I never meant for this chapter to get so long. Sorry lol. Some pokeshipping and relationship building in here. Also, I'm trying to give the fanfic a happier tone because I'm not a dark depressed person. I just needed to build that up for y'all to understand how shitty Ash's life is now. Anyway, we can only go up from here...and then down because that's how stories work. Lots of ups and downs. Enjoy. It'll be my last update for a week or two.
"I don't remember it ever being this busy." sighs the exhausted man as he lays his head on the desk.
"It's the first day, Ash." The redhead nonchalantly responds while munching on her lunch and looking over emails on her computer at the same time.
"Yeah, but the first day of my journey has never been this busy."
They've had an endless flow of challengers all day. There was a line in the morning, which included some reporters trying to get in. There is currently a queue to battle Misty, but they took a lunch break. Many challengers have been asking Ash and Misty about their relationship, though the adults don't say much. This is the most socializing Ash has done in a long time.
"It always is." Misty mutters. "The first week sucks. It's all the Cerulean City people who have Pokemon already."
There are experienced trainers and new trainers who got their first Pokemon from their parents. With Cerulean City being a large city, many challengers flock to the gym first before venturing off on their journey. It's just more convenient this way, so Misty doesn't blame them. She's always prepared for the first week.
Ash nods in understanding. He always started his first day in a town or city without a gym. Thus, by the time he arrived at a gym, it's been long past the first week of the season. No wonder why he's never seen this influx. "Don't you get tired?"
She pushes his tupperware at him since he hasn't been eating his lunch. "Yeah. I feel like I never get enough sleep." Smirking, she adds, "But now you're here getting enough for both of us."
Blushing in embarrassment, Ash picks at his food. Misty had made them breakfast and lunch this morning. Ash wishes he could be more helpful. "I'm trying, Mist." He lowly tells her.
"I know." Misty smiles gratefully at him.
If Ash is anything like she's noticed the past few days, she expected him to be begging to sleep now. To take a nap, like he must always do at home. He hasn't complained yet, besides for how early it was this morning to be woken up. Ash has also been good at keeping the challengers in an orderly fashion. Misty usually had to do both the job of the receptionist and the gym leader. Having Ash around makes it so much easier. Plus, his Pokemon keep the reporters away.
"This week, we're working long hours." She informs him. "If you're good, maybe I'll let you leave early."
"It's fine. A deal's a deal." Ash finally takes a bite of his lunch. "We need to look like a stable couple, right?"
"Yeah…" Misty's face heats up, so she chooses to look down at her food. Fortunately, Ash avoids eye contact, which means he isn't looking at her at all. "I was thinking…"
"About?" Ash asks when Misty doesn't finish her sentence.
Taking in a deep breath, Misty nervously plays with her fork. "I need to train often. It's more fun training with others."
"I guess." Ash shrugs. He recalls training when he was younger. While it is more fun training with others, he preferred training alone. It's when he had the most growth with his Pokemon.
She sighs. "Ash, I wanna train with you. We can battle. It'll be like old times."
"No." The man sternly answers. It's already one thing to not sleep all day. He interacts with people and Pokemon. However, he won't train. That's not a part of him anymore.
Groaning, Misty exclaims, "Why not? You used to love training and battling!"
"Used to." He reiterates her words. "I'm not the same Ash, Misty! You know that! Everyone knows that!" Can people just stop trying to change him.
She glares at him. Her appetite is completely gone. "Screw this, Ash. This is my home. My life you decided to fuck with." He lets out an annoyed breath at her constant reminder. "You're gonna listen to me."
"You're not the boss of me! Look, it's enough that I'm not sleeping all day, okay?"
"Wow. Good for you! You're doing something that everyone does everyday! Do you want a prize or something?" shouts the redhead.
Ash shakes his head in disbelief. "Forget it."
When he stands up, Misty mentally curses herself. No matter how much she wants to yell and reprimand Ash, this isn't the same Ash she remembers. Something broke him, and while she doesn't want to fix him, necessarily, she shouldn't be making his life worse. "Wait, Ash." To her relief, he stops in front of the door. "I won't force you to train with me, but I do have a proposition."
"Will I like it?" Ash faces her again.
Standing up, Misty smiles warmly as she walks towards him. "Up to you. Every day you beat me in a battle, I won't make you help me the next day."
Ash bites his inner cheek. That's a tasty deal, though he doesn't want to battle. He knows he's no match for Misty right now. He was destroyed in a battle over the weekend. He hasn't trained his Pokemon in years. However, the chance to return back to his reclusive life is appealing. All it takes is a half hour battle with Misty where he defeats her. Once he gets strong enough to consistently beat her, then it'll be easy going back to being a recluse. Nevertheless, this does mean he'll have to train and battle every day.
Mew. What does he want? To be a total recluse or to stay away from Pokemon training? Why does Misty make his life so difficult? At his mother's, Delia gave in to Ash easily. Thus, Ash was able to enjoy his hidden lifestyle. Misty has shown to be a tougher person to crack. Moreover, Ash isn't sure he wants to piss her off more than he already has. He does feel guilty about their situation.
With Ash still deep in thought, Misty packs up her unfinished meal. She walks past him where she pats him on the shoulder. "Offer doesn't expire. I'll see you out there."
