The Blind Alley

Disclaimers: If I owned Pokemon, you would know it.

AN:/ I know I take forever and a day to update. But I hope, at least, that the updates are worth it.

Thanks for the 200+ reviews! I can't believe how this story that started off with just four or so reviewers really climbed up there. I really appreciate it. Thanks, all of you!

Four years is a long time for an update. And unfortunately in that time, this chapter has been rewritten about five times. Computers crashed. Documents were lost. It's been a nightmare. But I hope you all enjoy the finished product.

Pay attention though. If you've seen the first pokemon movie, I'll be dropping easter eggs all over this chapter. :)

Last Time On TBA:
Dreams, a prisoner, kisses, unfulfilled promises, and torture.
Quote: "I could make you kill your own pokemon."

Chapter Eighteen: Torture

And I find it kinda funny
I find it kinda sad
The dreams in which I'm dying
Are the best I've ever had
-Gary Jules

At nearly a full year old, Ashton could reach things he really wasn't supposed to. And Oak wasn't nearly attentive enough to keep track of the toddler. He only ever found the after math. The opened cabinets, the scattered piles of important paperwork, a line of magic marker down the hall and into his front foyer. It was a wonder the boy hadn't run out of ways to get into trouble.

This time, Ashton had begun the process of de-shelving the bottom bookshelf in Professor Oak's study. Oak needed to look up something in one of his research books and happened upon the mess, for once, that was still in progress.

"Oh dear god," Oak exclaimed, rushing to scoop the boy up before he could pile up enough books to reach the next few shelves. "Do you always have to be so hard to baby sit?"

Ashton merely hung in Oak's arms with indifference. Instead of fearing reprimand, Ashton turned about in Oak's grip so as to shove a book in his face.

"Here," he said simply.

It was an thin book titled Pokemon Populated Regions of the World. It was probably the only book in Oak's entire library that had some sort of semblance to a picture book.

"No that's alright," said Oak putting the boy back down, a careful distance away from the book shelves. "I've already read it."

"Here," said Ashton, forcing the book on Oak.

There was really no dissuading a toddler. He should have already known that from his own stubborn grandchildren.

Upon receiving the book, Oak turned to put it back on its proper shelf. But the spot he chose ended up consequently unleashing an avalanche of books down upon him. Thankfully only Oak was victim to it. Ash merely watched with curious eyes as the professor cursed and grudgingly began the arduous task of putting everything back.

"Here," said Ashton, holding up a new book. This time, Oak was grateful for his help. It was a pain bending down each time.

As he reached for the book, he paused. Its cover was rough, and unmarked. The whole book looked hand bound. Which meant... it could only be one of his old sketchbooks.

He gently accepted the book from Ashton. Its pages were delicate and yellowed with age. But the pencil strokes were unmistakable.

"Goodness," said Oak as he flipped through the book. "These sketches... I think I was still a child with this one."


Ashton was holding up another book, but so deeply engrossed in the one already handed to him- Oak didn't notice. Nor did he notice when Ashton pulled on his pant legs and then defeated- grudgingly tossed the book back into the pile.

Oak was entranced by the smudged and faded drawings- the book having survived nearly two lifetimes. And there was one, fresher than the rest. A well loved picture of a Pikachu and the legendary Celebi, sleeping soundly against each other.

It was because of the Celebi that Oak had hidden away the sketchbook. Legendaries weren't normal subjects of portraits. And certainly not such an accurate portrayal as the one he had provided. If it gotten out that a certain unknown professor in the Pallet region had happened upon a Celebi in his youth, he and his family would never find peace.

Neither would poor Celebi. And Oak owed the pokemon too much to let that happen.

Oak could smell the heavy musk of the woods that still perfumed the yellowed pages. The woods he had spent both past and future in. But how far in the future, Oak could not say.

Nor could he say that he might ever meet the friend he had made there. As the middle aged man ran a hand down the page, he wondered if the pikachu's owner was yet alive.

He rested his fingertips just below the pikachu's closed eyes. And for some reason, Dido appeared in his mind's eye. He could see the first night they had met; her unkempt appearance that still did not fully mask the beauty that she was. Heavily pregnant and lifting a speared pokeball to him.

She had wanted him to save her pikachu. Although there was no way he could have managed it, Oak still felt guilty that he had failed to do so. He hadn't yet managed to return her pikachu's body to her either.

Oak could see how what had happened to her pokemon caused her pain. But he couldn't find out what exactly had happened. Just that it was unfortunate and painful.

And that Dido was running from it.

Oak had dreamed up possible pasts for the mysterious woman. An abusive husband. Ashamed parents. Or just a misunderstanding that left her no other option but to flee. He also dreamed up names. But none, names nor pasts, seemed to fit her. It didn't help that he had also grown used to just calling her Dido, even if it was just an alias.

Oak sighed, tapping the image of pikachu dolefully. "If only I knew some of what had happened, Dido. Maybe then I could help you and Ashton."

He paused, the name of Dido's son falling heavy on his tongue. Ever since he first heard it, he felt... a familiarity with it. The name gnawed at him and Oak couldn't be sure why. But with the sketchbook laying across his lap, something came to him.

What was his name? Andrew? Alec? Adam?

Despite the harrowing experience they went through together, it still was only a mere day or so in Oak's life. He had desperately clung to the boy's memory in his younger years- searching faces and names for a sign of the friend he had left behind in the future. But as time passed, Oak had resigned himself to the fact that his strange travels through time might never be reaffirmed.

But... the boy's name did start with an A, didn't it?

Oak flipped through the rest of the sketchbook, wishing that he had drawn a portrait of his future friend. But its pages surrendered no answers.

And still the thought lingered. Perhaps it was only because the child had handed the book to him and had thus influenced his memories... or maybe Oak just wanted it to be so. But he thought that maybe his friend from the future was named Ash.

Dido's son was named Ashton. But the full name sounded heavy. No- he recalled the name being short, a single syllable. Perhaps Ash was a nickname.

It wasn't so far a stretch. Though the coincidence that Ash happened to be born in Oak's not yet then home of Pallet was... daunting. Could the dark haired boy from the future really be Dido's troublesome dark haired son of the present?

It was possible. Ashton was already making himself out to be very much like his future counterpart. If Oak remembered correctly, his friend had been reckless, a bit foolhardy and yet, truly compassionate about pokemon. Ash had risked his life more than once for Celebi's sake.

Ash wasn't at all bad a person for Ashton to grow up into.

And he was the right age. For the events from Oak's own past to take place, his twelve year old friend needed a few years to grow up. And as Oak considered the matter, counting the years up in his head, he stopped. He stared at the pokemon sleeping next to the Celebi and his heart began to race.

His friend had owned a pikachu.

Dido also had owned a pikachu.

Was in mere coincidence? Or was he more involved in his friend's future than he had ever realized?

Spurred by his sudden recollection, Oak slammed the notebook shut and looked around for Dido's son. Maybe he was crazy. How could fate have brought them together so neatly? The chances were one in a million.

But maybe... Just maybe.

Ashton wasn't in the room. Satisfied with the damage done here or simply bored with Oak's indifference, Ashton had wandered off to cause trouble elsewhere.

Oak had just bent over to peek underneath his dining room table when a heavy knocking came from the front door. Professor Oak paused, letting the corner of tablecloth fall from his hand. Admittedly, it was a bit... odd.

