DISCLAIMER: I do not own Pokemon and I am not worth suing. Trust me on this one.


The only sound louder than the crack of lightning as the weather went haywire was the sound of Giovanni's fist striking Cyrus' jaw. The resounding crack assured that he'd be needing a trip to the dentist at the very least at the end of all this.

"I hope you realize your imbecilic plan has likely not brought your visions of godhood any closer and simply almost doomed us all," stated the much larger commander of Team Rocket, whose numerous scrapes, cuts and bruises only served to make him seem even more dangerous than usual, if that was even possible. "And if it weren't for a trio of complete buffoons, we'd not even have THAT much of a chance."

Of course, said trio were busy cowering near a bush, unwilling to leave the boss they were ridiculously loyal to, yet not really brave enough to be out without cover.

"Did 'e jus' say we did a good job?" Meowth demanded of the others.

"I don't know! I think so!" James said, idly biting his nails, despite the fact that it was through his glove.

"Of course he did! We're going straight to the top after this!" Jessie proclaimed, hands clasped together in front of her and a glimmer in her eyes. "We've hit the big time now!"

The very Earth quaked underneath the entire area, challenging Jessie's claim.

"Assumin' we survive!" Meowth exclaimed.

The Pokemon was right to be concerned about that tiny fact. His partners in (failures of) crime concurred, though they expressed their worries more philosophically... or at least, more loudly.

"'tis better to have lived and lost than never lived at all!" James proclaimed.

"That doesn't even make sense!" Jessie snapped back.

"I heard it on a low budget zombie movie! Don't blame me!" James whined in response.

Cyrus, meanwhile, was nonplussed, ignoring the Rocket Trio as he faced his interrogator and possible executioner. "If you're really so small-minded, you probably deserve it. But that's not what's going to happen. Don't you see? The Distortion World, the Reverse World, the so-called 'real' world... all three of them are too unstable. One has to go if the world is to attain perfection. And synchronizing the other two will make that happen." He wiped the blood from his busted lip, attempting to rise to a sitting position again, but failing with his limited strength. Giovanni's Persian eyed him with a glare and an obvious desire to rip his throat open in a most gruesome manner.

Unfortunately, that Persian was also battered and beaten - as were the Pokemon of almost every trainer in the area, and the trainers themselves. And there were a lot of them. Dozens of the best from several regions, many Elite Four members, many familiar faces. All fought the crazed Giratina, driven through the control of Team Galactic to bring about this calamity.

All failed.

"You do realize what this means, don't you? I'm the only one who can control it. I'm the only one who understands it. The world will end either way; I'm just the only one who can make sure there's a future on the other end of this. The way I figure it, you can either help me to shape the world to my specifications, or you can help it be destroyed under its own impurities." Cyrus argued, an unsettling grin on his face made even moreso by the blood contributed by Giovanni's thrashing of the man.

"You're completely insane," Giovanni shook his head. He made a mental note that, if he should live to see the dawn, he would have Cyrus "re-educated" by the finest of Team Rocket.

Naturally, the "graduate" - namely, what was left of the Team Galactic commander - would be promptly dumped after "class" in a shallow grave.

The Rocket boss turned towards the Professor. "Oak," he said, grimly, stepping over Cyrus and making certain to kick him in his battered ribs on his way over. "How much time do we have left? Will that portal hold up long enough for us to even try to muster up a final push?"

"We're out of time," Professor Oak said, sternly, rapidly tapping buttons on a handheld computer, ignoring his own injuries. Professor Oak was a trainer of some potency, even though it was rarely seen, but even his Pokemon were beaten. In fact, he was working around his own injuries as he operated the device, attempting to suppress the unsettling feeling that came from working with the head of Team Rocket. "The portal will hold up for two more souls. One human, one Pokemon. And I'm not sure they'll be able to return." He turned around and carefully assessed the four remaining trainers who might actually still have enough Pokemon to stand a chance, and the necessary skill to wield them with even a chance of effectiveness.

Ash, Brock, Misty, and Dawn.

"I'm not going to sugar-coat this or lie about your chances," Professor Oak stated, grimly. "There is an extremely good chance that this is a suicide mission, even if you somehow succeed. But you've got to decide NOW whether or not you're going to go. We've got minutes to resolve this, at best; there's no time to wait for another portal to be torn open. By the time that happens reality may well cave in on itself." He assessed the group, all of whom looked gravely at one another.

Who would be sacrificed for the sake of the world?

"Now, I need to ask you an extremely important question," he folded his hands behind his back, strolling to examine the four as he walked past, jamming the painful unease he had at this down. He'd worked with children and teenagers his entire life; putting one in this position... it disgusted him. They were his grandson's age. For once, he was glad Gary was defeated, somewhere else on the battlefield.

