“Smell ya later Ashy-boy!”
Ash fumed at the nickname, watching as Gary Oak rode away in the back of his car, all of his cheerleaders giggling like he said something fucking hilarious instead of using an insult a five-year-old would say.
“Damn him,” Ash gritted out. “Wait ‘til we meet next time, I’ll show him how a real trainer battles!”
“Ash,” Misty sighed, “I think everyone here knows Gary would probably beat you easy.”
“Say what?” Ash rounded on her.
“I mean, Gary has a more level-head than you do. And besides, all you have is Pikachu and Metapod – you really need to catch some more Pokemon.”
“I know that!” Ash yelled, Misty giving him a look that clearly screamed she didn’t believe him.
The two trainers continued on, Ash stopping every now and then to look around for any Pokemon he could battle while Misty tried to figure out where the nearest Pokemon Centre was. When the sun had started setting they had both agreed that the Pokemon Centre was too far and decided to camp out instead.
“I’m a bit cold; can we get a fire going?” Misty asked.
“What do I look like, a freaking scout boy? I don’t know how to start a fire,” Ash said, setting out his sleeping bag.
Misty shot him a glare. “Well, why don’t we get our Pokemon to help?”
“Oh yeah, get out your water Pokemon - they’ll know how to start a fire.”
“You’re such a little brat Ketchum, maybe I should be travelling with Gary instead.” Misty groaned, storming off to find some wood for the fire.
“Fine, see if I care, that way I won’t have to hear you complaining about your bike every minute!” Ash yelled after her pathetically, muttering ‘ugh girls’ and‘Pikachu help me out here’. Pikachu leveled him with a look similar to Misty’s, clearly not impressed.
Ash huffed. “Okay, I was probably a bit mean to her,” he sighed, getting himself up to go apologise and help her to find some firewood. Pikachu followed behind, saying something Ash didn’t understand but his thoughts were too focused on Gary anyway, imagining countless scenario’s of him defeating the other boy triumphantly and laughing manically in his mind.
Pikachu tugged on his pant leg, Ash snapping out of his daydream to look ahead and see Misty halfway up a tree, crying out in disgust as a bug Pokemon watched her from the ground. Ash snorted before going over to rescue her.
Ever since Brock had decided to tag along with the two trainers on their journey, they were starting to realize how grateful they were for it. Not only did Brock carry around with him everything you could possibly need while traveling, but he was also an awesome cook and knew a great deal about Pokemon.
“So Brock, how far away is the next gym again?” Ash asked for the fourth time that day. After he had received his first badge from Brock he was determined to win his next one fair and square.
“We should be there in a few hours Ash, calm down,” Brock replied, writing something down in his book. “And it’s a water gym so I suggest you start to think of a good strategy.”
“Pikachu is my strategy,” Ash chuffed, grinning. Pikachu made a sound from his place on Ash’s shoulder, giving his trainer a look.
“Well okay,” Brock said, tone not impressed. “But just in case you should think about your other choices: Pidgeotto or Butterfree - think about type advantage, okay, and what moves they have.”
“Don’t worry,” Ash waved him off. He looked back at Misty who had been awfully quiet through the whole exchange. “Hey Misty, are you okay?”
She looked up, a bit startled. “Ah, i-it’s nothing, I just want to sit down somewhere and eat, how about here?” she gestured around her.
Ash made a face. “No way, we’re almost near Cerulean city, we can’t stop now,” he turned back around to keep walking, hearing Misty sigh to herself.
He saw a sign up ahead that said Cerulean City was, in fact, only 10 miles away. Brock and Misty came to a stop next to him, Brock leaning in closer to look at something.
“What’s this?” he questioned, eyes squinting.
“Huh? What’s what?” Ash asked, frowning, leaning in also to look at what Brock was eyeing. Written in the bottom corner of the sign was a message that read:‘Gary was here! Ash is a loser!’
“What the?!” Ash fumed. “I’m a loser? Damn him - just you wait Gary Oak, wait until the day I beat you good!” he stormed off ahead, the others now running to catch up to him.
When they finally arrived at the Cerulean gym Ash was annoyed to learn he couldn’t have his battle right away.
“Our Pokemon are, like, totally wiped out,” one of the girls said.
“We had to like, rush them to the Pokemon Centre straight after our last battle,” another spoke up.
“I think he was from Pallet Town too – Gary Oak was his name?” The first one questioned the other two, the both of them nodding in reply.
“What?” Ash all but yelled. “He’s been here already? Damn that Gary!” He turned to storm out of the gym, his bickering so loud they still heard him from inside.
“Like, Misty, he seems like such a kid, so why are you traveling with him?” One of her sisters asked.
Misty sighed, not really sure how to answer that.
After the gang had unknowingly crashed that old man’s boat at the beach and promised to help him get his shop back in business, they decided to enter Misty in the beauty contest to win the money they ultimately needed for the repairs.
Ash was surprised to see both Professor Oak and his mum there as well, and a looming feeling started to engulf him even before the Professor informed him of the news that-
“Oh yes, Gary is here too,” Professor Oak smiled. Delia came over to kiss Ash’s cheek in greeting, not that he paid her much attention; now that he knew Gary was here all he could focus on was the other boy as he suddenly took the stage with confidence and cockiness.
“Ash, I know you’re out in the crowd somewhere,” Gary taunted into the microphone, face forming into a grin. “Obviously I’m not here to make you jealous – but my fan club sure is!” He laughed evilly, his cheerleaders chanting behind him as he posed ridiculously while showing off.
“How dare he-” Ash started, fists clenching as he bit down his remark.
“Ash, I don’t know why you let Gary always get to you like that,” Misty sighed, sitting down next to him in the stands. “I mean, you don’t care about his fan club, do you?”
“Of course not!”
“Then why are you so worked up?” Misty prodded. “Is there maybe another reason for you to be jealous, hmm?” She smirked.
Ash felt himself choke, not liking what Misty was implying – whatever it was. “As if, he just knows exactly how to press my buttons!”
“He does, doesn’t he,” Professor Oak piped up, seemingly in thought.
Later that day, when the group said goodbye to Delia and the Professor, Ash couldn’t help but briefly wonder where Gary had disappeared to after the contest.
“Gary is already moving on to the next gym Ash,” Professor Oak supplied, as if reading his mind. “I suggest you hurry along yourselves.”
“Sure thing Professor! Next time you see me I’ll have just as many badges as Gary!” Ash saluted the old man and his mother goodbye, quickly asking Brock which direction they should travel in next.
That night after they had all eaten and were now settling down for bed, Ash was having trouble sleeping, his mind full of thoughts of battling. ‘I need to catch up to him, I just have to!’ He thought, Gary’s face appearing in his mind. He turned over and squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for sleep to overcome him.
Months later Ash was coming up to his final gym battle he needed to win to enter into the Indigo League. When they had arrived in Viridian City they decided to stop for a quick bite to eat and letting their Pokemon rest up at the Pokemon Centre.
When they left to go over to the gym Ash couldn’t stop talking the whole way there, confidence level up high as he bragged about his seven other badges.
“Man, this’ll be a walk in the park, just you wait!” Ash smiled, rubbing his hands together.
“Oh lord,” Misty rolled her eyes, glancing at Brock.
“Ash, remember the talk we had about not getting ahead of yourself?” Brock spoke up.
