Disclaimer: I do not own Pokemon.

Chapter Summary: Will Max pull through? Will Ash? There's no telling what will happen when everything comes to a head on this terrible night in late spring. As events coalesce and Sabrina is set loose on the City, what further nightmares await?

A/N: Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. You couldn't be so lucky. 2K10 in 2014!


Chapter XXIV

"When It All Comes Tumbling Down"

Ash watched as Roxie stormed into the main foyer, eyes dilated. She didn't bother to stop at the security desk, since she owned the place, evidently, and even blew past two security agents, dressed all in black, after a light altercation.

"Who the fuck are you?" Butch asked, none too pleased.

"'Oo the fuck do I look like?" Roxie shot back.

"Hey," Cassidy gasped. "You're Roxie Toxic aren't you?"

"Yeah, what of it?" the rocker snorted, expecting trouble.

With a small dance of giddiness, Cassidy spun in place. "Ohmygawd! I am your biggest fan ever! I loved Wailord! That album fuckin' rocked! Blood and Thunderstone is like the best song ever! You've got to sign something for me!"

Roxie, momentarily taken aback, seemed to slip into a different personae entirely as she produced a felt-tip pen from somewhere within the confines of her dress.

Lacking anything of consequence to sign, and pushed to the verge of despair because of that fact, Cassidy abruptly lifted her shirt, which made Butch gasp, and Ash grin involuntarily. Not the slightest bit surprised or offended, Roxie set to the task of signing her name across both breasts with an artistic hand. Roxie Toxic was here! it read, bold and proud.

Butch, flabbergasted, could only sputter as Cassidy put her shirt back down. "I...I still can't let you go b-b-back there," he protested lamely.

"Butch, she's a majority shareholder." Cassidy hissed, an immodest blush suddenly catching up to her." Besides, she's not who we're looking for, you know that," the Rocket operative added under her breath.

The matter concluded, the pair walked on, past the security two-person security detail, one of which who was now eyeballing the other one incredulously.

"Yeah," Roxie said suddenly, as if agreeing with Ash, though he hadn't spoken at all. "That just happened. I told you I was famous."

"I think I know those two," Ash said, but the hazy moment of clarity passed him, and though Roxie had turned to hear his explanation, he was busy watching the textured flooring pass underneath him, wondering why the reflections of the overhead lights seemed to slide away from him as he walked toward them. Little mysteries, he supposed.

They hit the main studio with a crash, and immediately a broadcast tech room stood to block them. "You cant come in here!" he shouted in a muted tone, as there was in fact a live broadcast going on.

"Oi, listen 'ere, cunt." Roxie met him with equal force, shoving him back into his seat. "I own the publications company that runs this fuckin' radio station. Ever heard of Toxic Records? Yeah? Well, I'm Roxie-fuckin'-Toxic!" She pointed at a platinum record on the wall to emphasize her point.

Someone cued a gag noise on the sound-board, adding an unintentionally humorous quality to her tirade.

She pointed at the broadcasting table. "You, all of you, Get the fuck outta MY studio. I'm shutting this place down."

A loud warbling trumpet sound accompanied her words. She spun on the man responsible.

"Yeah, and you, behind that sound board: cue up another sound effect, and I swear to Arceus I'll be playin' it while I kick your fat fuckin arse down the front staircase. That's right, I said beat it. You've just been canceled."

As it gradually became clear that this wasn't a joke, and they were all being canned, Ash watched the gamut of expressions run from confused to devastated. The studio personalities and technicians all filed out after collecting a few belongings, stunned faces reflecting the unprecedented nature of what had just happened.

When they were gone, Roxie collapsed into the seat the tech had vacated, clasping the side of her skull. "Wow, head-rush."

"You alright?" he asked, though honestly he was starting to feel dizzy himself.

"Yeah, I just pissed away about a million quid worth of advertising revenue with that little conniption fit, right there, is all. Don't imagine you know what that feels like, but I can tell you it's not all that different from a punch in the chin."

Ash, suddenly his guilt compounded, offered the best he could manage, which was "Sorry." It was getting hard to see straight.

Roxie seemed to take it seriously, though. "S'awrite, mate. Rubbish show, anyways. Nuffin' but dick and fart-jokes, and interviews wiff out of work porn-stars."

It was at this time that Butch and Cassidy, alerted by the vacating studio staff, came hauling into the studio, raring for a fight. "Hold it right there!"

Brock found that there were tears in his eyes as he fought, ordering Ludicolo to fire Water Gun after Water Gun. He'd been battling for a long, long time, but there was nothing like this in his experience. He'd never before been pushed to such a brink, and he didn't know how this would end. As things went further and further on, only one outcome seemed likely.

He looked at Dawn, who was a typhoon, commanding four Pokemon. at once, and hollering so fast and so loud that her tear-choked voice had long since gone ragged.

They had stopped looking back at Max, afraid of what they'd see, but for all their head-on strength, they didn't seem to be getting anywhere. As a simple matter of mass, they had no Pokemon. that would turn Onix aside, and for every scrap of fury they were bringing to this fight, Onix was calling, and then raising the stakes over and over.

A massive Iron Tail had hit the ground so hard that even the near miss had felt like getting hit by a pick-up truck. Had he been one step further to the right at the time of impact, there certainly would've been nothing left of him by a greasy stain. He'd picked himself up off the cavern floor as quickly as possible with that thought, and maintained a more liberal distance. That was hard, though, being as cramped as they were in this cavern. It wasn't really that small, in truth, but it felt that way when you were sharing it with a thirty-foot Rock Snake.

Dawn, however, only lashed out further with Mamoswine leading the way. The bulky Pokemon only seemed to bounce off the thrashing Onix, though, as it coiled under the charging twin tusk Pokemon., and rolled it aside with a thrashing twist. Pachirisu and Piplup fired in attacks from the flank, while Togekiss smashed in again and again with powerful flying moves, but none of it seemed to matter.

They just fought and fought and fought, knowing that there was no choice but to kill each other, or die trying.

Was that really how it had to be? It seemed like it did. Especially after what Onix had done...

He looked back at Max, laying there so limp on the stone floor against the wall, one streak of bloody blackness trickling down it in awful portent, lit by the flickering light of the lamp, in the long cast shadows of the cavern.

He'd had a lot of experience, a lot of practical knowledge. He'd as good as raised nine children all on his own, ran a Pokemon Gym from the time he was ten, and traveled all over the place. There were still times when things surprised him, but not like this. This was different. This didn't make sense at all.

Then, he realized, eyes catching on the dancing shadows they all cast on the cavern wall, that he'd overlooked something crucial.

"Go to him!" Dawn shouted, catching his gaze. "I'll hold Onix off!"

Brock, knowing full well that neither of them were capable of that, and both of them were on the verge of failing even with their combined efforts. "No, you go. Return your Pokemon. I need the space."


"Just trust me! I have a plan." He was misleading her, of course, but she didn't need to know the particulars. "Hurry!"

With a snarl and a sob, Dawn recalled her Pokemon., two poke balls in each hand, then turned and sprinted for the alcove at the back of the cavern. When it seemed like there was no way she could double back, he turned tail and did the same, recalling Ludicolo over his shoulder.

"What are you doing?!" Dawn hollered at him as he quickly made up the distance.

"Keep running!" Brock shouted, frenzied and desperate as they ran flat out from Onix, who came after them in a rush, it's craggy mouth wide open in a magnificent roar.


And for a while, that was all he could hear, that bass-heavy sound that was so loud and close that it stole his breath. He wished he had Steelix, something big that could actually contend with the stony leviathan, but his only option was to run.

Brock leapt for the alcove with the last of his momentum, twisting in an effort not to crash against Max, though there was precious little space left. The impact with the far wall was harsh, but felt like sliding in at home base just ahead of a shortstop heater to the plate. Dawn, however, was not so lucky. She was a fast runner, but Brock far outstripped her in height and length of leg. She caught hold of the stony outcroppings of the alcove, hooking her arms and legs inside, but Onix had caught her, that rocky jaw clamping down on her backpack and crushing everything inside it into dust. The straps cinched down on her shoulders like snares.

She looked at Brock plaintively, eyes wide with fear, knowing that she was about to be ripped back out of the alcove. In that split second, she couldn't let the backpack slip off, because to do so, meant relinquishing her grip on the wall, and that would mean the same fate, either way. Dawn knew Onix would dash her to the stone floor in the same way she had done Max, or worse. "Help me." She whispered hoarsely, voice stolen by mortal terror.

