In recent news, I am thinking of getting a commission of this story. Which means paying someone to draw what I want. And I want...one of the characters with some of their Pokemon. I can have either one trainer and all six Pokemon (which would include a few spoilers, naturally) for about 100 dollars, or one trainer with three Pokemon for about 50 dollars. Regardless of pricing, I am curious, which trainer would YOU want a fanart of?

In Pathway news…I swear to God, Hinata's egg hatches this chapter. It so totally does. It's right down there. Go see. My own silly theories about the details of a Pokemon egg hatching can be seen there.

I must admit this "rent a Pokemon n' battle with it" segment was partially an excuse to write some good battles with some new Pokemon, as well as include some nicknames, 'cause I like both those things, while I do sometimes like a Pokemon without a name, I MUCH prefer naming them, as it's somewhat like naming your pet dog "Dog" and what possible justification could you have for that?

666

Wednesday, July 29th, 4:22 AM, Brisby's Daycare in Saraku City

666

Greg Brisby's backyard, or rather the backyard of his daycare property, was spacious enough for a Wailord. Or five (and the pond would fit one, if it squeezed in). It was also lined with a perimeter of white seftinwood fencing, five feet tall, for general privacy. Although if anyone in the area looked, supposing people were around this time of night, they'd probably still be able to see the commotion in the backyard, seeing as there were over a hundred Pokemon of all sizes mulling about in it.

Sakura exited the Daycare building through the big sliding door in the kitchen. Sasuke was holding her hand and following her lead, both of which were changes about the size and significance of a Groudon. But she wanted not to think about it so much right now. After all, not half an hour ago she'd been assaulted by a man who kicked small Pokemon and had bitten her, obtained-slash-rescued a wild Eevee by instigating fight with that man, kicked an Ivysaur in the face, been impossibly healed by Kadabra's Recover (she was determined to research how in the world that could occur), and also it was four in the morning.

Sakura counted herself a morning person, but after this stint of eating out at midnight and working a spontaneous night shift in Brisby's daycare, she'd be taking a page from Naruto's book for once and sleeping till noon.

Now they were all outside, all five trainers, Brisby and the hundred-odd Pokemon various trainers had left in his care. Skitty and Exeggcute lying on a rugged section of an Onix's back, Pidgeotto aplenty and a Chatot in a tree, a Primeape missing an eye sitting by the little pond and all but ignoring the Dragonite snoring with its feet in the water next to him. Their combined noise was, in Sakura's opinion…pleasant. Like an undulating hum. One day she would become a Pokemon doctor, and feel this in her clinic every day. While she gave out medicine. Instructed new trainers. Inspected X-ray sheets and set broken bones.

Brisby broke her fine and formulated thoughts by stepping awkwardly and loudly over two Mightyena that were cuddling together. He held a large purple binder. "Sakura, are you sure you're all right? You don't need bandages or something?"

"No, I'm all right." She reassured him. I will go make a report at the police station in the morning, though. Society doesn't need that freak running free in the streets." Her answer was tailored not to include the reference of the man being part of the Akatsuki organization, which would alarm or even terrify him. There was no sense in dragging Mr. Brisby into that.

"Of course you are. Hell, I am, too. Also, Naruto has been telling me to leave you alone about any wounds you may have, because apparently you're a doctor in training and you already know better than me? Well. Well, if you seriously think you'll be all right until we report this, then fine. You look trustworthy. So let's get to this fun little battle-thing." He turned around, opening his binder. "All right, you all, here's my logs. All the Pokemon I've got now and their names and trainers' names are written in here. Where's Naruto? Wasn't this his idea?"

Naruto's voice came from seemingly far away. It was a laughing sound, "Yeah, it was!" and many of them looked up to see Naruto standing on the shoulders of a very amused-looking Rhydon. "Everybody! Battle time! We're gonna pick a Pokemon from all these ones right here and battle with 'em, like we're renting them!"

A Swampert promptly spat at him, and something about his bared teeth and glowering expression suggested it had been an angry expletive. Naruto ignored it and jumped awkwardly off the Rhydon's back. He landed on his feet, though, and the little spectacle made Sakura giggle, and the Eevee sitting primly in her arms murmur as he watched.

"Explain why we're not waiting till daylight to do this?" Ino sighed from behind him.

"'Cause I'm not tired yet. And you don't look tired, either. Plus," he leaned in a little closer to Ino, pocketing his hands not-that-slyly in his sun-orange vest, "this is pretty much the same thing as free time in Combat Class at school, except we're getting paid to do it. So shut up." Ino scoffed at him. "So! Everybody! Pick a Pokemon! Or let one pick you, whatever happens first. Sakura, I'm fighting your Pokemon, 'kay?"

"Sure! But wait a minute first."

"'Kay? What for?"

