A/N: IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT MY STUPIDITY. So, nine chapters in and I realized that I've been confusing one of my characters this whole time. I've been calling to the scientist who's creating the hybrid pokemon Suzie, when in actuality, the character I was talking about was Professor Ivy. I got the breeder and the researcher confused, and now I have to rectify that. I've gone back and fixed this in the previous chapters, but for those of you going forward I didn't want you to see the name "Ivy" and be like, who the hell is that?
Anyway, sorry for any confusion.
"We're really doing this, huh?" Ash murmured as he picked the lock on the door. Gary watched, impressed when it opened as easily as if he had used a key. He was getting really good at this. Training had actually paid off.
"It's just a mission, Ash," Gary reminded him. Ash shot him a look from under his hood. "Damnit. Satoshi. Sorry." He was still getting used to this codename shit.
They'd been assigned on a few missions before, but they'd all been small things. People hiding pokemon, anti-Team Rocket pamphlets, nothing really important. Nothing quite like this one.
Gary drew his gun while Ash quietly pushed the door open. They stood in silence for a moment, listening for any sign of movement or an alarm. When nothing suspicious greeted them they moved in, conversation on hold for the time being. They left the lights off, making their way through the hallways of the four story building in the dark. They'd been briefed on the floor plan, so they knew exactly where to go. Ash led the way, long bo strapped to his back, Gary behind him, gun still drawn and at the ready.
According to intel, the building would be deserted, but there was always a chance something could change. They didn't run into anyone on the way to their goal, however, and Gary was beginning to think this mission was going to be a cinch. Ash tried the handle of the door – locked. He pulled down his hood and fished his lock pick set from his pocket once more, crouching down and setting to work. Gary was even more impressed as the lock clicked open this time, considering Ash had at least had the light of the moon to work by outside.
There was no window in the stairwell as they entered it, but low florescent emergency lighting made it so that they were able to see clearly enough. They could either go up to one of the other floors, or down to the basement. They headed down.
The door from this side opened with nothing but a push of the bar handle. Gary reached out a hand and flipped the switch that was just barely illuminated by the stairwell lights, and florescent overheads slowly flickered on to reveal a fairly boring looking basement. A couple of boxes here and there, the standard furnaces and water heaters.
Ash pulled a dagger from the sheath at his hip and shoved it into the gap between the door and concrete floor, creating a makeshift doorstop.
"No wonder they call you the creative one," Gary said.
Ash glanced at him over his shoulder, lips quirked into what was almost a smile, before the expression was lost and he'd once again become serious. "Come on, let's do this and get out of here."
Gary nodded and followed, heading over to the bank of furnaces, shrugging off the pack he was wearing on his shoulders and beginning to dig through it. Ash kept watch as he carefully set to work rigging the C-4.
It wasn't long before they were quickly heading back out the way they came while the timer Gary had attached to the explosives counted down from five minutes. Gary turned once they were outside and far enough away from the building to wait.
"Do we have to watch this?" Ash asked with a sigh, once he'd realized that Gary had stopped.
"Gotta make sure it's done," Gary said. "And that nothing goes wrong with the detonation." He glanced at his partner, who was staring up at the building as they waited, face stoic, at least to an untrained eye. Gary knew him too well by now, though. He didn't want to be doing this. It was only a storage building for a group called the Pokemon G-Men – a new rebellion that was causing enough trouble that Giovanni wanted to send them a message, but Ash had very obviously had misgivings about the entire mission.
He reached out and pulled Ash's hood up. "Someone's gonna recognize you if they see you," he said. He'd been a famous figure and then he'd "died" in the takeover of Indigo Plateau not all that long ago. It wouldn't be good if he was spotted.
Ash tugged the hood further down over his eyes, shadowing his face.
They'd known it was coming, but the explosion surprised them both. Windows broke and bricks flew outward in a huge, loud, burst of flame.
"All right, we're confirmed, let's get back to HQ," Gary said turning to go.
He paused when Ash's hand shot out, gripping his jacket sleeve tightly. That's when he heard the screaming.
"There was someone in there," Ash said, and the light of the fire now raging in the building made it so Gary could see the look of horror on his face, despite his hood.
They both looked up to the fourth floor, where windows were opening and people – not just one, but many many people, were screaming for help. But the fire escapes had been blown off and the whole of the bottom floor was burning. There was no way out.
"This wasn't a storage facility," Ash said. "It was their headquarters. He knew – the son of a bitch knew it!"
Gary looked down and met Ash's gaze, but before he could say anything his partner had released him, reaching for a pokeball and starting to run back toward the building.
"Satoshi!" Gary yelled, swearing and then chasing him. "Satoshi!" He caught up to him fairly quickly, grabbing hold of his clock and tugging him backward. Ash's hood fell off, revealing the grim set of his jaw. Gary had seen that look before. That was the look he always got before he did something stupid, trying to be a hero.
But he wasn't a hero anymore.
"There's nothing you can do," Gary said, trying to ignore the screaming above them. "It's too late—"
"We've got water pokemon," Ash insisted.
