DISCLAIMER: I don't own Pokemon. If I did, Pidgeys and Rattatas would be removed from Pokemon Go entirely.

This one... I debated long and hard as to whether or not I should post it. My apologies in advance if it doesn't work out too well.

As per usual, thanks to those who have reviewed my previous stories; you're the best.

NOTE: This was posted a few hours earlier under the same name. However, some slight modifications were made to this version. My apologies if anyone got several notices; I had some problems with deleting the original version.

The smell of ozone was rife in the air as a scream shattered the ears of anyone unfortunate enough to be nearby, interlaced with the crackle of a high-powered Thunder attack.


After enduring a halting, jerky, agonizing jig, the Swampert staggered backwards, falling over into a heap with a thud, convulsing with electrical energy. The Team Plasma grunt grimaced as his last Pokemon fell, and quickly assessed his remaining opponents.

A really beaten up, pissed off redhead.

A battered Starmie with an unreadable (and non-existent) expression making noises that he couldn't QUITE interpret from Pokespeak into words but did NOT sound friendly. It was also missing two of its arms and had a cracked jewel, which doubtlessly did little to improve its mood.

A teenage boy who was on the ground, suffering from several Swampert-related slashes that he sustained when he hurled himself into hand-to-hand combat with it (and actually managed to do a good bit of damage, no less) to get it off the redhead.

A heavily battered Pikachu who just managed to fry up his best Pokemon.

The grunt pondered this deeply for a whole half second, before deciding - especially after smelling the distinct aroma of fried fish that was no doubt from his beaten Pokemon - that he would rather live to see the dawn, and as such promptly turned around and ran away, attempting his best to maintain bladder control.

Ash grunted as he looked up. Truth be told, when he fought off the Swampert, he was already beaten up. He had several slash injuries, a few burn marks, and numerous bruises.

The raid had not gone according to plan. Then again, a raid against your worst enemies being interrupted by a raid conducted by your other worst enemies is rarely easily anticipated. The result, naturally, was a near free-for-all between them, Team Rocket, and Team Plasma. For what it was worth their showing was admirable, having managed to significantly reduce the strength of both sides and do a great deal of damage to Team Plasma's operations. But that did very little to help them stay in one piece, since both Rocket and Plasma had sheer numbers on their side. Iris and Cilan split up from Ash and Misty a while back in hopes Team Rocket would concentrate its forces more on one group so the other could go get help.

Unsurprisingly, given that Ash and Misty had been a thorn in Team Rocket's side for years, they got the bulk of the extra attention.

Misty frowned deeply as she knelt next to Ash. "Dang it, Ash! You shouldn't have done that..."

Ash grimaced slightly, feeling the sting of the fresh slashing injuries. "...what, and let YOU have... all the fun?" He hissed in pain as he rolled over. Fresh slashes across the ribcage, or at least, that's what it looked like. However, nothing too deep or too dangerous, to Misty's relief... or at least, it looked that way.

But that didn't mean that he didn't have SOME serious injuries somewhere. It also didn't mean that the cumulative impact of having so many injuries might not leave to some sort of generalized systemic failure or critical internal bleeding. It was made worse by the fact that this was far from the first time Ash had played hero on her behalf recently; many of his newly-earned battle scars were in fact gained in some way by keeping someone or something from trying to get her at one point or another.

She bit her lip. "...we've got to get to the surface," she stated, moving to lift Ash up. "Starmie, grab Pikachu and let's get - "

Unfortunately, the chamber they were in had only one door.

And that door was blocked by a Rocket Executive. A Soldier, as they might say in Italy, and Team Rocket had more than a little in common with their notorious mafia. Another Grunt followed him, both plucking Pokeballs off their belt as the Executive tapped an earpiece that apparently was a two-way communicator. "Targets A and M spotted, engaging now."

"OH NO YOU DON'T!" cried out Misty. He'd protected her - and now she would protect him. Starmie wasn't in much fighting condition, but she still had one ace up her sleeve.

...for a very liberal definition of 'ace.'

With a grunt she unhooked one of her Pokeballs and hurled it out. "GOLDUCK, GO!"

