"Explain to me," a silky voice issued from the shadows of the office. "How they managed to escape when you knew Satoshi would be coming for Shigeru?"

"Sir," Butch said. His scratchy voice wavered slightly. "He set loose the unnaturally evolved pokemon. We were unable to get to the basement."

Giovanni's chair turned and he icily regarded the agents standing rigidly in front of his desk. "You never should have left the basement, Butch. You have failed me."

Butch swallowed visibly.

"However," Giovanni continued, folding his thick fingers together. "I'll give you a chance to make it up to me."

He turned his attention to the blonde beside Butch. "Cassidy," he said sharply. "While you had nothing to do with this-" his eyes shifted to Butch "-mishap, you too have failed me multiple times concerning Satoshi and Shigeru. You, as well, may take this opportunity to make this up."

Leaning back in his chair, he continued. "Find them. Shigeru is injured, they will not be able to travel quickly. Satoshi will be hindered, for he'll want to protect Shigeru as well as the good professor that they took with them. You should be able to take advantage of this and kill them all."

Butch and Cassidy nodded.

Giovanni spoke again, gesturing at the two agents next to them. "I would send these two to help you track, but I would like to believe you can handle this alone. Also, they seem to be more of a hindrance than a help as of late." He turned a cold gaze on James.

"Sir!" James wailed, falling to his knees and clasping his hands together. "I'm sorry, please don't be angry! When Satoshi stole my ID card we tried to get it back, but-he's scary!"

"Shut up, James," Jessie said, whacking him on the head.

James remained on his knees whimpering.

Butch rolled his eyes at the display.

Giovanni sighed. "Butch, Cassidy, you know what to do. Do not let me down again. This is your last chance. Jessie, James, you would do well to remember that your chances are not limitless either. Now get out, all of you."

James bowed several times as he backed out of the office. He let out a breath of relief when the door was closed and the four agents were in the hallway.

"You're pathetic," Butch growled at him.

Jessie and James exchanged glances. No matter how pathetic and degrading it was, the bumbling idiot act had kept them out of trouble many times.

"Perhaps so, Butchy," James said with a grin. "But which of us is on his last chance?"

Butch was silent.

Jessie laughed quietly. "I wouldn't want my last chance to be dependent upon the destruction of Satoshi. It almost makes me wonder if the boss isn't tired of you two and sending you out on a suicide mission. Either they kill you or he does."

Butch and Cassidy looked at one another, eyes widening.

"Yeah, good luck there," James said with a wave as they walked past their fellow agents, who appeared to be on the verge of panicking.

It had been ten days since Ash had gone after Gary. It was a three-day trip to Cerulean City from the Safari Zone so Misty had expected them to return at least three days before. She was worried.

The sun glared down from the center of the sky, indicating that it was noon. There were few trees in the Safari Zone and little shade to protect the rebels from the oppressive heat. Misty's normally pale skin had picked up quite a tan, as had most of the others.

She walked through the camp, her gaze wandering often to the outskirts of the Zone, hoping to catch a glimpse of her friends, and knowing that she wouldn't.

"Misty!" she heard Brock's voice call. Turning, she saw him running towards her, sweat dripping from his face as the sun beat on them. "Guards at the gate say someone's coming towards the Safari Zone."

"Ash and Gary?" she said, her eyes lighting up.

"Maybe one of them," he said. "The person is alone, whoever it is."

Misty's brows furrowed. "Why would one come back without the other?" Immediately she was worried again and she began to sprint to the gate.

When she got there she was more confused than before. The man was neither Ash nor Gary. He pushed disheveled white hair from his face and his eyes fell on Misty and Brock.

"Misty!" he exclaimed happily. "Brock! Just the two people I needed to see."

"Professor Oak?" Misty said incredulously. "What are you..."

"We thought you had-" Brock began.

