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


31. 30

Ash and Pikachu loitered outside the tent while Brock and Misty finished up their preparations to begin the search. They were mainly packing and confirming details with 'Momma' and 'Poppa'. The tent was getting too crowded and there wasn't anything for Ash to do, so they kicked him outside until they were done.

Ash was fine with the decision, it gave him a chance to talk with Pikachu. The electric type lay on the ground beside him, lazily gazing off into space.

We'll just need to ask the local pokémon, the pokéraised child said to the electric type. And they can tell us if there's anything going on in these parts involving a human child. We might need to look around for some older pokémon who might have been there for the initial event, or at least where there to hear about it.

Should be easy enough, Pikachu replied, provided there are pokémon who group in herds or flocks around here. Or if there's a community like Poison Lance has back home.

Something to support the older pokémon and give them a chance to disseminate the information? Yeah that'd be ideal, Ash replied with a nod. But failing that, we might need to hunt around a bit for a lead like that.

Since Brock and Misty don't seem to want to let you go more further than ten feet from them that could prove problematic, Pikachu added. I don't know whether to be glad that they'll be keeping a closer eye on you as you wander into trouble again and again and again, or annoyed that you won't be able to talk with us.

Yeah, about that, Ash rubbed the back of his head. I've been with those two for a while and we've been through some pretty intense stuff...

Are you thinking about what I think you're thinking about, or at least what you would be thinking about if an idiot like you could think? Pikachu asked, giving Ash a sharp look.

I think so, Ash answered, slightly confused.

You're going to reveal your secret?

Or secrets, Ash corrected. I've got plenty. That I'm an orphan, that I can speak to pokémon, that I'm pokéraised, and that I'm Ash Ketchum.

Why's the last one significant again?

Poison Lance thought that whoever killed my parents and tried to get me might want to finish the job, Ash answered casually.

Right... humans are weird aren't they, Pikachu scampered up Ash's pants and shirt, to stand on his shoulder. I don't get it at all.

It's probably either something very long term or something very very weird, Ash partially agreed. But it's better safe than sorry. Besides, there's less hassle going about as Aaron Autumns. The Ketchum murders are rather well known in Kanto.

Ash didn't mention his nightmares/memories of dark shapes tearing a man and woman apart, blasts of power shattering a home, and of being chased by said dark shapes as fires raged. But those images seemed so far away in the sun, with his best friend on his shoulder.

So how much would you tell them? Pikachu asked.

For now, I'd probably limit it to 'I can understand pokémon', Ash answered. Share the rest as I went.

So you're going to tell them as soon as we set out then? Pikachu leaned around so he could look Ash in the eyes, well eye, he wasn't long enough to get both and keep a comfortable distance from his trainer's face. I don't know about that. For one they probably wouldn't believe you right away. Secondly with they way they're being overprotective now that news might make things worse. Thirdly it might not be the best time to tell them, and lastly it might be dangerous. And I speak for the team when I say we don't want to share you.

Ash smiled.

So you admit-

I admit nothing idiot.

I'll show you an idiot!

Stop! Stop! Cease and desist with the tickling!

Brock and Misty left the tent to find Ash being shocked by Pikachu as the pokémon's protest to the tickling. Ash twitched and fell over. Pikachu stood on his hind legs, on top of Ash's chest, tapping on of his paws, and giving his trainer a dark look. Then he looked over at Brock and Misty.

He's an idiot, said the electric type in the cutest possible tone and with the cutest possible appearance he could muster.

"I get no respect," Ash moaned.

"Well, that's about all you deserve," Misty told him with a smirk.

"Come on you two, we should get started with this search," Brock told the two of them. "No time for horsing around."

Ash groaned and picked himself up.

"So where are we starting?" The pokéraised child asked his two (relatively) normal human travelling companions.

"At another ranger station," Misty answered. "Try and see if we can't shed a bit more light on what's going on with them."

"Assuming of course that the other rangers know about the subject that bothered ranger Jenny, or if there's actually anything to investigate," said Brock. "Either way we'll do a quick sweep of the areas the rangers have searched, to see if they've hidden or missed anything. I've told 'Momma' and 'Poppa'-" the dark skinned boy air quoted each designation. "-not to get their hopes up. The odds of us finding anything relevant are highly unlikely."

"But we're still going to do this, just to make sure," Misty added. "There's a ranger's station to the west of here, but it's going to take some time to get there. How many days were you planning on staying here Aaron?"

"Errr," Ash rubbed the back of his head, "hadn't chosen yet."

"Well we might be here for a week, maybe longer," Misty replied. "If we start taking too long you might just want to... no, forget that! You're sticking with us until this is finished!"

