Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, people and Pokémon of all ages! Today, I'd like to introduce everybody, old and new readers alike, to the third in a series of stories by two siblings who can't take it seriously no matter how hard they try. You don't have to read "Not Always Black and White" or "Shades of Gray" to enjoy this one, but I wouldn't mind if you did.

WARNING: Like the last two, it starts out rolling from one bad joke to another, but it slowly gets better. I promise.

Looking back, Ethan figured he should have known that his life was going to be different than the lives of most other eleven-year-old boys.

For one thing, he was living with his mother in New Bark Town, the smallest town in all of Johto. His dad was still around, but he'd taken a business trip that required him to go to Hoenn, leaving the two alone. For another, the professor next door had called him to ask him to run an errand, and running errands usually meant something along the lines of "big adventure."

So, really, he should have been clued in right from the start. But, as it was, he just rolled out of bed, dressed in the first clothes his hands touched, and went downstairs to collect his Pokegear from his mother before starting off on this mission.

"You do remember how to use your phone, right?" his mother asked, slightly worried, and Ethan rolled his eyes.

"Yes, I do. Come on, Mom, I'll be gone about a day, tops."

His mother didn't seem to believe him, but she didn't question. "Oh, all right. And perhaps Lyra will want to come along. After all, you two have been playing in mud puddles together since you were barely toilet trained -"

"Gee, Mom, look at the time. I can't keep Professor Elm waiting much longer."

And he was out the door before his mother could say another word. Of course, no sooner had he closed the door behind him than he was attacked by a Marill, and a very familiar one at that. He managed to grab on to it before it could get lost, and soon enough he heard another familiar voice calling for it.

"I have him, Lyra," Ethan called, and soon enough his friend appeared out of nowhere. Lyra was very fond of playing dress-up, living every day like it was Halloween, without the tricks or treats. Ethan wasn't really big on clothes, but he was still curious as to what she'd be up to every day. Today, she'd dressed up like a genderbent preteen Mario, and Ethan momentarily worried she'd make him trade his own comfy clothes to become a male Princess Peach.

The worry was unnecessary. She simply took her Marill from her friend's arms, thanked him, and asked him where he was heading.

"My mom said Professor Elm wanted to see me," he admitted. "Something about a mission."

Lyra bounced in excitement, stopping only when Marill voiced his protests. "Oh, my gosh! Ethan, that's great news! Do you think he'll let you have a Pokémon?"

Ethan shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe."

"Well, if he does, maybe we can have a battle. I know Marill's getting bored."

Marill didn't seem bored at all. In fact, he was entertaining himself by using Bubble and attempting to catch the damage-dealing bubbles before they hurt anything. But Ethan didn't question it.

"So, I guess I'll see you later," he said, and Lyra waved enthusiastically as he left, before bouncing down the road to her own house. Ethan didn't mind that she wasn't coming along. After all, he was a big boy. He could take care of himself.

But something else was by the lab, too, something of such a bright red that Ethan assumed it was a fire. But it turned out to be just a boy with ridiculously bright red hair, staring intently through the window of Professor Elm's lab. Ethan was sure he'd never seen this boy before.

"So this is the famous Elm Research Lab," the red-haired boy was saying as Ethan approached.

"Did Professor Elm want to see you, too?" Ethan asked, startling the boy out of his daydream.

"Don't be stupid," the boy huffed, pushing Ethan away. "Don't talk to me."

Ethan was momentarily concerned, but then he decided that it was not his problem, and he headed back to the lab's door.

Professor Elm sat waiting for him, reading a book that looked far too complex and boring for Ethan's taste, but he waved the boy forward as he finished up his paragraph. Once his eyes had passed the final word, he marked his place and stood up, giving Ethan an equally boring lecture. The boy tried to pay attention anyway.

"Now, once a year we professors give out Pokémon to suitable children," Elm began, but Ethan interrupted.

"Suitable children? So what do you want with me?"

"I'm getting there," said the professor, obviously anticipating Ethan's question. "Usually, we send them off on some Pokedex errand, but I chose you for something different. You see, I've gotten a series of e-mails recently from an acquaintance of mine called Mr. Pokémon, and I have too much research waiting for me, so I can't go myself. I have a son at home and a niece coming in from Pewter City this afternoon, but as he's too young and she's coming specifically to help with that research..."

"You want me to go see what your friend is rambling about," Ethan finished, and Professor Elm nodded.

"You will, of course, get a Pokémon for the mission," he said. He gestured toward a table where three Pokeballs sat, undisturbed. "You may release the Pokémon inside to help your decision, and I will reply to Mr. Pokémon and inform him that you're on your way."

