February 2-3, 2001

Rating: PG

Disclaimer: I don't own Team Rocket (as in Jesse, James, Meowth, Mondo, or their Boss). However, Neko-chan, Galaxia, Chan-saw, and Kiosuke are mine.

Author's Note/Rant: Hey, all! I decided to delve further into my original characters, which were introduced in my "Insanity" series. However, I wouldn't try to make too many connections between the two—at least, timeline wise—because it may just cause severe head pains. I wrote this fic sort of AU, so events in this story don't really match up with events from the previous "Insanity" fics, although characters and general plots are the same. I hope you all enjoy, seeing as how the "main" characters of this fic our Neko, Kiosuke, and Galaxia—I've come to really love those characters and wanted to write more about them, especially Kio, who's character is especially fun to write. I hope you all enjoy (and please review!)

A Flu Good Rockets

By Nichole (Neko-chan) Johnson

PART ONE

It was an incredibly nice day outside, a bit chilly due to the fact that it was still the early part of March, but still, quite nice.

Meaning the sun was shining extremely brightly and Neko and Galaxia were trying to avoid it at all costs.

"It's such an oxymoron, ya know," muttered Neko with a somewhat ironic cheer to her voice. "I mean, the sun is so beautiful—"

"But it's too damn bright!" finished her partner brightly. The blonde flipped the page of her most recent Smile, humming "Lucky Lucky" under her breath as the two enjoyed the wanted shade of the Team Rocket secret hideout's front porch.

Neko stirred her tea thoughtfully. "I think I'm probably part vampire, but the results haven't returned from the lab yet." Smiling wanly to herself, she popped another glazed donut hole in her mouth, watching Gastly playing with it's shadow on the lawn.

"What lab?"

"Aw, never mind…"

The blonde looked up from her comics. "Do you think Jess 'n James are enjoying the weather?"

Neko rolled her eyes affectionately. "If they're not chasing that Pikachu, you can bet they're working on their tans."

"But it's March!" Galaxia shivered involuntarily.

"They're weird."

"Well don't be a hypocrite."

The redhead stuck her tongue out at her. "So what's new?"

The phone rang insistently from inside the cabin, breaking up any retort Galaxia may have had. Neither girl made a move to get up, glaring meaningfully at the other.

"Né-chan…"

Neko sniffed derisively. "I hate phones."

Galaxia got up from her seat reluctantly, giving her partner a dark akanbe and retrieving the phone from it's jack in the kitchen.

"Rocket Hideout. This is Galaxia speaking."

The voice on the other end was distorted thickly but noticeably happy to hear her voice.

"Hey, G-chan. It's Jesse."

The blonde smiled but quickly frowned as the other Rocket coughed heavily from the other end.

"You sound terrible, Jess! You okay?"

The redhead groaned uncomfortably from the other end. "I am terrible! And so is James, and so is Meowth…" She paused momentarily to cough thickly.

"Call Mondo, for me, will you?"

"Sure," answered Galaxia in concern, her brow furrowed curiously.

"But Jess, why didn't you call him yourself?"

There was a weak pause from the other end.

"I forgot his number…"

"Sick?" The young Rocket gopher furrowed his eyebrows worriedly.

Galaxia nodded, fixing her sunglasses absentmindedly. Beside her Chan-saw fiddled nervously with her chainsaw, watching the two Rockets with worry-filled eyes.

"I guess so. Neko and I had nothing better to do, so we're gonna' go check them out with you."

Mondo looked apprehensive. "Don't you both have an assignment or something?"

"Nope." The redhead walked out from the headquarters' break room, fresh cup of coffee in hand and a pair of black sunglasses with yellow lenses on her head. She sipped the coffee gingerly, making a slight face at the weakness of the brew, then came to join the Chansey and her partner.

The young Rocket aid smiled brightly from the vid-phone's screen. "Great! I don't think the Boss will mind then, you guys!"

There was a moments pause and then Neko sighed irritably.

"We need a ride."

Mondo looked distressed. "But I'm way out by Route 3!"

Galaxia noticed the dangerous twitch in Neko's eyebrow.

"I could drive!" she interceded quickly.

