Ash Ketchum has been determined to become the best since he was a toddler. He has his eyes set on a charmander, but a twist of fate led him to the humble Nidoran. Note: Mix between anime and the games.


68. The Closing Ceremony Part 2

"The Pokemon League now bids farewell to all the trainers and pokemon who participated in this year's event!" The announcer boomed throughout the stadium. "Let's show all the participants just how much we appreciate their accomplishments as they enter the stadium one last time!"

That was their cue to move. Ash found himself striding just slightly behind Michael as they walked into the Indigo Stadium and entered the scrutiny of millions. He just kept the slight frown that the crowd had come to associate with him on his face and glanced around the Stadium a few times. This was much more daunting than the short rehearsal they'd had earlier that day.

He finally remembered to force his mouth into a smile and waved a few times along with Michael, Grey, and Neesha. They were far more familiar with this much attention and seemed to soak it up like a sponge. Michael and Neesha in particular pandered to the crowd with winning smiles and cheerful waves.

Ash glanced over to Grey, who looked more dangerous than happy. The Unovan had his characteristic grin on his face as he stared up at the crowd, waving every now and then and almost daring the onlookers to stare at him.

Personally, he just tried to ignore it and keep moving. After his initial sweep of the Stadium he kept his eyes focused solely on the area he'd be standing in along with the rest of the Top 4. He did his best to keep any thoughts out of his head, lest he panic and start entertaining the odds of potentially tripping in front of millions of people.

He grit his teeth and just kept moving. The Feather flooded his every cell with comforting heat but he still felt a seed of anxiety deep in his gut, even if it had been mostly burned away.

To distract himself from the stares and cheers of so many different people — he felt a tad nauseous even as the Feather pulsed rhythmically with the Flame of Moltres that burned brightly in front of him — Ash just kept his eyes on the other competitors as they assembled in even lines in front of them with their pokemon. The Top 4 were stationed closest to the massive stage where Goodshow waited.

He caught several familiar faces as they moved into formation — Gary since he was closest to him, Jessica, Jonathan, Amelia, and the rest of those he had already noted as he made his way through the other competitors minutes before — but he also noted one teenager that he vaguely recognized as having been in Pallet Town several times before.

David, he thought his name was? He wasn't sure. He'd only seen him a handful of times and had only heard his name once while the teen was talking to Professor Oak. More than likely he was just one of the trainers that kept Oak up to date on the going-ons of the region or acted as a researcher.

Ash turned away after that and looked around the Stadium a few more times, distinctly uncomfortable.

"It's a weird feeling, isn't it?" Michael whispered to him, just loud enough to be heard over the ever-present roar. "It overwhelmed me the first time I had to stand in front of a crowd rather than just battle. Just look at the Flame and don't let your eyes wander."

"Thanks," He muttered back. Michael just clapped him on the shoulder and smiled before he held his head up high to match Ash's.

He felt the Flame crackle and the Feather burned brightly enough to cause a slight glow to emerge from beneath his shirt, which was a rarity. It normally only emanated light in the presence of Lance or when he was alone. Even Moltres understood the concept of subtlety, it seemed.

Ash surreptitiously adjusted his jacket so it would cover the bright spot before anyone noticed. Having a golden fire underneath his shirt would most likely attract attention even in a setting as bright and chaotic as the Closing Ceremony. It didn't help that plenty of people were staring directly at him rather than the rest of the competitors. He wasn't sure he liked attracting so much interest.

"League President Goodshow will now present each trainer with a special commemorative badge!" The announcer boomed. "Wear it with pride as a symbol of excellence and achievement!"

With that the League officials motioned for Michael to step forward. The Champion of Orre did so without a care in the world and sauntered up to the stage with a wide grin on his face. Ash followed seconds after and felt rather ungraceful in comparison. He was so focused on just moving that it felt as though an unskilled puppeteer was pulling him along.

"Here you are, Trainee!" The wizened face of Goodshow grinned up at him. Goodshow clapped him on the shoulder and shook his hand after he'd handed him a small, elaborate square of silk with a diamond-shaped badge filled with a golden pokeball held loosely within. "Wear it with pride, boy. If you've earned Lance's respect, you've more than earned this."

