Disclaimer: I do not own Pokemon.

Chapter Summary: Can things become more strange for Ash as he slips deeper down the rabbit-hole of this bizarre night-life Roxie has led him into? As it becomes clearer what Doc and Holiday are after, how will it all connect to Sabrina, waiting quietly for Ash to finish his objective? Will Max make it deep enough into Union Cave to settle the score with Onix, before Brock and Dawn tear each other's heads off?

A/N: Hey everybody! This chapter puts us smack in the middle of the arc, I believe. I hope everybody's pleased so far. I know the subject matter has been sort of divisive, so thanks for stickin' it out. Anyways, here we go! Enjoy.


Chapter XXIII

"Hey, Kid, Rock and Roll."

Sabrina stood in front of the window, fingers pressed to the floor-to-ceiling pane. Below was Saffron. Six months ago, all of it's writhing, seething mass had been just a thought away. Their minds meshed together, coalesced in her perception, until they were a single, massive sensory organ. She saw what they saw, heard what they heard, felt what they felt.

He powers of telepathy, persuasion, and foresight had become so massive in her late teens that she could've controlled the whole city if she wanted, and not just it's gym, but she'd taken care to ensure that her growth had been quiet and modest. The world wasn't ready for that type of leadership. Suits from Silph Co and old, dirty Viridian money maintained the veneer of power in Saffron for the time being, and that was fine. It kept other, more dangerous things out, and so long as she continued to hold them in check, they could hardly interfere with her own agendas.

She had never needed to piss on her own territory in the same way those animals did. Saffron was her city, whether anyone knew it or not. Or, at least it had been. For now, the invisible grip she'd once held on it had been broken.

She looked out across the twinkling night-time metropolis, eyes narrowing at the winking aircraft warning lights on the distant Lavender Radio Tower. Since it had gone up, and began spewing it's malignant signal out for a hundred miles in every direction, she'd been cut off from much of what gave her so much influence.

She heard the glass quietly whine under her fingers as they slid down it, pressed desperately into it's smooth face. She closed her eyes, and sighed.

She'd moved into this high-rise condo six months ago-thankfully she'd been able to manage what surface manipulation was necessary to obtain it at a laughably low price-thinking that perhaps she could overcome the disruptive frequency at this height, so far above the city miasma. That much at least, was true, her powers were much stronger here, but the lights and people were only that and nothing more-not her eyes, not her ears, not her hands. An invisible dome, emanating from Lavender Radio Tower separated her from them.

She needed Ash for this task. Disabling the tower on her own invited a deep risk into her life, and there were other roles she needed to fill, without garnering that level of attention. She'd had a few brushes with Team Rocket already, and she didn't need it to go further. Her's was not a starring portrayal. Instrumental, perhaps, but not preeminent, not even in that task.

Ash would succeed, perhaps haplessly, but he would succeed. Then, she supposed she could move into the next phase. Arceus, how badly she wanted that. To be able to reach out and touch the minds around her again. Really touch them, not just come through like radio static, but to actually get inside of them! It would only be for such a short, short while, and she did rue that, but for now she had to focus on the big picture. There was one mind, here and now, that required her. That meant the tower had to come down, whatever else it resulted in. Plain and simple.

She needed to pry into that boy, to dig out what they both needed to know, to show Ash what was inside him, and prepare him for what that thing would one day require of him, and for her own sake, so that she might know what she needed to know in order to bring the eventual outcome to fruition. He didn't want to see, but she would force him to. Hate it, respect it, or fear it, any one of those would do, but he couldn't keep on ignoring it.

...and the chain of events just needed one more push to set it all in motion.

She turned away from the window, and fell into an armchair. With both hands, she tousled her hair a bit, throwing it behind her shoulders. She fished her gear out, and prepared to take another picture. This time, she undid several more buttons of her jacket and splayed it open, exposing the black lace bra beneath.

She frowned, realizing she needed two hands to take the photograph she wanted. As a rule she tried not to use telekinesis for menial tasks, but the secret of artful photography was in the details, after all. She held the phone in place mentally, leaving it floating before her as she withdrew her hands from it, and put them to use, heaving a few breaths to bring the blood to her face. She put on the most desirous look she could manage. It wasn't perfect, but she made up for every ounce of sincerity lost with a double-dose of manipulative skill.

Ash sat in the booth like a prisoner with Stockholm syndrome, all thoughts of leaving now strangely dissolved. He'd entertained the idea at first, but being so trapped in the lie they'd told, he found he was just too embarrassed to get up and walk through the crowd in order to depart. He'd spent most of the first hour or so, angrily sipping at whatever was put in front of him, and keeping his eyes shaded and downcast. Now he sat with his hands draped ineffectually on the seat to both side of him, not quite willing to put them into action.

"I didn't even know there was a war on." he heard a couple talk in the booth behind them.

"Just goes to show how little they actually tell you on the news these days" the other responded dispassionately, as if that was the logical explanation.

"Seems a little young to have a commission, though."

"They keep getting younger all the time."

After a long pause, the other person evidently conceded. "I suppose so."

Ash had downed about four drinks now, each the most sugary and least offending that Roxie could sort out among the masses of offered beverages that had made their way over to the table, but surely to Arceus he could still get onto his own two feet and march out of this place, if he wanted to. The problem was that he didn't really want to anymore. He felt oddly at peace with everything around him. Even the couple who'd been discussing him didn't really register as a concern. The massive lie was just a little fib now, in his mind, parked just behind the blurred immediacy of what was happening now.

Ash's gear buzzed, but it took him a little while to fish it out of his pocket, partially because that nagging paranoia that his mom was somehow going to find out about this hadn't left completely, but mostly because because his arms felt funny.

He eventually palmed it out, and rubbed the side of his face with his off hand as he tried to awkwardly thumb through the menus to read his new message. It wasn't from his mom, but what it turned out to be was certainly it's own sort of distressing.

He sat there for a long while, stunned. He was sure that the thing he needed to do was delete the picture, clap the damn gear shut, and try to act like nothing happened, but instead of that, his body remained inert. Instead of that, he started to chortle. Instead of that, he tilted the gear toward Roxie, and got her attention. "Hey, look."

What the hell was wrong with him? It was like the filter between the things he was thinking, and the things he ended up doing was just gone!

"Oh, hello." Roxie looked down at the gear he was offering, and quickly snatched it up. "Who's this, then?"

The girl in the photograph had one finger in her mouth, applying teasing suction up to the second knuckle, the other hand rubbing at the inner thigh of her wide-splayed legs where black thigh-highs lapsed into pale nubile skin.

Roxie, until that moment, had been completely upside down in the booth, legs laid casually up the wall as she reclined against Ash's hip, and while she didn't seem quite as overtly drunk as someone else sitting with them, imbibing had made her louder and far less reserved, which was certainly saying something, since she was now clambering end over end to stare at the screen on his gear, compressed cheek-to-cheek with him.

Doc, the recipient of most of the drinks he'd surrendered out of distaste, had closer to ten such glasses, though most were small. He was the next best off, aside from Ash, simply sitting there with a grin and a chuckle for anything that was said to him, occasionally taking a drink of draft light beer, wiping the head from his mouth with a meticulous motion and listening just as intently as he was, though he seemed to be having trouble tearing his eyes away from the television on occasion, to give any direct attention to the commotion

Holiday, though, who'd gotten so torn up on spritzers that he couldn't quite sit still, even though he wasn't really being called on to use his sense of balance, didn't seem hindered at all by having to practically climb over the table to see the picture message. He scoffed when he saw it, and then returned to the booth seat where where he went back to swaying, and sometimes jerking in the seat, apparently just before catching himself from sliding off the lip of the seat. "Ah, that's just this slut tryina' get cozy witcha boy, there." Holiday explained, indicating Ash.

Roxie popped both eyebrows. "Just trying, then? Not exclusive?"

Ash didn't know what that meant, but Holiday answered for him. "I dunno, she looked pretty hard up for it. Real repressed, librarian sort of chick."

Roxie let out a low, libidinous laugh, a sort of "Oh-ho-ho!" Ash felt his blush increase, but he wasn't sure exactly why. There was something happening here just outside of his notice. "Just my type."

Holiday snorted. "I thought your type was battery powered with handle-bars."

Roxie only rolled her eyes. "What? You saying I can't seal the deal? I made a believer out of worse. They used to call me "The Closer" back in school, you know? I've made more straight girls scream my name than Fiorello Cappucino."

Holiday shrugged, and went back to his spritzer, clearly unimpressed.

Roxie, totally unimpeded by his lack of confidence, merely turned to Ash. "Well, mate, I'm afraid I may end up having to have a go at your hot little girlfriend," she gushed, breath heavy with liquor and passion. "And I am sorry for that. I really am. But the heart wants what the heart wants, and all that."

Ash's, now scarlet, scratched timidly at this collar-bone, where the threshold of this sudden flush of blood rested. "She's not, uh, my girlfriend."

"Oh, good, then you won't mind if I cut in." She abruptly took the phone from him, and dialed the incoming number with a deft tap. She pressed it to her ear, and reclined casually, as if confronting potential prey in a face-to-face setting.

After a few moments of silence, someone evidently answered on the other end, too quiet to hear. Roxie, however, was quite clearly audible, and unabashed. "Hullo then, you tidy little minx!"

More silence, that only made Roxie's smile increase. "This is Roxie Toxic. Yeah, as in the Roxie Toxic."

This time, the silence stole Roxie's smile, and replaced it with a frown. She pulled the phone away from her ear. "She uh, wants to talk to you," the rocker explained, handing it back to it's owner. Holiday guffawed.

"The Closer, huh?" Doc asked incredulously.

"Oi, give it time, eh? This one is gagging for it, and this gaydar of mine never gives false positives," she said, indicating the general area of her face. "I'll have this bird, mate. Just you wait and see."

"Some gaydar." Holiday snorted. "She was all"-here, he adopted a feminine falsetto-"Roxie who? Put that dreamboat Ash Ketchum on the line." The taller admin guffawed, along with his partner. "You got shown up by the one-nut-wonder."

The trio fumed and bickered while Ash had his telephone conversation, which was just fine since he was having a hard time hearing and an even harder time enunciating himself properly.

"The gaydar works just fine thank-you-very-much," Roxie huffed. "Besides, I already told you what I thought about you and your bottom bitch."

The object of Doc's laughter changed targets, moving from Roxie to Holiday with that comment, but Holiday, apparently quite confident in whatever orientation he was rocking, only looked sidelong at Doc.

