The private jet glided effortlessly across the sky, leaving contrails streaked across the clear blue sky. The ocean below looked magnificent, mile after mile of just blue. A flock of bird Pokemon flew calmly by only mere yards from the jet.
Ash sat in one of the seats, reclining in his chair and enjoying a morning cup of juice and an egg sandwich. He loved the feeling of being in the air, and felt a prick of jealousy at the freedom the Pokemon just outside his window had. If only he had wings. Then, he could soar high into the sky and escape the awful parts of his life whenever he wanted. He'd gone skydiving before, but it wasn't the same. He still ended up on the ground long before he wanted to. He sighed longingly, dreaming of a life he'd never get to have.
"Master, are you alright?"
Ash jerked his head around. His private steward, Cullen Chesterfield, stood behind him, a concerned look crossing his face.
Ash rubbed his tired eyes. "Yeah, yeah. I'm fine." Quickly, he finished his juice and sandwich. "Here, Cullen, take care of this for me, will you?"
"Of course, Master. Is there anything else I can get for you?"
Nodding, Cullen swept the empty Styrofoam cup and sandwich wrapper into his hands and walked away. Back in his glory days, Cullen had been a Pokemon Ranger. He had the build of someone who must have been very strong in their younger years, with broad shoulders and a solid, sturdy body. His gray hair was neatly combed and slicked back in a very professional manner, and his beard was trimmed to perfection. Ash had hired him recently to replace his old stewardess, who had walked out on him because supposedly he was "too difficult". Ash knew that was a load of bull. He barely made any requests at all. The girl was just lazy. Cullen, on the other hand, was ten times more efficient.
After some more time spent watching bird Pokemon, taking a run to the John, and then more time watching Pokemon, the plane finally touched down at Indigo International Airport. Ash was out of his seat and trying to get off of the plane before the wheels even stopped moving. Cullen had to practically sit on him to keep him from flinging himself off of the airliner.
Once the plane had finally come to a halt and the stairs had been lowered, Ash broke out into the sunlight. Throwing his arms into the air, he screamed out at the top of his lungs. His voice shot through the still morning air like a missile.
His scream drew the attention of his fans, who were soon flocking around his jet, barely letting him descend onto the ground. He was extremely used to this process by now. Smile, pen, sign. Smile, pen, sign. Smile, pen, sign.
Truth be told, however, he was growing tired of it. When he had first earned his title, he was more than eager to sign everyone's t-shirts and pictures of him. Now, however, he felt no joy from it. Sure, he appreciated his fans, but the thrill of it all just wasn't there anymore. He felt a pang of despair. What if he couldn't get free from his fans like he wanted? He knew his security forces would be watching him 24/7, doing what they could to keep fans from following him and bothering him on his journey. But would it be enough?
Fortunately for Ash, security stepped in after about the twentieth signature. They shooed everyone away, telling them that Ash needed his peace and that they weren't to bother him anymore.
Once everyone was gone, security clustered tightly around Ash and led him to the limo that was parked outside of the airport, waiting to take him to his first stop- Pallet Town. He'd already called his mom and told her that he'd be coming, and she said that she'd get everyone in town together to welcome him back. He would be relieved to see his old town's people again. Pallet Town only had about 120 residents. Back in the day, 120 seemed like such a large number to Ash. Now, it felt more like just one.
The windows of the limo were darkened from the outside so no one could see in, but were lightened on the inside so Ash could see out. As the limo rolled slowly out of the airport, he saw massive clusters of screaming girls and chanting guys everywhere. Some of them had Pokemon that were dressed up in Pikachu costumes, while they themselves were dressed up to look like Ash. The Pokemon Master himself had never understood why people thought dressing up like their favorite celebrity would ever get them anywhere.
Once the limo pulled out onto the main road, things got less crowded. Cop cars quickly joined them, their lights flashing to warn off potential fan stalkers. Ash longed for the days when he could drive anywhere without blue and red lights striking through his field of vision every five seconds. He leaned his head back against the seat and closed his eyes, trying to block out those lights that poked at him as often as his fans.
As soon as he shut his eyes, he saw her. In all of her new-found glory, standing in the spotlight of her Gym. Her palace. Her place of mastery. She reigned over the water like he reigned over a Poke Ball. She was meant for the water as he was meant for the battlefield. He saw himself then, walking toward her. She moved, too, heading slowly toward him, a broad smile stretching her tanned face.
