Locked Away, Chapter 54
It started with a goodbye, as all beginnings do. The final fight to victory.
"Are you sure you don't want to come with us to Viridian City?"
The sun was hidden behind the horizon as they reached the fork in the forest—one direction would take them through a passage of the forest leading into Viridian City using the river as their guide, and the other would take Brock to the forest leading to the Indigo Plateau, where he could use the bullet train to arrive in Saffron City within hours.
"I can't risk being seen with either of you. Ash is still on the no flyer list, and Misty—well, I'm supposed to be attending your funeral." at that comment, Brock winced. "...Stay out of sight, and off of the main roads, would you?"
Misty and Ash shared a skeptical look. "That's the plan."
As Brock turned away, facing the dying sun, he glanced at Misty. "...so you think your sisters can really help, huh?"
"If you let them they will." She assured the man, and Brock inhaled.
"Guess we'll see."
Ash started in next, pressing his hand against Brock's shoulder for emphasis. "If anything happens, Brock."
"I promise to scream extra loud." He laughed at his bad joke. "But I'll be fine—I've been dealing with these guys since I was a kid, what's the worst that could happen?"
"Well, now you've jinxed us." Misty scolded, playfully flicking him on the ear, but he backed off with a chuckle. Here it was, the moment of truth when their eyes all met, and their hearts pinged in their chests. Ash and Misty lunged forward simultaneously, grabbing Brock into a hug and squeezing him tightly, tears swelling at the corners of their eyes.
"Remember, when this is all over, I'm buying us a vacation to a tropical island far, far away." Misty sniffled while squeezing her eyes shut. Empty promises they had made before; a separation not months earlier.
"Or even a day sitting at the gym, doing nothing." Ash argued. For him, the notion of doing nothing was a rarity, but if the last few months have taught him anything; it was to enjoy the simple moments. Brock sniffled, trying to keep himself together.
"Maybe I can finally make you guys those rice balls I've been practicing."
"I'd like that." They said in unison, but none of them dared to move. Maybe, if they stayed like this, they could go back in time to the way life should have been, when they were all ten years old, trying to become the next greatest pokemon trainer—in a time where life was simple, and the world was bright and magical. Not falling apart at the seams.
"Be careful, you two."
"You too, Brock." Misty said, wiping at her eyes to prevent tears from falling—not that she was crying. Misty Waterflower never cried.
"Guess I'll see you both on the flip side."
"See you..." Ash muttered quietly, the shrillness of his voice taking him by surprise. He rarely sounded so young nowadays, but neither companion made a commotion. After all, if this was the last time they were to meet—they wouldn't want to end on a sour note. Togepi and pikachu raced after Brock in cheer.
"Toge!" They both cried, jumping as they watched Brock turn at them, allowing Misty and Ash to both see the tears streaming from his eyes, and Misty visibly flinched when Brock started faster down the forest path.
"It's going to be okay." Ash said aloud, trying to convince himself more than Misty.
"We'll try to find Jessie and James once we get to Viridian City, but if we can't find them, we'll just track Sebastian down ourselves." Ash rambled off, looking up at the sky as they walked. In the distance, he could still hear the echo of panic from Pallet Town. Ash thought that the further out of town they got, the less they would hear—but out in the dead of the night, in the middle of a dark forest, it only seemed to amplify the shrieks of agony from the towns around them. They filled the void with all topic of discussion. Currently, they discussed Jessie, James, and meowth.
"How do you know they haven't already left? I mean, it's not like they have Ash Ketchum sonar."
Ash wanted to rebut that statement, mention the billion times before that they found him, but stopped short and instead said:
"I know, but we can't wait for them; I can only hope they'll find us. Figure out that we have to be going to find Giovanni and follow us—if not, then...well, we'll just have to go on without them. I'm sure they'd understand." Ash huffed as they followed the stream north to Viridian City.
The unmarked path was far bumpier than the trail, and he spent quite a bit of time helping Misty over small inclines, and large rocks. Neither mentioned the apparent lack of stamina and balance she had—after all, she was a walking injury, but they were still making good time. They had originally thought to fly on charizard, that could haved skimmed hours off their trip, but Ash wasn't keen on letting Misty see charizard's blackened scales, and he knew she would notice and question him, then refuse his flight service, anyways. Plus, charizard deserved a break of his own. Not to mention that Brock insisted that they stay out of sight, which ultimately meant they were hoofin' it.
Ash tried to stay positive, however, and keep his mind off his aching muscles. This could be the last time they had a walk in the forest in a very long time, and despite Misty's injuries, she was keeping up with him mostly.
The night was surprisingly bright for a change,walking next to the river, the reflection cast more than enough light to guide their way. If on occasion they stumbled, pikachu sparked electricity from his cheeks for a quick flash. They avoided rock slides, and other shifting grounds. As long as their legs would carry them, they had no intention of stopping for the night.
After the brief pause, Misty finally spoke again before the dreaded echos reached them.
"Do you really think Abby was working with Team Rocket? I mean, we had an inkling, but no hard evidence.. Sebastian, though... There might be more information about him at the hospital. Should we go there first, or the Nursing home? Assuming she's even still there—what if she's not?"
She sighed, sliding down a set of rocks and then shaking off the sweat that had built up on her brow from the summer heat. With the water to the right of them, she felt humid and sticky. Ash kept his concerns to himself; mentioning her faults would only prove as an unnecessary agitation. It wasn't like she didn't think he cared, after all, they only had more important issues to focus on, and her slight handicap was not one of them.
"I'm sure that between you, Agatha and I, we can wring some information out of Abby. And, they'd have records there I'm sure." said Ash as Misty paused for air, scrunching her face off at the dropped doctor title from her name.
