You know, I think this one took as long as it did, just because I don't think I wanted it to end the way it did. And, in another sense, I felt like you guys, my readers, wouldn't want it to end like this either. With how this story has been, in some ways I feel like there should have been explosions and gunfights, and an action scene to end all action scenes. I think I kind of wanted to end it cheesey too, with some sort of romantic nothing between Misty and Ash, and their world being happy and perfect.

But I don't think it should end that way. I'd like it to, but I don't think it should. I don't think this story is supposed to end perfect, or supposed to be a Michael Bay action sequence put to paper. I think it's supposed to be the way it is.

So, I know it's going to be weird, my dear readers. I know that, no matter what you expected, this isn't going to be it. It has twists and turns and it's not even entirely what I expected it to turn into. Before you read, if you could do me one last favor? For the sake of giving this story the chance it deserves, without its stupid author waiting too long and building up expectations ridiculously high?

Close your eyes. Think of everything you wanted this ending to be.

Now shake all of that off, and read.

The Deceptions

It was weird how the more they needed to be quiet the louder they sounded. Three sets of feet on soft grass sounded like a herd of tauros stampeding on stone, and it was all Ash could do not to yell at them to be quiet. They were trying, of course. They all were, but none of them were practiced thieves, as evidenced by Ash's own bright red hat, Misty's yellow shirt, and the orange tee Brock was wearing. If anyone came along, they were screwed for sure. So he was understandably twitchy, looking this way and that while Brock fiddled with the padlock, visibly flinching every time it touched the door.

"Breathe, Ash," Brock chuckled. "The Pewter Police Department is way more concerned about the drug smuggling from Viridian than whatever's in the museum. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if most of them didn't even know we had a museum."

"It's like sneaking into your school after it closed, or sneaking out of the house without waking your parents up. You must have done something like that back in Pallet, didn't you, Ash?" Misty whispered, nudging him softly, drawing his attention back from the lock.

He grinned weakly. "Not really."

"Didn't you break any rules?" she pressed.

"I didn't have that many. Don't hurt anyone, don't steal, and don't play near the cliffs." He shrugged slightly, remembering how his mother would grab him on his way out the door, and tell him those three rules before letting him rush outside with Gary and some other Pallet townies. "As long as I had a flashlight and no school the next day, Mom didn't care if I stayed out until the sun came up. It was different in Pallet."

She arched an eyebrow. "And you never played on the cliffs? Not even once?"

"Yes, but-"

"Then think of this like the cliffs," she urged. "You're not supposed to, and it's dangerous, but it's not that bad. Anyone who gets hurt is only getting hurt financially, and whoever owns this place is probably rich anyway, so it barely matters. It's just like the cliffs. Think of it like that." She squeezed his shoulder softly and smiled at him.

He scowled, not pushing her hand off, but thinking about doing so. "Police didn't arrest you for playing on the cliffs."

"And here you can't fall to your death. I said it was like the cliffs, Ash, not that it was the cliffs."

"You know, the door is still locked," Brock pointed out patiently. They didn't look his way, and he sighed, dropping to his hands and knees to check for a key under rocks or hidden in the grass, because he certainly didn't know how to pick a lock. He grumbled as he went, "Don't we have stuff to get? A world to save? Oh, no, Brock, you can do it. We're just going to argue like a pair of toddlers."

They were getting louder instead and now Ash did shake her off, face reddening as his temper rose. "I don't want to go to jail."

"Then don't get caught!"

He drawled, "Oh, great plan."

"Do you two want to argue later?" Brock snapped, lurching to his feet after finding his key search useless. "I don't want to go to jail either, so we've got to get in and out before the museum opens, and with the way you two argue, I don't know if you'll be done in time. So how about we finish this up before the world ends?"

Ash was still shaking his head, looking more and more nervous by the second. "We shouldn't do this."

"We have to," Misty hissed.

"But this isn't right!" he cried, not whispering, not speaking, but crying at the thought of it. "There has to be another way to do this. There has to be one where I don't steal and I don't have to kill a little kid! I mean, I'm stealing from a museum. This is what supervillains do in old Batman shows! Good people don't steal from a museum! Heroes don't steal from a museum! I mean, even if they do they don't do it to pay off some psychopath to help kill a little boy!"

"Can't you have morals at a more convenient time?" she muttered icily.

"I can't do it."

"You have to!"

"There's another way!"

"There is no way!"

"There has to be!"

She slapped him, right across the cheek and glared, fuming, as he held the spot with his mouth wide open. She ripped his hand away and glared at the red spot, almost angry that he had allowed her to hurt him. "It has to be done. You think I like this? You think I want him dead? I held him, Ash. He cried against me. He was little, and he looked like you, and I held him. I don't want him dead, but it has to happen. There's no way around this."

"There's always a way. You can…we could talk and…"

She shook her head softly. "We have to kill him. There's no talking, Ash."

"I have to kill him." He swallowed, trembling. "It's always me."

"It's we," Brock promised. "We'll be there."

It was painfully obvious that Ash didn't believe this. Whether he denied it because he doubted his friends in their ability or their courage, neither Brock nor Misty knew. However, his silent nod meant that he wasn't going to change his mind about it anytime soon. And, in the end, they weren't quite sure what to say, because it was always Ash. He was the one who destroyed the bad guys, rescued the pokémon, did the hero's job. They helped, of course they did. But they didn't throw the finishing blow.

"So," Brock asked, looking back and forth between them, swallowing thickly and the ever present tension in the group. "I don't suppose either of you ever took a course in lock picking when you were growing up, did you? Or should I see if Geodude can rip the lock straight off?"

"Three older sisters," Misty said, stepping forwards and rustling through her red, drawstring bag for what she needed, metal wires she never left home without. "I've been breaking into all kinds of locks since I learned how to read. If I can't do it in ten minutes, it's all yours."

Ash frowned at that. "Give it twenty."

"Why? No point in wasting time. If I can't get it in ten minutes, just let Brock rip it off."

"Lock picking is a lot quieter," Ash insisted, eyes narrowing.

"We're not going to get caught," she said, slamming a hand against the door and making both of the boys jumped. "I don't know if you've noticed, but the cops in Pewter have a lot more to worry about than the museum. Nothing in here is worth any money and any troublemaker who did manage to steal something is going to get caught trying to cash it at the bank. Pewter isn't famous for jewel thieves."

Now it was Brock's turn to frown. "Could we stop trashing my town?"

"If you keep saying we're not gonna get caught, you're going to jinx us."

Brock snorted. "There's no such thing as a jinx."

Both teens stopped, staring at Brock with open mouthed horror, and Brock remembered who he was talking to. Misty, who carried around a number of good luck charms from religions she did and did not belong to, who avoided cracks like the plague and fervently believed that the day a person was born affected every aspect of their lives, including their personality. And then there was Ash, who had seen a legendary on the first day of his journey, and countless more afterwards. Ash, who had been the focal point of a prophecy which even included his name. Ash, who had, at one point, turned into a Pikachu by a witch's spell gone wrong. If there was ever a pair who would believe in jinxes, it was them. And even Brock understood, the greatest jinx was saying there were no jinxes, and that if their plan hadn't been doomed before, it was most certainly was now that they feared an oncoming jinx.

"I didn't mean that," Brock said, holding up his hands. "I just meant tha-"

"I'm going to die," Ash said hollowly.

Misty, forgetting herself, rushed over to kiss Ash on the cheek and murmur, "It's alright, I'm got a four leaf clover in my pocket," before striding back up to the door and leveling a cold glare at Brock. She was so concerned with the idea of being jinxed, that she didn't notice Brock's stare at the sudden romance between his friends which, yes, he had suspected, but hadn't ever confirmed, and certainly hadn't expected it in a time of crisis.

"How long has this been going on?" he asked, looking at Ash rather than Misty, who had already started sticking her tools in the lock. Ash, who was far too nervous about breaking into the museum, didn't answer him, serving to make Brock even more confused. He walked up to Ash and shook him a little, drawing his attention away from the museum. "Since when have you and Misty been all…all kissing and romantic?"

