$42.50

by Cyberwraith9
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Harry shivered, reaching across the dash of his cab to crank the car's ancient heater to life. He had always hated it when the Island's monsoon season hit; day or night, it would always be raining, pouring down with torrents of cold, hard drops of icy water. It made driving in the middle of the day difficult enough, but it was almost impossible to see anything now that it was dark. Driving in the middle of downtown Viridian when his headlights barely pierced the storm wasn't tops on his list of favorite activities. Still, a fare was a fare, and Harry couldn't afford to pass up any amount of money, large or meager.

The burly, corpulent cabby turned over to look at his partner, who was his only passenger at the moment. "Wha'cha think, Stinger? I can barely see twenty feet in front of me...think we'll make it back home okay?" Stinger, of course, didn't answer, and even if it had, it couldn't see over the dash to confirm of deny Harry's comment. His companion sat there; its sharp yellow exoskeleton sank into the worn seat covers, threatening to puncture the ancient material. Harry sighed, turning his attention back to the road. As much as he loved Stinger, a Kakuna didn't really make the most talkative of friends. "Yeah...Oh, hey, there he is!" Harry spotted a young man standing on the curb in front of a seedy-looking motel, shivering as he was soaked to the bone by the relentless storm.

Harry pulled the cab over to the edge of the street, unlocking the doors and turning the heat up just a little bit more. The kid opened up the back hatch of the vehicle and clamored in, shoving his suitcase ahead of him. "T-t-thanks," he muttered, his teeth chattering. Harry smiled, pulling the cab back onto the road.

"So, where to, Mister?"

"The Oak International Airport, please."

Making a quick and slightly illegal U-turn, Harry swung the unwieldy cab around and started off in the right direction. For several moments, the car remained in complete silence. As far as Harry was concerned, that was totally unacceptable; it was a cabby's job...nae, his sacred duty, to provide a fare with pleasant conversation. It was a practice that had been in place ever since the first horsecarriages had pulled wealthy residents through the cobblestone streets of Europe, and Harry wasn't about to let this fare break tradition.

"So, how about this weather?" The kid in back grunted, giving a half-hearted nod in agreement. Harry frowned, trying again. "Think the Viridian Victreebells'll keep their winning streak alive this year?" Again the boy gave a tight-lipped, barely audible answer. Harry was shocked; sports and weather were classic conversation-starters. What on Earth was wrong with this boy? He hadn't ever had this much trouble getting a fare to talk. Taking a quick glance at his fare in the rear-view mirror, Harry finally understood; the cabby could see a familiar glint in the boy's eyes, even through the sopping wet mass of raven hair that obscured the boy's golden amber eyes.

"So kid..." Harry started again, sure that he was on the right track this time, "Wha'cha running from?"

"A girl." the boy answered before he even realized what he was saying. He slapped a hand over his mouth in shock, forgetting his monosyllabic for the moment. "How...how'd you know I was-?"

Harry responded with a deep belly laugh, glancing back again at the shocked teen. "Kid, I've been driving cabs for quite a while now...I've seen every hard-luck case you could imagine, and a whole lot you wouldn't even dream about." He took another look, searching deeper into the boy's eyes. "And I'm guessing that you're running from more than that girl of yours, too."

The boy was truly astounded, and a bit envious; if only he could read people half as well as this man did. Grudgingly, he began to talk. "Your guess is bang-on right, Mister."

"Call me Harry."

The boy smiled. "Okay, Harry." His smile soon faded, however, as the crushing weight of reality returned to the foremost echelons of his mind. Staring out the window wistfully, his voice began to produce the words that his mind was screaming to keep locked up inside, as if saying them would somehow make it even worse than it already was. "I just can't stay on the Island anymore, Harry...Too many bad memories."

Harry swerved to avoid smacking into a rain-soaked Pidgey that wasn't looking where it was going. "Aw, c'mon, Kid; sure, this dirtball has its ups and downs, but it can't be that bad." He turned for a fraction of a second to meet the teen's eyes before turning back. "Why, just look at where we're living; right smack-dab in the center of the Pokémon World League."

The boy snorted. "Pokémon...don't get me started about Pokémon."

"You a trainer?"

The boy hesitated. "I've, uh, been known to handle a few battles."

Harry felt instantly closer to the boy, even as painful memories of his own started to pour back into his mind. He glanced down at his Kakuna...his partner. "Yeah, I did some training myself a few years back...never did get up there, though."

Now it was the boy's turn to pry. "What do you mean?" He leaned forward, folding his arms across the top of the bench seat and looking out the windshield.

"Well, y'see..." Harry scoffed, waving the boy off. "Nah, it's too corny."

"C'mon!" The boy grinned, glad to be of the subject of his escape.

