I normally envision Ash to be pretty well settled at age 30, but that wasn't the story I wanted to write. A lot of the scenarios that come up in this are ones that directly contradict my headcanons, or things I don't even like seeing in other stories. But the themes that this explores are ones that have been really important to me, personally, so it was essential for me to write this. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did creating it! :)
Shippings include pokeshipping, wishfulshipping, handymanshipping, constestshipping, luckshipping, one-sided amourshipping and every Dawn ship you can think of.
Happy 20th anniversary!
It was high in the afternoon when he first caught sight of Pallet Town. It warmed his chest as he soaked it in – the houses dotting large, green fields, the road leading up to Professor Oak's windmill, and a glimpse of the glittering blue ocean that met Pallet Beach. He was glad that he still remembered it so perfectly, despite having not visited in three years.
"Well, Pikachu?" He looked to his partner perched on his shoulder, "We're finally home."
"Pikachu," the pokémon breathed. Ash could relate. The older he got and the further he travelled or settled away from Pallet Town, the more coming back would take his breath away. Especially lately, after living in Lumiose City for so long. City life, he'd come to realise, would never suit him.
"I'm almost tempted to run all the way home," Ash thought out loud. Like he used to when he was a kid and still a travelling trainer. Especially when he saw his mother's home, he'd get so excited at the thought of his mother's cooking that he'd let his body get the better of him.
"Like you've got anything to complain about! You've been sitting on my shoulder this whole time."
It wasn't like Ash was going to run anyway. He wanted to prolong his walk as much as possible, because if he was being honest, he was a little scared. It was a long time since he'd seen a lot of his friends and family back home, and while they were no doubt caught up on his whereabouts thanks to Delia, he still wasn't sure how they'd react. Tracey and Daisy had been with his parents at the Orange Islands the last time he'd visited, so he didn't even get to meet their kids. Gary had been doing some on-site research elsewhere, so he only really saw his mother. He hoped they were all here this time.
He hadn't really called ahead to let them know he was coming.
The dirt path leading up to and past his mother's house hadn't changed at all, except for the car. He was pleased to see it; it was small and unassuming, but that was all his mom needed anyway. He'd pushed her to get one after he paid off the mortgage so that she wasn't stuck at home all day. The flowery bush just opposite the road was still there – what was it called? Baby's Breath? He could never remember the name. It didn't matter, he decided, as he stooped over to gather a bunch in his hand. Pikachu jumped off of his shoulder and scurried over to the letterbox.
"What've we got, buddy?" Ash asked after he was done, when Pikachu jumped back on his shoulder. The mouse shuffled through each envelope, giving Ash enough time to look at them. "Junk mail, water bill, electricity bill, a letter? Oh, that's just from her friend down the road."
It was nothing interesting, so Ash decided to stop stalling and open the door. It was unlocked as usual; there was no need to keep your house locked in a place like Pallet Town.
"Mom?" he called as soon as he stepped in. He could hear pots and pans clanging in the kitchen, so she probably couldn't hear him.
"Guess we're heading into the kitchen," he muttered, and turned to take off his shoes. But before he could do anything, he was slapped twice across the face.
"OW! What the hell?!"
"Mime!" Mr Mime recoiled before him and quickly grabbed for Ash's cheeks, rubbing them gently as if to soothe them.
"Ash!" His mother finally came out of the kitchen and started running towards him. He met her halfway and pulled her into the bear hug of a lifetime. "Oh, my little boy's home! Mr Mime must not have recognised you under that beard!"
"I'm not really a little boy anymore…" he groaned, while Pikachu giggled on his shoulder.
"I know, but," she pulled away, but kept her arms firmly around his waist, "You're always going to be my baby. Even if you're nearly a foot taller than me." She placed her hands on her hips. "But you didn't tell me you were coming home!"
"I wanted to surprise you." He finally pulled away and let Pikachu leap into Delia's arms for his own set of cuddles. He handed her the bouquet of flowers he was holding, and watched her expression relax. "I would've just hung out at Professor Oak's if you weren't home."
"Ash, there are lovely, but did you get these from the bush across the road?" He grinned sheepishly, and Delia shook her head. "I suppose that doesn't matter. It's wonderful to see you! Especially now, after you've started travelling again. Serena told me you hadn't dropped by since you left Kalos."