"Assuming she knows anything about Sebastian, that is. She didn't seem to care for him, either when you were there last." Misty thought aloud, trying to keep their options open. However, frustration crossed Ash's face, and she knew that she was losing him to his one-track mind.
"Then, if Abby doesn't know anything, then we'll go to the hospital and figure it out from there."
Misty inhaled; "And what if the city is under fire because of the mess caused by that signal tower? How do we get to the hospital then? I mean...the nursing home is on the edge of town, but.."
"We'll fly on charizard." Ash grumbled, nearly tripping over his feet, and almost causing Mist to tumble, who was holding onto his hand.
"But what about being incognito?"
"Brock asked us to stay under the radar—but do you really think it matters at this point?"
She wanted to say yes, argue with him that he needs to be careful... but he was right, in the worst of ways. Misty huffed, knowing she had no way to disagree with him about the situation at the time, and also knowing that they could get away from pretty well anyone with their combined pokemon.
"Besides, you still have all my personal information right? Couldn't we get it from your house in Cerulean if things don't work out here?"
Actually, that wasn't a bad idea. "I might still have some of the documents with Sebastian's information, but they don't come with any personal information, just his job and title—some therapist he was, though."
"Right? Squeezed me for information, and I gave him everything that he needed to know."
"Ash." Misty grumbled, squeezing his fingers. "Don't blame yourself."
"I'm not." he said abruptly, looking over his shoulder at her. "But it's true. That journal had nearly everything in it."
Silence filled their ears once again with the added chirp of togepi who tried to cheer up his trainers with mindless humming, and pikachu who was adding to the noise.
"Okay... so assuming we figure out where Giovanni is located—or Sebastian for that matter. What do we do then?" Misty asked, though she had an idea Ash knew. Go in, guns blazing—hopefully not literally—and get the information that they need.
He didn't look at her when he replied, or maybe he couldn't. "We ask him, and if he doesn't tell us; we make him...as for Giovanni..." Ash trailed off, eyes cast to the river.
"Do we shoot him, Ash?"
"What?" He gasped. "No!" he said quickly, then bit his tongue, after a moment, he sighed, and let her hand slip from his to wipe away the sweat from his brow.
"I mean...hopefully not—I don't know, Mist, I'm playing this by ear, too. I just know that we need to act."
"And I agree." Misty said confidently for the first time that evening, clapping him on the shoulder. "But I need to know you're not going to do something reckless. There are other solutions than killing him."
"I know." Ash said quietly, after all, it wasn't like he wanted to kill the man. If there was anyway to bring him to justice, of course he would prefer that method—but that didn't mean that they shouldn't take precautions. If he sicked Ho-oh on the man, Ash knew that it would be over in a second—but that wouldn't really fix anything. Ash glanced at Misty, feeling a swirl of guilt for not informing her about the legendary bird he captured; but bit his tongue regardless.
"Can we not talk about this?" a spark of electricity ran through her eyes, anger, or frustration—how could they not talk about this. Misty was not as mindless as Ash, she didn't walk into any situation without some grasp, or idea or plan, despite her knowing that they needed to act; acting didn't mean being irrational.
"I just...I just mean." Ash fumbled, face turning red as he gestured around them. "It might be the last time we get to do this for awhile, let's talk about something positive."
A moment passed before Misty realized what this was. Walking, talking—being in the forest, out on an adventure, despite the reason for it. They were together, like one of his dreams. Misty let her shoulders relax, staring at his back, and took his hand once again, stilled his movements, and wrapped her arms around his torso and put her head on his shoulder—thanks to the incline, it was easier since he had grown quite a bit taller than her.
"We will do this again." She assured him, but the hiccup in his chest made him believe differently.
"You can't be sure of that."
"Well, I survived an explosion—I'm pretty sure of myself. Are you?" She knuckled his shoulder, staring at him through the dim light, and watching as his face paled over. Then, she brushed aside, grabbing his arm to bring him along with her. "So c'mon, we still got a couple hours to go."
For the next hour, they didn't talk. The forest had finally swallowed any noise of the surrounding area, and they were left with the gentle hum of forest bugs. Misty was as stubborn as an onix. For a water pokemon trainer, she certainly didn't know when to adapt to her surroundings and call it quits while she was ahead. Though, Ash argued with himself while watching the night sky, they were making good time. He was no astrologer, but the moon hadn't moved much since they started their trek, which must have meant not a lot of time had passed. He forgot how much he relied on technology, but was engrossed in the ability to lose himself to time while traveling.
It as a shame he couldn't enjoy it, though Misty told him not to worry.
Finally, when he thought they would go on forever, Misty came to an abrupt stop—holding out her hand and looking at the arrangements of the trees—they were not far form Viridian City now.
"What's up, Misty?" He asked wearily when she breathed quietly.
"Can't you see it?"
"This is where I fished you out of the river. Route one river; an hour out of Viridian City, beside the pointed rock." Pointing to a rock in the distance, as well as the perfect ledge for a fishing line. Ash stared in awe at her.
"And here I was thinking you lost your mushiness." he snorted, practically robbing the moment of any serenity.
Regardless, Misty took his hand in the darkness, then bumped into him, nearly knocking him over in the process. She looked confident, ready to go, but her eyes were calmer—aged and weary from their latest travels. He knew the latest events wore heavy on her shoulders as they did his, and after they left this forest, it was going to be a whirlwind until they stood victorious or...
The depth of that comment made his skin feel cold even in her warm touch. Her hand nearly crushed his in a tight embrace, glaring absently at the gentle stream. He remembered it as a river, one more thing that had changed over the years. The last time they stood here, almost a year ago on their way to Pallet Town, the colorful leaves of autumn danced above him, and he had been grateful to be out of nursing home... to think he was going back.