Ash nodded and flashed the short man a genuine smile before he went to stand on the podiums reserved for the Top 4. He felt his legs tremble slightly out of nervousness as he took a large step up to his stand — the podium had obviously been engineered with longer legs in mind.

He followed Michael's advice again and just stared at the Flame silently. All consideration of the crowd had slipped from his mind as he became lost in the blazing Flame. Ash half-expected the Avatar of Moltres to rise from the formless fires and sweep around the Stadium a second time, although he couldn't say he was surprised when the Bird failed to make an appearance.

Neesha strode up and took her place beside him confidently, followed by Grey moments later. It appeared that Goodshow hadn't had much to say to the Unovan.

They all stood there together, bound by silence. This was a time for reflection, although Neesha was kind enough to continue waving to the crowd as the other two hundred and fifty-two competitors passed behind them in a seemingly unending line.

He wasn't sure how much time had passed, but Lance finally came to join Goodshow on the stage as the two female attendants that had stood with Goodshow as he passed out badges left the same way the other competitors had.

Ash glanced down when he saw a sudden rush of movements below, even though he was well aware of what it was. The rest of the competitors had turned to look at the Top 4, those who had fought their way to the farthest heights of the Indigo Conference.

"And here now are the top-ranking trainers of this year's Pokemon League Conference! Please join us in saluting them alongside with their pokemon for their skill and their dedication to the ideals of the Pokemon League!"

Grey snorted at that, but didn't act out otherwise.

"Please applaud for the Champion of the One Hundred and Forty-Eighth Indigo League Conference, Michael Braeden," the announcer paused as the crowd roared in delight, "our runner-up, Ash Ketchum," another pause, "and our Semifinalists, Neesha Brady and George Grey!"

He waved to the crowd, all of the hesitance at the beginning of the Conference gone with experience and the burn of the Feather in his blood. Ash felt a smile stretch across his face as he joined the rest of the Top 4 in waving and grinning to the crowd that adored them.

That went on for nearly a minute until the last of the cheers and whistles had died down.

Lance finally stepped forward with a faint smile on his lips as his cape fluttered behind him majestically with every step. His angular face appeared particularly draconic tonight in the light of the Flame and made him look even more the legendary hero than he already was.

Ash vaguely thought that Lance had been born in the wrong century. As great a Champion as he was, he felt that the Dragon Master would be far more suited to the ancient times of Taimu than the stagnance and bureaucracy of modern life.

The two attendants finally returned to the stage with a small, expertly crafted golden trophy with a winged pokeball mounted on top placed atop a small cart. Lance casually picked the precious symbol of Michael's victory up in one hand and handed it to the redheaded teenager with a smile and nod of acknowledgement.

Now that Lance was closer he could see the glint of three medals in the Champion's hands, one silver and two bronze.

Lance smiled at him and gave him a brief nod, although he didn't give away their previous connection in anyway. He just strode up to Ash, who bowed his head, and placed the heavy weight of the silver medal around his neck.

"I'll say it again — you did very well," The Champion muttered to him before he pulled back and proceeded to place the first bronze medal around Neesha's head. Ash thought her face looked redder than usual in Lance's proximity.

Ash didn't pay attention to Grey, who he was sure would have some smart remark for the Indigo Champion. The two had never met but Lance didn't seem to have much trust for the brown-haired Unovan.

When Lance had emptied his hands of the awards he stepped back, gave the Top 4 another nod, and confidently strode off of the stage with Charles Goodshow. He was considerate enough to slow himself for the short old man, although he was still too tall for Goodshow too keep up easily.

"Now as this Pokemon League Conference draws to an end, please direct your attention to our very special celebration in the sky!" The announcer cheered as all of the lights in the stadium save for the Flame of Moltres and a handful of camera flashes shut down.

"Damn this is stupid…" Grey growled. "I just want to leave this stupid Ceremony!"

Ash couldn't find it in himself to disagree with the Unovan as he watched a truly impressive amount of fireworks explode up into the air behind the Flame, although their brief flashes of light failed to stand out against Moltres' gift. He didn't particularly care about fireworks and wanted to escape the potential stares of the crowd as soon as possible.

He did admit that the orchestra blasting out the League anthem did add for a nice effect, but he had preparations to make and not a lot of interest in this display.

