Title: Taking the Risk of Suffering
Author: Stormy1x2 (travelingstorm)
Word Count: 3058
Spoilers: For some unaired episodes of Diamond and Pearl. Takes place after Ash's Gligar evolved but before the Summer School episodes.
Warnings: Shonen ai
Notes: This conversation was referred to in 'Sailing His Ship' but can also be read as a stand-alone.
Summary: Gary needs to confess something, but Ash isn't making it easy.
"One can not love without opening oneself, and opening oneself, that's taking the risk of suffering. One does not have control."
- Isabelle Adjani
No more stalling. This needs to be done.
"Gary?" Ash looked up in surprise as Gary Oak pushed through the trees. Across from him, Dawn recalled Ambipom. "What are you doing here?"
Gary stood there for a minute, nodding his head in acknowledgment. He lifted one hand casually. "Hey Ash." He raised his voice. "Hey Dawn! I saw that last move – it looked good." It really had – Ambipom had shown stunning control over its Swift attack, making the stars circle its waist like a hula hoop before launching them in a golden lasso at Pikachu.
"Thanks, Gary!" Dawn waved back. "Nice to see you again!"
Over at the campsite, Brock raised his hand in greeting, too far away to be heard. Gary raised his own in return, before turning back to the boy he'd come to see. "Ash, I need to talk to you."
"Sure, Gary." Ash's eyebrows drew together in real concern. "Is everything okay?"
Maybe. "Yeah," Gary said. "Everything's fine. I just wanna talk, that's all. In private, I mean." He looked at Dawn apologetically, giving her a half-shrug. "You don't mind, do you Dawn?"
Dawn looked back and forth between the two boys, before settling back on Gary. "No, of course not. But if something's wrong..." She trailed off warningly, her eyes flashing.
"You'll be the first person I'll ask for help," Gary promised. He grinned at her – Dawn certainly had more spirit than that other one, May, and was better tempered than Misty. He had to admit, he liked her attitude, and so it was easy for him to say, "I promise."
"You better believe it," she vowed. At her feet, Piplup pounded her chest firmly, agreeing with her trainer. They were so alike it wasn't funny. "Come on, Piplup."
"Pikachu, you go with them," Ash ordered. The mouse Pokemon twitched one long ear at being dismissed, but Ash crouched down and stroked its head gently, murmuring something to it that Gary couldn't quite make out. Pikachu nodded and nuzzled into Ash's hand once before spinning around and darting through the underbrush until it reached Dawn and Piplup. Ash straightened up, watching them go with a small smile, before turning his attention back in Gary's direction. "Do you wanna talk here?"
"There's a river not too far away that feeds into the lake," Gary said. "We can talk there. What did you say to Pikachu?"
Ash shrugged. "I just reminded him that Brock and Dawn will need his help to watch over the others. They can be a handle, but Piplup and Pikachu are the natural leaders."
"Pikachu never ceases to amaze," Gary said with a laugh as he led the way through the forest path. Pinecones and needles crunched under their feet as they walked. "You've done a great job raising him. And thanks for coming with me."
"No problem, and thank you. So, what's up Gary?" Ash said, following him along the river bank. "We thought you were long gone after we said goodbye the other day."
"I could say the same thing about you guys," Gary countered. "Weren't you headed for that Summer School training camp?"
"Dawn thought of a new combination and wanted to get in some more practice," Ash said with a shrug. "The course doesn't started until the day after tomorrow anyway, and it will only take us a few hours to get there from here." He grinned. "Why pass up perfectly good training time?"
"Figures," Gary chuckled. "I guess some things never change." And then again, some things do. "I just wanted to talk to you without Brock and Dawn around. Nothing against them, but..."
"You didn't want a crowd?" Ash finished his sentence for him. "I understand. That's why I asked Pikachu to hang back with Piplup and the others." Ash looked at him, concerned. "Is something wrong?"
"No... not really." Gary slowed to a stop next to the easy-flowing river and stuck his hands in his pockets, looking over the water. "It's just not something I want to broadcast to the whole world just yet."
"What is it?" Ash had moved closer, and was reaching out one hand to touch his shoulder. Gary blinked and moved away, turning to face Ash completely. "Gary?"
