Disclaimer: I don't own Pokémon or The Blair Witch Project, but I do finally own a completed tale in which I've blended together these two things that mean so very much to me. I can only hope I did them both supreme justice.

Enjoy the last episode of this story, and thank you all, once again and one last time, for your incredible patience and readership!


SOON BEGINS BEWITCHING

by Spruceton Spook

Chapter 14

"All Hallows' Evening"

Ash Ketchum loved eating candy—of this, there was no doubt.

What the boy went on to realize, quite pleasantly, was how much he also loved bestowing it upon the eager youngsters who rushed and clamored around his front door. The smile brought about by dropping sweets into the outstretched sacks came strongly and effortlessly, despite how nonstop of a duty it had become. He hardly had a moment's chance to consider snatching a piece or two for himself before the doorbell chimed again and he had to attend to the next round of firefighters, action heroes, princesses, and vampires. Perhaps that was his mother's clever plan all along.

For a holiday branded by things dark and eerie, Halloween turned out mild and beautiful, a primary reason for the tremendous showing of neighborhood children. The air was charged with enthusiasm and joviality, leaving no room for even the tiniest impression of creepiness. Of course, that could certainly change with the onset of dusk, but for now, the day proclaimed nothing but pure, lively, innocent bliss. And Ash was feeling it—immensely.

Nevertheless, there was a concern that continued to needle him as he attended to the trick-or-treaters, especially with all the commotion their spirited arrivals generated. The strident bell, the bangs on the door if he didn't answer fast enough, the shrieks and laughter—while the products of innocuous fun, Ash was afraid the noise was disturbing his recuperating friend a floor above. As much as he was enjoying distributing candy, the need to check on Pikachu eventually won over. He handed the bowl of chocolate to Delia, reassigning the job to her with the promise to be back "in just a couple minutes."

Inadvertently, those couple of minutes had stretched into half an hour. Ash had stolen into his room quietly and climbed atop his bed where Pikachu lay curled in a fleece blanket. The mouse was napping deeply in the midst of the mania, contrary to Ash's worry. At first, he had just studied his precious companion—safe, warm, serene, there—with fond, grateful eyes. Pikachu hadn't done much but sleep since that eventful night he was rescued, but it was instrumental in his getting better, growing stronger following his traumatic ordeal. Ash couldn't possibly ask for any more from him, and simply savored the sight of his pokémon's presence.

Gradually, the teen found himself sprawling and settling down as well, unable to leave Pikachu's side just yet. Switching on his TV and easily finding a horror movie came mechanically. No one called for him, no one bothered him, and before long, Ash was fully engaged in the relaxing spell alongside his beloved pal.

He knew, however, that it was only a matter of time before the day and its agenda would seek to yank him from this retreat. It came in the form of his father waltzing energetically into his room unannounced. His hair tousled and cheeks slightly flushed, and baring a perky grin, Jay'd evidently just returned from trick-or-treating with Riley.

"Here you are!" he exclaimed.

Ash smiled back but didn't budge a muscle. "Hey, Dad. How was it?"

"Aw man, it was great," Jay replied happily. "I forgot how much fun that was. Crazy, though—a million kids out there." He then pitched his arms out in a confused shrug and eyed his son. "Speaking of which, what are you doing? Aren't you going to get ready? Don't tell me you're having second thoughts about going out again!"

"No," Ash laughed lightly, shaking his head. Still, he was vacillating. "It's just…"

"Oh, just what? We talked about this, kid—you are not too old," Jay insisted. "Look at me! I went trick-or-treating; I'm thirty-four."

"You had Riley!"

"Riley was a ploy," joked his dad, winking. Ash gave him a look, somewhat calling his bluff.

"Misty and Brock are floating around getting ready," Jay informed. "C'mon, son, don't sit around watching TV when you could be going out and getting candy." The bloodcurdling scream of a woman drew his attention to the screen. "Although this is a good movie."

