Single By 30 @shinygrowlithe12
Chapter 7

For those rushing me in making Ash "normal" again...um...no? Depression isn't cured overnight, or in this case, a span of two weeks. It's an illness that comes and goes in waves. If I were to instantly make Ash "better" because Misty is in his life, that is unrealistic, and I am not trying to make any of my stories unrealistic.

Anyway, I'm tired of people trying to rush me into "fixing" Ash. That is ignorant. If you're tired of seeing a depressed Ash, come back when this story is finished. I promise he won't be depressed in the end, but when will the end come? I don't cater to you. I cater to me. Deal with it, and read up on depression instead of being ignorant. It's a real problem that shouldn't be taken lightly.

Everyone else who has been patiently waiting and supporting/telling me my representation of depression is accurate, thank you! I appreciate you all. I've never been depressed myself, but I know plenty of people who have, which is where I'm drawing these experiences from.


Chapter 7

The next day, Ash manages the front desk until the line is gone. He then leaves Tina to the job with Totodile while he takes Sceptile and Pikachu to the backyard. Fortunately, there are slightly less reporters around now, but there are still lots of reporters. Ash has Noivern on bodyguard duty to keep the reporters away.

He then throws out Sceptile's Pokeball. Looking at both Pokemon in front of him, Ash nervously says, "I need your help, guys."

Pikachu already knows what this is about. "Pikapi pikachu pikachupi pika pichu chupi pichupi pika?"

"She said it wouldn't work, so she's not going to do it." Ash answers. He had asked Misty about telling her Pokemon to let him win. Pikachu sighs in defeat.

Sceptile, who had heard about the bet from Pikachu last night, narrows his eyes at Ash. "Scep sceptile scep."

"I know. It was stupid, but it happened."

Usually, his Pokemon avoid lecturing him because they don't want to trigger Ash into being more of a recluse. However, Sceptile is tired of losing. He's been trying to train by himself, but it's better with a trainer. Ash continues to put them in losing situations, and Sceptile is over it. Thus, Sceptile crosses his arms and turns away from Ash. There are lots of flashes from the reporters. The reporters are making Ash really nervous because he can hear their question. The yard is large enough so that they're a distance away, though it still bothers him knowing they're here.

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

Ash takes a few deep breaths. C'mon. He can do this. There's nowhere else to train. "Will you guys let me train you?"

Sceptile and Pikachu exchange confused looks. They expected Ash took them out here to get away from Tina. Ash was probably going to ask them how their weak chances are. The two never thought Ash would want to train again. "Tile?"

"Chu?"

Ash nods. "Yeah. Misty says our best chance of winning is to use the type advantage. Her Pokemon beat us fast last week. Even with the type advantage, we'll still lose the way we are now." He sighs. "We'll need to train. I know I haven't been the best trainer. I've neglected you guys because I was selfish and weak, but I need your help. Please."

Pikachu quickly hops onto Ash's shoulder to nuzzle his cheek. "Pi pikachu pikapi!" He will always help Ash regardless of what Ash has put them through. Pikachu knows Ash is going through a hard time. Nevertheless, they're a team, and Pikachu knows Ash would do the same for him.

Sceptile, on the other hand, studies his trainer. Will this be a one time thing? Will Sceptile be wasting his time? Although Sceptile misses training and getting stronger, he doesn't want to get his hopes up. "Scep?"

"I'm sure. We need to win."

"Scep sceptile tile scep scep."

"Pi pika!" Pikachu scolds Sceptile who ignores him.

Ash gulps. He doesn't want to make a new deal to help him with this deal. However, he knows Sceptile has nothing malicious towards him. Regardless of Sceptile's intent, Ash isn't sure he can fulfill this deal. Sceptile wants to train every day until they're strong enough to defeat Misty. It's one thing battling her Pokemon being commanded by a 6 year old, and it's another thing battling a gym leader who's had years to perfect her craft with her Pokemon. Sceptile hates the fact that they lost to Misty last week.

Seeing Sceptile's disappointed glare, Ash quickly reaches out his hand to shake Sceptile's. "Okay. I'll do it." Plus, by beating Misty, Ash will have a day to himself. He recalls her offer to him.

"Pi pikachu pi pika pikachu pichu pi?" Pikachu is grateful that Ash and Sceptile have come to an agreement, but Pikachu is surprised Ash agreed to it. He expected more fighting and reluctance from Ash.

The man shyly rubs the back of his head from Pikachu's question. It's something he thought about last night too. "You two are my strongest Pokemon with type advantages against water Pokemon. I don't have time to train three Pokemon."

Sceptile facepalms. "Scep." This was too good to be true. Ash is really going to d 3. Even with his type advantage, his Pokemon haven't trained or battled in years. There's no way they'll win with being outnumbered.

Sensing the drop in mood, Ash quickly tells them, "I was gonna call Charizard."

Great. A Pokemon with a type disadvantage. Sceptile is starting to lose whatever hope he had left in his trainer. "Tile." He shakes his head.

Ash understands Sceptile's frustrations, so Ash explains himself, "Charizard has never cared about being at a type disadvantage. None of us have because we didn't have to care." Ash recalls the good old young days when he'd battle anyone with any Pokemon. "But like I said, I don't have enough time to train three Pokemon. Charizard has been training at the Charicific Valley this whole time. He's the strongest out of all of us. I won't have to train him."

It's better to have a well trained Pokemon at a type disadvantage than no Pokemon at all. Ash could have Gary send him Bayleef, but Ash hasn't trained Bayleef in years. Plus, Bayleef would be too much of a distraction because Bayleef loves hugging Ash more than training. Sceptile has always been one wanting to get stronger, so Sceptile takes training very seriously. It's the reason he's Ash's strongest grass type Pokemon.

Seeing Ash's hopeful gaze, Sceptile gives in. At least Ash has been thinking about this, meaning he's taking this challenge seriously. That's all Sceptile wants. "Tile." Sceptile nods to affirm he'll help Ash.

Ash smiles gratefully. "Thanks." The man tries to recall some of his old training habits. "Um. Why don't we start off with speed?" While Misty's arena is a pool, there are still platforms for the Pokemon to jump on. Ash's Pokemon have great speed and agility. He'll use that. "Run sprints to the fence and back 10 times. I'm gonna call Liza."

Pikachu gets ready to run, but Sceptile grabs the mouse by the scruff. Glaring at Ash, Sceptile sternly asks, "Tile scep sceptile scep!"

Sceptile has a point. It's not fair nor fun if the trainer is just commanding. Being older and more lethargic, Ash isn't sure he can move as much or as fast as he once could. "Let me text Liza really quickly then." Using the pokenav Misty had bought him last week, Ash sends a quick message where he also tells Liza to call him if she has questions. It is his first time reaching out to her in almost a decade. Going to his pokenav timer, Ash wishes he wore lighter clothes to run in. Luckily, he's wearing shorts due to the still warm weather. "Okay. Let's do this 5 times and try to get a faster time each time."

"Pi!" Pikachu sparks his cheeks in excitement. This feels like back when they were younger. Back when Ash was lively and ambitious. Pikachu can't wait to finally train with his trainer again.

"Scep!" Sceptile grins. He's going to win this race.

Nodding, Ash takes in a deep breath. This is for more than just Misty or the fake marriage. This is for him. "Go!"

Nonetheless, 15 minutes later, after only running about 8 sprints, Ash and his team are on the ground panting for air. Noivern worriedly flies over. "Noi?"

"We're okay." Ash pants out. Mew. He's out of shape. It has been too long. At this rate, he may as well not get Charizard. Speaking of Charizard, Ash's pokenav rings. He hurriedly picks it up. "Hello?"

"Ash?"

"Yeah?"

"Wow." Breathes out the voice. "I couldn't believe it was you. When I saw you and Misty were secretly married this whole time and then you texted me." Liza is at a loss of words. "I had no idea. I had to make sure it was really you asking for Charizard." Even though Liza is pretty sure Charizard can handle himself in the hands of a thief, it wouldn't look too well on her business if she didn't double check who she's sending the Pokemon to.

Ash shyly blushes. "Yeah. It's me. Can you send Charizard to the Cerulean City gym on Friday?"

"Yeah. I got your text. But what's the occasion?" Last she heard, which was from the temperamental lizard, Ash chose to be a recluse. Charizard is ashamed of his trainer, thus the Pokemon prefers being at the Charicific Valley.

"We have a battle against Misty's Pokemon. I don't have time to train him right now, so I want him to keep training with you." Ash apologetically tells Liza. "Is that okay?"

Liza nods. "Yeah. That's fine with me, but if Charizard chooses not to go, I can't force him." Everyone knows how Charizard feels about Ash.

Sighing, Ash mutters, "Tell him I need him. I'm getting better." Ash never thought he'd ever believe that. It's not like he's sick. However, he does feel better. Every day he's been at the gym, he's coming more into himself and out of his reclusive lifestyle. Misty's tough love is once again working on him.

After a brief pause, Liza says, "Okay. I'll let you know what he says. Take care, Ash."

"Thanks, Liza."

With the call now done, Ash pockets his pokenav. "Alright. We'll take a break from running." He tells his Pokemon who have caught their breaths again. "How about we practice attacking?" Ash is starting to not notice the media as much too. He's so focused on getting back into a good training regiment, and Noivern is good at keeping the reporters back, that Ash forgets the reporters are around sometimes.

Inside, Misty finishes a battle that had run into lunch time. She makes her way into the lobby where the doors are already locked, like usual. Unlike recently, Misty doesn't see her husband. There is only a little girl and Totodile. "Where's Ash?"

Tina locks the computer screen to shrug. "He says he was going to the backyard." While Tina wanted to go bother Ash, she didn't want to leave the lobby unattended. Prior to Misty's marriage, the lobby was always left unattended. Nevertheless, Tina likes to have the lobby under control, so someone needs to manage it when she's around, even if that will end up being her.

Misty is confused on why Ash would do that. Reporters are still outside, and she figured he'd still want to stay as far away from them as possible. "Totodile, can you heat up some leftovers for lunch?" Misty won't allow a 6 year old to move around the kitchen unattended.

Totodile salutes her. "Ti!" He exclaims happily and grabs Tina's hand. Tina finds Totodile a lot of fun. He's a silly Pokemon who likes to dance with her. Thus, she runs down the hall with him laughing.

Glad that her niece is behaving like a child now, Misty makes her way to the backyard. She peeks out the window in case there are reporters, and to prepare her for whatever may be keeping Ash outside. However, what she sees makes her jaw drop in surprise. Ash is running sprints with his Pokemon, like when he used to train with them years ago. Although Ash and his Pokemon are looking less coordinated than they used to look, Misty can tell they're all still trying their best.

She spots Noivern keeping the frenzied media away. There seems to be a lot more reporters now because Ash is outside. The first time he's been outside for long in years, especially after this scandal. Misty is further shocked by how Ash seems to have zoned out the media. Is this really the same Ash she found a week and a half ago at the Indigo Plateau? The media is so loud, Misty can hear them from inside, and the flashes from their photography. Ash really doesn't notice this right now?

When Ash and his Pokemon finally stop running, they double over. Unlike earlier, they don't collapse on the ground. They're all panting as they try to stay standing. "Wow. I didn't think you'd be out here so soon."

Ash snaps his attention to the new voice who hands him a towel. He gratefully accepts the towel to wipe at his sweaty face and neck. "Thanks." Ash pants. "We don't have much time."

"Pika." Pikachu agrees. He'd normally hop on Misty's shoulder to greet her, but he's too tired.

Looking around Misty walks over to the large water bowl which she lets the faucet run into for the Pokemon. She then hands Ash her water bottle. "You're gonna pass out without water."

Drinking the water to quench his parched throat, Ash hands her back the empty water bottle. "Thanks." he's made a few trips inside for water, but he didn't want to take away too much time from training. He'll be sure to bring out a water bottle this afternoon, which he'll need to ask Misty for.

Misty is glad to see some color return to his face. "It's time for lunch."

"I'm not hungry." Ash is rarely hungry these days. He just eats to survive.

The woman narrows her eyes at him. She's seen this from Ash before, but that was back when he was an avid trainer. "Eat. I'm not gonna let you and your Pokemon pass out."

