For an entire minute, all was silent. Ash sighed slowly as he glanced around, staring at the lava as it remained, for a moment, relatively still. It was like water lapping up against the sides of some beach or maybe even a crag, the only difference being that this flaming water could sear you to ashes even if you were a mere twenty feet from it. Misty was panting slowly, her recently cut hair falling over her shoulders as sweat built up around her forehead. She was so beautiful, even if she did have droplets of blood and filth smeared on her face, soaking sweat moistening her clothing to the point that they stuck to her skin rather tightly. Molly clung to Entei as she panted for air, succumbing to the heat of the antechamber. Sabrina, despite bleeding heavily from the shoulder, stood erect, her hair blowing in the nonexistent breeze. Mewtwo was struggling to stand, catching his breath as the seconds passed.
However, once the column they stood on began to tremble, the silence ended.
"We can't stay here for much longer!" Sabrina stammered as the lava walls that lead outside began to crash downward, spraying liquid rock against the columns of stone, melting them upon physical contact, "Quickly! Mewtwo, help me teleport us out of here." The cloned creature extended his hands, an aura of azure swirling around is body, but, as sparks ensnared the group, they found the Pokemon could do nothing to help them. They remained steadfast in their place as the pillar they stood upon slowly began to teeter, toppling off to the side.
"No!" Molly screamed, hopping on Entei's back, "We don't have time! C'mon!" She gestured for them, and they knew at once what she wanted. The four of them leapt onto Entei's back, hopping forward as the column they stood upon fell over into the lava, liquefying on contact. They stared down at the smoldering rock as it sizzled away, fizzling into a bubbling little mass on the lava.
"We're doomed," Misty stammered. Ash looked around them as the columns began to liquefy all around them as the lava began to boil beneath their feet. The columns leading toward the only exit had crumbled away, blown away by a blast of Deoxys' psychic energies. Ash turned toward the vortex they had entered the volcano through, praying Team Rocket had left it open for them to escape, praying they had the decency to aid them in their hour of need.
His prayers failed him.
The portal was no more.
"Dammit!" Ash screamed as the column they stood upon began to waver back and forth. Below them was a swirling cesspool of lava, their only exits impossible to access. Entei could never reach beyond the canyon filling with lava by the second, the molten rock rising into the air with every nanosecond. The vortex had closed, leaving them trapped inside. Ash glanced over at Misty, seeing her as simply as the last beautiful thing in the world. His angel turned toward him, and at once he realized she felt the same way about him.
Their hands embraced, squeezing tightly, tight enough so that even the lava and magma, as it liquefied their bodies into nothing more than ash, would not tear them apart.
"Help us!" Molly cried, tears spilling over her cherubic cheeks as she fell down, her hair falling over her eyes. Sabrina's eyes had widened in horror as she stared around her at the lava, her skin growing paler by the second. Had this been part of her plan? Had this been a piece of her plot against Nathanael Butler? Was their deaths all just part of her plans? Was Lt. Surge's demise all according to her little plan? Though Ash hadn't seen him die, he knew the soldier had perished in the brawl. It was painfully clear this was the case, after all, what other excuse did the gym leader have for not being alongside them as they resigned to their deaths.
The only thing that was real was Misty's touch, her sweaty skin sticking to his own as her soft palms pressed against his own.
Sounds grew unfocused and blurred as the roar of an engine filled their ears. Ash glanced up as a grand ship dove through the hole, the metal shimmering against the flaming rocks that had melted away below. As the column they stood upon began to crumble beneath their feet, the ship soared toward them, above the lava, above their head. Entei leapt upward as a door beneath the plane opened up. Entei rushed into the chamber, only for Ash's eyes to lay upon Jessie, James, and Meowth, standing at a control panel, eyes frantic.
"Alright, they're in!" James shouted toward the cockpit, where a single hand extended outward from behind a large seat, giving them the thumbs up. Ash glanced over to see Lance steer the ship out of the cavity of the underground magma chamber. The ship soared out of the searing ocean of fire, and escaped the heat pool.
Molly slumped over, gasping for air as her sweat drenched body sagged in relief. Mewtwo slowly allowed Sabrina to assist him off of Entei's back, holding the poor, broken creature against her shoulder. Misty and Ash, however, continued to hold hands as the Tohjo Falls behind them exploded out in a fiery eruption, the ground atop its magma chamber soaring into the air, spiraling like a deranged top through the air, fire slaying all the vegetation growing on the fragments, all the berries living there dying almost instantly.
