Disclaimer: The only thing I own is this story.

The Meaning of Master

Chapter 4

Superpowers and Piplups

"Pikachu!" Ash was yelling at the grimy mouse in frustration as he scaled the young man's body in an effort to get away. Ash twisted wildly back and forth, arms flailing and groping for the fast moving critter. Misty rolled her eyes at the scene while she checked the temperature of the water filling the bath tub, Azurill watching the spectacle in the hallway with the utmost fascination. This was a constant battle between those two, Pikachu hated baths and Ash hated giving them. The gym leader couldn't really blame Pikachu, the little guy had spent so long as a wild Pokémon that all the harsh perfume smells were detestable to his sensitive nose.

"Gotcha!" Came a victory cry from behind her. Pikachu chattered furiously at his trainer, angry sparks beginning to build in his cheeks. The little mouse noticed the bruising on Ash's face, a reminder that he was hurt and probably not in a position to take a good frying. He folded his little paws across his chest, resigned yet fuming. Ash cautiously walked to the edge of the bathtub and gingerly placed his Pokémon inside. His muscles were tense as he prepared for Pikachu to bolt out of the water at any second. You couldn't let your guard down, Pikachu bathing was a martial art form really. Those who so much as blinked would lose the battle.

"There, see it feels good right?" Pikachu merely huffed and turned away. Misty placed Azurill in the tub as well before squeezing a generous amount of shampoo into her palm. She began to scrub in soothing motions, lifting the grime off of her little blue Pokémon as it hummed in relaxation. The redhead could feel her friend watching her, making her slightly nervous, before shaking his head and grabbing the shampoo bottle to mimic her motions.

"Pikachu I know you hate baths, but this shampoo isn't so bad. It isn't strong, it's cinnamon oatmeal. It'll make your fur all silky and soft," Misty tried to get the pouting Pokémon to relax and enjoy his time.

"Zurill!" the blue mouse chirped, splashing water at her yellow furred friend. The small mouse looked adorable in the water as she dived under and back up, gliding along the waters edge and shaking as though she was a bird enjoying a dip on a hot summer afternoon.

Pikachu was beginning to relax, about to join in the fun when his master's fumbling hands grabbed at him, scrubbing the shampoo into his fur.

"Pika!" the mouse yelled at Ash, wiggling once more.

"Cut it out!" he yelled back before Pikachu shot at him once more, scaling up his shirt in an effort to reach Ash's shoulder and leap for freedom. Instead Ash fell backwards, arms scrambling to get a hold of the wet mouse and hold him snuggly to his chest before he could get away. Water had spilled over the tub in the tussle, soaking the floor and the two people on it.

"Hey!" Misty shouted before leaping up, livid. The tussling duo on the floor froze, staring up at her with wide eyes. "I've had it with this! The two of you have been having this same battle for years now. Pikachu, you know that you need a bath and that Ash is just trying to take care of you the best way he can. Ash, if you're gonna bathe a Pokémon, especially one that hates it, at least make it pleasant!" The two were sputtering indignant noises at the same time, bonded once more by a common enemy as they tried to deny her jabs. Misty plucked the mouse off Ash's chest, Pikachu's little hands reaching out to his new ally for help. It was futile, the redhead was intent on getting the job done and plopped the Pokémon back in the warm water. The grumpy expression on his face seemed permanent as Azurill laughed at his dismay.

"Are you going to keep wallowing in pity on the floor or are you going to let me show you how to do this?" Misty snapped at her next victim, Ash. He growled before sitting up, refusing to admit that he needed her to teach him anything. He felt confident that she would have even less success then he did getting Pikachu bathed.

"First of all you're using too much soap. See all that? You used the same amount of shampoo on his back that you'd use on his whole body."

"Oh really? I'd like to see you get that mess off of him with just that little dab of soap." Ash hated being wrong, especially to Misty. The redhead dipped her hands in the water before running them along Pikachu's back in soothing circles, bubbles foaming long the mouse's fur as she worked the soap down the length of his body.

"Cha," the little guy began to practically purr, making her grin.

"Next problem is that you're scrubbing too hard. I know you want to get the dirt off but you don't need to go at it like you're cleaning dried molasses off a plate," Ash moped, crossing his arms and resenting the comment. Pikachu basked in the attention he was getting, cooing as Misty poured warm water down his body to wash off the shampoo.

"See you two, was that so hard? Ash can you grab me two towels out of the cabinet?" He got up to do what he was told, grumbling the whole time. He handed his best friend an orange towel, frowning as he looked off to the side. Some people would see it as childish, but Misty would argue that she understood Ash better then most. He was embarrassed.

"Pi pikachu," his furry buddy called from the bathtub, raising his little arms up to his master, wanting to be picked up and dried off. Ash smiled as he complied, forgetting the awkwardness he was feeling, carefully soaking up the excess water off of Pikachu. Misty watched them for a moment, glad to see them happy again, before moving to dry Azurill. As soon as the toweling was done the two mice tore out of the room and down the hallway, the pitter pattering of small feet ricocheting through the place like bolts of lightening. They ripped through the house, rubbing against anything and everything, burying their little bodies into pillows and blankets to soak up the water coating their fur. Ash's merriment from the scene was short lived as the redhead shoved both towels into his chest before pointing at the wet floor.