"I've, uh... learned a few things about myself," Gary began slowly, haltingly. "Stuff I had to deal with and figure out. And I need to tell you about it." He shook his head. "Man, this really isn't easy." His hands were shaking inside his pockets.
Ash had gone from concerned to worried. "Are you sick or something?"
Gary chuckled and shook his head. "No, nothing like that." Even if he supposed some people would argue that it was debatable. "I just... really don't know how to say it."
"Just spit it out!" Ash demanded. "You're starting to really make me worried."
Gary frowned, considering all the ways to come out and say what he wanted to. "Well... you know how Brock is whenever he sees Nurse Joy? Or Officer Jenny?"
"Or anything on two legs wearing a skirt?" Ash rolled his eyes. "I've been watching his routine for years – I know exactly what you're talking about. What about it?"
Gary swallowed hard. "I can honestly say I've never felt that way before about a girl," Gary said meaningfully, looking hard at the other boy.
Ash stared back, clueless. "So? Neither have I."
Gary bit his lip, letting out a sigh. "What I mean is, I don't feel that way about girls in general. And I doubt I ever will." There was still a good amount of blankness in Ash's gaze. To hell with it. "I like guys, Ash. I'm gay."
"You are?" Ash studied him with an odd look. After a minute, he scrunched his nose up. "That's weird. You're nothing like Harley."
"A coordinator from Hoen. He scares the heck out of May." Ash was still looking at him strangely. "Drew said he likes boys too. He talks weird. Walks weird, too."
Gary glared. "I am not weird." Freaked out, maybe, but definitely not weird. "Is that all you have to say?"
"Argh..." Gary turned around and glared out over the water, reminding himself to calm down. As brilliant as he was dealing with Pokemon, and the bonds they shared with trainers, Ash had always been a bit... simple, when it came to relationships with just people. "I should never have said anything."
"You mean, that's the secret you needed to tell me?"
Gary looked at Ash, incredulously. Ash had one eyebrow quirked, and his nose was wrinkled, giving him an adorably confused expression. "What?"
"That you like boys. That's it?" Ash looked surprised. "Why'd you bring me out here to tell me that?"
"Oh, please don't tell me you're that thick," Gary said imploringly. He bit back the growl of frustration that threatened to emerge; it wouldn't do to bite the head off the boy he was trying admit his affections to. No matter how slow he was. "You mean to tell me you honestly can't think of any reason why a boy – who just admitted that he likes other boys, mind you – would ask his best, male friend to meet with him privately for a serious conversation?"
Ash blinked at him innocently. "Umm...no. I thought you wanted a battle with me and Gliscore now that he's evolved."
The urge to strangle was strong. It seemed Gary was going to have to spell things out after all. He brought his hands out of his pockets, but managed to keep them down. They clenched into fists at his sides. Down, down. "I like you, you dummy," he hissed, feeling his cheeks burn red with humiliation. "Now do you get it?"
"You...like me?" Ash tilted his head to the side, as though he were studying a rare breed of Pokemon. "Me?" His eyes widened in surprise.
"Yes, you." Gary closed his eyes and brought one hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose, forcing any and all swear words to back down. He'd known this was going to be difficult, but he hadn't quite expected this. "Though I'm starting to wonder why." Perhaps sarcasm wasn't his best character trait to utilize for this kind of conversation, but he figured he had nothing to lose. After the shock wore off, Gary was positive Ash was going to proclaim his love for any one of the numerous female traveling companions he'd had over the years, - probably Misty, she'd been with him the longest after all - so it didn't really matter now anyway.
"You can't like me," Ash said calmly.
A curse very nearly escaped Gary after all. "Excuse me?" he choked out, suddenly infuriated. "What did you say?"
"I said, you can't like me," Ash repeated in that same, calming voice he tended to use on his Pokemon.
Gary clenched his fists. Of all the things he'd been expecting, a patronizing attitude was not one of them. He'd already had to deal with his grandfather, and his coworkers at the Saeda Institute – even Tracey had made a comment about him not knowing any better. Despite his crush on Ash, he was very close to hitting the other boy. "Who the hell are you to tell me who I can and can't like?
