,¤ Adopted Love ¤,
,¤ Part 4 Scuffle or Boogie ¤,
,¤ By PinkFalcon ¤,

DISCLAIMER: I'm drinking a Pepsi. Do I own said Pepsi? No. Anyone who sues me for drawing positive attention to their TV show/game/manga/anime shall be properly dealt with after I finish my soda. -sip-

WARNING: I've heard that this fic is extremely slow. Well, that's true. I like it slow, though. Helps with the character interaction. And that's what this fic is all about, dammit! Character friggin' interaction! Yeah! -sips Pepsi-

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Wow, I'm actually writing this before I write the fic . . . -stares at laptop in amazement- WHOO! I've been sitting on this beanbag so long that I can't feel my legs anymore! Eh, legs are overrated anyway. Anyway, as stated above, this fic will be slow because I like my development and, as stated above . . . damn, this is a good Pepsi. You know, I think this Pepsi has spurred me into trying something different for this fic . . . What if I started from someone else's POV, eh? Hmm . . .

WARNING II: -stares in wonder- Wowzers, I've never put a warning after my AN before . . . whoa. Shocking. Um, anyway, I just reread what I started with, and I believe this fic deserves a MASSIVE warning for language. Yes, my mates, language. Know any 18-year-old guys? If you do, then you know what I'm talking about. SO! If you don't enjoy the—gods I sound stupid saying this—the F-word and somesuch, um . . . well then, you're plum out of luck. Sorry. -bows- WHAT SAY YOU TO THAT, EH?

WARNING III: What's wrong with me, eh? -points at self- Oiya, man, what's wrong with you? Three warnings in one fic? Riddikulus, man! -shakes head in exasperation- Sorry, guys, but I just came back to tell you that I've plotted through this chapter, and well, I think I'm changing the rating to R as soon as I post it. It's got language and . . . other stuff. Not citrusy at all, just . . . stuff. -shudders- I dunno. I tried to make it realistic. I guess. -shudders again- This is a real warning, too. Heed it or feel the wrath of my Pancakes of Doom. O.O

WARNING IV: This is ridiculous, I know. I apologize. -bows- But I just tried uploading this, and I forgot that the ratings system has been . . . systematically destroyed? Is that the phrase I'mlooking for? Anyway, apparently the worldwide ratings system isn't good enough here, so I now have to choose between T and M (?). The problem is that T insinuates 13-19 while M suggests 20, and I would rate this about a 16- or 17+ Well, dammit. I'll stick with T, but for all you young, influencable Ts out there . . . You've had four warnings. Be warned. -manages to toddle off mysteriously without bumping into anything-

It's one in the morning on a Monday night. Do you know where your kitty is? O.O

,¤AL ¤,

"Pass the Pringles, mate."

Gary sighed and grabbed a handful, then passed the can over to Damien, wincing when his bruised arm ached in protest. Damien frowned at him from over the arm of Oak's faded orange couch and grimaced when he snatched it from Gary's hands. His own body hadn't managed to make it unscathed from the encounter with Ash yesterday.

"We're pathetic," Gary said disgustedly, watching Damien chew tentatively around his cut lip. Damien looked up at him quizzically. "I mean, look at us." He waved a hand to indicate the junk food strewn all about the attic floor. "We get in one tiny scrap with Ash, of all fucking people, and look what we've been reduced to." He looked to Damien, but Damien only stared back in baffled curiosity. He munched loudly on the chips, a few crumbs falling from his mouth, and Gary threw his head back with an enraged sigh. "Ugh! Look at us, Damien! That pitiful excuse for a Trainer beat us! We're hiding out in my grandpa's attic, for Chrissake! Binge eating!"

Damien frowned at him, then locked gazes with the grinning Pringles man, his bewildered expression changing to one of disgust. He tossed the can down to clang against its empty mates on the shag carpet and pulled himself to his knees on the couch, absently wiping the crumbs from his shirt. "Strewth, mate, you're right! Look at us! Sittin' up here on our fat dates while him an' that filly—ooh, the filly. It was all her fault, you know. Her an' that bloody Feraligatr o' hers."

"You're right," Gary agreed, eyes narrowed. He kneaded his injured eye tenderly. "Goddam tomboys. What was her name again?"

