Last Time On Hia:
Released from his role as Chosen One, Ash and Mew struggle to find a new heading.
Quote:"I release you, Chosen One… Ash. Your task is done."
Chapter Fourteen: Responsibility
Do you think you can hide?
Do you believe the lies?
Twist it up in your mind
You'll run out of time, time, time
The ground was slick with recent rain. Delia danced around the puddles, only too aware of how little traction her trainers had in this sort of weather. She longed for paved walkways but there weren't any to be found on such narrow nature trails. Joulie, Delia's loyal Pikachu starter, obediently followed after. As a Pokemon, she didn't really need to care about the mud, and yet, she proved to be far more conscientious of her appearance than even Delia was.
Distant peals of thunder rumbled in the distance. Delia didn't pay them much mind, knowing that she would be safe within the confines of a Pokemon center long before the storm could reach them. She had taken this path through Ilex forest at least half a dozen times. At this point, she could wander the route blindfolded, provided weather hadn't altered the nature trails too terribly over the cold season.
Delia took a turn in the path and sensed it. A soft crack of a dry twig; a misplaced sound that didn't match up with the movements that she and her pikachu had been taking. Joulie's ears pricked up at attention and Delia's hand went quickly to her pokebelt.
A large chunk of limestone obscured the path forward. It evidently hid someone somewhere neatly behind it. Delia began her careful approach, her hands still ready on the nearest pokeball. In later recollections, Delia would try to think back on what she expected behind the next turn. In the moment, her mind buzzed with adrenaline. There wasn't much time to speculate. The fact that there had been no answer save for further shuffling sounds only heightened her anxiety.
But certainly, Delia hadn't expected her.
When Delia launched around the corner, Andromeda met her. But if her being there weren't odd enough, the way she greeted Delia was only that much stranger. In the years since they had last spoken, Andromeda had grown more comfortable in her own skin. She had already shaken off her lanky teenage years and fully embraced a sensual womanhood.
She dressed confidently in tight well-tailored dresses that showed more leg than they covered. Today was no exception as she sported a shiny ensemble that looked more cocktail dress than outdoor gear. Delia wondered how the woman had managed to get this far out into the woods without damaging such a delicate and expensive-looking thing. Andromeda looked like she had somehow made a tasteful low-cut dress from tinfoil and sparkled just as brightly.
"Andromeda?" Delia breathed, unable to put as much malice into the name as she would have preferred due to her surprise.
Andromeda leaned casually against the boulder. Her hair neatly pinned and nails meticulously manicured, Delia half wondered if the woman had somehow teleported to this spot. She acted as if she herself had fully expected the young trainer.
"Annie," Andromeda corrected, flicking some imaginary spot of dirt off her finger.
"Manners, Delia. Learn how to call people by their preferred name."
"We are not friends. I am not calling you by your pet name."
"Honestly, Delia. Do you really have to be so petulant? God, it's like you are still a child."
Delia narrowed her eyes. "You come all this way to bitch at me, Andromeda? Cause I can think of a million other things I'd rather do with my time."
Andromeda sighed and at long last, deigned to push off the rock she had been leaning against. She spared a cursory look up and down Delia's casual fire truck red jumpsuit, clearly judging her just as strongly as Delia had judged back.
"What does John see in you?"
Delia was over this conversation before it had even started. So she had no qualms with its premature end.
Delia had every intention of walking right back out of Ilex forest and back into the general safety of civilization. She had no reason to even be tempted into looking back. But her plans did not align with Andromeda's. And that woman would have her way one way or another.
Andromeda flung out her pokeball; just narrowly kissing Delia's cheek as it went past. Delia stumbled back, startled by the large shadow pokemon that had been deposited in her path. Joulie immediately stepped protectively into point position, cheeks sparking threateningly.
The Gengar's eyes lulled as it spat out a particularly long and dripping tongue. Delia eyed the ropes of saliva spilling from the pokemon's mouth, only all too aware of what toxins certain pokemon carried in their mouths. Gengar weren't known for being venomous but their saliva laden licks could paralyze muscles.
"What is this?" Delia hissed her hand already back on her pokebelt. The only reason she hadn't already initiated a battle was because she knew Andromeda and what kind of pokemon battle she'd want. It wouldn't just be a pokemon battle. That wasn't the way Andromeda rolled. Delia would be safer the sooner she put the appropriate amount of distance between her and this woman.
"I'm challenging you to a pokemon battle."
"And you call yourself a trainer?" Andromeda laughed. She had the sort of laugh that set people on edge. Delia could feel the hair on her neck standing on end. "Coward. How do you expect to be a pokemon master at this rate?"
"Knowing when to walk away is just as important as knowing when to battle."
"So you are afraid you'll lose?"
Delia turned to face the woman. "I refuse to fight an empathy-less psychotic who sees pokemon battles as a blood sport. I will not subject my pokemon to your type of battling."
"Honey, you don't have a choice."
Gengar had come a few menacing steps closer. Delia glanced back, warily eying the pokemon's wide grin that was noticeably missing a few teeth. Whether the tooth loss was from neglect or abuse, Delia couldn't tell. It still added up to the same sad conclusion. Poor thing. To have such a pokemon trainer...
"Are you going to hurt me then?" Delia snapped. "Pressgang me into a pokemon battle?"
Andromeda shrugged. "Sure."
"Wouldn't you like to know?"