“What was that Brock? Couldn’t hear you,” Ash yelled over his shoulder, taking off into a run when he saw the gym in his sights. But before he could get there a car pulled up in front of the gym suddenly, and an all too familiar voice rang out in greeting.
“Well, well, if it isn’t little Ashy,” Gary snickered at him.
“Gary you jerk! I was just about to challenge the gym, get out of my way!”
“Sorry Ashy, ya snooze ya lose,” he laughed before hopping out of the car to stand in front of the two guards by the doors. “My name is Gary Oak and I’d like to challenge the gym leader.”
The two guards let him through, all of Gary’s cheerleaders following behind him excitedly. When Ash wasn’t allowed access into the gym to watch, he and his friends decided to go sightseeing for the day instead. But no matter how much Misty and Brock tried to distract him Ash couldn’t get his mind off of Gary and his battle.
When they finally returned to the gym they noticed the guards weren’t there anymore and the door was slightly ajar. Curious, the three of them pushed the door open, only to find bodies all across the floor.
“It’s Gary’s cheer squad,” Brock exclaimed, bending down to check how they were.
“Then where’s-” Ash cut himself short, noticing Gary lying further away in the middle of the battle field. A wave of panic washed through him, his attention focused solely on getting to his rival. He bent down to gingerly pick Gary up, hands trembling slightly.
“Gary?” he asked, shaking the other boy lightly. Nothing. “Gary this isn’t funny,” he said, voice wavering. “Gary, seriously, c’mon-”
And then the other boy started to open his eyes, groaning out in pain. Relief washed over Ash as he held the other boy, thankful he was okay. “Gary, what happened?”
“Nngh,” Gary tried speaking, voice quiet. “I-It was… a Pokemon - a Pokemon… did this.”
Ash stared, not quite believing him. What on earth? What kind of Pokemon could do this much damage? He looked around at the scene before them – some walls were cracked, pieces of debris scattered around. It did look like something, or someone, had done serious damage to the place. But the idea of a Pokemon having this much raw power was hard to imagine. Gary wouldn’t make this up though, so Ash became so caught up in his thoughts he didn’t even see three figures emerge from the other side of the buildings doors.
“Prepare for trouble!”
“And make it double.”
Ash groaned out loud, not even wanting to deal with Team Rocket’s stupid motto right now. He helped Gary up while Misty and Brock did the same for his cheerleaders. He stared across the gym’s open space at the trio, calling out:
“What the hell are you guys doing here? Did you three do this?”
“Of course not!” Jessie yelled, “But unlucky for you, if you want to get the badge from this gym you’re going to have to defeat us,” she laughed evilly while being lifted into the air on a platform rising from the ground.
“Since when are you guys gym leaders?” Misty called out, frowning.
“Since 10 minutes ago you little twerp, and we should warn you now – there’s no way we’re letting you win this match!” Jessie called out, James nodding in agreement.
Ash cursed inwardly, figuring he had no choice. But it was Team Rocket, he’d defeated them plenty of times – he could do this easy! He climbed up the platform with Pikachu, ready to battle it out. When Jessie sent out a Pokemon he didn’t know they had, he had a feeling this might not be so easy after all. He started with Squirtle and was off to a decent start until Jessie’s Pokemon landed a hit and the next thing he knew he felt an electric shock pulse through his body.
“What was that?!” He grit out, holding onto the rails to stay upright.
Meowth chuckled manically; a remote control in his paws that Ash guessed was activating the shocks.
“Hey that’s not fair!” Brock called out, “You guys are a bunch of dirty crooks!”
“Duh!” James scoffed, “You have met us, right?”
When Squirtle was knocked out Ash continued feeling the painful shocks, body becoming exhausted as he tried to stay focused. He sent out Bulbasaur next, finally landing a hit on Jessie’s Pokemon, the Team Rocket member also getting a good shock herself.
“James-” she called down to him, angry. “Why are the shocks also on myside?”
“Don’t’chu worry Jess,” Meowth grinned, “I’ma hit da twerp good and fast he’ll hafta suwwender.”
Ash watched as Gary sprang into motion then, running across the field to tackle Meowth and knock the control out of his paws.
“Oh no you don’t!” His rival grunted out, finally managing to kick Meowth off of him and destroying the control after stomping on it repeatedly.
Gratitude washed over Ash as he watched Gary help him, smiling to himself as he finally finished off the match with Pikachu’s thunderbolt and all of Jessie’s Pokemon ran away in tears. And then later, after they had successfully sent Team Rocket flying into the sky and hurried out of the gym, Brock happened to find one of the badges in the rubble of the building after it had collapsed.
Ash cried out in joy. “Yes! I’ve finally got all 8 badges!” Pikachu jumped into his arms, the two of them moving around excitedly. Brock and Misty watched on, smiling as Ash celebrated. Ash turned to see Gary looking at him, not quite knowing what to say to the other boy after he had helped Ash back there with Team Rocket.
“Gary…” Ash started, taking a small step towards the other boy.
Gary turned away, scoffing slightly as he did. “So you’ve finally got enough badges eh, Ashy? Well then, I guess I’ll just have to wipe the floor with ya in the Indigo Plateau,” he gave Ash one more look before turning away to get in his car and driving off.
Ash stared after the other boy, mind trying desperately to figure Gary out – his attitude was just so back and forth Ash was suffering some major whiplash.
“Well, he’s still the same old Gary, I guess,” Misty spoke up, head tilted in thought.
“I don’t know,” Brock said, “If you ask me, he seemed almost happy that Ash would be in the league with him.”
Ash thought about it for a moment. He finally decided to agree with Brock’s opinion, liking to think that Gary finally respected him enough to want to actually have a battle with him. He grinned, looking down at the badge in his hand once more – something he would always remember as Gary’s way of helping him.
After his untimely loss in the Indigo Plateau Ash was feeling unsure of himself, wondering if this was truly the best he could do. They all decided to go back to Pallet Town and have a quick vacation of sorts. When Ash heard about the Orange League, though, his spirits lifted back up almost instantly - eagerness encompassing him when Professor Oak told him about the gyms there.
When the Professor had also entrusted them to deliver the mysterious GS ball, it gave Ash even more reason to start traveling again. Along the way they said goodbye to Brock at Professor Ivy’s laboratory on Valencia Island and said hello to a Pokemon Watcher named Tracey who decided to tag along with them on their journey.
Months later after Ash had scored his victory against the champion Drake, he felt more and more confident in his dream of still trying to become a Pokemon Master. He brought the trophy home to his mum, showing it off proudly as he told her all about the adventures they had throughout the islands.
Everyone was over at the Ketchum’s house one night for a celebratory dinner, his mum cooking him up all of the meals he had missed terribly while traveling.
“Oh man, this looks great mum!” Ash exclaimed, not even bothering with utensils as he grabbed some chicken and dug in.
Misty shot him an unimpressed look, smacking his arm. “Where’s your manners Ash? No one here wants to see you choke on your food.”
Ash mumbled something incomprehensible through his food, rolling his eyes. Professor Oak interrupted his eating though, informing him that Gary had arrived today and was staying up at the lab.
“Whafff?” Ash got out through some food, eyes wide. He swallowed fast, rounding on the Professor. “Gary’s here?”
“Yes, but I think he is planning to leave tomorrow morning - that boy can never stay in one place for too long,” the Professor chuckled.
