Pokemon: The Psychic Wars
Ash wiped a bead of sweat as he continued on through the League's ventilation system, stifling a sneeze as a wisp of dust blew in his face. He wiped his cheek with his sleeve, huffing in exasperation as he continued his trek through the shaft to the dungeons. He had crawled through seemingly endless turns and drops in near complete darkness with only the occasional passing vent to act as a source of light when he rounded another corner, barely squeezing his lithe body around the bend and sighing in relief once he was safely by.
Though he had only been at it for five minutes, his arms were quickly starting to fatigue as his muscles protested each movement, still somewhat tender from his earlier fight with Misty. Despite that, he continued on, determined to make it to his destination as the faint light at the end of the vent became brighter with each inch he pressed forward. He quickened his pace seeing the vent grate and hoped it was the correct one. He had gotten quite turned around a while back and could only hope that this was his final destination.
Pressing his face up to the grate, Ash allowed his eyes to adjust to the dim light before taking a moment to peer around. Dank hallways with barred cells filled his vision, the occasional prisoner milling about in their own small space, quietly keeping to him or herself. Ash's heart lifted as he realized he had finally made it. He did a final scan of the room to ensure no guards were on patrol and moved to unlatch the grate. It squeaked in protest and Ash couldn't help but inwardly cringe as the sound seemed to echo throughout the dungeons. Still, no one seemed to pay the noise any mind.
Letting out a breath he didn't even know he had been holding, Ash poked his head out and deftly flipped out of the tiny space, landing in a crouch in a small corner of the dungeons. He scanned the space to reorient himself and realized that he was cleverly hidden within the shadows. Dusting himself off, he slowly approached the cells and quickly realized that he was near the back, closest to Misty's prison. He silently thanked Pikachu when a voice called out to him.
"How did you get past the guards?"
Ash turned to his right and quickly realized that he was much closer than he initially thought. He watched as Misty stood from her seated position, wiping the last vestiges of sleep from her eyes, as she approached the bars of her cell, her eyes guarded as always.
He couldn't help the tired grin that found its way to his lips as she approached. Nor could he forget the countless times where he would awake to this very scene, her hair slightly tousled, her eyes clouded over with sleep as she would inevitably look to him and tell him how much she loved him.
This scene was different though. They weren't in their shared bed with their bodies tangled in the covers. They weren't whispering into each other's ears about an unseen future or laughing about stupid inside jokes or planning a day of adventures with their closest friends. Instead, they were on opposite sides of an ongoing war, iron bars separating him from her.
It sobered Ash to the reality he was living in, causing the grin to drop ever so slightly.
He approached her cell, grabbing one of the bars, if only to give his hands something to do. He watched as she took a tentative step back and it pained his heart to see how much distance was placed between them.
Ash flicked his head in the direction of the vent grate and watched as her eyes squinted through the shadows to zero in on his entrance point. He wasn't sure why he bothered showing her, noting belatedly that it was probably not a wise decision should she decide to tell the next guard she saw, but finally decided that he didn't much care. If Lance found out, he might very well take his master status, but to Ash, it was nothing more than a pretty title, something affording him some authority yet gaining him very little in terms of raw information.
A loud, tired sigh pulled Ash from his thoughts.
"I've already told you all I'm willing to tell. I won't betray Sabrina or sacrifice my sister's safety for this rebellion. I'm sorry."
Ash watched as Misty turned away, as if inwardly debating something, before shaking her head and walking back to the far corner of her cell.
"I didn't come to interrogate you," he said, leaning his head against the bars of her cell. Her attention seemed to catch at that as she half turned her head back in his direction.
"Then why are you here?"
He shrugged and smiled easily, "Just to talk, I guess." As he said the words, he figured he should've been a little more prepared for this encounter but decided that all the preparation in the world wouldn't have mattered. Bottom line was that he simply wanted to see her again. Preferably without a dagger pressed up against his throat.
Misty raised a brow at that and half turned her body, though Ash could tell her guard was still up. Instead of pushing her, he opted to sit down, cross-legged, leaning back on his arms casually. Misty narrowed her eyes, but turned her body fully to face him. She was partly hidden within the shadows, but Ash could tell that she was sizing him up, trying to decide his true intentions.
