Ash was fully aware now. "Seven of you? Seven Mistys? Charade? What's going on here?"
"Why did you guys wait so long to save us?" snapped Misty to her lookalikes.
"WE all managed to get out of things like that. I would have at least thought YOU'D be able to."
"Don't be mean, Mist," said one of the others, "we wanted to help you but we had to wait as long as we could so we wouldn't have to show up."
"We'd better start explaining to Ash," sighed another. "Well, Ash, I guess you're wonder - ing?"
The girls sweatdropped as they realised Ash was several hundred metres away, walking fast and muttering over and over "this is not real".
They ran after him.
He stared at them, and they stared back.
"Misty," he said finally, not sure which one he was addressing, "why didn't you tell me you had more sisters?"
"We're not sisters," said one, "we're second cousins."
"I guess we should explain," said another.
"Good idea," sighed Ash, and sat down suddenly. Pikachu sat in his lap and regarded the Mistys with caution. "Which one of you is the real one?"
"We're all REAL, Ash."
"I mean, which of you was I travelling with all this time?"
They glanced at each other, apprehensive. "All of us."
Ash facefaulted, and after regaining composure, stared at them all levelly. "You'd better have a good explanation."
They took this as an invitation to introduce themselves.
"I suppose... if there was a real Misty, I would be it," said the girl holding Togepi. "I'm the one you met first. It was my idea to travel with you, although I didn't mean for it to happen quite like this. I'm also the daughter of the Cerulean City Nurse Joy, so I'm the one you battled - and LOST TO, mind you! - at Cerulean Gym. As you can see, I'm also the prettiest Misty."
She got hit by three of her cousins.
"Well, she likes to think so," grinned another Misty.
Ash stared. "You're Nurse Joy's daughter? All of you are? That could... explain a lot."
"Why do you think we always got free board at Pokemon Centers?" grinned one.
"Yes," agreed the 'real' Misty, "some of the older Nurse Joys, whenever they have children... it seems a rule that we should all be alike... anyway, I decided to go with you on your Pokemon journey, but everyone else wanted to too, for whatever reason. From the way some of the others acted at first, we figured you wouldn't want more than one Misty, so we traded places a lot."
"Traded... places," he repeated weakly.
"I'm the daughter of the Gringy City Joy," said one, the girl who had had the Raichu. "I like electric Pokemon so I didn't want you to to do your Pikachu badly by not training it well. That's the ONLY reason I came along, mind you."
"She's the one always shouting at you," said another Misty, drily.
"I'm the youngest," said one, "and I wasn't around for a while until you left Butterfree. I hate bugs. I joined to get away from home and have adventures!"
"See," piped in the Chansey trainer, "if one of the Mistys showed something, all of us had to copy it. I for one like bugs, but we all had to pretend to be scared of them after THIS Misty -" she "-was terrified of Caterpie."
"You're a hopeless actress," piped in another, "you forgot to act scared of Butterfree."
"So did you!"
"Most of us want to be nurses," continued the Chansey trainer, "like when we helped out Doctor Proctor... but since THIS Misty wants to be a water Pokemon trainer, we all had to follow along. Half of us, me included, don't even have water Pokemon, which is why we didn't fight a lot. Since most of us caught our Pokemon when we weren't travelling with you, we couldn't let you see them, since you'd wonder where we got them."
The water Pokemon trainer spoke next. "I'm not going to be a nurse, I'm going to be a water Pokemon master. I'm from Fuchsia, and I have Poliwhirl, Shellder, Staryu, Goldeen and Vaporeon... I gave away Horsea and Starmie to my sisters. I just wanted the chance to raise my Pokemon with someone my sisters knew was okay."
"I have Staryu and Starmie," added the 'real' Misty. "And I'm Togepi's 'real' mother."
"I only have a Goldeen," said another Misty, "I first met you in Viridian. I'm the oldest, so I had to make sure the others weren't choosing a bad person to train with."
"And I'm the newest Misty," said the girl who had been travelling with them earlier that day. "This was my first day in on the game, so I almost slipped up a couple of times. And I don't have any Pokemon."
"A game... this is kind of like a bad dream," muttered Ash to Pikachu.
"Pikachu," agreed Pikachu, meaning "let's wake up now".
The two got up and walked away again, at a fast pace, not looking back.
"I think we upset him," said the real Misty, softly. Unnecessarily.
Ash slunk past his mother and Brock, going quietly to his room without anyone noticing. He flopped down on the bed, and Pikachu lay on his back.
"Can you believe it, Pikachu?"
Pikachu looked surprised. His master sounded really upset.
"I thought she was... my friend, I guess. I feel really... stupid, now!"
"Pikaa," agreed Pikachu, sadly.
"And angry! I mean, all this time, and it was just a game? Just acting? I didn't even know her at all."
"What if everyone's like that? What if I don't know anyone?"
Pikachu gave Ash an electric shock. "Pika pika!"
"I guess you're right, I am getting carried away. But you know what I mean, don't you?"
"I don't know if she's a friend or not. You're supposed to be able to trust your friends."
The two lay on the bed for a long time, not moving.