AN: Due to a last-minute vote, we have a tie: Feebas and Mystery Egg. So, instead of leaving the poll up for another two weeks and torturing you guys further, Jack will be getting both—just not both in this chapter, since it was supposed to be dedicated to just one Pokémon and a little angst.

THIS IS YOUR TIMESKIP WARNING.

Special thanks to Ramaxy18-chan and Zoeten for reviewing. You guys are amazing!

Don't own Pokémon.

oO000Oo

Last time…

Adrian glanced at the clock, shutting the book with a soft snap. "It's almost time for breakfast. Let's go," he urged. Rowen and Jack nodded, waiting for the blonde to put the book back before following him out of the library.

And now…

Jack, Adrian, and Rowen were sitting outside in the slightly damp grass, the dew not yet evaporated despite it being midmorning. The three were glad to be allowed outside on their own again; the announcement on the notice board that had been posted just that morning had declared that there were no more signs of possible trespassers being found.

A little ways away, Artemis and Lyssa were wrestling, since Chester had fallen asleep in the middle of their game of tag. The psychic type had since been returned to his PokéBall. Adrian was sketching them while Rowen wrote in a journal, leaving Jack on his own to stare at the puffy white clouds on the horizon. With all three distracted, none of them initially noticed the two four-legged creatures take off for the forest edge until they were almost there.

"Shit," Rowen yelped, abandoning his journal to scramble after them, Jack following closely.

"Lyssa!" Jack yelled, diving straight into the forest, ignoring the underbrush. He didn't notice Rowen's hesitation, or how quickly they were separated when Rowen's cautious movements slowed him down.

After running for a few minutes, he realized others had joined him and Rowen in the forest, hearing them call the names of the rogue Pokémon and their trainers. He scowled and continued on, ignoring them; whatever had made them decide to run would probably make them skittish, and shouting would not help that. Shouldn't they know that?

Sighing impatiently, Jack looked around carefully, searching for traces of the two Pokémon's passage and finding none. There were just too many trails, mostly from stantler, but a few smaller ones could have been zigzagoon or poochyena. There were too many paw prints along all of them to guess which one the two rogues had taken.

Jack stood still and closed his eyes, inhaling as deeply as he could. He could smell the tree sap, a mix of flower scents that he couldn't differentiate, and…

He felt his face twist involuntarily at the smell, sniffing again to make sure he wasn't mistaken. If he was right, then he was smelling wet, rotting vegetation, which meant there was a stagnant pool of water nearby. He couldn't smell anything fresh, either, though he wondered if he would even be able to; the scent was so strong and close, it almost made him gag.

Jack followed the scent, hoping there might be a cleaner water source near that could be the cause of the rot. Probably a stream that had flooded, spreading too far to have a proper flow; the canopy was a bit too thick for rain water to be the sole cause.

As he walked, he felt the solid ground under his feet softening, until he was squishing his way through mud, the soupy wet mix of leaves and dirt sucking at his boots. Listening closely, he could hear a faint splashing that indicated deeper water nearby, and he headed towards it with the hope that Lyssa and Artemis were playing in it. He would rather bring them back a muddy, sopping mess than head back for the evening alone.

He sighed in disappointment when he saw it was simply a fish Pokémon, not his fire fox or Rowen's moonlight cat. It seemed that a small stream had been blocked by a fallen log, blocking it and causing it to flood its banks, resulting in a miniature marsh. Unfortunately, a Pokémon had been caught in a growing pool of water, and couldn't seem to fight the current and get back to the main source of the water: a wide, shallow, fast-flowing river that he could just see through some hanging moss and willow branches.

Frowning, he moved closer, trying to see what was wrong. He gasped as he saw what it was and why it was stuck.

It was a feebas, he recognized it from its light brown skin and darker spotting; one fin was damaged, a small metal hook puncturing it. With the damaged fin, it couldn't seem to swim very well, and the water was so shallow Jack was afraid it would drown if it didn't get to deeper water. The log the blocked the tributary stream hadn't fallen, either; it was too clean to be anything but cut.

Jack rummaged through his pockets, hoping a potion would magically appear even though he knew he hadn't brought any down with him. All he came up with was an empty PokéBall and a broken pen—he pulled a face as he realized it had leaked green ink into his pocket and wondered when, exactly, it broke.

It would die if he left it there to continue his search, and he didn't think Lyssa or Spear would forgive that; but it would also suffocate if he tried to carry it back to the school for treatment. He bit his lip, trying to decide, when he heard the foliage behind him rustle.

He stiffened and turned slowly as someone slipped out of the brush behind him. "Liam," he said neutrally. He wanted to cower away, expecting Liam to tear into him, but strangely, the other boy didn't seem to have any interest.