"What's the deal – you think I'm stupid? Naive? Too young to know better? Or maybe I'm confused, right? Having an identity crisis?" He was truly starting to regret ever having said anything. "Maybe all I need is to find the right woman to make a man out of me--"
"You're Gary Oak," Ash interrupted, still staring at him with that calm look that was nerve-wracking. Ash Ketchum was anything but calm. A flailing mess Gary was ready to deal with. This was just wrong. "You're not too young to know your own mind, and you're not confused." A smile cracked the calm expression, and Ash's eyes were suddenly as open and trusting as ever. "You've always known yourself better than anyone else."
Gary stared back, confused. "I don't—wait, what are you saying?"
"I'm saying you can't want me because you're Gary Oak," Ash said patiently. A hint of red was starting to break out over his cheekbones. "Gary Oak can have anyone he wants. He's smart, popular, a good friend, a better trainer, and he's going to be the best Pokemon researcher." For the first time since they'd began their conversation, Ash's eyes dropped away. "Why on earth would you want me?"
Gary's head was spinning. "Wait a second – back up." He raised his arms in a halting motion, taking a step back to gain some distance and hopefully, some perspective. "Are you telling me somehow this conversation got switched around from my eventual rejection and humiliation, to dealing with your self esteem issues?"
Ash blinked again, tilting his head to the other side. "...Yes?"
Gary stared at him in disbelief, and then suddenly snickered. "Ashy-boy, you are such a loser," he said, grinning and shaking his head wryly.
Ash looked hurt. "I am not!"
"Calm down." Gary took a deep breath, and attempted to salvage the conversation. "Look Ash, I already did the whole confession thing. What I want to know is what you think about it."
"Think about it?"
Arceus give me strength. "This is worse than pulling teeth." Gary rubbed his temples, closing his eyes. "You're doing this on purpose, right?"
Ash shrugged. "Look, you sprung this on me without warning," he pointed out. "I'm sorry if you were expecting a cut-and-dried answer right now, but to be honest, I've never thought about it."
"About me that way, you mean?"
Ash shook his head and folded his arms, moving back to lean against the trunk of an old Asper tree. Dead and withered fruit littered the ground; Gary watched as Ash kicked them out of the way absently. "About any of it. Dating. Girls. Boys. Everything that Brock went on about. I've never really thought about it."
"Never?" Gary looked at him suspiciously. "You're fifteen, Ash. You're telling me you don't have functioning hormones?"
Ash blushed bright red, and looked off to the side, scowling. "Shut up. My hormones are just fine."
"Sorry." Gary looked around him and spotted the tree stump just behind him. "You've never looked at a pretty girl, or a good looking guy – whatever – and thought what'd it be like?"
Ash shook his head slowly. "Nope." His hand automatically went to his belt where his pokeballs usually resided; when Gary had asked for the private encounter, he'd left them with Brock and Dawn. "I've always focused on my Pokemon and my goals." His eyes faded a bit; Gary watched with fascination as Ash obviously relived some of the ones that had come to fruition. "There's always something ahead, a new gym battle, or a contest to help Dawn train for. Whenever we get a break from the two, we deal with Team Rocket trying to steal our Pokemon, or someone else's." Ash blinked, coming back to himself with a start. "I haven't had time to even consider things like relationships."
"You have the time right now," Gary said quietly. "I'm not looking for a declaration of love, Ash. I may have had more time to... experiment a bit, but this is all still new to me too. All I know is I like you. I like hanging with you, battling with you, even arguing with you. I miss you a lot when you're not around. And when I saw you at Lake Valor, I was really happy to see you." His ears were burning, but he was determined to get everything out in the open now. He might never have the courage to do so again. "I don't know if this is love. But I do know I'd kinda like to find out. If the thought of dating another boy doesn't gross you out entirely, that is."
"It doesn't gross me out," Ash said slowly. He raised his head, looking straight into Gary's eyes. "What you just said... it sounds familiar to me, because that's sort of how I've always felt about you too."
Hope soared through Gary's spirits like a Tailow on the wing. "Really?"
