Sacrifices @icecreamandpizza
Sacrifices

Sacrifices

Originally Published on June 28th, 2020 on Fanfiction.net


"Look, Pikachu, it's Pallet Town!"

As Ash stood on the hill overlooking Pallet Town, the brisk air nipped at his exposed arms, and the wind whipped wildly through his hair and clothes. He spotted clumps of wildflowers starting to bloom on the rolling hills, a tell-tale sign that spring was right around the corner. It had been a long time since he'd been home, but this was the perfect scenery for his surprise visit home for his mother's birthday.

As he came around the corner, and his house came into view, he came to a screeching halt. Posted just outside the picket white fence was a FOR SALE sign that left him feeling uneasy. She's selling the house? Was she planning on telling me? He opened the front door and walked through and into the kitchen. Angry and ready to bombard his mom with questions and accusations, he paused upon discovering her seated at the kitchen table, surrounded by stacks of papers.

"Mom?"

Either she was too focused on her work, or she didn't hear him come in, because when he called her name, her head snapped up like a stantler caught in the headlights. The chair screeched under her movements as she embraced him in a bone-crushing hug. Probably worried she'd go for him next, Pikachu leaped off Ash's shoulder and made a break for it.

Loosening her grip, she stepped back. "Oh Ash, what are you doing home? What a lovely surprise! I've missed you so much," she cooed before wrapping him back into another hug. With her back turned, Ash peered over her shoulder to get a better look at the papers scattered on the table. Most of them were bills, several of them stamped with ugly, PAST DUE notices.

"Mom?" he called, his anger instantly vanishing. "What's all this?"

When his mother turned around, he saw panic briefly flash across her face. As quickly as it came, though, it was replaced with her usual cheery smile. "Oh, just a few bills, dear," she explained. Placing her hands on his shoulders, she gently pushed him toward the door. "Nothing for you to worry about it. Now get cleaned up. You reek."

Planting his feet where they stood, he easily overpowered her. "Mom, this isn't nothing," he argued. Picking up one of the bills, he held it up in front of her face. "This is overdue, and it's not the only one. What's going on? Are we having money problems?"

"Financial problems? No, not at all," she assured him. "Now, will you go get cleaned up? I have some plans this evening, but I could probably reschedule or-oh!-you could come along and..."

"Mom!" Ash yelled, startling the woman. Pivoting on her heel, she turned to glare at him, ready to scold him for raising his voice at her. "What's going on? Are we in financial trouble?"

"No, sweetie," she countered, but she was becoming less and less convincing.

"Mom, please," he whispered. "I saw the sign out front. Did you honestly think I wouldn't notice it?"

Knowing just how stubborn he could be if he wanted to, she finally gave in. As she slid into the chair opposite him, her shoulders slumped, and her body seemed to cave in on itself. At the corners of her eyes, he could see tears starting to form.

"Mom," he whispered, reaching out to grab her hand. "You can tell me what's going on. I'm a big kid now." He smiled at her, causing a small chuckle to flow from her mouth.

"Don't remind me," she scolded him, lightly slapping his arm. "You're still my little boy." Her face sobered and took on a more serious expression. "But you're right. You're an adult now, so I should treat you like one."

Ash listened as his mom explained the extent of their financial issues. Since he was born, his mom had been solely responsible for financially supporting him. It turned out he was a pretty expensive financial burden. Insurance for Pokémon Trainers didn't come cheap, especially now that he'd reached an age where they could charge more. It probably didn't help either that he had several pricy hospital visits, the result of his recklessness. Each year they owed money for his trainer license, and for all the expenses owed to Professor Oak for his services in taking care of Ash's Pokémon and providing him with the gear he needed. It came at a discounted price, but it all added up quickly.

