Author's note: This fanfic was in careful progress for so long that part of my soul must have gotten sealed in it. I've never been as attached to a fic before as I am to this one. Comments on the chapters and/or the whole thing would be gold.
I've put a lot of thought on taking the actual anime content into account (referring to such things as Silver Conference, combining both canon events and my own additions). Gary isn't portrayed as an angsty person in the anime, and Ash isn't a specifically terrific comforter, but I've tried to make them both as IC as possible (taking into account that they both are 19 and have matured). More info about their aging: .
If you don't know/remember what is Sayda Island and who are Dora, Jared and Crystal, I'd suggest you go and watch a Pokémon Chronicles episode called "Putting the Air Back in Aerodactyl". If you can't, well, Sayda is the home of Sayda Lab, the place where Gary went to work as a researcher after he quit being a trainer. It's located in Kanto region. Dora and Jared are Gary's co-workers and Crystal is Dora's little sister.
I – Restless
Gary didn't know if the sea was actually more restless than usual – or if it was just his mind. The waves ran towards the shore and some greyish clouds were wandering at the sky, but you couldn't tell if it was storm coming up or just the sea being its normal, untamable self. The sea he had learnt to love.
He was sitting on the platform on the northern end of the island, watching closely for any peculiar movement. This was the day he had been waiting for, several months and each long night, even if he didn't know what he was waiting for. And even though Dora was optimistically sure this would ease up the stressed boy's mind, Gary himself wasn't so sure.
Dora had asked if there was something bothering him. He had reacted like a jerk, snapped back as if Dora had purposely offended him. Dora hadn't cared. "You don't care about your job anymore", she had said. "Or your life. You've lost your spark. You eat like less than Crystal does. All you do is smoke."
Gary still felt a sense of irrational quilt when that sentence came into his mind. He had feared Dora would send him away, kick him out of the lab for being too weak. But she had told him to sit down and talk.
So Gary had done so. His memories, his past adventures as an admired Pokémon trainer, the feeling of loss – all that flooded out of his mouth and he couldn't do anything about it. Dora had sat and listened as Gary spoke about the things that had been slowly choking him inside. It had been so long since he had quit training and started researching. He couldn't believe how painful, yet so important the memories felt. Each victory. The overwhelming feeling of power. All the special persons he had met. They were gone now and even though Gary loved his job, Sayda had lost its glory. It didn't feel like home anymore. Something was missing.
Dora had given him time and a new cup of coffee every now and then. Gary couldn't be more thankful. As friendly and warm person Dora was, she was still his boss, and it was comforting to notice she didn't deny or judge Gary's feelings or tell him to simply get a hold of himself. Only time Dora made clear she disagreed with him was when Gary had said he didn't do anything meaningful as a researcher. But still – Gary had no better words for it; he just felt nothing anymore.
"Why do you think your past is all gone?" Dora had asked. "Take it back. You obviously need to clear some things up to be able to live in the moment. You don't have to go all the way back to your earlier life, but you can have what you need. Invite him here."
Gary had fallen in silence for the shock. Him? Where had she gotten that idea from?
Then he had thought about it again. Maybe. It couldn't make anything worse, could it?
"You need to stop burning bridges, Gary", Dora had said softly. "Start building new ones."
Now, after weeks and weeks of uninvited dreams and painful nostalgia, he saw a boat coming closer. He had tried to make the invitation sound casual, as if it wasn't really that important if the visit wasn't going to happen. But there it was; a boat. It was just a small spot on the horizon, but he got up.
But maybe this isn't going to solve anything, he thought. Maybe we'll just be poking the Beedrill's nest for no reason. Maybe he doesn't even want to be here.
He squinted his eyes, gaze glued on the boat moving smoothly towards him. Could it be?
His disbelief mixed with a tiny bit of enthusiasm. But still. He's coming.
The boat grew bigger and bigger and soon Gary could see black hair being shuffled by the wind, hand pressed against a cap to prevent it from flying off. Gary swallowed. His mouth was dry.
The boat driver, a nice man from the mainland harbor, slowed down and steered the boat towards the platform. As it stopped, the passenger and his Pikachu jumped up to the platform. The driver waved his hand, withdrew the boat and drove off – leaving the arriver there, permanently.