He wasn't expecting anyone. Most of his family members and friends knew to walk in through the opened back porch door. His daughter and her family had been pulled away for business in Saffron. And Dido confessed that she planned to be away most of the evening, tasking herself to some much needed shopping in Viridian Plaza.

The knocking came again with more urgency than before.

"I'm coming. I'm coming," Oak called, making his way down the hall and into the front foyer.

The raps on the door continued incessantly. And Oak wished for a moment that he had installed a chain lock on his door like that of the one he put on his daughter's. Or at least a peep hole. The hammering was somewhat alarming in the otherwise quiet dusk of evening.

But Oak did not yet find it alarming enough. For he foolishly opened the door too quickly- too widely. And found himself staring down the barrel of a gun.

"What is this now?" cried Oak.

The surly looking man on the opposite end of the gun said nothing. Only kept a hand on the door and pushed his way into the house. Oak stood by helplessly. He threw up his hands instinctively at the sight of the gun and had not yet dared to lower them.

The man with the gun took once glance around before managing an almost Cheshire cat like grin.

"Well old man. You seem fairly well off. But where do you keep your pokemon?"

Oak was at a loss for words. He stared blankly at the man. A few prods in the chest with the gun barrel brought sense back to him. He stumbled back against the foyer's front wall and sputtered, "My pokemon?"

"You're the pokemon professor..." The man pulled out a pamphlet from his jacket pocket and gave it a once over. "Samuel Oak, aren't you?"

Oak recognized the pamphlet as being one from a Johto conference he had attended a few months ago. At the time he had been honored to be acknowledged on a panel along with so many of his more infamous peers. Now, staring down the barrel of a would-be pokemon thief's gun, he felt considerably less so.

"I would say no, but I don't think you'd believe me," chuckled Oak halfheartedly.

The man flipped the pamphlet over. His finger was on not only Oak's name but a picture that now, looking back on it, wasn't quite as unflattering as he found it at the time.

"I suppose not then..."

"Come on. Let's go for a walk."

A few more prods with the gun barrel started Oak down the hall. He deliberately stalled as long as possible. Not only to save his pokemon from this unkind thief and possible black market trade but also to protect Dido's son, whom Oak suspected was still running around somewhere.

He walked into an end table. The photographs and glass trinkets rattled but didn't fall. Oak's eyes rested on one of the twisted glass blown bottles. It had belong to his late wife. She owned many of the strange glass containers and filled them with layers of colorful sand. Pidgeys came to mind. If... If he could only manage to blind the man before the gun was fired...

"Hey, keep moving," said the pokemon thief, knocking the gun into Oak's back again.

Professor Oak lurched purposively with the blow and snatched a glass bottle off the table. It was slippery in his clammy hands; its contorted shape sliding in his grip like a withering snake. He muttered and mumbled about bad manners while slipping it underneath his sweater. There he cradled it, moving forward- waiting for a chance.

So preoccupied was he, that Oak didn't realize that he was being led back into his study. The books still formed little mounds around their shelves. And from behind the couch waddled little Ashton.

Oak froze. At first he hoped that the thief didn't notice the small child. Ashton was fairly quiet and low to the ground, moving behind the floor lamp now. But that hope was short lived.

"He yours?"

Oak couldn't bring himself to reply. But it seemed he didn't have to. Ashton made his way fearlessly towards them, a book in hand. With a pang of dread, Oak recognized it as his old sketchbook- still flipped back to the page of the Celebi and Pikachu.

"Here," said Ashton holding it out to him.

He couldn't take it. His hands were shaking- still gripping tightly to the bottle of sand under his sweater. Ashton frowned and then turned to the man with the gun.


"Thanks kid," The thief said with some amusement. He tousled the boy's hair with his gun bearing hand and took the sketchbook in his other. Doubtless the man noticed the unfamiliar pokemon leaning against the pikachu. He squinted at the page for a moment or two before Oak's will gave out.

"It's nothing. I picked it up somewhere. A garage sale or something, I think."

"Right. A garage sale," said the man flipping through the rest of the sketchbook disinterestedly.

"It's the honest truth!"

"I heard you the first time, old man." The thief flipped the book closed and stuffed it unceremoniously through his belt. Oak winced as the pages were rippled and bent against the thief's body. To have lived two lifetimes and yet be treated so disrespectfully... With a toothy smile, the thief answered Oak's pointed stare, "Maybe you can show me where you found this after we're done here."

Satisfied, Ashton let himself be pushed roughly to Oak's side. The old man clung onto Ashton's sleeve with trembling fingers.

"Move," said the thief. He trained the sights down lower, down at Ashton's head. Oak pulled the little boy up in front of him in the vain hopes of shielding him from harm.

They were forced out the back door. Oak lived next door to his much larger laboratory. Over time, his laboratory had grown in size- especially with Dido in his employ. He had added a few extra rooms recently to accommodate her and her son until they got on their feet. The pokemon storage units were in the back. He didn't have nearly as many as he would like; Pallet being such a small design of the Kanto region. But there would be more than enough there to satisfy the thief and ruin whatever chances Oak had for his research and fame.

So far the only chance Oak predicted he and Ashton might have was in the store rooms- once the thief was distracted with removing the pokeballs. He could throw the sand, steal the gun, lock the thief in the store room and run for help. It seemed to work out all well and good in his head. But Oak felt queasy when even contemplating wrestling the man for his gun. He was an old and gangly professor of the pokemon sciences. His contender looked young and well exercised. Oak's chances of taking the gun away from the thief without him or Ashton getting hurt were pretty slim.

Unexpectedly the thief steered them away from the laboratory and towards the bordering pasture lands. Oak hesitated at first. He didn't quite get this man's angle. It was obvious where the pokemon were being held. Why lead them to the pastures?

And then it hit Oak like a ton of bricks. There'd be no one to hear us this far out. Oak tightened his grip around Ashton's sleeve. He plans to kill us first.

Thunder clouds loomed in the distance. He could hear the low rumbles with some apprehension.

They stopped at a pasture fence just on the outskirts of the wooded glen. They were near the end of his property line. Beyond here, Oak wasn't sure where the valley dipped and turned. He looked furtively out into the trees; it was their only remaining prospect.

"Turn around," said the man.

Oak let go of Ashton's sleeve. The boy was blissfully ignorant of the danger he faced. He was grabbing at fallen helicopter seeds littering the ground at their feet. Ashton plopped down aiming to play with them all.

"I said turn around."

Oak tore his gaze from the little boy and instead focused ahead to the trees. He clasped his late wife's bottle between his hands unable to do much but mouth a prayer to her now. Please. Let this work.

Then the thief had lost all his patience. He grabbed at Oak's shoulder, intending to turn the old man around by force. But he hadn't anticipated Oak's counter attack.

"Turn aro-" The man started just before swallowing a mouthful of rainbow sand.

Oak had aimed for the man's eyes. Some of it did hit his eyes, though the majority fell into his open mouth. Blinded and hacking up sand, the man dropped. Oak shattered the glass bottle over the man's head. The glass exploded around his hands on impact. He felt the bite of tiny shards, like invisible teeth, cutting into his skin. Too brittle. It won't cause enough damage, Oak realized. Without anymore weapons left to his disposal, Oak swept up Ashton into his arms and ran for the trees.