Neko looked at her dryly. "In what car?"

Behind them Chan-saw chirped urgently, waving her arms in excitement.

"This isn't Gone In 60-Seconds," replied Neko smartly. Chan-saw pouted darkly.

"Besides," continued Galaxia, beginning to look distressed as the familiar whine began to seep into her voice. "We don't have that kind of time."

Mondo was near panic-stricken, as he often was by trivial matters. "I just can't pick you guys up! It's out of my way and it would take me another hour to reach Jesse and James-senpai!"

Neko downed her coffee moodily, sharing a glance with her partner. Suddenly a sly smile crept across Galaxia's seemingly innocent features. Neko shook her head violently.

"Uh, uh!" she growled. "No way! Never!"

Galaxia giggled evilly, turning back to the vid-phone with a cheery grin.

"Alright, Mondo! We'll meet up with you outside Route 22!"

With a click, the vid-screen fizzed out and the blonde straightened up from her slightly hunched position, giving her partner a cheeky grin.

Neko growled. "I can't believe you're really going to ask him."

"Of course I am!" Galaxia winked, strutting down the hallway with a silly skipping step.

"Besides, who knows? Maybe you'll actually get along today!"

The redhead stomped her foot in frustration, flicking her sunglasses over her eyes with an angry flick of her wrist. "Over my dead body!"

Even so, she followed her friend with a businesslike stride, Chan-saw close behind.

Swiping a hand across the sweat on his brow, Kiosuke Akogare straightened up from his warm-up, fixing the two girls with a serious expression wearied from his work-out.

"You want a ride? Out there?"

Neko fixed him with a peeved look, slightly disconcerted by his apparent cooperation.

"Look, it'd be a really big favor."

Galaxia cleared her throat loudly. Neko rolled her eyes.

"Please…"

The familiar sly grin wormed it's way out of the unusually calm expression.

"Ooh, is someone desperate? For my help?" He narrowed his gold eyes challengingly, lowering his face to level with the redhead bravely.

Neko ground her teeth furiously but held her tongue. "Come on, Kio. I really don't need any of your shit right now."

The golden-eyed karate buff pulled away, pouting animatedly. "Aw, no snappy comebacks?" He picked up his towel from the mats absent-mindedly, ruffling it once through his dark hair and heading back towards the locker rooms.

"Gee, you really must be desperate."

The young Rocket made as if to reply tartly but her partner cut in abruptly, using her natural charm and clinging onto the older boy's arm sweetly.

"Please, Kio-chan? I'm sure it won't hurt Né-chan to be nice for just one day!"

Kio chuckled slightly in embarrassment, rubbing his head nervously. "Well…I was kind of busy today, Galaxia…"

Neko looked insulted. "Hey, I'm nice! Just not to him!"

Kio stuck his tongue out at her teasingly. "Aw, you know you want me!"

The redhead's nose wrinkled distastefully. "Eew, don't make me dry-heave, you incompetent cad…"

"Ooh, I love it when you use big words like that, Kitty-chan…"

"Kio, shut up!"

Galaxia ignored the usual banter, jumping up and down excitedly. "Does this mean you'll give us a ride?!"

Kio shrugged nonchalantly, ignoring the cold glare Neko gave him. "Sure." He laughed evilly, waving a set of shiny new car keys in front of Neko's eyes.

"Then I can show off my shiny new sports car to little Miss Doesn't-Have-Her-License!"

Neko turned her nose away hotly. "Big deal. Maybe I believe in cutting down on pollution."

Kio snorted loudly, trying to control his laughter. "Right! Sure!"

The 17-year-old huffed hotly, stalking proudly past him. "Just hurry up and change, Hot-Rod."

"Ooh, are you going to talk dirty like that for the whole ride?"

Galaxia giggled impishly, giving Kio a rough shove in warning and hurried after Neko.

"Chan! Chansey, chan!" cried Chan-saw in objection, dropping the numchucks she had been playing with and hurrying after the two girls.

Neko scowled angrily out the window. "Why did I have to get shotgun?"

"But Neko, you always want shotgun," quipped Galaxia helpfully from the back seat, looking up from her game of Street Sign Bingo.