Brock nodded his agreement. He had been thinking along the same lines as his Cerulean colleague.

"Sure," Aaron agreed. That was what he had planned to do anyway.

"Got all of your stuff?" Brock asked. Ash nodded in response. "Then let's get going."

For one group the rocky terrain had been a blessing in maintaining secrecy. For the other group the terrain had not aided or hindered them in their failed attempt to survive.

"Heh," Barclay kicked a charred corpse that had been one of the Safari Zone rangers. "Guess the Kanto Rangers aren't anything special."

"These are just the Safari Zone Rangers," Alice replied, checking the dead bodies. Her heatmor was busy devouring some human meat behind her. "They're an offshoot group related to the Kanto Rangers, but never confuse the two. The Kanto Rangers are considerably more competent."

Christopher was busy pouring over a map of the Safari Zone that had survived the conflagration that had claimed its former owner.

"We should head northwest from here," he spoke up, catching the attention of the other two. "According to this map it's a popular grazing area."

"Very well," Alice said, standing up. "That's our next move then. Come along Suntongue." She started to walk away from the bodies. Her heatmor grunted and followed, dropping the charred femur.

Christopher folded up the map and followed as well. He had recalled his pokémon earlier, after inspecting them for wounds right after the conclusion of the battle.

Barclay was about to join them when he heard a sound come from one of the still forms. The golden haired member of Team Magma turned around to investigate, crossing the area between him and the location of the sound with a swift confident stride. He was smiling the same smile that he had worn when he had burned his mother alive-

bitch always shouting, cursing, nothing was ever good enough for her, no excuses for anyone, except herself when she got angry and strangled his little sister and decapitating her torchic then she got an excuse and shouldn't he hurry up and help dispose of the body, the bitch, bitch always screaming screaming screaming

- while reaching back into the pack on his back. He withdrew a stout wooden stick, about a foot and a half in length. There was a handkerchief being used as a sack for something tied around one end.

The source of the noise was one of the supposed corpses, one Alice must have missed. From what he could see of the remaining hair, Barclay guessed it was one of the two Jenny's that had been in the group. She was trying to pick herself up, trying to get moving despite the horrific burns all over her body. Beside her lay an ivysaur, the pokémon she had used in the brief battle. It was little more than a charred lump. Barclay idly remembered that it had been one of Christopher's pair of houndooms that had done that deed. He wouldn't have done it. Barclay didn't like killing pokémon, or even watching them get hurt outside of a battle that they were enjoying.

The Jenny managed to lift her head as he approached. She glared at him with one good blue eye, the other eye had been ruined when the fluids within the socket had flash boiled. She tried to make a noise, but her throat and lungs had been ruined.

Barclay winked at her.

He threw the stick. There was a small boom, a burst of fire, and the end of a life.

I wonder what's burning, Pidgeotto mused out loud as her sharp eyes caught a faint wisp of smoke rise in the distance.

Probably just some fire types eating a magikarp, Magikarp guessed. It's an area where they like to hang out I remember. But then again most of the contact I had with pokémon who weren't magikarps was them trying to eat me. Which is why I'm absolutely useless at this subject.

So ya didn't chat with any pokémon that wasn't trying to munch on ya? Primeape asked. He was standing in a circle along with the rest of Ash's team and Ash himself. He had Magikarp slung over his shoulder and was holding onto his tail like the water type was a club.

Well, I occasionally talked with them after they had just finished off another magikarp or two. Like the ivysaur who ate my first mate for example. He was blunt, but he tried to be polite. He had taken a break from photosynthesis so he could hurry up and get to the other end of the park to surprise a friend-

That's off topic, Ash spoke up, cutting off his newest pokémon. Alright, we have to make this brief, I don't know how long Brock and Misty will take to notice I've wandered off. I need you guys to split up into a group of two and a group of three to ask the local pokémon about the missing child. Pikachu's with me, Primeape and Magikarp are together, and I don't care how you split up the rest. Just stick together and make sure that everyone stays safe. Find me again after an hour at max. Brock wants to take it slow so we should be relatively nearby.

Don't worry, Bulbasaur reassured the human. We were able to take care of ourselves before we met you. I'll go with Primeape and Magikarp to counteract Magikarp's weakness.

But then then you two have a weakness to flying, Pidgeotto pointed out. Shouldn't it be me who goes with them?

But then there's your weakness to electricity, Pikachu pointed out, before Ash interrupted again.

There's no time for this. Bulbasaur you're with Primeape and Magikarp. You two listen to him. You're in charge. Squirtle, Charmander, and Pidgeotto, you guys are together, Squirtle's in charge.