"Ash?" Michael muttered to him. It was much easier to discern now that the crowd wasn't so noisy. Once Michael saw that he'd gotten the rookie's attention he continued. "Before we go our separate ways, I just wanted to tell you that you were one of the best battles I've ever had. If you'd started a year sooner there would have been no contest."

Ash smiled at that, oddly touched at Michael's words. "Thank you, Michael. That was the best match I've ever had — it's been a long time since I've been able to battle someone that could really match me, let alone beat me as an equal."

Michael grinned and clapped his shoulder in a gesture of camaraderie. "Glad you see it like that, Ash. It's too bad there's not many people like you back home. You've got a real knack for connecting with your pokemon — I could see it clear as day in our battle. They kept fighting long after most trained pokemon would have given up. That Magmortar and Nidoking…man, they took some punishment."

"You too. I can't imagine it's easy to gain a Salamence's respect, let alone keep a Snorlax willing to fight for you," Ash casually added.

A ghost of a smile passed by Michael's face in the darkness. "It wasn't easy. They're worth all the trouble, though — the two of them are incredible, and not just at battling."

"If it weren't such an awful place, I'd suggest you go to Orre sometime," Michael continued absentmindedly after a brief moment of silence. There was a note of hesitance there. "I've been trying to become strong enough to clean that wasteland up and give it a real Champion — a real League instead of a bunch of fractured city-states and a desert split up under crime lords' rule — for years now."

Ash frowned and looked up at the redheaded teenager as Michael took a short breath. For how young he looked there was an aged glint in his eyes that reminded him of Agatha's exhaustion. It just struck him how many things Michael had seen in Orre that even Ash could barely comprehend.

He wasn't sure why Michael was telling him this and it seemed that the redhead wasn't sure either.

"I just wanted to thank you. This might sound weird and kind of out-of-the-blue, but our battle yesterday made me realize just how…complacent I've gotten in pursuing my dream," Michael whispered as the last of the fireworks began to explode above them in a final salvo. "Back when I was in Orre and fighting constantly I grew so fast — I had bonds with my pokemon that remained unbroken even in death. We were a real team, but after I finished my first great fight I just left and found nothing but monotony. I'm a little stronger now, but I haven't grown in a long time."

"Yesterday I looked at you and saw just how far you'd come. In one year you've been able to grow as much as I did in six," Michael shook his head. "It's an eye-opener, you know? It got me to thinking. I'm going back to my home and I'm going to clean it up."

"By the time you're done growing out here in the civilized world, I hope that I will have lived up to my moniker and that Orre will be ready for your arrival," The Champion of Orre smiled.

Ash wasn't sure what he was supposed to say. Michael had just poured out his heart and soul to him, someone he barely knew. What was there to say back?

"You're welcome," Ash said at last. "When I'm ready — when my friends and I are as strong as we will ever be — I'll take you up on your offer and go to Orre. One last battle, you and me. Both of us at our peaks going all out. We'll see who's grown the most."

Michael grinned. "I think that's acceptable."

Ash's attention was suddenly drawn to the absolute silence that pervaded the Stadium. Michael recognized it too and fell silent.

It was time for the Champion to quench the Flame of Moltres and signify the end of this Indigo Conference and the beginning of a new season.

He stared up at Lance, who had ascended to the great brazier that held the Flame as the competitors were getting their badges from Goodshow. The Champion stood in front of the Flame confidently and looked down at the spectators, who looked on in respectful silence.

"I think most of you will agree with me when I say it's been a very long year," Lance's powerful voice, amplified with a microphone and the Stadium's acoustics, echoed as the Champion began his short address. "Many have lost their lives and for a few long months the people of Indigo lived in fear of an unseen threat. It tested us, but we emerged victorious through the hardship and have grown all the stronger for it."

Lance turned his back to the crowd and stared at the raging Flame intently. It seemed to blaze brighter in response and Ash had no doubt that Lance's arm burned bright with the power and light of his own Feather.

"I'd like to honor those sacrifices — the men, women, and pokemon that fought for our safety and paid the ultimate price. It's been said that every light casts a shadow, but thanks to them the light is bright enough now that the shadows have no room to exist."

"But we must move on and look to the future that is all the brighter for their sacrifice. So I am happy to announce the end of this year and its hardships and the beginning of a new season, one that I hope will make all previous seasons pale in comparison."