"The fuck are you laughing at? You're the bottom bitch she's talking about, you know that, right?"

The humor drained from Doc's face. "Naw, man. I ain't with that gay shit."

"Ain't nothing gay about getting your dick sucked, bro. What's a couple beejers between two close compadres like us?" Holiday offered with a chortle.

Rounding on Doc, Roxie joined up with Holiday. "This seems like the perfect segue into that thing you've been working on, don't it, Holly?"

Holiday nodded sagaciously, though his gesture was slightly off the mark, being that he was rubbery from the waist up, and withdrew a carefully folded bar napkin he'd been penning feverishly upon over the last hour. "So, In light of your previous argument, that I don't use enough visual aids to get my point across, I've decided to make a pie-graph detailing the places I'm going to put my nut sack throughout the day tomorrow. As you can see, Your Mouth, comprises 85.4 percent of the total twenty-four hours, with Inside Pants a distant second, at 13.8%, and Other at 0.8%," he explained to Doc, laying it out on the table for all to see.

"I like where this is headed." Roxie said with a grin, taking the napkin from Holiday and examining it. "Arceus, that's like, over twenty hours you've got his balls scheduled in there, Doc."

Doc only shook his head, and took another drink of his beer.

Holiday ignored him, and went on talking to Roxie. "Actually to me, the really sad part is that for almost twelve minutes out of the day, I apparently don't have a good enough idea of where they are at all, to say specifically, now that I think about it. Other? I mean, they could literally be anywhere."

Roxie laughed. "Oi, where are your balls at, Holly?" she asked facetiously.

"Oh, they're, uh, Other, at the moment." Holiday pretended to answer shamefully.

While the three of them carried on, Ash cupped the phone. "Well, what do you want me to do?"

Contrary to her appearance and the photograph, Sabrina's voice was quiet, even and plain. "Tell her anything she wants to hear, but get her to shut down the radio tower."

"Well, I mean, she's sortof interested-"

"I'm well aware of what she's interested in."

"So I mean, what-"

"Just go along with it. I'll handle it."

Ash felt himself start to blush again. "Like, handle it handle it, or-"

Sabrina sighed in a dismissive way at the childish implication. "Secure whatever deal you have to. I will make good any promise you make, as long as that tower goes down tonight. Do you understand me? That is imperative."

Ash, sobered a bit, but face scorching, answered affirmatively. "I guess so."

He hung up the phone and laid his head on the table, strangely put out, and even more strangely, slightly stimulated by what he said next. "She wants to, uh..." he turned, looking at Roxie through slightly separated fingers, as she sat there expectantly.

"Yes?" Everyone else at the table said in unison, Roxie's tone desperate for satisfaction, Holiday's thick with oncoming schadenfreude, and Doc's hopeful of an impending change of topic.

He tried not to picture it in his head, but his teenage hormones made it all to easy for imagination to run wild over his buckled resolve. The thought of Roxie, eyes patently lascivious, descending down overtop of the normally so straight and proper Sabrina, one hand kneading its way inside of that lavender blouse to slide under the partially revealed negligee and take a full advantage of the overflowing hand's-worth of pale, pink-tipped breast while the other took a commanding grip of raven hair and used it to propel the both of them into an open mouthed kiss, where lightly pink and acid blue tinted lips collided and gradually made a light shade of purple through urgent and insistent mixing.

He sat upright and cleared his throat. "Date. She wants to go on a date," he ventured, trying not to sound like he'd been leading up to something else.

Roxie shrugged. "I'll take it." She pumped her arm once across the table. "Told ya. Fuckin' Closer!"

Holiday let out a puff of air, and scoffed "Date? Not DTF? Lame."

"But," Ash went on, trying not to sound like he had no idea what DTF meant, since he wasn't sure how it pertained to what he'd said.

"But?" Roxie perked.

"She wants something from you first." Ash admitted.

"Sure," Roxie said at once.

"It's sorta big."

Roxie shrugged. "Lay it on me."

Ash leaned over a bit, indicating that he wanted to whisper. Roxie obliged him, throwing her arm over his shoulder and leaning in conspiratorially so that the other two could neither see nor hear.

He told her very plainly and concisely what he needed, and as he did that, and she in turn began to slowly reel away, he saw that she was beginning to realize just how huge of a thing he was asking for. Either that, or maybe he was beginning to.

"You want me to do what?"

He nodded, trying to impart the same grave seriousness that Sabrina had.

"Shit, Ash, I'm gonna need quite a few more drinks in me before I even consider that one. That's a tall order, even for me."

He supposed it wasn't an explicit no. but there was a lot more at stake here than just some girl-on-girl make-out session, no matter how fast it had gotten his blood pumping. This was about a badge. About a journey, and a promise he'd made to complete it. "Well, Sabrina is a very special girl."

"That she is, mate" Roxie conceded halfheartedly, looking as though she was doing a great deal of thinking all at once, none of it particularly pleasant. "Just, ah...gimme a while to think on it, eh?"

He didn't know if he could hope for anything better. He glanced at Pikachu, who gave him a bracing look, and then he grabbed his own glass, still half full of some syrupy red stuff. He looked at it briefly. "What did you say this was again?"

"A Cerulean Sunset," Roxie said, with a muted chuckle. "Must be ladies night."

"What's in it?"

Holiday snorted. "Not much. Orange juice, pineapple juice, grenadine. I think they might wave it in the general direction of some rum, but that's about all."

"Oh, you're one to talk, sitting over there like a delicate doily, sipping your carbonated dessert wine," Roxie countered dryly.

Everyone at the table seemed to delight a little in Holiday getting knocked down a peg, but Holiday was too blitzed to notice and went right on drinking without so much as a crass comment.

Roxie gave Ash a quick nudge. "Cheers, eh?"

Archer placed both of his hands down on the glass of his designer office desk, which must've told Butch and Cassidy that he disapproved quite sternly. Archer was not a passionate or animated man, being rather the cold, calculating sort.

It was a quality that contrasted his relative youth. At thirty, he'd been the youngest of several candidates for interim boss, and being voted in by his admin peers unanimously did somewhat cement the idea that he was a level-headed, competent leader. And he was. He had a lot of experience within both the corporate power-structure of Silph Co, and the criminal heirarchy of the Team. He'd earned the shield emblem he once wore on his lapel, in every sense of the word, and though the team no longer wore it's colors out on the streets, he was still an escutcheon-bearing member of the team.

He'd seen it all, Butch and Cassidy knew. You didn't wear the shield emblem unless you'd done something truly noteworthy, and gruesome for the sake of the Team.

Archer had reached inside the core of the team in the last of their glory-days, before the two of them had even gotten their patch. He'd witnessed the slow fall of Team Rocket in a way that was more manifest and more sincere than any other. To Archer, there was no reminiscence of the days of plenty. Those were a mere blip on the radar in his sixteen years with the team. To him, there had only been the slow and eminent decline, in the way of a Durant slowly falling into a Trapinch pit, sometimes scuttling a bit further up the slope, but never escaping it's ultimate fate.

Yet, Archer had saved face, even in the light of all that. Archer had stood atop the wreckage of the Team that Giovanni had abandoned, and guided Silph Co, their legitimate business conglomerate to heightened levels of commercial success, in a time where multi-trillion pokedollar foreign ventures and pending corporate collapse of domestic enterprise was at it's worst.

"Were we able to get a positive ID on either of them?" He asked, his intonations blank of any preconception.

He was not the yeller and screamer that Giovanni had been, but yet he was the engineer of everything that had kept them together in this dark time, so he was almost more difficult to take dressing down from. When they had to tell him no, it was like choking up lead weights.


Butch let out a breath. "We did catch them on one of the loading dock cameras, but the images are not high enough resolution. One of them got close enough to it to pick out a few features from the CCTV recording.. Dark skin, dark hair. Sinnohan maybe. The other didn't get close enough to pick out anything important, and disabled the camera entirely, shortly thereafter."

Archer raised one questioning eyebrow. "Disabled?"

"Hacked into them with some sort of short-range wireless device. Likely a gear or transceiver modified with homebrew Bluetooth-WiFi-Cellular software. The eggheads in R&D are digging into it, but they seem pretty confident that they're not going to come up with anything solid. Whoever they these guys are, they're not amateurs. They knew exactly how to undermine the security system."

Archer sat still, contemplative for a moment, before leaning back in his seat. "They mined very specific data out of the server, as well. Were you aware?"

Cassidy looked at Butch, who shrugged. "No sir. We were told the data was eyes-only."

Archer pressing both hands together by his fingertips, let out a low, humming sound, both acknowledging their answer, and contemplating his response. "Do you remember, three years ago, when Giovanni tried to establish a new Team HQ inside of Silph tower, after he was forced to resign as the Viridian City Gym Leader? Team members from all over Kanto came to the coronation ceremony."

"Yeah. Of course. Everyone does. That ex-champion kid. What was his name?"

"Red." Cassidy offered.

"Yes. Red infiltrated the complex, and battled his way to the top of Silph tower, incapacitating and injuring any Rocket operative that got in his way. He was only stopped just shy of Mr. Giovanni's penthouse by Executive Ariana, Operative Pierce, and myself, and even that came at great cost to the company, and the Team."

"So what does that have to do with the data?"

"I'm getting there. Let me ask you another question. Do you recall, how only a short time after the battle with Red, it was decided, because of the tower having suffered significant damage in the attack, that the proposed Team HQ would need be temporarily moved to a former apartment complex procured by a Silph Co. subsidiary on behalf of the Team?"

"Yeah. It burned down, or something, didn't it?"

"Within hours of the purchase."

The two operatives sat there, quietly bewildered.

"There were thirteen similar events in total, each one stymieing any further attempt to establish Team power in Saffron City. A purchase of east-side property folded when a seller withdrew his offer, and dropped off the map, after having previously seemed quite willing to sell at any price we asked. Another mid-town property was raided by police on suspicion of organized prostitution, again, within hours of occupation, resulting in sixty months of cumulative jail-time among the Team members who were apprehended. Following that there was a structural collapse, a board of public health and welfare condemnation, two gas-leak explosions, a sinkhole, and five rezoning occurrences resulting in foreclosure by the Saffron City Department of Ordinance."

"Sounds like awful luck." Butch offered.

"Sounds like someone didn't want the Team getting a foothold in Saffron." Cassidy suggested, instead.

