A/n:  A story in the style of Angelstars, and also influenced by Barb the Java Master, both excellent AAMR writers.  In spite of my having such good models, though, I won't claim to be half as clever and so this may be considered cliché to some people.  If so, don't feel obligated to tell me.  ^_~  My main goal when writing this was to write something cute because I hadn't been able to write for a while, and this story is actually based off something my dad used to do for my mom when they were first married.  This year will be their twenty-sixth wedding anniversary, so it's dedicated to them. 

Hugs And Kisses

            Misty sighed as she straightened her desk and prepared to leave for home.  It would be good to get this day over with.  Most days were busy enough; ever since her sisters had been given the opportunity to perform in a professional water ballet, she had assumed sole responsibility for the gym's maintenance.  And she enjoyed being the primary gym leader as much as she thought she would.  From age twelve she had been able to use the title for bragging rights, but the truth was that her sisters did most of the work then.  Not so anymore.  She had grown as a trainer, enough so that she was a League champion in her own right, and one of the reasons Cerulean City Gym had become so respectable and popular was thanks to her influence. 

            This, though, was both a blessing and a curse.  She had been swamped with everything lately, and there was no one to delegate them to.  Taxes papers needing to be filed.  Plumbing needing to be fixed.  Trainers challenging for badges.  It wasn't that she couldn't handle it; she could, and she had, but it was a balancing act.  She worked fourteen to fifteen hour days sometimes, skipping lunch to catch up on her work and collapsing into bed at night.  She placated frustrated trainers and compromised with obnoxious League officials.  At times it seemed life was just a transition from one stressor to the next.

            Today was no exception.  She'd had two three-on-three battles before lunch.  She'd awarded one badge and had to put up with bitter rants and snide remarks from the trainer who didn't get one.  Even though she knew his immature and baseless opinion didn't matter—a fact she didn't hesitate to inform the boy of, either—it still rankled.  It was the end of the month, so she had tons of paperwork to finish up, and to top it off, she was having issues with the security at the gym.  Someone had broken into the gym twice that month alone and kept spray-painting the walls of the aquarium; and the perpetrator was obviously not a fan.  The walls were covered with the ever so creative, "Keep on sinking, Cerulean," "Hope your business drowns," and—this one threw her for a loop—"Cerulean Gym is shockingly bad."

            At least that gave the police a clue that the vandal was probably an electric pokémon trainer, but Misty was not amused.  Unfortunately for her, Ash was.  It didn't matter that their relationship had changed over the course of almost ten years to the point where they were boyfriend and girlfriend—had been exclusive for three years, in fact.  It didn't matter that, though they still teased each other, their banter was playful, not barbed, and they knew when the other person didn't need cheering but simply an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on.  What mattered was that morning, when Ash had made a crack about being the vandal himself.  This was after Misty had already been awakened by the phone, to be informed by the gym's custodian that the plumbing in the girls' restroom was busted.  And after she had stayed up so late last night working on business reports that when Ash, who was helping her, said he was going home, she insisted he sleep on her sofa instead so he wouldn't risk falling asleep at the wheel.  So after him giving her such devoted assistance last night, after him contributing to her peace of mind by sleeping over, she had only one course of action when he made that joke.  She gave him the benefit of the doubt and contemplated forgiving him...for two seconds.  And then she yelled at him.

            He tried to tell her he was teasing, but she ignored him, finally stomping off to take a shower.  When she got out, he was gone.  Throughout the morning, she stayed annoyed at him.  In the afternoon, she felt slightly sorry for him.  By evening, she was just plain feeling guilty.  But she'd had to stay at the gym late that night and lock up after a function.  It was now almost eleven p.m, too late to call and make amends.  And tomorrow's schedule was just as packed...she sighed, finished what she was doing at the desk, and left the gym, still deep in thought.  She knew she had to make it up somehow; Ash didn't deserve to take the brunt of her emotions.  But this knowledge, instead of comforting her, did nothing but pile on more stress on a psyche that was already on the brink.  If she weren't so tired she would cry.

