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Thread: Afterglow [Multishipping, R]

  1. #1
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    Default Afterglow [Multishipping, R]

    Don't be fooled by the title, there is no connection between this and any of my previous work. It does use some of the same settings, narrative devices and characterisation, but in all cases should be considered to overwrite any previous continuity.

    The R rating is tentative, could possibly sneak into a PG-13 but I want to leave some wiggle room for future developments.

    Similarly I'm not going to promise an update schedule. This is intended to be a fairly short project so it shouldn't take too long, but we'll see.

    I also want to state here that the title is a placeholder until I come up with something better. It may change at any time.

    I've applied a time filter to age the characters. Essentially Kanto-Johto ran for three years, Hoenn for two, and Sinnoh and Unova for one each. I know that contradicts other things and doesn't properly reflect episode numbers or real-world years but that's what I'm using.

    Short-ish chapters, like always from me.

    Chapter One's a bit light on the shipping material because it's setting up the scenario. Chapter Two is already written and kicks things off properly, so no need to worry. This story is likely to contain a lot of different ships, but rather than try and predict them all first (which also spoils future surprises) I'm going to update this section after each chapter with which ships have been featured or alluded to.

    So, as of Chapter Three:

    AdvanceShipping
    CornyShipping
    PalletShipping
    PokeShipping


    Contents
    Chapter One
    Chapter Two
    Chapter Three

    --------------------------------------------------------------

    Afterglow


    Chapter One
    (Ash)


    You won’t hear me say I never made any mistakes in my journey. That would just be stupid, because obviously everyone makes mistakes, and that’s how you get better and smarter and how you grow. I’ve definitely done some stupid things that I wish I hadn’t done, but actual regrets? Hardly any. I regret how long it took me to go back and see Pidgeot again, and I definitely regret how long it took to get things working with Charizard. Other than that, I’m pretty comfortable with what I’ve done, but today, I’m starting to regret never settling down and becoming a Gym Leader. It’s not like I never had the chance to; people have offered, and there was definitely a time when I had enough celebrity that somebody would have built one in Pallet Town if I’d asked them to. But it was never really my thing. I wanted to be out there in the world, not waiting in a darkened building all day every day. I wanted the adventure, and I got it. But I’m a competitive guy, and today I wish I’d taken the job, because then I’d be able to join in this historic event.

    Tomorrow is the opening ceremony of the first ever Gym Heroes Tournament.

    Sure, there are similar things around the place. The Pokémon World Tournament in Driftveil is probably the closest, but it’s got one major difference. Anybody can challenge the PWT. Gym Heroes is strictly for Gym Leaders, and current Gym Leaders at that. It’s how they determine who gets promoted when an Elite Four vacancy opens up. It’s kind of funny; in a way it’s a lot easier to become the champion than one of the Four. I’m here because Misty called and asked me if I wanted to come. She had an extra ticket, since one of her sisters couldn’t make it, and she offered it to me. She knows me well, I’ll give her that.

    After Misty called me I got on the phone and did the ring around to see who else was going to be there. Brock’s coming, since his family still runs the Pewter City Gym, and Forrest is the current Leader. Brock managed to take some time out of his busy life as a Pokémon doctor to come down. Misty called him too apparently, but he already had a ticket through his brother, so that worked out well.

    Tickets were pretty limited; after the Gym Leader’s families and support crews, and after the corporates had taken the majority of what was left, there weren’t many available to the general public. So I really owe Misty for this, and when we finally meet up I’ll have to spend the first ten minutes thanking her or she’ll go dark.

    Anyway, the lack of tickets mean that anyone who’s not connected to a Gym Leader basically isn’t going. Tracey isn’t going to make it, but he said he’d be watching the whole thing live on TV so he didn’t miss Misty’s battles. Dawn’s not going to be there either, but that’s no big surprise anyway because it’s not really her scene if we’re being honest. Iris is going to get there late, and I couldn’t get a hold of Cilan, but since his brothers shut down the Gym while he was away I don’t think any of them will be there. It’s a shame I won’t get to catch up with them, but if we’re still being honest I’ll admit that I’m not too depressed by it, because the person I want to see most of all will already be there by the time I arrive.

