Hello everyone! So here is the next chapter. Again I am sorry that it has taken several weeks but that is better than last time (Yes, I know that's not hard).

So once again you guys astonished me with how nice you all are. I must admit I wasn't expecting to have much of a following after such a long absence but most of you have persevered and stuck with story and for that I want to say a massive thank you.

In Love and War

Chapter 27: One Heart Can Make A Difference

"Headquarters sighted!" James bellowed from his customary position atop the hot air balloon's burner.

Paul's eyes flew open and his head snapped up from its slumped position as the loud shout pierced the serene morning air, waking him from his slumber. He gazed bleary eyed at the blue haired man who was staring intensely through his spying goggles at some distant point on the southern horizon.

Jessie and Meowth, who were both busy wolfing down a late breakfast of what suspiciously looked like potatoes, jumped to their feet and hurried excitedly over to their fellow team member. The pair impatiently took turns using James' spying goggles to confirm that they were indeed nearing their destination. When they were satisfied the three agents all huddled together and gabbled in excitedly hushed tones about what they would do when they landed.

Paul remained seated on the basket's floor, uninterested by the development. He had seen enough islands over the past month to last him a lifetime and couldn't care less about the petty schemes of his three moronic travelling companions. No, he had his own, much more important plans to worry about.

It had been nearly sixteen hours since he had surrendered to the trio the day before but he had barely slept during that time. While the three Rocket members had all fallen asleep around midnight he had remained wide awake, thinking about how exactly he was going to deal with the situation he had landed himself in.

When he told the trio that he had information that would help Team Rocket win the war he had been lying through his teeth. Although he had knowledge about the Unit's command structure such as how many trainers and coordinators were in it and the resources available, Team Rocket would know most of that anyway. He had no idea what island the Unit would attack next, or when, or with how many trainers. He knew nothing of any value and that was a problem.

He may have fooled Jessie, James and Meowth into thinking he already had a winning hand but if he was going to convince Giovanni and the other Rocket commanders he was going to have to do more than bluff. In fact, if he was going to be taken seriously, he needed to offer something no one in Team Rocket could possibly have thought of.

It had not been an easy tas,k but fortunately for Paul he had been given time to think. Fairchild Island was located right in the heart of the Orange Archipelago and Team Rocket's secret headquarters were located over five hundred miles to the south. Even with the balloon's assortment of gadgets and deployable engines they had been forced to travel non-stop throughout the night to reach the island in good time and Paul had not wasted a single precious second.

It had taken him all night but he had finally made a breakthrough. In fact, Paul had managed to formulate a truly brilliant scheme. He had gone from having no plan at all to knowing exactly how to achieve his goal. He had devised a way to infiltrate and bring down Team Rocket, but the best thing about it was that he would do it by humiliating Ash Ketchum.

Paul smiled to himself. He had always prided himself on his intelligence but this plan was brilliant, even by his own high standards. He had no doubt that it would work, all he needed to do now was convince Giovanni to trust him.

"Listen up, Twerp!"

Paul snapped out of his thoughts and glanced up to find Jessie looming over him.

"We may have trusted you this far but if there is any funny business when we land we will not hesitate to take you down. Do you understand?" she warned.

Paul found it comical that the trio believed that they could control him but his face remained unemotional. "There won't be any funny business." he replied in a level tone.

Jessie glared at the trainer with a skeptical expression but he just stared back, unintimidated. She soon got bored of this and with a curt nod, walked away.

Paul watched her go, his eyes burning with contempt. Since his surrender the trio had strutted around like kings, bragging to one another about how they had reversed Team Rocket's fortunes. They acted as if they had captured him and forced him to betray the League against his will, rather than him handing himself over on a silver plate.

He sighed and pushed the aggravating thoughts from his mind. At the end of the day Jessie, James and Meowth were little fish in a very big ocean. He would soon encounter much more intimidating and dangerous creatures and it was them he should be focusing on.

For the first time that day Paul felt his nerves begin to tingle. When they finally landed he would be taking the biggest gamble of his life and the outcome would probably determine how he spent the rest of it and, more crucially, how long it lasted.

The green basket touched down with a small jolt and the slight feeling of weightlessness that came with the quick decent vanished from Paul's body. After nearly a day of being in the air it felt weird to be back on firm ground but the purple haired trainer quickly adjusted to the sensation and nimbly climbed out of the basket.

"Hold it right there twerp!" Meowth called as Jessie and James quickly scrambled out after him. "You're not going anywhere without us!"

Paul's lip curled as the trio formed a triangle around him as if he were going to try and escape. After spending seventeen hours in close proximity with the idiotic agents he was desperate to get rid of them. However, like it or not, he needed them now more than ever. Firstly he needed them to take him to Giovanni but secondly they were the only people who could corroborate his story and he did not want to find out what would happen if he were left alone in the centre of Team Rocket's Headquarters. Reluctantly, he allowed Jessie and James to take up guarding positions on either side of him and they began marching away from the balloon.

Even for someone who had never been on the island before it was impossible for Paul not to work out where they were headed. Team Rocket's HQ had appeared imposing from the air and was even more intimidating on the ground. It was as if they were entering a small city, and despite his animosity towards the syndicate, Paul couldn't help but be impressed by the sheer scale of its' operations.

As they entered the vast complex of buildings they began to encounter more people. All were dressed in the distinctive black uniforms of Team Rocket grunts and executives, each one glaring at Paul as he walked by.

'Make-way! Make-way! Prisoner coming through!" Meowth shouted loudly as the crowd began to thicken, purposefully drawing attention to itself.

Paul ground his teeth angrily. No doubt the trio wanted to display him to as many of their comrades as possible. All of the passing grunts stopped to look at him, hissing and shouting obscenities as they went.

After five more minutes of negotiating their way through the crowds, Paul realised they were heading for one particularly large building that was located in the centre of the complex. He had no doubt that this was the organisation's main control centre, and he felt his nerves flare up once again.

The crowd of grunts was at its thickest as they approached the stone steps that led up to the main entrance to the building, but the sea of black uniforms parted as Meowth continued to shout at them to get out of the way. Eventually their path cleared, except for a man and woman who stood in front of the large doors, arms crossed as if they were guarding them.

"Well look who it is! I didn't know the circus was coming into town." The woman sneered as the group approached. She had long golden hair and a long pointed chin that made her haughty features look even more stuck up.

"Yeah and look, they've brought their talking pet," the man added, his lip curling in disgust.

Jessie, James and Meowth drew up abruptly and glowered at the two figures, expressions of hatred burning themselves onto their features.

"Cassidy!" Jessie exclaimed, surprise and hostility evident in her tone.

"And Bud!" James added, just as venomously.

The man's eyes bulged at the name, his face suddenly beetroot. "My name is BUTCH! B-U-T-C-H! Doesn't anyone listen to me!" he roared with rage. He glared at the others around him but none of them seemed perturbed by his sudden vent of anger.

"What are you doing here!" Jessie demanded hotly.

Cassidy raised an amused eyebrow. "I should ask you the same question. Aren't you three supposed to be out on a reconnaissance mission? I do hope you haven't abandoned your position. I'd hate to see you get in trouble," she said, her tone thick with sarcasm.

"Yeah, maybe the Boss will even kick you out of Team Rocket this time," a now calm Butch added, his features barely suppressing a smile.

Jessie, James and Meowth instantly reddened at the insinuation.

"Well I am sorry to disappoint you both but that isn't going to happen," James hissed through clenched teeth.

"Dat's right!" Meowth exclaimed, smacking one paw into the other. "In fact you'd betta watch how ya speak to us as soon yous will be callin us boss."

Cassidy and Butch glanced at each other as if they couldn't believe what they had just heard.

"Is that so?" Butch replied in an amused tone. "And what makes you think that?"

This time it was Jessie's turn to smile. "Because we have come up with a plan that will cause team Rocket to crush the League and win the war," she said triumphantly, her eyes blazing with confidence.

Butch and Cassidy stared skeptically at Jessie. The trio were famous throughout the syndicate for their disastrous plans, however their expressions faltered as they registered the woman's determination and assurance.

"Oh yeah, why don't you enlighten us?" Cassidy asked in an uncertain tone.

Jessie's eyes gleamed as she smiled even wider. "No can do I'm afraid," she drawled patronisingly. "I'm afraid until we have cleared it with boss one else can know. Even then, you two may not be deemed important enough to be included."