All traces of Nathanael Butler had been erased from this world.
Misty and Sabrina had their gyms.
Slowly, the boy's eyes opened up on the beach as he glanced up at the dark sky before him. The red blood drifted through the air as before, the dark scarlet liquid spilled over the ocean. The remains of an entire race remained spilled out before them, the primeval juices of humanity, LCL, that Shinji Ikari had turned the whole of humanity into. It was his fault this world was in ruins, and it was his fault he couldn't save Asuka from hell in the other world. Now she was going to spend an eternity suffering alone in that hell.
Shinji glanced over at Asuka's broken body. Her eye was wrapped up in bandages, as was her arm. He wished he could have saved her then, but all he had done while she was being torn to shreds was just hide, run away from making a change to the world. He had allowed his world to crumble apart, and nothing he could ever do would salvage his world from his own mistakes. Even running away to another world could not prevent Shinji to pay for his sins.
Or, to be more accurate, for others to pay for HIS sins.
Shinji bundled Asuka's body in a blanket he found drifting on the beach. It was probably the middle of January by now, and even though seasons had disappeared following Second Impact fifteen years ago, the post Third Impact world no doubt had returned the Earth to its original status, as it was awfully chilly during the nights. Asuka remained still. Her body trembled on instinct, by natural brain functions, but her soul and mind were somewhere far away, in another world, suffering because he wasn't able to save her again.
Why was it that, no matter what, he would always fail his love? He had lost her twice, and both times he had been unable to save her from the forces of those who wished him and the others harm. They were monsters, all of them. Now Shinji was all alone on a beach, with not a soul around him other than Asuka Langley Sohryu, a broken body unable to even say a single word, to open her eyes and live.
Thanks, once again, to Shinji Ikari's terrible judgment.
Shinji sparked up a small fire before the German girl, rubbing his own hands over her arms to build friction, ignoring the lust inside of him, the desire to just hold her close. After all, after what he had done, he didn't deserve to have pleasure at this poor girl's expense. "I'm sorry, Asuka," Shinji mumbled, slowly turning around to gather some driftwood to burn on the fire warming up Asuka's cold, shivering frame, "I didn't mean for this to happen to you. I just wanted you to be happy is all. I guess I failed. I guess once you make a mistake, you have to live up to it, even if it does seem like a good idea at the time. It's just that, after all this time, I thought I finally made the right decision, you know? I'm sorry you got hurt. I just wish I could do something to cheer you up."
Shinji turned around, only for a pair arms to wrap themselves around his shoulders, pulling him tightly against a pair of bosoms. Shinji remained still for a moment, his eyes wide with shock, as he drew his face away. There laid Asuka, arms out stretched, eyes filled with tears as she glanced up at him, smiling softly. "How many times did I have to tell you, Shinji? Stop saying sorry. It makes you sound so stupid, you know."
"I'm sorry I'm not living up to your expectations," Shinji replied, lips curling.
"Don't be," Asuka replied, staring back at him, eyes wide as tears ran down her cheeks, "Don't always say 'I'm sorry' all the time. You sound less like a man. You know, out here you aren't as cool as you were before. You aren't as cool as you were in my dream."
"Your dream?" Shinji asked, downhearted.
"Well, I think it was a dream, but somehow I don't think it was. Judging by that monologue when I woke up, I figure you had something to do with it. Don't know what, and I honestly don't care. I just wanna say one thing, first, Shinji."
"I'm not going to let either of us die out here. If you die on me, I'll go over to Hell to kick the Devil's ass just to bring you back. The LCL sea will return to normal, eventually. Hell, people probably already came back. It's been so long already."
"Why're you being so nice to me right now?" Shinji asked, surprised by Asuka's lack of attacks toward him.
"I couldn't do anything to help you," Asuka replied, glancing over at Shinji, "I couldn't help you, couldn't help. I did everything I could, and that wasn't enough. But still, we're together again now. Maybe we're meant to be out here, but I know we'll be fine in the end."
"Why're you so sure?" Shinji asked.
"Don't question my logic," Asuka chuckled, "Just go along for the ride. Also, Shinji?"
"Thank you for at least trying to help me."
Shinji was quiet for a few moments before saying, silently, "You're welcome."
