Ash’s BIG Date
It was about mid-morning; the shined brightly over the land. Pidgey and Pidgeotto cooed softly in the trees as the wind blew through the grass. Everything seemed particularly peaceful that morning. This atmosphere greatly reflected the mood of Ash Ketchum, the young trainer from Pallet Town, who was taking great in pride in his latest victory at the Battle Tower. He was cleaning his newest frontier symbol, watching as it sparkled in the sun’s rays as he held it up.
“Look at that, Pikachu,” Ash said to his old friend. “This is Frontier Symbol number six. Just one more and we’ll be Battle Frontier Champions.” Ash started to tremble with excitement at the thought of his next victory. “Man, I can’t wait!”
“Pika,” Pikachu responded with a bright smile across its face.
“Don’t get over confident,” Max said he set plates to the table. “After all, it took you two tries before you won that Frontier symbol. And if that was the second to last Battle Facility, then just imagine how difficult the last facility will be.”
“He’s right, Ash,” Brock said as he stirred a large steaming pot of his special breakfast stew. “A wise never actually thinks about his victory until he actually gets there. If he’s only thinking about winning, he’ll only wind up losing. You don’t want this whole Battle Frontier experience just like the Kanto or Hoenn League, do you?”
“No, I don’t,” Ash said as he continued to shine the Frontier Symbol. “And it won’t. I’m going to train extra hard with all my Pokémon. There’s no way I’m going to slack off now. Especially since that last battle with Anabel was-”
Ash stopped abruptly, lowering his arms to his side. The happy look on his face slowly faded away and was replaced with a look of concern.
“Something wrong, Ash?” May asked, setting the silverware and cups on the table.
“I was just wondering how she is,” Ash answered, putting the Battle Symbol back in the symbol case. “I hope she’s doing all right…”
“Oooh, somebody’s got a crush…” Max teased as he set up the seats.
“What, no, no…I was just a little worried about her was all. I don’t know why, but something about just seemed so familiar…”
Ash looked up into the sky as the clouds passed overhead. He though his eyes were playing tricks on him because he thought he saw Misty’s face and she was winking at him. He just quickly shook it out of his head.
The bright, cheery atmosphere seemed to reflect the mood of every person and Pokémon in the general area; all except one. A certain Frontier Brain who was sitting on the porch of her home, watching the clouds as they passed by. She seemed to be lost in deep thought; not even the sound of a nearby buzzing Beedrill was enough to get her attention. Indeed, Anabel was lost in very deep thought. But it wasn’t about the loss she had just suffered; rather it was about the trainer she had just met, Ash. She didn’t know why, but now that he was gone she just felt so empty and alone, like part of her had left with Ash.
What’s wrong with me? Anabel thought as the clouds continued to drift by. I’ve never felt like this before at all. I can’t understand what it is I’m feeling. She then looked down and saw a flower gently wafting in the wind. Could it be that…I’m in love with Ash? Anabel suddenly felt her heart skip a beat. That must be it! It’s the only explanation for this feeling in my heart! How could I have not noticed it before? She got to her feet, eyes filled with great ambition. It’s only been a day since he left, he can’t have gotten very far! I’ve got to find him…I’ve got to find Ash Ketchum!
With that, Anabel stood up and raced into the forest. Anabel had to find Ash if only to confirm this feeling she had.
Meanwhile, Ash and his friends had just finished another delicious breakfast by their expert chef, Brock. Ash particularly enjoyed the meal as he picked up his plate and began to lick the remnants off of it. When he had all but cleaned the plate off, he set it back down on the table and rubbed his happy, full stomach.
“Man, Brock that was really good!”
“Yeah, that was just what I needed,” Max said as he slumped down in his chair and glasses fell down his nose.
“Glad you liked it so much,” Brock said as he and May began to collect the dishes. “I plan to make the next meal even better, so make sure you’ve got plenty of room for lunch, guys.”
Ash sat up and began to collect his dishes when he suddenly heard a rustling noise in the bushes right behind him. Everyone immediately froze as they prepared for something to happen, like an ambush by Team Rocket or a startled Pokémon. But a couple minutes passed and nothing happened. They all just assumed it was Pokémon just waking up and was scared of all the activity. They just shrugged and continued putting away the table and other things.
The truth was the rustling noise they had all just heard wasn’t a startled Pokémon; it was Anabel. She had found Ash and his gang with the help of the local wildlife, giving her directions to the campsite. But when she got there, she just choked. It was unusual for someone like her, but it was true. Something inside just made her freeze up when she saw Ash there with all his friends. She wanted to tell Ash how she felt, but she wanted to do it privately and on her terms. Also, she couldn’t exactly explain, but something about Ash just made him seem so intimidating to her. So she just turned and ran off.
Anabel eventually stopped once she thought she was far enough from them. She took a few deep breaths as she collected herself.
I don’t understand, Anabel thought. I was so sure about how I felt about this morning. So why is it I can’t just come out and say it? Anabel suddenly realized that she was blushing. I guess I must be more nervous than I thought. This seemed so much easier in my head…If only there was some way I could get Ash alone, without any of his friends, then it might be a little bit easier. But how am I going to do that…?
Anabel began to ponder all kinds of possibilities when she heard a very strange sound from nearby. She peeked over the bushes and saw an interesting sight. There, just a few feet away, in a little bed of flowers, was a cute, little, pink Clefairy picking various flowers from the ground. It had a bright smile across its face as it plucked eat flower from ground, singing a delightful little melody in its own tongue. Anabel was surprised; a Clefairy was a very rare Pokémon, especially since Mt. Moon was so far away from here. She couldn’t help but feel that seeing this Pokémon in this particular place and time was a good omen. That’s when she decided she had to catch it, if only to help with her confidence a little.
“All right, here goes,” Anabel said as she prepared herself for the confrontation.
Once she felt she was ready, she burst out from the bushes, taking the Clefairy completely by surprise. What happened next caught Anabel completely off guard. Instead of trying to run away or prepare itself for a fight, it just pulled its arms and legs in close and…began to shrink! Anabel watched in amazement as the Clefairy kept shrinking until it was no bigger than a pebble. It was then that she realized that Clefairy had used the move Minimize, a fairly rare move. Anabel couldn’t believe it; most Pokémon had the capacity to learn Minimize, but most trainers didn’t bother trying to teach it to them.
Anabel walked over to the shrunken, amazed that it was able to become so small, when she noticed that it was shaking. Anabel frowned as she realized the little Clefairy (no pun intended) she had terribly frightened it. She reached down with both her hands and gently cupped the miniature Pokémon in her hands.
“Shhh, shhh, its okay,” she whispered gently to the little one. “I’m not going to hurt you…” Anabel then slowly opened her hands and watched as the little Clefairy slowly uncurled itself and looked up into Anabel’s gentle, giant face. “There see, everything’s okay, I just want to be your friend…” She then moved her finger towards the little Clefairy. It cringed in terror, expecting its captor to do it harm; instead, it was petted very gently by the giant finger and began to relax as it cooed softly.
“There, that’s much better,” Anabel said as she continued to stroke the little Clefairy. It was then that Anabel noticed the Clefairy’s hand and saw the flowers it was picking earlier. What amazing was that the flowers had shrunk as well. “Hey that’s quite a unique talent you’ve got there…” It was then that an idea came into Anabel’s mind. “Say, can you do it that with something else?” The Clefairy looked up at Anabel, a little confused. “You know, what you did with the flowers?” The Clefairy looked at the flowers in its hand and just shrugged. “Well, let’s find out…”
Anabel placed the Clefairy back on the ground and watched as it returned to normal size. She then reached for her Pokéballs and called out her Metagross, the biggest Pokémon she had.
“Okay, now just try to do to Metagross what you did with those flowers,” Anabel said. The Clefairy scratched its head, a little unsure. “Oh, come on, just give it a try, please…”
The Clefairy just sighed and nodded as it leapt onto Metagross’ head. It then started to perform Minimize; Anabel watched in amazement as her Metagross shrunk as well. After a few minutes, her Metagross was no bigger than that of a tarantula, it was absolutely amazing. Metagross began to look around, obviously completely confused as to what just happened. It then looked up and saw the giant Anabel looking down on it. It was so frightened that it just curled its legs up and began to shake violently. Anabel reached down and began to stroke the little Pokémon gently, just like with Clefairy. Metagross eventually stopped shaking and spread its legs out as it realized that it wasn’t in any danger.
“That’s a good Metagross,” Anabel said to comfort her Pokémon further. “Okay…now Clefairy, could you please turn Metagross back to normal?”
Clefairy nodded its head as it started to concentrate hard. Anabel watched as Metagross grew back to its normal size as quickly as it had shrunk. Soon, her old friend was standing by her side at its full size. She gave it a gentle hug, happy to see it back to normal. Clefairy then jumped off of Metagross’ head and landed on the ground.
“That was great, Clefairy,” Anabel complemented. Clefairy blushed at the nice complement it had just gotten. “Now then, there’s something I’d like you to do for-” But quickly just pouted, crossed its arms, and turned its back to Anabel. “What’s wrong, won’t you help me?” Clefairy then began speaking in its own language, saying that it would only help Anabel under a couple of conditions. “Conditions, huh; what kind of conditions?” (Anabel has the ability to understand Pokémon say just as well as if she were speaking to another person). The Clefairy said that would only help Anabel if she’d agree to take the Clefairy home with her and not make it battle at all. “You don’t want to fight? But why…?” The Clefairy then went into a long explanation of how it was kicked out of its old home by a very mean, temperamental Golem; about it had to feel into the woods and avoid getting stung by a horde of nasty Beedrill; about how it didn’t really know any real offensive moves and that it just wanted to live peacefully.
