Wow...back exactly one year after writing this story. I can't believe how well it's done. Still today I got three alerts in my inbox letting me know readers have put this story under their favorites. Huge, huge thanks to everyone. I have received many messages asking me if I'll be writing a sequel to this, or another Ash/Gary story whatsoever. The answer is...I don't know. I become obsessed with ships, write a whole lot of stories about them in record time (like I did with this one), and then forget about them and move onto a new obsession a while later. I'm not into Palletshipping lately. Right now it's more Prince of Tennis. Will I come back to Palletshipping in the future? Probably. But right now? I could try to write a story, but it wouldn't be very good. I might not even finish it. I want to write something of quality; I've improved a lot since writing Seven Parasols.

Before I stop blabbing and get on with the story, I also want to ask you to please check out my very good friend's blog. You can find it at: http : // island0fmisfittoyz .wordpress. com/ (Remove spaces) He is the most amazing boy ever and I can guarantee you will all love his blog. Just the chance to ogle his pictures is well worth it. If you want to review this story but you're too lazy/busy/other excuse to do so, please at least check out his blog and consider subscribing. It's well worth it. Alright, shameless promotion of my favorite person ever is over. On with the show.

-Chapter One-

I am everything you want,

I am everything you need.

I am everything inside of you

That you wish you could be.

I say all the right things,

At exactly the right time,

But I mean nothing to you

And I don't know why.

-Vertical Horizon

It was difficult to walk out of the stadium, but somehow, he managed it. His feet acted in spite of his brain, which was telling him to turn around and face Gary like a man. Go up to him, and stare him straight in the eyes. Take his face. Kiss him so hard that he was bruised afterwards.

But he didn't do any of that. He walked out, head bowed, Pikachu trailing after him. Misty and Brock were nowhere to be seen.

When Ash got back to the hotel, he toppled into bed and pulled his hat over his face. He wasn't going to cry. He wasn't.

But he did.

The tears were hot, as hot as his boiling blood, and they slipped down his face before he could stop them. A few gathered in the corners of his lips, and he licked them away, somehow comforted by their saltiness. Tears were meant to be salty. His were salty. Finally, something in his world that made sense.

His defeat had been pathetic. He'd gone through five Pokémon in a matter of minutes, and had had no choice but to call out Bulbasaur. Poor Bulbasaur, who was probably still tired from the match he had had with Brock hours earlier. Stupid, lousy decision. Gary, of course, had brought out Arcanine, and the battle had been over in seconds.

What had he been thinking? What in the world had he been thinking? Why he had battled Brock before the match was baffling in itself. But what about the other Pokémon that had been at his disposal? Pikachu, Charizard, Squirtle, Muk and Taurus? He could hardly remember how they had lost to Gary's powerful team. All he could remember was the horrible, sinking feeling that had accompanied his realisation that all he had left was Bulbasaur, and that Gary was still on his first Pokémon.

When Brock and Misty arrived a few hours later, he pretended to be asleep. They made no attempt to wake him, and merely grabbed their jackets and left for dinner. Pikachu slept by his side, exhausted from the battle, and he was grateful for the understanding company. He wanted to lay in bed and think. Just think, because that was all he ever did. He never acted. He just contemplated. Which was funny, because he was usually something of an impulsive hothead. But not when it came to Gary, apparently.

He soon slipped into an uneasy sleep, where in his dreams Gary was lurking in the shadows, eyeing him down. He would avoid his gaze, cowardly, and attempt to train his Pokémon. But he was never far from Gary's scrutiny, no matter how deep he ventured into the forest. Gary was always there, watching from behind the trunks of the oak trees, and smirking. But it didn't anger him. It never did, really.

It just made Ash want him even more.


"Honey, Professor Oak wanted to see you today," Delia Ketchum said, her voice soft. She wasn't sure how the proposal would go over.

"Professor Oak?"

The curiosity in her son's voice raised her confidence. "Yes. He said he had something to talk to you about."

"Oh, alright. I'll go by later."

Ash brought his plates to the sink and began to wipe them off methodically. Bits of egg and bacon fell into the soapy water, and he turned away from the sight in disgust. Looking out of the kitchen window, he saw Mr. Mime tending the garden. The flowers were beautiful this year, all sorts of colours grouping together to form a wonderful painting.

If he had the guts, he would bring a flower to Gary. Of course, if he had any guts at all, he wouldn't have cooped himself up in the house for the past nine months. He would have been out there training harder than ever for the new tournament coming up in June. But he was a coward, and a foolish one, so he spent his days helping around the house and laying around.

He made great plans, but never saw them through. He was supposed to go to Cerulean City last month to visit Misty. He had even called her, arranged a date to head over, and then at the last minute he had cancelled without offering any excuses.

Brock had been a bit more pushy. He had arrived, unannounced, on several occasions, hoping to coax Ash into coming over to Pewter City to see how his family was doing. Again, Ash couldn't be bothered, and though he promised Brock to go see him, both of them were smart enough to know that it was never actually going to happen.

But he owed at least a visit to Professor Oak, considering the fact that the Pokémon researcher had been a crucial aid in his past journeys. Of course, he owed Misty and Brock as well, but it was only a short walk to Professor Oak's lab. Nowadays, it was all he could manage without turning back and giving up.

