Author's Note: Written in a fit of nostalgia. I wanted to do an episode-style oneshot with Pokeshipping and Rocketshipping. So here it is. Chronology-wise this would go somewhere near the end of the Johto saga.

The Two Hearts Tournament

We join our heroes once again on the road to Johto. This time our trio of travelers has stopped in the beautiful lakeside retreat of Satchelwood City. There isn't any gym, but that won't keep our heroes from experiencing the heat of battle!

A female voice squealed from in front of a bulletin board, causing Ash, Misty, and Brock to turn toward the sound. "The doubles tournament is today!" a teenage girl gushed excitedly. She turned to the young man next to her. "Trevor, I've been waiting forever for this! You think we could enter?"

"Geez, do you think we're ready for that kind of step?" the teenage boy asked nervously.

The girl took his arm in hers. "I know we are. And with your Pokemon skills, we'll win the whole thing for sure!"

They began to walk off, the boy was still blushing but his ego had received some inflating. "Well, I mean I…"

"What was that all about?" Misty asked as Togepi waved its arms around happily and took in the sights and sounds of its new setting.

"It sounds like there's a tag team Pokemon tournament going on today," Brock answered.

"A Pokemon tournament?" Ash repeated eagerly. He could smell a plot thread a mile away.

The three of them walked over to the bulletin board that the couple had been standing in front of. Misty took one of the many fliers pinned to the cork. It was brightly colored and featured a Nidorino and Nidorina hugging. "The seventh annual Satchelwood City Pokemon Two Hearts Tournament," Misty read. "Strengthen the bonds of trust and love between people and Pokemon as you battle alongside your special someone."

Ash pumped his fist and gave Pikachu a fired-up look. "Alright, Pikachu. Are you ready to show them how we win this?"

"Pika?" Pikachu responded from its shoulder perch. Even it thought that Ash was missing something here.

"Where's registration?" Ash asked, turning animatedly to Misty.

"It's… at the Satchelwood Stadium," Misty said doubtfully. "But I don't think you—"

But she was too late. Ash had already raced off with Pikachu barely hanging onto his jacket.

Misty looked uncertainly from the flier to Ash's retreating back. "Do you think he understood any of that?" she asked.

Brock cupped his fist in his hand. "Hmm," he said. "Well, I'd say he understood the words 'Pokemon' and 'battle' perfectly."

Misty's shoulders slumped. "That's what I was afraid of." She sighed. "Come on. We'd better follow him."

"What do you mean I can't enter?" Ash demanded, banging his fist on the desk.

"It's just like I said," the receptionist responded nervously. "This is the Pokemon Two Hearts Tournament. You can't enter without a partner."

"Come on," Ash said. "You've gotta have a few people who haven't found a partner, or they're partner didn't show up or something. So you can pair me up with them." He flashed a smile. "I don't care who my partner is just as long as they're ready to battle!"

The receptionist surveyed him coldly. "I'm afraid that is entirely out of the question, young man. The point of the Pokemon Two Hearts Tournament is to foster the bonds of love and trust between partners, in order for their relationship grow and to help them realize the strength that they have when they work together. If we adopted such a," her nostrils flared, "ludicrous policy as you're suggesting, then the quality of the battles we've experienced over the past years at this tournament would degrade." She gave him a hard look. "Trainers without love don't belong in this competition."

"What?" Ash exclaimed. "Are you saying I can't win?"

It was at that point that Brock and Misty showed up and each grabbed one of Ash's arms to restrain him.

"We're very sorry about our friend," Brock said. "He can get a little… overexcited."

"We'll just be going now," Misty said apologetically.

"Wait!" Ash resisted as they dragged him off. "I'm not done! They still haven't entered me in the tournament! Hey!"

It took a lot of explaining which was mostly taken up by Brock. Misty chimed in helpfully every once in awhile. But it was a tough road. Ash misunderstood the words 'like', 'love', and 'girlfriend' with almost steadfast devotion. Finally, they made some headway by employing two anatomically correct puppets that Brock had on his person for no adequately explored reason.

"I get it," Ash insisted, swiping away the marionette strings of 'Mommy Puppet' and 'Daddy Puppet'. "I'm not stupid, you know," he sulked. "So… this is a competition for… boyfriends and girlfriends?"

"Yep!" Brock said, packing up his puppets now that they'd done their job. "Boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives, fiancés and… fiancés," he finished lamely. "Together they fight with love and Pokemon. It's both therapeutic for couples who always get along and for those that are having trouble. Fighting alongside someone you love is a great way to build a relationship."

"Oh really," Misty said, narrowing her eyes at him. "And how do you know that?"

Brock nearly fell over. "I," he began. "I just assume," he finished miserably.

"I still don't see what's so great about couples," Ash said, still sounding sulky since he'd been shut out of the tournament. "I'm sure I could beat them all."

"Come on. The prizes aren't that great," Brock said, holding up a flier. "I mean, yes, a year's supply of chocolate hearts would be nice, but we wouldn't even be able to carry them." He paused briefly to wonder how a year's supply of chocolate was calculated. How much was even a day's supply? "And as for the Heart Scales… well, they're nice, but it's not like they're something you really need."

"It's not about the prize!" Ash said, turning around sharply. "It's the principle of the thing!"

Misty let her face droop into her hands. "Ash would want to join a Pokemon competition even if the prize was getting slapped in the face."

