Pause For Thought @acanthusaddams
Chapter 1

For Pokéshipping Week 2020.

The date of publication marks my second anniversary on this site as Acanthus Addams. I've met some amazing people here and written things I'm truly proud of, so to everyone who has ever read and enjoyed any of my stories: thank you.

This story is dedicated to all those who have felt the pain of growing apart from a great friend.


Pause For Thought

"Happy Halloween, Misty!" read the untidy scrawl at the bottom of the photograph. The edges were blurred from where his fingers had covered the lens, and whatever look he was going for – was it a golbat or a gyarados? – was definitely not working. Clearly, Brock had been far away when this 'costume' was put together. And yet, still, like every time, the image made her smile. She didn't even mind that it was already November 4th.

"Dear Ash," began her neatly penned reply, "You really need to work on your sewing skills. Even Psyduck could've done better than that! But…it did make me laugh, so thanks, Mr. Pokémon Master. Happy Halloween to you, too.

Catch you later,

Misty."

Into the mailbox it went, and, looking out at the mountainous country landscape of Cerulean City's borderlands, she only hoped her letter would arrive with him a little quicker than his had with her.


"Happy Thanksgiving!"

Ten days after the holiday in question, there he was, a turkey leg in his hand and a jaunty hat perched atop his black mop. In the background, Pikachu lay flat-out on the table, his little yellow belly bulging out as he slept off his food coma. Once again, she smiled, a small giggle stifled behind her hand.

"Dear Ash," she wrote as usual:

"Thanksgiving was nearly two weeks ago, moron. You're a big boy now, can't you send these things ahead of time so I, you know, actually get them when I should? Honestly!

I guess it's nice to see you, though, so thanks for thinking of me. Say hi to Pikachu for me, won't you? (I hope he hasn't given himself a stomachache!)

Hope to see you soon,

Love, Misty."


"It sure was nice of you to invite us over today, Mrs. Ketchum," Tracey remarked sleepily.

"Oh, Tracey, who would I be if I left you poor dears alone at Christmas?" chirped Delia as she and Mimey cleared the table. "You're all like my little extended family!"

Across the room, a redheaded teenager sat staring vacantly into the bottom of her glass.

"Are you okay, Misty, dear?" the concerned mother asked.

Misty looked up. "Oh, I'm fine, thank you, Mrs. Ketchum, I've had a wonderful day," she smiled. "It's just-"

"You're not leaving so soon, are you? Why, you'll miss Ashy's phone call!"

In truth, the young girl had no intention of leaving this early, as she knew very well her best friend would call this evening. It had been so long since they'd spoken face to face, despite his amusing little holiday greetings. Given that he'd never replied to any of her responses, though, perhaps she had every right to be nervous.

"Ring ring ring, ring ring ring, phone call, phone call!"

"Ooh, that must be him now!" Delia squealed. The gathering filed into the front room, where, sure enough, the face of one fifteen-year-old Ash Ketchum flashed onto the videophone screen.

"Hey, Mom!" came his slightly reedy phone voice. "Merry Christmas!"

"PIKA PIKAAA!" cheered Pikachu on his shoulder.

"Merry Christmas to you, too, Ash!" she beamed. "It's so wonderful to see you!"

Ash then looked past her at the other spectators to the call. "Oh wow, everyone's here! Hi, Professor Oak, Tracey, Daisy…"

This last face in particular caused him to further press his eyes to the screen. "Misty…?" he murmured with a sort of anxious hopefulness.

"I'm right here, stupid," Misty smirked as her head appeared in view of the camera.

Immediately, the boy's face lit up brighter than the Christmas tree he was sat in front of. "Misty!" he cried. "Hi!"

"Pikachupi!" seconded Pikachu with a stubby-pawed wave.

Delia beckoned Misty to the front of the screen, whereupon she and the rest of the partygoers sneakily slipped back into the dining room, grinning knowingly.

"Nice sweater," Ash said to break the silence. Misty crossed her arms.

"My eyes are up here, Ketchum," she sassed, despite knowing he wouldn't get the reference. "So, did Santa bring you anything nice this year?"

"Oh yeah!" he said excitedly. "Here, take a look at this…"

And from then on, as the story always seemed to go, Misty's worries proved to be for naught. No matter how far apart they were in body, she and Ash would never be anything less than best friends. (Or, she secretly feared, anything more…)

"Oh man, my credit's running low," Ash spoke up after several minutes of chatting. "You best put Mom back on for a little bit, Mist."

