ground!" she threatened menacingly.

Pikachu and Togepi had made the most of this situation and now each had a pair of 3-D glasses, a bag of popcorn, and a small soda. "Pikacha pi chu pichu ka? Pi cha pi kachu pi chu!"(Translation: "Who are you betting on? I'm putting my money on Misty!") Pikachu asked Togepi happily.

"Togi togi!" (Translation: "Me too!") Togepi chirped gleefully.

But luckily for everyone except possibly the two pokemon, Ash mumbled, "geez, I was just kidding…" and Misty calmed down.

"Look at the sky Ash!" Misty said in awe, completely forgetting her outrage.

Ash scrambled from his submissive position and looked skyward. It was an impressive sight indeed.

The entire sky was filled with black clouds that swirled and twisted, as if they were in great agony from the lightning that crashed behind them every once in a while, creating an electric glow that faded away only seconds after it appeared. Thunder rumbled ominously in the distance. It would have been completely dark if it wasn't for a hole in clouds, through which you could see the brilliant colors of the sunset. Beams of soft orange sunlight were somehow directed exactly on Ash and Misty. The sunlight sparkled as if someone had thrown an unmeasurable amount of shimmering glitter directly in its path. The light made the two glow softly. They stared, transfixed at the true unbelievibility and beauty of it all.

A strange feeling began washing over them. It was a mix of true love for each other and the feeling that something would soon test how strong that bond really was. For a split second they turned and looked into each other's eyes, almost feeling and thinking as one.

But this sensation was only momentary, and as swiftly as it had had come it drained away, leaving not even a memory of those few wonderful seconds in its wake. They broke their gaze and looked back at the sky.

The great, dark, trembling clouds flooded the lone shaft of light, letting darkness finally reign. Another moist, chillingly cold gust of wind toyed with the trees branches, making them shudder and shake, as if in great fear of the great storm that was seemingly promised.

"We'd better at least try to get some sleep," said Misty, glancing in pity at Ash.

"Yep, I guess so…" Ash sighed. He gathered the few remaining leaves and clumped them into a pillow. He decided against taking off his hat and jacket, knowing it would get much colder and probably rain later. He took off his shoes and placed them in his backpack. He curled up in the dirt as Misty crawled into her sleeping bag. Pikachu and Togepi (who were all but forgotten) suddenly decided to be very affectionate, and both curled up with Ash in a feeble attempt to keep him warm.

It was then the wind howled miserably, wailing and moaning and forcing the clouds to twirl and twist. It began to wring out the clouds of their moisture and rain started to patter slowly down.

Ash curled up into an even tighter ball at feeling the tears from the sky soak through his clothes. Pikachu and Togepi, knowing they weren't helping any, and also not enjoying the wet weather, leapt into Ash's backpack and zipped it up, making it clear they had no intentions of sleeping in the rain.

Misty had pulled herself fully into her sleeping bag so she wouldn't get wet, but still every few minutes she would peep her head out to look sadly at Ash. It was very heart wrenching for her seeing him wet and cold and shivering, curled into a tight ball in the hard dirt. 'But what could I do?' she thought miserably, watching the suddenly fierce wind tussle Ash's hair and clothes. 'In the middle of that thought, though, an almost unrelated thought came to her; 'Hmmm… I'm lucky this sleeping bag is pretty large…' Then in her mind the two clicked together, revealing the solution to her dilemma. It would be pretty squished, but Ash would fit…

"Ash?" Misty questioned shyly, but hopefully loud enough for Ash to hear over the whistling wind and pattering rain, which had turned from peaceful to ferocious in just minutes. He didn't answer. "Ash?" Misty repeated, this time louder.

"W-w-what M-Misty?" Ash asked with chattering teeth.

Another gust of wind whooshed out of nowhere, this time so strong Ash was almost blown away.

"Ash, you're gonna get blown away if you stay out there, get in here!" Misty said loudly over the storm's furious roaring.

Ash had sat up and was staring in Misty's direction, blinking inquiringly.

In the darkness Misty couldn't see Ash, but she sensed his confusion. She sighed loudly, "do I have to explain everything to you? Get in my sleeping bag, and hurry up! I don't want you flying off into the sky before you repay me for my bike Ash Ketchum!" she said this almost playfully though, as if she were teasing him, so Ash couldn't decide if she was only kidding or not. But this question was answered swiftly by Misty's impatient, "Well, are you coming or not?"

Ash scrambled gratefully over to her. Both their faces were now redder than a ripe tomato, but the darkness hid this completely. Ash started to ask more questions, but decided against it.

Misty zipped open her sleeping bag, which unfortunately let a gust of chilled air in. Ash slid in, and as Misty expected, it was quite cramped. Ash zipped up the sleeping bag, and the next few moments were filled with a thick embarrassed silence. Ash was sopping wet, but still warm to the touch. So there they were, squished together like sardines in a can, blushing uncontrollably, completely silent.

Ash broke the silence with an extremely nervous, "um…uh…thanks Misty…"

"Uh, Ash, you're welcome, but please do me this one little favor, okay?" Misty asked, obviously every bit as nervous as Ash.

"Sure, what is it?"

"Don't tell Tracey about this, I don't even want to know what he'd think if he knew we slept together while he was gone."

"Ugh, I know what you mean…" Ash said slowly, "he'd tease us to no end."

At the same time they realized how close their faces were (only about two inches apart) and decided it was unbearable, lying there, literally pressed together, staring directly into each others eyes, without blurting something out that would reveal how they really felt about each other. Their fear of rejection was so great they were very careful as to what they said and did.

Then, also in unison, they attempted to turn over, resulting in two bonked heads. They began squirming around, trying desperately to get comfortable in the cramped space. This, in turn, resulted in one accidentally kicking or elbowing the other, and soon the used to be silence was filled with "owww…"s and "stop kicking me! "s and other things to that effect. Muffled giggling could be heard from Ash's backpack, but over the tremendous roaring of the storm it wasn't recognizable as giggling, but merely another noise adding to the commotion.

After a few minutes the squirming subsided, but Ash and Misty were still far from comfortable. It was then Ash was hit with a good, yet totally embarrassing thought; 'if we put our arms around each other, we'll fit alot better.'

After a few seconds of internal debating, the possibility of being even slightly more comfortable won over the embarrassment. Ash cleared his throat unnecessarily (he didn't need to get Misty's attention, her face was less than three inches from his) and said shakily, "Uh, Misty, it might be a little more comfortable if we put our arms around each other…"

Even in the pitch-black darkness of the inside of the sleeping bag he could see her startlingly blue-green eyes widen. He began to say, "it was just a thought…"but directly after he began Misty said willingly, "Okay. Ya know Ash that was actually a pretty good idea." They then stiffly put their arms around each other. Misty gave a nervous giggle and said jokingly, "forget Tracey, what would Brock say about this?"

Ash gave a fake shudder and added slowly, "ummm…Misty, lets try not to think about that…" They both got a good, yet completely tense giggle at this comment but yet again the almost a conversation was ended abruptly by the fact that neither of them had anything interesting to say.

