Traveler

Ash Ketchum has been determined to become the best since he was a toddler. He has his eyes set on a charmander, but a twist of fate led him to the humble Nidoran. Note: Mix between anime and the games.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8466693/1/Traveler

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19. Pallet Town Part 1

"So, how many pokemon did the League recover?" Ash asked from his chair. They were currently on the boat that was taking them back to Cinnabar Island. He was still sore all over, but most of his injuries were healed or healing. Nurse Joy had said he'd be fine to travel in about a week or so.

Infernus was back to normal. He was furious when Ash had released him earlier that morning. The fire-type hadn't seemed to realize how badly he'd been injured and thought he was still in the fight. Ash had calmed him down before he burned down the gigantic forest that encompassed Chronos Island, but it had been a close call. Right now he was in his pokeball, resting so that he could fight soon.

Despite having several full restores used on him, Nidorino wouldn't be battling for at least another week. Medicine was able to perform near-miracles in this day and age, but there were limits to what it could do. Being mauled by a rather powerful, cruel Umbreon was one of them.

Nidorino wouldn't have any lasting problems, but he wouldn't be back at his prime for about three weeks. He'd be able to battle soon enough, and Nurse Joy had assured Ash that Nidorino would heal faster if Ash used him in battles more. The poison-type's real problem would be getting all of his muscle back and working out some of the injuries.

All of his other friends were fine. Dazed had been slightly injured by Gengar's claws, but she had managed to escape before the ghost could do any real damage. Tangela hadn't taken any damage at all aside from a few broken vines. They had already grown back. Plume hadn't participated in the fight aside from taking out golbat, so she was more than ready to take up the slack Nidorino would be leaving.

Lance answered him from his own chair. They were sitting around the ship's shaded table, glad to relax after the hard day yesterday. Steven had been in a bad mood all morning for some reason, although he hadn't taken it out on Ash or Lance. He expressed it by constantly frowning and being quieter than usual.

"Three hundred and forty two." Lance recited from memory. "One hundred and five of the ekans line, one hundred and forty-six of the koffing line, four of the houndour line, fifty of the zubat line, twenty-three of the grimer line and fourteen of the murkrow line. Pierce's pokemon aren't being counted." He added. "Aside from those grimer, anyway."

"What's happening to them?" Ash questioned, leaning forward in interest despite the dull throbbing that erupted in his muscles.

Lance frowned, looking a bit remorseful. "No Team Rocket pokemon is normal. They are either broken until they work and will happily attack other humans and pokemon without provocation or are simply disturbed ones, much like the humans that make up Team Rocket. But Pierce's…Pierce's are something else."

Ash looked at Lance curiously. The red-haired Champion had an uncharacteristically dark look on his face. He seemed to be brooding as much as Steven was at the moment.

"Pierce's are in the second category." Lance explained. "Mostly, anyways. That Umbreon is vicious. We tracked its record through a DNA sample. Even before it somehow managed to find its way to Team Rocket it had a long list of assaults on trainers and pokemon. We'll probably have to put it down. It's not like we can use a psychic to help it."

He grimaced along with Lance. Ash could truly say that the Umbreon was the only pokemon he'd ever really hated. It had nearly killed his first and best friend and had tried to do the same to him. But he didn't want it to die, even if it was as deadly as Pierce. But sometimes he supposed there was no other way.

"What about the Gengar?" Ash questioned again. He didn't have to worry about Muk. That nightmare had been broken up into about twenty-six grimer, each of which were completely innocent of the crimes their progenitor had committed.

"We're still examining it with psychics." Lance replied. He took a long swig from a bottle whose contents Ash wasn't quite certain of before elaborating. "Remember the Ranger that teleported us?"

Ash nodded.

"Well, they've got that thing disabled for an indeterminate amount of time. It's quite vulnerable to the skill, so we're just making sure it doesn't get away. It's been cooperating with us thus far, but the Alakazam working on it isn't able to verify anything."

Lance's face suddenly twisted in annoyance. "As for that Metagross of his, Steven's taking it back to Hoenn with him."

Steven scowled. "Lance!" He snapped. His face was dark and stony. "That's enough."

The Indigo Champion glared at Steven, the first sign of discord Ash had seen between the two. He curiously watched the interaction, although he couldn't say that he liked it.

"He stopped Pierce. I think that you should let him know why you were so invested in taking him down." Lance growled, standing up from his chair. Steven did the same, meeting Lance's glare with his own flinty stare. Ash noticed that Lance positively dwarfed the slight build of Steven. "It's not that bad."

Ash just continued watching, doing his best to stay out of it. He had to admit that he was curious over what was going on. The Champions seemed to be very good friends. It was odd for them to be even the least bit hostile to each other.

The two Masters stared each other down for several more seconds before Steven relented. He sighed and sat back down. "Fine."

Lance didn't smile, but he relaxed a bit and followed suit. He kept a watchful eye on Steven.