"Yes, yes," Professor Oak said, waving a dismissive hand. "I know. It is quite hot out here isn't it?" he commented, wiping his brow with the back of his hand.

"What are you doing here?" Misty asked.

"Oh, of course!" the professor said. "Ash sent me ahead to let you know they're on their way."

"Where are they?" Brock asked.

"A day behind I would venture," Professor Oak said. "My grandson's been having trouble. He keeps insisting that he's fine, stubborn mule, but he's got a few broken ribs, among other injuries, and he can't travel to far at one time."

"Is he going to be okay?" Misty asked anxiously.

"Ash says he'll be fine-of course he could just be saying that to appease an old man who's worried about his grandson."

"I'm sure he's fine," Brock assured them both.

"How are you feeling?" Ash asked over the newly lit fire. They'd stopped to camp for the night, after making their way back towards the Safari Zone through the forests; they were careful to stay off the main roads. They both knew that Giovanni would not be pleased to find that they had slipped out of his trap unnoticed. Ash had sent the professor ahead not only to tell Misty and Brock about their arrival, but also to keep him out of harm.

"I'm fine," Gary said, shifting with a wince.

"Yeah you look it," Ash said teasingly.

"Well, next time you break a few ribs, let me know if you're feeling one hundred and ten percent. Why do you keep harassing me?" Gary snapped.

Ash was taken aback at his response. Gary had been acting irate since he'd gotten him out of the cells six days before and Ash had no idea why. He'd even snapped at his grandfather, which had really surprised Ash. Gary had thought he was dead, Ash couldn't understand why he'd be anything but happy with the older man. "Okay, okay," he said, lifting his hands in defeat.

Gary noticed the hurt look in his eyes as Ash pretended to brush off the hurtful words. He sighed. He didn't intend to be so mean; it wasn't fair or warranted. Gary just couldn't stop thinking about Butch's words, which hadn't had much of an effect on him in the cell, but the more he mulled them over the more he had to wonder if they weren't true. You're nothing without Satoshi here to protect you. You're no threat at all. Pulling his legs up to his chest, slowly to keep his ribs from protesting, he rested his chin on his knees. He'd heard the words before, usually from Butch or Cassidy, and occasionally from Giovanni when they were still in Team Rocket, but he never let them faze him the way they were now.

After all, what did he really do? He allowed himself to get kidnapped, held up by gunpoint by Team Rocket and Lance. He was always depending on Ash to get him out of trouble. And Giovanni obviously wasn't concerned with him; he wanted Ash dead. Gary was an afterthought. And why should Giovanni care about him? It was Ash who was wonderful at everything, martial arts, the bow, training pokemon, leading. It all came natural to the raven-haired man.

Silence had fallen between them, and he glanced at Ash, who was staring at the ground listlessly.

"Ash," Gary said finally. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have snapped."

Ash regarded him for a moment, a pensive look upon his face. "Is something bothering you?"

Gary didn't answer and Ash decided not to press him. Suddenly Gary blurted, "I'm pretty useless aren't I?"

Ash looked at him, caught completely off guard. "What?"

"I just cause you trouble. You're always saving me from something or another. I can't do anything for myself. Butch is right, I'm nothing without you."

Ash gaped at him. So this was what had been bothering him? "Gary, what are you talking about? First of all, we both know Butch's brain power is much to low for him to think and speak at the same time, therefore, whatever comes out of his mouth is mindless drabble. You've saved me just as much, if not more than I've saved you. I'd have drowned on the way to Seafoam if you hadn't jumped in to get me. I would have died after Cassidy shot me, but you took care of me. I've never gone into a fight anything but comfortable when I know you're covering my back. I would be nothing without you, not the other way around."

Gary seemed to contemplate this for a while, before saying, "I think we're nothing without each other."

Ash nodded in agreement. "We're a good team."

There was the soft snap of a twig from the dark forest surrounding them. Gary and Ash exchanged glances; they weren't alone. Machinegun fire erupted in the forest as several Rocket agents leapt into their campsite.

