Single By 30 @shinygrowlithe12
Chapter 17

I know you already know what I'm gonna say: I've been busy. But really, I have been. We're in the final third of my class, meaning things are getting more complex and difficult. Work is also picking up too. Thus, I'm actually super busy.

Also, it's my anniversary soon, so I'm going on vacation this week. Relationships heh heh. Never had a bad breakup, hence why I suck at writing about them. Uh. *Knocks on wood*

I feel bad leaving y'all for so long without an update on any of my stories. Honestly, if you've been reading them, I have rushed a few just to push content out. I want to rewrite Fell in Love With My Best Friend's ending. I wasn't a fan of it when I wrote it, and like you all say, it's not the greatest. I also want to fix Misty's OOC in Hoping For You, but that's easy. I have a reason for it anyway.

This weekend, I spent it typing out this chaptor for y'all. I was worried that I wouldn't complete it because sometimes, it takes me a week or two to type up 10k+ words. Luckily, I was really feeling this chapter, for some reason, so here it is.

I do have part os a chapter for Things Money Can't Buy and Hoping For You typed up right not, though they're not complete. It's Complicated will be a short story I will focus more on after I finish one of these longer pokeshipping stories. They're all nearing their end. Anyway, I'll see you when I return from my vacation. Thanks for your patience! Enjoy today's chapter! :D


Chapter 17

"Mama Misty!"

"Pikapi!" A yellow ball leaps onto Ash's shoulder just as Misty catches her goddaughter.

With the Hayden wedding being over, and newlyweds on their honeymoon, the guests have been leaving. Ash wanted to spend a few more days in Hoenn to reconnect with Max and the rest of the Maples as well as the Birches. Fortunately, the Harrisons decided to stick around too. It's not every day they see their Kanto friends.

Ash and Misty are returning from their beach date on the shores west of Petalburg. Due to their shyness, they have not spoken much about their new favorite activity together. Plus, playing with the Pokemon at the beach has taken up a lot of their time. Misty is grateful for the distractions because she's not sure how talking about any of this will go.

While Misty is talking to Lucy and Annalise, Brock asks his oldest friend, "Did you guys argue?."

Ash curiously looks at Brock. "Uh. What are you talking about, Brock?"

Brock had noticed how Ash and Misty aren't giving eye contact or holding hands. Those two are really stiff. A lot more stiff than they've been lately. Shrugging, the older man responds, "You guys seem quiet."

Blushing, Ash sheepishly rubs the back of his head. "We're fine."

"Pikachupi?" Questions the concerned mouse.

Seeing Brock's skeptical eyebrow too, Ash's face turns a darker shade of red. Mew. Why are people always assuming Ash and Misty are having marital problems? Granted, Ash and Misty do argue around others, but they've always bickered. It's nothing new. Should Ash just tell Brock? Ash can't even find the nerve to talk to Misty. Why would he tell Brock? However, noticing that Misty is still preoccupied, Ash whispers, "We did it." Brock is older and wiser, someone Ash often seeks advice from. Maybe Brock can help Ash figure out what to do next?

Pikachu practically falls off of Ash's shoulder while Brock's jaw drops. The breeder quickly looks over at Misty, causing Ash to pull Brock's arm, making Brock face him again. "You mean, it, like it?"

Nodding as his face gets hotter, Ash hisses, "Yes!"

Brock still can't fathom the news. These two are moving fast. He's always wished this from his friends, but now, Brock isn't ready for the new constant developments. Smiling proudly, Brock claps Ash on the back. "Wow. I'm happy for ya."

"Yeah, but now it's so awkward." Ash is glad that Misty is avoiding him too. Else, he's sure she'd be butting into this conversation.

Brock brings his hand up to his chin in thought. This is a concern. The first time is nerve wracking. "It's okay to be nervous when it's your first time, Ash."

"I've had sex before." Deadpans the young man, though he'd rather not like to think about his first partner.

"Right." Brock quickly pushes off that topic. "But I meant your first time together." Nice. Great save, Brocko!

"Pi pikachu pikapi pikachupi?" The mouse is very confused.

Noticing Ash's face getting much more red than any face should, Brock grabs Pikachu from Ash's shoulder. "Uh. Can you hang out with Annalise right now, Pikachu? She's going to miss you when you leave, so I want her to get as much time with you as possible."

"Chu!" Although Pikachu would like to figure out what these two are talking about, he will never leave a child waiting for him. He hurries over to the girls, leaving Ash and Brock alone.

"Thanks." Mutters the embarrassed man.

Brock catches Lucy's curious eyes as Pikachu is now on her shoulder. With a little head shake and some non-verbal eye language, Lucy seems to understand to keep Misty busy. "Let's go talk over here." Brock grabs Ash's arm to drag him a few feet away. Maybe being further from Misty will make Ash open up more.

Once at a safe distance, and more prying from Brock, Ash quietly exclaims, "I just don't know what to do from here, okay? I'm confused. What if it was a mistake?"

"Do you think it is?"

"No!" Ash has dreamed of this day for a while now. Running a hand through his hair, he mutters, "But what if she does?"

"I can assure you, Misty does not think this is a mistake." Brock knows all too well about the redhead's long crush on Ash.

"But how?"

"Just talk to her."

"That's the problem, Brock. I don't know how. It's embarrassing."

Sighing, Brock pats Ash's back. "You're both adults. You have communicated in ways I could never imagine. This year and when we were kids. You both always had a special bond, and I know you'll figure out how to get past this awkwardness." Ash and Misty have always worked well together. Brock believes in their friendship.

As Ash is still panicking to Brock, Annalise is with Pikachu running around the women. Lucy is not that close to Misty and Ash, but she's seen Misty a lot due to Brock's friendship with her. Out of extreme curiosity, Lucy slightly leans over to the seemingly troubled woman. Misty's mind looks like it's been wandering all day. "Did you want to talk about it?"

The voice startles Misty who soon tries to play off her surprise. "Talk about what, Lucy?" Misty grins innocently.

Skeptical of the smile, Lucy responds, "We both know there's a reason Brock and Ash are talking all the way over there where we can't hear them."

Misty has been trying hard not to think about that. What could those men be talking about? What is Ash telling Brock? It can't be about last night, right? She blushes recalling those events again. Today has been very awkward. How do they go about acting like everything's normal after that? They can't.

"Misty?"

Shit. Misty's mind keeps wandering. "Huh? Did you say something, Lucy?"

Sighing, Lucy says, "Even though I don't know you and Ash too well, I know enough from Brock's stories." Lucy gives Misty a small smile. "He has a lot of faith in you guys, so I do too. Whatever you're going through, I know you both will be just fine."

Misty gratefully smiles back at Lucy. When Brock first started dating Lucy, he didn't bring her around Kanto much because he was pursuing her. He was always in Hoenn, and Misty was too busy to care about his pestering whereabouts. When Brock announced his engagement, Misty knew she wasn't going to see him much anymore. Thus, Misty has rarely had chances to get to know Lucy, but Misty considers Lucy a friend.

"Thanks, Lucy." Despite her awkwardness about the situation, Misty knows Lucy's words are correct. She will always find a way to move forward with Ash. It doesn't matter how long or how complicated it gets, life seems to always bring them back together somehow. "I think we'll be fine too."

After a few good byes with promises of visits in the near future, Ash, Misty, and Pikachu are finally back at the Cerulean City gym. To their surprise, the gym is suspiciously quiet. It definitely should not be this quiet with Tina around. "Maybe they're in the gym?" Ash suggests. Pikachu is currently trying to sniff out Tina's scent.

Tired from the journey, and still awkward over Ash, Misty is not in the mood for her family playing hooky again. She trusted them to watch over the gym! Where are they? Why didn't they call her? Or text her? They know she's coming home today. "They know we're coming back today. Someone would've been here to greet us."

Ash is wary of Misty, not just because of the tension between them, but because he knows how irritated she gets with her family. "Uh. I'll call Tracey." Usually, Tracey is the responsible one. He would tell them if the Sketchits had to leave.

Before Ash can find Tracey's number, Misty spots a note on the kitchen counter. Her furrowed brows relax, and she tells Ash, "Don't."

"Huh?"

Sighing, Misty hands Ash the note. "They're at the Oaks'."

Ash reads the note, and sure enough, it's a very apologetic once from Tracey that seems to be scribbled pretty quickly. 'Gary needs help. We know you'll be back soon, so we're going. Sorry, Misty!' "Oh."

"They could've texted." Misty can't be mad at the Sketchits when they're helping others.

"We were in the air." Ash reminds her. "I hope Gary and Leaf are okay."

"They're new parents. I'm sure they called Tracey knowing he's here. He and Daisy will help." And it'll be nice for Sammy and Jayson to meet. They are close in age.

Ash sits on the couch in exhaustion and places the note on the table. He closes his eyes to mumble, "We should probably check on the Pokemon."

Also tired, Misty sits beside him subconsciously. Pikachu is between them. The redhead closes her eyes too. "Tracey and them left today. We can check on the Pokemon later." At least the Sketchits are somewhat responsible.

"Pi." Pikachu gets off the couch. "Pi pikachu pi pika pikachu pi." He then runs off down the corridor leading to the gym.