"You don't seriously expect me to clean this up." He guffawed.

"I cleaned your Pokémon, the least you can do is clean up my floor." She huffed, strutting down the hallway and leaving him alone with his task.


"Uh, why are you dressed like that?" It wasn't that Ash minded necessarily, Misty had a right to dress anyway she wanted. It's just that he felt incredibly intimidated, not that he'd ever tell her that. He was in her living room waiting for her to change out of her soaked clothes, lounging in dark grey sweats and a white t-shirt, the picture of comfort. The trainer was flanked by a pair of very fluffy, very sleepy mice. The afternoon sun poured into the beach themed room, warming up the couch and spoiling his two companions.

"I'm looking for a new employee for the gym, we need a secretary. I can't keep up with the phones and scheduling by myself and my sisters aren't home enough to fill that role. I've got the afternoon set aside to do some interviews." Misty looked, well, professional and classy. Her pencil skirt and tucked in white button up gave an air of nothing but serious business, her hair styled and pulled half up, the slightest hint of makeup on her face polishing off the look. Ash felt shell shocked. This morning he woke up to his tomboy best friend and suddenly she had been replaced by this career woman. By an adult.

"Alright Mr. Pokémon Master wannabe, it's time for another round of medicine. You take care of that and meet me in my office, I need to brush up on these resumes and give you a crash course on how to interview a potential employee."

"Could you possibly take up anymore room?" Misty snapped as she shoved at Ash's long legs, spread wide and far as he slouched in his chair. Ash had found her sitting behind her desk, glasses perched on her nose as she thumbed through resumes, her crossed leg bouncing and drawing his eyes down towards her high heels. Misty in girly shoes... He felt a lot of different emotions over this side of his friend, he wasn't sure how he felt about the high heels, curled hair and grown up look. Should he be proud or scared that once more they were growing apart, heading down different roads? He had shaken his thoughts and grabbed a chair from in front of her desk, dragging it around and plopping down next to her, invading her space.

His response to her complaint was to reach out and snatch the reading glasses off her face, placing the lenses on his own head and smirking. Ash wondered if he was still the only person that knew that she needed these to read? Misty hated her glasses. He'd never tell her that she looked adorable in them, that he would never forget the night he caught her staying up, reading one of those dumb romance novels in a pair of them. That he treasured every chance he got to see her wearing these things. It was rare and made him feel special, like she trusted him.

"Ash! I've got a guy that is going to be here in fifteen minutes, we need to go over this stuff," she tried her hardest to sound terse but the giggles kept coming as she tried in vain to swipe at her glasses. Puberty had been the worse experience of Ash's life, but it did have a few perks. Like long arms. He simply held the thick framed lenses out of his best friends reach, enjoying every second of her laughter and potentially real threats. Things with Misty were never boring.

"You're only getting these back on one condition," he challenged. Ocean like eyes narrowed, untrusting.

"Ok, name your price," she responded hesitantly.

"Tell me that you missed me more than anyone else and that the real reason you followed me around for so long was because I was your most favorite person ever," he had always wanted to hear it, that it was never about the bike. Knowing Misty she'd rather go mute then suddenly give such a confession. Forcing it out of the gym leader was as close as he was ever going to get. He'd take it.

"What?!" She sprung up from her leather office chair, all trace of humor evaporated as she towered over him, hands on her hips, eyes flaring. His eyes were drawn despite himself down the young woman's lithe figure put into advantage by her position; he couldn't help but to stare appreciatively at the narrowed waist that led down to curvy hips that topped the best legs he'd every seen, even while being on the receiving end of her glare. She had no idea how hot she looked in that very moment as she glowered, all fury, at him. A lesser man would be frightened by such an imposing look from the redhead. Ash reveled in it.

"Say it." he challenged, undeterred.

"Not a chance," she hissed. A part of him was disappointed as she straightened up, crossing her arms. A larger part of him was relieved that he was now out of her reach, well at least for the moment. Misty was quick when she striked. He wouldn't put it past her to still smack him upside the head. "You had stolen my bike and ruined it! Do you know how long I had to save up to buy that thing?"

Ash snorted, rolling his eyes. He hated that bike. Despite it all a part of him wondered if she would follow him once more if he destroyed it again...

"Um am I interrupting something? I can come back later." Came a feminine voice from the doorway. The bluenette looked nervous and perplexed as she looked on what must have seemed like a very tense argument.

"I'm sorry, you aren't interrupting anything, how may I help you?" Misty was back to being professional and adult, making Ash frown.

"I'm here for a one o'clock interview, but if you need more time to wrap up this one then I understand."

"Interview Ash? Oh no you have it wrong! This is my doofus best friend, who is being a pest." Misty ground out, snatching the glasses out of the trainer's hands while his guard was down. Ash did what any mature young man would do, he stuck his tongue out at her in response. "Please come in, I'd be very happy to get this interview started. It's Hannah, right?"