But that didn't make him any happier with his choices. They were all his students, all his friends; he knew all but Dawn, in fact, even before they were born, thanks to Celebii. Ash himself might as well be another grandson. Ash's companions seemed to work their way into Oak's good graces as well, and he considered Dawn to be one of his, just as unacceptable to expose to this danger. It sickened him that he would have to push them out into this. 'Great job, Sammy,' he imagined his younger self hissing at his elder self.

He pushed that image aside. Had he a choice he'd have gladly gone in their place; this was unnatural. But they didn't have time for this. Unnatural or not, they could act, or they could die.

He chose to act.

"You have seen far more of each other in day-to-day action than I ever have. You are far more familiar with each other's battling habits as well. I am under the impression that, ultimately, Ash is the strongest trainer among you. Ego aside, does anyone object to that assertion?"

Silence.

Misty went pale and looked almost as if she was ready to cry. But she said nothing.

Dawn quickly looked aside, as though she felt more than a bit of guilt. But she, too, said nothing.

Brock kept his arms folded, looking by far the most stoic of the group. Cool as a cucumber, even in this situation. He also said nothing.

Ash, meanwhile, would have not long ago absorbed that praise like a sponge. But a funny thing about the Pokemon trainer was that, when the chips were down and it really counted, he was almost entirely indifferent to ego gratification in favor of getting the job done.

Such as now.

He clenched his fist, feeling absolutely no pride in this, a small, niggling part of his brain wishing it was someone else. But he wasn't about to dwell on that for an instant. Instead, he looked down at the ground, to the yellow mouse next to him, as if to ask for his thoughts. He was, after all, the only Pokemon he could bring on a mission of this importance with these kind of constraints. Indeed, he was the only one who was even in shape to pull it off at this point.

Pikachu nodded. "Pika pi, ka pika pika chu." He was willing to go.

Ash's head whipped up towards Professor Oak.

"What do I need to do?"

Giovanni eyed the proceedings quietly, a slight look of discomfort passing for just an instant over his face as Ash accepted the mission. "Come," he said towards the bush where the Rocket trio were cowering, presumably ordering the lot of them to follow him. He reached over to grasp Cyrus' leg and began to drag him, making certain the ground took its toll on the badly injured commander of Team Galactic. "I'm going to invite the good commander to chat a bit further about his plans and perhaps enlighten us as to any additional details that we might find beneficial." Cyrus, too weak to really put up a fight, did not seem to be overly thrilled at this prospect, and attempted to flail a bit to no effect whatsoever. The trio dragged themselves out of the foliage that was - somehow - supposed to protect them from the end of the world and followed, rather glad that they weren't the grey-haired would-be ruler of the world.

Professor Oak, while not precisely thrilled with the prospect of leaving Cryus to Giovanni's tender mercies, had far more important concerns to attend to as he addressed his students. He nodded gravely, his expression stone-steady, betraying none of the pain he had at sending one of his pupils to what very well might be their demise. "The control box Cryus was using was damaged. It seems to be locked on its current command set. It will likely take several strong shots to finish it off. Alternatively, you could manage to get it to respond to external signals once again, unlikely though that may be, in which case we can deactivate it remotely. You may be able to dislodge it as well, if the opportunity presents itself. Once you've managed to disrupt the control system somehow, Giratina will, with any luck, stop the destruction and begin immediate repairs to the damage in time-space."

Ash quietly moved to unhook the Pokeballs from his belt with a grim, determined nod.

He turned around towards his friends. "...I need you to look out for these guys," he said, handing the Pokeballs over.

Two to Brock...

He nodded grimly. "I'll take care of them, until you come back," he emphasized. His poker face did not move an inch, but his voice held the intonation of what he was feeling - confidence. Professor Oak had made the right choice. So far as Brock was concerned, Ash would return, end of story. Given his track record, one would be hard pressed to fault him for his optimism.

...one to Dawn...

She reached out and accepted the ball, her voice slightly shaky as she nodded. "I... I'll do it," she said, holding herself together admirably in the face of their most recent aborted apocalypse, especially since she was the youngest member of their team.

...two to Misty.

She took the Pokeballs, nodding a bit. "...yeah..." she looked at the Pokeballs, before stepping forward towards Ash. She'd cloaked her grief in the emotion that had sustained her though so many years with her sisters, and before, with her parents.

Anger.

She reached over and grabbed him by the front of his shirt, pulling him closer, albeit a lot more gently than if she were actually trying to intimidate him.