When it was finally done, it looked up to see a smile on Anabel’s face. “I see, well if that’s the case…” She then reached into her pocket and pulled out an empty Pokéball. “…then it’s a deal. I won’t make you battle if you don’t want to. Does that sound good to you?”
“Clefairy!” Clefairy said excitedly as it began to jump up in the air.
“Then Clefairy, welcome to the family!” Anabel said as she expanded the Pokéball and gently tossed it at Clefairy. Within seconds, Clefairy was inside the ball and the red light flashed a few times before it stopped. Anabel then opened up the Pokéball and watched as the little Clefairy appeared in a flash of white light, a big smile across its face as it bound up and down a couple of times.
“Okay, now that I’ve met your conditions,” Anabel said. “There’s something I need you to do for me…” Clefairy stopped jumping as Anabel leaned in closely and whispered her ‘little’ plan into its ear…
Back at the campsite, Ash and his buddies had just finished cleaning the dishes. They decided to let all their Pokémon out for some fresh air and boy did they need it. Some of them had been cramped up in their Pokéballs for so long; they felt relieved that they were able to get some fresh air. They just mostly spent their time relaxing, bathing in the warm sunlight.
“Man, I can’t wait for my next Frontier Battle!” Ash said as he cleaned the last of the plates off and placed it on the stack next to him.
“There he goes again, getting all full of himself,” Max said.
“You can’t really blame him Max,” May said. “After all, that last battle was really tough. I bet he wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to beat Anabel on the second time.”
“Really…?” Max asked.
“Of course,” Brock said as he folded the table. “Many trainers wind up learning that victory isn’t always easy. It often takes more than just one try to earn a victory and that makes them train even harder. Ash is a perfect example; just look at him. Even when he gets knocked down, he has the guts to just back up and train even harder. And even after the battle is over he has the wisdom to keep on training lest he have the same results. That can only come from experience…”
Max then looked back at Ash, thinking what a great role model he was. He could only hope he would get to be as good a trainer as Ash was someday. Of course, while this was going, nobody noticed two solitary hiding in the nearby bushes. Anabel was peeking over the foliage with her new Clefairy standing right next to her.
“Okay, do you see the boy with the hat next to the river?” Anabel asked as she pointed over to where Ash was. Clefairy looked through the leaves and nodded, saying that it did. “He’s the one I want you to use your special talent on. Do you remember the plan?”
Clefairy turned and nodded, saying that it understood the plan. It then asked about the Pikachu standing right next Ash.
“Oh, Pikachu,” Anabel as it looked at the yellow Pokémon. “Don’t worry about him. You just do your job and leave Pikachu to me. Don’t worry, I promise you won’t have to do any fighting, okay…”
“Clefairy!” Clefairy answered its voice full of confidence.
Anabel was happy to see the little Pokémon ready and raring to go. And so began Anabel’s plan…
Once Ash had finished the plates, he got up and stretched his legs out. They were a little stiff from being stuck in the same position for so long. Pikachu got up and copied Ash’s movements, stretching out its legs as well. Ash giggled a little at seeing his friend act a little silly. But everyone suddenly stopped what they were doing when they heard a strange rustling noise coming from the bushes. Everyone watched as a Clefairy came bounding out of the bushes.
“Wow, a Clefairy!” Brock said.
“But that’s impossible!” Max shouted. “Mt. Moon is several miles from here; we’re nowhere near its territory!”
“Then how did get here!?” May asked.
Nobody really had time to answer as the Clefairy bounded right up to Ash and jumped over him, grabbing his hat. Ash was completely surprised as he watched the Clefairy went running off with his hat.
“Hey, my hat!” Ash exclaimed as he held his vacant head. “Get back here you little thief!”
“Oh, not again…” Brock sighed as he quickly dropped what he was doing and began to follow Ash into the forest.
Pikachu just sighed as it too followed its trainer into the woods. May and Max both sighed as they too began to follow them into the woods. The other Pokémon were just about to follow them, when they were suddenly taken over by a mysterious force and went right back to sleep.
In the forest, Ash had a clean lead on the Clefairy. The others, even Pikachu, were having a bit of trouble keeping up with Ash. Ash eventually chased the Clefairy to a divide in the road, where the two of them banked left. Pikachu eventually reached the same fork with the others right behind him.
“Well, Pikachu, which way…?” Brock asked as the yellow Pokémon sniffed the ground. Pikachu sniffed around for a good few minutes when it finally stopped and took the right fork. “This way!” Brock said as he and the others followed Pikachu down the right road. However, had they been paying attention and looked a little closer at the little yellow Pokémon, they would’ve noticed a blank look in its eyes.
Up in the trees above their heads, Anabel watched and smiled as Ash’s friends took the wrong path.
“That’s perfect, Alakazam!” She said. “Just keep leading Pikachu and the others as long as you can. I’ll go and take care of my business…” Anabel turned and jumped out of the tree they were hiding in. “When your team, head back to my house. I’ll meet you there…” Alakazam nodded as it continued to use its psychic powers to control Pikachu.
Elsewhere, Ash had nearly caught up with the thieving Clefairy. He eventually chased the little Pokémon into a wide open field; that’s when Ash was taken completely by surprise. Just as he was about to grab the Clefairy, it did a complete 180, dropping the hat, and jumping onto Ash’s shirt. Ash fell back onto the ground, a little confused by what was just happening. That’s when he began to feel a little strange. It wasn’t until he noticed that his surroundings were starting to get bigger and bigger! Ash didn’t know what to believe, he thought he was hallucinating.
When everything stopped growing, Ash looked around and summarized that he had to be less than a foot tall! This was far too much for him to take in at once and he began to feel dizzy. But before he could get himself oriented, everything just went dark. He tried to struggle, but it was no use, his arms were pinned to his sides. If he didn’t know better, he’d think he was in a sack, and he was. Anabel had made it to the field where Clefairy had shrunk Ash, with a bag under her arm. When she spotted the shrunken Ash, she had rushed out and thrust the bag over his head. She could feel him struggle inside and was starting to lose her grip. She began to wonder just how much longer she could hold him when her new friend, Clefairy, came hopping over. It was already back to its normal size.
“Clefairy, perfect!” Anabel said as she struggled to keep Ash still. “Do you know Sing?” Clefairy nodded. “Then do it, quickly!”
Clefairy was a little confused at first, but just shrugged its shoulders and started to sing. As it did, Anabel could feel Ash struggling less and less inside the bag. When Clefairy had finished singing, Anabel could hear a pleasant little snore coming from the bag, signaling that Ash had fallen completely asleep. Anabel relaxed a bit, glad to finally have Ash under control. Amazingly, Anabel had not been affected by the Sing attack; she had been too focused on keeping Ash contained that she didn’t even listen to the song, so she wasn’t even drowsy. Anabel took in a deep breath of relief as she took the bag off of Ash.
Wow, what a fighter! Anabel thought as she threw the bag aside and cradled the little trainer in her arms. I didn’t think he’d resist that much. I hoped I could just carry him in the sack and surprise him back at my house. But this works too… She continued looking at the little trainer as she gently stroked his cheek. Of course, his strength only makes him that much more attractive. That reminds me, I better head home before he wakes up. I can’t wait to see the look on his face…
On the other side of the forest, Pikachu and the others were still running. They hadn’t seen any sign of Ash or the Clefairy for a while now and were starting to wonder if maybe they were heading in the wrong direction. It was at that moment that Pikachu quickly halted, causing the others to come to a screeching halt and fell on top of each other. They eventually got back and dusted themselves off.
“What’s wrong, Pikachu?” Brock asked.
They watched as the little yellow Pokémon shake its head and observe its surroundings. It seemed to be completely confused, like something wasn’t right.
“Pikachu, didn’t Ash come this way?” Max asked.
Pikachu then raised its nose into the air and started to sniff. But after just a few seconds, it lowered its nose and shook its head. Now the others were just completely confused.
“Why would Pikachu take us this way if Ash didn’t come this way?” May asked as she scratched her head.
“May be that Clefairy did something that screwed up Pikachu’s senses?” Max suggested. “What do you think, Brock?”
Max looked over to see pondering, his hand scratching his chin. “I think we should go back to that fork and take the other way that seems to be the best course of action right!” Brock turned around and suddenly bumped into something. “Ouch, sorry about that…”
“I’m sorry, I wasn’t looking where I was going.” Said a female voice.
Brock and the others looked over to see a face they hadn’t seen in a while. It was their old friend, Misty of Cerulean City.
“Hey, Misty!” They all said together.
“Hey guys!” Misty said, excited to see all her old friends. She looked around and noticed that they were one person short. “Where’s Ash, is he not with you guys?”
The entire group just frowned as they explained how a wild Clefairy had come along and swiped Ash’s hat. He had gotten ahead of them and they somehow lost track of him a while ago. Somehow, Pikachu had gotten mixed up and lead them down the wrong path. When they had finished filling her in, Misty just shook her head.
“That Ash, he always winds up losing his hat somehow,” Misty said. “Well, I’ll help anyway I can. Knowing him, he’s probably gotten into some kind of trouble.”
“I wonder if Team Rocket has got something to do with all of this.” Max said as he scratched his head.
“I don’t think so,” Brock said, still pondering as he stood up. “This plan was a little too subtle for them. And besides, there’s no way to confuse Pikachu’s sense of smell like that. No, somebody else is this behind, I’m sure of it.”
