"Ash!" Misty's voice rung through the quiet night forest, startling her comrades. The redheaded girl trailed behind Ash and Brock, Pikachu lagging beside her. Misty whined, "We've been walking since morning, Ash! Why don't we set up camp for the night and get some sleep?"

"But Misty," Ash started to argue, fire blazing in his eyes. "If we don't keep moving I'll never catch up to Gary!"

The team had run into Ash's hometown rival a few days earlier, and as usual Ash was two steps behind Gary. To make things worse, they had gotten lost in the forest the day earlier, and only just found their way back to their correct trail an hour ago.

"You'll never make it to the next town if you have to drag yourself there half-asleep." Misty reminded her friend, sighing under her breath. She did admire Ash's spirit, but sometimes his persistence got the better of him.

"A little sleep could do us all some good. We'll have more energy in the morning." Brock cheerfully pointed out.

"Pikachu's tired, too!" Misty added.

Pikachu, his feet and tail dragging and his ears low, nodded and agreed, "Pikaaachuuu."

Ash eyed all of his friends, stopping to consider their pleas. He was itching to make it to the next town, but according to the map it was still a few hours walk away. They wouldn't even be out of this forest for about thirty minutes. Pikachu yawned, and in the contagious way of all yawns, so did Ash. It was then that he realized how tired he really was.

"Okay, we can set up for the night." He agreed, taking his backpack off and setting it down by his feet. Pikachu happily pulled its little sleeping bag from the pack, unrolling it as he got himself ready for bed. Ash crouched down and did the same, though he warned his friends, "But only until the sun comes up! We can't spend all day sleeping when Gary's out there getting ahead of me!"

Misty and Brock both mumbled an agreeal, though all four of them knew that Ash would probably be the one to sleep in the latest! Ash slid into his sleeping bag and bid all of his friends good-night before closing his eyes and falling into a deep sleep.

It was a bright, warm morning in Pallet Town. Pokemon and people alike were being stirred awake by the sunlight that filtered through the windows. One little family was just getting ready to sit down to a special birthday breakfast, but first they had to wake the birthday boy up and get him out of bed!

Ash Ketchum was sleeping soundly, tangled in his blankets with one leg hanging down the side of his bed. His face was pressed against his pillow, and he hadn't heard the Pokeball alarm clock on his headboard go off five minutes previous.

The door to his room creaked open, and a young man walked inside. He turned off the alarm, sitting down on the edge of the bed and gently shaking his son. He smiled and announced, "Ash, it's time to get up! Don't you remember that it's your birthday?"

Ash shot up sleepily; stretching and then rubbing his eyes. He blinked at his father and asked, "My birthday?"

Mister Ketchum laughed, patting his son on the shoulder. He reminded the child, "Yes, Ash. You're four today. Mom made your favorite waffles for breakfast, why don't we go get some?"

The two of them went down the stairs and into the kitchen. Ash ran up to his mother, flinging himself forward and wrapping his arms around her leg. He pressed his cheek on her knee and smiled. Delia Ketchum laughed, petting her son's head. She asked, "How's mommy's little boy today, Ash?"

"I'm four today!" He chirped, grinning. "Daddy said you made waffles for me."

His mother just smiled, picking up her son's plate. She told him, "Go sit at the table and I'll bring them to you, honey."

Ash climbed up onto the chair beside his father, digging into the peach and whip cream covered waffles ravenously. The family had their breakfast in a happy silence. When the three of them had finished, Ash asked his parents, "Can I go outside and play?" He never strayed from his mother's sight when he played in the front yard. Usually she went out to garden so she could keep an eye on him while his father was at work.

"Not today, Ash." Delia declined softly. She added before he could get that dejected look on his face, "Today daddy is taking you somewhere special."

Ash looked sharply at his father, his eyes bright and excited already. Mister Ketchum grinned and said, "We're going to the school in Veridian. They're having an expo today. Would you like to go play with some Pokemon, Ash?"

