((LEGAL STUFF: Ash Ketchum, Brock, Misty, Pikachu, etc., are all property of whoever owns the Pokemon franchise including Nintendo, Game Boy, and the anime/cartoon version (it's such a large collective I'm not sure who owns what). I don't intend to infringe on anybody's rights, and I'm not getting any money out of this. Ranma Saotome, Akane Tendo, Mousse, Shampoo, and the other Ranma 1/2 characters are property of Rumiko Takahashi (hope I spelled that right). Again, this story is for reader enjoyment only. No profit is being made. Thank you, have a nice day...))
Part 3: Revelation and Search
"Rise an' shine, sleepyheads!" came Brock's cheerful voice. "I'm off to the Cat Cafe--I'll bring back breakfast!"
Ash groaned and looked over in time to see Brock's spiky brown hair disappear out the door. That waitress...we'll be lucky if he gets back in time for lunch. The young trainer sat up, rubbed his eyes, then stared perplexedly at his hand...her hand.
Oh, no, it wasn't a dream...! Ash fell back on the pillow with a moan of fear. What's gonna happen to me now? I still can't fight Gary like this! What if he finds out? He'll never stop teasing me!
"Morning Ash," said Misty sleepily, coming out of the bathroom. "Sleep well?"
"No," Ash confided distractedly. She got up and began to pace. I can't battle Gary like this and I can't back down, I can't battle Gary but I can't run away from the fight...
Ash blinked. Misty had called her name several times now. "What?"
"Why aren't you listening to me? You've got to get ready for the battle this afternoon," Misty informed her.
"Uh, I don't...know if I can have a Pokemon battle with Gary," Ash murmered, sitting heavily back down on the bed.
"What?" Misty looked positively flabbergasted. "What do you mean you can't? Don't tell me you're afraid of him..." She paused. "Are you?"
"No!" Ash asserted. "Yes. No...I don't know..." She shook her head. "I'm not sure anymore. But...I just can't battle Gary. Not right now..."
"Ash, are you feeling alright?" Misty looked infinitely concerned as she sat beside her. "Did something happen yesterday?"
"No!" Ash immediately regretted her outburst. "Well...yes." Oh no, oh no, oh no, I can't tell her but I have to...I can't tell her but maybe she'll understand; she's a girl...and now so am I. Maybe she won't laugh at me...
"Ash, what's bothering you? You can tell me. We're...friends, remember?"
Ash took a deep breath, looking intently into Misty's honest blue eyes. "Will you swear not to tell anybody? And I mean anybody; not even Brock or your Pokemon. No one."
Misty looked at her for a moment. "Okay, I promise."
Ash then looked down, twiddling her fingers. Here goes. Come on, Ash, keep your nerve. You're a Pokemon trainer. Afraid of nothin'! She took a deep breath, but still had to struggle to grit out the humiliating words. "I'm...I'm a...girl."
Misty gazed at her for several seconds. "What? What on earth are you talking about?"
"I said I'm a girl!" Ash growled. "Didn't I speak clearly enough? I don't like having to repeat it."
"Ash, you shouldn't let the things Gary says get to you," Misty said in a rather motherly manner. "Just because that big bully called you 'girly' doesn't mean you have to take it seriously."
"This has nothing to do with Gary's insult!" Ash burst out. "I mean it really--I'm a girl! Do I have to take off my clothes and show you?" She immediately turned bright red with embarassment at her revelation, especially when she realized how shrill her voice had become.
Misty blinked, then gulped, then stared for a long time. "Ash--are you--are you serious?"
Still blushing furiously, Ash plucked her cap off and shed her jacket, the only things that had served as a disguise. "Does this look like I'm joking?"
Misty stared at the suddenly softened lines in Ash's face, the large amber eyes with full lashes, the almost curly dark brown hair, the...noticeable feminine curves of the body. "Ash, do you mean to tell me you've been a girl all this time?" she nearly shrieked incredulously. "All this time and I never guessed. So is your real name Ashl--?"
"Don't even say it!" Ash snapped. "No, I have not always been a girl. It happened yesterday."
Misty calmed somewhat. "So...you're telling me you're not really a girl, and that you just yesterday happened to become one?" She looked unconvinced.
Ash shrugged. "In a nutshell...yeah." She stared down at her hands...her girl's hands. "You believe in magic?"
"You'd better start." Ash looked up at her. "Misty, I swear I've been a boy up until now. I'm not lying. Even Pikachu didn't know me!"
"It's...true? But, how on earth...?" Misty's mouth was wide open.
"I don't know! All I know is that I was trying to go to the bathroom when I found out. I don't know how it happened!" Ash sounded confused, desperate.
"Pik-a," Pikachu said quietly, hopping up on the bed and sitting close to Ash's side.
"In the bathroom?" Misty gasped, concerned and indignant at the same time. "That's why it took so long... Ash, you knew yesterday and you didn't tell me?"
"Gosh, Misty, do you think it was easy for me just now?" Ash demanded. "What was I supposed to do? Walk out and say 'Hi, guys, just found out I'm a girl today. Just thought you'd like to know!' I was still freaking out. I had to think."
"But I could've helped you!" Misty cried. "Oh, the separate rooms... Ash, why couldn't you trust me?"
