Disclaimer – I don't own Pokémon

Author's Note – Well, Egoshippers, here you go =) Here's the alternate chapter to the one titled 'Kisses'. It's basically an egoshipping spin on that chapter. There's an epilogue at the end of this chapter too.

I'm sorry for the long wait, I truly am! Trust me, I had good reasons. Anyways, on with the chapter. I really hope you like it! Review, please!

::::::

The route to Castelia City was a long one, made longer by the inevitable shortcuts-gone-wrong and endless misadventures that seemed to befall the traveling quartet.

Just that morning, poor Pikachu had been rudely awoken by a sting from a particularly venomous Venipede that had been crawling around their campsite. Though the last of Gary's antidotes, administered by a frantic, cursing Ash, cured the ailing Pokémon, the group then discovered they'd run out of supplies.

Being in the middle of a forest, filled with a variety of potentially poisonous Pokémon, this wasn't a smart idea, and so Misty and Gary had gone hunting for Pecha Berries and other berries, to stock them up, before proceeding further.

They were taking an annoyingly long time, and it bothered Ash, as he tormented himself over they possibly could be doing during this so-called 'Berry-Finding' or whatever.

Restless, bored and anxious, he challenged Leaf to a Pokémon battle.

"I'm not sure," Leaf said, crossing her legs as she leaned against the large rock where she was perched, "Pikachu doesn't seem too kicked about it."

Indeed, Pikachu, who was still recovering from the effects of the poisoning, looked rather weary, and more eager to sleep than battle.

"Ah, come on, just do it!" Ash whined, "Don't tell me you're scared of battling me."

"Don't be ridiculous," Leaf scoffed, rolling her eyes as she casually plucked a Pokéball off her belt.

She bought it to her lips, kissed it once, and then tossed it into the air.

"Go, Granby," Leaf called lazily, and with a flash of light, her snarling Granbull appeared.

"Pika-chu..." Pikachu sighed, squaring its little shoulders against this new opponent.

Ash, however, was staring incredulously at Leaf.

"You kiss your Pokéballs?" he asked curiously, wondering why he hadn't noticed the particular action before, "Misty does that too!"

Leaf looked at him, amused.

"So does Gary," Ash added as an afterthought, scowling, "Stupid similarities…"

"Gary only kisses Umbreon's Pokéball," Leaf informed him, "Because she's his favorite."

"And probably because she's a girl," Ash said disgustedly, "He calls her sweetheart!"

"I know. I think it's rather sweet," Leaf said dreamily.

"It's – gay," Ash said, "I mean, Misty kisses her Pokéballs, but she's a girl, so it's fine-"

"You mean she's Misty so it's fine," Leaf corrected, smirking, "Surprised you aren't jealous of those Pokéballs yet, Ashy?"

"Shut up," Ash grumbled, before adding, "Still, it's gay for Gary. What guy kisses his Pokéballs? And you do it too. You're a lot like him, you know!"

"Oh please," Leaf rolled her eyes, spinning the Pokéball on her finger, another habit which Ash noticed Gary did a lot too.

(He'd tried copying it once, in secret, but failed miserably. The damn thing wouldn't stay on his finger! How did that Gary do it!)

"I always kiss my Pokéballs for good luck. Who do you think Gary picked up the habit from?"

"...oh," Ash said after a moment, his previous battle challenge forgotten.

Pikachu had taken advantage of his master's distraction to whip out a sleeping bag and doze off, while Granbull was frolicking happily near the pond.

The two trainers fell back into silence after that, Leaf pulling out a magazine, and Ash fidgeting with his League hat, wondering what the hell was taking his nemesis and Misty so freaking long to pick berries.

::::::

"We're back!" Misty announced, as the duo stumbled into the clearing, arms packed with colorful berries.

"Took long enough," Ash grumped, springing up.

"We're sorry," Misty said apologetically, "Really, we-"

"We got kinda distracted," Gary said, smirking at Ash and throwing a wink at Misty, who blushed.

He then discarded his pile of berries on the ground so he could pull his girlfriend towards him, and kiss her full on the lips, in full view of both Ash and Leaf.

Ash flinched visibly, and Leaf looked mildly surprised as well. Gary wasn't usually so bold with Misty in front of her - obviously he was trying to prove some sort of point, as he kissed the stunned redhead deliberately and smoothly for a good few seconds.

"Sickening, isn't it?" Leaf said derisively, gesturing over to the kissing pair.

"Yeah," Ash muttered, forcing himself to look away.

Every time he saw Misty and Gary kiss, it felt like a little part of him just died. And really, did the asshole have to flaunt it so fragrantly in front of him? Gary knew how he felt - he was probably trying to get him back for his earlier comments about being Misty's best friends, the loser!

Even Misty was surprised at Gary's display of affection - she would have expected it to provoke Ash, but if he did it with Leaf around too, maybe that meant that he didn't care about her, and was trying to make his intentions clear? It definitely boosted the redhead's spirit.

She didn't notice how Gary's eyes flicked over to the side as he pulled away from her. She didn't notice Leaf's pointed stare and careless shrug, as Gary looked over her face, trying to gauge her reaction. She didn't notice the way he smirked at her, eyes flashing almost challengingly, as he leaned for another kiss. She was so lost in her own euphoria, and she didn't notice anything but the heavenly feeling of Gary's lips on hers.

"Well, Ash…" Leaf said thoughtfully after a moment, eyes not leaving the kissing couple, "I think I have a solution to our - problem."

::::::

"No way!" Ash protested in a whisper, horrorstruck, "I'm not kissing you!"

"You know, most boys would kill for that opportunity," Leaf hissed back, rolling her eyes.

The quartet had moved on again, after re-stocking their supplies, Pikachu fast asleep in Misty's arms.

"Well I don't want to!" Ash said under his breath, "I won't waste my first kiss on some-"

"Why, you saving it for Misty?" Leaf asked quickly, "You know Gary already stole her first kiss…"

She nodded towards the annoyingly happy couple, that was walking a few feet ahead of the bickering teens.

"Then I won't ever kiss any girl!" Ash declared sagely, struggling to keep his voice down, "I'll focus all my energy on Pokémon training and remain a bachelor forever."

"A noble sentiment," Leaf told him, "But kinda pathetic…"

"Oh, you-"

"Don't you want to see the look of horror on Misty's face?" Leaf asked him, "The jealously, the anger!"

"She'd probably mallet me," Ash said, smiling slightly, "And kill you. But I'm still not doing it! You probably just want my help to make Gary jealous!"

"Please, I can handle Gary without your help," Leaf said confidently.

"What are you two whispering about?" Gary asked, a moment later, turning around. Misty did too, looking oddly tense, as her cerulean eyes flicked between Ash and Leaf.

"Oh, just a little something," Leaf said flippantly, grinning at Gary, "It's a secret."

"Secret?" Misty and Gary both looked suspicious, and Ash nodded vigorously.

"Yeah. Me and Leaf have - secrets - and stuff - too," he said lamely.

Gary raised an eyebrow, and Misty narrowed her eyes at Ash, but neither of them could bring themselves to say anything, and the group continued on to Castelia in an awkward silence, broken only by Leaf's deliberate and loud humming.

::::::

When they stopped to camp out at night, Misty and Gary disappeared, yet again, for a few minutes.

"I'm going to the river, Azumarill needs to be in - water - for a bit," Misty had said, before scurrying off.

About two minutes later, Gary had muttered something about how there was no signal in these part of the woods and he really need to make an important phone call to the lab, and sauntered off as well.

"Convenient," Leaf yelled after his retreating figure, "Like we don't know where you're actually going! Do we look stupid, or what, Oak?"

He just turned slightly, grinned back at her, and strutted off, flicking his spiky bangs.

"Excellent," Leaf said, brightening up, before looking at Ash, an evil glint in her eyes, "So it's just you and me, Ashy-boy."

"Um - what?" Ash asked, bemused.

"It's time," Leaf said smoothly, standing up, "To put my master plan into action..."

"Oh - no..." Ash took a step back, not at all liking where this was going.

::::::

"Oh, Ashy, you're so adorable!" Leaf's voice trilled from somewhere.

A few meters away, from their rendez-vous point in the forest, Gary and Misty almost immediately broke apart from what had been quite a passionate liplock, before looking at each other awkwardly.

"Um-" Misty began nervously.

"I – uh-" Gary smoothed his shirt, not knowing what to say.

"We – we should check on them," Misty said unsurely, "Um – they-"

"They sound like they're in trouble," Gary agreed, playing on with her.

Hearts pounding, Misty and Gary walked (perhaps a little too quickly) towards their tent, in the direction of Leaf's voice.

What they saw there, was a truly horrifying sight, at least for the two of them, a sight that gave them lumps in their throats and made their stomachs plunge.

Leaf was sitting happily on Ash's lap, her hands on his chest. He didn't seem to mind, and in fact seemed to enjoy it, for there was a large, dopey grin on his face. Their faces were close – dangerously close. In fact, it was obvious that they were about to kiss.

"What do you think you're doing?" Misty cried, interrupting the near-moment.

Besides her, Gary made an almost choking sound.

Leaf and Ash turned sharply, to look at her, before identical smug grins grew on their faces.

They stood up in sync, their hands intertwined. They seemed joint at the hip – it was Misty's worst possible nightmare.

::::::

"Hahahahahaha!"

Leaf's ringing laugh filled the forest, and seconds later, the girl dropped down from a tree branch above them, eyes sparkling with mischief.

Seconds later, Ash emerged from inside the tent, smirking widely.

"What?"Misty shrieked, pointing at them, and then at the other Ash and Leaf, who were still holding hands, "You – how-"

"Oh, Arceus," Gary smacked his forehead, "I should have known… crazy girl… Misty, that wasn't actually them…"

"Ditty, transform," Leaf giggled, looking far too happy with herself.

The Ash and Leaf, who'd been in a compromising position earlier, quickly shrank, transforming into a cheerful-looking pink blob.

"Ditto!" the blob squeaked.

"Oh, Mew," Misty gasped, looking thoroughly relieved.

"That was low, even for you," Gary told Leaf.

"Oh, but why would you care so much?" Leaf asked, fluttering her eyelashes coquettishly, "You have a girlfriend, remember?"

"Yeah, Misty," Ash said, walking towards Misty with a sly grin, "Why do you look so relieved? You shouldn't care if I kiss Leaf."

Misty flinched at this, almost imperceptibly, but Ash noticed, and his grin widened.

He echoed Leaf's words and mocking voice.

"You have a boyfriend, Mist, remember?"

Misty sputtered, unable to form a coherent thought, and tore her eyes away from Ash's gaze.

"Seriously though, what the hell did you even do that for?" Gary asked Leaf angrily.

"Why the hell shouldn't we do that?" Leaf retorted, mocking his tone, before adding, "You and Misty do it quite a bit-"

"Yes, but why would you make your Ditto transform into something that - revolting?" Gary asked, spitefully, "You're misusing your Pokémon's abilities-"

"What so you'd rather we actually make out?" Leaf asked challengingly.

"I wasn't implying-"

"And what do you mean misusing Ditty's abilities, huh?" Leaf fired on, "Since she's mastered singular transformations, I was only exercising her versatility and training her to do double transformations. Maintain two entirely different yet accurate transformations that are in perfect synchronization-"

"Oh, shut up," Gary rolled his eyes, as Leaf rattled on pedantically, "You know as well as I do that wasn't your reason-"

"It was!" Leaf insisted, before adding sagely, "Varied forms of Pokémon attacks and techniques that can be utilized outside of battle for purposes other than just attack and defense are the key to an all-round training methodology, and maybe if you got back to training your Pokémon more often instead of skulking around with your damn laptop all day long, you'd remember that-"

"Don't start on that again, Leaf," Gary said, eyes flashing, "I train them - regularly and-"

"When's the last time you even had a proper Pokémon battle, huh, Professor?" Leaf goaded, "A casual training one, I mean?"

"I - don't have time anymore," Gary admitted.

"I just think you've lost your touch," Leaf said, smirking, "And you don't have the balls anymore to-"

"I CHALLENGE YOU!" Gary shouted suddenly.

His fists were clenched and his jaw was hard, and his eyes were blazing with fury.

