Hi all, I'm finally back. I had a rough few months, but eventually found some time recently to do a bit of writing and wanted to share. If anyone's still around, I ask you to be patient and kind, especially as this is a little different to what I'd usually post. I don't want to see any homophobia or negativity just because it's a M/M ship. Thank you!

I stand alone in the garden by the french doors of my mother's house, eyes closed, head tilted up to the morning sun. It's a warm day, the kind that demands you be out in it. Inside, Mom pushes eggs around in a pan, Mr. Mime by her side. Every time I come home to visit, she insists on making me breakfast, lunch and dinner, despite my age.

This is the first time I've been home in a while. I've tried to keep myself busy. After a certain point it started to feel like there wasn't much left I could accomplish. I've pretty much proven myself to be the greatest Pokémon trainer out there in my battle with Leon, and then continued to prove it when I relentlessly beat everyone that challenged that title. It's been eight years since then, and still hardly anyone has been a challenge. Occasionally I'll be challenged by someone that gives me an exhilarating battle- like Alain, just a year ago. Occasionally, I think maybe I'll lose. It's getting to the point where I find myself wishing that I would, just a little.

Two years ago, when I was eighteen, someone made a passing comment about me becoming a Pokémon Professor, and the thought stuck with me. It followed me everywhere I went for months, playing on my mind, hovering at the back of my brain, until I mentioned the idea to mom while visiting. I was turning nineteen soon, and aside from battling, hadn't done too much with myself. She was still proud, of course, and so was I, I guess. She thought I was a celebrity, and I suppose I am, even if I hate the word, and don't feel like one at all. I've been on television a lot- even though I hate that, too. People are always trying to interview me, and I receive countless modelling offers every month, offering ridiculous sums of money to appear in advertisements or photo shoots. I hate it all, and yet I do it, because it provides for her, and that's all I really want to do for now.

Still, I've never seen myself like that. I've never wanted this life, and everything that comes with it, for myself. I wanted to be the greatest battler, and I've proved that I am, but that doesn't make me a master. I definitely don't feel like a celebrity. Even when people approach me in the street, asking for photos or autographs, I'm just… Well, me. Deciding I want to know everything I can possibly know, and have an active role in new discoveries, I enrolled in Castelia City University. I've been there almost two years now.

A knock on the glass of the door rattles me from my daydream. Mom waves, a heartwarming smile on her face. I stick my hands in my pockets and pull open the door, stepping inside and taking a seat at the table, where she's already placed breakfast for me. Pikachu's just a few feet away, eating breakfast from the bowl laid out for him by Mr. Mime, who stands watching, arms crossed and smiling wide like a happy parent.

"Thanks, mom," I say, smiling. She sits opposite me, brushing nonexistent dust from her skirt and folding her hands together like she has no intention of eating. I dig the fork into my eggs and push them around a bit, distracted.

"Are you excited?" She asks eventually, grinning. I grimace as I chew on the eggs and toast, hoping that will accurately express how I'm feeling. She frowns, disappointed. "It's a big day for Misty! I would have thought you'd at least try to be enthusiastic."

I want to lie and say I am enthusiastic, but I can't force the lie out. I just don't have the energy for it. Ever since the invitation to Misty's wedding arrived in the post, I've dreaded the day. Not because I don't care for Misty, or Gary. I just don't like weddings. I've only been to a couple, and they've never been my thing. I'd much rather spend my time training.

Mom clears her throat, and I suck in a deep breath through my nose, knowing from the look on her face that a question I won't like is about to come my way. "How come you didn't bring Maria with you?"

I sigh, closing my eyes. I knew this talk was coming, but I'd hoped to avoid it for longer than this. I arrived late last night, so at least she didn't have time to question me then. I should have known I wouldn't make it through breakfast without having to explain.

Maria was my last girlfriend. We met in Unova, where I've been studying to become a Pokémon Professor. Dawn had been texting me all night, encouraging me to get out there and meet new people, huffing with me when I ignored her. I'd been at university for a couple of years, and the only real friend I'd made was my roommate. Even then, we weren't great friends. We just chatted and ate meals together occasionally. When Nate had approached me that night, asking me to go to a bar with him, I was shocked, but Dawn's probing had reverberated in my brain until I sat up in bed and agreed to go.

