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Jo-Jo
21st March 2005, 4:57 AM
Oh noes! My fic got deleted. :( I knew I should have done a spam post before a month had passed... (I'm kidding! ...kinda). Oh well, here's a shiny new thread with the first chapter. The next two (yes, TWO! *is still ridiculously excited about finally finishing chapter three this morning*) will be added shortly. Enjoy! ^_^

(ETA: *sigh* I'm an idiot. I just remembered that I ought to have posted this in Shipping, not the regular fanfic section. Is there a mod around who wouldn't mind moving it for me?)


Taking A Chance

Act I

The cast:

Sky Masterson: Drew
Sarah Brown: May
Nathan Detroit: Ash
Miss Adelaide: Misty
Benny Southstreet: Brock
Nicely Nicely Johnson: Jessie, James and Meowth
Arvide Abernathy: Norman
General Cartwright: Nurse Joy (from ‘Showdown in Dark City’)
Big Jule: Butch and Cassidy
Lieutenant Branaghan: Giselle

Chapter 1 - Fugue For Tinhorns (http://www.serebiiforums.com/showthread.php?p=1273105#post1273105)
Chapter 2 - The Oldest Established (http://www.serebiiforums.com/showthread.php?p=1286839#post1286839)
Chapter 3 - I'll Know (http://www.serebiiforums.com/showthread.php?p=1286922#post1286922)
Chapter 4 - A Bushel And A Peck (http://www.serebiiforums.com/showthread.php?p=1543675#post1543675)
Chapter 5 - Misty's Lament (http://www.serebiiforums.com/showthread.php?p=1660662#post1660662)
Chapter 6 - Guys and Dolls (http://www.serebiiforums.com/showthread.php?p=3069945#post3069945)


Prologue

[Official report from the files of the Pokémon League]

For the attention of whomever it may concern,

I am writing to the Pokémon League with the intention of making a proposition. It came to my notice some years ago, and continues to trouble me today, that there are a number of problems affecting this region’s economy, employment, crime levels, education and technological growth, all caused by the practice of allowing young children to become Pokémon trainers at the age of ten.

No ten-year-old is fully equipped to brave the world’s dangers and responsibilities with nothing other than their Pokémon for company. Nor can anybody realise his or her life’s ambitions at such a tender age. If any Pokémon trainer should come to regret their decision, it is too late: they will already have dropped out of school, their educations incomplete.

This has a knock-on effect on the country’s economy and technology – with so few skilled workers, the development of the nation has been stunted. The emphasis our culture places on Pokémon means that, apart from the fact that anyone who chooses not to pursue a career that involves Pokémon will find it incredibly difficult to find work, nearly every technological advance we have achieved in the last decade has gone towards creating devices like the Poké-ball, the Pokédex, and the equipment used in Pokémon Centres. But what of such matters as transportation and health care? It is exceptionally rare to see a car on the road these days, and buses and trams are almost non-existent. Most people choose to walk from place to place, which is highly impractical and time-consuming. If we devoted our energies to developing roads and railways for people, instead of complicated devices for transporting Pokémon, think what we could accomplish! And as for the practice of medicine, I find it shocking that Pokémon Centres are fitted with the most up-to-date equipment, yet our (comparatively few) hospitals are pitifully under-staffed and have to, for example, make use of superglue to set broken bones.

There is also the problem of crime. Young trainers who have only just begun their Pokémon journeys are easy targets for muggers and bandits. Pokémon are loyal to their masters; that means that if a human wishes to commit a crime, their Pokémon cannot rebel. Pokémon are extremely powerful, and when in the wrong hands, they can wreak havoc.

To me, the solution is clear: the League must implement new laws that prohibit trainers from receiving a Pokémon until they have graduated from some kind of institution of learning (e.g. Pokémon Tech.), and passed a rigorous set of exams. This will have many benefits: as the tests will be far too difficult for a ten-year-old to pass, people will no longer set off on journeys until they’re older, which means that they will spend more time in education. A degree of competency will need to be displayed, meaning that failure levels among trainers will drop. Many will be discouraged by the prospect of spending so much time learning theory, and pursue other careers instead. And the annual Pokémon League will no longer be cluttered with hundreds of trainers, instead admitting a smaller group with higher skill-levels.

I believe that my idea would be greatly beneficial to the nation as a whole. I realise that it must seem radical, but I humbly request that you consider it with an open mind all the same.

Sincerely,

[Name omitted by request]


Fugue For Tinhorns

The sun rose over Pewter City, casting shadows under awnings and window boxes. Not ten years ago, the scene would have been one of tranquillity, with shopkeepers and a couple of postmen the only residents stirring from their beds. Now, trickles of people were already emerging onto the streets; mostly important-looking men in suits, clutching briefcases under their arms, headed to the railway station (for public transportation had advanced considerably since the days when Pokémon trainers still roamed the countryside collecting badges), or the trade and commerce centre. Once famous for stone, Pewter City was now a leader in the travel industry, and one of the most popular tourist traps in the Kanto region. With so much business available, and so much money to be made, it was no wonder that most people chose to get an early start in the day.

In some households, however, old habits died hard.

Ring-ring-ring, ring-ring-ring, phone call! Phone call!

Brock Harrison paused in the middle of sweeping the floor of what had formerly been known as the Pewter City gym, and listened, head cocked, for any sounds of movement in the rooms above him. After thirty seconds had elapsed, he heaved a sigh, laid down his broom and trudged towards the reception desk.

Brock’s father, Flint, had first come up with the idea of converting the gym into an inn five years ago, after his plans to open up a giant rock warehouse fell through. His first action was to sell their old house and use the money to build an extra floor, so that they’d have somewhere to put the guests. Unfortunately he’d failed to take into account the fact that his own huge family would require somewhere to sleep, too. After a few inventive manoeuvres involving fashioning beds out of sock-drawers, he was at last able to squeeze himself, his wife, nine teenage children and a grown-up son into three small rooms. Together, they ran the inn, making a comfortable profit, while the memory that the building had once been a gym faded from the townspeople’s minds.

Despite there being twelve of them, however, for some reason Brock was still the only one who appeared capable of answering the phone.

“Hello, Harrison’s Family Inn, how may I help?”

The image of a young, redheaded woman appeared on the view-screen. “Hey, Brock!” she said cheerfully.

“Misty!” Brock beamed at his old friend. “How are you doing?”

“Not too bad. My sisters are making me do rehearsals all day, though.” Misty huffed and raked an errant strand of hair out of her face. “They still think that just because they’re a few years older, that gives them the right to boss me around. I’m meant to be a gym leader, you know. If a challenger showed up these days, I wouldn’t even know about it.”

Brock clucked his tongue sympathetically. “That’s too bad.”

Misty and her sisters had worked out a deal back when the new system had been put into operation. Since Daisy, Lily and Violet owned the gym, they would continue to let Misty live there for free and run it as she pleased. In exchange, she had to appear in their shows whenever they wanted. It hadn’t been a bad bargain at first; Misty’s sisters didn’t often want her services, not liking to share the spotlight. However, as business had picked up, and as performances grew more and more extravagant, the prospect of a free extra became too tempting for the Sensational Sisters to pass up. Now, Misty spent most of her time in rehearsals and concerts, while the gym stood empty. Not that it had exactly been full to bursting before, admittedly; it was really thanks to the income from the Water Flowers’ shows that Misty could even afford to keep it open. In that sense, at least, she was luckier than Brock had been.

“Look on the bright side,” Brock said bracingly. “At least you don’t have to cook for over eleven people every night.”

Misty laughed. “That is a comfort. Especially since I’d probably poison everyone by mistake.” She paused slightly before adding, “Though I bet whenever Ash stays over, it’s more like cooking for twenty people.”

Brock gave Misty a look. She wore an expression of calculated, wide-eyed innocence that wasn’t fooling him one bit.

“This coming from the girl who once ate twelve desserts in one sitting?” he remarked, neatly sidestepping any mention of Ash.

“Hey, those were special circumstances!” Misty protested. “How often do you get the chance to eat twelve free desserts?”

Brock smiled blandly at her. “I guess you’re right.”

There was an awkward pause. Brock bit down a laugh, wondering how long it would be before she cracked. Three… four… five…

“So, um. Have you seen Ash around at all?”

Six seconds. “Ah, so that’s why you called,” said Brock, grinning slyly. “And here I was thinking you just wanted to talk to me.”

Misty had the decency to look embarrassed. “I did want to talk to you,” she insisted. “Really. I was just a little worried, that’s all.”

Brock’s grin faded. “Worried? What for?”

“I haven’t heard from him in a while. I know he’s meant to be staying at the Pokémon Centre in Viridian City, but I’ve called there about seven times in the last three days and he’s never been in. I’ve left loads of messages too, but he hasn’t called me back once.” Misty tried to shrug it off with an unconvincing laugh. “I guess it’s probably nothing…”

Brock made a non-committal noise, hoping he didn’t look too guilty. He had an idea what his friend might be doing in Viridian that would cause him to be away from the Centre so much, and it wasn’t exactly something he could talk to Misty about.

“He actually stopped by here yesterday,” he lied, hoping to put her mind at ease. “He seemed fine.”

Misty visibly sagged with relief. “Oh, good. At least he hasn’t done anything stupid. More stupid than usual, anyway.”

“If I see him again, I’ll tell him to ring you.”

Misty gave him a grateful smile. “Thanks, Brock.” She glanced down at her watch and jumped. “Aw, man, I hadn’t realised that was the time. Sorry, but I gotta go. If I’m late, Daisy will make me wear the cowgirl outfit again.”

“Now that’s a fate worse than death. OK, see you around, Misty.”

“Bye!” Misty smiled and waved, and the screen went blank.

Brock clicked on the ‘end call’ icon and stood up, stretching. He paused briefly to listen out for any sounds that might indicate that the rest of his family had joined him in the world of the living, and upon hearing none, turned to go back into the main room. He still had to finish up that sweeping.

However, before he could take a single step, he saw something in front of the reception desk that stopped him dead in his tracks. A pretty woman with a heart-shaped face and thick, lustrous chestnut locks stood with her arms folded, tapping one Gucci-clad foot on the floor. Behind her stood a short, sandy-haired man in a neat blue suit.

Brock turned pale. “Aaagggh! I mean, hi there, Giselle.”

“That’s Officer Giselle to you,” the woman replied icily. “And I’m here to ask you about Ash Ketchum.”

“He sure is popular this morning,” Brock joked feebly.

Giselle was obviously not amused. “Mr. Harrison, I’ll be blunt. I want to know where Ash is, right now.”

“Um…”

Brock cast about for a suitable lie, aware that Giselle’s eyes were narrowing in irritation. The fact that she had picked out one of her shorter skirts to wear that day wasn’t exactly helping him think.

“Which Ash Ketchum would that be?” he finally blurted, and immediately mentally kicked himself.

Giselle’s expression did not flicker. “The Ash Ketchum,” she said in a deceptively sweet, even tone, “who runs a floating Pokémon tournament.”

“You mean on a boat?” said Brock, trying out Misty’s patented innocent face.

It didn’t look as though it fooled Giselle. “I mean,” she snapped, “that he has been hosting illegal Pokémon matches every weekend for the last eight years, and getting away with it by moving to a different spot each time. And I’m asking you because I know that you’re his friend.”

“I am?”

“You are. I hardly need remind you, Mr. Harrison, that it is a crime to give the police false information. Just as it is a crime to engage in a Pokémon battle without first passing the League’s standard exams.”

Damn. This wasn’t going well. “I don’t know where Ash is,” Brock said, half-truthfully. “I haven’t seen him in a few days.”

Giselle submitted him to a piercing stare, as though trying to ascertain his honesty. Either he passed the test, or she decided she wouldn’t get any more information out of him, because she said, “Fine. When you next see him, kindly inform him that he’s not going to get away with his scheme this time. I’ve contacted every unlicensed trainer in the city. They all know that I’m on to them, and I know that they won’t dare step over the line as long as I’m an officer of the Pokémon League. Is that clear?”

“As crystal,” said Brock unhappily.

“Good.” Giselle snapped her fingers at her assistant and swept out of the inn. The young man shot Brock a commiserative look before following at a more languid pace. Brock was left alone, thoughts churning.

Seconds after the pair had left, there was a shuffling noise on the stairs, and Brock’s father emerged at last, yawning vastly. He greeted his oldest son with a grunt. Taciturn at the best of times, the elder of the Harrison clan could scarcely be called a morning person. Brock noticed that his shirt was on inside out.

Flint grimaced at the shaft of weak daylight pouring in through the windows. “Who was that?”

“Uhhh… no-one, dad. No-one important.” Brock came to a decision. “Say, you know that time you tried to sell a rock to the Mayor and he thought you were attacking him and had you arrested and I paid your bail?”

Flint fixed him with a suspicious stare. “I… think I remember. It was a fine rock, too,” he reflected bitterly.

“Well, something’s just come up, and I really ought to go sort it out as soon as possible. Would it be OK if I took the day off?”

Flint just looked relieved that Brock hadn’t called in a weightier (or more expensive) favour. “Of course,” he said. “And now we’re even, right?” he added quickly.

Some things never changed. “Sure, we’re even,” said Brock, chuckling. “Thanks, dad. I’ll see you tonight.”

Flint raised a hand in farewell. Brock grabbed his coat and walked through the doors into the street. Immediately, he set off towards the bus stop at a brisk pace. He had to get to Viridian City right away.

He just hoped that Ash had some good news.


~*~

Brock wasn’t the only person feeling troubled at that moment. In the next town over, Viridian City, Ash Ketchum had just come to the conclusion that he was in something of a pickle. In fact, that was putting it mildly.

Ash, with Pikachu at his side as always, had searched the entire town in the hopes of finding a place for him to hold his tournament. He’d checked all of the usual places: the hall at the local primary school, the stockroom behind the city’s only bar – even the back of the police station might have done in a pinch. One of the officers down there was sympathetic to Ash’s plight, and he could usually be relied upon to make sure Officer Jenny stayed out of the way. But he was going to be out of town that weekend, the school now had a lock on the door, and the bar had been taken over by a half-blind old woman who probably wouldn’t make a great scout even if she had no objections to putting her neck on the line for Ash. That left only one possible spot in the whole of Viridian, and the odds of him being able to use it were fairly slim.

He and Pikachu eyed the Viridian Pokémon Gym from across the road with apprehension. In recent months, it had spent more and more time standing empty. The gym leader there was a mysterious figure, practically a recluse, who chose to keep his identity secret. He had rarely, if ever, given gym battles himself over the last decade, usually sending some subordinate to fill in. The frequently empty building had led most people to assume that either the leader’s employees were slacking off, or he was losing interest in running the gym at all.

Still, using it to host illegal Pokémon battles was a dangerous business. There was always the possibility that a challenger would arrive at an inopportune moment – a remote possibility, but still enough of a risk factor to give Ash pause. And then there was the fact that, of the few things that were known about the gym leader, one of them was that he was a huge supporter of the new system. Ash had no doubts that, were he to find people using his gym in defiance of these laws, he would not hesitate to prosecute.

On the other hand, it was the only place left, and Ash was always willing to take a few chances in the name of Pokémon battles.

“No harm in checking it out, right Pikachu?” he said to the electric mouse on his shoulder.

“Pika pika,” said Pikachu in agreement.

Mind made up, Ash started across the road.

Before he had reached the other side, however, the door to the gym opened, and someone emerged. It was a pretty brunette, slightly younger than him, carrying a large sheet and a stepladder.

Ash hesitated, unsure whether to go over and ask what was going on, or retreat to the end of the street and observe from a discreet distance. As it was, he ended up standing in the middle of the road to watch, which looked rather peculiar. Luckily, the girl didn’t notice him, intent as she was upon her task. Balancing precariously on the stepladder, she began to tack the sheet (which upon closer inspection turned out to be a banner) above the door to the gym. Ash edged a little closer out of curiosity. It read:

‘VIRIDIAN CITY POKÉMON GYM, UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT’.

“New management!” Ash exclaimed. “You know what that means, Pikachu?”

“Pika?”

“They might hate the League’s rules as much as we do.”

A gleam appeared in Pikachu’s eyes. “Chaaa!”

Ash grinned. “Right then, let’s go see who’s taken the place over.” With that, he began walking towards the gym once more.

However, somebody else beat him to it - a group of about five men, at least two of whom Ash recognised from the tournaments. They stood about three feet away from the girl’s stepladder, taking in the sight of both the banner and her with about equal interest.

Eventually, one of them called out. “Hey, miss!”

The girl jumped and almost fell off the ladder. “Aaah! Oh – um – can I help you?”

The man who had spoken jerked his head towards the banner. “What’s all this about then, love? You bought up the gym?”

“Yes!” the girl replied brightly. “My dad’s in charge of it now.” She climbed down the ladder, stumbling a little on the last step. “We moved here from Petalburg City.”

Ash raised his eyebrows. “Petalburg City?” he repeated, exchanging a look with Pikachu. “Isn’t that in the Hoenn region?”

“Pikaaa!”

Ash had just been about to set off for the Hoenn region when the new bill pushed forward by the Pokémon League had been approved. Needless to say, the journey had been cancelled, and it now looked as though it would remain that way forever.

The five trainers also looked suitably impressed. “That’s a long way to travel,” said one in a slow Texan drawl.

The girl nodded. “It took us three days to make it down here – I hope it’ll be worth it. We used to own a gym in Petalburg, but nobody ever went in there anymore, so Daddy thought if we moved here there might be more interest.” She began to fold up the stepladder, still babbling away. “We have a whole marketing campaign and everything, and Daddy says there’s a Trainer’s Festival here in Viridian in three days time, so that’ll bring in a few people –”

The five men were all exchanging amused looks, and Ash could hear a couple of snickers, hastily silenced. He could understand why they were laughing; if she thought that there was a wealth of trainers all dying for a new badge in Viridian City of all places, she was going to be sorely disappointed.

“What’s your name?” one of them asked.

“It’s May.” The girl suddenly spotted the Poké-balls at his waist, and her eyes widened in excitement. “Say, are you all trainers?”

Another chorus of badly disguised s******s went up. “I guess you could call us that,” said one man, who had a handlebar moustache.

“Then why don’t you come in for a gym battle? My dad’s going to be back soon, and we’ve just got the badges in stock.”

This time, nobody even tried to hide their laughter. May’s brow furrowed, obviously wondering what was so funny.

“What’s the matter?” she asked.

“Let’s just say,” the moustache man wheezed, “that we aren’t exactly what you’d call traditional trainers. Unlicensed, you see.”

May’s face fell.

Another man chimed in, “As are most people in these parts. So unless you’re the type of girl who’d be willing to turn a blind eye to certain, ah, legal technicalities, you won’t be getting any gym battles out of us.”

“You mean… there are no trainers around here?” May whispered, crest-fallen.

“Oh, there are plenty of them. Not our fault if the League doesn’t see it that way.”

The group’s expressions darkened. A few feet away, so did Ash’s. He’d done his share of ranting and raving when he’d first discovered that, according to the law, he was no longer considered a Pokémon trainer. Now, he preferred not to dwell on it too much. It was enough to know that he was resisting the system in his own way.

“I guess there won’t be much more of a market here than there was in Petalburg City,” said May, sadly. “At least you guys are honest. Back there, we used to have challengers come in and pretend they were licensed when they weren’t. It was pretty stupid of them – we’d just check their papers, and if they weren’t allowed to use Pokémon attacks, we’d call the police.”

Ash raised both eyebrows. That was pretty harsh. Misty had had a couple of challengers try that tactic, but she had only kicked them out with threats to beat them with a mallet if they ever returned. Ash never thought he’d see the day when Misty’s approach could be considered the more humane option.

“You’re not really the forgiving type, are you?” said the man who had first spoken.

“Well, my parents aren’t fans of illegal trainers,” said May stiffly. If her expression was anything to judge by, neither was she.

Ash could see flickers of anger on various faces. “Uh-oh,” he muttered.

“Piii-ka,” said Pikachu worriedly.

Most of Ash’s regular customers took their defiance against the League very seriously. Whenever somebody criticised their way of life, there were usually a few vocal individuals who could be relied upon to fly off the handle.

“Well, a trainer’s got to keep up,” said the Texan in slightly chillier tones than before. “Otherwise, the ones who were lucky enough to pass the tests first time get way ahead of the rest of us. Pokémon training’s not something you can take a break from for a few years.”

The others nodded in strong agreement. The need to keep one’s hand in wasn’t the only reason, either; Ash knew as well as any other trainer that raising Pokémon was more a way of life than a profession. When the League had taken away his license, they might as well have told him to give up oxygen, for all the notice he would have taken.

May, however, only scoffed. “If you don’t mind me saying so, that’s not a very good excuse,” she said. “If those people are that serious about Pokémon training, then why didn’t they work hard enough to pass the exams first time round?”

This was possibly the worst thing she could have said. The five men visibly bristled; Ash felt a surge of fury, and Pikachu’s cheeks momentarily crackled with electricity.

“You know, Miss, we can’t all be as smart as you,” snarled the moustached man. “I’ll bet that you passed with flying colours, huh?”

May looked alarmed at the men’s threatening expressions, but she stood her ground nonetheless. “Actually, I didn’t even take them,” she said. “I don’t really like Pokémon.”

Every jaw dropped.

“Piiiiiii-kaaaaa?” squeaked Pikachu in astonishment.

“She doesn’t… like… Pokémon?” Ash whispered.

Was that even possible? He had never heard of such an abnormality before. His anger vanished, and pity sped in to replace it. This girl was obviously sick. She probably didn’t have a clue what she was saying.

“If you don’t like Pokémon, then what are you doing working in a gym?” the first man said, sneering. “Then again, the amount of challengers you’ll get, staying inside a gym’s probably the best way to avoid them.” He and the others laughed heartily.

They had evidently struck a nerve. “We’re going to get lots of challengers!” May yelled. Her face was flushed, and her hands were balled into fists at her sides. “You just wait and see! My dad’s a great gym leader and a great Pokémon trainer – something you wouldn’t know anything about!”

With that, she picked up the ladder and strode back into the gym, kicking the doors closed behind her. The five men looked as though they had a lot more to say. Instead, they sloped off one by one, shooting dirty looks at the gym as they passed.

“Well, I guess that place is out,” said Ash gloomily to Pikachu.

“Chaaaa.”

Ash turned away, sighing. The gym had been his last hope, and it had been taken over by a family of fanatical do-gooders. Just his luck. He supposed he might as well go back to his room at the Pokémon Centre. Maybe he’d get an idea later.

He made a quick detour to buy a cup of coffee – he’d discovered a few years ago that it made a much more effective brain-stimulant than getting Pikachu to electrocute him – and trudged back to the Centre. The only thing on his mind was getting to a quiet place where he could be by himself and think.

However, as soon as he stepped through the doors, he saw something that made him stop in his tracks. A tall, dark, squinty-eyed something.

Standing in the lobby, looking as though he’d run all the way down from the train station, was Brock.

gladdecease
21st March 2005, 9:56 PM
This is interesting. At the moment, I can't honestly see where this is going, but as of yet I like it. More of an in-depth fic than some others, putting the characters into a new position. I'm assuming that Ash never made it to the Hoenn Region, and that May never became a trainer, etc. It would be helpful if you made a time frame as to when the letter was written and the change was made. If you don't mind.

Juny
23rd March 2005, 2:56 PM
^^ squeee, I still love your story! Making a twist on guys and dolls was a really good idea, Sky's character's really similiar to Drew's one, and Sarah's and May's are kinda alike too XD You've also got a good way of writing, so keep that up!

Jo-Jo
26th March 2005, 2:40 AM
This is interesting. At the moment, I can't honestly see where this is going, but as of yet I like it. More of an in-depth fic than some others, putting the characters into a new position. I'm assuming that Ash never made it to the Hoenn Region, and that May never became a trainer, etc. It would be helpful if you made a time frame as to when the letter was written and the change was made. If you don't mind.
The letter was written some time before the end of Johto, and the change was announced just after Ash lost at the Silver Conference, and then implemented soon after. Oh, and thank you both for the praise. ^_^ Here's chapter 2!


The Oldest Established

The first words out of Brock’s mouth were, “Did you find a place?”

“Keep it down, wouldya?” Ash hissed, looking around frantically as though Jenny was going to leap out from behind a pillar and arrest him. “No, I didn’t. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

He let Brock drag him into the waiting area, which luckily was empty. “There’s nowhere free,” Ash repeated, to underscore the point. He set down his cup of coffee on the table. “I’ve looked everywhere.”