He reached for her, but Onix began rearing at that same moment, trying to dislodge her from the hiding spot they'd chosen to flee to. When his grip missed by the breadth of an inch, he knew it was too late. He was going to lose two friends in the same day, to a threat he should have foreseen from the jump, he realized, watching Dawn's feet slowly leave the floor as she was dragged up the walls toward her doom. This was his fault! His!

A loud pop to his right stole the scream from his lungs, and as he turned he watched the ball tumble from Max's lethargic grip and burst open on the floor between them. Ralts and a single, desperate Magical Leaf attack screamed from the burst of white light like a bullet. Dawn, even as desperate as she was, flinched at the sight of the green blur hurtling at her neck. Magical Leaf never missed it's mark, however, and the left strap of her backpack burst apart with the dry sound of splitting nylon. Brock caught the newly freed arm, and reeled her in as she tumbled from the other

Dawn shook like a leaf in a windstorm as she scrambled to put more distance between her and the opening of the alcove, hopefully too narrow for Onix to wedge inside of. The three of them waited with breath held as Onix roared and thrashed and beat the remnants of Dawn's pack into the ground, before testing itself harshly against the outcropping of rock that defended them.

Sharp shards of sedimentary stone showered them as Onix rammed the opening of the alcove, to no avail. All except Max, who had no real ability to, covered their heads. A fresh cut opened on his face as he was hit by high-speed shale. He had no strength left to scream, and only moaned in pain as he turned his face away.

Both the breeder and coordinator were overwhelmed with emotion to discover that Max was still alive, but nobody could move until Onix relented, and slithered away. Once that happened, they sprang to Max, whose injuries were both numerous and severe. Brock could easily see the broken arm even in the poor light, cradled defensively over his stomach.

Brock tried to think back over everything he'd learned about this sort of thing, through the years. First aid, of course, was a mandatory part of any gym-leader's training, since the League demanded certain safety protocols be in place, but what else had he learned?

He remembered a time when Salvador had fallen off the top bunk onto his head. It hadn't seemed like so severe of a thing, since Salvador had carried on with very little more than dizziness and tears, ostensibly. He remembered how the paramedics had cautioned him differently, however.

"Dawn." Brock said urgently. "Get in my backpack. I need my flashlight."

Dawn trembled, but eventually got herself into action without so much as a peep of discord. She produced the necessary item in short order, and then scooped Ralts into her arms and hunched over Brock as they looked on silently.

"Max, can you hear me?"

He was a mess. One arm limp and useless, bashed and battered by his sharp contact with the wall. The fingers of the other, broken and bloodied as well. His legs, somehow undamaged structurally, had still suffered. Two cuts, one at the hip and one at the calf on his right leg, soaked through his jeans. The other leg, luckily, only seemed to have been relieved of it's shoe, though a segment of torn pant-leg did reveal some significant bruising.

Max didn't say anything, only groaned.

His torso seemed to have mostly been spared from the impact, and he didn't see anything that might've been indicative of a spinal injury, though he wasn't precisely sure what those indications might've been. He gently felt Max's neck, which did not feel unusual, aside from being sticky with blood from an obvious head-wound.

"Max, I need you to open your eyes, bud."

Max groggily complied, his eyelids creeping open slowly. He didn't flinch or draw away when Brock pointed the flashlight in his eyes, mostly because he couldn't, but also because the light seemed very distant, as though he were looking at it through the peephole of a door. One of Max's eyes was swollen and bloodshot, and Brock couldn't have said one way or another what that meant, aside from being bad, and neither eye dilated in response to the light being flashed in it the way it was supposed to. Instead, they stared ahead vacantly, pupils wide open.

Dawn grabbed his arm. "Is he going to be okay?"

Brock didn't say anything at first, not wanting to give anyone an unnecessary scare. "He's got a bad concussion," Brock admitted, finally, but rather than explain the matter to Dawn he went on to address the other member of their party. "Max, I need you to sit up. You can't go to sleep, okay?" He didn't know whether or not that was explicitly true, and he'd always suspected it of being a misconception, but it was all he had to go on in the here and now.

Max seemed to acknowledge that, but only in the most general way. He grunted affirmatively, but closed his eyes, and didn't move..

"Max, I mean it. You have to sit up," Brock protested, and again Max grunted, but did nothing, after subtly shaking his head.

"Help me get him up," Brock directed, pointing to Max's opposite arm. Brock tried to be as gentle as he could, lifting Max upright. He cradled the boy's head, and tried not to upset the delicate broken limb as he grasped Max just below the shoulder. Dawn's eyes brimmed with new heavy tears as she moved Max like delicate and badly cracked china. Max groaned, but without much conviction, as he was laid into a reclining position.

Dawn let out a soft whine as the immediacy of the task was done, her hands not quite letting go of his arm. It was a long, tortured noise, and preamble to a sob so deep and hard that it gagged her. She coughed into her own collar, head hung low and miserable. She echoed his earlier thoughts. "I did this," she choked. "I never should have pushed so hard-"

Brock caught her arm. "Stop," he demanded. "That isn't helping. We're in too big of a mess to do this right now." He wanted to say that nobody could have foreseen this, but that wasn't true. He might've been able to, if he'd have kept his eyes open when this all got started, and not let himself get so caught up in the idea of Max catching a brand new Pokemon. "Besides," Brock said, thumbing, back over his left shoulder. "You see that, over there?"

He tried to point out what he was talking about, the thing he'd noticed on the ground just a minute ago, and should have noticed when they had first stumbled into this cavern a week ago. A small, elliptic object that did not look all that different from the stony earth around it, aside from it's shape.

"Is that..." Dawn began, rendered mute by the ramifications of what she was seeing.

"An Onix egg," Brock confirmed. Hearing Max suck in a breath, Brock figured he should just go ahead and spill it. "Something I should have noticed the first time we were in here, so like as not, I've got to take ownership for this. All of this. All the trouble Max has been having." They'd barged straight into the middle of an Onix nest, and found mother Onix at the height of her protective fury. He'd allowed that to happen, by not recognizing the signs. He'd failed as Max's mentor, and he'd failed as a breeder as well.

"No." Max said softly, as though he were trying to tell a secret without being overheard. His eyelids parted lethargically, spilling water even as they stared blankly at the floor. "How could you have known? How could either of you?"

"I'm a gym leader! It's my job to know!" Brock barked, taking hold of Max's lolling head.

"I'm supposed to be your friend." Dawn added, grasping him urgently. "I should have known-"

"Neither of you know anything." Max said with eerie precision, shooting straight to the heart of the matter. He didn't indicate them in any way, but it was obvious he was talking about Brock when he spoke next. "You want me to be safe." He waited, signifying a new addressee when he spoke next, this time Dawn. "You want me to be satisfied."

Then he went further, directing the message at both of them. "Both of you think, in your own way, the other one either wants me to fail or is going to cause me to, but neither of you really has any idea what I want, just like I didn't have any idea what Onix wanted. I didn't know how to read the signs, and neither do you. I don't know if you can ever really know another person. Neither of you really know what I want, or need. You're no better than Onix is, so don't act like you are. Onix is no better than me, either. She just did what any mother would've done. We were just in the way. You can't blame someone for being ignorant, and we're all ignorant. Just stupid and ignorant. Me most of all."

Dawn sobbed again. "Max, no."

"Hey, come on." Brock gasped.

Max, with all the strength he could muster, pushed the consoling arms of his friends hands away. He wanted a comfort they couldn't provide. "I want to go home. I want my sister." He fell silent, obviously hurting too much to speak further.

Actually, he didn't say anything else intelligible to them through the whole ordeal. They were forced to sit there and wait out the process, since nobody dared try to make a break for it and neither Brock nor Max's gear would get signal here, and in the case of Dawn's it had been smashed to bits, It was a long and silent wait, that weighed heavily on them all, as they watched their friend ooze blood and drift nearly into to endless sleep again and again, only to be jostled awake and feel more of the pain he was undoubtedly mired in, and glare disdainfully at them for it.

A baby Pokemon. was born, and for the first time none of the three of them could say that they felt like they were witnessing a miracle. It seemed like something obscene and alien almost, that they had no right nor desire to observe, much less be present for. Dawn actually began to cry again once it was over, and Onix and her newborn slithered off together to parts unknown.

Brock wasn't sure it was best to put a consoling arm around her, not knowing for sure if another of his friends would shrug him away hatefully.

