Act iii Stage ii

“Angel, I hear you! Speak, I listen! Stay by my side, guide me...”

Misty felt miserable for the rest of that day and most of the next.

Brock and Suzie stopped by her room on their way downstairs to the Halloween party though, which had cheered her up for a little while. Brock was dressed as an enormous stalk of broccoli; his stem was so narrow that he was forced to waddle comically wherever he went, and it amused his date to no end. He’d shown up at Misty's door with an enormous grin on his green-painted face and announced proudly, “Hello! I’m broccoli! Get it? I’m Brock-oli!” while waving his stubby hands, which came directly out of the stalk and held bushy broccoli-looking branches. They both wore black bands in memory of young Max Haruka, though without arms Brock was forced to find an alternative location for his. It looked like he’d finally settled on working it around one of the thinner stems branching out from the top of his head.

He had, apparently, gotten over his shyness of Suzie upon learning that she was studying to be a Breeder as well. Misty was glad. She knew Brock’s lecherousness was mostly just for show; he really did want a steady girlfriend, he was just afraid of being seriously rejected. Misty thought quiet, steady Suzie was perfect for him; she would never break his loyal heart with thoughtless, frivolous flirtations, and she was one of the few people in the Stadium who might actually appreciate his quirky sense of humor. She just hoped Brock realized what a find she was before graduation. Suzie had had her eye on him for years, but he just wasn’t the type of guy who paid close attention to what others thought of him.

They’d left her alone with her homework around eight, though they hadn’t stopped begging her to go with them until she’d finally closed the door on Brock’s bushy green head. She didn’t want to be one of those singles abandoned at the snack table, picking absently at cold hor'dourves. Besides, memories of her sort-of breakup with Rudi were still fresh in her mind, and she didn’t feel like bursting randomly into tears if she happened to run into him.

She had briefly considered going anyway and to hell with Rudi, but one look at the crooked mountain of textbooks on her floor was more than enough to sweep that thought from her mind. She’d ended up spending most of Friday hanging out with her Pokémon in an attempt to forget about him, and had consequently been stuck with mostly bookwork today. And on top of all that, she still hadn’t seen Ash, and his absence was beginning to unnerve her; it’d been well over three days now. Sighing heavily, she tried to banish everything from her mind and settled comfortably on her bed, scanning her open textbook in an attempt to find where she’d left off at Brock and Suzie’s interruption. She supposed the only other person in the world who could possibly feel more miserable right now was May Haruka.

Not ten minutes later she had finally gotten into her text when she was startled abruptly out of it again by a soft knock on her door. She glared at her book in frustration. With Brock at the party there was only one other person who would come to see her, and whether it was to apologize or not, Misty did not want to speak with him right now.

“If that’s you, Rudi, go away!” she told the door crossly, and turned back to her book. A moment later she heard the door open, and she cursed at her carelessness. She should have locked it.

“I told you, Rudi, to go away—”

“Are you having problems with Rudi? Because I thought Mom said he was gonna help you with Gary.”

Ash!” Misty was on her feet and across the room before her book had time to fall to the cluttered floor. She had just enough time to glimpse his startled expression—half-hidden behind another pair of dark sunglasses— before she was hugging him tightly, ignoring the minor electric shock that rolled through her at his touch. It was another moment before she realized his reaction.

He’d gone rigid in her arms, completely opposite of the way he’d held her limply just a few days before. Misty breathed in his scent deeply before reluctantly releasing him; she’d never thought a mixture of dust and static electricity could smell so good. An instant later, though, her relieved smile had flipped into an annoyed frown.

“Where have you been?” she demanded angrily, and took a step back in order to fix him with the full intensity of her glare. Ash squirmed uncomfortably under her gaze, and she crossed her arms. “Well? You made it sound like you’d be up by Thursday. Today’s Saturday, and I’ve been worried sick!” She didn’t add that he still looked a bit pale, or that the tiny portion of his eyes visible around his glasses looked red-rimmed and sleep- deprived. His hair was droopy as well; it wasn’t sticking up nearly as much as it usually did, and it seemed a duller black than she remembered. A chill ran through her at the thought of him aggravating something that had looked bad enough on Wednesday.

