Once upon a time.
Those words had stuck with him his entire life. The words that precede the timelessly enchanting fairy tales that are told to generations upon generations of children. The same fairy tales that he'd hear whilst tucked into his own bed as a small boy.
Brock used to believe in fairy tales.
They were so full of magic and happiness, and all the things that made you stare out at the stars at night until you fell asleep and dreamed about dragons and wicked witches and beautiful princesses trapped in tall stone towers. That was what he used to do when he was a child. Before his childhood innocence and naivety had become tainted by the harsh, miserable, unfair reality of life. Brock had loved fairytales. Stories of bravery and romance and magic spells. He'd devour them for hours one after the other, not just in the musty smelling books read to him by his mother, but also in the countless Disney videos which he got on his birthdays and at Christmas time if he was extra, extra good. It was worlds apart from the reality of his own life.
After all, Peter Pan didn't have the problems poor little Brock had. He didn't have such an arrogant, unaffectionate father who rarely showed his love. Who was barely at home at all. Who was too busy running the rapidly failing Pewter City gym when he wasn't drinking himself to an early grave or shamelessly chasing women half his age. Anything to ignore the failing marriage, huh Flinty old boy? The only time that old man ever acknowledged his son at all was when he was reprimanding him, telling him what to do, telling him how to live his life.
~"Listen to me, boy! How will you ever learn how to be a good gymleader if you spend all day with your head in the damn clouds?"~
Flint never really cared about what his son had wanted. Never acknowledged him as a person in his own right. He simply saw young Brock as a vessel for the family name, an heir to the family business. Brock had once expressed his wish to be a Breeder, to care for and nurture Pokemon instead of sending them into battle, as was his nature. His Father had simply laughed and told his eldest child that he would do no such thing. And as far as Flint was concerned, that was the end of that.
Nope, Peter Pan and Prince Charming never had Dad's like that. And they never had a large number of younger siblings which seemed to be increasing steadily in number at a worrying rate. And they never had a mother in failing health, growing ever weaker by the day, sliding further down the slippery descent and into the clutches of an inescapable disease.
Brock had always thought himself to be an ideal character for a fairytale. A poor little nine year old boy, skinny in build and tall in height, he was a main player on the school basketball team when he wasn't cooking, cleaning, sewing, working. His mother was dead, having long given up the fight for life and allowing herself to slip into the dark embrace of death, where Brock could never find her, never touch her, and could only pay homage to a slab of stone where her name was engraved. His father was gone, vanished, ran away. Fled like the coward Brock always knew he was, under the pretense of going to 'fulfill his dreams'. Yeah right. He just couldn't handle the responsibility suddenly thrust upon him. It had Mom who had fed them, clothed them, made them feel loved. Now she was gone. And Flint just couldn't cope.
And so Brock, poor little Brock, penniless and parent-less, had to be the tough little soldier and put on a happy little smile. He took all ten little siblings under his wing and cooked for them, cleaned for them, kept smiles on their faces. Yes, people he had grown up knowing would give him sympathetic little smiles whenever he passed, and as soon as they thought he was out of earshot, they'd lean across the fence and shake their heads, muttering to the neighbours about 'that poor young boy'.
"How cruel, how tragic." They'd say to each other. "He can't cope with all those children. He's only a lad. They'd be better off in care." And that was that. Though people smiled, and shared their sympathies, they never did anything more. It wasn't their problem, you can only look out for number one in this dog-eat-dog world. And so, he became locked in this cold, isolated tower, cut off from the world and from everyone, only allowing himself to look out the window when the little ones were tucked up in bed, and gaze longingly out at the stars, the lights, the freedom he craved.
And as the years wore on, relentlessly pushing forward like the creeping waves of an incoming tide, those frivolous dreams in which he had once indulged started to disappear. He no longer thought longingly of happily-ever-after. He was trapped, a cursed prince in frogs clothing, longing to be freed but having lost all hope a long time ago. And there would be no release because this was real life, not fiction, and real life always hurt. As Brock grew, these stories, the ones he had grew up hearing and dreaming about, they were squashed down into the depths of his mind where he would ignore them and these stupid, childish notions of love and happiness.