Brock nodded grimly. “You’re going to have to be careful, Ash,” he said. “Giselle’s on to you. She’s going to be breathing down everyone’s necks. I bet she’s got people looking out for you in all the cities around here – it’s probably thanks to her that the usual places have dried up.” A dreamy look stole over his face. “That woman sure is thorough…”

Ash waited a few seconds, and then waved a hand in front of his friend’s face. “Hello, Earth to Brock. What am I going to do?”

Brock looked slightly annoyed at having his reverie interrupted. “Well, I guess there’s always Gary,” he said shortly.

Gary had moved back to Pallet Town two years ago and started his own research lab as a branch of his grandfather’s. Professor Oak was now getting on in years, and appreciated the help. Gary had reacted with some amusement when he first learned of Ash’s position, but had offered to loan him the use of his lab if a crisis ever arose. The only problem was, Gary being Gary, any help from his quarter was going to come at a price: specifically, one thousand dollars. It wasn’t that Gary needed or even particularly cared about the money, but he and Ash had a history, and he couldn’t resist needling his old rival once in a while.

“I can’t afford to pay Gary,” Ash complained. “I’m broke! I couldn’t even get a present for Misty.” He grimaced. “She isn’t going to be happy when she finds out…”

“Would that be why you haven’t returned any of her calls?” Brock asked shrewdly.

“Something like that,” Ash admitted.

“What’s the occasion, anyway?” A look of alarm sped suddenly over Brock’s face. “It’s not her birthday, is it?”

“Nah, it’s our anniversary,” said Ash, smiling proudly. “Me and Misty have been engaged for seven years today.”

Brock looked as though he were trying to find the best way of phrasing what he wanted to say. “Um, Ash, I don’t know if you realise this, but usually when people get engaged, the plan is to eventually get married.”

Ash began to choke on the sip of coffee he had just drunk. Brock reached over and thumped him on the back until he could breathe again. “I’m just saying,” he protested at the scowl Ash was sending his way. “Misty’s not exactly the patient sort. You can’t put it off forever.”

“Well… I was going to marry her sooner or later…” Ash mumbled.

“Ash, it’s been seven years. I think it’s a bit late to be sooner.”

“But when I first proposed to her, you said we were way too young to be getting married!”

“Yes, and you were - back then. I didn’t expect you to take me to heart to this extent. You’re twenty-three now, Ash.”

Ash squirmed. It wasn’t that he didn’t love Misty, but there was something about marriage in general that set off panic-signals in his brain. He wondered if it was genetic – he had once overheard his mother complaining to her friends about the length of time it had taken her to persuade Mr. Ketchum Senior to tie the knot. “Well… I’ll talk to her about it later,” he said uncomfortably. “What are we gonna do about the tournament?”

To his relief, Brock let the marriage-matter drop. “I guess if you don’t have the money to pay Gary now, you could always try to earn it somehow.”

“Yeah, that’ll work,” said Ash sarcastically. “Come on, Brock, if there was a job out there for me that paid a thousand dollars a day, I’d have retaken those stupid League exams years ago. I need a different plan.”

The two men lapsed into silence, each preoccupied with his own thoughts. Pikachu soon got bored of watching them, and scampered off in search of a bottle of ketchup; Nurse Joy could usually be relied upon to provide one.

Before a plan could spring to either of their minds, however, they were interrupted by the door sliding open. An excited, pimpled face appeared around the edge, beaming from ear to ear; Ash recognised its owner as one of the regulars in the tournaments.

“Hey, Ash! Fancy running into you here!”

“Hey, Benny,” Ash replied dully. He wasn’t really in the mood to deal with a hyperactive teenager.

Benny didn’t seem deterred by Ash’s lack of enthusiasm. “Say, Ash!” he burbled, pushing his glasses further up his nose. “Have you found a place for the tournament yet?”

Ash snorted. “Sure have. Mayor’s office. City hall.”
“Oh.” Lines of puzzlement appeared on Benny’s forehead, as though he were trying to figure out what was wrong with the last two sentences; then, with a shrug, he gave up. “What time?”

“We’ll let you know,” said Brock kindly, while Ash sweat-dropped.

“OK.” Benny’s entire face suddenly lit up. “Oh, oh yeah! I’ve just remembered why I came in here - you’ll never guess what! I’ve been telling everybody – I just saw Drew getting off the train into Viridian! The famous co-ordinator!”

That got Ash’s attention. “Are you serious?” he exclaimed.

“Sure I’m serious! And what’s more, I think he’s coming this way! To the Pokémon Centre!”

Brock let out a low whistle. “What’s Drew doing coming near a Pokémon Centre? I thought he was rolling in it.”

Benny shrugged. “Who knows? The important thing is, I bet you could persuade him to come to the tournament, Ash! This could be the biggest night of your career!”

Ash chuckled bitterly. He was about to make some dark comment on the likelihood of there even being a tournament, when the germ of an idea suddenly came to him. A famous co-ordinator was in town… and he was rich… and he was the kind of guy who might enjoy a few secret Pokémon battles…

“You really think he’d come, huh?” he said thoughtfully.

“Sure he would!” said Benny. “He’s always hanging around at places like yours! The police have tried to arrest him dozens of times, but he always has an alibi – they’ll never catch him, that’s for sure.”

Ash nodded, half to himself. “Thanks, Benny,” he said. “I’ll ask him.”

Benny looked ecstatic. “Wow, I’m going to meet a famous co-ordinator,” he breathed. “I gotta go tell my mom!”

With that, he vanished. Ash gazed after him, wheels turning in his head.

“Say, Brock?”

“Mmm?”

“What if I found this Drew guy, and asked him to come to the tournament – and then I borrowed the thousand off him?”

Brock folded his arms, considering. “Well, Ash, there are two tiny flaws in that plan. Firstly, why would Drew loan a thousand dollars to a guy he doesn’t know? And secondly, how do you plan to pay it back?”

Ash’s face fell. “Oh, yeah.” It looked like he was already back to square one.

“I think you’re on the right track, though,” Brock added. “You just need to find a different way of getting the thousand off him.”

Ash stared at him. Surely Brock wasn’t suggesting he steal it? Unlicensed Pokémon battles were one thing, but theft?

“How much do you know about Drew?” Brock said.

“He’s a co-ordinator… and famous… and rich… and called Drew?”

“So, not a lot?”

“No,” Ash admitted.

Brock segued smoothly into lecture-mode. “Drew is one of the most successful co-ordinators alive. Of course, there aren’t that many co-ordinators with licenses – they were hit pretty hard by the League’s exams – but this guy was doing well even before those laws were passed. He’s made a pile of cash, so now he spends his time travelling all over the world.”

“Sounds like things worked out pretty well for him.”

“Yeah, they did. Now he’s influential enough to get away with pretty much anything. Well, you heard what Benny said.”

“So he wouldn’t have a problem with…” Ash trailed off, giving Brock a significant look.

Brock rolled his eyes. “Ash. We’re alone. You can say it.”

“Right.” Ash coughed. “So… how do I get him to give me the money?”

“Well, the other thing that Drew’s famous for is as a gambler. He likes to make weird bets on things – which raindrop will beat another down a window, or which lump of sugar a fly will sit on - y’know, crazy stuff. He usually wins, too; he has an amazing amount of luck. I heard that one time he was sick and wouldn’t take any medicine, because he’d bet some guy that his temperature would go to a hundred and four or higher.”

“And did it?”

Brock smiled. “Went to a hundred and six.”

“Wow, that’s pretty lucky,” Ash remarked. Suddenly, realisation struck. “Are you saying I should bet him a thousand bucks on something?”

“Well, I can’t think of any other way to get hold of that kind of money. If you lose, though, you’re in big trouble.”

Ash just laughed. “Oh, come on, Brock, I’m not afraid of a little bet! I’d take him on any time, on anything!” He rested his chin on his hands, abruptly making the shift from confident to pensive. “Now I only have to think of a bet I know I can’t lose…”

“That’s what I thought,” said Brock dryly. “Any ideas?”

Ash considered. “You said he likes crazy bets, right? Do you think I could get him to put money on you scoring a date with Nurse Joy?”

For some reason, Brock glared at him. Ash had meant it as a serious question. Some people sure were touchy.

“Well, something to do with the Pokémon Centre, anyway.” He cast his mind over normal Centre activities. Getting Pokémon healed… staying the night… eating in the cafeteria…

“Food,” he mused aloud. “I could make a bet about food.”

“Now there’s a surprise,” Brock smirked.

Ash ignored him. “What kind of food does the Pokémon Centre sell?”

Brock began to count on his fingers. “They do pasta, meat sauce, eggs, toast, strudel, cheesecake…”

“Oh, yeah.” Ash smiled in fond remembrance of many a good meal. The cheesecake was particularly delicious. He happened to know that Brock preferred the strudel, though…

Aha.

“That’s it!” he cried, banging his palm on the table. “That’s my bet!”

“What is?”

Ash rubbed his hand, a plan formulating in his mind. “Brock, could you go to the kitchen and ask them how many pieces of cheesecake and strudel they sold yesterday?”

Brock stared at him, bemused. “What do you want to know that for?”

“Never mind, just go!”

Brock gave a sigh of resignation, stood up and headed towards the kitchens. Ash knew that it would take a while for him to return - both of the cooks were women in their twenties. That gave him some time to wait for Drew.

He went back into the lobby, where he found Nurse Joy shooing Pikachu out of the canteen. It hopped into Ash’s arms, three sachets of ketchup clutched in its paws.

“We’ve gotta hang around for a bit longer, Pikachu,” said Ash, taking one of the packets and tearing it open.

Pikachu didn’t seem concerned with the wait, now that it had the ketchup to tide it over. It gave a tiny “chu,” and started guzzling away. Ash drifted into a corner, where he could keep an eye on the door without being too conspicuous. His patience was soon rewarded; no later than two minutes after taking up his post, the doors swung open, and a man stepped inside.

There could be no doubt that this was Drew. He wore a dark blue suit that probably cost more than Ash’s entire wardrobe, with six Poké-balls clipped onto the belt. His green eyes glimmered with intelligence and, if Ash was any judge, a hint of arrogance, too. He strolled up to the reception desk with an easy grace, retrieving a wallet from his pocket and flipping it open.

Ash sidled closer, prepared to stage a fame-struck recognition and invite Drew to get a bite to eat. However, before he could take more than a couple of steps, somebody tapped him on the shoulder. Annoyed, he turned around, and recognised the Pokémon Centre’s receptionist.

“Are you a Mr. Ketchum?” the woman asked.

“Yeah, that’s me,” said Ash.

“I have someone on one of the pay-phones for you.”

Ash shot a glance back at Drew, who was writing his signature for Nurse Joy. “Er… could I call them back in half an hour?” he asked.

“The lady on the other end of the line told me that if you said that, I was to inform you that, ah, ‘there’s a mallet over here with your name on it, so quit stalling and get a move on’.”

That could only be Misty. Ash peered at the reception desk again in desperation; Drew had just thanked Nurse Joy and was now heading into the cafeteria. He really didn’t have time - but he couldn’t keep blowing Misty off, either…

“Oh… all right.”

This would have to be the quickest conversation of his life. Ash hurried into the next room, where a row of phone booths stood. The nearest one displayed an image of a red-haired woman, drumming her fingers on the tabletop.

“Hey,” said Ash, sliding into the chair.

Misty jumped. “Ash! Where have you been? I’ve been trying to get hold of you for three whole days.”

“Oh… I’ve been around.” Anxious to avoid further questioning, Ash flashed her a huge smile and said, “Happy anniversary, Misty!”

She smiled back, looking greatly relieved. “Happy anniversary. I got you a present.” She reached below the level of the screen, and held up a medium-sized box. “You wanna wait ‘til I see you in person, or open it now?”

Ash had never possessed a scrap of patience where presents were concerned. When he was a child, his mother always had to attach a bell above his door so that he couldn’t sneak downstairs at four a.m. on Christmas day and unwrap everything.

“Open it now!”

“Pi-pi-pi!”

Laughing at his and Pikachu’s enthusiasm, Misty slid a finger under the join and peeled away the paper. Underneath was a cardboard box, the lid of which she removed, to reveal -

“A belt?” said Ash.

It was indeed a new brown belt, with clips around the edges to hold Poké-balls in place.

“There’s a poem, too,” said Misty, pulling out a piece of paper and holding it up to the screen.

Ash read it aloud. “‘Sugar is sweet, and so is jelly - so put this belt around your belly’.”

“My sisters wrote it,” Misty confessed.

Ash could believe that. “It’s… nice.”

“Pi-kachu,” muttered Pikachu, looking revolted.

“Well, we can swap gifts when you come by the gym tonight. You did say you’d visit, didn’t you?”

“Yeah,” said Ash, shifting in his seat. “Um, Mist? About your present…”

“Hmm?”

Ash hesitated, plausible and not-so-plausible excuses running through his brain. “I wanted to get you a wrist watch made out of solid gold, with diamonds and rubies set all around it -”

Misty gasped. “Oh, Ash! You shouldn’t have!”

“Then that’s OK!” said Ash, brightening. “I didn’t.”

Misty face-faulted.

“Sorry,” said Ash sheepishly. “I’ve spent all my money on rent - the newspaper stand isn’t doing so well right now.” Privately, he had to admit that it would likely do better if he weren’t always busy with the tournament, but he didn’t imagine that Misty would look kindly upon that reasoning. He’d gone to great lengths to conceal his doings from her for the past eight years, and he had no intentions of breaking the habit now.

Misty climbed back into her seat, looking disgruntled, but clearly wanting not to spoil their anniversary by yelling. “Well… never mind,” she said. “I guess you can make it up to me some other time.” Suddenly, she gave a huge sneeze, making Ash and Pikachu jump. “Sorry – it’s this stupid cold –” She patted her pockets for a tissue.

For the last few months, Misty had suffered from a persistent cold that refused to relinquish its grip on her, no matter how many remedies she tried. The phenomena had baffled Ash, Brock, Tracey, Professor Oak, Misty herself and every doctor in three cities.

“Oh, yeah, how is your cold?” asked Ash.

“The same,” Misty sighed, her voice even more muffled than normal due to her face being buried in a wad of Kleenex. “Lily’s making me hang seaweed over my bed – she reckons it’ll help. I tried to tell her she’s thinking of how to figure out if it’s going to rain, but she wouldn’t listen. I’ll tell you, Ash, if you can find me a cure, that can count as your anniversary, birthday and Christmas present to me.”

“You’ve got yourself a deal,” Ash joked. Upon reflection, he added, “Although I’d probably just forget or something…”

Misty finished blowing her nose and snorted, “You don’t have to tell me that. Oh well… I guess if we’re going to be married, I should probably get used to you forgetting to buy me stuff.”

It was Ash’s turn to fall off his chair. Pikachu leapt on top of the phone just in time. “Piiii-ka!” it snapped at its trainer.

Ash hauled himself upright. “Ow! Heh, sorry about that. Uh… the seat must be slippery.” He chanced a quick glance at his watch. Four precious minutes had already gone by. “Listen, I really am sorry about the present. But I swear, some day the stand will take off, and you’ll have more diamonds than Madam Muchmoney!”

Misty smiled fondly at him. “Ash, don’t worry about it. I know it’s been hard for you, not being able to train Pokémon all this time. I’m just glad I’m a gym leader and didn’t have to take those tests – they sound totally unfair.”

Ash could tell she was trying to show solidarity, and he was grateful for it. Misty may be blunt by nature, but sometimes she knew exactly what to say.

He had just opened his mouth to tell her this, when something poked him in the back.

“Sixty portions of cheesecake, and seventy-five of strudel,” Brock’s voice hissed in his ear.

Ash froze. “What did you say?”

“Sixty cheesecake, seventy-five strudel.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Misty.

“Nothing,” said Ash automatically. “Are you sure?” he whispered to Brock.

“Yeah.”

It was all coming together. The Pokémon Centre’s cheesecake was famous throughout Viridian; Ash would never have believed it could sell worse than another dessert. “Perfect. OK, thanks, Brock.”

Brock nodded, waved to Misty, and hurried off.

“Ash, what was that all about?” asked Misty, the first traces of suspicion appearing on her face.

“Just collecting some figures… helps me suss out the market,” said Ash in a slightly high-pitched voice.

Misty didn’t look convinced. “Right…”

“Hey, Ash!”

Ash turned around. One of the tournament regulars, a man named Harry, was marching towards him.

“Any news?”

“Er… not yet,” said Ash, aware that Misty’s eyes were narrowing. “I’ll keep you posted.”

“I’m getting impatient, Ketchum,” Harry growled before sloping off again.

“And that?” said Misty, her tone distinctly frosty.

Ash blurted out the first excuse that came into his head. “His wife’s having a baby.”

“Then why was he asking you?”

“He’s nervous – it’s his first wife,” Ash babbled as he craned around to look at the cafeteria doors. “Well, I have some stuff to take care of – I’ll see you tonight, ‘kay?”

Misty glared at him. “Are you trying to get rid of me?”

“Of course not! I just don’t want you to be late for your rehearsal, that’s all. Is Daisy still threatening you with the Geodude suit?”

“No, we’ve moved on to Oklahoma rejects.” Misty looked slightly pacified. “Oh, OK. See you tonight. ‘Bye.”

She put the phone down. Ash let Pikachu jump onto his head and hurried towards the cafeteria, casting his gaze around as soon as he stepped through the doors. To his overwhelming relief, he soon caught a glimpse of green hair at a table near the wall. It looked as though Drew was tucking into a full meal.

Keeping his target in the corner of his eye, Ash made his way to the front of the room and ordered a piece of cheesecake. He then trekked back the way he’d come, making a detour that would take him past Drew’s table. Upon drawing level, he glanced down and gasped.

“Say, aren’t you that co-ordinator who’s been in all the papers?”

Drew looked up from his meal. Even when surprised, he managed to retain an aura of implacability. “That’s right,” he drawled. “But please, don’t shout it. I’m trying not to get recognised.”

Ash got the distinct impression that if Drew were recognised, he wouldn’t object to it in the slightest, but decided to keep this thought to himself. “Would you mind me sitting here?”

“I guess not.”

Ash thanked him and eased into the chair opposite, watching Drew closely. “So, what brings you to the city? If it’s OK for me to ask.”

“I’m really just passing through, Mr.…?”

“Ash. Uh, Ketchum, I mean. Ash Ketchum.”

“…Mr. Ash Ketchum. I’m heading for Vermillion City tomorrow - there’s a fund-raiser held on the St. Helena, and I’m invited. Only for the most eminent Pokémon trainers, of course,” Drew added with undisguised smugness, flipping a lock of hair off his forehead. Ash was strongly reminded of a much younger Gary.

“Sounds like fun!” he said brightly. “Say, have you tried the cheesecake here? They sell a lot of cheesecake.”

Drew looked puzzled at the sudden change of subject. “No… Maybe some other time.”

Ash tried to hide his disappointment. He cast around for something else to talk about, ever aware of the dwindling amount on Drew’s plate. “So, uh, where are you off to after Vermillion?”

Drew paused to think, managing to give the impression that he had so many social engagements that he found it difficult to keep them all straight. “I have to catch a ship back to the Hoenn region on Monday – there are contests to attend, and I’d hate to miss them – but before then I have a whole day to kill. I was thinking of looking at some of the cities around here. Cerulean, maybe. They do these shows down at the gym.”

“Yeah, I know those!” Ash exclaimed. “My fiancée’s in them.”

“You have a fiancée?” Drew raised an eyebrow. “At your age?”

Ash felt a sting of annoyance at the condescending tone - especially as, by his reckoning, Drew must be a year or two younger than he was. He would have dearly loved to say how old he was when he proposed. Fortunately, the rational part of his brain reminded him that keeping Drew in a good mood was essential if he wanted to get his thousand dollars. Speaking of which… “Are you sure you don’t want any cheesecake?”

This time, Drew gave him a distinctly odd look. “Very sure, thank you. Is it your job to advertise for this place or something?”

“Huh? Oh, no,” said Ash. “I just, uh, really like the food.”

“I… see.”

He was losing it. Ash took a forkful of dessert himself, hoping his growing worry wasn’t apparent. “So, you’re from the Hoenn region, aren’t you?” he tried. “What’s it like there?”

“Pretty similar to over here,” Drew replied, still regarding Ash as he would somebody who wore his underpants on his head.

“I was planning on going there once, years ago,” Ash explained. He smiled in reminiscence. “Back when I’d just finished with the Johto League.”

At this, Drew’s ears pricked up. “You’re a Pokémon trainer?”

“I was,” Ash said, a note of bitterness creeping into his voice. “Before they took away my license.”

Pikachu, who had remained silent thus far, poked its head out from under the table to give its trainer a commiserating look. Even Drew looked grudgingly sympathetic. “Can’t you take the tests again?” he asked.

Ash pulled a face. “With those entrance fees? No way.”

Judging by Drew’s expression, he had never had that problem. Now that Ash thought of it, odds were that Drew’s riches weren’t solely the product of his success as a co-ordinator; he must have come from a wealthy family to begin with. It seemed incredible to him that Drew, who surely would have been too young to pass the tests first time around, had been given all the second, third and fourth chances he needed – whereas he, Ash, had lost everything, and the sole reason behind all this was money. Still, there was no use in brooding. Some people got lucky, and others didn’t; Ash wasn’t petty enough to hold a grudge over someone else’s good fortune.

“You know what… now I think of it, there are a few differences between Hoenn and here,” said Drew suddenly, not quite meeting Ash’s eyes. “The drinks over there are better. And co-ordinators are more respected.”

Perhaps it was Ash’s imagination, but Drew sounded slightly friendlier now. “It sounds like a nice place,” he said.

Drew nodded. “But they’re a lot stricter about training laws, too, so it balances out. Not that I had any problems there, but…”

“Yeah. Maybe it’s a good thing I never went there.”

“You could just about get away with raising Pokémon without a license in the forests and isolated villages, but only an idiot would try it in the towns,” said Drew. “And if you did it in front of one of the gym leaders, forget about it. They’d lock you up soon as look at you. Those guys take themselves way too seriously.”

Ash chuckled. “I can believe that. I’ve met one of them.”

Drew looked up in interest. “Which one?”

“Well, I didn’t meet the actual gym leader - just his daughter. They’ve moved in across the road.”

Ash gave a brief account of the incident with May. By the time he’d finished, Drew looked half-amused, half-scornful. “Sounds like she’s just as self-righteous as her father,” he snorted.

Ash made an indeterminate noise in reply. He felt a little guilty for bad-mouthing May; he couldn’t help recalling that he had been every bit as bad back when he was a kid. That was before he’d come to realise that he couldn’t always depend upon the law to be just.

“You’ll want to warn people to avoid this part of the city in the future, then,” Drew remarked. “Hoenn gym leaders are like vigilantes. Wouldn’t want anyone to wind up in jail.”

Ash hesitated for a moment to check for eavesdroppers, and then leaned across the table. “I guess I can tell you… I’m not exactly retired from training myself, if you get what I mean,” he muttered.

Drew snickered. “You don’t say. I never would have guessed you had it in you. Explains the Pikachu, at any rate.”

“And… since we already brought it up…” Ash dropped his voice to a whisper. “I hold these, um, meetings every week. For the others who aren’t allowed to train. There’s one on tomorrow, and I know you have a license and all, but you’re welcome to come.” Suddenly, Drew’s earlier words came back to him. “Oh, yeah, except you’ll be in Vermillion…”

“Sorry. Maybe next time I’m passing through.”

“Eh, no problem,” said Ash. “Hope you’re around some other time.” He also hoped that Benny hadn’t already spread the word to every trainer in the city that a famous co-ordinator would be attending the next tournament. “And, uh, if you do go to Cerulean, I’d really appreciate you not mentioning this to my fiancée. She doesn’t exactly know about it.”

“I get it,” said Drew, smirking. “An upright sort of girl, is she?”

“Yeah… but mostly she’d kill me for wasting time when I could be earning the money to pass the tests again. Least, that’s how she’d see it.”

“Huh. Sounds to me like she’s used to getting her way.”

Ash laughed. “Yup, that’s Misty.”

“I suppose you’ll be getting married before too long?”

“We all gotta go sooner or later,” Ash replied, shrugging.

Drew looked as though he’d just swallowed a mouthful of lemon juice. “You think so? I say that a guy can fight it.”

This was so diametrically opposite from everything that Brock had ever told him that at first Ash thought that Drew was joking. “You do?”