Ash blinked. "We're not romantic at all."

"You know what I mean."

He thought for a moment, trying to tune out Misty's quiet swears as she fidgeted with the lock, the thing constantly clicking at her and sending a light shower of rust into her lap. Then he shrugged, and as if it wasn't anything new, explained, "I think it happened earlier today, but it might have happened a while ago. I don't know. Is that bad?"

Brock gawked for a moment longer, then settled with his back against the museum. After a few minutes, Ash joined him, and they both watched Misty attempt to undo the lock, though the progress was slow, if there was any, and it was louder than expected. So much so, that before ten minutes had passed, Ash's nerve gave out and he pulled Misty back, allowing the older boy to use his geodude to rip the lock from the worker's hallway, the door swinging open with a thick, musty smell.

"So we have to find the code, right?" Ash asked. "We have to punch in the code and-"

"Fourteen twenty nine," Misty said quickly, and when the boys glanced at her, she blushed at her intensity and ducked her head, quietly whispering fourteen twenty nine over and over, to be sure she wouldn't forget. The museum was silent, so they could easily hear her, but neither commented as she repeated, "One four two nine," again and again, right up until they found the system about the microwave in the work room.

They let her punch it in, and it beeped so loud that Ash let out a little yelp of horror, jumping straight up and making a very unhappy Pikachu tumble to the ground. The little mouse zapped his ankle to let his displeasure be known. Each of his friends snapped at him in turn, scolding him for his noise even though they were already inside, and the risk of being heard was far, far lower now. It was during their scolding that the machine beeped again, and they all stared at it.

"What was that?" Ash asked.

Brock winced. "It takes it five minutes for it to get up again."

"So, we have to do this in five minutes?" The boy looked back and forth between them. "We have to go upstairs, get to glass cases up, take the stuff inside, and set it all down without breaking it in five minutes? We can't do that."

"I'll stay here," Misty said.

"And what good'll that do?"

"I can hit the button, you idiot!" she growled. "Take your watch with you. When five minutes are up, don't touch anything for a few seconds so I can punch it in again, and then you have five more minutes. I can do that as many times as we need until you get your stuff out. You have plenty of time."

"That's too risky! If we get the timing wrong, it'll beep. And what if you punch it in slower than we think, and then we set it off? Or what if-?"

Misty crossed her arms coldly. "You have nine minutes. The first five, then wait ten seconds, then go for four minutes, so you can be sure it won't go off if I did it a few seconds early. If you need more time than that, come down, and we'll do it again. Do you get the plan? Do you think you can handle this?"

"But that's only nine minutes!" he cried. "How many times will we have to do it?"

Brock clapped Ash on the back, the boy stumbling a bit when Brock hit him too hard. "We've got it, Misty. The two of us can get this done in nine minutes no problem. We're not going to set off the alarm, we're not getting caught by the police, and we're going to save the world. Think you can handle that, Ash? You done way more complicated stuff before, haven't you?"

He gulped and nodded. They planned, and realizing the only watch any of them had was Ash's pokedex, used that to know when to stop and start. Misty punched in the numbers, and the boys raced through the museum, rushing up the stairs and searching for what they needed. It was strange how completely different it all looked in the dark. They stumbled over little imperfections in the floor that they hadn't noticed in the daytime, bumped against unlit cases, using Ash's light up screen on his pokedex to look inside, seeing where they were and which direction they needed to go.

"Don't you have a flashlight?" Brock asked, watching Ash press the pokedex face down on the glass.

"One of us went home," Ash reminded. "One of us had the time to get a flashlight."

"I was busy with my family. I forgot. You could have gone to the store and got one if you really needed it."

"I don't have any money."

"Well, you could have come over to my house and then you wouldn't have for-"

Ash held up his hand and slammed it over Brock's mouth immediately. The pokedex clattered on the glass as he used the other hand to drag the man down, gesturing wildly at the strange rock illuminated in the case. It was smaller than his fist and a deep pink, and, somehow, seemed to only be half there. It was nearly transparent, looking like a flash of pink light, that if he grabbed at it his hand would pass right through. It was a perfect sphere though, completely smoothed edge, and the small plate proclaimed that it had been found that way, not carved.

"I found the stone thing Sabrina wanted," Ash explained, taking his hand away from Brock's mouth. "At least, I think that's it. That's what she said it was called, right? It's a Luminescent Stone? The creepy, magic light stone?"

"She said it was a luminescent stone. If they marked it wrong, she can't blame us. I don't think she'd end the whole world just because we brought back the wrong stone." Brock hesitated, then looked at Ash, who quite worriedly looked back at him, and Brock shuddered a bit. "Well, we don't have that much time, anyway. Not enough to talk. So we'll just get it now and then we'll run out of here and hope for the best."

Ash nodded. "How do we move the case?"

"There's no key or anything," Brock said, his fingers sliding around the edge. "I think we can just pick it up and it'll come right out. We'll have to be careful setting it down, though. We don't want to break anything we don't have to."

"Back up for a second," Ash advised, relaxing as he put a good two get between himself and the glass. "It's almost five minutes. We should have enough time to get it out and take it down to Misty before the second reset. Then we can do the second reset and get the plate or whatever the hell we're supposed to be getting so we can trap Hyacinth. Sound good?"

Brock shrugged, and they waited for the pokedex clock to click over, marking the end of five minutes, then counted very slowly to ten before edging forward to the case. Brock went to one of the short shides, and Ash went to the other, and on the count of three they lifted the case off, setting it down on the ground very, very gently, and then grabbing the Lumiescent Stone. Ash tucked it in his pocket, letting Pikachu bump his nose at it, sniffing it deeply.

"Do you think that's the right one?" Ash whispered to the mouse. Pikachu shrugged, and Ash sighed, going back to put the glass case on the platform. He would have to hope for the best, hope it was the right one, and that if it wasn't Sabrina wasn't so crazy as to let the world end over it. It was harder keeping the glass unbroken on the way up, especially as they tried to shift it into the right slot, and it fell in with a startling bump.

Brock and Ash immediately ran their hands all over, Ash also holding up the pokedex to check for any hairline cracks. It seemed smooth, and they leapt back just before the next four minutes were up, making sure the alarm wouldn't come back on. They were turning down the stairs, when Brock grabbed Ash's shoulder, and whispered, "Don't bump into anything, or the alarm is going to go off. Take out your pokedex and watch your step."

He did, and they made it back to Misty, Ash taking out the stone and holding it under the pokedex screen. She took it from him, sliding it into her bag, and turned back to the keypad to give them another ten minutes. This time, Pikachu stayed with Misty, hoping he could at least give her some comfort since he couldn't help the boys upstairs. She pet him gently, being as quiet as she could so she wouldn't miss the beep, when a shattering sound happened upstairs, and the boys came down the stairs, the pokedex off and looking nervous.

Her eyes widened. "What the hell happened?"

"I dropped the case," Ash blurted.

"You what?"

"I dropped the case! The glass shattered! And any second now the alarm is going to go off!" he cried, panicking. "I'm sorry I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to. And I knew it, I knew that this was wrong and that it was going to go wrong and that-"

"It doesn't matter," she said, shaking her head. "You have the talisman, you have the Luminescent Stone. We're driving back up to see Sabrina now, and we're getting this done as quick as we can. When this is over, we'll sneak back to the museum and leave the stuff in the worker's longue. Steve will have his stuff, the museum just needs to buy a glass case, and they probably won't take the time to do a full investigation if they got all the stuff back."

Ash swallowed. "I have gloves. They can't get fingerprints off it if I'm wearing gloves, can they?"

Misty was about to say something cruel, looking down at his fingerless gloves, when Brock stepped up and nodded, patting Ash on the back much more gently than he had before. "No, Ash. They can't get any fingerprints off of it. If anyone gets in trouble, it'll be me, and all I'll have to do is pay for the case."

"But I dropped it," Ash said weakly. "You shouldn't have to pay for it."