"It's just… unfair," Ash said, making a fist. "What, so as soon as you become a couple you automatically become a stronger Pokemon trainer by magic? I don't think so!" He leaned irritably against a tree. "I mean, it should all come down to strategy smarts and battle experience, right? There's no love stat!"

"Aren't you the one always going on about being friends with your Pokemon?" Brock pointed out.

"Pika pi," Pikachu commented, feeling that Ash was getting too worked up about this whole thing.

"Well, of course!" Ash said. "And you should try to be friends with your tag partner too, but you don't have to be in love to make a good team!"

Ash gestured an arm in Misty's direction. "Like me and Misty, for example. We've battled together so often that, if we entered, we could probably work together to win that tournament easily, and we're not a couple. Right, Misty?"

Misty was carefully silent.

"Well, maybe you should put that theory to the test," Brock said. As a defender of romance and its many joys (which are worth its many pains) he was a little bit irritated with Ash's line of reasoning. He knew it was just Ash being Ash, but… but well, he was sure there had to be love stat.

Ash hesitated for a moment, but then rallied once more. "Yeah!" he said. "What do you say, Misty? Let's join together and win the whole thing!"

Misty wasn't sure, in that moment, who she wanted to stab in the face more; probably Brock since he ought to have some sensitivity about these kinds of things. Ash was just as blissfully oblivious as ever. "Ash, this tournament is for couples. We don't belong there," she said, feeling like a tiny sliver of her heart was being grated away as she said that last sentence.

"Aw, come on, Misty," Ash said. "It won't hurt anything if we're there."

"I think they made it clear that they only wanted couples," Misty said fiercely, knowing that she was getting madder than the situation deserved from Ash's perspective.

"They'll engrave your name on a trophy," Ash prodded. "And I bet you'll get to see a lot of neat water Pokemon."

"What do I care if my name is on some trophy?" Misty asked, probably squeezing Togepi a little too tight. "And if I wanna see water Pokemon then I can just go down to the lake!"

"I'll give you my share of the chocolate," Ash offered.

"No," Misty said with what she hoped was a note of finality.

"I'll carry all your stuff for like… a month!" Ash promised, apparently oblivious to the note of finality.

Misty was about ready to tear her hair out at this point. Or maybe not her hair. Definitely someone's hair. "How can we act like a couple if you don't even know how to bribe me?" she demanded.

Ash clasped his gloved hands together and gave her a soulful look. "Please?" he asked, as Pikachu crawled up onto his hat and gave Misty an equally soulful look.

At this point, Misty knew that she was going to give in, which just made her madder. She threw up her hands and let out a deep sigh. "Fine," she said.

"Yes!" Ash cheered as Pikachu made a delighted sound. "You're the best, Misty!"

"Am I?" Misty said numbly, head in her hands once more. "I guess that's why you chose me of all people to pretend to date."

Ash appeared not to hear this. Instead he pointed dramatically in the direction that they'd come from. "Next stop: the Two Hearts Tournament! They won't even know what hit them!"

Brock put the tournament flier over his face to hide some manly tears. "I wish I could enter!"

In their haste to vacate the clearing and register for the tournament, Brock dropped the flier he'd been holding. He wasn't usually the littering kind, but Ash had been in such a rush that it was hard to slow him down. As for Misty, she looked like she was being led on a death march. Strange, Brock had thought she'd appreciate that little bit of help.

The flier buffeted in the breezes, turning end over end until it landed by a large bush. A black gloved hand picked it up and ran its finger over the lines of text.

"Well, this is a switch," the voice of James commented from behind the shrub, "the twerps trying trickery."

Jessie growled and clenched her fists. "Elaborately crafted personas and disguises are our thing!"

"Yeah, but you can't blame 'em," Meowth said, working away at his claws with a nail file. "Those Heart Scales could mean beaucoup bucks to the right collector."

"And I must admit, that a year's supply of chocolate sounds rather tasty on an empty stomach," James added, patting his cloth-clad torso sadly.

"Year's supply of chocolate?" Jessie repeated. Her eyes flashed and her ear closest to James seemed slightly larger than before; the better to hear with. "We're entering!" she declared.

"What?" Meowth said, mouth open.

James held up placatory hands. "But Jessie, we're—"

"We'll just pretend to be engaged or something," Jessie said, as if this was a minor detail that didn't matter. "If the twerps can pull something like that off, then so can we."

"That's true," James admitted. "We've had a lot more practice fooling people."

"Yeah, but is this really our scene?" Meowth asked, scratching his furry chin. "I mean, aint we s'pose to denounce the evils of truth and love?"

Jessie crossed her arms. "We do," she said. "But there are many different kinds of love. We denounce the stupid kind. You know, the naïve fairy-tale kind. The kind the red-headed twerp probably likes. But we're okay with other kinds of love."

"So," Meowth said, trying to come to grips with this. "We're okay with… dark, non-fairy-tale type love?"

"You mean like the type with a lot of black leather and—" James began, but whatever he was going to say next was cut off by Jessie slamming her elbow into his chin.

"Look!" she shouted, towering over them. "The point is that we're going to enter that contest, win the grand prize, and nab all the nabbable Pokemon in the building! Any questions?"

James raised a hand. Meowth raised a paw.

"Good," Jessie said, closing her eyes with a haughty expression. "Then let's go register." She stormed off, arms pumping as the other two reluctantly followed.

"And try to look more like a fiancé, James!" Jessie ordered.

"I'll try," James said glumly. He didn't think that looking like French words was his forte.

Misty sighed. They were entered. There was no turning back now.

