Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or Pokémon. 720. There are 720 Pokémon.

Why? One is literally a fucking ice cream cone.


Chapter 27: Heart and Soul

A man with short teal hair and a formal-looking white Team Rocket uniform stood on the deck of a large boat as it floated in the middle of a massive lake. The small smile on his face was due to all of the hard work he had put into researching and developing Team Rocket's newest tool finally coming to fruition.

This would be the first large-scale use of radio waves in the field to produce the desired results. He couldn't wait for things to begin taking shape. Team Rocket always needed stronger Pokémon. Now they could do it without having to find and recruit promising trainers and risk exposing themselves to the wrong person before it was time. They could simply force Pokémon growth in-house and deal with the after-effects as they came.


The interruption of their originator's only child disrupted the Team Rocket executive's good mood, but not by much. Even a petulant child such as Silver wasn't enough to bring him down from cloud nine today. It was a glorious time for progress.

Silver stomped across the deck, scowling despite the fact that he was relishing the haste with which Team Rocket grunts working on the vessel scrambled to get far out of his way. Fear was a very gratifying form of respect, in his opinion, "What's taking so long?" He snapped, "You said powerful Pokémon would be jumping into these boats. Instead, all we've gotten so far is this."

For emphasis, he dropped a Magikarp on the deck of the ship with a wet thump. The horribly battered fish didn't move an inch. Not a single flop or gasp of its mouth to indicate any signs of life.

Archer sighed and turned around, hands neatly folded behind his back as he smiled at the red-haired trainer, "If you're ever going to live long enough to see any of your revenge, you need to learn a few things. The first of them, patience," "The smaller-scale experiments done with our high-frequency sound waves have been extremely effective. There's a reason we're here. This is the best place to take advantage of the effect they have on the evolution patterns of Pokémon."

Silver growled lowly at being told to simply sit and wait, but he couldn't deny that Archer was right. The high-frequency waves had been a boon for him. Between harsh training and the experiments, his Pokémon had evolved so quickly, he hadn't even had time to grow agitated at the time it took.

It was only logical that a larger-scale application of the waves such as this would take longer to show the effects. Unfortunately, there was very little place for logic in the reasoning processes of an angry young man eager for action and progress.

"I didn't come here when Carl suggested it just to sit and wait! If this is the best place, then why haven't we seen what you've promised me!?" He said, kicking the corpse of the Magikarp over the side of the boat, "Loser Magikarp and run-of-the-mill Gyarados aren't worth the time I've been wasting here! I could have been getting stronger for all the time we spent coming out here!"

In his frustration he took a Poké Ball from his hip and threw it, releasing the creature within. All of the bystander Team Rocket members on-deck stepped back fearfully as it emerged.

It was a bulky, bipedal crocodilian Pokémon, blue in color with accents of red and yellow. It had large, powerful jaws, red spikes on its body, and a yellow 'v' pattern on its belly. Archer pursed his lips in mild annoyance at the sight of the Feraligatr. As threatening as it was, looming over him with its dangerous, sharp teeth clearly visible in its gaping maw.

Silver stood behind the imposing evolved form of what used to be his Totodile, "Feraligatr… take a swim. You know what to do."

The massive Pokémon snarled before diving over the side of the boat and heading underwater to do its trainer's bidding.

"I wouldn't have done that if I were you," Archer said, "It wasn't necessary. Now you may have put agents we have all over the lake in mortal danger."

"As if I care," Silver snapped, "I want results. If they can't handle what it takes to get it, they need to get stronger."

The smile on Archer's face grew as the water began to tumultuously rock. Looming figures began to rise out of the lake in many different places, heralding their arrival with the bone-chilling roars that people all over the Pokémon Continent feared, "You see? You should have more faith in our science, Silver."


(Mahogany Town – Pokémon Center)

Sitting at Mahogany Town's Pokémon Center wasn't as restful as Naruto and Janine had anticipated it would be after roughing it through Mt. Mortar and the rest of Route 42. The entire three days it took them to travel the rest of the way to the quiet mountain town, they couldn't help but dwell over their most recent actions.

Naruto had caught one of the Legendary Beasts, Raikou. This was not something that you could just put behind you in lieu of relaxing and talking about your plans for the day. Raikou had become the plan for the day. Now they had to come to terms with what Naruto had just done, figure out exactly what it meant, and what was next.

What was next was important, because there was one problem. After catching Raikou and getting it transferred into his party once he reached the Pokémon Center, there wasn't really anything that Naruto could do with it.

"Ow! Fuck!" Naruto snapped as electricity ran through his hand before he could even throw Raikou's Poke Ball. It dropped to the ground out of his grasp, but didn't open. No legendary Pokémon emerged from within the orb, "What was that supposed to be?"

Janine walked over and carefully touched at the ball, pulling her hand back quickly after a jolt of electricity struck at her fingertips, "Ow!" She yelped before running off, sucking on her fingers.

Naruto stooped down and pointed at the ball on the floor sternly, "Alright, stop being an asshole. I caught you fair and square. If you want another beatdown to show you who's boss, I can let you out and we can go another round!" He jumped back slightly when more electricity jolted out from the ball.

"Here, try these," Janine said upon returning, handing Naruto a pair of thick, rubber gloves. Where she had procured them from, and if she had managed to do it legally, he had no clue. Nor did he necessarily care at that moment. All that mattered was that he could pick Raikou's Poke Ball back up again now.

"Aha! Screw you!" Naruto crowed victoriously as he set the ball back into its place of holding before looking at his hands. He turned to Janine with a sour expression, holding up his hands, covered by the non-conductive material, "…I'm not wearing these every time I have to touch that thing."

"I don't know why it's being testy," Janine told him, taking a moment to think on the matter, "You've got all of Kanto's badges, so it's not like it would see you as a bad trainer, no matter how strong it is. Plus, you kind of smacked it in the face with your Rasen-thingy."

Pokémon normally disobeyed their trainers because of an issue of strength. Why would you listen to someone with no spine? Sometimes it was even a physical matter. In this case, neither should have been in question from Raikou's end.

"Right?" Naruto said in agreement, "If it's about respect, it should totally respect me!"

What got more respect than looking the biggest, baddest creature around in the eye and then punching it right in it? If there was something more appropriate out there, Naruto didn't know what it was yet. He beat Raikou straight-up. He was awesome, and Raikou just needed to recognize it. The sooner that it did, the better off everyone involved would be.

For goodness sake, he put Shujinken on the bench to work out teamwork kinks with Raikou, and it didn't even want to cooperate. Naruto loved that little Misdreavus! She actually liked being with him and being on his Pokémon team.

