"Gou? You awake?"

Ash's voice wakes Gou from the half-doze he'd fallen into; he stifles a yawn as he leans to peer blearily over the edge of the top bunk. "Yeah. Why?"

It's hard to tell for sure in the nighttime gloom, but even though Ash's gaze is directed upwards Gou is oddly certain that he isn't looking at him.

Which is pretty unusual, especially when Ash had been the one to start talking first and there aren't exactly many pokemon around to distract him, but that's nothing compared to what he says next. "How much do you trust Professor Cerise and the others?"

"Wha–" Gou startles completely awake at that.

No matter how hard he rubs at his eyes, though, he can't seem to rearrange the words into a shape that makes sense – or better yet, reveal this as some weird dream that he's having.

"He's a Professor, and Chloe's dad," Gou says slowly, trying to piece together an answer to a question he can't even begin to understand, but the words fall short into a silence that's not unlike every single time Ash has said something incomprehensible to anyone but him and Pikachu.

And Ash definitely looks mystified now, one arm still curled around a sleeping Pikachu as he frowns vaguely at Gou. It's a novelty, being on the other end of this situation, but Gou finds that it's not one that he's enjoying at all.

Flopping back down on the bed, Gou blinks up at the ceiling: okay, so he's clearly missed something fundamental to the question. Time to backtrack.

"Why'd you ask?" Gou questions in turn. If he can understand that, then maybe…

"What Chrysa and Ren were talking about just now – you heard it too, right?" Ash says instead, leaving Gou to scramble in the wake of the non-answer. "About the whole bond phenomenon thing."

Gou winces despite himself; talking about is putting it mildly, really. The two research assistants had gone from planning upcoming studies in Kalos to loudly disagreeing over some witness reports of an unnamed trainer exhibiting the bond phenomenon with their Greninja. It'd clearly been a well-trodden argument between them: Ren had been adamant that it was genuine, while Chrysa remained skeptical, citing the convenient lack of properly documented evidence, and honestly Gou is inclined to agree with h–

–no, wait.

Thoughts screeching to a halt, Gou backtracks again, this time putting Kalos together with Ash's improbable aptitude at making friends (faster than Gou can even catch a pokemon), and nearly sends himself careening over the edge of the top bunk as he sticks his head out again to stare at Ash.

"Don't tell me you knowwho that trainer is?" The words come out in a near-yelp, though Gou manages to keep it down almost belatedly at the sight of Pikachu's still-snoozing form.

"…I guess you could say that, yeah," Ash answers after a beat, a strange expression playing across his face, and if it'd been literally anyone else Gou would've said that they were exaggerating, maybe playing up the most passing of acquaintances just to brag.

His experience with Ash so far suggests that the exact opposite is likely to be true here, and it's only further evidenced by the sheepish look he gives Gou now. "It just kinda happened, y'know? I did say that I travelled around Kalos for quite a bit."

One of these days, Gou thinks, he needs to come up with an appropriate (so probably pokemon-related) metaphor to explain to Ash how astronomically unlikely the stuff that "just happens" to him is.

For now Gou decides to just accept that Ash had somehow run into a trainer whose existence might as well be legend, and backtracks yet again. "What does that got to do with how much I trust them, though?"

This time the pause stretches out, long enough that Gou almost wants to check if Ash had fallen asleep instead.

But Gou's also well-aware by now that Ash is a restless if deep sleeper, like he can't stop being on the move even when at rest, and right now the other boy is far too still for that.

So Gou waits. Catching pokemon has given him plenty of practice in patience, at least.

"The last time someone took notice of… what that trainer and Greninja could do," Ash eventually says, "some really bad stuff happened."

It might be the first real answer he's gotten so far, but to Gou it feels like his world has just turned on its end. For Ash, who runs towards potentially-lethal pokemon moves and a dozen other dangers like he can't even imagine getting hurt, to call whatever happened really bad –

Gou doesn't know what to think.

He's still trying to figure that out when Pikachu, who must've stirred awake at some point without him noticing, slips out from under Ash's arm to nudge up firmly against his chin.

Ash laughs, and it's like lifting away a cloud cover Gou hadn't even realised was there. "I'm fine, Pikachu. Go back to sleep, you trained real hard today."

"Pi pika, pikapi," answers Pikachu, sounding… reproachful? Concerned? Gou can't really tell, not like Ash can, but either way he agrees with the sentiment.

Ash gives an exaggerated groan. "Don't you even start," he grumbles, but he's already curling his other hand up even as he says it, and Pikachu settles with a pleased pikaaa as Ash begins running fingers through its fur.

Gou doesn't miss the residual tension in either of their postures, though, if only because he knows to look for it right now, and that decides the answer for him. "That's exactly what being a research fellow is all about, though!"

Ash goes back to looking confused. "Huh?"

"Gathering data, and drawing your own conclusions from that," Gou explains, and hopes to Mew (or whoever else might be listening) that this is the right answer – or not the wrong one, at least. "Regardless of whether I trust them, you should observe and figure it out for yourself, then decide what to tell them based on that. That's how research works!"

"The power of science, huh?" Ash says, grinning, and Pikachu snickers even as Gou blinks in puzzlement. "Thanks for the advice, Gou."

"Anytime," Gou answers around a massive yawn, eyelids already drooping closed as he lies back down. "G'night, Ash."

He's asleep almost before he hears Ash's reply, but it's long enough for him to realise that Ash has known him pretty much as long as he's known Professor Cerise and the rest.

But for some strange and wonderful reason, Ash… trusts him enough, apparently, to tell him this much when he hadn't said a word to the others earlier.

It's a nice feeling to have, Gou finds himself thinking.

(He falls asleep with a smile on his face.)

.

.

.

gou, the next day: besides, shouldn't you ask them first before you say anything? your trainer friend, i mean

ash: um wha- oh yeah of course! haha, ha,,,

pikachu: *looks into the camera like it's on the office*