Author's Note: ...I actually don't support this pairing in the least. Don't get me wrong, I don't hate it or anything, I just don't support it. So why write a oneshot? Well, I was getting to think it might be a good exercise to write for a pairing that I don't wildly support-kinda see what I could do with it and that kind of thing. So I got this idea and decided to play with it. I hope you'll excuse an old Pokemon fan who's been kind of in and out of the fandom and not used to writing for this pair-here's my little try at this:
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion,
butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts,
build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone,
solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer,
cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
~Robert A. Heinlein
Chance meetings made up a great deal of Dawn's encounters, and she wouldn't have it any other way. …Well, to be honest she might have it another way. Like, more frequent scheduled meetings where people actually called each other on a regular basis instead of accidentally bumping into each other at a Museum restaurant and having to catch up on years of development since the last text message. But… well, she was happy to meet up with a friend either way. And the surprise was certainly nice.
"Yeah, the training was really tough," Ash went on, bringing a forkful of spaghetti up to his face, "but it'll definitely pay off at the next league. Right, Pikachu?"
"Pika pi!" Pikachu agreed from his seated position on the table top. He possibly would've agreed to anything, though. Ash had bought him a strawberry-banana shake.
Ash. It had been a couple years since they'd talked, but it wasn't as though she hadn't seen him on television. Still, she defaulted mentally to the times they'd traveled together back when she was ten. It was actually pretty impressive how little he'd changed. Or the opposite of impressive, she supposed… What is acceptable on a ten-year-old is not necessarily acceptable on a twenty-year-old.
It wouldn't have taken much. Just… maybe a nice haircut—one that wasn't done by him. Dawn cut her own hair, but she was a pro (He'd been surprised when he'd seen her that in the years they'd been apart she'd actually gone and changed her hairstyle, which proved how little he knew about girls). Ash was most decidedly not a pro and his main concern was keeping the hair out of his face. But it wasn't a bad face, and the right haircut and maybe a little product to keep it under control and a stringent anti-hat policy would do him wonders. Not to mention a more respectable outfit—or at least one that wasn't covered in grass stains and dirt. She wondered, briefly, what size he was now.
She shook herself out of her make-over-based reverie. It was an occupational hazard, wanting to redress people. She'd done it to every boyfriend she'd ever had and it certainly hadn't done anything to make those relationships better or more lasting. She was trying to nix that pattern because it was extremely maternal and therefore a rather creepy way to treat a boyfriend. Plus they resented it. They always resented it.
Anyway, better not to think that about Ash, it was just too strange. …And even if he did get a nice haircut and wardrobe, she'd probably miss his forever-casual, forever-unkempt ensemble. It just wouldn't be Ash.
"Dawn?" Ash tried, after a moment's silence.
Dawn refocused. "Sorry," she said, with an apologetic wave of her hand. "I really am listening; I was just lost in thought for a minute. It sounds like you really put a lot into your training!"
It really did. He'd gone out into the mountains with other trainers who were serious about improving and just… trained. It was all he did. Ash had always trained, but his training now just sounded so much more serious. In the past, Ash might train under a waterfall… for an afternoon, and then expect results. Out in the mountains… he'd been out there for years. The dirt under his fingernails told that story.
"We did," Ash agreed. "But now we're back and ready to take the Indigo League by storm." He grinned from Pikachu to Dawn. "That's where it all started. We're excited to finish it there."
"I'm so happy for you!" Dawn gushed, having missed Ash's indomitable spirit. "I'm sure you guys will do great!"
"Thanks, Dawn," Ash said, leaning back in his chair. "That means a lot."
"So," he said, switching topics in a bright-eyed way, "what have you been up to these days?"
Dawn exchanged a proud smile with Piplup. "Oh, you know, just being one of the top designers for Sinnohverse," she bragged.
She could tell right away that her brag had missed its mark. The blank expression on Ash's face was kind of indicative of that.