Mister Ketchum had often told his son exciting stories of his days as a Pokemon Trainer, before he met Delia and settled down into the father role. He only had one Pokemon left, though, and it was being used by Professor Oak to help teach a class to his students. Ash loved to learn about Pokemon, though he'd only ever experienced them by gazing at them from afar.

Ash sprang out of his chair so fast he knocked it over. Not bothering to pick it up, he raced towards the door and shouted, "Let's go, daddy!"

They arrived in Viridian on schedule, and there were lots of Pokemon there to introduce the kids to. They had Pidgey, Rattata, Caterpie, Nidorans, and even a Sandshrew! Ash was elated, and Mister Ketchum would never recall a time where his boy looked as relaxed and happy as he did around those Pokemon.

"Ash! I have the postcards you wanted!"

Ash scrambled out of his bedroom when he heard his mother's call, blazing his way downstairs and into the living room. He took the package of postcards from his mother, a delighted look on his face.

He was going to be five soon, which meant he'd be starting school in just a few months. For the last week and a half he'd been doing nothing but filling out postcard and sending them in. The Official Pokemon League was holding a contest to be one of a small number of people who would receive an Official Pokemon League hat! Ash was determined to get that hat before school started. He'd be the coolest kid in his class!

"Thanks!" Ash gave his mom a quick kiss on the cheek before he scampered back up to his room. He got out his printed address and his pencil, carefully copying the mailing information onto each postcard. It took two hours, and his hand was sore and cramped, but he'd finished his stack before the noon mail pick-up.

Ash carefully collected his large pile, carrying them down the stairs and back into the living room. He frolicked over to the couch, where his parents were sitting, and peeked at them from over the arm. He demanded, "We need to go drop these off before the mail guy comes!"

Today was the final day to submit your postcards for the contest, if they missed this mail pickup they'd have to wait for the second one at five, and by then it might be too late to get to Veridian before tomorrow!

"I'll walk with you." Mister Ketchum offered, smiling at his wife before he and Ash left the house. His father made Ash refrain from running, warning him that if he tripped he could drop all his postcards and it would take a while to pick them up. It wasn't long at all before they reached the ail drop-box a few blocks away.

Ash shoved his cards in the slot a dozen at a time, making sure not to bend them or harm them in any way. He was so worried he and his father waited a half an hour for the mailman to come, so that Ash could make sure his things were picked up.

Every single day for the next three weeks, Ash made his dad walk him to that mailbox twice a day. At noon and then again at five, the mailman would sympathetically tell Ash that today was not the day he had a package waiting for him. Ash remained optimistic, though. Delia had always told him that if he believed in something hard enough he'd make it happen, and Ash honestly believed his name would be drawn.

One night Mister Ketchum was late coming home from work. It was Sunday, and that was usually his short day. Delia seemed unconcerned, but Ash was worried about his father. He sat out on the porch, staring down the road and wondering if his dad was okay.

Shortly before dinnertime, Ash's dad was seen coming down the sidewalk from the bus station. He held a fancy looking box, and he smiled when he spotted Ash. Mister Ketchum stopped by the porch and handed Ash the box. "This package is for you, son. It was sitting in Viridian, waiting for tomorrow to be mailed out. Lucky for you, your dad convinced the lady at the Pokemon League to let him take it home to his little boy early!"

Ash's entire face lit up when he heard this, and he tore the box open so hard he practically destroyed it. He let the shredded cardboard tumble down the porch stairs and he stared in awe at the hat he held in his little lands. To Ash, it was the most precious thing he'd ever held.

"Well, let's see it on you, kid!" Mister Ketchum demanded lightly. Ash hastily set the hat upon his head, despite the fact it was so big the bill totally obstructed his view. His dad pushed it up off his eyes and tightened the back, making it fit a little better. He hugged his son and laughed, "You look great, Ash!"

