I love Pokemon. I love the moments where Ash comes across as vaguely serious and competent. I'm gonna forge a bona fide Pokemon Master out of our boy. This is probably the hardest opening chapter I've ever written. I hope I did okay, and you guys enjoy.
As a little side note however, I have made a few minor changes to canon other than the events Ash goes through in this chapter - the most important and obvious of which, is Ash's age, and the age at which trainers start their journeys. 10 has never made any sense to me - mainly because it's only there because the creators wanted the series/games to be marketable to younger kids. Seriously, what good parent in a reasonably developed society is gonna let their ten year old kid wander off into the wild, which happens to be populated mainly by really quite dangerous creatures. It's ludicrous, so, er, I changed it!
Pokemon trainers-to-be receive their licences and set out at sixteen. A reasonable balance between how old would actually be sensible (18? 21?) and what actually happens in canon (10).
This of course has another purpose for me. It makes any ships I may or may not want to write much more... palatable. Writing a romance between two ten year olds is just something I never would have done. Like, ever.
Memories of a Friend
Note: Italics in this chapter indicate a flashback.
Tomorrow he would turn sixteen and receive his Pokemon Trainer's License.
And tomorrow, he, Ash Ketchum would finally get his very first Pokemon from Professor Oak, and get started on his Pokemon journey. It had been a long time coming - almost ten years in the making, though he had wanted it for far longer - and he was decidedly nervous. Was he ready? Was he good enough at this point to be able to care for a team of Pokemon on a journey successfully, to take care of the Pokemon that would become his friends?
He found his thoughts wandering back, memories of all the times he shared with his best, and only, friend.
Bittersweet memories now, but Ash had managed to learn the art of focusing on the good. On the happy. And they were most certainly that. The happiest memories he had. Memories that hoped he would be able to match with the new friends and companions he would make.
"Shut your mouth, Gary! What would you know about it anyways?!" The boy angrily demanded of his counterpart, small fists clenched as he tried not to let his fury at the other child's insults get the better of him any more than it already had.
"Well, my Grandpa is the Professor Oak – you do know who that is, don't you, Ashy-boy? - So I'd say I'm in a pretty good position to say whether you'll be a good Pokemon trainer or not. And, from everything thing I've ever seen of you Ashy-boy, you stink. I mean, when have you ever actually won anything? I'm not even sure you actually know anything about Pokemon at all. Face it Ash, you're just not cut out for it." Gary's tone was matter-of-fact, his arms stretched out in a nonchalant shrug that screamed arrogance. The brown haired child's two friends that flanked him had managed to laugh at all the right moments too, namely the parts where he made fun of Ash.
"I said shut up!" He was shouting now, all notions of self control forgotten in the face of laughter. "We're seven years old! None of us are even starting our journeys for three whole years! There's no way you could tell something like that before we've even gotten our own Pokemon. You watch Gary, I'm going to become a Pokemon master – the best there ever was – and then when I've wiped the floor with your Pokemon, you'll be begging me for help!"
Yet more laughter met his confident claim – confidence that was more bravado than anything else, a desperate cover for the insecurities that Gary's laughter seem to be able to cut right into the middle of – and Gary simply turned away, arms still set in that infuriating shrug.
"Whatever you say, Ashy-boy. Whatever you say."
Ash waited until the last possible moment, until he was certain Gary and his friends had gone and weren't coming back until he allowed a few treacherous tears to escape, and collapsed on on the floor, bringing his knees up to his chin, and wrapping his arms around his legs as he gazed out beyond the borders of Pallet Town.
If he had been in a better mood, Ash would have marveled at the beauty of the view. Pallet Town was a small town, really in the middle of nowhere, wedged between the ocean and the countryside beyond which lay Viridian City, about a day or so north. Ash sat on a small hill just outside the town's borders, a small woodland behind him separating him from the buildings of Pallet; and in front, down below, a vast – to his seven year old eyes at least – plain of grasslands, with the occasional tree and pond, where he knew Pokemon lived.
All the kids knew of course, that they weren't allowed out there until they had Pokemon of their own. Wild Pokemon could be aggressive and territorial, especially the likes of Spearow, a small sharp beaked bird that travelled in flocks and attacked as a group. To get caught out by a Pokemon without a way of defending yourself guaranteed you a bad injury, so the rule was generally obeyed. That didn't stop the kids from coming out here though, just to the limits of where they were allowed.