"And I accept!" Leaf crowed triumphantly, "Three on three?"

"Bring it, bitch," Gary muttered, still looking frighteningly murderous, as he reached for a Pokéball.

"Wait!" Misty cried suddenly, "Are you two crazy? It's practically the middle of the night!"

"Yeah," Ash added, "And we should go to sleep so we can wake up and reach Castelia by tomorrow so I can get my gym badge!"

"Gym badge, gym badge, that's all you ever whine about," Leaf scoffed, "Get a life, Ketchum, seriously."

"What?" Ash shouted, firing up as well, hand instinctively going for his belt.

"Oh, you want to fight as well?" Leaf asked, grinning, "Ha! Maybe Misty can join as well, and we can make this a double battle!"

"Stop jabbering, you pesky girl, and get this battle started," Gary said, his voice steely.

"You're on!" Ash cried, "I'll show you! We'll fight properly this time, no cheating!"

"How is using transform, a legitimate move, cheating?" Leaf asked incredulously, "It's registered in the League as a perfectly acceptable-"

"ALRIGHT!" Misty shouted, her infamous temper finally getting the better of her, "ALL THREE OF YOU, SHUT THE HELL UP!"

The bickering stopped almost instantaneously, and all three teens turned to the fuming, flinty-eyed redhead.

"Right now, you all are acting like impulsive, immature idiots," Misty said, her voice deadly calm, "Normally I'd expect that of Ash, but really, not you two as well-"

"Hey!" Ash protested, "I'm not immature! I just wanna have a battle!"

"Now listen to me," Misty hissed, before adopting a patronizing tone, "We can't have a battle here right now. The very notion is ridiculous. Do you want to know why?"

The three stared at her, Ash and Leaf both scowling, though Gary's face was blank.

"Number one, it's nearly midnight," Misty said slowly, as if she were explaining something to a child, "And since all our Pokémon don't have night vision, and we don't have proper lighting, the attacks would miss, and it would be a disaster."

"But-" Ash began.

"NUMBER TWO!" Misty rose her voice, cutting him off, "We're in a forest. Full of trees. With no actual clearing or place to actually have a battle. You see, in Pokémon battling, you generally need some sort of battlefield. Which we don't have."

"Yeah, state the obvious, Ms. Know-it-all," Ash grumbled.

"Also, more importantly, we're in the middle of a forest. With trees. As in, grass and plants and things. And I'm sure Ash here would unthinkingly send Charizard out, and order a flamethrower. And then what do you think would happen?" Misty asked, still in that same, patronizing tone.

"Geez, quit the sarcasm, we get it," Ash muttered.

"Loser," Gary shot out at him, having really nothing else to say.

"Hey, you'd probably use Arcanine too," Leaf pointed out.

"And finally," Misty concluded, "We're lost. Which, by definition, means we don't know where we are. And we don't know where the nearest Pokémon Center is. So if our Pokémon get injured or faint, which they will, then we don't know where to go to have them healed in time."

"Alright, alright, we get it, quit lecturing," Leaf rolled her eyes, "You sound like a professor."

She snorted, and added, "Just like Gary. You'll can both be happy little professors together, preaching away all day-"

"Shut up, Leaf," Gary said brusquely, "Misty's right. Battle postponed. We'll have it first thing, once we reach Castelia though, mark my words. Good night."

He then stalked off, a few meters away, to the other side of their small campsite and began unpacking his sleeping bag.

Ash. feeling rather miffed as well, followed, wordlessly unpacking his own sleeping bag.

"Well," Leaf said, turning to Misty, "I'm impressed. You disciplined the morons rather well."

"Oh please," Misty snorted, "You started the whole nonsense about battling."

"I know right," Leaf said gleefully, "And still, they get yelled at for it too! Brilliant, right?"

Misty couldn't suppress a smile at this, and just shook her head.

"You're impossible," she stated.

"Well, they need to know that around here, we women wear the pants," Leaf said, flattening her denim skirt, "You know - figuratively. We decide how things roll."

Misty laughed this time, forgetting her earlier annoyance at Leaf for the transformation stunt, and nodded.

"I couldn't agree with you more..."

::::::

Fortunately, the rather snippy moods of the previous night had improved the next morning, and the quartet continued on towards Castelia City in lighter spirits, with a promise of an upcoming Pokémon battle fueling their determination to reach the place as soon as possible.

They were nearly out of Pinwheel Forest - the trees were getting thinner, and the air was crisper and brighter and had an almost salty scent to it - they were nearing the sea, and that meant, Castelia City.

"We have to go to Casteliacone," Leaf was saying excitedly, "And there's this really good art studio place, and this nice little café where you can listen to live music-"

"I wanna challenge the gym leader!" Ash said, "What type is he, anyways? The last two were pretty easy, if you ask me- hey, look! A Pokémon!"

He stopped suddenly, pointing ahead, where something rustled in the bushes.

Two small pink and white tips were visible. The bushes rustled again, and a light pink and white Pokémon with floppy ears and blue eyes stepped out.

"It's Audino," Gary said, before Ash could even whip out his Pokédex, "It's kind of like the Chansey of Unova..."

"Yeah, we saw it at the last Pokémon center," Misty said, "It's kind of cute!"

The Pokémon surveyed the group, ears twitching curiously.

"Well, I'm gonna catch it!" Ash cried, "Go, Pidove!"

Pidove emerged, swooping out of its Pokéball.

"Piiii-dove!" it chirped.

"AAAAAAAAHHHHH!" Leaf shrieked loudly, before running behind Gary.

She clung to him, trembling, and her eyes were wide, fixated on Pidove fearfully.

"What the heck is wrong with you?" Ash demanded.

"Get off him," Misty snarled.

Gary, however, shifted in front of Leaf, and kept her covered almost protectively.

He looked back at her, and though his expression was exasperated, his tone was gentle.

"Still?" he asked softly.

Leaf nodded slowly, biting her lip.

Neither Ash nor Misty could make sense of what was going on, and Misty seemed ready to pounce on Leaf. In the meantime, Audino had taken advantage of the commotion and bounced off.

"She's scared of birds," Gary said finally, meeting their questioning gaze, "Something happened – when she was young. She's always been like this since."

"Scared of birds?" Ash asked, unable to keep the condescending tone out of his voice, "Geez, it's only Pidove. It's not going to do anything!"

"W-well - I - I don't like them," Leaf whimpered, "C-call it back!"

"But I wanna catch that Audino!" Ash protested, before turning around, "Hey! Where'd it go!"

"I think all the screaming scared it off," Misty said.

"Great," Ash said sulkily, "Thanks a lot Leaf, Pidove scared you and you scared Audino. Thanks."

"Oh, leave her alone, Ash," Gary snapped, surprisingly sticking up for his friend, "Can't you see, she's actually frightened?"

"It's just a bird," Ash repeated, before shaking his head, "Ugh, whatever. I'm sick of this forest. Let's get out of here. C'mon Misty..."

"Yeah..." Misty nodded, following him, slowly tearing her eyes away from Gary, who still had his arm around a shaking Leaf.

::::::

"I don't get it, why Leaf is so scared of bird Pokémon?" Ash asked Gary a little later, as they made their way out of the forest, Misty and Leaf walking a little behind, "I mean – I'd get it if it were Fearow, but Pidove is harmless."

"Well, Leaf is scared of even Pidgey, and Spearow," Gary said, "It's a long story…"

"What happened?" Ash pressed, wanting to know.

"She – was kidnapped, when she was six," Gary said softly, "By an enormous bird Pokémon. Ho-oh, actually."

"Ho-oh!" Ash exclaimed, "Why would Ho-oh kidnap her! And where did he take her? What happened?"

He remember Leaf telling him she had left Pallet at the age of six, when they first met. He'd never suspected that she'd been kidnapped!

"It's complicated," Gary muttered, "But ever since that incident, Leaf's developed ornithophobia-"

"Orny-what?" Ash asked dumbly.

"Ornithophobia," Gary said through gritted teeth, "Fear of birds. It was a really traumatizing incident for her."

"You seem to know Leaf pretty well," Ash observed, turning behind to glance at the two girls.

"Yeah, well, we travelled together occasionally," Gary shrugged.

"Misty has a fear too," Ash said.

"What is it?" Gary asked after a moment, and Ash knew it probably hurt his ego quite a lot to be asking him that.

A part of Ash reveled in the fact that he knew something about Gary that Misty didn't. Gary probably knew Leaf a lot better since they'd travelled together. But he, Ash, definitely knew Misty.

"She's scared of bugs," Ash said, almost bragging, "Absolutely terrified. Like, she has bug-phobia."

"Entomophobia," Gary corrected.

"Okay, thank you, Professor Gary," Ash said sarcastically, and Gary smirked.

"Anyways, she was scared out of her wits when she saw my Caterpie," Ash went on, "She wouldn't come near it, and screamed when it came near her, because for some reason, Caterpie really liked Misty. And once when we were on our way to Vermilion City, she got all hyper and practically jumped on my back because Brock said he saw a bug on her leg…" Ash continued reminiscently, rejoicing inwardly at the glint that appeared in Gary's eyes at the last part.

"Misty seemed fine around Scizor," Gary said.

"Yeah, but she didn't like Tracey's Scyther too much," Ash replied, "Or my Heracross. She didn't mind my Butterfree, though, for some reason… it was weird."

"Hm…" Gary said, and was quiet for a few moments too.

Ash was as well, suddenly remembering his loyal Butterfree. It had evolved from Caterpie – the first Pokémon he'd caught, and had helped him in countless battles. They'd been through a lot, and Ash remembered, with a pang in his heart, the day when he'd let Butterfree go, so that it could start a new life with its mate.

I miss you buddy, Ash thought, and I hope you and that pink Butterfree are doing well… it's good to know that at least one of us got the girl we wanted…

Ash snorted after a moment, realizing what he'd just thought about.

I really am a loser, he thought, even my Pokémon have better love lives than me…

He mused on this for awhile longer, remembering how the pink Butterfree had initially rejected his own. His own Butterfree had persevered though, not giving up.

And I won't either! Ash told himself, If Butterfree could do it, I can to! I was its trainer, after all!

Butterfree, however, was fortunate, Ash thought, turning to glance at Gary.

It didn't have another Butterfree rivaling it for its love.

Though, Ash thought, with Leaf here… the situation with Gary could change…

Ash Ketchum was dumb and dense when it came to the matters of the heart, yet. But he was improving.

And despite being blind to his own feelings for the first five or six years, he'd picked up those between Gary and Leaf.

There was something – something between them. That was for sure.

::::::

"Yes! We're finally out!" Misty cheered, as the quartet emerged from the murky forest into the sunlight. The dirt road stretched ahead of them, over a grassy hill, and then to a bridge, surrounding by the sparkling sea.

"Wow," Ash said, surveying the large steel structure, which though was quite a distance away, still looked formidable, as it gleamed in the sunlight.

"That's Skyarrow Bridge," Gary said, "And it connects directly into Castelia City. It takes traffic, but there's a pedestrian walkway we can use."

"Well awesome," Ash said happily, "Let's get to it! If we reach by lunchtime, I can challenge the gym!"

"We still have our pending battle from last night," Leaf reminded him.

"Oh yeah," Ash said, though he didn't look as eager about it anymore.

"It'll be good training for the gym," Leaf told him, "And there's tons of stuff to do here. You can always try the gym tomorrow if your Pokémon are tired."

"Okay," Ash agreed, "But first let's get across that bridge and into Castelia! I'm actually kinda hungry!"

"If only we had bikes with us..." Leaf groaned, as they made their way towards the bridge, "Walking across this thing is going to be a pain..."

Ash purposely avoided Misty's eye at this, as she shot him a rather nasty look.

"Yes Leaf," Misty agreed, "If only..."

She didn't say anything after that though, and Ash heaved a sigh of relief.

::::::

When they finally made it into the bustling city of Castelia, all four trainers were thirsty, and famished. After checking in at the Pokémon Center, they headed straight for lunch, which was a relatively peaceful affair that day. Ash was busy stuffing his face, and fortunately, Misty and Gary seemed too hungry to bother flirting, and were also focused on shoveling food down their throats, albeit in a more graceful manner than Ash.