“Are you still sick?” He jerked his eyes up to hers, startled, and Misty saw that his lips were dry and cracked as well. Her fear turned to anger. “You are still sick, aren’t you? What the hell were you thinking, coming all the way up here when you’re still sick? What if you make it worse? You shouldn’t have come if you’re not better yet!”

He looked confused, and a little panicked. Misty took another step back and pointed to her bed, which was still piled with notebooks and pens from her massive study session earlier. “Sit down before you make it worse,” she ordered. Ash stared at her.

“I’m fine—” he began weakly, but Misty was not about to risk his health again.

Sit. Down.” Ash met her eyes for the briefest of moments before stepping quickly past her and perching gingerly on the corner of the bed. Misty sank down beside him and noticed that the gloveless hands pooled in his lap were wrapped halfway up his forearms with gauze. She wondered if the cuts from those handcuffs still hurt, or if he was still randomly shocking things. Then she wondered if he was somehow connected to the way she had been shocking things lately. She usually only shocked herself on metal, not people.

“Does your electricity get worse in the winter?”


“The static shocks,” Misty explained, and reached over to poke his arm. Her finger popped when she got too close and she jerked it back, then looked up at him expectantly. He'd jerked away as well, and was staring at her in confusion.

“Um, no, not really—”

“Do you ever shock things without meaning to?” Misty had a hundred questions running rampant through her mind, and she was determined to find answers for every one of them.

“Not really, I—”

“What about your electricity? Does it ever hurt?”

Ash was staring at her with an odd expression on his face. “No...” he said slowly, and Misty curled her legs up Indian-style on the bed to make herself more comfortable.

“What about your eyes? Can you see in the dark?”

“What, you mean like night vision? Of course not.”

“Then how can you wear sunglasses in the dark? Isn’t it, well, dark?”

He was frowning at her now, and he answered her question with an extended, “Yes...”

“What about pupils? How can you see without pupils?”

Ash opened his mouth to respond and closed it again quickly, his frown deepening. “I don’t know. Look, Misty, I didn’t come up here to—”

“Well now that you are here, and now that you’re at least halfway okay again, you’re going to,” Misty interrupted firmly. “I’ve gone long enough without any answers, and I’m dying. So. Where does the brown in your eyes come from? I know yellow is your Element and black is like, an Elemental’s default color, but what’s brown?”

Ash looked highly uncomfortable. He shifted uneasily on her bed and started picking at the edge of the gauze on his wrists as if it itched him. “I don’t know. I never really thought about it before. I—”

“Maybe it’s your natural color?” Misty suggested. Ash looked at her.


“It’s a pretty color, if it is. Sort of like milk chocolate.” Ash looked away again at her comment, and Misty could detect the faintest hint of a blush flash across the bridge of his nose and over the tips of his ears. She smiled; she’d always thought that was cute in guys. Then she remembered her next question. “What about Pikachu? How did the he become your partner-thing?”

“My what? I don’t know; I don’t remember. Listen, Misty, I really don’t want to—”

“I don’t care,” Misty broke in cheerfully. “So how did you meet Gary? Why does he hate you so much, and how does he know so much about you if you’re enemies?”

Ash’s face darkened. Misty wondered if she’d asked something wrong, or if he was going to brush her off and leave again like he used to. But then, “I don’t know why he hates me so much. Mom said his grandfather hated my dad, but his grandfather killed my dad, so I don’t know what he’s got against me. Those damn handcuffs were meant to kill me. Mom thinks whatever they did is keeping me from healing properly—”

“You’re not healing properly?”

Ash looked at her suddenly, startled, and she knew as well as if he’d blatantly told her that he hadn’t meant to say that. Her questions faded to the back of her mind, replaced by newer and more urgent ones.

“What’s not healing properly? Your wrists? Your electricity? But how can that get sick? What’ll happen to you if you can’t fix it? And what’s wrong with you now?”

Ash looked trapped. “I don’t know what’s wrong, Misty. But really, that’s not why I’m here. I came to tell you—”

“You had me terrified, Ash,” said Misty quietly, her eyes on her hands as they twisted in her lap. Ash stared at her. “The way you looked in that cell...I thought something was really wrong. And I was right, wasn’t I?” She looked up to meet his startled eyes—still through those damn glasses—and added, “Something’s wrong with you.”