They left as quietly as they dared, atop a weary and wary Mamoswine, Max in front, and Dawn behind, both arms curled under his as she held him from slipping too far to either side, being that he was too weak to keep himself up there. "Please," she kept gasping into his shoulder, as his head lolled off to one side. "You've got to keep your eyes open." Grudgingly, he would for a short while and then she would remind him again.

Brock walked slowly, and distantly ahead of them, one hand on the recollected lamp, and the other on his hip, poke ball at the ready. He wasn't sure how everything was going to fall back to earth after tonight. He wasn't sure what he was going to tell Max's parents. Was Max going to be able to continue his journey? Would he even want to? He wasn't sure. He wasn't sure about a lot of things.

When he saw moonlight, he waved for them to follow, then charged out ahead. He took out his gear and made the first call, which was to have an ambulance come for them. His second, and much more tense, was to May.

She picked up, groggy, as it was even later there than it was here, which made it the very small hours of the morning. "Brock? What is it?"

"Listen carefully, okay?" Brock began. "I don't want to frighten you, but there's been a very serious accident. It's about Max..."

"Hold it right there!"

Holiday flashed back around the corner, shoving Doc back as well, as they came up behind the situation rising to a head between Roxie, her young, inebriated companion, and the two rocket thugs, one seeming quite reluctant to take up against her idol.

Holiday pointed fiercely in the opposite direction, mouthing the word "Go," over and over. The pair slipped down the hall in the opposite direction. Once he felt as though they were a comfortable distance from what was going on, Doc queried his partner. "What now?"

"Elevator's out of the question now, so access stairs." Holiday said with another quick jab of his fingers, though he looked none too pleased about it.

They bolted to the stairwell, and though Doc tried to ascend, his partner hooked his elbow and spun him about. "Downstairs." He instructed, pointing down the descending case, where he himself promptly began sliding down the banister. Doc followed, while above, the confrontation between Roxie's party and the Rockets loudly kicked off.

Butch and Cassidy, shedding their more formal outerwear, exposed the huge alfresco Rs on their shirts, and produced poke balls that contained their Cloyster and Sableeye, respectively.

"Ah, Rockets, are you?" Roxie cloyed, her eyes becoming quite narrow. "Now, now, totty. If you are such a big fan, then you oughta know what I helped do in Unova all those years ago, right?"

Cassidy faltered a bit, but didn't respond until she felt Butch's questioning eyes on her. With a glare, she turned to her partner. "She and the other Unovan gym-leaders completely dismantled the team in their region, Team Plasma.

"In just a single day after the bombings." Roxie added in a hiss. "So what exactly is it that you think I'm going to do to the two of you?" the ex-gym-leader asked with a sour note of finality as she withdrew a single poke ball from inside the hem of her dress, and clenched it tight.

Ash snorted, withdrawing his own poke ball. "Yeah," he added, "Why don't both of you get real, already? I've stomped you morons so many times now it isn't funny."

His words were severe enough, Roxy thought, but he wasn't facing the right direction, which did diminish the intimidation factor a bit. She reached out and adjusted Ash about thirty degrees to the left, from where he'd been glaring at an empty expanse of sound-deadening material affixed to the wall.

Butch scowled at the sight of him. "I thought I recognized you, you little shit. I'm gonna-"

"Turn right around and make yourself scarce, if you know what's good for you." Roxie interrupted. "Your friend here already said it, mate. I virtually own this tower. If this place going down doesn't fit into Team Rocket's overall business plan, well than that's just tough shit, now innit?"

"And it isn't like you're gonna beat us in a battle." Ash told the door-jamb just to the right of Cassidy. This, Roxie considered to be close enough.

Butch and Cassidy frowned collectively, but then, seeming to recall an important detail, holstered their poke balls reached instead into their jackets. "We don't need to." The long, sleek silhouettes of automatic weapons breached the black lapels of the two Rocket thugs, and were leveled at their intended targets with an almost casual intent.

Ash and Roxie swallowed. In modernity, where Pokemon. battles were the standard method for resolving disagreements, firearms were reserved for all but those of the most truly gruesome and wicked intent.

As Roxie recalled, It was the sort of thing that Team Plasma had demonstrated a penchant for, a decade ago. "How barbaric," she commented, palming Ash's poke-ball back down and dropping her own alongside it.

The rockets stepped forward, relieving their marks of their Pokemon., Butch with an impatiently extended hand, Cassidy with an angry rip at Ash's belt.

"Where should we do this?" Butch asked, voice thick with fervor, once they'd been rendered harmless.

"Probably in the basement. Quieter. Less chance of prying eyes." Cassidy instructed somewhat reluctantly.

"Walk." Butch instructed, mashing the muzzle of his automatic between a very pale Ash's shoulder blades.

He led them to the elevator, which was in and of itself a terribly uncomfortable ride, but once they made it to the bottom and the doors opened, catching Doc and Holiday wide-eyed in an expanding rectangle of light, frozen by the sudden ding of the elevator chime, things became even more complicated.

"Aw," said Doc.

"Fuck," added Holiday, though it was somewhat expected of him.

"Well, well, well. This just keeps getting better." Cassidy mused.

"What are you two doing here?" Roxie declared with some incredulous, but received only a kick to her rump in reply.

"Shut up! Keep moving!" Butch snarled.

Holiday and Doc were both likewise relieved of their Pokemon. and added to the escort party of captured trespassers, with a gesture of pistol and stern glare. They were guided around a cluster of manifolds and piping, that gave way to a long stretching corridor of machinery ending in a steel door.

They all took inventory of what they had, in various stages. Roxie kept all manner of things on her person, none of them useful. Holiday had a comb and a lighter, but until the day science developed a way to turn those items into a gun, he was just a useless. Doc actually had a snagem ball on him, that they hadn't taken, but it hardly did them any good, either.

Holiday fell into stride next to Roxie, and began to whisper with grave concern, but it didn't take long for Butch to crack him across the back of the skull. "Can it!"

Of the four of them, only Ash seemed unconcerned, not bothering to take stock of what he possessed. He tottered along aimlessly, in fact, eyes glazed. That was fine, since Roxie was taking note of it for him. He was in possession of the one thing that might get them out of this, in fact.

Roxie tried to communicate an important idea with her eyes, but Holiday was so busy rubbing the imprint of the pistol grip from his head that he didn't notice.

It didn't look like people came down here all that often. A thick tuft of cobweb fell from the jamb when Cassidy jerked it open and waved them in.

It was a dark, cold room, lit by a single overhead lamp that seemed so distant as to be some caricature of the sun viewed from deep space, as one might see in a planetarium. It illuminated a table-like machine below. A metallic slab that laid flat upon a dais about one and one half meters high, the horizontal element was about twenty centimeters meter thick, with articulated tubes and cables running out of one end, off towards the girders and duct-work in the ceiling where one had to assume it inter-meshed with the electrical workings of the rest of the tower.

Austere and nearly featureless in the circle of sterile incandescent light cast upon it, the device boasted only two tiny yellow lights and a breaker switch. Both lights glowed a faint but constant green.

"Inside." Cassidy ordered.

Roxie caught Holiday's eye again as they were lined up in front of the machine. Heart racing, she glared out a command. One flash toward him, a swift glance at at Ash's hood, and the smallest, sharpest nod she could manage. You. Pull that. Down.

Holiday's look of utter bafflement didn't provide her with much relief. Once again, she repeated the innuendo-loaded eye-movements, as Butch and Cassidy took a few precautionary steps back.

Then, he seemed to spot the area she was indicating on the boy standing between them. That jagged tail poking out from the folds of Ash's hood, subtly. The brat still had his Pikachu! Neither of these two Rocket thugs had thought to frisk him apparently. The admin girded himself for the maneuver, tensely watching their two would-be executioners, as sweat trickled into his brow. Reach, Pull, Pivot. That easy. He'd throw that damn Pikachu across the room like an electric boomerang. It would zap those two, and wrap this whole thing up in a tidy package.

...Actually, he wasn't so stupid as to believe that like Roxie evidently did, but it would probably save his skin, so long as he booked it out the door they'd come in amidst the panic that would doubtless ensue. He curled his toes, ready to spring as Butch and Cassidy raised their guns to fire.

Doc clenched his eyes shut. Roxie grimaced. Ash, too fucked up to tell what was going on anymore, just stood there, for all purposes vacant.

"Wait, wait, wait!" Butch shouted, startling them all, Cassidy included who nearly discharged her weapon. "Lets line them up cross-wise. That gizmo looks pretty important. Archer will be pissed if we fuck something up down here."

