The Strength of the Soul
A/N: And thus it is finished. Three months and an agonizing amount of prewriting (nearly two notebooks full) later, 'The Strength of the Soul' is finally at its close. I hope you've enjoyed reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it. Which is a lot, for me at least. This fic has really become my baby, and despite my endless bitching about various plot devices and whatnot, I really am proud of it.
I hope you enjoy the final installment; it's been real, guys. Thanks for a great ride.
Disclaimer: see prologue
Thanks to: zephyrstar, Erina-chan, Mony, Metal Mewtwo, and everyone who has stood behind me on this fic and supported my transition from trite humor/romance to full-on drama and angst. A huge thank you to those who have also supported me in my personal life, as it hasn't exactly been a very easy few months; I cannot express my thanks enough.
And for everything: Without Karen, there would be no fic. I seriously did not have the courage to post this in the first place, and it was only at Karen's insistence that I posted it in the first place. Since then, we've become incredibly close through late-night chat sessions on AIM, gripes over fic headaches, musings over Pocky and instant ramen, you name it. I cherish our friendship more than just about anything; thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything. This is your fic; happy birthday.
Katsuro's bored gaze shifted from the metal projectiles lodged firmly within the padded garment protecting his chest to the rather frantic-looking Jensen, now standing with a worried look in the doorway to his office. "Yes, Jensen, what is it?"
"Th-the Council members, Sir! Th-they've all been killed!"
Katsuro smirked a bit to himself at Jensen's absolute horror at the murder of his comrades. Oh, that's right, he hadn't been privy to this one sordid little aspect of The Plan. He'd almost forgotten. "Well, Jensen, I must admit that it was a bit of a shock to discover that it was indeed our own Mr. Oak who carried out their murders..." He motioned to the bloodied boy lying in a crumpled heap upon the carpet. "...but rest assured that everything is going according to plan. I myself had planned to carry out their murders later tonight; in a fit of very illogical rage, Mr. Oak actually managed to save me the trouble."
"I was not informed of this aspect of the plan, Sir," Jensen responded in a tight, angry voice. "The assassinations, the bombings, yes, I am well-aware of those. But to murder your own underlings? I have to wonder if you haven't finally begun to lose perspective on this whole situation. You already have untold power over the masses; do you really have to go so far as to—"
"Jensen," Katsuro said patiently. "Do you know how I punish insubordination?"
A slow look of recognition coupled with horror slowly spread across Jensen's features, replacing the anger and shock that had formerly graced them. "S-sir, I beg you to reconsider..."
Katsuro calmly reached for the Smith & Wesson now lying innocently upon his desk and, suppressing a tired yawn, quickly shot Jensen through the throat. His eyes betrayed no hint of emotion as the body of his former second-in-command crumpled to the ground, blood spraying from his wounds.
"Hmm...perhaps you're right, Jensen," he said thoughtfully, tapping his chin with one finger. "Perhaps I have begun to lose perspective." A dark smile spread across his features. "But then, sometimes genius is borne of malice, is it not? And after all...which of us is still alive?"
His amusement was broken as the phone upon his desk began to ring. The slightest smirk appeared upon his face as he moved to press the 'speakerphone' button. "About time, you son-of-a-bitch."
Thin beams of moonlight stretched through the encompassing darkness of the dingy hotel room. The lone bulb above the large bed had burned out twenty minutes ago, plunging the room into the darkness of the night. Misty sighed a bit to herself and continued staring out the window through the slitted blinds, her chin propped up in one hand. "How long did Renjiro say he was going to be, anyway?" she asked in a bored tone.
"Somewhere around an hour," Ash responded from where he lay prone on the bed, one hand loosely wrapped around the recently-provided Glock. "He said he had to tie up some loose ends, remember? Make sure everything's in order before we head out?" He shut his eyes and sighed deeply, thoughts racing. "Let me tell you something, Misty—I don't like this."
Misty squinted through the darkness to see Ash now sitting up upon the bed and gazing towards the window suspiciously. "After everything he's done," he continued, "what possible reasons do we have for trusting him, huh? Just because he gave us his word that he's one of the good guys? Sorry, Mist; I don't quite buy that."