"Well, I never liked the insulting," Ash amended quickly. "But I like having you around too. It's always sad to say goodbye when we meet new friends on the road, but saying goodbye to you... you're the only one that makes it hurt."
Silence overtook them both for a few minutes. Overhead, a flock of Pidgey broke free from the treetops and flew overhead, cawing out loud as they moved in formation. Ever the trainers, both of them looked upward at the same time, before glancing at each other with a matching blush.
"So what happens now?" Ash asked softly, switching his gaze to study the tips of his sneakers. "I mean, you like me, and I..." His voiced trailed off to a whisper. "...maybe I kinda like you too?"
It was more of a question than a statement, but Gary wasn't about to be picky. If nothing else, it was a start. "Maybe we could give it a shot?" he ventured hopefully.
Ash looked at him, confused again. "What do you mean?"
"We could, you know, date or something." His voice cracked as he spoke; Gary was sure he was going to die of embarrassment. Clearing his throat, he tried again. "We can go slow."
Ash was still a long for a long moment, his cap covering his eyes. Then he slowly nodded his head, not looking up. Gary watched quietly for a minute, not understanding, when he noticed Ash holding out a shaky hand. Gary let a small smile and stood up, moving over to lean against the same tree trunk. Reaching down, he gripped Ash's hand in his own, squeezing it lightly.
"Slow, huh?" Ash's voice was as shaky as his hand, but he was smiling as he peered nervously at Gary. "I can handle that."
"Cool." Gary grinned. His chest felt light and free, relief flowing through him. "Very cool."
An hour later, they were still holding hands, but they were sitting by the edge of the river that fed into Lake Valor, grinning like the children they used to be; still blushing, but getting used to the idea. Ash bumped his shoulder against Gary's companionably, but then frowned. "So how is this going to work?"
Gary stirred a bit, blinking lazily at him. "How's what going to work?"
"This." Ash indicated their joined hands with a fresh coat of red on each cheek to boot. "I mean, this is only temporary. You've got your work to do with the Saeda Institute once you finish with Dr Rowan, and I've got more badges to get before I can enter the Sinnoh League." He looked warily at Gary. "I mean, I don't want to.. I... you..."
"Take it easy, Ash," Gary cut him off with a smile. "I'd never ask you to give up your goals, anymore than you'd ask me to give up mine."
Ash nodded seriously. "True,"
"Besides, I'm 'on loan' to Dr Rowan for the foreseeable future," Gary continued. "There's lots of research to be done with with Lake Valor, not to mention follow-ups with the Shielgon. And there's the possibilities of more viable fossils to be found all over Sinnoh to send back to Dara for testing." Gary stared out over the water, watching it curve away from them into the distance as it headed for the lake. They could hear the calls of the Bidouf as a dam underwent construction nearby. A swarm of Yanma, led by a Yanmega headed for the flower fields on the other side of the forest. A young Azuril poked its head up in the middle of the river, studying them for a moment, before diving beneath the surface again. Gary took it all in, breathing deeply, and then glanced at Ash with a warm look. "There's lots of things to keep me busy here in Sinnoh."
Ash squeezed his hand. "Good to know."
Gary really wanted to lean over and kiss the other boy, but he didn't want to scare him off. Instead, he pulled Ash closer, and snaked his arm around Ash's waist. The other boy tensed, and then relaxed slowly. Gary smiled, letting his eyes drift shut, content. He had all the time in the world.
The stillness was broken by Ash's sleepy, innocent comment. "Man, Brock and Dawn are gonna flip."
Gary's eyes snapped open.
End Notes: Finally finished! The conversation that lead to ShS! :D Feedback appreciated as always. I was worried about characterization. I've seen so many fics where Gary just proclaimed his love and Ash screams out 'I love you too!' and sorry, I just don't buy it. They're boys, for one thing, and girls tend to be more likely to confess words of love that easily. Damn gender-raising roles. Here, I tried to keep Gary's sarcastic nature intact, as well as Ash's overall sense of naivety that he demonstrates in the show, yet I also wanted them to begin progressing towards a deeper relationship. Please let me know if this felt natural, or if it felt forced in any way. As you've seen from my edited author's notes in previous chapters, I do take well-thought out C&C very seriously.
Hope you enjoyed!