"Or Pikachu will check on them." Misty yawns, grateful for the helpful mouse, though Pikachu just wants to see his friends again.

In the corner of Ash's eye, he catches a glimpse of Misty. Realizing they're alone, the awkwardness is returning. He feels his ears heat up, so he quickly shuts his eyes again. "He's always helping us. We should get him some ketchup."

Giggling, Misty nods. "He's our number one babysitter, and our biggest helper." All the children love Pikachu. He's cute, cuddly, and patient. Misty figures he got his nurturing side from watching Togepi all those years ago.

Babysitter. Ash's chest aches tightly, especially because that day he dreads is coming closer. Pikachu is great with children. Ash has no doubt Pikachu will be an excellent babysitter whenever Ash has children...children with Misty? It has to be Misty. He's in love with her, and he's romantically involved with her. Well, it can only be Misty. Recalling the tension between them, which he is sick of, Ash does something that surprises both he and Misty: he speaks on the topic first.

"I love you, Misty." comes the very nervous voice of the man who feels his armpits getting sweaty.

This statement causes Misty to slowly open one eye where she sees his eyes are still shut. However, she can spot his slightly red ears, more red than usual. "I love you too, Ash." Comes the barely audible response. Mew. Where's her voice? Misty is mentally kicking herself over sounding so timid.

Getting more sweaty by the second, Ash finds the courage to say, "I, uh, want things to stay the same. Um. You know? Between us. Like how things were before we left for Hoenn."

"Oh. Yeah. Me too." Misty now has both eyes open. She figures Ash's eyes are still closed to help him talk. He's initiating this much needed conversation, which she appreciates. Since when did Ash Ketchum take the initiative again? He really is returning to his old self.

"Good." Ash nods. At least they're on the same page about that. "I like hanging out like friends, and uh, kissing, and holding hands." And his face is getting more red. Can he just go hide away already?

Misty too is blushing deeply. Not just by his words, but by her thoughts as well. "And...other stuff?"

"What other stuff?" Typical oblivious Ash.

Feeling like her face is going to explode, Misty eventually replies, "What we did in Hoenn...after the wedding...in the room…"

The man mulls over her words. Why won't Misty just straight up tell him? Oh wait. His eyes shoot open and he faces her, his face just as red has hers. "What?"

Misty shyly avoids eye contact. "I mean. We are a couple, and we're in love...and, I do like hanging out like friends, like we did before...and I also like what we did…"

Ash brings his hands up to his face where he breathes heavily through them. Misty is concerned he's having a panic attack, though he does tell her, "This is so embarrassing."

"Mew, I know!" Misty leans back into the couch. Her own arms cover her face now. "Why'd you have to bring it up?"

"Because you were avoiding me!"

"You were avoiding me first!"

"I never talk much!" Ash counters.

"You used to never shut up! I was used to that!" Misty glares at him.

Returning the glare, Ash retorts, "I rarely talked this year!"

"Whatever! But you were avoiding me too!"

"So you admit you were avoiding me?" Ash smirks victoriously, earning him a hit in the face by a pillow. "Owwww."

Misty rolls her eyes at his childishness. It's just a pillow. "And you were avoiding me too. But now that we agree that we can still be friends and lovers, then we can move on." She gets up, her fatigue returning to her. A nice shower before a nap will help re-energize her.

Setting the pillow to the side, Ash watches Misty head towards the stairs. "We agreed to be lovers too?"

He is just too dense. They've been dating for months now. Giving him a suggestive look from the stairs, Misty says, "Feel free to join me upstairs." Ash may have initiated the conversation, but Misty won't let him have one up on her. She will show her dominance in this relationship.

With the woman upstairs, Ash is still pondering over her words. He's pretty comfortable on the couch. So comfortable, he could fall asleep right now. Maybe he should be a good boyfriend and check on the Pokemon first. Just in case they need something. Since he's a heavy sleeper, he knows Misty would wake up first for any issues, and he really doesn't want that. She needs her sleep as a busy gym leader, even if it is the offseason.

"Oh!" The lightbulb finally clicks after a while, and he sprints up the stairs. No matter how awkward things get between them, he trusts they'll always pull through and past it. What better way than to continuously visit the topic that makes them embarrassed?

About a week later, the Sketchits are still helping out at the Oaks. Misty offered to drop by, but her friends want her to focus on her final deed for the city as a gym leader. They know how excited she's been about the community event. With it occurring in less than a month, there's still a lot of planning and last minute logistics she needs to figure out. The Sketchits were helping, especially since they'll be the new gym leaders. However, it seems like it'll just be Misty and Ash now: a farewell party of some sorts.

Sammy caught a summer fever, so the Sketchits are helping him cope through it while also making sure the Oak parents don't worry themselves to death. According to Daisy, the Oak house was a disaster when the Sketchits arrived, which Misty and Ash believe. Gary and Leaf still seem to be struggling with this whole parenting thing. It's a good thing that the Sketchits are in town to help.

When Misty gets off a call with a vendor, she feels strong arms wrap around her waist. A peck on the cheek brings a smile to her lips as well as a faint blush on her cheeks. Turning her head to face her boyfriend, Misty inquires, "Finish those calls yet?"

Sheepishly grinning, Ash kisses Misty's lips, hoping she will forget her question. Unfortunately for him, he's still met with those expectant eyes when he pulls away from the kiss. "Uh. I did one." Communicating with strangers, especially over a call, is still something he's working through. Even when he wasn't this introverted, he didn't like calling. Misty knows that all too well.

Getting off the stool, which removes her from his arms, Misty sighs. "You said you'd help, Ash."

"I know, and I will." He reassures her. "But we've been working all week. Let's take a break."

That suggestive lustful grin of his makes her heart pound faster. Pikachu has noticed the scent of mating off of them, so the mouse is often in the gym, giving them privacy. "We've taken plenty of breaks all week." Misty reminds Ash.

He grabs the pokenav from her to place on the kitchen counter. Holding her hands, Ash tries again. "We've been working all day, Mist."

"No, Ash." As much as she enjoys sex with Ash, this event isn't going to throw itself. The wedding, and the fact that the Sketchits aren't around to help, means Misty is behind schedule. She likes being ahead of schedule. Not last minute, like this goof. However, when he manages to pulls her close for a very passionate kiss, a kiss that leaves her feeling jittery, Misty contemplates a small break.

With his hand on the small of her back, Ash's warm brown eyes meet Misty's conflicted blue ones. "5 minutes?"

That pouting face of his. Ash always looks like a begging Vaporeon when he gives her this look. Giving in, though Misty knows she wants this break too, she pecks his lips. "20 minutes?"

"Or we just call it a day?" Ash chuckles. It is almost dinner time, but his hunger will be satisfied with just Misty.

She pulls his hand to follow her up the stairs. "Don't push it, Mr. Pokemon Master."

"Worth a shot." He misses when she was the one all over him last week. At least she still satisfies his needs daily.

A few weeks later, all of the vendors have been contracted and informed of the event. The media has been publishing it too, and numbers are expected to be a lot. Misty does have the field next to her gym, which she plans on using due to the large number of people and vendors. The city is excited for what they hope will be an annual occurrence in Cerulean City. Ash really feels at home here, though he knows he feels at home anywhere Misty is.

The event is next week, but typical Misty is fretting over it. She wants it to be perfect because it's her first event she's put on for her city. For the people she loves. And it'll be her last as their gym leader. This city has done so much for her, and especially for Ash, that she wants to give them the best parting gift she can. Unfortunately for her, Ash comes bearing news she'd rather not hear.

He lays in bed next to her, slightly anxious about the words that are going to leave his mouth. Misty is still looking over event details on her laptop while she's laying in the bed. "Mist."

"Hm?" If Ash wants sex, he can wait until she's done. She is the one working harder than him.

Nervously rubbing the back of his head, Ash finds the courage to say, "I need to go back home for a day." No response. Is she okay with it then? Phew. He was worried for no reason. However, when he looks at her again, he notices she isn't even paying attention to him. Slightly annoyed, Ash repeats, "Misty."

"What is it?" Comes her gruff irritated voice.

Okay. That's it. She hasn't given him as much attention as he wants since returning from Hoenn. Ash still plans to leave in the fall, so he wants as much time with her as he can get. Closing her laptop on her, he's met with a very intense glare. "I'm going back to Pallet Town tomorrow." And her glare intensifies. All of Ash's resolve is replaced with fear now.

"Why? The event is this weekend, Ash! Why are you going home now?" He could've gone home any of those weeks before the week of the event.

"Uh. There's something I need to do."

"Can't it wait 'til next week?"

He shakes his head. "I'll only be gone tomorrow. I'll be back by dinner."

"But why?" Misty still doesn't understand what's so urgent. Is it Delia? Panicking, the woman exclaims, "I'm coming too!"

Ash quickly shakes his head. He doesn't want to inconvenience Misty more. Plus, this is something he needs to do alone. Not drag her into it like he's been doing this whole year. "You don't need to. You should stay here and wrap up the planning."

"But your mom…"

"She'll understand." Ash smiles reassuringly. "We'll visit her together next week."

Furrowing her brows, Misty inquires, "Then why don't you wait until next week to go home?"

