Symbiosis

In a different life Ash Ketchum looks upon his world from an unique perspective.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/7917071/1/Symbiosis

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29. 28

This is all your fault you idiot!

How can you honestly blame me for this? Ash replied to Pikachu, ducking under and then behind a large tree branch. A brace of silvery needles punctured the wood with a series of loud cracking noises. It's not like I evolved their pokémon or let them know where we are or anything like that?

Electricity buzzed, writhed, snapped, and lashed out between the trees. Falling autumn leaves were turned into ashes and then dust as Pikachu's attack lanced towards Arbok. But Arkbok had already started moving before Pikachu had even finished aiming. It sizzled out against a tree trunk leaving a blackened stain on the bark.

No, but you're the one who didn't want to wait back at the pokémon center for Misty and Brock! Pikachu shouted at him. You're the one who wanted to go to the Fuschia City gym right away.

Can we do this later? Pidgeotto asked, landing next to Ash and Pikachu. Her feathers were warped and blackened from Wheezing's assault and she was out of breath from the intense dogfight that had been happening above the trees. I lost Wheezing for a bit, but he'll find me again soon enough.

Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle crashed through the underbrush, covered in scratches, cuts, and odd goo.

Meowth and those two humans are kicking our asses, Bulbasaur informed Ash. James has got some sort of glue gun and Jessie's pinning me down with shuriken. Meowth's been beating on Squirtle and Charmander.

That cat's good, Squirtle admitted. He keeps going for Charmander to force me out of position.

You don't need to keep protecting me! Charmander exclaimed, glaring at the water type pokémon.

I've got the hard shell to take the hits, Squirtle shot back, you don't. Just focus on attacking next time! We cool?

Cool, Charmander replied through gritted teeth.

Any word yet from Primeape? Bulbasaur inquired.

No, Pidgeotto answered. I held off Wheezing long enough for the monkey to escape, but I don't know if he found help yet or not.

Great, just great, Ash moaned. We need to split up again, Charmander, you're with Pidgeotto. Lure the gasbag into ambush and then help Squirtle and Bulbasaur with Jessie, James, and Meowth. Pikachu and I got Arbok. Move out before they get here!

Everyone exploded back into action, crashing back through the forest before Team Rocket could regroup and renew their attack. Ash and Pikachu sprinted up a hill, away from Arbok's last known position, scrambling through undergrowth, over fallen tree limbs and under low hanging branches. The carpet of damp and dead leaves squelched under their feet, scraps of faded orange, yellow, and brown flying behind them. Heavy breaths took in deep gulps of the chilly autumn air. A few rays of sunshine fell through the leaves as the day-star peeked out from behind the gray clouds that dominated the sky. Ash missed the comforting weight of his staff, but he had been forced to drop it earlier during the fight.

The two of them leapt over a rotting log, looking around for any sign of purple. Pikachu's ear twitched.

Rocket on our right! Accompanying his warning came Arbok's attack, a small purple white beam aimed at the yellow pokémon. Pikachu dashed out of the way, letting it blast a little crater in leaf covered forest floor. A weak Spit Up attack, meant to knock Pikachu out most likely, leaving Ash vulnerable.

Tendrils of yellow power lashed out, buzzing through Arbok. The snake like pokémon hissed in pain and threw its body behind a tree to escape the assault. Pikachu let his attack die down.

I got you now! Ash's starter shouted, dashing towards and around the tree sheltering Jessie's pokémon.

"Pikachu, watch out!" Ash warned, realizing Arbok's likely plan. But by the time his words registered Arbok had already used Stockpile. Another Spit Up attack lanced into Pikachu. The electric pokémon tumbled head over heels. Ash managed to grab him out of the air and then raced off again.

Pikachu weakly stirred in his trainer's arms, moaned, and then opened his eyes again.

Ouch, he said. I'm going to get that purple worm back for that!

Are you okay? Ash asked, ducking behind a tree and looking back.

Okay enough for this, Pikachu scrambled up onto Ash's shoulder. He sniffed the air. Over there! He pointed out Arbok's location with a sizzling Thunderbolt. It curved around a tree, extracting a sharp hiss of surprise from the purple serpent, missed its target, and twisted upwards. The jagged yellow bolt speared upwards into the sky, eventually dissipating.

Well, since you've let everyone know where you are, Arbok shouted to the duo, you should remember to act like a normal human in case people stumble over us.

Ash and Pikachu looked at each other. Arbok was being helpful...

Well, considering Jessie and James' aims and goals it made sense, but it was a bit jarring in the middle of a fight.

Ash and Pikachu dashed off again, Pikachu covering their trail with streamers of electricity, sending them writhing through the forest. Dead leaves turned to cinders glowing and floating through the air, forcing the pursing Rocket pokémon to shut his eyes.

"Primeape, hurry up please," Ash said under his breath as he weaved through trees. Pikachu sent bolts of electricity backwards, forcing Arbok to seek cover.

The human boy saw a flash of red and white up ahead: Jessie. He tried to halt his forward motion, but was unable to. Metal hissed through the air and Ash felt himself jerk backwards, into a tree. He heard several thuds around him and his clothes suddenly seemed stretched. The pokéraised child tried to move, but found the action impossible.

He looked down. Jessie had pinned him to the tree, by his clothes, with throwing knives. For some reason there were pieces of paper tied to their hilts. They looked like pamphlets.

Why...

Never mind that, more important things to worry about!

Pikachu attempted to shock her, tendrils of electric power crackling and reaching for the red haired woman, but they were diverted. James had evidently improved his lightning rods and added camouflage. The mouse like pokémon jumped in front of his trainer, growled, and started focusing on another attack, preparing to wrestle with the rods for control of the electricity.

Get away from him you bastards! A hail of sharp leaves whizzed through the air, cutting an unfortunate branch that happened to be in the way to pieces. Meowth's claws flashed silver and Arbok's Poison Sting flew in response. But while they were busy with that, a blast of high pressure water lanced at Jessie. The red haired woman casually side stepped the attack.

"Now, now, now, we can't be having any of that," she said in a chiding manner. "Your trainer might get hurt."

Ash had encountered them enough to know that she was referring to a stray attack hitting him, rather than them using him for a hostage. But it didn't change the reality of the situation. Team Rocket finally had him.

No, wait, Charmander and Pidgeotto were still out there. They could maybe-

Be thrown into Bulbasaur and Squirtle. The hope was nice while it lasted Ash reflected.