Oh, there'd been a bit of a fuss when Ash tried to sign them up. The receptionist had been naturally suspicious and wondered why he hadn't just signed up with Misty before if she was really his girlfriend. Ash had nearly drowned in a sea of 'uh's and 'um's before Misty was forced to come to his rescue by claiming that Ash had just been too shy to admit it before, but that she'd thought it would be good for them to do something public like this. The receptionist had bought it. More than bought it; she thought they were a, quote: "simply adorable couple!"

"That was really good thinkin' on your feet, Misty," Ash said, as they filed into the dugout where the other contestants were gathered.

"No problem," Misty said dully.

It was… not a situation she wanted to be in. Pretending you have something you want is even worse than just not having it, because it reminds you every minute that you don't. In fact, it mocks you into thinking it's foolish to have even dreamed you'd get it in the first place. Act. Act. Act. But it's not true. And you have to act like you don't care that it's not true. If Brock thought he was doing her a favor by suggesting this mess then he was dead wrong.

Ash misinterpreted Misty's expression. "Don't worry," he said comfortingly. "I just know we're gonna do awesome."

"Me too," Misty said weakly.

The lights went up in the stadium and the roar of the crowd filled their ears. "Ladies and gentlemen!" the female announcer fluted. "Welcome to hearts one and all! Today we celebrate lovers, fighting for Pokemon and for each other! Let the trust and devotion they share be a beacon for all to see! Let the Satchelwood City Two Hearts Tournament… begin!"

And with that a crackle and sparkle of fireworks filled that air, and a cloud of red and pink heart-shaped balloons ascended to the heavens.

Brock, who was left in the audience to hold Togepi, wiped his eyes with his arm. "This is just like couples' skate at the Pewter City roller rink," he moaned, feeling left out. He'd tried to woo the receptionist into being his battle partner, but his efforts had been fruitless.

"Whoa," Ash said, craning his neck as the heart-shaped balloons hit the sky. "Two hearts? More like two hundred hearts."

Despite her stress, Misty stared at the beautiful display of lights and balloons as if spellbound. A flock of Pidgey was released (after, of course, they were done with the fireworks. The Johto Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Pokemon wouldn't have had it any other way). The air glimmered with sequins and glitter. "It's so romantic," Misty murmured.

"Now," the announcer said, stepping into the spotlight. "Let us give a great big, Satchelwood City welcome to our first set of contestants! Broderick and Daphne from Cianwood City!"

At this, a man with short blue hair and sunglasses stepped out into the stadium, accompanied by a woman with long magenta hair that had been pulled into pigtails in a style that was much too young for her. A Meowth followed them and tried to remember it was supposed to be a quadruped today. The two trainers blew enthusiastic kisses to the audience.

Misty was distracted by the splendor of the stadium's opening, but something didn't feel right to her. "Hey, Ash," she said. "Do those two look familiar to you?"

Ash gave her a quizzical look. "What are you talking about Misty? We don't know any Broderick and Daphne."

James adjusted his sunglasses as Jessie twirled her hair in a way that she probably thought was endearing. An unspoken thought passed between the two of them: why do we only get applause when people don't know who we really are?

"Aaaand, Martin and Mila from Mahogany Town and Azalea Town!" the announcer said as two much more normal looking people filed in on the opposite side of the stadium to their share of applause.

The announcer gathered up her microphone and walked over to 'Broderick' and 'Daphne'. "Now, Broderick and Daphne," she began. "I understand that you two just recently got engaged."

"Oh yes," Jessie said. "This was, of course, after Broderick saved me from his evil twin Stefanos." She swooned dramatically. "I'll never forget what it felt like in that moment when I picked up the gun that Stefanos had dropped and had to choose which of the two was my dear, sweet, beloved Broderick, and which was the dastardly Stefanos." Could've been an actress, could've been an actress. "And when the final shot rang into the night," she continued, tears in her eyes, "Broderick knelt on one knee and presented me with the finest diamond ring I had ever seen. And I knew then and there that I chose right."

James winced from behind his shades. Gotta get Jessie off the soaps…

"Well," the announcer said, blinking surprised. "That's… quite a story, I suppose!" She leaned in closer. "Could you show us all the ring?" she asked.

Jessie slapped her other hand over her ring finger and recoiled. "It's a…" she began with difficulty. "It's… it's at the ring cleaners," she finally came up with.

"…The… ring cleaners?" the announcer repeated weakly.

"Yes," Jessie said with more confidence. "I have to keep it perfect and shining, you know!"

"Oh," the announcer said. "Well… I guess that makes sense." But she didn't sound sure.

She walked hesitantly over to the other couple. "And… you two?"

"We met at Dairy Princess," Martin spat bluntly. "She ordered a sundae, I accidentally gave her a banana split. We've been dating for four weeks."

Mila nodded, giving the soap opera duo a glare.

"Oh…" the announcer said. "Well… that's nice too!"

She decided that she'd had enough of this interview nonsense, so she took her place on the sidelines and swung her arm forward. "That's Broderick and Daphne vs. Martin and Mila! Let the battle begin!"

"Alright!" Ash said, from their place watching the match. "Now this is what I came to see. No mushy stuff, just honest to goodness battling."

Misty gave him a sidelong glance. It was a kind of sad look that seemed to suggest that she worried that he was unfixable. He didn't notice it.

"Alright, Arbok, I choose you!" Jessie shouted, summoning the giant snake to the battlefield.

"Weezing! Go!" James shouted.

"Hmm," Misty said.