Delia slid her legs apart, the muddy terrain still terrible on her trainers. Even without a ghost pokemon on her heels, she'd be unlikely to get far. One false move and she'd be kissing dirt. Delia had no doubt that Andromeda would be the sort to attack an unarmed trainer when they were down.
Joulie arched her back, the sparks dancing freely across her fur. She'd be an excellent match against Gengar. As dangerous as Andromeda was, a competent trainer she was not. Delia knew she could win this match. And if she disarmed this woman of her pokemon, she'd be mostly toothless.
"Fine," Delia snapped, enlarging a pokeball in her hand. "Let's get this over with."
The open gallery was flush with chilled air. It felt like the inside of a fridge. Probably because everything around them was still made out of ice. Ash couldn't believe that any pokemon, not already acclimatized to an icy environment could find this icy palace comfortable. He paused skeptically before a bench fused into the cavern wall. It had an odd pearly translucence that kept the resting spot from looking like anything but an absolute frigid torture to sit on.
If only he could find a piece of furniture made of materials less likely to give him frostbite. Ash let out a sigh, the fog of his breath briefly hanging in the air. In a place like this, Ash knew he was unlikely to find any better. And he was in sore need of a place to sit.
Reluctantly, Ash lowered himself onto the bench. It was as hard and uncomfortable as he feared but through the layers of his snow gear- not unbearable. Ash threaded his gloved fingers together in his lap and focused on a spot on the smooth floor. A slight imperfection in the ice- the subtlest of discoloration. If Ash squinted hard enough, he thought it might have looked like Gary's grandpa.
Ash allowed his gaze to soften and his mind to empty of such transient thoughts as these. There were more important things to think of- important things to discuss.
"Mewtwo lied," Mew's words overtook Ash's own lips.
"What was a lie? Everything he said… it felt true."
Mew didn't say anything but Ash could sense her disapproval. Everything Mewtwo had revealed and decided upon were things within the confines of her understanding. But for Ash, everything was a potential lie. He had no basis, no foundations on which to build his understanding. Everything was on shaky ground. He relied on too many uncertain factors, including Mew herself. Who was to say that Mew was right and Mewtwo was wrong?
"Your duty being over with. Much as I wish it were so, this isn't Mewtwo's call. He cannot carry on without you."
"Why not? Of what possible use could I be against… whatever that thing was? I'm just a human. He's a super pokemon. If anyone has a chance at tackling this threat, I'd bet on Mewtwo."
Mew unconsciously pushed Ash's hair back from his forehead, a motion meant to comfort but doing little for all participants involved. Ash spitefully wrenched his hand free from Mew's weaker control.
"You don't give yourself enough credit."
"None of that Chosen One stuff. I've heard plenty of that growing up. Why don't you tell me why the Chosen One never gets a say on their 'Choseness', huh?" Ash let his hands fall limply back down to his sides. He stared at the polished floors that were half-formed from ice and half-carved straight from the mountain's top. There were no artful patterns there. Unlike the rest of the palace, its floors were made for a pure and practical function. His eyes lingered for a while, hunting for patterns that didn't exist.
"I know what is expected of me. I accepted it a long time ago," Ash began again, grateful that Mew had decided to wait rather than latch onto his final rash comment. She was conscious enough of his feelings to sense what he wanted. "But…" Ash stumbled on his words, hugging his arms tight to his chest. "But Mewtwo is offering me a way out. He doesn't think I should be involved. What if he is right?"
"You Legendaries are so quick to choose humans to handle issues that the Legendaries themselves can't solve. Don't you ever make mistakes?"
"Of… of course we do. But we don't always choose humans."
"That's not the point," Ash snapped, although he was honestly surprised by Mew's admission. He hadn't ever considered a pokemon as a chosen one before. And the thought only seemed to solidify in his mind why there must have been a mistake with him. How could Legendaries, who had the pick of some of the world's strongest pokemon and smartest humans, decide that a stupid kid from Pallet town was good enough to save the world? Ash couldn't even talk to Gary most times without an argument. And yet he was expected to talk down a bodiless unfathomably powerful pokemon that couldn't even be named without summoning her?
"How do you know that I wasn't a mistake?" said Ash quietly, feeling as if he were saying something truly forbidden. His voice almost broke on the last word and he trembled in wait for her answer.
Mew didn't say anything for a few minutes. Although the temperature hadn't dropped in any significant measure, Ash felt colder. He held his shivering arms in closer.
"You are not a mistake," said Mew. "Any mistakes made were mine but you were never one of them."
Ash blinked. There was no reflective surface in which to stare, much as he instinctively sought for Mew's gaze. He was forced to stare at nothing as Mew continued.
"I'm being a tad dramatic," Mew continued, shuffling Ash's feet awkwardly. "But I have made many mistakes. I've lived so many human lifetimes that they would certainly dwarf any number you could project. And you'd think being made in a near facsimile of my creator's image would keep me from making so many. But when you've lived as long as I have, you learn a thing or two. I know I am not infallible. No one, not even my mother, is without flaws. Neither are Chosen Ones."
Ash rubbed his arms for warmth. And Mew caused him to lean back, resting against the wall. She forced his eyesight towards the more ornate icy ceiling.
"You were chosen for the whole package. For everything that you are and what was predicted that you would be. Although I did call for you, I didn't choose you directly. Your being picked was decided long before I was trapped in that tank. Almost certainly long before your conception was even conceptualized."
