A new fic, and it's not a crossover! I can't remember how this idea popped into my head, but once it was there it wouldn't go away. I've been poking it on and off for a while until I finally got to writing it, and then it was finished fairly quickly. Just as a note, I didn't write this intending for it to be yaoi. I just meant for it to be a friendship between Gary and Ash - a sort of adoptive brother situation. However, I think I went a bit too far so people can interpret it however they want.

Many thanks to my new beta Fox Moonshadow! She was able to spot several inconsistencies and canon discrepancies, and she was a great help in helping me figure out some details. Also, the usual thanks go out to Eria for her tolerance of my incessant bothering. As far as info about the pokemon anime-verse, I made a lot of use of the Bulbapedia site. This story is intended to take place after Best Wishes/Black and White, however seeing as that series hasn't ended yet, I took some artistic licenses.

Just as another note, while I'm using the dub names and terms for all of the characters in the story, I don't watch the dubbed anime anymore. That's why everyone uses chopsticks; I wrote the story picturing them in Japan (though how much of that is accurate is up for grabs). Oh, and I don't care what canon says as far as their ages go! After ten years or more on the air, Ash is definitely at least a teenager. I was thinking somewhere around 13-14.

Anyway, on with the story!

When a group calling itself Team Pokemon emerged to join the list of groups with "Team" in their name, no one took them seriously. It touted closer relations between humans and their pokemon and, though there were a few isolated incidences of burglary, for the most part it was a benign organization. No one knew just what it meant by closer relations. It didn't decry regional tournaments, it didn't boycott breeders and trainers, and in fact it promoted letting children set out on their journeys at young ages.

Then people started putting together just what the isolated burglaries had in common. Scientific researchers had their data purloined. Warehouses that stored biological specimens were robbed. Manufacturers of scientific equipment were hit the hardest, but no one could pin all of those burglaries on Team Pokemon. They were also so far apart that, by the time the second burglaries were committed, everyone had forgotten about the first ones.

No one was left in the dark for long, though. Trainers were invited to events and began to go missing. Pokemon were left in daycares that, by the end of the day, were no longer there. There were no leads. By the time people began to get alarmed, the missing pokemon and their trainers began to show up again. They were mutilated beyond recognition, and only then did everyone put all of the pieces together. Team Pokemon was declared outlaws and murderers, but one day too late.

Ash Ketchum answered an ad for a pokemon tournament and vanished. The only one who could say what happened was his Pikachu, the only one who'd evaded capture by Team Pokemon. Fortunately, his friends were ready to brave the enemy fortress to rescue him. Ten teenagers armed with Pokemon stormed the place even before the Jennies could assemble, stomping the enemy trainers flat and leaving them to be arrested. Of the ten, only three made it to the inner reaches of Team Pokemon's labs.

"He should be just inside," the redhead named Misty panted as they paused just outside the door. Her orange shirt and jeans were torn from the battles, but despite her disheveled appearance her eyes were determined. "Let's go!"

Gary Oak nodded, brushing soot-covered brown hair out of his eyes. He'd lost his shirt somewhere along the way when a Rhydon had tried to take him apart, but he'd suffered no injury in the attack. Next to him, a young boy in glasses was busy working at the door's electronic lock.

"Got it!" Max announced, twisting one last wire into place. The doors whirred slowly open, revealing a cavernous room hidden in shadow. The blown-out lights sparked occasionally, raining live sparks of electricity all over the floor, but other than that there was no source of light in the room. However, the smells coming out of it were overpowering. It was something like a mix of rotten milk and spoiled eggs, with a laughable undertone of cherry.

"Ugh," Misty grumbled, covering her mouth with a handkerchief she pulled from her backpack. Gary and Max followed suit, the younger bringing a flashlight to bear as well. Together the three of them entered the room, the lone beam of light sweeping across overturned tables. Papers were scattered over the floor, while pools of foul-smelling liquid sat in various nooks and crannies. At the far end of the room was a series of tubes that were like something out of a sci-fi movie, large glass containers that were all shattered.

There was, however, no sign of anything living. There were no human bodies scattered about, nothing skittering noisily in the corners. All there was was more signs of something having gone on a rampage. The damage certainly looked like it had been done deliberately, but there was no visible cause. No scorch marks betrayed fire or electricity, no water marks spoke of the room being drenched.

"You think a psychic pokemon was being held here?" Max asked, breaking the silence that had descended upon them. They'd been wandering around the room for ten minutes just looking around and the sound after all of that was a shock. Misty shrieked a bit and Gary accidentally knocked over one of the few remaining beakers that had been still standing.

"Hard to say," Gary shrugged, looking around again. Max had dropped the flashlight to his side so more of the floor was illuminated, and something caught Gary's eye. "Max, bring that flashlight over here," he called.

Together the three of them studied the very human footprints that tracked around the room. Whoever had made them had walked through one of the puddles of congealed, stinking goo. Given that whoever had done so had been barefoot, it made them cringe at the very thought.

"I'm going to go throw up," Misty announced like it was nothing special. She turned to make good on her words, but something moved in the corner of her eye. She held her Staryu's pokeball in her hand, calling out, "Who's there?"

Something rustled behind Gary. He spun around, hand ready to release his Arcanine to protect him. Max was clutching the pokeball with his only recently caught Ralts, staring at the corner the noise had come from.

"We're not here to hurt you," Max managed not to stammer. "Please come out!"

A black ear came into view. It was feline-shaped, and it twitched every time one of them so much as shifted. Gary couldn't immediately place what sort of pokemon it was based on seeing just one ear, but seeing a pokemon made him suddenly cautious. If it was a pokemon in there with them, what had made the footprints?

"We won't hurt you," Gary affirmed, though he was still prepared to call out Arcanine. "Come out please?"

The ear vanished, and there was some rustling from the corner. After a moment in which everyone held their breaths, a distinctly human figure rose into view. It was a very familiar human figure and everyone exclaimed out loud, "Ash!"

Ash started at the loud noise, shrinking back with wide eyes. His large black ears were flat against his head and his entire posture was tense and ready for flight. Misty's eyes were immediately dragged to the long black tail that was curled up around one of his ankles.

There was a tense silence as everyone sized each other up. Ash didn't look like he recognized his friends at all. Aside from the obvious he looked okay. He didn't have any obvious wounds, but he was also lacking any sort of clothes. Once Misty realized that she squeaked, blushed, and turned right around.

"I'm going to go tell everyone that we found him!" she announced, her voice an octave higher than usual, before she raced out of the room. Gary and Max glanced at each other curiously, while Ash snickered a bit behind his hand. This drew attention back to him and his smile faded as quickly as it'd come.

"Ash, do you recognize us?" Gary asked gently. "We're your friends."

The other boy just tilted his head, ears twitching. However, there was an odd black glow in his dark blue eyes. Gary found himself looking at that more than anything. It reminded him of something, but he just couldn't put his finger on it.

"Ah," Ash said, the first sound he'd made. His voice was the same as ever, and hearing him make noise was an odd sort of relief. He relaxed and smiled at them, his hands open to them. "Mm!"

Gary reached out to him and took his hand, pulling him forward. Ash let him, unexpectedly stepping far into Gary's very personal space. The black-haired boy quite happily rubbed his head against Gary's cheek, then leaned back and beamed at him.

Max just stared. He had been reaching for Ash's free hand but now he was just weirded out, so now all he did was cough. "Come on. Let's just get back. We'll figure out what to do."

Ash ran around Professor Oak's lab and fiddled with everything he could get his hands on. Delia Ketchum had quickly thrown together something for him to wear once she'd heard what had happened, and he was now clothed in an oversized white shirt and loose shorts that had been altered to accommodate his tail. He refused, however, to wear the sandals Delia had brought, growling at her when she'd tried to put them on for him, so they'd been tossed in the corner.

Professor Oak, Delia, Gary, and Misty were crowded around the monitor in the lab's corner, looking over everything the professor was working on. Profesor Oak made an annoyed noise. "I'd be able to work better if I could actually breathe," he pointed out. That did nothing to deter anyone, so he just sighed.

"What's all this mean, Professor?" Misty asked worriedly. "What'd Team Pokemon do to Ash?"

"Put simply, it looks like they took the DNA from several pokemon and mashed them into Ash's," Professor Oak explained. "I've just begun to break down this DNA sequence, but it looks so far like they used Umbreon, Eevee, Lucario, and a whole bunch of different others. That tail isn't like anything I've seen on any sort of Pokemon, so that'll take a while to puzzle out." He rubbed his chin as he stared at the screen. "How odd..."

"Hmmmm," Ash hummed, peering around Delia to see what was so interesting. When everyone looked at him he grinned, then wandered back to what he'd found before.

"So he's been made into a part-Pokemon," Gary summarized. "Why won't he talk? He didn't even look like he recognized us when we found him."

Professor Oak shrugged. "I haven't gone in-depth in Team Pokemon's research. For all we know, Ash's mind might have been twisted into something that isn't human anymore. He may well recognize us but can't express it in a way we understand."

"Or his mind and memory were wiped," Misty said thoughtfully. She looked over at Ash, who had found a toy car and was chasing it around while laughing. "He looks so innocent..."

Pikachu walked into the lab looking quite sad. Ash looked over at him, ear twitching, but otherwise showed no recognition. "Hee," he said instead, abandoning his car and scampering to Pikachu. When the pokemon looked up at him hopefully Ash pouted at him, then scooped him up and spun around with him while laughing. Pikachu jumped away after a few twirls and staggered around a bit before he sat on the floor, obviously dizzy. Ash chuckled and plopped next to him, tail upright and perky.

