A Christmas Advanceshipping One-shot: my Christmas present to all the loyal Advanceshippers that are still out there. Ash and May fo' life, DAWGZ!
Please enjoy, and if you like it, please check out my other Advanceshipping fic, "Good Love Charm", which is still in progress. Thanks!
"How much longer do you think it'll need, Mrs. Ketchum?" Tracey's voice asked, ringing through the long and winding corridors of Professor Oak's laboratory home in Pallet Town.
Delia bent over to check the contents of the oven, soothing heat rising from the turkey which lay inside. She had cooked meals in Professor Oak's kitchen numerous times and it was as if it were a second home for her, which made this year's Christmas meal a simple affair. Or at least, as simple as it would usually be.
Mrs. Ketchum was immaculately dressed as always; the ability to make even the dullest attire look impressive seemed to be a natural talent that she had acquired somewhere down the line. Her hair was a vivid auburn hue as always, tied back into a long ponytail in order to keep it from coming dangerously close to the Christmas meal as it was being prepared. She had little help in the kitchen, but all she really needed was her Mr. Mime - the other residents of the Oak laboratory were far from capable of helping her cook anything close to resembling an edible substance.
She sighed. If only Brock were here...
"It still needs some time, Tracey!" Delia called back as she closed the oven door once again and returned to check on the numerous vegetables which were bubbling in the pans above. "No need to worry; everything is going according to plan!"
"Gee, Tracey," came the voice of a young woman in a condescending tone as she stretched towards the ceiling in an attempt to place more green tinsel across the lounge wall, "will you stop worrying so much? You'd think that you were at work, not on holiday!"
Misty smiled playfully at the comment as she hopped down from the ladder she had been working on and gave him a wink. Despite Delia's suggestion that she get ready later, the young Gym leader had already taken the liberty of getting dressed for the Christmas party early in the morning. She was wearing a short, low-cut Chinese dress which was coloured in a very stylish shade of red which seemed to fade in and out of orange depending on the angle of the light, and her fiery red hair was tied back neatly. Clearly she was attempting to make more of an effort than usual, though whether this was because of the enormous importance of the holiday event or because she was trying to impress someone remained unclear.
Tracey, in stark contrast, was wearing his usual attire of a green shirt and red shorts which he often wore all year round. Professor Oak's laboratory was well-heated throughout the year and despite the steadily-falling snow which continued to pile up just outside the windows such summer attire suited the young assistant and Pokemon watcher perfectly.
"My my, Delia, that smells delicious!" came the voice of Professor Oak as he wandered into the kitchen, laden with piles of mistletoe in one arm and a stepladder in the other. "I really must get your Christmas recipe sometime!"
"Oh gosh, professor, you know I can't just give out my family's secret recipe!" Delia replied teasingly.
"Mime Mime!" her Mr. Mime added as it began to peel some vegetables over the kitchen sink.
"What's with all the mistletoe, professor?" Tracey enquired as both he and Misty entered from the lounge, their decorating of the room finally complete.
"Oh, I'm just getting into the holiday spirit, Tracey, that's all!" Oak replied, his face flushing a slight pink as he spoke before passing a bundle each to Misty and the young assistant. "Now hurry up and give me a hand hanging this from the ceiling, will you?"
"Ugh, mistletoe?" Misty groaned slightly under her breath, just loud enough for Tracey to hear. "That's so cliche..."
"...Yeah..." Tracey mumbled nervously, his eyes glancing to the floor before he headed back into the lounge to get back to work.
"Alright, no slacking!" Oak urged his fellow decorators as he rose up to the top of his stepladder and carefully applied a small branch of mistletoe to the ceiling. "The Maples will be here any minute and Ash and his friends are due in any time today! We need this place looking spotless, people!"
Dawn watched excitedly from the window as the train from Vermilion City to Viridian City sped across the land, creating a shifting blur of colour as hills, fields and lakes all passed in the blink of an eye. It was the Pokemon coordinator's first ever time in a new region and she had every intention of enjoying as much of it as she possibly could.
"Settle down, Dawn!" Ash laughed as he leaned back against the glass, Pikachu snoring lightly in his lap. "We'll be at Professor Oak's lab in no time at all, don't you worry."
"I just can't wait to see all the sights!" Dawn squealed, almost hopping on her seat with anticipation. "I'm so glad my Mom agreed to let me spend Christmas in Kanto with you guys; this is so awesome!"
"Hey Ash, remind me." Brock spoke up from the opposite side of the train whilst scratching his chin. "Who else did Professor Oak invite to the party this year?"
"Oh just the usual." Ash replied knowingly. "There's you and me and Misty, of course. Obviously Tracey will be there, and May's bringing over her family too! This'll be our first Christmas with May!"
Of course, how could Ash forget May? Ever since he'd finished his Battle Frontier challenge here in Kanto and she had placed in the top four of the Grand Festival, he had been unable to stop thinking about her. Though it really hadn't been that long since he and Brock had first departed for the Sinnoh region, it felt like an eternity since he had last seen her smiling face, her sapphire blue eyes, her radiant personality infecting him with confidence and excitement. It was all in quite stark contrast to his other friends, such as Misty and Tracey, who he of course cared for deeply, yet they provoked different emotions in him.
Ash thought about this for a moment, watching both Brock and Dawn from the corner of his eye. If he hadn't seen them for several months would he begin to feel the same way about them, too?