He was there. Oh God, he was finally there, and suddenly Gary didn't know what to do. How did people greet their childhood mate-slash-enemy-slash-fellow trainer-slash-friend after over a year? How did people even use their bodies, how did they form words?
"Hi, Gary", the brown eyed boy said. The sea wind almost stole the cap from his head.
How do people breathe?
"Hi, Ash", Gary managed to say. "And hello, Pikachu."
His voice was dry and quiet. He cleared up his throat and frowned.
Then they just stared at each other for a moment, not knowing what to do next. Pikachu sat on his hind legs and tilted his head questioningly.
"Man, you should try sleeping", Ash finally said, with a weak hint of smile on his face. His voice was lower than Gary had remembered. "You don't look too healthy."
For some reason, those words woke Gary up. He couldn't help stepping forward and catching Ash into a hug. Ash hugged him back, tightly, tighter than Gary's grip. It felt soothing. Gary felt like he was torn apart.
Or on the other hand, fixed.
"Long time no see, Ashy-boy", Gary said against the other boy's neck. He was surprised to hear a faint smile in his own voice.
"Yeah", Ash responded with a weirdly hoarse voice. "Seriously, how long has it been?"
"Four hundred and fifty-seven days", Gary answered without hesitation.
The black-haired boy looked at Gary in confusion as they let go of each other.
"Or something", Gary grunted carelessly, without looking at Ash in the eyes. He turned away and began walking off the platform, towards the house. Ash followed without saying anything. Pikachu ran past Gary and went off to explore the path.
"So… How has it been here?" Ash finally asked as they walked.
"Pretty good", Gary said. He was happy to talk about something not-so-intimate, like work. "I guess grandpa has told you about the Aerodactyl we brought to life?"
"Yeah, it sounds awesome!" Ash replied in excitement. "Can I see it?"
"At one point or another", Gary said. Ash's eagerness sounded so familiar he had to smirk. "I think Dora and Crystal want to meet you first. It's kind of a big deal to have you here…"
Gary fell silent and his smirk died.
Ash raised his eyebrows. "How come?"
Gary refused to look at him. "Well, it's lonely here on the island. We rarely invite people here. Just to keep the Pokémon safe and undisturbed, you know."
They walked in silence until they reached the house, where the two girls were standing on the porch waiting for them.
"Hey! Finally!" yelled the little girl, running towards them cheerfully. "So you are Ash, huh? My name is Crystal. I've heard a lot about you, you know!"
"Oh, really?" Ash laughed, shaking hands with the excited 10-year-old. "I hope it's not all bad."
"No it isn't", said Crystal. "He told you're a great trainer and that's why I'm so excited to meet you, and he said you're a person that has done so much good and worked hard and –"
"Calm down, Crys", said the older girl. "Don't scare our guest."
Ash didn't get a chance to hear all that Gary had said about him. Still, he threw a suspicious glance at Gary. "I'm not sure if you've bribed her so that she wouldn't tell what you've really said about me."
Gary sneered. "You'll never know."
"So, welcome, Ash!" Dora came closer and shook hands with Ash. "I'm Dora. Crystal is my little sister. She's a bit over energetic, but please don't care about it."
"It's not a bad thing", Ash noted. "Nice to meet you."
"Oh wow, a Pikachu!" screamed Crystal. "It's so cute! Can I play with it?"
Ash got no time to even consider about his options, because the electric rat ran straight to Crystal's arms and cuddled her.
As Crystal and Pikachu run off together, Ash looked around. "Hey Gary, where's your Umbreon?"
"Somewhere with Jared, I think", said Gary. "They're probably taking care of Aerodactyl. Umbreon really gets along with Aero."
"He's my subordinate. Older than me, though. He's really been a big help."
Ash just nodded. Gary wondered if he saw something that wasn't really there or could it be that the look on Ash's face was just a bit chillier than before.
Why hadn't he said anything?
Would there be jealousy in his voice if he did?
They all just stood there in silence. Ash kept staring at him.