He held her gaze for a moment, then ducked his head and picked at his bandages again. “I’m fine. I just need to take it easy for a while, I think, and that’ll be hard soon, which is why I’m here. But I meant to apologize for the other day. I don’t know exactly what I said to you in there, but I’m sure it wasn’t good. And—Brock Slate was there too, wasn’t he?” Misty nodded.

“He helped me get out of Rudi’s suite so I could help you,” she told him. “I’m sorry I told him about you, but I’m glad I did. He won’t tell anyone, Ash—he told me you helped him once, back when a cave in the Rock arena collapsed on him. He never forgot it.”

Ash was nodding, but he wasn’t meeting her eyes. “Mom said she’s glad you told him. She said you needed someone to tell.”

Misty’s mind flashed to Rudi, and she felt a stab of guilt in her chest. But she was determined not to keep any secrets from Ash, if she didn’t want him to keep any more from her. So she looked at her hands and said quietly, “I told someone else, too.” She was startled to see Ash continue nodding.

“Rudi, I know. And I can’t blame you for that. It was my fault, really, for scaring you off like I did. I should have calmed you down or something. I just didn’t think...” He trailed off quietly, then sighed and glanced up at her quickly. “You did what anyone in your position would do, and he did what anyone in his position would do, and I can’t...It was mostly my fault anyway.”

“No it wasn’t, Ash,” Misty told him forcefully. “It was mine, and I know it, and I can’t tell you how sorry I am for it. And I don’t care now that he knows what I did for you; I’d rather have you safe and him mad at me than you dead and things fine and dandy between us.”

Ash was staring at his fingers intently. He was silent for a moment before he said quietly, “So he did figure it out, then. Mom hoped he wouldn’t.”

“I really don’t care, Ash.” Misty was struggling not to show how close she was to crying after thinking about Rudi again, but she really didn’t care. Not if the alternative was a dead Ash. Ash refused to look at her.

“Mom says you risked risked him to help me,” he said softly. “She says you risked everything to help me.”

Misty’s chest lurched. She wondered why he needed his mother to tell him these things. “Of course I did, Ash. And I’d do it again, too. I—” She stopped suddenly, startled by the realization of what she’d been about to say. She what, exactly? What was he to her? Was he a friend, or was he something else entirely? Something more like...Rudi?

“I know.” Ash’s voice was just above a whisper. “I know that now. And I think...”

“What, Ash?” Misty prompted him gently. Her heart was pounding in her chest.

“I think...Well, things are going to change, I think. They’re going to get more dangerous, now that the headMasters have seen me. They can’t catch a rumor, but an actual Elemental...”

Misty frowned. Just what was he trying to say? “And?”

“And, well...I think maybe we should stop meeting like this.”

Misty stared at him, shocked. Her chest tightened painfully, and her mind retraced his words like they were a scratched CD. Ash glanced quickly at her, oblivious, and took a deep breath. He let it out in a long, heavy sigh.

“It’s what I came up here to tell you. You only have two more months here, after all, and I don’t think...well, I don’t think it’s fair for me to jeopardize your Training over something as trivial as, well, Training. You don’t need it anyway; your Pokémon are more than strong enough for you to pass your final exams as they are now.”

“What are you saying, Ash?” Misty asked him, horrified of the implications. Ash met her eyes and shrugged, then quickly looked away again.

“I just think it’ll be safer for you if we don’t meet anymore—”

Mew!” Misty cried loudly, and Ash looked up at her, startled. She glared at him as furious tears gathered once again in her eyes. “Why is everyone so concerned for my goddam safety?” she demanded angrily. “Why doesn’t anyone think I’m capable of taking care of myself? Why does everyone think I need to be protected— ”

“I think you’re perfectly capable,” Ash interjected quickly. “More than capable. I just don’t want to risk it—”

“It’s not up to just you, Ash!” Misty all but screamed. “Some of that decision is rightfully mine, and I say no!”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Ash hurriedly. He was looking away from her again. “Gary’s gonna be pretty angry with both of us when he recovers from those Tentacool, assuming he recovers at all, and he’ll—”

“I don’t care, Ash!” Misty told him furiously. First Rudi and now him? What had she done to make herself look so weak and helpless? “I don’t care about Gary, and I don’t care about Rudi, and I don’t even care about graduation! So don’t you dare try to shove me away to ‘save’ me or ‘protect’ me, because I don’t want it!”