Before Ash can object, Misty grabs his sweaty warm arm to drag him inside. This of course makes the reporters go wild with pictures. Once all the Pokemon are inside too, Misty tells them there's food with her Pokemon. She then leads Ash to the kitchen where Totodile and Tina are having a funny conversation.

"To!" Totodile grins at the new arrivals.

Ash collapses into a chair at the table, making Tina confused. "Are you okay?"

Ash nods, and Misty answers for him. "He's training to beat you on Friday, Tina. Let him rest for now."

Training? Totodile curiously watches Ash. Since when did Ash get back into training? How come Ash isn't training him? "Toto todile toto!"

The man gives Totodile an apologetic smile. "I'll train with you next week, okay?" He did promise Sceptile that he'll continue the training, so he may as well please all his Pokemon too.

"Next week?" Misty asks as she sets food down for Ash too.

"Yeah. Sceptile said he'd only train if we train to beat you too. He's upset about the loss last week."

Although Misty is glad to see Ash training again, she's slightly worried for the day he manages to beat her. She's been enjoying his constant company. The day he can consistently beat her, will she never see him again? Well, they are planning to get divorced in a year, and she most likely will never see him again after that.

"Guess I'll be training harder so you can't beat me again." Misty smirks.

When he smiles slightly, Misty feels her heart beating faster. The sweat on his face making his long hair stick to it. His slightly tense arm from training. The lighter air around him. Ash resembles a bit like the old Ash Misty remembers. It's a lot better than when she couldn't recognize him a week and a half ago.

"You can train all you want, but I'll still win." Tina boasts. Because Misty always trains the Pokemon, Tina doesn't have to. Tina has since learned how to communicate with them to battle well. This victory is hers.

"Tina, what did we say about bragging." Misty scolds the girl.

"That it's rude." Even though not knocking is rude, Tina knows better than to brag. "Sorry, Mr. Ash."

Ash gives her a warm glance. "It's okay."

"He's your uncle, Tina." Misty presses. She's noticed that Tina will refer to Ash as her uncle in a teasing way, but Tina will call Ash mister to be respectful. This just shows that Tina still doesn't fully believe the relationship.

That afternoon, Ash and his Pokemon are too exhausted to continue. The first day of training after a long hiatus is no joke. Ash gives his Pokemon a well deserved break while he makes his way back to check on the 6 year old. Despite also being tired, Ash won't leave Misty and Tina to fend the gym for themselves. If he can help, he will. He did make that deal with Misty when he first arrived.

When he walks down the hall, he passes the office where he instantly backtracks. Peering inside, he spots his wife with her head down on the desk. Did she finally get a break? Ash listens towards the direction of the lobby where he hears Totodile laughing with Tina. Maybe there are no challengers right now? There were a bunch this morning.

Nevertheless, Ash walks inside to check on Misty. She's doing so much and managing for them while he's not helping her at all. He's making their situation worse. Ash really doesn't deserve Misty's kindness nor her patience. He smiles slightly thinking about a young impatient Misty. While she was short tempered, Ash knows she was pretty patient when it counted.

The way Misty's neck is twisted doesn't look comfortable. Was she that exhausted that she fell asleep like this? Gently repositioning her head, Ash finds that she looks a lot better. He sees a coat hanging on Misty's coatrack, which is assumes must be for colder weather. With the breeze of the AC, Misty might be chilly, especially in her sleep. Thus, Ash drapes the coat around her.

Regardless of the struggles they're going through, Ash feels more relaxed around Misty. He doesn't need to lie to her because she can see through him. To think he's abandoned her friendship twice already. She's right. Her words from last night rush back to him. Their meeting was definitely not a coincidence, and neither was this one. They were meant to meet and be friends. And friends support each other no matter what.

With his gaze softening on the sleeping woman, Ash whispers, "Thanks, Mist."

"Uncle Ash?"

The embarrassed man looks to see Tina at the doorway. How long had she been there? "Yes?" Ash whispers as he hurries over to her so that the light sleeping gym leader doesn't wake up.

Tina tiptoes, so Ash bends down slightly. "Someone's here to battle her, but I don't wanna wake her." The hardest part of helping Misty is when Tina catches Misty napping and a challenger arrives. Tina hates waking up her hardworking tired aunt.

Ash furrows his brows. "How many people are in line?"

"Just him."

The man nods. He knows closing is in about half an hour. Waking up Misty to battle now means she won't nap afterwards. Ash really doesn't want to wake her. "Can he come back tomorrow?"

"He said no. He wants to leave tonight if he can." Tina frowns. Tina once lied to a challenger that her aunt is in a meeting. When Misty found out, despite Tina doing this for Misty's benefit, Misty was mad. Misty doesn't want the League or challengers to think she's slacking. "Can you wake her up?" The little girl pleads.

Ash furrows his brows. "Can I battle him? I do live here now, and we're married." Though not legally.

Tina shrugs. "I don't know." The girl knows her aunts and mother are still considered gym leaders, but she's not sure her father is just because he's married to her mom. "Maybe not? Dad isn't a gym leader."

Sighing, Ash looks over his shoulder at the peaceful woman. "Can you help your aunt close the gym today?"

"Yeah." It's not the first time Tina has closed the gym alone with Misty.

"Tell him to meet her in the gym. I'll wake her."

"Okay." Tina nods and runs off. She's starting to reconsider her view of Ash. Seeing him be so gentle and loving towards Misty, and the fact that he too didn't want to wake her. There might possibly be some truth behind their relationship, which Tina is still skeptical about.

Ash now returns his attention to the sleeping woman who he softly speaks to, "Misty...Misty...Misty Waterflower, wake up. You have a challenger."

At the sound of challenger, Misty's eyes shoot open. She's used to that word from when Tina will wake her from an unplanned nap. Misty groggily rubs her eyes and abruptly stands up, causing the coat to fall off. She's surprised about how it got on her, but seeing Ash, who obviously woke her, answers her question.

The woman blushes slightly thinking about how Ash saw her sleeping, and he was nice enough to put a coat on her. In the mornings, they both have been waking up at the same time as her alarm, so Ash has never seen her sleeping. She's seen him sleeping last week when she had to wake him a few times.

"Oh. Uh. Hey, Ash." Misty's voice slightly squeeks.

Ash shyly rubs the back of his head. "You have a challenger. It'll be your last one today if we close on time." He isn't sure if she'll be staying open late like last week.

The woman stretches and walks over to the door. "Yeah. We're closing on time." Her excuse is that her sister is visiting.

Ash follows her out. "I'll make dinner. Or try to. Something easy maybe."

Misty smirks behind her shoulder at him. "You can't cook. Sorry, Ash." She appreciates his gesture, but she'd rather eat something edible today.

"I'll order delivery." He suggests when they're by the front counter with Tina and Totodile. The challenger is currently in the arena.

"Ou! I want pizza!" Exclaims the little girl.

Misty sweatdrops before facing Ash again with a defeated smile. "Okay. There's money in the top drawer of my desk. Use that." They both know Ash has no money; thus, Ash gratefully smiles at her. When Misty reaches the entrance of the arena, a thought occurs to her, making her face Ash and Tina again. "Oh. And it's Misty Ketchum, hubby." She then hurries into the arena as her face turns a dark shade of red. As much as Misty wants to tease Ash with their relationship, she's really not one for it. It just makes her blush and shy too while her heart beats quicker. It's backfiring on her.

Ash too has a dark flush on his face. He leans over the counter with his head in his arms, making Totodile and Tina confused. "Are you okay, Mr. Ash?"

Ash weakly nods. "What kinda pizza do you want?" He hopes to change the topic.

Although she's confused about the whole Misty Ketchum thing, Tina tells Ash her favorite toppings along with her parents'. Once Ash leaves to order the pizza and do some cleaning in the living area, Tina is still thinking about Ash's genuine interactions with Misty. The whole weekend, it seemed like Ash was a weak man who depended on Misty. Misty is constantly speaking for him. However, seeing how Ash behaves with Misty when he's being sincere shows otherwise to Tina. Does she really have him all wrong? Is he not actually using her aunt?

After Ash places an online pizza order, because he's still not comfortable talking to strangers, he searches for the money in Misty's room. Opening the top drawer, Ash can't help but chuckle lightly at how messy it is, like her room was when he first was in it. Even though she's a highly professional gym leader, she has her flaws. They make her seem more human, so Ash doesn't mind. He feels closer to her since he has so many flaws himself.

Searching through the drawer, Ash's hand stops on an item. He pulls it out, and it makes him smile sadly. The worn edges, and the holes in the corners indicate that Misty had hung up this photo many times. It's old and slightly crinkly, like it's been in this drawer for years. Even though it may have been in the drawer for all this time, it was close to the top. Thus, Ash assumes Misty must look at it often. He doesn't blame her.

Sometimes, he misses his old traveling days when times were fun. His very first journey is memorable too because it was the first. Ash cherishes Misty and Brock the most out of all his previous traveling companions. Therefore, Ash somewhat understands Misty's reason for keeping the painful yet nostalgically happy photo.

Looking at the young version of himself smiling brightly with Pikachu on his head and Misty and Brock on either side of him, Ash fights the lump in his throat. He misses them, but he has them back. Why does it feel like he doesn't have them completely? Like they can disappear as quickly as they did before?

A ping on his pokenav tears his attention away from the photo, which he shoves back in the drawer. Grabbing the money, Ash checks his pokenav containing a text from Liza. "He's upset, but he didn't say no." Ash lets out a deep breath. That's a start between him mending his relationship with Charizard.

For dinner, Misty is surprised that Ash remembered her favorite pizza toppings. They used to order pizza all the time when they were kids the summer before he went to Hoenn. Tina is just glad to have some junk food because her mom is constantly watching her own figure. Daisy and Tracey have been eating out due to Daisy missing food from home. It's what they do every time they visit. Misty is a free daycare.

A few days later, Ash returns from a long day of training. Despite it being less than a week, all those years of training when he was younger seem to have helped him and his Pokemon transition back into it. They're nowhere near what they used to be, but they're not as exhausted as their first day.

Ash is also getting better at ignoring the media. He has a goal he's focused on. The media has been displaying lots of photos of Ash training. There are many questions behind his reason for suddenly training again. Even Ash's mother had called him to express her joy. This marriage with Misty is everything Delia has hoped for.

Walking into the living quarters of the gym, Ash is immediately stopped by Daisy. "Hey, Ash."

The shy man glances around the room where he spots Tracey giving him a sheepish smile, and Misty's head is in her hands. Ash notices Misty's red face, indicating Misty must've been teased. Oh no. Ash nervously gulps. Is it his turn? He's just learned how to manage around Tina. Now he has to handle her parents? Where is Tina?

"Hey, Daisy. Where's Tina?" Ash tries to turn the attention away from him.

"In her room with Marill." Daisy grabs Ash to force the sweaty man to sit next to Misty. Grinning innocently as she returns to her spot by her husband, Daisy sweetly says, "Tomorrow is the day of your big battle." It's all Tina will talk about.

"Yeah." Ash fidgets in his seat.

"And then we leave Saturday morning." Daisy continues. "And you know what?"

"Hm?"

"Leave him alone, Daisy." Misty mutters to be ignored.

"We haven't hung out with you two that much this whole time! Let's go on a double date!" Daisy would like to go on a quadruple date, but her other sisters are still off touring.

Ash nervously gulps, but Misty once again comes to his rescue. "We're not going outside. The media is still crazy." Unlike her sisters, Misty hates the media's attention.

Daisy rolls her eyes because Tracey had already explained this to her. Tracey doesn't want to traumatize Ash or make him go back to his reclusiveness. It's already enough that Ash trains outside with the media's eyes on him. It's already enough that Ash isn't in bed all day, like Gary had told Tracey Ash used to do. Thus, Tracey would not like to be the reason Ash returns to his reclusive life.

"Duh. Not yet, but let's play a game. Couple vs couple!" Daisy excitedly exclaims. Misty facepalms again from Daisy's suggestion, which had come up prior to Ash returning from training.

"Um. What are we doing?" Ash asks in confusion.

