Single By 30 @shinygrowlithe12
Chapter 20

Got a few more weeks of school, but work is picking up starting tomorrow. That's why I pushed this out while I could for y'all. Latest you'll see me is August, but hopefully, I come back sooner than that. Enjoy!


Chapter 20

"Ready to see your ex again?" grins the man from the front seat.

"You don't need to phrase it like that." Misty deadpans as she continues playing with baby Sammy.

"Just calling it like it is." Gary replies.

Narrowing her eyes at the giggling couple, Misty tells them, "I'm not going to see Ash. I'm going because it's Chloe's wedding."

"Which Ash is the best man for." Notes Leaf.

Groaning, Misty whispers to the baby, "Please don't turn out like your parents." She's prevented Tina from turning out like Daisy and Tracey. Misty is sure she can do the same with Sammy. "We happen to be attending the same wedding. Don't read into it."

"Everyone knows he's Goh's best man." Leaf states. "Keep making excuses, but you just wanna see Ash again. He's been traveling. Maybe he's got more muscle?"

"Ew. That's my best friend you're talking about." Gary furrows his brows. "And you're married to me!"

"Since when have we ever been exclusive?"

"Since always!" Mew. A married Gary has rid himself of all playboy thoughts.

Misty rolls her eyes at her friends. Why is she attending the wedding? Well, she knows Professor Cerise well. They did work together for years due to Kingdra being at Cerise Park. Misty is close with the Cerise family, with the exception of Chloe. Chloe was always gone with Goh, traveling the world. Thus, Misty never actually met her. Nevertheless, Misty is not going to decline an invitation from Professor Cerise himself. Besides, it'd cause unnecessary trouble if she didn't attend the wedding. The world still thinks she and Ash are married.

Fortunately, no one suspects that they're done. Everyone assumes Ash is busy traveling and probably communicating with Misty on his own time. They are old news compared to their surprise marriage announcement last year. Only Misty and Ash's friends know that the relationship is over, hence the reason the Oaks continue to bother Misty about it. At this point, Leaf and Gary just like teasing Misty. She isn't depressed, despite her heart aching, so Leaf and Gary have resumed annoying her again.

"So like, should we just pretend like you and Ash are still together?" Gary inquires after his lovers quarrel.

Misty doesn't have flying Pokemon. When Gary heard from Professor Cerise that Misty had RSVPed to the wedding, Gary and Leaf convinced Misty to carpool with them. Something about how it'll be fun. They eventually got her by asking her to help them watch Sammy. Plus, Misty doubts she can drive knowing she's going to see Ash again. That makes her too nervous.

Sighing, Misty leans back in her seat. "I guess." The only people at the wedding who know about the divorce are these two and Delia. "But that doesn't mean you force us to interact. I'm watching you two!" Misty does not trust her friends at all.

Gary gasps in mock shock. "We would never!"

Leaf too has a hand over her chest in disbelief. "Us? No!"

"I'm not going back with you two." Why did she agree to travel with them? Mew.

"You can always go back with Ash." Winks Gary in the mirror. "Exes can hook up."

"You're lucky you're driving." Else, Misty would hit him with her mallet.

"My biggest defense." Grins the man.

The redhead sighs again. This is going to be one long day. Although she's been prepared to face Ash again, she isn't sure how it will go. He is her first relationship. Her only ex. How do exes interact? While she doesn't hate him, she isn't particularly in the mood to like him again. Her heart still yearns and aches for him. That means she definitely shouldn't be around him if she's trying to get over him, right?

After parking and entering Cerise Park, Leaf glances over her shoulder. "I don't see him." Even though she was teasing Misty in the car ride, Leaf isn't cruel enough to put Misty through the torture of heart ache. If Misty is next to Ash, she will for sure be hurting a lot more than she lets on.

Holding onto Sammy, Gary too gazes over the many heads. Cerise Park is huge. Most of the Pokemon are in the water or in the trees. It's a good thing the park is large enough for all of the Pokemon and the many guests. The Cerises got overly excited and sent out invitations to everyone they know, which is a lot due to Professor Cerise's occupation.

"Let's find a seat." Gary mutters to the women.

With them arriving just in time, the only available seats are towards the back. Misty doesn't mind. The further she is in the crowd, then the less likely he's going to see her. She's only here as a formality. To the public and to the Cerises. They have so many people that they won't even notice her missing at the reception. "I see some open ones there." Misty motions to some seats in the middle of a back row.

Soon enough, the wedding ceremony begins. As much as Misty wants to avoid her ex, she finds herself actively looking for him. Obviously, he isn't in the park yet since he's the best man, meaning he'll be walking in last. A part of her is anxious to see him again, while another part is excited. Ash is a sweet man who will always have her heart. Despite the break up, Misty still thinks highly of him, and she knows he feels the same way about her. They still love each other. It's just that love wasn't enough to stay together, which happens.

Not knowing Chloe or Goh, Misty isn't sure how many people are in the bridal party. Ash can walk down at any moment. Thus, she's surprised when she does spot him. Mew. Leaf is right. That traveling has done some wonders on him. The last time Misty saw him in a suit was at May's wedding. That was just the other month, but Ash looks like he fits this suit a lot better. His shoulders are more broad, his stance is straighter, and his jaw is more chiseled. Misty can tell he's getting lots of oggling looks his way, though he is technically still married to her. Thus, no one will make a move on him.

Regardless of her mental talks to herself earlier today about not staring at Ash, he's currently all she can focus on. He's not doing anything special. His walk is normal. She watches his arm move slightly, and Goh perk up a bit. Ash must've said or did something, right? Misty is too far back in the crowd to get a good look, though she can still make out Ash vividly. So vividly that she can read that surprised, yet loving look in his eyes when he meets her own orbs.

Time is still as they former lovers gaze into each other's eyes. While everyone is watching Chloe and her father, Misty and Ash can only see each other. Why won't he look away? Why won't she look away? Obviously, they know the reason both of their hearts are racing: love and anxiety. Anxious over how the other really feels about seeing their ex. Anxious about how they each feel.

With Chloe now at the altar, Leaf notices Misty's eyes have never shifted from Ash. The brunette feels bad for her friend's heart ache. Nudging Gary, Leaf whispers, "Ash and Misty need to talk."

"I'm pretty sure they don't want to." The man hisses back. "But I'm down." Some good old fashion meddling and annoying his friends. He loves it. And, he'll be helping them. They can't avoid each other forever, no matter how much they want to because, in reality, they know they really need each other. They want each other. Gary and Leaf will help these stubborn adults reconcile.

Throughout the whole wedding ceremony, Ash and Misty continue looking at each other. So much that they don't even notice the closing of the ceremony until the maid of honor practically drags Ash down the altar. Misty furrows her brows watching another woman touch Ash, even if it's just for the wedding. The only reason she and Ash break eye contact is when Ash is out of the park.

Misty falls in her seat, not even aware that she had been sitting up as tall as she could. Now, she's exhausted, and her heart is thumping rapidly. This sucks. No wonder why Ash used to get all closed up and sad over Serena. Having someone she's still in love with but can't be with is one of the worst pains anyone can go through. This just motivates Misty to improve herself too. Ash is out here getting better. Misty should do the same. Maybe the universe will bring them back together again?

After the ceremony, the guests leave the park, which allows hired workers to set up for the reception. The wedding party is off taking photos and various other pre-reception activities. Some of the guests leave, though most are hanging out at the lab. Misty finally manages to sneak away from her friends, mainly because Gary got caught up with Professor Cerise and his wife wanting to meet Sammy.

As much as Misty loves being around Ash, she can't handle it. Not right now. He's off with the wedding party, so she won't run into him if she leaves now. It was her plan to leave anyway. However, when Misty exits the lab, she instantly hears a very loud, "Pikachupi!"

Jumping into her arms, Misty welcomes the warm soft Pokemon. "Pikachu!" She's missed him a lot. He's always been one of her best friends. It does suck that he comes as a pair with Ash. Misty anxiously looks around for his trainer. Where there's Pikachu, there's Ash. But Pikachu wasn't up at the altar with Ash? So where was Pikachu?

Misty's question is answered the moment she spots graying brown hair. Both women make eye contact and smile. Before Misty can say anything, Delia's comforting arms wrap around her, and Misty can't help but melt into them. Delia has always been a mother figure to Misty. A few tears slip out as Misty now also hugs Delia back. Pikachu watches with sad ears from the ground.

Once the women pull away, after a very long hug, Misty sniffles back her tears. "Hello, Delia."

"Hello, Misty. How are you doing?" The concerned mother asks.

Misty fights back more tears. Due to her parents abandoning her as a toddler, the only parent figure she ever had was Delia. Misty had to stop seeing Delia when Ash was dating Serena. It always pains Misty to see the parent Misty loves but can't have. "I'm doing well. Being an Elite Four member has a lot of responsibilities, but I'm not as busy as I was when I was a gym leader."

"That's good." Delia smiles. She is happy knowing Misty isn't sad. "I'm glad you're enjoying your new job. You've worked hard for it."

"Thank you." Misty returns the smile. "How are you doing?"

"Gary and Leaf bring Sammy by all the time. He takes up most of my time." Gushes Delia. Gary and Leaf have resumed working again, so Delia watches their son often. When the work at the lab slows down, Gary says he'll take Sammy back. However, Delia likes having the baby. Her house is empty and quiet. Sammy brings her joy.

"I heard. He's very cute. You are technically his grandmother too."

Nodding, Delia and Misty engage in more small talk. Eventually, when Delia is sure no one is around, she whispers, "How are you feeling about everything? I know you saw Ash in there."

And Misty flinches. Pikachu is on her shoulder, so he nuzzles her face. "Pi pikachupi." Sadly mutters the mouse.

Waving off the question, Misty replies, "You don't need to worry about me, Delia. I'm fine."

Nevertheless, Delia doesn't believe it. Ash had said the same thing the other day when Delia saw him. Regardless of their words, these adults are hurting. They still love each other tremendously, but no one can understand why they're not together. No one knows what drove them apart. What could cause their love to not be enough?

Sighing, Delia doesn't pry into it. "Are you coming to the reception?" She did run into Misty as Misty was leaving the lab.

Misty apologetically looks at the woman. "Uh. I still have some League trainings to do."

Still, Delia doesn't believe her. "You should talk to Ash." Before Misty can make another excuse, Delia adds, "I've been hearing rumors about you two. I know you're both waiting to reveal your divorce, but don't let your divorce take over the attention of Goh's and Chloe's wedding." Having not seen Ash at Misty's coronation ceremony, and spotting him in other regions, the public is questioning their relationship. Add in the fact that Misty arrived at the wedding late, without time to speak to Ash, and rumors are growing.

Misty furrows her brows because she knows Delia is correct. At this point, Misty feels like Ash is strong enough to handle the media drama. Ash is traveling and can hide away. Misty knows how to deal with the media too. From her many years as a gym leader. Nevertheless, they cannot let their divorce come in the way of Chloe's and Goh's happy day. Besides, Misty doesn't have time to file those divorce papers... Okay. She's not ready to.

Letting out a long breath, Misty informs Delia, "I'll find time to talk to him." She'll keep it brief. Just a simple catch up. Formalities and whatnot. Mew. It's going to be so awkward after they spent the wedding ceremony ogling each other.

"I'll let him know too." Delia is glad to hear Misty will stay longer. Right as their conversation finishes, people are exiting the lab to head back to Cerise Park. "Oh. Let's go, Misty! We're all sitting together." Delia appreciates that the Cerises put her with the Oaks. That way, she can see Sammy more. Of course, Misty is with them because the world thinks she's still married to Ash. At least Ash won't be seated with them. He's at the front with the wedding party.

During the speeches, Gary leans over to whisper at Misty, "I thought you ditched us back there, Red."

"I wanted to." She's not even going to lie to them. Misty rarely has to.