Once Misty is gone, Ash cleans up. He doesn't have much of an appetite, but he eats enough. The man is curious about Misty. She never seems to finish her food throughout the day. It's like she's too busy to eat. She did finish dinner last night, but that could be because she was trying to leave right away.
Ash shuts his eyes and takes in a deep breath to prepare him for the second half of the work day. Misty says they'll be working long hours this week. Just how long? He's already exhausted. When the gym starts slowing down, he's looking forward to catching some sleep at the front desk. It can't always be this busy, right? He recalls the Cerulean City gym being pretty empty when he challenged it, but that could be due to Misty's sister's tarnishing its reputation.
As mentally ready as he can get, Ash leaves the office to make his way to the lobby where Misty has already unlocked the doors for challengers. There's even more in the lobby than before Ash closed it up for lunch. Probably because people who woke up late or came from nearby towns have arrived.
Walking up next to Misty who is looking through the queue line for her next challenger on the computer, Ash whispers, "Are we gonna be here all night?"
Misty giggles at the slight fear in his voice. "The latest I stay open is 7. The Pokemnon get tired too, and we all need to eat." Sometimes, she'll stay open later if she knows ahead of time and if the Pokemon get breaks throughout the day. However, the first couple of days of the tournament never gives anyone a break.
"Okay." What happened to 9-5 jobs? Ash figures the League must have gym leaders on salary. Hopefully not all days will be this excruciating and long.
The woman continues looking through the queue line. "Let's see. Who's next…" Misty is scrolling. She rarely uses the receptionist computer, and she never makes the queue line. Usually, Misty will just have challengers line up and wait. The queue line is a lot more convenient for everyone, though, because challengers can sign up and then get notified via pokenav when it's almost their turn.
"Holly Chapman." Ash remembers the name of the next person in line because he had nothing better to do than look at trainer profiles.
Misty turns her head to see the man is directly beside her. Their faces are a few inches apart, making her blush profusely. When did he get here? How long has he been next to her looking at the same screen? "Thanks."
Ash shyly nods. "It is my job."
She smiles gratefully at him until one of the many challengers in the lobby shouts, "Kiss!" Both adults' faces heat up as they avoid eye contact. Misty takes a step away from Ash while the whole lobby is now chanting for them to kiss.
Knowing that one of Ash's rules is no kissing, Misty won't do it. Plus, she doesn't have the nerve to kiss him. Therefore, she awkwardly clears her throat and tries to quiet the lobby down. "Holly Chapman, you're next."
"Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!" Nothing can be heard over the many trainers in the lobby yelling at them.
Frustrated, Misty looks back at the desk. There is supposed to be a button for the loud speakers, but everything back here is foreign to her. "Where's the speakers?" She whispers to the frozen man beside her. Not hearing anything from Ash or feeling him move, Misty knows he's checked out, like back at his mother's. This is going to be one long year.
When Misty decides to give up and possibly choose a random challenger from the group, she feels an arm wrap around her waist. Turning her attention to the man who seems to be out of his daze now, Misty is in her own. What is he doing? Ash nervously clears his throat to no avail. The crowd won't stop chanting.
"I'll just choose someone." Misty whispers to Ash while pulling away from his arm. They'll need to figure out where the speakers are for when this happens again.
To her surprise, Ash grabs her arm to stop her from walking away. Before she can question him, he takes a step towards her where he lowers his head towards the top of hers. She feels a warm press on her head as quickly as it disappears along with Ash's hand. The peck makes the lobby aw at them. Misty, though, is confused. Did Ash just kiss her when his rule was for no kissing? Granted, he just kissed her head, but still.
Fortunately, this kiss eventually gets the crowd to quiet down enough after their cheers for Ash to call, "Holly Chapman?" His voice is still small, and not as loud as Misty knows it can be. Nonetheless, it seems to be enough this time because a blonde girl in the back waves her hand who Misty nods at.
Before Misty leads Holly to the battle arena, the woman quietly tells Ash, "Figure out where the speakers are."
"Yeah." Ash can't even look Misty in the eye right now as his face is a dark shade of red. He doesn't know why he kissed her head. Misty just looked so frustrated, and Ash didn't like that. She's going through so much when she's trying her best. However, he's over here doing the bare minimum and complaining about things normal people do. He's already promised himself to not make Misty's life harder, though he can also try to make it easier.
Plus, they didn't kiss on the lips or even the face. It's just his lips touching her hair, but why does he still feel the sensation of her hair on his lips? How come he can still smell her shampoo with a hint of chlorine? Ash massages his fingers with his thumb. It's like he can still feel her soft skin on them.
"Excuse me?" the voice snaps Ash from his daze where he sees a young boy standing by the counter. "I was told to register here?"
Nodding, Ash sits down to start typing on the computer. "Can I see your pokedex?"
"Do you mind if we finish our lunch for dinner?" Misty tiredly asks when they finish putting the Pokemon away for the night. They're all fed and relaxing in the Pokemon Resting room. Ash and Misty are making their way back to the living quarters of the gym.