"Misty," Damien fumed, carefully crossing his arms over his chest. "You know, that runt from the Water Gym up north."

"Right. Bitch."

"Bitch," Damien agreed, and the pair lapsed into furious silence.

"If she hadn't had that Feraligatr, you know," said Gary suddenly. "She was nothing without the goddam Feraligatr."

"Yeah. Goddam lizard."

"Goddam right."


Silence again, with only the soft patter of rain against the window to distract their dark thoughts. Gary slouched deeper into his couch, tracing one of the many fuzzy brown polka dots with the tip of his finger, and wondered again how old his grandfather's furniture really was. The horrible combination of orange and brown suggested mid '70s, but the Pikachu-striped yellow shag carpet came across with a more '80-ish feel, hideous as it was. He focused his gaze on the single circular window instead, watching the rainwater flow down the smudged pane in tiny rivers. The noonday sun was hidden behind masses of murky grey clouds, and the heavy downpour drowned out what he knew was a field of Tauros in the distance. He sighed heavily. The rain did nothing to alleviate his mood.

"How much longer is that gonna keep up?" he wondered aloud. Damien started to shrug, then winced, rotating his left shoulder painfully.

"Wench," he growled. "She's gonna pay for using such a dirty trick." He was alluding to the summoning of her Feraligatr.

"You called out your Fearow, remember?" Gary pointed out. Damien glared at him.

"That's diff'rent, mate, and you know it. Every other time, Ash has had that goddam Pikachu there to shock us all to hell every time something happened. Joey just wanted a little payback, that was all. That girl had no right to get out her Feraligatr! Dirty scheming bitch."

Gary snorted. "You think anyone with tits and a Pokémon is a dirty scheming bitch. But I agree; loosing that Feraligatr was low, even for a girl. She should be taught a lesson."

"You think so?" Damien asked silkily. Gary glanced up at him; there was a mischievous twinkle in his sandy eyes. He felt his own lips twist up into a grin.

"Yeah, I do," he said slowly. "Something that'll make her think twice before trying to Attack us again."

"Somethin' that'll put 'er back in 'er place," supplied Damien.

"And Ash!" Gary suddenly remembered.

"Yeah, somethin' that'll teach 'em both not to mess with us again!"

"But what?" Gary wanted to know. Damien shrugged, his eyes roving aimlessly over to the window. Gary's quickly followed suit. "The storm?" he asked. Damien nodded, grinning, and Gary's eyes narrowed. "How do you mean?"

Damien shrugged. "I dunno, mate. Jus' look at it. Would you wanna be out there right now?" Gary glanced again through the rain-lashed window in time to witness a brief flash of lightning, followed closely by a deep gurgling form the clouds. The torrent hadn't subsided in the least since its birth during the fight yesterday afternoon. Professor Oak's laboratory was once surrounded by field upon field of billowing golden grasses; now the rolling hills were smashed flat by the pounding water, sharp blades twining about each other in a myriad mess of muddy hoof prints. The herd of Ash's Tauros, too numerous to take shelter in the stable, had been recalled into their 'balls as soon as the storm began, having called the professor's attention to their predicament by stampeding about the grounds in a mad rush. Now the land was nothing more than a large basin of churned mud and small ponds. Hell to walk through, as the pair already knew. He turned back to Damien.

"Man, this sucks. Ash's girlfriend pulls a Feraligatr on us and all we can do is make them walk through some muck in a storm? Maybe we did deserve to lose that fight."

"Are you insane, mate? We can't let a couple o' blokes like that get the better of us! And besides, Joey's gone and got 'er feelings 'urt after I put her away like that. Think o' how many times we've been shocked. This isn't just for this time! This's for ev'ry time!"

"Still, we need to come up with something better than a trek through a rainy field—"

"I know that! Crikey! But dammit, I'm mad now. That blighter tripped me! And he got my Charm'nder taken away last year! He deserves something in return."

"Like . . .?"

"Like . . . Ah hell, mate, I don't know! Didn't you say his ol' man got killed a few years ago?"

Gary's face went white, save the purple bruising on his cheek where Ash's fist had caught him. "Now wait a minute, Damien, that—"

"That what?" Damien demanded. "His dad was a pompous ass, you know that! He was the friggin' Pokémon Master, for Chrissake! And your dad got killed trying to save him—got killed trying to save a stiff bloke from something he prob'ly deserved! Aren't you mad?"