Daisy's grin grows. "We're gonna compete. Tina will ask us a question, and one of us writes our answer. And then our partner has to guess correctly. It's to see which couple knows each other best." The blonde also will be filming this for her YouTube channel. Being the first to upload anything close to an interview with the mysterious couple will bring her lots of views. Misty already shot down the filming idea, but Daisy doesn't care. She's the older sister for a reason.

Groaning, Misty seethes, "Daisy-"

"Okay." Everyone looks at Ash in surprise. They expected some resistance from him since Misty has some.

Misty blinks at him. "Are you sure."

Ash nods. "Sounds fun." Plus, he feels bad he hasn't spent much time with Tracey. Ever since they stopped traveling together, Tracey is the traveling partner he's seen the least. Ash is glad that Tracey and Misty hung out often, leading to Tracey falling in love with Daisy. Moreover, Ash wants to do his part in convincing Misty's family that their marriage is real.

"Okay…" Misty gives in due to her shock. This causes Daisy to clap her hands together in excitement.

"Can I shower and eat first? It'll just take half an hour." The training today has made Ash hungry. It's been years since he's had an appetite. Although his appetite isn't completely back, he knows he should eat more due to the training. He is a little hungry. Also, he'd rather not sit here reeking of sweat.

About an hour later, everyone is downstairs and ready for the first ever Ketchum v. Sketchit couples faceoff. Daisy has her camera set up, much to Misty's dismay. Ash is fine as long as the media isn't around. He trusts Daisy not to post anything that'll portray him and Misty poorly. Furthermore, Daisy had sweet-talked Ash into supporting her YouTube dreams, which Ash found hard to decline.

"First question!" Tina dramatically exclaims. "What is your favorite color?"

Daisy excitedly writes on her whiteboard while Misty boredly does it. This game is going to be disastrous. How can she and Ash compete with a couple that has been married for almost a decade? Misty didn't want their relationship to be exposed, so she tried avoiding the game. However, Ash just had to agree and let it be recorded. If Misty objected while Ash agreed, it'd just make them look suspicious. Misty has been trying to think of an excuse for when they miserably lose this stupid game.

Once both women place their whiteboards against their chests, Tina knows it as the queue to ask her dad, "What is mom's favorite color, dad?"

This is too easy for Tracey. Tina had been upstairs writing all the questions so that this game would be as fair as possible. Thus, none of the couples know the questions ahead of time. If all the questions are like this, Tracey knows he'll win. "Sea green."

When Daisy flips her board around to reveal it is indeed seagreen, she tackles Tracey and kisses him. Misty and Ash exchange blushes as they quickly look away from each other. "Your turn, Uncle Ash!"

Yup. This is not going to go well. "Cerulean blue." What? Misty is in shock that she just stares at Ash while everyone is expectantly waiting for her to flip the board.

Figuring that Ash must be wrong, Daisy is fed up with Misty taking her time. "Flip it, sis!" Misty is snapped out of her daze, making her absentmindedly turn her board.

"Cerulean blue." Tina smiles. That was too easy. Of course it'd be cerulean, like the name of the city they live in. Azurill gives each couple a point, and Tina has the couples pass on the whiteboards.

Mid-pass, Misty whispers, "How'd you know that?"

"All you talk about is cerulean city and how much you like the blue here." Ash shrugs recalling when he'd visit Misty often as a child. Misty loves talking about her city. She had no idea he actually listened to her. The dense boy who always seemed so annoyed with her. Plus, it's been over a decade since they last hung out or talked, yet he still remembered. Maybe Ash Ketchum never fully forgot about her? With her heart beating a little quicker, Misty passes Ash the marker too.

"What is your favorite hobby?" Tina inquires. Misty internally groans. She'd know this answer if it was the old Ash. This new Ash, though, she has no idea how he will answer.

When it's time to answer, Daisy proudly says, "Drawing!"

"No fair." Misty pouts. Even she knows Tracey loves drawing.

Daisy sticks her tongue out at Misty. "Have a kid soon so they can write your questions next time." Although it could be unfair because Tina is a Sketchit, both couples know Tina is fair. She is all about finding the truth and justice.

Misty studies Ash's face in annoyance. Mew. What could it be? "Napping?" It's all the current Ash would want to do.

Ash frowns as he flips his board to reveal, "Nothing." Even though he's doing a lot right now, none of them are his favorite. They're all just chores he's doing to make his and Misty's life easier.

"Really?" Misty snaps. He couldn't have written napping?

"I don't nap much anymore." Ash reminds her while Tracey and Daisy high five.

"Next question!" Tina interrupts the couples. "Who said, 'I love you' first?"

"Where'd you get these questions?" Misty knows these are nothing a 6 year old could come up with. Plus, that's a huge jump from the previous two questions.

Grinning mischievously, Tina replies, "The internet." There were also a lot of weird questions Tina didn't understand, but she chose the 10 she did. Tracey shoots Marill a glare. If Marill allowed Tina to go on some sketchy websites or read something not appropriate for her, Tracey will need to lecture Marill.

Daisy quickly finishes writing while Misty stares at her blank board. She and Ash never went into those details. Well, no one had asked. What did they say? "Hurry up, Misty!" Daisy hates how Misty is taking forever. Misty gives Daisy an annoyed glare before quickly writing an answer. The redhead then looks at Ash. What will he say? He's not looking at her, so she can't try to speak with her eyes.

"Go, dad!" Tina points at her father.

"I did." Tracey sheepishly smiles recalling the day his jealousy got the most of him and he confessed.

Of course, the Sketchits are correct, leading everyone to watch the Ketchums in amusement. Misty shuts her eyes, hoping to escape from all of this. "I don't think we ever said it." Ash answers, which makes Misty blink at him in confusion.

"That's a lie." Daisy calls them out. "You've been married for years. How have you not said it yet?" This makes Tina suspiciously eye them.

When Misty flips her board, she shows her, no one. So being truthful is working, but Misty wishes they had come up with a lie for this one. The Sketchits now are very confused. "What?" Tracey needs answers. How can these two go two years without ever saying those three words? Especially Misty who is such a hopeless romantic.

Ash shyly looks away. "It just kind of happened. We were hanging out a lot, and then we decided to get married one day."

Misty nods. "Yeah. We had the feeling, and we didn't need to say it." Moreover, Ash doesn't talk much. Hopefully that fact will help make their lie believable.

"But don't you wanna hear it from the other? It's nice to hear it." Daisy inquires.

Shrugging, Misty nervously erases her board. "We were doing long distance, and I've been busy. It just hasn't happened."

"And we don't need to say it. We know it." Ash chimes in painfully. He's always been terrible with being romantic, but he's digging into some old memories here.

Wanting the attention off of them, Misty passes the board and marker to Ash. "Okay, next question, Tina!"

Although sceptical, Tina continues with the game. "What is your favorite thing about your wife?"

When it's time to answer, Daisy announces, "It's my superb cooking skills!"

Tina shoots her father a very worried gaze. Wincing, Tracey turns the board around. "Her passion for life."

"What?" Daisy furrows her brows angrily. "Don't you love my cooking?"

"Yes, I do, honey." Tracey fights off his angry wife. The truth is, all the Waterflower Sisters are terrible cooks. Well, Misty learned how to cook a few years ago, so her food is decent. However, growing up, Tracey always ate out with the sisters because no one could cook in the house. Sometimes, Tracey would cook. Tina loves that her father cooks. That way, her mother doesn't get offended when they don't eat her food.

Not wanting to get caught up in the battle, Tina quickly faces her aunt and uncle. "Your turn!"

Misty studies Ash's shy slightly pink face. What would he say about her? Does he like her cooking? She is a better cook than him. No. He doesn't have much of an appetite anymore, so he wouldn't say that. Furrowing her brows, Misty gives up. "I'm nice to you?"

Of course, when Ash flips the board, it does not say that at all. "She always forgives me." Tina reads. Curiously watching the couple, Tina's views of Ash are shifting. Ash is a man of few words, which could be why Misty has no idea how he's really feeling about her. Judging by Misty's reactions, this seems to be the case.

"What?" Misty manages out.

Ash shyly wipes his board empty. "Every time I leave, you always let me come back. I don't deserve it, but you forgive me." He quietly tells her.

Daisy shoves Tracey's arm. "You're lucky they got it wrong too." Else Tracey would be in a lot of trouble.

Eventually, they get down to the final question. The game is tied because Tracey guessed the wrong one phone call question for Daisy. Ash knew Misty would call Brock for anything because Ash would also call Brock if in dire need. Tracey guessed the wrong sister. It's actually Misty because Misty is the most reliable and the one in one place at all times. "What is your most prized possession? You can't say anything alive!"

As the men write, Misty rests her head on her hand tiredly. Well, she's mainly doing this to hide her frown because she knows what Ash's most prized possession is. She had found it hidden in his bottom drawer in Pallet Town, which he has yet to dispose of. He won't write that, right? That would give them away immediately, so what would he write? The only questions Misty managed to get correct so far are easy ones, like Ash's starter Pokemon, the first legendary he met, how many regions he's traveled. Things pertaining to Ash's journeys.

Daisy answers, "Besides for me and Tina and your Pokemon…" The blonde smiles. "Your sketchbook!"

Tracey sheepishly smiles as he turns his board around. "The newborn family photo in my wallet." Tracey has been carrying the same family photo in his wallet since Tina was a newborn. Daisy can't be too upset by that answer. Tina's birth was a scary one where doctors weren't sure she was going to make it. She was in the hospital for a month.

"Aw. That means the Ketchums can win if they get this right!" Tina faces her aunt and uncle. "What is Uncle Ash's most prized possession, Aunt Misty?"

"Also a photo?" Misty answers.

Daisy quickly speaks before Ash can turn the board. "Be more specific, Misty! That's not fair!"

Sighing, Misty mutters, "A photo of you and the woman you love?" That's not wrong, but her family doesn't need to know who this woman is exactly.

When Ash turns his board, Misty frowns. Really? "Pink handkerchief." Ash answers.

"No way." Misty is tired of this game. She's been playing truthfully, but Ash has been playing to say the right things. Mew. Why didn't she think of that too? "You're lying!"

Ash shakes his head. "I always have it. It reminds me of where I began and how I'm doing."

Out of all the old items his friends have given him, he hangs onto Misty's and Brock's more tenderly. The rest of his friends' gifts are in his room somewhere. Ash didn't write Brock's utensils because Tina asked for one item. Plus, Ash does treasure the handkerchief more than the utensils because Brock eventually came back to travel with him more while Misty never did. Thus, that's all he had to remind him of his first ever traveling companion and his first few amateur days as s trainer.

"Not the r-" Misty bites her tongue. "The sock drawer?"

Looking away sadly, Ash slowly shakes his head. He knows what Misty is referring to. Maybe he should've tossed that ring, but he's not able to yet. Unlike with the ring, Ash actually likes carrying the handkerchief around, even after he lost connection with Misty. Just the symbolism it holds to his journey is why he carries it while the ring symbolizes a love he lost.

"What about a sock drawer?" Tina asks the question on everyone's minds, but Tracey quickly changes the topic.

Whatever is in Ash's sock drawer, Tracey would rather his daughter not hear. It could be inappropriate. "What's the tie breaker question?"

Tina looks at her notepad. "Who is the better kisser?"

"Nope. Next one." Tracey pushes Tina on. She's only 6. She doesn't need to know those things.

Rolling her eyes at her protective father, Tina reads, "What is your dream?"

"Easy!" Daisy quickly scribbles along with Misty.

Tracey smirks at his triumphant wife. "To be a famous vlogger."

"Yes!" Daisy hugs him, and Marill gives their team a point.

Ash takes in a deep breath to shake him from the previous question. He's getting better, so he can't revert back to his old ways. Tomorrow is an important day. Ash needs to stay where he's at. No more pitiful days for him. At least for right now.

"Uncle Ash?" Tina softly speaks.

"Huh?" Ash is still not looking at anyone. He wasn't even listening to the question.

"What is Aunt Misty's dream?"

Daisy grins, thinking they've won this now. However, Ash easily replies, "To be a water Pokemon Master." It's been years since he spoke to Misty, but he assumes that must still be it. It was her dream when they were 18.

Misty can't help but smile as she flips her board to reveal he is correct. "I guess you do listen to me." Ash shrugs, but seeing how he hasn't raised his head since she brought up the sock drawer makes Misty's smile fall. Oh no. He's not looking too good. How much longer can he do this for? She passes him the board and marker.

