Disclaimer - I don't own nothin'.

Notes - It hit me in the dead of night - 2:56am to be exact - that this idea, while maybe OOC, was a good idea. So I went with it. And I'm proud of myself for doing so. Wait, wait; I have one more thing to say. . . Ash-angst is such fun to write. XD

By - Chibi / Warlordess


Title - "It's Better"

Summary - Losing never left a good feeling behind. Ash knew this best of all; especially now. One-sided Pokeshipping. Orangeshipping. UGH.


They say lots of things, you know? Ash had never paid attention to them before now, because he liked to live his life by his own rulebook, and that meant not following the directions of some nameless person or people who would be teaching him lessons he'd rather have liked to learn himself.

He had always been told he was pretty dense, but he had never thought it would be because he hadn't bothered to listen to them. . .

"It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

Yeah, right. He didn't even know what love was, but he sure as hell felt the pain enough right now to think he could associate himself with the feeling.

And he didn't like it, at all.

The phone was ringing and he was more than excited to tell Misty about the badge he'd won. She seemed interested in his journey far more now than when she'd been with him. . . possibly because it was the only way she'd know anything to do with him at this point, stuck at the gym. You know, he would have to tell her himself.

But he was okay with that because one thing Ash never got tired of doing was talking about his own jobs-well-done.

"This is the Cerulean City Gym, Violet speaking. How can I help you today?"

"Oh, hm. . . This is Ash. Can I talk to Misty?"

"Ash. . . ?" The tone of confusion in the older girl's voice told Ash that she was having trouble placing the name to a face. "Oh. . . Oh! You're Misty's little boyfriend, right? Well, sorry but - like - she's not here at the moment. She went out with a friend, but she said she'd be back in about two hours. . . Do you wanna call back then?"

Ash shook his head, slightly dejected, before realizing that the monitor wasn't on and he'd have to voice his reply.

"Nah, sorry for bothering you. I guess I can see her having things to do and other people to hang out with when I'm not there to bug her." He laughed, hiding his disappointment fairly well. "But could ya pass the message along for her to call me at the Pokemon Center I mentioned to her last time? She'll know where it is. You know, when you get the chance to speak."

"Oh, yeah, sure. Okay then, bye!" And the girl hung up before Ash could even wish her the same farewell.

It was weird, even if Ash didn't want to admit it, even if it wasn't really weird and it was just his head saying it was weird because he couldn't think of any other word for it. The thing was, Misty was always home. She often sat in the arena just to make sure her sisters were doing what they were supposed to be doing, or else behind the desk taking calls, or even swimming in the huge pool when she wasn't in the need of training, and it wasn't being used for battle.

So even if it was a bit of an inconvenience for her to stop what she was doing and talk to him, she was still there, and she'd still do it.

He had assumed it was because he was sorta special. Just a bit, you know? That classification that set him up just a little higher than the others? The thing that made her place the word "best" in front of his generic "friend" logo.

He kinda missed that now.

Because this was not the first time Misty had not been there recently to take his calls. It was usually Daisy who answered in her place, since Lily and Violet were not big on Gym Leader-ing. And Daisy always had this strange look about her as she thought up an excuse to get him to believe that Misty wasn't simply avoiding him. They were plausible, too, nothing outrageous. But they were still lies, and even he knew it.

"They say that when two people fight a lot, they must really care for each other!"

Someone had told him that, but he couldn't remember who anymore. That had been a long time ago. As in, Misty-was-still-traveling-with-him long. And that was - what? - about three or so years ago. They hadn't grown so far apart at that point.

The rift between them now was no small feat to tear apart, but they'd made the effort by often exchanging information and keeping in touch. And it was worth it just to have an old friend to talk to when talking to the ones he was always around became too boring and repetitive.