Choosing a Pokémon was easier said than done, of course. The Cyndaquil threw out its back flames at Ethan, the Totodile latched its sharp little toothies into his sleeve, and the Chikorita tackled him down to the ground before hiding behind the professor. Whenever Ethan tried to get closer to them, they all either attacked or, in the Chikorita's case, ran away. Professor Elm found this hilarious, but he didn't want the boy to get hurt, so he decided to take a rather unusual course of action.

The professor called all three Pokémon back into their balls, before calling Ethan over. "I'm afraid they were our only options," he said sadly. "Unless, of course, you're willing to...settle."

The phone suddenly went off, ringing twice before the answering machine took it for him. A cheery female voice met with the professor and his Chosen One: "Good morning, Uncle!"

"Your niece?" Ethan asked, and Elm looked mildly ashamed. "Aren't you going to pick it up and talk to her?"

"No. She...disapproves of this process, even though all the Pokémon involved have been treated with just as much kindness as the ones out there. It would probably be best if I pretended I was nose-deep in research and didn't let her know."

The girl's voice continued, oblivious to her uncle's shame. "I know you're probably busy with your research, but I just want to tell you that my flight got cancelled, so Daddy's lending me his Abra to teleport over there. I'll be over in about two or three hours...and if you're selling some kid one of those Pokémon again, I'm calling the cops this time!"

Elm suddenly grabbed on to the phone, clicking it on before his niece had hung up. "Oh, it's good you called...no, I'm not selling anything to children...yes, yes, you're fine, just be careful. I'll see you in a few hours."

And he clicked off the phone, turned back to Ethan, and led him over to a door that the boy hadn't seen before.

"You'll forgive me for saying this, of course," he said, unlocking the door with a key kept in his lab coat pocket, "but there are a few...unusual options for a starter, working through a rehabilitation process, of sorts. They aren't bad, they've just had different upbringings than most others of their species. These young ones aren't to be released until they learn their purpose, or a trainer-to-be can tame them. Three are nearly ready at the moment, two Totodile and a Chikorita."

"So you're handing over a Pokémon that is even more dangerous than it's supposed to be?" Ethan could see why the girl disapproved of this, but he couldn't bring himself to object. As long as he got a Pokémon, and didn't have to pay for it, it didn't really matter to him where it came from. "Which one am I getting?"

Elm thought it over, then came to a conclusion. "Which Pokémon would you have started with, if it was one out there?"

"Chikorita," Ethan said immediately, and followed the professor to a table where the Pokeballs were not blocked off with a gate in the chance of the creatures inside rising up against humanity. Not that they expected them to, Elm assured him, but it never hurt to be careful.

"Does gender matter?"

"Not really."

"Then I won't try to pressure you into a Totodile. This one's female, and she knows not to abandon people in the middle of nowhere and steal their food."

Ethan suddenly felt very sorry for whoever ended up with the male, and prayed that the professor would fix him in time for him to become a faithful companion to his trainer. And then he had a second thought. "And what's wrong with her, dare I ask?"

Professor Elm paused, his hand on a ball. "Well, like I said, she had a different upbringing than most Chikorita. She got separated from her herd, I suppose, and then I found her in the waters of Hoenn."

"What was she doing in Hoenn?" Ethan asked, and then he frowned. "Wait...what was a Grass-type doing in water?"

Elm answered both questions with one statement: "She was being raised by a Sharpedo clan." And he opened the ball, releasing the Chikorita, who stared at the strange human coming to get her from rehab, no fear in her adorable red eyes. "She really is friendly," the professor offered, as Ethan reached down to show the Chikorita that she didn't have to be afraid.

And then the Chikorita chomped down on his hand, in a way that Ethan was sure would make her foster family proud.

Well, when it came down to it, the Chikorita really was a good girl, just a little bite-happy. She kept apologizing to Ethan as Professor Elm searched his lab for a proper bandage.

"It's just her way of saying hello," said the professor, finding what he was searching for at last. "That is, if you still have all five fingers when she pulls away. I've never seen her take one off before, but you can't be too careful. I've been bitten more times than I care to remember, and we'll both be fine." And he handed Ethan a Band-Aid, covering the slight wound the Chikorita's teeth had made in his flesh.

"Don't worry about it," Ethan said, petting the Chikorita on the leaf. "I know you get excited. Just try to keep your teeth to yourself, ok?"

She leaned up against him, trying to keep her mouth shut. Ethan looked at Elm, who gave him an 'I told you so' smile and the rest of the Band-Aids. "Would you like to give her a name before you set out for Mr. Pokémon's house?"

Ethan looked at the Chikorita. The Chikorita looked at Ethan. And, finally, he smiled. "I think she looks like an Avery."