#The52Project (7) – “Write a story about Pokemon battling being an Olympic sport.”

This one inspired by the recent events of Twitch Plays Pokemon.

Second.

With a nation’s hopes lying in his sweaty, fingerless-gloved hands, he had come up short yet again, finishing second.

Losing was not new to the middle-aged and graying Ash Ketchum — he had met the same result in Unova and Kanto and so many other regions before them — but throughout all his travels, Ash had never come closer to ultimate victory than he did in that Olympic final, the kiss of cold metal so tantalizingly near, he thought he might reach out and snatch it.

Gold would have been his.

Would have been.

That much, he owed entirely to his first and most trusted partner, Pikachu. Though everyone else had given in far earlier — Charizard, Talonflame, Heracross; Frogadier and Snorlax, too, all soundly beaten and too injured to keep fighting — the yellow electric mouse refused to join them, even in the face of impossible odds. Ash did not fault his other Pokemon for losing. He never had, always taking their failures as a sign of how much further he had to improve as their trainer. They had done their best, and there was nothing else he could ask of them. Only himself.

Still, their absences meant Pikachu needed to overcome a 4-1 deficit alone, and to the amazement of the sold-out Florence Arena, the tiny mouse did just that, fighting valiantly to force a sudden death overtime. Down went Blastoise and the water-cannons he toted on his back, falling victim to a summoned thunderbolt. Down went Electivire, peppered into submission by blows from a mouse he could not hope to catch. And down went Espeon, whose psychic powers only warped Pikachu’s sense of reality, not his will to continue.

That left Ash and the Russian representative Boris with one Pokemon apiece. One Pokemon apiece, to decide who would wear which color home. As his furry mouse stared down Boris’ Tornadus, the words Ash Ketchum, Olympic champion were still lingering in the air, a second away from being uttered into existence. Even with a wind god still on the other side of the battlefield, the title seemed like Ash’s to lose. Pikachu’s electric attacks held a massive advantage over the enormous green bird.

All he needed was to actually land an attack.

Though the lightning poured again and again from Pikachu’s red cheeks, never actually striking the air incarnate, who dipped, dodged, ducked, dove, and dipped from each volted rope. And as Tornadus soared freely through the open sky, continuing to circle, it was clear that Pikachu was laboring, his electricity rapidly losing voltage and his breath coming in gasps. Fighting three battles in a row had been taxing enough for Ash’s final Pokemon. To follow up by slaying a god was too much to ask. Boris sensed Pikachu’s fatigue, issuing only a single word for Tornadus to obey.

“Hurricane.”

Flapping mightily, Tornadus’ wings – now glowing bright purple – started to shape the air itself, whipping together a towering vortex of gusts that was growing larger with each beat.

The ground-bound rodent tried valiantly to weather the oncoming gale, and for a brief moment, it looked like he actually had, only to succumb to the combination of injury and exhaustion.

Any dreams of Ash Ketchum, Olympic champion had been swept away too. Gone with the wind.

In the aftermath of the loss, Ash stared blankly into the media frenzy and their flashing cameras, muttering all the right things about it being a good match, with both competitors having deserved a win. The words were empty and mechanical, rehearsed, as if someone had set up a substitute in his place.

At one point, he was asked by a PokePress reporter if he planned to be back. He had managed to get through most of the questions without breaking down. That one, about the future, slipped through and struck him for a critical hit. Ash could only whisper a soft “maybe,” ducking under the brim of his white and red hat to hide his eyes.

In his heart, he already knew the answer. Everyone was going to make a full recovery, but the next Olympics would be in four years, and the thought of four more years of qualifying and candidate selection and seeding and training and qualifying and seeding and training and candidate selection…it was too much. At 36, he was getting too old to continue with all that, and he knew his Pokemon were, too. They were all already winning on gut and heart and wisdom more than raw physical ability. His loss to Boris had only confirmed that. More than once, he had reacted too slowly or with a tactical error, refusing to switch because he trusted his partners too much, and there were several blows he was sure Charizard could have shrugged off in his younger days.

It was time to go. Ash’s walk away from the podium that day proved to be his final one, a retirement ceremony held entirely without.

After that, Ash disappeared from the public spotlight entirely, granting no interviews and maintaining no profile from his small Cerulean City house. He didn’t need to. Not with the years of earnings he had comfortably saved in the bank. Still, his name was still bitterly cursed in the Japanese media, who excoriated him for failing to deliver a gold medal, and for denying the eternal glory that would have accompanied it.

He couldn’t entirely disagree.

Months after that defeat, there were still nights when he stood in front of the silver medal on the mantle, staring for hours as his mind played back the Olympic final. Facing the symbol of his greatest defeat, Ash would do little more than replay the sequences in his mind, nitpicking and analyzing every decision, although the result was always the same. K.O. by hurricane.