"Not enough to do anything about that blaze," Gary said with a shake of his head. "And even if they could, if Giovanni finds out you saved them, what do you think he's going to take that as? A betrayal! He just needs one excuse, Ash, one, and they're all dead, along with us. He's testing us!"
Ash wavered, looking up as a woman crawled out of a window. "I can't—"
"You have to," Gary said firmly, swallowing the bile he felt rising in his throat.
"But—" Ash said, and Gary could see the uncertainty in his expression. Ash wanted to do what he knew was right, just like he'd always done, and Gary wanted to let him. Help him, even. But doing that would mean that all of this was meaningless.
"Come on," Gary said, tugging Ash back away from the flames. "We've got to go."
With one last look over his shoulder, Ash let him drag him away.
"They're killers!" was Gary's less than gentle wake up. "We should have finished them off, not helped them!" It was a male's voice, but not Ash or Brock. He wasn't ready to open his eyes yet; there was a dull ache all over his body and he was afraid that when the haze of sleep finally lifted, pain was going to set in at full force.
"They've been helping us every step of the way." Misty. "Without them we never would have found any of–"
"Exactly!" It was the unidentified male again. "They lead Team Rocket right to Lorelei's doorstep! She was safe before you showed up with them."
"I'm still safe." This voice was much closer to Gary than he expected. It sounded like she was sitting next to him. So they'd found her. Something had gone right, wasn't that nice?
"No, you're not," the man said, clearly agitated. "You're no longer in hiding; you're talking of joining a rebellion – how is that safe?"
"I know you're worried," Lorelei said. "But this isn't the same—"
The man's voice was low and dangerous as he growled, "It is exactly the same."
The same as what? Gary wondered.
The room – was it a room? – fell silent for a long moment. Gary felt like he was swaying.
"Does this mean you won't help us?" Another male. Brock.
"I would rather eat my own gun then help anyone who lets this scumbag live," the other replied. There was the sound of footsteps and the slamming of a door.
A sigh came from next to him. "I'm sorry," Lorelei said. "He's just upset. He'll calm down eventually."
He heard both Misty and Brock reply, telling her it was fine.
So what had happened? Last he remembered he was bleeding out in the sand. Ash had walked onto the beach in the middle of a sandstorm—
His eyes snapped open. He'd heard Misty, Brock, Lorelei and some mystery guy who wanted him dead, but he hadn't heard anything from his partner during that whole conversation.
What the hell had happened to Ash?
He winced as the light from the room invaded his eyes, almost instantly giving him a headache.
"You're awake!" He looked over at Lorelei, who was sitting in a chair next the bed he'd been placed in. He'd met the woman once before and she looked much the same. A little paler from living in a cave maybe, but her hair was still a purplish color and pulled back into a ponytail, and she still had glasses perched on her nose. Her face was friendly and she smiled at him, but he turned his head to look for Ash.
Misty, however, was the next one he saw. She moved over to the other side of his bed, leaning over him as if to check on him. "How are you feeling?" she asked him softly, looking worried as she examined him.
Behind her was Brock, but he was the only other person in the room. He realized he recognized where they were – it was the main sleeping cabin of the fishing boat that they'd commandeered from the shipyard. So the sensation of rocking hadn't just been his imagination.
Gary started trying to push himself into a sitting position, but the minute he did, searing pain shot through his shoulder and back.
"Don't move," Misty said, leaning over him and placing her hands on his arms in a gentle but firm hold. "You're still really injured."
"Where's Ash?" he asked, wincing when he heard how his voice rasped.
Misty glanced over her shoulder and exchanged a look with Brock, which made a knot of dread form in his stomach. Finally she looked back at him. "Steering the ship," she said, and Brock, seeming to catch some meaning in the words, let himself out of the room. Gary was trying to figure out if they were telling him the full truth.
"I think you'll be all right for now," Lorelei said, and for the first time Gary noticed the tubing that connected his arm to hers, blood flowing between it. She stood and removed the needle from her arm.
"What…?" he asked.
"You'd lost a lot of blood," Misty explained. "And then we had to get that bullet out of your shoulder. Lorelei has the same blood type as you, so she's been giving you transfusions."
Gary looked at the Elite Four member in surprise. "Thank you."
"Of course," she said with a smile. "I'm glad you're doing better." She pat him on the arm then left the room.
Gary watched as Misty moved around the bed and took the seat Lorelei had just vacated, leaning over and placing a cool hand on his forehead. It was a surprisingly motherly action, something Gary hadn't experienced in a very long time. He got a flash of a memory, back before he'd lived his grandfather, a vague recollection of a woman with brown eyes and light brown hair doing the same thing.
"Your fever's coming down," Misty said, drawing him back to the present. "That's good, that means you probably don't have an infection. Here, you should really drink some water." She handed him a glass that had been set on the table next to the bed and he took a grateful sip, only then realizing how thirsty he'd been.
"I didn't get to say thank you," she said when he'd finished almost half the glass. "You didn't have to—"
A knock on the door cut her off. They looked over as Ash came inside, left arm bandaged and hanging in a sling.
"What the hell happened to you?" Gary asked immediately, his earlier quietness melting away at the sight of his friend.
Pikachu scampered around Ash's feet and hopped up onto the bed with a cheerful, "Pika-pichu!"