"Glad you stuck around." Smirks Gary, adding to Misty's irritation.

And, thus, Misty should've known those were warning words because she somehow finds herself next to the very person she couldn't find the heart to meet. The very person she's been trying to avoid. How did they end up in this predicament? A few hours after the speeches and dinner, people were enjoying in the wedding festivities. Besides for being engrossed in Ash's voice as he spoke his best man speech, Misty has tried her best to distract herself from him. She won't get caught up in his eyes again. That's way too dangerous.

Nevertheless, Gary and Leaf Oak managed to get Misty and Ash alone. Well, they're not exactly alone, but it's close enough that it'd be obvious they are avoiding each other if they walk away without saying a word now. Ash had just returned from the bathroom while Misty was supposed to go grab a wet paper towel for Sammy. Ash and Misty literally bumped into each other while walking.

Obviously, the sly Gary and Leaf contributed by accidentally pushing their friends towards each other, and then running away before Ash or Misty could register the situation. Hence, the Oaks are back at their table with Sammy and Delia. Seeing that Sammy is in good hands, they go have fun on the dancefloor. Across the park, the estranged couple is still standing uncomfortably in front of one another.

Mew. This is so awkward. Ash can feel himself sweating profusely again. Every since he saw her at the ceremony, she's all he's thought about. All he can remember are those stunning, pained cerulean blue eyes of hers. All he wants to do is take her in his arms and hug her tightly. He just wants to kiss those warm plump lips he's missed. He just wants her back, but the only thing he can do for her now is save her from this awkwardness.

Should he say something? Does she even want to hear from him? It's not like they broke up on bad terms, right? Well, he did kind of tell her he was using her and that he wasn't ready for her. However, it's not like he cheated on her or said anything terrible to hurt her. Screw it. This silence is way too uncomfortable. There's no way their broken relationship can get worse by a simple greeting. Welp. It's now or never.

"So how have you been?" What a stupid question, but it's too late now.

To his surprise, she answers politely, "Good. You?" Misty, too, is unable to make sense of the situation. While she agreed with Delia on speaking to Ash, Misty didn't actually think it'd happen.

"Good." And silence. What now? Should he walk away? Try to find someone else he may know? Will it be too obvious if he does leave? Shoot. He should let her leave first, though she doesn't seem to be moving any time soon. "How's the Elite Four thing going?"

"Alright." Mutters Misty, who too is feeling very awkward. Why is he talking to her? Why couldn't he just continue ignoring her like he has been doing this whole time? "How's traveling?" And now she's engaging in this conversation too. What are they doing? They're exes. Exes can't be friends.

Glad that it's not him forcing conversation anymore, Ash quickly responds, "I've missed it. The thrill is back, and I'm getting a lot stronger." He eagerly pulls out his pokenav. "I'm competing in the world tournament. I have to start over since it's been so long, but that makes it more fun."

Misty can't help but smile seeing Ash so passionate again. Her eyes are on his current ranking on his pokenav, though in the corner, she spots his large grin. This really is the Ash she remembers from their youth. When she saw him earlier, she could tell a lot has changed in him. He's grown from the man she last saw during the breakup. If breaking up meant Ash could recover, then Misty feels the pain is worth it.

"Wow. Rank 2,833. You've got a long way to go." notes the redhead.

Shrugging, Ash tells her, "I have time. If I don't reach Master Class this year, I'll try again next year. My rank won't change over the summer." Not like when he took 10 years off.

"Good luck."

"Heh. Thanks." Ash sheepishly rubs the back of his head. That wasn't so bad. They're conversing just fine. Of course, it was awkward at first, but Misty seems genuinely interested in this conversation. Arg. Ash mentally curses himself because he's been talking about himself this whole time. "Uh. How's the gym?"

Misty is surprised that Ash still wants to talk. She thought their conversation was over, though she isn't rude enough to stop. Besides, she's missed him tremendously. Why would she want to stop? Obviously, the break up hurt a lot. It still hurts; however, it was a mutual break up. They both needed it to grow, and judging by Ash's catch up so far, he's grown a lot. "If Tracey wasn't there, you know Daisy would run it to the ground again."

Chuckling, Ash recalls all the times Daisy wanted to give out gym badges because she didn't want to battle trainers. "True. I'm sure Tina is helping him out." Ash misses the little girl.

Fighting the frown threatening to form on her lips, Misty brushes off her memories of Tina asking about Ash. The girl misses her uncle a lot. Misty doesn't know how to answer Tina, and Tina constantly asks questions. Thankfully, Tracey uses the gym to distract Tina enough. "Maybe she'll stay back as the gym leader instead of traveling when she's 10?" Tina is the only one Misty trusts to run the gym correctly.

"Or she can travel for a few years and then go take it over? You know, like you did."

Shrugging, Misty gazes back over the wedding festivities in front of them. "Dunno. Honestly, I don't care what Tina does. As long as she's happy and doing what she loves, I will always support her." There's no way Misty will wish her fate on her niece. Misty never wanted to stop traveling. She never wanted to stop traveling with this man beside her. She never wanted to stop being with him.

Ash nods in agreement. "Tina will be a strong trainer no matter what she does."

Misty knows that. Although Tina isn't Misty's daughter, Tina is a lot more like Misty than Tina's own parents. Daisy wants no part in battles. And Tracey isn't really a battler, though he's more reliable than Daisy. "You should visit her. She misses you." Mew. Who is Misty kidding. She misses him too.

Glancing at her in the corner of his eye, Ash spots a bit of sadness on Misty's face. Why is that there? Is she upset about the breakup? Or is it the fact that Tina is hurting too? Ash knew breaking up with Misty would result in losing the girl. Mew. When Ash first met Tina, he and Misty were nothing, yet he told Tina he'd be her uncle. Now that he and Misty are ex lovers, he needs to fulfill those words. He can't let Tina think they were empty. Ash loves the girl too much to hurt her.

"Is that okay?"

"I can't control what you do." responds the woman. It's not like she'll be at the gym anyway.

"Will Daisy let me?" Tina and Tracey aren't the problem. Ash knows how protective Misty's sisters are over her, even if they tease her all the time.

Sighing, Misty swallows her pride and pain. "I'll tell the Sketchits I'm fine with it. Whenever you visit, you should let Tracey know, so he can tame Daisy."

Nodding, Ash gratefully says, "I'll stop by after the wedding then. Cerulean City is nearby."

Well, now Misty knows she won't be making a pitstop home. As much as she's missed Ash, and she's enjoying this conversation, it's too painful being near him. They are exes for a reason. He's doing really well for himself, so she does not want to come between that, regardless of these burning emotions. "I haven't told her any details about the break up."

Shoot. How will Ash answer Tina's questions? He already knows she has a lot. "What should I do?"

"Whatever you want."

"Is there anything you don't want me to tell her?"

"I trust your judgment." Mutters the redhead.

Trust. That's a big word for them. They couldn't trust in their own feelings keeping them together. "Alright." And more silence. Okay. This is a good point to walk away now, right? Like they had a long enough conversation that it's fine...right? Mew. Breakups are not his thing.

Despite closing loose ends with Serena, Ash still doesn't want to see her. Fortunately, he rarely has to be in Kalos. He probably never has to be there unless he wants to be (or challenge someone). But being from Kanto, he will run into Misty. Although his break up with Misty was on better terms than it was with Serena, Ash finds this break up with Misty more painful. He still yearns for her. He still loves her, but he isn't deserving of her. It doesn't help that they know a lot of the same Kanto people, meaning they'll see each other often.

The redhead has mentally decided that this is enough. "Uh. I'm gonna go-"

"Hey, Mist?" Ash speaks at the same time, and winces that he cut her off. "Uh. Sorry. What were you saying?" Was she just about to dismiss herself?

Yes, she was, but there's no way she can do that now when he was talking. It's not like she has anywhere else to rush off to, and she'll feel like an ass leaving him now. "No. What were you saying, Ash?" Why did he use her nickname? Why did she say his name? It's so painful saying it, especially to him.

"Oh. Um." Shoot. What was he going to say? Thinking over the past few seconds, Ash luckily remembers. "I, uh, just wanna say I'm sorry. I don't think I said it correctly last time."

Misty lets out a breath. Why is he bringing this up now? She just wanted to forget about it. "It's fine. I'm over it."

"But-"

"Ash." And for the first time since the ceremony, their eyes meet. Curious, loving brown on pained stern blue. "It's already over. We don't need to revisit it."

"I know, but I just feel like it could've ended better." He feels shitty for how he ended up. All fueled up on emotions regarding Serena that he was blinded by his love for this woman. Ash let his pain from his previous break up lead to this new heartbreak with Misty, which ended up also hurting Misty too.

"Doesn't matter how it happened. It's the same outcome." She's cold. That's how she sounds, though, inside, she's so weak. She wants to yell and scream at him for breaking up with her. For doing it immediately after Serena visited rather than waiting at least a night. For wanting to give up on them so quickly. However, she's had weeks to get through it; thus, she won't go back and cry about it.

Ash isn't sure how to continue now. He can't. She doesn't want to hear it. That's understandable since it hurts him too. Therefore, he can't force Misty to listen to him. But he doesn't want this conversation to end here. He hates that sad look in her eyes. A look he knows he put there. What if they never reconnected at that League dinner? He would've never entered her life again to cause her this much pain. She's helped him so much, yet all he's done is cause her turmoil.

"Misty...I still lo-"

"Don't say it." She forcefully cuts him off. The tears are brimming at her eyes just from what she knows he's about to say. What he wants to say. What she wants to hear. However, there's no way he can say those words anymore.

"But I-"

"Ash, stop it. We agreed to break up. Don't make this any more worse than it needs to be. We're over. I'm only letting you stick around for Tina's sake. I'll be cordial at events and when we see each other, but that's it. We're not friends, and we can't go back to what we were." There. She's said it. Hopefully, he gets the message now that she's laid it out bluntly.

Closing his mouth in disappointment, Ash gets where Misty is coming from. Nevertheless, he just wants her to know his feelings. That she's still in his heart. That he's working to be worthy of her. It's not like he wants her to wait for him. He just wants her to know that everything in the past year was real. That it was not a waste of time or pain for him. "What rank are you?"

Glad that he's changed the topic, Misty asks, "What are you talking about?"

"Your world rank. All gym leaders, champions, and Elite Four members have an automatic rank. What's yours?" Some of these top trainers don't care to increase their rank, though they always have the automatic ranking just from their role. Those who do want to increase their rank can challenge others.

Pulling out her pokenav, Misty looks up her rank. When she was a gym leader, her rank was in the high Great class. Most of Misty's challengers were competing in the Kanto tournament, but she did get a fair share from the World Coronation tournament. Regardless of which competition people were in, Misty just battled them like usual. "51?" She shows him her pokenav.

"Wow. That's higher than I've ever been." Astounds Ash.

Misty too is surprised. Her rank jumped a lot over the summer. It must be due to her new position. "I think I was in the 300s last year." When Ash doesn't respond after some time, Misty looks over at him. He seems to be deep in thought. She could walk away now without him noticing.

"When I reach the Ultra Class again, I'll come challenge you." Ash eventually states with a smile. "It should take me a couple of months, but I'll get there before this tournament season ends."

She raises a skeptical eyebrow at him. "You're pretty much in the 3000s right now. Do you really think you can jump to 99th place in a couple of months?"

"I started at 52000." He recalls seeing his rank when he first registered this year. It's only been a month, and he's cut that rank greatly. However, if he remembers from the last time he participated, it's a lot easier climbing the ranks in the beginning than when he's ranked under 500. "I just need to keep beating gym leaders until I can get to the Ultra Class." Beating strong trainers instantly grows his rank by a lot.

Misty never competed in the World Coronation, nor did she pay it much attention. Thus, she isn't sure how quickly trainers can climb the ranks. Nonetheless, this is Ash. He can do anything he sets his mind to. This is definitely the Ash she remembers. His confidence in his ability as a trainer is what makes him so attractive. Returning the smile, she tells him, "If you make it to me, I'd be happy to battle you."

