Title: The Definition of a Rival
Word Count: 2173
Warning: Established Gary/Ash, shishi, palletshipping, some Paul-bashing.
Notes: Part of the 'RaiS' arc, takes place after 'Out of the Blue'. Also, I wrote this a few months ago but forgot to post it in the rush that was moving to my apartment. I just found my old flashdrive, and WHOA tons of old stuff. :D
Summary: Ash takes his rivals very seriously. The rivals he acknowledges, that is.
The Definition of a Rival
"So, a Latios, huh?" Gary whistled in amazement as he examined the egg, handling it carefully. Lightly tracing his fingers over the colored swirls, he shook his head and handed it back to its owner. "Only you, Ash, I swear."
"These things just sorta happen, I guess." Ash grinned sheepishly, returning the egg to its carrier. Soon after Latias's rather abrupt arrival and subsequent departure, Brock had mentioned the necessity of getting a proper egg container to encourage the eggs healthy growth. It wasn't until a few years later that they realized how incredibly lucky Misty had been to have a healthy Togepi hatch without using one. Pokemon eggs didn't usually survive away from their parents or a container as a substitute. "I can't wait for it to hatch."
"Imagine having a Latios," Dawn said, agreeing. She pumped her fist in the air. The sudden movement dislodged Piplup from her lap, making the blue penguin squawk indignantly. "That's going to be some real power right there, once it grows up and gains some experience."
"Just think, Ash," Brock put in. "You'll have a big surprise in your future gym battles."
"That's for sure." Ash carefully set the container down on the ground. Pikachu automatically curled up in front of it. He had taken it upon himself to be the egg's official guardian, much to the groups knowing amusement. The electric pokemon had always had a healthy protective streak. "But I'm not in any rush for that yet. I just want Latios to hatch, safe and healthy first."
"Understandable, Ash. I think it's safe to say we all want that." Brock finished stirring the evening meal, and gestured for everyone to grab a bowl. Piplup and Pikachu began distributing the spoons. "All right everyone, eat up!"
Meals among the group tended to be a talkative time, a chance to reflect on what they'd accomplished thus far, and to prepare for the coming days. Tonight was no different, as the conversation became a chance to fill Gary in on what he'd missed – aside from Latias's visit – in the days since he'd been with them.
It hadn't been so long ago that he and Ash had admitted to having strong feelings for one another. Theirs was still a fledgling relationship, but it was steadily growing despite the breaks that kept cropping up between them. Ash was still traveling the Sinnoh region, competing at the gyms for their badges in anticipation of the Sinno league six months from then, and Gary was sent to different areas of Sinnoh to conduct research experiments for the Saeda Institute. He met up with Ash and company as often as he could though, and it was usually no less than a week between visits. Not much time in theory, but with Ash's penchant for danger, it meant hearing lots of stories each time they caught up.
The conversation moved briskly, switching easily from Dawn's new competition moves she was developing, to Brock's new recipe's and developments with his fast-growing Happini, and of course, the latest Team Rocket escapades. Light laughter bubbled through the camp as the group unwound from the stress of traveling and training and eventually the stories began to wind down.
"So, that's it?" Gary grinned, reaching for another bread roll. "No more tales of death defiance?"
Brock chuckled. "Not unless you count Ash's last battle with Paul the other day. If looks could kill, they'd both be dead." He passed the salt to Dawn, who thanked him.
Gary cocked his head. "Paul. You've mentioned him before, right? Chimchar's former trainer." He shook his head, remembering the story. The idea of abandoning a Pokemon because it didn't meet your expectations was utterly loathsome to him. He could understand why Ash always seemed to get angry when he thought about it.
"Yeah," Dawn said, shaking her head in mutual disgust. "He's Ash's main rival."
Ash tensed at the word 'rival', Gary noticed. He found that very interesting. "Really."
"They certainly bring out the best in each other in battles," Brock said. Then he seemed to reconsider his words, looking speculative. "Or should I say, the worst?"
