The freshly-paved walkway was free of litter and grime. The shops and stands on either side did fair business, but the street wasn't crowded. Laughter, idle chatter, and the trills and growls of Pokémon rang all around him, and one didn't need to be a Connoisseur to detect the salt in the air blown in from the Cape.

Cilan had visited many wonderful places since arriving in Kanto, but Cerulean City was making a very favorable impression on him. All the different sorts of Pokémon he had never seen before were fascinating, and Cilan felt himself nearly bursting as he picked up a hundred different flavors from the creatures and their Trainers.

He sat down on a small bench near the street corner to consult his map. Cerulean was hardly the largest city he'd ever visited, but nothing other than the Pokémon Center was a familiar location to him yet. Two young boys sat on the other end of the bench, bent over a teardrop-shaped badge that the ruby-haired lad with the Oddish held in his hands.

"Pretty cool, huh?" he told his friend. "It's my third badge."

"Awesome! I can't believe you already beat three Gym Leaders!" Cilan chuckled softly to himself. It was always charming, the enthusiasm of beginners.

"Well, I beat two of them," the badge winner said, "but this badge wasn't that hard. You could probably go to the gym now and get one. She just gave it to me."

The freshly-paved walkway had its first piece of litter: Cilan's crumpled map. Fists trembling, he bit his cheek to try and keep his temper in check as he turned toward the boys.

"Young man," he asked as calmly as he could manage, "where is this city's gym?"

---

"Very good, Azurill!" Misty cheered.

"Azu!" her little mouse trilled. In her excitement, Azurill launched herself forward and Slammed the target again. Misty giggled and pulled the little polka dot into her arms.

"You're going to be the greatest Pokémon in the whole world," she told Azurill. "And that was a very good thing you did today, helping me and that little boy find his lost Pidgey." Technically, Politoed had found the Pidgey, but Azurill had cleaned it up with her Water Gun. And she'd been a bright and welcome presence through what had been a long and horrible morning. That poor little boy had been beside himself with worry, and it had taken them hours to find his bird. It was only fifteen minutes ago that Misty made it back to the gym from their search.

A loud slam sounded through the halls, as if someone had kicked open the main doors. Heavy footsteps marched toward the arena. Misty watched in shock as a lanky, mint-haired young man stormed in with total fury written across his face.

"I DEMAND TO SEE THE GYM LEADER!" he yelled.

Misty frowned at his tone, but she stood to meet him. "Can I help you?"

"You can explain your inexcusable behavior!" the man fumed, leaping toward her with a finger raised in indignation. "It is the sacred duty of a Gym Leader to defend his or her gym, challenge trainers, and prepare them for the competition they'll face! To just give away badges without any effort is an absolute disgrace! I've seen some irresponsible behavior before, but I will not tolerate such gross negligence of -"

"HEY!" Misty took a good amount of satisfaction in how quickly her lecturer recoiled. With the day she'd had so far, she was not about to put up with this nonsense.

"For your information, whoever you are," she barked, advancing on the man, "next to Saffron, the Cerulean Gym is the toughest in the Indigo League! The only reason someone might get a badge for free is if the real Gym Leader - me - had to spend all day helping some kid find their lost Pokémon and had to leave my lazy no-good sisters in charge! And when I get my hands on them -"

"We're home!" Daisy's sing-song voice called out. She, Lily, and Violet walked into the arena, their arms strewn with shopping bags.

"Geez, Misty. We could totally hear you from outside," said Lily. "What's with all the screaming?"

"Yeah. Did your little boyfriend finally come home?" Violet teased. For once, Misty ignored that bait.

"Why are you giving gym badges away again?" she roared at them. The man backed even further away, but her sisters hardly seemed fazed. Daisy looked confused.

"Huh?" she said. "We didn't give any...wait."

She rounded on Lily, a scowl on her face. "You told me you'd, like, battle that kid or something!"

"He came in right before we were supposed to leave for our manicure!" Lily whined. "We would have been, like, late!"

"But now we'll never hear the end of this!"

Lily sighed. "Whatever. Did you see this top I picked out?" The three of them walked off, bickering over whose new clothes were the cutest. Misty sighed in exasperation, wondering for the millionth time whether they were really related.