Archer lifted a finger, and used it to indicate Cassidy. "That seemed the growing suspicion at the time."

"Who then? Red?"

"You know who leads the Gym in this City, correct?"

Cassidy shook her head no, but Butch nodded. "Yeah. Sabrina. I've talked to a couple of the Grunts who say they've bumped into her. Rumor is, crossing paths with her is very bad mojo. One of the guys I know was hit by a car just a few seconds after he passed her on the sidewalk. She's supposedly some sort of Doomsayer, or something."

"She has certain unique abilities that are not fully understood," Archer agreed, and left it at that.

Cassidy frowned. "Is the data they took about her?"

Archer, deciding that it was best not to say too much about something that was so delicate to Team Members that were not yet fully vetted, sat with lips sealed. He had a certain amount of confidence in Butch and Cassidy, being that he had sponsored them, and cast the deciding vote in their membership appeal, but they were only just a cut above Grunts, he reminded himself.

They were just as much liability as they were asset. Ariana had kept him from making a fool of himself during these years of his own career, but there was a wide margin of difference between what he'd endured in the turbulence of the team's internal power-shift, and the relatively comfortable life of company pensions and paid vacation these two enjoyed.

Instead of elaborating, and more fully fleshing out the nature of the data, Archer nodded his accord with her quick-cutting assumption. "It is. We can therefore assume that whoever these trespassers are, they are acting in her interest."

Butch huffed. "I don't get it. If this Sabrina girl has it out for the Team, why don't we just send someone to slit her throat, and be done with it?"

They had, he almost admitted.

Domino, the special Rocket operative who had served as Giovanni's personal protector, liaison, spy, had been sent to do just that, as a matter of fact. It had been Ariana's idea, though he'd supported it as well, under the circumstances.

He'd resented having to acknowledge the power and skill of someone who was referred to by such cheesy titles as 009 or The Black Tulip, but she'd served under Giovanni with an undeniably high degree of success and almost frightening effectiveness. She wasn't cut from the same cloth as other operatives he'd once known, but she was no slouch, certainly.

She'd accepted the task with relish, and detailed her plan to strangle the young, and admittedly frail-looking psychic with a garrote while she slept, showing off the deep, dark purple tulip that was her calling card, and guarantee of success to be left behind on the pillow of her victim.

Domino, or at least something that was once Domino, had survived that failed assassination attempt, apparently only by clutching that wilted tulip like a life-line. They'd found her screaming in the streets the following morning, raving about the monsters all around her, as she waved that tiny little plant-clipping like it was the hilt of a sword, striking blindly at anyone who tried to help her.

They had managed to drag her into a car only at great lengths and nearly had to beat her to death to keep her from leaping out of it, on the long ride back to Saffron General. Ariana had preferred taking her out onto route 8 and finishing the job, putting the operative out of her own misery and tying off loose ends in the Team manner, but he'd objected on the grounds that they might learn something integral if Domino could recover.

She hadn't.

Doctors had kept her under with anesthetics for seventy-two hours, analyzing brain activity, to little or no avail, and eventually seeing no choice, had taken her off of anesthesia for transport to the Lavender Town Psychiatric Institute.

Whatever she'd seen in those three days of sleep, however, had only compounded her suffering, and she'd ended it all in a scuffle with the doctors, by driving a set of hemostats into own her eye-socket, gruesomely, and without any hesitation at all. She'd only just gasped, in that quiet way a person does when they are finally able to relax, after a long period of stress.

The official medical report was suicidal self-inflicted penetrative head trauma resulting in fatal brain-hemorrhaging as a result of drug-induced hysteria, which in the opinion of the chief medical director was more or less typical of former Team Rocket thugs with the unfortunate exception of suicide-he'd only threatened the hospital with a libel case if they didn't add "former" to the report, of all things, because he'd been desperate to keep the matter open and shut. The autopsy returned no evidence of drugs, but he'd used his connections to have that diagnosis ramrodded through as truth, just to make it go away.

The following day he'd received a chilling text-message from a blocked number, that had never turned up any leads...

Please, never send me flowers again. I hope I have made it clear how I despise you and yours.

"The matter is somewhat more complicated than that," he offered, in lieu of an explanation.

Butch, obviously put off by that response, leaned back in his seat with crossed arms. "Sheesh."

Cassidy, less offended, asked the important question. "What do you want us to do?"

Archer considered it for a moment. "It's pointless to chase these individuals. You have no leads and no IDs. However, if they have that data, then there's only one place they'll be going."

He tapped a few fingers across his touch-sensitive console, and then turned the display so that they could see a photograph of their intended destination. "The Kanto Radio Tower. You will lay in wait for these two characters to arrive, recapture the data, and discourage any further trespasses in the harshest terms possible."

Butch, evidently liking those orders, smirked. "And if they don't walk away from this discouragement we give them?"

Archer, shrugging knowingly, betrayed only the smallest wisp of smile. "So long as the heat never lands on the Team, all the better."

Feeling like he was attached to the rest of his body by a balloon string, Ash wondered when they'd gotten so close the the bar. He knew he was thirsty again, and that the closer he got to the bar, the sooner some smiling face was clapping a drink into his hand, so he supposed it made sense that all four of them were wedged in sideways and practically hunched over the bar.

There was too much talking going on, so nobody seemed to notice him standing there, though. Instead of waving or hollering, which seemed like a terrible amount of expended effort, he nudged Roxie. "I need an..." he began, then stopped feeling himself keel sideways, and dangerously off balance. Roxie, though, reached to right him with a handful of blazer. She was obviously lit as well, but seemed to be on much better footing than the rest of them, tempered by experience.

"I feel thirst in my mouth," he amended, smacking his tongue. Though his sentence structure left something to be desired, Roxie got the picture.

Mimicking his less than subtle attempts, Roxie leveled her own query. "What kind of drink goes in you, then?"

"Yes," he agreed. Not quite the elucidating response she'd hoped for, but it would serve. She'd been feeding him straight shots of Tequila for a half-hour now, so it seemed like he'd scoured his mouth clean of any want or desire for fruity cocktails. She imagined he'd probably drink Gasoline at this point.

She ought to have handed him a glass of water, from the looks of him, but where was the sense in spoiling a positive learning experience? She laughed.

"What's wrong wiff the one you're holding, then?"

He looked down at a half-finished drink he didn't even realize he was holding. He didn't even know what it was, really. It looked sort of greenish, with little flecks of purple glitter in it. The glitter was all over his fingers too, he realized.

"Where did this stuff come from?"

"From the girl next to you." Doc offered helpfully, somewhere off behind him, coming up from another beer to do so.

Ash felt like it took forever to look over at the person standing next to him. A very skinny girl - lady, actually, he would've said, since she was far older than him - with bleach-blonde hair stood at the bar next to him, hair and cleavage replete with eye-catchingly purple body-glitter. Which of course gave rise to a question. A question he wouldn't have dared ask, under any normal circumstance, but yet one that flew right of his mouth now.

"Why did she rub this drink all over herself before she gave it to me?" He asked, since it seemed the only logical possibility.

"She didn't. You did that. Before you took it from her." Holiday responded, catching Ash by surprise as he snaked in between Roxie and the young trainer, to intercept a full bottle of expensive looking champagne.

"...Why?" he asked, unable to really connect the events in his mind.

"Coz you are three sheets to the fucking wind, Ash. Also, you both may want to duck, totty looks none too happy about it, either." Roxie explained in a rush.

He wanted to follow her advice, but his reaction was way too slow. The hay-maker slap didn't really hurt, since he already seemed pretty well disconnected from his body in all but the most superficial way. It only seemed like a dull sound heard to his left, as though there were a big glass dome around his head, but it did knock him in almost a complete spiral, where his stolen drink spilled all over Holiday.

Holiday, who evidently only got more confrontational and hostile when he was intoxicated, wasted no time in popping the cork off his bottle straight at the young trainer's face. Ash's terribly late reaction to Roxie's warning came through for him when he dipped under the pressurized cork and icy deluge of chilled champagne. It splashed right into the glittered chest of the girl who'd whalloped him, washing glitter, ice, and expensive alcohol straight into her face.

His three companions all started dying with laughter. Holiday slumped over the bar and started slapping it as Doc tried not to shoot beer out of his nose, and Roxie cackled in her shrill, ear-piercing way..

"Did you see that?!" Holiday yowled, voice muffled in the folds of his shirt.

"Holy shit!" Doc cried.

"Her tits made like, the perfect ramp!" Roxie noted, with great bemusement, mimicking the uphill motion in a very crude way.

Words even burbled out of his own mouth, though he had no real idea where the desire to speak them had come from. "It was all like: 'Bwoosh!'" he exclaimed enthusiastically.

Ash felt his phone buzz, and it seemed like a century before he was able to wrangle his phone out of his pocket, amidst the drenched shrieking of the woman beside him, and the raucous laughter all around. You're about to get thrown out, it read. He turned just in time to see the bouncers coming for them.

The sight filled him with a righteous indignance. "You can't throw me out! I've only got one ball!" Ash roared in nonsensical defiance, gathering Pikachu up in preparation for being proven quite wrong as one of the gigantic men wrapped him up about the middle and slung him like a bag of poke-chow. Figuring the best thing to do at this point was keep his friend out of the roil below, and so held Pikachu above his head as he was carried to the door, and deposited not so gently outside.

Another, hoisting Holiday by a handful of his collar, ejected him from his seat by a hand hooked under his belt. They had a little harder time with Roxie, since she proved to be a lot better in a scuffle than Holiday, perhaps because she was by far the most sober of the bunch and was all elbows, besides. She took the worst fall of the four of them, though. Doc put up a somewhat more passive resistance, but in doing he maintained his dignity somewhat better as well. Of all of them, he was the only one who didn't get tossed to the cement, since he managed an awkward two-point landing, one hand still holding his beer aloft as the other tried to slow his momentum.

Ash only seemed to give up on the notion of trying to muscle his way back in when he saw Holiday get punched in the eye for trying, before he could. Roxie, not shied up at all by the prospect, and bolstered by a strong sense of social immunity through fame, lunged for the door as well. In her defense, she did manage to throw a pretty mean-looking right cross, but once security was done dealing with Holiday (something that took an embarrassingly short amount of time) one of the bouncers gave her a punch in the nose that knocked her on her ass and took the piss clean out of her.

Indignantly scrambling up from the pavement to dust himself off and wipe at her bloodied nose, Roxie pinched one nostril shut with her thumb, snorted what had to have been a significant amount of blood from the sound of things, spat, then let out a whoop. "I've been thrown out a better pubs 'eniss anyhow!"