There others were now starting to get worried, Misty most of all. She knew Ash always got into trouble, but he always managed to find out, especially if it was Team Rocket. But if he was in real trouble…she just couldn’t stay calm.
“Well then, we better hurry, if Ash is hurt or worse…”
Both May and Max just looked confused, but Brock smiled at seeing Misty’s emotions finally starting to surface. They all decided to just backtrack and take the other path, like Brock had suggested…
The group eventually made it back to the fork and took the left path this time. Pikachu had sniffed the path and was sure it was the one Ash had taken. They followed it until they eventually reached the open field. It was there that Pikachu stopped abruptly and began to circle in one place, the very spot where Ash had been shrunken recently.
“What’s wrong, Pikachu?” May asked.
Pikachu looked up at the others, said its name, and shrugged.
“The scent must’ve disappeared!” Misty said.
“But how could it just disappear like that?” Max asked.
“Look,” May said as she walked over to a patch of grass. She picked something up and turned to the others. “It’s Ash’s hat…”
“But, where’s Ash?” Misty asked a hint of concern in her voice.
They all decided to fan and search the entire area in all directions. They would report back in less than two hours…
Ash lay comfortably on a nice soft bed in a little room, still asleep from the song he had just heard. He eventually began to stir and sat up. He started to look around and noticed that something was very wrong. The room he was in was far bigger than it should’ve been; he felt like he was a giant’s house. He thought he was dreaming and reached over to pinch himself. The pain confirmed his fears, he was in giant room. And a giant room meant a giant house, and a giant house meant giant people, giant HUNGRY people. Ash quickly remembered the story “Jack and the Beanstalk.” He especially began to panic when he turned around and saw the knob on the door began to turn. He immediately jumped off of the bed, landed on the floor, and began to run to the other side of the room, attempting to seek refuge behind a large dresser he saw. But he was too late; the door was opened all the way to reveal a giant. And just any giant, but a giant Anabel!
She walked in and saw the tiny Ash in the middle of the room, just frozen on the spot. “Well, you’re finally awake,” she said in a soft voice. “I thought you would never wake up…” She started to walk over to him, but stopped when she watched Ash curl up into a little ball and just lay on the floor. She started to walk towards him again, a little concerned, and when she was close enough, she could hear him mumble something…
“Please don’t eat me, please don’t eat me…” Ash kept chanting over and over again, hoping that this would make the giant disappear.
Anabel just smiled as she realized what he was doing. “Silly boy,” she said softly. She then reached down and started to stroke his back gently. “I’m not going to eat you. Just relax, you’re safe with me, I promise…” She kept smiling as she watched the tiny trainer stop chanting and uncurled himself. He then sat up and looked into her smiling face. “That’s much better. Now then…”
Anabel then did something that completely took Ash by surprise. She reached down and under Ash’s arms and lifted off the ground; she then stood up to her full height and gently hugged him against her chest. Ash could feel himself blushing badly as Anabel hugged him a little tighter. Of course, now he was also just completely confused; none of this waking any sense to him. How was it that Anabel else was now a giant? And why was everything so big? Then started to remember the open field and how he had been shrunk by that wild Clefairy. He then started to wonder how he got into Anabel’s place and that’s when a thought occurred to him.
“Uh, Anabel,” Ash started to ask, still wrapped up in Anabel’s arms. “Did…you shrink me somehow?”
“Yep,” Anabel replied simply as she now started to nuzzle Ash.
Ash soon had a bewildered and exhausted look on his face. Oh, not again… Ash thought as he remembered back to when he had been shrunken by Sabrina and was almost made into a doll. The only thing he was glad about was that Anabel was very nice to him and he knew she wouldn’t do anything to hurt. But if that was true and she didn’t want to really do anything to him, then why did she shrink down like this? Anabel then gently pulled Ash away and looked at him with a warm smile.
“You know it is quite late,” Anabel said. “You must be very hungry?” She then heard Ash’s growl loudly to confirm her suspicion. Ash just blushed as Anabel giggled. “I thought so. I’ve already got dinner all set up…”
Dinner…? Ash though. It can’t be that late, can it? Ash then looked over to a clock he saw on the wall and saw that it was already 6:45 pm. As he watched the clock continue to tick, a thought suddenly occurred to him. “Oh no, my friends, they have no idea where I am? They must be so worried about me!”
Anabel was now worried. She hadn’t really thought about Ash’s friends or how they might take to this whole thing. She had to come up with an excuse and fast. “Uh, don’t worry, they know you’re here,” Anabel said timidly. Ash then slowly looked at her with a skeptical look on his face. “No, really, they do. They just don’t know you’re like this is all. I told them you had fallen into the nearby lake and had caught a terrible cold. I told them I would take of you until you got better and that they shouldn’t come near you. If they got sick, it’d slow them down; but if I got sick, at least they would be able to continue on.” Anabel laughed nervously as Ash was now scowling at her and had his arms crossed.
“I can’t believe you,” Ash scolded. “How could you kidnap me and lie to my friends like that? You’re a Frontier Brain, for Pete’s sake. You can’t just shrink people down and not expect them to be angry with you. Honestly, I thought you would at least be a little more mature than that. I demand you change me back to normal and take me back to my friends at once!”
“Oh, come one Ash,” Anabel began to plead. “Can’t you just stay for at least a couple of days, at least? Come on, you aren’t that cruel to ladies are you?” She then gave him a puppy dog pout and made her eyes as innocent as possible. “Come on, please. Just think of this as a vacation…”
Ash looked into her eyes and found he was having trouble resisting. His scowl started to shake and he soon found he could no longer keep his composure. He just sighed and let his arms fall to his side. “Fine, fine, I’ll stay. But just for one day, that’s it, understand.”
Anabel’s face quickly lit up as she suddenly pulled Ash in and gave him a kiss on his cheek. Ash was no blushing so badly; he had never been kissed like that before by another girl. “Oh thank you, Ash! I promise you won’t regret this!”
Ash just sighed as Anabel pulled him in close to her chest. Somehow, I think I will…
A few minutes later, Anabel brought the one foot tall trainer into her dining room, still holding him close to her. Ash was facing forward when they went in and what he saw completely amazed him. On the table inside was a lovely steak dinner for two. Ash’s mouth began to water as he looked at the steak, baked potatoes, and freshly steamed vegetables. It had been a long time since he had seen such a delicious looking meal.
Anabel walked over and set down on one side of the table while she went and sat on the other. Ash was so excited; if there was one advantage to being small, it was that the food you ate was much bigger than you were. Ash rubbed his hands in anticipation as he looked at all the delicious. He then noticed than the steak and vegetables had already been cut into tiny pieces, each one easily the size of his hand. He started to reach over for a piece of the steak, but stopped part way and retracted his hand as he started to frown.
Anabel ate a piece of steamed carrot when she looked over and saw Ash. “What’s wrong, Ash? Isn’t the food good?”
“Oh no, no it’s that. It’s just that…well…” Ash looked at his hands, then the food, and finally to the silverware. Anabel smiled as she watched Ash’s modesty and politeness.
“Oh, don’t worry,” Anabel said comfortingly. “You don’t need to worry about manners. You can use your hands, I won’t mind. Go ahead, eat up, you must be really hungry.”
Ash took in a deep breath as he reached over and plucked a piece of the steak. He took a bite out of it and he nearly fell over; it was so delicious, it tasted even better than his mom’s steak. He couldn’t believe it! He then took and second piece in his hand and the very same result; a taste sensation like nothing he had ever experienced before. He then reached over and scooped up a bit of the baked potato. He couldn’t how good it tasted, even Brock’s food would pale compared to this. He finally reached for the steamed vegetables and picked up a piece of steamed broccoli and carrot. Both tasted exceptionally well; he couldn’t believe how good everything tasted. He was a little sad that he already felt full after just a couple more handfuls and there was still so much left on the plate.
Ash then laid back and rubbed his full belly, letting out a pleasant sigh. Anabel had just finished her meal when she laid down her silverware and looked over to see the contented Ash. She was glad he was feeling much about his whole situation as she got up, walked over, and cradled Ash in her arms again. Ash suddenly felt a little embarrassed as Anabel began to rock him back and forth like a baby; that and he was starting to feel a little sick since he had just ate. Anabel finally stopped rocking, much to the relief of the shrunken trainer.
“Glad to see you enjoyed it so much,” She said, a warm smile on her face.
“Sure did…I’m just sorry I couldn’t finish it all.”
“That’s okay, I’ll be sure to make the portions much smaller next time.”
“Next time?”, Ash thought as he looked up in Anabel’s happy face. Does she plan on keeping me here longer? Oh, I really hope not; this whole situation is making me a little uncomfortable, even if she is taking such good care of me.
Ash wanted to bring it up, but decided to wait until later. Anabel just seemed so happy, he didn’t want to make her sad; he just couldn’t. So he just lay there in Anabel’s arms as she took him out of the dining room.
The unlikely pair eventually went to the back porch. Anabel then sat down on a porch swing and placed Ash on her lap. She then started to stroke Ash’s hair gently, making him blush badly. Ash felt so embarrassed; he was glad that none of his friends were around to see him like this.
“Hey Ash, what’s wrong?” Anabel asked when she Ash just staring off into space. “If you just stare off into nowhere like that, you’ll miss the sunset.”
“Huh?” Was all Ash was able to say.