Naruto dropped down in the nearest seat, head lowered in thought, "…Should I just send it to Professor Oak in Pallet Town, and let him deal with it?"

No. That would have been quitting. Raikou was just being difficult. It wasn't something that couldn't be worked through.

Aside from that, some of his Pokémon needed breaks. He'd been fighting alongside them almost nonstop since catching them. It was one of the reasons he hadn't put up much of a fight when Jiraiya wanted to use Kamisori. Shujinken could use some downtime, and she could spend it terrorizing some of the Pokémon around Oak's lab. Naruto was sure she would love that.

"We'll figure it out," Janine told Naruto, taking the rubber gloves back from him, "In the meantime, we should worry about what's next."

With a frown, Naruto nodded in agreement. While they had absolutely no idea what either rogue group's next move would be, it was best to have the people in positions to deal with them to be aware of the threat they posed, "We should probably warn the Gym Leader here about Team Rocket and the Elite Four."

"Right. That's definitely a sensible plan," Janine said, putting a hand on Naruto's shoulder as they started on their way out of the Pokémon Center, "It makes me wonder how in the world you came up with it."

Naruto rolled his eyes and gave her a push out the front door, following after the girl as she laughed the entire way.


(Ecruteak City)

As unpleasant and as awkward as the Magnet Train trip was for both Red and Sabrina, they both made it through, only much to their chagrin to find that they were both still headed in the exact same direction. By mere circumstance, the two of them were pressed into traveling at a close enough distance to feel each other's spite, at least for the time being.

"Remind you of anything?" Red said, unable to take his eyes off of the devastation of the city that he and the Saffron City Gym Leader had walked into, "It still isn't as bad as what you guys did, though."

Sabrina frowned as she searched around. There was a lot of the overwhelming energy she had felt all the way in Kanto existing in Ecruteak, and she wanted to find the source. It was a lot harder with Red taking shots for her time in Team Rocket, deserved or not, "Guilt-tripping me about what happened at Cinnabar Island isn't going to work. Koga was the one who blew the volcano, not me."

Red held back from openly scoffing. Anything to keep one from feeling any sort of negative responsibility for something, apparently, "Well at least the Team Rocket in Johto hasn't destroyed an entire town yet."

"No, this was because of Bruno of the Elite Four," A man said, appearing nearby without either of them realizing he had done so until he had spoken, "What's a Kanto Gym Leader doing here?" He said, eyeing Sabrina maliciously.

'Morty of Ecruteak City, I presume,' Sabrina thought to herself. Her eyes glowed with psychic power as she returned the ill intent of the man before her. It didn't matter to her if he felt that she was intruding. She was there for a reason, and aside from that, she figured that this was more than just a metaphorical pissing contest between two Gym Leaders.

If this really was Ecruteak City's Gym Leader, it was no wonder that he and Sabrina automatically had enmity between each other. Psychic-types and ghost-types didn't go together very well. In that same vein, neither did human psychics and spiritual mediums.

There was no particular reason for that one. It was just a thing.

"What are you doing here?" Morty demanded to know, crossing his arms over his chest as he refused to take his glare off of Sabrina, "This is quite a ways away from Saffron City."

Sabrina smirked, a smart reply on the tip of her tongue, but Red preempted her and leapt into the conversation instead, "What do you mean Bruno of the Elite Four did this?" The Elite Four had previously been well known trainers, recognized as the best in the entire world, until falling off the map a few years ago. Since then there had been very few sightings of them, "Why?"

Morty regarded Red with more cordiality than he had Sabrina, recognizing the honest concern the ace trainer seemed to have for the circumstances that had befallen his city, "From what I've been told, he has a problem with the way things are between humans and Pokémon," He said, before getting down to more current business, "Now, what are you two doing here?"

Finally seeing the chance to make some real headway in the reason he'd come to Johto in the first place, Red smiled, "I'm looking for a friend of mine. His name is Naruto. He came through here. Professor Oak told me he'd heard of him coming this way."

Morty's eyes went wide, his brow clashing against the thick headband on his forehead, "You know that person? He was one of the ones who discovered that Bruno was the one behind the attack on Ecruteak," He had come back through not too long ago. It wouldn't be hard to point Red in the right direction, "Well, that explains you, and I can easily help. But it doesn't explain why she's in my city."

And once again the standoff occurred between psychic and medium. Sabrina had tired of it after the first time and wasn't keen on indulging Morty with another.

"Why don't you use the energy you're wasting glaring at me to fix the supernatural mess that's emanating from your town?" She snapped, her mood not being helped by the "I don't want to be here, believe me. There's something… wrong with this place. This entire region. And it's not just here. I can feel disturbances from other places in Johto, but it's exceptionally strong here."

Whatever it was, Ecruteak City was extremely important to the entire thing. A lynchpin location in the grand scheme of things, possibly.

Of what things? Well, that was what she had come to Johto to find out.

Morty took a careful approach in how he continued this interaction. He wasn't a fool who was unaware of Sabrina's past transgressions. But Team Rocket of Kanto had been destroyed, leaving her without allies, and he trusted himself to be able to handle her if her intentions were anything less than altruistic.

"…What do you know about Johto's legends?" Morty asked, in order to determine where he should start.

Sabrina scoffed, "Seeing as how I don't live here, and that I hardly cared about the legends of my own region, nothing."

"Well, you should probably brush up if you don't want to be killed in your search," The ghost-Pokémon Gym leader said, dismissive of Sabrina's lack of interest in the history of their world, "Because from what's been happening here, it's becoming clear even to the skeptics of our legends that these aren't just stories."


(With Naruto – Mahogany Town)




Naruto thumped his head off of the door of the Mahogany Town Pokémon Gym after finding the building locked up for the day. Janine stood behind him, much more accepting than her traveling partner of the Gym Leader's apparent absence, "Is it like a thing that every Gym Leader is never at their own place?"

"Well, we do have things we're responsible for other than just hanging around to fight challengers. I can't really talk anyway," Janine halfway explained, before bashfully toeing the ground, "…Seeing as how I ditched my Gym for a few months to run around Johto with you."

"Fuuuuuck…" Naruto droned, eventually turning away from the door, his spirits temporarily dashed, "Now what?"

"Now we do other stuff while we wait for it to open back up," Janine suggested with a grin, bumping her hip against Naruto's, "Come on. It's not a big deal. We hang out for a day or two until this guy gets back. We swoop in and let him know what's up with all of the crazy people in the region. We keep on moving."

Her positivity had an effect on Naruto, even though he had been in the mood to sulk just moments prior. Within a matter of moments he was ready to look back on the bright side, "It's not even noon yet, so I'm guessing you have a plan or something."

