Chapter One: My Cold, Frozen Heart…
"What? I've got to come back Striaton?"
"Yes, Cilan! Don't you realize it's that time of year already?"
Ash sat on the couch in the Pokémon Center listening in on Cilan's conversation with his red-haired brother, Chili. His Pokémon had been taken in by Nurse Joy to be healed. Iris had gone out to get some supplies for their journey.
"…The Neko Nyan Café Special…" Cilan muttered.
"Yes! You know how packed it gets when we bring out the cat ears!" Chili announced. "I know you just left, but it's really important that you're here for this! You're in Nacrene City, right?"
"Yes. We were about to take off for Castelia City, but…"
"Good! Nacrene's not that far from here! Just backtrack and you'll be here in no time!"
"See ya when you get here!"
Click! Chili hung up.
"Damn…" Cilan placed the phone back on the receiver.
"Cilan?" Ash spoke up.
Cilan spun around. "My brother has…requested my presence at the Gym."
"Forced?" Ash input his own verb.
"…Sure. How could I forget about the Neko Nyan Café Special."
Ash made a face. "How could you forget with a name like that?"
"I was actually the one who came up with the name…" Cilan lowered his head in embarrassment.
"So what exactly is the…that thing?" Ash couldn't even make an attempt at saying Neko Nyan Café Special without wanting to burst out laughing.
"At our café, we hold special events every month, mostly for fun, but Chili likes to dub them our Fangirl Days. Well…April is our Neko Nyan Café Special, where we, well…wear cat ears, basically. It's one of our busiest days, along with February's Valentine's Chocolate Giveway Special, July's Swimsuit Special and September's Crossdressing Special," Cilan explained.
Ash felt his nose sting and cringed. "C-crossdressing?"
"Yes. The girls love it. I cannot fathom why, though…"
I can…Ash plugged his nose in an effort to hold back blood.
"Is something wrong?" Cilan questioned, noticing Ash now tilting his head back.
"I'm fine…" Ash released his nostrils and nodded. "So…we have to head for Striaton City?"
"You and Iris don't have to," Cilan waved his hand. "I can just catch up later. I shouldn't be too-"
"No!" Ash yelled. "I-I'm going with you!"
Cilan paused. "That's fine by me. What about Iris?"
"What about me?" Iris stood in the doorway, having conveniently entered the room when her name was mentioned. Axew poked its head out of Iris' hair.
"Um, well…" Cilan began to explain the situation to her.
"Return to Striaton? Sure, I don't mind," Iris said. "Oh, does that mean we can actually dine there this time? Ash was so eager to get his Gym Badge last time we never got to order food…"
"Sure thing, Iris!" Cilan put his hands on his head and gestured his fingers on order to make imaginary cat ears. "I'll serve you with my lovely green cat ears!"
Ash blushed. C-Cilan with…cat ears?
Before Ash could fantasize about it, Nurse Joy appeared with a tray holding Pikachu and the rest of Ash's Pokémon in Poké Balls.
"Here, Ash, your Pokémon are completely rested," she smiled.
"Nurse Joy…" Ash glanced at Pikachu.
"Chu?" Pikachu tilted his head.
Ash shook his head. "Thank you, Nurse Joy."
Ash had begun traveling with Cilan and Iris mere weeks ago and things had already been different than all of his other journeys through the various regions of the Pokémon world: he had developed feelings for one of his traveling companions.
Ash never felt this way about anyone before and he wasn't exactly sure what it was about Cilan that made Ash attracted to him, but he knew these feelings were real.
These feelings were also a little distracting as well. He was beginning to fall apart in his Pokémon battles and had already gotten him and his friends lost twice, considering they hadn't even hit Pinwheel Forest yet. Iris had asked if he was keeping his composure, but Ash just lowered his hat and shook his head.
Ash had thought about telling Cilan how he felt, but he didn't know how to go about it. What would happen after Ash confessed to him? Would Cilan accept his feelings? What would Iris and Pikachu think? If Cilan agreed to it, would they hold hands? And what about…
He couldn't stand the thought of it. Ash only saw stuff like that on television and had never really thought about it before Cilan walked into his life; it had always been about being a Pokémon master and just that. Where did love suddenly fit in?
Ash was debating over what to do next. He felt he would have to tell Cilan eventually or else he would let it get to him and his Pokémon training.
But…what would Cilan think?
"Huh? You want to help out at the café, Ash?"
Ash, Cilan, and Iris reached Striaton City that next morning. While making their way to the Gym, Ash offered to help Cilan and his identical brothers with the café.
"Sure," Ash said. "I've worked my share at a café before and it was fun. I mean," he lowered his head and his voice, "other than the fact that I was…"
Crossdressing. He couldn't say crossdressing.
"That's fine, we could always use the help," Cilan smiled. "Chili and Cress will be happy."
"Ash wants to help? Of course he can," Cress responded while cleaning off the table with a washrag. "You've done this before, right?"
"Yes," Ash nodded.
"Okay. Well, you'll need a suit…" Cress turned to Chili, who was setting silverware on a table a few feet away. "Hey, Chili, would you mind getting Ash a suit and cat ears?"
"Sure thing! I'm on it!" Chili set everything he was holding down and rushed into a room behind the cash register.
Cilan glanced at Iris, who was feeding Axew and Pikachu apple slices Cress had given them. "What will you do, Iris?"
