It's Not About the Bike

It's Not About the Bike

            This was not the way his first day of training was supposed to go!

            For starters, he had overslept.  Which meant he hadn't reached Professor Oak's in time to pick his first choice of starter pokémon.  That turned out to be okay, as he got a Pikachu instead—a stubborn, ornery, and totally disobedient Pikachu, that is.  And now, his efforts at actually capturing his first pokémon had gone disastrously awry.  Not only had Pikachu gotten hurt, but they were being chased by a flock of angry spearows.

            There looked to be only one way to escape.  "Pikachu, hold your breath!  We're going under!" the boy yelled.  The pokémon in his arms, despite its pain, wore an expression of both shock and excitement—how'd it ever end up with such a half-crazed boy as a trainer, and why was this misadventure so fun?  Ash didn't have time to notice this, however, as he was too busy diving headfirst into the river.  The current was fast, and combined with Ash's frantic kicking, they had drifted quite a bit by the time Ash surfaced.

            "I think we did it," he said, his heart beating rapidly from the catastrophe that had almost happened.  Then his eyes opened wide.  "Oh no!  Pikachu, hold on tight!"  And they catapulted over the waterfall.

            Downstream, a thin redheaded girl pulled her fishing pole up in disappointment.  "Nothing," she said, sighing as she reeled in her line.  "Well, I guess I'll go try somewhere else."  She packed her things onto her bike and rode away.

            "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!"  Ash and Pikachu both screamed as the gyrados they had encountered underwater threw them clear out of the river and right to the edge of the forest.  Ash stood up and hastily brushed himself off.  "Well, that's one way to do it," he muttered.  "Come on, Pikachu, time to get you to a PokéCenter!" And he ran ahead, praying his legs would be able to take him there fast enough.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

            He had gotten there in time, and Pikachu had been alright.  He managed to capture two new pokémon, and acquired a traveling buddy, an older boy by the name of Brock, not to mention two idiotic enemies in the form of Team Rocket flunkies, by the time he reached Cerulean City.  All in all, he was feeling pretty confident as he approached the gym.

            "Excuse me," he said to the pretty blonde at the desk, as soon as he had been able to drag a drooling Brock away the counter.  "I'd like to challenge the gym leader for a badge."

            "No can do," the girl said, smacking her gum.  That was enough to bring Brock out of his stupor and cause Ash to look at her in dismay.

            "What do you mean?" Ash asked.  "I came all the way here to get a Cascade badge, and I want you to give it to me!"

            "Well, since you put it that way," the girl reached under the counter and pulled out a raindrop shaped blue badge.  "Here you go."

            Ash and Brock both gaped at her in amazement.  "That's not what I meant," Ash sputtered.  "What about the battle?"

            The girl shrugged.  "Our pokémon usually participate in water shows instead of battles, so they're not used to fighting.  We had this dude from Pallet town come by earlier this week, and he wiped them all out.  They're at the PokéCenter right now getting treated.  All we have left is a Magikarp with a splash attack."

            "Someone from Pallet town?  Was his name Gary, by any chance?" Ash asked wearily.

            "Actually, I think it was," the girl said in surprise.  "How'd you  know that?"

            "Lucky guess," Ash muttered.  He took a moment to think.  If Gary had already gotten a badge, then his rival was ahead of him once again.  He needed this badge to catch up.  Besides, he thought smugly, it would annoy Gary if he knew that Ash had had to do less work than him with the same results.

            "Alright, I'll take it," Ash said.  "Thank you."

            "No problem," the girl said.  "Hey, you want to stay for one of our water shows?  My sisters and I are going to be giving one at two o'clock."

            "Are they all as pretty as you?" Brock elbowed Ash out of the way.  "Not that I see how it could be possible for anyone to match your loveliness..."

            "Oh, for sure," the girl said, laughing.  "Lily and Violet and I aren't called the Sensational sisters for nothing."

            "Lily and Violet?  That's beautiful...but since you're the rarest of them all, your name must be Rose, then," Brock said dreamily.

            "Sorry, Romeo," the girl said, popping a bubble right in his face.  "It's Daisy."

            "Is that you?" Ash pointed to a poster behind the counter.  Three girls in mermaid costumes posed for the camera.  No wait, four girls.  A younger girl, dressed in the same outfit, sat underneath them petting a Seel.  "Who's the other girl?"

            "Oh, that's the runt."  Daisy dismissed her with a wave of her hand.  "She's our younger sister Misty.  Cute, but the girl has a serious attitude problem."

            "She looks nice to me," Ash said.

            "Ooo, does Ash have a crush?" Brock teased, and Ash blushed.

            "Of course not!  Besides, who are you to talk?" he snapped.  "Sorry, Daisy, I don't think we'll have time for the water show today.  I have to keep training so that Gary doesn't get farther ahead of me.  But I'll be sure to stop in next time I come through."