But that all changed on one fine summer day. Opportunity showed itself and he embraced it with wide-open arms because Brock knew that second chances were few and far between, and third chances were a godsend! And this opportunity came in the shape of two knights, though not quite in the shining armour you'd expect. One was just a child, and about as far from your typical knight as you could get. Clumsy, stubborn, and a few cans short of a full six-pack, this young man had a tendency to charge headlong into danger without a thought of the consequences. But behind this naive, childlike exterior, he found a boy of great determination and ambition, with a suppressed-but-definitely-there intelligence and genuine affection for all living things. And his noble steed happened to be a short-fused Pikachu with a great loyalty to his master.
Then there was his partner-in-crime, a girl often misunderstood by those who didn't know her. A princess from another torn family; both parents long dead, a girl unappreciated by her shallow, vindictive sisters. Brock felt a strange affinity with her from the start, she understood the pain and misery that come only from a broken home. So brash and rude on the outside, not many knew the sweet lost little girl, wise beyond her years, hidden underneath that loud, boisterous, aggressive outer shell.
When they came, bringing with them the man responsible for his misery, the coward who had ran away, Brock found himself at a crossroads. And he took the path he had never walked before, chose to go on this mad, indefinite journey with his saviours, his future uncertain and the whole world suddenly open to him. Brock had the freedom he had wished for on so many stars when he had been locked in his tower, and for a second, he allowed himself to experience a small glimmer of hope. A pinprick of light at the end of a very long, very dark tunnel. Maybe life didn't have to be all misery and loss. Maybe happiness did exist in the real world, and not just in the world of fairies and unicorns. Ash and Misty... they gave him hope.
So, he set off on this exciting, uncertain journey. He still cooked, he still cleaned, but this time he did it of his own free will. They encountered old friends and new along the way, prince and princesses in precarious situations, waiting to be rescued by these three musketeers. They even crossed paths with the villains and the bad guys more than a few times, but always managed to finish out on top, because that was how it was meant to be. Good guys always win, right?
That was Brock's belief when he was a kid, it was the belief that he was starting to trust again. The three were the best of friends, shared a bond thicker than blood. But time flew by, way quicker than he anticipated. One day, he had looked back on his journey, and when he saw how many years had passed, he started to think. Things were no longer the same. Back in the early years, they had fun and just wandered to where their feet took them. They were young and carefree, they were in no rush. It had seemed they had all the time in the world. After all, being all grown up...? Choosing a job...? It was all so far away.
But with a start, Brock realised that it was no longer some distant blip on the horizon that could be dealt with 'one day'. It was now. It was here. They had reached that 'blip' and sooner or later, he'd have to make a decision. He was a young man on the brink of adulthood and all the responsibilities and duties that came with it. Ash was losing enthusiasm for the childish dream of becoming 'Ultimate Pokemon Master', and Misty herself was getting restless. Brock knew she was desperate to carry out her own dreams, most of which included taking over her family gym and restoring the status and respect it had once commanded, before her sisters had made it such a laughing stock. And so - he had realised with suprise - was he. He was getting bored with this life of adventuring and camping and aimless wandering. Even the greatest adventure would get boring if you spent everyday doing it. There was no doubt in Brock's mind that it was time to settle and start making decisions.
And there lay the problem. Though his heart still lay with breeding as a profession, he realised he had no experience. He didn't know how to go about it. And what about where to live? He couldn't face going back home. Not to his tower, where he had been held prisoner for so many years. He missed his brothers and sisters. But he didn't want to see his Dad. No, definitely not Flint. If only he had a girlfriend....