Ash was staring at his hands again. “I just don’t think I’m worth the risk, Misty. I’m not trying to, I dunno, run away or anything. I just don’t think—”

“Ash, walking away from me now would be much worse than anything Gary could come up with.” She was struggling to keep her voice even and strong, struggling to make him understand. “I don’t want to just forget everything so I can graduate safely and leave. I don’t want to never see you again just because of some damn risk, and I don’t want—Dammit, Ash, would you look at me?” She grabbed his head, ignoring the shock that rocked her fingers, and forced his startled eyes up to hers. Glaring into his glasses, she said with all the fury she could muster, “You’re worth the risk, you idiot.”

And then she kissed him.

She wasn’t sure why, and she wasn’t sure what made her do it, but feeling those dry, cracked lips pressed against her own brought out a wave of emotions in her that Rudi’s had never so much as hinted at. Even in that split second it took for her to realize what she was doing, she knew it was right; she could feel it stir something inside her, and she doubted it was a part of the static shock that cracked from his mouth to hers.

And then it was over, in only the briefest of moments. She jerked back and Ash jerked back, and he all but toppled from the bed. He was staring at her with wide, incredulous eyes, and Misty felt a hint of doubt creep in over her elated rush. What had she just done? Why had she done it? What was going through Ash’s head now that it was done?

Why couldn’t she bring herself to take it back?

He licked his lips and swallowed nervously, his eyes darting quickly around the room. “I um—I have to go.”

Misty’s eyes widened when he moved. “Wait! Ash!”

But he was already out the door with that blurring speed of his, and when Misty yanked it open behind him she could only catch the hint of a shadow as it breezed across the top of a wall. She stared into the dark rafters while her heart beat madly, both over the active memory of that brief kiss and the way he’d reacted to it. Slumping weakly against the door, she banged her head against the hard wood and bit back worried tears.

What had she just done?


Ash didn’t return that night. Misty wasn’t surprised, but still. She’d hoped...

She gave up on her homework. Her mind was too filled with worry over the sheer amount, and over the stupidity that seemed to have seeped somehow into her brain over the last week. First she’d lied to Rudi, and then she’d...she’d kissed Ash. Just what the hell was she thinking? She’d somehow managed to completely obliterate any chance she had with both of the men she loved in a matter of two small days.

Both...That thought was still strange to Misty. But she did love Ash, didn’t she? And not like Brock; not anything like a big brother or a friend. Well, not a regular friend. But still. Mew. Where had that come from? Not one week ago she’d been dancing on tiptoes over finally kissing Rudi—and was he even gone? He hadn’t really broken up with her, and here she’d gone and kissed Ash...

She’d kissed Ash. She had kissed Ash. What the hell was wrong with her? She didn’t just randomly kiss people like that!

What if Rudi was only mad at her? What if he hadn’t wanted to end anything; what if he’d just wanted her to know how disappointed he was, how hurt over her deception? Was she supposed to tell him she’d kissed Ash, or lie to him again? And what about Ash? Was she supposed to tell him she was sorry? That she’d never do it again, and could they please just forget everything and go back to the way things were?

But what if she didn’t want to? What if she wanted to kiss him again?

How could she possibly be in love with two people at once?

“Mew, Totodile...” She sighed heavily and hugged the young Pokémon, who cooed gently and nuzzled the base of her neck. She was so upset over her mess of a love life that for once she didn’t care if she was caught with a Pokémon loose in her room. “I think I really screwed things up,” she told the crocodile gently. “I think I ruined everything...”

Ash would never face her again. And how would she ever face him? He hated physical contact, had shied away from her touch for as long as she’d known him. And even when he did touch her, it was always for only the briefest of moments, and then he’d yank himself away as if burned. He was always so on edge around her; the only time she’d seen him look truly comfortable was when he was busy with a Pokémon and had forgotten she was in the same room.