"Or something," The kunoichi of a Pokémon trainer said cryptically as she pulled out a map and quickly found the location she had been looking for, "There's a place not too far from here, just north actually. It's called the Lake of Rage. I'm thinking we can take a little trip up there. I hear it's a pretty big attraction for trainers, so lots of battles and other stuff we can get into."

Honestly, sometimes the trip to the Pokémon Continent seemed like more of a vacation than a training trip, even if there was plenty of danger, the share of awful things that came his way, and opportunities to get stronger. To Naruto, a lot of what he got himself involved in wound up somehow being more fun than it should have been.

He blamed a lot of that on the company he had been keeping for most of the time. He'd made plenty of friends in Kanto and Johto, plenty of people he would never forget, but to say that he would always have a soft spot for Janine would be an understatement.

The two walked in step as the headed out of town on the way to their destination, "Lake of Rage, huh?" Naruto mused, "That's a cool name for a place."


(That Evening – Lake of Rage)

The day trip up to the Lake of Rage had been quite enjoyable for Naruto and Janine. There had been a line for paying a hefty toll to get through the waystation on the main road leading up there, so they simply bypassed it and took the unbeaten path.

There had been plenty of trainers taking that same route instead of waiting in line to pay for a safer path, which meant plenty of battles.

Naruto's Chikorita wasn't exactly happy about the frequency with which he placed her into competition, but it got results. It took some pushing, as she was a slow starter, but when she got started she was quick to work in order to get it over with and put things to an end. The little grass-type was exceptionally more talented at battling than she wanted trainers to believe.

Any trainer; both her own and possible enemies.

Either way, eventually they were able to reach the lake proper by the late afternoon. The bright reflection of the burning sunset off of the water was a calming backdrop that downplayed the name of the Johto regional landmark.

Janine had long since figured out that Naruto liked the outdoors. If he had the choice of being in a big, flashy city, or a nice, tranquil, lush forest, he would normally choose the latter. It went against his personality, but that was just his preference.

All you had to do was pay attention to him to see as much. As far as body language, Naruto in a town setting and Naruto in an open field or forest environment were as different as night and day. In towns, it seemed as though he could barely contain his energy. The walls, the roads, the tight conditions, the people all around him, it seemed as though he felt confined.

When they were on the roads, or out somewhere like the Lake of Rage, he seemed much more settled and peaceful. He still brimmed with energy, but he had a much better handle of himself and was much more likely to behave himself.

It was something that Janine liked, that she could point out such things about Naruto. She wondered if she had little things about herself that he could identify. It was a nice thought.

"Man, take a look at this," Naruto said, once they had found a nice grassy hill overlooking a fantastic view of the water. He had a knack for finding scenic places and again, this did not disappoint. The orange glow reflecting off the surface of the water made it all look like it was on fire, "Heh-heh, this place is great. It really was a good idea to come here."

Janine shot looks at Naruto, unsure if this was the right time to go ahead with what she needed to say, 'Well, it's now or never. If he rejects me, at least I can make sure I get some sort of closure,' She thought to herself. With that in mind, she took a deep sigh and started to speak, "Babyface… I know you have to leave one day soon, but I just want you to know that I really care about you."

The severity alone with which Janine spoke got Naruto's undivided attention, even if the content didn't immediately reach him the way she wanted it to, "I care about you too. You know that, right?" He said in return.

The ninja girl frowned at his response. He was really going to make her go ahead and say it to his face, wasn't he? "I do. But I don't care about you like a friend," She said, edging closer to the point she was trying to make, "It's like, more than a friend. Do you get what I'm trying to say?"

Amazingly enough, he did. Even with the odd way she'd worded it, he still understood, because he'd been thinking the same thing. But it was hard for him to believe that she was actually feeling the same way.

Janine wasn't looking Naruto in the eyes, because if she looked him in the face while she was talking she never would have gotten it out. If she was, she would have seen the absolute shock on his face. She had blindsided him, "I… I…"

'Gosh, why can't he just pick up on it? Are you really going to make me have to come out and say it?' Janine thought to herself, panicking a bit. She took a calming breath and a few steps away from Naruto as she decided to word what she was trying to say differently, "Okay. When I think about you and me in a perfect world, where we're not stuck by our own obligations, we're not friends. We're… we're more than that."

Naruto gulped down what felt like a mouth full of sand. His tongue felt dry, "More than friends? Us?"

"Yeah. I mean, I know we can't really stay together, but that doesn't mean anything when it comes to right now," The butterflies in her stomach made Janine's attempts at being nonchalant sound even more nervous than she originally would have been, "If this… if us doesn't work, we tried something and it didn't pan out. If it does, until you have to leave, we can at least make some sweet memories with the time we have left."

She shut her eyes tight and kept her back to Naruto, afraid of what she would see if she turned around. He had accepted her through everything he'd learned about her and everything they had been through together, but there had always been something of a barrier kept up between the two of them that she was in the midst of taking a sledgehammer to.

It took a moment, but Naruto recovered enough to realize that she was waiting on him to say something, anything. She had taken a few steps to put a little distance between them, but in the harsh light of the sunset he could see her shoulders shaking ever so slightly.

She was just as scared as he was. Maybe even more so, because she was the one who had put herself out there first.

Naruto moved toward Janine and latched his hands tightly to her shoulders. He felt her stiffen on contact, but loosen up again once she slowly turned to look at him. There was anticipation and uneasiness in her eyes. She was still waiting on him to speak.

With a shake of his head, Naruto cleared any remaining fuzziness from his mind. Anything he said next needed to be selected with absolute focus and clarity, "…Janine, I'm not the smartest guy in the world when it comes to girls, so I might be getting this wrong. But I think you might be saying-."

"-What d'ya think I'm saying? Tell me," Janine said, leading him on, coaxing him to say more, 'Or you can show me.'

She could feel Naruto's heat, they were so close. Janine's eyes slowly began to close, her lips set, and she was aware that they were both moving closer to one another. As her heart hammered rapidly in her chest, so did his. It seemed like the current of the lake even seemed to pick up, as waves lapped furiously at the shore with growing intensity.

Time seemed to stand still for the ninja girl. It was a matter of seconds, but it seemed like an eternity waiting for Naruto to actually kiss her. Eventually though, she realized that time was passing normally, and he hadn't kissed her yet. Before she could wonder why, she began to get out of the little world the two of them had cordoned off to themselves and heard roaring in the air.

When she opened her eyes, she saw Naruto's head turned, staring out at the Lake of Rage. As her eyes followed his, she noticed what had his attention.

Gyarados. Several massive, rampaging water-dwelling monsters were thrashing across the surface of the water, and more were rising from the surface every moment.

To Naruto, it was merely an astonishing sight, but only because he had basic knowledge of why they were dangerous. He had been told in passing by people who knew.

