A/N: I'm trying not to get overly ambitious on this site, given my updating problems in the past, but I've discovered I truly miss feedback, and I haven't received any since I went into seclusion on LJ.
I've written a lot for this series already, which may or may not be a good thing. I realize the idea of Ash being Giovanni's dad is an old one, and I've mismatched canon to suit myself (most notably I accidentally changed Maxie into a woman, but it makes things more interesting, I think).
I hope you guys enjoy. If not, well, I'll feed your flames to my pet faerie dragon. He could use a good meal.
He had healed his Pokemon and defeated the Elite Four. He had only one challenge left, and one door left to open. Pikachu perched on his shoulder; ten years had passed since the jaunty little Pokemon had joined his party and now, Pikachu spent some time in his Pokeball instead of wandering around. Ash had also built up his team and strove to be the best damn Pokemon trainer in the four regions. He'd not caught every single Pokemon, not yet, but that was for later.
According to Professor Oak, his last obstacle was customarily his rival. Yet Ash hadn't seen Gary, and Misty hadn't called him to let him know he was waiting. Misty and Brock, unable to pursue him through the Elite Four's doors, sat in the Poke Center lobby and waited for their best friend. He would have liked their support, but according to the Elite Four's rules, only the challenger could pass through the doors.
The door in front of him was pure gold and carved with ivy leaves, fire sparks, electric bolts, wind gusts, rocks, steel plates, a psychic ball, and a ghostly image, all surrounding a black Pokeball. The door had no handle, only a small inset for a hand. Ash swallowed and looked at Pikachu, who nodded and spoke encouragement. His bag, now onyx and well worn, weighed heavy on his shoulders. He braced himself and laid his hand on the hand inset.
At once, the door lit up, with red lights lining the doorway and illuminating it. It swung up, vanishing and leading into a long well lit hallway. Ash glanced around him; at every step, he saw the opulence. Pillars with each Pokemon type rose to the almost impossibly high ceiling, so high Ash couldn't see it, only knew it existed because the pillars had to lead somewhere. The carpet beneath him might have been grass, might have been so high quality a grade it only felt like grass, and its brilliant green sheen reminded him of a warm summer day. The hallway's walls laid beyond the pillars, but so far away, they were just a glimpse. Light poured into the room from everywhere and bathed Ash in a warm glow. He couldn't see what laid ahead, at the hall's distant end.
He put one foot in front of the other; soon, excitement caught him and he raced along, laughing with Pikachu. This was his last obstacle. If he lost, he'd have to challenge the Elite Four again. If he won...oh...if he won. He'd be the Pokemon Master, and commander of all Pokemon big or small. He'd have what he'd longed for since he was a child.
"You always were a slow one, Satoshi," a gravelly voice rumbled and Ash whirled, bumps arising under his sleeves. Pikachu queried into the light and the voice scoffed.
"I know, I know," the voice continued. "Your friends, family, and the world at large call you 'Ash'. But I know you who you are, Satoshi. I have always known."
Ash's spurt turned into a full out sprint and he raced for the hall's end. At the end, which he now could see, a shadowy figure, shadowed despite the light, waited for him. He tapped a foot impatiently. At his side, like Pikachu stood at Ash's, was a long feline shape. It lifted its head and meowed at Ash. Ash skidded, tripped over himself, picked himself back up, and raced forward again.
"Slow and yet impatient," someone chimed. "Such a mix. Impetuous, too. It's hard to believe I've waited so long to face you. And you would never have waited so long for me, if you knew me. You would have insisted on taking me down."
The man chortled. "You're immersed in morals and your beliefs. You take after your mother."
"Who are you?" Ash called, legs pumping and trying for the hall's end, which never seemed to grow nearer no matter how hard he raced. The man snapped his fingers and the endless hall stopped. Ash looked behind him and gasped, out of breath. Pikachu held his paw on Ash's head; the hallway was not a hall at all, but a small, grand room. A HootHoot removed itself from the wall and dispersed the illusion. The light died down, to an acceptable level, and his eyes took a few seconds to adjust. Ash growled, teeth bared, and not appreciating the trick. Adrenaline was running high, but he had already faced Agatha and after dealing with Ghost Type Pokemon, his tolerance level for chicanery was low.
The man stood on a raised dais. He wore a black suit and his black hair was slicked back. The Pokemon at his side was a Persian and Ash examined the man's face closely. His heart slammed in his chest; his eyes stared back at him and his face, albeit more lined and square, met him. Ash's mouth dropped and he balled his fists.
"Who are you?" he demanded again.
The man sighed. "If you beat me, I'll tell you. If I beat you, you'll join Team Rocket."
"I'd never join Team Rocket!" Ash proclaimed and the man stared. His face was expressionless, though his eyes grew icy. His fingers coiled around a Pokeball at his waist and he stroked the release button. He approached opening it, but stopped within fractions of inches.