On those nights, he would remain there, fixed in place, until Misty found him there in the morning to gently snap him out of it.

Life went on, though, even after that loss. Misty continued to serve as the gym leader in Cerulean, and the now retired Ash spent his time tending to things at the house, mostly because it helped him avoid the public that blamed him for losing. It was peaceful living, easy living, but he could not shake the lingering status effect that told him something was missing. If he was forced to be honest, he would admit that this unease – if he could truly call it that – came from the fact that there were no more battles to be fought, nor new discoveries to be made.

Working to be the very best had consumed most of his life, since the age of ten, and at times, he toyed with the idea of making a comeback or an appearance at a league competition somewhere. Save for the occasional forest hike or day spent gardening, retirement left him with nothing to transfer that passion to.

Then came the letter that helped him find it, delivered one morning on Pidgeot. The name of the sender said it all, making clear that this was not like any of the other hate mail currently clogging up his PC’s boxes.

From: Samuel Oak

Pallet Town

He hesitated for a moment, then opened it, getting a warm greeting from the familiar scribbles.

“Dear Ash,

We have not spoken in quite some time – since after the Olympics, if I am correct. I am writing to let you know that I plan to retire from my duties as a Professor quite soon. Yes, the unthinkable has happened – I too, have realized that I am getting too old to continue, and I have recognized that it is time to pass on that duty to someone else.

I would like to formally invite you to serve as my replacement.

You may be wondering why I have asked for you, especially when you have no formal Professoring experience. The better question may be how I could have ever asked for anyone else.

I have long believed the greatest gift you can give anyone is not a Pokemon, but a sense of love and compassion for Pokemon, the kind that you have exhibited your entire career. This is what I hoped the world would see when I pushed for your selection as our Olympic representative. It is that same quality that makes you fit to replace me, lack of formal experience be damned. You could do an incredible amount of good inspiring that quality in the next generation of trainers.

Please stop by my lab at some point, if you have the time – I’d love to continue this conversation in person. It would also be an ideal opportunity to say hello to your mother, too.

Sincerely yours,

Professor Oak.

P.S. Attached is the keycard to my lab. Don’t worry. You’ll know when it’s time to use that.”

Ash looked up from the letter when he finished, realizing that it had been a while since he saw his mother, let alone Professor Oak. Being cooped up and away from the world had caused him to lose sight of things like that, and the people he loved.

As for the offer… that, he had still had to think about. He had never envisioned himself as a Pokemon Professor at any point of his life – from childhood, it was strictly trainer and champion, never anything else – and to suddenly become one now would require him to put that life firmly behind him, forever.

He was not sure if he was ready for that just yet. Still, a visit certainly couldn’t hurt.

Ash went back inside and hollered for Pikachu, who scampered out from his little bed in the living room. Age was beginning to catch up to his little electric mouse, his fur no longer as bright as it once was, his movements no longer as sharp or quick. Reaching down to pick up his oldest friend, Ash placed Pikachu in the basket of his bike.

“We’re going to go on a little trip today. How’s that sound, Pikachu?”

“Pika.” His partner agreed cheerfully. Age had not dampened his enthusiasm.

And so the two of them rode for Pallet, a scene that reminded him of when he was just starting, all those years ago, back when he had just met his wife for the first time. The nostalgia brought a small smile to his face, which grew into a legitimate grin when he saw the lab up in the distance; a familiar yellow, sprawling two story complex that represented an old beginning, even though the place radiated modernity, knowledge, and progress.

The doors were locked when he arrived, meaning that Professor Oak was likely out performing some experiment or another. Ash decided to use the keycard and get a look around at the place anyway. Rows of stocked bookshelves sat next to complicated machinery he had never quite figured out how to use, but the first thing Ash noticed was something else – an extra white lab coat lying atop the nearby table.

He slipped it on, his arms fitting comfortably into both sleeves, the coat itself just long enough. Then, he heard a knock at the door, a greeting from a little girl apparently ready to start her Pokemon journey.

“Hi Mister…Have you seen Professor Oak? I turned ten today, and I’m supposed to receive my first Pokemon from him!” Though she had just run up a hill to reach the lab, she spoke rapidly and with childish excitement, although there was no hiding the look of disappointment on her face when she encountered Ash instead of Oak.

Ash knelt down to meet the girl at eye level, seeing in her the same combination of anxiousness and wild possibility that he once shared.

Something about this felt right. Familiar, even.

“The Professor’s out right now, but I’d be happy to get you started, or to let you know when he gets back, if you’d rather talk to him. Listen…what’d you say your name was?”

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