With a flash and a bang, Golduck appeared.

Golduck, who had the exact same posture and general behavior of her old Psyduck.

Because he was her old Psyduck.

Sadly, Misty found that evolution was not, in fact, the solution to all of Psyduck's ills. He was... special.

As in she was the one Pokemon she most especially wanted to throttle.

Of course, the Rocket members had deployed their Pokemon at the same time Misty had done so, and quickly a Tangula and Venemoth were materialized, ready to move in and strike.

Fortunately however, Golduck's head had several lumps on it. Nothing much, but enough to enhance its perpetual headache. Which is just what Misty needed.


Golduck didn't need to be told twice. His headache surged, and with it, his strength intensified.

A massive psychic discharge rushed out in both telekinetic and telepathic form. To the would-be assailants, this proved to be a most unfortunate occurrence, as they were SMASHED backwards, incapacitating both Pokemon, and that was followed up with another SMASH, crushing them against the wall. Psionic interference caused their heads to feel fuzzy, and they - somehow - tasted purple.

Yes, tasted purple.

Golduck ain't right in the head.

Needless to say, the rather poorly-equipped combatants decided to make themselves scarce quickly. Misty quickly snapped up her Pokeball. "Golduck, RETURN!"

She sighed, looking at the ball. "...good job, you dimwit duck," she muttered with some affection. However, Golduck likely wouldn't be able to do that again. They needed to get out quickly. She quickly moved towards Ash to try to help him up. They needed to get out of this room - a dead end, effectively, with only one door in or out.

However, as she moved towards Ash to try to help him up, she noticed the light pouring in from the hallway suddenly go much darker. She flicked her eyes over to realize it was actually a long shadow, cast by a large, tall human.

One she recognized.

Her stance moved from trying to hoist Ash up to help him get out of here (while she tried to keep herself walking for the most part) to setting him down and using herself to block the anticipated attack.

Though a quick tactical appraisal told her that victory was unlikely. The figure before them was untouched from combat, and likely had a full team of six. Almost all her Pokemon were down or close to it, Ash's entire team except for Pikachu was down, Ash himself was all but down, Pikachu was in wretched shape...

The long-running fight had taken a great deal out of both human and Pokemon, with even the humans getting involved at several points.

She hated to admit it, but Ash thinking of using a Geodude as a bowling ball to knock over a bunch of Wobbuffets was pretty darn cool. But she probably wouldn't get a chance to tell him that now.

She felt a twinge of very deep dread ripple through her guts. So, Misty thought, pessimism settling in, this is how it ends. They were pretty sure Iris and Cilan made it to the surface, but there was no way to be absolutely certain, and now there probably never would be.

If they faced another grunt, this would be almost a non-issue, a blast from Starmie, or even Pikachu in his condition, would probably defeat them without hassle.

But that was not to be.

Misty's hand dropped down to her belt. She resisted the urge to stretch out her arms as though she were trying to frighten away a wild animal with size. No, this was better, look at least slightly prepared for combat. However, she was in position to shield the two boys with her own body. Starmie was ready to do similarly, backing up next to its master. It prepared additional Hydro Pump attacks internally at Misty's command, the complicated biological plumbing within pressurizing internal sacs ready for deployment, though chances are it would make no difference. In their condition, there was no way they could defeat him, or even slow him down.

"Now, Misty, where are your manners? Doesn't an old colleague get at least a 'hello'?" the man stated, flicking his eyes towards Misty's combative stance as he walked forward, a Persian at his heel.

"...you're not a COLLEAGUE, Giovanni. I don't know if you noticed, but the League - "

"- are a bunch of shortsighted fools? Yes, every day. But, I'm afraid this isn't a courtesy call. Rather, I'm a tad more interested in having a word with the young man behind you."

She forced herself not to look afraid, gathering up every bit of courage she had and putting it into her voice. "You..." she sucked in a breath, trying to force some sort of courage to the fore. "You can't HAVE him."

It was pretty obvious - she was standing her ground here. Giovanni would have to go through her to get to Ash. Unfortunately, she was pretty certain that this would be exactly what happened.

