A/N: ...And so I updated this story, and many bricks were shat.

Yup, I'm still writing this. Surprised? XD I love Pokemon too much to stop. I want this story to succeed so bad; I refuse to give up when I've barely even gotten started with it.

So if there's anyone that's actually still reading this, congratulations. Here's a reward for your patience. :D

AND I'M REALLY SORRY I SUCK AND SHOULD'VE UPDATED WAY SOONER OTL


One entire month…

I let out a sigh, crumpling up the paper I had just been doodling on. It was the week after my chance meeting with Darren; I hadn't been able to stop myself from sitting in my room and brooding.

It didn't feel like a month had passed, and yet it did. The past few weeks had been me going through the same routine of training, eating and sleeping. Routines were safe. They made it easier to make myself numb to homesickness.

I was getting better at this lifestyle, at being a trainer. I had been challenged a few times, and even won some; that along with the odd jobs I did around town was what helped me to sustain myself. Still, though, I was far from comfortable with my financial situation.

Damien had been an almost constant presence since we'd met. He wasn't hovering over my shoulder all day or anything, but he was always there. I always knew where to find him, and somehow he always knew where to find me. We trained just about every day; though it was immensely frustrating, I couldn't deny that I had learned a lot from him.

…I still hadn't managed to hit that stupid Scyther.

Another sigh. Thinking about that wasn't going to help at all. How was I supposed to hit it, anyway? Flammie and Apollo were unevolved, inexperienced Pokemon. There was no way they could possibly be as quick as the Pokemon of an International Police member. And if I remembered correctly, Scyther were stealthy to begin with. It was just a useless test Damien had developed to piss me off.

Dammit, I still couldn't believe it had been a month and I was still sitting here twiddling my thumbs…how much longer would it take before I felt comfortable moving on?

No, I would never want to leave. Leaving meant exposing myself to danger, because the only place I could go at this point was Azalea Town. And the longer I stayed here, the worse the rumors I heard became. The situation wasn't going to resolve itself.

…Was Darren right? Was it wrong of me to want to stay put? It wasn't like I could solve anything, but…

It was what the main character of the game was supposed to do, and I had pretty much followed in their path up to this point. But if I kept going, that meant I'd have to somehow defeat a criminal organization and get all the gym badges and win against the elite four and all that bullshit.

Ugh, I needed to stop thinking about this. It was ridiculous and there was no way I'd be able to accomplish anything that crazy.

Standing up, I walked over to the door to my room and slipped out into the hallway. Maybe it was time to get some solo training done…anything to stop myself from brooding.


On my way to the usual training spot, I found myself coming to a stop and contemplating the single building in the distance, the one that towered above all the others. Sprout Tower…

One whole month. How long had it taken me in the game to get past that place? All it was was a bunch of monks with stupid Bellsprouts! Level up the fire starter and the flying-type Pokemon, and the place is a piece of cake. Beat Falkner—c'mon, the first badge was never hard—and go to Azalea Town, kick some Rocket ass, and move on.

It should've been simple. It had been so easy in the game…and even if I screwed up, all I had to do was go back and level up my Pokemon some more.

I rubbed the back of my neck, frowning at the tower. Flammie sat at my heels, already used to this kind of behavior.

This whole thing wasn't run by experience points and type advantages anymore…way more factors came into play. But then again…it wasn't like I was fighting Team Rocket, right? I could at least give Sprout Tower a shot, and go from there. Maybe even challenge Falkner. If I lost horribly, then I'd know where I stood. Maybe I wouldn't even lose horribly—maybe I was underestimating myself. I had been training a lot lately—

"You're going to do it?"

I jumped at the sudden voice behind me, swinging around to see Darren standing there. He was beside Rouge, his Growlithe. The two had a determined look in their eyes that I wasn't sure I liked. I had battled Darren once or twice before now, and there was one thing I'd noticed about him—he might have a lazy, laid-back demeanor, but he shaped right up when there was a battle going on. Flammie and Rouge already had a rivalry going on, which was kind of bizarre when it was between two adorable little starters.

"…Huh?" I finally managed lamely.

"Sprout Tower," Darren replied with a smile.

I hurriedly shook my head. "Uh—I'm not ready! I was thinking about it but I—a-aren't you still waiting on your parents? It's a place for trainers!"

