It...is...here... Finally, after...a year, was it? The final chapter of Teching Cupid's Arrow is finally here!
I originally wanted to show this in November on Advanceshipping Day for the story's one-year anniversary, but I couldn't get the motivation in time to get it done by then. But then I settled for March 9, which is a very special day for me. Two years ago today, Masahiro Sakurai's masterpiece game, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, was released in the United States. Given the theme for this story, that's rather appropriate, no? ...Well, I thought it was... v_v;
Now, then! Without further ado, let's finish this! I present to you the fifth and final event of Teching Cupid's Arrow!
Endgame: Locked in Combat
…Some of them were once heroes; some, my mortal enemies…
Kad awoke to the familiar sound of bells from the Center's front doors slowly opening. Strangely, the noise startled him to the point of bolting upright from the couch (Huh, how did I get here…? he wondered) and seeing who it was. He slammed his head back down when he saw that it was just a girl, around twelve years old, carefully cradling a banged-up Wartortle and rushing to the front desk to greet the once-again-cheerful Nurse Joy with second-long long breaths of both panic and grueling defeat.
He couldn't really say why, but he was in an even fouler mood than usual. He couldn't say that he was drowsy or was completely dead from sleeping for too long—the clock on the wall only said 9:12. Then again, he vaguely remembered a dream he had previously, but that was it—vague. He could recite all of what he had remembered of it in a measly five seconds, if that.
He forced himself off the couch and did his usual "early-morning survey," as he called it. His worry minutely increased—the key word being minutely—when he found that May had not returned since last night; Ash, of course, was also nowhere in sight. "I hope they didn't forget about the competition today…" he muttered to himself, shaking his head lightly.
The windows were particularly useless in the sense of finding them—neither one was in sight, that is. Too bad he couldn't see through buildings or something… Tensions began rising more and more when the minutes ticked by; the question started shifting from, Why am I getting nervous about this? to, Am I bored or something? And of course, he couldn't answer either of them.
But then two familiar figures showed up on the horizon… Yes, it was definitely two of them… Their clothing color was pretty hard to decipher from the distance, but upon seeing them, his heart rose back up a bit, forcing a breath of relief out of him. To get a better look, he waited at the double doors, but after a minute or so, he went back to his seat when it was just the twins that were playing the other day.
Moments later, a whoosh from the double doors brought everyone's attention to the front. The twins traipsed to the T.V. area, looking as…nearly identical as always. Only their hats were of a different color. "Hey, Kad," one of them greeted. "You see Stan anywhere?"
Kad shook his head and continued lazing about. The twins, seemingly relieved by his answer, rushed to the buffet area to grab a bite. Any lazing about that he had intended, however, was too good to last because only a moment later, the double doors slid open again. Everyone looked toward the door, and they soon broke down in either fear or great irritation when the familiar burly teen stomped through like it was no one's business, the Spearow named Zorro perching on his shoulder with a suspicious eye and a sharp beak.
"Matthew!" he called singsong; it made Kad wish he had a baseball bat—just a simple KREEEEENG!, and his problems would have been gone. "I know you're in here!"
Kad groaned loudly, practically to the point where he could've made everyone think that he was feeling sick—though, to be fair, he always was when he was in Stan's presence. He just had the ability to decently hide it. "What do you want…?" he complained.
"I believe you know what day it is?" he said in unison with his loud footsteps as he approached the lobby.
"I dunno, Stan; I feel like a bag of garbage in the morning, and I can't think straight."
Although he didn't bother looking at him, Kad knew that a smile grew on Stan's tough face, which was also completely lacking in natural sheen. "Don't tell me you've forgotten about the competition already!"
Kad couldn't think of a witty comeback, so he kept his mouth shut and proceeded to be shoved onto the floor forcibly so Stan could give himself some room to sit and turn on the console. The blue-haired kid pushed himself back up, disgruntled and cursing under his breath.
"Well, if they're not here by noon, then I'll have no choice but to call it a no-show," he said casually, as if he didn't notice that he had just pushed someone aside—but really, he acted like that all the time. It usually wasn't that personal.
However, Kad was confused. He looked around the Center and noticed that there were none of his goons around, "accidentally" destroying the decorative pottery like they usually did. For that matter… "Hey, Stan, if you're here for the competition, where's your teammate?"
Zorro gave Kad the bird-equivalent of an aggressive hiss, but Stan shook his shoulder to calm the Pokémon down. "He said he's on his way soon," he told him, but the tone of his voice hid what would otherwise be a flicker of fear.
"And what happens if he doesn't get here by noon?" Kad returned, although the other just ignored him—somewhat justified as that the game's theme started playing and filled the room once again with epic grandeur. With the mere press of a button, the game's title popped up onto the screen letter-by-letter, and with another press, the menu appeared. Before long, he was choosing his weapon of choice, Donkey Kong, and smiling in anticipation of his imminent victory.
Kad just decided to shut up and play, selecting the valiant, green-clad warrior once again. They'd better get here soon. Stan's ego's big enough already…
After a sadly-subpar breakfast, Ash, May, and Pikachu decided that it was high time that they returned to the Pokémon Center. Ash was rather reluctant, of course; deep down, he knew he was going to be royally creamed. His opponents' gloating would only make it worse.
But he decided to go, nonetheless. He couldn't leave Kad's wishes to see Stan dethroned hanging, and that in itself would be satisfying; he'd like to no end if Stan got what was coming to him. To Hell or high water, he was going.
May followed along on relatively weak legs—if her winces didn't make evident of the pain of her walking as a result of the incident two nights prior, then the limping certainly did. She fell a couple times, struggling a bit to get up after both. Ash, concerned that the trip would injure her further, decided to carry her himself...wedding style, no less. Of course, carrying her over his shoulder for another few miles would've been uncomfortable for both parties, but at least she was pretty lightweight.
He carried her through the late-morning busyness of the Viridian City sidewalks with nearly-paranoid eyes, whipping his head to the sides and behind him every now and then. The call for the rare burst of anger he had experienced completely shook the trust he had for that place. All people who walked were awarded with strange looks and wide eyes from the male Trainer; from strange businessmen in a rush for a short-notice meeting to the meandering punks with baseball caps and ripped jeans, all were passed the same judgment.
Was he overreacting? In a passing thought, it seemed to be the case to him—but it wasn't like he really cared. To him, all that he really wanted to do was leave and never return; with May in his arms and Pikachu on his shoulder, he already had all he needed to move on in life. That place had become a strong hindrance—a change from the simple place for them to rest, their main intention from the very start.
The three made it to the Center before long, and as the automatic doors slid open and granted them access, Ash noticed the large teenager he had mistrusted at that point focused intently on the screen—his face was wincing with suspense, fearing for his lead in the game as his large character was trapped between what seemed like two glowing, yellow triangles. An aura-clad Link was slashing at Stan's huge ape at lightning speed, the individual slashes mere blurs to a spectator's eye. Discs of light cut through the air as the magic sword cut through the poor monkey like a hot knife through butter—again and again and again.