With that the Champion raised his hand and, at the cue, the Flame exploded with life and vigor one last time and rose a hundred feet higher than before in a final surge. It burned twice as bright and the Stadium seemed to be in the midst of day for a few seconds.

Then it flickered and died down to nothing but a small flicker near the base tiny enough for Lance to carefully collect onto the torch in which the Flame would be preserved for the next year's Conference.

Most people likely assumed that Lance had simply employed the League's psychics to perform the theatrical blast of flame and then cause it to dim, but Ash knew better. The ceremony didn't rely on psychic influence this year, at least.

The burn of the Feather on his chest attested to that, although it vanished quickly once the remnants of the Flame were sealed and handed to an attendant whose sole duty was to tend to the Flame until it was in a secure area.

Ash lost interest as the crowd finally burst into raucous cheers and applause that felt like thunder rushing through his bones. He glanced at Michael, who just clapped along with the rest of them and had his green eyes locked onto the torch with interest.

"Please follow me!" One of the women who had been standing with Goodshow as he handed out the commemorative badges motioned the Top 4 as the rest of the competitors began the slow process of filing out of the Stadium. "It's time to collect your rewards now! Champion Lance will be handing your checks out personally this year!"

His attention now renewed, Ash followed Michael as he walked behind the young woman. Neesha and Grey settled behind him in no particular order and were utterly silent as they made their way to receive the money that they'd earned for their efforts.

Ash glanced behind him to look at the Stadium one last time and took in everything: the light glow that still emanated from the massive silver bowl that held the quenched Flame, the audience that had cheered and roared for him, the battlefield where he and his friends had left their mark in blood and sand.

He'd return here one day, he resolved. Not as a competitor, but as one of the ancient group that had been established under the First himself. When he next walked these lands he'd be a fully trained member of the Elite Four, if only a trainee.

For now, however, he was content to collect what he'd earned. Ash had almost forgotten about it with all the excitement.


"Welcome, all of you!" Lance grinned widely as the Top 4 followed the attendant into the small, luxurious area in the Indigo Stadium reserved for the gym leaders and Elite Four to watch the Conference battles. "You put up quite the show this year — I can honestly say it's a pleasure to meet each one of you."

Ash held back a snort as Lance's amused eyes fell on him, although the Champion didn't say anything.

He glanced around. There was a variety of evidence that proved the gym leaders at least had been here, although for the most part it was pristine. Ash knew several well enough to recognize signs of their presence.

The area to his left smelled heavily of the pleasant fruity perfume the Sisters wore, although it was almost overpowered by the half-full cup of Blaine's absurdly potent alcohol just a few feet away. Ash was glad that Blaine didn't seem to drink too much of the stuff when he was at Cinnabar or else Ash had no doubt that the Fire Master's liver would have failed decades ago.

Ash wrinkled his nose in distaste when he saw an empty tin of what he knew to be the Black Broth favored by Surge and Bruno on another small table. That had to be Surge's. Nobody else was quite insane enough to eat the foul substance when not in the field — even Bruno found the stuff repugnant.

Otherwise he couldn't really tell. Ash didn't actually know what scent Erika wore since it was always overpowered by her gym's stench, Brock would have been polite enough to clean up everything, and neither Sabrina nor Koga would be so careless as to leave a trace of their presence.

"I'm sure you all know your compensation, correct?" Lance spoke with an air of amusement about him. He obviously remembered being a traveling trainer all too well.

All of them nodded. While the money was hardly the reason he'd entered the Conference it was certainly a nice bonus. Not that he needed more money after the massive sign-on bonus Lance had given him. He was set for several years right now, and that was only if he went out of his way to spend whenever he could.

For second place he'd receive both a hundred thousand dollars and the silver medal that would take a place of pride in his room at Pallet Town once he returned. Neesha and Corey would each get fifty thousand dollars as well.

The Conference Champion would get the Arcanine's share, though. Along with ornate golden trophy, he would also receive a million dollars for his victory — a large enough fortune to let any trainer retire comfortably for a good few years, although few trainers with the skill and determination to win a Conference would ever leave training behind.

