The child was sleeping, that had to be sure.
He was stuck in yet another day of hard, grueling work, making sure there would be no screw-ups that would surely happen if he decided to take a personal day. Of course there were no boundaries separating him from having one. As he was the leader, he could have pretty much anything a man could ask for in this world. A personal date, a tall foreign beverage, a private jet with laser beams attached to its head...and all his underlings would do is say yes and give him a bloody pilot's hat. They were always quick to please him, even quicker to please his wife and child.
Of course they had not been around Headquarters in so long, the boy probably had forgotten all the names of all those who served him. Family visits always dragged on nasty fights between him and his wife. She almost managed to get away with locking him out of the house the last time, if it wasn't for his spare key. There was a heavy disapproval of what he was really doing with his leadership abilities. She was still under the illusion that he could simply quit what he was doing and live a 'normal' life in a 'normal' setting, away from the city life and the traffic and the convenience stores. And for some time he had relented, decided to buy a house practically in the middle of nowhere, at the very least for their child's sake.
But if anything that decision only made everything worse. His wife was frantic now, always ill with worry or screaming at him to come home earlier, come home at all, make a simple phone call...he wanted to take her back to the city very badly to make them all feel better. And the child was only four, too small to understand much of anything. Whenever his time allotted him to come home, he would often find the child snuggled up in his mother's arms on the couch or in his bedroom. To be honest he wasn't sure if the child remembered him, either.
The last time they had spent time together was at breakfast time three days ago. The child was occupied in drawing a picture with one of his friends, hands smeared with crayon and fingerpaint. He was hunched over the picture, eyes constantly shifting as to make sure no one besides himself and his friend could see. He never made much of his child's mysteriousness. That boy was always wrapped up in some secret project, never the brightest ideas but certainly the most exciting. But it was his wife's words which once again unnerved him. She was sitting in her usual spot on the stool, a hand on her cheek, so frail and saddened, looking at him with the usual indifference. They no longer sat side by side, so he stared back at her under his newspaper when she spoke, much to his surprise. "Gary said there's a Father's Day picnic this Sunday," she said. "He wanted to know if he could take Ash along with him and the Professor, but I said we should see if you'd rather take him."
Father's Day. Yes, that day was coming up sooner than expected. The child's friend looked at him expectantly while the child continued to doodle. He had to chuckle at this. It wasn't unusual that the child's friend would be more excited than him, not anymore. He had to take a sip at his coffee and chuckle again. "No, no, that's okay. I'm afraid I have a few important business deals that day. Besides, Ash will probably have a lot more fun with the Professor than me. Right, Ash?"
"Uh-huh," the child replied with not so much as a glance toward any of them.
This set her off, just another one of her melodramatic motions. She never understood any of his decisions anymore. "You can't even take the day off for him ? All he wants is to spend a little time with you, and you can't even give him that!"
He pursed his lips. "You're being unfair. If he wants to spend a little time with me, I can easily bring him to work."
And this set her off further, until she decided to go upstairs and lock herself away yet again. The little friend called Gary merely looked in their direction with wide eyes, while Ash merely continued with his secret masterpiece. He didn't think much of it. They spent plenty of time together, and Father's Day was only a convenient day of buying things as part of the commercial scheme made by stores. The child wasn't worried about going to a picnic with another family, and neither was he, so his wife shouldn't have thought too deeply into it. After all, she was often the more easygoing of the two.
And so he kept these assuring thoughts in his head as he continued to work. His reasoning of things usually turned out to be some way of right. The child would surely be sleeping by now, since the time was already past his bedtime. He probably had a grand time at the picnic with his friend and that goofball Professor Oak, a time filled with running and sugary sweets and other things that he could not give his son. Maybe one day when time was on his side and work was slow, he could take his child to the zoo. Children always liked the zoo, and he was sure that his son was no exception.
He always had his family on the back of his mind, too. On his desk was a picture of the three of them, back from before everything became too complicated. His wife was in her favorite pink dress, holding a bouquet of daisies to her nose, laughing. She used to be so happy before his work began to interfere with their relationship. It was a sharp contrast to the woman who hid in the bedroom on every chance she could grasp. Their child hung onto his shoulders, a bright grin spread across his face, just like his mother's. He was such a unique child, always exploring everything with his tiny hands. It was a shame that he couldn't see much of his little monkey child, but business was very important, for all of them in the long-run.