Professor Oak watched that little exchange, mind working. "All we can do for now," he decided, "is work with him. Let's see if we can teach him how to speak again, and we'll let him get to know us again. Maybe we'll figure out how to reverse what happened to him."

Ash stayed at Professor Oak's lab since Delia was worried how the rest of Pallet Town would react to her son's changed behavior. Everyone involved thought it was a good idea, so all of Ash's friends that didn't fit in Delia's house went to crash at the Pokemon Center.

Professor Oak had Gary and Brock help clean out a storage room to turn into Ash's bedroom. The newly-made catboy watched on in interest while they worked. Once he figured out what was going on, he was more than happy to grab a few boxes and help out. He grinned all the while, his ears twitching in excitement, though at one point his tail got caught when a box shifted and pinned it. Brock and Gary were quick to come to his rescue, but Ash didn't cry like they'd expected him to. He rubbed his tail in the spot that was sore, then made sure to keep his tail high as they kept working.

Professor Oak watched him carefully as they worked, taking notes on his behavior. He acted normal enough, even though he didn't say anything understandable. He seemed to anticipate Brock and Gary's moves and never once got in their way, and once they were finished clearing out all of the boxes he flopped on the floor. This let Brock sweep the area while Gary retrieved the spare cot and some blankets.

Ash grew bored watching them after a few minutes and padded away. Professor Oak wondered where he was going, then shrugged and went back to his lab. He was searching through and categorizing all of the data that had been recovered from Team Pokemon's servers, though a lot of it had been corrupted. Whatever had rampaged through Team Pokemon's lab had hit one of the computer servers. The Jennies were working on restoring that data, but at least some of the scientific data had survived intact.

"Chu do?" Ash asked, crouching next to Professor Oak. The elder hadn't even heard him coming and jumped a foot in the air.

"That almost sounded like a word," Professor Oak noted, intrigued.

"Eh?" Ash tilted his head, ear twitching. Then his stomach growled and he looked entirely bewildered. He patted his stomach like he couldn't quite believe it'd made such a noise.

The professor laughed and stood. "Come on, it's time for dinner anyway. I think Delia said she was going to bring something..."

A few minutes later they were all in the dining room. Ash sat in his chair and looked around at everyone as they started eating. He glanced over at Gary, who was sitting next to him. The other boy took pity on him and showed him how to wrap his hands around the chopsticks. Ash tried to use them, really, but they kept going sideways and he accidentally snapped one of them in his hand. Luckily they were the wooden ones so it wasn't that big a deal.

After a minute Ash decided to go the easy route and carefully picked up small bites with his fingers. He was shot a few aside glances and people thought about correcting him, but they all decided that he'd had a bad enough day. They'd only found him that morning, after all.

Dinner was over quickly enough, and by then Ash was starting to yawn. Everyone but him, Professor Oak, and Gary scattered to their designated crash pads.

"I'm going to be up for a while looking through the data," Professor Oak told Gary. "Go ahead and get Ash settled, Delia left some clothes for him. Call me if you have any problems."

"Kay, Grandpa," Gary acknowledged. He turned to Ash and grinned. "Come on, it's time for you to take a bath and get ready for bed."

Gary led Ash to the bathroom and hoped that he wouldn't have to explain or demonstrate. That was a line he just didn't want to cross. However, he would have felt bad if he'd just left Ash alone, so he leaned against the wall and waited.

It wasn't long before a very soaked catboy exited the bathroom. Gary had to suppress a sigh when he saw that Ash had forgone the pajamas Delia had set out for him. Ash was wrapped in a big, fluffy towel at least, but it was around his shoulders. He was shivering in the relative chill, goosebumps rising on his skin.

"Ash, you have to get dressed before you leave the bathroom," Gary scolded him, ushering the catboy back into the bathroom. He picked up the pair of altered pajama pants and offered them to Ash. "It's too cold to leave without clothes on, and what if there were girls around? You have to get dressed, okay?"

Ash just looked at him with an oddly serious expression on his face, wet ear twitching just a bit. Then he smiled and took the pants, slipping into them with only a little help. Gary saw him struggling with his tail and helped him thread it through the hole in the pants. Ash didn't need help with his shirt, and by the time he slipped into it he was yawning every other breath.

"Come on," Gary coaxed, leading him to the newly set up room. "It's time to sleep. I'll be down the hall if you need me,"

Ash tried to stifle a yawn unsuccessfully, but he dutifully wandered into the room and sat on the cot. Gary shut the door until there was only a crack, then sighed and wandered to his own bedroom. He didn't know why he was talking to Ash like he could understand, but it seemed to help. He wondered, though, just how much Ash realized about what was going on around him. He seemed pretty okay with it all, but if he couldn't talk, could he really understand what he was being told?

Just then Gary yawned. A glance at the clock told him it was pretty much time for bed, so after a visit to the bathroom to brush his teeth, he changed and curled up under the covers. He tried to relax, but the day had just been so stressful that all he could do was stare at the wall while his mind went in circles around itself. He couldn't stop thinking about everything he'd seen on his way to save Ash, all of the mutilated bodies of humans and pokemon that had been discarded in storehouses and corridors. Just imagining that it could have been Ash made him a bit sick, and he flopped on his back to dispel the horrid image.

His door creaked open and he looked over at it. "Ash? What's going on?"

The catboy looked upset, his eyes red and his ears back. He scampered over to Gary's bed and urged him to sit up with several insistent pulls on his arm. When the other boy was finally upright Ash planted his face into his shoulder and trembled.

Gary patted his back awkwardly, not quite sure what was going on with his friend. "Wish you could tell me what was wrong," he sighed wistfully. He didn't know quite where to start to quiz Ash, or if Ash would even understand, so instead he ruffled the catboy's hair. "Whatever it is, it's okay. Team Pokemon can't get you here, and we'll all take care of you. So just go back to your room and sleep, okay?"

Ash tensed up and shook his head hard. "Nuuu," he said, wiping his eyes. He yawned, which just made him look even more upset, and he stood up so fast it made Gary's head hurt in sympathy. He ran his hands through his hair and clenched his jaws shut when another yawn tried to force its way out, but this one made it through.

Then it clicked with Gary. "Ash... do you not want to sleep?"

Ash looked at him helplessly. "Nu," he repeated, sitting on the bed next to Gary. He twisted his face up in concentration, mouth working, before he shook his head again in frustration. He looked quite aware of his inability to get his point across, and tears started to gather in his eyes.

"Ash, it's okay, calm down," Gary told him. He wasn't sure just what he could do to calm the other boy down, but Ash leaned into Gary's shoulder again and closed his eyes. Gary tried to look at him sideways, but all he could see were giant black fluffy ears. On an impulse he reached up and rested a hand on that ear. It was furry and warm and Ash shifted, ear twitching under his fingers. A wide blue eye peaked up at him from under shaggy black hair.

"Sorry," Gary said, pulling his hand back. Ash giggled tiredly at him, then yawned again.

"Nu," the catboy pouted.

Gary glanced at the time, surprised at how late it was and how long he'd been lying awake. But by this time... "Come on," he told Ash, urging him upright. Ash wavered a bit on his feet, obviously exhausted, and Gary didn't protest when he latched onto his arm to steady himself.

"Eh?" Ash asked as Gary led him through the building to the lab. It was lit only by a single lamp by the computers, silhouetting a figure slumped over the keyboard.

"See?" Gary whispered, leaning over the figure and shutting off the light. After a minute their eyes adjusted and they both could see Professor Oak. He'd fallen asleep at his computer while analyzing Ash's new DNA code. "Sleeping is okay. We all do it. We just usually do it in a bed." At this he smiled fondly, then left Ash to lean against a table while he went to find a blanket. He knew that there was usually one in the lab; his grandfather had a bad habit of falling asleep while working.

Once Professor Oak was settled, Gary went back to Ash. The other boy was looking at the professor, staring at his sleeping face.

"Come on, let's get you back to your room. You have to sleep." Gary took Ash back to his room, but when he tried to leave again the catboy wouldn't let his arm go. "I have to go sleep, too," he protested, but Ash looked upset again. He pulled Gary into his room, then curled up on his bed with his arms tight around his legs and his tail wrapped around his ankles. He looked at Gary, then at the chair Gary had thought might be useful to him, then at Gary again hopefully.

"You want me to stay with you until you fall asleep?" the other boy hazarded. Ash's ears went up just a bit, but he didn't make any other sound. With a sigh Gary settled into the chair. "Okay, but only until you fall asleep. I'm tired too."

They stayed like that for a few minutes before Ash yawned and stretched out on the bed. He looked up at Gary as if to make sure he was still there, though his eyes were half closed. Gary smiled at him reassuringly, and his eyes slipped closed. Within minutes his breathing had evened out and he was asleep.

Gary stood and unfolded the spare blanket on the end of the bed, since Ash had fallen asleep on top of his blanket. With great care he covered the catboy, and once that was done he yawned his way back to his own room.

"Ash had trouble sleeping?" his grandfather's voice asked softly, startling him. Gary turned to see that Professor Oak had awoken and apparently taken a shower, as he was wearing a proper set of pajamas now.