"My boy, it's in your blood," the man saw. "However, the time for conversation is now past. Had I spent my life questioning everything and talking, I'd never have reached where I am now."
He hefted the Pokeball in his hand and squeezed it. He smiled. "Now, let's battle."
...As soon as the champion reached the designated battle areas, their phone no longer received signals. Misty called Ash's cell phone to no avail, sighed, and held her head in her hands. Brock watched the nurses wheel a hospital cot out of the Poke Center and toward the hospital down Victory Road. Someone had attacked Gary before he could reach the Elite Four and challenge Ash. His Pokemon were dead and the brown haired Pallet Town native was gravely injured. Misty hugged her bag to her chest.
Brock went over to see if the nurses needed help. Ten years had passed and he was still a shameless flirt. Misty puffed her hair out of her face. She hoped Ash was done soon. The anticipation was driving her crazy. They had been able to see Ash on the camera projected in the Pokemon Center, but the instant he entered the last room, the cameras died. Everything depended on Ash's performance here...the Nurse Joy here said that the cameras going out in the last room was unusual, but sometimes, the past champion didn't want people to see his disgrace. Yet Gary was supposed to be the past champion, and he was being wheeled out. Misty's mouth was dry.
Just what the hell was going on?
...He'd never met a Pokemon trainer so ruthless. The man showed no sympathy toward his Pokemon, never flinched when they ached or bled, and drilled them mercilessly. They were powerful, too, and Ash and this man were very evenly matched.
No matter how many times Ash asked, the man refused to reveal his identity. Pikachu was being battered on the field by a Pigeot, a Pokemon who should have had the clear advantage. Yet Pigeot managed to avoid the electric moves and hammered Pikachu with speed moves so fast Pikachu couldn't catch him to strike back. Ash's heart beat painfully in his chest.
"You can walk away now," the man called. "And neither of us will be the wiser."
"Who are you?" Ash demanded. "Why do you keep acting like you know me?"
"I could tell you...but since you can't tell my worst operatives when they're in disguise, I think I'll leave you in suspense a while longer," the man said. Pigeot stabbed Pikachu with his beak and Pikachu finally saw an opening to hit him with Thunder, leaving the bird paralyzed and open for attack. Ash breathed slightly easier. Sweat trickled down his forehead. His Pokemon worked the hardest and this man, who wasn't his rival, wasn't anyone Ash recognized, was bashing them. He released his breaths slowly, fraught with tension.
...Delia rushed into the Pokemon Center and Misty stood up, holding the bag to her chest like a fool. She hadn't expected to see Ash's mother here; all weekend, before Ash challenged the Elite Four, she had been testy and disinclined to talk to them, like she knew a great secret. The woman rushed up to Misty and Misty made small talk Delia ignored.
"Have you seen him?" she begged and Misty frowned.
"Ash is battling the Champion," Misty said.
"Damn it!" Delia exclaimed and, looking at the Elite Four door, she raced for it. "I'm already too late!"
She removed a small badge from her pocket when the door failed to open and it glided open, admitted her, and then shut. Misty's mouth dropped. On the badge, black leather like a police badge, it had a large red letter R.
..."Didn't you ever wonder why it was so easy for you?" the man taunted. "Why gym leaders just handed you badges? Why you were allowed to dump Pokemon and change them? Why only my worst associates came after you, instead of the people who could have shot you and taken your Pikachu?"
"No one was going to shoot me!" Ash proclaimed and scooped up Pikachu. He had won, but not by much, and he needed rest in his Pokeball. The man watched him strangely and smirked.
"You've been traveling for ten years and now, you finally meet the real world, Satoshi."
"Don't call me that!" Ash snapped. "My name is Ash Ketchum!"
"No..." The man said. "No, it's not. I would never have named you that."
"What does it matter what you would have named me?" Ash shot back. "You're not my father!"
He could have sworn the man rolled his eyes before he threw out his next Pokemon.
...She only got as far as the first room before security ushered her out. Once they dumped her back in the lobby beside Misty, Misty stared at her. Delia tucked the badge back into her pocket and looked as nervous as Misty felt. Misty stared at her and she sighed.
"I thought I could stop him," Delia said. "Of course, no one can ever stop him. He's been absent for twenty years, and now, he takes an interest."
"Wait...who's been absent for twenty years?" Misty said, frowning. "We're not talking about Ash, are we?"
"No," Delia said and rubbed her temples. "We're not."
"Why do you have a red badge with an 'R' on it?" she asked.
....Ash was covered in sweat, dirt, and grime from the battle. He felt as wrung out as his Pokemon were. They were down to their last Pokemon each. It was tied. The next match determined the winner and Ash called a time out. The man refused to grant it.
"In the real world, you cannot command time to stop because you will it," the man said.