For quite a while they just lay there, listening intently to the thunderous sounds of the storm. After nearly a half-hour of the loud silence, Ash's eyelids began to droop. He slipped slowly into a deep sleep. Misty was still wide-awake though, thinking about Ash, and herself.

Since almost the beginning of her journeying with Ash, Misty had felt very strongly for him. She knew it was love, at least. She felt almost as if it were stronger than love, if that was at all possible. There was definitely something between them, but she wondered if Ash noticed this. They were friends, that much she knew, but did Ash think of her as anymore than that?

Thinking over the events of the day, she realized she had let a lot of things slip, and actually gotten a positive reaction from it. Ash had seemed slightly less argumentative and friendlier than usual. Could her dreams be finally coming true? Then there was the matter of that voice…it had said to admit to Ash…and disembodied voices should be trusted, right? Or at least they always are in movies…but that's Hollywood, this was real life. And what about the matter of when she once she awoke from fainting, she was sure Ash was hugging her? Why would he do that unless he loved her, too? Should she admit to Ash in the morning? She suddenly felt very bold.

But then, she remembered what she had to lose. Her confidence dropped. If she admitted she loved Ash and he didn't feel the same way, it would ruin their friendship. That would be a crushing defeat… It was weird how a few simple words had the ability to completely ruin her life, or make her the happiest person on the planet. She had so much to lose and so much to gain.

It was then that she decided that she would make a vow to herself, a vow to stay with Ash forever, no matter what happened.

"Ash?" she whispered, seeing if he was awake. No response. "Good," she sighed and then whispered a little louder, "Pikachu? Are you awake?"

"Pika?" Pikachu inquired, voice muffled from the inside of the backpack.

"Could you please come out here?" Misty asked him pleadingly.

"Pi kachu!"

Misty couldn't understand what Pikachu was saying, but from the willing tone he used, she guessed that was a yes.

Pikachu unzipped Ash's backpack, and, after bracing himself to get wet, scampered over to Misty and Ash and leapt into the sleeping bag. He shook himself like a dog, showering Misty and the sleeping Ash (whom had long since dried off) with tiny droplets of rainwater.

"Pikachu! Stop that, you'll wake up Ash!" Misty scolded, but with a joking tone.

"Pi? Pikachu…"Pikachu put his paw behind his head in embarrassment.

Misty then became serious. "Pikachu, you're going to be the witness of this promise I have to make to myself, okay?"

"Pika." Pikachu nodded solemnly.

"But you can't tell Ash about this, okay?"

"Pika!" Pikachu saluted Misty in a promise.

"Okay, ready for this?"

"Chu!"

"With Pikachu as my witness, I promise to stay with Ash forever, no matter what. That's it, I guess. But don't tell Ash, all right?"

"Pika!" Pikachu promised a second time.

Pikachu then scrambled back to the backpack, jumped in, and zipped it up.

As if sealing the promise, Misty gathered up her courage and kissed Ash gently on the cheek. Her confidence boosted by her promise, she then wrapped her arms around him and snuggled up close, resting her chin in the crook of his neck. She sighed blissfully, then fell into a deep sleep.

Nearby, a pair of glowing blue eyes watched.

Chapter Four: Final Preparations

The pair of eyes belonged to the creature. It had been following Ash and Misty since the dawn of the day, and it had been quite pleased at how they had reacted to the events it had caused. Maybe this would be simpler than it had thought… Suddenly realizing Misty had dozed off, it closed its eyes and focused its entire mind on the storm. It began to glow an eerie pink and started waving its tiny, three-toed, front paws like some strange magician.

The air became thick, as if the storm had not yet broken. The murky clouds spun crazily, resembling a furious tornado. The rain stopped abruptly. Then, in less than the time it takes for a heart to beat, the storm disappeared completely, swallowed up by the soft pure blackness of a normal night. The booming sounds of the storm faded and transformed into the soft melodeous chirping of crickets, the supple, pleasant, occasional sound of a Hoot-Hoot cooing, and the other gentle sounds of the night.

The creature smiled at the rapid departure of the storm, pleased that its psychic powers were in no way weakened by their long phase of disuse. It looked around, deciding not to dry up the rainwater caused by the storm, knowing how much confusion that would cause Ash and Misty. Glancing around again, it admired the beauty of the night.

The stars and full moon had peeked their way hesitantly through the blackness of the night sky, creating a soft glow that flooded over everything that was in their view. At the tips of the sleek leaves of the many trees were tiny droplets of water that were filled with moonlight, making them look like shimmering stars in the darkness, like a reflection of the night sky.

It sensed another mysterious presence, one that had an air of arrogance and majesty even more than its own. Its heart thudded wonderingly as it concentrated on the strange presence, trying to find a living creature to back up its presumption. Its eyes scanned the perimeter of the clearing, but it found only a snoozing Caterpie. It decided with an air of finality that it was not a solid presence, but more something in the air, something to come that only it could sense.

It decided just to forget it for now, but to keep the thought in the back of its mind. First and foremost, it had to get its plan in action.

It floated slowly over to the backpack that Pikachu and Togepi slept in and silently unzipped it. Pikachu's eyes opened slightly, but the creature rapidly sent hypnosis waves out of its eyes, sending the electric mouse back into dreamland. Then the creature placed its paw on Pikachu's head, again closing its eyes in concentration. It began the long and complicated task of linking its mind with Pikachu's. It needed to block certain memories and knowledge temporarily from his brain. It also needed to make it so Pikachu wouldn't wake up until a signal from its own mind told him to do so. After it had finished tweaking Pikachu's mind, it turned to Togepi. 'Hmmm…' it thought, 'Togepi can't do anything that would change the effects of the plan in any way, so I think I'll just leave him the way he is…'

Next it looked to the sleeping Ash and Misty. Of course, it wouldn't alter their minds in any way, but it had a lot of work to do on all of the pokemon's minds. Especially Charizard's…

It would be no problem to get to Misty's pokemon, but Ash's pokemon were a different story. Their pokeballs were on Ash's belt. It thought briefly about how it could access them, and momentarily thought of a plan.

It then drifted over to Misty's red backpack, and opened it the same way it had opened Ash's, soundlessly. It gently picked up each of her four pokeballs containing Staryu, Psyduck, Poliwag, and Goldeen and placed them on the ground in front of it. It then tapped one and out came a snoring Psyduck. Subsequently it did the same thing to Psyduck as it had done to Pikachu, temporarily twisting the psychic duck's mind. It moved on to each of Misty's sleeping pokemon, doing the same thing to every one. When it finished this painstaking task, it tapped the each of the pokeballs, calling back each of the pokemon. Then, with as much care as when it had taken them out, placed them back in Misty's backpack.