"More like he didn't want to sleep," Gary admitted. "He was upset about it, but I got him to sleep. I'm just worried about him now. Why wouldn't he want to sleep?"

The professor hummed softly. "We really don't know how long he was there after he was changed, or how much he remembers about it. It might be that Team Pokemon did a lot of their experiments while he slept. I wonder if he might even be afraid of waking back up and finding that today had been a dream."

That made a whole lot of sense. Gary nodded in understanding. "He wouldn't fall asleep until I stayed with him," he noted. "I wonder why he trusts me so much, though. If he doesn't even remember us, why me?"

"Tomorrow we'll see the extent of his changes," Professor Oak decided. "My computer is still working on his DNA sequence and comparing it to all of the Pokemon in the updated database. They had Pokemon from all of the regions, including Unova, so it'll take a long time. Once we know just what was put in him, we can see if he's gained any new powers."

Gary woke up late the next morning, but Ash was still asleep. Gary got dressed and ate a late breakfast, then went to check on Ash. The catboy had thrown off the blankets in the night and was soaked in sweat, his hair plastered to his head. His tail was tangled up in the blankets, and every once in a while he'd whimper. Almost immediately after entering the room Gary was at Ash's bedside, calling his name to wake him up.

The catboy's eyes snapped open and Gary found himself flat on his back a second later, the breath knocked from his lungs. Ash wobbled on his feet, eyes unfocused, but the black-blue glow coiling around his fingers looked very ominous.

"It's me," Gary gasped, trying to catch his breath. "Ash, it's me!"

A heartbeat passed before the glow faded and Ash blinked, looking at Gary in confusion. Once he realized what had happened he dropped to his knees at Gary's side. "Eh?" he asked

Gary left Ash to get dressed and made his way to Professor Oak's lab, severely unsettled by the encounter. He stopped in the kitchen to grab a bite to eat on the way. "Morning," he greeted his grandfather and the rest of the trainers that had gathered to help Ash. They had all apparently decided to come get an update about him at the same time.

Gary remembered Brock and Misty quite well; when he'd been Ash's greatest rival those two had been traveling with him. Tracey he was also familiar with, since the Pokemon Watcher had taken up residence in Pallet Town to work with Professor Oak. May and Max he didn't really know that well, though he knew that they'd traveled with Ash when he'd gone to the Johto region. Dawn was another not-so-familiar face; during their hasty introductions, she'd claimed to have traveled with Ash in Sinnoh. Iris and Cilan, however, Gary had at least heard about. The latter was one of three gym leaders and the former had tried to be a gym leader in the Unova region. Ritchie had been an unexpected surprise, though he'd been handy. His Sparky had kept Ash's Pikachu from being reckless in Team Pokemon's labs.

They were all being quite loud, however, and poor Professor Oak was backed up against his computer, his hands raised as if to try to calm the crowd.

"Everyone, back off!" Gary yelled. Nine sets of eyes turned to look at him in surprise. "Grandpa's still working, obviously, and he can't get anything done with you standing there badgering him! Why don't you do something useful like go to the police station and see what the Jennies came up with?"

"But we want to know how Ash is!" Iris shouted back. "Why won't you tell us anything?"

"It's a wonder you didn't wake him up with all this noise," Gary grumbled. "Ash is fine! He was asleep but now he's taking a bath and getting dressed, and when he's done I'll get him something to eat. If you want to know anything more than that, you'll have to come back later when we actually might have an idea what's going on." He glared at them all. "Happy?"

"Not really," May grumbled, but she grabbed her younger brother and started to steer him out. Everyone else followed suit, the trainers not from Kanto heading out while Tracey, Misty, and Brock headed to various corners of Professor Oak's lab to take care of some chores. Later Gary would head out to check on all of the pokemon but for now he walked up to his grandfather.

"Hopefully they'll be gone until later tonight," the professor sighed. "Thank you for that, though your tone of voice could have been less rude."

Gary snorted. "Like that would have been helpful."

"Quite true. So Ash is awake, you said? Did he sleep well?" Professor Oak asked.

"Not really. He looked like he had nightmares all night. And when I woke him up, he got a bit violent." Gary glanced at the doorway to the lab just to be sure everyone had gone. "He knocked me to the floor and looked like he was going to attack me with some odd sort of power. It looks like something I should know, like a black-blue glow, but I can't remember it."

The professor raised an eyebrow. "How interesting. That should help us narrow down the field of possibility when it comes to what they could have merged him with."

"That actually sounds like aura," Max's voice mused. Gary looked again and saw that he'd wandered back in the door. "When we visited Cameron Palace here in Kanto, Ash learned that he could use aura like a Lucario. He doesn't use it very often, but that's what it looks like when he does - a blue/black glow." The child looked around. "Oh, Ash. I didn't see you there."

Gary followed Max's gaze and, sure enough, Ash had wandered into the lab. He'd managed to get his tail into a pair of blue jeans and had his old blue shirt on, though he still was barefoot. "Hey Ash. Are you hungry? I'll get you something to eat."

"Orra," Ash said, looking at Max with his head tilted to the side. He repeated the word, drawing out the "o" sound for a good few seconds, then raised his hand and summoned that same blue-black glow. "Orra?"

"Right," Max agreed. "That's aura!"

"All right," Gary said firmly, turning Max to the door. "You've been a great help, thank you so much, and later on you can tell us all about that. But we need to get working, and unless you want to help clean out the Tauros pen I think it's best if you wait at Mrs. Ketchum's house."

"Okay, if you think that's best. But if you want to know about aura, look up Lucario," Max told them. "That's the aura pokemon, and that might help."

"Yes, thank you, that's a good tip." Professor Oak smiled.

Gary turned to Ash once he'd ensured that Max had really left this time. "All right, it's time for you to get some food. Then we'll come back to the lab and you'll spend the day with Grandpa, okay?"

Ash followed him back to the kitchen and sat on the table while Gary set about making a quick breakfast. "Chu?" the catboy asked after a minute.

"Pikachu should be here in a minute, he's been staying with your mother. We thought it best that he rested and if he'd stayed here, he wouldn't have." Gary put the finishing touches on breakfast and put it in front of Ash. "He's probably going to be clingy, just to let you know."

Ash had a lot more luck with a spoon than he did with the chopsticks the night before, and he was finished with his food in no time. Gary took him back to Professor Oak, then went about his daily chores. Most of them had been taken over by Tracey while he'd been gone on his own journey, but enough pokemon had been added since then that he had plenty to do.

This was the first time Gary had had a chance to take stock of his former rival in terms of his pokemon battling. It was well known in Trainer circles that whenever Ash went to a new area he left all his Pokemon behind, and when he'd been caught he'd already deposited most of his pokemon from Unova. This meant that all of Ash's pokemon, save for Pikachu and a few that he might have stashed with other Professors, were now in Professor Oak's lab.

At the end of the day, Gary had to admit that he was quite impressed with Ash's collection. The rare-colored Noctowl was a nice touch, but even aside from that Ash had a lot of pokemon. They were all, judging by their mock-battles with each other, quite powerful as well.

By the time Gary finished up his chores and got cleaned up, the whole horde had come back. Fortunately for Professor Oak, a few Jennies had come by and were helping to keep them at least a bit well-behaved. They didn't look happy about it at all, but the Jennies were between them and a very nervous-looking Ash.

The catboy perked up when Gary entered the room, though he was sitting with his back to the door. When they got a confirming nod from Professor Oak, the Jennies let Gary through to check up on him.

"That's not fair," Iris complained. "Why let him through and not us?"

Ash hissed at her, then smiled at Gary when he stopped by the catboy's chair.

"It appears that Ash is uncomfortable with having all of you around him," the Professor explained. "He happens to like Gary right now, but he'll get used to you all soon."

"In moderation," Gary muttered, too low for them to hear. "So what's up, Grandpa? Have you found anything?"

"After Max's mention of aura, I looked through the data again and it looks like he was right. There was a lot of DNA in there, but those were mostly for the obvious cosmetic changes. Most of the Pokemon used were psychic or dark types, though." Professor Oak looked through a few printouts while he typed on the computer. "Officer Jenny was kind enough to bring me the data they managed to restore. It was mostly video from the surveillance system, and they've brought the... pertinent file. The rest of it, I'm sure, you don't want to see."

A curtain fell away to reveal a large projection screen at the touch of a button. Another button started the movie. The camera looked like it had been in the upper corners of the main lab and had a great view of the giant glass tubes on the back wall. Scientists and pokemon bustled about, some working on computers and some playing with the test tubes that had been scattered about later on. In the tubes were a few unidentified individuals, though Gary thought that he'd remembered seeing their faces during the raid. They hadn't made it out of the lab.

Just as Gary was thinking that, an alarm went off on the screen. One of the humans in the tube was writhing in pain, and as they watched he went limp. There was a bustle of activity around the tube, then the human was dragged out and carried off. Judging by the reactions of everyone around him, he was dead. It seemed like only a few minutes later that another group entered the room, a familiar form limp in their grasp.

"Ash!" Misty gasped. The now-catboy looked over at the sound of his name, then back at the screen in interest.