"It's a fashion company," she explained.
"It's been a wonderful year for Sinnohverse," she continued, undaunted by the fact that Ash had little-to-no knowledge of the world she was talking about. "We've got contracts for both the Sinnoh Stage Battle Tournament and the International Poke-Club Shows. Our designs are all over the place these days."
"Hey, that's really cool, Dawn," Ash said. "I've mostly been following contests on the radio the last few years, so I haven't seen any of your designs," he had to admit. "But I bet you do a great job—you were always good at, you know… that kind of thing."
Dawn grinned. It was interesting that Ash referred to fashion in ways one might talk about some sort of mysterious alchemical process, unknown to all but a select few.
"So… been competing in any contests yourself?" he asked.
Dawn's smile dropped. "Oh, you know," she said, shifting in her seat, "I've been busy with work. And contests are kinda… well, they're not the same as they used to be."
"Sure seems like it," Ash had to agree. "It's like there are a zillion different kinds of contests now."
"Yeah," Dawn said, stirring her sparkling water with a straw. "It's really branched out ever since Mr. Contesta…"
"I heard he passed," Ash said in a hushed voice. "It's a shame."
"It is," Dawn said with a somber nod. "After he died… the whole contest system just kinda flapped loose for some time… he was the real driving force behind it for decades. After awhile, people got together to try to restore the contests, and even improve them from the way they were before."
"So that's how we get like… more Pokemon Shows and stuff on the radio and TV, right?" Ash asked.
"That's the breeder influence," Dawn explained, sounding somewhat tired. "The Coordinator-Breeder connection is pretty strong, and more and more breeders have been getting a say in how contests are run and how competition is handled. To a breeder, a competition is never really between the different Pokemon competing. It's between the Pokemon contestant and the ideal specimen of the breed. Whatever Pokemon matches the ideal best, wins."
"Shows are kind of boring on the radio," Ash admitted. "It's all just judges checking coat quality and length of limbs and stuff."
"Because it's all about getting to that breed standard," Dawn nodded. "It's supposed to make the competition more fair, more," she paused and wrinkled her nose as if she was repeating a word she'd heard before, but didn't much like, "empirical."
"I guess that makes sense," Ash said with a shrug.
"It does," Dawn agreed wretchedly. "But what I always really thrived on in contests was the spark between competitors. Whether it was a rival you liked or disliked, there was always the drive to show them what you could do. Now that's pretty much gone."
"I don't think it has to be," Ash commented. "It's just in different settings now—the shows, the pure appeal face-offs, the combo-face-offs, the stage battles, the musicals, the games, the talent shows… there's a lot more places to have that competition than just one."
"And that's part of the problem," Dawn answered miserably. "It used to be so… so simple. A coordinator would aspire to be top coordinator—they'd go to contests, collect ribbons, and then try their luck at the grand festival. At the end of the year, there'd be a new top coordinator crowned. Now… there are so many different types of coordinators and so many different kinds of contests. To be a top coordinator a person needs to be a master of each and every field. It's hard enough as it is to get to the top of one field, let alone a half dozen. There's a reason no one's been crowned top coordinator in five years."
"I heard it had gone on for so long that there were too many 'top' coordinators running around," Ash nodded. "They wanted to make sure it was still a title people would respect."
Dawn let out a sigh. "Too many rookies made it too far. It made them reevaluate the brand. But now it's gone too far in the other direction. Nobody tries for top coordinator anymore—nobody over ten at least. People might say, 'I want to win best in show,' or 'I want to create the combination of the year,' or something like that, but everyone sticks to their own specific fields."
"Even you?" Ash said, with a quiet disbelief that was like a knife being slowly applied to her heart.
"Well, I—" she tried. "Look, everyone does what they're best at," she said defensively, as if she was repeating something off of a memo she'd received, "that's what keeps the world going. There's nothing wrong with it."