"Good job," Lance grinned at him as he handed him the second most valuable piece of paper he'd ever held. After handling a check of substantially larger value just the day before — which had been safely added to his trainer account right before he'd went to the practice ceremony —Ash didn't feel nearly as panicked as he would have normally.

He still couldn't help but stare at the check, however. It just felt unreal to have this much money in his hands, even after the relative wealth he'd enjoyed as a skilled trainer. This was entirely different than even the hefty bonuses Lance had given him for assisting the League with the Sevii Islands and Zapdos.

Ash winced as a cold fire spread throughout his blood at the thought of the Thunder Bird, something far more familiar and terrifying than the Feather's warmth. He felt dread bubble in the pit of his stomach even after the icy flame vanished as quickly as it came.

A sudden concerned tap from Michael snapped him out of his stupor. Ash dimly realized his hands were shaking slightly and did his best to calm them. Michael frowned at him, but Ash just shook his head to dissuade anymore questions from the teen.

" — Anyways, good luck out there. I'm sure all four of you will achieve great things!" Lance finished cheerfully. Ash noted that Grey had a look of utter boredom on his face and Neesha had latched onto Lance's every word. He hid a smirk at that.

Lance gave the four of them one last nod before he swept around and turned to look out into the Indigo Stadium, which had emptied for the most part other than for a few stragglers. His cape settled around his shoulders and hid everything but his spiky bright red hair.

"Thank you for your participation this year!" The attendant exclaimed as she lead them out of the League box and to the stairs that would take them out of the Indigo Stadium. "We hope that you return!"

She left with that and the Top 4 were left alone. Each looked around at each other silently, unsure of what to say. Michael, Ash, and Neesha subconsciously shifted away from Grey, whose expression of boredom had been replaced with his disturbingly wide grin.

"Well it's been nice playin' out here with you little Leaguers, but I think it's 'bout time I head back to Unova," Grey smirked and glanced around at each of them. "Maybe I'll get to smack the lot of you down some other time, eh?"

Ash just rolled his eyes, although he let a ghost of a smile play across his face. He didn't see how the others reacted, but judging by their previous interactions with Grey it wasn't anything friendly.

"By the way, I'm still up for trading for that Magmortar!" Grey directed at him. "Ya know, I'll give you half my team after that badass display in the Final! I'ma have to look into gettin' one of those."

His fists tightened at the thought of trading away Infernus, something that Grey duly noted and then laughed at before he swaggered down the stairs and left Ash's life.

"It was pleasurable battling with you two," Michael flashed Ash and Neesha a genuine smile. "If you come to Orre in the near-future — not that I have any idea why you would — head to the Pokemon HQ Laboratory and ask for Lily. She'll point you in the right direction."

Ash and Michael locked eyes as the Orrian left down and he nodded to the teenager. He wouldn't forget the deal they'd made, not when he wanted to rightfully beat Michael and surmount the one challenge he'd failed to defeat.

"I guess this is it," Neesha said quietly.

"Yep," Ash nodded, although he felt somewhat hesitant. He couldn't claim that he was particularly close to Neesha, but they'd gone through a lot together. She was one of the three humans who'd suffered Mewtwo's wrath and lived to tell the tale. She was one of the only people outside of the League who'd actually offered help — one of the few that had thought he'd ever need it.

He appreciated that.

"I know we don't know each other that well, but thank you," He said hesitantly. "For everything."

"You're welcome — and you too. You're the reason we're even here right now." Neesha said thoughtfully. The two of them shared a few brief moments of silence before she continued.

"Stay safe out there, alright?" She smiled down at him. "You're a stronger trainer than me, Corey, or Fergus but there's more out there other than fighting. If you need anything or think you can't talk about something with anyone just call one of us, alright? We're all here for each other."

"I will," Ash smiled. "Good luck."

And with that she left.

Ash was the last.

He sighed and absentmindedly ran his fingers over his belt, allowing himself to graze each of his team. It was comforting and helped to soothe the frenzied thoughts intent on raging in his mind.

The boy glanced back to the League box. Lance was sure to still be there, but he didn't want to interrupt the Champion. He knew that Lance didn't get much time to himself and wouldn't take that from him.

Ash finally went down the stairwell, although he didn't intend to return to the house for his last night in Indigo Plateau. Not yet, anyway.