"For our Pokemon, moron." She smiled at him, attempting to mask that she hadn't been a moron up till now, too. "Our Pokemon have been in their balls since we ate at Shroomsworth's. They should all be out and stretching their legs here if we are. Or sleeping under the stars if they like. So," She successfully had plucked each ball from either her belt or within her bag by that time, and tossed them all up in a formless jumble. Each one opened of its own accord and let out the beasts within.

Sakura caught the first two Pokeballs in her hands, was hit in the shoulder by the second, and managed to catch the last in her bag like a basketball. As she did this, her Pokemon came to shape and looked around: Romeo the Squirtle, Cassio the paranoid Sentret, Beatrice the Flaaffy and her yet unnamed Nidorina.

And that, along with the fact that her Nidorina was still holding the iPod she'd had when she'd been captured, jogged the rosette's memory. "Mr. Brisby," Sakura called. The man looked at her in surprise; he'd been staring as Hinata released her Dratini, who hissed meanly at all the Pokemon around her. Sakura went on, "Do you happen to have an iPod charge cable? My Nidorina needs one."

At first he stared. And why wouldn't he? "Your Nidorina needs one?" he asked slowly. Sakura and Nidorina nodded together, the human a mite embarrassed, the Nidorina a mite smiling. "Well. Um. Yeah, I think I do. I'll get it and plug it into the outdoor outlet. Go, um, find your 'rental' Pokemon, please." And he walked off back into the house, a Growlithe coming after him.

Now Sakura bent down, balancing on the balls of her feet, to look Nidorina in her fine, blue face. She looked over a little slowly, curious but unworried. "Nidorina, I'm going to name you Elizabeth." she said. "I know there was a Kantonese empress with that name who adored orchestral concerts. And the name by itself just reminds me of music, and appreciating music. Do you like that?"

The Nidorina's lips pushed quickly up into a smile. "Ni." And as she handed the little pink player over, she seemed to try the new name out herself. "Ni-do -ri-ri." Sakura chuckled a little. Even the amount of syllables was the same. Elizabeth was…so human.

She exhaled softly, appreciative of it. "Once this is done and we can get some more sleep, you and I ought to compare iPods. I wonder how you'll like 'Why Should I W—"

Sakura's sentence collapsed when she did; something had jabbed her in the back and she fell forward onto all fours. She gasped and collected herself quickly (not as quickly as Eevee, who started smoothing his ruffled fur immediately), then rose up onto her knees and turned around. A Lairon stood there, blinking a little stupidly at her. "So you'd like to battle?" The Lairon nodded with the overzealous smile of a village idiot. "Do you have a name, or are you just Lairon?" The steel beast shook its head from side to side, which told Sakura a whole lot of nothing. "Mr. Brisby, does this Lairon have a name?"

The daycare manager flipped the page in his binder, once, twice, and slid his finger down. "He's the only Lairon here right now. His name is Traveler."

Traveler parted his mouth again and again. "Traveler, do you want me to battle with your or do you just want to be petted?" He ducked his head and pushed it against her almost pleadingly. Romeo watched him from a meter or so away. He looked very displeased. For about two more seconds. Then he fired a short jet of water at the steel-type's face and it shrieked.

"Romeo!" Sakura gasped. "What's wrong with you? You've hurt him." Traveler pushed against Sakura's legs again and Romeo started again. He jumped onto his adversary's head and beat on it with his tiny blue fists. Traveler, having a head made of material that was, for all intents and purposes, steel, was much more annoyed and confused than hurt.

Sakura grabbed her Pokemon by his tail and held him in mid-air. "Why do you keep doing things like this! Will you—stop that now! I didn't let you out of your ball so you could be a brat. You're going to behave or—" Romeo, upside down and slightly swinging, was holding out his arms to her and begging for a hug. Sakura told him no and he started to whine.

Sakura ignored him and only looked on helplessly as Traveler ambled away into the crowd of Pokemon. "That's just great. Now he thinks I'm unapproachable and you're a rabid little beast."

A scoff from behind her made her turn. Romeo moaned crazily at the sudden lashing move, but Sakura had eyes only for Ino smirking at her. A snobby smirk, an expensive Victini Victoire blouse and diamond earrings was not a combination Sakura was inclined to be polite to. "What? It's cute. He totally loves you." Ino said with all the innocence of a Purrloin. "You got your partner yet? I found this adorable Tepig and his Charmander girlfriend. Show me a Fire fang, babe."

The Charmander pulled back one of her feet to brace herself and parted her jaws. She began the slightly amazing process of setting her own teeth on fire. Nearby was Sasuke, standing with a partnered Noctowl, equally still. They seemed less important right now.

It was astounding, how Ino still pissed her off sometimes, with just a remark or gesture. Their trainer journey and the summer season had made them better; they could be civil and even friendly, and one night before arriving in Haru-kishi they'd even shared iPods. But sometimes the blonde put on a face, a sneer, a ratty lilt to her voice, very much on purpose, and Sakura would want to wholeheartedly take the bait and violently smash the girl's face. Or sometimes Sakura would catch herself saying something with an overtly intellectual air that would make Ino angry and probably ashamed that she didn't understand, though it would probably make Sakura herself look like a pretentious jerk. It rotted their budding friendship a little.