Ash's smile dropped slightly. "I still call. I guess things got a little crazy the past year."
"I suppose some things never change." He noticed his mother's smile didn't quite reach her eyes, but he decided not to bring it up.
"You weren't busy, were you?"
"Of course not! Little old me is never busy, especially not on a Sunday afternoon. You know how much I like having those to myself. Unless it's you, of course."
"And Mimey," Ash pointed out.
His mom chuckled, "And Mimey. Say, sweetie, are you hungry?"
"Yes," he breathed, sending Delia into a fit of giggles. He could almost taste her Pallet noodle special, and from the look on Pikachu's face, he could probably taste it too.
"You're probably tired from your journey, right?" his mother asked, turning around to head into the kitchen. "You can go ahead and sleep in your old room. If you can still fit – I haven't really changed the bed. You can take my room if it's too small for you."
"Nah, I want to spend time with you first." Ash wrapped an arm around her shoulder and placed a kiss on the top of her head. "I missed you a lot."
"Then find me a vase to put these in. And shave that mess off of your face!" Delia stood on her tiptoes and placed a light kiss on his nose, and smiled warmly up at him in a way that emphasized the new smile crinkles around her eyes – ones Ash hadn't even noticed before. "And I missed you too, Ash."
Ash took a short nap after eating and catching up with his mom and Mimey, which went well into the evening. He would've slept longer if it was more comfortable, but he only just fit into his bed. His head touched the wooden headboard and his feet stuck out the other end. He could barely stretch without half of him falling off. Pikachu was fine – he went to rest comfortably on Ash's old Snorlax doll after seeing there wasn't enough room on the bed.
Ash decided against waking him up before trudging downstairs. In the living room, his mother sat on their couch reading a magazine. The smell of her famous noodle soup came wafting in from the kitchen.
"You look nice. What's the occasion?"
"I called Professor Oak to tell him you were back, so Gary's coming over." Delia placed the magazine on her lap and smiled up at him. "He can't really make the trip down himself anymore."
Ash grinned internally. Professor Oak was in his eighties now, and wasn't supposed to walk so much, but the old man never let that stop him. He supposed he would avoid a trip if it meant his mother's anger, however.
"Is Tracey coming?"
"No, he and the family are in Viridian for his exhibition. But they should be home tomorrow. Oh!" She clapped her hands together, "You haven't met their youngest, have you?"
Ash shook his head. "A girl, right? With some flower name."
"It's Clover. You remember all their names, I hope? Clover, Angelo and Ivy?"
Ash snorted, and she furrowed her brow. "What?"
He could never forget Ivy, or the story behind her name. Tracey and Daisy were still stuck on what to call their first child, and Misty had convinced them that Ivy was perfect. They regretted the decision as soon as they announced it to Brock. Thankfully Misty had caught it all on camera so he could be a part of the action.
"When is Gary getting here?" Ash asked before his mother could question the grin on his face.
"Soon! He should be here about…"
Right on cue, the door burst open. Ash had to roll his eyes at Gary's timing.
"Mrs K!" Gary boomed, "You look stunning. Did you do something with your hair?"
"Oh Gary!" his mom giggled, and Ash bristled. "You always were a sweet talker. I thought I asked you to start calling me Delia.
"Sorry, sorry. Force of habit. But seriously, you look especially beautiful today. What's your routine?"
"I'd appreciate it if you stopped flirting with my mother, Gary," Ash grunted, stepping into the other man's view.
"Ash, is that how you greet your guests?"
"Aw, it's okay." Gary grinned, "Ashy-boy's just jealous because he's a taken man, and I can hit on whoever I want."
"You cannot hit on whoever you want," Delia said sternly, and Gary stood at attention.
"Of course not!"
"Hmm." Delia crossed her arms. "Well, come on in! I assume you want some coffee? Black with no sugar?"
"Yeah, thanks." Delia vacated the living room, and Gary pulled Ash in for a hug. "It's been a long time, Ash."
"It's good to see you again," Ash agreed, patting his friend on the back. "I missed you the last time."
Gary pulled away, rubbing the back of his neck. "I wanted to make it, but I was too close to finding Mew." He frowned. "Or at least, I thought I was."
"Have you tried the forest near Cameran Palace?"
