((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 4: Flight and Relief
When Ash finally felt stable enough to raise her head, she realized she was hearing the sounds of Pokemon battle--the yells of a trainer, the grunts of struggling Pokemon, the thuds and explosions of powerful fighting.
Who on earth...? Ash rose to her feet and followed the sounds.
"Pi-ka-chu, Pikapi?" Pikachu quieried, tagging along.
"Shhh!" Ash hushed. By the time she cautiously approached the source of the noise, the battle was winding down.
"Yeah, Charmeleon! Good job, boy. Return!" ordered a familiar voice.
"Gary!" Ash hissed in realization, peering through the brush to view the older boy kneeling beside his fallen Sandslash in a well-charred forest clearing. Training, she realized suddenly. Getting ready for this afternoon!
"Good try, Slash," Gary said softly, patting the weakened creature's head. "Return, fella. You deserve a rest."
Ash watched, stunned, as the injured Sandslash vanished into the Pokeball. She'd never seen Gary act with such concern towards any Pokemon. Then again, Gary always acted tough when Ash was around...
Gary stood up with a sigh, then looked as if he were going to call out another pair of Pokemon to train. Ash leaned forward to see what he was doing...and a branch she was leaning on broke with a snap! that brough Gary's head around with suspicion. "Hey! Who's there?"
Terror-stricken, Ash froze, then turned and crashed away through the brush, not knowing if Gary'd spotted her or not.
Oh no, oh no--please don't let him see me--please don't let him see me like this--oh, no-- The panicked litany in her head was snapped off as she suddenly tumbled down a steep embankment, trying to roll with the fall. She crash-landed in a muddy ditch, covered in bruises and scrapes, and soaking wet. Dragging herself out of the muck, she kept fleeing, stumbling half-blind, trying to get back to the hotel.
* * * * *
Misty jumped when she heard the banging on the hotel room door.
"Misty! Misty, let me in, please!" cried a plaintive female voice, the banging continuing. "Misty!"
"Ash!" The redhead hurried over to the door, unlocking it and nearly throwing it open. "Ash! Oh, I was so worried about you! Where have you been? I--"
Misty suddenly realized that she'd dragged the smaller girl into the apartment and was hugging her, and that Ash was covered from head to toe in grime and scratches. Releasing her friend guiltily, Misty stood back. "Ash, what happened? Who did this to you?"
"Nobody," Ash said lowly, shutting the door behind her. "I fell down."
Misty attempted to brush some of the dirt off of her own shirt. "Oh, really. You fell down? Jeeze, are you sure? Or did the ground jump up and hit you? What did you think you were doing?"
Ash flinched. "I was walking in the park's wilderness area and I saw Gary. I didn't want him to see me so I ran and...fell down a ditch." She finally noticed Brock sitting unobtrusively in the corner and reddened.
"It's okay, Ash, I explained things to him," Misty said.
Brock cleared his throat. "I'm sorry I, uh, scared you, er, Ash. I just thought you were...I mean you looked like...er...sorry..." The older boy stuttered himself into silence.
"Just stop staring at me like that!" Ash snapped. "You're givin' me the creeps! I'm not a girl on the inside!"
Brock embarassedly averted his eyes, going back to staring at his feet and twiddling his thumbs. "Sorry."
"We can't help it, Ash," Misty said. "You look different. You look..." She glanced at the mud-encrusted, sodden clothing, which had become very form-fitting. "You look different." She could think of nothing else to say that might not hurt her friend.
"Thanks a lot," Ash grumbled.
"Pikapi!" came a muffled cry from the door, and then a faint scratching. "Pika--chu!"
"Pikachu!" Ash gasped, opening the door to let her friend in. "I'm sorry, Pikachu, I forgot."
"Chu." The Pokemon shrugged understandingly, then trotted over to the bed and curled up on it.
"Gee, Ash, if you forgot Pikachu you must've really been scared," Misty commented.
"Me?" Ash demanded reflexively. "Scared of Gary? You gotta be kidding!"
"Then aren't you going to the battle?"
Ash thought a moment, her face becoming determined. "I've gotta do it, Misty, or I'll never live it down. I'll put on my hat and jacket and pray he doesn't notice. And then I'll beat his Pokemon so good he'll have to go runnin' back to his grandpa!"
"That's the spirit, Ash!" Misty congratulated. "Now, let's get you cleaned up. I think we have enough time before the match to get your clothes washed."
Ash allowed Misty to lead her into the bathroom and shut the door. The smaller girl stood blankly still for a few moments.
"Okay, Ash, clothes off," Misty ordered.
Ash blinked, stunned for a moment. "What? Are you nuts?"
Misty smiled at her. "Hey, you're a girl, remember? That's nothing I haven't seen before."
Turning beet red all over, Ash mumbled something under her breath and began to undress, piling her clothes on the floor. Misty turned on the shower water so it could begin to warm. When she turned to look at Ash, she stopped and stared.
Ash was mutely staring at the bathroom mirror, arms wrapped defensively around herself, taking in the complete and utter physical change. The look on her face was one of abject shock and loss.