"Really, everything's off the record. It's just you and me," he tried again, motioning for her to sit across from him, trying his best to remain neutral and school his expression into something akin to inviting.
She gave off a half-hearted, sarcastic laugh, "Just you and me huh? The master and the assassin. What a pair we make."
Ash smiled, motioning behind him, "No cloak today."
Misty raised a brow in curiosity, "You lose it like your friend's?"
Ash's brow furrowed in confusion, leaning forward to press against his knees, "What are you talking about?"
By this time, Misty had crossed her cell to stand in front of him, but still seemed hesitant to sit. Ash figured it was because it would place them on equal ground or because it might be a show of weakness. She was probably used to proving herself and talking down to people, so it didn't bother Ash much when she continued to stand, asserting her authority over him. At least she was speaking to him.
"Lance demoted that girl that brought you here yesterday."
Ash's eyes widened, "Leaf?"
Misty merely shrugged but it was all the answer Ash needed. He truly didn't think Lance had it in him to demote anyone despite what people said. He was always so forgiving and always willing to listen to both sides of the story. It's what made him such a great leader and driving force for the rebellion.
Just then, an insurmountable guilt took the place of Ash's shock. He was the reason that Leaf had been demoted and lost her status. It really should have been him that had been demoted, not her. She was only doing what she thought was right. He, on the other hand, simply agreed for selfish reasons. If he was being honest with himself, he hadn't even been thinking about the rebellion when she asked him to accompany her. His main focus was seeing Misty and speaking with her, to get her to understand that she was still a part of him and that she still had friends on this side.
And also to apologize.
He had so much that he had wanted to say, but their time had been cut short by Lance's appearance. And then he must have demoted her once he had been dismissed.
Of course he'd wait until I left. He knew I'd argue with him about it.
Ash clenched a fist in frustration. He knew how hard Leaf had worked for her status and how much she treasured the title and authority. He couldn't imagine how hard that must have been for her.
"Seems Lance is having a hard time reeling in his masters. Maybe she was simply the icing on the cake."
Ash blinked, realizing that Misty had spoken and glanced up. Her azure eyes sparkled with something akin to mirth.
Ash shook his head and rolled his eyes, "What an idiot."
"Better be careful or he'll take yours too," she commented off-handedly, "If he finds out you've been here, that is."
Ash raised a brow in skepticism, "You won't tell him."
"Sounds like a challenge," she fired back smugly. She placed a finger on her chin in thought, her shackles clinking together like bells, "How bout this. You release me and we fight, one on one. No weapons, no psychic powers. You win and I go back to my cell and Lance will never be the wiser. But if I win, you let me waltz on out of here and back to Sabrina, no questions asked."
Ash rolled his eyes, glancing lazily up at the ceiling of the dungeons, "Seriously, what kind of an idiot do you take me for? Doesn't take a genius to realize you orchestrated this whole thing. You honestly think I believe that Blaine was able to single-handedly bring you in with barely a scratch."
Ash watched as Misty smiled lazily, her eyes narrowing as if she found this whole conversation very amusing.
"What I want to know is why."
"Thought this wasn't an interrogation."
Ash leveled her a glare which she matched unwaveringly. He relented, taking in a deep breath and releasing it all at once, "Fine, tell me something else then."
Misty crossed her arms, "Like?"
"Your sisters, how are they doing?"
Misty's eyes widened marginally at the sudden change in topic before she narrowed them yet again. She seemed to be contemplating whether or not to answer and seemed to decide on the former before heavily sighing again.
"They're alive…as long as I continue to do what Sabrina says, that is," she murmured, her eyes becoming unfocused and sad all at once.
Ash nodded, "I see, well, that's a blessing I suppose."
Misty huffed, slamming one of her shackled hands into the bars, startling Ash.
"You think it's a blessing that they're being used against me?! Yes, they're alive but just barely. She feeds them just enough to survive, no more! She gives them just enough water to live! She lets me see them occasionally to give them just enough hope to live til tomorrow!" she panted, her chest heaving in exhaustion as Ash looked on, eyes wide with unbridled shock at her sudden outburst, "You call that a blessing?!"