That made Brock laugh out loud. Girlfriend? Brock had been searching for his princess for so many years, but they always turned out to be the wicked witch. Or they'd turn him down gently; 'I'm so sorry Brock but I like you as a friend'. That, or they'd always ride off into the sunset with an older, richer, more handsome prince. And Brock would be left, wiping away a tear and trying to nurse his aching heart. People didn't realise that every let down, every rejection was another attack on his already wounded heart. Each biting remark reopened old wounds, and with every disappointment, another little sparkle of hope faded away.
"Maybe," Brock thought slowly, "Maybe I'm not meant to be the one who gets the girl."
Of course. Brock was never meant to be main character in this fairytale. He was one of the background characters, the one that sat in the shadows whilst the lead got the glory, the happiness and the girl. And at the end of the story, when everything was resolved, the witch was dead, and the hero was settling down to a life of harmonious married bliss, Brock would be one of the nameless faces grinning up at them and cheering, standing among the other less important players, and he'd feel happy for the hero because that was his job. Ash and Misty. Now they were main characters. Everything would work out in their lives because they were the strong, deserving people who became heroes. Brock... shy, retiring, quiet Brock... would just stand there and be happy for their happiness. Not his own, never his own. He would never be a hero. He wasn't strong enough, wasn't worthy enough, wasn't loved enough to be centre stage. Destined always to be the sidekick, the comic relief, always the one standing on the sidelines.
And when he died, people would shed a tear, but not grieve too much because... after all... he was only Brock.
The swift, sharp snap of a twig pulled Brock sharply out of his silent reverie. The sound had sounded almost deafening against the silence of the darkened campsite, echoing throughout the small forest clearing. Brock glanced up from the camp fire that he had been staring into for... how long? Minutes? Hours? It felt like he had been sitting here all night.
He blinked, trying to dissipate the annoying dancing spots of colour which had been left by the fires glare. Misty walked - well, staggered really - over to the fire, and ground to a halt as she reached it. She gave her older friend a small smile and scratched her head.
"Hey." She drawled sleepily, her voice still thick with fatigue. Brock blinked up at her again, her face slowly coming into focus as his eyes adjusted to the dark surroundings.
Misty slumped onto the log opposite him and he peered across the fire at her. She was still barely awake and dressed in her pyjama bottoms and an old scruffy T-shirt that was miles too big. She let out a sigh and rested her elbow on her bent knee, observing him through heavy lids, half-closed over her large cerulean eyes. "What are you doing up?"
Brock tilted his head to the side, seeming to contemplate the question. "I could ask you the same thing." He answered carefully. Misty gave him a lazy grin and stretched her arms, ruffling her hair as she did. It looked a state. Messy red hair, tousled and sticking up at all angles, not yet having been subjected to her morning styling routines, the ones she stuck to with an almost religious devotion. It was yet another display of how close these three were. That she would come stumbling out at 5.00 in the morning looking far from her usual bright-eyed self, and not give a damn that he saw her looking so bedraggled and far from perfect. And oh, he had seen worse. Like the time she caught that particularly nasty virus a couple of months back. He spent at least three hours kneeling on the freezing bathroom floor, holding back her hair as she chucked up the contents of her stomach into the toilet. No-one ever said friendship was *always* pretty.
"Couldn't sleep." She replied, dragging him back to the present. She slowly picked up an abandoned blanket from the night before and wrapped it around herself, burying her chin into the warm, fleecy material. "What about you?"
"I... Doesn't matter." He shrugged dismissively, lowering his eyes to watch the orange flames of the dimming campfire lick the dry wood. Misty observed him for a moment, intrigue flitting across her blue eyes.
"No, go on." She persisted, burying herself deeper into the sunshine yellow blanket as the wind cut into her exposed face like a knife. She shivered a little at the chill in the air, and absently wondered how on earth Brock could sit in just his T-shirt and trousers like that, his only source of warmth coming from the cup of coffee clutched in his hand, probably only lukewarm by now. Brock glanced up, biting his lip tentively. His eyes flitted around the dark trees surrounding them and the black depths of the forest that lay beyond them, before resting uneasily on hers.
"I was... just thinking."
"Really?" Misty asked as she stifled a yawn, averting her eyes to watch the sparks dancing above the fire. "About what?"