Finally, at long last, they reached each other. Their feet skimmed over the floor as they pulled one another into an embrace, caressing each other for the first time in years. Seeing each other for the first time in years. Their eyes reflected each other's love, their smiles each other's joy. Neither could live without the other. They were one, a single force that would take the world by storm. He leaned forward, she leaned forward, their lips mere inches away from touching.
Ash jerked awake, nearly hitting his head on the low ceiling of the limo. How long had he been out?
He checked out the window. Farmland stretched far into the distance, every inch covered by crops. Various Pokemon and their farmer Trainers tended to the yield. Occasional farm houses appeared sitting majestically atop a tall hill, surrounded by beautiful trees and more crops. The beginnings of Pallet Town.
He was almost home.
Ash could almost taste his own excitement. Here he was, sitting in the back of a limo, coming home for the first time in years. He was dying to see his mom again. Professor Oak. His friends in Pallet. Even Gary. He wondered if his rival-turned-friend had made any significant advances in his research while Ash was gone.
Ash looked down at his hands. They were shaking fiercely with excitement. He had never felt so excited in his life. It was like he was becoming a Pokemon Trainer all over again. Memories flashed through his mind. Him waking up late and racing to Professor Oak's Pokemon Laboratory. Oak telling him the three starters had already been taken. Ash deciding to take the spare one despite its lack of respect for people. Pikachu shocking him and eventually, the people of Pallet. Him and Pikachu starting their journey.
All of that, which before had seemed infinitely far, was now so close. He was home again, back in the place he knew better and loved more than the back of his own hand. This was his home, not his private island. This was where he belonged. Deep down, he knew this was the right choice. For so many years he'd been cooped up on that island like a Pokemon in a Poke Ball. He had fame and fortune, two things he had dreamed of but didn't end up wanting in the end. Now, sitting here in his limo, he knew that he wanted this. This was what was best. He was him again. He was coming back.
At last, at long sweet last, the limo pulled up in front of his old home. He jumped out, and was greeted by the residents of Pallet. They held up a banner with his name scrawled over it and chanted his name. Almost instantly, Ash's mother and Professor Oak rushed forward, the former wrapping Ash in a tight hug.
"Oh, my baby boy, you've gotten so big, and so handsome!" Delia Ketchum said, squeezing her son even tighter.
Ash coughed. "Mom... you're - crushing - me..."
At that moment, Delia seemed to realize what she was doing. She immediately let go of her son, laughing a bit. "Sorry, dear. How have you been? Have you been remembering to change your underwear every day?"
Ash gritted his teeth. "Mom! Not in front of all these people!"
Professor Oak, who had been laughing at the scene before him, stepped in to welcome Ash home. "You'll have to tell me all about your experiences later, young man. I'm sure there's much to learn from the World's Greatest Pokemon Master!"
Despite his distaste for the title, Ash put on his proud face and gave Samuel Oak a thumbs-up. "Sure thing, Professor! You'll have to tell me about what's been going on here, too. I'm sure I've missed a lot!"
Samuel scratched the back of his ear and chuckled. "Well, not really, actually." They all laughed at that reminder that Pallet was no place for big events.
Delia led Ash inside, presenting him with a house decked out in all sorts of party goods. Streamers hung from the ceiling in every room, confetti littered the floor, and the smell of freshly-baked cake filled the air.
"I picked out some new clothes for you, Ash." Delia said, exchanging her sandals for a pair of slippers. "You might want to change into them. Your current clothes are rather... un-party-like."
Ash opened his mouth to retort that his clothes were fine, then realized that she was probably right. He was wearing a blue hoodie over a white t-shirt and a pair of faded jeans. His black sneakers were scuffed up and mud-stained. Feeling a bit embarrassed that he looked like a twenty-year-old with no clue how to dress himself, he backed up the stairs and into his room.
His room was just like he'd left it ten years ago. A Pikachu-covered blue comforter sat spread neatly across his bed, his replacement Voltorb clock ticking on the dresser beside the bed. Interesting that his mom had bothered to continuously replace the batteries over the years.
