The Jolteon fell to the ground, knocked out. The Electabuzz stood nearby, chanting proudly as it saw that its opponent was defeated.
"Jolteon is unable to continue! The Pokemon Master wins!" The judge gestured toward Ash, who showed no expression despite the disappointment he felt. Many Trainers had challenged him over the past month. Not one had been at all entertaining to battle. Each usually only required Ash to use two or three of his six available Pokemon.
Having taken the title of World's Greatest Pokemon Master from his long-time rival Paul five years before, he was responsible for accepting any challenge that he was met with. He had fought his fair share of inexperienced Magikarp hoarders, as well as some phenomenal Trainers who had proved to be quite the challenge to defeat.
This most recent Trainer recalled his Jolteon to its Ball. Ash did the same with his Electabuzz, hopping off of his platform to meet the other Trainer. The electric current running through the field stopped as soon as Ash left his platform.
When Ash had taken over, he'd made use of a system of battle fields. When a Trainer challenged him, they had to choose one of the eighteen types. They would then be required to compile a team of six Pokemon that had that typing. They would then battle Ash on a field specially catered to that type. For example, the Fire field was a pit of boiling lava, and the Ice field was a sheet of ice that covered everything except the two Trainer platforms.
Ash reached his hand out, his face still betraying no emotion. The boy took his hand and shook it. Ash offered him the same advice he gave everybody who lost to him.
"Keep working. You need to be prepared for anything as a Trainer. Your demonstration today showed me that you still have much more work to do before you are ready to become a certified Pokemon Master."
The boy nodded, looking as if he were frightened by Ash's prescence. "Yes, sir." He let go of Ash's hand and slunk away.
Ash sighed as he left. The last time he'd promoted someone to Pokemon Master was over seven months ago. In order to be promoted, a Trainer had to defeat him in battle. If they did that, they got to be promoted- as long as they met the other requirements. Firstly, they had to have at least twenty-four total Badges. Secondly, they had to have made it into the Top 8 of at least two different League competitions. Finally, they had to demonstrate to Ash that they were mature and skilled enough to handle the role.
"Another disappointing defeat."
Ash turned. Behind him stood his adviser and de facto second-in-command, Brock. When he had heard of his old friend's ascension to World's Greatest Pokemon Master, he had come straight to him and demanded a battle. If he won, he said, Ash was entitled to make him a Pokemon Master and invite him into his circle of workers. He had narrowly managed to defeat Ash, earning himself the role as his friend's much respected adviser.
Ash sighed again. "Unfortunately, yes. I don't understand how all of these Trainers qualify to battle me. They seem nowhere skilled enough to have met all of the PM requirements."
"They probably just wanted to battle you for the sake of being able to say they did."
Ash grabbed a towel from the sideline viewing stand and wiped his face. "It still frustrates me. When I challenged Paul for my title, I took it seriously. I spent months training my Pokemon and forming the perfect team. Why can't other Trainers do the same?"
"Perhaps they just care about the fame, not about winning or creating the perfect team."
Ash shook his head. "I don't know. I probably never will."
He left the Electric field and headed back to his house. Being the World's Greatest Pokemon Master had made him a ton of money. So much so that he barely knew what to do with it all. He had bought a nice house, nice cars, tons of nice electronics and furniture, donated to charities, paid off all his loans, and sent a decent chunk of money to his mother in Pallet Town each month. And still here he was, rich as fuck and having no clue what to do with himself.
When he got inside, he just sat down on the couch and thought.
It had been way easier than it should have been to beat that kid. The kid had Pokemon with great potential, but didn't know what he was doing. He had his Pokemon use moves that were way too weak for their level, and Ash could tell they didn't respect their Trainer at all.
He took off his Ball Holster and set it on the coffee table. He'd spent years researching Pokemon typings, moves, abilties, and more. He'd formed team after team and tested them all, constantly changing them until he was satisfied.
He turned on the T.V. and started surfing through channels, looking for something minimally interesting to watch.
He eventually came to Battle Central, a 24/7 cable T.V. channel that aired important battles from all across the world. They usually just showed various, uninteresting battles from minor tournaments. Most of the battles weren't even real battles, just a bunch of Pokemon using various moves for no apparent reason.
