Disclaimer: The characters and Pokémon in this story in no way belong to me. I do, however, own my cup of coffee and my stuffed cow Henry. What more could I need?!

The Meaning of Master

Chapter One


Misty released an exhausted breath as she slowly made her way up the stairs of her small dwelling. Every step seemed to take tremendous effort as she zeroed in on her destination. It was moments like these that made her grateful to have her home attached to her workplace. The Indigo Plateau Conference had drawn to an end last week, and with its exciting conclusion marked the beginning of the Cerulean gym leader's most hectic time of the year. She loved her job and all the exciting opportunities it brought her, but sometimes she couldn't help but long for those days of no worries except getting to the next town. On nights she was feeling particularly nostalgic she would lie under the stars on the gym roof, enjoying the salty air and remembering times spent under those same stars with her dearest friends. Brock, Tracey, Togepi, Pikachu and Ash.

Ash… she could vividly recall his laugh, his smile, everything about him would forever be in her heart. Her first real friend. The first and only boy she had ever loved. She could remember those nights on the road with him so clearly. The ones where they would stay up late, long after the coals of the fire died and Brock could be heard snoring faintly. The nights where they would let their walls down and share their deepest secrets, hidden dreams and fears. Those nights where they would laugh and joke until it hurt to breathe. It would just be them. Just Ash and Misty.

The memories brought a smile to her face as she turned the faucet to fill the bath tub and peeled her clothes off. It was rather late for a bubble bath, but she desperately craved the feeling of water all around her. The clear liquid soothed her mind and relaxed her aching muscles. When she was in these moods nothing would satisfy her except the smooth texture of water embracing her. Misty gradually lowered herself into the warm bath as she turned off the faucet. And just like that the day's frenzied worries faded away. There were no files to be completed, no bills to be paid and no fundraisers to be planned. Everything shifted to the back burner as the water Pokémon specialist melted into the balmy waters of her bubble bath. She breathed deeply and sank further into her warm cocoon. This was her time and nothing could ruin the peaceful moment.

Except for that loud pounding on her front door. The sharp sound caused Misty to bolt upright, bubbles flying everywhere and water sloshing onto the floor. She peered down at the mess, groaning and secretly hoping that her ears were playing tricks on her. Nope, there it was again, an incessant knocking coming from the entrance of her home. Misty abruptly stood, her frustration building with each new impact to her door. Could she not have one moment to herself?! She had barely dried herself off before she haphazardly tossed her pajamas on and exited the bathroom.

She couldn't help but childishly stomp down every single step of her staircase, trying to blow off some steam before opening the door to her nighttime visitor. Viciously she flipped the switches to the living room lights bathing the room in a soft yellow glow and slowly counted to ten. She couldn't help it, she was so tired and had been looking forward to her bubble bath all day. Water droplets fell from her hair and soaked her maroon colored tank top, making her shiver and bringing her back from her inner grumblings.

With more force than necessary Misty flung her front door open, a scowl deeply etched on her face and scathing remark ready to be unleashed. Her thoughts went rapidly from annoyed to utter confusion. Before her stood an equally confused Ash Ketchum, fist still floating in the air. His messy ebony locks were languidly being ruffled by the wind. Did she fall asleep in the bath? She rubbed her eyes only to open them and be greeted by his now beaming smile. Oh gosh did she love that smile. The girl discretely pinched herself causing a stinging pain. She most definitely was awake. Misty took her time drinking in the sight of him. A hat on his head, Pikachu on his shoulder and a blue jacket slightly crumpled from travel. It was real, he was there! All feelings of fatigue and anger instantly evaporated from her mind as pure delight took over.

"Ash!" she cried out as she flung herself into the Pokémon trainer's arms. He stumbled slightly, surprised by her outburst but she simply clung to him tighter. She was encased in his wonderful smell, trembling as emotions threatened to overwhelm her. How long has it been since this boy, no young man had stood in front of her? "You have no idea how much I've missed you," the gym leader whispered, burying her face into his neck. He stood there for a moment, arms hanging limply at his sides. Misty began to panic internally. She had really acted without thinking. What if he didn't want her touching him? What if her hug was unwelcome? She was about to pull away when his arms slowly found their way around her, squeezing tighter and tighter until she could hardly breathe, partly from his strength and partly from the intensity of his sudden shift in mood. It was the best feeling in the world. "I've missed you too Misty," he said lowly, taking in a deep breath and causing shivers to run down her spine. She wasn't sure how long they stood there just holding each other. Misty savored each moment, burning into her mind the feel of his solid body against her and the softness of his hair tickling her forehead. Basking in the feeling of being surrounded by everything that was Ash. This was so much better than a bubble bath.