"And with Dawn here it looks like this'll be one of the professor's biggest parties in years!" Brock chuckled, snapping Ash out of his daydream whilst smiling at the young coordinator who was unable to contain her excitement.
"So you guys come home every year for Christmas?" Dawn asked out of curiosity.
"Of course, Dawn!" Ash answered back, lightly scratching Pikachu's ear as the Electric-type Pokemon slept peacefully. "You've just gotta be with family at Christmas time, y'know?"
"Now are you sure the professor won't mind me tagging along with you guys?" Dawn wondered out loud, nervously scratching her cheek as she did so. "I mean I'd hate to impose or anything..."
"Not at all, Dawn!" Ash laughed. "You worry way too much; the professor loves having new company over!"
"And hey, you'll finally get to meet Misty and May." Brock added. "I'm sure you guys will all have a lot to talk about. Misty is the Water Gym leader of Cerulean City in the north, and May's a high-ranking Pokemon coordinator."
"Oh wow!" Dawn gasped, somewhat shocked by this sudden revelation. "You guys never told me you knew other Gym leaders besides Brock! And a Pokemon coordinator!? Are you kidding me!?"
"Heh, sorry," Ash mumbled quietly, "I guess it must've slipped my mind."
"Ugh, now I feel stupid for not packing more clothes when I first left Twinleaf Town..." Dawn complained. "Brock, do you know if there are any shopping malls in Pallet Town where I can buy myself a new dress for the party?"
"What are you talking about, Dawn?" Ash asked, his face obviously confused. "You're just gonna be around friends, why don't you just wear what you've got on now?"
"Are you crazy, Ash!?" Dawn exclaimed, her eyes wide in shock, though Ash continued to simply look dumbfounded. "That's not the point - you're supposed to make an effort at dinner parties and Christmas is no exception!"
"But I just like to be comfortable is all..." Ash murmured before turning to face his other friend. "Brock, you agree, right?"
"Uh..." Brock stammered, now seeing two pairs of eyes glaring at him from the other side of the train, waiting for an answer. "Um, I think I'm just gonna head to the restroom right now!"
"Hmph." Dawn sniffed, folding her arms firmly across her chest. "Men are such cowards."
Ash continued to simply stare out of the window, confused as ever. Secretly, he wondered in his head if he would ever understand the strange desires of women.
"No no no, Tracey!" Oak groaned as he helped his assistant place a banner with the words 'Welcome Home' printed on it across the fireplace in the lounge. "It's too far to the left! You jus-"
Just then the sound of a doorbell rang through the house, interrupting the professor mid-instruction.
"Ah, Misty!" the professor called. "Could you get the door, please? That's probably the Maples!"
"Sure thing, professor!" Misty replied chirpily, a skip in her step as she headed to the door. She was always very careful to be as courteous as possible to the professor and Delia, much more so than with people her own age. She wasn't entirely sure why she did this; perhaps it was the difficulty of living with three older sisters and she had simply learned to adapt by always respecting those who were older than her.
Misty felt a slight bundle of nerves welling up in her stomach as she approached the front door of the professor's home via the entrance hall which connected to the lounge, along with numerous other rooms. She had never met May's parents and would of course be courteous - if truth be told, she had actually been quite interested in meeting her father Norman after hearing that he himself was also a Gym leader in his home region. She of course adored May's little brother, Max - he was far too cute not too, and her motherly side didn't help matters much either - but May... May was a different story.
Misty didn't hate May - far from it. But there was no doubt that there was tension between the two of them. There had been during her visit to Hoenn, and again during Ash's brief stay in Pallet Town before he challenged the Battle Frontier. Misty couldn't quite put her finger on as to why she didn't really like May, but it was undeniably there. Perhaps it was her happy-go-lucky and outgoing personality which bothered her, or her sheltered upbringing which she secretly envied. May had everything Misty had always wanted - a happy, stable family and no responsibilities. She could go wherever she pleased on her Pokemon journey and yet she didn't blink an eye. Misty knew that one day the girl would have to grow up and when she did it was going to hurt. Just like another trainer she knew, in fact...
In just a few moments the young Gym leader had reached the front door and was gripping the handle tightly before pulling back and being greeted by a blast of cold air. She looked outside and sure enough the Maple family was there, backed by a beautiful backdrop of rapidly-falling snow.
"Hi Misty!" Max greeted the girl, immediately leaping forward and excitedly wandering into the house.
"Hi Max!" Misty replied, smiling warmly at the child's youthful exuberance before turning to face the others. "Hi May; Mr. and Mrs. Maple."
She bowed courteously as she spoke.
"Ah, I'm relieved we found the right house!" Norman laughed, scratching the back of his head with his arm. "May said she remembered how to get here, but-"
"Dad!" May growled, interrupting her father with a powerful glare which cut more than daggers could ever hope to.
"Well, it's not an easy place to find, I must admit!" Misty chuckled nervously as she opened the door up wide. "Please, come in!"
The family quickly made their way inside the hallway, relieved to finally get out of the cold. They slowly removed their large winter coats, hanging them on the coat rack which was conveniently located on the inside wall as Max continued to hop up and down on the spot, tugging on Misty's hand.
"Dad, Dad, this is Misty!" he explained excitedly. "She's a Gym leader too, and she uses Water-type Pokemon! Isn't that awesome!?"