The rain had started, falling like a heavy curtain over top of them. Ashton blinked up at the raindrops, as if not ever being on the receiving end of rain before.

They had just made it to the tree line when a shot rang out. Oak stumbled- his vision momentarily went white. A sharp pain bled from his shoulder and Ashton was screaming.

Oak kept running. He had a hard time keeping hold of the panicking child with palms bleeding from glass teeth, but somehow he managed. Oak heard a few more gun shots and anticipated the same white hot pain. They missed, cracking into the nearby trees and undergrowth. The crack of a pokeball behind them chilled Oak far more so than the gunshots. He heard the snarls long before the creature had caught up.

The pokemon pounced them from behind. Oak fell just before a steep gully. And Ashton, poor little Ashton, was flung spectacularly from his arms; into the gully. Digging his fingers into the wet soil and leaves, Ashton only just managed to keep from falling over the side.

"Ash! Ash run!"

Ashton somehow pulled himself up onto his short legs. But the creature, that Oak could recognize now as particularly nasty looking Houndoom, was fast upon him. Ashton hadn't yet managed a few wobbly steps before the pokemon leapt.

"No!" Oak cried.

Ashton screamed. His hollow cry sounded all wrong. No such sound should come from a child so young. All high pitched and shrill; too short, having been cut off before his little lungs could fill. And then it was on him.

The little boy swung about at the right time to avoid being pinned. But alas, he did not escape. The Houndoom neatly caught Ashton's arm in its horrible jaws. And then it chomped down hard. Blood spurted from its mouth as it violently pulled the child to the forest floor. Ash gave an airless rasping cry; it spoke octaves of pain.

Houndoom wrestled the little boy about before mercilessly flinging him into a tree. Ashton, limp as a corpse, slid down the trunk. His head lolled to his chest. His arm dangled useless across his body- the blood blackening his sleeve and into his shirt. Oak could hardly see for the tears in his eyes.

"No! No No No!" screamed Oak, flinging whatever he could from his downcast position over at the beast. Wads of dying grass and leaves that he clawed from the forest soil fell far too short. Too short.

The pokemon was undeterred.

There are no evil pokemon, his own voice intoned; an echo through his fading consciousness. Not a pokemon. A monster.

And as it came upon the unconscious child, Oak's vision gave out. He spent the last minutes of his consciousness in darkness with nothing but the thunderous din of the storm to lull him to sleep.

Ash jerked awake with the sounds of the storm still pounding at his ears. He felt that he was drowning and panicked accordingly. His heavy limbs wouldn't cooperate- bound tight to his sides. He could only squirm and writhe- flap his hands about in an attempt to fight his invisible bonds.

It took a sharp slap to get Ash to breathe again. The air came, in great heaves, exploding reality into shape and color around him once more.

"Hm. Interesting," said Melanie pulling back her hand from his face. "You have some strange jewels from your childhood, don't you?"

What, Ash tried to say. But the mouth guard clenched between his teeth was hard to talk around. His cheek still stung from Melanie's slap making the movement painful.

He was reclined in the same chair, the restraints still belted around his wrists, ankles and waist. Oddly, Ash felt as though he had be transported. To where, he couldn't quite say. The dream was already floating away from his consciousness. But the actuality of the room and the chair he was strapped to didn't seem real yet.

"Don't worry," she continued. "I'm not too interested in that particular repressed memory. It's the thing that's underlining it that's peaked my interest. It seems to be influencing all your memories... kernels of it have been wrapped inconspicuously around each of them- as if to hide..."

Melanie flicked one of her pigtails behind her shoulder and gave her resting Alakazam a soft pat on the head.

"You don't have any idea what I'm talking about, do you?"

Ash attempted to shake his head but a strap across his forehead had belted his head down. He could only attempt to push the mouth guard out with his tongue.

Melanie slipped on some disposable gloves and pulled out the guard. Ash coughed and twisted his jaw about, glad to be rid of the pressure.

"Just to make sure you don't swallow your tongue."

"Was there really any danger?" said Ash grumpily.

"Hm. Some," Melanie said, plopping the mouth guard back in its case. "Never can be too careful.

"But back to the task at hand... You probably don't realize, do you? When that pokemon professor tried to rescue you... remember? You told us that it was raining."

At Ash's blank stare, Melanie sighed.

She held out a remote clicker and pointed it at the wall behind her. Suddenly the wall projected an image of Ash as he was only moments before. His eyes were glazed over as he relayed the contents of his dream.

Though the mouth guard was preventing normal speech, a device attached to his neck was talking for him. Reading the vibrations in his vocal cords, so Melanie explained.

The cool metallic voice that spoke for him gave Ash the creeps. But Ash was sure that his own voice would probably give him just as much pause.

Professor Oak... he grabbed me. I'm being carried. It's... raining now.

"Is the man still chasing you?"

The Ash on screen then squinted, as if he could see the scene unfolding out in front of him.

I can't tell, The machine blinked. I can't see... Ah.

Ash squirmed in his restraints, a look of pain on his face.

Blood! squealed the machine. Blood! There's blood... I'm shot! No. Professor Oak. He's shot. Oh my god. We're going to die. He's chasing. He's shooting...

Melanie clicked the remote once more and the picture faded. Ash found that he was trembling. As the recording progressed, flashes of his dream returned. He remembered being held tight to Professor Oak's chest; so tight he could hardly breathe. The rain falling down; feeling it bleeding into his eyes and stinging his skin as they ran. And the blood, oh God, was it really blood?, that sprayed him in the face from the gunshot wound in Professor Oak's shoulder. The metallic taste. It was so very red. It didn't seem real for blood to be so red.

There was no way that ever happened. Ash frowned. "You planted that memory."

"Oh no. That one was your own. Well mostly your own. It seems to have been influenced by another. They're meshed together, almost seamlessly. Except if you know what to look for..." Melanie gently roused the Alakazam.

Ash instinctively flinched when its eyes opened. Last time it had looked at him, he had lost consciousness- lost for hours to the corridors of his memory. And he was in no rush to relive the trip.

"Ali here could tell. The true memory was layered underneath the false one. He let me know... when you were lying."

"Lying? But you hypnotized me..."

"Not on purpose, of course. Someone was forcing you to. Someone has been messing with your head long before I came along."

"But... no. I-"

"It wasn't raining," said Melanie. "It was actually midday. It was perfectly sunny on the day when that man tried to kill you and Professor Oak."

"What does that mean?" said Ash at length.

"The real question is... where'd that storm come from?"

Ash didn't get an answer. Alakazam's widen eyes had met his own. And Ash felt himself falling down; down the rabbit hole once again...

"Ash. Pick up your feet. You're kicking rocks everywhere," said Delia pulling her four year old along behind her. Ash made a minimal effort to lift his feet up on his next few steps but quickly went back to shuffling his feet through the gravel and dirt. The task of consciously lifting up his feet was too taxing.

The sun had only just crept over the horizon. Having spent a majority of the night before religiously watching the Indigo League Preliminaries, Ash was exhausted. He was feigning energy to avoid being found out by his mother; who was still unaware that her son had snuck downstairs after bedtime. But it was difficult to even keep his eyes open.