Ash grew more reserved as the night went on. Everyone was too busy catching up to really notice, but he was fine with that. ‘Where could Gary be going now?’he kept asking himself that night in bed, face scrunched up in thought. He looked at Pikachu sleeping next to him, the Pokemon’s quiet snores the only noise to be heard in his room. He decided he’d challenge Gary to a match tomorrow, hoping his rival would finally accept his request.
The next day Ash and his friends went up to the lab to see the Professor, Ash too occupied with thoughts of fighting Gary. They walked inside the building, calling out to see who was around. Professor Oak popped his head around the corner, informing them to join him outside while he fed some Pokemon. The followed him out, Ash’s eyes searching around for that familiar face. Finally he saw Gary out in one of the fields, probably saying hello to an old Pokemon of his.
Ash bounded over to him, unable to hide his eagerness. “Gary!” He called out, the other boy turning to see him.
Gary’s face went from smiling to smirking, crossing his arms over his chest when Ash stopped in front of him. “Well, well, if it isn’t Ash. What took you so long huh? Thought maybe you’d been in hospital suffering from loseritis this whole time,” he snickered, eyebrows wagging in question.
Ash let out a huff, raising his fist up. “Think again jerk, I was actually too busy traveling the Orange Islands and beating the champion, is all,” he feigned nonchalance, eyes remaining on Gary to watch his reaction.
Gary’s eyebrows did rise slightly, mouth closing for a bit as he took in the information. ‘Ha, he’s totally impressed, I know it!’ Ash thought triumphantly, grinning knowingly at his rival.
But as soon as it happened it disappeared, Gary shrugging his shoulders at Ash. “So what? I could win that league in my sleep. Instead I’m going to travel to Johto – everyone knows only the strongest trainers go there,” he taunted.
Ash tried not to let it get to him. “Agh whatever! Let’s have a battle right now, I’ll show you just how strong I am!”
Gary started at him for a moment, eyes assessing him. Finally he nodded, saying, “Okay Ash, I’ll battle you.”
Ash blinked, not quite believing his rivals words. Then giddiness overcame his senses, face breaking out into a grin as he looked at Gary. “Yes! Alright Pikachu, you ready?” He asked the electric Pokemon, Pikachu jumping down off his shoulder in answer.
“Heh, I figured as much,” Gary muttered before grabbing a Pokeball from his belt and yelling “Eevee, come out!”
The Pokemon materialized in front of them; and from all of the shy Eevee’s Ash had seen on his travels this one was not like that, it’s usually cute appearance showing nothing but determination. Ash frowned, mentally reminding himself to watch out for it, knowing that if Gary had been training it it was going to put up a tough fight.
And just as he thought, it was tough - tougher than though as it repeatedly kept blocking their attacks and then hit Pikachu straight on. After more turns like that Pikachu could no longer continue, it’s little legs giving out while Eevee still stood with hardly a scratch on it.
“Ah, Pikachu!” Ash rushed over to his friend, picking him up gingerly. “Are you okay buddy?” Pikachu looked up at him, smiling softly in response. Ash frowned up at Gary, wondering how he hadn’t managed to land a single hit. Gary was patting his Eevee affectionately before returning it to its Pokeball, standing up to look over at Ash, face solemn.
“I hope you learned something,” Gary said, tone neutral. “And I hope I’ll see you in the Johto League Ash,” his mouth turned up slightly before he walked away, bag slung over his shoulder as he made his way in the direction of the Johto region.
Ash watched after him. Any doubts he had before about continuing his journey had promptly vanished, only to be replaced with his desire to become stronger than Gary and finally defeat him.
“I guess we’re going to Johto then, huh?” Brock asked as he came up to stand next to Ash.
“Huh?” Ash turned to him. “Brock - you’re going to travel with us again?”
“Yep,” he answered, smiling. “I would never miss out on the chance to see even more Pokemon.”
“Ha!” Misty barked, both boys turning to look at her. “You just didn’t want to stay with Professor Ivy anymore because she dumped you,” she snorted.
Brock immediately fell to the ground, arms clenched around his knees as he barked out, “Don’t mention that name!”
Ash frowned at Brock in confusion while Misty just laughed at him.
During their journeys through the Johto region they had bumped into Gary a number of times; and the first few meetings still managed to get Ash’s blood pumping, but after a while, Gary’s attitude slowly became less apparent, almost treating Ash as his real equal now.
Needless to say it made Ash happy, the two of them showing respect for one another when they ran into each other at the Extreme Pokemon race. Ash had been worried about Gary’s Arcanine when Team Rocket flew off with it, the race completely forgotten as he chased after them and until he was successful in rescuing the stolen Pokemon. Gary was grateful but said he wouldn’t go any easier on him. Ash had grinned, replying he wouldn’t want him too.
On the day of the start of the Silver Conference they saw Gary once again when Ash went to register. Ash was about to express his excitement until Gary used that all too familiar nickname again.
“Hey Ashy-boy, so you didn’t break your promise after all. Well then, looks like I’ll have to keep my promise and beat you when we finally battle.”
Ash knew it was all in good fun, but he couldn’t help but let that pet name get to him. He barked back at Gary about how much he was going to go down, confident Gary would run home crying to his grandpa. Gary just smirked before walking away.
Later that night, when Ash couldn’t fall asleep no matter what he tried, he got dressed and went for a walk. He stopped at an opening by a lake, and when he stepped closer he saw Gary perched on a large rock, looking up at the night sky.
Ash walked over to him, only startling the other boy slightly when he greeted him.
“Hey Ash, couldn’t sleep either?” Gary asked, looking at Ash when he sat down next to him.
Ash shook his head in answer, smiling when he asked, “You nervous to?”
Gary was quiet for a moment, and Ash almost did a double take when Gary said, “I’ll admit it, I am a bit.”
They spoke for a while, about their journeys and how far they had both come since the day they both left Pallet Town. Gary started talking about the future as well, saying there were still so many different paths to take and places to explore.
Ash frowned at this, for some reason not liking the idea of Gary being somewhere else or doing something completely different. His whole life Ash had done nothing but chase after Gary; wanting to prove to him how strong he was, always competing for Gary’s attention. So the idea of Gary not being a Pokemon trainer was almost unthinkable.
But then Gary went back to talking about their match again, making Ash relax instantly. Ash leaned back on the rock, moving his arms back to rest on them. And ever so slightly he felt his finger brush against Gary’s, causing a small shiver to run up his arm from the touch.
When the day finally arrived for the two to battle it out, Ash could feel his heartbeat though his shirt, never once slowing down throughout every minute of his match with Gary. It had come down to their two strongest Pokemon, with Gary having the type advantage over Ash. But Ash would never let that get to him, helping Charizard with the final blow to Blastoise and finally winning against his rival once and for all.
Ash stood frozen, the feeling not sinking in fast enough. Surely he was dreaming, right? He saw on the other side of the field as Gary called Blastoise back, pausing briefly before he turned away. Finally he snapped out of it, running over to Charizard to hug him and cry out with joy. The eruption of applause from the audience was something he would always remember, looking over at his friends and family all the while grinning to the point where his face began to hurt.
That night Gary had congratulated him before giving back his half of the Pokeball they had both kept since the beginning of their journey. Gary said he’d be watching his match tomorrow against Harrison, giving Ash one last smile before turning to head back to his hotel. Ash looked down at the red Pokeball half, expecting to feel accomplished - happy, maybe. And yet all he felt was a pang of hurt. Suddenly he didn’t want it anymore. He contemplated throwing it in the lake, fist clenching around it so hard it left indents in his hand. But he couldn’t do it, he couldn’t let go; it would be like finally saying goodbye to Gary. He couldn’t do that.