After a few seconds, the hero froze in place and grunted, staring his dazed opponent down with his sacred blade raised. With a mighty final slash and an echoey "SKRAAAH!" he eviscerated the trap—and the ape—launching the poor thing in a brilliant shower of golden glass.
Ash shook himself out of the odd spell and carried May to the counter, where Nurse Joy gaped with her hand to her mouth. "What happened?" she asked, eyes wide; her voice, terse and panic-filled.
"Long story," he replied simply, laying May on a stretcher held by one of the Joys' recognizable Chanseys in nurse tiaras.
Nurse Joy quickly fumbled for her gloves and proceeded to examine the beat-up girl. Ash stood, nervous, twitching with anxiety every time she "tsk-tsk"ed at the damage and carefully checked the partially-blood-soaked bandages. "How did she get this way?"
Ash clenched his eyes shut. "I don't want to talk about it…" Just the look on his face was enough for her to understand, however, so she respected his wishes and dropped the subject.
After a few more seconds of looking May over, she turned to the Trainer and finished with, "I'll do my best," a smile on her face, however worried. With a wave of her hand, she ushered the Chansey to the operation room, out of sight. He had to admit that he felt better that she was now in good hands, but as he wasn't there to monitor them, he still couldn't help but feel uneasy. Still, in the end, he found it best to just let the nurse do her job. She never failed to heal his critically-injured Pikachu all those years ago, after all.
The other guys were still playing their game, the winning side undecided at that point. With no concern for the outcome, Ash approached them and ruffled his throat with a cough. Just as he had hoped, it got their attention—effectively making them fully unaware of the fact that both had lost a stock at the same time from a runaway bomb.
"Ah," a clearly ticked-off Stan muttered, "the pipsqueak's here…"
Kad, on the other hand, looked at the clock and smirked. "It's about time you got here. Another forty-five minutes, and we would've had to forfeit."
Ash couldn't explain it, but focusing his eyes on Stan's ugly mug ticked him off somehow. Of course, he never exactly found him appealing from the beginning, and after the way he looked at May from Day 1, and after how she was almost… His instincts practically ignited his skin trying to avoid thinking about it. "Sorry, Kad, but I'm not really in the mood," he snapped.
"Geez," Kad staggered from the sudden outburst. "Did a Beedrill sting you or something?"
Ash shielded his eyes with his hand, trying his best to relax. "Sorry. Last night was murder."
Kad chuckled darkly. "Well, if I were stuck all night with a girl like that, then I guess I would be annoyed out of my skull, too."
Surprisingly, Stan said nothing; all he did was glare back at Ash, like he was able to read his mind. His eyes were steadily shrinking to slits, but it didn't seem like he'd jump him at that instant. It made him uneasy, yes, but he glared back and stood his ground.
"What are we doing, then?" Kad asked the others. "I take it you don't want to compete anymore?"
Ash said nothing. All he could do was lower his gaze to the floor. With an exasperated grunt, Kad got up out of his seat and pulled him to the side, out of earshot of an apparently-nosy Stan, who was trying his best to eavesdrop without their knowing; it didn't work, of course.
"What's up, man?" Kad asked him. "Do you not want to shoot Stan's planet-sized ego to the ground anymore? What's going on?"
It took a while before Ash opened his mouth in reply. "I do. Very, very, very much. But last night, something happened that made me realize that there are things much more important than these games… Maybe even becoming a Master itself pales in comparison…"
Kad sneered. "You guys didn't…well, you know…did you?"
"No! No! Not like that!" Ash panicked, waving his hands in front of himself, but it still didn't stop Kad from sneering. "Well…we did get close and, well…k—" He couldn't finish, but the blue-haired kid in front of him widened his eyes in both surprise and glee.
"I knew you two were going steady! I called it!" he yelled. As nearly empty as the Pokémon Center was, all the people in the building had their attention grabbed by the news, and it was only confirmed by Ash's steadily-reddening face.
"Why do you always assume these things about us, Kad?"
"C'mon, man. For someone like you, anything that makes something like becoming a Master be meaningless in comparison must be pretty freaking huge."
"Well, yeah…" he muttered, nodding slightly while trying to hide his face.
"…But still, why did it have to be her?" Kad asked with a slap to his forehead. "You could do better than that, surely?"
Ash's eyes flared. "Hey, May's an amazing person!" he defended. "She's kind, sweet, caring, and treats her Pokémon as if they were her children! What's so bad about that?"
Kad turned his back and crossed his arms. "That's what all new couples say these days…" he breathed with irritation in his voice. "They only look at the positives and leave themselves vulnerable to the negatives. Before you know it, Fine Legs over there's going to be with another man, while you stand at the side and feel your heart crumple like paper."
"She'd never do that! I've known her for years! Besides, she does try to mend misunderstandings when they occur. It was her idea in the first place to give you those flowers over there to make up."
Kad turned around to face him again, a dumbfounded look in his eyes. "Flowers?"
"For some reason, she insisted." He waved his hand over to the counter, and surely enough, there was a small, lonely bouquet of flowers lying on its side, waiting to be picked up.
Odd, Kad thought. He found it even odder how he managed to carry it and May at the same time… But whatever. A gift's a gift. With quick steps and suspicious eyes, he walked toward the counter and grabbed the stem of the bouquet.
His eyes widened when he realized just what kind of flowers they were—pink carnations.
Soon, his widened eyes narrowed into a pitch-black glare, his hands acting on their own accord. With swift blurs of motion, he tore open the bouquet and scattered the contents all over the floor. There was no sound from his actions; but the anger and, surprisingly, deep grief spoke louder than any screaming would have. Petals flew in all directions as he attacked the flowers without any seeable mercy.
Ash stood there shocked, feeling the apparent pain in Kad's chest as he turned to the side, his glasses steamed from both rage and sorrow. His deed done, he trudged to the bathroom and tried slamming the door…to no avail, given the engineering, but it didn't stop him from trying.
A mere second later, Stan and the twins started laughing. Given Kad's confusing behavior, Ash didn't know whether to join along or to dope slap them. "What the heck…?"
"I never saw him do that before!" Stan chortled. "I don't know what you did, kid, but I commend you for pushing him farther than I could!"
All Ash did was glare at him in reply, and it did do a good job of shutting him up. He wasn't up to keeping up that kind of face, however, so he lightened up his frown and took a seat at the end of the couch.
"So," the huge teen began, "what's going on, then? Are you and your chick ready for the smackdown?"
"I am," he replied, "but May isn't."
"Oh? Why's that?"
Ash could hear the false concern in his voice, but he answered regardless. "She was attacked last night by a bunch of brainless thugs. She won't be able to comfortably hold anything in her hands for a while."
"So does that mean you forfeit?" Stan smiled.
"Get real!" Ash snapped. "Besides, I don't see your partner anywhere."