“Of course.” Drew gestured with the fork in his hand to mark the point. “In fact, it’s essential to fight it. Marriage is a cage. Get into it, and you might as well be dead.”

Ash blanched. “It’s that bad?” he exclaimed.

“And worse,” said Drew darkly. “But hey… if you really want to, don’t let me put you off,” he added, clapping Ash on the shoulder.

“I don’t want to!” said Ash quickly.

Drew regarded him with mild curiosity. “Why’d you propose to her in the first place?”

“We’d just had a fight over something stupid,” said Ash, casting his mind back. “I wanted to make it up to her, and my friend Brock told me to think of something really romantic and just do it. So I asked her to marry me.”

Drew looked torn between amusement and exasperation. “For future reference, expensive dinners and flowers work just fine,” he said. “OK, so how long now have you been engaged?”

Ash coloured slightly. “Erm… seven years.”

Drew dropped his fork. “Seven years?” he echoed. “I’m impressed. The longest I ever heard any guy make it was four. But you’ll be sucked in eventually – they always are.”

Ash turned pale. The nameless terror that he associated with marriage had just become a lot sharper. At this rate he’d be a gibbering wreck by the time he met up with Misty. He had to get his mind off the subject; any new topic of conversation would do.

“Really, you have to try the cheesecake!” he blurted.

Drew heaved a sigh of irritation. “No.”

“But –”

“Listen. Watch my lips moving. If I wanted cheesecake, I would have gotten cheesecake. I don’t see how I can make that any clearer.”

“Just a little bite!” Ash implored. He pushed his own plate towards Drew. “You’ll be doing yourself a favour.”

Drew rolled his eyes. “You’re not going to let up until I say yes, are you? Fine. Give it here.”

Ash complied, smiling from ear to ear. Drew reached for his clean dessertspoon and scooped a small mouthful from the side Ash hadn’t touched.

“So, what do you think?”

Drew chewed and swallowed, looking faintly impressed. “You’re right, that is good.”

Ash beamed. It was time to work in the bet. “Yup, Viridian City Pokémon Centre cheesecake is famous around here,” he said. “Although there are some people who think the strudel is better. Weird, huh?”

Drew had evidently decided that playing along would be the best strategy. “I admit it’d be pretty hard to top the cheesecake.”

“So, tell me – which one would you reckon this place sold more of yesterday? At a guess.”

“At a guess? I’d have to say that it sold far more cheesecake than strudel.”

“Wanna bet?”

Drew blinked. “Say what?”

Ash tried to tone down his eagerness. “Do you want to make a bet on it? Just a friendly one.”

Drew sat back in his chair, expressionless. “How much?”

“One thousand dollars.”

A flicker passed over Drew’s visage, as though he were trying to stop himself from laughing. “I’ll tell you something, Mr. Ash Ketchum,” he said. “When I was ten, setting off on my Pokémon journey, my father told me a story. He said, ‘Son, I’m going to offer you some valuable advice. One day in your travels, a man is going to come up to you with a brand new deck of cards, on which the seal has not yet been broken, and tell you that he can make the Jack of Spades jump out and squirt cider into your ear. But I must warn you – do not bet this man. For as sure as you stand here, you’re going to wind up with an ear full of cider’.

“Now, Ash, I’m not trying to accuse you of clocking the Pokémon Centre’s desserts -”

“Would I do a thing like that?” said Ash guiltily.

“- However, I’ll bet you that same thousand that you didn’t know your Pikachu has just poured ketchup all over your cheesecake.”

Ash let out a yelp; there was a mad scramble to gain control of the ketchup sachet, culminating in Pikachu dropped its prize and bolting.

“Aw, Pikachu!” Ash wailed, looking dismally at his ruined pudding.

“Bad luck, my friend,” said Drew, calmly returning to his own meal.

Ash put his head in his hands. “I don’t have to give you a thousand bucks now, do I?” he moaned.

“I think we can call that one quits.”

Ash supposed that was a small comfort. He peered at the cheesecake again, pulling a face. Maybe he could scrape off the top layer…

“Ash?”

Ash looked up. Brock was standing beside the table. “What’s the matter with you?” he asked.

Ash merely groaned in reply.

“It’s probably stomach ache,” said Drew. “Cheesecake backed up on him.”

“Oh, right… that must be why they told me they sold more strudel yesterday,” said Brock.

Ash began to bang his head on the tabletop.

“Er, well, I’ll just leave you guys talking,” said Brock quickly. He turned to go, then stopped. “Oh, yeah, and Ash, don’t forget you’re meeting Misty tonight after the Water Flower’s show.”

“Yes, dear,” said Ash automatically. “Aargh! I mean, yes!” He flapped an arm at Brock to get him to leave. Brock complied, shooting worried glances over his shoulder as he went.

“‘Yes, dear’?” Now Drew was looking concerned for him, too. “That’s husband talk if I ever heard it. Ash, you’re trapped. You’ve got yourself a girl who could prove impossible to unload. You’ll need to move now, before it’s too late - otherwise, you’re doomed.”

“I don’t want to unload her!” Ash protested. “I love Misty. And I like being engaged to her. It’s just the marriage part that worries me.”

Drew shook his head. “Take it from me, if you don’t take measures you’ll be stuck, forever.”

Ash squirmed. The way Drew put it, he was going to have to choose between marrying Misty and losing her. He knew which one would be worse, but he couldn’t say either option filled him with unbridled joy. “There’s no way to just carry on as I am?”

“Nope.”

Ash gave a glum sigh. “Then I guess I’ll have to get married. At least Misty will be pleased.”

Drew rolled his eyes. “What is it about girls that makes guys lose their spines? It’s pathetic.”

“It’s not losing your spine, it’s learning when to give in,” Ash defended himself. “And it’s not really that bad. If you ask me, you just have a thing against women.”

Drew looked stung. “For your information, I’m very fond of women. I just don’t see what the big deal is about them that could make a guy willing to give up everything and open a vegetable stall, or whatever suicide-inducing job she picks out for him. Why bother? What could you ever get out of it that would be worth it?”

A few possibilities sprang to Ash’s mind that made his face turn crimson. Carefully avoiding mentioning these, he said, “But it’s… don’t you think it’s nice to have a girlfriend? I mean, when you’re going around the place, doing contests or whatever, don’t you think it’d be great to have someone there to spend the time with?”

For a fraction of a second, some unidentifiable emotion flickered in Drew’s eyes. When he next spoke, though, he sounded perfectly normal. “Like I said, I have nothing against women, girlfriends or otherwise. I just prefer to have them around only when necessary – and they’re easy enough to find.”

“Not girls like Misty.”

Drew heaved a dramatic sigh. “Ash, you’re in love, and that makes you naïve. I’m not. And I can tell you for certain that all girls are the same.”

“Oh, yeah?” Ash retorted. “Then how come you don’t have one? Seems to me like a party on the St. Helena would be a pretty useful time for one to be around – so why are you going alone?”

“I choose to travel light,” Drew replied coolly. “But if I wanted a date for the fundraiser, I could get one. No problem.”

“Not a really high-class girl,” Ash insisted.

“Any girl! You name her!”

Like a bolt of lightening, an idea struck. Ash sat frozen in his seat, his brain suddenly running a mile a minute. “Any girl?” he repeated. “And I name her?” He leaned forward, grasping the edges of the table. “Will you bet on that? Will you bet one thousand dollars that if I name a girl, you’ll take her to the St. Helena tomorrow?”

A glimmer of doubt appeared momentarily on Drew’s face, but was quickly overridden. “You’ve got yourself a bet,” he said, shaking Ash’s hand.

Ash stood up, beckoned, and headed for the cafeteria doors. He marched into the lobby, straight past the reception desk, and came to a halt by the window looking out onto the street. His timing was perfect. A moving van was parked on the opposite side of the road, from which three men struggled with a large cabinet, supervised by a dark-haired man and a petite, round-faced woman. Ash’s target sat on the low wall behind them, picking at a hangnail with a bored expression.

Ash pointed. “I name her.”

Drew followed Ash’s gaze, and blanched. “Her?”

Ash was enjoying this. “Miss May, formerly of the Petalburg City gym.”

The little colour that dwelt in Drew’s naturally pale cheeks had by now completely faded. For a moment, he looked almost as though he were going to protest; then, with a groan, he slumped against the nearest wall, raising his eyes to the heavens.

“Father,” he sighed. “I’ve got cider in my ear.”

gladdecease
26th March 2005, 3:07 AM
Wow. This was an amazing chapter; I especially liked Ash's thoughts on marriage. I mean, taking advice on marriage from a bachelor [and a happy one at that] seems just like something Ash would do. I appreciate the timeline you placed at the beginning of the chapter; it helped me understand when it was going on.

Drew's ending line was hilarious; it seems that he knows more of May than he let on. I really enjoy this story and cannot wait for more; later!

Jo-Jo
26th March 2005, 3:17 AM
I'll Know

“I’ve lived here one day, and already I feel like taking a pickaxe and ripping up Viridian City from end to end!”

Norman and Caroline looked up from their cups of coffee, eyebrows raised. At the same time, May flung herself into the nearest armchair, fuming.

“Now, May,” Norman said at last. “Angry words are unbecoming of a gym leader’s daughter.”

May deflated slightly. “You’re right, Daddy. I’m sorry.”

“Besides, from what I hear, they rip up Viridian City every day,” Norman added before returning to his newspaper.

“What are you upset about, May?” Caroline asked.

“It’s nothing, really…”

May didn’t feel like recounting her afternoon. In her opinion, it had been an experience best forgotten. At least she had learned one important lesson: word in this town travelled very quickly. The news that she was a ‘League-loving fascist’, among other things, had reached the ears of nearly every person on the street she had passed while going to the store for milk. May didn’t think she had ever been the target of so many stares and glowers in her life, let alone in a single hour. By the looks of things, any trainer who set foot in the gym would be doing so with the intent to vandalise it, not earn a badge. At least in Petalburg, they had been merely ignored, rather than despised…

“I wish we could go back home,” she sighed without thinking.

Her parents exchanged looks. After a pregnant pause, Norman put down his coffee. “Why? Because there were so many challengers in Petalburg?”

“Well, what difference does it make which town we get no challengers from?” May burst out. “At least at home we knew everybody and people were nicer…”

“May, I’m ashamed of you,” said Norman sharply. “Just because a gang of trainers didn’t come and beat down the door as soon as they heard we’d moved here. We’re having to deal with an apathy that’s been ingrained into Pokémon trainers by the League for a whole ten years now. That’s not the kind of thing you can undo in a day – it’s going to take time.” He glanced at his watch. “Which reminds me, it’s about time to go out again. Maybe I’ll have more luck rustling up challengers on the other side of town. Caroline, weren’t you going to see that contractor about the roof?”

Caroline nodded. “Thanks for reminding me. The appointment’s in half an hour.”

“We can set off together, then.” Norman got to his feet. “May - we’ll talk later, OK?”

“OK,” May said in a small voice.

“Would you mind watching the gym while we’re gone?”

At this, the aura of gloom hanging around May instantly vanished. “Sure can, Daddy!” she chirped. “Just leave it to me!” She raised both hands to her face, forming a rectangle with her thumbs and index fingers. “An unexpected assignment has pitched the cast of May’s Expedition into a dangerous game of spying and deception! Can they guard the secrets of the Viridian Gym from enemies who would seek to destroy it?”

“Don’t you think you’re a little old for that game?” said Norman as he pulled on his jacket.

May ‘zoomed in’ on his face. “You’re never too old to defend the mother country, Daddy! Mother gym, at least.”

“Quite,” said Norman, looking as though he’d prefer not to get into this any further. He moved towards the door, followed by Caroline. “Well, bye, sweetheart.”

May waved. “Bye!”

Shortly, a distant boom told her that her parents had left through the front entrance. She was left entirely to her own devices.

“Today on May’s Expedition, this reporter finds herself the sole guardian of her family’s gym,” she said in a dramatic whisper. “She alone can defend the stronghold from invading barbarian forces!”

May crept onto the landing. “As she fearlessly prowls the corridors, she is completely alert for any signs of danger…”

Suddenly, there came a noise from downstairs. May stopped dead. It had sounded like the side door opening. Sure enough, a few seconds later she heard it slam shut.

“An intruder has broken in,” she breathed. She began to creep down the stairs, poised to swing her pretend camera towards the first hint of movement. “Someone approaches to ransack the fort! It is now up to our heroine to catch the thief and drive him out!”

She tiptoed up the hall and slipped into the tiny office that her father had claimed for his paperwork. There was a corridor between this room and the side entrance – that meant that the only way into the gym was through her.

She crept to the door, nose millimetres away from the wooden panelling. Whoever was on the other side, he or she hadn’t called out for the gym leader. May could hear footsteps getting steadily closer. Their owner came to a halt behind the door… and pulled it open.

May nearly toppled forward. Regaining her balance, she straightened up and found herself standing face to face with a man in his early twenties. He regarded her with calm detachment - despite the fact that she had an imaginary lens two inches away from his nose - through vivid green eyes that were only a shade darker than his long, artfully rumpled hair.

“The gym leader, I presume?” he said.

“Uhhh… n-no…” May stammered.

It took more than a jolt of reality to shake her off-course when in the middle of her latest scoop, however. This man had come here looking for her father, and that meant…

“A mysterious stranger has arrived on a quest!” May exclaimed, eyes lighting up. “I am not the one he seeks, but our commander will be home soon.”

“I get it.” Grinning, the man placed a hand on top of hers and gently pushed the ‘camera’ down. “So you’re not the gym leader… that means you must be the girl who makes the coffee.”

“Sometimes,” May replied. “Would you like some?”

“No.” The man reached into his jacket, withdrew something and handed it to her with a flourish. “For you.”

It was a rose, its petals a deep crimson, somehow perfectly preserved despite being crammed inside his pocket. May’s cheeks grew warm. For a moment, she could do nothing but stare at the flower in silent astonishment. At last it occurred to her to muster some words of thanks; however, just as she opened her mouth, her benefactor strolled past her into the office, giving the door a tug so that it slammed closed behind him.

The noise brought May back down to earth. She swung around to see the man wandering around the room, hands in his pockets, with no acknowledgement that he was a stranger in another’s home. She would have been annoyed at this, had the gift of the rose not thrown her off. She looked around in hope of seeing a vase left on one of the windowsills, and upon finding none, placed the flower carefully on the desk.

“Was – was there something you wanted?” she asked.

The man looked away from the peeling paintwork, which he had been eyeing with distaste. “This is a gym, isn’t it?”

“Yes…”

“Well, I’m a Pokémon trainer. You do take trainers, right?”

May’s eyes widened. “You mean – you’re a challenger? A real one?”

“A real, live challenger. So, can I get a match?”

“Sure, you can get a match!” May clapped her hands together, letting out a squeal of glee. “Wow! Daddy will be so excited! Wait right there, there’s a form you have to fill in…”

Still beaming from ear to ear, she began to rummage through the papers strewn over the desk. It took her a while to find the right one; Norman had yet to organise his files, and everything was all jumbled up together in a heap. Finally, she seized the slip and waved it in the air. “Got it!”

The man stayed where he was, amusement playing upon his face. “Are you like this every time you get a challenger?”

“We don’t get a lot of challengers,” May admitted.

“You don’t say.” He sauntered over, withdrawing an expensive-looking fountain pen from the inside of his jacket. “New to the gym business, are you?” he added, casting an eye over the state of the desk.

“Oh, no, my dad’s been a gym leader since before I was born.”

“So then you must be in charge of the paperwork.”

The sting in these words came so out of left field that it took a while for May to even register it. She blinked several times, temporarily speechless. Surely he hadn’t meant that the way it sounded?

“It’s not normally like this,” she defended herself in a slightly higher-pitched voice than usual. “We’ve only just moved here today.”

“Hmm, my mistake. I’m sure you ordinarily have a great filing system. To deal with all those challengers you said you get.”

May’s jaw dropped. She gaped at him for several seconds; he coolly returned her stare.

“Um – you – actually, I think my dad’s going to be out for a while,” she managed at last. “Would you like to come back later?”

The man just grinned. “No need, I can entertain myself in here just fine until he arrives. What did you say your name was?”

“It’s May,” May said stiffly.

The man flipped a lock of hair off his forehead. “Drew,” he said, in the tones of one making a very impressive declaration. “Co-ordinator. I expect you’ve heard of me before.”

May cast her mind back over all the famous names she could remember her father ever mentioning over the dinner table. She had a vague notion of what a co-ordinator was, but beyond that, the name wasn’t ringing any bells. “No, I don’t think so.”

Drew looked taken-aback. “You haven’t?”

“Nope.”

He stared at her, rattled. May felt a flicker of satisfaction at the scored point. He recovered well, however, shrugging and saying, “You have now. So what kind of gym is this, anyway? Aside from an empty one.”

You need challengers, May. Be polite. May swallowed her annoyance and hitched a smile onto her face. “Daddy trains Normal types. You get a Balance Badge if you win. Aren’t you a co-ordinator?”

“So?”

“I thought they didn’t need to earn badges.”

“Does anyone, nowadays? I just felt like a change. Surely you can understand that. How long have you been working here, exactly?”

May’s smile was beginning to slip. “Since I was fourteen.”

“About a year, then?”

“Six years!”

“No brothers or sisters to dump some of the work off onto, or are you an only child?”

“I have a brother, but he’s not here. He left to become a Pokémon trainer,” May added with a stare of defiance.

Drew gave her a pleasant smile. “Well, I only hope that his work is half as fulfilling as yours is.”

“My work here is plenty fulfilling, thanks,” May retorted, glaring at him.

“So, has a job in the secretarial department always been your life-long dream?”

May gritted her teeth. “Are you going to fill in that form?”

“No need to get upset,” said Drew, holding his hands up. “I just thought that if I’m going to be hanging around in here, why not get to know you a little? It’s only the polite thing to do.”

May doubted that politeness featured anywhere on his list of priorities, but she was determined not to sink to his level. Maybe if she just answered his questions, he’d eventually grow tired of asking them. “All right,” she said, coldly. “My life-long dream is to travel around the world.”

For some reason, Drew looked extremely pleased to hear this. “That sounds promising. Anywhere in particular?”

He might as well have asked her which of her parents she loved more. May screwed her face up as she tried to think. “Oh, I don’t know - everywhere. Uh… the Orange Islands sound wonderful.”

Drew paused. “That’s… a little far. But there are lots of other places, closer to home - say, just off the top of my head - Vermillion City?”

“Vermillion’s nice,” said May, eyeing him with suspicion. “You’re not trying to sell me travel brochures or anything, are you?”

Drew laughed. “One job is more than enough to be going on with. For me, that is – can’t speak for everybody,” he added, eyes lingering on her.

May balled her hands into fists. Not trusting herself to speak, she stalked over to her father’s office chair, bent her head over the desk and began to sort through the papers. For a minute, the only sounds in the room were her aggressive shuffling and the scratching of Drew’s pen as he filled in the form. May found it almost impossible to concentrate; indignation was preventing her from taking in a single word. It didn’t help that her gaze kept sliding towards Drew as though magnetically drawn. There was something about him that defied all attempts to ignore him. Whatever it was, it was enough to drive her mad.

She had just forcibly wrenched her gaze back to her work for the third time, when he straightened up and pushed the form towards her. “Done.”

May checked it over quickly. “That seems fine – oh, wait, I need to sign it.” She began to hunt amongst the clutter for a pen.

“Use mine if you want.”

“Thank you.” May accepted the fountain pen with a nod. Close-to, it was even more obvious how flashy it was.

“Pretty nice, huh?” said Drew, noticing her looking at it. “The guy I got it from said it’s worth five thousand dollars.”

May’s signature dissolved halfway through in an inkblot. “Five thousand?” She’d guessed that he was rich, and probably not afraid to show it, but still… “I guess that’s OK for anyone who can afford to blow that much on a pen,” she added, unable to resist the urge to take a dig at him.

It didn’t have much effect; Drew merely smiled and said, “Actually, I didn’t spend anything. I won it.”

“Was it a prize for a contest or something?”

“Not exactly. It was… a private game.”

May stared at him blankly.

“A dice game,” Drew clarified.

Understanding dawned. “You mean - you were gambling?” May exclaimed. “For five thousand dollars?”

“Ten thousand, actually. But I decided to go easy on the other guy. All he had was the pen.”

May gaped at him for a long moment; then, contempt settled in. He was nothing more than a rude, stuck-up jerk with too much money and too few scruples, yet he had the nerve to give her a hard time? Challenger or not, at that moment she was sorely tempted to just tell him to get out of the gym - that would teach him a thing or two.

“I’m guessing you don’t approve,” Drew said, watching her from out of the corner of his eye.

May started guiltily. She hadn’t realised that her thoughts had been so transparent. In an attempt to retain some dignity, she said primly, “My dad always told me that only people with way too much time on their hands become gamblers.”

“Then I’m amazed you’ve managed to stay out of it for this long.”

May gasped. “How dare –”

Drew cut her off. “And for your information, I had time enough to train my Pokémon, travel through eight regions and earn the title of Master co-ordinator, so I’d watch which insults you fling around.”

“That’s rich coming from you!” May blurted. “You’ve done nothing except put me down since you got here! I might not have made all the same achievements as you, but you know why not? Because I wanted to help my family instead!”

“Really? I assumed it was because you had no talent. Please correct me if I’m wrong.”

“I can’t wait until my dad gets home and cuts you down to size!” May spat.

“Hiding behind your father? How pathetic. You know, if I were in your place, I’d be mad at him. He’s obviously made you into some kind of shut-in.”

“That’s not true!”

“Then tell me something. Before you came to Viridian, what’s the furthest you’d ever been outside of your hometown? Give it to me in miles.”

May’s fingers were flexing with the desire to throttle him; yet, Drew’s question struck an uncomfortable chord. Until three days ago, she had never actually been anywhere beyond the villages surrounding Petalburg. Her family’s work at the gym kept them too busy to spend much time on anything else, and that included long, extravagant holidays. Their only concession had been a yearly, weeklong trip to the coastline, barely five miles away. To May, the arrangement had been torture. Only by throwing herself into the tasks given to her by her parents had she been able to distract herself from her disappointment.

“I… can’t remember,” she at last said, lamely.

Drew turned his head to hide a smirk. “If you say so.”

May didn’t think she had ever before in her life grown to dislike someone in such a short space of time. “So I suppose if I’d been running off to the slot machines in Neon Town every weekend, that would be just fine?” she demanded.

“Are you kidding?” said Drew scornfully. “You wouldn’t last two seconds in Neon Town. They can sniff out your type from eighty paces. You’d get roped into a sucker bet faster than you could blink.”

“What’s a sucker bet?”

“A bet that only a sucker would take. Very embarrassing, I can tell you.” For some reason, Drew shot May a disgruntled look as he said this.

She turned her nose up. “Humph! The whole thing sounds awful.”

“I admit, I’m beginning to see some of the drawbacks myself,” said Drew, with another side-glance at May. Before she could wonder what he meant by that, he had reached for a Poké-ball. “But maybe you and I should have a battle to settle this dispute. What do you say?”

The thought of wiping the smirk off his face was a pleasant one; yet, May knew that it would not be possible. “I can’t,” she admitted. “I’m not registered.”

The smirk broadened. “A gym leader’s daughter, and you’re not registered?”

“I don’t like Pokémon,” May said, defensively.

“Do you even own any?”

“No.”

“Well, that doesn’t need to be a problem. Borrow some of the gym’s. There must be a few spares your father doesn’t use for his matches.”

May frowned. “I told you, I’m not registered.”

Drew took a step towards her. There was a strange look in his eyes; it was as though he wanted to test her. “Maybe not… but there’s only me here, and I promise not to tell on you,” he said in a low voice that was practically a purr.

May jumped, tipping the stack of papers all over the desk. She stared up at Drew in total shock. “What?” she squeaked. “Are you saying I should fight you illegally?”

A flicker in Drew’s eyes showed that he realised he’d gone too far. “Not only talentless, but humourless, too,” he said, with an airy laugh. “You should learn to take a joke.”

May licked her lips nervously. She slid out from behind the desk and backed towards the door. “Um – you know what, I really think it’ll be a long time before my dad gets home. Maybe it’d be better if you came back in a few hours…” She groped for the doorknob. Immediately, cool air from the passage outside swirled around her. She hadn’t realised how hot it must be inside the room. “Our doors are always open,” she added politely.

Drew didn’t move. All traces of laughter had disappeared; the look he now turned upon her was sober and calculating. “May, I think you’re trying to get rid of me.”