Ash shrugged his shoulders. "Just goes to show that all different kinds of people can like the same Pokemon. It's funny really."

"Funny," Misty repeated doubtfully.

"Magneton, get out there!" Martin called out.

"I choose you, Beedrill!" Mila yelled, her wispy hair flowing in the stadium lights.

"Hmm. Two poison types vs. a steel/electric and a bug/poison type," Brock observed from the crowd. "They're not going to have an easy time with this match."

"What was that?" an attractive female said from next to him.

Brock's eyes exploded into hearts and he nearly dropped Togepi as he reached out for the woman's hands. "Only that you are the most beautiful woman that I have ever seen in my life and that your smile makes my heart soar!"

"You haven't… seen me smile yet," said the woman.

"Ah, but I know it'd soar if I did!" Brock assured her.

"Oh… really," the woman said. She still wasn't smiling, interestingly enough.

"All this time I've walked the earth, lonely, rejected by girl after girl!" Brock bemoaned. "But now I understand that all that was fate! For now we are able to meet and carve out a future together!"

"Rejected by girl after girl?" the woman repeated. She narrowed an eye suspiciously. There were usually good reasons for constant rejection. "What, are you a jerk or something?"

"Oh no!" Brock said, scandalized at the very thought. "I try to treat people and Pokemon with the utmost of care and respect. I'm actually studying to be the top Pokemon breeder. I do my best to be kind and compassionate. And I enjoy talking about feelings – especially my feelings for you, my love!"

"Well then… are you a lazy bum?" the woman asked, trying to locate what kept Brock single.

"No!" Brock answered once again. "I like taking care of people. I like to keep a clean house and, I don't want to brag, but people tell me I'm a great cook!"

The woman was stumped here. A man that was compassionate, liked to talk about feelings, could clean, and could cook sounded like a pretty good catch. But a man that seemingly perfect that couldn't hold onto a girlfriend probably had some kind of major flaw: like being a serial killer or something.

She withdrew her hands swiftly from his and scootched away. Brock hung his head in a cloud of rejection.

While Brock was getting his heart stepped on for like the millionth time in a row, Team Rocket was getting creamed. A Sonic Boom had Arbok writhing on the floor as it tried to shake away the vibrations bouncing around its serpentine brain.

"That Magneton and Beedrill make a great team," Ash commented as a Fury Attack sent Arbok flying.

"And so do their trainers," Misty said definitely.

Ash nodded. Martin and Mila were very much in sync with each other and their Pokemon. They had Magneton and Beedrill switching back and forth between offense and defense without ever seeming to have to communicate which was which to each other. Perhaps they'd spent their four-week dating session since their inevitable meeting at Dairy Princess in training.

"Come on, James!" Jessie hissed. "You could at least act like we're engaged and provide a little support!"

"I'm trying," James said, nervous as always in the face of Jessie's rage, "but it's not like we've got the type advantage here!"

"Maybe you could try the power of love," Meowth offered out of the side of its mouth.

Jessie stepped on his tail and made it look like an accident. While Meowth was clutching his much abused tail, she turned to James with her fist up. "If we don't have the type advantage then we'll just have to make one!"

He stared at her, and then nodded seriously. "Weezing, Smokescreen!"

"My goodness!" the announcer exclaimed into her microphone, trying not to cough. "The field has been filled with smoke! Up until now, the leaders have been Martin and Mila with their powerhouse Magneton, but now what will they do when they can't see?"

"Beedrill! Blow away the smoke!" Mila ordered.

"Beedrill!" Beedrill agreed, flapping its lacy wings as the smoke cleared.

Martin was taken aback as he looked at the newly cleared field. "Where'd that Arbok go?"

"Get them, Arbok!" Jessie commanded.

"CHA-BOK!" Arbok screeched, diving out of the ground and straight into Magneton.

The Magneton crashed to the ground, throwing sparks haphazardly.

"Amazing! Broderick and Daphne used Smokescreen as a distraction so that Arbok could use Dig!"

"Dig's a ground type move which is strong against both electric and steel type," Brock said, but he might as well have just been talking to Togepi (who didn't care now that Brock had bought it a lollypop) because the woman from before had decided she'd rather sit elsewhere.

"Bind it before it can get away!" Jessie ordered as Arbok wrapped its coils around Magneton.

"Magneton, use Thundershock!

"Beedrill, use Twineedle!"

"That won't work!" James declared. "Weezing, Tackle Beedrill!"

"Arbok, you can take that shock!" Jessie called out.

Weezing knocked Beedrill away before it could needle Arbok into letting go. As for Arbok, the shock hurt it, but it had been taking electric attacks from Pikachu for years and was able to handle this Magneton's shocks without letting go.

"Bite it, Arbok!" Jessie called, after the current had run out.

"Another Tackle, Weezing!"

Before Beedrill could recover itself enough to aid its trapped companion, the two Pokemon let loose their assaults on the magnetic creature. Magneton, after already having taken a big hit from the Dig attack, did the only thing it could do: fainted.

"Magneton is unable to battle!" called the referee.

"And Magneton goes down! This is Broderick and Daphne's chance! They've broken through the seemingly unstoppable teamwork of Martin and Mila!"

"Now let's get that Beedrill!" Jessie and James called in unison.

"Uhh… Beedrill, Agility!" Mila called, trying to make an escape to regroup. But it was no use. Without Magneton there to cover for it and with none of Beedrill's attacks being especially strong against either Pokemon, it was soon cornered and brought to heel.