"You had better come back in one piece, you dork, you hear me? Do you have any idea how pissed off I'm gonna be if you don't make it?"

A slow exhale from Ash. "...not as pissed off as you're about to be," he muttered to himself.

Misty paused, blinking. "...huh?" she inquired, uncertain of precisely what he was getting at here.

Ash didn't seem to be overly inclined towards explaining himself; if anything, he was even more enigmatic as he continued. "Mist," he said, voice slightly quieter than usual. Her eyes widened in surprise and her cheeks slightly reddened as he quickly flicked a stray lock of hair out of her face. She'd done away with the side ponytail when they first arrived in Sinnoh, adopting a short, practical, but pretty style.

He never did tell her that he liked it better that way.

He never did tell her a lot of things.

"...there's one last thing I need from you, that I'm not going through that portal without."

"What? I, uh..." she grew nervous, quickly moving to swing her backpack up under one arm, scrambling to open it. "Don't worry, I'm sure I've got it, just gimme a minute to find it..."

But Ash seemed entirely disinterested in her bag, gently pushing her hand away from the zipper. Apparently it wasn't in her backpack, but where could it be, her pocket?

Entirely disinterested in her bag. Entirely interested in her. Eyes flicked to her lips as he licked his own. "...if this is a mistake... I'm sorry in advance." he said, taking a deep breath - mustering up more courage to do this, ironically, than what he would require in a moment to go and attempt to strike down a demigod with an electrical mouse.

Before Misty could ask any more questions, however, Ash quickly slid his arm around her back and pulled her close, the backpack dropping out of her grip and hanging limply from her shoulder. The girl looked up in confusion - noticing very abruptly that he'd grown tall as of late - taller than she was - and had little time to reflect on that as he pulled her close and pressed his lips to her's.

She went rigid, brain freezing, eyes staring as she tried to comprehend the fact that she seemed to now have Ash kissing her. Was this... happening?

An instant passed before Misty's brain kicked back in with more than a little panic. Some part of her realized she might never have this chance again, and her eyes snapped shut. Quickly, she moved her arms around his shoulders and pulled herself up, kissing back. Building up his daring to its fullest, Ash flicked his tongue out to caress her lips and she parted her own in an instant, her own tongue meeting his in the middle.

The two deepened the kiss, passionately, furiously, as though they had to express some deep, wild, powerful emotions that they should have had a lifetime to explore, but now had but a few seconds. Neither had ever kissed another before, at least nothing like this, but in truth, neither cared in the slightest that this was the first for both, improvising and quite indifferent to each others' inexperience, fully in the moment. Instinct drove them, forgetting for one instant the dire stakes presented to them and the cruel sacrifice demanded for the greater good. Fortunately for them, most of the rest of the numerous trainers engaged in this rapidly failing operation were scattered over several square miles in groups such as this one, limiting their audience.

However, some of those nearby certainly had a reaction. Dawn's eyes bugged out, and internally, she secretly squealed, having been a fangirl of theirs for some time now. Pikachu's ears went high and twisted above his head as he turned slightly red. Brock's jaw dropped with his narrow eyes widened enough to actually see white and pupils easily. Professor Oak looked vaguely uncomfortable, as if already trying to figure out how to explain to Ash's mother how not only did he send her boy off to his near-certain doom, and now also had to explain how her little boy had french kissed his best friend and he did little to act as the Responsible Adult at the time. He decided he might omit a few details from this report, particularly given that they were facing near-certain death at the time.

After about a minute, it ended, Ash and Misty tearing themselves away from each other. They peered into each other's eyes for several seconds, a rawness to their expressions, to their emotions. Too much left unsaid.

Though maybe even before this, they'd already spoken what they needed to with actions, not words.

"...I..." Ash stuttered, his confidence faltering, before mustering it up for one last statement, to try to explain it all to her. "...I HAD TO KNOW," he said, with a deep urgency, that this was dire, unfinished business for him.

She understood. He had to know what it was like to kiss her if he'd died.

If their roles were reversed, she'd have done the same thing.

Misty smiled slightly, reaching up to touch his cheek gently. "I know," she said quietly. The trappings of fake disgust and disdain powered in no small part by their uncertainty of the other's feelings had shattered entirely between them now; for this moment, there was no denial, no struggle, no assertion, no judgment and no fear. It was just a teenage boy and a teenage girl who loved each other facing an extremely difficult trial.

Misty leaned in to press her lips to his for an instant, a small peck. "Come back to me."