Why's he in charge? Charmander demanded.

Because he led the Squirtle Squad, came the answer from the trainer.

The coolest squad in the world! Squirtle added.

Alright, everything taken care of? Ash looked around. His pokémon nodded in response. Good, Pikachu and I have to scram now.

The trainer took off with the electric pokémon jumping onto his shoulder. The pokéraised child kept to a jog. He didn't need Brock and Misty questioning him about being out of breath.

Ash returned to the area where he had slipped away from earlier. Brock and Misty were still pouring over the maps, trying to figure out the best way to comb the patch of forest that they had stopped by. The young trainer stopped at a point just outside of their line of sight and leaned against a tree. He and Pikachu then tried to look like, as far as they and the world knew, the two of them had been there the entire time.

While the world may not have bought the act, it evidently worked on Brock and Misty when they finished up and glanced around for him. (Their paranoia had not quite extended to keeping him in view at all times, thankfully.) They gestured for him to come join them.

"So here's what we're going to do," began Brock, "we'll go through here together, and then after that Misty will split off to cover this lake," the former gym leader pointed to a blue patch on the map, "while you and I continue on to the ranger's station like we originally planned. Since I don't know if we'll reach it by the end of today, Misty will try and rejoin us when we make camp."

"Is there anything I can do to help?" Aaron asked.

"I'd say that you could stay out of trouble," Misty replied. "But I'm pretty sure the universe is against that. So just stick with Brock. Please." She said the last bit sincerely.

It was difficult to know your friend (and former crush) was not only being targeted by highly skilled criminals with issues in the sanity department, but also seemed destined to stumble into almost every bit of trouble imaginable. She hadn't minded so much when she and Brock had been with him, when they had been there to share in said trouble, but the danger he had gotten in during their brief separation? Dealing with the mob at the dam that had attacked Professor Oak's grandson and being nearly kidnapped by the Rocket Trio right next to the lands of the Fuschia city gym? That was something very different. It was entirely possible that he might have simply vanished, the mob or the Rockets leaving no trace of him or his fate behind. Nothing but fear, grief, and a helpless feeling within his friends.

So maybe she and Brock were being a bit hard on him. Maybe they were going a bit too far. Maybe she was being a bit short tempered with him. Anger was how she dealt with worry after all.

As for Brock, Aaron's situation confirmed the 'feeling' that had been growing since the fight at Melanie's village. The feeling in question being a mix of exasperation, worry, and resignation. Not like life could have done things the easy way and not have him stumble into every mess that he could. No he had to do his best to make sure Aaron survived. Brock felt that Aaron should mark the day that Brock joined him on his journey as a lucky day. If the gym leader hadn't come, what would've happened to the boy?

It wasn't a question Brock was in a hurry to discover the answer to.

"Please," Misty repeated, pleading with her turquoise eyes.

"Fine," Ash muttered.

"Thanks," Misty breathed a sigh of relief.

That relief vanished when there came a loud caw from overhead. Misty jumped in surprise and fear, hands automatically reaching for weapons and pokéballs-

It was a suspiciously familiar pidgeotto and an unfamiliar pidgeot.

"Aaron, is there any particular reason that the pidgeotto coming towards us looks just like yours?" Brock's voice was deceptively calm.

"Oh, yeah, that's Pidgeotto," Ash answered, completely oblivious. "I sent her and the others out to look around while you guys were planning on what to do. Though they were supposed to stick together. And it was only a couple of minutes ago. I guess they got lucky."

Misty's eyes narrowed. One began to twitch.

"Excuse me for a moment," Ash said to his two friends. "After HopHopHop town I'm starting to feel like wild pokémon like to convey these with less people around. I'll be back in a couple of seconds."

Misty and Brock were too full of rage to do anything while their friend ran off into the nearby woods. They looked at each other.

"Should we take turns handcuffing him to each other?" Misty asked, eye still twitching. Going behind their backs and leaving himself with only Pikachu? Was he trying to attract trouble?

"I'm thinking about it," growled Brock in response.

"Should we go after him?"

"No, he actually has a point. We just need to be the one's to contact the wild pokémon in the future so he can't use this excuse."

Over with Ash, Pikachu, Pidgeotto, and the pidgeot, they had just reached an area Ash considered to be private enough to properly converse.

So anyway, I'm- Ash began.

Shit you were telling the truth! exclaimed the pidgeot. He really can speak properly.

Ha! Not only do you owe me the information you also owe me a pound of berries! Pidgeotto crowed triumphantly.

You were betting on this? And you didn't think to get anything for me? Pikachu huffed. See if I ever do anything nice for you again.