"He'll be here. Don't you worry."
Ash stood up. "Forget it. I'll find a substitute myself." He walked toward the area where May was being treated and sat down and waited. Looking up, he saw the clock say that it was about twenty after eleven, and he sighed impatiently. I can't wait until this whole mess is over…
Kad felt miserable, sitting alone in the toilet booth. He couldn't explain why, but he was so full of sadness and rage that he couldn't bring the tears to show it. He always thought of it as a weakness, not being able to show his emotions through tears; therefore, he always had to rely on actions. Maybe it was a birth defect or something. That was always his hand-wave of choice.
With you around, I can't rely on myself to forget, he thought angrily as he wiped his glasses clean of fog. I swear your personalities are mirror images of each other…
He watched as he saw the last few bills from his wallet disappear from his hands. The shopkeeper handed him a bag full of items and gave him a terse, "Have a nice day," but he already walked through the front door before he could finish.
With the mere snap of a finger, Kad's remaining savings were reduced to essentially zero. As sad as he was for that to happen, he tried his best to shrug it off. Her birthday didn't come along everyday, after all. She should like these new Poké Balls that just got onto the market, anyway. "Perfect for catching Bug and Water Pokémon!" the ad said. If they lied to me…well, then there's always this nice piece of jewelry I picked up.
Of course, he was referring to the black box in his pocket, which held a beautiful, yet expensive, silver chain necklace. It was a real nighttime beauty; the charms, with the ethereal essence of the stars and the crescent moon themselves, were carefully lined up as if it were to match an actual syzygy. She's always loved the stars. I think she'll love this, too.
He strolled back to her house, glad that he no longer needed to rush. He wasn't far from April's house, and he wasn't out for long—only for an hour or so, if he remembered correctly.
While he was out, the city was considerably busier. It must've been rush hour or something; it made sense, since he himself was beginning to feel the hunger pangs from a dinner fast approaching. It could wait a little while longer, though; predictably, April would be thoroughly ticked off at him for putting greater priority on the meal than the gift. He could easily find the hypocrisy behind that, but for the sake of his blood pressure, he tried to ignore it.
Before long, he was at April's doorstep once again. The golden light from the evening sun didn't do a bad job of making the unkempt paintjob look more appealing—but then again, the evening always had a tint of nostalgia in the color of its rays.
Kad shook himself out of the sentimentality and knocked on the door. Strangely, the force of the knock creaked it open—odd, since April's family always had the pet-peeve of ajar doors. But then again, it wasn't a part of her room, so she probably didn't really care. Thinking nothing of it, he walked inside.
"April?" he whispered, trying to prevent waking up the girl's mother, who was still soundly sleeping on the couch. He tiptoed past her and opened the door. "Hey, April. I have the stuff."
Just then, he wish that he could have shielded his eyes and run out of the house at the snap of his own fingers—but he couldn't move. The sight was too horrible for him to formulate a coherent response, or any response at all.
April was there…but so was someone else. They were lying down, fondling each other and making out. When he said her name, it was like they didn't know he was there; they just kept at it.
He lost all feeling in his fingers. With a crash, the gift dropped to the floor, leaving the contents to scatter and roll like lost marbles. What…? was one of the few words that he could think of at that point. What's going on!? He could also see that their clothes were loose for whatever reason, but that was the farthest that he could bring himself to think of the matter; that detail was just icing on the cake.
Was this all a lie!? He no longer cared if anyone was sleeping in the other room—not even if there were people sleeping across the street. He roared, the anger blasting out of him like a hydrogen bomb. One could almost see the windows shake in fear of the outburst, or even shatter just like his feelings just had.
At least now they had his attention.
"WHAT'S GOING ON HERE!?" he bellowed. The roar almost made her and the anonymous guy topple over onto the floor.
"Kad! What are you doing here?"
"Don't give me that!" he screamed back. "What is this…guy doing here!?"
"Uh…" She started stuttering and looked around the room for anything to bail her out—an idea, a thought. "He's…no one, Kad!"
"April!" the guy protested. "'No one'?" He turned to Kad, his hair completely messed up. "Look, man, I don't know who you are, but April and I have been dating for weeks now. I'm her boyfriend."
"No, you're not!" he argued back. "I am!"
"Look, Kad," April found herself say, despite the fear in her voice. "It's over. I can't keep this up anymore."
"…What's gotten into you?" Kad whispered. "What did I do to make you want to turn on me? And go to that guy!?"
"Sorry, but after some thought, I really don't think you and I are meant to be together."
He always loved arguing with people. Now, more than ever, he wanted to argue against that. Deep down, he knew that she was lying…but he didn't know what to say to counter that. All he had was questions, not words in his defense. "You didn't even bother telling me?"
"I figured that you would've found out eventually…"
That's enough. I can't take this… Before he had the chance to lose the feeling in his legs, too, he burst out of the room, through the living room, and out of the house. The shock almost made him feel sick, and he thought he wouldn't be able to run without throwing up. Fortunately, that never happened, but he never really would care if it did.
He gasped as he felt the evening air. It made him feel a little better regarding his stomach—but the feeling inside remained. He didn't know if he would be able to trust girls anymore after that. To think that she had led him on for so long, no hint of that happening beyond what was always there…
He looked back at the homely house for the last time, devastated. That was the last time he saw golden sunlight on that house, and it pained him to realize that he wouldn't see it in that way again.
Looking farther back, he noticed that there was a newly-purchased vase of pink carnations on the doorstep.
Ash carefully opened the bathroom door and peeked inside. "Kad? Are you okay?"
A grunt was the reply.
He couldn't think of very effective confiding words to follow from that. As he stood next to the door of the booth, all he could do was think about what he already knew of his behavior—nothing—and the competition in a few minutes.
"Look, Kad," he started with a little hope of making the upset teen feel better, "I'm sorry that I don't understand what you're feeling, or why you're feeling it. If you told me, I'd be able to put the pieces together. Come on. Why don't you tell me what's wrong?"
"Because I don't want to talk about it, that's why," Kad continued grunting.
"It can't be May's fault, can it?"
Silence. Kad's emotions required a scapegoat for what had happened in the past, for he never found out what became of that girl for maybe three years now. To him, of course, May was the closest to that archetype, but there was something about blaming her like that that failed to satisfy him. "I'm not sure," was what his logic said to both Ash and him.
"She didn't mean you any harm, you know. I'm sorry if you thought that's was the true meaning behind the flowers."
Just like that, the booth door opened, and a bloodshot Kad stepped out and distraughtly looked at the other Trainer. "It's just that…I can't forget it," he muttered slowly, almost as if to completely grasp the concept himself. "I'm trying to forget the things that have happened, but with her around, they keep coming back."
Ash put a firm hand on Kad's shoulder. "I'm sure that May doesn't wish these things on you. If she were here, I'm positive that's what she would say." Kad didn't say anything to respond, but he did raise his eyes to his in full attention. "If you don't want to tell me, that's fine. Maybe I wouldn't completely understand it anyway. But I ask you…please don't think of May as an enemy. She certainly doesn't want people to be against her, especially not after what happened last night."