But this time, something interesting was actually on the channel. The channel was showing the preliminary portion of an upcoming Gym Leader Test. Gym Leader Tests were implemented by the League a couple of years after Ash had become the World's Greatest Pokemon Master, and were given on an annual basis to each of the Gym Leaders to determine if they still qualified to be a Gym Leader. A certified representative from the League would be sent to battle the Gym Leader and test their Pokemon knowledge. It was one of the few events Ash actually bothered to pay attention to- for one reason.
And that reason was blazing before him on that screen at that very moment.
Ash felt his heart quicken a little when he saw her. It had been ten years since he'd seen her. During that time she'd grown quite considerably, looking much more like a woman than a tomboyish girl. Her autumn colored hair cascaded around her shoulders, and her green eyes sparked with the same enthusiasm and fire he had always known.
"Misty..." He murmured longingly.
"Infatuated much?" A voice teasingly asked behind him.
Ash jerked his head around. Blake Raymond, a good friend of his whom he had met during his second journey through Kanto, was standing off to the side of the couch, a teasing smile on his face. He grinned a bit more. "I didn't think you were the type to fall head over heels for a girl, Ashey-boy."
"Don't call me that." Ash snapped. "She's not a love of mine. We journied together for a while, and I had a crush on her."
"Do you still have one on her now?"
"Did you not hear me say 'had'"?
Blake shrugged. "It's okay to fall in love, Ash. We all have to some day, don't we?"
Ash rolled his eyes. "Nobody has to fall in love, Blake. Most people just do. I'm an exception to the norm. Like usual." His gaze traveled downward.
Blake rested a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Hey, man. Don't sweat it. You're plenty important. You're the World's Greatest Pokemon Master, for Arceus' sake!"
Ash pushed him away. "That's not what I'm talking about, Blake. I'm talking about happiness. I don't care about fame and importance. I care about happiness, which happens to be something I have very little of these days."
"So then go after that lover girl there."
Ash slammed his fist down on the coffee table. "For the last time, she is not my lover!"
Blake held up his hands. "Okay, okay. Jeez. Just tryin' to lighten the mood."
"Yeah, well I'm not really in the mood for that. Get my gist?"
It took him a moment to realize what he was saying. "Yeah, I get it." Slowly, he sat down beside Ash. "Sorry."
Ash's only response was a grunt. His attention had turned back to the television. The footage had switched to a live showing of the battle between Misty and the League representative. The representative sent out a Poison-type Muk, while Misty sent out her Starmie.
Ash watched as the battle quickly escalated from simple duel to intense battle. It was clear both sides were extremely experienced. Ash found himself impressed by how much Misty had grown as a Trainer. This was the first year she was standing as Cerulean City Gym Leader since she was fifteen and had left to further her training as a Water Master. It was apparent to Ash that she had definitely learned a lot from her years spent out training in the middle of Arceus knew where.
"And Starmie lands an effective Hydro Pump attack! Muk retaliates with Toxic! Can Starmie hold on long enough to secure a victory?"
Ash adjusted his position from a sitting one to a reclining one. He had never liked announcers during battles. When he was battling, he found them distracting. When he was spectating, he just found them annoying. Always blaring out pointless information everyone in their right mind had already figured out. Yes, Ash was sure everyone in the Cerulean Gym could see that Misty's Starmie had landed a Hydro Pump and Muk had made a comeback with Toxic.
The battle continued on, the announcer making more pointless and redundant comments about how this was a "heated battle sure to create a lot of steam" and how "both Trainers were extremely skilled and qualified to be in their respective positions".
In the end, Misty's Starmie beat Muk, her Psyduck (which entered battle against her will as usual) lost against a Mightyena, and her Corsola won against a Cacturne. Ash felt immense pride and pleasure as he heard the judge announce Misty as the victor of the battle. He smiled a little.
Blake grinned like a monkey when he saw Ash smile at Misty's victory. "You still like her."
Ash glared at him. "I thought you said you got my point."
"Just because I got your point doesn't mean I have to follow it for the rest of my life."
Ash snorted. "I can very easily fire you right now and have you thrown out of this community."
Blake laughed. "You wouldn't have it in you to throw one of your best friends out."
He raised his eyebrows. "Would you like to test me?"
Blake met his eyes for a moment before looking away. "No, sir." He mumbled.