"Beedrill is unable to battle! Broderick and Daphne are the winners!" the referee declared as Beedrill toppled out of the sky.

Jessie blinked. "We won?" She exchanged a look with James. "We really won?"

"FINALLY!" they both said at the same time, and dived into a victory hug.

"Aw! And what a celebration from our newly engaged victors!" the announcer trilled. "You can really see the love here, folks!"

Team Rocket froze mid-embrace. They'd never before considered the possibility that their victory hug could've been taken for a public display of affection.

"Wow, those two must've had a lot of experience battling as a team," Ash observed. "But now it's our turn!"

Oh boy, here we go…

Ash and Misty marched out into the stadium blinking in the spotlight as their names were called along with their opponents: two teenagers named Rich and Amy. Rich and Amy seemed rather… attached to one another. In fact, Misty was very relieved when they broke apart to answer the announcer's questions and she could see that they were just wearing matching outfits and not the same outfit.

When the announcer came over to ask Ash and Misty about their relationship Misty could see trouble brewing. Once again, the tide of 'um's and 'uh's rose up to drown Ash, forcing Misty to take the lead.

"We," she began, as the announcer took the hint and shoved the microphone in her direction. She swallowed. "We started traveling together and… at first neither of us could stand one another, but slowly we became friends; best friends. And after awhile I started to…" She felt wretched in the spotlight. "But I knew there was no way that he could feel the same way." Don't you… Misty wasn't inclined toward swearing, but if she had been, she would've done so here, and a big one too …Don't you dare cry here. "But I guess he did," she said brittly. "And here we are."

"Wow! What a sweet story from our youngest contestants!" the announcer enthused. "But now, on to the battle!"

"I don't know how you come up with stuff like that on the spot," Ash whispered, impressed.

"It's a gift," Misty deadpanned.

The match was over in a heartbeat. Rich and Amy might have had the power of love, or at least lust, on their side, but it's very hard to call out attacks articulately when you're trying to eat someone else's face.

"Ha!" Ash cheered once they were back in the stands. "I knew we'd win no problem! No chance to win without love, eh? Well, we showed 'em!"

Misty thought that Ash was a little too pleased with himself and his victory over the power of love. She almost wanted to scream: 'Maybe we're winning because of the power of my love!' but she held herself back. She might have been somewhat gratified to know that Ash had considered watching the PDA couple an education… though for a grade that was way too advanced for him.

The battles raged on. It was strange to see how many different types of couples were competing. And there were so many memorable introductions: the grey-haired man and woman celebrating their fifty-third wedding anniversary, the once-high-school-sweethearts with triplets on the way, the soldier who'd come back home to find his girlfriend still waiting for him… it was all so sweet. But for every sweet moment, it seemed like there was a sour one: the boyfriend and girlfriend who broke up by the end of their battle because the girl thought that the guy was checking out the announcer, the separated couple trying and failing for reconciliation (that battle ended with a shout of "You've already got the kids! Do you want my flesh and blood?"), and the seemingly nice couple that had devolved into childish bickering the minute they started losing. For each set of hearts that shined, there was another that rusted.

And as the rounds passed, their numbers thinned. The semi-finals were drawing to a close and Ash and Misty's battle against a pair of newlyweds named Xavier and Florence would decide whether they got a chance at the final battle, or if they'd lose then and there.

"Gastly, it's your turn!" Xavier shouted, lobbing his pokeball.

"Dratini, I choose you!" Florence called, following suit.

Misty nodded to Ash. This would be a tough battle, but they could do it if they stuck together.

"Starmie, come on out!" Misty said.

"Phanpy, you're up!" Ash shouted.

Misty nearly fell over, but as she was subsisting on a thin soup of stress, disappointment, barely held back tears of frustration, and rage, she remained upright.

"Phanpy?" she yelled in disbelief. "We're up against a Gastly! I thought you'd use Noctowl!"

"I never said I'd use Noctowl," Ash said, blinking in surprise at the sudden Misty-rage.

"We need Noctowl's Foresight! You should know that!"

"Don't worry about it," Ash said dismissively. "I just know Phanpy's ready to battle!"

"Phan phan phanpy!" Phanpy agreed.

"Anyway, don't worry," Ash said loftily. "I've got a strategy."

Misty's shoulders rose and fell as she took deep breaths. Finally she said in a voice that was much calmer and resigned than the haranguing that Ash had expected: "It's not enough for you to have a strategy though. We need to have a strategy."

"Huh?" Ash said, turning from Phanpy to look at her.

"Forget it," Misty said, shaking her head. "Let's just go."

"Right!" Ash said, looking pumped to fight. "Phanpy, let's start this off with a Rollout!"

"Phanpy phan!" Phanpy cried joyously, rolling into a wheel and revving toward Dratini.

"Dratini, Water gun!" Florence called.

"What?" Ash exclaimed, taken aback.

"Dratini may be a dragon type," Brock said from the audience, "but it can also be taught water type moves. Phanpy's in trouble."

"Toge! Toge!" Togepi squeaked.

Brock hung his head. "Is the meaning of my existence really to provide battle exposition… even when no one's around to listen to it?"

"Togepurrrriii!" Togepi said encouragingly.

"You weren't supposed to say yes!" Brock scolded.

"Starmie, don't let that hit Phanpy!" Misty called desperately.

Starmie whizzed through the air between Phanpy and the stream of water, taking the brunt of the blow.

"…Ugh… Phanpy, stop!" Ash shouted. But Phanpy couldn't stop. Phanpy tumbled into Starmie with full force as the water hit from the opposite direction.