May opened her mouth to deny it, and immediately realised there would be no point. The last thing she could afford to do right now was underestimate him. Drawing a deep breath, she looked directly into his eyes. “Alright, maybe I am,” she said. “I’m afraid I don’t trust you.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

He didn’t seem about to attack her. Feeling slightly bolder, May let go of the door handle and took a step towards him. “Why are you here?”

“I told you. I want a gym battle.”

“No. Why are you really here?”

At this, a smile spread across Drew’s face. It was the first indication of admiration towards her that he’d given since entering the room. “OK, then, I confess,” he said. “I’m here because I’m a black-hearted sinner, desperate to repent of my evil ways and searching for redemption through the love of a good woman.”

May’s eyes narrowed. “You’re lying.”

Drew shrugged. “Lying’s a sin. Your sign’s wrong, by the way.”

“My – huh?”

Drew pointed at something above her head. May turned and saw a card hanging on the wall, bearing the legend, in her father’s neat handwriting, ‘Thought for the day (5/14): Through living as one with Pokémon, we can receive our spiritual nourishment. - Hadaka’.

May cringed. “Oh, don’t say Daddy’s putting those things up already…” It had been an embarrassing habit of his back in Petalburg, despite the fact that days when anyone came into the office apart from him were few and far between.

“Enlightenment and a battle,” said Drew. “I feel spoiled. Does he really have a thought for every day of the year?”

“More than that,” said May ruefully. “He’s got over two drawers full of the things.”

“That’s pretty impressive. I know a few people whose thoughts wouldn’t even fill one drawer.”

“I don’t even know where he gets all the sayings from -” Suddenly, May remembered that she wasn’t meant to be making friendly chitchat with the enemy. She gave herself a shake and rearranged her features into their former glare. “And what do you mean, it’s wrong?”

Drew raised an eyebrow. “That phrase comes from ‘The Symbiotic Relationship Between Humans and Pokémon - A Philosophy’, right?”

“Um…”

“Well, the part about spiritual nourishment wasn’t said by Hadaka. It was Itako.”

“Of course it was Hadaka!” May snapped. In truth, she had no idea who either Hadaka or Itako was, but she was positive that she wasn’t going to let Drew doubt her father’s expertise on any subject.

“Itako,” he repeated. “Look it up if you don’t believe me.”

May glowered at him, stalked over to the desk and opened each drawer until finding the one that her father kept the cards in. Sure enough, a thick, dog-eared volume of the title Drew had recited rested at the very bottom. She heaved it onto the part of the desk that contained the smallest amount of paper, and began to flick through to the reference section.

“Chapter twenty-six, I think you’ll find.”

May did her best to tune him out. At last she found the correct page number (which to her irritation was in chapter twenty-six) and flipped to it. Her eyes skimmed over the paper until they found the correct phrase – and next to it, in neat, bold typeface, was the name ‘Itako’.

May slammed the book closed with a noise like an angry cat. She could sense Drew’s grin without needing to turn around.

“Itako?” he enquired.

May took in a breath and released it in a long sigh. “Itako,” she said, grudgingly.

She looked up at Drew; he had folded his arms and was leaning against the desk. “Never tangle with me over the old philosophers,” he said. “I’m guessing there are only two things that have been in every room in every Pokémon Centre in the country: me, and that book. It’s like their version of the Bible. I must have read it cover-to-cover hundreds of times. Of course, in my line of work, obscure information often comes in handy.”

May snorted. “Sounds to me like you really do have too much time on your hands.”

“Sounds to me like if that’s true, you ought to be saying the same about your father.”

May scowled at him. “Mr. Drew, my dad works very hard here,” she said hotly. “We all do. And if you’re just going to come in here and waste my time –”

“Miss May, I have no intention of wasting anyone’s time. In fact, I think that I could be very useful to you.”

“Useful?” May spluttered. “For what – insulting me, or getting me in trouble with the law?”

Drew’s eyes twinkled. “Both entertaining options, if not quite what I had in mind. Although speaking of trouble with the law, my offer of a battle still stands.”

“And my answer is still no.”

“Look at it this way – even if I did turn you in, at least it’d be a change of scenery.”

“If anyone’s going to turn anyone in, I ought to be calling the police on you!”

“Yeah, you probably should,” said Drew, with an air of mock-repentance. “And then they’ll pat you on the head and say, “good girl, May,” and you’ll go right back to sitting in an empty gym for the rest of the day – and the next day, and the next.” He levelled a look at her that made her wonder, with a slight chill, how it was that he always seemed to know exactly which buttons to press to get his desired reaction. “The whole town’s already against you. You really think having me arrested will make them like you any better?”

May glanced at him sharply. “How did –”

“I’ve been watching you.”

“You were spying on me?”

“Just doing my research,” Drew said calmly. “And I can tell you for sure that the only way you’ll ever get any challengers in here is if you promise them badges made out of solid gold. That is, unless you let me stay.”

“Is that a threat?”

“No – an assessment.”

For a long moment, their eyes locked. Drew’s glittered with some emotion that bore shades of both anticipation and triumph. Whatever his feelings may be, one thing was clear, and that was that he had no difficulty in reading hers; there would be no use in pretending that she wasn’t intrigued. May’s pride struggled to overcome her curiosity, and was quickly forced to succumb.

“All right,” she sighed. “How can you be useful to me?”

“Well, if you insist…” Drew began to walk slow circles around her. “You asked me just now why I came into your gym. I did have a reason – besides seeing how much I could wind you up before you started fighting back, of course –”

“Could you could hurry this up?” said May through gritted teeth.

Drew came to a halt in front of her and flashed a brilliant smile. “Very well. May, I have a proposition for you that I think you might be interested in.”

May stared at him in disgust. All that build up, and that was all he had ever been after? “A proposition, huh?” she said, folding her arms. “I’ve had those before. Thanks, but I’m not interested.”

Drew gave a snort. “Don’t flatter yourself. This is strictly business.” He leaned towards her; May took a step back. “Listen, I’m a champion co-ordinator. I have connections. And you need challengers. I can get them for you.”

“We’re managing fine without your help,” said May frostily.

Drew rolled his eyes. “Please. You’re calling me a liar? When’s the last time you had a trainer come to your gym in Petalburg?”

“That’s none of your business!”

“I thought so. Face it, May - you’re never going to succeed under your own steam. Why not let me help you? I bet that I could fill this place with challengers.”

“I don’t bet,” May snapped.

Drew walked past her, taking out the fountain pen once more, and tugged the ‘thought for the day’ card down from the wall. “There’s a big trainer’s festival here in Viridian in a couple of days, isn’t there?” he said, turning the card over and beginning to write on the blank side. “The only time of the year that unlicensed Pokémon owners can use attacks, provided they do so within the city boundaries? I can get at least a dozen of them in here, easy.”

May was beginning to feel interested again, despite herself. “And what do I have to do in return?”

Drew looked up at her, his expression oddly serious. “Have dinner with me tomorrow night.”

May’s breath caught in her chest. For an instant, she felt a strange sensation of falling backwards through endless space. “Wh-why would that be something that you – you want?” she stammered.

“I’ll probably be hungry by then. Here.”

He was holding out the card. After a moment’s hesitation, May took it. “What’s this for?”

Drew indicated that she should turn it over. On the other side to Itako’s proverb were the words, in elegant, spidery handwriting, ‘I.O.U. one dozen challengers’.

May stared at the square of cardboard in her hand, thoughts whirling through her head. Drew sauntered past her towards the door. “I’ll pick you up tomorrow at four,” he called over his shoulder.

May spun around to look at him. “Four? To go to dinner?”

Drew paused with his hand on the doorknob. “It’ll take us a while to get there.”

“Get where?”

“I’m invited to a fundraiser tomorrow on the St. Helena. It’s docked in Vermillion City.”

May’s eyes grew wide. “Vermillion City?”

“Why, where do you want to eat?”

May was beginning to feel as though this all must be an elaborate practical joke. “You want to take me to dinner in Vermillion City?”

“Well, they eat in Vermillion, same as we do,” said Drew in the tones of one explaining something to an idiot. Upon seeing her expression, he added, “Oh, relax, it’ll be fun. We can get there and back on the train in one night. And it’s one glamorous party – you’ll love it.”

The anger was now returning in full force. “What do you take me for?” May snarled, throwing the card down onto the desk.

Drew gave her an exasperated look. “What are they worth to you? One dozen challengers, ready for a battle – what are they worth to you, a chicken salad in a tearoom? If you won’t do it for yourself, then do it for the gym.”

“Go away!”

May sat down in the office chair, reached for some papers and began to stack them in a manner that showed the conversation was over. Drew, however, apparently lacked the ability to pick up on such subtle hints. He folded his arms, giving her a contemplative look. “You’re a tough girl to win over,” he remarked. “I’m surprised – you looked like the kind who might appreciate a good time. But I guess I was wrong.”

May ignored him. Undeterred, Drew began to walk towards her, a taunting gleam in his eye. “Say, maybe you should tell your dad to change his pitch? ‘Come to the gym, one and all! Oh, except guys. My daughter hates guys’.”

“I don’t hate anybody,” May said shortly.

“Except me, by the looks of it,” said Drew, moving even closer. “Well, it’s good to know you’re giving me some special attention after all.”

“I’m sure you’re so famous that you’re used to special attention,” May retorted, her resolve not to answer already forgotten. “So why don’t you go look for it somewhere else?”

Drew came to a halt. For a long time, he stared at her, the faintest of smiles tugging at his lips. “Amazing,” he said softly. “I wonder what he’ll be like.”

“Who?”

“The one man in all the world good enough to win over the lovely May.”

May slowly raised her gaze to his. When she spoke, her voice, despite being soft, was filled with pure steel. “He won’t be a criminal, for one thing.”

Drew crossed the remaining space between them and leaned down until his face was inches from hers, gripping the arms of her chair. “I can imagine for myself all of the things he won’t be. I’m interested in what he will be.”

May continued to stare him down. “Don’t worry. I’ll know.”

“Do share.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Go on. I’ll tell you mine.”

“I don’t care what yours is.” As soon as she said it, May realised to her annoyance that it was not completely true. “Someone who feeds your ego, I’ll bet.”

“Come on – you’re telling me you have no interest at all in what a celebrity thinks of the big heartthrob?” Drew smirked. “And I thought you didn’t bet?”

May had no answer to that. Turning away, she reached for another stack of paper and began to sort through it. After half a minute, to her relief, Drew pulled away. However, he then perched on the edge of the desk, right in her line of vision. “OK, I’ll guess. You’ve had an image of him in your head ever since you were seven. He’s… respectable, calm, honest, wise… steady voice, feet on the ground… pillar of the community… how am I doing?”

May stared fixedly at the files in her hand, a feeling of growing discomfort in the pit of her stomach. Drew’s smile widened. “So you’re holding out for an easy listening, four-button, slippers and pipe kind of guy?”

“Maybe I am,” May admitted, not meeting his eyes. “So what?”

“And you’ll meet him when the time is ripe,” said Drew mockingly. “You just know it.”

May dropped the papers and scowled at him. “OK, fine. If you’re not going to go until we’ve had this conversation, tell me. Who’s your ideal woman?”

“Oh, no idea,” Drew replied lightly. “I want it to be a surprise. Leaving it all to chance. It’s more exciting that way.”

May snorted. “Spoken like a true gambler.”

“Then I guess we’re both playing to type. Doesn’t it bore you, having everything so planned out? I bet you even know what kind of shirts he wears.”

May blushed bright scarlet. She had to lower her head quickly in the hope that Drew wouldn’t notice.

He snickered. “And you say you want to travel? You’re going to have to acquire a little spontaneity.”

“I can start being spontaneous when I meet him,” May muttered, still red in the face.

“Oh yeah… because you’ll know. Eyes across a crowded room, and you’ll drop everything and run to his arms…” Drew shook his head, giving her an almost pitying look. “Jeez, even when you’re being impulsive you’re boring.”

That was the final straw. Slamming her hand on the desk, May leapt to her feet, sending papers flying. “You know what?” she yelled. “Maybe it’s a little hard to be exciting when the only place you’ve even seen up until today is the area you grew up in, and you had to watch your little brother go out and see the world while you’re spending your whole life stuck in this wretched gym!”

Drew blinked, taken aback. For once, no snappy comeback sprung to his lips. For her part, May was breathing heavily, still carried by the tide of her outburst. Despite the fury coursing through her, somehow she felt oddly elated; she had finally voiced the frustrations that had been building inside her for the past ten years. In that instance, she didn’t care how Drew reacted - whether he ran for the door, shouted at her in turn, or even laughed at her.

Nothing, however, could have prepared her for what he did next. Without warning, he seized her by the shoulders, causing all of the breath to leave her lungs at once in a squeak of shock. Before she even had time to realise what was happening, he pulled her close and kissed her.

May’s mind froze. Her rage evaporated on the spot, giving way to pure astonishment that overrode every other sense in her possession. For what felt like an age, she stood motionless as a statue. Eventually, she regained enough control over her limbs to struggle, but Drew only held her tighter, and the desire to fight left her almost as soon as it had arrived. She had been kissed before, a couple of times, but they had been awkward, fumbling, teenaged affairs, with neither party having much idea what they were doing. This, on the other hand, was completely different. It was rough and heated, and the urge to return it was strong enough to make her head reel. Lost in sheer sensation, the remembrance that they had been locked in a vicious verbal battle mere seconds ago seemed the least important thing in the world.

As though sensing that she would not pull away, Drew’s grip on her shoulders relaxed. He pulled her into an embrace, cupping her cheek and stroking her hair back from her face. The unexpectedly tender gesture caused a sigh to escape May’s lips. For an instant, she wavered on the brink of indecision – then, finally, she surrendered, going limp in his arms.

At long last, it came to an end. May’s eyes were glazed; she felt as though she had slipped into a trance. All of the usual background noise – the wind in the trees outside the window, the humming of the electric lights – seemed to have faded away. It was as though she and Drew were standing inside a bubble; for the moment, nothing else existed.

Finally, he stepped away from her, breaking the spell. It seemed to May as though the air had just grown very slightly cooler. She wanted to say or do something, but the kiss had struck her dumb; all she could do was blink, stupidly. Drew was gazing at her, a strange half-smile playing upon his lips - partly triumphant and partly amused, and yet, impossibly, affectionate. Without saying a word, he turned and crossed the room, not looking back.

May came to herself as she watched him go. Not even conscious of the decision to move, she found herself taking a step towards him, then another, and another. Her head felt light; she was floating, walking on air. At the same time, her heart was hammering – she knew that this was stupid, but they had already gone too far for her not to act. Drew caught sight of her as he reached the door, and stood waiting, quietly confident.

At last, she was standing in front of him once more. There was no yelling, this time; no flushed faces or heightened breaths. For the longest time, she stared into his eyes, a dreamy smile upon her face.

Then she drew her arm back and slapped him in the face with all the strength she could muster.

There was a pause in which the echo died away. Drew gingerly massaged his jaw, looking slightly stunned. “Right,” he said at last. “I’ll come back later. Just in case you want a shot at the other cheek.”

May gave a shriek of fury. Drew turned to leave; however, at that moment, there came the sound of the side-door opening, and footsteps heading up the corridor. Before May had time to gather her thoughts, her father had appeared in the doorway. He stopped dead, his eyes travelling from her to Drew.

“Hello, there,” he said uncertainly. “Did you want something?”

May closed her mouth with a snap. Her mind had just gone utterly blank. Drew recovered faster, however, stepping forward with a smile in place. “No, thank you, I think I already got it,” he said. “The gym leader, am I right?”

Norman nodded; Drew shook his hand. “Your daughter is a very obliging young woman,” he said. “I’m sorry – my name’s Drew. Maybe you’ve heard of me before? I’m a co-ordinator.”

Norman’s eyes widened as he dropped Drew’s hand. “Wait – you’re that Drew? Heck, I’ve heard of you all right! You won the Hoenn region’s Grand Festival four years in a row!”

Drew preened slightly. “Good to meet an informed individual,” he said, shooting a pointed glance at May.

“Mr. Drew was just leaving,” May ground out through gritted teeth.

“Oh, that’s a shame,” said Norman. “Perhaps I’ll see you in here again.”

“Maybe. I was going to ask for a gym battle, but I guess the timing wasn’t right.”

Norman looked panicked at the prospect of losing a challenger. “There’s nothing wrong with anyone’s timing!” he said quickly. “Please – stay, and I’ll give you a battle!”

Drew shook his head apologetically. “No, I wish I could, but I have another engagement that I can’t miss. I hope you get some other challengers, though.”

“That’s not looking too likely right now, I’m afraid,” Norman sighed. “I’ve just been out searching for some.”

“Have you tried during the night time?”

Norman’s brow furrowed. “How’s that?”

“As a Pokémon trainer myself, I happen to know that the best time to find trainers is between midnight and dawn,” Drew explained. “You see, in the daytime they’re all in bed, resting from their training the night before, in order to be in good shape for more training later on.”

May looked sharply at Drew. Only the faintest twitch at the corner of his mouth belied his innocent expression.

“You don’t say?” said Norman, blinking. “That’s… interesting. Thank you, I’ll give it a try.”

“I’ll be on my way, then.” Drew smiled at May, receiving a glower in return, and shook hands once again with Norman. “Goodbye. It was a pleasure meeting you.”

With that, he stepped past Norman, headed up the corridor, and left. May continued to stare at the closed door, her fists tightly clenched.

“Nice young man,” Norman commented. “Wish I’d found more people like him while I was out today. I don’t suppose anyone else came in?”

“No, nobody,” May said quietly, her attention still fixated elsewhere.

“Ah, well. I’m going to get some coffee. Coming?”

“In a minute, maybe.”

Norman nodded and left the room. May stood stock still for several seconds longer; then, on a sudden impulse, she crossed to the desk, seized the rose Drew had given her and hurled it into the bin. It looked extremely sorry for itself now; half the petals were crushed and the stem had been bent.

With a jolt of shame, May realised that there was a lump in her throat. She swiped at her eyes, furious with herself. It was ridiculous to be upset. She couldn’t just break down every time somebody made life difficult for her. Drew was gone, and now that he’d had his fun and gotten his twisted little mind game out of his system, chances were he wouldn’t come back.

For some reason, this thought didn’t make her feel any better.

It had to be the rose making her feel so emotional. It really was beautiful, even in a half-squashed state. May looked around for some scrap paper to hide it from view, and her eyes fell upon the card she had left on the desk. Drew’s I.O.U. was visible on the side facing upwards. She reached for it with a snarl – but something made her halt mid-movement. Slower, she turned it over again, and read her father’s original print, her eyes fixing on the word ‘Hadaka’.

After a moment’s hesitation, she sat in the office chair and began to hunt for a pen.

gladdecease
26th March 2005, 3:55 AM
Do I pay too much attention to this story? Regardless, I enjoyed this chapter quite a bit. The description of the kiss was quite...detailed. It made for an interesting Contestshippy scene, and I enjoyed the chapter. Would like to read more soon; later!

Rene Bellosh
26th March 2005, 7:10 AM
Ah yes, yet another of the few fan fictions I really like has finally updated. Description and characterization are all excellent (meh, I don't write anything so my words probably sound hallow :p), no obvious spelling or grammar errors, and another episode of May’s Expedition too (you also would think she's too old for it, but it's quite obvious May is bored with her lot in life). :D Anyways, I wish you the best of luck in your fan fiction career and that your updates are somewhat more frequent. ;)

Juny
26th March 2005, 8:09 AM
Again, a new awesome chapter ^^ Think i can keep saying this, but your writing style and your descriptions are good and at least fun to read (I'm not very soon interested in a fan-fic, but I kinda like this ^^) just keep it up, can't wait for your next chap!

Jo-Jo
13th June 2005, 12:32 AM
...Woah. This fic is still here?? O_o I thought it got deleted ages ago when I didn't update after a month. Well... er... might as well add the latest chapter, then! Hehe, sorry for making you all wait such a long time. I know, I suck.



A Bushel And A Peck

The morning’s clouds had already disappeared by the time Drew reached the end of the path leading from the Viridian gym. With a final backwards glance, he swung the gate closed and sauntered up the road. It was one of those rare occasions when his mood and the weather were in perfect accord; the sky was a canvas of sheer blue, against which the roofs of buildings crowded as though trying to absorb as much sunlight as possible. The wind picked up slightly, causing Drew’s coat to billow. He allowed himself a self-satisfied smile; he happened to know that he looked his most dramatic in a moderate breeze.

Speaking of dramatic, he seemed to have made quite an impression on May. Whether a good or a bad one was up for debate, but Drew had always held the opinion that it was better to simply be memorable, and let events work themselves out from there. And there could be no doubt that May would not be forgetting him in a hurry. At the very least, he imagined that the handprint on his face would jog her memory when next they met.

And meet again, they would. A thrill of anticipation ran through him at the thought. Now that the task ahead had been reduced from seemingly impossible to merely very difficult, the sense of enthusiasm that always accompanied one of his infamous crazy bets was beginning to stir. That was what had drawn him to gambling in the first place: not the money, not the notoriety and certainly not the company, but the challenge. Pokémon training was his first love, but winning tournaments had lost their attraction some time after placing first in Hoenn’s Grand Festival for the third year running. Pulling off a victory against all the odds for his latest wager, however, was one thing he never got bored of.

And this time, there was more to it than that. Drew’s steps slowed as he lapsed into deeper thought. He had to admit, there was something about May that intrigued him, on a level beyond that of an obstacle to manipulate. He’d expected resistance, but he hadn’t expected to enjoy whittling down her defences as much as he did. If he hadn’t already had a strict purpose in mind in coming to the gym, he could have happily spent hours sitting in her father’s office, heckling away with her. He’d found himself taking a genuine interest in what she did and how she reacted. It was vaguely unsettling, but in a pleasant sort of way.

Oddly, it seemed to help that she’d been so utterly unimpressed by his status as a Festival champion. Most women found his fame interesting enough to give him a second glance no matter how rudely he behaved towards them, but Drew got the impression that May would have detested him even if he’d put on his best Sunday manners and called her ‘milady’. After spending so much time surrounded by fans and flunkies, he couldn’t help but find her contempt refreshing. And the fact that she was beautiful certainly didn’t hurt…

Drew frowned as he reached the traffic lights. He was beginning to sound like an idiot with a crush. It wouldn’t do to get attached to May when he was supposed to be focussing on winning his thousand bucks. It was humiliating enough that he’d been roped into the biggest sucker bet ever devised by a man who’d seriously thought that any sane person would fall for a wager about cheesecake - the last thing he needed was for word to get out that he’d gone soft over some gym leader’s daughter. It was going to take all his ingenuity to pull off this bet, and he couldn’t afford any distractions. No, better to go back to thinking of May in terms of a complication, like he had when Ash had first pointed her out.

That said… there was no reason why he couldn’t have a little fun at the same time. The remembrance of the way her eyes had flashed when he’d called her boring rose in Drew’s mind, and he grinned to himself.

He could tell that it was going to be an interesting couple of days.


~*~

Ash hurried down a backstage corridor of the Cerulean gym, moving through a jostling crowd of extras and technicians. Nobody paid him any attention; they were all making last-minute preparations for the evening’s show. For once, Pikachu was absent - Ash was here primarily to visit Misty, after all. It tended to be somewhat off-putting when, in the middle of a kiss, he happened to look up and see the yellow rodent sitting on top of the dressing table, s******ing at him.

Squeezing past a gaggle of costume designers, he finally stumbled out into an empty corridor. Instead of the usual aquariums that lined every other wall, this part of the building contained a row of pay phones. He collapsed in front of one and rummaged in his pocket for a quarter.

“Oh… two… seven… three… seven…” he mumbled, reading off a small piece of paper clutched in his hand. “Eight… six… one… six… seven… one.” There was a clicking noise as the phone connected him; then it started to ring. Ash could hear music in the distance - the show must be near its end. He vaguely recognised the tune, having dropped by for one of Misty’s rehearsals a couple of weeks ago. This meant he only had ten minutes to finish up the phone-call and get back to her dressing room.

Finally, someone on the other end of the line picked up. The image of a lab coat-clad man with unruly brown hair and sharp features appeared on the screen. “Hello?”

“Gary!” Ash breathed a sigh of relief. The last two times he had tried that number, nobody had answered. “Gary, I need to ask a favour.”

Gary leaned back in his chair, smirking. “Let me guess. That cute little League-cop is putting on the pressure, and you need a place to run your matches. Am I right?”

“Yeah, that’s right. Please, Gary, can I use one of the store-rooms at your lab?”