Just as he had promised Ash saw Gary up in the stands the next day, leaning against a wall as he smiled down at Ash on the field. Ash felt something stir deep inside him, and he knew it wasn’t because of the upcoming battle, staring back at Gary and vowing to make the other boy proud of him.
It came down to Charizard again, this time up against another fire type he’d never seen before. At the very last moment Charizard collapsed, unable to continue. Ash felt devastated; at himself and for not being able to show everyone he was good enough to advance to the finals. But his friends cheered him up, saying how he should feel proud to have made it one round further than his last league. Ash decided they were right, thanking his Pokemon for putting up a great battle.
When they had said their goodbyes to Delia and Professor Oak, the group had helped out some Misdreavus when they found out one of their friends was caught underneath a fallen log. After they’d freed it, Gary wouldn’t stop talking about Pokemon, spewing out all of this information as his voice grew more passionate.
Ash wasn’t sure where he was going with this, until Gary exclaimed, “And that’s why I’m going to become a Pokemon Researcher!”
Ash heard his friends pipe up with their comments of approval, thankfully gaining Gary’s attention elsewhere, because Ash had no idea on how to react to this news. His first immediate feeling was confusion then it slowly morphed into a mixture of hurt and anger.
“Wait, Gary,” Ash spoke up, the other boy turning to look at him. Ash could feel his expression fall, voice slightly quieter when he asked, “Does this mean… you’re not going to be traveling anymore?”
Gary shook his head, expression sombre. “That’s right Ash, I’m going to start my studying right away; I’ll be learning about it all with some other researchers my grandpa knows.”
“But…” Ash began, not quite knowing what to say. ‘Gary isn’t going to be traveling… I’m not going to be able to battle him in a league again… Gary isn’t… my rival anymore?’ His mind was a whirlpool of thoughts, not being able to land on just one, instead leaving his opinion clamped up inside. Gary gave him one last look, his eyes almost apologetic, before he said his goodbyes to everyone and turned away.
Ash watched him go, wondering why exactly his heart had lodged itself in his throat.
After a tearful goodbye to Brock and Misty, Ash was feeling rather down. Since he left on his journey he hadn’t been alone like this; so now when he glanced to his sides expecting to see his friends, he was met with an empty space and an ache in his chest.
Finally making it home, he was overwhelmed with kisses from his mum before she guided him towards the kitchen to feed him, exclaiming he was as thin as a stick. Later, when he was completely full and exhausted, he made his way upstairs to his room to lay in bed and fell asleep almost instantly.
The next morning Delia informed him Gary was back already and that he was up at Professor Oak’s lab. The prospect of seeing Gary again made him giddy, grabbing Pikachu and yelling out a goodbye over his shoulder to his mum as he sped off down the road.
When he finally reached the Professor’s building he was disappointed to learn Gary wasn’t there.
“He left already?” Ash puffed out, hardly believing his rotten luck.
“I’m afraid so Ash - he said he wanted a fresh start and took off right away,” Professor Oak nodded.
Ash excused himself, bolting back out of the lab, wanting to catch up to Gary to see him off. After he’d been running for a while he finally saw the other boy up ahead, always the epitome of cool as he walked alone.
“Gary!” Ash called out, causing the older boy to turn around in slight shock.
“Hey Ash, what’re you doing here?”
“You-” Ash got out, catching his breath. “You were going to leave without saying goodbye?” He heard his voice grow upset, his eyes searching Gary’s face as he waited for him to answer.
Gary gave him a sad smile. “Sorry Ash, it’s nothing personal; I didn’t know when you’d be back and I just wanted to start my new journey as soon as I could.”
Ash felt like he had a million and one things to say right then, but instead he knelt down to get something out of his backpack. “I wanted to give you something,” he explained, finally finding the old Pokeball and showing it to Gary.
Gary’s eyes widened a fraction as he stared down at the old item resting in Ash’s palm. Ash gripped both sides, and after a moment the Pokeball separated with a satisfying ‘pop’. Ash held out the red half to Gary, not saying a word, his mind a mantra of thoughts; ‘Don’t you forget me Gary Oak; take this to remember our time together, show me that it meant as much to you as it did for me.’
Gary took his half back much to Ash’s relief, his fingers grazing Ash’s palm and causing Ash to shiver again.
“I’ll take good care of it,” Gary promised, making Ash light up.
“Take care, Gary,” Ash almost whispered.
“You too, Ash,” Gary smiled at him, stare lingering for a moment before he turned back around, once again leaving Ash with an empty feeling in his chest.
But it would be okay, he would be okay. Because he knew this wasn’t the last time he would see Gary again.
13 - 14
Over the next couple of years Ash heard news about Gary and what he’d been up to through the Professor. It always managed to make Ash smile when he learned that Gary was doing great in his studies, and it only made him more determined to do his very best as well.
And then after his loss in the Hoenn League he decided to enter into the Battle Frontier under the suggestion from Scott. Brock, May and Max tagged along with him, with May still competing in her contests throughout Kanto. When he’d finally gotten to his last match against Brandon in the Battle Pyramid he suffered a major loss, followed by another one when he asked for a rematch.
Ash began to suffer major confidence issues again, frustrated at himself to not pull ahead and defeat Brandon. The next day he was surprised to find Professor Oak at the Pokemon Centre, carrying with him a large duffle bag.
“Your mother and I organized it; think of it as a sort of pick-me-up care package,” the Professor smiled at him, opening the bag up to pull out a number of gifts from his Pokemon and his friends.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” Professor Oak reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out what looked to be a letter. “It’s a postcard from Gary,” he handed it to Ash.
Ash couldn’t believe it; his heart sped up slightly at the gesture. He read the back of the card before losing his train of thought, imagining himself and Gary reuniting again. He could easily picture Gary using his infamous nickname on him, telling him that if Ash was strong enough to beat him, then what was he doing letting Brandon stop him from winning?
Ash snapped back to the present, grinning wide, already eager to start training even harder. He thanked the Professor before running out to get his Pokemon.
But before the doors closed behind him he vaguely heard Professor Oak say to the others: “Gary always knows how to inspire Ash – it’s really quite amazing the effect they both still have on each other.”
Ash was back home again. He’d decided to take another break after his journeys through Hoenn. He had also finally beaten Brandon in the Battle Frontier, but declined the offer of becoming a Frontier Brain, saying there were just too many battles to face and Pokemon for him to see in the world and he didn’t want to settle down right now.
And of course, like some dumb luck Gary made an appearance in Pallet Town again. Ash thanked him for his letter, saying it really helped him to get his mojo back and train harder. He asked Gary for a quick battle, amazed when Gary sent out a Pokemon he’d never seen before from the Sinnoh region. When Pikachu had been knocked out Ash was shocked to learn how strong these new Pokemon were.
“I’ve been doing my recent studies there with Professor Rowan,” Gary explained, calling his Electivire back. “I’m happy to hear you conquered the Battle Frontier Ash, but there’s still so many other strong trainers out there for you to battle.”
Ash couldn’t help but agree; before he used to hate Gary for being right most of the time, but now he listened to him greatly – after all, it had been Gary countless of times inspiring him to start new journeys in different regions.