"...on the contrary, my dear, in a sense, I already do."

He reached into his pocket and flipped out something. Misty expected a weapon, or something equally dreadful that would end this confrontation as quickly as it started.

It turned out to be a medical kit.

"Now would you be so kind as to step away? I'd really rather not have to have Persian knock you off to the side and then have to patch you up as well."

Misty stared in disbelief.


Ash groaned, forcing himself to stand; the effort lasted approximately a half-second before he fell back on one knee, then onto his side, collapsing in a bloody mess. He glared daggers at Giovanni, suppressing a snarl, even in his condition defiant. "You..."

"...yes, me," Giovanni stated as he knelt down next to Ash, opening up the kit. "It's been a while, son."

And Misty's eyes widened to the point that they were doing an imitation of saucers.

"...not long enough," Ash snapped out, venomously.

"Still fighting the inevitable, I see."

Ash glared up at him darkly, but said nothing, even as the man pulled out a small disk and pressed it against Ash's side. An automatic bone splint, she noted, and the device sparked to life, the computer aboard realigning his battered ribcage. He flicked out another device, a dermal regenerator, and ran it over some of the deeper cuts, including those that might be threatening of causing severe damage, apparently not particularly cautious about the blood. Similar in principle to some of the devices used on Pokemon at the Pokemon Center.

"But, that's alright," he continued, ignoring Ash's stony silence. "Sooner or later, Team Rocket will prevail, you'll realize that I am correct, and you'll be all the better equipped for the bold new era for all, using the experience you've gained fighting us AND all the doomsday crack pots wandering around out there. Incidentally, well done so far with Team Plasma. You'd likely have done a lot of damage even if we hadn't turned up."

Ash grimaced at the sharp pain from the devices as the tissue regenerator reknitted flesh and veins, and the device on his side splinted his bruised and cracked ribs. The effects of the latter would last several hours, time enough to get real treatment to them.

"...not... trying to... impr..."

"Yes, yes, yes, not trying to impress me. I know, Ash, you hate me, we've been through this all before." Giovanni seemed quite indifferent to his son's apparent disdain and murderous loathing towards him. He glanced towards Misty for a moment, quickly assessing her, before pulling out a bottle of something from the kit. "I don't have long, and you aren't too badly off, so I'm not going to waste time trying to patch you up any. You'd be a priority normally, of course, seeing what you are to my son, but my only alternative is to take you to Team Rocket medical facilities, and somehow I doubt that you'd be in favor of that." He flicked the bottle to her. "But this ought to help with the pain. Use it or don't; you probably don't trust me, and I can't blame you, but I thought I'd offer."

The bottle clattered from within as she caught it, the noise from what she assumed were the pills within. It appeared to be pain medication. There was little that Misty could do with it - she didn't trust it - so she simply pocketed it, pondering handing it over to the police for analysis. She couldn't get over the surreality of the entire situation, either, silently wondering if perhaps she'd hit her head and was hallucinating all this. As-is it was most disturbing, having Giovanni ramble on almost as though it were a typical father-son spat she was watching. While she was grateful that it appeared that she and Ash and their Pokemon were probably not going to die - at least, not immediately - she likely would have actually felt slightly more comfortable if he were ranting about world domination and unleashing universal armageddon how 'you meddling kids' got in the way yet again, punctuated with insane cackles at appropriate and frequent intervals.

However, hallucination or not, it was over quickly enough, and Giovanni stood, before turning his attention towards Pikachu. The little yellow rodent's cheeks sparked slightly, hatefully.

"I'd rather not actually go all the way to knocking you out to examine you, so let's just make this quick and painless, hm?" the mobster inquired, quickly assessing the damage to Pikachu.

Misty knelt down and did similarly to Ash, quickly looking over his injuries. He sure looked a little bit better - and a whole lot angrier than five minutes ago.

