Ash shuffled down the sidewalk. He felt like a criminal, shielding his face from public view with the hood of his sweatshirt. Brock had advised him over the phone to wear dark clothes so he didn't attract any attention. So far, it had worked. He was wearing a black hoodie over a black t-shirt, black jeans, and black sneakers. He had a feeling Misty wouldn't think too highly of his fashion choice, but if it saved him the ordeal of hand cramps from signing so many pieces of paper, it was worth it. He just hoped the people at Nickel's didn't think he was some sort of criminal attempting to rob them. He could just imagine the headlines. "Pokemon Master Ash Ketchum Arrested for Armed Robbery!" Yeah, that would fly well with the Pokemon League.
Fortunately for him, nobody questioned him as he walked into Nickel's. He hadn't been here since he'd come to the Indigo Plateau for the first time. That had been ten years ago, much to Ash's disbelief. It was hard for him to believe sometimes that so much time had passed since he had first started his journey.
The raven-haired Trainer scanned the interior of the restaurant, looking for one little redhead in particular. He finally saw her, sitting at a table that was tucked away in the corner. After he finished checking to make sure he didn't have his pants on backwards or some embarrassing thing like that, Ash strolled over to the table.
Misty looked up from the table as Ash pulled a chair out and sat down. The two friends stared at each other for a few moments, neither knowing what to say. After all, the last time they'd seen each other Ash had been an immature ten year old and Misty a nagging little girl. Now, they were both mature adults in their twenties, neither of which had any clue what the other was like now.
After the silence between them had stretched on so long as to be awkward, Misty broke it. "Well, Ash Ketchum, you can't call me out for questioning what you're wearing. You look more ready to commit a crime than to go out to dinner."
Ash looked her up and down, over-exaggerating a critical stare. She was wearing a white button-up blouse and a pair of pretty snazzy pants. His brain started to smoke as he searched for a worthy comeback.
After a couple of moments, Misty laughed and rolled her eyes. "At least that's one thing that hasn't changed about you, Ash."
"Your density. Your head is as solid as a rock."
"Yeah? Well, your head is- is- uh..."
Misty raised her eyebrows, clearly waiting for a response that Ash didn't have. Finally, he gave up, throwing his arms up in the air. "I may not have a comeback this time, but I'm not stupid! I look at myself in the mirror sometimes and realize that I may look stupid, but I'm actually pretty smart! If I wasn't, I wouldn't be as successful as I am!"
"Ash, you- You know what? Just forget it." Misty chuckled and waved the waiter over. He skillfully dodged another waiter with a tray and gracefully made his way over to the table.
The waiter, whose name tag read "Raymond", whipped out a pad of paper and a pen. "Can I start you two off with something to drink?"
Ash ordered a Coke, while Misty went wild with some water. The waiter scribbled their request down on the paper and whisked away into the kitchen.
Misty folded her hands over the table. "So, Ash. What happened with you? I know that you managed to beat Paul and achieve your title, but I don't know anything else."
Ash glanced out the window, where a young couple were pushing a baby stroller along. He was quiet for a while, trying to decide where to start. The waiter had brought their drinks out and had been gone for almost two minutes before he found where he wanted to start.
"I was going to call you and try to meet up with you in Cerulean after I beat the Kalos League. I wanted to catch up with you before I went off and occupied myself with training for my battle with Paul. I never got around to it, though. Turns out a lot of things like to happen to screw up your plans. I guess I should have known better. One thing happened after the other, and next thing I knew I was on the plane flying out to battle Paul. I spent six months training for that battle. Stayed up real late memorizing moves, abilities, and analyzing the team rosters I made up. Getting that title from Paul meant everything to me. I wasn't going to let myself lose, no matter what. I couldn't. If I did, my reputation would be tarnished.
"After I beat Paul, things got even busier for me. There was so much paperwork to fill out for the League, and lots of new fans to meet and battle. My Pokemon and I had to stay in top shape, or else we'd get pounded into the ground. I did get my title challenged a couple of times, but both times I managed to crush my opponents into the ground. I loved it at first, being the World's Greatest Pokemon Master. It felt so good. I loved the fame, the money, and the power.
"But then, everything started to change. My opponents started getting weaker, and it wasn't because I was getting stronger. Trainers who were nowhere close to being ready to become Pokemon Masters started challenging me. Good Trainers were becoming rare to see. At first, I tried offering as much help as I could to those weak Trainers. Eventually, however, I started getting really frustrated with it all. I didn't understand why people couldn't just wait and train like I did rather than trying to gain the title of Pokemon Master too early. So, I decided that it was time for me to travel like Paul and Red before me did. I guess it's pretty convenient that the Tournament of Legends is happening when it is, huh?"