"I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that. Really," he uttered, pulling his eyes away from hers, telling himself that the glistening in her eyes wasn't tears and simply a trick of the dim fluorescent lights above. He bit his tongue in reprimand as he listened to her breaths slow to a steady calm, the trembling of her shackles quieting down to a mere tinkling. He heard a small thump and couldn't help but look back to see, to his surprise, that she was now seated across from him, her hands resting in her lap, her eyes tired.
"It's not like you could've known," she murmured, anger deflating almost instantaneously, head dropping in despondence as she averted her gaze.
Ash lowered his eyes in shame, berating himself for his insensitivity and wishing he could take back his words. He could never know the personal hell Misty had gone through to keep her sisters safe. She discarded her morals to ensure the only blood relatives she had left remained breathing, even if it meant becoming a killer. He might have done the same had it been his own mother.
"Sorry…it was a stupid thing to say," he whispered, leaning his head against the bars of her cell. Misty remained quiet and Ash had to assume she either had nothing to say to him or was simply ignoring him all together. He accepted it without complaint.
And then, "You're an idiot."
Ash's ears rang with the sound of her voice and he couldn't help but give a half-hearted, tired grin to the ground. He only nodded in response, his head sliding up and down the bars as his forehead squeaked in tandem. He still didn't have it in him to look up at her and, instead, opted for staring at the ground, her boots the only visible part of her he could see in his peripherals.
A comfortable silence stretched between them, the only sounds coming from the chirping crickets that had found their home within the sanctity of the dungeons. Ash relished in it, feeling at peace for the first time in a long time. He didn't care that they were sitting in the dankest part of their dungeons nor did he care that they sat with iron bars separating them. All he cared about was the fact that Misty was alive and sitting before him. This wasn't one of those stupid, taunting dreams that he was prone to having. She didn't die on that cruise ship.
She didn't die.
Still, a little voice at the back of Ash's mind forced him to see the trade-off. Misty's life in exchange for her freedom. Was it worth it for her?
Ash grimaced as he contemplated the answer, gripping the cell bars, his knuckles turning white. He couldn't help but think that all of her pain and suffering could have been avoided if he'd simply been smarter back then. How many times had he asked himself if things would have happened differently if he had just followed her on that fateful day? Would fate still pit them against each other? Or would they be on the same side fighting the same enemy?
Ash was unwilling to look up into her eyes to find the answer to the question that he longed to ask. He didn't care that it was selfish. He had to know.
"Do you blame me?"
"You never were the most eloquent person."
'That's not what I meant."
Ash forced himself to look up and couldn't miss the mildly shocked look in Misty's azure eyes. He nervously reached through the bars to grasp her wrist tenderly. His heart soared when she didn't immediately pull away, instead, giving him a questioning look, as if debating the true meaning of his question. She rested her opposite hand across his own and gave it a gentle squeeze. Ash relished the warmth of her skin on his own and realized how much he missed it. He rubbed his thumb in small circles along the top of her hand.
She gave him another tight squeeze before pulling out of his grasp, causing Ash's heart to drop at the loss of contact.
"You should go, the next patrol will be coming by soon."
Misty stood up and backed away to her corner of the cell, giving him a sad, departing smile. Ash didn't return it, instead, standing up and brushing himself off. Despite her affections, she still hadn't answered his question. But before he could ask again, he heard the distant sounds of the dungeon doors opening. He grunted unhappily and backed away into the shadows towards the vent grate. He popped it open, but not before giving Misty one last backwards glance before scampering up the wall and within the confines of the vent.
He held his breath and listened for the sounds of the guard's footsteps. He listened as the guard walked by his position, then swiftly by Misty's cell then off to the front of the dungeons once again. Hearing the dungeon doors slam shut, Ash took that as his cue to leave, army crawling his way back through the intricate ventilation system, silently promising to return the first chance he got.