"Yes!" Ash pumps his fists in the air excitedly. He's been wanting to battle her again. Going from battling every week to not battling her at all, he's missed it. Also, he just loves any reason to keep interacting with her. Maybe they can still be friends? Though he'd rather be more.

Hearing Misty's giggles escape her lips causes Ash to stop. He curiously asks, "What's so funny?"

Misty hurriedly hides her face behind her hands. Although she's still giggling, some tears have fallen. Not sad painful tears, but happy relieved ones. "You."

"Uh. What'd I do?" Ash sheepishly rubs the back of his head in embarrassment.

After catching her breath, Misty keeps her face hidden behind her hands. "You're you again, Ash." That goofy, charismatic boy she fell in love with. That kind, strong soul. That confident aspiring Pokemon Master. He's really back. He's finally back.

Unfortunately for Misty, her breath hitched in a way Ash knows isn't normal for her. Add in the fact that she's been hiding her face, and he's worried. He attempts to look around her hands, but she won't let him see her. Frustrated, Ash grabs those soft gentle hands he's missed so much. Lowering them slightly, he's met with Misty's slightly teary cerulean orbs, causing Ash to release her hands. "Why are you crying?"

Too late to keep hiding now. Instead, Misty quickly wipes at her eyes and cheeks. "Because of you, dumbass."

"What'd I do?"

"I already told you." Sniffles the woman. "You're back, Ash. You're finally you again."

Mew. This is torture. Clenching his fists by his side, Ash fights his desire to pull Misty into his chest. To comfort her for being happy for him. This woman is shedding these tears because he's back to himself. This woman who he loves tremendously. This woman who he hurt. She's crying for him, and he wants nothing more than to hold her close and kiss her. However, he can't do that. He doesn't deserve her right now, so he won't do anything to ache her heart more.

Instead, Ash pulls out that old worn, yet clean, pink handkerchief from his pocket. He hands it to her, causing Misty to fight anymore tears that may fall from his eyes. Did he really need to give her this handkerchief? The one that she gave him over 2 decades ago? Regardless, she's grateful. After wiping at the tears, and calming down, Misty gives Ash back the handkerchief. "Thanks."

Nodding, Ash pockets the item again. "Don't cry over me anymore, Mist."

Scoffing, Misty laughs, "You don't deserve any more of my tears, Ketchum."

Ash is relieved to hear her laughing playfully again. "Heh. Good." He glances back up at the dancefloor where he spots Goh and Chloe trapped in each other's eyes. Those two are not fans of the spotlight. With all the people here, Ash knows Goh and Chloe find comfort in one another.

Not too far away from the newly married couple, Ash sees his meddling friends. The very people who got Ash and Misty into this current situation, though Ash is grateful. He knew he'd see Misty again. There's no way to avoid someone forever. Now that Ash and Misty have gotten over the awkward first encounter after a break up, Ash is feeling better about his future encounters with Misty. They talk like friends, not close friends, but at least they're not strangers.

"I'm gonna head out." He tells Misty once he finally finds Pikachu by the condiments.

"Already? It's not even dark yet." Why won't she just let him leave? That'll save them from any more awkwardness, even though it hasn't been too awkward lately.

As much as Ash would like to stick around for his friends' full wedding, this is basically it. People will party until midnight (or later) and then leave drunk and/or tired. He doesn't plan to drink anymore alcohol. Grinning at Misty, Ash tells her, "I wanna catch Tina before it gets too late."

"You can just see her tomorrow." notes Misty.

"I'd rather start battling again tomorrow." Staying at the wedding tonight, and then leaving in the morning to see Tina tomorrow will result in Ash missing at least half of a day. He might as well knock everything out now.

"You and Pokemon training." Misty shakes her head with a smile. Typical Ash Ketchum. The Ash she's missed. She knows how important his friends are to him. The fact that he stopped competing and training in order to prepare for this wedding just shows Ash's intense love for his friends. And like typical Ash, he is itching to get back into battling and training.

Starting for the comatose Pikachu, Ash yells back at Misty, "I gotta get back into it soon if I wanna make it to you in time!" With that, the man disappears into the mass of people, leaving Misty blushing lightly.

Yup. He's Ash Ketchum alright, but he's also a little bit more as well. He's not that naive clueless kid she fell for. He's more aware of his own feelings, and he's matured a lot. Her heart is beating rapidly just recalling his words and that damn goofy grin of his. Whatever Ash has been doing these past couple of weeks has helped him a lot. Misty won't stand in his way. She will always support him from a distance. It's what she's best at anyway.

In the meantime, she needs to call the Sketchits and let them know Ash is on the way. Daisy will kill Ash on sight if Misty doesn't give the green light. Mew. Maybe coming to this wedding wasn't as bad as she thought it'd be? Seeing Ash again was very needed, and Misty feels a lot better knowing there is no bad blood between us. She's eager for the next time they meet. That idiot better keep his word.

Cerulean City

"I don't care what Misty says, if you hurt anyone, I will skin you alive." The blonde warns as she talks to the man outside her front door.

Nervously gulping, Ash nods. "Uh. Yes, Daisy. I understand." Even though Misty called ahead of time, Daisy is still giving Ash a hard time, rightfully so. At least Daisy hasn't killed him yet.

Daisy glares at him up and down. He's in a suit, which makes sense because he did just come from a wedding. As much as Daisy wants to keep Ash out of their lives, for Misty's sake, Misty is okay with him staying in Tina's. Tina loves Ash. Daisy doesn't have the heart to deny her daughter of a good role model. The blonde knows how much Ash loves Tina too.

Reluctantly, Daisy opens the door. "She's in the gym helping Tracey finish with the Pokemon."

Ash understands the reason Tina and Tracey are working late today. The first week of the tournament is brutal and busy. He recalls last year helping Misty. To think, she was doing this all alone for years, even as a child herself. Ash has a lot of respect for the redhead, and it motivates him to reach her level. Nodding gratefully at Daisy, Ash walks inside where he makes his way towards the gym. The comatose Pikachu is slowly waking up in his arms after smelling familiar scents.

"Chu?" Pikachu groggily asks.

"We're visiting a friend." Ash is anxious and eager. On one hand, he can't wait to see Tina again. On the other hand, he doesn't know how she'll react. Will she be mad? Sad? How will her questions be?

Pikachu curls back up in Ash's arms. He's still stuffed from the wedding, so he'll go back to sleep. That is, until a very strong scent hits his nose. Instantly, he leaps out of Ash's arms in search of the friend he's missed. He spots her before anyone notices them. "Pichukapi!" Pikachu sprints over just as Tina and Tracey look up in confusion. Landing in Tina's arms, Pikachu rubs his cheek against hers. "Chaaa!"

While Tina runs her hands through Pikachu's fur, she's trying to register the situation. This isn't a dream, right? This is for sure Pikachu's yellow fur, and his warmth. Why is Pikachu here? Tina glances in the direction of the door, and green meets brown. Clutching Pikachu in her arms, Tina sprints towards her uncle. She collides with Ash who catches her, though he is surprised by her strength. "You're here!"

Smiling softly, Ash hugs her as tightly as he can. "I'm sorry, Tina." He fights back his own sobs. Mew. This break up has hurt way more people than he anticipated. He never wanted to hurt anyone, especially Misty and Tina. These two are taking the break up the hardest. Ash is sure his mother is upset too, but she doesn't show negative emotions around him anymore. It's out of habit for when he was a recluse.

As Tina cries in Ash's chest, Tracey makes his way towards them. Patting Ash on the shoulder, Tracey greets him. "Hey, Ash. How've ya been?"

Ash frees an arm from Tina, so he can pat Tracey's shoulder too. "I'm a lot better now. How's running the gym?"

Chuckling, Tracey gazes over the large arena pool. "I practically ran it whenever Misty was gone, and her sisters were left in charge."

Ash can't help but laugh a bit at this too. He can totally see Tracey as the unofficial gym leader. "At least you have some help this time." Ash motions to the girl still sniffling in his arms.

Tracey notices Ash's attire, causing him to recall that the Cerise wedding is today. That's where Misty was supposedly going. Since Misty called Daisy, Tracey didn't know Ash was on his way. Daisy hadn't had a chance to come tell Tracey, mainly because Daisy was trying to decide if she should let Ash inside at all. "Aren't you supposed to be at a wedding?"

Sheepishly rubbing the back of his head, Ash replies, "I am-uh-was. I was there, but it's basically over now." He did his part as the best man.

"I'm glad you're here. Tina's missed you." Tracey has missed Ash too, though Tracey rarely saw Ash throughout the years.

Ash gazes back down at Tina's head, bringing his arms tighter around her. "I ran into Misty at the wedding. She said it's okay that I visit." He felt awkward doing so, which Tracey understands. Fortunately, Ash and Misty are okay with him still being an uncle to Tina.

Tracey's heart melts seeing how much Ash cherishes Tina. Ash really is a great uncle. Patting Ash's back one more time, Tracey tells him, "I'll make sure Daisy gives you two space."

"Thanks." Once Tracey is gone, Ash hugs Tina for a bit longer.

Eventually, she lets him go, and quickly wipes at the tears on her face. Pikachu helps lick some of them away too. "Where'd you go?" She's only 7, but very bright.

Ash takes in a deep breath. He knew the questions would come. "Your aunt and I didn't work out."

"Why?" Tina is upset about the situation. Misty has dodged her long enough.

Running a hand through his hair, he gazes into her serious eyes. "Sometimes, adults break up."

The girl has been forced to keep the divorce a secret, so she can't speak about it to anyone but her parents. It hurts her hearing people occasionally bring up Ash and Misty because Tina is reminded that those two aren't together anymore. According to Tina's dad, this is a different break up compared to her other aunts. Tina is too young to understand the reasons behind break ups. She just knows that she never sees her aunts' men anymore once they've broken up, so she assumed she'd never see Ash again either. Glad that he's here, she doesn't want to let him go.

"Are you here to say goodbye?" That's the only reason Tina can think of Ash coming back.

He shakes his head while his heart aches from her innocent question. "No. I wanna say 'sorry' that it took me so long to come by." His chest tightens, and his voice croaks.

"Does this mean you and Aunt Misty are back together?" the girl hopefully asks, but when Ash sadly shakes his head, Tina frowns again. "Why?"

Exactly a year ago, Ash met Tina in this very gym. She was constantly on his tail about how he doesn't deserve Misty. Of course he knew that at the time, but he fought for Tina's acceptance. Bringing a hand up to wipe one of her tears, Ash whispers, "I'm not good enough for her yet."

"You are!" Tina exclaims. She recalls telling Ash that he doesn't deserve her aunt last year, though they've since settled their problems. Tina wants Ash in her life. "Auntie Misty loves you! I love you!"

"I love you too." Ash's smile grows. "And I love you aunt so much. That's why I'm gonna get stronger than her. And then I can be worthy enough of her."

"That's dumb. You are good enough for her now! You should just stay together!"

Chuckling, Ash ruffles her hair. Tina is young. She won't fully understand the breakup; however, she does know more details than anyone else. Ash finds it easy to confide in the child. She's smart, and she was his partner throughout the year. "I don't feel good enough. But just give me a couple of months, Tina. I'll properly earn your aunt's love again." He believes in himself. Something he hadn't done in years. Ash feels on top of the world.

Therefore, as Tina gazes into Ash's confident eyes, she believes him too. He looks a lot different compared to the last time she saw him. Sure he's a bit more tan from being outdoors, and skinnier, but it's his eyes and demeanor that have changed the most. This isn't the Uncle Ash she remembers. He's a lot happier, bright, and alive. She'll trust him because she has no reason not to. He's her Uncle Ash, who she loves.

Hugging Ash again, Tina mutters, "I know, Uncle Ash."

