Oh, goodness. This one took forever to write. Like, months. *melts* But I'm really, really proud of it. So I've got a request for you guys, okay? If you want to favorite any of my stories, that's fine...but please, please write me a review first. I write because I enjoy it, but I rely on feedback from you so I can get better.
Disclaimer: None of the characters of Pokémon are mine. I'm only borrowing them to act out this little tale.
When It Rains
The day had started out normally enough. He'd woken at dawn, had a good breakfast, gotten involved in a minor quarrel with Misty on the way into town, and they were just getting ready to head into the Poké Mart when they overheard something that instantly brought time to a screeching halt.
And so they had changed course, heading for the Pokémon Center instead. He was mildly surprised there hadn't been a line for the video phone; but something like this would probably be spreading mainly by word-of-mouth anyway. Still, he wasn't going to take a stranger's word for it, and he knew exactly who to call.
Except she wasn't home.
He looked at Brock, because when things like this happened and he didn't know what to do, that was what he usually did. His older friend frowned, thinking.
"I'm sure I saw one in Saffron." he said finally. "Maybe he'd be there..."
The Magnet Train seemed to be exceptionally full of people. Their words, spoken in hushed, yet casual tones, assaulted Ash from every direction, so that his head reeled and his stomach swam, and he wanted to open his mouth and scream. But he sat there with his fists clenched and his face flushed, staring determinedly into his lap until it was time to get off.
They strode through the double doors of the building, and after a brief word with the receptionist, everything was a blur of white, and strange sounds, and smells that made him want to pinch his nose shut. He never did understand why white was such a predominant color in a hospital. Wasn't white the color of --
And then they were there, and any questions he had planned to ask - anything he planned to say at all - died in his throat at the sight of what his mother was doing. Who her arms were wrapped around, while his face was buried in her shoulder.
Ash turned away at once, feeling as though he'd been slapped. He caught sight of the room's only other occupant; a young man slumped in a chair, holding a Marill in his arms as though it were a stuffed toy. The kind a small child would seek comfort from.
He didn't need to ask at that point; he knew it must be bad.
"Earth to Ash! It's your move."
"Uh, right…" Blinking back to reality, the black-haired boy focused on the colored cards in his hand. Sighing in annoyance, he took another card from the stack on the table in front of him. "I hate this game."
"Well, can you think of a better one, then?" snapped the redheaded girl opposite him. "You haven't made a single suggestion all night."
His angry retort was cut off by the young man sitting on his right. "Guys, do we have to go through that now?" Brock's voice was strained with fatigue; recognizing defeat, the other two quickly muttered apologies to each other.
For a minute or two the only sounds that could be heard were the shuffling of cards as they continued their game, and the gentle pattering of raindrops outside. Darkness dominated inside of the house as well; the solitary exception was the light over the kitchen table where they sat.
If the forecast was accurate, the rain would last throughout the night.
Finally Ash asked a question, not necessarily because he wanted an answer, but because he wanted someone to be talking. The darkness, the silence, the invisible weight on his chest, all of it swirled around him, threatening to engulf him, if someone wasn't talking.
"Brock? I don't get it… why would anyone…" His throat choked on the word, and he skipped it. "Just from falling down the stairs?"
The dark-skinned man looked up at him, eyebrows raised, and the young trainer knew immediately what a stupid question that must have been. He was grateful for the patient tone in his friend's explanation.
"It's entirely possible if you hit your head hard enough, Ash. Besides that, he's not exactly young. You're more susceptible to serious injury as you age." He paused. "And…I guess he landed at exactly the right angle to cause a significant amount of damage, judging from what your mother said..."
"All right, all right." the boy muttered hastily, looking back down at his cards again. "Sorry," he added quietly; Brock merely smiled in reply.
After a while, Ash saw something in his deck that gave him a tiny surge of encouragement, albeit briefly. "Uno!" he announced in as triumphant an undertone as he could manage, slapping down his next-to-last card. The yellow mouse Pokémon perched atop his messy hair gave a small cry of delight at his trainer's victory.
"Ash…" Misty didn't quite meet his eyes. "You do realize you need to get rid of all your cards before you win the game, don't you?"
He blinked at her, brown eyes narrowed in confusion. "Huh? Yeah, of course I know that. It's not like this is the first time I've played this, Misty." he pointed out. "I learned how to play a long time ago, with -"
"I think it's my turn now." Brock interjected abruptly. "Hmm…a green five… I dunno if I've got any fives…"
There was another round of silence, slightly more uncomfortable than the last, while he pondered his next move. Ash busied himself by staring idly around the kitchen, his gaze falling one by one on the previous activities they had engaged in throughout the night: a mess of crumpled origami papers, several jars of Play-Doh (which Togepi had tried to eat), the coloring books he hadn't used since he was five, the mountain of dirty dishes in the sink (and the faintly lingering scent of smoke in the air).