"It's not the movie, either," said Ash, turning the TV off to prove it. He bit his bottom lip, reaching out to stroke Pikachu's head. The mouse did not stir from the soft touch. "I just...feel bad."

Jay frowned, puzzled. "About what?"

"I feel bad about leaving Pikachu," Ash replied sadly.

His shoulders slumping understandably, Jay gave his son a tender smile. "Aw...you don't have to worry about Pikachu. He'll be fine—he's not going anywhere."

"That's just it." Ash continued to run his fingers tenderly down the long ears. "I feel bad he's going to miss out on all the fun."

Jay's smile only grew warmer. "Ash," he allayed, "you don't have to feel bad about that. Pikachu's not going to be upset you went trick-or-treating without him, believe me. He's perfectly content exactly where he is right now."

Offering a tiny shrug, Ash half-heartedly agreed. He knew his dad's assurance held truth, but the guilt of ditching his mending friend for a good time still weighed on his conscience. It wasn't fair to Pikachu. Besides, he couldn't help but feel he had a responsibility to look after the mouse, ensuring his every need was met as his health improved. How could he partake in such carefreeness when Pikachu's frail immune system left him barely able to leave the shelter of Ash's room?

Jay detected his unyielding ambivalence. "Listen, it's really kind of you to want to give up trick-or-treating for Pikachu's sake," he said with a level of esteem in his tone, "but…" Here he grunted with a smirk. "I'm not gonna let you."

His son sighed loudly, but Jay went on before he had an opportunity to object. "You've been through enough yourself lately. You deserve to go out there and have fun."

"Do I?" Ash narrowed his eyes cynically.

It was Jay's turn to sigh. "Yes, you do," he declared, quashing his defiance emphatically. Ash's repentance for the anguish that had infiltrated the house due in part to his abysmal handling of the situation was no secret. In spite of getting Pikachu back, Ash had spent most of the last several days heavily consumed by the mouse's wellbeing, not displaying the ebullient joy his family had expected—and wanted. Even with the happy ending, Ash was still not entirely himself.

"You need a break," Jay said squarely. "You need to get into your costume and go out there with your friends and get more candy than you know what to do with. Mom and I'll keep checking on Pikachu, don't worry. You're to let yourself go and have fun, understand?"

Ash was staring down at Pikachu during Jay's lighthearted lecture. It was a losing battle, but it was one he realized he was lucky to face. Conceding a subtle, heartened smile, he nodded, and Jay beamed, pleased.

"I do still feel a little embarrassed," Ash admitted, nevertheless.

"Ash, take it from me, the—" Jay grimaced disagreeably, "—adult. People are just gonna appreciate that you're dressed up, they won't care how old you are. And you three have great outfits. All thanks to Mom."

Ash's expression brightened, harmonizing with the accolades. The morning after Pikachu came home, Delia zealously made Halloween a priority, pulling together costumes for the kids in record time.

"You contributed, too," Ash reminded his dad. "Sorry I had to destroy your shirt, though."

Dipping his head in facetious mourning, Jay peered at the yellow checked flannel shirt hanging from the doorknob of Ash's closet. Though buttoned up presentably on a hanger, the garment had been skillfully streaked with red paint to simulate blood splatter.

"Ah, that's okay," relented Jay. "I'm just glad it's finally serving a purpose again. That was my favorite shirt when you were a baby." Hence, why he'd never had the heart to part with it after it had become much too shabby to wear. "It makes a fine zombie-slaying shirt."

"It wouldn't work well in real life, though. It's too big on me." The last statement was uttered with a hint of bitterness.

Reaching up to place a reassuring hand on Ash's head, Jay looked him straight in the eye. "You're gonna grow, boy. Relax. For now, I want you to enjoy being a kid. And that means going trick-or-treating."

"Okay, okay!" giggled Ash, ducking his head to free it from the firm but loving gesture.