Ash ran his hands down the walls. He knew it probably looked crazy, but he just missed this place so much. He had been gone so long he had almost forgotten how vibrant his light green walls were or how plush his sky blue carpet was. All of his trophies from his original journey were still there, freshly dusted and polished. Ash suddenly wished he'd brought his World's Greatest Pokemon Master certificate with him. Oh well. Nothing could really dampen his good mood today.
Seeing that his mom had indeed left him new clothes, Ash kicked the door shut and changed. His mom had picked out a nice white button-up shirt, a black tie, and black dress pants for him. A pair of brand-new black shoes and dress socks sat at the foot of his bed. As he changed into them, he hoped to Arceus that his mom hadn't used her monthly payment from him to buy himself something. The money was supposed to be for her, not for him. However, Ash knew that he could never talk Delia out of spending her money on him. Once a mother, always a mother.
Once he was through changing, he combed out his messy black hair and applied some holding gel. Looking at himself in the mirror, he understood what his mom had said about him becoming quite handsome. Now, Ash was no selfish brat, but he, like every human being, liked to admire himself from time to time. And there was plenty for him - and the girls - to admire. His face had gone from soft and childlike to defined and manly. A shadow of a beard was beginning to show itself on his face. His brown eyes sparked with a fiery excitement. His features had become coarse over the years, with him developing high, defined cheekbones and a rounded chin. The only thing he didn't like about him was his nose, which had become somewhat pointy.
Shaking himself out of his admiring stance, Ash opened the door and walked back downstairs. He went around from group to group, greeting old friends and receiving compliment after compliment about how he'd grown up into a fine young man. Everything felt different to Ash, but still very much the same. Everyone was treating him like an adult now. No longer did the older residents of Pallet look down on him as someone they just needed to tolerate for a few hours. No longer did the girls look at him with distaste, like he was some kind of Garbordor clone. Now, they all looked at him with pride and joy. True pride and joy. And he loved it.
Ash was just beginning to make his way over to the punch bowl when someone stopped him. A firm hand gripped his shoulder, and he turned. His eyes widened with surprise when he saw Brock standing behind him, wearing a deep blue suit and tie. It took Ash a few moments to find his tongue, which Brock found fairly amusing.
"Brock? What in the name of Arceus are you doing here?"
His best friend smiled. "I decided that I couldn't possibly miss your return to Pallet Town, so I left Blake in charge of the place." When he saw a look of serious concern cross over Ash's face, he added, "Don't worry. I made sure to tell security to keep your house under lock and key."
Ash sighed with relief. "Thanks, Brock-o. I'm really glad you're here."
He nodded. "That's not the only reason I came, though. I have another reason."
Brock nodded, gesturing toward someone with his hand. Looking around his friend, Ash saw none other than his old Hoenn companions, May and Max, sitting and laughing together on one of the living room couches.
Ash rushed toward them. "May! Max! You guys made it!"
May and Max immediately jumped up to greet Ash, shouting greetings and how they couldn't believe they were finally seeing each other again after ten years. May and Max had changed just as much as Ash had. May had gotten a lot taller, now standing only about two inches shorter than Ash, who was about 6'1. She had grown her brown hair out and dyed the tips purple, as it seemed a lot of the girls were doing these days. She had filled out a lot, developing an hourglass figure that Ash found himself admiring. She was wearing an elegant pink dress and brown sandals.
Max, on the other hand, was still pretty short, only being about 5'6. Now seventeen, he looked a lot different. He had grown out his oxford blue hair so that it was about shoulder-length, and had traded in his nerdy glasses for a pair of more professional ones. He had also exchanged his schoolboy look for a more adult one, wearing a sky blue button-up shirt, blue-and-black striped tie, and white dress pants. Ash thought about how much it would suck to spill something on those.
Ash looked down at Max. "How's your journey been, Max? That is, if you decided to go on one."
He beamed at the older Trainer. "Of course I went on a journey, Ash! I went through Hoenn and Sinnoh, and then ended up taking a break to help Dad in his Gym. The experience has been good for me. I'm hoping to move on through Kanto next, though, seeing as I'm here and all."
"What about you, Ash?" May asked. "Have you been up to trouble since I wasn't around to keep an eye on you?" She winked teasingly at him.