"Jack." His face was unreadable, and Jack almost cringed at the sudden similarity between the boy and his father; even though Liam had always sneered and took pleasure in bringing him down, Jack could always read him and predict; unlike the elder Richards, who liked to strike without warning. "What are you…?" Liam looked down, noticing the panicking feebas. "Oh." He looked back up, still strangely calm. "I thought you were looking for your vulpix?"

"I w-was." Jack swallowed. "I just k-kind of st-stumbled on it…" He trailed off uncertainly. "What w-were you doing out h-here?" He asked hesitantly.

"Looking for Rowen's umbreon," Liam said plainly. But not Lyssa, Jack noted. Probably hoping I'll never get her back. "So, you found a feebas," Liam continued. "Why not keep searching?" he asked with the barest hint of curiosity.

"I can't leave it here," Jack responded blankly.

"Why not?"

Jack paused, slightly shocked at the implication that he should just let it die. "Because I can save it," he said slowly. Wasn't it normal to want to save a living thing? Or would the normal reaction have been to just keep going?

"Can you?" Liam asked, staring pointedly at the red and white sphere in his foster brother's palm. "You should just pull it out of the water, it'll end its suffering faster. Hell, bash its head in with something, it'll be even faster."

Jack swallowed, already nauseous just thinking about it. Liam laughed humorlessly. "What else can you do?" he whispered, almost gently. "Sometimes the best thing to do is put it out of its misery," he said bitterly.

"I can—I can catch it," Jack said desperately. "I-if it's in a P-PokéBall, I-I can take it back to the sc-school without it d-dying."

Liam stared at him, an odd look on his face, and Jack suddenly thought he couldn't read Liam as well as he thought he could; there was no way Liam would actually look at him with anything akin to admiration, even a distant, watered-down version of it. Then Liam nodded decisively, pulled something from his pocket, and tossed it at Jack.

Jack fumbled for it, almost dropping it, and inhaled sharply at the blue-with-red-striped top of a Great Ball. He looked up, bewildered, his lips already forming, "Why…?"

"It's not weak enough for a regular PokeBall to catch it yet," Liam said brusquely, turning suddenly and striding back into the trees.

For a moment, Jack couldn't help but wonder how, where, and most of all why Liam had learned to walk the wood so quietly. Then the feebas's pathetic splashing brought him back to the situation at hand, and Jack whirled back around, dropping on his knees into the mud.

"Hey," he murmured softly, stroking a finger along its slimy back. It twisted slightly to stare at him. He held out the Great Ball. "I can help," he whispered, holding the Great Ball close to it. It would have to move only a couple centimeters to bump its head into it, and allow itself to be captured.

"I don't want to hurt you," he pleaded, as its eyes rolled between him and the Ball. "Please, let me get you treatment?"

For a few moments, the fish stilled, and the only reason Jack knew it was alive was because its blood continued to leak into the water from the puncture wound. Then it twitched forward and bumped the Great Ball; it barely rocked once before it clicked and stilled.

"Vul?"

Jack jumped and whirled, landing on his ass in the stream. Somehow, he had managed to not hear Lyssa and Artemis sneak out of the bushes behind him. He gaped at Lyssa's very satisfied look and Artemis's almost smug expression.

He shook his head. "I don't want to know," he said firmly. "I don't." He had a good idea of what they had been up to, and he didn't want details. He just hoped they had separated out when they hit the tree line, because otherwise it would make things very awkward with Rowen. "Just—I have an injured Pokémon I need to get back to the academy." He held the Ball out to them, letting them sniff it curiously.

oO000Oo

The three stepped out of the forest just as the sun was setting. Most of the students had long since returned, and when Jack got back, he found Rowen arguing with Adrian.

"—can't leave them out there!"

"Ren, I'm sure they'll be back soon," Adrian soothed. "Jack's a smart boy, he won't—Jack!"

Jack walked towards them stiffly, his pants still uncomfortably damp, stiff with mud, and decorated with leaves and twigs. He still held the Great Ball; he had almost put it in his pocket, but noticed at the last minute that the bottom had torn out. Artemis and Lyssa followed closely behind, walking so close their fur brushed, which Jack knew was unusual for Pokémon; they liked room to move.

Rowen's eyes widened before he dashed before. "Jack, what the hell happened to you?" he exclaimed. He bent down and hauled Artemis up in his arms, ignoring the dark type's indignant bark.

"Fell in a stream." He held up the Ball. "Found an injured feebas, too." He started walking towards the school.

"Where did you find them?" Rowen asked, at the same time Adrian asked, "Injured feebas?"