"I can't wait until everyone sees this!" Ash grinned, thinking of how jealous the other boys would be. Mister Ketchum and Delia just smiled at one another, happy for their son and proud that his patience and hopes paid off for him in the end.

Ash loved that hat and would for years to follow. It was not that he hadn't filled out a million postcards for no reason that made him like his new accessory so. Every time he looked at himself in a mirror from that day on, he knew he would remember the quality time he'd had with his father waiting at that mailbox twice every day, and it was time that the boy would secretly hold dear to him forever.

Months passed quickly in the Ketchum house, at least for Ash. He was busy with schoolwork, and video games, and spending hours outside playing with his friends. It seemed like he was six before he knew what had happened, and then he blinked and it was Christmas time already!

Delia and Mister Ketchum were up before Ash was, though for once the boy woke early without any prompting from his parents. He skipped down the stairs and set his hand on the door leading to the living room. He stopped suddenly when he heard harsh, angry whispers coming from inside. Ash opened the door a crack, peeking inside of the room.

His mom and dad were standing almost toe to toe, glaring at one another. Both of them had their arms crossed and were hissing too quietly for Ash to hear. He curiously pushed the door open, stepping inside. His eyes were round, confused, and he stared at his parents. Dad caught sight of him and smiled, brushing past Delia and holding his arms out.

Ash ran over to him, jumping up into his dad's warm hug. Mister Ketchum greeted, "Hi, kiddo! Merry Christmas!"

Delia came over, ruffling Ash's hair gently. She echoed, 'Merry Christmas, Ash!"

Ash didn't fall for their cheer that easily. He eyed them with suspicion and asked, "What were you fighting about?"

Delia's eyes were round and innocent and she insisted, "We weren't fighting, Ash. Mom and dad were just taking to each other, right dear?"

Mom smiled at dad, a small smile compared to her usual ones, but for once he did not smile back.

Mom and dad sure had a lot of "talks" recently, Ash thought one night, as he sat at the top of the stairs and listened to his parents arguing with one another in the kitchen. He had gotten up to use the bathroom and heard shouting. Hugging his Hitmonchan doll tightly, he crept down the hall and crouched by the railing. He didn't have to strain his ears to hear what was going on.

"You can't leave us." He heard his mother sob, feeling his eyes widen. He'd never heard mom cry before…

"I can't do this anymore, Delia!" Dad shouted, sounding frustrated and upset. He hissed, "I've stood behind you for all this time, but I just can't anymore. I feel suffocated here! I never wanted to settle down so young, you know that."

Ash had never known it, but his mother and father were married at seventeen years in age. Ash was born when they were nineteen, and Delia decided to return to Pallet Town into the house her mother had left for her. She had tried to be a mother on her own, but between working and having an infant what needed her, she couldn't do it

She asked her husband to return from his Pokemon training to help her raise their son. Mister Ketchum had done so complainlessly, giving up all of his Pokemon but his Gyarados—the one he'd had since he was just a boy. He gave up his dream of being the world's greatest Pokemon trainer so that he could be with his family.

"But w-what about Ash?" Delia asked desperately.

"What about him?"

Ash flinched at his father's harsh tone. He felt tears well up in his eyes, hurt that his dad would ever say such a thing as that. 'What about me?' he thought sadly to himself. 'Doesn't dad care about me anymore?'

"Ash is getting older now," Mister Ketchum started again, his voice gentle and soft now, almost like he'd regretted his earlier comment. "He's a strong boy and he can take care of himself. He won't give you too much trouble; it's never been his way."

"I need you here," Delia whispered softly. "Ash needs his father, too."

"And what about what I need, Delia?" Mister Ketchum spat, losing his temper again. "I don't even feel like I know who I am anymore! All I ever wanted to do was train Pokemon. Without them I'm just empty. I'm not me anymore, and it's killing me. I already gave up seven years of my life for you, and for Ash. I can't sit around forever and watch it slip by me. I only get one chance. I'm leaving, Delia, and that decision is final."

