Lonely at The Top
Remember everyone: balance is key
Pokeshipping, Advanceshipping, Pearlshipping, and Negaishipping are vaguely hinted at, as well as Orange, Contest, Wishful and Ikari shipping.
There will be a little minor Pearlshipping sprinkled, but it will not be very implicit, and it's not the point of the story. Shipping does not, overall, effect the feel of the plot. This is an Ash-centric fic, deconstructing his vague goal, and the scary turn he could easily take.
Disclaimer: I do not own Pokemon
A young man stared down at the world from the top of Mount Silver. It had been five years. Five years to this day he had begun his journey to be the best. Five years since he made the decision to be a Master.
The cold wind whipped around him, but he didn't shiver. No, he had spent so much time training on this mountain that he didn't mind it at all. The snow at his feet was soaking his jeans, but again, it was something the trainer had grown accustomed to in his quest.
Your body can adjust to a lot of things in five years.
It was Ash Ketchum's fifteenth birthday, and he spent it just like every other day.
Well, in a certain sense of the word. On his shoulder rested his most loyal companion, the electric mouse Pokemon, Pikachu.
On his belt rested five Pokeballs, in which he had more trusted and loved companions. Ash loved his Pokemon. He always has, and always will. And they loved him. They loved him because he never quit on them, and he always pushed him to be the very best they could.
But they were worried about their trainer, who they loved so much. They had watched the changes take place in him, and wondered what it would ultimately do to the young, impressionable adolescent that raised them.
"It's been five years since we started this, Pikachu." Ash said to his partner, not shifting his view.
"Pika..." Pikachu said hesitantly. He was the most worried about Ash. He was there when Ash's life took a turn. Whether it was for the better or worse all depended on who you asked.
It had been four years ago. Ash had just turned eleven at the end of his journey in Unova. He had won the Unova League Tournament, and was given the chance to challenge Unova's Elite Four.
He had spent three months training with Cilan and Iris before going for it. In an astounding feat, he did manage to take down all four trainers.
And then he faced Alder. And lost six to three. Despite this, Alder congratulated Ash, saying he had never seen an eleven year old defeat the Elite Four and give him such a good match, promising Ash that he would do great things in the future.
But this nearly broke Ash. He had made it through every challenge in the Unova League, and was still trounced by the Champion.
His friends tried to console him, but Ash decided he would have none of it. He went his separate ways from Iris and Cilan. They went home. He went to a place called the Great Chasm in Unova. There, amongst hordes of very strong, wild Pokemon, he trained his team every day, for nine months. Every day, working to make them stronger. Not once did he blame them, or mistreat them, however. He simply pushed them to the limit every day, and brought out their potential.
But obsession is never healthy; without friends or companions to keep him grounded, he had nothing else to focus on except his defeat at the hands of Alder. It put a fire in him that was a little different from his usual determination. It was a drive so intense, that he had put everything else in his life on hold just to be powerful enough to take on Alder in a rematch.
After the nine months, on his twelfth birthday, Ash went back to the Pokemon League. He defeated the Elite Four once again, and this time, defeated Alder four to six.
And he would never forget the conversation that followed as they shook hands...
"You seem different, Ash." Alder said, sounding somewhat sad.
"What do you mean? Stronger?" Ash asked, curiously.
"Maybe...where are your friends who were with you last time?" Alder asked.
Ash just blinked. "They left after our last battle. I had to train to be able to beat you, and they couldn't stay."
Alder just stared at Ash for a long time after that. Ash was confused. After awhile, it must have shown, because Alder spoke again:
"Have you been training by yourself this whole time, just to be stronger?"
"Yes. Of course!" Ash said proudly.
"Didn't you ever stop to visit them, or go see your family back in Kanto?" Alder questioned.
"Er...no. I had to train. You said yourself I would do great things. I wanted to make sure you were right." Ash answered, beaming.
At the time, Ash didn't understand why Alder looked at him with a great sadness in his eyes.
"And what will you do now Ash? How will you become a Pokemon Master now that you're the Champion?" Alder asked, sounding increasingly depressed.
"I...don't know." Ash answered, confused. "Back in Sinnoh...I always wanted to challenge Cynthia, their champion. Maybe I'll challenge the other champions. I can do that, right?"
"Ash...I wouldn't. You need to step back and think about if you really want to go down this road you're currently on." Alder replied.
At the time, the younger, more naive Ash Ketchum thought Alder was telling him he couldn't do it. In his anger, Ash answered with. "You think I'll fail?"
Alder turned away. "Maybe you already have. Go home. See your family. See you friends."
The young, angry trainer thought he was being told to quit. So, after accepting the title of Champion, he left Unova.
It's been three years to that day that he told me that. Ash thought, looking at the skyline where Johto and Kanto met. I was such a fool.
Ash knew now that Alder wasn't telling him to quit. He was warning him. Warning him not to throw life away in a foolish pursuit of power alone.