            The drive home didn't help matters.  Every time she and Ash had a fight, it made her think back to all their previous fights, and silence the car provided her gave her ample opportunity.  Contrary to popular belief, she did not like being mean.  She hated her quick temper—her tendency to say things at one moment, not caring what the other person thought, and then feeling horrible the next moment and wanting to apologize but not knowing how.  But then the problem with apologizing was that she was stressed enough without having to admit she was wrong as well, which would only make her feel worse.  But then again she felt bad enough without apologizing—she frowned.  It sucked to be a paradox.

            She arrived at her apartment complex and walked inside.  Her brain was muddled; half of her was trying to think of how to apologize to Ash, and the other half was trying to ignore it and telling her to go straight to bed.  At this point, either side could win out.  She walked up the stairs to the second floor, and upon reaching her door, jammed the key into the lock, and...what was that?

            She let the door swing open as she reached down to pick up a slim piece of paper that was not completely underneath her door.  It was an index card, with a bit of foil attached to it.  A Hershey Kiss?  And a note...

            Into the living room and across the way,

            You'll find a little something to brighten your day.

            Okay, what was this?  She groaned, both amused and exasperated.  She wanted Ash to forgive her, but she didn't want his sympathy.  Or at least not while she was in the process of apologizing, because it would make her feel guilty.  Which she was...huh.  No wonder Ash was the only boy who had ever been able to cope with her.

            "Ash, is this you?" she called.  "Can you hear me?  I don't have time for this..."

            Of course, he wouldn't answer even if he was there.  She shook her head.  The boy was nuts; she wasn't going to play games with him.  She had things to do, and first and foremost was—to go to bed.  So she was just going to cross the room, put her purse down, and...made sure everything in the living room was straightened.  She liked doing a check of the apartment before she went to bed, and of course she couldn't leave out the living room. So, upon cursory inspection—good, nice and clean.  Except the lamp was on.  She wouldn't have left it on all day, would she?...She walked over to turn it off.  And...another piece of paper, another bit of foil.  This one was a Hershey's Hug.  She gave a wry smile.

            "You can't buy me off with candy, you know!" she called out.  Though it was a nice try, she thought as she munched on the chocolate.  But he had to be around there somewhere, having fun at her expense.  She wouldn't put it past him.  And she had news for him.  She was still stressed, she just wasn't mad at him anymore.  So she was not going to cater to his every whim—though she did wonder what the card said.  Not because she wanted to figure out the riddle or obey it or anything.  She was just curious.

            I'd walk a million miles for you,

            Though I'd have a little trouble in these shoes.

            Oh man.  She shook her head—"Ash, you're as bad at poetry as Professor Oak!  You know that, right?" She tried to hold back a grin and kicked off her shoes.  But she couldn't leave them out in the den...she walked over to her closet and put them away.  On top of a pair of high heels she found a third note.  She popped the chocolate in her mouth as she read,

            In this I'd send you a love note or two,

            Just in case you were feeling blue.

            The cute feelings of happiness dispersed.  "I don't feel like checking my mail!" she shouted.  "Ash, this is crazy.  I'm going to bed."  Two could play at this game.  She tucked the note away behind the other two cards and walked into the kitchen.  She sat down as she drank a glass of milk; if he was there he would grow impatient soon and give away his hiding place.  He hadn't shown up by the time she finished her milk, so she got up and placed some dishes in the dishwasher.  Now the counter was clean, and she wiped it down with a rag...still no Ash.  Surely he was starting to get annoyed that she was ignoring him.  She walked back out into the living room, noticed her keys were lying on an end table, and hung them up.  And that picture needed straightening...and that plant needed watering...and...

            Still no Ash.  Maybe he wasn't there.  In which case, he would never know if she followed his clues either that night or in the morning.  She could just go to bed, finish finding the clues in the morning.  She was tired...Ash was cute, but it would take more than chocolate to calm her...

            She sighed, walked over to the closet again, and put on her slippers.  It was possible that her sisters had written her...

            He knew her mailbox combination.  She had to smile when she saw the index card sitting on top of her bills and catalogs.  She left the mail where it was, ate the Hug, and looked at the message on the card.

            If you have to ask, I'll tell you why,

            My love for you will never run dry.

