Chapter 1: Back Home

"Wow, Ash, this is where you grew up?" asked Iris, looking around.

She, Ash, Pikachu and Cilan were just walking out of Viridian Forest, on their way back to Ash's home town of Pallet.

"Not here exactly," Ash replied over his shoulder. "It's another mile or so ahead."

"I heard that Pallet Town is the site of the famous Oak Laboratory," said Cilan. "Do you actually think we'll get to meet him in person?"

"Sure," Ash laughed. "Prof. Oak's a good buddy of mine. He's the one who gave me Pikachu on my first day as a trainer, right pal?"

"Pika pi!" Pikachu responded.

"So if Prof. Oak gave you Pikachu and your first pokedex, that must mean that all the pokemon you caught before we met are there too!" Iris exclaimed.

"Ew, Axew!" came a muffled exclamation from within Iris's mane of purple hair, and Axew emerged, clearly delighted to meet new potential friends.

"Yeah, I've got a whole bunch that you guys haven't even met. Come on, I want you to meet em!" Ash cried joyfully, and he quickened the pace. "In fact," he added. "ALL of my pokemon are there now since Professor Juniper sent Professor Oak Scraggy and Leavanny and the others over here."

"I wonder why she sent them back," Cilan wondered aloud. "In fact, I wonder why she called you at all."

"...yeah," Ash agreed, slowing down. "It is kinda weird."

Professor Juniper had called Ash, Iris, and Cilan over a week ago saying that she'd gotten a message from Professor Oak requesting Ash's return to Pallet for a 'special occasion'. Professor Oak had also asked Professor Juniper to send all of Ash's pokemon to his lab as well.

This by itself, though unexpected, was not very unusual, as Ash always took the traditional trip back home to his roots after each league competition before setting off on his next journey. What WAS unusual was that the Oak had also requested that Iris and Cilan accompany him. Both of them, though shocked, had agreed, eager to see the pokemon beyond Unova, as well as continue traveling with Ash and Pikachu.

"We should be able to see Pallet just over that hill," said Ash after twenty minutes or so. Eager to see his home again, he broke into a run, Pikachu by his side. Iris and Cilan shrugged at each other and a comment was passed between them involving a certain 'little kid', before they hurried to catch up to Ash.

As they reached the top of the hill, there, sure enough, was Ash's home of Pallet Town, nestled peacefully in a grassy valley, the small houses and country lanes dotting the otherwise serene landscape. On the far side of the valley, the famous Oak Laboratory stood out prominently on a hilltop, behind which, Ash knew, stretched a vast expanse of land dedicated to the pokemon reserve where the professor kept watch over all the pokemon he was entrusted with.

Ash sped up until he was almost running flat-out, Iris and Cilan huffing and puffing in his wake. He skidded to a stop outside his house and, without even waiting to knock, flung open the door and burst into the house, skidding a little on the freshly mopped wooden floor, and bellowing "MOM, I'M HOME!" so loudly that several Pidgey nesting in a nearby tree took flight in agitation.

"Well, hi there, honey!" Delia Ketchum's voice floated out towards them from the kitchen from where she was working. Ash, Iris and Cilan, now following their noses toward the wonderful smells coming from the kitchen nearly floated down the hall, but stopped dead in the doorway to the kitchen.

"Well hi there everyone!" Delia cried. "You must be Iris and Cilan, and this must be Axew. How CUTE! And hello again Pikachu!"

No one answered her. They were all staring, transfixed at what used to be Ash's mother's kitchen but now closely resembled the food-assembly area for a small army. There were rows upon rows of food covering almost every surface and every pot and pan was bubbling away merrily on the stove. Platters of completed dishes were stacked on the dining table and Delia herself was peering at them from between two mountains of potatoes she was peeling.

"Uhh, hi Mom," said Ash weakly. "Decided to do a little cooking eh?"

"Oh this?" Delia asked. "Well I heard you kids were coming home and decided to whip up a little something as a welcome home snack."

"A welcome home snack?" repeated Iris numbly. "This is more like a banquet!"

"Oh this is nothing!" Delia assured her. "Almost all the food is already over at Professor Oak's laboratory. I must say that man has quite a kitchen!"

"You have two kitchen's running at once?!" Cilan exclaimed. "You must be a very good cook to keep running back and forth like that!"