Months Later

"We should probably get these delivered now, huh, Pikachu?" Ash sheepishly laughs after his pokenav call with Goh.

"Pi pikachu pika pikapi." knowingly remarks the mouse.

While preparing for Goh's wedding, Ash was tasked with delivering a package to Professor Sonia in the Galar region. Although the World Coronation finals takes place in Galar, Ash hasn't found a reason to go there. He told the Professor Cerise that he'd drop off the package whenever he happens to be in Galar. Currently, Ash is just venturing around, traveling strong trainers and training alongside others. He has no destination besides reaching the Ultra Class.

Nevertheless, today, Goh called to tell Ash to hurry up already. Apparently, Professor Sonia really needs the package now. Everyone assumed it wouldn't take Ash months to deliver it. Fortunately, Ash is near the Galar region anyway, so he decided to make a quick stop there. Maybe he'll battle some gym leaders or trainers? Galar has highly ranked trainers due to them being home of the World Coronation tournament.

It's been a few months since Goh's wedding. After leaving the wedding, Ash spent time with Tina until she had to go to sleep. Daisy allowed Ash to stay the night at the gym; thus, Tina convinced Ash to make a fort in the living room. They had a fun sleepover, though Ash ultimately had to leave in the morning. He does promise to visit her when he's in the area, and they text often.

Ash has ventured to many regions so far. His current rank is somewhere in the 400s. It's difficult to increase rank once under 500, and it's very easy to drastically lose one's rank. Ash has had his fair share of losses, especially against strong trainers. He lost to Iris in Unova last month, dropping his rank down to the 1000s. This tournament is a lot different than when he first competed. One, there are way more trainers, and two, he was on a hiatus for a decade.

"Okay. We'll deliver the package, battle a few gym leaders, and then make it home for Christmas. Alright, Pikachu?" Ash thinks aloud while trying to make sure his mental dates are correct. It's easy for him to forget or miss important dates. Even if he uses his pokenav's calendar, he often forgets. Pikachu is a much better reminder, though the mouse often is just as forgetful as his trainer. When they're in the heat of traveling, time passes by.

"Pi." Pikachu nods while Ash approaches the Wedgehurst Pokemon Lab.

The last time they were here was years ago. Will Sonia remember them? Well, Ash did help lock away Eternatus. Some locals did recognize him when he and Pikachu got off their ferry. Ash and Goh are in history books, and Ash still looks pretty similar to that day. Plus, with Pikachu on his shoulder, it's easy to know he is the Ash from the Darkest Day. Pikachu are not native to Galar, so few people own one.

After knocking on the lab door, Ash patiently waits to be let in. The door is unlocked since it is business hours, but Ash feels awkward walking in. He waits a few minutes before leveling his nerves and opening the door. There usually are research assistants, which Ash currently doesn't see. Instead, he spots two purple haired children holding onto a Yamper. It seems like the children were fighting over the Yamper before Ash entered. Now, all people and Pokemon are just staring at each other.

Ash notes that the children each have one yellow eye and one aqua eye. One is a girl while the other is a boy, but they look very similar. "Who are you?" The girl releases Yamper to approach Ash.

"And what's that?" The boy points at the confused Pikachu.

"Uh." Ash continues blinking at the young children. They couldn't be any older than Tina. "I'm Ash Ketchum from Pallet Town, and this is Pikachu." His trademark phrase.

"Pikachu?" The girl studies the now nervous mouse. When people give him too much attention like this, he gets shy.

"Chuuu." Pikachu hides his face in Ash's long hair.

"Yamp!" Despite not enjoying the children fighting over him, Yamper is now jealous that they're ignoring him for Pikachu. "Yamper yamp!"

"Be quiet, Yamper!" The boy hisses. He then returns his attention to Ash, "Where's Pal Town?"

"It's in Kanto." Mew. Ash is so confused that he's just allowing these children to interrogate him. Coming to his senses, he quickly asks, "I'm looking for the Professor. Professor Cerise asked me to deliver something to her."

"You can't see her." The girl crosses her arms over her chest.

The boy leans next to her, so they both form a blockage in front of Ash, who is still stuck at the front door. "Yeah! She's busy!"

Should Ash just leave the package with these children? That'd be irresponsible. What if the kids lose it? Or break it? Ash is already in hot water for taking so long to deliver it. "I can come back later." Offers Ash.

"No! She's busy all day!" The boy tells him.

"And tomorrow!" the girl chimes in.

Wow. This is frustrating. "Um. Are there any lab assistants?" He can trust another adult.

"No! They all went home! They're gone today and tomorrow too!" The girl informs Ash.

Ash definitely doesn't want to be stuck in this town for a few days. He needs to go challenge more people and increase his rank. Sighing, he asks, "Can you please get the professor? I only need her for one minute." He holds out one finger while giving the children a sheepish smile.

"No!" They both exclaim at him, causing Ash and Pikachu to be taken aback by how loud they are.

Before Ash can try to convince these mini bodyguards again to let him through, there's a deep voice that comes from the hallway, "Twins, what did I say about fighting?"

Everyone looks over at the purple haired man entering the room, and Ash's jaw drops. "Leon?" He practically shouts in disbelief. The Monarch is here! Ash does recall hearing from Goh about Leon and Sonia being childhood friends, but he didn't think they hung out like this. Ash assumed they were just professionals now who rarely saw each other. To think, Ash arrives at the lab the same day Leon happens to be visiting.

Leon glances at the man, and now Leon realizes that the twins were not arguing with each other. They were interrogating the arrival. Typical of these two. Of course, Leon doesn't quite recognize Ash just yet. Everyone knows he's the Monarch, the strongest trainer in the world. Or at least the strongest in the World Coronation tournament. Thus, he isn't surprised that someone is in awe seeing him.

The Monarch returns his attention to the twins who are frantically trying to tell him about the situation. Sweatdropping, Leon gives Yamper an apologetic look. The dog is always their babysitter. "Sky, Ace, please don't scare visitors away." The lab would be locked if they didn't want people coming by. These twins are supposed to greet guests and help them. Not scare them away.

"But daddy!" Ace whines. "We didn't wanna bother you and mommy!"

Nodding alongside her brother, Sky says, "Yeah! You and mommy work too much!"

Sighing, Leon can't help but smile at his thoughtful children. Being the Monarch, he's always traveling and out. He tries to make it home often, which is usually the weekend, but sometimes, he's lucky enough to come home early. Whenever he is home, he tries to be the best father he can be because he never wants his children to feel like their second to him.

Leon kneels down to place a hand on each of the childrens' shoulder. "Let me handle this man quickly, and then I'll lock the lab. We can kidnap mommy and go fly around. How does that sound?" He loves scheming with his children.

"Yeah!" The twins excitedly yell.

Chuckling, Leon stands up and approaches the guest. "How can I help you, sir?"

"Uh." Ash is still trying to register a lot right now. Leon is here. Leon has children. These are Leon's children. They did just call him daddy. Why are Leon's children here? Does Sonia help watch them like she used to watch Hop?

"Pikapi!" Pikachu hisses to get Ash's attention back.

Oh. Right. Ash quickly shakes his head of his daze. He's also surprised that he can meet Leon at eye level now. Back then, he used to have to look up to Leon. Ash has grown a bit more since he was 20. He takes off his backpack to pull out the package. "Professor Cerise in Vermillion City wanted me to deliver this to Professor Sonia. Can you make sure she gets it?"

"Professor Cerise?" Leon takes the package. Sonia rarely tells him about her work because it'd go over her head, like how his job goes over hers. Moreover, they'd rather not talk about work when they're together. "I'll hand deliver it to her." Leon assures Ash.

"Thanks." Ash grins. Behind Leon, he spots the children giving him glares. Is that a sign that he should leave now? He doesn't mind because he is a busy man.

However, Leon has been trying to figure out why this man and Pikachu look so familiar. Thus, before Ash can leave, Leon asks, "What's your name? So I can tell her who dropped by."

"I'm Ash." Ash smiles sheepishly. So Leon doesn't remember him? That's no biggie. Ash has changed a lot. Even though he's back to his normal self, he did just come out of a three year long depression. A depression that left many people finding him unrecognizable.

"Ash?" Leon furrows his brows. Being from Galar, he doesn't get much of the news from other regions unless it's something huge, like the Galactic attacks in Sinnoh. Only gossip channels help news on Ash and Misty's surprise marriage. Therefore, Leon has no idea how Ash currently looks, nor does Leon know anything about Ash's past few years. "As in Ash Ketchum?" Leon continues asking while studying the man. That Pikachu, and that hair. This definitely looks like an older version of the young man Leon used to look out for years ago.

"Yeah." Chuckles Ash. "It's me."

"Wow." Leon grins widely. "It's been what? 10 years?"

"A little over that." Ash sheepishly replies.

"What have you been up to since then? I remember you climbed up to 99th place in your first year, and with a new team too. I thought for sure you'd compete again the following year!"

"Uh." Ash makes quick eye contact with Pikachu. "Life kinda happened. I took a break, but I'm back now."

"Wow." Leon astounds again. "It's been over 2 years, so you had to restart." Rankings only stay the same for a person as long as they compete every year. If someone misses a year, their ranking is removed, and they'll have to start over when they compete again. Fortunately, people can compete in as many tournaments as they want, though it's better to just focus on one at a time.

"Yeah, but I'm doing pretty good." Ash pulls out his pokenav. "I'm at 483 now."

"You have a couple more months. I'm sure you'll make it to me this year." Leon knows there were over 50,000 competitors this year. The fact that Ash started from down there to this point now means that Ash is still at the same caliber, if not better, as he was years ago. Leon is excited to possibly finally battle Ash.

"I'll be the one to dethrone you, Leon!" Ash pumps a fist in the air. Now that Leon recognizes him, and they're talking casually, Ash's usual charismatic nature is back.

"No way! Daddy is the strongest!" Sky narrows her eyes at Ash. She just wants this stranger to leave already, so her family can go flying.

"Yeah! No one can beat our daddy!" Ace butts in too.

Leon gives Ash an apologetic gaze. "Sorry. They're pretty protective." He then turns to the children. "Go get mommy. We'll leave as soon as she's ready." Getting his wife to leave her work is always a struggle. Researchers love working. While Leon catches up with Ash, he'll let his children get their mother.

Sky opens her mouth, "But-"

"Go. Please. You know your mommy takes forever to leave." Leon reminds the children who begrudgingly leave down the hall.

"They're cute." Ash comments.

Laughing a bit, Leon motions for Ash to sit at a table nearby. "Very cute and very troublesome. But enough about me. What are your plans, Ash?" Leon wants to know how Ash plans to get to him.

"Um." Ash shyly smiles while Pikachu sits on the table for Leon to scratch his back. "I don't really have a plan. I'm just battling people, mostly gym leaders."

"That's a good strategy."

There are rules to who can challenge who in the World Coronation tournament. Those below 300 can battle up to the Ultra Class. Those under 50 can battle the Master Class. Those below 5000 can battle anyone in the Great Class. It's not illegal to battle outside of these terms, but it's up to the higher ranked trainer if they choose to accept the battle. Like Silver didn't need to battle Ash until he was under 5000, but Silver accepted the challenge. That's what allowed Ash's rank to jump instantly.

"We never did get to have our battle years ago." Leon notes.

Nodding, Ash tells him, "Yeah. I fell short back then, but I'll reach you. If not this year, then next year."

"If you set your mind to it, I'm sure you'll reach me this year. You're already under 500, and we're only halfway through the season."

"Yeah, but you're not my target right now." Ash informs the man. "You're my next goal."

While Leon isn't a narcissist, he is surprised to hear he isn't someone's target. People compete in the World Coronation tournament with the sole purpose of being the Monarch. Of defeating him, the only Monarch anyone has ever known. Plus, the Ash Ketchum Leon remembers was set on defeating him. "Then why are you competing?"