And that's exactly what I did. He lamented to himself.
After leaving Unova, Ash had made the decision that he would go to each region and challenge their Champion. He already had one down. He knew of three to go, seeing as Kanto and Johto shared a League together.
He had first traveled to Kanto, figuring he'd start where his journey started. He spent a few months training in the wild against Kanto Pokemon, and studying up on Lance's fighting style on television. It was here his Pokemon companions began to worry about him. But he still never mistreated them. Only loved them and pushed them as hard as they could. Conflicted, some of his Pokemon tried to express their concerns, but Ash assured them he was fine.
He never visited his mom. He never visited Professor Oak. He never visited Misty. Or Brock. Or Gary. Or Tracey. He simply trained, Alder's words haunting him the whole time.
Six months after arriving, he challenged Lance. And won. It was headline news...the Unova Champion, who was a Kanto native himself, comes home to defeat the Kanto Champion.
But Ash had a goal. He set off the next day for Hoenn, his drive from the conversation with Alder burning in his mind the entire trip.
And I did the same thing there, didn't I? Ash wondered to himself, leaning against a rock.
I did. I never stopped in to see May and ask how coordinating was going. Even after she told me how much that ribbon-half we both have means to her. I never bothered to see if Max had ever gone back for Ralts. I never bothered to visit them. Just like I never saw my mom, never dropped in on Professor Oak, never asked Gary how becoming a researcher was going, never checked with Brock on medical school, never bothered to see how running the gym was working out for Misty. All these people who helped me and did nothing but care about me throughout my quest. And I didn't do a damn thing. He cursed himself in his mind.
And it was true. Ash spent a few months training, and challenged Wallace on his thirteenth birthday. He won, creating even more buzz in the world of Pokemon battling.
And again, he left the next day. He had one Champion left to go, Cynthia. He wanted to save her for last, as having seen her deal with Team Galactic, she seemed particularly formidable.
And that's all I did. He berated himself, I didn't even stop to check on Dawn. After all the time we spent supporting each other. I told her we would see each other again. She cried when I left. She she tears over me, and I couldn't spare one damn day to keep my word to her.
No. At the time, the younger Ash was completely focused on challenging the final Champion. The first thing he did was watch her have a match on television. And he was pleasantly surprised to see that she had been improving as well. So, he spent a particularly long time training to take her on as well.
And it just at age thirteen, he managed to topple his final challenge.
In doing so, he unknowingly cemented himself as a legend. No one gave him the official title, but he had become a Pokemon Master, at least in the eyes of the general public.
She talked with me as well. Ash remembered, And it made me realize a few things.
"So, you finally came this far, huh kid?" Cynthia asked, smiling as she shook his hand.
"You bet, Cynthia." He replied, and added, "I saved the best for last."
"You know," She said, "I always knew you had the right stuff, Ash. But I don't think anyone could have predicted this. Your friends must be really proud of you. Speaking of, where are they?"
It was something he hadn't thought about in a long time. "I...don't know."
"Really?" Cynthia replied, surprised. "I always thought you and that girl with the blue hair were...you know, an item. And that guy you were with...I mean, I thought you were family."
Ash looked down at the ground. "I guess it's been awhile since I've really seen my friends. I've just been training by myself..."
It slowly dawned on Cynthia what he meant. "This whole time...this whole time you started going around to challenge other Champions...it's just been you?"
Ash looked up, confused. "Uh...yeah. I guess so. I just...wanted to get to the top."
Neither said anything for a long time. Then, Cynthia turned her back to him and asked: "...and what did you give up to be here?"
It was a question that at the time, Ash couldn't answer.
Everything. I gave up everything in a mad pursuit of power. Ash knew now.
Before fourteen, Ash had become a legend. He became known.
He became a target.
Now, it seemed every hotshot trainer had it out for him. They all wanted to be the one to defeat the "Pokemon Master" in battle. At first, it was fun, all the battling. Some fame, some attention. But then, Ash realized he was followed every where. He had returned home, finally, to see his mom. She was happy for her son's success, of course...but then, they had people pounding on their door every hour of the day, to challenge the Ash. With them, came reporters and photographers, for it seemed every battle Ash partook in was top-headline news. Both Ash and Delia were uncomfortable with all this attention, and it seemed that there peaceful days in Pallet Town were over.
And then, one night, a deranged trainer snuck into Ash's house when he and his mother were out shopping. He had wrecked the whole place, looking for Ash. When they arrived home, he demanded a battle, all while obsessively wearing some of Ash's old clothes.
What he got was arrested, of course. But damage had been done. His mom was afraid. For awhile, she didn't want to leave the house. And Ash didn't want to do that to her. So, he did the only thing he could. He left.
Seeing how it wasn't far away, he decided to visit Brock in Pewter City. But when he returned to the Pewter Gym, he found out that Brock didn't even live there anymore: he had moved to Saffron, where the PokeMedical school was located.
