Author: Kim Hoppy PM
After escaping for an experiment by Team Rocket, Misty and Brock can't help but notice that Ash is a little different. And when they find out why, the reason is all the more shocking . . .Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Drama - Words: 7,624 - Reviews: 31 - Favs: 15 - Follows: 9 - Published: 04-16-01 - id: 256789
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
By, Kim Hoppy
"Are you sure you wish to continue?"
The man nodded offhandedly, watching from behind the glass as they brought the subject in. The crown of his head and arm were bleeding, for, by what the man had heard, the boy hadn't been an easy capture. (The man smiled at his choice of words.) It had been more accident than anything that the boy had been caught, having slipped clumsily on some of the rain-moistened stones as he ran. The man smiled, then frowned at several memories.
He was a very troublesome boy, come to think about it. This had best remedy that.
"Are you ready to proceed?"
"Was that a question?"
"Good." The man continued to look through the window. "He's walking up. How . . . unfortunate. Notify me of the results."
The clerk bit his lip as the man left, wondering exactly for whom it was unfortunate. He hoped those bloody scientists got their "bugs" worked out as well.
Ash blinked his eyes groggily with a small moan. His head hurt for some reason. He tried to touch the origin of pain with his hand, but found that he couldn't. He hand was stuck.
Suddenly the surroundings came into focus, and Ash could see people milling around him dressed in hospital garb. Was he in the hospital? He had fallen—
The memory came back at break-neck speed. He had been running . . . from Team Rocket. But not Jessie and James, or even Butch and Cassidy. It was a new team, dressed in street clothes. He only knew they were Team Rocket because of the "R" emblem that each had somewhere on their person. He'd been talking a walk in the city and had gotten lost. And they had come up.
"Where am I?" he politely demanded a doctor that had walked by. The person paid him the briefest of glances but didn't answer. Ash frowned, edging towards worry and fear. "Who are you?"
He tried to sit up, then found it wasn't just his wrist that was tied down. Ash lifted his head as much as he could to see that straps with small wired heading off in various directions bonded him down, and that he was missing his shoes, socks, and shirt. He knew he lost one shoe when one of the Rocket members grabbed his ankle. Gritting his teeth, Ash fought against the bounds with his all strength.
"I won't bother," some of the doctors muttered, moving to the head of the table and pushing his head down without mercy, tying it down with the final strap.
"What are you doing? Hey, I am talking to you! What are you doing!" By the last word, Ash's voice had rose to a screech as he saw through the corner of his eye one doctor advance on him with a very large needle, and he frantically tried to slip out of the bonds. It was one of those large needles that looked like they could pass straight through his arm as still have a few inches left over. The gloved had gripped his arm to stop it from moving as much, and tears stung Ash's eyes as it broke skin.
The ceiling above him started to waver, the sounds became muffled like cotton was in his ears. Ash was aware of other needles and tubes, dimly. With his eyes, he followed the doctors as much as possible, even moved his head a millimeter or so, peeling open the cut on his head even more.
One of the doctors was holding something in his arms like a baby, playing with it for a few moments, then setting the babe on the table next to him. Ash couldn't turn his head far enough to actual see his little friend in the world of Medical Patient.
He probably would have drooled if he had any spit in his mouth. "Wh—?" A doctor jabbed something into mouth, halting his question as it forced his tongue down.
Ash looked around his with eyes. The doctors had stepped back out of his peripheral vision, and all could do was look at the ceiling, at the flickering light.
He wasn't sure when, but sometime in his working-slower-than-usual brain, Ash became aware that a current was moving through his body. It wasn't uncomfortable, but it wasn't pleasant either.
"Hwha?" he got out through the tongue depressor.
The lights flickered, and the current strengthened. His nerves screamed, and Ash joined them. The pain, it was all that was there, and it got stronger and stronger until Ash's consciousness faded away.
Just before he did, he thought he heard another scream crying with him.
Ash gasped, snapping his eyes open and breathing raggedly. What . . . what happened? He grabbed his head, gritting his teeth. What was that buzzing?! Wait, his hands, they were free! He turned his head, seeing that he was still in the lab. And the doctors, they were still here, but fussing over the other bed, the baby he had seen before.
"Is he still alive?"
Slowly, Ash pushed himself up, glancing at the doctors. As silently as possible he stood up. There was a door just a few feet away and Ash edged his way over there. They still didn't look over and check on him. What luck! (What concern!) He grabbed the doorknob and turned.