. . . What's more, he'd always thought Misty could use the company. The first time he'd called, out of the blue, and she'd been there? Yeah, she had laughed for five minutes in denial of the fact it was actually him, because he never called. And when he'd finally convinced her, she'd sighed in a relieved sort of way and started up a line of questioning that Ash spent almost ten minutes deciphering, she was talking so fast.

But apparently that wasn't the case anymore. Was she trying to make the rift grow back? Was she trying to hurt him? Because it was working, and to a degree he wouldn't have known of before now.

After all, he wasn't the only one with interesting things to say. She'd had a couple tales to tell him, too. Things about Team Rocket - the Cassidy and Botch (or whatever his name was) Team Rocket, not the Jessie and James Team Rocket - and things about those creeps from Viridian City coming back to try and take over the Gym, and her sisters returning and Tracey coming to visit. There was always an adventure.

Huh; and he'd thought before then that those things could only take place when he was around.

"Absence makes the heart grow fonder."

He wished those were only words, words that didn't mean a thing. . . but they did, and he knew for sure now. He had always known, ever since the time Brock left with Professor Ivy, that any friend's departure would be hard on him. He was, admittedly, the type of person to thrive on companionship. It was one of the reasons why he and his Pokemon were so close - and he meant all of them, not just Pikachu. Come to think of it, Butterfree's leaving, and Pikachu's almost leaving. . . yeah, they'd both left him in tears, not to mention his other Pokemon he'd let go. But he'd done it in good faith. In good reason.

Because he knew that they had something more for themselves rather than just him pulling them out once in awhile for training or battling for a badge. He'd loved them all, and while it hurt to let them go, he'd done it for their sakes. And there was no truer thing to say about those moments in time than the periods of which he spent away from them and how they'd easily led up to a great deal of grief and respect, and some other things, too.

But when Misty had left. . . something had really hurt inside, worse than that. . . worse than when Brock or Tracey had gone the first time. And when Brock had said on that day - quite suddenly - that he had to go, too? Some red string inside Ash's heart had been cut into pieces.

Because, as aforementioned, Ash thrived on companionship. And he'd never been more alone than that evening as he raced home, thanking his friends - thanking Misty - for the confidence she'd displayed in him over the years, the friendship she'd offered, the jokes she'd made, the laughs she'd given, the lessons she'd taught. . .

He liked to think that he wasn't the only one who saw things that way. Misty must have known him that well, also, and would - therefore - be just as miserable in some rare moments in time now adays, as she sat alone in her room, or at the front desk of her Gym, just wondering where she could have been if her sisters hadn't left her there they way they had, without giving her a choice in the matter.

She'd told him once that she would have never left him behind, that was for sure.

See? It was that kind of thing that ensured he'd pulled off his "best" friend post well enough.

They say a lot of cruel things, though. Things that made him think. And Ash was a sucker for not thinking, so it was hard on him to really try and pull together a good line of insight based on the mumbo-jumbo they often came up with.

Yeah, he'd learned not to take his friends for granted. He'd learned to value his time with them and to expect them to value their time with him. That way they'd all be able to stay friends - more than traveling companions - to stay in touch, in a way that was more than mandatory.

For some reason, when you knew them well enough, it was easier to say to a friend, "I wish you were here," rather than, "How's it going?" Or, "did anything new happen lately?"

Because you just knew what to expect, and it was reciprocated.

Until recently, he thought he and Misty had been on the same level. He'd called, she'd been there to talk. She'd called, and he'd been there with his mouth half-full from dinner, but unwilling to miss a conversation with her, so she'd spend a good few minutes laughing at his bulging cheeks while he turned red in embarrassment and continued to chew until everything was gone.

"You always hurt the ones you love." Yeah, well. . . what had he done to her?

Ash didn't like the fact that Misty was ignoring him. Someone had to have mentioned to her by now that he'd been calling her everyday for almost a week. It had never been like this before. They'd always been able to talk. . . no matter what the situation was.

