Summary: Some relationships come easily, others have to go through trials and tribulations before they even begin. A quiet night causes Ash to ponder the way his relationship with Gary has evolved over the years. Palletshipping five-piece.

Disclaimer – I own the storyline, my interpretation of the characters, and nothing else.

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Kanto - Evolution

My return to Pallet surprised me that year; all of my closest friends from my travels showed up for a party that my mother had arranged and I was shocked by the level of sympathy over Pikachu's sudden death. Mom, May, and Dawn had all cried in response to the news and even Tracey admitted to having done so. The last thing I wanted to do on Christmas was think about Pikachu and Professor Oak seemed to notice this as he chose that day to announce that he was planning to retire in the next year or so, leaving the lab and pokemon preserve for Gary, Tracey, and May Oak to quarrel over. It quickly became obvious that Gary would be the one to take it as Tracey was planning on going to a university in the Orange Islands to get his second doctorate degree and May had already moved to Celadon City years ago.

I took this to mean that Gary would actually be staying in one place for more than a week or two and, at that time in my life, I felt like I needed someone. I needed a sort of comfort that none of my friends other than Gary could provide and the professor's news filled me with a new sort of hope that maybe, just maybe, this thing between me and Gary was meant to be. It finally felt like things were going to work out between us. That alone filled me with a warmth that I hadn't felt since long before Pikachu's passing.

I stayed in Pallet for months and it wasn't just because Gary was staying either; I needed a break, I needed a warm bed and my mother's hot meals. More than anything, I needed time. The first month was spent almost entirely in Mom's house, in my old bedroom. Mom would bring me food in my room and Gary stopped by often, usually bringing a few of my pokemon along with me. I never went to the lab to see my pokemon in that time and I doubt I strayed from the backyard at all.

Finally, Mom sent me on an errand to bring a basket of muffins over to Professor Oak – something that I still swear she set up. Professor Oak was gone, having just left for a conference in Johto, leaving Gary alone in the lab with Tracey tending to the pokemon outside on the preserve. When I entered the lab, I found Gary sitting on the floor playing with Eevee, who immediately ran over to me.

"Well, well, look who finally decided to stop being a hermit," Gary teased as he stood up and straightened his lab coat. "How did your mother ever manage to get you out of the house?" I held up the basket of muffins and had to stifle a laugh at the look that passed over Gary's face. "Finally – real food! I've been practically dying here, living off of frozen food and whatever Grandpa and Tracey manage to burn beyond recognition," he exclaimed in relief.

I pointed out that he had been eating at my house nearly every day but he ignored the comment and led me outside to show me some of the changes that had happened around the preserve. After spending a rather long time outside playing with the pokemon, we headed inside and spent some time hanging out. I was surprised when Gary told me that Professor Oak was thinking of retiring earlier than he had intended because, according to Gary, he hadn't realized how well his grandson actually understood the workings of the lab. Gary explained this with an irritable roll of his eyes; despite his apparent annoyance, he seemed excited and rather happy that he wouldn't be traveling so much. He admitted that he had been getting sick of being by himself and that he wanted to actually settle down.

My simple response consisting of a surprised "really?" made him laugh and shake his head.

"I'm asking you to be my boyfriend, you idiot," he said calmly with a small smile.

I froze, my mind refusing to comprehend what he had just said. "Seriously?"

Gary nodded. "Six years is a long time, Ash," was his only reply.

Tracey chose that moment to pass by the room that we were sitting in so we fell silent until we knew he was gone. I met Gary's eyes and held his gaze as we waited for Tracey to pass; his eyes were serious and it was that particular observation that rendered me speechless. After all this time, he was finally officially putting aside our little wait-and-see game and I couldn't be happier.

Still unable to speak, I leaned over and kissed him softly. He was smiling again when I pulled away. "That's a yes," he observed, looking as though he was holding back a laugh.

I'm not sure how I would have made it through the next few months if we hadn't taken that huge step forward. Dating Gary forced me out of the house and into the town and the surrounding area; he all but dragged me out to the hills with several of our pokemon in tow and taunted me until I finally gave in and battled him. After that initial battle, we started doing it a few times a week until we were battling for nearly an hour every day. Looking back, I know exactly why he had dragged me out there that first time – the whole thing had been planned to get me back to my old self.