"Then you can help me pa-"

The alarm blared overhead and they all winced. Pikachu climbed up on Ash's shoulder. Misty grabbed the talisman and shoved it into the bag. Then the three of them fled out into the woods behind the museum, running until they couldn't run any further, and collapsing in pine needles that came from the trees that cluttered the base of the northwest mountains. Misty checked, just once, that both the stone and the talisman were where they were supposed to, before falling back with a calm sigh.

"We did it," she said, holding the bag perpendicular to her as she lay on her back, grinning. "We've got the stuff. All we need now is to get Sabrina's help, and the rest will be a piece of cake."

Ash glared. "It will not be a piece of cake."

She let the bag fall with a groan. "Fine, a piece of a thermonuclear weapon. That's how easy it'll be. But at least we got part of it done."

"How do we get to Saffron?" Brock asked. "I can't go back for my car."

Misty rolled onto her side, tugging Ash's pokedex from his pocket, and calmly typing in. "Well, if this thing gets wireless-"

"It doesn't have internet."

She glared. "How the hell do you think it sends back the information to Oak, Ash? Or downloads new information?" She shook her head at his ignorance, then went back to her business, typing things in. "Well, I'll make up an entry that'll go to Oak, telling him we're stuck in the woods and we had an appointment with Sabrina. He gets the coordinates from out pokedex, calls Sabrina, and Sabrina can psychically pop over to Saffron in no time flat."

"Do you think she can do that?" Ash asked. "I mean, I know she's powerful, but, that's really far, and she'd have to do all of us. Even for her, that has to be hard."

"She can make as many trips as she needs," Misty countered hotly. "Until she starts helping us, she's not getting the Luminescent Stone, and you guys have the pokémon to keep her from just taking it."

"You don't have any?" Ash inquired.

"I have starmie, but that's not enough to hold her off. You guys have the real fire power." She scowled. "He caught me unprepared. I usually have a full team with me, and then they took me to Pallet without packing my bag."

"What could you do with pokémon in a coma?" Brock pointed out calmly. "He caught all of us unprepared. I was keeping my pokémon in the center, just like Dawn, and who knows what the others were doing when they were caught. He did a good job planning."

"I don't feel safe."

Ash snorted. "If you had your strongest you wouldn't be safe."

"But I'd feel safe."

"That's stupid, he mumbled.

"So are you."

Brock sat up, eyeing the two of them and thinking about asking them what the sudden romance was between them. They looked nervous, though, and he figured they had bigger things to worry about than love lives, and asked instead, "Do you think we should sleep? You know, in case he…"

"He wants a fair fight," Ash said calmly. "He's not going to kill us in our sleep. He's not going to steal the talisman. He probably won't even talk to us."

Misty giggled, shaking her head. "Could you sleep?"

"What's so funny?"

"Oh, I'll just sleep. I'll take a nap before the psychic takes us to kill the creepy little boy. Let's take a little nap." She giggled harder, burying her head in her hands. "I'm sure sleeping is the right thing. Let's surf the web while we wait! We can look at pictures of babies and find their weak spots, you know, just to prepare."

"You can cry, you know," Ash said seriously. "If you need to, you can cry."

Her giggles slowed, and she stopped them with a weak grin. "No. I won't be able to stop if I do. And then…then I might do something stupid. Because I hate myself so much. I hate myself and Hyacvinth and the whole damn world for letting this happen and for never stopping it after it happened, and I hate Sarbina for making us steal, and I hate you. Mew, Ash, I hate you for being you."

"But don't you love him?" Brock blurted.

Misty grinned. "Oh, sure I do. Doesn't mean I can't hate him at the same time, right? What about you, Ash? Do you say to fuck the world and everyone in it? No." She frowned for a moment before the smile returned. "Fuck the world and everything in it. Everything."

Ash nodded immediately. "Yeah."

"Do you love me?"


"Do you want me dead to?" She punched his shoulder. "And you better tell the truth."

He thought, staring up at the stars, and said without a trace of guilt, "I want you dead too."

She giggled, just once, and closed her eyes. "We're both crazy then, Ash. We've both gone crazy."

"I do love you, though," he promised, utterly forgetting that Brock was on his left, stunned into silence.

"Of course you do. Of course I do. And Brock and May and Max and everyone but Hyacinth, everyone loves someone. No, something." She cocked her head to the side in the grass. "Everyone but Hyacinth. Everyone loves something."

"Yeah?" he asked.

"Yeah," she confirmed. "Hating it and loving it, that's what makes us crazy. That's why he's so damn good."

There was a silence, and Brock asked, "So you're not going to try and destroy the world?"

"No," Ash snorted. "Weren't you listening? We said we were crazy. Crazy people never destroy the world."

Ash was woken by a foot jabbing him in the side, painfully, and opened his eyes to see Sabrina glaring down at him, arms crossed. His eyes travelled down to her foot, the one she had just kicked him with, which was now tapping impatiently against the ground. His mother had often struck the same pose, usually after he had done something like getting them kicked out of the zoo, or getting a call from the teacher because "pokémon masters don't need math" wasn't the answer to what is three times six.

"You better have the Luminescent Stone," she said, almost shaking. "I said I wanted payment. I won't help you if you don't have it. You'll have to go back and get it. I don't care how long it takes or if Hyacinth destroys the world. I won't do it if you don't get me the Luminescent Stone."

He blinked up at her for a few minutes, then said. "Misty said that you're not allowed to have it until you teleport all of us to Saffron, not even if you have to do several trips. And if you try and take it, Brock and I are supposed to fight you because she doesn't have the pokémon to do it."

"We aren't going to Saffron," she said, relaxing at the knowledge that they had her prize in hand. "If you want to get at him, you'll want to do it in Pallet. The easiest place to cage him is going to be the place where he was made. The closer you get, the stronger the cage will be. There should still be some remnant of that ditch where they kept Alakazam. It might be run down a bit, but it should be there. Big, round, draws a lot of attention. There probably isn't any wildlife around there, not pokémon nor animals and not a single person for at least a mile. Do you know a place like that?"

His eyes closed and he raced through Pallet. He left his house and ran down to the beach. He sifted through the sand and tossed seashells into the ocean, then he raced to the woods and found all his favorite hiding spaces. There was an abandoned nest under a bush, just big enough for a little kid to slide down inside. There was a blueberry bush that he always got caught by in the summer, because he always had to stop and try some. He raced through wide meadows with grass that brushed up to his nose. He took Gary's dare and, even so cautiously, slipped out into that haunted place, the stay away place, the-

"Cliffs." His eyes opened, and he felt her eyes bore into his head, probably prodding around to see where it was, and not bothering to complain about the invasion of his privacy. "Nothing ever grows around there, and nothing lived there. All the parents told us to stay away from it, even though it wasn't really that deep, and all the kids thought it was haunted. We would always dare who could go closest, and no one ever reached the edge, or tried to get inside it."

Sabrina grinned at that, and he was sure she had dug around to find the perfect place. "That would be a good spot. Are you ready to go?"

"Now?" he asked, sitting up sharply. He hadn't noticed Misty's head on his chest, and she tumbled to the ground, swearing slightly as she was awakened in a way almost as rude as Ash. He ignored her, pressing Sabrina, "Are you ready to do everything now? Don't you need time?"

"Others might," she sniffed coldly. "I certainly don't. I've been studying this for years. I'm always prepared for something like this."

Misty rubbed her head, sitting up slowly and groaning. "Fine, fine, you're amazing. If we're going to get it done, can we just get it done? Maybe finish up in time for lunch?"

"If you do it right we will," Sabrina promise.

"You mean if we do it right."

"No, I mean you. There's no question that I'm going to do it right. You are going to defeat Hyacinth, Ash. Then you are going to give me the Luminescent Stone, and I will study it. And then, this evening, I will make cookies, and you are all invited to try them. I think I have greatly improved in the baked goods department."

Misty elbowed Ash, whispering. "Is this a dream, or is she really this cocky?"

