Not Listening Has Its Advantages

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Pokemon, a creation of one Satoshi Tajiri, and is produced domestically (in the United States) by Pokemon USA/The Pokemon Company, and internationally by Shogakukan and OLM. I personally own nothing and make nothing by writing this. Please do not flame.

(Chapter 6- Aiken Palace Atop Snowpoint Hill)

He was just outside of this same building yesterday, so he knew what the house looked like upon the drive back to Zoey's home. Still, Ash got jitters of a different sort because he knew that in just a few minutes, he'd be eating at the house of his girlfriend's folks for the very first time. He waited for the Honda in front of him to park in the right side of the parking lot before the Toyota, in which Ash and Zoey are passengers in, parks on the left side.

Brock and Dawn are inside of the Pilot and initially didn't want to impose on their friends knowing that this was yet another special moment for the two of them. Despite their wishes, Ash and Zoey pleaded with them to come so here they are about to leave the car piloted by family matriarch Valerie.

The exterior of the house, one the immediate Aiken family moved in, is a two-story brick house designed to keep warm, especially during the cold winters in the northernmost Sinnoh city. While it continued to snow throughout this Saturday afternoon, Ash took the time to notice how the rooftop looked as if it were a winter wonderland. It made him think about how the two of them were gonna spend the Christmas holidays and think of just what to get his girlfriend for the special day.

That was a while away, though. Ash knew it as Pikachu gave his trainer a mild shock and Peter told him to snap out of whatever spell he was under and come inside of the house so that they could start dinner preparations. "After all, you need a good meal for the battle with Candice later tonight," Zoey's father intelligently assumes.

"I absolutely do," Ash admits while he, his friends and the seven Aiken family members enter the house and remove their winter coats. A few of them enter the family room and take a seat upon the request of Peter, including Brock and Dawn along with two of Zoey's cousins, Neil and Brooke. Both of them are young teens with Neil about a year older than Ash and Brooke about a year younger. Zoey informs her family and Ash's friends that she and Ash would be upstairs for a few minutes to take care of business before dinner. She further specified that this would concern his night battle with Candice among other items of merit.

"Zoey really…had me there the last few minutes of her match," Brooke says, beginning conversation while in the Aiken house. Her look is nothing like her cousin's as she has long ebony hair and much more tanned features while in her green sweater and light blue jeans.

"I know. I thought that she would get a win out of it," Dawn sincerely admits. "That Emery, though, he's tough, powerful and a hassle to deal with. I've lost to him once before and he's just…I mean, if anyone out there looks like he could win the Grand Festival this April, it would seem like he's got the best chance. I just…how do you defend someone who's always coordinating battles against your strengths?"

"I think you have to have a much more well-rounded attack and pull out whatever works at that time to prevail. That's to answer your question, Dawn," Neil remarks. "Now, if Zoey's smart…she'd be looking at video to see anything that she might have missed out on the battlefield or something that would help her in victory the next time she meets up with that kid. Let not the name fool you; Emery is tough for not making the match into a power display against Zoey as a means of combating her finesse style of coordinating. It's one thing to go style for style with someone, but it's completely different when you can beat someone at their own game and not get flustered in the process."

"It can't be that complicated, Neil," Dawn replies, trying to decipher everything that Zoey's older cousin said about the thirteen-year-old coordinator. "No one's invincible in this sport. But, you said that Zoey would look at the video and the contest isn't even an hour in the books? How's that possible."

"Well, she has a laptop to look at all of the footage of battle, remember?" Brock questions attempting to jog Dawn's memory.

"Oh, yeah!" she exclaims, kicking herself for how quickly she forgot. "She can use YouTube and other sites…"

"Not only that," Brooke now interjects, "she can look at contest footage on the coordinator's website. It's not available to everyone, though. You have to type in several encryption codes and sign a contract promising not to profit from the footage in any way."

"Wow! Serious much?" Dawn wonders out loud.

"When it's your property, you'd be too," Neil argues.

Shrugging her shoulders, Dawn sees no point in arguing at all and says, "I suppose," before digging deeper into the words of Zoey's very knowledgeable first cousin.

Briskly walking up the stairs and to her room with Ash and Pikachu in tow, Zoey wishes to accomplish a few things while she has scant minutes before dinner and prior to the gym battle planned for later this evening.