Ash wondered if this was some kind of punishment for the stunt with the reading glasses earlier. The only thing he could imagine being more torturous than these long job interviews was school. Misty insisted that he pay attention and take notes, that she'd have him jumping in to take over. He didn't feel he needed to do either of those things, how hard could it be? He was busy trying to balance a pen between his top lip and his nose, wishing Pikachu would wake up and come find him.

"So I noticed that your job history consists of lawn care and a summer picking up trash off the beach for probationary purposes. What made you leave your last job? You have no prior experience in this field or with water pokemon, what exactly interests you about this position?" Misty folded her hands on top of her desk, an air of seriousness in the room. The clock ticked every second in an agonizingly slow way.

"I heard the boss was pretty hot," the young man winked, everything about him fitting the cliché mold of a surfer. Misty's unamused look made the blonde fidget as he scrambled to come up with an answer. "I need money, and I saw you were hiring, so... uh, yeah. As far as my last job goes you know how female bosses can be, always acting like they have something to prove," was what he came up with. Misty took a few notes down on her notepad, something Ash had noticed she did during each interview. Her grip on the pen was intense as she scribbled furiously.

"Well Mr. Youngblood I have to be honest, here at Cerulean Gym we treat each other as family. Because of that we are looking for someone who will be committed to join our team, someone who wants to be a part of this dream and a permanent part of us. Where exactly do you see yourself in the next five years?"

"With you. Seriously, hopefully from this day on I'm never leaving," the overly tanned beach bum flashed the young woman with a cocky grin. Ash couldn't tell if the twenty something really meant what he was saying or thought he could flirt his way into a job. Either way Misty seemed stony and unmoved, the only hint to her annoyance was the slight twitch of her eyebrow that seemed to be timed with each pounding thump from her desk being kicked by the young man.

"Alright sir, why don't you tell me what your greatest strength would be?" She asked with strained politeness.

"I'm pretty good at selling stuff, like seriously I can sell you anything," he boasted. The gym leader paused for a moment seemingly interested. She extended her arm out, pen stretched towards him.

"Alright, show me. Try to sell me this pen, convince me that I can't live without it," she challenged. He waited a moment before reaching out and taking the writing utensil, a confident smirk once more gracing his features, green eyes lighting up.

"You know this pen is amazing, writes smoothly. I hear it's pretty good for writing down phone numbers, what's yours?" His toned arm was outstretched, nudging slightly towards Misty. In the blink of an eye the pen was swiped from his hand, the image of a very annoyed, very masculine face looming overhead suddenly overtaking his vision.

"I would have taken that as sexual harassment and sued you," a voice coldly stated from behind Ash, "I think that will wrap up this interview. Thank you for your time Mr. Youngblood, we should be in touch with you within a week." Misty said as she gathered her things, standing to show the man out the door. Ash beat her to it, practically shoving the surfer out of the room as he called out his goodbyes. The trainer stood there for a moment, glaring at the doorknob while he put enough pressure on the pen in his hand to nearly snap it.

"You can't hire him - " he had begun before Misty interrupted.

"Of course not!" She started pacing behind her desk, fuming, heels clicking with every step. "What a creep! If he thinks a little sweet talk is going to work on me then he has no business working here! The last thing I want is some unmotivated moron being the first face people see when they walk in!" She was gesturing wildly, going on about what a waste of time that was. Ash took a deep breath letting his frustration with the whole thing wash away before walking over to stand in front of his first traveling companion, placing his hands on her shoulders and halting her furious movements.

"Hey it's alright," he reassured her, smiling, "So that guy didn't work out. We'll find somebody. Anybody would be lucky to work for you." The stressed line between her eyebrows melted away, giving way to a tender look before she poked his tummy.

"I thought I said sweet talk won't work on me," she teased. Ash took a step back, dramatically rubbing his stomach as though she had wounded him.

"Seems to be working to me," he quipped, enjoying the slow blush that graced her features as she turned her dainty nose up at him.

"Now remember to stick to the list of questions I've written down for you, we want to find the perfect match for the gym but we also want them to get a feel for us, to see if working here will make that person happy as well. I don't want a conversation about all your crazy stunts and near death experiences. Stick to the list, got it." It would be a lie for Ash to say he was giving his friend his complete attention. He was mostly half listening, honing in on random key words to shake his head yes on or put in a random grunt of understanding.

The picture on her desk intrigued him. It was of the two of them, the memories from that day still vivid in his mind. He'd come home to see his mom before leaving for the Sinnoh region, excited to start a new journey and to capture new Pokémon. He couldn't say how he felt when he saw Misty there unexpectedly waiting for him. The flurry of butterfree threatening to overtake his insides was overwhelming. At first he thought he was sick, but then he realized it only happened when Misty was around. He'd start sweating and getting all these strange reactions to the mere presence of her. It was something that used to happen occasionally in the past, when she was traveling with him. But in that moment it had been worse then ever before, and it was almost constant. He'd been convinced that she somehow held some kind of superpower over him. Some might think that an absurd thought, but Ash didn't. It was Misty, she was capable of anything.

It was a few years later before he realized just how powerful this stronghold she had over him really was, and that it was a superpower, just not the kind he had been imagining.