"I'm so sorry, Mom," he apologized. Sure, she had other expenses such as food, gardening supplies, and the house, but if it hadn't been for his insistent traveling, maybe things would be more manageable. "If I had known…I mean, I'm not planning to go anywhere so I can take a break…maybe find a job and help out more…"

"No," his mom shook her head, very adamant about her decision. "You will not stop on account of me. You just keep working toward your dream and let me figure it out. I've been good about paying back my loans, so I'm sure I could borrow more money if I need to. And there are tons of things in the attic that I'm sure I can sell." Ash looked at his mother with sympathy, knowing deep down she was lying. "It'll be okay, Ash. Don't worry."

"But-" he tried to protest, but she quickly cut him off.

"Ash, this isn't a huge surprise to me. I've known since you were little that this was coming. I tried to fight it, but I was fighting a losing battle." Gently, she cupped his cheek and brushed her thumb across it. Her fingers were soft against his weathered skin and had the smallest hint of vanilla. "You're just so much like him," she sighed longingly. "You both have such a wild, adventurous spirit. I should have known there was no holding you back. Maybe it would have saved me some grey hairs, hmm?"

"I'm sure I would have found some other ways to cause trouble," he joked, a mischievous grin on his face.

"Yes, you would."

Since he was young, Ash had known he had wanted to follow in his father's footsteps and become a Pokémon Trainer. He would daydream about traveling from city to city, battling gym after gym in hopes of claiming the esteemed title of Pokémon Master. When Ash first expressed his aspirations, his mother had found his behavior cute and endearing. But as he got older and it became clear that this wasn't just some childish dream, Delia quickly changed her tune.

As a kid, he never understood why she was against him becoming a Pokémon Trainer, often expressing how unfair she was being, and how she couldn't stop him. For years, whenever the topic came up, they would spend hours arguing, the arguments often escalating into shouting matches and the slamming of the doors. Eventually, despite all the arguments and her resistance toward the topic, she let him go without any protests.

"Mom," he whispered. "What happened to Dad?"

His mother froze, her hand going stiff beside him. He could feel their heart-to-heart talk coming to an end. In the Ketchum household, there were three topics that Ash and his mom never discussed with each other. The first was her relationship with Professor Oak, the second was Delia's actual age, and the final topic was his father.

He heard her let out a deep breath, and her hand relaxed. "There's not much to tell," she sighed. "We met when I was in college."

"You went to college?"

"Oh, yes. I graduated, too. Got my degree in Botany and Grass Pokémon Physiology," she explained, a bright glow in her cheeks. "I went to Celadon University."

"What?" Ash was flabbergasted. How had he not known this?

"I met your father while I was working at the Celadon Gym. He was a Pokémon Trainer from Unova, and he'd come to battle Erika for a badge. We struck up a conversation and got into a rather heated debate, but after his match, he invited me to dinner to continue our conversation. He left the next day, but we kept in touch, and, eventually, we started dating."

In his lifetime, Ash had seen one or two pictures of his father, but he'd never seen a picture of his parents together. He believed they had dated, but he couldn't picture the two of them together.

"We tried our best to keep in touch, but we didn't have the same technology back then that you and your friends have now. There were no cell phones. I had to rely on calling him while he was at a Pokemon Center and sending letters in advance," Delia explained. As she continued, her eyes began to twinkle, and a wistful smile graced her face. "But then we would see each other again, and, well, that stuff didn't matter anymore."

Ash smiled, amused by the image of his parents reuniting after being separated for so long. It was clear from the look on his mother's face that she had been head over heels in love with his father. Ash could only hope he would be lucky enough to experience that feeling one day.

"When I graduated from college, I rented a small apartment in Viridian and began working at Xanadu Nursery. I loved your father more than anything in the world, Ash. I believed he was the man that I would marry and start a family with, so I asked him to move in with me, but he wasn't ready to give up his dream."

Ash's face fell. He vaguely remembered this part from the rare instances when his mom spoke of his dad.

"Your father continued traveling, but he changed. I heard from him now and then, but I never thought...Well, he began to contact me less and less before he eventually stopped calling at all. During that time, I found out I was pregnant with you. I was going to tell him, but then I got a letter from him saying that he didn't think we could ever work."