From the hill, you could watch the flocks of Pidgey and Spearow in the plains below, and occasionally catch glimpses of Rattata, or Nidoran as they darted between patches of long, concealing grass. Some kids had even claimed to have seen the odd Bulbasaur or Squirtle going about their business; though Ash was certain that they were lying, because everyone knew that those Pokemon were super hard to find, and really, really rare.. Watching Pokemon was a favourite past time of almost all the children of Pallet, and sometimes, a particularly brave Pokemon would wander up the hill into the Town's boundaries – Rattata especially, liked to venture up whilst the kids played, knowing that they would almost certainly jump at the chance to provide the small rat-like Pokemon a snack or three.
One day, three years from now, he'd be out there. He knew he would be, with every bone in his body. He'd start his journey, and he would become the absolute best. The greatest, most talented Pokemon trainer in history. He knew it like he knew the Sun came up in the mornings. He knew Gary was wrong about him, that Gary was just being mean, that he was nothing but a bully.
But if he knew all those things, Ash couldn't for the life of him work out why Gary's words should hurt so damn much. He should be able to just brush it off, and laugh right back at them. He should-
Ash's thought's were interrupted by a leathery hand brushing softly against his cheek, wiping away another tear hat had managed to fight it's way loose, and Ash couldn't help but instinctively jerk away from the presence he hadn't even realised was there until that moment.
A Charmander. A light orange Pokemon, rather similar to a lizard, with a tail that burnt with a deep yellow flame at the end. One of the beginner Pokemon that Professor Oak liked to keep at the lab for new trainers, along with Bulbasaur and Squirtle - and just as rare in the wild as either of those two. It stood next to him, arm still stretched out, and it's head cocked to the side in a questioning manner.
"Erm, I'm sorry little guy, you just surprised me is all - I didn't see you there." Ash replied, forcing a small smile onto his face as he scratched the back of his head in embarrassment.
"Char, Char!" It's tone was demanding, and a frown had made it's way onto the fire-type Pokemon's features as it semi-playfully stamped it's foot, and Ash couldn't help but be taken aback when he realised he had gotten the gist of what the Pokemon had meant. 'That's not what I was asking!' Ash thought briefly of his Dad's words, an excellent Pokemon trainer in his own right, about how people and Pokemon seemed to be naturally able to communicate and co-operate with each other with out the need for words; and how trainers who formed strong bonds with their Pokemon didn't need a common language to be able to hold long and complex conversations with each other. He had used an example of a bug trainer he had met in Viridian Forest that had an hour long conversation with his long time companion, a Beedrill about the relative merits of Pokemon contests over taking Gym challenges. Ash wouldn't have believed him if his Dad hadn't been deadly serious as he spoke; or maybe even then, if he hadn't later seen his Dad doing exactly that with his Arcanine.
"Oh, this?" He questioned, indicating the tear tracts that ran down his cheeks. "This is nothing, just some stupid bullies being mean. I shouldn't let it get to me. Say, are you a wild Charmander? Or did you wander away from Oak's lab or something like that? Because if you did, the Professor is probably really worried..." Ash asked, trying to turn the conversation away from Gary Oak.
For a moment, he could have sworn that Charmander realised what he was doing, because the peculiar fire Pokemon just eyed him carefully for a few seconds, before finally answering with a "Char, Charmander!"
"You're a wild Charmander?! No way! What are you doing all the way out in Pallet Town - Aren't Charmander supposed to come from Cinnebar Island or something?"
At this, Charmander simply shrugged his shoulders, and Ash got the hint to drop the line of questioning. "Say, do you want to come and see my house? I'm sure my Mom could rustle up some food for you if you're hungry. She cooks the best food in the world!"
Charmander nodded his head excitedly, and cried out in delight, which in turn made Ash smile his first real smile since before Gary had shown up.
"Well, what are we waiting for then? Follow me!"
Well, after that, Charmander had just... Never really left. He had never asked Charmander to officially become his, though his Dad had mailed him a spare Poke ball for that purpose. The thing was, he didn't need to. They had become the very best of friends, and were very rarely apart. It only took a few months for Ash to realise that he simply knew that Charmander was never going to be anywhere but by his side, especially as their ability to communicate became more intuitive.
His Dad, in the end, understood Ash's reason for not needing the pokeball, and simply stated that he was pleased Ash had found himself such a good friend.