"They found me, and—" Jack's face darkened. "Can we talk about the feebas later? I need to drop it off with Nurse Joy." And he needed time to think; he wasn't sure how much to tell them, or if he should explain that Liam had found him and essentially told him to murder it and move on.

Or that for a moment, he had actually considered it.

oO000Oo

"It's a very good thing you found it when you did, Mr. Wolfe," Nurse Joy told him solemnly. "If you had left it there, it would have died."

"But it's okay now, right? It was bleeding pretty badly."

"Yes. The hook punctured an artery, which is unusual because most fish don't have arteries running through their fins, just capillaries and the occasional vein." She hesitated. "Even if it hadn't been an artery, though, I'm sure the blood would have attracted a predator."

"So you saved it," Adrian said encouragingly. "You brought back two lost Pokémon and saved another. You could be a ranger!" Jack shrugged uncomfortably and looked away.

"Why don't you boys get some sleep?" Nurse Joy suggested. "You can take your other two with you, they checked out just fine, and the feebas will be in the recovery tank overnight."

Rowen nodded and smiled softly. "That's good." He nudged Jack as she walked away. "We can talk in my room," he murmured. Jack just nodded, still indecisive in the face of the coming inquisition.

In the end, as they lay on the bed together with Adrian's head cushioned on Rowen's chest, he just glossed over it, just saying that he stumbled on the feebas and that Liam happened across them a few minutes later, giving him the Great Ball before continuing the search.

"The tree had been cut," he said, frowning, "but only the smaller branches had been lopped off." The ones on the underside, as a matter of fact, which was how the stream had been blocked so completely.

"I thought Liam didn't like you," Adrian said suddenly, frowning.

"Addie," Rowen hissed, elbowing him.

"Oww," he whined, elbowing back. "It's true, though," he insisted. "His attitude's horrible, and whenever someone's asked or commented, his opinion's matched." He scooted closer to Rowen. "My point is, why would he suddenly just give Jack anything?"

"Maybe he just felt bad about a dying Pokémon," Rowen said pointedly. "He might not like Jack, but he isn't completely heartless."

"Yet," Adrian muttered darkly.

"I think Rowen's right," Jack said drowsily. He still remembered Liam's bitter tone when he told Jack sometimes death was better. He wondered if Liam had had a pet that had to be put down. "Have we gotten anywhere with Catty?" he asked suddenly.

Adrian giggled. "Smooth, Jack."

"There's a few potential suspects," Rowen admitted, patting Adrian sharply before he could say anything else. He paused, knowing Jack probably wouldn't like what was coming next. "Did you know that glameow is the catty Pokémon?" he asked cautiously.

Jack frowned. "But if we go by that, then it's only Joseph," he said slowly, realization dawning. He shook his head sharply. "It can't be him." Joseph had been nothing but polite, even nice, despite them not knowing each other very well.

"Only Joseph if you consider only the junior class," Rowen allowed, "but a few of the seniors own one. None of them brought theirs, but they own one."

"And you found that out how?" Adrian asked. "I doubt you could just ask random people."

"I was double checking the species," Rowen said easily, "and a few people noticed me reading the page. They thought I was thinking about buying one, and a couple offered to breed theirs for me."

"They're probably just pets, what good would that do for a battler?"

"My reasoning when I declined."

Jack glanced at the clock; there was just enough time before curfew to make it back to his room. He sat up reluctantly, stretching.

"Where are you going?" Rowen asked, picking his head up. He didn't move, though; Adrian was falling asleep on him, he would never make him move.

"Back to my room." Jack drew a hand through his hair. "I just…need to think."

Rowen stared for a moment, and Jack was reminded of how, just earlier that day, Liam had watched him in much the same way. Finally, he broke the moment and walked swiftly away, as much to escape the memories as the uncomfortable atmosphere in the room.

He really needed to think.

oO000Oo

In his room, he lay on his side, watching the clock. Somewhere between 12: 06 and 12:07, the ticking of the second hand so loud it seemed to drown out even his troubled thoughts, Jack fell asleep.

/He was underwater. He could breathe just fine, but he couldn't move. He simply held on to an unfamiliar cream body with long pink ears as they rushed through the water.

It was so peaceful, watching as groups of varying shades of blue, pink, yellow, and orange passed them or were passed, somehow too indistinct to make out. Even the one next to them, which he felt was somehow familiar and cherished, was a mere blur./

Jack blinked awake, swallowing thickly. He sat up (he hated sleeping on his back, it gave him weird dreams) and looked at the clock.

3:17.

He settled back, swallowing again. Even though his face was dry, he tasted salt.