An alarm blared, surprising him enough to cause him to jump back. The doctors' heads all shot up and looked towards him.
"Hey, stop!" one of the doctors yelled.
Ash ran out the door as fast as he could into the empty hall.
"Come back, D23!"
There were suddenly people running past him, who barely had time to jump aside as Ash barreled past.
How'm I going to get out of here? Ash panicked, bare feet slapping the tiles and checking various corridors for both exits and enemies.
Suddenly a smile (at a time like this?!) broke out across Ash's face as he saw one of those few regulation signs that public buildings should have. The red EXIT sign hovered near the end, pointing the way to the quickest (actually, this is debatable, if it's anything like some buildings!) exit. Ash slammed into the wall, unable to stop in time, then pushed off with his arms in the direction the sign pointed in. Another sign pointed to a door, and Ash ripped it open. Suddenly he was faced with a dilemma: Up or down?
Ash ran his eyes over the stairwell. There were windows, which meant he was up in the air. Down then. Gasping, he started to pound down the stairs, the sounds echoing over and over off the stones. He swung himself around the turn, risking a glance over his shoulder. Still no one, a fact that both worried and relieved Ash.
It was around the next turn that Ash could see a door that led outside. Heedless of the little warning that says, in so many words, "Push this bar and an Alarm will go off," Ash pushed the wide bar and ran out. Outside he could hear another alarm going off, but it only spurred his speed to run faster and get away from the building.
He recognized where he was as somewhere near the center of the city. Ash ducked into an alley and leaned against the cool bricks, breathing raggedly. He risked a glance outside and saw the red fire trucks coming up. Well, Ash didn't care just at that moment at all if the whole building burnt down. In fact, there was a satisfied smirk on his face as he ducked back into the alley, sliding down the wall to rest on the ground and closing his eyes to still his racing heart.
It shocked him slightly to see that his feet were bleeding. He must have cut them on the sharp rocks as he ran. Funny, it hadn't even hurt. Ash shook his head and banged it against the brick wall softly. He had to get back to the Pokémon Center somehow and talk to Brock and Misty, and then the Police.
Ash shivered, wrapping his bare arms around his chest. "I need a shirt, too," he muttered.
The clerk fidgeted in place in front of the desk, the bearer of bad news. "Umm, D23 got away." He hoped his boss didn't believe in the concept of shooting the messenger.
The man raised an eyebrow as he lifted his head. "'A' or 'B'?"
This surprised the clerk, who suddenly started to shuffle through some of the papers as he rambled incoherently. "'A' I think . . . I know it's here . . . just want to be sure," he mumbled, seeing that there was no helpful little note. "I think they meant 'A,' Sir."
"Ahh." There was a pause. "And what about 'B'?"
"Still unconscious. The experiment was more traumatic on him than originally projected. They—the scientists, I mean—think that if 'B' had had more time to recuperate . . ."
"Nothing damaging, through?"
The clerk shook his head. "No."
"Good." The man went back to looking at his papers, leaving the clerk to stand there stupidly.
"Umm, Sir . . .?"
"Yes," the man drawled.
"About 'A'? What should we do?"
The man's lips twitched into a smile. "What would you suggest?"
The clerk paled, then squeaked unto the cold, bemused stare, "Retrieval?"
"Very well, then. Retrieve him."
"Right, very good, Sir. We'll get right on it. Right on it," he repeated.
"Good." The man watched as the clerk shuffled out, dropping miscellaneous paper accidentally, like he needed a trail of breadcrumbs to find his way back. He probably did.
What did the fool think he wanted done with 'A'? Ohh, just let him roam free, there's a good chap. The man shook his head. Idiot. He was surrounded by idiots.
(Dimly the man who the bigger idiot: the idiot, or the idiot who paid and hired them?)
He stood up and stretched. There was no Master Plan for this venture. He had found that Master Plans somehow always got foiled, sometimes because of their inability to bend to fit circumstances, but mostly it was because he was forced to have morons carry out the actual workings.
1 Week Later
"Ash, it's just me!" Misty yelped as Ash jumped up and whirled, hand on his Pokémon belt.
Ash released his breath, smiling sheepishly. "Sorry, Misty. I'm just a little jumpy."