Butch and Cassidy's faces flushed with anger and they glared murderously at the woman. It was only then that the pair realised that there was another person in their midst and they suddenly focused on Paul.

Cassidy's expression morphed into a sneer. "Is he your secret weapon?" she drawled scathingly. "A teenager?"

Butch joined in with his partner. "Yeah, what are you going to do, get him to take a selfie or something," he chuckled.

Paul ground his teeth in frustration as he listened to the argument unfold around him. He didn't know what sort of childish feud he had landed himself in but he wasn't going to stick around and listen to their crap any longer.

"You know," Paul said, clearing his throat. "Ash Ketchum is a teenager and he has been kicking your arses for the past month so you can wipe those smiles off of your smug little faces and let us through," he spat.

Jessie, James and Meowth gaped at Paul in astonishment, uncertain as to whether they should be angry at their prisoner for speaking out of turn or pleased that he had insulted their rivals.

Butch and Cassidy's expressions immediately became angry once more and they glared at Paul with open hostility.

Butch took a threatening step towards Paul. "Why you little-"

"What is going on out here!" a new voice suddenly snapped, cutting the man off.

All five agents turned to look at the figure who had appeared at the top of the steps to the control centre and immediately snapped to attention, their dispute instantly forgotten.

"Well, is someone going to answer my question or are you all just going to stand there uselessly all day?" Domino ordered sharply as she strode purposefully towards the small group.

The agents glanced awkwardly at each other. Despite their intense rivalry and animosity towards each other neither team was about to admit their petty squabbling to the organisation's second-in-command.

"Butch and I were just welcoming Jessie and James from their scouting mission." Cassidy answered before adding in a sly tone, "We weren't expecting them to return so early."

The barb was not lost on Jessie and James and they shot daggers at Cassidy who just about hid a smirk.

Domino nodded dismissively, accepting the woman's answer but not believing it. Although she did not normally mix with those lower down the chain of command she, along with everyone else in the organisation, was well aware of the rift between the agents. The feud between them had been going on for years and had become something of joke among the rest of Team Rocket. As far as she was concerned the two sides could argue as much as they liked so long as it didn't affect her but right now she had a job to do and wasn't about to put up with any crap from either of them.

"Well now that you have caught up with one another I recommend that you and Agent Botch get back to your work and you let me worry about why these three have returned early," she said tersely, her expression warning them not to argue with her.

Butch's face turned red and a small squeaking noise emanated from his lips as he tried to hide his anger at having his name mispronounced once again. Seeing that her companions was about to have a breakdown Cassidy muttered a quick "yes ma'am" to Domino before hastily dragging him away before he could cause any more trouble

Jessie, James and Meowth watched the flustered pair go with barely concealed smiles. Their amused expressions quickly vanished as Domino rounded on them.

"Perhaps you three would now like to explain to me why you have returned two days before your mission was scheduled to end?" she asked, her tone a commanding one.

The trio blinked at their superior's hard words and they looked worriedly at one another. Clearly they had been expecting a more positive reaction from the woman, her hostility caught them off guard. However, to their credit, they did not break out into their standard, pre-prepared list of excuses and apologies. For once in their life they knew they actually had a worthwhile reason for not following orders.

James nervously stepped forward. "We came back early because we have obtained some valuable information that will help Team Rocket win the war." he replied, his voice an octave higher than normal.

Domino arched an eyebrow and eyed the blue haired man. "I'll be the judge of that." she said coolly. "Tell me what it is."

James swallowed and glanced around awkwardly. "Um we – we actually don't know what it is," he said in a timid voice.

Domino's expression instantly darkened and her eyes flashed with anger but before she could launch a vicious tirade at the trio for wasting her time Paul interrupted her.

"I am the one who knows what it is," he stated loudly.

Domino's head snapped in Paul's direction, noticing his presence for the first time. "And who the hell are you?" she demanded, her hand instinctively going to a black tulip that was attached to her hip.

"My name is Paul Ikari and I have come from Ash Ketchum's Unit." Paul announced.

Domino's eyes widened and she turned back to Jessie, James and Meowth, her expression furious. "You three better have a bloody good reason for bringing an enemy soldier back to HQ!" she hissed.

The three agents recoiled from the woman's anger.

"He said he could help us win the war!" Jessie blurted in an attempt to appease her superior.

The corners of Domino's mouth twitched and for a second the trio were certain she was about to make another scathing comment about how pathetic they were but she caught herself as Jessie's words registered in her brain.

"What did you say?"

The question was directed at Jessie but the Rocket Commander turned her head curiously towards Paul.

Deciding that letting the hapless trio speak on his behalf any further would do more harm than use, Paul decided to take the initiative.

"I have a proposal that I wish to share with Giovanni," he announced in a measured tone.

Domino looked Paul up and down, her hand still hovering next to the black tulip. "Oh really? And what proposal would that be?" she asked, her tone making it clear she did not believe the conversation would amount to anything.

Paul continued, unperturbed. "One that involves defeating Ash Ketchum and Team Rocket winning the war," he said calmly.

Domino didn't answer immediately, instead she stared intently at the trainer, silently assessing his words for any sign that he was bluffing. Paul held the woman's gaze with equal intent. His nerves were dancing around inside him now but he had always had an excellent poker face and was determined demonstrate it.

Finally, Domino blinked and broke the exchange with a dismissive flick of her wrist. "Alright, hotshot. Why don't you let me in on this little plan of yours and let me decide whether or not it's worth the boss's time."

Paul shook his head. He had known that sooner or later someone would demand he explain his plan but it was crucial that he told Giovanni himself. Firstly, he did not want someone else claiming credit for his plan and, more importantly, if he was going to take down the organisation from within it was absolutely vital to gain a level of trust with the Rocket boss.

"I'm afraid I will only speak to Giovanni directly." he informed in an unapologetic tone.

Domino's eyes narrowed as she stepped towards Paul, as if she were assessing her prey. When she spoke her voice was low, bearing no room for negotiation.

"I'm not giving you an option boy. You are under Team Rocket's control and you will tell me exactly what it is you know. If you don't…well, we have many methods of extracting information from those who do not wish to speak."

Paul felt a chill run down his spine and he willed himself to hide the fear he felt bubble underneath the surface. He had been expecting threats, but that didn't make them any less intimidating. He steeled his gaze. He was not going to back down at the first hurdle he encountered, and quickly decided how he would handle the situation.

"Yes, you could do that and I have no doubt that you would get me to talk eventually, but what's the point? I want to tell Giovanni my plan and torturing me would just delay him finding out. Events change rapidly in wars, the sooner you adapt to it the better things will be for you."

Domino took another step towards Paul, her eyes ablaze, and for a second the trainer thought he had misjudged the situation.

"Fine, have it your way Mr. Ikari." Domino hissed. "I'm not going to force it out of you, but that doesn't mean the boss will be quite as lenient. Now, follow me before I change my mind."

Domino turned sharply on her heel and started marching back up the steps. Paul, Jessie, James and Meowth all glanced at one another before they began hurriedly catching up with the woman.

Domino led the group into the main control building and through a maze of corridors and hallways. After about five minutes they reached an elevator. Domino punched in a long code too quick for Paul to catch and they rode swiftly up to the top floor. They silently stepped out into a large atrium with two large wooden doors set into a wall on the opposite side.

"Wait here." Domino ordered and without waiting for a reply walked up to the doors, knocking three times. After a short pause she pulled one open and she disappears inside.

When the doors click shut Jessie rapidly turned to face Paul.

"What the hell are you playing at kid! You're supposed to be helping Team Rocket, not infuriating all of its members."

Paul glared at the older woman, irritated by her accusatory tone. "I don't care how many people I piss off, I'm getting what I want, and I want a meeting with Giovanni. Besides, if I told that woman my plan none of us would get any recognition for it. That is what you want, right?"

Jessie grunted but she couldn't argue with the trainer. The only thing she, James and Meowth had ever wanted was to win praise from their boss and this was probably the best chance they would ever get.

Without warning the doors opened once more and a frosty looking Domino re-appeared in the doorway.

"You're in luck Mr Ikari, the Boss hasn't decided to kill you…yet." she said, making a point to emphasize the last word.

Paul gave the woman an indifferent stare to show he was not intimidated. Seeing that she wasn't going to get a reaction Domino turned on her heel once more and grudgingly ordered the four of them to come into the room.