To Janine on the other hand, someone who had lived on the Pokémon Continent for her entire life and had not only heard numerous accounts of just what Gyarados were capable of, but had seen what they could do firsthand, it was the most terrifying natural event she had ever borne witness to.

Gyarados tore trenches into the earth near the lake, Thrashing about with all their might. Some fired errantly aimed Hyper Beams, laden with inexperience at the airborne targets of flocks of Pidgey and other bird Pokémon wisely fleeing the terrible scene. There was nothing here but pure chaos and carnage.

"We should leave," She said quietly, hoping with all her might that her tiny voice didn't reach the attention of the destructive sea serpents. They were looking for targets and were only growing angrier that they hadn't found one that could satisfy their uncontrollable anger, "We should leave right now."

Naruto let her pull him by his arm, but couldn't take his eyes off of the scene before him, "What the hell is going on?" He asked, a measure of awe in his voice at the sight of the rampaging beasts.

"This place got its name because the lake was created by a group of rampaging Gyarados," Janine told him as she kept them moving, trying to keep some trees between them and the line of sight of the Pokémon in the water, "But seeing them here is still supposed to be rare. One or two spread out over the entire lake, maybe. This can't be right."

The Lake of Rage legend was true, but nowadays was only used as a hook to lure in tourists. Yes, there were more Magikarp in the lake than a person could have wanted to see in one lifetime, but they almost never evolved in the wild.

As they continued to run, they saw small vessels out on the water being accosted by the Gyarados populating the lake. Along with the roars, the yells of terror of those aboard were heard as they tried to order their Pokémon to defend them as best as they could.

Naruto's mouth fell open at the sight of a Gyarados's head slamming down on the deck of one of the ships, snatching up a smaller figure inside of its mouth, staining its massive white fangs red with blood.

Another boat was pulverized by the constant barrage of another Gyarados' relentless Thrash attack. It sank in a matter of seconds, leaving the people as sitting ducks in the water. As some swarmed and attacked mercilessly, others began to swim rapidly around the killzone, causing a whirlpool that deposited everything inside of it underwater. It all happened so fast, the time it had taken for all of these things to compound had been less than a full minute.

Naruto's adrenaline began to spike as his anger grew.

From the corner of her eye, Janine caught the look on his face and saw his next move coming before he could make it. As he lunged forward and took the first step meant to break him into an all-out sprint, she tackled him from behind, sending them both rolling down a short slope right in front of the water. Easily the stronger of the two, Naruto quickly toppled her and established top position.

The look on his face was intense as Janine clung to his sleeves, anything she could grab to keep him from diving headlong into battle, "Babyface, no!" She cried out, trying to pull him down and keep him there, "You could take a few at one time, maybe. Not this many!"

"I'm not gonna stand back and watch!" Naruto snapped at her, giving her a good shake on the ground, "They're killing people!"

Janine shook her head, "They're already dead."

No one was going to surface after that Whirlpool. Not with the Gyarados that had been sucked down with it already making mincemeat out of the people and Pokémon inside. Even if she hadn't stopped him, by the time he'd have gotten there, they still would have been underwater. There wouldn't have been anything he could have done to change that.

Wrecked pieces of ship, oil, and in some places blood were all over the lake. Naruto's body went slack and weak, the fight temporarily sucked out of him as the angered roars of the Gyarados still sounded out into the air.

"You would have had to be able to teleport out there to get there fast enough," She said quietly, trying to console Naruto as he stared at out the scene on the water. As she looked into his eyes, she noticed something that she couldn't chalk up to being a trick of the sunset's light, "What the? Your eyes are red."

Naruto looked down and was about to remind her about the Kyuubi, but remembered that he had never used its chakra in front of her. She had never seen the sheer destructive force he was capable of.

In the entire time they had known each other, he had never let her on to the biju within him. Odd that it hadn't come up before with all of the battles the two had shared, and in that essence, she did indeed have a right to be concerned with him charging out onto the lake.

Even so, he wished she had let him go. He still might not have been able to get to even one of the victims, with the many dangerous Gyarados in his way, but damned if he didn't want to have at least tried.

Janine slid herself out from underneath Naruto and sat on her knees in front of him, giving him a tight hug. There was too much hero in him. There was a part of him that would always kick himself over matters such as this, even when it wasn't his fault. He did it after Cinnabar Island's volcano erupted. He did it after the unpleasantness in Ecruteak City. Now he was facing it again.

And she felt it too. She felt it, perhaps deeper than he did, because this was the world she lived in. It was a world where, "What can you do? After all, it was a Gyarados," was a perfectly acceptable excuse for the sort of body count before them.

"People try to treat training Pokémon like a pastime," Janine murmured into Naruto's chest, finding a measure of comfort from his warmth and his scent, "A lot of people like to think the Pokémon League is a sport. That battling is a game. It's really not," She told him, "This place we live in, this continent, this is their home. However we got here, humankind just eventually carved out a few chunks of it for ourselves. If there weren't trainers. If ways to tame and train Pokémon didn't exist, this is an extreme example, but it's not farfetched to say that it would be a lot like this in a lot of places... all the time."

She took pride in being the Fuchsia City Gym Leader. Not because it meant that she was one of the strongest trainers in the world, not because it was a position that came with a lot of influence and power, but because it put her in a position to keep things like this from happening to people in her city. It meant she could have a hand in teaching others how to catch their own Pokémon and defend themselves and their loved ones with them.

It was a monumental responsibility, and not just anyone could be allowed to do it. That was why the Gym Leader tournament was so important. An entire region of Gym Leaders, Johto, were of the belief that Kanto's Gym Leaders were ill-suited for their jobs because of what had happened with the Team Rocket commotion, and were challenging them to prove otherwise on the battlefield.

It was a slap in the face to those who took the position for what it was really meant to be.

Naruto looked down at the girl in his arms and realized at that moment how small she really was. She was a bright personality, she smiled more than she ever frowned, and she usually had a joke or some sort of quip for everything, even when the situation was dire and their lives were on the line. He had always appreciated that, because it made everything a touch more acceptable, but now he saw why she had to be that way.

Because death and destruction on the Pokémon Continent could come as easily as it could for people in the Elemental Nations.

In his land, the people were constantly struggling with each other and powerful people were the reason why. In her land, the people were struggling with the wilderness itself and the creatures that populated the landscape in vastly greater numbers than humans were the reason why.

Janine was his age, and had already assumed a responsibility that would have been comparable to this world's excuse for a Hokage. She wanted to make a difference. She had taken the position in an effort to make things better, after spending her entire life absorbing just what the status of Gym Leader entailed and what the people around her needed from the station.

