Author's Note: I could give you a story about how our house was flooded last year and tell you all my woes. I could tell you all that, but I bet you guys don't care (or even read these author's notes). I'm going to see about setting up a schedule for updating, for those of you who are still holding out for an update.

Chapter 23—Danse Macabre

Several days passed before Giovanni appeared in their section of the mansion, let alone spoke to anyone. Pikachu had electrocuted himself three times, cursed, and found a new hobby, trying to figure out which moves he might still be able to work. He had no more electricity and Misty had assumed incorrectly this meant he couldn't attack at all. Then, the second day of their solitude, Pikachu spun around and used Iron Tail on the bathroom door. It cracked under the impact, broke in two, and left Ash cheering and Misty slapping a palm to her face.

It also left them with a conundrum. Namely- how do you explain to the Boss the Pokemon you'd supposedly 'fixed' to be half and half had destroyed a door without saying he could still use Iron Tail? Misty thought the Boss shouldn't know. Ash was on the fence; he didn't approve of what the Boss had done to Pikachu, but he was reticent to upset his father. Misty reasoned what the Boss didn't know, as long as Pikachu wasn't stupid enough to wreck anything else, probably wouldn't hurt him. After all, Pikachu had learned his lesson and had promised not to use the move again.

Ash wanted to talk to his father again, Pikachu had spent the better part of three days rigging the intercom to reach other rooms and eavesdrop consistently, and Misty was in pins and needles. Her parents were supposed to arrive in Vermilion City in a few days and she had no way of reaching them. A messenger Pokemon wouldn't work; her parents had no way of knowing it was hers and she had a sinking suspicion she had to see them at Team Aqua's headquarters.

Ash was adamant. No one would sneak out. Misty understood the reasoning, but it made her heart ache. With Jessie and James gone (and two new servants to replace them- Mondo one of them), she had no way to leave anyway, since using the window wasn't an option.

Giovanni wouldn't grant her permission to leave. She was sure of that. Nonetheless, she felt the window closing and her temper flared. She was terrified of never seeing them...and the nearer the day arrived, the more she realized she was willing to risk just to see them.

But Ash had told her he'd be punished for her transgressions. She wavered back and forth, torn agonizingly. It'd hurt her badly if Ash took the fall for her. And you didn't calmly explain to a mob boss you wanted to be punished instead of someone else. Plus, she'd never had a real conversation with Giovanni, aside from the one right after Ash had been taken where he had threatened to kill her.

She had a solution, but she didn't think Giovanni or Ash would go for it. Somehow, she didn't think an enchanting tour of Team Aqua's HQ was on the list for "father-son-girlfriend" activities.

Seeing her parents was only a notch below her concern and affection for Ash. Any higher, and she might've said "to hell with it" and snuck out anyway. She was driving herself crazy.

The first thing Jessie and James had to do upon arriving at Team Galactic was to dye their hair and cut it. Jessie had watched her precious locks tumble to the floor and almost burst into tears, because she'd had that long hair since she was a child. Then she remembered the Boss threatening, in so many words, to murder them. That stilled the tears quickly. She resolved to do the best damn job she could here, because she'd narrowly escaped certain death. There would be no second time.

They'd been assigned barracks temporarily. It seemed Galactic badgering Silph Co. was only a stopgap measure. New Galactic grunts were assigned to the Veilstone HQ, in Sinnoh, and after they finished their business here at the end of the week, they'd be shipped over. At the moment, they had precious little to do. The newest grunts had to be taught not to screw up their battles, in case they lost to any random ten year old children with scarves and hats, and shiny new Pokedexes from Professor Rowan. Jessie and James found the reminders chafing, but the same random ten year child had basically saved their lives.

They received a Croagunk and a Seviper; Jessie missed her old Pokemon and kept hoping the Seviper would turn out to be similar, but they weren't encouraged to bond with it. In fact, during the drilling sessions, they were told time and time again Pokemon were tools and to be used accordingly. Jessie never let Meowth out except late at night, for fear others would discover him. It left Meowth testy, but they had no choice. Meowth would be confiscated and treated like a normal Pokemon, when he was far from it.

Cyrus was as mysterious and hard to reach as the Boss. No one exactly knew Team Galactic's aims, either, and the commanders said nothing. Jessie listened as hard as she could, and played an inquisitive, well-meaning grunt to the hilt. She was determined to do the Boss proud...and keep her life. The Boss wouldn't regret sparing them.

She grimaced, fingering her awful new locks. She already regretted the hair, though.