He then looked out over the horizon and was amazed by what he saw. The sun was starting to set off in the distance, casting a beautiful array of colors as it sank beneath the mountains. It was very unusual; sure, he had seen plenty of sunsets in his home town of Pallet. But none of them were as spectacular as the one he was just seeing now. He continued to watch this amazing sight from Anabel’s lap for at least an hour or so; he didn’t even mind that Anabel was still stroking his hair the entire time. He almost wished that this serene moment wouldn’t end, but the sun eventually set behind the mountains, completely out of sight.
“Well, now that that’s over, its time to move on to the next activity.” Anabel said as she wrapped her arms around Ash.
Ash finally snapped out of his daze as Anabel carried off of the back porch and back into her house. He could only wonder what kind of activity his giant caretaker had in store for them next…
Anabel brought Ash into a fairly large room, particularly for someone of Ash’s size. He had never seen this before when he was first here; it was a large open room with no windows and hardly any furniture save for a small table and a couple of chairs off to the side. Ash then noticed a stereo and a set of speakers on the other side of the room with a few CDs stacked on top of it. Anabel walked over and gently set Ash on one of the chairs.
“Okay, my little one,” Anabel said playfully. “You wait a little while I go and change…”
Anabel gave him a gentle kiss on the forehead before she walked out through a door on the other side of the room, leaving Ash all alone in the huge room. He felt like this would be the perfect time to run, to escape and try to find his friends. But something deep down was telling him not to run, to stay where he was and just wait. And that was probably the best course of action; with Ash as small as he was, there was no telling how much trouble he could get into out in the forest. He could be attacked by a wild Pokémon or worse yet, by Team Rocket. He could only imagine what kind of torment they would put him through if they found him like this.
So, Ash just sat that there at the edge of the seat, swinging his legs as he waited for Anabel. He didn’t have to wait long before he heard the knob on the door turn and the door open. When Ash looked over to see Anabel, he was completely surprised by what he saw. Anabel was wearing a beautiful, elegant light-violet dress. It almost seemed to sparkle as Anabel walked into the room. Ash was awestruck; he wasn’t sure what to say or think as Anabel walked up to him.
“So, tell me Ash,” Anabel said in a rather playful voice. “Do you like what you see?”
Ash was speechless; all he could do was nod his head as he started to blush. Anabel just giggled at seeing how innocent Ash was acting. obviously he hadn’t spent much time around girls to know what to say to them. Ash started to sweat as he continued to look at the gargantuan beauty before him. He only wished she wouldn’t stand so close to him as it was starting to make him feel a little uncomfortable. He was relieved when Anabel finally backed off and walked over to the other side of the room. She then took one of the CDs off of the case and popped it into the stereo. As soon as she did that, the lights started to dim and a very lovely, slow melody began to play.
Anabel then quickly walked back over to Ash and scooped him up into arms once again. She then started to dance, holding Ash close to her. Ash felt both very embarrassed and frightened as Anabel held him aloft. He was frightened because he didn’t think Anabel’s grip was tight enough to hold for much longer. He was worried that she would eventually lose her grip and drop him to the floor where she might accidentally step on him. But after awhile, he started to relax, assured that Anabel wasn’t going to drop him or anything like that. He just relaxed and let Anabel do the dancing (not like he could lead if he wanted to).
The two of them had danced for nearly an hour before Anabel took Ash back to her room. She placed him on the edge of the bed and sat down on the floor next to him, completely exhausted from all the dancing.
“Whoo, so Ash, did enjoy that little dance we had?”
“I sure did, though I probably would’ve enjoyed it more if my feet at least touched the floor,” Ash said as Anabel giggled. It was then that Ash started to wonder something, something that had been bothering him for quite a while. “Say Anabel, why did you do all of this for me? What was the whole point of it?”
Anabel was little shocked to find that Ash hadn’t put two and two together. She smiled as she leaned in close to Ash. “Well, think about for a minute: we had a lovely dinner, watched a beautiful sunset together, and we danced to romantic music. Now, what kind of event would you have those things for just two people?”
Ash looked away as he touched his hand to his chin and started to think. While he was thinking, Anabel looked away and pulled out a compact mirror and some lipstick that she quickly started to apply. After just a couple minutes, Ash’s complexion started to turn pale.
“Wa-wait a minute,” Ash stuttered. He hadn’t noticed that Anabel had put her arm around him and was starting to lean in. “You’d only do that kind of stuff if-if-if you w-w-were on a…DATE!!!” Ash screamed as Anabel laid a big, long, wet kiss on his face.
It lasted a good whole minute before Anabel finally released Ash. Once he was free, Ash just fell back, completely dazed and bewildered, his face completely red from embarrassment and surprise. This was the last thing he had ever expected to receive from a girl. Anabel just giggled as she watched Ash just lay in a complete daze. She eventually got back up and went over to a desk drawer and pulled out her pajamas. She decided to change in the next room just in case Ash suddenly woke up from his little experience.
When she finally came back into the bedroom, she saw that Ash was still lying on the bed and was already asleep. This had been quite a big day for him; even though he hadn’t really done anything, the whole experience had been quite exhausting. Anabel walked over, a warm smile across her face, happy to see the little trainer resting so comfortably. She took him back in her arms and gave him a gentle peck on the cheek as she began to cuddle him like a teddy bear. She then pulled back the blanket, got into bed, flipped the light switch, and pulled back the covers. She then pulled Ash in close and held him like a doll, holding him close to her heart.
That night, Brock, Misty, May, and Max had decided to stay at the Pokémon Center instead of out in the woods. They had spent the entire day looking for Ash without finding so much as a footprint. It was nearly dinner time before they had stopped searching and decided to go to the local Pokémon Center. They figured that Ash might’ve gotten into some trouble and headed there. But alas, when they arrived, they learned that no Trainers had been by the entire time. The entire group decided to hold up in the Pokémon Center just incase Ash showed up later. But the rest of the day went by and no sign of Ash at all. They were too exhausted to continue the search, so they got a couple of rooms and stayed in the Center.
Almost everybody had gone to sleep, the calm night air aiding them in drifting off. The only person who just couldn’t sleep at all was Misty; she was out on the front porch, looking up into the night sky as the stars shined down on her. A tear was starting to roll down her cheek, but she quickly wiped it away when she heard the front door open. She looked to see Brock come out, a smile on his face.
“Thought I’d find you out here,” he said as he closed the door behind him. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, I just couldn’t sleep was all…”
Brock shook his head as he walked over to join her. “You’re worried about Ash, aren’t you?”
Misty blushed a little, but quickly relaxed. “That obvious, is it?”
“How long have you known, Brock?”
“Since the second day I met the two of you, actually.” Brock then looked and saw that Misty was sulking a little, obviously still a little upset about not finding Ash. Brock then reached over and placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “Hey, don’t worry. Ash is a pretty tough guy; it’ll take a lot to keep him down.”
“I know,” Misty said, folding her arms. “But he always had his Pokémon with him to help him get out of a jam. This time, he doesn’t have a single one, not even Pikachu. When I think about all that could happen to him out there, my stomach gets tied in knots. I just hope someone has seen Ash around here recently…”
Brock smiled lightly as he leaned against the rail, looking out into the distance with Misty. It was then that an idea suddenly popped into his head that made his snap fingers and knock his head.
“Duh, of course,” Brock said. “I can’t believe I didn’t think about her before…”
“Who’s that, Brock, a fortune teller you tried to swoon long ago?”
Brock nearly fell over when he got that comment, but quickly regained his complexion. “No, no, I mean we all know someone around here who could help us look for Ash. She knows the terrain like the back of her hand and knows how to get along with any kind of Pokémon!”
“Anabel, the Frontier Brain of the Battle Tower! She lives right around here and knows every nook and cranny out there. She may have an idea where Ash is that we probably haven’t yet thought of looking.”
Misty immediately started to perk up when Brock finished his explanation. “That’s great Brock, man what a relief…”
“We’ll go visit her first thing in the morning. Her home isn’t that far from this center, actually. We’ll have no problem getting there.” Brock then walked back to the door and opened it. “You better get some sleep, Misty. We’ll only have a short time for breakfast in the morning; we’ll want to get Anabel’s as soon as possible.”
Misty nodded her head as Brock headed back inside. She took one last look up at the moon hanging in the sky. It was a full moon tonight and to Misty that meant something special was going to happen tomorrow. She smiled as she thought what that special something may be as she went back inside the Center.
The next morning, Ash and Anabel were sitting down to a very nice breakfast. Once again, Anabel had put in a little extra effort to make sure the meal was just as good as the last one. This time, of course, the portions were much smaller so Ash was able to finish the entire meal this time. Ash rubbed his happy stomach as he stood up on the table and looked over at Anabel.
“So, what activities did you have planned for us today?” Ash asked.
Anabel was surprised. “Ash, that’s unusual question for you to ask. What’s gotten into you?”
“Well, I figured I can’t exactly do much about my current predicament and arguing about it would just be pointless and a waste of time. So, I might as well be thankful that I’m not in any serious trouble and just enjoy myself. Besides, I also figured that since you’re the one who got me like this, you’re also the only one who can get me back to how I used to be.”
Anabel smiled as she got up and started to collect the dishes. “I see, that’s some pretty sound logic there Ash. Well, I haven’t really planned anything special for today, so how about we go for a walk down by the lake?”
“That sounds like a great idea. Just be sure you stay away from any trees or bushes while we’re out there…”
Anabel giggled as she remembered how Ash had disturbed a family of Beedrill that had made their nest at the base of tree in the forest. She nodded her head and placed all the dishes in the sink. She then walked back over to the table and took the tiny trainer in her arms once again and walked out the door.