"Miss?"

She whirled around, ready to keep up the fight, but her visitor didn't seem up for it any more. He held his hands before him and hung his head, contrite. For the first time since he came in, Misty noticed how well-dressed he was, and his kind leaf-green eyes.

"Please accept my apologies," he said. "It was wrong of me to rush to conclusions. I would never wish to besmirch the reputation of a fellow gym leader."

Misty was tempted to lay into him some more; he'd made some pretty big, and pretty wrong assumptions. But she knew that if she ever visited a gym that was run by people like her sisters, she'd probably have something to say about it too.

"It's alright," she said, and meant it. "So - 'fellow gym leader,' huh?"

The man smiled and bowed. "Allow me to introduce myself properly. I'm Cilan, leader of the Striaton City Gym in Unova!"

"Nice to meet you, Cilan," Misty smiled. "I'm Misty."

"The pleasure's all mine, Misty!" he smiled back. But he quickly turned curious. A hand on his chin, he leaned in close, fixing a tightly focused stare on Misty. She wasn't afraid, but she did lean back.

"Um...is there something on my face?" she asked. Cilan didn't answer right away, but kept staring.

"You haven't ever visited our gym, have you?" he finally asked. Misty shook her head. "Have you ever traveled through Unova?"

"Uh...no. Why?"

"It's strange. I could swear I've seen you somewhere before." He finally backed away, but he kept his hand on his chin in an inquisitive pose.

"Sorry, but I've never been that far from home," Misty said. She was also sure she wouldn't forget meeting someone this...eccentric. "You might be thinking of my sisters. They're the world-famous actress-models." Cilan shrugged. "So if you're a Gym Leader in Unova, what are you doing all the way in Cerulean City?"

"Actually, my brothers and I run the gym together. They defend it now while I pursue my dreams as a Pokémon Connoisseur!"

"Connoisseur?" Misty frowned, tilting her head to the side. Connoisseur...where have I heard that before?

"I take it you're unfamiliar?" she nodded. "Well, to make up for my outburst earlier, I would be happy to provide a demonstration. Bring out any one of your Pokémon, and I'll give you a world-class evaluation!"

"Oh, that's right! Connoisseurs look at the bonds between Trainers and their Pokémon!" Misty had never met a Connoisseur before, but she had read about one of their conferences in a magazine not too long ago. That wasn't where she had first heard the term, but Misty couldn't think of where she had, and pushed the thought aside. "Well, my little Azurill and I have been training a lot lately, and I'd love it if -"

One of the Pokéballs on her belt began to rattle, and Psyduck burst out from it. "Psy," he moaned.

"Psyduck!" Misty moaned herself. "You don't need to pop out every time someone new comes to visit!"

"Psy?"

"Fascinating!" Cilan was kneeling down in front of Psyduck, eyeballing the dope with a giant magnifying glass.

"That's one way to put it," Misty sighed. "Alright. We can do the evaluation with -"

The ground shook beneath them, and they heard an explosion.

---

When the Earth had ceased its rattling, they ran outside. Up the path, fire and smoke rose from where the Center of Better Feeling was, and screams filled the air. Such tumult was rare anymore, but Psyduck remembered much of it from the time of travel. He could never understand what all the chaos was about, but such moments had made existence interesting. And now, as he waddled after Mistress and the Foresthead visitor, he was grateful that Mistress had been in too much haste to return him to his chambers.

The Center of Better Feeling no longer had a door. In its place was a big metal thing on wheels, which was breathing out the smoke. A large shape of red was on the side of the thing, a shape Psyduck recognized.

"Team Rocket!" Foresthead cried out when he saw it.

"You know Team Rocket, Cilan?" Mistress asked.

Foresthead nodded. "They came to my home!" he growled. Or, at least that was what his growls seemed to mean. Foresthead seemed fond of long words, and Psyduck couldn't make sense of them all.

On top of the metal thing stood two Rockets. Not the Js of old and Meowth of many tongues, though Psyduck did know these two. They were the other Rockets, green and gold, with the black clothes and the crueler dispositions. It seemed they had come to claim all the Pokémon in the Center; indeed, the green one had a net slung over his shoulder full of chambers. They busied themselves with what they called a "motto," not a word of which Psyduck understood, while Mistress and Foresthead stood by and glowered. Mistress and her friends never liked mottos, and it struck Psyduck as strange that they always waited for them to finish, but such seemed to be the convention.