He pulled on his shoes and called out to his mother that he was leaving. It was chilly outside, and he thought about heading up to his room to grab a coat, but decided against it. At least this way, if he felt like turning back halfway there, he had a good reason: he'd gotten cold

He held open the door for Pikachu, who pounced up onto his shoulder immediately after stepping outdoors.

"We haven't seen Professor Oak in a long time, have we, Pikachu?" he asked. He stuffed his hands into his pockets and began the walk to the lab.

"Pika," was the response.

"We won't stay long," he continued, speaking more to himself than his companion. "I'll see what he needs, and then we'll leave. I don't want to stick around." He hesitated, then muttered, "I wonder if Gary'll be there."

To his surprise, the heavens did not spill their wrath onto the earth. There were no comets crashing down before him, no apocalypse taking place. He had voiced his fear, the one thing he dreaded, and life still continued. A few Pidgeys chattered nearby, and one of his neighbours crossed his path and waved hello. The world had failed to notice that he had finally owned up to the reason why he avoided the lab that he had loved so much.

In case Gary was there.

The very thought had his heart pounding, his hands sweating, his mouth dry. His swallowed a few times and reminded himself to breathe, to calm down. It would be alright. Gary was rarely at home, anyways: he was too busy researching, like his grandfather, and occasionally going out of town for Pokémon League tournaments. He was so successful, so great. It was a painful realisation that he was everything that Ash wished he could be, or at least, be with.

When he arrived at the lab, stomach twisting into a hundred different shapes, he felt as though he was preparing himself to face his worst nightmare. In a sense, perhaps he was. He cleared his throat, wiped his damp palms on his jeans, and let out a breath he hadn't even noticed he'd been holding.

He knocked on the door. A quiet, unsure knock that echoed in his mind a thousand times louder than it had actually been.

Professor Oak opened the door, and his face split into a wide grin. "Ah, Ash! So good to see you! Please, come right in."

He entered the house, and was somehow pleased to see that nothing had changed. Change bothered him lately, and it made him feel uncomfortable. He knew that he was trying to grasp the past with whatever strength he had left, because those had been the good days. The days when he had felt free, happy, and empowered.

"Your mother told you that I wanted a word with you?" Professor Oak asked, heading towards the back of the house.

Ash followed closely. "She told me this morning."

"Yes, well, I was actually wondering if you could do a bit of a favour for me," he said. They had now arrived in the part of the house that doubled as both a library and a laboratory. Professor Oak switched on a light and went to sit at his desk, shuffling through a stack of papers.

"How have you been?" he inquired absentmindedly. He pulled out a page and checked the title, then shoved it towards the back of the pile and kept searching.

"I've been good," he lied.

"Good, good." There was a silence, and then, "Yes, here we are."

He rose from his chair and grabbed an envelope, stuffing several papers into it a bit haphazardly.

"Ash, I wanted to know if you could deliver these documents for me," he said. "They contain extremely important information regarding a recent discovery I've made, and I'm far too busy to deliver them myself."

"Uh, well..."

"We're on the brink of a very important scientific discovery, Ash. One that could make history. If I leave the lab, that could all fall apart. I need to stay close to my subjects, observing them every day. And I need all of my aides here as well. I'm sure you understand."

Ash sighed in defeat. "I understand, professor. Sure, I'll deliver them for you."

"Thank you, Ash." Professor Oak beamed at him, which made Ash feel somewhat better about his decision to help out. "Please be sure not to lose any of them, or misplace them. Heavens knows I won't be able to get those statistics again."

"I'll be careful."

"Here's the address," he said, writing it onto the front of the envelope before passing it to him. "You'll be travelling to Viridian City, so you should be there within two or three days, depending on the weather."

"Right," Ash replied. "Well, don't worry, professor, I'll get these papers there for you as quick as I can. I'll leave right now."

"Thank you; this really is a big help." Professor Oak paused, then, "Say, Ash, are you feeling alright? You look a bit worse for wear."

"Me? No, I'm fine," he said quickly, plastering a smile onto his face. "I'd better get going. I'll come see you as soon as I get back."

"Do call me when you get to Viridian City, would you?"

"Sure, no problem," he agreed. "Bye, professor."

"Goodbye, Ash."

Ash was accompanied to the front door by Professor Oak, and he left as quickly as he could. He had half a mind to ask how Gary was, but thought better of it. In reality, he didn't really want to know. He walked home in silence, reflecting on the trip he was going to have to make. Though he had a bike now, acquired last Christmas, it wouldn't be particularly enjoyable if the cold weather kept up.

Once at home, he hurried up to his room to pack a few belongings. After he finished double-checking that he had everything he needed, he went into the kitchen to say goodbye to his mother.

"Mom, I have to go to Viridian City," he said. "I'm delivering something for Professor Oak."

"Oh, how nice of you, sweetheart," she replied, looking up from the cake she was decorating. "What are you delivering?"

"Uh, just some papers I guess," he said, staring at the envelope.

"To who, honey? One of Professor Oak's friends?"

"I don't know," he answered. "All I've got is an address—"

He brought the envelope closer to his face in order to make sure that he was reading the address properly, and then he pulled it back sharply. His heart stopped beating.

He couldn't do this.