They parted on good terms, while Ash decided that night to follow Gary to Sinnoh, hoping that they might run into each other again while he was there. Brock tagged along with him again, and they met a girl named Dawn along the way who was also big into contests like May had been.
Months later, when the three of them got caught up in Hunter J’s plan to steal a group of Sheildon, they ran into Gary while he too was chasing after them. They were successful in their rescue of the Shieldon and Ash couldn’t stop smiling at how good of a team he and Gary were.
A few months later they met again, and Gary helped out Ash with evolving his Gligar. After a bout with Team Rocket where Ash and Gligar were captured, they managed to escape and Ash gained a new teammate in his Gliscor after it evolved to save Ash from his fall. They said goodbye to Team Rocket in their usual blast off, and it was late, so the four of them decided to camp out before Gary would leave the next morning.
That night Ash had trouble sleeping, suddenly upset that Gary would be leaving them again – leaving him.
The voice startled him, turning over in his sleeping bag to see Gary was also awake, staring up at the sky.
“Hey… what’s up?” he whispered back.
Gary was quiet for a moment before responding. “I was just thinking… I don’t want this to be the last time we see each other for a year or more or who knows how long.”
Ash stared. “Y-yeah, same.”
Gary moved his head to look at him, the moonlight bringing out the blue in his eyes. “So promise me, after you’re finished with the Sinnoh League, stop by my lab and see me.” Gary held out his pinky finger to Ash, a soft smile spreading over his face.
Ash could only nod, heart beating fast as he linked his finger with Gary’s.
The week before the Lily of the Valley Conference would commence they all stopped to rest in the local Pokemon Centre. Ash rang up the Professor and asked him to transfer some of his old Pokemon through to start training with them straight away. Then Nurse Joy had come over to give Ash a letter that had been waiting for him.
He opened it, surprised to see it was from Gary. He smiled when he finished reading it, the other boy saying he would be watching him on the TV and no doubt rooting for him during his matches. Feeling confident again, he trained long and hard every day until the league started.
When he had defeated his rival Paul and advanced to the semi-finals, he felt ecstatic. The only problem was that his next opponent was a tough one. Barry had told him all about Tobias and his unbeatable Darkrai, but hey, what’s a legendary Pokemon to Ash Ketchum? He could do this.
Well, turns out he couldn’t do this.
Although he did manage to defeat two of Tobias’s Pokemon (both legendary he would argue) it ultimately wasn’t enough to advance to the finals. But he was proud of his Pokemon, happy that he managed to yet again make it one round further then the last league. So he left the tournament with his head held high, his friends right behind him. And as he’d promised, he swung by where Gary was working with Professor Rowan to say hello.
The three of them knocked on the front door, being let inside by another Professor who worked there. She gave them the directions out the back to Rowan’s office, Ash figuring that’s where Gary would also be.
So they made their way to the back, “Oh Gary,” Ash called out, emphasizing on the ‘y’.
“Ash?” He heard the researcher call back.
Ash laughed, and when Gary appeared in view from behind a large piece of equipment he practically ran over to hug Ash. He squeezed Gary back tight, a stupid grin plastering over his face. When Gary pulled away his expression mirrored Ash’s, still keeping his hands resting on Ash’s shoulders.
“Hey, sorry about the Sinnoh League,” Gary said, giving him a sad smile.
Ash shook his head. “It’s okay, I’m happy with how far I got,” he reasoned, and Gary guided him over to a table to sit down, asking him about all of his matches.
“I watched every one, but of course nothing beats actually being there,” Gary gushed, clearly proud of Ash for his accomplishments.
Ash felt his insides grow hot, suddenly nervous under Gary’s praising attitude. Time and time again he had dreamt of the day when Gary would grovel at his feet while Ash would laugh at him as a crown would be placed on his head declaring him king of the world. Of course he hadn’t felt that way in a while, but now that Gary was actually expressing his fondness for him he wasn’t sure how to handle it, with butterflies slowly growing in his stomach as Gary carried on.
After a while Ash stopped to look around for Brock and Dawn, but found they weren’t in the room anymore. Strange, they didn’t tell him they had left, but he found he didn’t really mind, turning his attention back to Gary when he had started talking about all of his recent discoveries in his research.
After a while had passed they both found they had grown quite hungry, agreeing to head into town to get something to eat.
“There’s never any food around here,” Gary laughed as they left the lab. “We’re all so stuck in our research we forget to go and buy groceries.”
“That doesn’t sound healthy – are you getting enough sleep?” Ash asked, grabbing Gary’s face in his hands to get a better look at him.
Gary sputtered a bit, his face going a bit red when Ash brought it closer. “I-I’m fine Ash, don’t worry.”
They walked past a burger joint and decided it was a good spot to eat. Ash was so excited; he hadn’t sat down for a full meal in ages, always being too busy with training or some league or another – ha, he guessed he wasn’t that much better at remembering to eat than Gary was.
Their meals came and both boys dug in hungrily. Ash thought he should have gone to find his friends and invite them along, but he suddenly felt kind of greedy, just wanting to soak up all of Gary’s attention for himself. The thought had him flushing a bit again, and he noticed he could easily imagine they were on a date right now.
'Ugh, c'mon Ketchum get your shit together, you’re just two friends getting food and that’s all.’
A while later when they had both finished eating Gary offered to show Ash around town, if he so wanted. Ash nodded, realising he hadn’t really seen much of Sandgem Town when he had last passed through there. As they walked around Gary would point things out to him, telling him random stories or facts about Pokemon that lived in the area.
It suddenly dawned on Ash that this was the first time he and Gary had ever really… hung out like this. After knowing each other all these years, it was surprising to realise that they had never just caught up with each other for the fun of it. And despite all of their butting-heads in the past, Ash was almost shocked to see how well he and Gary actually got along. So that information caused him to feel rather sad, that all of these years could have been spent actually getting to know each other better.
He remembered Professor Oak always saying they were like two sides of the same coin.
But he supposed growing up separately and traveling on different paths was what they needed to find respect for each other, and Ash was suddenly so amazed at how far they had both come; from a bitter rivalry, to mutual respect, and now, he thinks they could actually become really good friends - after all, if Ash was being honest, it was what he had wanted all along.
And before they knew it the day had passed by and they thought it was best to head back to the lab to see where Brock and Dawn were. They walked back inside, following a delicious smell coming from the kitchen. Brock was standing by the stove and cooking up some kind of soup, while Dawn was busy preparing the table for everyone.
“Hey you two,” Dawn greeted with a smile.
“Hey guys, sorry about going into town without you, we both kind of got distracted,” Ash grinned sheepishly while he rubbed at his neck.
“It’s okay, we figured you two might’ve wanted to catch up again after so long,” Brock said over his shoulder.
“Well we’re definitely hungry again, whatever you’re cooking Brock it smells great!”
Pretty soon everyone had gathered around the table, all of the professor’s as well, and when Ash was one of the first to finish his bowl he started chatting to Professor Rowan who was sitting next to him.
“So Ash, what are your plans now that you’ve finished in the Sinnoh League?”
“I-” Ash frowned a bit, “I’m not sure, to be honest.”
“Well, if you’re still interested in traveling to different regions might I suggest Unova? I hear there are a lot of Pokemon there you haven’t seen, and there’s also a league as well.”
Ash instantly perked up, eyes growing wide. Gary started chuckling in his seat across the table, and Ash turned to him with a cheeky grin. “What?”