All three of them were crying now.

After a long few seconds Delia asked quietly, "Where will you go?"

"Far away." Mister Ketchum answered, also quiet. "I've been offered a job as a ranger in Firoe, and I accepted it."


Mister Ketchum took a deep, shaky breath. He shuffled on his feet, Ash heard, before he announced steadily, "There will be a taxi coming tomorrow morning to pick me up and take me to Vermillion. I'll take a boat from there."

The whole house fell silent. It was a cold, deathly sort of silence. Ash felt his tears flooding down his cheeks, his heart was pounding hard in his chest, and he held his breath. He was afraid that if he started to breathe, his parents would discover that he was listening in on them.

But in his head, Ash was screaming. His inner-self was begging his mother to stop his father. His head spun, and his chest hurt. How could dad leave them? How could he leave ASH? Didn't he love them anymore? Didn't he know how much they needed him here?

Apparently not.

Mister Ketchum started for the stairs, and Ash gasped under his breath. Half of him wanted to confront his father, cry and scream and do anything he had to if it would make him decide to stay. The other half was afraid, though. Afraid that it would make his father angry. Afraid he wouldn't know what to say. That half took over as Ash quickly got to his feet and silently ran down the hallway, slipping into his room and flinging himself under the covers.

He clung onto his Hitmonchan doll all night, holding it against his aching heart as he lay there and sobbed.

He did not sleep that night. The first rays of dawn had just started to shine over the horizon when Ash crept into the kitchen. He found his mother sitting in one of the chairs, staring hollowly out the window. Her face was pink, her eyes as swollen as her son's. She looked at Ash in surprise when he came down the final stair. Her eyes asked all the questions she didn't dare utter. Why had Ash been crying? What was he doing up so early? Why couldn't he have just stayed in his room, and not come down to witness what would happen in just minutes? Did he know?

Ash's eyes held all the answers he couldn't bring himself to say. He had heard everything, and mommy's little man hadn't wanted Delia to be alone when her husband abandoned them. Delia's eyes started to water again and she held out her arms. Ash ran across the kitchen, burying his face into her side as they wrapped their arms around each other and both began to cry. They sat this way for what seemed like an eternity. Ash clinging on, needing the familiarity of his mother's embrace for comfort, and Delia trying to draw strength from her son's courage.

It seemed too soon when they heard footsteps coming down those stairs.

Mister Ketchum looked upon the pair of them miserably, just standing for a few seconds. He wasn't sure of what to do now. Did he say good-bye to them? Did he make empty promises on how everything would be okay without him? Did he just walk away without ever saying a single word?

Either way they were all going to suffer from the pains of loss today. Mister Ketchum couldn't bring himself to just walk out of them. He went over to them; hesitantly lifting his had to ruffle his son's hair, but thinking better of it. He whispered, "I have to go now."

Ash's fingers tightened around his mother's shirt and he pinched his eyes closed hard. Delia looked away and whispered back, "You don't want to keep your taxi waiting too long."

Ash heard his father sigh, and then felt a hand on his shoulder. Mister Ketchum sounded something between proud and generic when he spoke. "You're the man of the house now, Ash. Take good care of your mother. I love you both so much more than you'll ever know."

Anger, no-a white-hot and sudden burst of fury, surged through Ash without warning. He felt rage pulse harshly under his flesh, and he choked back a sob. The boy thrust backwards so violently his shoulder sent his father's hand flying off to the side. He glared up at his father with tear-stained eyes and screamed, "Well I hate you!" Ash didn't even feel bad when his dad winced. "We don't need you here. We don't want you here! Why don't you just go already?"

"Ash…" Delia whispered half-heartedly, not even sure if she had done it to scold him for speaking to his father that way, or if she was letting him know she felt exactly the same. She just hugged him to her harder, pressing her nose against his hair and closing her eyes.