            "If you say so," Daisy shrugged.  "Come again."

~~~~~~~~~~

            Ash's journey continued to go well, in spite of the fact that Gary was always one step ahead of him.  And Brock seemed to have just as many misadventures as he did, Ash was discovering. Of course, Brock's always involved girls, while Ash's usually had to do with pokémon, but the end result was, life was never boring for the two guys.

            Take the incident at Maiden's Peak.  "He promised he'd be back by now," Ash said, looking at the clock with his brow creased as he was beginning to worry about his friend.  "I have to go get him."

            "Sorry, we have to close the doors now," Nurse Joy told him sympathetically.  "I'm sure your friend will be fine. He's probably just sleeping over at a friend's house."

            "More like a ghost's shrine," Ash sighed, then settled down on his cot.  "But if there's nothing I can do, then there's nothing I can do.  I'll talk to him tomorrow."

            He got up early, still concerned about his friend, and went to find him immediately after the sun came up. "Brock, what are you still doing here?" Ash asked in exasperation, after finding him in exactly the same place he had left him.

            "I can't leave her," Brock mumbled.

            "Me neither," James echoed. 

            "Team Rocket?" Ash exclaimed.

            "What, you expected the elite four?" Jessie said from behind him.  He turned around and saw her sitting on the grass behind him, looking bored.  "They've been here all night.  And we've been stuck watching them."

            "Oh.  Thanks."  Ash wasn't sure what to make of that.

            "Don't bother.  The only reason we kept an eye on your friend, too, is because James seems to be copying his every move," Jessie snapped.  "What's up with that?"

            A ghastly was up with that, causing the two heartsick boys to be in love with the ghost of a girl who had died two thousand years ago.  As it turned out, it was too strong for any of them to battle and win, but they were successful enough to break the spell by the time the sun came up the next day and the ghastly had to disappear. Ash and Brock and Team Rocket went their separate ways, but Ash had to wonder if Jessie was having as much trouble with a dejected James as he was with Brock.

            "It'll be a whole year until I see her again..." Brock sighed.

            "Come on, Brock, there will be plenty of girls until then," Ash said, not believing he was actually encouraging his friend to be an obnoxious flirt.  "Why don't you come to the festival tonight?  You'll probably meet some there."

            "No thanks.  I'll just stay here and mourn," Brock sighed.  Ash hit his head with the palm of his hand.  He should have known.   Brock didn't have to be hypnotized in order to act like an idiot.

            "Suit yourself."  So Ash ended up going to the festivities alone. 

            He was standing around in his nice kimono, trying to figure out where to go, when a redheaded girl in a beautiful pink formal kimono appeared in front of him.  She smiled at him, and for a moment he was tempted to have a Brock moment and swoon in front of her.

            "Hi.  I was just wondering, as you don't seem to be doing anything...do you want to dance?" she asked.

            "Sure..." he said, hesitantly accepting her outstretched hand.  She took him over to the modern dance area.

            "We can do the traditional dance, if you'd rather do that," she said.

            "No, this is fine.  It's easier to fake it over here," he said, and she laughed.

            "My name's Misty.  What's yours?"

            "Ash..." he said slowly.  "You look familiar, now that I think about it. Do I know you from somewhere?"

            "I don't think so.  But I live with my sisters in Cerulean City, if that helps any," she told him.

            "Oh, so that's it!....you're the runt?" he asked in disbelief.

            She stopped dancing and glared at him.  "Excuse me?"

            Ash realized his mistake and hastily backpedaled.  Boy, did he need to learn to think before he spoke!

            "No, that's not what I meant," he stuttered, his face turning pink.  "It's just...ah...I mean...um..."

            "You've been talking to my sisters," Misty said, a knowing look on her face.  "Is that right?  They always think they're better than me just because they're older."

            "Yes.  I mean no.  I mean..." he blushed at her giggle.  "I mean, I saw your picture back at their gym.  But Brock's the one who likes older women.  That is, you don't look like a runt to me.  I mean, err..." Now his face was bright pink as she was flat out laughing at him now.

            "Want to quit while you're ahead?" she teased him gently, and he had to laugh himself.

            "I guess so," he said sheepishly, and they started dancing again.  Ash had never danced with a girl before, not in a dance setting, at least.  It was surprisingly fun. 

            Or maybe it was just Misty...

~~~~~~~~~~

            Ash's journey continued to go well.  He had accumulated six badges by the time Princess Day came around.  Not that, being a guy, it affected him any, but Brock insisted that they stay in the town for at least one more day until the festivities ended.

            "There's bound to be a princess in distress who will let me be her prince," he said.

            "It'll never happen.  She'd be too scared that you'd turn into a frog if she kissed you," Ash said, unimpressed.

            "You'll see.  Watch this.  Officer Jenny!" Brock ran over to the police woman, who looked at him in surprise.

            "Do I know you?" she asked.

            "No, but I know you, because I see you in my dreams every night," Brock said.  "Would you allow me the pleasure of being your prince on this glorious princess day?"

            She laughed.  "You're cute," she said, and Brock's face broke into a wide grin as Ash looked at her incredulously.

            "In fact, you remind me of my little brother," she added, and Brock fell down in despair.  Ash laughed as Officer Jenny walked away.

            "Cheer up, Brock.  Maybe some day you'll find a girl who will actually let you fawn over her," he said in amusement.  "Come on, let's go find something to eat."  He pulled his friend up and they started to leave.

            "Excuse me!"  Ash turned around at the sound of a girl's voice.  It sounded vaguely familiar.  His eyes widened as he recognized the figure walking towards him.

            "Excuse me," Misty said again, smiling, "But I couldn't help overhearing you.  As you know, it's Princess day, a day when boys have to do everything a girl says.  So, I insist that you take me to lunch with you."

            "Really?" Ash asked.

            "Yes," Misty said, then laughed.  "Besides, my meal's going to be free in any restaurant you go in today, so I'd be a cheap date."

            Brock looked at her critically.  "I think you're a little young for me..." he started to say, but Ash's mind had latched on the word date and he shoved Brock forcefully to the side.

            "So, where do you want to eat?" he said brightly.

            They picked a small delicatessen in the downtown area, and they sat down to chat as they ate.  Ash proudly showed off his badges, and Misty noticed a familiar one.

            "What, you mean you actually convinced my sisters to let you win one?" she asked.  "They don't usually like to battle.  They might break a nail," she said dryly.

            "Uh...well, yeah, they gave me one," Ash said hastily, then changed the subject before she found out how true his words were.  "So, what are you doing here?"

            "I'm here for the Queen of the Princesses contest," she explained.  "In the past, each of my sisters has come to one of these and won it.  The prize is a doll set.  They're really pretty, and I always wanted a set of my own, but I had to settle for the broken ones and the dolls that my sisters didn't like.  This year, I decided I wanted to win a set for myself."

            Ash and Brock exchanged a look.  It must be a girl thing.  Or maybe just a Misty thing.  In any case, Ash didn't care.  "We'll cheer you on," he said, and was rewarded with a dazzling smile that made it worth it.

            "Thank you," she said.

            The boys sat out in the audience later on, waiting for the beauty portion of the contest to start.  Finally the announcer began the competition.  The crowd began clapping, and Ash yelled out a "Yay, Misty!" and clapped vigorously before turning to Brock and saying through clenched teeth, "Uh, Brock?  Where is she?"

            Brock chuckled.  "She's in the kimono with the rainbows on it, wearing the little gold crown on her head."

            "Oh!  Now I see...her..." And Ash's mouth dropped open.  So it was that Misty happened to look out at the audience right that moment and giggled when she saw Ash in a trance as he stared at her.

            He had recovered by the time the pokémon battles started.  Misty came out, dressed casually again and looking distressed.

            "What's wrong?" Ash asked.

            "It's just that all I have are water pokémon," she said.   "And I love them, but I'm just worried that I'll be at a disadvantage against some of the others.  What if someone specializes in electric type pokémon?  I'd be out of the match!"

            "No sweat!" Ash said, a little too eagerly.  "You can borrow some of ours!"

            '"I can?" Misty asked, gratefully.

            "She can?"  Brock didn't sound nearly as thrilled.

            Ash elbowed Brock in the stomach and shut him up.  "Of course!" he said.  "Pikachu will battle for you, won't you, Pikachu?"

            "Pikachu," the pokémon agreed, having met Misty before and liking her each time.

            "And Bulbasaur is a grass type, and...Brock will let you use Vulpix!" Ash decided.