Needless to say, Gary's plan worked. With each battle, my heart seemed to heal a bit more and with each victory, I could feel my confidence building back to what it had been before Gary had handed me Umbreon's pokeball with the warning about my opponent in the Silver Conference. Of course, it wasn't all about rebuilding my confidence; I had to train the little Eevee that I had taken in. She was a fierce little creature who learned and grew quickly, her level jumping up to thirty-five within three months. It was then that Gary found a dust-coated Thunderstone in an old box that had been sitting in the lab for years.

He dusted it off and held it out to me silently with questioning eyes. My hand unconsciously rose to finger the charm that held Pikachu's ashes for a moment before I took it from him and walked over to where Eevee was playing with some of the other small pokemon. She came over as soon as she saw me and began sniffing the stone excitedly; seeming to recognize what it was, she sat down in front of it with her tail wagging. A few minutes later, she was a Jolteon and a couple of months later, she was nearly at level fifty. Another month passed and I was ready to formally return to training.

My big come back came in autumn at the Indigo League Tournament, over ten years after I had first competed there. I won with Jolteon and Gary at my sides and Pikachu's charm close to my heart, achieving a status that few trainers ever reached by winning each competition offered by all five regions along with all four Battle Frontiers.

Another three months passed and Professor Oak announced his retirement at the same time I announced my plans to challenge the Elite Four while the seven year mark passed for Gary and I. That was nearly six months ago now and things have changed drastically for everyone: Professor Oak moved to Seafoam Island for his retirement, Tracey left for Valencia Island, Gary took over the entire Pallet laboratory, and I finally went against the Kanto Elite Four and won. I reached my dream of becoming a Pokemon Master but the biggest change – and perhaps the most surprising one – was me moving into the Oak house with Gary.

I had been nervous at the time but I had since grown to realize that this was the thing that made me happiest. I've traveled much of the training world, made hundreds of friends all over, and reached my ultimate dream – I even have plans to go back to Johto to challenge the Elite Four of that region once again – but somehow none of that matters if I can't do simple things like help Gary make dinner or come in from training to be greeted by a sudden hug and kiss. Brock, Misty, and Mom had all been quick to figure out why I chose to move in with him even though our public excuse was that living at the lab made training easier for me and that Gary needed someone to help take care of such a large house.

Our current situation was a common one; me on the couch, watching the television while Gary positioned himself on the floor next to the coffee table and worked on his laptop. Usually he would play games or talk to friends online, it didn't bother me because there was usually a constant conversation between us while he did this but then there were times when he was stuck finishing up research. I hated times like that because he would become so serious that it would create a palpable tension in the room and made me long for his sarcastic remarks and little jokes that were common on other nights. Another sigh escaped him and shook me out of my thoughts as I glanced over at him once more.

"I thought you said earlier that you didn't have any work to do tonight," I pointed out quietly.

Gary's eyes shifted off of the screen to rest on me for a brief second. "I'm not working, Ash."

I groaned at that; what the hell else would he be doing to make him that serious? "Then what are you doing to make yourself so miserable?"

"Talking to my grandfather," was the deadpan reply. This surprised me as talking to his grandfather or sister usually put Gary in a good mood, unless the professor decided to suggest that Gary find a girlfriend; that type of conversation never ended well. I asked if that was what they were talking about and the initial answer I received was a bitter laugh. Gary didn't answer until I pressed on a bit more. "I'm actually trying to get him started on that but he keeps dancing around the subject."

I stared at him in confusion for a moment, trying to figure out why exactly he would try to get the professor started on a subject that he loathed. "Um, Gary, why...?"

"Because I'm going to tell him about us."

"About time," I muttered under my breath. If we had been over this once, we'd been over it a hundred times: most people already guessed the relationship between us, so why hide it? It wasn't as if Professor Oak would disown Gary. I was fairly certain that he already had suspicions about us but I kept my mouth shut to humor Gary.

"You're really not making things any easier, you know."

I rolled my eyes and flipped off the television before standing and walking over to where he was sitting. Gary looked up at me with a touch of curiosity in his eyes, as though he was wondering what I was about to do as I slipped my arms around his shoulders in a small hug. "Want me to make things easier?"