Mister Ketchum's mouth fell open, and he looked like the meanest Raticate had just bitten him. Stumbling back towards his bags, the man collected his things and headed towards the door. He hung his head as he curled his fingers around the handle. Sighing, he pulled the door open and stepped outside.

The man looked back once, his eyes welling up with tears. Ash felt his lower lip trembled and he whispered, "Just go."

Mister Ketchum closed the door, and that was the last time Ash ever saw or heard from him.

"Heeyyyy, where's your dad, Ash?"

The eight year old flinched when he heard the taunting call from one of his school-mates, pulling the bill of his hat down to hide himself. Today was a special day at school. All the kids were invited to bring their dads in to talk about their jobs or their Pokemon, if they were trainers. Ash was one of the only two kids in the class who came to school alone. The other was Gary Oak, but his grandfather had come as a substitute.

"Yeah Ash!" Another boy laughed, the two of them and a few of their other friends coming closer and pinning Ash to the fence. They stood in a semi-circle around him, the two bullies coming to either side. The second kid shoved him a little and hissed, "You used to brag about your dad all the time. Why didn't he come to talk to the class today?"

"Oh, wait, that's right." The first kid sneered. "You were so annoying that you scared him out of town!"

"I heard he scared him out of the whole region." The second kid said, causing all five gathered boys to start laughing cruelly.

Tears pricked at Ash's eyes and he snapped his chin up, shoving his hat the other direction to get it out of his eyes. He felt his jaw clench and he snarled, "You shut up! You don't know the first thing about it!"

"Look, he's crying!" One of the other kids shouted, drawing in the attention of everyone on the playground.

Ash clenched his fists, not willing to stand there and take their teasing anymore. He hauled off and punched one of the boys square in the jaw with a right-hook, busting the other one in the lip with his left. Immediately, their three friends jumped on Ash, the two of them joining in a second later. He fought like a cornered Arcanine, sending two of the boys running the other way. He couldn't hold them all off forever, though. Soon he had a black eye and he was lying on the ground being kicked around.

Suddenly, there was nobody on him. He heard grunting and looked up. With his non-swollen eye he saw that the two smaller boys had been knocked onto their backs, and the one with the busted lip was being held in a chokehold by none other than Gary Oak.

Gary strangled the bigger boy and growled, "Beat it, you punks!"

Frightened, the smaller kids scrambled to their feet and shot away. The remaining boy was turning kind of purple, and Gary dropped him to the ground. He delivered a swift kick between the bully's legs, making him cry out and his eyes water .Gary spat, "Get out of here! And don't come back until you learn how to fight fair!"

Crawling a few feet away, their last class-mate made it back onto his feet before racing off into the distance.

As soon as the situation was diffused, Gary knelt down beside Ash. He wrapped his hand around Ash's arm, yanking him upright into the sitting position. Ash coughed out a mouthful of dirt and blood, wrapping his free arm around his stomach.

"You okay?" Gary asked, sounding a little concerned.

"I'm fine." Ash stubbornly replied. This was not his first encounter with those kids, though it was the first (and only) time he'd ever been jumped by all of them at once.

Gary helped Ash to his feet, setting his hat back on for him as Ash brushed dirt off his pants. Ash looked up at Gary and smiled shyly, "Thanks for helping me, Gary."

"Don't sweat it." Gary shrugged, shoving his hands in his pockets. He awkwardly admitted, "I don't have a dad either, you know."

"What happened to him?" Ash asked cautiously. He knew he didn't like talking about his dad, but Gary had brought the topic up.

"Dunno. I never knew him." His new friend answered casually. After a second's hesitation he asked, "Did yours really leave Kanto?"