They'd been rough housing the day of the picture, the result of him losing a race in the video game they were playing. It was hardly fair though, not when Misty kept jabbing him with her elbow and pushing buttons on his controller. He had her trapped, tickling her and demanding she beg for mercy before his mother walked in and scolded him, something about how Misty was a young lady and that she should be treated as such. He wasn't sure how to tell his mom that one of his favorite things about Misty was that she wasn't like most girls, she'd wrestle and get dirty right there with him. Regardless he let up, standing up while she continued to lay on the ground, breathless, her smile beaming as she reached up to him to help her stand. The butterfree in his stomach were suddenly high on sugar, bouncing around at a freakish pace and making him dizzy. So he fled as fast as he could, leaving her on the floor in a tangle of frustration as she called back to him.

She asked his mom to take a picture later that day as she prepared to leave. He felt both relieved and sad to see her go. She wrapped her arm around his shoulder, pulling him close and smiling for the camera. There went that sweating reaction again as his face burned. He had to get away! It was like she could read his thoughts, and true to Misty fashion, chose to torture rather then save him. The redhead suddenly brought her arm around his neck, trapping him in a chokehold and beaming for the camera just in time for the click. Ash could feel his cheeks burn while he stared at the framed momento to that time. His face hid nothing in the picture, a wild blush was dusting his cheeks while the completely shocked expression on his face made him look demented. Briefly he wondered if he could discreetly knock the whole thing into the trash without her realizing it.

"Make sure you take notes. We've had lots of interviews today and we don't want to miss out on key information that could be a deciding factor for who to hire simply because we didn't remember. You should be just fine, you've watched me do a bunch of these." Ash picked up the pen in response, scribbling a note about how bossy the Cerulean Gym Leader was on the top of the page. He was rewarded with a swift smack to the back of his head.

"Yeah yeah," he waved her off. He wasn't going to be like Misty, if the Cerulean Gym was supposed to be like working for a family then it would be fun, right? There was no need for the all the pomp and formality of these interviews. Briefly he noticed Misty taking the seat in the back corner that he had spent the afternoon in, watching him. Good, maybe he can teacher her something.

"Hey I'm Ash, what's your name?" Ok maybe rushing the door was not a good idea. The stout brunette stood there blinking, seemingly stunned, as the young man practically bounced in excitement in front her, casual in his hat and sweats, extending a hand to shake. So maybe he didn't read the resume Misty told him to, but why bother when he could have a personal conversation with this lady and learn all the same stuff? Wouldn't that be better?

"Maria Headley," she had a sweet demeanor, smiling kindly at Ash as she shook his hand.

"Let's get this started then!" He yelled, pulling her into the office and slamming the door shut. He strutted to the desk, enjoying this sudden sense of authority he felt. Mrs. Headley reluctantly sat in a chair positioned in front of the mahogany desk, unsure of where to put herself.

"So Maria, got any kids?" Ash thought she seemed like the mom type.

"Yes, three in fact. All grown and out of the house. I've devoted my years to being a stay at home mom. Now I'm ready for a change now. To have my own career." Her words about the job appeared to fly right by his ears unnoticed.

"Are any of them Pokémon trainers? Would they be interested in a battle?" The young man was fidgeting in his chair, giddy. He always got that way about a Pokémon battle. Maria was patient, politely entertaining his enthusiasm.

"My oldest daughter is coordinator, she's in Hoenn right now. The other two chose to go into the medical field," Ash's smile instantly melted. Maria should feel very proud of her children and their accomplishments, but still he was hoping for a battle.

"So if you're a mom does that you're good at cooking? It's kind of a requirement, for being a mom and being at this job. They like you to be a part of the family you know? Family means food!" The trainer spoke with as much passion about food as he did Pokémon. He could feel Misty's glare burning the back of his head.

"Well I don't like to brag, but I do love to cook. However my passion is baking, especially desserts. I've got a couple of award winning pie recipes that have been printed in quite few cookbooks," the rosy cheeked mother seemed bashful to boast about her talents.

"You're hired! Bring one in this afternoon and consider it a done deal!" Ash extended his hand to shake on the matter. So Misty hadn't given him the power to hire someone, but that didn't matter. Not when she had a master dessert maker sitting in her office! He had no doubt his best friend would be completely behind this decision. The only person that could rival his love for sweet things was Misty Waterflower.

"Oh my, this is so sudden. Don't you want to ask me more questions first? What about my worth ethic or my qualifications?" He had managed to baffle the brunette once more, her hazel eyes owlish.

"Uh right, right. Ok um... yeah, I got one!" Ash sat straighter, folding his hands on the desk like he'd seen Misty do earlier and trying to look serious. "If you could be a superhero, what would your superpowers be?"

"Pardon me?"

"Superpowers! You know like flying or strength to crush boulders or super speed?" Ash was dead serious as he spoke, all hint of humor gone. The woman began to wonder about the sanity of this interviewer. Was she even in the right place? She could see the gym leader sitting in the corner, steam practically rolling off of her as her glare never wavered from the young man. Why wasn't Miss Waterflower conducting the interview?

"Well Ash, I'd like to be able to breathe underwater." He quirked an eyebrow, intrigued.

"Why's that?"