Gary steepled his hands together, peering over the top of them at Ash. “Well, you know the rules. A thousand bucks, in advance.”

Ash winced. “Uh… could I give it to you later?” he asked, hoisting a winning smile onto his face. “Since it’s me?”

“Since it’s you? No.”

Ash’s face fell. “Aw, c’mon, Gary, I’ll have the money by tomorrow at the latest.”

Gary looked sceptical. “How do you know?”

“I made a bet with somebody. Does it matter how -”

“Well, how can you be sure that you’re going to win?”

“Because it’s a bet I know I can’t lose. Look, I’m meant to be getting the money tonight anyway, this is just in case he delivers late.”

“If you’re the one he’s going up against, I wouldn’t be so sure he’ll end up having to deliver at all. What’s the bet?”

Ash sighed. “I bet him he couldn’t take this girl to Vermillion City.”

“And how do you know he can’t do it?”

“‘Cause she’s not the kind of girl that goes to Vermillion City.”

“Where does she go, then?”

“Nowhere!” said Ash exasperatedly. “Look, just trust me, OK? I’ll win. She’s his total opposite. She’ll probably just yell at him, if he even gets close enough to ask her.”

Gary snickered. “Yeah, because Misty never yells at you at all.”

“That’s different!”

Gary shook his head. “Sorry, Ashy-boy, no deal. You can never be sure of anything wherever women are concerned. I’d have thought even you would have realised that by now.”

This wasn’t going anywhere. Ash decided to give in. “Fine, fine,” he grumbled. “Can I at least tell everyone that’s where the meeting is?”

“Not until you’ve got the money,” said Gary firmly.

“Alright! Jeez! See you tonight.”

Ash put down the receiver, muttering assorted curses, and hurried back up the corridor to the reception desk. A bored looking woman in her mid-thirties greeted him with a nod.

“Hi, Mr. Ketchum. Show’s almost over. You’ll be wanting Miss Misty’s dressing room, right?”

“Yeah.” Ash took the key from her outstretched hand. “Thanks!” he called over his shoulder, setting off towards the performer’s quarters at a jog.

He made it through the door of Misty’s room with a minute to spare, the sound of applause echoing faintly through the walls. Quickly, he grabbed a nearby book and flung himself into a chair. In no time at all, he heard the sound of footsteps and chattering as the chorus girls arrived in the corridor. The next moment, the doorknob turned and Misty entered the room, slightly flushed from exertion. She was wearing a skimpy Delcatty costume, complete with fluffy tail and glued-on patches of fur.

“Hi, Ash!” she beamed, pulling off the headpiece and dumping it on her dressing table.

Ash caught himself staring, and blushed slightly; the one time he’d seen the Water Flower’s latest routine, it hadn’t been in costume. Misty dressed so casually on a regular basis that seeing her in a skin-tight Delcatty outfit was something of a surprise – not that he was complaining.

“Hey, Misty,” he said, getting to his feet.

Misty crossed the room and gave him a lingering kiss. “Happy anniversary, sweetheart. What are you reading?” She took the book out of his hands.

“Er,” said Ash, his mind a blank.

Luckily Misty spared him from answering. “Oh, it’s the book my doctor gave me,” she said, peering at the cover. “I didn’t know you were interested in that kind of thing.”

Ash tried to look at the cover without Misty noticing. Unfortunately, leaving school at the age of ten hadn’t done wonders for his reading skills, and the title of the book contained a lot of long words. “I – uh – didn’t know you were either,” he hazarded.

Misty screwed up her nose. “I’m not. I went to see Dr. Chelle again about my cold – I’ve tried everything he suggested last month, and nothing worked. So then he thought that the problem might be caused by psychology.”

“Psychology?” said Ash, alarmed. “You haven’t got that, have you?”

Misty rolled her eyes. “Psychology, Ash. It’s how to figure out what’s going on inside people’s minds.”

“Can’t they just tell you themselves?”

“No, because they don’t always know. It could be subconscious.”

Ash decided not to further embarrass himself by asking what ‘subconscious’ meant. However, Misty’s words had sparked an idea. “Say… would that book be able to tell you why girls go for certain kinds of guys?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean – could it tell you why a girl might like a guy that she wouldn’t normally be interested in?”

Misty smiled at him. “Ash, no matter how terrible a guy might seem, that’s no guarantee that some girl won’t fall for him. Just look at us.”

Ash suddenly felt a little less confident about the bet than he had done five minutes ago. Drew couldn’t possibly win, could he? Even if he did manage to conceal from May that he consorted with criminals on a regular basis, Ash was sure that she was far too straight-laced to go off to Vermillion City with a total stranger… right?

Misty chose that moment to cut into his musings. “Ash?” she said tentatively. “Um, my sisters say that starting Monday, they’re going to take a break from performing to refurbish the gym. I was wondering… since we’ll have a few weeks to ourselves… maybe we could finally get married?”

Instantly, Ash felt the icy grip of panic closing around his throat. “Married!” he yelped, running a finger under his collar. “Well – uh – we were going to get married at some point –”

“Then why not make it this point?”

“Um –” Beads of perspiration prickled at Ash’s forehead. “It’s just – don’t you think it’s kind of sudden?”

Misty gave him one of her best Looks. “Hmmm… let me think,” she said, placing the tip of one finger to her chin. “Seven years… sudden… you know what, Ash? I really don’t think so.”

“But, Misty, marriage is a big deal,” Ash pleaded. “What if we’re not ready yet?”

Misty folded her arms and glared at him. “I’m ready, Ash. And I don’t know why you’re not. I mean, this is ridiculous! Who stays engaged for seven years? And anyway… I’m getting worried about your mom.”

Ash frowned. “My mom? Why, what’s wrong with her?”

For some reason, Misty now looked incredibly nervous. “Oh, boy,” she muttered. “Uh… Ash… I’ve never told you this before, but… the thing is…”

Ash was beginning to feel rather alarmed himself. Had his mom been taken ill? Disowned him? Run off with Tracey? What could the matter be?

“The thing is,” Misty repeated, studiously avoiding his eyes, “your mom… well…” She took a deep breath. “She… kinda thinks we’re married already.”

Ash blinked. “Why?” he said, slowly.

Misty cringed. “Because, uh, I told her we were married already.”

For a long time, Ash found it difficult to get words out. Misty took advantage of this to plunge on: “You see, Ash, what you have to realise about your mom is that –”

Words returned to Ash rather abruptly. “What I have to realise?” he snapped. “She’s my mom!”

“Yeah, but the thing is, people in Pallet Town have this… certain mindset –”

“People in – Misty, I grew up in Pallet Town! I know all about people in Pallet Town!”

Misty continued to ignore him. “It’s an old-fashioned place, you see, and everyone there is rather, y’know, traditional. Set in their ways. It’s different for you and Gary, because you travelled around since you were ten, but your mom isn’t like that. I don’t think she’d like it if you were engaged to me for seven years.”

“So you told her we were married?”

“Seven years, Ash!” Misty protested. She looked rather flustered; if it came to it, Ash felt the same way. “In Pallet Town, people just don’t do that – they all get married!”

“Then how come it’s such a small town?”

“Very funny,” said Misty, glaring at him. “You tell me, then - what was I supposed to say?”

“The truth would have been great!”

“Well, if you’d just married me earlier like you should have done, then we wouldn’t be having this problem!” Misty yelled.

Ash turned away, throwing up his hands. “Oh, right, so now it’s all my fault. What a surprise. You’re crazy, do you know that?”

“Oh, yeah?” Misty retorted. “This coming from the guy whose brilliant idea, after the League took away his trainer’s license, was to start setting up matches illegally? Sure, I’m the crazy one.”

This was getting into dangerous territory. “But I didn’t go through with it, did I?” said Ash quickly.

“Only because I talked you out of it. So if you think what I’ve done is stupid, just remember your own track record, Ash Ketchum!”

Ash knew there would be no winning this argument. “Fine, I get the point,” he snapped. “Anything else I should know about?”

Misty went bright scarlet. “Well… now that you mention it…”

A sense of imminent dread took hold of Ash. He wasn’t sure he wanted to hear this.

“Um… OK – see – what happened is…” Misty mumbled, gaze fixed firmly on the floor. “After about a year – um –”

“After about a year… we got a divorce?” said Ash hopefully.

Misty screwed her eyes tightly shut. “We had a baby,” she whispered.

Ash sat down heavily. The room was beginning to spin. “B – b – we – baby?”

“I had to, Ash!” Misty pleaded. “Your mom just wouldn’t have understood if we hadn’t!”

The ‘ran off with Tracey’ option was beginning to look really good right now. “Misty, how could you!” Ash wailed. “How am I meant to pretend to everyone back home that I have a six-year-old kid?”

Misty waved a hand dismissively. “Oh, don’t worry about that. I can deal with that kind of stuff.”

“No, you can’t! What if mom puts me on the spot?”

“That won’t happen. I’ve… been taking measures.”

Ash almost asked her what measures she’d taken, but decided that such an act of masochism would hardly improve his mood. Although, now that he knew the truth, a lot of things were beginning to slot into place. It gave him an explanation for why Misty had managed to mysteriously come down with the chicken pox for the last five Christmases, for one thing. Also why, whenever he had announced an intention to visit home, she had suddenly remembered some urgent appointment that he simply had to take her to. And why, on the one occasion when he had managed to phone his mom, she had kept dropping in references to ‘the little bundle of joy’. Ash had just assumed she was talking about Pikachu – which, on reflection, must have made his end of the conversation sound extremely strange.

On the other hand, he supposed it couldn’t hurt to at least get some more information. If he was going to have to pull off an elaborate deception for the rest of his life, it would be better if he knew all the facts now.

“OK, what kind of a baby was it?” he asked in a defeated tone of voice.

“It was a boy,” said Misty. Ash noticed that she was grinning fondly. “I named him after you, Ash.”

“Um… thank you?”

“You’re welcome.”

“So… where is Ash junior supposed to be right now?”

“Right now he’s at boarding school in Celadon City. One of the best in the country.”

Nothing but the best for her fictional son, Ash thought. Misty was nothing if not devoted, as her time spent taking care of Togepi had proved. If he hadn’t been so mad at her, he would have found it rather sweet.

“Um, Ash?” Misty looked as though she were steeling herself. “That’s… not all, Ash.”

Ash had a sudden foreboding that he was about to get a lot madder. “Don’t tell me he has a little sister!”

The expression on Misty’s face said it all. Ash looked around stupidly for Pikachu; maybe if he were shocked into unconsciousness now, he’d wake up and find this had all been a horrible dream.

“All these years, Ash – your mom believes in big families,” Misty defended herself.

Ash took a deep breath, forcing every scrap of resolve to the forefront of his mind. “Just… just give me the grand total,” he said in a voice that wavered only slightly.

A tortured look crept over Misty’s face. Very slowly, she raised her hand, with all her fingers extended. “Five,” she whispered.

Ash nearly burst into tears.

“But it doesn’t matter,” Misty went on hurriedly. “We can get married! Then it won’t have to be a lie any more.”

Ash shot her an incredulous look. “Are you kidding? What am I meant to tell my mom I did with the five kids – traded them for a Sunflora?”

“Just leave it to me. I’ll take care of everything.”

Somehow, Ash doubted that. He wasn’t looking forward to the next family reunion.

“Please, Ash,” Misty begged. She clasped her hands under her chin and gave him the sad blue eyes routine. “Please let us get married. It’d make me so happy…”

Ash hated it when she put him on the spot like that. “I’m just not sure it’s a good idea,” he said uncomfortably.

Misty dropped the act. A thin line of irritation furrowing her brow, she strode over to her dressing table and yanked the bottom drawer open. “Look at this,” she commanded, taking out a long, thin package and waving it at him. “What do you think this is?”

Ash read the label. “‘Sally’s Wedding Shop’. Beats me.”

“It’s a wedding veil. I’ve had it for three years. I haven’t shown you, because it’s supposed to be bad luck.” Misty paused. “Want to see?”

“Bad luck!” said Ash quickly.

“Well, there you go!” Misty put the box down, crossed the room and took his hands in hers. “I’ve already got the veil. All we need now is a license and a blood-test.”

“Blood-test?” said Ash, pulling a face.

“Yeah. We have to, it’s the law.” Misty patted his arm. “Oh, don’t worry, Ash - you’ve got blood.”

“What a city,” Ash grumbled. “First they close my tournament, then they open up my veins.”

“Ash, you never even started the tournament,” said Misty, giving him a strange look.

Ash quickly backtracked, cursing himself for making the slip. “Of course not. And you know why not? Because I love you.”

He knew from experience that there was no quicker way to disarm her. Sure enough, Misty was now grinning sappily. “Aw, Ash. I love you too. OK, we’ll talk about this later.”

Relieved to be off the hook for now, Ash pulled her close and kissed her. Now this was more how he had planned to spend their anniversary.

About thirty seconds later, the door banged open. “Misty, I need to borrow some earrings, like, right away,” said Violet loudly, breezing in with her hair in rollers. “Oh, sorry.”

Ash and Misty sprang apart, blushing; Ash promptly tripped over a chair leg and fell over.

“Violet!” Misty snapped. “Can’t you knock?”

“I said sorry,” Violet wheedled. “And anyway, why would I need to knock?”

“Because,” Misty hissed, “it is polite to knock when going into the private dressing room of an engaged person!”

Violet abandoned the act of penitence and stuck her nose in the air. “Like, as far as I’m concerned, you’re in here alone. So, can you lend me some earrings? Pretty please?”

Misty sighed. “Oh, fine. Third drawer down. Inside the blue box.”

While Violet busied herself at the dresser, Misty stood with her arms folded, grumbling to herself, and Ash rubbed his shins. None of the three elder Water Flowers were particularly fond of him these days. He supposed it was sisterly solidarity on Misty’s behalf - or perhaps this was just the way they acted towards any man who walked around with his shirt half-hanging out of his jeans.

Finally, Violet straightened up, a pair of pearl earrings gleaming in her palm. “Thanks, little sister,” she said cheerfully. Then her gaze fell upon Ash, and grew icy. “You!” she intoned, pointing an accusatory finger. “I had a date all lined up for tomorrow night, and he, like, cancelled - all on account of you and your dopey Pokémon tournament!”

Ash froze. At his side, he could sense Misty tensing in shocked realisation.

“Honestly, Misty, I pity you,” Violet said, shaking her head.

With that bombshell dropped, she turned and swept to the door, pausing to rap twice on it smartly before she left.

In the dead silence that followed, Misty slowly raised her head and looked at Ash. Her eyes contained the promise of pure murder.

Equally slowly, Ash lowered himself to the ground, trying to pour every ounce of contrition he could muster into his gaze. “Misty, look at me,” he implored. “I’m on my knees!”

Misty’s expression did not alter, although her eyes narrowed to slits. “Get up,” she growled through clenched teeth.

Ash leapt to his feet. Dawdling would not help him win back any points.

“How long?” Misty demanded in dangerously controlled tones.

When in doubt, lie like hell. “Just – just a few weeks –” Ash began.

“How. Long.”

“- Or months…”

Quick as a snakebite, Misty struck out with an arm and grabbed his ear. “Ow, ow, ow!” Ash yelped. “Eight years!”

Misty released him, her face contorting in a kind of pained grimace. For a moment, Ash thought she was going to cry; but instead she fumbled for a handkerchief in her pocket and sneezed into it.

“Eight years,” she stated flatly in a muffled voice. “Eight years, you could have been studying to get your license.”

“Hey, I was trying!” Ash protested. “But I couldn’t just not train in all that time, could I?”

Misty took a step towards him, her eyes like gimlets. “If you were really trying, you could have been training legally for years by now!”

Ash thought this was a bit much. “This coming from someone who didn’t even have to take those tests?”

That was the wrong thing to say. Ash had to duck quickly as Misty aimed a blow at him. “You could be arrested!” she yelled. “What then, Ash? How did you plan to keep up your training in jail?”

“I’m not going to get caught!” Ash argued, folding his arms. “I’ve gotten really good at this –”

“Oh, that’s a great thing to be good at!” Misty really was starting to cry now; she sneezed again, and swiped furiously at her eyes and nose with the handkerchief. “That’s a really – achoo! – useful skill - achoo!”

She was forced to stop talking as five violent sneezes wracked her upper body. Ash was beginning to feel quite scared for her – he’d never seen her in this state before. “Calm down, Mist,” he urged, temporarily abandoning caution and gathering her into his arms. He felt her whole frame jerk against his chest with each sneeze. “You’re making yourself upset. I love you, OK? We’ll talk this over tomorrow. I promise, things won’t seem so bad then.”

Misty pushed him away from her. “I don’t believe you any more!”

“But I –”

“Get out!” Misty raised a trembling finger towards the door. “I don’t even want to look at you right now!”

Ash’s heart sank. He could tell that she really meant it. He debated refusing to leave until she listened to reason, but something told him that unless he had a death wish, that wasn’t a great idea. Instead, he heaved a sigh and trudged towards the door.

When he reached it, he paused and directed a long, pitiful gaze at Misty. “Just tell me what to do to make this up to you.”

Misty raised her head and held his gaze for a long moment. “Marry me.”

Ash bit his lip, and remained silent. A part of him wanted to say yes – but it wasn’t quite strong enough.

Misty turned away. “That’s what I thought.”

“There’s… one more thing I need to ask you,” Ash said hesitantly.

Misty stood still, arms folded. Ash took that as a sign to go on. He licked his lips, opened his mouth, and blurted, “You didn’t name all our kids after flowers, did you? Because I wanted to veto ‘Petunia’ -”

Misty swung around again, her face contorting with fury, and began to reach for an empty vase on the table beside her.

“Just checking. I’ll go,” said Ash quickly.

He turned and made a run for it. The vase barely missed his head as it smashed against the door.

lara lynx
14th June 2005, 10:43 PM
wow, i was starting to lose hope when you didnt reply. but that was really good! keep going!

Moonlusion
19th June 2005, 10:48 PM
ROTFLOL! Man that was tooooo funny! Ash had better run otherwise it won't be him going to jail because I'm not sure if he'll live long enough to make it there! This is the best chap. yet Jo-Jo. Keep up the good work!

Sweet May
21st June 2005, 1:33 AM
wow dis fic is amazing 2................. but even more................. i love all the chapters............ yes.......... i read every single 1............... and i loved it........ i give it a 10 so far............... i especially loved da contestshipping parts of dis fic........ best fic^ ^

Xiang
22nd June 2005, 9:29 PM
Jo-jo, you have just GOT to continue, its one of the best I've ever read, and must've taken days to it down, but its pure awesome

;280; : I second that!

xsweet_peax
25th June 2005, 3:02 AM
Wow! I read the first two chapters and then it seemed to have just stopped so I was so happy to finally see the other two chapters. I read everything over again though seeing as how I havent read the first two chapters in a long time. The lastest chapter was by far the best though. I really liked the ending with Misty and Ash in the 4th chapter. I really REALLY hope you update soon. I really wanna read the next chapter and see how it is. Its really good right now.

Xiang
25th June 2005, 2:47 PM
Wow. o_O This should be a bestseller book. I mean it. Everybody on Earth should be reading this and gaping at it's awesomeness. Seriously.

Oh yeah and Ash's comment "I wanted to veto 'Petunia'" was hilarious. :p

Keep it up, Im not gonna let this threaad die!
-Skitty ;300;

Jo-Jo
26th June 2005, 2:53 AM
Aww, thanks, everyone! ^_^ You're all very kind, and I'm thrilled that people are reading/putting up with my ludicrously slow writing speed.


Wow. o_O This should be a bestseller book.
It's already a best-seller musical! ;) Which is currently playing at the West End with EWAN MCGREGOR and Elaine from Ally McBeal and Kochansky from Red Dwarf and I'M GOING TO SEE IT THIS SUMMER OMG OMG -

*is forced into a straight jacket and heavily sedated*


Oh yeah and Ash's comment "I wanted to veto 'Petunia'" was hilarious. :p
:D I'm very pleased you think so, as I think that was the only joke in the entire chapter that I made up myself. lol.

Encyclopika
29th June 2005, 3:22 AM
This fic kicks a**. ^^ I've been invisibly reading it on FF.net and up until recently did I find out you wrote it, Jo-Jo. (Like a month ago you said you wrote it..?) Anyway, I must say that your detail is the best. ^^ I love that your story has BOTH Contestshipping and Pokeshipping...yet very different from the show. It branches off into a parallel universe...which is so great. ^^ PM me immediatly when you get chap 5 in...would love to know what else you can conjure up. ^^ Be seeing you...^^

Xiang
29th June 2005, 2:01 PM
Oh yeah, could I be on the PM list too? I forgot...how could I...

-Pichu Gurl ;172;

dark-rukario
30th June 2005, 8:08 AM
i wont let this thread die either ill be here every day ;rukario;

Xiang
30th June 2005, 3:09 PM
Aww, thanks, everyone! ^_^ You're all very kind, and I'm thrilled that people are reading/putting up with my ludicrously slow writing speed.
Don't worry, I'll love your fic as long as you update sometime! Of course, don't take a year, but everything you make is worth waiting for, so don't get rushed. ^^

-Pichu Gurl ;172;

deoxysmaster8000
1st July 2005, 2:08 AM
i loved it!!!!!!!! ash, you got some magor splanin to do! and drew get some lessons on how to talk to a girl (i wouldnt even say those things!!!!)anywho great story so far!!!hurry up please!

lara lynx
3rd July 2005, 6:42 PM
Hey, can you PM me when the next chapter is up? I seriously can't wait!

Rene Bellosh
5th July 2005, 4:28 AM
Hey, can you PM me when the next chapter is up? I seriously can't wait!

I have a gut feeling she's finished with it by now. :D

Valkyrie X
5th July 2005, 10:26 AM
Daaang Jo-Jo, I must say I'm quite impressed with this fic...Veeeery interesting indeed...Very interesting.

I like the originality you put into it...It seems to stand out from other shipping fics. It's pretty cool how you added a twist to everything, with Ash getting his liscense taken away, and Drew and May having never met and all that...

Your grammar = Perfect. I could not find a single grammatical or spelling error whatsoever. Good grammar is something I really appreciate in fics; it just makes everything so much easier to read, like you're reading a published novel or something. You've mastered this writing technique.

Description. It was pretty good...for the most part. I think it could use a tad more description...But that's just me. I suppose description isn't such a huge factor in shipping fics...I'm just very picky when it comes to it. Not that I'm saying that you describe badly, by any means...

The chapters' lengths are all excellent, so I won't comment on that...

It pleased me how none of the characters were...well, out of character. Ash is still dense, Misty's still hot-tempered, Drew's still his cool, arrogant self...And so on and so forth. Very well done here.

Also, I loved the occasional humor in the chapters...Especially when Ash wanted to "veto" the name "Petunia"...That, I must admit, was pretty funny.

Being a huge Contestshipper myself, my favorite part had to be when Drew just randomly kissed May...The kiss was described very nicely; I could actually feel the passion within it.

Overall, this is truly a remarkable piece of work. Just update a bit more.;) I'll definitely continue to read and support this fic...Keep it up, Jo-Jo. I look forward to the next chapter.

;381;Lati_Lover;380;

Rider
6th July 2005, 7:18 PM
Woo Hooo! Tis very nice Jo-Jo, I read it a loooooooooooooooooong time ago on FF.net, and JUST realized you have it here! ^^ I would've reviewed on FF.net, it's just... _ _' I forgot my sn. lol, anyway, so yeah, nice story though! very long chappies. WHens the next one coming out???

Xiang
7th July 2005, 9:15 PM
If you don't update that quickly (I don't mind) could we at least get a "the next chapter will go up in about two weeks" or something like that. That is, if you want to! Just suggesting!

-Pichu Gurl ;172;

Jo-Jo
9th July 2005, 4:37 AM
Hehe. ^^; Sorry about the long waits. I write reeeeeally slowly, and since threads normally get pruned on here, whenever I do finish a chapter ahead of schedule, I try to put off posting it until a month has passed since I put up the last one... er, it's complicated, but it makes sense to me, honest. ;) So I plan to post chapter 5 in about three days' time, on the twelfth(?). It has Team Rocket-ness, yey. ^_^

Xiang
9th July 2005, 8:56 PM
*gasp* Thank you---It's coming!

liek omgz liek finali itz comin i cant wate 4 it!!!1111one

Lol, I love doing those jokes. I'm really looking forward to it!