"I just need to go now." He thought he could wait, which is why it took him until now to voice it to Misty. Nevertheless, Ash's mind is constantly plagued by loose ends in Pallet Town. He can't fully enjoy his time with Misty unless he completely moves on from his past. In the meantime, he'll see his mother, and maybe he'll stop by the Oaks'? Though Misty seems to want him back as soon as possible.

"Is your mom okay?" Misty worriedly wonders.

"Yeah. She's fine. It's just something I need to do."

"But-"

"Trust me, Mist." Ash meets her concerned cerulean orbs. "It's just a day trip. Maybe you can visit Mewtwo tomorrow?" Ash prefers she takes a break. Apparently, Misty and Mewtwo are somewhat friends. Ash has only seen their interactions a few times.

Reluctantly sighing, Misty gives in. She recalls the beginning of their relationship when she'd be secretive around Ash. It's only fair for her to respect his privacy, even if they are dating now. "I saw Mewtwo last week."

"You can check on him again? Make sure his wounds healed." suggests Ash.

"I'm pretty sure I'll have to bandage new wounds too." The offseason brings a lot of trainers trying to capture Mewtwo. Glad that the topic has shifted, Ash continues nonchalantly speaking with Misty.

The next day, Ash and Pikachu arrive in Pallet Town where Ash has caught up with his mother. He plans to have lunch at the Oaks with the Sketchits before he heads back to Pallet Town. While Pikachu is interacting with Mimey and Delia in the backyard, Ash has snuck off to his room. His mother is happy to see him again, especially with this surprise visit. Delia is excited to see Misty next week. The older woman understands that Misty is busy with the Cerulean City event.

Taking in a deep breath, Ash approaches the dresser in his room. Usually, he only comes to this dresser to grab more clothes to bring to Cerulean City. After the community event, he and Misty will be moving a lot of their belongings to Pallet Town and the Indigo Plateau apartment she has. Right now, though, Ash isn't here for any of that. He bends down and opens the sock drawer. With his breath hitching and his heart beating quicker, he reaches into the corner of the drawer under all of his socks.

When Ash pulls out the small item that feels like a heavy weight, he ends up sitting on the ground in defeat. He didn't even look at it yet, but he can already feel so much pain. Why? It's been years, and he's grown a lot this past year. He's ready to move on with Misty. Mew. He has her ring on him right now, but he still can't get rid of this ring. Could it be because that date is coming up in a few days? That date that haunts him.

Opening his eyes again, Ash peers down at the black box in his hand. He manages to flick it open where he stares at that diamond ring. Even more pain clenches at his heart, and he hates it. The only reason he's home is to get rid of this ring, though he can't even do that. All resolve he's had is now gone. Was he anxious to get rid of it? Or was he just anxious to move on? Like he's forcing himself to move on? Misty has never pushed him to do anything he doesn't want to do, but she doesn't deserve to be with a man still fretting on his past relationship.

Why can't he move on? Maybe because he never got full closure? Or maybe it's the pain that ended that relationship? Or the fact that she moved on right away? Well, she moved on towards the end of their relationship, and he hates that betrayal. That was a terrible breakup, so he should not be hung up on her, but he is. He loves Misty. He's ready to move on. However, his body does not seem to be on the same page as his resolve.

"Ash?" The soft soothing voice makes Ash snap his attention to the doorway where he spots his mother's warm smile. "Are you okay?"

Ash hadn't even realize how glossy his eyes got. So glossy that a few tears slipped out. Quickly wiping at his eyes, he nods. "Uh. Yeah. I'm fine, mom."

Delia enters the room to pat his shoulder. "You shouldn't force yourself."

Sighing, Ash gets off the ground to face Delia. "I'm not. I'm ready to get rid of it." He knows he's lying, and she can see it in his eyes.

"Ash…"

"I'm fine." Ash tries to reassure her. All these years of him moping around and getting on his mother's nerves, yet now she's coddling him again. Where is that tough love that got her to abandon him at that League dinner where he met his wife?

"Don't force yourself into anything you're not ready for." Delia warns him. "I know Misty understands that you're still recovering." Delia is especially concerned because the 22nd is in a few days. Ash seems to be fine on the outside, but who knows what could happen to him on that date?

"It's not fair to her that I still have this, mom." Ash frowns. "I need to get rid of it already."

"Are you ready to?"

"Yes." A skeptical eyebrow raise from Delia makes Ash let out a breath. "I want to be ready. I thought I was." Ash reluctantly tells her. "But the moment I saw the box, I just couldn't. I'm scared I'll never be ready to, but I don't wanna hurt Misty." Why is he still such a coward when Misty gives him so much strength?

"She's known about this ring for a while, Ash." Delia rubs his back. "Misty is understanding. We both would rather you get rid of the ring when you're ready to. Else, forcing yourself may cause you more pain in the future."

"Or it might push me to finally move on."

Delia grabs the box from him, which she hides back in his sock drawer. "You don't need to rush." She doesn't know the details of the breakup, and she's since quit prying Ash. However, Delia wants her son to go at his own pace now. Well, at Misty's pace. That always seems to help Ash the best.

Furrowing his brows at the drawer, Ash knows his mother is correct. As much as he hates still holding onto that ring, he can't find it in him to completely throw it away. He wants to tell her his reasoning behind getting rid of the ring now. He wants to tell her that he and Misty are seriously getting deeper into their relationship. That he wants to propose to Misty, so he needs to get rid of this old ring. However, he can't tell Delia all of these things because it'll only devastate her to know Misty and Ash have been lying to her. Ash can't put his mother through that pain. This lie really has extreme drawbacks.

"Ash." Delia's soft hesitant voice breaks Ash out of his sorrowful thoughts.

"Yeah, mom?"

Taking in a deep breath, Delia finally asks, "How are you feeling? The 22nd is coming up." Although Delia knows that's the day of Ash and Misty's anniversary, she isn't sure how Ash will fare.

Another reason Ash came home is to have time to himself. In Cerulean City, he's too busy helping Misty with the festival. However, as the days near to the 22nd, Ash is scared. He is sad, yes, but he can handle it right now. What he fears is how he will act on the 22nd, which happens to be the day of Misty's festival. She didn't plan it on that day on purpose. The 22nd just happened to fall on a Saturday. Ash is sure Misty forgot about the 22nd since their relationship has been going really well lately.

Nevertheless, Ash just needs time to reflect and breathe before he can tackle the 22nd. Misty's event being on that day is actually a good thing because Ash will be too preoccupied with it. Hopefully. He really hopes he won't be depressed. Else, she'll have to worry about him and this festival he thought up of. "I'm fine."

"Should I come help with the festival?" Suggests Delia.

He quickly waves his hands. "No, mom. Thanks for the offer, but then Misty will be stressed about giving you good hospitality. You know how she is." Ash also doesn't want to deal with his mother's worried watchful eyes that day.

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah. I'm better than I've been since coming home, mom. You see me." He smiles largely, hoping to convince her. "I'll be fine on the 22nd."

Somewhat skeptical of his words, Delia continues eying Ash. He is right about being better than ever. Ash has shown huge improvements this year. So much that many people forgot about his reclusiveness. Even Delia can't believe how much he's grown this year. Regardless of how he is now, she knows the 22nd bears a lot of weight on him. All a mother wants to do is protect their child, but Delia needs to trust that Misty has this handled. There must be a reason Misty set the 22nd as the day of her Cerulean City festival. Maybe it was to distract Ash from his sorrows?

"Okay, Ash. Have fun at the festival." Delia decides to drop the prying.

Relieved that his mother isn't questioning him more, Ash responds, "We will. "Wait. How did you know I had it in there?" Only Misty and Pikachu knew about the ring.

"I clean your room while you're gone." Delia reminds him. Ever since he moved out, she's slowly been cleaning it to bring it back to the neatness it once was at. One day, she found the ring, which confused her because Misty already had a ring. Delia then realized it was the engagement ring Ash had given his ex. The curious mother never questioned him for fear he may relapse. "Come help me with this garden before you leave." Distracting him may bring his mood back up.

Ash nods. Before he can follow his mother out of the room, his eyes wander back to that sock drawer. He's not ready, but he feels close. Maybe when Misty comes with him next week, he'll have that love and strength that will get him to finally move on? "Okay, mom."

When he's out back, Delia hands him some gloves. "Get the weeds, will you?" Age makes it more difficult for her to bend over.

"Okay." Although gardening isn't his hobby, he always enjoys the time he can spend with his mother.

Until she asks, "When can I be expecting grandchildren?"

Ash practically falls into the dirt, and Pikachu worriedly watches his trainer. Does Delia not know how much children scare Ash? Especially babies? "Uh, what?"

Delia is still gardening away, unaware of how much her question has impacted the man. "Grandbabies, Ash. You and Misty aren't getting any younger. She just got promoted, so I understand if you want to wait a few months or a year for her to get comfortable, but you both are in your 30s now, and-"

"Mom." Ash facepalms, embarrassed and slightly nervous.

"Yes, honey?" Delia eagerly faces him.

Sighing, Ash replies, "We haven't talked about it. We're busy." He remembers telling his mother this last time too.