We'd gone out to a bar, and I tried to keep up with Nate's drinking habits but gave up pretty quickly. Being so well known, I'd kind of gotten used to being approached by people, especially girls. It was awkward as hell, and most of the time I wished they'd just leave me alone. So when I was sitting at the bar alone while Nate was at the bathroom and a girl had sat on the bar stool beside me, smiling wide, I expected her to make a fuss.

"Hey," she'd said.

"Hey," I'd said back, casually. I wish I could be as bold and bubbly as I had been when I was younger, but I'm not. I think I'm still easy to get along with, and super upbeat most of the time, I just don't make as many new friends. Situations in the past have made me close myself off a bit more. I'd always been too kind and trusting as a kid.

"Sorry if this is weird," the girl said, grimacing and leaning against the bar, her long brunette ponytail falling smoothly over her shoulder. "I thought it would be much easier to introduce myself than this, but turns out it's pretty hard."

I laughed, despite myself, at the embarrassed look on her face. "You're doing okay," I said.

She blew out a breath and shook her head, her hair swaying like silk behind her. "Liar. Anyway, let me try again. Hey, I'm Maria." She smiled. I supposed she was pretty, but there was no initial spark. There never was.

"Ash," I replied, smiling. I didn't know if she genuinely didn't know who I was, or was just pretending not to, but for once I didn't mind. We talked, and Maria had somehow charmed me in a way most people didn't manage to. When Nate had gotten back from the bathroom and saw us laughing together, he'd left us alone, and I spent the night at the bar with her instead. At the end of the night we exchanged numbers.

By the end of the month, we were dating. She wasn't my first girlfriend. I'd had a couple over the years, but I struggle to invest myself in anyone. When I was seventeen, Dawn kissed me out of the blue one night when we were sitting out under the stars in Sinnoh. The second we pulled away, we burst out laughing, both of us knowing that it would never happen again. Then I got my first girlfriend; a girl named Layla, that I only dated for two months before she left me, saying I was too distant. Then there'd been Lillie. That was probably my biggest mistake. I knew I shouldn't have crossed that line with her, and yet we did anyway. In the end, they only lasted a few months too.

Dawn is constantly harassing me, asking me how I haven't met anyone yet. She came out a couple of months after our kiss and has been dating Chloe ever since. May and Drew have been together for six years now. Misty is engaged to Gary. Even Brock has a stable relationship. And then there's me.

And if I'm being honest, Maria was probably the result of pressuring from my friends. The others probably were, too. After she broke up with me two weeks ago, I came to the realization that each time, I've been more bothered about the fact that I'd have to explain to my friends that it happened again, than I was upset that it was over. It made me sick with guilt that I had no genuine feelings for them, but I really did try. I tried so damn hard. And yet I've never gotten further than kissing with any of them. That was why most of them left me in the end. That, and I just wasn't interested enough. I didn't give them enough.

Now Mom is sitting across from me, waiting patiently for an answer to why I haven't brought Maria to meet her. "We're not together anymore," I say simply, figuring the truth is the best answer. Mom frowns again. Mr. Mime crosses his arms and shakes his head.

"What happened?" She asks. I have no appetite for the eggs and toast anymore, so I stare down into them.

"It just didn't work out."

She sighs. "Oh well. You'll meet the right person one day."

I'm not so sure about that. I'm starting to think I'm broken, that I have no interest in dating at all. That it hasn't just been because I was too young to be interested back when people had shown me interest years ago. I'm twenty one now, and I've never had feelings for anyone, as far as I can remember. I've never been interested in anyone. That isn't normal, right?

My phone starts to ring in my pocket, saving me from this conversation. I pull it out, reading the name flashing across the screen: Misty.

I answer and hold it to my ear. "Hey, Mist."

"Hey. When are you leaving? Brock and Lucy just got here."

I'm not sure how extensive Misty's guest list is, but I know the wedding will be a pretty huge event. She's a gym leader, and Gary is pretty famous in his own right. Some of the guests will be staying at hotels in Cerulean, but Misty's closest friends are staying in the gym. I'm one of them. "Mom made breakfast. I'll leave soon."

"Alright," she says. I can hear Brock in the background, laughing. My heart swells when I think about seeing him, and the other friends I haven't had much time to see recently. The wedding will at least be good for that.