In fact, Misty was so hungry that she didn't even bother vituperating Ash for being a slob, though he caught her glaring at him when he grabbed the pastry platter off the table the moment the waiter placed it down.

"Um - do you want some, Misty?" Ash asked, remedying the situation by thrusting it in her face.

Misty looked surprised, but smiled slightly, and took one, looking at him approvingly.

"Wow, you're actually kind of being a gentleman, Ash," Misty said, "Good job."

"Only, for you Mist, 'cause I know how much you love chocolate desserts," he said, winking at her.

Misty blushed at this, and Gary fingers tightened around his fork, and Leaf smiled encouragingly at Ash, who after observing their reactions, dug into his chocolate brownie with gusto.

He was going to do this. He was going to thram Gary in the Pokémon battle after lunch. And after winning against him, he'd win a gym badge, and then sooner or later (with some assistance from Leaf) he'd win Misty over too.

::::::

After lunch, the teens headed for Central Plaza, so they could have their long expected Pokémon battle. It was a beautiful park, with many open spaces, where people and Pokémon frolicked about happily. Quite a few trainers seemed to be having practice battles, in the grassy lawns away from the fountains and stalls. The four teens found a vacant area, and faced each other off.

Gary looked the most determined and was steadily glaring at Leaf, who looked rather excited about the entire affair. Misty didn't look too thrilled - which she wasn't. She hadn't wanted to battle in the first place.

"Why don't the two of you carry on," she suggested, "I can go with Ash to the gym, and we'll meet you back in an hour or something?"

"Oh no you don't," Leaf interjected, "You still have to prove to me you're not a ditzy airhead like your sisters, remember?"

"I AM NOT!" Misty shouted instantaneously, grabbing her own Pokéball, and Leaf grinned.

"That's the spirit!" she nodded, "Go-"

"Wait," Ash interjected, "If this is a tag-team battle then what are the teams?"

"I'm against her," Gary said, rather venomously.

"Me too," Misty said immediately.

"No way!" Ash cried, "Make it Misty and I, versus Gary and Leaf!"

"Done," Misty said shortly, still glowering at the brunette.

"I challenged her last time," Gary bit out, "Let Ash and Leaf be on a team-"

"Since you're all dying to fight me, why don't we do three on one?" Leaf giggled, though the others shot her down.

"Are you crazy?" Misty yelled.

"We'd pulverize you," Gary added spitefully.

"Fine," Leaf declared, "Then I get to pick who I want on my team and I pick Gar- no Ash - no - MISTY. Yeah. I pick Misty!"

"What?" Misty looked genuinely surprised, before narrowing her eyes, "I thought you think I suck, remember?"

"You can't have a team with two girls," Ash pointed out, rather stupidly, "That would be totally unfair."

"Excuse me?"

Two glimmering pairs of eyes fixed him with deadly glares at this moment, and Ash gulped.

"Are you implying what I think you're implying?" Misty asked dangerously.

"You didn't just say that," Leaf said warningly.

Gary whistled, and Leaf glared at him as well.

"Come on Leaf," Misty said suddenly, "Let's show them!"

::::::

They squared off in the park - Ash and Gary, versus Misty and Leaf.

"Three Pokémon each?" Misty asked, and the others nodded, readying themselves.

Ash watched, as Misty, Gary and Leaf all drew their Pokéballs to their lips, kissing the hard metal.

"Misty caaaalllls, Kingdra!"

"Go, Umbreon!"

"Wigglytuff! You're up!"

Feeling rather out of place, Ash gripped his own Pokéball, turning his hat backwards in his signature move (he wasn't going to be a girl like Gary and kiss his Mew-damned Pokéball), and tossed it up high into their air.

"Bulbasaur! I choose you!" Ash cried, before staring at Misty's choice in shock, "Kingdra! Misty when did you get that?" he asked in awe, staring at the large part-dragon water-type.

"Remember Horsea? Well it evolved, dummy," Misty said as if it were obvious.

"Oh… wow…" Ash said, staring at the majestic Pokémon.

He remembered Misty's cute, but seemingly innocuous little Horsea. It really had grown. He then realized with a jolt, that with her famed Gyarados, despite the fact that it was technically part-flying and part-water, Misty practically had two dragons on her!

"How did you evolve it from Seadra, though?" Leaf wanted to know, "Doesn't it need a Dragon Scale and trading?"

Misty looked impressed at Leaf's knowledge of evolution, but shrugged.

"I found the scale while fishing, and traded Seadra with one of my sisters. She didn't want to give it back, after it evolved."

"Obviously," Leaf laughed, "How'd you convince her."

"Oh, I have my ways," Misty said sweetly, eyes glinting.

Ash was pretty sure her 'ways' including a lot of yelling, and threatening to unleash Gyarados upon whichever sister it was.

"Can we start?" Gary asked impatiently, "Umbreon! Quick Attack on Wigglytuff!"

"Wigglytuff, Defense Curl!" Leaf shouted.

Ash sighed - Gary was so hell-bent on battling Leaf, it seemed he had no choice but to battle Misty.

He gave her an almost apologetic look, but she glared back at him.

"Don't you dare even think of going easy on me Ash Ketchum," she hollered.

Ash clenched his jaw, and stared back.

"Wouldn't dream of it, Misty," he muttered, "I have a slight type advantage already. Bulbasaur, Razor Leaf on Kingdra!"

"You never learn," Misty snorted, before ordering her attack, "Use Toxic on Bulbasaur!"

::::::

The first round went on for a good fifteen minutes. Though the Pokémon alternated between opponents, so Bulbasaur was fighting Wigglytuff at times, and Umbreon was with Kingdra, the battle ended in with the duels that started it. It was a tie, since Gary's Umbreon managed to dodge Wigglytuff's Hyper Beam with a well-timed Agility, and finished off Leaf's Pokémon with Faint Attack. Misty's Kingdra, however, to Ash's surprise, unleashed a power Ice Beam attack, which cut through Bulbasaur's SolarBeam and froze the Pokémon solid.

"You were great Bulbasaur, return," Ash said, feeling slightly shell-shocked that Misty had been able to beat one of his strongest and oldest Pokémon. Then again, it was a fully-evolved part-Dragon, and she'd taught it both ice and poison attacks, a rather shrewd move, so it could combat any grass-type which would be its relative weakness. Also, Bulbasaur had been recovering from the effects of Wigglytuff's Sing attack, and hadn't been fully alert at the time; still, it irked Ash that Kingdra's attack had inevitably rendered his Pokémon incapable of battling further.

Misty was hugging Kingdra gleefully, looking all too ecstatic that she had managed to beat Ash.

"This is not happening again," Ash muttered grimly, feeling the old rivalry he'd shared with Misty reignite within him.

He would win the next battle against her, no matter what it took.

In the meantime, Gary was calling out his next Pokémon.

"Go, Nidoking!" Gary shouted, and with a blaze of light, the enormous ground-type emerged, stamping its feet impatiently.

Leaf, however, didn't seem fazed by his intimidating selection. In fact, she looked rather delighted.

"Nido!" she greeted happily, running up to the Pokémon, "I haven't seen you in a long time, sweetie! How're you doing?"

"Nido-king!" the fierce-looking Pokémon softened and bent down, allowing Leaf to circle her arms around its thick neck.

Gary just crossed his arms, sighing.

"Well," Leaf said, smirking at Gary, "That wasn't a smart choice, Gary. I have just the Pokémon for him."

She bought out a Pokéball, kissed it, and threw it up.

"Come out, Nidory!"

There was a flash, and a large Nidoqueen emerged.

She looked rather familiar.

"Hey!" Ash cried, pointing, "Gary! Isn't that the very same Nidoqueen you used during the Silver Conference!"

He remembered the Pokémon all too well – it had taken out his Tauros, and had been quite the formidable opponent, until Snorlax had beaten it.

"The same," Gary nodded.

"You used Nidory for the Silver Conference? In such an important League match?" Leaf cried, her eyes sparkling, "Oh, Gary! I didn't know you were that sentimental!"

Misty scowled at this, but Ash was looking at the two Pokémon. Nidoqueen and Nidoking had seemed utterly delighted to see each other, and were currently embracing each other, nuzzling one another affectionately.

"Oh, aren't they sweet!" Leaf gushed, clapping her hands together, as she turned to Gary, "Nidory really missed you two!"

"Nidoking really missed you two as well," he replied.

The 'so did I' went unsaid.

"What's going on?" Ash demanded, "Are they –"

"In love, yes they are!" Leaf said, "Gary and I caught them together, when they were both Nidoran. The second time we met, they'd both evolved, and I think that's when they fell in love!"

"Leaf gave me one of her Moon Stones a few months later," Gary continued, "And we evolved them together again."

"They even had babies together!" Leaf said, eyes shimmering, "The most adorable little Nidorans ever! I think they're at the lab!"

"They are," Gary told her, "Gramps is keeping an eye on them. I met them, the last time I went. One of them has evolved into Nidorino."

"Oh, that's just – what darlings!" Leaf cried rapturously, "It's been so long… I haven't seen them in years!"

"But then how come Gary had your Nidoqueen?" Ash asked Leaf, "I've seen him battle with it, too!"

"Oh, I lent her to him, temporarily," Leaf said, smiling, "Nidory wanted to be with Nidoking, and I knew Gary was a good trainer. It benefited all of us, because our Pokémon got to be together, Gary got another Pokémon to add to his Pokédex, and I got my Pokémon trained by the best trainer there is around!"

Misty scowled at this, and Ash did too.

"I beat Gary at Silver Conference, you know," he said, mainly for Misty's benefit, "I'm a better trainer than him!"

Gary opened his mouth to retort, but Leaf cut in for him.

"Nuh-uh, Ashy," she shook her head, "You haven't seen the way Gary trains yet. Trust me, he's the best there is. You may be better in battling with Pokémon, but no one beats Gary when it comes to training."

She sounded rather proud when she spoke, and Gary had an extremely self-satisfied look on his face.

"Well, whatever, that's all really nice," Ash said, "But we have to battle! Pikachu, you're up next!"

"Pika…"

"Pikachu! Come on!" Ash protested.

Misty giggled, a bright smile lighting her face.

"Chu! Pikachu pika pikachupi pi!" Pikachu said stubbornly, shaking its head.

"Love you too, Pika-pal!" Misty called.

"Pikachu!" Ash whined, "You can't always back out on me when we're against Misty!"

"Pikachu pikapi!"

"I like her too, but that doesn't mean we don't battle her!" Ash said, attempting to reason with his Pokémon.

Misty blushed at his words. Meanwhile, Leaf and Gary were too busy watching their cuddling Pokémon.

"Pikachu, come on!" Ash pleaded, "You can go against Leaf's Pokémon, okay? Gary will handle Misty!"

"Pikachu," Pikachu finally agreed, before looking apologetically at Misty.

"It's alright, Pikachu!" Misty smiled warmly, "Don't worry. I still love you!"

"Chaaaa!"

"Whose Pokémon are you, anyways?" Ash grumbled, "You always choose her…"

'So much for me settling the score with her this round,' he thought bitterly.

In the meanwhile, Misty had already chosen her second Pokémon, and quickly kissed the Pokéball.

Ash expected either Starmie, Corsola or Politoed, since he suspected she'd save Gyarados for the end.

"Misty caaaaaaalls – GOLDUCK!"

"Golduck!" the lean blue duck squawked as it emerged.

It had sharp, intelligent looking eyes (the opposite of its pre-evolution) and stared them down sharply, the red jewel on its forehead glimmering.

Ash nearly fell over, his eyes popping out.

"WHAT?" he screeched, "Don't tell me Psyduck evolved!"

"Why are you so surprised?" Leaf chimed in, "They generally do when they reach level 33. It's a common occurrence Ash."

Gary snickered.

"No, no, you don't get it," Ash shook his head, "Her Psyduck – it was – like – mental!"

"He's right," Misty said sadly, "And Ash, Psyduck didn't evolve. He's the same fumbling duck who can't swim. I caught this Golduck myself, when my sisters and I were touring."

"...oh," Ash said, "Okay."

"Anyways, I think you guys should start the battle," Gary said.

"You guys?" Ash questioned, "What about you two?"