His eyes fell on the wall clock, which bore the likeness of a Meowth with a swinging tail for a pendulum. It must have been a fairly new acquisition of his mother's; he didn't remember seeing it the last time he had been home.
An idea of who might have given it to her flashed into his mind, and he tore his eyes away at once, wondering if maybe he ought to make himself another sandwich…
"Ash!" Again the girl's voice barged in on his train of thought. "You really aren't paying attention at all, are you?"
He looked up at her, feeling an uncomfortable squirming in the pit of his stomach; this particular game had been her idea, after all. "I…I guess not, Misty, sorry…"
Before she could object, Brock laid down his cards, looking apologetic. "I kinda feel the same way, actually." he admitted. "No offense, or anything, but I just can't focus anymore."
She opened her mouth but quickly closed it, apparently deciding against an impatient retort. "All right," she sighed instead, dropping her cards into the pile on the table, "It's not like I can say I blame you."
Ash added his own cards, and the three cleaned up their game without any further comment. It was the truth, after all; he'd never been very good at Uno, especially when playing against…
"Ha! Wild card! Draw four, Ashy-boy!"
His eyes immediately wandered upward.
"Ash…" Misty sounded almost as though she was pleading with him now. "He hasn't been down here all night. Don't you think that means anything?"
"Pree!" Togepi flapped its arms, oblivious to the fact that it was the only cheerful creature in the room.
Ash lowered his gaze to the floor, letting his eyes slide shut so that he didn't have to see them staring at him. Misty and Brock were almost like surrogate siblings to him; he shared practically everything with them.. But this was a matter they just never understood.
He wasn't sure he understood it all that well himself. All he knew right now was that he couldn't sit in this kitchen all night.
Not while he…
"…I want to see him. Just to see if he's okay," he whispered, staring down at the floor. His insides continued to squirm, as though he'd swallowed a live Caterpie. "I mean…it's why we're even here, isn't it?"
His friends silently surveyed him for a few moments. Outside the rain thrummed steadily against the roof, indifferent, uncaring, and cold.
"You sound like you need to see if he's okay."
He met Brock's eyes, moving his head so abruptly that Pikachu curled his paws deeper into the boy's dark hair to keep his balance.
"What's wrong with that?" Ash challenged. Brock smiled at the all too familiar tone but left the question unanswered. Instead, he turned placidly to Misty.
"C'mon, let's try the TV again. Maybe there's a late-night movie on or something."
"Nothing scary, though," she warned as they turned and headed out of the room; Brock's reply was barely audible over Togepi's excited squeaks.
Ash took a deep breath, and allowed himself one last sweeping look of the kitchen. He wondered if the mess would still be there when he came back down.
Well, if it is, I'll help clean it. he told himself. I helped make it, after all…and Mr. Mime could use a break Come to think of it, I haven't seen him all night, either…but maybe that's a good thing if he's doing stuff like putting instant oatmeal in the washing machine…
"Ash?" Brock's head was sticking through the doorway. "Do you want us to let you know if your mom calls?"
Ash shook his head. "Only if she asks for me."
His friend had barely retreated back through the frame when the boy blurted out, "I'm not sure how long I'll stay up there."
Brock looked back at him. During all their travels together, he'd never really considered Ash to be "small". His boundless energy, unrivaled determination, strength, and enthusiasm made him larger than life itself.
But now, as he stood there alone in the kitchen, with his pale face and messy hair, staring absently at the floor…"small" was a pretty accurate word to describe him. And as much as the young man hated it, there was only one piece of advice he could offer.
"Just…do what you can for him."
No one spoke to each other as they left Saffron, for which Ash was grateful. Without the distractions of an actual conversation, he was able to monitor their new companion as closely as he dared. Every time the older boy either slowed or sped his pace, Ash would adjust his to match within seconds, unaware that the other two were doing the same thing. And in this manner, they had reached Pallet by sunset - just as the first few drops of rain had started to fall.
His bedroom was dark; nevertheless Ash felt as though a blinding spotlight had been thrown on him the moment he stepped inside and shut the door. And was it his imagination, or was the rain outside suddenly much louder?
He stood there for a moment, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the darkness; he didn't dare flick the switch on the wall. And a little extra time to calm his nerves was always welcome. He leaned carefully against the door, wincing from the dull ache in his muscles.