He lost a battle, she consoled him until he decided to go outside and stop sulking. He won a battle, she made some rude comment to ensure his ego didn't crush him due to the weight. She needed a boost of confidence, he made a poor joke with the word "scrawny" snugly fit in there somewhere and, while the confidence wasn't given, it did happen to shake her from her reveries. And even when she was gone, they'd been able to share some of that. It was the reason - dare he admit it? - that he told her of his won and lost battles. Because, apparently, not only did Ash thrive on companionship, but now he thrived on Misty's duty to keep him in check.

Because he just liked talking to her.

And it was this that hit him hard. He liked talking to her. So why was he sitting here in his room at the random Center he was staying at with Brock and Dawn when he should be on the phone, still, trying to get a real - honest - answer out of Misty's sisters about what she was doing and why she wouldn't talk to him?

They would have nothing on him and his relationship with his best friend.

Ash marched back out into the lobby and picked up the phone, redialed the number from little more than ten minutes ago and waited as it rung.

He was sadly disappointed when Misty answered and not one of her sisters. Why? Because it was now fairly obvious that she really had been simply avoiding him, and telling her sisters to lie for her, too.

"Hello, Cerulean City Pokemon Gym; this is Misty. How can I help you?"

". . . It's me," was all he could think of to say.

The monitor switched on and his "best" friend's horrified expression was the only thing he saw.

"A - Ash, I thought Violet told you I was going to be out for a couple hours. . . !" She had a watery expression on her face, and it was slipping more and more each moment he stared at it.

"Yeah, yeah; she did. But I guess I caught you anyway. . . Huh, I wonder how that could have happened? Did your friend. . . cancel on you, maybe?"

If she said yes, he'd be pleased and he'd take it at face value. If she said yes, he wouldn't feel crushed and insulted by the fact that she was trying to do anything with her free time other than talk to him. C'mon, he was giving her a way out. . . ! She just had to take it!

"No, Ash. They didn't. There wasn't one. I'm sorry." He wasn't sure if she sounded the part, though. She seemed upset, but it could have simply been 'cause he'd caught her in her act. And a sick part of him thought it was far more worth talking to her now when she would squirm at the sight of him and the acknowledgement that he recognized her lies, rather than before, when they were just two friends talking about anything.

And another thing hit him, then. Whatever it was, she was keeping something. Because, otherwise, she wouldn't be squirming around like that. There may not have been a friend, but there must have been something else.

"What's going on? Why won't you talk to me? I'm your best friend, still, right? Can't you at least not screen my calls and come up with weak excuses everytime? I thought we were more than that. . ."

"W - we are. . . ! But I've been busy! The Gym and the trainers and my sisters and. . . and Tracey, too! They keep me busy!"

It was another one of those things he'd thought about, those weak excuses. Was that all she could come up with to defend herself? Other people were more important than him? Other people who hadn't known her as long, or as well, as he had? Other people who may have randomly walked into her home in the middle of the day were more important to her than him?

You couldn't get much more insulted than that.

"What about the lies, then? Don't act like you don't know, Myst. Violet told me you'd be out with a friend, and you just said you weren't. What was that, then?"

There was silence on her line. Maybe she'd finally been hit with something like he'd been a little while ago. Maybe she'd finally start spilling her guts, he'd find a default reason to forgive her, and the two would laugh and move on and. . .

"I'm sorry, Ash. I'm sorry you feel you need to know everything about me, and I'm sorry that you feel you need to talk to me whenever you call, and--"

"--No, don't give me that! Don't make this about me!"

"--and I'm sorry. . ." She emphasized, and he shut his mouth impressively quick to hear what else she had to say, ". . . that my lies hurt you. I made up a lot of bull to avoid you, I admit it. I'm sorry. I knew it was wrong at the time, but I was trying to stall. I didn't want you to stumble upon it, finding it out at the wrong time."

"It? What's it?" He asked confusedly. He hadn't expected the conversation to turn around like that. He off-handedly wondered what they might have to say for a moment like this, a moment in slowed time as Misty tried to think of the words to say that would break it to him softly. Again, whatever it was.