"Ash. Honestly, you're going to tear up those new shoes Professor Oak just gave you." They were hardly new, being hand-me-downs from the Professor's grandson, Gary. The sole was continuously flopping off the left shoe's toe like a hooked fish making a bid for freedom, for heaven's sake. But Ash knew better than argue with his mother's choice of words.

Ash made a few more attempts to lift his feet higher. Luckily Ash needn't take many more steps before the gravel gave way to the Oak Laboratory's front stoop.

With energy he hadn't displayed until now, Ash leapt up the steps and yanked himself neatly out of his mother's grip. Kicking off his shoes at the entrance, the little boy nearly knocked over Professor Oak who had come to answer the door.

"Woah there," said Oak only just catching himself and the little boy who had practically propelled himself into the elder's arms.

"Hallo, Professor," said Ash. He looked up with a broad grin splitting across his face. "Where's Gary?"

Oak returned the grin and jutted a thumb over his shoulder. Ash was off almost as soon as the gesture was made. Though Oak knew his grandson only just tolerated his playmate, May (Ash's back up playmate) was always more than willing to have Ash join in on her tea parties. It was only a last resort, of course. Ash was a very rough and tumble kid, much like Gary. But occasionally, the little boy would put on a frilly pink apron and hold tea cups with his pinky raised. Oak strongly suspected Ash only did so because he was so fond of May.

"God, it's hot."

Delia sighed as she ducked into the doorway. Her sunhat did little to stifle the heat of the summer afternoon. Waving the hat in front of her now, she was extremely appreciative of Oak's air conditioning.

"It is that," Oak's lips formed a pinching frown. "Are you sure you're ready?"

Delia nodded. Though she appeared indifferent, Oak could see the pain hiding in her eyes. Delia reached into the satchel she had been carrying and pulled out the only item held within.

A pokeball with a ornate knife speared through it.

She handed it gingerly over to the Professor, as if she were handling an injured bird. Oak received it just a delicately. And then, without another word, the two filed down the hall, out the back and towards the laboratory.

The technology used to bring the dead pokemon out wasn't invented by Professor Oak. In fact, the Kanto professor had to pull quite a few strings in order to get the revolutionary product's prototype from a one Professor Kodama. It helped that Professor Oak had also revolutionized the pokemon field by introducing his pokedex invention. There weren't many people who would say no to him if he promised a free shipment here and there.

In theory, it should work. The device was invented to extract pokemon from damaged pokeballs. By damaged, Kodama had explained, he meant broken button triggers, cracked seals, and at worse- rusty hinges.

"What if the seal was stabbed through... by say, a knife for instance?" The professor had asked none too subtly.

Kodama stared at Oak a long moment, as if Oak had pulled a rather tasteless joke on him. Then, after what seemed like a long minute of studying the professor's face, Kodama said, "It would be unwise to extract a pokemon in that state with this machine. I am unsure of what would happen."

"What do you mean?"

"The metal knife is what concerns me. The machine extracts pokemon from the seal of the pokeball. If the knife is not removed before extraction, there is no guarantee that the pokemon that comes out will be... whole."

"But if we remove the knife,"said Oak. "The pokemon energies inside will surely dissipate. We don't want to cause a leakage and lose the pokemon before it's extracted- especially with how much time has gone by."

"Hm. That sounds like a frustrating problem you have,"said Kodama with no hint of sympathy. "I do not think my machine will solve it for you."

"Still. I'd like to try."

"Then I will not be held accountable for what happens."

It will be fine, thought Oak stubbornly. It has to. This is the best lead we've ever had.

The automatic doors slid open with a pneumatic hiss at their approach. Oak politely fell back to let Delia through the doors first. He followed her in, going straight to the small storage lockers just inside the doors. There, he pulled out two suitably sized lab coats for them both. They weren't the average off the rack variety lab coats. Such things would hardly be protection with what they happened to be dealing with.

These were heavy lead lined aprons. Meant to keep any radiation from cooking their insides. Or at least that's what Oak hoped they would do. They had matching goggles too. Delia slipped hers on immediately but Oak, who always had trouble seeing with both his glasses and goggles on, let the goggles just hang from his neck for now. It was more important that he see what he was doing. At least for the moment.

Oak tried to go through the casual process of introducing Delia to the new equipment while simultaneously setting it up. But his hands were trembling and, in his nerves, he kept forgetting the order in which the switches and knobs were supposed to be flipped on. The machine started making strange grinding noises that Oak had to quickly attend to; leaving his technical explanation rather curt.

Not that Delia suffered from lack of explantation. That it worked was all she cared about. All the gears, grippers and mechanics of the machine simply overwhelmed her. Delia wasn't a scientist. She wasn't even a pokemon trainer anymore. In this place, Delia was completely out of her element. As Delia stood tentatively off to the side, watching the sleeping giant slowly humming to life, she could only cross fingers behind her back and hope that things would go right.

A glass tube in the center of the device slid down at Oak's volition; admitting the speared pokeball he still had at hand. Oak placed the ball into a fitted socket and with a twist of a dial, the glass went up again- effectively sealing the pokeball, and anything that might come out of it, up inside.

Delia couldn't resist putting a hand on the cool glass. She stared hard at the pokeball trapped inside for several moments; saying nothing at all. At long last, she turned, swallowed hard and gave Oak a stiff nod.

Oak, who had been waiting patiently at the switch, was now the one to hesitate. But unlike Delia, he felt as though he had to speak. Had to comfort her in some way, which would in turn comfort himself.

"It will work." And Oak wasn't sure who he was trying convince.

"What will work?" came an unexpected voice at Oak's knee.

Both adults jumped; startled by the small innocuous interruption. Standing barely at waist height, Gary looked up at the massive machine before the three of them. His expression one of mild curiosity; his eyes not holding near enough reverence for the contraction towering over him.

"Gary," Oak breathed, only just able to swallow back his beating heart. "What in heaven's name-"

"We're playing hide and seek," Gary replied simply, not taking his eyes off the machine. "I'm seeking."

"Well, seek somewhere else, boy. It's not safe to play in here. You know that."

Oak took Gary by the arm and led him out of the room. He sent an apologetic look Delia's way. She offered a thin lipped smile and shrug in response. Kids, what did you expect?

Once they were safely outside of the laboratory, sensing the impending lecture, Gary immediately took off. Oak could only watch the boy run off with much of Delia's own surrendering look on his face. Kids. He returned to the lab and then task at hand.

Oak went immediately to the control panel. A few strokes of the keys and the machine's humming increased in strength. The room grew sticky with the rising mercury. As the machine began emitting a deep glow, both Oak and Delia unconsciously stepped back from the console. Delia slipped her goggles into place with trembling fingers.

She could feel it. The machine's hum seemed to travel through the floor and up through the soles of her shoes and into her flesh and bone. It was like the thrill of a rattling drum beat. She snatched up Oak's hand; giving it a frightened squeeze. There was no turning back now. Her pokeball was disappearing in a haze white light.

Delia didn't know when she realized that something was wrong. But perhaps it was the light. So white hot, cutting like a knife; it was like staring into the sun. Surely it shouldn't be like that.

Oak pressed his goggles to his face, the band too loose around his head to fasten. He turned to Delia, his face looking pale and frightened in the piercing white glow. His lips moved but the hum swallowed up his words. She felt his hands gripping at her arms. He was shaking her, his lips still stretching out words she couldn't hear. And then, just for a single moment, the hum released them.