Misty had always wondered about that. He was never comfortable when people were near, like he was afraid of getting caught. But who knew enough about him to hunt him? The headMasters had seemed surprised when they saw him in Arena Five. Was there someone else? Someone above them? Who? And were they after her now? After Brock? Misty’s stomach lurched. It was her fault Brock was in this mess. If he was expelled because of her not two months from his graduation...He’d wanted to be a Breeder for so long...

Her throat burned, and she felt warm tears leak from the corner of her eyes. Totodile smelled them and looked up at her curiously, bright green eyes crinkled with worry. Misty could only see a large bluish blur where he was curled in her lap. “I’ve messed up everything,” she told him weakly. Totodile reached his tiny arms up for a proper hug. Misty held him tightly and tried not to notice the large ache eating away at her chest. “Ash is terrified of me now, and Rudi thinks I betrayed him...and I did betray him! And then I did it again! Even if he does still love me, how can he—” Her voice broke. He loved her...He’d told her he loved her, and...she loved him. And she loved Ash, maybe just as much. Maybe more. And she didn’t know what the hell she was supposed to do now that she’d screwed things up between both of them.

She berated herself until after nearly three in the morning, when she finally managed to slip into a fitful sleep. Totodile coiled up against her stomach and breathed softly against the bottom of her chin, trying to cheer her up. He heard the knock on her door a little after her breathing had evened out, but he didn’t wake her up for it; he figured she'd had enough of people for one day.


Brock figured Misty would be tired and maybe even asleep, so he knocked quietly. When she didn’t answer he shrugged stiffly and started off for his own room. He was bursting to tell her about his amazing night with Suzie, but he figured she could wait until tomorrow; maybe by then she’d feel a little better.

Finding Ash waiting for him in his room was the last thing he expected.

“Mew!” he yelped when he caught sight of the Elemental standing nervously in the far corner. He’d closed and locked his door and was halfway across his room before he’d even noticed. Ash was standing mostly in shadow with his arms crossed.

“Sorry.” Ash offered a tiny smile, his gaze darting around the room. His eyes were hidden behind a pair of sunglasses; Brock wondered if he could see in the dark with them.

“What are you doing here?” Brock winced. He hadn’t meant to sound harsh, but it was late and this damn costume was itchy and hot and he had not planned on running into an Elemental in his room.

“I just came to say thanks.” Ash licked his lips uneasily, then quickly added, “And um, sorry. For, I dunno, the trouble. You won’t have to worry about me anymore though; now that Gary’s awake and Rudi knows what you and Misty did I won’t risk seeing her anymore, or you, so—”

“Wait,” Brock interrupted, confused. “You’re not gonna see Misty anymore? Have you told her this?” If he had, Brock doubted she would have taken it well. After all, Rudi had just left her, and he suspected Ash was one of the few things keeping her going. Maybe the only thing. It was obvious she really cared about him.

Ash looked anxiously around the room. “Uh, yeah. I did. So yeah, I have to go—” He made to leave, but Brock stopped him with a hand on his shoulder before he could pass. Ash jumped back at his touch and hastily crossed his arms again, gaze flicking quickly from Brock’s dresser to his closet. Brock frowned. Something was off. He didn’t know Ash all that well, but something about him was

“Hang on a second. Why are you so jittery? Did something happen? And what did Misty say when you talked to her?” She couldn’t have taken it well, he knew.

“No. Nothing. Just—nothing. I have to go.”

Brock stopped him again, and again he jumped back. Yes, something was definitely off about him. He looked a little pale and...Was he sweating? But it was freezing in Brock’s room! He hadn’t had the heat on since noon!

“Would you wait a minute?” he demanded, and Ash took a step back. Brock followed him, and desperately wished he had chosen a costume a little more respectable than a giant stalk of broccoli. He didn’t think it was very intimidating. “Why are you so frightened of me? I already promised Misty I wouldn’t tell anyone about you, and I meant it. I’m as trustworthy as she is.”

“It’s not—I’m not—” He looked panicked. His eyes kept darting to the door.