"Tracey and I. . . we're. . . not friends - wait, not just friends - anymore."

Not friends? With Tracey? So what? It was sad, Ash assumed, if the two had had a falling out, but it was even worse if Misty thought that something like that would disrupt her friendship with him - Ash. They had far too many years belted behind them to fall apart because one of their other friends had. . . had. . . wait. . .

Not just friends? Just? What the hell was that supposed to mean? What else could they have been? What else was there to be?

"We're dating." She said it so bluntly, like it wouldn't hurt him. Or maybe she'd hoped the pain would come swift and silent, and then pass, and they'd laugh like they had a few weeks ago.

And he felt himself crack a bit of a smile. It all made sense. She was pulling his leg now. . . Maybe it was all part of a new prank? Maybe something a little ahead of April Fools Day? She just wanted to stir his blood a bit; that was cool. He'd learn to get past the tactics she'd used to get this far because, honestly, it was worth a giggle or two now. . .

"What's that look for, Ash? Didn't you hear me?" She quirked an eyebrow at him and the grin widened. She wanted to be sure he heard her, huh?

"Yeah, I did! Heh! Good one, Myst; you always did come up with the best jokes. It's one of the reasons I like to talk to you so much."

"J - joke? It's not a joke. . . !" She replied fiercely, a glare suddenly setting on her face.

"Right, right; 'cause Tracey would so totally wanna date you, huh?" He laughed again and her glare deepened even more in response. For one moment, he thought she might have been serious, but he denied it and went on anyway, "C'mon, c'mon; it's your turn to say something equally ego-ripping!" It was, after all, their game. Ash simply mistook what she'd said as a part of it.

Misty set him straight.

"I'm not joking! Ash, you wanna know why I haven't talked to you all week? And why I've not talked to you much for the past few months? It's because I've been out and around with Tracey! We've gone out to eat together, swimming in the Gym pool, up to the Cape. . . He's my boyfriend, and he's been treating me like I've been wanting to be treated for years! I always told you that, but you never listened because you thought it was all a girl-thing! Well, now you know!"

"Wait. . . you mean, you two have been. . . you know. . ." He gulped. He suddenly didn't like this. He suddenly didn't want to talk to her. He suddenly didn't want to be here, like this, hoping still - even seeing how fruitless it was to hope like that - that she'd just been having a go at him. "You two have been. . . hugging and kissing and stuff? But. . ."

But what? What else was there to say? This was nothing new to him. Well, sure, he'd never been in a relationship before, but he'd seen it, and it wasn't like he'd never thought of his friends getting into them, too. After all, May had obviously had a thing for Drew, and Brock went on about his own forever and a day - too often to count the times he'd been shot down mid-thought. But Misty? And Tracey? Together?

It was wrong on more than one level. They were his friends! They weren't supposed to go behind his back like that! It made no sense! Misty was his best friend! He knew her better than anyone else, maybe even her sisters! It made more sense that he. . . ! That he would be. . . the one. . . that she would choose. Right?

He was making sense, right? It should have been him, right?

"Yeah, Ash. . . we've been doing that stuff, too. . ." And while Misty was red in the face as she said it, it wasn't out of embarrassment. Rather, she knew how awkward saying that would make the situation out to be. "I'm sorry, I really am. . . ! But. . . I did want to tell you, I wanted you to know!"

"But. . . what about me, Myst? Where does that leave me? Where does it leave us? What do I do now?" He sounded almost hopeless and Misty would have laughed almost any other time, but he didn't seem to be faking.

Had she known he would be so honestly hurt, she would have lied about having a boyfriend years ago and saved herself the trouble of finding out how he felt for her this way. Because now, it didn't matter. As of a few months ago, it wouldn't have mattered.

"I still care about you, Ash; you're my best friend! Don't think you'd ever be any less to me." She tried to smile reassuringly but it got lost in the breath she drew a few moments later.