Blushing slightly in embarrassment, Ash finds his hands pretty interesting right now. "I just wanna get better. I wanna be the Ash Ketchum who loves battling and training and traveling and stuff."

Leon raises a curious eyebrow at Ash. "That's the only Ash Ketchum I know."

"That's good. I'll keep being him." It's nice talking to someone who knows nothing about his hiatus. Who doesn't know about his rough past few years. Who won't tiptoe around him. That's why he loved living with Misty. She treated him normally. With his heart aching again at the reminder of the woman he loves, Ash lifts his head to meet Leon's warm yellow eyes. "When I get under 50, I'm coming for you, Leon."

Chuckling, Leon claps Ash's shoulder. "I've been waiting over 10 years to battle you, Ash."

"Ash?"

Both men face the hall where they spot the tall woman. Leon smiles lovingly. "Ash Ketchum came to pay us a visit." Leon then lifts up the package. "And drop this off."

"Ash Ketchum?" The woman repeats.

"Yeah! Mommy, that Ash guy won't leave!" Sky pouts.

"Uh huh! He keeps bothering daddy! Make him leave, mommy!" Ace sides with his sister.

Leon can't help but laugh at his children. Approaching them, he ruffles their hair.

Ash and Pikachu watch the family in confusion. Did these children just call these two their parents? Wow. A lot has changed in 10 years. "Pichu pika pikachu pi pika kachu." Pikachu whispers to Ash who slowly nods in slight disbelief.

The woman is still staring at Ash and Pikachu while Yamper is defensively by her feet. Leon bends down to whisper to his children, "Be nice to Mr. Ketchum. He's a friend of ours."

"Then how come I've never seen him before?" Ace crosses his arms over his chest.

"You've seen him plenty of times." Leon notes.

"No! He's a stranger! Stranger danger!" Sky exclaims.

Chuckling more, Leon nods towards Ash. "Mr. Ketchum and his friend saved us from Eternatus 11 years ago." With last year being the 10 year anniversary of that day, Galar threw a huge celebration. Goh attended, but Ash obviously did not. Ash had too many events during that time, and he wasn't one ready for that spotlight.

Sky and Ace look at each other and then back at the stranger. Everyone learns about that historic day. It's a part of the school curriculum. There are pictures and a statue to commemorate it. Also, the children learned a lot about it last year due to it being the 10th year anniversary. Despite meeting Goh, the children thought Goh must've been the only one who locked up Eternatus. They figured the second man must be an urban legend or something. Not a real person.

"How long has it been?" The woman breaks the silence now that she's really seen this is indeed Ash.

Ash too gets out of his daze again. Mew. Reconnecting with people does a lot on him. Smiling, he gets up to greet the professor. "Hi, Sonia. Sorry I took so long to deliver the package."

Sonia envelops him in a friendly hug. "I don't care about that right now, Ash. I care about you! What have you been up to?" After Ash quit competing, Sonia never heard about him. She doesn't care for gossip news, so she too doesn't know about his history. Even though Goh visits often, Goh wouldn't have any updates on Ash. Therefore, Ash just fell off from Galar.

Welcoming the embrace, Ash tells her, "A lot has happened." It has been ten years. When the two let go, Ash glances past Sonia towards the amazed children. "So are these your kids too?" Ash needs to make sure he heard correctly.

"Oh yes! I'm so rude!" She grabs the children, bringing them up to Ash. "These are my twins. This is Sky, and this is Ace. Say hi to Mr. Ketchum."

"Are you really the one who stopped Eternatus?" Ace ignores the greeting he's supposed to give.

Uh." Ash is slightly caught off guard.

"Is that really you in all the pictures in the books at school?" Sky inquires.

With the twins asking Ash many questions at once, Sonia hushes them, "Twins, greet Mr. Ketchum properly. I'm sure he won't mind answering your questions if you slow down." She then mouths a 'sorry' to Ash who smiles warmly at her.

He likes children. It took a year to get over his aversion of them, but he loves them again. With his heart aching, Ash responds, "I had help. Your dad weakened Eternatus, and your mom took us to him. And then my friend Goh helped me catch Eternatus. It was a team effort."

"Wow!" The twins gasp. They've heard the story from Goh, but anyone in Galar would be amazed to hear it from both the young men who captured Eternatus.

Leon wraps an arm around Sonia's waist. "Mr. Ketchum is being too humble. He and Pikachu were the ones who defeated Eternatus when I fainted." Leon scratches Pikachu under the chin.

"Are you two?" Ash motions to Leon's arm, and points between the older adults.

"Oh!" Sonia blushes profusely. "I guess you didn't hear, but Leon and I got married a few years after the Darkest Day."

"And then these two came along a few years later." Leon motions to the still star struck children.

The Darkest Day brought Leon and Sonia closer. They lost contact due to Leon getting famous, and both of them going separate routes professionally. The Darkest Day almost resulted in losing Leon, so Sonia swallowed her stubborn pride to help him. That caused them to somewhat reconnect, and over time, a romance developed between them. The wedding and engagement were nationally publicized, but Sonia isn't surprised Ash didn't hear about it. Sonia and Leon always assumed Ash was off traveling remotely somewhere.

"Are you married?" Sonia points to Ash's wedding band, causing Ash to now blush. He only wears the ring to avoid issues with the media. Misty still hasn't filed the divorce papers, but Ash doesn't mind because he loves her. Also, it keeps the media off of them. Currently, being married is a lot more convenient than getting divorced.

The real reason Ash likes wearing the ring is because he feels closer to Misty. Although they got these rings cheaply and quickly last year, he still sees them as a symbol of their love. Okay. More of a symbol of their partnership, so he cherishes his ring. He wears it as a constant reminder of where he's come from and who was always with him. Of the woman who whipped him back into shape.

"Yeah." Ash smiles at the ring. While he doesn't need to lie to Sonia, Ash doesn't have a reason to tell her the truth. He didn't tell Chloe or Goh the truth, and they should know more than Leon and Sonia. Besides, Ash doesn't want to have to explain his love life, nor does Ash want any pitiful looks.

"I'm happy for you, Ash." Leon grins.

"Pika pikachu pi pichu." Pikachu agrees.

Missing the redhead just a bit extra today, Ash says, "Yeah. Me too."

Weeks Later

"Like where are you, Misty?" Comes the annoyed voice over the call.

Sighing, Misty leans back in her seat as she gazes out her large window behind her desk. "I told you, Daisy. I'll be there later today."

"Lily and Vi have been here all week! We're just waiting on you." Daisy reminds her youngest sister.

In the past, Misty always worked right up until the holidays. That was fine since she was at the gym, and that's where the reunion would be. However, with her being at the League now, her family has noticed her obvious absence. Even though they don't hang out with Misty often, she is still a part of their family.

"There's supposed to be a lot of snow tonight too." Daisy adds.

Internally groaning, Misty replies, "I know. I'll be there, okay? I just need to finish up some things here."

"Bring it here!"

"I can't focus there."

"You can use the gym office."

"It's probably a mess with you running it."

Well, Misty isn't wrong there. Daisy and Tracey are still trying to catch up on the paperwork. They do see why Misty was so stressed in the past. "Fine. But c'mon! Your niece and nephew miss you."

Misty's gazes at the lowering sun. It's only the afternoon, but winter makes the sun set sooner. There's some snow on the ground from the light snowfall the other day. It's supposed to snow tonight, and Misty would rather not be driving in those conditions, even if it won't be a blizzard. The drive is far from the Indigo Plateau.

"Just have a bed ready for me. I'll be there before Tina and Jayson fall asleep."

"You better!" Daisy exclaims.

"See ya, Daisy."

"See ya, Misty!"

After hanging up, Misty returns to looking at her computer screen. Mew. Despite having less tedious paperwork than a gym leader, and Elite Four member still lots of work. In addiiton, she's had to battle her a few trainers competing in the World Coronation tournament. Add in attending necessary events, and she's swamped. The holidays couldn't have come sooner.

A few weeks ago, she got a text from Ash saying he was in the Galar region. Apparently the Monarch is married to Galar's Pokemon Professor. Misty knows Ash messages her when he misses her a lot. Well, she hopes that's his reason for messaging her. Since Goh's wedding, Ash and Misty have occasionally sent text messages to each other. While neither one is ever looking for a conversation, it's just nice to have that little bit of communication. They never respond directly to the texts. It's like they're just talking to themselves, yet they're sending them to each other.

Misty appreciates that Ash is still thinking of her, like she always is of him. Regardless of their divorce, their love is still strong. Does that mean she's hopeful for more? Will she allow him back in her life? Does she want to let him back in after everything? While she did push him away after the break up, they just happened to form a relationship again. That's typical between them, and this time, Ash isn't letting his traveling come in the way of them anymore.

Okay. She's done with work. Well, close enough. She'll bring the rest home. Thoughts on Ash are making her heart ache too much. That's not good when she's alone. Misty has spent this time alone to regain her independence. To be herself again, and to cherish those she loves. One thing she's taken away from her marriage is to always make time for her loved ones, even if they tease her uncontrollably. Misty won't allow herself to be too indulged in her work that she misses the important moments.

On her way out the lobby, the receptionist calls out to her, "Elite Four Misty! You have a package!"

Misty stops in her tracks. She walks back over to the receptionist counter and smiles gratefully at the woman. "Thank you, Gina." Gina hands Misty a small box. The receptionist hasn't had the time to bring Misty's package up, and no one has been available to do it either. Fortunately, Misty came down, making it easier for Gina to get it to her.

Being in a rush, doesn't look at the label, nor the sender. She figures it must be another gift from a fan. The League takes packages very seriously in case Team Rocket or someone wants to send something dangerous. Thus, Misty trusts that this is a safely screened package. Soon, the package is in her passenger seat, Psyduck and Politoed are in the back, and Misty is on the road for home. She likes having her Pokemon accompany her on the long drive. Regardless of the trouble they get into, they are still entertaining company.

A few hours later, Misty barely has a foot in the door before someone collides with her. "Auntie Misty! You're finally here!"

Giggling, Misty hugs her young niece tightly. "Hi, Tina! You know I would never miss Christmas."

Releasing Misty, Tina hugs Psyduck and Politoed. This allows Misty's sisters and Tracey to greet her. "Oh my Mew, little sis. It's like dark now." Violet comments.

"Yeah. You had us waiting all week for you." Lily chimes in.

Daisy waves off their comments, especially because Daisy understands Misty the best. "Let's just be happy Misty made it here safely."

"Hey, Misty." Tracey gives Misty a hug. "There are leftovers in the kitchen if you're hungry."

"Thanks, Tracey." Misty really appreciates her friend for marrying her sister. Tracey is the reason Daisy is more sane than Lily and Violet. Reaching for baby Jayson in Violet's arms, Misty coos, "I missed you, JJ. You're just so cuuute!"

Jayson gurgles back at Misty, causing Lily to say, "I can't believe he knows who you are. You're never here either." Jayson screamed the first day Lily and Violet were here. He was terrified of them because he didn't recognize them.

Misty rolls her eyes while grabbing Jayson from Violet. "That's cuz I call every few weeks, and I visit more than twice a year." Misty tries to visit monthly, just to make sure the gym isn't a mess, and to see her niece and nephew. Without Tina and Jayson, Misty would not want to hang out with her sisters. "Right, baby JJ?"

"Do you like his clothes?" Tina eagerly asks her favorite aunt.

Now, Misty curiously looks at her nephew. What about his clothes? It's just a typical yellow onesie. "Uh. Yeah?"

"Turn him around, Misty." Violet smirks, which worries Misty. Why are Lily and Violet grinning at her like that? And Tina's expectant eyes? And the Sketchit parents' apologetic gazes?

Misty isn't even sure what she's preparing herself for. Taking in a deep breath, she lifts up the baby to turn him around. She blinks at it. There are two brown horizontal lines on the back, and an electric tail. Obviously, this is a Pikachu onesie. "Cute." Comments the redhead.