"Oh, no. I'm just in charge here! The real chef is up at the lab." Delia said, smiling. "Why don't you three go on over there now. I know he'll want to see you. I'll be along in a bit, I just need to finish up here."

"Oh, ok..." Ash said, more confused now than ever.

He and Pikachu left Delia and walked back down the garden path and up the dirt road toward the Professor's Lab, Iris and Cilan trailing behind him. He was thinking hard. His mother was one of the best cooks he knew, but she said that the real mastermind was up at the lab. That made it sound like she was taking cooking orders from someone else. And she had that HE was waiting for them. There were very few male cooks that he knew of, and even fewer that were better than his own mom. The only one that could come to mind was...

Ash stopped in his tracks so suddenly that Iris, who was behind him, nearly ran into him. He looked down at Pikachu.

"Pikachu, ya know who's up there?" he said excitedly, pointing toward Oak's Lab.

"Pi?" asked Pikachu, confused. Then, excitedly it cried; "Pika-Chu!"

"That's right! Brock's up there!" Ash shouted and took off for the lab. Pikachu, though delayed, easily caught up to Ash as he reached the gate to the steps leading up to the double doors of the Lab. As Ash made to push the gate open, Pikachu leaped clean through the bars and pelted up the steps, Ash hot on his tail.

Once at the top, Ash wrenched open the door sprinted down the hall, but had barely gotten five feet when something large, wet, and sticky collided with his shoulder and sent him toppling to the ground. Iris and Cilan, who had just come through the door, cried out in alarm, and started calling for help before they heard a muffled laugh coming from underneath the purple mass.

"Hey, Muk. I guess you missed me!" Ash said as he crawled back into view.

"Mumumu MUK!" bellowed Muk delightedly.

"This is your Muk?" Cilan asked.

"Yep. It likes to hang around with Professor Oak inside," Ash told him.

"And it makes a very effective alarm bell," came a familiar voice from down the hall.

There, sure enough, stood Brock, wearing an apron and holding an enormous bowl of fruit salad.

"BROCK!" Ash shouted. Scrambling up from the ground, he and Pikachu ran to greet their old friend.

"Hey Ash, Pikachu!" said Brock. "We heard you were coming and decided to prepare a little feast for everyone. So you must be Iris and Cilan. Ash told me all about you guys in his letters to me. It's nice to meet you in person!"

"Same here," Iris said. "Ash has told us that you're a great pokemon breeder and pokemon doctor and that you're also a great cook!"

"Well, I'm still training to become a pokemon doctor," Brock replied, blushing slightly at the praise. "I've been traveling around to different pokemon centers to work with different Nurse Joys to get as much experience as I can, but they all say I'm making wonderful progress. The Joy from Saffron City even agreed to dinner with me last week!" he sighed reminiscently.

"I'd love to evaluate the pokemon of a former breeder, Brock," said Cilan excitedly.

"Oh, yeah sure. I almost forgot that you were a pokemon connoisseur," said Brock. "How about you take a look after lunch."

"But wait a minute," Ash said suddenly. "If you're in training as a pokemon doctor, what are you doing back here?"

"Well, Professor Oak gave me a call about two weeks ago saying that you all were going to be coming back from the Unova region and that we were going to have a little party that I was invited too. I accepted and I arrived here about three days ago and have been busy cooking with your mom ever since." Brock replied. "You're actually the last to arrive."

"Last to arrive?" Ash repeated. "What do you mean? And where's Professor Oak?"

"Oh, he and Tracy went out a while back to do the lunch rounds for all the pokemon. They might still be out there."

"Actually Brock, we just got back in," came Professor Oak's voice as he walked through the open door from the sitting room. "Tracy's just finishing up downstairs. Ahh Ash, you're finally here! And Pikachu too! Wonderful. And you, must be Iris and Cilan," he said, looking over at them.

"Yes sir," replied Iris.

"Splendid!" exclaimed Prof. Oak. "Well, come on in, Ash. Everyone's waiting for you."

"Everyone...but who-?" Ash began, but that was all he could get out.

With a tremendous crash, what appeared to be a large blue bullet slammed into his stomach and sent him crashing to the floor again squealing incessantly.

"Pi...Piplup?" Ash gasped, fighting to refill his lungs with air.