Ash hung his head, feeling angry and ashamed with his father. He felt tears starting to burn his eyes again and he clenched his fists. After a second he snapped his attention back to Gary and passionately declared, "It doesn't matter where he is! One day I'm going to have Pokemon of my own, and I'm going to become the world's best Pokemon master! Then I'll be able to find my dad and beat him, and show him that he never should have left us! I'll show him that it was all worth nothing!"

The two of them stood there for a little while, staring at one another. Ash's declaration seemed to hit Gary hard. The other youngster had a difficult time understanding Ash's motives, but he admired his new friend's spirit.

He smirked and ran one hand through his spiky hair. "I'm going to be a Pokemon trainer, too, which means you'll have to be able to get through me first."

Ash grinned at his class-mate, his new rival. "No sweat! You just wait and see how strong I'll be!"

The two boys smiled at one another. Professor Oak called for Gary, and the other boy said his good-bye. "Catch ya later, Ashy Boy."

Gary ran off, and Ash headed towards home, a sudden fire sparking to life inside of him.

Ash woke up with a gasp, looking around wildly. He felt hot and sweaty in his sleeping bag, and his sudden string of unpleasant dreams – old memories resurfaced – left him feeling uncomfortable. The others were still sleeping, and no wonder, it was barely past midnight.

He wiggled out of his sleeping bag, wandering into the forest a little ways. It wasn't long before he found a small pond. Ash flopped down onto a rock jutting out of the water, wrapping his arms around his shin and setting his chin on one knee. He gazed into the dark water, looking at the reflection of the full moon.

His dreams had not felt him feeling very good. A lot of his oldest fears were now nagging at him, eating away at him in the back of his mind. Questions that had plagued him for months after his father left. Would Ash ever get the chance to meet him again, to challenge him? Had he really been so terribly unhappy that he had thought he had no choice but to just leave? Maybe… was it Ash's fault he left?

'What about him?'

Ash closed his eyes, trying to hold back the hurt as it washed over him, like it had so many times before. It was Ash's turn to feel hollow now. What if everything he'd done so far was for nothing? He hadn't caught any Pokemon in a while, and who knows when he'd get his next badge. He couldn't even catch up to Gary, how could he ever hope to find and defeat his father? What would he even say to him if that day ever came? After what Ash had said the day he left, he didn't know if he could bear the sight of his father now.

Would he feel angry? Or disgusted? Even relieved?

It hurt Ash to think about how strongly he wanted to hate his dad. Honestly, from the very deepest pits of his heart, the longing festered. In reality, it hadn't been that long since his dad left, it was just four years ago and Ash was only ten. He wanted to wish every ill upon his dad, but there was always that little part inside of him and just wondered if he was alright out there. If little Ash's daddy was happy like he'd always wanted to be.

The confliction was eating him alive.


Ash looked up quickly, blinking in surprise when he saw that Brock had come and was sitting beside him. Blinking had alerted Ash to the fact that there was a steady stream of tears rolling out of his eyes. He quickly wiped the hot streaks away, not wanting his friend to see him crying.

Brock peered at Ash, looking a little bit sad himself when he saw how upset Ash was. He asked, "What's up, Ash?"

The younger boy just looked away and muttered, "It's nothing important."

Brock looked like he wanted to question further, but he didn't press the issue. He just lay back on the boulder, looking at the stars. Ash felt a little guilty. Brock clearly cared about Ash's feelings, and Ash just shut him out without a second thought. In hindsight, Brock was probably the best person to talk to this about. His dad had left him, too.

After a few long minutes of silence Ash spoke. "Hey, Brock?"

"Yeah?" Brock asked calmly, still looking up at the sky.

Ash asked him, "Did you ever think that you were going to see your dad again? What did you think when you saw him that day after so long?"

He glanced over his shoulder in time to see Brock's surprised face. His elder friend considered the question for a moment before answering quietly, "I was pretty shocked. I hadn't expected him to ever return, honestly. I suppose that if he had been a successful trainer like he wanted, he never would have."