He wasn't sure when he'd realized that was the way the pokemon said his name, but at some point in the years he and Ash had been partners, he found he actually responded to it as if someone had said 'Gary.' "Did you yell at him for that?" he addressed Pikachu.
"Pi!" he replied with a stern nod.
"Oh no," Ash said with a shake of his head. "For once I get to be mad at you for getting yourself all messed up, not the other way around."
"I got ambushed and shot - you walked out into an obvious trap," Gary replied. "I still get to be mad."
"That's not the story I heard," Ash said with a little smile, and Gary glanced over at Misty, who seemed to find the pattern of the comforter interesting.
"I'm going to go check on Brock," she said, standing. "Let me know if you need anything." And with that she left.
Gary watched her go, brow furrowed. "I don't know her that well, is she acting weird?"
"A little," Ash confirmed.
"Why?" he asked, once again trying to sit up. He felt like an invalid laying there while he talked to Ash. It hurt like a bitch and he didn't get very far, but Ash moved over and used his good arm to help him. By the time he was in an upright position he was sweating, slightly out of breath and realized he should have probably just stayed where he was. Oh well.
"She thinks you getting shot was her fault," Ash answered him, once Gary was settled.
"It wasn't," Gary replied. He would have shrugged if he didn't think it would hurt so much.
"I know," Ash said. "I told her that after she told me what happened. Don't think she agrees though."
Gary did shrug at that, immediately regretting it. "So, I'm missing a good chunk of information here," he finally said. "What happened?"
They'd scattered when the Nineslash reared back and sucked in a breath, releasing a massive flame thrower attack and sending a stream of fire rushing at them in a long deadly burst.
"Alakazam! Teleport!" Ash called to Gary's pokemon. It stopped its Recover, reached out and touched its unconscious trainer, and the two were gone in a bright golden flash of light. Sure his friend was now out of harm's way, he sprinted after Lorelei, sliding feet first behind the large boulder she'd found for cover. Pikachu scampered next to him, crouching on all fours between his trainer and Lorelei, ears perked and at the ready.
"Never seen a pokemon take orders from someone who wasn't its trainer," she said of Alakazam as they both ducked as low to the ground as possible, to avoid their hair catching fire as flames streamed above them.
Ash cradled his left arm, trying to ignore the shooting pain that ran up it every time he jostled it. "We've worked together long enough that our pokemon trust both of us," he said with a shrug of his good shoulder. Ash's own pokemon took orders from Gary as easily as Ash, if the situation ever called for it.
"What exactly are we dealing with here?" Lorelei asked him, her long purple hair whipping around her face as the wind from the ocean picked up.
"One of Team Rocket's hybrid pokemon," Ash replied. "Looks like a cross between a ninetails and a sandslash."
"Hybrid…?" She shook her head. "Looks like I missed a lot while I was in hiding." She pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. "Okay, ninetails and sandslash – they're both weak against water, right?"
"Assuming Ivy isn't also messing with their genes, that's a good working theory," Ash replied.
The flamethrower attack stopped and Ash chanced peering over the rock. Misty and Brock had ducked back inside the tunnels, and Nineslash took off for the entrance, clouds of sand floating up behind it as it loped across the beach. The last thing they needed was an up close and personal stream of flames in an enclosed place.
"Pikachu!" Ash said. "Thunderbolt!"
"Pika!" The little pokemon leapt up to stand on the boulder they were crouched behind, cheeks sparking as he charged up and shot a huge bolt of lightning at the Nineslash.
"Electricity's going to be useless on something that's part sandslash," Lorelei said, pulling out a pokeball and rereleasing her dewgong. They'd recalled their pokemon before the Nineslash's first attack, since it was easier to run for it without having to worry about all of them being caught up in the flames.
Lorelei wasn't wrong, but she wasn't totally right either. No way this was going to faint it, but Pikachu wasn't your normal electric pokemon - his attacks were far stronger than average, type disadvantage or not. The thunderbolt hit the Nineslash, who let out a loud, angry roar of pain. Its run to the tunnel stopped and it spun, charging their way instead.
"It'll still distract it," Ash said. "Come on, Pikachu!" He held out his right arm and Pikachu scampered up it, taking his usual spot on his shoulder. "We'll try to keep it busy, but it's your pokemon that have the type advantage," he told her, before taking off down the beach, deliberately leading the Nineslash away from the former Elite Member.
It turned into a large game of cat and electric mouse. The Nineslash chased Ash and Pikachu all over the beach, while Lorelei (soon joined by Misty) had their pokemon use water attacks. Every time the huge pokemon was hit it would roar in what seemed to be more anger than pain, but before it could turn and attack the others, Ash would have Pikachu zap it, effectively keeping its attention on them.
Dark clouds slowly began to fill the sky, casting the beach into shadow. Low rumbling indicated a thunder storm was brewing, and rain began to fall as Ash ducked behind another boulder to avoid the stream of flames that the Nineslash had just aimed his way.
The Nineslash finished and roared again, pawing anxiously at the sand. The rain was clearly causing the pokemon pain.
"Pikachu," Ash said. "Now."