"Misty," he asked quietly, almost as if he was worried he would shatter the serene moment, "why are you all wet?" Misty sheepishly pulled away from his arms while taking in the giant wet spot on his shoulder where her head had laid. Glancing up she noticed his russet eyes glowing with amusement.

"Well Mr. Wannabe Pokémon Master I was interrupted from my bath by some kid with a Pikachu." At the sound of his name and with a loud cry came the little rodent as he leapt into her arms. "Chaaaaa," he cooed, completely enjoying his turn to be wrapped in the beautiful redhead's embrace. Her smile couldn't get any bigger as she turned and invited Ash into her home. In the back of her mind the young woman was acutely aware that her house had been neglected the past few days. Dishes seemed to be multiplying in her sink, marine biology textbooks and papers were scattered all over her coffee table and she hoped that there were no embarrassing articles of clothing in that clean pile of laundry on her couch, begging for someone to fold them.

"Been busy?" Ash asked cheekily, earning a glare from her. Walking over to her sage green couch she cleared a spot and invited the trainer to join her. Ash glanced at Pikachu as he sat and sighed dramatically. "There's no way I'm prying him away from you is there?" he asked in false exasperation. Pikachu merely puffed up his cheeks and turned back to Misty, releasing a soft Pikachupi in contentment as he burrowed further into the water trainers arms. Misty couldn't help but fall in love with the little guy all over again.

"So Ash," Misty began to tentatively ask, "what exactly brings you all the way to Cerulean?" She didn't want to sound unhappy to see him, but she was burning with curiosity as to the nature of his surprise visit.

"Do I have to have an excuse to want to see my best friend," he asked, turning away with a slight blush dusting his cheeks. He started fiddling with the corner of her throw pillow.

She fixed him with a deadpan expression, "It is 12:30 at night, if you wanted to visit you could have come during the day, you know, when normal people are awake." His embarrassed expression from earlier morphed into a look of indignation.

"It's not my fault!" he exclaimed much too loudly, "I planned on being here this afternoon, but then Team Rocket had to show up. Somehow while running after them I lost my shoe. Then at lunch some grubby Pidgey snatched my sandwich! By the time I got here the Pokémon Center was closed and I had no choice but to come over." He huffed, seemingly finished with his story.

Misty couldn't help but smirk, "You ran after the bird, didn't you?" It wasn't a question but more of a statement. Glancing down she noticed that the raven haired boy was still missing his shoe. Laughter threatened to overtake her as she bit her lip, doing her best to stifle it. She could feel him looking at her, taking in her joy at his expense.

"Of course, it was my sandwich." he responded, as if his reaction was the most logical answer to the situation. Ash moodily crossed his arms and slouched further into the couch. Misty turned to face him, tucking her legs under and beside her and leaning against the plush cushions. The redhead's vibrant, moist locks fell over her shoulder and spilled onto the back of the couch as she braced her head against her hand.

"Let me guess, you wound up getting lost after trying and failing to get your food back from the bird?" The water specialists words were laced with hidden yet apparent meaning, practically blaring that some things would never change. Ash didn't have to answer her question, his annoyed and offended expression said it all. "Oh Ash," she chuckled, affection and sarcasm blending together in the simple statement. He couldn't help but smile back at her, turning and mirroring her relaxed pose. Ocean colored eyes met warm chocolate colored ones. Misty was suddenly finding it hard to breathe. "So you came to see me?" she squeaked, breaking her gaze and trying to cause her heart to stop fluttering wildly in her chest. 'Stop it,' she chastised herself. Clearing her throat the Cerulean local attempted to compose herself while staring at her Goldeen patterned pajama pants as if they were the most fascinating things in the world.

"Yep!" he retorted, suddenly bouncing with enthusiasm. "And I have a surprise." The excitement was too much, leaving the trainer no patience to give her a chance to respond. "I've got five whole days to spend with you Mist!" Ash sat up straight all sunny and joyful as Misty suddenly stilled. There's no way she heard him right. He wasn't staying here, now, for a long period of time. "What's wrong?" he apprehensively asked. He must have noticed the panic on her face.