And it was at that moment that Naruto realized just what it was that had attracted him to her past merely being friends. In spending time with Janine, learning things about her that she hadn't shared with even the closest of friends and confidants, and absorbing what he had thus far of the place that she lived in, he had discovered that important link.

Looking past the outward and apparent variances of their respective cultures, when he stopped and looked closer, Janine and he had several similarities that had taken him the better part of a year and a half to notice.

Other than the obvious, she really wasn't that much different from him.

Both of their heads snapped toward the lake as the water bubbled and the waves began to quiver anew once more. The nearby Gyarados noticed this as well and began to flee.

Gyarados began to flee.

The corpse of a single Gyarados floated to the surface, putting Naruto and Janine on immediate alert. They broke away from their embrace and stood ready to defend themselves against whatever came for them. There wasn't any way they could run from whatever this was, leaving the option to fight.

The first thing to emerge from the water was a red horn, attached to a head that seemed half a size larger than the corpse of the Gyarados still floating in front of them. What followed was the blood red body of yet another Gyarados, its large, hateful, intimidating eyes set right on the two of them, its desire to rip them apart only seeming to be held back by a thread.

Naruto had never felt killing intent of this sort from a Pokémon before. Even the legendaries he had battled against in Kanto, while they had radiated more sheer power, their will to outright savage and murder him had not been so palpable.

And on its head stood a young man with red hair, smirking down at them, holding on to the Gyarados' horn for balance, uncaring that he was on top of such a vicious beast.

"…Silver?" Naruto asked, remembering the angry boy from Cherrygrove City. Their last encounter had been brief. Brief, but terribly intense. It was hard to forget someone who so aggressively wanted to kill you for killing their father, who in his own right had given Naruto one of the toughest fights of his life, "Did you catch one of those things?"

"You've got to be out of your mind!" Janine shouted at Silver. Yes, it was impressive that he had caught a Gyarados at all, but to do it at a time like this, instead of being more concerned with self-preservation, it was quite clear that his priorities didn't lie with his own safety.

Silver sneered at Janine, as though her words were a form of auditory weakness, poisoning him through the point of entry that was his ears, "I didn't sit through this whole thing just to run when I finally started seeing the results I wanted. I scoured this whole lake for the biggest, baddest Gyarados anyone could ever catch, and you're looking at it."

"He caught that today," Janine said to herself in disbelief, shaking her head, "That thing should be picking its teeth with your bones right now! It shouldn't matter if you got it into a Poké Ball or not!"

Gyarados were so vicious and dangerous, it was almost unheard of for trainers to actually use them for anything. The amount of training that it took after evolving them or God forbid catching them in the wild just to safely call it out from its ball was notorious.

"Clearly, it's a case of authority being respected," Silver boasted, "Sitting on that boat with those Rocket weaklings had its big payoff after all."

"You were with Team Rocket?" Naruto said before scowling violently, "Did you bastards do this!?"

"What if I was? And what if they did?" Silver said, baitingly, "If the people out here couldn't hack it once things got intense, it was their own fault. This isn't the kind of world where you can afford to be weak."

That was not the correct answer in Naruto's book, though he would have likely attacked regardless of what Silver said to him. With a mighty leap, he sprang off of the ground right at the Gyarados, intent on either removing Silver's jaw with his fist, or capsizing his Gyarados

"Aqua Tail!" Silver's Gyarados swung its tail out of the water, a razor-sharp vortex of liquid swirling around its tail, aimed right at Naruto.

Janine quickly flung a shuriken with a shrunken Poké Ball in the middle circle, "Go Forretress! Iron Defense!" She ordered after it got close enough to Naruto that it could beam out of the ball between Naruto and Gyarados.

The dangerous tail struck Janine's Forretress with a metal 'thud', smacking it back into Naruto who felt all of Forretress' nearly 300 pounds of weight bounce off of him in return. Janine winced at the impact, but as far as she could see it was a better alternative to watching him get eviscerated.

Naruto hit the ground but quickly got up to his feet, ignoring the possible concussion that getting hit with Forretress may have given him. He shook off the cobwebs and spared a half-hearted glare at Janine, who simply shrugged her shoulders in return.

The fact that Janine had chosen to intervene to prevent Naruto from having to take the attack did nothing more than swell Silver's ego, "A lake full of Gyarados, some of the most powerful and terrifying Pokémon in the world, and the only one that means anything out of all of them is on my team," He said, "Do you understand? The only reason you beat me before is because my Pokémon were too weak."

'Babyface has nothing on him that can fight this thing,' Janine figured, thinking of Naruto's current Pokémon team before remembering his most recent addition, 'Well, he has one thing. But-.'

Naruto's thinking was way ahead of hers. However, as he picked up the Poké Ball that contained his newly captured Raikou, it shocked his hand immediately, forcing him to let go, "Yow! Damn it!"

Silver shook his head at the fool in front of him. The fact that this idiot killed his father, who was supposed to be the strongest Gym Leader in Kanto's history, was infuriating, "Enough fucking around. Let's see how long you can hold out. Surf!"

From behind Gyarados, the water quickly rose up into a thirty foot wave that rushed in Naruto and Janine's direction. Both of them made their desperate move to flee the crushing swell, but it was not the sort of thing that could be outrun.

A significant measure of satisfaction filled Silver as he watched the ground surrounding the lake disappear underneath feet of water. This was the kind of power he had been looking for in his Pokémon; enough strength to warp the very landscape itself if he felt so inclined.

Now that Naruto was dead, likely drowning underneath the crushing black depths of the lake, he could take out Team Rocket the way he had always planned. It wasn't like he needed them anymore.

As he pondered his next move, a spiky shell floating to the top of the water caught his attention, causing Silver to immediately grit his teeth and seethe in anger.

His enemy had survived, thanks to a damn Cloyster!

Naruto pulled himself and Janine out of the water, allowing her to sit on Cloyster, while he himself stood on the surface of the lake. Both were thoroughly soaked, but thanks to Cloyster were none the worse for wear.

Janine's jaw dropped at the sight of the flooded Lake of Rage grounds, "It did this in one attack?"

"I didn't really expect to go swimming today," Naruto quipped, water dripping off of his frame as he stared Gyarados and Silver down, "Then again, things I don't expect seem to be happening a lot lately."

"Out of desperation, weak people sometimes do okay at fighting back," Silver groused to himself, trying to reason why they were still alive, "I guess it was my mistake, using an attack covering that much area, instead of just going straight for your throat."

Naruto smirked darkly in return, putting Silver on alert at the color of red that had replaced the blue of his eyes, "No. It was using a move that made you lose track of me."