It turned to Ash and Misty and smiled at seeing them so close. It concentrated as hard as it could on thinking about Ash's pokeballs and the pokemon they contained. Then, before it could blink its large blue eyes, the pokeballs were floating in front of its face. It had teleported them. It did the same thing to Ash's sleeping pokemon as it had done to Pikachu and Misty's pokemon. Until it came to Charizard. It knew quite well that erasing certain memories from the fire dragon's mind, even temporarily, would have devastating effects. Just what it needed…It sent out Charizard with a tap and got to work. It erased nearly every memory and instinct in his brain, all except the fighting instinct. It then strengthened that instinct, kindling it to be the only thing Charizard would be able to think of. It called back Charizard, Bulbasaur, Squirtle, Tauros, and Snorlax, all sleeping soundly, with a tap to their pokeballs. Then it teleported them back where they belonged. It glanced piteously at Ash and Misty, knowing how much they would go through tomorrow. 'But it's for the best,' it reassured itself. It had no more pokemon minds to tweak, so it flew swiftly off to another part of the forest, where another big part of its plan wandered helplessly.

Team Rocket. Jessie, James, and Meowth had not the faintest clue that they were part of any plan (except for their own brand new, overly complex plan to capture Pikachu), yet they were very important if this plan was to succeed. All they had to do was come and try to steal Pikachu, something that was basically second nature to them, so all the creature had to do was make sure they were close enough to Ash and Misty's camp. It found them about a fifteen-minute walk away.

'Perfect,' thought the creature, as it watched them.

Meowth walked in the lead, followed closely by Jessie and James. Meowth held a large map and was staring intently at it.

"Meowth, where are we?" whined James, "I wanna go to bed, it's almost three o'clock!"

"Stop whining!" Jessie protested, "don't be such a baby!"

Meowth then yawned loudly, quite obviously exaggerating. "C'mon Jessie, I'm tired too."

Jessie was about to object, but the creature (whom Team Rocket didn't know was there) sent light hypnosis waves over to her, making her suddenly feel sleepy. They couldn't get any closer to Ash and Misty before morning, or the plan would be ruined.

"All right," Jessie sighed tiredly with none of her usual authority.

James and Meowth sighed in relief.

They whipped out their sleeping bags and within moments had fallen asleep.

The creature then went back to Ash and Misty. The plan was all ready.

'Now, time for me to get some well deserved sleep…' the creature thought happily as it curled up on a hidden pine branch. It only had about an hour, maybe two before it had to get up again, but it cherished every moment of sleep it got.

The forest pokemon, though, were very restless that long night. They all knew some thing was terribly wrong, something besides the appearance of this strange pokemon. Something besides its devious plans. They could sense it. And everyone knows that pokemon's senses are never wrong. Never.

Chapter Five: A New Day

The day started out completely normal.

The sun rose, flooding everything in a bright, cheerful light. The few wild pokemon that had actually fallen asleep awoke at feeling the gentle caress of the sun's warmth. The many Pidgey gathered in trees to coo ceremoniously at the arrival of another day. The apprehension of the night had lifted and the forest pokemon got back to their busy, unorganized lives with enthusiasm.

Ash awoke at the break of dawn. Being a typical kid, he didn't want to wake up, so he just kept his eyes tightly shut. After a few minutes of lying there with his eyes shut, though, he realized that he wouldn't be able to go back to sleep, so he began to think.

He wasn't even close to fully awake though, and he wasn't at all unaware of his surroundings. He couldn't really feel either, nothing but warmth. He knew if he moved, even slightly, he would be dragged unwillingly back to the world of the awake, so he stayed completely still. He wanted to stay in his dream, even though it had already left (or at least he thought) It had been a good, exciting one. Something about Tracey flying away on a Pidgeot, Misty fainting, a storm, and himself having to sleep with Misty because Tracey had accidentally taken his sleeping bag. Then he suddenly realized that that was too real to be a dream, he remembered it too well…something was very fishy here… There was only one way to find out whether that was only a dream or not, and that was to wake up.

He decided that he would have to take the risk that it was only a dream, and he slowly opened his eyes. And there, hugging him and asleep, was Misty. Actually the first thing he saw was her ponytail, but it was undeniably Misty. She was cuddled up to him, really, really close. She had her arms around him, and her head was resting on his shoulder. He felt many emotions at once, causing him to become confused. But eventually he sorted most of them out. He was relieved that it wasn't a dream, embarrassed because, well, Misty was actually hugging him (not the stiff-armed 'let's put our arms around each other to save room' thing he had suggested last night), undeniably in love with her, puzzled at WHY Misty was hugging him, and a million other indescribable emotions. When he thought about it though, he decided that probably the only reason was hugging him like she was was that she had gotten cold during the night and had unconsciously huddled up to him because he was warm. His heart sank slightly at that thought, knowing if he had a reasonable explanation for her to hug him he couldn't even hope it was because she was being affectionate.

Ash desperately wanted to get up, and for a moment he glanced around, unsure of what to do. Then Misty murmured something softly in her sleep ("What are you talking about Pikachu?" or something like that) and he lovingly glanced at her. He couldn't wake her up, he just couldn't. In an act of love, he moved a little closer to her and pretended to be asleep, keeping as still as he possibly could. He lay there quietly for just under an hour before Misty's eyes fluttered open. He panicked mentally, caught completely off guard. Not knowing what else to do, he played dead.

Upon awakening, Misty, suddenly realizing she was still clinging to Ash, gingerly unwrapped her arms from around him and scooted back to the far end of the sleeping bag (which wasn't all the far)

"Ash? Are you awake?" she questioned sleepily.

"No," Ash responded flatly, burying his face in the single pillow him and Misty shared.

"Ash! That was a yes or nothing question! You can't say no! If you were actually asleep you wouldn't have answered!" Misty giggled scoldingly.

But Ash had seemingly fallen back asleep, so Misty poked him on the shoulder, knowing that he wasn't really asleep. He didn't respond. Misty was determined to get him to admit to being awake, though. She wriggled herself out of the sleeping bag with some difficulty, and stubbornly pulled the pillow out from under his head. His head fell limply to the ground, but he still insisted on playing dead.

"So you want to play that way, do you?" Misty asked, beaming evilly, though not really expecting an answer, "well then, TAKE THIS!" Misty started madly tickling Ash. Misty knew that this was Ash's weakness, and he immediately burst out laughing, unable to control it. He curled up, trying to escape the wrath of Misty.

"Okay, Okay, I'm up, I'm up!" Ash surrendered while laughing, "just stop tickling me!" Misty backed off and Ash got up as he promised. But Misty was still grinning wickedly and Ash shot her a wary glance.

"What are you still smiling about?" he asked suspiciously.

"Nothing," Misty said, trying to be serious though she was quite obviously stifling a giggle, then, at the last minute added, "except …THIS!"

She leapt forward and began tickling him some more. They both started laughing really hard, and (as one might expect) they eventually lost their balance. Actually, Ash tripped over a stick and since he was caught completely off guard, he was unable to regain his composure. He flailed about for something to hold onto, and since Misty was the closest thing to him he ended up grabbing her arm, sending her down with him. They landed in each other's arms and for a moment there was silence. It was quickly was shattered though, as Ash and Misty's giggling resumed. After a while the giggling died down though and both trainers blushed and got up silently.

"So what are we going to do today?" Misty asked Ash.

"Hmmm…how 'bout we go searching for pokemon!" Ash answered enthusiastically.