"In conclusion, with the bankruptcy and capture of Team Rocket's head, the total confiscation of Team Rocket's stock and biochemical weaponry, and the overall disappearance of Nathanael Butler, presumed to be lost in the explosion, the mission was overall a complete success," Lance said, concluding his speech toward the numerous individuals standing before him. Ash stood behind him, fidgeting. Seriously, why did he need to wear a tux, anyway? He hated wearing these monkey suits. Sure, Misty looked nice in her cerulean dress and all that, but why did he need to be dressed up? He blushed as he noticed his mom sat center stage, staring right at him, smiling brightly, waving occasionally, only to Ash's embarrassment. In fact, Ash noticed a lot of people they recognized. Of course Professor Oak and Gary had attended this ceremony, as had Brock, one of his longest and oldest friends in the world. May and Max had also attended the ceremony, as had Dawn. There were a few surprises, though, amongst the individuals who came. Paul, that rival whom Ash had defeated in Sinnoh after years of fighting him off, had attended the ceremony, though he looked just as stand-offish as he always did, as had that guy Barry, amongst other random trainers he recognized. Tracey had attended, making a sketch of, if Sabrina's occasional venomous glances at the trainer were any inkling, of the psychic gym leader herself.
The only one who had not attended this meeting who should have was Mewtwo. Molly was all dressed up in her suit, holding her precious Entei inside of a Pokeball she squeezed tightly in her pocket, Jessie and James were dressed in suits, Meowth choosing to go commando this time. Pikachu rested gently on Ash's shoulder, smiling proudly, though Ash was unsure whether the pokemon was proud of itself OR of its trainer. Sabrina was dressed in a night gown that accentuated her bust, though any trainer who dared even glance at her bosoms was given a dark, venomous look that frightened any possible voyeurs away.
However, Mewtwo was not to be seen. Ash remembered how Mewtwo had been in intensive care for days, but, when the time came for the meeting, he arose from the bed, mostly healed, only to teleport off, presumably to Cerulean Cave. Ash wondered whether or not Mewtwo's other clones resided there. Maybe, just maybe, Misty would be able to visit him when she returned—
Ash was silent as he lowered his head, ignoring Lance as he allowed the audience to give their heroes a large round of applause, even a standing ovation. Still, it didn't really matter. After all, now their adventure had come to a close yet again. This was it. Now Ash was just an ordinary trainer off to become a Master. He had only been passing through to visit Misty a little, after all. He hadn't intended on staying. He wanted to head off to a new region he had heard of, with new Pokemon to face, new friends to join.
But he also wanted to be with Misty.
Why couldn't he have both?
Misty had fought for her gym, and simply leaving it behind—well, it would be selfish to say the least to request something she wanted for so long, fight for it, only to give it up after the final reel. It was selfish for Ash to want her to give up her job just to go with him on some stupid adventure to become a Pokemon Master, whatever that really meant. Seriously, Ash knew of Pokemon Masters. They were people like Lance, right? Ash knew he'd be amongst the Elite Four one day, maybe even the champion. Still, he had years for that, right? He needed to train every second in new regions. He couldn't remain stagnant in here, could he?
But if he continued his dreams, he'd leave Misty alone again.
And that would make both of them sad.
Ash waited until after the ceremony had concluded, waited until he had been hugged, congratulated, and patted on the back by every person he knew (save for Paul, who gave him a passing glance before leaving him behind, a smug grin implying that the trainer felt he could have defeated Nathanael without the need for the other trainers), only to find Misty staring out of a balcony out at the canyon below them, the Indigo Plateau head building standing on a luscious trip as always. She glanced over, her now shorter hair falling around her jaw line as she grinned, slightly.
"Hey, Ash, are you okay?" she asked, her hands behind her back tenderly.
"You seem a little blue," Misty asked, leaning forward as her ironically azure dress folded between her breasts and flat stomach.
"Well, it's nothing much right now," Ash mumbled, his eyes not meeting Misty's irises.
The girl regarded the boy for a moment, frowning slightly, before the water trainer turned around, staring at the full moon high above their heads, frowning slightly. "Ya know, that girl Ka committed suicide not long after we left her behind."
"Yeah, I know," Ash said, surprised by the morbid turn of events.
Misty stared at the moon for the longest time, slowly. "We didn't know them long when we met them over in Fuchsia, but you knew she loved that boy Shi, right? You could just sense it."
"Yeah, I guessed that," Ash replied, uncertain what Misty was heading towards.