Gary's arm went slack as he stared at Ash in shock, but he shook it off soon after. "Should've known you of all people would know where to find a legendary pokémon. You wouldn't happen to know about Ho-Oh too, would you? That's who I'm researching now."
Ash chuckled, shaking his head. "Sorry."
"Still useless when it counts, huh?" Gary laughed as he dodged Ash's fist. "Anyway, how long are you in Pallet this time? I heard you haven't been back home in a while. Kalos must miss you."
The mention of Kalos had an almost immediate effect on Ash – his shoulders had sunk and his hand had shoved themselves into his pockets. He could almost hear Pikachu's concerned "chu" despite the pokémon not even being there. He sneaked a look at Gary's raised eyebrow and cursed himself for being so transparent.
"Here's your coffee, Gary," his mother called out, walking into the hallway. "And I made that Pallet noodle special you really like, since you're staying for dinner." She stopped short when she saw them. "Ash? Sweetie, are you alright?"
"Hey, Mrs – Delia?" Gary slapped a heavy arm on Ash's shoulder, almost causing him to flinch. "Is it cool if I borrow Ash after dinner?"
Gary's friend still hadn't shown up by the fourth bourbon. Or was it the fifth? Gary kept buying and Ash wasn't keeping count. All he knew was that he was clearly more buzzed than Gary was, but that probably had something to do with the fact that Ash hadn't had a drink since he was twenty one.
He'd even expected to do shots when they walked in. Shots.
"Shots, Ash? What are you, a teenage girl?" Gary had asked, and Ash was about to point out that Gary had no problem with taking shots when they were younger, despite him never having been a teenage girl, but Gary had already moved on to another topic. Which was just typical. He always had to have the last word.
Ash held his empty glass to his face. The bar was hot and stuffy, and the glass felt cool against his skin. "Who's your friend again?"
"I told ya, you've met them." Gary held a finger up at the bartender to order another round."
"That doesn't mean I'm gonna remember them," Ash pointed out, jabbing his glass in Gary's direction and fumbling when a block of ice almost fell out onto his lap.
"You'll definitely know her."
"Oh, so it's a her!" Ash rubbed his chin, which eventually led to scratching at his chin because he'd done a terrible job of shaving his beard off and it was bugging him.
"Damn! And that was a crucial detail too."
"Who is she?"
"She's a babe."
Ash rolled his eyes. "Gary, if it's one of your old cheerleaders –"
"It's not –"
"And if you're trying to set me up with someone –"
Gary scoffed. "Why would I set you up with someone when I could hook up with her myself? 'Sides, like anyone would wanna go home with you when I'm around."
"I don't want to go home with anyone except myself."
"I should've known I'd stumble into a weird conversation with you around, Oak." Ash turned around to the source of a new voice and found a vaguely familiar head of messy red hair.
"I wouldn't mind going home with her," Ash mumbled before he could place who she was, though he ended up being louder than he thought he was. She had clearly heard him, and when he realised that the 'she' in question was actually Misty, he wanted to sink into his seat until he disappeared.
Gary snorted long and hard. "I don't know whether to laugh at him or at the fact that you're wearing mom jeans, Misty."
Misty scowled at both of them, face flushed and arms crossed. "I just threw something on. I didn't realise I was supposed to dress nice."
"I think it's very you," Ash offered shyly, and immediately regretted opening his mouth for the second time that night when she glared at him.
"I mean, it suits you," Gary agreed, "But it'd look better on Ash's bedroom floor."
Ash slammed his head against the counter of the bar, and from the corner of his eye watched Misty rub her temples. "Okay, what round are you guys on?"
Ash answered "four or five" while Gary answered "six". Misty groaned. "And when did you start?"
"Right before we called you."
"That was half an hour ago!"
The bartender chose that moment to place their next two bourbons down. Ash sat up, ready to get more of the cool liquid into his system. He saw Misty starting to protest so he took a gulp before she could say anything, and Gary lifted a finger.
"You're not here to babysit, you're just our designated driver. Besides, Ashy-boy's had a rough day."
"More like a rough past eight years," Ash muttered under his breath.
Misty sat down on a stool next to him, and Ash couldn't stand the concerned look she was giving him. It was like she actually cared, and that was giving him ideas. "What happened?"