His smile fell slightly and he shrugged. "Won't matter so much later. I realized that they're never gonna let me go anyway. I'm a sitting duck, like you. So let's change it up."

"Change it up? Are you saying—"

"The only way the world will be safe is if we make it safe," he said, crossing his arms. "…And I heard there's some nasty stuff going on down in Azalea Town. First everyone's talking about how their Slowpoke has been stolen, and then this morning some snake comes up here trying to sell Slowpoke tails like they're some kind of delicacy!" He let out a controlled sigh, seemingly doing his best to keep his calm composure. "Doesn't it burn you up? Everyone knows they're killing Pokemon, but it's gone on for so long that nobody wants to make a move. We have to do something."

I just shook my head, surprised at his speech. "Why am I included in this? I…I was thinking about Sprout Tower, but not Team Rocket. You realize we're just kids, right?"

"That guy from Kanto—Red—he was a kid too, and he became Champion," Darren pointed out. "It's not about us. If you can raise strong Pokemon, it doesn't matter if you're ten or twenty or fifty." He turned to look up at Sprout Tower. "I want you to come because I know you want to get out of here too."

When I was silent at that, his gaze shifted back to me. "I want to prove myself to my parents. You want to get away from that Damien guy. If we get through this tower, then we can do that."

Get away from Damien…I stared at him in a new light. He was right, of course. Damien had helped me but I didn't want him attached to me for the rest of this thing, even if he was a cop. I knew what I had to do, but if I stuck with Damien, all I was going to do was train for the rest of my life. Maybe beat Falkner, yeah, but Damien would never let me go to Union Cave. And what I needed to do in order to progress…was exactly what Darren wanted me to do.

…Would it be so bad, partnering up with Darren for a bit? Maybe…

"Okay…okay. Let's not get too carried away," I said, frowning. "I'll take on Sprout Tower with you. We'll see how things go from there, I guess."

He smiled. "I knew you'd come to your senses. Come on, let's do this."


The inside of the tower was very dim, lit only by candles on the walls as well as the sunlight streaming in through the few windows. The polished wood floors creaked slightly under our weight as we strode inside.

One of the first things I noticed was the giant pillar in the center of the room; if I stared at it for long enough, I could see that it was swaying slightly. The effect was a little disorienting. I tried not to look at it too much.

Darren ignored the other people milling about the room; some of them were dressed in the garb of Buddhist monks, while others seemed to just be civilians or trainers. I followed him to the ladder near the far wall, where a monk was standing. He looked up from the text he was reading when we approached.

"Oh, young one…so you plan on climbing the tower this time, do you?" He spoke, his eyes filling with mirth at the sight of Darren. "I remember you visiting here when you were small. Are you certain you're prepared?"

"Sure," Darren replied, unfazed. "I've got a partner."

The monk turned to look at me. "And are you prepared as well, miss? Training here will not be so easy."

Just as I opened my mouth to say I was ready, Darren spoke up again with a solemn set to his face.

"We're not here for training."

That caused the humor to drain from the monk's eyes. He frowned, seeming to look at the both of us in an entirely new light. "…I see. Well, I can't stop you. But first you must make it to Elder Li—if you are defeated by any of the monks on the floors above, you will be turned back."

"Yeah, I'm aware of the rules," Darren replied.

"Um…we're ready for this," I added, though I wasn't sure if that was entirely the truth.

The man nodded, moving out of our way. "Very well, then. I will prepare some potions for your return."

Now that the way was clear, Darren moved to the ladder and began to climb up. I followed shortly after.

When the teen made it to the floor above, he turned around and held out a hand to help me up as well. I climbed through the opening, pausing to take a look around. This floor of the tower was much like the last; through the dimness I could still see the central pillar, and I had a feeling it would be a constant presence through this endeavor.

It was very quiet up here; the only sound I heard was the initial scuttling of small feet, which turned out to be a few Rattata we had startled out of hiding. Thankfully they seemed to be in more of a mood to flee than fight; we didn't need any extra nuisances, and I had no desire to catch one anyway.

The next two hours after that were a blur. We encountered several monks on every floor, and I found myself teaming up with Darren for double battles at just about every turn. For the most part things went far better than I would have ever expected. It was almost easy; I suddenly saw that the training had paid off, and my Pokemon were much stronger than they had been a month ago.