Mew had allowed her control to slip just long enough for Ash's own confusion to steal back across his face. He smiled in spite of it, "Those were a lot of big words, Mew."
"You'll come to understand them in time."
The smile disappeared. "Mew…" Ash began again. "What if I don't want to be the Chosen One anymore?"
"Any more?" Mew repeated. "When did you want this? You've been complaining nonstop since the start."
"Right," Ash rolled his eyes. "Because this has come with so many perks so far. Powers that burn my skin when I use them or worse. A bunch of powerful pokemon wanting to use me as a punching bag, and don't forget the criminal organization that wants me dead-"
Ash faltered, his eyes widening. He jumped to his feet. "Oh my god. I need to warn Mewtwo about White Ice."
"I'm sure he already knows," Mew replied casually, gently easing the boy back down onto his chosen bench. "He has been watching out on the mountain since you arrived. I assume he's been watching their approach and appropriately delaying them just as he had you."
"But they might breakthrough and try to capture him!"
Mew snorted. "Unlikely. Mewtwo has taken great pains to hide this place. It was only my added senses to your own that enabled you to find him so easily."
Ash felt Mew's consciousness gently suppressing his own; helping to push the temporary rush of fear aside. He reluctantly allowed it, still fearing but accepting that perhaps he didn't understand the full scope of Mewtwo's abilities yet.
"Where were we?" Mew asked. "Oh right. My point is Ashton, your choosing is outside of our hands. All of our hands. Just because Mewtwo thinks he doesn't need you doesn't mean you won't be needed. You answered my call. Of all the 'touched' souls, you heeded and came to help."
"It was Pikachu," Ash mumbled. "Pikachu heard you. I just… followed Pikachu."
"The call uses pokemon and humans in different ways. The fact is that you answered. Not because you wanted to or I preferred you. But because you needed to be there to stop Mis- my mother."
"So… fate, destiny, and all that?" Ash asked with a half-smile. Mew didn't share in Ash's amusement.
"No. We could all still die. You simply have the potential to succeed. You are our hope, our chance- just as you were my chance."
They both fell silent. Ash felt the awkwardness between them as solidly as a weight. A question hung unsaid in the silence, one that Ash had been avoiding. But he knew that he would eventually have to ask.
"Mew… how much time do you have left? Do you know?"
Mew cast Ash's eyes towards the only source of light in the corridor. Up high, there hung a small window that showered down a piercing white shaft of light. Dancing inside the pillar of light sparkled a few wayward snowflakes. Mew stared up at it for a while and Ash, sensing that this was a private moment, allowed it.
Finally, she said, "Not long now, I think. I do feel myself slipping but I keep coming back. I'm not quite ready to go yet. Not yet…"
Mew gripped Ash's knees tightly as if to anchor herself. Ash pried her from control but gently enough so not to push her too far aside. Her tenuous grasp over his psyche was growing weaker by the day. He felt her grip would struggle to crush eggshells at this point, so fragile it had become.
"Mew. I'm not giving up on you. Maybe… Maybe Mewtwo could do something."
Mew smiled weakly. "Mewtwo is many things but a God is certainly not one of them. No… No, no one can stop death, Ashton. We can only put it off for a little while."
"Mew, please. If I really have to stay Chosen, please don't leave me to do it alone."
"I wish I had any choice in the matter, Ashton. I really wish I did."
Mew didn't have much to say after that. At least, that was what Ash hoped was the case. Sometimes Mew felt just as strong and present as she had been when Ash first became aware of her presence. And other times, Ash could barely feel the flicker of her.
Much as Ash attempted to plead and bargain with her, Ash too could feel the end drawing near. He felt oddly full, but not in terms of appetite. It often felt, with each passing day, that there was more of him than there had been in the previous. Ash didn't know how to explain it any better than that, much as he often tried to nail it down himself.
Ash was left in his own silence, staring down at his scuffed up boots. Eventually, he was going to have to come to terms with a new reality, one where all of Mew's abilities became his own and Mew ceased to exist. Even if Mewtwo relinquished him from his duty here as Chosen One, there was nothing that could be done about his current physical and mental state. He still remained human in every biological sense. His heart still beat and his blood still ran red. But in terms of aura, spiritually perhaps, Ash ceased being human. You can't just quit the quest after undergoing such a permanent transformation, could you?
Ash was tired of sitting around. Also, his butt was going numb. Ash didn't know if that was because he had been sitting on a hard surface too long or if because he happened to be sitting on a slab of ice. Ash stood up and proceeded to stretch out his legs. After a few leg stretches, Ash decided some exercise might actually do him some good. He always felt a bit more clear-headed after a run. Maybe the answer would come to him while he was exercising away his feelings. It was still a bit too brisk but beggars couldn't be choosers.
Ash picked a direction at random, not really caring where the snaking corridors would take him. With the assistance of Mew's powers, it would be a simple thing to follow Mewtwo's energy back into the main part of the palace. He'd worry about finding his way back after he was officially lost.
Ash started off at a light jog, wishing it was safe to remove more layers of clothing. The mountain air could be deceptively refreshing and Ash knew enough to know he didn't want to risk catching a chill.
While jogging, Ash realized how much he missed this. It was such a settled feeling of normal, pushing himself towards a simple goal. There were no scary powerful pokemon to outrun. No intimidating tournament looming (although Ash might have taken one of those instead of what currently was looming over his head). Ash could pretend, at least momentarily, that he was just on a journey again.