Drew grunted as he stared at his reflection in the mirror, barely recognizing himself as a black haired, Saffron City soldier stared back at him. He ran a hand through his now dyed hair and sighed, realizing how dark he looked. And not just his hair, but his whole ensemble was black on black with the exception of the gold embroidered Marsh Badge stitched on the right side of his chest. An unfamiliar rapier hung at his side and though he was equipped with his normal gear under the garb, it still made him uncomfortable.
Off to the side, Paul hummed to himself, reading over the vague map of the Saffron City Headquarters that Lance had given them earlier.
"Hmph, this thing is practically useless," he grunted, tracing a finger through the suspected mazes of the compound, "It's all speculation and based on old information."
"Then we'll have to update it when we get back."
Paul looked up from his work to glance at Drew. He gave a smug grin and nodded, "You're right."
Drew watched as Paul resumed his analysis of the map and couldn't help but check out his own uniform. Nearly identical to his own, Paul seemed at ease in it, almost as if he had been wearing it his whole life. He had one hand resting securely on his hip holster, his eyes hidden under a fringe of dyed black hair, quickly scanning the map for any other important details before they set out.
Drew turned back to his own reflection and straightened his shirt for what seemed like the millionth time.
"Stop it, you're starting to make me nervous," Paul called, his eyes still firmly on the map.
He grunted, "Sorry, just a little on edge."
"Hurry and get over it. There's no room for mistakes," he added almost as an afterthought, "And I plan on being back in Dawn's bed before midnight."
Drew grinned and nodded, taking in a steadying breath before letting it out in a single whoosh of air. He glanced back at his reflection with conviction and couldn't help but envision May's appearance next to his, her petite palm resting on the peak of his shoulder in silent reassurance. His grin faltered, imagining his girlfriend who was likely safe within the confines of their apartment, completely oblivious as to the details of his mission. Time was of the essence and Lance knew that time was running out. He had adamantly insisted that they leave immediately and tell no one of their endeavor, should news somehow reach Misty and she somehow got word out to Sabrina.
Lance was either being extremely paranoid or extremely smart, though Drew wrestled with which one.
Maybe just extremely careful, Drew thought to himself. He watched as the vision of May disappeared from his sight. He steeled his gaze, fingering his pokeballs on his belt, feeling their sudden warmth and appreciating the support they offered him.
Drew turned and saw Paul adjusting his cap over his newly dyed black hair, map tucked away in his jacket pocket, pokeballs and several weapons attached to his hip. He had a conviction that Drew admired and couldn't help but feed off of. Drew adjusted his own hat and silently promised May that he would return.
Nodding, he leveled Paul a glare of his own.
"Let's bring'em hell."
Ash grunted as he flipped himself out of the ventilation system, wiping the dust and grime from off of his uniform, his eyes adjusting to the new environment. He quickly found his hung cape and donned it, listening as Pikachu scampered from his hiding spot and back onto his shoulder, nuzzling his cheek.
Ash pet his fur affectionately, "Thanks again pal."
Pikachu purred in response, his tail flicking this way and that as Ash made his way through the storage closet and back out into the harshly lit hallway. He squinted as his eyes constricted to the sudden change in light and slammed the door to the closet closed.
Ash nearly jumped out of his skin when a nearby voice called to him.
"What were you doing in there?"
Ash turned and nearly slammed right into an unsuspecting Brock, the air forced out of his lungs all at once while Pikachu held onto his master's shoulder haphazardly. Ash took a steadying breath and pressed a hand up to a nearby wall while Brock did the same.
"Mind not sneaking up on me like that," commented Ash in annoyance as he caught his breath and wiped a bead of sweat from his brow.
"Sorry man, I thought you saw me," Brock apologized, straightening his cloak and rolling his shoulders back.
Ash shook his head, brushing off the apology, "It's fine, I wasn't paying attention. Followed Pikachu in there trying to sneak snacks before dinner time."
Pikachu looked affronted and puffed his cheeks out in annoyance. Ash brushed a hand over his fur in silent apology. He needed to remember to reward the electric mouse properly when they got back to their apartment.
"You hear about Leaf?"
Brock's sudden question had Ash wondering if he was the last one in the rebellion to have heard about his friend's demotion. Before he could comment, the Pewter City native spoke again.
