The Researcher's Apprentice

By Spiral Breeze

Chapter One

Ash Ketchum's return to Pallet Town after obtaining his Master title was anything but what he expected. For one thing, his mother was not home, his usual cheering squad was no where to be seen and upon arriving at Professor Oak's Lab, he met up with an entirely different Oak.

"Gary! What're you doing here?" The young man asked with a hint of annoyance as he reached the landing. Where's everyone else? Pikachu meanwhile, had scurried down to the kitchen, most likely in search of ketchup. "Where's Professor Oak?"

"First of all, I am Professor Oak. Second, if you called your mother every now and again, you'd know."

"What's my mom have- oh."

Gary raised an eyebrow and finally stood from his microscope and stretched his back, replacing the glasses on his nose.

"Exactly."

"So you're a Professor now?" Ash asked with genuine curiosity as he sat on the thread bare couch.

"And you're a Pokémon Master now." It wasn't a question.

The ebony haired young man nodded and crossed his right leg over his left knee.

"I thought my mom would at least be here... you know to celebrate." He looked around, everything seemed less tidy than he was used to. "Where's Tracey?"

"He's been at the Cerulean Gym for the past couple of weeks helping Misty and her sisters out. That's something I would have assumed you'd have known as well." Gary took the seat next to him. "We've both reached our childhood goals, and there isn't a soul in the world to celebrate with other than our childhood rivals."

"Gary, that whole rivalry thing... we were kids."

"Indeed." He stood and opened a mini fridge under a lab table. "Catch." He said as he threw Ash a beer. He came back to the couch and sat unceremoniously, holding his own can in a toast. "To new beginnings, old rivalries, and-" He took a quick sip. "Really cheap beer that grampa keeps buying."

"Cheers." Ash laughed, and he drank deeply from the ice cold can. "So... Professor Gary Oak."

"Hmm." The professor murmured over his can. "Doctor is fine too... I mean technically it's doctor, cause I don't teach."

"Man, doctor huh?"

"Yeah... a lot of school, a lot of homework, a dissertation, and countless hours of field work."

"Wow, that's... a lot." The Pokémon Master whistled not really knowing what else to say. "I feel like I haven't done anything compared to you."

"Hey, don't say that. You've wanted to be a Master since you knew what one was." He placed a hand on his friend's shoulder in comfort. "Listen Ash, you're probably just upset cause your mom's not here. You're used to this huge fanfare every time you come home, this time you achieved your life goal, and well, it's just me."

"So what're you working on now?" Ash decided that the best course of action would be to change the subject.

"Nothing really... just some DNA samples from a few Eggs."

"Oh..."

"Just oh?"

"Well, I mean, none of my Pokémon have made an Egg have they?"

"Uh..." Gary was hesitant.

"Gary?" He asked while scanning his face for the answer.

"Ash, it's-"

"Which Pokémon had the Egg?" He asked more sternly.

"Congratulations Master Ketchum, you're a daddy to-"

"Which Pokémon Gary?" Ash was practically on top of him, looming over his face with his beer can in hand. He didn't know why this was making him so angry, maybe it was also the fact that Gary was teasing him about it.

"Calm down Ash, and you shouldn't be worried about who, rather, how many."

"What do you mean how many!" He roared, and this time he did manage to jump on top of Gary, pinning him down on the couch, both their cans spilling to the floor. "Answer me Gary!"

"Alright, ok, fine! Just, just... let me breath! Get off of me!" He managed to yelp, despite the elbow that pushed down on his sternum. Ash sat up, letting Gary move from beneath him into a sitting position. "Damn it Ash! You're not a kid anymore."

"I'm not going to apologize, so just spit it out, I think I'll be fine just as long as it's not Tauros."

"Arceus almighty, help me."

"No." Ash's eyes widened. "How many?"

"Fifty, in total."

"Ugh..." The Pokémon Master moaned in defeat, sinking low into the couch. He covered his face with a throw pillow. "Why me, why always me?"

"Look, Ash, it's not that bad... we can release some, and maybe send others-"

"Who would want a Tauros?" A muffled whine came from behind the pillow.

"Apparently you wanted thirty of them."

"Yeah but now with all these Unova region Pokémon coming into Kanto-"

"Then we'll send them to Unova."

"Oh."

"Yeah, oh." Gary stood and shook his head. "You know Ash, I know it was cheap and disgusting and all, but you could have let me finish it." He explained as he kicked both cans lightly with his foot. "The sad thing is, Mr. Mime isn't around to clean this up."

"When is everyone coming back?"

"Not for another two weeks at least. Gramps and your mom are on a regional research cruise, I wanted to go too, but it was for the 45 set and older." He placed the cans in a nearby dust bin, and took off his own lab coat to dry the mess on the floor. "It needs to be thrown in the wash anyway." He explained when Ash gave him a funny look. "I have a sneaking suspicion that the cruise isn't for research."

"Ugh... could ya stop talkin' bout my mom-"

"How do you think I feel, she's with my grampa!"

Ash threw his head back into the couch in defeat.

"Ya know... I don't even know what I'm doing now... I was given the option of living there at the Indigo Plateau, but I came home instead... I didn't think about what I was gonna do after becoming a Pokémon Master." He sighed and removed the pillow from his face, hugging it to his chest. "Now I'm home, mom's not here... what the hell was the point... I should have just stayed there."

"Ash... you sound depressed, like you have PPLB."

"What's that?"

"Post Pokémon League Blues."

"Wait... wha- Gary!" He kicked the researcher in the shin, then ducked when he lunged at him. "Hey watch it! This is a new hat!"