"Sey!" crowed Chan-saw brightly, checking off "Railroad Crossing" when Galaxia wasn't watching.

Kio rolled his eyes in a similar expression of annoyance. "Look, I'm not exactly thrilled either, so let's just say we're even."

"Ooh, who's lost their sense of humor now, Mr. Quick-lips?"

"Lost it? Who says I lost my sense of humor? And by the way, you wish you knew how quick my lips are."

"Oh, oh, that's what I dream of at night! When I'm sleeping completely naked with your poster on my ceiling!"

"Gross, Neko. You should really put clothes on at night. It's still March, you know."

Galaxia quickly checked off "Yield for School Children" and gave her comrades a semi-stern glare. "No flirting in the front seat! You're distracting the driver!"

Neko spun around in her seat. "What flirting?! He's insulting my body and he's never even seen it!"

"Well she's defiling my poster image!" shouted back Kio. "I didn't even know they made posters of me…"

The blonde didn't even look up from her game. "Just turn down the hormones and concentrate on driving, lover boy."

Kio gasped. "No, she's learned of my lust for my precious car! Curses!"

Neko slouched moodily back into the well-cushioned seat. "You can hump the gas tank at the next gas station."

The young man sighed dramatically, hugging the steering wheel possessively. "Oh, the wait is endless!"

They drove in silence for about two minutes, and then Kio began humming "Pop Goes the Weasel".

"For Christ's sake, Kio, grow up."

The 19-year-old seemed to ignore her. Throwing back his head, he began to belt out the children's tune at the top of his lungs, as off-key as possible.

"ALL AROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH, THE MON-KEY CHASED THE WEA-SEL! THE MONKEY THOUGHT TWAS ALL IN FUN—"

"CHAN, CHANSEY-CHAN!"

"Chan-saw, don't encourage him!"

Chan-saw shrunk back guiltily and Kio grinned and started into "When the Saints Go Marching In".

"Maybe we should put in some real music!" piped up Galaxia hurriedly, diving for the CD case in the front seat.

Kio glanced over his shoulder. "Put in the unmarked one in the back."

Galaxia did so, Kio pressing the skip button several times, and the familiar opening beat of "Bad Touch" filled the car.

Neko turned to the dark-haired cadet sharply. "You like the Bloodhound Gang?"

Kio nodded, an odd look on his usually cocky face. "Yeah. You ever heard their CD?"

Neko's face was suddenly excited. "I love the Bloodhound Gang! We have to play number six!"

The young man's gold-eyes shown brightly. "Oh, you mean the one with Pac-Man in the middle of the song? That song kicks ass!"

"Oh, and what about that one about "If I were God"? That's hilarious!" said Neko with a mischievous laugh.

Kio snorted back a laugh. "Crucified and all I got—

"…Was this lousy T-shirt!"

Galaxia simply blinked dully from the back seat, while Chan-saw cheerily checked off all of the construction signs they had just plowed through on her game board.

"I can't believe they're getting along…"

"SEEEY!" screamed Chan-saw hysterically, pointing a stubby pink arm in the direction of the cement truck they were about to plow into.

Neko pursed her lips dryly, pulling her yellow-lens sunglasses down over her stormy blue eyes.

"Yep. You're a moron, Kio."

Kio slumped heavily, a dejected whimper escaping his lips as he watched them tow the wreck of his car away. The former red sports car now resembled a giant red accordion.

No one bothered to wonder why none of them was even harmed.

"My…car…!"

Neko glanced at Kio expressionlessly. "Yes. That was your car, Kio. Then it hit a cement truck. Now we're stranded."

Kio glared at her darkly. "Well you distracted me!" he pouted childishly.

Galaxia watched the wreck being towed with a blank expression. "Um, now what are we gonna' do, guys?"

"Chaaaan, seeeeeeyy!" wailed Chan-saw loudly. Kio looked at her guiltily.

"It's okay, Chan-saw!" he crooned gently, patting the pink Pokémon's head soothingly. "I'll buy you a new chainsaw!"

The Pokémon's lip quivered threateningly, black eyes filling with tears.

"CHAAAAANNNNN!"

