A/N: Well, here's a little bit of a contemplative tribute to the Pokémon fandom. Place it wherever you feel it fits in the whole timeline of things, and more importantly, enjoy!
Disclaimer: I don't know the meaning of the word copyright. (Not when it's being said in Japanese, anyway.)
It's a strange feeling, to be a Gym Leader. Or, maybe it isn't. She doesn't actually know any more. It's probably the closest thing to a nine-to-five job she's going to get, even though the hours are more like one-to-twenty-three, and in some ways she's grateful for even a brief taste of what it's like to have a routine and some responsibility.
Still, all her adventures have changed her. It's good, but bad at the same time. Other people slip into the comforting rhythms of everyday life, undulating gracefully from one mediocre day to the next, like the gentle lapping of the sea against sand. Somehow, she can't do that. She ebbs when she's meant to flow, clumsily, her muscles tightened and tense from too many standoffs.
She remembers a time when the water lapped at the sand.
Endless waves of cast iron rolled towards her
She sees Ash's mother, occasionally. Delia is, frankly, a question, and it's one that she doesn't particularly want to answer. Every smile, every friendly cup of tea (with two sugars, because sometimes she feels an aching need to be sweeter), and every good-natured mishap with Mimey seemed to be saying, 'You know my son, don't you?'
And the answer, becoming truer every day, is: "I knew him, once upon a time. I knew him."
His hat bobbing on the waves, a lonely little coracle
He never calls her any more. She makes excuses for him when his mom asks why, and feels ashamed for lying to her.
"Oh, you know how it is," Misty hedges.
"No. How is it?" his mom asks, sipping her tea delicately. Misty's lies, untouched and unstirred, on the table.
Her tongue trips over the excuses, in a way she's sure it wouldn't do if she'd lived a normal life and held a nine-to-five job instead of going on grand adventures with Ash Ketchum. But then, she wouldn't even be in this situation, would she?
"I bet he's too busy on his travels. I remember all the time we spent riding around on Lapras..."
Ash's mom nods in a very momlike way, and she gets the feeling that Ash is in for an earful the next time he makes the mistake of calling home. She feels a guilty lick of satisfaction creeping down her spine.
Legends fought overhead, as they denied fate in the cold ocean
Hastily, she makes to go. Her pokemon will need feeding, training, playing. She's taken a day off from the Gym, but she can't take a day off from her friends. But Delia stops her with a glance, thrown across the rim of her teacup.
"Between you and I, Misty," she says calmly, "Why do you really think he doesn't call?"
She's flustered by the question. Her ebb and her flow get mixed up again, and it just falls out.
"Because he's like a little kid with new toys. He forgets what he's got," she says. Her voice falls petulantly, and she wonders who the real child is.
"Hey, Misty," he says, voice cracking over the phone. She almost drops it in surprise. She manages to catch it in her fingertips, because it'd be a waste to end his first call back to her in ages with a splash.
"Oh, hey, Ash. How are you?" she says. She almost wishes she was having this call on an old-fashioned, wall mounted phone instead of her mobile. Her fingers keep looking for a cord to twist themselves around.
"Just got back to the Johto region. I'm on a quest to catch a Dratini," he says, old excitement bubbling under in his voice. "I've always wanted one, so I can evolve it into a Dragonite. Y'know the Pokedex says they can fly around the world really fast? I could be back in Pallet town in a click of the fingers, no questions asked!"
"Hah...Why do I get the feeling you've missed your train home?" she sighs.
"Hey, it totally wasn't my fault this time. I was watching the Magnet Train, and it got me thinking: Magneton. How do they work? So I went out and tried to catch one, and, well, I got fried, basically. By the time I got back, it was gone."
"Reminds me of old times," she smiles. And again, her fingers want to twist the cord that isn't there. "Say, Ash, I don't mean to be rude, but...uh...why are you calling, after all this time?"
"...Wow, Myst. I was expecting some yelling about that by now. I called you because mom said you were steamed that I hadn't," he said sheepishly. She could almost imagine him rubbing the back of his head in consternation, tipping his hat over his eyes by accident.
And that presented her with a problem. Now that she thought about it, she was steamed. The little jerk had the nerve to call her, out of the blue, after so much radio silence between them? And he wasn't even doing it because he wanted to, only because Delia Ketchum could whup her boy's butt six ways straight, and five of those ways hadn't been invented yet!
She wanted to yell. She wanted to scream. She wanted him here, next to her, so she could grind his face into the ground, toss him in the swimming pool and introduce him to Gyarados' Ice Fang. But if she yelled and screamed and threatened mass violence, she'd be doing exactly what he expected her to do.