Ash lay back now, too. He looked at Brock and asked, "What made you forgive him so easily then?" Brock hadn't said one bad thing to his father. In fact, they didn't even talk to one another much after Brock had listed all Flint needed to know about his siblings. Almost as soon as that was done, and he had said good-bye to his family, he joined the group on their quest to Mt. Moon.

"I don't know." Brock admitted.

"Did you always want to be a breeder?" Ash asked suddenly. "Your dad has no talent with Pokemon, but you are a really good trainer. You care about your Pokemon, and they're strong like you. Why would you ignore all that talent?"

"Do you want the truth?" Brock asked, though he didn't wait for Ash to answer. Brock's voice hardened a little. "It's because that's what my father wanted. After he left us, I knew that I didn't want anything to do with him. I didn't want to be like him at all, caring more about fame than his own family. It made me less motivated to go out and win all my battles. I wanted to express how much I love my Pokemon, and I found that I could do that as a breeder."

"Just because your dad wanted to be a trainer doesn't mean you'd do what he did." Ash spat, his voice so sharp it made Brock jump a little.

"I know that." Brock said to soothe his young friend. He sighed, "It's just that, for me, every time I win a match and feel good about it, there is always that fear. The fear that I might deicide I want that all the time. That I want it so much, I'd forget about everything else that is important to me like he did."

Ash understood better now. Brock may have forgiven his father for walking out of them, but that didn't mean he would ever forget. There would always be that resent inside of him that kept him from becoming Flint. This idea made Ash relax a little bit. It made him feel less afraid that he'd become the same sort of monster to his kids one day, the kind who would leave his family behind to struggle for a selfish reason. Ash really did love being a Pokemon trainer; he couldn't imagine life without Pikachu and the others. But that life was one that included his friends, and his mom, and it always would.

Brock sat up suddenly, looking down at Ash with wise eyes. He asked gently, "What about you, Ash? What happened to your dad?" Ash was mystified that Brock had guessed what had been bothering him so easily. He was secretly glad, though. It wasn't a weight he wanted to carry alone anymore.

Ash sat back up, gazing into the water again. "He left when I was six. I was always so happy when I was with him, and I thought he'd felt the same way. Mom loved him, too. But apparently we weren't good enough for him. He decided that his own dreams were more important than anything else, even us."

"Is that why you became a trainer yourself?" Brock asked, a gentle curiosity in his voice.

"I became a trainer so I would maybe understand what was so special about it. I know now that the bonds with your Pokemon are very important, so much that I don't ever regret for one minute deciding to become a trainer, even if it wasn't for the right reasons."

Ash had never intended to befriend so many wonderful Pokemon, and he'd never once thought he'd come across such a great Pikachu who'd become his best friend.

"So do you think that you'd ever forgive your father, now that you've walked a mile in his shoes?" Brock asked innocently.

"No." Ash answered swiftly, harshly. "I found a way to have friends and be a trainer, too, and he could have if he had really wanted to." Ash's eyes narrowed and he added, "I'm still going to become the world's greatest Pokemon Master, and I'll never stop waiting for the day where I'll see my dad again and we'll battle."

Brock wrapped his arm around Ash's shoulder and nodded. He promised, "When that day comes, Misty and I will be right beside you if you want us to be. If it's important to you, it's important to us!"

Ash felt a warm, soft feeling in his heart. It was peace, he realized. Inner-peace; obtained by finally feeling content and secure with himself and his place in life. He had a Pokemon he cared about more than anything. He had a mother who loved and supported him. He had a friend who would always cheer him on, no matter how often he fought with her. And he had an older brother, who he knew would always be there when Ash needed hi m to be.

He smiled up at Brock and decided, "Maybe having you and Misty around has shown me that's not what's important at all, not as long as we always have each other."

The two of them sat there for a while, looking up at the stars in silence as they shined down. Ash found himself thinking that they were the brightest stars he could ever remember seeing.