Neko glared at Kio angrily, hands on hips. "Now look what you did, dumbbell! Haven't you messed up enough already?!"

"Look, you owe me a new car so I wouldn't talk! This isn't all my fault you know!"

"Oh yeah? And how exactly is it mine?!"

Galaxia quickly dove between the two before anything could get ugly. "How about we worry about how to get out of here instead of who's fault it is?!"

"Sey…" sniffed Chan-saw in agreement, tugging at Kio's pant leg imploringly.

The young man looked down at Chan-saw in embarrassment.

"Sorry…"

Galaxia glared at Neko meaningfully. The redhead threw up her hands in defeat.

"Fine! I'm sorry, too!"

They all stood in silence for awhile, either brooding or mourning over destroyed property.

"This is boring! Where are the truckers?" Galaxia craned her neck in both directions.

"Show some leg, G-chan. Maybe then some truckers will show up."

The blonde rolled her eyes. "I am not doing that."

Neko shrugged. "Well you were the one who complained."

Kio grinned slyly, elbowing the redhead teasingly. "Why don't you show some leg, Kitty?"

"Stuff it, Kio."

"Aw, come on! Show those horny truckers your sexy legs, kitten!"

Neko grabbed his collar roughly, pulling him level with her fiercely glaring eyes. "If you want leg, use your own, jerk."

Kio cocked his head innocently. "What, you didn't shave?"

"Kio has a point, though, Né-chan," interrupted Galaxia seriously. "How are we going to get a ride?"

"Stick out your thumb."

Kio studied Chan-saw thoughtfully. "Hey, how about we use Chan-saw to get attention?"

Neko snorted derisively. "Oh, so now you want Chan-saw to show some leg?"

Chan-saw peered down over her ample belly with a curious expression in an attempt to spot her legs, but to no avail.

Kio rolled his eyes dramatically. "No, I'm serious. Jeez, at least I have ideas."

"Ooh, so sorry, oh genius one!"

"Why don't you lay off it for once, Neko!"

"Lay off it?! Oh, you're mature, Kio!"

Galaxia stomped her foot angrily. "WHY DON'T YOU BOTH SHUT UP?!"

Both looked at her in surprise.

"What's up your skirt?" remarked Neko sardonically.

Galaxia huffed angrily. "I'm sick and tired of you two fighting non-stop! If we're going to get out of this mess, we've got to work together!"

"Sey!" replied Chan-saw sternly.

Kio crossed his arms sourly. "That's great, Galaxia, but it still doesn't give us a car or supplies."

"Or a truck driver," grumbled Neko.

"I don't care!" snapped the blonde testily, stomping off in the direction they had been headed. "We're going to walk then!"

"Walk…?!"

"Get a move on!"

Neko glared at Kio for the millionth time. "This is all your fault!"

"What?! I didn't make her bitchy!" His face was now level with hers. "You're the one rubbing off on her!"

"Oh quit arguing back there, I've always been like this! Now march!"

"Ohhhh…!"

Chan-saw skipped happily behind them. "Sey! Chansey, chan!"

Jesse looked down at the questionable contents of the mug in front of her, an even fouler expression setting into her features than had been there before.

"Mondo, what is this stuff?"

The young trainee beamed hopefully, eager to please. "It's this new flu and cold medicated herbal stew they've been working on in the lab."

Jesse scrunched her nose up distastefully. "Are you sure they didn't mix it up with some biochemical explosive ooze?"

"It smells like gym socks!" whined James groggily. He sneezed loudly, pulling his blanket around his shoulders tighter.

Meowth, however, purred happily. "Yum, tastes good!"

Mondo beamed happily, bowing ecstatically. "Master Meowth, you approve?!"

The cat nodded happily. "Meowph's nose iph stuffed. Everyphing tastes yike chalk dust."

James whimpered sourly. "Lucky duck…!"

"Where are Neko and Galaxia? There's something really important I needed them for." Jesse pushed her stew away in disgust.

"Yeah. Neko will probably bring donuts!"

"Yuck! Meowph don't want donuts dat taste like chalk dust."

The young trainee looked crestfallen. "I am sorry, senpai-san, but all I know is that they were supposed to meet me right outside Route 22."