"Okay." Misty agreed, wondering why she had even asked that question when she already knew what Ash was going to say.

Ash began to skip happily out of the field but turned back and said, "wait a minute. Something's missing…"

"Maybe Pikachu?" Misty suggested cheerfully.

"Yeah, that's it! Hey, where is Pikachu anyway? He's usually up by now…"

"He's in your backpack with Togepi Ash, remember?"

"Oh yeah!" With that he strolled back over to his backpack and opened it. Pikachu and Togepi were still snoozing soundly. "Hey Pikachu, time to wake up!" he said to no avail. Pikachu still snored quietly. Ash picked up the yellow ball of fuzz and gently shook him. Still no response except a small "chaaa…." That was only a snore.

"Hey Misty, Pikachu isn't waking up!" Ash told her worriedly.
"Well leave him alone then! He's probably still tired from yesterday."

"Okay," Ash said while setting Pikachu tenderly back down in his green backpack. During the process Togepi had awakened and he was now reaching out to Ash and chirping happily. Misty walked over and scooped Togepi up. Ash put on his backpack, still containing Pikachu, and they set off deeper into the forest.

It took only a moment to realize the search was fruitless. The forest was dangerously close to silence and the few times they did spot a pokemon, it was only a fleeting glance.

This time they both felt the strange presence. It buzzed through their minds, dimming all of their senses considerably. They could feel how close it was, how it hovered around them. They could feel its tenseness, its nervous, wavering hope. But they also could feel how it knew everything would be all right. It was only nervous because of the emotion it knew it would see. It hated to cause pain, even if it was for the better. The last time it had caused pain, sadness had overwhelmed it. Just because it could tell how things would turn out didn't mean it didn't feel for what was happening in the current moment. In fact, its being psychic magnified its emotions one hundred times. It was a very emotional creature. They could hear its heart thudding, slowly and quietly at first, but gradually getting louder and faster. After merely about five minutes the thudding got so loud and was so fast that it became one big constant booming, getting louder and louder by the second until it was unbearable. Then it stopped and the hypnosis it had caused ceased and Ash and Misty snapped out of it.

They had stopped walking long ago and for a moment they just stood silently, daring not to breathe. But finally they had no choice but to breathe or they would black out, so at the same time they both drew in a terrified, trembling breath.

Ash, eyes bugged out in shock, looked at Misty. Seeing she was looking as scared as he felt, he asked slowly, "You felt that weird presence too, didn't you?"

She nodded slowly and told him unsteadily, "now you know how I felt when I fainted yesterday, only this time whatever it was didn't talk…Ash, something really weird is going on here… I-I'm scared… Something is terribly wrong…." She instinctively moved closer to him.

"Yeah," Ash simply agreed to all of her last statements, "lets keep moving…"

They started hesitantly walking forward, eyes nervously scanning the forest around them. Shafts of sunlight shone through the dense overgrowth, piercing the dim shade. I was quite a foreboding setting.

A stifled, angry "pika chuuu!" came from Ash's backpack and Misty commented, "sounds like Pikachu woke up, Ash, and he doesn't sound too happy about being stuck in that backpack!"

"Hmmm?" Ash questioned even though he had heard her, "Oh, okay, I better get him outta there." He took off his backpack and promptly zipped it open. Pikachu looked up at him with such a look of confusion and anger that Ash almost dropped the backpack in alarm.

"What's wrong Pikachu?" he asked him breathlessly. Pikachu's cheeks sparked and with a furious "CHUUUUU!!!!!" he gave a giant Thunderbolt to Ash. Ash, needless to say, was quite charred.

"Ash! Are you okay?" Misty said worriedly, moving even closer to him than she had already been.

"Yeah, I'm fine, just worried about Pikachu, he's never acted this way before…" Ash then gave her a weak smile that was supposed to be encouraging, but in truth was quite disheartening.

At hearing this Pikachu crossed his arms and stubbornly gave Ash another small Thundershock.

Misty became even more worried about both Ash and Pikachu at this gesture, but she decided not to say anything. She looked down fearfully at Togepi, who had fallen asleep again.

"Pi pikachuuuu pikaaaa chuuu!!!" Pikachu yelled angrily and suddenly leaped out of the backpack and ran swiftly but slightly awkwardly off into the dark depths of the wood.

"Pikachu!" Ash shouted anxiously at his retreating friend, before taking off after him. Misty followed.

For about an hour they ran all over the forest calling Pikachu's name to no effect. Finally, tired and breathless, they decided that this wasn't going to work since they had not the faintest clue where in this huge forest he was. They sat down in the slightly damp dirt back to back, tears threatening to spill over.

"What could have come over him?" Ash wondered miserably aloud.

"It probably had to do with that strange presence…" Misty sniffed, "this is getting too weird…I mean if Pikachu left you who knows what'll happen next..."

"Don't say that! He'd never leave me…" Ash said in defense, but then added uneasily, "…would he?" Tears were visibly forming in his eyes and a lump was developing in his throat.

Misty turned around so she was sitting right next to him and put her arm around his shoulders. "I'm sure he'd never run away on purpose, Ash, he probably just got scared of whatever has been following us the last two days…He'll probably come back when he calms down," Misty reassured him, but the sorrowful look on her face told otherwise.

"But Misty, you didn't see the look on his face, it wasn't just fear, it was anger and confusion, too…It was like he didn't even recognize me."

Misty purposefully kept silent. Instead of answering she just tightened her grip on Ash.

"I wonder what he's doing right now, he's probably scared to death." Ash said sadly, distractedly sketching Pikachu in the dirt with his finger, "if only we knew where he was…"

All of the sudden a familiar voice rang out, loud and clear. "Looking for your precious electric rat, twerp?"

Chapter Six: A Twist of Fate

Both Ash and Misty stood up swiftly and glanced around for whoever had asked this startling question. Then, jumping excitedly out of the bushes appeared who else but the bumbling Team Rocket Trio. And sitting unhappily in Jessie's arms was a bedraggled, out of breath Pikachu. James opened his smirking mouth to say something undoubtedly insulting, but Jessie whacked him on the head with a paper fan and yelled at him, "James! We haven't said the motto yet!"

"But Jessie, I think the motto's cursed or unlucky or something, because every time we say it we fail!" James whined in protest, but shut his mouth promptly when Jessie eyed him and held the paper fan over her head, ready to swing.

"Eh-hem, as we were saying…" Jessie firmly said, directing it more at James, who was now whimpering like a frightened puppy, than at her audience. With that they began reciting their newly revised motto.

"Prepare for pika trouble!"

"Chu make that double!"

"To give Pikachu to the boss!"

"To protect him from harm at all costs!"

"To make him use his Thundershock!"

"So we can round up pokemon by the flock!"

"A victorious Jessie!"

"A terrified James…" At this point Jessie whacked James on the face with her fan and he yelped in fear.

"Team Rocket's the best without a doubt!"

"Took you too long to figure that out!"

All of the sudden Meowth popped out of the nearest bush and declared triumphantly "Meeeeeeowth! Dats right!"