When have you done anything nice for me?

I've grace you with my magnificent prescence. Isn't that enough?

Anyway, Ash interjected, rolling his eyes at his pokémon's antics. You said you have information. 

And he's a trainer? That interacts with other humans? As in he's actually part of their society and can speak at least one of their languages properly? The pidgeot continued to ignore Ash and bombarded Pidgeotto with more questions.

Yeah, so? Pidgeotto raised one tilting her head in a quizzical manner. What does that have to do with anything?

Everything! The pidgeot turned to Ash. Alright you want to know about Tomas? The Kangaskhan Kid?

The Kangaskhan kid? Ash raised an eyebrow. And I'd also like to know what my speaking properly has to do with anything.

You're just like him! The pidgeot shouted. Well, except the pokémon that know you are a bit more open with your secret, but the rangers warned us what could happen if word got out. That's why we don't tell other pokémon, but when Pidgeotto started blabbing about your talent-

Wait, Tomas can speak pokémon? Pikachu nearly shouted. Is he pokéraised? Well the parents will be still be happy I guess, he's alive after all. They're rich enough to keep him in a safe nature preserve...

Huh? Ash looked over at the yellow pokémon on his shoulder. What does being pokéraised have to do with anything?

You really should know this better than anyone, Pikachu chided him. Why do you think Poison Lance went through so much trouble to send you to school and sneak you into the park so many times?

Something about needing to socialize and learn to speak the human language of this country properly, Ash answered. I didn't pay too much attention to the reasons as long as I got to keep doing it.

And what do you think would have happened if he hadn't gone out of his way to provide you with the bit of education and socialization? Pikachu prompted.

I probably wouldn't know- Oh, I see your point. But couldn't they just teach him whatever human language they speak after they find him again.

You'd think so, Pidgeotto spoke up. But I asked Poison Lance about it one time. He told me that there were critical stages during a human childhood that they need to be learning how to speak or they'll never really learn. He also told me that how we speak is too different from any human language to use that instead. Tomas is probably past that point if it's been five years-

But he isn't! corrected the pidgeot. He can already speak a bit of human and the rangers sometimes talk to him and help him! He's just like you.

In the future that last sentence... well now is not the time to speak of such things.

Holy fuck munching shit, swore Ash.

Pikachu hit his trainer with a mild Thundershock.

Language young man! The yellow electric type chided his prone and singed trainer. What would Poison Lance say if he heard you swearing like that?

He'd get mad at Pocket Watch for using those words around me, Ash groaned as he picked himself up. He addressed the pidgeot next. So where is Tomas? I'd love to meet him. And find out why the rangers aren't telling his parents where he is. His human parents I mean.

I have no idea. The rangers didn't find him until a year ago... or maybe it was two. Possible three. He's over in the grasslands a couple of miles that way! The pidgeotto gestured with a wing.

This is great! Ash grinned. Oh! I probably should let Brock and Misty find out about this themselves. It'd be a bit hard to explain how I got all this information out of charades.

And you could use their reaction to Tomas to guess how they'll react to your secret, Pikachu added.

You're traveling with other humans and they don't know your secret yet? The fully evolved flying type was surprised by the news. The way your pokémon blab on about you I'd have thought almost everyone in Kanto would know by now.

Nope, I've been keeping it under wraps. But I really should be going before Brock and Misty come after me. And Pidgeotto, where are the others?

My group's heading back. They're probably already with Brock and Misty by now. Want me to go get the other group.

Yes please, and hurry. Pidgeotto nodded in response and took off. However, before she was out of earshot... And don't forget Pidgeot, you still owe me that pound of berries!

Curses! I was really hoping that she'd forget that. Pidgeot sighed. Well, goodbye. I might run into again later, but I make no promises. I'll warn the herd that you're coming and then I've got other things to do.

With that the fully evolved winged pokémon took wing. Ash and Pikachu headed back towards the red headed human girl and the dark skinned human boy.

"So?" Misty asked, with one eye twitching and one foot tapping.

"As best I could make out there's something related to him over that way," Ash pointed in the same direction that the Pidgeot had, the northeast he guessed. "Only a little ways away I think, but it was a flying type so..."

"It couldn't hurt to check there," Brock said in an unnaturally neutral tone. "And what-"

We're back! Squirtle shouted. Everyone turned to look at the shouting squirtle as he and Charmander scampered back into the clearing. Now let's hurry up and go!

"Well's that part of your team," Brock's voice continued to be unnaturally calm. "But what about the rest?"

"I sent Pidgeotto to retrieve them. They'll either be here soon or they'll catch up with us in a bit." Aaron replied.

