Author's Note: Just a warning, this chapter isn't very interesting. Okay, I lied, it's downright BORING! But it's either this or another major case of writers block O.o This is mainly a transitional phase and has some important points to it, so you can get by without reading this chapter, but it might be a little confusing later :P

Author's Ramble: (This is something that will let me ramble and help my thought process while the Author's Note is for important stuff going on in the story, thanks!) First order of business…I'm sorry! Next time I have a hiatus I'll actually let you guys know so that you don't wonder where the hell the new chapter is ^.^' Jeez, even after giving that whole spiel about re-starting my brain and such. Tsk tsk. Well, school started again, and my demon AP English teacher has already given my class multiple essays and tests on various subject matter, so it's been quite hectic =.= I hope you lovely readers have had a nice summer and those of you that are students…good luck T^T lol Thanks again for all the amazing reviews and favorites! Seeing all those have really helped motivate me into writing again, so thank you all for your support. I might actually cry. ANYWAYS! ONWARD WITH THE STORY! It's longer! :D

MY BIRTHDAY WAS TWO DAYS AGO! YAY! I'M A YEAR OLDER NOW! I feel so ooold DX lol Sorry, still happy :D

Disclaimer: I don't own Pokemon and I'm too tired to write anything witty =.= LAST DISCLAIMER!

Warning: This chapter doesn't have much to be warned about. Maybe two or three 'bad' words like 'damn' but that's it. A little Comashipping moment for AnnaAsakura25 since I promised her some ^.^ Hope it's okay, Anna! As well as, OF COURSE, GaryxAsh love but it's not much =.=

Rating: M overall, K+ for this chapter.


Ash sighed in content as he lay in his bed, arms crossed behind his head with Pikachu resting peacefully on his stomach an hour after the celebrations were over. "Great night, huh Pikachu?" he asked his little companion with a small grin.

Pikachu looked at him and agreed with a cute, "Chu~!"

He smiled and leaned his head back again, staring contemplatively at the ceiling, absentmindedly brushing a finger across his still sensitive lips as questions whirled in his mind. Only in the privacy of his own mind did he admit that he sounded like some girl gushing over her crush, wondering if he liked her back and if he'd ever see her as a someone worth spending the rest of their lives together…or something. Red burned his cheeks and he groaned in embarrassment, not noticing Pikachu's curious expression.

But, he thought with a small smile forming on his lips, today was a great day.

xxx

Just as he thought, after his…encounter with Gary, the party was fun, heartwarming, and more than he could ever ask for – except for the part where he had to explain to his worried mother and slightly panicky friends just why his face was bleeding, his clothes were torn, and seemed to have a fever. His cheeks still burned in embarrassment from retelling the story – conveniently leaving out the part where Gary had pinned him to a tree and did inexplicable things to him – but after their initial worry, admonishment, and amusement, they'd all gone back to celebrating.

He had to answer the many phone calls from people too far to visit for one night and thanked them for calling and congratulating him in his success. Many well-known Pokémon trainers and coordinators he'd met and battled called or sent letters that made him smile all the more. There had been multiple challenges issued and Ash was excited to return them.

The food was delicious, as expected of Ash's genius cook of a mother. She'd made a buffet large enough to feed a small army and with so much diversity, everyone from every region enjoyed their favorite food – Ash was sure more than a few people fell in love at first bite.

"You know," Misty started conversationally, taking a bite out one of her hometown favorites, "if I had to choose between Brock and Mrs. Ketchum's food, I'd never be able to decide."

Dawn giggled as she took another sip of her drink, "I know what ya mean, I'd probably starve before I could make a choice."

May shrugged and dug into her food with vigor, much like a certain Sinnoh Champion they all knew, "I'd just eat both and say it was a tie." All three girls laughed as their Pokémon danced around their feet.

The fireworks were breathtaking as they exploded in the sky and for a moment, Ash felt inexplicably happy tears prick at his eyes. All of his friends were here, with him, safe and celebrating and having fun and it was the best feeling in the world. This really was the best day of his life, to have so many amazing, loyal friends that would have his back, staying with him by his side, laughing and joking. It made his heart swell with happiness and something so intense, he couldn't even describe it.

