Another kinda short one since it didn't feel like I could make it fit well in the most recent chapter.

Location: Chapter 24-25

Back at the Corral

Professor Oak's Pokémon corral stood behind the lab, taking up a large amount of acreage in Pallet town with various man-made environments to accommodate different Pokémon.

Regular fields took up the bulk with a small lake for water Pokémon and a rocky quarry for Pokémon less suited for grassy environments. Fruit trees and berry bushes were abound in the forest area, allowing for Pokémon to forage for their own food if they chose to or receive different kinds of Pokémon food from one of Professor Oak's various aides. And, though rare, any Pokémon that were strict carnivores instead of omnivores were given a special substitute meat. (1)

In the quarry, Bulbasaur stood across from Charmander, the latter having requested the Seed Pokémon's help in testing out a counter to powder moves. Since Butterfree was called back to Ash recently, Bulbasaur was the only other Pokémon of Ash's to know one of the moves. The Grass/Poison-type considered it progress that Charmander had asked him for help in his training without it needing to be offered.

"[Now!]" Bulbasaur signaled while spraying Sleep Powder from the opening in his bulb towards his teammate.

In response, the Lizard Pokémon shot a stream of fire near his own feet, the attack forming a ring around him before flaring upwards in a tall column, incinerating any powder that got near.

Bulbasaur stopped his attack, since doing any more would just be wasting energy, and waited for the wall of flames to die down. But he heard the ground burst behind him and realized that the fire was a distraction.

"[Ha-ha!]" Charmander laughed triumphantly as he emerged from the ground. "[That should catch most opponents off guard.]"

The Seed Pokémon turned around and said, "[That it would. You could've used another Flamethrower by the time your Fire Spin wore off.]" At that point, the wall of fire died down and revealed a hole in the middle of the scorched ring of earth.

"[Yeah, I've done some experimenting and I think I can control it with enough practice. So far I'm just working on how long I can keep it up,]" the Fire-type explained excitedly.

Nodding, Bulbasaur smiled at his exuberance and opened his mouth to say something else when he seemed to sense something. His smile was replaced with a curious look as he said, "[Seems I'm needed.]"

Without further preamble, the Grass/Poison-type turned to light and was warped away. Charmander knew from experience that he was pulled to his Poké Ball back at the lab and warped to Ash's side.

'Wonder what's going on?'

Figuring that he could find out by looking for whoever arrived in his sparring partner's place, Charmander climbed out of his hole and made his way from the quarry back to the building in the corral's front.

After reaching the forest area, he climbed up a tree and sighted Jigglypuff floating away from the lab. Dropping back down, the Lizard Pokémon broke into a run before he could lose sight of the most recent addition to the team.

"[Hey! New girl!]" he called.

Jigglypuff looked down and deflated to drop to the ground after spotting him. She seemed to be sulking slightly.

Charmander raised an eyebrow, "[What's wrong? I didn't think you the type to pout. You're way too tough for that behavior.]"

"[Not tough enough, apparently,]" the Balloon Pokémon grumbled while kicking a stray bit of dirt. "[Our Trainer said that there was 'serious trouble' and sent me back for a 'more experienced' Pokémon.]"

'Those three,' the Fire-type realized. He also figured out why he wasn't called since he knew about all of the Butterfree arriving. 'Fire and bugs don't mix well, and my control isn't that good, yet… Somebody could've gotten burnt by accident.'

Shaking off that train of thought, Charmander returned his attention to Jigglypuff, "[Listen, I'm sure he didn't mean anything by it. Ash just wants to keep us safe.]"

The Balloon Pokémon didn't look convinced.

"[Anyway,]" he started, figuring what he had to say next would get Jigglypuff's mind off being switched out, "[my sparring partner just got warped away. I need a replacement, if you think you're up for it.]"

Jigglypuff seemed surprised for a moment before she smirked back confidently, "[I recall winning our last match.]"

"[I was holding back my fire last time,]" Charmander informed, letting out a small gout of flame while he talked to demonstrate.