“Just sit down for a minute, okay? Relax. I swear, you’re worse than Misty.”

Ash flinched each time he heard Misty’s name, and Brock’s eyes narrowed. Something had happened between them. But what it could have possibly been to rile him up so much? Was it only Misty, or had something else happened as well? Brock’s stomach lurched. They hadn’t been found out by the headMasters, had they?

Ash was shaky and pale. “Would you sit down?” Brock asked him, irritated. “You look ready to fall over. Are you still sick? Can I get you anything? I have some mineral water from Misty left over in the fridge—” Again, that barely perceptible cringe at her name. Now Brock was glaring at him. “What happened?” he demanded.

Ash’s eyes were on the door. “Nothing happened,” he said quickly—too quickly, and Brock’s frown deepened.

“Something happened,” he said skeptically. “Tell me what.”

Ash’s nervousness had increased tenfold in the last few minutes. Brock’s apprehension grew. “Nothing happened! We just—I just—nothing! Now I have to go—”

This time Brock stepped in front of him, and Ash was forced to take a few steps back. Brock followed as he said angrily, “Is it the costume? Because I would ignore the costume if I were you. Now, something happened between you and Misty, and by the way you’re acting I’m guessing it’s not good. Which is bad. Misty’s under enough stress as it is, what with her Masters cracking down on her and keeping you secret and dealing with her breakup with Rudi—”

“She broke up with Rudi?”

Brock paused. Ash’s eyebrows were raised high above his glasses, his eyes wide. He hadn’t known? “Actually, he sort of broke up with her. She didn’t tell you?”

“I—no, I—She said he was mad at her, but I didn’t think...Was it over me? Oh Mew, I hope it wasn’t over me...”

Brock stared. A small suspicion was beginning to form in the back of his mind. “You?” he asked carefully, curious. “What about you?” His mind was racing. Misty had been seeing him nearly every day for weeks on end now. That was more than she saw Rudi. But she’d never mentioned...unless she didn’t know either; she'd never really been able to recognize subtle changes in her emotions. In her mind she either liked you or she didn’t. But then Rudi...

Ash took another step back from him, licking his lips nervously. Brock saw that they were cracked. Definitely still sick then. But what had he said to Misty? What had she said to make him so edgy?

“Well I just thought...I mean, I know he knows what you guys did—”

“For you,” Brock reminded him. He didn’t seem to understand his own importance. “We did all that for you. She did all that for you. She risked everything for you—”

“I know!” he burst out suddenly. “I know! And now she should back off before she gets hurt, or Gary—”

“You didn’t tell her that, did you?” Brock asked, horrified. Ash swung his gaze up from Brock’s stuffed Shellder to his eyes.

“Well, yeah, I—”

“Oh, Mew.” Brock took a step back and leaned wearily against his dresser, teetering slightly when a handle caught on one of his branches. He held back the sudden urge to hit Ash, who was evidently completely oblivious, because he was staring at Brock in curious apprehension.

“What? I just told her it would be safer—”

“She doesn’t want safe, Ash,” Brock broke in forcefully. “She’s not one of those girls who hangs out with guys for their protection.”

“I know that,” said Ash nervously. “I know that. I just—”

“If you just want her to be safe, I can offer you a few places to stick your concern. She doesn’t want it. Forcing it on her will only make her feel weak. She likes to do things on her own. Haven’t you figured that out yet?”

“Of course I have.” Ash’s voice was defiant, but it also sounded a little pleading. “I know that about her. I wouldn’t have agreed to help her Train if I didn’t think she could at least take care of herself. But why can’t she listen to reason? If it was dangerous around me before it’s a hundred times worse now, and I—” Realization dawned on Brock and he cut him off sharply.

“Is that what this is about? She won’t let you ditch her?” Ash frowned.