The pair very quickly became inseparable, and the very best of friends. Finally making himself a proper friend changed Ash - suddenly, Gary's taunts and insults didn't mean that much any more; and that all too familiar sting of bitter jealousy and longing that arose when he watched the other kids play together without him, had all but disappeared when he could just turn to Charmander and begin games of their very own.
By the time two years had passed, Ash and his Charmander were a familiar and welcome sight on the streets and fields of Pallet; and their escapades had become legend amongst the children of Pallet Town.
"Hey Ash, is it true you two snuck into Professor Oak's lab?"
Ash turned his attention away from Charmander to face the sandy-haired boy who had run up to ask him the question, with an ever so slightly cocky grin on his face. "Well, no." He began, just pausing long enough for a look of disappointment to settle on the boy's face, before continuing on, "what we actually did was sneak into the Oak Corral to try and see some of the other pokemon - we wanted to try and ride one of the Ryhorn you can see from the fence."
Ash and Charmander's smiles widened in unison at the boy's stunned expression, and they walked away, leaving him there with his mouth hanging open in shock.
Obviously, the full story was slightly less impressive. They had snuck into the Corral, and they had of course tried - partially successfully, too, in Ash's opinion - to ride the Ryhorn. What Ash had left out however, was that this particular Ryhorn didn't take to being ridden very well, and spent the better part of half an hour careening around the fielded areas of the Corral bucking and shaking to try and dislodge them - the pair having no other option to cling onto the rock-type for dear life.
Eventually of course, the Ryhorn came out on top, sending the pair rolling and tumbling away from the stony beast - finally coming to a halt at the feet of the put-upon and angry Pokemon Professor himself.
That had not been the first, and nor was it the last time the two of them attempted to get into the Corral, and eventually the tales spread amongst the kids of Pallet. The Corral was well known to be forbidden for non-trainers and researchers due to the multiple and may different species of rare and often powerful pokemon; and while Ash was only really interested in meeting the pokemon there for himself, he had to admit he took some pleasure out of the fact that he was well known for being the one brave (or stupid, as his mother believed) enough to sneak in.
"Hey Charmander? Do you have... A dream?"
Charmander looked over at his human friend, his head tilted to the side in confusion at the sudden question. They were both sitting at that hill were they had first met, and Ash was staring out across the grasslands and forests that stretched out before him in a very rare moment of introspection and seriousness - especially coming from him.
"It's just that, well, I do. I mean, you've heard me talking about wanting to be a pokemon trainer - sometimes it feels like it's all I can think or talk about, but-" Ash paused and looked at Charmander, as if gauging him for something, before pressing on. "But that's not all it is. I don't just want to be a trainer. I don't even want to be a good one. I want... I want to be the best trainer there is! A pokemon master..." Ash's voice spoke, building into a passionate semi-shouted crescendo, before it immediately quietened into a soft, reverent whisper at the words 'pokemon master'. It was something he had openly expressed very few times, and never openly to anyone but his Mum in fear of the ridicule he would receive. His Mum believed in him - Ash though naive and slightly stupid as he was, knew this like he knew the Sun would rise every morning - but his Mum would believe in him no matter how lofty or unattainable his goals were, unflinchingly, and unfailingly. His Dad too, had expressed his faith in him just about very time he had come home from his travels.
He loved his Mum, and her support in his dream genuinely meant the world to him, but he had desperately craved that kind of support, that kind of acknowledgment from an outside source, from somebody not his parents. He might have declared his dream to some of the other kids, but for the words of Gary and his ilk. Even as Charmander's arrival had taught him to ignore the words of the bullies over the past two years, his dream was still something Ash was terrified of being ridiculed for, it was so precious to him.
Charmander seemed to understand how important the words Ash had just spoke were, and maintained his gaze towards his human friend, apparently considering his response, before he began his reply, in the usual cries and growls that pokemon used to speak.
Ash had never really understood the ease with which he had been able to communicate with Charmander - he was hardly experienced with pokemon as a whole, and their bond was hardly strong that first night they had spoken - but he had never really questioned it either. All he did know, was that he had never been so grateful for that ability until tonight, as Charmander stood before him, telling him animatedly his own dream.