"I don't think she ever got to tell him what she felt before he died," Misty replied, "They were so young, too, and yet they both died. Younger than us, even. We like to think that we have forever for these things, until we grow up and whatever, but really, right now, this very second, we're grown-ups. We don't have an eternity for these sorts of things. Ya know, tomorrow one of us could just be run over by a car and die, or be shot by some crazy person. We don't need to be in an adventure for something like that to happen."
"But Misty, the chances of that happening are really low," Ash laughed, "Ya can't worry about that sort of stuff all the time. Otherwise, what's the point of living?"
"I know that. I have a point, ya know. I'm not just monologueing for the sake of monologueing! Well, what I mean is, imagine the guilt she felt when something like that happened, not able to say what she felt, you know? I can't imagine how it would feel to know that you COULD have told someone how much you love someone but, in the end, being unable to. It's just, well, unbearable to me. I'd just die inside of the guilt."
Ash felt his heart racing, though he wasn't sure why. Misty was staring at him with large, mournful eyes, approaching slowly as the seconds passed. Ash's palms grew sweaty as Misty neared him, hands folded below her hips as she stared into his eyes. Their breathing grew synchronized as Misty slowly said, her voice soft, coming out in a groggy yet wide awake fashion, "I just have so much I need to say to so many people, to my family, to my friends, to you."
"What do you have to say to me?" Ash asked, slowly leaning closer, his body growing hot underneath his tuxedo.
"It's just that I—"
Both Brock and Tracey darted into the balcony, a wide-eyed expression on his face as he darted roughly between the two trainers, hiding cowardly behind Ash as Sabrina entered the room, eyes wide with seething fury, sparks of azure soaring around her body. "If you so much as glance toward my breasts one more time, I'll send you both into the playhouse together for an eternity!"
"You still keep that freaky thing!" Brock stammered, eyes still squinted shut yet wide in an odd sense of the word as he stared best he could at Sabrina, trembling violently.
The moment was lost.
"The problem still is Vermillion," Lance sighed, glancing at the other Elite Four members, along with Sabrina, "Lt. Surge will be regarded as a hero for his services to save the whole of the Indigo League, potentially even the world, but that doesn't change the fact that he's dead." Sabrina felt a pang at the sound of those words. Yes, he was dead. It was a simple fact. So what? People died everywhere all the time. No big deal. Why did she feel so bothered by the knowledge one individual man was now dead? It wasn't like he was anything more than a pawn to her, anyway.
Under the dark light of the board room, Lorelei sighed, folding her hands before her, head lowered. "We need to declare a successor, clearly, but do we have any qualified trainers?"
"How about Ash?" Bruno suggested, "I'm sure he'd be glad to run his own gym."
"No," Sabrina replied, "He'd feel stagnated. He wants to beat each member of the Elite Four, and I don't think he'll get the most out of his training if he remains in a gym fighting weak challenges. No, he won't be nailed down like that."
"That doesn't change the fact we need Surge's successor if we are to rebuild Vermillion Gym," Agatha replied, critically, "We can always close down the gym, but after all that Surge put into salvaging that building, it would be nigh sacrilege to do such a thing. No, we need someone, that is undeniable. Perhaps we'll move one of the winners of the League tournament to—"
"No, I know who you should recruit," Sabrina stammered, rising up to the group, eyes wide as realization dawned upon her, "Had it not been for the efforts of Molly Hale, everyone would have died. She harnessed the power of an Entei to help defeat Deoxys, and save everyone's lives. Nathanael would've escaped, possibly alive, and we'd be doomed. The truth is, Molly Hale deserves Viridian Gym."
"Why should we hand a Johto trainer a Kanto gym? It doesn't make sense if you ask me," Lorelei stammered, only for Lance to silence her.
"Why her?" Lance asked, "I know there's another reason, as any number of you in that group did enough to save the world. Why would Molly make a better leader as opposed to Jessie or James?"
"For one, Jessie and James are incompetent idiots. For two, Molly Hale wants nothing less than to become a gym leader. I could sense that passion in her heart, that overwhelming desire. Give her the gym, and I guarantee you attendance to the league will rise. She's a young trainer, so she'd make mistakes. She has Entei in her control, so advance trainers will have an advance challenge. Molly lacks an element, but perhaps she can develop one over time. Regardless, Lance, you know she'd be perfect."