"You creeps aren't getting away with any Pokémon!" yelled Mistress as she reached for a chamber. "Misty calls Starmie!" Eightstar came forward, tall and proud.

"Go, my precious Pansage!" Foresthead threw a chamber of his own, and a small head of broccoli with big ears emerged. The Rockets laughed and sent forward their own Pokémon, a red-nosed yena-dog and the hound-machine.
"Starmie, Hydro Pump!" Mistress commanded. Eightstar, as always, made sense of the order in a way Psyduck never could, and let loose exactly the sort of pressurized water that did well in battles. It hit the yena-dog square in the chest, though it didn't appear to do much damage. Foresthead gave an order as well. Psyduck couldn't say what it was, but it involved the broccoli summoning rocks, and those seemed to hurt more.

Commands were called, attacks were exchanged, but it wasn't long before Psyduck lost track of the back-and-forth of the battle. Of more interest was the way Mistress was directing it. Seeing Mistress ally with another Master was something else that had become rare since the days of travel ended. It wasn't always a successful technique, but Foresthead seemed to make a good partner. Psyduck wasn't sure just what the commands he and Mistress gave meant, but Eightstar and the broccoli did. One would fire at the Rockets' Pokémon while the other attacked from another side, or one would shield the other. Mistress and Foresthead didn't spend time discussing the best course of action, but their commands coordinated well all the same. In fact, Psyduck struggled to recall when he had seen Mistress do so well with a partner. A partner who wasn't her Ashboy, of course.

"Can you distract them?" Foresthead suddenly asked. Mistress nodded and leapt onto Eightstar's back. The two of them buzzed around the protesting Rockets, while the broccoli charged at their Pokémon and led them down the street in chase. Foresthead somehow grew a fishing rod from a pen and cast it toward the net of chambers. His hook snared the mesh, and with a hard yank, Foresthead tore the net open, sending chambers spilling everywhere. The Rockets weren't pleased, but Mistress let out a small cheer.

A yelp caught Psyduck's ear. The broccoli was speeding back toward him, the Rockets' Pokémon directly behind. He seemed distressed.

"Psyduck, Headache!" Mistress shouted. It was the one command Psyduck knew by heart. Dutifully, he launched himself face-first into the pavement and -

The brief prick of pain brought clarity. He could sense all that was around him. The Pansage had taken refuge behind him as the Mightyena and the mechanized Hondour closed in.

"Now, Psyduck - use Psychic!" Madame Misty called. The blue flash filled his vision, and he reached out with it to seize, not only the Pokémon, but the nefarious Rockets who commanded them. Up high into the air he raised them and then, with a hearty push, launched them into the stratosphere. He heard their cries of shame and failure as they sailed away and -


He stumbled over his left foot and fell back to the ground.

"Way to go, Psyduck!"

"Mistress?" he asked. He had no idea what she was praising him for. The memories of what happened during Headache, as always, eluded him.

Whatever happened, the Rockets were gone, Masters and Mistresses were scrambling about to reclaim their chambers, and his Mistress was happily chatting with Foresthead. He was speaking in long words again, but he seemed to be paying Mistress a compliment, one that involved Psyduck. That was a rare but pleasant experience.

Foresthead's fishing rod was slung over his shoulder, and the line dangled near his knees. Now that it was still, Psyduck took note of the lure. It was modeled after Foresthead himself, and it was not unlike the lures Mistress made in her own likeness. Though Psyduck didn't recall seeing one since she had sent the last one off to her Ashboy.

---

"Way to go, Psyduck!"

"Psy?"

Misty shook her head, but a smile was on her lips. Cilan wore one himself. Seeing the relief in everyone's eyes as they hurried to reclaim their Pokémon was a balm for the soul. That was also the most exciting battle he'd been a part of since coming to Kanto.

"That was amazing, Misty!" he told his partner.

She giggled a little. "It was, wasn't it? We make a pretty good team, Cilan."