In response, Ash gave her arm a sharp pinch, making her yelp and leaving her with a bruise. While his lover grumbled and rubbed at the sore spot, Ash got to his feet and nodded. "Alright, so once we get to Pallet, what exactly are we going to do? I mean, what am I going to do? How do I get him into this weird trap thing? Do I have to lure him with candy or…?"

"Luring him is the only way you're going to get close with the kind of powers he has. I certainly don't have a psychic that can match him, and I doubt that even your pokémon are going to have power to rival that. I doubt the Elite have a pokémon with power to rival that." She arched an eyebrow. "I don't suppose you can think of something that might be a little more alluring than candy? Some kind of prize he's been pining after?"

Ash shook his head. "Aside from me, I can't think of anything he wants. And I don't think that he's going to walk up to me if I'm standing in the middle of nowhere, asking him to walk up to me. I mean, even I'd be kind of suspicious about that."

"Misty," Brock said softly. He kept his eyes down on his knees, continuing, "He thinks of Misty as a mother. He wants her. I think he wants her bad enough that…that if we used her to bait him, that he wouldn't even think about the risks. I think he might just run out to her. I think he…I think, if there's a way, that we could move Misty before it closes, that we could use her as…she could be the bait, I think. It's not a good situation, but, I mean, it's got to work better than-"

"We're not using Misty as bait," Ash snorted. "If anything went wrong, even if we could get her out of the way, Hyacinth could kill her. He could…he could do anything to her! It takes a few seconds. He could drive her crazy or…or do that creepy thing that the Alakazam did, with eating her brain and making her head explode. I mean, he could probably do that quicker than you could get the trap up, right?"

Sabrina nodded. "For certain, but if he's as smitten with her as it sounds, I can't imagine why he'd try to destroy her. I doubt she'd be in any danger, especially since I could get the shield up long before he could do any physical damage, though psychological is questionable."

"You doubt she'd be in any danger! Do you remember that thing where he kidnapped all my friends to torture us inside our own heads, and killed my infernape?"

"But what if it's our only shot, Ash? We don't have better bait than me." Misty suggested quietly, sliding her hand into his. "If he wants me, why don't we try and bait him with it? If he hurts me, well, I don't think it'll be that bad. I mean, nothing that therapy won't fix, right?"

"Actually, if he's that good he can probably destroy you mentally. It'll leave a clear trace, and I could probably undo most of it after a few years of intense therapy." She frowned. "It would take thousands of dollars of expensive therapy, and there's no guarantee it'll work, but it's very likely that you'd only have minor side effects for the rest of your life, probably developing as an anxiety disorder or possibly clinical depression."

"Sabrina!" Misty snapped. "You aren't helping!"

"You shouldn't lie to him," she argued stiffly. "Especially after how you two talked the other night. Lying is no way to start a relationship."

"You read his mind?"

She countered, "He invited me in."

"None of that matters!" Ash shouted. "We're not…we're not using Misty as bait. We're not letting her get psychological damage, possibly for the rest of her life, with the best option being that she'll either be depressed or anxious until the day she dies! We're not doing that!"

"We?" she said icily. "There is no we. You can reject the plan if you don't think it's going to work, but if I want to do this and I'm willing to make the sacrifice, then you don't have a choice about that. You don't get to choose what I do. I don't care if we get married and have a million kids, I'm the one who gets to choose what I do, never you."

"That's not what I'm saying," he argued. "I'm just saying-"

"That is what you're saying. You're saying it for the right reasons, and you're worried, and I appreciate that you care, but unless you have a better way to do this, I'm going to be the bait." Her gripped tightened on his hand. "I don't want to do it. If you can come up with a way that I don't have to do this, I'll be much happier. So if you've got a plan in your head, come up with it and keep me a little bit safer."

He squeezed her hand back and thought, his mind racing. He thought of faking a wound to lure him close, of really wounding himself to draw Hyacinth close. He thought about what pokémon were strongest, and if they had a chance against the boy. He thought about guns and bombs and all sorts of wild things that he'd ever heard of, and one by one his ideas were blown aside. Hyacinth would be able to tell if there was an injury. Hyacinth would not hesitate to kill him, or read his mind if the injury was real. His pokémon would be crushed. Bullets would be swept sideways. And though he felt like, somehow, a big enough bomb could do the trick, he didn't know where to get one, and doubt he had the ability to steal one.

And then, that True Hero voice came back, and it whispered, He has to die, and she's the way.

"Anything, Ash?" Misty asked. When he didn't respond, too shocked by the thought that had somehow crept into his head, she nodded slightly. "Alright, then I'm going to be the bait. Where do we go from here?"

Sabrina scowled. "Pallet. I already said we're going to Pallet."

"I mean, what do we need to do?"

"First of all, we need to get to Pallet. It's only a little leap. If you do it right, I should be able to get all of us in one trip. So, keep your mind blank, or just think about Pallet. Not a place, because you've never been there and you'll mess us up, just the idea of Pallet. Don't think about any other place. You either won't go or, worst case scenario, you're torn apart and half of you will go to wherever you're thinking about."

On that light note, she urged them to all hold hands, telling Pikachu to press his nose on Ash's neck so there was certain skin to skin contact. Sabrina told them to shut their eyes, again warned them about thinking of anything other than Pallet, and threw in something at the end about her not being very good at teleporting others so it would feel like, "having a seizure while on a very large, very fast roller coaster"; which made Ash's eyes snap open and stare at Sabrina in horror, right before experiencing the most horrifying feeling of his life.

He had been teleported before, by those special tabs on the floor, that made him a bit dizzy and felt like the ground had fallen out from under him. However, that had been for a split second, for a couple of feet. To go to Pallet, not only did the ground seem to fall out from under him, but every part of him seemed to hum and vibrate, while the whole of him felt like it was being whipped around. With his eyes open, there was blinding light that somehow spun and made him dizzy, so when he was on solid ground, he immediately threw up.

Of course, that little voice in the back of his head, saying, he has to die, and she's the way wasn't helping to settle his stomach.

Sabrina looked at the heaving boy, watching his friends rush to his side, and muttered, "I told you to close your eyes for a reason." Misty's bag was left unattended by the red head's side, and, without her permission, the woman shuffled through it, taking the Luminescent Stone and putting it in her bra, then grabbing the talisman and stepping away reading the old runes and practicing saying the old words out loud before setting it gently on the ground.

They were in a clearing, to the west was the cliffs, looking manmade, though millennia old, with the rock worn smooth though still clearly cut. It tumbled down and stretched for a mile or so, before scooping back up in a wide oval. No plants grew for a good ten feet around the edge, and the area that they stood in now seemed strangely lush next to the barren land just beyond. There was a clearing of grass, surrounded by trees and bushes and flowers, and Sabrina began to scuff in the ground, making a barely visible circle in the grass. Then she kneeled and set the talisman at one section of the circle, ripping up grass and surrounding it to make a nest.

"Misty?" she called, but the girl was huddled by Ash, still rubbing his back and telling him calming things, while, in the same breath, telling him off for being so stupid. Sabrina called again, not entirely comfortable with human contact yet and therefore not willing to touch her, "Misty? You need to come here. I need to make sure this won't trap you as well. Your psychic signature has to be keyed in."

Ash wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and smiled. "Go ahead. I'm fine."

"You sure?" she asked worriedly. He nodded and elbowed her slightly, so she jumped up and darted over to Sabrina. "What does my psychic…whatever, mean? Do you have go poking around my head for it?"

"I only have to touch your mind. I don't have to look at anything, if that's what you're asking." She pulled the girl to kneel with her, near the talisman. One hand rested on the Misty's temple, the hand icy and making the girl stiffen, while the other hand went down to the talisman, her thumb smoothing over the carvings and pumping invisible psychic energy into it. The talisman soaked it in greedily, snatching at Sabrina's psychic powers and at the tendrils that Misty had, just enough to make her conscious, so that Sabrina broke away earlier than she would have liked, afraid the talisman would suck the redhead dry.

The girl could only stand the strange feeling for so long, and the second she felt Sabrina's hand move away, she jumped to her feet and scrambled away. She did try a little to conceal her fear, rushing to Ash's side like she was merely concerned for him, and not frightened by the psychic power and being so close to the woman who had once turned her into a doll. To their credit, neither Brock nor Ash nor even Sabrina said anything about it.

