Ash and Goh stood atop a grassy hill. The sun beat down on them with a scorching heat. A breeze blew past the boys, ruffling their hair. The two of them panted heavily, sweating, but smiling all the same.
"Ha!" Ash shouted. "I beat you Goh!"
"Yeah, but it looks like Raboot beat both of us," Goh panted out, and Raboot looked smugly pleased. Goh bent over and put his hand on his knees, trying desperately to catch his breath. He hadn't run that hard in a while and he still lost their race. It was a stupid race, anyway.
Goh felt something hit his head and bounce off. "Ow!" Glancing in Ash's direction Goh saw a pokéball on the ground between them he reached over and picked it up. "Did you just throw a pokéball at me?"
Ash laughed breathlessly. "I just thought, you look so worn out right now, if you were a pokémon, I could catch you easily in that state."
"Well I could say the same for you!" Goh said, winding up to throw the pokéball right back. "You're just as exhausted as I am!" He released the pokéball in Ash's direction, then dropped onto his bottom and leaned back on his hands, closing his eyes with a tired sigh. He heard a familiar noise, but he couldn't place it right away, so he chose to ignore it. "Pokéballs don't work on humans, anyway. What a pointless thing to do."
"Boot! Ra raboot boot!" Raboot shouted in alarm.
"What is it Raboot?" Goh mumbled.
"Pika pi! Pikachu!" Pikachu squealed frantically. "Chu pika! Chu!
"Raboot! Boot boot!" Raboot hadn't really been this vocal since before it evolved.
"What's wrong all the sudden?" Goh moaned. "Ash? What are they yelling about?" When he got no response except the continued, panicked pokéspeech of Raboot and Pikachu, Goh finally opened his eyes and looked around. "Ash?"
His friend was nowhere to be found. Raboot kicked his arm hard and he yelped in pain. When he looked down, about to ask what that was for, he saw his pokémon partner holding up his rotom phone. It was open to the Pokédex and it was showing the screen for a new entry. A picture of Ash was on the screen, next to it, the icons for a psychic and electric type pokémon.
??? has been added to your Pokédex
"Wha—huh? WHAT?!" Goh screamed.
"Pikaa!" Pikachu pointed at the pokéball that Ash had thrown at him as a joke, and that he had thrown back at Ash.
"What just happened?" Goh scrambled over to the pokéball and picked it up. Holding it cautiously, as if it might shatter. "How did this... what? I... I have to call professor Cerise!" He took his rotom phone from Raboot and called the professor.
"Goh? I thought you and Ash went out to explore today. Is something wrong?" Professor Cerise said when he picked up.
"I... I... I..." Goh couldn't get the words out. It was just too weird.
"You what? What's wrong?"
"I accidentally caught Ash inside a pokéball and I don't know what to do!" Goh shouted.
"Now, Goh, there's no need to yell," the professor told him. "Calm down. You know pokéballs can't capture humans. He's probably just playing a prank on you."
"But professor Cerise, he's registered to my Pokédex!"
"Well perhaps your Rotom is in on it."
"I'm coming back to the lab!"
"Now Goh, that's—" Goh hung up before the professor could 'talk sense' into him. Suddenly full of nervous energy, exhaustion from the long race there all but forgotten, Goh ran full-tilt down the hill, Raboot and Pikachu in tow, back the way he came.
He was panting and wheezing even more heavily than before when he finally reached Professor Cerise's pokémon research laboratory, Ash's pokéball still clutched tightly in his hands as he gasped for enough breath to explain the situation to Ren who had greeted him at the front door and brought him inside.
"He's... Ash... inside... pokéball... gotta... do something..." Goh said through loud panting.
"Now Goh, didn't I already tell you, that's impossible."
"Professor!" Ren said with a start as Professor Cerise appeared behind him and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Do you know what he's talking about."
"Goh is under the impression that he's somehow managed to catch Ash inside a pokéball," Professor Cerise explained.
"But it's not possible to catch a human inside a pokéball," Ren said.
"Exactly." The professor nodded. "I think Ash must have been playing some kind of prank. He probably thought it would be funny to see Goh panic like this."
"It's not a prank!" Goh snapped, once he finally caught his breath enough speak clearly. "Ash is inside this pokéball!" he thrust out his hand with the pokéball for Ren and the professor to see.