Professor Oak fast-forwarded through the video a bit. Ash was put in the tank like the other humans, and then over the next few days compressed into minutes the other humans were taken out of the tanks so that Ash was the last one. No one could tell what happened from such a high angle, but a few times on the video Ash could be seen quite clearly thrashing about in the tank. Then the scientists would do something and he would fall limp again. After about five days, days that Gary remembered were panicked and frustrated on their parts, it seemed like Ash's transformation into a catboy was complete. The next three days of video-time were spent in what looked like a living hell for Ash. He would apparently awake in the tube, then have painful experiments done on him, and then be forced to sleep again afterwards. More tests were done while he was asleep, but they didn't look like they'd been nearly as painful as the ones that were waking.

Ash, next to Gary, whimpered. Gary looked over to see that there were tears streaming down Ash's face, and without thinking he lifted his arm and let the catboy press his face into his shoulder again. It seemed that Ash remembered this, if nothing else, and it was very upsetting to watch.

"Pause," Gary announced, startling everyone else. When they looked over at him, he patted Ash's head. "I'm gonna take Ash outside for some air, I can watch the rest later."

They were allowed to leave in peace. Ash wiped his eyes and looked up at the stars, taking deep breaths to calm down. He flopped on the ground and leaned back on his hands, then closed his eyes. His ears weren't still though, twisting about this way and that even when Gary couldn't hear a noise. After a while his tail rose up off the grass too, and it was then that Gary figured that he'd calmed down enough.

"I wish you could talk," Gary sighed, sitting on the grass next to him. Ash looked over at him curiously. "I mean, it seems like you can understand us and I really wish I knew how, but if you could talk you could tell us what happened. You could tell us if you were happy or sad or hungry or tired and it would make your mom happy too."

"Orra," Ash said. When Gary looked over at him, Ash was staring at his palm, which had a small ball of aura floating above it. "Orra," he repeated, holding his hand out to Gary.

"Aura?" the boy asked dubiously.

"Hmm. Orra," Ash agreed. He turned so he could grab Gary's hand and press it into the aura glow. Gary initially hesitated, but decided after a moment to let Ash do what he wanted. He was mostly sure that the catboy wouldn't intentionally hurt him.

When his hand made contact with the warm glow, the night suddenly came alive. Gary stared around in wonder as aura traced the world around him in brightness. He knew that a few insect pokemon were camping around in the grass a few feet away, could feel the contentment washing over the whole area from pokemon and Ash. There was a feeling of delight from next to him, and Gary turned to see Ash smiling happily.

Gary realized after a moment that he was feeling what Ash was feeling. "You use aura," Gary realized. "Even if you can't understand us, you know what we mean anyway because we know, right?"

Ash tilted his head, but he felt like Gary was right. "Hm!" Know what you know/feel what you feel/safe/trust/warm, was what Gary got through that sense of aura Ash was extending to him. It wasn't words, but the feelings of words, and it was a bit overwhelming. It took a bit of concentration to translate the muzzy emotions into actual words.

"I understand," Gary managed to say. "So... why didn't you want to sleep? Nightmares?" he asked without thinking. While they were connected it felt like the best time to ask.

Ash's ears went back and he gripped Gary's hand tightly. Eyes downcast, he projected pain/nightmare/thought was a dream.

"So Grandpa was right. You thought you were gonna wake up and be back at the laboratory and be hurt again." Gary leaned into Ash without really meaning to; just what he'd seen in that video had been horrible, and the catboy seemed to like physical contact if his snuggling was any indication.

They sat like that for a while, Gary soaking in the aura-enhanced night. "So... you really don't remember anyone?"

Ash leaned his head against Gary's shoulder. No.

"Then why do you seem to like me? No offense, but we used to hate each other." Gary glanced at the ears; one of them twitched and brushed his cheek.

You care. Ash frowned like he was trying to think of how to express it. Others were scared. I was scared. You wanted to help.

"I still do," Gary admitted. "Your mom wants to help too. She's the one that brought you the clothes."

Ash smiled at that. She feels nice!

"She loves you. Moms are funny that way. Even if you'd grown five arms and two extra heads she'd still love you." Gary looked out at the night, at how bright it was, and wondered if this was how Ash was seeing it now. "We're gonna help you, Ash. We're going to help you to talk again, help you to know your friends and family again. You'll travel around with Pikachu again and go on adventures."

Ash looked at Gary hard. Not you?

"I travel too, but we go our separate ways. You train Pokemon, and I train to understand them." Gary smiled at Ash. "It's okay. We'll see each other again. You always come back to Pallet Town when you adventure."

Do you? Ash wondered.

Gary shrugged. "Sometimes I do. Grandpa gets worried when he doesn't hear from me for a while so I call him a lot, but this is actually the first time I've been home in a long time." He smiled a bit. "It's nostalgic, really. Like walking into a dream."

Ash's ears went back. Dreams are bad, he insisted. Lots of pain.

"That won't stay true for you, Ash. You'll start having dreams about this place, and your mother, and Pikachu, and you'll stop having dreams about that horrible lab. Maybe you'll start to remember everyone and you'll dream of the times you had with everyone." Gary looked up at the stars. "Maybe you'll even remember how much we used to hate each other." They had been friends before this, but it had been a friendship born out of the respect they had for each other. It wasn't like the friendship Ash had with all of his friends from all of his journeys.

You're nice, Ash insisted. Couldn't hate you.

Gary smiled a bit at that. "We'll see. If only you could talk to everyone like this, it'd be so much easier," he mused.

Ash yawned. Tired. Lots of energy.

"Then let's at least teach you a little thing that might help you out a whole lot." Gary turned so Ash could see his face. "If I ask you something and you want to say yes, just nod your head." He demonstrated with a few nods. "If you want to say no, just shake it." Again he demonstrated.

"Ye... yeas?" Ash said aloud, nodding his head vigorously. When Gary smiled and nodded his approval, Ash beamed. Then he shook his head. "Nu!"

"That's right. That should help you out a lot, and we can teach you more words. When you know the words, you won't have to use aura so much and you won't get tired." Gary stared at their linked hands, knowing he should break their connection. It was just so much easier to talk to Ash like this though.

Ash grinned at him happily. Then he yawned again, a lot louder this time, and shook Gary's hand free so he could stretch. The night dimmed back to normal human levels and Gary felt like he'd lost something special, but then he remembered that this was how the night usually was anyway. It wasn't bright and colorful and glowing, it was dark and noisy and wonderful.

Gary couldn't help his disappointed sigh, though he leaned back on his hands next to Ash anyway. His fingers brushed fur and he felt Ash's tail wind itself gently around his arm, but there was no aura-sense with it. It seemed like Ash just wanted to hold onto him... which was just a bit weird.

The moon rose high into the sky and Gary realized they been outside more than two hours. The video should have been long over by now, and hopefully everyone had gone back to where they'd come from, so there was really no reason to be out here anymore. It was probably way past time for dinner.

"Come on," Gary said reluctantly. "We should go back inside. I'm sure you're hungry, right?"

Ash nodded his head, smiling happily. His tail loosened around Gary so he could stand up and stretch. Then he turned and offered the other boy a hand up, still smiling.

Gary's guess had been right; the only ones in the lab when he and Ash entered were Delia, Professor Oak, and Pikachu. Delia had a basket in her hands that was smelling wonderful, and Pikachu was sitting on Professor Oak's head watching the man type.

"Sorry we were outside for so long," Gary said, which brought everyone's attention to him and Ash. "Ash and I were talking for a while."

"Oh?" Professor Oak asked curiously. "How was that, then?"

Gary explained how Ash used aura to understand everyone, and how he'd used it so he could communicate. "It seemed like it made him a bit tired to use aura to talk to me, so it wouldn't be practical for him to try to do something like that all the time. Maybe for something really important?" he asked Ash.

The catboy nodded. "Yeas," he said proudly.

Delia looked so happy that she wanted to cry. "Oh Ash," she sighed, holding her arms out to him. "I'm so happy you're all right!"

Ash looked at Gary to see what he should do. The other boy smiled encouragingly. "She's your mom, Ash. Go ahead."

The catboy still looked a bit hesitant, but he stepped forward anyway so Delia could smother him in a hug. She brushed her fingers through his hair and was obviously trying not to cry, but a few tears dripped into Ash's hair anyway. His ears twitched a bit, but they didn't go back. After a few minutes he wrapped his arms around her waist.

Gary watched them with a smile, then heard a mournful sound from Pikachu. He looked over at the yellow mouse and grinned. "Hey, it's okay. You'll get to tackle him next."

"Pi," Pikachu lamented. "Pi pika!"

Given that Gary didn't understand the electric pokemon's language, he hazarded a guess. "He doesn't remember you now, but he will! And if not, you'll get to train him this time around," he teased. "Though he'll be able to tell when you're lying I think."

Pikachu giggled at that, then looked at Ash again. The catboy seemed like he'd grown used to having his mom hug him, and she seemed like she wanted to smother him.

"I'm going to go find something to eat," Gary decided. "I'll leave you all alone."

Gary couldn't sleep again that night. He listened to the shower running while he stared at his ceiling and wondered if it was his grandfather or Ash. He hadn't seen Ash since he'd left him in the lab, which was probably for the best. His mom didn't need Gary in the way of their reunion, and Pikachu was probably going to electrocute his Trainer once or twice. No need for Gary to get caught in the crossfire.

Then again, Gary mused, if Pikachu tried to shock Ash, the catboy was probably going to retaliate. He hadn't thought about that when he'd left the two alone, and now he was suddenly worried.

Resigned to another night of sleeplessness, Gary threw the blankets aside and got up. He opened a scientific journal, clicked on his side table light, and began to read.