Cassidy grudgingly nodded her accord, his wisdom tempering her ire somewhat. They ushered their four victims into a new formation, a line extending outward from the machine, rather than running across it. This did somewhat complicate things, as it left Roxie and Holiday stranded on the far end from Ash, with Doc between them, compounding their need to communicate without actually communicating.

They caught Doc's eye as Holiday pretended to sniffle a bit. Both of them rapidly jerked their eyes around trying to convey their meaning in just so many flits of the iris. Both of them felt oddly moronic when he seemed to get it on the first go. He gave the teeniest, tiniest little nod.

Roxie maintained her frown, but Holiday betrayed a little bit of a smirk, which was quickly picked up on.

Cassidy glared. "Something funny, pompadour?"

"Just this!" Doc barked in answer, lurching hard toward Ash.

A sound of triumph leapt to Roxie and and Holiday's throats, but it died there, as the larger admin jumped clean past Ash and locked both hands on the breaker switch to the machine and brought it straight down with a loud clacking sound.

Everyone stood there in the silence, dumbstruck it seemed, by the fact that nothing at all happened. One of the yellow lights on the machine slowly faded out, but as to what that meant, probably nobody but Holiday could say, and he didn't seem all that enthused with the decision, at any rate.

Butch scoffed, with arched brow, waving his gun around in a circle. "Is that all, or was there an actual punch-line?"

Holiday and Roxie groaned, but Cassidy was not so entertained as her partner. She thumbed the hammer of her gun with intensity. "Lets finish these fucking second-rate clowns and be done with it."

Both raised their guns once more, and drew beads on their targets.

It was over. The signal was dead.

Sabrina smiled as the signal noise faded from the city, and the roar of mental dissonance grew back into it's place. She let her jacket slide off her shoulders and made for bed, sliding off one stocking and then the other, bare feet padding lightly across the black granite plate flooring. She made for bed. She could do the remainder of her work from there, and it had been a long night yet, and longer still it would be, before her task was complete.

She slid from her clothing of the day, blouse and skirt and all, and pulled on her nightgown over her nakedness, its slick and shimmering and comfortable silken folds enveloping her devilishly.

Sabrina felt at ease, and she was. This city was hers again, and now came only the quick and tidy rectification of a bygone issue.

She laid down in the middle of the four-post bed, arms and legs flat at her side in reserved repose. The massive bed swallowed her, but she did not wallow in it's comforts. The satin duvet lay unused beneath her, a wrinkle-less, still pond of maroon fabric, and her the dark island at it's center. She closed her eyes, and fell into trance-like sleep, without difficulty.

The physical body laid to gentle sleep, Sabrina as she truly was, burst free of her material confines, and shot out in all directions through the walls of her apartment, falling over the city below like a second gloaming, plunging night-time cityscape into deeper darkness still.

She was a measure of spilled water, flooding into all recesses from which it had been withheld. Every street, every alley, every home, every place of business crammed into perspective, known for everything that it was, had, and ever would be. The pulse of the people, their thoughts from minute to grandiose, all sucked up like a sponge, processed and condensed to a single thread, that looped around and through everything, a web of red ribbons tied to remember, all hers to untie, reroute, and reconnect as she saw fit.

She conned the switch-board through which all their thoughts, actions, and destinies connected. She saw their paths laid out before them, and stretching out behind, no matter how small or insignificant, in a way no psychic had ever matched. She was not possessed of power, she was power. She was God, and their lives resolved within her domain, to know and to observe from every angle. Was she cruel deceiver letting them play out their lives for no more than her own amusement, or was she benevolent deliverer, saving them from themselves? At times she felt she must be both, and at others neither.

Those were petty questions for lesser forces to bicker over, now.

Six lives-Seven in truth, but that would come later-were what concerned her now, their interwoven paths all swirling together like circuit-board patterns through the streets, toward a single exchange. She saw them there, in that basement, so distant from her body and so close to her mind, all hell on the verge of breaking loose, and only her to stop it.

Sabrina poured into the room like a deadly vapor, unseen, unheard, unfelt, and watched, holding the cruel diorama in place for a time. Doing so was a trifle. Just holding some bones and meat in place few otherwise meaningless moments. The thickness of her presence held the two Rockets and their lethal devices at bay, and would do so, for as long as she would require, which was not long.

This was a small, petty event in the scope of things, yet it was a conduit to things more important and would not brook the slightest change in its end result. It must play out as it must, and yet in that, she was a crucial element. She was here to see that it ended as it should, after all. Still, she looked over it's key players with a modicum of interest.

Butch, his beginnings in the dust and grime and filth of the street, with nothing and nobody who gave a damn about him, had fought and clawed and sacrificed much to make it to this spot where he stood today, finger tensed on the trigger. He'd spent most all of his time between dumping his soul out wholesale and burning it like gasoline to get just a few miles farther, either for the team or for money, or for just a little while longer in the fluttering lamp-light.

He was here because he had to be, because he'd never had another choice. His future was to remain coated in dirt. She saw it stretch in parabola from nothing to more nothing, the height of his success never breaking the glass ceiling at it's apex, never fully extricating itself from the muck . Butch was one of the have-nots, and he would never know his day in the sun.

Cassidy, who'd come from so much higher, and gradually slid down the strata of social order, from bad daughter to bad girl to bad news, had never looked back. She'd elbowed her way to the front of a big crowd, by taking what she wanted. She took the big hand she was dealt, and cheated with it until it ran dry, then bluffed the difference.

She was here because she wanted to be, and because she'd never wanted anything else. She would spiral the drain like her partner, and be snatched back from the same ruin that would take him just before it was too late, but it would make no difference. Hers would be a temporary reprieve.

Roxie, her beginnings as a Navy brat all the way across the ocean could still not be obscured by paltry distance. Many homes, many friends, and finally, some solidarity given by permanent posting, a friend that had meant so much, and an opportunity so vast that had nearly gone untaken. A long, complex web that encircled the globe, notoriety as a gym-leader turning into fame, fame as a musician turning into wealth, wealth as a superstar turning into status and the feeling of invincibility that came with it. Somewhere she'd been undermined by disaster and betrayal and it all culminated in the tarnished husk of a golden idol, rotting from within, though immaculate without.

She was here because Sabrina had led her here, and because she didn't want to be alone any longer. Her future was a slow and steady climb, and Sabrina would certainly have her own part to play in it. That was the term of the contract she'd entered, after all.

Ash, his mind so sticky and dull and slowed by the poison in his veins, had such humble and small beginnings, in the smallest town in Kanto, but even the relative obscurity could not hide his past from her. The only child, the beloved son, the young adventurer who'd seen pivotal events, played pivotal roles, and remained only a small boy, no larger or less humble for having taken part in them, because the kind of satisfaction he desired was another sort entirely.

Ash was here because he had been coerced here and pushed here and goaded here. He'd been lied to and pressured, and finally out and out forced at gunpoint, yet he was sullied by these petty events, integral though they were. After all, his was the future that came with unimaginable weight, enormous possibility, and heavy burden. His would be the moments of ultimate triumph, and ultimate disgrace. His would be the moments of incredible fortune, and incredible sacrifice. His would be the most important future, one might've argued. Not just among those here present, either.

Doc, with his hands full and brain more so, was only trying to stay afloat in a world that didn't belong to him. A world of violence and distrust that was only just beginning to become clear. His own thread began in Sinnoh, in Veilstone, always the first to toil, and the second to finish. Never a born winner, but never a contented loser, he'd trained his whole childhood away to have his body betray him in the final stretch of his life's work.

Doc was here because his friend was, and while that matter was complex, the end result was simple: He'd fallen back on what was familiar, however bad for him it might've been.

Holiday, who was something strange and unlike the others, stood alone, and gave her pause.

Bizarrely, she realized as her focus orbited around him, he was not connected to anything, in earnest. Not in the way the others were. She knew the events of his past, but only where it intersected the threads of other lives, and so she could not use those points of interest to extrapolate his future.

He was an outlier, an unknown, something that escaped her and enraged her. So, she coiled around the thing that she did not know and that she could not understand, half tempted to break it open and see inside, to tear it apart, and dagger her way down to it's center.

A mind should have unfolded at her whim, and displayed it's contents with the turn of a page, but his did not yield, or unfurl, and even when she wrenched her way in, she found it a vacant facade; an empty room that opened into another empty room, and a thousand, thousand more just like it.