-Pichu Gurl ;172;

dark-rukario
11th July 2005, 3:51 AM
sorry about not being here every day like i said iv been busy ;rukario;

Kojho
11th July 2005, 3:54 PM
Great fic, I love it. I was reading it on FF.net also.

KingFirestump
11th July 2005, 8:57 PM
Oh this is awesome Jo-Jo! I'm not much of a Contestshipper (I don't pay too much attention to shippings other than Pokéshipping) but I could really picture that kiss. I liked it how you brought May and Drew into the story without a trip to Hoenn. And that letter to the Pokémon Legue was interesting. I wrote a similar one for my own fic but yours is better. If only you updated more... Oh well, no one's perfect. Keep writing!

Brian Powell
12th July 2005, 4:45 PM
Jo-Jo... so far, I've read all four chapters that you've written so far and I've asked myself if this is a good fic. The answer is that this is not a good fic... this is a BRILLIANT fic.

The descriptions, lengths, characters, grammar, spelling, characters... all fantastic! No question about it, you can write, girl.

One more thing, looking forward to more.

deoxysmaster8000
12th July 2005, 5:59 PM
go jo-jo go! mojo jo-jo, evil story wrighter!!!!!because she takes FOREVER!!!!!nothing bad im just REALLY, REALLY, REAAAALLLLLYYYYYY,impatient please let me still be your friend!!!!

Jo-Jo
12th July 2005, 9:13 PM
Heeeere's part five! Thanks for holding on so long, everyone. :) Warning: this chapter features random musical numbers. ;) Also plenty o' Team Rocket, and the mysterious origin of Misty's cold.

---


Misty’s Lament

Misty watched the vase shatter into a hundred pieces. Neither that nor her accompanying shriek of fury soothed her feelings one bit. She spun on her heel and kicked the dresser as hard as she could, then hobbled across the room and flung herself into a chair.

How dare he. All this time, he’d been playing the victim while secretly breaking the law? That was the kind of behaviour she’d expect from Team Rocket, not from Ash. How had the kind, well-meaning boy she’d befriended all those years ago turned into someone capable of lying like that - to his own fiancée, no less? Come to think of it, how was it that Violet had known the truth before she had?

The answer to that question came as soon as she had begun to think about it: Tracey. Ash must have told him, and he would have told Daisy - and whenever one Water Flower knew anything, the other two always knew it too before the hour was out. So that meant that all three of her sisters, as well as one of her closest friends, had been keeping her in the dark. Misty felt a stab of humiliation through her heart. Did Brock know? Had he been deceiving her for all this time, too? What about Mrs. Ketchum?

“This is the worst anniversary ever!” she cried, pounding her fist into the arm of the chair.

She felt a sudden pang for Togepi. The little egg Pokémon had amazed them all nine years ago by evolving to Togetic, only to leave forever shortly after. As far as she had been able to make out, it felt a yearning for a distant land where it somehow knew it was needed. Eventually, Misty had decided to let it go. They had shared a tearful goodbye, and that was the last she had ever seen of her beloved baby Pokémon. She still missed Togepi terribly, especially in moments of crisis. Right now, she felt as though she could use something warm to cuddle.

Misty’s nose began to itch. She broke off from her thoughts to search for a tissue, and sneezed so explosively that the chair nearly toppled over.

“Oh, this stupid cold!” she howled.

She had to find a way to take her mind off things. She began to look around the room for a distraction, and her gaze happened to fall upon the dresser. The book that her doctor had recommended lay where she’d dropped it fifteen minutes ago. After a moment’s hesitation, she picked it up and began to thumb through. This could occupy her for a few minutes.

At last she found her place, and began to read aloud. “‘An unmarried female, particularly when involved with a man who is unwilling to commit, can experience prolonged feelings of –’ a-choo! ‘- frustration. Due to this, she may suffer from psychosomatic symptoms affecting the upper respiratory tract. Such females – constantly in suspense – can exhibit neurotic tendencies (see note)’.”

Misty frowned. If she had understood correctly, the passage was telling her that waiting around all this time for Ash to pull his finger out and marry her was the source of her cold. But that was ridiculous – wasn’t it?

She read the note: “‘Chronic, organic syndromes, toxic or hypertensive, involving the eye, ear, nose and throat’.”

Misty lowered the book with an incredulous laugh. She hadn’t misinterpreted – this quack was really trying to sell the idea that commitment-phobic boyfriends caused the ‘flu. Why on Earth had Dr. Chelle given her this rubbish? As if her blocked sinuses had anything to do with her being stuck in engagement-limbo for seven years, while her fiancé sneaked around behind her back organising illegal Pokémon tournaments –

“Ah… ah… ah…” Misty gasped suddenly. She seized the tissue once more with a shaking hand. “A–CHOO!”

The air rang with silence while the echoes died away. Misty sat perfectly still, the lower half of her face hidden from view, unease stirring inside her.

“It’s a coincidence,” she told herself sternly. Of course it was. To think otherwise would be absurd.

And yet… there was no denying that the biggest sneezing fit had occurred when she was yelling at Ash earlier…

She could test it. That would prove things once and for all. Misty settled back in her chair, closed her eyes, and tried to conjure up the moment when she’d discovered what Ash had done. At once, images rose in her mind, as vivid as though they were really happening before her all over again – and with them came the familiar tingling sensation, spreading through her nasal passages and finally bursting out of her in the form of three deafening sneezes.

At the end of it all, Misty was left hunched over, mind racing. “Oh, no,” she moaned. “Not good…”

If the book was right… if the author really was on to something… then her only hope was to either persuade Ash to marry her, or make herself stop loving him.

Misty buried her face in her knees with a despairing wail. It looked as though she’d have to face up to certain facts: she was going to be stuck with her cold for a very, very long time.


~*~

It was the start of yet another uneventful weekend in the Viridian City Pokémon Centre. Nurse Joy stifled a yawn, turning a page in the magazine she was reading, which had an interesting article by a famous breeder. Since the new system had been devised, fewer people needed to bring in their Pokémon for healing, which meant much less work for a Joy to do. Most of the people coming in these days were only looking for a cheap place to stay. Sometimes she felt more like an innkeeper than a Pokémon nurse – a fact that she would do well never to mention to Brock Harrison, as he would undoubtedly seize upon it as yet another reason why he and she were meant to be.

Somebody nearby interrupted her train of thought by clearing his or her throat. Joy looked up to see a man and woman standing in front of her desk, regarding her from beneath identical bowler hats.

“Oh! I’m sorry,” she exclaimed, stuffing the magazine under the desk, hoisting a smile onto her face and trying her best not to stare at their outfits. The bowlers in and of themselves weren’t so peculiar, but combined with the greatcoats and the false moustaches, it was a bit of a strange get-up. “How may I help you?”

The woman spoke, in an obviously fake British accent. “We were just wondering if a Mr. Ash Ketchum was staying in this Pokémon Centre?”

“We have a package for him,” the man explained.

“Of great importance,” chimed in a third voice from below the level of the desk.

Joy leaned over to see a small figure standing in-between the other two. It was either a Pokémon or an extremely short, ugly human. Whatever it was, it was dressed just as strangely as its two companions. From above, all Joy could see of its face was a patch of faded brown hair and a set of long whiskers.

“Well, I’ll just check that for you,” she said, moving over to the computer and accessing the database. “K-e-… Ketchum… oh, I’m sorry. There was an Ash Ketchum staying here, but he checked out this morning.”

The trio’s faces fell. “Did Mr. Ketchum mention where he was going?” the man asked hopefully.

Joy shook her head. “No, I’m sorry. If he comes in here again, I’ll tell him you were looking for him. What are your names?”

For some reason, all three looked panicked at being asked this question. “Uhhh, don’t worry about it, we’ll find him ourselves,” said the woman. “Goodbyeeee!”

With that, they dashed out of the Centre as fast as blinking.

Joy stared at the doors swinging on their hinges for a few seconds, before giving herself a little shake and putting the encounter out of her mind. After all, there were plenty of weird people in the city.


~*~

Once they’d reached the other end of the street, the trio slowed to a halt. All three looked greatly annoyed.

“Well, dat was a big fat waste of time,” complained the shortest member. “Da twoip could be anywhere!”

“Once again, a brilliant plan ruined by bad timing,” James sighed, raising his eyes to the heavens.

“Oh? Dat’s funny, ‘cause I always t’ought our plans were usually ruined by an explosion or a giant hole or dat Pikachu –”

Meowth’s words ended in a yelp as Jessie, always quick to anger, whipped out a fan and bopped him over the head. “Don’t talk about failure to me!” she yelled. “The plan would have worked fine if you hadn’t made us chase that dust bunny through three fields!”

Meowth picked himself off the ground and glowered at her. “For da last time, from where I was standin’ it looked just like an Espeon, OK? Besides, need I remind youse who it was insisted on dropping off at dat store back dere to rob ‘em of their entire supply of ‘Rock Solid’s Brand-Name Hair Gel’?

“That was different! I have to keep my fabulous hair in this shape, or I get split ends! Plus, it makes better cushioning when we blast off.”

James made the mistake of trying to be reasonable. “That nurse said the twerp checked out this morning, so us being a couple of hours earlier wouldn’t have mattered anyw – ow!”

“Who asked you?” Jessie and Meowth both roared, fists still raised.

James was luckily spared further violence by the appearance of an unlikely saviour. A tall man with short, spiky hair hurried around the corner. He was looking around in a distracted manner, despite his eyes being screwed tightly shut.

“Say, ain’t dat one of da twoips?” said Meowth.

Jessie swung around to look, nearly bowling the cat-Pokémon over with her hair. “I believe it is,” she said. “Maybe he’s looking for Ash, too!”

James jumped to his feet, spirits recovered in an instant. “In which case, he’ll lead us straight to Pikachu!”

Team Rocket rubbed their hands together, cackling. “We’re gonna get promoted!” they sang.

‘Da twoip’ came to a halt nearby, and peered at the gym across the road. A young man with green hair and an expensive suit lurked outside, cunningly concealed behind a lamppost. It was unclear why Brock should find this so riveting, but he stopped and stared for a good few minutes nonetheless.

Finally, something happened. The gym doors opened and a man stepped out, followed by a couple of women who were presumably his wife and daughter. He carried a stack of fliers, while the other two were laden down with a megaphone and a miniature podium. The girl drew a kazoo from her pocket, took the megaphone from her mother, switched it on and played a brief fanfare, the sound magnified and distorted with static. She then handed it to her father, who stood up on the podium and announced, “Citizens of Viridian City!”

A few curious heads nearby turned, then lost interest and carried on with whatever they had been doing beforehand. The man either didn’t notice this or decided to soldier on regardless. “I am here to announce that the gym is under new management – myself, and my family. I am ready to accept any and all challengers, provided they can show that they have the legal right to train Pokémon. Defeat me, and you will earn a Balance Badge.”

He looked around hopefully, only to see that Brock and Team Rocket were the only ones listening. His face fell slightly, but he seemed to decide this was better than nothing, and went into a speech about the benefits of earning badges.

At that moment, his daughter, who had been standing off to the side daydreaming, looked over at the man behind the lamppost. Her gaze slid past him as though he were simply another part of the scenery - then she did a double take. He smiled winningly at her, raising one hand in salutation; she scowled and turned away. For some reason, this seemed to please Brock, who chuckled to himself.

The man stepped out from behind his ingenious hiding-place and took a spot in front of the podium. Standing to attention, he gave every appearance of rapt fascination with the gym leader’s speech. The girl looked absolutely furious. She hissed something at him, flapping her arms as though shooing away a flock of geese. His response was to produce a red rose from his jacket pocket (it was unclear how he’d kept it in there without squashing it), and hand it to her with a soulful expression.

“Hey!” James spluttered. “Roses are my theme! Jessie, Meowth, he stole my theme!”

The other two just shushed him.

The girl stared at the proffered bloom, face scarlet; then she knocked it away, strode up to her father and tugged on his sleeve.

The gym leader paused mid-sentence. “What is it?” he asked, forgetting to turn off the megaphone.

The girl mouthed something, while the object of her ire stood off to one side, eyes wide in a perfect simulation of innocence. Her father’s expression hovered between puzzled and annoyed. “I don’t see…” he began.

The girl jabbed a finger at the interloper, her lip movements growing more vehement. Her father began to look decidedly vexed. “Oh, all right,” he grumbled, getting down off the podium.

His wife gaze him a puzzled look; he shrugged. Bending to gather up the podium and the fliers, he set off up the street, his family trailing behind him. The green-haired man followed a few paces behind, blithely ignoring the death glares the girl was sending his way.

“Ooookay… what was that all about?” said Jessie, speaking for the entire team.

James and Meowth looked clueless.

At that moment, however, something happened to drive the entire incident out of their minds: yet another man came into view around the corner. He had his hands in his pockets, his shoulders slumped, and a Pikachu trotting at his heels.

“It’s the twerp!” squealed Team Rocket, overjoyed.

Brock looked every bit as pleased to see Ash as they were. “Say, you’ll never guess what,” he called, hurrying up to his younger friend. “I just saw May giving Drew a brush-off like no other. There’s no way he’ll be able to take her to the St. Helena – heck, he wouldn’t be able to take her across the street!”

Ash just grunted. This was clearly not the response Brock had been expecting. “What’s the matter?” he asked.

“Misty found out about the You-Know-What,” said Ash gloomily.

Brock turned pale. “Are you serious?”

“Yep.”

“We’re dead.”

“I know. And I’m the deadest of all. She threw me out of the gym and said she didn’t want to even look at me.” Ash’s tone grew indignant. “Why she thinks it’s OK for her to get all mad after what she’s done, I don’t know.”

“Why, what did she do?”

“Let’s just say it’s better if you don’t get in touch with my mom any time soon.”

Brock didn’t enquire further. “Don’t worry, Ash. You’ve done stupid things before, and she’s always come around eventually.”

“I don’t know… she was pretty angry.”

“As angry as she was the time you T.P.ed her dressing room?”

“Angrier.”

Brock looked alarmed. “That is bad. Maybe you should lay low for a while. Do you want to stay at the inn?”

“Yeah, that’d be great,” said Ash, looking pathetically grateful. “Thanks.”

The two men walked the few feet down the road to the bus stop. Team Rocket exchanged significant looks and sidled around the corner.

“This is perfect,” Jessie hissed as soon as they were out of sight. “The twerp is so torn up about his little girlfriend, he won’t know what’s going on until us and Pikachu are already three blocks away!”

“Which only goes to show dat guys who waste their time on goirls are suckers,” said Meowth in a worldly manner that managed to convey that anyone who mentioned the name Meowsie would soon be missing an eye.

James nodded mournfully. “It’s a tragedy when a man has to go and let himself fall in love with his own fiancée.”

“Now, Jimmy,” said Meowth, now affecting a benevolent air. “I am told dis kind of thing is a common weakness, and we must be tolerant of it.”

“That’s true,” James admitted. “Everywhere you look, men are carrying parcels, walking from department store to department store, producing compliments on demand… kind of like us on Princess Day.”

The two male members of the team shuddered in painful memory. Their recollections were cut short when Jessie’s right boot connected with their backsides. “You both should be grateful for a chance to dote upon my fabulous self!” she screeched. In a calmer voice, she added, “Although I will admit that the number of couples one sees these days is quite revolting.”

“I didn’t know you had a problem with romance, Jess,” said James, surprised.

Jessie’s eyes welled up with tears. “I wouldn’t if it weren’t for the fact that it never seems to involve me!” she sobbed, sinking theatrically to the ground. A red spotlight suddenly appeared from nowhere. Meowth looked around nervously, as though suspecting an accompanying rain of cherry blossoms. Fortunately, none materialised.

“There, there, Jessie,” said James kindly. “It’s not your fault that most men aren’t attracted to evil.”

“Myself, I don’t understand dat,” said Meowth. “What’s not to love? Except for da whole psychotic violent lunatic thing –”

Jessie seized his head and pounded it into the ground, rather proving his point.

“Well, I don’t get this pairing-off business whatsoever,” said James, paying no attention to the brawl erupting between his two best friends. “Romance is all very well and good, but agents in our position could never afford to put it before the Team.”

“Ex-actly,” said Meowth, extracting himself from the whirl of fists and claws. “It’s getting’ outta hand. Just look over dere.”

Jessie and James raised their heads to see where Meowth was pointing. A large cinema stood just across the road – which was strange, as it hadn’t been there a few seconds ago. Before either of them could ponder this, a swell of strings and brass came from nowhere, holding a long chord. Meowth stepped forward, chest thrust out, into yet another magically appearing spotlight, this one blue. He drew a breath, and began to sing.

“What’s playin’ at da Roxy?” he caterwauled, gesturing towards the cinema. “I’ll tell ya what’s playin’ at da Roxy: a picture about a Minnesota man so in love with a Mississippi goirl dat he sacrifices everyt’ing and moves all da way to Biloxi. Dat’s what’s playin’ at da Roxy.”

A green spotlight came into being next to his, illuminating Jessie. She had somehow acquired a newspaper, which was open at the front page. “What’s in the Daily News?” she warbled, more tunefully than her teammate. “I’ll tell you what’s in the Daily News: a story about a guy who bought his wife a small ruby with what otherwise would have been his union dues. That’s what in the Daily News.”

Finally, James stepped up, ubiquitous rose between his fingers, looking gaunt and dramatic in his own purple spotlight. “What’s happening all over?” he belted out, spreading his arms wide. “I’ll tell you what’s happening all over: guys sitting home by a television set, who once used to be something of a rover!”

“That’s what’s happening all over!” Team Rocket sang in unison. They twirled through a series of stylish poses. “Love is the thing that has licked ‘em!”

“And it seems the twerp is just another victim,” James finished off.

With that, the music stopped, the cinema, spotlights and newspaper vanished, and Team Rocket returned to what passed among them for normalcy.

“Speaking of the twerp, we’d better go catch him now,” said Jessie, with no sign that anything out of the ordinary had just happened.

The other two nodded. “Right,” said Meowth. “Youse guys remember da plan?”

“But of course,” said James, whipping out a small, square parcel. “We go and give him this –”

“Sneak off while he’s unwrapping it –” put in Jessie.

“- And then call out the trigger word.”

“And you both remember what da trigger woird is?” said Meowth.

“Sure do!” Jessie and James chorused. “It’s Wobb –”

“Don’t say it, you numbskulls!” Meowth hissed, clocking them both over the head.

The three of them hurried back around the corner, just in time to see the bus pulling away from the curb. Ash, Brock and Pikachu were visible in the back seat.

There was a long silence. Team Rocket contemplated the dissipating trail of exhaust fumes, their faces frozen in a rictus of disbelief. Then they burst into tears and flung their arms around each other, sinking to the ground in a heap.

“So close!” James wailed.

“And yet so far!” sobbed Jessie.

“Anudder plan gone up in smoke!” said Meowth tearfully.

One of Jessie’s Poké-balls suddenly popped open. “Wooobb, wobba,” said Wobbuffet sympathetically, patting her on the head.

Jessie gave a snarl and returned it. “Butt out, Wobbuffet!”

There was a nasty little pause as all three of them realised what she had just said.

The parcel began to smoke.

“Oh dear,” said James.

Three seconds later, the blackened Team Rocket shot through the clouds like a speeding bullet, all three members screaming at the top of their lungs.

“We’re blasting off agaaaaaaa –”


~*~

Ash peered through the back window of the bus. He could have sworn he’d just seen a shooting star out of the corner of his eye – but that was impossible in broad daylight, wasn’t it?

He hit Brock on the arm to get his attention. “Hey, did you just see that?”

Brock looked at him blankly. “What?”

“I thought I saw something…” Ash trailed off, a note of uncertainty creeping into his voice.

“You’re still in shock,” said Brock, patting his shoulder in a kindly manner. “You’ll be better once we get back to the inn.”

Ash smiled at his friend. “Yeah, you’re probably right.” He settled back in his seat, and put the supposed star out of his head. It must have just been a trick of the light.


~*~

“- Aaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiin!”

A distant speck in the sky grew larger, accompanied by three voices raised in a screech. Finally, Team Rocket thudded into the ground with a hefty thump.

“Ouch,” James whimpered.

Meowth gave a groan; Jessie didn’t even answer. None of the trio stirred from their landing-place for several seconds.

Finally, Jessie staggered to her hands and knees, crawled over to James and hit him on the shoulder. “Stop lazing around down there and help me up,” she ordered.

“You’re more up than I am,” James complained.

Jessie hit him again, harder this time. Finally, with a whine of protest, James dragged himself to his feet, tugging Jessie with him. Meowth was left to clamber upright unaided, muttering darkly under his breath.

“How’s dat hair gel woirking out for ya, Jess?” he grumbled.

Jessie gave a satisfied sniff and flicked the end of her brilliant magenta locks, which were totally unscathed from the explosion. As far as her head was concerned, she might as well have placed it inside a concrete bunker. It was a pity that the rest of her hadn’t been as lucky.

Team Rocket surveyed the wreckage of their plan. A few charred scraps of cardboard and a whiff of gunpowder were the only remains of the Wobba-bomb. The traditional gust of wind blew past, stirring the remaining ashes and mingling with the trio’s sighs. It seemed that there would never be any escape from the curse of bad luck and unerring comic timing that had dogged them ever since they had first encountered the twerps.

Jessie suddenly broke the silence by letting out a gasp and leaping forward. The other two looked at her, but she didn’t notice. Her eyes flashed, every muscle in her body tense with expectation.

“Jessie?” said James uncertainly.

Jessie made an impatient swatting motion to silence him. She turned her head to the side, listening intently. “Do you hear that?” she hissed. “Those voices?”

James and Meowth exchanged glances. By their estimation, they had crash-landed in a small street in Pewter City, not far away from the centre of town. There were a great many voices to be heard, as the usual crowds milled about the main road nearby. Why Jessie should find this significant was unclear. They hoped the force of the blasting off hadn’t done anything funny to her. Once, she had been stuck inside her own childhood memories for three days.

Without saying another word, she revolved on her heel and strode up the street, leaving her confused team-mates to scramble after her.

As they reached the corner, Jessie came to a halt. Holding out a hand to stop James and Meowth, she stood still once more, eyes gleaming. “I knew it,” she hissed. “I’d know that snooty brat’s voice anywhere –”

James decided to risk it. “What is it, Jessie?” he whispered.

Jessie turned to look at him. Her face was alight with manic fervour. “Cassidy.”

Meowth’s eyebrows shot up; James blinked, nonplussed. “Cassidy? And Botch?”

Jessie nodded. James and Meowth peered around the corner. A man and woman could be seen a few feet away. They were wearing long leather coats, but the stiff, bronze-coloured bunches at the back of the woman’s head identified her as Jessie’s lifelong rival.

“Well, who’da t’ought,” Meowth breathed. “Ain’t it been nearly five years now?”

“It has,” said Jessie grimly. “I thought I’d finally seen the back of that bimbo and her brain-dead partner.”

James wisely decided not to point out that the bimbo and the brain-dead one, unlike them, occasionally pulled off the missions that Giovanni set them, and inched forward for a closer look. “I wonder what they’re doing?”

Jessie yanked him back. “Idiot! Do you want them to know we’re here?” She then leaned in herself, scrutinising Cassidy through narrowed eyes. “They must be up to something.”

“How do you know dat?” said Meowth.

Jessie snorted. “Take one look at their outfits, Meowth. Why else would they be dressed like that?”

Meowth glanced down at his own attire – the trench coat was now rather singed – and twiddled the end of his false moustache. “You’re probably right.”

Butch and Cassidy were talking in low voices. Jessie, James and Meowth strained their ears until they could just about make out what they were saying.

“- Telling you, we’re close. They run their operation from an inn. Shouldn’t be hard to find.”

“We got a name?” That was Butch, his gravely voice ever distinctive.

Cassidy’s smirk was evident despite her back being turned. “Yes, but we won’t need that. This place is going to be hard to miss. You won’t believe what it used to be…”

The duo started walking away, still deep in conversation. In one swift motion, Jessie, James and Meowth leaned over the nearest wall, picked up a plant pot each, held them in front of their faces and tiptoed up the street in pursuit.

“- Not exactly low-profile, huh?” Butch gave a rough bark of laughter.

Cassidy s******ed. “Amazing, isn’t it? That anyone that clueless has managed to escape the police for this long? A former Pokémon gym – they must get raided once a week.”

“The police in this city couldn’t catch a cold.”

“Point.”

Jessie, James and Meowth glanced at each other. It was clear that they were all thinking the same thing.

Jessie motioned for the other two to lean in closer. “Former Pokémon gym?” she mouthed.

The other two nodded. “Da twoips,” breathed Meowth.