His fingers began to grow numb from doing the daily paperwork when a soft knock was heard upon the door. He was usually annoyed with late-night visitors, especially after he had finished with clients an hour ago, but the distraction was welcoming to him for once. When he raised his voice to greet the visitor, there was no delay. In came a father and son, both very handsome and reserved, each with a brilliant shade of green hair. The father was very tall and smug, walking in with a high degree of confidence. He wore a beige suit and thick glasses, partially hiding his cold, red eyes. In comparison, the child had a very meek aura as he shuffled behind his father. Looking disheveled and disconnected from the current world, he had his hair in a ponytail that laid limply against his shoulder. It was hard to notice at first, but the child also held a pokemon plushie against his shoulders.
He did not particularly like the father, but the common courtesy in the business was to be as polite as possible until the objectives were achieved. He shuffled his papers and placed them in a thick paper clip before stuffing it all in one of the desk drawers. The confident man made haste to reach over the desk and shake his hand, a grip which was cold and firm. "Giovanni, it is a pleasure to make acquaintance with you again. I've decided to make a stop in Kanto just to see you."
"Ghetsis, likewise a pleasure. You've even brought the boy out of his cage for once."
He really did not like Ghetsis. Hailing from Unova the man was beginning to drift apart from the normal 'businesslike' thoughts, turning into an eccentric idealist. For once his wife's dislike for one of his partners was shared. The man was crazy enough to blow up a building and have no remorse for the consequences.
Luckily the man didn't seem to be in one of his lunatic fits as he chuckled and took the seat opposite his host. "It's one of my important lessons. The child needs to learn that while you cannot trust any filthy mortal, sometimes you must conduct business with them. Don't you or your stupid wife teach your boy anything?"
"We teach our son not to be so pompous."
No, the lunatic was his usual self, that self-righteous jerk, with that degrading, womanizing attitude. There was a reason why he hated late-night visitors, and this only reminded him of why. Yet Ghetsis was arrogant enough to discard his remarks with a wave of his hand, still chuckling. "And here I was thinking of actually setting up a so-called meeting with our boys. Your child's slow enough not to harm my child. But...ahh, that's of course out of the question." He shrugged. "Besides, I don't think my child would want to waste his time with other children, even a slow one. Isn't that correct, N?"
There was no response at first. The child was in his own world, sitting by the rug with his plushie, appearing to stare at the fickle Persian. Ghetsis's expression changed into one of annoyance as he tapped against the chair arm. "N, you know better that it is wrong to ignore your father's questions," he growled. "Do you want to show disrespect your father in front of someone like Mr. Giovanni?"
"Then look at me when I'm talking to you, goddamn it!" Ghetsis snapped, pulling the child to his feet by the hair in one swift motion. There was a sudden hint of fury in his eyes now. "Now tell me, N. You don't want to waste valuable time with someone as pathetic as another child, even a slow one, isn't that correct."
"Yes, Father. Would...would rather build a train by myself," the child mumbled.
"See? Ha, the child would rather build a train. Never wants contact with the outside world. Had to drag him out of his room with that filthy toy. So incompetent."
But Giovanni didn't feel like listening to Ghetsis's sneering. He never felt like it, but it annoyed him more tonight. He shook his head and sipped out of his wine glass, hoping the pair would leave soon so he could continue with actual business. "Please tell me you've come here to do more than abuse your son, Ghetsis. We're very busy men."
Ghetsis chuckled again. He really was a lunatic. "Very well. As it is Father's Day, I found it appropriate to discuss the future of our sons, although I expected you'd bring your own son to work with you. Your stupid wife keeping him from your rightful place?"
"He's probably sleeping. He wanted to do other things today."
"Hmph. Can't be helped with slow children, I guess. But anyway," Ghetsis said, tracing the patterns of his chair with a finger, "They'll grow to become mighty men or moronic monkeys. Soon I'll have enough resources to start up a stronger...business. A very... respectable business, much more so than yours, and young N shall be the poster image. The current politicians of Unova are ignorant of the common man's struggles. My child will replace them someday. Mind you, he'd be a puppet under bigger forces, but it is still a heavy responsibility. Yet I train him for what is to come."
"I doubt any business you have would be very respectable. You'd be training your son to sink in our kind of business."
"Ahh, but at least I'm training my son."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Don't play dumb, Giovanni. Placing the lack of training aside, your child already has plenty of disadvantages," Ghetsis sneered. "He's younger, smaller, unrulier. Placing my repulsion of children aside, I don't think I've met a more savage and slower child yet. Doubtful that he could count to five yet, barely can use toilet on his own yet. Would rather climb trees and spend time with the pokemon than act civilized! Look at that mindless little expression in the photograph!"