The team exchanged a collective moan and then a mixed chorus of coughs and sneezes.

Mondo squirmed uncomfortably. "Was the stew really that bad, senpai-san…?"

"YES!"

"Oh…Next time I'll be sure to check the labels."

James' green eyes were round as emeralds. "WHAT?!"

Mondo grinned sneakily. "I was just being humorous, James-senpai."

James coughed weakly, glaring dully at the younger Rocket. "Never humor sick people."

"Meowph not sick! Watch me do a cartwheel!"

"Hey Meowth, you're only supposed to take one of these painkiller thingies," pointed out Jesse, studying the label on the painkillers.

"On'y one? Whoops."

"Meowth, quit bouncing, you're making me seasick!" wailed James.

Galaxia checked her watch. "It's almost seven."

Neko flopped down on the park bench beside her in exhaustion. "Urggh…Everything aches…"

"Maybe this whole thing wasn't such a great idea after all."

"Look on the bright side," yawned Neko tiredly. "At least we got a good workout."

Galaxia looked slightly surprised. "You're optimistic all of a sudden."

Neko smirked dryly. "That's because Dumbo here fell asleep." She jerked a thumb in Kio's direction. The young man was sound asleep, sprawled across the bench in exhaustion.

The blonde simply sighed hopelessly. Chan-saw murmured something indecipherable in her sleep where she was propped up against Kio, her empty hands moving in vain attempts to rev an imagined chainsaw.

"Why can't you just get along with Kio? Chan-saw and I don't have a problem with him."

Neko rolled her eyes dramatically. "That's because he's a pushover for cute Pokémon. And cute blondes."

Galaxia pursed her lips thoughtfully. "I think he has a thing for redheads, too, you know."

Her partner looked at her sharply, the street lamp oddly shadowing her features. Then she turned away, a pensive expression on her darkened face.

"We should try and find the others," she replied finally in a stiff tone, climbing to her feet wearily and stretching.

Her friend nodded noncommittally, not saying anything.

"Come on. We're already late enough."

She didn't bother to wait, just wordlessly walked into the shade of the night, dark jacket fluttering behind her in her passing.

Galaxia made another hopeless sigh, slightly irritated with her friend's stubbornness. Then she gently shook the others awake.

"Neko's already gone to find the team. We'd better hurry if we want to catch up."

Kio sighed in irritation, running a hand through his messy hair. "She's just always gotta' have her way, doesn't she?" He helped Chan-saw to her feet and stretched sorely.

"Okay, let's go find that stubborn kitty."

Galaxia rolled her eyes affectionately. "Look who's talking, mister."

"Chan…" The pink Pokémon curled back up on the bench sourly and tried to go back to sleep. Galaxia pushed her off sourly, ignoring Chan-saw's cry of surprise.

"I never knew I was a cat!" cried Kio, looking mock amazed. "No wonder I keep coughing up hairballs."

"Can it, Tiger, we—"

"Theeeey're GREAT!"

"Kio!"

The cadet pouted sourly. "Aw, you're not gonna' get all bitchy on me too, are you?"

Galaxia was giggling, however.

"'Sometimes being a bitch is all I have to hold on to.'"

"That's quite wise."

"I thought it was." Her hazel eyes widened suddenly. "Oh shit! Neko!" She hurried off in the direction Neko had gone.

"Come on, Chan-saw, girl," yawned Kio, following the blonde hurriedly.

The Pokémon pouted darkly but followed, grumbling sourly.

"There's some girls that need protecting!"

"Chan."

"I meant Neko and Galaxia…"

"Sey!"

Kio grumbled. "Fine, you count too."

Jesse snuggled down in her sleeping bag gratefully, smiling slightly to herself for the first time that day. The painkillers had finally begun to kick in. She was sure she'd finally be able to get some sleep now.

There was a weak whimpering groan from across the fire and she opened her blue eyes half-mast. James was tossing and turning feverishly on his bedroll, a thick sheen of sweat on his brow clearly visible in the fire's glow.

"Master Meowth, where are all the painkillers?!" Mondo's voice was tinged with panic, shuffling wildly through his pack of supplies from somewhere behind her.

