Disclaimer - I don't own Pokemon. I don't even know Pokemon anymore.

Author - Chibi / Warlordess

Notes - This came to me on a whim, well - sort of anyway, so I decided to try writing it out. Strangely enough, after I'd put the first couple lines together in my head, the rest began to flow rather smoothly. Let's hope we can keep it that way, right?

Dedication - To FTEcho 4, who is apparently very easily impressed since he practically threatened me if I didn't continue writing for some of my longer projects. He inspired me with his hilarious praise and reminded me that there are still people who recognize who I am and why I write what I do. This idea is in fact practically his. He even came up with the title, though I didn't tell him so at the time what I'd be using it for. So thanks James! Or Ryan. Or whatever. Lol.

O-o-O

Title - "A Question of Principle"

Summary - Ash gets a wake up call.

(DICTIONARYdotCOM, "prin-ci-ple")

Definition #1: an accepted or professed rule of action or conduct: a person of good moral principles.

Definition #4: a personal or specific basis of conduct or management: to adhere to one's principles.

Definition #6: an adopted rule or method for application in action: a working principle for general use.

Ages - Ash is fifteen or so and Misty is sixteen. Not that it matters much.

O-o-O-o-O

Ash's foot tapped impatiently against the PokeCenter floor as he stared at the video-phone and watched the symbol onscreen indicate that it was ringing. He couldn't wait to tell Misty the outstanding news. She was the last one he would be speaking to before heading home and deciding where to go on his journey next and he was sure she already knew, was positive that she had seen it on the ILS (International League Stats) trainer website, or on television during the live broadcasts. But his mom had been so proud, Dawn so impressed, Professor Oak intrigued, Brock so vigilant up until the end. So he had to see her reaction.

"Cerulean City Gym, thanks for calling. This is Mis--"

"--Hey Misty!" Ash nearly shouted, unable to contain himself. All was silent for a moment on the other end and he laughed to himself, curious as to if she even knew it was him.

The mystery was lost when the screen flickered before him and the face of an old friend appeared.

"Oh, Ash. Hi." She said it simply and without an ounce of unnecessary attachment. They had been talking recently since the Sinnoh championships had started. Even though it had been a couple of weeks because of Ash's constant training and sectional battling, they were both pretty much caught up and indeed content with the level of communication they had with one another.

"What's up? Are you doing anything important?" He asked. He was a little ashamed to admit that he didn't care very much but he just wanted to tell her everything, give her every detail and hear her awed reaction at every turn.

She shook her head and said, "Nah, not really. Daisy scheduled maintenance on the pool for the day so we've closed the arena to challengers. I'm just sitting here in the lobby telling everyone to come back tomorrow. It's a lot of fun," she finished, obviously being sarcastic.

"Awe, that's too bad. . ." He started, then, in the next moment, "So did you see it? You saw, right?" He said in one breath, so much so that it was almost one word. He was really proud of this accomplishment, wasn't he? "I placed twenty-sixth out of three hundred participants, and fifteenth from Kanto! Isn't it great?" He laughed again, apparently high and expecting her to agree with him.

She nodded slowly again, distractedly, granting his wish but not even trying to look him in the eyes.

"Yeah, you did well, Ash. You tried your hardest, didn't you?"

He immediately noticed it. Something was wrong. He knew by now the look of somebody who was honestly praising him and Misty didn't seem capable of it. Truth be told, her words seemed to have a foreign ring to them too. She wasn't telling him that she had seen his best work out there. . . She was wondering if that had been his best work at all.

"What does that mean?" He was compelled to ask in reply.

"Nothing. You did your best, right? So good for you. You should be proud of yourself."

"I am!" He said defensively, with an undertone of indignation. "I am proud! Why are you asking me that?"

"What are you talking about?" She asked him with an irritated grunt. "I'm not really asking anything. I'm stating my opinion in the form of a question, Ash; people do it sometimes."

"But they don't sound like you did. You sound like you don't think I tried my hardest. But you're wrong! I mean, I trained for weeks after testing myself in battle after battle just to qualify for the League competition! And like you said, I did well. I'm okay with how I did so why aren't you?" He paused for a second to take a breath, trying to figure out what else he wanted to say. Finally he decided. "You have to though. I'm telling you that you have to agree that I did everything I could to come out where I did in the Sinnoh League."

