Misty brushed the dirt off of her clothes, feeling nothing but fury as she rose up to confront the person who had intercepted her. "Watch where you're going, you stupid, careless-"
She cut herself off when her eyes met a pair of ones so familiar to her she knew them better than her own. Her jaw dropped in disbelief. She hadn't been expecting to see him for a long time. And yet here he was, giving her the same dumbfounded look he'd given her when they were first reunited.
The Pokemon Master continued to gawk at her in shared disbelief. Why am I so shocked? He asked himself. It's not like Misty was planning on traveling to the other side of the world. It wasn't that far-fetched to think that I'd meet up with her again this soon. So then why am I so surprised?
Misty found her surprise fading in favor of the annoyance she'd felt before. "Ash Ketchum," she said, her tone very matter-of-fact. "Close your mouth before you catch flies."
"You sound like my mother," he muttered.
"What was that?"
The Trainer's head snapped up in alarm. "Nothing, nothing."
"Good, because I don't think you'd like to start off your journey with a red slap mark on your face."
He shook his head. After a few moments he asked, "So where are you heading?"
She bit the inside of her cheek. "I don't know," she admitted. "You?"
He shrugged. "Everyone and their mother seems to be going to Viridian. I personally don't think they'll find anything there. After all, the Pokemon League wouldn't put a Battle Center in a place so obvious. When the Pokemon League says they're gonna hide something, they're gonna hide it well."
Misty blinked, surprised that Ash had come up with a deduction that she herself hadn't yet thought of. "Yeah, you're right. Wow, Ash, I'm impressed. You actually came up with something intelligent."
He beamed at her. "Yeah, I did."
The sight of his brilliant grin made Misty's heart melt. She locked her knees to keep them from shaking. Why did he always have to have this impact on her? Why couldn't she just get over him already?
Completely oblivious to the redhead's infatuation, Ash carried on with his usual rambling. "I hope choosing Piplup for my first partner was a good choice. Maybe I should have gone with Pikachu? Now because of the rules I won't be able to use him in any official Tournament battles. I just hope he isn't too mad at me when we meet up again. Do you think he'll be mad at me? I dunno if I can take a powered-up Thunderbolt from him. Oh man, he's gonna be pissed..."
Misty only half-heard him from that point on, too lost in staring at him to pay attention. Although common sense told her otherwise, she took in and savored every last detail about him. Up until this point, she really hadn't noticed how much Ash had changed in appearance since they'd last met. His black hair was the only thing that hadn't changed about him. Even after all this time, it was still messy and of the same length it had always been.
The first thing the Gym Leader noticed was how muscular he had become. He was lean, but he still looked strong. Misty had a feeling his muscles were the first thing any girl noticed when they saw him for the first time. She felt bitter jealousy rise up in her throat as she thought about Daisy, wondering if she fit into that category. She forced it down and focused back on Ash. She scanned him from top to bottom, her gaze eventually coming to a halt on a place she'd never bothered to look at before.
"Misty?" Ash's firm but careful voice sliced through her trance. "Are you okay?"
Misty's head snapped up, her cheeks burning as she realized that Ash had caught her staring at his nether regions. He was staring at her with a mixture of concern and confusion on his face, which she returned with a look of pure embarrassment.
What the hell is wrong with you, Misty? she asked herself. Why did you have to go staring? Now he probably knows for sure that you like him!
Fortunately for Misty, however, Ash's denseness had decided to kick itself into overdrive at that moment. He started searching all over the front of his shorts, his cheeks suddenly as red as Misty's hair. "Did I spill something on my shorts? Am I sweating through my shorts? Oh Arceus, please tell me I'm not sweating through my shorts!"
Misty couldn't help but laugh then, her laughter both a sign of her amusement and her relief. Thank the heavens above he's too dense to figure out the real reason behind my staring. I must be more careful from now on.
Misty then proceeded to inform Ash that nothing was there. He let out a huge sigh of relief upon hearing the information.
"Sorry about that," he apologized sheepishly. "It's just- I do sweat through my clothes sometimes, and... Well, it's... embarrassing." He lowered his gaze away from Misty.
She smiled kindly at him. "Don't worry about it, Ash. We've all got things we're embarrassed about. It's just something that's a part of being human."
Although he didn't look at her, Misty saw the tension leave his muscles. "Thanks, Misty," he murmured.
As she watched him, Misty thought of Daisy for the second time in the past ten minutes. The jealousy she'd succeeded in trampling came back again, this time even stronger. She thought about how the blonde girl had crashed her and Ash's time together at the restaurant, then proceeded to thoroughly embarrass the two of them by saying they'd make beautiful babies together.
However, what burned more strongly in Misty's mind was her memory of the words Ash had spoken to her after Daisy's departure that night.
"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."