Doc, finally regaining his balance, double checked the lip of his ale for any dribbles, then, finding none, went to take another drink. He would have managed it too, if Holiday hadn't snatched it by the neck and hurled it after the receding security man who'd so rapidly shamed him. The bottle missed cleanly, but it didn't stop the cadre of four bouncers that had so readily disposed of them from turning on their heels, now spoiling for a proper fight.

Holiday and Roxie both made vulgar gestures in one and two-fingered varieties before cutting a retreat down the pavement. Doc followed a slight pout evident on his face, and luckily Ash came up with the good sense to leave as well.

Ash felt dazed after running, but couldn't have said anymore how they got to where they were going next, than he could have explained why everything seemed so warped, and his senses kept blurring into one another. Some things were dull, and others sharp, and he couldn't stop himself from turning his head to look at things as they passed them, no matter how mundane or uninteresting they were. Roxie just kept pulling on his blazer, and he kept fumbling along.

"Split up!" Roxie urged, keeping a brisk pace in spite of the fact that Ash was running as much up the back of her moccasins as across the pavement

"I'll call you later!" Holiday said, more than happy to oblige, as he and Doc hustled in the opposite direction.

Max didn't really believe that the route they'd taken through Union cave had seemed nearly this confining on the first trip. He stopped, and tried to suck in a deep breath as he felt the heaviness of cave walls closing in from all sides. It wasn't just the sheer weight of this tidal-carved cavern-system that was pushing down on him, of course, but that was bad enough all on his own.

There was the lingering hurt he still felt because of his split with Onix, certainly, but he'd found, as the trip went on, that the growing tension between Brock and Dawn was almost as disconcerting. He felt pretty miserable watching them fight over what to do about him, so he didn't want to linger too long, for fear that they would start in on each other again.

The last time he'd felt the claustrophobia of a damp, dark cave closing in around him, he had expressed some second thoughts, which of course had kicked off a huge argument that had only moments ago come to a close.

Brock, ever the reassuring elder had been quick to provide affirmation. "You don't have to keep going if you don't want to. We can head back to Goldenrod right now, if -"

Dawn however, had wanted nothing to do with the notion of turning back. "Oh, you'd just love that, wouldn't you? Let's all go back so Brock can catch up on the beauty-rest he's missing out on! Nobody would want him to be the slightest bit inconvenienced!"

"Will you give it a rest, Dawn? Why on earth do you think this is about me?"

"Because it clearly is!" Dawn had screamed at the top of her lungs, dropping the lap on the ground and barreling past Max to point an accusing finger at Brock's face. "You can't stand the fact that you didn't know it was a girl Onix either, and you don't want to find out you were wrong!"

Brock cleared his throat, and swallowed. Max could see, even in the overturned lamplight, that the gym leader objected to having his expertise concerning Rock Pokemon questioned, or worse, repudiated. It was a small wonder he didn't start roaring as well. Instead, he stood straight, and looked straight at the cavern wall rather than at his twelve year old aggressor. When he responded, it was no longer the exasperated sighs he'd met her protests with before, but a arid, terse whisper through clenched teeth. "Dawn. You're being ridiculous. Drop it."

"No! No, I wont! Max needs to get right with this, and if he has to do that with me shoving him every step of the way, and dragging your butt along kicking and screaming, then fine! I don't get why you're being such a jerk all of a sudden!"

He'd leapt in then, seeing Brock's lips begin to gnarl around his teeth, and not quite sure that he could handle whatever the next level of anger was from Brock. He'd never seen the Gym Leader fly into a rage, and he wasn't about to now. "It's alright!" he'd promised. "I'm fine, we can keep going."

The back and forth hadn't died right then and there, and he hadn't worked up the guts to tell them both that he wished they'd stop making this harder than it needed to be, by bickering back and forth over his head while he tried to wrap his brain around it. Valuing the silence and the shaky truce, he pushed himself upright, and kept on walking. He went on for a long as he could, he really did, but eventually the closeness and heaviness of the cave, all of it's many hundreds of thousands of tons got to be too much for him to handle again, and he had to stop again. He rubbed his eyes, as he tried to stop gasping.

Why was this only happening now? Last time it had been so easy! Before it had seemed like nothing, but now he felt so restricted, so uncomfortable, like he had no room to stretch out or move, even though there was thirty feet of open space to either side of him in the massive chamber they'd entered. He slumped amidst a cluster of boulders, leaning hard against one with his shoulder.

He planned on opening his mouth to tell that he felt sick, that he really did need to go back, but that he was too scared, but Brock and Dawn were already calling his name, screaming it, actually. He'd gasped and sputtered to tell them that he was fine, but already he could hear them rushing toward him.

He felt the tight embrace of Brock encircle him, or at least, that was what he'd assumed it was initially. Dawn's blood-curdling scream though, seemed to say otherwise. The embrace felt too tight, suddenly, painfully so, as it pulled him upright. Upright and further, he realized, as the toes of his sneakers raked the ground. He pried open his eyes against the elevating sense of dread to see what was happening.

There she was, looking huge and angry in the shadow she cast against the far wall in the lamplight, as she lifted him from the floor of the cavern with her hard, stony tail.

"Onix." he rasped, nearly unable to breath in the tightness of the squeeze. He couldn't get to Raltz's poke ball, he couldn't even call for help. He looked into those eyes, so piercing at wide with anger and unchecked aggression, knowing what was going to happen next before anyone else did.

Max felt the wind rushing in his ears as he was hurled across the chamber with a tail whip, but in all it was a strange, weightless feeling. He really didn't feel the moment of impact, just heard the gruesome crunch and snap of flesh and bone meeting solid, heavy stone, as if the blow had thrown his consciousness clean out of his body. The pain was there, but somehow far away, dull and cloudy.

He saw his friends rushing across the cavern floor their shoes and the feet of many, many of their Pokemon clambering skewed at an angle as they ran desperately toward a fight with Onix.

Onix, his first captured Pokemon, who had cast him aside, betrayed and even attacked him outright, now.

When he heard Onix roaring, battle joining and Dawn's continued wailing of "He's dead, he's dead!" even as she and her Pokemon fought back, Max thought for sure she was right. He had no idea what he looked like, but he was sure it wasn't good. He felt something hot and wet leak down into his ear, and his hair felt damp.

Realizing what it had to be, he started to cry, but then finding that it hurt far less to stay quiet and close his eyes, he just tried to lay still. Everything kept spinning and suddenly all he wanted was to go to sleep, to wake up and find out that this was all a miserable dream.

That's all this is. Just a dream, he thought, as he let himself drift off into a deeper unconsciousness.

Ash and Pikachu climbed out of the dumpster they'd hid themselves in once the coast was clear. It had been mostly empty, thankfully, but that didn't stop the clinging garbage smell from following them once they'd left it. Pikachu who'd mostly been tucked under his arm had been spared the brunt of it, but he reeked.

The two bouncer's who'd followed them down the alley had kept right on, heading out on to the street at the north end of the alley, so naturally, when they'd full extricated themselves, they opted the southerly route.

Roxie didn't seem to mind so much the rotten, fetid smell, or else didn't notice. She stopped to shake an old banana-peel off of her pant leg, but that was all. Once they had cleared the alleyway, the smell dissipated a bit, but not much. Ash sniffed his own clothes, but then gagged.

Roxie noticed him then, standing there with his tongue halfway ejected from his mouth. "Gonna toss your cookies, then? Seems a little early for that, if you ask me. You could head back and do it over the lip of the bin, if you feel like a real gentleman. I'd rather not see what you had for lunch."

Ash only shook his head no, and pinched his nose.

"Oh, the smell." She paused to sniff herself as well, and took two or three shots at it before she finally pronounced her verdict. "Yeah, that's ripe, alright."

"Ripe? That makes me throw up wanna throw up!"

Pikachu, much like his trainer voiced similar lack of appreciation. "Pika piikachu!"

Roxie smirked in response to the colorfulness of his remark. "Well we wouldn'ta had to jump in there if you could put one foot in front of the other, now would we?"

He rolled his lips around. He didn't want to outright admit he'd been the cause of this, but he knew that if he didn't give the matter of staying upright real focus, he'd end up on his ass right in the middle of any protest to the contrary. "Sorry, I feel weird. Like, really wierd," he admitted at length.

"Sawrite. I can't really smell it that much anyways."

"Can't smell it?" Ash gasped, eyes still watering intensely. "It smells like how bricks feel. In the face."

Roxie tutted. "Well, you spend half your life training Poison-type Pokemon, you kind of lose your sense of smell. I mean, you lot think the Muk you have here are bad. Try a Garbodour on for size some time. Besides, we got a change of clothes tucked away in your backpack, don't we?", she suggested brightly. "Lets have it, then. Me first."

Ash too distracted by a fleeting feeling of curiosity, let her slide the pack off his shoulders to fall on the ground behind him. She frowned when he dropped it, but he just shrugged.

"Stand here, look out for anyone coming by." Roxie instructed, backing into the alley a ways, after digging out her clothes.

"You're just gonna change out here?!" Ash questioned with a gasp. "In fron' of everybody?"

"Wouldn't be the first time my bits ended up in the papers. Just keep an eye out, would you?"

Ignoring the obvious question of when and why her bits had ended up exposed in public previously, he chose another safer line of inquiry as he turned his back on her and leered out into the street.

"You trained Pokemon, huh?"

"Yeah, sure. I was the Virbank Gym Leader wasn't I?"

Ash shrugged. "I dunno."

Roxie thought about it, throwing her windbreaker off and wriggling to get ahold of the tie-strings on her bikini behind her back. "I suppose that would be a little before your time."

"And Unova's a little outside my purview." Ash scoffed, then backpedaled. "Did I use that right?"

"Oddly, yes." The ex-Gym Leader admitted, with a quirked brow. "Anyways, yeah, I used to train Pokemon. I was pretty good too. Taught Danny everything he knows, actually." Roxie added, once she'd taken off her top.

Chilled night wind blew through the alleyway. Even Ash felt it, blasted as he was, and wiggled his shoulders a bit to let the shiver pass. Summer was closeby, no doubt, but the long fingers of Jack Frost stretched well through spring in Kanto.

With severity Roxie cupped herself. "Hard enough to cut glass." she noted. "Uh, I suppose it is a bit cool. Pass us your jacket, luv?"