"Ah, it's good to finally meet you, Misty." Norman laughed, shaking the young girl's hand firmly. "Max has told Caroline and I so much about you I was starting to feel a little nervous!"
"Oh, Max...!" Misty replied, blushing a deep shade of red at the comments she was receiving. "You shouldn't have... I've been the Gym leader for hardly a year, even!"
"Ah, the first year is always the toughest." Norman sympathised, scratching his chin as he spoke. "I remember when we first moved to Petalburg; it was really difficult getting the Gym off the ground. Perhaps you and I could have a friendly battle sometime, Misty?"
"Oh wow that'd be so awesome!!" Max squealed with delight. "Which Pokemon are you gonna use, Dad? Did you bring Slaking, did you, huh huh?"
"Calm down, Max!" Caroline urged, placing her hand on the boy's shoulder in an attempt to calm her son. "This is Christmas! There's no time for Pokemon battles, dear."
"Heh, I guess you're right..." Norman agreed. "Besides, I'm sure both of our Pokemon would like a rest after a hard year's work."
"Right!" Misty nodded, then quickly turned to face the lounge, where she could hear Tracey panicking loudly over not being ready in time. "Well, please, follow me and I'll introduce you to everyone! Please forgive the mess; we've had kind of a slow start today in decorating..."
Caroline, Norman, May and Max then proceeded to follow the young girl through the hallway and into the lounge, Max strolling up beside her with the most impressive walk he could muster. They were soon greeted by Tracey and Professor Oak, along with Delia, who waved through the kitchen door at them whilst attending to the rest of the food preparations.
The Maple family was quickly introduced to everyone and Caroline and May both offered to help in the kitchen, much to the dismay of Max, who insisted that anything his sister helped to cook would be inedible. Professor Oak and Norman hit it off quickly, and the two began discussing the differing Pokemon and customs of the Kanto and Hoenn regions whilst Max, Misty and Tracey moved on to the next room they needed to decorate.
"So Mrs. Ketchum," May began as she brought a stack of dinner plates over to where Delia was standing, "do you know when Ash and Brock will be arriving?"
"Oh you know how Ash is, dear!" Delia giggled, scooping up several potatoes and pouring a generous amount onto each plate. "He never sticks to his schedule. Brock is with him though, so he shouldn't be too long now."
"I hope not..." May sighed, washing the now-empty vegetable dishes for Delia. She knew all too well that her cooking skills left a lot to be desired, and as much as she hated that fact she knew that now was not the time to try and improve them. "It's getting really dark out there... And it's freezing cold..."
She glanced out of the window of the kitchen as she spoke, seeing the stars illuminated in the night sky above the laboratory grounds.
"Knowing Ash he probably didn't even pack a coat..." May scolded the boy in her mind as she spoke, frowning a little to herself.
"Yep, that's my boy!" Delia laughed, passing another baking tray to her Mr. Mime, who gladly accepted. "But you know May, he and Brock are traveling with a young girl from Sinnoh, so she'll probably be keeping the two of them in line."
"What?" May gasped, trying not to raise her voice as her eyes widened in shock. "Ash is traveling with... A girl?"
"Mmhmm." Delia nodded, her smile as unshakeable as always. "I believe her name was Dawn... She sounds like such a nice girl, really. They met in Sandgem Town when Ash arrived in the Sinnoh region. I believe she helped Pikachu, or at least that's what Ash told me. It was all quite a blur to be honest!"
"Oh..." May muttered, her eyes drifting to the floor, a slight sense of dismay written on her face, which prompted Caroline to raise an eyebrow.
"Well May," her mother spoke up as she continued to dry one of the clean cooking plates with a dishtowel, "you have been traveling through Johto with Drew, haven't you? What's the difference?"
"Mom!" May groaned, passing another plate to Caroline and giving her a glare. "Drew isn't traveling with me; we're competing on the same contest circuit. I hardly ever see him except for in contest battles. It's completely different!"
May frowned as she began to wash the next plate that Delia passed to her. She watched the soap suds flow across the surface of the china, her mind lost deep in thought. Why did she even care, anyway? She didn't know this girl, and it wasn't as if Ash had ever shown any sign of interest in girls before. She began to curse herself for making the decision to travel alone to Johto. Why had she done it? What was she thinking? She could have been traveling back to Pallet Town with Ash right now after experiencing the most amazing journey through Sinnoh with her friends. But no, she had to go it alone to Johto, with nobody but her Pokemon for company.
"Oh, Ash isn't interested in Dawn, May!" Delia giggled, causing May's face to turn a bright shade of pink. "I'd be surprised if he even noticed her at times - all he seems to care about is training and earning new Gym badges. Every time he picks up the phone to call me it's 'Pikachu this' and 'badge that'. Really, I do wonder about that boy sometimes..."
"Oh, I don't care if he's interested in her!" May lied, trying to get her face to change colour in any way possible. "It just... Would have been nice to know, that's all! Yeah, that's it! Just... Nice to know..."
May risked a glance up towards her mother for reassurance, but she simply flashed an accusing grin in response, prompting her daughter to hide her face behind the plate in her hands and continue to scrub in a furious attempt to clean it and relieve herself of any embarrassment.
It wasn't until much later that the doorbell rang again, signaling Ash, Brock and Dawn's arrival at the front door of Professor Oak's home. Misty eagerly rushed to the door, taking advantage of her close proximity whilst May was forced to continue working in the kitchen. It had gotten even colder in the darkness outside, and when Misty opened the door the cold air seemed to rush towards her with all of its might.