"Chuu." The mouse muttered beside him as togepi leaned against Misty's leg. They were worried about the redhead, but Ash pat the mouse protectively and silently.
Yeah, he was, too.
May, Drew, and Max took the small boat floating on the harbor that Gary lead them too—and together, the four of them prepared to set sail to different parts of the world. While Gary was showing May and Max the controls, Drew busied himself trying to reach Dawn, with no luck. It wasn't a signal jam, no, he assumed it only had to be the chaos around them resulting in busy signals on every available line. A full fledged panic. If he could reach Dawn, he knew that she could put the pieces back together. She had done so many times. Dawn was several people wrapped into one, if anyone could turn the tide of the media outburst and panic in their favor; it was her.
So he really wanted her to answer.
"Hello, you've reached my personal cell! Leave a message!" Dawn's voice bleeped at him, and Drew strained to rub his temple. He was hoping that he wouldn't need to actually go to Sinnoh, but all attempts pointed North.
"How are you planning to get to the Johto region undetected?" May asked Gary while he showed Max the last of the coordinates. By boat, Hoenn was only a few hours away, though May masked her wariness of the floating wood expertly, she wasn't keen on riding over the ocean in the same creation that had nearly killed her. Smaller or not.
"Easy enough, I know most of the fly zones; I'll use the routes they don't watch to get to the power plant, kill the lights, and then attack the tower."
"Try not to sound so angry about it, hey there boss?" May quirked an eye at him, but he settled his frustration—no point in taking it out on May, after all, he had his own plans to direct his anger. The complete obliteration of Team Rocket sounded fair enough.
"Sorry." May added shortly after, recalling why he was in such a tiff to begin with. Drew approached shortly after, breaking the tension.
"I want to say that Dawn's going to send in reinforcements, but there's no way I'm getting through to her right now. I'm going to have to head to Sinnoh."
"Great..." Max grunted, "So Fra—Kalos region will have to wait?"
"Looks like." grumbled Drew.
Before the grim nature of their situation settled into every member of the pessimistic group, May slapped them all on the shoulders.
"C'mon guys, it's one set back. That doesn't mean we can't still do this. That's why we had plan B, we'll just plan to meet in the region once we've settled things in Hoenn and Sinnoh."
Drew's eyebrows bounced, unimpressed and rather annoyed over the predicament he was forced into. He hadn't been in contact with Dawn for over a week now, and the last time they spoke she sounded more stressed out over the sudden shift in weather then she let on. He hoped that didn't have to do with the lack of signal available. May slapped him on the arm.
"Cheer up, Drew! How often can you say you get to go to your boss and ask to blow stuff up? Her expression will at least be priceless."
He glared at her, then put his hands into his pockets. "Do you think you're gonna stop making jokes any time soon?"
"Only after you admit that you dye your hair—I mean, green can't be your natural color, right?"
Drew slapped her hand away from touching strands of hair, and he shot her a nasty look, but he mildly appreciated the attempt to cheer him up. Before he could make a proper reply, Max chimed in, twitching behind gleaming glasses.
"Could...could you not flirt with my sister while I'm standing here?"
"Max!" May hissed, jumping away from Drew. They were not flirting, though the red that covered their cheeks might have begged a differ. It was all coincidental. After all, May was a contest drop out. Drew was a top-coordinator. They couldn't be friends.
Or at least, that's what Drew would have thought before the end of the pokemon league started, now, his titles didn't mean as much to him as he originally thought, and he might have even apologized for a long lost rivalry if it didn't seem absolutely pointless to do so. Clearly, she didn't remember, or she did not care about the brief feud they shared.
"Yeah, I mean, we're on a boat and all, but that's not what is making me queasy." Max continued, earning the fury of his sister who wrapped her arm around his neck, and dug her fist into the top of his scalp for a good, ol' fashioned noogie.
Gary sometimes felt like the only adult in his mildly growing group of associates. His unimpressed stare was enough to slowly put them all in line to embrace the seriousness of their objectives. They could not make light of their duties, or else the would surely fail. How he could convey that with a single look was remarkable, and May might have made the comment that he reminded him of the late professor, but did not feel the need to break barriers.
"I guess this is goodbye.." Gary said, looking between the foursome. They looked baffled to what came next.
"...Should we hug, or something?" May asked the three males, holding out her arms but they gave her a disturbed glance, backed away one at a time.
"...Nah, I think we should just go." said Drew.
"I'm good with that." Gary concurred, and together they stepped off the boat deck, pokeballs in hand. Max started the engine, a blaring noise in the dead quiet.
"Be careful!" May urged and Max waved quietly beside her. Then, after a short inhalation, she pointed to Drew. "And you still owe me a rematch, you cheat!"
While he had originally refused to make eye contact with May after that ridiculous comment from Max, he found himself perplexed at her accusation, and a sudden childish need to defend his ego.
"I did not cheat!"
"You did so, and you know it!" She shouted, falling out of earshot. She put her hands to her lips, and he thought he saw worry wash over her face. "You two better not die out there!"
Wanting to be sure that their journey started safely, both Gary and Drew waited at the shore line until May and Max were a blob in the distance.
"I won't make any promises." Gary finally mumbled, knowing Drew well enough that he wouldn't make a comment. He shared a simple glance with the green haired trainer, and inhaled.
"Good luck." And then Gary threw a red pokeball, and a massive bird appeared with flowing pink feathers from the top of his head, a beak the size of Drew's head, and a wingspan that could have easily enveloped him twice—a pigeotto.
"Tell Dawn I said hi, would you?" Gary asked while climbing onto the bird's back. He had a harness and prepared for flight by flicking his wings back and forth. Drew nodded silently then watched as Gary swooped off. In minutes, he was a speck and Drew was standing alone for the first time in the last few weeks.