The evening was filled with laughter and Pokémon battles, all of which Ash won with a few close calls – "He's the Sinnoh Champ, what'd you expect?" There were even bets going around since so many wanted to challenge the new Champ again – "If I win, you owe me a kiss." "…what?" – but after a close call involving a bowl of chocolate pudding, a hose, an unexpected gust of wind, and some terrified forest Pokémon, they called it quits and filled the air with banter and teasing – "If my Sunflora wasn't lactose-intolerant, I totally would've beaten you!"

Later that night, there were multiple huge bonfires that lit up the darkened sky. Bags of jumbo marshmallows, bars of chocolate, and boxes of graham crackers were passed around with long sticks so that everyone could make s'mores.

Stories were told, mostly about Ash and his friends – his triumphs and failures – and their comedic journey's here or there. Many marveled at some of the things Ash had done and they made sure to ask the Sinnoh Champ himself. There were a lot of questions and not enough time for answers, which lead to surprisingly – terrifyingly – accurate rumors that, for Ash's sanity and for the sake of some sort of privacy, would stay that way.

"He rode Lugia?"

"Did you know Ash and his friends saved the world, like, ten times?"

"Remember on the news about some castle turning into crystal cause of the Unknown? Ash's mom was captured and I heard him, Misty, and Brock broke in the save her and the little girl that lived there."

"Did he really meet and save Arceus, the Pokémon that created all Pokémon?"

"Yeah, he totally beat down Team Galactic!"

"He's met Palkia and traveled through time with Dialga before."

"Is it true he's actually seen a Mew?"

"Didn't he also stop some bad organization?"

"I heard Giratina took him to another dimension on its back!"

"He's the Chosen One."

"Is Team Rocket still bothering him? Those goofballs couldn't capture a baby Squirtle even if one walked right up to them for a hug and fell on it's back."

"He and Pikachu were captured by some evil organization before and ended up disbanding Team Aqua and Team Magma."

"He's actually seen Groudon and Kyogre fight! It must've been EPIC!"

"I think he's friends with the Pokémon Champ, Cynthia."

"Rumor has it he's battled a few of the Elite Four and is friends with some of them, like Agatha of Kanto, Drake of Hoenn, and Aaron of Sinnoh."

"No way…he's seen a Celebi?"

"I can't believe he's actually met Suicune. That's so cool!"

"Isn't he eligible to become a Frontier Brain since he won all of his matches?"

"He's supposedly in a bunch of prophecies."

"He totally helped some Poke rangers stopped a pirate from stealing an underwater jewel!"

And so on. His friends were mentioned numerous times as well but they mainly elbowed him in the side with sly smiles as his face heated up from embarrassment. Winning a Pokémon battle was one thing; being recognized for saving humanity a few times was overwhelmingly different, especially with a doting mother gushing and boasting about her wonderful, kind, heroic, and amazing son just a few feet away. Ash buried his face into his hands when she mentioned her numerous reminders to change his underwear everyday, "Mom!"

He was a bit disheartened to see more than a few people leave – they had lives and jobs to get back to, but he made sure to give them proper farewells. They promised to keep in touch and to visit; Ash smiled and promised the same.

By the time everyone that wasn't Ashs' traveling companion at one time or another left to stay at hotels located in nearby cities, it was already the wee hours of the morning. Everyone was tired but content, nearly glowing with happiness after such a cheerful and amazing celebration. It didn't hurt that the celebration was for a young man they all respected and befriended.

The Pokémon were tired out from playing so much and filling up on Brock's amazing poke food, and were safely tucked away in their owner's pockets as they left one by one or group by group.

xxx

A glance at his old Pokémon clock told him it was a close to one in the morning, along with the snores coming from the guest room, which made him crack a smile. Brock didn't snore out in the woods, but after rooming with the other teen for years in Pokémon centers, inns, and hotels, the new Sinnoh champion had discovered that damn he could snore – apparently the breeder needed a decent bed to be comfortable enough to snore so horrendously loud. Ash was almost jealous that Misty, May, Max, and Dawn got to leave the house and escape the noise but knew he wouldn't switch places if given the chance.

It was an unspoken agreement that Brock got the guest room while the girls and some others stayed at Professor Oaks lab – Brock was like his brother in all but blood and he'd travelled with him the longest so it was only natural for him to stay. The girls didn't begrudge them their final sleepover, seeing as how Brock was becoming more and more popular and Ash would be traveling again and battling even more with stronger people.

The thought made him feel a little sad, but he was happy for himself and his friend. With another content smile, Ash scratched Pikachu behind the ear and drifted off to sleep.