Some days, Giovanni mused, it wasn't worth waking up in the morning. As the head of a multi regional criminal syndicate, he didn't have the option to roll over in his bedsheets, sigh, and say, "Nope, I'm not getting up, but you idiots can carry on without me." His mother had instilled in him the necessity of facing every single challenge and task before him. The tasks before him wearied him immensely and it took several minutes longer than necessary to turn over the covers, groan, and sit up in bed. After breakfast, he had a meeting with Silver, and the worst part about it, aside from the foul taste in his mouth, was there was a slim possibility Silver might be Satoshi's half brother. That'd make a rather interesting dinner conversation, in addition to completely ruining any credibility Giovanni had with Satoshi.

Silver had no designs on the Team Rocket top status, but he could stir up trouble. Silver's attitude was legendary and Giovanni did not relish spending alone time (alone except for his guards) with the brat. For starters, his first information about Silver before he'd learned he might be his son was that the boy had stolen a Pokemon from Professor Elm. Naturally, all Pokemon thefts were brought to Team Rocket's attention, because they didn't want competitors, and Giovanni had groaned at the idea of an eleven year old thief being even considered in Team Rocket's league. That was, until someone postulated, and Silver insisted, that he was related to the Team Rocket head.

In addition to the Silver fiasco, Giovanni had to spare a few thoughts for how Jessie and James could blunder their Team Galactic mission. True, they were technically out of his hair, but he wouldn't rest easily until they were out of Kanto too. Then they were Cyrus's problem.

Team Galactic was another problem. They were dangerously encroaching on Team Rocket's territory, and Cyrus, along with Archie, showed signs of being rather formidable opponents. Archie was supposedly holding a homecoming for the Team Aqua members who had been out of the Kanto region for some time, and daring to hold it right under Giovanni's nose, in Vermilion. Giovanni wondered if Satoshi had any mind for subtleties and team warfare- it might be a good way to teach him about the situation in which Team Rocket found himself, by bringing him to the homecoming celebration.

And he supposed, before Misty and Pikachu got stir crazy, he ought to take them too. Besides, he didn't entirely trust Misty. It'd be a good idea to keep her under his watchful eye for a while. And he was interested in seeing how Satoshi treated his girlfriend around his father.

The idea of spending time with Satoshi almost compensated for having to exchange pleasantries with Archie and Silver. Almost. Giovanni only dragged his feet upon dressing enough to have earned him a swift yank on the ear were his mother still alive. And were his mother still alive, the other teams would have been crushed ruthlessly, after being studied for any possible tactile advantage to Team Rocket. Team Rocket tolerated no rivalries. Giovanni had allowed them to flourish because they were located in other regions...but perhaps he'd been too lax. The situation would have to be remedied.

Misty awoke to loud, raucous fanfare. She groaned, yanked her pillow over her head, and tried to sleep through it. Rattata was hopping all over the place and singing along. After about five minutes, she flung the pillow at the Rattata and he squealed, jumping up and scratching at the door. She grumbled, clambered out of bed, and let it run amok. Then, shutting the door on it, she pulled her nightgown over her head (it was a blue silk number with lace along the collars and wrists, and she wondered how Giovanni had known her size).

She tossed the nightgown into a laundry bag and hunted down clothing. Rattata was still chattering happily, this time to coax Ash and Pikachu out of bed. Ash had gone to sleep later than she had. Hoenn was holding a tournament and Pikachu and Ash had gotten all riled up, as usual. Though she liked Pokemon battling, watching it on TV removed much of its allure for her and she was too busy fretting over her parents coming here to care.

Smiling, she found a pink tank top she dropped over her pink lacy bra (not that Ash would notice this either, since Ash was too busy ogling the set) and blue capris. She let her hair hang loose, in the hopes Ash would notice. She posed and her smile faltered. How could she even care about her looks when her parents were in town and she had no way of seeing them?

Rattata rebounded into her door, and, fully dressed now, she let him back in. He grinned at her and chomped his jaw. Rolling her eyes, she waited for their food too. Yesterday, they'd been lucky enough to have Mondo wait on them. Mondo didn't know where Jessie and James had gone either, and had said had he known, he probably wouldn't have been able to tell her. There were greater concerns than Jessie and James being missing.

Antsy herself, she darted over to Ash's room and discovered Pikachu standing over him and shaking his head. Ash was sprawled out on the bed with his face to the side on the pillow and drooling. He had his hand around Aipom's Pokeball and was muttering random battle moves and strategies. She rolled her eyes at her boyfriend and smiled at Pikachu.

"How long has he been like this?" she said.

"Ever since I woke up," Pikachu said and consulted the clock. No matter how human he looked, she still got a little jolt whenever she understood him. "That's about fifteen minutes. What's going on outside?"

"I have no idea," she said and ran her fingers through her hair. "Be right back."

She dashed out again to brush it and stared at her reflection in the mirror. She couldn't believe Archie would flaunt himself right under Giovanni's nose. Was the Team Aqua leader kamikaze? Running her hand over her face, she headed back out to Ash and Pikachu. Pikachu shook his head repeatedly at his trainer and looked at the wall.

"Wish we knew what was going on," he said ruefully.