"What's going on?" Ash asked confusedly, figuring that now was the best time to ask. Steven just frowned and glanced away.

"Well, Lance thinks that I should give you a bit of background on Pierce." Steven said calmly, face losing some of its tenseness. He still frowned, but he seemed less bitter. "Do you remember why I came to Kanto?"

Ash's mind flashed back to their first meeting. "Something about looking for rare stones, right? You mentioned the Moon Stone."

"That's right." Steven said with a smile before frowning again. "I told you the truth, just not all of it. You remember how I told you that Pierce was from Hoenn?"

The younger trainer nodded slowly, not seeing where this was going until a remark from Pierce came to the forefront of his mind.

"You should run while you can! My dear cousin is still occupied in the warehouse and won't be able to save you this time."

Pierce's haughty, aristocratic tones echoed in his mind, causing Ash to shudder as a wave of hatred rolled through him. He hadn't understood the remark at the time considering that he had adrenaline pumping through his veins and much more important issues to deal with – a powerful, murderous Metagross, for instance. But now he put it all together. The context made sense now that he had time to think about it.

"He said something about his cousin." Ash frowned, eyes narrowed. "He said that his cousin wouldn't be able to save me that time." He paused for a moment. "You're Pierce's cousin." Ash said flatly.

Steven's glance away from Ash was all he needed to know. Ash's frown grew. He wasn't really sure what to feel. Steven didn't mean any harm by it, and it wasn't like he was obligated to tell Ash that he was related to the man that tried to kill him after they first met, but the former Champion should have told Ash after they actually took the fight to Pierce.

"It's not something I'm especially proud of." Steven replied quietly, pulling his head up but still looking past Ash. "He's done terrible things, more than you could ever know. He's my blood," the Master spat, suddenly bitter ", but he's no family of mine."

Ash cocked his head and just silently watched Steven, waiting for the man to continue. Steven had a faraway look in his eyes, far from his usual determined expression.

He took the time to examine Steven. Now that Ash knew what he was looking for, it was easy to find. The former Champion had several similarities to Pierce, although nothing that would really draw attention. Both of them had silver hair, although Pierce had more of a blue tinge to it. Their faces had a similar bone structure, although where the aristocratic features made Pierce seem cruel and arrogant they made Steven look commanding, a Champion.

Lance leaned back in his chair, eyes watchful with an ambiguous emotion behind them.

"Let me tell you about him. It's about time it came out. I won't go into a lot of detail." Steven told Ash, frowning as he began. "I'll tell you the basics. He was never nice, even as a child, but he was polite and charming enough. Took to my family's status quite well. Better than I did, at any rate. Still, if I was ever around him long enough I was disturbed. There was just something not quite right about him. He lied just a bit too much; everything he did just seemed too well rehearsed. So I stayed away from him. We were never particularly close."

Steven's face darkened. "But he never did anything really bad as far as I know. Just took his jokes and pettiness just a little bit too far. It wasn't until we were both about twenty-three that he showed his true colors. That was just after I'd become Champion. About six months after winning the title from Drake, I got news. My family protects a beldum colony." He explained. "Every member of my family gets one as a starter, whether they're going on a journey or not. It's where I got Metagross and Pierce got his."

Ash noticed Steven's fingers unconsciously tap two of the pokeballs at his waist as he told him that. He quickly returned his attention to the Champion's tale.

"Anyways, I got news from my father that the entire colony had been taken." Steven said with a scowl. His fists clenched at the memory. "They were our pokemon, our neighbors and friends for generations. They would have swarmed anyone that came within a mile of their mine. Considering that Pierce disappeared the next day and had been acting strange for the past few months, we realized that he must have been connected to it rather quickly."

"I began my hunt for him. There was no League involvement until one of an agent tasked with stopping Team Rocket's advancement into Hoenn reported seeing Pierce attacking a League group with his Metagross. That's when I began my search in earnest." Steven sighed before continuing.

"It took me a year, but I finally managed to track him down to the Rocket's base in Hoenn. He'd taken control of the Hoenn branch and was promoted to Executive, I later learned. I led the attack on it and we permanently removed Team Rocket from Hoenn. We already had our own Teams to worry about."

The Champion's eyes darkened and he scowled. "We drove them off and arrested almost all of them, but what we found wasn't pleasant. Almost every single Rocket had a beldum or one of its evolutions. Pierce's second-in-command had a metagross, although it was badly trained. But we found what happened to the one's that weren't used for the Hoenn branch. Most were experimented on, forced to fuse into metang or metagross before they were even mature enough to know what they were. The results…weren't pretty. Most were permanently insane."

Ash sympathized with Steven. He'd never been in that exact situation, but he'd seen the experiments and drugs the Rockets pumped into pokemon. Just the memories made him furious. Infernus had almost been amongst their number.

