Chapter 7/Final: Cope

He was Ash's father. He was the head of Team Rocket. Father... Team Rocket... A debate had raged on with Ash about Giovanni and who he was to him. One side was Giovanni's leadership to Team Rocket, someone Ash had opposed since the attack on the Pokémon Center in Viridian City in Kanto. The other side was the truth of Giovanni being Ash's dad who had been away from his family for such a long time. However, both sides would agree on one concept: he's gone. Back at Cynthia's villa, he sat on a bed in this struggling mental debate, no lights, no air Pokémon. Persian and Pikachu gazed at the bedroom door where Ash had isolated himself while Cynthia, Dawn, Cilan, Iris, Bianca, Paul, Jeremy and the other Pokémon showed great concern for their friend from Pallet Town. Axew, Meloetta and Piplup also showed understandable concern for their human friend of their owners. Even as cold-blooded as Paul was, he wrenched at Bianca's story of how he was briefly reunited with his father only to be taken along with Jessie and James when Kyurem's summon failed when Ghetsis and Team Plasma attacked, forcing Team Rocket to go on the defensive in protecting the summoner and her item, Meloetta and her music box. It wasn't the first time Ash was helped out by Team Rocket. It was the last time. Who knows what happened to Dr. Zager and the other Rocket grunts after Giovanni vanished. "Even as you tell us the story, I still find it hard to accept that Ash and Giovanni are related," Cynthia doubted. "And to think, Ash had fought Team Rocket for as long as he's been a trainer." Dawn agreed to Cynthia's point.

"No surprise that Ash is going through the five ingredients of grief and struggle," Cilan murmured. Iris looked clueless with what Cilan brought up.

"Five ingredients of...what?" she asked for clarification.

"Iris, he means how people feel when someone close to them dies," Dawn explained. Death would be questionable. "The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance."

"First is the person not wanting to accept a close one's passing," Jeremy helped. "Even as the person slowly starts to understand what happened to the close one, he or she can get upset and mad at the one who's left. As they start to reason, they wonder if there was something they could have done something to save them." Bianca recalled the moment when Giovanni broke away from Ash. He was trying to save his father.

"Ash grabbed his dad's hand in his effort to keep him here," she recanted. "He did all he could...but..." Her stutter caught Iris' attention.

"Bianca, what's wrong?" she asked. Bianca dipped her head in shame, tears trickling down.

"I didn't do a thing!" She hid when Kyurem began to submerge and vacuüm everyone in. To her, she deserved as much more blame than Ghetsis, Ash...pretty much everyone combined. The Pokémon wanted to forgive her, thinking that she couldn't do anything to begin with.

"It's pathetic that he's grieving for the loss of the president of Team Rocket," Paul groaned. That was very harsh.

"Paul!" Dawn snapped. Paul never flinched. Instead...

"But I do understand why he's pretty sad though it's controversial. He's debating whether to feel glad that a suppose dissolve of Team Rocket will occur or feel down in the dumps because, as you keep referring, it's his own kin." An interesting point by Ash's Sinnoh rival. He could feel okay, knowing that Team Rocket won't try to illegally capture and steal Pokémon...or upset that his time reunited with a long-lost family member was cut way short because of what happened to him.

"Even more that it happened up close," Bianca added. Pikachu wasn't too worried about Team Rocket now that they couldn't chase after his tail anymore...but acknowledged that this was someone who Ash knew, or should know.

("I wanna do something to help Ash out,") it squeaked. Piplup and Axew patted Pikachu to comfort him. If only someone would do the same for Ash.

"I think he should forgo the Junior Cup to help his tragic-filled mind and heart," Cynthia suggested. It was an offer Iris, Cilan and Dawn knew Ash would easily refuse but with all that had gone on, Cynthia had a point. Talk about the worst timing since it was the following day. "Would Ash prefer the suggestion, perhaps not...but even I'm worried about the ramifications about him and his current mental state." Begrudgingly, all accepted Cynthia's opinion. They realized that Ash wouldn't be able to concentrate in any battle whether it was to capture a Pokémon or to battle another trainer.

"I mean, Paul, how would you feel if Reggie was lost from your life?" Dawn questioned. This was one question that Paul wasn't wanting to answer.