It was just as I remembered—all of the monks here used Bellsprout, though there were occasional Hoothoots here and there. Darren and I used our fire Pokemon and defeated them easily. And whenever Flammie looked like he needed a break, I sent out Apollo.

Unfortunately my Pidgey still wasn't always in the mood to behave. Though I had difficulty controlling him and it was frustrating as hell, I still managed to finish a few battles with his help. I could only hope that at some point we'd reach an understanding. But that was something I'd have to worry about after we were out of here, since for right now training time was over.

"Man…what floor is this?" Darren sighed beside me as we rounded a corner, approaching another ladder.

"I lost count too," I admitted. "Everything looks the same."

"It's starting to get old," he muttered, running a hand through his hair. "Rouge is getting tired too. Maybe it's more of a stamina thing than a strength thing."

"Maybe," I replied quietly. Whatever the test was, I was ready to be done with it.

Then we both paused, coming closer to the ladder leading above. At some point during our conversation, the surrounding silence had been broken, and now I could hear voices coming from the next floor. The monks up until now had all been meditating silently when we came upon them, so hearing this was out of the ordinary. We exchanged a glance.

"Sounds like someone's getting heated," Darren muttered, raising his eyebrows.

Sure enough, the tone of the masculine voice I heard coming from above was not a friendly one. I nearly groaned when I remembered who exactly that was going to be. Well, there was no sense in putting off the inevitable. When my companion shrugged and started climbing the ladder, I allowed Flammie to climb on to my shoulder so that I could follow.

Darren pulled himself up and turned to give me a hand, and soon enough we were up on the top floor. This floor was slightly different from the others; the walls were lined with wooden Bellsprout carvings that towered over us as we walked. The monks up here merely nodded to us in acknowledgement as we passed rather than challenging us.

We paused when we came close to the other end of the room. Silver was standing with his back to us, one hand clutching a Poke Ball and the other balled into a fist. He was withdrawing his Totodile. The monk standing across from him, an old man with a snow-white beard, was looking at him with disappointment in his eyes.

"Ridiculous," the redhead snapped, bristling. "I defeated you. What more do you want? I proved I am the stronger trainer!"

"…What's going on here?" Darren muttered to me, and I just shook my head.

The elder sighed. "…Very well. You've proven that you do possess power…take this Technical Machine. If you intend to go, it will aid you."

Silver accepted what appeared to be some kind of CD, glaring all the while.

"However…" The monk frowned, watching him. "Be warned. Pokemon are not simply tools of war…treating them overly harsh will only lead to your own misfortune. The key to true strength is forming a symbiotic relationship with—"

"More of that nonsense? Humph!" Silver rudely interrupted. "The loser in a battle has no place lecturing me on true strength. Elder, huh…you're just an oversentimental old man. You're soft and so are your Pokemon."

He turned his back on the elder, who was shaking his head. It was then that he noticed the two of us standing there; his eyes narrowed when they fell on me.

"You again. What's that look for? You agree with him?"

"Sure; maybe I'm soft too. Better than being dense like you," I retorted, scowling. Such an ass—this guy never failed to get on my nerves! "You can't expect to keep winning battles if your Pokemon hate you."

"Feelings don't mean anything—Pokemon are just a means to an end. You still don't get it, do you?" Now he just shook his head. "Fine, then. I'll show you what real strength looks like next time we meet—if you even manage to defeat this old fool, that is. I'm going."

With that, he walked past me, his hands shoved in his pockets. Darren glared at his back, even as he vanished through the opening to the floor below. Then the teen's gaze shifted to me.

"Who the hell was that?"

I sighed. "Long story…I'll explain later. Shouldn't we worry about the next battle?"

At that, Darren shifted his gaze to the monk standing up ahead and he seemed to calm down a bit. "…Yeah…sure. Let's do this."

The monk seemed to notice us; he stepped forward, giving us a scrutinizing look. Were we supposed to battle him? But if Silver had already taken out all of his Pokemon…

"Have you come here as well to test your strength, young ones? Congratulations on making it this far. I am Elder Li—the final test. But first I must ask—why have you come?"

Darren bowed his head respectfully. "Elder…we want passage through Union Cave. We want to stop Team Rocket and make Johto a free land for trainers again."

I resisted the urge to grimace. It sounded great, but hearing him say all that just made me feel pathetic because all I really wanted was to go home. If there were any other way to find the legendaries, I would take it…but it would take years to track them down if I was forced to hide from Team Rocket all the time. I didn't have that kind of time.