Therefore, Delia lets out a long breath. "Do you plan on having children?" While Delia wants grandchildren, she won't force anyone to do anything. Besides, she can treat Sammy as a grandchild.

"I don't know." admits the defeated man. For the past few years, he never wanted anything to do with children, much less have his own. However, time with Misty has slowly gotten him to return to his old self. Right now, he still does not feel ready for children, but maybe in the future, he will...with Misty. It can only be with Misty. "We'll tell you if we plan on it."

Luckily, that answer is enough for Delia. She's still somewhat hesitant around Ash because she fears she may trigger him back into reclusiveness. Another reason Ash loves Misty is because she doesn't tiptoe around him. The world continues to watch their moves and words around Ash, but Misty behaves however she wants. Thinking about the woman he can be himself around, Ash misses her even more. Since he knows he'll be traveling again, they don't have much time left. It's too bad that they're so busy this summer. Ash is eager to return back to her.

A few days later, Ash and Misty are wrapping up with the event planning. Misty has been really busy, mainly because she wants everything to be perfect. Ash, on the other hand, is concerned about her. This is supposed to be a fun, stress-free event for Misty. Not something to bother her more and cause her more work. That was never his intention when he brought it up months ago. The event is tomorrow, meaning Misty has been a lot more on edge than usual.

Tomorrow is also the 22nd, but because Ash is worrying over Misty, he hasn't thought too much about that dreaded date. Sometimes, he remembers it, though he tries not to focus on it. Currently, Ash and Pikachu are caring for the gym Pokemon while Misty is at the field nearby with the decorators. Ash glances over at his loyal mouse. "I wish Misty would relax, Pikachu."

"Chu." Pikachu worriedly nods. Misty has barely spoken to them besides telling Ash what to do for the event.

After leaving Delia's, Ash and Pikachu went to see the Oaks and Sketchits. The Oaks are a lot better, but the Sketchits don't feel too well leaving them just yet. Gary and Leaf are learning a lot about being parents, and Tina is a big help, especially at the lab. Ash knows he'll have the whole summer to see the Sketchits because he'll be helping them move into the gym. Thus, Ash doesn't mind that they're still in Pallet Town.

Like Delia, Gary expressed his concern over the 22nd and Ash. Gary and Delia are the only ones who've seen Ash during his darkest times, hence their worry. Ash had to convince Gary too that he'll be fine. Gary even offered to come to Cerulean City with his family on the 22nd. That way, the Sketchits can actually attend. It's projected to be a hot day, so Ash doesn't want to risk Sammy or anyone getting a fever. Fortunately, it didn't take much to reassure Gary that Ash will be okay.

"She won't listen to me." Ash sighs. Misty is too exhausted at the end of the day. So much that he feels bad bothering her, so he doesn't.

"Pika pikachu pi pikachupi pika pikapi?" Suggests the mouse.

Ash's eyes light up. Why hadn't he thought of that? He hates it when others tiptoe around him, but he's been doing that to Misty. "You're right, Pikachu! I'll get her to take a break!" The last time he convinced her to take a break was during the tournament season. With everything going on lately, he's forgotten how he would distract Misty from work. Ash Ketchum will need to call upon his charms again.

"Pi pika!" Pikachu grins proudly, happy to have helped his trainer. After thanking Pikachu, Ash speaks with Misty's Pokemon. He will need their help, and fortunately, they're willing to provide it.

When the gym Pokemon swim further away, Ash stops Pikachu from joining them. The mouse curiously eyes his trainer, and Ash speaks first. "I need to talk to you about something else too, Pikachu."

"Chu?" Pikachu cocks his head to the side. He jumps on Ash's shoulder. "Pi pikapi pikachu?" What could Ash want to talk about. Lately, Ash has confided in Misty, so Pikachu has been free to himself. This must be important. Does it have to do with Ash's proposal?

Taking in a deep breath, Ash whispers, "Tomorrow is July 22nd."

"Pi." Pikachu pales. How could he forget? He's been so busy helping Misty plan this event that he hasn't thought about the dates. "Chuuuu…"

Ash scratches Pikachu behind the ears. "I think I'll be fine, but, uh, could you keep an eye on me just in case? I don't wanna make Misty worry if I have a panic attack or anything…" Ash really wants to believe that he'll be fine tomorrow, but he won't know until the day arrives. These past few days have been just fine, though he is a bit nervous.

"Pika!" Pikachu nods. He totally understands why Ash wants to keep this a secret from Misty. She knows what tomorrow's day means for him, but he's rarely talked about it. Misty must've forgotten, which is why the festival is tomorrow too. Ash hates people worrying over him, so Pikachu knows Ash likes that Misty forgot about tomorrow's date.

"Thanks, buddy." As much as Ash doesn't want Pikachu watching him, Pikachu is his insurance in case he relapses.

Before they can talk more, Ash hears the front doors of the gym open. The only person who has access to the front of the gym is Misty. Well, her sisters and Officer Jenny, but Misty's sisters are out of town right now. And Officer Jenny would knock first before entering. Therefore, Misty returns from the very hot outdoor weather when Ash sprints to the gym lobby. He spots his wife basking in the AC, relieved to be out of that humid heat. Misty burns in the sun easily, so she usually coats herself with lots of sunscreen and a hat before leaving. Tomorrow's forecast seems to be just like today's: sunny skies with humid heat.

"Hi, Mist!" Ash smiles largely while approaching her.

Pikachu is amazed how Ash can go from talking about the darkest day of his life to now smiling like nothing happened. It reminds Pikachu of Ash's short attention span as a child. Misty does bring out the playful side of Ash. "Pikachupi!" Pikachu would leap into Misty's arms right now, but Misty looks tired.

"Hey." Comes the exhausted voice. He's used to this voice, though he mostly hears it during the tournament season. Ash stops beside her just as she stops leaning over the cool counter. Misty gives him a small smile while peering into his excited brown orbs.

"I challenge you to a Pokemon battle!" Ash eagerly pumps a fist in the air.

"Pikachu!" Pikachu does the same from Ash's shoulder.

Misty, though, raises a confused eyebrow at the pair. They haven't battled in weeks due to how busy life has been. Once Misty registers his words, she lets out an apologetic breath. "We're too busy, Ash."

Ash already told himself he would not take 'no' for an answer. "You said you'd battle me whenever I want. That the offer doesn't expire." He reminds her of her words from nearly a year ago.

Misty mentally curses herself. How was she to know it'd take Ash this long to defeat her? He still has yet to do that, and she won't be going easy on him. However, she is too busy for a battle right now. The only reason she even returned to the gym was to grab some Pokemon to help with the decorating. "Can we battle after the event?"

The man shakes his head. "I'm challenging you now, and as a gym leader, you can't deny my challenge."

"I'm an Elite Four member."

"You're also a gym leader until tomorrow night." Smirks Ash, which causes Misty's brows to furrow more.

Since when did he get so smart? Whatever. She can't get anything past him right now. Plus, Ash really seems a lot like his old self. This eagerness to battle, and the whining when she denies him. How can she continue saying 'no' when she wants him to return to his childhood self? Glancing at the clock, Misty reluctantly agrees, "Fine. We'll have a 3 on 3." There's no time for a full 6 on 6 battle, though she'd like to have one of those with him.

"Yes!" Ash's goofy grin returns, making Misty smile again. He's pumping his fists in the air, like a child, but that's why she loves him. With how serious her life is, Ash's carefree childish nature balances her out. He makes her life fun, and she loves him.

Trying to ignore how fast he's making her heart beat, Misty jogs past him towards the arena. Along the way, she nudges his shoulder hard, stopping Ash from his mini celebration. When he curiously meets her playful eyes, she sticks her tongue out at him. "Get ready to lose again, Ketchum!"

Misty then enters the arena, leaving Ash in his tracks. Ash looks at the determined Pikachu on his shoulder. With a chuckle, the man runs after Misty. He's glad she's already letting loose, but that won't stop him from finally claiming his victory over her. "Today's my day, Mist!"

Well, Sceptile defeats Gyarados, though he does sustain lots of injuries. Thus, he's easily knocked out by Politoed who also takes care of Pikachu with a hypnosis attack. Pikachu did weaken Politoed enough for Charizard to deliver the finishing blow.

Now, Misty is left with Kingdra against Charizard. Due to Kingdra being at the Cerise lab for the past few years, Misty is still learning to get in sync with him. He's a lot faster than she remembers, so their timing for attacks is still off. If this is Misty's way of giving Ash an advantage, he won't take her lightly. However, Misty just wants to get more practice with Kingdra.

"Dragon dance, Kingdra!" Misty commands.

"Let's show them a dragon dance of our own, Charizard! Dragon claw!" Ash is grinning widely. He always feels so alive when battling. Well, he's only started feeling it the past few months, which is thanks to the woman across from him.

Misty too is very invested in this battle. All of her worries over tomorrow's events are forgotten as she is focused on defeating Ash again. Their childhood rivalry still reigns intensely, and like him, she is getting a high from this battle. Ash has proven to be a worthy adversary lately. He'll defeat her some day soon, but not today. "Dragon breath!"