"Ash, keep it down, won't you? Aren't you in a PokeCenter? Everyone can hear you!" But that was nothing compared to the nearly livid expression she had on her face in the next moment. "And don't try to tell me how I feel. If you want the truth I'll give it to you, though I doubt you could handle it."

She was staring him down fiercely and in almost any other situation it could have been considered funny. But Ash could never laugh at the thought that his training abilities were. . . were. . . Well, he actually didn't know what Misty was thinking but it obviously wasn't good. He gulped and nodded, needing to hear it.

Misty's face softened, then sobered up. She was not looking forward to this. And because she was so obvious, he actually knew what was coming before she told him.

"Ash, the Sinnoh League is your fifth shot at earning a chance to battle the Elite Four for the Pokemon Master title. You've been at this for so long and. . ." She bit her lip, knowing she had to word it exactly right, "I remember a time when you had placed better than you did now, and yet you were still hit hard. You were so upset because you hadn't won the entire competition. When you came out in the top sixteen in the Indigo League, you were crushed. None of us could think of what to do to make it easier for you. Now, years later, you've been disqualified even sooner and. . . you're okay with it. Quite frankly Ash, you've settled, and I'm just. . . disappointed, I guess."

His heartbeat increased. He didn't know if he had it in him to endure those words. But Misty wasn't done just yet.

"Are you kidding? I mean, really Ash? Do you still want to be the Pokemon Master or not? Because from where I'm standing, it looks like you need to seriously step up your game. Unless you don't care anymore."

His cheeks flushed from embarrassment. Or anger. Or maybe a little bit of both thanks to her ridiculing him. More than anything he realized he didn't want the wrong person to hear this conversation anymore (though everyone was considered the wrong person by now) so he picked up the handheld receiver, automatically cancelling the speakerphone. He almost turned off the screen too. It was hard to look at Misty after hearing what she really thought of his progress, or the lack thereof.

"Of course I'm serious!" He told her confidently, trying to keep his voice down. "I mean, just because I accept defeat a little easier now, you think I'm losing touch with my dream? I'm going to be the Pokemon Master one day! Even if you don't believe in me."

"Look, Ash, it's not about believing in you or not. But for the record, of course I do. At least a little bit. You're my best friend. I dedicated over three years to watching you get stronger - through Indigo, the Orange Archipelago, Johto. And after that I still thought of you; I made sure to keep in contact and I always watched the televised reports on the championship battles. I've even closed the Gym down for a day every once in awhile so that I wouldn't miss anything.

"But you know what? Despite all of that, the Cerulean Gym's reputation has gone up twenty-four percent in the last six months. Check any League database or newsletter and you'll see that I've reached Ericka's level. Trainers sometimes avoid coming here until they've gotten five other badges just so that they're as prepared as possible."

"Yeah? So what?" The taunt had left his mouth before he could stop it, though he wasn't sure he wanted to. "I beat Ericka so I guess that means I could still beat you!"

She snorted. She was upset at his remarks and angry that their first conversation in half a month had turned out the way it had. But more than that she just wanted to justify to him why she felt the way she did. If he would just hear her out. . . If he would just consider her opinion for a moment. . . it might make a difference in his level of skill. She wanted to help him just like old times.

"Ash. . . you didn't beat Ericka. You masqueraded as a girl to infiltrate her Gym and then ended up saving her Gloom after one of Team Rocket's mishaps so she gave you a badge. As I recall, she wasn't the only Gym Leader who did that despite you not beating them in an official match." She sighed, exhausted from bearing herself to him. "You accepted those badges gratefully because they were tokens of appreciation. Don't get me wrong, Ash, you're a great person so in that sense you deserved them. But you lost so much potential experience because of it. And I know you haven't thought of it all this time and that you probably don't rely on it anymore but still. . ."

Finally, she took advantage of him while he was down and made for a low blow.

"I mean, think about Pikachu for a second. From the very beginning he was considered a special Pokemon. Team Rocket wouldn't even glance at him unless that was the case. But thinking of it, how much can you really rely on him? He should be one of your strongest Pokemon by now but you don't know how to access his latent powers because you two are so close. He's lost so many matches even though he should be so much more resilient. You only push him when you're nearly down for the final count by trying to inspire him with your words. You want to win and win together, but you're leaving behind any tricks of the trade you could use to do it."