A few minutes later found him sitting in front of the massive brazier that still held the last traces of the Flame's warmth. He glanced down at his shirt, which glowed without restrain now that there weren't other people to gawk.

They'd left long ago.

He wasn't sure why he was here staring into the last traces of this last year. Ash wasn't sad at his loss, even if a faint trace of disappointment still lingered.

But it was just that. Disappointment. Not in his experiences or his career or his friends — never them. Not even in himself, really. Just at the battle, something that was ultimately trivial in regards to his life as a whole.

He'd redeem himself for that loss one day, though. Ash would find that redemption in the endless sands of Orre as he fought a foe that he had lacked the experience to truly match. They'd do battle in those war-torn deserts and finally bring some semblance of peace to the region, even if it was only to each other.

Ash let his hand touch the Feather as it seared his flesh. It wasn't painful, exactly. Just a bit stronger than normal. That was a bit odd, but nothing of his concern.

The trainer shut his eyes and sat in front of that empty torch for what felt like an eternity. He didn't stamp down on any of his trains of thought or hold it off for later consideration. Everything that ran through his mind was processed and elaborated upon.

It was peaceful. Nothing was rejected, nothing was invited.

And finally his eyes opened once more, despite the exhaustion that weighed upon him from the stress of these last two days. As much as he would like to it simply wouldn't do to fall asleep in the Indigo Stadium.

While he knew that Agatha wouldn't do anything overtly cruel, he was relatively certain that being awoken by her or one of her ghosts would not be a pleasant experience. She had her reputation for a reason, after all.

So with that, finally at a semblance of peace, he stood up.

He glanced down at the entirety of the Indigo Stadium for a few moments and crossed his arms. If the Flame was still lit he'd appear as a shade of Lance with the power of Moltres burning behind him.

A rather fanciful image, but he found that he liked the thought of it.

This was what Lance had seen about an hour before, after all. Except it had been filled with life then, vibrant and bright and colorful.

Maybe he'd get to share the same view someday.


It was nice to be back in Pallet Town.

While Indigo Plateau was very nice and provided a powerful image it just didn't compare to the simple nature of his hometown. He'd had to escape to the woods to even have a semblance of the peace he lived here.

He'd only arrived here an hour ago. Professor Oak had Alakazam move him, Gary, his mother, Jonathan, and Amelia here in a single burst of teleportation. It was a rather impressive feat, especially since she had brought their luggage with them as well.

Ash himself had brought only the bare minimum of what he'd need at the Conference, but the rest had apparently decided that their every belonging would be necessary. The amount of luggage Gary, Amelia, Jonathan, and even his mother carried was somewhat awe-inspiring.

Still, he was glad he'd packed so little. He'd already put all of his belongings where they needed to be. His clothes were still in relatively neat piles, but he wouldn't be wearing his traveling clothes too frequently in Pallet Town as he rested and prepared for what was to come.

The medal had joined the Moon Stone's Shard and the Dragon Scale in their places of honor, although it would be put away once he left for Hoenn. He planned on taking both of the other items along with him since they would be particularly useful depending on what pokemon he obtained in the future.

While he wouldn't expand the team too much, he'd like to see just what Hoenn had to offer. Ash wanted to keep the team relatively small so he could focus on training each of them to their highest potential, but some additional variety would be nice too.

Besides, he sorely wanted a ghost. He didn't have a lot of experience battling them outside of Pierce's Gengar and Michael's Dusknoir, but those two battles had ensured that he knew their strength very well.

They offered so many strategic possibilities that he practically frothed at the mouth thinking of it. A ghost would round out his team in a way no other type could, although he'd have to look into asking a ghost-type specialist for tips once he obtained one.

He supposed he could always call Agatha, although he wasn't sure how amenable the Revenant Crone would be to just giving him tips. She seemed like the sort that would only train her apprentices personally and demand excellence from them in all respects.

Certainly not something he was opposed to but he wasn't sure he'd have the time while training with Steven.

"Ash?" His mother's soft voice called from behind him on the pier. Ash glanced away from the deep blue waves that gently lapped the shoreline and turned to his mother, who wordlessly sat down beside him.

"Hi, Mom."

"Do you have any plans for next year? We haven't really talked about it," She remarked as she joined him staring at the calm ocean.