    There’s a ferry leaving from just south of Pallet in about an hour’s time, heading for Ochre Island, where they’ve set up for this contest. They built four stadia, with a village in between them and a number of major hotel complexes in a ring around the lot of it, one designated for each region, and a couple for corporates and the public. Ochre Island was bought and developed especially for this, so there’s nowhere else to stay, and there are regulations that mean you can’t just camp out. Lucky for those of us who aren’t rich the accommodation is included in the ticket, but that means that because of how I got my ticket I’ll be sharing a room, or at least a wall with Misty.

    I’ll be taking the ferry by myself; since the Gym Leaders needed to be there yesterday for orientation and stuff, Misty and Brock are already there, and the others all live too far away to use the Pallet ferry. I wouldn’t have bothered with it either, except that Ochre Island is just a little too far for any of my Pokémon to fly or swim. It’s times like this I really miss Lapras. I thought I was going to be by myself, but as I walked to the ferry meeting point, I spotted a very distinctive, very familiar hairstyle through the crowd, standing by the instruction board, slightly bent over, a pencil between his fingers.

    ‘Gary!’ I call. Immediately he straightens up, composes himself, and turns around slowly, a big smirk on his face.

    ‘Ash. Late as usual.’

    ‘What’s with the face?’ I ask, until my eyes fall upon the instruction board, where in the bottom corner I can just make out the words:

    Gary was here. Ash is a loser!

    ‘Seriously?’ I ask.

    ‘It never gets any less funny,’ Gary replies with a shrug and a laugh, tucking the pencil behind his ear. I would have thought that after writing it across every signpost between here and Mt. Silver Gary might have gotten tired of it, especially since it wasn’t very clever to begin with.

    ‘So how did you get a ticket?’ I say.

    ‘I’ve got my ways,’ he says mysteriously, brushing his hair away from his eyes. ‘What about you? They must have been pretty desperate to give a ticket to you.’

    ‘Misty invited me,’ I reply tensely.

    ‘Of course she did. I always knew there was something strange about that girl. The way she followed you around. She was worse than your Pikachu. Speaking of which, where is he?’

    ‘At home,’ I say. ‘He’s getting on a bit, and he’s been a bit sick this last week, so Mom’s looking after him.’

    ‘Does she still have that creepy Mr. Mime?’

    ‘Yeah.’

    Gary shudders, then puts one hand on my shoulder.

    ‘Don’t worry about Pikachu. I’m sure the rest will do him a world of good.’

    ‘Thanks, Gary.’

    ‘Not being glued to a loser like you for a few days is bound to help.’

    ‘And just like that, you’re back to being a jerk.’ I shrug his hand off of me and he chuckles.

    ‘Come on, Ash. It’s what we do. It’s not like there’s any real hatred there.’

    The harbourmaster opens the gates and the crowd starts pressing forward. There aren’t too many people, and the weather’s fantastic, so it should be a pretty comfortable trip, but it’s still three hours on the water, and it looks like I’m going to have to spend it with Gary, unless one of us can come up with some clever way to separate. I’m still wondering how he got a ticket. He’s had a few big falls over the last few years, so I don’t buy that he got it through his old connections.

    ‘Gary, how did you get a ticket for this?’ I ask again after we’ve been silent for a few minutes. This time he doesn’t try to avoid answering.

    ‘I got mine the same way you got yours. One of the Gym Leaders invited me as their guest.’

    ‘Which one?’

    ‘I’ve been asked not to say. At least, not yet.’

    ‘Fine, don’t tell me.’ Although I’m really curious, I’m not going to spend the whole trip trying to figure out Gary’s secrets. It doesn’t matter to me anymore, not like it used to. There was a time when keeping up with him meant everything to me, but time moves on, and it hardly ever looks favourably on the people we meet early in life. It’s been seven years since we left home on our Pokémon journeys. Nearly half our lives spent on the road. Those little things at the start just don’t seem to matter anymore. Well, most of them. I guess if none of them mattered Misty wouldn’t have wasted her only spare ticket on me.