"That's fine." Ash knows she's burnt out. He is too. Furthermore, they don't need to cook any food when they have food. They should be finishing their meals, but they aren't. Like he did earlier, Ash surprises Misty by grabbing the tupperwares from her hands. "I'll heat them. You should rest." It's not that hard to use a microwave.
She raises a confused eyebrow at him. "Um. Thanks." Soon, Ash sets down their food at the dinner table, and the two dig in. Due to being very busy until they closed the gym, Misty hasn't had much of a chance to talk to Ash. Her face heats up at the reminder of his kiss earlier, even if it was just on her head. "Ash?"
"That kiss…" Now his own face turns a dark shade of red. Ash shoves more food in his mouth to avoid talking. "I thought your rule was no kissing, even if people ask us to?"
Sighing, Ash swallows his food. He still keeps his gaze away from her. "No kissing on the lips."
Nodding awkwardly, Misty replies, "Oh." A few more uncomfortable minute of silence while they eat, and then Misty says, "I'm gonna get up early tomorrow. We're really busy, so I'll open the gym at 8."
"I don't have to wake up until 9." He reminds her of their deal.
"I know. Just make sure you wake up yourself. I'll be too busy to send Pikachu after you." Misty purses her lips as she gives him a stern look. "I trust you, Ash."
He nervously shifts in his seat. That's a big word there, despite her just meaning she trusts him to wake up on time. "Yeah. I will."
"Thanks." Misty finishes her food first, like usual, and starts washing the dish.
Ash curiously looks at her back, which is to him because she's facing the sink. "Are you going to the Cape again?"
Seeing Misty flinch reminds Ash that this Cape guy is a sensitive subject to her, like his ex is to him. "I thought we agreed not to talk about him."
"We did." Ash tries to think of the right words to say. "But I should know, right? So that I stay hidden?"
Misty wipes her wet hands on a towel to dry them. "I'll let you know when to hide." It's not like she goes to the Cape every day. She doesn't even go every week. Sometimes, she doesn't go for months.
Still very intrigued, Ash subconsciously meets Misty's cerulean eyes, giving him the courage to say, "I have a proposition."
She chuckles. Ash has been very passive lately. The only time he ever did anything to her was marry her. Usually, he just does what Misty asks. Sometimes he'll push back, but he never suggests anything. "Really?" She does like that warm chocolate. It's a lot better than his timid brown eyes. "I'm interested."
"Um." Ash is glad Misty's eyes are giving him strength to continue. They are married. It is a partnership. If she can get him to do stuff, then he can get her to do the same, right? Moreover, he hasn't wanted anything this badly in a long time. It's like his once apathetic life is now interesting to him again, though only one thing really interests him. "I'll answer any question you ask if you answer my questions. We can ask one a day."
Blinking at him, she already knows he wants to ask about her Cape affairs. Ash isn't sneaky, but he never tries to be. Maybe that's why she likes interacting with him. She never has to fear what other intent Ash may have. Being dense and straight to the point, Ash Ketchum isn't anyone's enemy. On the other hand, Misty hangs out with Gary Oak and Leaf Green. Two people who always have other motives, like that damn League dinner.
"You wanna know who the Cape guy is?" Misty assumes. When Ash pales and shyly breaks eye contact, she knows she's right. Sighing, Misty grabs his now empty dishes. "Can I ask about your ex?"
Ash takes in a sharp breath. It's not like he didn't know that's something Misty would ask about. He just hoped she wouldn't. However, she probably hoped he wouldn't ask about her Cape guy. "Yeah."
Misty finishes washing the dish and then joins him at the table. "Fine." She really wants to know what happened between Ash and Serena. That must be why Ash is such a recluse. "Tell me a specific question I can't ask about. We should each get one."
"Why?" Although Ash would rather not think about his ex, he would tell Misty for the right price and circumstances.
"Because I'm not gonna tell you who the Cape guy is. Ever." She shrugs. "That question is off limits, so give me one too."
Well, damn. That's pretty much what Ash wanted to know the most. At least he can still ask her how she met this Cape man and why she meets him. Ash just won't know this guy's identity. It might be better this way. "Okay. You can't ask me why my ex and I broke up."
Touche. That's the one thing Misty wanted to know the most. It's not like Misty doesn't want to tell Ash who her mystery guy is. It's just that she can't. Ash doesn't want to talk about his breakup. There's a difference. "Alright."
Misty then stands up to get ready for bed when Ash follows her. "Can we start today?"
"The question. Can I ask you one today?"
She's tired, but she'll just be tired all week. That's how exhausting the first week is. Also, Misty does want to learn more about those 12 years they lost contact. "Sure."
While Ash is nervous for what Misty could ask him, he really wants to figure out who this Cape guy is. "Who is the Cape guy to you." Seeing Misty narrow her eyes at him makes Ash add, "You don't need to tell me who he is exactly. Just who is he to you? Your friend?" Misty did say he's not her lover.
The woman walks into her room to grab her towel. Ash stands in the doorway watching her. Because Misty stays in the master bedroom, she has her own bathroom. Thus, Ash uses the hallway bathroom. Their paths rarely cross in the hallway. "He's a friend...I guess." Ash nods quietly, so Misty asks him, "Why'd you lose your passion for life?"