The office was exuberantly furnished, yet Paul took no notice. Instead all of his attention focused on the man standing on the opposite side of the room. He was staring out of the office's large window, his back facing the intruders, but there was no mistaking his identity. His orange suit and perfectly combed hair were unmistakable even in the dimly lit room, leaving no doubt in the trainer's mind who the figure was. This was the man whom over the past two months Paul had come to despise more than anyone. Giovanni.

Jessie, James and Meowth shuffled meekly in beside him and stood in a line. None of them uttered a word and there was a long nervous silence as they waited for the man to say something. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he spoke.

"It's Mr Ikari, isn't it?"

In those five words alone Paul could practically feel the waves of confidence and authority in the man's voice and if he still had any doubts as to who he was speaking to they vanished instantaneously.

"It is," he replied, his voice surprisingly unwavering.

Paul had thought he would be more nervous in the presence of arguably the most dangerous person in the world, but found that his hatred for the organization and his desire for his plan to succeed had taken over his mind, leaving no room for fear.

"Well then, Mr Ikari," the man hissed in a deadly tone. "Very few men have ever demanded that I give them my time, and fewer still on my own property. All of them were soon made to realize their mistake and I assure you, none of them ever made it again. I just hope you can redeem yourself before you suffer a similar fate."

The threat was clear and the part of Paul's brain that was interested in self-preservation told him to get the hell out of the room as quickly as he could. Yet despite the obvious danger, he knew he held at least one ace in his hand and had come too far to back out now.

"On the contrary, if you do not give me your time it will be you committing the mistake, not I." he replied, his voice steady.

Jessie, James and Meowth all gasped and looked at Paul as if he had suddenly sprouted wings. They had never heard anyone speak to the Boss so bluntly before and even Domino raised a curious eyebrow.

The remark seemed to trigger something in Giovanni and he finally turned around to face the room. His dark black pupils immediately found Paul's and the trainer felt as if he were being stripped naked by the piercing gaze.

"And now you insult me," the man said in a disquietingly low tone. "Give me a good reason why I shouldn't punish you now for your insolence?"

Paul swallowed, feeling a trickle of sweat run down his back. He was beginning to think that maybe he had pushed the man too far but he knew to apologise or show weakness now would only make his situation worse. The only way to get what he wanted was to show strength.

"Because you would be a fool if you do. Kill me and you lose your best and maybe only chance to win this war." he said, glaring defiantly back at the man.

The already palpable tension increased a notch and the rest of the room's occupants held their breath as they waited for Giovanni to explode with rage. Jessie, James and Meowth began inching towards the office door, ready to make a run for it so they wouldn't get caught in the crossfire. However, to everyone's shock, including Paul's, the leader of Team Rocket did not start shouting but instead spoke in a calm and reasonable tone.

"Sit down, Mr Ikari." he said, gesturing at a leather chair on the opposite side of his desk.

For a second Paul stayed where he was, glancing uncertainly between the man and the chair. Then, taking a deep breath, he strode the short distance to the desk, cautiously taking a seat. Giovanni remained standing as to look down on the trainer, a clear show of dominance that Paul did not dare challenge.

"You're right, if what Domino tells me is true I would be a fool not to at least hear you out." he continued. "But be under no illusion, your life ends here should this turn out to be some sort of joke. Now, convince me otherwise."

Paul stared into Giovanni's demanding eyes and he suddenly realized that this was the moment of truth. Everything now depended on whether he could convince the man to adopt a plan he had devised less than twenty four hours earlier. It was a horrendous gamble. If Giovanni didn't deem his plan worthy he would be imprisoned and left to rot at best. But what was the alternative? To flee back to Kanto to face the humiliation of being banned from the Unit and punishment from the League, which would likely mean him being barred as a trainer? No, there was no alternative.

"My proposal is very simple," Paul began slowly. "I have known Ash Ketchum for quite some time now and have been fighting within his Unit since the beginning of this war. I know his battle techniques, how he trains his Pokemon, who his friends are and more importantly, I know his thought process. In short, I know how you can truly defeat Ash Ketchum and I am willing to share it with you."

If Giovanni was impressed with this information he certainly did not show it. He was more than experienced in negotiating deals and rule number one was to never display your reaction. Rule number two was to find out what the other guy wanted in return.

"And in return for this information you want what, exactly?" he asked in a tone that border lined boredom and leaned back against the wall.

Paul was relieved by the question. He had feared the Rocket Boss would dismiss him without thought and allowed himself to relax ever so slightly.

"When you win the war, I want you to keep the Pokemon League. You can get rid of the Elite Four and anyone else you don't like, but I want you to keep the organization and allow me to rewrite its' rules."

Paul held his breath and stared at Giovanni. Of course he had no intention of letting Team Rocket win the war or doing anything to the League but knew he had to give the man something. If he was to be believed, his reasons for coming to the man would have to be just as audacious as the act itself.

On the opposite side of the desk Giovanni studied the purpled haired trainer with the intensity of an Arboc waiting to strike. Body language was often a better way to judge a man's motive than his actual words and the Rocket Boss had become adept at reading even the best poker faces.

The kid was certainly a good actor. He sat back in his chair casually as if a meeting of this caliber were business as usual. But Giovanni could see it. He knew to look past the façade and analyze the details, instantly spotting the taught muscles in Paul's neck and his white knuckles as they gripped the arms of the chair. The trainer was on edge and in his vast experience that usually meant the other person was lying.

Giovanni closed his eyes, appearing to be deep in thought. "Well…that certainly is an interesting offer." he mused after several seconds. His eyes open and look directly into Paul's. "But in my experience, an offer this enticing is more often than not too good to be true. Right now that is exactly what I'm thinking. So, how do I know you're being truthful?"

Paul shrugged. "You don't. But what do you have to lose? Either I'm telling the truth and you get my help or I'm not and you lock me up, which would be pointless. You either gain something or find yourself back in the same scenario you're stuck in."

"That's a very nice way of selling it, Mr Ikari, but I don't trust anyone trying to sell me anything," Giovanni replied sharply. "You've waltzed into my office claiming you are going to win me the war, but I wasn't born yesterday. I've been playing this game since before you were born so do not treat me like a fool. You're not doing this to help me, you're doing it because it helps you and I don't buy that bullshit about changing the league. I'm giving you one last chance to be straight with me. You're going to tell me why you are here right now or I'm going to give Domino the O.K to be rid of you, I know she is dying to do so."

Paul shot a glance towards Domino who flashes a malevolent smile back at him. Paul nodded curtly back at the woman before turning his attention back to the man's question.

"...Because I want to destroy Ash Ketchum even more than you do." he responded in low but firm voice..

Giovanni stared at the trainer, his eyes methodically scanning for any shred of deceit. Finally, he relaxed his penetrating gaze and gave Paul a wicked smirk.

"At last, something worth hearing." he mused but then his expression suddenly became quizzical. "But that still doesn't answer the question of why you chose to come to me? If you wanted to destroy Ketchum why not have a battle with him, or jump him at night when no one is around. Switching sides seems a bit extreme just to usurp one person, no matter how much you don't like them." Giovanni stated matter of factly.

"Not if that one person is the Indigo League Champion and commander of an entire Unit." Paul countered. "Besides, I don't just want to beat him in a battle or hurt him physically, I want Ash Ketchum to be humiliated in front of the world. You ask why I have come to you? Well, this is it. I don't want him to be remembered as the youngest champion ever or a hero who saved the world. I want him to be remembered as the overconfident, erratic kid who couldn't handle the responsibility of command and lost a war to Team Rocket!"

When he finally stopped speaking Paul found that he was breathing heavily. His plan was a ruse but his animosity towards Ash and his desire to prove to his brother that the trainer was just as flawed as himself, was very real and his emotions had spilled out. Realising he was in danger of getting carried away he took a deep, calming breath and continued in an even tone.

"I value strength above all else. You must be strong to get what you want in life. If you're not strong you're weak. Like every other serious trainer I want to be a Pokemon Master and I want to earn that title because I am the strongest trainer in the world, which is how it should be. However, right now there are thousands of obnoxious young trainers who are growing up wanting to be just like the great Ash Ketchum. They value companionship over power and that's not right. I don't want people to judge me on how friendly I am with every pokemon I meet, I want to be judged on how easily I can defeat my rivals, and for that Ketchum needs to be gone."

Giovanni considered the response for several seconds before speaking once more, his chin resting in hand. "You would be willing to betray the League to achieve this?" he asked, intrigued.