Bulbasaur and Squirtle managed to pick themselves back up. Charmander and Pidgeotto stirred, groaned, and then closed their eyes. Ash thought he heard some snoring from them, which quelled the sudden fear in him, which had arisen when he saw Charmander getting hurt. Weezing must have used some sort of sleeping gas on them. Thinking of which, the purple gasbag had floated back into the area, opposite Squirtle and Bulbasaur.

"Well, well, well," James rubbed his hands together. "Now we're all together. I trust that there will be no more hasty movements are your parts? Things could get dangerous." James was actually a bit surprised that they hadn't started any minor fires yet. And it would be so hard to give a powerpoint presentation in the middle of a forest fire.

"Who wants to get the equipment?" Jessie asked cheerily. "Or do we bring them back to the camp?" It would be a pain lugging the laptop, the projector, and the refreshments all the way to the area, but it would also be a pain lugging the twerp back to camp.

Ash paled. Equipment? Were they planning on torturing him? Brainwashing him? He began to struggle against the knives pinning him to the tree.

You touch him over my- Pikachu began, cheeks sparking as he built up power, causing hairs to rise all over the clearing.

"Shut it mouse," Meowth told the yellow pokémon. "You don't seem to realize your situation here. Pidgeotto and Charmander are out of the fight. Your trainer is constrained, Squirtle and Bulbasaur are tired, and your accuracy is shot. You-... where's Primeape?"

Didn't the twerp send him for help or something? Arbok asked.

That's what I thought too, Weezing said. Pidgeotto was fighting defensively first, trying to delay me to let him escape, at least that's what I thought.

"So the twerp might have help on his way? We should get him out of here then, before it gets here." The cat like pokémon wiped his brow. "Still, it's better than what I originally expected."

"Why?" Jessie asked. "What did you expect."

"For Primeape to jump out of nowhere and clean our clocks when I asked that question," Meowth answered, looking back to face the two humans. "Maybe punch me in the face and-"

Ninja Style Punch! A brown and red blur sped into Meowth. A red glove like fist smashed straight into the normal type's face, sending Meowth flying past Ash's tree.

Ninja Style Kick! A small fuzzy purple object impacted Weezing from behind. The purple poison pokémon plowed into Arbok, momentarily stunning both pokémon.

Ash blinked, nonplussed. Why was everyone screaming Ninja Style Attack all of the sudden?

Something fell between him and the Rocket human and exploded into smoke. Ash saw a dark shape in the smoke land in front of him, heard the muffled squelch of leaves. The shape moved quickly, yanking the knives out of the tree, freeing Ash.

"Quickly, this way," a high pitched voice whispered as he fell back to earth. A hand grabbed his own, and pulled him in the direction of Charmander and Pidgeotto. "Get out your pokéballs and return them!"

Ash grabbed a pair of pokéballs with his free hand, even as he was hurried along. Pikachu used his hearing to locate Ash and jump on his shoulder before the trainer had been pulled out of the smoke cloud.

As soon as Ash could see them he recalled Pidgeotto and Charmander. Twin beams of red light touched them, calling them back to their compact homes.

Bulbasaur and Squirtle took the opportunity to join Ash and the newcomer in their flight. Primeape and the new purple pokémon were right behind.

They sped away from Team Rocket, Ash struggling for a bit to get into a stable stride. Once he did so he took a look at his rescuer.

It was girl, he guessed, from the long green hair in a ponytail, tied with an orange bow. She was wearing a pink one piece outfit that he had only seen worn my female ninjas in comics. She was a couple of inches taller than him, and if he had to guess, around the same age.

Ninja clothes? That explained why everyone was shouting Ninja Style Attack earlier.

"Are you from the gym?" Ash asked the girl. He glanced back at the pokémon that had accompanied her. A venonat. He had heard that the Fuschia City gym specialized in poison types.

"Sort of," the girl replied. She glanced around, and then let go of his hand. Her blue eyes met his golden brown ones. "Do you need a moment to rest? We've lost them for a little bit, and I've heard civilians can't handle physical activity."

"I'm fine," Ash responded.

"Are you sure?" The girl inquired further. "From what I saw those weaklings caught you pretty easily."

"The fight was going on for a while," Ash protested. "And they aren't weak."

"I seem to have taken them down quickly enough," the girl retorted. She ran a hand through her hair. "But then again, maybe to someone of your level they would present a challenge." The green haired girl said 'your level' in the same way someone might refer to a rather disgusting and pathetic worm that they had just stepped on.

Ash's temper flared.

"Right and ambushing them after I've been fighting with them for half an hour shows that you're so much stronger!" The pokéraised child replied angrily.

"It was more than you could do boy," the girl said haughtily.

"You only managed to take them out because of me!"

"I could have taken those weaklings no matter their condition!"

Had Ash not been raised to be pragmatic and survival oriented he would have challenged her on that point. As it was, Poison Lance's upbringing prevented him from suggesting that bit of idiocy.

Not that it was necessary, Ash realized, as a high pitched aristocratic laugh rang out.

"Who's taken who out now?" Jessie asked. Ash, Primeape, Bulbasaur, Squirtle, the girl, and her venonat all jumped at the sound. They turned to see Team Rocket standing a little ways away.

"So the twerp called in a twerp," James said. "Seems this one has a bit of potential as well. And a precious purple poison pokémon. Maybe we should get her as well."

"That's not a bad idea," Jessie replied.

"Might not be worth the effort," Meowth warned. "But if that's what you two want to do..."

"Let's just see how she does," James suggested.

"Stand back boy," the green haired ninja girl said to Ash. "I shall handle these weaklings."

She turned to Team Rocket.

"I am Aya, daughter of Koga," she informed them. "I will be the one to bring you to justice. Go, Venonat! Stun Spore!"

"Weezing, time to see how well you learned Will-O-Wisp!" James shouted.

Blue flames rushed out of Weezing's mouth, burning away the Stun Spore and forcing Venonat and Aya to dodge.

"Primeape, attack Meowth!' Ash ordered. "Squirtle, Pikachu, combination attack on Arbok!"

Primeape charged Meowth, hand raised to deliver a brutal Karate Chop. But Meowth waited until the last second before jumping forward and slashing. Sliver flashed and both pokémon passed each other.

For a moment both stood still, standing in the position that they had finished their attacks. Primeape then groaned and fell to one knee, clutching the arm he had attacked with.

"That's payback for punching me in the face," Meowth exclaimed. "No one messes with the top cat!"

At the same time Pikachu and Squirtle took aim at Arbok, preparing to combine water and electricity in a punishing blast.