"We'll wait right here," Brock said, simply staring at the boy. "We'll wait right here for however long it takes."

It took several minutes for the rest of Ash's team to arrive, seven minutes which should have been very awkward. But Ash lacked most standard social mores and thus Brock and Misty's staring failed to phase him, ruining their plans. After Aaron had regathered his team the group set out for where the kangaskhan herd was supposed to be. It was about an half hours journey, Pidgeotto leading the way, that ended after they crossed a small ridge.

Before the group was a herd of large pokémon. They were mostly brown, the sort of dark brown that one associates with tree bark, with bellies that were a lighter tan color, and black crests over their heads. They were all female, a feat only accomplished by belonging to the Monster egg group and by the efforts of adventurous dittos, and they all had either their young or eggs in their pouches. Most of the herd was busy grazing but a couple pokémon watched the humans approach.

"Where to now?" Ash asked Pidgeotto for the benefit of Brock and Misty.

Pikachu is right. This is highly annoying, Pidgeotto stated before raising a wing, pointing it at the herd, and cawing.

"What do these kangaskhan have to do with Tommy?" Brock asked, crossing his arms and looked a bit put off at Pidgeotto's communications.

"No clue," Aaron lied. "Pidgeotto, could you please tell Pikachu what the kangaskhan have to do with Tommy and Pikachu can do charades-" Ash was interrupted by the buzz of electricity. As he dropped to the ground he idly noted that Pikachu had been shocking him a lot today.

We'll do this a different way, something that doesn't involve this annoying charade, and the annoying charades that around bound to follow as well, the yellow pokémon declared, before marching over to the nearest kangaskhan and starting to converse. Ash lay in the soft grass for a moment and wondered if that was Pikachu's way of suggesting that he should let Brock and Misty in on his secret, like they had been discussing earlier.

Or the yellow pokémon was just being himself. Either option was equally likely.

Actually, now that Ash thought about it, Pikachu would probably rather just tell him directly. And call him an idiot. So it was just him being himself.

He heard Misty giggle behind him. It would seem that his suffering was cheering her up. And probably Brock as well. The sadists.

Pikachu returned as he was picking himself up. The electric type grabbed part of Ash's jeans and tugged on them, leading his trainer towards the herd. Ash followed. When Brock and Misty made a move to follow Pikachu held up his forepaw and signaled for them to halt.

"Get out Primeape at least," Brock said. "That's the only way we're letting you go out into that herd alone."

Ash complied. Two pokéballs opened. White light blazed and there Primeape and Magikarp stood, the fighting type once again wielding the water type.

"Why do you always do that?" Misty asked, giving Ash a put off look.

"Their idea," Ash replied before accompanying his pokémon into the herd.

The kangaskhan closed around them as they walked in, hiding them from outside eyes and ears, with the ones towards the middle moving apart just enough to make a thin corridor for Ash and his friends to traverse. Quite honestly it was a bit claustrophobic. The small group was immersed in the smell of all the kangaskhan, all the sounds the large pokémon made, aware of all the mass shifting around them. Despite the presence of Primeape and Pikachu, if the kangaskhan decided to attack there was little chance of escape. Once they were a decent ways into the group Ash turned to the nearest kangaskhan.

Hello, I'm Ash Ketchum. Nice to meet you. The pokéraised child greeted the pokémon. I'm afraid I don't know kangaskhan etiquette-

Did he just speak properly?

I think he did. I guess Pidgeot and his Pikachu weren't lying after all.

How'd he learn to do that?

Can he speak a human language? Hey- what was his name?

It was Asc I think.

No, it was Ash, I'm sure of it.

Hey, Ash, say something in a human language!

Yeah! And the herd's chatter began to die down as they repeated the agreement.

"Uh, hello, it's nice to meet all of you?" Ash spoke loudly, so the herd could hear him. "Do you have any information on a boy named Tomas. Also called Tommy?"

He can! He can speak both!

Get Kangaskhan and Tommy over here pronto! One of the herd called out, seeking the boy named Tommy, and the pokémon named World Burning Mother. Ash secretly hoped she wouldn't live up to her name. Poison Lance had been a little overprotective at times and he was a weedle. Not a pokémon species known for it's parental skills. A kangaskhan on the other hand...

The herd milled around for a moment, pokémon looking for a human and a specific pokémon. The they parted, opening up a corridor that led to a blue haired boy dressed in a growlithe fur and a slightly larger than average kangaskhan.

The boy was a foot or two smaller than himself (it must have been Ash's last couple of growth spurts) and his wild upbringing had evidently gifted him with childhood slenderness instead of childhood chubbiness. He had wild blue hair, two brown spirals on his cheeks, and black eyes that were wide and shining with wonder.