Predictably, no words left Kad's mouth; however, the look of sorrow and rage was gradually replaced with understanding and acceptance. His new attitude spoke novels to Ash.
"So what do you want to do, Kad?" He lifted his hand from his shoulder but left it out in front of himself, open. The other looked at it for a couple seconds before firmly shaking it and having the new, determined look on his face grow into his dominant mindset.
"All right, Ash. You're on," Kad finally said with a smile.
The Pokémon Center was getting more and more packed by the minute as the 12:00 event quickly approached. The news spread quickly around the city, apparently, since faces that neither Ash nor Kad had ever seen before had come to see what exactly was going on. However, it also helped that it was around lunchtime and that Trainers were often at their busiest at that time; that, of course, meant more injured Pokémon for an already-preoccupied Nurse Joy to care for.
Stan and his goons waited around the console, taking admission money from all those curious. "That's right!" one of them called out in carnie-like manner. "We have a tournament today, everyone! If you're interested, the price to watch is five credits!" A line of people filed up in front of him and started handing out money like a dealer would with playing cards.
"Wow," Ash said with an open jaw, "I didn't think there'd be this many people here to watch the competition."
"Well, you know how pompous Stan is," Kad replied, shaking his head and rolling his eyes.
Soon, the two Trainers were approached by a red-clad girl in bandages and with a happy look on her face. "Hey, Ash!" she said as she tackled him with a hug.
He could hardly see the red blur coming, but when he felt her embrace, he laughed. "Hey, May! Are you feeling any better?"
"Not particularly," she frowned, "but Nurse Joy said I should be fine after a couple weeks or so. These bandages are nice and clean, at least." She lifted up her hands, which, surely enough, were still bandaged pretty heavily, but at least they were professionally applied, not to mention disinfected properly.
Kad didn't say anything in her presence—which was good, because May didn't say anything to him, either. A strange look—concerned, uncomfortable, or otherwise—was all she directed at him that could've passed as casual conversation from a passing outsider.
In all fairness, she was about to say something to him, but before she could, Stan approached them, as haughty as ever. "Well…it's almost time. Do you have a replacement partner yet?"
Ash glanced at Kad, who nodded back with fiery pupils. "Yes, I do," he replied. "What about your partner?"
Stan frowned. "There's a funny story about that, actually. Apparently, Mark couldn't make it, so I'm stuck with this dude called John. Let's see how this turns out…" With that, he turned around and motioned both Ash and Kad to the television, with May giving the former a good-luck peck on the cheek.
This is it, Ash thought with a determined smile. I'm finally ready to show you what I'm capable of, Gary…
"All right! Is everybody ready to start!?" the Center's speakers bellowed out. The growing crowd exploded with cheers of approval, their eyes now on the contenders.
Geez, Kad thought irritably. I didn't think he'd be pumped to the point of wanting to have a commentary, too…
"At the request of the administrator of the Pokémon Center, we intend to have this competition short and sweet. Let's try to be civil here, folks; we should try to keep this within the time frame of a half-hour.
"The setup will be as follows: four-stock two-versus-twos with an eight-minute time limit, best two out of three. Only legal stages allowed, and all that other junk. Okay, then, let's get started. Choose your characters!"
Stan, Kad, and Ash took a seat on the couch, followed by a short, black-haired guy sporting a sweatband on his forehead. Each picked up one of the four M-shaped controllers sitting on the coffee table and chose his character and team color—red for Stan's and blue for Ash's.
One by one, the narrator in the television proudly announced the four chosen warriors. "Fox! Donkey Kong! Pikachu! Lucario!" With the famous words "READY TO FIGHT!" emblazoned on the screen, the players were now ready.
"Okay, folks, now that the contenders have selected their characters, the first stage will now be chosen at random." Then, with a cheer from audiences on either side of the television, the screen went dark, and the game started to load.
After a few seconds, the screen switched to a dark stage, an area completely lit by nothing in particular. As per usual, the game's narrator loudly counted down from three and flagged the fighters to start the match.
The stage was constructed almost entirely out of metal, like it was supposed to be a futuristic facility of some kind. In the background was a large, lizard-like being hungrily looking at the fighters from behind some large tube. The stage itself was relatively straightforward: a flat straightaway with platforms on either side. It was kind of small for a stage, but at least there wasn't much obstructing the view.
With the aforementioned countdown, the fighting started, and everyone began whamming at each other without too much thought for defense. All the controllers started clicking madly as the analog sticks were bashed out as far as they were made to. All the people behind them started their chants for whatever team they were cheering for, some even going so far as to gamble on the winner.
"Twenty credits on the Red Team!" they all heard somebody say, while another countered with, "Red sucks! Twenty-five on the Blue Team!" Needless to say, all players tried their best to ignore it—unless, of course, they were the ones being cheered on.
It wasn't necessarily too bad of a start for the Blue Team; it was hardly a few seconds into the match when Stan's percentage meter was jacked up to about 80-100%, but unfortunately, this was soon counterbalanced by one of Kad's attacks, who flung Ash's Lucario right off the left side of the screen, a stock lost.
"Ugh! Sorry, Ash," he apologized. Ash thought nothing of it, because soon, there was a loud siren coming from the speakers. They blared for a couple seconds, but that only caused him to panic more, being unfamiliar with the stage.
"Uh-oh! What's going on!?"
Suddenly, with a whoosh, the stage completely flipped over; it was now a stage with a dented straightaway and a lone platform above the center. The change was made even more evident by the disappearance of the giant lizard thing.
However, when Ash found himself still alive, he didn't really mind it that much; he was now too busy focusing on Stan's Donkey Kong to really worry about falling to his death from the surprise transformation. With a nicely-placed attack, he managed to throw the oversized ape forward and finish his stock. It was made even more satisfying when he heard an irritated grunt coming from Stan's end of the couch, to which he grinned.
The battle raged on, and John's Fox was still alive and kicking after a prolonged lifetime. "Come on, you furry…" Kad chanted. "Why won't you die!?" There was a loud zap, and then ensuing cheers accompanied the space animal's flight toward the right; miraculously, though, he managed to survive.
From the corner of his eye, Ash saw that a barrel had broken, and that's when everyone in the room gasped—the powerful, much-coveted rainbow ball had appeared. "There it is, everyone! Now it's just a matter of time before we see what team gets the upper hand in this match!"
All the players rushed after it, and like a frightened butterfly, the ball tried to fly out of the fighters' reach. It didn't last long, however…for with a nice upward kick, John's Fox broke it open and acquired the frightening battle aura that came with it. Groans and cheers alike from the audience exploded from behind the players as the dreaded word, "LANDMASTER!" rang from the speakers. Fox made a jump, and only a second afterward, a large tank fell from the sky and proceeded to wreak havoc.