"Leaf and I will probably have to sit out this round," Gary said, gesturing at their two Pokémon.

Nidoking and Nidoqueen were sitting close together and cuddling fondly, while their trainers were perched on Nidoking's leg.

"They don't want to fight each other, or fight at all," Leaf said, "And they haven't met for – well for as long as Gary and I haven't met, which is a couple years. We don't want to disturb them."

"So call out two other Pokémon!" Ash demanded.

"Nah, its fine," Gary said, leaning back onto Nidoking's hard stomach, "Why don't you and Misty make this a one-on-one, huh, Ashy-boy?"

"Yeah, we'll just watch," Leaf added, copying Gary and leaning back next to him.

'Yes!' Ash cheered inwardly, 'Just what I wanted!'

Misty was watching them closely, her blue-green eyes narrow.

"Misty!" Ash called, snapping her out of it, "Come on, one-on-one, me versus you! We haven't done that in awhile!"

"I just beat Bulbasaur with Kingdra," she pointed out, but Ash shook his head.

"I mean an actual single battle. Bulbasaur was half-asleep when you beat it, thanks to Wigglytuff," Ash said.

"You're just a sore loser!" Misty retorted.

"I still owe you a loss after the Whirl Cup!" Ash shouted, getting riled up.

Misty grinned at this mention, before nodding.

"Yeah, except this time you have Pikachu instead of Kingler," she said, pointing to a rather disgruntled Pikachu who was not too happy that it was being forced to battle its precious Pikachupi.

"And you have a Golduck with actually psychic powers," Ash grinned, "So I won't have to hand you your victory by giving your Pokémon a headache."

"Oh, please, Ash, you made a mistake, just admit it!"

"Well now we'll see who really should have won that match, right Misty!"

"You're on Ketchum!"

::::::

"Golduck, use Psychic- no, Confusion - no! Um, use - Fury Swipes on Pikachu," Misty cried, and Ash smirked at her indecisiveness.

He thought it was bad that Pikachu was unwilling to fight, but Misty seemed worse. She didn't have the heart to call upon Golduck's Psychic attacks on her precious friend, and Ash honestly considered this a relief.

That didn't mean he'd go easy on her. Sooner or later, she'd have to take this battle easily.

"Pikachu, use Agility to dodge it!" he called easily, as Golduck, sensing it's master's hesitation, clawed halfheartedly at Pikachu, who leapt away in time.

"Now, Pikachu, Thundershock!" Ash called confidently.

"Protect!" Misty yelled immediately after.

Pikachu let loose a stream of electricity, but it merely glanced off the shimmering sphere that encapsulated Golduck.

Ash was impressed - Protect was a good move, and though he'd never used defensive moves that often, preferring all-out offensive attacks, it was certainly effective.

"Golduck, quick, Disable!" Misty commanded.

"Ah - crap - Pikachu, stop!" Ash shouted, but it was too late.

"Pikachu!" the yellow rodent cried, the electricity dissipating. Pikachu's cheeks sparked as it tried in vain to use it's Thundershock, but to no avail. Golduck's Disable was well-timed.

'Not bad,' Ash thought to himself. Misty, though wasn't gong offensive, seemed to have a pretty good strategy. Still, Thundershock was only one of the midler attacks in Pikachu's repertoire.

"Pikachu, Quick Attack!"

"Golduck, Disable!"

"Dodge, and then Thunderbolt!"

"Golduck switch to - uh - Protect!"

::::::

The battle persisted for ten minutes, wherein Ash managed to get through the Protect once, with a well-placed and accurately-timed Thunderbolt. Misty's Golduck had Disabled Pikachu's Thunderbolt thereafter, along with its Quick Attack and Iron Tail. Misty had also ordered it to use Water Pulse, and Ash suspected she'd deliberately called for an attack type that wouldn't be too effective against Pikachu. All the strong stream of water had done was cause Pikachu to become slightly dizzy from its impact, but it soon recovered. In the meantime, Misty had commanded Golduck to use Rest, an attack which Ash found highly frustrating, since it meant that it had recovered fully from the effects of Pikachu's previous Thunderbolt.

"Golduck, Zen Headbutt!" Misty called, albeit uncertainly.

"Pikachu - Agility to dodge!"

"DISABLE!"

"Damn it!" Ash cursed, as Golduck switched mid-attack, and the Disable met its target.

Misty wasn't actually harming Pikachu much, but if she Disabled all its moves, that would be pretty much equivalent to rendering it incapable of battling.

Still, Pikachu had its two most powerful attacks left - Thunder and Volt Tackle, and Ash was pretty sure that both of them could break through Golduck's protect. Volt Tackle would also be too fast for Pikachu to get hit by a Disable, and would probably Knock-Out Golduck with one hit.

Still, Volt Tackle was a double-edged sword and Ash didn't want Pikachu using it unless absolutely necessary, since it tended to cause recoil damage on Pikachu as well.

"Fine then," Ash muttered to himself, before raising his voice, "PIKACHU! CHARGE UP FOR A FULL-POWER THUNDER!"

"Pi-Pikachu," Pikachu groaned, but obeyed.

A few seconds later, its entire body was crackling with electricity.

Ash heard Misty yell some sort of obscenity at him from across the ground.

"You're so freaking heartless, Ash!" she shouted thereafter, and then hesitated for a moment, before looking apologetically at Pikachu.

"I'm sorry Pikachu, but your master's a moron," she said, before turning to Golduck, "Time for Psyshock, Golduck!"

"Golduck!" the duck squawked happily, obviously happy to start battling seriously.

The red gem on its forehead glowed, and a few seconds later, a fluorescent blue beam shot out of it.

"PIKACHUUU!" Pikachu cried, and a large bolt of thunder forked down from the sky.

There was an explosive noise, as the two attacks combined, sizzling the air and forming a veil of smoke that covered the field for awhile.

When it cleared both Ash and Misty were coughing.

"Pika-chu!" Ash choked out, "I said - full - power! That - wasn't - full power!"

"Pikachu," Pikachu flicked its ears, unharmed by the attack.

Though the Thunder wasn't Pikachu's strongest, it had partly overpowered Golduck's Psyshock, and the blue duck was currently struggling to its feet. Its body was charred slightly, and one of its arms had been paralyzed by the part of Pikachu's attack that had gone through.

Ash was certain that if Pikachu had used a full-power Thunder attack, the match would have been over.

"Golduck!" Misty was crying out, anguished, "Are you alright!"

Ash felt his throat thicken slightly at her voice, and concerned face. Maybe Pikachu was right... maybe they should battle to hard. It was Misty after all.

"Pikachu - let's just get this over with," Ash muttered, "One more Thunder - not too strong though."

"Pikachu," Pikachu agreed reluctantly, and tensed its muscles, to begin charging up.

Nothing happened.

"Pikachu!" Ash cried, "Thunder!'

"Pika pika!" Pikachu shook its head, gesturing at Golduck.

"Not again," Ash groaned.

Apparently, Misty had made Golduck switch to Disable, yet again, mid-attack. Though the Thunder had gotten through, it had also been Disabled.

"You really overuse that move, you know," Ash grumbled.

"And if I've guessed correctly, you're out of usable attacks!" Misty crowed triumphantly.

"Actually - no," Ash said after a moment, "Pikachu did learn one move - when you were gone."

"Oh," Misty raised an eyebrow, "So? I'll Disable that too."

"I don't think so," Ash shook his head, "You've done a great job battling like this, and I know you're not using your main attacks so you don't hurt Pikachu. But it's over now."

"What do you mean?" Misty asked, confused.

"Pikachu," Ash said grimly, "VOLT TACKLE!"

Misty's eyes grew as wide as saucers, as the small rodent charged forwards, its body barely visible except for a crackling yellow blur of electricity.

Protect wouldn't work on that, and Disable would be to slow. Both Ash and Misty knew this.

"Damn you Ash Ketchum for pushing me to this," Misty hissed, before commanding, "Golduck, CONFUSION!"

Purple waves poured out from Golduck's beak, hitting the blur that was Pikachu. They didn't slow him down even the slightest, and seconds later Pikachu crashed into Golduck, and a blinding white light filled the field.

::::::

When the field was clear, Pikachu was struggling to its feet, weakened by the Confusion attack, as well as the kick-back of its own Volt Tackle. Golduck, on the other hand had fainted, completely spent.

"Pikachu!" Ash cried, rushing forwards, and scooping his exhausted Pokémon up, "You were awesome, buddy!"

"Golduck!" Misty cried, dropping down by her Pokémon's limp form, "You were incredible! Thank you. You should rest now. Return."

She then turned to Ash, who was cradling Pikachu.

"Is he okay?" she asked, voice full of concern.

"Course he is," Ash said, "Aren't ya, Pikachu?"

"Pika pi Pikachupi," Pikachu let out in response.

"Oh Pikachu, don't say that. I'm sorry. I really didn't want to use Psychic attacks on you! But Golduck's my friend too, and I had to protect him. And beat your stupid master."

"Hey," Ash cut in, "His 'stupid master' just beat you, you know-"

"Please," Misty scoffed, rolling her eyes, "You know I went light on Pikachu, I didn't use Psychic or any of Golduck's better attacks-"

"It wouldn't matter if you did," Ash countered, "Nothing would have beaten Volt Tackle, not even Psychic. And you did use Confusion in the end so you can't say you didn't use Psych-"

"I was practically forced to Ash Ketchum!" Misty retorted, before her voice completely changed tone, "I didn't know Pikachu knew how to use Volt Tackle. That was really impressive Ash."

"Uh - thanks," Ash said, rubbing the back of his head, his cheeks heating up.

Misty had suddenly changed from argumentative to complimentary, and was now looking at him almost admiringly with those large cerulean eyes. Ash suddenly felt slightly shy, and the fluttering feeling in his stomach which he often experienced around Misty had returned in full-form.

"No really," Misty said, looking at him earnestly, "That's a great achievement. You both should be so proud - and Ash, you're right. No matter how powerful Golduck was with Psychic moves, nothing would have beaten that Volt Tackle. And though it kills me to say it - I know Pikachu didn't use a full Thunder either."

"Well, I think you should be proud," Ash said softly, "You've trained Golduck so well, and that Disable strategy was pretty neat. You're amazing Misty, I just never realized how much I-"

He then stopped abruptly, his face flaming as he realized what he'd just rattled out without really giving much of a thought.

Misty was blushing too, and averted her eyes from his gaze.

"You were - saying something?" she asked after a moment.

"No!" Ash shook his head vehemently, "Nothing. Just that - you - and Golduck - were awesome - at battling - you know, Pokémon battling - yeah... that's it."

"Okay," Misty said, "Thanks Ash. That means a lot."

"Yeah - um - no problem," Ash replied, shrugging awkwardly.

"Oy, break it up!" a voice interrupted them, "It's time for our last round!"

Leaf and Gary had gotten up from where they had been watching the battle, and recalled Nidoking and Nidoqueen. Both were reaching for their third and final Pokéballs.

"Technically, Ash and I are one up," Gary said, "Since the first round was a draw, and Ash and Pikachu won this one."

"Goody for you," Leaf said nonchalantly, as Ash and Misty readied their Pokéballs as well.

All four teens released the capsules high into the air, with simultaneous cries.

"POKEBALL, GO!"

"I CHOOSE YOU!"

::::::

Ash stared at the four menacing Pokémon assembled at the clearing, facing off each other with determined stares.

Gary and Leaf had their starters, and he had one of his strongest Pokémon. Like him, Misty had saved her strongest for last as well.

Between him, Gary and Leaf, they had all the final forms of the Kanto starters as well.

Charizard, Blastoise and Venusaur – all of them looking equally fierce. Misty's Gyarados was there as well, snarling ferociously.

Charizard and Blastoise, in particular, were old rivals like their trainers, having faced off at the Silver Conference. Blastoise was glaring at the fire-lizard, eager for revenge. Charizard just snorted condescendingly, letting out a puff of smoke.

"Nice," Leaf said appreciatively, "What a coincidence."

"This should be fun," Misty muttered.

"Cool down," Ash said warily, looking at his Pokémon, "Charizard you're fighting with Blastoise this time, not against him. You're opponents are Venusaur and Gyarados."