"Pika-chu!" Pikachu replied, leaping from his shoulder and running to the agitated pokemon. He used agility and became a yellow blur, speeding around behind it, and clambering up one of its tails. Nineslash, realizing it had an unwanted rider, turned its head and tried to snatch him with its large jaws. Pikachu was too quick, though, leaping away and twisting in midair to land on its head instead. He crouched low, paws gripping the Nineslash's fur, so that even when it began furiously shaking its head back and forth, the little guy was latched on like a burr.
Then he began to power up, electricity sparking around him dangerously, but not releasing yet. It looked as though he was drawing power from the very air.
The pokemon released an attack that the three other trainers on the beach had never seen before. A huge jagged bolt of lightning cracked down from the sky to the spot that Pikachu was crouched, as if he was a lightning rod. It slammed into the Nineslash with brutal force and the large pokemon was blasted off its feet. Pikachu finally lost his grip, flying into the air as Nineslash crashed to the ground.
"Pikachu!" Ash cried, running for his friend, diving and catching the pokemon with his uninjured arm, hitting the ground in a roll.
"Kachu!" Pikachu said cheerfully from his spot tucked against Ash's chest.
"Nice work, buddy," Ash said, grimacing as he slowly got to his feet.
The mistake was assuming that Pikachu's attack had actually finished Nineslash. Any other pokemon would have been fried to a crisp by a full powered Lightning Storm, type advantage be damned. Instead, the large mutant pokemon was struggling back to its feet, tails flailing wildly. It was one of these tails that his pokemon had been attempting to warn him about. He saw it coming, but too late, and he tossed Pikachu out of harm's way only a moment before it slammed into his chest, sending him flying across the beach with unnatural strength. He landed hard on his back in the wet sand, breath exploding from his lungs as the pain in his arm shot to a level that darkened his vision for a moment, threatening his grip on consciousness.
It was Brock. He and Misty appeared above him, looking him over worriedly, their hair flattened and sticking to their faces from the rain.
"NINESLASH!" It was the first time the hybrid pokemon had spoken – in fact, Ash had begun to think it couldn't.
"Pikapi!" Pikachu called, shooting a thunderbolt at it, but the Nineslash, in a rage, ignored the ineffectual attack and charged at Ash, Brock and Misty.
"Go!" Ash said to them, struggling to get to his feet.
Brock grabbed his good arm and hoisted him up, while Misty yelled, "Staryu! Hydro Pump!" Her brown, star-shaped pokemon complied silently, releasing a huge stream of water at the Nineslash. It caused it to roar in pain and change its course, loping at Staryu instead.
"Cloyster! Hydro Pump!" Another stream of water came from the right, slamming into the Nineslash and making it stumble before it furiously changed direction and ran for Lorelei and her Cloyster.
"Again, Staryu!" Misty called, over the sound of Lorelei's attack and the waves behind them.
Ash suddenly turned, looking at the ocean, wiping the rain from his face. He reached into his own pokebelt and threw a pokeball hard, whipping it over the Nineslash's head. There was a crack and his Blastoise appeared.
"Blastoise!" he called. "Hydropump!"
With a deep rumble of, "Blast!" his pokemon joined in with Staryu and Cloyster's attacks.
There was a loud, pained roar from Nineslash.
"The water's weakening it - we've got to push it into the ocean!" Ash called to Misty and Lorelei.
Lorelei gave a nod of confirmation. "Jynx! Dewgong!" she called to her other pokemon. "Hyperbeam!" They added their attack to the hydro pumps, and though the Nineslash continued to try to move toward them, it slowly began to be pushed backward, toward the water.
"SLASH!" it roared in rage, suddenly rearing up on its hind legs, tails waving wildly. They slammed into the ground, over and over, and Ash could feel the earth start to shake.
"What kind of ninetales knows Earthquake?" Brock asked as they both struggled to keep their footing.
"The kind that's half sandslash," Ash said, watching in dismay as several of their pokemon were knocked off of their feet and the attacks that had been pushing the Nineslash toward the water ceased. Expecting it to begin running at them once more, Ash found himself surprised to see that the pokemon didn't move once it was free of the water. Quite suddenly its white fur seemed to disappear under flames, which quickly began to spread out from its body in all directions.
Ash had seen this move before. Not good.
"Get back!" he yelled to the other three, back peddling with Pikachu while recalling his blastoise. "It's an inferno attack!"
Catching the urgency in his tone, Lorelei, Brock, and Misty also turned and made a run for it as the circle of flames began expanding outward toward them. The rain, still heavily falling seemed to have no effect on the unnatural fire.
"Ash, what do we do?" Misty yelled at him over the wind.
And they did, but the flames seemed to have no end, rushing toward them faster and faster. If it hit them – Ash had a sudden flash of screaming. A woman in a window. Fire.
If it hit him, he'd deserve it.
The winds and rains suddenly began to blow even harder, and the heat of the fire, which had grown close enough to feel abruptly disappeared, snuffed out by the hurricane force winds that had just began. Ash turned, looking up. Through the downpour he could make out a large bulky shape flying quite steadily despite the weather. The Nineslash roared, and lowered itself to leap at it, but before it was able it noticed what Ash just had. It was slowly being pushed back by the winds, inching ever closer to the water.