    With Gary clamming up and refusing to answer any questions, I decide to take a nap. There’s not much to see on this trip, unless you like looking at the wreckage of Cinnabar Island. Our Pokémon worked hard to stop that volcano from blowing, but a couple of years later it went up again, and nobody was there to stop it. The whole island’s just wreckage now, and Blaine’s moved his Gym to the Seafoam Islands. I guess he’s already on Ochre Island now, preparing for tomorrow when the battles start. Between Cinnabar Island and Ochre Island is an hour and a half of nothing, so sleep seems like a good idea. I put my fold my arms on the table and lay my head on them, and sleep comes quickly.

    It feels like only a few minutes have passed when Gary shakes me awake and I lift my head up to look at the clock. The trip’s almost over. Gary points out the window and I can see the island right in front of us. We’ll be landing before we know it, and the crowd has already started to amass at the doors, everyone wanting to be the first ones off, the first ones to explore the island. I don’t see any point in fighting these people for a few minutes advantage, so I stay in my seat, but Gary gets up and joins the crowd.

    ‘Smell you later, Ash,’ he says. I give him the most contemptuous smile I can manage and lean back in my chair. Soon after the doors open and the people begin to pour off onto the dock. Once it’s slowed to a trickle I get up and head down the ramp myself. I don’t get a chance to look at anything before my eyes fall on her, standing just back from the end of the gangplank. She’s been waiting for me, just like I’ve been waiting to see her.

    ‘Hey there,’ I say as my foot lands on the dock.

    ‘Shut up!’ she says, throwing her arms around my neck.

    She smells just the way she used to.
    Last edited by Zubeon; 21st January 2013 at 7:42 AM.

  2. #2
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    Chapter Two
    (Ash)


    She takes my hand in hers as if it’s a given and leads me down the dock, following behind all the other people who have just gotten off of the ferry, weaving in and out of the crowd in some desperate hurry that she hasn’t explained. I don’t know where she’s taking me, and I haven’t even had a chance to ask, because she’s been chattering excitedly ever since she stopped hugging me and started walking.

    ‘I wasn’t sure if you were coming,’ she says, practically dragging me toward one of the many restaurants that line the boardwalk, ‘but when I heard there was a ferry leaving from Pallet Town, I thought I’d come down and see if you were.’

    ‘I wasn’t going to,’ I say from a metre behind her, ‘I couldn’t get a ticket. But then Misty called and said she had a spare, so here I am.’

    Instantly she lets go of my hand and turns to face me. She looks deeply concerned, and it may just be my ego talking but I reckon she looks disappointed too.

    ‘Misty? Are you and her…?’

    ‘No. God, no!’ I say, probably too defensively. ‘No, I hadn’t spoken to her in months. It was totally out of the blue. Totally Misty.’

    ‘Yeah, but don’t you think she’ll be expecting something in return?’

    ‘I hope not,’ I say, because I really would hate to upset her again. ‘But if she is, it’s all on her. I haven’t said or done anything that would make her think…’

    Her smile returns and she seizes my hand again and drags me violently into a nearby diner, practically throwing me into a booth and sliding in opposite me, that same big smile from all those years ago. In all the important ways, she doesn’t seem to have changed at all.

    ‘So, how have you been, May?’

    ‘No, you first,’ she says, burying her face in the menu as if she’s trying to hide from somebody.

    ‘Well, you know me,’ I reply. ‘Pokémon Master, and all of that. But I’ve been in Pallet for a while now, taking a break from it all. It’s been good to be grounded for a while. And I haven’t had to put up with Team Rocket for ages.’

    ‘I know,’ May says, reappearing from behind the menu, having made up her mind very quickly. ‘They’ve been following me around for the last few weeks.’

    Instinctively I laugh at this, and she throws a sachet of sugar from the basket on the table at me.

    ‘Let me ask you something,’ she says, leaning over conspiratorially. ‘Have they done, like, another training program or something? They seem to be a lot better at things now.’

    ‘I have no idea.’