His door opening wasn't really a surprise. Gary looked up from his article and confirmed that Ash was in his doorway. He didn't look upset, just preoccupied; his tail was flicking agitatedly around his ankles.

"Did you like meeting your mom again?" Gary asked before Ash could do anything.

The catboy nodded, though he didn't look up from the floor.

"What about Pikachu? I know he was glad to see you."

Ash shrugged, and Gary sighed. He set aside his journal and gestured to his chair. "If you want to talk about it, I'm not sleeping anyway."

Ash shook his head, his ears flopping limply. "Nuu tak," he said wearily. He sat in the chair anyway, then looked in interest at the book. "Is tis?"

Gary chuckled. Ash was obviously trying his hardest, but he seemed well aware of just how far he had to go. Maybe all he wanted to do was be treated normally? Though how he knew what normal was was a mystery.

So Gary explained the journal to Ash. It was a book of observations about the most recently discovered species in the Unova region. Some Kanto pokemon, Gary informed his audience, were finding their way over the sea and into Unova. The very first Pidgey had been caught by a researcher, one that had apparently been born in Unova. It was a shocking discovery that showed just how far out of their home environments the world's pokemon were venturing.

By the time Gary got the to the point in the journal he'd left off, Ash was out cold. Gary shook his head knowingly; if using aura to understand him was tiring, it was no surprise that Ash wouldn't last that long. That left him, however, with a catboy curled up in his chair.

Gary clicked off his light, grabbed his journal, and retired to the small rec room that the lab had hidden from visitors. A man couldn't research all the time, or so Professor Oak claimed. When there wasn't anything absolutely vital to grab his attention, the professor would relax in this room and watch some TV or read journals.

Gary stretched out on the couch and continued reading.

It was a few days later when Professor Oak decided that they needed to understand the extent of Ash's aura abilities. The security video clearly showed him rampaging through Team Pokemon's lab, so he could use aura offensively at least. But if the other DNA in him affected his abilities, it had to be known.

It was also, Gary mused as he watched his grandfather talk patiently to Ash, a way to see just how much of a pokemon the other teen had become. Professor Oak expressed some worries about that while he was trying to figure out just what Team Pokemon was after. There were a few pokemon that could communicate with humans - psychics mostly, but other types could either speak verbally or telepathically. Ash could communicate through aura, but did that mean he was more pokemon that human? Or did that mean that the gifts he'd evidently held before had been brought to the forefront?

Gary was tempted to throw a pokeball at Ash. Then he decided that it'd be entirely too rude. His grandfather would do that if it came to it.

Ash ran around the outside of the building, tackling an obstacle course that a few of the grass and rock pokemon had helped set up. He moved faster than normal, ducking and leaping in smooth motions that would have left Gary creaking like his grandfather before the second obstacle. He cleared obstacles in one leap that were as tall as a house, and landed as lightly on his feet as the cat he now resembled.

Once Professor Oak had enough of that, he let Ash rest for a while before he asked a few of the boy's pokemon to battle him. Ash's Bulbasaur was the only one who would, but he didn't last more than a few moments. Ash was incredibly agile and he dodged everything that was thrown at him, then tossed a few balls of aura halfheartedly at the grass pokemon. Bulbasaur was knocked out by the second impact.

Gary whistled appreciatively, catching Ash's attention. The catboy ducked his head, ears back; he evidently didn't like being violent. But he was more than capable of doing significant damage, Gary remembered. He'd watched the video the day before in its entirety and seen just how thoroughly and effectively Ash had driven all of the scientists out of the lab, then sealed himself into the darkness. What was amazing was that he hadn't killed anyone.

If it'd been him, Gary knew that there would have been bodies at his feet. He shuddered at the thought, then smiled at Ash's questioning look. He waved his hand as if to say not to worry, and Ash waved back enthusiastically.

Then the sound of helicopter blades shattered the peace of the day. Everyone looked up to see a black helicopter appearing over a hill in that was on Professor Oak's property. It raced over to them, ropes flapping out of the open sides of the helicopter. Almost before anyone could react people clothed in black had jumped out of the helicopter and surrounded the professor, Gary, and Ash.

The catboy hissed at them, ears back and hands glowing with aura. His eyes were narrowed dangerously as he watched them, but they were quick to pull out guns that kept him at bay.

"If you listen to us," one of the figures declared, "no one will get hurt! We've just come to recover our property. It's the result of years of research that we finally perfected, and we won't let anyone steal it from us!"

Ash hissed again. "Nu," he said stubbornly. "No go. Stay!"

"If you don't cooperate, we'll have no choice but to convince you." One of the people grabbed Gary's arm. "We'll hurt him if you don't come with us!"

Ash raised an eyebrow like it was a laughable notion. His expression dared them to prove their words. "No hurt," he snorted derisively. "Change." But when he looked at Gary, his expression wavered just a bit.

"Oh, that's a good idea too!" the head attacker laughed. "We'll do the same thing to him! But you're coming with us; we have an... event scheduled that you're required for."

A gunshot rang out, and Ash wavered on his feet. The black glow faded from his hands as he pulled a dart out of his neck. His eyes widened, then fluttered shut as he dropped to one knee.

Gary watched the catboy succumb to the tranquilizer and snarled, "Don't you dare take him!" He tried to rush forward but both of his arms were caught, and he was dragged backwards towards the helicopter. "Ash!" he shouted at the catboy. "Ash! Wake up!"

There was no movement from Ash as he was collected and manhandled into the helicopter. Gary struggled, but the two people that had him were strong and easily were able to force him into the helicopter too. His hands were tied to the seat and, almost as an afterthought, earmuffs were slammed on his head to dull the roaring of the helicopter. Gary tugged on his bonds as the helicopter rose, then looked over at Ash. The catboy was on the very last seat, and the door hadn't been closed all the way. The teen tried to gauge how far he'd have to reach, and how high they'd already gotten. Then he saw Staraptor rise to flank the helicopter; he wasn't sure if it was Ash's or another Trainer's, but Gary decided to take a risk. Hopefully Ash was as durable as the pokemon he now resembled.

Gary shoved his entire body towards Ash. He had just enough reach and his foot connected, sending the catboy sliding off the seat and careening into thin air. Staraptor squawked and dove to catch him.

"You irresponsible brat!" the leader of the group snarled, punching Gary's jaw so hard that he saw stars. His head spun and he couldn't resist when he was dragged back into a seated position and his legs were bound tightly. The leader turned to the pilot and yelled, "Turn around! We can't leave without that pokemon!"

"Can't do that, boss. The police are down there and it's more important for us to get away than get caught, right? We have this kid, they won't even try to knock us out of the air with him on board."

The leader huffed and turned to Gary. "This is all your fault! But you can at least make yourself useful. We've been busy perfecting our techniques and we need a volunteer to test them out on. How lucky for you we no longer have our test subject, hm?"

Gary just glared. "At least you don't have Ash," he shot back. "He's not a pokemon, he's a person!"

"After what we did to him? He's a pokemon," the leader sniffed. "Just rest easy now. It won't be long."

Ash paced around Professor Oak's lab, growling at anyone who came near him and just generally acting annoyed and upset. He'd woken up from the sedative a few hours after he'd been hit and he hadn't sat still since. Delia and Pikachu were trying to calm him down and keep him company, but he shrugged them off.

Professor Oak didn't feel that much better. His heart was jumping around in his chest and he had to suppress a few panicky moments, but for the most part he was able to keep his cool. It was his grandson that had been taken this time, though, and every moment that Gary was gone was another moment for the aged professor to worry.

"Ash, please sit down," Delia begged. "You're already hurt, you need to rest!"

The catboy glared at her, though his hand went to the bandages on his arm and side. His tumble from the helicopter hadn't left him unscathed; his Staraptor had only had a moment to react before he'd hit the ground and his claws hadn't been kind.

"Pika," the mouse pokemon whined. He jumped to Ash's shoulder and put his front paws on his head. "Chu ka? Pika pi!"

Ash's ears went back, but he flopped on the couch and leaned into his mother's embrace. He sniffled and wiped at the tears in his eyes while Pikachu patted his head comfortingly. Ash just stared at the ground, looking at his muddy, dirty feet. After all this time he still wouldn't wear shoes.

Professor Oak sighed. "This time, at least, we have some good news. Officer Jenny was able to place a tracking device on the helicopter before it got out of range, so as soon as they know where Gary is, so will we. Delia, you can stay here for tonight so you'll know as soon as I do when we find Gary."

Ash growled. "Me!" he insisted, though what he was talking about was a mystery.

"It's not your fault, Ash. They'd have grabbed him anyway," Professor Oak sighed.

The room seem to darken as anger rolled off of Ash. They wouldn't have grabbed him if it weren't for me! his voice echoed around the room. Professor Oak, Delia, and Pikachu all looked at him in shock. It's all my fault, Ash said mournfully, curling in on himself as his anger faded as suddenly as it had come. Delia stroked his hair comfortingly as his eyes tried to slide closed. Pikachu slid off his head so he was in his lap, instead.

The professor coughed to try to get his thoughts back in order. Ash's display of his aura abilities looked like it had nearly sent him back to sleep again. "Ash, you don't know that. Don't beat yourself up over it. Just rest so we can rescue him."

Ash nodded tiredly. "Me," he repeated aloud, but his voice was just a whisper now. With Pikachu curled up in his lap, he relaxed into sleep.