Ash remembered thinking I guess it's been awhile.
Now, leaning against some rocks on Mount Silver, Ash laughed at his foolishness. What did I expect? Everything to remain the same? They all had lives. I walked out on them.
Next, Ash had ventured to Cerulean City. He realized that it had been quite some time since he had seen Misty, who had been his first traveling companion. Human one, anyways.
He walked through the town, heading inevitably towards the Cerulean Gym. And when he got there, he saw something surprising...Tracey and Misty were standing outside the gym, talking, and holding hands. Feeling somewhat suspicious, he ducked behind a tree to listen.
"So, it's been a month, huh?" Tracey said. "What do you think, am I worth the effort?"
Misty giggled at this. "Tracey, come on, this has been the best month I can remember. You're prime boyfriend material for sure."
They...got together. Huh. Well, that's cool...but for some reason, Ash felt something odd in the pit of his stomach.
"Well...I knew you loved him." Tracey said, looking to the side.
"Shh." Misty replied, placing a finger on his lips. "He left. You didn't. And I've always liked you for that. Let him challenge the champions. I'm happy."
Ash realized that he didn't have any business intruding on this. He still didn't understand love all the way, but he knew more than he used to. He knew was somewhat dense, but he knew it was better if he left.
But he was wrong. Because as he walked away, he missed the rest of the conversation.
"I just hope he's okay. I do miss him." Tracey said.
"I do too. I always will. But it's his life to live...and hopefully he remembers that he has people who care about him." Misty told her boyfriend.
"Hey Pikachu." Ash said suddenly.
"Pi?" Pikachu asked curiously.
"You know...I bet that I could have had any of the girls I traveled with. Misty, May, Dawn, Iris...I think they all had a thing for me at one point. Or am I remembering things funny?" Ash asked.
"Pika, Pikachu pi." Pikachu replied, giving his friend a thumbs up.
Ash laughed, but it was a sad laugh. "I guess I really was dense, huh? I always seemed to have a beautiful girl with me, and I just couldn't see it."
Roughly a little more than a year ago...
Ash decided to leave Kanto again, and see what else had changed. He decided to head back to Unova first. He figured he'd check on Cilan and Iris. They had been his most recent partners and...as much as he hated to admit it, he was hoping they were the ones more likely to remember him.
However, Ash wanted to be discrete. He had made the decision that he would see how his friends new lives were...he didn't want to ruin anything or bring any more chaos into their lives.
He had arrived in Striaton City not long after his trip to Cerulean City.
He walked into the gym in disguise. It wasn't very good...just a long coat, hat, and some sunglasses. But the point was, he know no one would know it was him unless they were looking for him.
Cilan was battling a rookie trainer. Although, it wasn't much of a battle. Pansage had wiped the floor with the poor kid's Oshawott.
Still, Cilan, his usual, eccentric yet knowledgeable self, gave some good advice and encouraging words to the novice, and sent him on his way.
After the match, Ash saw Iris run up to Cilan from the stands and tackle him with a giant hug. They began talking and laughing.
Ash realized that they had found each other after they had left. They didn't need him.
"You think that maybe we brought Cilan and Iris together?" Ash asked to Pikachu. Pikachu just shrugged.
"Yeah, who knows. Maybe I just like to hope that. Hope that maybe running off like I did brought some good to other people." Ash answered his own question.
He took off the next day, and headed over to Hoenn.
Upon arriving, he made his way over to Petalburg town. And it turned out, he had picked a good day. The worn was buzzing over the upcoming gym battle...
Yes, Max was facing his father, Norman. Curious, Ash was sure to take a seat in the gym to watch. Max had really grown up. And he was using Ralts to open up against his father.
Ash couldn't help but note the boy had gotten taller. And while older, he still was much more into tactics than Ash had been at the time.
Ultimately, Max prevailed. As he received the Gym Badge from his father, they embraced in a hug, and the crowd cheered. As the cheering died down, Norman looked at his son and told him: "I'm so proud of you."
A pang of sadness struck Ash, as he realized how much he missed his mother, and how much he wished he had known his father.
But he looked up into the opposing stands, and he almost had to do a double-take.
May was there. She's really grown up, huh... Ash couldn't help but think, noticing how she'd grown. She was positively beaming at the display.
And so was Drew, who sat next to her, holding her hand.
I guess I should've seen that coming...Ash thought. He felt the same, sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach though. The same one he saw when he saw Misty and Tracey.
"You think, if I had made more of an effort, I could've gotten to May? Or you think she would have went with Drew all along?" Ash asked Pikachu, who was now playing in the snow in front of Ash.
Pikachu tilted its head to the side and asked, "Chu?" This wasn't the sort of thing Ash normally talked about. But today was different, after all. It was his birthday. And for the past couple of years, his birthdays hadn't exactly been great.