"Well..." Harry finally caved, opening the glove compartment and extracting a small picture encased in a beautiful oak frame. He twisted his arm around, offering the photo to his fare. Curious, the passenger took the picture from Harry's sausagelike fingers, examining it in the dim light. He was slightly surprised to find a picture of a strong, raven-haired teen with a battered red and white cap and a dingy blue League jacket. A ring of Pokéballs adorned his belt, and a small Pikachu rode on his shoulder. Both the depicted boy and his Pokémon were filled with a confidence, a confidence that Harry's passenger could remember having not so long ago.

"Who's that?" the boy pretended not to know the person in the picture, already becoming uncomfortable.

"What are ya, stupid?" Harry kidded him, "That's Ash Ketchum...you know, the greatest trainer that ever lived!"

"He can't be that great..." the boy drawled.

"You kidding me? Ketchum is the greatest trainer that ever lived. Don't get me started on Ash Ketchum, let me tell you." He said enthusiastically. "Did you know that he was League Champion before he was old enough to shave?"

The boy rubbed his chin experimentally. "I don't know about that..." he intoned, a hint of annoyance entering his voice.

"It's true. I saw his final match against the Oak boy in person...it was the best match I ever saw, even if I *was* in the nosebleed section." He sighed, and turned the heat down; it was becoming almost unbearably sweltering. "That was the moment that I knew I wanted to become a Pokémon Master, just like him." He looked down at Stinger, sighing. "Just like him..."

There was dead silence for a moment before the boy spoke again. "I'm going to take a wild stab in the dark and say that since you're driving a cab now, you never fulfilled that dream..."

"Bingo, Kid." Harry's voice became bitter for just an instant, before he regained control. "Y'see..." he looked over at Stinger again; the Kakuna, of course, did not move. It never did. "Y'see," he started again, "Stinger here was my first Pokémon. 'Course, he wasn't always a Kakuna. He was a Weedle at first...but you probably already knew that."

The boy regarded Harry's Kakuna. "Go on..."

After a few battles and a Gym or two, Stinger evolved. 'Course, I was pleased as punch, I was; after all, everyone knows that Pokémon get stronger when they evolve... But he just got stuck." Harry waved a hand at the Kakuna as if to add emphasis. "Even though I had other Pokémon, it just wasn't the same without ol' Stinger battling by my side. We just weren't as strong."

"So you just quit?"

"Yep. Had to get this job driving cabs to pay the bills..." Harry glanced over at the young lad, still unable to see his face in the inky shadows that dominated the interior of the cab. "What about you?"

"Me?"

"Sure. You're running from someth'n, and I aim to find out what it is." Harry threatened good-naturedly. The boy, however, had lost his jovial mood, sinking back into the soft, comfortable couch bolted in the back of the cab. Harry immediately apologized. "Jeez, I'm sorry, Kid. I didn't mean to pry like that-"

"No, it's okay." his fare lied quickly, "It's just...not easy."

There was another long silence. "So?"

The boy sighed. "Well, like I said, I'm just trying to leave a whole bunch of bad memories behind." Harry cleared his throat, making it obvious that more was required for the story. "The girl is only part of it...you see...I..." He choked, tears welling up in his eyes. Forcing them back, he tried again. "I lost a...a really good friend...not too long ago."

"Ah, Jeez..." Harry swore under his breath, immediately sorry that he had pushed the boy so hard. "I'm sorry to hear that, Kid."

"Yeah, well..." he sniffed, wiping his nose with the back of his hand, "It was my fault. We were up against this badass Pokémon; I mean, *bad*. Demon from Hell, only worse." The boy shuddered, recalling the hissing, rolling black mist that had swallowed his friend right before his eyes...and had nearly gotten him as well. "It's funny...we joked about how easy it would be to take the Demon down, and then...the next thing I knew, my best friend was...gone." Tears were streaming down the boy's cheeks at a rate that rivaled the storm outside. He fought back several sobs of anguish, trapping them before they could get out. "I don't know what I'll do without him."

"Sounds like you and he were close." Harry remarked.

The boy managed to smile at this, chuckling softly through his alligator tears. "Yeah," he grinned, "He was the big brother I never had. Stronger than stone; not a weak spot on him...'cept for the ladies." Sudden memories of his friend's death rushed back, pushing away any thoughts of better times. "After that, I just didn't have the heart to go on...Mis-I mean, the girl, she tried to help me. She said that I should get back on my feet and start again..." He looked down. "I just don't know. I gave her my Pokémon...I know she'll do a better job of raising them than I ever could."

Harry would have said something, but, like all good cabbies, he had gotten to their destination quickly and efficiently. "Well, here we are. So wha'cha gonna do?"

The boy sighed, wiping his eyes and gathering up his suitcase. "I'm gonna leave the island...and never look back."