And Delia heard Oak's sudden shout, "We have to get out. Now."

But Pikachu... Delia's plea couldn't quite reach her lips. He was pulling at her arms and she found herself moving. Even though she wanted to stay. Wanted to save Pikachu... she knew it was impossible. She saw the blade come down once. Now she watched it being swallowed up in the light.

Oak's strong arm about Delia was the only brace keeping her from turning back. They ran, hunched down, out into the summer heat that felt oddly cooler now. The clean air seared Delia's burning lungs. She coughed freely. How was it that she didn't notice the smoke that was now pouring from the lab's open doors? Oak, who in this situation still had better control over his facilities, led Delia away from the burning building. They stumbled their way over a cattle fence where Oak determined they were a far enough distance away.

"The laboratory is separate from the rest of the house," Oak began as if continuing a conversation they had never had. "It will burn. But it should burn itself out before damaging the rest of the property."

"What went wrong?"

"I'm not sure. Maybe the blade, the hilt..." A distant look seemed to take over Oak's expression, "Yes, perhaps I was wrong..."

"Sam. Are all the kids safe?"

Oak gave his head a little toss, shaking the image of the burning building from his eyes. "Yes. Yes, I'm sure they are. Delia, I'm so sorry. This is all my fault."

"Don't blame yourself, Sam," Delia forced a smile. "Come. Let's find the little ones... Call the fire squ-"

A gasp slipped from her lips. The only warning she could give as little brazen Gary Oak tried to waltz right up to the burning building. Thankfully, Oak moved quick enough to intervene. He leapt over the cattle fence with more agility than Delia thought possible for a man his age.

"Gary!" Oak gasped, grabbing the boy about the waist and lifting him up and away from danger. "Can't you see the flames? The building's on fire!"

"I'm seeking! I'm seeking!"

"I told you to seek some place else."

"I've seeked everywhere else."

Oak was having none of it. He held onto the squirming five year old as best he could, though it was like trying to wrestle a giant earth worm. He handed the boy over to Delia before clambering over the cattle fence once again.

"He's not there. He's there. In there, I know it," pouted the boy, throwing an accusing finger over his shoulder... in the direction of the laboratory.

A chill seemed to rush up Delia's spine. She set the little boy down on the grass and knelt down so that she could meet his eyes. Suddenly, Gary was shy. He wanted to look anywhere but at Delia's face. He shuffled uneasily under her gaze. "Who's there, Gary? Who was playing hide and seek with you?"

"Ash," Gary said softly.

With that one word, Delia felt her heart seize in her chest.

And then, the laboratory exploded.

A string of coughs sputtered out from behind a tipped filing cabinet. Ash peeked his head out, pushing hard against the cabinet that had both shielded and trapped him inside the burning building. The smoke was so thick that Ash could no longer see the hands in front of his face. It stung at his eyes and made his head spin. But Ash knew that if he stayed low the flames wouldn't lick at him. Heat rises. Oil floats. Water beats fire. Fire beats grass. The indigo league announcers were always going on about such things. The key factors in a battle. The keys to saving him now.

Ash crawled out on his knees, only just able to avoid the debris that still littered the laboratory's tiled floor; bits of glass, flame kissed papers, sharp joints of metal. He knew he needed to get out. But where "out" was, was a bit of mystery at the moment.

The coughs continued to rattle in his chest. Ash swallowed them back, but it was a bit like trying to hold back hiccups. Violent ones that would explode from his mouth and steal his breath away. His head knocked lightly against something. So focused on avoiding things laying about the ground, Ash didn't look forward. He rubbed his head and looked forward now. And then up; up at a metallic pedestal. The one he had spied his mother and Professor Oak huddling around before.

It looked a bit like a melted candle now. Or more like a stick of TNT on one of those Saturday morning cartoons; post explosion. The metal was twisted and curled off and the protective glass was all but shattered. But still, Ash thought he saw something on top. Like two little lights glittering out of reach.

He had to brave the smoke; stand on his tip toes to see over the ridge. On one side, there was the smoldering remains of the pokeball and dagger. Still entwined as ever, but looking worse for wear. Parts of the pokeball's mechanism was showing. And the blade hilt's intricate designs were partially seared off in the heat. On the other side, were the glistening pinpricks that Ash had mistaken for light.

Ash found himself nose to nose with a small pokemon no bigger than his hands. It was fuzzy and yellow, with long rabbit like ears and eyes that seemed impossibly large for its small head. It crinkled its nose at the small child and Ash crinkled his nose right back. But the pokemon didn't shy away. Only stared and lay still on the metal stand. Carefully, Ash reached up and scooped the creature into his small hands. There was no fight left in it. The pokemon just hung limply in the child's gentle grip.

And Ash was off again. Only pausing once to side step robotic pincers that had fallen off the machine. It caught at his clothes as he passed, as if trying to pull him back.

Ash didn't know how he got out. Only that there was smoke and fire and then suddenly he was being swept up into strange arms. With their masks and garbled breathing, Ash half thought they were monsters. Firefighters- he came to realize. It wasn't long before he was back in his mother's arms; hugged too tightly and cried over. They, those firefighters, gave him air through a mask like their own and wrapped him up in a blanket though he was a far cry from being cold. No one noticed his extra passenger. They coddled him, fussed over him. But no one spied the little face that occasionally poked from from beneath the blankets No one but Professor Oak.

"What's this?" He said, taking note of the squirming creature in Ash's hands. Ash pulled back, trying to shield the pokemon from view once more.

"I found him. He's mine," said Ash fiercely.

"You found him?"

"Yes. He's mine. He likes me."

"Did you have any other pokemon in the laboratory?" Delia asked, having spotted the small creature herself now too.

"No. I moved out all the pokemon before the test... Will you let me see him, Ash? Just for a moment, if you please."

He held out his hands but Ash ignored him. It took a stern look from his mother to make him relent.

"Here," Ash said softly, uncurling his grip on the small pokemon. "Only for a second."

Both Delia and Oak leaned in closer in spite of themselves. The tiny creature was obviously exhausted. That was the only reason it let itself be manhandled by the little boy so. But still, it seemed to know it was being examined and cast its eyes up at the two adults now hovering over it.

"It's a pichu," Delia said. "The smallest one I've ever seen."

"That's because it's a hatchling. Fresh out the egg from the looks of it. But... I didn't have any eggs on my compound. And I'm sure I didn't have an infestation on the grounds. Pikachu aren't common in Pallet Town. Why, I haven't even seen one for years," And then as if realizing what he was saying, Oak's face took on a dark cast. He looked at Delia. She shook her head vigorously.

"That's not possible, Samuel."

"You found that pichu in the lab, did you, boy?"

Ash nodded. But Delia still shook her head. "I'm telling you it's not possible, Samuel. My Pikachu may have been female but she wasn't pregnant. I never bred her... And besides! It's been over four years! How could an egg survive that long? In a pokeball of all things. Are you suggesting my pokemon laid an egg in a... in a virtual environment and the egg... it survived long enough to be hatched?"

"No, Delia. I don't think your pokemon gave birth to this pichu," Oak took the pokemon out of Ash's hands; despite the boy's angry protests. He gave the pokemon a cursory examination and frowned. Male.

