He was drifting… floating in a place above the earthly realms.
Ash Ketchum was aware that he was dreaming. He'll he'd had this dream more times than he could count fingers on a hand.
Everything around him was blue and pristine. He wasn't sure if he was in the sky or swimming about in a large lake. All he really knew was that there were bubbles here... giant ones that surrounded him and engulfed him. And in one of them, a creature… a Pokémon he'd only ever seen in these dreams.
The tiny, pink feline sleepily floated about beside him in its own self-made bubble. Undisturbed by his presence and oblivious to Ash's questions as to how he'd managed to find himself here.
Eventually though, and with much hesitation, the blue eyes of the Pokémon would slide open and it would watch him as Ash drifted there in his giant bubble.
"Who are you?" he would ask it again, simply unable to resist the question even in spite of the fact that he knew he would receive only one answer. "Why am I here?"
The Pokémon continued to watch him. Ash knew it was intelligent. Possibly even Legendary, like one of the Guardians.
"Life is wonderful!" the gentle voice sounded solely in his mind.
And then POP!
That was normally the end of his dream and he would wake up… but this time it was different.
Suddenly Ash was standing in another place… a dark place of steel and sterility. Was it a lab? It was nothing like the one Professor Oak owned. This one was cold… and sinister. As though there were a lot of secrets in this place.
Was he still dreaming? Ash had to pinch himself to be sure.
A low hum and the quiet slosh of water grabbed the boy's attention and he followed the sounds to a chamber of sorts… an empty workspace where a single, tube cylinder sat in its centre. Inside it, it housed another Pokémon he was sure he'd never seen before… and yet it seemed vaguely familiar… somehow…
Though it was curled up in a fetal position, Ash could tell it would stand taller than a man. Its fur was white and purple. Two legs, two arms… what was this?
He approached the cylinder, placing a hand on its warm, humming surface. Was it sleeping? Was it even aware of his presence? Sadness seemed to engulf it – the pain of the loss of someone or something dear to it. Ash wasn't sure how he knew this… he just did.
"Don't worry," he whispered to this creature in an undertone. "Life is wonderful."
Those words barely left his lips before a bright, blue glow suddenly started to emanate from the creature. He took a step back to take it fully into his sights, before suddenly two, brilliant, glowing eyes blinked open…
Ash burst upright, his sheets flying in several directions as he slipped from his bed and hit the floor with a loud thud. His mind dazed and confused, it took him a moment to register his carpet. Throwing the blankets aside, he heaved in a quiet breath that brought with it the pleasant cooking aromas of breakfast downstairs. Today was a special day... but why? It took him a further moment to take in the contents of his bedroom before finally his eyes fell onto his calendar with the date circled in red. May 22. His tenth birthday.
A ball of excitement suddenly bubbled up through his core, giving what seemed like an electrical charge to his legs. The boy was instantly on his feet and hurtling the space between him and his bedroom door, his dream all but gone from his mind.
Tackling the stairs two at a time, he threw himself into the kitchen where his mother lovingly slaved over a hot stove. "Ash!" she exclaimed upon his abrupt entry. "I wasn't expecting you up for at least another half hour."
"Did it arrive?" the boy's question was full of intensity. "Is it here?"
Delia gave her son a knowing smile, and signaled him to an immaculately wrapped box on the bench. Its wrapping paper was made of gold, and its ribbons carefully curled. But little time did he give himself to take it all in before he attacked the box like a hungry Growlithe, ripping its paper to shreds and pulling from its safe confides a hat.
"No…. way…" the boy was speechless. "This… this… this…"
"Remember Ash, you can't tell anyone who you got this from," his mother politely reminded him. "It's of grave importance that…"
"I know," Ash nodded, barely acknowledging his mother's words as he carefully took in the perfect stitching and absorbed every single detail of an item only obtainable through the highest ranks of the Pokémon League.
Delia smiled and plucked what remained of the packaging from the bench, letting a single envelope slip from the bottom of the box. Ash caught it before it hit the kitchen floor. Placing the hat aside, he quickly tore it open before placing himself down on a stool to read its contents written in his father's own handwriting:
To My Son,
Once again, I apologize for not being there in person to hand you your gift. I trust that it will serve you well, especially as you prepare to undertake your own Pokémon journey very soon.
Great things are in store for you Ashton, just so long as you face your future with the strength and determination I know you are capable of. And someday soon, we will finally be able to meet again and battle. I look forward to this day greatly.
Take care of your mother for me in my absence, and continue to grow.
Ash placed the letter down only to meet his mother's gentle smile.
"Your father loves you very much, Ash," she whispered.
The boy nodded, ignoring the red R insignia on the letterhead as he'd done times before, and slipped it back into its envelope. And as was custom, he handed it to his mother to hold over the flame on the stove, eradicating all evidence of their relationship once again.
It wouldn't be long before the remainder of his family was due to arrive to begin celebrations. Ash pulled his new hat over his messy head of hair and started on his breakfast, quickly conjuring in his mind a story as to where he'd gotten such a rare collector's item from.
And just as he'd done virtually his entire life now, he continued to live the lie…
A chilly, autumn breeze blew through my uniform and ruffled my hair, blowing it about my face. The evening was well along now and any traces of the sunset had since disappeared.
I sat alone on a rooftop of a city I since forgotten the name of and waited. My mind searching the skies and every corner of this smelly concrete, jungle for the creature that I knew was here. His signature was… undeniable, even to a psychic such as me.
It wasn't until close to midnight that I suddenly became aware of his presence. He was deadly silent as he landed on the rooftop behind me, and I couldn't help the grin that made its way across my face. After months of searching… it had finally paid off.
Pulling myself to my feet, I turned and faced the cloaked figure under moonlight, my eyes taking in his bony frame and almost-humanoid structure. Though he was far from being Human.
"I've been looking for you," I said as-a-matter-of-factly.
To which he replied using a voice only heard in my own mind. "I know. What do you want?"
I half-smirked which no doubt showed a likeness to my father. "I wish to challenge you. You win, you can go free. I win and you forgo your right as a free Pokémon and submit to Team Rocket once again."
But the creature merely matched my expression. "You're alone. How can you expect to defeat me?"
Unclipping the strangely marked Rocketball from my belt, I silently regarded the button before giving him my reply. "I have my ways."