"I'll grab a bite to eat, then probably look around the city with Axew until you guys are done," she patted Pikachu on the head. "Pikachu, would you like to come along?"
"Pika-pika!" Pikachu chimed.
"Um, Cress?" Chili called from the back room.
"What is it?"
"Err, well…" Chili paused unsteadily. "We have the cat ears, but we don't have any extra suits."
"We don't?" Cress frowned. "That's odd..."
"But…" Chili said, "we do have…"
"Oh my-!" Cress was startled.
"It suits him!" Chili clapped excitedly.
"Wow, Ash…" Iris made a crooked face like she was about to sneeze, although she was really just trying to hold in laughter.
"A-Ash!" Cilan covered his mouth.
"A-again…?" Ash balled his hands into fists and turned away in embarrassment. He was in a maid costume very similar to the one he wore to help Autumn, Spring, and Summer at their café in Sinnoh. This time, though, he had on black cat ears.
"Ash, you actually look really good. I agree with Chili, it suits you," Cress smiled, trying to cheer him up.
"Yeah! I'm sure the girls will love it!" Chili cheered.
Ash grabbed his skirt uneasily. I didn't really want Cilan to see me like this…
Cilan stared intently at Ash. "Ash, you look kinda…adorable…"
"E-ehh?" Ash's cheeks turned pink. "R-really?"
"Sure!" Chili threw his arm around Ash's neck. "You might snatch up more girls than any of us!"
"O-oh…" Ash nodded. "I'll do my best…"
"Ohh?" Chili formed an O with his mouth.
I don't like the thought of Cilan attracting girls' attention. I mean, I'm sure he's used to it, though…
Ash frowned, but quickly shook his head. No, Ash, don't think that way! Cilan hasn't expressed an interest in girls, so I shouldn't panic. Just focus on the café today and worry about Cilan later.
"Pika?" Pikachu tapped Ash's leg and waved its arms, trying to get his attention.
"Pikachu…"Ash bent down to pick the yellow-mouse Pokémon up. He held Pikachu close, putting his mouth near its ear. He whispered, "I love him, Pikachu. I'm in love with Cilan..."
"Pi!" Pikachu's eyes widened.
"I'm gonna tell him. Really soon."
Pikachu twitched its ear and frowned.
"It's okay, I love you, too, buddy. But what I feel for him is…different."
"I don't know how he'll take it, but…I have to let him know," Ash set Pikachu down and returned to his normal tone. "Go with Iris and Axew and have fun, okay?"
"Pika…" Pikachu nodded, not particularly in agreement, but strode over to Iris anyway.
"It's almost time to open," Cress tapped his wrist, indicating the time. "Are we all ready?"
"I believe so," Cilan said.
"All righty then!" Chili exclaimed, throwing green and blue cat ears at Cilan and Cress respectively and placing red ones on top of his head. "Let's do this!"
"Have you seen him?"
"You mean the boy in the maid outfit?"
"Yeah! He's sooo cute! Ignore the fact that it sounds strange…"
"Oh, here he comes!"
"H-hello. How are you girls today?" Ash greeted the table of girls with a warm smile.
"Kyaaahh! So adorable!" the girls squealed in harmony.
The café had been running smoothly. The restaurant had been packed with girls eager to see the triplets in their colorful cat ears, but were surprised when they saw one extra 'waitress' looming around the café. To the girls, it was a welcoming added bonus.
"Ash! Ash!" Chili whispered while handing him tray of parfaits. "You're a hit!"
"I'm not sure if I should take that as a compliment…" Ash gushed.
"Three more orders of parfaits," Cilan walked up to the window of chefs and said.
"More parfaits?" one of the chefs tilted his head. "We're beginning to run low on vanilla ice cream already."
"And bananas! Oh, and cherries, too!" another chef pointed out.
"Wow, and the day's not even halfway over!" Chili poked at his forehead with his index finger. "Cilan, we should have plenty more ice cream and fruit in the storage freezer, right?"
"Of course," Cilan nodded, "but the tubs are kinda heavy…"
"I'll help, Cilan," Ash raised his hand.
"Okay. The storage freezer is in the back," Cilan pointed. "This way."
Cilan and Ash rushed behind the kitchen to a long, dark hallway. Cilan mentioned that the storage freezer was at the end of the hallway, but Ash was already freezing.
"It's cold!" Ash shivered.
"Yeah, the lock on the freezer door is stuck, so we can't close the door or else we won't be able to get it open. We haven't fixed it yet so we constantly keep the door open with a wooden block. It's only opened a crack, but the cold has been seeping into the hallway…" Cilan explained.
They reached the semi-open door to the storage freezer. Ash could see the ice streaming down the doorframe.
"Here. Ergh!" Cilan grabbed the edge of the door and put all of his strength into pulling it open as far as he could. "Heavy…"
"C-cold…!" Ash instinctively hugged his bare arms for warmth.
"Go in, I'll hold the door," Cilan held his back to the door to keep it open.
"Okay…" Ash stepped over the wooden block, placing his right foot into the freezer...
…But his left foot tripped right over the block!
"Waahh!" Ash pummeled into Cilan, knocking both of them onto the icy floor.
Thunk! The storage freezer door clamped shut. The wooden block lay on its side below Ash's feet.