"Well, why don't you let him out then?" Professor Cerise suggested.
"Let him out?" Goh stared blankly back at him. "Oh yeah!" Goh prepared to throw the pokéball. "Ash! Come out now please!"
In an instant, Ash stood before them, looking much less concerned about the situation than Goh thought he should be.
"So that's what the inside of a pokéball feels like," Ash said. "Feels weird. I can see why some pokémon don't like it, but it's actually pretty comfortable."
"Ash! You were just inside a pokéball! Don't you have anything more to say than that‽" Goh demanded while Ren and the professor yelled in surprise.
"So, you really did catch Ash inside a pokéball," the professor said, once he'd regained some composure. "Incredible."
"So, does this mean I'm your pokémon now?" Ash asked his friend.
"Of course not! You're not a pokémon!"
"I don't know what's happening, but I feel like I should probably call my mom and tell her about it," Ash said thoughtfully.
"It wouldn't be a bad thing," Professor Cerise agreed. "She may know something we don't that could explain this situation. She is your mother after all. Give her a call, would you, Ash? Goh, hand me that pokéball. It's possible it could catch Ash because of an unusual defect or something."
Both boys quickly complied to the professor's requests and a few minutes later, Ash's mother was on her way all the way from Pallet Town, hopefully to try and help clear things up.
"Any news with the pokéball?" Goh asked when the professor finished running tests a few hours later.
"It appears to be a completely ordinary pokéball, at least as far as any test I'm capable of running in this lab can tell." The professor gave the ball back to Goh. "Try and see if you can get Ash back inside it."
"Um... is that okay with you Ash?" Goh asked uncertainly, not at all comfortable with this situation.
"Do what you gotta do, Goh! I'm as curious about all this as you are!" Ash grinned at him as though nothing about this situation was the least bit disconcerting.
"A... alright... Ash, return," Goh commanded, eyes shooting wide open when his friend returned to the pokéball like any normal pokémon would. "I don't like this. I don't like this. I don't like this one bit! Come back out Ash!" he threw the ball and his friend reappeared when it opened.
"Turns out it's just as weird the second time," Ash said. He laughed. "I'm sure I'll get used to it."
"No. No. No. No. No. NO!" Goh shouted. "No getting used to it! How are you so calm about this Ash?!"
"Well, is freaking out about it more fun?"
"GAH!" Goh screamed in frustration and put his hands on his head, scratching his scalp.
"Mrs. Ketchum is here!" Ren announced, walking into the room with the woman right behind him.
"What's all this about Ash getting caught?" she asked, her face a mask of worry. "What did he get caught doing? Is he in some kind of trouble?"
"He didn't get caught doing anything Delia," Professor Cerise assured her. "Somehow, it seems your son was caught in a pokéball by Goh here."
"We were just messing around!" Goh interjected defensively, practically tripping and stumbling over his rushed words. "We raced each other to the top of a hill, and he threw a pokéball at me as a joke, so I threw it back at him! I never thought I could catch him! I don't know how it was even possible!"
"Oh, is that all?" Mrs. Ketchum said, sighing softly. "Calm down Goh, it's alright."
"It... it is?" Goh eyes were watering and his knees were weak. He definitely didn't think it was alright.
"You mean to say you have an explanation for this Delia?" asked the professor.
"A pretty simple one actually," she told them. "You see, Ash is actually a pokémon."
They stared at her in silence for a long, drawn out moment.
"Ash, why are you surprised? You've been ten years old for over twenty years now," she said. "Whenever you're injured you go to a pokémon center for treatment instead of a regular hospital, you understand pokéspeech, and you're determined to become a pokémon master, even though that's not even a real thing. I thought for sure you had figured it out by now."
"Hold on, wait, wait," Goh had switched from one crisis to another at this new revelation. "You're telling me that Ash has been a pokémon this entire time‽"
"Mhm, Professor Oak believes that Ash is probably an unidentified Legendary Pokémon of some kind."
"Professor Oak knows?" Professor Cerise asked.
"Yes, he's known from the beginning," Mrs. Ketchum "Most of the pokémon professors and researchers who've met Ash figured it out over time, some faster than others. Until today, Professor Oak was the only one I'd actually told."
"But wait, if Ash is a pokémon, how is he a pokémon trainer?" Goh demanded on the verge of hysterics. "Can pokémon catch other pokémon?"