"Welcome home, Ash!" Misty greeted the trio happily. "You too, Brock, Pikachu; long time no see."
There was a pause, and Misty smiled, turning to the youngest member of the trio who smiled nervously back.
"And you must be Dawn, right?" Misty assumed. "Please, come in."
The three travelers eagerly accepted the offer, rushing inside and removing their coats and shoes, happy to be embraced by the warmth of the house which had been teasing them as they had originally made their way up the hill outside.
"Oh, man, I'm starved!" Ash exclaimed, grabbing his stomach as his nose picked up on the scent that was wafting from the kitchen. "It's been a long time since I've had Mom's Christmas dinner!"
"Pikachu Pi!" Pikachu agreed, hopping down from out of Ash's inside coat pocket and shaking its fur over the welcome mat. It then looked up towards Misty, who smiled warmly back. "Pika!"
"It's nice to see you, too, Pikachu!" Misty giggled, scooping the Electric-type up into her arms and tickling the small creature's ears with a stray finger. "I've missed you!"
"Chu!" Pikachu squealed as Max and Tracey both entered the hallway from behind the girl.
"Hey, it's Max!" Brock said. "So that means the Maples already arrived, huh?"
"Hey Max, great to see you." Ash greeted the boy, kneeling down so that he was at his eye-level. "You too, Tracey. Keeping busy?"
"You know it, Ash..." Tracey groaned, a slight sense of sarcastic laughter in his voice. "Actually your Bulbasaur is helping me and the professor out a lot, if truth be told."
"Heh, yeah, that sounds like Bulbasaur!" Ash laughed, getting back to his feet and watching as Max eagerly petted Pikachu's yellow fur. "Oh, right! Everyone, this is Dawn, from Twinleaf Town in Sinnoh!"
Dawn smiled nervously as Ash introduced everyone to her, curtseying as best she could without a long skirt.
"It's nice to meet you all!" the young Pokemon coordinator spoke up. "I've heard a lot about all of you!"
"Ah, it looks like our guests of honour have finally arrived!" Professor Oak commented as he emerged from the lounge and into the hallway, prompting yet another introduction to be made.
"And this is-" Ash began, but was quickly cut off by Dawn's excited squealing.
"Professor Oak!" she interrupted, rushing up to the man and shaking his hand firmly. "Professor, I'm a huge fan of all your Pokemon poetry! I even bought your first book when I was still just a kid!"
It didn't take long for Dawn to be introduced to everyone and soon she had met everyone aside from Delia, Caroline and May, who were all working in the kitchen and unable to greet the new arrivals. Dawn was particularly enamoured by the mass of Christmas decorations that hung from every wall and ceiling as far as the eye could see, as well as the large Christmas tree in the corner of the lounge which she almost mistook for a Sudowoodo which was covered in tinsel.
Ash suddenly felt a bundle of nerves overcome him as he made his way closer to the kitchen, where he could see both his mother and Caroline working through the doorway. They were laughing and joking and seemed to have become good friends, despite having never met each other before. Ash wasn't really sure why, but this made him particularly happy and he smiled to himself as he watched the two of them, who were oblivious to anything that was going on beyond the scope of the kitchen.
His emotions were torn at best - Ash desperately wanted nothing more than to see May again after all these long months of traveling without her. Ever since she had left him to go to Johto and compete in the contest circuit there he had felt empty, as if something was missing. It was more than just the way he had felt when Misty had left to return to Cerulean as a Gym leader, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it.
He sighed to himself as he recalled his anguish on the train from Vermilion to Viridian and wondered what it all meant. Despite his nerves, he knew that he had to ignore them and greet the girl whom he had shared so much with. Taking a deep breath Ash headed into the kitchen, his heart skipping a beat as soon as he saw her.
"Hi everyone!" he managed to blurt out awkwardly, suddenly remembering that both of their mothers were in the room and that if he stared at the girl for too long she might smack him. "Uh, I'm back!"
"Ash!" Delia exclaimed, rushing over to the boy and hugging him tightly, causing him to blush a little as he hugged back. "How have you been? Have you made sure you-"
"Yes, Mom." Ash interrupted the woman quickly before she could embarrass him in front of either May or Caroline. "It's great to see you too!"
He then proceeded to end the embrace early and turned to face Caroline.
"Hi, Mrs. Maple! Good to see you again!" he greeted, his heart leaping in his chest as he finally glanced towards May. "Hey, May! Man, it's been so long since I saw you last!"
"You too, Ash!" May replied happily, smiling her typically wonderful smile that seemed to be her trademark. "Traveling without you can be pretty boring!"
May blushed a little as she noticed Caroline grinning from out of the corner of her eye, but she did her best not to show it and continued to act busy with her kitchen duties.
Ash paused for a moment, watching as Delia returned to the oven to inspect the turkey inside. His feelings were still as confusing as ever - he wanted to go over there and hug the girl who he hadn't seen for so long, but such an action would probably be frowned upon by the girl's mother, who was standing right there. Indeed, May would probably feel more than a little awkward if he did so, and so he decided to go against his body's demands and simply stood in the centre of the kitchen a little while longer, looking confused.
"Hey, Ash!" Dawn's voice called out from behind, snapping him out of his daydream.