"I'll call you when I'm close, okay? Promise I won't be too long."

"You better. See you soon."

I stand, pushing back my chair. I've eaten enough. I look down the hallway to where my suitcase is packed and waiting at the front door. I invited Dawn to keep me company, and she'll be arriving at Cerulean sometime today too. I make a mental note to call her when I get there.

"Are you leaving already?"

I smile down at mom, and circle around the table, bending to plant a kiss on her cheek. "Misty's impatient. She wants everyone to be there early." The wedding isn't until the day after tomorrow, but Gary has some kind of bachelor party planned tonight.

"Okay. Call me when you get there, okay?" She smiles sadly up at me, and I nod. I'm leaving Pikachu with her for the few days that I'm away, so I bend to scratch behind his ears, feeling a tug on my heart. I don't want to leave him behind, but he's tired, and a few days here will be good for him, so I stand and blow out a breath. I wave as I head down the corridor. I'll call her, if I remember. For now I focus on how I'm going to cope with a whole two days of wedding nonsense.

— — — — — —

When I step out of the car in Cerulean, the heat almost knocks me off my feet. It's even warmer here, the city enveloped in a heatwave. I push my sunglasses down from my head onto my nose and stare up at the giant gym looming over me. It's been far too long since I visited Misty here.

"Ash!" A familiar voice rings from the entrance, and my gaze travels down to where Misty is racing down the steps, jogging over to me.

"Long time no see," I say, grinning. We've never been the most affectionate with each other, but when she approaches, I open my arms and pull her in for a hug. She's shorter than me by at least a few inches now that we've grown, and when she steps back I have to look down a little to take her in.

She looks so much older now. Her fiery red hair is still cut just above her shoulders. It's loose now, brushing them when she tips back her head and smiles at me. She's beautiful- sweeping lashes and arched brows, her jawline sharp. A spattering of freckles dusts her cheeks and over her nose. I smile back down at her.

"Congrats," I say, grinning. "I never thought Gary would settle down."

"Guess I'm just something special," she jokes, grinning back. "C'mon, get your stuff. Brock's waiting for you."

I grab my suitcase from the trunk and lock the car, following Misty up the steps and into the gym, abandoning the luggage at the door beside what I assume is Brock and Lucy's cases, and follow Misty through to what is usually the battlefield, but has been transformed for the wedding. A floor covers the pool, and is dusted with what seems like thousands of white petals. There's tables set up all around the room, draped with white tablecloths, and white balloons float in the air around us. Everything is so white. There's a stage set up at the far end of the room, with a long table spread across it, likely for us to sit at during the reception.

"Well, what do you think?" Misty probes, clearly waiting for a compliment. Misty has always been such a tomboy that I never expected her to want a grand wedding like this.

"It looks amazing," I say, meaning it. They've managed to make it look pretty magical.

"Thanks." She grins at me, then starts walking across the room. I follow her, a little nervous walking over where I know the pool lies beneath us, but the floor holds fine, and I would never guess there was water under me if I didn't already know. She leads me to the back entrance, which leads out into a huge garden, which has been set up for the ceremony.

My eyes briefly wander over the decor- there's a huge archway at the end of a walkway lined with rows of benches for the guests. White and baby blue roses snake their way up the sides and top of the arch, intertwined perfectly with the metal twists. My breath actually catches in my throat a little.

"Gary!" Misty calls out, raising her hand and waving over to the other side of the garden. My gaze follows hers, and that's when I see them.

My heart stops dead in my chest, my stomach bottoming out right as all the air whooshes from my lungs. It feels like the earth has started swaying beneath me, rocking me in its current.

I haven't seen Goh in close to eight years, and yet I still recognize him immediately. His hair is a little longer now, falling messily around his face and tied back into a small ponytail at the back of his head, but still looks mostly the same. His eyes, so brightly blue that they're striking, even from a distance, wander away from Gary and meet mine. Recognition flares instantly across his face, his eyes widening, his mouth falling open a little. I can't breathe suddenly. It feels like my chest is caving in.