Ash is not exactly sure of the reasons why he's being dragged up the stairs the way he is, so before the two of them get to what he thinks is Zoey's room, he says, "Zoey, uh…I know that you wanted to make a call to Candice before we went to the gym tonight, but…"

"I know what you're thinking," Zoey responds before Ash even has a chance to finish his question. By the closed door of what he can only assume is her room, she continues, "I really just want you to see my room and help me out with an issue that I've been seeing in my most recent battle. It would be too late if we tried to do it after dinner or your battle and now that this is fresh in my mind, I think it would behoove me to just get this done."

"How do we do that, though?" he asks.

"I'm glad you asked, come on inside," Zoey answers before opening the door and causing Ash to do a double take as he gets a load of all the technology in the room of this girl who isn't even in her teens. The burgundy-painted room, in and of itself, is of a fine size for any twelve-year-old, but Zoey makes the most of it all with her twin-sized bed over by the single window in the room. Right next to the bed on the right wall are two guitars hanging on stands; one is electric and the other one bass electric.

On the bed are a couple of keep cases near what appears to be a portable Blu-Ray Disc player that Ash remembers seeing at a recent convention. Across from the far end of the room appears to be a full black wood, polished entertainment center and workstation with an iMac computer, what appears to be three spaces for keyboards, two of which pull out of the console and one is on top of the desk area.

In the place of simple flat-panel monitors, Zoey has two large plasma LCD TVs standing side-to-side on the stand currently on the front page of her computer's operating system. They double as her televisions when not used for her monitors, or she can simply switch over to a video projector at the top of this entertainment and work center and look at movies or shows put onto a pull down white screen built into the room's ceiling.

Neither Ash nor Pikachu can believe the size of this room. "Wow! I can't believe all this…stuff you have! Here I am thinking that you had a laptop and that was big, but…it's as if you have your own control center here."

"Your room is your palace, is what I say, so enough coordinating and you are able to afford to make your palace into whatever you want…along with nice rainy day funds for college and money in stocks. Ahem—have a seat, Ash." Motioning for Ash to sit down at one of the two leather desk chairs by the console, she clicks the mouse on the icon which looks like an orange fox with flames on the end of its tail, opening the Firefox web browser.

Unsure of what the simple task of going online would lead, Ash asks Zoey, while holding Pikachu in his lap, "So…exactly what are we doing here at the computer and why couldn't this wait until later?"

Typing in a web address, Zoey explains, "I can never be sure how long it takes for this information to completely load into my computer, but since I've used it when the coordinating directors decided to put up in-house production footage of appeals and battles for trainers and coordinators to use in their practice, I've found it to be a great tool for me in my studies. Could you pull that board in front of you out of its slot?"

Noticing one that contained one of the many keyboards, Ash says, "Oh, sure," and pulls it out to see several buttons that would appear to be part of some elaborate tape recording and mixing equipment. The electric mouse and his trainer can only look on in curiosity. "Zoey, do you video edit?"

"Sometimes," she honestly answers. "I can do both audio and video editing. A lot of this is for the music portion, but I still use much of this equipment to get clearer views of…parts of a battle that I might've missed and to review them after the fact to learn from opponents and myself." Turning her head to Ash, she makes the point, "After all, there's no harm going into combat prepared, am I right?"

"No, you're quite right," he admits, "don't you get the sense, though, that some of this might be too much?"

"There's no substitute for me wanting to be the best, Ash. That's how I've felt about it since I made the promise to Miss Senior to work at becoming the best. If you don't believe me, look at this." As Zoey continues to watch the footage of her losing battle against Emery load into her system, decides to open up a new tab on her browser, goes to a popular sports website and puts in 'Emery Maudlin' as her keyword. While waiting for the page to load, she makes no excuses, but only says, "If I had this information earlier, however minute it might be, I could have better prepared for earlier, but you know what they say about hindsight."

"Indeed," Ash concurs as the page completely loads and a stock photo of Emery at about age eleven comes up on the screen along with some vital statistics. "Born September 16th, 1997…Sunyshore City…voted rookie of the year in 2008 by peers and coordinating writers…average appeal score of 25.7…" and then, he sees perhaps the most telling statistic of them all, "a Pokémon Contest match record of 62-18-1 with fourteen ribbons and he's only missed the cut twice? Good night!"

