~*~24:00~*~

After years of watching her be the self assured one, the one who was always knew what to do, it was nice to see Misty's turmoil.

On the one hand, I was leaning against the door frame in the kitchen covered in dirt, which doesn't seem very appetizing but I knew she was fighting the urge to jump me. Although in her left hand was that terrible timer, I couldn't see the screen but I knew it was programmed for exactly 24 hours.

"Misty," I took a step towards her, "You don't have to set the timer this time. It's been months since we last saw each other. Maybe we can just not have the constant reminder that our time is limited."

Her blue-green eyes locked on mine as I continued moving in her direction, "Ash…" she sighed allowing herself to collapse into my arms.

"Come on, just this once? Is it really so bad?"

"Maybe you're right…" Misty murmured while I kissed her collar, but I still heard the shrill beep of the timer being started.

~*~23:34~*~

The first time was always quick, a flurry of skin that hadn't touched the other in months. Once that was over, the "real first time", as Misty jokingly called it, started. The time when everything went slower and every touch was electric, a point I was proving by trailing my fingers along her inner thigh.

"I missed you," she whispered panting softly.

"I missed you too," I smiled leaning her back gently onto the bed. It was true. Years ago, Misty grew up and began working full time at her family's gym. I hadn't, while all my friends moved on and settled down, I was still traveling from region to region trying to get that all too important master title. Our relationship started in our teens and had carried us to now, but we only saw each other when I visited home.

Struggling to catch her breath, Misty kissed my still damp forehead as I moved her knees apart and entered her slowly.

~*~20:03~*~

My eyes trailed over the wall filled with pictures, while Misty relaxed next to me. A framed photo of her parents on their wedding day, a couple childhood photos of her and I, and a bunch of Dylan and Lola.

"Misty?" I asked staring at the photo of Dylan holding a tiny, dark haired Lola in his lap, "Do they know about me?"

She didn't ask who I was talking about, "I don't try to keep it a secret…" she hesitated, "I think Dylan knows; he's so smart, way smarter than his parents."

I laughed, "But you don't talk about it?"

"No…it doesn't have anything to do with you," she hurriedly explained, "I just remember when you were younger you had your moments when you blamed yourself for your dad being gone and I don't ever want the thought to enter their minds, because it's the furthest from the truth."

My head moved up and down in a nod, but a little sadly. I understood what she was saying, but it still stung. To know that my own children didn't know who their father was.

"They love you though," Misty smiled a little wistfully, "Lola is always asking for you. Dylan tries to tell her that it's always a surprise when you come but she doesn't understand. The way they talk about you…" she paused, "you're like some great hero."

"Maybe I am," I joked.

"Of course you are, they're 8 and 3, and you're a trainer. Too cool for any of that grown up stuff, you travel from place to place. You're the greatest guy they know."

I sighed and sat up, "yeah, I suppose I am pretty cool to a kid."

"Are you okay?" She asked sitting up next to me.

"Fine," I stood up and walked into the adjacent bathroom rifling through the medicine cabinet for aspirin. Misty got out of bed and walked behind me turning on the shower and stepping through the doorway, as steam began to fill the tiny room.

"Hey….Misty?" I called out hesitantly.

"Yeah?"

"Since when have you been taking birth control?"

Misty stuck her head out of the shower and stared at me as I held up the pink holder in question, "Uh….for a couple years…"

"Oh," I paused, my next question was on the tip of my tongue but I wasn't sure how badly I wanted to know the answer, "Why?"

She smirked at me slightly, "Because you don't like to wear condoms."

I sighed in relief as she went back to her shower then I thought of another point, "But we never used any protection, why now?"

I didn't have any right to be upset, we never said that we were exclusive; I just never saw anyone else and assumed the same from Misty. But if she was suddenly taking birth control when she hadn't before, that's the only explanation, that Misty is seeing someone else when I'm not around.

"Why not now?"

"Because we always just risked it…and got lucky."

Misty smiled and shook her head, "Yes, Ash, we usually got lucky, and twice we got luckier."

"So why the birth control?"

"I'm lucky enough."

It only took a couple seconds for me to catch her meaning, there wasn't another guy she just didn't want anymore kids. I grinned and walked into the shower with her.

"What did you think? That I was sleeping with the neighborhood?" she asked. I didn't answer but she saw the flicker in my eyes and sighed, "Ash…I have to shuttle the kids to your mom's house so that we can have a day to ourselves. I don't have time for anyone else. Besides, everyone knows we're together. I have your last name, Dylan and Lola do too. No other man will go near me."

I narrowed my eyes, "Why is that? Why did you take my name, but you won't marry me?"

"I don't want to be your wife while I'm just waiting for you to come home." she frowned then leaned forward and kissed me softly, "You know what we haven't done in awhile?" she giggled wrapping her arms around my neck as I grinned.

And because I was male and because I was Ash, I was distracted.

~*~13:36~*~

Now it was late, and Misty was resting beside me. I should probably be trying to sleep too, tomorrow I'd have to see everyone else, but I couldn't.

It wasn't the first time I had doubts about the way I lived my life. This was actually right on schedule, when I was with Misty I couldn't fathom how I ever left again, but I still did. This time was definitely different. I glanced over at the digital clock on the nightstand next to me, just in time to see it turn to midnight.