She didn't seem to falter, "[I wouldn't be so confident. Hot air rises, so I can just ride the wind away from your flames.]"

Raising an eyebrow, the Fire-type asked, "[You learn that in the wild?]"

"[Nah, I've read about-]" Jigglypuff abruptly covered her mouth.

"[You can read?]" he asked while the Balloon Pokémon looked to be kicking herself for revealing that. "[That's impressive.]" Then Charmander blinked in realization, "[But wait… wouldn't that mean that somebody taught-]"

"[Taught? No,]" she snorted, deciding that there was no point denying it. "[I listened and taught myself so that I could learn more about battling. But fine, yes I had an owner before meeting Ash. No, I don't want to talk about it.]"

The Fire-type shrugged, "[Fair enough. I don't like thinking about my last owner, either. Anyway, I won't tell anybody about your reading ability if you don't.]"

"[Enough talking!]" Jigglypuff decided while jumping away to give a fair distance for the start. "[Time to battle!]"

Charmander smiled as his flame blazed slightly larger in excitement. He considered a good fight his reward for cheering up a good fighter.

After the spar, which Charmander managed to win by getting Jigglypuff into a bear hug after forcing her to flee towards the ground with his flames, the two Pokémon went their separate ways to continue training.

The Fire-type picked up from where he left off earlier in his routine, moving on to hand-to-hand combat. He fought against imaginary opponents, practicing his strikes, dodges, rolls and counterattacks. Fighting Jigglypuff yesterday with the techniques had piqued his interest in potential surprise attacks, so he continued developing his martial arts.

Once that was done, Charmander worked on his flames, testing his limits on how hot he could make them and how long he could keep them up. After finding his upper limit on how long he could hold Fire Spin to be around ten minutes – a full minute and a half longer than his previous record – and his Flamethrower count was fifteen in rapid succession, the Lizard Pokémon curled up in the quarry for a nap.

When he woke up, he noticed that the sun was setting and moved on to the last leg of his training he had planned. If it went poorly, he could always stop for the day and wouldn't lose that much time.

That decision led the Fire-type to the pond where he found Horsea and attempted to persuade him into hitting him with a water attack.

"[I'm telling you, I'll be fine,]" Charmander reassured in what he hoped was a gentle tone. "[It's just a little water.]"

Horsea still hesitated from the edge of the water where the Fire-type had found him. The Lizard Pokémon had heard from Kingler who heard from Butterfree, who heard from Pikachu, that there was a Sandshrew that could withstand water out there, and he wanted to start building up a resistance too.

Not with his tail, of course. He wasn't quite willing to risk that yet.

Plus, the Dragon Pokémon always seemed a little too gentle to him. In Charmander's opinion, that sort of attitude would get his heart broken unless he toughened up. The Fire-type internally acknowledged that he was half-speaking from experience, but shrugged it off in favor of trying to convince Horsea again.

Tentacool emerged from the water, to both their surprise. Still, she held up a tentacle in greeting and said, "[How about I do it?]"

"[Because I want a less powerful attack to see how I react to it,]" he explained. "[Horsea is,]" Charmander paused for the briefest of moments as the Jellyfish Pokémon leveled a glare at him from behind her fellow Water-type, "[more cautious. One bubble, come on.]"

"[Mm…]" Horsea dithered before slightly nodding. "[All right, only one.]"

Leaning his head up to aim, a singular bubble floated forward towards Charmander, the Lizard Pokémon puffing out his chest. It popped harmlessly against him with a sizzle.

Charmander grunted, "[Hm, maybe we should've started with Water Gu-]"

A slight splash of water interrupted him as it washed over the front of his face and body, courtesy of one of Tentacool's tentacles. This time, he visibly shuddered before taking a deep breath and letting it out through his nostrils. His tail flame blazed slightly larger and the runoff liquid steamed before boiling off his skin in a small cloud of steam.

"[Haa… That's one advantage I have over Ground-types]," he panted, actually a little winded, to his surprise. "[Water boils with enough heat.]"