Ash took a moment to weave the imaginary scenario. He was pokemon hunting in the mountains again- ice pokemon were often rare and powerful. They almost always proved unexpected in a pokemon match. That meant that his future opponents wouldn't have a built-in strategy for one suddenly appearing in his line up. He would have found a suitable campsite and waited out the snow. Now it was morning and he had a few hours before he'd need to cover some distance on the trail. So he decided to take a short jog around the surrounding area to wake up.
So wrapped up in this fantasy, Ash barely paid attention to where he was actually going. He dolled up the nearby columns as snow-kissed trees and ignored the stair steps as simply rocky outcrops in his path. He was just starting down a small ramp of stairs when a sudden sound caught his ears.
"Berries. Any berries are there?"
Ash stopped and listened. The words were not quite English, a weird mixed garble in his ears that somehow made sense in his mind. Mew still unconsciously translated for him even now.
Ash glanced around him for the source of the voice. The room he had found himself in was a small circular chamber of sorts. Shafts of brilliant winter light poured down from high windows perched in the domed ceiling. Ash squinted up at the light and then at the support pillars that crossed through the light shafts. He spotted what looked like a small bit of vegetation peeking out from the beams. Neat perches that while completely out of Ash's reach, would be fairly easy for a pokemon to climb to.
And then he spotted it- running between two of the unkempt bushes, a small flash of yellow.
Ash blinked and rubbed his eyes. Surely it wasn't what he thought. When he looked again, Ash could clearly identify the small lightning bolt-shaped tail dangling over the high perch.
Mewtwo warned them that the pokemon of this place were not really used to humans. But it might be nice to get an unbiased perspective of their pokemon host. Or at least an opinion outside their circle of desperate companions. Not wanting to startle the little pokemon, Ash approached slowly. He made sure to clear his throat just as he placed himself in a good line of sight for the pikachu.
Predictably, the pikachu's ears perked up at the sound. It whirled about and gave a little start at seeing Ash standing below.
Ash gave a friendly wave and the pokemon flinched.
Ash kept his hands up, trying to show his lack of readied pokeballs. "It's okay, little guy. I'm not going to hurt you."
The Pikachu didn't respond. Instead, it crouched low and warily eyed the human, watching for any sudden movements. Ash figured that the only reason it hadn't tried to hightail it already was that it knew Ash couldn't reach it from its current perch.
"What's your name?"
"Pikapi," replied the cautious Pikachu.
"Oh right! I remember you from before- in the cave."
This was evidently the wrong thing to say as clearly 'Pikapi' suddenly remembered him too. It stiffened and turned about as if to make a run for it. But Ash's next words froze the pokemon in place.
"Wait, Pikapi! I just want to talk!"
Pikapi slowly turned about. It stared down in astonishment at the human.
"My name… you said it."
"Well, yeah. You just told it to me."
"But understand it? No human understands it. No human supposed to understand pokemon."
Ash sighed. He was already getting tired of having to explain his eccentricities. He hadn't even had them long enough to be used to them. "I can understand pokemon speech."
"I see. I heard. Mewtwo said you were unusual humans that probably wouldn't harm us. How unusual I didn't realize."
"You met many humans?"
"No. None. Far away I see them. But I know none of them can speak pokemon. I know that much."
"Yeah. Well," Ash rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. "It's a long story that I'd rather not get into right now."
Pikapi plucked a nearby berry from the bush. It started to nibble on it absentmindedly, its eyes still fixed on Ash as if he really were one of the world wonders.
"You… You had powers too," The pikachu said as if only just recalling. "You blocked attack with human paws. All humans can do this?"
"No, no. Just me."
"Thank goodness. I was really worried." Pikapi stared thoughtfully down at the nibbled flesh of his half-eaten berry. "What did you want to talk for? To me?"
"I wanted to know what you might know about Mewtwo. What sort of Pokemon he was?"
"Great protector, he is. He keeps all of us youngers safe from humans. I hatched here as a Pichu. They told me that if I lived out there," The pikachu gestured vaguely away from himself. "Been captured and gifted out to some pokemon trainer long before evolve. Here, with Mewtwo, humans leave alone. Humans dislike Mewtwo."
Well, that was sort of a gross understatement. But Ash couldn't expect a pokemon to understand the nuance of Mewtwo's relationship with the creatures that had created him for more profit than for his own best interest.
"You said you were born here? I thought Mewtwo only brought pokemon clones with him to the mountain."
"That how it was first. But some came along that weren't with Mewtwo and they decided they liked it. And sometimes they had eggs, like me. My dad was a clone."
"Was he?" Ash frowned. "Is that how you got your name?"
"Yeah. Pop named me after the human that saved them."
Ash kept his reaction in check. He had been expecting something like that since Pikapi had first admitted his origins. Hard to believe that Mewtwo's clones actually felt any gratitude towards the human that wrecked their plans for world domination. But Ash supposed, that just like Mewtwo, the clones changed their minds.
"Man, I didn't think the clones would already have children…"
Pikapi cocked his head. "I understand not."
"Well, it's only been eight years or so."
"Eight years is a long time!"
"For you, maybe."
"No, not just for me. Eight years is almost half our lifespans!"