The blast from the jump made Kad's Pikachu soar upward. Still, all thought of carnage ensuing was short lived, for John didn't really seem to know what he was doing; by the end of it, he effectively managed to knock a stock out of his own team member.
"Ooh, bad move from the Red Team!" the commentator bellowed, and everyone definitely seemed to agree—but whether or not people liked the move or not, of course, varied from person to person.
"John! What the heck was that!?"
"Sorry, Stan! This controller's terrible, that's all."
"That better not cost us the match, man. I don't want to be the one pitied with the counterpick here." John shuddered and went back to the game, hopping back into the fray from another powerful attack from Kad's Pikachu.
The match raged on. Attacks were blown, items were thrown, and bodies flew in all directions. From the outside, it didn't look like there was much teamwork at all; many of the deaths were, in fact, team kills. That instilled fear into all of them, especially Stan, who was on his last stock at 133%.
Another gasp. The rainbow ball appeared again. Strangely, all it took was one or two attacks—with Kad being the lucky one this time. His Pikachu raised for the heavens and exploded in another ball of blue electricity, raging across the screen with devastation following.
"Aw, come on!" Stan cried when his Donkey Kong fell from the top and out of sight, Team-Rocket-style.
"Stan has been defeated, everyone! The match is left with John, Ash, and Kad; but it doesn't look like Ash is going to last much longer!" With only one stock left and 109% damage, that was easily verifiable.
A strong kick left Fox, and in the blink of an eye, both Pikachu and Lucario flew out of the arena. "Yep, there goes Ash. Now we're down to just Kad and John, one stock each. They'll need to mindgame each other like crazy to come out over the other."
It started out with mind games, sure, but when Kad's Pikachu lifted a trophy above his head, causing a yellow-caped guy to materialize from nothing, it hardly became a very fair fight.
"Kad picked up an Assist Trophy. Oh, and it looks like Isaac's going to help out. Let's see if John can pull through despite the Move disadvantage."
With the giant hands popping out and hindering his movement, it was kind of hard to, but after a while, Isaac disappeared and left the two fighters alone. The mindgaming was on once again.
Before long, the sirens came back. Both tried to get out of each other's way to not get screwed from the stage rotation, but unfortunately for John, Fox got caught from under the stage. Fire engulfed the animal as he tried to blast himself to the top to save himself, but it was no use.
"GAME! The winner is…Blue Team!" Amidst the winning fanfare, the audience exploded into both cheers and groans.
"Yes!" Ash and Kad echoed, high-fiving each other. From his shoulder Pikachu joined in with the celebrating, as did May, however little in comparison to the others she was cheering.
"And that's the end of Match 1! The Red Team will have to come up with a pretty good counterpick to get that win back!"
"Confound it, John!" Stan exclaimed in harmony with his disgruntled Spearow. "Why didn't you jump!?"
John shrugged. "The jump button didn't work for some reason. I pressed it, but it didn't register, so I couldn't use my recovery move in time."
"I told you I didn't want us to be stuck with the counterpick. Now we have to work to get us tied again!"
"Sorry, man, but I can't control when controllers work and when they don't."
Stan scoffed and swapped controllers. "There, happy? Now stop complaining and get ready for the next match…" John looked happy as a result of the controller switch, testing the jump button and comparing it to his standards. He gave it a thumbs-up as soon as it passed his test, but Stan wasn't really paying attention.
"Okay! Time for Match 2! All players may now reselect their characters."
John was the only one to change characters this time. It looked like he didn't even want to, like some force inside him was coercing him to gamble between tactics and power. It seemed power won out in the end: "Ganondorf!" the narrator called once again, and with another cheer from the speakers, they were all back to the stage selection screen, trying to shake their nerves for the coming match.
"It is time for the Red Team to choose its counterpick. For your sake, pick a good one."
Stan hummed in thought, hovering the cursor over potential stages. It wasn't long before he found one he wanted, and another cheer sounded from the speakers as the game loaded once again.
"The Red Team has chosen Norfair, apparently. Maybe the lava will give them the advantage they need." The three guys on the commentary panel didn't really seem to think so, judging by the ensuing snicker.
"THREE! TWO! ONE! GO!" the narrator shouted once again, starting a brand new match on a stage surrounded by searing-hot magma. Inside a volcano, perhaps?
Bah, whatever. Let's just get this over with, Ash thought with a shake of his head, but still, the shape of the stage was rather atypical of the other stages he had seen: It consisted entirely of small, flat platforms in a delta position, the V opening up to the heavens, as if asking for air from the world above the volcanic hell it was in.
It was hard for Ash to analyze the stage and fight at the same time, but at least he didn't get taken aback from the tall man in dark attire, proudly displaying feats of power that he hadn't seen much elsewhere. He had a demeanor about him that made his skin crawl. By how he sounded carrying out all of his attacks, it was like he had a thirst for his blood. It was definitely not an easy thing to handle while trying to play.
Before long, molten rock started to rise from the bottom of the stage, and each player scrambled to the top platforms to avoid the fiery rage. Some were rather unlucky, though, sustaining two or three hits' worth of damage. It didn't help that there was a huge globe of magma coming from the right side; Stan had the misfortune of getting caught from that one and almost flying off the screen.
"Drat! What was I thinking, picking this stage!?"
"Wow, there's lava everywhere," Ash growled as a tsunami of magma rushed toward the stage. Everyone scrambled to the shelter in the center, except for, seemingly, John's Ganondorf.
"It's hard to tell what John was thinking there. The lava hazard just cost him a stock," the one of the guys on the panel muttered. "They're lucky that this is still early in the match; there's still ground for the Blue Team to cover to come out on top."
Throughout the level, three strange, rotating items were flying everywhere when people got hit. There was a strange sting in sound when one picked them up, but as far as Ash knew, they didn't do anything. He didn't recall seeing those items before…
"Ash, make sure the other team doesn't pick up those pieces," Kad warned.
Far be it for him to question that logic, so he did his best to scuttle for them himself. Shouldn't be that hard, he thought.
Regrettably, it was much harder than he thought; only one attack was needed to drop the pieces, and with two people out to get him, it proved impossible to get all of them at once.
There was a growl from the screen, and purple fire flared from Ganondorf's fist. With a charge of a mere second, he blasted his fist forward in a mighty punch, sending all three people flying. Luckily for the Red Team, Stan was at a low percentage, so he didn't fly far. Ash and Kad, on the other hand…
"OOH! He actually managed to have a Warlock Punch connect! Even more, he managed to get a double K.O.! What a very well-timed move on John's part!" This made John smile, of course; if one didn't know any better, one would think that he was then imagining all starry eyes being on him—it was his moment of glory.
The punch was a heavy blow to the Blue Team, dropping their total stock count to four, a sharp contrast to the Red Team's six. "The Blue Team will have to work extra hard to make up for that lost ground!"