It began to scrabble at the sand, attempting to find purchase, but there was nothing for its claws to sink into. They watched as Nineslash was forced backward, just as a giant wave arose. It crashed down on the pokemon and when it receded, it was nowhere to be seen.
The ground shook as the shape in the sky landed heavily on the beach, and Ash and Brock found themselves looking up at a giant dragonite. The almost playful face that Ash usually associated with those pokemon was nowhere to be seen, however. It was growling, baring long sharp teeth at them, as if they were its next target.
From its back leapt a cloaked figure, black hood raised and covering any identifying features. It drew a sword from a sheath on its belt and pointed it directly at Ash.
"Move aside," a low male voice said to Brock, who had taken a step forward, positioning himself in front of Ash.
"I don't think so," Brock replied, his normally narrow eyes narrowing even further. Misty ran up to them.
"Brock," Ash said, eyebrows raising in surprise, once more cradling his injured arm. Blood was running freely through his fingers from his earlier mistreatment of it.
"Who are you?" Misty demanded of the newcomer, keeping a safe distance from the sword. Ash saw her hand slide surreptitiously to the gun on her hip. He made eye contact with her, and gave a subtle shake of his head. She frowned but made no move.
"Move aside. I won't ask again," the cloaked man said.
"Pikapi!" Ash's pokemon scampered to stand in front of Brock and his trainer, crouching low, cheeks sparking dangerously. The huge dragonite snorted and shifted, looking ready to pounce at first command.
"What's going on?" Lorelei had been further up the beach and had finally joined the standoff, stopping short as she approached, her hair flying behind her.
"Lance has something he'd like to say," Ash said calmly, and Brock and Misty both said, "Lance?" simultaneously.
Of course it was Lance. Team Rocket had no one who owned a dragonite, which left the Elite Four, which really only left one option. Lorelei didn't appear surprised, but, Ash supposed, she would know her own husband when she saw him.
"Lance, what are you doing?" she asked, peering at him through her rain covered glasses. "Put down your sword."
There was a long pause as the only movement from the man was his cloak, flapping in the wind. He didn't lower his blade, but his left hand came up and tugged down his hood, freeing his red hair, which was caught by the wind and blown out of his face. His expression was one of deepest resentment as his cold, angry gaze remained locked on Ash.
"Give me one good reason not to kill you where you stand," Lance said.
Ash was silent for a long moment, meeting the look of loathing without flinching.
"I don't have one."
That's what Ash had said. Brock had been replaying the moment over in his mind since it had happened. It was Lorelei who had finally managed to talk down her husband and Brock was still trying to understand just what had occurred on the beach a day earlier.
When Brock had first realized that Ash was not only alive, but working as – no, practically thriving as a Rocket member, he'd been overwhelmed by a feeling of total betrayal. How had the good hearted kid he'd known fallen so far? And with this revelation came the knowledge that Ash had to have been working with Giovanni when the sacking of the Plateau had occurred.
It had been hard to forgive.
But Lance hadn't known Ash – at least not like Brock and Misty had. It didn't make sense that he would be that angry at the young man for his betrayal. He didn't get it.
Brock was steering the ship, having taken over for Ash. When Misty had shot him the look in Gary's room, they'd both seemed to realize that Lance storming off angrily and Ash being alone on the deck could lead to trouble. Particularly since Lance wanted to kill Ash, and, from what Brock had seen, for some reason Ash appeared to feel like he was justified. As Brock had hurried to the helm, he couldn't help but wonder if Ash would even put up a fight if Lance made an attempt.
When Brock had arrived however, Ash was alone. Even Pikachu hadn't been with him, and Brock remembered that he'd seen the little pokemon seated outside of Gary's room. It made sense - Lance was insistent that both men didn't deserve to live, and though Ash appeared ready to let him skewer him with his sword, he didn't have the same attitude about Gary's life. Pikachu had obviously been left as a guard in case Lance tried to make any attempt on his friend.
"This is suicidal, Lorelei!" Brock glanced up as Lance's voice carried over the wind. The former Elite four member and his wife were standing a ways down the deck, but talking loud enough that Brock could still make out what was being said.
"Lance, I know you don't trust Team Rocket, and I understand, but these two aren't with them anymore," Lorelei said, trying to make him see reason. "They're working with the rebellion. Ash Ketchum fought with us, and Gary Oak - you saw how injured he was."
"No you don't understand," Lance said, shaking his head, black cloak flaring up behind him as the wind caught it. "I don't trust them."
"They're on our side," she insisted. "Just because Team Rocket-"
Brock glanced to his left as Misty quietly came up next to him. Her lips had flattened into a disapproving line, and it looked like she was getting ready to go tell Lance off once and for all. Brock knew that she hadn't been a fan of him since he'd brandished the sword at Ash.
"Not Team Rocket," Lance cut her off. "Them. It was them, Lorelei. Ash Ketchum and Gary Oak. Satoshi and Shigeru. They did it."
Brock questioningly met Misty's gaze. Did what, exactly? Misty elected to remain quiet and the two of them went from accidentally overhearing to actively eavesdropping.
Lorelei's lips parted as if she was going to reply, but for a moment nothing came out. Then, "How do you know?"