Jessie bared her teeth in a snarl. “Can you believe them?” she hissed. “The Boss has gone and given them some big undercover mission, and we haven’t been told a thing! And us right in the next town!”

James looked uneasy. “What are they after the twerps for? I don’t like the sound of this.”

Jessie’s eyes narrowed. “Me neither.” She drew herself up to her full height and flashed a tight smile. “So here’s what we’re going to do. We’ll follow them and find out what they’re up to. Then we’ll foil their plan, take over whatever mission the Boss has given them, make out that they screwed up, and steal all the glory.”

The faces of the other two lit up. “And we’ll get big promotions?” said James.

Jessie gave a smirk to rival Cassidy’s. “You betcha.”

Meowth tried to rub his paws together, only giving up when he remembered about the plant pot. “And we can even nab dat Pikachu while we’re dere!”

Team Rocket suppressed their cackles as they crept towards the corner that Butch and Cassidy had just rounded. This was shaping up to be a less monotonous day than usual. And if they were lucky, they’d have a chance to get away with landing their rivals in jail yet again.

It was a matter of principle, really. After all, nobody picked on their twerps, but them.


~*~

As they made their way up the high street, Cassidy discreetly nudged Butch’s arm. “Say, did you know that those losers Jessie and James and their freak of a Pokémon have been following us for the last three blocks with geraniums on their heads?”

“Yup,” said Butch casually.

“Just checking. Think we should get rid of them?”

“Nah. What can they do?”

“Mmm. That’s what I thought.”

lara lynx
12th July 2005, 9:31 PM
FINALLY!!!!!!!!
OMG another great chapter. woulda liked more contestshippyness, but it was great non the less.

KingFirestump
12th July 2005, 9:33 PM
Haha! That was hilarious, Jo-Jo! This story is so good. I really hope you keep going with it.

Rene Bellosh
12th July 2005, 10:11 PM
Hehe, I just absolutely loved how TR acted like the idiots they always are. :D You even managed to include those anime effects like the spotlights and such. Can't wait for the next chapter. :)

Encyclopika
13th July 2005, 1:29 AM
Yet again, Jo-Jo, a great chapter! You do an absolutely great job on every chapter, having every character so in characater - especially TR - I could just imagine that happening to them in the real show. I had kind of suspected Misty's cold to be related to her Ash problems since Chapter 4 - but thanks for making is abundantly clear. ^^ One more thing - I find Brock to be funny - well more than normal - in te story, especially when he gave the news report on Drew. XD
Anyway, as usual and like everyone else, can't wait to read the next chapter...so original, I know. XD

Valkyrie X
13th July 2005, 6:45 AM
Brilliant chapter, Jo-Jo. Grammar and spelling were excellent and the length was great. I'd like a tiny bit more description, but as I already stated, that's not so crucial in this fic, so you can ignore me on this if you want.=P I'd also love to see a little more Contestshippyness, but I know that'll come later, so I'll wait patiently.

I did find one tiny little error...

So that meant that all three of her sisters, as well as one her closest friends, had been keeping her in the dark.
I'm assuming you missed putting an "of" between the "one" and "her"? Other than this small typo, your grammar was perfect.

So, overall, spectacular job; I look forward to the next chapter.

;381;Lati_Lover;380;

Jo-Jo
13th July 2005, 12:02 PM
Thanks, everyone! ^_^



So that meant that all three of her sisters, as well as one her closest friends, had been keeping her in the dark.I'm assuming you missed putting an "of" between the "one" and "her"?
O_O XD I must have read that part thirty times, and I never noticed. D'oh! *corrects*

Kojho
14th July 2005, 1:46 AM
Great job, I love the chapter!!!

Brian Powell
14th July 2005, 5:55 PM
XDDD
Team Rocket... evil or not, you got to love them.

Once again, Jo-Jo, excellent job. The humour, the descriptions, the length, everything, all fantastic. Well done, looking for more. *Reads the Wobbuffet Bomb exploding bit* HAHAHAHA!!

CandyMandy
14th July 2005, 8:39 PM
This tis a great fic^^ My favorite ships are in it:) Keep up the great work, can't wait for the next part!
~Candy Mandy

Mysteria Pearl
14th July 2005, 9:04 PM
that was great! I feel sorry for Misty, being that sick for that long. geez, that'd be terrible. Engaged!? *Squeak!* How adorible... and kids... woah.... that was all around good. please do pm me when the next chapter is out! Bisbald!

Sweet May
15th July 2005, 1:04 AM
awesome chapter Jo-Jo................. i absolutely love it..........^_^

deoxysmaster8000
17th July 2005, 8:48 PM
i love this chappie! please dont get angry bout wa i said earlyer...............

Kojho
18th July 2005, 4:53 PM
Awesome chaptewr Jo-Jo! I love the description!

deoxysmaster8000
18th July 2005, 5:34 PM
yea, cant wait for the next:D SO HURRY UP!!!!!!!!!!*breathng heavily*.........

dark-rukario
21st July 2005, 6:47 PM
im back im still sorry about not being here every day i was at my grandmas house ;rukario;

Jo-Jo
21st July 2005, 7:57 PM
Um... don't worry about it. ^^;; I can always bump the thread myself if needs be.

dark-rukario
28th July 2005, 6:21 AM
bump ;rukario;

lara lynx
28th July 2005, 4:06 PM
I know I've said it before, but I really love this story! Poor Misty, and its just so funny!

deoxysmaster8000
29th July 2005, 2:49 AM
poor misty? ash has the cops after his hide! if it was up to them, the second he was married, they would slap cuffs on him rather then a ring, misty, yea she got emotionally sick adn got lied to for 8 years.....wait......what did i just say?

umbreon1111
30th July 2005, 12:32 AM
when is the next story?

umbreon1111
30th July 2005, 12:33 AM
i mean chapter

deoxysmaster8000
1st August 2005, 4:34 AM
uh......umbreon111, try not to double post, ok?

xsweet_peax
1st August 2005, 4:37 AM
Wow! Great chapter Jo-Jo!! Really cute and I like the fight ^^. I feel bad for Misty and her cold though...

deoxysmaster8000
1st August 2005, 8:38 PM
yea, hey what happened again? its been so long since i read this story i for got what happened.........

dark-rukario
7th August 2005, 8:49 PM
dying! bump

Xiang
7th August 2005, 10:44 PM
OMG, i forgot to review. o_O; Stupid, stupid me!

Alright, overall, a funny chapter. Does this fic also include Rocketshipping? ^^

Paragraphs well balanced in description and length, and plot still original. I love the original plots. ^^

I can't wait for the next chapter; it's always worth it! ^^

Jo-Jo
9th August 2005, 7:43 PM
Does this fic also include Rocketshipping? ^^
Sorry, probably not. I decided to focus just on the two main romances, and not include loads of background couples. Although Jessie and James (and Meowth, o'course) get quite a lot to do in any case.

Valkyrie X
11th August 2005, 1:05 AM
Oh, no Rocketshipping? Aww...

Anyway...How, may I ask, are you coming along on the next chapter? Are you just getting started, somewhere in the middle, or almost finished? I'm only wondering...

;381;AMW;380;

Jo-Jo
11th August 2005, 1:19 AM
I'm probably over halfway through, but there's still a bit to go, and I'm being very lazy with fic-writing at the mo. :p Sorry. I'll get on with it.

Zephyr Flare
3rd September 2005, 1:02 PM
Dear god why didn't somebody mention the spam sooner? >.>

*grabs a vacum and hoovers it all up*


Sandra

The PikaMew Fanatic
6th September 2005, 10:20 PM
Good story.

Shadowcat
17th September 2005, 1:55 PM
This is good, I hope to see more and I like the Drew/May part the best.

umbreon1111
20th September 2005, 10:24 PM
i sure hope the next chapter comes on soon because it is really good

lara lynx
14th April 2006, 7:13 PM
Hey, just wanted to say well done on winning the prize thingy!

Jo-Jo
14th April 2006, 9:07 PM
Thanks! Wow, it was a shock to see this thread resurrected from the depths. *g*

I was planning not to post this until I had a few more chapters done, but what the hey, since the window's open - here's part 6!


Guys and Dolls

Ash drummed his fingers on his arms, gritting his teeth. Whoever was using the bathroom had been in there for the last twenty minutes. Surely it was impossible to get away with that kind of thing in a family as large as Brock’s?

“C’mon, pleeeease open up?” he whined.

A muffled female voice called out. Ash couldn’t identify its owner under the noise of the shower. He dropped to the ground and sat cross-legged, fuming. After the train-ride from Viridian to Pewter City, he had gone straight to his room and crashed on the bed until morning. Now he was awake, grumpy and in desperate need of a wash. He didn’t even have Pikachu around to complain to - the Pokémon was off somewhere exploring.

“Say, you’d better get out of there, quick!” he tried. “The inn’s burning down! Wouldn’t want the firemen to have to break down the door, would you?”

This time, the person on the other side didn’t even reply. Ash rested his elbows on his hands, cursing under his breath.

Brock’s head poked up from the stairwell. “Morning, Ash. Feel any better?”

“A little, I guess. You don’t know who’s in the bathroom, do you?”

For some reason, Brock looked guilty. “Uh, yeah. That’s something I was going to tell you. The thing is - while you were asleep -”

Before he could get any further, the bathroom door opened and its occupant emerged, clad in a blue dressing gown, a towel wrapped around her vivid hair.

Ash’s jaw dropped. “Misty? What are you doing here?”

Misty sniffed. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t know people had to get your approval before they were allowed to stay here.”

Ash turned to Brock, still open-mouthed. Brock made a helpless gesture.

“She arrived last night,” he explained. “Said she was fed up with her sisters and needed a break.”

“That’s right,” said Misty briskly. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.” She walked past Ash with her nose in the air.

“Hey! Hold on!” Ash spluttered. “I have to talk to you!”

The only answer was the sound of Misty’s bedroom door slamming, followed by the click of the latch.

There was a stunned pause. Then, Ash rounded on Brock.

“Why would she come here if she knew I was here and we’d just had a fight?”

“This is Misty, Ash,” Brock said, shrugging. “You know how she is.”

“What, you mean how she loves to wind me up and then blame me for getting mad?” Ash shot a dirty look at Misty’s closed door.

“Mmmm… pretty much, yeah.” Brock clapped Ash on the shoulder. “Hey, you do it to her too, you know. You guys are very immature. It amazes me how much, sometimes, but there you go.”

“Thanks,” Ash grunted.

“Any time. So, what’s the plan?”

Ash stared blankly at him. “Plan? There’s got to be a plan?”

“Well, sure. In case you’ve forgotten, you still have the You-Know-What to organise.”

In all the drama with Misty, Ash had almost forgotten about the tournament. He wasn’t sure he could face spending the day chasing up trainers. Right now, the only plan he felt like making was to sit in his room and sulk - either that or camp outside Misty’s bedroom singing ‘Stand By Your Man’ until she got annoyed enough to come outside and yell at him. A nice, long fight was just what they needed to clear the air.

“Ash,” Brock said as though reading his mind, “you’ll never get Misty to forgive you until she’s had a chance to cool down. Just leave her be for a while. She’ll come around.”

The irony of taking advice from someone who’d never had a long-term relationship was not lost on Ash. Since he lacked any better, however, he decided he might as well take it.

“OK,” he sighed. “What now?”

“Now, we send the word out to everyone. They’re to meet here, in the inn. Then we wait a few minutes for Drew’s money, and take the train up to Pallet Town. Problem solved.”

“I hope it really is that easy,” said Ash. He didn’t think he could take any more setbacks.

“It’ll be fine,” said Brock. “Come on, let’s get to work.”


~*~

So far, it had been a difficult day.

May chanced one more glance behind her as she came to a halt outside the Pokémon Centre. Her parents were still toiling up the hill. May squinted up the road for a glimpse of green hair. She had managed to shake Drew off yesterday by running into the gym and locking the door, but he had only taken up his position again when she and her parents re-emerged the following morning. He seemed to think that if he annoyed her enough, she’d give in and accept the date in Vermillion to get rid of him. At this rate, it was going to work.

But there was no sight of him now. May relaxed. It looked like she’d finally got rid of him.

“I feel better now!” she chirruped as her parents finally caught up, both breathing heavily. “Shall we do a couple more blocks?”

Norman and Caroline shot her looks of disbelief. “If you’re going to walk that quickly again? No thank you,” her mother panted.

May took in their red faces, and blushed. “Sorry. I guess I was caught up in trying to ditch that guy.”

“The co-ordinator?” her father asked. “What have you got against him, anyway?”

May’s face darkened. “It’s a long story.”

She had opted not to tell her parents about her encounter with Drew, especially the proposition he’d made. Something told her it would cause more trouble than it was worth.

“I thought he seemed a very nice young man,” said Caroline. “He attended every street meeting we held yesterday! He must be very interested in our work.”

May scowled. “Mom, please. Just believe me. He’s bad news.”

“Well, I still don’t think we should be turning away challengers,” said Caroline with a frown.

“I’m sure May has her reasons,” said Norman. “Let’s go home and try again tomorrow.”

As they crossed the road to the gym, May noticed somebody standing outside - a Nurse Joy wearing a fawn-coloured coat. Her posture was ramrod straight and she had a bundle of files under her arm.

“Norman!” Joy called out as they approached.

Norman looked nonplussed. They hadn’t yet met the Viridian Joy, so why she wanted to see them was unclear.

“Hello?” he answered.

Joy strode forward and shook his hand. There was a stern air about her that distinguished her immediately from the other Joys May had met. For the first time, she noticed the insignia of the Pokémon League on the badge pinned to her lapel.

“I’m General Joy,” she said. “Head executive of the East Kanto branch of the Pokémon League. We met a couple of months ago when discussing your settlement in Viridian.”

“Oh! Of course!” Norman looked embarrassed. “I’m terribly sorry, it’s just that – er…”

Joy smiled. “It’s alright, I know it’s hard to tell us apart. I’m only here for a quick visit, anyway. May I come in?”

“Er… of course…”

Norman reached for his key. May caught her mother’s eye. Caroline was smiling as usual, but her eyes were a little worried. Although Joy’s air was casual, May couldn’t help suspecting that something was up. The League didn’t send out its high-ranking officials to chat with employees over tea and biscuits.

Once they were inside Norman’s office, Joy sat in the battered swivel chair, May perched on the edge of the desk, Caroline took the wooden stool, and Norman paced alongside them all.

“You’ll want to know why I’ve come down to speak to you, so I’ll get right to the point,” Joy said. “You may remember, when we last met, that I told you the League was finalising its decision with regards to this gym. Two nights ago – that is to say, my superiors have made their minds up earlier than expected, and –” Joy broke off. “Well… you can see for yourselves.”

She drew out a rolled-up document and handed it to Norman. He took and unrolled it without a word. His lips moved as his eyes skimmed the paper – then the colour drained from his face.

“They’re closing down the gym?”

For one instant for which she would never forgive herself, May’s heart leapt. No more gym - finally, a chance to do something different with her life…

Then she caught sight of her parents’ faces, and the shame struck her like a punch. She dropped her eyes to the floor.

“I'm terribly sorry,” Joy was saying. “I know you’ve only just moved in. But for the past six months, no challenger has set foot in this gym. It would have been closed a long time ago, but the previous gym leader paid the League to keep it open. When the building was passed on to you, the intention was to give you a year or so to get it back on its feet, but… well, let’s say the financial climate –”

“So this is about money?” Caroline exclaimed.

“This decision was not up to me,” said Joy. “As a matter of fact, I tried my hardest to convince them –”

“We left our home!” Caroline’s voice grew more and more shrill. “Petalburg City – we’d lived there for over twenty years – all our friends and family were in that area – our reputations as gym leaders – everything, gone!”

“Try to understand –”

“And now, after two days in Viridian, you’re trying to evict us!”

By now, Caroline was so high-pitched that it was painful to listen to her. Norman stood behind her and rubbed her shoulders.

“General, the League can’t do this,” he said. The quiet desperation in his voice was as bad as his wife’s shrieking.

“If this is about money, then why can’t we raise some?” May spoke up. “There’s that trainer’s festival on Monday, right? Don’t people make donations?”

Joy didn’t even need to answer. Norman gave a grim laugh.

“Hoping for the trainers in this town to fund our gym might be expecting a lot,” he said.

“But there must be something… some law…”

Caroline fell silent mid-sentence. Everybody in the room knew why there was no point continuing: the League was the law.

May’s heart sank. It looked as though they had no hope.

“Excuse me. I couldn’t help overhearing.”

Joy, Norman and Caroline turned to the door. May remained frozen to the spot. That voice… it couldn’t be…

“Hello, there,” said Joy, taken-aback. “And you are -?”

May forced herself to look up, and immediately wished she hadn’t. There, in the doorway, stood Drew. He had taken off his hat, his eyes were lowered and his head bowed, in all aspects a picture of humility. Despite this, May knew without doubt that his appearance boded no good.

“My name’s Drew, ma’am,” he said to Joy. “Maybe you’ve heard of me – I’m a co-ordinator.”

“How do you do?” said Joy.

“What are you doing in here?” May hissed.

“I was waiting for you to come home, Miss.” Drew walked up to Norman and clasped him on the shoulder. “I wanted to ask your father if he might let me hand out the fliers when we go out again tomorrow.”

May made a series of apoplectic spluttering noises.

Drew turned to Joy once more. “General, I must protest the closing of this gym,” he said. “I feel Mr. Norman and his family could be a huge success here.”

Joy smiled. “It’s good of you to show your support, but the League headquarters will require more solid proof than just a feeling –”

“A dollar will get you ten.”

“I beg your pardon?”

Drew flashed her a smile. “General, can I interest you in a proposition?”

The power of speech returned to May with a rush. “Mr. Drew, the General is very busy!” she exploded. “She won’t be able to go to dinner with you tonight!”

Joy, Norman and Caroline stared at her oddly. Drew looked as though he were trying to hold in laughter.

“General,” he said. “I believe, with total certainty, that this gym can be saved by Monday.” He looked up at the wall, where another of Norman’s proverbs hung. “That card is different. Where’s the one from yesterday?”

“Top drawer on the left,” May said through gritted teeth.

Drew strolled to the desk, opened the drawer and retrieved the previous card. His eyes lingered on the word ‘Hadaka’, which had been ruled through and replaced with ‘Itako’, and a smirk played upon his lips. Holding the card to his chest so that nobody could see the message on the reverse side, he walked slowly towards May.

“May,” he said, his voice the purr of a cat that knows its prey is cornered, “don’t you agree that this gym could be filled with challengers in as soon as two days’ time?”

As he spoke, he turned the card over, angled so that only May could see it. Her eyes flickered over the writing: ‘I.O.U. one dozen challengers’, followed by his signature.

She could still say no. In fact, her every selfish urge was screaming at her to refuse - or, better yet, leave another handprint on his face to match the one from yesterday.

Her gaze flickered towards her parents. They looked utterly bemused, but she could see a glimmer of hope coming to life in their eyes. The gym was everything to them, and control of its fate had been surrendered to her. They needed this – the gym needed Drew.

The rat. He’d got her.

May swallowed. Forcing a smile, she looked General Joy straight in the eye.

“General, I can promise you at least twelve challengers for Monday morning.”

“You can?” her parents chorused.

May sighed. “I can.”

Joy still didn’t look convinced. “I… well… that’s all very well, but there’s still the matter of funds to consider…”

“Will you at least agree to wait until Monday and see if any donations come in?” Drew gave her the full blast of the smile again. “You never know when people are going to surprise you, right?”

Joy turned slightly pink. “That – that is true –”

May wasn’t sure whether she wanted to murder Drew or simply marvel at his nerve. She had to admit, he was good at getting what he wanted.

Joy looked at Norman and Caroline once more, and sighed. “Oh… all right,” she said. “I’ll ask the League to suspend their decision for two more days.”

Caroline’s eyes welled up with tears of relief. Norman turned a deep crimson. “I don’t know what to say – this is better than I could have hoped for – thank you – I –”

“But I hope,” Joy interrupted, her voice growing stern, “that your daughter will keep her word, considering the League’s generosity in giving you a second chance.”

Norman’s smile ebbed away somewhat. “Yes… about that…”

May took a sudden interest in an old coffee stain on the floor. She could feel her father’s suspicious gaze on the top of her head.

“Well!” Joy rose with a business-like clap of the hands. “I’d better return to Headquarters. They’ll want to hear my report – thank you for seeing me – excuse me –”

“I’ll show you out,” said Caroline, rising.

Joy followed Caroline out of the room. May sidled after them. “I’ll… help mom…”

“May,” said Norman.

His tone left no question of her ignoring him. May stopped, hoping she didn’t look too guilty. “Yes, Daddy?”

Norman folded his arms and subjected first May, then Drew to a penetrating stare. May forced herself to meet his eyes, though she chanced a peek at Drew all the same. If she hadn’t known better, she would have thought him completely innocent by the expression of blank politeness on his face.

“May,” Norman said at last. “How do you know you can find these challengers?”

May tried to arrange her face into a winning smile. “I… have a hunch?”

Norman’s face was grave. “You’re not going to do anything… rash, are you?”

May couldn’t stop herself from glancing once more at Drew. Just as quickly, she wrenched her gaze away. “Wouldn’t dream of it!”

Norman still didn’t look happy. “Well, if you say so. But I hope you know what you’re doing.”

May drew a breath and prepared to tell the biggest lie of her life. “Don’t worry, Daddy!” she said, giving him a thumbs-up. “I have everything under control!”

From out of the corner of her eye, she saw Drew smiling.


~*~

Harrison’s Family Inn had never been so full. To an outsider, it must have looked as though every would-be trainer in the district had had a sudden urge to sample Brock’s cooking. Even stranger was that all of them were wearing red carnations in their buttonholes.

Brock lurked by the doorway, handing out the flowers to each trainer as they drew near. “It’s for the matches, can’t get in without one,” he muttered, glancing around for a sight of Giselle or Officer Jenny. Admittedly, Brock often kept an eye out for them whether he feared arrest or not, but that was beside the point.

“You working for Ketchum?” came a low, rasping voice from behind him.

Brock turned around. A man and a woman in their thirties stood on the pavement, dressed in leather coats and dark glasses. Brock had a vague feeling he’d seen them before, but he couldn’t remember where from. They were also regarding him with somewhat threatening expressions, which Brock might have found alarming had the female of the pair not been tall, blonde and attractive. As it was, it didn’t take long for his hormones to override his brain.

“Why, yes I am, although it might be more accurate to say working with. Ahaha. In fact, I pretty much run the entire operation – and I would be delighted to allow this lovely young lady a chance to observe first-hand –”

“We’ve heard about your friend’s tournaments,” the woman interrupted. “The reports were… intriguing, shall we say. Mr. Ketchum is quite the entrepreneur.”

The thought of Ash as an entrepreneur was momentarily too much for Brock. After his eye had stopped twitching, he managed a weak, “You think so?”

“We’d like to attend one of his infamous, ah, informal matches,” the woman said.

“Then you’ve come to the right place!” Brock said, beaming. “Please take these carnations and join the other trainers in the lobby.”

Before the pair could leave, Brock whipped out a third blossom and pressed it into the blonde’s hands, trying to look sensitive yet manly. “And please accept this gift, miss, as a token of my appreciation.”

“Right,” she mumbled, eyeing him as though he’d just tried to give her one of his father’s rocks. She and the man headed into the inn, pinning the flowers to their coats.

Brock turned away, smiling to himself at the successful seduction. Behind him, the woman dropped the extra carnation on the ground.

“Excuse me?”

Another duo sidled up to Brock, looking shifty. They were both dressed rather strangely, in bowler hats, greatcoats and, unless he was much mistaken, false moustaches. The man also had a large, oddly shaped lump on his stomach. They were both strikingly familiar, although Brock couldn’t quite place them.

“Do you know who those two are?” asked the woman, whose magenta hair fell past her back. She pointed at the two people that Brock had just sent inside.

Brock’s eyes glazed over. “I don’t know who he is, but she’s the woman who stole my heart,” he said dreamily.

“That’s nice. We want to get in too, please.”

Brock snapped out of his daze and tried to size the newcomers up. Ash usually had a policy of only letting in people he knew, for obvious safety reasons. It belatedly occurred to him that letting the pretty blonde and her surly friend waltz right in was somewhat in defiance of this rule, but he dismissed his momentary discomfort on the basis that anyone with such a beautiful face couldn’t possibly be bad news.

“Well, I think I’d have to check with my superiors first,” he said cautiously.