Gary ran a hand through his spiky hair restlessly, alternating between pretending to finish some paperwork and trying not to think about a certain someone, his leg bouncing anxiously all the while. Where did his self-control go? His patience? His common sense?

I'm so stupid. He mentally groaned. What the hell is wrong with me?

Kissing Ash – if it could be called that – had not been in his schedule for that particular day. Actually, it hadn't been in his schedule at all for forever, so why in the name of all sweet, innocent Pokémon did he do it? Hell, he hadn't even thought about it before it was happening.

….okay, he'd been thinking about doing it for a while – a few months or was it years? – now, so the idea wasn't all that unappealing – definitely not, some girlish, lispy voice in the back of his mind added – but he never thought about actually going through with it. He didn't even know if the dunderhead was interested in guys, let alone his once best friend that made a lot of his most impressionable years crappy and miserable – it still hadn't crossed his mind that maybe Ash was kissing back.

Acting like a jerk today certainly hadn't helped his chances either.

But dammit! Just seeing Ash being smothered with attention – both good and bad, mind you – and knowing it wasn't him smothering the little dweeb made his blood boil with possessive jealousy.

Of course when he heard the news, hell, when he cheered in the stands with every other over excited, hyped up Pokemon trainer/coordinator/breeder/lover and watched him win, he felt an indescribable amount of pride swell in his heart, laughing and clapping as the new Sinnoh Champion fell flat on his butt from a mix of exhaustion, disbelief, and euphoria. He swore it was the happiest moment in his life, just like it probably was for Ash.

Gary knew that he wouldn't have been able to get to the still-shocked teen from the mass of people between them and settled for congratulating him at his party and actually telling the raven how much he was proud of him and how impressed he was.

But then the fans and paparazzi started to swarm him, his big amber eyes widening at how much attention – again, both good and bad – he was getting and how grabby people could be. The raven certainly wasn't expecting so many girls and guys to ask him out while they grabbed at his clothes and Pokemon. The researcher felt something in his chest tighten especially when he got a clear view of some hot-shot blonde boy eyeing Ash like a piece of juicy, juicy meat. It took a lot of will power not to ruin his pretty face, but that was just the start.

It only got worse when, at the party, the only way he knew not to jump the poor unsuspecting raven was to revert back to his old self and keep the teen as far away as possible. Some small part of him mocked him for being afraid to approach Ash, for being afraid of being rejected from one of the only people that really every mattered in his life, and he couldn't disagree. Another part just ached at the hurt he glimpsed in those brown eyes.

Gary figured when the Pokémon got loose, it was his perfect chance to get away from everyone and actually let his guard down and try to reign in some self-control. Ash was just too cute when he was blushing but at the same time, when either the sun or moonlight touched his face, he seemed to glow, and that made it that much harder for Gary to not do anything uncharacteristic in front of everyone.

That plan backfired when he happened to catch a glimpse of the person he wasn't directly approaching (read: avoiding) and was torn between cracking a smile at how much Ash had retained his childish, rash personality, and panicking because he wasn't sure if he could hold back from doing unspeakable things to the shorter teen – which, again, didn't go as planned.

The brunette sighed tiredly, pinching the bridge of his nose as he forced away the memories that were still only a few hours fresh – of Ash pinned to a tree, his soft lips, the cute little noises that he made when he-

Stop. His mind screamed, and his eyes flew open. When did they close?

"I need some air." He muttered tiredly, ignoring his clock that read 4:27am in bright red numbers. "Stay here, Umbry." He commanded gently, petting his faithful Pokémon until she fell back asleep and nuzzled her masters pillow. Gary cracked a smile and slipped on a long sleeved t-shirt reminiscent of his younger years and some plain blue jeans.

With a quiet click of his bedroom door, he was gone.


Ash's eyes flew open, wide and filled with an unfathomable terror as if he were still having a nightmare in his conscious state. His whole body felt heavy with fatigue and his heart was pounding in his chest almost painfully, a sheen of sweat covering his chilled skin as he tried to slow his breathing. For a few minutes, he lay in his bed, trying not to get dizzy and nauseous from his pounding headache and trembling limbs. With a shaky breath, Ash blinked a few times at his dark ceiling, slowly realizing that he was awake as fragments of his dream lingered in his consciousness – only a few hours had passed since he went to bed.

"Wh-what…was that?" he whispered to himself, still breathing heavily.