"It says that fifteen of those losses came on decision or points," Zoey further explains after skimming further through the details, "meaning that even in defeat, he's one to stretch contest battles to the limit as much as he can to find a solution for victory. He's not one to go for quick victories so while he'll go for the occasional power attack, it doesn't make up the basis of his repertoire even though he has many power Pokémon in his arsenal. Kind of odd, don't you think?"

"Yeah. All that power but on the other hand, power isn't everything."

"That's true, Ash, but knocking out opponents in record time whether doing it with finesse or because you might have something better to do that day will still get you ribbons but, for whatever reason, he doesn't do that when he clearly can. The question now is why?" With a couple more clicks of the mouse, Zoey pulls up the footage she's been searching for and brings up the full screen to see the opening title intro of the footage and a lower third on-screen graphic describing what's on the screen.

Ash immediately recognizes what he sees. "This is from today's battle! Wow, they put this up here really quickly."

"It's of the few things that they get right," she replies, in reference to coordinating offices.

"So you want to see what went wrong in your battle today?"

"You bet. Ash, you see your board over there? It has all the functions of a VCR remote. Could you fast forward about two or two and a half minutes just so I can see where I might have gone wrong?"

"All right, Zoey. You got it." All Ash has to do is press the fast forward button to see the battle progress at lightning speed while awaiting word from Zoey to stop or press play on the large display. She does so after about twenty seconds and leaves the footage at a point where both Zoey's Glameow and Emery's Vespiquen appear to be at a standstill right before Zoey called for Glameow to use hypnosis.

The video is now on pause and the top coordinator appears to be in great thought while this takes place. Ash isn't sure if he should speak up on the issue, but such thoughts don't really matter after Zoey turns to him again and asks, "Uh…maybe...I'll try this. Ash, could you fetch Brock and Dawn for a bit? I don't think there's any such thing as too many opinions on this footage and if I ever meet Emery, or someone who battles like him again, it can only help me out."

"Great idea, Zoey," he answers sincerely. "I'll go get them now," and he gets out of his seat with Pikachu, leaving the way he came inside to give Brock and Dawn this news.

While Ash goes back down the steps, Zoey logs onto a program called Skype to give her friend Candice a video call knowing that she's got office hours during weekend afternoons during regular weekday business hours during times when she's not holding sanctioned battles.

Logging in and seeing that Candice is available for conversation, she points the mouse over her screen name, knowing that 'Miss Senior' would never pass her over if only for an idle chat. Before clicking on the name and waiting for a response she decides to further solidify her request, which she isn't confident her friend will accept, and brings out Glameow. If for no other reason, it would be a chance for her to see the catty Pokémon once again and get the girl in a good mood.

Calling Candice, Zoey immediately gets a response along with a hearty "Hello, Zo-Zo!" from the other end of the line. Hearing a meow, she lets her friend's signature Pokémon know that she hasn't forgotten her, saying "and Glameow, too! You caught me at the perfect time."

"How so, Miss Senior?" she asks while petting her Pokémon.

Unexpectedly, Candice starts to cry up a bit before admitting, "I'm bored out my everlasting mind! Nothing's been happening around the gym because everyone's wrapped up about seeing you and everyone's all 'Oh, Zoey's in town! Are you gonna be there?' and I really wanted to go, but my responsibilities as gym leader had to come first. I wanted to come, but…I was most certainly there for you in spirit."

"Thanks for that, Miss Senior."

"That was a tough battle, though! Who knew that the little Young Turk would have it in him to take you to the limit the way he did?"

"I'm nowhere near as concerned about Emery's politics as I am about his battling style," Zoey says, redirecting the conversation. She feels that if she leads Candice in some meaningful discussion, she might be in a better mood to go along with her request. Toggling with the board switches for a few minutes, she asks her friend, "This is a thought I'm having while watching the footage; did you get the feeling that Emery was intentionally working in a way to throw me off because of my tendency to lead in with non-damaging attacks? I ask that because—well, the battle was not even two hours ago and the first attack he had Vespiquen use against me was fury cutter, which won't win any battles on its own, but definitely sent a message that I should be on my feet for this one."