Like hell I would, Paul thought to himself. However, if he wanted to crush Team Rocket he had to convince Giovanni otherwise so he merely shrugged his shoulders as if Giovanni had just asked what he wanted to eat.

"I have no love for the League right now," he answered. "President Goodshow is just as soft as Ketchum and I don't care for politics. All I care about is becoming the strongest pokemon trainer in the world."

Giovanni smiled inwardly. Paul was arrogant and rude but he was starting to like the kid. He still didn't trust the boy but there were ways he could deal with that. It was clear that Paul had a vendetta against Ketchum and that made him a valuable asset for now. At the end of the day, Giovanni was a businessman and was not about to reject something he might profit from.

"Alright, Mister Ikari, I agree to your terms." he said calmly.

"But, sir!" Domino interjected suddenly, taking a step towards the man from her position beside the desk.

"I don't want to hear it Domino." Giovanni replied tersely holding up a hand in her direction

"But-", the agent continued.

"I said I don't want to hear it!" he snapped furiously, rounding on the woman.

Giovanni shot his second in command a warning look who cowered back under is gaze. He then turned back to Paul, his expression amicable.

"As I was saying," he began in a much more friendly tone. "I agree to your terms and will let you do anything you wish to the league when I take control in return for your knowledge on Ketchum."

Giovanni leaned across his desk and offered his hand to the teenager.

Paul swallowed and stared at the carefully manicured hand for a second. This was as close to making a deal with the devil as a person could come, and not for the first time he considered whether he was making a terrible mistake. But then images of his brother's disappointed face, Ash's smug expression and finally his parents filled his mind and without another thought he stood up and grasped the man's hand.

Giovanni grinned at the contact. "Welcome to Team Rocket," he said.

A chill ran up Paul's spine at the words and he felt as if he might be sick, but he managed to smile back.

Giovanni broke the gesture and for the first time sat down, gesturing to Paul to do the same. Paul sat down, knowing what the man was going to ask next.

"Now let's not beat about the bush any further, tell me how I can beat Ketchum." he asked, barely containing his eagerness.

Paul took a moment to compose his thoughts before speaking. This was the key to his master plan. What he was about to do would lay the foundation for Ash's humiliation and set up Team Rocket's downfall.

"The harsh truth of the matter is that you can't beat Ketchum. I'm the last person to give him praise but like it or not his talent for winning pokemon battles excels that of any other person. To put it simply you are playing a game against a player who is more skilled than you are and as a result you can't possibly hope to win."

The five members of Team Rocket all stared at Paul as if he were mad. The last thing they had expected was for him to criticise the syndicate.

"Insulting us and complimenting the enemy is hardly a way to help us," a still disgruntled Domino muttered from the corner of the room.

"Enough, Domino." Giovanni ordered irritably.

The blonde woman quickly closed her mouth, her eyes shooting daggers at Paul.

"Do get to get to the point, Mister Ikari." Giovanni ordered once he had turned away from the woman, not entirely thrilled by Paul's comments himself.

Sensing the man's impatience Paul nodded and quickly continued.

"My point is is that you have to know your own limitations. If you have no chance of winning you shouldn't play the game."

"Are you implying I should surrender?" Giovanni asked, a hint of anger in his tone.

"No," Paul replied, remaining calm. "What I'm saying is…don't play the game, play the man."

Giovanni's expression became curious. "Go on…" he encouraged.

Paul did not need telling twice. This was the key part of his masterplan and he was eager to explain.

"The most important thing to do in battles is understand the man you are fighting against. If you learn what motivates him, what he loves and what he fears you can determine what makes him vulnerable. Attack a man where he is vulnerable and it doesn't matter how strong or good he is at battling. He can't defend himself where he has no armour and will succumb with barely any resistance."

"And that's where you come in," Giovanni said, understanding what Paul was getting at. "You are offering to tell me where Ash Ketchum is vulnerable."

Paul nodded. "That's right."

A loud scoffing noise suddenly came from the corner of the room and all heads turned to face an incredulous looking Jessie. "Is that it? That's your amazing plan that is going to win the war? That's what we've put our reputations on the line for? It's the most obvious thing in the world!" she exclaimed furiously.

Paul frowned at the woman, unimpressed by her criticism. "Then why haven't you done it yet?" he shot back.

Jessie opened her mouth to reply but quickly shut it again when she realised she had no answer.

"You haven't used it yet because you don't know what Ash Ketchum's biggest weakness is." Paul said, answering his own question. "Or am I mistaken."

None of five syndicate members tried to argue. Although they didn't want to admit it they all knew Paul was right.

"So are ya gonna tell us," Meowth finally asked, breaking the silence.

Paul ignored the cat-like Pokemon and stared at Giovanni. "Do we still have a deal that if I tell you, you will follow my instructions and let me do what I want to the League when this is over?"

"If you tell me and your plan works I will give you your own command in Team Rocket and make you League President." Giovanni declared.

Paul smiled, satisfied with the answer. "Then here it is. You need Misty Waterflower. She is the person Ketchum cares about more than anyone else in the world. Capture her, and Ketchum will be putty in your hands."

The room was silent for a long time as the information was digested. Clearly none of the Rocket members had expected what they had just heard.

"Misty Waterflower…that name is familiar," Giovanni mused, breaking the silence.

"It should be. She's the Cerulean City Gym Leader." Paul clarified.

Giovanni scowled. Back when he was the Leader of the Viridian City Gym he had been forced to attend several League events and had met the Waterflower sisters on one occasion. "She's one of those dumb bimbos that can't even throw a pokeball." he said skeptically.

Paul smirked, understanding the man's surprise. "Not quite, she is the youngest of the four and appears to have inherited the brains in the family." he replied.

"Wait a second." a new voice said and all eyes turned to look at James. The blue haired man was staring at Paul with a curious expression. "Are you talking about the redhead girl who used to travel with the Twerp?" he asked incredulously.

"The very same." Paul replied with a smile.

Jessie, James and Meowth all glanced at one another, their expressions mixtures of both surprise and disbelief.

"Do ya think it's true?" Meowth asked uncertainly.

"I'm not sure," James answered hesitantly. "They were close but as far as I know they never actually dated or anything. Plus didn't she stop travelling with him a few years ago?"

"Oh please!" Jessie snorted decisively. "That girl has been in love with the Twerp almost since day one. He might not be as in touch with his feelings as she is but he barely left her side in three years. That's got to mean something. Honestly, you men are completely oblivious when it comes to romance."

James and Meowth glared angrily at their companion but Giovanni cut the discussion short before they could answer back.

"Are you three saying you know about Ketchum and Waterflower?" he asked impatiently, irritated by the interruption.

Meowth nodded. "We know loads about dem Boss, we used ta follow dem all da time." the feline answered enthusiastically.

"So you can confirm that they have a history together?"

"Oh yes. Misty Waterflower was the first person the Twerp met on his pokemon journey," Jessie explained. "Although they stopped travelling together a while ago they have met up on several occasions and it is obvious that they are still close."

Giovanni leaned back in his chair and pondered the information. Although the trio weren't the most reliable of sources, what they said supported Paul's claim.

"And you're sure he likes her." he asked, turning back to Paul.

"Oh, I am positive. Ketchum has been trailing her like a love-sick Poochiena ever since this campaign began," Paul confirmed without hesitation. "Kidnap her and you will be able to control Ash Ketchum like a puppet.

Giovanni nodded, convinced. "So what you're saying is that if I kidnapped Miss Waterflower I can threaten her and get Ash Ketchum to back off? Maybe even force him to retreat?"

To everyone's surprise Paul shook his head. "You could do that but what I'm suggesting is that you do the complete opposite. If you kidnap Misty then Ash Ketchum will be hell bent on getting her back. He'll come after you like an enraged Tyranitar."

"But if I can't beat Ketchum in a battle why would I want that? After the defeat on Shamouti Island my army is not the force it was. Having Ash Ketchum come after me doesn't help me at all." Giovanni replied angrily.

"Actually, it does help you." Paul continued, slightly annoyed at the man's inability to understand what he was driving at. "Firstly, if you take and threaten Misty you will make Ketchum so angry he won't be able to think properly. I told you, I know how Ash thinks. If you get under his skin he becomes erratic and irrational. It will affect his judgement, and inadvertently his ability to come up with the unusual tactics that he has used to such great effect against you. However, more importantly, it will also make him predictable. Ash values friendship more than anything else in the world and will do anything for his friends. It may be an admirable trait but it is also a foolish one. He will do anything to save his friends, none more so than Misty. The more you threaten her the quicker he will come after you. All you have to do is set a trap for him when does. He'll be so focused on playing the hero he won't realise he's been tricked until it's too late."