“Why? You let dem uddah crooks in,” said the man’s stomach. “Ow!”

Brock’s eyebrows knotted. “Uh… why is your stomach talking, and why did you just punch it?”

The man straightened up with a bright smile. “Oh… I have this… condition…”

“You've got that right,” his friend muttered, glaring at him.

“Ah, I see,” said Brock sympathetically. He’d met quite a few people – mostly girls, but occasionally their boyfriends - with a similar disorder. Only in their cases, he tended to be the one they hit. It was clearly a distressing illness. “Well, I’m sure it won’t matter if I just let you go on in.” After all, it wouldn’t do to show prejudice, especially towards the disabled.

The pair thanked him, took the proffered carnations and scurried inside. Brock checked his watch, and saw that it was now half an hour past the time everyone had been instructed to arrive. He did a quick sweep of the area. There were a few people still milling about, but he recognised none of them. It was probably safe to assume that nobody else was coming. Brock gathered up his remaining carnations and strode inside, shutting the door behind him and turning the sign around so that it read ‘closed’.

Quite a sight greeted him when he stepped into the lobby. Never before had so many trainers turned up for a tournament. Some had come all the way from the likes of Saffron and Fuchsia City. Brock hoped that they really weren’t all there to see Drew. He’d have to have a few words with Benny when he got back from Viridian.

At that moment, Flint appeared on the stairs, looking put out. “I hope all these people are going to buy something, or I’ll have to ask them to leave,” he said to Brock.

There was an instant rush towards the bar. Brock pressed himself up against the wall so as not to be trampled.

“Have you seen Ash?” he called to his dad.

“Not since he went out an hour ago.”

Brock winced at the remembrance. Ash had heeded his advice to leave Misty alone for all of fifteen minutes, before hammering on her door and yelling how unreasonable she was being. It had led to one of the biggest screaming matches in a long and glorious career, culminating in both parties storming out of the inn and marching off in opposite directions. Neither had been seen since.

“Maybe having a girlfriend is more trouble than it’s worth,” Brock mused aloud. Then he realised what he’d just said, and blanched. He’d have to purge the thought from his brain later on with a selection of well-chosen Meg Ryan movies. For now, though, he had a tournament to take charge of.

He hurried into the bar, where the trainers were throwing back their drinks. “Uh, hey, everybody!” he said, cupping both hands around his mouth. “Thanks for coming. Ash is just on his way back now, and when he arrives, I can guarantee you the greatest tournament of the last eight years!”

There was a round of cheers. Several people waved their mugs in the air. Brock gave the room a thumbs-up, and darted back into the lobby. To his relief, he found Ash standing by the desk, taking his coat off. Pikachu was sticking a paw into the little dish of free sweets.

“Has Benny showed up with the money from Drew yet?” Brock said, taking Ash’s coat.

Ash shook his head. “Not yet. I hope he’s not much longer. We’ll have to keep everyone hanging around here for a while.”

After letting Pikachu jump back onto its trainer’s shoulder, nibbling on a mint humbug, they headed back into the bar. Another cheer went up at the sight of Ash, who smiled widely.

“Uh, hey everyone,” he called. “I’m just waiting for this guy to deliver something for me, and then we can get going.”

“Where’s the place?” somebody yelled out.

“Well… we think we can use this lab up in Pallet Town.”

A round of murmurs went up.

“Not the lab? Professor Samuel Oak’s lab?”

“Close – his grandson’s.”

There was another outbreak of impressed whispers. Noticeably, though, the four trainers that Brock had let in last remained silent. The blonde and her friend were scrutinising Ash through narrowed eyes, whereas the other two were staring openly at Pikachu.

“Yeah, it’s a pretty cushy spot,” Ash went on. “You won’t want to miss this one. So you guys just hang out here for a few minutes, and as soon as my money shows up, we’re good to go.”

“Don’t mention money,” Brock hissed.

It was too late. “Why do you need money?” someone asked.

“It’s just to pay Gary Oak with,” Ash explained. “I’m collecting on a bet.”

Brock closed his eyes. Now they were in for it. Why couldn’t Ash learn when to stop talking?

“A bet?” asked a woman with her hair in pigtails, her brow furrowing. “This is a bet you’ve already won, right?”

Ash squirmed. “Well… uh… not exactly… but I’m sure to win, I swear!”

Brock pushed him out of the way with a hearty, false laugh. “Ash is only joking. Right, Ash?”

“Huh? Uh, yeah! Sure I am!”

Several people were now glaring suspiciously at them. “Nice going, Ash,” Brock growled out of the corner of his mouth.

Ash was still clueless. “What? What’d I do?”

“If they know you can’t pay Gary yet, and might not even be able to pay him at all, they’ll get mad! It’s that simple.”

“But I know I’m going to win!”

“You know that and I know that, but that doesn’t mean they’ll believe us.”

Ash had just opened his mouth to argue back, when his gaze fell upon the four unfamiliar trainers standing nearby. “Who are they?”

It was Brock’s turn to be put on the spot. “Uh… don’t you recognise them, Ash?”

Ash gave him a look. “No.”

“Ah. OK, don’t get mad. I kinda…”

“Don’t tell me.” Ash rolled his eyes. “You've got to stop turning into a zombie whenever a pretty girl is around.”

“Yeah, I’ll work on that,” Brock mumbled.

Ash put a hand on his friend’s back and steered him into a corner. “So, who are they?”

Brock shuffled his feet. “I… don’t exactly know… but that guy with the blue hair has a talking stomach.”

Ash peered around at the crowd again. “OK, I’ll check it out.”

He began to pick his way through the milling trainers until he had reached the four strangers. Hoisting a friendly smile onto his face, he tapped the blonde woman on the shoulder.

“Hi, there!” he said brightly. “Good to see you here. First time at the tournament?”

The woman jumped slightly. “Er… yes, that’s right.”

“I don’t think I’ve seen you around before,” Ash went on. “What are your names?”

“My name’s… Kelly,” the woman said in guarded tones. “And this is… Ned.” She waved in the vague direction of her companion.

“Sorry, doesn’t ring a bell,” said Ash. “But hey, no sweat. You’re probably just from out of town, right?”

The woman exchanged a quick glance with her companion. “We’re from Lavender Town,” she said. “We came here visiting family, heard about your… business enterprise and thought it’d be a good way to spend an evening.”

Ash nodded, still smiling. “Uh-huh… what family would that be?”

“Um… my grandparents. They’re getting on now, you know how it is… they like it when we visit.”

From a few feet away, the red-haired woman gave a snort and hurriedly turned it into a cough.

“Well, let me know if I can help you with anything,” said Ash.

He patted Ned on the chest as he turned to leave - then he stopped dead. His face turned the colour of porridge. He remained unmoving for several seconds; at last he snapped out of it, gave Ned and Kelly one last grin that looked more like a grimace, and scuttled away at top speed.

“What was that about?” asked Brock as Ash hurried up to him.

Ash didn’t answer at first. He reached out, relieved the nearest trainer of her drink, and downed it in one. Once he’d shaken off the aftershock, he looked straight into Brock’s eyes and mumbled something.

“What?”

Ash was doing something very strange with his mouth. It looked as though he were trying to grit his teeth and mouth something at the same time.

“’E ‘as a ‘ug,” he muttered.

Brock stared blankly back.

“Gun,” Ash hissed aloud, abandoning caution. “That guy has a gun!”

Brock blanched. “As in a gun gun?”

“No, as in a puppy gun,” Ash snapped.

Brock grabbed a drink off a passing trainer, drained it of its contents and handed the empty glass back to him. “What are we going to do?” he whispered.

“It’ll be OK,” Ash said, in total disregard of the evidence. “So long as I’ve a chance to think, without any distractions –”

At that moment, the door banged open. The temperature instantly dropped. Brock looked over to see Misty framed in the entrance.

“Aw, for crying out loud,” Ash snapped.

Brock could almost see icicles forming in the air. Misty breezed right past Ash without looking at him. She took up a seat at the bar, legs primly crossed with her bag in her lap. It was a pose carefully calculated to express maximum indifference. Only a small sneeze spoiled the effect. Brock also noted that she was wearing a very short skirt, and that several of the men sitting nearby were eyeing her up. For the thousandth time in his two best friends’ relationship, he reflected how devious Misty could be when she was out for revenge.

“Perfect.” Ash, by the look of him, had forgotten all about the gun in favour of glaring daggers at his fiancée. “Now all I need is for her sisters and that lousy Giselle to show up, and every woman in the world who hates me will be right here in this room.”

“Um. Ash.” Brock tapped him on the shoulder.

“What?” Ash turned around. “Oh. Uh-oh.”

“‘Uh-oh’ indeed,” said Giselle coldly.

A hush rippled through the room as more and more people realised that the Pokémon League’s head law-enforcement officer was standing in their midst. Soon, the only noise was the squeaking of the pencil belonging to Giselle’s assistant. He was standing behind her, scribbling down notes.

Once sure of the crowd’s attention, Giselle straightened her shoulders, shook back her chestnut curls and subjected Ash to a wintry stare. He wilted under the blast.

“Hi there,” he at last said, weakly. “Uh, I hope you didn’t think I was talking about you just now. There are other lousy Giselles -”

“Mr. Ketchum,” Giselle interrupted. “Let’s skip past the small talk, hmm? I’m sure you know why I’m here.”

“For a granite-‘n’-gin cocktail?”

Giselle acted as though she hadn’t heard him. Her eye roved over the room, taking in every face. “Huh. The cream of society,” she said, her lip curling.

Fifty mutinous stares greeted those words. Giselle began to pace through the crowd.

“Let me see… I’m terrible with names, but your face looks familiar. Care to tell me where you’re from?”

She had stopped in front of the man with the talking stomach. Judging by the sweat beading on his brow, he would have preferred his abdomen to field the question.

“I’m, uh, from Cerulean City,” he said.

“Mm-hmm. And what do you do in Cerulean City?”

Brock could practically see the stream of professions flashing behind the man’s eyes. “I’m a scout master,” he blurted at last. The woman next to him slapped a hand over her eyes.

“A scout master? Don’t ever help my mother across the street.” Giselle turned away. “Such lovely red carnations!” she exclaimed. “Is this a funeral party?” Her tone grew menacing. “Did somebody die unexpectedly that I wasn’t aware of?”

“Er, Miss –” Ash began.

Giselle swung around. “Mr. Ketchum, I seem to remember telling your friend Mr. Harrison I would personally see to it that your floating Pokémon tournament was sunk, permanently. Is that in fact true, or did I dream it?”

From the bar, Misty let out a loud snort. The noise seemed to sting Ash to defiance. He straightened up and returned Giselle’s gaze, jutting out his chin.

“Yeah, I’d say it’s true,” he said. “Which is why your assistant over there now has to spend his free time with his family.”

The sandy-haired man’s pencil broke in half. He held his notebook up higher; Brock could see his forehead reddening over the top.

Giselle’s eyes narrowed. “Why are so many unlicensed trainers gathered in this inn?”

“They got lonely. How should I know?”

“Why are they all wearing red carnations?”

“They’re also all wearing shoes!”

“Mr. Ketchum, I was informed by an anonymous tip-off that you plan to hold an illegal Pokémon tournament tonight!”

An outbreak of murmurs swept the room. A red flush crept up Ash’s neck.

“Who told you that?”

“I said it was anonymous,” Giselle replied sweetly.

“Well, it’s not true!” Ash took a step forwards. “No-one I know would ever – I mean –”

“Yes?”

Ash stopped dead. He opened his mouth a few times, but no sound came out. The only person not looking at him was Misty, who was reading a cocktail menu with exaggerated nonchalance. Brock couldn’t help noticing, however, that she was holding it upside-down.

All of a sudden, it hit him. He knew how to get them out of this. But – no, he couldn’t – it was much too cruel – then again, the alternative wasn’t any better…

Brock looked from Giselle to Ash, and debated which one he’d rather have after his blood. Definitely Ash. But friendship had to count for something…

“Mr. Ketchum,” said Giselle in doom-laden tones. “If you cannot explain what these people are doing here in the next three seconds, I am placing all of you under arrest. Three… two…”

The words slipped out before Brock could stop them. “I can explain!”

Every pair of eyes shifted to him. He loosened his collar, feeling as though a spotlight had suddenly singled him out. “I, uh, that is –” He paused in hope that an alternate plan would leap to mind. None did. Then there was nothing for it.

Brock gave a sigh. “Ash… it’s no use. We’re going to have to tell her the truth.”

Ash stepped on his foot. “Shut up, Brock!”

Giselle leapt forward, a manic glint in her eye. “Out with it, Harrison!” she barked.

Brock mentally apologised to Ash and took a breath. “The truth is… we’re here for a bachelor party.”

Giselle and Ash both blinked.

Brock strode forward and flung an arm around Ash’s shoulder. “That’s right!” he said. “This is a bachelor dinner for my good pal Ash here. He’s getting married!”

Ash stared up at him as though expecting the words he’d just heard to turn into different ones entirely. Brock let go of him and turned to the crowd.

“For he’s a jolly good fellow, for he’s a jolly good fellow…” he sang. The others all joined in, most of them behind the beat and off-key.

“For he’s a jolly good fellow…”

“Which nobody can deny!” the blue-haired man and the blue-haired man’s stomach belted out with enthusiasm.

It looked like the reality of what had just happened was dawning on Ash. He slowly revolved on the spot until he was face to face with Misty. She had slipped off her barstool with the shock. Hands clasped to her mouth, she and Ash stared into each other’s eyes – then, with a squeal, she flung herself into his arms, nearly knocking him flat.

“Oh, Ash!” she shrieked.

Ash made a choking noise in reply. This might have been because he had forgotten how to talk, or possibly it was because the force of Misty’s embrace had closed off his windpipe.

Brock shook his head. He knew this would be rough, but Ash was a tough kid. Sooner or later, he’d bounce back.

“Ash, Ash, Ash!” Misty let go of him to wipe her eyes. Ash gasped for breath and clutched his throat. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It was a surprise,” Ash wheezed.

Misty burst into tears again and clutched him tightly.

Giselle looked almost as displeased with this turn of events as Ash did. “Well, this is nice,” she said, unsmiling. “When is the happy occasion?”

“Yes, when is it, Ash?” said Misty, releasing Ash once more.

Ash massaged his neck. “I don’t know,” he said hoarsely. “It’ll take a while for the license and the blood-test to come through.” He brightened slightly at these words.

“Oh.” Misty’s smile ebbed slightly. “Gosh, I’ve wanted this for so long… for a moment I was thinking that we could just go and get married tomorrow.”

“Yeah, but that’s impossible,” Ash said quickly.

“No it’s not. You could elope.”

Misty turned towards Giselle, luckily missing the expression on Ash’s face. “Could we? Isn’t that illegal?”

“It isn’t illegal in Pallet Town,” Giselle said. Her lips were quirking slightly. Brock wondered if she suspected Ash wasn’t one hundred percent happy about his engagement coming to an end. “That’s where you’re from, Mr. Ketchum, isn’t it?”

Misty swung back around. Ash contorted his face into what he must have thought was a smile. “That would be wonderful!” she cried. “Can we do that? Elope?”

“I can’t think of any reason not to,” Ash said in a miserable voice.

“Then that’s settled!” Giselle shook Ash’s hand, then Misty’s. “And I hope for your sake that there’s a nice grandparent in the family for the kids to take after,” she called over her shoulder as she left the bar.

“Ash, this is the happiest I’ve ever been.” Misty dabbed at her eyes, still beaming. “Wait until I tell my sisters!” Suddenly, she frowned. “But what will you say to your mom?”

Ash shrugged. “I guess I could send a letter and date it back six years.”

Misty tapped her finger against her chin. “Mmm… I don’t know… I think we’d better wait ‘til we have five kids.” She smiled brightly. “It shouldn’t take us long!”

She checked her watch while Ash looked down as though hoping for a trapdoor to open under his feet. “Rats, I’m due back at the gym – oh, I can’t wait to see the looks on my sisters’ faces!” She pecked Ash on the lips. “Sweetie, I’ve got to go tell everyone the news. You don’t mind, do you?”

“Huh? No – it’s fine.”

“You are so sweet.”

Misty ruffled his hair. Ash reached up automatically to flatten it, and his hand touched hers. For a fleeting instant, Brock thought he saw the sense of impending doom lift from Ash’s face. He was suddenly reminded of the way Ash and Misty had looked at each other for the few days after Ash proposed.

Then Misty drew her hand back, and the moment passed. “I’d better be going, then,” she said. She kissed Ash one more time. “Bye! See you soon! And we’ll get married! I can’t believe this is finally happening!”

Ash sighed. “Me neither.”

“Remember to pick me up tomorrow!” Misty called as she disappeared through the door. “After the show at the gym! And book the train tickets to Pallet in advance!”

“Yes, dear.”

In the distance, Brock heard the bell over the front door tinkle. Misty had left the inn.

Calm reined once more. A few trainers came over to clap Ash on the back, but drew away when Brock gave them warning glances.

Ash walked to the bar with the air of a man who had just received a death sentence, and slumped onto a stool. He sat with his chin in his hands, staring at a beer stain. Brock debated whether to risk going over, and eventually decided to be brave.

“Ash?” he said cautiously, sitting down next to his friend.

Ash looked up. His expression was stony.

“I’m really sorry,” Brock sighed. “I couldn’t think what else to do.”

Ash turned away. Brock sighed again. He was going to have to endure the silent treatment from now until next Christmas.

However, unexpectedly, Ash spoke. “You wanna know something, Brock?”

“Huh?”

Ash reached for Misty’s abandoned drink and took a large gulp. “If I’m going to forgive you before we’re both dead, this had better be the best marriage ever,” he growled.

Brock laughed. “You know what? I think it really might be.”

By small degrees, the tension lifted. Brock looked around at the trainers. They were all hanging back, staring into their drinks. At least this had led to one good thing – everybody had forgotten to ask them about Gary Oak and the thousand dollars.

Right on cue, for the third time that afternoon, a figure darted into the room. Brock looked around, and nudged Ash.

“Ash! It’s Benny!”

“Benny!” Ash leapt down off the stool. “Have you got the cash?”

Benny hurried over. He looked frazzled, but then again, this wasn’t unusual for him.

“Hi, fellas!” he cried in suspiciously jovial tones. “How’s it going?”

“Benny, did Drew give you the money? Where is he?” Ash peered past Benny’s shoulder, and smirked. “Guess he didn’t want to hang around after I won the bet, huh? These rich guys are always such sore losers –”

“Ash.” Brock looked intently at Benny. The younger boy was shifting from one foot to the other; his face had scrunched up as though he was about to have a sneezing fit to rival Misty’s.

Ash’s smile faded. “Benny, what happened? Where’s the money?”

Benny looked wretched. “Well, guys, that’s the thing,” he said. “Um, I don’t have it.”

“What?” Ash and Brock chorused.

“Why not?” Ash demanded.

“Where’s Drew?” said Brock.

“Yeah, where is he? Didn’t you find him? Wasn’t he at the Pokémon Centre?”

Benny cringed. “That’s it, guys, that’s exactly it! He wasn’t at the Pokémon Centre.”

“That no-good, rotten cheater!” Ash yelled. “You mean he’s run off without paying me? Why, I ought to hunt him down and –”

“That'll be hard.” Benny gave a nervous laugh. “I forgot to check where he was going when I saw him at the station.”

Ash and Brock froze. “WHAT?”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!” Benny spread his hands. “I hung around at the Pokémon Centre, but he didn’t come out, so I talked to Miss Nurse Joy and she said he hadn’t been in all day, but he was meant to be checking out at eleven, and then it got to eleven and he hadn’t got back, so I went out looking for him, and I couldn’t find him anywhere in town, so I went to the station to catch the train to Pewter so I could find you, and that’s where I saw him!” By the end of this speech, Benny looked as though he had expelled all the breath in his body. He gasped in a lungful of air, wiping his eyes.

Ash pounded a fist into his palm. “So he is trying to run away! Well, if he thinks he’s going to get away with it, he can forget it! I won’t rest ‘til I find him and get my money!”

“You’ll have to do it quickly, Ash,” Brock put in. “We’re supposed to be holding the tournament in five hours’ time!”

“Gosh, if only I'd recognised that girl he was with,” said Benny mournfully. “We could ask her folks where they went.”

There was a deadly pause.

“Benny,” said Brock, slowly. “What girl?”

“Hmm? Oh, I don’t know. I haven’t seen her around before. She was short and pretty with brown hair – oh, and she was dressed up all fancy, like they were going to a party. I think I heard him say her name… Mary or Maisie, something like that.” Benny’s brow furrowed. “You know what’s funny, though, she didn’t look all that happy to be there. Maybe she doesn’t like parties.” He looked from Ash to Brock. “Whoa, is something wrong?”

Ash gripped Brock’s shoulder. His face was pale. “Brock,” he croaked.

Brock swallowed. “I know.”

Ash put a hand to his ear.

“Cider,” he whispered.

Xiang
14th April 2006, 9:23 PM
OOHOHH, May got owned. Anyways, it was brilliant, though I feel bad that my post is so short compared to the chapter. ._.


Giselle leapt forward, a manic glint in her eye.
Manic? xP

lara lynx
15th April 2006, 1:19 PM
Wow you updated! Awesome chapter

Stephy
15th April 2006, 3:31 PM
Great story! I wonder what will happen to Ash...and all because of Brock! -hits Brock- Oh well, I guess...Misty isn't going to forgive Ash so easily when she finds out...(If she ever does) And I wonder how Drew and May will end up together...

EDIT: Yeah, the PS part isn't mush...just like what Kisa said. I find the CS part much more entertaining(I couldn't find a better word). Or...that's just me. I only care about the CS parts...well, maybe I'm a little Pokeshipper...And I find Misty at the ending too...uh...no word for it.

Xiang
15th April 2006, 7:32 PM
I also love how the CS part and the PS part isn't really mush, (well, Kasumi may be excluded xD) because, thinking about when May first met Drew, she seemed to half hate him, so obviously if she hasn't met him or built a relationship with him she would definitely be reluctant to attend a party for him. xP And Giselle made the PS part awesome. xPPP

Brian Powell
18th April 2006, 11:32 AM
Loved that chapter… a lot.

On my first viewing of this chapter, I didn’t see any spelling/grammar mistake. There were a number of hilarious moments in this chapter, for example:

1. Brock trying to think up a good lie… and Ash’s bachelor party was the best he can come up with and that led Ash into more trouble.
2. Brock letting a couple of familiar faces.
3. That Benny guy, he’s so daft.

Overall score: 5/5 Brilliant!

Encyclopika
21st April 2006, 3:02 AM
Sorry I didn't reveiw in forever. ^^;;; *iz teh w0rs1 fr!end eva*
But I LOVED how everthing was working out...especially the last bit with Benny. I could just imagine as the guy was talking, the faces on Ash and Brock. XD Priceless as they were.
I love your writing style....but most of all: ZOMFG! You got out another chapter! Yay! *spaz confetti*
But really, awsome job. I so cannot wait for the next chapter. ^^

umbreon1111
27th June 2006, 7:50 AM
story gets even better. hope the next one comes out soon

Artemis Ignitan
2nd October 2006, 7:52 PM
im a new reader of your fanfic and i have just one thing to say...
It. Is. Awesome!!!
Could you please pm me when the next chapter is out? I won't mind if it takes too long.

man...reading all these good fanfics makes me seriously doubt my fanfic...

Despina
7th October 2006, 2:39 PM
What a troublesome mess ash is in, I wonder what he's gonna do now!

I really really like this fic, since it's different from most of the others, it's the first fic I read on this forum and after I read more I still liked this one best for some reason (although they are all really great ^___^). It made me laugh and I really can't imagine what's going to happen next. I saw this fic on FF.net and you said at the end that the next chapter would be a contestshippy galore and that's why I can't wait for the next chapter =D. No rush, but my life will be complete when the next chapter comes! xD

honey_clover112
28th October 2006, 11:03 AM
Wow!!!what a great fic!!!!!pls update sooner!!!!

csisps_26
11th September 2008, 4:10 AM
Shippy... and nice, on the marriage part. But... um... no updates since 2006? OMG, 2 years. Anyway, update sooner, OK? It's still a great fanfic! Keep it up! ;345;;346; ;347;;348;

Lexiebee88
13th September 2009, 9:50 PM
im rite there with ya! no updates in 3 years????? misty and ash r getting married!!!! hahaha now ash is in waaaay over his head. may didnt look very happy hahaha :) yaaaayyyy. i love drew and may together.