"Ah! Starmie!" Misty cried out.

Starmie wobbled in the air weakly after the duel hit. Its gem blinked light on and off as it tried to shake off the blow. Phanpy, having broken out of its Rollout wheel-shape, touched it with its trunk apologetically.

"Gastly! Get it while it's stunned with Lick!" Xavier ordered.

"Oh no you don't!" Ash said through gritted teeth. "Phanpy, Tackle Gastly!"

"No, Ash! That won't—" Misty began, but before she could finish, Phanpy's Tackle attack had sent it diving straight through Gastly and face first onto the ground. When it got up, its trunk looked bruised.

"Then use Night Shade on Phanpy!" Xavier commanded.

"Phanpy, Endure!" Ash called in a panic.

A bright light shot up as Phanpy braced itself to take the hit. The bright light and the dark and deadly Night Shade met in a violent collision. When the special effects faded, Phanpy was still standing strong.

"Yes!" Ash cheered, despite the fact that Starmie still hadn't recovered.

"Ash," Misty said. She said it quietly, but there was such force behind it that it might as well have been a shout. "The whole point of this tournament is learning to love and trust your partner. It's about more than battle tactics. This 'mushy stuff' as you called it, really means caring about someone else more than you do about yourself. It means acting together as one. Being a couple may not make you a better trainer, but it at least teaches you the difference between fighting with someone and fighting next to someone." She clenched her fists to her side, still looking down. "If you can't learn that; if you can't fight with me," she turned to look him full in the face, "then you don't belong here."

Ash stepped back as if he'd been punched; he stared at her and for a minute she thought he was going to respond angrily. Then finally he shut his mouth, smiled, and nodded.

"Let's win this together," he said.

It was her turn to smile and nod. "Right!" she said.

"Gastly's strong," Ash observed as the two looked at the chaotic battlefield. "And most of Phanpy's moves won't work on it."

"That Dratini's no slouch either," Misty added. "It knows water type moves, and if it uses Dragon Rage or Twister then we're done for. Starmie can't take too much more."

"But that's okay," Ash said, "because we can use our enemies' strength against them."

"I think… I know what you mean," Misty said.

They exchanged a nod and then Misty shouted: "Starmie, fly over and Tackle Dratini!"

"You must be joking!" Xavier taunted. "Starmie can't take one more hit." He turned to his new wife. "Flo, you got this, right?"

"Right!" Florence said, nodding fiercely. "Dratini! Meet its Tackle with a Wrap!"

But at the last second before impact, Misty raised a hand and shouted: "Starmie! Up!"

Starmie whizzed up and away from the poised Dratini, as Phanpy stampede from behind it with a devastating Take Down.

"Niiii!" Dratini cried as it was thrown to the ground.

"Ah!" Xavier exclaimed. "Gastly, get that Phanpy!"

"Starmie, Confuse Ray on Gastly!" Misty ordered.

A red light shone out of Starmie's gem and hit Gastly before it could complete its move against Phanpy. It hung in the air, wavering drunkenly.

"Tch! Gastly, shake it off and use Night Shade!" Xavier ordered.

Gastly did use Night Shade; unfortunately it used it on Dratini.

"What the hell was that?" Florence demanded, as her already injured Dratini took a giant hit. "Get your Gastly under control!"

"It's not Gastly's fault," Xavier shot back defensively. "It's just confused. If we didn't always have to come to your Dratini's rescue this wouldn't have happened. So it's your fault really."

"Why don't you just come out and say what you're really thinking?" Florence yelled, near tears now. "You don't like the curtains I picked out for the den! Just ADMIT IT!"

"Uh…" Ash said, not quite sure how to respond to this marital dispute being played out in front of him. The Pokemon were supposed to battle, not the people. In the end, it seemed best just to end it.

"Phanpy, finish that Dratini off with Double-Edge!" Ash called.

"And Starmie, use Water Gun on Gastly. Give it all you've got!" Misty shouted.

A torrent of water hit the confused Gastly dead on at the same moment that Phanpy slammed into the wounded Dratini. Their owners were too distracted to construct any proper defense against this onslaught, so the two Pokemon went down.

"Gastly and Dratini are unable to battle. Ash and Misty are the winners!" The referee declared.

"Well there you have it, folks! A double knock-out from Ash and Misty! They'll be going on to face Broderick and Daphne in the finals, and that's action that you don't want to miss!" the announcer raved.

"We made it to the finals," Jessie said proudly.

"And where's the surprise?" James asked. "We've been fighting together forever."

"That's right!" Jessie agreed. "We've been fighting as a team since back when they called it cheating."

James closed his eyes and cupped his chin in his hands. "Well, all's fair in love and war."

"And this is a little of both," Jessie said with a smile.

"Yeah, but now you're up against the twerps," Meowth whispered with a nod to the other side of the stadium.

Jessie's face fell. "No surprise there either," she grumbled.

"Perhaps we'll have to… improvise?" James suggested.

Jessie grinned.

From the other side of the stadium, Ash was ready to get this battle underway. "Alright! Misty, are we ready to pull out all the stops?"

Misty nodded, encouraged by their mutual victory. "You bet."

Ash looked down and nodded to Pikachu. "Pikachu, I choose you!" he said, as the electric mouse scampered onto the field.

"Corsola, it's your turn!" Misty called, summoning the coral Pokemon into the battle field.

"Wobbuffet, don't mess this up!" Jessie snarled, throwing a pokeball.