He sighed and went to shrug off his blazer, but she scoffed. "Not that one, it's all gross, too so what would be the point of that? I'm just gonna use it to say warm, so lemme have yours. The one in the bag. Pass it over!"

Without thinking he turned to dig it out of his backpack which she'd left set at his heels, and then flinched, realizing that he was copping an eyeful. Roxie guffawed, covering herself only halfheartedly, and he dropped the backpack before spinning rigidly back into place.

"Get it yourself!" Ash hissed, that rail-straight Pokemon Corps stance taking over again in spite of his drunkenness, once he heel-kicked the bag in her direction.

"Awrite, awrite," she managed between cackles. "S'your fault, though."

Ash said nothing, brain suddenly alive with those thoughts he'd assumed he had earlier banished. Thoughts of Roxie and Sabrina together in a way that seemed way too stirring to contemplate for more than a few seconds without a smile cracking his face in two, enhanced somewhat by greater insight. He shook his head roughly. "Just hurry up, would you?"

Roxie made an affirmative grunt, but then gasped a little, once the garment slipped over her shoulders. "Ooh, I like this jacket. This is really nice, actually. Where did you get this? I don't see any tags on it, even."

Ash muttered. "It was made for me."

"Tailored clothes?" Roxie remarked, obviously impressed. "We are the young sophisticate!"

"Sure," Ash hiccuped.

"Hell, I think I might just wear your clothes instead."

Ash scoffed, suddenly no longer that impressed by her compliments, once it became clear what she was driving at. "What am I gonna wear, then? Your dress?"

Roxie countered sarcastically, "What, don't think you could pull it off?"

Ash felt a strange sort of indignance roil in his stomach then. Surely it wouldn't make a difference one way or another, but he felt cross at the implication. "Oh," he began to laugh, slowly, his voice building to incredulity. "I don't think you realize who you're talking to. If you knew how many times I'd dressed up a girl, you wouldn't even bother-"

"Arceus, you are soused! No matter, put it on." Roxie urged. "Put it on then, let's have it!" She buttoned up the jacket across her bare chest, stopping halfway through her quick-change to offer the garment in question, bizarrely intrigued by the notion of seeing him in it.

With a mixture of black anxiety that he was too drunk to recognize as shame, and a sense of competitive pride, he snatched it and started pulling off his own shirt over his head. "Don't get mad when I make it look better than you."

Roxie didn't offer him as much privacy as he had her, reclining against the brick wall at the mouth of the alley, so he snuck behind the dumpster, and began shedding his blazer and shirt. He pulled the dress down over himself, finding it a bit loose about the sleeves, but quite snug about the middle. He wiggled it down over his hips and then stepped back out.

Even shrouded as he was in the darkness, she tutted. "You're forgetting something, aren't you?"

"Your dress, not mine." With a frown and a harrumph, he hiked the dress up a little, and slid his boxers, along with the extra-short basketball shorts down off his rear, too drunk and standoffish to care if she caught a glimpse of what he was working with, before he could ruffle the skirt back down.

"Kudos on the authenticity. I'd offer you my knickers, but I don't imagine it would offer quite the accommodations you're used to." She chuckled. "What I was talking about, however, was the boots. Let's see you strap these bad-boys on" She rummaged about in the bag and wrenched out one of the knee-highs, along with one of Ash's sneakers. She laid them sole to sole comparing sizes. "Looks close enough. If you're such a queen, let's see you walk in these."

He looked down. The boots he'd selected at the Drink Drank did clash a bit, and he wasn't about to have her thinking he would back down now, that his business was literally dangling in the wind. "Throw em over here."

She did, and he stomped his way out of the boots he was in, kicking his way into hers, which were just a bit tight. He balanced steadily on them, focusing hard on not letting his own inebriation affect his gait as he walked.

"Oh, fuck me, that is grand." Roxie commented, giving him a lecherous glare. "How many times did you say you'd gone out in drag? You're handling those platforms pretty expertly, I must say."

"I dunno, three, maybe four times?" He answered, finally stepping back out of the alleyway, with a quick clip-clop of the thick patent leather boots. "I always had a wig before, though. Does it look weird?"

"No, I think the close-crop really cements the punk-rocker lesbian look you were going for." Roxie said without so much as a sarcastic snort.

He wasn't sure he knew what she was talking about, but he shrugged anyways. "Whatever. Deal with it."

"Hold still. I gotta get a picture of this." She held up a slim black gear, and angled her head a bit. "You don't mind, of course."

Ash thought about it. He was already sure there was a lot he was going to regret about tonight, and he imagined that stripping in public and dressing up like a girl was going to be the least of his problems, practically speaking, if his mother found out. Besides, who was going to recognize him like this? Brock had never been able to pick up on it, and he was a guy who could tell individual Jennies and Joys apart! "I'm not gonna be all over the internet by tomorrow, am I?"

"Oh no. This is strictly for my personal use." She assured, giving him a look like the one he'd seen her give the picture of Sabrina. He shifted a bit, preemptively, realizing that there was now nothing to hide his bizzare arousal at that idea, but a thin layer of already stretched lycra, and tried to shut his brain off.

There was nothing for it. "Okay, now trade me back," he demanding, bundling his hands in front of himself.

Roxie pouted, but he objected very firmly to the idea of continuing the night in this way. It was a pointless notion anyways, since most of his clothes were too short, or too narrow for her anyways. Annoyingly, that didn't stop her from trying. She couldn't get his pants on over her thighs.

"You are built like a goddamn Surskit, with your tiny little legs," she complained.

Ash ignored her, and winched his drawers back up under the dress, and got back into his own traveling gear, while Roxie changed out of the rest of the second hand clothes in a flash. Pikachu for one, seemed thankful for the switch, crawling up into the hood of Ash's sweatshirt, and rolling himself up in it like a papoose. Ash gave him a favorable, if sloppy scratch on his ears, the only part of him left protruding. It was way past the time he and Pikachu normally went to bed.

Roxie, Ash's jacket still tossed over her shoulders, threw an arm across his. She showed him the picture she'd taken. "Have yourself a butcher's at that! Scrumptious. I don't think even Holly coulda pulled off that look."

Ash tried not to even let that thought invade his mind, instead, shrugging off her arm and rolling his eyes. "What's with you an' him anyhow? Is he like, an ex-boyfriend or somethin'?" He stumbled a bit without her support, but he kept right on.

"No! Arceus, no. Holly?" Roxie gasped, but then conceded a bit. "Though, I suppose he does sort of seem the sort who'd spoil a woman's taste for cock, so I can see as how you might make that connection."

Ash's eyes widened, but he said nothing at first.

"Figuratively, I mean." Roxie amended. "Anyways, no. Holly's just an old friend. First person I was introduced to at Pokemon Tech, if you can believe that."

"The friend part is what I have trouble believing." Ash admitted, disdainfully.

Roxie sighed and grew quiet. "Like I said before, he wasn't always such an intolerable bastard."

Ash groaned, positive he didn't want to hear whatever stupid story she had to tell about that fucking lame-ass. He hated Holiday's guts, and he was sure the feeling was mutual. Stubbornly, he kept on walking for a while, or at least his best approximation of it. It was easier going in his own shoes, but it was hard to keep his feet following a steady track. He infrequently bumped into Roxie's shoulder, and as she'd become very quiet and distant, it was up to him to correct his own course.

Knowing that he was going to want to strangle himself for asking, but quite uncomfortable with this tight-lipped, quiet Roxie, who was so different than the girl who seemed not to understand the concept of personal space, he surrendered. She wanted to talk about it, clearly, and he didn't see as how he could put her off any longer. And maybe, just maybe there was a bit of sick curiosity in him on the subject. "What was he like?" Ash groaned.

Roxie, brightening a little, smiled, though it was only in passing. "Well, he was always a bit strange, really. Sortof a boffin, I guess. Real clever, very opinionated. He always had a mischievous streak, I suppose, being that he and I got on so well, but he was never mean or vicious. He was actually quite a sweet guy, deep down, though he'd have denied the hell out of that. None of this shit you see now started happening until he was in the accident."

Ash squinted his eyes, hating himself even as he prompted her further. "Accident?" Ash tried to imagine some terrible chemical compound that turned you into an asshole if you spilled it on your skin.

"Well, about a year ago, Holly and I were a lot tighter than we are now. This was after Doc had gone off to complete his post-grad work with Bruno, you see. Holly was just finishing his first big academia project with a brain-tank at Pokemon U in Goldenrod. At the time he and I were keeping in pretty close contact."

"And?" Ash asked, brow now flattened impatiently.

"One night, I was doing a show in Ecruteak and after the gig I get this phone-call from Goldenrod Memorial. So I pick it up, and they tell me that there's been a terrible lab accident and that Holly had been hurt, and that I'd better get there in a hurry, because they didn't think he was gonna make it. I took the tour bus and bailed, on the spot. Left the band, all the gear. Holly was like a bruvah to me, yanno. He'd been with me through some heavy shit, and so when they said get there, I was there. I must've got that bus up to one-ninety, coming down Route 35. When I got there, he was all laid out like you see in the movies. Hooked up to all these tubes and hoses to keep him from going all vegetable-like. Scary thing, to see someone you care about that way, mate. You get this feeling like you just might explode, and there's not a damn thing you or anyone can do about it. Awful. I mean, he didn't even look banged up at all, just like someone had taken the batteries, out, yanno?"

Ash, some of his gumption now chastened, stared back at her while she told her story, his eyes slowly softening as she told her tale.

"I spoke with the chief research scientist involved with the project Holly'd been working on, he was there. Ein, I think, was his name. He said Holly'd been trapped inside of this device, while it was active. It was all just scientific jargon, mostly, except for one bit, which I understood perfectly well. He said that whatever type of the machine put out had caused permanent brain damage. He said that there actually was a fairly good likelihood that Holly would wake up, but that I should expect some significant changes. Dementia, he said, seemed the most likely.

"He was a different sort of person after that." She said with a misleading smile. "Well, you see how 'e is. Can't get a word in edgewise without him using it against you. It did give Holly a sort of dementia, I suppose. but here I was, gearing up to having to watch the poor bastard be spoon-fed or treated like an Alzheimer's patient, but it wasn't like that at all. It was a different sort of thing entirely.