"In a real Pokemon battle, you can command stop and tend to your injured Pokemon!" Ash protested.
"I never should have left you in Pallet Town with your mother. You've grown up terribly naive," the man replied. "Go, Zapdos!"
An unearthly shriek filled the air and a burst, like liquid lightening, assaulted Ash's eyes. Floating in front of him, taking up half the ceiling, was a bird with jagged feathers and a vicious beak. Its eyes glared pure malevolence at Ash and, despite himself, he took a step back. His fingers groped for his last Pokemon. It was all he had left...everyone else had fainted or lost almost all their HP.
The man smiled and it sent chills down Ash's spine. He stepped closer and the light shied away from him, like he was naturally a creature of darkness. Ash's last Pokemon, the one it had taken him forever to win over, he threw into the ring. Charizard emerged, snarling, and Ash wished he had at least a type advantage to exploit. As it was, he stood, close to collapsing, with a mad man.
..."A long time ago, when I was younger and foolish," Delia said, watching, out of the corner of her eye, as Brock followed the nurses toward the ambulance. "I met a man whose dark, mysterious past intrigued me. But it wasn't just his past I was attracted to. He had an inner gleam and he was unlike anyone I had ever met before. He called to me, in a way no one else ever had...or ever has again.
"He was dangerous. He could often be cruel and ruthless. I knew when I fell in love with him I'd never be able to marry him, because the life he wanted and the life I desired were two different things. However, I just wanted to be near him, because his smoothness, his glib personality, it compelled me. I didn't care about anything but him when I was with him.
"And then, I got pregnant. Then, things changed."
...Charizard now had a long bloody mark on his wings from where Zapdos had shot him with electricity. He roared, defiant, and attacked the legendary lightning bird. The man watched, mildly amused as far as Ash could tell, and Ash's teeth gritted. He didn't have to order Charizard around in battle; Charizard tended to know what was best on instinct. The giant fire dragon Pokemon reared, whipped Zapdos with his tail, and dodged another nasty bite.
The man had ceased talking. It, like everything else, made Ash rant and rave more. But the man never reacted. He was cool, collected, as if he was anticipating everything and determining what to respond to at first blush. It drove Ash crazy. He hated when people ignored him. And he thought this man knew it. How dare a man he didn't know understand him better than most people did. And his Pokemon were so strong and cool, like him. Who was this man?
"Who are you?" Ash demanded and the man smirked.
"Patience, my son."
"I'm not your son!" Ash screamed.
The man merely smiled.
..."He allowed me to live in Pallet Town and stay with my son, on the promise I'd tell him the truth about his father on his twenty first birthday or when he beat the Elite Four, whichever came first," Delia said. "It was the price I paid for keeping Ash."
"Who could do such a thing?" Misty asked and scowled. "Who would be so cruel?"
Delia smiled sadly. "Haven't you ever wondered why the Viridian Gym never had a steady gym leader? Why he seemed to go away on business all the time?"
"I did..." Misty admitted. "But gym leaders can have strange habits."
"Team Rocket isn't Jessie and James, Misty," Delia said. "Team Rocket is..."
"Me," the man said. "I am Team Rocket. When you say you won't join Team Rocket, you don't mean you won't join the outfit. You mean you won't join me. And I'm afraid, Satoshi, that this isn't an option."
Charizard roared, one final time, and Ash recalled it. His whole body trembled and he wanted to lie down. The man stepped off the dais and approached him. Ash stepped back, wishing he had Pikachu to jump into defensive mode. He had himself...and the man stared at him.
"You will join Team Rocket or you will perish," the man said. "I am Giovanni. I am your father."
Ash stepped back again and glared. "My father's dead. My mother told me-"
"A lie," Giovanni said. "Like the lies you believed, about Jessie and James being my top people before they met your Pikachu, or your skill as a Pokemon trainer, People can be bought. Alliances can be won. You are my son and now you must join me."
"No!" Ash growled and headed for the doors. He glared at Giovanni. "You're not even my rival! You fixed this so we'd battle! It's not a legitimate loss! You cheated!"
"Of course I cheated," Giovanni said, smiling. "I'm the head of Team Rocket. Did you expect me to play fair? My Pokemon were trained fair, yes, and I gave them no battle enhancing drugs."
"You knocked Gary out!"
"No...I didn't touch him," Giovanni said. He smiled. It was a cat devouring its dinner smile. "I never touch anyone anymore, unless I must. Unless I know the price of failure is too high."
Ash bolted for the door and the HootHoot he had seen earlier flew in front of him. His eyes grew heavy and he turned to Giovanni. Giovanni continued to smile.
"You will join me, Satoshi. You have no choice. Not now. Not ever," he said and picked Satoshi up to cradle in his arms. "And tell your mother, if you ever get the chance again, that no one walks out on me."