"Victreebel, go!" James said, wincing slightly in an automatic reaction.

A primitive scream filled the air as James somehow wound up in Victreebel's pitcher mouth. "It's got to be the delicious shampoo I use," James whined from in the plant's mouth.

"Hey, wait a minute!" Ash called from the other side of the field. "An Arbok and Weezing could be a coincidence but… a Wobbuffet and a Victreebel… a Victreebel that attacks its own trainer?"

Team Rocket froze.

"Yeah! And Meowth's standing on its hind legs!" Misty pointed out.

"No I aint!" Meowth shouted. Then he looked down. Well, what do you know? He was! Being bipedal was a harder habit to break than he'd thought.

Jessie, knowing that the game was up, let out a little cackle. "Prepare for trouble and use your smarts."

"And make it double 'cause we're stealing hearts," James added on cue.

"To protect the world from romantic drivel," Jessie said, stepping forward.

"Try to stop us and we'll be uncivil," James rhymed, wishing that they'd had time to rehearse this. Jessie just did whatever she wanted and trusted that he'd find a rhyme off the top of his head. It had been tough that one time that she'd said 'itchy'.

"To denounce the evils of truth and love."

"To extend our reach to the stars above."

And suddenly and inexplicably a background of stars and a giant R appeared behind them. "Jessie,", "James," they went on, striking ridiculous poses.

"Team Rocket, blast off at the speed of light! Surrender now or prepare to fight!"

"Meowth! Dat's right!" Meowth finished, breathing heavily as he moved the star background out of the way.


"Team Rocket!" Ash and Misty said together, somewhat unnecessarily because it was pretty obvious at this point.

"Umm… what's going on?" the announcer asked, totally at sea.

"What are you doing here?" Misty asked angrily.

"You two aren't in love! You're evil!" Ash shouted, as if the two were mutually exclusive concepts.

"Well, I'll tell you what we are in love with: that pretty pair of Heart scales," James responded.

"So hand 'em over!" Meowth said, claws out.

"And don't forget the chocolate!" Jessie yelled. How could those two have forgotten the most important part?

"And while you're at it, why don't you fork over dat Pikachu and Corsola?" Meowth added, sneering as only a cat can sneer.

"That's not gonna happen!" Ash responded defiantly. "Pikachu! Thunderbolt!"

"Piiiikaaa-chuuuuuu!" Pikachu cried, sending out a bolt from the blue.

But Jessie was ready. "Wobbuffet, Counter!"

Wobbuffet pulled its version of a salute and sent double the electric power, screaming back at Pikachu.

"Kaaa!" Pikachu shrieked as the lightning sent it to the ground, fur flying.

"Pikachu! No!" Ash called as Pikachu fell to the ground. He had to think fast… That's it!

"Misty, get Corsola to use Bubblebeam right above Team Rocket," Ash requested.

Misty hesitated. "But Ash, that won't do any—"

"Just trust me!"

Misty nodded. "Corsola! Send your Bubblebeam straight over Team Rocket's heads!" she ordered.

"Corsola!" Corsola squealed, blowing a barrage of bubbles into the air.

"Are they trying to rain on our parade?" Jessie asked with a hand on her hip, as the water above them sprayed harmlessly onto their heads.

"Well, Victreebel did need to be watered," James jibed.

"Now Pikachu, use Thunderbolt one the Bubblebeam!" Ash ordered.

"What?" Team Rocket said, breaking out of their nonchalant poses in unison.

"Ka! Piiiikaaaaa-chuuuuu!" Pikachu screeched, sending its electricity into the beam of water.

"Uh— Wobbuffet, Counter it!" Jessie ordered in a panic.

"Wobba!" Wobbuffet protested, unable to bounce back every electricity infused droplet of water that made up the spray that was cascading down toward them.

The rain of electrified water hit them in a crackling burst, leaving steam to rise from their fallen, soot-covered bodies.

"Why… does this always happen?" Jessie croaked.

"That's why you shouldn't bring electronics into the shower," James moaned.

"Now, Pikachu, send them flying!" Ash ordered.

"CHUUUUUUUU!" Pikachu bellowed, sending an unstoppable wall of electricity their way; and Team Rocket, true to form, launched into the sky, leaving behind only a cry of: "Looks like Team Rocket's blasting off again! (Wobba!)" and a twinkle of starlight.

"That's what you get for underestimating the power of love!" Misty called out, making a face that the flying Rockets couldn't see anyway.

"Uh…" from Ash.

Misty took a step backwards. "The power of love that this tournament represents, I mean," she said with an anxious smile.

"Right," Ash said, looking around as the dust cleared from the stadium.

"So uh… did we win?"

A rain of confetti—heart-shaped and rather pointy, not something you want to get stuck under your fingernails—said that they won. The announcer and the staff that ran the tournament came out and shook their hands. The large trophy, now prominently displayed with their names added, sat in the middle of the stadium.

"I'd like to congratulate first time champions of the Two Hearts Tournament: Ash from Pallet Town and Misty from Cerulean City!" The announcer said to the crowd's uproarious applause. "And now, I will present the Heart Scales after…" She paused and looked concerned. She walked over and started whispering something to the tournament staff.

"Is… there a problem?" Ash asked.

"Well, it's only that we usually have our champions seal their victory with a kiss before we give out the Heart Scales," the announcer said worriedly off mic. "But well… we've never had champions so young and…" She turned to the staff for guidance: "Is that right to ask of ten-year-olds?"