Misty carefully edged her way through the darkness and sat next to Ash on the bed, resting her small hand upon his larger one. "And you think I do?" she asked in a soft voice. "Renjiro's made me suffer more than anyone else, and he enjoyed every minute of my pain. But Ash—" She placed her other hand upon his cheek. "—we have to trust him. He's the only chance we have of destroying the League. If we die, at least we'll have been able to stop someone else from going through the hell they put us through. Right now, he's all we've got."
Ash smiled faintly, then pressed his forehead against Misty's. "And each other."
"And each other," Misty repeated, returning the smile and intertwining her fingers with his.
For a moment, they could forget that they would probably be dead within twenty-four hours, forget that they were essentially carrying on a hopeless rebellion, even forget that their key to the League was a wholly unstable and largely treacherous assassin whose own father was their arch-nemesis. The only thing that mattered was the tenderness they felt at that moment for each other.
Ash felt his heart racing a bit, the atmosphere once again starting to go to his head, among other places. It was just too much...knowing that they were going to die, but at the same time having been reunited with the love of his life and essentially been given a second chance at what he had failed to realize five years earlier...
A low set of dark, heavy clouds rolled in front of the moon, obscuring its ethereal light and plunging the room into a complete and total darkness. Misty faintly felt Ash's lips just barely brushing across her neck, his hands slowly drifting down to her breasts. "Ash..."
She shut her eyes tightly against the painful memories of Renjiro's severity, the self-loathing that accompanied the pleasure and pain...that was slowly being replaced by the warmth and love that was radiating from the man who had shifted them so that he was now lying on top of her. "Ash...w-we can't...I can't..."
Through the darkness she heard him sigh slightly, then felt his hand gently squeeze hers. "I understand; I mean, a-after everything you've gone through, I wouldn't ever want to force anything on you." His lips pressed against hers softly. "I love you."
"And you think that bastard would still want you if he knew what you've become? That he'd still love you?"
Misty felt a slight shiver run down her spine at the memory of Renjiro's harsh words, spoken to her as he once again pinned her against the cold hardwood floor and viciously entered her, with no concern given for her terror and pain. He'd taken everything from her...her innocence...
"We don't have to anything until you're ready, Misty."
He can't have me anymore.
Wordlessly, she pulled him into a passionate embrace.
Tears ran down her pale cheeks as he roughly ripped her shirt from her thin frame, hands roughly kneading her breasts. The thick twine that he had used to bind her wrists dug painfully into her skin, leaving the skin red and raw. Why...why did he do this to her? Why did he feel the need to cause her such pain, to debase her, mock her, torture her?
A sharp cry escaped her throat as his hands moved lower.
Misty kept her eyes shut tightly as Ash's hands awkwardly tugged off her thin tanktop and lifted it over her head. Don't...don't hurt me... But instead of the rough touch that she had come to expect, he gently kissed her and held her hands in his own.
His eyes were dark with malice as he shrugged out of his jacket and turned his emotionless gaze to her nude form, ignoring her trembling and the terrified look in her eyes. His lips captured hers in a bruising kiss, his tongue roughly caressing hers. One hand slipped between her legs, and she cried out against his mouth, feeling an overwhelming sense of self-loathing and disgust for her lack of strength, for letting him touch her, for not being able to break her bonds and escape.
"You're mine, bitch."
Ash continued to kiss her softly as he removed her cargo pants, absent-mindedly pushing them off the bed. One hand gently brushed across her right breast, then rested upon her abdomen. He broke the kiss long enough to remove his own T-shirt, then asked in a low whisper if she was all right. When she granted him a barely perceptible nod in the midst of the darkness, he once again pressed his lips firmly against her own, then began to move his hand lower.
She could no longer cry; all the tears within her body had long since flowed down her cheeks and dried in salty streaks upon her terrified visage. A blank stare alighted her eyes as he moved against her, one hand supporting his weight upon the wall behind her. No longer was there even the slightest hint of pleasure, even for him apparently; there was no love, no tenderness, no emotion in his eyes, only a maddening brutality and sense of power that bored through her and seemed to drive him more forcefully with each thrust.