            "Vulpix?" Brock whined.  "But Vulpix is..."

            "Oh, I love Vulpix!  It's so cute!" Misty squealed. "That's so gentlemanly of you, Brock."

            "Really?" Brock was pacified.  "Well, you know how I am around girls..."

            "Actually, she doesn't, and she's not gonna find out," Ash said, knocking Brock back out of the conversation.  "Okay guys," he told his pokémon, "listen, you do whatever Misty says.  And good luck!"

            "Thank you!" Misty said.  "I hope I win."

            Ash smiled. He had actually been encouraging the pokémon, but he wasn't going to disillusion her.  "I hope you do too."

            The battles were exciting.  Misty won the first rounds with ease, but each round got more and more difficult, until finally, Misty was in the final match.  And her competitor was...

            "Jessie?" Ash and Brock echoed each other as they spotted the Team Rocket member.  Misty looked at them curiously.

            "Do you know each other?" she asked.

            Ash and Brock exchanged a look.  "Unfortunately," Ash said.  "Kick her butt, Mist!"

            "Shut up, twerp," Jessie muttered from her side of the field, having heard Ash's comment.

            The battle looked one-sided from the start.  Pikachu's thundershock nailed each of Jessie's pokémon before they could even manage an offensive move.  And then there was only one battle left.

            "When did Team Rocket get a Lickitung?" Ash asked in surprise.

            "None of your business," Jessie said haughtily.  "Lickitung, use lick!"  And suddenly Pikachu was out of commission.  Bulbasaur and Vulpix met the same fate, and Misty's and Jessie's positions were reversed.  The last battle would be the clincher.

            Ash was gripping the edge of his chair, watching Misty nervously.  Misty herself was staring at her last poké-ball grimly.  "You're my only hope..." she said softly.  "Go, Star....what?" she exclaimed.  "Psyduck?!"

            "Hmm...now that's interesting battle strategy," Brock said, and Misty blushed. 

            "Alright.  Use water gun," she told him. 

            "Lickitung, lick!" Jessie ordered.

            Psyduck just stood there, neither attacking nor being affected by the attack.  Both their trainers looked at them, confused.

            "Lickitung, tackle!" Jessie says.  "Go on...Lickitung?"  The pokémon was ignoring her, continuing to lick Psyduck.

            "Hey, Misty?" Ash asked.  She turned towards him tensely.  "What's wrong with Psyduck?"

            Misty turned back.  It was turning blue, and suddenly she cheered up.  "Alright!  It's got a headache!  Finally!   Come on Psyduck, use confusion!"

            Psyduck's eyes glowed, quite scarily in fact, and then a powerful blast knocked Team Rocket and their pokémon clear out of the ring and into the sky.  And Misty was declared the winner.  Ash and Brock screamed exuberantly for her, making her laugh.

            Later on, as they were helping her pack the dolls to send home, she said, "Thanks for letting me use your pokémon, guys."

            "No problem," Ash said.  "At least not with a great trainer like you.  That was a smart move, waiting until Psyduck got a headache before he attacked!  I never would have thought of it!"

            "Uh...right," Misty said, blushing a little at this.  "Well, anyway.  Thanks again.  For everything."  And she looked directly at Ash and winked.

~~~~~~~~~~

            Ash and Brock had to go through Cerulean City again on the way to battle for his eighth badge. 

            "Who's that girl?" Brock said, floating hearts practically visible above his head as he stared at a billboard in passing.

            "A famous water ballerina," Ash said, reading the advertisement out loud.  "You know, it almost looks like Misty."  Mention of his cute friend made him wistful, then he perked up.  "Hey, this is where she lives!  Come on Brock, let's go see this show.  Maybe she'll be there."

            Brock gave him a doubtful look, not liking this role reversal.  He was supposed to be the girl-crazy one.  "I don't know Ash.  You wanted that gym badge..."

            "Besides, those are her sisters."  Ash pointed to a smaller insert in the corner that Brock had overlooked, naming and picturing the sponsors.

            "Oh....ah!  The Water Flowers of Cerulean City, how could I have forgotten?" he said happily.  "Lead the way!"

            Ash and Brock arrived early and managed to snag a seat near the front.  It seemed like forever before the show started, but eventually the lights dimmed.  "Ladies and gentleman..." a woman announced.  "Children of all ages.  May I introduce...The Littlest Mermaid!"

            The bleachers were filled to capacity, and the stadium erupted in cheers as the pool rose up out of the floor and the star of the show swam out.  "It is her!  Look, Brock, it's Misty..."

            Brock was busy staring at the platform up above the pool with a strangely dopey expression on his face.  "Is it me, or is that guy really pretty?" he said suspiciously, staring at the announcer.

            Ash smacked him.  "That's because it's really a girl, dummy.  It's her sister in disguise, see?"

            "Oh!" Brock laughed, allowing himself to go into full lovesick mood then.  "Whew, I was a little worried there for a minute!"

            "Uh...no comment," Ash said.  At the platform in question, the spotlight moved off the Misty mermaid to the announcer and the two mysterious figures standing with her. 

            "Suddenly, two pirates attacked..." the announcer began, only to be cut off.

            "Prepare for trouble..." the first one said.

            "And make it double..." the second one finished.

            "They're not part of the show!" Ash yelped, bolting upright.  The people behind him screamed for him to sit down, but Ash ignored them and took off running.  

            "Ash, where do you think you're going?" Brock shook his head in exasperation and ran after his younger friend.  He followed Ash into the back stage area.  Daisy had temporarily given up her announcer duties and was preparing to make her grand entrance as Prince. 

            Ash and Brock pushed past her.  "Hey..." she started to protest.

            "Stay here!  We'll take care of Misty!" Ash yelled.

            "I thought we were stopping Team Rocket," Brock protested.

            "Same thing!"

            "Is not!"

            "Ooo, Misty has an admirer?  This should be fun to see," Daisy said, suddenly content to sit back and watch.

            Ash and Brock grabbed two breathing devices on their way out, then dove into the tank.  Misty was holding her own well, sending out her Horsea against Team Rocket's Arbok.  Unfortunately she couldn't do any more than that, and was watching helplessly as Team Rocket gathered up all her Goldeen.

            "Squirtle!"  Ash's voice was garbled through the breathing device as he let out his pokémon.  "Stop them from capturing those pokémon!"  He swam up to Misty, who gave him a startled yet delighted expression.

            "You!" was all she said, but it was enough to make Ash puff up with pride.

            Arbok broke past the other pokémon, but then a Seel darted between the Arbok and the people it was trying to attack.  It held off the poison pokémon's attacks bravely, and even countered with a headbutt, but Ash worried that it couldn't hold out much longer.  That's when it began glowing with a bright light.

            The three trainers watched as it evolved into a Dewgong.  Misty clapped her hands as the Dewgong promptly froze all of Team Rocket's pokémon, including the two flunkies themselves, with a powerful ice beam.

            Ash grabbed Misty's arm and they swam up to the surface, everyone climbing onto a rock.   Once they were safely out of the pool—"Alright, Pikachu.  Thundershock!"   The bolt of electricity sent the whole lot of intruders flying off.  The crowd cheered at the dramatic climax to the show, still none the wiser.

            "And so," the announcer's voice came out over the intercom, "the handsome prince—make that princes—save the day!"

            "She thinks I'm handsome!" Brock cried joyously.

            "I always knew you were a prince, Ash, " Misty said.  "Guess there's only one thing to do."  And she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

            "Eh...he..."  Ash could only laugh as his face turned beet red, placing a hand over the spot where she had kissed him.  "Well, a princess needs a prince."

            "Hey, you want to come to my room and see how I displayed my princess dolls?" she said brightly. 

            "Sure!" They held hands as they left,  leaving Brock behind, but he didn't seemed notice.  And even if he did, as the Sensational sisters came out to check on their pokémon he was too busy trying to impress them with his pokémon prowess to care.

           