"Why, no, Ash. I'm not angry at all," she replies, gritting her teeth and trying her best for a level voice. "I think your mom was just worried you were forgetting us, is all."
Seven, eight, nine beats of silence. She starts to think he'd believed her and hung up, satisfied that whatever duties he had to his mother had been fulfilled and he could get on with his agenda. But, no. That was more something she'd expect from the old Gary Oak, not Ash Ketchum.
"...man," he moans, in a small, defeated voice. "I knew you'd be mad, but not that mad."
"What? I told you, Ash. I'm. Not. Mad," she says. She jabs her finger at where his chest would have been if he was there, without even realising it.
"Look, Myst, I'll make it up to ya, I swear, I mean, I'll even- wait, the Magnet Train!" he says, voice rising to a crescendo. She sighs. Somewhere in Goldenrod City, there is a payphone swinging forlornly by its cord, thrown carelessly against the cradle, as the footsteps of a foolish boy echo in the distance.
And her fingers twist the phone cord that isn't there but should be, just like Ash's call twisted the feelings that are there, but shouldn't be.
She throws a meaningful glance at Delia as she passes in the Pokémart, pushing a trolley full of snacks. Delia still keeps the cupboard stocked with Ash's old favourites, just in case he decides to arrive without warning. She keeps his room the way he left it, too, mess and all. It's almost as if he died, long ago, and they haven't quite accepted it yet.
"Oh, Misty. Did Ash call you? I told him he should," Delia says innocently.
"Yes. Yes, he did," she replies, and her teeth grit themselves. It's a bad habit, one born of too many nights outdoors in the cold, sleeping in a tent next to a couple of guys she wanted to brain.
"Sounds like you argued. Some things never change, hm?" Delia smiles cheerily.
The water snatched at him, tried to wrest him from her
"No, I guess not," she smiled grimly. Yes, some things never change, like the fact she could never talk to him without hating him a little, and the way that always seemed to drive them apart.
"Well, boys will be boys. I don't know what to do with him, sometimes- makes me wish I'd had a daughter instead. Oh, there's a thing. Would you like to join me for dinner tonight?" Delia says, just a little too woodenly. That little bit of stiffness sets off all her alarms: why did she care about Ash's phone calls so much, and why buy so much food for just one person (even if she is used to shopping for a boy with a Snorlax?) Why is Delia even in Cerulean City Pokémart, anyway? What's wrong with the one in Viridian City?
All the questions pile in, and her blood begins to race; she despises being lied to. It reminds her too much of Team Rocket, the constant attacks and deceits. It reminds her too much of herself, lying desperately to herself that she could handle the Gym, back when she clearly couldn't. It reminds her of lies she told herself that she wouldn't even listen to, because she didn't even want to think about it. Lies about him.
He sank, and she with him, under the waves of steel grey
"I'd love to, Mrs. Ketchum," she says, ironically aware that she is lying too. But she needs to know. She can't let a trap lie untripped. It's against her nature.
"Well, let's get going then," Delia says, relief colouring her voice more than she knows. The bait has been taken; what it leads to, they'll soon see.
They walk, in silence, from the shop. She searches for something to say, but somehow her tongue dries up like a desert outside the hurly burly of an adventuresome life. It's like being a superhero; being able to stand up to any crisis, but completely useless when there's no danger about. But as Ash would say, that's just one of the things it means to be a Pokémon Trainer.
Viridian Forest, and Mount Moon; they whir by, minor obstacles in their walk. There was a time when it would have taken her days to get through them, but now, with Delia Ketchum at her side, they're just old haunts, and her feet step as surely as any tour guide's. She's grown up since those days, long ago.
Betrayed by her own element, she bore him to shore in her arms
By the time they reach Pallet Town, the sun is setting, but her stomach barely rumbles. She eats late every day, just before she goes to sleep; it was always that way on the trail. It means her chances of going on a dinner date (with any number of hopefuls) are drastically reduced, because, well, no one eats at weird times like she does. She isn't sorry about it; they're probably only interested in Misty Waterflower, the name, not the person.
As they round the corner and enter the road to the house Ash once lived in, Delia's grin grows, and so do her suspicions. Ash trying to catch the Magnet Train, Delia's sudden invitation, the huge amounts of food...It would all make sense if Ash were to be sitting there, at his kitchen table, in his old hat and his old clothes. Everything in life would make sense.
Delia's face falls as they enter an empty house. And life does not make sense, any more than Mudkip fly and Cloyster breathe fire.