Sabrina stared into Lance's eyes for a moment before the Elite Four head chuckled, lowering his head in resignation. "Fine. It saves me time anyway looking for someone. Molly Hale, as of twenty four hours from now, will be the gym leader of Vermillion City. I just need to draw up the proper paper work first."
Misty's bag was packed on her bed as she ran a hand through her now shorter hair, pushing her bangs out of her eyes. She felt her hands tremble as she tossed a photograph she kept in her wallet of herself and Ash across the room, only to regard it for a moment, her lips tight, before reclaiming it, returning the photo to its rightful place as she shoved her wallet into her pants pocket, patting it against her hip before slinging her bag over her shoulder, leaving the room hastily.
Misty knew Ash had almost kissed her last night, just as she had wanted. Still, something had been bothering him. She could see it in his eyes. It took her a few hours the previous night to figure out just what it was. Could it be someone giving him the cold shoulder? No, when that happened he tended to react more with a frustrated shout emerging from his sweet lips. No, that certainly wasn't it at all. She considered that it could be Surge's death, but Ash, despite being empathetic, wasn't the type to mourn a hero like that. He would honor his sacrifice, but not necessarily spend days in mourning. Surge's death hadn't broken his heart the days leading up to the event, and certainly wouldn't now.
No, when Misty realized the real reason he was upset, she felt her heart break a little inside.
Ash was upset because of her.
It wasn't like he was mad at her or anything like that. Oh no, Misty would realize that if that were the case. In actuality, the source of Ash's pain was a conflict of interests in his heart. There were two forces at war in his heart: his desire for Misty and his desire for Pokemon mastery. Misty remembered just how Ash obsessed over his desire to be a Master, whatever that truly meant. At what point did someone transition from an ordinary trainer to a Master?
In Misty's eyes, Ash had always been a Master.
Still, Ash's impossible goal granted his life meaning. It gave it a heart, a passion that it needed. Pursuing mastery was his natural function, his required destination he would need to end up at, no matter what. It was a march toward perfection, a march that Misty should never interrupt. She knew that, if she stayed behind, Ash would NEVER reach his dreams, and that would mean that Misty would be responsible for spoiling Ash's life goals, ruining them, tarnishing them entirely. After all, if he were to stay with her, he'd need to stay in Cerulean with her gym. There was no way around it. Misty was nailed down to the ground. She had thought of many possibilities to save her gym, even considering giving custody of it to Molly, but then she learned that Molly was now going to be in charge of Vermillion City's reconstructed gym. There was no way Misty could escape being Cerulean Gym Leader, and so long as she was gym leader, if Ash wanted to be with her, he'd need to give up being a Pokemon master and focus entirely on living with a simple Kanto gym leader.
In short, if Ash was to be happy, Misty had to leave him behind.
Ash heard Molly come rushing toward him with the speed of a Rapidash on steroids, leaping toward them with a great grin on her lips, showing each one of her teeth. Ash, standing by the railing of a balcony, almost tumbled over to his doom, catching himself hastily as Pikachu leapt to safety on the floor, pulling Ash back from his near fall. Ash was about to shout at the girl, but her euphoria, clear by looking into her eyes, dissolved any sense of anger in his heart.
"I'm a Gym Leader!" Molly shrieked, "Vermillion City, Ash! Vermillion City Gym Leader! Papa would be so proud! I gotta call him and Mama! I can't believe it! I'm so happy! I could sing! Heehee!"
Ash smiled a melancholy grin, glancing down at Molly with a chuckle in his throat. "Ah, great job, Molly!"
Molly, still giddy, glanced over at her role model, her lips frowning slightly as she stared up at him. "Huh? Ash, ya don't look so happy. What's bothering you?"
"Oh, it's just Misty," Ash sighed, running a hand up his face, "I'm just worried about—well, it's kinda silly, really—I'm just not sure what's gonna happen next with us."
"Whaddya mean?" Molly asked, confused.
"Well, you see—how to say it?—I think I'm in love with her."
It was a simple fact, one that reverberated around the chamber like a thick ripple in a pond. Molly stared back at Ash as he gazed up at the blue sky above. He lowered his head, sighing as he weighed his options as to what to say next. "Still, here's the problem. I can't tell her that. If I do, well, I won't be able to continue my quest. I need to be a Pokemon Master, and—"
"What's a Master?" Molly asked, curiously.