"Oh, sure, the guy gave me all these big, technical names for it, but all I really remember is him explaining that the machine had caused the same sort of damage to the first batch of Pokemon they'd tested that machine on. The called them "Shadow Pokemon". The effect of the brain damage, he said it was like someone had shut the door to their hearts. Destroyed their ability to empathize, or even feel positive emotion in some cases. Completely closed off their brain energy, their Aura. Pokemon, he said, could be cured in one sense or another. Their Aura or whatever would eventually break free, if it was nurtured enough, just like a happiness evolution, you know?

But humans, he said, didn't have enough of the stuff to matter, and Holly's was lower even than most. Showed it to me, right then and there, with him all stretched out in nothing but a paper gown. Waved this little device around, like he was checking for radiation or sumfin. Holly wouldn't even register on the meter. His Aura was completely dead."

"I didn't really think much of it, at first. I thought, hell, as long as he wakes up, I'm good wiff it." Roxie said in a rush, covering her mouth with one hand. "But when he finally did wake up, it became a lot more obvious just how dramatic of a change we were talking about.

"He drove everyone that came to see him away. Everyone from the lab, even the girl he was seeing, which at first didn't bother me a bit, coz I was thinkin', yanno, fuck this bitch, where has she been? Why wasn't she here from the jump? Why's she just coming around now if she knew Holly was hurt, and I've been here the whole time? But then when he was finished with her, he bloody turned on me! I stuck wiff it for a while, and Arceus knows I tried to take it all in stride but in the end, I made up my mind to leave him one day after we'd had it out over how I was ...just a stupid cunt who couldn't figure out what she wanted in life, because I was too afraid of getting her feelings hurt. And this was after he'd told me that he figured it best if I just ...drugged myself to death, since I obviously couldn't handle the terrible privilege being rich and famous and having everything I wanted, mind you, so naturally, I told him just what I thought of him, which turned out to be a lot more vicious than I realized, so you can imagine that things ended pretty ugly between us.

"I left feeling so sick of him and myself that I decided not to even call Doc, in the end, too. I felt pretty guilty for that, but it's probably for the best. Hell, I don't think Doc even knows about the accident. Not that it matters. I mean, can you imagine that? Living the rest of your life, never connecting with anybody? Never being able to enjoy friendship, or camaraderie or-or love, even? Shit, Ash, Holly is alone. Dead alone! I mean, fuck, I feel bad for him, because he can't help it you know, but..." She reached out, as though trying to grasp something intangible, but then gave up, surrendering to the incomprehensibility of it all. "Honestly, I was actually a bit surprised he even answered my text."

Ash blinked. "Why'd you even text him if things were so messed up between you?"

Roxie rolled her head around. "Oh, I dunno. Things with the band have been getting me down lately and I was hoping that maybe I'd get the chance to clear the air with him. Didn't take too long after I sat down at the table tonight for me to realize that he wasn't looking for any apology, and he certainly wasn't gonna give one." She turned and kicked a bit of rubbish into the street. "Fuckin' cunt."

"So what now, then?" Ash asked, not sure really.

Roxie threaded a hand through her tangled hair. "I dunno luv. I really don't. I mean, full disclosure, he did ask me to help him get you loaded, but I hardly call that a rekindled friendship."

Ash, feeling like there was some element of betrayal here that he was far too drunk to pick up on, only shook his head. He'd figured there was some sort of agreement there, and it didn't seem like Holiday was just going to let him have an enjoyable night for enjoyment's own sake, but a motive was just too far out of reach, so he remained silent.

"It seems like he's mellowed out some since I saw him last, so, maybe Doc will stick with him, so long as long as things don't go south from here. Doc seems like he can handle the abuse, at least. Maybe it's a guy thing, but it just isn't my scene. It's too hard to care about somebody who doesn't give a shit about me anymore."

Much to Ash's distress, Roxie lost it there, coughing out a sob, and holding a trembling hand over her face. "I-I look at him, and I see all the good times we had, and then I realize that it's never going to be the same. It's j-just like fuckin' Billy, mate. I just can't take it! I cant!" She sniffed. "Does that make me a bad person?"

He shook his head no, but he had to ask. "Billy?"

Roxie closed her eyes, shunting a few tears down her face, which she backhanded away, smearing mascara and eyeliner. She grew quiet, as they went on. She began with what was barely more than a whisper. "Honestly, Billy, where to even begin? She was my best friend from the time I was six years old. She and I shared everything: secrets, makeup, boys, everything. We were inseparable.

"When I started the band in my dad's garage, she was there, picking away at that guitar like she was having the time of her life even though neither of us knew what the fuck we were doing. When I got picked to run the Virbank Gym, Billy helped me turn the place into a real rock venue, instead of just a bullshit basement-gymnasium. When the band took off, and I stepped away from the Gym to play music as a full-time gig, she was right there with me, no question's asked.

Roxie coughed, but then her face became hard. This was an old wound, and it had callused a bit with age. "Those were the best times of my life, and I wouldn't change them for anything. But I know that coming out to her was a mistake. Or at least if I had, I never should have told her I had feelings for her. I mean, fuck me, she had to of known I wasn't playing for her team anymore. It wasn't like I was hiding it very well. I'd just turned seventeen, and I was only just starting to figure out that I was gay in the first place, and I was a fucking rock-star! I didn't think I needed to disguise myself, surely to Arceus not from my best friend.

"But there I was, red-faced and stuttering while she just looked at me like I was a fucking lunatic. I kept telling and telling and telling about how I felt and what I wished, and all she would do was nod. She wouldn't say a goddamn word, so I didn't know what to think until she stood up, and walked away.

"She locked herself in her dressing room, and I got the shit kicked out of me by venue security, trying to get her to come out and talk to me. This show was in Khalos, of course, so they couldn't understand a wit of what we were saying. Naturally, things got out of hand, one thing led to another, and sure enough, they're taking me out in handcuffs. Nikki picked me up from the police station a little bit after that. She's gone, he says."

"Well, what do you mean, gone? I asked him, and he tells me she took a cab to the airport and bailed. Went home, went somewhere."

"Did you go after her?"

Roxie let out a plaintive sound. "Yeah, course I did. Like a fuckin' moron. Gave me the same treatment there as in Khalos. Ignored my calls, locked herself inside, refused to even acknowledge me, and she hasn't so much as spoken to me or about me to anyone that I know of, to this day. To her, evidently, I fell off the map the second I told her who I really was."

"That's the part that eats me up the most, really. If she'd just said fuck off, dyke, I feel like I could have handled it. As it stands, I don't even know what the hell to think. Was it me who came on too strong? Did I fuck it up? Did I ruin everything, or is she the god-awful friend who wrecked it all? I don't know, and that makes it bloody hard to get right with what she did. It's like this fucking land-mine buried in my heart. I can't just forget my entire friendship with Billy, but I can't just omit the part where she tore my guts out, either, and every time I look back on it I feel terrible and I don't know whether to hate myself, or hate her. Same shit with fuckin' Holly too, mate. He's just stuck there," she thumbed her chest. "And there's nothing I can do about it."

"Fuck," Roxie said, rubbing her face. "I mean, what would you do If you were me?"

Ash thought about it. even though the words were already on their way out of his mouth "I'd leave," he said, simply, knowing that was the truth. That was what he always did. That was him, as a person. He was a rambler. Maybe he didn't have the same experiences she did, and he generally tried not to leave heartbreak and disaster in his wake, but it would've served either way. He'd left friends behind, and that was close enough for him to say he knew what he was talking about. It got much easier to put someone out of mind if you didn't stay where there were things that reminded you of them.

"How much further do you think I should go, then? I've been all over the world, mate! A million miles isn't far enough?"

Ash shook his head, feeling like he hadn't gotten his point across. "That's not what I mean-"

Roxie rubbed her eyes "Hell, I don't know why I'm askin' you anyways. You don't need to hear this shit. Just learn from the mistakes of one shitty adult, alright? Never try to make friends into lovers, because you'll ruin your chances at both, and never show your friends where they can hurt you most, because you never know when they'll turn on you."

Ash felt the continued need to object, but then his gear buzzed. He thumbed it up out of his pocket and then frowned, deciding to ignore it. Sabrina again. He opened his mouth to speak, but Roxie was already talking. "Now I've gone and cried meself sober."

"You do look awful." Ash remarked, brain to mouth filter vacant, and rendered easy to distract.

She pinched his cheek. "Right sweetheart you are." With a quick huff of air, she pointed her thumb over her shoulder, toward a street-corner gas station. "I need to pop off to the loo and freshen up."

Ash stared back. "So, go."

"Wot, and leave you out here, stumbling and slobbering all over yourself? You're so arseholed you can't even blink right. Jennies will pick your ass up in no time."

He tried, just to prove her wrong, but then realized that his left eye had closed notably later than the right. "Hold on, wait."

"Come off it, then!" She snatched him by his hand, and brooking no further argument, began dragging him toward the parking-lot toward the poorly maintained exterior door to the ladies bathroom. With a quick glance, Roxie peeked in, and then pulled him inside, against his feeble resistance and dire protests.

"I can't-I don't-stop pulling-what are you-I shouldn't-get off of-cut it out!" Ash hollered, even as he was being jammed into the ladies restroom, but Roxie mostly ignored him, tucking him beside the sink while she retreated into a stall.

"This isn't right," Ash noted, careful not to touch anything. Bathrooms were gross enough, but a girls bathroom was twice as septic, just by definition.

"Oi, you're making this weirder than it ought to be." Roxie soothed, fishing around in the lip of her boot, balanced awkwardly with one foot on the rim of the john.

"You're the one who dragged me in here!"

"Yeah, I did. For your own bloody good as well." She snaked her finger under a seam and ripped it free, plucking the thin, card-stock sheet out from inside between two fingers. The last blotter sheet she'd painted. She gasped in sweet thankful relief, smiling at the little purple Koffing she'd doodled on each one in water-soluble marker.

Ash hissed some continued protest as she carefully separated two of the little Koffing from their friends, and stuck out her tongue. It was going to take a big dose to even out this mood and get back to where she needed to be. Both of them stopped dead, however when someone began pounding on the bathroom door.

Ash sounded like he'd swallowed his tongue. He couldn't even enunciate his fear, and she nearly dropped the precious tabs on the floor, before regaining her composure. Thinking quickly, she unlatched the door, snatched Ash, and jerked him into the tight confines. She shoved him into a seated position on top of the toilet tank, while she scrambled into a precarious leaning position, both feet up on the rim now, and her back pressed against the side wall of the stall, as she maneuvered the door back into place. She cursed under her breath. She motioned to Ash, one finger pressed to lips as the door flew open, and someone barged in.