Giovanni saw fit to continue his lecture, even as he worked on Pikachu. "You should be using your Pokeball on your Pikachu, incidentally, at least in emergencies. You can keep him out all you want most of the time, but one of these days he's going to be on the other side of a chasm or bleeding to death and you'll be so afraid of him experiencing three seconds of discomfort that when you get to the Pokemon Center you're going to be asking for cremation services instead of treatment."

Pikachu growled and twitched in anger. Giovanni looked up from the kit where he was trying to find what he needed to treat Pikachu, and actually grinned at Pikachu's anger. It was partly out of some mild, sadistic glee - there were reasons he was able to head Team Rocket, after all, and being a murderous psychopath was among them - but also, of all things, a twisted form of respect. Pikachu was still willing to assert himself to whatever degree he could despite his battered state, and if it came down to it the mouse might just have had a few surprises as of yet. Some might have mocked Ash for his starter, but he'd raised this one amazingly well; a Pokemon some (who were fools) derided as a little girl's pet, raised to be strong enough to go toe to toe with legendaries, without even fully evolving. "Suck it up, rodent," Giovanni said, as he finished up. "You know it's true, unless your claustrophobia is more powerful than your survival instinct. I'd rather you not die before your master joins us."

Yes, as his son's starter, Pikachu would make a fine addition to Team Rocket once he'd joined. Considering the luck the buffoons had, he doubted the mouse would be joining any other way.

Ash curled his hand into a fist, but was unable to do much more.

He HATED this man, but he hated him even MORE when he was right. He might have to talk to Pikachu about that one later - his Pokemon's life was worth the blow to his pride. But that didn't mean he'd go thanking Giovanni, either.

"He'll NEVER join you."

Misty. She wasn't stupid enough to try to strike his back, but the girl was never one to silence herself, and this was no exception.

Giovanni paused. Glanced back towards Misty. "Perhaps not now, no. In fact, it's probably for the best. He needs to learn, as do you." he turned back to Pikachu. "There will be a place for both of you there."

Pikachu growled at that assertion, and Ash forced himself up on his hands. "...she... WON'T..."

Giovanni glanced towards Ash, a small, but disturbing, smile crossing his face.

"We shall see."

Finishing up his treatment of the unhappy mouse, Giovanni administered Hyper Potion to Pikachu. He stood quickly, plucking away the equipment from Ash and returning it to his kit, and the kit, in turn, went into his pocket. "Neither of their injuries appear to be life-threatening," he addressed Misty, since it was rather obvious that she was the only one who was up to much talking, or even going anywhere under her own power. "And, obviously, your Starmie will regenerate in due time. My men are retreating in any case, and Team Plasma is in no condition to bother you at all." He halfway turned to address the bleeding boy. "And before you decide to play hero Ash, no, we don't have an apocalyptic doomsday device here, no, we're not stealing any Pokemon, and no, nobody is being harmed here who doesn't deserve it. By us, anyway. I believe you know the exit. Come along, Persian."

He began to stroll right out, Persian following. Misty simply gaping at his back in disbelief, blinking as though she weren't sure this wasn't a dream. Ash, meanwhile, glared daggers at Giovanni's back, obvious rage in his features, but unable to do anything about it.

However, the mafioso stopped at the door. "Incidentally, Ash, excellent choice. She reminds me of your mother a great deal, you know. She's got more than you imagine in common with her."

Ash grunted, mustering up all his strength to speak for the both of them. Were he in one piece he'd try to strike him down all by himself, but as he could barely lift himself with his arms, all he could do was snap out a venomous response, or at least, try to. "She's - she's NOT my - "

But Giovanni didn't slow down, nor did he even acknowledge Ash's protest, Persian following him out - after he took an instant to give a rather direct glare at Pikachu.

Not unlike a cat might give a mouse he planned to devour someday.

The glare was returned, a silent answer to the challenge posed to him. Apparently, if there should ever be a final battle between Ash and Giovanni, their respective starters would have another rivalry to settle at the same time.

Seconds passed in silence, as though they were waiting for something else to happen, and while they tried to think of what to say or do. To say that little visit had been unexpected would be a great understatement.