"He has a Pikachu hat too, but it's upstairs." Tina announces. "Uncle Ash gave it to him!"

"Do not drop my baby!" Daisy leaps forward when Misty freezes in surprise. Nevertheless, Misty brings the baby back down protetcively in her arms.

"And he got me this!" Tina proudly shows off a Water stone she pulled out of her pocket. "He said I just need to catch an Eevee now. Then I'll have a Vaporeon!"

Misty isn't sure how many times she's blinked so far. She's still taking in the information. Although she knows Ash visits every now and then since Goh's wedding, Misty is still amazed he makes the time to come by. He didn't like children last year. Now, he makes sure Tina knows she's important to him. Shutting her eyes, Misty fights the ache telling her to run back to him, wherever he is. Ash continues to make her heart pound for him without even being around her.

"We were on the same boat." Violet informs Misty.

Apparently, Lily and Violet were in Galar, and they happened to catch the same boat as Ash. They interrogated Ash, much to his displeasure, and found out Ash was also making a pitstop in Cerulean City to see Tina. Eventually, Lily and Violet let their dislike of Ash be pushed aside for Tina's sake. Ash was only around for an hour before he left for Pallet Town. He gave the Sketchit children early Christmas gifts.

"Don't tell me you talked to him." Misty already feels bad for her ex. She knows how nosey and intimidating her sisters can be.

"He did let us fly on his Dragonite here." Lily states, causing Misty to groan aloud.

"Are you mad, Auntie Misty?" Tina worried asks. Every time Ash visits, he battles Tina. They talk about Misty, and Tina always asks if Ash is ready to be with Misty again. Each time, Ash tells her he's not, though he did let her know that he will be ready when his rank falls below 100. Thus, Tina actively tracks Ash's rank online. Galar must've been tough because Ash is back down to the low 3000s.

The Elite Four member sighs. There's no use in being upset that Lily and Violet saw Ash and talked to him. Besides, Misty did tell Ash it's okay for him to see her family. Maybe she's disappointed that he didn't leave a gift for her? They are exes, though they text enough for him to get her something, right? He did get Tina and Jayson something. Well, Misty didn't get Ash anything, so she can't be upset.

"No. I'm glad Uncle Ash came by." Misty smiles sweetly at Tina.

"He comes every month." says Tracey.

Looking at her brother-in-law, Misty raises an eyebrow. "Ash visits every month?"

"Yeah!" Tina grins excitedly. "We battle and play and he teaches me new thing!"

They do occasionally tell Misty when Ash visits, but sometimes, they forget to mention it. It's so routine now, and the Sketchits are just as busy as Misty. Calls are short. Thus, Misty didn't realize just how frequent Ash comes by. "Really?" Misty is still dumbfounded.

"Uh huh! He promised to visit me every month, and he does!" Tina recalls Ash's words from the spring.

"I thought Ash told you?" Daisy inquires.

Misty shakes her head. "We don't really talk."

The Sensational Sisters all give each other suspicious looks. Well, at least Ash is still in Tina's life. And Misty seems fine with it. There's no reason to make Tina lose someone she loves and looks up to. "He's only ever here for a few hours because he says he needs to get back to the competition." Tracey hopes to alleviate any concerns Misty may have about her ex visiting.

"Um. No. That's fine that he visits." Misty mutters out. "It's good for Tina."

Ash really can't ghost them now. Not like he used to do to Misty. Tina is a child. She doesn't deserve to be abandoned by Ash. The first year is easy to remember them. Misty is slightly concerned for the coming years, but by then, Tina will be traveling instead of bored at home. Regardless, Misty wouldn't have given Ash permission to stay in Tina's life if Misty believed Ash would abandon the girl too. For some reason, Misty has more faith in this Ash than the childhood one she knew.

"Enough about your ex, Misty! Let's party!" Lily shouts in excitement.

Tracey takes Misty's bag upstairs, and Misty is subjected to hanging out with her sisters. Life in the Cerulean City gym will never get boring. This is their home. No matter who takes over the gym, it will always remain in the Waterflower family. Misty is glad to have such caring and supportive sisters. It took a couple of years, but she's finding them more loving than annoying now. All thanks to a certain raven haired man who only spent one Christmas with them.

A week later, Christmas has passed, and it is now New Years Eve. With the amount of drinking her sisters like doing, they're constantly out of alcohol. New Years Even has way too many people out, especially at the liquor store. Thus, the Sensational Sisters don't want to get more, and Tracey is currently on food duty. This left Misty having to partake in drawing straws with her sisters on who will be the one getting more alcohol. Of course, it just had to be Misty who drew the short straw.

On Christmas Day, Misty was so busy with her family that she didn't pay her pokenav any attention. That night, she checked her messages and emails, which was when she saw a text from Ash. He wished her Merry Christmas and stated that the Oaks were spending it with him, his mom, and Pikachu. Ash sent a cute picture of Pikachu and Sammy, Pikachu looking very nervous around the young baby.

Misty sent him a text back wishing him a Merry Christmas as well. That was all the communication they had, and the most recent. She is surprised that he's home. Well, she's more surprised that he visits Tina every month. It makes Misty think about how Ash said he'd visit Misty at the gym every month when he starts traveling. While he isn't visiting Misty monthly, he is still going to the gym. And he's hanging out with Tina who has no reserves around him. Misty is jealous that Tina gets more time with Ash than Misty does, but that's a part of the breakup.

Grumbling as she walks to her car in the cold temperature, Misty gets inside the vehicle. She doesn't even drink that much alcohol, yet her sisters managed to rope her into pulling straws. Nevertheless, she at least gets a break from having to hear their loud voices. They are way too much. Age has not changed Lily and Violet one bit. Children changed Daisy, though Daisy is back to her obnoxious ways with Lily and Violet around.

After heating up her car, Misty feels good enough to start driving. In the corner of her eye, she spots something in her passenger seat. Misty usually keeps her car very neat, so nothing should be here. Did Politoed or Psyduck leave something again? They really are just like children. However, Misty spots the box and instantly remembers it as her package from the League.

Christmas has past. She should open it now to thank whoever sent it. Misty appreciates all of her fans. She writes back to everyone who handwrites her a letter. She tries to respond to all emails and gifts. If people take time to reach her, she will reciprocate because she was ignored by a certain raven haired boy for many years.

When Misty opens the box, there's a smaller box packed inside. The small box is poorly wrapped in light blue wrapping paper, and there are little Spheals all around. Misty finds the wrapping paper very cute. Her eyes then land on the label. To: Elite Four Misty Waterflower. What makes her heart pound is the sender: From: Future Pokemon Master Ash Ketchum.

The label descriptions are very cute, but Misty finds Ash more adorable. She can already picture that damn goofy grin of his as he wrote these titles. The terrible wrap job makes sense, but it is Ash. Mew. That man is too much. He stays on her mind, and little things like this makes her yearn for him more. Often times, she's wanted to call him just to hear his voice; however, that makes her think she's still dependent on him.

After unwrapping the gift, an envelop falls in Misty's lap while the small box remains in her hands. Setting the box down, Misty opens up the envelope. There, in some scrawled out handwriting, is a card from Ash with his own personalized message. Misty smiles at the little paw mark that must belong to Pikachu.

Hey, Mist. Merry Christmas! I'm not sure if you'd wanna see me or not, so I decided mailing this would be better. When I was in Johto a few months ago, I saw this and thought of you. I know you're not girly and stuff, but this is really cool. If you don't like it, you can give it away or sell it. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! -Ash

Typical Ash. Nothing heartfelt. He's not one for words. A little rambly and uncertain about the gift. Misty can't help but smile thinking about how long it must've taken him to write in the card. Regardless of the gift, she will cherish it. He thought about her enough to get her something. There's no way she'll get rid of it. Misty does feel bad for not getting him anything. Even if she doesn't know where he is most of the time, she could've left a gift at Delia's.

Opening the box now, Misty's chest tightens more. It's beautiful. A mystic water. Used to power up water type attacks, yet it's also a stunning necklace. She runs her hand down the chain, causing her to miss the sender even more. Why didn't that idiot just deliver this in person like he had done with Tina's gift? Misty really wants to see him right now. She really wants to hug him and talk to him and hear his voice. However, she can't because that would solve nothing.

Ash is trying to be himself again. He needs to achieve his goals. Misty needs to focus on herself and her goals as well. Right now is not a good time for either of them to distract the other. They still need to get over their own problems as a couple, but this is not the time for that. There's a lot that they need to do separately before Misty can even think of letting him freely back into her life.

Sighing sadly, the redhead clips the necklace on. She can't be with him just yet, but she already feels closer to him. Should she text him? No. Any response right now will make her want to drive to him rather than the grocery store down the street. Being at the gym, and the winter holidays, Misty misses Ash a lot more than usual. She made many fun happy memories with him here. Plus, last year's holidays were complete with him.

Mew. Tonight is New Years Eve. Exactly a year since she and Ash first kissed. Well, a kiss she remembers. Her heart beats fast remembering this, which is another reason she won't contact him now. They will continue supporting each other from afar, but she can at least reflect on the warm moments too.

Weeks Later

"You didn't need to pick me up." Comments the redhead as she hugs her old friend.

"I did." He informs her. "Couldn't trust that you'd run away to avoid me."

"Brock, I can't avoid you when I'm here seeing your children." Comments Misty.

"But you want to avoid me." Brock puts her luggage in the trunk of his car. "And I won't let you."

"I am here." She reminds him.

"I appreciate that, but I have questions."

Groaning, Misty buckles her seatbelt. "It's been months, Brock. I already told you everything over the pokenav multiple times."

"I know. You and Ash both have told me very roundabout answers. Now, I wanna hear it from you together."

Misty blinks at him in confusion. What does Brock mean by together? "What was that?"

"You heard me, Misty. I won't believe it until I hear it from you both together." repeats Brock.

"That's not fair. You should've just had us both on a videocall." Is Brock going to force her to talk to Ash through video?

"I'd rather hear it face to face. That way, you can't mess with me."

"Why would we lie about breaking up?"

"Why would you lie about being married?"

Touche. Crossing her arms over her chest, Misty mumbles, "It's complicated."

"And we have all day for you to tell me about it." Brock feels like he needs to intervene. He was too hands off on his friends. After traveling with them for years, he should know they still depend on him to keep the peace between them.

"So I'm assuming Ash is coming to the party since you said you wanna see us face-to-face?" Misty didn't expect Ash to come to the Harrison birthday party because he already spent so much time off for the holidays. She figures he was in Pallet Town during Christmas and New Years, which were only a few weeks ago. He must want to keep climbing in his ranking, so she wasn't sure he'd even attend the birthday party.

"He's already here." Brock states as they make the short drive to his house.

"Huh?"

"Ash arrived earlier this week. He said he wanted to get to know Annalise more and form a relationship with Caden." Brock can't help but smirk towards the redhead. "He's really great with them."

"I know he's good with kids." Misty eventually manages out. Mew. Ash is here? And he was here early? Doesn't he have any urgency in reaching the Ultra Class? She does actively follow his progress, so she knows he's in the 800s right now.

"Does it make your ovaries tingle?" teases the older man, causing Misty to give him a sharp glare behind her dark blush.

"Shut up."

And Brock laughs as he pulls into the driveway. Wiping at his eyes, he says, "Just messing with ya, Misty. C'mon. Let's go see you lover."

Brock is luck they're outside, else Misty would yell that Ash is her ex lover. Nevertheless, she follows him inside the house where none other than said ex lover is. Although she was nervous seeing him again, she still stepped inside the house without hesitation because she's more excited than anxious. Their eyes lock for a split second before both adults shyly look away.

Of course, Brock has to say the obvious, "Misty's here!"

"Mama Misty!" Annalise runs over to hug Misty. Misty greets the rest of the Harrisons, even meeting the newborn Caden. All the while, she's avoiding the very handsome man in the room.