When Paul finally finished speaking the room was silent for several seconds as its occupants digested everything they had just heard. The purple haired trainer leaned back in his chair, thoroughly satisfied with the reaction.

"Any questions?" he asked smugly.

"I have one." Domino stated, speaking for the first time since her telling off. She did not trust the trainer and was eager to wipe that smile off the brat's face. "Even if Ketchum does fall for it surely someone else will see that we have set up a trap. I know that he is the Unit's leader but someone else will surely see your plan for what it is and warn him. They won't let him go charging off without considering the danger. If he listens to them and doesn't try to rescue Waterflower then your plan will have failed before it has even begun."

"You're right, there will be some people in the Unit who see our plan for what it is," Paul conceded though he was far from perturbed by the woman's criticism. He had already thought about this particular drawback and had an answer prepared. "However, they won't be a problem. Another weakness with Ash Ketchum's reliance on friendship is that the fool surrounds himself with those closest to him and even puts them into positions of command. They are all exactly the same as he is and will be almost as determined to save Misty as him. Those who do object will be so outnumbered by the majority that Ketchum won't give them a second's thought."

"So you're suggesting that if I simply kidnap this girl, Ash Ketchum is going to come charging straight at us in order to rescue her?" Giovanni clarified.

"I guarantee it." Paul answered without a shred of doubt in his voice.

Domino was still unconvinced. She didn't know what it was but something about the whole situation didn't seem right to her. She could tell that her boss was siding with Paul and she made one last effort to vilify the trainer's plan.

"How do you know he won't back off when we threaten her like the Boss suggested? What if he is too scared that we will kill her or something and doesn't come after us?" she asked in a biting tone.

The corner of Paul's mouth twitched into a knowing smile. "Because, as I said, Ash Ketchum loves playing the hero. Also he will think that he will be able to outsmart you. If you tell him to back off or you will hurt Misty, he'll think that saving her is the last thing you will expect. He'll never see it coming."

When he finished speaking he risked a glance at Giovanni and could tell from his expression that he had managed to convince the man.

"So, what do you think?" Paul asked, already knowing what the Rocket Boss would say.

Giovanni didn't respond immediately but sat deep in thought. The other people in the room watched intently waiting for an answer, all of them knowing better than to interrupt the man. Suddenly Giovanni's head snapped around and he turned to look at Domino.

"How quickly can you put an extraction team together?" he asked, his tone abrupt as if he were pressed for time.

Domino looked like she was about to object again but the Rocket Boss sho her a warning glare, deterring any further defiance.

The blonde woman tilted her head slightly. "I can put a team together in three hours and have them equipped and briefed in another three. In total, six hours tops." she replied after a second's thought.

Giovanni nodded and stood up from his chair, determination surging through his body once more.

"Then those are your orders 009. It is time to crush Ash Ketchum once and for all. We take Misty Waterflower tonight!"

Domino nodded reluctantly and turned to leave but before she could open the door, Jessie spoke.

"What about us? Will we be part of the extraction team? Plus don't we get rewarded for bringing him to you" she asked, shooting the Boss a hopeful look.

Domino was about to reply that the chances of even one of them making it onto the team were less than a Charizard taking up deep sea diving however before she could iterate her thoughts Giovanni answered the question for her.

"Of course you three will be part of the team," he replied in an uncharacteristically upbeat voice. "As you say it is only right that you be rewarded for your actions and all three of you will be promoted to Special Agents as -"

The man was cut-off mid-sentence as the trio simultaneously burst into tears of gratitude and started gushing their thanks. He had to step back as they fell to the floor and prostrated themselves at his feet crying that they loved him and would never let him down again.

By the door Domino looked on in horror and disgust. She could not fathom why her boss had given these morons a place on what would be an extremely difficult and dangerous mission, but she knew better than to question his orders in public. Without a word she exits the room, trying to get her mind focused on the task at hand.

Back in the office Paul lets out a huge sigh of relief. He had achieved the impossible. He had infiltrated Team Rocket and convinced Giovanni to adopt his plan. Little did the man know that he has just brought about his own downfall.

It was early in the evening and Giovanni gazed thoughtfully out of his huge office window at the slowly setting sun. It was hard to believe that just this morning he had been angry, frustrated and, dare he admit it, worried about how the war was progressing. Yet once more he was confident that victory would be achieved, all it had taken was the animosity and ambition of a nineteen year-old boy.

The conversation with Paul was still fresh in his mind. Despite his rudeness and arrogance Giovanni liked Paul Ikari. The trainer was ruthless, determined and best of all he was wickedly intelligent. He reminded the Team Rocket boss of what he had been like as a teenager, and he couldn't help but admire him.

A sharp knock at the door quickly refocused his attention and he swiveled in his expensive leather chair to face the room.

"Enter," Giovanni said, already knowing it would be Domino.

The door opened and sure enough the young blonde agent stepped in. She did not speak immediately but instead closed the door behind her and hastily crossed the room to the desk.

"Well?" Giovanni asked impatiently once she had sat down in the chair on the opposite side, the very same one Paul had occupied just a few hours earlier. "How are the preparations going?"

Domino thought for a second before answering. "Everything is going smoothly so far. I have selected thirty of our best agents and briefed them on the mission. They are currently collecting the necessary equipment from the quartermaster and familiarising themselves with maps of Shamouti Island. Paul is compiling a list of the pokemon Ash Ketchum and his companions are likely to have on hand in order for us to select pokemon with a type advantage. Overall I would say we are slightly behind schedule, however we should be ready by twenty-one hundred hours this evening."

"And now that you have assessed things in more detail, are you confident that we can do it?"

Domino hesitated for just a moment, but sensing her boss's urgency she quickly began speaking. "Yes, we can. Although it won't be easy." she stated abruptly, knowing it was best to get straight to the point. "Our biggest challenge will be finding and isolating Waterflower."

Giovanni nodded, that was all he needed to hear. He knew snatching Misty Waterflower from Shamouti Island would be anything but easy, but if it was at all possible it was well worth the risk.

"Then you have permission to proceed when ready." he said

Domino nodded but did not stand up or make any movement of any sort. Instead she remained seated, a conflicted expression ingrained on her attractive features.

Giovanni did not need his skills in reading body language to tell that something was bothering the woman.

"Is there something you want to say, Domino?" he asked, knowing full well there was.

Domino hesitated as if she were deciding whether voicing her thoughts was a good idea. Eventually she came to a decision and nodded once more. "There is." she confirmed.

Giovanni leaned back in his chair. "Out with it, then." he encouraged.

"It's about Paul Ikari," she began slowly. "I know you have agreed to proceed with his plan but to be perfectly honest with you, I don't trust him." she informed in a grave tone.

Giovanni gazed at his second in command with an expression that gave nothing away. Given the woman's outbursts in their meeting with the trainer he was not at all surprised by her confession. However, he had not made the woman his number two for nothing and he would be a fool to not listen to her concerns.

"And why do you not trust him?" he asked in a level tone.

Domino shrugged, screwing up her face in frustration. "I don't know but something doesn't feel right. He just turns up out of the blue with this plan right when we are most desperate. It's just too good to believe." She looked at her boss apologetically. "I'm sorry, I don't have anything to base this on. I'll continue preparing the extraction team."

She made to leave but Giovanni stopped her before she could even stand up.

"You are right to be cautious, Domino." he said, his expression serious.

Domino raised her eyebrows in surprise. "Are you saying you don't trust him either?"

"Really Domino? Do you honestly believe that I would trust a man I don't know and who until a day ago had been fighting against me?" he asked in a disappointed tone.

Domino flushed with embarrassment. "In the meeting you acted like you believed him." she replied, trying to justify herself.

"Of course I acted like that." Giovanni answered in an exasperated tone. "Ikari came to us for a reason and the best thing we can do is to make him think we trust him. The more he thinks that, the more he will lower his guard."

Domino's eyebrows knitted together in a perplexed scowl. "You think he has a hidden agenda?" she queried.

Giovanni shifted in his seat. "I don't know, I didn't detect any double motives in our meeting but if there is one thing Mr Ikari has shown us it is that he has an extremely devious mind. I am certain he hasn't revealed all of his cards yet, I wouldn't have if I were in his situation."