"This is the last one I have, so someone needs to win or we just tie." Tina is also tired. They've been at this for over an hour.

"Fine." Daisy pouts. "What is it, baby?"

"What is your biggest fear?"

Misty groans. That would've been a perfect question for her. The answer is Bug Pokemon! It's the reason Misty avoids Tracey's Scyther. Ash has always been fearless. He's courageous and strong. Well, he was. Misty looks at the defeated man. What could his fear be? The media? Failure? Serena? Misty is upset that she brought up Serena's ring because Ash hasn't lifted his head since then.

"Rollercoasters." Daisy answers.

Tracey sighs as he prepares for Daisy's wrath. "Zombies."

"What?" Daisy exclaims. Of course, Tina knew this. Daisy only watches romantic movies and action movies. Sometimes, Tracey will watch scary movies, but Tina has noticed that her father stays away from zombie movies. Something about how the dead isn't really dead, and it can kill bothers him.

"Okay. For the win, what did Uncle Ash say his fear is, Aunt Misty?" Tina hopes that her mother will stop berating her dad.

With her gaze softening on Ash, Misty replies, "His biggest fear is losing people close to him."

For the first time in a long while, Ash raises his head to meet Misty's warm blue eyes. How did she know that? He turns his board for Tina to read, "Losing people I love. Well, the Ketchums win. Good night." Tina grabs Marill to run upstairs and avoid her mother's wrath.

While Daisy is yelling at Tracey about the loss, Misty reaches a hand out to Ash. "Wanna go to bed?" It's late, and they have a long day tomorrow.

Ash weakly nods. He follows Misty upstairs and into the bedroom where he sits on the desk chair. Misty changes into pajamas in the bathroom before climbing into bed. The two still don't sleep well due to them being conscious of one another, but they're getting used to it. "Are you coming to bed, Ash?"

Ash takes in a deep breath. "The ring."

"I'm sorry I brought it up." Misty mutters regretfully. "I shouldn't have."

He shakes his head. "I should get rid of it."

"Do it when you're ready." Misty reminds him of her words when she had found it.

"I think it's the reason I'm not ready." Holding onto that important memento is a constant reminder of what he had and lost. He can't move on as long as he still has it.

"We can visit your mom in a few weeks when the challenges slow down." Misty suggests with a smile. "I'll help you clean your room some more and we can throw away whatever you don't want." After a few minutes, Ash nods, allowing Misty to let out a relieved breath. "Now come to bed. You have an important day tomorrow." Charizard will be arriving in the morning too.

Misty is glad when Ash comes under the covers. He had changed into his pajamas prior to playing the game. "I'd like that." Ash quietly tells her.

With her back to him, Misty ponders a question on her mind. They haven't had much time for their daily questions because of how busy they are. "Can I ask my question?"

"Sure." Ash is still wide awake. He's anxious for his battle tomorrow, and he's still thinking about that ring that means so much to him.

"Were you playing truthfully? The game. Was everything you said true?"

"I never lied to you. At least not intentionally." Ash thinks back on his answers.

"So the handkerchief I gave you is really your most treasured item?" Misty skeptically inquires.

He nods. "Yeah. It's the first real gift I ever got from a close friend. You put thought into it."

"I find that hard to believe considering all the trophies and badges and other things you have." She wants to bring up the ring again, but she needs Ash not to be moping for tomorrow.

"It's the truth." Ash shuts his eyes. "Do I get to ask my question now?"

"Sure."

"How come you never had a boyfriend?" Tina had told Ash about how Misty never brought a boy home. Misty had gone on dates a few times but nothing serious. The fact that Misty is all of a sudden married makes Tina very suspicious of them.

Misty giggles in embarrassment. "It's hard trying to like someone when you like someone else."

"You liked someone? Why didn't you just date them?" Ash curiously wonders.

"Because I didn't want to distract him from his dream."

Ash feels sad hearing that response. Misty really is selfless. "Did he achieve his dream?"

"No." The redhead shuts her eyes in exhaustion and pain.

After a few seconds, Ash wonders, " What was his dream?"

Yawning, Misty pulls the covers up to her chin. "To be a Pokemon Master."

The conversation from earlier this week comes back to Ash as he opens his eyes wide. Misty is talking about him? She did say she had a crush on him. Was it really for that long that she rejected so many people for him? That she couldn't date anyone else? "Me?"

"Mhmm." She already told him about her crush on him when they were younger, so she doesn't mind confirming it again.

As Misty falls asleep, Ash watches the rise and fall of her back. This selfless woman who has done so much for him without him ever realizing it. How would things have been if they both confessed to each other back then? Would she really have held him back, like she thinks she would've? Ash isn't sure because Misty has always been selfless. She'd probably had broken up with him the moment he gave up on his dreams. The ache in his chest returns, causing Ash to shut his eyes and sleep.

The next morning, unlike usual, Misty's alarm doesn't wake up the couple. "Good morning!" exclaims the little girl.

Misty, who is a light sleeper, groans with her eyes still closed. She's really comfortable and warm right now, so she'd rather get up when her alarm sounds. "What time is it?"

"6:37." Tina answers while looking at the clock on the table.

Misty lets out another tired groan. Her alarm doesn't sound until 7AM. "Wake me up at 7."

Frowning, Tina climbs onto the bed. "But I leave tomorrow, Auntie Misty. You didn't play with me yet?"

"I'll play with you later." The woman has been really busy with the gym, and Ash has been spending time with Tina; thus, Misty hasn't had a chance to hang out with her.

"Promise?"

"Uh huh." Misty hugs her body pillow closer as she buries her face in it. Body pillow? Instantly opening her eyes, Misty sees the rise and fall of a grey cloth. She looks up where the head of the person she's sleeping on is. Quickly shooting away from him causes his arm to fall from her shoulders, and he wakes up tiredly. Have they both been so exhausted that they forgot to be conscious of one another last night?

Ash groggily looks at the two girls staring at him. "Huh?"

"Aunt Misty says she's gonna play with me later. Just me and her, so leave her alone." Tina tells Ash who is still trying to wake up.

The man sits to rub his tired head. "Hey, Tina." Misty is right about Tina being able to pick a lock. Tina will make a great detective some day. She never stops trying to find the truth. Did she see them sleeping far apart? Ash could lie that they don't like touching each other in their sleep, but why does half of his body feel warmer than the other?

Because she was more awake, Misty blushes deeply. She hurries into the bathroom where she decides she'll just wake up for the day. Tomorrow is a weekend, so maybe she'll get to sleep in? Tina curiously looks at the closed door. "Is Aunt Misty okay?"

"Yeah." Ash yawns and swings his legs over the side of the bed. He may as well get up too. Noticing the time, Ash inwardly groans. It's way too early, but they may as well get up now while they're awake.

"She didn't look okay." Tina worriedly watches Ash stagger around the room for his day clothes.

"What do you mean?"

She returns her attention to the bathroom door where she hears running water. "Her face was red and she ran into the bathroom. My mom only does that when she throws up in the morning." Ash just nods nonchalantly, not taking this situation as seriously as Tina. "Mom and dad want to tell you guys, so I said I'd keep it a secret."

Ash now curiously snaps his attention to her. What secret? "Huh?"

"Mom throws up in the mornings because she's having a baby. Is Aunt Misty having a baby too?"

The innocent question makes Ash blush. Did Misty really run into the bathroom with a red face? He's fully awake now as he thinks about the morning. When Misty went into the bathroom, he was too tired to register what was going on. Did she even say anything? Is Tina right? Could Misty be pregnant? Who would the father be? It's definitely not him, so would it be the Cape guy?

Pregnant. Ash's fast flowing thoughts stop on what else that word reminds him of. The clothes in his hands fall to the ground as he shuts his eyes painfully. With his heart aching immensely, he sniffles back the tears. C'mon, Ash! He's told himself that he'd stop crying about this, but that obviously hasn't happened. All he does is ignore it instead of facing it head on.

"Mr. Ash?" The little girl is now in front of him. When he completely froze and dropped his clothes, she got slightly concerned. "Why are you crying?" Is he happy that Misty is pregnant? Tina recalls her father being ecstatic enough to tears when Daisy told them. However, these tears on Ash look painful, especially when he clutches his chest and gasps for air. Scared, Tina runs back to the bathroom door to pound on it. "Aunt Misty! Come help!" Panics the girl.

Misty knows Tina would never joke about something dangerous, and Tina likes to be independent, so she rarely asks for help. Thus, Misty quickly swings open the door where she's only managed to put on her swimsuit top, and she's in her underwear bottoms. Seeing the fear in Tina's eyes makes Misty ask, "What's wrong?"

Tina points into the room, causing Misty's eyes to open wide with worry. The woman rushes over to the hunched over man raggedly breathing. "I don't know what happened." Tina whimpers.

"Get Pikachu!" Misty doesn't know what to do either, but she figures Pikachu has seen this before. Once Tina runs out of the room, Misty rubs Ash's back. "Ash…" She soothingly calls his name, but the moment she hears a sob, she just envelopes him in a very tight hug. What could've broken this man to this extent? What could Serena have done? Misty buries her face in his shoulder to whisper, "I'm here, Ash. I'll always be here."

To her surprise and relief, she feels his arms wrap around her as he weeps into her shoulder. This grown man should not be hurting this much at such a young age. It breaks Misty's heart seeing her former best friend like this. Plus, with Ash trying his best lately, he doesn't deserve this pain. Even the redhead is shedding a few tears into Ash's shirt.

"Pikapi!" A few minutes later, a yellow furball is beside Ash. "Pika pikachu pikapi pika chupi pika!" Pikachu worried pats Ash's back.

Soon, Tina arrives. After she had told Pikachu that Ash is crying, Pikachu sprinted away without her. "What happened?" Misty asks Tina. Ash had this breakdown when Tina was around. Tina must know.

The girl shrugs. "Is he okay?"

Misty can feel Ash's sobs slowing down, though she can't see his face in her shoulder. His hold on her is tight, like he's scared she won't actually be here when he lets go. "I think so." Misty really hopes he'll be okay. She tightens her arms around him and rubs his back along with Pikachu.

Tina too comes over to rub Ash's back. "Please don't cry, Mr. Ash. I'm sorry." Although Tina isn't sure what caused Ash to cry, she doesn't like seeing people sad.

With all the support around him, Ash feels slightly better. He's slowly coming back to reality where his breathing is returning to its steadiness. Pikachu's little paw, Tina's small hand, and Misty's warm arms. They're bringing him back. Reminding him of what he has now. When Ash takes in a deep shaky breath, he smells the slight scent of chlorine along with Misty's bodywash on her neck. Her soft skin against his slightly rough cheek.

"Sorry, Misty." Ash whispers for only her to hear.

Glad that he's returning to himself, Misty squeezes him angrily. "Don't ever apologize for something you can't control." She hisses into his ear.

The sound of Misty's alarm finally going off breaks everyone out of their little hug. Both adults are blushing profusely as they let each other go. Misty shuts off the alarm, and Ash's blush intensifies seeing her in her underwear, even if her swimsuit usually reveals the same body parts. He quickly looks away at the worried mouse.

Realizing why Ash isn't looking at her, Misty returns to the bathroom to change into her bottom. When she exits, she tells Ash, "Uh. You can sleep in. Tina will help me."

Ash stands from the ground, though his gaze is still on it. He shakes his head. "Charizard comes today. I want to train a bit." The important battle is only in a couple of hours. He won't be training his Pokemon to the point of exhaustion right before the battle, but he at least wants to spend the morning training. That way, his Pokemon will be well-rested for the evening showdown.

"Charizard?" Misty expected him to use Noivern too. While she knows Noivern is outside keeping the media away, Misty figured the Pokemon took shifts doing that, so Noivern must've been training too. Last time she asked Ash about Charizard, Ash said he hasn't seen the fire type in years. And why would Ash use a fire type against water Pokemon? The old Ash could do it, but Misty specifically told this new Ash to use type advantages!

Ash weakly nods. "Yeah, uh, I'm gonna shower." He needs to clear his head, and he needs to do it alone. Maybe a shower will wash away these negative emotions? Ash knows Charizard won't listen to him if Charizard sees him in this state. Charizard is already fed up with him. Ash grabs his clothes from the floor and enters the bathroom.