Ash nodded, backing away. "...I will," he responded, almost a whisper, but solidly, as though backing those words with steel. He quickly snapped off a single nod to Brock and Dawn, who were still agape at the spectacle. "Pikachu, LET'S GO!"

"PIKA CHU!" Pikachu's cheeks sparked to emphasize his eagerness to battle, and the two dashed for the portal, before vanishing into it.


Things were quiet. Too quiet. The fact that the world almost ended - yet again - seemed to clash with the fact that the Sinnoh forest was quite calm, as though it had somehow ignored the near-obliteration it faced a mere week ago.

However, while the forest was quiet, not everything in the forest was, including two teenagers who seemed to have absolutely no problems picking up right where they left off.

"...there is NO way this is the way to Slateport," Ash grumbled as he looked at the map.

"SLATEPORT?" Misty yelped, as she grabbed the map away from Ash. "We're not trying to get to SLATEPORT! Ash, THIS IS A HOENN MAP, NOT SINNOH!"

"WELL EXCUSE ME FOR NOT BEIN' A FREAKING MAP-MAKER!"

"IF YOU WERE A CARTOGRAPHER YOU'D PROBABLY JUST SCRIBBLE ON A BLANK PIECE OF PAPER AND CALL IT DONE!"

"I WOULD NOT! AND WHAT'S A CARTOGRAPHER?!"

"DON'T YOU CARE THAT WE'RE PROBABLY GONNA STARVE TO DEATH OUT HERE? YOU'LL NEVER BEAT THE LEAGUE /THAT/ WAY MISTER POKEMON MASTER! THEY'LL STICK YOUR SKELETON UP ON VICTORY ROAD AS A WARNING TO OTHERS! 'HERE LIES ASH KETCHUM, STARVED TO DEATH BECAUSE HE COULDN'T READ A FREAKING MAP!'"

"YOU'RE JUST SCARED WE'LL SPEND DECADES IN THIS FOREST HAVIN' TO EAT BUGS!"

"B-B-B-BUGS?! THAT'S THE GROSSEST THING I'VE EVER HEARD!"

"I'LL BET THE CRAWLY ONES ARE THE TASTIEST WITH ALL THAT GOO INSIDE!"

"YOU ARE THE MOST DISGUSTING HUMAN BEING ON THE PLANET, ASH KETCHUM!"

Dawn, Brock, and Pikachu all watched, their pace unabated by either the verbal battle unfolding before them, nor the question of whether or not they were going the right way. While Brock and Pikachu simply ignored it - almost as if it were background noise - Dawn looked... pensive.

"...I don't get it. They're like this since I started traveling with you guys - yeah, I understand that much, even though everyone can see they like each other. They've apparently kept this up traveling through four different regions, and almost a fifth now including Sinnoh. Then we nearly all die, and they were all but proclaiming their eternal love for each other, and they're right back to this almost instantly?..."

Brock nodded. "Eh, don't worry. This sorta thing happens all the time." Pause. "Well, the kiss was new, but I figure when it comes right down to it, they're flirting as much as arguing."

Dawn frowned sharply. "...still, I hate to see them like this." Sigh. "I'm gonna go talk to them."

"Pika chuuuuu..." warned Pikachu, which Dawn shrugged off.

"I'll be fine. What's the worst that could happen?"

"Chu - "

"- don't finish that sentence." Dawn asserted, pointing one finger in the air as she walked ahead as though making some profound point. She tromped forward as Brock and Pikachu looked at each other, their pace remaining the same.

"Ka pika chu pika pika," Pikachu commented to Brock, sounding unsure whether to cringe or to thoroughly enjoy what was about to come. He settled on the latter, flicking his gaze towards Dawn and finding himself unable to tear it away.

"Yeah, 'not ending pretty' is a NICE way to put it," Brock agreed, silently wishing he and Pikachu had some popcorn for what was about to come next.

Dawn, undeterred by the common sense of the two who had traveled with the other two for years, cleared her throat loudly. "You know, you two REALLY shouldn't fight so much, considering last week you were ki - "

The two whipped around with a speed that would make even the fastest Pokemon envious, and spoke, as one, faces redder than tomatoes.

"ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY NOTHING WHATSOEVER HAPPENED LAST WEEK OF ANY KIND!"

Dawn let out a tiny 'eep!' and backed away until she fell on her behind as the two picked up their bickering again as though they'd never even stopped to scream at her, before scrambling back to Brock and Pikachu. The two who were far more experienced with Ash and Misty barely disguised their amusement.

"...they're scary," Dawn commented as her two friends continued their bickering.

"Eh." Brock shrugged. "You're new, they were going real easy on you."

Wisely, Dawn kept her mouth shut for the rest of the day.