It was Ash's turn to be shocked. He stared at the younger Pikachu thinking of his own pokemon. He knew Pikachu was already older when they met. And recently, Ash had come to consider the Pichu he had met as a toddler as the same pokemon he had encountered as a young trainer. But that would make Pikachu nearly fifteen years old at the very least!
If Pikachu were a middle-aged pokemon, he certainly did appear so. He was lithe and active; able to exhibit the same level of energy as he always had on their many journeys. A senior pokemon should have been showing its age by now… Was it possible that he actually wasn't the same pokemon from his childhood? Or was there more to Pikachu than he knew?
"Could I… Would it be okay for me to meet your father?"
Pikapi looked suspiciously at the human for half a beat before replying, "Why?"
"I think… well, I think we might have met somewhere before. I would like to talk to him too."
Pikapi rolled its eyes. "You sure do like talking to pokemon."
But that snarky reply must have been a yes, as the pikachu leaped down from its perch. It cast one last look over his shoulder and said, "Follow me" before skipping off. Ash did so, only now wondering if it was actually a good idea.
It was a surprisingly short walk to where all the pokemon were hiding. They only had to go up a short and crudely carved backstair that at first glance, Ash barely recognized as a stairway. It was clearly more made for pokemon than for any human ascetic. Which probably meant that Mewtwo had less of a hand in its creation. The steps, if the little ruts could actually be called that, were short and uneven. If Ash hadn't been carefully focusing on every move he made up the icy incline, he would have surely stumbled and slid down at least a half a dozen times.
The stair emptied out into an open-air amphitheater of some considerable size. Where the rest of the palace seemed focused on replicating a human design with high sweeping arches, Grecian columns, and domed ceilings- this one room was made with pokemon in mind. It was more garden than room, catering to the needs of at least a hundred different types of pokemon. At least that was the best estimate Ash could guess with just his first impression. He could spy the shadows of pokemon flying and perched in the ceiling's rafters. And there were many more stomping through the vegetation that grew thick and wild throughout the hall. Ash didn't know how it was possible but the room was warm and the floor made of soil and rock. He supposed that a lot of different pokemon had worked together to make this sanctuary possible.
And Mewtwo helped keep the humans out.
At his approach, many pokemon instinctively fled. Most of the first to spot Ash were tiny ratatas or wayward vulpix. These tended to be skittish pokemon at the best of times anyway. Ash was careful to stay out of sight from the larger pokemon, just in case the charizard decided it would fight rather than run from a human.
Pikapi wasn't used to leading something as slow as a human. It would frequently lose Ash amongst the tall grass, having to climb a high rock or young tree to find the human again. Its impatience became increasingly evident. Ash did his best to pick up his pace but it was hard to beat the speed of a creature with four legs.
Somewhere around the center of the room, to Ash's estimation, they came upon a small group of Pikachu. Their nest was mostly made of flattened grass, the blades twisted into small circular beds. Most of the pikachu were like Pikapi, either only recently evolved or still pichu themselves. They scuttled off at Ash's approach, only daring to peek through the safety of the tall grass at the human.
One stayed his ground. This pokemon felt oddly familiar to Ash. Although Ash expected all pikachu to seem familiar since they all resembled his pokemon partner. But no, this one in particular, with its odd markings, remained unsettlingly familiar. Ash could do little but stare as Pikapi closed the final distance and greeted its father with a friendly nuzzle. The older pokemon returned the gesture, his eyes not straying far from the human before them. Unlike his children, this pokemon was not afraid of Ash.
"Pikapi," said the Pikachu, but not to his son. "I wondered when I would see you again."
The little pokemon that had been his guide was now looking at Ash curiously and Ash could do little but shrug. Ash's mouth felt dry. He swallowed in spite of it, not sure how to proceed. The pokemon was clearly addressing him as if he fully expected Ash to understand him.
"Not if?" He resorted to wit. It felt like the best icebreaker.
Just as Ash suspected, the pikachu seemed unfazed by Ash's comprehension of the pokemon language. It gave his head a little shake and mustered a small half-smile.
"No. I knew you would return."
Ash frowned. He shuffled awkwardly in place, his eyes unconsciously sweeping over where the other pikachu were hiding. His look sent the pokemon skittering away again. Ash forced himself to look at his pikachu's clone again.
"I'm… I'm sorry. But I don't-"
"Remember? Yes. I know. I was there after all."
"I didn't actually come here to ask about that. I wanted… well, you see… since you're Pikachu's clone, I thought…"
The pikachu tilted its head, at last left confused by Ash's awkward stumbling ramble. As Ash flapped his lips, he started to really look at the pokemon in front of him. And he noticed that it really looked nothing like Pikachu. Not only were its markings different, this Pikachu had streaks of silver forming in his yellow fur. His muzzle was starting to turn white, and its body was slightly chubby and weathered by age. How could this Pikachu be the clone of his Pikachu and yet appear so old?
"Are you really Pikachu's clone?"
The Pikachu nodded his wizened head. "Yes. I was created from your friend's DNA. I even have some of his memories, which is how I knew we would meet again. You are a very odd human being. I knew you would cross paths with Mewtwo again someday whether he liked it or not."
Ash considered mentioning the bizarre differences in their ages but then thought better of it. There was something very unusual about Pikachu. But then wasn't that something that Team Rocket had sensed from the very beginning? Ash had always ignored the trio's assertions of Pikachu's greatness. Of course, he knew Pikachu was great. However, Team Rocket was so bumbling most of the time that he didn't really take their admiration as anything more than a passing fancy for a somewhat rarer species of pokemon.