He laughed. "I can't say I've stayed totally out of trouble, May, but I've tried! Things've been busy at the island. Lots of Trainers coming through." Who suck, he added silently.
May nodded, seeming very interested. "Well, Ash Ketchum, I'll just have to stop by your island sometime and pay you a visit! When are you planning on going back, anyway?"
Ash bit his tongue. Clearly May had no clue how unhappy he truly was in his position. Not that she would, anyway. She hadn't heard anything of Ash except what was said on T.V. and by him in interviews, which were always closely scripted by his publicist to hide anything unattractive about his life. Putting on his best fake smile, he confidently answered that he would be returning once he was satisfied with his journeying.
May pushed him playfully with her shoulder. "Just don't be too long, Mr. World's Greatest Pokemon Master."
There was that stupid title again.
All of a sudden, Ash heard his name being called. "Ash? Ash Ketchum? Does anyone know where a Mr. Ash Ketchum is?"
Ash turned, waving the man who was calling for him over. He felt a flash of curiosity as he saw that this man was wearing an official Pokemon League uniform. He hoped he wasn't here to inform Ash that Blake had destroyed his island home and given away all of his earnings.
The man halted before Ash and pulled out a clipboard. Flipping through some pages, he then held it out to Ash with a pen. "Can I have your signature here?"
Ash grabbed the pen but didn't sign. He looked at the man warily. "What is this for?"
"Confirmation that I have given you a formal invitation."
"Invitation to what?"
The man sighed. In an extremely monotone voice, he said, "This year the International Pokemon League is hosting its very first annual Tournament of Legends. The Tournament of Legends brings highly skilled, extremely talented, experienced Trainers from across the world together to compete for the title of Legendary Trainer. This title is the most prestigious title of all, even surpassing the title of World's Greatest Pokemon Master. The tournament consists of several parts that requires competitors to travel across the Pokemon world and embark on a dangerous journey that will push their skills to the max. If you are interested, the opening ceremony is on July 2nd. The same invitation is extended to you." His gaze traveled to May as he said this, whose eyes widened in surprise.
"July 2nd?" Ash echoed. "That's in two days."
The man nodded. "Indeed. The opening ceremony is being held at the Indigo Plateau, not far from this very household."
Max looked expectantly at the man. "Am I invited?"
The man shook his head. "Sorry, but no. Only the most experienced and skilled Trainers may compete. You do not qualify for entry."
"Not fair!" Max whined, his childish personality showing prominently beneath his grown-up exterior. "Why does she get to go and I don't?" He gestured angrily at May, who grinned and said, "It's all in the game, Max." This earned her a dirty look from her younger brother.
The man sighed. "Well, I'd best be going. I have many more Trainers to visit. Nice meeting you, Master Ash. May." He dipped his head to them both. He started to walk away, only to come back when he remembered that he needed May's signature. After getting it, he departed.
Any pity Ash would have felt for Max was drowned by pure excitement and determination. He finally had the perfect excuse to go on a worldwide journey! All of his fans would be so busy watching the other competitors that they wouldn't bother him. He'd be home free! He'd fight hard and win that title of Legendary Trainer, and he'd forever secure his place as the world's strongest Trainer. This was exactly what he needed, a gateway into a new life. He could tell that May was just as thrilled as he was. Even though he hadn't been invited, Max still looked excited. Ash wouldn't have been surprised if he was already cooking up a plan on how to get into that tournament. Ash could already feel the determination and rivalries between them sparking.
He was so caught up in his excitement that he didn't notice his mom and Professor Oak come up behind him. It took Delia three tries to get Ash's attention.
"Mom, you'll never believe what happened!" Ash said. "I just got invited to the Tournament of Legends!"
She smiled kindly. "We know already, dear. In fact, we're here to give you more news!"
Ash came down enough from his excitement to listen. "Is it about another tournament?"
"Well, then, what is it?"
Delia and Samuel exchanged a look. They both smiled at each other, as if sharing some kind of silent thought. They stared into each other's eyes, seemingly lost there for a few minutes. Finding this a bit weird, Ash poked at them more for an answer.
"Come on, guys! Tell me!"
The two of them looked straight at Ash, looking extremely happy. After another moment had passed, Delia burst out,
"Samuel and I are getting married!"