"I saw them," Lance said. "On surveillance footage. They set the bomb that blew up the G-men's headquarters, along with three quarters of the rebellion. Then they stood outside and they watched. They watched as the building burned. They watched as people screamed for help. They watched them burn alive."
Lorelei's hand was over her mouth and she didn't speak a while, as if trying to figure out what to say. "But-"
Brock flipped the ship onto autopilot. They were in the middle of the ocean and there wasn't a ton of sea traffic anymore anyway. "Come on," he murmured to Misty before heading over to where the two were standing.
"And how did Team Rocket find you all on Seafoam anyway?" Lance asked. "If those two didn't tip them off?"
"They could have tracked the boat," Brock said, interrupting the conversation.
Lance and Lorelei turned to look at them. Lance's expression was hard. "How much of that did you hear?" he asked.
"All of it," Brock replied.
"It was the two of them who were injured," Misty said. "Why would Team Rocket hurt them if they were still working for them?"
"To cement their position with the rebellion," Lance replied. "Now they look like heroes. Think about it. If Giovanni wants a rebellion crushed, who better to send than the two who've done it before? I've been following their 'careers.' They're the best he's got. He uses them when he wants something done flawlessly. And sure, they could have killed the rebel leaders at anytime, but why not wait? Why not draw out all four of the Elite, bring everyone to the same place and then have Team Rocket rain down holy hell on everyone there? Have they even mentioned all of the other hybrid pokemon Ivy's been cooking up in her labs? Or the environmental weapons their tech group has created? Guns that mimic pokemon attacks. What kind of chance do you think this rebellion actually stands? A handful of pokemon against all of that? It's laughable."
"How do you know all of that?" Misty demanded.
Brock was wondering the same thing. How many other hybrids were there? It had taken so many pokemon to take out one - were there two? Ten? Fifty? And elemental weapons? Why wouldn't Ash and Gary have told them anything about those?
Lance eyed them both, apparently trying to decide how much he could trust them. "I have someone on the inside," he confided after a moment. "They've kept me apprised on the goings on inside of Team Rocket, especially pertaining to those two. They're killers. Trusting them is a huge mistake. They're playing you, I guarantee it. Everyone you know is going to end up dead."
Brock could feel that doubt rising up in him again. He'd thought he'd managed to put aside his trust issues. Ash and Gary had been putting their lives on the line for them over and over - hell, Gary had taken a bullet for Misty. But why hadn't they given them the information about the hybrid pokemon and the elemental weapons? Why keep that from them?
"I don't believe that," Misty said, shaking her head. "They were put in that position because Giovanni threatened their families."
"And if Giovanni has their families?" Lance said, raising an eyebrow. "What's changed? They've killed hundreds by now. What's a few more in the grand scheme of things?"
Misty's already pale face lost the rest of the color it had in it. She looked at Brock. It was true, he realized. Regardless of Ash and Gary's true loyalties, they would always remain a wildcard if their families were still in danger. And Ash had told him that Cassidy had indicated that Team Rocket did have his mother. Misty also had said that the woman had claimed to have both the professor and Gary's sister.
They'd heard nothing from Erika yet to tell them otherwise.
"He's right, Misty," Brock finally found himself saying. "I don't know if we can trust them fully. Not when Giovanni might have their families."
"Yes we can," Misty insisted. "Cassidy offered Gary a deal. She'd give him back May if he gave me up to her. Instead of taking it, he gave me time to make a run for it. Cassidy tried to shoot me in the back and he jumped in the way. He jumped in the way of a bullet. For me. He almost got himself killed."
"You're overlooking the real question here," Lance said. "Did he do that so you would trust him, implicitly? Has this all been one elaborate ruse that's going to end in the demise of you and everything you've worked for?"
"They wouldn't do that," Misty said.
"Ash Ketchum has been lying about being dead for nearly ten years," Lance pointed out. "They've been withholding information from you. Are you honestly trying to tell me there's no chance they're misleading you?"
"I…" Misty looked at Brock again, maybe hoping for some kind of backup.
But the doubt was back, bubbling to the surface.
"The first time they showed up in the gym, they lied to us without blinking, Misty," he said slowly. "It's… not beyond the realm of possibility."
"So remove them from the equation," Lance said.
"What?" Misty exclaimed. "Absolutely not! There's no proof they're not one hundred percent with us."
"If there's even a chance that they could turn on you, it's too dangerous to keep them around," Lance said.
"We can't do that," Brock jumped in, agreeing with Misty. There was no way, he'd known that from the start. Killing Ash – he didn't have it in him.
"Then let me do it," Lance said.
"What if they really have switched sides?" Lorelei spoke up. "How can you sit here talking about eliminating people who might be trying to help us?"
"These aren't good men," Lance said angrily. "They aren't innocent men. They're murderers. And they're dangerous. Regardless of their most recent actions, nothing will change that."
Misty opened her mouth to retort, but was cut off as the comm unit hanging from her belt suddenly flared to life.
"Misty? Misty are you there?"
"That's Erika!" she said, grabbing it. "Erika, this is Misty."
"Finally! I was beginning to think something had happened."