Brock frowned a little and played with the cup in his hand, as he silently wondered whether or not to divulge any more information.
"Stories?" Misty echoed, her eyebrows raising questioningly. Brock nodded slowly.
"Oh." Misty replied curiously, before shrugging and resting her cheek against her covered knee, closing her eyes as she did so. "I like fairytales."
"Yeah. Me too." Brock muttered, laying the now cold coffee beside his feet.
"Don't mean to be rude or anything..." Misty muttered sleepily. "But of all the deep, meaningful mysteries of life there are to contemplate, why fairytales?"
"Dunno." Brock lied. "Guess I was just trying to keep the ol' brain occupied."
Misty looked up at him again, having caught the uncertain tone in his voice. Brock was a terrible liar. She kept telling him that, but he never really listened to half of what she said anyway. He could be so terribly absent-minded at times.
She raised an eyebrow as he stared at the damp, mossy ground underneath his feet, but respectfully decided to not to pry further. They shared a companionable silence for the next few minutes, filled only with the noise of the fire crackling and Ash's soft snoring. It was Brock that spoke first, his voice unusually soft.
"Do you believe in fairytales?"
Misty glanced across at him, surprised both by the break in the silence, and by this rather odd question. "Fairytales are fiction, Brock. They never really happened."
Brock blinked for a second, then chuckled as comprehension dawned on him. "Oh no. I don't mean that..."
Misty gave a small, confused smile and shook her head. "Then... what?"
"What I mean is... do you believe fairytales can happen? In real life?" he asked, tilting his head as he waited for her to reply. Misty grinned a little and bit her lower lip, eyes twinkling mischievously.
"What, do you mean can fairy godmother's turn pumpkins into coaches, or can princes be turned into frogs, or--"
"Hey!" Brock grinned, cutting her off as he playfully threw a twig at her. "You know that's not what I mean. I'm trying to be serious here."
Misty flinched and giggled, trying to deflect the twig and not lose her grip on the blanket at the same time. "Sorry." She smiled, not meaning it at all.
Brock gave her a mock glare, then smiled. "I mean, do you think that people can actually live a fairytale life? You know -- one true love, living happily ever after and all that jazz?"
Misty's grin faded, and was replaced by a thoughtful, contemplative expression. "I did. Once." Was all she said.
Brock cupped his face in his hands and rested his elbows on his knees. "You don't now?" he asked, gazing intently at her. Misty wiggled further into the blanket, trying to find a more comfortable position on the hard, rough log.
"I guess not."
Brock blinked. "Why not?"
Misty shrugged. "Because they're all wrong. They're about as far from reality as you can possibly get. I mean, they don't reflect *real* life at all, do they?"
"No." Brock murmured, more to himself than to her. "I suppose not."
It was strange. Brock had always known this, had always known that fairytales were mere fantasies about a different world where everything was rosy and bright. But somehow, hearing it come from the lips of another, made it seem ever more harsh.
"I mean, come on!" Misty continued, oblivious to Brock's musings. "They are, after all, just stories. They're just somebodies silly, childish dreams of a place where everything is happy and wonderful, and everything is seen through rose tinted glasses and there's no such thing as pain, or loss, or sadness or anything like that. Somebody obviously saw what a screw up our own little world is, and made up another one where everything is perfect."
Brock stared at her, amazed at the insight Misty had just provided. Misty caught his surprised gaze and blushed, burying her face back into the blanket to hide her embarrassment.
"I... uh... my Mom made me take psychology at school..." she mumbled, looking faintly embarrassed at this.
Brock nodded, his brain slowly turning over her statement. It put into words what he had believed for so many years, but never said himself. But he so needed something to believe in. Some hope to cling onto. He thought quickly, attempting to construct an intelligent argument to that, to justify his own beliefs.
"But don't you think it's just a... tiny bit possible that... one day we might--"
"No, I don't." Misty replied, more bitterly than she intended. "It's all just a big pack of lies. Only kids believe in fairytales."