"My passion is scuba diving, I love seeing the beautiful reefs and marine life. I would be able to spend as much time under the water as I wanted, whenever I wanted." Maria's tone of voice had changed, her enthusiasm for what she was saying and desire to have this wish encompassing her.

"That'd be awesome! You'd be able to go as far out as you want as well, see all kinds of Pokémon that usually get missed. Could you imagine all the different kinds you could catch?!" Ash was waving his arms emphatically, excited, as though this could actually happen. The list of questions Misty left for him went flying to the floor along with a pile of resumes. The trainer simply kicked the papers under her desk, out of sight.

"Alright I have one last question for you," he challenged, leaning forward, "A piplup walks through the door wearing a sombrero. Why is he here? What would he say?" Ash seemed smug, looking back at Misty briefly. He was doing a way better job at this then she had. He was convinced that was why she looked livid enough to catch fire. Maria laughed, it had a pleasant chime to it, and shook her head at the question, smiling fondly.

"I'm sure that little piplup would be full of personality! He'd demand that the Cerulean Gym hire me, that there's no one better for the position. He'd tell you that I'm organized, friendly and very interested in investing in this establishment."

"Why is he wearing a sombrero then?"

"Oh that's simple, he's a latin dancer. You know how piplup are, they have a love for flair," they laughed good naturedly together. Ash had opened his mouth, about to ask more when a pale hand clasped over it, silencing him. Misty stood next to him, the hand on his face trembling from concealed anger. The gym leader managed to plaster a smile on her face as she addressed Maria.

"Thank you so much for your patience and cooperation throughout this interview Mrs. Headley. You will be hearing back from us in about a week." She tried to sound calm, failing utterly. Maria scampered to her feet, the atmosphere in the room suddenly becoming uncomfortable.

"Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to be interviewed ma'am," she said politely before escorting herself out of the room, shutting the door quietly behind her.

It was suffocatingly silent in the tiny office, the tick from the clock seeming so loud that it bounced off the walls. Misty dropped her hand from Ash's face and moved to walk away from him, wrapping her arms around herself. She stood in the middle of the room for a moment, seeming to debate with herself before continuing towards the door.

"Where are you going?" Ash called out, feeling a bit whip lashed by the whole encounter. She said nothing, didn't even turn to look at him, before opening the door and leaving him alone and confused and suddenly feeling as though he did something horridly wrong.

"Where do you think she is?" Ash questioned Delaney as they packed up the medical supplies. The Dewgong and Seel were taken care of for the night, the muggy air of their enclosure not helping the nauseous feeling he'd had since the young woman walked out on him. Misty hadn't shown up for the evening feeding, leaving the trainer lost before her employee found him and put him to work.

"Don't worry Ash, she just needs so space is all. I'm sure she's alright," Delaney's words had the opposite affect on him. Guilt and worry were gnawing at him. Misty only ever retreated when she was really, truly upset with him. He hated it when she would run from him, run from her emotions and what he had usually unknowingly done. It was the worst thing in the world. He was so preoccupied with his thoughts that he nearly tripped over a young Seel in his path. Delaney stopped him in that moment, taking the supplies from his hands and nodding towards the door.

"Go, I'll take care of getting this put away. You will probably find her in the main pool room. Sometimes she goes in there to sit on the diving board to think, though if she's this mad she's probably swimming. She'll have her team out, every night they exercise. Watch out for Gyarados, if she's mad there's no way he's letting you near her. To say he's fiercely protective is putting it mildly." Ash swiped at the wet strands of hair sticking to his sweaty forehead.

"Thank you Delaney, and sorry about that Seel," he pet the young pup on it's head as is barked it's forgiveness.

"No more dawdling, go find her," the young mom pushed at his shoulder prompting him out of the sanctuary and towards his upset friend

To say she was spitting mad would be an understatement. Misty flew through the water, her Pokémon swimming in the lanes alongside her, as she tried to bleed the negative emotions out of her through exercise. She enjoyed training alongside her team. It was important to her to not ask anything of her Pokémon that she'd never demand of herself. Plus the movement of the water their swimming created added a whole new element of challenge to her workout. Although Psyduck floating around in a donut did nothing for his physical health and distract her, she supposed it was better than the duck constantly needing to be saved as he fell in, wanting to be with everyone else. His little feet padded overhead as he floated above her.

How could Ash do this to her?

The hurt she felt was greater than the anger. Did he not realize how important her job was to her? Did he not respect it? Did he enjoy doing this to her? How hard was it to follow the list? The redhead pivoted under the water, her feet hitting the wall as she pushed off with strong legs, cutting through the liquid before breaking the surface. She thought she had been very clear with her instructions.

The reverberation from Gyarados roar rippled through the water, causing her and the rest of her team to stop. The gym leader spun around wondering what caused the commotion. Her powerhouse Pokémon was rigid with tension, imposing face looming over his victim as his gills flared in tension.


Of course. She rolled her eyes, half tempted to just let Gyarados have his way with the Pallet town native. Instead she found herself swimming towards the edge of the pool. Ash had his hands up, bend backwards in a feeble attempt to put some distance between himself and the angry sea dragon. Misty hoisted herself up from water, standing beside her Pokémon with an expression just as fierce.