“Oh,” Gary waved him off, “It’s just you - always eager to keep traveling, huh Ashy?”
“Well you’re one to talk,” Ash scoffed at him. He smiled, excited at the prospect of new Pokemon to catch and gyms to challenge. He looked over at Gary again, watched as the other boy smiled as he talked to his co-workers, and that sad feeling suddenly came rushing back in a wave. He’d only just got here, only just started to really hang out with Gary again – he didn’t want that to end.
Rowan told him the time to register for the Unova league would finish this week, so Ash had until then to decide.
That night Ash told Brock and Dawn of his possible plans to go to the new region, and both of his friends urged him greatly, saying he would regret it if he didn’t. Dawn had her own room, so when it started getting late she said her 'goodnights’ to them and left Brock and Ash to continue their talk.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Ash was still insisting, “I want to go to Unova… more than anything, but I…”
Brock gave him a sad smile. “It’s Gary, isn’t it?”
Ash’s head shot up fast, his eyes wide. “H-how-”
“Ash,” Brock cut in, not unkindly, “I’ve known you for years, I’ve kind of always had this feeling that Gary meant more to you then you always let on,” when Ash didn’t say anything he spoke more gently, “Am I wrong?”
Ash stared at the ground for a bit, heart pumping loud in his ears. “N-no, you’re not wrong,” he let out a small sigh, finally looking up at Brock and asking, “What should I do?”
“I think you should go,” Brock nodded. “I think it’s the best thing for your character, and Gary’s a good guy, I’m sure he’ll understand.”
“Yeah,” Ash got out, still unsure.
“Just… have some fun for the rest of the week. Hang out with him, get to know him more, and then maybe someday who knows what could happen,” Brock said, smiling at Ash. “Promise me something though?”
“When you two get married please let me plan your wedding for you.”
Ash choked on his reply while Brock just laughed at him.
The rest of the week ended up being one of the most relaxing times Ash could ever remember feeling. He and Gary fell into step like it was second nature, bickering and laughing and eating together like they’d been doing their entire lives. Gary had asked Professor Rowan if he could take some leave to spend time with Ash, to which Rowan agreed, saying it was about time Gary got out of the lab more.
On the fifth day Ash woke up to see Gary’s smirking face hovering over him and nearly sending him into cardiac arrest.
“Jesus Gary, you trying to kill me?” Ash breathed as he brought his hand up to rest over his erratically beating heart.
“Sorry,” Gary laughed, not sounding sorry at all. “But I had to wake you up early for this, c’mon, get dressed and meet me downstairs in 10.” And then he was gone.
Ash looked at the clock on the wall, the time reading 5:23am, and he groaned. ‘The things I do for this boy,’ he grumbled inwardly, getting out of bed gingerly and quietly padding his feet over to the bathroom. He splashed water on his face before brushing his teeth, and then walking back over to where his clothes were hanging over the chair next to his bed. Pikachu was still sleeping soundly in his place in the sheets, so Ash thought it best to leave him, trusting Brock to look after him while he was gone.
He made his way downstairs and saw Gary waiting for him at the front door, a smile much too big for this early in the morning growing on his face.
“Ready?” Gary asked, pushing the door open.
“Where are we going?”
“It’s a surprise,” was Gary’s response.
They walked together in comfortable silence, the cool crisp of early morning air waking Ash up. The sun was just barely peaking through the trees, bringing the forest to life, all of the Pokemon that lived there starting to scurry about at the indication of a new day. They came to a stop at a clearing, looking out to the lake and the water that was eerily calm.
“Okay, in a few minutes they’ll be here,” Gary spoke up as he looked out ahead.
“Who?” Ash grew curious, looking out at the lake as well to try and figure out what Gary was talking about.
And then suddenly ripples in the water appeared, hundreds of them, along with small bubbles popping at the lake’s surface. Ash looked on, waiting, and then just like that a large group of Finneon sprang out of the water, the splash glistening in the morning sun. It was almost as if they were on springs as they jumped into the air, and then some Lumineon appeared as well, like they were all performing a dance for them. It was honestly so beautiful Ash couldn’t take his eyes away.
“Whoa,” he exclaimed.
“They all do this at the start of a new day; swimming on the lakes floor before the sun comes out and then springing up in excitement,” Gary explained, angling his head to look at Ash.
Ash watched the Pokemon for a while longer before turning to look at Gary, his heart catching in his throat when he saw the content look on his friends face.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Gary asked, eyes never leaving Ash.
Suddenly, just like that, no more was heard in the early morning haze, and Ash realized the dancing display had stopped. He could immediately feel his heartbeat in his ears, chest warm from the inexplicably happy look Gary was still giving him.
“Yeah, it is,” Ash murmured finally, and he couldn’t help but think, ‘I always want to see you smile like that.’
When the week came to an end Ash couldn’t help but feel a mixture of excitement and sadness. He was pumped for the Unova league, definitely, but the other half of him wasn’t ready to leave Gary yet. In just the short span of a week Ash felt like he got to know so much about Gary he didn’t know before, slipping into this easy friendship he hadn’t realized he needed up until now. But when the time came to leave to register for the league there were plenty of tearful goodbyes, with both Brock and Dawn saying they were planning to go off on their own paths now.
Ash nodded, understanding it was what they had to do. They all gathered at the main paths leading out of town, Dawn crying the hardest before departing in the opposite direction Ash and Brock were leaving. Ash called out once more that he would never forget her and wishing her good luck in her future contests.
Brock was busy saying goodbye to the Professor, so Ash took his chance to find Gary, and he couldn’t help it when a single tear slid down his cheek when Gary engulfed him in a bone crushing hug.
He wiped it away quickly when they separated, and Gary reached into his pocket to pull out a small device that fit in the palm of his hand.
“This is new PokeTech gear they brought into the lab a while ago, and I want to give it to you.”
Ash took it from him, an eyebrow raised in question. “What does it do?”
“It’s sort of like a travelling companion piece, all in one handy device,” Gary said, stepping closer to press a few buttons on it to bring up a different screen. “It also has a communications function, so you can message people even when you’re travelling and aren’t near a Pokemon Centre.”
Ash’s eyes shot up to look at him, “Really? I can message anyone? Even… even you?” He breathed, giddy at the thought of being able to talk to Gary while he was in Unova.
“Yep, even me,” Gary smiled, “I mean, i-if you want, you don’t have to, I know you’ll be busy with your travels and battling and all, but I just wanted to give it to you-”
Ash threw his arms around Gary to pull him in for another hug. Gary melted against him, and Ash turned his head slightly to whisper in his ear, “I’ll always make time for you, Gary.”
Gary twitched ever so slightly, voice small when he replied, “Good.”
They separated one last time, Gary’s hand lingering at its spot at the curve of Ash’s hip. Pikachu jumped up onto Ash’s shoulder, startling them both, and then Ash walked over to where Brock was waiting for him.
“Ready to go?” Brock asked.
Ash nodded, breathing deep before taking the first step, but not before he turned around to wave at Gary for the final time. Gary waved back, a proud look on his face, and Ash felt his worries melt away only to be replaced with all of the exciting possibilities that the future could offer him.
16 - 17
On his journey through Unova Ash had met a feisty girl named Iris wanting to be a dragon master, as well as an older fellow named Cilan who was a Pokemon Connoisseur (whatever that meant). Team Rocket of course had followed him to the new region, causing even more havoc than usual.