Two Narutos popped up out of the water behind Gyarados with a larger than normal Rasengan held between them. Silver turned his head and saw them incoming, choosing to jump off of his Pokémon's head into the lake instead of remain there to endure the blow along with it.

"Odama Rasengan (Great Ball Spiraling Sphere)!"

The jutsu landed flush, hitting Gyarados in the neck portion of its lengthy body. The nearly explosive force of the blow staggered the creature and dispelled the clones.

Janine turned her face away from the blast that sent sprays of water flying all over like needle pricks, 'That's not going to be enough,' She thought over the sound of roaring and the settling lake.

Silver stood on the back of his Feraligatr that floated obediently underneath him, keeping him from having to swim. If he had been satisfied before, watching his new Gyarados take the entirety of Naruto's attack and get right back up angrier than ever.

Good. It was tough to boot. He had been concerned for a moment.

Naruto on the other hand, was concerned. The miniscule amount of the Kyuubi's chakra he'd utilized for his last attack drifted out of his body, returning his eyes to their normal shining blue, but there was no joy to be had in them.

He had been working with Jiraiya on that attack as one of his stronger Rasengan variations while they had been training in the Safari Zone. He'd finally been presented with a target that gave him the time to set it up and deliver the strike.

From the looks of things, he may as well have thrown a paper ball at it.

"You've got to be kidding me," Naruto said to himself, in disbelief that his outright heaviest-hitting jutsu didn't put Gyarados down for the big sleep. Not only that, but it seemed to aggravate it further.

Janine's mind was rushing a mile a minute trying to come up with a way to come out on top, but was drawing a blank, "An average Gyarados has fangs that can crush boulders and scales harder than steel," And this one was anything but normal, just from the looks of it alone, "You can't beat it with a glorified super-punch, Babyface. It's almost impossible."

The two of them had to start looking at things realistically. They had nothing on them that could hurt it. When it came to outright strength, Naruto and his team were the ones that could be called the heavy-hitters. If he couldn't hurt it, she couldn't. She probably couldn't even poison it.

And the one Pokémon that either of them did have that could do serious damage to the red Gyarados wasn't willing to play ball with its trainer for whatever reason.

Naruto growled and tightened his fists hard enough to draw blood from his palms, 'I got the drop on him and everything, and it still wasn't enough!'

He wasn't going to get the same kind of opening twice. Silver was a top-class jerk, but he wasn't a foolish trainer. He'd been smart enough to retreat after being clearly outmatched in Cherrygrove City, and however he'd managed to pull it off, he'd captured this Gyarados.

Naruto had to come up with another way to give himself a chance to strike, and he needed an attack to use once he found it.

As the two Kanto representatives froze in anticipation, both trying to think of something that they could throw at the beast before them to bring it down, Silver's smirk fell.

Something about this wasn't as satisfying as it should have been, and he knew what it was.

He had expected more out of the man that had killed his father, could lay claim to being responsible for bringing down Kanto's Team Rocket. He had expected more, and now that he had the power to match and even overwhelm what had been displayed to him in their first meeting, it just wasn't rewarding to crush him.

"You know, I'm starting to wonder if you're even worth the effort," Silver sneered over at Naruto from the back of his Feraligatr as it floated behind his Gyarados, "You're no Champion. You're not even a Gym Leader like her. You're just a nobody who got lucky with the friends he made," Current Gym Leaders, and the reigning Champion of Kanto's Pokémon League. Of course. It had to be that. Someone like this could never have accomplished what he had on his own merits, "Your bark is probably worse than your bite."

"Keep talking! I'll show you when I run that thing's face into the rocks!"

"Yeah… no," Silver replied, "Hyper Beam!"

Naruto and Janine cringed at the sight of the bright-colored beam charging in the back of the red Gyarados' throat. Just as quickly as it formed, it fired right at them, parting the water from the sheer force of its movement.

Silver expected to see two people and a Pokémon be vaporized. Instead, he watched the Hyper Beam split and deflect around an invisible shield formed around the body of Naruto's Cloyster.

Both Naruto and Janine sat safely on top of Cloyster as the force field fell, both of them unharmed from Silver's hasty attack.

"There's been a Cloyster here the whole time," Naruto said, as though Silver were stupid for thinking that he was stupid enough to forget that he had a Pokémon that was strong in defense right by his side, "What did you think I was gonna do when you fired that?"

Silver merely sneered at Naruto and barked another order at the new ace of his team. Eventually Naruto's Protect would fail him, and then he would blow them away, "Hyper Beam!"

Enough time had passed for Gyarados to recharge, but it didn't attack. It simply stared forward as though Silver were calling out an attack that it didn't know and hadn't just used thirty seconds beforehand.

"Hyper Beam!" Silver barked angrily, again getting no reaction, 'Is it ignoring me?'

Naruto crouched down on Hogohei, confused as to why they weren't fending off more of Silver's onslaught. Janine just stayed silent, completely focused on the tense moment.

Silver growled to himself. Of all times, now to make him look bad, and after such an amazing debut. He would have to work any defiant streak out of the Gyarados with training.

"Whatever. I'll deal with you when I say so," He said, trying to save face as he made to leave. He called out his Murkrow, simultaneously recalling his Gyarados and Feraligatr as it took off into the sky, "You'd better thank whatever God you pray to for any time you get from here on out," His voice got smaller as he moved away quickly.

Once again, when he made to sprint out onto the water, Janine latching onto Naruto, grabbing his arm this time, kept him from outright pursuing Silver, "Why are we letting him go?"

He had admitted to being involved with Team Rocket in some way, and had all but said that they had been the ones responsible for whatever had happened to the Lake of Rage to cause the Magikarp in the water to evolve into Gyarados. Someone had to pay for this.

Just because they were no longer looking at the atrocious beast of devastation any longer didn't mean Janine had forgotten about its might, nor would she ignore what it was capable of in favor of choosing to continue a fight.

"Fighting a Gyarados under regular circumstances is dumb. Fighting that thing out here is suicide. You saw that Surf. It flooded the whole area," Janine told Naruto, choosing the original show of its power as a means to get her point across, "The only thing either of us have got that could take it on is Raikou, and it's not too happy with you, remember?"

Naruto grit his teeth in resignation. They needed something more than just brute force, yet Raikou wouldn't even let him call it out of its ball. The red Gyarados had taken a Rasengan that had done nothing more than knock it down, "So we run away?"

Janine gave him a knock on the arm for even suggesting such a thing, "No, we follow them," Being a quitter wasn't what got her where she was. Her tenacity could never be questioned. She simply chose to pick her spots better, "Ranbouen knows my Grimer's scent, right? Call him out and ask him to track it."