Harry nodded. "All rightie. That'll be forty-two fifty." Reaching into his wallet, the boy pulled out a fifty-dollar bill, handed it to the driver, and opened the door. "Hey Kid!" The boy froze halfway out of the cab, looking back. Harry gave him a half-smile. "Look, I may not have known this guy...or the girl...or you, for that matter, but...if I were your friend, I wouldn't want you to give up."

The boy looked at him, scowling through the darkness. "It can't be that easy."

"It never is."

Wordlessly, the boy slammed the door shut. Harry shrugged, watching his receding form through the rain-blurred windows, then turned his attention back to the road. "Well, Stinger, another night, another fare." Stepping lightly on the gas pedal, he made it exactly three feet before a loud pounding on the roof of the cab made him stop. Smiling, he flipped the power locks to unlock the passenger doors; just as he thought, the boy climbed back into the cab, once again sopping wet and shivering.

"Damn you, Harry." he swore, throwing his luggage against the opposite door.

"Just doin' my job, Kid...like any good cabby would." He pulled away from the curb, turning the car around. "Back to the hotel?" The boy nodded. Sinking back into the cushion, the boy hugged himself in an attempt to grow warmer. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the picture that Harry had shown to him, still lying on the seat cover next to him. Smiling, he dug a pen out of his randomized, messy suitcase, opened the frame and started scrawling on the photo.

"So what are you going to do now?" Harry asked the young boy as he drove them back towards the motel, turning a blind eye to a few speed limits and red lights as they chugged along.

The boy finished with the picture, putting it back in the frame. "First things first; I'll try and patch things up with the girl." he muttered off-handedly as he worked. The picture replaced in the frame, he now removed a small, blockish, palm-sized device from his jacket's pocket. Though small, the device emitted several loud, obnoxious trills and whistles. "She deserves a lot more than I can give her...but that doesn't mean I'm going to let her go." The boy leaned forward, running the small box over Stinger, scanning the large bug with a tight red beam.

Harry frowned, instinctively becoming protective of his Pokémon. "Hey, what's that?"

Reading from the small display, the boy nodded his head firmly. "Just like I figured; he's a few points short." Digging into another pocket, he retrieved a small crumpled package. "Here, feed him this; it's a new kind of nutrient. Does the same thing as a Rare Candy, but it won't rot his teeth...uh, mandibles...whatever."

Harry regarded the package with curiosity. After a moment, he simply shrugged, placing the package in Kakuna's tiny mouth. "Sure, why not? Couldn't hurt." Stinger slurped the supplement up greedily, package and all. Harry smiled at his Pokémon's piggishness. His smile, however, gave way to an expression of shock when Stinger's exoskeleton began to crack. The tiny glowing opening in its carapace began to widen, giving way for a large yellow-black mass to emerge from the shell. Before he could utter even a sound, a newborn Beedrill burst forth from the yellow husk, buzzing its soft, delicate wings and clicking its mandibles.

"S-Stinger?" Harry whispered. The Beedrill looked over at him, wobbling on newly acquired legs. "What happened?"

The boy merely smiled. "He should be all right in a few hours...they're always a little shaky right after they've evolved."

Harry was so amazed by the sudden transformation that he very nearly missed driving past the fare's hotel. Screeching to a halt next to the curb, Harry turned to face the boy. Still smiling, his fare reached for his wallet once more.

"So what do I owe you now? Same as first time?"

Harry nodded his head weakly. "Forty-two fifty, yeah..." Ash handed the man another fifty, which hung limply in Harry's wavering grip. "How can I ever thank you?"

The boy shook his head, reaching down to pick up his suitcase. "I should be thanking you. I think this might be a start." The boy handed Harry his treasured photo of Ash Ketchum, then opened the door. "Do me one favor, though..."

"What's that?"

"Make sure your dream comes true. I wouldn't mind the competition next time the League Games roll around." With a smile and a wave, the boy stepped out of the cab, dragging his luggage behind him as he slammed the door shut.

Harry looked down at the picture numbly. Then he grew angry; the boy had scrawled some sort of message onto it. He had ruined Harry's photo! He jumped to the other side of the cab, his Beedrill leaping out of the way to avoid being squished. Rolling down the window as fast as he could, Harry started to yell "Hey!", then froze as his fare turned back to him, bathed in the glow of a street lamp. It was unbelievable; it was the same raven hair, though minus the battered red-and-white cap; the same zigzagged pattern underneath each eye; the same strong eyes, athletic build and medium height. The boy gave him one last wave and smile before climbing the steps of the building.

Harry pulled himself back into the cab as the boy entered the hotel, looking down at the photo once more. Squinting through the darkness, Harry was just barely able to read:

"To my number-one fan and new friend. Never forget your dreams, and reach for the top."
Ashura Satoshi Ketchum

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Just a little short fic to tantalize the palate before my next big release :) Big thanks to Quokka for pre-reading this one. Send any compliments to cyberwraith9@yahoo.com, and all flames and heckling to dontgive@damn.com