    ‘They’ve gotten really old since we were together,’ she continues, still in a low voice. ‘And hasn’t James gotten fat?’

    This time we both laugh and it’s like we’re thrown back three years to when we used to spend every minute of the day together. The waitress comes over and I quickly pick something from the menu, not being as prepared as May.

    ‘Hey, where’s Pikachu?’ she asks, suddenly realising that he isn’t here.

    ‘He’s sitting this one out, back home.’

    I can tell that she can tell that there’s more to it than that, but she doesn’t push. At least, not yet. There’ll be time for the serious talk later, we’ve got too much fun to get out of the way first.

    ‘I saw Brock earlier today,’ she says, changing the subject. ‘A doctor!’

    ‘He always had it in him,’ I say, and she nods in agreement. Everyone who’s ever met Brock would agree with that. He always had those skills and that passion, there were just too many things he wanted to see and do first. Now that he’s done them, I can’t think of anywhere better for him to be. It’ll be good to see him again, too.

    There’s a brief pause and May looks intently at my face, as though searching for something that she remembers from before that’s missing now.

    ‘You look different,’ she finally says.

    ‘I’m older,’ I say with a shrug. ‘My voice is different, too.’

    ‘No, it’s something more,’ she says, her eyes narrowing slightly, trying to isolate whatever it is that’s bothering her. ‘Your eyes. There’s something different about them. Are you wearing coloured contact lenses?’

    ‘I don’t wear lenses,’ I answer as the waitress puts our food down on the table in front of us. It looks and smells really good, and we don’t wait for anything, just jump straight into it. It’s not an elegant affair, and I’m sure that anybody watching us would be turning away in disgust, but that’s life. We’re still technically kids, so we may as well take advantage of it while we can. Soon enough we’ll have to be mature and responsible. Why rush it?

    ‘So is Max here too?’ I ask in a brief pause after swallowing and before shovelling in another mouthful. I’ve got to wait a while for May to answer.

    ‘Oh no, he’s much too cool to spend time with his family now,’ she says in a voice dripping with mockery. ‘He’s off on his own Pokémon journey now, and he doesn’t want his dorky sibling hanging around him while he does.’

    ‘Irony’s kind of ironic that way.’

    ‘Tell me about it. He’s insisting we all call him Masato now. Says Max is too kiddie.’

    ‘Still, if he’s aiming to be a Pokémon Master you’d think he would be all over this,’ I say, scraping the last of my plate clear but resisting the urge to pick it up and lick it like I used to. ‘Why would he give up a chance to come and see this just to wander around the countryside?’

    ‘He won’t tell me her name.’

    We laugh again as the waitress, unimpressed by our table manners, places the bill down between us. I reach for it but May snatches it away with one hand and rummages around in her bag with the other.

    ‘Penniless Ash Ketchum, I can’t have you spending all your money on one dinner,’ she says lightly. ‘You might be here a while.’

    ‘You spoiled Gym brats are all alike,’ I grumble. ‘At least let’s split it.’

    ‘Nope,’ she shakes her head with a big smile. ‘Dad gave me some money and said to take you to dinner if you were here.’

    ‘Never the most subtle, old Norman.’

    ‘I know, right?’

    May counts out the right amount and then leaves a little more for the waitress. As a tip it’s fine, but as an apology for our behaviour it’s woefully inadequate. We sit quietly opposite one another, feeling the mood slowly dampening.

    ‘I guess you’ve got to go and see Misty now, right?’ she asks quietly.

    ‘Well, she did bring me here. And I haven’t seen her in ages either. Why don’t you come with me and say hi?’

    ‘Oh yeah, she’ll love that.’

    ‘Not this again.’

    ‘Yes, this again.’

    “This” is not a pleasant story. Hopefully I won’t have to tell you about it, but if the two of them do get together it’s bound to come up again. May seems really down now, surprisingly so, as if she’s just come down from a really big high and has no idea how to handle it.

    ‘Well, which suite are you in, then?’ I ask. ‘I’ll walk you back first.’

    ‘Okay.’