But now, Ash was starting to wonder if he had been too quick to dismiss their words. Maybe Pikachu was more than just a really great pokemon companion. Was it possible that he actually really was as extraordinary as Team Rocket professed?
Just how old was Pikachu? Was he immortal? How come he wasn't aging?
Ash felt like his head was spinning. He unconsciously touched his forehead, trying to ease the dizzy sensation. But he quickly lowered his hand when he noticed both Pikapi and its father looking at Ash with some concern.
"I'm sorry. Did something I said upset you, Pikapi?"
"No, no, no. Nothing like that," Ash waved off their concern. "I've just been thinking hard about something. Don't… don't worry about it."
Ash stayed a little bit longer with the pokemon although their conversations didn't reveal any further gems of information. He chatted with them for a while, somehow even tempting more of the pokemon's children out of their hiding spots. But eventually, Ash excused himself. He was only half-participating in this odd reunion, his mind still stuck on Pikachu.
This was his pokemon partner, his oldest pokemon friend. And yet…
Ash might not have known anything about him at all.
Misty waited a long time before she rolled out her sleeping bag. She was pouting; protesting the idea of going to bed without seeing Ash. She hadn't wanted to unroll her sleeping bag at all. Giovanni had called it a night hours before, leaving her to sulk in silence and darkness.
The natural light had long since slipped out of the room. The fruit Mewtwo had provided had been hours ago and now hunger was back to gnaw away at her insides. She had tried pacing. She did some solitary exercises. She even read some of the worn-out paperback novel that Giovanni had brought along. It was atrocious; some dimestore romance that Misty had little patience for even on the best of days. Maybe if she were still twelve years old... She had long since stopped expecting love to go anything like the way it did in silly novels.
Ash still hadn't returned. Misty was really starting to worry that Mewtwo had indeed spirited her friend away. And she had just stood there and let it happen. Like some sort of idiot.
Rather than continuing to beat herself up, Misty finally surrendered herself to the idea of sleep. At least if she were asleep, time would pass away more quickly. Anything was better than trying to subject herself again to the romance between two supernatural creatures who couldn't be together.
As she laid down, Misty even had the passing thought that mermaids and werewolves probably couldn't even work out physiologically. And then she hated herself for even having the thought. She really didn't need to puzzle out how werewolf and mermaid sex would work.
She hadn't been laying down for long before she heard the telltale sound of footsteps. It was unlikely that Mewtwo or any of his pokemon housemates would have suddenly developed a liking for shoes. And there weren't any other humans on this forsaken mountain other than the three of them. Misty sat upright just as Ash made the turn into their room.
"Ash, you're back."
Ash gave a little start. It was next to impossible to see in the dark, even for him. He must not have anticipated her still being awake. Ash fished around in his pockets for a light but Misty, ever prepared, was faster. She snapped a glow stick that she had already extracted from her own belongings. The eerie green light cast the room of ice in an odd gloom. Shadows danced outside their small circle of light. But with the aid of the glowstick, Misty could see that Ash was unchanged.
He looked tired, perhaps even had something bothering him. But overall, unharmed. And his eyes were still their normal warm hue. Clearly, Mewtwo hadn't decided to revoke his offer of hospitality just yet.
"Are you okay?"
Ash gave his head a little shake and smiled at her. Misty thought it looked a little forced. "I'm fine. How are you?"
"Cold," Misty griped. "You didn't happen to talk Mewtwo into lending us a space heater, did you?"
Ash chuckled as he shrugged off his own outer snow gear. The room was warm enough to not need snow slickers. His backpack was right where he had left it, leaning against Misty's. Ash awkwardly dragged his bag away from hers so as to retrieve his own nighttime supplies. Misty ignored the action.
"No, but seriously, Ash. Are you okay?"
Ash nodded mutely, unlatching his own sleeping roll from the bottom of his pack, and unfurling it next to Misty's. Next to hers but not too close.
"What did you talk about?"
"About what happened. Before. When he wiped our memories."
"It's… kind of a lot."
Misty huffed angrily, crossing her arms while she glared at Ash. "Geezus. Give me something, Ash. We've both been out of our mind with worry for you."
She gestured over to where Giovanni slept soundly in his own sleeping roll. His soft snores did little to back up her point.
"I was worried," She corrected.
"It's okay, really. Mewtwo would never hurt me." But Misty instantly noted how he wasn't meeting her eyes. Instead, he busied himself with smoothing out his sleeping bag and then undoing the laces of his boots. He was spending a longer time on the laces than the task normally merited, his fingers thick and clumsy. And then there was still that distant look to his eyes. Misty knew something was on his mind, something more consuming of his attention than usual.
"Ash," Misty sighed, "If you don't want to talk about this then… then we should talk about the other thing."
"What other thing?"
"Your obvious feelings for me."
This, unlike anything else, caught Ash's attention. He was in the process of finally yanking his first boot off but at her words, Ash immediately dropped his foot, the shoe still on.
"Don't play dumb," Misty said, fighting her own betraying blush that threatened to rise to her cheeks. She tried to stare at the wall just behind Ash's head to avoid staring too long at his startled and embarrassed face. "That's why you've been so mean to Gary, right? I'm not stupid, Ash. I can put two and two together."