"Um, hey?" Ash's voice broke, a blush instantly dusting his cheeks. Normally she'd tease him about it. The young woman was far from being in the mood to tease.

"Go away," is all she said, Gyarados bristling in response to his trainer's words and blaring his angry roar once more. The windows shook slightly this time. Ash couldn't help but feel pure admiration for the monstrous beast that was his best friend's Pokémon.

"Please Mist, can't we talk about this?" He pled. She waved off Gyarados, letting him know to relax and get back to swimming before strutting back to the water's edge intent on ignoring her guest and getting back to her routine. Instead a strong hand halted her movements, grabbing her arm and pulling her back towards the trainer.

"I don't want to talk about this," she growled, trying to seem as imposing as possible. Her cerulean eyes contained all of her outrage she felt. Ash could see hurt there as well, making him feel even worse. His response was to wrap his hand around her other arm, trapping her in front of him, unconsciously rubbing soothing circles along her wet skin.

"I do," he insisted. They sat there at a stalemate, neither one speaking a word. Misty felt stupid as the tears prickled at her eyes. She hoped Ash wouldn't notice. He must have, since a moment later she found herself being pulled into his arms. He cradled her against his chest, his arms felt strong as they circled around her.

"Let me go," it sounded pitiful and halfhearted even to her. She felt him smile against her head and tug her closer. They stood there for a moment as she fought to get her feelings under control and he tried to anchor her.

"Why are you mad at me?" The trainer finally broke the silence. Misty buried her face in his chest. If she was going to be forced to share her feelings the last thing she wanted was to also have to look him in the eye. The setting sun broke through the windows, casting an orange glow on everything as the steady sound of choppy water filled the large room.

"Do you not care at all about how important this is to me?" It sounded like an accusation as well as a question. It stung him to hear. He pulled away from her, shocked that she was even thinking like this.

"Of course I do! You work really hard, I know that. Why would you even say that?"

"Because of how you acted back there! I mean really Ash, superpowers? Piplups? What possible reason could you have for asking those things?" She had pushed out of his arms, indignant, the angry side of her taking over.

"Believe it or not I was doing a great job back there, and I really think I found you the best possible employee." He felt that he did it right. Why couldn't she see that?

"That's another reason why I'm so angry with you! She is one of the applicants that I have been seriously looking at. How could you possibly think that any of that was helpful, how could you ruin this for me?" The two of them had spent years competing and teasing each other, but she never thought Ash would take it this far. The obstinate resolution on his face insisting that he had done things right was not helping. The gym leader just wanted to get back in the water before she did something dumb, like cry.

"I wasn't trying to ruin anything! Look the question about piplup had a purpose. A secretary is going to spend all day talking to people, right? You yourself said this person was going to be the first face people see that represents this gym. You want someone who is good at creating conversation, that can think on their feet. She's got to be able to handle the pressure, to come up with something other then a blank stare when she's stumped. And the superhero question, well honestly you can tell a lot about a person from how they answer that, right? Look how much we learned about her. You've been harping all day that you want someone who is going to fit into the family environment here, I just wanted to make sure that would happen. I wanted to prove to you that I could do this and do it well, my way." His voiced died off towards the end of his defense as he looked down, scuffing the tiled floor with his foot. Ash was beginning to feel uncomfortable as she just stood there, studying his face and gaping. He was unsure of what more he could say. Thankfully she spoke up right as he was opening his mouth to start rambling nonsense, anything to break up her scrutiny and get her to see things from his perspective.

"Why do you have to be the biggest, sweetest jerk," she wiped at her eyes, trying to rub away any signs of the distress she's been under. He laughed good naturedly, willing to take any verbal jab she wanted to dish if it meant she would stop being mad at him.

"You read the terms and conditions of being best friends, it's just a part of the deal," he cheekily responded, swallowing loudly when she gave him a watery smile. He just wanted them back on even ground again.

"I guess this is a hard lesson in learning to read the fine print before signing your name to things," she prodded back, making him pout. "I guess you are right though, Maria is exactly what you described. I didn't think of it like that. She would be good match."

"You think so?" Ash was elated. He felt so out of loop from Misty's new life, like he didn't have a place in it anymore. The trainer really wanted to be the one to find her next employee, to have contributed and been a part of her new world in some way, even if it was small. Plus he really liked Maria and not so secretly hoped she would decide to bring by one of those pies.

"Pika!" Pikachu suddenly darted from around a table and hid behind his owner, his little arms waving victoriously as a group of Misty's Pokémon filed up behind him, various noises of protest and argument sounding around them. Looks like they were playing tag and Ash was base. The tussle was happening right at his feet, Pokémon knocking into him and clinging to his legs as they swung around, trying to touch Pikachu.

"Guys, cut it out!" Ash cried before losing his footing and crashing to the ground, little feet scrambling to get out from under him. Misty was about to berate the whole group when Gyarados broke the water's surface, gills flaring as his berating roars shook the windows. The redhead adored her giant Pokémon, he was just as bossy as she was. Squeaks and gasps sounded out from everyone as they dashed for the pool and back to their exercises, unwilling to stand up against the angry flying type. Pikachu stood there poking his trainer still lying on the floor until he noticed Gyarados's livid expression fixed on him. The mouse lowered his ears apologetically before slinking towards the pool and into the water. Apparently he was going to be forced to swim as well.