"As do you and your Pokémon. In fact, I think I've seen enough to declare this..." he pirouetted, Pansage mirroring his actions on his right, "evaluation time! Your Starmie has a cool and crisp battling technique, and I also detect its deliciously effective speed. As for your Psyduck - he's living proof that appearances can be deceiving, for through that nearly impenetrable soup of confusion comes a sumptuous power I've never encountered before! To see a masterful Gym Leader's bond with her Pokémon is always a feast!"

"Pansage!"

"Uh...thanks, Cilan," Misty chuckled nervously. Her hand went to the back of her head, and that gesture made Cilan think again that he knew this girl from somewhere.

He felt a gentle tug on his fishing line. Psyduck was pulling at it as he looked over Cilan's lure.

"Psyduck, don't play with Cilan's fishing pole," Misty chided.

"It's alright." Cilan lifted the line up. "I think he was just captivated by my lure."

Misty leaned in for a closer look. "Wow, Cilan. Did you make this yourself?" he nodded. "It's so cute! I've made a few Mini-Misty lures myself."

Miny-Misty lures...

"THAT'S IT!"

Misty and Psyduck both jumped back from him. Cilan hadn't meant to yell so loudly, but it was as if a thousand switches had gone off at once in his mind. "That's where I've seen you before! You're the lady of the lure!"
"The what?" Misty asked, blinking in confusion.

"A dear friend of mine who traveled through Unova with me is from Kanto, and he carries a fishing lure that looks just like you!"

Misty gasped. "You're the Connoisseur Ash traveled with! That's where I heard of them before!"

"The one and only," Cilan said proudly as he adjusted his bowtie. "Well, I must say, this is an honor! I never thought when I started traveling through Kanto that I'd have a chance to meet Ash's sweetheart!"

Misty threw a hand over her face, which didn't do much to hide the scarlet flush spreading across her cheeks. "Oh, no! Y-you've got it all wrong, Cilan! Ash and I are just friends!" she laughed, a high and inauthentic chuckle that seemed desperate to cover something up.

"Oh...well, I -"

"Did...did Ash say we were?"

The shy, hopeful tone in Misty's voice came as a relief; Cilan feared for a moment that he'd given away some secret or unrequited love on Ash's part, and Cilan never wanted to betray a friend. That made answering Misty's question exceedingly difficult.

The truth was, not only had Ash said nothing of the sort, he hadn't even given a name to the lady of his lure. Cilan greatly doubted that he would ever have seen it if not for a chance mistake. They had checked in to a Pokémon Center in the country shortly after leaving the Kingdom of the Vale. Iris went off to explore the woods, and Cilan had told Ash that he would be out all day procuring supplies. He'd been halfway out the door when he realized he'd forgotten his wallet. When he returned to the room for it, he'd found Ash and Pikachu sprawled out on the floor, gazing at a fishing lure molded after a young lady. It rested in a pink and red handkerchief in Ash's palm.

"What's that, Ash?" Cilan had asked. He'd never seen Ash react so hysterically to a simple question. The boy had screeched at the top of his voice, leapt to his feet, and shoved both items into his vest. It was amusing, but a little concerning as well. "Ash, is everything alright?"

"It's a gift from a friend. Just a friend!" Ash's cheeks flushed a little as he stressed that last point, which of course convinced Cilan that whoever this friend was, she was much more than that. It seemed a sensitive subject for the young Trainer, however, so Cilan didn't press the matter. Still, curiosity wouldn't let him end the conversation there.

"I've never seen you fish with that lure."

Ash turned toward Pikachu, and the two of them shared a somber look. "I almost lost it once." His head snapped back up. "Can you go now, please?"

The flavors coming off of Ash in that moment had been overpowering. Cilan detected a healthy helping of joy, and the sort of warmth that only comes from old and long-lived relationships. Bitter stings of sadness, longing, and regret were less strong, but they tempered the taste. An unpleasant but powerful note of confusion ran through him as well. But buried under all of that was another flavor, one Cilan never expected to detect in Ash. True, it was only half-baked, and Cilan doubted if Ash understood it, but it was an unmistakable note.

It was love.

And as Cilan looked at the ginger-haired gym leader before him, glancing down at her shoe with a pensive look in her eye, he found that a very similar blend of tastes came off of her. Though in Misty's case, the love was fully baked, and there was less confusion than there was a peppering of hope and fear.