"Happy Birthday, Ash," Misty whispered from my side. I shut my eyes, apparently she was still awake.

"Thanks, I think this is the first time I've been here on my birthday. Usually I'm alone in a tent somewhere," I joked, but she must have sensed something different in my tone because she suddenly moved closer and wrapped her arms around my stomach.

"What's wrong? She asked.

"Nothing," I paused wondering if I should voice my concerns. Misty was always in a competition with my mother for the title of my biggest fan. I knew that if she thought I was thinking of giving it all up for her, she'd protest and refuse to let me, "I think I'm going to stay here, if that's okay with you."

"For how long?"

"For…"I trailed off, "ever?"

Misty sat up quickly staring down at me with an excited glint in her eyes that I could see, even in the dark room, "Forever? Do you have news?"

"News?" I searched her expression for a clue, "Oh! No…I've just been thinking about coming home, to stay."

She frowned; prettily I had to admit, "No."

"No?" I asked feeling my temper rise.

"No, you're not allowed to come back now, not until you're done. Why on earth would you want to?" she crossed her arms over her chest.

"For you, and Dylan and Lola, I want to be around for your sake," I watched her eyes change rapidly, I wasn't sure what she was thinking but there was an apparent conflict.

"Don't do us any favors," she snapped.

"What?"

"We don't need you, I have a good job, and I support this house and raise my kids just fine on my own. If you tried to come back, it wouldn't be to help us. We've gone 8 years without you."

I felt like she had slapped me, they don't need me? How could they not need me when at this very second I felt that they were the only thing I needed?

In a childish huff, I pulled my jeans on from the side of the bed and stormed out of the bedroom and downstairs. It wasn't until I reached the living room that I realized I didn't have anywhere to go. Mom's house would have been full with her, Dylan, and Lola; and our friends would probably kill me if I woke them up in the middle of the night because Misty and I were arguing.

"Damn," I muttered under my breath collapsing onto the couch.

I was only there for a couple minutes, stewing in my own bad mood until I heard Misty's soft footsteps on the stairs behind me.

"I thought maybe you left," she started walking over to me.

"I would have, but there's nowhere to go. Your kids are at my mother's house," I grumbled.

Misty sighed, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said it like that," she climbed on top of me so she could rest her head against my chest, "Can we be friends again? I don't want to spend our time fighting."

"No, I'm mad at you," I snapped turning my face away from her, so much for my thirtieth birthday, I was acting like I was still twelve.

"Can we talk about it?" she asked grabbing my chin and forcing me to look at her.

"Sure, talk away."

She rolled her eyes upward as if trying to figure out the gentlest way to say something, "I've known you for twenty years, Ash. The only thing that's ever been constant with you is you dream of becoming a master. It's hard, but you have the talent, you knew going into it that it was going to take some time. I know you can do this, I believe in you, and I'd never forgive you if you gave it all up for us."

"You said you didn't need me," I mumbled like a child.

"Oh…Ash…I'm sorry, I don't."

"What?"

"You know I'm not sappy like that. I don't need you. I would love to have you around all the time, but I won't die if you're not," she shrugged.

"I need you, let me stay," I whined.

"Do you still want to be a master?" she asked me.

"No," I said nodding my head unconvincingly.

"Then you need to be a master."

"But," I sat up, careful to keep her on my lap, "Dylan is already 8. I wasn't there when he was born, or any of his firsts. I've already given up two-thirds of my life for this dream, it's years we could have been together that we won't get back."

"Ash, if you give up, all that time lost would be for nothing. I don't mind waiting, if it means that you get what you want."

"What if I never make it, and I miss everything?" It was an unusual moment of doubt, when I wasn't as confident in my own abilities.

"That won't happen, I won't let it."

I gave Misty an unsure gaze but she grinned and kissed me.

~*~00:04~*~

"Stop!" Misty giggled as I kissed the only ticklish spot she had on her neck.

"Why? I like kissing you," I laughed moving my lips to cover hers quickly.

She moaned briefly then pushed me away, "Come on, get platonic, your mom will be dropping off the kids any minute."

"The timer hasn't started beeping, and I'm going to use my remaining minutes as I see fit," I protested tipping her back onto the couch. It didn't take long for me to distract her enough for the beeping timer to go unnoticed.

"What are you doing?" A small voice asked from the doorway.

Misty and I sat up and I smirked at the red blush covering her cheeks.

"Uh…" I trailed off meeting my mother's amused expression.

"They were kissing," Dylan scrunched up his nose as he led his younger sister into the living room.

"Ash!" Lola squealed launching herself into my arms.

"Hey, were you good for Grandma Delia?" I asked holding her against me.

"Yeah, did you bring us presents?"

"Lola Katherine! You're not supposed to ask that!" Misty scolded.

"It's fine," I smiled at her, "There may be something for your brother and you in your rooms."

She hopped off my lap and raced for the stairs with Dylan in tow.

I glanced over at Misty who was smiling at me, "Can I tell you something?" she asked sliding over on the couch, "I don't need you, but I want you. Come home soon?"

I grinned kissing her softly, "Of course, you know me, a year…tops."

And I felt confident that it would be that easy.