    We leave the diner together and head into the village. This time May doesn’t take my hand, and she’s not nearly as excitable as she had been earlier. I think she was hoping I’d made my way here independently, and she’d have me to herself tonight, before all the inevitable catch-ups set for tomorrow. I mean, I’ve met most of the competitors before, and I almost always managed to get caught up in their problems at the time. At this sort of an event I’m almost a celebrity, except nobody wants my autograph.

    The tournament village is full of sideshows and attractions and souvenir stands and regional delicacies but May doesn’t want to stop for anything, she just keeps walking like a zombie through everything, so I don’t try and change her mind. Finally we reach the hotel block where she is staying and she steps onto the mat that opens the doors.

    ‘Wait a minute,’ I say, catching her hand before she goes inside. ‘Misty’s got an early start tomorrow, so she probably won’t want to stay up too late tonight. Maybe we could meet up again later?’

    May perks up a little at this suggestion.

    ‘Festival village doesn’t close,’ she says, stepping toward me and returning the pressure on my hand. ‘We could go for a walk and check it out…when you’re done.’

    ‘It’s a date,’ I say, letting go of her hand. She turns and walks inside, waving one more time as she steps into the elevator. I walk backwards for a few steps before turning and heading across the alley toward the second hotel. Lucky for me the hotels reserved for the Kanto and Hoenn Gym Leaders are right next to each other. Doesn’t make much sense geographically but I’m not complaining.

    I step into the foyer of the Kanto hotel and look about. It’s all gleaming and white, very different to the glimpses I saw of the Hoenn building. On the far wall is a set of tiles depicting all of the wild Pokémon native to Kanto, one Pokémon per tile. It’s pretty impressive, but kind of weird at the same time.

    Realising that I don’t have any idea where I’m supposed to be going, I go straight to the reception desk where a helpful young woman asks what she can do for me.

    ‘My name’s Ash Ketchum, I’m a guest of Misty…’ I realise at that moment that I don’t know her last name. Come to think of it, I don’t know May’s either. Or Brock’s. In fact I think the only one of my friends whose surname I know is Tracey, and I only ever see him when I visit the lab. Seems weird. What does that say about me as a friend?

    ‘Ah, yes. The Cerulean Gym Leader’s party. She left instructions here for when you arrived.’ She doesn’t read them out, but instead follows them silently, tapping away at her computer for what feels like ages before finally handing me a slender key on a chain shaped like a Gyarados.

    ‘The second floor is devoted to Cerulean City. Once you’re up there you’ll know what to do.’

    ‘Okay…thanks,’ I say, accepting these strange, slightly ominous instructions without question more out of hurry than anything else. I want to get in, say hi to Misty, and then get out again. I don’t imagine Misty’s got anything planned for tonight that would be more fun than what I’ve arranged.

    I get into the elevator and head up to the second floor. It’s lightning fast and totally silent, and before I know it I’m stepping out onto the second floor. They’ve really gone all out here. There’s a narrow hallway that runs the entire length of the hotel. At the very end I can see what looks like a swimming pool with attached Jacuzzi. I wonder if every floor has one, or if it’s specially installed because Cerulean is a water Gym? Does the fourth floor have a greenhouse? I don’t even want to know what’s going on at the Fuchsia Gym suite.

    I walk past an open door that looks like it leads to a bar and head down toward the pool, which is the only direction I can go. As I pass the doors I take note of the temporary name plates installed. I pass her sisters’ rooms, then Misty’s room, and last, next to the pool, is mine. But I don’t go inside straight away, because I’m distracted by what I can hear in the pool, a voice I haven’t heard live for so long.

    ‘And what sort of time do you call this, Ash Ketchum?’
    Last edited by Zubeon; 19th January 2013 at 2:56 AM.

  3. #3
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    Chapter Three
    (Ash)


    When May looked at me she told me I was different. She had all these little details that she thought had changed since we last saw each other, and she was probably right. When I looked at her, I thought she was exactly the same, just a little older. Same old forthright, overly-friendly big-eating May. But when I see Misty, I can really see the differences.