Misty felt tears beginning to force their way out of her eyes again. She tried desperately to hold them back, to forget about it all and act like he'd never rejected her in the first place. But she couldn't. No matter how hard she tried, she just couldn't.
So she ran.
"Misty!" Ash cried. "What's wrong?" He ran after her. "Misty, wait!"
She ignored him. She pelted through the forest, blinded by tears. She could just barely see well enough to dodge around trees and undergrowth, let alone know where she was going. She was aware of him calling for her, but she didn't want to talk to him. Didn't want him to see that she was crying.
As Ash ran, he tried extending his Aura out to her. He tried desperately to find her emotions, bring them to him as he had with the other Trainer. He sensed that his Aura had reached her, but he couldn't get through. It was almost like an invisible wall was blocking him, keeping him from entering and finding out just why the hell she was so upset.
Why can't I sense her emotions? It should work just fine! In fact, it should work even better than it did with that boy, since I know Misty better than any of my friends!
Ash began to feel frustrated as he continued trying to reach her emotions, only to be forced back out again like whatever was inside was the most confidential information in the world.
Finally growing more frustrated than his body could handle, Ash lashed out in her direction with a yell. Not even a second later, the Cerulean native was sprawled on the ground, a light blue aura surrounding her entire body.
She twitched slightly on the ground, her eyes lit with fear. "C-can't m-move," she stammered.
Ash froze, suddenly realizing what had just happened. I just paralyzed her with my Aura! What the fuck!?
Misty's eyes flicked up to Ash, and a pleading look crossed her face. "H-help, A-ash," she begged, her voice cracking.
Her body began to shake more with each passing moment. Something told Ash that if he didn't do something soon, something awful and irreversible was going to happen to Misty. He closed his eyes and focused on her, willing his Aura to let her go.
Fortunately for both Ash and Misty, Ash's powers responded to his will and Misty was freed from her paralysis prison. She immediately sat up, her body shaking more with relief now than fear. Ash found himself instinctively reaching out and hugging her, silently assuring her that everything was okay. She stiffened under his touch. Ash figured that it was because she had made the connection between the circumstances she'd just been under and him. He never would have guessed the real reason why she was hesitant to sit in his arms.
Ash guided her over to a nearby tree and had her lean against it. She closed her eyes as she did so, finally coming down from the adrenaline that had been pulsating through her mere moments before. Ash ordered her firmly but kindly to wait there for him. She did as he asked, and had near fallen asleep by the time he returned.
He pressed something against her forehead- a damp cloth. Upon opening her eyes, Misty's breath caught when she recognized it as the handkerchief she'd given him when they'd first parted years ago. He kept that?
As Ash continued to wet her face with the water from the handkerchief, he tried again to reach for her emotions. He fully and truly concentrated this time, believing that a calm Misty would be easier to probe than an anxious one.
Unfortunately for him, he was wrong. Her mind still denied him entrance, much to his confusion. His tightened grip on the cloth was the only sign of his frustration at being unable to sense his friend's emotions. He wanted desperately to know why she'd run away from him before. Why did his Aura have to do this to him? It was supposed to be beneficial, and yet here it was hindering him. Keeping him from finding out what was truly bothering his friend.
"Ash?" Misty's voice was quiet. "Are you okay? You look pretty mad."
"Shh," he urged her. "Just be quiet, and I'll explain. Can you do that for me?"
Surprised at how gentle he was being, Misty nodded in agreement.
Ash folded the damp handkerchief and slipped it into his backpack. Sitting cross-legged on the ground, he explained everything to Misty.
Her expression changed several times during his story, from confused to surprised to happy to concerned. He left out the part about meeting Daisy in the park entirely. While he wanted to share with her his growing concerns over the revelation that Giovanni was an Aura Master, he also wanted to keep her from running off crying again. The last thing he needed was to lose control of himself again and put her in another paralysis prison.
He finally ended the explanation with the comment that he couldn't sense her emotions, no matter how hard he tried. To Misty, this was the most interesting point he had made, and one that relieved her greatly. She would have been forced to separate herself from him if he could sense her emotions, out of fear of him finding out about her feelings for him. The fact that he was blocked off from any emotion that she felt made Misty overwhelmingly happy.
Ash, meanwhile, was busy drawing pointless things in the dirt with a stick. After several moments of silence, he spoke again. "I think I'm going to Viridian."
Misty looked at him, surprised. "Why? I thought you said you were positive that there were no Battle Centers in Viridian."
"I've come to the conclusion that it'll at least be worth a look," he lied. What he really wanted to go to Viridian for was to search for any signs of Team Rocket's presence. Long ago, Giovanni had been the Gym Leader at the Viridian City Gym. Upon it being discovered that he was also using the Gym to harbor prison escapees, the Pokemon League fired him and condemned the Gym. While it was possible they'd converted what was now an empty shack into a Battle Center, Ash figured it was more likely the place was being used by Giovanni to train his aura powers. What better place to go to, after all? He likely had the place rigged with dozens of secret entrances and escapes, and not even the Pokemon League would suspect that he would dare go back to such a place. If Giovanni was in fact there, Ash wanted to be the one to bust him.