“I’m not ‘ditching’ her—”

“That’s how she sees it. In case you haven’t noticed, Ash, she doesn’t have a lot of friends here. She’s incredibly independent—you know her entire family died when she was eleven, don’t you?” Ash nodded, his brows knitted in a pained expression. “Then you should know that she’s perfectly capable of taking care of herself, and that she doesn’t want it any other way. Hell, Ash, I agree with you; I think it’s way too dangerous for you two to keep up what were doing before. But she won’t accept that just because you tell her she should. What few friends she has she keeps, and she does it for a reason.” He paused, and offered Ash a sly grin. “Honestly, she’s kind of bullheaded; she won’t listen to reason even when it’s staring her in the face. It’s kind of annoying, isn’t it?”

Ash’s eyes were on the ground. He slowly sank down to perch on the very corner of Brock’s bed, drawing one leg up against his chest and curling his hands around the mattress’s edges lightly. His posture looked like he was ready to bolt at any moment, but his expression said otherwise.

“Why won’t she listen to me?” he asked softly. “Why does she have care so much? I’ll only get her hurt, or expelled, or both—maybe even killed. I don’t know. I don’t think she understands the danger she’s in.”

“Probably not,” Brock agreed. He struggled to pull his hands into his costume so that he could lift the top half over his head, shivering pleasantly when the cool air wafted across his sweaty skin. “But,” he added as he struggled out of the bottom, “misunderstandings have never stopped her before. And caring’s just part of her nature. I don’t think she thinks so, but I do.”

“Still,” Ash argued stubbornly. “I’m not worth her dying. Zapdos. I’m not even fully human—”

“Oh, bah.” Ash looked up at him, startled. Brock ran a hand through his damp hair and stared back. “Since when has she cared about humanity? Mew, she almost got killed over her goddam Totodile. Or don’t you remember? And she could have at least been expelled for helping you. Besides,” he added thoughtfully, “I don’t think she thinks of you any different, even if you aren’t fully human. Which I think she thinks you are. Somehow. I don’t know; I don’t pretend to know anything about it. But I’m telling you, Ash, if you could have heard the panic in her voice when she didn’t know what the headMasters had done with you...Human, or not, she doesn’t care any less. She’s just Misty that way.”

Ash looked pained. He stared at the floor until Brock moved to sit beside him on the bed, when he flinched away for a moment before obviously forcing himself not to move. Brock decided not to say anything; if his jumpiness wasn’t just from Misty he couldn’t do anything about it.

After a moment of silence Ash glanced at him. “Do you think there’s some way to just...make her understand? What would she do if I just disappeared? She’d have no decision in it then.”

“Oh, she’d hate you,” Brock answered easily. “Forever. She’d never forgive you for leaving her like that. She’d also worry about you every day, since she would have no way of knowing if you were safe or not, and if she ever saw you again she would probably kill you, then hold your dead body and apologize and demand that you come back right now before she kills you again. She’s the only person I know who can simultaneously scowl and smile at the same time, and at the same person. I call it the Misty Enigma.”

Ash didn’t return Brock’s smile. Brock watched him carefully, and all those questions he’d asked himself when Misty had told him Ash’s secret bubbled up again in his mind. Now that he knew Ash a little better he could throw out some of the dirtier implications—Misty was a good enough judge of character for that—and yet he couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe Ash wasn’t doing it all for her. Or maybe he was, but his reasons for doing so ran slightly...deeper.

“Can I ask you a serious question?”

Ash looked up at him uneasily. “Why? What is it?”

“Do you love her?”

He went rigid. Brock watched him carefully, and drew his own conclusions.

“It would make a lot of sense if you did,” he said softly, “and I wouldn’t blame you. She’s...unique. If you don’t, though...Why have you given her so much of your attention? I mean, there are plenty of other people in the Stadium who need loads more help then Misty. Why—”

“Because!” Ash blurted frantically. “I don’t—I mean, I can’t, she’s just—we’re just—How could I? How could she? I mean, she’s—she’s Misty, and I’m just...I’m...I don’t know. What’s wrong with her? How could she just...And after she knows I’m—that I—I mean, maybe before, but— Raikou!” he swore angrily. “Everyone else just ran away and that was the end of it! Why is she making everything so difficult? Why can’t she just accept what I am like everyone else, instead of—of— Mew!”

Brock hadn’t fully understood that. He didn’t try to. Ash looked so fidgety and flustered that he doubted if even he knew what he was saying. But a few things...