The elder frowned. "Many have stated that noble goal in the past…but none have seen them since they departed, and our situation is unchanged. Are you certain you wish to take such a risk? Team Rocket is a cruel bunch."

"We have to," I replied. "If we don't, Team Rocket's cruelty will spread and we'll all meet the same fate anyway."

It seemed like the right thing to say, but I was fairly certain the reality of what I was doing hadn't hit me yet. Right now it kind of felt like I was playing a part in a movie. I knew Team Rocket was a group of evil thugs, but I had never been exposed to those kinds of characters before.

Beside me, Darren nodded with approval.

"Very well," the monk replied, reaching into a pocket on the inside of his robe. He extracted a Poke Ball. "Allow me to test your strength, then. Brother Jin will assist me."

"Yes, Elder." One of the monks standing near the wall approached the elder's side, extracting a Poke Ball of his own.

I tensed a bit. This was going to be interesting—but somehow it was comforting to have Darren working with me. I just hoped I wouldn't make any stupid mistakes.

"We will each use one Pokemon. There will be no set time limit; one item use is permitted per participant. Choose your Pokemon, and let us begin!"

Jin threw his Poke Ball first; it bounced in the center of the floor, opening with a flash. A Hoothoot was revealed. Hopping down from my shoulder, Flammie saw the other Pokemon and bristled a bit. He still wasn't a huge fan of Hoothoots.

Next, Elder Li sent out his Pokemon. The flash of light from his Poke Ball faded, leaving what I recognized to be a Weepinbell in its wake. It was a strange looking Pokemon with unblinking, fishlike eyes and a gaping mouth; just what I remembered, and yet no longer a cartoonish illustration. I could see the veins on its leaflike limbs.

"An evolved Pokemon…" Darren murmured, frowning. "This'll definitely be tough."

This was the first Weepinbell I'd seen. Victreebell had been one of my go-to grass types in the original Gold, so I found myself pulling out my Pokedex out of sheer curiosity. I pressed the 'scan' button, waiting for the information to load.

When hungry, it swallows anything that moves. Its hapless prey is melted inside by strong acids.

There were several other facts present, but I shuddered at that particular one. Flammie…no. There was no way these kind monks would allow something so horrific to happen to a Pokemon, even in a battle. But it was something to consider…like animals, Pokemon had defense mechanisms and predatory instincts. They could be dangerous and they could kill each other, and they were very smart. In the wrong hands—in Team Rocket's hands, to be more precise—they could be turned into terrifying weapons.

But I was already on this path. If I wanted to go home, I couldn't chicken out now.

The main information displayed on the screen of the Pokedex was mostly stuff I already knew; Weepinbell was a grass and poison type, which meant it was weak against fire, flying, psychic and ice. It was one of the strongest Pokemon we'd encountered thus far, but at least Darren and I did have a type advantage.

"All right, Rouge," Darren said quietly, pulling the sole Poke Ball from his belt. "Let's do this."

He threw the ball, revealing his Growlithe. The Pokemon assumed a ready stance, and at my instruction, Flammie went over to stand next to her. For a moment Darren and I stared down the other two combatants. Who was going to move first?

Elder Li decided it for us.

"Feng, use Wrap."

The Weepinbell move immediately, sending a series of thin vines at Rouge and constricting her. She struggled, letting out a yelp and biting at the closest ones. There were too many for her to take out alone, and if she attempted to burn them they might catch fire and harm her—unless she had the Flash Fire ability, but I had no idea if Darren would be aware of that or not. There was no time.

"Flammie, burn the vines!" I ordered.

He was already racing forward, throwing Embers left and right to sever the vines that the Weepinbell was controlling. The attacks seemed to be having an effect, though since the vines weren't dry, they weren't burning as easily as I'd hoped. If only I had something like Damien's Scyther—Cut or Slash would help immensely right now!

"Sango, Tackle!"

At Jin's order, Flammie was quickly intercepted and sent flying backwards. After being hit with plenty of surprise attacks during training sessions with Damien, he was quick to react—he managed to flip in midair, landing on his feet and sliding backwards.

The vines still weren't broken, and Rouge was struggling. She needed to be free if we wanted to win this battle.

"Keep it up, Flammie!"

"Rouge," Darren piped up, "Helping Hand!"