Ash turned from the sea and looked at his mother's concerned face. He supposed it was finally time to tell her, although he had to admit that he was amazed that Gary hadn't spilt his secret. He'd never gotten around to telling his friend what he would do, but he had thought Gary would have told someone by now.

Gary was hardly noted for his discretion, after all.

"Lance offered me a position as an Elite Four trainee. I accepted," Ash told her.

His mother's reaction was priceless. She couldn't seem to process what he'd just said. Her mouth opened and closed a few times and her eyes had widened dramatically.

Ash honestly got concerned for a few moments before the reaction she'd been trying to express finally came out.

"WHAT?!" She shrieked, utterly flabbergasted by his words. Ash just smiled as she continued to sputter. Perhaps he'd have to break historical records like this more often if this was the reaction he received.

Of course, he didn't have too much longer to concern himself with that thought before his mother wrapped him into a bone breaking hug and practically bawled into his shoulder.

"Ashy, I'm so PROUD OF YOU!" She blubbered while still doing her best to blabber out incoherent sentences and remarks that Ash supposed were complimentary. He awkwardly patted her back while she just gripped him tighter. His shoulder was getting wet.

"I knew you were an amazing trainer but —" She got out before she happily hugged him again. Ash knew that if this went on for much longer he'd have to push her away. Lance wouldn't be happy if his newest recruit was relegated to a hospital for broken ribs before Ash had actually done anything. "Wait, how long have you known this?!"

"I got the offer around a week ago. I only decided to accept it two days ago," He shrugged. At her stormy expression he raise his hands to placate his mother. "I wanted it to be a surprise for you. Plus I wasn't sure whether I would take the offer."

His mother sighed and let some of the excitement drain out of her. She was coherent, at any rate. "Any other surprises?"

"As a matter of fact, yes!" Ash exclaimed cheerfully. He couldn't hold back an amused snort at the look his mother sported. "It's connected to my new duties, so don't worry. I'll just be traveling to Hoenn with Steven to train. I'm not quite up to Elite Four standards yet."

"Just training," His mother breathed, obviously relieved. "I can deal with that."

"Well…" He began, well-aware that his mother's glare would match a Hyper Beam in intensity if he looked into it. "I'm on loan to the Hoenn League for the duration of my stay. Team Rocket," he spat, "have begun to regroup and I'm going to help stamp them into the ground and grind them into dust."

His mother blanched. "Ashy…"

"No!" He growled. Even he was surprised by the sheer venom in his tone, although he felt a certain icy fire flood his body in approval. That shocked him out of it more than anything and he raised a hand to clench the Feather like a life-line. "I'm sorry, Mom. But I have to do this. I've hated Team Rocket more than anything else since the St. Anne, but now it's moved beyond personal."

"It's his legacy, don't you understand!" He almost shouted. Ash regained a bit more control. "Team Rocket is Giovanni's plague and I can stop it for good! It's gone from Kanto but I won't let it cause other people pain without doing something about it."

His mother remained silent with wet eyes. She knew that he had to get this out of his system.

Ash breathed. "I was once told that the sins of the father are passed onto the son. I hated that thought at first, but then I understood it for what it was. Maybe I'm not to blame for Giovanni's actions, but I do need to take responsibility for them. I have the power to stop Team Rocket for good and I will. I'll lay his legacy to rest."

He suddenly found himself engulfed in a soft hug that calmed him down for good. The last of his passion drained away and he felt very tired all of a sudden.

"I understand, Ashy…if you have to believe anything I've ever said, believe that." She held him tight. "I know how you feel and, well, I can't stop you anymore. You've grown up — you're so young, but you've already eclipsed anything your parents could have aspired to. You have the right to finish Team Rocket, more than anyone else in the world does."

"Just be careful, alright?" She smiled against his shoulder. "I know you can do it, but that doesn't mean I won't worry the whole time you're out there. That's what mothers are for."

Ash couldn't help but smile back as his mother pulled away from him, although she still kept her soft hand on his shoulder. "You don't need to worry about that. I'm not about to let the Rockets so much as scratch me or anyone else."

His mother nodded, satisfied at that.

They sat in silence for several more minutes after the impassioned exchange. Ash felt solace in the waves and dimly realized that he'd be hundreds of miles across them in a bit over a month's time.