Tentacool set a wet tentacle on his shoulder, making him shudder again as she replied, "[A lot of heat. That was barely a splash—imagine that in a concentrated stream, soaking more of you as it kept up, more water for you to try boiling.]" She patted him twice before retracting the limb, "[You have your work cut out for you.]"

"[Tentacool!]" Horsea protested. "[You didn't have to be so harsh!]"

Charmander spoke up, forcing himself to stand upright, "[No, that was a perfect gauge. I have an idea of the road ahead of me now, and this is the first step. Life's a harsh journey, Horsea.]"

"[Besides,]" Tentacool added in a low tone to the Dragon Pokémon, "[imagine what he'd do if he tried this alone. We'd probably find him passed out in the bank of the pond.]"

"[I heard that,]" The Fire-type responded in slight irritation. Then he turned to leave, "[Now, I'm going to go warm back up with some training in the quar-]"

Charmander abruptly stopped as he saw Bulbasaur, Jigglypuff and Kingler headed over. If the Seed Pokémon was already back so soon, it was probably to explain what happened, and from the grim look on his face, it wasn't good news.

"[And they found out that it was a trick,]" Bulbasaur finished. "[I'm not sure exactly what happened after that, but I heard a lot of slamming sounds from my Poké Ball before Ash moved on.]"

The gathered Pokémon had various reactions. Jigglypuff looked shocked that it happened, Kingler looked like he wanted to be there for Ash, Charmander was silent with his expression not giving away anything, and Tentacool was more focused on comforting Horsea, who had started crying.

"[Is Ash okay?]" the Jellyfish Pokémon asked.

Before Bulbasaur could answer, Charmander abruptly stood up and turned around, heading away.

"[I've heard what I needed to,]" he announced. "[I'm going back to training.]"

"[Charmander!]" Horsea scolded. "[Is training all you care about? What about Ash?]"

For an instant, Charmander's tail flame blazed hugely as he stopped walking before he brought it under control again.

"[I didn't know Butterfree all that well, but he's Ash's Pokémon the same as the rest of us. More than that, he was the first Pokémon that Ash caught. I don't need to hear how Ash took this, I already know.]"

"[Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to go do something about today instead of sitting around crying about it.]" He turned to glance over his shoulder, his expression fixed as he was visibly straining to keep his temper in check, "[In other words, I need to burn something, and if I don't get to that quarry soon, it's going to be trees instead of rocks, okay?]"

With that said, he left through the trees, his tail flame occasionally flickering and blazing larger before returning to its ordinary size.

Bulbasaur sighed at Charmander's departure, wondering whether it set back his developing bond with the team. Horsea seemed to have been left stunned by the Fire-type's reply.

But, regardless, he said, "[To answer your question, Tentacool: No, Ash is not okay. I believe that he can be again, given time, but he's not taking today well at all.]"

He turned around to leave as well, "[If you'll excuse me, it's been a long and exhausting day for me. I'm going to get some rest.]"

"[You,]" Jigglypuff suddenly said, pointing at Kingler. The Pincer Pokémon rasped in surprise before she continued, "[I need to get stronger, fast.]" The Balloon Pokémon bowed her head, "[Train me, please. Any moves that I can learn from you will help.]"

Kingler nodded and led her away, her gait somber as she looked to the ground. Evidently things were more serious than she thought on this team. It wasn't just going to be battle and glory. There was loss, and more than just losing battles. Others were at stake too.

Charmander's words from earlier echoed through her mind, "[Ash just wants to keep us safe.]"

The Balloon Pokémon curled the ends of her hands like fists, 'I won't hold everyone back!'

"[This is far enough! Let's fight!]"

Kingler turned around and said, "[All right. Are there any moves that you know you can learn from me?]"

"[Water Gun seems like a good start,]" she said, recalling the information from past investigations. She had swiped a card with her moves on it from a Trainer once upon a time and had long since memorized the ones she could learn.

Even if the way she learned to read was rather undignified, she'd use anything she could to get stronger.