Ash turned off the T.V. and stood up. "Good." He walked into the kitchen and opened the pantry. He pulled out a half-empty bag of Cheetos and started munching on them, leaning against the counter.
"You know what?" He said.
Blake looked at him. "What?"
Ash licked some of the cheese dust off of his fingers. "I've been thinking a lot lately. About the old days."
"You mean about the days when you and your crush were still together?"
Ash gave him a death glare that would have made a Houndoom faint. He lowered his gaze, even though a small smile was still visible on his lips.
"No, not that. In fact, today was the first day I've even thought about Misty in about five months." His tone got extremely defensive with that sentence, as it always did whenver he was lying. Truth was, he thought about Misty a lot. Of course, he wasn't about to admit that. Espeically not to Blake. Although looking at his friend, Ash could tell he didn't quite believe him.
"What I was talking about was that I've been thinking about how carefree and happy I was when it was just me travelling alone through Kanto and Johto. And, well, I want to experience that again."
Blake, who had walked into the kitchen and poured a glass of water for himself, nearly choked. "What?"
Ash rolled up the Cheetos bag and put it back in the cupboard. "I'm serious. I'm bored out of my fucking mind here. Nobody is even a challenge anymore. I figured I might as well go out and find somebody who is."
"But isn't that like, against the rules or something?"
"Of course it isn't. Back when Red was the Greatest Master, he travelled to and from Mt. Silver all the time. Paul spent almost a year travelling through Sinnoh with his brother. So I'm going to do the same thing."
"But Ash, you don't have a brother."
"Not that, dumbass! I'm going to travel, just like Red and Paul did before me. I'm going back to Kanto."
Blake's mouth snapped shut. A moment later, he said,
"Alright, then, sir. I'll make sure everything stays in order while you're gone."
"Yeah, yeah. Just try not to get in Brock's way while he makes sure everything stays in order, okay?"
"Yes, sir." Blake said rather dejectedly.
Ash cracked his fingers. "Now, leave me to my peace. I have a lot of thinking to do before I leave tomorrow at dawn."
"That soon? But sir, aren't there preparations-"
"No, Blake. There are no preparations to be made. Now go before I call security on you."
Blake looked as if he wanted to argue, but thought better of it and left. Ash didn't take his eyes off of him until he had left. Blake had a tendency to sneak away with a pair of Ash's shoes or the keys to one of his Jaguars every once in a while.
As soon as Ash heard the front door shut and Blake's car start up, he went upstairs to get ready. The first and most important thing was deciding which six Pokemon he'd bring with him. Before, it was as simple as which ones had gone with him to Kanto for his second journey through. But the majority of those Pokemon were training elsewhere now. Charizard was in the Charicific Valley. Pikachu was getting some special one-on-one training with an Electric Master Ash had battled and lost against about two years prior. Blastoise was still leading the Squirtle Squad.
Then again, the whole purpose of going back through Kanto was so that he could relive old memories and experience all of the feelings he felt back when he went through Kanto for the very first time. He didn't need a team of six powerful beasts to do that. He only needed one Pokemon to do it. And he knew which one it was going to be.
He had picked up this little Pokemon while visiting Sinnoh to attend the annual Lily of the Valley Conference. He'd picked it up for the exact reason he was choosing it now, to be used as a starter Pokemon for him when he started his journey again. This little Piplup would become his new fighting partner in the absence of his beloved Pikachu, whom he hoped to reunite with once he made it to the Electric Master's home somewhere in Kanto. Setting the Poke Ball on his desk, Ash went over and leaned against the wall, looking out through his window to see the beautiful landscape of his 120-acre home.
He would miss this place, sure. It had been nice to have everything at his fingertips for the past few years. He got sick of always sleeping outside, relying on the occasional Pokemon Center to get his shower and wash his clothes. He could scarcely believe he was actually going out into the world again to do just that.
But this whole thing made something stir deep inside him. Old feelings were already beginning to surface, conjuring up new ideas and hopes for the future. Once he was through journeying through Kanto, he would move on to the other regions. He wouldn't go through them the same way he had before, battling Gyms and gaining badges. No, he would find a different way, he was sure. After all, he was the World's Greatest Pokemon Master. Nothing was too far out of his reach.
Or so he thought.