A little, huh?Misty thought sarcastically, but then remembered as Ash's eyes surveyed the campsite that he did have good reason. She bit her lip in worry for her friend. He hardly had any appetite now, and he was always skittish.
"Hungry?" she asked, holding out the plate she had come over to offer him.
He nodded slightly, not at ease, taking the plate carefully. "Thanks." Ash sat back down on his log, and Misty shook her head as she went back over to Brock.
"Any better?" he asked hopefully, flipping over his cake nervously.
"Does it look it?" Misty snapped, then winced. "Sorry."
Brock waved his hand, looking at his youngest friend, who, if he was any nearer, would have been sitting in the fire. Poor Ash. It didn't suit his friend to be so jumpy and living on his nerves. Suddenly Brock blinked, aware that Misty had been saying something. "Pardon?"
Misty looked at him, then sighed. "Never mind."
He knew she had been talking about Ash, about her worry for him. Ash had been different the past week, not his usual cheerful self. His mind was elsewhere, even during a Pokémon battle, which was something that never happened to Ash before. Brock remembered just yesterday when Ash had battled against a wild sandslash.
"Sandslash are weak against Grass and Bug, Ash!" Brock yelled.
Ash nodded and ducked his hat, reaching for his Pokéball. "Okay. I that case . . . Go! Bulbasaur!" he shouted as he threw the Pokéball.
Brock and Misty both blinked in surprise when Cyndaquil yawned sleepily. The Pokéball returned to Ash's hand, who looked unconcerned at the fact that he had chosen the wrong Pokémon.
"I thought you were using Bulbasaur!" Misty yelled. "You know Ground has an Advantage over Fire!"
"It does?" Ash asked blankly, looking away from the battle to face his friends.
"Slash!" the sandslash yelled, seeing that Ash's attention was away from the battle as it attacked Cyndaquil.
"Ash! Watch the battle!" Misty yelped as Cyndaquil went flying.
He blinked as he turned. "Right! Bulba—I mean, Cyndaquil! Use Vin—Ember!"
Brock shook his head grimly, vividly remembering the event. The sandslash had gotten away, thoroughly beating Cyndaquil, who couldn't make heads or tails of Ash's miscommands and wrong attacks. He had even ordered Ice Beam and Whirlwind from the tiny Fire type. Ash never messed up like that before during a battle. It had been shocking. Ash couldn't remember which pocket held which Pokéball for which Pokémon. He couldn't remember any proper attacks. He couldn't even remember that Pikachu wasn't Togepi. It was unnerving, to say the least.
He watched as Pikachu scampered over to sit next to Ash on the log. Again the boy jumped when Pikachu touched him, but warmly hugged the tiny rodent. Pikachu nuzzled him, but Brock could see the touch of concern in her brown eyes.
"You'd think he'd at least talk about it," Misty murmured. "He still gets those headaches, you know." She made it sound accusing, as if Brock hadn't ever noticed and he was a terrible friend because of it.
"I know." The headaches, Brock nodded. Sometimes Ash could barely stand because of them. Brock had given—actually ordered—Ash some aspirin to take the first time the boy had first complained of them, but since Ash threw up the first pair and felt sick as a dog for a few hours afterwards, he refused to have another. And, what was worse, he never told his friends when he was having a headache attack. He just kept walking, and already the two friends had seen their friend just pass out on the road.
There was also something that Misty didn't know about, the nightmares. Or Brock assumed they were. Pikachu had woken him their first night back on the road. Ash had wanted to leave Viridian as soon as possible, if not sooner, despite Officer Jenny's advice.
Pikachu barreled her head into him. "Hmm? What's wrong, Pikachu?" he asked sleepily.
"Pikapi chu pikachu!" she cried, tears brimming her eyes. "Chu!" She pointed towards another sleeping bag.
Brock sat up, instantly out of his bag and over to his friend. He could see Pikachu's reason for concern. Ash was shaking uncontrollably and mumbling incoherently, sometimes crying out loud. Tears were streaming down his face. Brock was surprised he hadn't woken up earlier, and that Misty hadn't woken up as well.
"Hey, Ash, Ash," he said gently, touching his friend's shoulder.
"D—D—," Ash stuttered, crying harder and shrinking into a tiny ball. Brock was surprised he could shrink so small.
"Ash, wake up, buddy. Come on, wake up. It's just a dream," he whispered, now gently shaking his friend. "It's just me, your old pal, Brock. Come on, now. Wake up."