And they tried, but the odds in their favor were steadily decreasing as the seconds ticked by. Before long, their stock count dropped by two more, but fortunately for them, so did the other team. Mostly, it was due to Stan committing suicide, and once more to John connecting another Warlock Punch on him, knocking him out of the game.
A good Aura attack from Ash launched John off the screen, bringing the stock count from both sides to two. Tensions were high as both Ash and Kad had only about half of a stock left each, with John left with two whole stock. "Just when we thought that John had redeemed himself from a good attack, we see that reverse on him again! Stan is out of the match. It's still anyone's game at this point."
The comeback was too good to last, as Ash was finally put to rest from an incoming magma hazard. It was officially an uphill battle for them.
"Now Ash is out of the match! This may actually be a successful counterpick for the Red Team!"
"Come on, Kad!" Ash cheered. "Don't give up!"
Then the match was all about trading blows between each contender. Kad was getting closer and closer to losing his last stock as his damage meter climbed. Both sides were also struggling between collecting the three pieces that had already traded hands a dozen times over—but Kad eventually had a break when he finally collected the third piece and suddenly flew into the sky.
"Uh-oh! Kad assembled the Dragoon!" The crowd got a little louder from the excitement as crosshairs appeared on the screen. The aiming was a little tricky, but he managed to ram the flying machine into the black-and-red-clad thief, a distinctive KREEEEENG! sound following.
"And just like that, the stock count is tied again! However, John just needs one more strong attack to send that electric mouse out of here! This is the home stretch, folks!"
It didn't last long after that; John's Ganondorf gave Kad's Pikachu a simple backhand, which was easily enough to send him flying.
The match was over once again, and now it was the Red Team's turn to celebrate. "Now that's how you choose a counterpick!" Stan bragged. The usual pattern of celebrate-or-growl ensued, but this time, it was Kad's turn to recoil in panic.
"Crap. We lost our lead…" he said from behind his hands.
Ash gave him a reassuring pat on the back. "It's okay, Kad. It's not over yet. We still have one more match."
"But remember, Ash—if we lose, we'll have Stan's narcissism to deal with. Worst of all, I'll never be able to live it down with him breathing behind my neck 24/7…"
Ash remained silent for a second so he himself could ponder. Believe me—I want to show that guy what-for, too… If they did lose, he wouldn't be able to find closure to his own past rivalry as easily, either…but he couldn't allow himself to think that way. Once more, he turned to him and said, "Kad…if we keep thinking we're going to lose, we will. We just need to focus on the match, not the outcome. We can think of the outcome afterward, all right?"
It took Kad a little while to think, but ultimately, he agreed, replying with a simple, yet flattering, "Whatever you say, boss."
"This is the moment we've all been waiting for, folks!" they heard the panel among the bustling crowd, which had almost grown to the size of the entire Pokémon Center lobby floor by that time. The final round! We're almost overdue for our time here, so let's cut the penultimate chatter and get right into it. Choose your characters carefully, now!"
Once again, there was only one change; surprisingly, it was Stan's changing to the iconic rival Wario, with his zigzaggy mustache and large, red nose. One screen later, it was the Blue Team's turn to pick the next stage. Kad turned to Ash for support, but Ash only shook his head.
He fearfully closed his eyes as he pressed the green button on his controller and chose the stage. "Looks like the Blue Team's going to play it a little safe this time around. It's time for Final Destination!" It was hard to tell whether or not the audience approved of the stage selection or not, but what could be determined was that the audience was at the edge of their seats in anticipation—never mind the fact that all of them were standing up to start with, of course.
The stage's atmosphere was certainly appropriate for a final showdown. The thing itself was a flat platform, nothing else, suspended in dark space, decorated with strange planets and beautiful spiral galaxies. It was surreal, like a creator's dream—the mesh, the seam, of the realms of reality and fantasy.
At that point, it no longer mattered what was real or what wasn't; for some reason, the four contenders fighting on that stage seemed to…"fit" the world without any noticeable contrast. When it came down to it, it seemed that they, too, had a personal reason for fighting at that place at that time.
As usual, the narrator was ready for them. With one final countdown, the match began.
Little could actually be said about the first half of the match, to be honest. The tables changed hands multiple times as blows were dealt to either team surprisingly equally. Mistakes for all players were rather minimal for a great deal of time, and that did a great job of raising the players' tensions even higher.
"Wow, this is actually a pretty close match!" the commentary stated in astonishment. "Both sides are tied with four stock. …Uh-oh, there's the Excitebike Assist Trophy… Yeah, that didn't do much good…"
As the players' nerves escalated, so, too, did the audience's excitement. Not a second passed without at least one of the players' names being called out; Ash thought that he'd never get tired of hearing his own name… It only got worse from that point when the stock level steadily got lower and lower. Soon, all players only had one stock each, and both Ash and May thought that it would probably take a day or so to completely recover from the hearing loss.
Cheers for both the Blue Team and Red Team grew louder and more numerous than before, even noticeably after only one second in time. One could almost feel the bass of the uproar in his or her chest and head; it was almost enough to make one feel sick or claustrophobic.
John's Ganondorf elbowed two characters and launched them well beyond the stage boundaries, a rarity that rivaled the Warlock Punch given the attack's slow startup lag. Unluckily for him, though, one of the characters was Stan's Wario. That meant…
"This is it! Each team only has one stock left. This is the final match-up! The home stretch!"
Ash was tense now, being the only person left to win the match-up for the Blue Team. It was hard to play when his fingers were twitching almost uncontrollably, and harder still when conflicting cheers were blasting in either direction. "Go Ash!" he heard them say, as well as, "Get 'im, John!" Needless to say, his concentration staggered between the screen and the surrounding sound.
Ash was lucky to be able to string together multiple upward kicks from the ground, launching the King of Evil up and down like a badminton bird. "John! Thunderstomp him! Don't let him juggle you!" But it was too late: A soccer ball that had appeared at the edge was launched up into the air in a fiery blaze, leaving almost as soon as it had appeared. By some fluke, random or by fate's humor, the ball had struck one of them. The final pillar of fire had blasted from the side of the screen, marking the death of the final character and finally bringing the match to a close. Those who had a hard time seeing the screen couldn't very well tell who it was who won; they had a better chance choosing a winner blindfolded. But then the results came in that settled the score for everyone there:
"The winner is…Blue Team!"
Ash didn't know what happened after that. Upon thinking back, he could've sworn that there was a bomb in the building and everyone was scrambling to get out, but that didn't explain the happy cheers and pats on the back from his end of the room. With the deafening roar and the shock from his own victory, he couldn't hazard a guess.
It felt good either way. Really good.
Before he knew it, Kad was punching him on the shoulder and patting him on the back with more heart than ever. "Ash, you did it! We won!" he exclaimed, trying hard not to be knocked over from the also-excited crowd.