"Arbok, Mud Bomb and then Acid Gun!" Jessie ordered. Arbok bit the ground, sucking up dirt, turned the dirt into mud within his mouth, and then blasted a stream of mud pellets. It met the combination attack, grounding Pikachu's electricity, and slowing down the water. After he ran out of mud, but before the water blast could hit him, Arbok sprayed out a high pressure stream of acid. It clashed with Squirtle's attack for a moment and then both streams died down.

"I said I'd handle them brat!" Aya shouted at Ash.

"Who you calling a brat, I'm just as old as you are!" Ash shouted back.

"Nu-huh!"

"Uh-huh!"

"Nu-huh!"

"Uh-huh!"

"Nu-huh!"

"Uh-huh!"

"Twerps, twerps, you're supposed to be fighting us, not each other," Jessie chided.

As much as I hate to agree with them, they're right, Bulbasaur said to Ash. We might want to get running again here...

"Don't think you're getting away plant," Meowth said, raising his claws.

"Weezing, Sludge Bomb, Sleep Style!" James ordered. It was a misconception that the koffing-weezing family had sleep moves. It was true that they had no official sleep type moves, but they were pollution poison type pokémon. They were living chemical factories. If they wanted to create a chemical compound that induced sleep in their target, they could do so.

Pikachu, Squirtle, and Bulbasaur all reacted together, blasting the bomb with electricity, water, and Razor Leaves. Arbok, Meowth, Jessie, and James took it as an opportunity to advance.

"Fools!" Aya shouted, running forward and launching herself in a highly acrobatic flip to meet them. Venonat accompanied her, lashing out with a humming purple Psybeam at Meowth, and aiming a flying kick at Arbok.

Meowth simply sidestepped the psychic beam and continued his advance. Arbok ducked under the kick and Headbutted Venonat in the side. He moved to follow up, but a blast of water cut in front of him. The purple pokémon hissed and spat a brace of needles at Squirtle. The water type didn't dodge in time, taking them on his arm.

Aya landed in front of Jessie and James, sending a lighting fast punch towards Jame's groin. He didn't even bother trying to block. There was a painful sounding clang and a cry from Aya.

"Sorry little lady, but too many people have attacked me there to leave it unprotected," James said, surprisingly apologetic for someone who had just been subjected to a groin attack.

"Don't look down on me!" the green haired kunochi shouted. She dropped down and launched a leg sweep at him and Jessie. They both casually stepped over the attack like one might step over a puddle or a large stick.

"Form looks okay," Jessie commented, "but you need to get your center of gravity just a little bit lower. And you need to work on your speed."

"I am Aya of the ninja clan named Koga! Quit looking down on me!" screeched the green haired girl. From her low stance, in one smooth movement, she drew a kunai and threw her body into a stab that was faster than Ash could track.

James gently swayed out of the way.

"I think you were a bit too obvious reaching for your weapon there," James informed her. "Jessie, is that right?"

"Pretty much," the red haired Rocket member answered. "Still, nice job not overcommitting there, it's difficult to pull that off. Let's see how you do on the defensive now."

Aya had instantly reverted back to a fighting stance before Jessie had completed her sentence. Jessie entered her own highly acrobatic flip, but this time it was over the target instead of to it. Aya tried to slash at her, but she not only started too late to do any real damage, Jessie also casually knocked her arm away with her forearm.

The red haired Rocket woman landed in a handstand, wrapped her legs around Aya, and then from that position, used her legs to throw the green haired ninja girl.

Aya managed to twist and recover in midair. She landed in a crouch next to Ash.

"Pikachu, Electric Rain!" Ash shouted, "Bulbasaur, retrieve Venonat!"

A rapid series of Thundershocks forced Team Rocket and their pokémon to find cover behind nearby trees. The random nature of the attack made it impossible to aim, but also difficult to predict, helping to prevent a counter attack.

Vines slithered forward and grabbed the Venonat, getting it out of the area of fire before it could be hurt.

"Bulbasaur, if you have any tricks up your sleeve that could delay them for a bit..." Ash asked his plant type pokémon.

I got one that might work, but it's pretty exhausting, Bulbasaur said nodding.

"Good, use it!" Ash ordered.

Pikachu, let up for a second! Bulbasuar shouted to the electric type. Pikachu nodded and complied.

Team Rocket burst out of cover.

Leach Net! Leach Seeds flew through the air, but unlike usual, they burst open and started to grow mid flight. Vines grew, reached out, and tied themselves together in a net.

"Like that will work!" Meowth jumped in front of his team and slashed at the net. His claws cut through the leafy vines and for a moment it looked like Bulbasaur's attack failed.

But before he could clear the torn net, the vines somehow regrew fast enough to wrap around his limbs. He yelped and his own flight was cut short by the net.

The net entangled Team Rocket, trapping them for a couple moments while it continued to grow.

I'm out from here on, Bulbasaur said. Leach Seed is very energy intensive. Normally the energy is returned with extra by draining the target, but if you force it to grow before hand you don't get any of it back. Get me back in the pokéball.

Ash complied, sending red light out to return Bulbasaur. He then grabbed Aya's wrist.

"Let's get out of here," Ash told her. "And let's not stop this time."

Ash looked out over the view, as he stood panting, hands on his knees, looking out over the forested cliff edge. They were by a large, sparkling lake, most flat on the current calm day. Pikachu, Primeape, Squirtle, were sitting on the ground and against trees, also catching their breaths. Aya and Venonat were busy trying to hide the fact that they were also out of breath.

Ash checked on Squirtle, who was suffering from the Poison Sting he had been hit with earlier. The trainer gave him an antidote and returned him to this pokéball. The human boy then started to tend to Primeape's wounds, using a potion and some bandages.

"Who are they?" Aya asked him. "How are they so strong?"

"No clue and no clue," Ash replied.

"I cannot accept this outcome," Aya declared. "I am Aya, daughter of Koga and sister of Janine! I will not be defeated by Rocket lowlives!"

"But you sorta were," Ash pointed out, finishing up with Primeape and turning to the green haired ninja.

Thank ya mightily, Primeape said, gently touching his bandaged arm.

Bad idea idiot, Pikachu informed him. Bad idea.

"I was not defeated!" Aya shouted at him, getting in his face and glaring at him. "I merely had to momentarily remove myself from the area and regroup. You, on the other hand, ran away."

"Of course I did," Ash shouted back. "I'm well at running fights, I've had experience with them! Aren't you supposed to be some sort of ninja! Ya know, master of sneaky? Trained in the art of fooling?"