He approached Ash, slowly at first, and then broke into a run. The boy babbled wildly as he scampered over, throwing about parts of questions and declarations of excitement. His journey ended with a tackle hug that caught Ash around the waste. The elder pokéraised boy stumbled backwards, unbalanced by the impact. 

You're really real, right? The boy asked, looking up from Ash's waist. This isn't an hallucination caused by accidentally eating fermented berries and the wrong type of mushroom again.

I sincerely hope not, Ash answered. I don't want to deal with existential angst.

You know, he might be onto something, Pikachu suggested with a mischievous grin. I mean it's more likely that you're merely dreaming that you got an awesome pokémon like me and you're still asleep on the day before you start your journey. I hope you aren't too disappointed when you get a starter who isn't the greatest electric type in Kanto under Zapados.

I taught you how to control lightning, remeber, Ash replied with a wry grin. Without me you lack much of your vaunted talent.

Does dat mean I don't exist? Primeape scratched his head with his free hand.

I can only hope I don't exist. It would save me the trouble of dying. Magikarp added.

And you're a pokémon trainer? The boy asked, still hugging Ash like he was afraid the other boy would vanish if he let go. So the other humans aren't trying to do stuff to you or make you do stuff because you can understand pokémon?

Most of them don't know I can understand pokémon and I'd like to keep it that way for now, Ash informed the younger child. There's a couple that found out and they are trying to get me to do stuff, but they're keeping it secret for their own reason. You are Tomas, or Tommy, right?

Yep! That's my name! Tommy said, letting go Ash, stepping back, and flashing a cheery smile. The boy was beaming and bouncing up and down in excitement.

So you've been with this herd for five years? Ash asked.

Ever since I landed here, Tommy answered. The herd found me and momma didn't have any young so she took me in! And then Jenny found out about me a year ago and she's been helping me with speaking like a human! So-

Now, now, World Burning Mother interrupted, having walked over at a much more sedate pace than her adopted son. She gently rested a large three clawed forelimb on the blue haired boy's shoulder. You need to calm down and we need to ask this young man a couple of questions. 

A pair of binoculars swept around, taking in the sights. An encrypted radio call was made and Shinji Burrows had some pertinent information.

To the north of Ash, Misty, and Brock, three blue clad individuals had found signs of a large herd grazing. Recent signs to be exact. They began to follow the trail created by these signs.

By a pool four people waited, watched, and planned.

"Handcuffs or a leash?" Misty asked.

"Either one works," Brock replied. "Do you think I'd scare the herd if I got Onix out?"

"Let's not risk it," Misty shot a glare at the herd. "Why again did we just let him walk in?"

Brock sighed.

"Because even I will admit that he has a way with pokémon," the dark skinned boy told the red haired girl. "And he's probably in less danger in the middle of a herd of kangaskhan than he would be in the middle of a city."

"I guess," Misty muttered, kicking at some dirt. She was silent for a moment before speaking up again. "I wonder what these pokémon could have to do with Tomas?"

"Who knows," Brock shrugged. "It could be anything."

The two of them stood around in silence for another couple of minutes, each doing their best not to worry about Aaron, or what could be going on with Tommy, or with the rangers...

"Alright, hands up," a familiar voice said from behind the pair.

The two of them instantly went into fight or flight mode. But neither was an option at the instant. The former gym leader and gym trainer forced their bodies to remain loose, not to make any sudden movements, fighting against the adrenalin coursing through their veins.

Misty wanted to roll to the side, release her pokémon, and grab her knives. Her hands twitched, trying to do so, but she arrested the motions. Hands in plain sight before her the red haired girl turned around to face the speaker.

Brock, the more experienced of the two, secretly palmed Onix's pokéball, keeping it in its small mode to avoid detection. He also turned around.

There stood the Ranger Jenny from earlier. She was pointing a rifle at the two and her red eyes were shining fierce.

"That's a dart rifle," Brock said calmly. "You'll only be able to get one shot off before either Misty or I can release our pokémon. We both have pokémon that your dart rifle would be ineffective against, no matter the drug or poison. There is no way this can end well for you. Why don't you just put down your rifle and talk to us?"

It was only natural for Brock to be calm and stoic. He had trained for situations like these. And those qualities were ones that humanity had associated with his chosen type.

Trainers choose to specialize in a type for various reasons. The two biggest were personality and ease of power power. The first was self explanatory. A trainer would choose to specialize in a type where the qualities associated with said type matched their personality. The second was a little more complicated. A specialist had higher odds of becoming a gym leader or higher than a generalist. They and their team could grow more powerful by specializing, by learning all the ins and outs of one particular type. That was why most gym leaders or members of the Elite Fours were specialists.