Ash took another swig of his drink, which was now already half empty. "Nothing happened. Being a pokémon master sucks. I don't really wanna talk about it."
"I've been trying to get him to drink until he spills," Gary explained.
Misty rolled her eyes. "That's the best way to go about this? Really?"
"Well even if he doesn't, it's cathartic," Gary mumbled into his glass.
Misty sighed. "Is that why you haven't returned to Kalos for so long, Ash?"
"I'm on hiatus," he murmured.
"Your hiatus was meant to last two months. You've been gone a year."
"I don't want to talk about it."
"I don't think alcohol's going to do it, Gary."
"We're not leaving till he's getting wrecked." Gary downed a third of his glass. "I didn't ask you here to interrupt my therapy session, Misty!"
"Wha –" Misty stood up, her face fuming. "The nerve! I came all the way out here on my night off – and therapy? Are you serious?!"
"You're really hot when you're mad," Ash blurted out. His eyes widened when he noticed Misty's startled face turn to him. "Oh, did I say that out loud? Whoopsies." Ash was ready to scull the rest of his liquor when he felt a few drops fall on his knee, courtesy of Gary spitting out some of his drink. "Dude!"
"What kind of grown man says 'whoopsies'?"
"Any grown man?" Ash sneered at his former rival before turning to his best friend, not fully registering the fact that she had her head in her hands. "Did you see what he just did?"
"At least buy me a beer," she said dryly.
Gary lifted a finger in the general direction of the bartender. "One glass of your strongest tequila for the lady –"
"I said I wanted a beer. I'm not drinking that, I have to drive!"
"– In that corner over there." Gary pointed at a girl in a short skirt standing alone at the counter on the other end of the room. "Misty, there's no way I'm buying you a drink. That's what you have Ash for."
Ash watched Gary saunter off for a while before turning his attention back to Misty, who hadn't stopped glaring at the other man.
"I don't mind buying you a beer," Ash told her. He flinched when she turned her glare at him.
"If you think that's going to get me in bed with you, you've got another thing coming."
"I can't go to bed with you. I have a girlfriend."
"I was wondering when you would remember that." She placed both of her elbows on the counter and pinched the bridge of her nose. Ash was used to seeing her with bunched up shoulders and gritted teeth over the years, especially when he was the cause. Normally he felt a mix of things – a sense of victory, a bit of excitement, and only a tiny hint of guilt. Now he just felt sad.
"I'm sorry I pissed you off."
When Misty looked back at him, her expression had softened, and he couldn't stand it. "It's not your fault, Ash. Gary shouldn't be encouraging you to drown your problems in alcohol. I know you don't do that on a daily basis." She paused. "I'm a little concerned that that's the first thing Gary thought of to help."
"Yeah, you should probably send Gary to therapy."
She chuckled, "You actually sound smarter when you're drunk. How does that work?"
"I'm actually a genie."
Ash scrunched his face together. "…Genius. But I guess genies would have to be geniuses if they can make all your wishes come true."
"I take back what I said."
Ash placed the empty glass against his nose, leaning back into his stool. "Do you ever miss me?"
She shot him a look. "What?"
"You're my best friend. I miss you a lot."
She stared at him through narrowed eyes before looking away. "Of course I miss you, Ash."
"But you never call me!"
"You never call me either."
"Because I thought you were mad at me."
"Why would you think I was mad at you?"
Ash slid the glass up to his forehead and closed his eyes. "I'unno. Maybe I did something."
Misty reached over, taking the glass from his face and placing it on her other side. "You haven't done anything wrong. We're terrible at keeping in touch, alright? We're both pretty busy lately."
Ash quirked an eyebrow. "You didn't come to my engagement party."
Misty froze for a second, before pulling away from his gaze and turning around in her seat. "Like I said, busy. I would have loved to be there, but …" She shrugged. Ash wanted to tell her he didn't believe her, but some small, stupid, sober part of his brain was keeping his lips sealed.
"To be frank," she continued, "I'm too tired to talk to anyone on most days. Or travel, or anything."
He took this as an opportunity to relieve the tension, giving her a watery grin. "Really? Why couldn't you be like that when we were travelling and I couldn't get you to shut up?"
Misty threw a punch at his shoulder, which made Ash yelp out in pain. The alcohol heightened any physical contact he experienced. Or was it the age? Maybe both.