He flinches, but a deal is a deal, and it was his deal just like this marriage. Mew. He's putting himself into these uncomfortable situations and dragging Misty with him. Feeling bad, Ash answers, "I lost everything."
"What does that mean?" Misty faces him.
Shrugging, Ash says, "You didn't elaborate."
She rolls her eyes. "Fine. We can ask follow up questions. Answer mine first and we'll come back to your questions."
"I quit battling and training years ago. I was focused on her." He takes in a deep painful breath. "And then when it was over, I had nothing. I went from having these dreams to wanting to be a family man, and when the family man thing came to an end, I already gave up on my dreams. I had nothing. I wanted nothing except for her."
"Do you still want her?"
"That's not a follow up question." Ash mutters because he can only handle so much talk about his ex at a time. Going too into detail will bring him to a point he doesn't ever want to be at again.
Misty throws her hands up in defeat. "Okay. That's fair. What's your follow up question?"
Ash meets her gaze to say, "Why are you so uncertain about the Cape guy being your friend?"
Shrugging, Misty responds, "We have a mutual relationship. We never established what it's called. I don't think we need to."
"So he could be your lover?"
"He's not my fucking lover! Mew!" Misty exasperates. This is all Ash has been questioning her about. If she had a lover, she would've never agreed to this marriage, even though it's fake. "Look, he's a guy I help from time to time."
"What does he do for you?"
"He helps protect the city." Misty glances over at the clock on her wall. "It's late. I think that's fair enough for tonight."
Gratefully nodding at Misty, Ash takes a step away from the doorway. "Night, Misty."
"Good night, Ash." the woman softly smiles at Ash's retreating figure.
Before she can close her door and get ready for bed, Ash loudly clears his throat. "I'll open with you this week."
"You don't have to-"
"It's a deal. We need to look like a married couple, right?" He nonchalantly tells her. "It'll look weird if I'm not always helping you with the gym."
Misty can't help but let her smile grow. "I guess. Up to you."
"I'll be up at 7:30." Ash then walks into his room, leaving Misty to stare at where he once was.
Her heart is racing a bit while her cheeks are a light shade of pink. So maybe Ash Ketchum hasn't totally changed? There is a small bit of him still inside, and he's slowly coming out. This marriage might be his salvation. He still puts his effort into everything he commits to. If Misty can get him to do more things he usually doesn't do, this might get him back to the Ash she remembers.
When the weekend arrives, both adults can't wait to catch a few extra hours of sleep. Misty never makes the Pokemon work on weekends after a busy week. Ash hasn't done too much besides just manning the reception table. Thus, Misty manages to wake him up for lunch. She was up long before doing paperwork but figured Ash deserves a small break too.
"It's almost noon?" the groggy man states as he makes his way down the stairs.
"Yeah." Misty sips on her coffee.
Ash sits beside her where he thanks her for the plate of food. He notices that her plate is empty. Did he take too long that she finished without him? "What're we doing today?"
"Paperwork." Misty's gaze is on her pokenav as she reads emails.
Nodding, Ash eats a bite of his food. "What am I doing?"
"I'm surprised you're not asking to sleep all day."
He shrugs. "I did say I'd help."
"And I said you can have Saturdays off." She peeks at him from above her pokenav. "But I may need your help today. You can have tomorrow off."
"It's fine. We're married." Ash finishes his plate before grabbings hers to wash too. "I can clean the pool and lobby."
Setting down her pokenav, Misty raises a confused eyebrow at him. "Ash?"
"Are you feeling okay?" Since when did he take initiative? All week, he's been lethargic and following her around.
"Yeah. I got to sleep in, so I feel good."
"But you usually complain about working." she notes.
Drying his hands on a towel, Ash turns to face her. "It was a busy week. The place is messy. I just wanna do my part."
"I don't get it." She saw his room back at his home. If he never cleaned that, why would he want to clean the gym?
Ash nervously looks at the ground. "Don't make me spell it out for you, Misty."
"You're gonna have to because I am so confused, and I'm sure Pikachu would be too." Pikachu sleeps with the other Pokemon.
Sighing, the man replies, "I think less when I'm working." They've been so busy throughout the week. Once they have time for themselves, they're both too exhausted to do anything. It has been the longest time he hasn't had to think about his sorrows. He likes that feeling.
Misty gets up to set her empty mug down beside him, thus causing her shoulder to lightly brush his arm. "You can't run from your problems, Ash. Believe me. I've tried."
"What problems?" Misty has problems? Is she talking about the gym?
"Is that your question for today?" She looks up at his eyes as he tries to avoid her.
Smirking, Misty pats his shoulder before walking away. "Well, let me know. I'm still thinking of mine for you. Oh. And be my guest if you wanna clean. That'll help me out a lot!"
He hears Misty's footsteps disappear, indicating that she's gone to the gym office to do paperwork. Closing his eyes, Ash takes in a few deep breaths. He understands why Misty was questioning his intentions. Even he's nervous about actually doing work today. Work that he's putting on himself. However, he's told himself that he needs to be less of a burden on Misty.
Therefore, after finishing his given tasks, he finds himself knocking on Misty's office door late in the evening. Seeing all the papers as well as her furrowed brows makes him wish he had looked inside before knocking. He would've held off instead of interrupting her like now. Misty curiously looks up where she should know it can only be Ash knocking.