Meowth could be heard humming strangely off near the bushes.

"No more bad painkillers. Make Meowph's bwain hurt!"

Jesse gritted her teeth angrily, controlling the urge to scream at the cat in rage. She could see James' troubled and pain-clenched features from across the fire, lips moving silently in fever-induced sleep.

Mondo cried out in horror. "No! Master Meowth that was the last bottle!"

"Good, no more singin' trolls and tree dragons."

Jesse could feel her eyebrow twitch dangerously. "You imbecile! Now what is James suppose to do?! His fever's out of control!" She coughed violently, climbing hastily out of her bedroll and going to James' side in concern.

"Jesse-senpai, please, you're sick! You must rest!"

Jesse glared at Mondo sternly, soaking a washcloth for James' head in her shaky fingers. "I'm fine! Let's just worry about James right now!" Mondo hurried to help her.

The thief's green eyes fluttered open weakly, glazed in pain, face flushed with fever.

"Jesse…"

The redhead took his hand comfortingly, her own blue eyes contorted with concern. "Yes, James? Is there anything I can do?"

He coughed weakly, breathing with difficulty. Finally he fixed her with a dark expression. "Kill Meowth for me, will you?"

Jesse grinned evilly. "Sure, James. I'll see to it."

He nodded, no longer able to keep his eyes open against his exhaustion.

"James okay?" Meowth peered over Jesse's shoulder guiltily.

"Sure. He told me to give you something." She promptly gave him a good sock to the face.

"Ow!"

Jesse pulled herself to her feet solemnly. "Excuse me, Mondo-chan." Throwing her largest mallet over one shoulder, she dragged the cat away by the tail to administer a thorough beating.

Mondo looked uneasy. "Um, Miss Jesse…Shouldn't you…" He shrugged hopelessly and turned back to his remaining patient, blocking out the sounds of war coming from the darkened bushes.

"Mondo-kun, I'm hungry…!"

"All I have is that herbal stew, James-senpai."

"Oh."

There was silence for a moment, backed by the sound of Meowth's screaming in the trees.

"You know, I think I might have some Tootsie Rolls in my backpack."

"Okay! I'll eat those!"

Neko could tell she was lost. The trees were closing in like stiff, dark sentinels, closing off the slim horizon of violet-blue sky visible above the dark plumage. She shivered involuntarily, shaking off the eerie feeling of many eyes watching her from the trees as she slipped a Pokéball from the inside of her jacket.

"Okay, Gastly! Come out!"

The ghost Pokémon appeared with a comical grin, studying its master patiently for its orders.

The redhead looked around uneasily, then back at her Pokémon with a thoughtful expression. "Okay, I need some sort of light. Do you think you can help me, Gastly-chan?"

"Gaaas-tly!" The smoky form swirled hastily in on itself, reappearing as a warmly lit Chinese lantern, floating lazily in the air before her.

Neko smiled benevolently at the playful Pokémon, obviously satisfied. "Perfect, Gastly! Good work!"

A pair of hazy eyes blinked happily at her from the lantern's face, then closed and slowly faded.

Neko squared her shoulders bravely, looking thoughtful at which direction to take.

"Gas?"

She shook her head guiltily. "Come on, Gastly. Let's go find the others," she said, turning back the way she had come.

The red lantern floated ahead obediently, leaving a trail of rosy light in it's wake.

Kio furrowed his eyebrows darkly, staring into the darkness just outside the light thrown from the torch in his hands. "Jeez, that dummy's gone and gotten us all lost in this stupid forest!" He ran a hand through his hair absently, a sure sign that he was concerned.

Galaxia looked troubled in the light of the torch. "Oh God, I hope she's alright…"

Chan-saw murmured worriedly in agreement, scooting closer to Kio for protection.

The young man growled, trying to appear angry. "Why wouldn't she be? She's got all of our supplies!" Galaxia noticed his fist clenching restlessly at his side, his gold-eyes searching the dark forest like a restless hawk. The light of the torch threw his oddly-colored eyes into strange reflections of gold, blue and green as he bit his lip with ill-concealed worry.