She shut her eyes and prayed.
Ash's movements were slow, unsure, but altogether loving and gentle. "Are you sure you're okay?" he whispered softly to Misty, kissing her upon the forehead and slowing his motions.
The memories suddenly began to ebb as the only thing she became conscious of was the man lying atop her, his eyes bright with worry and concern, his hands gripping hers tightly. Ash…this is…not the same thing as before...this is good...this is right...
Tears of joy came to her eyes as she pulled him down for another kiss.
Power...manipulation...control... A choked sob escaped her throat as the pain once again coursed through her bruised body. He doesn't care about anything else...
"I love you, Misty..."
He loves me...
He loves me...
And as suddenly as they had begun, the memories became as intangible as a summer mist, slowly fading away into the still night air, becoming replaced by the feelings of love and warmth that permeated the small hotel room.
The dark clouds silently passed from their position over the moon, and once again light reached into the darkest corners of the room.
Renjiro wrapped his jacket more tightly around himself as he rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet, muttering curses as the phone continued to ring. "Come on, dammit; pick up the fucking phone..."
"Nanahara here," Katsuro's voice suddenly rang out through the small cellular phone speaker.
Renjiro smirked a bit to himself at the agitated tone of his father's voice. "Everything's going according to plan, I assume?"
"And may I inquire as to why you think that's any of your business, you poor excuse for an underling?"
"Just letting you know that I'm holding up my end of the bargain, and you'd damn well better do the same thing."
"Don't worry, Renjiro my boy; you'll get what's coming to you."
"Don't mess with me, you son-of-a-bitch. I know all the games you play."
"Rest assured, Renjiro, that you have no need to fear any...games—as long as you cooperate Do not allow your feelings to interfere with your mission. Do you understand me?"
A slow smile spread across Renjiro's features at that. He cast a glance at the cloud-obscured moon, then responded, "No, sir; I won't." He pressed the 'end' button upon the phone, then sharply exhaled. "I won't let any of my emotions interfere with my mission."
Katsuro stared at the phone upon his desk for several minutes after Renjiro had terminated their call, a small smile upon his face. He reached into his desk and, extracting a silver engraved cigarette case, removed a single cigarette, then quickly lit it and remarked, "Now, Renjiro m'boy...now you'll learn exactly what I meant about never trusting anyone."
President Mukudori hummed a bit to himself as he sorted through the list of documents that needed to be signed before tomorrow's military briefing. "Let's see...increase defense spending? Check. Grant the League full military power in the capture of terrorist Ashton Ketchum? Check. Proposal cutting nebulizers from elderly Medicare plan?" He tapped his chin thoughtfully, then initialed the paper. "Well, defense spending has to come from somewhere. Check."
A series of shots suddenly rang out in the hallway outside the lavish office. President Mukudori immediately dropped behind his desk and carefully peeked over the cherry wood desktop, clutching his gilded pen as if it were a knife. "Wh-what's going on?" he whispered in disbelief.
The doors to his office were blasted away with a small explosive, and two men clad in black suits with the League's insignia upon their lapels entered, guns at the ready. One of them bowed quickly to the president, then asked, "President Mukudori?"
"Y-yes," the President responded carefully.
Another series of shots sounded throughout the office, and President Mukudori fell onto the plush carpet, bleeding profusely and groaning in pain. The men quickly nodded at one another, then returned their guns to their holsters and strode out of the office.
Katsuro slowly ground out his fourth cigarette in the engraved ashtray upon his desk, staring blankly ahead. Thick smoke wove its way throughout the office and partially obscured Katsuro's emotionless features; his trademark scowl was for once absent. Upon the desk were countless photographs of a smiling Renjiro, landscapes of Seijaku Town...even one framed picture of himself and Kaminari on their wedding day. She had been very beautiful when she was alive; her brilliant smile was filled with hope and joy as she held her new husband's hand in her own.