"I don't see why not," Ash said. "Your partner Raboot has caught a lot of pokémon for you, including itself, remember? You missed with the pokéball and it jumped in to be caught anyway. It was the same when you caught Butterfree. It dodged your throw and Raboot redirected the ball."
"You're... right..." Goh was trembling in shock. "I... I gotta go..."
No one tried to stop him as he stumbled his way to the door. He clearly needed to be alone for the time being, but Ash was already planning to go talk to him later. Too many questions needed asking before that, though, and Ash had to have the answers.
"Mom, how come you never told me I was a pokémon before this?" Ash asked.
"Like I said before, Ash, I honestly thought you knew," she said. "Research has shown that pokémon retain memories even from before they hatch, I had no reason to think that you didn't know, especially considering all the things I mentioned earlier."
"Did you find Ash as an egg then?" Professor Cerise asked.
"My friend did." Mrs. Ketchum smiled when she said that, reflecting on a good memory. "He liked to go out walking in the woods around town and once, when he was coming back from there, he found a very strange-looking pokémon egg tucked away on the edge of the path."
"Strange-looking how?" Ren asked, since he was still in the room and beginning to worry that people might have gotten swept up in the drama and forgotten he was there.
"Well, it was a plain white egg, but it had a metallic sheen that made it shine different colors under the light. After he found it, he brought it to me."
"Why'd he bring it to you?" Ren asked, thinking he could have more lines now that everyone remembered he was there.
"Well, when I was much much younger, I had this notion in my head that I was going to become a pokémon breeder, and at the time, I was working as a research assistant to Professor Oak."
"Wait, if he found a mysterious pokémon egg, then why wouldn't he want to hatch it himself?" Ash asked. "Did he not like pokémon or something?"
"He liked pokémon fine, but he just didn't want to have to raise any. He had this deathly fear of responsibility I think," Delia said bitterly. "Anyway, he moved to the Alola region to work as an engineer like a month later and I haven't heard from him since. To be honest, we hadn't been all that close since we were little, then after... well, some stuff happened when we were teenagers. I was surprised he even thought to take the egg to me, since we weren't exactly on great terms anymore.
"Once he brought the egg to me at Professor Oak's lab, the professor assigned me to take care of it until it hatched. I took care of it for a long time, almost a whole year, but I figured it would hatch when it was ready. When it finally did, you can imagine my surprise when what came out looked more like a five-year-old version of my former friend than any pokémon I'd ever seen."
"Wait, so I look like the guy who found the egg?" Ash asked, pointing to his own confused face.
"Exactly like him," Delia said. "If you'd like, I can ask Professor Oak to send copies of his research to this laboratory. It's mostly all theoretical, but you may find it interesting."
"I'd like that very much," Professor Cerise answered. "If that's okay with you, Ash. This is all incredibly fascinating."
"Yeah sure," Ash said absently, still mulling over his mother's story. "Hey, you said a five-year-old, didn't you?"
"Yes, when you hatched from the egg, you looked about five years old." She nodded. "It was a little more than eight years later that I told you about pokémon trainers. I was trying to get you to go to sleep, so I told you about how when you were ten-years-old, you could start your journey to become a pokémon trainer, and you said you wanted to be ten-years old as soon as possible so you could become a pokémon master.
"As soon as you fell asleep, you started to glow, and when the light faded, there you were, suddenly ten-years-old with too-small pajamas, curled up in your bed and dreaming of your coming journey. You were so excited when you woke up, cheering about how you finally had your growth spurt and how you'd be ten-years-old before we even knew it."
"I remember that! I didn't realize..."
"Ash, when you were registered to Goh's Pokédex, what type of pokémon did you register as?"
"Psychic and electric, like an Alolan Raichu," Ash answered. "Goh showed me while we were waiting for you to finish those tests on the pokéball. It didn't really have any other information than that, no species name or evolutions listed, or anything like that."
"I guess that explains why Pikachu's electric shocks never do more than mess up your hair when they knock the rest of us out completely," Ren remarked with a chuckle.
"Professor Oak has always been convinced you had to be a psychic type, since you can manipulate time," Delia added.
"I can manipulate time?" Ash echoed, wide-eyed.