He'd be lying if he said that he didn't miss their company. Their bad jokes; maybe, just once, he got it. He released the breath he had been holding, and eyed his own pokeball quietly, wondering if any of his would turn on him like Ash's did. He hoped not, and then with a blinding red light, he was gone.
"We need a plan." Misty muttered, brows knit tightly and staring over a hedge.
Together, Ash and Misty looked into the base of Viridian City—not only was controllable chaos filling the streets, but police patrol as well. They held tranquilizer guns: weapons Misty's hadn't seen since the last time the microchips were installed into pokemon. The surprising calm of the city was terrifying though. Pallet Town sounded almost in ruin from the distance they walked—there was no way Viridian City, three times the size of Pallet Town, would not suffer the same fate.
"Maybe things are set off in sectors?" Ash mumbled.
"But is it that easy to pinpoint everything? You would think the whole region would be on fire." Misty questioned, slinking back behind the cover of the rock. "You don't think they can target specific areas, do you? That wasn't mentioned in the files Clemont gave us."
"Honestly, there's no telling. Maybe they don't want the areas that contain signal towers to get destroyed by crazed pokemon?" Ash deduced, rubbing his tired face. Misty shrugged.
"But there isn't one in Viridian City—so there has to be some other reason."
Ash peeked over the rock to glare at the troops that walked back and forth. The streets which never died, even in the dead of night, were empty. His face scrunched up and eyebrows narrowed.
"Maybe they have a way to deflect the signal then?"
"You think so?"
"Well, yeah otherwise Team Rocket members and normal people are going to get hurt."
"It does make sense—maybe I didn't think Giovanni had that kind of power." Misty mumbled, taking a stand next to Ash. "Guess we don't have to understand why though, just that we need to stop it." She groaned, trying to date her curious mind. Ash nodded in agreement.
Going through the main trail was out of the question; they had armed security in tents near the entrance of the city. Lights above in small apartments were sprinkled off, and the whole place was overly quiet. In the distance, they could see the glow of the hospital, and the familiar street lights, but the cars were absent.
"Wish we could take the train." Ash complained, and they both dipped back down, trying to access their situation.
"So, our only other option is to either wait until morning, or sneak into the assisted living home now."
"Yeah, but do you think anyone will be around right now?" Ash grumbled, "I mean, it's like...late. Maybe we can just wait on the outside for Abby to show up?" Ash wagged his finger to indicate the time, though neither of them had any real clue.
With their backs against the rock, the distant sound of boots shuffling and the forest staring back at them; they sighed in unison.
"We should at least make our way to the home, scope it out, see if they have guards there, too."
Ash snorted. "Why would they have guards there?"
"Honestly?" Misty's brows quirked, and Ash nodded quietly. With as much as they both have seen, he wondered why he even asked anymore. At this rate, like was trying to be challenging.
However, the road outside of the city to reach the assisted living home was long and winding, and Misty, bless her heart, was already at the point of wobbling with every footstep, even if she denied Ash's observation the last thirty minutes or so, he knew they were reaching their limits.
"I'm exhausted." he muttered, watching her eyebrows rise.
"Hi exhausted, I'm Misty, it's nice to meet you."
The strangled noise that escaped Ash's throat brought a smirk to her lips.
"Really? I'm trying to be nice."
"Yeah, well, don't be. I'm fine."
"You already said that you're not."
"No, I said I was tired." She nodded to him while shifting back into the woods. Ash begrudgingly followed her.
"You're so stubborn sometimes."
"Pikachupi chu!" The mouse hollered at her back, while hopping onto Ash's shoulder. His tiny weight felt like a hundred pounds right now.
"Well now you know what it was like for me to handle you." togepi snickered at the comment, since he remembered most of Ash's journey back to the Cerulean City gym the first time.
"So you're just getting back at me?" He snarled playfully, and watched her shoulders rise and fall.
"Maybe." Then she flashed him a grin. "Maybe not."
They made camp thirty minutes out of Viridian City; if they walked northwest, they would arrive right at the nursing home; however, Misty neglected to sleep since according to togepi, morning was only a few hours away, they could spend that time preparing for the next course of action... but the truth be told, they were both too anxious to rest.
"How do you think Brock is doing?"
"Honestly?" Misty hummed. "He's probably just over that hill." she laughed dryly, tucking her arms under her legs. They didn't build a fire, it was warm enough without one, and they didn't want to draw attention to themselves, not yet, anyways. Once they knew the location of Abby or Sebastian, it would be a free for all, but not until then.
"I never realized how close the towns were."
"They're not really... but..." She trailed off, mashing her words into her knees and letting her head drop, Ash shifted to her side immediately to shake her. She blinked away the sleepiness.
"Sorry, drowsiness." She murmured, rubbing her scalp. "It's not a big deal, it's just because I'm sitting after being active for so long."
Ash scoffed. "Right." He rolled his blazer off his shoulders and dropped it over hers, she flinched when the fabric touched her shoulder; and he wondered how beaten up she still was underneath her clothes. Without the adrenaline of the walk pumping through her veins, she had started to pour sweat, and her bangs matted to her face. In the bright shine of the moon, she was pale and clammy.
Misty honestly didn't feel any better than she looked, but she couldn't stop. Couldn't send Ash out on his own. She had to see this through, after all, this is what she had been waiting for. Restarting the league, sending away the evil that had spread through the Kanto region. Ash started all of that, and she wanted to spare him as much trouble as possible. Misty was confident that she could make it through this by stubborn will alone.