Then the most amazing thing happened; I watched as the Growlithe's body glowed slightly, her eyes narrowing with determination. My Cyndaquil also began to glow, the flames on his back flaring up brightly. Then he opened his mouth, breathing out a large fireball that hit the vines and exploded, sending tiny embers everywhere. The Weepinbell managed to dodge, but the Hoothoot was hit and let out a squawk. Rouge was freed and quickly pushed the entangling vines off of her.

Hold on, had Flammie just used Flame Burst? That was a higher-level move! Helping Hand was capable of doing that?! I had never seen anything like that. Actually, I had never really used Helping Hand in the games, wanting to save the move slot for a more powerful attack.

"All right, Rouge! Use Bite!" Darren called.

The Growlithe shot forward, catching the Hoothoot off guard. She grabbed its wing in her jaws and forced the bird to tumble backwards with the momentum.

"Vine Whip!" Li ordered.

His Weepinbell sprouted new vines at a startling rate, these ones covered in sharp looking leaves. It sent the vines after Flammie, who just barely managed to dodge out of the way from each attack. The ones that swept through the flames on his back were merely burnt; I saw his back flare up as if he realized and understood this.

"Tackle the Hoothoot, Flammie!" I ordered, wanting to save the tougher Weepinbell for last.

The Cyndaquil reacted immediately, moving in. It was at that moment that Sango used Peck to free herself from Rouge, quickly hopping away to dodge Flammie's attack. Rouge and Flammie stood side by side and awaited the next assault; I attempted to think of a good strategy other than using Ember over and over. I had quickly learned from my training here that type advantages didn't always make a difference, so you couldn't just count on making your opponent faint in one hit to avoid a counterattack. If that worked, chances were your Pokemon was significantly stronger to begin with.

Regardless, Ember seemed to be my best bet. Darren ordered Rouge to use Leer, and then offered me a sidelong glance. I noticed that Leer affected both Pokemon, but the Hoothoot seemed to freeze up more noticeably. I had Flammie target the bird; his fire was still strengthened a bit from Helping Hand, and the powered up Ember hit the Hoothoot dead on. It flew backwards a bit from the force, landing on its back and struggling to get up. I saw the way its feathers were singed and winced a little.

When the Hoothoot couldn't seem to get up and Darren was already ordering another attack, Jin raised his Poke Ball and returned it. I breathed a sigh of relief; with that second Pokemon gone, concentrating on the more powerful Weepinbell would be easier.

Both Flammie and Rouge seemed to understand what was effective. Without being ordered, they quickly began sending Embers towards the other Pokemon. The Weepinbell raised its leaf-like limbs, using them as a shield to bat away the flames. I noticed that it gained several burns in the process; the hooklike root on its head spouted a tiny flame that didn't seem to want to burn out.

Elder Li frowned a bit, reaching into one pocket and pulling out a small pouch. He grabbed a handful of powder from the pouch, tossing it into the air. His Pokemon was enveloped in a cloud of cool, sparkling green mist.

"I think that's Heal Powder," Darren murmured to me.

My eyes narrowed slightly. An herbal remedy? I had never really used them before, but I was pretty sure Heal Powder cured status effects…

My hunch was confirmed when the mist cleared. Any that had been on Feng before were gone now, and the Pokemon was raring to go. Dammit.

"Feng! Prepare yourself!" The Elder commanded.

The grass-type crouched slightly, drawing its leaves over its mouth and beginning to glow. What…What was it doing? I didn't know! Shit, I couldn't remember what a Weepinbell's moveset would look like; it had been too long since I'd played one of the games!

"Something's coming…" Darren said, eyes narrowing.

"What's he doing?" I replied, frantically trying to figure out some sort of counterattack. Then it clicked—Growth! I had seen the Bellsprouts using that one and they had glowed sort of like this! Growth raised special attack, which meant—

"Acid!" Li called.

"Gah! No!" I protested, and suddenly Flammie and Rouge were both doused in a caustic green liquid.

Rouge tried shook it off like a dog shaking off water, but her efforts were mostly in vain. I noticed with a wince that some of her fur was singed. The flame on my Cyndaquil's back had smoldered; he slumped to the ground briefly, but then struggled to his feet. I noticed that he was swaying slightly.

The Weepinbell opened its mouth wide, sending out a cloud of yellow powder that showered both of our Pokemon. Stun Spore? Agh, I hated these status effect moves!