His brow wrinkled, and slowly Ash's eyes fluttered open. He shrank away from Brock's shadowed face. "No," he pleaded, pushing himself away.
"Ash, Ash, it's me, Brock," Brock said soothingly, having dealt with a-many children waking from nightmares. "It's all right. I'm not going to hurt you. It's just me."
He watched as Ash rapidly blinked his eyes and quelled his breathing. "B-Brock?"
"Yes. It's me. Are you all right?"
Ash nodded, wiping his nose. His eyes were red and swollen.
"You sure? You want to talk about it?"
He shook his head, crawling back under the sleeping bag. Brock tucked him in out of force of habit, as he had always done so with his younger siblings.
"You going to be all right?" Brock asked one more time. Ash nodded. "I want a verbal answer."
A smile twitched unto Ash's face. "Y-yes, I'm fine, Brock."
Pikachu nuzzled her trainer. "Pikapi," she cooed.
He wrapped her in his arms, lying down. Brock watched the two, then went back to his own sleeping bag.
It was quiet for a few moments.
He sat up in his sleeping bag. "Yeah, Ash?"
"Don't tell Misty, 'k?"
It took a Brock a moment, but he nodded. "Okay, Ash, I won't."
There was a small sigh of relief. "Thank you."
Again Brock shook his head. He shouldn't have agreed not to tell Misty. She had the right to know. But, then again, Ash had the right to keep some things personal. He nervously ran a hand through his spiky brown hair. There was something strange, different about his young friend.
He looked up at the dimming sky. It was almost time for them to settle in. Brock sighed, wondering if Ash would have another nightmare. Last night, he hadn't, or at least Pikachu hadn't woken him up to wake Ash. She didn't want to use her Thundershock around him, not at such a delicate time.
"Come on, guys. Time to hit the sack," Brock sighed, setting down plate and dimly noting that Ash hadn't touched him meal. It would have been a first any other week except this. And he dutifully noted that Ash shrink at the thought of sleeping.
"Guess you're right," he said softly. "See you in the morning."
The cry woke both Misty and Brock up, and they saw the tiny mouse releasing a mega Thunderbolt to the holder of her.
"What the!" Misty yelled, reaching to grab and protect Togepi and she leaped up with Brock.
"Who are you!" Brock demanded the person, who was unaffected by Pikachu's attack, scanning around for Ash. Where was he? "What have you done with Ash?"
Pikachu sank her teeth into the hand, and the man gave an ear-piecing yelp. "Grab them now!" he ordered the darkness, gripping his bleeding hand.
Suddenly dark figures dropped from the trees, one each right behind Brock and Misty, who suddenly found their arms behind their backs and legs kicked out from under them. Togepi, the flying egg, sailed right into the arms of a waiting assailant. Pikachu scratched the bag she was in furiously, releasing more Thunderbolts in a minute than most Pikachu could ever dream of achieving.
"I . . .I don't think we really . . . really to bring them," said a reproachful voice.
"Where's Ash!" Misty yelled. "If you've done anything to him—" She was cut off when someone shoved something in her mouth.
"Shut up, both of you! Bloody Rodent!" the leader cursed. "Who was the idiot that stepped on its tail!"
"What did you do with Ash!" Brock demanded, struggling to get up. He wished it was lighter so that he could see their assailants.
"Oh, you'll find out. Get them in the other truck."
Brock rubbed his head, pushing himself up from the floor. What had happened? He remembered being in the trailer of the truck with Misty and the jabbing sack that was Pikachu and Togepi. It had been a long and bumpy ride, and Brock could have sworn they were driving in circles, for how many potholes could be as deep as the one that the driver never missed, that came back every 126-Missippis exact.
He didn't think he been drugged or got knocked out, at least by someone else. He must have just fallen asleep.
"Hey, Misty," he said, shaking his friend.
Her eyes fluttered open. "Hmm, Brock? What—where are we?"
Brock shrugged, helping her sit up. "I just woke up. Are you all right?"
Misty spit something out her mouth. "Yuck! My mouth tastes nauseous. What did that jerk shove in it, his sock?!" Suddenly she looked around. "Where's Ash?"
"They must have put him in another room," Brock said softly, standing up and looking around the room.
It was plain, an off-white in color. The only exit in the ten-by-fifteen room was a closed door, and Brock went over and wrenched the doorknob. He wasn't surprised that it was locked. He gritted his teeth and stood on his tiptoes to look out the tiny window. There was no one in the wall, and, as far as he could see, no guards.