"Hey." She smiles at him.
Nodding, Ash takes a seat in front of her. "I fed the Pokemon. Do you have anything you want me to do?"
Misty wishes he could help with this paperwork, but it's something only the gym leader can do. With Ash as the receptionist, she has him input challenger data throughout the week, so that cuts down her paperwork. He also goes in and indicates whether a challenger won or lost. Misty owes a lot to Ash's help, else this week would be too overwhelming, like it usually is when she's alone on the first week of the tournament season.
Glancing at the time, she sees it is getting late. The old Ash would've complained about starving hours ago. This new Ash, though, is going through the motions of life. She could ask him to cook them dinner, though something else comes into mind. Something that she isn't looking forward to, yet is at the same time.
"How do you feel about dinner?"
"I should eat." Ash shrugs.
"Dining out?" suggests the redhead, earning her a slightly scared face from him.
He hasn't gone out since the League dinner where he utterly embarrassed himself. "Uh. I can cook something easy for us while you finish working."
"I'll never finish working." Misty waves at her computer. "But we need to act like a couple, so we should go on a date. We won't be gone long. Just hold my hand while we order takeout, and then we can come eat it back here."
"Why don't we just order delivery?" Ash really doesn't want to leave.
"Because then the media won't see that we're a loving stable real married couple, Ash. C'mon, you said you'd help me make this believable. We're already getting skeptics because our marriage isn't on paper."
"We should probably do that, huh?" He rests his head on his arms. Mew. What kind of mess did he get himself into?
"Yeah. To seem believable. Else when we get divorced next year, everyone's gonna call Tauros shit on us."
"Faking a marriage is so much harder than getting married." groans the man, causing Misty to curiously look at him. Ash never willfully talks about anything pertaining to his past by himself. It usually takes a question from Misty for him to open up.
"I wouldn't know."
"I do." He sits up to look at her apologetic blue eyes. "Taco trucks don't deliver." Seeing Misty raise a confused eyebrow has him explain, "If we go out to a place that delivers, it'll be obvious we're just putting on a show. We need to go somewhere where they don't deliver. But I don't want a sit down date or anything." Sitting down at a restaurant is doing too much for Ash, which the media will notice. Moreover, it's out of their character to do a fancy sit down dinner. That'll just draw more suspicions.
"I know a good place." Misty shuts off the computer.
"Is it close?"
"It's walking distance. We can bring Pikachu and Politoed to be our bodyguards." Driving is too much of a hassle with all the reporters constantly blocking her driveway. Despite all the annoyance outside, Misty does need a break from the gym. Being cooped up all week is getting to her head.
"Can I wear a hat? I'm not sure I can talk to anyone. I-"
"I got it." Misty grabs his arm to get him out of his seat. "I can handle the media, and I'll order the best tacos. Don't worry about your dress code. I try to hide from the world all the time." Misty giggles. "I am also the woman who is constantly in public in a bikini. So wear whatever you want, Ash. It's not gonna help conceal who you are."
"I know." He feels better hiding even if the media will still know it's him.
"We'll be quick. I promise." She gives him a reassuring smile. Once they're out of the office, Misty pushes him towards the living quarters. "Get dressed. I'll get Pikachu and Politoed. Meet me at the living room door, okay?"
"Yeah." Ash nervously nods. He wishes he had a heads up about this outing, but that would've just had him nervous all day. Did Misty even plan this, or is it impromptu? Whatever the case, he doesn't want to keep her waiting, so he puts on a cap and a hoodie with the hood up. It's still the late summer, making it hot out. Ash will stick out easily, but he feels better like this.
When he is downstairs, he sees Misty and the Pokemon sitting on the couch. "Pikapi!" Pikachu jumps on Ash's shoulder. The mouse is glad to see his trainer going out. Delia usually has to argue with Ash for so long before Ash finally goes. Or she drags him. The fact that Ash isn't complaining or looking like he hates this too much must be some improvement.
"You do know it's like 70 degrees out there, right?" Misty studies the man dressed in all black.
"I feel better like this."
"Yeah, while we're in the AC. Ash, this is a 15 minute walk. You'll burn."
"I'll be fine." Rolling her eyes, Misty walks over to him where she sees he is still avoiding her gaze. Knowing that Ash may pass out during the walk in his attire, Misty tugs at his hoodie. "Hey!" exclaims the man who jumps away from her.
"Take it off." she sternly tells him as his face heats up.
"You're gonna pass out!"
"You're the one who wanted to go out!"
"And you're the one who didn't! We could've been in an airconditioned car and then an air conditioned restaurant, but you wanna get tacos!"
Ash shakes his head. "I need the hoodie."
"You can wear the cap. Sunglasses. Anything that won't make you warm." She tugs at his black hoodie. "But this needs to come off."
"You take it off or me." She cuts him off.
Sighing in defeat, Ash takes off the hoodie before placing the cap and sunglasses back on. "That's sexual harassment."
"We're married. It should be sexy." Due to her red cheeks, she's glad Ash isn't looking at her. Misty hadn't realized how suggestive her words sounded until she spoke them. Quiet because of his own awkward blush, Ash hangs his head low. Misty grabs his hand in hers. "Ready?" He nods.