Recovering from the dragon claw attack, Kingdra quickly counters with his own dragon type move. Charizard can't keep up with Kingdra's new speed, so Kingdra manages to hit Charizard's wing, paralyzing the flying Pokemon. Ash flips his cap backwards, a gesture that causes Misty to blush. Mew. He's looking a lot like the Ash she fell in love with. However, he's not at 100%, and she can't pinpoint what he's missing.

"Block it off with flamethrower!"

"No way, Ash!" Misty's smirk grows. "Kingdra, use water pulse!"

"I'm winning this one!" Ash confidently responds. Battles with Misty are always fun. To think, he used to dread them, and he once wanted nothing to do with battling. He's earned all of his Pokemons respects back, including the stubborn Charizard. Ash feels like he's ready to return to his once youthful ways. He wants to battle and compete again. He wants to travel. He wants to be Ash Ketchum again!

Therefore, as he watches the battle before him, along with the redhead deeply focused on it, Ash can't help but fall more in love with her. He owes all of this to her. Her patience. Her tough love. Her care. Misty is the only one who can ever reach him, and he does not want to lose her. Currently, the ring he got her is hidden in Pallet Town for fear that she may find it here. It's another reason he went home earlier this week. Nevertheless, Ash doesn't need a ring. Any proposal is perfect as long as she's there.

The fact that she can make him forget about tomorrow's date just by her presence means she's special to him. This must be because he's completely over his ex, right? His love for Misty clouds those painful memories. Misty always does that to him, so how come he couldn't throw away that damn ring? Does he think he could do it now if it were in front of him? Right now as he is basking in his love for Misty?

"Sludgebomb now!" Misty is glad she used dragon dance in the beginning. She sees that Charizard and Ash are struggling to keep up with Kingdra's speed. It also helps that Ash hasn't battled Kingdra as much as he's battled Misty's other Pokemon. Kingdra continues to surprise everyone with his agile strength.

"Charizard, dodge it!" Ash frantically comes back to his senses. He was still infatuated over Misty, and now, his Pokemon is paying the price. Ash can't help himself though. His mind keeps wandering back to his young days when he met her and traveled with her. She's one of few trainers he's traveled with. She was starting out alongside him, which sparked their rivalry. They continued pushing each other because they were on the same pace.

The only other female trainer Ash traveled with was Iris, but Iris was already an established gym leader at the time. Also, Ash and Iris couldn't relate the way Misty and Ash did. Something about starting from the beginning together really brought him and Misty close. Even brock has mentioned the bond Ash and Misty have over him. Brock started with Ash and Misty, though Brock was already way more experienced than them. And Brock wasn't trying to battle along the journey like Ash and Misty were.

Ash can't describe this relationship with Misty. He just knows he's had this feeling for a while, and he's a fool to have neglected it all these years. Well, he is suffering from the consequences, but fortunately, Misty is helping him cope. She always has been by his side. She always will be. So as they battle away, Ash is hit with the nostalgia from their childhood. From when they first started crushing on each other. From when they first started out as stubborn trainers. From when they first formed a bond.

Thus, Ash isn't even that fazed when Charizard falls in defeat. Misty is celebrating across the arena with Kingdra while Ash returns Charizard. Pikachu is still snoozing on the nearby bench, but all Ash can see is the happy grin on his girlfriend. Before she can start boasting to him, she's surprised to see he is right beside her. Since Misty expects to see a pout, she's further shocked by his very warm and soft smile. Why is he looking at her like that? He just lost to her in another battle.

"A-"

"Misty." He cuts her off.

That deep yet loving voice causes her heart to pick up speed. Lately, she's caught him looking at her like this a lot. Like he has so much love for her. How does she know that's the way he looks at her? Because she once caught him on the TV looking at Serena like that years ago. Misty does hope Ash loves her more than he did Serena, but Misty won't be jealous of an old ex. Nonetheless, why does he keep looking at her like this? Is it because he'll be leaving to travel again this fall? Misty doesn't like thinking about the fall, but it's an impending situation.

"Yeah, Ash?"

This is it. He's ready. More ready than he's ever felt. Ash has been thinking of the right time to pop the question to Misty, but he wanted everything to be perfect. They're both not extravagant people, so he was just going to have an intimate proposal. He just didn't plan for it to be in the arena and by the poolside. However, everything feels perfect. He loves her a lot, and he just wants her to finally be his. For real. Not fake, like they've been playing the world.

"I love you." Ash is surprised his voice isn't shaking. Maybe that's what happens when he knows he's confident in himself and his emotions? He's grown a lot this year, which continues to amaze him.

"I love you too." Misty is curious what he's getting at. Does he want a break with her? He's only this sweet when he wants that. "But we're too busy for a break."

Ash shakes his head. "I don't want that right now." Though it doesn't sound too bad either. He grabs her hand softly in his, his eyes never wavering from hers. Mew. These cerulean blue pools he continuously falls into over and over again. Ash has never felt this way about anyone before. He used to be scared that he'd lose her too. That he wasn't meant for a relationship. Thus, he pushed aside his feelings for so long, but he's glad he finally accepted them. "I wanna thank you for everything this year, Mist. I don't think I ever have."

Blushing from his sincerity, Misty responds, "What are friends for?" Well, estranged friends who somehow ended up fake married and friends turned lovers. "You don't need to thank me, Ash. I've had the most fun this year than I've had in years." As much as she's helped him enjoy life again, he's done just the same for her.

His smile grows. Mew. It shocks him how much he can continue falling in love with her. This feels surreal. Yup. He's ready for life with her. She's all he can think about, and she's all he wants. With her, he knows he can overcome anything. Bringing a hand to cup her cheek, Ash tells the confused woman, "I don't want this to end. I love you, and I love us."

Misty's heart is beating even faster. It's pounding so hard, she can barely hear Ash's words. Why is he getting so sentimental? Because this event tomorrow is basically signalling the close of their Cerulean City chapter? Her final chapter as its gym leader, which also happened to be her most memorable chapter because of him. Does Ash feel just as strongly for this city as Misty?

The man continues expressing his emotions, "I'm happy we made that pact back in Alola, but I'm tired of ly-"

Unfortunately for them, Misty's pokenav ringing loudly jolts them apart in surprise. She quickly fumbles in her bag nearby for her pokenav. Although Misty was enjoying the moment with Ash, the ring has interrupted that moment. Also, this may be important for tomorrow's event. Ash can wait a few minutes. "Hello? Misty Waterflower speaking."

And… Ash's nerves finally hit him. All resolve he had is gone as he's sweating a lot now. Where was this confidence? Where has it gone? The call really messed up this moment, peeving Ash. He runs a hand through his hair, hoping to calm down his breathing before Misty gets off her call. What will he say now? The moment was ruined, and he doesn't want to give a half-assed proposal now. The timing doesn't seem right anymore.

"Please tell him I hope he gets better. Don't worry about tomorrow… Yes. Thank you. Have a good day." Misty then hangs up and lets out a loud groan. Kingdra worriedly eyes his trainer, and Ash raises a curious eyebrow up at her.

"Everything okay?"

She shakes her head while sitting by the pool to dip her legs in. "The Vaporeon guy for tomorrow caught a summer fever. They had to cancel."

Ash sits beside her, which causes Misty to subconsciously rest her head on his broad shoulder. "Tomorrow is supposed to be hotter than today. I'd feel bad if he did show up in that big costume all day. He would've caught a fever tomorrow anyway." And there may be a lawsuit or negative publicity.

She nods in agreement. "I mean, it's not a terrible thing, but I wanted everything to be perfect." At least it wasn't one of her major food vendors who had to cancel. Misty does have back ups in place just in case. She could find a new person to dress up in a giant costume, though Ash is right. Tomorrow will be too hot for that. No way will she torute anyone through that heat. Today is already unbearable for her.

Wrapping an arm around her, Ash rubs her shoulder. "Everything will be perfect, Mist. The city is excited and thankful for this event bringing them together. It's starting to feel like small town Pallet Town."

Misty giggles at his attempt to cheer her up. Raising her head, she pinches his cheek right on that unique dimple of his. "You're annoying."

"What?" Ash was cheering her up, but she wants to call him annoying? What did he do?

Her giggles continue because she doesn't know how to respond back to his kindness. Her pride prevents her from willingly wanting to admit he's being nice to her. That he's cheering her up. Thus, when Misty meets Ash's cute pout, she decides to tease him more by shoving him into the pool. Kingdra swims out of the way, leaving Ash swimming back up to the surface.

"What was that for?" exclaims the man to the now hysterically laughing woman.

"You're just so easy to tease."

Instead of pouting more, Ash ceases the opportunity to pull Misty under with him. It's hot outside. The cool water is instantly welcomed by her, but she is upset that Ash managed to get her in it. Luckily, she is a much better swimmer than him, so she starts wrestling with him in the water. Kingdra sweatdrops at the two, and swims over to Pikachu who now watches from the poolside.

"You're going to regret that, Ash Ketchum!" Misty keeps dunking Ash's head under the water.

Okay. Maybe pulling her in wasn't the best idea because she has a clear advantage over him. How is she so strong and fast? Why can't he turn the tables? "Ah! Stop it, Mist!"

"Who's the better trainer? Say it, and I'll let you go!"