"Pikachupi!" Pikachu leaps on Misty's shoulder to nuzzle her cheek.

While Misty is talking to Lucy and holding Caden, Brock whispers to Ash, "You're staring."

Ash quickly shakes his head to return to as normal as he can. He knew Brock was getting Misty. Ash has known all week when Misty would be arriving, yet he's still nervous. How does she feel about him? Did she get his gift? Does she think about him? Why did she look away from him just now? How come she hasn't greeted him yet? Is she upset? What did he do? He thought they were on good terms, especially since they wished each other Merry Christmas.

Could it be that she met someone, so she's cutting him off? No. Ash hopes that's not the case. He loves her, and he's working to be with her. As much as he wants to be the Monarch already, he won't miss any important meetings. Ash wants to be in his loved ones lives. In the past, he let his dreams cloud him from what's really important. Misty taught him that there is more to life than just working.

Thus, Ash makes sure to see Tina monthly, and his friends at least once a year. He's traveled to every region already, allowing him to reconnect with everyone. Of course, he got questioned by May and Dawn about his break up, but they're rooting for him and Misty. May and Misty talk occasionally, so May knows more about Misty's mindset than Dawn. With everyone's support, Ash is really feeling more confident in himself.

"You should talk to her." Brock speaks to break Ash out of yet another trance.

Gulping, Ash replies, "She's busy."

"You'll both be staying in the same room. Better get the greetings out of the way first."

"Wait. What?" Ash exclaims loudly, making the women curiously face him. "What do you mean, 'we'll be staying in the same room'?"

Now, Misty's jaw drops. "Brock!" She shoots daggers at her friend who is ignoring her.

Lucy can only sweatdrop. Typical Brock to meddle in his friends' lives. "Honey, what are you talking about?"

Sheepishly laughing, Brock scoops up Annalise in his arms to protect him from any attacks his friends may want to hurt him with. "We only have one guest room."

"We can move Caden's crib in our room, and Annalise can sleep with us." It's just one night because Misty needs to leave tomorrow.

Using non-verbal communication, Brock's eyes plead with his wife to follow his drift. Lucy is not a fan of meddling when Ash and Misty are clearly hurting over each other. However, she trusts her husband. He knows them better than she does. Nodding reluctantly, she allows Brock to say, "Actually, we've been really good about geting Annalise to sleep in her room. We don't wanna ruin that routine."

"Brock, I know you're lying." Misty informs him.

Giving her a sly grin, Brock innocently speaks, "Me? I would never!" Brock then uses a free hand to pick up Misty's small suitcase, which he takes to the stairs. "Barbara and my siblings will be here in an hour. Make yourselves at home before the party starts."

Brock then disappears, leaving Lucy to apologetically tell them, "When Brock sets his mind to something, he doesn't move."

"We know." Misty grumbles, still trying to avoid seeing Ash.

"Pi pichu?" Pikachu asks her.

Sighing, she scratches him under the chin. "Please stay with us, Pikachu." Misty whispers to the mouse.

Since Lucy just had Caden the other week, she's still recovering. Brock decided to just host a small party for Annalise, allowing their close family and friends to meet baby Caden too. Thus, just some of Brock's siblings, who were able to make it, Barbara, and Misty and Ash are here. The party should be small, so Misty will spend the night to help clean and be out in the morning. An Elite Four Member is busy.

"I can just sleep on the couch." Ash offers Lucy who shakes her head.

"Oh no, Ash! We can't let you do that!" He's been staying alone in the guest room.

"It's fine. Anything is better than the cold hard ground." Chuckles the man as he brings an arm up to sheepishly scratch the back of his head.

Why is Misty staring at that clearly defined bicep of his? Why are her eyes glued to him? Why won't she just look away? Mew. Ash Ketchum has gotten really attractive. When he makes eye contact with her, they both quickly look away again. Pikachu can only sweatdrop at the pair. They both clearly love and care for one another. They should just be together, but he understands why they cannot. They're not ready for relationships yet.

Fortunately, Misty and Ash end up helping set up in different areas, meaning they are not subjected to awkwardly standing in the same room anymore. When guests start arriving, Misty and Ash mingle with others. Although there aren't any issues between the two, they still feel very weird around one another. Add in the fact that Brock is practically forcing them to share a bed together, and the awkwardness is even worse. The guests believe Ash and Misty are still married due to them being at the party together. No one notices that they are avoiding each other.

Misty mainly speaks with Forest, catching up and whatnot. He was one of few people she liked at the League. Okay. He still is. However, all the Elite Four members are respectable. They're not lazy, like some gym leaders. Misty likes her coworkers a lot better now, though she won't forget those who made being a gym leader bearable.

After cleaning up, everyone is ready for bed. Annalise has since been tuckered out from all the fun. Baby Caden is resting with Lucy in the materbedroom too. Ash is nowhere to be seen, but Misty runs into Brock in the kitchen. "Just let me sleep on the couch, Brock." She tells him, tired of his meddling.

Brock ties the trash bag. "You both haven't even greeted each other today. You can't keep avoiding each other forever."

Glaring at him, Misty says, "We talked at Goh's wedding." And they text every now and then, but she won't let Brock know that.

"Then you can talk now." He knowingly replies.

"It's not that easy."

"Then how'd you do it at the wedding?"

Misty furrows her brows while following Brock out to toss the trash. "I don't know. We just started with small talk. We had to put on a show because everyone thinks we're still married. But we don't need to do that here because you and Lucy know we're divorced."

"And we know you still haven't filed the divorce papers yet, and Ash is in no rush to make you." notes Brock, causing Misty to groan. "You both obviously don't want one another out of your lives. Even though it's awkward, and it's easier to just forget each other, you shouldn't. It's more painful if you keep pushing each other away."

"We can handle ourselves. I was fine before him, and I'll still be fine." Misty counters.

"That's where you're wrong, Misty." Brock leads her back inside the house. "I'm not gonna let your pride come in the way of your happiness again." As her unofficial older brother, Brock won't let her repeat the same mistakes.

In the past, he allowed Misty to cut Ash from her life. Brock was allowing her the independence to do what she felt was right for her, despite his own opinions. That landed Misty all alone. While she never expressed her boredom or loneliness, everyone saw it. Everyone knew she wasn't living a fulfillling life. A life that the fun, carefree, eager Ash Ketchum brings. The very man she loves.

"I'm an adult. Leave me alone."

Brock stops in his tracks to face her. Meeting her annoyed blue eyes, he seriously asks, "Do you love Ash?"

"Broc-"

"Yes or no, Misty."

Sighing, Misty knows Brock has turned on his big brother switch. A switch he only turns on when he believes she needs to listen to him. "You know I do."

"Do you wanna lose him again?"

"No."

"Then suck it up and at least say hi to him! Ash him how he's doing! If you can have a conversation with him, then I'll move Annalise into my room and set up her room for you." Although he loves teasing his friends, he won't put them through anything painful. All he wants is for them each to stop being stubborn. For them to communicate their true feelings. Too often, these two bury their feelings out of fear for how it will be reciprocated. Brock will always give them a good push in the right direction.

"Promise?" Misty studies his eyes for any indication of a lie. She gets why Brock wants her to speak to Ash, though she'd rather do it on her own terms. Terms she hasn't set, and she doubts she will.

When Brock nods, Misty lets out a very long deep breath. Alright. This will only be at most 5 minutes of awkwardness. It'll be like at the wedding. She'll say hi, ask how he's doing, and that's it. Nothing more. Besides, she'll be leaving in the morning anyway, so she won't have to uncomfortably be around him then. Mew. Brock is lucky Misty respects him enough to do this. However, she wants to do it too. She wants to talk to Ash. To hear his voice being directed at her. To just be by him again.

"Where is he anyway?" Misty hasn't seen Ash in an hour.

"Lucy asked him to move Caden's crib in our room so that we could fit all of Annalise's toys in her room." Also because Brock planned to set up Annalise's room for Misty anyway.

Nodding, Misty follows Brock up the stairs. "I'll be quick. You should just move Annalise now."

"I'll do it when you go in the guest room." Brock knowinlgly says while standing outside of his daughter's door.

Misty gives Brock one final glare before she faces the closed guest bedroom door. She takes in a deep breath, which does nothing to her nerves. If anything, her heart is beating even quicker in anticipation of what is to come. Her palms are too sweaty to even grip the doorknob, though her arms are still at her side. Feeling Brock's eyes bear into her back isn't helping either. Okay. C'mon, Misty. It has to be now!

However, a door opening nearby causes both Brock and Misty to look in that direction. They see very surprised and confused chocolate orbs of a man drying his black hair. Blinking at them in confusion, the man is the first to break the tense silence, "Uh. Hi, guys?"

"Hey, Ash." Brock gives an innocent grin. Fortunately, Ash is too dense to notice anything Brock is up to. "I was just saying good night to Misty."

Liar. Misty shoots her older friend a very deep glare that he ignores. Oh. If Annalise wasn't sleeping behind that door, Misty would pound Brock to death with her mallet. "Yeah. Night, Brock." Misty then escapes inside the guestroom, leaving the men in the hallway.

Ash approaches Brock, still not suspicious about the hallway encounter. Instead, Brock's nerves return as he whispers, "I can't sleep in the same room as her, Brock!" After helping Lucy move Caden's crib and bringing all of Annalise's gifts to her room, Ash went for a shower. He saw that the house was clean, and he didn't want to run into Misty alone. Well, not until now where he'll be sharing a room alone with her. Pikachu likes sleeping with Annalise, meaning Ash will really be alone with Misty.

"She's ready to." Brock motions to the shut door Misty disappeared behind, causing Ash's blush to deepen.

"Brock, please! I'll get the couch. Don't make me have to talk to Misty."

"Why?"

Ash quietly groans because he already explained himself to Brock this week. It's just awkward. He and Misty don't talk often. Besides for Goh's wedding, the two have not interacted. Besides, the fact that Misty hasn't said anything about the gift he got for her makes Ash feel like she may not have liked it. That adds on to all of this tension he would rather avoid.

Even though he knew she'd be here for Annalise's party, Ash still can't fathom interacting with his ex. He loves her. He wants to be with her. But does she feel the same way about him? Has this time apart allowed her to realize that she's better off without him? The fact that she hasn't filed the divorce papers must be a good sign, right? Unless she's just holding onto them to avoid the media. Arg. Ash has no idea, and it sucks that he has to be put in an uncomfortable situation.

"You love her, right?" Brock inquires.

"Of course I do!" Ash tells Brock that all the time.

"Then let her know that."

"It's not gonna change anything, Brock. I'm not ready to be with anyone, especially her."

"That doesn't mean she can't know you love her. Have you even told her your grand plan of winning her back?" A plan Brock practically forced out of Ash the other day.

"Not really… I mean, I told her that I'd come challenge her when I reach the Ultra Class." It's sort of like a planned date, though they're not doing anything romantic. "But, like, I don't want her to wait around for me. She's done that enough."

"Misty will wait lifetimes for you, Ash." Brock claps Ash's shoulder. "She's waited for you when she didn't even know your feelings. You're the only one who can ever get her mind out of working. Trust me, tell her your plan." With that final comment, Brock exits into Annalise's room. He'll wait until Ash enters the guestroom before taking Annalise out.

Once alone in the hallway, Ash takes in a very deep breath. He squats down to the floor and cups his head under his arms tightly. This is it. He needs to talk to her. They've avoided each other enough today. It's not their first time meeting since the break up. They talked just fine at Goh's wedding, so Ash will just feed off of that same energy. He and Misty do occasionally text. That must mean something, right?

Standing up, Ash prepares himself for the redhead behind the door who is also anxiously waiting for whenever Ash comes in. She thought Pikachu was in the room, but found it empty. Eventually, Ash makes his way in. He doesn't shut the door because he believes it's less awkward with the door open. Thus, he just awkwardly stands by the door way while Misty is standing by her suitcase near the closet. Both adults unable to make eye contact, so they listen to the very tense silence.