"Whaddya mean what's a Master!" Ash stammered, eyes widened in confusion, "It's a—wait…" Ash considered how to phrase the concept of a Master to a girl like Molly. "Well, a Master is someone who can beat every trainer in the league easy, able to do whatever he wants effortlessly, and beat every single trainer who—"
"You said that already," Molly interrupted, "And aren't you already a Master?"
"No, I'm not. I'm good, but not that good," Ash laughed, "You saw what Lance did before. I could never fight someone like Nathanael head on like that and do so well. If Nathanael didn't have Deoxys on his side, I'm sure he'd have won."
"Well, I guess so," Molly replied, shrugging, "But really, I think you need to just tell her how you feel."
"Well, I would, but here's the problem: I'm afraid," Ash admitted, "I'm afraid that she'll feel obligated to travel around again with me, and then, well, she'll be torn away from her responsibilities. I can't do that to her. She has too much riding on her being a gym leader."
"Well, aren't you at least going to say good-bye?"
"Well, I'd just—wait a minute, GOOD-BYE!" Ash stammered, turning on his heels as he stared at the girl. Pikachu leapt onto his shoulder, eyes wide as well, shocked and frightened by the concept of having to say good-bye to anyone so soon. He intended on staying for at least a couple more weeks before moving on, so why did he need to say good-bye so soon, anyway?
"Well, they saw Misty leaving before," Molly replied, "On Gyarados's back, I think. She just went off and didn't tell anyone what was going on."
"They what! How dare they—hang on!" Ash stammered, running toward the door, only for Molly to call after him.
"We can ride on Entei's back! He's really fast!" Molly shouted, much to Pikachu's terror. The numerous rides taken over their previous adventure had no doubt laid a rather traumatizing series of memories for the poor electric rat. That was okay, Ash figured, as surely there were other modes of transportation aside from riding on Pokemon back.
As Ash darted out of the room, he ran headlong into Jessie, James, and Meowth, the trio staring at him with a look of shock on their faces. Clearly, they weren't used to the boy they had essentially stalked for the past several years, nearly a decade, just staggering out running toward THEM, nearly slamming headlong into their bodies. The trio stared at Ash confused as he panted heavily, eyes wide.
"Hey, did you see Misty around anywhere?" Ash asked, hastily ignoring their confused expressions.
"Misty? You mean your twerp friend?" Jessie asked, "Not really. Why?"
"She just left and didn't let Ash say good-bye," Molly explained.
"What a shame," Meowth replied, almost apathetically, "Well, look, we have to go see Lance about a job offer, and—"
"Where did she go?" James asked, tensely.
"I dunno, maybe home to Cerulean," Ash replied.
"You ain't actually considerin' goin' all the way t' Cerulean, are ya?" Meowth stammered.
"Look, our motto says to denounce the evils of truth and love, so let's face it: if we're any good at following our motto, we're gonna help him out, right?" Jessie snapped at the cat.
"Look, I don't mean to be rude, but could ya have the argument later? I need to catch her before she gets to Cerulean!"
"Why's that?" James asked, curiously.
"Because then—because, well, if I don't see her soon, I might lose her."
"Lose her?" Jessie repeated, confused.
"Look, I might never come back to Kanto in the future. I need to be a Pokemon Master, and doing so may lead me to places far away. I don't want to forget to say anything to Misty, because, well, life's too short to have regrets." Ash finally realized what Misty had said last night. She wasn't being morbid. She was just trying to explain herself in a round-about way, too nervous to admit the truth, just as he had for all this time until he finally confessed his emotions toward Misty to Molly after much probing. Misty must've been terrified. After all, Ash would probably babble a bit and have some preamble before arriving at the point if he was confessing his love too.
Jessie and James regarded Ash for a few moments, before James finally said, "Do you love her?"
Ash was quiet for a moment before glancing up, a determined glint in his eye.
"Are you sure it's a good idea for them to do this?" Lance asked, glancing out the window as a hot air balloon in the shape of a Meowth rose into the air, gently and serenely drifting through the sea of oxygen. Sabrina regarded the balloon silently, lowering her head in silence for a few moments before glancing back at Lance, tensely.
"Did you ever love someone who you lost?" Sabrina asked, softly.
"Can't say I have," Lance replied, shrugging, "Have you?"