Misty studied him for a while. "If you were so unhappy with your life, why didn't you leave sooner? You could have come and visited me."
Ash turned his face toward her. "In all honesty, I thought you looked too busy to spend time with me."
Misty's eyes widened. "Ash, that's ridiculous! How could you ever think that? You're my best friend! I'll always have time for you!"
Ash lowered his gaze. Misty was right. He had been a fool to think that she was too busy to see him. After all, she was here now, wasn't she? Immense guilt washed over him at the thought of him having doubted his best friend so much.
Before he could respond to her words of reassurance, the waiter came back. "Am I interrupting something?"
Ash looked up and him and shook his head. "No. You're fine."
Raymond nodded and took his pad of paper back out. "In that case, I'll take your orders." He looked at Misty. "Ma'am?" He smiled kindly at the red-haired Gym Leader, an act that made Ash's heart burn with a sudden, fierce jealousy. He quickly came to question this feeling. Why the hell am I feeling jealous? This guy's obviously way too old for her. Sometimes you're really stupid, Ash Ketchum. Misty would slap you for thinking that she'd ever be interested in a graying sixty year old man.
Despite the assurance he was offering himself, Ash still felt immense jealousy as Raymond turned from Misty to him. He spoke through gritted teeth as he placed an order for a burger and fries. The man scribbled his request down on paper and whisked away.
Misty looked at him, a look of concern spreading across her face. "Ash, are you okay? You look really upset."
The Pokemon Master cleared his throat. "I'm fine." He silently cursed himself as he detected the tension in his tone.
As was typical for an observant girl like herself, Misty noticed the tension as well. "You don't seem fine. What's wrong, Ash?"
Ash gripped his half-empty glass tightly, using it as a channel for his still-pulsing jealousy. In an attempt to change the subject, he asked, "So what's been up with you?"
She gave him an exasperated look. "Ash."
He looked at her innocently. "What?"
She rolled her eyes. "Stop avoiding the question. What's wrong?"
"Nothing." Relief washed over him as a relaxed tone flowed out of his mouth.
Misty narrowed her eyes. She didn't quite fully believe that Ash was fine. She knew from experience that he had a tendency to cover up his weaknesses with fake happiness. If he was faking it, Misty observed, he had definitely gotten a lot better at it. Knowing that he wasn't about to crack, she decided to answer his own question.
"Nothing much has been up with me. Battling challengers, sort of like you. Taking the Pokemon League Inspection Test. Coming here for the Tournament of Legends. Compared to your life, mine's been pretty bland."
"I bet I could argue that," Ash grumbled. "You probably weren't busy dealing with an influx of weak challengers that threatened to crush you with boredom."
She shrugged. "I guess not. Then again, none of the Trainers I fight are ever particularly strong. The occasional one is, but most of them are new Trainers or Trainers who are still quite inexperienced."
Ash nodded. "Well, at least we still have one thing in common."
Misty looked surprised by that comment. "You don't think we have much of anything in common anymore? What makes you think that?"
He shrugged. "We haven't seen each other in over a decade. We've grown up and changed a lot. I can only assume that we don't have much in common now."
Misty leaned back into her chair, folding her arms. "Maybe not, but I still know everything about you."
"Oh really? Try me."
Without even having to think about it, she started rambling off a bunch of Ash facts, most of which even the craziest of his fan girls didn't know. "You've never had a girlfriend. You've never made any romantic advancements toward anyone. Your favorite Legendary is Ho-Oh, even though you've never met one in person. You change your underwear every two days. You have a phobia of getting lice, so you use peppermint shampoo because they say it keeps them from settling in your hair. You-"
Ash's hands flew up in the air. "Okay! I believe you! Holy Arceus, you sound like one of my crazed stalker fans."
She smiled, half-humorously, half-happily. "Not even ten years can make me forget the time I had to go to the hospital because you dumped half a bottle of peppermint shampoo in my eyes."
He took on a defensive tone. "It was an accident! I wasn't trying to land you in the hospital, even if you were being a little brat!"
An irritated look replaced the humored one on her face. "Did you just call me a brat, Ash Ketchum?"
"So what if I did?"
"Don't sass me!"
"I'm not being sassy. You are!"
"Not!" He brought his hands up to his face. "Ugh! Why do you always trick me like that?"
She smirked. "The Great Pokemon Master stumbles, and falls. You've always fallen for that, Ash. Another thing about you that hasn't changed."
He tried to make a comeback. "Yeah, well, you- I don't - I..." An annoyed grumble rumbled in his throat as he hung his head in defeat.