She raged, blasting from nexus to nexus, synapse to synapse and finding nothing as the mental pathways folded into themselves like a mobius loop. A juicy core of inner thoughts and desires protected by a limitless access-way that forever tumbled inward, only to miss its mark, like a moon caught in a planet's gravity. An inner self that could not be accessed by her or any other, not even Holiday. A center of unknown potential, and unknown direction.

What was he? Who was he? Where did he begin? Where would he end? Was he man, machine? What?!

She realized everyone in the room was holding their heads, as her fury cooked off, and she pulled her psychic presence back a great deal, in a hurry. In the same way a red-hot poker would bring the water used to cool it to a boil, so too could the psychic pressure she exerted on Holiday harm those nearby.

It was a question for another time, and another place, she realized. Were she meant to know now, she would've already found her answer. It bothered her, and not just a little, but she had only one more task to accomplish here.

Sabrina centered herself on Doc, imagined her hands as his own. Assuming control of his body was to her, almost a pre-adolescent exercise. Her hands reached out into the darkness above her bed, a tactile sensation awakening in her fingertips as she worked herself between the nerve endings in his limbs and the synaptic centers of his brain, cutting off the two and replacing it with her own control circuit. Doc let go of the switch, and instead grabbed the slab of the device by it's corners.

She raised her hands above her head. Doc raised his, impossibly against the immense weight, sinew and muscle threatening to snap. The Pokemon storage bank snapped free of it's pedestal, arced high, and then, as her own arms fell heavily to the sheets beneath her, so too did the heavy mechanical device crash down, it's complex circuitry and mechanical components buckling and crumpling under the heavy impact, as Doc slammed it to the floor.

At first, nothing happened, much the same as it had before, but Sabrina's psychic presence withdrew, slinking off to other tasks, and leaving the scene to unfold as it would.

Doc looked down at what he'd done, quite bewildered. Holiday, perhaps even more disenchanted, looked at his partner as though he couldn't quite believe it. Everyone present, in fact, seeing no real reason for the outburst, stared agape at the devastation.

And then, with no real preamble, the contents of the bank exploded into the room like a bomb. Instead of the heat and energy and fire of true explosives, the ghost Pokemon. that had just moments ago existed as only the pressurized and condensed analog numerical data of the system itself screamed into the room, their vaporous forms slamming into the occupants and then through them, into and beyond walls from floor to ceiling in fierce torrents of purple and black that carried with them untold feelings of vitriol and contempt.

Nobody could breath, nobody could cry out, nobody could even move as the torrent of ghost Pokemon. tore through the room, tore through the tower, and out into the night of Lavender Town, like a million-strong colony of zubats roused from their underground cavern at once, screeching in distress and beating down every open inch of air in an effort to flee, as much climbing over one another in a ball of living panic as taking flight from whence they came.

When it was over, it was only by some small miracle that Ash was still standing, though perhaps it was because he was the most strung-out of all of them. Nearly everyone else had been pressed to the floor or against the wall by the torrential outpouring, their eyes wide with shock or even raw fear, in the case of Butch and Cassidy.

In fact, the two of them, assessed for what they were by the Ghost Types even in the midst of the panic had been more deeply affected by intent. As revenge against their Rocket captors the Ghost Pokemon had tormented the duo in a way more gruesome than the other bystanders.

Butch sat shivering, his clothes ripped and his face bearing many shallow scratches under saucer-wide eyes. Cassidy heaved in shallow breaths, fingertips nearly gouging into the concrete floor, likewise abraded by the incorporeal claws of many Ghost Pokemon. Their guns, now twisted, useless hunks of metal at their feet, the two Rockets seemed very chastened by the ordeal.

Roxie, coming out from beneath her two shielding arms, peeked around. "W-what the fuck?"

Doc, slightly less paralyzed by the event, looked at Holiday, who offered nothing, looking quite pale indeed. "They were storing a lot of ghost type Pokemon. here. To power some radio signal and develop high-powered ghost-type TMs."

Holiday tried to interject, but his voice seemed to catch in his throat, and he slumped down to the floor, evidently in an effort to keep his heart from popping out of his mouth.

One further Pokemon. shot out of the destroyed bank in the silence that preceded the event, like a bottle-rocket fired into a confined space, it ricocheted off the walls in a panic that seemed like it could only end in climactic explosion. It never slowed down enough to recognize distinctly, but the violet-colored blur ended it's wild flight in a room-sweeping arc that cut past Doc, who on reflex had been reeling back with an empty Snagem ball he'd had tucked into his pants.

He never got the chance to throw it. Instead, the high-speed Pokemon. slammed into the poke ball all on it's own, ripping the device from Doc's grip as it collided with the opening ball at the very instant of activation and sent it sailing over his shoulder. He turned for the falling orb, but it moved, strangely.

It did not fall in the way that it should've, bouncing off the floor in the way of typical capture, to twitch and pulse while all waited tensely. Instead, the ball floated through the air, weaving out of the way of several more attempts by Doc to seize it, almost as though guided by some invisible, teasing hand. Slowly yet directly it bobbled through the air to its intended target.

It bumped into Ash's chest gently, before losing whatever quality that held it buoyant, and falling into his cradling hands. Once it had, a peal of laughter echoed among the machinery in the room.

"Haaaww Hawww Haw!"

Ash could only stand there, having no more idea what was going on than anyone else. Nobody knew what to do except reclaim their things and then leave the devastated scene as quickly as possible.

Archer rubbed his face, feeling the exhaustion beginning to tax him. He'd sat tensely at his desk, waiting for the phone call. Running a multinational corporation was not a do-nothing job, of course, so he'd found ways to keep busy, but this was not a task that he could sully his hands with, and it troubled him when things were so far outside his direct control. He invested a good deal of confidence in those two grunts of course, but they were still just that, no matter how far under his wing he'd taken them.

Still, there had been a time when his own career had not been so different. Ariana had overseen his development, certainly, but there had been others. Tyson, Miyamoto. They had all seen something in him, and fostered it, and now here he stood at the height of it all, in Giovanni's absence. The big man. The head honcho, for all intents and purposes.

Yet so much teetered on the edge tonight. He heaved a breath, not allowing himself to snatch the receiver off the videophone the moment it rang. He put it to his ear. "Archer," he acknowledged, evenly.

It was not the voice he wanted to hear on the other end, nor the duet of faces he hoped to see. Instead, it was a low rasp, and a darkened image that showed only the most subtle implication of life hidden within it. "Do you know who this is?" the voice sounded somehow sticky, cloying, as if it were oozing out of the phone. The voice waited a beat. "No? Then, do you remember who this was?"

The video-screen flashed, and there was the hideous image of a young girl, face distorted in a sickening culmination of anguish and pleasure, the gleaming metallic clamp-handles of forceps jutting crookedly from the ichorous puncture-wound that was her left eye. The visage of Domino reared the display, as though it would come through the screen after him, neck and facial muscles tight in the final throes of death.

Archer stood sharply and slammed the receiver back down into its cradle, but the image remained, gurgling blood through it's clenched, smiling teeth.

"It's too late for that," the voice mocked him, still leaking from the speakers viciously. "Far too late."

In a desperate effort that was uncharacteristic for him, Archer grabbed the videophone and tore it from the table, hurling through the high-rise window. The image remained, even as it sailed off into the night, not flickering for an instant amid the shower of broken glass, it's cords and cables trailing behind it, ripped free of their outlets. He did not watch it go. He smashed his eyes shut.

When he opened them, he was no longer in his office. Instead, he found himself lost in pitch black. A half-scream welled in his mouth, but he bit it in two, sharply.

No, he insisted to himself. This was a trick of the mind. An illusion. He took in a deep breath, and exhaled, if a bit raggedly. When he opened them again, he was standing back in his office again, all silent but the wind rushing through the shattered hole in the glass facade of his office. Stay calm, he instructed himself.

He took out his gear, and though he was loath to put it to his ear, lest he should hear that voice again somehow, he did decide it would be best to send out a message. To whom, exactly, he wasn't sure. Ariana perhaps? His hands shook so bad in spite of himself, that he ended up selecting the boss, Giovanni from the drop down menu on his contact list. He girded himself, and tried to keep his hands still.

What would he say? That he was under attack? That he needed help? He decided to keep it simple. Gripping the phone hard, to keep his fingers from twitching too much, he intended to type something to the effect of "Lavender Tower Compromised. Under duress. Sabrina responsible."...