She had no way of knowing, of course, that she would merely serve as a front for Katsuro's illegal activities within the League; the public would need to see him as a family man, of course. Thus his marriage and, later, Renjiro's birth; it was all a game to him, just another medium of manipulation that he used to further his own nefarious purposes. And he felt no guilt for his actions.
The frown that would so normally etch its way into his features at the speakerphone's obnoxious blaring was noticeably absent from Katsuro's face. He turned his emotionless gaze to the phone and simply asked, "Yes, what is it?"
"Th-the assassination, Sir. It-it's been successfully carried out."
"Good work; I commend you on your effort."
"Thank you, Sir! It's a pleasure working for you!"
"Hmm." The speakerphone was switched off with a careless flick of the finger, and Katsuro once again turned his attention to the spread of photographs upon his desk. "So...that only leaves one stage," he noted aloud. "Over twenty years have been leading up to this...so many lives lost, people destroyed...just one more card to play..." The long-absent smirk slowly returned, combined with a wholly dangerous glint in his eyes. "And Renjiro, my boy, your job is nearly complete."
With one broad arm sweep, the pictures tumbled off the desk and into the nearby wastebasket. With only the slightest glance at the glossy photographs, Katsuro dropped his lit cigarette into the basket and leaned back in his chair. "Yes, Renjiro, I've almost finished with you."
Within the wastebasket, the smiling pictures of Renjiro slowly burned at the edges, blackening and twisting as they were steadily replaced by ash.
"Hey you two lovebirds, I'm home."
Renjiro swung the door open wide as he strode into the small hotel room, one hand resting upon the Glock tucked into his waistband. "So, what did you guys do while I was gone?" he asked with a slightly suggestive smirk.
Ash and Misty, who currently sitting against the far wall, hands entwined, simply glanced at each other briefly, then simultaneously began to blush furiously. "Uh...we didn't do anything. Really!" Ash said quickly, averting his eyes.
"Like he said," Misty quickly agreed.
Renjiro regarded the two nervous subversives before him, then shrugged and sat down heavily upon the bed, which was made a little too neatly. He pressed his hands firmly upon the bedspread, then smiled broadly. "It's warm. Really warm." The ever-deepening blush upon his hosts' faces seemed to confirm his suspicions. "Why, Ash, I didn't think you had it in you." He gave Ash a slow once-over. "I mean, literally; I was wondering if you were a eunuch."
He had expected the usual bravado from Ash at the insult to his manhood—the young Pokemon Master would charge him, insult him, and probably slam his fist into his jaw before Misty knocked them both out. Yet there was no indignation from his young rival; instead, there he sat, his hand softly resting atop Misty's, a gentle smile gracing his features as he smiled tenderly at her. There were no words spoken, but it was impossible to overlook the love and tenderness between them.
It was making him sick.
"You two wanna stop mooning over each other for two seconds?" Renjiro asked with an annoyed sigh, resting his elbows on his knees. "We have a job to do."
Giving Misty's hand a quick squeeze, Ash pulled himself to his feet and, stopping only to grab his Glock from the bedside table, turned to face Renjiro. "Are we ready?"
A smile spread across Renjiro's features, and it was all he could do to keep from laughing and crying at the same time. This over-eager, idealistic boy standing before him was exactly what he had come to hate; naivety, innocence, joy…they had all been stolen from him at such a young age and practically hand-delivered to this...this...bastard.
"Ash, are you going to be okay using that thing?" Misty asked in a concerned voice as she tucked her own Magnum into her waistband and gingerly touched the Glock held in Ash's grip.
And then there was her. She'd betrayed him without ever even knowing it; her allegiance to Ash was just another in a long line of slaps in the face that Renjiro had received from nearly everyone in existence. His father had taken everything from him and in turn given it to Ash; but to have someone else voluntarily choose this simplistic fool? Someone that he had given his heart to completely?
It's because of that...I have no regrets.
"Let's move out," Renjiro said gruffly.
Low, heavy black clouds rolled in front of the brilliant moon once more.
