A casserole dish.

Brock thought that he might actually, really cry for a second; he had always wanted to make an honest casserole, but had never gotten up the nerve to buy an honest casserole dish. Now, here he had a simple glass affair, its price slashed to ribbons by the grand opening bargains at Viridian's new Kitchen City, and he had no choice.

He grabbed the boxed dish with its bright, marked-up price tag off the display, doing his best not to ruin the moment with the growing realization that he had spent well over his budget. He blamed the knives: the store had brought in a knife demonstration as part of its grand opening festivities, and even though Brock knew that the knife folks had scripted and rehearsed every part of the demo, from the chopping an apple mid-air to cutting through a coin with the kitchen sheers, that didn't change the fact that they were damn impressive knives. More importantly, they were damn impressive knives with a free carrying case, and Brock had been cooking on the move long enough to see the value there.

The casserole dish landed on his cart. Brock realized, though he failed to see the irony, that he would need to cut back on his food spending for a little while to afford his new cookware.

Can't argue with these savings, though, you just can't…but I'd better get out of here before I see anything else I can't argue with, he told himself, and this time he meant it. He turned the cart around and tried to push his way out of the cookware section, "tried" being the crucial word there. Hundreds of dutiful cooks had turned out for the grand opening, mostly women, and mostly women who hadn't found babysitters at that. If the store had opened up in Pewter, then Brock wouldn't have particularly cared about the sudden crowd; the place had supply to meet demand, and the longer lines would only have cost him a little more of his afternoon.

But Brock looked at his watch. The bus to Pewter City left in either ten minutes, and not for another four hours after that. It wasn't a very popular bus route; if he wasn't at the corner bus stop inside ten minutes, he was pretty well done.

He tried to push his way out of the isle and toward the registers, but he had had awoken from the dream of the casserole dish to find the cookware section a war zone. Here was a woman admiring the selection of roasting pans while a kid, presumably hers, was jumping up and down next to her cart; there was another woman, her substantial ass taking up more than its share of the isle as she bent over and compared prices on sauce pot; and beyond her, a pair of women, standing behind their shopping and clucking like hens as they looked through the sales brochure, oblivious to those trying to move around them.

He looked at his watch. Nine minutes.

Brock focused. Brock went inside of himself. Brock saw the open aisle ahead of all these women and their obstacles; he kept his eyes on that goal as he gripped the handlebar of his cart and advanced.

He conquered Madonna and Child easily, with just a passing "Excuse me." This was apparently one of those last few mothers who tried to teach their children courtesy, taking her son by the hand and pulling him over to the side to make room for Brock. He honored the sentiment with a sincere "Thank you," smile, and nod before storming on.

Princess Ass was more difficult; she looked up at his opening "Excuse me" with a look of…was it impatience? Was she really judging him because she was taking up most of the isle and he needed to get by? She shuffled forward a little bit, giving Brock another few inches, but it seemed to Brock that Princess Ass was making a conscious effort to not give him enough room to get by.

She wants to start something. Here. Now. Brock nodded. I have no time for her games.

"Sorry, sorry, in a rush," he sang, steering his cart right against the wall as he passed by, just barely brushing against Mrs. Ass: as he suspected, she had not left him enough room. "Oh, sorry, ma'am! In a rush, excuse me!"

That last "excuse me" was warning enough for the Hens, and as Brock had expected, it went unheeded. He was close, though, and any second now, someone else could swerve into the cookware section and complicate matters even further; in the main isle, the central thoroughfare leading to the cash registers, there were still shoppers aplenty, and they weren't all headed for the checkout. Diplomacy had failed; giving violence a try, Brock allowed his cart to stop just a bit too late, gently tapping the Hens' cart. It worked; they looked up as one from their brochure, they all exchanged apologies, and the Hens made room for Brock to pass.

He allowed himself a moment of weakness as he saw his way laid out clear in front of him. It would be cutting it close, but he was in the clear.

Just as he pushed his way out into the main isle, though, the front of the cart seemed to jerk away from him, the handlebars turning of their own accord in their hands. He heard glass break before he realized that the casserole dish had tumbled out of his cart; it was several seconds later, as it often is, before he realized that he had been in a cart accident.

"Oh, I'm so sorry! I was going too fast, it's all my fault, I'm…" A woman rushed ahead of his cart and picked up the fallen casserole dish; she turned to apologize personally, and recognition slowly dawned. "Brock?"

"…oh, hi, Mrs. Ketchum!" He was surprised, but he decided he shouldn't have been; of course a fellow gourmet like Mrs. Ketchum would have turned out for the grand opening, particularly with Pallet Town so close to Viridian.

"Brock, dear, how are you!" Still holding his casserole dish, she shrugged her way over to him gave him and gave him a nice, civil hug. "What brings you to the big city?"

"I'm doing fine, Mrs. K. I've been home in Pewter for a little while." He looked at his cart, and then at Mrs. Ketchum's. "And I think we both know what brings us here."