What appeared instead on the screen were three words.

It's too late...

He shouted, and tried to drop the phone, but it stuck fast in his hands, as his fingers punched in more of their own accord.

...for Team Rocket.

He did drop the phone then, as his body began to more fully betray him. His legs began plodding along steadily to where he needed to go, and then all the rest of him. Somewhere, he knew, that witch was working him from afar like a marionette, and each step took him more assuredly towards his doom.

Hands that were only his in the most facetious way, clawed at jagged glass, gouging and impaling themselves as they clumsily bashed the hole he'd earlier punched to a much wider circumference. It would need be wider to fit a grown man through, after all. She controlled his body entirely, because it was hers now. His only remaining share was the pain, but he couldn't even cry out. Instead, it was her own voice that bled through, giggling mirthfully as he slashed himself down the middle, pushing himself through the glass like a bloody excretion.

Archer fell fifty stories, laughing at himself. He began to scream bloody murder when she left him at ten feet from the ground, but he didn't get much of it out before terminal impact ruptured his body. His insides became his outsides and blossomed across the cement in earthy reds and rusty yellows.

Sabrina did not stir in her repose, but her lips parted in silent glee. The psychic, once more the undisputed queen of her domain smiled a vicious, cuspid-revealing smile in her sleep, at a rivalry finally settled.

Now she could devote herself to her true objective. The mind of Ash Ketchum.

All of them shaken to the point that none of them were quite willing to split from one another, the quartet crawled back into Saffron as a group, ducking into the first well-lit public building that they could find-an all-nite diner. They pressed themselves into booth seats, feeling the clamminess of their own skin against the faux leather.

Roxie had blanched so white you could see the blood-vessels in her face, Holiday was uncharacteristically silent, but did not seem like he was filled with the same giddiness as the others. Doc seemed to be visibly shaken, the menu quaking in his grip as he inspected it, but he maintained a veneer of calm that was better than the other two.

Ash just blinked. His eyes felt so dry and bleary. He struggled to discern where he was. This was the same diner Sabrina had taken him to, he realized, after many long minutes of absorbing the environment around him in all the wrong ways.

For some reason the thought of that milkshake filled his brain to the brim. He wasn't sure he managed to articulate what he wanted properly to the waitress, but evidently his emphatic pointing to the picture did the trick. Evidently it must've looked good to the rest of them, because all of them ordered milkshakes as well.

The chatter started up again after a while, oblivious to the silently scrawling newscast on the muted television over the dining area.

BREAKING NEWS: Downtown Saffron suicide jumper body declared unidentifiable. Police say that certain evidence found on the body may suggest connection to Team Rocket, but that dental examination is still pending. Ghost Pokemon run Amok in Lavender town. 36 injured. the electronic ticker-tape at the bottom read.

Roxy had already started in on loudly fantasizing about her upcoming conquest, to fill up the silence, by the time the milkshakes arrived.

"Oh, just you wait and see," she remarked to ongoing skepticism from Holiday. "I'd be good to 'er. Treat her like a princess, I would. That woman and I could live every night like valentine's and every day like Christmas, I tell ya. Wouldn't even kick her outta bed if she ate crisps in it and got crumbs all down in the sheets."

Holiday, flatly unimpressed, changed the subject. "What's a crisp? Is that like a cracker?"

"Fuck your mum, that's what it's like." She flipped Holiday off, for the crack at her vernacular.

Their milkshakes came, and they all partook, with varying degrees of alacrity. Doc tasted his, then nodded in appreciation. Roxie immediately started wolfing hers down with a spoon. Holiday mostly stirred his about with a straw, clearly contemplative, but also a bit agitated.

He rounded on Doc after a moment longer. "So, what the fuck happened back there, bro?"

Doc seemed surprised at first, then sighed. "I-I don't really know."

Holiday scoffed. "Fuck, bro. How am I supposed to explain this shit to the Boss?"

Doc knit his mouth up tight, but he didn't get a chance to respond. Ash kicked the underside of the table hard, making it jump a good two inches off the floor.

"What is the matter wiff you?" Roxie asked, at his sudden spasm.

Ash couldn't even make sense of her speech. She just sounded like gurgling. He wanted to tell her as much. His mouth felt like it was full of flour, and his vision smeared like someone had spread out the world with a knife across a pallet, blending all the colors together. Everything seemed to stretch in into the distance. He heard someone talking, maybe it was him, but the words were only pillowy garbles of consonants and mush-mouthed sounds that might've been questions. Ash quietly closed his eyes and slid back into his seat, head hanging. On his way back, her scraped his arms across the tabletop, knocking over a plate as well as his glass. The chocolate milkshake spilled into his lap, and he didn't move thereafter.

"And now this fucking kid is gonna croak, damn it." Holiday complained.

Doc blinked, somewhat alarmed, even though he was thankful the pressure was off. "That doesn't look like any drunken stupor I've ever seen. What else has he had?"

Roxie huffed. "Ah, well, he also, may have, um, inadvertently swallowed just a bit of acid."

Holiday sniffed, suspiciously. "Just a bit? How much is just a bit?"

She shrugged "Only maybe half a milligram."

Holiday made a frustrated sound, but Doc interjected. "He looks like he's choking."

"For fuck's sake," Holiday growled, reaching across the table to tilt the young trainer's head forward with a clinical demeanor. A thick string of saliva spilled out onto his shirt, followed by a few coughs.

"Should we take him to a hospital?" Doc asked.

"Oh yes, that seems like the best possible move we could make. Why didn't I think of taking him to a place that's sure to get us all arrested?" Holiday hissed.

"Well, I mean, we sort of poisoned him, I just thought-"

Holiday countered with a hostile glare in Roxie's direction. "No. We didn't do shit-"

Roxie felt a buzzing against her leg, pulling her out of the discourse. Ash's gear. Curious, she picked it up. One new text message from Sabrina. She looked at Ash, who was still quite unconscious, and figured, why not help herself.

She blinked a few times, thinking maybe she wasn't reading it right.

"I know you're reading this. Please take Ash someplace safe and PRIVATE for the night. After that, get some sleep. Tomorrow I change your life forever."

Some of the blood returned to her face then. Maybe her heart fluttered a little, as well, which was probably why she went with the first idea that came to mind, in spite of how inappropriate it was.

"Oi, I just thought a' something." Roxie declared, cutting the ongoing fight short. "I got this place in Saffron where I rent a room and wind down after shows when I'm on tour here. They cater to a real...rambunctious sort of clientele. This sorta shit happens to me all the time on tour. They know me there. Lemme make a call."

Penny frowned deeply at the tiny television set nestled into the corner of the kitchen counter next to the coffee maker. She'd been up for half the damn night working on her case file, only to see that a complicated case was about to get immensely more complicated.

She'd met with Jesse, James and Meowth weeks ago, and though there was a lot to be said for bad blood that lingered between them, especially between Jessie and herself, to the ex-Rocket's credit, she'd been instantly forthright about both her position, and her commitment to the task at hand.

"I'm not a Rocket. Not anymore. None of us are. You heard what Archer said. That much was true, even if the rest of it was total bull." Jessie had said, openly in the council room, before Penny could even begin her legal boilerplate spiel. "Even you have to admit that there was something slimy about what happened. I want to prove that we were used as patsies for the team, regardless of whatever else we might've done in the past. If someone has to take the fall for that shit, than I at least want James and Meowth out of here, free and clear. I can do my time, but I can't make it happen on my own. I don't have the know-how."

"Will you help me?" Jessie asked, ignoring the immediate and alarmed protests of her two accomplices. "I will tell you anything and everything that I know about the team. The truth. Every bit of it.

A Rocket thug was a Rocket thug, but this chick was tough. There was a certain understanding there, she admitted.

"I will do as the law demands," Penny had answered, at first unsure. She'd gone home that night and frowned, just as she'd frowned now, torn between two possibilities.

One that involved digging where she was liable to get into a lot of trouble, departmentally speaking, in order to expose a criminal conspiracy that would likely go far deeper than she wanted to know, to get her hands on the real culprits. There was also the fact that this possibility would also mean aiding admittedly innocent in this case, but otherwise unwholesome criminals to escape the grasp of the legal system- something that did not sit lightly with her.

The other possibility was that she dismissed all of this as the fabrication of a desperate woman. There was every possibility that even if Jessie did hand over all the information that she had on the team, it would amount to nothing. By her own admittance, she had never been a high-ranking member of their power-structure, but still there was the matter of the kangaroo court that had been put on to nab up these three otherwise worthless outliers of Team Rocket, when the real prize, the sum and total of it's criminal element danced out of reach in the meantime.