"[Horsea,]" Tentacool gently prompted, managing to get the other Pokémon's attention. "[Listen, I'll stay with you for the night if you need me to, but I have training of my own to get to tomorrow. If I can evolve, then I can battle on land more easily by storing more water in my body.]"

"[Isn't there some other way?]" the Dragon Pokémon asked. "[Maybe if we talked to their Pokémon-]"

She sighed slightly before interrupting, "[I know you don't like fighting, and that's your choice, but this is mine. Some people and Pokémon can't be reasoned with. Deep down, you know it as well as me. Sometimes there isn't a third option; it's either fight or hide. Back then, I hid with the rest of my clan that decided to leave our old home. This time, I'm going to fight for our Trainer.]"

Horsea stared at her for a moment before leaving. Tentacool sighed and sank under the waves to ponder how she was going to train. The best way was with an opponent, especially if that Pokémon knew a move you were trying to learn, but the only battle-ready Water Pokémon of Ash's at the corral was Kingler.

'I could try getting a spar out of some of the other Water Pokémon around here,' she mused. 'Maybe they can show me something new.'

Horsea swam towards the center of the lake, his mind heavy with thoughts about what he'd heard.

'Team Rocket… How could they do something so heartless? Why are they doing evil deeds? I don't understand…'

Tentacool's words from earlier continually rang inside his head, and he looked down in frustration. The Dragon Pokémon knew very well that he was by far the weakest of Ash's Pokémon since he didn't battle. Even if he wanted to fight Team Rocket, it probably wouldn't make any difference.

"[I'm going to do something about today instead of sitting around crying about it.]"

Flinching at the spiteful message, the Water-type looked into the sky, stars coming out as the sun slipped further down the horizon. His non-violent ideals were clashing with his desire to help. Horsea wished that he'd been born with the power to heal so that he could help without hurting anybody.

'What can I do?' he wondered. Contemplating the water, he noticed the floral scarf Ash had given him and nuzzled one of the ends with his mouth, 'As one of Ash's Pokémon, what am I supposed to do?'

Unknown to Charmander, a set of eyes was watching his journey from the pond to the quarry, keeping his distance since he didn't want to be spotted. From how the Fire-type's feet left footprints of dried grass and his tail flame was slowly growing in size, the last thing he wanted was to give that rage a target.

Once he reached the quarry, Charmander wasted no time in shooting a blaze of fire that circled around and created a massive wall of flames around the area he was in. The heat was so intense that the watcher had to back away as the display lit up the night. The light also blinded him, so he slipped his sunglasses down over his eyes to better see. Luckily, Professor Oak had let him keep them.

The rocky soil and boulders began to steam as they dried out from the intense heat, and the Lizard Pokémon was spitting Flamethowers at every surface around him, patches of rock glowing red for a moment during the direct exposure. Once he stopped, they began fading, but he began lashing out at the rocks, trying to cut them up with Slash before beating them with his bare fists when the scratching proved ineffective.

Throughout the aggressive deeds, Charmander was roaring out in fury, apparently venting frustrations. Even though he couldn't understand him, the watcher guessed that it was nothing good. He wondered if he was mentioned or if something had happened to Charmander's current Trainer.

Still, he'd never seen such anger from the Fire-type before. Charmander had always tried to stay positive before.

"Before…" he muttered, rather confident that the Pokémon wouldn't hear him over his rage. Looking back, it was always Charmander that helped him stay positive after a loss. He had faith, until he lost it. "Charmander…"

"Spying on Charmander again?"

Lurching violently in surprise, he wheeled around, lifting his sunglasses to see Professor Oak staring at the inferno in the quarry. The flames lit up the man's face as he shaded his eyes with one hand in order to see.

Still trying to keep his voice down, he clutched his chest and half-shouted, "Bleedin' hell, old man, y'nearly gave me a heart attack!"

"Language," the professor idly chastised without taking his eyes off the blaze. "I came over to see what this was about, but it seems I'll have to investigate through other sources. There's no getting through that Fire Spin. Charmander's always been zealous about training, but this goes beyond that. It's time I called Ash and had a little chat with him about his journey."

