AN: I realized that I never clarified this before but, in my story,, Ash ISN'T 10. The idea of ten-year-olds going out on these journeys only makes sense in a story for kids, which is fair as that's what the original medium was. But my story is taking things more seriously, so Ash is starting his journey in his teens. Still young enough to be cocky and naïve about the world since nothing seriously bad had actually happened to him yet, but old enough to register the need to truly improve himself.

A Moment of Clarity

Chapter 4

-Ash-

"Mr. Ketchum, your Pokémon are ready for you!" the cheerful voice of Nurse Joy snapped Ash from his concentrated thoughts as he got off the couch at the Center, smiling as he collected Spearow's pokeball and allowed Pikachu to hop onto his shoulder, "Thank you for using our center and we wish you luck with your upcoming battles." The ever-cheerful nurse smiled as he returned the gesture, waving as he went to head out.

"Ashy Boy?" hearing the surprised voice if his onetime best friend, Ash turned to see Gary leaving the kitchen area.

"Hey Gare Bear." Ash smirked back, his old friends taunts not bothering him as much as they used to. Then again being chased by a horde of angry Pokémon in a thunderstorm before running into the local Mafia had put several things into perspective for him.

"Figured you'd have left town by now." Gary looked surprised as he fell into step beside Ash, clearly curious about something.

"Nah, my gym battle reservation is for today." Ash checked his watch "I should probably be heading to that anyway."

"Lucky, I wasn't able to get one till tomorrow." Gary sighed and Ash noted how exhausted the Oak looked.

"What happened to you anyway? I haven't seen you this tired and cranky since that time when we were kids and some trainer's Pokémon started a territory war at the corral." Ash may now always agree with Gary or his attitude, but they were best friends once. Not to mention it was just common decency at this point.

"Some crazy harpy has been stalking me since Viridian." Gary pinched the bridge of his nose "She claims you owe her a bike and since she couldn't find you, she was going to follow me until she got said bike. She's loud, rude, insufferable, chased away Pokémon I wanted to catch, and tried to choke me when this lunatic with a sword attacked me in the woods."

"You met that Samurai idiot too?" Ash winced in sympathy before frowning as he thought about who Gary could be talking about, "Wait, this girl have Orange hair and an obsession with Water Pokémon?"

"Yeah. So, did you actually destroy her bike?" Gary asked, apparently too tired to be his usual snarky ass self.

"What happened was I was running from the Spearow flock." Ash shook his head as they waited for a light to change, the Gym visible ahead "Pikachu and I weren't getting along yet, so I tried catching what I thought was a pidgey by myself by throwing a rock. Turns out it wasn't a Pidgey, so I booked it."

"Sounds pretty normal so far." Gary shrugged, the internet full of stories of people having to run from wild Pokémon they'd pissed off, "I fail to see how the bike thing comes into play though."

"Impatient as ever Gare Bear." Ash quipped as they started forward again "But I tried jumping over the waterfall into the river to escape them. That orangette was fishing there and her hook caught my clothes before she heaved me onto shore. I was still getting my vision back and coughing up water when I heard 'are you alright?'. I said I was fine, and she punched me in the face, shouting that she couldn't care less about me and was talking to my Pokémon. Given she'd just assaulted me and the Spearow were still coming I grabbed her bike and bolted to escape from that, the spearow still chasing me. The bike got struck by lightning during the story after I got thrown off, so I had to get to Viridian on foot."

"Can't really blame you." Gary grunted as they entered the Gym, Ash showing his ID to have the Gym leader alerted that his scheduled opponent was there, Gary heading up to the stands, apparently wanting to watch the match.

"Hello challenger," The rather large Gym Leader, Brock Stone, smirked at him "and welcome. To make sure I have your information correct I wish to confirm how many badges you have and how many Pokémon."

"This is my first Gym Battle and I have two Pokémon." Ash nodded as the gym trainers, and several trainers in the stands to observe the Gym leader's strategies, all snickered since one of those two was clearly a Pikachu, not looking beyond type advantage.

"Are you sure you want to do this then, and not wait till you've caught more?" Brock raised a questioning eyebrow as Ash merely turned his hat around, intent to battle clear.

"Very well then. I shall use two Pokémon as well. Only the challenging trainer, you, may substitute Pokémon." Brock nodded to the referee who raised his flags, Brock sending out a geodude while Ash called nodded to Pikachu.

"The first match is to be Geodude versus Pikachu, begin!" The referee declared as Ash tensed his body, eyes sharpened to a laser focus. It was time to see how far their training had come.

-Gary-

Hands steepled in front of his face, Gary saw Ashy boy send out a Pikachu of all things against the Rock Gym leader's Pokémon, public knowledge confirming that all of Brock Stone's Pokémon for this level of trainer being part ground as well, so he wasn't sure what Ash's plan was. He was still sure Ashy boy had somehow made one though, given the look in his eyes.

"Quick attack into Iron tail." Ash ordered, the small rodent shooting off in a blur of impressive speed before Brock could get a word in edgewise, the rock trainer likely more focused on being reactionary than proactive.

"Geodude, Catch it." Brock ordered, both the gym leader and his Pokémon trying to keep up with the small blur that was shooting around the arena to build up momentum and look for a good place to strike.

"Kick up a sandstorm Pikachu." Ash ordered, his starter complying as the glowing iron tail was shoved into the ground, slowing down their speed somewhat but kicking up a fierce veil of sand, dirt, and debris to obscure vision. "Now try the variation we made during training." Oh, this would be good.