Ash decided to rotate the Pokemon he caught there, wanting to keep it fresh and have different types on hand. The battles were tough, proving to Ash time and time again that he still had a whole lot to learn, experimenting with techniques and battling styles.
At the beginning of his journey he had been messaging Gary once a week, updating him on where he was traveling to next and what Pokemon he had caught. After a few months had gone by Ash found himself falling into a routine and was sending Gary at least one new message every day. Gary might send back some helpful info, or a picture of the lab catching on fire (it happened more often than you’d think) or simply just saying he missed Ash.
It always managed to make Ash’s heart flutter, and Iris had taken it upon herself to start prying into Ash’s personal life and started asking him about Gary constantly.
“He’s just a friend,” Ash huffed, trying to hide his device from Iris as she reached out to snatch it from him.
“Some friend,” she got out in her struggle to grab it, “You’re always smiling at that damn thing, is he sending dirty messages to you Ash?”
Ash sputtered out his reply, “N-no, God Iris, get your head out of the gutter!”
Cilan just looked on and laughed at them both.
Ash had begun to be so attached to his PokeTech that not even Team Rocket could distract him when they made their daily announcement of trying to capture some Pokemon or another.
“Hey twerp, pay attention to us while we’re robbing you!” Jessie shouted down to him.
“Yeh, it’s dissapectful,” Meowth sneered.
“Mhmm,” Ash waved a hand at them, finally putting the device away and sending one of Pikachu’s thunderbolts their way, effectively ruining their plans and watched as they flew off into the sky once more. Then he pulled his PokeTech back out and went right back to texting like nothing had even happened.
“Scary, he’s scary,” Iris mumbled off to his right somewhere.
“Never disturb a boy while he’s courting,” Cilan piped up, to which Ash pointedly ignored, even when a blush crept up onto his cheeks.
The time came for the Vertress Conference after Ash had successfully collected all of his Unova badges. He had quite a few rivals this time around, and sadly, in the end, Cameron had lucked out with his Riolu evolving and scoring him his win over Ash in the final 8 round.
Ash congratulated him on a great battle, saying he would take into account everything he learned during his travels in Unova and use it to beat him in the future. Cameron grinned, saying he looked forward to it.
Ash said his goodbyes to Iris and Cilan, and Alexa - a friend Ash met in Unova - asked if she can come along with Ash back to Pallet Town, eager to document the Pokemon there and to also have an interview with Professor Oak. Ash agreed, eager to see all of his old Pokemon again, and he really should stop by and say hi to his mum.
‘I’ll let Gary know I’m coming home, maybe he can stop by as well,’ Ash smiled as he sent off a quick text.
A day later they were both in Pallet Town and Ash, of course, was once again stuffed to the brim with food his mother had insisted he eat. He hadn’t heard back from Gary after he had sent his message, but he still kept his hopes up, and when he finally found a moment to escape he rushed over to Professor Oak’s lab.
He found the old man out the back attending to some Pokemon, and Ash was about to reach him until he crossed paths with a stampede of his Tauros. Pikachu had cried out in worry while Professor Oak came bounding over once he had heard all of the commotion.
“Ash my boy, what a surprise!” he called out with a smile.
“Y-yeah,” Ash coughed out as he continued to lie on the ground. “My Tauros sure were a surprise, too.”
The Professor just laughed like Ash had said the funniest thing. Ash finally got to his feet, looking around at all of his Pokemon he could see playing in the fields. “It sure is good to be home,” Ash sighed wistfully.
“I’m sure,” Professor Oak nodded, motioning for Ash to follow him. “Gary’s here too, what a coincidence,” his mouth curved up into a smirk.
The largest grin started forming on Ash’s face, sprinting past the Professor and up to the lab. As soon as he was inside he called out his usual, “Gary~” to search him out.
Ash heard some footsteps on the floor above him where the bedrooms were, and then he saw Gary’s face appear atop the stairs. Gary grinned down at Ash, skipping every second step to get to where Ash was waiting for him. They hugged, and Gary actually lifted Ash up to spin him around for a moment.
“Ack, Gary, put me down!” But Ash didn’t really mind as he laughed into Gary’s neck.
They came to a stop, Gary settling Ash’s spinning by resting his hands on his waist. “Sorry I didn’t reply to your last message, I kind of wanted my visit to be a surprise,” he said sheepishly.
“Well I am that,” Ash breathed, “Surprised, I mean.”
Just then a small cough came from behind them, and they both pulled apart to see the Professor and Alexa standing there, both sporting smiles on their faces.
“You two sure seem close,” Alexa commented.
“Oh they are,” Professor Oak agreed, walking over to place a hand on each of the two boys. “I think it’s very sweet.”
Gary lightly elbowed his grandpa in the side. “Quiet, old man.”
“I’ve invited Alexa to stay for dinner, are you staying as well, Ash?” The Professor asked.
Ash looked over at Gary, smiling fondly. “Absolutely.”
A while later they had all found themselves around the dinner table, Tracey as well. Ash had an excited reunion with him when the other boy had returned from the market, and Tracey hadn’t stopped asking Ash about all of his travels since they last saw each other.
“Hey Ash,” Alexa spoke up, “Have you ever heard of the Lumiose Conference? It’s in the Kalos region where I live - I think you’d enjoy it.”
“Oh man,” Gary broke out into a snicker.
“What?” Ash asked.
“Another new region, I wonder what you’ll do,” Gary mocked.
Ash stuck his tongue out at him before shoving some more dumplings into his mouth. When they had all finished Gary dragged Ash up to his room, and the both of them talked well into the early hours of the morning.
“So you reckon I should go to Kalos?” Ash asked from his spot on the bed, legs propped up on the wall and his head dangling over the edge of the mattress.
Gary, who was sitting on the floor, turned his head to look at Ash’s upside-down one. “Of course, it’s still your dream, what’s stopping you?”
Ash paused for a moment, unsure if he should answer truthfully. Instead he went with, “Well, yeah, but… I know I’ll miss you again,” he got out, not meaning to whisper the last part, like it was some sort of secret that could never leave the confines of this room.
Gary’s look turned soft, and he brought a hand up to run through Ash’s unruly locks. “Perhaps I can stop by Kalos sometime, I can ask Professor Rowan if he needs any data collected over there,” he offered, his fingers now caressing the dip between Ash’s head and neck. “And besides, you can still message me - it’ll be like I’m still with you.”
“Alexa is leaving on Saturday,” Ash said, unable to hide the sad tug at his lips.
“Well then,” Gary smiled, “I suppose we’ll have to make these last few days count.”
Delia had presented Ash with a new outfit the day he left Pallet Town again, and there were some more emotional goodbyes from everyone, all wishing him the best. Ash almost couldn’t bring himself to let go of Gary, and he could feel Gary felt the same way. But the Professor assured Ash he would see Gary again all in due time, but for now, he had a league to go and win.
Kalos was amazing, and Ash was already eager to challenge the first gym leader who happened to be Alexa’s sister. He met a couple of crazy siblings along the way, as well as a girl who had said she knew Ash from childhood. Ash didn’t want to admit how hard it was to remember her, but nevertheless, they traveled around and Ash was feeling more and more confident with the team he had built up, training constantly and breezing through his gym battles.
He had a good feeling about this league.