"Ash Ketchum!" Ash smirks as he gets dunked again.

"Wrong answer, Ketchum. Try again." Misty grins mischievously.

"That's the right answer though." Dunk.

The two continue with their shenanigans until Ash finally finds an opening. Misty had relaxed enough for him to now grab her. He knows he doesn't stand a chance against her in the water, so using the element of surprise will only last for so long. However, there is something he knows always stuns her. Before she can counter his hands, Ash plants a passionately wet kiss on her lips.

Feeling her muscles loosen, he knows the kiss is working. A smile grows on his mouth as he and Misty deepen their kiss. He loves her, and she loves him. They are devoted to each other, and he hopes to be married to her some day. A real marriage. It will happen, so he just needs to be patient. For now, he'll continue enjoying this relationship they still have. There's no need to rush anything.

The next day, Ash and Misty wake up early to work on last minute preparations. They're guiding vendors and helping people set up. The local police unit is here for support too. It's expected that at least a third of Cerulean City will come by the event, which will be running from the afternoon to the night. Well, Ash woke up a lot earlier than Misty because of what today means to him. Of course, she has no idea because he laid in bed and pretended to be asleep.

Right as people are showing up, Misty can't find her husband. She spots Pikachu who usually can be seen with Ash. Where there's Pikachu, there most likely is his trainer. Misty hurries over to the mouse who is helping with balloons. "Pikachu, where's Ash?" Although Misty doesn't need Ash until later when they give a brief little speech, she would rather keep him close by before losing him in the crowd. There are already a decent amount of people lined up outside of the field who are slowly being let in by the officers.

"Pikapi?" Pikachu looks around and shrugs. He, like the other Pokemon, have been busy helping decorate and set up. Despite being on Ash-duty, Pikachu lost sight of his trainer a couple of minutes ago. Oh no. Could Ash have relapsed somewhere? Ash said he'd be okay this morning, so Pikachu got lax with the supervision. "Pikapi pikachu." Pikachu then sprints off in search of his trainer.

Furrowing her brows, Misty looks at the man inflating the balloons. "You wouldn't have happened to see him, would you?" The man apologetically shakes his head, causing Misty to sigh in slight frustration. Where is her husband? Knowing him, he's lost track of time. Or he's stuffing his face with some free samples.

Misty pulls out her pokenav to call him. Hopefully, he'll hear it or feel it vibrate, but the field is getting really loud with the festivities under way. There's a stage for local performers. The Sensational Sisters were supposed to put on a show, but the Sketchits had to go to Pallet Town. And then Lily and Violet's trip got delayed, keeping them stuck in Unova right now. That's fine with Misty because she'd be more stressed having to deal with her sisters too.

When Misty reaches Ash's voicemail for a fourth time, she gives up calling. As she walks around searching for him, she asks everyone to tell Ash to meet her at the stage, if they see him. At least she knows Pikachu is actively looking for Ash. More people are now in the field, limiting her view of anything. Wow. It's a good thing she decided to host the event at the field rather than her backyard.

Eventually, Misty has been walking around for a while now, still not finding Ash. Oh. That dense man is going to get a taste of her mallet when she finds him. In the corner of her eye, Misty spots a very large blue costume. The costume is obvious because of its height and color. Thinking nothing of it because it is a festival, she continues panning her eyes around the crowd. People have stopped her to thank her for the event and to tell her how wonderful it is. She was on the news earlier this week promoting it.

Wait. Blue costume? Misty darts her gaze back in the direction of the large Vaporeon costume. Didn't the agency call her yesterday saying they couldn't send someone out due to the heat. A heat that is much more intense than yesterday, which is why she has a huge pool set up for the public. Rushing over through the crowd, Misty keeps her eyes on the Vaporeon. Fortunately, the costume gets stopped to take a few pictures, allowing her to get closer.

When she's right beside the giant Vaporeon, Misty clamps a firm hand on its shoulder. "Hey! I thought you couldn't make it?" With the costume on, there's no way for anyone to see who is inside. She isn't sure if it's a man or a woman, but what Misty does know for sure is that the person is burning inside. "I'd feel better if you took off the costume. I'm still paying your agency. That's fine. But just enjoy the festival like everyone else. I don't want you getting more sick in this heat. Or go home and rest. Do whatever you want, but please get out of this costume."

To her surprise, Vaporeon grabs her hand with it's large paw and drags her past the crowd. Misty is surprised by the force from this contractor. She's about to fight back and say some choice words about their actions when she's finally led behind a vendor tent. It's still near the public in case she needs help, but it's private enough for a quiet conversation.

Misty glares at the Vaporeon. "You can't just drag people around like this. It's unprofessional."

Vaporeon has its hands on its head and lifts off the mask, revealing long black sweaty hair sticking to the tan head of the man beneath it. "Sorry about that, Mist. I just didn't want kids seeing me ripping off my Vaporeon head." Chuckles the man, though he is also panting.

Sighing, Misty brings a hand up to move some of his sweaty hair out of the way. "What are you doing, Ash?"

"You said you wanted today to be perfect." He grins proudly despite the heat. "So I rented the costume from the agency. Kids in Cerulean City love Vaporeon. You're right." He's taken a lot of pictures already, hence the reason he's lost track of time.

Misty frowns. Although she loves his kind gesture, she doesn't like how red he's looking. His face already feels really hot, and Ash sweats like crazy on a normal occasion anyway. He's drenched in this costume. "You're gonna get sick if you stay in that." The event has only started. He doesn't plan to stay in the costume all day, does he?

"I'll be fine." He reassures her, though he's also trying to convince himself of his words. Only half an hour in this costume, and he's baking. He's sure he'd drenched it in his sweat already. Add in the fact that it's July 22nd, but this date really isn't affecting him much. Yes, he feels a slight pang in his chest at times, though it's not terrible or often.

However, Misty continues frowning. No way will she let the love of her life get sick over her selfish desires. Just because she doesn't have everything she wants today, that does not mean the event is imperfect. It's still complete. Plus, Misty was planning to enjoy today with her boyfriend once the festivities start running smoothly. Not have him engaging with the guests the whole time. They're supposed to have fun today too.

"Thanks, Ash, but you can stop now. You look like you're gonna have a heat stroke."

The man is persistent and stubborn, like always, so he shakes his head. "I'm having fun being Vapoeron." While he normally doesn't like being in the spotlight or with strangers, hiding behind the Vaporeon costume has helped him a lot. He doesn't have to worry about any judgments because no one knows it's him underneath. Ash feels like his confidence is returning.

Before Ash can slip the mask back on, Misty places a hand on his arm to stop him. He meets her serious blue eyes again, and that's a gaze that normally makes him very nervous since he usually gets that when he's made her mad. "Ash, take it off."

Ash blushes because whenever Misty tells him to strip, he does. It means he's getting lucky. However, this moment has nothing to do with sex. Ash understands why Misty wants him out of the costume, but he wants to remain in it. At least for a few hours. He's sure he won't get sick or anything. "Nah." Ash innocently grins to no avail.

Misty's grip on his arm tightens, and Ash gulps. They're both very stubborn people, though she's trying to look out for his well-being. He needs to just listen already! There's one way she's sure he'll finally give in to her request. "I won yesterday." Misty reminds the man who blinks at her in confusion.

"Huh?"

"I won our battle yesterday."

Oh. That. Right. Ash frowns recalling how he has yet to defeat Misty. "Why are you bringing that up?"

"Because you owe me a favor." She crosses her arms over her chest knowingly.

Ash finds her utterly attractive when she does anything, especially when she stands like she means business. "Oh. What do you want?" What could she possibly ask of him now? What favor could she want? Ash doesn't mind doing anything for her.

"My favor from you is for you to take off that costume, and keep it off today." Although Misty would like to use her favor on something else, she's confident that she'll get another favor in the future. All she has to do is challenge him to a Pokemon battle. She's been on a winning streak, and she's sure she'll earn herself another favor from him.

Ash's frown returns. "Not fair."

"Rules are rules. And this was your rule." Misty smirks. Groaning, Ash unzips the costume to step out of. It's now that Misty spots his drenched tshirt and swimming trunks. "And take a dunk in the pool while you're at it."

"Don't we have to give a speech soon?"

"After you get rid of all that sweat, and your body temperature returns to normal."

Rolling his eyes, Ash mocks a salute towards her. "Aye aye, captain."

"Watch that sarcasm, Ketchum."

"Make me." Ash's eyes twinkle, irking Misty. He knows the effect he has on her. That his little playful smirk can do.

Thus, Misty tiptoes to kiss his lips. When she pulls away, she pats his cheek. "Get in the pool, and then meet me on stage in 20." It takes a lot of resolve for her to walk back out to the public rather than run away somewhere more private with her sexy husband.

Ash can only chuckle at Misty's shyness. She won't ever admit that he can charm her, but he knows he can. She infatuates him all the time. It's only fair that he does the same for her. Ash grabs the costume and walks back to the gym nearby. He'll drop it off there, take a quick dunk in the pool to cool off, and then be on that stage before he makes Misty more mad. On the way, he runs into his frantic starter who tags along to the gym. No matter how much Ash tries to tell Pikachu that he's okay, the mouse is still worried.