"I can't believe I almost forgot what I came out here to do!" His mother suddenly laughed and turned to look at him again. "Do you remember that call Professor Oak was telling me about?"

Ash nodded. He'd been rather curious to know the source of his mother's happiness.

"Now that you're all grown-up," She teased him, "I've decided to go back to my studies. It was getting pretty boring out here in Pallet Town all alone, you know. Professor Oak was always busy and work was pretty slow this year."

He ignored the last bit of it and focused on what was important. "Really? Where? When?"

"Yes, really!" She practically giggled in excitement. "I'll be studying with Professor Elm in Newbark Town for about a month just to make sure I'm completely caught up with everything — plus he's the most renowned expert on evolution in the Leagues and I can't wait to see what breakthroughs he's made — and then I'll be studying in Goldenrod for a year or two before I can get my degree, depending on if I decide to change my specialty and I might end up staying for a bit longer so that I can look into any other interesting subjects —"

"Take a breath," Ash ordered after he cut his mother off. She'd been rambling happily for quite a while now and he was honestly impressed at how long she'd gone without taking in air. "Continue."

"Thank you. I know I get a little carried away!" His mother laughed. "Anyways, while I'm there I hope to check in with Spencer and Molly over in Greenfield pretty often. He's conducted fascinating research into the Unown and I'd love to see how it's coming along. Plus I'm worried about Molly."

"How so?" He prompted when his mother paused to take another breath. Ash couldn't say he honestly cared that much about Molly — the last time he'd seen her she was a squalling infant — but she seemed to make his mother happy. Uncle Spencer was rather interesting, though, and had regaled him with tales of myths and Legendaries when he was younger. His wife was kind, if a bit distant with both him and his mother.

He made a mental note to talk to Uncle Spencer again at some point. It had been several years but Ash was sure the scientist would be rather interested in his encounters with the Birds, although he wouldn't bring up his involvement with Mew or Mewtwo — that particular entity was better left hidden from prying eyes, no matter how benevolent they might be.

"Spencer's a wonderful parent, but he's always so busy with his research!" Delia lamented. "He's done very well, but I'm worried for them both. Ever since his wife — well, he's thrown himself into his research. Molly's well-taken care of, but I just want to take some stress off of them both."

Ash nodded, although he wasn't sure what his mother meant about Uncle Spencer's wife before she cut herself off. Perhaps she'd left him?

Not that it particularly mattered.

His eyes brightened suddenly. "I can help pay for your studies!"

"What?" His mother frowned, honestly confused.

"I got six hundred thousand dollars for signing onto become an Elite Four trainee and my winnings!" He grinned. "If you want, I —"

"No!" His mother cut him off quickly. He frowned at that. She seemed to realize how harsh her tone had been and her voice softened. "That's very sweet of you, Ashy, but I can't let you do that."

"Why not?" He questioned. "I can help you. I don't need this money and you raised me — I'm the reason you aren't already a League Professor in the first place. I can help you get back to your dream."

His mother shook her head and smiled. "You've already done a lot for me, Ash. Much more than you realize. And this is something I have to do on my own. I've been saving up for this for years now — and that's your money. You might not think it now, but one day you're going to want to settle down and I don't want to take away from that. It's your money, Ash, and it should only go towards your future."

"I understand," He said at last and looked back to the waves.

"I really do appreciate it, Ash. You're too good," His mother sighed and wrapped an arm around him. "But I don't need your money. Just make sure to call me every now and then and let me know you're safe. That's all I want from you, Ash."

He felt a smile flicker onto his face and he nodded silently. His mother squeezed him one more time and stood up.

"I need to go start dinner," She said quietly. "Professor Oak should be getting in soon and he and Gary will be eating with us. If you want you can go invite Jonathan and Amelia and their parents on your way home."

Ash nodded. "Bye."

With that his mother left him on the pier. Ash didn't mind the solitude and stared off at the placid movements of the waves with a small smile.

After an eternity he pulled himself to his feet and turned away from the sea. He'd be crossing it in a month, but for now he was home.

Still, he couldn't help but peer back to the sea one last time as he went to gather his team from their various resting and brawling spots around Pallet. He could put it off, but there was no escaping it.

Hoenn awaited him.

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