Misty couldn't say it, but she saw that look in Ash's eye, several times throughout the night already. There was a darkness in his eyes she could grasp with her own hands—one that terrified May and worried Brock. Ash hadn't been the only person Brock talked to—the latter warned Misty to keep an eye on him—since returning from his travels in search of legendary pokemon, he hadn't been the same; he was more poised, and yet someone twice as reckless—but in full control of his decisions. They were planned as far as they needed to be, and executed in a timely manner—so foreign from the bumbling man-child he was prior to Unova and... It wasn't fair. He didn't ask for this, didn't wake up to be some hero—he was convinced he was no one special until they dragged him into this. So in spite of the ache in her bones, of the loss of her pokemon, her dear companion, she was going to see this through; every painful step at a time.
"-Misty?" Ash called to her, and as she wiped her brow, she didn't realize that she had spaced out. Her eyes met his in the darkness, and his concern worried her.
"Sorry." She grimaced, though togepi and pikachu found their way to her side, she didn't let them perch. Everything hurt, even Ash's gentle hand on her shoulder—not that he knew how to be gentle. He tried, that was all that mattered.
"Wanna talk about it?" he asked awkwardly.
"Talk about what?"
"What happened with Lapras... and the explosion."
"What is there to say?" Misty spat suddenly, her own venom surprising. Ash didn't retaliate.
"It's okay to be sad about it, Misty..." he offered her the same advice she had given him so many moons ago. Misty looked at him behind narrowed eyed.
"I am sad, Ash, but that doesn't change anything. You didn't stop when you were down, don't expect me to." She warned him with a confident tone that convinced Ash, but not herself.
She was ready to fall asleep, cuddle up into her warm bed in her sisters newly decorated house; celebrate Daisy's graduation, attend silly gatherings for the league and pretend like Team Rocket never existed. Misty wasn't some superhero. Ash dreamed of being chosen for years, but not Misty. She wanted life to be fair, and everyone to be equal, but living on the road, literally fighting her enemies; she wasn't that strong. She was more vocally savage, a political minefield, but her will to fight was...
"If you keep thinking, eventually your head is going to explode." Ash observed, poking at the grass in front of them with his hands and ripping some out.
Misty blinked back to civilization to stare at him; he had been so quiet up until this point, playing with togepi and pikachu who were trying to mesmerize Misty with tricks and jokes, but she was in her own mind. Finally, she offered a smile, bumped her shoulder to his, and exhaled.
"Thanks, Ash. It's not like I've been through that recently, or anything." She hummed playful, letting her shoulders fall as she glanced up at him. His face flushed, embarrassed by the accidental reference.
"I didn't—sorry." yet, in spite of all his changes, he was as bashful as always.
Brown eyes twinkled under the florescent moon at her comment, and she felt small pinpricks of laughter reach her throat, but rather than release them, she inched forward and placed a delicate kiss to his lips, silencing his concern. Finally. A whole day, and only now did he taste her lips. Chaste, and gentle—calm and collected. Terrified. They hadn't been so close since leaving Unova. Her heart thundered in her ears as she pulled away.
Peeking through closed eyes, Ash licked his lips, now closer to Misty: "How long has it been?"
"About a month." she answered quickly, seconds before his arms wrapped around her and both togepi and pikachu ran playfully to the trees, away from their careless trainers.
"A lot has changed in a month." Ash breathed quietly against her ear.
"Maybe we should talk about that-or..." she trailed off breathlessly, with her eyes closed and her arms wrapped tightly around his neck, it was difficult to cull her instincts. Slowly, she found her way to his mouth, and met him halfway for an arrangement of kisses; new territory, but they were both too exhausted to understand the physical drain that it carried over their bodies—however ungraceful as it was.
Strange was the feeling of being moved to connect physically with her, rather than mentally. His internal battles were always chaotic, but she had a way of straightening them out. When he kissed her, the shroud in his mind disappeared. When his hands pushed and kneaded her skin, checking desperately for injury, or at least that's what he told himself, she gasped and melted into his bumbling touch. Excitement replaced the ache in her bones.
The messy exchange ended as quickly as it started, and their banter turned into panting, laughter and jokes about his drooling, and eventually they laid next to each other, looking up at the stars, blissfully quiet and awaiting the sun rise: for then, everything changed.
After all, they agreed to deal with them after they stopped Team Rocket, they didn't have to talk to express the confusion and worry that powered their kisses, but they knew—hoped-that at some point they could figure it out. With her head at the crook of his shoulder, and his arm curled to touch her hair, and their faces distorted from a frolicking sickness of romance, they seized their motions, and fell into a stasis.
The breeze cut through them, and Ash fumbled, and reached out to grasp her smaller hand and squeeze tightly.
"I met Ho-oh." blurted Ash suddenly.
Misty wasn't sure that she heard him right; the topic so out of the blue. Twisted her neck to look at him. "What?"
"I went to Mount Silver, and I found him. Daiga and Palkia were already gone but—I got Ho-oh."
"How?" He saw the light in her eyes, a stray figment of hope that returned his own strands of hope. Then, remembering the Moltress incident, she grimaced. "Did he attack you?"
Ash smirked. "No, he's just really untrusting of humans."
"Ah-ha." She whimpered nervously, then shook her head. "Why didn't you tell anyone else?"
"I guess maybe I'm still getting used to it." He answered quickly, and followed with. "I mean, have we ever decided what we're going to do with them once we capture them? What's the point besides keeping them away from Team Rocket? Are we going to release them on Team Rocket and hope for the best?"
Misty blinked with her jaw cocked—eyed narrowing.
"Ho-oh brought up some good points—said we would lose regardless...and-" She cut him off.
"We're not going to lose. We can't lose—you can't even think that. Not you." What did she mean not him? He was only human, he had his doubts, too. He argued with himself time and again that they were making the right decisions, but that didn't mean he didn't still doubt himself. Sometimes.
"But even Iris is preparing for war—because we didn't attack soon enough. I mean, what do we need the legendary pokemon for?"