Gary was furious. "Of course I'm mad, you fucking idiot! What the hell brought that up?" He glared icily at his friend, struggling to control his breathing. Fuck. Of course he was mad. Livid. Irate. And yes, of course he knew that the only reason his father—mother too, really—was dead was because Sir Cypress-Fucking-Ketchum had asked him to be there for him, as extra security. As if he knew something was going to happen! As if he knew it would cost him his life! And then his mother . . . Ash's mom acted as if nothing had even happened! And Ash had just sat their, cuddling with his chubby little Pichu day after day, enjoying the company of his mother, while he, Gary, was shuffled about between his grandfather and sister, neither really possessing the time and energy to raise him and both oblivious to the way he felt about the arrangement. Fuck yeah, he was mad. Mad as hell. Ash's family had ruined his entire life.

Damien was clearly riled up. "Then come on, man, let's do something about it."

"Like what?" Gary snapped.

"Like . . . I dunno. Like sending him on some big wuddyacallit, you Americans—some big wild moose chase."

"Goose," corrected Gary.

"Whatever, mate. The point is, if we kin get him outta here for a while, his girlfriend'll go too, right?"

"Yeah, so? What's the point of making them leave?"

"Are you taking the piss? What's the bloody point? He'll be gone, that's the bloody point! And he'll take his Pokémon with him—his Pokémon, and his 'Gear, and all of his money, and—"

"So? This is stupid."

"No it bloody well ain't! Jus' listen to me, you impatient twat! With him gone now, he'll probably miss the start of school, right?" Gary was silent. "And if he misses school, he'll have to make up later, right? Which means we'll start Training again before him! We can crush him in Indigo!"

"Damien, he took classes early. He doesn't even have to go this year—I think if he does it's optional. And I don't think he is. This plan sucks ass."

Damien looked as if a Snorlax had just sat on his happy bubble. Gary sighed heavily and threw his legs off the couch, slouching low into the cushions as his socks sought out a grip on the chip-infested carpet. His mind was stuck on the past again, on the phone call that had all but killed his mother, on the way life had never seemed able to satisfy him since . . .

Gary swept a hand through his hair and focused on the window, shoving the memories from his mind. He hated those memories, the feelings they always created. Ignoring Damien's grunt as he reached for a can of chips, Gary let his eyes unfocus so that the rain was merely a streaky gray blur, flecked periodically by a flash of lightening, then by a sort of yellow fizzle . . .

Gary bolted up on the couch. Fizzle? Since when did lightening fizzle?

There it was again: not the intense flashes from the clouds, but a soft, dreamy yellow glow from the bottom left corner of the window, towards the woods. Gary sprinted to the window as fast as his battered body would allow and stared resolutely at the mass of dark green, rain lashed trees swaying harshly in the fierce wind. There it was again—sort of like lightning, but too yellow, more like electricity . . .

Gary's eyes widened. His throat tightened. He was dimly aware of Damien's frustrated demands for an explanation for his behavior, but he wasn't sure what he said. All he knew was that his grandfather had been very busy lately designing a new enclosure for the next generation on Tauros on the way, and that it was Gary's job to take care of the Pokémon if he couldn't. And that he wouldn't have noticed if Gary had forgotten some. And that that fizzle was coming from the Mareep enclosure. And that too much water could short-circuit and kill a Mareep.

"Shit! Damien, gimme the phone!"

Damien blinked at his outstretched arm. "Eh—?"

"Now, dammit! You're sitting on it!"

Damien frowned and shifted his weight, fishing around under his cushion for something hard. When he found it, he passed it to Gary with an inquiry. "Wha'd'you need it for, anyway?"

Gary was already punching buttons. "Ash," he said breathlessly. "We need to—"

"Ash? What're you fucking stupid ? He just—"

"I don't care, Damien!" Gary snapped. "There're some Mareep out there yet—I forgot about them. Grandpa's too old. I need help getting them in. Two isn't enough. Hello? Hi, Delia, is Ash there? Great, okay. Okay. Thanks."

