Chapter 77, everybody! In which my attempt to write a whole chapter ended up going too long so I had to split it….

Anywho—this is that one episode where Team Rocket did that salon and I had a lot of fun with it. And I think after the next chapter I'll be doing up a team roster for everyone who's been asking because I ended up having to do a document search to refresh my memory. And considering this particular fic is so big that I had to split it into two documents, that's saying something (I think we're up to 900+ pages?). Anywho, some Team Rocket foolery for your fine tastes.

Moving on to reviews: epantoja521, B0bbles, thor94, LongNightDragon, griffin blackwood (Pisha? Pichu?), Dragon Halfling, Silverwing23, Vulaan Kulaas, talesfanjmf, Reader and Guest, thanks for the reviews! Togepi went to Misty, actually, since Ash gave her the egg.

Pokémon © Game Freak; Nintendo


And now, for something completely different:

In other news, the Pokémon League has released a list of the top ten Pokémon Breeders in Kanto and Johto. This list was compiled using the following criteria: humane treatment of Pokémon, sanitary conditions, proper breeding rotation, proper retirement of older Pokémon, and quality of Pokémon produced. This examination is the cumulation of three years of work, and was requested by Professors Oak and Elm, after complaints of substandard starters were received.

The next town they came across had Misty getting a full checkup for Togepi. As Brock outlined, a Pokémon Center would be better equipped to say whether or not a Pokémon was healthy, and they had access to a wider range of species information than they did. Plus it was always good to check in and make sure all their Pokémon were healthy—hence why the three of them were milling around in the lobby, reading the posts on the bulletin board, calling home, and watching the TV mounted in the corner.

Ash, meanwhile, was scanning his Pokédex in-between scanning the bulletin board for any new gyms to challenge, was still trying to find the town when they left before having to concede that it was too small to show up on the simple 'dex map.

"I wonder if anyone in this town has seen any Pokémon I could catch," Ash wondered, pocketing the device.

"Should probably prioritize asking about a Fire type," Brock said. "Relying on Darkrai's goodwill and Will-o-Wisp isn't a good long-term goal."

"Yeah," Ash agreed. "And remember about mentioning a certain someone in towns."

"Ah, but of course."

"Is it just me, or does everyone's Pokémon look funny?" Misty asked.

They all looked.

"No, everyone's Pokémon looks funny," Ash said. "Like they're all dressed up in makeup and stuff."

"Is that even healthy?"

"I've heard of some people putting accessories on their Pokémon," Brock said. "This might be pushing it." They watched someone walk by with a Hypno all dolled up. "That's definitely pushing it."

"I wonder what's going on?" Misty mused.

"Whatever it is, it's a little weird," Ash said.

"Ahem."

They started at the sound of Darkrai's voice in town limits—Ash looked at his shadow in time to see a shape jump up the side of the building to be eye-level with them: a shadow-version of Darkrai.

"How is that even possible?" Misty asked.

"It's a Darkrai thing," Ash answered simply. "So what's up?"

"If you're quite done talking about me like I can't hear you—there's nothing wrong with people dressing up their Pokémon, they do it all the time in Sinnoh and Unova. Seeing as they usually don't here, whoever's doing this is making a killing."

"Nice," Brock said. "Except for the fact that some of this is just offensive to the eyes."

"The perks of being the only one doing this sort of thing: you're simultaneously the best and worst in the business."

"This is a fair point," Misty said, dodging around someone with a done-up Electabuzz. "So if we're done here—"

"Hey wait a minute, I think I know where we are!" Brock said.

"Are you telling me we were lost before?"

"No no—this is Scissor Street—Breeder's Lane. Some of the best Pokémon breeders in the region live here!"

"And that's…good, maybe?" Ash tried.

"Breeders tend to Pokémon regularly—they specialize in it," Brock explained. "And they handle baby Pokémon on a routine basis, and seeing as we have two now—"

"Proceed," Misty said.

"Excellent—follow me," Brock said, pointing dramatically as he marched down the street. "Unless I'm mistaken, the best breeder in Kanto is down this way."

"Are you sure?" Ash asked.

"I'm positive—she's been named the most popular breeder by Pokémon Friends four years running, she's won a trophy for excellence for three, and her website gets ten thousand hits per day."

"She, he says," Misty said, smirking like she had caught Brock in something.

"Is this why he bought that Axew deodorant?" Ash asked.

"Listen you two, if you embarrass me in front of Suzie so help me I will never cook for you again," Brock threatened.

"We've moved on to a first-name basis now?" Misty asked, grinning.

"Misty—"

"Oh cool, a Vulpix!" Ash said, spotting a design on a door.