"Rivals are supposed to do that," Gary said, still watching Ash, who was silently glaring daggers at his soup bowl. "Right, Ash?"
"It's not your typical competitive behaviour." Brock mused as he poured some more Pokemon food into the dish Croagunk was holding out. "I mean, I never worried about you and Ash coming to blows, but these two worry me sometimes."
Dawn laughed. "It's not that bad," she protested mildly, gesturing with her spoon. "I mean, there's supposed to be tension between rivals--"
"Stop calling him that." Ash's voice suddenly cut through the conversation like a knife.
Dawn blinked, her mouth falling shut in surprise. Brock raised an eyebrow. Gary tilted his head, watching his boyfriend intently. "Ash?"
"Stop calling Paul my rival," Ash repeated. He lifted his gaze from his dinner to the rest of them, glaring hotly. His fist tightened around his soup spoon. "He's not my rival, anymore than a member of Team Rocket is!"
The group exchanged concerned looks. "That's a little extreme, don't you think?" Brock tried to cool the tension, hands raised peaceably. "I mean, you two do have opposing views on training, but that doesn't mean you aren't rivals. I seem to recall you and Gary having a shouting match a time or two--"
At the mention of Gary's name in conjunction with Paul's, Ash fairly exploded. "Paul is not my rival! A rival challenges you. A rival is someone you measure yourself against, to compete and push yourself with. A rival makes you want to be better than you are." He stood up suddenly, throwing his spoon down on the table, making Dawn squeak in surprise. "Paul is less a trainer and more of a bully. He doesn't care about his Pokemon, he only cares about himself. Calling him a rival is an insult to everyone I've ever met that has called me their rival. And to even begin to compare that abusive jerk to Gary is just plain wrong."
Dawn swallowed hard, looking nervous. "Ash...?" Her timid attempts to intervene were shut down by Ash's angry glower in her direction.
Ash's fists clenched by his side. "Paul will never be a rival," he continued, scathingly, his very stance just daring them to counter his words. Such heat and venom from him was a rarity, and Gary was unable to look away. "He's not a worthy opponent. Hell, he's barely even human." With those final words, Ash stormed away from the table. Pikachu had been watching wide-eyed with the rest of their team, but after a quick 'pika!' to the others – likely a warning not to follow – Pikachu scampered into the undergrowth after his trainer.
Gary watched the two disappear and then turned to the others, lifting one brow. "Well, that was interesting," he said dryly. "Guess I'd better go calm him down." He stood up as he spoke.
Dawn nodded, still stunned, and Brock echoed her movements, frowning with concern. "Go, Gary. We'll handle the gang here."
The forest undergrowth was thick with lush bushes and fully ripened apricorn trees, but Gary had no trouble navigating his way through. Brushing past a tomato berry bush, he made his way to a small clearing where he could see Ash perched yoga-style on top of a flat rock, feet pressed together, his hands clenched and pressing down against the rock's surface. It was his standard angry pose, and Gary nearly grinned at the sight of it. But Ash was in a less-than-joking mood, and would likely get angrier at any amusement on his face. Moving forward, he cleared his throat. "Room for one more?"
Pikachu, sitting on Ash's head, waved him over but Ash shot him an even look. "That depends," he said, scowling. "If you're here to yell at me, or make me apologize for running off, then no, there isn't." He lowered his gaze to the forest floor. "If I'd stayed, I was going to say something I'd really regret, and Dawn and Brock don't deserve that from me. You either."
Gary shrugged and strolled over, plopping himself down on the grass next to Ash's rock and stretching his feet out. Relaxing back on his hands, he tilted his head back to stare up at the leafy canopy above. A few lone stars shone down through gaps of dark blue within the green, and he closed his eyes, waiting patiently. He didn't say anything, and eventually, he felt Ash's eyes on him. "Yes?"
"Aren't you going to say anything?" Ash asked dully. Pikachu hopped down onto the ground and moved away, as though sensing the need for the two of them to talk. "Tell me I'm being rude, or stupid and that I should respect all fellow trainers and stuff like that?"