I shouldn't be surprised to see him here, after all these years. After all, he and Gary are still part of Project Mew together. I'd forgotten, though. I try to catch my breath, swallowing hard in an attempt to push away the sudden wave of anxiety. I don't understand why I feel like this. Sure, we haven't spoken in years, and we didn't exactly end our friendship on the best of terms, but we had been kids. So why is my heart pounding so wildly in my chest?

Gary starts to approach, and Goh hesitates, just for a second, before following behind him, eyes trained down on the ground, hands stuck in the pockets of the white lab coat he's wearing. My palms start to sweat. My throat is closing up. I don't trust myself to speak, but then Gary is upon me, hugging me and clapping me on the back.

"Good to see you, man," He says, pulling away. I'm acutely aware of Goh's presence behind me, but try to ignore it, forcing a smile.

"You too," I say, focusing on Gary. "Congratulations."

"Thanks." Gary rubs the back of his head sheepishly. He looks at Misty, his gaze immediately softening, and my throat constricts a little. I've rarely seen anyone look at each other like that. I'm almost jealous, which makes no sense, considering my history. "I'm lucky, huh?" He says, smiling at her.

"Yeah," I reply, surprised at how protective I feel over Misty suddenly. She was my first travelling companion, and despite us not getting much of a chance to see each other recently, I care deeply for her. "You better not fuck this up," I warn, half playfully.

Gary laughs. "I won't, trust me. She'd kill me."

"You're damn right," Misty pipes up, but she's laughing too. For a second, I almost forget Goh's there, but then I look up and find him watching me, his eyes slightly narrowed, his face cautious.

"You remember Goh, right?" Gary says awkwardly, stepping to the side to let Goh step forward. Of course I remember Goh. We were inseparable for well over a year. It was a stupid thing to say, but I can't blame Gary. It's our fault this encounter is so awkward.

I don't want to say "of course," in case Goh doesn't remember me as vividly as I remember him, so I say "yeah," and smile, aware it definitely looks forced. Even now, just looking at his face, all the memories come rushing back, as clear as my memories of yesterday. "Hey."

"Hey," Goh says back, deadpan, not bothering to smile back. He almost looks like he's trying not to cry. I swallow hard, desperately wanting to get out of this situation.

"Where's Brock and Lucy?" Misty asks, looking around.

"They went up to their room. I'll show Ash his now," Gary says, probably itching to get out of the situation too. Misty nods, and I follow Gary back inside without a glance back. Once the door closes behind us, I feel my whole body relax and sigh, deflating.

"Sorry, man," Gary says, wincing. "Didn't mean to ambush you like that. Misty didn't know he'd arrived."

"It's fine." It isn't fine, because my throat still feels like it's closing up, and I can't stop picturing him in my mind. This is Misty and Gary's wedding, though. Of course I'll play nice with Goh while I'm here. I've never wanted anyone to feel awkward because of it. "We're not mortal enemies, you know."

"I know, but it still felt mad awkward. I should have told you he'd be here."

I shake my head. We reach the stairs and start to climb up to the huge second floor. "I should have known he would be. It's your day, I'm not gonna make anything awkward. It's not like we really need to speak."

Gary looks back over his shoulder to frown. "And you don't want to?"


"Speak to him. I mean, I'm not saying you two should be friends again, but don't you think it would be better to clear the air?"

I press my lips into a thin line, a mental wall going back up, blocking out the idea entirely. "I think things are dead and buried, and they should stay that way."

Gary looks like he's considering arguing, but then shuts his mouth and nods, staying silent until we reach the door that leads to my guest room. He pushes it open and I step inside. It's bigger than my room at home and the dorm at the university, with a king size bed in the centre of one wall and a giant sliding-door wardrobe covering the other.

"I think Misty has plans for everyone to go to the beach today," Gary starts from behind me. "Don't feel forced to come, but I think you should."

"Alright," I say. I'll have to go. Once Dawn hears about it, she'll give me no choice. "I'll head down and get my case in a minute."

"Okay. See you soon." Gary backs out of the room and closes the door. Alone with my thoughts for the first time since I arrived, I sit down on the edge of the bed and let my head fall down into my hands, sucking in a deep breath through my nose and closing my eyes. It shouldn't be a big deal, and I'm trying to ignore it, but for some reason it seems like everything is crumbling inside me.