Ash leapt up and ran towards Team Rocket at seeing his friend in danger. "Pikachu! Are you okay buddy?" He yelled worriedly. Pikachu looked at him strangely, cocking his black-tipped ears in confusion. Eyes glinting in anger, Pikachu began struggling, trying desperately to squirm free from Jessie's grip. Of course Jessie was wearing rubber gloves, but Pikachu, who was obviously in a queer stupor, either ignored the fact that rubber doesn't conduct electricity or had in fact somehow forgotten, because his next attempt for freedom was a powerful Thunderbolt, which didn't affect Jessie in the least. "That's not gonna work! Pikachu, bite her on the arm!" Ash commanded. Pikachu just sat there though, blinking inquiringly at Ash. "Pikachu, listen to me!" Ash said distraughtly. Pikachu simply looked at him like he was crazy and continued struggling. Ash hastily decided that he would deal with Pikachu later, first and foremost he had to get him back from Team Rocket's clutches.

"Let's battle!" Ash challenged Team Rocket, as he always did, "For Pikachu, winner gets him, loser doesn't!" He declared bravely.

"But Ash! What if you lose?" Misty shouted from the sidelines.

"Don't worry Misty, this is Team Rocket we're talking about here!"

Jessie, James, and Meowth all glared at him. "We're not THAT incompetent!" They complained altogether.

"Do you guys accept my challenge?" Ash asked impatiently.

"Doesn't look like we have much of a choice," Jessie sighed.

"Okay, then GO BULBASAUR!" Ash said strongly while hurling Bulbasaur's pokeball into the air. The pokeball popped open in midair and light flooded out of it. The bright light materialized into a pokemon on the field. Much to Ash's dismay Bulbasaur was…SLEEPING?! "W-wha?" Ash stuttered, then, gritting his teeth, yelled to the sleeping pokemon "Bulbasaur, time to wake up! This is no time for a nap!" No response except for a small nose bubble rising and falling with Bulbasaur's breath. "Fine then! Bulbasaur, return!" He held out the pokeball and Bulbasaur dissolved back into a bright light and went back into the pokeball. "Then… GO SQUIRTLE!" Out came Squirtle, and before the tough turtle could even materialize Ash ordered him to use a Skull Bash on Jessie.

Jessie then realized what a disadvantage she was at without a pokemon out. "Okay then, GO ARBOK!" The large purple cobra uncoiled himself and hissed "chaaabok!"

But when Squirtle finally became visible, he too was sleeping soundly. Of course Ash was quite surprised at having not one, but two of his pokemon asleep. Misty as well had a dumbfounded look on her face.

Arbok started slithering his silent way over to the curled up Squirtle but Ash happened to glance on to the battlefield (well, actually it was a large patch of grass, but it served as their battlefield) and notice Arbok's sinister approach. He held out the pokeball just in time. "Squirtle, return! Hmmm… who can I send out now?" He questioned himself, "Well, Tauros, go!" He was quickly losing enthusiasm for this match. When Ash saw that Tauros too was sleeping like a log also, he decided that he should at least try a little harder to wake him up or soon he would be out of pokemon. He ran over to the sleeping bull pokemon and gently shook him. "C'mon Tauros, you gotta wake up!" The bull pokemon didn't react. "Okay, fine then…" he sighed as he called Tauros back.

Team Rocket was getting very impatient and Jessie yelled sourly, "Hurry up!" then mumbled under her breath, "shows what kind of trainer he is…"

"I know this is kinda pointless, but go Snorlax!" Ash said without his usual eagerness. "I'll save Charizard for last…" he muttered to Misty, even though he doubted she could hear him. But apparently she had, because she offered to let Ash use her pokemon if all of his were sleeping. Of course Snorlax was asleep (BIG surprise!) and Ash recalled him quickly, knowing you could almost never wake up a Snorlax if it was asleep unless you had a pokeflute or it was hungry, neither of which were about to come true.

Ash took his last untouched pokeball and pressed the button that enlarged it. With a little beeping noise it became the size of his palm. It was cool and smooth on the outside, even though it housed one of the hottest pokemon in the world (no pun intended). With a single flame from his mouth you could melt a boulder instantaneously. Ash knew of the true power his fire dragon possessed. Charizard had learned to obey him only weeks ago. Knowing Charizard could hear him even from inside his pokeball, he began talking to him. "Charizard, you're my last-" Misty cleared her throat. "Well, almost my last hope of getting Pikachu back from Team Rocket. Please do your very best. And please don't be asleep…" He then looked back up at Arbok, who, in his boredom, had begun busily chasing his tail. Then he commanded with renewed enthusiasm, "GO CHARIZARD!!!" He threw the pokeball into the air. Ash noticed with a small amount of alarm the light that was the unmaterealized Charizard seemed much brighter than usual when it flooded out of the momentarily floating pokeball. Charizard appeared in front of Arbok, flexing his muscles aggressively. Ash didn't know it, but he was extremely lucky that Charizard had not come out facing him. Charizard gave out a massive angry roar and, without a command from Ash, he thrust back his head and threw it forward again, opening his mouth as flames began spewing from it in an immense Flamethrower. Needless to say, Arbok was fried instantly.

Jessie swiftly called back Arbok and, eyes wide in fear, said "James, let's get out of here! Something's wrong with that Charizard, his eyes are glowing red! Here, take your Pikachu, we'll steal him some other time!" With that she dropped Pikachu on the ground, grabbed James and Meowth, and ran off in the other direction. But the enraged Charizard would have no fleeing from battle. He lifted his emerald wings and flew off swiftly in their direction. He landed straight in their path, stopping them cold in their tracks. By now Jessie, James, and Meowth were positively terrified and James was whimpering and whining "I don't want to die!" hysterically over and over again. Jessie and Meowth just stared open-mouthed at the great flame dragon in front of them, who was returning their gaze with a cold glare.

All Ash and Misty could do was gape in horror at how Charizard was acting. Pikachu was in shock (again, no pun intended) and he just stood his ground, staring with eyes as wide as marbles at Charizard's colossal new-found power.

Charizard gave a wry grin to his victims and swung his tail powerfully at them. Team Rocket went sailing into the sky, and right before they disappeared from sight a faint "Team Rocket's blasting off again!" could be heard if you strained your ears. *Ding! *

Team Rocket defeated, with a shaking hand Ash held up Charizard's pokeball and ordered firmly "Charizard, return!" Charizard wouldn't have any of this though. Wrinkling his nose stubbornly, he sent out another powerful Flamethrower in the woods surrounding him. The towering, ancient trees caught fire and loud crackling filled the air. The great trees popped and sparked, sending small balls of fire flying through the atmosphere, setting more trees on fire. The air became thick and murky with smoke.

Ash and Misty began coughing loudly, trying to clear their lungs of the sudden grit. Misty, in between fits of coughing, yelled to Ash over the crackling of the fire, "Ash, we need to get out of here! We're gonna get killed!"

Ash faintly heard her and he answered "I won't leave without Pikachu and Charizard!"