"But. . . what if I wanna be more to you. . . ?" The line hadn't gone through his head before it had burst from his mouth. He knew he was dense, people told him that often enough, but. . . ! He didn't ever want to say something like that! Not in that way!

He looked up, hoping Misty would take his comment in a way that would leave him feeling far better than he was as of now, but she was glaring again, and obviously-so. Nevertheless, she held her breath - the breath that otherwise would be yelling itself hoarse - and explained just slightly further.

"You wanna be more? Ash, stop it! I know I hurt you but. . . do you really wanna hurt me, too? Look, you're my friend, and that's all you've ever been, all you'll ever be! You wanna be more now? After I've. . . after I've waited for so long. . . ?" She withdrew another shaky breath and turned her head, "Well, it's too late. I've moved on. I dunno how long you've thought the way you are now, but maybe it's time. . . you do the same. Move on, Ash. I'm not going to go back to the way I was before. I'm sorry."

It was like she'd left him all over again. Viridian City came back in a flash and left him stoned; he couldn't breathe. He couldn't move. He stood there hoping that it was all a distasteful dream; maybe it was one of those that taught you a lesson and made you realize something utterly important! They often talked of those. . . and, boy, had Ash ever learned. . . ! But. . .

"Ash, I'm gonna go now. I'll call you back in a little while. . . maybe. . ." Misty whispered the last word disappointedly and then there was a click and she was gone, the monitor dark and silent. Ash still stood there, trying to understand.

He'd never felt this bad before, except for maybe when Pikachu had almost gone, but he'd gotten past that! What. . . what was he supposed to do now?

"The magic of first love is the ignorance that it can never end."

Ash would be the first to begrudgingly state that, not only had it ended - it had never started. He didn't know what to say, really. He had hoped for something far more compelling. He had hoped not to be hurt by a spurned friend, and especially by another friend that he'd grown to trust so much. Not only that but. . .

His question still stood. Where did it leave him? It hadn't hit him until now that he wouldn't be hearing from Misty for awhile yet, and it hadn't hit him until that that. . . he regretted ever calling her. She was right; there was nothing good in stumbling onto a truth the way he had. But what could he do with himself? It had never been so hard to breathe before. It had never been so impossible to move forward before. It had never been so disbelieving that he would cry over such a thing before. And so much, too.

He was really hurt by this, wasn't he? He had really lost something, hadn't he? And he hadn't even noticed until today. What was he supposed to do? Who was he supposed to ask the answers to these questions when he couldn't move to find Brock or Dawn, and the only other person within his reach was so. . . out of his reach?

"I've moved on and so should you."

Misty had said that to him, and he contemplated it for a moment. Unfortunately, Misty sounded as though she'd had experience wallowing in her heartache, and it had taken her awhile to move. It only meant one thing, didn't it?

He had a long way to go before he would be even with her level. This new. . . thing. . . he'd just discovered was here to stay for awhile.

He could only hope he'd be a better person in the end, after getting over it.


Notes - And that's it! Honestly, I wasn't sure how angsty this was gonna turn out when I started writing, but I liked where it went. It made me think how Ash could be so strictly platonic until he was literally forced to come to terms with it, this thing that he'd already lost the war on. I wanted it to seem like he wouldn't have a chance.

As for the Orangeshipping, I. . . just went with the convenient ship to put Misty in. I don't support her and Tracey; honestly, I find there to be next to minimal evidence of their ships' existence, simply because the greatest hints towards them were third person POV and Tracey, himself, happened to support Pokeshipping when he traveled with Ash and Misty, right? So where would that have gone if he suddenly started hitting on Misty? Where would those morals be? I like Tracey more than to think he'd walk up and try and hit on Misty, having already acknowledged the fact that she liked someone else. . . Lol. Anyway, like I said, it was all there to fit in with the angst.

And now. . . we review!