Hearing the shower run, Misty sighs. Pikachu hops onto her shoulders where he nuzzles her cheek. "Does this happen a lot?"

"Chu." Pikachu shakes his head. Ash usually has these episodes on July 22nd. When Ash first came home to Pallet Town, Ash had these breakdowns often. They're occurring less nowadays.

Misty now turns her attention to the nervous girl. "What happened, Tina?"

When Tina sniffles, Pikachu jumps onto her head to console her. Sighing, Misty gets on her knees to smile at Tina. "You're not in trouble, baby, but I need to know what happened so I can help."

The girl nods. "I asked him if you were having a baby."

"Anything else?" Why would Tina wonder that? And why would that cause Ash to relapse like this? Tina shakes her head, so Misty gazes into Pikachu's equally confused eyes. Deciding that this is something only Ash must know, and Ash definitely won't tell her, Misty asks, "What do you want for breakfast?"

"Waffles?" sniffles the girl, making Misty kiss her forehead.

Tina always wants waffles when she's upset. Tina is either scared that she's in trouble, she made Ash mad, or she's sad for Ash. Seeing him like that was a shocker. "Blueberry waffles?" Tina shyly nods. Times like these remind Misty that Tina is a 6 year old, despite all her snooping.

By the time Ash finally makes his way downstairs, Misty and Tina are washing their dishes. They made enough waffles for Daisy, Tracey, and Ash. Pikachu watches his trainer grab a plate. "Thanks." Mutters the man. The shower helped him somewhat, but he's still feeling awful. Has he lost all chances of getting Charizard to listen to him? Again?

Misty leaves Tina to rinse the rest of the dishes. The woman walks over and places a pokeball in front of Ash. "Liza sent Charizard over." The pokeball just recently came, and Misty had a brief conversation with Liza. Both women are concerned for Ash. Liza told Misty that Charizard is only coming to see how Ash is. If Ash isn't someone Charizard wants to battle for, Chairzard won't. Despite the temperamental lizard seeming like he has a cold heart, he cares enough about Ash to see him. Will Charizard battle?

Ash stares at the pokeball he hasn't seen in years. Taking in a deep breath, he finds the courage to grab it and pocket it. There's a conversation that needs to be had between him and Charizard, and Ash will save that for later. "Thanks."

Misty nods and walks off. Tina, who has finished rinsing the dishes, shyly walks over to Ash. She peeks up at him expectantly, checking on if he's okay. "I'm sorry, Mr. Ash."

He had noticed her watching him, but Ash didn't want to say anything. Hearing her apology, he curiously faces her. "Huh?"

"Sorry I made you cry." Tina tries to hold back her tears. She never wants to make anyone sad.

Not sure how to console a child, Ash reaches out a hand to pat her head. It's what he'd do with Pikachu. "You didn't do anything." It's not Tina's fault he broke down. She didn't know, and it wasn't her intent.

"But you were really sad." whimpers the girl.

"I'm okay now. Thank you." Ash is surprised that he's even able to smile, although small, after this morning. "Don't go easy on me."

Tina meets his reassuring eyes, and she nods. With new determination, her tears are gone. "I won't! I'm still gonna win!"

The man chuckles lightly before turning back to his food. Even though he's not hungry, he knows he needs to eat for today's big day. It's the biggest day he's had in years. He feels like it's the first day he was at the Indigo Plateau. Trying to recollect his thoughts to stay focused on today, Ash doesn't notice Misty return until he feels something on his head.

"What is that?" Tina asks Misty who grins sitting next to Ash.

"Pi pika!" Pikachu exclaims in excitement. Ash reaches his hand up curiously to remove the item. Looking at it, he feels his heart tighten as he runs his hands along the red brim.

"Ash Ketchum only battles in hats." Misty reminds him.

The man looks over at her. "I forgot you had this."

"It's my most prized possession." Misty refers to last night's couples' battle when Ash said his most prized possession is the handkerchief she gave him. She grabs the cap from his hands again to replace it on his head. Not satisfied with the placement, Misty turns it backwards. "There. That's how Ash Ketchum looks like when he battles."

Before she can remove her hand from his head, Ash gently grabs it. He's still amazed that she kept this cap all of these years. And in such great shape too. Despite him abandoning her twice with them not knowing if they'll ever see each other again, she still kept it. Can Ash hope that it shows how important he is to her? That he still matters to those he thought forgot about him?

"Are you gonna kiss?"

Ash immediately drops Misty's hand to flip his cap the right way. Pulling the brim low over his blushing face, he stuffs his mouth with waffles as Misty's heart is pounding. What was that? That look in his eyes. It was helpless yet grateful. Awkwardly clearing her throat, Misty gets up to lead Tina out of the kitchen. "We don't do PDA."

"What's PDA?"

"Public displays of affection."

"What does that mean?"

Misty blushes, glad that they're on their way to the gym. "We don't kiss or hold hands or act like a couple in front of others."

"Why?"

"Because we don't." It's too much to have to explain that Ash is a recluse. Also, it's because they're not a real couple, but Tina doesn't need to know that. "You have a big battle today. I'll be sure to let Gyarados, Politoed, and Corsola rest most of the afternoon."

"Thanks, Aunt Misty." Tina grins happily.

Back in the kitchen, Pikachu has moved to the counter by the sink as Ash washes his dishes. "She really kept this." He tells the mouse. Ash had given Misty the hat before he left for Hoenn. Well, she asked for it when she visited. Something along the lines of he has a handkerchief from her, so she wants something from him. When he asked what she wanted, she pointed to the hat. Because his mom already got him a new outfit for Hoenn, Ash easily obliged. The hat is important to him due to the effort he took to get it, but he has since forgotten about it.

"Pika pikachupi." Pikachu nods. He hasn't seen that hat in ages too. Pikachu forgot that Misty had it.

When Ash finishes with his dish, he puts his back to the sink and takes off the cap to stare at it. Taking in a deep breath, he asks, "Are you ready, Pikachu?"

Pikachu smiles. "Pi!"

"Alright. We're gonna give it our all today. We have to win."

"Pikachu!"

Ash scratches Pikachu behind the ears. "Let's go see Charizard." And they need to train.

In the backyard, Ash calls out Sceptile and Noivern. He then stares at his last pokeball. "Pi?"

"Yeah. I'm just preparing myself." Ash nervously replies. He hasn't seen Charizard in almost a decade, and Ash knows Charizard will be pissed. Seeing how Ash turned his back on Pokemon training and battling is something that Charizard never wanted from his trainer. Ash lets out a long breath. "Hey, Charizard!"

The moment the orange lizard is out of the pokeball, flashes from the media erupt. The media hasn't seen Ash with a new Pokemon. Plus, they know Charizard is one of his strongest. Charizard is annoyed by the situation and the media, so he sends a powerful flamethrower attack in their direction, which narrowly misses Noivern. Noivern isn't happy about that, so he gets angry at Charizard. Pikachu worriedly cuts in to try and mediate while Ash watches helplessly.

Sceptile has his arms crossed as he too watches the scene boredly and the media snaps more pictures. "Tile." Sceptile says to Ash who sighs.

"Return, Charizard!" However, Charizard avoids the red beam and shoots a flame at Ash.

With Charizard's attention now on his disappointing trainer, Charizard ignores Noivern. Pikachu manages to convince Noivern to go back to the media. Charizard angrily approaches Ash who awkwardly looks away. "Char." He puffs out smoke in front of Ash's face.

"I need you help today, Charizard." Ash mutters. The lizard won't listen to an incompentent trainer, so he just plops onto the ground and sleeps, causing more media frenzy. Ash knew this was going to happen. Thus, the man bends down next to Charizard. "I know I'm not as strong as you remember, but I'm trying to get back there. Please help me, Charizard."

Charizard doesn't even open an eye. He doesn't help people who don't believe in themselves. The only reason he agreed to come was to see how Ash really is. If Ash had changed. Ash has changed slightly, but not to the point Charizard is satisfied with. Pikachu, knowing they don't have much time, nudges Ash's leg. "Pikapi pikachu pika pi pika."

Ash nods. "Join us whenever you want to." The man then walks back over to Sceptile. "Okay. Let's start off with sprints."

A few hours into training, Ash and his Pokemon are working on their attacks. Ash is throwing tree branches and rocks into the sky for his Pokemon to attack because he wants them to be prepared for Gyarados's height. Ash runs out of things to get attacked, so he awkwardly looks around the yard.

"Tile." Sceptile and Pikachu have already sparred, but Ash is trying to work on their jumping ability.

"Let me see if I can find something." Ash mumbles.

However, a big whoosh blows past him and knocks Sceptile a couple feet away. Sceptile stands up to glare at the cause where he sees Charizard puffing smoke towards him. Annoyed, Sceptile rushes over to attack the lizard who takes off for the sky. Ash and Pikachu watch Sceptile jumping off of trees and the side of the gym to reach Charizard who is taunting him. The man is in awe at how fast and agile Charizard is. While the rest of them are picking up after years of nothing, Charizard has been working hard every day. It shows.

"Pikapi!" Pikachu exclaims to get Ash out of his daze.

With a small smile on his face, Ash yells out, "Bullet seed, Sceptile!" Sceptile jumps off the side of the gym so that he's high enough to have his seeds reach Charizard. "Dodge it and use seismic toss!" Ash hopes Charizard will listen. Charizard joined the training session for a reason, right? The lizard isn't kind enough to help Ash without thinking Ash is worthy. Maybe watching how intense Ash has been training with his Pokemon these past few hours made Charizard see that Ash is trying his best? Whatever the reason, Ash appreciates Charizard listening to him.

When Charizard comes crashing to the ground, he stops to gently drop Sceptile. The fire type knows Ash needs Sceptile for later, so Charizard won't injure him. Sceptile is upset about the battle, but Pikachu stops him from attacking Charizard who is glaring at Ash. The trainer and Pokemon have their eyes locked for the first time in years.

Ash slowly approaches Charizard with an extended hand. He hesitantly rubs Charizard's neck. "I'm trying, Charizard, and I want to win. Can you please help me?"

Charizard sees the sincerity in Ash's eyes. Having watched the training session, though it's not what Charizard remembers, the lizard sees Ash's effort. Ash has never abandoned him before, so Charizard won't abandon Ash in his time of need. Therefore, Charizard nods. "Char."

Pikachu jumps onto Charizard happily. "Pi pikachu!"

Ash too breaks out in a grin. "Thanks, Charizard."

That evening, Daisy and Tracey walk into the gym after Misty and Tina had closed it for the day. It was busy, but Fridays are usually more lax because some trainers like to take it easy before the weekend. Daisy grins over at Misty. "Hey, little sis."

Misty already knows she's about to hear something she doesn't want to hear. "What is it, Daisy?"

Daisy shows Misty her pokenav. "Our video has over 100,000 views already! I just uploaded it a few hours ago!" Daisy spent the morning editing it before uploading it. Of course she'd have a lot of views because it's the closest thing to be considered an interview from the mysterious couple. "So many comments say you guys are so cute! Like Ash doesn't talk much, but you understand him so well! It really is true love!"

With a dark blush on her face, Misty weakly replies, "That's good." Her heart aches knowing this is all a lie. While they're lie is starting to become more believable to the world, Misty feels like they're getting too deep. Her old feelings for the man are starting to remind her of why she fell in love with him. Although he isn't the same Ash, some aspects of him remind her of the old Ash. It's only been two weeks, and she already feels anxious about their relationship. How will she feel in a year? Misty hopes she can keep her heart guarded by then.

"Wow! That's so cool, mommy!" Tina looks at Daisy's pokenav. "I'm in there!"

"You're always in my videos, Tina." Daisy kisses the little girl.

Tracey walks over to Misty. "Where's Ash?"

Misty now looks around the arena. "He was helping Tina close up the gym. He's probably talking to his Pokemon right now. You know how Ash is." This morning, Misty caught Ash training his Pokemon. She was glad to see Charizard participating. After lunch, Ash let his Pokemon rest while he and Tina ran the lobby.