"I'm sure she didn't mean to run off. I think she was just eager to catch up with Mondo and the team." The blonde hoped he didn't notice the guilty edge in her stance.

Kio was too preoccupied to notice. "Running off without the rest of is doesn't help anyone. She doesn't even know where she's going!"

"She's got Gastly and Raichu. I'm sure they'll be able to help her."

Chan-saw looked skeptical.

"We should have just waited until morning. I don't know why I'm even bothering to look for her—it's her own damn fault she's lost!"

Galaxia bit her lip, trying to hide her smile. "Come on, Kio. I'm sure we're getting close!"

Kio trudged behind her gamely, still stubbornly trying to mask the fact that he was sick with worry under a façade of irritation. "As soon as we find her, I'm going to chew her out so bad…!"

"Let's just find her first and then we'll worry about that!"

"Seeey!" Chan-saw hurried to catch-up, skittish of the dark that had surrounded her in their wake.

Neko estimated it had been several hours now, and so far she hadn't even run into a trace of her friends. The light was beginning to wane heavily in Gastly's lantern and her feet and eyes ached with fatigue.

"Alright, Gastly-chan, you can take a rest, now."

The light faded entirely, forming the insubstantial form of the ghost Pokémon once again. It circled its master slowly in concern, worn out from staying in an illusion for such an extended period of time.

"It's alright, Gastly. I'm just tired." The redhead raised the Pokémon's ball wearily. "Return!"

"Gaass…"

The red beam swallowed the Pokémon up, retreating back into the safety of the tiny smooth orb in the cadet's hand.

Neko sighed wearily. The snapping of a twig nearby caused her to jump nervously, and her blue eyes strained vainly to penetrate the murky depths of her surroundings.

"Why did I have to be so impulsive?"

A soft Pokémon cry answered her from somewhere far off. Now completely alone, she allowed herself a fearful whimper, drawing her thin jacket tighter to herself.

"Face it, Neko. You're really just a big wuss and you know it," she muttered to herself gloomily, unable to shake the disconcerting feeling of being watched once again.

"Nidooooo…"

The unmistakable growl froze her cold. Looking hastily in the direction of the sound, she could just make out the sharp outline of a rather large Nidorino just a few feet away, hard spines pointed dangerously in her direction.

Her breath caught heavily in her throat. "Nice Pokémon…"

Ignoring her pleading command, the disturbed animal stumbled forward on its short clawed feet, head lowered in attack.

Neko did the only thing she could think of. She screamed.

Galaxia gasped in horror, freezing momentarily.

"Né-chan!"

A shadow crossed Kio's features. "Come on!" he commanded sternly, hurrying in the direction of the scream.

Chan-saw and Galaxia were hard on his heels.

The redhead threw herself off to the side, stumbling across the hard dirt in the dark as she landed hard on her arm. The angry Nidorino spun in the dirt, losing its footing in surprise as it righted itself for another lunge.

"Raichu, go!" screamed the Rocket cadet hurriedly, throwing the red and white ball into the air.

The brown electric rat appeared in a flash of crimson light, its feet firmly set as it faced off the other Pokémon gamely.

"Raaaii!" It waved it's scar-tattered tail threateningly, bracing itself for impact as the Nidorino rammed into it full force.

"Thunder, Raichu!" commanded Neko shakily. Raichu crowed gamely in understanding, its cheeks beginning to spark with built-up electricity. Leaping at its opponent, it let loose with a violent wave of electric power.

"Nidoooo!" roared the poison Pokémon in pain, crumbling to its feet weakly.

"Rai!" Raichu appeared to laugh at the other Pokémon's misfortune. Turning its tail derisively, it bounded loyally over to its master, a look of concern on its usually cocky face.

Neko pulled herself to her feet shakily. "I'm alright, Raichu. Let's get out of here before—"

Without warning, two other Pokémon appeared from the nearby brush, charging at the two in rage.

"Raa!" roared the larger of the two, presumably a Nidorina, judging by its silhouette in the still dark woods. The other appeared to be its offspring, a young Nidoran. It's sex was undecipherable in the lack of light.

Neko cried out in surprise, grabbing her Raichu hastily by the tail and scrabbling out of the two raging animals' way.