"Ash," she started, trying to gather her thoughts. Elated wouldn't begin to describe how she felt. He was willing to spend his valuable vacation time to see her! Yet his timing couldn't be worse. Internally she snorted. Typical Ash. "You have no clue how happy I am to know that you want to spend time with me and you know that you are always welcomed here. It's just that I'm really busy right now. I'm not sure how much time we would actually get to spend together. I'm not even sure we would spend any time together." She earnestly watched his face, her stomach twisting. Would he be angry and insulted? Would he leave never to come back and try this again? Would he laugh and say good he didn't want to see her anyway?

She didn't expect him to roll his eyes and shake his head. "I know you have a job and you're all grown up now. I know you can't drop everything just to hang out with me. That's why I'm going to help!" He seemed so proud of his plan, as if it was flawless.

"That won't work." she said calmly.

"Why not," he challenged back.

"You do realize that my job involves more than battling right?" came her fast retort.

"Of course, that's why I will do all the battling and you can do everything else, it's perfect!" his tone oozed with utter confidence as he spoke. He really thought he had this all figured out.

She sputtered, feeling a strange mixture of affection and exasperation. But mostly exasperation. "Ash!" she exclaimed, her voice rising in volume, "I don't have battles right now. You know that, I'm sure you watched the Tournament. It will be about a month before trainers start challenging me again. And anyways you can't battle for me. You are not a licensed gym leader. It would be a violation of League regulations."

His tanned face morphed into joy as she spoke, as if he had just put two and two together. Feeling baffled by the strange boys behavior the gym leader couldn't help but wonder just what he could be thinking. "You're right! That means that this should be your slow time. Come on Misty, it's the perfect moment to just lock up the gym for a week and spend time with your best and most handsome friend," the Pallet native flashed her a deliciously cocky smile causing her to want to both scoff at him and kiss that perfect mouth. Since when did Ash joke like this? She chose to focus on their immediate discussion instead.

"You don't understand, this really is my busiest time of year. I know it doesn't seem that way but as the leader of this gym there is so much more to do than battle and answer phone calls. I have a career now Ash, and as much as I love seeing you having a career means you can't pop in unexpectedly like this. We have to plan and coordinate our vacations." She hoped he would understand.

"Right. So what exactly do you have to do that is keeping you too busy to hang out with me?" He was eyeing her suspiciously, almost as if he didn't believe her. He deliberately leaned closer, the challenge to prove him wrong hanging silently in the air.

Misty took a deep breath, pushing her annoyance to the back of her mind. She was a grown woman of 16, she was mature and she would not cave in to his childish jab. She spoke slowly and clearly, as if explaining something to a small child, "My job as the Cerulean Gym Leader involves more than battling and keeping up with files. This gym is a major part of the community. We hold classes here, plan events and try to educate the public. Not to mention this is a birthing and migration period for many of the marine creatures that live in this area. I work with a crew of biologists and researchers to monitor the Pokémon's patterns and behaviors as well as contributing to furthering conservation efforts. In addition to that I am dealing with the media, working as an employer to a whole group of people at this gym and organizing fundraising campaigns for the gym. It's a lot of work Ash and now it's getting down to crunch time. While handling all that every day I must maintain and observe the health and conditions of the Pokémon here at the gym." She smiled smugly, feeling proud of not only the activities she was involved with in her career but also in her ability to simplify the situation. That proud smile slowly drooped into a frown as the redhead noticed the blank expression on Ash's face.

"So you're telling me that you're too busy to hang out with me cause you have to watch and play with Pokémon all day and also try to keep up a social life in your community?" was the trainer's flat retort. Misty shot up from the couch, unceremoniously knocking Pikachu out of her lap, upset and intent in putting Ash in his place. Pikachu scrambled back up the couch, chattering angrily at the arguing duo. Could they not have one peaceful evening?

"How dare you, it is so much more than that! I'd like to see you keep up with even half of what I have to do!" The blue in her eyes flared with her anger and prompted the sinewy teenager's response. He rose, meeting her toe to toe, frustration evident in the tight muscles of his jaw. Misty couldn't help but wonder just when her best friend had grown taller than her.

With a snort he snapped, "I could keep up with everything you do. It doesn't sound too hard to me." Oh that little…

"No you can't!" she shifted slightly, crossing her arms over her chest and managing to look down on him despite being shorter.