"Oh, hey Dawn." Ash replied, turning on the spot awkwardly and scratching the back of his head. "What's up? Is something wrong?"
"I already told you on the train!" Dawn explained, exasperation evident in her voice. "I need to go get myself a dress. Professor Oak thinks there's a mall a little distance away that's open late on Christmas Eve."
"Oh, you mean the one by the lake?" Ash confirmed. "Yeah, that one's usually open pretty late."
"Can you show me the way?" Dawn asked. "Please? I can't eat your Mom's wonderful food dressed like this!"
"You can't?" Ash repeated, puzzled.
"Oh, you are a dear, Dawn!" Delia exclaimed from the oven as her Mr. Mime rushed over to the fridge to grab some supplies.
"Hi Mrs. Ketchum!" Dawn replied, waving to the young mother. "Ash, aren't you going to introduce me?"
"Oh, right, of course!" Ash coughed, flustered. "You already know my Mom; but there's Mrs. Maple and this is May over here."
May waved towards the girl from the other side of the kitchen awkwardly as she continued to stir something in a pot.
"Hi." she greeted awkwardly. "You're Dawn, right? It's nice to meet you!"
Dawn immediately rushed towards the young girl, her eyes glistening as if she had just seen a famous Hollywood actress.
"So you're the famous coordinator!?" she squealed, jumping up and down excitedly. "I'm a Pokemon coordinator, too! Ash and Brock told me all about you! And that you came in the top four in the Kanto Grand Festival!? That is so awesome!"
"Um..." May stammered, completely bewildered by the girl's sudden exuberance and energy and unable to help a slight blush appear on her face upon hearing the compliments being thrown her way. "Yeah, that's me! I'm really not that great..."
"Aww, c'mon, May!" Ash interrupted as he approached. "Don't be so modest! You're one of the best trainers I know and Brock will say the same thing!"
"Uh," May muttered, her face now a bright red shade, "well, if you guys say so!"
May was confused; when she had first heard that Ash had been traveling with a girl named Dawn she had immediately become filled with emotions, and at the forefront of this cloud of feelings was jealousy. But now, having met the girl in question, she didn't seem to mind - in fact she quite liked her, as she seemed as energetic and happy-go-lucky as herself. In fact, given the fact that she was also a coordinator, it seemed like they were almost certain to become good friends.
"Of course!" Dawn continued excitedly. "Not everyone gets into the Grand Festival, let alone the top four! Can you please show me your Pokemon? Or your ribbons? Can you give me any advice, huh, please?"
"I'd be happy to, Dawn!" May laughed, her smile now painting her face from ear to ear. "And if Ash doesn't mind maybe we could discuss contest strategies while we're walking to the mall!"
"Oh that would be awesome!" Dawn agreed, quickly spinning around to face Ash. "Right, Ash?"
"Of course!" Ash added, pumping his fist in excitement - he had been hoping to spend time with May ever since they had first parted ways the last time they were in Kanto.
"You three go and have fun!" Delia insisted, turning around and taking the pot from May's grasp. "But be careful out there - it's getting icy!"
May looked towards Caroline, who nodded, smiling happily at her daughter. May smiled back and then thanked the two of them before hurriedly following Ash and Dawn out towards the entrance hall of Professor Oak's home.
"Hey, where are you guys going?" Misty called after them from the lounge, noticing the sudden flurry of activity.
"We're just heading to the mall real quick to pick up a dress for Dawn." Ash explained as he began to tie up his shoelaces once more and Pikachu hopped over to him curiously. "You coming, Pikachu?"
"Pika!" Pikachu nodded, diving into the large inside-pocket of Ash's coat in preparation for their departure.
"Ugh, well you can count me out." Misty groaned. "It's way too cold out there! And besides, dinner's almost ready."
"We won't be long!" Dawn insisted, sweating a little as she waved her hands in front of her face to emphasise how little consequence it was. "I wouldn't miss Christmas dinner for anything!"
'Man,' Ash thought to himself, 'if only Paul were here to enjoy this Christmas dinner with us...'
"Ash," Tracey began, heading out into the hallway from the lounge where Professor Oak and Norman had resumed their conversation about Pokemon, "you do remember where the mall is, right?"
Ash paused for a moment to contemplate this question, holding his chin in his hand.
"Down Route One and take a left at the fork, right?" he asked, to which Tracey shook his head.
"I think it'd be best if I came along, then." Tracey offered, picking up his coat from the coat rack near the front door. "Unless you guys have any objections, that is."
"Of course not!" May chimed. "The more the merrier, right?" She paused for a moment until she had managed to tie up her shoelaces completely. "Alright, ready when you are! Are you gonna come too, Brock?"
"Let me just check to see if Mrs. Ketchum needs any help with the meal, May." Brock explained, wandering past Delia's Mr. Mime as it made its way into the lounge with a plate of buttered bread.
Caroline headed out into the lounge where she began to set the table in preparation for the meal which would soon be ready to be served, smiling as she waved to May through the doorway, giving her a thumbs-up sign and causing her daughter to flush bright red for what seemed like the umpteenth time today.
"Mrs. Ketchum," Brock began upon entering the kitchen, making his way over towards where the young mother was standing, "would you like any help wi-"
He found the young woman's finger press against his lips, a coy smile forming on her own as she pointed towards the ceiling where a large bundle of mistletoe hung directly above the two of them.