The trio made their way through the thick woods silently, Renjiro leading and Ash and Misty walking side-by-side behind him. Occasionally the assassin would ask if they were all right, if the pace was too quick for them, but apart from those few inconsequential words, there was nothing. An unsettling aura seemed to permeate the forest; no birds chirped, nor did crickets chirp or cicadas sing. It was as if the natural world itself had come to anticipate the upcoming battle and had ceased to be for the duration of the struggle.
Ash's gaze alternated between Misty, Renjiro, and the obscured moon high above in the night sky. He had no idea what to expect upon their arrival at League headquarters; all he knew was that he and Misty were placing inviolable faith in the man who had so often used them, tortured them, betrayed them...he would have been more at ease if the devil himself had been leading them down the forest path.
But still, there was really no other option. He himself was now wanted for murder and acts of terrorism, and Misty could at any given moment be ruthlessly killed as the League sought to destroy him first emotionally and mentally. Renjiro was their only link to the League's infrastructure, as well as the Leader, Katsuro Nanahara, himself. And so it was his plan that they were implementing, his word that they followed, his will that they bended to. And he seemed to be enjoying every minute of it.
It was this plan of his that made Ash so wary of the situation; if indeed Renjiro had some ulterior motive, he and Misty were done for once they set foot within the League's headquarters. There was no possible way for either Misty or himself to verify Renjiro's true intentions, and thus Ash kept eyeing the assassin walking silently in front of them warily.
"Hey, you okay?"
Ash was shaken from his reverie at the quiet question raised by the small red-headed woman walking beside him, her hand seeking his in the still of the night. Clasping her hand in his own and giving it a reassuring squeeze, he responded, "I'm okay. Just...having some second thoughts. You?"
"I'm okay," Misty said softly. "How was...I mean, I wasn't...I wasn't..."
Ash wordlessly pulled her closer and wrapped an arm around her shoulders as they continued to make their way through the forest. "You were wonderful," he whispered to her.
Misty smiled faintly. "I didn't want to be so afraid; it's just...everything that's happened..."
"I understand; trust me. I'm just really glad that you didn't let it stop you."
Misty raised one eyebrow and let out a derisive snort. "Oh, I'll bet you're glad. You know, that's all you males think about, isn't it?"
"What? Where did this come from?"
"Oh, forget it! You're all sex-obsessed morons."
"Misty! Stop being so...well...stupid."
"Ah, well, I...ah..."
Renjiro rolled his eyes as a loud SMACK resounded throughout the still forest. "Are you two quite finished?" he asked flatly, shooting a glance over his shoulder and observing with a small smile a fuming Misty and Ash carefully nursing a large bump on his head.
This is going to be a long night...
Katsuro ground out his twelfth cigarette in the engraved ashtray, boredly watching the list of figures continue to scroll down upon the screen of his laptop. It was only a matter of minutes before the last stage of his nefarious plot could be enacted, and then he would finally be free from the insolence and stupidity that had surrounded him over these past twenty years. The other Council members, young Master Ketchum, Renjiro...they had all been unwitting pawns who had served their purposes well, and had now exhausted their usefulness.
All except one... Katsuro thought with a smirk. Yes, indeed, there was one individual who had yet to fulfill his duty to the utmost extent. Katsuro inclined his head slightly to the left and observed the smoldering pictures staring up at him from their place within the wastebasket. Over the years, Renjiro had failed him time and time again—as a Pokemon Trainer, as a son, as a person. The once-idealistic boy had turned from a pillar of morality in his youth to a sullen and dour child—after the death of his mother and the utter decimation of all that he had loved—and finally into a rebellious and downright treasonous assassin whose inherent danger sent all but the hardiest of League members into a slight panic.
I don't trust you, Renjiro, Katsuro thought with a frown, reclining comfortably in his chair. But above all else—you are my son. And thus, you must have certain...loyalties.
"Well, speak of the devil," Katsuro announced aloud as Renjiro silently strode into the office, his gaze focused upon the dark bloodstains in the carpet. "Oh, those. Well, let's just say that there were those who refused to submit."
"And you killed them, of course," Renjiro noted simply, folding his arms across his chest and leaning against the wall. "It's to be expected, of course. You have no moral conscience whatsoever."
"And you do, of course."
"More than you, at any rate."