"Yes I can!" he leaned in closer fully meeting her eyes.

"No you can't!" she huffed.

"Yes I can!" his voice rose as he gestured spastically to emphasis his point.

"No you can't!" this time she stepped toward him trying to look big and imposing.

"Yes I can!" his breath hit her face, eyes sparking daringly with annoyance and something else that Misty couldn't identify.

Suddenly she became aware of how close they were. She was not a stranger to this predicament with Ash, it had become rather routine in their younger days. Quickly stepping away from him she turned, simultaneously throwing her hands in the air while rolling her eyes.

"Tell you what," he said after a moment of silence passed with their backs to each other, "you let me do your job while I'm here and either I will prove to you that you had time to spend with me and are being a big baby or you prove me wrong."

Gradually the striking young woman turned, contemplating his offer. It was so tempting, especially knowing that it was a bet that she was guaranteed to win. "On one condition," the redhead countered, "I go along with you and will step in if need be. I can't have you running my gym and career into the garbage."

"Fine, whatever bossy," his tone was sharp but the look on his face showed that the Pikachu trainer was quite pleased with how things turned out. Misty watched as he extended a gloved hand holding it out to her. "Shake on it?" he questioned. She firmly placed her hand in his, her competitive nature drowning out any sort of pleasure she would get from the contact.

"Azurill," came a puzzled, high-pitched squeak by the staircase. Both heads turned to see the tiny azure baby staring back at them through sleepy eyes. The infant Pokémon went looking for Misty when it woke to find her not in the bed. The girl approached her adorable little mouse, gently picking it up and rocking it close.

"Come on Ash, it's getting really late and we have a busy day tomorrow." She called to the young man as she climbed the stairs once more, beckoning him to follow her. Pikachu promptly caught up close to her heel, glancing back at his trainer. Ash bent down and picked up his backpack. The boy slowly trailed behind them, taking time to glance at the changes in the Waterflower home since the last time he was here.

"Here you go," Misty exclaimed as she opened a door and pointed him into the guest room. She couldn't help but enjoy his squirming as the Pokémon master in training took in his surroundings. Pink engulfed the room like some kind of overzealous disease, sequins and sparkles seemed to ooze out of every groove and was that some sort of animal print on the blanket? He turned to Misty, disbelieving. In turn she smiled at him sweetly but not too innocently.

"Please tell me this is your room and I'm staying somewhere else," Ash pleaded, feeling the heavy scent of sweet pea already sticking to him. Just how many candles did they have in here anyway?

"Nope this is all yours!" was her enthusiastic response. Misty worked hard to redecorate the small townhouse attached to Cerulean Gym after re-establishing herself as a permanent resident of Cerulean. The Sensational Sisters were in the area infrequently that the place really had become completely her own. The guest room was the last room the gym leader had to fix from her sisters obscene decorating choices. Shimmering blue green eyes watched as Ash slowly crept into her guest room almost as though he would set a bomb off at any moment should he make a wrong move. He turned in circles seemingly overwhelmed by the surroundings. Pikachu followed him in swiftly leaping onto the bed and hissing in surprise at some fuzzy monstrosity posing as a pillow.

Misty looked on with fondness while biting back a yawn, knowing that morning would come too quickly and that they needed some rest. She gracefully walked backwards out of the room, watching Ash just a little longer. "Alright, well it's late and we need to get some sleep if we are going to make it through tomorrow. You remember where the bathroom is right?" The boy slowly nodded his head still in a daze.

She smiled tenderly while catching his gaze, "Goodnight Ash. I hope you sleep well." Her heart exploded for what felt like the twentieth time that night as he focused on her and lazily returned her smile.

"You too Mist, sweet dreams."

Silently she made her way down the hall to her own room. Shutting her door quietly the gym leader turned and quickly sank into the comfort of her own bed. She couldn't fight the grin that wouldn't leave her face. The fatigued girl buried further into her blankets letting the evening's surprise visit play over in her mind. Ash. She was so happy to see him. And even if the timing was bad she could never express how excited she was that he was here. Sleep came to her quickly as her last conscious thoughts were consumed by him.

So what did you think? This is my first fanfic ever and really the first piece of fiction I've written in what feels like centuries. The last time I remember writing a story I was in elementary school. It was about dinosaurs and it was awesome :3 So please review and tell me what you think. Constructive criticism or suggestions are always welcomed. Thanks for taking a moment to read my story!