"Well, Brock," she giggled, "it IS tradition, after all..."
"Uh..." Brock mumbled, his face suddenly glowing bright red as he felt Delia's hand move up the side of his torso. "I think I'll stay here you guys!" he called out.
"Alright then!" Ash said impatiently as he grabbed the handle of the front door and headed out into the cold, followed swiftly by Dawn, Tracey and May. "See you guys soon!"
"Have fun!" Caroline called out after them. "Don't get cold!"
Misty sighed to herself, her eyes looking up at the clock that hung above Professor Oak's fireplace. It was already seven o'clock and dinner was scheduled to be served at eight. Her eyes rolled down towards the floor and her thoughts took over as she considered going after the group.
'Dammit, Ash...' she thought to herself angrily. 'You were supposed to stay here...'
"Step right up, everyone and get your hot-dogs while they're still hot!" a young woman called out into the chilly night air of Pallet Town, her fiery red hair refusing to allow the bitter cold of winter to subdue its vibrancy. "And don't forget our festive special, featuring sage and onion stuffing!"
The line which had formed at the small stall beside the Pallet Town mall had turned into a sizable force within a matter of minutes once word had spread around the lake where many people, particularly young couples, were enjoying a late-night ice-skating session before Christmas Day finally arrived tomorrow. Jessie smiled to herself as she pocketed another fistful of Pokedollars - perhaps she really could earn an honest living after all.
"Wow, Jess!" the rough, gravelly voice of Team Rocket's talking Pokemon Meowth spoke up enthusiastically as it leafed through several monetary notes in its possession. "This here hot-dog stand idea of yours is really raking in the dough! And here I was thinking I was the brains of this here operation!"
"Of course, Meowth!" Jessie replied happily, passing another hot-dog to a satisfied customer. "This time of year really makes me want to just settle down and earn some good, honest cash!"
"Settle down, hm?" a voice came from underneath her which belonged to a man with pale-blue hair and a large, black winter coat. "That's one thing I never thought I'd hear Jessie say!"
"Well, it IS almost a new year!" Jessie laughed to herself. "Perhaps I'll make a new year's resolution: no more trying to catch Pikachu! I should be ensnaring men like the black widow I am!"
"Heh," Meowth chuckled, admiring his sharp claws in the gentle moonlight, "I think it's a fair assumption that you've already ensnared James here."
"She's always ensnaring me into something..." James grumbled back as he continued to roast a large mass of sausages above an open fire. "Why am I always the one who has to cook the food?"
"Be quiet, you!" Jessie snapped, quickly taking a sip of the can of Coca-Cola which was sitting by her side of the stall. "Besides, you get to hog the fire! And who was the one who earned the money to pay for these comfy new winter coats thanks to her brilliant sales idea?"
James had to agree that he did appreciate the coat. Jessie's hot-dog stand idea had managed to earn them a tidy profit the likes of which they hadn't seen in years, and the local mall was more than happy to offer them a discount for bringing in new customers with their delicious menu of hot-dogs. The three of them had all decided to buy matching coats, in keeping with their Team Rocket motto, and the black wool was incredibly comfortable - sheered from the finest Johto-bred Mareep and dyed with the highest quality ingredients. Meowth's proved to be somewhat difficult, as they had to cut it short for the catlike Pokemon, but this was no problem that a pair of scissors and a keen eye couldn't fix. All in all James couldn't complain, as it certainly beat tracking down Pikachu to the ends of the earth or being used as target practice for Jessie's Seviper in the run-up to a Pokemon contest.
"It's a good thing we found this frozen lake with all these customers!" Meowth commented, taking a stick of sausages and helping James in his roasting duties. "And the organizers of that skating stall don't seem to mind us setting up shop here either!"
Jessie paused for a moment as she wrapped up the next hot-dog for her customer and peered over towards the other side of the lake, where three people were handing out skating shoes to happy young couples. For a moment, though there was far too much distance to be able to tell, it seemed like the girl who was operating the stall was staring right at her in a way which could only be described as ghostly.
"I can't help but think there's something familiar about those three..." Jessie whispered to herself before passing the finished hot-dog to the customer and exchanging money.
"Wobbuffet." a large, blue Pokemon added as it released itself from its Pokeball and slapped its forehead in agreement.
Ash, Dawn, May and Tracey hadn't been walking for long when they arrived at the mall which was just off the main route through Pallet Town, but the chill of the night was no less bitter because of it. Tracey hurriedly pointed it out, and both Dawn and May immediately gasped in wonder upon seeing the frozen lake where numerous people were skating majestically.
"Oh, wow!" Dawn exclaimed excitedly. "An ice rink! Piplup will absolutely LOVE this!"
"Aww, look at all the couples skating underneath the moonlight!" May gushed, clasping her gloved hands together and nuzzling them against her soft skin. "That's so romantic!"
"Skating?" Ash wondered out loud, tilting his head up towards the sky in confusion. "What's the big deal about skating? Sounds boring to me."
Both Dawn and May immediately spun around on the spot and stared at the boy, wide-eyed with shock.
"Are you serious!?" Dawn cried.
"You mean to say you've NEVER gone ice-skating before, Ash!?" May seconded.
"No, I haven't..." Ash mumbled in response. "Why? Is that bad?"
"You..." May sniffed, approaching the boy closer and placing her hand over his forehead. "You poor thing... Never having skated before..."