Misty and the others arrived a half hour later, just after Ash and Anabel had left for their walk.
“Anabel!” Brock called out as he knocked on the door. “Are you in there?”
There was no answer whatsoever. The others decided to go around the sides and look into the windows. They figured since it was still fairly early, she might still be asleep. But when they peeked inside the windows, it was completely dark. They couldn’t see any sign of Anabel anywhere. They figured she must’ve stepped out somewhere. They eventually all gathered in front of the house.
“Well, now what do we do?” Max asked. “Anabel isn’t here…”
“Where could she be this early in the morning?” May asked as she put her hand to her chin. “She couldn’t possibly be at the Battle Tower this early, could she?”
They all just stood there and pondered for a moment before Brock finally broke the silence.
“Hold it, there is one other place she could be,” Brock said. The others quickly turned to him and looked at him in anticipation. “The lake; it’s not too far from here and it’s the only other place we’ve seen her at.”
May and Max both nodded as they remembered that that was where they had first met Anabel. Misty wasn’t sure what they were talking about, but she just figured that if it helped them find Ash faster, she wouldn’t complain. The entire quickly set out for the lake…
At the lake, Anabel and Ash were sitting down underneath a tree, enjoying the shade of a tree. They had just spent the last hour walking through the forest, now they just wanted to sit and relax. Anabel had Ash sitting on her lap and was gently stroking his head as they watched the wind blow the leaves around. Ash was quite content with everything, even if he was only a foot tall. As long as Anabel was taking such good care of him, he couldn’t complain.
“Man, I can’t remember the last time I was this relaxed,” Ash said as he watched the water ripple. “This may not be how I wanted to relax exactly…”
“What do you mean?” Anabel asked looking down on Ash a little confused.
“I mean, sitting in the lap of a giant girl and all. But I guess it isn’t so bad; this is probably the most comfortable I’ve ever been…”
Anabel smiled and blushed a little. “Glad to see you are enjoying yourself so much. And I’m glad you are comfortable sitting on my lap…”
“Yeah, it’s so comfortable…” Ash then let out a big lazy yawn. “I’m…starting to…feel…a little…sleepy…” Ash then drifted off to sleep and curled up in Anabel’s lap to get into a more comfortable position.
Anabel just smiled as she watched just lay there, so peaceful and serene. She was glad to see such a calmer, more relaxed side to Ash. It somehow made him seem a little more attractive. Anabel then laid back against the tree, also enjoying the serene sounds of nature. She didn’t relax too long because at that moment, she heard a rustling noise in the bushes. She watched in shock as May, Max, Brock and a young red-haired girl came bursting through the bushes.
“Anabel, finally,” May said.
“Anabel, there you are,” Max said as he heaved for air.
“Anabel, we’ve a got question to ask you,” Brock started to say. Misty quickly pushed Brock aside.
“Excuse me, Anabel is it,” Misty started to say. “My name is Misty, the Gym Leader at Cerulean City. We’re looking for a trainer, a friend of ours named Ash Ketchum. He looks like-” Misty stopped when she noticed that there was something sitting in her lap. “What is that?” she asked as she started to move in closer for a better look. “Hey, that looks like Ash?”
The others moved in closer for a better look themselves and saw that what was in Anabel’s lap did indeed look like Ash. Only, it was far too small to actually be him. Anabel was now pale and starting to panic, she hoped that they would just think it was doll and not pursue the matter any further. Unfortunately, at that precise moment, Ash decided to yawn and roll over in her lap. She just froze as she watched the others jumped in complete surprise. How could it be possible for a doll to yawn and move without the owner doing anything, unless it wasn’t actually doll, but the real thing? Misty’s expression quickly went from surprise to anger and frustration. She then stomped two steps forward and got right up in Anabel’s face.
“What…did…you do…to Ash?” Misty said with a rather mean tone and dark look on her face.
“Uh, well…I, uh…” Anabel stuttered, trying hard to find a way to get out of this situation.
Misty quickly held up her hand. “Actually, I don’t really care how he got like this; all I demand is that you return Ash to me this instant.” Misty then held out hand, expecting Anabel to just hand Ash.
Anabel looked at her hand and then into her face. Already, she could sense some very serious tension and anger in her tone. She thought that if this was how she was all the time, then there was no way she just going to hand Ash over to her. Anabel’s expression quickly went from confused to serious as she laid Ash down on the ground gently and stood up to face Misty.
“No way,” Anabel said. Misty was a little confused, but she still kept the same serious expression on her face. “There is no way I’m going to hand Ash to a girl like you…”
Misty started to become seriously flustered. “What did you just say? You think you can just keep Ash like he was nothing more than a doll?”
“Well, if you care about him so much, then prove it,” Anabel declared as she pointed to Misty. “A two-on-two battle for Ash!”
“Okay, you’re on!” Misty said as she started to reach for her Pokéballs.
“Fine, but not here,” Anabel quickly said. She then looked behind her as she watched Ash sleep peacefully. “We’ll do it over there-” Anabel pointed to the other side of the lake. “On the other side of the lake. Agreed?”
Misty quickly nodded her head in agreement. She didn’t really care where the battle was fought, so long as she got to whip Anabel for taking Ash. But while both of the two female trainers stared each other, Brock was busy devising a plan. If Anabel was planning to have the battle on the other side of the lake and leave Ash here, then he and the others could just grab Ash while Anabel was busy battling Misty. He didn’t exactly like his little underhanded plan, but it was the only thing he could think of to get Ash out of here. Anabel started to walk away from Ash when she suddenly stopped and called out her Metagross.
“Metagross, you stay here and watch over Ash,” she said as she looked at the others. “Don’t let anything…or anyone else near him except me, understand?”
“Metagross!” Metagross replied as it walked over to guard Ash.
Brock just snapped his fingers as looked at the huge steel- and psychic-type. None of the Pokémon they had with them would stand a chance against such a powerful beast, even if they all attacked it together. He had no choice but to follow Misty, Anabel, and the others as they walked across to the other side of the lake.
On the other side of the lake, Misty and Anabel had taken their spots for the battle. Brock was acting as head referee while May and Max were the spectators. Misty and Anabel both had a serious look on their faces as they just stared each other down at first. But Misty’s face was somehow just a tad bit more frightening than Anabel’s. Obviously, seeing Ash in the hands of someone else really upset her. Brock was little unsure about Misty battling the way she was now, but a quick look into her unwavering eyes stopped him from saying anything. There was nothing in the world that could change her mind now and trying to say otherwise would be completely foolish.
“All right,” Brock called out as he raised his arms. “This match between Misty of the Cerulean Gym and Anabel of the Battle Tower will now commence. Each trainer will use two Pokémon; the battle will be over when both trainers’ Pokémon are unable to battle. And with that: both trainers ready and…BEGIN!”
“Go, my friend!” Anabel called out as she called her Alakazam.
“Here goes nothing,” Misty said as she gently kissed her Pokéball. “Go, Gyarados!”
Alakazam appeared in a brilliantly flash of light followed quickly Gyarados. The two just stared each other down for about ten seconds before Misty commanded Gyarados to get into the water. Anabel knew exactly what Misty was up to; since her Gyarados was a water-type, its attacks would be much more powerful if they were done from the water. She watched as the Gyarados got into the lake and just sat there on the surface. At first, Anabel was a little confused by this. If Misty wanted to truly utilize her Pokémon’s strengths, it should at least submerge to protect itself from attacks. Misty noticed Anabel’s hesitation and quickly took advantage of it.
“Okay, Gyarados, Hyper Beam!”
Gyarados quickly gathered the energy in its mouth as it prepared for an attack. Anabel quickly snapped out of her daze as she established her mental link with her Pokémon.
Okay, Alakazam, use Teleport, Anabel ordered. She watched as Alakazam quickly disappeared in a flash. As soon as you reappear, follow-up with Psybeam!
Misty was a little surprised to see that Alakazam had disappeared so quickly, but she quickly regained her composure when she it reappear right above Gyarados.
“There you are!” Misty called out when she spotted her opponent in the air. “Gyarados, Hyper Beam!”
Everyone was completely shocked! Misty should’ve known that it takes a little while before a Pokémon recovers from using Hyper Beam. So naturally, when Misty called out the order, Gyarados was unable to respond. All it could do was gasp for air as Alakazam’s attack hit dead center on top of Gyarados’ head. The water Pokémon quickly cried out in pain as it collapsed on the beach, a serious burnt mark on the crest of its head.
“Gyarados, get up this instant!” Misty cried out. “We’re not finished yet!”
Anabel was appalled. She couldn’t anyone, let alone a gym leader, would mistreat her own Pokémon so badly. She watched as Gyarados struggled to get back up. Obviously, Alakazam had dealt a serious blow with that last attack. Alakazam landed gently on the edge of the lake as it continued to watch its aquatic foe.
“Gyarados, quick, launch the Hydro Pump!” Misty screamed. Gyarados cringed from the pain when it tried to perform the attack. “What are you doing!? Attack, attack, use Hydro Pump!”
What is she thinking, Anabel thought as she watched Gyarados struggle just to stay up. Can’t she see had badly her Gyarados is injured? Does she even care? If this is how she treats her Pokémon, than she must be even worse with people. I better rap this quickly! Anabel then directed her thoughts to Alakazam. Alakazam, when Gyarados attacks, use Psychic to redirect the attack, understand?