"Just thinking about things. Maybe I'm growing up...thinking about girls and all. Just so long as I don't wind up like Brock, right?" He said, grinning, but his voice dripped with sadness. "It's more than that though...I'm just remembering everyone...not just the girls."
"Pika..." Sensing the sadness, Pikachu hopped onto Ash's shoulders and patted his head in an effort to comfort him.
Like Kanto and Unova before them, Ash left Hoenn. He felt he had nothing to add to the lives of his former friends.
Following a lead, he arrived in Sunnyshore City in Sinnoh, to attend the Grand Festival. He had heard from some television commercial that Dawn would be competing. It had certainly saved him the effort of snooping around.
It was the day before the Grand Festival, and also a day before his fourteenth birthday. He had checked into a Pokemon Center in disguise. He wanted to see how Dawn had improved since he left.
As he walked away from the counter, a young couple stormed into the center angrily, causing a bit of a scene.
Trying to be discreet still, Ash tried to sink into his coat a little more, and pulled his fedora down. But once he saw who it was, he had to watch the scene.
"PAUL, HOW COULD YOU?" The girl yelled, stomping angrily away from her companion.
Dawn...Ash realized. She, like May, had grown up quite well. Still wearing the same dress, skirt, and boots, Ash couldn't help but note, wow, how didn't I notice those legs before? Puberty...gah...
Those thoughts were quickly derailed as he realized why Dawn was fighting with Paul, his former rival.
Paul reached out and grabbed Dawn's arm. "You're making a scene." He told her, in a calm, yet cold tone. "Knock it off."
Dawn pulled her arm away. "So what? You weren't being very secretive about flirting with those girls at the PokeMart. They wrote their phone numbers on your arm, for crying out loud!"
"Look. Just get us a room and we can talk about it in there. You're acting like a psycho." He whispered, voice quivering. He stormed off without another word.
Dawn walked toward the counter, shaking. Despite her anger, Ash could tell she was on the verge of tears...after all, he had seen her in states like this before.
Ash was careful that she didn't see him as she registered a room. As she approached him to go down the hall, he turned his back to her and pretended to be absorbed in a newspaper. Unfortunately, she bumped into him, and Ash heard something clang against the ground. Looking down, he saw that her Pok'etch had been fallen off her wrist after the impact.
Ash paused. He didn't want to risk being caught...but...he felt compelled to help her.
Damn it...he cursed himself.
"Miss?" He said, trying to make his voice sound deeper than it really was. He quickly bent down and grabbed the small device, "Miss, I think you dropped this."
She paused and realized she was being spoken to. Turning around, she hesitantly approached the stranger, which made Ash momentarily feel crushed - until he remembered he had purposely dressed rather creepily. I must look like some kind of Team Rocket Grunt or something.
"Um...thanks. Sorry for uh...causing a scene." She said to the man before turning.
Don't say anything Ash. Just don't. He warned himself.
"He should treat you better." He blurted out, still with a fake, deep voice. "You don't deserve that."
Way to go, blockhead.
Dawn paused, but didn't turn around. She just looked over her shoulder. "...thank you."
Thankful that his cover wasn't blown, he retired for the evening.
The next day, he watched Dawn win the Grand Festival. She had gotten so much better in their time apart. He couldn't help but admire the now beautiful girl performing at such a high level.
After being presented with her prize, Paul ran out and they hugged in the middle of the arena, like nothing had happened. Ash once again felt an unpleasant feeling in his stomach at the sight, magnified by the utterly crappy display he had witnessed just the day before. It was the worst birthday he'd ever had.
"I can't believe Paul managed to snag Dawn. And he still treated her like garbage!" Ash grunted to Pikachu.
Pikachu sweatdropped. "Chu!" He said in agreement.
"Well, they say girls dig bad boys, right? That's probably what happened. I just hope he's treating her well now..." Ash lamented.
Ash stared at the view for a long time. Pikachu watched his trainer, growing somewhat worried.
ONE YEAR AGO
The day after his fourteenth birthday, Ash left Sinnoh once again. Something about seeing Dawn go right back to Paul just made him feel sick inside.
I don't really belong anywhere anymore, do I? He remembered thinking.
With nowhere left to go, he returned to Kanto once more. It just seemed like the right place to go…it was home, after all. But when he landed in Pallet Town, he and Pikachu made their way over to Professor Oak's lab, Ash not wanting to cause his mother any more grief. Unfortunately, he had been recognized by someone in town, which caused a wildfire of rumors.
Looks like I'm on a time limit... Ash realized.
He quickly stopped in and confided in Professor Oak that he didn't feel he really belonged, and he ultimately wanted to be left alone for awhile. The professor was worried, but after a quick discussion, it was clear the he wasn't going to be able to change Ash's mind. So, he allowed Ash to rotate his Pokemon around, and told Ash that he could go to Mount Silver for solitude.
Ash and his team left immediately afterwards, and ducked out of town before the media was able to make it out there, along with any trainers who wanted to take down the legend.