"You know what I thought was odd?" Candice asks. "Aside from the fact that he never looked flustered in the battle, he always seemed to have an answer for all your attacks. That's a great trait to have in battle, too, because if you're thinking a move or two ahead, then the battle can be won without the opponent even knowing it. I don't know if that was the case here, because after a while, you realized that you had to step up your power attacks to combat his use of finesse."

"Miss Senior," Zoey counters while shaking her head, "as we speak, the footage is right in front of me and I really believe it runs much deeper than that, even though that could be a factor. I think, in fact, that he might be studying more than I am because he exploited my low-impact starting style and gradual increase to power maneuvers throwing me off with all of these defensive strategy plays that I couldn't have expected given his pension for power Pokémon. It might've come down to him throwing stuff at me that I didn't expect, too. After all, who the heck uses heal order with not even two minutes left in a contest match?"

"A winner, that's who," says, not Candice but Brock, who has come inside of the room with Ash and Dawn.

"Hey, whose side are you on, anyway?" Zoey joking asks the young man while he takes a look around the pad of the princely one. "A few people just walked in, for your information, Miss Senior."

While the older of the two says she has no problem with it, the oldest male in the room answers, "I'm a neutral party who wants you to win, but respects those who give it their all and then some. This place is amazing, Zoey!" Brock compliments.

"Hey, Zoey. I didn't know you played guitar!"

"Thanks, Brock, and Dawn, that came from my dad wanting me to play an instrument during school. He and mom knew what I really wanted to do but since I started learning it, I've been hooked and can't seem to stop guitar playing for anything. Most don't know this, but I'm working on doing some songs about my coordinating experiences. In any event, you guys caught me while I was making my phone call to Miss Senior that I told you about, Ash. We we're just about to talk about the battle that you have with her at nine o'clock tonight."

"No, we weren't."

"Uh, Miss Senior," Zoey clarifies raising her eyebrows in the hopes that the older girl got her hint, "we were gonna get to that subject later, you know? I called you right after the contest while I was en route back home. I told you that I needed to talk about a gym battle and now is the time for us to talk."

"All I remember is us sitting here figuring out why we lost to Emery."

"Candice, please!" she sharply interjects, hoping that that subject would be saved for later if need be. For a second, Zoey isn't even sure if her friend remembered the conversation, but it couldn't have been an hour ago since that call. At the moment, with dinner a few minutes away and the Pokémon battle very close to commencing in a matter of hours, Zoey is pressed for time because she's not been able to find a solution to getting even with Master Maudlin. Subconsciously, she feels that she might as well be back at square one. "Forget about Emery for now! You have a Pokémon battle with a young man named Ash Ketchum coming up and he made a mistake filling out his online application."

"Okay…" she responds, somewhat confused. "You know that unless Ash is here to vouch for himself, Zo-Zo, my hands are tied. It doesn't matter how strong our relationship is; Sinnoh region gyms are bound by this policy."

Signaled by Zoey from her seat, Ash walks into the range of the camera with Pikachu, proclaiming "But I'm here and I wanted to make a request to you for tonight's gym battle. You see, Zoey and I wanted to share this particular moment with close friends only and would like to change the proceedings to a private battle."

"That's the politically correct version, Miss Senior," Zoey elaborates over the webcam. "In reality, my distant cousin from Solaceon Town, who doesn't collect badges, signed up for the 8:30pm battle just to make sure that she would be there right afterwards to show me up and explain why Ash is the guy for her or some made up, fairy tale nonsense like that."

"Hmm," Candice wonders, not really believing what she's seeing over the camera but coming up with her own outrageous theories as far as what her friend and her friend's friend are talking about. "This all looks too good to even believe. Do you have your ID, Ash?"

"Oh, sure!" Digging into his backpack, Ash knows that that's the last place where he put his Pokédex, which doubles as his identification. After looking through the various compartments, he finds it inside of the topmost zipper and opens it up. After this, he steps in front of the camera and presses a button on the touch screen device allowing the gym leader to hear the voice of Dextette describe the trainer it belongs to and provide the name, picture and vital information herein to match his online application Candice pulled up for quick confirmation.

"Okay, you are Ash Ketchum, without a doubt and you're the only one that can make changes in your battle with me."