Sabrina was quiet for a moment, considering the question. "I don't know. I know the pain of losing someone now, which is more than I can ever say I felt in the past. I feel anger, sadness, solitude, the sensation of being utterly alone. And yet, I don't know whether this is romantic love or the sensation of simply losing someone you cared about. All I do know is that it's painful. It makes my victory seem hollow, since I can't celebrate it with others who are now dead."
"I can understand that, but you still didn't answer my question: is it a good idea that we call Team Rocket over just when we need them to transfer Ash over to Cerulean?"
Sabrina was silent yet again as she grinned. "I figure it's the least I can do for those two helping me out a little."
"Well, you did help save the Indigo League. It's the least I could do as thanks," Lance chuckled, shoving his hands into his pockets as he walked off. Before leaving his office, he glanced over, a grin on his lips, "Sabrina, if you want to thank me for helping you out with this whole Ash and Misty matter a little more, you could always go to lunch with me sometime at—" Lance fell silent as Sabrina shot him a dark, almost wicked look from the corner of her eyes. "—Then again, don't worry!"
"It's a pleasure to still be receiving a pay check," Jean mumbled, letting Misty into her perfectly maintained office. She nodded in thanks, glancing around at the desk before her. Perfectly arranged, as always, spotless as before, and yet it felt almost a little cold, a little emptier. Why was victory sometimes such a bittersweet experience?
"Thank you very much," Misty replied, "I think I can handle this now for myself. Can you go manage the pool for the time being?"
"I'm sure I'll be enthralled by that task," Jean replied, almost snidely, as she left Misty to her work. The now shorter haired trainer smiled slightly. Jean was an amusing one, even if she did wake up on the perpetually wrong side of the bed. Misty tumbled into her seat, the chair spinning slightly under her derriere. She glanced out the window to her right to see the pool below, the artificial light shinning through the visible barrier between her and the euphoria below. She glanced down at the swimmers as they dove into the water, droplets dancing in the air as people hugged their partners, locking lips and hands as they walked down the path. They discussed fun things like their futures, be it as near as just what they were going to do later that afternoon, or as distant as how a couple would spend their last days on Earth together.
At least that's how Misty saw it.
Interpretation was key.
She had to stop thinking about love and romance. It wasn't like she'd remain alone forever, right? Ash was not the last boy in her life. She'd find others, maybe others better suited for her, less stupid than that thick skulled moron, less goofy than that loony idiot, with a cooler looking outfit than that ridiculous jacket and hat, less zeal in that smile of his, that big ol' goofy grin that Misty just wanted to slap off his face, or with less enthusiasm than when he stared at her, intensely, as though Misty were, in some form, a diva goddess put on a pedestal.
It was then that Misty began to cry alone.
Who was she kidding? She missed Ash already. The truth was that no matter what decision Misty was going to make, she knew it was impossible to have Ash Ketchum remain in her life. She couldn't just force him to stay in Cerulean. After all, Ash needed adventure. Ash needed to get out there and see the whole world for himself. It was a requirement for the boy to become a man out in the depths of reality. Anything other than the boy achieving his dreams, well, that wasn't a really good ending, was it, for our hero?
Hours passed as Misty signed away all the paper work she had missed on her mission, paper work Jean was far too slow to complete. Finally, she finished up, and was closing up shop. Jean walked out from the lobby, toward Misty. She turned toward the orange haired trainer, smirking slightly. "Look, I'll clean up the rest. You just go home to sleep, alright? I don't want my boss losing her mind thanks to a little stress, alright?"
"Thanks," Misty replied, uncertain how to respond as she entered the lobby before her, only to freeze in place.
There, standing before her, was Ash.
He was gasping for air, his hair sticking to his forehead from sweat as he panted slowly, approaching Misty, eyes wide with a desperate need for her. The redhead stared at this sight, taken aback. Hadn't he just been in Indigo before? Did he follow her over here, dart over just to say one last word of farewell before going off on his way? Did Misty honestly mean that much to him that he'd go out of his way just to see her? She felt ears form at the corners of her eyes, but suppressed them. She couldn't look weak.
Not in front of him.
"Misty, look," Ash said, taking a few steps forward, "You remember what you were talking about last night with the whole life's too short thing?"
"Yeah, a little," Misty replied.
"You're right. It is too short. If we don't say what we really feel, then, well, no one's going to get anything, ya know?" Ash laughed as Pikachu hopped onto his shoulder from behind, nudging him along. "Look, I need to tell you this now, or else I'll never say it. I don't know whether or not I'm leaving after this, but I just need to get this off my chest. Misty, I love you."