She understood, of course, albeit saddened by the sudden need to break off their conversation. "Yeah," she smiled. "It was great seeing you again, Ash."

"You too, Misty," he smiled back. "Beats a dumb old photo any day, right?"

She laughed. "Well, I like them, so keep 'em coming, okay? Although, you could actually write back once in a while, Ketchum."

"Huh?"

A beeping noise broke them away from this train of thought, and Misty quickly knew to hand the receiver back to Delia before the call cut off. Her moments with Ash were excruciatingly rare, and this one, brief though it was, had certainly not gone to waste. Needless to say, the smile she now wore went nowhere for the rest of the night.

One week later, his Christmas card came – just in time for New Year's Day.


It had started during his Sinnoh journey, this little game of theirs. The further away he travelled, the later his letters would arrive, and the best part was he had no idea the whole time. Whatever the occasion, however big or small, the punctuality he so deftly lacked was strangely pleasing, in a way. For even after the holiday had long passed, there existed a certain suspense about the days that followed; an excitement she held within her, in anticipation of that fateful envelope appearing on her desk.

"Like, happy birthday, Mistyyyy!" sang her dramatic sisters that very year.

"It's not my birthday yet, guys!" she gleefully corrected. Their looks of bewilderment were priceless, as they all knew as well as each other that today was, indeed, her birthday. But as the giddy teen girl dove gracefully into the welcoming waters of her pool, she shut her eyes peacefully, awash with the feeling that there'd be no real celebration until her dearest gift was in her hands.


"Ash, what are you doing?!" asked Dawn in total disbelief.

"It's Princess Day, Dawn!" he said over his shoulder. "Okay, Pikachu, a little to the left…"

The bemused girl turned to Brock, who oddly appeared to be completely at home with this bizarre sight. "Brock," she asked, "what's Princess Day? And why is he…you know…"

The twenty-year-old man chuckled. "The Princess Festival is an annual celebration in the Kanto region," he explained. "For one day only, girls of all ages are treated to massive discounts from stores, restaurants, carnival rides, you name it! My back still hurts from the number of bags I had to carry that day…"

Dawn raised a bluish eyebrow. "You mean there's a whole day dedicated to girls?" she clarified. "Man, I've gotta move to Kanto!"

Quickly, though, said eyebrow furrowed again. "But, erm…why is Ash wearing a dress and a blonde wig?"

"It's for Misty," Brock said, still laughing. "Trust me, 'Ashley' is a long story."

"Misty?" Her expression turned to intrigue. "The lure girl? Wow, he's really got it bad, hasn't he…"

"That he does, Dawn," the nodding pokémon breeder agreed. "That he does."

A flash of light later, Ash jumped up and tore off his wig. "Alright! Now we've just got to find somewhere to print this and we're all set. C'mon, Pikachu!"

As the two excitable companions bounded off in the direction of town, Brock and Dawn just shrugged, hurrying after him without a word of protest.

Some twenty minutes later, a diminutive figure waddled through the doors of the pokémon centre, stopping when it reached the front desk. The curious Nurse Joy heard the ruffling of its entrance and peered down at it over the counter.

"Oh, hello there!" she greeted. "My cousin in Jubilife City said you'd be coming. I'm afraid they've just left, but if you hurry, you might be able to catch them!"

With a nod, the figure silently retraced the path it had come, turning left at the front doors and hurtling along with frantic resolve.


The first year was filled with such quirky little photographs, celebrating various milestones of their journey in ways that would hold little meaning for anyone else: Kids Day, the Maiden Festival, The Whirl Cup…even his own birthday, which he'd unsubtly captioned with the words, HAPPY MY BIRTHDAY, MISTY!. That one gave her quite a laugh, for sure.

It went without saying that her favourite of these was the very next one she'd received, however, pertaining to perhaps the most important day of her life:

"Happy Trainers Day!

Hahaha, gotcha, Mist, I know it was the day we met. Pikachu, too! Who'd have thought I'd start my pokémon journey and meet my two bestest friends in the world all on the same day? You know, even though we didn't get off to the best of starts (I said I'm sorry for the bike, okay?) and Pikachu really got done in by those spearow, I think that might have been the best day of my life. I guess I've come to realise that my dream of being a pokémon master – it would mean nothing without you guys. Wish we could all travel together again one day.

Love, Ash."