~~~~~~~~~~

            It was a good memory to end on, Ash thought ruefully in the months that passed before he saw her again.  His first efforts at becoming a master had ended respectfully but unsuccessfully, as he only made the top sixteen at the Pokémon League.  He couldn't help but think at the time what Misty would have thought of that.  But always determined, he allowed himself only a little time to sulk before heading off on another adventure, this time in the Orange League.

            His traveling companion was different this time.  "I've been a wandering man long enough," Brock announced to Ash when they reached Professor Ivy's labs.  He struck a rugged stance that the wind blowing his apron in the breeze seemed to parody.  "I won't make my father's mistakes.  It's time to settle down and be a family man."

            "If you say so..." Ash, despite his occasional doubts about his friend, was honestly downcast at this.  "I'll miss you, but you have to do what you've got to do."  The two friends waved goodbye.

            Ash picked up another friend, though, a pokémon watcher named Tracey who helped him care for a lost Lapras they found.  They traveled around the islands together, Tracey watching and observing the different pokémon they came across, and Ash accepting all the battles he was offered. He had garnered two badges by the time they reached Trovita island.

            "Hey, she's in trouble!" Ash yelled as Lapras approached the island.  There was a small girl and her seel caught in a whirlpool.  "We have to do something."

            "No need!" Tracey yelled. "Look!" 

            Another girl and her staryu swam out and pulled the girl out, then tread water, exhausted from having to fight the whirlpool.  Ash directed Lapras to pick her up and was in for a shock when he reached them.

            "Misty?" he said.

            "Ash!"  Misty laughed.  "You always do seem to show up in the right place at the right time!  I didn't know you were in the Orange Islands—are you here to battle for a badge?"

            "I sure am!  What are you doing here?" Ash asked.  Misty hesitated, giving the little girl a chance to pipe up.

            "Misty's my sister!" she told him.  Ash looked at her in surprise.

            "I didn't know you had a younger sister," he said.

            "I don't," Misty said, blushing.  "Marie just likes to call me that because I treat her like a little sister."

            "I see," Ash said as they reached the shore and climbed off Lapras, but belied his words when he then asked, "Why?"

            "Because," a boy's voice broke in, "Marie's always wanted a sister.  So she just adopts all my girlfriends as her own."

            Ash was too busy staring at Misty to answer.  Girlfriend?  She gave him an anguished look, then smiled nervously at the other boy.  "I guess I should introduce you two," she said weakly.  "Rudy, this is one of my friends, Ash.  Ash, this is Rudy."

            "Her boyfriend," Rudy added, walking over and putting a protective arm around Misty.  Misty shrugged it off, unnecessarily annoyed at this action.  This didn't stop Rudy from throwing a smirk at Ash.  "I got a good one, didn't I?"

            "Sure did," Ash forced a smile.  "You're really lucky, Rudy.  In fact," he said, inspired, "Misty's the only other girl I've ever met that's just as pretty as Melody."

            Now it was Misty's turn to stare at him as both Rudy and Tracey looked surprised. "Your girl?" Rudy asked.

            "Yeah, but I had to leave her behind on Shamuti island," Ash said casually.  "She didn't want to travel, so I told her we'd have to hold off until after League was over."

            Tracey leaned over and spoke to him in a low tone.  "But Ash, you never...oof!"  A well-placed elbow stopped the watcher's comments.  Misty was watching the two with an unreadable expression.

            "After the League?  You're a bit confident, aren't you?" Rudy said.  "You've got to get past me first, you know."

            "Bring it on," Ash told him.

            "Well, you have to prove yourself worthy to battle first..." Rudy began.

            "Just show him to the gym, Rudy," Misty said quietly.

            "What?" Rudy turned to look at her, surprised that she had bothered to interrupt him.  "But Misty, you know that the obstacle course is always..."

            "Just show him to the gym," she said again.  "He's good enough. I'll vouch for that."  She turned around and walked away, her step the slowest Ash had ever seen.  Had he caused that?  He felt a pang of guilt, then shrugged it off as Rudy looked at him and spoke.

            "Well," Rudy said, "I guess we'll use the outdoor stadium.  You can pick three pokémon, and I'll choose three of the same type.  May the best man win."

            "You'd better believe it," Ash muttered.

            They faced off on a platform stadium, basically an elevated island above the sea, beginning with electric type pokémon. Pikachu was quickly overpowered by an Electabuzz, one of the few gym battles it didn't win.  Then it was onto grass types.  After a tough battle, Bulbasaur's sleep powder won this round against Rudy's Exeggutor.  Finally it was down to the water pokémon.

            Rudy surprised them all when he commanded his Starmie to spin around rapidly and then it suddenly unleashed a thunderbolt.  Ash's Squirtle, weak against electricity, was knocked almost to the edge of the platform as Ash yelled out in surprise.

            "But..." was all he could think of saying.

            "Ash!"  Misty's voice yelled out, distracting both the gym leader and challenger.  "Come on, get it together!  You're the only one who can bring out Squirtle's real power!"

            "Misty, what are you doing?" Rudy asked in astonishment.

            "Just helping a fellow trainer," she said.  Rudy's face hardened and he glared at Ash.

            "Finish it," he commanded his starmie.

            "Not on your life," Ash replied, buoyed by her encouragement.  "Squirtle, water gun!"

            Squirtle broke free, only to be knocked off the cliff by the rebound.  Ash ran to the edge and yelled down after it.  "Squirtle!"