Nodding, Tracey smiles at the remembrance of a young Ash pep talking his Pokemon before battles. "It's nice that he's training again."

"Thanks to Tina." Misty watches her niece excitedly talking to Daisy about the video. "He's gonna stop after this battle." There's no reason for Ash to continue training when today is the day of his important match. Misty really enjoyed seeing him train. It was like a part of him has been returning each time he's in the yard.

"I don't think so." Tracey shrugs, causing Misty to raise a curious eyebrow at him. "We both know Charizard wouldn't help Ash for a one time stint. Ash must've said something Charizard agrees with."

As Misty mulls over Tracey's words, the man in question finally enters the arena with Pikachu on his shoulder. Tina's eyes open wide in excitement. "Uncle Ash!" She spent the whole afternoon talking about their battle and how much she's looking forward to it. Running over to him, Tina eagerly jumps beside him. "Are you ready? I can't wait!"

"Calm down, Tina." Tracey pulls his daughter away from the anxious man, allowing Ash to breathe a bit. Ash gives Tracey a grateful smile. Although Ash has come to somewhat enjoy Tina's company, the girl's energy is something he's still not used to.

"Alright, Tina. Go to that side." Misty points to the challenger's box.

Frowning, Tina exclaims, "But I always battle at your spot!" Misty's gym leader spot is Tina's favorite because she wants to be like her favorite aunt.

"But you're the challenger." Misty reminds her. "And challengers are over there."

"It's ok-"

Misty cuts Ash off. "Ash is married to me, so he gets my spot. Unless he challenges someone."

Pouting, Tina glares at Ash. "It's okay. I'm gonna use this to help me beat you!" Tina then skips off as Tracey and Daisy give Ash apologetic gazes.

Misty drags Ash towards her box. "I could've battled in the other box." Ash mutters. He doesn't see a point in making a big fuss over this. If Tina wants the gym leader's box, she can have it.

The woman shakes her head. "I need to talk to you." The gym leader's box is further away from where they were just standing.

"About?"

Misty takes in a deep breath as she closes the space between them to whisper, "Are you sure you're okay with all of this?" His breakdown this morning is still on her mind along with her anxiety with how deep their relationship is getting.

Pikachu warily watches his trainer who nods. "I've had a couple of days to prepare."

"But-"

Ash lightly removes her hand from his arm. Smiling down at her, he reassures the woman, "I'll be okay, Misty. Can you please stop worrying about me like everyone else?" The reason he feels so comfortable around Misty is because he knows she won't ever tiptoe around him. After his episode this morning, Misty has been really careful with him. He hates that. If he wanted someone to be careful around him, he'd have stayed home with his mother.

Sighing, Misty nods. He's right. She's doting on him, which is not something she does. Ash Ketchum doesn't need pity. He needs someone to tell him like it is, and that has seemed to be working lately. Thus, Misty lightly punches his arm. "She's my niece, but I'll be rooting for you."

"Misty, it's okay to cheer for your niece." Ash is fine if he only has his Pokemon's support today.

"No. You've worked hard, Ash. I wanna see your hard work pay off." Misty smirks. "And then maybe some day, you'll beat me, but I doubt it."

When a small smile appears on Ash's lips, Ash leans close to Misty. She can feel his warm breath on her ear as he whispers, "I'll beat you before we get divorced." Pulling away, Ash heads towards the gym leader's box while Misty's heart skips a beat. Did that just happen? Is Ash Ketchum returning? He looks so sure of himself. And Tracey was right. Ash doesn't plan to stop training. Misty now has a rival again.

"Misty!" comes a shout from away. "Are you coming or not?"

The redhead turns in the direction of the voice to see Daisy waving at her from the bleachers. Chuckling, Misty jogs over to sit beside the Sketchits. Noticing Daisy's camera out, Misty asks, "Why are you recording?"

"It's Tina's first battle with her uncle." Daisy knowingly replies. "And anything involving Ash will get lots of views."

"Don't exploit my husband, Daisy." Misty narrows her eyes at her sister who innocently smiles.

"Ash already gave me permission." She had ran into him in the yard this morning. Ash trusts Daisy won't make him look bad. Also, as long as Ash doesn't watch the media, he doesn't fall into a depressed state.

Rolling her eyes, Misty watches as the trainers below call out their first Pokemon. "Go, Corsola!"

"I choose you, Sceptile!" Corsola is a water and rock type, which gives Sceptile the ultimate advantage. With Gyarados being a flying/water type, Ash knows to save Pikachu until Tina uses Gyarados.

"I haven't heard him say those words in a while." Tracey breathes out in disbelief. Misty is also amazed beside him. With Ash's old cap on and Pikachu determinedly by his side, Ash really is looking like his old self. Even that serious gaze on his face is helping.

"Bubblebeam!" Tina commands Corsola.

"Fight it off with bulletseed!" Misty smiles. When she battled Ash a few weeks ago, Ash and his Pokemon were not in tune at all. Most of the time, Ash was silent while he allowed his Pokemon to battle alone. That's not how Pokemon battling works, so Misty easily defeated him. Seeing him now, commanding Sceptile effectively, makes Misty's heart beat faster. This is starting to look like the Ash she remembers.

The bulletseed attack pops all of the bubbles and hits Corsola a bit. "Dive under water!" Corsola manages to avoid the rest of the seeds by swiftly swimming away.

Ash smiles at the girl. She's a really great battler for her age. Does Misty have something to do with that? "Sceptile, agility!" Ash tells his Pokemon when Corsola starts rocking the platform Sceptile is standing on. Ash knows Sceptile will be at a severe disadvantage in the water. Unfortunately for them, a few days of speed training isn't enough for Corsola who has been swimming for years. Thus, Sceptile is soon knocked into the water.

"Yes! Whirlpool!" A key strategy Misty has taught Tina is to always use her surroundings to her advantage.

"Pika!" Pikachu cries out to snap Ash back to the battle.

The dazed man doesn't know what to do. He totally forgot about the water aspect of the battle today, thinking he'd be battling on open ground like in the yard. "Get out of there!"

Sceptile is enveloped in a powerful waterfall attack, causing him to take a lot of damage. His pain tolerance has lowered significantly these past couple of years. Fortunately, he manages to land on a platform where he catches his breath. He's gasping and trying to cough up the water in his system, so he doesn't notice Corsola enter for a finishing blow.

Ash does see this, so Ash yells, "Leaf blade!"

The shout is loud enough for Sceptile to quickly raise his glowing blades as Corsola attempts to use a take down attack to knock him back into the water. Due to both of their impacts, Corsola takes a lot of critical damage, knocking her out. Sceptile takes some damage from the take down. Paired along with that intense waterfall attack he's still recovering from, he too collapses.

Although the battle ended in a tie, Misty wants to cheer loudly for Ash. Compared to last time when Crosola took out Ash's whole team, this is a significant improvement. Nevertheless, Misty doesn't want to discourage Tina or make Ash nervous, so the woman just fidgets in her seat. Tracey chuckles at Misty because he also understands where she's coming from. "It's exciting."

She nods nostalgically. "I missed this."

"Poli Politoed, let's go!" Tina smiles when her favorite dancing frog emerges from the pokeball.

Ash furrows his brows. He was hoping to defeat Tina with just Pikachu and Sceptile. Pikachu is stronger than Sceptile, and Pikachu has a huge type advantage against Gyarados. Maybe Pikachu can take on both of the remaining Pokemon or weaken Gyarados enough for Charizard to finish? Taking in a deep breath, Ash looks down at Pikachu's expectant eyes.

"I know this wasn't part of the plan, but do you think you can take out Politoed and Gyarados?"

"Pi pikachu!" Pikachu nods with his cheeks sparking. He's been itching to battle for Ash again. Not that sorry excuse of a battle weeks ago, but something like this where Ash is commanding him. Where Ash is relying on him, and Pikachu is relying on Ash. "Pika!"

Smiling slightly, Ash nods. "Let's get them, Pikachu!"

"He's using Pikachu!" Daisy squeals. Everyone knows that Pikachu is Ash's strongest Pokemon. Misty hopes it'll be enough because Gyarados is her strongest Pokemon. Charizard will be at a severe disadvantage against Charizard.

"Thunderbolt!"

"Hypnosis!"

The thunderbolt attack hits Politoed who is still able to stand his ground. When Ash hears the hypnotic melody as Pikachu quickly covers his ears, Ash knows this decision is going to hurt them. "Jump in the water!" Sound is muffled down there, so Pikachu will avoid the attack.

The mouse makes for the water, causing Tina to smirk. "Water pulse him!" As much as Tina loves the cute mouse, this is a battle Tina won't back down from.

"Thunder!" Water conducts electricity. Pikachu will take damage from the attack, but it won't be as bad as Politoed. Both Pokemon are fried heavily in the water. By the time they manage to climb back onto the platforms, the water is bursting with electricity. Tracey worriedly watches his daughter to make sure she doesn't touch the water.

Tina, knowing Politoed won't be standing for long, tells him to ice beam the water around them. Thus, before Politoed faints, his half of the arena is ice while Ash's half is still highly electric water. Ash is curious about why the girl did this. "Gyarados is really strong, Uncle Ash. I'm not worried." Plus, Pikachu looks like he can only survive another attack.

"We're strong too, Tina." Ash nods to Pikachu who sparks his cheeks.

Gyarados emerges on the ice. "The water is sparky, Gyarados, so be careful!" Now the confused serpent understands why he's on ice.

"Gyara!" Gyarados roars loudly, which would scare anyone.

"Hydropump!"

"Dodge and Thunderbolt!" Pikachu dodges the intense attack that sends his platform submerged in water. Fortunately, the mouse lands on another platform to hit Gyarados with a thunderbolt attack. Gyarados roars in pain, but he's Misty's strongest Pokemon for a reason. "Another thunderbolt attack, Pikachu!"

"Hyperbeam!" Pikachu is midattack, so he can't dodge in time. The hyperbeam blows through his thunderbolt and knocks Pikachu onto the platform and then bounces him into the electric water.

"Pikachu!" Without thinking, Ash dives into the water. Misty hops the fence, and Tracey runs over to keep Tina from following her aunt who jumps into the electric water too.

"Tina, stay where you are!" Daisy tells her daughter since Tracey is still far from her. Looking at Gyarados, Daisy says, "Get them, Gyarados!" She'll give the serpent a max revive later. He deserves it. Right now, Daisy just wants the humans to be safe.

Gyarados splashes into the water, wincing from the electric current. When he opens his eyes, he easily spots the red hair of his trainer fighting through the pain. She has a yellow furball in her arms, who Gyarados assumes is Pikachu. Gyarados swims over to quickly get them both out of the water.

When Misty is on the platform, she gently places Pikachu on it and looks back at the water where her husband is struggling to pull himself out. "Help him, Gyarados!" In the water, Misty is a much better swimmer than Ash, so she forced him to swim back up as she got Pikachu. He's finally on the platform, and Misty shoves him hard, causing him to fall to the ground. "What the fuck?"

Ash is still trying to overcome the electric water and catch his breath. "Huh?"

"Why'd you jump in there? The water is still dangerous!"

"Pikachu fainted!" Ash exclaims. "He wasn't gonna swim out." Normal trainers would just return Pikachu into their pokeballs, but Pikachu doesn't like pokeballs. Ash has never tried to put him in one since Ash first got him.

And Misty knows this too. That just makes this whole situation so much more troublesome. Plopping down beside him, she shoves him again. "You're stupid."

"Sorry, Misty." Ash then moves over to check on Pikachu who weakly smiles up at him. "Sorry, Pikachu. Thanks for everything."

"Chaaa…" Pikachu shuts his eyes again to rest.

On the other side of the arena, Gyarados has returned to the Sketchits where Daisy gives him a super potion. Just enough to bring him back to strength prior to his dive in the water to save Misty. "Are they okay?" Tina worriedly asks Gyarado who nods.

"They've been through worse." Tracey chuckles, though he is grateful to see Ash and Misty talking.

"Why'd he jump in the water, dad?" Tina doesn't understand why Ash didn't just return Pikachu.

Tracey smiles. "Pikachu hates pokeballs, and Ash will never force him into one, even if Ash thinks Pikachu is safer in one."

"So he jumped in the sparky water?"