"That'll be her!" Brock yelped, scrambling. "Now you two had better get whatever nonsense out of your system right now. Got it?"

"Is this the spiel you use on your siblings?" Misty asked.

"Is it working?"

"Maybe?" Ash offered.

"Then yes that's the spiel," Brock said, turning around and opening the door. "Hello?"

"So I'm curious," Misty said, following him in. "What's your plan for when the spiel fails?"

"Hopefully by then it'll no longer be my problem. Or did you mean with my sibs?"

"Brock's going to dump us, I sense," Misty told Ash.

"Well he does have to get back to those Darkrai union meetings," Ash said.

"Okay you know what both of you wait outside," Brock said, steering them out.

"Why though? No one's here."

Brock paused, looking around. "No, they're not—this doesn't make any sense. As the best breeder in Kanto people should be beating down her door to see her!"

"Wow, thanks for the glowing review, but I'd rather you didn't beat my door down."

Brock jumped like Pikachu had just shocked him, spinning around in midair and landing facing the woman who just walked in. "Suzie! Hi!"

Ash leaned around Brock to see the woman walking in—zeroed in on what was more immediately interesting to him. "Is that a Vulpix?"

"Oh I love those, they're so pretty," Misty said, also zeroing in on something more stimulating than Brock doing his best imitation of an engine trying to turn over. "Can I pet it?"

"Sorry, Vulpix isn't good with strangers," Suzie said, kneeling to tickle the Vuplix under its chin. "I was hoping to get her acclimated to people through the shop, but…."

"But?" Ash prompted.

"Everyone's probably at lunch," Misty offered.

"Unfortunately no," Suzie sighed. "Business has been dead ever since that salon opened up—"

"Suzie please accept me as your pupil!" Brock blurted out finally.

Everyone took a few nonplussed moments at that.

"Please tell me that's not why we stopped here," Misty said. "I'm not a fan of secondhand embarrassment."

"You act like it," Ash pointed out.

"Yeah but there's a difference between ribbing someone and watching them crash and burn, and this looks like it's about to be bad."

Brock waved them both off irritably, looked at Suzie.

"Well, I'm flattered, but as you can see we're in a bit of a lull," she said, gesturing at the empty room. "And besides, aren't you a gym leader? Brock from Pewter?"

"I'm honored that you know me," Brock said, bowing.

"Yeah seeing as how the League has a website," Misty started.

Brock stopped her. "But my dad is currently running the gym, and…well being a Pokémon breeder was one of the jobs I was most interested in, before…."

Before he and his siblings technically lost both their parents—Ash and Misty had both heard bits and pieces of this during their time in Pewter, knew that it made Brock uncomfortable to discuss, were quick to jump in and fill the dead air he was leaving.

"Brock makes all the food for our Pokémon," Misty said. "And he's been really helpful with helping us take care of our baby Pokémon," she added, holding up Togepi.

"Toki-priii," Togepi noised.

"And also he keeps us from going headfirst off a cliff," Ash offered.

"Totally patient," Misty added.

"Lectures us about Pokémon care."

"Like all the time."

"Guys, I get you're trying to be helpful, but please stop," Brock begged.

"I mean they are glowing reviews," Suzie said, looking like she was trying very hard to keep her amusement tamped down. "But like I said, we're experiencing a slump right about now."

"Yeah I noticed," Ash said. "So I guess everything's online now?"

"You said something about losing your business to a salon," Misty said, waving Ash off. "Not the same one that's been dressing up all the Pokémon in town?"

"Yeah," Suzie sighed. "They blew into town and now everyone's going there and focused on outward appearance instead of inward health."

"A friend of ours says that people dress up their Pokémon all the time in Unova and Sinnoh," Ash pointed out.

"Yes, I'd heard of that," she said. "But it's just not natural."

Ash shrugged at that—personally, he didn't think his Pokémon needed anything extra.

"Besides, massages are much better for your Pokémon," she continued.

"Massages do make your Pokémon more friendly," Brock agreed.

"And relaxes them, and improves their overall health."

"Maybe Psyduck could use a massage," Misty said. "And then later I can take Horsea over to that beauty salon and give her some attention—I haven't been able to let her out much lately."

"All right," she said, nodding. "But I do question you going over there."

"I like to form my own opinions," Misty said.

"And she definitely has some strong ones," Ash said—which led to him nursing a lump on his head.


Psyduck, at least, seemed to be enjoying the massage.

"So what do you think, Psyduck?" Misty asked, watching as Suzie lightly drummed his back.

"Psai-yai-yai-ai-ai-ai-ai," Psyduck sighed happily.