"Anything?" Misty asked.
"No one." Brock looked around the room. "Maybe if we could break the glass."
Misty caught on. "We could unlock the door and find Ash. I can't image what they're doing to him." She shuddered, showing that she could image.
Brock nodded, trying not to image. There was nothing in this room that could help them. Suddenly, he reached around to his belt. "Damn, they took my Pokéballs," he muttered.
Misty put her hands on her hips. "What did you think? That they'd just leave them for you to use? Think, Brock."
"That's not what I meant," he said through gritted teeth. "I thought it might have slipped their minds or something."
"I hope they're not hurting Togepi," Misty whispered. "Or Ash."
Brock nodded his agreement, looking around, hoping some piece of equipment that could help them escape had magically appeared within the last few seconds. Nothing had.
"Do you think one of us could punch through the glass?" Misty asked, giving an experimental punch of the glass and imagining her hand breaking painfully instead of the glass.
"Could try," Brock sighed, slipping off his vest.
"Brock! You'll break your hand!" Misty stated, suddenly realizing that that wasn't a very good idea. "We can't just leave them a trail of blood to follow!"
Brock bared her an exasperated smile. "Good point." He looked around the room again, and again nothing had magically appeared. Misty tapped her foot, trying to think, and Brock looked around the room again.
Suddenly an Idea struck him. "I got it! Misty, spread this over the glass," Brock ordered, tossing his vest at her and bending down to slip off his shoe.
Misty's eyes, after a moment of confusion, lit up in understanding. "Gotcha." She took the vest and held it over the glass window.
Brock stood up, holding the toe of his shoe. "Hopefully we aren't being guarded," he smiled ruefully, slamming the shoe against the glass. Nothing happened.
"Keep trying," Misty order. "Hit it harder."
He rolled his eyes. Like he was actually going to do anything else, Misty. He banged the glass harder, over and over again with the thick heel of his shoe until the glass cracked. "Finally!" With one last hard hit, Brock slammed his shoe through the glass.
Misty look down the vest, and both listened for any sound that could detect that someone knew they were escaping. There was none. "Come on. Let's get this glass out of the way."
Carefully, both removed the glass shards that remained lodged in the paneling until the hole was safe enough for one of them to reach their arm out the CD-case-sized hole.
"Boost me up, Brock," Misty ordered, as she was lighter and had narrower arms. Without a word of disagreement, Brock hefted her by the waist and brought her over to the door.
Gingerly Misty slid her hand, then arm, through the opening, bending it down carefully. She couldn't find the other doorknob, and she leaned more into the opening as if to will more arm to go through.
"Can you lift me up higher?" she asked, pulling her arm out and looking down at Brock.
"Can you get on my shoulders?" Brock grunted.
Misty nodded. "Put me down and I'll try."
"Right." Brock let her slid down, then leaned against the wall. "Give me a moment."
"I am not that heavy!" Misty snapped.
"Sure, Misty," he smiled, kneeling down. "Come on."
Still a tad upset, Misty sat on his shoulders, then held on to his head as Brock started to stand.
"Don't wrench my head off!" Brock hissed.
"Sorry! Okay, a little closer to the door, thanks. Can you turn sideways." This was easier than before, for now her shoulder was higher than the window. She looked down the window to get bearings on the knob, then shoved her arm through the opening.
Her fingertips grazed the knob, and Misty again pushed so that her entire shoulder was through the window. With a grunt of discomfort, she tried to walk her fingers along the metal to turn it. More than once it slipped back. Seemed like this was one of those doors that only locked one way.
"Would you hurry up?" Brock hissed in discomfort.
"Hey, you want to try?" Misty snapped.
"Would you let me?"
"Shut up!" Misty started to re-concentrate on her task. "Okay, Brock, push on the door before this can slip back. I just have to get it a few more millimeters or something."
Brock grunted his acknowledgement.
Several minutes passed before there was a click. Brock, leaning heavily again the door, suddenly fell to the floor, and Misty, with her shoulder jammed in the window, yelped in pain before she painfully slid out and hit the ground hard.
"Ow," she moaned, rubbing her shoulder. That was going to bruise.
"You all right?"
"Come on," Misty hissed, getting up with Brock's help. "Let's go find Ash and our Pokémon."