    Maybe it’s because I met May when we were a little older; we were already closer to becoming the people we would be. Misty and I were just kids when we met. I was ten, for crying out loud. Does anyone realise how young ten really is when they send their kids out to become Pokémon trainers? She was a little older, but still. Anyway, the change in us since we last saw each other is way bigger. We don’t look like kids anymore. I can tell she’s thinking the same thing when she looks at me.

    ‘Where’s Pikachu?’ she asks. Okay, maybe not exactly the same thing.

    ‘At home with Mom. He’s having a rest.’

    ‘Everything okay?’ she sounds genuinely concerned. She doesn’t accept my deflection the way May did. I think she was always closer to Pikachu than May was. There was a lot more going on in those later days, and she had to always keep her eye on Max. It’s no wonder, really.

    ‘He’s been a bit sick, but he’s nearly better.’

    ‘I guess you wouldn’t have come if you weren’t sure he was going to be okay.’

    ‘Exactly.’ She still knows me as well as she ever did.

    ‘It’s good to see you again,’ she says, not getting out of the pool.

    ‘Thanks.’

    ‘I thought for sure you’d have wandered off a cliff, or into the sea, or into a volcano without me around keeping an eye on you.’

    ‘As I remember it I did all of those things while you were still following me around,’ I reply, ‘and you did them too.’

    She looks like she’s about to smile, but she smothers it and kicks back, hands swishing side to side under the water to keep her floating on her back. Every now and then her toes pop up from under the water and then disappear down again.

    ‘Taking it easy tonight, then?’ I ask, setting my bag down.

    ‘Well, there’s no point in doing any hard training now,’ she says, rolling over and drifting back toward the edge of the pool. ‘If we aren’t ready now, a few more hours isn’t going to do it. It’d just make us exhausted for tomorrow.’

    ‘Who’s your first match against?’

    ‘Roxanne, from Rustboro City in Hoenn.’

    ‘I remember Roxanne. You got lucky in the draw.’

    ‘I’m still going to need to be at my best.’

    Roxanne, as her name would suggest, uses rock-type Pokémon, which are obviously weak against water. Misty will be going in with a massive advantage. No wonder she looks so relaxed tonight.

    ‘I thought we could use tonight to catch up,’ she says, and straight away I’m in Hell. I might have known she’d suggest this. It’s so obvious. I guess I wasn’t really thinking properly.

    ‘Uh…’

    ‘What’s wrong?’

    ‘I sort of said I’d meet up with someone tonight.’

    ‘That’s okay,’ Misty says in a tone of total blankness, with a look on her face to match. I can’t read anything at all from it, which is enough to tell me I’m in trouble, or about to be. I think I can salvage things.

    ‘I don’t have to go for about two hours,’ I say. ‘We can make a good start in two hours.’

    ‘I guess.’

    ‘Of course we can. Wait there, I’ll get changed and join you.’ Before she can argue I duck into my room and take my board shorts out and toss my bag into the corner. I don’t even look around the place, just tear all my clothes off and throw the shorts on. Moments later I’m back in the hall, standing at the poolside. Misty’s retreated into a corner of the pool, trying to get out of the range of the inevitable splash.

    I’ve always been a jumper rather than a wader. I don’t like the cold, so leaping straight in is usually smarter because it’s just one quick shock, and then everything’s fine. But when I leap into this pool there isn’t even that one moment. The water is beautifully warm, the kind of temperature you never really believe a pool of this size can be. I guess it’s because the Jacuzzi’s attached, but it must take a lot of energy to keep this temperature constant.

    ‘So who are you meeting? Brock?’ Misty asks, staying off to one side as I swim a few quick laps to burn off my restlessness.

    ‘No, I haven’t called him yet. Have you seen him yet?’

    ‘So it’s May, then?’

    I hesitate for just a little too long and Misty’s face darkens noticeably.

    ‘What’s wrong?’ I ask foolishly, regretting it the moment I say it.

    ‘Well, we haven’t seen each other in ages, I thought you might want to catch up.’

    ‘I haven’t seen her in ages either.’

    ‘She didn’t bring you here, did she Ash?’