She must have read it a hundred times, and not once had the beautiful sensation of butterfree in her stomach passed her by. Making it even more special were the lengths he had obviously gone to for the picture that accompanied it. In a lake eerily similar to the one where they had first met, Ash was dangling a fishing line, and on the end of it was none other than Pikachu, his rodent-like smile just visible underneath the brim of Ash's cap. It was such a delightful recreation of their first meeting that she may even have shed a tear the first time she'd laid eyes on it.

"Dear Ash," she wrote, her hand slightly trembling:

"Thank you so much for your letter. I really loved it. Our journey was the best time of my life, and I wish I could come travelling again, too, but, well, this gym isn't going to run itself! Promise me you'll actually come visit this year, won't you? Psyduck's been wondering where you are. Maybe if you'd find the time to reply, I might be able to tell him, huh?

I miss you, Mr. Pokémon Master. You've always been my best friend too, you know.

Lots of love, Misty xxxxx"


"Grrrrr!" laughed Iris at the foot of the stairs. "How do I look?"

Cilan eyed her dragonite costume with great amusement. "Oh-hoh, what a sizzling combination!" he gushed. "It's humble, rustic, yet with a throat-tickling warmth that gives it just the right amount of spice for a horrifying Halloween delicacy!"

"Thanks…I think," the young girl giggled. "You don't look so bad yourself, Mr. Stunfisk."

"Why, thank you, Iris," he acknowledged with a bow. "Say, wasn't Ash supposed to meet us here?"

Puzzled, they shuffled in their cumbersome costumes back to the pokémon centre dorm room corridor. As they opened the door to their room, the two Unovans were greeted with a most unusual sight.

"Ash?" Iris said. "Hey, what's with the long face? And why aren't you in your costume yet?"

The sixteen-year-old sat up on his bunk and rubbed his eyes. "Huh? Umm, sorry guys, I guess I lost track of time."

"It's not like you to forget about a party, Ash," Cilan observed. "Are you quite well?"

"Of course!" he answered, waving off the question. "I'm fine, really. Be down in a minute, okay?"

They looked at each other, not sure of what to say, before nodding and quietly closing the door behind them. Ash lay straight back down on his bunk and grabbed a marker pen off the adjacent cabinet.

"Why doesn't she ever answer, Pikachu?" he sighed.

"Chuuu," the Mouse Pokémon sympathised, his ears drooping.

"Yeah, I dunno either." Shrugging, he moved to scribble a few words on the photograph he plucked from his pocket. "Maybe she's just busy?"

Sealing the photo into an envelope, Ash rose to his feet and folded his darmanitan costume over his shoulder.

"Soon as we're back from the party, we'll go out and post this," he smiled down to Pikachu. "Don't worry, buddy. At least we'll get to see her at Christmas."

Miles away, in a south-easterly Unovan pokémon centre…

"There you go, little guy," Nurse Joy smiled, tucking several envelopes into the sack in its hand. "Take these, too. Can't have you going hungry on your journey, now can we?"

She watched as her 'client' made its way out into the night, munching happily on the hot cross buns it had been gifted. "Good luck!"


What Ash and Pikachu couldn't know was that Misty had opted to stay with her sisters in Cerulean this Christmas. Though she felt immensely guilty for having turned down her dear friend Delia's hospitality, the emptiness she sensed whenever she set foot in that place had finally become too much to bear. It was Ash's house. And Ash wasn't in it.

The letters were sparse after that. No longer did he bother with the little holidays of their youth, and in the case of the more significant events, the greetings seemed to become less and less personal with each passing time.

"Happy birthday, Misty," said the strangely neat handwriting. "Hope you have a great day."

Above this was a photo of Ash and his friends, Iris and Cilan, smiling with a lush mountainous backdrop behind them. It was a lovely picture, she had to admit, but were it not for the word, 'Misty', the card could have been sent to literally anyone else and have the same impact. That trademark Ash humour, the type of intoxicating silliness that he reserved only for her, was gone.

She and Ash would never be anything less than best friends. That was the thought she'd had little more than a year ago. How had things changed so much in that time? Never mind best friends – were they even still friends at all? Over time, the joy of awaiting contact from him turned sour, and every late piece of mail she received from him only opened that wound wider. Five days, ten days, twenty days, a whole month – it was all the same to her. Thoughtless.

Once or twice, she'd even resorted to holding off on her replies, hoping that the silence would inspire Ash to wake up and make the first move. But it was not to be. It was never to be. He had his life, and she had hers. Perhaps their fates just weren't meant to be intertwined anymore.