Finally, Misty decided to act. She frowned sharply as she knelt down. "...hold on... give me a moment here," she muttered, as she gathered her own waning strength to slowly lift Ash up, letting him lean on her. Starmie, despite his rather wretched condition, was not unlike its master in that it was still better off than Ash and Pikachu, and hoisted Pikachu up onto one of its arm-stumps. With the regeneration factor of a starfish, Starmie was already well on its way to healing the injury, though it was quite uncomfortable. That said, getting its teammate out overrode discomfort.

Unsurprisingly, given that they were both beaten to a pulp and their Pokemon were in about the same shape, leaving was a lot more difficult than entering. Fortunately, it looked like Giovanni was telling the truth - no Team Rocket members in sight, nor Team Plasma for that matter. Ash grunted loudly, trying to gather up the strength to say something, which Misty tried to intercept. They couldn't afford a slowdown.

"Hush. Don't speak. We'll be out of here soon," Misty said, quietly, reassuringly, as she hoisted him along, ignoring her own injuries as best as possible.

Ash grimaced, helping to support himself as best as he could; he was larger than she was now, and even though she had surprising strength, she still couldn't carry him on her own, so he contributed the energy he had to spare, which wasn't much. He forced out what he hoped to be a sentence, but came out as a few sputtered words. "...are... are you..."

Misty sighed quietly. She anticipated this. "Angry? Yes. VERY angry. I'm pissed, Ash, considering how many times we ran into Team Rocket over the years. Do I want to go and kick his sorry ass? YES. I'd do it right now if it'd do any good at all. Will I try? NO, I'm not stupid. Do I expect an explanation? You bet your ass I do." she shook her head. "...we'll talk when we get back to the Pokemon Center."

Too many thoughts swirled in her head. She wondered why he didn't tell her. Didn't he trust her? Didn't he have faith in her? Didn't he know that she'd help him however he needed?

Of course, Misty noted with more than a little chagrin... maybe he didn't. It's not like the two of them had exactly been the most direct with their feelings over the years. The strange, cat-and-mouse game they were always in, and really, neither were sure who was the cat or who was the mouse at any given time. They understood each other so well in most ways - almost every way - but with something like this... did he fear she might view him as an enemy, too?...

"I'm sor - "

Misty's whipped her head over towards Ash faster than she thought she could with the ache she had from a pulled muscle. "No. You don't get to just apologize like this wasn't anything. You don't get to wallow in self-pity, either. This is a big deal, Ash."

He was silent for a little while. However, he forced his strength together for a few more words after some effort.

"...do you hate me?..."

There was a desperation in his voice, and it wasn't from the holes he was full of. Misty was actually slightly surprised by the question. Did she scold him that hard? She glanced towards Ash as she dragged him along, noticing his intense stare, demanding an answer. So she gave it, looking him directly in the eye.


Firm, solid, direct.

Ash nodded. He kept his mouth shut, because truthfully he didn't really have the energy to spare.

"Let's talk when we're not trying to escape." she stated.

With that, Ash fell silent for the rest of their journey up.

It was four hours before they got to sit down and talk. Four exhausting hours featuring police questioning, bandaging, more police questioning, more bandaging, checking in with Cilan and Iris (who, unsurprisingly, commented that Ash was 'being a little kid,' which got her a withering glare), and checking on Pokemon. By the time they actually got away from everything they were probably ready to shovel some food down their throats, then flop over on a bed for the night.

But they had unfinished business.

Ash had made it to their room first, sitting on the bed while Misty took care of some bit of paperwork or something. At least that's what she told him. He spent the time wondering precisely what she was going to say, or do, occasionally glancing to one of his arms, resting in a sling, annoyed by it.

It didn't help that he didn't quite know what to expect. She wouldn't say 'never' to that question if she didn't mean it, but still... he fidgeted slightly.

She was taking an awful long time.

He was considering going looking for her - and measuring whether or not she'd bite his head off for doing so - when she abruptly came in with, much to his surprise, two cups of cocoa, depositing one on each of their night tables as she tried to get her thoughts together.