"Then I don't understand. What do you think this pichu is?"

"I think this pichu is your pikachu," said Oak at last. "I think somehow... inconceivably... we cloned pikachu. We cloned a dead pokemon."

Consciousness sluggishly returned to Ash. He clung to the tangled remnants of his vivid dream. The professor's words echoed in his mind as if they had only just been spoken. And this time, Ash understood with an adult's clarity. He remembered that pichu, though truthfully it had been years. He remembered the way it had curled up in a tiny ball in his hands. And how much Ash wanted it for himself. But after that day, Ash had never seen it again. Of course, Ash asked for it. More often Professor Oak would ignore him. Until one day... yes, he remembered. One day the Professor said he had given the pichu away. Sent him away to another pokemon laboratory so that it could be with its own kind.

Ash was old enough then to know that when adults say that a pokemon "went to the farm upstate," they didn't mean it. No, it was adult speak for the pokemon is dead. So when the Professor had said those words, Ash knew pichu was gone. Oh, he cried long and hard after that. His first pokemon gone before Ash had really gotten to know him. Gary had teased him. And Ash felt bad that he had felt bad. Crying for a pokemon that he had only held once? That was the sort of thing that babies did.

But had pichu really been gone? Clone. Dead pokemon. Pikachu. His mother had a pikachu? A dead pikachu? Why hadn't she ever told him? Then how did she feel about Ash's own pikachu? He tried to picture his mother's face; tried to will to life old memories where the two had been in the room together. Had his mother ever looked at pikachu strangely? Did she ever wish that his starter had been her own?

A new thought flew unbidden to his mind. It made his stomach clench and his eyes snap open. Staring hard up at the dark ceiling, he watched the dots sickeningly connect together. Could it be? Was that pichu and his pikachu one in the same?

Before the thought could fully solidify in his mind, other more pressing matters came to Ash's situation. He quickly realized that he was no longer bound in the dentist chair that he had been strapped to before. No, he was laying a few feet away on a cot. The wires had all been removed and the room was dark save for a soft glow coming from a distant computer monitor. Ash squinted over towards the light before quickly going limp again. Melanie. His heart thudded painfully in his chest upon seeing her again. The woman was bent over the keyboard typing furiously but her awful pokemon was gone. And her eyes weren't on him.

I must have passed out for a long time, Ash thought. Perhaps his body had taken too much of the nightmare attacks for one day. So instead of returning him to his cell, she had dropped him on a cot. Until such time as he could be used again. Well, Ash hoped she'd never get the chance. But as Ash attempted to climb from the rickety cot, he found one of his hands wouldn't come. He glared down at the handcuff fastened around his wrist, the other end clipped to the cot's frame. So they aren't that stupid after all.

His movement must have made some noise; the clinking of the handcuffs perhaps. He heard the squeak of Melanie's chair turning. Ash went limp once more. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut; praying that Melanie would just forget about him and go back whatever she was doing. And then he heard the soft footfalls. His heartbeat pounded in his ears along with each step. So loud; he thought that she must be able to hear them too. Go away, Ash thought furiously. Go away. Go away. Go away.

He could almost feel the chill of her shadow over him. She knew. She had to know that he was awake. And then the torture would continue again. What memory would he be forced to endure this time? His indigo league losses? Or even worse, William's death. Not that Ash needed help remembering the details of that day. He relived it all to often in his own self made nightmares.

A sudden series of chirps cut through the heavy silence. Ash felt the shift in the air next to him. The footsteps on the linoleum floors receded but still Ash counted to ten before squinted open one eye. A screen projected itself on the far back wall with the words call waiting scrolling across a black screen. Melanie was all to quick to return to her seat and keyboard. Once the call was accepted, Ash could see why. Andromeda. And she looked none too happy.

"It's been two days, Melanie. Is the boy broken yet or not?"

From what features Ash could glean from his downcast position and what he could see illuminated by the dull glow of the computer screen, Melanie looked terrified. Her eyes were focused on the keyboard where she continued typing loud and hard. As if the keys suddenly needed more pressure to relay her messages.

"He passed out," she said at last.
"That's not what I asked."
"I couldn't continue. The boy needs to be awake. If I press him too hard, he could die."

"You're being too soft on him. I don't care if you make him brain dead. I need him broken, Melanie. If you cannot break him then kill him. I will not hand the boy back to his father knowing what he knows."

"You led him to mew," Melanie muttered under her breath.

Andromeda moved so closer to the screen. Any closer and her breath might fog the lens. "What was that?"

"Ah. I was just- I said there's only so much I do, madam. I'm doing my best."

Andromeda shifted on screen. Adjusting her seat, perhaps. Ash couldn't only notice so much from his resting position on cot. However, the silence was obviously taking its toil on Melanie. Her upper body and facial expressions were composed; save for the sheen of sweat on her brow. But her legs were trembling. And she was gripping the sides of her chair tightly; almost as if she feared falling off it.

"I need more time," Melanie dared to add.

"You've had too long already."

"But he knows things. His mind... it's fascinating. Things have been done to it. Before me. I don't know of any human or pokemon alive that could leave the kind of mental suggestion that he's been subjected to. He's lost full days of conscious thought and yet retained his sanity. But it's there. I've uncovered threads of it. I know if I had a few weeks or months more I could have it-"

"A day."

"But madam!"

"You have a day left, Melanie. Break him. Turn him. Make him a vegetable for all I care. But do it in the next 24 hours. Or so help me, I'll strap you to the chair next."

Melanie evidently knew better than to argue with that. "Yes, madam. It will be done."

The light from the screen died. And Ash knew that feigning sleep wouldn't help him now. His mind was still reeling with the conversation that he had just overheard; a conversation he only just understood. But he understood the most important thing. There would be no rescue for him. Even surviving this wouldn't be survival- no. He would never see pikachu again. Not Misty. Not Gary. Not his mother. Not even his so-called father. No chance to ask. So many things he'd never get to know now.

And somehow this thought hurt more than anything else.

With the buzz of his thoughts drowning everything out, he realized too late that Melanie was standing over him.

"You're awake. Good," She said with a newly retained calm. "Then you know what's about to happen to you."

"Please," Ash found himself saying before he could stop himself. The word slipped out of his lips just as surely as the tears from his eyes. He was too terrified to fight them now. What was the point? There was no one to impress with his bravery here. "Please, don't do this. Don't do this to me."

Melanie stared down at him hard. Almost as if she didn't know what to make of his tears or pleading. Perhaps she thought him pathetic. She who so enjoyed the sound of human screaming. And yet, Ash somehow thought he saw a glimpse of pity in her eyes. At last, her gaze shifted.

"I don't enjoy this part," She said to a spot on the cot just slightly left of his head. "I like the ways minds work. Emptying them out is so..." She trailed off, giving her head a little shake. Ash couldn't help but notice how her pigtails continued to swing. They made her look younger but how young was she? Twenty? Twenty five? And a torturer for the White Ice organization, Ash had to remind himself.

"I would have found it, you know?" Melanie continued, genuine excitement lilting her tone. "That thread in your mind. Wouldn't it have been grand? Oh, how I wanted to. You would have thanked me for it. It seemed very exciting, that little mind-wiped secret of yours."