"I guess not," Ash said, but his heart wasn't really in it. He closed his fist and then opened it again. "…If you're happy with it, then that's fine. But I thought you wanted to be top coordinator? Are you really okay with not being one?"
"I… well, I mean, if they hadn't changed the system then I'd probably…"
"So they made it harder and now you don't want to?" Ash asked a little too bluntly.
Dawn's eyes flashed. "Don't put it like that! It's not just that it's 'harder.' Some people legitimately think it just can't be done anymore! Nobody's that good at every single, solitary aspect of coordinating!"
Ash was quiet for a moment. "…You know," he said softly, "I was actually thinking that it's kinda great that it's harder now. I mean… why aspire to something if it's not the very best?" He looked up at her. "Even now, when I'm feeling better about my training than I've ever felt and more ready than ever to take on the league… I still could lose, because there's so much out there that I don't know yet. And even if I win, I'll never stop wanting to know it all. So to me, it's like, bring on the challenges. Bring on the skills you need to master. Yeah, they may be hard and there may even be times where I feel like giving up, but I know in the end it's going to make me stronger. And I can't stand not knowing it. So it's okay that there are so many challenges… there's plenty of time and plenty to learn."
She sucked in a breath. This was Ash. This was the thing about Ash that just… you knew when you followed him there would be adventure and obstacles to confront and so much to discover. You only had to see his determination to think damn, I've got to hitch my wagon up to this guy, and I'd be a fool to let him out of my sight. Turns out she was a fool, but it was… complicated.
Listening to Ash could fire anyone up. Even now she just wanted to stand up, put her designing career on hold and launch herself straight back into the world of contests—to prove she could do what she'd set out to do. To make sure that the top coordinator trophy gathering dust in the Contest Headquarters ended up in her possession. And to show everyone that it could be done again—that the days of coordinator specialization would not be business as usual until the end of time. That there were still top coordinators out there!
But… while Ash could inspire her so much to reach for the stars, what he inspired with most was his own story. And at the same time she wanted to drop her old life to accomplish her goals, he also made her want to chuck her goals and devote her life to accomplishing his—to follow him, cheer for him, and forget her own success. She'd felt this, even back when they were traveling together so long ago. He inspired her to go for her dream and give in all up at the same time. She couldn't do that. She couldn't deal with that.
"That's the old Ash determination that I miss," Dawn said softly, looking at her knees. "You look that way when you battle too, and it makes me think that just for a moment…"
Just for that moment I think I'd like to kiss you. I would never think that outside of those moments. It would be too… awkward. Even amidst all that fondness it's impossible to have that kind of draw toward you normally. Oh, there's a draw, but it's not that. You're gawky, Ash Ketchum. I don't say that like it's a bad thing—it's your most endearing trait. You're forever gawky because you're forever learning, forever adolescent because being grown-up implies being done and you're not done. There's so much out there left to experience—so your transition stage, your becoming is… well, lasting. And that's why none of this will work now—because neither of us is done.
"Makes you think what?" Ash prompted.
Dawn shook her head. "I'll tell you when you're older," she said with a playful little smile.
"I'm pretty old now," he said in an ironically immature voice. "How much older do I have to be?"
Dawn did some rough calculations in her head. "In about twenty more years," she came up with.
He fell out of his chair. "Twenty more years?"
"Yes," Dawn said, feeling more and more right about this figure. "We both will have done so much more—maybe even taken the top prizes of coordinator and league champion. We'll have time to learn more and master more. We'll also both be hitting forty—I'll have found my first grey hair and you'll start worrying about your hair line receding… and maybe we'll both get a little lonely and start re-evaluating our priorities. Yes." She closed her eyes. "When we both hit our mid-life crises, I think we should look each other up."
Ash stared at her and finally broke into a grin. "Well… I don't really know what you're talking about, Dawn, but sure."
Dawn smiled back. "Maybe you will… somewhere down the line. When that happens, I hope you'll let me know."