As discussion mumbled around between the staff, Misty felt this was a 'just do it' sort of moment. So she purposefully didn't think about it, leaned over, and planted a kiss on Ash's cheek.

"Huh?" he said, stunned still.

"That'll do for a compromise, right?" she said with a smile toward the announcer.

The announcer grinned. "I should think so!"

Determined not to blush, Misty assumed a haughty expression and said: "And if you expect me to ever kiss you again, Ash Ketchum, then you'd better stop talking me into these crazy things."

Ash put a hand to his cheek and declined to point out that he'd only gotten that kiss because he'd talked her into one of these crazy things.

"Then may I present you both with your Heart Scales!" the announcer said, passing a shimmering scale to each.

"They're so pretty," Misty cooed appreciatively as the rainbow light glinted off of hers.

Ash pumped a fist and called out: "We won!" showing off his Heart Scale for the nonexistent camera.

A scream filled the air and then a loud THUD. Out of the crater formed by the impact crawled, not an alien race, but two disgruntled Team Rocket members.

"It's not the falling…" Jessie began miserably.

"…it's the hitting the ground," James finished.

They both brought themselves into sitting positions as Jessie cracked her back. Where was a good chiropractor when you needed one?

"Where are Meowth, Victreebel, and Wobbuffet?" James asked, looking around.

"Who knows?" Jessie said irritably. "They'll find their way back to us eventually." She glared in the approximate direction of Satchelwood City. "We never should have joined that stupid competition," she said through gritted teeth.

James hung his head. "I suppose it was destined to end in failure," he said. "Trying to battle on behalf of truth and love and all."

"I don't see why the twerps should benefit from the power of love more than us!" Jessie said, raising her fist to the sky. "They lied to get in too, and we're practically—" She stopped abruptly.

Yes… pretending to be engaged had come rather too easily to them now that they thought of it. And neither could forget what the announcer had said. But… well, things weren't what they appeared, now were they? Fear hugs and victory hugs didn't mean anything, really! So what if they were a little… overly tactile with each other. Or a lot overly tactile, if you wanted to be honest. So what if they'd been traveling together as if they meant to do it forever? So what if they'd routinely changed in front of one another? So what if they rhymed each other and finished each other's sentences without always meaning to? So what if they occasionally – just occasionally – used parts of each other's anatomy as pillows?

…None of that was weird, right?

They both looked at each other. Was there… was there something they'd been missing this whole time? This had been going on for so long… but there had always been Pokemon to kidnap and schemes to hatch that they'd never stopped and… considered it.

Maybe they… should. They both had this overwhelming feeling that they'd have to eventually. Why not now?

"Dere you guys are!" Meowth said, clawing his way through the bushes with Wobbuffet and Victreebel behind him. "I been looking for youse two everywhere!" He got a good look at them. "…What's with the goo-goo eyes?"

Jessie stood up immediately and coughed loudly. "I don't know what you're talking about," she said.

"We were just waiting for you to show up, that's all!" James said defensively.

Meowth gave his humans a doubtful look. "You sure?"

"Of course we're sure!" Jessie snapped. "Now, come on! We've got to start thinking of a new plan to get that Pikachu!"

Meowth's shoulders slumped. "But our last plan just failed! Don't we get a post-plan lull?"

"No," Jessie answered firmly.

As they got up to walk away, Jessie and James exchanged a look. They'd never admit it, but it said:

We'll sweep this under the rug for now.

I don't know how long 'for now' is, but I do know one thing.

It's not forever.

They couldn't carry even half of the chocolate hearts, so they had to leave most of them behind. Brock did manage to shove a whole bunch into his backpack though, so Ash and Misty were looking forward to the desserts he'd concoct (though they were slightly worried by his innocent question: "Do you think it's possible to make stew out of chocolate?"). But they'd brought their Heart Scales. Ash and Misty both held theirs out to the light, enjoying the rainbows that sparkled off the mother-of-pearl sheen.

"Well, Ash," Misty inquired teasingly, "do you have a little more respect for couple teams and the power of love now?"

"I sure do," Ash said. "I gotta admit, those were some tough teams we fought today. The trainers were totally in sync with each other…" he trailed off. "But…"

"But what?" Misty asked, blinking concernedly.

Ash shoved his Heart Scale in his pocket and looked uncomfortable. "It's just that… well, all those couples said that they loved each other, but so many of them just ended up fighting when things didn't go their way." He shook his head. "It almost makes you wonder if there's even such a thing."

"As love?" Misty asked.

"Yeah," Ash said.

Misty frowned. This was unusually heavy ground for Ash to be treading on, and he wasn't really equipped to deal with it.

She stretched and put her hands behind her head as she walked along. "I guess I can only tell you what I believe, Ash," she said. "And I believe that there is real love out there; it's just… not always what you'd think, or even where you'd expect to find it. And I also think," she struggled to put words to it, "…that just because people fight with each other doesn't mean that they're not really in love. I think that even in the strongest of love it's impossible to avoid fighting sometimes. And do you know, I think that's why people fight?" she said, looking up at Ash. "If they didn't love each other so much then they wouldn't care enough to fight. They fight so hard because they're in love."

"I guess it's kinda complicated," Ash said, feeling like this whole thing was over his head.

"Yes," Misty said with a nod. "But I think… it's gotta be worth it."

Ash pulled the Heart Scale out of his pocket once more and looked at it. The events of the day were perched in his brain, daring him to make something of them. He just wasn't sure what to make. He clasped the scale between his fingers and felt its smooth sheen.

"Maybe you're right," was all he said.