"I mean it, the only thing I want you worrying about is the size of your haul," Jay pointed a cautionary finger at him. "No more worrying about Pikachu, no more worrying about Team Rocket—"

"I hate to break it to you, Dad," Ash scoffed, his lip curled in aversion, "there's never a day we can't 'not worry about Team Rocket.'"

For a beat, Jay gaped at him. "...You kidding me?"

Ash snickered at his father's reaction, not so much the reality of his disclosure. "Nope."

"After what we did to them the other day?" his dad pressed on, eyes widened incredulously.

"If we didn't kill them, then yeah, even after that."

Jay let out a laugh at his son's quip, but was still shaking his head, dumbfounded by this fact. "Unbelievable."

Ash didn't blame him; he still couldn't comprehend Team Rocket's untiring (and senseless) perseverance, either. As much as he'd love to believe the trio would permanently withdraw following the blistering defeat they'd dealt them, it would be naïve, plain and simple. One thing was for certain, however…

"Don't worry, though, Dad. As long as we're in Pallet, I think we're okay. I don't think they'll dare mess with us with you around ever again."

Jay arched his head, but there was a shimmer of modesty in his eyes. "I was just a part of it."

"You scared the shit outta them," Ash smiled proudly. He was swept into Jay's ensuing guffaws.

"I suppose I did!"

Indeed, it was the irrefutable truth. Ash could only hope he'd inherited his dad's gift of a menacing glare for when faced with Team Rocket after crossing the Pallet limits. It was positively inspiring.

"What's so funny?"

The two Ketchums' laughter came to an abrupt halt when their eyes were averted to the latest caller to the bedroom. What they beheld was quite a sight, to say the least. There stood Misty, but nowhere to be seen was the pretty girl with the fair skin and casually but appealingly done-up hair. In its place was a spectacle of gruesome proportion: tattered clothes; unruly, stringy locks; a face smeared with a rainbow of earthy colors mimicking that of dirt, blood, and sludge.

"Well, what do you think?" she asked now that she had their attention, displaying an ear-to-ear grin so unbecoming of the creature she was dressed to play.

Ash blinked, his face straight. "When are you gonna get into your costume, Misty?"

Misty's jaw dropped, but her recovery was strikingly swift. "How about you? Need help bloodying your face? I know a way we can do it without makeup."

It was all in good fun, as the amused smiles tugging determinedly at the kids' lips revealed. Jay chuckled endearingly at the playful altercation.

"Aren't you glad to finally have 'im back, Misty?"

"Oh, very," she drawled.

"Hey," Jay then whistled, giving Misty a once-over of true admiration. "You look absolutely...awful. And by awful, I mean you look great."

"Thank you," beamed Misty, thrilled. She then looked to Ash, awaiting his serious estimation of her zombie get-up. Thankfully, Ash went from smart-aleck to genuine, and nodded his sincere approval.

"You look awesome," he said, and her ghastly face lit up even more. "Really scary."

Ash was glad that Misty was as pleased as she was about her outfit. A zombie hadn't been her first choice for a costume—or her tenth, for that matter—but when Ash again proposed the idea of them dressing up together with a common theme, she was more than excited to comply. The zombie apocalypse outfits were easy for Delia to assemble, and Ash and Brock were energized about them, so Misty went along with it. As if she hadn't made enough sacrifices already in the past week, Ash noted reverently.

"Alright, maybe you'll have more luck getting this guy going," Jay said to Misty, making his way out of the room and throwing a harmless glare in Ash's direction. "Tell him to stop coming up with excuses—it's candy, for crying out loud!" With that, he left the two teens to themselves.

"C'mon, Ash!" Misty got right to it, bouncing on her toes in an effort to cajole her lolling boyfriend. "We do have to do your face up, and that might take a while!"

"I know, I know, I'm getting up," Ash gave in, carefully lifting himself up off the bed so as not to bother Pikachu, who had slept through the entire unchecked conversation with his father.