"Well, it's about time, Ash," called Dawn as she emerged from the sitting room where she had evidently been waiting for him. And she wasn't alone either.

"Misty!" Ash cried, thoroughly shocked now.

"Hi there, Ash!" called Misty from the couch. "It's been a while!"

"Pikachupi!" cried Pikachu as he raced over to jump onto Misty's lap.

"Hi, Pikachu, how have you been?" Misty laughed.

"Wow, when did you-" Ash began, but he was interrupted again as shouts drifted to them through the balcony door.

Ash, Brock, Dawn, Misty, Iris and Cilan ran outside. At the sight of the scene before them, Dawn, Misty and Brock started laughing together, while Ash stared open-mouthed, and Iris and Cilan simply looked bemused.

Snorlax was lying in the grass below them breathing in and out deeply, so that the small boy on top of its stomach was rising and falling over a foot with every breath. Beside them, a girl was shouting at the top of her lungs.

"MAX GET OFF OF SNORLAX RIGHT NOW!"

"Hey, May! Long time no see!" Ash cried. At the sound of Ash's voice. Snorlax looked up, saw Ash, let out a delighted bellow and stood up. Max, who had been thrown up into the air by the force of its bellow, fell all the way back to the ground with a thump.

Laughing, everyone (except Snorlax) went back inside and sat down in the large sitting room overlooking one of the laboratory's meadows. Brock went back to the kitchen to get some drinks and snacks and by the time he'd returned, Tracy had joined the group after finishing his chores downstairs and all the introductions had been made. As Brock set the platter down, Ash spoke.

"So what are you all doing here?" Ash asked.

"Well, I DO kinda live here now," Tracy smirked, getting a good chuckle from the rest of the group.

"About two weeks ago, I got a call from Professor Oak," said Dawn. "He said that you were returning home after you Unova League challenge and that I was invited to a reunion of sorts. I had just finished competing in the Johto grand festival and thought it was a great idea, so I started back here. I arrived about four days ago."

"I got almost the exact same call," said May. "Only difference was I was back home by then, so I had to ask permission from Mom and Dad if I could come. Of course they both agreed, but then Max asked to come as well, and I finally agreed to let him come, since he didn't come with me on my journey through Johto."

"Mine was a little different," Misty admitted. "I got the call about a week ago and it was really hard for me to get here."

"Didn't you want to see me again Misty?" asked Ash, slightly crestfallen.

"Of course, Ash!" Misty assured him. "But my sisters were on yet another vacation and I didn't want to just leave the Gym unattended. But Prof. Oak told me that I was requested specifically, so I thought I'd better make it work. I didn't want to let you down. I'm actually flattered that you thought to add me to the invitation list."

"I could never forget about you Misty," said Ash smiling. But then he frowned. "But I never told Prof. Oak to call you."

"What? So you DID forget about me!" Misty said, and though her voice was raised characteristically, a keen observer would note that it did start to shake somewhat.

"No, you don't understand," Ash said hastily. "I didn't ask Professor Oak to call ANY of you. I didn't even ask for a party when I got back,. In fact, Professor Oak's the one who called ME and requested I come back. I thought that this was all supposed to be a surprise for me that you all had planned."

"Huh?" Max asked, speaking for the first time. "You didn't know that we would be here?"
"No, I had no idea this would be happening!" Ash exclaimed.

At this point Professor Oak cleared his throat.

"I suppose that's my queue," he sighed. "I contacted each of you individually and requested that you come back here to Pallet Town for a reunion of sorts. I also requested that each one of you bring all of your pokemon to stay here for the duration of your stay. I thought we could have a little lunch party together and after that, I had something to tell all of you."

"What is it, Professor?" asked Brock.

"Yeah, this is the first I've heard about any important information," said Max curiously.

"Now, now. Eat first, then I'll tell you, " said the professor placatingly.

"Hang on!" Ash said suddenly. "You call us all here individually. You don't tell any of us the real reason, and you keep all of us on our own in the dark. I'm not 10 years old anymore, Professor. I can tell that something's up. What's going on?"

"Now, there's no reason to get upset," said Prof. Oak, looking put upon. "I merely thought it would be a nice surprise for everyone to see each other again and-"

"It's alright, Samuel. I'll take it from here," said a voice from behind them.