"LOOK!"

Everyone looked because everyone was scared suddenly. A Pidgeotto dropped out of a tree and the lone Steelix screeched like a folding metal sheet in surprise. The noise had come from Hinata, who held her little beige egg, little beige glowing egg. It was hatching now, right the heck now. Sakura crouched and put Romeo down fast as a Quick attack, and sped over to Hinata with Ino hot on her heels. Everyone was around, all the daycare's present humans and a dozen poking Pokemon heads. The egg glowed bright white, and heat radiated from it and made Hinata's hands shiver.

Sakura could name and see each swift cycle of the hatching: the quickening, the heating, the formation, the solidifying, and…now…the darkening. The eggshell had now morphed around the baby's skin, giving it a tiny protection for its first day of life, and there was nothing but a baby left, whose birthing shine had gone. And there was a small Emolga in Hinata's arms.

A Raichu trying to push past Naruto's arm gasped and twirled its tail.

The Emolga opened its eyes and saw the Raichu. It looked curious at first. Then quite disgusted. It pushed back, pulled its whole body and its attached wings with tiny, baby-soft hands and didn't do much but push back into Hinata's chest. (Its tail was absent from all this movement; Emolga seemed either unaware that it had a tail, or didn't yet know how to move it.) Its head shot up to see the behemoth creature holding it, and it was suddenly less scared.

"H…Hi. Kiddo." Hinata murmured to it, and all the daycare listened to her. Sakura wondered how she felt, how her heart hammered feeling all that attention. "Welcome to the world. I've d-decided your name is Lyra. Do you like that?"

The electric-type made a soft noise and wore a neutral face. Hinata looked frightened. "Oh. Oh, no. Sakura, it's not a boy, is it? I just guessed, a-a-and I—"

Sakura leaned over and checked. "Nope. Lyra's a girl."

Naruto snickered.

Lyra saw the pinkette and ducked her head behind Hinata's sleeve. She laughed. "Aww! Well…look at me, dear. Can you look at me?" Lyra looked. "My friends are going to play some games. Would you like to watch?" Sakura pursed her lips a little, doubting the Emolga yet understood any more than Hinata's pleasant tone of voice, but it certainly did good to talk to the baby. And Lyra put her baby hands around Hinata's arm, like she was bracing herself. Like she was about to go for a ride. Even Sasuke observed this and cracked something like a grin.

Here, Sakura felt a prodding on the side of her knee and saw Romeo, who still wanted a hug. She sighed and let him have one. He sat comfortably in the crook of her arm now and was no longer a brat.

"All right. All right, everyone, let's give baby Lyra a good show." Naruto said. "Mommy Hinata should sit this one out. Sakura, you and me first! Who's your first partner?"

'Well, not Traveler.' Sakura thought, and looked around at the dozens of Pokemon. "Uh…somebody, please?" A half dozen other beasts came up to her in a few beats of a Swellow's heart. The first in line was a Skarmory, nearly a clone to her father's. It even had a tiny notch on the edge of its powerful beak. And something about it—the vicious need to be first, or the muscle mass, perhaps?—really oozed masculine. "I suppose you're first. Skarmory, show me a few moves of yours."

While Brisby flipped pages in his book to inform her the Skarmory's name was just Skarmory, the bird Pokemon took flight from where he stood and soared upwards. He twisted in mid-air, a tornado, while his wings glowed faintly white, and shone with reflections of the stars. It was a Steel wing. (And clearly one taught to him by a coordinator.) Next, he zigzagged here, there, over there, in a vague pattern. Quick attack. And last, he began to dive straight down. Straight at Sakura. It was too precise, too aggressive to be a mere dive out of the sky. It was Brave bird. He hit the ground and pierced through, making a hole roughly the size of himself. Sakura's heart slowed from its furious pace of fear and Squirtle released his horrified little fingers from her shirt.

"Skar." Said Skarmory, explaining everything.

"You are so battling me. Team Skarmory, get your butt over here!" Naruto ran off and jumped over a Seviper. Sakura started to follow while Brisby bribed a Sandslash with chocolate to fill in the hole neatly.

The other Pokemon made space and hummed and shuffled their feet and tails in anticipation. Most likely none of them had observed a night-battle at a daycare before. Sakura smiled at this as she filed away her Skarmory's attacks and guessed at ones he might also know.

The Skarmory trotted and positioned himself till he was perfectly in front of Sakura, and spread his wings. What a drama queen. Like a certain water-type she was still holding. She also noticed that her new Eevee, already showing himself to have a penchant for being prim and presentable, looked on like an admirer.

Forty or so yards away, stood Naruto in his orange vest and worn sneakers, as cocky-looking as the trainer of an Entei but standing behind a Quagsire. "Prepare to be turned into a drumstick. You ready for this, Sakura! This'll be our first battle since we graduated!"