May hugged him as hard as she could, but she tried her best not to choke him. Pikachu himself was so excited he gave Ash a small jolt. He laughed as the tiny charge pulsed through his body, and he laughed even more when he saw the defeated look on Stan's face—or however much he could see from it; it was evident the overwhelmed teenager didn't want anyone else to see his shame.
"Hey, Stan," Kad called over to him, teasingly, "We should try this again sometime!"
He couldn't hear him over the sound of the rejoicing—or even over his own voice. "John! You blew it again! I told you not to let him juggle you!"
"Sorry," Ash thought he heard John reply with. "I'm just not good with games with items."
"I've had enough with your excuses!" was all he yelled before he stormed off in Ash's direction, almost looking like he was ready to deck someone. The rage on his face was as manifest as the shame; it was almost pitiful to look at. "Not bad, not bad," he said, his voice shaky from irritation. May tried her best to distance herself from his person.
"I guess this means you're not the best anymore, doesn't it, Stan?" Kad taunted with a glare.
Stan couldn't say anything particularly coherent as an immediate response, other than an audible growl and hardening his fists, and while he tried to think about it for a few seconds, all he could come up with was, "Shut up, Matthew! It's bad enough that I can't show my face around here again!"
"Stan, it's just a game," Ash replied calmly, a stark contrast to Kad's provoking demeanor. "Why does it matter?"
Stan took a step toward him and towered over him like any high school bully would, but Ash still stood his ground, making sure to come between him and May, who was growing steadily more uneasy in his presence. "Because, obviously unlike the likes of all of you, I'm a man," he asserted, trying his best to cast his shadow over the Pallet Trainer's face. "A man never loses! He keeps pushing forward and never accepts defeat! But now…it just seems that's not the case here. But now what's worse is that I don't have that girl on my shoulder like you do." As he motioned to May, she took another cautious step back.
"Sorry, Stan," Ash voiced, still as calm as ever, despite the towering teen, "but I'd never let the likes of you get near her. I'm sure most of the people here wouldn't let you, either."
Just then, one of Stan's fists flew right in front of him and slugged him in the face, knocking him down. Everyone immediately quieted down to see the commotion; it was amazing how such a loud crowd could silence itself so quickly, as Kad quickly realized when he could still hear the ringing in his ears.
May rushed to Ash's side and tried to ignore the teen still towering above them. "Ash!" she yelped. "Are you all right!?" After shaking the blow out of him like a dog would with water, he nodded with a smile. The smile wasn't so much a result of really being okay and trying to reassure her than it was when he saw Pikachu in an offensive stance, his cheeks flickering with sparks.
Stan laughed. "Oh, come on! You think your rat can hurt me? Get 'im, Zorro!" The bird on his shoulder squawked and rushed toward the electric mouse in a swift swoop. He avoided it with no problem at all and proceeded to zap both it and the Trainer at once with a Thundershock. As interesting as the ensuing fight was for the others, they began to think that the building would suffer heavy damage and be in another large-scale explosion like it was a few years ago. With some panicked screaming, they rushed out the double doors and left the two opposing Trainers and the two spectators to finish their business.
Unbeknownst to the leaving crowd, the battle was already over—a curb-stomp battle; all it took was one Thundershock to render a charcoaled Zorro unable to battle. Stan, also dazed from the shock, proceeded to recall his Pokémon and dash out of the Pokémon Center with the others. "You're crazy, man! I'm never going to forget this!" With that final phrase, he was gone, invisible among the panicked crowd outside.
"Excellent work, Pikachu!" Ash congratulated. Satisfied, Pikachu climbed back onto his shoulder and chirped his obligatory "Pika!" of approval.
"Huh," Kad grunted with satisfaction, "I guess that's the last time I have to worry about Stan ever again. Thanks a lot, Ash."
Ash offered a handshake, which Kad immediately accepted. "No problem, Kad. It was nice to finally see his kind get shot down in flames."
Kad laughed. "I know what you mean. People as narcissistic as that drive me nuts. I don't see how anyone could be as arrogant as that…"
Instantly, the image of a green-haired boy rushed into May's mind. "I can…" she muttered with an embarrassed sigh. "Stan's a close second, though."
While the taste of victory was still fresh, they spent the next few minutes talking in the eatery about all that had happened, from the very beginning—from their meeting; to the challenge; to the food (May and Ash loved that particular part, of course, especially as they each enjoyed a bowl of chocolate pudding); to the near-death experience the night prior; and, finally, the actual competition. Strangely, Kad was inherently fascinated with all of it. He didn't bother saying much in reply to all of their comments, but the focused eyes told both of them that he wanted to know more.
"But you know, there's one thing I still don't get," May said with her finger to her chin. "Why did you tear up the flowers we got you, anyway?"
Kad's eyes widened in fear and vulnerability. Ah, that's right… I forgot about that… Much to May's dismay, he remained silent, and his eyes remained focused on the floor. She was getting impatient with his avoidance of the question, but Ash tried to convince her to forget about it.
"If he doesn't want to talk about it, he doesn't have to," he said. "It's probably not our business."
May clearly disagreed, but his statement still managed to quiet her down about the matter. From there, she would think nothing of it.
That only lasted for a few seconds, though, since Kad finally denied his feelings to the contrary and said something. It was a slow start for him, but after a few seconds, he finally tapped into the courage that was hidden inside. "It's because…something happened a few years ago that I'd rather forget about. Those flowers did a good job of reminding me what had happened. With you around (he risked a small glance at May), I can't bring myself up to forget it so easily."
May couldn't have honestly said that she understood what that meant with all she knew of him thus far. She would've asked him to say more, but when she understood that it wasn't even easy for him to come to terms with the matter, she attempted to make due anyway.
"Enough about me," Kad quickly gabbed in hopes of changing the subject. What do you guys plan on doing now?"
Then Ash knew what was about to happen. Everything that he wanted to do there was done; the competition was over, so there wasn't much more to look forward to. He slowly stood up. "I think it's probably time for us to get going," he said with a sad hint in his throat. "I still only have two months left until the Great Tournament. It's imperative now that I continue my training, and with today's competition in mind, I feel that my Pokémon and I are a bit behind."
"The Great Tournament, you say?" Kad's eyes flickered with images of fire, water, and grass filling the air like fireworks and confetti. He could almost smell the popcorn waft his way as a Gengar and Nidorino duke it out and try to conquer the other in a set of their own games of the mind and endurance. For him, though, the real clincher was the bright stadium lights—how they could make a battle seem almost impossible to sleep through. After all, how could one sleep with the lights of heaven above them and with a heated fight below them?
With a chuckle, he replied, "I wish you luck. I watch it every year, so maybe I'll see you on the big screen?"
The sad look in Ash's eyes brightened as he accepted another handshake. "I'll make sure you get your money's worth."
"I look forward to it," he said through a beam.
With that, the couple gathered their things and said goodbye to the blue-haired Trainer. As they departed, the distracted look on Kad's face told them that he had forgotten something. When he reached into his pocket, he found out what: It was a black box—the same black box that held the nigh-untouched necklace that he had intended of giving to the girl on the back of his mind all those years ago.