"What do you need me to do, then?" Misty asked, rubbing Ash's back, though his heaving had stopped a long time ago. "Do I just…I just sit there, right? And eventually Hyacinth will come up to me. And you'll say a magic word or something?"

Sabrina shook her head. "I have done everything I can for trapping him. It is Misty's job to lure him. Ash, your job is to seal the cage. You are his blood relative, and as such, you must bleed on the stone to activate it. Once that happens, he'll be sealed, and I can go about finishing him off."

"I have to what?" he asked.

"Give the order," she explained calmly, entirely misinterpreting his question. "He has to be mindstripped – to take away every layer of protection the mind has from the outside world, so he can feel everything that thinks. The sensation is overwhelming, it drives all mad, and it's doubtful he will manage to stand it for more than a few minutes before he finally kills himself. Though it's easy for a psychic outside of himself to fix, no psychic can repair themselves once those barriers are broken down."

Ash swallowed weakly, not enjoying the reminder of what he was about to do. "I…I meant about the blood."

"Bleed on it. If you don't have anything sharp, have Pikachu bite you. It only takes a drop." She shrugged. "You have to get out quick enough so he won't leave the circle, get your blood on the stone, and, preferably, get Misty out of the way just in case I put more power into the stone than I should have."

"Can't you take the energy out?" he asked.

"The only way it gives is through the shield. Otherwise, it simply sucks. I could barely hold back as it was."

"It's just my blood? I mean, if we had, like, a vial or something, it would work?"

"Blood is blood," she said calmly. "As long as it's yours."

Ash pet Pikachu on his head, holding out his hand and saying, "Can you get blood?" His ears went back, tail drooping, not liking the idea of biting Ash, but nevertheless he leaned forward and digging his teeth into the meat of his hand. The boy winced and his hand twitched, but he tried to keep still as the mouth bit harder, until the blood welled up, and Pikachu spat at the horrifying, coppery taste, wiping his tongue on the grass.

Then he took Misty's hand, the one with the Cascade badge still burned deep into it, and pressed the wound to the mark. He smeared the blood across her hand, and she gawked, open mouthed as he did, too shocked to pull away. He chuckled a bit at her face. "If he can teleport, I can't get out to the clearing fast enough. So you put your palm against the talisman, that has my blood on it, and you'll activate it. He won't see if coming. It's perfect, Mist. It's perfect."

She stared for a moment, jaw hanging, then, voice squeaking, "I don't remember if I ever said you could call me Mist."

"Can you do it?" he asked. "You don't have to. I can try. But…if you're going to be out there, I can't get out quick enough. I don't think I'll be about to do it. I think he'll see me and move way before I get close to the stone."

"I can do it," she said weakly. "But I'm not…you're the one who says when it happens. You're the one who…Sabrina's the one who's going to…"

He squeezed her hand tightly, promising, "It's not you. I'm calling the shots. It's my blood. I just…we need you to be…to be the bait, Misty. If you don't want to get hurt we'll just-"

"It's not me," she said quickly. His hand instantly dropped hers, staring. "I mean, I'm not worried about me. I don't care what happens to me."

"Then what are you worried about?" He grinned a little. "What? After all this, don't tell me you're still afraid that I'm going to screw up."

"Not you, entirely. I mean, of course I'm worried about you, Ash. I always worry about you. But…but I know, that even if everything else goes wrong, somehow, you'll come out okay. With all the stuff you go through, I have to, or else I'd go really crazy. I'd go straight-jacket padded room crazy with all the stupid stuff you do."

His grin faltered. "Then…what are you nervous for?"

She winced. "Don't make me say it."

"Why not? There's nothing wrong with worrying o-"

"You'll get mad if I say it," she said, shaking her head. "You know who it is, don't make me say it."

It clicked into place, not just for Ash, but for Sabrina and Brock as well, that Misty was near tears not for her own safety, not her lover's, not even her friends', but for the very thing they were trying to kill. She was red faced, her head down, and looking humiliated and ashamed for it. Still, Ash couldn't find it in him to comfort her, and, even if he did, he was sure that any comfort he tried to give would only set her off in tears.

"You'll have to call him," Sabrina said, breaking the awkward silence. "Unless you think he'll show up on his own, you'll have to call him. This place has…with that talisman, perceptions change. Unless your attention is drawn to it, you'll never think of it. It's the OSOM effect."

"The Awesome Effect?" Ash asked.

Patiently, she explained, "O-S-O-M, out of sight, out of mind. It's one of the oldest psychic tricks. Even magicians can pull it off without any kind of psychic ability. Once you leave this place, you won't ever think of it again. If the talisman is strong enough, the museum won't even notice the talisman is missing."

"And Hyacinth won't come unless I call," Misty mumbled. "How do I do it? Just shout his name until he shows up?"

"If you want," Sabrina said. "You only have to think of him. I've found that those who are typically talentless in the psychic area find it easier if a physical action accompanies the psychic one."

Misty stared at the woman for a long moment, emotions twisting in her gut and making her bolder than she thought she could be, "Sabrina, you should know, just in case I die, that you're the most stuck up, cold hearted, and creepiest person I ever met, and that if I had my choice, I wouldn't have asked for your help, or talked to you or seen you until the day I die."

"And if you don't die?"

"Then I didn't mean any of it," she said, an thinking that if those words were her last, they were either really terrible or really deep, she strode out to the clearing.

She kneeled at the talisman, hiding the rock between her knees, and make sure her blood covered palm was clenched into a fist, so only pale skin remained in view. She drew in her guilt and sadness and worry, her happiness at being with Ash after all these years, her excitement for all of it to be over and pushed it down deep, leaving her blank. Then, shutting her eyes softly, she thought of Hyacinth. She thought of laying with him while he cried, his appearance as the star haired man, his vicious smile, the pieces of his past, and when she felt him, everything he was, she called, barely above a gasp, "Hyacinth."

And a voice in her ear smoothly responded, "You rang?"

She wanted to scream. The voice was not just in her ears, but in her head, she felt him. It felt like he was wading through her brain, picking out old memories she had long since forgotten, like destroying Daisy's cake when her sister turned ten, and Misty was jealous, or the first time her heart pounded when she saw Ash, the morning he first stopped trying to ditch her and offered her a bowl of cereal, not with her goading, but just as a form of acceptance. Those were private things. They were things he shouldn't see. And though pushing him from those memories could show him their plan, she did it, shoving against his mind and trying to make him leave.

"Don't hurt yourself! Come on, I'm just looking. What's wrong with finding out your big crush on Ash all started with him being nice to his little caterpie? He knows you've liked him since then, doesn't he? Oh, don't bother." He sat in front of her in the perfect position to trap him, and smiled just not at her, but in her mind, so her closed eyes didn't matter. "I know you haven't told him. I can tell because of that blush."

"Aren't you afraid?" she whispered, "I called you here, aren't you scared?"

Ash was hidden under Sabrina's psychic shield, and Hyacinth was nowhere near his mind, but that voice spoke again, this time again, that True Hero telling him, You have to run out. You have to make her stop. She's going to go to his side and betray you and everyone is going to die because of you. And he gasped at it, shocked at himself, because that little instinct that had made him kill Dawn wasn't just an instinct anymore. It was a thought.

But Hyacinth was blissfully aware of Ash's panic in the bushes. A little hand went under Misty's chin, and she opened her eyes to see a much softer smile. "Scared? Of you? Never. I was never afraid of my mother and I will never be afraid of you. Not even if you try to kill me."

"You don't even know me."

"But I love you," he said softly, and kissed her cheek. "I think, if I was going to destroy everything, I'd keep you. I'd keep you and me, and this time, I'll keep you safe."

"I'm not her," Misty said, furious at the tears on her cheeks. "You aren't my son, and I'm not your mother. Stop doing that. Stop making me care."

He laughed a little. "Mama, I've done a lot of things. I've made you do a lot of things. But I never made you care."