His headache eventually receded but there was still a slight throbbing in the back of his head. The Sinnoh champion sighed, knowing that he wouldn't be able to sleep again, and allowed his mind to wander, trying to grasp at the final threads of his dreams before they completely slipped away.

One thing that stuck out clearly in his mind was the primal fear he'd felt clawing at his insides, desperate to get out and away. After that, there was panic and pain, hazy with disorientation and a strangely intense, dark rage he'd never felt before. He still felt some of the anger burning in his veins, but at who or what he didn't know. Everything else was just a blur of words and emotions he didn't recognize and his frustration at not knowing slowly built up into another painful headache.

"I'm going nuts…" the trainer groaned.

With a tired sigh, Ash pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes, hoping to ease the renewed pain. By now, his heart had stopped trying to leap from his chest and his lungs didn't feel like they were about to explode – all without waking Pikachu, who was usually acutely aware of his trainer's moods and wellbeing.

A glance at the yellow mouse told him that the poor little guy was tired, especially after being pampered and fed a feast like the rest of the Pokémon. Although it would've been nice to have his friend accompany him, Ash knew it wouldn't be fair to deprive his best friend some well-deserved sleep.

Slowly, Ash got up from bed and changed his clothes into some simple cargo blue cargo pants and a black t-shirt, leaving his cap by his bedside as he snuck through the door and down the hall. Thankfully, any squeaks or thumps made during his escape were drowned out by Brock's snores – was it just him or were they even louder than before?

Sneaking out of the house wasn't too much trouble – Mr. Mime was just as tired as his mom from all the cleaning and serving the vast amount of people for an entire day.

As he walked down the cobblestone path that branched off from the main road running through Pallet Town, Ash was struck by an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. From all the craziness of the day, as well as his quick breaks between each journey, he didn't really have time to think about his childhood. Despite the eerie darkness of the night and the shadows cast by the moons light, Ash could still hear the sound of laughter in the air from years passed.

As his feet took him to a familiar place hidden in the woods, a particular memory struck him from earlier.

xxx

"Ash."

Said trainer turned to where his name was called, internally hoping it wasn't another friend or fan wanting to congratulate him on his achievements – despite Misty's claims that his big head wouldn't fit through the door if the praise kept up, he'd had enough of that for one night, thankyouverymuch – and was surprised to see one of his old rivals.

"Hey, Paul." Ash greeted with a small grin.

The other trainer didn't smile back but something in his expression softened and his mouth didn't form his trademark scowl. He seemed unsure of what he was doing, standing awkwardly with the distant firelight on his back and unwilling to look the new Sinnoh Champion in the eye.

Ash's grin didn't falter but he turned back to the view of a small, shimmering lake surrounded by nocturnal Pokémon and trees. It was a special spot he and his mother found, atop a medium sized hill right outside of Pallet, and whenever he felt overwhelmed or sad, this was his sanctuary. He wasn't sure how he felt about having another person – besides Gary, a voice whispered – here in such a sacred place, but decided not to dwell on it too long.

Paul still hadn't moved from his spot, but from his shadow casted next to Ash, the black haired trainer saw that the other teen had shifted his stance. After all their meetings and battles, Ash sort of knew how to handle an uncomfortable but prideful trainer – let them have time to recollect their thoughts without pushing or pressuring. However, in this case, it was much more fun to irritate them into saying what they wanted to say by 'ignoring' them.

His ears perked up at the sound of approaching footsteps and held back a triumphant smirk – score one for awesome Ash, zero for pouty Paul. "Beautiful view, isn't it?" there was no answer but a feeling of agreement.

Both their shadows were almost at the same length now since Paul had stopped to stand next to Ash, looking out at the peaceful view, but not really paying attention to it. The rustling of trees and laughter in the distance filled the almost-but-not-quite companionable silence between them before it was broken with two words.

"I'm sorry."

"…"

"…"

"…"

Does not compute. Does not compute.

Ash blinked at that, trying to comprehend those two, rushed words that were uttered so quietly, the trainer swore that it was just the wind or his tired mind making things up. "Um…what?" he asked, his mind still overloading a bit from the strangeness of it all – was his old rival feeling okay?

There was a tense if not embarrassed silence before Paul sighed irritably and said again, slower with a bit more of the familiar bite his tone always had, especially with Ash, "…I said I'm sorry."

…well, score one for pouty Paul.

Ash turned to look at the purple-haired teen but was slightly annoyed to see that he wasn't looking at him. "I heard the first time," he held back a laugh when he saw the teen grimace, "but I don't get why."