Neither prospect felt like the correct choice. She'd talked it out over coffee with Mark, after almost a week of sitting on the matter, coldly. It was obviously something neither of them were entirely comfortable with, as the conversation had come with a number of opening caveats.

"I'm not asking you because I think you're a moral authority." She'd followed up sharply, and perhaps a bit too sharply, realized the unintended jab at the night they'd met just a moment after the comment had left her mouth.

Mark had laughed, evidently unoffended. "Fair. I'm not offering advice because I think I know anything about how the legal system works."

"Well I don't want to give you the impression that I'm grasping for straws here."

"I don't want you to think I'd be disenchanted even if you were. Seems like a tough call. I wouldn't want it to be mine to make." Mark had conceded, hands still wrapped around the paper cup before him, as though wringing it with concern.

"I just want a baseline for what someone who wasn't involved would do in a similar situation," she had added.

"If you're sure."

"I trust you," she'd said with a nod, realizing that she was perhaps offering a little more than she otherwise might've. Even more awful, she hadn't been exactly sure she'd ever said that to anyone before. She didn't want work to be the bridge-piece to their relationship, but it was a huge part of her life, and it was much easier to let someone in who didn't come into it with all the preconceived notions of what it meant to be part of that system.

She remembered feeling a little relieved, actually, when Mark reclined a bit, sipping his latte, with somewhat more convictions than he had previously, and didn't comment directly on her admittance.

"I believe that you're a very strong-willed, morally driven person. You want to do what you know is right, and unlike most people, you're not afraid to take action in order to make it happen. I think that the challenge you face is picking between what feels right, and what does the greatest good." He seemed to pick up on the fact that she was silent and agape, and wrinkled his brow.. "Please stop me if I'm putting my foot in my mouth. I'm really not trying to sound condescending, if it's coming off that way...I mean every word of it."

"No, I-" She had began at first, flustered. "It's just, what would you do? What choice do you feel like is the greatest good? I don't find myself thrilled to do either, especially."

He hadn't seemed to think about it for very long, she remembered, thinking back. "If it was my call-and this is just my gut feeling-I would back those three."

Penny had taken a drink of her own double espresso, sitting back earnestly, as if expecting an explanation.

Mark had only shrugged. "You said yourself they were goobers. Type that's more likely to hurt themselves than anyone else, even if they repeat offend, so to speak, right? Seems like the pros outweigh the cons, if it means getting to the bottom of Team Rocket and their influence over that court-case. Also, this could be ego talking here, but I'd like to think that the last time you bet on a charity case, it worked out in your favor."

He was talking about himself, obviously, which had made her smile inadvertently, even though she'd wanted to keep her ultimate decision on the matter close to her chest.

So she had decided to follow up with the offer Jessie had made her the following day. With her co-operation, Penny had built the case against Archer and the Team-at-Large from the ground up over this entire month, met with the accused several times, spent countless hours researching and reviewing similar cases, and now, just a few scant days before she was to bring her appellate case to the arbitrator's office, this shit happened.

The primary focal point of their entire appellate case had jumped out of a fifty story window, and turned himself into street-pizza. This was beyond damaging to their case. They didn't even have a fucking case anymore. You couldn't go after a dead man and hope to establish a decent basis for guilt, certainly not one strong enough to overturn an existing verdict. No jury in their right mind would render verdict in their favor, even if the arbitrator was willing to admit it to an actual hearing.

She wasn't looking forward to the conversation she would be having tomorrow with Jessie, wherein she would be explaining all this to deaf ears. Penny laid her head in her hands and her elbows on the stacks of useless paperwork and heaved out a beleaguered sigh.

After a while of just listening to the news and not really absorbing anything further, she poured her coffee out, and went to bed.

Doc seemed a bit put out, once they had made it into the large foyer of what had seemed like a large 8+ bedroom home in an upscale suburban neighborhood of Saffron City. It wasn't what he'd been expecting, though maybe his consternation came from the fact that he was the one who'd been opted into lugging Ash all the way here. "I think I was expecting something more along the lines of a rehab clinic."

Holiday snorted. "Instead of a bordello, you mean?"

Roxie retorted "It ain't a whorehouse, alright? There just so happen to be a lot of nice-looking girls who work here."

The three of them watched a topless blue-haired 20-something go prancing by in what looked to be one third of a "sexy cop" costume, sans service skirt, and only a bright-blue thong printed "POLICE" to make up the difference. She sure didn't look like any Jenny that Doc and Holiday had ever seen. As she slinked past, she dragged a fingertip under Doc's chin and winked at him.

Holiday leveled a thumb and incredulous look, but it took Doc a moment to look back for an explanation, slightly stupefied.

Roxie scoffed. "Nice-looking girls who also, on occasion, accept money in exchange for sex. The correct term is escort service establishment, anyways, gerroff my fuckin' back."

Holiday and Doc both looked patently unimpressed, but she waved them aside. "Let me go talk to the madame. You two losers stay put."

The owner met them instead, it seemed, standing plainly behind Roxie as she turned, looking just as displeased with the rock-star as Doc and Holiday were. She was a very slight and surprisingly young woman to have been called the "Madame", it seemed. A bright orange t-shirt emblazoned with red star didn't seem to be the proper attire for the position either, though the pink boa slung over her shoulder did seem slightly closer to her mark.

"Roxie Toxic," the Madame noted dryly. "To what do I owe the pleasure?" the tone of her voice made it seem as though it would be anything but.

"Oh, you know, in town on business. Thought I would stop by."

"I certainly hope this visit turns out to be less eventful than your last one."

Perhaps it was a trick of the light, but Roxie seemed to blush a bit under the scrutiny, though the Madame didn't go into detail regarding the event in any event.

"Look, my mate here just needs a place to sleep off the evening."

The Madame narrowed her eyes scrutinizingly. She reached for Ash's waist, where he hung limply from Roxie's shoulder, feeling around his behind for an awkwardly long moment, wherein Holiday and Doc both wondered what was taking place, before extracting his trainer's license. She looked it over, stroking her boa with deep concern. "Rest, or Relaxation?" She asked, imparting heavier meaning than the words might otherwise imply.

"Strictly Rest," Roxie clarified, bashfully.

"Good." The madame offered, deftly peeling the thin overlay from Buster Haimon's identification card with the tips of her fingernails and discarding it, to reveal the pertinent stats of one Ash Ketchum hidden beneath. Familiarity flashed in her brown eyes, but she went on without pause."I don't know if any of my girls would be willing to take one that young."

Roxie coyly pretended not to notice the trainer ID at all, even as it was handed back of her.

The Madame motioned up a flight of stairs. "Third on the right. White door. I'll see that he's looked after."

With a nod of deference, Roxie began lugging Ash up the steps, leaving Doc and Holiday to mingle awkwardly. Holiday eschewed that in favor of playing on his cross-transceiver, as he often did, muttering to himself.

Doc felt bizarrely intrigued by the Madame herself, though there were many other women around to look at. To Doc she seemed just so bizarrely young. Maybe only barely into her twenties. He realized, after a few moments longer that there was also an unmistakable twinge of familiarity to her, as if he had seen her before somewhere, though he knew that the setting would have had to of been wildly different from what it was today.

All at once, it came to him.

"I'm sorry, but didn't you used to be the director at the House of Imite?" Doc asked. He'd gone once with Sensei Bruno to see a stuffy old Kabuki production there once. It had been horribly dull in his memory, but still she seemed to be eerily reminiscent of that girl who had performed nearly every role in the play.

"Duplica is my name." the girl answered without even a breath of hesitation. "And yes, I used to run the House of Imite." She extended her hand brusquely, and shook his before he could get a good grip on hers, more like an alpha salesman than master of theatrical arts.

Holiday scoffed, not even bothering to look up from the game he was playing. "House of Imite? That's an awful name for a whorehouse. Arceus, why does everybody suck so badly at naming things?!"

Doc balked, and not just for the implied slight to his honor. "It wasn't like that, bro."

Holiday wasn't even listening, angrily gyrating the controls of his device.. "Oh, no way that fucking Snowman hit me! Frappe Snowland is pure bullshit."

"Sorry," Doc offered, though he wasn't sure why. "He has a condition." He went on, still curious. "It's just that uh...well, all this seems like such a drastic change from the theater."