"And you can't even talk right!" Aya screamed back at him. "I am trained in the art of deception, it's good not well, and I would never disgrace my training in the ninja arts by using my best techniques against those low lives!"

"So you were just going to get beat up by them instead! You stupid ninja brat!"

"You can't call me brat, you were the one who was insisting that we were the same age earlier!"

"Obviously I'm older in terms of, ah, what's the word," Ash thought for a second. "Maturity, that's it!"

"Not with that vocabulary you aren't!" Aya shot back.

"My vocabulary is better than your common sense!"

"Nu-huh!"

"Uh-hu!"

"Nu-huh!"

"Uh-huh!"

"Nu-huh!"

You know, this is the most I've heard you shout yet idiot, Pikachu commented. And remember don't respond to me in front of the ninja girl.

"Why did Primeape have to find you instead of a competent ninja!" Ash shouted, ignoring Pikachu.

"I am a competent ninja!" Aya shouted back, red with anger. "You're just an incompetent pokémon trainer with stupid weak pokémon!"

That last statement had the same effect on Ash's temper as dropping a napalm bomb in a water starved forest full of oily trees.

Aya, calm down, Venonat trilled.

"Oh, yeah! You're a stupid weak ninja!" Ash shouted back. "I wish Primeape had found your sister or father, or anyone competent at your gym!"

"I am a competent ninja!" Aya retorted loudly. Her face was even redder. The color had even spread to the edges of her eyes.

No, wait, she was actually close to tears.

"I'll show you!" She shouted. "I'll show you that I'm a good kunoichi, you stupid brat! Wait here Venonat, make sure that he doesn't get into trouble."

And with that she stormed off into the woods.

Ash suddenly felt lower than pond scum.

I think that was the first time you were really mean to another sentient being, Pikachu said quietly. Or at least that I've ever seen.

I didn't mean to, Ash said, looking down. Wow, he felt really awful. I was- I just- I don't know.

Wait, you can speak properly! Venonat exclaimed, surprised. How-

Later, Pikachu interrupted. We can go through this whole song and dance later. I think you lost control for a bit there. You bicker a bit with Brock and Misty, but it doesn't usually get that bad. But I guess she rubbed you the wrong way maybe? Though she was the one to escalate it. I think there was something up with her.

Is she going to try and attack Team Rocket by herself? Ash asked Venonat.

How can you speak properly? And like a human! Venonat was, and please forgive the pun, looking at Ash all bug eyed.

Not now! Ash, Pikachu, and Primeape said in unison.

Sorry, sorry, Venonat replied. No, she never gets that rash. She's probably just setting up traps or something. She's not usually like this though.

Did she have a fight with anyone recently? Ash inquired.

Not to my knowledge, Venonat replied. But she says that trainers already ask so much of their pokémon, they shouldn't ask them to shoulder their personal problems as well.

That's stupid, Pikachu said. Humans are too stupid to solve their personal problems without our help.

That's not true! Ash protested. There are people who live with only minimal interaction with pokémon, and I'm starting to envy them.

Fine, Pikachu amended. All the humans I know are too stupid to solve their personal problems without our help.

All of my hatred.

You have no hatred, Pikachu replied. Wait, I don't think that's true anymore. So what are you going to do about Aya? Venonat isn't going to be able to help you out here.

I've got no idea, Ash admitted. And Venonat, do you think it's right that she doesn't want to talk to you about her personal problems?

I may not like it very much, but it's her choice, and I'm going to respect it, Venonat answered. Some humans are just like that. Something that you, a human, should know.

I'm bit of a failure as a human, Ash admitted, rubbing the back of his head. Venonat, do you think you could take me to her? I'd like to try and apologize.

Sure, she never bothered learning how to hide from me anyway, Venonat responded. Her father keeps warning her that I could get mind controlled or bewitched or something, but she never listens.

Yeah, I know what's it's like putting up with idiots who never listen, Pikachu said.

Can you be serious for a moment? Ash asked exasperated.

We're being chased by skilled psychos who want to do something to you, that belong to an organization that we've seen do some pretty nasty stuff, Pikachu replied. Most of the team is down, either knocked out, injured, or exhausted. And our only back up is a temperamental ninja girl that you just got in a fight with. It's either laugh or cry.

It's always nice to go for a good laugh, Primeape added. Ya never know where ya might end up.

Considering where you currently are, that's not necessarily the best endorsement, Pikachu. But enough with this, you and Venonat go talk to Aya. Primeape and I will rest here for a bit.

She's right here, Venonat said proudly to Ash. And there the green haired girl was, busy fiddling with some sharp objects and a taut rope by a large tree near the beach. She gave no indication that she had noticed them, but since she was a ninja, Ash guessed that she probably had.

"Um, hey, Aya," Ash said, crossing the rest of the distance between them.

"You, boy, who's name I never bothered to learn," Aya said without looking at him. "What brings you here, despite my instructions to stay put and out of trouble."

"It's Aaron Autumns," Ash told her. "Look, I sorta wanted to say sorry for what I said back there. You're not an incompetent ninja, but you are looking down on an enemy you shouldn't. And I think something else is buggin' you."

"They may not be mere Rocket lowlives, and I should treat them with more respect" Aya admitted, still not turning around to face him. "But I am Aya. I will defeat them."

"Couldn't you just get us back to the gym for reinforcements?" Ash suggested. "Or at least send a signal or something? Or did you do that already and are waiting for them to arrive."

"I did no such thing," Aya informed him, still working on the trap. "And I have no wish to go back to the gym today. Besides, they're between us and the gym, so I couldn't do either of those things even if I wanted to."

"Did you get in a fight or something?" Ash asked.

"That's a rather personal question, especially for a stranger I just met," the green haired ninja girl said in a flat tone, tinged with anger and annoyance.

"Sorry, but I'm guessing that you're too good to be always acting like this."

"Weren't you calling be an incompetent ninja less than an hour ago?"

"You were insulting my pokémon," Ash retorted. "I'm pretty sure in the old days that was worth a duel to the death."

"Almost anything could have been considered an issue worthy of a duel to the death in the old days, in certain areas of the country," Aya replied in a stuffy manner.

"Yeah, but still, It was a low blow on your part. I shouldn't have lost my temper though, so I'm sorry."

"So you're saying that you're the one responsible for keeping this conversation civilized? And how am I unfit for the duty?"

"You're just looking for a fight!" Aaron accused.

Aya turned to face him and sighed.

"I guess I am," she admitted. "I'll apologize for insulting you and your team."

"Thanks. Apology accepted." Ash replied.

She turned back to her work. He crouched down next to her and watched what she was doing.