Damien was staring at him in wide-eyed horror. "You fucking traitor!" he wailed. "You—traitor! Ash is our enemy, remember? Remem—"

Gary silenced him with a glare. "Pokémon out there are losing their lives," he said quietly. "I'm not going to let some damn fight kill off my Pokémon—or anyone else's for that matter. Pull yourself together, dammit! We'll get him back later! Right now we need his help! We're the only two—three, with you—Trainers in town. Are you willing to let innocent Pokémon die over a fight?"

Damien stared at the floor, feeling slightly stupid and extremely miffed. He could feel Gary's eyes on him. Dammit, he couldn't believe he was going out in that torrent with Ketchum, of all people, to help some Pokémon he didn't even own. But he knew Gary would kill him if he didn't go. So he looked up and nodded. Gary seemed to relax a bit before his eyes snapped out of focus and he straightened.

"Hello? Ash? Yeah, it's me—shut up and listen . . ."

,¤AL ¤,

Misty knew something was horribly wrong when Ash stomped back into the room and swept passed his paused videogame without glancing at her or the screen. She sat up from her horizontal position on his bed and watched in confusion as he furiously tore through his closet, tossing random objects into his room. Misty frowned when she heard him muttering curses under his breath. Bad ones. In the few short days Misty had been here she'd come to realize that his mother loathed language, and though he'd uttered the occasional "Dammit!" when a useless fodder-militiaman knocked him to the ground in Dynasty Warriors, he'd never strung anything together like he was doing now. In fact, Misty didn't think she'd ever heard those words used quite this way.

"Um, is something wrong?" she asked tentatively. He didn't seem to have much of a temper, but she hadn't known him for long. She had no idea what might set him off. "Who was on the phone?"

"Gary," he snapped, though not unkindly. Hurriedly. Misty frowned.

"Gary? But isn't he—"

"A small flock of Mareep got left out in the storm at Professor Oak's lab and he needs help getting them back in. We don't have much time; they've been out all night already, and some might be dead. Dammit! Have you seen a pair of pink rubber gloves?"

Misty had sat up and was now staring nervously out the window. She turned to see Ash watching her anxiously, and their eyes locked. She could see the concern in them, and then the confusion when her own hardened. She pushed herself up from the bed, never breaking her gaze.

"Do you have an extra pair?"

,¤AL ¤,

The field between Oak's lab and the large, thick copse of trees the Mareep had taken shelter under seemed, to Misty at least, one large, muddy, sticky swamp, though she was fairly certain the others wouldn't disagree. What looked like five minutes' light jog quickly became twenty minutes' hard slosh as the quartet heaved and grunted their heavy feet through the slurping mess. Sharp, stinging rain continued to rub their skin raw through their clothes and made everything they wore five pounds heavier—which was a lot, if you were wearily tramping through mud up to your calves. Misty shielded her eyes from the torrent and squinted up into the distance, trying to judge how much longer they would be stuck out in the open. In doing so she found herself falling over a thick matted glob of charcoal-white fluff.

As she landed in the mud—up to her elbows, ugh!—she was hit by the stench; the rain had kept it down before. A sickly, rotting smell surged through her nose and Misty gagged as she simultaneously realized what that fluff had been.

It was Ash who pulled her to her feet, Gary who checked the corpse for any signs of life. Misty supposed he figured the stench was enough to confirm the Mareep's demise, because he had barely knelt for a second before he surged to his feet and backed hurriedly away. Misty was using all her concentration to keep from retching.

Ash tugged her arm towards the trees, and the quartet plowed forward again, Misty rubbing the rainwater into her arms and shuddering at the thought of the dead Mareep's lifeless stench clinging to her skin. Gary picked his way closer to them, and Ash released her, though he renewed his grip on her elbow when he nearly tripped over a low wooden rail. Misty stared at the empty Mareep enclosure while Ash steadied himself and turned to Gary.

"Maybe that was the only one!" Gary's words could barely be heard over the howling wind. Everyone was bracing themselves to keep from being knocked over. Gary wiped a handful of water from his face and squinted at the ground, presumably searching for more bodies. "I'll take full responsibility" he said loudly, his face grim. "Let's just get the rest out of here!"

"How many are there?" Ash shouted as they stepped carefully over the fence and darted to the tree line. Gary shrugged, the movement lost as Ash shook himself free from as much mud as he could. It wasn't raining quite as hard under the dense leaves, but they would still remain drenched through.

"I don't know," said Gary loudly. "Four, maybe five, not including that one we already found. It was a tiny flock—that's why I forgot about it."