Duplica shrugged, and gestured around her, "Sex. Intrigue. Drama. Some might argue that there is no higher theater."

Doc blinked, obviously skeptical. "Are you one of them?"

Duplica chuckled then, and smirked, casually tossing one end of the slick-looking boa over her shoulder. He realized then that it was not a true garment that he was looking at. A set of tiny eyes blinked up at him from the middle of the puffy accessory. She was wearing a Ditto. "Not really. I consider myself a realist. In this economy you have to be."

Doc shook his head, trying to stay on track, but he really didn't follow. "Meaning?"

Madame Duplica clicked her tongue impatiently. "Name the hottest celebrity you can think of. Trainer, Coordinator, Researcher, doesn't matter."

Holiday bizarrely, was the first to answer. "Oh, Champion Cynthia, no doubt."

Though startled by his partners rapid response, Doc seconded, promptly. "Yep, hands down."

"Ooh, that's a good one. Me too." Roxie added, descending the stairs again in the midst of the conversation, no longer laden with her teenage charge.. "Cougar status."

Duplica continued with a widening grin. "How much would you pay to see my best impersonation of Cynthia on stage?"

Doc resisted the urge to sigh, and instead only shrugged..

"Fuck that," Holiday remarked.

"Sounds awful boring, luv." Roxie piled on, still ignorant to what was being discussed.

"Exactly." Duplica said with a smirk, teal hair bobbing precociously. "But how much would you pay to seemy best impersonation of Cynthia in bed?"

All three answered with lips pursed contemplatively, which was enough to drive the point home.

"I bet Cynthia is mad into BDSM." Roxie remarked at last, with a cackle.

"My Cynthia is into whatever you want her to be. And therein lies her brilliance. The true art of imitation banks on the passions of the viewer and I can teach my girls to be anyone or anything," Duplica mused, with what seemed an appropriate amount of ego. She was very talented after all. "People come from all over to buy what I sell. They leave happier than they've ever been. I still get to pursue my passion, and my girls and I get filthy fucking rich in the process"

Doc blew out a whistle, regarding the place in a new light.

Roxie groaned with a sudden yawn. "Well boys, I am right knackered," she suggested. "Tomorrow's a big day, after all."

Holiday was the first respond. "Fuck, tell me about it," the lankier admin said with a snarl.

His partner arched an eyebrow, and looked like he was about to speak, but Holiday silenced him with a glare, evidently having reached his flash-point. "Got to come up with a way to explain to the boss why he won't be getting his interference device as scheduled, and keep him from blowing a new asshole in my forehead, because of this fucking moron." He didn't bother to indicate Doc, since it was a bit superfluous at this point.

Doc sputtered. "I dunno what came over me, bro. It just sorta happened on it's own."

Holiday looked like he would yell, but then sighed hard with an underlying current of disgust. He waved his hand. "Look bro, I can't even look at you right now without wanting to throw up so hard my nuts cave in. Go get your fucking Pokemon from the kid, so we can leave, and I can get some sleep, and hopefully dream up a way to tolerate your miserable fucking presence for the rest of our hopefully brief career together, without hanging myself from a light-fixture."

Roxie held her breath, expecting a fight, but Doc didn't rise to the challenge. Instead, he nodded in acceptance, which she believe to be a supreme show of serenity and grace. Maybe it was all that martial training. "Alright bro, I fucked up. I get it," Doc acquiesced.

Holiday didn't seem impressed by the admission. He gave Doc a sharp motion of dismissal, and thumbed up the staircase impatiently. Patiently, and perhaps stupidly Roxie thought, Doc took his leave, bounding up the staircase after the poke ball Ash had earlier claimed in a mostly unexplained way. She didn't interject, as it seemed Doc was owed the catch fair and square so far as she could tell, and it was only one item on a long list of things she'd probably never understand about tonight's events. That, and she was a bit preoccupied with Holly.

Duplica beat her to the punch, however, commenting wryly aside with a soft nudge to Roxie's arm. "Aren't these two just the picture of the closeted gay couple?"

Holiday sniffed. "You got something to say to me, whore?"

Duplica's eyes widened a bit, but she did or said nothing to indicate that the comment had slighted her. Instead, she crossed her arms.

"Good." The admin jutted his jaw in Roxie's direction. "And I know you fucking don't so don't pretend like you've got a spine now." He didn't even wait for a counter. Seeming to go fully nuclear, Holiday made a strangled sound of fury, and spun on his heel. "I'm out! Tell Doc I'm headed back to the center-or don't. I don't fucking care." He made a peace sign over his shoulder, sarcastically. "Deuces, bitch."

He hit the thick oaken door mid-stride and barreled through, grumbling something about working with intolerable amateurs, and vanished into what little remained of the night.

"Charming guy," Duplica mused. "Do me a favor and don't ever bring him here again," she added.

"Yeah, I think not," Roxie assured. She thought about sticking around and waiting for Doc to come back downstairs, maybe finally explain the accident to him in full detail. but she was filled with indignation at that idea. She didn't need to be Holiday's apologist. If Holiday wanted to drive away the only person who still gave a damn about him by being a complete and utter shithead, than that was his problem. She would have no part of it.

"I'm out of here too," Roxie admitted.

"You don't want to Relax a bit, first?"

"I don't think my new lady-friend would approve." Roxie said with a chuckle, as she spun in place and offered a wave before departing. "Hot date tomorrow. Later on."

Upstairs, Doc rooted furiously through Ash's bag, with a groan. He couldn't find the fucking thing! It was like it had completely vanished! He'd watched Ash stuff it in here with about the same level of manual dexterity as a toddler, so there was no way he had hidden it intentionally. He turned the backpack over onto the bed, with impatience. It had to be in here somewhere.

A deluge of random items poured out onto the covers. Half of a broken poke ball. A folded pink handkerchief with yellow stripes, the wadded, smelly clothing he'd been wearing earlier, a mess of other traveling items, and bits of garbage that had been stuffed in over the course of weeks on the road. An old PDA-style pokedex, a pocket-knife, two or three spent booklets of matches that had never been thrown away. A whole collection of mil-spec calorie bars, likely from his stay with the Pokemon. corps. He shook the bag roughly, dislodging a badge case that popped open and scattered two gleaming badges on the bright-blue duvet, but no more came loose.

He dropped the bag, and rubbed his stubbly head with his palm in frustration. He frowned. Doc truly enjoyed catching new Pokemon., and it seemed a real shame to let this one go, not just for the fact that he had an intense rivalry with Ash. Holiday, as he imagined, would be greatly annoyed if he were to show up without his prize, as well

He looked at the small, and now very morose looking Ash Ketchum that lay spread-eagle beneath the cover, quivering every so often, as if he were having a nightmare. It seemed dishonorable, in a way, looting through the belongings of someone who couldn't have even merited protest.

He almost decided to pick them all back up and put them away where he'd found them. Almost.

Doc left with a harrumph. "Keep it then," he conceded, resolving to say no more about it to anyone, especially Holiday, who would like as not ridicule him for leaving it behind.

As he left the room, another presence swept in behind him.

Sabrina, less the girl and more the shade, coiled around Ash Ketchum, thick and invisible. Close enough to touch, and yet too far to even see. She wrapped around and around and around him, drawing all of herself into the room like a spool, until there was no place she did not cover, no void she did not fill. The room breathed with her, and she settled into it.

The lock on the door slid shut without a sound, the "Do Not Disturb" sign on it's handle revolved slowly into place, and the door itself stretched and swelled until no light or sound or air could creep in or out. The blinds drew shut, and the air grew cold until the windows and walls began to sweat.

It was her time to have him, now. All to herself. Because just as he was now locked into this room, his drunken, drug-addled escapades had also ensured that she would find him locked inside himself as well.

She could not do something so subtle as suggestion in a manner so brutal and forceful as what she had done to Archer. The mind recognized outside influence, and repelled it, with more or less effectiveness depending on the person. Ash, perhaps on his own, would have been entirely susceptible to those sorts of influences, that much was true. What he was harboring inside of him, however, would not brook that sort of meddling.

And so, this whole misadventure had been borne of necessity, down to it's last letter. The substances in his veins gave her exactly what she required to seize control. A total shutdown of higher cognizance. Ash, for all intents and purposes was defenseless against her. She would not let the opportunity pass, untaken.

She had waited so long for this, after all...

A/N: Thank you so much for following this story over the years, and lending me your support. I hope we can keep this rolling for many yet to come. Thanks!