"Great!" he exclaims while Zoey and the others look on attentively. "So does this mean that I can have that private battle Zoey and I talked about earlier?"

"Absolutely not."

"Well, that wasn't so—WHAT?" Ash exclaims not realizing that Candice just denied his request. "Why not? I'm here; you identified me to be who you thought and I asked for the change. Why can't you accommodate it if I'm the one who made it and wants to change it?"

"Standing rules of the gym require that all gym challengers must provide clear, truthful and sufficient evidence in order for any decisions made in clear conscience by the challenger to be overturned."

"But we already told you that Zoey has a family member who's getting on our nerves and making things crazy for us!" Ash responds. "She was at the contest and annoyed us to no end in sight! Is that not enough evidence for you to reconsider?"

"Well…" Candice says, appearing to find some other information online given her frequent clicking of her computer's mouse. Nodding her head, she asks, "Zo-Zo, do you know…Angela K. Randall? That's the name of the trainer that I have for 8:30p.m."

"Unfortunately, yes," answers the younger girl still sitting down as Candice continues to speak to her and she watches even more of her battle with Emery as the closing stage of their contest battle is played in reverse. "We call her Angie and she's a distant cousin of mine, as I mentioned. I don't want her seeing this battle for…special reasons."

"Special reasons? Zo-Zo, you know all of this sounds highly unusual and, once more, as gym leader I have to follow procedure for this and all other trainers no matter what relationship you and I have."

"But, Miss Senior…"

"No buts, Zo-Zo! I can't allow it unless you give me a concrete reason why I should ban Angie from Ash's battles."

"I have one, though!"

"Then let's hear it," she responds. "I'm listening, Zo-Zo."

"Oh-okay," Zoey reacts, not expecting Candice to be so pressed for time when it appeared just minutes ago that she was bored and had no clue how to assuage the emotion.

How does a girl talk about someone that means so much yet can leave her speechless like she is right now? Zoey's going through these same feelings as she debates in her head how to tell her friend of so long the good news. Will she be happy and pleased, or tease? Or will Candice go the way Zoey would rather she didn't by getting mushy about it and causing the girl to get red in the face. Figuring out that deciding what will happen in her mind is doing nothing for either side; Zoey decides the drop the news on Candice as lightly as she can. "Well, Miss Senior…something very good happened in my life recently."

"Zoey is my girlfriend and Angie wants to break us up and have me to herself. I won't let it happen, though and her plan to have this bogus battle just so she can be nearby when I have my battle won't work. I'm not in love with her," he emphasizes by stealing a kiss from Zoey on her left cheek. "I love Zoey and I want Angie out of the picture."

Most everyone could not believe how direct Ash was, but after a while they felt that if they knew Ash, they shouldn't have been surprised. Even Pikachu shook his head, feeling that Zoey was doing fine on her own before Ash interjected himself.

Quite annoyed given that she wanted to break this news her own way, Zoey turns around in her seat and openly criticizes Ash, saying, "You know, I was doing a pretty good job without you. It's a sensitive subject, you know?"

"Sensitive subject?" Ash retorts. "It's the truth! It's what Candice asked for and we gave it to her."

"We? No, you did, Ash. I wanted to give the news to Miss Senior gently; so that she would be able to digest it because I talked about never falling in love when I was young and she's always held that over my head."

"Well, I'd think that she'd not even remember a thing like that. After all, you probably said that when you were—what? Seven or eight?"

"Actually, it was when she was about age six," Candice interjects, trying to hold back laughter while her good friend and apparent boyfriend engage in some back and forth. "And oh, my goodness, if you two don't fight like a couple in love, I'd sort of hesitate in saying that there's a slight possibility in you two being brother and sister."

"That's not funny, Miss Senior," Zoey speaks, suddenly turning serious. While she thought of it as more than just a playful joke between friends, that's all Brock and Dawn could see in the gym leader's comments as they laugh at the girl's sharp reaction to a statement of something that was clearly in jest.

"Zoey certainly isn't one to play around when it comes to her love," Dawn remarks.

"Indeed not," Brock concurs.

"So you see why we want this so much, right?" Ash questions Candice. "Angie continues making all these allusions and innuendos to me about wanting me for herself and they're really putting a strain on me and Zoey because we know it's just desperation on her part. We just want to have this battle in peace, I want to get my seventh badge and move on, you know?"