He was right, she realized. And in most of their battles in Combat class, hell, throughout all of middle and high school, Naruto had won. But her battling skills had had more room and lenience to grow in the real world. And there was no crowd of girls (or boys) waiting for her to lose so they could snigger and make the popular jokes. Even if they were here, it wouldn't matter anymore. Sakura was ready. And this Skarmory would show it. "Let's see what a month away from home has done for us, Naruto. Skamory—"

"Water gun!"

"Fly straight up."

Quagsire stood in one place while spitting a thin, harsh jet of water through his parted lips. It sprayed harmlessly onto the ground and even a few spectators. Skarmory had dodged up and away from its range. Quagsire did not look perturbed, but Naruto did. "Okay. Fine. Mud sport, Quagsire."

Quagsire turned around and stared at him.

Mr. Brisby burst out laughing from the sidelines, and Sakura covered her mouth to politely hide a snicker. Romeo, in the crook of her arm, did not.

Naruto was not amused; Sakura wondered how long it had been since the willful blonde had felt embarrassed. "Okay! Fine! You don't know Mud sport, how about Mud shot?" Even with its face still turned on his temporary trainer, Sakura could see the edges of a grin on Quagsire's face from her side of the field. Quagsire walked forward, puffed out his cheeks, and spat a fat ball of mud up into the air.

Immediately, the pinkette could see that Quagsire had wisely not aimed for Skarmory, but where his flight would take him in a few seconds. He could dodge—almost—would it be enough? Just in case, she shouted up at the steel-feathered bird, "Use Agility!" and Skarmory accordingly sped up. This made the mudball strike his tail instead of his face or torso, but it still sent him spiraling down, half out of control.

Sakura tried to scrape up a new command but only sputters came from her mouth as she floundered for a new idea. She bit her tongue at the stupid reaction, the one that had begun in elementary school and only left a few years ago. She crushed it, and reached around her mind for a possible plan of action. One came: "Spiral down onto Quagsire! With a Drill peck!"

She could see the approving, steel-lipped grin all the way from here. Skarmory pulled in its wings and dove faster. Quagsire's face warped into fear almost comically blatant for his species and tried to dodge away, while his commander gabbled, "GogogogoGO!"

It was useless in the end; Skarmory simultaneously forced Quagsire to the ground with his feet and jabbed his beak at the enemy's shoulder, puncturing skin. Quagsire screeched and spat a harsher stream of water than before, Water pulse, at his enemy's torso. The enraged and half-blinded bird squawked and cleaved his wings downward, dealing hard, uncoordinated slices to Quagsire's back. Skarmory stood ready and his enemy lie panting on the ground for too long to legally get up again.

"Skarmory wins." Ino called from midway down the battle area. "Whoo. Okay! Sakura, you sit out and, Naruto, it's you and me next! The winner fights Sasuke!" Sakura scoffed at the blonde twisting the winner-and-loser bracket, but let the blonde dash up to her spot and take her place. Whether she wanted to show off her new Charmander friend or have a chance to impress Sasuke mattered little to her.

Sakura found some Pokemon had obtained a trio of lawn chairs for the visiting trainers to sit in, and claimed one for herself. Perhaps Sasuke would come and sit by her of his own accord. If not, she was happy entertaining Romeo as he sat cuddling in her lap, as well as her Eevee, who took a dignified seat in the second chair. She would have to name him soon; his natural pride and poise had given her half a dozen ideas already.

Dawn was coming and pushing small stains of light into the sky; Brisby's backyard looked a bit smaller with the new light. Naruto was given a super potion to spray his water-type comrade with, and jumped into position when a Lucario took the place of his "rented" Quagsire. The new battle began and Pokemon and human spectators alike stared and gave cheers at the meeting of fire and fist.

Sakura squeezed her Squirtle's tiny hand and wondered what it would be like to file that police report in a few hours.

666

Wednesday, July 29th, 6:19 AM, Saraku City

666

The day was newly begun for much of the city. Sasuke mused on the idea of his day having begun at midnight. It was amusing, really. Or it had been. Now, Hellfire was sitting before him in the daycare's second bedroom, the both of them quiet and carefully hidden. The others need not see him trying to do this. He was on his third attempt now. His Houndoom pushed her softly furred brows together as he awkwardly paused to find words again; even without her expressions and noises guiding him, Sasuke knew he wasn't doing it right. But at the very least he wasn't attempting to wing it. Tactless idiots like Naruto might do that, but never him. He would practice, madly, till he was perfect and seamless.

Again, he practiced verbalizing his story of the encounter at Uronbo, and his witness of Sakura's attack. Again, his throat closed up and his entire body seethed.