Since Misty has had the past few minutes alone to herself, she's somewhat more prepared to face him than he is to face her. Therefore, she breaks the silence first. "Hey."

"Hey." Mew. Ash is glad she spoke. He already feels some of the nerves slipping, though it's still very uncomfortable. "Uh. How have you been?"

"Same old thing, just different day." The life of an Elite Four member is a bit more boring than a gym leader. There are more political and clerical tasks than battling. "What about you?"

"Same thing." Chuckles Ash. "I'm at 821 right now. My Pokemon and I are getting much stronger."

"That's good."

"We're coming for you, Mist." Grins the man, already feeling more at ease. "So you better be training too. We're finally gonna beat you!"

Misty now too relaxes. Ash is always good at getting people comfortable. Raising a challenging eyebrow at him, she crosses her arms over her chest. "I highly doubt that. I am superior than you."

Ash rolls his eyes. "I beat you a lot when we were kids. You only won this year because I hadn't trained in 3 years."

"No way! I'm just that much of a better trainer than you!" counters the redhead who is now growing annoyed by him.

"You are so not!"

"Yes, I am!"

"No!"

"Yes!"

"No!"

"Shhhhh!" comes the very loud older voice in the hallway. Both adults turn to see Brock carrying a sleeping Annalise in his arms, and Pikachu is on his shoulder. Glaring at his younger friends, Brock reaches out a hand to grab the doorknob. "Some of us have sleeping children in this house!" He hisses at the two before shutting the door.

Ash and Misty sweatdrop at the closed door. However, Brock can't help but smirk while walking to his room. He knew those two would be fine. They need a push, but they will always communicate like no time has passed. That's just Ash and Msity's relationship. "I think they'll be okay." He tells the mouse.

"Pi." Pikachu smiles. He knows how much Ash misses Misty, so it's good that they're getting along again.

Back in the guest room, Misty has sat on the bed while Ash sits on the chair. "I guess that means Brock is letting me sleep in Annalise's room." Mutters the redhead.

Nodding, Ash does feel disappointed. Even if it is awkward shainrg a room with Misty now, he still wanted to. "Yeah." And silence. Ash slowly raises his head to get a quick peek at her. Mew. She's stunning. Her slim figure and glowing porcelain skin. Skin that glistens in the water. "Are you swimming every day?"

She blinks at him in confusion, causing their eyes to meet and separate just as fast. "The League has a pool arena I train in." If she didn't swim every day, she'd go insane. That's her safe haven. Her place to think and reflect. A place where nothing on the outside matters. Misty is meant for the water.

"That's good." Ash was concerned that she lost that important part of her occupation.

Not wanting this to be a one-sided conversation, Misty now asks, "Who are you gonna challenge next?"

"I wanted to battle Lucy, but she's still on maternity leave." Ash laughs. Lucy is ranked in the 200s. "I'll probably battle a different brain before leaving Hoenn."

"May said you visited Dawn in November. Did you battle Paul?" Misty figures that battle would've been televised because Paul has stated Ash is his greatest rival. Well, was. Ash in his prime was. Even though Ash isn't ranked high enough to battle Paul, Paul can still choose to accept the challenge.

He shakes his head. "No. Part of me went to visit them since I haven't gone to Sinnoh in a while, and I wanted to help with the Galactic attacks." Ash knows how badly his friends want to get married, so he offered his services in their war against Team Galactic. "But even if we had time to battle, I wouldn't have challenged Paul."

"Really? I'm sure Paul would battle you. He doesn't care for the rankings." Misty recalls how Paul doesn't care for much. He never challenges others to increase his rank, but he has to battle certain challengers. Paul wins most of his battles, so he is ranked 12th in the World Coronation tournament.

Shrugging, Ash responds, "Probably, but I don't feel ready to battle him. He's one of my biggest rivals. I haven't battled him in years, so I want to battle him when I feel like we can put up a good fight against him." Ash wants to be worthy of battling Paul again. Meeting the curious redhead's eyes, Ash melts in them. "Like how I wanna be worthy of you."

Silence. Not awkard, like it has been before, but comforting. A warm atmosphere as they gaze into each other's arms. Misty whispers, "What are you talking about?"

Recalling Brock's words, Ash takes in a deep shaky breath. "Do you remember when I told you I wanna battle you once I'm in the Ultra Class?" She nods. "It's not just that, Mist. I know I can challenge you once I'm under 300, but I won't. I don't feel like that's worthy of facing off against you."

"Ash, I will accept your challenge, regardless of your rank."

"I know!" He runs a nervous hand through his hair. "And so will Paul and Iris and everyone, but that's not fair. There are trainers out here who don't have these connections like I do. Who have to work hard up the ranks to even be considered by you guys. I'm gonna do this as fair as I can, so I won't challenge you or anyone until I'm close in rank."

Her gaze softens on him. Out of habit, Misty reaches over to tap the side of his thigh with her pinky, causing the man to meet her blue orbs again. "I think that's very noble of you, Ash."

Mew. She gives him strength. She always does. "Thanks, Misty." And out of habit, Ash rests his pinky on top of the one that's tapping on him. Feeling more at ease, he changes the topic, "Gary and my mom say you visit them every month."

Of course she does. Just because she and Ash didn't work out, that doesn't mean Misty will cut off Delia again. Misty can't let the woman suffer from something going on between Misty and Ash. Besides, Misty sees Delia as a mother. Misty already lost Delia a decade ago, and Misty won't do that again. If Ash can be allowed to see Tina, then Misty figured she can visit Delia. Plus, Misty is already in Pallet Town seeing the Oaks, so it'd be rude to ignore Delia completely.

"I heard you stop by the gym monthly too."

Chuckling, Ash replies, "Yeah. Kids grow up too fast."

"Are you sure you have time? Brock says you've been here a week too."

He shrugs. "I can make time. That's what you taught me."

"Huh?" She raises a confused eyebrow at him.

Leaning towards her, he states, "Yeah. You're always working, but you always make time to see your family and friends, Mist. There's no excuse for me not to do the same."

"Well, you are in different regions most of the time, and I don't visit my friends and family every month." Or at least she didn't when she was a gym leader.

"You still visited May in Hoenn a lot." Notes Ash. "It's a lot better than anything I ever did. I never visited anyone. They would visit me. It's about time I take initiative." He's lucky that no one has cut him off for being a poor communicator. Misty did, but he was lucky enough to get her back in his life.

Deciding to take the compliment, Misty says, "I'm glad you finally remember your friends."

"I always remember them. I was just a shitty friend." He nervously laughs alongside her. "But that's the only credit I'm giving you. Don't let your head get too big."

"Everyone knows you're the one with a big head, Mr. Chosen One." retorts the woman. "What would you do without me?"

"My ears would probably work better." He refers to her constantly nagging him.

Shooting him a glare, Misty kicks his shin playfully. "Do I need to remind you about how many times I saved your ass during our travels? You're so not cautious that you'd always run into danger without thinking!"

"Hesitation doesn't save the world."

"Neither does a dead Chosen One."

"Ouch." He smiles, glad that they can continue teasing each other. After the two share another laugh, Ash is the first to calm down. Mew. She's beautiful when she smiles and laughs. He's missed her voice and her joy. He's missed her. "Can I ask you something?"

Wiping her tears, she curiously wonders, "Is this your one question for today?"

He forgot they had that. Actually, they both forgot, but when Ash phrased his question like that, Misty was instantly reminded of their old way of communicating. Now, Ash too recalls he initiated this questioning between them as a way to freely ask personal questions. Although he'd rather not spend his question on this, he will because he isn't comfortable asking anything further: "Um. Did you get my Christmas gift?" He's curious, and she hasn't said anything about it.

Oh no! Misty totally forgot she was going to thank him for it. She did know he'd be here, but she was so focused on avoiding him that she forgot. The woman quickly quickly reached into her sweater to pull out a blue pendent on the necklace around her neck. "Yes! I love it. Thanks for getting this for me, Ash." Arg. How rude of her! She's worn it every day since she's gotten it, but she never thanked him for it. "I'm sorry I didn't get you anything." And she's been too busy to remember getting him anything. She feels like a terrible person.

Of course, in typical Ash Ketchum fashion, he doesn't let her feel bad about herself. He hurriedly stands and waves his hands as he finds himself seated beside her on the bed now, consoling her. "No! I didn't get you it expecting something back."

"I know you don't, but I should."

"No, you shouldn't."

"Ash, I didn't get you anything! I've had weeks, and I still didn't, especially when I knew I'd see you here too. I'm so sorry."

"Stop apologizing, Misty!" Ash rests his hands on her shoulder, forcing her to face him again. He looks into her apologetic cerulean eyes. "You didn't even know I'd be home for the holidays." Due to traveling, no one, not even him, is ever sure where he will be.

"But I could've still left it with your mom, like how you got mine delivered to me."

Ash only shipped the package because he wasn't sure if she'd want to see him or not. "You've given me so much. Way more than I could ever give you. Please just accept my gift and don't worry that you didn't get me anything physical."

"Ash…" His enticing brown orbs are mesmerizing. She just wants a closer look. "I still-"

Cutting her off, he tells her, "You gave me something anyway."

"No, I didn't." Misty is sure she didn't get him anything. If someone mailed him something under her name, she'll be sure to tell him it's not from her. No way will she take credit for something she didn't do. She won't play with this man's emotions like that.

Ash smiles warmly, further causing Misty's heartbeat to quicken. "Yeah, you did." Ash isn't even thinking as his right hand moves from her shoulder to cup her cheek. Misty doesn't stop him or shy away either. His lift hand rubs along the Mystic Water pendent around her neck. "That was when I found out you visit my mom every month. Thanks for making sure she isn't alone."

"You do visit Tina monthly."

"Yeah, but Tina has her family, and she's a kid. My mom just has Mr. Mime. And I know she misses you." Resting his forehead on hers, Ash whispers, "Knowing the two women I love the most in this world love each other too is the best gift any man could ever ask for."

Time stands still as the ex lovers gaze affectionately in each other's eyes. They've missed each other a lot. Regardless of their current status, nothing can hide how much they love one another. Therefore, Misty quickly inquires, "Can I ask my question now?"

"Go for it." smiles the man.

"Can I kiss you?"

With both adults blushing profusely, Ash brings a finger up to Misty's chin as she gently hangs onto the front of his shirt. They inch their faces closer to one another when Ash softly answers, "Any time, Mist."


Yup. I really wrote a Pokeshipping story to incorporate all of my favorite/preferred shippings lol. How many can you spot/list?

Also, Google Docs said I reached my maximum character limit for this story, so I had to make a whole new doc to continue typing. Fortunately, we only have a few more chapters and some extras before we're completely done. It's bitter sweet. :')

Anonymous reviews have been disabled. Login to review. 1. Prologue 3335 0 0 2. Chapter 1 3889 0 0 3. Chapter 2 5728 0 0 4. Chapter 3 6858 0 0 5. Chapter 4 7312 0 0 6. Chapter 5 8640 0 0 7. Chapter 6 9818 0 0 8. Chapter 7 19153 0 0 9. Chapter 8 16786 0 0 10. Chapter 9 13286 0 0 11. Chapter 10 15358 0 0 12. Chapter 11 19491 0 0 13. Chapter 12 16349 0 0 14. Chapter 13 11771 0 0 15. Chapter 14 20732 0 0 16. Chapter 15 (Part 1) 17389 0 0 17. Chapter 15 (Part 2) 11842 0 0 18. Chapter 16 16313 0 0 19. Chapter 17 14979 0 0 20. Chapter 18 14493 0 0 21. Chapter 19 13362 0 0 22. Chapter 20 19263 0 0 23. Chapter 21 19779 0 0