She leaned back and gripped the rock with her bloodied hand, and the cage shot up. It was a pyramid, barely big enough for the boy to be in. He could stand, or sit. With a little bit of effort he could turn around, and, if he squinted, he could see the world around him through the opaque yellow walls of energy that kept him in. Those on the outside could see him though, clear as day they could see that smiling little face, looking absolutely delighted to be all caged up, looking like any moment lollipops were going to rain from the ceiling, or his favorite show would come on television, or his mom was going to pick him up from school.

"What am I in timeout for, Mom?" he taunted merrily. "Have I been bad?"

The shield had gripped at her. It had stolen more energy until he mind was almost gone, the thick ropes of psychic energy that bound her thoughts together shredding to threads, barely holding. It was there, still. She was nearly gone, and nearly crazy, and nearly dead, and she knew it. But that wasn't why she screamed.

She did scream. Misty gave a heartrending shriek, bursting into sobs. She curled up tight in the grass, wanting to hug her knees to her chest but her arms shook far too hard to do so. The others were almost afraid to approach, as her face was twisted with grief like a loved one had died, and each breath was so deep if sounded like she had just broke up out of the water for air after nearly drowning. Four people stared at her, three worried, and one serene, until Sabrina dared to step forward.

"Misty," she said softly. Her hand reached out, in an act of human sympathy they hadn't seen since they had met the girl, she reached out for Misty's shoulder. She got down to her hands and knees, on her level, speaking soothingly, and she reached out to touch her shoulder in an act of kindness.

And Misty slapped her away with an even louder scream, though no one knew how she could possibly get louder, "Don't touch me you psychic freak! This is your fault you fucking bitch!" before collapsing back into sobs.

Sabrina was not deterred, and tried again, and Misty allowed it this time. The hand rested on her shoulder and she looked up at Sabrina through her tears. She begged, "Get him out, Sabrina. He was in my head. I felt him there, I felt him looking. He did something, Sabrina. He must have. Help me." She hiccupped and swallowed another cry, grabbing at the girl's wrist. "Please, it hurts so much. I feel so bad. Please take it away. Get him out of me."

"He's not in you Misty, I'm sorry."

She twisted away, stumbling to her feet and screaming, "Liar!" over and over.

"Misty, he's not." Sabrina's voice wasn't louder than hers, but it was even and authoritative, and it broke through the redhead's cries. "This is you, Misty. You care for him. There isn't a trace of him left if in you. You hurt because you care for him."

"You're not looking hard enough!" Misty grabbed Sabrina's hand, pressing it against her temple. "Look deeper. He's there. He has to be there. This can't be me. After everything he's done, I can't care about him."

"It's you," she said, shaking her head. "He didn't do it."

"But maybe it's different, because…because he's half…and I don't even care if you have to look at everything, just…"

But Sabrina's face stayed still, and without a sound, Misty curled up tight in the grass, wiping at the tears on her face, smearing Ash's blood across her cheeks and not minding in the least. Surprisingly, it was Sabrina who came to comfort her first, then Brock, but Ash walked away from the scene. He walked up to Hyacinth, that smiling little boy, and stared down at him, seething with anger and hate, and wishing he had the power to choke him through the shield.

He has to die, the True Hero voice said. And then, still surprisingly cold and still, surprisingly, coming from him, it continued, Thank Mew Misty didn't mess that up.

"You wanted to be known. You wanted the credit for your work, to see and feel everything it's done," Ash whispered. He squatted in front of Hyacinth, putting them face to face. He saw a bit of himself in the tan features, those zigzags on both cheeks, the eyes so brown they looked black if you took a few steps back, and, despite his anger, he felt some sympathy too, and he shuddered to think of himself in the same place. "Well, we'll spread the word for you, but Sabrina can give you what you wanted. She'll let you feel everything."

Hyacinth thought for a moment, and then he grinned. And then he laughed. "Oh, that's rich! So that's how you'll do it! Oh, I knew you could be bad, Ash, but you've outdone yourself. Mindstripping a little boy? Ooh, where does that go in your little heroes' handbook, hmm?"

"You're not a little boy!" Ash shouted, slamming a fist against the wall he barely see. "You're a thousand years old! You're an alakazam! You've killed thousands! You've tortured thousands! Mew only knows the things you've done, to people who were nicer than you, and better than you, and smarter than you, and definitely younger than you. If I let you go, you'll do it again. You're not a little boy."

"Oh, sure I am." He bared his teeth in a grin. "I'm a little boy, I'm your girlfriend's little boy, and you're going to torture me. Are you really that much better, nephew?"

"You didn't even kill anyone this time. Except for Infernape." Ash's eyes narrowed. "Had to get the blood somehow, didn't you?"

He laughed. "Well, he had the same chance as everyone else. It's all his fault that he wasn't quick enough to get out of the way. I made that slaking nice and big and slow. If your little creature couldn't manage to get out of the way, I don't see how you can blame me for that."

"He was trying to protect us," Ash snarled, fisting clenched and shaking hard at his sides. "He gave up everything to protect us. Don't you dare try and take that away from him."

He raised an eyebrow. "Your voice is cracking, Ash. Don't tell me you're going to cry."

He leaned forward, their faces just a breath away from each other's, with the shield keeping them apart, and whispered, "I've done so much. I've lost so much. And never, never did any of that break me. I had to go to the hospital. I was heartbroken, but I was whole. I was me. I wasn't…"

Hyacinth clicked his tongue softly, almost sympathetically. "I know, Ash. You weren't a killer. But this is how it ends. You'll remember this face. You'll remember my blood on your hands. You'll remember the scars, o great hero, until the day you're finally brave enough to put a blade against your wrists. My darling nephew, the Chosen Line goes with you and your sons, to bear the burden on the world, so try not to ruin it."

"Do it," he said icily, glaring back at Sabrina, the woman looking unwilling to step away from Misty. "Just do it.

"How many years are you going to make it, Ash?" he taunted weakly. "How old do you think you'll be? Thirty? Forty? Do you think you'll make it to eighty and then just wake up, wander on downstairs, and kill yourself so quietly Misty won't even know you're dead until she comes down for her morning coffee. How long do you think you can live with my death on your mind? How long can you live with that little voice that tells you how much easier it'll be if you kill the next bad guy you run into?"

"Shut up," he growled. "Just shut-"

"Do you think the nightmares are going to go away? Because I'm going to scream. I'm going to scream so loud you're never going to forget it. That's what's going to drive you to do it – to grab that gun and stick it in your mouth. You'll have a wonderful night with Misty, amazing sex, and when she has your child in her belly, all you'll think is how he'll look just like me, and you'll hear that scream, and you'll hate yourself so much you'll-"

"Sabrina!" he shouted, voice cracking. "Would you fucking do it?"

There was a hysterical laugh from inside the pyramid, and Hyacinth's head flung back, knocking against a wall with a painful sounding crack, though his laughter never stopped. Through his laughs, he choked out, "Twinkle, twinkle, little star!" and before he could continue with the song, he screamed. It echoed in the ears of everyone in the clearing, and then it pounded at their minds. It rocked around the globe, so that everything with a mind heard it vibrate in their skulls, so that those closest to him screamed with him, just for a moment, before it stopped as suddenly as it came.

All was quiet, but for the wind in the trees. Not a bug buzzed, not a bird sang, not a human dared to breathe in the clearing. Throughout the world things went on, and though people had dropped their bags to scream, or fell on the ground and writhed, all stood up and moved on, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Then, a few seconds later, Ash breathed, and the clearing went back to its typical buzz as well, and he stood up as if the world hadn't changed.

His eyes met Sabrina's, and he asked, "He's broken?"

"He's destroyed, Ash," Sabrina said softly.

"So…" he swallowed. "So he feels everything get hurt?"

"He feels everything, good and bad. He feels every birthday and every funeral, every feast and every famine. His mind is open to the world in a way that no living creature can handle." Sabrina closed her eyes, as if reciting from a textbook: "There is no way to get used to it. With the exception of death, there is no way to end it. Until the day he takes his own life, which I believe he has done already, he will be so overwhelmed that every moment feels like eons."