However the highest level of power, those who were called Pokémon Masters, could usually only be reached by generalists. That was why so many ordinary trainers tried not to specialize.

Brock had chosen rock as his speciality for a multitude of reasons. One was because his first pokémon, which had been a gift, had been a rock type. Another was that the attributes of said type offset the disadvantages of his youth, allowing him to become a solo gym leader at his young age. But it had been mostly because his personality had fit.

That was why he stared down the barrel of the gun without a sign of fear.

(Or even blinking. But the not blinking might have been due to other reasons.)

"I'm afraid I can't do that," Jenny replied tersely. "You two need to leave now. This is a restricted area."

"That's not true!" Misty protested, going silent when the rifle swiveled towards her.

"For all intents and purposes it is," Jenny told the red head.

"Ranger, what's going on here?" Brock asked calmly. "Why are you doing this?"

"You people have no idea what you've stumbled over here," the ranger's reply contained hints of desperation and despair. "No idea whatsoever."

"Then why don't you enlighten us?", suggested Brock.

"I can't," the Safari Zone ranger responded. "Please just leave and don't come back. And take your friend with you." She looked around, making sure to keep the pair in one eye at all times. "Where is he anyway?"

"He's in the middle of the herd," Brock watched closely, curious about her reaction.

All color left the face of the woman and her eyes suddenly went wide. She suddenly seemed off balance, unsteady, wobbly, like someone had just hit her in the gut. Brock wouldn't have been surprised if she had dropped her weapon right then and there. But she didn't. Either her training, her professionalism, plain stubbornness, or even her own willpower allowed her to steady herself.

"Get him away from there now!" She ordered, pointing the gun at Brock. "Do whatever you need to do-"

"It's too late to do that without frightening the herd," Brock informed her. "How many other rangers are in on this?"

"A couple of my kinswomen," Jenny said automatically, still pale. "And a few other rangers. But it doesn't matter. Get out of here. I'll send your friend along shortly."

"No," Brock's statement was calm, but it was said in such a way that communicated the utter unmovable nature of his decision.

"Look at it this way," Misty spoke up. "You can either do this peacefully and maybe reach some sort of compromise, or we can do this the hard way. One of us will be shot and you'll be defeated and have no say in what happens next. Just lower your rifle and things will go much smoother."

Jenny's grip didn't waver. But her expression became pained. She was obviously considering the offer. Her actions must have been driven by desperation and she had no clue where to proceed from the current situation.

But before she could decide on way or the other there was movement in the herd...

You've really managed to keep all of your secrets for that long? World Burning Mother asked, slightly incredulous.

It helps that no-one's actively trying to uncover them, Ash answered. And the people who do know have reasons to help keep it secret, even if they are a massive pain in the butt.

Pain in the butt? They're trying to kidnap you to do who-knows-what to you! Pikachu protested angrily. You know sometimes I'm not sure if you're taking those Rocket psychos seriously enough.

Let's not talk about that now, Ash said.

Yes, let's talk about why you went looking for Tommy, spoke up the younger boy's adopted mother.

Because his human parents are here looking for him. Well they've been here looking for him for the last five years, but they haven't been successful. Ash explained, shifting his weight. All those involved in the conversation had sat down at some point while the other kangaskhans stood around, listening in, or went about their usual business.

We should tell Jenny then, World Burning Mother suggested. How about it Tommy? Would you like to meet them?

The boy had gone still, absolutely still, when Ash mentioned his biological parents. That was to be expected.

Many children who knew that they were adopted and lacked knowledge about their birth parents would at least be curious. They would want to know why their birth parents hadn't been there for them. Were they still alive? Did they reject them? Did they cry? Did they ever wonder, did they ever feel the same as their child? Did they ever try to imagine their child as they were now as the child tried with them under the same shared sky?

Ash didn't know this of course. He had some small memories of his parents, and his friends back in the Pallet area and Poison Lance helped to fill in the rest. So he didn't know how Tommy was feeling. But he could tell it was important to the other boy. So he waited patiently.

They're alive, said the blue haired boy, half question and half statement. He was staring at the ground by his feet. Then his head shot up. And they're looking for me? They've been looking for me this whole time? They couldn't find me for five years? What's wrong with them? Some parents they are.

Good parents are supposed to try everything in their power to help their kids, Magikarp spoke up from his position over Primeape's shoulder. It's not required that they be good at it.