Eventually, they make their way past the reporters, with the Pokemon's help. Politoed and Pikachu keep people a safe distance away. Ash is focused on the ground while Misty's arm link with him guides him down the block. "Are we almost there yet?" He continues to see the flashes of cameras.
"It's only been five minutes, Ash." Misty teases. They need to keep up appearances, so she smiles largely at him. The media knows Ash is a recluse, thus his behavior now is normal. Misty needs to look very happy, She holds his arm close, which makes him blush when he feels a certain body part.
"I wanna go back now."
"Can't. We made it too far. Gotta get the tacos now."
"I'll just go back with Pikachu."
"No." Misty holds onto him tightly. "We're married, Ash. We're doing everything in public together." He doesn't say anything, so Misty leans her head against his arm. This makes them both blush more. "I'm not gonna let anything happen to you."
"It's not that." He mutters. "I don't like the judgments."
"Screw the judgments." If Misty had to care about every opinion on her, she'd never get anything done. There's no point in trying to please everyone or anyone at all. As long as she's content with herself, she's fine with whatever anyone says about her. It's why she handles the media so well because she's level headed.
"Easier said than done."
"Stop moping and smile a little, will ya? They're watching."
"They're always watching."
Misty rolls her eyes. "Let's talk about something else." She looks up at the darkening sky. "We can't let them take over our lives." It'll also get Ash to stop being so agitated. Having his mind on something else besides his stresses. Earlier, he had stated that he prefers working since it prevents him from thinking. That might work with this situation too. She just needs to distract Ash.
Shrugging, Misty holds his arm tighter. She also finds comfort just having someone to bear the brunt of the media with her. It's nice not being the only one at their onslaught. "What kind of tacos do you like?"
Chuckling slightly, Ash relaxes a bit. "Doesn't matter. You?"
"Good to know you can still eat anything." she teases.
"Yeah. I'm not picky."
"I remember." Misty spots the taco truck up ahead. "Do you remember all those feasts we were given as kids?"
"I had a lot more after you and Brock stopped traveling with me." Ash smiles.
"I guess it's a perk of being the Chosen One."
"I haven't been the Chosen One in years." Ash waves off the name.
"The world hasn't needed saving in years. I think you're off the hook for now."
"Or maybe there's a new Chosen One now." suggests the man.
"Then what's the point of having a Chosen One if they're always changing it? It's gotta be the Chosen Few or something." Misty smirks at him while they stand in the short taco line. "It was nice not having to cook for ourselves. We either had Brock or some town feeding us."
"Or my mom." Ash adds. With his mother always cooking for him, Ash doesn't know his way around the kitchen too well. He's glad Misty learned a few skills.
"I love your mom's cooking. She has the best home cooked meals. Brock has the best traveling cooked meals."
"Yeah. I miss Brock's cooking."
"Maybe we should visit him and his family?" Misty gazes up into Ash's dark sunglasses. "He did invite us to visit, and you haven't met Annalise yet."
Ash nervously looks away from her. "It's already a lot just leaving my room, Misty. I'm now in a different city doing uncomfortable things. I don't think I can leave for another region anytime soon."
"Not right away, dumbass." Misty then orders their food because they're at the front of the line. While they wait for their tacos, she continues her conversation. "When you're ready. We can make a couples trip out there."
"What if we get divorced before I'm ready?" He whispers in her ear. With his hat over his head, it looks like he kissed Misty's head rather than just whisper to her. The media starts taking lots of pictures of the more intimate PDA.
"Don't talk about that out here." Misty hisses back to him as she tiptoes. Her hair blocks her face, so it looks like she kissed his cheek.
"Sorry." He mutters. "Just a thought."
"Since when does Ash Ketchum think?" teases the woman, which makes Ash frown.
The one time he started thinking, he lost everything. Now, his thoughts just come to him. The dark ones reminding him of his past that he likes to ignore. "I try not to."
Hearing the melancholy tone, Misty squeezes Ash's hand. "Even after all of this, we'll still be friends, Ash. And then when you're ready, we can visit Brock's family in Hoenn. We should see Togetic too!" Misty misses her first Poke baby.
"No offense, Misty." Ash says when Misty grabs the food and they start walking back. "But I did disappear from you for years. It's most likely gonna happen again."
"I won't let it." She'll know where he is this time. After this whole marriage thing, he'll most likely go back to Delia's. Misty will work with Ash on getting him out more. That's what friends are for… or estranged friends who happened to get married before being friends again. It's complicated.
"That's what we said last time." Ash reminds her.
"Shut up and just have some faith in me for once."
"I've always had faith in you."
"Oh really? I recall you never wanting to listen to me when we were kids."
"Yeah. You were always trying to tell me what to do. I didn't need your help." As an up and coming trainer, Ash was trying to do everything by himself. He wouldn't take advice from anyone, especially Misty. Why was he so against advice from her? Because she irritated him. She was his friendly rival. However, battling and training with Misty always made him better.
"What about now?" inquires teh redhead.
Ash frowns. "I don't need help." He hates how everyone talks about him like he needs saving. Why won't people just let him be himself?