"And I saved the world, saved my friends, and got the girl. Hey, I even lost some stuff along the way. I did everything that I'm supposed to." He shoved his hands in his pockets, and set off at a stroll, not bothering to check if Pikachu or Brock or Misty or Sabrina followed. "All hail the conquering hero."

They did follow, each stopping to look at the pyramid that only they could see, that, in years gone by and Sabrina had made the cage right, if they ever had the courage to return to the spot, would be entirely imperceptible from then on. They would walk around it without knowing or asking why. They wouldn't touch it or lean on it. They wouldn't try to set down bags or start a fire, though the grass underneath would soon be dead. When the rain hit it, sliding down and away, they wouldn't even notice the strangeness of it.

There was nothing but the quiet crunch of gravel underfoot. No one spoke. No one made eye contact. Their faces were all set in grim, guilty lines, even Sabrina who most had doubted even had empathy to feel. There was a sudden scuffle, a grunt, and everyone turned around to see Misty on the ground, breathing heavy through her mouth, hands clutching the gravel so that, when she stood up later, little cuts made her hands spotted with blood.

She breathed and breathed, and everyone waited for her to cry. They waited for her to scream, or rant about how it wasn't fair, but when she spoke it was quiet and warm and kind, and she raised her head to look Ash, and only Ash, in the eye, saying with the utmost sincerity, "I want him."

He stared, barely breathing. "What?"

"Go back." Her eyes were hard on him. He was so shocked, almost angry at her, that she thought about taking it back. Then she pushed herself harder on the gravel, she felt the rocks cut and dig into her hands until she felt like screaming, and told herself that the pain wasn't anything compared to what happened a minute before, and certainly nothing to how a five year old boy would feel. Her resolve strengthened, and she hissed, "We're getting him."

Ash refused to believe it. He swallowed thickly and asked, "Who?" as if there was someone else she could possibly be talking about.

She pushed herself harder onto the gravel, shifted her knees so the gravel slid along her knees and made the pain worse, and thought again and again that the pain was nothing. That what she was doing was right. That was she was doing had to be done by her, or else no one would. "Your uncle."


"He's mine," she said desperately. Her heart strained at the words, and her throat tightened. She felt the small body curl up alongside her, felt the wetness seep through her shirt and onto her skin, and felt a kind a weakness and vulnerability she'd never known before. One hand came up to grab her shirt, holding the imaginary child to her. "Please, let me take him."

He tried to make sense of it still, asking, "You want to hurt him?"

"No." She shook her head, suddenly crying. "I'm supposed to be mad, but I'm not. I'm not mad at all, Ash. I just want him."

"You can't…" he began desperately. He kneeled, careful not to hurt himself, putting his hands on her cheeks and brushing her tears away. "Misty, you can't take him. He's evil, Mist. If you take him out, he'd going to kill us. He's going to kill you and me and everything you ever knew and loved. Remember that, Misty? You wanted everything dead, but you'd never do it because you loved it at the same time? Remember being crazy, Mist?"

She took one of his hands in hers, sliding it along her cheek to her lips, to kiss him softly while he felt her blood leak onto his wrist. She tried to speak, and her voice cracked and broke, so she swallowed, closing her eyes to compose herself, and tried again, begging, "Something's telling me, Ash. You know how something tells you that you have to do this? We have to do this. He's not the same. He's not evil anymore."

"What do you mean, Mist?" he asked quietly. He smoothed her hair back from her face and shifted, wanting to get closer and not knowing anyway to do it. "That didn't fix him. He's not going to stop being bad now, Misty. He's either dead or he's crazy, and neither of those are good. He's too strong to let him out. We have to keep him in there until he finally dies. If not, he's just going to do evil, evil things, Mist. We have to leave him there."

She gulped. "I think he's human again."

"And if he is?" Ash retorted. "What are you going to do with him, Misty? Are you going to make him live in an orphanage? His whole world is different. He lived a thousand years ago. There's nothing here he can recognize, all his family is going. Everything he knows is gone. He's better off dead than that. He'll kill himself by thirteen if we take him out of there. He'll go crazy, Misty. No one will ever believe him."

"We'll believe him." She paused. "Your mother will take him."

He pulled back, and she shut her eyes, waiting for him to yell, almost expecting him to hit her for saying it. She braced for the impact, and her mind chanted that Hyacinth had hurt worse, and that it was worth it, and that it was right, but the impact never came. She opened her eyes to find Ash hadn't moved. He was staring at her, mouth open now, and he squeaked, nervously, "You want me to take him as a brother?"

"He can call Delia his mother or me," she whispered. "I don't care. I'll do it."

"You'd take him?"

She hesitated, then nodded. "If your mother didn't."

"And why?"

"He was the Chosen. What if…" She swallowed, then smiled nervously at him. "What if he still is?"

Ash leapt to his feet at that, and now he screamed, fists clenched at his sides. "I'm the Chosen One!"

"Can't there be two?

"Chosen One!" he cried. "There can only be one! It's right in the name!"

"And what if he's there?" she shrieked, getting to her knees and putting her other hand on top of her heart as well. "A kid in a cage, dying. Could you live with that? I can't!"

She sobbed, hands coming up to wipe away tears, revealing the blood stained on her shirt and smearing her blood across her cheeks that were already covered in his. She didn't stand, though. She didn't come to him, or ask to be held, or beg him to take Hyacinth. She was sobbing and bloody and asking for the craziest thing he'd ever heard, and somehow he believed her. Somehow he thought she couldn't have been more beautiful than she was in that moment, smeared with dirt and sweat and tears and blood, and bawling like a baby.

He watched her for a moment, then asked, "Sabrina, and would it be safe to go back?"


Ash kneeled again, using his fingerless gloves to wipe her tears and blood away, and asked, "And you want to take him?"

She nodded, trying to smother her cries. "Yeah."

"You want to raise a kid?" he pressed.

She nodded again. "If that's what has to happen."

"Even if I won't help?" He raised an eyebrow.

She slapped his hand away and glared at him. "It doesn't have anything to do with you, Mr. Self Centered."

He got to his feet, taking her with him, and supporting her because her red streaked legs were shaking. He kissed her temple, and murmured in her ear, "Well, that's stupid."

'What?" she asked, blinking.

"He's my family." He put her arm around his shoulders, and began back the way he came, helping her walk to the beaten down boy. "If anyone is going to take him, it's me."

Sabrina looked at the two walking off, and asked calmly, "So, do either of you happen to remember where, exactly, it is?"

"Of course! We just came back from…from…" Ash frowned, stopping, trying to remember where he had just come from. "Well, I know we locked him up and everything. I remember that. And it was…it was around here, right? Because it just happened. So it has to be…huh."

The woman smirked and walked passed him, the three younger teens obediently following after. At some point, Sabrina kneeled, though none of them could see the previously obvious yellow pyramid, nor did they notice the talisman Sabrina put her hand against. But they trusted her, and when Sabrina called for Ash's blood once more, Ash simply peeled off the places where it was starting to scab and squeezed, his blood dripping onto the stone.

The way it came down was obvious, and far stranger than the way it came up. Blood seemed to flow down from the top of it, eroding the pyramid they could suddenly see from the top to the bottom, until there was only Hyacinth, unconscious and sprawled on the ground. For a moment, they believed he was dead, as everyone but Misty had expected, and then they saw the slow rise and fall of his chest. The redhead was about to dart forward, but Ash ripped her back.

"Sabrina, check him."

"I already am," she said calmly. "And there's no Alakazam in him, not from what I can tell. One mind, entirely whole, no battling for dominance and no mixing. He's a child."

"And he's still mindstripped?"

She frowned slightly. "No. He's not. His defenses are back. Normal, human defenses, nothing stronger than that. If he wasn't, I could put them back up without a problem. He's fine though. Like I said, he's a child. That's all he is."

"Was that…" He swallowed, trailing off.