Ash was laying there with his hands on his face. His head was suddenly pounding. He accidently brushed the bruising on his temple with his fingers, wincing, remembering the beating he took earlier that day. This wasn't helping with the pain at all. Misty nudged his leg with her foot before reaching a hand down to help him up.

"Come on lazy bones, lets get you some dinner and more medicine."

After much back and forth Ash finally managed to convince the redhead to order pizza. She was wanting to make some elaborate pasta dish, and as much as he appreciated her desire to cook for him in his mind his poor stomach didn't seem to agree. He wasn't in the mood to deal with feeling like he'd been poisoned. They decided to split the gym in half, walking through and turning off lights while locking doors. Ash thought the gym would be creepy at night with all the dark hallways and creepy corners. Instead it had it's own beauty. The long hallways glowed in various blues, purples and greens as the tanks lit up. Ash and Pikachu kept stopping and watching, awed at how beautiful the coral and vegetation looked as various Pokémon either went to sleep or began to wake, their nocturnal nature kicking in.

The pair finally finished their half of the lockdown before heading towards the main room. It glowed silver, just as it had the night before, as the moon poured in through the overhead windows.

"Misty's done a great job with all of this hasn't she," the trainer whispered in awe to his best buddy.

"Pi pikachu," the mouse agreed, impressed with how much the gym had changed.

"Do you miss her as much as I do? You know, traveling with us and stuff?" He kept whispering. Pikachu was the only one he'd ever share such a confession with.

"Pikachu pika pi pi chu, pika pikachupi chu," his furry friend nuzzled his cheek in comfort, his little fingers digging deeper into Ash's shoulder in order to maintain his balance.

"Me too buddy, me too."

The two crashed into a mountain of cotton and fluff as soon as they walked through the door and into the apartment, Misty's voice floating somewhere from behind it.

"Take this and make your bed on the couch," Ash crinkled his nose at the ugly prints and colors. These definitely came from the room he was staying in. Sweet pea was rolling off the linens in powerful waves of scent.

"What did I do to get banished to the couch?" He sputtered. Misty laughed, surprised by his question and wondering if he realized that it made them sound like some fighting married couple. There was no way she was going to ask him.

"This isn't a punishment. The doctor said I need to keep an eye on you tonight to make sure that everything goes alright while you sleep. So we're going to sleep in the living room. You know what, scratch what I said earlier. I get the couch, you can have the floor." She scooped her neatly made blankets up in a pile off the carpet and began to make herself a new bed on the couch. Ash dumped his bundle of blankets and sheets on top of her pile while boldly shoving the redhead with enough force that she tripped and fell onto the couch, disrupting her work. He then got busy undoing all the work she had just done, plucking her pillows off the couch and trying to snatch her sheet up from underneath her.

"What're you doing!" she cried, the constant shifting of the sheet under her as he tugged at it making it hard for her to stand back up.

"What happened to your sense of fun? If we're going to spend the night out here we're not doing something boring like someone on the couch while the other is on the floor. We are building a fort!" he said it like it was common sense, like he couldn't believe that she hadn't thought of this plan.

"Pikachu!" Ash could always count on Pikachu to support his ideas. Azurill started chirping energetically, grabbing a pillow in her mouth and pulling it into the middle of the room to help.

"See, it's a great idea, Pikachu and Azurill agee," he exclaimed, excited.

"It's a horrible idea," was her retort, shooting him down.

"Why? Give me one good reason why," he challenged, unwilling to cave. They were going to build a fort.

"Its a fire hazard. What if my place catches on fire tonight and we get trapped in this thing? We could die!" He just stared at her like she was crazy.

"We're building a fort," he said with finality. Misty recognized that tone of voice, it was the one he got when he was going to be stubborn.

"I'm not sleeping with you on the floor in a fort all night!" Her cheeks burned with a blush. She had worked for years to make sure her feelings for her best friend went under the radar, undetected. She didn't trust herself in this situation. No, they weren't doing this.

"You've slept next to me in plenty of places. Quit being a stick in the mud and help me build this thing," he was dragging chairs into the living room, setting them up in just the way he wanted and getting started. He needed her to do this with him, for her to shed that grown up persona and be a kid with him again. Ash couldn't figure out why it upset him so much to see her so responsible, so adult.

He was proud of her. Truly he was, she'd really made something of herself and had come so far. So far in fact that he felt left behind. Here she was with her grown up job and bills, with employees and battles and a public image. Where was he? Still on the road, traveling from one league to the next with nothing tying him down but the pack on his back. They started their journey together, in the same place and traveling down that path side by side. He felt uneasy now, like she had taken a new road and was sprinting ahead while he was helpless to do nothing but watch her from a distance.

"Are you going to help me or not?" He teased, throwing a pillow at her. A part of him wanted to grab a ponytail and beg her to put her hair back up in that side pony tail, to be his Misty for one night. She was about to retort when there was a knock on the door.

"Pizza guy!" A male voice called from the other side. Misty threw the pillow back at her friend before putting on a smile and opening the door.