"Damn," my partner muttered, clenching his jaw. "Dammit, dammit! I only have Potions. Why didn't I think—I learned about this in school! But I've never battled a strong grass-type before…"

I gritted my teeth as well. Come to think of it, I didn't have any Parlyz Heals; when I saw how Rouge was suddenly having difficulty moving, I wanted to kick myself too. I had been trying so hard not to blow through my money that I hadn't even adequately stocked up.

Li ordered his Weepinbell to use Vine Whip; the attack hit Rouge dead on, sending the Growlithe hurtling into one of the Bellsprout carvings on the wall. The statue splintered under the impact, and Rouge fell in a heap on the ground.

"I need to take five," Darren growled, pulling a Potion out of his bag. "Sorry, but can you handle this for a second?"

"I can try," I said, feeling apprehensive. "All right, Flammie…let's give this a shot."

In response, my Cyndaquil nodded weakly, swaying on his feet. It wasn't exactly an image to inspire confidence, and I felt terrible pushing him like this. But if I switched him out for Apollo, it'd basically be the same as forfeiting the match…not to mention attempting to control the Pidgey in an important battle like this would be a nightmare.

"Ah…ah…try to distract him!" I yelled, flailing my arms a bit and feeling like a complete jackass. If Damien had been here to see this, he'd probably be whacking his head against the wall repeatedly.

Flammie responded by surprising me completely. He crouched close to the ground, the flames on his back disappearing and exposing bare skin spotted with tiny holes where the fire normally came out. His back was exposed for one brief moment, and then he vanished in a burst of black smoke.

Then we were all coughing and attempting to wave the acrid smoke away from our faces. It made my eyes water and my throat burn; I had to step back a bit to get away from the worst of it. Darren lifted Rouge and moved back behind me, spraying some Potion on his starter's wounds and getting her ready to be sent back into battle.

I couldn't see Flammie, but I knew he was doing precisely what I told him to do. Had he known how to use Smokescreen this entire time? He might not be a powerhouse, but he was definitely reliable—and smart, sometimes a lot more than I gave him credit for. Now what?

"Flammie—" I opened my mouth to issue another command, but that was when I saw a silhouette through the smoke and nearly gasped. Flammie was slumped over and trying feebly to get up.

The smoke cleared just enough for the Elder's Weepinbell to find my Pokemon. From the vines the grass-type was producing, I realized it was getting ready to use Wrap again. I didn't think Flammie could stay conscious through that—and I didn't want to find out. In the heat of the moment, there was no time to run over and administer a Potion. The only thing I could do—

"Now, Rouge!" Darren yelled.

Suddenly the Growlithe came hurtling out of nowhere, catching our opponent completely off guard. The Weepinbell was hit hard, sent flying into the wall with a crash. It slid to the floor, letting out a strange sounding moan. The poor thing looked completely dazed.

We all went still for a moment, watching the elder turn to his Pokemon. He seemed to assess the situation for a moment…and then he lifted one hand.

"That is all I will be needing to see. You have passed the test."

With that, he bent over his Pokemon and began to administer some sort of healing item with a few quiet words of encouragement. It began to stir just a little.

I breathed a sigh of relief and ran over to Flammie, with Darren and Rouge on my heels. The two of them crowded around the Cyndaquil; Rouge whined, licking Flammie on the head multiple times until Darren had to pull her back.

"I think he's been poisoned," Darren remarked. "He looks sick—and that Acid attack hit pretty hard, too. That must have been it."

"I don't have any Antidotes," I lamented, stroking Flammie's back lightly. Seeing him like this made me want to cry and hit myself at the same time.

"It is indeed poison…" The elder was walking over to us, having withdrawn his Pokemon for the time being. He offered me an apologetic look. "I would offer you one of my own Antidotes, but I'm afraid I gave my last one to my previous opponent."

I spent a split second being pissed off at Silver for being such a douche, and then I went right back to worrying about Flammie.

"Thanks for the thought," I replied quietly, and then turned to Darren. "Um, can you finish up here then? I need to get to a Pokemon Center fast."

The teen nodded. "Yeah, go. I got you covered."

"Right." I gathered Flammie in my arms, turning and running towards the nearest ladder. There was no time to waste.


"Brittany!"