"Pika, pika, PIKA, PIKA!" the small electric mouse was clearly moving fast again before Gary saw him shoot out of the debris cloud, rolling forward into a forward spin, tail sticking out and glowing with steel energy as they came down like a sawblade on a Geodude who couldn't see them to block effectively.

"Geodude, use rollout! Keep moving!" Brock ordered, the Gym leader taking this fight seriously while those in the stands weren't laughing anymore.

"Pikachu, use dig." Ash ordered, surprising Gary with yet another move that should have been hard to train a Pikachu to use this early in one's journey, unless they had help at any rate.

The dust cloud not yet fully lingered, all Gary got to confirm that Ash's starter heard the order was a sharp "Pika!" before there was silence apart from the zooming of the Gym Leader's geodude which eventually blew away the cloud to show an empty field. What makes it worse is that Gary knew a move like Rollout took serious training to pull out from, training this low level a Pokémon wouldn't have if they were being used in gym battles against rookie trainers. No, while it had helped Brock get away from another iron sawblade attack all it was doing now was tiring out Geodude and making them dizzy. Old Ash might have been impatient enough to just call out for Pikachu to attack right now anyway but this one? He seemed much smarter, more calculating. This one was using Stone's choice to the fullest advantage even as the less intelligent trainers in the stands started heckling Ash for being a coward. The ticking of the clock on the wall seemed to echo in the room as Gary waited for the next inevitable moment of confrontation, noticing Geodude slowing down further and further until they were stopped, staggering about and clearly dizzy.

"Now!" Ash shouted, startling most as his sharp shout shattered the silence, his Pikachu bursting up from the ground to uppercut Geodude with dig before spinning to backhand the rock type away with iron tail.

"Geodude is unable to battle, Pikachu is the winner!" the referee called out when it was clear Geodude was out for the count, Ash and Pikachu cheering happily.

"He uses his speed and some super effective moves to take out a slower but far sturdier Pokémon." Gary noted, impressed by the actual strategy Ash was showing. Whatever had happened to his old neighbor it was certainly interesting.

"Alright, let's see how you handle this one. Go, Onix!" out of the next ceramic orb came a rock snake, large even for one of the Onix line.

"Pikachu, come on back." Ash ordered as his mouse scampered back over "Come on out Spearow!" the small but aggressive flying type, one Gary hadn't expected to see after Ash's story earlier, came out with a prideful cry. After the last battle though, nobody wanted to heckle Ash's choice in Pokémon, at least not openly.

"Second match between Onix and Spearow, begin!" The referee declared as Onix roared in challenge.

"Toxic." Ash ordered, gaze sharp as the Spearow let out the poison status move, one he knew most Spearow didn't tend to learn in the wild, as their opponent was envenomated.

"Toxic?!" Brock clearly wasn't expecting that given his gaping expression.

Ash, who Gary knew would have taken the chance to gloat in the past, only saw opportunity with his opponent's shock "Thousand cuts style." Ash ordered as his Spearow's wings glowed with steel energy, much like Pikachu's tail had. While Pikachu versus Geodude had been all about using speed and strong attacks to overwhelm a slow but sturdy Pokémon and avoiding damage in return, Spearow versus Onix was all about stacking up small damage for a big total while using their smaller size to nimbly dodge around the bulky and cumbersome rock snake. Gary saw Spearow continually do fly by strikes, nicking away at Onix's health and reapplying the toxic whenever it began to fade away.

"Enough!" Brock called, returning Onix before the Rock Snake could faint "At this point I'm not going to win. I'm impressed trainer, I've never had someone use strategies like that against me. I'll have to train my Pokémon to hit smaller faster targets from now on. Congratulations, you've earned your Boulder Badge." Ash finally let his old exuberance show as he let out a happy 'whoop', his Pokémon just as excited as they accepted the badge from the Gym leader, those in the stands all whispering to themselves about what they just saw.

"Not bad Ashy Boy." Gary smirked as he got out of his seat, "Not bad at all."

"Where is that idiot Ketchum?!" he heard the orange haired harpy screaming outside the center, noticing her harassing some other trainers who she'd probably been interrogating about where to find him.

"I saw him battle at the gym earlier." Gary shrugged as all heads snapped towards him, "He mentioned wanting a bug type for his team next though." Gary saw Misty's eyes widen with revulsion and unholy fury at the possible lead before she ran back towards Viridian Forest, the closest place to find bug types.

"Man, she's crazy." One trainer shook their head before looking Gary's way "And I saw that battle too. Why would you throw that Ash kid under the bus?"

"I didn't." Gary chuckles "He did tell me he wanted to catch a bug type for his team but he's going to wait till he can get a lift to Goldenrod in Johto to do their bug catching contest. I'm just buying my rival a little head start from the harpy." With that, he walked away from the now amused trainers. Shaking his head, Gary thought back to what Ash had told him after his gym battle, about going to Mount Moon to find some Zubat and Sandshrew to train with his Pokémon, figuring if a Pokémon could learn a move by TM then they should be able to learn it through training and he was honestly right. It took some work, but his Pokémon got the moves down. He'd have to be sure to let gramps know about Ash's little discovery and tell his Gramps not to tell him what Ash catches or vice versa. Wouldn't be any fun if the surprise was gone when they finally battle as equals. "Keep impressing me Ashy boy." Gary smirked in the direction of Mount Moon and Cerulean where he knew Ash was actually going "You're finally getting interesting."