Misty knew Ash would undeniably get killed if he stayed in this smoke much longer, as would she, but she also knew that once Ash decided something like this, he wouldn't take no for an answer. She wouldn't let that happen. She stumbled her way over to him as fast as she could, but she was blinded by smoke and the tears in her eyes from the stinging smog. The heat of the nearby flames was suppressing. It was extremely hard to breathe in the heavy smoke, and Misty gasped for air as she staggered through the drab grayness of the haze. She could see Ash's indistinct form a few feet away, a very encouraging sight. A large stick stood in her path, but unfortunately she couldn't see it as she was currently focusing on Ash. She tripped on it clumsily, falling with a soft thud that was silent over the muted roaring of the flames licking angrily at the trees. Ash saw her fall slightly, but he couldn't reach her due to the trance that not being able to breathe created. The dirt was cool and smooth, a relief to her stinging skin. The air was also slightly clearer down here than it was at her full height, and she realized vaguely that she would rather stay down here in the coolness of the soil and be consumed by the livid flames than to return to the pain above her. Her mind was drifting away, and she went into a daze where nothing seemed to exist except what was going on in her stupefied brain, choked by lack of air. She was happy here in this abstraction, so happy…she didn't want to leave. But then her mind wandered to Ash in a final attempt to bring her back, and her mind began to function again and she was sucked back into living reality. She wouldn't leave Ash, nothing could make her. In a valiant effort she opened her singed eyes and pulled herself up onto her knees, then to her feet. She felt sticks and stones poke painfully into her palms and knees, but it was nothing compared to her struggle to breathe and think clearly. The air was so much thicker up here, and she struggled for breath in the hot stifling smog. But still she pressed on, struggling her way finally to the dazed Ash. She grabbed his hand and with her final remaining strength, pulled him towards the open air beyond the enraged flames. He murmured, "Misty…" very softly, but then fell back into silence. Misty didn't have the strength to respond. A small hole in the flames greeted her aching eyes and she continued pulling Ash along with her. Ash was walking behind her, but numbly, as if both of his feet were asleep. His grip on her hand was weak, but firm enough to keep him from slipping away. Closer and closer towards the opening they limped and after an extended two minutes, they reached it. Misty stepped gingerly over the tiny flames that crackled in the stubby grass and they were free of the terrible fire. Both of them inhaled the cool clear air deeply, and sighed in relief that they had the luck to have gotten out of that alive, but then started coughing again from the seemingly ice cold air. Reality didn't fully hit them, though, until they looked back at the smoldering forest behind them.

Smoke rose in smudgy columns from the blackened trees, the trees that only moments ago had been green giants hovering harmlessly above them. Pikachu and Charizard were no longer there, and Togepi was somehow still sleeping throughout this whole ordeal. Misty had completely and totally forgotten about him, but had instinctually held onto him. At that instant, she remembered him and became suddenly very worried about him. "Togepi! How did you stay asleep throughout this whole thing? When I fell and everything? Oh, I'm so sorry! I promise never to forget you again!" she crooned to the sleeping egg pokemon, while wild visions of all the terrible things that could possibly have happened to him raced across her mind. She tightened her grip on him and began talking to Ash.

"Ash, now I'm sure of it. Something is terribly wrong. We've gotta get out of here, and fast, before anything else can happen."

"But Misty, how are we going to find our way out? We're way far away from anything, except trees."

At that last simple sentence, Misty realized that they weren't out of the danger zone yet, and any minute the trees surrounding them would catch fire.

"Ash, come on, we've got to get going, now! These trees are going to catch fire, too, very soon!"

Ash gave her a glance that had a hint of sadness, but it was something else, too, something she couldn't quite pinpoint. "You go on then."

Misty looked at him like he was crazy and yelled, "what are you talking about? I'm not leaving without you."

"And I'm not leaving without Pikachu and Charizard. They're my friends. I can't just let them get burnt to death."

"But Ash, you'll get killed! There's no way you can go back in there and come out alive!"

"Misty, I'm going in and you or nobody else can stop me!"

Misty sighed. She knew there was no way she could persuade him not to go. 'But that's one of the things I love about Ash,' she told herself, 'he always puts others before himself.'

With that Ash turned and walked bravely toward the flames. He stopped right before the same hole they had come through and turned to say "and don't follow me!" Then he walked through it, entering the ablaze world of heat and smoke. Heat waves shimmered in front and behind him, abstracting Misty's view of him.

"Good luck." She said to him quietly, though she knew he was far out of earshot. "You'd better come out of there alive, Ash Ketchum." She slumped down on the ground to wait, kind of overwhelmed by all of this. "If he doesn't come out in fifteen minutes, Togepi, we're going in to search for him, no matter what he says."

"Pikachu! Charizard! Where are you?!" Ash called into the booming grayness. He was inaudible over the sounds of the fire, but still he called, hoping desperately for an answer. But there was none. He didn't know it, but Pikachu had long ago fled the flames. Yet Charizard was still in there, somewhere, but at the moment, Charizard could care less whether Ash found him or not. He was still blinded by anger, anger that came from nowhere, anger that had no purpose.

"C'mon you guys, answer me! Please…." Ash was getting weaker every time he called; however he refused to stop shouting. After a time he fell into the same strange abstraction Misty had been in earlier, he fell in the cool dirt, and wished to stay there. The flames were creeping their way slowly closer to him. Every moment he was falling swiftly deeper into unconsciousness, closer to death, and somehow, Misty sensed this.

Chapter Seven: Back Into the Flames

"Togepi, we've gotta go back in there. Ash hasn't come out yet. He could be hurt." She looked at the now awake Togepi. "But I don't want you to suffocate, so you're going to walk behind me, since there's more air down there, okay?" Togepi looked back up at her with a look of unusual seriousness. Somehow he understood the urgency of the situation. Looking at him, though, she realized how easily he could get lost in the thick consistency of the smoke. She sighed, suddenly disheartened by the near hopelessness of the circumstances, and said miserably "Oh Togepi, what am I going to do? I have to find Ash, he's the best friend I've ever had, and a whole lot more. But what if I don't? What will I do then? I can't lose him, I just can't." She was near tears, and Togepi could feel her frustration. He toddled over and placed a tiny hand on her shoe. Though he didn't understand what exactly was happening, he had a feeling it had to do with the disappearance of the one he believed to be his dad into the shiny moving stuff.