            Suddenly the pokémon started spinning, water pumping out of its shell.  The water ricocheted off the rocks surrounding the platform and propelled Squirtle back up to the scene of the battle.

            "Squirtle learned hydropump!" Tracey exclaimed, as he had been watching the battles—both the physical one between the pokémon and the psychological one between Ash and Rudy—from the sidelines.   "The pressure from the battle must have given him the ability!"

            "Great!  Squirtle, let's do it!   Hydropump again!"  And it was finished.

            "Well, Ash, I guess you earned this," Rudy said grudgingly, as he handed Ash a Spike Shell badge.  "Congratulations.  Though I must say," Rudy added as he put his arm around Misty, "I still have the prize."

            "I won't disagree with that," Ash said, and Misty smiled at them faintly.  "Thanks, Rudy.  It was good to meet you—and good to see you again, Misty."

            "Likewise," Misty said, and they smiled sadly at each other then Ash turned to leave.

~~~~~~~~~~

            Ash and Tracey decided to take a quick sidebar after Ash won his fourth badge and before they headed to Pummelo island.  They stopped off on a small island, giving Tracey a chance to sketch some new pokémon and Ash to do some more training.  Or at least he was supposed to be training.

            "Are you still thinking about that girl?" Tracey asked.  Ash was sitting more quietly than usual in the grass behind Tracey as the watcher sketched a vileplume.

            "No," Ash said irritably, "of course not.  I was just thinking about the upcoming Orange League, that's all.  In fact, I'm going to go practice some more right now."  He stood up and brushed himself off.  "Come on, Pikachu."  The pokémon looked up but didn't get a chance to follow its trainer, as Ash promptly tripped over a tree root as he started to stomp away but fell headlong into Tracey instead.

            "Ash, watch it....oww," Tracey said weakly as they both fell at the vileplume and startled it, causing it to release its stun spore on them then run away.  They sank against each other's backs. "What are we going to do?" Tracey asked in a thin voice.  "We need antidote to get better."

            "We need some help," Ash said, sounding just as sickly.  "Pikachu, do something, please." 

            Pikachu's cheeks sparked.

            "No!" Tracey and Ash yelled simultaneously.

            "That won't help any," Ash added hastily and Pikachu stopped charging up, looking at its trainer helplessly.  "See if you can go find some help," Ash said.  Pikachu ran off, and Ash closed his eyes, his chest heaving.  It was hard to breathe with that stuff in his lungs.

            After what seemed like an eternity he heard a soft voice.  "What happened?"  He opened his eyes and blinked. 

            "You're an angel," he murmured.  Misty blushed.

            "Shut up, Ash," she said gently.  "You're delirious from stun spore.  Come on, you two have got to lie down.  There's a rest house just past those trees.  I can help you one at a time if you think you can make it.  Here, put your arm around my shoulder for support.  Pikachu, stay here with Tracey and come get me if anything happens."

            Ash barely managed to stagger to his feet, and together they limped over to a small hut.  Misty laid him carefully on a pallet inside.  "I don't want to leave you alone," she said worriedly.

            "I'll be okay," he said, already breathing easier now that he was lying flat.  "Send Pikachu back as soon as you get there.  I promise I'll be all right."

            She brushed his bangs off his forehead.  "Okay," she said softly.  "I'll be back real soon.  Stay put."

            "It'll be hard, but I'll try," Ash said, closing his eyes in exhaustion.  She smiled slightly through her concern.

            True to her word, Misty was back shortly.  Though in his condition Ash found it impossible to tell exactly how long.  She tenderly placed a wonderfully cool wet cloth over both of their foreheads.

            "Dexter..." Tracey murmured sleepily.  "Where's Dexter..."  Misty raised her eyebrows disturbingly and looked at Ash.

            "Is he asking for someone?" she asked.  Ash tried to laugh and choked instead.

            "My pokédex," he managed to spit out.  "In my jacket."

            "Oh!"  Misty blushed.  "Right."  She pulled the device out and looked up Vileplume.

            "A broth made of Sangora weed is the antidote?" she said.  "Found at the bottom of lakes.  There's a lake nearby, I'll go see if I can find some.  Pikachu, you stay here and come get me if there's an emergency.  I'll be back as soon as I can," she told the boys.

            "Thanks...Mist..." Ash said gratefully.

            "You can thank me when I've found the Sangora weed," she said gently.  "Wish me luck."

            "Angels don't need luck."

            "Would you stop with that?" she said, laughing, then raced out of the hut.

            Ash dozed off while he waited for her.  He was aware of Tracey shifting every so often, just as Tracey was probably aware of every time he coughed or groaned.  Pikachu drug a new washcloth over to him every so often, though the pokémon couldn't be nearly as graceful as Misty.  Finally, in a daze, he was aware of someone helping him to sit up.  She held a cup of broth out to him. 

            "Careful," she said.  "I tried not to make it too hot, but I don't want you to burn yourself."

            Ash took a cautious sip out of the cup as Misty helped hold it.  It tasted bland, but he could stomach it.  Much better than Robitussen.  The liquid seemed to sooth his throat, anyway.  Almost immediately he felt better. 

            "Finish drinking it," she said.  "I'll help Tracey."

            Ash was relatively alert as he watched his other friend receive treatment of his own.  When they were both fully recovered they stood up and gave Misty a grateful look, but were interrupted by shouting outdoors before they could voice their thanks.  They ran outside to investigate.

            "Prepare for trouble..." Jessie was trying to say, but James had his hand over her mouth and he and Meowth were carting her away.

            "Thanks again...I mean, Team Rocket's blasting off again!" Meowth yelled as they ran off.  Ash and Tracey gave them a puzzled look.

            "Any idea what that's about?" Ash asked.  Misty giggled.

            "Maybe they just discovered that they don't have to steal everything they want.  Sometimes, all they have to do is ask," she said.  The two boys gave her a strange look.  "I gave them some Sangora weed," she admitted, and their expressions cleared.

            "That was really nice of you," Ash said.  "Say...Misty...how did you happen to show up here, anyway?"

            Misty smiled.  "I was just looking for some new water pokémon," she said.  "And in fact, I did catch a Poliwag while I was searching for the Sangora weed.  What a coincidence, huh?"

            "Sure was," Ash agreed.  "So...I guess you'll be going back to Trovita island now?" he asked cautiously.  She gave him a bittersweet smile.

            "We broke up, if that's what your asking," she said.

            "Oh!"  Ash wasn't sure what to think of being seen through so easily.  And he knew he shouldn't be happy about the break-up, but couldn't help thinking that this news had helped to heal him even more than the Sangora weed.  "I'm sorry."  He wasn't.

            "Don't be," she said.  "I mean, it wasn't a bad parting, but...we were just meant to go our separate ways."  Ash nodded.

            "So, how's Melody?"  It was Misty's turn to ask.

            "Umm..." he had almost forgotten about that, and Tracey gave him an I told you so look.  "Actually, it's kind of funny. Same thing happened.  We just decided it was too hard to keep up a long distance relationship."

            "Right," Misty said, his words giving her a pained expression.  Too late he realized his mistake.

            "Well, I guess maybe I'll see you around sometime," she said sadly.  "We do seem to run into each other a lot."

            "Right..." Ash said, unsure of how to fix this.  "I'll treat you to lunch next time."

            "I'll look forward to it," she said.  "Bye now."  She waved as she walked away.  Ash waited until she was gone before kicking the sand angrily.

            "Smooth move, genius," Tracey said sarcastically.  "'It's too hard to keep up a long distance relationship,'" he mimicked.

            "Shut up, Tracey," Ash said despondently.  "I'm depressed enough as it is."

