Rating : PG-13
A Rolling Stone
Come gather ‘round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’
- Bob Dylan. The Times They Are A-Changin'.
Chapter One - Far Away Eyes
It’s all about moving on.
Went back to the little pond by my house a few months ago. Took a week off from the gym. I was going to relax - you know, the whole fishing and sleeping routine. It was still there, so was a little kid’s fishing rod just like the one I had used. Pretty cool. Things weren’t the same, though, no matter how much I wanted them to be. Gary wasn’t there to make things difficult for me, there was no thrill through your body when the fishing rod jittered around. When I was eight or nine or ten the excitement wasn’t about catching a fish or not catching a fish. That little tug - the possibility of a fish having been nibbling on the bait - justified hours of sitting around daydreaming. I would go home and it wouldn’t have been about how many fish I had caught, it would be about that surge of electricity running through me when I had come close to getting one. I mean, I didn’t even know what to do when I caught fish, normally I’d just let them go.
It’s all about competition now.
How many fish? How big are the fish? Catch any Magikarp? Nothing’s ever just about living anymore, it’s about how much you can win while living. You’re not judged by how nice you were to people, you’re judged by how good you do. The grave won’t say ASH KETCHUM - A NICE GUY. The grave’s going to say ASH KETCHUM - GYM LEADER. Gym leader. Gym leaders don’t do anything; gym leaders are the punching bags for the kids who will do something. Not quite a Pokemon Master, but I’ll take what I can get. That window passed by years ago. Sinnoh was my last chance, I gave it a good run, and I settled. Nothing wrong with that.
I glanced down at my cup. I always forgot how different the water tasted in Hoenn - not better or worse, just different. Richer, sweeter. You couldn’t drink as much without feeling sick to your stomach. Believe me, I’ve tried. The cheap little red cups were the same everywhere, one of those little constants you know you’d regret if they went away.
Everyone was having a great time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no loner, or an outsider, you just start needing to spend more time with yourself once you get stuck being a gym leader. It can be a pretty lonely job, and it’s like a virus that just invades your whole life. Things start being less fun, more win or lose - and the job requires a lot of lose. Being forced to lose to a kid and his Wartortle, or a girl and her Ponyta, every few days? My Pokemon can’t stand it. I can’t stand it. It’s a humbling experience, let me tell you. Humbling enough that you don’t run to the limbo pole the minute it comes out like you used to. Oh, I still played - and did a great job - but it wasn’t as fun as it used to be. Everyone’s growing up, I couldn’t help but thinking, and it’s no fun. Professor Oak - the old Professor Oak - wasn’t even as lively as he used to be. He still got up and mingled, but he had a strained look on his face. His right arm dug into his chest, and worry lines were etched onto his face. Not even sixty-five, I thought, annoyed with how unfair nature could be to him.
Picking up the magazine closest to the table I was sitting at, a grin couldn’t help but escape my face. The cover showed Dawn - older and more confident, but remarkably alike the same old Dee Dee he had traveled with - and her Lopunny. Both were, in their own right, hugely successful fashion models already. Dawn had been sick with nerves the day of her first shoot, profusely saying it was not for her, until the assistant whipped out the finalized version of a design she had drawn up. Dawn traveled around all over the world now, still doing contests as often as she could (which wasn’t, as she always ranted, often enough), but had made it out to Littleroot for the occasion. Max hardly knew her, but he appreciated the gesture. I haven’t said more than ten words to her. People drift apart. Topics get fewer and fewer. That’s life, I guess. How many times can you say how cool it is that Buneary evolved? Not to mention that was years ago. Right before the Johto Grand Festival. For no good reason I hadn’t made it - I could close the gym anytime I wanted, after all- , but she hadn’t minded. People had never seemed to expect much of me, they still treat me like a kid.
I picked at the food on my plate. Some chicken and corn. Home-cooked by Caroline. May had tried to help, but after the first burnt batch of cookies had gotten ushered out. Wonder if Drew would’ve eaten them.
“Whatcha thinking about?”
Glancing up, I was relieved to see it was just Misty. Misty, stuck in the same rut but seemingly fine with it. She hadn’t mentioned being a water master in years. Another kid’s dream, I guess.
She hadn’t bothered dressing up, she rarely did. The last time I saw her in anything but a throw-on tee shirt and jeans was at her oldest sister’s wedding a year ago. No need for her to impress anyone anymore. She and Tracey were like an old married couple already, and neither had even hit twenty yet.
“Earth to Ash.” She waved a hand over my face, one of her old dangling bracelets nearly hitting my nose.
I answered with confusion, that guttural sound where you have nothing important to say so your mouth doesn’t bother getting words out. She repeated the question, her cheerful, party-worn face hinting some concern. “You okay?”
“Good. Punch?” I offered my cup.
She ignored it. I would have too. Backwash. “You’ve never been good at lying, Ash. Why bother trying it?”
I thought of being a wise-*** for a second, but when I opened my mouth nothing clever came out. I stared up at her, expressionless. Defiant. “I’m fine, really.”
“Nobody’s mad at you, Ash. We know you wanted to make it. It just didn’t work out. We’re not blaming you for a ferry getting delayed.”
I wanted to tell her that it wasn’t about that, or anything in particular at all. You know how words just refuse to come out sometimes? Maybe it was stubbornness or maybe I just didn’t know what to say. Whatever reason I had for it didn’t matter to Misty. For a second I could see her nostrils flare and her ears perk up, the old attitude flaring up again. It cooled after a tense moment. Misty smiled thinly. “Fine. Between you and May this place is giving me the blues. If Drew weren’t even moodier than you I’d say you were a match made in heaven.”
Rolling her eyes, she walked back to Tracey a few tables away. I could vaguely hear “I tried, he doesn’t want to talk. It’s like he’s eighteen and just going through puberty now.”
Wonder what’s going on with May?
So far as I knew, she had no reason not to be even more cheery than normal. Max had just become the youngest League Champion in years, hadn’t even lost a single Pokemon. I’d be jumping up and down like an idiot.
Max, doing something I couldn’t. Four tries, one try. He was always a talented kid.
Clouds were starting to fill up the sky; Norman would move the party inside in a minute. He had been hinting at an announcement for hours, hopefully he hadn’t planned on bringing in a petting zoo. Rain in less than twenty, probably. Then I wonder how Pikachu’s holding up.
I was about to get up - you know, mingle. Maybe check in with Drew and Barry, or at least see if Barry had gotten strangled yet. From the corner of my eye I saw someone standing up on the little makeshift podium Caroline had set up for Norman. It wasn’t Norman, though, or even Caroline. Not Max or May.
“Can I have everyone’s attention for a minute, please?” Cynthia began.
This could be interesting.
[Author's Note: Just spent about a week completely rewriting what I've got done, including this chapter. Turns out it works better in first person.]