Misty noticed his circumspection. "How's he doing?" she asked, her voice instinctively lowered.

"Good," Ash replied, smoothing out the blanket and tucking it gently against the mouse. "He's slept pretty much all day, even with all the craziness."

"Well, Professor Oak said he was going to sleep a lot," Misty pointed out.

"I don't mind," Ash clarified. "Whatever helps him get better."

Luckily, it was rest, a week's dose of an antibiotic, and a lot of TLC that was all Pikachu needed to pull through from his escapade. His weak state had utterly terrified the family, but Professor Oak quickly helped ease their panic, accepting Pikachu into his care with an urgent but encouraging demeanor. Almost immediately following an intravenous of fluids and just the awareness of being reunited with his trainer, Pikachu began to liven up. His infirmity had been caused by severe shock and later depression, the professor inferred, wreaking havoc on his body's defenses and appetite. Even this anguished Ash, distraught that his dear friend had to endure such emotional and physical distress, but his family was hasty to comfort him and Professor Oak reassure him that Pikachu would be fine.

After tending to the bedding surrounding Pikachu, Ash continued to linger, his eyes never leaving the resting mouse. Although still stalling, Misty couldn't help but watch, stirred by the touching sight. To see this Ash, so gentle, caring—a stark difference from the moody, confrontational basket case of days prior—was extraordinary. And yet, it all seemed to connect for her, add up. While his temperaments and efforts alike seemed to traverse an expansive spectrum, there was something that seemed to keep them linked nonetheless. One thought kept passing through her brain as she gauged her boyfriend, and suddenly, for it seemed like the appropriate moment, she found herself no longer able to conceal it.

"You're gonna make a good dad someday, Ash."

Ash's head jerked up at Misty's unforeseen comment. At first, she expected quintessential Ash awkwardness, as it was a pretty profound compliment. Instead, she was in for a surprise when he frowned, seemingly in disagreement.

"I don't know what you mean," he muttered.

"Sure you do," Misty contended, smiling affably. "The way you care about Pikachu—for Pikachu? How you refused to give up on him; how you're so focused now on making sure he gets better? Maybe you don't see it, but I do. I see it as a preview of what you'll be like someday with kids."

"But Pikachu's my friend," Ash reasoned, sidestepping Misty's assessment again. "D-doesn't that just make me a good friend?"

Misty couldn't understand why he seemed so adamant to dismiss her—wasn't what she was saying a nice thing? Maybe this was the same ol' Ash she knew, the one who, in spite of his desire to mature and achieve, still paled at the thought of being a grownup completely.

"Of course it does—you've always been a good friend. But lately, I've seen...more in you."

"More of what? Being a jerk?"

Her face wilted. "Maybe you could learn to handle certain crises a bit better," she granted, although it felt strange to say this to the kid who had unflappably taken on so many inconceivable trials for the sake of the greater good. "But Ash, I have seen some different sides of you in all of this...good sides."

Diverted his gaze back to Pikachu, Ash still appeared skeptical.

"You've been so...protective of Pikachu. And doting. And attentive. And—and patient. You've been so...selfless."

As she called out her observations, her voice passionate with sincerity, she could tell she was striking a nerve in him. The edge of denial was lifting from his features; he was listening to her, considering her words. How could he not, she rationalized, with attributes so glowing—and so undeniably true. Perhaps the way he'd conducted himself during Pikachu's absence was nothing to laud, but the way he'd acted since getting his pokémon back? Misty was considerably impressed.

"Those qualities are above and beyond what it takes just to be a friend, Ash," she concluded in a whispery breath. "They're what it takes to be a great father."

She was prepared to argue with him if he attempted to object once more; that's how unwavering and confident she was about her belief. But when he finally picked up his head and met her eyes, she was relieved to find a knowing smile showing through a face rosy with appreciation.

"Well...if those are the qualities that make a good parent...then you're gonna make a great mom someday, too."