Now tears streamed freely from her cheeks. Her heart skipped a beat upon hearing those words, a chill running through her body. Her body and organs lurched on the inside as she stared out at Ash, eyes wide with amazement and awe. "You love me?" Misty queried, her hands trembling as she struggled to remain calm and still, failing hard to do so. Ash was in love with her. It wasn't just her imagination or her thoughts. Yes, that meant that Ash could never be with her and they'd both be miserable thanks to Ash's obsession with perfection, but still, for a brief instant, Misty smiled on the inside. Regardless of the days to come, be they harder and rougher than the last, Misty could sleep soundly knowing that, at the end of the day, it was all okay, because Ash Ketchum was in love with her.
The tears spilled freely.
"Look, don't cry, Misty! I don't' want ya to get all misty-eyed—wow, that's funny, isn't it?—over me! I'm not going anywhere!"
"No, you can't stay behind .You have a Quest and everything—"
"It winds up that Quest is delayed indefinitely," a form from the shadows stated. Slowly, James emerged, followed by Jessie and finally Meowth, who was mumbling something under his breath about a job, only for Jessie to kick him in the head.
"Whaddya mean it's delayed?" Misty asked, confused.
"It just so happens that part of being a Pokemon Master is about loving your Pokemon," Jessie replied, "Without a proper sense of affection, well, you really can't be all that good of a Master, right?"
"Why don't ya show me some more love, huh?" grumbled Meowth before Jessie slammed her heel across his skull as he was slammed into the ground hard enough to crack the linoleum. The cat was still moaning to itself, the only thing injured being his pride.
"Well, Ash has the fighting part down pat," James replied, smirking, withdrawing a rose from his pocket, "But it looks like he needs a lot of training in regards to romance."
"So we need you to help train him right now," Jessie replied, "We'd love to help, but we're going to be busy with this new promotion as League Officials. We just need to declare league matches, and you'd be surprised how many millions that pays. And we still have the freedom to do whatever it wants, so long as we don't do drugs."
"So, while we're busy racking in the millions, would you mind giving this twerp a lesson in romance?" James asked, turning toward the door with Jessie and Meowth, approaching the large hot air balloon parked out front.
"We'll make sure you get a large bonus on your league funding if you do," Jessie replied, "We'll put in a good word in at the office. You two have fun now!" With that, the trio leapt onto the balloon, and soared into the air, disappearing into the sky beyond. However, Misty didn't notice, perhaps not even care, about their disappearance. All she could see, all she wanted to see, was Ash, staring straight at her, eyes wide with passion as he gazed over at her, unable to deviate his attention away as Misty drew nearer, eyes wide, her hands outstretched slowly as her fingers stroked his cheeks. Finally, Ash ran his hands over her hips.
This couldn't be real.
It had to be a dream.
But it wasn't.
"Ash, I have to say, you're a big idiot," Misty replied, drawing nearer for a first kiss, her eyes glossed over as she neared him.
"Well, you're not much better yourself," Ash replied, his voice mumbled as his hands trembled, nervously. Misty felt her knees buckle as she felt overwhelming desire consume her. She had longed for this moment for years, for about a decade, since the first day they met all that time ago outside of Pallet Town. Did she realize then that this was the man she loved more than anything else? No, quite the opposite actually. From distaste and hatred emerged attraction and love, from loss emerged retrieval, and from death emerged great rebirth.
Were they going to live forever? No. Was their world perfect? Not at all. However, anyone could make a paradise for themselves, so long as they went out to grab it. Misty watched as Ash created his own paradise, his own place of zen, along with an Eden for Misty herself, as the two had their lips embrace one another, their gentle, tentative lips pressing against one another slowly as they gazed into each other's eyes, the seconds turning into hours as they stood there, erect in the center of the room, unable to tear away from each other, completely and utterly submitting to their overwhelming love.
It was a romantic release years over due.
It was the first of many.
It was euphoria.
It was love.
It was that simple.
I hope you've enjoyed this little fan-fiction. I apologize if I disturbed you in any way, but it was all to make the villains and conflict seem stronger. Perhaps I grew carried away at times, and for that I apologize. I just want to thank all of you for reading, and beg you to leave reviews and comments if you can. I really love hearing what you think, what I can improve upon in the future, etc. Thank you once again for reading, and AAML forever. ^_^
Da Games Elite