Besides, we almost kissed, She thought but wasn't quite brave enough to vocalize.
Ash sat frozen, stupidly staring at her. She wanted to encourage him to speak but was afraid of chasing him away from an honest answer. After all, she had been waiting to hear the answer to this question for years.
"I… I uh…"
"Do you like me?" She decided to make it easier on him. When she met his eyes, Ash looked uncharacteristically pale. She wondered if he might faint.
Then, after a long quiet moment and one small glance at Giovanni to make sure the man really was still asleep, Ash softly whispered, "Yes."
She didn't hear fireworks or a triumphant horn. But Ash's soft affirmation rang louder than it was spoken. Misty smiled and waded pleasantly in its confirmation- something that was years overdue.
"I like you too."
Ash blinked. It didn't appear he expected that answer.
"I told you. Gary and I dated. Dated, past tense. He flirts sometimes, sure. But we aren't currently together."
Ash scooted closer. "Misty I- I know we've known each other for a really long time. But I've never known any other girl like you. You're smart and resourceful. Beautiful. And a really great trainer. A great gym leader even. I feel comfortable talking to you. I don't even feel that comfortable talking to Pikachu sometimes… especially lately. You are my one true friend and I… I absolutely adore you."
Misty felt like her face might actually melt off. She hadn't expected this outpouring of emotion from Ash of all people- the un-romanceable rock he had always appeared to be.
"I know I'm not the best boyfriend material. I'm kind of stupid and forgetful. But I swear, I'd be better. You- You make me feel like I can be better."
"Ash," Misty laughed. "You don't have to try to give me reasons to like you. I already do."
"But… I feel like you're about to reject me."
Misty closed her eyes and sighed. She hugged her arms in tight despite not feeling that cold. "I don't think we should be together."
Ash's expression went from a small hopeful happiness to confusion in a flash.
"Ash, you have another being inside your head. You suddenly have superpowers… hell, you're currently trying to save the world, aren't you? Our relationship, whatever it might be, it's not going fit with everything else you have going on right now. It won't be good. For either of us."
"This is… kind of who I am. It's not something I can just turn off and wait for more convenient timing. Like… sorry Legendaries. Can't help you out right now- I'd really like to have a girlfriend so please call back in a week or two."
Misty smiled and gently placed her own hand over Ash's.
"I'm not saying never."
Ash grabbed up her hand in his own. The gesture was surprisingly intimate coming from him.
"Misty, I don't know if you noticed. But I'm not really sure how I'm going to deal with all the things I'm dealing with at the moment. I'm not entirely sure there will be a later on."
He was squeezing her hand pretty tightly. Misty felt the pain in that admission from him. It was the first time she had heard him admit that he might not actually succeed. Although she knew he had to be thinking it, just like the rest of them had been.
Ash, ever the unrelenting optimist, admitting to his own fears seemed alien. Misty knew he wasn't exactly the same happy kid he used to be. Things had happened to him. Who could blame him for trying to hold on to a bit of happiness where he could find it?
She wondered at how odd this had all played out. She had waited years to hear something like this from him. And yet, now that she actually had it she was actually turning it down. If Misty didn't know any better, she would have thought she was being a tad petty.
"It's not a good idea," Misty said. "But-"
Maybe she was just a pushover when it came to those eyes.
Ash was smiling at her and she wished he'd stop. It was hard enough to have this conversation without him dazzling her.
"Ugh, nevermind. Let's start over," Misty tossed her head as if to rid herself of the previous conversation. "Ash, I like you."
"I like you too."
"We can't date. Not yet. We need to be responsible and not rush into anything just because of this whole 'world-saving' business. But I'm willing to start a relationship with you. Nothing big. Just something so we don't keep driving each other crazy anymore. We'll start slow."
"That sounds fair."
"Right? I thought so."
"Is kissing a big step?"
"Yes. Definitely. Too big."
"Then, I'll just hold your hand. Is that okay?"
"Yes, Ash. That's perfectly acceptable."
Ash held her hand a little closer. He didn't bridge the comfortable distance between them. They held hands over their sleeping bags. And Misty thought as she slipped into a dreamless slumber, that she couldn't love him more for it.
Pikachu snarled after the crate door slammed in his wake. Immediately, he tried gnawing at the metal bars, hunting for weaknesses. But the crate was perfect for carrying willful pokemon. There weren't any weaknesses to be had. At least none that Pikachu could exploit at the moment.
Gary fell hard next to the crate. Pikachu stopped gnawing to look on in concern. The young man had been cuffed from behind. And when pushed into the transport vehicle, they had done little to prevent him from falling. Without his arms, Gary couldn't catch himself properly. His head knocked into the vehicles' passenger bench— almost certainly coming close to knocking the man senseless.
But Gary groaned. And attempted to rouse himself. Just as both Team Rocket members were tussled in behind him.
They were fortunate enough not to fall. Carefully stepping around the fallen trainer, they took up their own places on a bench. They exchanged fretful glances with each other, taking stock of their now increasingly worsening situation.
Before they could even wonder and worry for Meowth, the doors were open again and in Meowth was slung. He landed quite roughly into Gary who quickly pushed the pokemon off.
"I was kind of hoping more of us had avoided capture," Gary spat bitterly, pushing himself back up to his knees.
"Seriously? What chance did we stand against that many armed Pokemon trainers? We were doomed as soon as we started fighting back," said James glumly.