This lasted thirty seconds.

"Feel free to go back to your pokémon," she told him.

"I just wanted to see what you're up to," the pokéraised child replied.

"I'm working on a trap. There, curiosity satisfied?"

"No, now I'm wondering why you are so grumpy. You could just say that you got into a fight or something."

"I don't need to tell you anything," said Aya haughtily.

"No, but you might want to," Ash offered.

The girl sighed.

"Fine," she muttered. "I didn't have a fight with anyone, not exactly. I was just reminded about some things that bother me."

"What things?" Ash asked.

"Things about my future" the green haired girl. "Nothing you would understand."

"Try me."

"No, a pokémon trainer like you would never understand," Aya said, turning to look him in the eye. "Tell me, how many pokémon do you have? How many are you planning on getting?"

"I've got six now and I'm going to get as many that want to come as I can," Ash told her. "Why?"

"Because gym trainers are expected to have moderate to large teams and I don't want any more pokémon," Aya answered. "Originally I had to work with pokémon simply because I grew up in a gym. I never really cared for it. I only started training Venonat because I figured a pokémon would be useful, though I honestly wanted to do things by myself. Now I wouldn't give him up for the world, but I still prefer to do things alone when I can."

"Oh," Ash said.

"I prefer completing tasks in a completely human way," Aya continued. "Using tools, technology, my own wits, or my ninja training. I'm not like you trainers."

"What's the problem then?" Aaron inquired. "You and Venonat already seem good."

"Weren't you listening earlier? Gym trainers are expected to have a team," Aya explained.

"Then don't be a gym trainer," Ash suggested.

"The daughter of Koga and sister of Janine not being a gym trainer? Not helping her family? The idea is unheard of!" Aya declared. "My father is probably going to be the next member of the Elite Four once a spot opens up, even if it's Agatha's spot now that Sabrina's out of the running. Janine will be the new Fuschia City gym leader, as is her right as the firstborn daughter and by her skill. And I will aid them both from the shadows as a ninja should."

"Your father is that strong?" Ash asked, remembering what he had seen Agatha and the pokémon that followed her do.

"Strength might not be the best word to describe it," Aya said. "Poison pokémon don't rely on brute power after all. It is skill, tactics, strategy, cunning, and stealth that must be utilized instead. He makes up for the lack of raw power in those areas."

"Just how good is he?" Ash asked.

"If we had been within the extensive boundaries of lands that belong to the Koga clan and the Fuschia City Gym, instead of here, on the outskirts of the Safari Zone, then those Rockets would have been captured ten seconds after entering," she informed the young trainer. "Should even Lance, Champion of the Kanto League, enter unprepared, there is a very good chance that they could be easily dispatched."

"Wow."

"As you can see, it is quite a legacy I have to support," Aya said.

"But couldn't you do that as a League trainer?" Ash asked.

"Potentially," the ninja girl admitted. "But, there are two problems with that. First, it would disappoint them."

"If they love you-" Ash began. But Aya cut him off.

"-then they'll support my decision," Aya finished mockingly. "I'm aware of that particular bit of wisdom. But it would still hurt them if I turned away from their path."

"I don't get it."

"Of course you don't," Aya rolled her eyes. "If even they know the emotion is irrational, even if they know there is no valid basis for it, they will still feel it. They will deny it, they will correct for it, and eventually overcome it, but I don't want to put them through that. They have enough to deal with as it is."

"But what about you?" Ash asked.

"They'll be enduring the burdens of a member of the Elite Four and a gym leader. I only have to endure the burden of a reluctant gym trainer."

"That doesn't seem very fair," Ash said to her. "I mean, they both want to do those things, don't they? You don't want to be a gym trainer, just a ninja with Venonat, right?"

"So?" Aya gave him a flat look. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"I mean, forcing someone who dislikes pokémon-"

"Two things wrong with what you're saying," Aya cut him off again. "First off, being a ninja is all about doing one's duty. And secondly, I don't dislike pokémon. I simply don't care one way or another about most, same with humans I don't know. See, a person who disliked humans or pokémon would take joy in their suffering. I simply leave them be." She looked around. "Take, for example, that wounded magikarp over on that large rock on the beach. If I disliked it I would either take joy from its suffering, or go over there and make it worse. If I was a person who cared... I would quit listening, abandon this conversation, and rush over to it like you're currently doing." She sighed and then gave a small smile before returning to her work.

Ash grabbed a pokéball as he ran over to the inured water type. He looked over the carp like pokémon, looking for any wounds.

A trainer, eh? It said. Perhaps seeking a meal? Go ahead, eat me! I don't care anymore.

"Are you okay?" Ash asked, forcing himself to remember that he had to act like he couldn't understand pokémon. He couldn't see any obvious injuries on the water type, but why was it out of the water? It wasn't safe for it... not that anywhere was really safe for a magikarp, but still. The only reason Ash could think of off the top of his head for the pokémon to be out of the water was a recent injury that affected its ability to swim or something similar. "Here, if you want I can put you in this pokéball and take you to the pokémon center."

And cook and eat me there? Fine. The magikarp picked itself up a bit so it could nod its head.

Ash gently tossed the pokéball at the pokémon. After he got it treated at the center, but before he released it back here, he would have to have a talk with it about its attitude. It just wasn't healthy.

"See, things like that," Aya started speaking again when Ash came back. "I have no interest in things like that. It's a wild pokémon and I'm not going to interfere with it in its natural environment. If it decided to come with a trainer and enter the human world I would interfere, but if it's not part of the human world, my world, then I don't care about it. I bet that sounds a bit selfish to you, doesn't it?"

"Not really," Ash replied. "As you said, you're part of a different world most of the time. But it's different when it's happening right in front of you-"

"I probably won't know the best way to handle the situation and stand a good chance of making it worse," she retorted before he could finish. "Unlike you I haven't been preparing for situations like coming across wounded wild pokémon. I've been preparing to infiltrate enemy strongholds by myself, maybe with supported by Venonat instead."

Ash didn't reply. He knew not everyone had his advantages when it came to dealing with pokémon.

"But enough about me," Aya said, interpreting his silence as a sign to change topics. "Let's start talking about those Rocket mooks. Do you know why they're after you?"

"Not really," Ash replied, unconvincingly.

Liar, Aya thought to herself immediately.

"Really? No idea? That's too bad, because if we knew why they were chasing you we might be able to use that to our advantage." she stated, trying to fish the truth out of the boy.

"I don't think it would," Aaron answered truthfully. It's not like they could design an effect trap around the fact he could understand pokémon, not with Meowth on their side.