Carefully the two started to walk down the corridor after randomly choosing a direction. At every door Brock peeked in, then carefully opened them. Most were like the room they had come from, only empty.
"You'd think there'd be guards or something," he commented, closing a door.
"Well, I don't question luck too much if it's going my way," Misty said.
He sighed, shaking his head and going over to another door and opening hesitantly. There was no window to peek in.
"PIKA!" came a very agitated and tired voice.
"Pikachu!" Misty yelled, barring into. Yes, there were there Pokéballs, hers in the knapsack, and Brock's and Ash's belts hanging on the wall next to two sacks, one, a rubber one, which was fidgeting angrily.
"Hold on, hold on!" Brock soothed, taking down the bag, and then the other. A sleeping Togepi rolled out onto Misty's arms while a fur-messed-up Pikachu forced her head out.
"Pika!" she breathed, taking in deep breaths of the fresh air. She smiled up at her two friends, then frowned. "Chu, Pikapi?" her voice quavered.
"We haven't found him yet, Pikachu," Misty said softly, slinging on her pack gingerly while Brock grabbed both belts. "Do you think you could help find him? Sniff him out?"
"Pi!" Pikachu said in the air of she'll sure as Hell try to.
"Then let's get to it," Brock smiled, setting her down.
Pikachu sat on her hunches and closed her eyes. Her ears started twitching and her nose bobbed. Then, feeling like she had something, she ran out of the room and back towards the very room Brock and Misty had been held in, and then past it.
"Guess we chose wrong," Brock smiled as they ran after her.
Pikachu skidded to a halt in front of one door, jumping up and down excitably. "Pikapi! Pikachu pika!"
Both of the friends stopped at the door, looking at each other knowing. Brock took a deep breath, gripped the doorknob, and slowly pushed it open. Pikachu scurried in before it was even open an inch.
"Pikachu?" Ash's hoarse voice yelped.
"Ash!" Misty yelled as they too ran in.
Ash sat on the floor in the corner, looking at them with wide eyes. "Guys?"
Ash sat with his arms wrapped around his legs, rocking back and forth and staring with vacant eyes. "Brock and Misty'll be here any moment, any moment now."
They won't just leave him here. They'd find this place and rescue him. They were friends, and then they'd rescue him. Yes, they won't. They had to . . . they had to.
"Yep, any moment now," he murmured, then sniffed. He gripped his arms to stop the shaking.
They've saved his life countless times. Ash bit his lip. Yep, countless times . . . but why can't I remember any of them? And he saved them a bunch of times too, right? Yep, so they'd find him somehow and rescue him. He didn't want to go back to the lab. He didn't know why or what happened, but something, something inside of him told him he didn't want to go back.
But he didn't have to worry. Brock and Misty'll find him.
Maybe if he had at least woken up before those Rocket members had turned up he won't have been in this mess. He knew something was going on, apparently, at least subconsciously. Ash shuddered, the shadows of the images on his eyes. Part of him didn't think he could have been out during that entire Lab experience. How else would images such as these weld themselves onto his eyes and memory? He remembered waking up in a cold sweat, his stomach doing flips, and muscles tingling.
He had lain there for a moment, trying to moisten his throat and mouth. He had taken relief that Pikachu was next to him, breathing softly. Nothing would be wrong if she was calm. He had then listened to the sounds of the forest, so soothing, trying to drift back asleep. He had been there when suddenly someone wrenched him away. He couldn't even scream or fight back.
But he should of, dammit! He should have!
He heaved, still shaking, and closed his eyes. Someone was walking down the hall again. Someone did every few hours, and Ash held his breath every time they past his door, praying they won't open it.
This time someone stopped by his door. Ash froze, and then watched as someone pushed the door open. A familiar yellow face appeared.
"P-Pikachu!" Ash yelped, over-joyed as he tried to jump to his feet. And then he fell back against the wall as the door opened fully, revealing three other people. Brock, Misty, and . . . and himself.
"What?" he got out. "What's going on?"
Brock and Misty looked the same, except Misty's shoulder looked a littler red, but the him-copy didn't. Across his head was a bandage, as well as on his forearm. He looked like he hadn't had a chance to freshen up for many days and he studied Ash right back.
"Ash—" Misty started softly, clutching Togepi.
"What?" The other Ash looked at her as well.
They all stood silently, waiting for someone to continue the conversation.