Alakazam replied with thoughts of its own, to confirm that it had got Anabel’s message. It was at that moment that Gyarados had managed to catch its breath and launch the Hydro Pump. Misty watched in anticipation as the attack was right on course and was about to connect with Alakazam. But Alakazam was ready and used Psychic to manipulate the Hydro Pump, sending it straight into the air and making it come right back down on Gyarados’ head, in the same place where it was hit with Psybeam. Gyarados let out an ear splitting scream as it toppled over in pain and collapsed to the ground.
“Gyarados, what are you doing? Get up!” Misty called out to her Pokémon. “We’re not finished here!”
“Oh yes you are!” Anabel quickly interjected. “Look at it, aren’t you even the least bit concerned that Gyarados is in so much pain or are just so obsessed with getting Ash back, that you completely risk the very safety and well-being of your Pokémon?” Anabel then took out her own Pokéball. “If that’s the case, then there is no way I’m going to give Ash to someone like you!” She then called back her Alakazam and walked away.
Misty wanted to stop her, but she looked over and saw how terrible Gyarados was, she realized just how bad it was. She just froze as Anabel walked past her with a look of disapproval on her face. Misty just collapsed as she realized what she had done. Tears started to run down her face as she continued to just stare at her injured partner. Had she really been that cruel?
What have I done? Misty thought.
As Anabel continued to walk away, she couldn’t help but feel like something was wrong. It was true she had won the match, but if felt like she had lost it somehow too. She just dismissed the feeling and quickly to Ash, leaving Misty to wallow in the grief of her loss.
Anabel returned to the tree where she had placed Ash. Metagross was sleeping peacefully underneath the shade of the tree; it quickly woke up when it sensed its trainer finally return. Anabel was happy to see that Metagross was okay and that it had done a fine job protecting Ash. She then called back Metagross and walked over to Ash and found that he was still asleep.
Even after all that commotion, he still hasn’t woken up yet, Anabel thought. He sure is a fairly relaxed guy when he needs to be…
Anabel then started to bend to pick Ash up, but stopped when she saw him stir. She could hear him mumbling, talking in his sleep. Almost all the words were inaudible, but there was one word that made Anabel withdraw a little: “Misty…” Ash said as he rolled over. Anabel was completely shocked. How could Ash be thinking about her? Could it be that he really liked instead? Anabel could feel her heart skip a beat when she heard that name.
Ash finally woke up and gave a big lazy yawn. He then looked up into Anabel’s huge face; she fairly sad and Ash was a little worried.
“Hey there, Anabel,” Ash said. “Is something wrong?”
“No, no, nothing’s wrong…”
“But, you’re blushing…”
Anabel quickly put her hands to her face and suddenly realized that she was blushing. She just shook her head and said that she was fine. Ash wanted to pursue the matter further, but decided to dismiss it entirely and just continue on with the day.
“So, Anabel,” Ash said as he stood up. “What did you have in mind for our next activity?”
Anabel was distracted for a moment, but quickly snapped back and look at the tiny Ash. “Um, I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“Are you sure you’re feeling all right?”
“Of course I am; look it’s nearly midday, so why don’t we head back to the house for lunch.”
“Sounds good to me,” Ash said as he spread his arms and Anabel lifted him off the ground.
The two of them then started to head back to house. The whole time they were walking, Anabel couldn’t help but feel that something was wrong. She had Ash all to herself and she had just protected him from someone who might’ve hurt him. And yet, all of this just didn’t seem right; that’s when Anabel considered something she hadn’t thought of before. What if what she was really feeling wasn’t real love? She felt so strong about her feelings for Ash earlier. But after just battling Misty, she wondered if she did love him at all.
Brock and the others had the same as Anabel about having lunch and so they set up a campsite where they began to set up their meal. Everyone was pitching in, doing their part to help make the work go faster. Everyone except for Misty, that is. She was just sitting at the edge of the lake, gently stroking the side of Gyarados’s head. The loss she had just experienced was still affecting her greatly. She began to wonder if she would ever win Ash back from Anabel. Brock looked as he set the pot over the fire. He could easily tell what was wrong and knew he had to do something if he was going to cheer her up.
“Hey there, Misty,” Brock said as he sat down beside her. “Are you doing okay?”
“Not really,” Misty muttered as she continued to stroke Gyarados. “Oh Brock, I’m such terrible person…”
“No you’re not.”
“Yes I am. I got so angry seeing Ash in the arms of someone else, I just lost it. If I had just kept my emotions under control, Gyarados wouldn’t have gotten this badly injured. Because of my obsession over Ash, one of my best partners was demolished. If Ash had seen me…oh, I don’t even want to think what he would say. Maybe he should be with Anabel…”
“Come on, you can’t blame yourself. You were just angry, that’s all. It’s not like Ash hasn’t been that way before; and besides, do you really think Ash would hate you?” Misty wiped away a tear as she looked at Brock. “You know, even if he hasn’t said anything about it, he does seriously miss you.” Misty quickly perked up when she heard those words. “You know that handkerchief you gave him the day we went our separate ways? Well, he still has it and uses it all time; and even when he isn’t using it, he often takes it out just to remind himself about you and all the time he spent with you. So you see he could never really hate you. Sure, he might have been a little disappointed at how you treated your Pokémon, but he could never hate you. Now, does that make you feel a little better…?”
Misty smiled and nodded her head. “Good, now come on, lunch will be ready soon.”
“Good,” Misty said as she back up full of confidence. “And after lunch is done, I’m going to challenge Anabel to a rematch.”
Brock was a little stunned. “Huh, but Misty, Gyarados is-”
“Not the only Pokémon I brought with me,” Misty said as she winked at Brock. “Come on Brock, I’m a gym leader remember. I don’t go anywhere with just one Pokémon. And don’t worry, I won’t challenge Anabel right away; I’ll take Gyarados to the Pokémon Center first. Now, it’s time to have some lunch, I’m starving…”
Brock was happy to see Misty back to her old self. He watched as she called Gyarados back to its Pokéball and walked over to join the others for lunch…
Later that afternoon, Ash and Anabel were once again sitting on the back patio, enjoying the peaceful serenity of the forest. They had decided to just relax and not really do anything more for the day. However, Anabel wasn’t really relaxing as much as she was thinking. She was still wondering if what she had for Ash was real love; she tried her best to tell herself that it was real love and not just a passing crush. She tried to make of her emotions when she suddenly heard a knock at the door.
Who could that be I wonder? Anabel thought.
“Is someone at the door?” Ash asked as he looked up into Anabel’s face.
“Probably; you wait here while I go and check,” Anabel said as she laid Ash on the bench.
“Why can’t I come?” Ash asked.
“Come on, you honestly think people aren’t going to freak out if they see a trainer like you in my arms?”
Ash just pouted as he crossed his arms and legs, acting almost like a little kid. Anabel just smiled as she walked around her house to the front door. When she got there, she was surprised to see who it was. There, standing right at the front door was none other Misty. But something was different about her; she had the same serious expression as before, but it was much calmer and more relaxed.
“Misty!” Anabel said, obviously shocked to see Misty again so soon.
“Oh, Anabel,” Misty said as she turned to face Anabel. “I’ve come for a rematch; to win Ash’s freedom…Do you accept?”
Is she serious? Anabel thought. I can’t just refuse a challenge, but something is different. She doesn’t as angry as before; could I have been wrong about her? Anabel took a deep breath, obviously a little distraught with this whole situation. She tried to think of way out of this, but nothing came to mind. She had no choice but accept Misty’s challenge to a rematch. “But this time, we’ll have our match in the Battle Tower, agreed?”
“Agreed!” Misty said.
“Okay, but first, let me just take care of a few things before we leave.”
Anabel quickly ran back around the house to the porch where she had left Ash.
“Hey Ash,” Anabel said as she looked down at him. “I have to go take care of a few errands, so you’ll have to stay here for a while.”
“What kind of errands?” Ash asked, obviously a little suspicious.
“Oh, nothing too big really,” Anabel responded, trying her best to hide her nervousness. “Just going to pick up some groceries for dinner tonight. Do you mind waiting inside the house until I get back?”
“Can’t I at least stay outside in the fresh air? I’ll go crazy if I stay indoors!”
“That may be,” Anabel said putting her hands on her hips. “But we can’t have the off chance of some wild Pokémon coming along and making you an afternoon snack. Now you are staying inside the house whether you like it or not.”
Ash just crossed his arms and pouted as Anabel leaned down to pick him up. She then took him into the house where she placed him on the bed. She then left the room and locked it behind her. Ash just sat there on the bed, looking over the room. It was then that he noticed the open window and saw that there was a chair nearby. A smile ran across Ash’s face as a plan soon came into his head. He got off the bed and ran over to the chair. He then began to push it until it was under the window. He quickly climbed the chair like a ladder and got to the open window; once he was there, he took a deep breath of the fresh as he leapt down to the ground.
Ash ran around the house until he was at the front. He skidded to a stop before he went the corner; he heard voices. One of them was Anabel’s, but the other one belonged to someone else. He couldn’t tell who the voice was, yet it seemed so familiar to him. Ash carefully peeked around the house and was astounded to see Misty standing there at the door with Anabel who had just locked the front door.
“Okay, so our terms are just like last time,” Misty said. “If I win, Ash goes free…”
Ash was shocked! Was Misty really fighting for his freedom? He could feel his own skip a beat at those words. That’s when Ash began to consider something he had been denying and hiding for long time: could it be that he was in love with Misty?
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Anabel said as she turned to face Misty. “But I’m adding a new term to the agreement: if I win the match, you agree to leave Ash alone and never come near him again.”