"Don't put me on the same boat as Ash," he argued. He'd take a breath prior to his reply. "But as pathetic as my older brother is, he's still family. I don't like to think about anyone leaving forever but I guess at some point, it's gonna happen. But I would prefer them living a full life with no regrets. It would make grieving a lot easier." Dawn and some of the Pokémon may not like Paul but he did make sense of the ordeal. To die without saying sorry for not doing what you wanted to do before you kick the bucket...

"I think now, a good night of rest is what we should all get, especially with the Junior Cup tomorrow morning," Cilan offered. All agreed. Fortunately, there were plenty of rooms to snuggle in, allowing Ash to rest inside his...if he wanted to. Still, the shock kept him awake, petrified in that position. The next morning, everyone had a nice breakfast provided by Cilan...well, all but the isolated one still sitting in the darkened room. After they ate, they packed up and ready to head to the stadium to compete in the Junior Cup. Bianca saw the door and knew Ash was alone and behind it. She could go to the Junior Cup and take part or cheer Ash's friends. But she felt that by going with everyone else, she believed that Ash would suffer the grief alone and who knows what he could do trying to find a way to console himself and that's unpredictable. There was a choice she needed to make.

"You guys go on ahead," she allowed. "I'm gonna stay with Ash." Iris and Cilan wondered about her decision.

"Are you sure?" she assumed. A glance at the door had everyone thinking about Ash.

"I see," Cynthia figured. "Just make sure he doesn't come to the Junior Cup wanting to battle." Bianca nodded as Meloetta and Persian also wanted to stay and comfort Ash. Along with Paul, perhaps as a substitute for Ash, the rest headed off to the stadium. Yes, Pikachu had gone along to see how Dawn, Iris and Cilan do. Way to show your concern, No-Help...or maybe this was his plan. Now it was Bianca who was with Ash, though a door proving to be a great obstacle. She knocked on the door.

"Are you awake?" she asked. Meloetta flew over to help out. Bianca knocked on the door again. "Ash?" She twisted the knob, a little curious. It's unlocked. She opened and spotted Ash, still sitting in that position. No surprise if cobwebs spun on Ash. "Morning, Ash!" Ash didn't move a muscle, not even his eyes moved. He must still be dealing with the loss of his father. Meloetta flew in front of Ash but he didn't react. Bianca thought back to what Cilan pointed out with grief. "Could this be...denial?" He needs to deny something before citing denial. "Are you hungry? I know you haven't had anything since coming from the beach." Ash sat stiff. Okay, maybe denial's been established. "I can try to cook something for you. I mean, I'm not as good as Cilan, but I can whip up something decent." Ash still didn't budge. This further worried her and the Pokémon.

("Ash, say something!") Meloetta pleaded. ("Say anything!") Bianca tried to make Ash think less about what happened yesterday but that wasn't working. She decided to be truthful.

"Ash, I know what happened yesterday is still hard on you. I want to share some of the pain since I was there." Suddenly, Ash closed his eyes and a tear dripped from his face. The shock of it all had Bianca crawling on the bed and hugging Ash. "Sh! It's okay. You can cry." Nuzzled on Bianca's shoulder, Ash cried quietly, his father still haunting his memory. After a few minutes, Bianca had an idea. "How about we go for a walk? You look like you need some fresh air." Ash didn't think long, only a second or two to decide to have a nice walk. Meloetta sat on Ash's free shoulder as Bianca escorted Ash from the bed to the living room. Persian was the first to greet him which Ash softly petted its head.

"I can't believe that all this time," he finally spoke. "You're the same injured Meowth that I found in the park when I was little." More details about Giovanni's Persian's past. "You've grown strong since Mom and Dad..." Him mentioning dad saddened him again. Persian pawed Ash on the head, advice not to worry. "Thank you. You gonna behave while we take a stroll?" Persian mewed, a promise made. As they exited the villa, they walked into town and had a quick breakfast. It wasn't the same quality as Cilan's but it was pretty good. That's when Ash performed anger. "Why did I fight my dad all this time?" Bianca heard the minute growl from Ash.

'The second ingredient: anger.' Ash had a lot to ask Giovanni like why was he thwarting everything his father worked on?

"I mean, I fought with Team Rocket around Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, Sinnoh, the Orange Islands and here. If I knew who my dad was and why..." A lot of resentment boiling from Pallet's finest. Bianca felt his pain.