"Ugh, what's the big deal, May?" Ash retorted, folding his arms firmly in defiance. "It looks dumb, anyway."
"Pika..." Pikachu groaned, quickly leaping out of Ash's inside pocket and landing steadily in front of Dawn's feet. It could sense that its trainer was about to get himself into trouble and it would be best if it were out of the line of fire.
"Alright, mister!" May declared, grabbing the boy's wrist with a powerful grip. "That's it!"
"Huh?" Ash stammered. "Wh-where are we going? May, what are you doing? Tracey, Dawn, help!!"
Tracey and Dawn both smiled awkwardly as they watched the two friends head off down the hill and towards the lake. They could hear the laughter of many skaters further down and as much as Dawn enjoyed skating, she knew she didn't have time to do that and buy a new dress.
"Hey, Tracey?" she asked, prompting the boy to turn and face her. "Would you mind coming into the mall with me? I don't wanna be late for the Christmas dinner and I don't know my way around this place very well."
"Of course, Dawn!" Tracey accepted, happily leading her towards the entrance of the shopping centre. "I'm sure those two have plenty to keep them occupied anyway."
Pikachu watched Ash and May as they descended the hill, Ash continuing to complain loudly as he was dragged closer towards the lake. The small Pokemon secretly wished its trainer the best of luck, then hurriedly bounded after Dawn and Tracey as they entered the comfortable warmth of the mall.
It didn't take long for Ash and May to arrive at the lake and Ash immediately found himself dragged to the nearby lakeside stall which was providing skating shoes free of charge to any and all comers. After much complaining, Ash eventually figured out his shoe size and before he knew it, he was strapping on a pair of skates and was gliding onto the ice, May's hand clamped tightly around his own.
"Hey, don't forget to buy a Pokemon charm!" the woman at the stall yelled after the two young trainers, but was clearly ignored. "Dammit... Kids these days don't know quality when it hits them in the face."
"See, isn't this fun?" May giggled, her hands sliding from Ash's grip and around his stomach as he became more familiar with the ice and gained a more stable footing. "I told you you'd like it!"
"Yeah," Ash agreed, unable to help a smile form on his face as he glided past several young couples who were dancing together on the ice, "it's actually really awesome... Who'd have thought?"
"There's more to life than just Pokemon battles, Ash." May laughed, leaning her face over his shoulder and giving him a sly wink.
Ash felt his face heat up as he began to enjoy the embrace of his friend, and when his embarrassment caught up with him it caused him to lose his footing. Struggling to stay upright, he flailed his arms around in a vain attempt to keep himself balanced, but it was inevitable he would crash. Bracing himself for impact he pushed out his arms and collided with the ice with a thud, whilst May managed to remain upright, majestically spinning on the spot.
"Ash, are you okay!?" she cried, kneeling down to check on her friend. "You're not hurt, are you?"
"Uh, no, no," Ash insisted, slowly getting back onto his feet, "I'm okay, I just slipped is all."
"Be careful, Ash." May scolded the boy gently. "I don't want you getting hurt!"
"Heh," Ash chuckled, giving his friend a wink as she helped to stabilize him once again, "you watched me battle Team Rocket all this time and now you're worried I'm gonna hurt myself whilst ice-skating?"
"Hey, I was worried about you those other times, too!" May exclaimed. "I always worried... I still worry, now that you're in Sinnoh..."
Her voice trailed off as she spoke and she looked away to the side. That strange feeling in her heart was coming again - a burning sensation which felt so good, despite her uncertainty about what it was or what it meant. Of course she had always liked the thought of being in love, ever since she was just a little girl, and she often poked fun at Ash for not being more aware of his own feelings, but if truth be told she was never certain what it would feel like. Was this a crush? Did she think that Ash was the one for her?
...Was she falling in love with him?
"May, are you okay?" Ash asked, his hand moving to her arm, his touch causing her to shiver. Or was it just the cold? No... She knew this was something different as their eyes met once again and her heart felt as if it were on fire.
"Yes, of course!" May responded, forcing a smile and closing her eyes tightly to avoid the pain of his dumbfounded expression. "I'm just fine!"
'Why do you have to be so DENSE, Ash Ketchum!?' she cursed in her mind. 'Why can't you just hold me? I just want you to hold me...'
"I'm just..." she began, feeling tears well up inside of her. "I just don't want to leave and go back to traveling without you, Ash..."
Ash's heart sank as May pulled away ever so slightly and spun on the spot, trying her best to take her mind off the heartache Ash's rejection would cause if she confessed her feelings. Ash watched her for a moment - she seemed upset, though he couldn't figure out why. He stared at her as she elegantly twirled underneath the glimmer of starlight, the snow falling gently onto her hair and face. She was so beautiful; everything about her appealed to his senses and whenever she was away he felt an emptiness inside that he couldn't explain.
"Hey, hold on a sec." Ash said, quickly doing his best to skate back towards the stall where they received their skating boots.
"Ash!" May called after the boy. "Where are you going?"
"I'll be right back!" Ash answered loudly, refusing to look back.
"Ash..." May whispered under her breath, staring down at the ice underneath her feet as she recalled memories of her journey through Hoenn and removed a small pendant with several folded points wrapping around its frame from her coat pocket. "You were all I wished for..."