    ‘If you want me to cancel and stay here tonight, just tell me. I’ll do it.’

    ‘Oh no, I’m not playing that game.’

    ‘Why does it have to be an either or? Why can’t I see both of you while I’m here? Maybe if you were willing to talk to each other we wouldn’t be fighting.’

    ‘We’re not fighting,’ Misty says in a tone that suggests the exact opposite. ‘Is that what she said? I won’t talk to her?’

    ‘I’m not getting any more involved in this,’ I say, quite literally back pedalling and drifting away from Misty.

    ‘I guess I just thought that since I’d invited you, you might want to spend a little time with me before rushing off to see other people.’

    In a moment I’m sure to live over again and again in my mind in the future, I say this:

    ‘It’s not about people, though, is it? It’s just May. You’re not going to be this upset when I want to hang out with Brock.’

    Straight away she stands up and suddenly seems twice as tall as me.

    ‘I’m not going to fight with you tonight, Ash. I don’t need the stress before my match tomorrow, so I’m going to go to bed. Say hi to May for me.’ She turns and walks slowly up the steps and out of the pool, seizing her towel with unnecessary force and draping it around her neck as she walks down the hall toward her room.

    ‘Boy, are you in trouble,’ says a voice that causes me to start and swallow a heap of hot water. I look around for the owner of the voice before finally realising that the edge of the pool furthest from the rooms isn’t actually the end of the hotel. There’s a whole other area on the other side of the pool, set down a short staircase, and down there, relaxing on a banana lounge is Misty’s sister Daisy.

    ‘Daisy!’

    ‘Same old Misty, right? I bet the others that she’d be bickering with you as soon as you got here. They have a lot more faith in her than I do, so it looks like I’ll be cleaning up again.’

    ‘Just bickering?’ I say hopefully.

    ‘Oh no, you’re in big trouble this time,’ Daisy says with a giggle that makes her a lot harder to read. ‘I mean, she would have found something to fight with you about, because that’s like a warm-up for her that’ll last until the match tomorrow. In battle she’s motivated by anger, and nobody gets her angrier than you. Not even us, anymore.’

    ‘So that’s why she brought me? As a punching bag?’

    ‘No, but you can bet she’s going to make you one now. She was definitely hoping something would have changed, but nope, you mentioned that other girl ten minutes after you got here. Now she’s going to close up for another four years.’

    ‘Are you serious?’

    ‘I know my sister. Unless you can make some grand romantic gesture, you’re toast.’

    ‘But won’t that just send the wrong message?’

    ‘You tell me.’

    I scratch at the back of my head, trying to stimulate my brain into making the right decision.

    ‘I guess the first thing is not to go and see May tonight.’

    ‘Wrong, wrong, wrong,’ Daisy says, clambering out of the chair. She heads up the staircase and without breaking stride steps right off the edge into the pool. The splash is tiny; she doesn’t fall in, it’s like she just keeps walking and slowly descends through the water. It’s almost as if the water is thicker for her than it is for the rest of us. It’s a strange sight. She moves uncomfortably close to me and speaks in a low voice.

    ‘If you cancel your plans with May, Misty’s going to know that you’re only doing it because it’s what she wants. She wants you to cancel because it’s what you want, otherwise it doesn’t make a difference.’

    ‘But doesn’t doing what she wants show that I’m sorry?’

    ‘She’s not looking for sorry, is she Ash?’

    ‘Well, what do I do then?’ I snap. Daisy’s not being nearly as helpful as she thinks she is, and she’s standing much too close to me. If Misty were to re-emerge at this point I’d be in even more trouble, and I haven’t even done anything wrong this time.

    ‘I’m not telling you anything more,’ Daisy says, pulling back. ‘She’ll be able to see my fingerprints on this from a mile away. You’re going to have to come up with this yourself, Ash. Just remember what I said. It has to be because you want it.’

    With that, she wades back out of the pool and down the hall, leaving me finally alone, and shivering in the warmest pool I’ve ever swum in.

    ---------------------------------------------------------

    Don't worry Misty fans, I'm not out to make her into a villain in this. They're just off to a bad start.

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