She paused momentarily, before pressing on. "What about your mother? I don't see where she got her happy ending."
Brock paled and lowered his eyes quickly. Misty cringed as she saw the flash of hurt flit across his eyes, and lowered her head shamefully. "I'm... I'm sorry, Brock. That was below the belt, I never should have--"
"No, no you're right." Brock stammered weakly, turning his head away. Misty pushed the dirt with her foot awkwardly, not trusting herself to speak again in case she made some other devastating comment. "Hey, Misty?"
Misty glanced up as he called her name quietly. "Yeah?"
"What was your favourite fairytale?"
Misty thought this over as she slowly picked up the red flask and poured some coffee into the only available cup. The cheap plastic one that always gave the drink it was holding a funny taste. "Um... I think The Little Mermaid always used to be my favourite."
Brock chuckled and rolled his eyes. "Duh. Why am I not surprised?"
Misty grinned in reply, relieved that he wasn't mad at her for her earlier comment. She picked up the empty blue and white carton by Brock's feet and shook it. Damn, no milk. Now she'd have to drink it black. "Well, it was a really nice story. And the movie version was my favourite video."
"Yeah, I suppose it was ok." Brock shrugged, tapping his fingertips against the log in some crazy, off-key beat. "But I wouldn't say it was my favourite."
Misty took a sip of her coffee and grimaced as the strong, undiluted liquid hit her tongue. Now she remembered why she hated black coffee. "Well, I loved it. Every so often, my Dad used to take me to the beach at night time when there was a full moon, and would say that if you looked real close, you might be able to see a mermaid. I actually believed him too. That is, until my sixth birthday when Daisy told me that they didn't exist."
Brock laughed as Misty's face screwed up into an indescribable expression, somewhere between irritation, anger at her sisters insensitivity, and disgust at the awful coffee she was drinking. "But seriously though," Misty continued, pausing to quickly gulp down the rest of scalding dark brown liquid. "I really did love that story." She stopped, contemplating for a short moment. "Only the Disney version though. Not the original Hans Christen Anderson version. That was too..."
"Sad?" Brock filled in for her. "Morbid? Depressing? Miserable?"
"All those things and more." Misty sighed. "I guess it was too much like... real life."
Brock nodded, even though she didn't see it, and they lapsed into another silence. Misty continued to stare into her empty coffee cup and watched the remnants of the sticky dark liquid pool at the bottom of the lurid orange plastic beaker, lost in her own thoughts. Brock turned his head upwards to stare at the murky blue sky, now tinted with pink and yellow as the sun started to rise and penetrate through the previously dark and sinister looking trees. A new day. A new beginning. A new story...
Misty was just pondering whether or not to buy herself a new cup which *didn't* make all drinks taste like turpentine, when Brock's deep, level voice interrupted the peaceful silence.
"That was a crappy story anyway."
Misty started chuckling helplessly at that, while Brock watched her with a bemused smile, eyebrows raised in confusion. After her laughing had subsided, she gave him a big grin and sighed happily. "Yeah. I mean, melting into foam? What kind of an ending is that anyway?"
Brock grinned as he shrugged. "I dunno. A bad one, I guess."
Misty smiled as she ran her fingers through her bedraggled hair and shivered in the cold morning sunlight. "Too right."
Brock gave her a small smile, then exhaled slowly. "So. Do you reckon we'll get our happy endings one day?"
Misty glanced at him, holding his gaze. "Maybe." She announced finally, a smile growing across her face. "I guess we'll just have to see."
They looked at each other for a split second, before bursting out laughing again. Out here now, in the light of day, all the worries, dark thoughts and memories that had been racing around his head seemed so far away, as did the long cold night that had to him seemed so lonely, dark and sinister. Brock's posture was more relaxed now, and the worry lines that had been etched into his face only hours earlier had now disappeared, replaced by a happier, more carefree expression.