At first, Ash wasn't sure if we could do it. The mountain itself was cold, full of wild, vicious Pokemon. He spent a month building a small cabin at the base of the mountain. And every day, he tried to go just a little bit further up the mountain and in to the caves, before ultimately retiring for the day.
But as time went by, his body adjusted to the cold climate, the falling snow, and he developed strategies for each of the Pokemon native to Mount Silver. Three months after making his new home, he had managed to get to the top of Mount Silver, where Ash finally began to find a little bit of peace for himself.
He loved the view at the mountain top. Looking down on Kanto and Johto, Ash finally felt like he had escaped the vicious media and the obsessed challengers. And for a time, he was content.
But he was never happy. He and his Pokemon were true companions, and they were all friends, but it didn't stop the pain. The pain in Ash's heart from losing his friends. So he spent the rest of that year, training, and trying to forget the sacrifices he made, and trying ignore having to decide if they were really worth it. Because he knew he wouldn't like that answer.
Ash liked it up here on Mount Silver. They could train, which they often did, but mostly because it was peaceful. They could be undisturbed here.
After a good twenty minutes of being lost in thought, Ash turned to Pikachu with sorrow in his eyes, and asked something that took the Pokemon completely by surprise:
"I made a mistake...didn't I?"
Pikachu just frowned at the young man, unsure of how to answer. So Ash just continued on:
"All these years, I shut everyone out. I pushed myself...you...all of the others as hard as I could...to be a Master. And for what? I finally did everything I ever set out to do...and what has it gotten me? I gave up all my friends, and what do I have to show for it? So I can come here every day, to the top of a stupid ARCEUS-DAMN MOUNTAIN, to try and hide from all these people, who hunt me down like I'm sort of prize." He yelled, tears lightly falling down his face.
Pikachu looked down sadly. As much as he wanted to console Ash, he couldn't.
Because Ash was right.
Ash sat down in the snow and cried. Cried for everyone whose lives he walked out on in his foolish youth. He cried because it just seemed like it was too late to go back. He cried because at that moment, he sincerely believed he had ruined his life.
After half an hour, something broke Ash's crying. He heard what sounded like a Pokemon climbing.
No. Not here. Not now. This is where I come to be alone. He thought, anger seeping up in him.
He turned around to see a younger trainer had climbed up the mountain on the back of a Primeape.
The boy reminded Ash of himself when he was younger. A pokeball baseball hat...backpack...same sense of overconfidence.
Ash already knew what the kid wanted, but decided to play dumb. "Come for the view?"
The kid would have none of it. "Don't give me that. I'm challenging you for the title of Pokemon Master."
As he said this - somehow - a crew of television anchors ascended the mountain behind him.
"Kid...no one ever gave me that title. That's not something I can really give out. People like you gave me that title yourselves. You bring the press with you?" Ash asked, emotionless.
It was true, of course. Pokemon Master is just what everyone thought of him as. But if everyone believed it, were they wrong? I've never been the philosophical type. Ash negotiated to himself.
"Er...no. They heard me tell Lance I wanted to find you. I traveled all across Kanto and Johto, beating all the gyms, and I even beat the Elite Four!" The young trainer boasted.
"Good work, I commend the effort." Ash said, sincerely. "So, I take it you beat Lance, and he told you where to find me?"
He tried to ignore the fact that all the major news outlets were filming his secret hiding location, but it just made him more enraged. So much for any sort of effing solitude...
"That's right! And now, I'm going to show you why I am worthy of the title Pokemon Master!" The young trainer said, grabbing a Pokeball from his belt.
Ash stood still. "...what's your name?"
"Gold. They call me Gold." The boy replied.
What a dumb name.
"Did anyone come with you on this trip?" Ash asked, shaking with emotion.
Gold looked confused. "Well...just this girl and my younger brother...but I left them behind to challenge you."
Ash stared the kid in the eyes for a long time, making Gold, as well as the media reporters uncomfortable.
"Then Gold,you're already making the same mistakes I did."
Gold didn't understand, and just got angry. "SHUT UP! I'll show you who's the real Pokemon Master.
Huh. Just like I did...Ash thought. But at that moment, he didn't care.
To Ash, this boy represented all the idiotic choices he made in the last four years. All the dumb, hardheaded drive to ignore his friends in the pursuit of strength. To have a meaningless title. And some punk kid was doing the same thing.
Ash gritted his teeth, letting the rage consume him. He glanced down at Pikachu, who understood immediately, that it was time to battle.
Pikachu took a fighting stance.
"Fine, boy," Ash snarled, "Show me."
But unfortunately, while Ash had grown up quite a bit in the last five years, he was still an adolescent. And he was still somewhat of a fool.
It had never crossed his mind that his friends heard the legends to. It never crossed his mind that all of his traveling companions followed his story as he traveled from region to region, defeating champions and building a legacy for himself. It never crossed his minds that they all hoped he was doing okay, were proud of him, and would have loved to see them. No, he missed Misty and Tracey's conversation relaying their worries for him.