Aya picked up that he was telling the truth, and changed subjects again.

"So anyway, it's time we plan what to do about the Rockets. We can't just escape; they're between us and the gym," she said. "I've got some ideas, but I want to see if an untrained civilian can come up with any."

"Oh, I'll show you ninja brat," Ash replied.

"That Bulbasaur," Meowth growled. "We'll have to take him out quickly to ensure that they don't escape again."

I've got it, Weezing offered. A quick high powered Will-o-Wisp should keep him down after all they've been through today.

I'll get the Venonat and then keep the ninja girl occupied, Arbok added.

Meowth relayed what the other two pokémon had said.

"And then I'll knock out Primeape," Meowth finished. "Thus leaving you two to take the twerps back and show them the presentation."

"I don't know if we want to bring that ninja twerp," Jessie replied. "She's skilled and spirited, but she might be too much of a good guy to work with the team."

"Well, we should at least give her the offer," James said. "It couldn't hurt."

"You're probably right," Jessie said, looking around the forest for more signs of the passing of the twerps. "We just need to focus on our goal. We need to secure Aaron first."

"It should be relatively easy," said James. "We haven't seen any signs of him being good at hand to hand combat and considering the gym members he travels with constantly try to keep him out of danger, he probably isn't any good. Even if they've been training him every day since they've started, he'll still be pretty useless in that area."

"Remember to be gentle," Jessie warned her comrade. "You don't have the same sort of fine control I do and we can't accidently hurt him."

"True, true. I'll be careful." James reassured her. "If I don't think I can take him down safely, I'll just keep track of him until you or Arbok can assist."

"Good, good," Jessie's eyes swept the forest floor. "Alright, I think I know where they are-"

She was interrupted by the hiss of deadly metal sliding through the air. She ducked, losing a strand or two of red hair to the projectile, and tracked its flight path back to its origin.

The female member of Team Rocket saw a flash of green hair disappear into some foliage. Jessie smirked. Too slow ninja girl.

"There's one!" She cried out, pointing in the direction of Aya. "The girl!"

"Smoke her out Weezing!" James ordered.

Weezing complied, sending a Smog attack into the brush that Jessie pointed at. A blast of greenish purple smoke bent small plants and rushed through, picking up bits of small debris from the forest floor. But Aya had already left that hiding spot.

Another piece of deadly metal rushed through the air, this time at James. The male human member of Team Rocket jumped to the side. Arbok hissed and spit out a Poison Sting attack, a stream of slim silver needles shimmering as they slid through the air.

Aya had already hurled another projectile, but the Poison Sting sent it tumbling, and forced Aya to dodge. She drew another weapon, but Meowth was suddenly in front of her, claws unsheathed. He swiped once, knocking the weapon out of her hand with a clang. The kunoichi jumped backward, trying to gain space, but Meowth was staying on her...

Until he landed on a trap. A tripwire broke releasing a sapling that Aya had bent. It sprang back to its full height, hurling several knives at Meowth in doing so. The cat scratch pokémon managed to intercept them all with his claws, but it left him open to Aya.

But she had been driven back by another Poison Sting from Arbok. James and Weezing took the opportunity to move up to support Meowth. Aya took note of the development.

"Now!" She shouted. A Psybeam lanced out from the treetops where Venonat was hiding, clipping Weezing. The purple gasbag lost control of its flight for a moment and crashed into the forest floor. Arbok retaliated with a Spit Up that blasted the branch Venonat was standing on to pieces.

Venonat managed to latch on to another branch and held on long enough to scatter a Stun Spore attack over the area. The wave of yellow dust descended quicker than one would have thought, but still slow enough for Team Rocket to dodge and rush after Aya, who had started to retreat.

Jessie knew what the ninja girl's game was; herd them into an area that she had most likely covered with traps. It was a good plan. Time for countermeasures then.

"Arbok, Stockpile as much as you can!" She ordered as the team regrouped and chased after the green haired girl. "Weezing, get ready to do controlled burns, please! There will be traps ahead!"

On it! Arbok replied.

Very well, Weezing agreed.

The team rushed after the girl, taking care to stay near the areas she ran over. They had to jump over two trip wires and dodge the occasional shuriken from the girl, but they closed in on her.

Venonat was hopping from branch to branch above them, firing Psybeams at Team Rocket. But the poison bug type pokémon couldn't get a good enough angle on them and his beams went wild. Their trail became pockmarked with small craters, but they were unharmed.

Aya turned to throw one of her last shurikens at the Rocket group, but James had gotten too close. He took a swipe at her. Her green ponytail whipped through the air as she launched herself into a backflip to avoid the blow. Twigs crunched under her feet as she landed just in front of a tree.

"You're done!" Jessie shouted, darting forward to finish off the girl.

"Weezing, Will-o-Wisp that venonat!" James ordered, sliding to a halt to give Jessie room to fight the girl.

"And now!" Aya shouted at the same time.

The world was filled with yellow light, crackling, and buzzing. A stream of electric power curved out from behind the tree to Aya's back. As quick as thought, it flowed out, engulfing Weezing, making the gasbag cry out in pain. The attack continued, trying to catch Arbok as well, but was unable to curve enough and ended up hitting the ground.

Venonat took the opportunity to jump out of the canopy, charging a Psybeam as he went. But Jessie and Arbok were faster.

"Guard rear!" ordered the red haired Rocket. Arbok spun around as the electric attack continued to damage Weezing, caught sight of Venonat, and unleashed the Spit Up attack that he had been using Stockpile for. Venonat released his Psybeam at the same time.

The two beams collided, the pink-purple psychic beam struggling against the larger purple white beam in the space between seconds. But Arbok's preparations paid off. The Rocket pokémon's attack broke the Psybeam and blasted Venonat.

"Venonat!" Aya cried out as she saw her pokémon get blasted back into the trees. The electric attack died down as well, leaving a signed Weezing to gently fall to the ground.

"You made sure that wasn't lethal, right Arbok?" Jessie asked, as James rushed over to check on Weezing. She stayed her assault on Aya in favor of hopefully avoiding traps or electrocution. The ninja girl took the opportunity to catch her breath. Pikachu, hiding behind the tree, listened closely, trying to pinpoint the location of the others.

Yep, unfocused beam, and the bug's light enough to take the fall with no problems, Arbok replied.

"He says yes," Meowth relayed. "Now, let's deal with this tree! Arbok, another blast if you would, at the tree! And keep dodging so the mouse doesn't get ya!"