Misty was stumped for an answer, and sat back, looking into the forest as if it would provide an answer.
"We protect them from Giovanni, great, but if we stopped him before he captured them—couldn't we protect them, anyways?"
"We can't change the past, Ash—maybe we haven't always made the right decisions getting here but-" Misty eyed him from over her shoulder while he pensively looked onward. "That's life. We can't know what to do until it's right in front of us, and yeah, it's complicated, but that's what makes us human."
Ash stared at her for a long time. That title: Human, was one that Ho-oh used so belittling. However unconvinced as he remained, Ash shared a smile with her hard gaze.
"I 'spose so." he said, "But-"
"No." She cut him off. "If life was supposed to be easy, and all the answers were right in front of our face, we'd have screen writers and cameras. We're not scripted—sometimes we make mistakes. We're supposed to struggle. That's how we learn, and right now, despite my worries that it isn't safe, we're doing what we originally planned. Stopping the chips now that we know how they work, and finding a way to Giovanni. Everything happens for a reason, and right now, this is ours."
Ash stared at her for a long time, in awe of her words. Even before waking up, Misty was full of inspirational words of affection and dedication—after waking up, she hadn't changed at all. You can do this, was her constant cheer of dedication, lead by example, and with it, Ash truly felt that anything was possible.
"You're welcome." She huffed indigently, keeping her knees close to her chest once again.
"Not just for this." he shook his head, staring doe-eyed at her. "For everything."
A slight pink tinge covered her cheeks, meeting his gaze and then curling into a ball with a chaste smile over her lips. They had thanked each other time and again, for support, for motivation, for being there to lean on when the other was falling down; and every time, it still made her heart swell, and her head fuzzy. Very few words made her so bubbly.
"So what really happens after this?" She found herself asking for the first time, and Ash blinked confusingly.
"Well, I figure once we get the information from Sebastian, we'll find Giovanni and then-"
Misty started laughing. "No, I mean after that. When we win, what happens after that? To us."
Ash's mouth felt suddenly very dry.
"...Well... I don't know, I haven't really thought about it-" He pointed discreetly at her, "In fact, I think I've asked you that question before."
"I know.." She smiled, cheeks still red and lively. "But victory seems so close now. You have Ho-oh, and we're on our way to stopping the signal towers, and if things go well, we'll find Giovanni, and cut the head off the snake."
"Aren't you counting your togepi's before they hatch?" Ash chuckled, knowing that she wasn't typically the optimist, but it was a thought he could get used to. Behind them, togepi jeered in excitement.
"I don't think so. I mean for the first time in...in.. ten years, the world will be peaceful again—the league can finally rebuild and move forward. I mean, imagine everything that happens after this. More trainers, the routes would be used again; gyms will actually be a place of learning and..." she squeezed his hand. "You'll finally get to be normal."
A flash, and Ash remembered Ho-oh's words, he forced a grin anyways. "What's so great about being normal?"
"Well, normal used lightly. I don't think you would know what normal was if it hit you in the face."
"Pika!" the mouse chirped, now eagerly joining the conversation. "Chuuuu, pika pi!"
"He says I'm very normal."
"He does not." Misty rolled her eyes, looking at Pikachu's betrayed expression.
"How would you know? You don't speak pokemon!" Ash laughed, his voice carrying through the darkened trees. Misty grinned back and stuck out her tongue.
"No, but I don't have to, to see that pikachu did not say you were normal."
"Pika!" The mouse agreed, and Ash rolled his eyes.
Then he rolled his eyes, but settled on the laughter in his chest, and the broadening smile over his features.
"I missed you guys when I was gone." He shifted pikachu's weight in his lap. "I mean, Jessie and James turned out to be pretty decent... but they're not you and Brock. Not by a long shot."
"Yeah..." Misty hummed, leaning her head against his shoulder. "We missed you, too."
"Do...do you think after this we can all hang out again?" Ash muttered, and Misty frowned in confusion.
"Well, I mean, we didn't all meet under the best circumstances—but May and Max were here—not to mention Dawn helping; and you two getting along. I also had the chance to meet Tracey briefly... I just... I want everyone to be together again, if only for a little while."
"I think so." Misty answered hopefully.
For what felt like forever, the moments ticked by, and she finally shifted back to stare at him. For a second, it felt like they finally reached common ground, but then he caught her worried glance, and felt uneasy once again.
"How did you capture Ho-oh?" She asked, and Ash cocked his head to one side.
"Well," He muttered, believing that now, after finally discovering the balls purpose. He could tell Misty about Agatha's gift. "When I was leaving the Nursing home, Agatha gave me this."
As he flicked the purple and black ball from his belt, he watched several emotions pass Misty's face; first, awe, then surprise, and finally, she settled on confusion.
"What's wrong?" He asked, blinking several times as she pushed away from him, then fidgeted to show him the matching ball that she carried. Ash blinked, and stared up at her.
"Where did you get that?"
"The league champion when I was summoned by the elite four..." She narrowed her eyes deviously. "Why would Agatha give you hers?"
"Do all Elite Four members get one?" he cleared his throat, raised his eyebrows.
Misty stared at him in awe for a very long time, but then the concern washed away as she went to click the button. "It doesn't work though." She stared at the small ball, and then took a seat once again. "I wonder if there's a pokemon inside or if it's empty like the one Agatha gave you."
Ash relaxed as she did. "Maybe!" Then he exhaled "But that's funny... I didn't think mine worked either, until trying to use it on Ho-oh."
Misty grimaced. "They say that in order to be captured by a ball, they have to consent to it, which was how the master ball was created by Silph Co. originally... So maybe they don't work until then?"
Ash laughed. "Maybe, but Agatha..."