"Ash? Is that you?"
Ash's head snapped up as a certain blonde girl jogged up to him, blue eyes gleaming with surprise. Alarm shot through the Pokemon Master as he recognized her.
Shit! Why is she here? This is not good! Not good at all!
Daisy looked at Ash in amazement. "I wasn't expectin' to see you here, Mr. Pokemon Master!"
Ash laughed nervously. "Yeah, me neither." He cleared his throat. "Uh, Misty, this is Daisy. Thackman." Her last name spilled out of his mouth as he almost forgot to include it.
Misty smiled kindly. "Hello," she said. Her voice betrayed none of the jealousy she felt burning within. Who was this girl? Misty certainly never remembered hearing about any Daisy Thackman in the story Ash had told before. Her hands gripped her knees as she tried not to think about how much prettier this girl was than herself.
The blonde shot Misty a friendly smile. "Pleasure to meet ya, ma'am." She looked back at Ash. "Ya didn't mention anythin' about havin' a girlfriend, Ash."
Both Misty and Ash sat bolt upright, shocked looks on their faces.
Daisy looked at them both. "What? Ain't you guys on a date or somethin'?"
"No!" Ash burst out. Misty stiffened, disturbed by how much Ash seemed to be bothered by the thought of being on a date with her. Was she that unappealing?
Ash put his face in his hands for a count of three. When he finally removed them, he said, "Misty and I aren't here on a date. We're just friends." He kept his voice low, likely trying to avoid attracting the attention of the others in the restaurant.
Daisy pulled out a chair and sat down, an action that irritated Misty beyond words. What in the name of Arceus made this girl think she could just interrupt their night like this?
The Aura Master leaned forward. In a low voice, she said, "Well, for the record I think ya'd make a great couple. Yer babies'd be so cute!"
At that comment, both Ash and Misty's faces turned red as a Charmeleon. Nearly failing to keep the embarrassment out of her voice, Misty responded, "I don't really think that'll be happening any time soon." As much as I'd like to marry Ash, that's about as likely as me winning this tournament. Especially since Ash has made it quite clear that he doesn't think of me like that.
Daisy, clearly not able to see how awkward things were getting, carried the conversation on. "Why not? If the chance is there, go fer it before someone else does!"
Like you? Misty couldn't stop the thought from surfacing. She had to bite her tongue to keep herself from saying it out loud. It may not be obvious to a dense man like Ash, but it was plenty obvious to a romantic like Misty that Daisy was interested in the Pokemon Master.
At that moment, much to Misty's relief, the waiter came out with their food, effectively interrupting their awkward conversation. As plates stacked with food began gathering on the table, Daisy rose. Pushing the chair back to its original place, she started toward the other half of the room. "Well, I'll be goin' to eat over here. Nice seein' ya both, and don't ya forget what I said! He's a real keeper, Misty!"
Any doubt Misty had that the blonde girl liked Ash dissipated with those words. She smiled and nodded, trying not to show her jealousy.
As soon as Daisy was gone, Ash took an angry bite out of his burger. "I'm sorry about that. Luck must really hate me if it made her show up tonight."
Misty didn't care about the interruption as much as she did the fact that she now had serious competition for Ash. Hesitantly, she asked, "Do you really find the idea of being on a date with me repulsive?"
He looked surprised by that question. "I'm not repulsed by the idea, I just find it weird. I mean, we've been best friends for years. It would seem strange to me if we started dating, since we've never felt anything but friendship toward each other."
A flash of irritation shot through Misty. How can you be so dense? Don't you get that I've had feelings for you since the day we met?
Ash continued on, oblivious to Misty's reaction. "If we weren't such good friends, I wouldn't feel so awkward about dating you. Well, that and I've got absolutely no clue how to be romantic. I'd like to learn, but not with you. I couldn't. At least, not where we stand right now."
His rejection hurt more than anything in the world. Misty looked away from him so that he wouldn't see the tears that were beginning to form. She really wished he would just smarten up and realize that he was much more than a friend to her.
The rest of their night together was nothing more than small talk. Neither of them were really feeling it anymore, the awkwardness of their meeting with Daisy having pretty much ruined the night. As soon as Misty finished her food and the bill had been paid, she was up and getting ready to leave. She threw on her jacket, thanked Ash for what had been a decent time, and walked out.
She was barely two feet from the door when he called out to her. "Misty, wait!"
She turned around, feeling a sudden burst of hope.
The raven-haired Trainer skidded to a halt next to her, the soles of his shoes scraping against the concrete sidewalk. "I just wanted to make sure you were okay. You left in a rush."