"And you're fighting with Charizard, so no Hydro-pumping him," Gary warned his Pokémon similarly.

Venusaur and Blastoise seemed familiar too, though in a far more friendly way. Indeed, as starter Pokémon of their respective trainers, they had been through many adventures, since the time they were both just a Bulbasaur and Squirtle respectively.

"I know you're happy to see him," Leaf was telling Venusaur, "But you'll have to save it for after the battle. Blasty's your enemy this time around. I know it sucks, but you have to fight him."

::::::

"Right then," Gary said under his voice, "Ash, have Charizard attack Venusaur. Misty will probably have Gyarados focus full-on on Charizard, so I'll block and battle her with Blastoise."

"I'm taking Gary, I have the type advantage," Leaf was saying to Misty, "And you have the advantage on Ash."

"Done," Misty nodded.

"Let's do this," Ash said, steadying his cap.

"Gyarados, Hydro Pump on Charizard-"

"Venusaur, Razor Leaf on Blastoise-"

"Blastoise, Skull Bash on Gyarados-"

"Charizard, fly up to dodge the Hydro Pump and then Flamethrower on Venusaur-"

"Gyarados, switch your Hydro Pump to Venusaur, get rid of the flames!"

"Venusaur, use your vines to stop Blastoise's Skull Bash from hitting!"

"Blastoise, switch to Ice Beam, on Venusaur!"

"Charizard, quick, Dragon Breath on Gyarados!"

The battlefield was chaos. Charizard just managed to dodge the brunt of Gyarados's Hydro Pump, and the wave of water splashed to the side, drenching both Ash and Gary to the core. Blastoise roared as it was hit with the Razor Leaf attack, but Venusaur's onslaught soon stopped, as Charizard's flames surged towards it. Gyarados unleashed another Hydro Pump in Venusaur's direction to quell the flames, and this ended up soaking Misty and Leaf as well. Blastoise didn't manage a Skull Bash, but the Ice Beam hit its mark, crystals of ice falling onto the grass. Charizard roared and let out acid green flames, which collided with Gyarados's Hydro Pump, causing an enormous explosion, followed by a loud sizzling sound.

"This is pointless!" Ash shouted at Gary over the noise, "We need a strategy!"

::::::

"Gyarados, Hydro Pump on Charizard!" Misty cried, ten minutes later, as the battle raged on.

All four Pokémon had suffered moderate damage, but they still had plenty of power left, and none of them had landed a critical hit yet.

"Charizard, Steel Wing," Ash commanded, "Deflect the Hydro Pump towards Venusaur-"

"What was the point in that?" Leaf shrieked, as Venusaur was hit by a strong stream of water, which didn't do more than refresh the large Pokémon.

"Wait for it," Ash muttered to Gary, "She'll call on it, just wait."

"Venusaur, Sleep Powder!" Leaf cried.

"Blastoise, wash it away with Hydro Pump!" Gary said immediately.

"Charizard, just – use Fly!" Ash yelled, and the orange dragon leapt upwards immediately.

Seeing that Blastoise was now open and undefended, Misty immediately jumped at the opportunity.

"GYARADOS, THUNDER!" she hollered.

"BLASTOISE, WITHDRAW AND THEN WATER GUN AT VENUSAUR!" Gary shouted.

"No!" Misty cried, "Gyarados, stop-"

But it was too late; the fork of electricity unleashed by Gyarados didn't harm Blastoise, who had withdrawn into its shell. Instead, it streamed through the jet of water from Blastoise's Water Gun, hitting Venusaur dead-on.

"SAURY!" Leaf cried, "No!"

The electricity was twice as effective, since Venusaur had been previously soaked by the Hydro Pump that Charizard had deflected with Steel Wing, and the large Pokémon groaned, and toppled over.

"Nice!" Ash cheered, as he and Gary high-fived.

Leaf recalled her Pokémon with a grim face, before nodding at Misty.

"Gyarados – Thunder again," Misty called, looking slightly panicked now, "On Blastoise!"

"Blastoise, Withdraw," Gary called nonchalantly, smirking, and then winking over at the girls.

"Aim it at the sky!" Leaf shrieked to Misty, "Charizard's vulnerable up there!"

"Gyarados, you heard her," Misty yelled, "Aim it up!"

"Charizard, dodge and then Seismic Toss!" Ash countered.

"Gyarados, Hyper Beam at Charizard!" Misty cried out desperately.

"Blastoise, Hydro Cannon on Gyarados!" Gary ordered.

There was another explosion, as the Hyper Beam and Hydro Cannon connected. Charizard was grappling with Gyarados, who was thrashing around trying to escape the Seismic Toss grip, and both Pokémon were thrown backwards after suffering the brunt of the combined attacks.

"Charizard!"

"Gyarados!"

Ash and Misty both rushed towards their fainted Pokémon, both of which were lying in a tangled heap, clearly spent.

"Return, you were great," Ash said.

"Nice, Gyarados, now take some rest," Misty whispered, kissing Gyarados's Pokéball after her Pokémon had returned.

"Blastoise –" Gary called tentatively, "Are you – okay?"

The large brown shell was slightly charred, but after a few moments, Blastoise slowly emerged, looking utterly battered, but still conscious.

"C'mon," Gary urged, "Get up, you can do it…"

Blastoise grunted and staggered up to its thick feet, before readying its cannons and surveying the battleground.

"Alright!" Ash pumped his fist, "Our strategy worked!"

"Blastoise, awesome, return now," Gary said, before walking over to Misty and Leaf, both of whom were looking rather shocked.

"Guess we win," Gary said, running a hand through his damp locks, a smug smile pulling at his lips.

"Yeah," Misty said grumpily after a moment, before brightening, "Good job! Your strategy was really smart."

"Ah, it was nothing," Gary shrugged, "Though you have to give credit to Ash, he came up with most of it."

"I haven't had such a fun battle in ages," Leaf said, "Though that was intense."

"Guess that puts me up by one, huh Mist?" Ash said, walking over and shooting a cheeky smile at Misty, who immediately rebutted this statement.

"No it doesn't! I was one up the first round, and you beat me with Pikachu, but Gyarados and Charizard both fainted simultaneously."

"You're just being a sore loser," Ash taunted, sticking his tongue out, and dodging the whack that came his way.

"Please, grow up," Misty rolled her eyes, "Anyways, what are we doing now guys? After giving our Pokémon to Nurse Joy I mean."

"Let's go to the dock! There's a beach there too," Leaf said excitedly.

"But I'm all wet," Ash griped, wringing out the bottom of his t-shirt, "All of us are…"

"How's that a problem? We're going to the beach anyways," Gary said, and in one swift movement, he had pulled of his black muscle shirt.

There was an awkward silence for a moment, as three pairs of eyes were drawn inextricably towards the shirtless teen.

Misty's cerulean eyes were as wide as saucers, and Leaf was biting her lip and struggling to look away. Both of them had blushes on their cheeks, Misty's far more pronounced.

Ash, too, couldn't help but gape, feeling a sinking feeling in his stomach.

Gary was one of those people who were just overly blessed when it came to looks and physique. He was tanned and toned. He had wide shoulders, perfect biceps, a smooth, muscled chest and a washboard six-pack. His damp jeans clung loosely to his hips, and his muscles tensed and rippled under his skin when he moved.

"Oh Mew," Ash heard Misty whisper next to him.

Gary seemed to notice the looks he was getting, and raised his eyebrows.

"C'mon guys, we're hitting the beach right?"

"Uh – yeah," Ash said after a moment, "But – we still need to change."

::::::

Gary reclined backwards on a Magikarp-patterned beach towel, waiting for the other three to show. He'd been wearing black and purple swim trunks under his jeans, so it hadn't taken him long to change.

He'd been on the beach for barely five minutes, and he was already getting appreciate stares from all the women and girls who strolled by.

For once, he didn't care though, as he continued to scan the crowd for a more familiar face.

A minute later, he found one, and his throat went dry.

Gary pulled of his sunglasses, his eyes roving appreciatively over the beautiful, beautiful site that now presented itself in front of him.

Misty and Leaf had arrived, and the duo had attracted as many male stares as Gary had female.

Misty's fiery hair was tied up into a long, high ponytail, though some of the strands framed her face. She was dressed in a turquoise stringy bikini, which hugged her curves almost provocatively, leaving nothing much to imagination – long, toned legs, a slim waist, and what seemed like miles and miles of creamy skin – Misty had filled out well, and it was now obvious that she outshone her sisters spectacularly.

Leaf was dressed in a black halter bikini, her long brown hair loose and falling to her back. She was just as toned as Misty, though slightly curvier, and her skin was a shade more tanned. It was difficult to say which girl looked better, or attracted more attention. Standing together, they were quite a devastating combination.

"Well, hello ladies," Gary said, finding his voice as he stood up, eyes flicking from one beautiful, bikini-clad girl to another.

"H-hey Gary," Misty replied, smiling shyly.

"Oh please," Leaf snorted, "Cut the suave act, Oak, you pig."

"It wasn't meant for you," Gary snapped at her, before turning to Misty.

"C'mere babe," he murmured, "You look amazing right now…"

He held out his arms, and Misty walked towards him slowly. Gary moved both his hands to her back, pulling her flush towards his chest.

Leaf stalked off a few meters away, pointedly ignoring this public display of affection.

"Were – were you – checking out Leaf just now?" Misty asked, her voice slightly shaky.

"Who Leaf?" Gary whispered, running his hands up and down her bare skin, "I only have eyes for you right now, baby… because Mew, do you look hot."

Misty shivered at his touch, as Gary dipped his head down, pressing a kiss to her neck.

"Gary – we're – in public," she squeaked, but Gary ignored her, flicking his tongue out against her skin, making her gasp.

"I can't help it," he said, his voice low and husky, "I can't keep my hands off you…"

His hands had slid lower, resting on Misty's hips, his fingers sliding under the string that held her bikini bottom together.

"Gary!" Misty cried, swatting his hand away, though her voice was breathless, "Control!"

"You weren't complaining a few seconds ago," he said, shooting her his sexiest 'bedroom eyes' look and leaning in again.

"Yeah, well it takes some time to – get over – the effect you have," Misty admitted, blushing.

"C'mon, Mist," Gary whispered, holding her eyes with a smoldering gaze, "I'm so incredibly turned on by you right now, you have no idea…"

Misty's flush increased tenfold at this – Gary had never been this straightforward, or this intense with her before. A part of her wanted to cave into him, so badly, and let him do whatever it was he wanted – especially when he looked like that and was shirtless – but they were at a beach, and Ash and Leaf were there too… it had to wait.

"Get over it," Misty said, flicking his chest. She couldn't help but run her fingers down it after, across his pectorals and muscular stomach.

This action seemed to elicit a very positive response in Gary who grabbed her waist again, pressing her to his lean, hard body.

"Five minutes," he whispered, his lips brushing her ear, "There's a shack nearby, we can just-"

"MISTY! GARY! LEAF! WHERE ARE YOU GUYS?"

The duo broke apart, and Gary cursed Ash's typically bad timing. The moron probably did it on purpose, and he was pretty sure Misty had been close to caving in again.

"Ash!" Misty cried, breaking away from his embrace, "Pikachu! Hi!"

Ash was running towards them, clad in red trunks. He stopped short a few meters away though, his brown eyes nearly popping out of their sockets, as he stared unabashedly at Misty.

Gary sniggered, and sauntered forward, slipping an arm around Misty's waist.

"H-h-hey Misty," Ash stammered, blushing furiously, unable to take his eyes off the girl in front of him, "You – um – look – really – great."

"Th-thanks Ash," Misty replied shyly, and Gary realized with horror, that she was blushing too, a small smile tugging at her lips, "Um – so do you…"

What! Gary thought angrily, a flare of possessiveness welling within him, no! Not him! He doesn't!

Ash was tanned as well, and quite toned. Though his biceps and abs weren't as pronounced as Gary's, they were visible enough, and he had good shoulders too.

When did that shrimp ever get muscles? Gary thought, fuming for a moment, before he calmed down. Nah, I'm better anyways… Misty's just – crazy. Leaf probably wouldn't give him a second glance.