As Misty walks towards the stage, glad to have solved the mystery of her missing boyfriend and the Vaporeon costume, her face is much hotter than Ash's. He always makes her feel like a young teenage girl, though this moment especially. The fact that he'd go as far as nearly suffering from heat stroke just because he wants to make this event perfect for her really shows the huge heart he has. The care and attention he pays to her. She doesn't know what she did to be lucky enough to have him, but she just loves him even more.

Eventually, Ash graces her with his presence by the stage. Pikachu is on his shoulder. Ash is a lot dryer now and not as hot. Even though he took a dip in the pool a few moments ago, the walk over to the stage from the gym under this intense sun has dried him up quickly. "Hey, Mist." Ash grins his boyishly handsome mug. The few women around spot it, and blush.

Noticing this, Misty jealously pecks his cheek. These people didn't bat an eyelash at Ash when he was a recluse. Now that his shirt is sticking to his well-defined muscles, women are ogling over him. Too bad for them, but he's married to her. "Took you long enough." That damn sheepish smile of his.

When Ash and Misty finally get on the stage, Misty gives a grateful speech to her city. She thanks them for the years she got to serve as their gym leader. Despite being an Elite Four member at the Indigo Plateau, Cerulean City is home. Her family will continue running the gym, so she will visit often. She will always offer her services to the residents of Cerulean City. Of course, the crowd cheers and there are expressions of missing her. Misty is a dutiful top-notch gym leader who anyone would be jealous to have.

To Misty's surprise, Ash takes the mic after her. He gives the crowd a smile, which Misty can tell is slightly nervous. She's curious as to why he wants to speak, but Ash thanks the city too. He tells Cerulean City that he appreciates their hospitality. How they accepted him (eventually) with Misty and welcomed him into their community. He grew a lot in the city, so it also holds a special place in his heart. The crowd claps, and many people are shocked to see him so vocal compared to the last time he spoke to a group like this. That was back when Misty announced more about their marriage, where Ash didn't even look up from his feet.

Once off the stage, Misty whispers, "You didn't have to talk."

He shrugs nonchalantly, glad that the scary part is over. "This city has healed me, Mist. You healed me in this city. I have never thanked them, so now was the time." He already thanked her yesterday. Today makes him feel extra sentimental.

Smiling, Misty links her arm with Ash's. Now that everything is moving smoothly, she can enjoy some of these festivities herself. She did work hard putting the event together. "Cerulean City loves you too, Ash. You're a part of us." Misty's eyes light up at a game up ahead. "Bet I can beat you at the ring toss!"

Ash's mind wanders from his nostalgia of his past year here. He now spots the game too, and a smirk appears on his lips. "No way!" Misty may be able to beat him at battles right now, but Ash will be sure to win these carnival games.

The two have a much-overdo date, and Ash really is pretty good at carnival games. Something about how his mother would constantly take him to Pallet Town's carnivals. There's a moment where the dunk tank man has to go to the bathroom, so Misty, being the gym leader, sits in his place. Many of the cityfolk line up to take their turns at dunking the gym leader. However, it would be Ash who knocks her down on his first try. Misty did get her revenge in the pool later by practically drowning Ash.

Since Pikachu could see that Ash indeed is okay, especially in Misty's care, Pikachu's supervision on Ash relaxed. Pikachu went off to enjoy the festival with his fellow pokepals too, leaving the humans to their date. The day couldn't be more perfect. Ash hasn't even thought about it being July 22nd since he's been by Misty's side. The effect she has on him. It's like a spell that makes him overcome anything he fears. She gives him strength.

With the festival concluding, Misty and Ash are riding on a ferris wheel. The city loves this festival, and it hopes this is an annual celebration. Misty did an awesome job planning it, though Ash helped as well. He stayed by her side all day. She doesn't remember when the last time she's had so much fun was, but she's sure it was with him.

"I always love festivals." Ash smiles over the city lights when the wheel goes up. "Like all the times I was lucky enough to be in a city when they were having a celebration. It was nice."

They had been quietly watching the sunset, so Misty is slightly startled by his words. "Yeah. It's interesting to see how different cities and regions celebrate too." Johto is very traditional while Kanto is conventional. Hoenn is more modern, and Sinnoh is more futuristic.

Ash nods. "Wanna hear about my favorite festival?"

He's got her interest. Ash has traveled many years without Misty. He must've gone to many festivals, but Misty hopes he doesn't talk about any Kalos ones. She doesn't want to hear about something he experienced with his cheating ex. "Where was it?"

Ash smirks and makes eye contact with her in the corner of his eye. Oh how sly, Ash Ketchum. "Johto."

Johto? As far as Misty knows, Ash only traveled Johto once, and it was with her. Unless it was during one of the times he competed in the World Cup? "Which festival?"

"The Shamouti Island one."

Thinking about that island makes Misty's blood boil. Did Ash go back there? Was Melody doting over him again? But Melody wants to treat Ash like nothing when he's a recluse. She's so fake. "Why?"

Ash's smirk grows spotting Misty's annoyance. "For one, I was basically worshipped there. As an 11 year old, I was the chosen one to save the world. That festival was basically for me." Boasts the man, earning him a very humbling hit on the head from Misty's mallet. "Joking, Mew, Misty!" He rubs his wound.

"Gotta deflate that big head of yours." Misty is glad to hear his playfulness again. His ego and confidence that she is surprised she's missed. "So you're gonna tell me about a festival I was obviously at?" Deadpans the woman. She was with him when they were 11.

Still wincing, Ash replies, "Yeah, but I'm gonna tell it from my perspective." What a better way to end a perfect day than with a perfect expression of how much this woman means to him? Ash has already told her countless times how much he loves her. While he would propose on this ferris wheel, he doesn't want Misty to share this date with trauma from his past.

"About how you had Melody all over you, and your head got so big you neglected Tracey and I?"

Well, Misty is still upset about that incident from 20 years ago. Innocently smiling, Ash says, "In my defense, I was 11."

The woman rolls her eyes. "I know. You and your huge ego."

"I'm better now."

"Whatever you think."

"Well, Melody isn't throwing herself at me now, so my ego isn't as big anymore." That intense sharp glare makes Ash stop teasing his girlfriend. "Heh heh. I mean. I wasn't interested in her back then, so I'm obviously not into her now."

"Also, she's a bitch now." grumbles Misty.

"You words, not mine." Glare. "Uh. But I totally agree." Phew. He's saving this fake marriage of theirs.

Glad that they're on the same page about something, Misty lets his comments on Melody go. "So what do you remember about Shamouti Island?" Why is that his favorite festival? It can't just be because they threw it for him, right? Ash Ketchum doesn't have that huge of an ego.

"Well, it wasn't really during the festival, but it was after. Um. After the festival was rudely interrupted by the world ending, ya know?"

"I remember." Ash has saved the world countless times. Anytime Misty experienced a natural disaster or heard about one that instantly got resolved by a legendary Pokemon, Misty knew Ash Ketchum had something to do with it. The news never publicized him, but she and Brock always knew it was him, especially when the problem occurred in a region he was in.

"Remember when I got hurt and fell into the ocean unconscious?" Ash eyes her because he recalls Misty telling him that that was one of the scariest moments in her life. He since learned it's due to her crush on him, but at the time, he thought she was just an overly worried friend.

"Yeah." Misty doesn't like thinking about the day she almost lost this man from the world.

"You didn't even hesitate to jump in the freezing water to save me. And Tracey said you would've given me CPR if I didn't wake up when I did." Misty risked the cold for Ash, and today, Ash risked the heat for her. They really do love each other.

The woman blushes shyly. Stupid Tracey. "Well, you woke up. And of course I'm gonna save you. We're best friends."

"But no one else reacted like you."

"I did have a crush on you."

"I know that now." Ash finally faces her rather than the city lights. "I had a crush on you too, but I didn't realize it the whole time we traveled together, Mist. But that doesn't mean I wouldn't save your life either." He's put his life on the line for her plenty of times as kids. Although his stubborn ego would never let him admit it to her, he cherished her a lot.

"We saved each other a lot." Misty decides to be neutral for them both.

Nodding, Ash continues, "I guess that festival wasn't my favorite, but what happened there is one of my most favorite memories. After we saved the world-"

"After you saved the world." All Misty did was watch Ash struggle against legendary birds.

"I couldn't have saved it if I drowned."

"I'm sure you would've figured out a way. You are the Chosen One."

That sarcasm makes him chuckle. "I should've pretended to be unconscious so you'd give me CPR."

"I would've made Tracey give you CPR."

"No thanks."

Rolling her eyes, Misty leans back in her seat. "I'd have to give you CPR now though. I am a lifeguard, and I'd get too much negative publicity if I didn't give my own husband CPR."

"Glad you're thinking about my health."

"I just don't want any more annoying people bothering me than I already have."

"I'm not annoying, am I?"

"Your words, not mine." Misty uses his exact phrase against him, causing Ash to pout. "Finish your story, idiot." Even though they're dating seriously, and they're very romantically involved, Misty loves how they behave like best friends. Like they did when they were younger.