Needless to say, Misty hadn't expected that. Her stomach cartwheeled at the startling praise, rendering her speechless. But her flattered smile was all Ash needed to know he'd moved her in the same way she'd moved him, and vice versa. In the midst of the sentimental hush that followed, he at last began his way down off the bed.

Gathering herself, Misty held out her arms invitingly when he reached the floor. "Give me a kiss, Ash Ketchum," she bid.

Ash shied away slightly. "Uhh, no offense, Misty," he said with an uneasy smirk, "but you aren't exactly that attractive right now."

She glowered inoffensively at his remark. Leave it to Ash to derail the magic of the moment as quickly as possible. "Hey, beauty is on the inside, you know!"

"You're gonna get your makeup all over me," he argued justly. "I don't want to mess up your face."

"You won't mess it up," she promised, still imploring for the affectionate gesture. "Besides, you're the zombie killer; my goo is supposed to be all over you."

"Yeah, but it's not supposed to look like I've been kissing zombies!" gagged Ash.

"Ash!"

She wasn't going to take no for an answer, but honestly, he was resisting her partially for his own amusement. It didn't matter how many layers of fake grunge were applied to her face—she still managed to set his body and mind awhirl. But it was more her words and sentiments this time around that impelled him to acquiesce. To know that she still cared so strongly for him, go as far as awarding him the most wonderful of predictions in spite of his many recent lapses, gripped his heart mightily.

He pressed his lips to hers, right away feeling her face paint smear across his chin and the tip of his nose. It made him giggle, then her as well, but their kiss endured. Finally, the boy in him, the juvenile part that was way too humored at the idea of visually kissing a monster, made him break away. Misty was smiling broadly, though, more than fulfilled.

"Uh-oh, is it bad?" she cringed, noticing the small smudges on his face.

"Needs some touching up—told ya," he retorted, swiping the back of his hand across his lips.

"Well, come to the bathroom. I'll fix it and start on you." She clapped her hands. "Let's go!"

"Okay, I'll be right there; you fix yourself up while I get into my outfit."

It was as he was quietly slipping into his oldest, shoddiest pair of jeans (dragged across his mom's garden for added effect) and buttoning up his dad's shirt that Pikachu ironically decided to stir. He lifted his head only a trace, but ever-vigilant Ash (maybe Misty was on to something, he thought) noticed, and faithfully made his way over to the bed.

"Hey, Pikachu. You okay, pal? Hungry?"

Tipping his head into Ash's gentle caresses, Pikachu just yawned and lazily blinked. The answer was no, and that was okay. Pikachu's appetite was gradually returning; he'd eaten earlier that day and probably wouldn't touch another morsel until that night. There was no need to rush him, Ash knew; before long the mouse would be heartily gobbling down bowls of food again. His vitality would soon restore, his coat would gleam anew, his cheeks would crackle brilliantly. It would be a couple of weeks before Pikachu resumed light training, per Professor Oak's guidance, but Ash had no doubt that his pokémon would return to the powerful and exceptionally gifted force he always was.

Ash's gut quivered at what was and what could have been. To think of continuing his journey, his life's passion, without his trustworthy companion by his side... He couldn't believe how remarkable and engrossing this feeling of thankfulness was, each and every time it hit him.

"I'm going out for a while with Misty and Brock," he whispered. "I'll be home soon, okay? Rest up."

"Chaaa," Pikachu uttered sleepily, his eyelids drooping, granting Ash the go-ahead he still deep-down sought. He smiled and leaned over to plant a kiss on the mouse's head. The last bit of guilt of leaving Pikachu behind dissolved.

It didn't take as long as Ash projected to finish getting ready (hooray for relatively simple yet still superb costumes), and soon enough he was bounding down the stairs. The doorbell had quieted down substantially, as it was nearing the beginning of what could be considered evening—the time of day on Halloween Ash loved best. This year, for sure—sharing the front steps with and fighting stampedes of small children was something he was seeking to avoid greatly. He wasn't about to openly advertise what he was about to do at his age to the neighborhood at trick-or-treating "primetime."