Delia looked relieved. She eased him down so he was lying on the couch, then accepted the blanket Professor Oak offered and covered him up. Pikachu relocated so that he was under Ash's arm, then stared up at his Trainer's face.

Professor Oak sighed. "It doesn't look like they've made it to Johto, so their base of operations is probably still in Kanto. It's only been six hours. We have time."

Delia nodded. "We'll find him. I know we will."

When Gary awoke, it felt like he'd wandered into a dream. Time felt like it had stood still while he slept, and yet he thought he'd been asleep for the longest time. He was lying on his face, which was odd; he usually slept on his side or back. Despite the warmth of the room there was a hot weight on his back, like a blanket he couldn't quite throw off.

He stared at his side table, wondering why he felt so disconnected from the world. Did he get hit by a Pokemon attack that messed up his head? He'd been exposed to a Stun Spore before that felt kind of like this. That explained a lot, actually. It explained why he felt so hot and fuzzy. Then he tried to lift himself up. His arms had no strength to them and flopped back to the bed after he gave up trying to get up.

"Ri?" Ash's voice asked. Gary managed to shift his weight so he could see the chair in his room. Sure enough Ash was there, curled up with a blanket over his shoulders. He looked haggard, like he hadn't slept at all, and his face and arms were bruised. There were bandages covering his bare legs, a bit of pink staining one, but the catboy seemed to not notice his injuries.

"What happened to you?" Gary asked in alarm. The adrenaline that shot through his system gave him the strength to shoot upright, though he nearly overbalanced backwards when that strange blanket on his back didn't seem to want to slide off like a normal blanket. That didn't matter as much as Ash's injuries, though, and Gary carefully slid over in his bed until he could reach over and touch the catboy. Ash met him halfway with hands that were covered in bandaids

Rescued you, Ash's aura-voice said proudly. Then his expression fell. Too late...

"What do you mean?" Gary asked in bewilderment. "I'm here and I remember you, and I can talk and everything..."

Ash raised an eyebrow at him. You don't remember?

"Remember what?" Gary felt his head for ears and only found his own hair. "Ash, what's going on?"

Ash stood and let Gary's hand go. Then he walked over to the other boy's bed and reached behind Gary. It shocked the teen when the catboy touched something that definitely wasn't Gary, but Gary felt it anyway. Ash's hands were steady as he backed away gently, something large and feathered in his grip. Gary felt the odd tug of muscle in something he couldn't place a name to, but it was definitely part of him, and he watched in numb surprise when Ash went as far as the wall of Gary's room.

It took him a few minutes just to process what he was seeing. Then he realized just what Ash had in his grip and his heart plummeted.

"Is that a wing?" Gary asked softly. His breath felt like it wanted to freeze in his chest and he leaned forward so he could just focus on breathing. Ash let go of the wing and it retracted; Gary wondered at the feel of the muscle and bone shifting until he could feel that it was once again folded at his back. The catboy sat on the bed next to Gary and rubbed his head against the other's chin. When Gary looked at him, still a bit numb, Ash bopped him on the nose with his finger. Then he grabbed Gary's hand again.

I'm sorry, Ash said miserably. It's all my fault you got caught and changed.

Gary would have been quite happy with falling asleep again, but Ash looked genuinely sad. So he resisted the welcome urge to pass out from the shock and rubbed the catboy's head.

"You came to rescue me and that makes me happy," Gary told him. "You can't control what they did, but I'm not mad at you, okay?"

Ash nodded, but he still looked sad. Gary didn't know what to say to cheer him up, and he didn't feel much like being cheerful anyway. It was still a bit surreal; he'd seen the wing, and now that he knew what it was on his back he could kind of feel them now, but it was like trying to move a muscle in a dream.

Then his stomach growled and distracted them both anyway. Ash poked Gary's stomach, then giggled at its answering gurgle.

"Food!" Ash declared. He stood and helped Gary stand up; the weight of the wings nearly had him toppling forward, but Ash was there to help brace him until he was used to how they affected his balance. They took a few cautious steps together, Gary wobbling the first few. Then his stride evened out and he didn't have to lean on the catboy anymore.

Getting out of his room, however, was a challenge. Gary learned that when folded against his back, his wings were a bit larger than his shoulder width and he knocked them both against the frame of the door painfully. He glared at Ash's stifled chuckles, then let Ash help him rearrange the wings so he could get safely through the door.

He made it to the kitchen okay after that. There was no one there, though, so he set about making a quick meal of a banana, some french toast that had been left in the microwave, and a glass of orange juice. Once his stomach was satisfied and stopped yelling, Gary decided that the best thing to do would be to go to the lab. He figured that his grandfather would be there looking at any new data that had been gotten in his rescue.

Ash on his heels, he entered the lab and saw that he was right. Professor Oak was there again, along with Delia and Pikachu. All three of them looked when he walked in, then smiled at him.

"You're up!" Professor Oak exclaimed. He rushed to his grandson and hugged him tightly. "I told Ash to tell us when you were awake! Are you sure you should be up? Your wings aren't too heavy for you? You DO know you have wings, right?"

Gary raised a hand to try to get him to stop blathering. "Yes, Grandpa, I'm fine. The wings are heavy but I'm managing, and I DO know I have wings, Ash told me. Can't say I'm thrilled about it, but eh."

The professor squeezed him one last time, then urged him towards the couch in the lab. Gary had to sit on the very edge of the cushion with his weight forward; the wings were large and unwieldy and he already hated them.

They spent a while going through what had happened; Gary learned that he'd only been held for three days. The fact that he'd managed to gain wings in such a short time was a testament to Team Pokemon's skills. Ash had led the charge and been targeted the most by Team Pokemon, so he had gotten the most damage. He'd already been seen to by Nurse Joy, whose recommendation was that his bandages be changed and that he get rest. Gary himself had only been asleep for a few hours after his rescue, but it seemed as if he'd been unconscious the whole time he'd been captured.

Then the conversation turned to Gary's wings. He stood and had to focus really hard in order to spread them, but once he figured out just what the new muscles were and how they moved it wasn't that hard. It took him about twenty tries before he could smoothly unfold his wings and return them to their previous state. Ash batted at a few feathers that scattered all over the couch and floor, which made Gary chuckle at him.

Finally, Gary was able to collapse into a chair with a low back that he could lean back against. He stretched every muscle in his body with great relish; Ash's yelp told him that he'd made an oops and extended his wings out too. His brain was slowly catching on to the new limbs, though. It would probably take a few days before he was entirely comfortable with them, but at least now he had that hope.

"You have a twelve foot wingspan," Professor Oak informed him while he relaxed. "That's quite impressive! It looks like it'll be a bit awkward, though, especially when it comes to shirts. Luckily it looks like your wings are rather high up, Mrs. Ketchum thinks she can come up with something." She'd left about halfway through, once she'd gotten Gary's measurements and a few of his existing shirts. "Your typing might make that a bit irrelevant, though. You're not cold right now, right?"

Gary hadn't even realized he was shirtless, and he looked down at his bare chest. Then his grandfather's choice of words had him looking up with a raised eyebrow. "Wait, typing? Like a Pokemon?"

Professor Oak nodded. "Ash, I'm happy to say, is definitely a Fighting/Psychic type. On the other hand, given the wings and the amount of fire DNA in you and the fact that your body temperature is now a few significant degrees higher than a normal human's... I'd say that you're Flying/Fire."

Gary didn't feel overheated, but he felt his forehead anyway. "I have a fever and you just let me lie there and bake under those things?" he asked, though he really didn't feel alarmed. His grandfather knew his pokemon and if he thought Gary was okay, then the teen would stake his life on that claim.

"Don't worry, Gary. We had Nurse Joy look at you as well and she determined that though your temperature is high, you don't have any of the aftereffects of a fever. You're not sweating, you don't have a headache, and, while you were lethargic at first, your energy is great now." Professor Oak patted Gary on the head. "Take a few days to recover and get used to things. Ash said he'd take care of you and get you what you need if you have trouble."

Gary looked over at the injured catboy. "Shouldn't he be resting?"

"He wouldn't stay still when you were asleep. As long as he doesn't run around and put any undue pressure on his wounds he'll be okay." Professor Oak went back to his computer. "And you don't have to worry. All of Team Pokemon has been arrested and their research confiscated, so they won't ever come after you and Ash again."

Gary felt relieved. "I'm glad for Ash's sake. Now he can look forward to what he'll do once he's back to normal."

"What about you? Will you just go back to being a researcher, wings and all?" Professor Oak wanted to know.

Gary nodded. It was still what he wanted to do, though it had taken a bit of a detour the past few weeks. He'd been planning to head to Unova to look at some of the unique ice pokemon when he'd heard that Ash had been kidnapped and set out to help save him. "If I can get used to them," he groused, and a wing ruffled with his annoyance.

As he sat there on the chair, he looked at his hands. They felt the same as ever, but there was something that was bothering him all the same. It was a feeling that seemed rooted in the same part of his brain he was beginning to tell housed his wings as well. He ran his fingers over the palm of one hand, flexing it back and forth. Then he realized that one of the lines in his hand was just a bit darker than he remembered it being. When he touched it with the fingers of his other hand, he jumped a bit when the skin parted and he could feel the heat emanating from it.

"Whoah," he said, snatching his hand back. He clenched his fists, then relaxed them again. His hands didn't feel any different, but now that he was looking he could see the gash that led to the intense heat. "Grandpa, did you know about this?" he called.