Deciding to let her win this one, Ash tells her, "After Shamouti Island, I realized how important our friendship was. You were willing to get hypothermia and die to rescue me. We were both ready to die for each other as kids, Mist." Sheepishly laughing, he rubs the back of his head. "If that isn't true friendship, then I don't know what is."

Raising his head, Ash meets Misty's curious blue orbs. Orbs that make his heart race again. "I guess, that's why I got comfortable with us. I stopped calling and visiting because I figured we'd always be friends. I mean, we were willing to die for each other, so we can go a few months without talking."

"It was 12 years, Ash." Misty reminds him.

"Yeah." Of course she's still upset about that. "But you have to admit, every time we lost connection, we always met up like no time had passed. That's just how strong our friendship is. I've always said our meeting wasn't a coincidence. We were meant to become friends." His damn goofy grin returns, making Misty's heart melt along with his kind words towards her. "We were meant to be in each other's lives, Mist. It took me until Shamouti Island to realize that." That's why he's grateful for that festival.

While Misty admires the handsome man in front of her, she's trying to formulate a response. How can she? Maybe she should just kiss him passionately to show how much she loves him? However, before she can think of anything to do, loud booms erupt throughout the field, shocking them both. Misty and Ash glance towards the city where they see a large pink sparkle in the sky.

When the ferris wheel turns, the back of Ash's head is now in Misty's view of the fireworks. She resumes thinking over what he just told her. Misty is glad to hear that her scueing him didn't go unnoticed. Tracey had told Brock all about it, so Misty had to deal with the teasing from her older male friends. The fact that that moment resonates with Ash really does show he was conscious of her as a kid.

His large goofy childlike grin as he watches the fireworks in amazement. It's not his first time seeing fireworks, but he's easily entranced by them, like a child. Misty finds him adorable. Maybe he's right about how they were destined to meet and be friends? They were destined to be in each other's lives forever. The universe has shown that, no matter how much time passes, they are always brought back together. It's happened twice nowL once after 5 years, and another after 12.

Since Ash and Misty are dating now, Misty wants to believe that Ash won't let it take years to see her again. He promised he'd visit monthly. They've already somewhat spoken about how Ash will be traveling again in the fall. Not only is she forcing him to, but he wants to. Misty won't hold him back from his destiny. If he's destined to be a Pokemon Master and be in her life, then she'll help him with his destiny. He's the reason she's achieved as much as she has already. Ash has always pushed her, like how he pushed her to apply to be the Elite Four.

Therefore, Misty will stay by his side. Yes, they will be apart, and Ash doesn't have the best track record with keeping in contact. However, Misty trusts him. Their love rivals each others. Misty wants this relationship to work out, so much that she is scared for if he crushes her hope. No. Stop it, Misty. This negative, hesitant thinking is the reason she's in all her turmoil. It's the reason she and Ash argue lately.

Looking back at her boyfriend's mesmerized brown orbs focused on the fireworks, Misty can't help but smile warmly. This is Ash Ketchum she's thinking about. The person who always put others before him. He may not be the best communicator, though he cherishes those in his life. She'll give him another chance. Just because they're romantically involved now. Plus, the world thinks they're married, so he'll have the world to constantly remind him about Misty. There's no way he'll forget about her.

Even if no one reminded him of her, Misty knows Ash won't forget her. This year, he's answered a lot of her questions. They've learned and forgiven. All that's left is for them to move on. Ash from his ex, and Misty from her resentment towards him. This is the leap she needs to finally do it. Unlike a few months ago, Misty doesn't feel as nervous letting him travel. Ash's lovingness and care towards her proves to Misty that he will keep his word this time. She'll fully support his travels as his girlfriend and fake wife.

Hours later, the festival has ended. It ended once the fireworks did, so the officers helped escort people out. There will be a cleaning crew tomorrow, and Misty and Ash plan to help out. Despite hiring people for the jobs, Misty really wants to be involved. She feels bad leaving people to clean and set up an event she planned for, even if she did pay them to do it. Of course, this means Ash and the Pokemon are roped into it too. Ash doesn't mind because Misty's selflessness is a reason he fell in love with her.

High off of the endless amount of sugary treats he had at the festival, Ash is wide awake. Misty is exhausted, but she doesn't want the perfect day to end. The Pokemon are pretty tired too, so Misty and Ash put them to sleep in the gym. Misty fights a yawn, else Ash will make her go to sleep. He has this childish excitement right now, which she wants to continue adoring.

"I'm gonna clean up the yard." Ash mentions. He might as well use this energy for something constructive. They used the yard to store materials for the festival as well as make signs and whatnot.

"Let me grab the trashbags." Misty notes.

Ash shakes his head and takes the bags from her as they head outside. "You planned this event. It was my idea for you, but you stressed about it by yourself, Mist. Let me take care of you for once."

Blushing from his words, Misty counters, "You always take care of me, Ash. You cook and clean and have fun with me."

He's still picking up debris. "You do that with me too. I wanna pull my weight in this relationship."

"You are."

"Doesn't feel like it. You do so much for me." Ash smiles warmly. "Just let me do it now because I don't know when I'll be this nice again."

Giggling, Misty rolls her eyes at his tone. "I know you'll be nice the whole week before you start traveling again."

Ash is surprised hearing her mention his upcoming travels. She never brings it up. The times he does speak about it, Misty remains quiet to avoid an argument. "You're fine with me traveling again?"

"I told you, I'm not gonna stop you. I'm gonna force you to go."

"But you're gonna break us up." Ash frowns.

Smirking, Misty takes the bag from Ash's hand and drops it on the ground. She wraps her arms around his neck, looking into his expectant brown orbs. "Why would I break up with someone I love?"

Ash is very confused because the past few months, she was saying how she would break up with him, despite their love. "Uh. I'm not sure what to be thinking right now, Mist."

"You're not really a thinker, Ash." Teases the woman who kisses his lips lightly. Maybe she can work away this energy in a more fun way? Cleaning can wait until tomorrow.

Pouting, Ash retorts, "Well, you're not really an, uh, action...er!"

Okay. He totally ruined this romantic moment. "You're an idiot."

"You love this idiot." Ash sticks his tongue out at her.

"I wonder why?"

"Because he loves you too." Ash kisses Misty's cheek, making her blush. In the dim moonlight, the two can see the faint red tints on each others' faces.

"You better, Mr. Pokemon Master." Misty giggles as she leans in towards him again.

When Ash shuts his eyes in anticipation of her lips, Misty grabs the hat off his head. She runs away from his embrace, causing Ash to furrow his brows in disappointment. "Hey!"

With the hat on her head, Misty now sticks her tongue out at him playfully. "I bought it."

"And you gave it to me!" Ash chases her around the yard they have yet to clean up.

All the while, both adults are laughing and playing. This is definitely the most fun Misty has had in over a decade. "Come and get it, Ash!" she taunts by waving the hat up.

Unfortunately for her, this slows her down enough for Ash to grab her midsection from behind. Clinging onto her tightly, he uses his long arms to reach for his hat, which she is extending away from him. "Give it back! My beautiful wife gave me that!"

Blushing, Misty smirks. "She sounds like a lucky lady. I'm jealous."

"I'm the lucky one."

"Oh really? How so?"

"Give my hat back, and I'll tell you." He's still clinging onto her. Since when was this small woman so strong? Mew.

"I have the hat, so I have the power."

Rolling his eyes, Ash manages to pick up Misty. He throws her over his shoulder, both adults laughing to their hearts' content the whole time. After this very beautiful successful day with their event for her city, Misty can't imagine a better way to end it. With her blush darkening, she knows a better way to end the day...or night.

Deciding that it's getting too late, Misty pats Ash's shoulder to tell him her idea for how they can extend their play. She had attempted to earlier, but the mood was ruined by his denseness. However, the moment she taps Ash, Misty notices someone by their backdoor with Pikachu. Pikachu is supposed to be in the gym sleeping with the other Pokemon. Why is he awake? Are they too loud? But the Pokemon shouldn't be able to hear them.

Due to Ash still spinning her and running around, Misty can't get a good look at the person. "Ash, put me down!" She knows it's a person with Pikachu based on the faint fuzzy silhouette she can make out.

"Not until I get my hat!"

"Ash!" Misty uses all of her strength to shove herself off his shoulder, prompting Ash to stop. That way, he can make sure she safely gets off of him.

Thinking she's still playing around, Ash quickly reaches for his hat, which he easily grabs. Why didn't she flinch or move, like she had done earlier? Is she done playing? "Misty?"

No response, but he notices her gaze has not shifted. It has not been on him. It's to the side of him. Following her sight, Ash looks at the backdoor where he spots Pikachu's yellow fur. Nevertheless, Ash's attention isn't on the Pokemon. Rather, it's on the person who Pikachu must've brought. And for the first time since waking up, Ash is finally reminded that today is July 22nd. His eyes land on her. That honey blonde hair and those bright blue eyes cause Ash to drop his hat as his heart stops beating. Why is she here?


Lol. Yup. Leaving y'all on this cliffhanger. But you knew everything was too perfect and happy. Maybe you'll learn all about Ash's pain now? Let's see what happens to our couple. Hopefully, you won't have to wait months for another update. I'm trying my best! See ya in the next chapter!

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