"Good idea," Jessie said. "I'll do it my way. James, how's Weezing?"

The red hed darted forward while James was checking on his pokémon, sending several lightning quick blows at Aya. The green haired girl dodged to the side and started to circle around the tree to give Pikachu a clear shot at her.

But then Jessie suddenly leapt to the other side. Aya was confused for a moment, before a beam smashed into the tree and drilled into its core. They were planning to force Pikachu out of cover!

"Thanks!" Meowth said, jumping forward as the beam faded. He swept his clawed paws out, finishing off the tree. Wood cracked, boughs creaked, and there was a great crash as the tree fell back.

Nuts, Pikachu cursed, darting away from the danger. His cheeks sparked and he lashed out with a Thundershock to discourage any attacks.

But he hadn't taken any time to aim and so Meowth was able to pounce through the maze.

Ninja Style Kick!

"Not this time you dam dirty ape!" In an impressive display of acrobatics, Meowth twisted and spun in mid leap. He lashed out with his own foot, meeting Primeape's flying kick. Both legs bent and Meowth was sent backwards while Primeape simply fell. Meowth landed on all fours and then rebounded off the ground.

Claws flashed and Primeape fell back under the normal type's assault.

Pikachu winced. They had been counting on the surprise attack working.

"Pikachu, Speed Burst!" Ash's voice called out. Pikachu jumped into action on reflex, barely getting out of the way of a Poison Sting attack from Arbok.

"Shit," Aya swore as Jessie attacked once more. Aaron had revealed himself. Now they had to worry about Team Rocket going after him.

Pikachu and Arbok began to exchange attacks. Arbok kept moving and kept Pikachu on his toes, keeping him from having time to prepare a good shot. Pikachu used his superior agility and speed to avoid Arbok's attacks and keep the poison type on his... well Arbok didn't have toes, but if he did Pikachu would be keeping him on them.

"Weezing's fine," James shouted, returning his pokémon to its pokéball.

"Good, get the other twerp then!" Jessie suggested, casually disarming Aya of her last knife. James nodded and then ran off to where he had heard Ash's voice.

Ash swore under his breath from his hiding spot, twenty yards away in a bush. He ran out, hoping to escape, but James' longer stride proved to be too much.

James grabbed the pokéraised child's wrist. Ash attempted to use a throw Brock had been teaching him, but James adjusted his weight and stance to counter.

Cunt mothering fucker! Ash swore again as James forced him to the ground and restrained his arms with a coil of rope that he drew from his pocket.

"I'll have to ask Meowth what you said," James told Ash, "so we know whether or not we need to wash your mouth out with soap."

"Why do you care? You're evil!"

"Good point."

James forced the boy back to the site of the battle. Aya was covered in sweat and down to one knee from exhaustion, a calm and not out of breath Jessie looking down on her. Meowth had Primeape backed up against a tree. Only Arbok and Pikachu were still battling.

Oh, dammit all, Pikachu swore when he saw James marching Ash towards them.

I'm commin for ya partner! Primeape shouted, galvanized into action by his trainer's situation. He attacked Meowth with a flurry of punches, his fist seemingly multiplying into a group of red blurs. But Meowth ducked, dodged, and leaned back, and then swiped once with his claws.

Primeape cried out in pain and fell back, looking at the angry scratches on his fist.

"And stay down!" Meowth ordered.

"It's over twerps," Jessie announced. "So you can just give up rodent. Same goes for you girly."

Aya grimaced. Pikachu growled and launched another electric attack at Arbok. He couldn't give up, he needed to think of something to do to help Ash.

"I said give up rodent!" Jessie shouted. "We've got your trainer, Primeape's lost, and your comrades are knocked out. We've got your trainer and there's nothing you can do. There's no help coming either! You've lost! Now please just give up before we have to hurt you."

Pikachu stood on all fours, growling, cheeks sparking, keeping Arbok in view. He had a good shot, but he didn't know if he could take them all out at once. And he had to trust Primeape to keep Meowth from interfering, something he wasn't sure the fighting type was up to in his current state.

Maybe it would be better to surrender and stage an escape later? But he didn't know if there would be an opportunity to. The dilemma tore at him, seconds passing like minutes as his mind raced. Until something interrupted his train of thought.

Oh, for the hate of Arceus! A new voice cried out. Both James and Ash flinched as a pokéball on his belt burst open.

Out flopped the magikarp from earlier.

"When did you-" James said.

"Why did you?" Jessie asked.

Will you just leave this nice boy alone? The magikarp asked, lying on its side on the forest floor. I'm pretty sure he was going to finally do me a favor and put me out of my misery. And then you come along and try to take him away! I'm not standing for this!

"Meowth, what's going on?" James asked the normal type as Arbok's and Pikachu's expressions went bland and they titled their heads in confusion.

"I think... it's trying to tell us to let the twerp go?" Meowth replied cautiously. "I'm not too sure what's going on here either."

"Well, sorry, but we're not letting him go," Jessie said to the magikarp. "Now, if you would please get back into your pokéball..."

No! Let him go or I will be forced to resort to violence!

"I think it's threatening us," Meowth relayed. "Uhh... I'm not sure how to respond, other than to say, sorry, but we're not letting him go-"

Magikarp flopped up into the air, came down, and then bounced over at Meowth. Meowth, not expecting the magikarp, the weakest and most pitiful of all pokémon, to attack, was caught flat-footed as the pokémon smacked into his face. It was just as surreal as being attacked by an enraged earthworm, where the beast's assault actually managed to sting. A little bit. Not too much though. The water type bounced off and soared at Primeape, who caught him by the tail on reflex.

Magikarp held himself ramrod straight in Primeape's grip, closing his eyes and tensing up, turning himself into a fish shaped club.

Come on, he said to the Primeape. Let us do battle against these miscreants together!

Arbok, Meowth, Pikachu, Ash, Jessie, and James all stared at the unusual occurrence trying to process what was happening. They were all reasonably intelligent, rational individuals and having the world make sense was important to them. It was only natural that they would freeze up for a brief time while trying to work weird events into their worldview.

Primeape was, to put it diplomatically, not in the same category.

Before Meowth could finish processing the idea of a magikarp attacking him by flopping at him he was once more smacked across the face by the said magikarp. But harder this time, because an annoyed and enraged Primeape was adding his own strength to the attack.

One arm was down, and one fist was rendered unusable for punching from Meowth's claws, but the arm attached to that fist was still fine and the hand could still grasp. That made a weapon an ideal solution to the problem of how to injure the annoying cat pokémon.