I could hear the birds chirping outside. It was a beautiful spring morning; the forecast for today said seventy degrees with plenty of sunshine. I had plans to go on a long bike ride through the woods with my friends, with maybe some ice cream to top it all off.

"It's quarter past six, time to get up."

…I also had plans to sleep in, but Mom wasn't having any of that, as usual.

"Mmmnnn…"

"You have to get to school! Get up!"

Ugh…high school. Had I done last night's homework? I couldn't remember. I wasn't even sure if I had ever gotten those math notes from my friend like I was supposed to. Pretty sure I missed two days last week…yeah, there was no way I could afford to skip any more, at least not this week…but it sounded so nice outside…

"Weren't you saying you had a test today?"

Oh yeah, and I was supposed to help one of my friends study in second block. Aw, man. Oh well, maybe school would be bearable today. I felt like I hadn't seen my friends in forever anyway.

Suddenly there was wetness on my face. A tongue. Now our dog was in on it too?! Moooom!

…Wait a second, we didn't even have a dog.

E-Ehhh?!

"Aaaaaah!"

I jolted into a sitting position, breathing heavily and looking around wildly. Bright lights. Animals. Women in nurse uniforms.

"Where—what—"

"What was that for?!" A sudden groan came from nearby. I looked over and saw a messy haired youth sprawled out on the floor, a fluffy red dog lying on his chest.

…Darren? Rouge?

"Huh? Uh…" I sat there for a moment, dazed.

We were in Violet City's Pokemon Center. I vaguely remembered bringing Flammie here; I must've fallen asleep on one of the couches while waiting for him.

"Who wakes up like that...?" Darren groaned again, pushing Rouge off of him. She must have barreled him over in surprise at my outburst.

"…Bad dream," I offered, trying to sound sheepish.

He gave me a dubious look. "You don't sound very sure to me."

"Is Flammie okay?" I changed the subject, unsure of how to explain myself to him.

The subject change worked. Darren shrugged, glancing over to the left. "Looks like it. He's been running around making friends for the past hour. Are all Cyndaquil like this?"

"They're supposed to be timid…" I muttered, watching as Flammie sniffed at another trainer's Rhyhorn. He was a little too curious for his own good.

Thankfully, said Rhyhorn seemed to be ignoring the little Pokemon, though its trainer was watching with amusement. I pushed myself to my feet, walking over to him. When Flammie noticed me, he quickly ran in my direction with a happy little chatter. I crouched down and pulled him up into a tight hug.

"Whew…thank god you're okay," I whispered.

What would've happened if this had been out in the wilderness, without any Pokemon Centers in sight? Could Flammie have died? Or were there different degrees of poisoning that I was unaware of? There was still so much I needed to learn…

"Looks like everything turned out all right, at least," Darren said. "Man, but I'm not screwing up like that again. I never wanted to spend the money on healing stuff before, but I made sure to buy a ton once I got out of there. Status effects are a real pain…

That was an understatement. We came really close to losing that battle. How had Silver pulled it off alone? Granted, the elder had probably done a one-on-one with him rather than a double battle, but still…

…He must've been training just as hard as me over the past month. I shuddered to think what a battle with him would be like now. He had the type advantage with his Totodile, and I could see it getting ugly fast.

"What happened after I left?" I asked, drawing up to my full height with Flammie still in my arms.

"Oh, right." Darren reached into his bag, pulling out a disc; it was the same one that the elder had given to Silver earlier. "This is for you. It's Flash. Should be pretty useful in Union Cave. I got one, too."

"A TM?" I took it from him, staring at it blankly. It really looked like an ordinary CD. On one side the words "Technical Machine #70—Flash" and "Silph Company: Saffron City, Kanto" were printed.

"Never used one?" The teen asked, giving me an interested look. "Neither have I, but I've seen Dad do it once or twice. Come on, this center has a Reader we can use."

He gestured for me to follow him, and I saw him walk over to a door near the front desk. I had never even given that door much thought before; come to think of it, I had always assumed it was an employee-only thing, even though I never really saw nurses going in and out of there. I walked after him, following him through the door.

The next room was full of desks and computers and various machines. There were a few other trainers in here; some of them were engrossed in what they were doing, but a couple did look up briefly to offer a polite nod in our direction.

Darren led me over to a small machine on the opposite end of the room. Upon closer inspection, I saw a slot on the side that looked like it was meant for a disc. There was even what I recognized to be an eject button on the side.