But the close match made him feel confident that he knew the right way to answer her.

"Cilan?" Misty asked again; evidently, he'd been in thought too long. "Did Ash say we were...s-sweethearts?"

"He said nothing of the sort. But," Cilan couldn't resist a wink, "an A-Class Connoisseur such as myself can evaluate more than just Pokémon."

"Huh?" Misty looked up. "What do you -"

"I mean, if you don't mind my saying so, that I think you might want to have a talk with our young friend."

Misty looked down again. The blush returned to her face, but it was softer this time, and a small smile played on her mouth. "He's in Alola now," she whispered, more to herself than to Cilan. "In school. It's hard to believe, Ash in school." She laughed softly, then let out a long sigh. "I just don't know if -"

"Misty!" One of her sisters, the blonde, came running up the street. "Like, your boy toy's mother's on the phone."

"Don't call him that!" shouted Misty, but she calmed down quickly. "I'll be right there."

"So you know Mrs. Ketchum too?" Cilan asked.

Misty nodded. "She's like a mother to me. I visit her every weekend. Come to think of it - it's Friday. She's probably calling to see what time I'll be in. Would you like to come and meet her?"

"It would be a pleasure! I've been making my way toward Pallet Town anyway!"

"Great!" Misty laughed, and she and Cilan started back to the gym, Psyduck waddling alongside his Trainer.

"Cilan?" Misty asked, a hint of hesitation in her voice. "I...I know we just met, but...well, you know Ash too. And I'm not saying I have anything to tell him -"

"Psy!" the duck snorted in laughter. Misty roughly bopped him on the head with his Pokéball to return him.

"As I was saying - not that I have anything to tell Ash, but if I did, and if I needed a boy to talk to about another boy...see, our other friends are just...I couldn't...if I needed..."

She was clearly struggling with this, and Cilan saw no need to force her through the words. "I would be happy to help in any way that I can."

---

Cilan was the only person Ash knew who would come to a place like Alola for a vacation but still dress in his finest. The only change he'd made to his outfit was adding a big straw hat that he picked up as they walked through the airport.

"I can't wait for you to meet all my friends," Ash said as they rode down the escalator. "They're really great."

"Pikachu!" the mouse on his shoulder agreed.

"I'm sure we'll all get along splendidly," said Cilan. "I must say, Alola is quite the change from Kanto."

"So how did you like my home? It's awesome, isn't it?"

"Oh, the region was delightful, but your actual home was the highlight of my travels! Your mother was most accommodating."

"You met my mom?" Ash was surprised by that, but not unpleased. He loved it when the people close to him got together. "I'll bet she was surprised when you dropped in."

"Actually, I had someone to make introductions. You see, on the way to Pallet Town, I passed through Cerulean City."

Another surprise. "You met Misty?"

"Pikachupi?"

Cilan nodded. "Your lure doesn't do her justice, Ash."

An unpleasant shiver ran up Ash's spine. He'd blacked that incident out of his mind until now. "Well...hard to fit someone that scrawny into a little lure, huh?" he chuckled, his hand flying to the back of his head.

"She's quite the lady, Ash. I had a wonderful time with her. In fact, I plan on returning to Cerulean City after I'm done here."

"Is that right?" the growl in his voice shocked Ash, as did the sudden images of Danny that passed through his mind. What did that guy have to do with anything?

Cilan kept going. "I met Misty just as she was preparing to visit your mother. The three of us passed a most enjoyable weekend together. And amidst everything else we did, we had a very interesting conversation about you."
"About me?"

Cilan nodded. With a slightly smug look, he drew an envelope from his waistcoat. The only mark on it was Ash's name, and he recognized Misty's handwriting. He reached out for it, but Cilan held it back.

"Now Ash," Cilan said, suddenly very serious. "I know things like this can go over your head at times, but I want you to read this very carefully, and be sure you understand it before you do anything."

"Uh...OK." Cilan held out the envelope, and Ash took it. "But what's this about?"

"You'll see...hopefully. Just remember Ash - you've held onto that lure as a treasure, but don't forget the lady who gave it to you."