"I see." A small smile crossed Katsuro's face. "Well, Renjiro m'boy, what makes you think that you're any more moral a citizen?"
"Because," a voice sounded, "he's taking you down."
Katsuro's gaze shot to the door to see Ash and Misty, guns drawn and at the ready. "And so are we," Ash said simply, his voice full of malice.
Katsuro shifted his attention to a now-smirking Renjiro, who shared a quick smile with Ash. "So," he noted, leaning back in his chair, "you've come here to kill me, I suppose?"
"After everything you've done to us," Ash informed him in a tone full of deadly promise, "you deserve nothing less."
Katsuro smiled condescendingly at the boy before him somewhat unsurely gripping his gun. "And I suppose that my son here—" He motioned to Renjiro, who was now boredly inspecting his fingernails. "—helped you infiltrate League headquarters?"
"That's right," Ash responded, his tone still dangerous and edgy. His finger tightened on the trigger.
"And then you and your little girlfriend here were planning to kill me, of course," he continued, blithely ignoring the Glock staring him down from across the room. "And then you would release documents to the media of the League's supposed corruption, and you and she would get married and live happily ever after. Am I right?"
Ash's grip loosened slightly upon the gun at Katsuro's airy tone. "H-how did you know what we were going to do?"
A sharp cry from his left quickly stole his attention from Katsuro's patronizing stare.
To his horror, there stood Renjiro, one hand casually stuck into his pocket, gazing emotionlessly ahead...
...the barrel of his Glock pressed against Misty's temple.
Katsuro let out a short, barking laugh at the look of bewildered horror upon Ash's face. Renjiro quickly echoed the laughter and, giving Misty a hard shove towards Ash, strode over to his father's side and leaned against the heavy cherry wood desk, spinning the Glock on one finger. Father and son shared a quick smile.
"R-renjiro?" Misty asked in disbelief, her Magnum lowered to her side.
Renjiro granted her a level stare, then pointed the gun at her. "Misty," he said with a short laugh, shaking his head, "don't you know not to trust your enemies?"
"Oh, Renjiro, before I forget," Katsuro noted distractedly as he rummaged through the heavy desk's drawers, "the president was assassinated this afternoon."
"Good work," Renjiro noted abstently, his harsh gaze still locked upon Misty. "So I guess all that's left is for you to kill the last two subversives and then seize power, huh?"
"Mm-hmm," Katsuro responded affirmatively, then smiled as he extracted his Smith & Wesson revolver from the desk drawer. "Ah, here we go. I assume you're taking the bitch, right?"
"You bet. You can have that naïve little bastard."
Across the room, Ash shut his eyes and inhaled deeply, then clasped Misty's right hand in his left. "Misty," he said in a choked voice, "I—I'm so sorry..."
"It's not your fault," she replied, shaking her head. "I-I was the one who said to trust him...I can't believe I was so stupid!"
"Hey," Ash said, "I'm the stupid one, remember? The dense, idiotic trainer who matched Caterpies against Pidgeottos?" He smiled weakly at her.
Misty returned the smile with all the strength she could muster, then squeezed his hand and said in a shaky voice, "I love you, Ash."
"I love you, Mist."
Together, they turned to face their fate.
"Oh, that's right; I got in touch with Professor Nakamatsu earlier tonight. I'd almost forgotten."
A malicious smirk appeared on Renjiro's features as he quickly moved his gun so that it was pressed against his father's forehead.
"Who's Professor—" Misty halted her words as she observed the Ash's pallor. "...Ash?"
"H-he's the chief weapons engineer of the League," Ash responded in a shaky voice. "Specializing in explosives and bombs...which means..."
"...that the whole building is completely wired," Renjiro finished, tightening his finger on the trigger. "And there's not a damn thing you can do to stop it, old man."
Katsuro's eyes widened slightly as the smallest traces of fear began to invade his conscious. Somewhere...somewhere in this building... "But...you'll die, too!"
Renjiro slowly turned his gaze to Ash and Misty, who stared at each other for a long moment, then nodded back. "We've known that since the minute we set up this plan against you," he said simply.