He couldn't start with the encounter at Uronbo because he could not stand to speak of Itachi; after the incident when he was a child, he had never spoken of his brother to anyone but Hellfire. And he could not stand to start with his friend being attacked, because his caring for her would be made obvious and exposed. Sasuke loathed being exposed—worse, he feared it, and Hellfire knew that, too.

Screw this all. It had to be done adequately. "We're reporting a homicide—" Arceus above, that was the worst yet. There were no confirmed deaths so he was basically lying. In a court of law, that alone could legally dismiss the Akatsuki's deeds and let them free. "We're…reporting an assault and battery my four friends and I witnessed in the town of Uronbo…there…"

"Mmmm." His dog murmured to him. It was close enough to approval that he kept on. He tried for ten more minutes which seemed like ten hours. For ten hours, Itachi's deeds were dragged out of him like he was being gutted. He was thankful for the dark and the quiet. The way his house had been for several years, even when he left it on his Pokemon journey. He wondered what would become of it now that it was empty and unlived in.

His attempts had numbered seven when he finally heard noises in the house. There was a quiet rushing noise like moving scales. Perhaps Hinata's foul Dratini. He stopped and dragged his cell phone from his pocket—wouldn't that be horrible luck if it was back in his bag at the hotel—and then pretended to be busy doing something online. The daycare owner and an Ekans poked their heads into the bedroom. Two Rhyhorns lumbered onto the massive Pokemon beds.

"So. It's morning now." Mr. Brisby said to him.

"So the daylight tells me." Sasuke replied. "Did someone send you to collect me so that we can get to the police station?" Brisby nodded. "I'm on my way out." He tucked his phone away.

"Go past your hotel on your way back." Sasuke looked up at the man and observed a curious change of expression on him. A polite sympathy. It reminded him of the polite folks in fancy suits and dresses that attended his parent's cocktail parties, though perhaps fifteen percent more genuine. "You can check out and pick up your bags, and stay here for free. The Pokemon here really like you all, and I'm sure you could use a pleasant and safe place to sleep."

Sasuke thanked him, Hellfire followed him past the chubby daycare owner, down the left hall, and towards the foyer where his friends were all standing. He noted with distaste that they all smelled somewhat less than fresh. The girls—and he, truthfully—would not stay in this daycare if there was no shower.

"I've never gone walking at six in the morning before." Naruto gushed. He pulled the door open and pushed it almost-shut again and again. It was hugely annoying.

"It's six-thirty." Ino told him. (Sasuke's nose twitched at some perfume she had apparently coated herself with. It was pleasant and floral but startling compared to the rather sweaty scent of labor and movement the rest of them had.)

"Whatever! This still feels like a field trip. Not as much as eating lunch at midnight, but whatever. Ready, comrades! Go!" One pull of the door later, Naruto was speeding down the walkway across the lawn and to the open street. Sasuke's lip curled viciously at him. It was as though he truly had no idea they were going to bring Pokemon abusers and potential murderers to the public's conscience.

Sakura walked next to him most of the way and perhaps tried to initiate conversation, but he couldn't converse now. He only followed. She was in the front of the group, just barely before him, and he followed her guidance like always. If he stayed safely by her all the way to the station, his delivery of the news might be easier. This meant he was clinging to her like a child with stage fright, which was bullshit because he was far beyond and above such things. Sakura—

"There it is," came a soft noise from behind him; it was Hinata's voice softly echoing in the almost-empty road. Sakura echoed her, too, drawing Sasuke's eyes to her. They came closer to the building and he swiftly copied Sakura's easy expression. She had no fear of this place. She had fears, certainly, but not his fear of unsaid truth.

The doors were sliding doors that Naruto's Electrike—who'd been at their heels for Arceus knows how long—was fascinated by, and stared at even after his trainer picked him up. An officer approached them less than twenty feet into the lobby. "Well good morning, kids. Something we can do for you here?"

Sasuke pushed past anyone who might try to take the burden from him. It was his. "Yes. A few nights ago, we were attacked in a nearby town, and we saw one of the assailants just last night. We want to make an official report." Behind him, Sakura said, "good," at the perfect middle ground of quiet and audible, so that only he heard her soft praise.

The officer, a reasonably confident looking man with bluish hair, did not look as startled as he imagined someone would at this news. Well, the real story was yet untold. The officer told him to go down the hall the third room on the right and he'd be right there. Sakura spoke up after him, "Everyone, come. We all have something to add."

He followed her into the room, onto a chair, and followed her easy breathing when the officer came in after them. He followed her confident manner as he began the story of the attack in Uronbo by the murderous Akatsuki group, adding in Naruto's story about their kidnapping of their former teacher's Jolteon. But there was no one and nothing to follow when he told the officer one of the assailants had been his older brother, a wanted murderer. Naruto took over then, to talk in more detail about the tall and dark man who owned two Garchomps and commanded them to attack people. His account was crisp and fairly well-crafted. Perhaps he had practiced this speech as well.