Delia sighs, and dumps the produce on the table unceremoniously. She can sense the fatigue from her, from Ash's mother. How can he tire her so, without even being there? Delia trudges upstairs, no doubt to check his room. She takes the opportunity to paw through the shopping, and in there, she finds all the old standards: the things Ash would talk about for hours on the Pokémon Centre's phone, all the things he loved- the things they all loved, once he'd talked them into trying. But nothing store bought could ever match Brock's cooking.
And he lay, unmoving, right in front of her but yet not there at all
She's an idiot for doing it. She stands there, looking at the groceries she knew so well from her adventures, and she starts to slip further into the past. It's not healthy to live there, in the realms of by-gone memories, but she was far better at living there than she is at living in the present.
Mimey calls and claps. A Pikachu- the Pikachu- answers. And Ash Ketchum walks into the door, making excuses about how he missed the Magnet Train again.
She was prepared for him when she walked in. Prepared to see him, to argue with him, to walk away from him. But not now she's standing there, reminiscing over the groceries.
"Hey, Myst," he says nervously, in unison with Pikachu's enthusiastic greeting. She doesn't answer, but just turns around, slowly, a can of Slowbro Soda still in her hand.
So many different signals run through her head. She wants to hug him, to tease him, to talk with him for hours under the rising moon with the orange campfire crackling in the background and Pikachu sleeping peacefully a few feet away. She wants to beat him senseless, utterly destroy him, and watch him rise from the ashes with new strength and that same old ceaseless determination.
What she really wants to do is cry, but she has no idea why.
"Hey, Ash. Long time no see. You finally caught the Magnet Train, then?"she says dreamily, and settles for that.
"Fifth try," he replies with a half-laugh, and Pikachu, perched on his shoulder as always, gives a little Pika-sigh: ever the funny man in the dynamic duo's comedy routine, with Ash as straight as a board. She takes an unconscious sip of her Slowbro soda; is almost surprised when she tastes it.
"Your mom's upstairs," she recites, like a pre-recorded message on a cassette player. However, a wind stirs inside her heart; this halcyon cannot last. She puts down her soda can. She doesn't know why.
He takes a step towards her. She shakes her head and he ignores it. She mutters something without knowing what it is; it might have been his name.
"Listen, Myst, about the phone call-" he begins.
"No. I don't want to hear it," she finishes for him.
"I said no, Ash."
And that's all it takes to break her, for her storm to crash into harbour and throw all the pretty little dinghies of everyday life into the air. Before she knows it she's thrown herself at him, beating furiously at his chest with her fists. She feels every blow reverberate through him; she's not pulling her punches. She can feel him tensing in pain, but she's not done yet, she'll pay him back for everything he didn't do-
She forced the life back into him, fought for it with tooth and nail
Eventually, she falls still; the storm inside her breaks against him. His arm nervously curves around her, as if it belongs there, as if he expects her to cry. For just a second, she enjoys it; but her pride breaks the surface, and she pushes him away far too quickly than she wants to.
"Gotta say, I missed that," Ash whistles. Pikachu, who had the sense to jump onto the table and avoid Misty's fists, cocks an ear knowingly.
"Shut up, Ash Ketchum. If you think I'm done with you, you're sorely mistaken," she growls.
"Come on, Misty. I know I screwed up, but I'm here now. Can't we just enjoy it for a while, and then carry on with the beating tomorrow? I'm starved," he jokes.
Despite everything, she smiles. "You're such a little twerp, Ash."
"See? I knew you were angry," he says, wagging his finger. "When you get quiet, it's always a really bad sign. I like it when you're loud."
Pikachu murmurs his agreement. Trainer and partner in accord, as always. Ash's relationship with Pikachu (or is it the other way round?) is one she can't help but envy.
"Maybe so," she says quietly, and clenches her fist. As she predicted, he flinches back.
"H-hey Myst...I said sorry! Besides, I thought-"
Pikachu grumbles from the table.
"-well, we thought you might still be a little mad, so...We gotcha a present!"
There's an awkward five or six seconds where he digs in his rucksack. At first, he seems flustered, but his face soon settles into the expression of determined concentration he wears whenever something is important. Pikachu looks at her, gives her another Pika-sigh and winks, before jumping into the backpack itself. He surfaces immediately with a...something in his teeth.
"Um, Ash? What is it?" she asks.
"...Aw, no! It broke!" he groans, taking it from Pikachu and starting to fiddle with it. "I worked real hard on it, too..."