He placed a hand on the picture. Giovanni clutched his desk hard to keep back his temper while his business partner continued to criticize. "What a despicable sight. The very least you could do is at least try to lead the child in your footsteps, even if he fails and decides to become as something as petty as a pokemon trainer. Do you not have any plans for him?"
SMACK! He couldn't help banging against the desk, even though his fist would hurt later. The lunatic was more than intolerable. "Of course I have plans for my boy!" he snapped. "Someday he will follow my footsteps as the future leader of this organization! It doesn't matter how much training he has right now!"
"And so you choose not to train him in any way, shape, or form?"
"She won't let me! I know this may seem sick and vile to you, Ghetsis, but I have a wife that is more concerned about our child's safety than his expectations right now! She doesn't understand that sometimes the ends justify the means! You don't have such a hard battle with trying to make your family understand that!"
"Why bother trying to make them understand? Foolish people are foolish people! Your stupid wife with always be stupid, regardless of how wonderful your arguments are! Someday you'll want to have a kingdom of your own, and you'll let something such as emotion rule over that! Your son and wife will be merely the village idiots you're forced to take care of in the end."
"How could you say that ? You're a father, too!"
"I am an overlord first, not some disgusting keeper such as a father!" Ghetsis looked sinister, ominous, closer than ever to achieve a psychotic state. His eyes were flaring, almost like a raging fire. "My child knows his boundaries and would never do something as stupid as incur my wrath on purpose! He's learning at least two other languages right now and being groomed to be the perfect king, all without my fatherly guidance! You're still young and foolish enough to believe that's what your child needs in order to succeed you! And another thing-"
"But that's what the weak need."
Both men turned their heads to the young boy, who now stared at them with somewhat of a focus. He looked older now, stronger. "The child may be slow, but maybe if he has more of a fatherly influence, he'll grow up to be less detestable," he muttered. "He can help to change the world, just like me. Then we can have better harmony."
Now it was Ghetsis who couldn't contain his rage. Bolting out of his seat, he grabbed the child by the hair again and threw him against the desk. The child yelped in pain, but this only made the enraged man angrier. He picked up by the boy, making him drop his plushie. "Have you learned nothing, child?" he snarled, digging his long nails into the boy's neck. "People like that slow child and his family will never change! They will always be below the superior forms such as us! They will always be the ones to serve us! Ha, and you think they can change, just like this, like one of your foolish fairy tales. Ahh, perhaps this was a mistake to take you out of your room."
He dropped the child, shaking his head. The rage was out of him, almost as quickly as it came into him. "I suppose I can try to teach this to you some other day, Giovanni, but it would be no use. We've made our presence known. Come along, N. It really was a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Giovanni."
The man strode out of the office before the child could even stand to his feet. Giovanni noticed that the plushie was knocked by the fake plants and decided to hand it to him. The child may have been as eccentric as his father, but at least he wasn't an ass about it yet. He quickly handed the plushie to the child before he could make his exit. "Here. I apologize if things got out of hand, little one."
N stroked the plushie's head and looked up, still so disconnected and yet more sensible than any adult. His gray eyes were a sharp contrast to his father's aggressive red ones, understanding and kind. "Do you know what day it is?"
He was taken aback by the child's question. Surely it had to be a touchy topic, but he had little choice but to give the truth. "Yes. It's Father's Day, isn't it?"
"Yes. I'm still hopeful for those who are lost. Father...doesn't believing celebrating such days like this, but I'm hopeful someday he'll change his mind, too. I don't know much about this since I'm still young, but science says we grow fast. We often cherish our childhoods."
"No, Sir, I read a lot," N replied, a small smile on his lips. "Maybe someday I'll meet your son, and we'll be able to change things, regardless of what Father thinks. But for now I'll listen to Father, even though he's always scary, because I do love him. Your son probably loves you, right?"
"I...I think so."
The child nodded and walked toward the exit. Before Giovanni could make any remarks, he was gone. He certainly was as eccentric as his father. Yet the child called N did surprise and actually terrify him, moreso than any recent business deals. Your son probably loves you, right? It swirled around painfully in his mind, and before he could stop himself, the tears trickled down his face. He was crying. He, such a big and feared businessman, was crying. He never cried. He never cried.
But he knew he was wrong. He may not have abused his son like that pompous lunatic, but he had chosen to neglect him, and it took the seven-year-old spawn of the lunatic to make him realize that. How much would he lose before he could achieve something like perfection? It was doubtful that his wife still loved him. His son might have still loved him, but how long would that last? Would his son be as patient and as understanding as Ghetsis's? And even if that were the case, how broken would their relationship be in the end? Would it be something meaningful, or would it be a mere sense of blood ties? The thought was absolutely absurd.