Misty herself couldn't help but look Ash over, her mind spinning with renewed shock. There were absolutely no male characteristics to Ash's body; no trace of the boy she used to be. Only the vaguely familiar lines to the face, the slightly altered dark brown hair, and the instantly recognizable dark amber eyes assured her that this was her friend. "I really believe you now, Ash," Misty said shakily.
"So do I," Ash whispered. "Now I'm sure."
Misty even found herself vaguely jealous of Ash. Though she was a year older, she couldn't compete with Ash's twelve-year-old figure. He's--she's--gonna be a knockout someday... she thought distractedly. Shaking herself out of her stupor, Misty picked up the muddy clothing on the floor, trying to keep most of the wet and mud off of herself. "Get yourself in the shower and start scrubbing. I'll have Brock take these to the laundry room down the hall," Misty said, leaving Ash standing alone in the bathroom.
Ash still stared, alternately at the mirror and herself. She was in a new state of shock as she gazed at the final, unalterable proof. The stranger in the mirror was, by modern standards, a beautiful preteen girl, but Ash had a difficult time reconciling the face in the mirror as her own. Gosh, that's...me? And I've never even seen a naked girl before! Why did this have to happen now?
Ash slowly awoke from her stupefied stare, then realized that Misty had gone with the laundry and that she was supposed to be showering. The water was sufficiently heated, so she stepped in, feeling a faint, barely discernible tingle that seemed strangely familiar before the hot water stung in her cuts, making her grit her teeth. Closing her eyes, she put her face under the hot water and tried to settle her churning mind.
Misty came back in the door. "Ash, Brock's taking care of the laundry. You can borrow the hotel robe until he's--eep!"
The shriek jerked Ash around, looking blankly at her through the open shower curtain. "Hm?"
Misty stammered and pointed at her, unable to speak.
Ash blinked and looked down at herself, then suddenly realized that she was a he again. "Yaagh!" Ash yelled, grabbing for the shower curtain and pulling it shut on himself. "Jeeze, Misty! Don't have a fit!" he said loudly, relishing the sound of his boyish voice.
"Ash! You're--you're--you're a--"
"I know, I know!" Ash replied, sticking his head tentatively out of the curtain to see Misty's blushing face. He reddened as well, realizing what she'd seen.
"But...how? What happened?" Misty asked.
Ash looked puzzled. "I dunno. Maybe the spell just wore off or somethin'. I'm not sure."
"Yeah--but isn't it great?" Ash grinned mischiviously. "I'm a boy again! I can go ahead and battle Gary no problem!"
Misty smiled. "I'm glad you're back to normal, Ash. I was getting worried; you seemed so depressed."
"I was, but...now I'm okay."
They looked at each other for another few moments.
"Well, I guess I'll let you finish showering," Misty said hesitantly, turning to leave.
"Uh, Misty?" Ash called suddenly.
"Thanks. For helping me this morning, I mean."
Misty shut the door, and Ash returned to his shower. But now, he was whistling happily as he scrubbed, no longer afraid to face the coming battle.
* * * * *
As it happened, the rumor about the Pokemon battle at noon had spread like wildfire through the town, and a crowd had developed at Furinkan High School, complete with loudspeaker set-up, bleachers ready, and the Cat Cafe catering the event. Brock, Misty, and Ash with Pikachu walked through the crowds of gathered people, amazed at the turnout.
"Gee, I've never seen so many people from one place all just for a Pokemon battle," Misty observed.
"It's the first major Pokemon battle in Nerima," Ash said. "Everybody in town wants to see it." The young trainer was fairly bouncing with excitement, both at being himself again, and at being a part of another Pokemon event.
"Hey, look, there's Gary!" Brock said.
Ash's face immediately darkened.
"Hi, Ash and Company," Gary said condescendingly, smirking as usual. "Ready to get creamed?"
"Pika-chu!" spat the electric Pokemon from Ash's shoulders.
"You wish!" Ash shot back. "I can whip you any day!"
"We'll see." Gary grinned slyly and sauntered away.
"That was weird," Brock said.
"Yeah. Usually he stays around to boast more," Ash observed. "Maybe he's actually worried I'll win."
"Nah," said his two companions, earning an exhasperated glare from him.
* * * * *
Ranma wandered through the crowd, feeling just as helpless as he'd felt trying to look for the boy with the yellow Pokemon around town. His luck so far had been rotten; no one had seen a boy--or girl--with a yellow Pokemon.
"This's hopeless," Ranma murmured to himself. "Having such a jinx on my life don't help, either."
The louspeaker suddenly crackled to life. "Good day, Nerima!" came an anonymous voice. "Welcome to the first Nerima Pokemon battle ever! Our thanks go to Furinkan High for the use of their outdoor basketball court. If the audience will begin to file to the grandstands, we can begin. Trainers to the ring, please!"
Pokemon trainers--that's it! Realizing his best chance of finding the boy was in the front row, Ranma hustled over to the basketball court, taking a shortcut by leaping the eight-foot fence. Skidding to a halt ringside, he spotted a young boy standing in the ring, a furry yellow creature beside him.
That's him! Oh, man, he's right there an' I can't get to him... Ranma gritted his teeth, then sat down on the bench next to a young redhead and a tall brown-haired boy about his own age.
To Be Continued...