"I don't think your father knew who was ruining his plans in the first place." Ash turned to Bianca in some confusion. In a sense, father and son were feuding without one or the other knowing about it. "If you knew each other back then, how would you have reacted? The same way? Maybe much different?" Ash wasn't too sure about a certain reaction. That wasn't the only problem.

"I don't know. Not to mention the many questions I have like where he's been since he left me and mom and why he founded Team Rocket." Meloetta, sipping on some iced tea in a tiny cup, feared that with Giovanni out-of-the-way, Ash would be the next in line to control Team Rocket.

("Are you taking daddy's job?") she asked. Seeing the concern on Meloetta's face had Ash shaking his head.

"I won't be a bad guy, Meloetta." Meloetta giggled in relief. That's when Ash remembered that he hadn't seen Pikachu since the incident. "Is Pikachu with Iris and Dawn?"

"Yeah, they're at the Junior Cup with Cynthia," Bianca answered. Ash nearly forgot about the Junior Cup today. He was training for this as a trial run for the Unova League Tournament. Bianca was about to put Ash in his place...or Cynthia, indirectly. "But Cynthia said that you need to take the Junior Cup off to reflect on what memories you do have with your father." Hearing that Cynthia told Ash to relax and console hit Ash hard as he sat back down from that spring up.

"Sorry." Bianca saw how devastated Ash was about not attending the Junior Cup, though understood why Cynthia wanted him to surpass this. Then he thought of a way to attend but not take part and looking at the clock, there was plenty of time before it started. "Can I go there? At least, watch the Cup?" Bianca didn't want to let Ash get involved but having Ash simply watch didn't sound like a bad idea.

"I guess so. I mean, at least Pikachu will be there."

"Thank you. But why didn't you go with them?" Bianca's face was a bit of depression.

"I was there, too. I knew you were trying to save your dad." She bowed her head lower, concerning Ash and Meloetta. "I didn't do a thing to help you." Ash would get upset but even he began to realize that he had Bianca keep an eye on Pikachu and Meloetta as he reached for Giovanni.

"You're not to blame." Bianca looked up, wanting to make sure she heard Ash right. "Though, I wish I was better in reacting and maybe had a Pokémon to help pull Dad to safety." Bianca realized that he was already at the midpoint of his emotional roller coaster called grief. They walked further into town, the dark cloud over Ash's head.

'Bargaining. He wished he had help.' She clenched her hands, a weight building on her shoulders. 'I want to grieve with Ash. But I don't want to because he might think I'm taking advantage of him during his moment of weakness. What do I do?' This was one pickle she had a hard time deciding which end to bite first. Ash sat at a park bench before long, bushed. He never slept since the incident.

("You okay, Ash?") Meloetta gasped. Even Bianca knew that Ash was in no condition to walk without some sort of energy booster.

"I'll go and get something to drink." She left, possibly getting some lattes. Nothing like a shot of espresso to get your legs moving again. She returned from a café with drinks in hand. "Here. A little pick me up." Ash took a drink, a little caffeine to adjust his sleeping eyes.

"Thanks," he praised. Bianca had a drink, then reacted to the hot espresso that burnt her tongue. She slapped her tongue to wipe anything hot still on her taste buds. Meloetta's giggle was cute but Ash just smiled. It wasn't a scoffing smile, just something that didn't seem sincere. His mind was still pretty focused on Giovanni. Why did he leave so abruptly? And just after being reunited with his son? Bianca viewed this, another sign. Man, Ash was flying through the emotions of loss rather quickly.

'Depression...' All that left was acceptance. Bianca recovered from the hot drink on the tongue. Ash spoke up to discuss something.

"You know, Bianca...I don't know if I really should be in this state." Was Ash denying being sad? Did he regress back to denial? "I mean, he sent many members of Team Rocket after Pikachu and so many other Pokémon. He's been away from me, my mom...Pallet Town altogether. But at the same time, this is my dad and I believe there's a good reason he left us." It wasn't denial, but debate. Bianca loosened her grip on her cup of latte to grip Ash's free hand. Ash noticed, spotting the linked hands. Meloetta's thoughts reached back to when Bianca mindlessly kissed Ash after they escaped the ruined shrine.

("Bianca?") the Melody Pokémon gulped. ("D-Do you...?") Bianca made her mind up. She thought now was the moment of approach.