Butch and Cassidy weren't taking any chances. They'd brought fifty of the best agents they could find, armed with heavy firepower.

Ash and Gary leapt from the fireside, running further into the forest and taking refuge behind a cluster of trees.

"Machineguns?" Ash muttered.

"A little excessive, I'd say," Gary panted, clutching at his ribcage in pain.

Chancing a glance, Ash looked out to see Rockets pouring over their campsite. "Jesus, there's at least thirty or forty."

"Talk about overkill," Gary said. He reached for his weapon, then sucked in his breath. "I'm not going to be much good," he said. "I can barely hold my gun."

"There's no way I can take forty Rockets with machine guns," Ash said.

"What do you suggest we do?"

"He who fights and runs away-" Ash said.

"Lives to fight another day," Gary finished. "Agreed."

Ash slipped his arm under Gary's shoulder and they both began to stumble through the woods, away from the gunfire.

"Find them!" Butch screamed. "Don't let them leave this forest alive!"

Cassidy ordered half of the men to circle around to surround their quarry.

"Ash?" Gary asked, ignoring the pain in his chest as best he could. "Is it just me or is the gunfire now in front of us?"

They stopped and listened for a moment.

"Actually, it sounds like they've got us pretty well surrounded," Ash said, as there was now gunfire coming from all sides, moving closer. "Okay, new plan: up a tree."

"That's the best you can do?" Gary muttered. "Up a tree?"

"There's more," Ash said. "I just need you up a tree."

"You are not fighting them by yourself."

"I know," Ash said, walking Gary to the nearest tree. After some protest he allowed Ash to give him a boost up.

As he climbed, Gary looked back down at Ash. "Ash, you are not fighting them-"

"Gary, for the love of God, just climb the tree," Ash said in exasperation.

The sound of Rockets shouting and gunfire drew closer.

"Hey!" Ash suddenly cried. "I'm over here!"

"Ash!" Gary hissed from above him. "What did I just say!"

"Shh!" Ash said. "Don't let them know you're up there."

There was a scrambling and Ash found himself quickly surrounded by Butch and Cassidy's squad of fifty.

"Where's Shigeru?" Butch asked, appearing behind the circle his men had made around Ash.

"Had to leave him behind," Ash said. "He couldn't keep up."

"So you decided to draw our attention away from him and to yourself, Satoshi," Cassidy sneered. "How selfless."

"Kill him," Butch commanded.

The peril the Rockets had placed themselves in wasn't noticed until after Ash leapt into the air. He grabbed onto a low-lying branch and swung himself into a tree, quickly climbing until he was out of sight.

The machine guns of the Rockets, however, had already been fired and without a target in the center the bullets hit the next target they could find: a person across the circle.

Cassidy screamed in frustration as the majority of her troops fell dead or injured. She aimed her own machine gun into the air and began firing randomly at the trees above her. Butch and the remaining Rockets did the same.

Ash took refuge high in the tree, behind the large trunk, listening to the bullets fly past him or dig into the poor tree's bark. In the tree next to him Gary did the same.

The gunfire stopped and they both clearly heard the pop of a pokeball. Red light flashed briefly through the forest casting eerie shadows through the trees.

"Please tell me that isn't the gyrodactyl," Gary whispered.

"It's a mankey," Ash said.

"How do you know?" Gary asked.

"Call it a hunch," Ash said, staring at the furry white mankey that had just swung itself onto the branch he was standing on. It crouched low and nimbly crawled towards him, its large hands and feet easily holding onto the branch. The only warning it gave before its attack was a slight lowering of its body, but that was all Ash needed to see. He leapt to the nearest tree branch as the mankey sprang towards him, landing where Ash had stood moments before.