"Butch! What the hell are you doing? That's the lady's restroom, you know that right?" someone standing outside the door said.

"Don't care," the voice within, obviously male responded. "Gotta piss bad. Men's room was locked. Shit, shit, shit."

There was the soft tap-tap-tap sound of someone shifting their weight from one tiptoe to another as the man approached the stall door, and tried the handle. Ash held his breath, as Roxie barely got the latch slid silently into it's catch in the nick of time. With a snarl, whoever Butch was, sidled over to the much smaller stall next door, and noisily did his business, while the two of them perched there strangely were forced to listen to the voluminous evacuation of his bladder.

It went on so long that Ash felt himself wanting to laugh, and he almost through he would, uncontrollably when Butch started pissing again after a long moment of silence, but it was when Butch lifted one leg slightly and loudly broke wind just before zipping his pants back up that drove him over the edge. Luckily, Roxie was there to slap a hand firmly over his mouth.

"You're disgusting," the voice outside commented. "Now come on. We've gotta get over to that tower before those two goons do."

"Alright, Alright. Keep your pants on."

When the guy left, Roxie reclined her head with a thump against the railing, and disentangled herself from Ash, who of course, burst into giggles. At least, until he sniffed the air.

Roxie laughed. "What, can you smell it?"


"Really? I don't smell a thing." Roxie asked, eyes shut, but smirk evident as she let herself relax again.

Ash batted the air, until he felt something weird on his face. He pulled the tiny scrap of blotter off of his cheek, transplanted there by Roxy's desperate efforts to shush him. "What is this some sort of breath-strip or something?"

Roxie's eyes flew open and she reached for him, but it was already too late. He jammed the paper sheets into his mouth, without a moment of caution. "Y-yeah." she managed.

"That's good. I got major booze-breath." He paused, tongue whirling about in careful consideration "What is this? Spearmint flavor? Tastes funny."

"Wood Pulp and Old Leather, actually," Roxie clarified facetiously.

"That's a funny flavor for a breath-strip." Ash remarked, oblivious as all hell.

"I..." Roxie began, but then sighed. "Oh, bugger me." She tore off a segment of her own, this time three individual tabs, and popped it back with the same fervency he had.

This was gonna be a long night.

"Bro." Holiday gasped, cradling a stitch. His stride slowed gradually, but eventually he was stopping to crawl across the pavement. "I'm not gonna make it. Just-"

Doc turned, and started pulling his partner's shoulder. "No, shut up. No monologuing."

"Bro, I'm done for," the taller admin admitted. "Save yourself."

Doc harrumphed. "You know they're gonna catch us if you keep fucking around."

"Tell your sister," Holiday groaned, "I loved...her..."

"Are you done?"

Holiday woke up, eyes fluttering, grasping madly for Doc's shirt."...her box!" Then, with a long, corny death-rattle, he pretended to expire.

Doc sighed, arms akimbo.

Holiday cracked an eye after a moment. "But seriously, bro. I can't run anymore. Fix this."

"Let's ride on my Rhyhorn."

Holiday nearly lunged up, but then relaxed, evidently not so pleased. "That sounds real gay when you say it like that. Can you maybe say it less gay? You're freakin' me out, Bro."

"Okay, um, Let's ride-?"

Holiday winced. "See, I dunno if I like that word."

"Let's jaunt...?"

"Oh, that's way worse."

"Let's take an excursion."

Holiday's look turned a bit apprehensive, but more or less accepting.




"Absolutely not."

"Situated atop."

His face grudging, Holiday nodded tentative accord.


"Too possessive."


"A little non-specific. I don't want people getting the idea I do this all the time."

"THE RHYHORN, are you happy?!"

"I dunno about happy, but I'm definitely not feeling as vulnerable about this." Conducting in a singsong voice, Holiday prompted his partner; "Altogether now!"

Doc rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Let's take an excursion, situated atop the Rhyhorn."

"Sure bro. Sounds pretty baller."

Doc cast out the poke ball, to release the massive ground-rock Pokemon, but realized something was wrong when Holiday pushed shoulder to shoulder with him on the approach to their means of expedited escape.

Oddly, it was Holiday who questioned his closeness, not the other way around. "What are you doing, bro?"

"Trying to get up on Rhyhorn's shoulders."

"Oh. Well, I mean, It's gonna be pretty cramped up there with both of us."

Doc gave him a look, but Holiday snorted. "Bro, I can't ride bitch situated atop another man's Rhyhorn."

The stare continued for quite a while, even as they heard clattering behind them in the alleyway.

"Fine, fuck! Just get on-


"-SITUATED ATOP-the fucking Rhyhorn, before we get jumped!"

Holiday slipped a bit on his way up, but eventually worked himself into a more suitable position in front of the plated ridge on Rhyhorn's back, legs tucked behind the bony crest of it's head, while Doc took up a position more to the rear. Holiday, obviously certain that he was the driver, placed both gloved hands on the ridges of Rhyhorns skull, but then recoiled. He dug around in his coat, producing the set of mirrored safety glasses he'd confiscated from Realgam. He laid them over his face with a smug look, lips puckered, and irritatingly snapped a selfie with his transceiver, even as their pursuers began to turn the corner.

"Chillin...with...my...boy. Finna...ride... his...big...ol'...Rhyhorn. Semicolon, close parentheses." Holiday muttered, rapidly posting it to his Chatot social network page, winking smiley and all.

"Coz that's not gay at all." Doc sighed, and before Holiday could drunkenly argue further he gave Rhyhorn a solid nudge, and whoop, setting the brute of a Pokemon into a charge that sent them thundering straight toward their pursuers, who all scrambled back in the direction they'd come.

The duo whooped as they crashed through their pursuers turned quarry like a bowling ball striking ten-pins. Holiday, under the mistaken assumption that you could steer a Rhyhorn, tried to swivel the massive rock-ground type by his handhold on the crest of it's huge skull. Doc laughed when Rhyhorn kept right on surging forward, no more turned aside by his partner's urging than he'd been been by the four muscular bouncers who'd stood in their way just a few moments previous.

"Welp." Holiday said. "I'm out of ideas. Pretty sure we're gonna die." Holiday remarked matter-of-factly as Rhyhorn barreled out into the street, narrowly missing oncoming traffic, and hurtling straight towards a row of cars parallel parked on the opposite side of the road.

Doc produced the poke ball again, and slapped it firmly, button side down against Rhyhorns back. Doc fell just a few feet, skidding on the soles of his shoes as he slid to a halt on the pavement. Holiday, however, flew forward with the continued momentum, as the bestial Pokemon beneath him vanished in a flash of red light, slamming into the car in question at roughly waist-level. In a dazzling display of drunken savantism he slid headfirst across the roof and tumbled expertly to his face on the sidewalk opposite.

The fall seemed to sober him some, for when he emerged into visibility again overtop the car hood, one side of his face heavily abraded, safety glasses busted and dangling from his opposite ear, his previous humor had evaporated. "See, this is why I don't like it when you drink," he said with a frown.

Doc only rolled his eyes, glancing back toward the alley where they'd bowled over their pursuers. None of them appeared to be in as good of shape as Holiday, who, like many intoxicated individuals in car-accidents, had avoided any serious injury by failing to tense up. None of them had succeeded in standing up as of yet, and all of them ran the gamut of unconsciousness from flat-out to fumbling delirium. The admin pointed a thumb down toward the end of the street. "We should bail."

Holiday sneered at him, but followed at a modest pace.

"You wanna try and meet up with Ash and Roxie again?" Doc wondered, as they slipped out of sight, and hopefully, well out of mind.

Holiday shook his head, pulling the broken glasses off his face with a hiss, and throwing them in the gutter. "Prolly oughta to follow up with that thing we started on earlier."

With a shrug, Doc allowed Holiday to take the lead. "So what exactly is it that we're following up on?"

Holiday sighed. "What were looking for is a destructive interference emitter designed to attenuate to brainwave function in the hyper-gamma frequency range, between one and three hundred hertz, and emit an inverted wave-format in an identical bandwidth, negating it entirely. Think of it like noise-canceling headphones, but for high-functioning brain waves instead of sound."

"How do you do something like that? And why?"

"I was told that it was supposed to disrupt psychic Pokemon, although I don't see why you'd really need one as big as the one I built, unless you were dealing with something much more powerful than that. This thing is pretty massive."

"How big are we talking here?"


"Why so big?"

"Well, part of it is a question of the geometry involved, but a big part of it is also the mechanics of the device. The emitter effect is attained through a one of a kind Pokemon storage system linked to the device called a Pokemon Bank. Unlike the traditional Pokemon storage system, which allocates Pokemon storage units to each individual user and Pokemon stored, and archives all that data as individual packets, the Bank system stores data within a cloud array.

"The information for each individual Pokemon is not stored separately, but together in one great big heap, where it can be called out by identification bits attached to the data itself. When it's in the Bank, it's all together in a single data-cache of Pokemon information. This method requires more physical space because of entropy issues associated with storing incongruous information in a single physical directory, but the trade-off is that the cumulative data can be used in ways that the data stored in a traditional packet-directory storage system cannot."

Doc nodded, but it was in a way that made it clear to Holiday that he was beginning to lose the common thread of understanding. Holiday decided it was time to reel him back in.

"The important thing to note here, is that in the case of this particular system, all of the data stored in the main directory is Ghost type, and thereupon is the energy drawn to power the emitter itself. That's the beauty of it: Once the emitter is attenuated to the desired frequency, signal cancellation takes care of itself due to the dichotomous nature of Psychic and Ghost type energy spectra."

"Who made it?"

"I did. Part of my severance agreement."

Doc gave him a bizarre look, but Holiday only shrugged. "I told you there was more to it. Anyways, all I know is that foreclosure on the Pokemon Tower gave them all of the raw materials they needed, and the broadcast center gave them the perfect cover-up for a low-band emitter.

Doc nodded appreciatively. "What better place to catch and store Ghost Pokemon than right over-top a thousand year old Pokemon graveyard?"


"So why do we want this thing?" Doc asked curiously.

Holiday let out a plaintive sound. "Boss wants some of the proprietary components. Apparently he's pretty interested in the sort of technology that can block out Psychic energy was well. It's got to do with some stuff he thinks is happening back at Realgam. Long story. Anyways, technically they belong to me, anyways, since I built them. Only problem is they were financed by a Silph Co. holdings conglomerate, so I doubt they're just gonna let us waltz in there and take them."