"Massages also get the blood flowing, so that should help with his headaches," Suzie told her.

"Oh that'd be great, honestly."

"And while you two do this, we can do some cooking," Brock offered.

"That'd be great," Suzie said. "There's a cooking station out back, I'd love to see this homemade Poké-food your friends advertised."

Brock practically floated out of the building.

"So there went Brock," Ash observed, glancing at the shadow on the wall. "Wanna help me out here?"

A shadowy hand reached up and yanked Brock back down to earth. "Ow."

"Sorry," Ash said, helping him back up.

"Had to do it, you were giving away the whole secret-Darkrai thing," Darkrai said.

"I was?" Brock asked, dusting himself off.

"You were kinda getting ready to float off into space," Ash said.

"I'll let you know if the Deoxys are friendly," Brock said, cracking his back. "Oh this is a nice setup."

"So do you really want to do this for a living?" Ash asked as Brock familiarized himself with the outdoor kitchen. "Massaging Pokémon and food and all this?"

"That or a doctor," Brock said. "It's still technically early in my career. Although it bugs me a bit that a salon can knock someone as great as Suzie out of the running so easily."

"I don't know," Ash said, looking at his shadow after checking that they were alone. "What do you think?"

Darkrai jumped the shadow up onto a wall again, phased out of it this time.

"You're always going to get those people who could care less about things," Darkrai said, waving their concerns off. "And you'll always get people who think that dressing up their Pokémon is stupid. And then you'll get people who dress up their Pokémon against their will, and then you get people and Pokémon who both like the darn thing."

"So…what you're saying is?..."

"Different strokes for different folks," Brock guessed. "She may not approve, but some other people will."

"Personally, I don't see what her beef is," Darkrai said, scratching under his sawtooth ridge. "She runs a massage parlor, they run a beauty salon—there is no overlap."

"Maybe she's thinking spa," Ash posed. "There's some overlap there, right?"

"Go find one in your price range and let me know, will you?"

"We'll find out when Misty comes back," Brock said, waving as Misty headed off.


So in other news, Misty was happy with Psyduck's massage; even if it didn't stick, he seemed happy and relaxed for once instead of constantly clutching his head in pain.

She was also happy to see Horsea again, after dealing with her sisters long enough to pull her back into rotation.

"Hey, Horsea, did you miss me?" Misty asked, holding her up. "We're going to be near water for a while, so I'll be able to let you out more often!"

"Hor-sea!" Horsea cheered, happily accepting being carted through town in her arms (Togepi had been left with Brock, mostly because it was close to mealtime for the little egg). And thus, after asking for some directions, Misty found herself in front of the salon named Bouquet Rocquet.

"Hello?" she called, stepping in.

"Oh hi—twerp!"

Misty gasped, realizing she recognized the proprietors. "Wait a minute—Team Rocket!"

"Prepare for trouble, let competitors beware!" Jessie said, striking a pose.

"And make it double, they can't match our flair!" James said, striking a pose with her.

"Wait, I'm confused," Misty said.

"Sometimes we like ta shake up da motto," Meowth said.

"No, that's not it—what are you even doing?"

"Making money hand over fist, that's what we're doing!" James said happily, arms crossed.

"We're single-handedly providing most of the profits for Team Rocket this month!" Jessie said, also pleased with herself.

"And I told youse dat dey'd be coming through dis town, now didn't I?" Meowth said, pointing at them.

"You did."

"This is true," James admitted.

"Now hold it," Misty said crossly. "Are you three following us?"

"Consider the fact that you have the rarest Pokémon in Kanto travelling with you," Jessie said.

"Fair enough," Misty sighed. "So you decided to open a beauty salon in the meantime? How do I know you're not just stealing Pokémon?"

"Please, we get more money from repeat customers than stealing and selling their Pokémon," James said.

"It's worth passing up the opportunity every time to know that those two miscreants won't be able to match us this quarter," Jessie sighed contentedly.

"Who?" Misty asked.

"Bluth and Ditzy."

"Who?"

"Butch and Cassidy," Meowth corrected. "I can hear him squawking about getting his name right from here."

"But enough about them," Jessie said, all business. "What are you doing in here? Trying to bust us up?"

"Up until five minutes ago, I was wanting to see what all the hype was about," Misty muttered. "Now I'm thinking I ought to tell the police that three members of Team Rocket are here."

"Ah, but youse can't prove nothin'," Meowth said, waving her off. "Seeing as how the Jennies don't often cross jurisdictions and we ain't been misbehaving or nuthin' here."

"Although that last one you did was a crime in and of itself," Jessie said to James.

"There's only so much I can do in some cases," James said solemnly, eyes closed, head tipped back, fist clenched.