            "That doesn't make any sense," she said aloud, allowing herself a giggle.  Ash was not cheering her up, she was just laughing at his ineptitude.  That was it.  Well, this clue was kinda ambiguous, though it obviously had to do with water..  She looked around...aha.  The mailboxes were adjourned to the inner courtyard.  The inner courtyard contained a fountain.  It was probably that—though she'd have to punch him if the answer turned out to be a toilet...

            There was an index card at the edge of the fountain.  This one had a Kiss and a Hug attached to it.  She ate them contentedly.

            You can use then to reach heaven, but you needn't fear,

            I don't need to find an angel—I've got one right here.

            She had to smile.  "You are not that romantic, Ash Ketchum," she called out.  "I think I'm being stalked."  She was still smiling as she placed that card behind the others.  The...stairway?  But which one?  He couldn't be talking about the ones she just came down, she would have been on the lookout.  Although that was the main staircase—there were a couple of steps at the entrance and in the courtyard, and a fire escape at each end of the building.  Did he want her to trek all the way around the building?  She glanced around the courtyard quickly, but didn't see anything.  After a moment of hesitation she walked to the end and tried to peer at the fire escape on the side.  Yeah, right, like she could really see anything from this angle.  But he couldn't mean the main stairs...unless...she had missed something...

            She walked back into the building doubtfully, sure she wasn't going to find anything.  The door to the stairwell was over there...she opened it, and...

            He didn't.  He couldn't.  He...how did he do that?

            There were thirteen steps to the second floor landing.  She would know, she was superstitious and every time anything bad happened blamed it on the jinx.  The landing itself could be counted as a fourteenth, she supposed, and Ash evidently had, because each step and the landing contained a chocolate.  Kisses and Hugs alternated to the top, with the last Hug sitting on an index card.

            She grinned as she realized what this meant.  He was here.

            "Ash Ketchum!"  She restrained herself to a low growl; the stairwell echoed and she didn't want to wake the neighbors.  "I'm glad you're having fun at my expense.  I know you're out there somewhere, laughing at how stupid I look following a trail of chocolate!"  No answer, but she wasn't expecting one.  He was going to get it when she finally found him.  She had better things to do than trekking around her apartment building, gathering candy and giggling like a schoolgirl over silly love notes.  He was not this sweet, so he'd better quit acting like he was.  She managed to maintain a modicum of irritation as she climbed the steps, collecting chocolates and placing them in her pocket.  She wasn't going to eat them all at once...well, okay.  She ate the one at the top as she read the card.

            Don't worry, if you ever do,

            This is the only thing that will ever be as pretty as you.

            She furrowed her brow.  Darn, this one was actually good.  Must've been a fluke.  Well...he was leading her back to her apartment...she hesitantly stepped out into the hallway and looked around.  Nothing there.  Good thing, as she would hurt him if it was taped to a mouse hole.  What could he be talking about?—Ash didn't use the word pretty very often.  Maybe...a picture of his mother?  Convinced this was the only thing he could be talking about, she walked into her apartment.  There was a picture of the three of them together on a table in her living room.  She crossed to it...and...

            "Ash Ketchum!"

            She buried her head in her hands, trying restrain her squeal.  But the stupid smile wouldn't leave her face as she kept one hand on her cheek and with the other reached out to take an index card and a rose off...

            The mirror.

            I love you and never want this to end.

            Can't we just start over again?         

            Start over again.

            She ran over to the door and looked out the spyglass.  Okay now, this wasn't funny.  How did he do that?  She threw the door open, and Ash held a dozen roses (minus one) to her.  "Forgive me?" he said, a grin tugging at the corner of his mouth.

            "It's my fault, you stupid idiot!" she blurted out, belying her words as she threw herself into his arms, roses and all, and buried her head in her chest.  The flowers' sweet fragrance soothed her as she said, "I'm sorry...will you forgive me?"

            "It depends," he said mischievously.  "How many hugs and kisses do I get?"

            She giggled into his shirt and pulled him into her apartment for privacy, then pulled his hat off and stroked his hair affectionately.  "As many as you want."

            He put his arm around her waist, she wrapped her arms around his neck, and suddenly getting to bed on time was the last thing on Misty's mind.

The End

(Reviews always appreciated...  ^_~)