"There's nothing easy about this situation, Ash," he replied, leaning back against me with a groan.

"Keep thinking that, you big baby." Gary turned enough to shoot me a glare but I ignored it, instead turning my attention to the dialogue that was on the screen of the computer. I paused for a moment to think before reaching out to type the next message, ignoring the complaint from Gary as I did so.

"Hi, Professor. The reason we're living together is because we're dating. – Ash"

In the moment that it took the professor to respond, Gary turned to me with an incredulous look on his face. "Why would you do that?"

"You wanted to tell him," I pointed out as the response finally came up on the screen.

"I was wondering when you two were going to come out about that."

I had to fight back a laugh at the shell-shocked expression that crossed Gary's face. "Wuss," I teased softly, pressing a kiss against his cheek. "I'm going to go to bed now."

Shaking my head at Gary's lack of response, I left the room and headed upstairs towards his bedroom, passing by mine without a second thought as I was already in my pajamas and felt like sharing a bed with him tonight. I was half asleep when Gary came upstairs and slipped under the covers with me, waking me with a kiss on the forehead.

"That wasn't so bad, was it?" I slurred sleepily, folding myself into his arms and nuzzling against his warm body. I felt the pillow next to me move slightly as he shook his head.

"Thanks," he whispered against my hair a moment later, causing me to smile as my eyes slid closed again.

"You're welcome," I whispered back.

Before I let sleep take me over entirely, I realized something that I had probably subconsciously noticed without thinking about it. I had thought so many times over the years that I was through with Gary, that I hated him and wanted nothing to do with him. I had loathed the wait-and-see game between us with every ounce of my being and yet, that was exactly what the relationship was no matter what. We were always waiting to see what the other would do next; who I would challenge next, what project Gary would take on, and where our feelings for each other would take us.

Everything between us was constantly changing and we were constantly waiting for the next change, watching helplessly as fate forced us to evolve. No matter what, I realized, something would always surprise me, whether it be a kiss under some mistletoe, an unexpected appearance by an old friend, or a sudden change – like Gary finally wanting to tell his grandfather about us. We'll keep evolving together until we die, it's inevitable and I think I've finally accepted that.

With that thought in mind, I cuddled closer against Gary's body and finally drifted to sleep under the impression that, no matter what happened, we would be alright because we were both strong and we could take whatever was thrown our way. After all, isn't surviving hard times a key part of evolution?

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A/N – My first Palletshipping fic is done! Yay! Thanks to everyone who read it through to the end. Please let me know what you thought about it, I'd love some feedback!

A quick note on the end of last chapter… I hated killing Pikachu! He's one of my favorite characters, especially at the beginning of the series – he's so awesome in those episodes! I did that mainly because losing someone so close to you is such a huge event and grief can have a profound effect on people and can bring them together unexpectedly. Being there for someone in their time of need shows them how much they mean to you and that's exactly what happened with Gary and Ash.

Piratepenguin666 – I'm glad to see that you liked the lack of lemon in here, truthfully, I couldn't see how it would fit the style of writing I was going for (even though I would've enjoyed writing it). Obviously the other trainer would have other types of pokemon, considering Ash only used two dark types and a dark/fire type. I didn't put a ton of thought into that but if I had made it more detailed, I would have definitely given that trainer a Jynx since they're also an ice type and a Slowking since they're a water type. I probably would've given him a strong water or ice type as well since there are a bunch of water/psychic or ice/psychic pokemon but, like I said, I didn't put much thought into it beyond the psychic types.

YukitoTsukura – Thanks for the feedback! I have a hard time with this type of perspective and it seems like I always mess up the emotions in it – another thing to practice with writing. : )

Thanks to squirtle10, inuliedelfenx, Piratepenguin666, Bob Da Peach, licoricejellybean, YukitoTsukura, Sable-eyed-lily, and Mistakesmeanslearning for reviewing. I don't think I've ever had so many people to thank in one chapter! Sorry if I forgot anyone!

If you have any suggestions for another story, let me know and I'll see what I can do. : )

Thanks for reading. ~MetalPrincess