"Long story. We're on our way now, with-"
Lance broke in. "Careful what you say - it could be monitored."
"Gary reprogrammed it so it's safe…" Brock said, trailing off when he realized that if Ash and Gary really were still with Team Rocket, then that could have been a lie.
Misty sighed. "Erika, don't say too much. There's a chance this channel is compromised. Did you get to your destination?"
"Gotcha, staying vague. We're here, safe and sound. I know the guys were worried, so I wanted to let you know that we've got a sister here. No mom or grandfather. Sister's safe but isn't sure what happened to the other two. They… could be alive or dead at this point."
Misty stared at the communicator, then looked at Brock. "Thanks, I'll let them know."
"No problem. See you soon?"
"Yeah. Shouldn't be too much longer."
Erika wished them luck and signed off.
"So the family members are still in danger," Lance said.
"Assuming they're still alive," Misty snapped.
Brock felt sick. This whole situation was fast getting out of hand. All he knew for certain was that Delia Ketchum and Professor Oak were missing, and that Ash and Gary might still be playing them, or easily compromised if their families' safety came into question. Brock didn't really want to believe it, but Lance was right, was it worth it to take the chance?
And the fact remained that they had withheld information from them, and Brock was having trouble figuring out why.
But then, if they were against them, wouldn't Giovanni already know the rebellion was at the Safari Zone? Would they be safe, regardless?
He turned abruptly and headed back into the cabin, striding quickly to the room Gary was recovering in opening the door without a knock.
"You should have told me-" Gary was saying, but trailed off as Brock burst in. Both he and Ash looked at him in surprise.
"Told you what?" Brock asked, looking between them.
Misty appeared in the door behind him. "Brock-"
He ignored her. "What should Ash have told you, Gary?"
"Nothing," Gary said, looking taken aback at the sudden questioning.
"I need you two to be honest with me," Brock said, hoping he didn't sound as desperate about it as he felt. "I need to be able to trust you."
"You've been talking to Lance," Ash said, brown eyes fixed knowingly on him.
"Is it true?" Brock asked. "Did you bomb a building full of people?"
"That was-" Gary began, but Ash interrupted him.
"Oh. No," Misty said, her hand coming up to rest over her heart as she shook her head. "Ash, why?"
"Orders," he said flatly.
"There's more to it than that," Gary said, beginning to sound angry.
"Explain it then," Brock demanded.
"Gary, we let them die. It doesn't matter what we were intending to do," Ash said. "That's what happened."
"I let them die," Gary said. "You were going to save them. I made that call."
"And I let you," Ash replied with a shake of his head.
Brock looked at Ash, trying to reconcile the boy he'd known and the man in front of him. He realized with a sinking heart that he couldn't. Ash, his friend, would never have let innocent people die. This was a stranger with a familiar face.
"Does Team Rocket have weapons that can imitate elemental attacks?" he asked them.
Ash's look of surprise was enough to confirm it. "How did—"
"Nevermind how we knew - why wouldn't you tell us?" Brock demanded, feeling more and more like he was the butt of some awful joke. "We have nothing like that. We only have a few pokemon. Why would you keep information like that from us? If we went to battle now, we'd all be killed! Or was that what you were hoping for?"
Ash looked stricken. "No, of course not," he said. "I didn't tell you because we were focused on finding the Elite Four. It seemed pointless for you to worry about that until we found them. And there might be something we can do about them, but I don't know yet." Gary looked at Ash in confusion, and Brock didn't know if it was because Ash hadn't told him anything about this possibility, or if he was now just lying through his teeth.
Silence fell over the room.
Finally, Brock said, "Your sister's at the Safari Zone," to Gary, who perked up visibly.
"She's okay?" he asked, hopefully.
"She's safe," he confirmed.
Gary slumped against the pillows in what appeared to be relief.
Ash's expression went from hopeful to blank as silence streached.
"There's no sign of your mother," Brock finally said. "Or the professor. May doesn't know what happened to them."
Gary's relief melted away into a grimace and he looked at Ash. "He's got them."
"You don't know that," Misty said.
"No, he does," Gary insisted.
"But what if…" Misty didn't seem to be able to finish the sentence.
"Well I'm not gonna sit around wondering," Gary said to her. "I'm going to find out."
"What are you going to do?" Misty asked. "Walk up to Team Rocket Headquarters and demand to see them? They'll kill you before you get to the door."
"It'll be a little stealthier than that," Gary replied. "But that's the general idea."
Ash had fallen quiet through this conversation, but after Gary's comment he seemed to wake up. "Yeah. If they're there I'll get them."
"Chu…" Ash's pokemon hadn't moved from his spot on the bed next to Gary, but he seemed to unsure of the idea.
"That's crazy!" Misty said. "It'd be the two of you against all of Team Rocket."
"I think they should do it," Brock spoke up, a solution to his inability to trust them starting to form in his mind.
Misty looked over at him in shock. "What?"
"Pika?" Pikachu seemed to share Misty's surprise.
"If anyone can do it, it's them," Brock said, trying to ignore the feelings of doubt that were threatening to make him just say 'never mind, Misty's right, this is insane.'