Perhaps the greatest part of this particular day, however, was his mother's expression when she first regarded his blood-streaked face.

"Oh my goodness, you look terrible," she tsk-tsked. "Whatever happened to my little boy who loved to dress up as nice things, like a cowboy or an astronaut or a squirtle?"

"He's no longer six, Mom," Ash rolled his eyes dramatically. "I have to be something cool now. At least I'm not coating myself in shaving cream and silly-string like other kids do."

"Hey! Are you dissing my favorite Halloween getup?" Jay snapped teasingly at Ash's remark as he emerged from the kitchen with Riley nestled in his arms.

"I suppose I should be thankful for that," Delia accepted Ash's point. "And I guess I shouldn't complain since I do have a new little boy to dress up in adorable outfits." Throwing a glance behind her at Riley, her scowling face lit up instantly.

Ash had to confess that Riley was adorable—ridiculously adorable. Delia had forgone making a costume for her youngest to opt for a store-bought one that was just too good to pass up. The baby was zipped up from head to toe in a cozy, green bodysuit resembling the shell of a metapod. No wonder his dad had amassed the amount of candy he did. The sight was so heart-melting, Ash was shocked he hadn't reaped more.

But perhaps he, Misty, and Brock would score an impressive load themselves, for collectively, their outfits were outstanding. His friends looked like legitimate flesh-eating ghouls. As opposed to selecting from the Ketchum family discard pile, Brock actually sacrificed his own clothes for the cause, joking they hadn't looked much different before the "zombification" they'd undergone. Secretly, though, Ash awarded best-dressed to Misty, only because he honestly didn't know she had it in her to make herself look so disgustingly unappealing. Standing together and admiring each other's work, their smiles grew larger and giddier as anticipation truly set in.

"Have fun, kids, and be careful," Delia instructed as she watched them gather their pillowcases and prepare to set off.

"Don't forget the eggs," Jay sang.

"Stop trying to corrupt my good children!" Delia scolded her jesting husband. She then smiled indulgingly at the three kids. "I'm so glad you're doing this."

"Me too, Mama," Ash replied without hesitation. And he meant it. To see his mom as content as she was erased all the silly reservations he had over partaking in Halloween...and not to mention any shred of lasting regret he'd held over agreeing to stay in Pallet Town in the first place. It certainly wasn't going to go down in history as the greatest break he'd ever taken from training, but that didn't mean the opportunity to leave home without wonderful memories was gone.

As they filed out of the house and into the pleasant October air, Ash was struck by a wave of nostalgia—déjà vu in a sense. Suddenly, he was back to a treasured period in his life that wasn't all that long ago…back to a time when his mind was a little freer, his responsibilities fewer. It could have been the sharp aroma of autumn mixing with the musty fragrance of his dad's shirt, or the joyful din of trick-or-treaters screaming down the street. Maybe it was the sight of his parents smiling warmly at the door, wishing him a successful outing with his friends on one of the year's most exciting occasions.

Whatever it was, a sensation coursed through Ash that made him nearly have to catch his breath. He was exhilarated. Some might have argued that nothing could compare to those blithe years of childhood. But Ash disagreed. As sublime as his past Halloween excursions may have been, he wouldn't have given up this moment for any of them. There was no need to live in the past when the present was just as good—even better. The awareness of who he was, what he'd accomplished, whom he was blessed to have in his life—that was the way to embrace how special this point in time truly was.

And that was why he was wholly primed to relish this Halloween evening, fill every crevice of his being that had been flushed of the previous days' anxiety, fear, and unhappiness with the finest feelings life had to offer.

"Where to first, guys?" Misty asked. She'd really have to tone down the cheeriness if she wanted to make a believable zombie.