"So – um – what do you guys want to do now?" Misty asked.

"Let's go into the water!" Ash said excitedly, "C'mon Mist, you love swimming right?"

"Yeah," Misty nodded, before looking over at Gary, "You coming?"

"Ah," Gary hesitated, his eyes flicking over to Leaf, who was sprawled languidly under a large beach umbrella, flipping through a glossy magazine, "Actually – you guys go ahead. I'll – join you in a bit."

He still had some unfinished business to deal with, something he had to fix as soon as possible.

Misty looked at him strangely for a moment.

"Are you sure?" she asked anxiously, her eyes glancing in Leaf's direction as well, and Gary could tell what she was thinking.

"Yeah," Gary nodded after a moment, "I'm sure. You and Ash carry on."

You have to trust me Misty. Just like how I have to trust you.

"Fine," Misty snapped, glaring at him, before turning to Ash, "Come on, Ash, let's go."

She grabbed his wrist and dragged him off, without a backwards glance in Gary's direction.

Gary sighed. Ash, on the other hand, looked absolutely elated, and shot Gary a dopey, triumphant grin, dropping with smugness.

It made Gary want to punch him.

You keep your hands of her Ketchum, he thought viciously, before squaring his shoulders and walking towards Leaf.

::::::

"Hey," Gary greeted, sliding down onto the beach towel next to Leaf.

The brunette ignored him completely, and just flipped another page of her magazine.

Gary rolled his eyes at this deliberate move, and snatched the magazine away, tossing it over his shoulder.

Leaf fixed him with a frigid glare.

"I'd like that back, please," she said icily.

"No, you wouldn't," Gary said, "You're just putting up a façade of indifference to hide how burningly jealous you are."

"Jealous?" Leaf scoffed, "Please. Give me a break. And my magazine back, too."

"Don't lie to yourself," Gary said knowingly, smirking slightly, "I saw you when I was kissing Misty. You wished that it was you I'd been kissing."

"Of course," Leaf said sarcastically, "Every women's dream…"

"Just admit it, Leaf," Gary said, drawing closer to her, "You wanted me to kiss you, you wanted me to touch you-"

"You sound ridiculous," Leaf told him, "Do you fantasize about yourself or something, you egocentric git?"

"Don't lie to me Leaf, I saw it," Gary persisted, his eyes locking with hers challengingly, "You wished it were you in Misty's place, didn't you?"

"As tempting as the offer may be, I'd rather not be your latest sex-toy," Leaf spat out.

"Slow down girl, I wasn't even thinking about that-" Gary said, amused.

"That's not what I meant and you know it!" Leaf snarled, "I don't want to be your Misty-replacement-"

"Is that bitterness I detect, love?"

"NO, MEWDAMNIT!"

"I see you're out of acidic insults, Leaf?"

"Fuck off and leave me alone."

"Leaf, we've skirted around this issue – and each other – enough. Just tell me honestly," Gary said, his face serious, "What – do you feel for me?"

"Other than absolute disgust at your egotistical assumptions," Leaf began cuttingly, but Gary grabbed her shoulders, staring her in the eye.

"Tell me, Leaf," he said urgently, "We need to end this thing once and for all"

"End what thing?" Leaf asked, narrowing her eyes, "We don't have any thing going on between us, Oak, and why the hell are you so desperate to know anyways? You have a girlfriend-"

"You're my best friend," Gary almost shouted, "I think I have a right to know how you feel and whether – I – I don't want to screw things up Leaf. Not with you, not with Misty."

"You're hot, but you're not getting both of us honey, if that's what you're implying."

"It's not!" Gary shot back, frustrated, "Why do you have to twist everything I say?"

"You're fun to mess with," Leaf said, winking and shooting him a seductive smile, and leaning forwards, so that her chest nearly brushed against his.

"Don't," Gary groaned, "Please-"

"I'll admit it," Leaf said with a sultry smirk, batting her eyelashes, "I may have a sexy thing for you Oak. But it's obvious as hell that my feelings aren't entirely unreciprocated."

She trailed a finger down his chest, and Gary stiffened.

"I never said-" he began, but she cut him off.

"You don't have to say it. I can see it in your eyes. There are times, Gary, when you want me. Don't deny it."

She was practically straddling him now, and ran her hands down his neck and his sculpted chest.

"Get off," Gary said, "Leaf, you know we'd never work out-"

"Why not?" Leaf whispered, brushing her lips against his ear, "You're hot, I'm hot, we're both attracted to each other…"

"Leaf, no, I can't," Gary said, suddenly pushing her off, "I'm sorry, but you have to stop. I can't do this. Not to you, not to Misty. It isn't right."

He stood up, ignoring her affronted glare.

"Where do you think you're going?" Leaf demanded.

"To – find Misty," Gary said.

"She's with Ash," Leaf spat.

"I know," Gary said bitterly, "I – let her go with him."

"Why did you even come here in the first place? If you didn't want to hook up – and why have you been sending me such mixed signals?" Leaf shrieked.

"Shut up," Gary moaned, "Noisy woman…"

"Don't tell me to shut up, Oak," Leaf said, eyes flashing, "We've been friends for years and I think I deserve a fucking answer. What the hell is your issue, and I think I should ask you this – what do you feel for me, you asshole? Because you know you could have pushed me off way earlier and-"

"Fine!" Gary shouted, "Fine! I admit it – I was – no, I am – attracted to you, okay. I am. I've tried not to be, but I can't help it. Sometimes – you just – you pesky girl!"

"Continue," Leaf said, crossing her arms.

"But I can't be with you," Gary said, taking a deep breath, "We'd never work out, Leaf. I know you. You can't be in a serious relationship, Leaf. And I really, really care about Misty. You have no idea how much. I may be attracted to both of you Leaf, and maybe I have had feelings for you, but I don't intend to act on them, or do anything stupid. Misty means too much on me Leaf, and – I think she could be the one, you know. I – I haven't told her yet, but I'm in love with her and-"

"Oh please, stop," Leaf rolled her eyes, "You're sappier than Ash, really."

"What do you mean?" Gary asked defensively.

"Misty, Misty, Misty, that's all you two ever go on about," Leaf said, before giggling, "Doesn't really help a girl's self-confidence, you know."

"Nothing will ever hurt your self-confidence," Gary replied.

"Point," Leaf nodded.

There was silence for a few moments, before Gary spoke up again.

"Look, Leaf, I'm really sorry-"

"Mew, no," Leaf shook her head, "Why?"

"I don't want to hurt your feelings," Gary began, but Leaf cut him off.

"Hurt my feelings?" she snorted, "You really – oh Mew – you actually think I'm in love with you or something, don't you? And that your little profession of Misty-love has broken my heart or something?"

She started snickering at this, and Gary looked at her, bemused.

"But – don't you-" he began, and Leaf burst out laughing.

"I'm not in love with you," she shrieked, "I never was! I may have had a little crush, and I admit I was attracted to you 'cause you're hot – but I don't want anything more than a fling from you or anyone else! I was freaking out because I thought you had fallen for me or something, and I didn't know what to do other than milk it for the action!"

Gary stared at her in shock, gaping slightly.

"You – you're unbelievable," he sputtered, "I – I – thought-"

"Yeah, you can shove your whole 'I'm sorry, I didn't mean to break your heart' speech right back up your ass, Oak," Leaf told him bluntly, "I actually think you were more serious about this entire thing than I was."

"I wasn't!" Gary snapped, "I told you, I love Misty and I-"

"Want to marry her and have her babies, yeah, cute," Leaf finished for him.

"That's not what I was going to say!" Gary said, reddening.

"But you were thinking it, weren't you sweetie?" Leaf asked, grinning, "You can't hide anything from me, you know."

"You know me too well," Gary shook his head.

"I do," Leaf agreed, "Though I never took you as the committed relationship type."

"I didn't either," Gary shrugged, "But Misty – she's special…"

"I know, I know," Leaf smiled, "At least she's got spunk. She'll keep you in place well enough."

"Thanks for being so – supportive Leaf," Gary said.

"Why wouldn't I be?" she asked, crossing her arms, "I told you, I'm not in love with you. I'm happy for you, actually! Misty, I can stand. She's fun and pretty smart too. Imagine if you'd hooked up with one of your bimbo cheerleaders-"

"Arceus, no," Gary shook his head, before adding, "Well I'm glad we – sorted this out. I've been wanting to, for awhile, but I didn't want to make things awkward."

"So you don't like me anymore either?" Leaf asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Well, I'll always have a soft stop for you, babe," Gary said, winking, "And yeah, I find you hot. Who doesn't, really?"

"Why thank you," Leaf giggled.

"But its no way close to what I know is going on between Misty and Ash-"

"Yeah, good luck with that, by the way. He's really into her. I'd know."

"I know. And thanks for offering him advice, you annoying girl-"

"Hehe, sorry! I couldn't help it, he was so – desperate – it was kind of cute-"

"Leaf!"

"And I totally had him convinced I was into you-"

"What?"

"Like in more than a friends-with-benefits way-"

"Friends with benefits?"

"Hey, you totally wanted to do the friends with benefits thing, Gary."

"…maybe I did, but Misty-"

"Is more important, is the love of your life, blah blah-"

"Misty means everything to me – and she's with Ash! Oh Mew, Leaf, we have to do something!" Gary panicked, suddenly frantic, "They're off in the ocean right now! Who knows what he's gone and told her!"

"True… hey, you're actually the first boy to ever reject my sexual advances," Leaf said, rapidly changing topic, "Good for you. Nobody can resist me. You must really love her-"

"You're missing the point," Gary said shortly, "I really don't care, Leaf, Ash is out there with Misty right now and I don't what to do-"

"You go get her, idiot!" Leaf cried, giving him a shove, "Go on!"

"But – what if she-"

"You have to trust her."

"You're right," Gary said grimly, "You're right. I'm going to go find her now."

"Good luck with that," Leaf said

"Thanks."

"And in case it doesn't work out, now, or even later…" Leaf trailed off, looking at him meaningfully.

"Of course," Gary murmured huskily, leaning in to brush his lips against her cheek, "You'll be the first on my list."

"Now go," Leaf pushed him off, "Save your kisses for Misty."

"Cool it, girl, that was completely platonic," Gary laughed.

"If you say so. Scat, now," Leaf said, before adding, "Give her the whole emotional number you used on me. Tell her you love her and all that. No way a girl can resist that."

"Thanks, Leaf, see you later," Gary nodded, winking at her, before racing off, over the sand.

::::::

Ash, needless to say, was thrilled at the opportunity for some time with Misty; wherein she would be exclusively his, since he trusted Leaf would take care of Gary in the meanwhile.

Though the very sight of her did funny things to his body, especially when she was dressed like that – he needed to get a grip on himself.

It was time to set things straight, once and for all.

::::::

"Thanks for ditching Gary to hang with just me, Misty," Ash said sincerely, as the duo walked towards the waves, "I didn't actually expect you to."

"What do you mean?" Misty asked, confused, "You're my best friend, aren't you? Why wouldn't I?"

"Still, it's nice to know I get preference over that freak every once and awhile," Ash said, walking a bit closer to her, so that their hands brushed.

Misty didn't move away, though she swatted him lightly on his (muscled) arm.

"Don't call him that," she scolded, "He's my boyfriend."

"Unfortunately," Ash couldn't help but let out, ignoring Misty's glare, "I still think you're too good for him."

"Oh, don't," Misty said, "That's not true, have you seen him?"

"Have you seen yourself?" Ash countered, before flushing, his brown eyes widening as he realized what he'd just blabbed, "I mean – no – I didn't mean it like that-"

"Oh, shush," Misty giggled, before nudging his shoulder with hers, "That was really sweet of you, Ash."

"Whatever," Ash grumbled, quickly changing the subject, "Still, I'm glad you'd rather spend time with me than do – 'stuff' with Gary."

He made a face at this, and Misty narrowed her eyes.

"What do you mean by 'stuff', Ash Ketchum?" she asked, placing her hands on her hips.

"Oh, you know," Ash teased, before snickering, "When you guys go off 'berry-picking' or every time Azumarill needs to go 'swimming'-"

"Shut up," Misty cried, blushing, "And I'm surprised you even caught on to all that-"

"Please, Misty, you two aren't exactly subtle, and I'm not stupid," Ash rolled his eyes, trying to keep the bitter edge out of his voice.