He wanted to be strong. As strong as he could be. The very best of his kind - the hottest flames, the most powerful wings, the fastest in the air; strong enough that he'd be able to protect anyone and anything he wanted. But then Charmander looked directly at Ash, and changed tack slightly. His dream had changed slightly. He still wanted to be the strongest. To be able to protect anything. But more than that, he wanted to achieve that with Ash. He wanted to get as strong as he could to help Ash with his dreams, too. The strongest trainer, with the strongest pokemon - an unbeatable team.
Ash glanced tremulously at his friend, the emotion evident in his voice. "Do you... Do you really think I can - that we can?"
"Char!" The enthusiastic cry, in combination with a clenched fist stretched out towards him told Ash all he needed to know of his friend's certainty, as a slow, delighted smile stretched across his face as a result.
"So... It's settled then. You and me, buddy. Starting tonight we'll work, and train, and battle together until we're both there best there is - unbeatable team! Agreed?"
A change in their relationship occurred that day, thanks to their mutual promises to each other. Whilst before they had just been two friends - one of which that just happened to also be a pokemon - they were now something more. Partners. Ash and Charmander, whilst still the very best of friends, just gradually began to naturally act the part of their respective roles - pokemon, and pokemon trainer.
Their free time began to change as well - as promised they began to train and work towards their dreams; Charmander working with Ash on battle strategies and practicing his attacks - some of the larger boulders on Pallet Town will forever remain scorched thanks to Charmander's efforts with ember - and Ash, somewhat emboldened by Charmander's acceptance and pledge to help with his dream as his partner spurred Ash into studying pokemon in an attempt to prepare himself for his journey's start in six years time.
And as months turned to years, his somewhat casual study of battle theory - moves, types, strategies etc. - branched out into a good many other areas out of necessity. Pokemon care, capture, diets... Absolutely anything he could find out, he did - though still a little reluctantly, as he still couldn't quite bring himself to enjoy studying, no matter how useful.
Before long, three years had passed, and for a thirteen year old Ash Ketchum, came the day when everything changed.
Ash put his arm up to try and shield his eyes from the rain that battered Oak Corral as he scanned his surroundings for one of the few pokemon that hadn't been found and returned to it's pokeball.
The incoming storm would be brief, but brutal, and the Professor had decided that all the Pokemon would need to be brought in for their own safety as it passed, rather than risk their injury. Ash had been helping the Professor at his lab alongside school now for six months, in order to get some hands on experience with different kinds of pokemon, and to learn as much as he possibly could in general about Pokemon, and had of course instantly volunteered to round up the stragglers, even a the storm grew closer, and the resultant rain hammered down all over Pallet.
Finally spotting his target, he approached as slowly and cautiously as he could, before kneeling down at eye level to try and calm the shivering, soaked through pokemon he had been searching for. The Rattata had been pressed up against a tree trying in vain to use it as cover for the biting winds and pounding rain that the storm had bought; and as soon as it recognised Ash, it allowed him to scoop him up, and tuck him away under his waterproof jacket where it was safe, and warm.
Ash began the sprint back to the lab itself, before he spotted Oak himself some way away, crouched right by the boundary of the Corral that backed onto the forest, and changed his course.
"Professor, I have Rattata! Any luck with Ivysaur?"
Oak turned to him, his expression an uncomfortable mix of concern and relief before gesturing to the lab. "Take Rattata inside! I'll be with you shortly!" He cried, raising his voice over the noise of the storm.
Oak pointed to a whole in the chain link fence in response, easily big enough for an Ivysaur to have fit through. "We've been at it for well over an hour Ash - I can't think of any other place we haven't looked on the Corral - but we can't go now, the storm's-"
Oak was cut off by the sudden placement of a freezing Rattata in his arms, as Ash rushed by him, squeezing through the gap in the fence as only one his age could have done.
"I'm gonna find her!"
But Oak was too late - Ash couldn't hear him, or had even just ignored him, and had already darted off into the forest, determined to find the missing pokemon.
In truth, Ash had lost track of how long he had been running, and even where he was as he did so. All he knew was that somewhere out in this forest, there was a pokemon - somebodies partner and friend, just as Charmander was to him - was lost in the storm. He scrambled through the forest undergrowth, eyes scanning back and forth for the missing grass type, trying to catch a glimpse even through the thickening rain, and as he saw the flash of lightning strike down upon the forest, and the deafening roar of thunder only moments after, he knew the storm was right over him.
He quickened his already frantic pace.