The mild look of horror upon Katsuro's face was slowly replaced by a diabolical smile as he quickly spun, elbowed Renjiro hard in the gut, and pulled back the hammer on his Smith & Wesson. "The whole point has been to eliminate the subversives!" he roared, pointing the gun at Misty. "But before I take you out, Ash—" His finger tightened on the trigger. "I'll take out the one thing you love most."
A shot echoed throughout the office.
Katsuro lowered the smoking revolver, his features settling into an annoyed frown, brow creased. He sighed deeply then, motioning to the bleeding body crumpled onto the ground, asked aloud, "Who would be fool enough to do such a stupid thing?"
Misty trembled violently as she knelt and reached out, gingerly touching Renjiro's shoulder, her wide eyes unable to shift their gaze from the gaping bullet wound in his torso. "Wh-why?" she asked in disbelief. "Why would you—"
Renjiro coughed violently, then flipped onto his back with a great effort. "I—I don't really know," he answered with a laugh. "I don't know why I've done anything. I don't know why...why I tried to help you...or why I betrayed you...or why...why I've done anything." Blood spurted from his mouth as he coughed once again and clutched at his abdomen painfully. "I—I just know that…Ash…" He managed to turn his shaky gaze to the man standing frozen in shock above him. "...my father gave you...everything that was supposed to be mine."
"What?" Ash asked confusedly. "What do you mean by that?"
"Th-there's no time to explain," Renjiro coughed, "I just...I think I under—understand now. It wasn't you I hated all this...all this time. Even though I hated you for taking everything from me...the title of Pokemon Master...my father...Misty...it wasn't you. It was my father...all this time, it was my father..."
"I'll stay with him," Misty said softly, giving Ash an imploring look. "Please—you have to stop the Leader." She quickly glanced at where Katsuro was whistling and reloading his gun.
"I'm on it," Ash said, crossing the office, gun at the ready.
Misty continued to shake violently as she pulled Renjiro's head into her lap. "It's okay," she said reassuringly. "It's going to be okay."
"I think I finally understand what you see in him," Renjiro said, tears starting to flow from his ice-blue eyes. "He-he's a good guy. Really, Misty. He's everything I wish I could be but lost too early on. He's—" His eyes clenched shut painfully. "—a better son than I could ever be. A better heir. It's no wonder that my father...chose him over me."
"Would you care to explain why the police called me today and asked me if I knew anything about my husband's repeated rapes of young women in towns all across Kanto!? Dammit, one of them is pregnant, Katsuro!"
Oh my GOD... Misty's eyes widened in horror as she realized exactly what the bloodied man lying across her lap was saying. "Then you're...you're...Ash's..."
"I'm sorry, Misty." Tears were flowing freely from Renjiro's eyes as he pleaded with her. "Oh my God...the things I've done to you...the things I've done..."
Misty desperately fought back tears as Renjiro continued to quietly sob from his prone position. "Renjiro...please, I can't..."
"I-I can't expect you to forgive me..." Another hacking cough tore through his lungs, and blood once again rose to his mouth. "But...know that I'm sorry. And you know what?"
"What?" Misty asked in a choked voice.
"You—" Renjiro managed a weak smile. "—you would have made one hell of a sister-in-law." His breathing slowed, and his eyes finally drifted shut.
And Misty allowed her tears to fall.
Across the room, Ash and Katsuro faced off, Ash's Glock pointed square at Katsuro's throat and his finger tightened on the trigger. "I assume you were listening to Renjiro's little deathbed confession there?" Katsuro taunted.
Ash's eyes stung with angry tears. "You bastard," he said through clenched teeth. "I'll kill you for what you did to my mother alone."
"If it makes you feel any better," Katsuro said with a dark smile, "she wasn't very good at it."
Ash's eyes narrowed in fury, and he angrily fired off a shot, which Katsuro easily dodged.
"Nice shot, boy," Katsuro said in a simple, condescending tone. He in turn fired, catching Ash through the same shoulder that Renjiro himself had wounded several days earlier in the Viridian Forest. "But it should actually be more like that."