"Because I was scared, and embarassed, and..." Ash looked down again. "Misty, you don't understand what this is like. It's like everything I am...everything that was who I am is...gone."
Misty sat in sympathetic silence. Pikachu gave a soft murmur and nestled closer to Ash's side, offering comfort.
"I'm not a boy anymore," Ash said softly. "It's like my body isn't mine. I know I'm Ash, but I don't know who I am."
"Ash, can I...help?"
"Not unless you can do magic," Ash replied dispondently. "I need to go think for a while."
"Gary will be waiting at noon," Misty said quietly. "What are you going to do?"
"I don't want to think about Gary." Ash stood up and walked towards the door. "I really don't need him finding out about this. I'm humiliated enough as it is!"
"Are you sure you don't want to battle Gary?" Misty asked. "He doesn't have to know. Ash, I didn't even know! You could do the battle, beat Gary, and then we could leave and figure out how to get you back to normal."
Ash sighed, shaking her head. "I don't know. I have to think. I gotta go..."
Misty clutched her arm. "Ash, you don't have to run from Gary!"
"Lemme go!" Ash jerked her arm out of Misty's hand, turning to run right into Brock's chest as the older trainer came in the door with a box of food.
"Ash!" Brock nearly dropped his box in the collision, then stared confusion. The person before him looked like Ash...but it was...a girl? "A-Ash? What--?"
Ash realized that Brock knew in that moment. With an inarticulate cry, she shoved past him, fleeing out the door.
"Ash, wait!" Misty called after her.
"Pikapi!" Pikachu dashed after his friend.
Brock was stuttering in abject puzzlement. "M-Misty, that was...th-that was...Ash?"
Misty sighed heavily. "Come in and sit down, Brock. I've got something to explain to you..."
* * * * *
Ash didn't stop running until she was far away from Brock, Misty, and the hotel. By the time she was out of breath, she'd run a ways into the park district and lost herself among the trees and bushes.
Breathing heavily, Ash leaned back against a tree, trembling with weariness and shame. She let herself slide down the smooth bark until she sat down against it. She felt tears of frustration and embarassment welling up, but refused to let them go.
I won't! I won't cry. Boys don't cry. Boys don't cry...they don't! Despite her efforts, though, a single tear slid down her pale cheek. Oh, who am I kidding? I'm not even a boy anymore!
Ash also realized, to her supreme annoyance, that she'd run off without even her disguising jacket and hat. Dang it! Now if anyone sees me they'll know! God, why did this happen to me? Why do I deserve this? I'm not me anymore!
"Pikapi?" Pikachu trotted out of the bushes, coming to perch himself close to Ash's side. "Pika...pika-chu. Chuuuu, chuuuu..." The electric mouse seemed to be speaking soft encouragement in his own tongue. "Chuuu...Pikapi..."
Ash gathered the Pokemon up in her arms, burying her face in the soft yellow fur. Pikachu remained still, continuing his comforting murmurs, letting Ash muffle her tears in his coat.
* * * * *
Ranma Saotome wandered about the town, walking on rooftops and fences as usual, looking for a girl who might not be a girl, or a boy with a yellow Pokemon. Finding such a person among all the residents of Nerima might not be easy, but Ranma was determined to help a fellow curse victim.
Poor kid's prob'ly freaked out of his head, Ranma thought as he jogged along the top of a chain link fence. Mousse was right to come ta me. I was cursed with Nyanniichuan too. Being a guy cursed ta turn into a girl is prob'ly the worst thing that could happen to anybody. I can understand the kid better'n anyone.
Ranma could remember his own feelings when he'd first been cursed: Coming to the surface in the Jusenkyo pool of Nyanniichuan, hearing his own altered voice raised to an impossibly high soprano scream after pulling open his shirt to view his drastically changed body. Then his feelings of horror, humiliation, fear, shame...
Ranma shook away the memories. Even today, with every water-induced change he was forced to endure, the feelings would spring anew. Dulled by time, yes, but always there.
At least this kid has a chance, Ranma thought. And he has somethin' I never did--someone who understands.
"Hey, Ranma-honey!" called a familiar voice.
"Huh? Ukyo!" Ranma hadn't noticed that his musings had led him to Ukyo's restaurant. "Hey, howzit going?"
"Great!" Ukyo Kuonji waved from the doorway of her shop, her long reddish-brown hair blowing in the breeze.
Ranma hopped down off the fence and headed over. "Ukyo, I could sure use some info, and I'm too broke to go to Nabiki--"
"Just a sec, Ranma, I have got to tell you about something!" Ukyo seemed bubbling with excitement. "There's gonna be a battle--a real battle royal--at noon in the basketball court at Furinkan High! It'll be incredible--the whole town'll be there! A couple of real, live Pokemon trainers have come to Nerima and they're going to do a battle just for us to see!"
"That's nice, Ukyo, but--" Ranma broke off, realizing what she'd said. "Didja say Pokemon trainers?"
"Thanks, Ukyo, ya really made my day!" Ranma turned and dashed off down the street, not looking back.
Ukyo sighed and shook her head. "Sometime's there's just no talking to that guy. 'Bye, Ranma. You owe me a lunch date for that..."
To Be Continued...