Gary blinked, opening his eyes completely, and shot him a side look of wry amusement. "You're looking for a lecture on respect from me?"
Ash grinned faintly. "Well, maybe that was a bit much."
Gary snickered and sat up, bringing his legs in and wrapping his arms around his knees. "Ashy-boy--" Ash cringed automatically at the hated nickname. "--from what you've told me about this 'Paul', I'd be surprised if you didn't explode at him." Gary shook his head. "I know I'd never respect a trainer for abandoning his Pokemon. That's unforgivable. And I may work my Pokemon hard, but I'd never train them to exhaustion and then fail to take them to a Pokemon Center. Paul sounds exactly as you called it – he's a bully."
"You're on my side?" Ash's eyes were huge in his pale face.
"Aren't I always?" Gary affectionately nudged Ash's knee with his shoulder. "Besides, I know you. You're already feeling guilty for talking bad about the guy, aren't you?"
"Maybe a little," Ash hedged. His eyes narrowed. "But even though I shouldn't say things like that, it doesn't change the fact that I still believe them. And I really meant it when I said he's not my rival." He gave Gary a warm look. "You were my first and my best rival. You made me so angry, like Paul does, but it was because you were trying to light a fire under me. Every time we met, I'd come away from our encounters with a new kind of energy, you know? Like you'd just challenged me and was expecting a new level of performance out of me." His face darkened again. "But Paul.... I just come away angry. Sickened, at what he does to other trainers, and to his Pokemon. You were never about being cruel, Gary. You taunted me, but you never attacked me when I was already down. And you never mistreated any of your Pokemon."
"Grandpa'd have my hide if I did," Gary agreed. "I get it Ash." He winked. "And thanks for the compliments."
"Shut up." But Ash nudged him back, cheeks flushing a slight pink.
Gary laughed outright and reached up, grabbing Ash's arm and dragging the other boy down. Ash flailed wildly and then crashed on top of him with an 'oof!' "Feel better?" he asked, holding the boy in place.
"Yeah." Ash rolled his eyes. "Even though you just tried to kill me."
Rolling his eyes, Gary decided to shut Ash up, and he did so by leaning up and sealing his mouth over Ash's. After a tense minute, the other boy relaxed, melting into the kiss, and the clearing was filled with silence for a short time.
Eventually they both pulled apart and sat up, brushing off bits of grass and forest debris. Ash got to his feet first and reached his hand down this time, pulling the other up in a quick move. Pikachu came out to the clearing where he'd ducked off when the kissing began and hopped back on to the trusty perch for him that was Ash's shoulder. "Sorry we made you run off, Pikachu."
"Pika." The Pokemon waved his paw airily, obviously getting used to it.
Ash smiled, and looked at Gary again. "We should get back to the others."
"I know," Gary sighed reluctantly, and refused to let go of Ash's hand as they began heading back to the campsite. He squeezed the warm palm in his grip. "Really though – you're feeling better?"
"After that? I'm definitely not angry anymore." Ash grinned and moved closer, leaning his head down on Gary's shoulder for a brief moment, before lifting it back up and beginning to jog, tugging Gary behind him. "Come on, Slowbro, move it!"
Gary grinned and gave him a light shove, breaking the hold Ash had on his hand before sprinting ahead. "I'll show you who's a Slowbro!"
Laughter filled the forest as they made their way back to camp.
Sorry Paul-lovers, I can't stand the twit and I don't particularly care what demons may or may not lurk in his past. I'm from the school of thought that believes you make your own choices about how you behave, and blaming things in your life that drive you to be an abusive bully makes you a cop-out of the highest order in my book. By that logic, some of my best friends should be able to commit a few homicides and be able to get off just from telling childhood stories, yet they CHOOSE to be better then that.
Rant over. :D I love writing Gary. But if you couldn't tell, writing Pikachu taxes me somewhat. I need to work on that. Feedback is always appreciated. :D
[edit 02/28/09] Fixed two spelling errors. Thanks StM!