The movement was exactly what the Rocket's needed to discern where he was. Gunfire began again, this time directed at the swaying branches. The mankey lunged again and Ash dodged, the pokemon soaring by him. It grabbed a tree limb above them, however, and flipped over the branch, slamming its large feet into Ash's chest. Ash lost his balance and began to fall, managing to grab a branch just in time.

Gary watched anxiously as the mankey made its way to Ash again. It leapt high into the air and with a cry of "Mankey!" it landed on the branch Ash clung to, breaking it. Ash began to fall again, unable to find anymore tree limbs to save himself. He closed his eyes as the ground began to look much closer during his thirty-foot drop. There was a bright flash that he could see through his eyelids. When there was no impact, he carefully opened his eyes and was amazed to find himself back in a tree with Gary, who looked as astonished as he felt. There was another blinding flash and the two were sitting on the ground, staring at the Safari Zone in wonder.

"What just..." Gary trailed off.

"I have no idea," Ash murmured, slowly rising to his feet. Stars twinkled above them and there was no sign of trees or Rockets anywhere. Ash helped Gary rise and they turned in order to gain their bearings. Ash jumped and Gary let out a startled cry when they came face to face with a hooded figure in a black cloak, which had been standing behind them unnoticed.

"Do not be alarmed." A calm feminine voice issued from the shadow under the hood.

"Ala?" another voice asked. Ash and Gary watched as a yellow pokemon poked its head from behind her, spoons clutched in each of its hands.

"An alakazam?" Gary asked.

"Teleport," Ash said, understanding how they had gotten there.

"That is right, Satoshi, Shigeru," she said, nodding to each of them in turn. Her covered hand came to rest on the alakazam's head.

At the sound of their code names they tensed, and both made ready to draw their weapons.

The woman seemed to recognize their discomfort instantly. "Forgive me, Ash, Gary. You may trust that I have no ties to Team Rocket." With that she removed her hood and long forest green tresses were caught in the wind, blowing away from her face. Midnight blue eyes calmly gazed at them from a pale emotionless face.

"Sabrina," Ash said with quiet respect.

"Sabrina!" Brock said, grasping the woman's hand in his own. Sabrina simply gazed at him, expressionless. "May I just say how lovely that cloak looks on you-"

"Brock," Misty interrupted. "What are you doing?"

"Admiring Sabrina, of course," he said, starry eyed. "She has blossomed into a beautiful young woman since last I saw her."

"Brock, the last time you saw her she turned you into a doll," Misty said.

"Oh. Right." Brock dropped her hand and took a few steps backwards.

When Ash and Gary had returned with Sabrina a meeting of the leaders was quickly called. Now Misty, Brock, Erika and the Elite four all were sitting around a table in the mess tent, bleary eyed and yawning, but curious to the newcomer's purpose.

"So Sabrina," Ash said, entering the mess tent with Gary, whose ribs had been bandaged. "To what do we owe this visit?"

All eyes fell on the cloaked woman standing at the head of the table. "There recently have been many strange happenings. I have felt the life force of a great many pokemon as of late. They are abnormal though-in constant pain, and full of hate. I sensed that one had been here in the Safari Zone not long ago. The Zone also appeared to be a source of much pain and death. I was journeying here to find out what I could. On my way I heard gunfire in the forest and could sense two distressed souls. Alakazam teleported me to them then he teleported us here."

"Thank you Sabrina," Ash said. "You saved our lives."

Gary nodded in agreement.

"How is it that you still have your pokemon?" Erika asked. "All the gym leaders were forced to give them up."

"I never remain in one place long enough for Team Rocket to confiscate my pokemon. Just as the Elite four went into hiding, I, too, remained hidden."

"You said you sensed many strange pokemon," Ash said. "Exactly how many?"

"I cannot say for sure. Their life forces are chaotic and hard to pin down. I would venture a guess of fifty, perhaps more, perhaps less."

Everyone watched as Ash's face grew grim. "It's as I feared. More of those hybrids are being bred. With an army of those..." he trailed off.