"You're not?" Misty asked innocently.

"I'll get you back for that," Ash mock-glared at her, before adding under his breath, "Scrawny little runt."

"OKAY KETCHUM!" Misty shrieked, nearly pouncing on him, "YOU'RE SCREWED!"

Ash ducked, laughing, his tone still teasing as he sprinted over the sand, Misty hot in pursuit.

"I don't think Gary would like that much, do you, Mist?" he called over his shoulder, blushing.

"Oh – you!" Misty squealed, reddening further, and she continued the chase.

The two soon ended up in the water, wrestling playfully for a few moments, before Misty dunked Ash down under. He managed to break free pretty easily though, and swam away, still laughing.

"You come back here, Ash Ketchum!" Misty cried, pushing her wet bangs out of her face, "I'm not done with you! You're on my turf, so it's not like you can escape!"

"So come and get me, Mist!" Ash called back, grinning roguishly.

She did, making it to him in a few neat strokes, though before she could do anything, Ash had snuck up behind her.

"Gotcha!" Ash yelled, wrapping his arms around Misty's bare, wet waist, from the back, and pulling her towards him.

"Let go!" Misty cried, giggling, as she struggled, but to no avail, as he held her securely in his arms.

"No, I don't think I will," Ash teased, his breath tickling her cheek, "First you have to say something."

"What?" Misty asked, rolling her eyes.

"Say that you'll never bug me about your stupid bike, and admit you only followed me around because you liked me."

"What?" Misty screeched, flushing, "I – no – I didn't like you-"

"As a friend, Misty, calm down," Ash said, "Geez, why're you getting so defensive?"

"Let go of me," Misty said.

"Say it first," Ash replied playfully, "C'mon, Mist…"

"Never!" Misty cried.

"Fine," Ash pouted, "Than at least admit that I'm a better Pokémon trainer than you-"

"Do you want to die?"

"Alright, alright," Ash said sulkily, before brightening.

He leaned in closer, his nose brushing against her cheek. Misty could feel his heart thumping against her back.

"Say that you like me more than you like Gary," he said softly.

"Wh-what?"

"Say it."

"Ash – but – I –"

"Say it," Ash urged, his voice wavering slightly from its teasing tone, "Misty, please."

"You and Gary are different," Misty began, "You're my best friend and you know how much you mean to me-"

"I want to hear it from you," Ash pressed, "Just say it. Once."

He turned her around in his grip, so his arms were now wrapped around her back, and her nose was practically brushing against his.

"Ash," Misty said softly, her blue-green eyes staring into his chocolate brown ones, "Why are you doing this?"

"I don't know," Ash admitted, just as softly, "Maybe I just really want to hear it from you."

The two suddenly realized the intimacy of their position – they were both soaking wet, standing in waist-deep water. Their toes were brushing on the sandy floor, and Ash arms were wrapped tightly around Misty's waist. Misty's own hands had looped around Ash's neck, and their faces were just inches away.

"I – um – sorry," Ash said, stepping away slightly.

He lowered his arms, and Misty did as well, and they stood, still close, staring at one another.

"You're acting – different," Misty said after a few moments, "What's wrong?"

Ash sighed, placing his hands on Misty's shoulders, and looked deep into her eyes.

Misty felt her stomach flutter madly at the intensity of his stare, and her skin heat up where he was touching her.

"Misty – you know what it is," he said slowly, "You and Gary. I've tried to be supportive – but," he paused and shook his head, "I'm sorry. I just can't stand it."

"Why not?" Misty asked, "Why does it bother you so much?"

"You deserve better," Ash said immediately.

"Better?" Misty raised an eyebrow.

"Yes – better," Ash said, his voice strained, "You're better than Gary, and you're better than Leaf. And I don't only mean in looks, Misty. You're just a lot – better."

"You really think that?" Misty asked.

"Course I do," Ash said sincerely, his hands sliding down her arms, "Always have."

"You're – really confusing me right now," Misty said after a moment, as Ash leaned in, his nose brushing against hers.

"I am?" Ash asked, "One up to me then."

"Idiot!" Misty giggled, before meeting his gaze again.

He was close – so close. And his hands were now holding hers, and he was looking at her so tenderly, saying things that Misty hadn't even dared to dream of.

"Ash," Misty said, biting her lip nervously, "I think we should go back-"

She tried moving away, but he grabbed her shoulders again, pulling her to him.

"Ash, please don't," Misty begged, "Not now-"

"You already know," Ash said, his voice thick, "I may as well say it-"

"Don't-"

"It's – the same thing I've been trying to say for ages – for weeks, months – maybe even years…"

"Not now, Ash – it's too late-"

"Don't say that Misty!" Ash said harshly, "Don't say it's too late. It can't be too late! I know I've screwed up before, but Misty, please – I didn't have a chance. I'm really slow at these things and by the time I realized Gary came and stole you-"

"You had years!" Misty cried, tears welling in her eyes, "You can't do this to me now!"

"I'm sorry," Ash murmured, his voice cracking, "I'm so incredibly sorry, Misty. I'm sorry I didn't realize it until I saw you with Gary, because that killed me Mist-"

"Ash-"

"But I've felt it for longer, much longer than him. Brock knew… it's been since you left – no, before, at Orange islands – no I think it was the second or third day I met you," Ash was rambling, his brown eyes locked with Misty's, a turmoil of emotions in their chocolate depths.

"I wanted to tell you, Misty," Ash said breathlessly, eyes sparkling, "I wanted to ask you – so bad – but I never had the guts-"

"You can't have," Misty choked out, her face white, "All these years I thought – now = you can't have!"

"Leave him," Ash said suddenly, grabbing her face, cradling it in his hands, "Leave Gary, Misty-"

"Wh-why?" she asked, a tear rolling down her cheek, "Why should I do that for you, Ash? After all – these –"

"Leave him, so you can be with me instead," Ash said earnestly, "I really, really like you Misty. I have, for ages. I'm a moron for not admitting it before-"

"So what do you want from me?" Misty shrieked, "What the hell do I say now, Ash? What do I do?"

"First, you stop crying," Ash said, bringing her face close to his, his breath warm on her lips, "Then – you say – you like me too – I'm dense, but even I can tell-"

"Oh, Ash," Misty bit her lip, "Ash, I can't do that. I can't just – leave Gary for you, now that you've suddenly realized that you might like me-"

"Yes you can," Ash pleaded, "I've known you for years longer, I've liked you for years longer… please, Misty, don't tell me you've fallen that deep for him-"

His brown eyes were wide now, and he seemed almost fearful.

"I like you Ash," Misty admitted brokenly, tears streaming down her face, "So much. Everyone knows. But it's too late. I have Gary now, and it's a thing of the past. I'm trying to get over you and even if I loved you before-"

"You loved me?" Ash stared at her, thundershocked, his voice an awed whisper, "Misty?"

"Oh, Mew," Misty buried her face in her hands, "No, no, I didn't mean that-"

"Misty," Ash murmured, his voice tender, and then his hands were on hers, easing them off her face.

He gazed at her, his eyes blazing.

"Ash, I don't-" Misty began, but he cut her off, yanking her to him and pressing his mouth against hers.

It was a rough kiss, and he practically attacked her mouth with his lips, kissing her eagerly, passionately. It was an amazing kiss – a toe-curling, stomach-flutter-inducing kiss full of sparks and fireworks – but it didn't last nearly as long as Ash would have wanted it to.

Because seconds later, he was being yanked back, and a fist came flying, hitting him square on the face.

"What the-" Ash whipped his head up, a hand coming up to stench the blood trickling from his nose, another clutching at his rapidly swelling eye.

"Ash!" Misty cried, wide-eyed, before turning to face a hard-faced Gary Oak.

"G-Gary," she stuttered, "I – I didn't mean to-"

"Save it Misty," he cut her off, cracking his knuckles, "I saw it."

He looked livid, more furious than Misty had ever seen him. His jaw was clenched and his face set, his eyes blazing with fury.

"Ketchum," he spat, and Ash glowered at him, clutching his black-eye.

"What the fuck was that for?" Ash snapped, clearly seething as well, "I'll get you back for that, Gary!"

"I'm not even done with you," Gary snarled menacingly, "What the fuck do you think you were doing, kissing my girlfriend like that?"

Ash wiped the blood of his face, smirking.

"I don't see her complaining-"

"You fucking-" Gary swore, lunging at Ash, though this time Ash was ready, and the two fell into the water with a splash, grappling and punching.

"Stop it!" Misty shrieked, "Both of you – stop!"

They didn't listen though, continuing the fight, expletives coming from both their mouths.

"I told you to stay the fuck away from her!" Gary was yelling, "She's mine! She chose me!"

"She made a mistake!" Ash snarled, "She's always preferred me, she just didn't know I liked her back-"

"Cut it out!" Misty hollered, but to no avail.

"You're so fucking full of yourself! Just because you've known her longer doesn't mean anything-"

"It does! I've liked her for years more than you have-"

"Ugh," Misty grabbed her head in frustration, and then reached for a Pokéball, hurling it up.

"Starmie! Water Pulse, separate them!"

Her Pokémon emerged in a flash of red light, and emitted a strong jet of water, that blasted the fighting boys apart.

They both got to their feet, spluttering and wetter than before.

"If you liked her so much," Gary said, panting, "Why the fuck - did you leave in the first place? Pokémon training - was more important to you-"

"That's not true!" Ash yelled, "What would you know-"

"Ash," Gary said, his voice thick, "I know that if I loved a girl that much, I would never leave her – for anything in the world. Can you say that about yourself?"

Misty gasped at this, Gary's words resonating in her head. She stared at him, gaping.

"You – you really-"

"Yes, Misty," he said, his eyes now boring into hers, "I'm in love with you. I'd do anything for you. I came here meaning to tell you, but," he broke up, jerking his head at Ash.

"What about Leaf?" Ash bit out, "You in love with her too? At least I only have eyes for Misty."

"I just spoke to Leaf, actually," Gary said, looking straight at Misty again, "We sorted things out. There's nothing going on between us. I told her I love you, and she was fine with it. She's a flirt, and I admit I flirted with her too, but it was never anything serious. Definitely nothing compared to what you and Ash seem to have going on."

Misty gulped, fidgeting with her hands.

"Gary, I'm so sorry," she began, but he shook his head.

"It's okay, Misty," he said softly, "You don't have to explain it. I made my share of mistakes to, so I can't blame you for what you did. It hurt me, and I wish it didn't happen, but it's done now. I know you have feelings for him too-"

"Hell yeah, she does," Ash growled.

"I wish you didn't but I know things like that don't just disappear. I just ask of one thing from you now Misty."

"Wh-what?" Misty asked, biting her lip.

"He confessed, you kissed, it's all out now," Gary said, looking tense, "So decide, Misty. Is it me, or is it Ash? I love you, and I want to be with you so much – but I won't force you to be with me. So make your choice, Misty. Do you want to be with him, or do you want to be with me?"

Misty inhaled sharply.

"Of course she wants to be with me," Ash said, scowling, "Don't you, Mist?"

His face grew white when Misty didn't respond immediately.

"Misty?" he repeated, his voice wavering, his eyes searching hers desperately, "I really like you, Misty. It takes a lot for me to admit it. I'm not like him. He knows how to act with girls-"

"What the fuck are you implying?" Gary exploded, "You think this was easy for me?"

"Yeah, obviously, Ash shot back, "You've been with girls before. You probably give them these speeches about love and stuff all the time! I actually meant it-"

"I meant it too!" Gary roared, "And for the record – I have NEVER told a girl I loved her before. Heck, I've never been in love with a girl before!"

"Misty, don't listen to him," Ash practically begged, looking beseechingly at Misty, "Leave him. Please. Choose me. We'll have so much fun together-"

"I love you, Misty," Gary said, gazing into her eyes, "But I can't take this anymore. You have to choose, one way or another, and I really hope that this – what we've had, what we've shared – isn't about to end because of someone else."

Misty was shaking now, eyes shimmering with tears.

"Guys – I – I don't deserve either of you, I-"

"Come on Misty," Ash urged, stepping forward, taking her hand.