Paul turned to look at him – finally – with a nonplussed if not incredulous expression – which was strange to see because Ash wholeheartedly believed the teen only had four expressions: smug, irritated, angry, and bored. "Why?" he repeated disbelievingly. Ash tilted his head very slightly and that seemed to goad the other trainer into finally saying, "Don't people apologize when they demean someone so many times, for making fun of their friends, for trying to hurt their Pokémon, and for being jerks in general?"

Ash blinked at him again and didn't say anything for a moment. Paul shifted uncomfortably under the teens scrutiny, wondering why he thought this was a good idea, before Ash remarked, "That is the most I've ever heard you say outside of a Pokémon battle."

The purple-haired trainer's right eye twitched. Ash held back another laugh, knowing it would adverse affects on his companion, and decided to give him a straight answer.

"To answer your question, no." That wasn't the answer Paul was expecting and his expression mirrored his surprise, "People apologize for hurting someone's feelings, friends, or Pokémon, not for what they said or did to hurt them. You believed what you said when you said it and I'd be a hypocrite if I told you what you said was wrong – I mean, opinions aren't wrong, are they?" he paused with a thoughtful look on his face that made him seem younger and older at the same time, "Did that even make any sense?"

Paul was left grasping for words, surprise and doubt flickering across his dark eyes as he tried to understand what the teen before him was saying.

At first it didn't make sense that Ash of all people could speak so maturely but, with a bit a of a jolt, Paul realized that Ash had grown since the last time they'd seen each other – which, admittedly, was quite a while all things considered – and that he really didn't know the teen in the first place.

It left him feeling a bit hollow and left behind, which was a ridiculous notion seeing as how they were still rivals and had no friendly ties. Apologizing was his way of clearing his irritating conscience. Yeah, that was it. He didn't want to be friends with Ash or his little gang. He'd done what he came to do and that was all.

"But I forgive you anyway." And then Ash was smiling his charming, sweet, sincere smile again, his eyes dancing with the light of the bonfires and the full moon, and Paul swore his heart jumped into his throat because he couldn't even choke out a reply.

"Uh…um, I…" Paul stuttered, his cheeks heating up when he saw that Ash was looking at him with concern and something else that made him feel warm despite the crisp night air. "I-I gotta go."

He tore his gaze away from Ash's and nearly stumbled in his quest to put as much space between them as possible, his mind feeling fuzzy.

Before he was completely out of sight, he turned back to the teen, the firelight now casting a mysterious shadow over his schooled features, "Congratulations." And he soon disappeared into the mass of people down below.

Ash blinked owlishly when he felt his cheeks heat up. "Hm, must be coming down with something…" he muttered, a small smile still on his lips.

xxx

Ash blinked out of his reverie when he saw where he was, looking out into the shimmering lake with nostalgic eyes. The moon's light touched the surface and the gentle waves reflected the light into the trees. It was the same lake he had been looking at when he talked to Paul earlier, only more eerie and beautiful.

His brows furrowed when he felt his insides tighten uncomfortably, a familiar feeling he got whenever there was something big going on or if he or his friends were in danger.

"Ash?"


Author's Note: There's the chapter! I know its reaaally boring and slow now, but it's just a set up of whats to come. I FINALLY have a plot for this and I hope it turns out awesome :D Sorry if Paul seems a little OOC, it'll be explained later. And to those of you who detest love triangles, don't worry, there will only be hints and stuff to make Gary jealous cause jealous Gary is a hot Gary XD Sorry if this is really Ash-centric, but I'll definitely have more character interactions later. Once again, IM SORRY FOR THE LOOOONG DELAY! But unfortunately, I can't see myself being one of those authors updating every week, there's just too much stuff going on right now – Marching Band, AP classes, piano, Jazz Band, and a crap load of other stuff. Please understand and don't be too mad D:

Sorry in advance for grammatical errors, I'm really tired now and I don't feeling like reading the same thing for the 20th time today, so bear with me D: I don't have a clue when the next chapter idea will be out since I don't even know where it's gonna lead yet from this point XD

P.S. Flamers, right now is not the time to troll or piss me off. I'm in one of those moods where EVERYTHING pisses me off and makes me want to push people down stairs…into fire. And needles. And hydrochloric acid. And anything else that will hurt and will make you incapable of making babies.

THANK YOU EVERYONE FOR YOUR SUPPORT! IT IS GREATLY APPRECIATED! :D