They were at the station for over an hour, and a slowly growing group of police officers came to hear the tale and drop their jaws. The first officer, Officer Kopa, told them to leave the station immediately and stay somewhere that was enclosed and full of Pokemon, or people, they trusted, a place they would be safe from both murderers and media. This Sasuke did. He almost ran out of the building, and his legs undoubtedly shook. Ino was behind him and perhaps she even stopped looking at his butt long enough to notice that, too. "We're going by the hotel first to check out. Brisby is letting us stay at his daycare for free, and it's a good place to lie low for now. It's—"

"Sasuke. Dude, Sasuke."

It had been too much to hope that Naruto would keep quiet and somber for much longer, anyway. He continued with his instructions to the others until Naruto interrupted again, and this time the raven turned to hiss at him. However, his former classmate's eyes were turned elsewhere. Across the street was a convenience store set into a strip mall, and standing outside it and carrying a shopping bag was an unfortunately familiar face.

"Oh my gosh! Sakura! Naruto! You all, you're all here! I am so delighted! Oh, Sakura!"

Sasuke had no desire to see Rock Lee. He remembered meeting the strange little cretin as a seventh grader while Lee was an eighth. His outrageous will and determination, and ways of showing them off, were embarrassing to anyone witnessing them. Sasuke ground his teeth as the boy came over. Or rather, the young man. Lee was seventeen now and had been doing (admittedly ferocious) martial arts training since first grade. He was seriously in shape.

"I can't believe it! I haven't seen any of you since I graduated!" Lee popped up in front of them. Naruto's Electrike peeked his scarred nose out from behind his master's legs to sniff the creepy newcomer.

Sakura's response to him was unfortunately friendly. "For goodness' sake, what happened to our emails, Lee? From February on, you hardly ever replied to me!" Sasuke scowled, but immediately tried to hide the action. Sakura had, for some reason, stopped being embarrassed or annoyed by Lee just before they entered high school. Apparently, she'd gone beyond tolerating him to becoming his friend, outside of Sasuke's notice. That bothered him, and he overtly refrained from growling. "You said you were traveling south towards Oto and then basically nothing! Tell me what you've been doing all this time."

"Lee, your email has three-six-five at the end of it, right?" Naruto stepped closer to ask.

"No, no, it's three-five-five."

"Dangit! That's why you never replied back! I thought you hated me or something and I spent like two weeks being emo and wondering what jackass thing I did to piss you off. My mom thought I was depressed."

"Sooo, do you live here now or something? You're done with your trainer journey?" Sasuke was mildly surprised that Ino would talk to casually to him; she had usually ignored him throughout school, if he remembered. He and Hinata were the only ones who would not say anything, perhaps because she must remember Lee as a center of activity and attention, an entity she would flee from faster than her Dratini could chase prey.

"Well, I'm done with the traveling part for a while," the elder teen laughed. "Sakura, I didn't answer your emails for so many months because I got a job here in Saraku, a very time-consuming one. And Naruto, I could have written you instead of waiting for an email to come to me, but for this same reason, I couldn't."

Sasuke remembered his mother telling him not to be rude to nice people—in the days before his brother's Zweilous had strangled her to death. He couldn't really bring himself to be nice to Lee naturally, so he did it for his mom. "And what's the job you have?" He asked.

Lee's gaze on him had been friendly moments ago and remained so now. In fact, it intensified. "I'm the gym leader's assistant! I battle trainers seeking a badge from Gai, and anyone who defeats me moves on to him!"

Naruto's screech was literally ear-piercing: "You work at a Pokemon gym?" (Sakura's, marginally less so. "You can't be serious!")

"Yes! I am!" Lee replied; his tone was not bragging, only deservedly proud. Sasuke was slightly baffled by the expression. "I battle at least a hundred trainers a week, many of them more than once. Gai-sensei says I'm the best assistant he's ever had at the gym, and he's been personally training me and my Pokemon since March."

"Does he let you live at the gym, like in a room or dorm thingy above the main gym hall? I've read that most assistants have a living arrangement like that."

"So you get to call him sensei?"

"What kinds of trainers do you see there?"

"Any tough ones? Crazy ones?"

Ohmygod! Lee, I heard on TV that the Saraku gym got a hole blown in it 'cause of a shiny Entei! Did that really happen, did you see?"

How odd that they were all averting the most important question. Sasuke took one step forward to bring himself more overtly into Lee's attention. "We're here to earn a gym badge like any other trainers. This will be our third. When can you fight us?"

The heavy-browed boy appeared to appreciate such candor. "I'd be happy to fight you right here in the street, or even stay here to catch up with you all, if only I had the time to. Trainers are signed up to fight either my partner or I all the way through next Monday, and I have to run these supplies back to the gym on the double." He raised his strong arm in a salute to them all. "My advice to you all is to head over to the gym and reserve a time for yourselves, or at the very least, come sit in the stands to watch other trainers battle me! I'd be delighted if you were to watch. I promise, I've come quite a long way since my Combat class fought yours a year and a half ago, Sasuke."