What am I doing with this? he asked himself. He didn't remember taking it with him. Heck, he hardly remembered that he had it anymore to begin with. He thought that he had lost it, or even tossed into the forgotten recesses of his own closet.
But then he remembered that how he woke up that morning. He remembered that he went to sleep on the chairs, not the couch. It was obvious to him that someone had set him up with everything; who it was, was the mystery, sadly.
I know what to do with this. "Ash! Wait!" he called before they were all out of earshot.
Confused, Ash walked up to him. He was caught by surprise when he saw a black blur whiz toward him. He fumbled it for a little bit, but before long, it was safe and secure in his hands.
"Take that," he said with a wink. "I think you'll need this more than I do." Evidently confused, he asked what it was, to which Kad replied with a simple, "Just give it to the girl, okay?" With that, he turned around and waved goodbye; it was uneasy to say, but this time, it felt very final. It was only a few seconds before he disappeared from sight completely as he reentered the Pokémon Center.
Still confused, yet also a little sad from the concluding departure, Ash turned around and approached his girl, eyeing the box. "Hmm…"
"Hey, Ash?" May asked with a tilted head. "What's that you got there?"
He didn't say anything and simply handed it to her. May opened it up, and as if sunlight were trapped in the inside, a heavenly flash shot out as the necklace once again saw the light of day. The silvery light almost made her eyes water—if it wasn't the implication behind the gift, of course.
"Ash…" she whispered in shock from the awe. "Do you know what this is?"
"Um…" he stuttered. "A necklace?"
May giggled and slapped his shoulder playfully. "Of course it's a necklace. But do you know what kind it is?"
Ash shook his head, still obviously confused.
"Ash…this is a couple's necklace."
May giggled again, a blush reddening her face. In all honesty, her suddently-bubbly attitude was beginning to scare him. "Do you remember that vow we made yesterday? Well, this is essentially a more powerful variation of it, at least in a girl's eyes."
A more powerful variation? "So is this like…an engagement ring?" he stuttered.
May smiled. "Not quite, but it has a similar meaning." She then grabbed his hand (as much as she could without harming her bandages, of course) and dragged him farther into the city, back toward Viridian Forest once again.
She looks so content and without worry, he thought as he saw her smiling face. I wonder if she has the same worries as I do about the whole thing… After a nervous cough, he asked her. "Hey, May."
"Yes, darling?" she giggled sweetly, complete with a hug that made it even harder for him to talk.
"You know, I'm still worried…" What Kad had said to him about May earlier that day was still buzzing in his mind. "I'm not sure what's going to happen down the road, but…are you sure that you won't…discard my feelings?"
"Huh? What makes you say that?"
"It's just something that Kad said earlier."
"Oh, what does he know?" she laughed, pulling the necklace out of the box and tying it around both of their necks. "Listen, Ash. I'd never want to do anything to hurt you. Ever since that day in Littleroot Town, I've wanted to get to know you more, and over the years, those feelings only grew stronger. Even with people like Drew around to try to convince me otherwise, I've never found an end for my goal in sight."
He smiled at her as she finally fastened the necklace after a little struggling with the undersized clip. It really did look nice, especially on her, he thought. It was strange, but with the chain around them both, he felt more secure and didn't care as much about the future. In a way, the necklace was like a metal security blanket. Yeah, why should I worry? I'll be fine. I won't let any of it happen if I can help it!
"Now let's stop worrying about what's to come!" she exclaimed, trying hard not to trip and hurt her already-quite-painful legs. "Let's just enjoy the sunshine and celebrate your victory today!"
When he thought about it, though, it really wasn't much to celebrate. Even though he did manage to show that brawn-for-brains Stan what he deserved, he still felt a little bit…cheated, in a way. After all, the biggest reason why he wanted to be in the competition in the first place was because of Gary and how Stan reminded him so much of him. In the end, he did prove himself to Gary…but his rival himself was never there to see it.
"Are you okay, Ash?" May asked.
It took a while for him to reply, but when he did, he let it all out. "Well, yes, but there's something about that win that just didn't seem right…"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, to be honest, the only reason I entered was because of Gary and how he used to taunt me over that game in the same way Stan did. I hoped that beating him would give me closure over the matter, but…"
"It didn't, did it?"
He shook his head slowly, clearly bummed out. Pikachu felt the sadness and tried his best to make the Trainer feel better by hugging his head.
Oddly, May smiled at his response. Man, she's really chipper today!
"Oh, I don't think you should worry about something like that. It was in the past. You can only live for what's happening right now. Thinking back on the negatives of the past will only take you to the negatives. Think about now."
"Yeah…" he sighed. "I guess you're right." I still feel a little cheated out of it, though.
"Come on, Ash, don't worry about it. I mean, after all…" Suddenly, she turned his face toward hers and stole another delightful kiss. The blush from his end only made it feel more passionate. "…It's just a game," she finished with a whisper as she broke it.
It took a little thought, but he managed to understand her, paying her with another quick peck on the lips, which she happily accepted. Pikachu, in contrast, was beginning to find the lovey-dovey atmosphere to be a little too sweet, expressing his discontent with a low groan. The couple didn't much care.
Ash could hardly reflect on what had happened in the past few days without being completely surprised by the short time frame. What was originally just a short trip to town quickly escalated to a challenge that he had not dwelled on for years. And then there was the sudden explosion of his feelings for May—something he never predicted would happen. At least, to his delight, she reciprocated those feelings, which had lied dormant insider her for a much longer period of time and only grew at a high rate within said short time frame.
Now the two were together. There were few things he could think of that made him as happy. It was hard at first, to be sure, since the shocking strike of the hidden arrow was swift and invisible. It took a little work, but in the end, it gave him a lovely girl to love and hold in his arms, something that he wished he had thought about sooner.
When it came down to it, all he had to do was get back up on his feet and keep moving.
…And as we face each other in battle, locked in combat, we shine ever brighter!
Ladies and gentlemen...that is all. Teching Cupid's Arrow has come to an end.
Like any other fan fiction author would, I feel somewhat-bittersweet feelings about this. I'm glad that this is over and I can move on to other projects without another over-ten-thousand-word behemoth breathing down my neck and making me feel guilty, but at the same time...it's kind of sad, but in a satisfying kind of way. It's nothing for me to shed tears over, but hey, I worked insanely hard on this. It's like playing a game for so long that you can't help but remember all the good times about it. Kinda nostalgic.
So, then... I'd like to give a huge, huge thanks to all my reviewers and beta readers. Really, you have no idea how much impact you've had on the story. Without your support, I'd probably still be on Event II, keeping the plug pulled on it for eternity. Yet your kind words and suggestions kept this story going, and for that, I thank you.
I hope you enjoyed Teching Cupid's Arrow! This is MagmarFire, wishing you a good 2010 and a happy Brawl Day! :)