"This is your territory, Ash," Brock gestured to his silently reflective friend. "Lead the way!"

His friend's invitation invigorated his already elevated mood. Breaking out of his reverie, a smile spread impishly across Ash's faux-gory face. His still-thriving lust for candy was set into motion. Oh, how this was going to be far less frantic than the last time he'd led his friends through the web of Pallet Town's streets…but no less exhaustive.

They wanted to trick-or-treat? Not to call it a mistake, but they were about to find out just how serious and industrious a trick-or-treater Ash Ketchum was.

"Alright, then! Follow me!"

THE END


Dearest Readers,

It's beyond surreal to be penning the closing author's notes for a story that's been a factor in my life for, well...a really, really long time. The initial posting date says 2010, but I assure you it was a work in progress long before that. I know for a fact that I started writing portions of this fic prior to starting my current job and meeting my husband, both of which occurred the same year...ten years ago. Yes, that long ago.

So needless to say, finishing it? It's pretty bittersweet. It's a bummer as much as it is a relief. Working on this story has been equal parts fun and nerve-racking. It's no secret I subjected you wonderful, patient readers to long spells between updates. That's because I'm not a writing phenom—I toil; it doesn't come easy to me. I can't sit down and bang out thousands of words a week. Everyday life rules over me; writer's block has KO'd my muse a depressing number of times. It may have taken me a little over four years to complete this story since posting chapter one, but I was adamant that I'd never abandon it. I made a promise that I would finish no matter how long it took me, and I am so thankful I was able to uphold it. I owed it to you, to myself, and, most especially, to dear, sweet Ash.

I hope everyone enjoyed reading this story as much as I, despite all my trials, have enjoyed writing it. I cannot begin to express my overwhelming gratitude to all of my readers, from the ones who've left feedback and favorited/followed to those who've come and go under the mask of obscurity. Special thanks, however, must be extended to those who've faithfully reviewed multiple times, in some cases every chapter. Aiselne Phoenix Nocturnus, MilkywayScribbles, SuperGen X, Jordan Max, Hoenn Master96, EchidnaPower, ShinyAeon, AshandMistyLove, South Park's Only PKMN Master and a handful of others...you've all been so amazingly supportive, have lifted my heart and spirits on many occasions, and have pushed me to keep going during those recurrent times I felt like that promise wasn't going to be kept.

Above all, my sincerest appreciation must be bestowed upon my beta, and one of my best friends, Danielle. Although not knowing a single thing about Pokémon, she generously and dependably and enthusiastically served as my second pair of eyes, my second brain to bounce ideas off, my shoulder to cry on when I felt so discouraged. She always had an ear to lend to my excited prattle, my griping, my brainstorming of ideas (good and not so good), and my woes. Between the long emails and the lunch discussions and the annoying texts I'd send her day and night regarding SBB, Danielle has been there for me every step of the way. This story would not have been possible without her indispensable encouragement and support.

Lastly, I will take this opportunity to bear some cheerless news...I'm retiring. Yes, again. Do I reserve the right to come out of retirement at any given random time? Of course I do. LOL But I'm pretty confident this is it. As much as I love playing in the Pokémon sandbox, especially within this lovely, dramatic little Pallet Town universe I've crafted, it's become much too challenging for me to keep going. Life is only going to get busier, crazier. And if I were to continue writing, I feel it's high time I step out of the boundaries of Pokémon and into the realm of general prose. I've been writing Pokémon fanfics for nearly fifteen years—half my life. This show and fandom will forever hold a place in my heart, but I would love to take the skills I've developed and maybe branch into new territory.

So once again, thank you. Thank you for your support, your patience, your praise, your critiques, and most importantly, for sharing in your love of Ash, his friends, his pokémon, the Ketchum family, and the world in which they reside. This story is my pride and joy, and it was my absolute pleasure to bring it to you.

Sincerely, and with deepest gratitude,

Spruceton Spook