Meowth tumbled backward across the forest floor, coming to a stop by Arbok.

"Da hell?" The cat like pokémon asked, staring skyward.

Primeape sprinted forward, letting loose a war cry, holding Magikarp above his head like a barbaric war club. James' eyes widened as he realized the crazed fighting type was coming for him.

Arbok hissed, drew back its head, and prepared to fire off another Poison Sting attack. But he paused when he heard an evil sounding giggling coming from Pikachu.

Thunder time! Pikachu shouted gleefully, lighting up with power. A column of electricity rose up from the yellow pokémon and arced over, blasting Arbok. The cobra like pokémon hissed in pain, jerking and twitching while in the grip of the attack, falling over, smoking slightly, when the attack finished.

Ash stomped on James' foot and rolled forward to escape his grasp. The Rocket man yelped and starting back-pedaling to escape the fish flailing Primeape. Jessie took stock of the situation.

"Well, time to go," she said, returning Arbok to his pokéball. "Let's retreat for now!"

"Sure thing, Jessie," James agreed. "Time for Team Rocket to blast off again!"

Jessie ran towards him, taking a brief moment to scoop up Meowth on the way. She stuck a leg out as she passed Primeape (who was focused on James), tripped him up, and then put on a burst of speed to catch up with her fellow Rocket. Primeape fell flat on his face, dropping Magikarp.

"They're getting away," Aya said, recovering the knife Jessie had taken from her. "If we hurry-"

"One group is getting away from the other," Ash told her. "Let's not be picky about which is which."

"I guess you're right," the green haired girl replied, a bit sheepish. "Venonat! I need to make sure he's okay!" She took off in the direction that the bug type had been blasted.

"Wait," Ash cried out. "Before you go, do you think you could untie me?"

So Nurse Joy says there was nothing wrong with you, Ash said to Magikarp. If that's the case, why were you lying there like you were injured.

The pokéraised child, Pikachu, and Magikarp were sitting around a private bedroom room in a small pokémon center adjacent to the Fuschia City gym. The rest of Ash's team was being cared for by the staff. Aya was busy giving a report to her father. Pikachu rested on the top bunk, Magikarp on an ottoman, and Ash sat on the bottom bunk.

Oh, I was hoping someone would eat me, Magikarp answered. Didn't I already tell you this? Back when you were pretending not to understand me.

I thought you might be delirious, Ash answered. I'm still not sure that you aren't. Why do you want to die?

My fourth mate just got eaten, Magikarp replied, far too cheerily for the subject matter. And my ninth child as well. That's both the ninth child I had and the ninth child of mine that's been eaten. I figured that I wasn't very successful at this whole 'life' thing, so I decided to quit.

Wow, your luck is horrible, Pikachu said.

It's a bit worse than your average magikarp, Magikarp conceded. Most usually have one or two children survive and only go through three mates. If they aren't eaten themselves that is.

That's horrible! Pikachu gasped. The survival rates should be closer to fifty percent than zero.

From a human perspective, that's not much better, Ash replied.

Like you've got a decent human perspective, Pikachu retorted.

I try to.

Anyway, I take it you aren't going to eat me? Magikarp asked. If so, do you have any pokémon that are hungry? Perhaps a pidgeotto? The pokémon that ate my third daughter was a pidgeotto. I talked to her as she was digesting. She apologized for eating my child, awfully polite of her. Most predators don't do that. But it was unnecessary, she was hungry and needed to eat and there aren't enough resources to go around unless you're with humans, I understand how it goes. We chatted for a bit, she had some lovely stories about the Pallet area. She even helped me find the bones so I could mourn my daughter properly. What was her name... ah, Pidgeotto, right. So if you have a pidgeotto on your team, you could have them eat me.

Out of the question, Ash replied, not mentioning that he was pretty sure that the pidgeotto Magikarp was talking about was Pidgeotto on his team. How about you travel with us instead?

What's in it for me? Magikarp asked.

We get into plenty of dangerous situations! Pikachu offered brightly. If you want to die, you could do worse than traveling with us!

Pikachu, Ash groaned. That's not-

Lots of dangerous situations you say?

We've been caught between the crossfire of a member of the Elite Four and a gym leader before, Pikachu replied. And that's just one of the many interesting and dangerous things we've come across. If you travel with us, your chance of dying in some strange and interesting way will surely increase.

Interesting and dangerous? I can't say I've led a very interesting life, Magikarp mused. Dangerous, but not interesting. It would be a nice change of pace... I'm in.

That is the strangest recruitment speech I've ever heard, Ash stated, mostly to himself.

Worked didn't it? Anyway I hear a human coming, act like you can't understand us.

Aya entered the room.

"So I reported what happened to my father," she told the pokéraised child. "And he had one of the pokémon he had tailing me confirm it-"

"He has pokémon tailing you?" Ash was surprised at this development.

"Of course," Aya replied, rolling her eyes. "He's a ninja father. It's to be expected. Part of the reason I wasn't too worried about those Rockets when I saw they weren't going to try and kill either of us. I'm training so I can spot them better, so next time maybe I can use it to send a message or something. But anyway he decided to give you this." She held out her hand. In it was a vaguely heart shaped purple badge, the Soul Badge. "He felt that the battle against Team was enough of a test. I also have your advancement for you."

"Thanks," Ash said, accepting the badge and then the wad of bills. "But I feel a bit weird about this. I feel like I get too many gym badges without having to battle the gym leader."

"Badge battles are just tests," Aya told him. "And you only use tests when you need to figure something out. Plenty of trainers get badges without battles with the gym leader, usually through battles alongside the gym leader, but there are plenty of other ways as well."

"Oh," Aaron replied, rubbing the back of his head. "I still feel like I should challenge him or something."

"You'll have to wait then," Aya informed him. "He's busy talking with two other League members, a former gym leader and a gym trainer. Actually that was partly why he decided your fight with the Rockets was enough; those two were consulting him on strategies to deal with them." She frowned, tapping a finger on her chin. "It was odd though. They grew agitated while I described our encounter. I wonder..."

"Uh, could you tell me who they were," Ash asked, growing nervous.

"Of course. One was Brock, formerly gym leader of Pewter City, and the other was a red haired gym trainer from Cerulean City whom's name I do not know. " Aya answered. "If you're thinking about talking to them about your encounter with Team Rocket I would advise against doing so in the immediate future. Last I saw them they were in a very bad mood."

"Of course," Ash muttered, lying back, covering his eyes with his cap.

Awww, don't worry. They'll only want to kill you because they care.

Ash just groaned.

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