Ash shook his head as if angry, but he didn't say anything. Instead he looked to Damien, who was busy picking his way through the tangled foliage to a hoof-tread set of muddy tracks leading from the edge of the trees to a ridge of grass. Ash frowned. "They didn't go over that, did they?" he called out. Damien ignored him and Ash cursed. "Hey! They didn't go over that—"

"I hope they did," Gary told him, starting out toward his friend. "That old shack we used to camp out in is down there; maybe they found refuge in it. Come on."

Ash exchanged a tired glance with Misty before following. Damien's sudden yelp of surprise made them hurry faster, the long, matted blades of grass gouging shallow cuts in Misty's shins. What she wouldn't give for some long pants. And shoes, she remembered suddenly. Without hers, she'd borrowed a set of Ash's old sneakers, and they were way too big for her. It only made walking through this mess more difficult. They'd traded rows of mud for a matted mess of dead leaves and grass at the tree line.

"Hurry up, you bloody idiots, there's someone down there!"

Misty looked up sharply in surprise. Damien was crouching on the lip of the ridge and tentatively thrusting his foot out and feeling for a hold in the soft earth. Misty stumbled as she reached him, caught herself on Ash's elbow—everyone had been stumbling and tripping and catching themselves on everyone else all through the field and it was making everyone miserable—and realized she had tripped in a shoeprint. She tugged on Ash's sleeve and pointed down. He frowned when he saw it.

"They lead over the ridge," Gary pointed out, noticing their gaze. "Look." He crouched and traced a slick dip of mud on the lip of the ridge. "Guy must have slipped and gone over. Slid all the way down."

"Is he okay?" Misty wanted to know. She peered over the hill and swallowed when she saw a man's crumpled form on the forest floor; his right leg was jutting out at an uncomfortable angle.

"Broken leg," Ash muttered. "Come on, maybe he needs help."

He bounded over the edge. Misty felt a flash of fear for him and Gary yelled, "Ash, you idiot!" before sticking his own foot in the mud and sliding down slowly, hand acting as a rudder to keep him balanced. Damien, still posed to go down beside Misty, shook his head and muttered, "Bloody showoff," before slipping down at his own slow, wobbly pace. Misty's eyes were still on Ash; he'd used the mud as a wave and surfed his way to the bottom like an expert. She wasn't far behind, though her descent left her much more haggard and muddy than the rest of them. She hated mud.

Ash was crouched at the man's head, lightly tapping his pale cheeks and talking to him while Gary peered over Ash's shoulder and Damien stood sopping at the man's feet, looking uneasy. Misty watched his face turn green as she took her place on the other side of the man's head and helped Ash attempt to bring him around.

"Is he . . . dead?" Damien choked out. Gary checked the man's arm for a pulse.

"No, just unconscious, I think. It might be just a broken leg." He set the arm on the ground hurriedly. Misty saw him rub his fingers together with rainwater afterward. He certainly appeared dead to everyone, and his skin was clammy.

"Come on, man, wake up," Ash prodded. Damien took a step back.

"I'll um, I'll just go fetch some help, shall I?" he said sickly, and started up the hill.

"Hey—Damien!" Gary choked out, but the Australian was already slipping his way up and down in the mud. "Damien!" Gary roared. "At least get the Mareep! Ugh! Stupid foreigner—" The man moaned suddenly and Gary's jaw snapped shut. All eyes steered back to the grunt.

"I think he's coming around," said Ash excitedly, and Gary snorted.

"Thank you, Captain Obvious. Anyone else notice his clothes?"

Ash and Misty's gaze fell to the red insignia on the man's black shirt and both froze. The capital letters TR blazed back at them, splashed in mud and torn in a few places.

"Ugh, my leg . . ."

Ash's attention drove away the anger that had welled up at the sight of the man's insignia and his gaze snapped back to the man's face. He renewed his attempts at reviving him and did his best to ignore the fact that this man could have been at the Stadium that day . . .

"Oh, God, what the hell is that?" The man was swiping at his face, where cold rain continued to pound his skin. It was a wonder he hadn't drowned in it.

"Rain," Ash explained patiently, and clasped the man's clammy hand in his own. "You slipped and fell and broke your leg, and we found you. Are you all right?"