"I'm so happy to see you guys," Ash got out. "But who's he?"
"I'm you. Or, should I say, you're me," the duplicate said carefully.
"What? Who are you?"
He ran a hand through his hair sadly. "I really don't want to do this to you," he whispered softly.
"Do what?" Ash demanded, clenching his fist. "Who are you?"
The boy looked at him hard, a perfect mirror of his own face, minus the wounds. "I'm Ash Ketchum, from the town of Pallet, on my journey to be the World's Greatest Pokémon Master."
Ash looked at him speechless. "No you're not! I'm Ash Ketchum from the town of Pallet!" he countered loudly.
"No, you're not," Brock interjected. "Listen to us—"
Ash backed up. "Listen to you? Listen to yourself! I'm Ash, Brock, not this . . . this fake! We've traveled together for over a year!" They looked unconvinced. "Misty, you know me! I'm the real Ash. We met—"
"How did we meet, Ash?" Misty asked, looking at him with sad eyes, like he was some crazy crackpot fool.
"We met—" Suddenly he stopped. How did they meet? He knew just a second ago, he really did! They met right in the beginning of his journey. "We met," he started again. "We met . . ."
He looked at them, speechless, tears stinging his eyes. "Misty, you know me. I'm me! Pikachu! Pikachu, it's me, buddy! Remember?"
Pikachu sniffed and hugged the Ash-copy's leg, burying her face. "Chu."
It was like the ultimate slap in the face to Ash, who reeled from the action. "What's with you guys!" he screamed. "Can't you see! It's me!" He pounded his chest. "Me!"
His copy shook his head. "No," he said hoarsely, and there were tears in his eyes. "You are not me. You are just a copy, a duplicate."
"No! You're the copy!" Tears were running down Ash's cheeks, not at the words, but at the fact that his friends were believing this monstrosity over him. Couldn't they see that it wasn't him, that he was the real Ash Ketchum? "Guys, come on, you have to see it!"
The copy stepped forward and started to come towards him. "Listen to me."
"Stay away from me!" Ash screamed.
The copy did stop coming closer. "Please listen and believe me," he pleaded. "You're not Ash Ketchum. You're just a Ditto from Team Rocket's experiment."
"I AM NOT!" Ash denied shrilly.
"Please, be quiet," Misty pleaded.
"I'm NOT! My name is Ash Ketchum! I am not a DITTO!" He hiccuped.
The Ash's copy—the real Ditto, Ash realized—shook his head sadly. "No. No, you are a Ditto. It's an infiltration idea they're working on. You're D23—Ditto 23."
"No, no, no!" he yelled. "I'm not! You're the Ditto! Guys, he's the Ditto, not me! Him!" They looked at him with wide eyes.
Brock shook his head, hanging it low. "Ash—" Ash's heart soared when he called him by name. He Believed!
The Ash-Ditto stopped him. "Ash," he said slowly, with great deliberation. "You fell before you got captured, and got cut across your arm and head. Where are your wounds?"
Ash opened his mouth, but no words came out. "They . . . they healed!"
"In a week?" The brown eyes looked at him, not unkindly.
"Remember, remember you cut your feet," Misty whispered, hugging Togepi tightly and not looking at him. "You haven't complained of them, or needed a change of bandages. You regenerated the skin without meaning to."
"I was strapped down," the Ditto continued. "What about your straps? They weren't on you, because you never had them."
"They unstrapped me!" Ash cried. They couldn't believe this! They couldn't!
The Ditto hung his head. "Ash, I'm sorry," he whispered. Then he raised his head. "I have to do this. Look at your hands."
"Why?" Even as he asked, Ash did so. He saw nothing at first through his tear-dampened eyes, but then a sudden color change occurred. They were suddenly bright pink. "What the!"
"You're worked up," Brock said softly. "Ditto can't keep the Transform up if they lose their concentration too much. You're reverting."
Ash clenched his fists. "You're wrong! Wrong!" he screamed. "I'm not a Ditto!"
"You messed up your battles, you forgot things you used to know so easily," Brock countered.
"Can't I make mistakes! I'm not a Ditto! Team Rocket did this to me!" he protested, wiping away his tears savagely. "They—they're using that"—he pointed to the Ditto—"to infiltrate you! Can't you see?" He could barely see through the tears. "Please, please, believe me. You have to see that I'm the real Ash Ketchum! Please!"