I guess I should at least talk to them, Tommy said, standing up. But do you think they'll try to take me away from momma?

They were worried that you might've died over the last five years. When they find out that you're still alive thanks to your mother, I think they'll do almost anything she wants provided they get to see you again, Magikarp reassured the boy.

Well that settles it then, World Burning Mother stated, also standing up. We should go talk to Jenny now. She can help set this up.

Yeah, she'll be pleased to hear my other parents are here, Tommy added. They can give me language lessons all the time instead of the couple times she can stop by. Oh, and since they're family, it should be fine to share my secret with them!

About that, Ash began, rubbing the back of his head. All the rangers should have known about your parents and their search.

So why didn't she tell me last year? Tommy asked. When she found me. I wasn't good at the local human language back then, but I could still get by.

We'll have to ask her, won't we now, World Burning Mother said, her eyes narrowing, and her bearing growing more fierce. There was an unstated 'and she better have a good explanation for this' in the kangaskhan's attitude.

Well let's go back to Brock and Misty. They'll probably be all antsy about me being out of sight for so long. Ash also stood up. And remember you can't tell them that I can also understand pokémon.

Why not? Aren't they your friends? Tommy looked at Ash curiously.

Yeah but I don't know how they'll react, Ash awkwardly laughed and rubbed the back of his head. They've got official connections that could make things difficult. Plus I've got a bunch of others secrets all tied together. Revealing even one might reveal too much in the end.

But they're your friends!

I know, Ash grimaced. It's not always fun and hiding it can be annoying. I've been considering tell them recently, but I haven't decided either way yet. Just please let me handle it.

And I'll shock you if you try to say anything to anybody on that subject, Pikachu added cheerily.

Excuse me? The kangaskhan mother glared down at the yellow electric type. Please leave the discipline of my child up to me. He won't be saying anything about your trainer's secrets, right Tommy?

The boy nodded to signal his understanding very quickly.

Come on then. Excuse me ma'm. Pardon me. Ash and co. made their way back through the herd. They reached the edge and then Ash sighed.

"And you guys were mad at me for getting in trouble?" The young trainer said, looking at Brock, Misty, and Ranger Jenny.

The Safari Zone ranger went dead pale and her body felt like a jolt of electricity had gone through it. She swung the rifle over to point at Aaron.

"Get away from him right now!" Jenny commanded.

White light blazed and Starmie whirled towards the ranger. The purple pokémon smashed the rifle out of the ranger's hands, caught the weapon between its arms, and then spun back to Misty.

"Good job Starmie!" Misty said, taking the rifle from it. She went to unload it. "And you had no intention of poisoning or drugging us, did you? It's sort of hard to do using a rifle with no ammo."

Tommy gaze shifted between the ranger and Ash's friends.

"What's going on here?" Ash asked.

I would like to know that as well, World Burning Mother stated, fixing the ranger with a fierce glare.

Do you want me to ask? Tommy inquired. Brock and Misty noted the communication between human and pokémon. They could tell right away that Tommy was pokéraised and probably wouldn't be able to talk to them.

If you would, was the reply of Tomas's adopted mother.

"Tommy, no!"came Jenny's short, sharp, shout, unleashed on instinct rather than understanding, a shout that was ultimately too late.

"Why are you fighting?" Tommy asked before the ranger's command could register.

"Holy-!" Misty jumped a couple of feet, dropping the rifle.

"Did he just speak properly?," Brock said, a little more quietly. "Shit. I think I see now."

"Tommy!" Jenny shouted again, her voice between worried and angry.

Ash took a small step back, surprised and a bit overwhelmed by the extreme reactions.

"What's wrong?" He could understand their surprise, it was the over emotions he didn't get.

"He's eight years old and already has a basic grasp of a human language," Brock was muttering to himself. "Based on interaction with the kangaskhan he at least has a rudimentary understanding of the pokémon language. Hopefully that's all but... Ranger, just how well does he understand pokémon?"

"Perfectly," the red eyed woman replied dourly.

"And how well does he understand our language?" Brock asked again.

"He's learning. Quite well." Came another dour reply. "With proper tutoring he could probably become fluent."

"Fuck," Misty swore, her eyes going wide with comprehension as she stared at Tomas.

"I can see now why you were so desperate to keep this hidden," Brock said a bit shakily. "Shit this is big."

"What's the big deal guys? He's just talking." Ash said with a small nervous laugh, rubbing the back of his head.

"Aaron, you don't have any idea what this means, do you?" Brock shot the younger boy a sharp look. Ash froze, as if he had been pinned down in place. "This is very bad."

"Why?" Ash asked. "I don't get it."

And that was when the first explosion came.

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