"I don't even like this whole bar thing," Ash grumbled. Misty pulled her stool closer to him and rested her chin in her hands.
"Then why are you still drinking?"
"Because it's hot." Although having Misty around was making him feel much hotter under the collar than the bar itself. But he wasn't going to tell her that.
Or had he told her already? "Did I say that out loud?"
"What, that it's hot? Yeah, you did. It's pretty stuffy in here."
"Oh yeah. Stuffy. Yeah, it's real stuffy in here."
"I don't think I want to know what you were really thinking, Ash."
"You definitely don't."
"Why not?" Gary's unwelcome voice asked as he took his old seat next to Ash, "Honesty is always the best policy."
Misty grinned, "What happened to your nightly conquest?"
The question immediately destroyed Gary's smug expression. He even pouted, much to Ash's delight – just like a toddler. "She was dumb. Like twenty, or something."
Ash nodded. "She said you were too old, didn't she?"
Gary spluttered and Misty burst into beautiful chiming peals of laughter. Ash felt a sense of accomplishment at both sights – it was like he was seeing some lifelong subconscious dream finally come to fruit, him embarrassing Gary and making Misty laugh.
"That was a good one," Misty heaved, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye.
"Whatever." Gary shifted in his seat. "Can we go home? I'm done here."
"Hey!" Ash complained, "I thought this drinks thing was for me!"
"About time, too." Misty rose out of her seat and stretched her elbows behind her back. "You guys have clearly drunk enough."
"And I was going to buy you a beer, too," Ash added quietly.
Gary wiggled an eyebrow. "Did I interrupt something?"
"No." Misty gave them both a light slap on the arm. "C'mon, let's get you boys home."
Ash woke up to the sun shining through his window, the pidgey singing and Pikachu snoozing comfortable atop his stomach.
And he felt like shit.
"Are you awake, Ash?" his mother called very, very loudly from what sounded like underwater. Confused, he attempted to stick his head into the air, and saw her standing in the doorway – definitely not right next to his ear and not anywhere near any water.
"I am now," Ash wanted to say, but what came out of his mouth was a series of grumbles. He frowned when Delia started laughing.
"Oh honey, you know getting drunk in your thirties is a bad idea. That hangover is going to last a few days, I'm afraid."
"Aren't you mad?" This time somewhat coherent – even if his voice was deeper than he was used to – he lifted himself up slowly, disturbing Pikachu's sleep. After a string of curses from the pokémon, the critter crawled up to Ash's pillow to rest there.
There go my chances of going back to sleep, Ash thought.
"I can't be mad at your age, can I? You're an adult. You're responsible for your own choices." She crossed her arms. "Though I do hope this won't become a regular occurrence."
"It definitely won't." He slid down his bed and its ladder, but his knees buckled upon landing and he found himself face first on the floor.
"Are you alright?!" his mother gasped, but Ash barely heard it over the sound of his own stomach churning. It twisted in a strange way that sent a terrible taste up to his throat and –
"Bathroom," he growled, and got to his feet and ran. The feeling of hurling his guts into the toilet bowl, combined with a nasty, throbbing headache that only got worse as time wore on, made him feel even more like shit. His only solace was his mother rubbing his back in soothing circular motions.
When he stood up to flush the toilet, his every muscle felt sore. He felt like he'd tried to climb Mt Silver in an hour, and then jump right off of it. "I'm never drinking again," he groaned.
Delia giggled, "That's my boy! Do you want me to bring you breakfast in bed? I made sausages and pancakes and scrambled eggs and grilled cheese sandwiches and egg noodle soup."
Ash placed a sloppy kiss on her forehead, which made Delia wince. "Love you, mom, but I think I can make it downstairs okay."
"If you say so, but please brush your teeth first."
Ash did as he was told and even went the extra mile and threw a quick shower. He threw up again halfway through it, and no doubt he'd throw up after breakfast too, but at least he wouldn't smell terrible. He tried waking Pikachu up, but not even the temptation of ketchup would rouse him; he'd spent all of the past evening with Gary and Tracey's pokémon at the lab, and it looked like he'd really tired himself out.
He trudged downstairs and into the kitchen – with great difficulty – to find his mother setting multiple plates of everything she had promised and Misty watching her, one eyebrow raised and a mug of coffee halfway to her lips. Or away from it. He didn't really care.