"What's the big deal?" Lance spoke up. "Dragonite took out that thing with one attack."

Gary stared at him. "You've become delusional. Give credit where credit is due. It was Pikachu, not your flesh craving crazed dragon that knocked out the gyrodactyl."

"What?" Lance cried. "Why would I lie?"

"I don't know," Gary said lightly. "Maybe because your cold black heart doesn't let you do things like tell the truth anymore!"

Lance and Gary rose, looking as though they were about to lunge across the table and brawl.

"That's enough!" Ash said, standing and putting a hand on Gary's shoulder. "That's not important right now," he said, gently pushing Gary back into his seat and glaring steadily at Lance until he sat as well.

"You are right, Ash," Sabrina said. "Such arguments are of little relevance; however, Lance, as a member of the Elite Four, you disgrace yourself by lying to us."

Lance's head snapped towards her, then lowered as his face took on an embarrassed flush. Gary broke into a grin and even Ash couldn't conceal the small smile on his face.

'Thank you, Sabrina,' he thought, and wasn't surprised to see her nod at him in acknowledgement. She was not a woman to be taken lightly.

There was a long silence, until the sounds of voices could be heard outside the tent. They listened carefully, then Ash and Gary exchanged glances when the word "Twerp" became discernable.

"You know, I've been taller than they are for years. You would think they'd have stopped calling me that," Ash said. He strode to the entrance of the tent and came back moments later, dragging Jessie and James by the back of their shirts.

"Not so rough," James whined.

"What are you doing here?" Ash asked, setting them down.

"Twerp," Jessie said, straightening her uniform. "Trouble ahead. Giovanni is absolutely livid at your latest escape from Butch and Cassidy. He's planning a full-scale assault on the Safari Zone. They march tonight. They'll be here in three days. Hybrids, elemental weapons, and a lot of man power-not to mention everyone's being armed with our best weapons."

"What?" Misty and Brock said in alarm, standing.

"You need to get out of here as fast as you can," James chimed in. "There's no way you can withstand a force like this-not on the defensive."

All the leaders were standing now and a panic began rising.

Ash and Gary exchanged identical grins.

"Look at them," Lance said. "They're actually smiling. You're spies after all!"

"Be quiet you fool," Sabrina said. Gary liked her more every minute.

"Prepare everyone to march," Ash said to Misty and Brock.

"To march where?" Misty asked.

"Team Rocket headquarters," Gary answered.

"Leave the tents up so it looks like we're still here," Ash said. "By the time the Rockets realize we're gone we'll have attacked."

"What?" Lorelei asked.

"We want Giovanni. Take him out and Team Rocket stands leaderless and powerless. What better time to go after him than when most of his cronies are here, three days away?" Ash said.

"Good plan, Twerp," James said. "But a word of warning: Suzie's managed to make a lot of those hybrids, and Giovanni is keeping most of them at H.Q."

"Well, that brings us back to our original problem," Misty said. "What can we do against an army of hybrids?"

"If only we had some really powerful pokemon," Brock said.

"Well, we have the Elite and Sabrina's pokemon," Erika said.

Sabrina shook her head. "These pokemon are too great a force. Our pokemon cannot hope to defeat them."

"No," Ash murmured. "But maybe..." he trailed off. Then suddenly: "Sabrina, can Alakazam teleport very long distances?"

She nodded. "If I am with him."

"Good."

"Where are you going?" Gary asked.

"I'll be back no later than the evening of the attack, hopefully with help. Get everyone ready and march out tonight. Take them through the woods and avoid roads or you'll have a run in with the army headed towards us."

Gary nodded, knowing he wasn't going to get any answers from Ash.

Ash mentally told Sabrina their destination and they disappeared from the tent.


A/N: Yay, another chapter. There's not much to say. I was wondering though, someone told me they had drawn fanart based on my fics and I was curious if anyone else had. I'd absolutely love to see it if anyone did.