Domino nodded, relieved that she was not alone in mistrusting Paul. "Do you want me to keep an eye on him, just in case he does try anything?" she suggested eagerly.

"That wouldn't be a bad idea." Giovanni agreed, giving the woman a nod of approval. "However, make sure you do it discreetly. As I said, it is vital that he continues to think we trust him. This way he will continue to help us."

Domino smiled. If there was one thing she could do it was be discrete. She was a master of disguise and as a result an excellent spy. It was this ability that had got her noticed by her superiors when she was just a grunt and has been the driving force behind her rapid series of promotions.

"That won't be a problem," she assured before her expression morphed once more into a scowl. "So if we don't trust him are we still going to go ahead with his plan?" she asked.

This time it was Giovanni's turn to smile. He had been waiting for the woman to ask this particular question.

"Because this is too good an opportunity ignore. And we are going to lay a trap 009, just not the trap Paul Ikari has in mind," he replied in a malevolent tone.

Domino's features creased with confusion which only amused the Rocket Boss further. In his line of work every person he had ever had dealings with was a criminal and – naturally – the vast majority of criminals couldn't be trusted. You didn't get very far in the world beyond the law by trusting people whose first instinct was to lie and cheat and you only got as far as Giovanni had by being able to sense whether what you were being told was true or not.

In fact, Giovanni contributed a lot of his success to his ability to manipulate those who tried to deceive him. He would go along with whatever lies they spouted at him to lure them into a false sense of security, only to ambush them later and that was exactly what he would do this time. Although Paul had given the Rocket Boss no reason to believe he was being deceitful, Giovanni was too experienced to follow the trainer's plans unquestioningly. If Paul was planning to turn on him in the future he would not simply walk into a trap.

Instead he had come up with a different plan, possibly the most brilliant of his life so far. He liked how Paul had targeted the one Ash Ketchum cared about the most and genuinely believed it to be the best tactic to destroy the commander. He would go ahead as Paul suggested and use Misty Waterflower as bait to lure Ash Ketchum and his friends to Team Rocket's HQ, but not for the reason the trainer had suggested. Rather than sit around and wait for the Unit to come to him, he would go on the offensive.

He explained what he had in mind to Domino, taking care to outline every detail of his new plan and when he finished speaking Domino looked at the man with a mixture of admiration and awe.

"You've thought of all of that since the meeting!" Domino exclaimed incredulously.

Giovanni smirked, enjoying the woman's reaction. "You sound surprised." he said.

Domino shook her head. "Not surprised, but impressed," she corrected, unable to keep the reverence out of her voice. There was no doubt in her mind that she sitting before the most brilliant criminal in the world. Only he could have seized the opportunity presented by Paul Ikari and turned it into a way to not only beat Ash Ketchum but also to take over the world.

"Then I can trust you to put the necessary arrangements in place?" Giovanni asked his second in-command.

Domino sat up straight in her chair, eager to prove to her idol that she was more than up to the task. "Of course, sir. I will start preparations immediately," she assured and without waiting for further instruction, stood up from her chair.

"Make sure you send your best agents to Cerulean City," Giovanni said as he watched the woman turn towards his office doors. "We can't afford any mistakes."

"Don't worry sir, agents Annie and Oakley will be more than efficient." she replied.

The blonde took another step towards the large wooden doors but stopped as another thought crossed her mind. The mention of her most reliable agents had painfully reminded her that she would be baby-sitting three of the worst agents in the syndicate on the mission that evening. As far as she was aware the trio had never completed a mission or benefited Team Rocket in any way. She didn't care if they had set this whole plan in motion by bringing Paul to them, they were fools and would be a liability to her and her team.

She turned slowly back to face her boss and was surprised to find the man watching her intently. She faltered under the commanding gaze. He had personally given them permission to join the extraction team heading for Shamouti Island and his word was final. She had already questioned Giovanni's motives once that day and she knew she would be pushing her luck should she do so a second time. Despite this, If there were any way she could rid herself of these morons then she would try.

"Sir," she began in a hesitant tone without looking Giovanni in the eye. "Why did you give agents Jessie, James and Meowth a place on the extraction team? They um…they aren't the most suitable people for the task."

To her astonishment Giovanni grinned and leaned back in his chair like a smug school pupil.

"I was beginning to think you weren't going to question me on that," he replied evenly.

Domino's brow creased. "You were?" she asked, perplexed.

"Of course," Giovanni declared, sitting forward again. "They are imbeciles, all three of them. The only reason I keep them around is because sometimes it is useful to have expendable assets."

Domino shook her head. "Then why on earth did you give them permission to be part of the extraction team, knowing them they will ruin the entire operation," she argued, not understanding her boss' reasoning.

"For exactly the reason I have just told you, sometimes it is useful to have expendable assets. In this case I will be sacrificing three pawns in order to capture the king" he said in a low voice and proceeded to explain to his second in command what he had in mind for the hapless trio.

When he finally finished speaking there was again no doubt left in Domino's mind that she was in the presence of a criminal genius who had no equal.

Domino stood up from her chair eager to put her boss' plans into motion. "I will inform agents Jessie, James and Meowth of your change of plan myself," she declared, the ghost of a smile playing on her lips.

Giovanni didn't even attempt to hide his smirk. "Make sure you do. As pathetic as they are, they play an important role in deceiving Ketchum," he replied.

Domino nodded and with a sharp salute pivoted on her heel and marched towards the door. She took hold of one of the heavy brass handles and pulled the door open but before she could slip through the gap Giovanni spoke once more.

"Do not fail me 009." the man said in a warning tone that caused even Domino to feel an icy stab of fear. "Misty Waterflower is the key to this plan. Without her we will not be able to win the war."

Domino straightened and turned to her Boss. "I won't let you down sir," she replied firmly and without waiting for a response, slipped through the door.

Giovanni watched the great panel of wood click shut and remained staring at the spot where Domino had been standing. His plan was brilliant even by his standards and he had every faith in his second in command. He had thought of every possible scenario and covered every eventuality. This time he would be successful and his plans of world domination would finally be fulfilled.

Turning in his chair he slid open the bottom draw of his desk and picked out Ash Ketchum's Pokemon League cap. He placed the battered item on the wooden desk in front of him and leered down at it with a malevolent grin. If all went correctly Ketchum would be so concerned about saving his little girlfriend he wouldn't realise he had been tricked until it was far too late. And to top it off Giovanni would use the trainer's own feelings for the girl to crush him so that he never bothered Giovanni or Team Rocket again. This time there would be no mistakes. This time he would crush the trainer once and for all, finally gaining his rightful rule over the pokemon world.

"So um Ash, I'm not really sure how to tell you this but I – I like you…"

"I like you too Mist."

"No, I mean I really like you. I'm in love with you."

"You're in love with me? Are you serious?"

"Yes Ash, I am serious, even though I am way out of your league."

"Wow Misty, I've always thought you were smoking hot, I love you too!"

"You do!? That's great, you're not as good looking as Gary but you're not too bad yourself."

"Alright! Let's stop right there," May growled, her unamused voice cutting Gary off from his monologue.

"But I haven't finished," Gary replied, a look of hurt morphing onto his features.

May glared at the researcher who was sat across from her on her own mattress in the small room she shared with Dawn and Misty. "When I said we should imagine how a conversation between Ash and Misty would go I meant how it would go in real life, not how it would go in your strange little world." she chastised, glaring at the chestnut haired boy, her hands placed firmly on her hips.

"Honestly," Gary replied with mock indignation. "You ask me for my thoughts and then ridicule my answer. You just can't win with some people!"

"You seriously think that is how Ash and Misty would confess their feelings to one another?" Dawn asked from her position beside May, an expression that was as equally unimpressed as her friend's etched onto her face.

Gary shrugged innocently. "Well, maybe not in those exact words," he replied, barely keeping a straight face.

Drew, who was perched casually beside Gary on May's mattress let out a small snigger which immediately earned him a disapproving look from his new girlfriend.

"Don't encourage him," May snapped, hurling a discarded sock at the boy.

Drew's snigger instantly turned into a cough as he ducked the incoming item of clothing and he made a show of clearing his throat before responding. "Sorry, swallowed the wrong way," he mumbled, not looking the brunette in the eye.

"Of course you did," May responded, her lip curled upward in disgust.

"I told you we shouldn't have included them," Dawn said shaking her head. "Without Brock around they have the combined maturity of a five year old."