I don't think we've been in this room together since we were little kids…Yeah, that's right, he used to sleep over a lot, didn't he? Mom was always happy to look after him, and I…well, I was happy, too…Sometimes I wonder if he even remembers…
Ash's thoughts were broken as his attention was drawn to a soft golden light from across the room. Within seconds his surroundings had brightened considerably enough for him to see the source: a sleek, black foxlike creature perched at the foot of his bed like a sentry, emitting the light from the ring patterns on her body. Ash smiled at her.
She bowed her head slightly, then looked over her shoulder at the figure lying behind her, on top of the blankets. Following her gaze, Ash's heart jumped a little in his chest.
He's probably sleeping…I should go…
But he seemed to be rooted to the spot. And Umbreon was looking back at him expectantly. He swallowed, clenching his hands into fists to keep them from shaking.
Stepping carefully across the perpetual mess strewn over his floor, he silently made his way across the room to stand by the bed, and looked down at the prone figure of his childhood friend.
As he stood there, fretfully chewing his lip, he thought again of his mother's words.
"There's nothing he can do. It's not good for him to be sitting here all night…"
He couldn't see Gary's face from where he stood; from what he could make of the spiky-haired silhouette, the taller boy was resting his head on his folded arms. He apparently hadn't bothered to change into sleepwear, simply leaving his boots in front of the bedside table.
"…I'd stay with him myself, but I really should look after Tracey…he's not taking this well at all and I think he's going to need quite a bit of supervision… "
Was he asleep? He certainly hadn't given any indication that he was aware of someone entering the room. If he was awake, he'd say something. Wouldn't he?
"Okay, Mom. We'll try."
Unless he was faking it - pretending to be asleep so that Ash would leave him alone. That did seem like something Gary would do…
As much as he felt it was better to leave, Ash just couldn't bring himself to do it. There was just…something he didn't like about the way his old rival was just lying there, something that made his throat tighten and his heart pound painfully in his chest. He recalled that time at the Kanto League, where he had followed Gary out of the stadium after his loss in the hopes of being able to say something that would be of some consolation. But Gary had just waved him off…
His mouth felt dry, and he was suddenly aware that he was shivering, although it was far from chilly on this summer's night.
What should I do…?
That brought Ash's heart straight up into his throat. The small electric mouse was carefully climbing off his head and onto his shoulder.
"Pikachu." he whispered, barely able to hear his own voice, "what are…?"
Before he could finish the sentence, Pikachu had leapt lightly from his shoulder onto the bed. Ash cringed as the bedsprings made a very audible squeak.
"Get back here!" he hissed through his teeth. "You'll wake him up!"
But his most loyal Pokémon did not obey him. He sat on his hind legs and stared up at his trainer, mirroring Umbreon's steady gaze.
And Ash understood. Taking a deep breath, he slowly seated himself on the edge of the bed without looking away from his friend. Pikachu darted aside to sit next to Umbreon, and the two of them watched, waiting.
His throat felt so tight he could barely whisper the name. When he received no reply, it closed up tighter still, like an iron fist around his neck, so that he suddenly wanted to turn and run---from the room, from the house---out into the night and never look back.
But now that he'd made his presence known…It was too late for that, wasn't it?
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't be bugging you at a time like this. But I…I wish there was something I could do for you."
He swallowed, trying to loosen the tension in his throat - and then he burst into speech, because he just couldn't take the silence anymore.
"You know, the reason I used to hate when you picked on me so much was because sometimes you made me think you were right - about me being a loser and everything. When I started my journey I didn't know half the things you did. I couldn't even catch a Pidgey." He smiled a bit, remembering that day. It had been far from funny at the time, of course, but now… "Even Pikachu laughed at me."
"Pi," came a soft affirmation from the foot of the bed.
"I've gotten better since then," Ash continued, nodding to Pikachu in thanks, "but there's still a lot of things I don't know, so I still mess up sometimes."
He could taste blood. With somewhat of an effort, he forced himself to stop chewing on his bottom lip.
"But I don't feel so bad, because I know I can count on my friends to be there for me when I need them."
He couldn't remember the last time he had spoken in a voice this low. Probably not since he was six years old and on his best behavior in the library.
"So…I wanted to say that even if you are right about me…even if I may never be as good as you, or as smart, or anything like that…you can still talk to me."
Ash lifted a shaking hand, hesitated for a second, then tentatively laid it on his friend's back. The purple shirt felt surprisingly soft under his fingers, and beneath it he could feel the faintest trace of warmth... A spark of encouragement rippled through him, and he went on.