The year after was even worse. He was in Kalos, that much she knew, and still he sent her the usual holiday greetings: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, her birthday…but nothing more. Worse than that, every new photo she received reinforced a sickening suspicion that had eaten slowly away at her since the moment she had first thought it. The girl in the photos – Serena, she knew her to be called – had a way of looking at Ash. A sort of sad longing, deep and ingrained with years of secret passion behind it. She recognised the look from her own eyes; such a terrible pain, and she'd borne it longer than anyone. At least now she had an idea of why Ash didn't write to her much these days.


One hot September night in the Alola region, Ash Ketchum, now a man of eighteen, heard a light knock at the door of his loft room.

"Come in?" he said, a little glumly.

The door gently opened, and in came Professor Kukui holding a tray of lukewarm food.

"Alola," he said amicably. "Brought you some leftovers in case you got peckish."

"Thanks," Ash said without looking up. Kukui's smile disappeared.

"You okay, Ash?" he asked as he set the tray down. "I've never known you skip dinner before."

The young man did not give his housemate-slash-pupil a chance to answer, almost certain he wouldn't get an honest response. Instead, he climbed the steps to the loft's upper level, where he saw Ash and Pikachu sitting in the middle of a veritable sea of photographs.

"Wait a minute…" Kukui pondered, "I recognise her. Is that Misty Waterflower, the Cerulean City gym leader?"

Ash's cheeks grew a little red, but he nodded nonetheless. "She's my best friend," he said. "Or, well, she was. It's…complicated."

With a courteous smile, Professor Kukui removed his sunglasses and sat himself down on the nearby sofa.

"Anything you want to talk about?" he offered sincerely. Ash, though hesitant, eventually just sighed and took in a long breath.

"We used to be so close," he began. "Even after she stopped travelling with me, we'd write all the time and talk on the phone whenever we could. It got more expensive to call her when I went to Sinnoh, so I sent her these funny pictures instead…"

He held up one of the photos around him. "I know her, and I knew they'd make her laugh. But, well, she never replied to any of them, not even once."

Kukui cocked his head. "Never? Hmm, that doesn't seem right…"

"It's true," Ash frowned. "So I stopped sending her as many. Thought they might be just bumming her out or something. She's not even there at Christmas anymore when I call my mom."

"Pikaaa," Pikachu mewed sadly.

"Man…" The professor shook his head. "How long has this been going on?"

"Almost three years."

"Three years?!"

Ash looked down. "Today is Trainers Day in Kanto. It's the day I started my journey, the day I met Pikachu, and," he cleared his throat, "the day Misty saved my life in that river. I guess it just got me thinking."

Kukui stayed silent, figuring the poor boy had more to say.

"I just don't feel like I know her anymore," he admitted, suddenly thinking uncharacteristically deep thoughts. "If I was at home, I coulda just flown to Cerulean on Charizard and hung out with her. But she's so far away, and I can't get a hold of her…argh! How come she doesn't want to be friends anymore?"

"Hey, now," Kukui reassured. "You don't know that, Ash. Three years is a long time, after all. I'm sure she misses you as much as you miss her."

Again, Ash's cheeks glowed pink. "Really?" he said. "Even though she's not speaking to me?"

Moving to stand, the kindly Alolan patted the young man on the back. "If there's one thing I've learned in this life, Ash, it's that fate always has a way of bringing us back together."

He then carefully stepped around the pile of photos and disappeared through the open loft door, leaving the confused young Ash to his thoughts.

"But that doesn't mean fate can't have a little help now and then," the professor said to himself as he sat down at his computer. "Where's the harm in moving our end-of-term Kanto trip up to this month?"

At the window, a plump figure took flight and sailed off into the horizon. If Kanto was where they were headed, then Kanto was where it would meet him, once and for all.

A short paragraph of text later, Kukui nodded to himself in approval. Within a minute of pressing 'send', a notification pinged into his inbox.

"Well, well," he grinned upon identifying the sender. "What a stroke of luck."


"I just don't feel like I know him anymore," Misty groaned while pacing the floor. "I hear from him three times a year at best, and even then it's sometimes just some run-of-the-mill postcard?"

On the sofa across from her, the 'audience' of her rant was not exactly a fountain of advice.

"Psy?" he squawked, holding his head.

"We used to spend every minute of every day together! And now I have to rely on his mother to keep up with how he's doing?"

She prodded her temples. "How would you feel if your best friend of eight years was basically a stranger to you now?"

In reaching for the tub of ice cream on the coffee table, Psyduck slipped and met the goldeen-patterned carpet full-force with his bill.