Ash was looking at him in a way that made Brock feel like he could see right through him. The sick feeling settling into his stomach was, for once, unrelated to the rocking of the boat.
Brock knew that he knew.
"If you do this, I'm coming with you," Misty said.
Ash finally broke eye contact with Brock. "You're needed with the rebellion."
"This is suicidal!" she exclaimed.
Brock was careful not to flinch as Ash's gaze flickered back to him at the word.
"I'm not letting the two of you go off on your own to get killed," Misty insisted. "Come back to the Safari Zone with us. We'll get a group to go with you. We'll–"
"It's better if it's just us," Ash interrupted.
"We know the place," Gary added.
"We'll drop you off somewhere near Pallet," Brock told them. "You should be able to make your way to Viridian from there."
"I can't believe you're encouraging this!" Misty growled at Brock before turning and storming out.
"Good, it's decided," Gary said, sounding pleased, despite the fact that Brock wasn't sure the man could even walk on his own at the moment.
Brock nodded, turned, and left the room, closing the door behind him and pausing in the hall, running a shaky hand over his face. What was he doing?
It was only a moment later when the door opened again, Ash stepping out and shutting it behind him. Pikachu remained in the room, presumably keeping Gary company.
There was a long moment where they said nothing, until Ash finally broke the silence. "Let him stay."
"What?" Brock asked.
"Gary. He's too injured to do this."
"What about his Alakazam's recover technique?" Brock asked.
"I don't want to use it until his fever's down and we're sure there's no complications. Healing the wound with an infection could kill him," Ash said.
"I don't think—"
"I get it," Ash cut him off. "You want us both out of here, because you don't know if you can trust us. It's the easiest way to get rid of us. Let us go back, and you'll know. Either we rejoin, or we end up dead. Either way, you can stop wondering, right?"
"Ash, that's not…" but he trailed off, because it was what he was thinking. Gods help him, it was. He was trying to send Ash off to certain death as a test of his loyalty.
"It's all right," Ash said, and his expression was so blank, so utterly void of emotion, that Brock honestly couldn't tell a single thing the younger man was thinking. It was scary, considering how easily he'd been able to read him when he was a kid. "I wouldn't trust us either if I were you."
"Ash, you've got to understand—"
"I do," Ash assured him. "But Brock. Please. Please, you have to let him stay. I know you don't trust him, but don't sentence him to die. I'm begging you."
Brock watched in alarm as that carefully constructed blank mask seemed to slip, and quite suddenly he was face to face with the ten year old kid he'd used to travel with, who was desperate to protect the people who were important to him. There was that doubt again, but now Brock was starting to doubt himself instead of Ash. What was he thinking? Misty was right, this was a suicide run. And Ash knew it. What right did he have to send them to their death? Maybe Ash and Gary were against them, but there was just as good a chance that they weren't. In fact, looking at Ash now, the worry on his face - he was pretty sure he knew the truth.
"Ash, never mind," Brock said. "This… this is a bad idea. I'm sorry. Forget I said anything."
Ash shook his head. "I still need to go," he said. "I can get in and get them out."
The idea of letting Ash go on his own sounded even worse. "Ash, this was a stupid, suicidal mission when it was going to be the two of you," Brock said, shaking his head. "It would be insane to go on your own."
"I have to get them out," Ash said stubbornly.
"You don't even know if they're alive!" Brock exclaimed, suddenly desperate to make him see reason.
"They have to be!" Ash exploded, then almost immediately deflated at the look of shock on Brock's face. He ran a hand through his dark hair with a sigh. "They just. They have to be."
Brock stared at him for a long while. Eventually he tentatively reached out a hand and rested it on Ash's shoulder in an attempt to reassure him. "Misty's right," he said softly. "Come back to the Safari Zone with us. Gary's not the only injured one." He looked pointedly at Ash's arm, still bandaged and in a sling. "Both of you can recover, and then we will help you get your families back. I promise."
Ash studied him curiously. "Are you trusting me against your better judgment?" he finally asked, eyebrows raising.
Brock actually let out a small laugh. "I think it's possible I was distrusting you against my better judgment," he said.
"No," Ash said with a shake of his head. "You've got every reason not to. I'm… I'm not a good person. I've done some terrible things."
"Everyone makes mistakes," Brock replied, feeling suddenly like he needed to make this right. He'd just tried to get Ash killed. And Ash knew it. He knew his reasoning was probably sound, that trusting these two could very well be a huge mistake, but now that he'd stopped to think – really think about what he'd just done, he felt a horrified sense self-disgust settling heavily on his chest.
Ash gave a small forced smile that honestly looked more like a grimace. "This is more than mistakes, Brock," he said. "There's no making up for the things I've done."
Brock almost asked him what those things were, then remembered Lance's story about the bombing and decided that maybe it was better not to know. They fell silent, boat rocking gently beneath them as Brock tried to think of something comforting, or at the very least encouraging, to say.
"You hungry?" was the best he could come up with.
Ash's brown eyes met his gaze and he shrugged. "I could eat."
"All right then," Brock said. "I'll work on dinner."
It may be a stupid move in the long run, but he was going to trust Ash until the man gave him a real reason not to. The alternative was eliminating the threat.
Brock just couldn't do it.