"I'll do it with Rouge first. Check this out," he said, pulling out Rouge's Poke Ball and withdrawing her. Then he opened up a small door on the side of the machine, revealing an empty space with a circular indentation on the bottom. He placed the Poke Ball inside and then closed the door.

"All right, now you just insert the disc…" he murmured to me, pushing the TM into the Reader.

A small screen on the front of the machine lit up, and I leaned forward to see what it said.

LOADING…

LOADING…

TM70 IDENTIFIED. TEACH GROWLITHE THE MOVE "FLASH?"

That text. Maaaan, that sounded like it was from the game. This was so crazy.

There was a red button a green button beneath the screen. Darren pressed the green one, and the machine got to work. There was a series of mechanical noises, and then I saw a flash of red light emanate from the chamber Rouge's Poke Ball was in. That was the same light that came out whenever a Poke Ball opened…strange.

After a few seconds, the screen flashed green.

PROCESS COMPLETE. EJECTING TM…

The disc popped halfway out of the slot and Darren retrieved it. Then he opened up the machine again, taking out the Poke Ball he had placed inside.

"And that's all there is to it," he said with a shrug.

I stared at him, baffled. "Uh…that's it? Wait, so Rouge can actually use Flash now? What did it do, download it on to her or something?"

"…Download?" Darren gave me a bemused look. "Anyway, it's not really all that simple. I think it has something to do with the Poke Ball. But either way, this sort of shows them the basics to the move, but you still have to practice it to perfect it. At least, that's what Dad told me. I don't think Flash should be all that hard though. Sounds sorta self-explanatory. Ready to do Flammie next? He should be able to learn it."

"Um…yeah," I said with a shrug, withdrawing Flammie and placing his Poke Ball inside the machine.

We went through the same process, chatting a bit as the machine did its work.

"So we basically have permission to go now?" I asked.

Darren nodded. "We did make it through all of Sprout Tower. At least all that training wasn't for nothing…anyway, you didn't miss much. The Elder gave me a bunch of warnings about Team Rocket, but that's about it."

Oh, great. Now I was feeling even more apprehensive about that whole thing. At least Flash would help us get through the cave without tripping over each other, providing Flammie and Rouge really were able to use it…

The Reader finished its work and I pulled out the TM and Flammie's Poke Ball. We moved out into the main room once more.

"I'm ready to get going whenever," Darren said, shrugging. "Can't exactly go back home right now. My dad would sniff out my plans in three seconds, and I'm pretty sure Amy would start bawling and make a scene."

"Are you sure you want to—"

"Don't even finish that question." He cut me off, rolling his eyes. Then his demeanor abruptly changed, his lips tugging down in a frown. "Huh. Look who's here."

I looked up, my eyes scanning the Pokemon Center's main room. What was he talking about? There were a few nurses walking around, and then there was that trainer with the Rhyhorn…near some of the TVs were a few school children watching some kid's show with their starters, chatting happily amongst themselves. Everything seemed to be exactly the way it had been when I woke up—

…Oh. Except for that green haired guy standing at the front desk, talking to the head nurse. Damien.

Hoo, boy…suddenly I really didn't want to see him. He looked kind of ticked, which meant he was likely to lecture me the second he saw me—not to mention he'd do everything in his power to stop me from skipping town with Darren. No, I was completely certain he'd never allow that.

Now I realized that maybe going with Darren really was the best path. Clearly this alternative—being stuck here with an overbearing cop—would not be good for me.

"Let's get out of here," I whispered. "Let's leave now."

"You got it," Darren replied, seeming to understand completely.

We made our way over to the doors, slipping out of the Center unnoticed and leaving Damien behind. I didn't know if or when I would ever see him again.

It was off to Route 32. Time to get back to that adventure of mine.


A/N: FINALLY. I'm FINALLY getting to the first Team Rocket encounters. I never thought the day would come. I actually have stuff planned for Union Cave and Azalea Town thank god.

Apologies if my battles are still a little lackluster. I think I need to watch some episodes of Pokemon for inspiration, hahaha. I wish the anime was better...the anime trailer for Black 2 and White 2 was epic, why can't the actual anime be more like that? D8

Anyway...back to writing. Reviews are very much appreciated, seriously.

Next time: Adventures on Route 32; infiltrating Union Cave! Here we come, Team Rocket!