Gary scowled. "I resent that. I'm at least seven!" he declared with a grin.

May ignored him. "I know but we need ideas. Short of locking Ash and Misty in a room I have no idea how we are ever going to get them together. There's no point convincing Misty to tell Ash how she feels if he keeps avoiding her," she argued.

"Locking them in a room…that's genius!" Gary exclaimed, his face lighting up like a Lanturn. "Why didn't I think of that!"

"We're not locking them in a room," Dawn shot back. "Knowing those two they'd probably end up killing one another rather than confessing their feelings."

Gary paused for a moment as if he were weighing up the situation and then looked at the coordinator with an expression that was almost serious. "You know what, that is a risk I am willing to take…"

The researcher managed to keep a straight face for a few more seconds before he burst out into loud guffaws.

"Alright!" May exclaimed. "I think it's time you went to your own room and let those who actually have their friend's best interests at heart have a serious conversation."

Gary shrugged nonplussed and got to his feet still chuckling. Beside him Drew began the slow, delicate process of rising carefully to his feet but before he could do so he was stopped by May.

"Oh no, you aren't going anywhere until you have apologized," she snapped as if she were chastising an insolent pupil.

Drew's eyes widened in surprise and stared at his girlfriend with indignation. "What for?" he demanded.

May folded her arms. "For being an arse," she replied bluntly.

Drew's jaw dropped open and he looked from May to Gary and then back again. "How come he doesn't have to apologise? He was being way worse than me!" he complained.

"Because," May began as if she were talking to a child. "I'm not going out with him and won't break up with him if he doesn't."

Drew gaped at the girl but was unable to find any words.

Gary stared down at down at the pathetic sight of his friend. "Dude…" he said with a shake of his head and without any further comment walked over to the door and slipped out of the room, leaving Drew to fend for himself.

"Women are crazy," he muttered to himself as he closed the door. He then turned to head down the corridor to his own room but practically jumped out of his skin when he came face to face with a person standing right beside him.

"Holy crap! Why does everyone keep doing that to me?" Gary howled indignantly, glaring at the new arrival.

Misty didn't even flinch at the researcher's angry gaze and gave him an unsympathetic look. "Maybe if you weren't rude to people all the time you wouldn't be so concerned," she reasoned.

Gary feigned a look of innocence. "Me? Rude? I don't know what you're talking about," he replied, barely managing to keep the humour out of his voice.

Misty raised a scathing eyebrow. "So I guess I imagined it when I heard you say women are crazy," she accused.

Gary clutched a hand to his chest as if he had been physically struck. "I'm horrified you would think me capable of such words," he replied.

Misty sighed, she was in no mood to play Gary's games. "There is nothing that I wouldn't think you capable of Gary and besides, you're not denying it," she shot back.

Gary grinned. "Well that's because women are actually crazy," he mused.

"And you're basing that on what exactly?" Misty challenge.

Gary's grin morphed into an arrogant smirk. "When you've dated as many girls as I have it becomes pretty clear that there is a trend going on…"

Misty crossed her arms. "This may shock you Gary but girls don't just randomly act crazy. Though you may not understand it, we usually have a reason for our actions and I'm guessing that in their cases that reason was an egotistical, playboy date," she replied evenly.

For the first time Gary's smug expression faltered and his eyes flashed briefly with irritation.

"Well this may shock you Misty," Gary replied in his best imitation of the Gym Leader. "But I can and have been a gentlemen, but I have known girls who have hurt me without any justification so I'd appreciate it if you didn't go stereotyping me."

Misty cocked her head slightly to one side, intrigued by the man's comments. She had never imagined that Gary Oak could ever be hurt by a woman. Her thoughts turned to her conversation with Leaf and she wondered whether she was the woman Gary was referring to. Had he liked her all those years ago? Had she hurt him by joining the G-men? She suddenly felt a stab of guilt at judging the researcher however she was saved the awkwardness of apologising as the sound of new voices filled the corridor.

Misty turned just in time to see Ash, Ritchie and Brock suddenly emerge from the entranceway that led to the main part of the festival hall. They all appeared to be in good spirits and Ash was in the middle of saying something to the other men, however, the words died in his throat as he caught sight of Misty. He stopped suddenly almost causing Brock and Ritchie to collide with him.

An awkward silence descended upon the group as Ash met Misty's gaze and then quickly glanced down at the ground, his cheeks flushing crimson.

Misty's stomach lurched at the eye contact. This was the first time she had seen Ash ever since Leaf let slip that she had become close to Rudy and despite what the brunette had told her earlier she had no idea how he would act around her.

"Hey Ash." she said weakly, forcing herself to look directly at the trainer.

Ash's eyes flashed upwards but once again he dropped his gaze the second he met her cerulean irises. Ash cursed his own transparency. He had spent the entire day mentally preparing himself to act normally around Misty but everything he had promised himself he would do to pretend he wasn't head over heels in love with his best friend had vanished from his mind completely.

He swallowed as the part of his brain not occupied with his inner turmoil became aware that he was expected to reply, as was the usual courtesy in conversations. However, all he could manage was a short incoherent grunt of consent that made him hate himself even more.

"Well this is fun." Gary muttered under his breath as he glanced between the awkward pair.

Misty shot Gary a look that made even the self-assured researcher shrink back. She couldn't believe she had felt even the slightest bit of sympathy for irritating the man.

As usual it was Brock who salvaged the situation before it could deteriorate even further. "Hey Misty," he said brightly in an effort prevent any more tension from building.

Misty smiled at the breeder. "Hi Brock," she replied before looking helplessly at Ash. She desperately wanted to have a normal conversation with the trainer, for things to return to the way they had been before Ash had disappeared.

Brock caught the Gym leader's wistful expression and realised that he had a job to do. Without warning he stretched his arms out to each side and yawned loudly.

"Man I am beat," he announced in a tone that fooled nobody apart from Ash. "It's nearly eleven so I think I am going to hit the sack. You coming Ritch?"

The breeder shot the auburn haired trainer a look that left him in no doubt as to what his response should be.

"Sure, I am knackered as well," he said, cottoning on to Brock's intentions with a knowing look.

"Well we will leave you two to it then, goodnight," Brock said, glancing at Ash and Misty with a barely contained smile.

Ash stared at the breeder with wide eyes, terrified at being left alone with Misty. She on the other hand subtly nodded her thanks as Brock passed her on the way to the room he, Ash and Ritchie were sharing.

"After you Gary," Brock said, sweeping his hand out before him as he reached the researcher.

Gary looked up at Brock considering the other man's actions. He was well aware that the breeder was trying to leave Ash alone with Misty so that the pair could talk but as much as Gary wanted his friends to finally confess their feelings he enjoyed watching them flounder through their sexually charged encounters.

"That's alright, I'm not tired," he replied nonchalantly, his gaze flicking back to Ash and Misty. No way was he going to miss this.

He leaned against the wall and folded his arms as he prepared for what he was convinced would go down in the history books as the most awkward conversation in the world. If only he had some popcorn…

He was just getting comfortable when a hand reached out and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck.

"I think you'll find that you are extremely tired," Brock growled in the researcher's ear.

Before Gary could register what was happening he had been dragged down the corridor by the unamused breeder and tossed unceremoniously onto the floor of the room he was sharing with Drew.

Back in the corridor Brock politely allowed Ritchie to follow Gary into the room, though in a more dignified manner. Finally he bid a bewildered looking Ash and a grateful looking Misty goodnight and disappeared through the doorway himself.

Gary blinked rapidly as his mind tried to piece together how he had gone from being vertical to horizontal in a matter of seconds. He shook his head and untangled himself from the web of sleeping bags and clothes he had landed in and turned to look up at his assailant.

"What the hell man?" Gary demand hotly as Brock closed the door being him. "Whose side are you on? Mine or Red's?"

Brock stared down at the disheveled researcher with a lopsided grin. "Misty's side, Gary. Always Misty's side and I'm not going to let you or anyone else get in her way."

Back out in the corridor Ash was suddenly extremely conscious that he was alone with Misty. It was the first time they had been by themselves since his near fatal encounter the week before but the comfortable companionship they had previously enjoyed in each other's company had vanished as effectively as an Abra using teleport.

He risked a quick glance at the woman and felt his insides turn to mush as he realised she was staring right back at him. He silently cursed his own treacherous emotions. He desperately wanted things to be normal between them again, for him to feel comfortable in her presence.