"If you're going to Viridian, then so am I," Misty decided.
Ash looked at her, surprised. "Really?"
She nodded. "Yes, really. It's been years since we traveled together, Ash. The years we spent traveling around Kanto, the Orange Islands, and Johto were some of the best of my life. I'd like to repeat that."
Her words sounded hauntingly familiar to the ones Ash had spoken to Blake before leaving his island for Kanto. Trying to act as if it were mere coincidence, Ash nodded his approval. "Well, then what are we waiting for? Let's go!" He grabbed Misty's arm and hauled her to her feet. Together, they began running through the forest.
Misty felt her happiness return as she ran alongside Ash. Things were looking brighter now. She knew that Ash hadn't meant to lash out at her with his aura powers. He was just lacking control over them. Once he knew how to use them properly, he would be able to protect both her and himself from anyone who tried to harm them. She could get used to that.
As they ran, they went back to the way they'd been before Misty had lost control of her feelings. Chatting and laughing, just like the old friends that they were. They talked about everything and anything. Sports, Pokemon, the Pokemon League, the Tournament. Even the weather. For the first time in ages, Misty finally felt fully and completely comfortable with her friend of many years. She began to believe that maybe, just maybe, they had a shot at getting back to being how they used to be around each other. No awkwardness. Just happiness. As long as both of them were happy, Misty could care less about whether or not they were dating. "Boyfriend" was just a title. "Friend" was what really mattered.
Eventually, the tiring pair began to see the tops of the Viridian City skyscrapers above the treeline. The noises of city life broke through the otherwise quiet forest, bringing back clear memories of Misty's life in Cerulean. She had never realized before how similar the two cities actually were.
By the time they were actually inside of the city, their lungs were burning from all of the running they just did. However, neither of them cared. They both felt alive, and that was what really mattered to them. They could rest later.
The city was filled with banners, signs, and people all welcoming the Tournament competitors. Even the monitors in the square were displaying "WELCOME TOURNEY PLAYERS" in flashing neon lights. It wasn't something Ash would have expected out of a low-key city like this.
However, not everything was going well in the city. Just outside the Pokemon Center, a large crowd had gathered. Curious, Ash and Misty approached, only to see that they were actually protesters. The two Trainers kept at a safe distance whilst observing the ongoing protest.
"Impeach President Kimbel! Impeach President Kimbel!" the crowd chanted. Misty and Ash exchanged incredulous looks. President Kimbel was the recently-appointed President of the Pokemon League. He had won 98% of the votes during the election, including from Ash and Misty. He was fun, charismatic, and honest. Both the media and the general public had spoken nothing but praise of him ever since his election. So why were these protesters here, now, demanding that the Pokemon League impeach their President? What on Earth could President Kimbel have done that was so bad?
Ash's attention was caught by a man as he stepped up onto a platform of sorts. He was wearing a peach-colored shirt and white pants, and his blonde hair was styled with holding gel. Ash found it funny that a man demanding that someone be impeached was wearing a peach-colored shirt. He snickered, an act that caused Misty to elbow him in the side. Hard.
The man held up a megaphone and shouted into it. "What do we want?"
"When do we want it?"
The crowd burst into a furious roar as the man urged them on.
"President Kimbel is a lying, dirty bastard!" he screamed. "Everything you've ever been told by that man is a lie, and you know it! He may seem like he has the best interests of the public at heart, but he doesn't! All he cares about is money and fame! He's been using our hard-earned tax dollars to buy things for himself! It's because of him that our health care system is so poor! It's because of him that our cities are so crime-ridden! It's because of him that we are protesting now! I gave him my trust during the election, and he betrayed that! He promised to fix as many problems as he could, and he didn't! Instead, he organized a Tournament to take everyone's attention away from the problems he is failing to fix! Well, we aren't going to be blinded. We are going to take a stand against this dishonest man! Impeach President Kimbel!"
"Impeach President Kimbel!" the crowd repeated.
Misty's eyes were growing wide with alarm as people from the street began joining in on the protest. Pretty soon, they'd be blocking the entirety of what was normally a very busy street. Things were going to get bad real quick if something wasn't done. Misty knew that the Viridian police were all on the opposite side of the city, welcoming Tournament participants and protecting them from the media. They likely had no idea that this was even going on. "We have to do something!" she cried, turning toward Ash.