"He's Dora's boyfriend", he suddenly heard himself saying.
"Oh", both Ash and Dora said in unison.
Gary felt stupid, so very stupid for thinking Ash might be jealous and ending up blurting out something like that. Still, he gave Dora a warning look anyway. Thank God she understood.
"Yeah, um, I think I'll go find Jared now", she said cheerfully. "I'll keep an eye on Crystal, too, so you don't have to worry about Pikachu. Enjoy your visit, Ash!"
Gary led Ash inside to the house, upstairs and to the guest room. "You can leave all your stuff here. My room is the next one. Crystal's room is the last one in the hallway. Dora and Jared live downstairs. Tell us if you need anything. And…" Gary paused. "Just… make yourself at home."
Ash smiled. "Sure."
The smile made Gary somewhat dizzy.
He turned away. Planning to leave Ash alone to sort out his stuff, Gary walked away.
On the doorway he stopped, back towards the black haired boy. "Oh, and Ash…"
"Thanks for… coming here."
Ash sounded surprised as he answered: "Well, thanks for inviting me. I hope I'm not bothering you at your work."
Gary left the room. He needed a cigarette.
A few minutes later Gary rested his back against the house's outer wall, holding a cigarette between his lips. He watched as Dora walked from the woods to him.
"Could you please explain to me", she started with a demanding tone, "why in the world must I act like Jared is my boyfriend?"
Gary breathed the smoke out, took the cigarette between his fingers and shrugged. "I just felt like it."
"Why on earth? It's awkward for both me and Jared."
Gary said nothing.
Dora sighed and sat down on the stairs. "Well, I told Jared and he was as confused as I am for hearing he could somehow make your boyfriend jealous about you."
Gary inhaled the smoke in a wrong way and coughed. "He's not my boyfriend."
"Wasn't it about jealousness, then?"
Gary glanced inside the house to see if Ash was near. He wasn't. "No clue", Gary grunted. "And it doesn't matter. I just don't want him to get involved in anything like that."
"Would it be the worst thing in the world if he was a little bit jealous? Wouldn't it be a good thing?"
Gary scowled at Dora. "Stop that."
"If it's not about him being jealous, then what is your point here?"
Gary sighed angrily. "Look, it's not that simple, okay? There's nothing going on and I honestly don't know why I said it."
Dora didn't comment anything on that. After a moment of silence she asked carefully: "How does it feel?"
Gary shook off the ashes from the tip of the cigarette. "What?"
"That he's here", Dora said softly.
"I don't know. How should it feel?"
Dora sighed. "Gary, I haven't seen you smile in ages. Actually, ever since professor Oak was here and reminded you about Ash, you've been moody and absent-minded. And when you finally told me what's going on, I couldn't help noticing most of your problems were somehow connected to him. There's stuff you two need to figure out. And now he's here – because he wanted to come. I just thought it would make you a little bit happier."
Gary forced his eyes to close. Damn sensitivity. He wouldn't let a single tear come out. Dora's words hurt him, but he wouldn't allow himself to show it. He knew she was right, he knew he wasn't being his normal self. He just wasn't going to admit he was being plain emotional and dependent on someone.
"I am happy", Gary said.
"You still don't smile too much", Dora replied, got up and went inside.
Nearly at the same moment, Ash came out. "Oh, here you are. I didn't know you smoke."
Gary looked at Ash, whose eyes were just as bright and curious as they always used to be – but now there was more experience and intelligence within. Ash had grown.
"Not very often", Gary said.
Ash sat down to the very same spot Dora had sat on. He looked around and noted: "It's beautiful here."
Gary nodded. "Yeah, it's perfect for Pokémon."
"Not bad for people, either", said Ash.
"It's lonely. We hardly go to the mainland and the other islands to do some shopping."
"Still, I think this kind of life would be interesting."
Gary turned his head slightly and let his eyes rest on that curious, worriless face full of life. Stay then. Stay here.
"You couldn't handle it. You're an adventurer, you can't stay in one place", Gary said bluntly.
"You were exactly the same."
Gary didn't have time to answer, as his cigarette had come to its end and suddenly burned his fingers.