God only knew how that memory had eluded him until now. Lee's Combat class teacher had a clever idea for his class's midterm: pit his students against the elite students of another class, a grade lower. Hellfire had been thoroughly pounded into the floor by Lee's Combusken, along with all of Sasuke's pride. He said nothing, and stirred this memory and its humiliation while the others bid their old classmate goodbye. He jogged down the street, bags in one arm, and turned a corner.

Naruto sighed and put his hands on his hips. Suddenly reminding Sasuke of some bad television character. "Man. Lee's here! I thought I'd never see him again after he graduated." Ino hmm'ed after him, and Sakura said something about Lee's desire to do something or other and he was impossible to keep whatever whatever. He only paid attention again when she tapped his shoulder with her knuckles. Playfully.

"Let's go to the hotel now, 'kay?"

"Okay." As they all took their first few steps, he added, "We all need to sleep to be at our best. I want to make an appointment to fight him, and observe his fighting style in the meantime. I won't be making good observations if I'm half-asleep."

From his side, Ino nodded and pulled the edge of her shorts. "No kidding. And I need to get this metric ton of sweat off me. Mr. Brisby better have a shower in his place that's not used by Pokemon."

Sasuke turned his head to make sure Hinata was behind them (she was, with the Electrike); to gaze into any crevices or alleyways in the road, and on the overt side, make sure no cameramen were coming after them. There was nothing and no one, so the Konoha five continued on to their hotel and then to the district's daycare, which had already become a safe haven.

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Sunday, August 4th, 9:09 AM, Saraku City gym

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Sakura had brought her little notebook each time to make notes on what Lee did, and sometimes they had little conversations about what happened and how to potentially counter. But mostly her pages set aside for this were empty, and mostly their plans were either useless or otherwise countered later. Lee's Combusken slammed his hand down sideways on a Rhyhorn's forehead, inciting a horrid groan from the beast, and a horrid thud from the dusty floor when it fell.

They had been sitting in the stands of Saraku gym whenever possible—that is, whenever not working—to observe Lee at his own work, for about five days. He fought trainers almost around the clock, with a small lunch break and always morning and evening workout sessions, during which he'd take the five of them away from the main gym room to talk. They would talk, and try to hide their shame and shock at the overwhelming big-browed beast that stood cheerily in front of them.

One year of a real Pokemon journey had done wonders for Lee in all ways, but what stood out most was that he and his Pokemon were nigh unbeatable (also they tended to literally, and passionately, beat enemies when they fought).

From a seat one row behind him, Sakura said, "You know why they have a psychic-type to put an invisible wall up around the challenger?" He grunted mildly in response. She may or may not have heard it amidst the roars of the Gigalith that now charged towards Combusken. "It's so that if a Pokemon gets hit so hard it flies backwards towards its trainer, the trainer won't get smashed and die."

"Most gyms have that." He said, and wondered why such a thought even came to her. That was a Naruto-thought, something that ought to be very obvious.

"I mean for this gym it's a bigger threat than it is normally. Your Pokemon is practically expected to get kicked back into a wall near you. We can utilize that." She paused and leaned forward a little, and so did he, to watch the faceted wheels of thought spinning in her eyes. He watched them. "Ignoring the blow itself, the one that will propel a Pokemon to the wall…if our Pokemon can somehow springboard off the wall, or cushion the impact, they wouldn't be hurt as badly. It wouldn't be nearly as much of a problem, and one of Lee's most common attacks would be less effective."

He sat up, taking her realization in—how did that take her, and him, four days to figure out?—and as he moved, his Pokeball belt was nudged between his back and the back of the seat. One of the buttons was pressed and a jumping flash of light allowed Night out of her Pokeball. His Quilava sat up on her hind paws, traditional Quilava position. Her eyes were still close (and Hinata's infant Emolga cringed at the sudden, "scary" sight of her.)

"Aw, hi, miss Night." Sakura said, petting the fire-type's neck, while Hinata made some girly and appreciate noise on his other side. Sakura kept her hand on his Pokemon, kneading and petting. Slender hands, she had. Slender was an admirable quality of body. One of these hands jabbed him in the stomach. "Sasuke! Are you listening?"

No. "What?"

"I said, Night's eyes are closed." This brought a raised brow out of him—Sakura was an aspiring doctor, so she was probably looking for symptoms or something medical to point at or…something. "They were closed when she evolved and both times I saw her walking around at Brisby's. I've never seen her with her eyes open." But that was something. So much for Sakura's slow realization. He had never even registered this one. For a Pokemon to simply never open their eyes…he'd never heard of that. Never seen such a thing.

"You're…right. I didn't think about it." He said. Naruto jumped up and cheered from the seat by Ino. "Does that mean something? Is that bad?"