"Don't do that, Ash. You'll break it even more, knowing you. Give it here," she commands, holding out her hand. Abashed, he drops it into her palm. It's shiny, plastic, a collection of blues and reds and greens and blacks, with one part sheared off. A feeling of nostalgia bites.
"...It's a lure!" she says, not bothering to conceal the wonder in her voice. In his old outfit, no less. The broken piece is Chibi Ash's head, looking forlornly at the rest of the body, it seems. She examines it more carefully, not realising how widely she's smiling.
"Well, I always have your lure to remind me of you. I just thought I'd return the favour," he grins, rubbing the back of his head. "I guess it got a little roughed up when I fought those Magneton. I mean, you should have been there, Myst, it was amazing!"
She doesn't say anything. Just smiles. Pikachu cocks his ear quizically, before grinning. Pikachu knows what's going on. He always did.
Delia's footsteps come down the stairs, and they both turn to look at her. Suddenly there's life and noise in Ash's mother, and she starts to collect the groceries together, tossing the occasional product at Ash and, most importantly, barraging her son with an infinite number of questions.
In between saying he's been eating well and that he changes his underwear every day, he throws Misty an exhausted grin. She returns it. Suddenly, life makes sense again.
Her sisters once told her a woman's heart is as deep as the sea. She'd nodded her head, so young, too young to understand it. But these days, they said that humans knew more about the surface of the moon than the bottom of the ocean. There could be anything down there in those shadowy depths, a hundred or even a thousand new Pokémon waiting to be discovered.
She wanted to see those depths, to experience the new world which she knew existed but which she just couldn't seem to find. But every time she dove down into the abyss, she felt herself choke under the threat of the familiar unknown. Sooner rather than later, she needed air, and was forced to retreat back up to the surface.
But there was Ash. Ash, the endless explorer, a boy who had walked the world and was still walking. One day, she was sure, he'd dive into the ocean and go straight to the bottom, unafraid of the dark. And maybe, just maybe, he'd find her there.
She wonders if a man's heart was as deep as the sea, too. She can only hope.
He'd changed a lot from the clumsy, awkward trainer she'd first met. He's intelligent and brave like Pikachu, brotherly and caring like Bulbasaur. Like Charizard, he's loyal and would rise to any challenge, and like Squirtle, is a born leader. All the things he'd learned from them had shaped him, matured him. And every new Pokémon seemed to teach him more. It was true, in a sense, that Ash was (she grins inwardly at the pun) 'evolving'. Yes, she thought; one day, he'd explore the depths of the ocean. He just hasn't gotten around to it yet.
She opens her eyes to find Pikachu looking down at her with deep, black eyes and a smirk on its face. She smiles back, and realises how nice Ash's bed is. Yawning, she takes a look out of the window and sees him on the lawn in his sleeping bag, relegated there after losing the obligatory rock-paper-scissors to decide who slept indoors. Pikachu looks at her expectantly.
"Oh, I see. Good idea, Pikachu. I still have to pay him back for being so late, don't I?" she grins.
"Well, I'll just arrange a little wake-up call...Politoed, you're up!"
Some part of her knows that this is not the way a normal person with a nine-to-five job and responsibilities would behave. As Politoed fires a Water Gun out of the window and Ash starts to shout, she decides she doesn't care.
They decide to spend the rest of the day at Oak's lab, seeing Ash's old Pokémon. Pikachu, glad to see her after all the time apart, deigns to ride on her shoulder. Ash jokes that he's jealous, and Pikachu slips a little (unused to balancing on her narrower shoulders), but it's still an oddly pleasurably feeling to have the Pokémon balanced next to her, warm against her face.
Oak's reserve is, as always, like a paradise, with all the different creatures within; they can barely walk without tripping over an Oddish or startling a Pidgey. Noctowl peers at them from the lush trees, and alights on Ash's shoulder for a spell, chatting with Pikachu. They come across Bulbasaur soon enough, standing exhausted in the middle of a herd of sleeping Tauros. Ash grins at her sheepishly, and Bulbasaur greets her enthusiastically. It still smells slightly of Sleep Powder, and she starts to feel drowsy in the warm sun. She sits down, just to rest her eyes for a second, and blackness closes in on her.
She awakes back in Ash's house, Delia watching over her carefully. Ash takes a break from stuffing his face (a Geodude rock cake halfway to his lips) and tells her she picked a bad time to take a snooze. After she nodded off like 'an old woman', he jokes, checking she doesn't have her mallet handy as he does so, the all the Tauros woke up and decided to get back to stampeding. He'd snatched her up, told Pikachu, Bulbasaur and Noctowl to get started on the Thunder Waves, Stun Spores and Hyponsis, and ran all the way back to Oak's lab with her. She watches him carefully as he relates the story, and- yes, there it is, the slight twitch of his mouth that shows he's resisting making a joke about how heavy she is.