"I'm not offering it. I'm too busy to take care of you, Ash. It's why I make you take care of yourself and help me." Whenever her sisters visit, Misty has to take care of them and her gym. Fortunately, they never stay longer than a week or two. However, Misty can't spend a year catering to Ash and being a full time gym leader. Plus, she can actually tell Ash what to do while her sisters never listen.
"Yeah. Uh. Just let me know if you have anything else."
"You don't wanna nap all day anymore?" She wonders again.
He shakes his head. "Sometimes I get nightmares. Reminders and stuff. Being busy keeps that away."
"Don't be like me and drown yourself in work, Ash. It never really hides your problems." At the end of the day, when one is exhausted and alone, the buried problems are much worse. It can get bad enough to drive people to do things they regret.
"You seem okay. I'd prefer that."
Sighing, Misty hands Ash the food since they're nearing the house, and she needs to take out her keys. "I'm not okay. I just manage. There's a difference."
"What does that mean?"
"Being okay means that everything is fine. My work life and my personal life are all fine and relaxing. I can go to sleep stress free." She keys into the door. "Managing means I'm making it through every day. Sometimes barely, but I make it. I'm always managing my work life, but I thought I had my personal life okay." Opening the door, she smirks at him over her shoulder. "Until I got married."
"Uh. Sorry." Ash uncomfortably mumbles as Misty drags him inside. For someone who didn't want to leave the house, he was taking a while to come in. It was probably because of Misty's words.
She takes the food from him to set down on the coffee table. "Thanks, Pikachu and Politoed." Misty pats the Pokemon on the head before they go back to the gym, leaving the humans alone. Misty sits on the couch where she turns on the TV. Immediately ignoring the news, she puts on a movie. "You're gonna have to deal with my sappy romance movies. I've been wanting to watch this one for so long." Realizing that Ash hasn't moved from the front door, Misty turns her attention to him. "Are you hungry?"
It shakes him from his thoughts, so he sits beside her. "Tacos look good."
"Wait til you taste them."
The two munch away while Misty's movie plays. It's a corny romance movie. Ash already knows what's going to happen even though he never watches romance movies. The few he's watched have been with Misty. She always wants to watch something romantic, yet she's always been single. Ash usually would fall asleep during the films, but he's in his own thoughts right now. At least they're not thoughts about his past.
"Can I ask my question now?"
"Shh!" Misty's attention is on the tv.
"Shh!" This is the only time she can relax at all throughout the week. Ash will not ruin it with all his talking. However, he pauses the movie with the remote, causing Misty to glare at him. "What the fuck!" Ash is the reason she couldn't relax last weekend. He's the reason for her utterly stressful week, and he won't even let her relax with a movie.
"I wanna ask my question." he innocently says.
"Next time," She grabs the remote from him. "Don't do it during my time."
"So can I ask you?"
"You already paused the movie. Make it quick."
Ash gives her an apologetic nod. "What did you mean by saying you almost had your personal life okay? You weren't okay before?"
She frowns. Did she say that? Misty was just trying to make small talk to distract Ash from the media. "I mean. Are we ever really okay? Life throws a lot of stuff at us."
Shrugging, Ash leans back in the cushions. "I'm pretty sure I was okay when I was a kid. Life was simple and fun."
"You didn't answer my question." Ash has noticed that Misty likes to beat around her answers with him when she doesn't want to discuss something.
She shoots him an annoyed look. "What do you want me to say? I wasn't okay? I wasn't."
Chuckling to herself, Misty looks away from him. "I don't need your pity, okay?"
"You don't pity me. I won't do it to you." Ash hates the pity everyone gives him. He's grateful that Misty doesn't treat him like a glass object. Maybe it's why he's more active around her and his reason for opening up.
After a few silent minutes of Ash patiently waiting, Misty answers, "Daisy and Tracey are married with a kid. Lily and Violet are off enjoying their forever vacation." Misty laughs sadly. "And I've been stuck at this gym since I was 12. Being a gym leader is a good gig, but seeing you and Brock keep traveling. Seeing May become a successful Top Coordinator after years of hard work. I just felt like I should be doing more with my life."
"But you're a gym leader."
"It was given to me. I didn't earn it." Misty sighs. "Besides, I regret not traveling more. I wish I could've seen more of the world." Taking in a deep breath, Misty keeps her gaze on her feet. "And then Brock got married too. And then May got married. And you were engaged. And I haven't even had a second date with anyone. I don't know, Ash. I just felt so far behind from everyone."
Despite being reminded of his engagement, Ash's focus is on Misty's words. She felt behind from everyone? That's exactly how he feels right now. It's how he's been feeling these past few years. "Well, you're way ahead of me now."
She giggles, which makes her feel less sorry for herself. "Well, now we're both in a fake marriage, so I guess we're in the same boat."
Giving her a small smile, Ash finds his hand rising to pat her head. "Never thought I'd be on the same level as Misty Waterflower again."
"What does that mean?" the woman playfully asks. "Wait. Hold that thought." She rushes into the kitchen and soon returns with two beers. Opening one to hand to him, she tells the man, "Continue." while she sips from her beer.