He showed his grandfather the odd slashes in his hand, then had to sit as Professor Oak hooked him up to different machines and took readings.

"You're definitely a fire type," his grandfather concluded. "Most pokemon without flames on their bodies have to produce it in a special place in their bodies and expel it. Luckily for you, instead of having to breathe flame like most species, your fire glands are in your arms and you expel it through your hands. Just be careful until you can consciously activate that ability. There's no need for you to char all of your research due to carelessness." Professor Oak turned Gary's hands over a few times to make sure he didn't miss anything, then relinquished them. Gary just sat there and stared at yet another change he hadn't factored in.

Suddenly he felt sad and frustrated. He hadn't asked for this, and he clenched his hands into fists to try to control the anger that bubbled within him. However, all that accomplished was having his fists catch fire, and he had to shake them out before his grandfather could see.

"I'm going to go outside," he told Professor Oak. Air felt like it would be a good idea, and maybe that rock maze was still up. The best way to learn to control this new power and relieve some stress would be to blow some things up. Ash jumped up at his words; the catboy had been playing with Pikachu in the corner all this time. Pikachu was currently on his stomach while they'd been rolling on the floor, but now he tumbled to the ground and landed on his feet. He jumped up onto Ash's shoulder and for the first time, the catboy didn't react. He treated it like a normal occurrence, and that made Gary happy.

"Ash, you can stay inside. You'll be able to tell if I need you, right, with your aura?" Gary asked.

The catboy nodded, though he ducked his head. His ears twitched and his tail curled up in the air behind him, and that told Gary that he was still feeling bad about the whole kidnapping thing.

"You don't have to keep an eye on me. We're safe now. You heard Grandpa, no one's coming after us again," the newly winged boy assured his friend. "Just stay in here with Pikachu. You're getting along great. I just... need some time alone."

Ash nodded, then looked over at Pikachu. "Chu!" he said happily, and the two of them raced into the depths of the building.

Gary shook his head, then went outside. The rock wall was still there, and he spent the next two hours pummeling it into pulp. Using his fire powers was a lot more intuitive than his wings; all he had to do was focus hard enough, and fire just poured from his hands like liquid. His skin stayed unburned, thankfully, though by the end he was in need of a new pair of shoes. He was also stronger than he'd been before. He'd punched the wall in frustration without fire at the start and a large chunk of stone had fallen free.

Once he'd tired himself out, he flopped to the ground with a noisy rustle of feathers. He focused on catching his breath while he stared at his hands, unnerved by his new powers but at the same time strangely thrilled. So much had changed in this one day, but he felt more powerful than ever and it was a freeing feeling. If only he didn't have these awkward wings, he mused, flopping backwards onto the ground. His wings spread out around him and he wondered just what he looked like to all the flying pokemon above him.

Ash's face came into view above him. "Hi!" he said brightly. Feel better?

Given that Ash wasn't touching him, hearing his mental voice was a shock to Gary. He raised an eyebrow at his friend. "You're able to talk without needing to touch me now?"

The catboy looked at him oddly, then reached out to touch his head. Do need to touch. You heard without touching?

"Yeah," Gary said, though he was puzzled too. "How is that possible?"

Ash hummed. Hidden-typing? Some pokemon do things they shouldn't. Maybe you're hidden-typing psychic?

"Why would they do that to me, though? What would that do for them?"

A presence made itself known just then, a powerful, dark, ominous presence that had Gary rolling to his feet and pulling Ash behind him protectively. Both changed teenagers stared at the odd Pokemon that had appeared out of nowhere just a few feet from them. It was tall and purple and feline, with a cat-shaped face and a delicate body paired with large, strong legs and a long tail. It regarded Ash and Gary impassively, its brown cloak billowing about it.

The pokemon looked familiar, but Gary couldn't place it. He frowned at it while he thought; it wasn't like anything in any book he'd read, but he knew he'd seen it before.

It is good to see you well, Ash, the strange pokemon said.

I know you? Ash asked, his ears flat against his head. His tail was poofed out just a bit but the aura curling around his fingers was ominous.

We met before. At first we were deadly enemies but we grew to understand and respect each other. However, as it seems you don't know me, I shall introduce myself again. I am Mewtwo.

"I've never seen a pokemon like you before," Gary accused. "What sort are you? Did Team Pokemon make you?"

We have indeed met before, though at the time I was in a different guise. It was in Giovanni's lair, and you were set against me for a gym badge. Mewtwo looked up Gary impassively. However, that was long before Team Pokemon arose.

Suddenly Gary remembered that. He pictured the pokemon before him in that odd armor and he recognized Mewtwo now. "So what are you here for?"

I have come to offer my friend my assistance. I know he is without his memories. I can restore them to the point of our last meeting, though given that it was a few years ago, it will still leave a considerable gap. However, it would be better than he is now.

I'm fine! Ash shot back defensively. Don't need memories. Have Gary and Professor Oak and Mom and Pikachu!

Mewtwo bowed his head. Of course you are. Forgive me. I thought it would be easier on you if I could restore some of what you had lost.

Gary eyed the pokemon, then turned to Ash. Mewtwo didn't seem like he was lying, though if Gary was also a psychic type on top of all this that would be just a step too far. He knew about hidden typing of course; it was a sort of typing that didn't affect a pokemon's strength or weakness, but did affect the abilities it could learn. The best example of that was Golurk from the Unova region. It was a Ghost/Ground-type pokemon that could learn how to fly.

"Ash, maybe you should take his offer," he suggested. "You'd be able to talk normally again, and your mom and Pikachu would be so happy."

I'm learning to talk, Ash sulked. Don't need help! Don't need memories either.

Gary sighed. "Mewtwo, could you give us a minute?"

At the pokemon's nod, Gary dragged Ash back a few feet. "Ash, don't be stubborn. It's up to you of course, but if you take his offer, it'll be a lot easier on you. You won't need to tire yourself out to use aura to understand people or talk. I think it's a good idea!"

Ash looked at Gary intensely. His ears were still back and he obviously didn't like Mewtwo, but he trusted Gary. Are you sure? he asked hesitantly.

Gary nodded. He was absolutely convinced that Mewtwo would be able to help Ash, and if Ash had his memories back, he'd be able to go back to his normal life. That was best for everyone involved.

Don't want memories, Ash insisted. Memories change me-now to me-then. I want to stay me-now. He looked down and away from Gary then. You didn't like me-then. Not like now. We weren't friends then.

"We were!" Gary protested. "I'm telling you that we were friends before this."

Friends now, Ash agreed. Almost-friends before. I see in your memories, we weren't close. You traveled, I traveled, but separate. I want to travel together!

"With your memories we could still travel together," Gary argued. "I mean, I'm not a Trainer so I wouldn't be traveling for the same reason as you, but I can do my research wherever you end up going." Wait, was he actually agreeing to travel with Ash? The day had just gone another shade of surreal.

Ash shook his head vehemently. No memories! I make new ones every day.

With Ash's mind made up, Gary sighed. "All right. But will you let him help you speak?"

The catboy nodded happily. We travel!

"Fine, fine."

Mewtwo restored Ash's ability to speak within a matter of seconds. The process sent the catboy to sleep, but the pokemon assured an alarmed Gary that his mind was only re-adjusting to the new knowledge that was in his head. He'd awaken and be able to speak like he'd never forgotten.

And if he changes his mind about his memories, Mewtwo told Gary, tell him to seek me out. I will happily grant him this favor if he should ever ask.

Gary nodded. "All right. Thanks for your help, Mewtwo. But how will he find you?"

I shall follow the tides of the world. Wherever is new and fresh is where I shall be. With those parting words, the pokemon teleported away.

Gary was left with an unconscious catboy whose head was pillowed in his lap. He thought about trying to heft him up and carry him inside, but he'd tired himself out with his fiery experimentation. At least, he mused as he shifted his wings with only a bit of extra thought, forcing his body into an activity like that had made it get used to his new appendages a bit. They didn't feel as heavy as when he'd first woken up.

He knew that his grandfather was behind him even before the old man spoke. "That Pokemon was Mewtwo. He offered to restore Ash's memories, but Ash wouldn't let him. All he wanted was to be able to talk again."

"How did you know I was here?" Professor Oak asked, startled.

"Ash thinks they might have given me some psychic abilities. I guess they figured that if the same thing happened to me as to Ash, I could at least talk that way." Gary found that his fingers were idly stroking Ash's ear and he forced them to stop. "Hidden typing was how he put it."

Professor Oak hummed. "How did you figure that out?"

"I could hear Ash when he wasn't touching me. Though that would make it easier I guess. If he can talk when he wakes up, though, that'll make that skill useless." Gary shrugged, which made his wings rustle loudly. "I was thinking about trying to get Ash inside, but it's not going to rain, right? So he should be okay like this for a while."

His grandfather crouched on the ground next to him. "And what about you? You made short work of that rock wall. Are you feeling better?"

"A bit. I need to invest in some fireproof shoes though, like fire Trainers have. Probably some fireproof clothes too. I thought I was going to lose my pants at one point," Gary joked. "But I think if it weren't for these wings, I'd be pretty okay."

Professor Oak ruffled Gary's hair. "Just remember that no matter what I love you, wings and all. You going to stay out here with Ash or come inside for food?"

Gary stared down at Ash's sleeping face. "I don't know how long he'll be out, or if he'll be disoriented when he wakes up. It might be best if he wakes up to something friendly. I guess I'll stay with him."