In stark contrast to the agitated trainer, Misty was as cool as a Cloyster in the middle of winter. Unlike Ash, she had become an expert in handling her feelings but to her surprise it was not her emotional experience that provided her with her assurance, but the sudden clarity of knowing what she had to do.

Her conversation with Leaf had been weighing on her mind for the past few hours and whether it was seeing Ash in the flesh or the fact it had just taken her tired brain that long to assimilate the other girl's argument Misty knew she could not let this wonderful boy go without one last attempt.

Misty took a deep breath. That was easier said than done. If she was ever going to stand a chance of winning Ash she would first have to dismantle the giant obstacle she had created between them by spending time with Rudy. How the hell was she going to do that? She was grateful to Brock for giving her this opportunity but now that she had it she didn't know what to do. In the end she decided to just go with whatever she could think of and hope for the best.

"I…err, I didn't catch you today," she said, wincing at how strained her voice sounded. "I thought you'd be out on the beach or something?"

Ash suddenly brightened. There were so many subjects that were far too dangerous for him to discuss with Misty however talking about his day was one he comfortable broaching.

"That's because I spent most of it on the phone talking to Lance and the rest of the League so I didn't get much of a chance to venture outside," he replied, seizing the opportunity to have a normal conversation with the girl, who was after all his best friend.

Misty also started to relax as she eased into the conversation. "I guess you're officially re-instated as the Commander of the Unit, huh?" she asked.

Unexpectedly, Ash dug his hands into his pockets and sighed heavily. "Yeah, I am," he muttered half-heartedly.

Misty titled her head slightly, she could tell something was bothering her friend. "But?" she prompted encouragingly.

"But I'm not sure if I really want to be the commander again."

Ash caught sight of Misty's shocked expression and hastily tried to clarify himself. "It's not that I'm not honoured by the position or don't want to fight Team Rocket. It's just that the responsibility is huge. I could barely handle the pressure at the start of the war and the longer it goes on the higher the stakes become. We're living on a knife's edge here. One wrong move and the war could be lost and I'm terrified that i'll make a mistake."

When Ash finished speaking he risked another glance at Misty and was surprised to see her smiling fondly at him.

"You're not going to make a mistake Ash," she said reassuringly. "You care far too much about the trainers and coordinators in this Unit to do so. And besides, you've done pretty well up until now. What makes you think you won't continue to kick Team Rocket's but?"

Ash diverted his gaze to the floor as his cheeks began to redden. "Uhh…I, err…it's just that I haven't been thinking straight recently," he said, almost choking on the words and he silently thanked whatever gods would listen to him that Misty wasn't able to read is thoughts.

Misty observed Ash curiously, intrigued by his comment. For someone who had such a one track mind as Ash did it was hard to imagine the trainer not being able to think straight but she guessed anyone who had undergone a near death experience could be forgiven for having troubled thoughts.

Although she wanted to ask the trainer what was troubling him it was clear he didn't want to talk about it. Anyway, she already had a good idea as to what his thoughts were. Once again, her mind shifted to her predicament regarding Rudy. Could Ash really be jealous? Was she hoping for too much? There was only one way to find out.

"Well, if it's not too much trouble, perhaps the commander could spare an hour out of his busy schedule to have a practice battle with me. It's been awhile since I've had a decent challenge," she teased lightly.

Ash's anxious expression instantly morphed into a stupid grin however whether it was at her subtle compliment or simply the idea of a pokemon battle Misty didn't know.

"Sure Mist," he replied eagerly. "But are you sure you want to take on the League Champion? I don't want to dent your confidence or anything."

Misty smirked at the grinning trainer. "My confidence? I'd be worried about yours. You've probably gone soft after spending all that time on this island with Melody?" she scoffed unable to resist taking a dig at the infuriating brunette.

Ash huffed, crossing his arms. "I have not gone soft," he spluttered. "You're the one who has gone soft! I bet you're better at dancing than pokemon battles if you've been spending time with Rudy!"

Ash winced the second the words were out of his mouth. He hadn't meant to bring the Trovita Island Gym Leader into the conversation but as was usually the case when he argued with Misty he had said something he hadn't wanted to say. He cursed himself. Way to show you're a jealous stalker, he thought sardonically.

Misty's chest tightened. She had hoped to goad Ash into saying something along those lines and this was her chance to prove once and for all there was only one man she was interest in and it wasn't the smooth talking gym leader.

"Your right, Rudy may be a gym leader but I recall you beating him pretty convincingly all those years ago. There is no contest between you and Rudy. I'd rather battle you than him any day."

She bit her lip instantly, suddenly conscious that she might be laying it on a bit too thick.

Sure enough Ash gaped like a particularly useless Magikarp. Although his overwhelmed mind wasn't able decipher the real connotations of Misty's comment it didn't miss that in one breath she had compared him with Rudy and inferred the other man to be the inferior trainer. In Ash's new primal way of thinking, considering Rudy the inferior trainer meant that he, Ash, was the superior trainer and thus the superior male.

"So you would rather spend time with me?" he eventually asked.

Misty nodded eagerly.

"And you think I am the better battler?"

Misty nodded again, resisting the urge to sigh in exasperation. Did she have to spell it out for him? Instead she decided to adopt a tactic that had served her sisters so well for so many years. She wasn't one to cash in on her, well, stunning good looks but what was the point in being a sensational sister if you never lived up to the title?

Adopting the puppy eyes and perfect little pout she had seen her sister's perfect, she unleashed the deadly combination on the unsuspecting trainer. "There's no contest." she breathed with a look that would have stopped any male in his tracks.

Ash blinked rapidly as he swallowed the sudden lump in his throat. He suddenly felt the same gravitational pull as he had felt on the beach the previous day and he took an unconscious step towards the beautiful woman in front of him. He felt the invisible force tug on the back of his neck and pull his head lower downs towards hers. For a second he had no control over his actions but then his gaze suddenly registered her astonished expression and he instantly pulled up and jerked backwards.

He flushed brilliantly and avoided her eye as he tried to clear the fog that had suddenly descended upon his brain. What the frick had he been thinking. More importantly, what the frick had he been about to do!

The answer didn't bare thinking about and at that terrifying notion Ash made his escape.

"Er – ok then. A battle it is. I'll see you tomorrow then Misty," he blurted out hurriedly before bolting down the corridor and into his shared room as fast as his legs could carry him.

Misty was left staring after him with a stupefied expression. Her breath caught in her throat and her heart started to beat in overdrive as her brain finally processed the last twenty seconds of her life. Could what Leaf had said be true? Could what May and Dawn had speculated a few weeks ago really be true?

She shook her head and forced herself not to get carried away as she practically levitated down the corridor to her own room. Leaf was right, she might actually stand a chance with Ash after all. However seizing that chance was an entire different kettle of fish. Misty had never thought of, let alone actually asked someone out before, and the concept of courting another person was completely alien to her. Fortunately for her she knew exactly the two girls she needed to speak to.

Author's Note

Well, where do we begin? So many questions with so few answers!

What does Paul have in mind for Giovanni and the rest of Team Rocket? Can he take them down or has he just made a huge mistake and condemned Misty in the process?

More importantly what the hell is Giovanni up to? Will he be able to deceive everyone, including Paul? Will Ash fall for the trap and what does he have in store for Jessie, James and Meowth? There is only one way to find out.

As always, please read and review. I' always interested in what you guys have to say and you never fail to amaze, encourage and inspire me to improve my writing. Also I would be extremely interested in what you think Paul and Giovanni have planned.

Responses to reviews

Guest (31/12/16) - Thank you so much for the encouragement. Ash and Misty's confession will come but I fear there will be a lot more drama before hand.

marie - I'm glad to know that you are still interested in the story after all this time. Yeah Misty has finally reached a turning point and in this chapter she has finally made the decision to tell Ash. Let's she if she reveal things in time. There is still loads of drama to come for all of the characters in the story so hold onto your seats things are about to heat up. I hoped you liked Ash and Misty's conversation in this chapter, they are so close! Thanks for the review!

Guest (01/01/17) - I'm glad you are happy, I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Thanks for the review.

TigerFoxGirl12 - Wow, I am honoured that this is your favourite fanfic. I hope this chapter lived up to expectations. Thanks for the review.

Guest (03/01/17) - The confession will happen, but not before loads of drama.

Guest (20/01/17) - I could have killed him, but that would ruin all I have planned for the rest of the story. Plus Ash always survives ridiculous situations in the anime so I'm just staying true to that.