Naturally, Misty clicked the button on her ball before Ash managed to finish his sentence, because his eyebrows were knitting together, and the cogs in his head were finally starting to turn when Misty bit down on her lips and stared at him as the ball grew from its small size, and into its larger form for the first time since she carried it. Stunned by the growth, Misty shrunk backwards, holding it out for Ash to see.
Ash stared down at the ball, pursed his lips, but as his eyes connected with Misty's, a sudden shock fired through their bodies. And everything went black.
Brock was kicking his butt—leaving Ash and Misty again simply because they insisted that this was the best idea, because he, of all people, could move faster on his own? Please! He was shaking at the knees and his heart hadn't slowed since its rapid pace that morning. Sleep alluded him at every corner, and he decided that, by himself in the forest, that sleeping wasn't smart, and he would rather walk the number of hours to his destination, rather than be caught off guard in the dead of the night.
Of course, he could always call out onix, ask the pokemon to guard him while he slept, but the fifteen foot giant might stick out more in the forest than Brock by his lonesome. There were no telling how many Team Rocket members were still around, if any of them were around after the incident. May said that she found the same ones lurking around the laboratory, but they were long gone, now. If anyone was being followed, it was Ash.
Brock was no one—and that was the motif he would use to get into the position of power to destroy the tower, and the power plant. He was both grieving for his friend, and in complete disbelief about everything going on around him.
For awhile, he was simply Gym Leader, Brock Harrison, the long forgotten hermit of Pewter City, visiting an old friends fake-funeral, and delivering the message to her sisters. He would hit the fork in the road near the Indigo Plateau, then head north of there to Cerulean City, then make his way south as quickly as possible—praying that the chaos caused by micro chipped pokemon didn't strain too much on the ability to travel. Maybe the funeral was even canceled-Maybe Team Rocket was only warming up.. These were the thoughts that kept his body light, and legs moving in the night, even when the ability to see was dimmed by the darkest parts of the night. However, the stars kept the path mostly illuminated, he couldn't stop thinking about his friends.
Ash was strained beyond reason—May mentioned crazy at one point, but Brock chose to ignore it. Ash was Ash Ketchum, the boy with all the answers, with the visions and dreams, with the ability to pull people from all walks of the world, and every corner of the city together to form a band of misfit rebels. He wasn't crazy, though Brock was running out of reasons to deny why he shouldn't be.
Friends were 'dying', the world was falling to chaos as they spoke, and they were technically no closer to victory than they were before. A plan didn't mean they would win, it meant that if they were successful, they could place a long hiatus on anything related to Team Rocket—but the kicker, that was Giovanni. They had to cut the head off of the snake; nothing else would suffice.
Brock had to have faith that Ash could do that, that between he and Misty, right decisions would be made, and his location would be unearthed. Giovanni would be stopped, and they could finally go back to a normal life, knowing that they saved the league.
By now, if he had guessed, he was an hour away from The Gates, the location that would be his first moment of rest, and possible train ride to Cerulean City—it was the first stop before travelers would journey to the League frontier, and Brock would use that as his first acting ground. From there, he intended to meet with Misty's sisters in person, and maybe like Misty said, get them to help him bring down the tower. If they were half as smart as Misty, and there were three of them, then he would be in good hands.
And he wouldn't be alone.
As he reached the peak of the hill, his feet started to shake, and his body vibrated from every muscle; then, his knees met with the ground. His head ached, and the turn of violent shakes gagged him until his muscles hurt—followed by the deafening ring in his ears surrounding the squeal of a strained pokemon. What in the world was happening?
Clutching his ears, he hit the ground and then jerked forward to look above him—to the glowing magnificence in the distance that distracted from the bland, darkness of the forest. Above the scrawl of trees was a white elegant bird with eyes as red as the sun, and a wing span rivaling a small town. Brock thought instantly to the beast of the sea; Lugia, but never dared to imagine seeing the beast in person. Or why he would be seeing it in person. Here. In the middle of no where.
That wasn't the worst of it, though; when he turned, at the opposite end of the legendary white bird, the rival pokemon of equal girth, but feathered where the sea-beast was smooth; was the pokemon Brock believed to only exist as a myth; Ho-oh, and then of course, the daunting misunderstanding of how either of them got there.
Between the gagging and pain, he came to one easy conclusion.
"Ash-!" Brock exhaled, trying to climb to his feet but found they wouldn't move. Petrified, the notion of being frozen in spot by fear of death with just a sound was nonsense! Willing his legs to move, he shakily stood up to see the two birds looking at one another. They hovered over the forest line and Brock watched as they squawked and cawed at one another, with each scream he felt like his head would implode, his hands did nothing to prevent the ringing.
Then, as quickly as they emerged, for as short of a visit they had, Lugia lunged forward, and Brock felt his guts vibrate, and he was on his knees once again, throwing up as the two birds began their clash.
As they bit and lunged at one another, the tightening in his throat lessened, and the feeling returned to his body. Lumbering from the ground, crawling, from his position, he slid back down the hill top and swore at himself.
I'm coming, guys!
That vibration through his body returned, and Ash swore at himself. His body felt lighter than air—or worse, like there was nothing past his neck. The sensation was unreal, outside of the pain and headache, he hardly felt in control anymore. In fact, trying to peel open his eyelids was a task itself.
Was he dreaming again? Stuck in some sloppy coma, provided by a random aerial shock created by...it wasn't pikachu—it was that ball. When Misty clicked the button something happened. Plus, Ash would have known if it was pikachu. Even though the rodent had made a point not to shock Ash since he woke up, he would never forget the numbing sensation that crawled from every corner of his body—it wasn't pain.
Give up. A voice called to him in the dark and Ash tried to fight off the intense motion of control. His body moved on its own, he felt the vibrations of the battle happening above him, somewhere, but couldn't open his eyes to see it.