"Yeah." Tracey sternly looks down at Tina. "Don't do that, honey. Always return your Pokemon." The last thing Tracey wants is for his daughter to pick up Ash's reckless yet selfless habits.

"Hey!" Misty's shout gets their attention. "Is this battle still going on?"

Tina grins. She's glad to see her aunt and uncle are okay. With Ash jumping in the dangerous water to save Pikachu, Tina is further seeing him in a better light. There definitely is more to him than she initially thought. "Yeah! Are you okay, Uncle Ash?"

Ash nods. "Yeah. Let's go."

Misty picks up the wet Pikachu in her arms. While she's down, she notices something in the water, so she picks it out gently. Shaking off the excess water, she walks back to Ash to slap it on his head. "There."

"Ow." Ash brings his hand up to realize it's the cap she gave him. It must've fallen off when he dived in earlier.

"Wear it, Mr. Pokemon Master." She then motions back to the bleachers where the Sketchit parents are nearing. "Pikachu and I will be there when you win."

Before Misty can walk off, Ash speaks, "Misty."

She stops to raise a curious eyebrow at him. Although she's glad he's safe, she is still upset that he put himself in danger like that. Like the old Ash who she was constantly worrying over. Wow. Maybe he is a lot more like the old him than anyone seems to realize? "Huh?"

Ash's face heats up a little bit. "If I win, can you do something for me?"

"What?"

He shyly looks away. "Um. Can I just get a request? You know. To use in the future."

Misty ponders his words. Then she smirks. "Okay. When you win, I'll do anything you ask." Figuring that he must want a week off or something, which Misty feels like he deserves at this point, she gives in. "You better win."

A small smile appears on his lips. "I'm gonna try."

"You better do it, Ash." Misty then heads back to the bleachers, leaving Ash alone on the platform.

Gazing back across the field at his opponent, Ash sees the eager girl. "Ready?" She yells over, and he nods.

Ash pulls out Charizard's pokeball. Taking in a deep breath, he says, "I need your help, Charizard. Pikachu weakened Gyarados a bit, but we still have a lot to do." Despite training this morning, Ash isn't sure if Charizard will listen to him. Charizard seems to just do as he pleases. When Ash throws out the pokeball, a large orange Pokemon stands on the platform in front of him.

Noticing the flame on the tail, Tina knows this is a fire type. She's definitely won this. "A fire type?"

Charizard puffs out some smoke in annoyance. This is who Ash's big battle is against? Charizard knew he was battling Misty's niece, but he had no idea the niece was under 10 years old. Glaring at his trainer in the corner of his eye, Charizard lays down on the platform to sleep. He's not going to waste his time battling a child, even if she is using Misty's Pokemon. The fact that Sceptile and Pikachu got knocked out by her only proves to Charizard that Ash is still weak.

"Charizard!" Ash pleads.

Misty worriedly looks at Tracey who also remembers how temperamental the fire type can be. "C'mon, Charizard." Misty mutters.

"Is he sleeping?" Tina asks in confusion.

Ash sighs in defeat. He remembers losing like this a few times. "Charizard!"

The girl glances at her parents and aunt. "So do I win?"

Tracey wants to call the battle, but Misty yells, "You win when Charizard faints or Ash forfeits." Misty turns her attention to Ash. "Do you forfeit?"

Rubbing the back of his head, Ash shrugs. "I can't force Chairzard to battle. I guess-"

"Ash Ketchum doesn't quit!" Misty angrily exclaims, taking Ash aback. "Charizard thinks you're weak, Ash! Show him you're not! You better win this battle!" Tina's eyes open wide hearing Misty cheer for Ash. Tina thought Misty was going to be neutral or be on her side due to them being family.

"But-"

"Ash Ketchum!" Misty is so annoyed with his mindset right now. "You told me you'd win! You better win!"

Furrowing his brows, Ash gazes back at his sleeping Pokemon. How can he win when Charizard won't listen to him? Ash recalls a few battles in his first few years of traveling when Charizard wouldn't listen to him. The only way Charizard would battle was if provoked. Provoked! Ash smirks at Tina. "I'm not giving up, Tina!"

Although Tina isn't sure why Ash wants her to attack a defenseless Pokemon right after Ash got hurt rescuing Pikachu, Tina won't back down from a battle. "I knew this was going to be easy!" Tina also wonders why Ash chose this fire type who isn't listening to him. He has Totodile and Noivern who actually obey him, and they're not at a type disadvantage. "Gyarados, surf!"

The intense water attack floods over Charizard as well as sends his platform tipping over into the water. When the wave subsides, Tina expects to see a fainted Charizard, though she sees nothing. Is he under the water? Will Ash dive to rescue him too? The girl looks at her worried parents who are sitting next to an expectant Misty holding a now awake Pikachu. Ash too hopefully watches the water for any trace of his Pokemon.

"So do I win now?" Tina wonders aloud.

Before anyone can call it, water near Ash shoots up into the air as a loud furious roar that rivals Gyarados's can be heard. The water subsides to reveal a heavily breathing Charizard flying above the arena. Unlike prior to the attack, Charizard looks furious. Misty notes the glint in his eyes, indicating that he's pissed and ready to make someone pay.

Ash too notices the look in Charizard's eye. "Are we gonna battle, Charizard?"

"Char!" He blows out a large flame into the air that surprises Tina. How can this Pokemon survive that attack into the electric water? He's a flying and a fire type, yet he still has so much energy.

Flipping his cap backwards, Ash smirks at his surprised opponent. "It's not over, Tina!"

Misty sits back down, satisfied with the way the battle is heading now. "Did you know that would happen?" Daisy asks her.

The redhead shakes her head. "No, but it was worth a shot." Like Misty, Charizard wants Ash to return to himself. Although Misty is more patient and nicer than Charizard, she understands that the powerful Pokemon won't listen to just anyone. Ash had earned that title years ago only to lose it. Ash had to re-earn it by showing he isn't as weak as Charizard believes he is.

"He turned his hat." Tracey's smile grows. Daisy has no idea what that means, but Misty does. It's the reason she sat down. Seeing that determined look on Ash's face reminds her so much of the younger version of him.

"Flamethrower!" Ash commands Charizard when Gyarados sends a hydropump their way.

Tina can't believe she's really going to win this battle this way. She expected Ash to put up more of a fight, especially with their bet. However, it just shows to Tina that her initial speculations were correct. Ash isn't with Misty for the right reasons. To think that Tina was starting to like Ash and wanting him to be her uncle. He really fooled her.

Nevertheless, when the steam clears from the two opposing attacks, Tina is left stunned. Gyarados is still standing, obviously, but where is Charizard? Is he in the water? Did he finally faint from the strong attack? Noticing Ash's smirk, Tina realizes that Charizard didn't faint just yet. "Where is he?" She asks Gyarados, but it's too late. Charizard crashes into Gyarados with a sky attack, knocking Gyarados onto the ice in front of Tina.

"Blast Burn the ice!" Ash knows the water is still highly electric from Pikachu's attack earlier. Getting Gyarados in that will seal his win. Charizard easily melts the thick ice, causing the stunned serpent to fall into the water and roar out in pain. Charizard now has to rest up after the intense attack, allowing Tina to have an opportunity.

Tina, who was initially surprised by how powerful Charizard is, now has her senses back. No wonder why her aunt always tells her to never underestimate her opponents. Knowing that Gyarados doesn't have much energy left, Tina reaches into her pocket. "Dragon pulse!"

Misty instantly pales. "Shit!"

"Huh?" Tracey follows Misty's gaze to see the light blue orb in Tina's hand. "No."

"What is it?" Daisy rarely battles, so she isn't sure why the other adults are behaving like this.

Ash didn't know that Gyarados knows dragon pulse. Gyarados isn't a dragon type. However, seeing the item in Tina's hands as Gyarados glows into a larger Pokemon makes Ash realize that she has Misty's Mega Stone. Misty gave Tina her Mega Stone? Why? Why is Misty cheering for him but giving Tina more of an advantage?

"Tina Daphne Sketchit!"

Tina winces from the furious shout from her aunt. "Sorry, Aunt Misty! I took it just in case!" Tina knows where Misty keeps the mega stone. Misty never uses it in gym battles unless trainers request it. She mostly has it just for protection because using it in a battle is deemed unfair to challengers.

"That is unfair, Tina!" Misty scolds her niece.

Well, that answers Ash's suspicions. Misty is on his side, and Misty isn't trying to sabotage him. Ash takes in a deep breath as he mentally curses himself for even thinking Misty would be like the media. Misty is Misty. She's never shown any indication of turning on him. "It's okay." Ash tells his wife who blinks at him in surprise. "Charizard and I like a challenge."

Sighing, Misty sits back down. "He's an idiot."

"That's why you fell in love with him, right?" Tracey smirks when Misty's face heats up. Ah. Young love. It never gets boring teasing Misty about Ash.

Mega Gyarados sends a dragon pulse at Charizard, knocking him back, though Charizard manages to avoid the water. Charizard is heavily breathing on a platform when Mega Gyarados sends a surf attack towards him. Ash times it. "Fly!" Charizard takes off to avoid the wave.

"Hydropump!" Mega Gyarados can fly, so he isn't suffering from the electric water anymore.

"Flamethrower again, Charizard!" Ash has a strategy this time now that he knows Charizard's fire attack can match up against Gyarados's water attack. With it being a mega now, Ash knows Charizard will barely get it. Hopefully, Charizard still has enough energy for it, but the look in Charizard's eye tells Ash that the lizard is up for the task. Once again, the arena turns into a pit of steam. "Dragon claw!" Now he somewhat has a type advantage.

"What?" Tina can't see a thing until she feels a large splash hit her, almost knocking her off the platform.

Once she opens her eyes, the steam has subsided more for her to see a drenched Charizard hovering in the sky over Mega Gyarados who is in the water painfully. It looks like Charizard took damage from the hydropump attack because his flamethrower wasn't powerful enough to turn all the water into steam. Mega Gyarados is suffering from the electricity still in the water, which has him slightly paralyzed.

"Finish it with another dragon claw!" Ash commands.

Remembering something Ash and Pikachu had done on her, Tina yells, "Dodge in the water!" When Charizard attacks, he misses and crashes into the water where Gyarados disappeared in.

Ash furrows his brows as everyone expectantly watches the pool. Soon, an orange body rises to the top, and Ash defeatedly recalls his Pokemon. That was too much water for the tired lizard. "Thanks, Charizard." Will Charizard ever listen to him again? Taking in a deep breath, Ash knows he needs to congratulate his opponent, but this was more than just a loss. It means he needs to leave Misty.

The man finds himself subconsciously raising his head in the direction of the bleachers, and he's surprised to see Misty and Pikachu a few steps away. He expected her to go congratulate Tina first, which is where Tracey and Daisy are. When Ash meets Misty's eyes, she smiles warmly at him. He feels his heart beating quicker as his throat becomes dry. All words he possibly had are gone because he can only see this woman who continues to look like an angel to him.

Pikachu is now able to walk by himself, so he leaps onto Ash's shoulder. Misty, who had grabbed a towel to dry herself off, drapes it around Ash's shoulders. She keeps her hands on them as she gazes up into his sad eyes. "Dry off. You'll catch a cold." Misty then releases him, though she stays where she is to watch him.

Ash sighs. "I lost."

"She Mega evolved Gyarados. You would've won if she didn't." Gyarados would've been a goner in the water, but mega evolving him changed his type to not be as susceptible to water. "And you got a lot further than you did last time." Misty giggles. "You couldn't even get past Corsola."

He shakes his head in defeat. "I still lost, Misty. A loss is a loss." She doesn't know, and he won't tell her. It'll be too painful. Mew. Ash promised himself that he wouldn't abandon her again or leave her. However, he will have to because he can't lie to her about his reason for leaving, and he doesn't want to get Tina in trouble. The only way he can leave Misty is without her knowing.

To his shock, Misty shoves him back into the water. Fortunately, Daisy had hit the neutralizer switch because this isn't the first time a challenger has electrocuted the water, and it won't be the last. Thus, the water isn't dangerous anymore. Ash quickly swims up to hang onto the platform where Misty is glaring down at him. Pikachu had jumped off Ash's shoulder in time, so Pikachu is also on the platform looking at the adults in confusion.