He turned around with his hands folded behind his back, "You're coming with me tomorrow. A visit to Delia should get me his number, but I would hardly be so rude as to make it my only reason. Some tea and a chat would also be warranted. For now, we get some sleep. So long as Charmander isn't hurting any other Pokémon, he'll burn himself out eventually."

"Do I hafta come…? She doesn't exactly like me."

"I still don't trust you to be left alone for an extended period of time," Oak reminded. "If you want my trust back, you'll have to earn it, Damian."

Letting out a sigh, the teen shoved his hands in his pockets and followed along, not really in any position to complain. The professor had come when he called, vouched for him improving given another chance and time, gotten him off with a suspension instead of a lost license and taken responsibility for him during his probation.

He remembered the stern lecture he'd gotten – twice to make sure it stuck – about the actions that led him to getting jailed and nearly losing his license. While Professor Oak was willing to believe that he believed a Rocket agent really did steal his Pokémon, he said that it was no excuse for his treatment of them.

Damian wasn't allowed to have Pokémon while under his sentence, and he wasn't even allowed to handle the Pokémon on Professor Oak's corral, just supervise and keep track of the plants and fruit trees.

While taken in and put to work, he had been told to "think about what he'd done." It had been a little under a week since he'd arrived in Pallet Town, and he still didn't get what the professor meant by that. All he could figure was that it was supposed to mean something, and Oak wouldn't tell him what it was.

A slight suspicion told him that he'd been onto something while watching Charmander, so he resolved to continue doing so later.

Either way, he was suspended from Pokémon training for ten years, so he had time to puzzle it out. And even if he didn't like the work, he did it anyway.

Damian owed a lot to the old man, and his disapproval stung more than his parents' ever had.

Inside the barrier of fire, Charmander kept punching the rock, despite his knuckles turning bruised, and wound up for one more blow before his hand was flooded with new power and the boulder split, a chunk reduced to smaller rocks. As the fragments fell down, the Fire-type was panting and he looked at his bloodied hand, concentrating again to see a glow suffuse it. Testing it out, he smashed one of the smaller pieces of the boulder.

It felt good, even better than releasing his flames. He imagined defeating each and every Pokémon of Team Rocket, along with the agents themselves as he smashed more rocks and eventually moved back to the main boulders for more objects to vent on.

His rage hadn't cooled in the slightest and even seemed to be burning hotter and hotter, swelling within his chest. The Lizard Pokémon felt for Butterfree's plight, but as he said, he didn't know the Bug Pokémon that well.

What he was so furious about was the effect it would have on Ash.

Charmander knew that Ash cared for each of his Pokémon very much. Such deep heartbreak inflicted on one would destroy him—make sure that he was never quite the same again.

'Just like the last one,' a cynical voice whispered in his head.

Silencing it in his fury, Charmander instead shouted while continuing to smash his fists into the surrounding boulders, "[No! Ash is different! He's stronger than… than Damian! He'll survive this! I'll make sure of it!]" Realizing that other Pokémon on the team were probably consoling Ash right now, he added, "[We'll make sure of it!]

"[And those three will pay for this!]" he vowed, his rage so violent that he didn't notice the glow from his fists becoming muted by the flash of white light from his body. Ash's Pokémon continued leveling the terrain around him and barely noticed that his arms had lengthened and changed from orange to red as he smashed a boulder to rubble with new energy surging through him.

Even when he finally looked at himself, it just made him more excited as he thought of the power at his disposal now to better defeat Team Rocket—strength to fight, more heat to his flames. The Fire Spin surrounding his area of the quarry wouldn't die out for well over an hour after that.


1. In RyoshiMorino's Pokémon fanfics there's genuine meat made from Pokémon set aside for such resources and a synthesized meat substitute. I decided to use the idea as well. Synthesized meat can have a variety of flavors and be modeled into a variety of different shapes and textures with different flavors, simulating various foods including, but not limited to, roast beef, seared salmon, fried chicken and steamed crab.

See you when I see you.