"Briii…."He trilled quietly. She lifted her head and her eyes were directed to what the little egg was pointing at. Her shoelaces. "That's it Togepi, that's it! You're a genius!" She scooped up Togepi and hugged him, then set him down and untied one of her shoe's laces. Then she handed the untied shoelace to him. "Hold onto this and walk behind me. Don't worry, I'll be sure to walk slowly." He gripped it and nodded determinedly. Misty took a few hesitant steps toward the flaming clump of trees, glancing back over her shoulder to check on Togepi every step. When she finally determined that he could keep up with her pace and he wasn't going to slow her down, she refrained from inspecting him every stride. He stepped forward quickly with an uncanny confidence. Yet when Misty, with Togepi in tow, reached the gap in the blazing trees, she found that flames had consumed it. They would have to find another way in. But when she tried to tear her eyes from the flames, she found she couldn't. She just stood there, eyes glued to the slowly flickering flames. They moved in a brilliant, beautiful dance to nonexistent music. It was so slow and rhythmic, it was hypnotizing her. She just wanted to stay there forever, to never move again. It was in a sense like when a frightened animal gets caught in the glare of approaching headlights, the light paralyzes them, and no matter how hard they try to turn away, they just can't. But she didn't want to move. Then she felt something knock against her leg, and that brought her back to her senses. She looked down to see her beloved baby pokemon, pointing urgently towards the flaming mass. "Oh, thanks Togepi. Let's go find Ash." She examined the perimeter of the clump of trees and finally found a small opening on the far side. She strolled over there, and got down on her hands and knees to crawl through the tiny opening. She took a deep breath, and looked again back at Togepi. Now that he was closer to the flames, he didn't look nearly as confident as he did a little while ago. She sighed, "well Togepi, this is it…we're going to find Ash or…." She didn't want to add 'die trying,' it was too depressing, even thinking that this could be the last time she ever saw anything that wasn't completely devastated. 'But remember, this is for Ash,' she thought resolutely, ' I would do anything for him.' She remembered quite well how she had proven this. She had jumped into the frozen sea to save him from drowning when he had fallen off Lugia. 'And this isn't much different.' She told herself. With an encouraging nod to Togepi, who was visually getting more scared by the minute, she proceeded inching slowly forward, ignoring the sharp pricks in her palms of small stones embedded in the soft soil. She felt a foreboding, frightened prickle go down her spine as she felt the warmth of the adjacent flames surround her. The warmth had a kind of remoteness to it that made her feel completely alone, and had her wishing desperately that Ash was there. 'But of course I wouldn't be doing this if he was here.' She reminded herself, and went back to focusing on where she was going and looking for Ash. Her original plan was that she was going to stand up once she got through the hole, but she realized that it would be much smarter to stay on her hands and knees. Her surroundings were a dim, pastel-like gray. Even the light from the shining flames couldn't penetrate the murk of the smoke. She could see the hazy glow of them all around, but they gave off no light to guide her by. She could see shapes up to a few feet in front of her, however they were little more than indistinct shadows. The tall trees were no more than blurry shading in the fogginess of the smoke. Towards the tops the dark shade of the trees would fade into the constant grayness that enclosed all. Togepi was indisputably terrified, but at the same time he had that young curiosity that kept him going. Peering through the fog, she saw a large shape begin to form about twenty feet away from her. At first she was surprised she could see something that far away, but then she realized that the object, whatever it was, was quite large. Her breath caught in her throat. "Who's there?" She questioned the dark object, "Is that you, Ash?" But a movement from the shadow quickly answered her question. It turned a large head around. Its eyes glowed with such a strong blood red light that it shone through the deep murk. Misty felt a chill of fear crawl down her spine. Not far from the frightening shadow a tall flame hovered in midair. "Oh…." She trembled, voice wavering in shock, "no, no…." Suddenly she felt an overwhelming fleeing instinct envelope her. She had to run. But her feet weren't responding to her mindless pleas, it was as if her feet were planted in the ground, as if they were heavier than any human was possible of lifting. She gaped at Charizard, feeling more fear course through her body than she had ever felt in her entire life. Her legs turned to some gelatin-like substance, and she fell to the ground, shaking so hard that she couldn't move on her own, no matter how hard she tried. She felt a sob escape her throat. She thought that she felt a distant rumble shake the ground, but she decided it was only her own panicking mind overreacting. She felt a small body, covered in a shell, hug her leg tightly and heard a faint whimper. Tears of bitter sadness seeped uncontrollably out of her eyes. She took a deep trembling breath, then, with every ounce of strength in her entire body, yelled "ASH!!!" She didn't know where that last call for help came from, but she immediately regretted it when Charizard's eyes, like smoldering coals, flashed intensely. With a terrorizing patience, he began to make his way towards his helpless victim.

Yet, a few hundred yards away, Ash had heard her call. He had been millimeters away from death when the familiar voice had shattered his strange, unconscious dreams. At first when he had been dragged back into reality, he had told himself distractedly, vaguely, that whoever had disturbed his peace was going to pay. But then his conscious mind came back to him and he thought quickly, 'Misty's in trouble!' He dragged himself up to his feet, and felt a strange pain engulf him. It was a burning sensation, like he had just been dragged out of a cool calmness into this feverish heat. He stumbled a few feet, but was staggering so badly that he kept falling into the ground, that was now searing with heat. He wanted so badly to just let go, to let himself die, the pain was so devastating. 'Why keep going?' he asked himself, 'there's nothing but pain anymore.' Then he remembered what had prevented him from plummeting into death. The ground was blistering his hands and knees, but he was too absorbed in thought to notice. Misty. He couldn't just let her die; he couldn't just give up on her. He decided then that no matter what he had to press on and live, and above all save Misty. All of the sudden, he realized how much he loved and needed Misty. She had always been there for him, always stayed by his side. He remembered all that they had been through, and recognized that they had been in love all along. It didn't matter that they had never said 'I love you' to each other before, they had both felt it, and that was really all that mattered. He didn't know what told him so definitely that she felt the same way, but somehow he did know it for sure. He pulled himself up onto his feet, and, ignoring the pain, stumbled into a run in the direction Misty's voice had come from.

The next few moments went in slow motion for Misty. Charizard was walking towards Togepi and herself, looking so patiently furious it was terrifying. His eyes seemed so hot it was as if just a glance from him could melt anything. He was glaring directly into Misty's eyes, with a look of such blind anger that it was almost sad. Scared stiff and doomed though she was, Misty's compassionate side got the better of her and she couldn't help but feel bad for Charizard. Whatever he had been through to be this enraged had to be pretty bad. In a last, pitiful attempt to save herself, she tried using her natural gift for calming pokemon to soothe Charizard. "Charizard, what are you so mad about? What could have happened to you to make you this way? Ash always takes wonderful care of his pokemon, he loves them. Don't you remember when you were a Charmander, when Ash, Brock, and I came to save you from your tail flame going out in the rain? Or how about when you got frozen by that Poliwrath and Ash stayed with you the whole night, trying so hard to warm you up? That was when you decided you'd obey him. What could have possibly made you change your mind?" Misty pleaded with all the emotion she could muster. She could see how hard he was trying to remember, and she wondered aloud, carefully attempting to keep her voice sounding uncomplaining, "Why can't you remember?" Charizard squeezed his eyes tightly shut, searching his brain for any of these memories, but he found none. Every time he tried to remember anything from the past his mind would blank out. This girl seemed slightly familiar to him, though. He shook his head, suddenly opening his reddened eyes. This wasn't time for him to play guessing games with his intended victim. Yet her words haunted him. Why was he so mad? Every time he advanced on her, he considered turning around quite seriously. He was puzzled into complete confusion. Where had he come from? Why was he so mad at everything? How come he couldn't remember his past, but this somehow memorable girl acted as if she could? Then the anger welled up again, and his confusion was pushed aside. He spit a large burst of flames from his mouth and told her with his eyes that she could never persuade him not to kill her. Misty gave a small whimper as Charizard lifted his jade wings and pushed off of the ground to glide towards her.