~~~~~~~~~~

            Ash's life took another turn.  He won the final competition this time, becoming the youngest trainer ever to be an Orange League champion.  He traveled home to give his trophy to his mom, and Brock and Tracey traded places once again as Tracey stayed to help Professor Oak, as Brock was home for some indiscernible reason.

            "What happened at Professor Ivy's?" Ash asked him.

            "I don't want to talk about it," Brock answered.

            "What, your male ego at stake?" Ash asked.

            "Yes.  Now leave me alone," Brock had sniped.  So Ash shrugged and did.

            They set out on a journey through Johto in order to compete in the Johto League.  Ash hadn't even made it to the first gym when he and Brock managed to get lost in the forest.  Night started to fall, making the dark forest even darker, and the boys continued to stumble their way around.  Strange noises appeared around them, and they began seeing odd sights and spooky apparitions.  They screamed as they backed into a tree only to turn around and see a gaping mouth laughing at them.  Then a bright red light cut through the night and everything returned to normal.

            "Caught off guard again, huh, Ash?" Gary walked towards him.  Ash, still smarting from a loss to his rival before setting out on his new journey, scowled at Gary. 

            "What do you want?" he asked.

            "Everybody knows that you need a hoot-hoot to get out of these woods," Gary said, "to fight the ghost pokémon."  He gave Ash a critical look.  "Then again, obviously everybody doesn't know."

            "Oh, are you going to stick around and taunt me, or are you going to help me out?" Ash groaned.

            "As entertaining as that possibility sounds—both of them—I must be leaving," Gary said.  "There's a house in the woods where a woman rents hoot-hoots to hapless travelers—like you—to people who aren't smart enough to capture their own hoot-hoot, like I did."  He smirked.  "Smell you later."

            "Speaking of which, that line's gotten really stale, you know that?" Ash yelled at Gary's retreating figure.  Brock groaned.

            "Forget the stupid jokes and just start looking for a hoot-hoot," Brock said.  "Unless you want to be stuck here all night, that is."  Ash was still burning but grudgingly began to help out.

            Their efforts seemed in vain, though they did spot Ho-oh, a flying dratini, and a pikachu that was ten times its normal size, which they figured were all illusions from the ghosts.  But when they finally came across a hoot-hoot, Ash instructed Pikachu to thundershock it to make sure it wasn't a mirage.  It squawked loudly and ran off.

            "After it!" Ash yelled.  They gave chase.  The hoot-hoot came back several times to attack, but for the most part just tried to retreat.  It eventually came to a hiding place, one that even Ash and Brock couldn't get around.  It stood behind its trainer's legs.

            Ash looked up to see who the trim legs belonged to and perked up.  "This night is starting to improve already," he said approvingly.  "I was wondering when I'd see you again.  I should have known it would be when I had managed to get into another mess I couldn't get out of by myself.  Next time I want to see you, I'll just get lost in a desert without a canteen, or something like that."  Misty laughed at this.

            "Good to see you too.  Though it's a little late for lunch," Misty teased, reminding him of his earlier promise.  "How about I just help you guys out of the forest instead?"

            "That would be great," Ash said.

            They talked as they walked.  "So, Ash," Misty said, her eyes twinkling.  "I saw you on TV when you won the Orange League."

            "Uhhh...really?" Ash said nervously, knowing where this was going.

            "Sure did.  Is it really true that you won that trophy for me?" she teased.  Ash started laughing himself, his face a light pink that he hoped the darkness was hiding.

            "I was a little excited," he said sheepishly.

            "So you didn't win it for me?" she asked.

            "I didn't say that," Ash said, smiling. "Unfortunately, my mom claimed it as a dumbbell to exercise with before I could give it to you, so I'm afraid you'll have to fight her for it."

            "Well, I can't exactly steal from your mother," she said, then looked ahead and suddenly shrieked.  She jumped back and grabbed Ash by the shoulders.   He quickly pulled her around and held her as she cowered in his arms.

            "What is it?" he cried out in alarm, but a red beam broke through night, and Misty blinked, calmer at once.

            "Oh," she said, an embarrassed tone to her voice.  "It must have been a ghost.  I'm sorry, I thought it was a bug pokémon.  I know it's silly, but I'm really scared of them."

            "That's alright," Ash said, rubbing her back for good measure.  "Everybody's scared of something."  He was still holding her.  Neither were inclined to let go, but they broke away reluctantly.

            "Hey, look!" Brock said.  "It's the edge of the forest."

            On the one hand Ash was glad to get out of the creepy area.  On the other, he knew that he'd have to leave Misty again.  "Oh, goody," he said flatly, and Misty giggled, giving him an amused look that said she knew exactly what he was thinking.

            "I have to return Hoot-hoot now," she said, herself regretful.  "It's not mine.  I borrowed it from a lady in the woods, and she told me that I can return it to her sister when I was done with it." 

            "Alright," Ash sighed.  "I'll see you the next time I'm being held hostage by a band of marauding pirates, or clutched in the jaws of a houndour, or something."

            "And I'll be more than happy to rescue you," Misty said, smiling, and then she left.  Brock shook his head.

            "You know, we're really dumb," Brock said.  Ash gave him a questioning look.  "I'm always looking for girls but never seem to find one.  You're never looking for one but always find Misty.  Can we trade places?"