"Whether or not you want to think about your dad is up to you," she hummed. "I'd rather have an honest Ash. One that I can say that I've fallen in love for." She said it. Yep...she said it. Ash was astonished.

"Bianca?" he gasped with a slight reddish discoloration to his cheeks.

"I know you should cope with your loss. I think you shouldn't do it alone. I...know you don't have loved ones in Unova in my opinion. Is it alright if I be a loved one to you?" Ash was humbled to receive such a request. All this on the heels of the departure of Giovanni. He caved, thinking what's best for him at this point. He's starting to feel better but knew that he could relapse from time to time.

"I could use a loved one to help me through these tough times. It's...hard to believe after all this time of me being there for you, you're the one here for me." Both found themselves in each one's eyes, heads acting as magnets drawing toward each other. Finally...Touchdown! The lips connected, affection swimming between the two in realization that they needed each other more than they said. Meloetta chimed in happiness, thus she began to sing a new song. Her song wasn't like the song she used when she summoned Kyurem or when the Pokémon misbehaved. This song was more of a romantic sonata. Boy, if Iris or Dawn or Misty or May saw could get nasty. The song ended, so did the kiss. That was more passionate than when they bailed from the shrine. Ash still grieved but at least someone was there to help him along.

"What do you say about watching the Junior Cup?" Ash wasn't in any argument.

"Sure thing." The three made their way to the stadium hosting the Junior Cup. The bad news was that registrations were full, not that it was Ash's concern at this point. The good news was that they were in time to catch all the action.

"Ladies and gentlemen," the announcer shouted as spotlights hit the group competing in the Junior Cup. Iris, Dawn, Cilan, Burgundy, Georgia, Trip, Paul and Stephan stood, ready to compete.

"At least I know someone who gets my name right," Stephan sighed.

"Meet the eight trainers who will compete in the Unova Junior Cup! The champion of the cup will have the opportunity to face the champion, Alder for a special match!" All turned to the screen which pictures of the participating trainers. "The first match will be Cilan and Georgia! The second match will be Dawn and Burgundy! The third match is Paul and Iris! The last match will pit Trip and Stephen!" Uh, announcer...that's Stephan!

"Get my name right!" He's had enough of people butchering his name and the announcer was frightened. Don George took control of the microphone.

"Each trainer will use one Pokémon in their battle so choose wisely!" he instructed. As the trainers returned outside of the floor, Cynthia spotted and reached Ash and Bianca.

"How are you feeling?" she asked Ash as Pikachu returned to his side. He turned to Cynthia, a smile on his face.

"Hanging in there," he answered. He's not in any health concern, right? Bianca became saddened.

"I'm sorry but I wanted to make him feel better," she confessed. Cynthia wasn't worried.

"It's not a big deal," she eased. "Sometimes the best way to heal to regain feeling of what one enjoys." In Ash's case, Pokémon battles. Georgia and Burgundy got to spot Ash, Bianca and Cynthia in the front row.

"Ash!" the Dragon Buster called out. The three twisted around and found the her with the C-Class Connoisseuse. "Iris informed us about what happened. Sorry for your loss. Even trainers don't attack someone when they're down."

"Indeed," Burgundy agreed. "I hope you bounce back before you battle in the League Tournament." Ash shook both hands, a show of support. Bianca quietly chuckled, knowing that neither one had any interest in Ash except for his battling prowess. Trip saw this and, even though told by Cilan, became disgusted.

"It's a pathetic excuse," he groaned. Paul, Stephan and Iris heard Trip's callous rant about Ash's inability to compete. "You just need to get over it and move on." This boiled Paul. To think that he berated Ash's training of Pokémon only for him wanting to put Trip in his place...again!

"First you thrash his homeland and now you bash the death of a family member?" Paul growled. Trip glanced over to Paul, not approving his tone.

"It's not my problem that his family had long been in disarray before what happened to his dad." That angered the other three.

"What a coward!" Iris billowed. "Even a little kid is far more respecting!" Trip hissed at the mad-speaking girl from the Village of Dragons.

"Prepare to lose more than a battle, Trip," Stephan promised. As the battles started, Ash was sitting very comfortably with Bianca as they held hands. In a sense, Ash had been given a win and a loss. He lost his father...but won a loved one. He'll soon be ready to compete again but now as he coped his tragedy, he's not alone to heal. Bianca was there and she's the best support he could have. Ash will return...stronger than ever.