He also missed Brock graduating from PokeMedical school at the top of his class, and thanking Ash in his speech for being an inspiration. No, Ash didn't realize that despite his many siblings, Brock always thought of Ash as a younger , Ash was meant to be invited, but no one could find him.
He hadn't seen May tell Max that Ash would have been proud of him for becoming a trainer, and both of them express how much they would love to see him again. No, he didn't see May pull out her half of the ribbon they shared after the battle. No, Ash had left the gym as to not be spotted.
And he hadn't overheard Dawn and Paul's fight that night in the Pokemon Center, where Dawn explicitly told Paul that he was only half the man Ash had been. No, he hadn't heard that eventually, their whole fight boiled down to Paul hating that Dawn still missed Ash. And when he left the contest, he didn't hear them break up backstage after Dawn had let slip she wished Ash had been there to see her. Apparently, it was the last straw for Paul. He had left before any of that happened.
He never stopped to think that, despite how scared his mom was after the break in, she cried all the time, worrying for her son. He never stopped to think that maybe she even felt safer having the fabled "Pokemon Master" with her.
And he hadn't considered the fact that all of them watched his matches. Every single time he was challenged, there was a good chance it was being televised by someone. And all of them watched, hoping to catch a glimpse of the friend that had affected their lives so much.
No, while his heart was always in the right place, Ash had been a fool for the past year, thinking that they were better off without him.
And even now, as he battled Gold atop Mount Silver, he hadn't considered that they could be watching him at that very moment.
But they were. And all of them were worried and afraid as they saw Ash's unfathomable anger while he battled. It wasn't the Ash they were used to seeing battle. Misty, Brock, May, Max, Tracey, Dawn, Professor Oak, and his mother all watched the battle from separate locations, but all of them wanted nothing more than to reach out and find out what had changed inside of Ash Ketchum. And he never had any idea.
It was, by all intents and purposes, one of the most intense Pokemon battles anyone had ever seen. Foolish or not, Ash soon saw that Gold was no slouch at being a Pokemon Trainer.
Still, Ash wasn't called the Pokemon Master for nothing. After an hour of back and forth action, Ash used Sceptile to knock out Gold's Alakazam, just barely winning the battle from the younger boy.
Gold was absolutely shocked at his loss. He ran over to Alakazam to check on him.
"You did good buddy…return." Gold said, returning the Psychic Type to its Pokeball.
At the display, Ash realized that the kid was like him in other ways too. Throughout the whole battle, Gold had displayed concern for his Pokemon. It was clear he cared for them as much as Ash cared for his. Ash likewise walked over to Sceptile and gave it a thankful pat on the head before it returned to its capsule. Then he walked over to Gold and extended his hand.
"That was one of the best battles I've had in a long time." Ash said earnestly.
"Uh…thanks…" Gold said, shaking Ash's hand, but not meeting his eyes.
"What are you going to do now, k…I mean, Gold?" Ash asked.
Gold looked up with a fiery determination. "I don't know. But I'm going to beat you someday. I'll keep training."
Ash grabbed the boy's shoulders and glared directly into his eyes. "You know what? It's good to have goals. I had that goal too. I wanted to be the best. I wanted to reach the top. And I did. But guess what? I was stupid about it. I'm on top of this stupid mountain every day, because I walked out on everyone who cared about me. You want to be the best? Go for it, Gold. It's always good to reach for the stars. But don't make the same mistakes I did. Go back and see your family. Go see your brother. If you liked that girl you were traveling with, go tell her. Do that, and kid…" Ash paused and turned away, "…you'll already be better than me."
Gold was thoroughly confused, but stood on the mountaintop with Ash for a little longer. He seemed to be taking in what Ash had said. Gold looked around to see the last of the reporters leaving, having gotten what they came for.
He called after the older trainer: "You know, I bet you could go back and tell the girl you traveled with too. Who would turn down the Pokemon Master?"
Ash didn't answer. Just stared at the horizon.
"Did you travel with anyone when you were younger?" Gold asked, curiously.
Ash just laughed. "I've traveled with a lot of people, Gold. You know the first time I challenged the Unova champion, I lost? It broke me. I ditched everyone and worked to become what I am now. Some Master I am…"
Pikachu hopped onto his shoulder and nuzzled against it's trainer, trying to cheer him up. Ash smiled sadly and pat his friend.
"You know…if you told them what you told me, I bet they would forgive you." Gold called out to him once more.
Ash still didn't say anything. The words made him feel weird. Hopeless kids talk…right? He wondered.
Gold wordlessly revived his Pidgeot with an item, and hopped onto it's back to head back home. But before commanding the bird to take off, he yelled out to Ash once more. "Hey…thanks Ash."
Ash turned around and watched Gold fly off on his Pidgeot.