She couldn't turn away from his eyes as he drifted almost lazily towards her. 'I never even got to tell Ash….' She thought with a sadness that was so incredibly deep that it was completely numbing and she felt as if her heart would burst. Great tears rolled down her cheeks and burst into tiny spurts of steam on the splinteringly hot ground.

Charizard sold her some time and broke her terrified gaze into his eyes though, because he lifted his wings and soared in wide circles around her for a while. Then he backed up, still in the air, and rushed towards her. He was about twenty feet from her when she saw a figure leap awkwardly out of the bushes and stand in the path of the rampaging dragon. She blinked the tears from her eyes and squinted them to try to see who it was. The figure was very familiar and she could make out a pokemon league hat over messy black hair. It was Ash! "Ash!" she yelled to him, "get out of the way!" But she was too late. Eyes incredibly wide and slightly in shock, Misty watched helplessly as Charizard crashed headfirst into her beloved Ash in a tremendous Skull Bash. Her first frantic thought was to go to Ash, who was sprawled out on the ground next to her, but then she realized that Charizard now had his eyes focused on her and he was heading straight towards her. She reached to her back pocket for one of the pokeballs she had brought with her. "Staryu, go!" she called, stifling a cough as she did so. Staryu popped out and gave a determined "Hya!"

"Staryu, Water Gun Charizard, and hurry!"

Staryu nodded its top point and quickly squirted water out of it. The stream of water hit its mark, but Staryu was quickly knocked out when Charizard speedily used a Body Slam on it. Charizard wasn't even weakened from the brief shower. Misty's mind was racing, but she didn't even have time to react to Staryu's getting knocked out when Togepi suddenly leapt out from behind her, looking very angry.

"Togepi?" Misty questioned quietly, now completely in shock.

Much to her surprise, Togepi gave a loud, infuriated trill while his eyes followed Charizard, who had again taken to the air. If it were not such a life and death matter, it would have been quite a funny scene. The tiny baby pokemon standing there, eyes locked on his target, the crazy, furious Charizard. Togepi began leaping up and down, with a strange kind of hypnotic grace. "Togi togi togi togi!" He repeated over and over and over again, while waving his tiny arms to the same rhythm. Then he shouted, so loudly it was almost ear-shattering, "BRRRRRIIIIIIIIIIIII!"

Misty watched fearfully as a giant Explosion that rocked the already fire-ridden forest burst from Togepi, and engulfed Charizard and the whole forest in a golden glow. She felt the Explosion's fiery effects wash over her, but since she was not a pokemon, it gave her no pain. Then the previously smoke-filled air overflowed with dark black dusty smoke again.

For a while she could only lay there. It had been undeniably the most overpowering few minutes of her life. Then she lifted her head, tentatively at first, to see that the dust had cleared. It was such a scene of pure devastation that she had to fight tears. Ash, the one person she loved more than anything else, was lying motionless, bruised and battered, next to her. Charizard was fainted and lying in a heap a few yards away. Togepi, her adored baby pokemon, was also fainted from the effects of Explosion. Staryu too was lying fainted on the ground. A few small flames still crackled around her, but somehow over the last few moments they had calmed down nearly all the way. But the entire forest was black with soot. It would be many years before this large patch of trees recovered. Again, her first thought was to tend to Ash, but she rationalized that Charizard could still wake. Shakily she crawled over to Ash's still form and grabbed the pokeball that somehow she knew was Charizard's off of his belt, enlarged it, and called back Charizard. She exhaled loudly in relief that Charizard could now do no more damage. She pressed the button on the pokeball to make it small and placed it back on Ash's belt. Next she grabbed two empty pokeballs from her back pocket and called back Staryu. She hesitated when her gaze reached the still Togepi. She picked him up as tenderly as she could and whispered hoarsely to him "I never thought I'd have to do this, Togepi, but it doesn't look like a have much of a choice." Then she tapped him with it gently and watched as he was sucked into the red and white pokeball. She placed both of the pokeballs back into her pocket and looked at Ash, a lump rising slowly in her throat. She feared tending him, she was deathly afraid of what she would find. It took a generous amount of courage for her to merely crawl numbly over to him.

Chapter Eight: Determination

Light quivered in her eyes as she held back tears. Her vision blurred every time the word 'Ash' crossed her mind. By the time she reached his still form sobs were collecting in her throat, demanding to be let out. But she refused to release them. Her body trembled with tiring effort, though, and as she laid a hand on his arm she collapsed to the ground, her eyes brimming with tears. Her head landed on his chest with a jarring impact, and that was the final straw. The tears overflowed, and a heart-breaking sob finally escaped her throat. Tears streaming down her face, she pulled herself feebly back onto her hands and knees. She was weak, and she felt sure she was going to fall over again when she swayed unsteadily, but miraculously she regained her composure enough to stay up. She sat down slowly next to him and, with utmost care, picked up his moderately warm hand. She held it up to her cheek, and felt more tears swell up in her eyes at how limp and lifeless it was.

"Ash," she whispered, her voice cracking with emotion, her eyes scanning him for any sign of movement. Her eyes were decieving her when she thought she saw his eyes twitch and she knew it. She absentmindedly wiped the tears from her face with her hand, leaving small streaks of smudgy dirt and soot across her face. She figured that talking to him would do no good, so she just stayed there, weeping silently, feeling more alone than she ever had in her life.

Misty couldn't help but notice how deathly still and quiet the forest around her was. It was all so forlorn, the blackened forest, light smoke still swirling disheartenedly from some spots. Save for herself, there seemed to be nothing living between the charred remains of the used-to-be-majestic forest and the pale blue sky that was again cracked with wispy clouds. She let go of Ash's hand, finding it to be too discouraging. 'I'm not leaving 'til Ash wakes up.' She told herself strongly as she fiddled meaninglessly with a dead leaf. So she just sat there for hours on end without anything happening, and before she knew it, the sun was setting brilliantly in the Western sky. But she was too numb to notice the beauty of the sunset. She stared straight forward unflinchingly, eyes bleary and unfocused. As the sun disappeared behind the hills, so did the slight warmth that it brought and Misty began to shiver violently, but she still was in her own world.

Then the stars came out. Somehow, the dark serenity of the night restored her mind, and she snapped out of her third trance that day.

Erm, Middleword?

Okay, I'm stoppin' there! I know, the chapter's not even done yet, and I'm leaving you on quite a cliffhanger, but I need to know if you want me to finish it! I've kinda lost interest in this particular fanfic (I'm still just as pokecrazy as ever though!) since the newer one I'm writing is so time-consuming and is so much better. I'm going to continue it, but if I don't get a lot of reviews it'll probably be a while before it's finished. The more reviews I get, the faster I'll write this! Don't flame me for leaving you hanging, I was just dying to post it ASAP! Thanx!