For the next few hours, Ash's mother told her son, Professor Cerise, and Ren, everything she knew about Ash's abilities, and about the other pokémon professors' theories as well, at least the ones she could remember. The sun sunk low in the sky as she related her stories and information to the trio, until it was well after dark, and Professor Cerise invited her to stay the night.
All the while they were talking, Goh didn't return. Just before Ash opened the door to the room he shared with his friend, his mother placed a gentle hand on his shoulder.
"May I talk to him first?" she asked.
"Yeah, you'll probably be better at explaining stuff than me," Ash said, stepping back to let her pass as he called into the room. "Let me know when you're ready Goh!"
Mrs. Ketchum chuckled and closed the door behind her. "Goh?"
"Yeah?" He was sitting on his bed, not trembling anymore, but he still seemed a bit shellshocked.
"Have you been in here the whole time by yourself?" She sat down beside him, careful not to upset him further.
"Raboot was here for a while but..." Goh let out a loud breath, halfway between a sigh and a whine. "I'm having an ethical crisis."
"Aren't you a little young to be having an ethical crisis?"
"Probably, but I didn't realize the guy I was crushing on was twenty years older than me and a member of a different species!" Goh spat. "Is it, like, okay to have a crush on a pokémon like that? NO! Maybe? I mean some pokémon are kind of like people, like Mr. Mime. Is it okay to have a crush on a Mr. Mime?"
"Are you asking me that as a genuine question, or was it rhetorical?" Mrs. Ketchum asked. "Because I should hope the answer is yes."
"What?" He stared at her in horrified confusion.
"Is this what you're worried about?" she asked, not bothering to explain herself. "You have a crush on Ash, and now that you know he's a pokémon you think those feelings are bad?"
"Am I wrong?"
"I would say so," Mrs. Ketchum answered. "Ash is an intelligent being, though I know some of his old friends might argue with that. He can think and feel, and he can communicate those feelings. He can empathize with other people, and he can learn and grow just like any human could, psychologically speaking. Some philosophers even say that pokémon and humans are really no different at all."
"Yeah, and scientists boo those philosophers out of the room," Goh grumbled, eyes watering.
"Yes well, the fact is, neither scientists nor philosophers know everything." She wrapped her arms around him and stroked his hair. "No one knows what's in your heart but you, and only you can decide if your feelings are okay with you. I can tell you with a fair amount of confidence that no one will judge you for having a crush on Ash."
"Really. He may technically be a pokémon, but he's more or less human anyway."
"More or less, huh? Well which is it?"
"What do you think?"
Goh looked back on all the memories he had made with Ash over the last few months. He remembered how odd it was that Ash seemed to understand pokéspeech, and how interesting it was that Ash didn't so much 'catch' pokémon as he did befriend them so that they wanted to be trained by him. He remembered how happy he was to finally have a friend who stuck with him, helped him and encouraged him and cared about him. He remembered how much he loved Ash's kindness, toward people and pokémon.
"I think Ash can be both," Goh said finally, quietly. "I always knew he was a weirdo anyway." Mrs. Ketchum laughed and nodded.
"True enough," she said. "Should I tell him you're ready to talk to him now?"
When Ash entered their room, the first thing Goh did was pull him into a big hug.
"I don't care if you're a pokémon, Ash, I just want you to be my friend," he said as Ash returned the hug.
"Like I could ever stop being your friend," Ash responded.
"Whatever, Pikachu," Ash snorted.
"What'd he say?" Goh asked. Now that he knew Ash really could understand pokéspeech, rather than just guessing at his meaning, he was curious.
"Nothing, just that he's happy didn't end our friendship over this," Ash said, though Goh got the feeling that Ash wasn't translating directly when he heard Pikachu pika-ing angrily.
'That not what I fucking said, Ass Ketchum! I said you should have kissed him instead of fucking friendzoning the poor bastard, you dumb-ass bitch! You know how he feels about you, you cheeky fucker!' "Pika pika! Chupi pika chu!"
"Yeah, I heard you the first time Pikachu," Ash cringed a little, and hoped Goh didn't notice. "I'm glad everything turned out well too!" It wasn't like he could repeat anything Pikachu was saying anyway, better for Goh to think Pikachu was happy than for him to get mad at them both for eavesdropping on a private conversation. Now wasn't the time for new developments. Now was for reassurances. New developments could come later, at their own pace.