"And thanks for telling me about your secret meeting with Misty."
Ash's eyes widened in horror.
It took him all of five seconds before he realized that Brock meant his impromptu meeting with her the previous day, where both he and Leaf had tricked the former Team Rocket into letting them through the dungeons. He inwardly sighed in relief, his secret entryway safe for now.
Ash smiled apologetically, "Sorry, it was a spur of the moment thing."
Brock merely shrugged and crossed his arms, seemingly unfazed by it. He lowered his voice as if worried about prying ears and scanned the hallways quickly before asking, "How was she?"
Ash leaned his head against the nearby wall and distractedly scratched Pikachu behind his ears, prompting a contented purr. He furrowed his brow as he remembered the young woman in the dungeons, cast in shadow, eyes lost and wanting. He had nearly forgotten how vibrant they once were, full of ambition and hope. He felt ashamed that he had to dig to the deepest recesses of his memory to recall the certain way she used to look at him or the way her eyes sparkled like the ocean whenever they were in the middle of an adventure. He lowered his gaze, finding the right words to describe her turmoil.
"She's trapped, stuck between protecting her sisters and wanting to ask for help."
Brock raised a brow in skepticism, "She asked for help?"
"She can't, but I know she wants it."
The taller man narrowed his eyes in suspicion before sighing deeply, blowing the bangs from out of his face.
"What's your plan?"
Ash lifted an eye in question, "Plan?"
Brock gave off a half-hearted chuckle, "Give me a little more credit than that, Ash. You think I honestly believe you're going to sit idly by and watch how things play out?"
Ash couldn't help but give off a tired grin at how easily his best friend could read him.
"No clue. There's no way Lance will allow me within ten feet of the dungeons after the stunt we pulled. I'm gonna have to figure something else out."
Brock pulled him a look, an unsettling look mixed with pity and sadness. Ash hated that look and what it meant and the rock master had it down to a T. Ash merely averted his gaze and turned his body at an angle, placing some distance between them.
"Whatever you do, just be careful will you?"
Ash's eyes dragged themselves back to Brock's concerned ones and couldn't help but see the barely concealed warning in that gaze. Before Ash could read further into it, Brock spoke up again.
"She's not the same person she once was, I just don't want you getting your hopes up or revealing sensitive information about our operation."
Ash thought he should be angry or upset or hurt or betrayed but he shocked himself when none of those familiar emotions flowed through him. He realized that Brock was only being careful and could admire the honesty of his words. That he gave his warning meant that he cared, that he didn't outright stop Ash, meant that he wished for Misty to see reason and return to the side she belonged to. It warmed Ash's heart to see that Brock still harbored the same hope he did.
The raven haired master nodded, "Don't worry. I know it's a long shot, but I'd hate myself if I didn't at least try and reach her."
Brock grinned and placed a hand on Ash's shoulder, "Well, good luck and let me know if I can help in any way."
Ash nodded and matched his grin, feeling Brock's grip tighten incrementally before relaxing and falling back to his side. Giving him a parting look, Brock stepped past Ash and Pikachu and headed off in the opposite end of the hallway.
Feeling renewed, Ash sighed in anticipation of the week ahead and suddenly wondered when the next time he'd be free to see Misty again. He had the sudden urge to finish his paperwork and turned to Pikachu, "Ready to head back pal?"
The electric type narrowed his eyes and muttered in annoyance, reminding Ash of his earlier accusations. The master merely chuckled, ruffling Pikachu's fur in affection and apology.
"I know, I know. I owe you some snacks when we get back to the room," he offered, earning an excited squeal from his best pal. Ash walked off in the direction of their room, feeling as if a heavy burden had been lifted from his shoulders, a certain bounce in his step that hadn't been there for far too long.
To be continued…
A/N: I've been sitting on this chapter forever with the original intent to include Drew and Paul's mission, however, I realized how long it was getting and decided to cut it here. The majority of the mission will be in the next chapter. Sorry for the long wait as I hit some major writer's block. Hope you all enjoyed and please leave a nice little review!