"Duuuuuck," he whined dizzily. Misty sunk down into the seat opposite him.

"Oh, why am I asking you?" she grumbled, sighing. "Stupid duck."

Feeling guilty, she quickly helped Psyduck back onto the sofa and rested her head on her hand. "And today of all days…" she mumbled. "I think I felt closer to him when he stole my bike than I do now. How did this happen?"

By now, Psyduck had waddled up to the seat beside her and was nuzzling his feathers into her arm. The contact led her to pick up the photo album he was sitting on and drink in its memories for the fiftieth time that night. Every picture, postcard or letter he had ever sent her was in there, in exactly the order they had been sent. Looking through from earliest to latest, she couldn't help noticing a sad decline, both in quality and in quantity.

"At least Delia told me there was nothing going on between him and Serena," she muttered as she came across a photo of the girl in question. "I almost feel sorry for her…"

With a fat feathered wing, Psyduck flipped over a wad of pages, causing one photo to fall on the floor. Misty scooped it up, her breath leaving her throat when she saw that it was from Alto Mare, one of her favourite places in the world, and the site of one of her last great adventures with Ash. They were so young in that photo, so happy…how could a few years have made so much difference?

She sniffed meekly. "Maybe it wouldn't even be so bad if I didn't still love-"

PING!

The notification on her computer screen knocked whatever wind remained in the young girl right out of her chest. Wiping her eyes, she clicked open the new email and gasped.

"It's from the Alola region," she said to herself. "Calling all gym leaders of the Kanto region: my name is Professor Kukui, and…blah, blah, blah…coming to Kanto?!"

She knew the name Kukui from her last trip to Delia's. Ash's teacher. Ash was coming to Kanto – and they needed a gym to visit.

Her hands hovered over the keys. Should she? This decision could make or break their friendship. Then again, she thought, how much more broken could it be? One thing she was sure of was that she would do anything to have her best friend back.

Click, click, click, went her fingers on the keyboard. The words came to her with ease. Click, click, click…

"Here goes nothing," Misty inhaled. "And send."


The fateful meeting was not nearly as awkward as Misty thought it would be. In fact, to the shock of both her and Ash, it wasn't awkward in the slightest. Everything she had expected to feel leading up to this event – anger, hurt, betrayal, maybe even heartbreak – had melted away the instant she had seen him. And, strangely, despite having a lot to get off her chest, she couldn't be happier.

Ash, meanwhile, felt much the same. Who'd have thought he'd run into Misty only a couple of weeks after his talk with Kukui on Trainers Day? The world sure did work in mysterious ways. And though he, too, remained confused about certain things, there was no way he'd be letting a moment of these precious two days go to waste.

"I guess some things never change, huh?" Misty laughed as she wiped the ink from Jigglypuff's marker pen off her face.

"Yeah, that jigglypuff sure was a sight for sore eyes," Ash joined in. For a second, the two simply looked at one another, letting it linger as if for the first time. They had both grown older, but their eyes, full of childlike wonder and fiery resolve, were still just the same as the day they had met. And, together again, that fire only shone twice as bright.

"Hey, um, Ash?" Misty said. "Can I talk to you alone for a second?"

"Sure, Misty," he answered, his stomach forming a knot. Brock overheard their conversation and covertly steered the rest of the group back towards Professor Oak's lab.

Once the two found a quiet patch of forest, Ash inhaled slowly. "So, er, what do you wan-"

"Are we still best friends?"

The question left him speechless. "Um, you, uhhh…huh?"

"You heard me!" she repeated. "Are we still best friends? Is that what you want?"

"Misty, I…" he began, "honestly, I was going to ask you the same thing."

"ME?" she gasped, affronted. "What have I done?!"

"I didn't hear from you for nearly three years, Misty! I thought you were mad at me!"

"What are you talking about? I wrote to you after every one of your dumb pictures!"

"They weren't dumb! I – wait, what?"

"And that's another thing! You're supposed to send greetings cards BEFORE the actual day, dumbass!"

"Wait, Misty, go back a bit-"

"Why didn't you ever reply? Do you know how much I missed you? You could have been dead, for all I knew! God, I swear, Ash Ketchum, sometimes you make me want to-"

"DELIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!"

The shrill cry snapped them out of their argument in a second. Following the sound, Ash and Misty came to a clearing in the forest, where they found…

"Team Rocket!"

"Deliii deliiii!" cried the caged delibird at their feet.