Gary stopped and rolled his eyes, then sat down again on the couch, grabbing the pillow from Ash and placing it behind his head.

"Listen, if you wanna stay I could use some help around here. We can also send all those Tauros on their merry old way." He said seriously, gauging Ash's reaction.

The Pokémon Master exhaled in a loud huff, and looked at his childhood rival for a long time. He considered all his options, which of course were only two, unless he wanted to travel around the world on foot again. No thank you, I'd like a nice warm bed!

"I think right now, the best thing for me to do is take a nice long break, and stay put right here in Pallet."

"Ah."

"But... those Tauros need a home, and I'm not doing much else, so whatever you need help with I'll be glad to do."

"Well uh... all those Tauros sure do make an awful-"

"No."

"I'm just kidding!" He managed to avoid a near hit. "Anyway, your mom has Mimey come with a bucket once a week, for her rose bushes."

"Eww, Poké poo."

"She's won competitions with those roses. She's actually really competitive, now I know where you get it from."

"Uh..." Ash didn't really know how to respond to that.

"Anyway-" Gary glanced at his silver wrist watch. "No wonder I'm so hungry, it's almost six, I've usually eaten dinner by now. You hungry Ash, there's this great little sushi place that just opened up in Viridian, wanna go?"

"Sure, I never turn down food!" He stood and walked toward the door. "Pi-"

"Leave him here, no offense, but, I like my dinners to be Pokémon free, you can bring him back a doggy bag."

"Uh..."

"Come on."

The two former rivals made their way outside the lab. Ash tried to hop on his bike, but Gary stopped him and pressed the remote start on his convertible. The pink Cadillac revved to life, and once they got in, it was only a short drive to Viridian City. Gary found a parking spot relatively fast, but when they arrived at the restaurant there was actually a line waiting outside to get it.

"Uh... I told you they're great."

"A little too great." Ash's stomach made a loud grumbling noise, and they both laughed. "Ugh... I'm really hun-"

"Is that? Yes it is! Master Ketchum!" The hostess at the door sprinted from her spot behind her podium in order to greet the Pokémon Master.

"Uh... can I help you Miss?" He asked awkwardly.

"It's a pleasure to meet you Master Ketchum! Please, follow me this way, you don't need to wait in line."

Gary gave him a strange look, that Ash was sure meant he was mocking him. They followed behind the woman and were seated right at the bar. The manager soon came over and told them everything was on the house, and that they couldn't be happier that Kanto's own Pokémon Master chose to dine at their fine establishment that night. Once again Gary raised an eyebrow to Ash, who shrugged, and he waited until the hostess and manager were out of ear shot to speak.

"Has this been happening alot Master Ketchum?"

Ash's face turned a bright scarlet.

"It's happened a few times, ok? It's really embarrassing actually." The young man explained with a whisper as he scanned the menu. "They made a really big fuss about it on the plane back from Unova... I had to sign all these autographs, this one lady even wanted me to kiss her baby."

"Poor Ash, kissing a baby, that must be-"

"Excuse me, Master Ketchum, the name's Mike, um, do you think me and the wife can get a picture?"

Ash sighed, and turned around, Gary gave him a smirk and he hopped off his bar stool.

"Here, let me." The Professor said as he grabbed the camera. "Come on Master, give a nice big smile for the camera!"

With the picture taken, Ash and Gary sat back on their stools, and Ash issued yet another kick to Gary's shin.

"Ow! What the hell was that for?" He hissed.

"It's not funny-"

"No shit it's not funny, that hurt."

"I don't mean that, I mean, the fans. It makes me realize that I must have been one annoying kid when I was little, bothering all those champions, and Elite Four members."

"You're still annoy-"

"Gary, I'm being serious, just... let's just order ok?"

The young Professor Oak adjusted himself in his seat, and flipped open his menu.

"Sorry, I just... I guess I thought it was funny. I thought you wanted that stuff back when we were kids."

"It's fine." And Ash left it at that.

The rest of dinner was a silent affair, no less then ten people asked for photographs and autographs, Ash smiled halfheartedly through it all and Gary snapped the pictures for his adoring fans. By the end of the night, both young men were exhausted, and decided that next time they'd take their food to go (it really was excellent sushi). Gary pulled the pink convertible up to Ash's house and bade him good night.

"What time d'you wanna come by tomorrow?"

"Um... actually... could I uh..."

"What?"

"Sleep at the lab tonight?"

"Why?"

Ash blew out a long stream of air.

"I'm not used to sleeping in a house by myself."

"Huh?" It took him a minute to fully grasp what Ash was trying to say. "Oh... Brock, and Misty, Tracey... all of them huh?"

"Yeah... I've never been alone."

"Fine by me. You can have... never mind. You don't want grampa's room."

"Yeah, no."

"Tracey's?"

"I'll just take the couch... I'm used to sleeping on the floor remember?"

"Alright."

They drove back up the hill to Professor Oak's lab. Gary parked the car right in front and they entered the large building for a much needed good night's rest. Ash found Pikachu already asleep on the couch, curled up peacefully, his tail wrapped around his body. The young man made himself comfortable next to his best partner and settled down for the night. It was a few moments later, that Gary found him sound asleep on the beaten up old couch, and covered him with a soft Mareep wool blanket.

"Thanks mom." Ash mumbled in his sleep as he turned and cuddled into the blanket.

The Professor couldn't help but to quietly chuckle to himself as he made his way to his bedroom and his own bed.

To Be Continued...