It's hard to remember what exactly transpired all those years ago. Time has muddled the negative memories, making them blurry and jumbled. I remember we'd been best friends. I was closer to Goh than anyone else I'd ever met, even after just a couple of months. I knew that no matter what, we'd follow each other wherever we went. Or so I'd thought.

It happened after the World Coronation Series. I won, and Goh had been as supportive as ever, throwing his arms around me so tightly he'd almost suffocated me in the waiting room. It was just the two of us, and the air felt so charged it stole my breath away. I hadn't been sure what was different, but then Goh had pulled away from the hug and kissed me.

It was a brief kiss, much like the one from Serena, just a fleeting press of lips against lips, so fast you'd miss it if you blinked. At first it didn't even register, and I stood blankly for a moment, stunned and wide-eyed. Goh's face fell the moment he stepped away, all the excitement from the moment before gone, just like that. He backed away, putting distance between us, and said something, but I can't remember what. Then he was gone, rushing off.

The celebrations after had been immense. All of my friends had come to celebrate my achievement of getting to the final anyway, so now they were there to celebrate my win. It was overwhelming, being the centre of so many people's attention, and I could barely keep up with everyone congratulating me. Goh kept his distance for most of the night, until we were heading back to the Pokémon Centre for the night. I was exhausted, yet still exhilarated from my win, my whole body buzzing. Goh walked silently behind me, hands stuck in his pockets.

When we got back to our room, Goh disappeared for a while, and I fell asleep without even meaning to. I'd been thinking about the kiss, wondering if it meant anything, but coming to the conclusion that it mustn't have. Still, it replayed in my head, over and over, and even in my sleep. I woke to the sound of Goh returning in the dark, and sat up in bed, rubbing my eyes.

"Goh?" I groaned into the black, letting my eyes adjust. Goh shuffled over towards the bathroom. I can't remember our conversation then- just that it was short and somewhat snappy, and ended with Goh shutting the bathroom door on me.

While Goh showered, I lay there in the dark, wondering what was next. I'd been told there was a lot of press work to do, but I didn't really understand what that meant. I wasn't sure if Goh would stay with me or go back to the lab.

When Goh finally emerged, I asked him. I didn't feel the need to address the kiss- Goh had already briefly told me that he hadn't meant to do it. That it had just been the excitement of me winning that had overwhelmed him. I let it go, not thinking any more of it, because I believed him. Why else would it have happened like that?

"Well, where are you going next?" Goh had asked, climbing into his own bed.

I knew this was the part where I and whoever I was travelling with usually split up to go our own way. But Goh and I were different. We had travelled together, but not around a specific region like I usually did. Wherever I went next, I wanted Goh to come with me, but I was afraid to say it, in case Goh felt pressured to follow me. The last thing I wanted was to hold him back from his dream.

"I'm not sure yet," I answered truthfully. Of course there were regions I hadn't travelled to yet, Pokémon I hadn't seen yet, and I wanted to do it all. I realised, though, that I wanted to do it all with Goh. I wanted him by my side. I loved my other companions, sure, but in the end I'd always been able to accept that they had to go their separate ways. This time, however, the thought of separating sent a physical pain shooting through my chest, stealing my breath away.

Goh had been short with me, in the end. Unable to keep it to myself, I eventually asked Goh to stay with me. I planned on travelling to Paldea, a new region I'd hardly heard of because of how far it was from Kanto. I planned it out and approached Goh in the lab a few days before I was due to head home for a while.

My throat closes up, a lump forming as the painful memories come crashing back, hitting me with the force of a truck, because Goh had said no. I'll never forget the constant arguing that followed. I still don't understand it. We fell apart over the next few days. At first, it was just Goh, acting bitter and picking fights. Then I snapped, losing my temper, and fought back. We couldn't even be around each other in the end, and I decided to leave a day early. Chloe and the Professor had been confused and upset, begging me not to go, to try to fix things, but I had had enough. It hurt so fucking much to leave. It killed me inside, and I spent days locked in my room at home, too stubborn to pick up the phone, and too destroyed to leave. I knew Goh was stubborn too, but I still waited for a whole week for the phone to ring. I went off travelling on my own, still carrying my phone everywhere I went, waiting for Goh to call and apologise, so I could too, and we could reunite, and go back to the way we were. A month passed. Then two. Then a year. And we never spoke to each other again.