Misty hesitated, debating whether or not she should tell him how the encounter had really made her feel. Deciding against it, she replied, "No, I'm fine. I guess I was just a bit annoyed with how Daisy interrupted us like that. We were having such a great time, and then she had to go and make it all awkward."
Ash rolled his eyes. "Tell me about it. I'm really sorry about all of that, Misty. If I could go back in time and delete her from tonight, I would."
Misty found herself not fully believing that. "Well, I'll see you tomorrow. Night, Ash."
He nodded and smiled. "Night." Spinning on his heel, he walked away. Misty watched him go, her heart aching with longing for the boy it seemed as if she'd never have.
Misty unlocked the door to her hotel room and slipped in. The room was just as she left it, tidy and organized. She chuckled at the thought of Ash's room, which was likely the complete opposite. Flipping on the light switch, she shut the door and flung herself on her bed.
As soon as her body came in contact with the cool sheets of her bed, all the memories of the day came crashing down on her. On her walk back to the hotel, she'd managed to succeed in forgetting about Daisy by planning for her preliminary battle. Now that she didn't have that to keep her busy, there was nothing she could do to stop the jealousy and despair from caving in.
She felt like crying, but no tears would come. Why couldn't Ash just open his eyes and see that she liked him enough to date him? Just because they were best friends didn't mean they were off-limits to each other when it came to dating. There were countless stories of childhood friends growing up and marrying each other. Why did this situation have to be any different? Misty had a feeling she knew the answer. Ash liked Daisy, and him telling Misty that he didn't want to date his best friend was just his way of letting her know he would never date her. Period. Misty couldn't stand the thought of Ash dating any girl but her. As much as it hurt her to admit it, it wouldn't be long before Daisy took Ash for herself.
Misty rolled over on her side so that she was looking out the window. There was only one way she could truly keep Daisy from dating Ash, and that was for her to date Ash instead. But how? Even if she did admit her feelings to Ash, he'd made it clear tonight that he'd reject her. Of course, there was always a chance that his density was keeping him from realizing that he had feelings for her. Still, Misty wasn't sure if it would be worth the risk. If she did admit her feelings for him and he, by some miracle, accepted it and asked her out, then everything would be perfect. However, if she admitted her feelings and he rejected them, their friendship would be ruined.
What should I do?
The question imprinted itself on the front of her mind as the tears began to fall.
Ash splashed water on his face, trying desperately to forget the memories of the night. Why the fuck did Daisy even have to show up? Now things were tense between him and Misty. The worst part was that she actually thought he was repulsed by the idea of dating her. He just didn't want to ruin their friendship, that was all. He was afraid of dating her, it ending in disaster, and them never talking to each other again. Even though it risked the steadiness of their friendship, Ash knew he had done the right thing by explaining to Misty that he didn't want to date his best friend.
On the other side, he didn't want to date Daisy either. She was very attractive and nice, but not his type. She was too cocky for him, and had no filter on what she said. She'd taken things too far tonight when she voiced her opinion on how cute Ash and Misty's children would look. Her comment had subsequently made Ash envision himself and Misty married with children, something that both scared and intrigued him. He would definitely pick Misty over Daisy any day. However, that didn't completely rule Daisy out of his life. After all, he was meeting her in the morning to learn more about her aura powers. He really hoped Misty wouldn't show up while they were together in the park.
As soon as he was done washing his face, he changed into his pajamas and climbed into bed, turning on the T.V. A news channel came up, which was conveniently showing footage from the morning's Opening Ceremony. Ash sat forward, looking for his face among the crowd.
Before he could find himself, the display switched to a news reporter interviewing Mr. Goodshow outside of the stadium where the Opening Ceremony had been. Ash sighed irritably. He had wanted to see himself, not this interviewing crap. He'd been on T.V. hundreds of times since becoming Pokemon Master, but he'd never bothered to watch any of the shows he'd been on. Upon realizing that the interview would take up the rest of the news episode, Ash turned the T.V. off. The minute he did, Misty came flooding back to his brain.
He really hoped she wasn't too upset about the events of the night. He swore that if he found out she was more upset than he had originally thought, he would march on up to Daisy and smack her in the face. Nobody upset his friends and got away with it.
As Ash lay on his bed, he thought about the meeting he had planned with Daisy in the morning. If Misty found them meeting there, she'd flip. Ash knew he would have to be super careful. He felt like a player, trying desperately to keep his affair a secret from his girlfriend. He pressed his face into the pillow, deeply regretting ever having arranged that meeting with Daisy.
Oh Ash, what have you gotten yourself into?