"Damn", he growled, stepping on the still burning cigarette he had accidentally dropped.
"Just burned my fingers, that's all." Gary sighed. "I should concentrate on what I do, even if it's just smoking…"
Ash's face told he was surprised. No wonder; Gary knew what he was thinking and it annoyed him. He used to be so calm, self-assured, controlled and arrogant. Now all those traits were replaced by embarrassing lack of self-control and concentration. Ash had grown, but Gary felt like he himself was just suffering a setback.
He decided not to care and just lit another cigarette.
"Didn't you just say you don't smoke too often?" Ash asked, with a hint of amusement in his voice.
Gary forced himself to grin. "This is for the memory of the last one."
The laughter run through Gary's veins and sent shivers down his spine.
Hours took the sun down from the sky and made people tired. At least Crystal, who had spent a lot of energy playing with Pikachu and introducing the island's Pokémon to Ash. Gary hadn't had to speak much. Ash, of course, had been excited. Gary had kept a small distance from the rest of the group; he had wanted to be alone for a moment but still be able to watch his friends talking and laughing.
Now Dora and Crystal were arguing about the younger girl's bedtime, while Ash, Gary and Jared sat on the living-room couch. Gary was a bit nervous about Jared's presence. He didn't want the guy to say anything about the jealousy thing. Luckily Dora had seemed to tell Jared to keep quiet about it, because Jared and Ash were engaged in a deep conversation about Sayda Island and their research.
"Finally!" Dora gasped as she came downstairs after putting Crystal to sleep. "I'm tired to death."
"Go to sleep, then", Jared simply said.
Dora looked at him, with a sudden realization on her face. "Y-yeah. You come with me?"
The exactly same expression appeared onto Jared's face. "Um… Yeah. I-I'll come."
Gary held his laughter. He almost enjoyed what he had caused with his little lie.
When Dora and Jared had gone to Dora's room, Gary stood up. "I'm going out. Go to sleep if you're tired."
"What are you going out for?" asked Ash.
"No reason", said Gary. "I don't feel tired yet."
"Me neither", Ash said, standing up. "I'll come with you. I think we have a lot to talk about."
They walked to the shore side by side, talking lightly now that the awkwardness of them meeting each other had started to wear down. The sea was now calm. A perfect picture of the full moon was mirrored on the water surface.
"How ironic", Gary mumbled.
"The full moon."
Ash stared at Gary. "Uh. Yeah. You remember the –"
Gary didn't want to talk about it. He wanted to make this a casual, relaxing vacation for Ash, not make it become troublesome and embarrassing. No matter how much Gary kind of loved the memory of the last time they had watched the full moon together, he also hated it. Or at least wanted to hate it.
"Gary?" Ash spoke, sounding troubled. "Why did you actually invite me here?"
Gary was sure his heart stopped for a second. Then it started to race wildly. Well, why had he done it? Because his boss had told him so? Because he was feeling down? What had Ash to do with that?
"I don't know."
Ash sneered. "You don't know?"
"I really don't", sighed Gary. "I guess… I was lonely. And Dora wanted to meet you."
"Why did she want to meet me?" Ash asked curiously.
Gary swallowed. "I… I've told her a bit about you."
Ash waited for him to continue.
"You've done a great job as a trainer, that is", Gary added.
Ash smiled. "Oh, wow, praise from you? Thanks! I admire what you've done as a researcher."
Gary forced himself to give a small smile. He really couldn't care less about researching right now. It just wasn't enough for him. But right now, he was simply glad Ash didn't ask for a deeper answer.
"By the way", Ash interrupted Gary's thoughts. "How long are you planning to have me here?"
"I don't know. Stay as long as you want. There isn't anything special going on here right now." Gary sighed. "Dora will be satisfied if I have a break from work. She says I'm nearing a burnout or something."
"Sounds like the perfectionist Gary Oak I used to know", Ash grinned. "Anyway, I'm prepared for about five days or so. We had just arrived to Northern Sinnoh when you invited me. Brock and Dawn are staying at Snowpoint City inn as long as I'm here."
Actually, five pitiful days with this boy sounded more than fine after four hundred and fifty-seven days without him.