"You're about to find out," Giovanni said and Misty pivoted, unconsciously putting Pikachu at her back and Rattata a step behind her.

"I see Satoshi isn't awake yet," Giovanni said. "I thought I'd wish him good morning before I took care of some business. I will see the three of you later."

"You're taking us all out?" Misty said and Giovanni gave her a shrewd look.

"I can't leave you alone in the mansion," he said.

"What about Ash's mom?" Misty said.

"What about her?" Giovanni said and his expression darkened. "This isn't a friendly jaunt. Would you really want to subject anyone to a full family reunion in public?"

"No," Misty said and stared back at him. She didn't trust him, he knew it, and he wouldn't acknowledge aloud he'd noticed it.

"Satoshi," Giovanni said sharply and stepped into the room. Misty immediately stepped back, Pikachu collided into the bathroom door in an effort to avoid standing near Giovanni, and his eyes lingered on his trainer. His hands were shaking and Misty grabbed his arm to calm him. In response, he smiled weakly at her.

"Satoshi, wake up," Giovanni snapped.

Ash stirred but didn't wake. Misty smiled gingerly.

"I have a better way," she said and blinked. "Uh...if you'll allow me?"

"Be my guest," he said, though his strict expression never faltered. She rolled Ash over on the bed and sat beside him. Smiling, she said, "Gary Oak has no more usable Pokemon! Gary Oak is unable to battle! Ash Ketchum is the winner!"

"Huh?" Ash said, bolting upright. "I beat Gary? I beat Gary! Hah!"

Giovanni did his best not to look annoyed. "No, you haven't."

Ash looked around at his father. He had a serious case of bed hair. His hair was all over the place, falling into his face, sticking upright in the middle, and jutting out at the sides. "Huh? But Misty said..."

"Good morning, Ash," Misty said and smiled sweetly.

"While I find it...'entertaining' you have Pokemon on your mind so early in the morning, I must tell you to stow Pokemon battle thought for today. We have bigger concerns," Giovanni said.

"Like what?" Ash said. He looked confused. Misty almost pitied him. This was a lot for Ash to handle right after being woken up. And Giovanni did not look like a morning person.

"Team Aqua, for one," Giovanni said. "They are having a fair today to celebrate the members who have Vermilion City, of all places. We are expected to attend."

"Wait, so that means your parents-" Ash started and Misty jabbed him hard in the ribs. Giovanni's eyes narrowed.

"Your parents?" he supplied and Misty laughed nervously.

"Nothing, nothing!" she said. Giovanni gave her a distinct 'not buying it' look.

"Nothing escapes me," Giovanni said. "Not for long. Be aware."

Misty quelled more nervous laughter and the hair rose on her arms. Rattata cocked his head at her.

"I expect you three to be presentable in the next two hours," Giovanni said. He stared piercingly at Misty. "Good morning, Satoshi. Misty." He bit off her name when he said it and she shuddered.

Eying her like she'd committed a great crime under his nose and then pinned it on him, he left the room. Misty shuddered again and waited until she was sure the Boss was out of earshot before hitting Ash hard over the head. Her eyes flashed and she hissed.

"Idiot!" she said. "He doesn't know my parents are members of Team Aqua! And now he's going to be suspicious!"

"It doesn't really matter if they're members, does it?" Ash said, rubbing his head.

"To him, it does," Misty said. "He'll probably think I'm working with my parents."

"But you hate your parents," Ash said.

"Ash..." she said and sighed. "People like that see what they want to see." She kissed him on the forehead to compensate for the violence earlier. "Get dressed."

"We have two hours," he said and grinned at her.

"Take a shower first, then we'll talk," she said. Though, truth be told, she didn't think she was in the mood. She was wound so tight, the slightest nudge would send clockwork parts spinning everywhere. She bit her lip and hugged herself.

"Mist?" he said.

"Nothing," she said. "Go take a shower, Ash."

"I'm going, I'm going," he said. "C'mon, Pikachu."

She didn't comment on how it was slightly different to take your now partially human Pokemon in with you into the shower than it was when he was fully Pokemon. Instead, she sat down on the bed and hoped her queasy stomach would settle.

"Thanks, Brock," Roxanne said and smiled brightly at him. "I'd never have gotten through that tunnel without you."

"No problem," he said and smiled back. "I love to escort pretty girls to their destinations. You don't have to leave right away, do you?"

From the beginning of Vermilion City's demarcations, they could hear loud music, cheering, and see people dancing. Roxanne grabbed Brock's hand and warmth flushed in his cheeks. Could it be? Could it actually be a girl who liked him back? Would he ever be that lucky? She grinned at him and he grinned like a loon back.

"I think we could stay for a little while."

" 'We!' She said 'we'!"

"Brock, who are you talking to?" Roxanne said.

"Uh..." Brock smiled innocently. "The narrator?"