            "Not on your life," Ash said, grinning.

~~~~~~~~~~

            Ash collected two badges in the Johto League, and was making his way to the third when he was resting alongside a river bank one day, having been halfheartedly convinced by Brock to try fishing for pokémon for a change.  And only then it was because Brock reminded him that Misty might respect him more with another water pokémon.

            Ash managed to catch a rusted out tea kettle.  "That's it!" he said, standing up in frustration.  "This isn't worth it.  I'm going to go catch pokémon the normal way..."

            "'Dile!" A jubilant pokémon shouted, jumping out of the bushes.  It danced on the banks, doing flips for its new found spectators.

            "Hello, what's this?" Ash said, pulling out his pokédex.  "A totodile.  Speak of the devil...I'll just have to catch it."  He pulled out a lure ball and crouched down.  "Poké-ball..."

            "Don't touch that 'dile!" a girl's voice shrieked as she ran out of the bushes.  "I've been stalking it for the past half hour, if you even dare catch it, I swear I'll tear your head off...hey, it's you!" She stopped in her tracks, composing herself immediately as she brushed a few strays hairs off her face and gave Ash a dazzling smile.

            "Misty!"  Ash just stood there, a goofy expression on his face.  Brock tapped him on the shoulder, and when that didn't work, knocked him upside the head like Ash always did to him when he had stopped to harass yet another girl.

            "Oww!  What?"  Ash asked, his trance broken as he rubbed his head in annoyance.

            "The totodile?" Brock reminded him, pointing at the still dancing pokémon that was excited at all the fuss it was causing..

            "Oh yeah!" He turned to Misty.  Inspiration struck.  "Hey, how about we battle for it?"

            "That could be fun," Misty said. "I've never battled against you before."

            "You have to catch it first," Brock pointed out.

            "Right.  How about one of us gets it, and then Brock can be the judge when we decide who gets to keep it?" Ash proposed.

            "Sounds good," Misty agreed, then...

            "I'll get it," they both said in unison, pulling poké-balls out of their pockets.  They looked at each other in surprise.

            "You know Kurt!" Ash said, staring at the apricorn ball in her hand.

            "Yes, and you picked a lure ball too!" Misty said.  They grinned at each other.

            "Ooo, it's a sign.  You must be destined to be together," Brock said sarcastically.  "Just throw the balls.  One of you is bound to catch it, and then the winner can keep the totodile while the other person keeps the other lure ball."

            "Sounds fair," they agreed, then did as they were told.  Totodile was captured easily.  Then the fun began. 

            "Now I'm not going to go easy on you just because I like...just because you're my friend," Ash said, his face turning beet red at this slip of tongue.  Misty started giggling.  She had a nice laugh.

            "Same here," she said, winking.  "Go ahead."

            "Alright then," he said. "Pikachu, I choose you!" The electric pokémon ran out in front of him, cheeks already sparking in excitement.  It knew this was a special battle.

            "I've got to warn you, Pikachu's pretty strong," Ash said.

            "Oh, don't worry."  Misty grinned devilishly, looking adorable in the process, Ash thought.  "I've got a secret weapon."

            "Sounds scary," Ash teased.

            "Nope, just plain cute!  Togepi, go!  Charm attack!"

            "A what attack?" Ash asked in confusion.  Togepi ran up to Pikachu and started squealing excitedly, attempting to jump in Pikachu's arms.  Pikachu held the little egg pokémon at arms length, trying to keep it at bay, and glanced up at Ash with a distraught look on its face.

            "What?" Ash said, scratching his head.  "Come on, Pikachu, try a thunderbolt." 

            "Togepi, hug attack!" 

            Pikachu just looked at the smaller pokémon as it succeeded in reaching it and attempted to put its little arms around Pikachu's neck.  Failing to do this, it proceeded to smother Pikachu with kisses instead.  Pikachu had had enough.

            "Piii..." it whined as it ran and cowered behind Ash's legs.  Brock declared Misty the winner.

            "Don't worry.  I couldn't have hurt a baby either," Ash said soothingly.  He looked up at Misty.  "That was very sneaky," he said admiringly.

            "I try," she said, giggling.

            "Well, try to beat this one then," he said.  "Chikorita, I choose you!"  He released his pokémon, then had to defend himself from a hug attack as Chikorita promptly leapt onto him and nudged him affectionately.  "Uhh...that's very nice..." Ash said, embarrassed to have it doing this in front of Misty.  "Go on and battle now."

            "How sweet!" Misty said.

            "Yeah, Chikorita is pretty cute," Ash agreed.

            "I was talking about the relationship you have with your pokémon," Misty said, causing Ash to blush even more.

            "Yeah, yeah, yeah—Chikorita, vine whip now!" he said, hastily trying to change the subject.

            "I have to choose a pokémon first, silly," Misty said, calling his bluff and enjoying his discomfort as he blushed yet again.  Ash decided that his face would be a permanent shade of pink by the time this was over.  "Staryu, go!"

            The battle was tough, but Ash finally won that round.  And then his Bulbasaur defeated her Poliwag—so it seemed.

            "Wait, what's happening?" Misty said as they started to go forward for a customary handshake.

            "It's not out of the battle yet, after all!" Brock said.  "It's evolving!"

            "Poliwag!" Misty said, clapping her hands elatedly.  "You're evolving just for me?"

            "Poliwhirl!" it said in agreement as it finished its evolution.  Misty looked at Ash.  "I guess we're not finished.  Poliwhirl, body slam!"

            "Bulbasaur, tackle!" Ash yelled.  Poliwhirl was at an advantage though, and both pokémon tumbled to the ground, Bulbasaur underneath the larger pokémon.

            "Razor leaf!" Ash yelled, and a tired Bulbasaur did at it was told.  But it was time to end this.  "Bulbasaur, power up for solar beam!"

            "Poliwhirl, bubble!" Misty said.  The attack weakened Bulbasaur, but it bravely kept on.  Finally it was time.

            "Now!" Ash yelled, and Misty was out of the battle, for real this time.

            "Ash is the winner!" Brock declared.  "Again!"  Everyone laughed at this.

            "That was a good match," Misty said as she came forward and they shook hands.  "Maybe you did deserve to be Orange League champion."

            "Ah, well, you were pretty good yourself," Ash said.  "I just wish I had a doll set to give you."  They smiled and stopped the handshaking, but still continued holding each others hands, smiling at each other.

            "Don't forget your prize," Brock butted in, breaking the two apart and placing the lure ball containing the totodile in Ash's hands.  "Here's the other lure ball, Misty."

            "Thanks, Brock," Misty said cheerfully. Ash's glare was not nearly so benevolent.

            "Yeah, thanks," he growled.

            "You remember this next time we see a Nurse Joy or Officer Jenny," Brock said, wagging his finger at Ash.  The two boys exchanged a wry glance.

            "Have fun with your new Totodile," Misty said.  "I guess I need to be going now."

            "You can stay if you want to..." Ash volunteered.

            "Want to?  Yes.  But can I?  No," she said, smiling at him.  "Don't worry.  I'm sure we'll see each other again.  I just don't know under what circumstances," she said.

            "I guess you're right," Ash said, sighing.  "See you."

            In spite of his attitude, Brock looked at Ash sympathetically as she left.  "Well, at least you got a new Totodile," he said.

            "Sure," Ash said.  "For once, I almost wish I had lost, though." He looked wistfully in the direction Misty had departed in, then shrugged, and they continued on their way.