Ash wasn't quite sure what to say or do as he looked at the girl. Her eyes were closed and her head was bowed, hands clasped in front of her and pressed against her forehead as though she were trying to gather together thoughts that splintered in every direction. After taking a moment to compose herself, she began, hands splayed out and pushing at the air as if she were trying to make some gesture but didn't quite know how.

"Ash. I should have said this earlier, but we couldn't get a minute to ourselves until now. But. I'm sorry for being too harsh. I'm still upset, yes. It's a big deal for me. But it's a big deal for you too, and I shouldn't have bitten your head off like that. I was venting, and I was and am angry. But I never meant for you to think that I hated you or I was going to leave or anything like that." She slightly cringed at the memory of that question. She wasn't sure if she ever heard him sound quite so defeated. She knew she didn't want to hear it again.

She removed her hands from her forehead, her piece said, and she looked at Ash more directly.

"But now... answers."

Ash nodded, rather pleasantly surprised things had started without his decapitation.

His good hand rested on his knee as he considered before speaking.

"...where should I start?"

At some point, apparently the situation pegged off-scale on Misty's rageometer and went all the way back to calm, and for that, Ash was grateful. This was too serious, too dangerous of a conversation to treat it like an argument over who ate the last cookie, and she knew it. Of course, it helped that Misty's anger and the long rant she was composing in her head fell to pieces not long after he asked her whether she hated him.

Ash explained in detail everything he knew and everything he didn't know. Had he always known? No. He only found out on their travels while encountering Giovanni himself directly (and Misty did remember he seemed a little off around then... and now she knew why). Had he suspected before? Not a chance, his memories of his father when he was very young were dim and muddled at best. What did his mom have to say? Nothing; he hadn't broached the topic with her yet. Had he talked to anyone else about it? Yes. He had assumed it was a sick trick Giovanni was trying to play, but a late-night, clandestine call with Professor Oak confirmed it. Had he been offered a place in Team Rocket? That one had been sensitive - he had indeed been offered it as Giovanni's heir, but Ash had told him precisely which orifice he could shove his offer into. Were Jessie and James under orders to follow him for some reason related to this? There was no way to know for sure, but he doubted it; that said, Giovanni seemed to think it would toughen him up, so he probably also did nothing to stop it, either.

The cups of cocoa had steadily depleted, Misty finishing her's off as she listened. This Joy knew how to turn a pile of powder and sugar into ambrosia, she reflected. Misty mulled her words, eyes falling on Ash's for a moment.

There were many more questions to go, but both were tired and hungry. Most of the big ones had been touched upon, leaving one more that Misty needed to understand.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

Ash glanced to the floor. "...two reasons." He flicked his eyes up towards the girl. He was silent for a time, attempting to formulate his answer. It was more complicated than it seemed.

"First of all..." he glanced to the ground, and to his feet. "...I was afraid you'd hate me. Or you'd want to leave." He sounded almost slightly ashamed at this revelation, but he stood his ground, so to speak, unwilling to pretend it wasn't the case.

"Ash, I'd never do that," Misty said, a hint of... something in her voice. Irritation? Hurt? Maybe even a bit of panic? Or maybe guilt? He wasn't too sure; he was normally able to pick up on a lot of Misty's cues and had been for a long while now, but this one was a mystery. Then again, they had never before discussed Ash's apparent connection to the most powerful mafia in modern history.

"Professor Oak said it would be a good idea in general to just... keep it close and not make a big deal about it," Ash elaborated. "People might try to use it against me. Might be afraid of me, might hate me no matter how much I did to offset that bastard." He clenched a fist in frustration unshed, unable to do much else thanks to his condition. Normally he might be pacing the room, but activity and injuries don't mix all that well, making it all the worse. "And I couldn't risk that with you." He flicked his eyes up towards Misty, then glanced away.

Misty sighed, a long, slow sigh. Exasperated. "Ash, I've traveled, what, five thousand, ten thousand miles with you? How many years? I'm not going to just run off to Cerulean City just because you're related to a psychopath that you've spent years trying to defeat in any case."

Ash smirked slightly, mirthlessly. "Mist, put yourself in my shoes... wouldn't you be worried someone might react badly?"