Wishful thinking. Ash thought bitterly.
He looked over the side of the mountain and sighed. Maybe what Gold said had gotten to him. Maybe he was just tired. Maybe the fact that it was his birthday made him nostalgic.
"Hey Pikachu…" He said to the electric mouse on his shoulder, "what do you say we go visit mom?"
"Pika! Pika pi!" Pikachu replied ecstatically. It had been hoping Ash would give himself a break at some point.
Ash had reached the base of Mount Silver and noticed it was getting dark. "Hey, let's call this off until tomorrow, eh Pikachu? It's getting late. Let's go back to the cabin."
Pikachu yawned and agreed.
As Ash laid in bed, he remembered everyone he traveled with, and felt a terrible loneliness. I dug myself in deep huh? I guess when you're at the top of food chain, you have to go it alone.
After the match concluded, a few television cameras had caught Ash's conversation with Gold. Only one of them felt the need to air that though...after all, the ratings were in the battles. Semantics were nice, but the television producers knew most people were only going to tune on for the action.
Luckily, one of Ash's friends had been watching the one channel that showed the aftermath.
The feed cut off after Ash told Gold not to make the same mistakes he had.
The young woman watched the display and sniffed. "Ash...all this time, and you don't understand."
The girl gritted her teeth. "No. It's been long enough. I won't let you torture yourself anymore. I'll find you and knock the sense into you if I have to."
The battle must have taken a lot out of him, because he slept until the middle of the afternoon. Yawning and stretching, Ash gently nudged Pikachu awake.
"Hey buddy. You still want to visit mom?" Ash asked.
"Pika! Chu!" Pikachu said excitedly, somewhat tired.
After a quick breakfast, Ash got dressed and packed his backpack. He locked up his cabin, not knowing when he'd be back.
The hike back to Pallet Town was uneventful, which was something Ash needed. The peace and quiet was something he relished after being hunted down for battles for such a long time.
His stomach rumbled loudly as he approached Pallet Town. Pikachu, from atop his shoulder, sweatdropped while looking at him.
"Heh...yeah, I guess that's one thing what won't change about me."
As he approached his house, he heard what sounded like crying. Mom?
He ran up to his house and peaked in to the window. He saw his mom crying...
And Dawn was there, talking to her. She was crying too, albeit more gently. Still, Ash could recognize the years on her face.
He pressed ear against the wall to listen in...and Pikachu, atop his head, did the same thing.
"I know, Mrs. Ketchum...I saw the battle too." Dawn said.
"M-my son...he's so angry now...what happened to him?" Delia said, wiping her eyes with a tissue.
There was a pause. Finally, Dawn answered. "He said something after the battle...I don't know if they aired that part here...he told that Gold kid that he made a mistake by walking out on everyone..."
"Then why wouldn't he just come home? Dawn, you aren't the first one to come here asking for him. Brock calls at least once a month...Misty and Tracey came by to visit just the other week, and dropped off a birthday present for him...May and Max have been sending letters all the time. I've saved them, of course...and the letters from you. I've had calls from Unova too." Delia said, choking back tears.
"I...I'm sorry Mrs. Ketchum...I didn't know. I just...he sounded so sad when he said it. I wanted to find him...I didn't mean to make this harder for you." Dawn replied, guiltily.
"I know you didn't, dear." Delia said, trying to smile reassuringly. "I just wish he realized we still miss him."
He couldn't take it any more. He reached under the doormat and grabbed the spare key to the house, and let himself in.
At the sound of the door, Dawn and Delia both jumped. Of course, as they saw the young man enter, they gasped in disbelief.
Ash couldn't bring himself to look at them, as shame coursed through his veins. So he stared at the ground.
"...I missed you too...mom." Ash said, not looking up from his feet. "I uh..."
Ash shifted his position, before looking up at his mother and his blue-haired friend. "I thought you would all be better without me."
Delia sobbed...but it was different. This was both happy and sad, the emotions mixing violently within: happiness at seeing her son's face, but sadness at what she just heard come out of his mouth. She jumped from the couch and embraced her son, as well as Pikachu.
"Ash...I missed you so much." She cried into her son's shoulder.
Ash slowly returned the hug. "I missed you too, Mom."
They both looked up as Dawn ran out the door past them.
Ash broke the hug and stared after her.
"Ash." His mother said suddenly, making him jump.
He turned to look at his mother. She pointed after the girl. "Go after her."
Ash looked conflicted. "But-"
Delia just shook her head. "I've waited this long to see you, I can wait a little more. Go."
Ash didn't need to be told again. He ran after Dawn, Pikachu at his heels.
Luckily, he caught sight of her long, blue hair on the road ahead, and gave chase.
"DAWN!" He yelled out, but the girl just ran faster.
As she passed the outskirts of town, he saw her dart between some trees - and heard a subsequent crash indicating that she tripped.
Thank Arceus...Ash thought. Now I can catch up to her. Hope she's okay.