"Okay. You lost, Ash. So what? 10 year old Ash cried, but he got over it and came back stronger. Are you weaker than a 10 year old you?" He's not who he used to be, though Misty knows he's stronger than his young self. When he doesn't answer as he hangs his head low, Misty mutters, "Well, I think you're not. I think you're the strongest you've ever been right now, and you're gonna get even stronger." She then reaches out a hand to him. "And I'm gonna help you."

Pikachu nods. "Pikapi!" He'll help too. Ash looks at Misty's hand for a few seconds without moving. All of a sudden, four red beams emerge from his belt to materialize on the platform.

"Toto!" Totodile dances happily.

"Noi!" Noivern hovers in the air above them.

"Tile." Sceptile gives Ash an approving nod.

"Zarrr!" Charizard roars tiredly. All five of his Pokemon along with Misty expectantly look down at the man still in the water.

"C'mon, dumbass. Everyone's waiting." Misty smiles warmly, causing Ash to finally reach out his hand.

She helps him onto the platform where Totodile, Noivern, and Pikachu tackle him in a hug. Everyone is proud of how far Ash has come in these few short weeks. No one ever expected him to train or battle again, and no one expected him to come so close. He put in a lot of effort. Despite the loss, he's gained a lot. Ash's eyes gloss over knowing he's supported so much by everyone, especially those he thought he disappointed the most.

"I'll do better, guys." He whispers. "I promise." Misty smiles at the scene. This is why she was trying to get him to train and battle again. Ash Ketchum is known for his love for Pokemon and Pokemon battling. Reminding him of these passions will surely bring him back to his former self.

"Aunt Misty?" comes a quiet voice nearby.

The woman looks down to see her shy niece standing beside her. "Tina." Misty holds out her hand expectantly, and Tina reluctantly passes off the mega stone along with Misty's pokeballs of her returned Pokemon. "You're in a lot of trouble." It's one thing to enter her room without knocking, but it's another thing to take from her. Misty won't tolerate this behavior.

"I'm sorry." The girl weakly replies. "Can I talk to Uncle Ash?"

Misty glances back at Ash who is nervously watching them. Sighing, Misty takes a few steps away. "Be nice, Tina."

Tina nods and walks up to Ash who has returned his Pokemon. Pikachu warily watches the two as Misty walks to grab a dry towel for Ash. "Uncle Ash?"

"I know. I'll leave her." A bet is a bet, although Ash really doesn't want to leave. He hasn't felt this content in years, and he knows it all started when he met Misty again.

The girl's eyes water over and she tackles Ash in a hug. Sobbing, she mutters, "Don't leave. I'm sorry." Tina isn't crying because her father and aunt scolded her for using a mega stone. She's crying because she really doesn't want Ash gone anymore. Watching him during the battle made her realize that he's actually a genuine man. And with Misty's interactions with Ash, everything is real. Tina needs to accept that her aunt has someone else in her life.

Moreover, Ash is more than the timid man he comes off as. According to Tina's parents, Ash hasn't battled or trained in years. The fact that he pulled off this narrow loss, and with a fire type Pokemon, indicates to Tina how much his team trusts him. Ash's effort this week also shows how much he wants to win and remain with Misty. Someone with this much trust from his Pokemon can't be a bad person. Plus, Tina is starting to like Ash and his Pokemon. Ash makes her aunt happy. Despite not getting to know Ash too much, Tina has noticed that Ash never complains about her constantly trying to catch him slipping. Ash is patient with her. That must mean he likes Misty enough to deal with Tina.

Ash awkwardly pats the girl's back. "Tina?"

She shakes her head as she cries into his wet shirt. "I like having you as my uncle. Please don't leave us."

His heart tightens from her words. This whole week, Ash has felt like Tina is watching him. Like she's waiting for him to mess up. This is not something he expected from her, so he finds his arms wrapping around her too. "Are you sure?"

Nodding, Tina looks up so that Ash can see her tear stained face. "Mhm. Please stay. You said you wouldn't hurt Aunt Misty. If you leave, she'll be hurting a lot."

A smile breaks out on Ash's face, and he tightens his hug. "I did promise that. Okay. I won't leave." Mew. He's so happy. Not only can he remain with Misty but he's also earned Tina's approval. Ash hasn't felt this happy in years.

When Tina buries her face back in his shirt, Ash looks up to see Misty talking to the Sketchit parents. His gaze softens on his fake wife. Fake. With a heavier heart now, Ash understands it's going to be even harder when they divorce next year. He'll be breaking many real hearts with that news, which now includes this little girl here. He feels awful.

After everyone showers and eats dinner, the Sketchits and Ketchums are spending the night playing a boardgame. The Sketchits will be leaving early in the morning, so this is their last few moments together. Tina and Misty did spend a few hours where Tina gave Misty her approval of Ash. Of course, this made Misty blush, but that means that Tina won't be trying to spy on them anymore.

"Oh yeah! We almost forgot to tell you!" Daisy claps her hands together in excitement.

Ready to get teased again, Misty groans. "What now?"

Daisy leans into Tracey's embrace. "We're pregnant!"

Misty now leaps out of her seat. "No!"

"Yes!"

"What? Oh my Mew! I'm so happy for you guys!" She tackles her sister and brother-in-law in a tight hug. "When are you due?"

Because of Misty's excitement, she doesn't notice Ash wince, but Tina does. Tina remembers her conversation with Ash this morning, so the girl is concerned for him. While her parents and aunt are talking excitedly, Tina moves over to sit next to Ash where she hugs his arm. "It's okay, Uncle Ash."

Ash flinches from her touch and then he relaxes realizing it's her. Smiling slightly at the girl, Ash whispers, "I'm fine."

"You look sad."

"I'm okay."

"Aunt Misty says people who say they're okay are actually not okay." Tina knowingly remarks, causing Ash to sadly chuckle.

"I will be okay." Ash tries.

"What makes you say that?" Tina is happy seeing him not shut down like this morning.

Ash glances over at his wife who is still eagerly talking to Tracey and Daisy. "Because I'm married to your aunt."

Tina is glad she didn't make Ash leave. He really does love her aunt, so Tina hugs his arm tighter. "I love you, Uncle Ash."

His heart aches again. This sucks, and he brought it upon himself. Ash can lie to the media. He's lied to his mother. He's lied to his friends, and he's lied to this girl. However, he can't lie about his feelings. Instead, he just pulls his arm away from Tina to hug her. "Thanks, Tina."

"Oh my Mew!" Daisy squeals, causing everyone to look at her. Ash notices Daisy's focus is on him and Tina. "You're such a great uncle, Ash!" Daisy then faces Misty who seems to know where this is going. "You guys should have a kid too, Misty! Then our kids can grow up together!" The blonde always thought she'd be having children alongside her other two sisters instead of Misty. Oh how times have changed.

With a dark blush on her face, Misty stammers, "Uh. We-are um. We're not ready yet!"

Daisy pouts. "C'mon, Misty! You're great with Tina. You helped us babysit her all the time."

It wasn't really helping because Daisy would often leave Tina in Misty's care without telling Misty. The redhead can't even look at Ash right now who is gazing at the ground. Leave it to Daisy to make things awkward. Exhausted from the day and wanting to get away from this conversation, Ash stands up. "It's getting late. I'll see you guys in the morning." He shyly nods and leaves.

Misty watches the melancholy man walk up the stairs. Her embarrassment from Daisy is gone as concern is now on her face. This morning's episode comes back to Misty while she remembers Tina's words. Tina had talked to Ash about pregnancy, which Misty assumes must've been Tina telling Ash about Daisy having a baby. Misty found it hard to believe that is what could cause Ash to break down, but seeing his immediate distance from the topic worries her. This could be because he's trying to escape an embarrassing conversation, though they've both sat through embarrassment together before.

"I'm gonna go to bed too." Misty tells the Sketchits.

"So you're gonna make us a niece or nephew?" Daisy teases, making Misty's blush return.

"No!" Misty then kisses Tina's head before rushing up the stairs. Once in the bedroom, she locks the door and leans her back against it as she hopes her face will cool down.

"Everything okay?" The man laying in bed asks.

Well, now her blush is back due Daisy suggesting this man fathers Misty's child. Thus, Misty avoids his gaze. "Yeah. Just Daisy's teasing. You know. Good idea to leave that." Misty lets out a breath and she walks over to her side of the bed.

Ash nods. "Yeah."

The two fall in awkward silence, which happens often, though they're still not used to it. Misty wonders, "What was the bet about?" Nothing happened today, so Misty figures it must've been a harmless bet.

Ash shrugs. "It's private."

Misty rolls her eyes, but she feels her heart ache knowing Ash and Tina are getting close. "It's good that you're friends with Tracey."

"Why's that?"

"So you can still see her after we get divorced."

The man flips on his side to look at Misty's back. Although he knows the divorce is going to happen, they still have plenty of time. It hurts him hearing Misty be so dismissive of him as well as his relationship with Tina. "She cried to me, Misty. She told me to never leave you and her."

"Technically, you won't." Misty shrugs. "We'll still be friends."

Nodding, Ash lays back down on his back. He's not satisfied with Misty's response, and he's slightly angry about the fate of their relationship. Why? Is he comfortable now that he's feeling happier? However, Misty did say nothing will change after they get their divorce. Only their title will change. Thus, Ash shouldn't be feeling like the divorce is the end. It's nothing, yet it feels like so much.

"Can I ask my question?" comes Misty's soft hesitant voice.

"Sure."

She takes in a deep breath. Should she ask it? What if he relapses or shuts down again? He's made so much progress today, so she doesn't want to be the reason he backtracks. As much as Misty wants to hear his opinions on pregnancy so that she can deduce her speculations about this morning, the woman decides now is not the time. Not after Ash has overcome so much today. "If you won, what would you have asked from me? Your request?"

The man isn't sure. At the time, he just wanted some more motivation to win. Therefore, he asked Misty to make a deal with him. "I don't know. I was gonna save it until I wanted something."

"Like?"

He shrugs. "Like if you ask a question I don't want to answer, then I can use it?"

"That's not fair." Misty turns to playfully glare at him.

In the corner of Ash's eye, he spots her, which makes him chuckle. "I really had no idea what I was gonna ask for when I made the deal with you, Mist. Sorry."

Without realizing it, Misty's finger is gently tracing the side of Ash's face. He curiously turns his head where their eyes meet, causing her to notice what she's doing. Thus, Misty quickly retracts her hand as a deep blush appears on her cheeks. "Um. You just look a lot better when you laugh and smile. I haven't seen it in a while." She also doesn't see it often from him lately. She likes seeing Ash happy.

With a blush of his own, Ash nods. "I'll try to smile more then."

"You don't have to."

"I want to." Ash gives an awkward smile. "Since I lost today, I guess that means you can have this as your request from me."

"We didn't make that bet because you weren't supposed to lose." Misty giggles.

"Well, I'm adding it now. Retroactively."

"Wow. You know what retroactively means?" astounds the redhead, making Ash roll his eyes.

"I am 30."

After her laughs subside, Misty softly gazes at him. "Okay. What's your question now?"

Today was too hectic for him to even come up with one. What does he want to know about that he hasn't already asked about? There's nothing right now, but that just feels like a waste of a question. Looking at Misty's beautiful blue orbs, Ash asks, "When can we go back to Pallet Town?"

"Is that your question?" The confused redhead isn't sure why he'd waste his question on this. She would have answered this question regardless. Nevertheless, when he nods, she replies, "Next month. The gym is too busy to leave right now. Why?"

Ash nervously scratches the back of his head. "I think I'm ready to clean my room. Like fully clean it."

She knows what he means. He's ready to get rid of all those painful memories of his, including that engagement ring in his sock drawer. With a warm smile on her face, Misty grabs Ash's fidgety arm to gently place beside him on the bed. "I'll help you." They are married, but regardless of their relationship status, they're still friends. She will always help Ash Ketchum.


A long one! Like really long, but I get the feedback that y'all like long chapters. Therefore, here we are, and I was trying to get through the Sketchit visit in as few chapters as possible without missing any character development. Anyway, I'm done updating this one until I update Things Money Can't Buy and Hoping For You. Then I'll circulate back around. See ya!

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