Ash said nothing. He just stared, wanting to rub at his tear streaked face. But he was as afraid to move as one would facing down a poised cobra. If he moved she might remember what she was supposed to be doing. The threat was till there. Her pokeball was hanging from a gold chain around her neck. Much like Ash had once worn Pikachu's pokeball. He watched it warily, swinging above his face like a pendulum-ed axe.

"You don't even realize how amazing it is, do you?"

"I don't know what-"

"Oh but you would have. You would have. The possibilities! The implications! I would have loved to have known. A creature of unfathomable psychic power wanted you not to remember something... something grand," Her wistful expression twisted into one of disgust. "But then she..." Melanie spat the word, "She orders me to destroy a work of art. A practical world wonder. Ugh... fool."

For one single heart beat, Melanie's voice was layered with a second voice. The one that snuck into all of his worse nightmares. The talking pokemon... Gary's nightmare and his own. Even here, in his final moments, the questions he could never answer; taunted him.

Ash heard the crack of the pokeball. Never had that sound chilled him so completely.

"I'm really very sorry about this."

He was on the docks. The cool wind played across his face. Heavy clouds shaded the sky. And he could smell the rain on the air. Ash found himself walking across the slick wooden dock. The ocean no longer lashed itself against the shores. The waves were slowing- stilling, but yet still dark as ink in the wake of the storm. It felt nice to stand there after hours of being cooped up inside the pokemon center. The trainers inside had been just a restless as he had been. The uncomfortable press of wet and grumpy human beings (the wet pokemon smelled even worse) had been starting to get to him. It was liberating to be here now; watching the storm break.

Just like he had been expecting it, Ash's eyes were on the parting clouds. In the gleam of a sun beam, Ash spotted the familiar lithe form dancing between the clouds. Mew. Ash sucked in a breath of surprise. Before he knew what he was doing, Ash was rushing forward and off the edge of the pier. Ash was suddenly yanked back. He felt hands grabbing his arms, pulling him to safety. Still he grasped for the pokemon disappearing behind the clouds.

"What are you doing, Ash?" went Misty.

"The water isn't safe!" said Brock.

Ash tried to pull himself free. "You don't understand!" They hadn't seen poor Mew wither away in that tank. They hadn't heard how she pleaded with him, pleaded with him to find her child. Mewtwo. He needed to talk to her while he still had the chance. He needed to find the elusive Mewtwo. To help her. To save her. And he couldn't just stay here, when she was right there; right within his reach.

"Are you crazy?"

"What's wrong with you?"

He hooked his foot on the edge of the dock and used it as leverage to pull himself forward. They had to let go of him now or risk falling into the water too. Their shouts and screams were like a roar in his ears. Ash tore away from their grasp, leaping towards the pokemon that hung in the air so far above his head. It was a silly notion. As if he thought he could reach it! But his outstretched hand even seemed to catch it up- swallowing it up in his closed fist. Then he fell.

He fell through a seemingly infinitesimal amount of space without even the ocean to catch him. It seemed he slipped right through it. And there was nothing left to do but to fall. Fall and watch mew drift further and further away.

Fool. Trying to stop our battle.

Yes. What had he been thinking? Or rather... what had he been remembering?

Quiet human. A Pokemon can't be a Pokemon Master! You humans are a dangerous species. My clones don't need their powers to prove their worth! This just proves that fighting is wrong! My storm will create my own world. It's not gonna end like this Mewtwo. From now on, I am the one who makes the rules. You're mine! It is useless to challenge me! We were created with powers far stronger than the originals! I am the new ruler of this world. Mewtwo. Mewtwo! Mewtwo.

What transpired here I will always remember.

But perhaps for you, these events are best forgotten...

Ash shot bolt upright out of bed feeling as though he had just been catapulted out of his own dreams. He clutched at the stitch in his chest, buckled over his own knees as he tried to even out his breathing. The air in his room was frigid and yet here he was, drenched in sweat. His head was spinning; still heavy with the messy echoes of his dream. And that's all it had been. Sound. A fury of sound that lashed out at him so powerfully and so quickly that Ash felt that sure he was going to be sick. None of it made sense. Except for that one word. Mewtwo. Why did that name alone seem so familiar?

The window shades were at half tilt casting silvers of morning light across his bed. And it was his bed wasn't it? In his bedroom. Home. Ash numbly gazed at the sun bleached Indigo League posters taped to the walls. He had quite the collection going on. Ash remembered that he had been saving up to buy that year's vintage Indigo League jacket once upon a time. The shards of his turpiggy bank still glinted untouched on his dresser. In his haste to leave that one stormy night, he had smashed that one dream to protect another. Because what use could a dusty old jacket actually be?

Ash rested his chin on his knees taking a moment to acclimatize to this new setting. No, not new. The nightmares had had him all jumbled up. He was still dreaming about his captivity with the White Ice as if it had all happened yesterday. But that was months ago now. A sizable ransom had been paid and now he was safe again. Ash hugged his knees to his chest tighter. It was hard to believe that sometimes; that he was safe. Really he had his friends to thank. And his mother... yes, he owed her the world.

Not only had she been integral in his rescue (Ash supposed he had Misty to thank for her involvement) but after everything, she took him back. No questions asked.

Even now, as he holed himself up in the house, she didn't nothing to pressure him. Their old arguments were pushed to the wayside in the wake of his return. Ash knew it was only temporary, of course. He could tell his mother was holding her tongue. It was only a matter of how much time she'd allow him before everything went back to normal. Although, Ash was having a hard time believing it ever would. The nightmares plagued him nightly. And once the sun came out, Ash was left in tightly wound state. He was always looking over his shoulder, fearful that Andromeda hadn't really let him go. That the whole rescue was just a ploy to make him feel safe. Ash knew. He knew that if Andromeda wanted him back, she could have him back in an instant. The woman's organization put the former glory of Team Rocket to shame.

He had spent enough time in bed today though. Ash tossed off his covers and slipped off the mattress to the floor. But as he did so, a strange clunking noise came from somewhere by his feet. Ash looked down, suddenly leaping back from what had landed by his feet. A gun? Had that been in his bed? It took a few minutes for his mind to catch up with his racing heart.

No, that's mine. He had completely forgotten. The paranoid had reached a point that he didn't feel safe without a weapon close at hand. Pokemon weren't enough... not that they were really an option. Pikachu had been acting oddly ever since they had gotten back. It was like they were strangers. Pikachu wouldn't come near Ash, no matter the coaxing. Instead, the pokemon would flee, breaking Ash's heart every time. He wasn't sure what they did to his best friend and Ash wasn't sure he wanted to. If he ever got the chance, he'd get Andromeda back. For everything.

And that's where this gun seemed to have come in. Ash cautiously retrieved it from the bedroom floor. He would would never admit it out loud, but he liked the weight of it in his hands. It gave him a sense of security that he had had since he got back. His mother would never approve of the weapon in her house. And it wouldn't do to have her find out about it now. So Ash, pulled open the bedside table drawer and slipped the gun inside. The drawer slid closed with a soft click and Ash sighed deeply. He felt like he had been asleep too long. Running a hand through his tangled mess of hair, Ash padded barefoot out of his bedroom.