His pinkette averted her eyes a little, searching for an answer in the air around them. She found it. "Cyndaquil are always squinting, so their eyesight is never that good. When they evolve, their eyelids are supposed to loosen so they can open their eyes and see normally. It could be that Night's eyelids…got stuck...I don't know the medical term. But they didn't change during evolution, and she's still squinting like a Cyndaquil. Except that it's…Arceus, I'm stupid."

"No, you're not. What's wrong?" Sasuke turned in his seat to face her more, and put his own hand on Night. The fire-type purred lightly, looking away.

Sakura put a hand to her head, fingers pushing into her hair. "What I just said it pointless. Here's another late realization: Night's eyelids are perfectly loose. Like she's sleeping. They're not stuck at all." He waited for the meaning of that. Lee yelled in the background, inspired by something fiery and determined. He waited and was cold.

"The only other reason is that she doesn't want to." Sakura told him. "I read about cases like that with Pokemon with eyes like Cyndaquil. It's from abuse. Cyndaquil that are abused sometimes don't open their eyes when they evolve. They don't want to see something that might hurt."

There should have been some activity, some reaction, in his mind, but there was nothing. Not fear, nor anger, nor sympathy for Night, nothing. It was..

"Sasuke's never been mean to her! And she loves him like a loyal Growlithe!" It was Ino, barking above them. Her great ponytail flowed over her shoulder and onto her breast, accentuating a strangely fierce face. "It has to be the tight eyelid thing. Night's not scared and she's not abused."

Sakura wilted a little, and from her lips came the words, "Not now."

The four of them were silent and waiting, but Sasuke's mind had at least cleared enough to process the discovery. His Quilava was his Quilava, and he would heal her. He stood up at once, and looped his arms under her belly. Night yelped at first, kicking one of her back feet, but stopped moments later and jabbed her nose into his chest like an excited babe. She was so loving, so attached. There was no reason for her to still be so frightened that she couldn't look at him.

Naruto yelling after him, Sasuke walked his fire-type to a far-off area of the stands, set her down, and kissed her forehead. He spoke quietly to her.

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2:25 AM, Monday, July 5th, location unknown

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"Guess what I've been hearing on the police channels."

"Don't even pretend you actually sit down and listen to those."

"Okay, guess what somebody told me they heard on the police channels."

"It would have to be about the night at Uronbo. We've done nothing else notable recently. Did one of the residents get a look at us, or is he just whining about property damage he can't explain?"

"The residents of Uronbo? Are you kidding, bitch? It was one of the people who came off the boat in the evening. A group of teenagers, actually. It—"

"I know Itachi saw his little brother there. He was on his Pokemon journey."

"…Yeah. And the little brother is one of the ones who made the fuckin' report. They were all from Konoha, all traveling together, and get this, one of them was that same little dick who saw me and Deidara in late June. The time we almost had Kakashi Hatake's Jolteon, and the Masked Avenger himself came to the rescue and we had to haul ass outta there."

"So it's not just a report of the night at Uronbo that was made. Two instances makes an evidence trail. When was the report made?"

"Um, the 29th?"

"Five days ago. You'd best pray that our superior already knows this, Hidan. The last man to make a blunder like that was set in front of his Latios. It chewed his fingers off and swallowed them."

"…Shit."

"…Yeah."

"His Pokemon ate a person's fingers."

"It did. I saw Ryouta's hands myself."

"So he has, like, a cannibal Pokemon. A meat-eater. What the fuck."

"Some of the remakes have shown interest in meat-eating. It's a kink in the genome they're still working on."

"Your Cresselia doesn't want to eat meat, right?"

"Of course not, Hidan, she's not a remake. I caught her in Hoenn years ago. She eats plants and berries like any other."

"Okay. Cool. Cool. Ah…ah, Arceus, Konan. Would you…come with me to tell him? He's never as pissed off if you're there. Please. I don't want a fucking Pokemon to eat me. Seriously."

"Sure. Let's go."

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All right, my first comment is that I know I tried to squeeze in a lot of information into one chapter, which resulted in the end product being kind of condensed and heavy and…rushed, in some places. But I'll have to deal with it. It might be because, for a few months now, I've been neck-deep in the Hetalia fandom, my Number Two to Naruto's eternal Number One in my mind. It's hard for me to really be involved in more than one fandom at once, and for the past few days I've been switching preferences every few hours or even minutes. I was lucky to get this done, even with its

Also, I've have you know that until I was just sentences away from Hinata's egg hatching, I was going to make it a Pichu, which would evolve into a Pikachu after several months, and in that form it would stay. Then suddenly I wanted Lyra to be an Emolga, so there she is. I'm still not quiiiite sure about this, so I may just, you know, go back and change history and make Lyra a Pichu after all.

Again I want to know your opinion about the commission I may get for this story. I will decide the number of Pokemon and the price in the end, and I think I'm already sold on which trainer I will choose, but I may just be swayed by your opinions as well.

(I think next chapter will have some updated bios.)

(PS: The name of Sakura's Eevee is "Alexander.")

Ta...Storm