No. Ash thought in return to the strange voice beckoning to him. Oddly familiar, and yet...
His eyes opened, staring up at the brightened sky above them, as well as the flare of smoke and forest fire. Quickly, his instincts threw him into action; pikachu was at his side.
"Pikachupi!" The mouse shouted, running from his now awake trainer, to Misty who had fallen off the rock where they were sitting, and was laying in the grass at the base of a tree. Ash swirled from his seat, and then bounced up to grab her as his eyes and ears focused on the task at hand. Daylight was sparking around them now, how long had he been out? No, it wasn't daylight, it was the blasts shared between the two beasts above him.
Beside him, the two masterballs lay broken in half, and above him—he saw the start of a nightmare.
Ho-oh facing Lugia in battle...
"Misty!" Ash shouted at her, shaking her shoulders, and slowly cradling her in his arms. "Wake up." he ordered, brushing his hand against her face, and tearing his eye away from the battle up ahead. She didn't stir, but then looked up once more.
The threat that Lugia was in danger was an idle one; he never thought that Lugia was already in captive—After all, the beast of the sea drowned an entire island... and yet, the way its eyes glowed red with unadulterated rage as it faced Ho-oh, he knew the notion was all too familiar.
It was the same look infernape gave Ash only hours ago. Team Rocket already got to him.
Lugia, the poor legendary, had been in captivity far longer than Ash would have ever imagined—somehow, they must have triggered something with the masterballs; that lightning wasn't a mistake. His eyes turned back to Misty, who still wasn't moving. The forest around them was ablaze, but togepi, and pikachu bordered them to ensure safety as he tried to wake the woman.
"We need to get out of here." he barked, twisting his arm behind him to release charizard who arrived with a roar. If she wouldn't wake, he would carry her. This wasn't how he planned his big reveal of Ho-oh to go, he expected to use the legendary bird to destroy Giovanni—not like this!
"Charizard, help me get Misty up!" he yelled, but as he shifted, he finally watched her eye lids peel open.
The whites of her eyes were gone, the gleam and personality within them vanished, and staring at him were dull, green orbs. A blank slate.
"...Mis...Misty?" he asked as she suddenly jerked away from him, shoving him hard against the dirt, and then bounced to her feet moving her shoulders and neck like she was adjusting to a new shirt—only the new shirt was her skin, and she clearly wasn't comfortable in it.
"That's real funny, Misty!" Ash whined, holding his arm where she pushed him, and his three pokemon backed away from her; pikachu's cheeks flared with lightning, and togepi jumped onto Ash's shoulder shaking his head, mumbling warnings. He heard the birds above them scream in agony, for whatever reason, and the noise brought Ash to his knees, but Misty remained standing, watching with her arms candidly at her sides until she inhaled, then turned to face him quietly.
Reality sunk in watching her face.
"We'll battle." with a monotone voice, she removed the ball Ash had grown familiar with over the time he spent with her, and flinched when she summoned gyarados to the burning field.
"I'm not battling you!" Ash screamed, and a confused gyarados looked back to Misty, then to Ash when she pointed.
At first, the giant gyarados wasn't sure what he was supposed to do, it stared at Ash, who had been Misty's friend for the last year—then saw the pokemon surrounding him. Gyarados was always the loyal pokemon, Ash knew, it would take a bullet for Misty and then some if she asked him to, because they shared an unforgettable bond—but now, he questioned his trainers motives. For good reason—Misty would never attack a human.
"Now!" She shouted, the disdain in her voice that made the pokemon flinch, but reel backwards in preparation.
"Wait gyarados, don't!" Ash shouted, but his voice wouldn't reach the loyal pokemon.
With perfect reflexes, charizard swooped down in front of his trainer, and grabbed Ash into a bear hug and lifted him away from the blast before it made contact—Misty, or whoever was posing as her, was faster than Ash was.
"Knock them out of the sky with tail whip!" she shouted, and gyarados obeyed begrudgingly by twisting around, and swiping at Ash mid-hyper beam. Slowed by carrying his trainer and faced with the option of dropping Ash, pikachu and togepi, or taking the hit, charizard went spiraling to the ground, and released Ash moments before he was thrashed against a tree. It snapped under charizard's weight, and gyarados launched the falling tree away from landing on Misty; though she didn't flinch at the notion of being smashed by a tree. Her arms crossed.
"Finish them." She ordered, and Ash sat up slowly to see her face, blank of emotion, and then finally, he stared at gyarados who pleaded forgiveness for his next few actions.
Then, gyarados lunged.
"Wait-!" Ash shouted, finally prepared now to make a move when togepi jumped up, glowing white with tears streaming down its face, to take the hit.
Then, a blinding white of nothing pierced Ash's eyes before he fainted.
I don't usually dedicate chapters to people, because I don't want to make any of my readers feel obligated/awkward, but I have to give a special thanks to "freakkingalex" from tumblr. This lovely person drew a short comic-strip for chapters 52 and 53 of Locked Away. I'm not sure if they have a FFNet penname, but, they truly captured Ash's emotions from the last two chapters so perfectly I squealed and made a couple of other strange noises. SO THANK YOU SO MUCH FREAKKINGALEX, you did a wonderful job.
When I wrote this chapter, I was like "Lol, I'm having previous chapter flashbacks" (Their goodbye after Unova; SORRY, I'M REPETITIVE SOMETIMES .) Also, who ever guessed Misty had Lugia, you were right. But what can I say, I'm a sucker for the classics? (we also had some throwbacks to the first 8ish chapters in here, some parallels that I kept because it was a lot of work writing them.)
THANK YOU FOR ALL THE BEAUTIFUL FEEDBACK. As always, I'm amazed to see people have stuck it out this far.
See you soon,