Naruto furrowed his brow in confusion, "Why would I have him track-?" It took a moment for it to click that she had somehow gotten her Grimer into a prime position, "When did you get your Grimer to-? How did you-?"

"Minimize," Janine told him, "Why would Silver pay attention to me? I don't have anything I could use against him that could actually hurt him. He knows that."

Even weakness was something that could be used to one's advantage if they knew how to make the most out of it. Silver had talent. A lot of it. Clearly he had spent his entire childhood being brought up to battle, Janine knew the signs. But he also had both a superiority and an inferiority complex. Just from the two meetings they'd had, Janine could see that much.

He had the upper hand right now, but that didn't mean he would keep it. Not if he went about things the way that Janine figured he might.

If he thought this was over now just because he literally had a monster in his back pocket, he was a fool.


(Undisclosed Location – Team Rocket Hideout)

Archer had been smiling nonstop ever since he had ordered his contingent of Team Rocket to pull out from the scene at the Lake of Rage. Even the grunts were sharing in his good mood and celebrating in other places around the base. While being out on the lake had been terrifying, there could be no question that everything had gone off without a hitch.

Yes, a few boats along with some grunts that had gotten caught up in Silver's battle for the Red Gyarados had departed the realm of the living, but to bring down such a majestically powerful creature, it was a worthwhile sacrifice.

...At least it was in Archer's humble opinion.

With great pride, he made the video call for his daily report. Today was the day that all of the hard work he'd put into his research had finally paid off.

Will's masked visage appeared on the screen, "Archer," He greeted, "So good to see you. How are things in your neck of Johto?"

"I think you'll be pleased with what I have to tell you," Archer said, hardly able to contain his own excitement, "The experiment I've been working on, we put it to the test on a large-scale today. It was a smashing success."

Instead of heaping the praise that his accomplishment warranted onto him, Will's frowning expression conveyed no sense of compliment whatsoever, "I understand that, but it's not what Mask of Ice wants," He explained, "You know what he wants."

Archer was floored.

Johto's Team Rocket had splintered away from Kanto's and had been taken over by those in the employ of the mysterious figurehead Mask of Ice. It had been at a time when there were too many members willing to dissent over the lack of attention they received from the leader Giovanni, and not enough executives in the region to corral them. It was the perfect environment for a strong enough influence to take control.

Archer had not been that strong enough. In the end, dissenters wound up either falling in line behind Will, Karen, Carl, and Sham, or they were made an example of. He was allowed to hold his position as head researcher for Team Rocket as long as he adhered to what was asked of him. He was not in a position to decline.

The objectives of the new regime had always been strange and hard to understand, but Archer had figured that in the end, his research would be appreciated for the boon it would provide the organization. He had always hoped that at the heart of it all, the ideals of Team Rocket remained paramount; to excel and better themselves via the use of Pokémon, by any means necessary.

Years of research. An entire chapter of his life spent working on the study of radio waves and their effects on Pokémon evolution. Constant trial and error that tore at his self-esteem and minor progress that served to build his hope back up, all for this one moment of triumph, and in the end it meant nothing.

"What he wants we can't get without personnel strong enough to put up a fight!" Archer snapped at Will, "He wants us to locate Ho-Oh! If that thing is real, when we find it, it will cut through our grunts like they were nothing! You might as well tell grass to fight back against a lawnmower!"

Will shook his head as though he were talking to a pathetic child, "Your research has been valuable. Team Rocket is now in a better position than it was before because of what you've done here. Of course I can appreciate what you've managed to accomplish. Now you have to convince Mask of Ice to do the same."

As angry as he was, Archer did not want to face the individual behind the apparent mask. Will and the others were powerful, but even they took their marching orders from this person. Going against his wishes, whoever he was, would be tantamount to suicide,

"It would help if any of us ever knew just what he was planning with all of this," Archer said, in a manner noticeable meeker than before.

Will let out a condescending laugh, "Now, you know better than to ask that. What has questioning him ever gotten anyone? You and I both know that the best thing you can do for yourself is to simply do what's instructed. To deviate wouldn't be wise. We'll be in touch."

With that, the call ended, and the fear at getting on Mask of Ice's bad side gave way to anger at his successful research being cast aside. Shaking in rage, Archer held his thumb up to his teeth and bit down on it in an effort to try and get his temper under control.

"Damn it!" Archer seethed as he removed the bloody digit from his mouth. All of his work, and he had actually managed to show something significant for all of his trouble. What did it get him in the end? A threat, and nothing more.

Giovanni would have praised him to the heavens. He would have been richly rewarded. If only he could have finished his research while the man was still alive, before Team Rocket had splintered.

Archer walked over to a cabinet in his office and poured himself a drink. He definitely needed it, "And the only progeny from a man that great is a red-haired brat with anger issues," He said to himself, "…Damn if he can't battle though."

Silver hated Team Rocket, and Archer was honestly on his side if this was the incarnation of it. If this was the way things were going to be, perhaps Silver would find more use in his research? He seemed to have problems of his own with Mask of Ice and his underlings. At least he could count on the boy turning on Team Rocket like a venomous Ekans.

Then perhaps things could be rebuilt in Giovanni's original image.


(With Naruto – Mahogany Town)

The pieces of itself that it had periodically dropped while Silver had been flying away had been enough for Naruto and Janine to discover through Naruto's Arcanine that wherever Silver had gone was somewhere in Mahogany Town. With the panic that had happened at the Lake of Rage, and the rush of so many people trying to get away from there and out of town, he wouldn't be leaving until those crowds died down.

They had time to prepare for whatever was about to happen next.

Grimer's scent would last for Ranbouen to smell out, even through a heavy rain, so tracking the exact location wouldn't be difficult.

Naruto and Janine managed to find an inn to stay at for the night where they could rest and get their thoughts in order, one room for both so that they could protect each other if need be. They didn't know how numerous or informed the enemy was about their presence, but it was for the best that they played it safe.

He quietly entered the room that they would share for the evening where he noticed Janine sitting on the bed, looking out of the large windows of their suite with a vacant expression on her face. He made noise shutting the door to try and get her attention, but all he got for his trouble was a quiet, "Hey, Babyface."

That was enough for Naruto, at least for now, "What are you doing in here sitting in the dark, you weirdo?"

"S'not that dark," Janine replied, tilting her head in the direction of the light illuminating a portion of the room from the nightstand, "Lamp's on over there."

Naruto rolled his eyes. Even though she seemed disengaged, she still had a smart-aleck streak to her. Good. That was one of the things that made being around her a positive experience. And boy, did he need something positive at the moment.

"Will Grimer be alright by itself until tomorrow?" He asked.