The man groaned and brought his free hand up to rub at his temple. "Fuck no," he moaned. "The hell are you? Sam?"

Ash blinked, startled by the mention of Professor Oak—or was Sam his partner? "No, I'm Ash Ketchum. Please, sir, open your eyes so we can—"

"Ketchum!" The man's bloodshot eyes snapped open and stared unblinking at Ash, who found himself staring right back, surprised at the fear evident in the man's voice. The Rocket grunt flinched and tried to back away, his grimy face paling as his leg slid a few inches in the mud. Ash glanced at Misty, but she looked just as confused as he was. "No," the man pleaded, "no, please, you're dead . . . Get away!"

Ash's eyes snapped back to the man's face and he froze, his brain stuck on what he had just heard. It was like a broken record in his head. "Please," said the man quietly, "please, just leave me alone . . ."

Ash was breathing heavily, his gaze hard. this wasn't the first time someone had mistaken him for his father—a fact he was rather proud of—but it was the first time he'd spoken with an actual member of Team Rocket and the first time he'd heard from an outside source that his father's death may have been deliberate. Had this man been there? Had he helped develop some sort of scheme to murder his father? Did he know something if someone had? Ash's breathing quickened as old, familiar questions buzzed through his mind. Here was his chance to get answers to the flood of questions that had been plaguing him for years. Here was his chance to finally discover why his father hadn't been there for the last eleven years of his life. If Team Rocket had had something to do with it . . . this was his chance to figure that out.

It was Misty's choked cry that focused Ash's attention on the present again. Like wading through a Muk, he slowly sifted his thoughts to one side and lifted his eyes from the man's face, then jerked in surprise when he saw Misty's teeth sunk into the thick arm of a man who was attempting to grab her from behind. A smack caught his attention and he saw a muddy handgun half sunk in a puddle at his feet. The big man howled and attempted to pry her canines from his skin. A grunt from Gary alerted Ash that he too was engaged in battle with a big man; both of them were grappling over a handgun as more men trickled out of the rain-swept shack behind. All were wearing the same jet black, waterlogged uniform emblazoned with the same two crimson capital letters. Ash's heart clenched and he lurched to his feet, trying to keep the majority of them in view as his hand reached automatically for his waist. If only Pikachu were back . . . his mind struggled to form a quick plan without the missing mouse.

He'd forgotten about the injured man. He remembered now, as a weak hand gripped his ankle and yanked him from his feet, splatting him roughly into the mud and knocking the breath from his already bruised and battered ribs. He lay there for a moment, his muddy world spinning as he dimly recognized Misty's pained yelp and Gary's desperate cry for Damien. Ash looked up to see a pair of fuzzy heads twine about each other before settling into one; Damien was watching from the top of the ridge. He turned and bolted.

"Fuck!" Ash heard Gary roar. Someone laughed at their friend's cowardice, and Gary's angry retort was cut short by a loud thwacking sound. Ash struggled to pull himself up to his feet—what the hell was going on, this was all happening so fast, why were these men even here—but he had only reached his knees when a heavy fist thumped his back and set him sprawling once again. Misty called out to him and then growled a very powerful insult before she too was cut short. There was a slight pause in which Ash tried to grasp a coherent thought. His entire back was one large, throbbing bruise, and the pain seemed to be occupying the whole of Ash's mind.

Cold, hard metal dug suddenly into his spine and a large hand gripped his collar and hauled him roughly to his feet. A man grunted, "Get up," and he was shoved over backwards. His arms flailed wildly about for something to catch himself on, but there was nothing there, and he fell with another pained grunt onto a pair of scratched, mud-spattered legs that disappeared into his old pair of sneakers. Misty. She was staring wide-eyed into the barrel of a pistol.

There was a squelch of mud and suddenly Gary smashed into them. Ash could hear the men laughing as the trio fought to disentangle themselves from each other. None of them dared to stand; they were surrounded by a circle of maybe ten Rocket grunts, each drenched through and holding some sort of firearm. A tall, thinnish-looking blonde man waved his rifle near Gary's head, who flinched, and barked orders to strip them.