The two were so wrapped up in their amusement that they didn't notice Ash crawl tiredly out of his sleeping bag and over to them, a look of irritation gracing his young features. "And what, may I ask, is so funny that you're sitting up at 6am and waking up people who trying to get some much deserved sleep?" he griped, throwing himself onto the ground between the two older teens. A half-asleep Pikachu staggered over to where Ash sat and collapsed onto the ground next to him, hoping to catch an extra forty winks while these odd humans indulged in mindless banter for the next half hour or so.
Brock and Misty looked up at Ash's interruption, starting at the suddenness of his voice. Brock grinned and raised his refilled coffee cup in greeting. "Morning Ashy-Boy."
Ash eyed Brock warily, as he took in his bright smile and rumpled clothes. The same clothes he wore yesterday, in fact. "You're certainly chipper this morning, considering you look like death. Did you sleep at all last night?"
"Couple of hours." Brock shrugged, not willing to talk about it any further.
"So why were you laughing?" he asked again, standing up to walk around the campfire and retrieve an empty cup.
"Just talking." Misty grinned, rubbing her legs to try and warm them up a little. Ash turned to look them, grinning mischievously.
"Oh man, you had a slumber party?" he asked in a comical high-pitched voice. "Well darn, you should have invited me! We could have talked and had pillow fights, and done each others hair, and talked about boys..."
He was cut off as he got pelted by twigs and, oddly, an empty milk carton from the direction of the other two. "Okay, okay! Damn, were you guys born without a sense of humour or something?"
Brock just gave him an infuriating grin as he stood up, his knees and back protesting as he did so, the unfortunate result of having spent to long sitting in one position. After linking his hands and stretching his arms above his head, he picked up his coffee cup and spilt the half-cold contents over the campfire, immediately extinguishing the flame and leaving only dimming embers and the damp wood that fuelled it. He started picking up all the dirty plates and cups as Misty unravelled herself reluctantly from the warm blanket, which Ash quickly procured for himself, and started going back to her corner of the campsite to gather her clothes.
"I'm going to go clean up this lot down at the stream." Brock announced to his younger friends, indicating with his head to the pile of plates in his arms. "Breakfast is in twenty minutes. Be ready or you don't get jack."
"Aw Brock, that's mean." Ash pouted.
"Well, if you miss breakfast, you can always get some in a café in the next town, can't you? I don't live my life solely to be your scullery maid." Brock announced matter-of-factly, smirking at Ash's indignant expression and Misty's unsuccessfully hidden sniggers.
Ash lazily shook his head as he wrapped the scavenged blanket onto his shoulders. "I'm sure he's getting more and more pushy. Spending too much time with you probably, Misty." He smirked, sitting on the floor again and reaching for the flask. "Oh, I need a caffeine boost." he mumbled to himself, oblivious to Misty throwing him a glare over her shoulder. He tipped the flask over the cup, not bothering looking inside it first. A solitary drop of coffee fell out and splashed pathetically into his cup. Ash blinked as his eyes darted from the cup to the miserably empty flask, still trying to process the information through the sleep induced fog settled over his mind. A mind that really wasn't that sharp to start with anyway.
"What the... hey!" He looked up to the other two, glaring at them angrily. "You drank all the coffee!"
Misty let out a snort of laughter as Brock grinned over at Ash, trying to look innocent. "Did we? Sorry about that..."
Ash shrugged and tossed aside the flask. "Don't worry about it. After all, we have another stash somewhere, right?"
Brock bit down on his bottom lip as Misty collapsed into a fit of giggles, dropping the bundle of clothes from her arms. "Uh... well actually--"
Ash grimaced and started pulling at his messy, ebony hair. "Broooooock." He whined, making the older teen cringe. Brock grinned sheepishly and ran his hand through his tousled brown hair.
"Okay okay. Pack up kids. Looks like we're going to that café after all."
A/N: Okay, so it was weird, and badly written, and... weird. But hey, that's what experimentation is aaaaall about. And if you don't like that then... I don't really give a damn. And you all do know the REAL little mermaid story right? Because if you don't, then you probably won't get some of it.