His hopes only increased when his Greninja was revealed to be holding powers the Pokemon world hadn’t seen in hundreds of years. Gary had made the trip then to come over and see Ash and Greninja transform, Gary and Clemont collecting the data so Gary could bring it back to Professor Rowan.
“I always knew you had it in you,” Gary grinned over at him.
The whole time Gary was with them Serena had been acting rather strange, but Ash just ignored it, not thinking much of it as he and Gary wondered off on walks together to catch each other up on everything that had been happening.
When the time came for Gary to leave again, Ash had secured his final badge to get into the league.
“You’re going to win this,” Gary whispered into his ear.
Ash suppressed a shiver, vowing then and there to win this thing.
And as the days of the league passed by Ash found himself in the top 2 for the first time ever since he left home all those years ago. He received so many congratulatory emails and calls that night, all wishing him luck in the finals tomorrow. Ash’s heart skipped a beat when Gary messaged him, saying how proud he was of Ash, and Ash couldn’t help but agree.
He was facing off against a trainer from the Hoenn region, Noah, and Ash had watched all of his matches up until now, and his Claydol was something Ash needed to pay close attention to.
They had both come down to their last Pokemon, with Greninja up against the still standing Claydol. Ash channeled all of his strength and Greninja changed form, that familiar shuriken appearing on his back. After a while the final blows were both called out, the explosion of power rippling through the arena, and Ash’s heart was stuck in his throat as he waited for the result.
“Shh, I think he’s coming.”
“Everyone - into positions.”
Ash walked up to his house. He had finished his time over in Kalos and was in the mood for some much needed rest – possibly for the whole week. He heard some faint whispers when he stopped in front of the door, wondering if his mum had some guests over. He walked in, Pikachu almost falling off his shoulder when he jumped up so fast at the commotion that greeted him.
“Happy birthday Ash!” a large group called out, streamers thrown about and confetti popped in his face.
“Ohmygod,” Ash breathed out fast, looking around at his family and friends who were all cramped inside his home’s small hallway.
“And also, welcome home, Champion!”
Ash couldn’t have stopped the waves of hugs coming his way even if he wanted to. The next minute he was hoisted up into the air, and Ash looked down to see Gary and Brock were holding him up, and Ash grinned down at them before looking to everyone else.
“Thanks you guys,” he laughed around a small sob, so overwhelmed with emotions.
“We knew you could do it!” Someone shouted in the crowd.
“Three cheers for Ash!”
Ash had never felt so happy in his entire life.
After Ash had said hello to everyone who had come out to congratulate him, the music had started and the food was brought out, everyone dancing and laughing and saying how proud they were of Ash for finally achieving his goal.
Much later, when mostly everyone had found places to relax and kick their feet up, Gary interrupted Ash and Misty’s bantering to ask Ash to come and follow him. Ash - just happy to be with Gary again - walked with him out of his house and up one of the larger hills located in their town.
“Okay, now wait here,” Gary told him as he got Ash to sit down, before turning to go and get something from behind a bush a few metres away from them.
“Ack, you’re not going to kill me are you?” Ash asked, “Has this whole friendship been a lie and now you’re planning your sweet revenge after 8 years of plotting?”
He heard Gary scoff behind the bushes, and then he appeared into view again. “Close your eyes,” he instructed.
Ash did so, suddenly feeling nervous. He breathed deeply, and he could hear Gary scuffle about for a minute, a faint crackling noise emitting from Gary’s position as well. He felt Gary return to his side, sitting down next to him, and Gary’s deep voice rang close to his ear, “Okay, open them.”
He heard the crackling noise again, and the next thing he knew colours of all shades were appearing in the sky, loud and bright, and Ash’s eyes grew wide, sucking in a sharp breath at the sheer beauty of it.
“I always knew you could do it,” Gary said, and even though it should have been hard to hear him over the fireworks, his voice was crystal clear to Ash, causing him to turn to look at the other boy.
This boy - or well, more man now - who he had known since childhood. Butting heads when they had turned into rivals, eager to one-up the other at any chance they could get and then slowly earning respect for each other as they grew up on separate paths. Who he had parted ways with on good terms and had continued to see glimpses of each other throughout the years. Who had finally made the first move to keep in better touch with Ash, inspiring each other, laughing together, and soon it had grown into the strongest friendship Ash had ever had with anyone.
This boy who he has fallen so hopelessly in love with.
“Gary,” he breathed, his heart threatening to leap from his chest.
“I’ve… I’ve been meaning to tell you something Ash, something I’ve wanted to tell you for so long I was never quite sure how to word it, but I…” Gary stopped when he saw Ash’s smile, and Ash heard Gary’s breath hitch, seeing his hands twitching buy his sides as if wanting nothing more than to reach out and touch Ash.
“Gary,” he said again, putting all of his emotions into that one word before he leaned the rest of the way over to press his lips against Gary's.
Gary froze for a split second before reacting, cupping Ash’s face and kissing back like his life depended on it. Gary pressed in deeper, like he was a starved man and Ash was his salvation, one hand moving to find a home at the small of Ash’s back to pull him in closer.
Ash made a noise of appreciation, his hands like vices on the front of Gary’s shirt. Everything clicked suddenly; everything that had ever happened between them both had been leading up to this moment. Eight years in the making got them here, and Ash thought the wait was definitely worth it, especially when Gary moaned into his mouth, whispering out, “Ash,” in between kisses, voice full of awe and yearning.
It was the most amazing thing Ash had ever heard.
He held on tight, like the mere thought of letting go of Gary was unthinkable. The fireworks continued to go off behind them but Ash paid them no attention, instead he kissed Gary for everything he was worth, and for Ash, Gary had become his whole world.
“I knew it!”
“Yep, totally saw this coming.”
“Oh sweetie, I’m just so happy you’re happy.”
They had both stumbled back to the house a while later, their hair slightly disheveled and Ash tried his best to cover up a hickey blooming on his neck. Misty noticed it straight away though and shot him a knowing look followed by ridiculous kissing faces.
“I’ve been waiting for the day you two would finally get together,” Professor Oak said from his place in the kitchen doorway.
“Wait - what?” Ash twitched.
“Oh my god,” Gary mumbled into his hands.
“Every time I saw either of you I would always mention the other in hopes that one of you would confess,” the Professor nodded solemnly for all his years of troubles.
“What are you – Gary – he – your family is insane,” Ash rounded on him before turning back to the Professor. “You mean this whole time you’ve been trying to set us up? What the hell?”
“And it only took 8 years,” Brock piped up, wagging his eyebrows.
“I can’t believe this,” Ash muttered as Pikachu sprang up to perch on his shoulder.
“C’mon Champion, no time for dwindling, we have to go and cut the cake now,” May ushered him into the living room where even more food had been set up.
“I love you guys but you’re all crazy,” Ash laughed despite himself.
“And we love you, now shut up and blow out your candles,” Dawn insisted.
Ash did so, everyone clapping when he was done. Ash felt a warm hand twine around his own, and he looked over to see Gary smiling at him, so bright it made Ash’s heart stutter. Gary leaned in to land a soft kiss on his cheek, and Ash tried his best to ignore the cat calls thrown their way.
“Thank you,” Ash whispered near Gary’s ear.
“For always believing in me,” Ash felt happiness swelling in his chest, feeling like he could fly. “But if I catch your grandfather trying to secretly plan our wedding, I swear to god.”
Gary’s soft laugh that followed was like the calm in a storm, and Ash never wanted to go another day without hearing it.