"What exactly is that supposed to be?" It looked like some giant explosion of linens and bedding was trying to overtake her living room. Pikachu and Azurill were already inside, to eager to enjoy their creation to wait for her. Misty hadn't participated in building the fort. No she spent her time soaking in Ash's cries of victory and frustration as he tried to figure out how to shape the structure in the way he was envisioning, his pizza slices dangling from his mouth as he slaved away.

"It's our fort," he was proud, hands on his hips as he beamed, "Now quit being a spoil sport and come inside." He tugged at her arm, dragging her along with him. She couldn't help grinning along with him, his enthusiasm had always been infectious.

"How do we get in?" The gym leader began to circle the thing once he let up his grip, unable to find an opening.

"Right here," Ash called, getting down on his knees. He crawled under a zebra print wall, legs sprawled and torso twisting as he pulled himself under the blanket. Little cries sounded from inside, the Pokémon thrilled to see the young man join them.

"Come on Misty!" He called out to her, beckoning her to join him. She hesitated at first, unsure if it was smart, before finally shrugging and giving in completely to the idea. Ash had gone through a lot of effort to make this happen, the least she could do is enjoy this moment. When would they be able to have fun like this again? It was upsetting that she couldn't answer that question. Strong hands grabbed her arms as she started to crawl under the blanket, pulling her in quickly.

It was strangely beautiful inside, the blankets creating a colorful cave feel while the warm yellow light of the lamp lit up the space. The trainer had raided her sisters rooms, stealing their blankets and making a cushioned area for them to sleep. Pillows lined the small space everywhere. He had completed the fortress with a note hanging near the secret entrance, written in his messy scrawl.

Ketchum and Waterflower Fort, Keep Out!

The overwhelming fondness she suddenly felt for her best friend caused her breath to catch in her throat. It hit her hard just how much she missed him, missed his insane antics and the way he could simultaneously make her so happy and crazy all at once. The young woman could hear him yawning behind her. He had been doing that all day, since his accident. She crawled over to him, laying down on her side and looking up at his sitting form as he sleepily smiled at her, trying to run a hand through his messy hair as he set his hat down.

"This is amazing Ash. It was a great idea," she loved the way he smiled whenever she complimented him. It was blinding and all encompassing and you could always tell it meant the world to him. It made it hard for her to breathe, hard for her to keep her feelings to herself. It was one of the reasons why she didn't do it too often. He settled down next to her, turning to face her before bringing an arm up under his head. He looked so handsome in the soft glow of the lamp, his eyes the richest pools of brown and endless as the strong features of his face became even more contrasted in the lighting. It hit her hard that the kid she fished up was gone. He had been replaced by this incredibly talented man. Misty reached out to him, gently pushing his bangs back from his eyes, making his grin grow even further as his happiness filled up their fort.

Their time together seemed too short as they talked long into the night, sharing what they couldn't when they video chatted while he was on his journeys. They poured out their fears, disappointments, the moments that made them proud and the people they'd met since they last saw each other. With their Pokémon cuddled between them they reconnected, like best friends always do, and treasured the moment.

It was just them. Just Ash and Misty.

I know it's been a century and a half since I updated this story, I'm so sorry guys. I know it's not fair to you.

Here's what happened. I had to take a break from it because I was in a research and writing class (I'm in college). I had a paper and presentation on Frederick Barbarossa that was worth 30% of my grade. This is academic writing so it sounds incredibly different from fictional writing. Meaning of Master is my first fictional story since childhood, I think I mentioned that in another authors note. So I say that to say up to that point I had done nothing but write academic papers. I had no idea that delving into creative writing was going to affect my research papers. I was finding that as I kept writing this story I was unconsciously changing my style of writing for my research paper. It got to the point that my teacher addressed me and said 'Nicole, if I didn't know any better I would say I was reading a romance novel. This is supposed to be academic writing, I don't know why the sudden change in style but you are going to be laughed at if you turned this in to any professional institution.' I was mortified. I've never had that problem before, so I had to take a break from the story until I went on Christmas break.

Then the idea for Snatched came along and I started working on research for it. I just could not get that plot bunny out of my head. I promise now that I am done with my other story that I will be dedicated to completing The Meaning of Master. It's already been hard for me to mentally shift my gears. Snatched is insanely darker than Meaning of Master, and it's in first person whereas Meaning of Master is in third. To be honest I think I prefer writing in first person, but the lines have already been drawn in the sand so to speak for this story so I have to stick to third. It's just been hard *cries*

Anyways I'm back, and with only two weeks left in school I should have plenty of time here soon to update regularly! Also you may have noticed that I changed my cover picture. One of my all time favorite artists (I've been fangirling over her artwork since I was fourteen) was sweet enough to be willing to allow me to commission her to do a picture for this story. Every single one of you need to check it out, she did a beautiful job. I've been in awe of it from the very first moment I saw it! I'll leave a link at the bottom of this note for you to go see it, just make sure to remove the spaces. I'm sorry once again that it's been so long, I hope you guys are still interested in this story.

*Edit* So the website won't let me leave a link even with spaces. If you google 'hollylu commission meaning of master' it'll be the first link that pops up!