Ash shifted though some bushes, and saw Dawn was in a small clearing, sitting up against a tree. Her tears glistened in the setting sun.
"Dawn..." He began, but he didn't know what to say. He found himself staring at his feet again.
She stared at him for a long time, shaking with emotion. Finally, Ash looked up and met her gaze, crying slightly himself. "I'm so sorry." Was all he was able to say.
Dawn said nothing, but got up, stormed over to him, and slapped him across the face. Hard. The sound woke some sleeping Pidgey in the nearby tree, and they flew off in surprise.
Ash slowly turned back and rubbed his cheek. "I deserved that."
At this response, Dawn began to sob, and buried her face against his chest. She wrapped her arms around his back as well.
Unsure of how to respond, Ash awkwardly returned her embrace and rubbed her back in an attempt to comfort her. After she managed to calm down slightly, she looked up into his eyes, not pulling away.
"Do you have any idea how worried we've all been?" She said, quivering.
"I...I didn't know." He said, honestly. "I had overheard Brock had moved, so I did some research in to everyone's lives. Misty and Tracey seem to be so happy now...I didn't want to screw it up."
Dawn looked at him confused. So Ash confessed.
"I went to visit her at one point but...I overheard them talking. So I decided to see if everyone's lives were better. I...I went to Hoenn in disguise. I watched Max defeat his father, and May was there watching him with her boyfriend...and they all seemed so happy. And I thought they were better off now that I was gone..."
Ash took a deep breath and continued.
"I saw you win the Grand Festival last year, Dawn. I saw Paul with you afterwards. And I know how Paul hated me...I figured it was better off if I left you alone. I just felt like everyone really was better with me gone." He said, sadly.
Dawn laughed grimly. "Ash...you were the guy in the Pokemon Center, weren't you?"
Ash stared at her incredulously. "You knew?" He couldn't disguise the shock in his voice.
Dawn shook her head, tears still lightly pouring out of her blue eyes. "No...I just wanted it to be. I missed you so much. And it drove Paul crazy. Ash, I broke up with him after the Contest. He hated that I missed you. He had so many jealousy problems...and he wasn't exactly faithful. And that guy in the Center told me I deserved better, I just realized I couldn't stand being with him. I just always had hoped that it was you...that you somehow secretly saved me...just like you always did."
Ash blushed, for the first time in years. "I...guess I did, then."
Dawn squeezed him tighter.
Ash felt a different feeling in his stomach. It was familiar. One he vaguely remembered having, all those years ago...
After a long time, Dawn whispered. "Ash?"
"What's up?" He responded.
"...please don't leave again. I've wanted this for a long time. We all have. Please, come with me to see everyone. And just..." She paused, searching for the right words, "...just don't leave me again."
Ash replied by squeezing her tightly. "I won't."
Now, like I said, this was not meant to be heavy Pearlshipping. I chose Dawn for the ending, not for personal preferences, but for the following reasons:
Out of all the girls Ash traveled with, Dawn was the straight up "nice girl," and seemed more motivated by emotions. After all, Mesprit chose her, right?
Second, throughout Diamond and Pearl, Dawn went out of her way for Ash on a lot of occasions (cheering for him, throwing shows for him to cheer him up), so it made sense to me to have her actually seek him out when she believed he was in trouble.
Third, pay attention to the ships discussed here. Each Ash-ship was corresponded by one of it's biggest rival ships, and Ash reacted in a way I figured realistic to each, even if he did have feelings for the girl.
Pokeshipping to Orange - Ash knows Tracey is a good guy, and even if it hurt, would ultimately be happy for his friends, because he's a good guy. Yes, it's strongly implied Misty has feelings for Ash, but after five years, people do move on.
Advance to Contest - Through the Advance Generation, most other contest participants (even Jessie, oddly enough) were aware of Drew's feelings for May. I honestly believe either ship would be possible going by the massive hints for each, but as Ash mentions in the story, if he disappears and Drew actually puts the time in, May would seemingly be won over eventually.
Negai - Wishful - Essentially, same as Poke to Orange.
Pearl - Ikari - To me, this seemed like the best candidate to break up. Paul, while improving slightly at the end of D&P, was still the most "douchebaggy" of Ash's rivals, and not much changed. Not to mention, he got away with most of his mistreatment of others (Pokemon and people alike). The thing about Ikari (to me), is that it does run on "girls dig bad boys," which does hold some truth to it for adolescents. But considering how much Ash meant to Dawn, and Paul's...issues, it seemed plausible that if they were together, the clash of personalities would drive them apart. Besides, jealousy is pretty common in teens.
And the sinking feeling I describe when he sees each couple? You can open that up to your own interpretations. It could be jealousy, it could be loneliness.
Moreover, this was meant to be a deconstruction of the goal of being a master, and what would happen if Ash were to go too far in that goal.
Anyways, I hope you all enjoyed this. Go hug someone you love.