"A, anyway, Myst," he says, serious now, "While you were getting your beauty sleep, I got a call from Gary Oak. He's out in the field researching, he says, but he thinks he might just know where I can find some Dratini, if I do a few little things for him. But, I, uh, kinda need to be leaving. In about an hour or so. I mean, I can delay it if you want, y'know, no big deal, but-"
Pikachu looks at her sympathetically, but she smiles.
"Go, Ash," she says. "You'd better get moving if you're ever going to catch that Dratini."
"...Thanks, Myst," he says, relief evident on his face. "I'll just-"
"Oh, but if you catch one and evolve it, I expect to see you at least once a week, Ash Ketchum," she carries on sternly. "And if you go months and months without calling me again, you'll need more than a Dragonite to save you."
He laughs nervously, and starts throwing his stuff together. Delia hands him a stack of fresh underwear- polka dots, too.
"Mom, how can you embarrass me like that in front of Misty?" he wails. Some things never change.
A week goes by. She returns to Cerulean Gym after he leaves, confidently finding the pathways they'd forged as mere children. The Pokémon were glad to have her back, but she's not so keen to get back to cleaning duty.
She sighs, and tosses the cloth back into the bucket. Soapy water splooshes out when the rag hits it, but at least the floor's clean. And slippery, she notes, remembering how the last three or four challengers found themselves falling into the pool.
She returns to the central pool, and gets ready to do something she's been looking forwards to all week: test out Ash's special lure. She's finally done fixing it up, and now all that remains is to see how it works. She affixes it to the rod and makes her cast. She wonders if any of the Pokémon swimming down there will recognise it as Ash, the trainer most of them spent so long travelling with.
Something bites, and she's thrown headfirst into the pool.
Before she's had time to even start drowning, she's already above the surface again, atop Gyarados. The line of her fishing rod leads directly to its maw.
"I should've guessed. Ash would be the type to only catch big fish," she shrugs.
The phone rings from where she left it in the foyer. As soon as Gyarados sets her down she runs for it, very nearly slipping as she does.
"Ash! Wow, I didn't think I'd be getting a call this soon," she says, a smile breaking out over her face. "Guess what? I've been testing out your lure."
"Really? I knew you could fix it. How's it work?"
"I don't know. I think all the Pokémon are being scared away by your ugly mug," she smirks. "Although, Gyarados seems to like it."
"...I can't decide whether that's bad or not."
"Yeah. So, how's your quest for a Dratini going? And how's Gary?"
"Still the same old Gary Oak. He's had me out catching all sorts...I swear, I'm exhausted. And he could probably catch them himself, too. But he says we'll be heading to the spot the Dratini were sighted tomorrow, and he says that, although he's not sure, there's even been a Dragonair spotted!"
"Oh, really? Well, in that case..."
"Huh? What's up?"
"I don't wanna hear from you until you've caught one, Ash Ketchum!" she yells. She can practically hear his eardrums burst on the other side of the line.
"But Myst-" he begins to say, but, in a move she'll probably regret, she tosses the phone overarm into the swimming pool. A few seconds pass by, and then the ominous sound of chewing breaks the water.
"Don't tell me..." she begins, but it's useless. Gyarados looks up at her from the pool, delighted with its little snack.
She shrugs, and wonders whether to take her fishing rod out to the river for some real testing. It's Ash Ketchum, after all, and he'll catch those Dratini in no time flat. He'll be back to see her soon enough, with Pikachu at his side and a full grown Dragonite for transportation, most probably, although she doubts it'll listen to him. And he'll explore the ocean with her, one day. He just hasn't gotten around to it yet.
And she pushed him up the mountain, to where he needed to go
Sure that one day, he would return to her.
A/N: This took me a while to do, although most of that while was me getting distracted by other stuff. However, I'm fairly pleased with the result. The italicised bits were, of course, descriptions of the drowning scene in the Power Of One/Pokemon 2000 movie- put there just because I could, really. This has been my first AAMR (and my first Pokémon fic) so I hope you've enjoyed it.
(Oh, and yes. I did reference 'how do magnets work'. Special credits to Bulbapedia for confirming that, yes, Pikachu is male, and that he has special phrases to refer to Ash and Misty. Although, that last bit has convinced me that somewhere, there is a pokefan with far too much time on their hands...)