Ash can't help but chuckle and sip his drink. It's been years since he casually had an alcoholic beverage. "When we traveled together, we were equals. Just some kids trying to make names for ourselves. When we stopped, though, I just couldn't win a League, but you were becoming a more successful gym leader every day. You built this reputation." Ash motions to the gym they're in. "You and everyone were getting so far while I just kept restarting."
"You weren't restarting." Misty seriously tells him. "You were growing. Every region taught you something new. You did win the Alolan League."
"Just that. And then I stopped competing years later."
"But you always placed in the top 16 and better. Ash, you were always one of the top trainers, even when you were just a beginner." She shakes her head in disbelief. "This is killing my ego to say, but I was jealous of you. I wish I was as gifted and dedicated as you."
Sipping from his drink, Ash says, "Well, you're better than me now. There's only so far being gifted can get you."
She smacks the back of his head, causing him to spill some of his beer on him. "I'm not feeling sorry for you, so you need to stop feeling sorry for yourself." As Ash shoots her a glare while he rubs his head, Misty says, "I guess I can ask my question now?"
"Why do you feel sorry for yourself? Why do you feel like the world owes you something? Ash has just been waiting for people to tell him what to do. He's going through the motions of life.
"Who says I think that?"
"You're not fooling me." Misty takes a few gulps.
Finishing his drink, Ash sets the empty bottle on the table. "Why do I feel like the world owes me something? Um. I did save it a couple dozen times." He reminds her.
"Okay. I don't feel like the world owes me anything. But it can give me a break. I did so much in like 15 years. It can leave me alone now."
"That's not how life works. The world keeps turning. We keep moving." Misty finishes her drink.
"Well, it's how I feel." Ash crosses his arms over his chest. "As for me feeling sorry for myself… You wouldn't understand."
"It's about the breakup." Ash glances at her. "Which is off limits."
Throwing her hands up in defeat, Misty grabs the remote. "Alright. I get it. You can go to sleep if you want. I'm gonna finish my movie."
"I'm not good enough for her. I never will be." His voice makes her turn her attention back to him. "It's why she broke up with me."
Misty furrows her brows angrily. Grabbing Ash's shoulder to make him face her, she looks into his sad brown eyes. "I thought I told you to stop feeling sorry for yourself, Ash. You're perfect the way you are. If she couldn't see that, then fuck her."
"She wasn't that bad. It really was me." Ash doesn't want to make his ex seem like a bad person because she's not. He won't bash her reputation.
"Don't cover for her." Misty believes Serena must've manipulated him.
"Ash, she manipulated you. That's why you're blaming yourself. That's why you feel like shit. That's-"
"I abandoned her first." He shuts his eyes painfully. "I fucking leave everyone and I always expect them to wait for me. Like you and her."
Sighing, Misty releases Ash. "Look at me."
"I can stare at your eyelids all night, but I think we'd both prefer not to." Taking in a deep breath, Ash opens his eyes again to see Misty's warm blue orbs. She brings a soft hand up to cup his cheek gently. "Whether people wait for you or not, that's their fault. That has nothing to do with you." Her lips form a small smile. "I'm not saying I was waiting for you, but no one could ever replace you." Misty blushes, and she hopes Ash knows it's a platonic blush.
"You were waiting for me?"
"I'm not saying I was, but I'm not saying I wasn't either." She teases. "Also, don't flatter yourself. You never left me, Ketchum." He raises a confused eyebrow at her. "I left you. Twice." Once after Johto, and the most recent time after Alola. Ash may have left all of his other traveling partners, but it was Misty who has been the only one to leave him. To have to leave him.
Ash can't respond. Usually, it'd be because he wouldn't respond, though this time, it's because he doesn't have any words. He doesn't have any thoughts. Right now, his heart is pounding, and he feels lighter. Part of him wants to cry, despite shedding those painful tears years ago. How is it that Misty knows nothing about his pains, yet she can bring these buried emotions out of him. So much that he finds himself trying to get a closer look at those beautiful cerulean blue orbs.
With her own racing heart, Misty closes her eyes in anticipation of what a teenage Misty had always dreamed for. This isn't the same Ash she knows, but she also isn't completely the same Misty he might remember. They've been growing closer throughout the week, relying on one another and confiding in each other. Every day gets easier to open up for them.
When Ash shuts his eyes too, he attempts to close the space between them. That is, until Misty's pokenav goes off, causing the woman to quickly jolt away. Her face is flushed as she picks up the call. "Hello?" Mew. Her voice just squeaked.
Ash, with his own dark blush, looks away. He's mentally cursing himself for what he almost did. He almost broke his one rule. Right now, he's vulnerable, and looking for anyone to care. These could be sympathy feelings for himself that he doesn't want. He doesn't want to use Misty for comfort and then leave her when he realizes these feelings aren't real. After already being an asshole to his ex, he can't be one to Misty who is doing her best with everything he's selfishly imposing on her.
"Daisy? Wait! Shit!" Misty sinks into the couch.
"Daisy?" Ash asks.
The woman nods while giving Ash a weak look. "She wanted to make sure I was still awake."
"Why? It's late." Shouldn't Daisy want Misty to be resting now?
Misty gets off the couch. "Because they're coming over in an hour. We need to move your stuff into my room."
I love some good old Handyman meddling.