Misty frowned a little, but knew she really had no choice. As a gym leader, she had to accept all conditions set in a battle. So she reluctantly extended her hand and shook Anabel’s. The deal was sealed and so the two of them headed for the Battle Tower, completely unaware that they had a foot-tall trainer tailing them.
As they walked through the forest, Anabel and Misty didn’t say anything to each other. They just trudged through the woods with serious expressions of their faces as the local wildlife continued on its daily routine. They were so distracted with the upcoming events; they didn’t hear the subtle rustling in the bushes. Ash had done a decent job of keeping quiet and hidden. Neither of the two girls noticed their tiny pursuer who was quite interested in this upcoming match. If Misty won, Ash would return normal size and be released from Anabel. But if Anabel won, Ash would never be able to see Misty again. He could feel his heart beat faster as he thought about never being able to see Misty again.
As the two girls continued to walk, Ash continued to follow them without notice. But then, Ash suddenly tripped and fell flat on his face. As he rubbed his nose and stood back up, he looked back to see what it was he had tripped on. His face went pale when he saw that what he had tripped over was a yellow stinger; a yellow stinger that belonged to a very irritated Beedrill. Ash began to quiver with fear as the Beedrill started to buzz faster and faster, obviously very mad at the intruder that had just disturbed its sleep. It then took the air and swooped down on the tiny trainer. Ash let out a loud scream as the Beedrill came down on him.
The girls had been walking peacefully for a minute when they suddenly picked up on a strange noise.
“Huh, what was that?” Misty asked as she looked back to find the source of the noise. “Anabel, did you just hear something?”
“Actually, yeah I did,” Anabel said. “But what could it be?”
Both the girls looked back down the path for the source of the noise. They then watched as a tiny figure came bursting out of the bushes.
“It’s Ash!” They both cried as they saw Ash run across the path into the bushes. They then saw the Beedrill he had just irritated fly above the bushes and chase after him.
“What’s going on?” Anabel said. “What’s Ash doing here? I’m sure I locked him inside my house before I left.”
“Does it really matter how he got out?” Misty said. “He’s in trouble and we’ve got to help him. Now come on!”
Misty then quickly followed after Ash and the angry Beedrill on his heels.
Oh Ash, nothing had better happen to you, other wise… Misty thought. I wouldn’t know what to do without you.
Over the last several minutes, Ash had experienced the worse case of bad luck. As he was being chased by the Beedrill he had stepped on the tail of a Caterpie, rolled over the abdomen of a Spinarak, pulled on the antennae of a Ladyba, and bumped into a sleeping Pinsir. Now there was an entire plethora of angry bug-type Pokémon chasing after him. Anabel and Misty were just keeping up the group; fortunately, whenever they got lost, all they had to was listen for Ash’s screaming and they were quickly back on track.
Ash had been running for who knows long before he finally came face to face with a cliff. He then slowly turned around to look into the faces of the bug Pokémon, all ready to attack and destroy the little pest. Ash just shivered, thinking how he should’ve taken Anabel’s advice and just stayed at the house. He started to prepare for the worst when all of a sudden; two very familiar figures came bursting through the bushes.
“Ash!” The two ladies cried out.
“Anabel, Misty, thank goodness,” Ash said.
“Don’t worry, we’ll get you out of there,” Anabel called out. “Come Misty, we’ve got to help Ash…huh?”
Anabel looked over to see that Misty had turned completely pale and was shaking like a leaf on a tree. It didn’t Anabel long to figure out that Misty had a serious phobia of insects. She just shook her head at how frightened Misty looked; she shouldn’t have been so afraid, the bugs weren’t going after her. Anabel quickly turned back to Ash when she heard him scream. She watched as the angry Caterpie started to tie Ash up with its String Shot attack. The bugs had not taken notice of the two girls. Anabel started to panic as she began to reach for her Pokéball, but fumbled with it and dropped it to the ground. All the while, Ash was flailing and screaming, trying to break free of his sticky bonds. He stopped screaming just long enough to see the bug-types starting to move in on him. He then let out a particularly loud cry for help as he started to struggle.
That very yell Ash had just let out had somehow managed to snap Misty out of her fear. She looked over and watched as the bugs drew ever closer to their quarry. Misty stood back up and started to clench her fists. The look on her face went from scared and terrified to determined and hopeful. She wasn’t about to let the one person she really loved come to harm. Before Anabel could enlarge her Pokéball, Misty rushed past her at top speed. Anabel called to her, but it was no use. Misty was already in full sprint and there was nothing that could stop her.
Ash continued to scream as he watched in horror when he saw that the Beedrill was powering up for a Pin Missile attack. Ash quickly closed his eyes as he waited for the end. But then, he felt the arms of someone wrap around his body and pull him away just as the Pin Missile was launched. Ash slowly opened his eyes, expecting to see Anabel’s light-purple and white shirt. But, instead, what he saw a shade of yellow instead. Ash then looked up and saw Misty’s face instead of Anabel’s. Her eyes were closed and she was squeezing Ash against her chest. She then slowly opened her eyes and looked down at him.
“Ash, are okay?” Misty whispered as she smiled.
Ash couldn’t help but blush as realized where he was. Misty smiled at seeing that Ash was happy and safe. Anabel took a deep sigh of relief when she saw that Misty and Ash were both safe and not harmed. But she quickly started to panic when she saw the bug Pokémon were starting to close on them.
“Ash, Misty, look out!” Anabel screamed. “Hang on!”
Misty watched in terror as the Pokémon began to surround them. Anabel was just about to throw her Pokéball when Pinsir suddenly drove its gigantic claws into the ground and caused the entire cliff side to collapse. Both Ash and Misty screamed as they went over the edge; Anabel could only watch in horror as they both went over and into the river below.
The two of them both hit the water with a hard splash. Misty struggled as she tried to swim to the surface, all the while hugging Ash close to her chest. The two of them took in a deep breath as they finally reached the surface. They started to relax at first, glad at least to be away from the bugs; but they soon realized that they weren’t completely safe. The current was getting faster and faster. They soon found themselves in rapids that were knocking them around, Misty getting much of the hits trying to keep Ash safe.
Their troubles soon went from bad to worse when Misty looked ahead and saw something that nearly made her go white. At the end of the rapids, there was a giant whirlpool. Soon, the two of them were caught in the current and were being sucked down into the depths. They both took a very deep breath as they were sucked under and everything around them went black.
Misty didn’t know how long they were under, but she did know that she couldn’t hold it. However, her main concern was finding air for Ash; being as small as he was, he wouldn’t be able to hold his breath for very much longer. Misty was starting to lose hope, when she noticed that the current had finally stopped and the two of them were beginning to float to the surface. Misty spirits began to rise as she lifted up and it was getting brighter and brighter.
Finally, after a couple minutes of swimming, the two of them finally broke to the surface and saw…that they were back at the lake! Misty was both astounded and relieved that they at least had come up at a familiar location.
“Misty, what are you doing out there?” Misty looked to see Brock and the others on the bank of the river.
“Hey guys!” Misty called out. “Hang on, I’ll be right there.”
Misty quickly started to swim to shore, with Ash still in her arms. She was amazed how strong she was; there had been a few times back in the rapids where her arms were so sore, that she nearly let go of Ash. But no matter how many times that happened she didn’t even loosen her grip a little bit. She held him tight and close, refusing to lose Ash to the rapid waters.
Once she reached dry land and hauled herself out of the water, the others ran to her side.
“Misty, are you all right?” Max asked.
“Are you hurt?” May asked.
“What happened to you?” Brock asked.
“It’s a long story,” Misty finally said after catching her breath. “One which we’ll gladly tell you, right Ash? Ash…?” Misty released the tiny trainer from her grasp and laid him down on the ground. She then became frightened when she realized that he wasn’t moving. She placed her ear to his chest and gasped. “Oh no, he’s not breathing!”
All the others were in shock and didn’t know how to respond. It was at that precise moment that Anabel had found her way to the lake. She knew the river Ash and Misty had gone down eventually came out here, so naturally this would be the best place to find them. And indeed she was right, for there was Misty and the rest of Ash’s friends, all huddled in a group around the water logged gym leader. She started to walk towards them, when she noticed the distressed looks on their faces. She then watched as Misty tore off the strings that had bound Ash and just toss them aside. Misty then started to apply CPR; pressing down oh his chest to heave the water out and blowing into his lungs.
“Come on Ash, breathe,” Misty said hysterically. “You can’t just end here like this; you still haven’t beaten the Battle Frontier yet. Come on, please open you eyes.”
Anabel was completely astonished. Obviously, she had been very wrong about Misty from the beginning. When she first met Misty, she thought she was a terrible person. But now, seeing her doing everything she can to save Ash, made her realize just how wrong she had been. She watched as Misty continued to perform CPR for another couple of minutes before she finally stopped.
“No, no, it can’t be,” Misty said as tears started to fall down her face. “You can’t be gone…” She then took the tiny trainer in her arms and held him close to her heart. “Please, Ash…don’t leave me…I…I…I love you…” She whispered the last words into his ear before she brought him to her lips and kissed him.
Now Anabel was in complete shock. She had finally come to realize that Misty really did love Ash. She could feel her heart beginning to ache over the site of all of this. And yet, somehow, it didn’t hurt as much as Anabel thought it would. She had come to terms with her own feelings as she realized all she ever had for Ash was nothing more than a simple crush and nothing else. But Misty had so much more for Ash, far more than Anabel could ever give him. She realized that as she stood watching Misty cry over losing her friend.