Before he knew it, for the first time, he was driving over a hundred miles an hour toward home. The alcohol couldn't even compete with his strong feelings now. Warm memories flooded his mind, memories that he never usually wanted to associate with on a daily basis. He remembered his child's birth and the weeks following it. The child was a happy one at the start, constantly amused every time his mother burped him. And he and his wife were constantly amused by it, too. Every time the tiny belch could be heard, the child put out his hands toward his father's, as if already understanding the ill-humored game of 'pull my finger'.
He remembered the child running around in diapers at their estate, before they moved to the middle of nowhere. His wife would always yell and chase after the little boy because he loved climbing the stairs or hiding in one of the many rooms. He was very energetic and always wanted a sense of adventure. When he gave relief to his wife by chasing after the child, the adventure was twice as intense. The child loved to show off his magnificent hiding places, and when he was caught he would always climb up on his father's legs or shoulders or head. They would always go down to the kitchen and dig into the ice cream tubs afterwards, a prospect that they both enjoyed.
On Saturdays he used to take Ash out on little field trips. The child was happy with anywhere he took him, whether it was the park, the beach, or the movie theater. He liked the movie theater the most. They would always get the same seats, very close to the wide screen but not close enough to blind an eye. Sometimes his wife would join them, but usually she liked giving them the Saturdays as a way to bond with each other, which was perfectly fine with both of them. Ash wasn't allowed too much indulging since he was already hyper, but Giovanni would always make sure that he at least had a cold slushie and a large bag of popcorn. That child loved popcorn.
At the boy's third birthday party, it was certainly an action-packed event. After a little too much of cake, the child kept running circles around the yard until he decided to strip down to his Charmander boxers and climb the tallest tree in the town. Several other people, including his wife, had tried to coax the boy down with no success. It had been entrusted at him at last to take on the difficult task. And it didn't seem too difficult at first. He had climbed the tree and managed to get onto the same branch as the child. Unfortunately he did not take his weight into consideration, and they both ended up breaking an arm as the branch broke under them. Their matching casts at the emergency room was very comforting.
Around the time Halloween approached, he was beginning to immerse himself in his work. On that day he had reluctantly agreed to watch the child while his wife went away for the weekend. The thought of trick-or-treating escaped his mind until the young Gary and his grandfather made their way over to his house. And he was still baffled as why the man and child were dressed like dragons until his child stumbled down the stairs, tripping over a white bedsheet. It was amusing that the child was dress like a ghost, but it was also very annoying to hear his pleas to take him out with Gary, he remembered. The pleas continued until finally the boy mentioned that he promised him that he would take him, he promised, and Giovanni was so aggravated at the time that he almost shoved his son out the door, yelling at the Professor to keep an eye on the three-year-old. That was when his wife's disapproval and discomfort began to appear really noticeable.
On Christmas Day he was at an important conference in Johto. The business deals involved were finalized, benefitting everyone, especially him. When he reached the hotel where he was staying, he was greeted by an angry phone call by his wife. He remembered keeping the phone away from his ear while she screamed at him for not coming home on time like he said, if not for her, at least for the child. He patiently tried explaining to her that once he came home, he would be able to treat her and the child with things beyond Santa's workshop, but she didn't care. The child was already locked in his room with a plate of gingerbread men, saddened that Santa came for him and not his father. That was merely an inconvenience, he had convinced himself, had tried to convince himself, had failed to convince himself at the end.
The car almost ran over their mailbox, but he stopped himself at the last minute, not wanting to provoke other problems. He swayed with each step as he staggered toward the house, drunk and craving for the forgiveness of his son. Of course he didn't expect it; he wouldn't have forgiven himself, but he didn't want to sink to a lower level than Ghetsis. He knew he couldn't be a very good father, no matter what kind of promises he made, because the business would continue to interfere with his time and patience. He knew sometimes he wouldn't be able to keep those promises, hurting those he loved and adored. He knew someday those he'd hurt would turn against him, and he'd be abandoned in the end. But that was okay, because he understood those consequences long ago.
He entered the house. There wasn't a light on, free from the troubles of city life, peaceful and quiet in the middle of nowhere. Using only the reflected moonlight from outside, he tiptoed across the living room and was about to walk up the stairs when he noticed a small figure stir. The child sat up, gripping at a piece of paper, staring at him with wide, innocent eyes. "Papa? 'S that you?"