Ash reached forward, grabbing his mother's hand, and squeezed it. "I'm so sorry, Mom."

"Thank you, Sweetie, but it's okay," she assured him. "I was heartbroken, and I blamed pokémon training for our failed relationship. So, when you expressed interest in becoming a trainer, I feared I would lose you, too."

Ash frowned, his mind swirling with thoughts. Hadn't he done exactly that? Sure, he still visited his mom, but he only really saw her once a year-and then only for a few days-before he jetted off to the next region in pursuit of a similar dream.

"Mom, I-"

"No, Ash. You are not him," she replied. It was scary how she knew precisely what he was thinking. "Professor Oak helped me to realize that my anger was misguided. You were just a child, and you had nothing to do with what had happened, yet you suffered because my feelings clouded my judgment."

"But-"

Delia shook her head adamantly. "I raised you to be different, and that fact that you're here proves that I may have gotten through the stubborn head of yours after all. "

"But what if I turn out like him?"

"You won't," she said, her words firm. "Since you were a little boy, you've cared so deeply about others, both people and pokémon. Do you remember the pidgey you found in my garden?"

Ash groaned, rolling his eyes. The story of him and the pidgey was one of his mom's favorites, and he was pretty sure she had shared it with all his friends, too.

Around the time he was three or four years old, he'd found a young pidgey with an injured wing while playing in the backyard. Much to his mother's dismay, he'd brought the pokémon into their home using an old shoebox filled with twigs, leaves, and flowers from his mother's garden. The entire day, Ash had stayed by the pidgey's side, nursing it back to health with the instructions he'd received from Professor Oak. At one point, he'd attempted to show the pidgey how to fly by running around the yard.

"You wouldn't go anywhere until that pidgey was feeling better," she told him. Hidden behind the nostalgia were watery eyes. His mom could become a bit...emotional when reminiscing about his childhood. "But my point is, even after all these years, you bring so much joy and happiness in people's lives." Delia paused before adding, "You know, there's a reason I named you Ash."

Ash shrugged. "I never really thought about it. I just thought you liked the name."

"I do, but I like the symbolism of it more," she explained. "People may see ash as the remnants of destruction, but they often forget that amazing things can come from ash. In fact, volcanic ash is highly beneficial in helping plants to grow."

Ash playfully rolled his eyes, eliciting a small snort of laughter. Leave it to his mom to connect everything back to gardening.

"Laugh all you want, Ash, but it's true. You are the good that came out of everything, and that's why I will never regret a single sacrifice I've made so you can follow your dream," she explained. "I love you more than anything in the world."

Delia reached forward to squeeze Ash's hand one last time before standing up to begin pulling pots and pans out of the cabinets.

"Hey, Mom?"

"Hmm?"

"Are you really selling the house?"

Ash knew he should probably drop the topic for now. He'd gotten his mom to talk about more than he could ever remember. But, even when he was far away, this would always be his home.

Delia's shoulders drooped as she sighed. "Yes," she answered back. Turning around, she faced him once more. "I'm so sorry, sweetie, but with you gone most of the time, I don't need all this space."

Ash nodded. "It's okay. I understand. I just wish you would have told me."

"I know, and I wanted to, but I didn't want you to worry," she explained. "I was originally going to put it up for sale in the summer and tell you then, but I didn't see the point in waiting, and I certainly didn't expect you to be here now."

Ash nervously scratched the back of his neck. "Ah, yeah. Sorry. It was supposed to be a surprise for your birthday."

Delia grinned. "Well, consider me surprised! And what a lovely surprise it is. It's so nice to have you home."

Ash stood up and, to Delia's surprise, wrapped his arms around her in a hug. "I love you, Mom."

Delia sighed in content. "I love you too, sweetie, but go shower. You're starting to stink up my kitchen."

Ash laughed as he pulled away. Before she could threaten him with her pots and pans, he rushed upstairs to shower.

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