"I thought that bewear just blasted you off!" Ash shouted.

"Not far enough, twerp," Jessie sneered.

"And on the way out, we just happened to run into this darling delibird!" sang James.

"Now it's straight to da boss with this bozo!" cackled Meowth.

Delibird looked straight at Ash. "Deli deliiii deli, deliiiiii!"

"What's it saying, Meowth?" Jessie asked.

The Scratch Cat strained his ears. "HA! Get a load o' this! Featherbrain's been tailin' da twoip for yoirs, tryin' to deliver a buttload o' letters!"

"WHAT?" Ash yelled.

"Too bad they's ours now, eh? Hope da boss has got a letter-opener!"

"Let Delibird go!" Misty cried. "Staryu, Double-Edge!"

From her pokéball came her faithful Star Shape Pokémon, who effortlessly spun itself into Delibird's cage and shattered it into pieces.

"EEEEEEEK!" wailed James. "Our cage! Go, Mareanie!"

He released the grotesque starfish-like creature, who snarled wickedly at its foes.

"Now, Sludge Bomb!" he ordered.

Mareanie spat a huge blob of purple sludge straight ahead at Ash and Misty.

"Duck!" Misty cried. The slime flew right over their heads, splatting against something hard and stony-sounding behind them. As an earth-splitting groan echoed out thereafter, the group did not have to wait long to find out what it was.

"Oh god," Ash whispered. "It's the same onix as before! Don't move, Misty."

Team Rocket, meanwhile, were staring the gigantic rock snake directly in the face. "Uhhhhh," Jessie stuttered. "N-Nice onix! We were only pl-playing, see? We'd n-never try to…RUN!"

On her command, the three Team Rocket members turned tail and bolted in the opposite direction. As onix began to charge, Delibird leapt into action.

"DELLLLLIIIIIIIIII!"

With multiple letters spilling from its sack, a trail of ice shot from Delibird's beak, freezing the fleeing thieves in place just long enough for onix to plough through them, batting them all high into the sky.

"TEARRCKTTT'S BLASSNG OFF GNNNN!" they screamed with mouths frozen shut, disappearing with a dramatic ding of light.

"Are you alright, Delibird?" Ash asked. The little red bird cawed cheerfully.

Misty bent down to pick up one of the envelopes. She flinched as she recognised the handwriting on the front immediately: it was hers.

"What the…" she said. Opening it, she began to read aloud:

"Dear Ash,

I can't believe you remembered the Princess Festival! But did you really have to dress up as Ashley to prove that to me? Not that I'm complaining; I still haven't stopped laughing!"

Another one at her feet read, "The anniversary of the Hearthome Collection? I wasn't even there! Nice wig, though."

And another: "Happy New Year, Ash. I know you'll make every second of it count. Think maybe you could find the time to pay me a visit this year?"

Ash scratched his head. "I don't get it."

When he looked back at Misty, he saw there were tears forming in her eyes. "These are all my letters to you," she whimpered. "They must have arrived after you'd already left each time. All this time, and I was the one who was too late…"

She hiccupped. "Ash…you thought I was ignoring you all these years?"

"I, er…weren't you?" he faltered.

"No! I never stopped wanting us to be friends! You don't know how much I looked forward to seeing the pictures you sent me!"

"Really?" Ash blushed. "I only stopped sending as many 'cause I thought they annoyed you."

Misty's mouth stretched into a watery smile. "Oh, Ash…you're such an idiot."

And then, suddenly, she was hugging him, as tightly and as lovingly as she could. How she missed this closeness; how stupid she'd been for thinking Ash was anything other than Ash this whole time; how many tears she'd wasted simply waiting for someone to make that first move…

"Come on, then," she said as she broke the hug. "We'd better get back before anyone wonders where we are."

After expressing their sincerest thanks to Delibird (who looked to be staying on the reserve), the two best friends stepped out of the shrubbery and strolled together down the sun-kissed dirt road to the lab.

"Oh, and Ash?" Misty smiled, her insides somersaulting.

"Yeah?" He turned to her.

Stopping in place, the redhead leaned forwards and planted her lips softly on Ash's cheek. Her mouth brushed against the corner of his ever so slightly, and when she pulled away, both she and Ash burned the brightest of reds.

"M-Misty…! What was th-that for?" Ash shuddered with a strange euphoria.

Misty, however, kept walking. "Don't worry, Ash, I know how you operate," she purred over her shoulder. "You can get back to me about that in a week or so."

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