~~~~~~~~~~

            A lot of time elapsed.  Ash won the Johto League and was that much closer to becoming a pokémon master.  After this, Brock and Ash amiably parted ways for good, as Brock decided to take another stab at Pokémon breeding—this time at a research lab with a girl named Professor Cherry.  Ash shook his head, but judging from Cherry's warm reception thought that Brock might have finally met someone who could tolerate him for more than a few minutes.  Ash wished his friend a fond farewell and started to head home.

            He took the scenic route, stopping in the woods by his house for a moment to greet the Pidgeot he had left behind before he started his last journey.  "Pidgeot!" he yelled.  "It's me, Ash!  Are you here?"

            An enormous bird pokémon flew towards him.  It squawked in happiness.  "There you are!" Ash said, just as pleased.  "How are you doing, buddy?"

            In answer to his question, another Pidgeot flew up and sat next to his, and nuzzled Ash's Pidgeot affectionately.  A little Pidgey gave a wobbly flight up to sit beside it. 

            "You have a family!" Ash said.  He tipped his hat to it.  "Well, congratulations!  I won't take you away from them.  But hey, I'm here to stay now, at least for a good long visit.  So I'll see you again soon, okay?  Maybe you can give me a ride sometime!"

            Pidgeot squawked its agreement, then the family flew off, the parents slowing their pace so that the smaller Pidgey could keep up.  Ash smiled at their departure.

            "I miss them when they leave, but boy, I like it when I see things like that," Ash told Pikachu, who nodded its head in agreement.  They headed out of the woods towards the river and walked along its banks, just enjoying the day. 

            Suddenly Ash stopped in his tracks.  "It can't be..." he said, his face breaking out in a delighted smile.  "She's back home?"

            He ran towards her.  "Misty!" he yelled.  "Misty, is that you?"

            The girl looked up from the banks and stared at him in shock, then recovered and leaped up, ignoring the fishing pole that she dropped in the process.  "Ash!" she yelled and ran forward too.  Consequently they nearly collided when they reached each other and had to catch themselves in a hug, laughing as they broke apart.

            "What are you doing here?" she asked.

            "I'm going home," he said.

            "You live around here?" she asked in disbelief.

            "Yeah, in Pallet town.  What, you didn't know that?" It was his turn to be surprised.

            "How could I?  You never told me, silly!" she laughed again, too happy to contain her joy.  "How long are you here for?"

            "A while," he said.  "A long while.  I've been traveling for four years now, I'm ready to be home."

            "You, homesick?" she teased him. "Mr. Top Sixteen in the Pokémon League and Orange and Johto League Champion, homesick?"

            Ash grinned at her recital of his list of accomplishments.  "Yes," he said simply.  "I've missed it...I've missed a lot of things."

            Misty ducked her head.  The smile still hadn't left her face.  "I'll be around for a while too," she said.  "Maybe now we'll finally run into each other more often than every six months."

            "Maybe," Ash said.  "Especially if I invite you to come back with me and have that lunch I never got to give you."

            "I've never been to Pallet town," she said.

            "There's not much to it," Ash advised.

            "Oh, I wouldn't say that," Misty said.  "It's got you."

            "I...err...uh, well, can't argue with you on that," he laughed, scratching his head self-consciously.  "But it'd be even better if you were there."

            Misty tilted her head cutely, pretending to think on it.  "Tell you what.  I'll come with you, on one condition," she said.  "You have to do me a favor first."

            "Sure.  And what's that?" Ash asked.

            "This."

            And he closed his eyes when she leaned forward and their lips came together in a soft kiss.  They stayed that way for a few seconds, not daring to try anything deeper, before they pulled apart.  Misty blushed and looked down.

            "I...think I can handle that," Ash said teasingly.  "Except you know, now you owe me one."

            "Oh?" Misty looked up, her eyes twinkling.

            "Yeah.  And I'll think I'll take you up on it now."  And they kissed again.

When they pulled away, Ash kept his hand on hers.  "So," he said smiling, "are you ready?  My mom will be anxious to meet you."

            "Sure.  Just let me get my things."  She put her fishing rod and lures on a shiny red bike she had nearby.  Holding it upright, she said, "Of course, you know I'm going to beat you there.  Unless you think you can outrun me on a bike."

            "Outrun you?  No," Ash said, smiling as he walked over and placed his hands on the bike as if admiring it, then took her by surprise as he suddenly leaped on.  "Outwit you?  Yes!" he said, laughing as he pedaled off, Pikachu jumping into the basket right before he left.

            "Ash Ketchum!  Give me back my bike!" she shrieked, laughing as she ran to catch up to him.  "You'll wreck it!"

            "Yeah, right.  In a parallel universe, maybe!" he yelled back, then braked suddenly to let her catch up.  She stopped when she reached him, and he raised his eyebrows.  "Well, are you getting on or not?"

            "I thought you'd never ask," she said, wrapping her arms around his waist and jumping on.

            "Alright!" he yelled as he sped off.  "Pallet town, here we come!"

            They sped off down the road, racing down the hills and curves to his house, until they reached it and Ash parked Misty's—still intact—bike.  Smiling, they held each other's hands again and walked inside.  Home at last.

The End

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This is the result of a pokémon fan working in a library.  The title is a reference to Lance Armstrong's autobiography about surviving cancer.  Yeah, the connection to pokémon is quite obvious, don't you think?  Can I help it if I immediately thought of the first episode?  ^_^;

Hope you enjoyed spotting the similarities and differences from the timeline in this story.  There were also at least three episode title references for the observant.  This being an alternate reality fic, there will inevitably be numerous other stories similar to it, and I apologize in advance for that, but trust me—it wasn't intentional, as more than likely I haven't read that fic (or fics) anyway.  Please review, as I've had a stressful day, and therefore any encouragement will just serve to cement my opinion that all of you are absolute dolls (hopefully that's a gender neutral enough compliment.)  In addition, this story is for all of those who, despite ff.net being network-challenged, reviewed my last fic.  Thanks for the great comments.

Disclaimer:  I own Pokémon, just like I own Disney, Wal-mart, and the entire continent of Australia.  And I don't know why they have me visiting that psychologist, really. (What god-complex?!)   ^_~