Ash, however, didn't hear her. He was suffering from a splitting headache at the moment, brought upon by the wave of emotions that was cascading over him. With so many angry people in one place, it was impossible for Ash to focus on anything but the negative emotions flooding from the protesters. If he thought handling one pissed-off boy's anger was hard, this was downright impossible.
"Ash?" Misty said his name again, growing concerned. "Ash, answer me. Ash?"
All of a sudden, the ground began to shake beneath Misty's feet. Wide cracks appeared in the concrete as a deafening roar filled the air around her, consuming everything and anything. She screamed, covering her ears. The protesters screamed. Pretty soon everyone was screaming. Cars swerved on the road to dodge huge fissures that had appeared in the asphalt. Massive cracks in buildings threatened to collapse them.
"Look!" one of the protester's screamed over the noise. He pointed in the direction Misty was facing away from. "Over there!"
Misty turned. Much to her complete and utter horror, a massive plume of smoke bigger than life was rising up into the sky. Flames leaped up into the air as sirens began to wail all across the city.
Misty whipped back around as Ash screamed. She had barely turned to face him before he was on her. A flash of blue light accompanied him, and in a moment's notice they were surrounded by a sphere of protective blue light.
No sooner had Ash erected that dome than it happened. The Pokemon Center exploded, throwing people, cars, and debris everywhere. The noise was greatly reduced from Misty's position beneath the dome, but it was still loud enough to make her eardrums pop and start ringing.
As flames erupted out of the destroyed Center like a wildfire, Misty buried her face in Ash's chest. His grip on her shoulders was strong, which both scared and reassured her. Both of them shook with fear and shock as people screamed all around them. Misty didn't want to look. Didn't want to see the horrible sight that would greet her if she did.
It never seemed like it would end. The screaming. The smoke. The sirens. The noise.
But it did. At long last, it did.
Misty, who's vision was blinded by shock and tears, eventually felt her scooped up by strong arms. At first, she wondered if it was Ash. However, as she closed her hands over the material of her carrier's shirt, she realized that it was not made out of the same material as Ash's. No, this man's shirt was made out of a thick cotton rather than a mesh-y material.
As the man ran down the street, Misty held tight in his arms, she managed to clear her vision enough to see who it was. After some thinking, she realized with a jolt that it was Flint, Brock's father. His expression was serious, his face streaked with soot and blood. Peering around him, Misty saw Ash running after them, shouting things that her mind refused to comprehend. The last thing she remembered was flashing red lights and a stretcher.
She passed out.
Giovanni slammed his fist down on his desk, so hard that a tiny crack appeared beneath it. His fury was apparent by the veins that were popping out of his neck and his teeth, which were bared in a snarl that reminded the grunt of a wolf.
"God fucking dammit, Leon, I told you not to detonate that fucking bomb! Why can't you ever listen for once instead of acting like a goddamn know-it-all prick!?"
Leon flinched at his boss's harsh words. He forced himself to meet the huge man's gaze. He felt a flash of fear as he saw the dangerous light in his leader's eyes, one that threatened murder if Leon wasn't careful. "I'm sorry, sir. It was an accident."
"An accident?" Giovanni screamed. "Don't expect me to believe that what happened was an accident! You don't enter a goddamn code, flip a lever, and press a button all on accident!"
He flinched again. Shit. "It won't happen again, sir, I swear it won't!"
"You're damn right it won't!" the boss shouted. He slammed his fist down on the desk again. "Leon, if you were any other grunt I would demote you to latrine duty. But because it is you, and because you never have once heeded to my warnings, I am hereby firing you from Team Rocket! If you are ever caught on our premises again, I'll murder you with my own hands!"
Leon stared at his ex-boss in horror. "But, sir, I have a family to-"
"Silence! I will not tolerate anything but acceptance of your sentence! Don't make me permanently dispose of you here and now, Leon." His eyes began to glow a faint blue the way they always did when he was about to use his Aura.
Knowing what kind of pain he'd endure if he didn't, Leon bowed his head in submission. "Yes, sir. I understand, sir."
"Good," the boss spat. "Now get out."
Biting back tears that he knew would only get him killed, Leon turned and walked out of Giovanni's office. The Aura Master's furious gaze burned into the former grunt's back like the fires that were now burning across all of Viridian.
Fuck. Now what am I supposed to do? My insider is dead. My brain-washed protesters are dead, and with it my chance of impeaching President Kimbel and taking his position for myself.
Giovanni clenched his fists even tighter. His nails bit into his skin, causing beads of blood to appear. There was only one thing he could do to ensure he still had a chance at getting what he wanted. He picked up the phone.
"Kim? Change of plans. Mission 109 to commence in forty-eight hours. Get the cannons ready. This one's gonna go off with a bang." An eerie smile spread across his face as he thought of something.
"Oh, and Kim? Bring her to me. I think it's time we find out the real reason she's here. I have a feeling it will be one to go in the books. Giovanni out."