Misty flinched slightly, and Gary clenched his fists again, struggling to keep calm.

"Misty," he murmured, his voice shaking.

There was silence for a few moments, until Misty finally spoke.

"Ash," she said softly, her voice cracking.

Gary felt his heart break at that word – that one name – and for one of the first times, felt his eyes dampen.

The one time – the one time he'd actually fallen in love with someone… Ash Ketchum had to come in the way.

"Ash," Misty repeated, her voice slightly louder this time, "I – I'm sorry."

And then Gary felt his heart leap like it had been Seismic Tossed, as he looked up, an expression of disbelieved joy crossing his handsome face.

"Wh-what?" Ash croaked, "You're sorry?"

"I'm sorry," Misty repeated, a tear now making its way down her cheek, "It's too late Ash. I can't do this with you anymore. It's too late-"

"Misty," Ash's face crumpled, and he teared up as well, "No-"

"You had years," Misty shook her head, now sobbing, "And I'm so - incredibly sorry. But – you've broken my heart before – and it's just too late now-"

"Don't do this to me, Misty," Ash pleaded, "I'm sorry, I was stupid! Stupid and immature and selfish! But I've changed! I'll make up for it!"

"Don't," Misty whispered, "I'm sorry Ash, and I hate myself so much right now for doing this to you. But I – I choose Gary."

Ash grew rigid at this, his face frighteningly hard. He let go of her hand.

"Fine," he said, his voice stiff, and without another word, he turned around and began walking away.

"Ash – Ash wait!" Misty cried, "Where are you going?"

"I'm leaving," Ash said, his voice tight, though he was trembling, "I'm collecting my Pokémon from the center, and I'm leaving."

"Where will you go?" Misty asked, "We only just met up, Ash-"

"There's nothing for me here anymore, Misty," Ash said, locking eyes with her, "It would hurt me too much if I stayed. I need to focus now, on training, catching new Pokémon, battling."

"Oh, Ash-"

"I started Unova alone, Misty. I can end it like that. I'll see you later."

"Ash, don't just leave! What about – us! We've been friends for years, you can't just run away from me again!"

"When – when you're finally done with Gary, give me a call," Ash said, "I – I think then – maybe – we can end things how we should have – years ago."

His shoulders were shaking, and he tilted his hat downwards, hiding his eyes.

"Goodbye Misty," he said.

Tears were streaming down his cheeks. He turned around then, and ran.

"N-no," Misty sobbed, moving to go after him, "Oh, Ash, I'm so sorry!"

Gary ran forward, gathering her in his arms, pressing a kiss to her damp head.

"It's okay baby, it'll be okay," he murmured into her hair, as she stared, still crying, after Ash's retreating figure.

::::::

When they reached the Pokémon Center, they found Leaf waiting for them.

"Please explain to me what the hell just happened!" she exclaimed, jumping up.

"Where's Ash?" Gary asked quickly, "Leaf, did you see him?"

"Ash just stormed in here, grabbed his Pokéballs from Nurse Joy, took his bag, and left. He ignored me completely when I asked him what was wrong, and his eyes were red. He seemed furious!" Leaf said breathlessly, "What happened?"

"He – really left?" Misty asked in a small voice.

"Looks like," Gary said grimly, "Misty, I'm so sorry-"

"Oh no!" Leaf shook her head, "I think I know what just happened…"

::::::

Leaf left the group the next morning.

"I don't want to be a third wheel," she explained.

Gary seemed especially reluctant to let her go.

"Are you sure you'll be okay by yourself?" he asked.

It was obvious he wanted her to stay – but couldn't bring himself to ask.

"Course I will, sweetie," she waved him off, before adding cheerfully, "I called Silver, actually. I may just join the old group… they're all in Hoenn, and I know Kris is getting fed up with those two idiot boys. She needs another girl around…"

"Alright," Gary said slowly, "Keep in touch though…"

"You know my number by heart," Leaf winked at him, "Call me, if you two ever end things… though I hope, for both your sakes that doesn't happen!"

"Um – thanks," Misty said, rolling her eyes.

She was rather getting used to Leaf's perpetual flirtatiousness.

"And you," Leaf nodded at her, "Take care of this one. Make sure he doesn't mess around too much. And for Mew's sake, see if you can get him to ditch the whole research gig and get back into battling."

"Yeah," Misty nodded, smiling slightly, "See you, Leaf."

"Bye bye," Leaf blew a kiss at the two, "I had fun!"

She left then, on a much brighter note than Ash had departed.

"Well, I guess it's just the two of us now," Gary said softly, once she'd gone.

"Yeah," Misty murmured, "I feel so terrible though…"

"Don't worry about Leaf, she's always been the independent kind," Gary said, "She would have ditched us sooner or later anyways."

"No – I mean," Misty hesitated, "About-"

"Ash," Gary raised an eyebrow, "Of course."

"I'm sorry, but he's been my best friend for years," Misty said, "I can't believe that all those years of friendship – ended like this."

"Do you regret your decision?" Gary asked carefully, "That you chose me, and had to end it with him?"

"No," Misty said immediately, flushing slightly, "Not at all."

"That's good," Gary said huskily, slipping his arms around her waste, "Because I have been waiting to have you alone – completely alone – for the longest time."

"Really?" Misty giggled, placing her hands on his chest, "That's good."

"What do you say, we leave this region," Gary whispered, kissing her on the cheek softly, "And go – back to Kanto – or something…"

"I thought you had to research here," Misty said, surprised.

"I do," Gary kissed her again, this time on the nose, "But I'm kind of homesick. Unova's great, but – it's not the same as Kanto and Johto – the Pokémon here are cool… but I just think there's so much more we can do – back in those regions…"

"I honestly agree with you," Misty said, "I stayed here because – well you – and Ash. But honestly, I'd rather go back as well…"

"Plus, if we stay here, we'll probably bump into Ash way too often," Gary added, kissing her other cheek.

"Yeah… that would be – awkward," Misty said sadly, "So, it's settled?"

"It is," Gary said, gazing at her tenderly, "We journey through Johto again – and then go back home… we'll leave tomorrow… just you and me…"

"I can't wait," Misty said, smiling, leaning in and kissing him on the lips.

::::::

2 years later…

"What?" Misty gaped at the screen, "This is – incredible! I can't believe it!"

"Yeah," Gary nodded numbly, his eyes flicking from the screen and back to Misty, "Good for him though, he really deserves it."

All the channels on all the TVs everywhere, were blaring with the same sensational news.

Ash Ketchum had placed first in the Indigo League. He'd just defeated the Elite Four, and the Champion Lance.

He had become the youngest ever Pokémon Champion, the Kanto Champion to be precise.

It was stunning news for Gary and Misty, neither of whom had heard from him in ages. Apparently, he hadn't been keeping in touch with anyone – except for his mother, Professor Oak, and Brock. Misty had spoken to May, and even she hadn't heard from him. She garnered most of her information about his exploits from Brock, who had managed to remain friends with both Misty and Ash. Though he talked with Misty warmly enough, he never said too much about Ash, and never mentioned anything related to what had happened between the two of them. Misty was secretly grateful.

They had found out, a year and a half ago, from Professor Oak and Delia, that he'd come in the Top Four at the Unova League, which was far better than he'd ever placed.

He'd been training vigorously for retaking Kanto ever since.

And now, there he was – his beaming face splashed across magazine coves, newspapers and television channels. He looked the same, except his face seemed older and more mature, and his black hair was a little longer, though as unkempt as ever. He still wore his trusty hat, and Pikachu was perched on his shoulder.

A flashing box on the side of the television screen showed his winning Pokémon party, one by one: Pikachu, Charizard, Squirtle, Bulbasaur, Snorlax, Pidgeot.

Though he'd used his other Pokémon for the Elite Four matches and championships (Sceptile, Infernape and the rest), he'd ended it with the party he'd started with (minus Butterfree).

It was a momentous occasion, and Gary and Misty both stared at the television screen in front of them, in wonderment and awe.

Ash was saying something – his victory speech.

'I'd like to thank my Pokémon of course, who've stood be me…' he was saying, "…family and my friends, who've been there with me from the start. Mom, of course. I love you and…"

"Should we call him?" Gary asked, nudging Misty, "Offering our congratulations?"

"He changed his number," Misty replied gloomily, "I tried after Unova."

"You can ask Brock for it?" Gary suggested.

"No," Misty shook her head, "If he wanted to hear from me – he would have called, or something. It's fine."

She turned her attention back on the screen, where Ash was still speaking.

"And May, Max and Dawn, of course. You guys were awesome," he was saying, "But most of all – my two closest friends – the ones who have been with me through everything, from the start."

Misty breathed in sharply.

"Brock," Ash grinned from the screen, "You gave me my first badge, and were like a mentor to me during my first days. I wouldn't have ever made it anywhere without you – or your map-reading skills or cooking," he laughed slightly.

Misty smiled as well, her eyes watering up.

"No surprises as to what comes next," Gary muttered, watching her carefully.

Ash's face grew serious after this, his eyes taking a faraway look.

"And Misty… my first – friend," he added softly, "You were incredible. You pushed me and inspired me – more than you can imagine. I can honestly say that – if it hadn't been for you, I wouldn't have made it here."

Misty stared at the screen, her eyes watering.

She didn't miss the double meaning in his words.

He'd devoted himself to Pokémon training with a frightening intensity after she'd rejected him. He'd never been that serious about it before, that focused. He'd never placed that highly, or done that well all these years. Some people would call it experience – but Gary, Misty – and even Delia – knew what had really driven Ash. It was pain, and anger – Pokémon training was all he'd had left, and he'd pursued it with an unwavering determination.

And he'd succeeded. Tremendously.

"So thank you," Ash was saying, and his voice cracked slightly, "For everything, Misty. I know I haven't spoken to you in awhile, and I miss having you around. I still owe you a bike-"

Misty gave a half-sob, half-laugh at this, and buried her face in her hands.

"So if you're free," Ash continued, choosing his words carefully, his eyes piercing, from the screen, "If you're free and done with – you know – whatever you were caught up in before – I'm still waiting."

Misty breathed out loudly at this proclamation.

"Are you going to?" Gary asked, scowling at the screen, "Take up his offer?"

"Gary," Misty sighed, "You know I'm not. I'm just – really proud of him."

Onscreen, someone had asked Ash about his future plans, and whether he intended to 'settle down'.

"Future plans," Ash said, furrowing his brows, "I don't – have any. I'm not settling down, that I've been sure of for the past two years - or giving up Pokémon training, ever."

Misty swallowed at this – she was pretty sure the 'settling down' comment had been directed at her.

"Creep," Gary muttered beside her.

"I think I'm going to go to Mount Silver," Ash said, "Train there for awhile, and then maybe retake Johto, when I'm ready. Yeah," he nodded to himself, "That's what I'll do…"

Misty grabbed the remote then, and switched of the television, before turning to Gary.

"You know, if you'd taken up training seriously," she said, "That could have been you…"

"It could have," Gary said wistfully, "But then I wouldn't have gotten to spend that much time with you… I would've lost you in the process… these last two years have been the most amazing years of my life, Misty."

Misty blushed, snuggling into Gary's chest.

"So you don't regret it?" she asked, echoing the same question he'd asked her two years ago.

"No," Gary whispered, tilting his head down and brushing his lips against her.

He pushed her back onto the pillows, lowering his body over hers.

"Never."

::::::

THE END

::::::

Author's Note – There you go, egoshippers. It's done =) Happy ending for Misty and Gary. Thank you guys for sticking with me through this, and I really hope you enjoyed it as much as I did writing it!

If you're interested, stay tuned for the rest of the chapters – though those will be the alternate ending ones with development of Gary/Leaf and Ash/Misty, so I kind of doubt it.

Otherwise, this is the end, so please please leave me a review and let me know what you thought!

Also, if you're interested – I have published a oneshot: The Return of the Cheerleading Squad

It's just a fun egoshippy piece which I wrote awhile ago… it could take place when Gary and Misty were travelling through Johto. So if you want some more egoshipping, you can give it a try ;)

Anyways, thanks again! You guys have been awesome!

Much love,

xx

HighQueen