"You doused a Grimer in glitter."

"Jessie's got a point dere," Meowth said. "Excessive use of glitter in any setting is definitely a crime."

"You just don't appreciate my artistic skills."

"It was glitter," Jessie said.

"And do you hear people telling David Bowie that?"

"You make me wonder if I ought to find you a Muk to work with," Misty said, figuring that would be a decent punishment.

"I don't think I have the strength," James sighed, hand to his chest.

"Or the glitter," Meowth added.

"True, I just used my last gallon."

"For which the rest of us are grateful," Jessie said. "You never put the lid back on right and glitter got everywhere."

"The lid was stripped, and glitter is a very valid decoration."

"It got in the food, James."

"But the customer appreciated it."

The bell dinged, and Misty turned from watching the argument to see Ash coming in.

"Misty, you've got to see this," he was saying, still half-turned to be facing outside and thumbing over his shoulder. "This guy just went by with a Grimer all coated in glitter—" He froze when he saw Jessie, James, and Meowth still arguing. "Team Rocket!?"

The identified trio quickly broke apart to face Ash. "It's the twerp!" James said.

"My name is Ash, not twerp," Ash said. "What are you three doing here?"

"See, that was my question," Misty said.

"And the answer is still making money hand over fist!" Jessie said, clenching a fist triumphantly. "And it's all on the up and up, so there's nothing you twerps can do about it!"

Ash exchanged glances with Misty, who shrugged—he returned the sentiment and looked back at them. "What about asking Darkrai to come over here?"

"Dat might do it," Meowth admitted.

"Can you give us another day?" James asked. "Only we've got a new plan for a capture attempt, but we need a bit longer to work out the kinks."

"Can I be honest and say that I'd give him to them for free?" Misty asked Ash.

"Can you imagine though?" Ash asked her. "I'd give it three days before Darkrai was running Team Rocket—I bet he'd do really good with an evil team to do his bidding."

"Important tings dere," Meowth said, pointing at Ash. "Would we get dental, what's the pay and vacation time, and what's his work ethic like?"

Ash shrugged. "I haven't the foggiest—you'd have to ask him."

"I don't know, you can't really top the insurance policy and four-oh-one-kay we get now," James said, considering.

"If we're going to do something, can we get it over with now?" Jessie asked, tapping her foot. "The after-lunch rush is going to start in an hour, and if we're going to battle I want time to clean up the place."

"Give it up Jess, we'll never be rid of da glitter," Meowth said.

"I'm confused," Ash said.

"That ninny used glitter on a Grimer," Jessie said, pointing at James.

"Okay, so that's one mystery solved."

Misty looked them up and down, considering…turned to Ash and shrugged. "I don't know, I guess we can't really do anything…I mean we could do something on principle, but that doesn't feel right when they're not doing anything harmful."

"Glitter-Grimer," Ash posed.

"I agree on dat point," Meowth said.

"You people just can't appreciate good taste," James sniffed, arms crossed.

Give it another moment's thought—"All right," Misty said, holding Horsea up to eye level. "They try anything funny, blast them with Hydro Pump."

"Sea?" Horsea noised, looking confused.

Misty shared that sentiment upon Team Rocket immediately snapping into business mode. "Welcome to da best styling salon in Kanto, where we make da best lookin' Pokémon around," Meowth announced. "May I interest you in a warm towel?"

Jessie pointed at James. "No glitter."

"I'm thinking more ink," James said, getting a plastic container and holding it to Horsea. "If you don't mind."

Horsea looked at Misty, confused—humored James upon Misty indicating that it was all right. James added some coloring, looked at the blue-black ink….

Retreated to a back room. "Maybe a little glitter."

"I told you he had a backup stash," Meowth sighed.

"Is he going to come back out like David Bowie in Labyrinth?" Ash asked.

"That's how the glitter got everywhere the first time," Jessie sighed.


"So?" Brock asked, looking up from the grill when they came back. "How was it?"

"It's probably going to be a flash-in-the-pan thing," Misty said, Horsea tucked under her arm. "I give it until we leave."

"Team Rocket's running it," Ash said.

"You're kidding," Brock said, burger nearly slipping off his spatula. "Do the police know? What are they doing?"

"Expressing their artistic side?" Misty guessed, holding Horsea up; the little water Pokémon trilled happily, still satisfied with her paint job. "I don't think they're actually doing anything illegal."

Darkrai half-floated out of a shadow next to Pikachu. "I don't know, that fur job looks pretty criminal."

"PIKAAAAA!" Pikachu screamed, scrubbing at his fur and shaking it out as vigorously as possible.