"And I don't mean just now, tonight. I mean always, Gary. Anytime something's bothering you, you can always call, or write a letter, or something…Even if I don't know what I could say that would help, I'll still listen to you."
Ash tried to put it out of his mind how he was pleading like a child negotiating for the return of a cherished toy. He hated feeling so helpless. Hated the way his voice shook, how it sounded so small and fragile at a time when the words were so important. Even the weather was mocking him; he swore the rain was growing louder by the minute. Would it ever stop?
"I just...want you to know that."
With every passing second, Ash found it increasingly difficult to sit still. He felt like he wanted to jump up and switch on the lights, get rid of the silence and the darkness all at once, but he forced himself to stay where he was, quietly contemplative. There had to be more he could say, something - anything…
Normally, he wasn't the best with words, but it was easier once he remembered the person he was trying to reach. This Gary wasn't the same Gary who put him down or publicly humiliated him for his own amusement or acted as if Ash wasn't even worth his time.
Instead he thought of the kid who ran back to him when he had fallen on the sidewalk and hurt his knee, telling him it was only a scrape and he was fine but holding him anyway until he stopped blubbering about it; the kid who told him it was okay to look when the scary parts of the movie were over, even if it was sometimes a trick; who always seemed to vanish into thin air when they played hide and seek.
The person he missed above all else.
It was only one word, barely a whisper over the rain outside, but it jerked Ash back to the present as abruptly as if he'd been thrown out into the storm.
"Gary? I-I'm sorry…I didn't wake you up, did I? I came in here to see how you were doing…" he stuttered, instantly aware of how incredibly stupid he must have sounded babbling like that.
It was then that Ash realized that his outstretched hand hadn't kept still. He had been rubbing it softly across the broad expanse of Gary's back while he talked - as if unconsciously seeking more of the comfort he'd gotten when he first placed his hand there.
Red flushed his face, so that it nearly matched the color of the cap he had left sitting on the kitchen table. The heat seemed to travel down his body, settling in a place somewhere in the pit of his stomach. It wasn't entirely unpleasant, almost like the feeling of swallowing hot soup. He found himself lost for words and looked at the two Pokémon at the foot of the bed as though hoping they would prompt him.
Pikachu gazed back at him, his round black eyes shining in the borrowed light from his companion, with an expression that emanated trust and encouragement. Next to him, Umbreon sat quite still. Her expression was harder to make out as she gazed at her own trainer. Ash wondered if it was healthy for her to be holding a Flash for this long.
The boy snapped out of his daze, bringing his attention back to his friend. "Y-yeah?"
"I don't…feel too much like talking right now. I've kinda had a rough day, y'know?" Gary's voice was calm and quiet, showing none of the telltale signs of strain. Ash had no idea if it was genuine, or simply good acting.
But..."---a soft intake of breath---"I think if you kept doing that, it might be enough to put me to sleep. I'd like that…"
Ash looked down at him for a moment, trying to think of something to say. When nothing of particular interest occurred to him, he silently complied.
Now that he was fully aware of what he was doing, it was difficult not to feel a little awkward. After so many bitter words and hurt feelings, it felt strange to be this close to Gary. He had done it once before, but that had been a moment of impulsive fear. To actually be touching him like this, trying to soothe and comfort…that was entirely different.
It felt weird, there was no denying that. A lot of things about today had been weird, and it didn't look as though they would return to normal anytime soon. But now, sitting here like this…it wasn't so bad.
In fact, it was kind of nice. He liked the feeling of knowing someone felt better because of him. Years ago his mother had taught him what that kind of power could do; he recalled the way her eyes shone whenever she talked about his father and what a wonderful man he was, even though Ash was too young to remember him…
His thoughts were suddenly broken when he felt a fleeting tremor run through his friend's body. "Gary?"
"M'all right…" The words were gasped out, as though the taller boy had just run miles. He continued to shiver as his pale hands clenched into fists. "M'fine."
Ash bit his tongue in order to avoid bruising his lips further. He wasn't the brightest kid -- certainly not when compared to someone like Gary Oak -- but he wasn't stupid enough to believe something like that.
But now…just for now, he wasn't going to start a fight. He'd said what he wanted to say, and hopefully it was enough. Instead he reached for one of those fists with his free hand, closing gently around it in a light squeeze.
Somewhere in the distance, over the rain and his friend's quiet sobs, Ash heard the phone ring. And even though it was the one noise he'd been anticipating all night, he didn't move from his place on the bed. He'd let Brock answer it, because Gary needed him.
And if he had to, he'd stay there until the rain stopped.