The group stared gloomily at each other for lack of anything better to stare at. They had been shoved into some hollowed out delivery truck, bound for Mew knew where. And, as even Pikachu was starting to realize, there wasn't going to be any rescue party coming for them.
"At least Giovanni seems to have made it," muttered Gary. "Maybe he found the others."
"Oh please. Don't pretend the situation is better than it is," Jessie snapped. "Even if the boss got away, there aint no way he found those two. They are all traipsing about a freaking mountain range. Who knows? We could actually be the lucky ones and they could all be dead."
Pikachu snarled, the sparks that flew from his cheeks ominously illuminated him in the shadowy recesses of the pokemon crate. Jessie only spared him a pitying glance.
"Buck up, Pikachu. Life's just gonna knock you around if you're too easy to anger."
"Not if I electrocute it first," came his fast retort that only Meowth understood. The pokemon didn't bother translating though. They had bigger concerns as the doors to their transportable prison opened again.
The bombshell blonde standing silhouetted in the open door frame had an immediate effect on the prisoners. Gary moved back curiously, suspecting the woman might have been another prisoner. But both Jessie and James had gone a deathly pale. Even Meowth had scrambled behind his human companions. It was only as she stepped inside that Gary realized the woman wasn't handcuffed.
Pikachu's loose voltage erupted from where he was caged, sending sparks this way and that. Gary had to avoid the crate or risk electric shock. Gary thought the Team Rocket members might have had the same concern but oddly, they recoiled not from the furious Pikachu but from the woman.
"Who are you?" Gary said, the only one seeming brave enough to speak.
The woman stared at him, sizing him up with a single glance. Then, with a simpering smile, decidedly took the seat next to Gary. He noticed the White Ice Agents, some of the ones who had captured them, were standing post at the entrance. He was starting to piece it together. Pikachu's sudden violence and Team Rocket's panic-stricken expression could only add up to one troublesome woman.
"You're her, aren't you? The bitch who kidnapped Ash?"
Her brilliantly red lips twitched at the offensive term. But overall, her expression remained fixed in a look of pleasant amusement.
"I have a name," She said.
"Andromeda." Gary looked to the Team Rocket for confirmation. Jessie was busy staring at the floor and Meowth stayed hiding. But James nodded vigorously to his guess. He didn't exactly need James' response as the woman quickly confirmed it herself with a high laugh.
"Poor you. Did they pick you up alongside the road? You weren't even aware of who you were going against!"
"I knew enough. I just didn't know you looked-"
Gary frowned, chewing the inside of his cheek for a beat. Then he came back at her with, "Maybe, for your age anyway."
"Oooh," Andromeda laughed again, lightly slapping Gary's unprotected cheek. "You are certainly one of Ash's friends. Same smart mouth."
Then, with a violence that all of them had been anxiously fearing but none fully expecting, Andromeda grabbed the young man by his throat. She pressed him hard against the side of the truck with a strength surprising for a woman of her stature. She closed both her hands in tight, nails digging into his flesh. Gary hadn't even time to cry out.
She said nothing while choking the young man. The others shouted out in protest and immediately tried to rush to his aid. But the two agents, who had been waiting outside, were ready. They drew guns and trained them on the Team Rocket trio. Pikachu rattled about in his crate. But none of them could do anything to stop this.
Just when Gary thought she might actually strangle him to death, she let him go. Andromeda left him gasping and sputtering on the floor. He was too exhausted to even wipe away the involuntary tears running down his face.
"You are going to tell me where the others are. Starting with Ash Ketchum."
No one said anything. Jessie and James were exchanging anxious looks. But it was Gary who spoke up again. He coughed up at her, still unable to pick himself up off the floor, "What are you talking about you crazy bitch? You poisoned him."
She rolled her eyes. "Much as I would like to believe my attempts to kill the boy were successful, I have some eye witness reports that say otherwise. And," She looked pointedly in the direction of the pokemon crate. "You have his Pikachu."
"I inherited him."
Gary forced himself back up to his knees. He really wasn't having the best of days. Between the knock to his head and the near strangulation, Gary was pretty sure he'd have a hard time moving at all tomorrow morning. He forced himself to meet Andromeda's eyes- fully aware of how his every lie from here on out would determine the fate of his friends.
"You're telling me you came all this way chasing ghosts? That's the most pathetic thing I think I've ever heard."
Andromeda smiled at him but it was more cold and unfriendly than any she had given thus far. "You're cute," She said. "Once I've captured your friends, I think I'll save you for last."
"Don't do me any favors."
She slapped his cheek again. This time, Gary flinched. "Oh trust me. That's no favor."
To Be Continued…
Please Read and Review!
I hope you are all staying safe and healthy during this trying time. Enjoy staying inside with another chapter! I actually am completing Nanowrimo this year so I've actually written up to chapter 20 already in this story. You can expect those future chapters in the coming weeks as I quickly revise and polish them up.
A special thanks to those who reviewed last time: AshKetchumForever, Kkcats, YumeTakato, juaniu1994, Ashora, Shaveza, canoerider, Kauris Azurai, Lady Canu, jozs001 and the many guests who also left lovely reviews.
I love how many of you guys reacted with "What? Can Mewtwo really do that?" Well, I hope this and the following chapters seek to answer your surprise!
Next time, Ash and the others are made aware of their friends' situation and plan a rescue. Look forward to the next chapter being released in about a week!