He was glad to see her, but a little anxious at the same time. Last night was the first time he talked to her in years, and his time in the bathroom had slowly brought back some hazy memories of him trying to hit on her, like he often saw Bonnie or Brock do to other girls at bars and big parties. It wasn't quite Full Brock, but it was close enough as far as Ash was concerned; he never intentionally flirted with anyone. Not to mention his current state was a mess – his hair a frizzy tangle from the shower, and dark bags under his eyes that wouldn't leave no matter how much water he splashed onto his face.
"Water and hydrodol?" Misty asked when he practically collapsed into his seat. She popped a full glass of water and a pill down in front of him before he could even respond. He didn't mind, though, popping the medicine into his mouth and greedily downing the whole glass. His mother ruffled his head.
"I'm gardening out the back, so you two yell if you need me!" she chirped, before disappearing out the back door. From the window, Ash could see that Mimey was already in the garden waiting for her.
"Morning," he grunted at Misty, before digging into his pancakes.
"Good morning," Misty replied. He was acutely aware of her narrowed eyes, her pursed lips and the long finger tapping against her jawbone. Her hair was still mussed from having woken up, and she was wearing an old pair of pajamas of his from when he was in his later teens. Probably lent to her by Delia.
"How come you stayed here?"
"Your mom offered." Misty reached for a nearby jug of water when she noticed his gaze flick to the empty glass, and she poured him another one. "I was supposed to stay at Tracey and Daisy's, but I forgot he had his exhibition last night. And the spare key Daisy promised wasn't where she said it would be. I'd rather be here than at the lab."
"You and my mom are still close, huh?"
Misty snorted. "Of course we are. I got close to her when you weren't around. That's not going to change, considering you're still never home."
Ash paused his chewing for a moment. It seemed like it could be a loaded statement, but she said it as if it didn't matter. And not in that passive-aggressive way he'd so often seen her use, but in a way that suggested she genuinely didn't care.
He wasn't sure if that was worse.
"I'm busy," he started after he swallowed, "I just –"
Misty held a hand up. "We had this discussion last night, remember?" She squinted at him. "Do you remember?"
He sighed. "Yep."
"Good. So I've been visiting much less often than I used to."
"Huh." She was being strangely nice. She wasn't even teasing him; she was just being…pleasant. It was unsettling.
Because he knew Misty would only act like that if she thought he was having a tough time. And if so, how did she know?
Deciding he needed to stop thinking so much, he reached for a sausage and bit half of it off in one go. "How come Gary called you to drive us home? Do you guys keep in touch or something?"
"Oh jeez." Misty rolled her eyes. "Seriously? Yeah, Ash, we're friends. But he called me because it was my night off, and because he was taking you out for drinks." She pointed a finger at him. "Because you have some major issues. You don't have to get so jealous."
"I'm not jealous," Ash replied far too quickly, earning an incredulous look from her. Alright, maybe he was a little jealous, but it wasn't because of what she thought. It was weird seeing all the people that he'd introduced to each other bonding and moving out without him. It was strange enough finding out that Misty had become good friends with his mom. There had been a pang in his chest when he heard them swap inside jokes that meant nothing to him. And now Misty was probably doing that with Gary?
It was a complex and complete enough reason to be jealous as is, and therefore it definitely wasn't what Misty thought.
And what Misty thought irked him, since it definitely wasn't true.
"Sure you aren't." She rested her chin on a fist, and rested her elbow on the table. "How's the wife?"
"She's not my wife," Ash snapped, and immediately froze when he realised what he'd said. He was glad his mother wasn't around, for she'd have skinned him alive for speaking like that about Serena. "Er…well she's not…I mean, we're engaged so she's not technically my wife – and I think I want to end it because I don't think I was really in love with her in the first place, but I guess that's not what you were asking…"
Ash trailed off, and looked back at Misty to see her staring at him incredulously. She blinked once, then twice, and finally looked away to clear her throat. "Okay," she exhaled, "You're going to have to start from the beginning and catch me up here."
I want it to be clear that there will be no Serena bashing in this fic at all! And I also want to stress that I actually know nothing about the Kardashians. I unfollowed Buzzfeed on Facebook right before that Taylor Swift debacle and I don't want anything more to do with them ;)