Ash meanwhile continued to skate as fast as he could without taking another painful tumble into the ice below. Eventually he arrived back at the stall where they had received their skating boots and with a screeching of ice as he skidded to the edge, he grabbed onto the wood and propped himself up desperately.
"Hey," he gasped, trying to catch his breath - there was no time to lose, "you were talking about... Pokemon charms, right?"
The girl manning the stall, an incredibly stunning blonde with long, flowing hair and a matching bust watched the boy blankly, a coy smile on her face.
"We were." she answered, smiling slyly. "Interested?"
"Yeah, uh," Ash began, still catching his breath, "do you guys have a... A Manaphy one?"
"Manaphy, huh?" the girl replied. "You've got style, kid! Those Sinnoh Pokemon are the best!"
She turned around and peered over her two associates, one of which was manning the stack of skating boots, whilst the other was crafting the charms for sale. For some reason, Ash noticed that the two of them almost seemed to merge in and out of the shadows of the night, but he paid it no heed.
"Alright boys, you can conjure up a Manaphy, can't you?" the girl said in an almost accusatory tone to her fellow colleagues.
"One Manaphy, coming right up!" the charm crafter happily replied, raising his shadowy hand and bringing it down with a blast of purple flame.
There was a slight pause before a charm was quickly passed to the hands of the stall attendant, who in turn passed it to Ash.
"Wow!" Ash gasped, amazed by the stunning level of detail and clarity in the small model which fit snugly in his palm. "That's awesome! How much is it?"
The woman quietly raised her hand in front of the boy's face and smiled at him.
"It's on the house, kid." she explained. "Just answer one question..."
She leaned in close to the boy and smiled to herself.
"Who do you think is hotter..." she asked, suddenly withdrawing two glossy, high-quality photographs of Pokemon from her coat pockets. "The Mismagius, or the Gardevoir?"
"Uh..." Ash stammered, not entirely sure what the lady was asking of him.
"Mismagius!" the charm crafter groaned from behind the stall. "Will you stop that!?"
The woman quickly turned to face her colleague, allowing Ash to hurriedly slip away unnoticed back towards where May was standing.
"Hey May!" he called out, prompting the girl to look up and quickly hide the evidence of the dream-catcher that was in her hands by stuffing it into her pocket.
The girl watched as her best friend approached from across the ice, still seemingly rather nervous about falling, though he didn't actually suffer from it happening a second time.
"What's with you, Ash?" she stuttered, her eyes welling up with tears which she now made no effort to hide. "I was pouring my heart out to you and then you just up and left!"
"I'm sorry, but," Ash explained, his heart pounding yet again as the two of them came into close proximity to one another, "I wanted to get you something."
"Huh?" May wondered as she watched the boy, confused, her tears subsiding for a moment.
Ash hesitated as he felt his heart continue to pound against his chest, the heat getting so high that it was almost unbearable, but he swallowed his fear and gently reached out, taking the girl's hand into his own and placing the small, blue Manaphy charm into her hand.
"Ash...?" May asked, a smile slowly forming on her face. "Is this...?"
"Well, I hadn't gotten you a Christmas present yet..." Ash explained sheepishly, not wanting to let go of her hand. "And whenever you're alone you can look at that and remember all the fun times we had together, like with Manaphy!"
"Ash..." May repeated, her tears beginning to flow across her face once again. She quickly looped the string that held the charm together around her neck and pulled her friend into a deep, loving embrace, squeezing him as tight as she possibly could, not wanting to let him go as the snow continued to fall gently on the two of them.
Ash could feel May's heart beating rapidly against him, and she could feel his in return as they simply stood there, oblivious of what was going on around them. Both of them had waited for a moment to be alone for so long and now here it was at last, and neither of them wanted it to end any time soon.
May could feel her anxieties welling up as she thought of all the possible things she could say to the boy she so desperately wanted to be with every minute of every day, until finally she decided she couldn't take it any longer. She didn't care if these feelings were immature or if she was too young to understand what it meant to be in love. All she knew was that when she was with Ash the whole world was different and she didn't want that feeling to ever go away.
"Ash..." she whispered in the boy's ear. "I..."
"What is it, May?" Ash replied, not breaking the embrace as he heard her continue to sniff, fighting back her tears with all of her might.
"I..." she repeated, squeezing him even tighter. "I love you, Ash..."
Ash wanted to say he was surprised. He wanted to know what to say in return, but he didn't. He had never made any attempt to understand the feelings of the heart; not since the day he first met May had he ever tried to reason with himself about his feelings for her. All he knew was that she made him happy and that was all that mattered.
"I..." he answered slowly. "I love you, too, May... I think I always have..."
There was silence between the two for a moment as snow continued to fall all around them and the stars illuminated the night sky like a blanket of silver dust. Slowly May eased out of their embrace and smiled at the boy. She had always known that this was the right thing to do, and she knew that she could never leave it up to Ash to make the next move.
"Merry Christmas, Ash." she wished, before closing her eyes and leaning in close, pressing her lips against his and squeezing him tightly again as their kiss began to develop.
Ash was surprised at himself - he didn't even flinch when it happened. It just felt natural, and he returned it as best he could, closing his eyes and enjoying the moment. He wanted to make it everything that May could ever have hoped for in a kiss, and when she did eventually break it off, much against her will, she smiled at him, playfully rubbing her nose against his.
"Merry Christmas, May." he replied, kissing her forehead gently before embracing her once again.