"I understand that, Ash. I really do, but unless Angie actually causes a distraction during battle, my hands are tied legally," Candice regretfully answers. "Private battles can easily be arranged seventy-two hours or more in advance. Otherwise, restrictions can only happen as a reactive measure to anything that might halt the battle and not as a form of prior restraint. I would do it because I believe you, and you'd never lie to me about anything, Zo-Zo, but my reputation as a gym leader is on the line if I give any sort of preferential treatment. Lawsuits could arise and that's stuff I'd just like to avoid."

"I understand," Zoey honestly replies. "I don't like it and it means that Angie could get away with a lot of nonsense without being thrown out of the gym, but I understand. Thanks for listening to me anyway."

"No problem, Zo-Zo!" Candice answers, coming close to wrapping up the call. "The pleasure is all mine! All right, I have to go prepare for battle right now. See you then."

"Okay. Take care," Zoey speaks as she logs out of Skype and shakes her head knowing that she'll have to deal with her cousin's pestering without question. Glameow, noticing her partner's frustration, nuzzles her head closer to Zoey, almost immediately bringing a smile to the face of the conflicted girl. "We all have our difficulties, Glameow. But, it's how we handle them which determines character. I'll keep my head up for us." Looking up to some melancholy faces which know the extent to which she and Ash have had to deal with recent difficulties, Zoey wishes that the mood wasn't as sour. "I'm glad all of you are here! Come on, perk up! There's a lot that we can learn with what little time we have left before dinner."

"Ash told us about your idea to examine your work and I absolutely agree with it," Brock replies, looking at all the equipment that the young coordinator has on hand for analyzing battles all the way down to a single frame.

"Me, too," Dawn adds. "In fact, it might be of benefit to all of us to see just how this style works. I mean, from what your cousins said and from what Brock told your family in the living room, this is a strategy that we could employ if we wanted to."

"Well, that's what I want us to figure out together," Zoey replies while petting Glameow. "I don't know the strategy but I feel that if I get an idea of it, Emery won't stand much of a chance when we meet again. Remember, I was a hair away from beating him just as he was a hair away from losing. If I figure out what he did to get me so confused, then he'll be putty in my hands, so let's get to work," she declares while turning around, inviting everyone to gather around the screens and see the battle footage once again.

In the kitchen, there are courses to the meal that have already been made well in advance a night ago. The only prep work needed for some of these items was a simple reheating in the oven, so that means that the hungriest of them all will soon get to chow down on recently made seafood stew with red sauce. While setting up side dishes and boiling water for steamed vegetables which won't take long anyway, the older guard can't help but bring up the positive experience they had at the contest house earlier in the afternoon.

"Zoey certainly…I saw something different in her when she was out there today, Pete," Valerie says while pulling out ingredients for a homemade tartar sauce. "Ash has been real good for her. I knew that this day would come one day; I just didn't know that it would be this soon and I'd be so impressed with her choice."

"I'll admit, I had my doubts about that kid," Bridgette says, in reference to Ash. "His age was a factor in some of my skepticism but if Zoey approves and you as parents approve, then so do I. She must have much more of a handle on this than her codger of an aunt does."

"Hey," Peter exclaims, "you're too weak on yourself."

Turning around to face the man who made that very snide remark, Bridgette reminds her younger brother, while chopping up onions for the salad, "You know I have a knife, right? You say that, but this knife can cut…and sharply."

"Oh, have mercy dear sister!" he exclaims while moving his arms as if he were reaching out to Mecca in prayer. "Have mercy for the teasing older brother who just wanted to make a joke and see how she would react."

"What is like Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction?" Valerie answers in the form of a question. After everyone in the kitchen gets their laugh, she seriously continues on the point her sister-in-law made about Ash. "Well, it's…I wanted to be open to this because Zoey felt so strongly towards Ash. It's…really telling when you see your child out there and falling in love, being counseled by someone else instead of coming to mom and dad for everything. I mean…what do I mean?"