“Instead of what?” he prodded gently. Nearly ten years of Misty’s friendship had taught him to handle emotional time bombs with care, and Ash was anything but calm right now. He watched as Ash lowered his eyes to the floor, then quickly glanced up again, then to the side, then—Mew, what was wrong with him?

“Nothing,” said Ash quickly. “Instead of nothing. I should go. I need to go.”

“Did Misty say something to you?” Brock could tell by the look on his face that she probably had. He wondered if it had anything to do with what they’d just discussed. “What? Because if it was something harmful you’re taking it way too seriously. Misty hardly ever means what she says in a fight.”

“It wasn’t really a—a fight.” Ash licked his lips again nervously, eyes darting all around the floor. Brock hadn’t known his room was so interesting.

“Well then what was it? Because it was obviously something.”

“It wasn’t—it’s not—”

“Did she slap you? She does that sometimes.”

“What? No. No, she—”

“Hit you? With her actual hand? Those hurt more.”

No, she didn’t—”

“Did she call you something? Her vocabulary can get pretty intense.”

No, dammit—”

Brock appreciated his time with Misty; he now considered himself an expert at working flustered people. “Well what, then? If she didn’t hurt you and she didn’t insult you then what else could she have possibly—”

Nothing!” Ash exploded. “She didn’t do anything! She should have done something and she didn’t! I just, I don’t understand her! One minute she’s yelling at me and the next she—she’s—and I don’t understand why she would ever—”

Almost. “She what? Tell me, Ash—”

“She kissed me, Brock!” he all but screamed, and Brock drew back, shocked. “She kissed me! Me! And I’m—I’m not even—Why? She knows I’m a—a demon, and she still—and Rudi! I thought she was in love with Rudi! How can she just—like it’s no big deal, like I’m no big deal, like I’m normal, and just—and then—I don’t understand her! She makes no sense! How could she have done that? To me?”

Brock was speechless. Misty had kissed Ash? As in, kissed him? Mew. He knew she was impulsive, but she’d never just kissed someone before. She wasn’t a flirt, and she wasn’t a huge fan of the touchy-feely department. Which meant...what, exactly? Why would she do something like that without provocation? Unless...but there was still Rudi to consider...

Mew. No wonder she’d been such a wreck the day before. Brock had had no idea.

Well. Maybe a slight suspicion. But barely, and he hadn’t really thought seriously on it.

Ash looked a wreck. Brock wondered about him; he didn’t look anywhere near prime condition, and Misty’s...behavior...had obviously shaken him up pretty badly. He supposed it would, though; the way Ash had been talking, Brock wondered if anyone had so much as dared hug him before, let alone grab him and—

Yeah, that was probably right. He could see Misty doing it, especially if Ash had fed her that nonsense about her security. But still; he was an Elemental. They weren’t exactly, well, human, or even remotely like normal people for that matter—

Brock stopped himself at that thought. He sighed. Since when had Misty ever cared about normal?

“I don’t know what to do anymore, Brock.” Ash was leaning his head against his curled knee. He looked as weary as Brock had ever seen him. “I’m not—I can’t—but I don’t want to just leave her. Am I selfish for wanting to put her in danger just so I can be happy? I think that’s selfish.”

Brock thought a minute before replying. He was desperately trying to think of what was best for Misty here, and he was well aware of the fact that she wouldn’t like his interference. But if he could help her...

“I think that depends on the definition of selfish,” he said slowly. “Which is worse: To abandon someone who obviously doesn’t want to be abandoned, or to put them in harm’s way in order to make them happy? I think it’s a matter of opinion.”

Ash fixed him with a pained expression. “I don’t know what to do, Brock. I’m so confused. And what am I...I mean, Mew, what do I say to her the next time I see her? What do I do?”

“Apologize, first” Brock told him seriously. “You ran away, didn’t you?” Ash didn’t meet his eyes. Brock didn’t need a further explanation.

“I was surprised,” he admitted, “and scared, a little. No one’s ever...I didn’t know what to do.”

Brock studied him for a moment. He hoped he was making the right decision here. “Do you want to know what I think you should do?” Ash looked at him apprehensively.


“Next time? Kiss her back.”