Misty didn’t know what to do. She beside herself; the one person who mattered most in her life was gone. She didn’t know if she would have the strength to continue. She began to fall into despair, when she suddenly heard someone coughing. She quickly pulled Ash’s body away and watched as he coughed to take in air. A smile quickly replaced Misty’s frown as she watched her tiny friend revitalize.
“Hey there, Misty,” Ash said weakly once his eyes were opened. “What’s wrong, you look like you’ve just seen a ghost?”
Misty was choked up; she couldn’t find the words to express her happiness. Instead, she just pulled Ash in close to her and hugged him gently against her chest.
A weak smile was now across Anabel’s face. It was obvious now who had Ash’s heart and it certainly wasn’t her. Anabel slowly walked over to the others.
“Hey, um, Misty,” Anabel said meekly.
“Huh, oh Anabel, you’re here,” Misty said as she suddenly realized something. “That’s right, our battle! We never had our battle!”
“That’s okay,” Anabel replied in a much more controlled tone. “It won’t be necessary anymore. I officially concede to you Misty. You win…”
The others were in shock. They didn’t know what to make of Anabel’s announcement.
“I’m confused, Anabel,” Misty said. “You were so bent on keeping Ash to yourself before. Why would you just give him up like that?”
“Because, seeing the two of you together like this,” Anabel started to say. “And watching how you risked your life to protect Ash from those bug Pokémon, I had to realize that all I ever had for Ash was a crush and nothing more. But you…you care so much for him. It’s obvious I could really hold a place in Ash’s heart, especially since you’re already there.”
Misty smiled a little as she listened to Anabel. She was glad to hear that Anabel really did not love Ash in the end and that Ash perhaps liked her as well.
“So, since I technically ‘lost’ the match, I’ll return Ash to normal. However, I do have one favor to ask.”
“What’s that Anabel?” May asked.
“Would if I changed Ash back in private. I’d prefer it if I kept how I shrank him a secret. Is that okay with you, Misty?”
Misty was a little hesitant at first, but she eventually agreed and handed Ash over to Anabel. Ash was currently asleep, still exhausted from the entire experience he had from the rapids. Anabel then walked into the forest with Ash in her arms once again.
“I wonder what she’s going to do.” Max said.
“Who knows, Max,” Brock said. “But at least will be back to normal soon and we can get back to our journeys.”
At that moment, Misty stood up and followed after Anabel into the woods.
“Hey, Misty, where are you going?” May asked as she watched Misty disappear into the forest.
Both May and Max were completely unsure what Misty was doing. But Brock, on the other hand, knew exactly what was going on. Misty still completely trust Anabel and figured she might try to steal him away while they were waiting for them return. So she followed after them into the forest…
Anabel brought the tiny trainer into a spot in the forest where she laid him down on the ground. Ash was still sleeping peacefully, as he rolled over on the ground. Anabel was glad that Ash was still asleep; she didn’t want him to know she had shrunk him either. He probably hadn’t figured out that it was the Clefairy he had been chasing before that had shrunk him and she preferred to keep it that way. She called out her little pink friend, who bounding happily in the air.
“Okay, Clefairy, listen up,” Anabel said. Clefairy quickly stopped jumping as it looked into its master’s face. “I need you to return Ash to normal size. It’s time he went back to his old life.” Clefairy asked why Anabel was doing this when she was so determined to get him in the first. Anabel blushed a little at the question. “Well, let’s just say, things didn’t work out the way I planned them. So, could you please…?”
Clefairy thought about it for a moment and nodded its head, saying it would. Anabel was pleased with the answer and watched as Clefairy shrank itself with Minimize, grabbed hold of Ash and started to grow both of them back to their normal size. Before too long, Ash was once again at his normal size and was starting to stir. He finally woke up with a big lazy yawn and sat up.
“Huh, oh hey Anabel,” Ash said sleepily. It was then that he noticed that Anabel did not look as big as before. “Hey, what’s going on?” Ash then quickly stood up and realized he was at eye level with Anabel. “I can’t believe it, I back to normal. Is this is dream?” Anabel shook her head and said that it was the real thing.
Ash was soon leaping for joy. He was so happy to see he wouldn’t have to spend the rest of his life in someone else’s arms. Misty soon found her way to where Ash and Anabel were and it was at that moment that Ash stopped jumping and turned to face Anabel.
“Uh, Anabel, could I just speak to you for a second?” Ash asked as he began to twiddle his fingers. “I just wanted to say thank you for a great time.” Anabel was a little surprised by Ash’s comment, whereas Misty was beginning to feel a little flustered. “I had a great time all, but… well, oh how do I say this? Ah man, I’m just no good at these kinds of these things.”
Anabel smiled as she realized what Ash was trying to say. She then leaned forward and gave Ash a small peck on the cheek which made him stop ranting. Misty, on the other hand, wasn’t too thrilled. She was starting to see the same scenario she had just been in a little while ago.
“It’s okay, I understand,” Anabel said calmly.
“Yep, you’re in love with Misty, aren’t you?” Anabel giggled when she saw how badly Ash was blushing. “I thought so…”
“It was that easy to figure out, huh?”
“Sure was…especially when you said her name out loud in your sleep.”
Now Ash was completely embarrassed. He wanted to pull his hat over his face, but he didn’t have it. Of course, he wasn’t the only one feeling extremely embarrassed. Nearby, behind a tree, Misty was also blushing.
“I don’t mean to hurt your feelings or anything,” Ash finally said after a few moments. “But, the entire time I was with you, I just couldn’t stop thinking about her. I don’t why I felt this way either, I just did. And when I heard you two talking about how you were going to battle for my freedom, I actually was rooting for Misty. If she won, I would at least have the option of still seeing her. I hope you hate me for-” Ash couldn’t finish his sentence because Anabel had put her hand over his mouth.
“Okay, that’s enough apologizing. I understand, really I do; you don’t have to keep saying your sorry. I’m the one who should be saying I’m sorry, for having put you through all that. But, there is one thing that is bothering me.” She then removed her hand from Ash’s mouth. “If you really love Misty, why don’t you just tell her yourself? I’m sure she’d feel the same.”
This time, Ash was ready with a good answer. “Oh, well there are a lot of reasons for that. But I think the biggest one is that I don’t think I’m quite ready for such a relationship. I don’t exactly know how to behave around her and I don’t have the confidence to even ask her. I figure if I can at least make my dream come true, then I’ll be ready for a real relationship with her. Simply put, I just have confidence in one thing before I need have confidence in another. Do you understand?”
Anabel smiled and nodded her head, saying that she did indeed understand. Ash was glad to hear that.
“Good…and don’t worry,” Ash started to say. “Even if things didn’t exactly work out between the two of us, that doesn’t mean that, there isn’t someone out there for you. You just have to be patient and before you know it, you will find your own one true love, okay?”
“Okay…” Anabel said happily.
Ash smiled as he realized what he had said sank in with her. “That’s good, now why don’t we head back to the others. We don’t want to keep them waiting…”
With that, the two of them were off, heading back to the lake and Ash’s friends. Misty, on the other hand, didn’t head back right away. She just stood leaning up against the tree, thinking about Ash had said. It actually made her quite happy to know that Ash was in love her and that he was only being shy with her. She decided that if he was going to wait to tell his true feelings to her, then she could obviously wait too.
Later that day, during sunset, Ash and his friends were once again outside the Battle Tower. They had to make a stop over at the Pokémon Center because Misty had gotten beaten up a little by the rapids. Fortunately, the wounds weren’t that serious and Misty was able to leave the Center in less than an hour. So, there they were, the entire gang, saying their goodbyes to both Anabel and Misty as they headed off. The female trainers then turned to face each other and say their own goodbyes.
“Well, Misty, good luck at the Cerulean Gym,” Anabel said as she extended her arm.
“Thanks Anabel,” Misty said as she took Anabel’s hand and shook. “I just hope my sisters haven’t done any radical redecorating while I’ve been gone.”
They both chuckled at that last remark as Misty released her hand from Anabel’s and started to walk off. She didn’t get too far before Anabel stopped her.
“Hold on a second, Misty,” Anabel called out. Misty turned around and watched as Anabel ran up to her. “I have something to give you.”
Anabel then handed a Pokéball to Misty. “What’s in it?” Misty asked.
“Open it and find out…”
Misty did just that; she opened the Pokéball and watched a cute little Clefairy popped out and started dancing all around.
“Oh, it’s so cute,” Misty exclaimed. “But why are you giving me this Clefairy?”
“Well, do you want to know how I shrunk Ash?”
Misty quickly became intrigued and leaned forward as Anabel whispered to her the plan she had concocted earlier; about how the Clefairy could anyone or anything it touched shrink with it when it used Minimize. Misty was very astounded by Anabel’s tale, and yet it also seemed to make complete sense to her as well.
“And you’re just giving the little one to me?” Anabel nodded. “Oh thank you so much, Anabel. Truth be told, I’ve always wanted to catch a Clefairy.”
“That’s good to hear. There’s just one little condition you need know about. This Clefairy doesn’t like to fight, so please don’t use it in any battles, okay?”
“Sure thing; if that’s all I need to do, then don’t worry. I won’t make this little one fight unless it wants to.”
“That’s great; well, I’ll you later Misty!”
With that, Misty started to walk off with Clefairy bounding right alongside her. Anabel then turned around and started to walk home. She only stopped once to look up at the clouds, dreaming of her future prince charming.