"Why doesn't he just have you build a new one?"

Holiday scoffed. "Well, because then there wouldn't be any point in having you around, jackass."

Doc frowned in a plaintive way, brow arching high.

Holiday conceded. "The entire system is custom. It would take months to rebuild it, and I'm already busy with this other project."

"Oh, you mean the Pokerus thing?" Doc asked, knowing he hated hearing it called that.

As expected, Holiday narrowed his eyes. "Boss wants us to take this thing to a Silph Co warehousing depot tonight, and from there it goes straight back to Realgam."

"You said it was as big as a room. How are we supposed to get it out of there?"

"We just need the Pokemon Bank itself. It's solid-state, but there are internal power-cells should be able to keep the cloud data stable long enough to survive the trip. Any layman electrician can set up the signal emitter."

"Still sounds pretty substantial."

Holiday, lips down-turned appreciatively, bobbed his head. "Well..."

"I mean, how heavy are we talking? If we gotta make a hasty escape, I wanna know how much I'm gonna be humping outta this place."

"Eh. Prolly weighs about as much as a car."

"A car?!"

"A small car."

Lavander Town was a small, quaint hamlet had been the site of a fortress once, in the days of antiquity. It's motte-and-bailey earthworks which were still partially visible today had then been surrounded by chevaux de frise, and towering walls of pine and oak that lived on today only as the names of old municipal roads.

Far older than the nearby city of Saffron that had since swallowed it up with the suburbanite infill of outdoor shopping malls, chain restaurants and gated retirement communities, Lavender had been the heart of the war effort against the Johto Rebellion in classical times. This had been the site of the last massive battle before the war had been quietly laid to rest by both sides, and the remains of untold thousands of soldiers, Imperial and Rebel, human and Pokemon, had been interned in the shadow of Pokemon Tower so high on it's foggy hill.

That old tower had been bulldozed over just a few years ago, it's somber stones replaced by the modern glass and steel edifice that was the Kanto Radio Tower, but all those graves remained, and it seemed that both Lavender Town and it's people could feel that. The tower twinkled and gleamed pridefully above all the low, squat structures of brick and mortar and thousand year-old timbers that waited with quiet apprehension at it's avarice.

Unlike the big-city investors that had elbowed their way into town, the people of Lavender understood well that the dead did not sleep forever, and they too held their grudges. For that reason, Lavender was a lagoon of silence in the surrounding bustle of a City that never stopped moving. Windows were darkened, and not even the wild Pokemon seemed like they dared move in the stillness of a night that hung much more heavily here than elsewhere in the region.

Two figures walked alone in the streets, either brave or stupid, their long and unpracticed strides failing to match one another as they cast about in the shadows, snickering between themselves. They'd stopped at an all-night pantry to procure much needed food and refreshment, and each walked with a smile and a blush of intoxicated glee that no sinister ambiance could diminish.

Ash held a cookie cream sandwich in each hand, smiling unrepentantly through a mouth full of oatmeal. "This is great!" he said, assuring his companion for the fifth time that this was the best thing he could remember. "I've never felt anything that felt so great!"

Roxie held a jelly doughnut with somewhat less reverence than he did, though her eyes did seem to light up a bit as sticky red jelly poured out over her thumb from a gaping bite-wound she'd left in the pastry's flaky exterior, for in that globule of fruit-gel clinging to her finger was all the deeply enjoyable things that life had to offer. Perhaps it was just that she was a bit more used to seeing things this way.

Ash however, was completely off the fucking deep end.

"I mean, really?" he asked, emotional tears clinging to his dark eyelashes. "How did I not know how great this was?"

He looked up into the sky, much clearer here for lack of the major light-pollution that plagued Saffron city, and the bright blue band of cosmic light that the milky way left spattered across the sky. It was incredible in this moment, with him more able to soak it all in and wrap his mind around it than before, and at once it made him feel quite small and quite a bit more solid for recognizing that he was so small within the overriding context of it all.

Out there were untold billions of galaxies, with untold billions of stars and planets all separated from him by distances that he would never even begin to understand. The colossal gray monsters that lurked in the dark between stars and blotted out whole galaxies from view, by way of being huge in the way man thinks of gods, did strike him as a bit worrisome, he was willing to admit, but he imagined himself as too small to matter to them. Interstellar god-monsters must do as interstellar god-monsters must do, after all.

Life on this earth was a crap-shoot anyways! All the meaning they gave themselves was compartmentalized, and relegated only to themselves. To pretend it wasn't was just stupid and foolish, but damn it all, it felt so good to be alive and to know that it didn't matter that it didn't matter, because everything was just the way it was meant to be, however senseless and pointless it all was...

"...You know?" he asked his companion who was now mid-lick across the back of her thumb, and too busy giggling about how much better strawberries would be if they came in a spicy variety.

Roxie did eventually relent to his ongoing existential revelation though."You're a bit cheeky when you're high. Did you know that? You're like a Pokemon what's learned to talk."

Ash frowned, seeing as how maybe that could get annoying, but the speculation did prompt some discussion. "I know a Pokemon who can talk."

Roxie smirked. "Yeah?"

"Yeah, pretty sure." He stopped and stood stark still, as he thought about it. When he had finally seemed to come to an intersection upon the road of decision, he reached back to nudge Pikachu, still recumbent within his hood. "Hey buddy. Say that thing you always say!"

Pikachu groaned and tried to roll up a little more into the hood, not pleased at all by Ash's childish antics. He discharged a small electric shock, but it didn't even register to Ash.

"Oh, don't get all quiet now!" The young trainer scoffed, turning back to Roxie. "Normally I can't get him to shut up about truth and devastation and stuff, or how he's gonna come up with a plan to catch Pika...chu...wait, hold on, maybe I'm thinking of someone else."

Roxie chuckkled. "That reminds me of a tour story, actually."

Ash opened his eyes wide, to show that he was ready to hear it.

"So we're on our way out of this battlecruiser in Canalave right? It's been a long night and we're all completely fucking arse over tits. Anyway, we run into these two fans of ours what had been shouting up at us from the front row. I'm talking big, strapping Orran lasses, eh? You know the type. Dusky skin, dark eyes. That come-hither-so-i-can-suck-the-poison-out look. Really, really strong jaw-lines.

"Anyhow, Ollie is so fuckin' sideways he can't even tell what's going on, so when they ask us to cop a point-and-click, of course he's completely on, and before I can even get ahold of the ladyboy's mobile to snap it, these two welterweights slide their skirts up and I shit you not, both of these crooked birds had John Thomases that I was nearly afraid to be in the same room with. I mean the veins on these things were bigger than a few live specimens I'd seen before. They looked like they could choke a man to death with them, and not in the obvious way, either, I'm talking like a three-legged triangle-choke, here.

Now Nicky and I are nearly pissing ourselves with laughter, I snap the photograph, and Bob's your uncle, there's pictures of Ollie slaloming these two titanic cocks posted all over Chatot. And that's why they call him ski-slope Ollie."

Ash sometimes found it difficult to understand what Roxie was driving at, when she slipped into a very heavy vernacular. Fortunately, the included subtitles made it a bit easier. As such, Roxie found herself standing there while Ash's slid his eyes from side to side just below her face, mouth subtly moving as though he were reading something. Shortly though, he nodded in appreciation of her story. "That's funny, I guess, but what about what I said made you think of that?"

"I was thinking about how you were making yourself look like a enormous cock. Then I thought about enormous cocks. Seemed the next logical step in my mind." Roxie replied with a snort.

Ash spat out half a cookie to keep from choking to death as he started laughing, but then he got sucked into the fractal macrocosm of corn-syrup and vegetable shortening, and any thoughts he had about huge phallic objects must've faded away like effervescent smoke as he trudged along slowly, mouth agape at the incredible miracle he clasped in both firsts.

Roxie watched him for a while, just staring into the cream of his cookie cream sandwich. "Penny for your thoughts."

Ash smiled, and took another bite, this one slower and somewhat casual compared to the more hoovering motions he'd relied on before. "Two girls kissing is awesome."

It was her turn to laugh, and she nudged the teenager playfully. "Ash, you're an alright sort, you know that?" The rocker sighed after a moment, though. "You're right. Two girls kissing is pretty awesome, but it's not all about the poontang, yanno. Even a rock-star like me starts to need a little romance in her life, after a while. Proper romance, I mean."

Ash tutted, not really focusing his gaze on her, so much as unconvincingly tearing it away from his cream sandwiches. "So what's stopping you? Sabrina seems to like you alright."

Roxie blinked. "...Really? Because I didn't get that impression at all." In spite of her professed skepticism, she was nearly halfway through punching out oi fuck u holly gaydar was rite! on her gear before Ash answered.

"Her exact words to me were that she knew exactly what you wanted, and that she would do anything she had to, in order to make this work between you," Ash responded with a shrug.

"Really? Really really?"

"More or less, yeah," Ash assured, somewhat hastily. He was now no longer sure whether he was lying. It didn't feel like a lie in that sticky, duplicitous way that sometimes lies did, clinging to the roof of one's mouth and leaving behind a lingering aftertaste. He also didn't face an anxiety attack in the form of the mental booby-trap his mother had long ago implanted in his brain by way of enforced childhood lessons. She didn't stand before him in his minds eye with conscience in one hand and guilt in the other, favoring him with that I-taught-you-better look on her face.

At the same time, it wasn't precisely the truth, either. Sabrina had basically said all those things. The difference being, Sabrina's arrangement had been with him, not with Roxie. He looked at the Unovan for a while, trying to take inventory of the situation. He liked Roxie, though he was pretty certain he shouldn't have. She was probably the exact sort of person that every forewarning about hanging around with the wrong sort had been targeted toward. Still, she was an alright person. Maybe a little mixed up, but who wasn't? Maybe she'd made a few bad decisions but who hadn't?

"You know what? To hell with it." Roxie began, standing stiff and straight upright, suddenly. "I've made up me mind. Gonna go over there to that tower, and shut down that broadcast right now. See if I don't!"

Ash blinked. "Whoa, really-I mean, just like that?" He snapped his fingers.

"Why not? Who the hell you you think owns Toxic Records Radio LLC? I got a 68% stake in that tower, luv. If I say it shuts down, it shuts down."

A/N: This chapter was fun. I really got a kick out of it, and I hope you did too. The conclusion of this arc should be coming along in relatively short order. I hope everyone had a nice Holiday, and is looking forward to 2014!