He never thought he'd hear that from Misty. He'd always assumed that she thought of Pokemon the same as him. He had thought that she considered each and every one of her own the way he did his. After all, they weren't pets. They weren't tools. They were--

"I get that he's a friend to you and you depend on that. But you also have to realize that to be Pokemon Master, your faith cannot end there. Weeks of training for one competition won't cut it. You need to think of everything you've learned since the day you set out on your journey. What can your Pokemon do that you never thought possible until it actually happened? How can you get them to repeat those abilities when it's necessary to win? I thought you'd learned that awhile ago. Isn't that how you won against Lance in the Orange League?"

"I. . ." He faltered. He didn't know what to say. Perhaps there was a difference between the two of them after all, though he'd never seen it coming. This was how - why - Misty was able to take advantage of Psyduck's vague faculty. He'd rarely tried to do that with his own Pokemon before. When Charizard had been troublesome and inattentive, he had merely attempted to befriend him. He wanted Charizard to trust him, and while that made their relationship better, it had taken so long to do that he'd lost a lot of time battling with the fire-type because of it.

Misty was getting stronger because she had paid attention all those years as she traveled and trained her Pokemon. Now, though she was just sitting in one place while people filtered to her, she was a challenge to them. She was a threat. And, often enough, she was a victor. Ash had considered himself great because he'd made it to this championship at all. Misty continued to fight and fight and get better. She was building herself up while he walked the straight path.

"I didn't call you so that you would tell me all of this!" He told her indignantly, though he wasn't so sure anymore. Maybe this was what he needed, and maybe he'd called Misty to tell it like it was after all. His mother would always be proud of him after all, and Professor Oak knew it wasn't his responsibility. Plus Dawn was so new to this world in a whole that she would never be bold enough to tell him all of this. And Brock was his support, he would not change that position anytime soon.

And all at once, he knew she was right. He wanted to be the Pokemon Master more than anything else. He'd spent years dreaming of it until he had turned ten years old, then he'd tried his hardest after receiving Pikachu just to get him to listen to him. It wasn't like Ash should have simply stopped there, but he seemed to blur the lines of any Pokemon-versus-human relationship. He would not be abusing his Pokemon if he just pushed them a little harder right? He wouldn't be ruining himself if he tried to change the way he'd been acting with them all these years, would he?

And he realized too why he'd ensured nobody else could hear what Misty spoke to him about. He was ashamed. Something in what she said spoke so true to him that he couldn't stand it if everyone else in the room (let alone the world) knew the honest-to-goodness truth.

He wanted to ask Misty for her advice on the matter, though it seemed that her place was pretty clear. She had learned not to be afraid of testing the limits of her Pokemon's abilities. He wanted to ask anybody for their advice on the matter, but he was actually a little scared. If they agreed with her, then that meant he still had so far to go. If they didn't, then it meant they'd paid too little attention to him from the beginning.

He had gotten so caught up in the experience of his Pokemon Journey that he had forgotten about ever reaching his destination. And now he wasn't even sure he stood a chance of getting there at all.

O-o-O-o-O

Notes - Okay, so the foreplay in this fic sucks. I know it, you know it. . . But I think once it got the the bottom of things it all slowed down and began to play at just the right speed. I've told myself that that fact makes everything else okay.

So Misty was a bit of a hardcase. When I was planning the fic (like, two days ago), I kept wondering who I should use. In the actual story, I listed off a bunch of other people who were close enough to Ash at this point that they would be able to say anything about how he's turned out as a trainer, but Misty seemed the only one who fit the bill. She doesn't care about the consequences of speaking her mind to Ash (especially when it comes to his training skills) and she's a friend so what she says counts for a lot. Still, I hope I don't get in trouble for having her be "that person." Hehe.

So there you go, James! In your PM's to me you asked if there was a fic about this kind of thing, you'd like to read it. Now that you have, I hope you aren't too disappointed. I tried my hardest. I hope it also wasn't too sneaky to have you come up with the title. I thought it made it seem a little more personal. Or something. Plus I couldn't come up with anything better. My ideas weren't worse, but they definitely weren't more suited than yours.

So. . . review! -runs and hides-