Ash cried out in pain but managed to remain standing. "I—I'm not through with you yet, you son-of-a-bitch," he said through painfully-clenched teeth.
Katsuro smirked and casually tossed his Smith & Wesson aside, then spread his arms wide. "Go ahead, Ash. Try to kill me. You don't have the guts to do it, do you? You can't kill your own father, no matter what he's done to you."
Ash's grip upon the Glock began to shake as he tried desperately to hold the gun steady.
"Give it up, boy. Stop trying to play the hero."
He desperately tightened his finger on the trigger.
A shot suddenly rang out, and a bullet tore through Katsuro's throat, blood spraying as the once-illustrious Leader of the League let out a choked gurgle and fell face-first onto the carpet, where he lay motionless.
Ash gaped silently at the body of the man who had been his father, then turned his shocked gaze to the Glock held within his hands. But there was no smoke rising from the barrel, no smell of gunpowder…
He turned in shock to see a determined-looking Misty standing with her smoking Magnum held in her extended right hand, finger still on the trigger. "He can't," she informed Katsuro's corpse. "I can."
Ash smiled weakly at her, then dropped to his knees, clutching painfully at his wounded shoulder. "God—it hurts," he cried out, inhaling sharply.
Misty moved to his side, pulling him into a gentle embrace. "It's okay...it'll be okay," she whispered to him, not even bothering to hold back her desperate tears. "Please, Ash...you have to survive...for me..."
"H-he was...my brother," Ash said tearfully, reaching out with one hand and touching Renjiro's shoulder. "All this time...I never knew..."
"Shh..." Misty strained her ears and finally heard the slow, steady beeping sound that would herald the end of the League...as well as Ash and herself.
"I wanted to tell you," Ash whispered to his fallen brother lying beside him, "I forgive you."
Together, Ash and Misty sat in a tearful embrace, grieving the loss of innocence...their own and each other's.
Until the steady beeping came to a halt, and an explosion tore through the building.
Flaming debris stretched across the landscape as the sun continued to climb into the morning sky, the area that had once been know as the headquarters of the proud and upstanding League now little more than an array of flaming wreckage. From within the rubble, a lone, cracked monitor flickered, its grayscale screen broadcasting an emergency newsflash from one of the local news nets.
"It has just been announced," the gregarious-looking anchorwoman stated, "that the president is currently in critical yet stable condition at Viridian City Hospital and is expected to make a full recovery. This announcement occurs on the heels of an investigation that began last night into a possible connection between the Pokemon League and the assassination attempt.
"Pokemon Master Ashton Ketchum, aged twenty-two, has this morning been cleared of any and all charges, as documents leaked to the media by a mysterious assassin of the League itself late last night have shown that the Pokemon League was indeed an extraordinarily corrupt organization—before its mysterious destruction last night. Police are currently investigating what may have been the cause of the explosion that rocked lower Viridian City around two o'clock this morning.
"Last night's lottery jackpot reached a record..."
Among the countless bodies within the wreckage, two lay silently in each other's arms, watching the rising sun. Their bodies were bleeding and broken, flesh torn and singed, yet smiles graced their features.
"Do you remember what you promised me the other night?" Ash managed to ask, drawing in each breath carefully against lungs that were progressively fighting harder against each inhalation.
The young woman curled against his side gave a barely perceptible nod.
"You promised you'd marry me," he said with a short, humorless laugh.
Misty turned her face to meet his gaze, then rested her bloodied hand against his cheek. "I do," she said, tears still running down her singed cheeks.
"I do," Ash echoed, resting his forehead against hers. He carefully pressed his lips against hers, tasting blood and not even knowing whether it was hers or his own, tears mingling as well.
Ash moved heavily and, wrapping his arms around her thin frame, leaned back against the sharp rubble surrounding them. His breath was becoming shorter and shorter, and Misty's quick, sharp breaths echoed the same. "Misty..." he managed to say, crying freely and resting his cheek against the top of her head. "We did it. We finally did it." He turned his tear-filled eyes to the sky. "We're...free."
The sun continued to rise, its golden rays stretching across the sky and illuminating the shadowy wreckage.