Three men rushed forward immediately and Ash cringed instinctively back against Misty and Gary, who, in turn, were cringing back against him. One grunt took each of them. Ash's kept his gun leveled at Ash's head while his free hand fumbled at the PokéBelt around Ash's waist. He did a quick sweep for any extras under Ash's dripping jacket and, satisfied, grinned and backed away. Ash kept perfectly still and managed to sit through it by attempting to identify the type of gun being pointed at him; he failed. Pokémon were his fascination, not weapons.

Misty stiffened at his back suddenly and Ash turned in time to see her grunt's shocked face as she smacked him. But the grunt's surprise quickly turned into anger and he backhanded her into Gary as if she were a stuffed animal. Gary caught her and inched both of them away from the gun the angry grunt was now leveling at their chests.

"Not yet, Sam," the blonde man warned, his voice tinted with a hint of a British accent. Sam cocked his gun.

"Bitch slapped me," he growled, and pressed the barrel to the base of Misty's neck. She matched him glare for glare, but Ash could hear her breathing heavily through her nose, and her face was as white as her grip on Gary's arm. Ash squeezed her arm reassuringly, but what he was reassuring her of he wasn't sure.

"Hell, Sam," chuckled the thin blonde, obviously the leader. "I would too, if I felt your grubby hand on my ass. But let her alone for now; you'll get yours."

Sam grinned and tapped his gun twice on Misty's collarbone before he backed away to join the circle. He tossed her 'Belt unceremoniously on top of Ash and Gary's and looked to his leader for further instructions. The leader was watching the trio through narrowed eyes.

"Well," he said softly. "Well. Wasn't expecting company on this little adventure. You got those sheep secured, Larry?"

"'Bout as secured as kin be, Boss," a country-bred voice answered.

The leader turned to the man on the ground. "All right there, Tee? What's the matter?" Tee was still staring at Ash as though Ash were going to murder him with his laser-vision at any moment. The leader looked from one to the other before his gaze settle on Ash. A crease appeared on his forehead. "Do I know you, kid?"

"It's Ketchum!" said Tee frantically, pointing a shaky finger at Ash's chest. "He's back! It's his ghost, come back to—"

"Shut up, you fool!" the leader hissed, and lightly kicked Tee's injured leg. It was enough. Tee sucked in a startled breath, his eyes widening, and turned green. The leader turned to peer at Ash, his eyes two narrow slits. All around him his men had begun to fidget. They were all watching Ash carefully.

Suddenly the leader straightened to his full height and laughed. His men shuffled all around him, a few trying out weak smiles and nervous chuckles. "You twit!" he guffawed at Tee. "That kid? Ketchum? Christ, he's not even half the guy's age." Still chuckling to himself, the man leaned close. His gun never wavered.

"Say," he said with a grin," you sure do look like the bloke, I'll give you that. Think he was from around here. You a Ketchum, kid?"

Ash met his gaze squarely, but internally his mind was reeling. Just what was going on? Just ten minutes ago he had been traipsing through a muddy rain-drenched meadow, and now he was being held at gunpoint by members of Team Rocket! And they had—the man on the ground had said—

Ash shook the suggestion from his mind. Now was not the time to get answers, much as that knowledge pained him. These men were obviously not supposed to be here—well, duh—but they had obviously not expected anyone to show up. Which meant, what? That they would leave quietly? That they wouldn't have to hurt the professor to escape? That they wouldn't go looking for more trouble?

That they wouldn't leave any witnesses. The realization hit him like an angry Golem, and his mind reeled.

The leader grinned and lifted Ash's chin with the barrel of his gun. Ash swallowed hard and tried to ignore the overwhelming impulse to knock it away and lunge at the man. Would it even matter if he was shot in the process, since they were just going to kill him anyway? He had a sudden vision of himself jerking as bullets from the group of watching men ripped through him, and he shuddered. Better to bide his time. If he had any left.

The leader's bright green eyes watched him carefully for a moment, then suddenly glistened in recognition. "You are a Ketchum!" he exclaimed gleefully, turning Ash's head from side to side with his gun. Ash did his best not to move. "And not just any Ketchum, either," the leader went on. "You're the bugger's own son!" He grinned widely and traced Ash's dripping chin with his gun. "Blimey. Fancy meeting you here. The PM's own little whelp. About my son's age, too. Sure grown since I seen you last, though. Pity you can't grow up nice and big and die in a Battle and get your name all over the evening papers like your old man, but we can't let you scamper off and tell everybody we were here."