They—his friends—looked away from him, and the Ditto reached behind his back and grabbed a Pokéball. "I'm so sorry," he whispered hoarsely. "Believe me, I am."
"I can't go in a Pokéball! I'm Human!" Ash screeched, backing against the wall nonetheless. His arms felt like they were melting, and, when he looked, he saw that they were.
"We'll just have to see," the Ditto whispered, then threw the ball.
Ash crossed his arms protectively over his face, watching horrified as the Pokéball opened and the red energy started to encircle him. The tears streamed down his face faster. "No! Please! I'm Ash Ket . . .
His cry was cut off as the Pokéball closed with a definite and final snap.
They all sat around the fire, huddled as close as possible, the same thing in each other their minds. Ash rolled the Pokéball in his hands.
"The poor thing," he whispered hoarsely.
Misty shuddered. "Can . . . can you image what it must have felt like? To, to find out you're not who you think you are?" She hung her head. That poor Pokémon . . .
"Damn Team Rocket!" Brock spat. "Damn them to Hell for doing something like that!"
Ash nodded his head, running his finger over the smooth orb. "How could they even think to do something like that?"
"What are you going to do with it, Ash?"
He ran a hand through his hair. "I . . . I don't know. I don't want to train it, not after all it's been through. I think I'm going to send it to Nurse Joy. Remember, the one with the Psychology degree? Maybe, maybe she can help it. I hope someone can," he finished in a whisper.
The friends nodded their agreement. Besides, training with Ash, the poor Ditto probably didn't deserve to go through that.
"Team Rocket's going to pay for this, though," Ash swore. "Whoever authorized it, I swear, they're going down. Ditto 23. That means 22 more Dittos probably went through the exact same thing, or maybe died. And using people as well." He shuddered, remembering slightly.
"Agreed," Misty stated.
"Let's try to get some sleep," Brock suggested softly.
"If you can," Ash whispered bitterly. They all nodded.
The Pokéball rocked back and forth slightly.
"They've all escaped," the clerk whispered fearfully.
The man nodded, unconcerned.
"You ordered no guards, Sir, but we don't know how," the clerk rambled. He stopped when he saw that his boss was smiling. "Sir?"
"It's all fine, fine."
"But the experiment! D23 got away!"
"I know." The man stood up and walked around the desk. "I know."
"And . . . you're not worried, Sir?"
The man looked at him, then smiled coldly. A Persian rubbed against his leg.
Ash sat up carefully in his sleeping bag, looking at his sleeping friends. Then, silently he crawled out and stood up. He grabbed the Pokéball and started to walk into the forest.
He stopped next to a river and sat at the bank, looking at the Pokéball. He could break it, kill the creature and put it out of his misery. That would be humane to some. Just crush it under a rock.
Yet that really doesn't kill. It'll just make the creature impossible to recall. Well, that was close to Death, but it wasn't Death. That occupant could still think, still dream.
Suddenly the Pokéball jerked, and Ash held the two halves together. He could see a red glow escape the crack. "No you don't," he whispered complacently, slipping the lock on.
After a few moments, the energy extinguished itself and the Pokéball turned calm.
Ash chuckled under his breath, then suddenly started to laugh. He held out his arm, the wounded one, and started to unwrap the bandage. The scab was forming, then suddenly the cut started to disappear.
And in its place, a red 'R' formed.
Ash laughed, and the Pokéball started to shake in his grasp.
"Sometimes, when I look in the mirror, I wonder if my reflection knows that it is just a reflection. And, then other times, I wonder if it wonders if I know that I'm just a reflection."
Nice, do you think? Pretty good for lazy writing and finishing it in one day, I think. I've got a few other Ditto-related stories running around in my messed-up little brain, but this was the shortest. Unless I get hooked onto writing a sequel for this puppy, which means I got to finish my other sequel first! Get off you butt, Kim!
Okay, now I've got a few questions, some which I don't even know the answers to just yet:
Well, that's it for questions, I think. Boy, what a day! I got this story finished and our back bedroom is so clean that you can actually open the door, walk in it, and find stuff! The horror! (I give it it a week to last.) And tomorrow's my birthday! Yeah!! Happy 17th-on-the-17th to Me! Lalala . . . oh . . . didn't I plan on doing homework today, er, this weekend, whatever . . .? Oops . . .
I hope everyone had a "Hoppy" Easter!
Thank you for reading my story!