The first thing Delia noticed was that her son wasn't smiling as much.
He still smiled, sure. It wasn't like he had suddenly become a completely dour, angry individual. He was happy to see her, happy to eat her cooking, happy to sleep in his own room.
But something was wrong. Ash hadn't spoken about his travels in Hoenn as much as Delia would've expected. He tended to quietly sigh or stare at nothing in particular. Occasionally, he'd start to ask about something, but suddenly change the subject.
At first Delia just figured her son was just a little upset about not winning the Hoenn tournament, or that May and Max weren't traveling with him anymore. However, something told her that wasn't it. He seemed to have accepted his defeat pretty gracefully, and whenever he talked about his traveling companions, he was never upset about them leaving. There was something else on his mind.
And there were the thick bags under Ash's eyes...had he been sleeping?
It wasn't until a few weeks into his return that Ash finally told Delia what was on his mind. They had just sat down to dinner, just the two of them. Ash had just made plans to explore the Sinnoh region, and while Delia was concerned about how little time he spent at home, she eventually let Ash go his way. "Just like your father." she remarked.
That casual remark made Ash tense up. His teeth clenched and his fists tightened. This caught Delia by surprise. "H-honey, what's wrong?"
Ash groaned, calming back down. "Nothing, it's just..." the boy paused for a while, unsure of what to say. He hummed, hrrrmed, and stammered for a minute before going quiet again. There was a long, awkward silence before Ash took a deep breath and finally asked what was on his mind.
"Who is my dad?"
Delia silently gasped. This was what Ash had been thinking about? She hadn't expected him to ask that question...
No. She expected him to ask one day. She just hadn't been ready to give an answer.
"He...he was a trainer..." Delia stammered.
"I know, I...who is he? What was his name, and where has he been? I want to know who he is!" Ash demanded.
Delia gulped. Ash wouldn't accept another vague answer, it was time to tell him the truth. It wouldn't be easy.
"Wait here." she sighed, going upstairs to the attic. Ash just sat there, slightly confused but anticipating an answer to the question that had been bothering him since...for a long time now.
Eventually, Delia came back downstairs, holding a small picture frame close to her chest. Sitting down next to Ash, she hesitated for a moment before showing the picture to Ash.
"His name was Kent."
Ash looked down at the picture. It was a younger version of his mother in a wedding dress, right beside a man in a tuxedo. Both of them were smiling broadly. Kent was slightly thin, but not a beanpole. He had small glasses, light brown hair, a short beard and a few freckles on his face. He looked like a very cheerful, friendly fellow. In fact, he looked a little funny to Ash.
"I...met him in high school. He loved my smile, my laugh...he said I was the sunshine in his life." Delia smiled as she remembered her husband. "He was a trainer, a lot like you. Had a real wanderlust, but...he loved us so much...I'm sorry you never got the chance to see him."
Ash nodded, apparently satisfied. "So...when can I see him?"
Delia's face fell. Her eyes became downcast, her smile faded, her eyes lost their usual sparkle. "You...won't."
Ash was shocked. "What?! Why?"
Delia sniffled, struggling to keep herself together. "After...a year after you were born, before...you could remember...he...he...had an accident."
Ash blinked. "An accident?"
"While he was hiking, he...slipped, and..." Delia gulped. "He...I'm so sorry..."
Ash's face darkened. "He's...he's dead? He's been dead all this time, and you didn't tell me?!"
Delia was beginning to cry. "I didn't know how...it was all so sudden, I didn't believe it myself, I didn't know how to tell you..."
"So you LIED?!" Ash stood up angrily. "You said my father was on a journey! You said I'd see him!"
"I didn't say-"
"You lied! You lied to me!" Ash screamed with tears in his eyes before dropping the picture on the floor and running out the door into the night.
The wedding frame cracked when it hit the floor.
Ash didn't go far. He ran to the other end of Pallet Town, into a small, secluded field. No-one was there to see him stop running and unsteadily stand for a second. Nothing saw him fall to his knees and start sobbing. He was alone, sad, confused and angry.
Ash cried into his hands. How long had he had that dream? Having his father be there, seeing him win the tournament, and embracing him when he held up that trophy. Just like the movies. He was so looking forward to that, that was the reason he'd kept on going...
And then came Kalville. Then came Alessa, Satos, and Pyramid Head. Alessa, who tarnished his idea of his father. Satos, who gave him an all-too delicious taste of having a father. Pyramid Head, who exposed Satos as a hollow fantasy in the cruelest way imaginable.
And now it was clear that dream would never come true.
"Daddy..." Ash sniffled. All he had of his father was a picture. Nothing more. Why didn't she just tell me?
Ash sat there for a long time, oblivious to the lengthening shadows, struggling to come to terms with what he'd found out. Trying to find some comfort in this new revelation. All he could think about was the first time he really thought about his father.
"Heh." Ash chuckled bitterly. "I guess...I guess I'm one of the lucky ones, huh? Alessa?"