Misty paused for a moment. Ash occasionally seemed to have tendencies towards being fairly extreme in thinking. Friend or foe, good or bad, right or wrong. Shades of grey were possible but were not his specialty. The thought that he might think something of her like that...

"...I see your point," she said after a moment, conceding that things would not be so simple were the roles reversed. "...but you don't have to worry, since I'm not going anywhere."

He nodded, still looking a bit unsure of himself.

"You said you had a second reason?" Misty asked as he lapsed into silence.

Ash nodded.


"...to protect you."

Misty quirked an eyebrow. "Protect me?"

"Mist, the less you knew about it, the better. Team Rocket isn't one big happy murderous family and it's not out of the question that they might try to use me in their internal turf wars somehow. If they thought you knew much, if anything, they might try to somehow use that, and I think you can probably guess they wouldn't be nice about it."

Misty frowned a little. "Ash, I'm a big girl, I can take - "

"' - care of yourself,'" Ash finished the sentence. "That Swampert didn't seem to think too much of munchin' on you today, if you didn't notice, big girl or not."

Misty sighed quietly, rubbing her temples after a few seconds. "Give me a moment." Exhaustion made it hard for her to think. She weighed her options. Truth be told, for all that she decried his attempts to protect her, she actually was rather grateful for it. Normally the banter between them on this subject only had some level of seriousness to it, but this time was different. The sarcasm and bites at each other that normally cloaked their conversations was stripped away here, leaving much more raw emotion, and all the more room to accidentally hurt the other.

"Look, I know that every time I tell you I can 'take care of myself,' when it comes down to it you're gonna ignore it and still watch out for me. That's... I will never repeat this again, Ash Ketchum, but that's actually pretty sweet of you, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't help more often than I want to admit." She shook her head. "But this time? No. I need to know you've got more faith in me than that. I'm pretty sure you do, but this time you made the wrong choice for all the right reasons. I'd probably keep quiet if I thought y - people, would hate me, too. But I'm not going to hate you, Ash." Her cheeks burned slightly, emphasizing the point to ease that critical fear of his, one she could understand too well. "I never really could. And honestly, I don't think I'm any safer for not knowing. I know Professor Oak might have more experience in this, but given everything involved, I'd really like to know just what it is that's going on here. Especially since I'm trying to protect you, too. So." She looked at Ash dead in the eye, reaching over to grasp one of his hands and squeeze it. "Keep me in the loop?"

Ash glanced down at his feet... and nodded, slowly. "...I will. I'm... I'm sorry, Mist, I..."

"It's alright," Misty said, with a nod. "I might have done the same thing. But just so you know?..."

She leaned over and pecked him on the cheek gently.

"...you're about the best person I know, Ash. You're not him at all. Never forget that. If you trust me on anything at all... trust me on that." Misty smiled, and felt just a tiny bit less gloomy when she noticed him blush slightly.

Ash nodded a bit. "...yeah, I trust you..." He looked down at their hands, frowning. "...and I try not to be him."

"You don't need to try, you are." She squeezed his hand one more time before letting go, deciding that this was probably the best place to drop the topic for the night; they had both had enough of this grim business for now, and she felt like she'd managed to get through to him, which was sometimes a blessing when he was a little too stubborn.

However, out of the corner of her eye, she caught the clock on the wall - where did the time go, she wondered? "I think we missed dinner, though, and after a day like this I'm not going to ask Cilan to whip anything up for us. You want to go and get some fine cuisine at Chez Vending Machine?"

"Cilan's head'll explode," Ash pointed out.

"Dinner entertainment thrown in for free." Misty countered.

That was an assessment Ash couldn't disagree with. "Sold, let's go."

If you actually made it this far, thank you. This one was pretty awkward for me.

The healing equipment used was a lot more advanced than you'd see today, of course. Somewhat sci-fi. That said, I figure that the Pokemon world has a lot of high tech stuff in it, and if teleportation is available, then regeneration equipment for minor injuries on humans isn't that much of a stretch.

As always, reviews are appreciated; I'd like to know what you thought.