He cocked his gun. His men grinned at each other and suddenly the forest was filled with a dozen soft clicks. Ash paled. This was it. Unless he magically came up with a solution right now, this was really it. And he couldn't come up with anything that wouldn't get at least one of them killed.

One of Ash's hands found Misty's, the other Gary's. Both were as weak and trembly as his own. The trio pressed closer together, Ash's mind still careening desperately about for some way out of this. His thoughts were abruptly scattered when the leader pushed himself to his feet and pressed his pistol firmly to Ash's temple.

"Ah, well," he sighed dramatically, and stepped to the side. Ash's breathing quickened. Wasn't there any way out of this? His thoughts flew to his mother, his friends, his Pokémon. They'd never see him again. They'd be devastated. He couldn't let this happen. The leader shrugged, seemingly in answer to Ash's inner turmoil, and grinned, radiating excitement. "Ironic. Dear old dad couldn't keep his head out of the badger's hole either, and he got it swiped off. Like father like son, I suppose," he murmured, and Ash's eyes widened, then filled with rage. He refused to look away.

The leader squeezed the trigger.

A shot split the air, and an inhuman scream. Misty and Gary cried out at the sound, and Ash felt a zing of air whisk by his nose. He fell back against Misty and Gary, dazed and more than a little confused. He watched numbly as the leader cursed and struggled to regain his footing in the slick mud.

"The bloody hell . . ." The man's voice trailed off as he stared at three deep gashes marring his arm with the gun. They were bleeding profusely, the red liquid washed quickly to the ground with the pounding rain. It dripped steadily onto a clip, the one from the leader's own pistol. His men didn't seem to notice; they were staring at the sky, where the sharp Battle-cry of a Pidgey was piercing the air. A low howl followed shortly, and a series of sharp barks.

"The police!" someone cried, lowering his gun and turning to flee. "Run!"

Ash was suddenly aware that he hadn't breathed in several seconds. He did so now, his lungs taking in the oxygen as a wave of sheer relief flooded his brain. The police. Thank God. They were saved.

"No, you fools!" the leader cried suddenly, scrambling to his feet. He was too late; the men had already broken their circle and were clambering for the trees. The Mareep bleated loudly from behind the old shack as the men shoved past them, and Ash grinned; it didn't sound as if the men had thought to grab any of them. The leader looked panicked. "Stop!" he howled. "We need to get Orr out of here! Dammit!" He turned and looked up the hill where someone was dismounting a Fearow. Ash's heart leapt.

"Damien!" he shouted happily, and then froze at the sound of the leader jamming a fresh clip into his gun. He turned to see it aimed at him again, though unsteadily. The leader was hesitating. He took a step back and nearly tripped over his injured companion, but immediately caught himself and glared at Ash, then at Damien, who was sliding shakily down the muddy hill. His bright green eyes darted between the two.

"Shit," he growled, and with a grim look on his face he swung the gun around to Tee, who seemed startled at this new turn of events. "Sorry, mate," he apologized, then fired and ran.

,¤AL ¤,

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I hate this chapter. No really, I do. It's one of those that needs to be posted, though, to further the plotline—and there is a plotline, dammit! -stares at blank page entitled 'Plotlines'- At least there will be. Soon. I started one in me noggin. -grins-

AUTHOR'S NOTE II: I get a kick out of starting new ANs for no reason. But yeah, I do have some semblance of a plot now, and no, it won't follow along the lines of this chapter in its . . . its intensity, I guess you might say. It'll still be a laidback sleepy Pallet Town fic like I originally intended, only now they have something to do in their spare time. So don't give up on me just yet! I have a puppeh under my knee. -stares at sleeping puppeh- She loves meh. -pets sleeping puppeh- Ooh, Vash's theme song just started up in Winamp. -jams-

AUTHOR'S NOTE III: On with the actual, er, information. Hmm . . . I don't remember what I was going to say. -makes cool hand gestures with the whooshy sound in the song, then jams with the slap bass- RIGHT! I remember now! Er, no I don't. I'm actually just procrastinating on starting the next chapter. -attempts to whistle with the piccolo- I suppose I should go now. Go start it, I mean. Now that Vash's Theme is done. ONWARDS, TO THE BATMOBILE! -trots off in cloud of mysterious smoke-

,¤PinkFalcon ¤,