Mrs. Ketchum giggled. "I know, it's incredible, isn't it? Sorry about your dish, dear, it was my fault. I see all these kitchen sales going on, I get excited, and maybe I push the cart a little faster than I should."

Brock recalled himself a minute earlier and decided that he could relate. "Don't worry about it – I really shouldn't even be getting that thing, I'm over my budget already."

Mrs. Ketchum looked at the cardboard box holding the casserole dish, reading over the price tag in particular. "Oh, it's so nice having a good casserole dish, though – and at that price, you can't afford not to." She put the box with the broken dish in her cart. "Tell you what, why don't you go grab another one and I'll buy that one for you, too?"

Brock waved his hands defensively. "Oh, no, Mrs. Ketchum, you don't have to do that! I can pay for that broken one, too; I should have stacked the cart better."

Mrs. Ketchum waved her own hands, dismissing him. "Nonsense, it was my fault. Think of it as gift, one chef to another – you really ought to have your own casserole dish, Brock."

She's right, he thought to himself, and he surrendered, leaving his cart to go back into Cookware. Mrs. Ketchum followed him, back past the Hens, back past Princess Ass, and back past Madonna and Child.

"So where's Mr. Mime?" Brock asked, scanning the shelves for the same brand. "Doesn't he usually help with your shopping?"

"Oh, Mimie doesn't like crowds, and I thought it would be about this bad." Mrs. Ketchum looked up and down the shelves herself, quickly picking out a larger and different dish. "Here; this is a brand you can trust. You'll use this one for the rest of you life."

"Oh…Mrs. Ketchum, that's not the one I picked." More specifically, it was not the price tag that he had picked.

Mrs. Ketchum looked around, then leaned and whispered. "Brock, do you know why there are so many people here?"

He raised an eyebrow. "I was wondering about that. I never thought that this many people love to cook."

"This many people love to save money." She nodded her head toward Princess Ass. "Between you and me…I bet you she eats out five night a week, and she uses whichever saucepan she gets twice in her life."

Brock nodded; he realized it could have seemed rude or callous to nod at an accusation like that, but Brock and Mrs. Ketchum knew it was the vibe they got off of her, not just a function of her being heavy.

"Most of these people are here because something's on sale. They're going to buy their pans and paring knives, feel good about themselves, and then never use them." She tucked the casserole bin under one arm; negotiations were over. "It's a lot rarer to find someone who really loves to cook. That's why I'm getting you this one."

"Um…thanks! Thanks a lot, I'm always coming across these casserole recipes, but I've never…" You've lost track of time. Brock looked at his watch. "…Oh, man! The bus to Pewter leaves in three minutes!"

"Oh, my, I'm sorry I held you up!" She looked down at the casserole dish under her arm, and she shooed Brock along. "Go! Get on line! I'll mail this over with some of my old standby recipes to break it in."

"Thanks, again, Mrs. K!" Brock called back as he danced through the isle, reigning in his cart and charging for the line.

Ten minutes later, Brock was standing on the corner outside, both arms completely weighed down with kitchenware. The Pewter bus had been a few minutes late, as Brock had been hoping; unfortunately, it was not late enough, and Brock got to see the bus pulling away just as he waddled his way out of Kitchen City.

Another four hours in Viridian City, with the sun going down, the wind starting to blow, and his arms already getting tired did not seem like an attractive prospect to Brock.

"Come on. Pallet's right down the road." Mrs. Ketchum called to him; she had a smaller frame than Brock, but as she walked out of the store she was somehow managing to carry even more than him. Her car keys jingled between the two fingers she could spare through all her bags.

"Are you sure? I mean, that would be a big help, but I don't want to impose," Brock called back as he walked over with great difficulty.

"Nonsense; the Pewter bus leaves from Pallet, and I know it doesn't leave very often. As I recall, you're also an outstanding houseguest," Mrs. Ketchum assured, smiling. "Remind to me get your casserole dish out of these bags, by the way. Now, come on! It'll be just like old times!"

She IS a good cook."You've convinced me. Thanks so much, Mrs. Ketchum, I don't know what I was going to do otherwise."

She smiled again. "How long have we known each other, Brock?"

"Um…I don't know. Four years? Five?"

"Telemarketers call me Mrs. Ketchum, Brock.

"Call me Delia."

Well, I wanted this to be a nice, respectable, slow-burning fic, but Mrs. Ketchum is giving me just the slightest bit of sass here. I don't know where this monster's going.
Some concerns of mine: I'd like to characterize Brock a little more clearly. I don't feel like he came across very well, particularly not as the fic went on; your thoughts? I don't think Mrs. Ketchum is quite in character, either, but then, I think that if Mrs. Ketchum is ever to be involved in romance or carnal matters, it's going to be a side of her we haven't seen before.

Stay tuned, folks. This is His Lemony Freshness, and this Kitchenshipping voyage has only just set sail.