"That's not supposed to happen, but I suppose the Alakazam could have destroyed what remained of itself using the psychic energy, leaving the boy alone, and the separation of the two minds could have caused the barriers to reappear. Mindstripping isn't done too frequently, and even when it was the person responsible usually killed themselves in a violent, physical way, with a knife or simply holding their breath."

"He could be faking it, though? To get us to let him out?"

"I can't see how he would. But even if he did, I don't know why he wouldn't have teleported away by now. Looking at his mind, he seems to be asleep, nearly comatose. He should wake up without medical attention, but if he was able to put up his own shields, without Alakazam's power, he'd be an incredible psychic on his own. He'd be impossibly good, and if that's the case, not even the shield would hold him for long."

Ash frowned. "So…what can we do?"

"You can make the bet that he's human, take him home, and raise him like you said." She met his eyes calmly, and continued, "or, while he's in this state, you can finish him. If you don't now, it's unlikely that you'll ever get the chance to. So you have to make the choice. Do you kill him, and kill an innocent boy, or let him live, and kill thousands of innocent people?"

"Even if he is psychic, it doesn't mean that he'll be-"

"He can't stay sane if he has power like that," Sabrina argued. "I promise, he can't."

He looked at Misty. "Do you want me to do it?"

"You know I can't make that choice, Ash," she murmured. "You know that. You have to choose."

So Ash stared down at the boy, barely breathing. He didn't see Hyacinth, the half-human half-Alakazam monster who had tried to kill himself and his friends. He didn't see a thing that had lived thousands of years, and was driven mad by time and loss and fury. He was small and weak looking, and with the power seemingly stripped from him and his eyes closed and his face smoothed of the lines of hate, Ash could only see a child there.

A hero wouldn't kill a child, would they? That True Hero voice of his, strangely, disagreed. The True Hero voice was whispering coldly, You can't take that risk. You can't risk him having those powers and killing everything you love. You can't let the world take that hit. Which all made sense, one boy for a million lives. And then, even more ferociously, that True Hero voice whispered, Since you have to kill him, make it quick. Since you have to kill him, snap his neck.

And Ash instantly decided that he could not be a True Hero. He had tried to listen to that voice for too long. That voice had been the thing that drove him forward in Hyacinth's world. That voice had been the thing that saved Misty and Brock and Gary and May and Max and Dawn, yes, but it had also been the voice that made him kill Dawn. That made him plunge the knife into her stomach to save another, to not take the risk that she could be reasoned with or talked down from doing the things she did.

He couldn't do it again. He couldn't kill an innocent twice, not after the first time had almost destroyed him, not after ordering Hyacinth's death had left him feeling hollow, and left him knowing that this would haunt him for years and years, and that he wouldn't be surprised if Hyacinth had been right, if he rolled out of bed one morning and shot himself for it. But maybe, if he took him, it would be different. Because it would be like saving.

The only thing Ash was really good at, in the end, was saving.

So, without a look at anyone, Ash lifted the boy in his arms and began walking home. That little heart pounded quickly against his own, and he let it. When the boy seemed to wake up a little more, breathing turning deeper and moving his head to cuddle against Ash's chest. So Ash rotated him, arms under his thighs so his arms to wrap around his neck, and Ash only felt a flash of he'll strangle me before his body settled.

"I will take him," Misty said softly. "You don't have to. I know that you-"

"It's alright, Mist." He looked down at the boy in his arms. "I'll take him. Mom will take him, once we explain. And then…then I guess I'll have a brother. Or something. I don't think it really matters what we call him, as long as we raise him, right?"

She frowned. "You won't call him Hyacinth, will you?"

"No, but I don't know how to name a kid." He looked at the boy thoughtfully. "I don't know. Mom did a good job of naming me. Do you think she should do the honors?"

Misty gave a small nod, and onto Ash's house they went, Sabrina in tow, and sat down with Delia Ketchum. With the psychic's help, they explained the situation, and Ash's mother nodded along, at some point in the story taking the child from her son and holding him herself, spending the rest of the time looking at the boy who looked so much like her own, and vaguely like the man she'd loved and given her Ash.

And when the story was done, she smiled and smoothed his hair back. "Of course I'll take him. You have a lot ahead of you, Misty. You don't need a child now, certainly not a child with Ash's blood in him. Every Ketchum boy has been wild, I promise you." She winked, making Misty blush."You'll find out soon enough, dear. Until then, you'll help an aging woman raise her newly adopted son, won't you?"

Misty grinned at the "aging" comment because, although it was true, Delia looked a good ten years younger than she was, and acted a good twenty years younger. In that motherly way she held the boy, and that motherly way she smiled at Ash, she patted Misty's knee and told her, "You're all bloody dear. Why don't you go wash up?"

"Well, you…aren't you going to name him?" she asked worriedly.

Delia looked at her for a moment, then asked, "I'm not sure. Did you have anything in mind?"

She gulped nervously, mumbling, "I think…I think Sirius is nice."

"Sirius Ketchum?" she repeated, then chuckled to herself. "A bit of an oxymoron, don't you think?"

Misty smiled weakly. "It's…it's the name of a star. That's why I thought of it. Because it's the name of a star."

"It's a beautiful name," Delia assured her. "Sirius Ketchum."

After a while, Sirius woke up, claiming to have no memory of who he was, or who he had been, or what he'd done. He seemed to be wiped clean, with only little touches of memory where he claimed that he knew how to make traps to hunt, and was very confused when they explained things like grocery stores and television. It didn't take him too long to get used to it. Within the hour he was calling Delia "mom", and darting around the house like he'd been there forever.

Pikachu seemed happy enough to play with him, allowing the boy to chase him around the house, and giving him tiny zaps if her ever got to rough. And, though Sirius certainly had a mean streak, he didn't seem like a psychopath. He didn't seem a danger to those around them, and Ash began to relax. Brock went home, then Misty, who promised she would visit every weekend, and Ash enjoyed his time with both his girlfriend, his pokémon, he mother, and even his new brother.

All in all, Ash believed he made a good decision. And, after some time, he was even happy enough that he volunteered to take him up to bed, to tuck him in. He got into the same bed with the little boy, his little brother, and ruffled his hair and settled him when Sirius claimed he wanted to go outside and play, to say he wasn't tired yet. Ash shook his hand at his adoptive brother's rambunctiousness, and said, "Well, you'll be tired in a few minutes."

Sirius smiled, little fingers wrapping gently around Ash's much bigger hand. He tugged softly, so that, Ash, half smiling himself, sat in bed with him and put his arms around his brother's shoulders, pulling him close, and laying down like they were both about to sleep. The little boy eagerly snuggled into Ash's broad chest, breathing deep and slow as he tried to sleep, but every so often opening his eyes and looking around like he was still far too restless.

"You okay?"

What Sirius said next made Ash's heart stop, arm tightening around the boy so that he yelped and squirmed from the pain, until he managed to wiggle his way out of his brother's arms and run down the hall, screaming for his mother like he had done so a thousand times before. Because that face that nearly looked like a picture of himself from years gone by, that smile that was his right after he pulled an especially good prank, and those eyes looking less and less like his own by the second, looked right up at him and inquired in a sickly sweet voice: "Will you sing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star to me?"

That's that. I want to think it ended happily, that Sirius singing that was a coincidence, that he wasn't psychic and that he was normal and that they had a great life. But that's not necessarily true. And you know what? You're not wrong if you think it isn't true. Me being the author doesn't mean I'm right, in the end. Because it's online, and it's out of my hands, and it's into your heads, and I can't do a damn thing about what you think.

You guys who read this, whether you read it years after it's done or just when I put up the chapter, thank you so much for sticking with this until the end. Thanks to those people who reviewed every chapter, who wondered what this story was going to be and helped me edit when I did things horribly wrong. Honestly, I could never ask for more than what you all do. I can't explain how happy it makes me to know that you enjoyed this, that this made your day a little better.

And bonus points to the person who gets why I chose Sirius, out of all the other stars I could have. Though, be warned, if you say Harry Potter, I may have to come to your house, hunt you down, and Avada Kadavra you.

Hugs and Love,