The small voice unnerved him, but it wasn't too surprising that the child was sleeping at the bottom of the stairs. He loved stairs. "Yes, Ash, it's me," he said. "Did you have a good time at the picnic?"
"Yeah. Me and Gary and the Professor had fun. Then we went fishing. I caught a Magikarp."
"You caught a Magikarp?"
"Yeah. And I finished my picture!" Ash chirped, handing the piece of paper to him. "I had to keep it a secret earlier, 'cause that's how a masterpiece works. I'm sorry, Papa. Happy Father's Day."
He looked at the picture. Though it was drenched in crayon and fingerpaint, he could make out a stick figure of himself with the dim moonlight, happily holding what appeared to be either a cup of coffee or a squirrel. The child was definitely not an artist, but the thought of a picture of him seemed so delightful that he couldn't help but choke back another sob. He took the child in his arms and hugged him, prompting a squeak from the little boy from his strength. "No, I'm sorry, Ash," he whispered. "I'm sorry I couldn't make it today. You're a good boy for trying to stay up to give me this. Now let me tuck you into bed, okay?"
He carried the child to his room. The room was the envy of any four-year-old, decorated with all of the child's favorite pokemon toys and trinkets. Carefully tucking the boy into thick, Squirtle-print blankets, he began to brush the hairs from his child's face. Ash's hair was very coarse and thick, just like his used to be. Someday it would grow out to be softer. The thought made him smile, which made Ash sit up in his bed with curiosity. "What's funny, Papa? Something funny?"
"No, son. Just thinking."
"Oh. We should go fishing soon."
"Hmm, you'd like to do that with me? I'm probably not as good of a fisher as the Professor."
"That's okay. I can teach you. I'll be the fishing master."
"Don't you want to be a pokemon master?"
"I'll be the fishing master, too, Papa. I'll show you."
He chuckled and continued stroking the child's hair. Ash yawned and snuggled underneath the covers, his eyes beginning to struggle with sleepiness. Yet there was still that small spark of energy and happiness in them, eager to have an adventure at any given point, and the child tugged on his father's sleeve. "You gotta pay back, Papa. Tomorrow."
"We can fish tomorrow, Papa. You can ditch work and we can watch cartoons and go fishing, but you can't make breakfast for us. Your breakfasts don't taste good."
There was a pang in his chest. He knew better than to do something as lazy as to actually take an entire day off from work, but it wouldn't actually hurt him. The child wanted to spend some time with him, so he might as well give it to him. "Sure. I can do that."
Ash grinned. "Good."
"Good. Now you should go to bed, little one. Tomorrow ought to be a big day."
He smiled back and tucked the covers under the child's chin. There was a sweet moment of silence before the child stared at him again, this time with a notable look of concern in his eyes. Not many four-year-olds ever looked this concerned. "Papa?"
"Is something the matter, Ash?"
"You gotta check to make sure Mommy's okay."
"Yeah. She's not okay lately. She tries to be okay for me, but she's not really okay. She didn't even want to color with me today. Papa, you gotta check on her."
"Okay, Ash. I'll check on her. You need to sleep, though, all right?"
"All right. Night, Papa."
"Good night, Ash."
He stroked the child's hair one more time and tiptoed out of the room, closing the door behind him. The child wasn't as slow as Ghetsis thought. Even someone as 'slow' as Ash could figure out that something wasn't right in the family household. His wife certainly wasn't okay. As he walked toward their bedroom, he noticed that she had stepped out from the other side, pale in her bathrobe. She was still beautiful, even in her depression, and very gentle and loving. It would be a shame when he finally had to let her go.
For now he wrapped his arms around her and placed his head against hers, gently kissing its top. He could already hear the muffled sobbing as she trembled. She was probably the one who suffered the most from his actions, too innocent to really stand strong with him. All he could do was hold her and listen to her broken voice. "Vanni, I don't want you to go away. P...Please. You're just so busy. Just...want more time."
"I want more time with you, too."
Later as his wife and child were finally sleeping, he was finally up, staring up at the ceiling from the bed he and his wife shared. There were more responsibilities being the head of the household than the evil businessman, and those responsibilities carried a lot more weight. There were more emotions and consequences involved, emotions and consequences that had to be considered in order to please everyone. While he still had some freedom left, he did want to spend more time with those he loved, before all of his freedom and morality finally disappeared. And so when he finally did leave, they'd grow to be happier without him, be able to live life to its fullest, forever to shed away the chains of the family man, the family man that never really was.
Slowly getting back into a writing mood. Maybe someday I'll resume working on my bigger projects. x: But for now this does well.