There were fingers stroking his hair. That hadn't become unusual in the past few weeks, but the presence behind those fingers was the surprise. It was bright and warm, its usual happiness dimmed somewhat by the sadness that had become forefront. He could feel the discipline that kept that sadness in check and its attention focused on its current act. The presence found comfort in his hair, and that made him giggle.

"Hm? Are you awake?" The fingers stopped, though they didn't remove themselves from his hair.

The words had meaning beyond the usual sense-of-meaning that he'd been relying on for so long. The surprise he felt made him open his eyes so he could stare into the brown ones that were looking down at him in concern.

"Yes," he smiled. The other boy was relieved, but that was soon masked behind a soft grin.

"So did it work? Can you talk?"

"Hm. Don't need to use aura anymore." Ash sat up because he knew that's what Gary wanted, then stretched his muscles so every bone in his spine and tail popped loudly. The sun was much lower in the sky than when he'd fallen asleep, and he could tell that the world was winding down and getting ready for the day to end. His stomach rumbled loudly and he laughed. "I think it's time for food!" he declared because he could. Being able to talk and communicate was so freeing and it made him feel light as air.

Gary stared up at him, a small smile on his face, then stood and nodded. "Yeah. Time to get some food. Grandpa'll be glad to know that what Mewtwo did worked, too."

Ash let Gary lead the way, mostly so he could admire the brown wings affixed to the other boy's back. He wished he dared to touch them; when he'd shown them to Gary before they'd been so soft. Gary, though, felt of anger at those wings and drawing attention to them was probably a bad idea at the moment.

Then he saw Pikachu, and all thoughts of wings vanished. He was overwhelmed by memories that he hadn't asked for, memories of times spent laughing and fighting and crying together with his best friend in the whole world. He had to stop and lean against the nearest steady surface until he could breathe again, and the whole room was looking at him in concern.

"Ash, what's wrong?" Professor Oak asked. The elder was at his side ready to catch him if he fell over, and Gary wasn't far behind him.

Ash ignored them, instead wobbling over to Pikachu and grabbing him up the hardest hug he could manage. Given that his strength was a bit greater than a human's now, the mouse was understandably distressed by that. He didn't let it show, though, only let his Trainer shed a few tears into his fur once he understood what was going on.

Once Ash had a handle on himself again, he released Pikachu and gave everyone a watery smile. "I'm going to kick Mewtwo in the head," he declared. "But I'm glad. He made me remember Pikachu. How could I have ever forgotten him?" He resisted the urge to smother his buddy again, instead channeling his happiness into a few twirls around the room.

Gary was a relieved presence that made his way to the kitchen cabinets to throw something together. "See? I told you you should let him restore your memories."

Ash stuck his tongue out at the winged boy's back. "Don't want them all," he said stubbornly, though he didn't resist when Pikachu jumped on his head. "But Pikachu is important. I'm glad I have him."

They ate dinner, Ash reveling in his newfound ability to speak, and then separated to take care of their nightly routines. In the shower, Ash scrubbed his head and ears and tail and thought.

He had what they'd been after since his first awakening. He could talk, which was a wonderful thing. There was no reason for him to stay at Professor Oak's now, not unless the professor wanted to study him a bit longer. So tomorrow, he thought morosely, he'd probably be packing and heading back with the mother he knew loved him, but he didn't remember her.

That had him thinking about Mewtwo's offer, and he scowled. He didn't need his memories, though the world was large and wide and a bit daunting. He didn't know anything about the world outside of the professor's lab... well, that was a bit of a lie. He'd gone to rescue Gary so he knew that the world existed. He'd seen endless forests and open plains from cars and planes and it had made him feel so small.

The point was, he knew just how much he didn't know. And yet he knew that he wanted to travel and see new things. His ears went back and he growled in frustration as he tried to sort those two feelings. Maybe he should have let Mewtwo restore his memories? But then he wouldn't be the same and Gary would leave him and he'd have a greater understanding of just how much he'd lost.

He wasn't deluding himself at all. He knew that because of Team Pokemon he was different, that they'd stolen the him-that-was and even if he got that back, that wouldn't change what was taken from him. He'd still remember his horrible first terrified days of waking in that tube with the scientists treating him like he couldn't feel a thing.

Ash shook his head, hard. "I shouldn't be thinking of this stuff!" he told himself firmly. He tried to smooth down his poofed-up fur. "Old memories won't change what happened. They'll just make me sad. I just have to move forward."

To do that, he mused as he finished rinsing off in the shower and wrapped up in the fluffiest towel he could find, he would have to get out of the lab. Pikachu's memories of their journey were clear enough, and Ash's memories of Pikachu were tinged with wanderlust. Gary had promised to go on a journey with him, but that would have to wait until the other boy was ready.

Until then, he'd have to learn. Now that he could speak and read and understand, he planned to spend long hours on the computer so he could learn all that he'd need to know to journey. By the time he'd gone through everything, he hoped Gary would be ready to journey as well.

But why did he want to journey? He knew that journeys had a purpose. Pikachu's memories held echoes of victory and want to win! Gary's memories were more discovery and knowledge, though they also felt of triumph the farther back they went. The others were no different, all of those other trainers and all of their wins and losses and miles traveled.

He'd find a purpose for his journey. Training pokemon didn't seem all that interesting, given that technically he was one now. "I know!" he said out loud, then grinned happily. He'd journey to discover the world, learn new things, and maybe rediscover old things. Maybe he'd even find Mewtwo and kick him in the head for breaking his promise.

Cheered, he dressed and went in search of his bed.

It was more than a month after Ash had learned to speak, a bit longer than that since his first awakening. He spent many hours each day on the computer learning about everything he could, and when he wasn't doing that he was helping Professor Oak out around the lab. Gary spent his time getting used to his wings, and by the end of the month it seemed as if he'd grown accustomed to them. It didn't mean he liked them, but at least he wasn't getting them caught on everything.

At the end of that month, Ash had packed up all of his things. He was dressed in a pair of jeans, a yellow t-shirt, and a blue vest that had come out of some random box somewhere. He was on his bed, staring at the one thing that he had yet to face.

"I don't like these," he complained to Pikachu, poking the shoes with his tail. "They look funny and they feel weird on my feet."

"Pika," the mouse said, shaking his head. "Chu pi!" Roughly translated, it meant, You used to wear them all the time!

"I don't remember that," Ash whined. "But I have to wear them, huh?"

"Ka!" Yeap!

Ash glared at the offending objects, then sighed. Face screwed up in concentration, he pulled on the socks that he hadn't minded wearing when the nights got cold. Then he gingerly put his foot into the shoe. He'd tried to wear them before, usually at his mother's insistence, but each time he'd kicked them off in disgust. This time was no different; the leather felt okay, but the rubber soles were heavy and felt like they were trying to drag him down.

Ash tied the laces into a sloppy bow, then put on the other shoe and did the same. He flexed his toes in their new confines, trying to hide his discomfort and disgust. "I don't like them," he huffed, but he didn't kick them off. He stood and tried to take a few steps instead, nearly tripping when he didn't raise one of his feet high enough because it felt so heavy. He caught his balance easily enough though.

Carefully, he shouldered his backpack and made his way out into the living room. Gary was waiting there for him, also dressed to travel. He had a pack of his own slung over his shoulder and a pokeball and pokedex at his belt.

Ash's mom and Professor Oak were also waiting for him. Delia looked a bit teary-eyed, but she was smiling at them. Professor Oak had another pokedex in hand, as well as a handful of pokeballs.

Ash grinned at them, though he stopped paying attention to his feet and stumbled at bit. "I'm ready to head out!" he announced.

He accepted the pokedex and pokeballs from Professor Oak. "Have you both decided where you're going?" the professor asked curiously.

"Orre, probably. I want to study the pokemon that were turned into Shadow pokemon," Gary said. "Plus its someplace Ash has never been before. We might find Mewtwo there."

"Need to kick him for breaking his promise," Ash agreed. He shifted his weight from one foot to the next, still disliking the shoes. He'd get used to them, he decided, but until then he wouldn't be happy with them.

"Will you two be all right?" Delia asked worriedly. "You don't think people will bother you about... you know?"

"Given that there was a huge press conference about it, the whole world probably knows," Gary said with distaste. Ash knew that he wasn't happy with pictures of him with wings being broadcast all over the world. Ash didn't really understand it though. He knew that there were pictures of him all over as well, but he couldn't really see why that was a bad thing.

"And if they have a problem, Gary can set them on fire!" Ash said cheerfully. "Or I can hit them." He frowned. "But then they'd get mad, huh?"

"Yeah. So don't hit anyone unless they hit you first, okay?" Delia told him.

"Yes, Mom. I won't." Ash hugged her, rubbing his head against her chin. Then he did the same for Professor Oak. Gary hugged his grandfather as well, and then he joined Ash by the door.

"We're heading out," Gary announced.

"Yeap! We're going!" Ash agreed.

Delia and Professor Oak shared a smile. "Take care," they both said.

Ash stepped out into the morning sunlight, taking a breath of fresh air. Gary walked past him, wings rustling as he moved, then glanced back. "You coming?" he asked.

"Uh-huh!" Ash said, racing to catch up. He smiled at Gary, then looked down the path. There was a boat waiting to take them to Orre, and when they got there...

They'd have a journey, just the two of them.