The house was surprisingly quiet for so late in the morning. Normally, his mother would be up doing some chore or another. Perhaps she was out in her garden. Ash walked into the empty kitchen, surprised to find last night's dinner still laid out on the table. The food had long since gone cold; Ash's own plate untouched. He hadn't really had much of an appetite lately. But that wasn't the odd part. His mother should have cleared the table long before now. She would have had to to make way for breakfast. And that too she would have cleared away for lunch. If there was one thing his mother was particularly meticulous about it was timely meals. If you weren't there, you didn't eat. She wouldn't have left anything out for him... So then what was this?

"Mom? Mom, are you here?" Ash called out at last. He could hear birds twittering outside, but no other sound answered him. He was just about to follow his first hunch and check the garden when a silhouette in the other room caught his eye. He could see the back of her head from the couch where she sat facing the television playing out on mute. Some sort of news program was playing with captions scrolling in black and white at the bottom of the screen. Ash smiled at the sight. She had been watching the TV on mute so not to wake him.

Feeling a bit playful, Ash snuck up on his mother from behind. Then, leaning over the back of the couch and her shoulder, Ash loudly and cheerfully chimed, "Good morning, mother!" He expected a shriek and maybe a half hearted smack. What Ash didn't expect was the silence he received.


Her eyes were closed; like she was sleeping. But Ash had never known his mother to be a deep sleeper. He rounded the couch, nearly tripping over the carpet as he did so. He grabbed her shoulders and gave his mother a few gentle shakes.

"Mom? Mom, please," Ash said, his voice small and frightened.

Her head lulled but she didn't wake. It was when Ash was pulling back that his hands brushed against the stiff fabric of her shirt. Blood. Ash recoiled at the sight. The sickly stain had blackened the front of her blouse, all from a bullet hole in her heart.

Had he just swallowed his own tongue? Ash grabbed at his mother's shoulders once more; his building panic making his shaking this time far more violent. But still she didn't stir. She was like a limp doll in his grasp, falling over- her head hitting the armrest as she fell. Ash could hardly see for the tears burning in his eyes. Ash clawed at his eyes then his hair- anything he could get a solid grasp on. He was trembling, biting down hard on the flesh of his lip. The sound; the roar in his ears was starting again. This wasn't possible. He was supposed to be safe! They were all supposed to be safe!

And then he heard a voice raise above everything else. Ash turned where he knelt, horrified to see both Clark and Lewis standing in the doorframe. Lewis wasn't meeting Ash's eye. But Clark was talking. The shock of them being there drowned sense from the sound of his voice. And it took several minutes before Ash could understand it.

"...impressed with Melanie really. Who would have thought it could have worked so quickly. I would have thought for sure the suggestion wouldn't hold. Last time I doubt her work!"

"Did you do this?" Ash hissed. He used the couch to anchor himself as he climbed to his feet. Ash was shaking badly now, but if it was from anger or grief or some horrible combination of both, he couldn't say. The twins' eyes darted in his direction but neither said anything. Were they ignoring him? "I said did you do this?" He finally found his volume. His voice practically breaking with grief as he screamed, "Did you f—cking murder my mother?! Answer me!"

Clark snorted and turned back to Lewis as if Ash hadn't even spoken. "Apparently he's woken up."

"The hypnosis probably only lasts for so long at first."

"Oh, good point-"

Their conversation was chilling. He could feel it making connecting some dots in the back of his mind. A kind of sense that he didn't want to realize. Instead, Ash grabbed a nearby table lamp, yanking the plug free from the wall socket. It was a cumbersome weapon but it would have to do. He made to strike Clark first but the young man turned at the last moment. His lips formed a word that Ash himself couldn't hear. But quite against his own will, his arms froze in mid air.

"Don't," Lewis started as Clark moved in on Ash. The man came only inches from Ash's face and for the life of him, Ash couldn't understand why he couldn't move. What was happening?

"Poor slob," mocked Clark. "Doesn't even understand what's happening to him."

Ash found he could still speak; though it was difficult spitting out words around his gritted teeth. "Why did you kill my mother?" said Ash, blinking the stinging in his eyes. He could no longer wipe the tears that were now flowing down his cheeks unchecked.

"Oh? I didn't kill her... Remember?"

The power of moment returned to Ash; sending him stumbling backwards from Clark. When he lowered his arms he found not a lamp but a gun gripped his hands. Ash gave a shout and dropped the gun with a clatter to the floor. Ash couldn't feel his face. The room was rocking and spinning but only Ash was moving.

He whirled back on the twins. Somehow he knew before he looked that the doorway was empty. Their shadows swirled away as a new reality took its place. The windows outside were dark now. And his mother was there, sitting on the couch. Her shock was frozen on her face, eerily illuminated by the glow of the television set. And her blood, a fresh red color, it was all over him. Freckling his skin and shirt in its spray. It was him... It wasn't him but it was him. This was him now. Thanks to them

"No. No, this can't..."

The TV was still blaring the news and with a shaky blood stained finger, Ash pressed mute.

To Be Continued...
Please Read and Review!

Four years is quite a long time. In the amount of time since this story was last updated, not only did I graduate college but I went through three jobs, and returned to college to enter an ITP program. That program and I aren't really a good fit though. I'm planning on getting an associates in child development so that I can start a career in working with children...

But I'm sure you guys don't really care about that. You're probably all wondering about the fate of this story. And I'll be perfectly honest guys. I don't really write fanfictions all that much anymore. I'm focused on my own novel and fanfics unfortunately just fall on the back burner whenever that happens. But does that mean you should consider this fanfic dead?

I'd say no. I still adore this story and I still want to tell it. It may take me years between updates... but at the moment, I plan to continue. And hopefully you guys will still be interested the next time I update. I'm hoping it won't take me four years this time though.

A special thanks to those who reviewed last time. I doubt many of you even remember that you reviewed either! Thanks to Bryan, Ramses, Organ Man, Your Friend, , Guest, Elizabeth the Bathog, nequam-tenshi, manga girl geek, alfaq, Patriot-of-USA, Sikka12, Unicorn Killer, AngelOfPastPresentAndFuture, reader, auPHE, anonymous, Shade O'Killer, shelliTaRZaN, lousie, princess of saiyans luna, CrazyNproud, GLADoS, flightless-green-bird-13, MarHeavenAngel, kairi loves sora, Ldsprincess, TriplePivotTurn, Rowan, Anonymous, Japonica, Jiyle, and last but not least AvALoN93.

I also want to take a moment to address something that was recently brought to my attention in a review. Some people are complaining that Mewtwo isn't in the story yet. I sincerely apologize if caused any of you to come into reading this story expecting Mewtwo being a focal character from the first chapter. The truth of it is I'm building up for his entrance since his entrance is a huge turning point in the story. But Mewtwo is going to be in this story. He is a main character. In fact, you could argue that he's almost as important as Ash is in the events that are unfolding. The only reason it seems to be taking so long is because we are only in the first quarter of the story, guys. But I promise if you guys are patient, Mewtwo will be making an appearance. And I'm hoping it will be epic. :)

This chapter was a heck of a lot longer than I planned for it to be (in fact I had to cut the original chapter outline in half because it was just too much). I hope the length makes up for the long hiatus. Next time we will be seeing Gary, Misty and friends again, I promise!

Please leave a review! It lets me know that there are still people reading this story!