The stubborn Pokémon pulled out of her grasp hastily, bravely facing the Nidorina and Nidoran.

"Rai! Raichu!" it growled threateningly, cheeks sparking. It rushed at the two in a blinding display of Agility; weaving in and out between the two to deliver quick precise blows with its heavy paws.

The Nidorina shook off her daze, glaring at Raichu in fury. "Nido! Nido, nidorina!" It's offspring nodded understandingly, joining her, and the two of them attacked the electric Pokémon in a Double-team of Horn drills.

Neko watched in horror, Raichu's angry cries of pain mixing with the vicious war cries of the marauding Nidoran Pokémon.

"Raichu!" she screamed, struggling vainly to call back her battered Pokémon. The red beam couldn't penetrate the two spiny bodies that held Raichu to the ground, however, and Raichu's screams soon dissolved in a gurgle of blood.

"Nido…" The Nidorino that had fallen over under Raichu's earlier attack struggled weakly to its feet, as its mate and offspring turned from the massacred Pokémon, huffing with exertion. With cold, expressionless eyes, the three violent Pokémon turned to the human.

"Nidorino!"

Before they could lunge at her, there was a bright flash of red light before the startled Rocket cadet's eyes and a large, insect-like Pokémon appeared.

"Scyther, Swords Dance, now!"

"Scyyy-thah!" hissed the Pokémon threateningly, brandishing its razor-like arms. It began to spin slowly, picking up momentum as it went.

The Nidorino barked out a harsh order to its family and the three lunged at the whirling Pokémon. Immediately, they were befallen with a rain of vicious slashing claws.

It wasn't long before the three Pokémon were turning tail in terror before the bladed nightmare.

"Scyytherrr…!"

Neko hurried to her wounded Pokémon's side, bravely biting back tears as she huddled over the beaten creature. She called the Pokémon back to its ball stiffly, unable to turn and face her friends who had hurried in from the trees at Scyther's victory.

Kio nodded grimly at his Pokémon. "Good work, Scyther. Return!" The large insect disappeared in a beam of red haze.

Galaxia rushed to her friend's side. "Neko-chan!" She hugged the other girl tightly. "Are you alright?"

Neko hugged her back gratefully. "Yeah…yeah, I'm fine, G-chan," she murmured dully, heart sinking as she squeezed Raichu's ball tightly in her fist.

She heard footsteps behind her as Galaxia pulled out of her thankful embrace, gazing over Neko's shoulder in concern.

"Neko…" Kio sighed in frustration. "What were you—"

The redhead whirled around hastily. Her eyes were brimming with unhappy tears, her face sunken with guilt and regret.

"I'm sorry." She bit her lip furiously, face contorting in frustration as she desperately fought for control of her tears. "I'm sorry!"

Galaxia approached her gently. "Neko…"

The redheaded cadet hung her head, hiding her eyes from the two in shame. "Look, I'm sorry I ran off without you. I got us lost and now…now Raichu is hurt and it's all my fault!" She sighed bitterly. "I just wanted to find Jess 'n James…"

The others were silent momentarily as Chan-saw crooned sadly to herself, eyes tearing at mention of Raichu. Neko fingered Raichu's ball, sobbing softly under her breath.

Kio sighed in indecision, studying the dirt with a pensive expression. Finally he ran a hand through his hair in seeming defeat.

"Galaxia, hold this," he muttered, handing her the torch. He held his hand out to Neko, his expression kind.

"Here, Neko, let me take a look at your Raichu."

The girl looked up from her hands silently, her tears glittering strangely in the torch's light. She fingered the ball gingerly, unsure whether to trust him. His gold eyes were devoid of guile though, as he gazed down at her, unblinking. Carefully, she wielded the Pokéball to him.

He smiled, taking the Pokéball and patting her shoulder comfortingly with his free hand. "Come on. Let's get some rest and we can look for the others in the morning."

Oddly enough, Neko smiled back.

"I am kind of tired."

"No kidding!" laughed Kio.

Smiling secretively to herself, Galaxia called out her Flareon, and together, the three humans and two Pokémon gathered some wood and set up camp.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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