Glancing to the left, he spotted what looked like a main path through the dense forest, and dashed towards it, smiling slightly as recognition struck him. This was a path that connected part of Route One with the lab, bypassing the rest of the route and Pallet Town itself. Reinvigorated at finally knowing where he was again, he prepared to set off again down the path in a direction that he felt was away from the lab as he couldn't see it from where he was, but was stopped by a familiar, albeit quiet, sound.
Ash strained his ears, and this time, the frantic cries of his Charmander reached his ears, and he span round to meet his friend in shock.
"You shouldn't be out here, your tai-"
"Char, Charmander, Char!"
Ash paused, and sighed in relief. "Ivysaur's been found, huh? Thank goodne-"
Ash was cut off again by a blinding flash of light, and the unmistakable whip-crackle of a thunder strike near by, and was unable to gain his bearings before yet another panicked cry erupted from his friend, and he heard a gunshot loud crack, followed by a terrible groaning, before being tackled to the ground by Charmander.
The following boom was deafening, and Ash felt almost as though a bomb had gone off in his ear; and before he could even try and process what was going on, an agonising pain erupted in his left leg, ripping through every level of his consciousness, and forcing a broken scream from him.
It took Ash a few minutes - though it felt like hours - to fully comprehend what had happened - and even then, how close he had come to death really didn't sink in until much later. A tree had been struck by lightning, and had toppled directly on top of him - an instant death only being avoided by the quick action of Charmander, pushing his body out of the way of the tree.
Unfortunately, the small pokemon hadn't been able to push him far enough, and the tree had managed to fall across his left leg, pinning him to the forest floor.
He weakly glanced around, trying to locate Charmander, and his gaze quickly settled on Charmander's still breathing, but unconscious form - just out of arm's reach. Ash could just about make out a wound on the lizard pokemon's forehead, and quickly realised he had been knocked out in the fall. Panic set in as Ash tested his leg, and found it wouldn't move an inch from under the thick tree truck that was pinning it.
It wasn't him he was particularly worried about though, as he stared helpless and frustrated at his friends prone form on the ground. It was a reasonably well-known fact that should a Charmander's flame on it's tail go out, it would die. Now, the flame was enhanced thanks to Charmander's own power, meaning that it had some kind of defense against the weather or water attacks; but Charmander was lying out in torrential rain with no protection.
If Ash didn't do something, Charamander would die.
"Charmander, get up! You have to get up, now!" Ash shouted over the storm, over and over again, trying to get some kind of response from his friend other than the slight rising and falling of his chest - the miniscule movement proving that Charmander was definitely alive.
But it was to no avail. Desperation began to set in as the flame on Charmander's tail began to get noticeably weaker, and Ash tried heaving himself into a sitting position, only to be nearly overcome by nausea and pain at the movement. After giving himself a moment he was certain he didn't have, he pushed through the pain and began to try and manually lift the tree off of his leg - but it was all too much for his young body. He couldn't make the tree move even an inch, and the pain was so intense, black spots began dancing across his eyes as he came dangerously close to passing out.
Rain poured down his face, and it was only now Ash realised just how wet he was. Not an inch of him had escaped the rain, and just as soon as he had noticed it, he felt the cold the adrenaline and worry had been keeping from him. It penetrated right through to his very bones, his uncontrollable shivering doing nothing to keep it at bay, and he could swear it was sapping his very strength.
Ash was tired. More tired than he had ever been. He could feel the exhaustion in every muscle, in every limb - even his mind was clouded, and foggy, making it impossible to think clearly.
A quick glance to his side though, and he knew that none of it mattered. His body had no strength left, he was exhausted, and at the very limit of his stamina and pain threshold. He had one more chance - once more herculean effort left within him before he knew his body would give out.
Failure was not an option. For Charmander, he would succeed.
He had to.
He set himself as best he could, and wrapped his arms around the tree as though he were cradling it and readied himself to lift. A deep breath. And he lifted. He grit his teeth, and he poured every last ounce of strength and energy and willpower into moving that tree.
And in one, single, utterly horrifying moment of clarity that he would remember until his dying day, Ash knew it wasn't enough.
His body, wracked with pain, slunk back into his original position lying down, and the blackness that he had been fighting against for what felt like hours, finally came for him faster than he could push it back.
And his last waking sight before unconsciousness finally claimed him, was the candle-thin flame of his best and only real friend's tail, flicker one final time, and die.