"I think I get it," says Valerie's younger brother Morris, who is checking on the bread for the meal and seeing that it's about done based on the toothpick test. "That was a tough loss Zoey had today which could've gone either way. Usually, in a bout that someone wants to win as badly as Zoey wanted today, you go to your folks and ask for their words of wisdom, but…I'm sure with the number of losses Ash told me he's had over the years, he had some fine words of wisdom for Zoey. I know she's home, Valerie, and I know she usually will come to her with her difficulties on the road, but it's clear; she's growing into her own woman."

"You're right, Morris," Peter responds as he gets out utensils for serving the stew. "It's…just something to see for her. It seemed like not too long ago that her and Miss Senior were promising that each one would do their best in training and coordinating and that they'd never let anything come in between them and their dreams."


"Oh, I meant Candice," Valerie says, remembering that the nicknames her daughter uses often aren't used by the extended family. "She's the gym leader for the city and when they were in school, Zoey called Candice Miss Senior as she was a level or two ahead of her."

"Ah, I see," Morris replies. Now that it comes to mind after the discussion, he asks his sister, "Does Zoey have a nickname?"

"Yes," she replies. "But it's nothing that you or the rest of the family haven't heard before." Calling upstairs, she yells "Hey, Zo-Zo!"

Very quickly, Valerie hears the word "Mom!" followed by "I thought I said that that was only for Miss Senior!"

"I can't help it, dear," she admits. "Besides, I'm your mother and I'm supposed to get on your nerves. Anyway, it's time for dinner so you, Ash, Brock and Dawn come down and help set up the table so we can get started."

While disappointed, Ash, Zoey and company did want to eat and had been looking at the Emery battle, along with a couple others for a while. The four hadn't been able to come to much of a consensus with the exception that Zoey's victorious adversary knew how to confuse his competition to the point that they'd almost have them staying up nights just to contemplate the purpose of a single move or command.

One by one, they arrive downstairs with Zoey leading the bunch to the kitchen followed closely by Ash, Dawn and finally Brock. Peter meets the four and instructs them to get out the silverware, glasses, bowls, bread plates and dinner plates for the meal. Given that Zoey knows the setup, she instructs her friends to put out the different utensils on top of the table already adorned with a white cloth.

Ash takes on the responsibility of placing the plates on the table, ten in all, while Dawn works on napkins and placemats, Brock puts the silverware in its proper positions and Zoey gets ice for the water and glasses for the sparkling beverages.

Soon after the setting is complete, with two off-white candles in the middle of the table lit for ambience, the friends and family sit down as bowls of seafood stew are poured into each bowl, with oyster crackers, oysters on a half-shell, steamed scallops, a large Caesar salad among many other things to eat.

Once all plates have been filled to everyone's preferences, the ten individuals come together, as part of an extended family, to partake. Before that, however, a couple of clangs of glass are heard at the table. Everyone looks over to the head of the table as Peter uses his spoon to get everyone's attention.

"Okay, I know that everyone here's just waiting to dig, because I am too," he admits. "I just want to say a few words before we begin. I want to thank Ash and his friends and our family for all coming here. I want to thank my daughter, Zoey, for setting up this weekend. Most of all, though, extra special thanks goes to Ash for…" Peter turns away for a second as he feels himself becoming quite emotional just thinking about it.

His family assures him that it's okay, and a few seconds pass before he says, "Ash, you've made a father very proud knowing that you were his daughter's choice for a boyfriend. You're an upstanding gentleman, you've been nothing but cordial to my family and I, and…thank you. Thank you for being there for Zoey and agreeing to travel with her. I think it will be quite a rewarding journey for both of you, so…from this point to whenever, take care of each other. Okay?"

"Yes sir, and thank you for accepting me when you didn't have to," Ash responds, truly humbled by the words of his girlfriend's father. So much so that Zoey points out his shaking while Peter tells everyone to start eating.

Ash just shrugs it off for a moment before cutting up his salad and starting his meal like everyone else at the table. Giving Pikachu a few bits underneath the table, he enjoys the rest knowing that he's around a supporting crowd that wants him to have his fill and then clear his head for the reason he came to Snowpoint, Zoey or no Zoey.

Having her there wouldn't hurt, though. Not in the least bit.

A/N: Aren't you glad this is here? I am! I got this out and am looking for a December release for the next chapter, which will have the battle. Stay close and stay safe!

Until then, this is Rave!