"Grimer can get out of wherever it winds up on its own," Janine assured Naruto, a small, confident smile gracing her features as she continued to look out the window, "Trust me, I've had Grimer and Ariados the longest. They're the best-trained in stealth out of all of my Pokémon."

"Okay," Naruto said, plopping down on the mattress of the bed a few feet away from her, "You're not worried about your Grimer. So what's the matter?"

The little smile she'd managed to stitch onto her face faded upon being reminded about what was eating at her, "Are we bad luck, Babyface?" Janine asked out of the blue.

Naruto squinted at the girl in confusion, "What are you talking about?" He asked, quizzically tilting his head as he tried to make sense of it. Was she blaming them for what happened today? "Look, this was gonna happen anyway. And worse, the Gym Leader isn't here, so nobody would have even been around to find out that someone else was doing it. At least we can stop 'em now before they do something like that again."

Of course they were going to stop them. Before the sun even came up the next morning, they were going to head out and kick their asses. Janine knew that, but just saying it wasn't enough to make her feel better, because that by itself hadn't been what had upset her, "None of this was supposed to happen. We weren't supposed to be fighting Team Rocket, or the Elite Four, or anyone on this trip. This was just supposed to be an excuse to-," She started to say before catching herself and pausing.

Naruto would have none of that. They were finally getting to the heart of the matter, and he was rather persistent about certain things, "To what?" He insisted on knowing.

Janine's lips trembled as she clearly struggled with getting the next set of words out of her mouth, "To spend time with you by ourselves again," She said, wringing her hands fitfully as she tried to put her words into something eloquent. It was clear that she was having trouble.

Naruto's eyes went wide for a moment before he settled and nudged her to continue.

Finding things to be much easier after she had blurted the first part out, Janine found herself on a roll, "I missed you to death when you went away with Mister Jiraiya. So when Erika told me she was going to ask you to help us in the Gym Leader Tournament, I saw a chance to finally tell you how I felt. I chickened out about a dozen times. I kept convincing myself that it wasn't right. There would be a better chance somewhere down the line. But today, I told myself that I didn't have forever to come out with it. That this was as good of a chance as I was ever going to get."

She had always planned for them to stop by the Lake of Rage. She had planned for them to go to several of the places that they did while they been in Johto. Sprout Tower, the Ruins of Alph, National Park; all of them had been places where she felt would have been good for her to honestly confess, but it had never worked out. Either something had happened before she could, or she never mustered the courage to say what she needed to say.

This was not the kind of girl who would just go up to her intended beau and tell him that she was in love with him. That sort of thing just wasn't her.

The Lake off Rage hadn't been Janine's last opportunity, but deep down she had just become fed up with herself procrastinating about it. She'd put herself out there on the line. She'd made herself as clear as a roundabout ninja girl could about her feelings and intentions. After all, she hadn't exactly been raised to just lay all of her cards on the table.

Which was why when she'd finally gotten started, the rest of it came out like a flood, "…And then, all of a sudden it wasn't such a good chance. And I still want to hear what you have to say. Damn it, I care more about that than what's going on right now!" She simply couldn't stop herself, "I know it's wrong, and I know I should be more worried about the people who did what they did at the lake, and Silver trying to kill you with that goddamn monster of his, but I can't help it! And a part of me doesn't want you to say you feel the same way, or even tell me at all, because I feel like it's always gonna be attached to that fucking mess that happened today! I… I…"

She was driving herself to tears with all of her talk. The last time Naruto had seen her start to get anywhere near so upset had been after she had killed her father in Saffron City. The last thing he wanted was for her to cry. The sight of it had been like a punch to the stomach for him the last time around.

Covering the distance between them in a flash, Naruto swept the smaller girl into his arms, taking her into a hug. Janine was surprised at first, but slowly smiled as she comfortably sank into the contact, her head pressed between his neck and his chest. Why would she have been surprised? He cared. She already knew he did.

"We're not so good at this, are we?" Naruto muttered to Janine, who only sighed contently in return, "I mean, I always knew I wasn't, but you play around so much, I figured you-."

"You just said it. Playing," Janine said, preempting whatever he was about to continue to say, "I'm not playing anymore. I haven't been for a long time."

It was crazy to think about, or at least it had been, that he would go off on a trip with Jiraiya and end up with something like this in his lap. Literally, as by now they had shifted to a more relaxing place with Naruto's back set against the headboard, Janine still curled up against him, her toes wiggling comfortably.

Naruto looked down at Janine and saw her looking right back up at him. Everything clicked. The butterflies weren't gone, but they were no longer accompanied with a feeling of apprehension that came with doing something that might have been wrong.

This felt right to the both of them, even if logical thinking told them that it wasn't. When all of the what-ifs had finally been thrown out the window, the only thing that remained was all of the positive reasons for being together.

Yes, one day soon, Naruto would have to go away. He would sail the great ocean that separated the Pokémon Continent from the Elemental Nations, and they would be apart. He would be in a place where Janine would not be able to follow, and where he could not readily traverse at will.

However, looking at the girl in front of him, Naruto figured that they would cross that bridge when they came to it.

"I keep trying to think about when I have to leave," Naruto said, after what seemed like an eternity of soaking in one another's presence, "But I really don't care. That'll be then. This is now."

"Smartest thing I've ever heard you say," Janine chuckled quietly, pressing her forehead against Naruto's, "…So, are you gonna kiss me, or are we just gonna stare at each other all night. I mean, your eyes are pretty and all, but-."

She stopped talking when Naruto did as she so persuasively requested, pressing his lips to hers. A jolt of electricity coursed through the both of them that had nothing to do with Naruto's ornery Raikou.

Janine wrapped her arms around Naruto's neck to pull herself deeper into the kiss. The two shared a wonderful experience, and as a bonus, in the process both of them learned a fun new way to shut the other up when the need arose.

It was a peaceful night in Mahogany Town. A stark contrast to that afternoon at the Lake of Rage, and a stark contrast to what would occur the following day.

Well, that's the chapter.

Greetings, all. Hope everyone's doing fine, loving life, and all that noise.

When I first played Pokémon Gold as a kid, I was too lazy to train my Pokémon properly, leading me to be under-leveled for every first encounter I had with every challenge in the game.

Fighting the Red Gyarados for the first time, I got my ass handed to me. Most of my team got killed by the damn thing. I have maintained a health respect for that horrible creature ever since. This is why I have written it strong.

So it's going down in Mahogany Town. All this hell's about to break loose, and the Gym Leader is nowhere to be found, the way they always are in the games. Silly Naruto. Don't you know, you can't ever see the Gym Leader until you finish the main story event in that town? So silly.

Anyway, shizz is about to be on. Saddle on up and get'chu some.

I hope you enjoyed.

Kenchi out.