"You've seen what a metagross can do." Steven said softly. "Even a badly trained or inexperienced one is capable of wreaking havoc. Before trainers, a single metagross could destroy an entire town in a day. Metagross are one of the two most powerful pokemon species in Hoenn. They are only matched by salamence in Hoenn and only a few other species in the entire world. When they were driven insane by the process, most of them dealt with it the only way they could: Rage. We tried to fix them, but Metagross told me that they were unfixable." Steven said sorrowfully, his fists white as he clenched them.

The younger trainer had a bad feeling about what Steven was going to say next. There was only one solution when dealing with frenzied pokemon that powerful. Locking them away wouldn't work since they could tear their way out of anything thanks to their immense strength and it would be cruel to entomb them forever. Metagross were nearly immortal, or so Steven had said. They were creatures of steel, living but undying until they were destroyed. And if Team Rocket discovered their prison and released them…

"You know what we had to do." The former Champion said tightly. "There was no other way."

Ash didn't say anything. He just sighed and looked away. There wasn't anything to say to that anyways.

Steven wasn't done, however. "As you might have guessed, Pierce escaped. I looked for him, but it was another year or so before Lance sent me word that Pierce had been spotted in Kanto. I always expected him to be in the Rocket homeland, but I never had a chance to look."

The Master leaned back into his chair and closed his eyes. "I think you know what happened next. I gave my title to Wallace after he proved capable and came to Kanto. It was time for a vacation anyways. There are lots of rare stones in Kanto that haven't been swept up yet and a few legendary ones that I wanted to seek out. Pierce was my main objective, but the Rockets disappeared whenever I drew near."

"Until Mt. Moon." Ash interjected, the memories flashing through his head.

"Until Mt. Moon." Steven repeated with a smile. "It was actually pure chance that I came across him. I had been looking for the Moon Stone earlier, but I noticed something was wrong when the zubats disappeared. You can imagine my surprise when I found their operation. I called in the League and waited for a prime opportunity to strike, but Pierce forced my hand."

Ash nodded slowly. That would be when he, Jonathan and Amelia were being smothered by Muk.

"I caught him and had him locked up." Steven said with a slight smile, although it quickly shifted back into the frown he'd worn this entire conversation. "But his location was somehow discovered. He and other captured Rockets were all broken out of the facility they were imprisoned in. Considering that it was completely destroyed otherwise, we suspect that something extremely powerful did the work."

The trainer frowned as realized something. "You think that the thing that blew up the St. Anne did it?"

"Exactly." Steven smiled. Just as before, however, it returned to being a puzzled frown. "Unfortunately, I have no idea what it is. It's powerful, far beyond even the strongest of alakazam. But it can't be a legendary. From what little we know of them, none would ever help Team Rocket. There has to be another explanation."

Ash didn't say anything. Again, there was nothing to say to that.

Steven shook his head. "I apologize. I went off track. Anyways, after he was broken out of prison, Lance and I went on high alert."

Ash looked over at Lance.

The Indigo Champion nodded. "Pierce is dangerous. He was ruthless and had a metagross underneath his control. Even most gym leaders would be helpless against him and the police wouldn't be able to fight off the numbers and power he wielded. The St. Anne just proved my fears once and for all." Lance sighed, closing his eyes. "That's when I began fighting the Rockets in earnest. They'd never been much of a threat before. Dangerous, yes, but the police were containing them. The St. Anne proved otherwise."

"What did you do?" Ash asked with a quizzical cock of his head. He hadn't heard of any new measures taken against the Rockets.

Lance looked surprised. "You mean you never heard?" He asked incredulously. "The week after the St. Anne Tragedy I increased measures against them. Hypno and alakazam were authorized against anyone wearing a Team Rocket uniform, no permission needed. Rockets were officially terrorists."

"I guess I was on the road that week." Ash said with a shrug, although he was a little bit concerned about the psychics. "Couldn't those psychics be used to abuse people, though?"

The Indigo Champion fervently shook his head. "Sabrina and an Elite Four hopeful named Will – he won the League two years ago and has been training with us since – trained them personally. They're incorruptible and won't allow the abuse of innocents."

Ash nodded in understanding. That made sense. He actually did remember Will vaguely from the Indigo Conference a few years ago. Will had managed to beat Lorelei and Bruno, although Agatha tore him apart.

"Anyways, I think we should let Steven tell the rest of his story." Lance told Ash. Steven gave him a nod.

"Thank you, Lance. After you told me that Pierce was the one that led the attack on the St. Anne, I had a trail again." Steven said calmly. He seemed to have taken the reprieve Lance gave him and used it wisely. Most of his anger was gone. "I knew that he was still trusted and that he would probably be in hiding for a while. Of course, it was the second Rocket Executive you sent us that allowed me to get started."

He smiled at the praise. "Petrel?"

"Indeed. I spoke to him several days after he was captured. He was surprisingly helpful." Steven said with a frown. "He told me information on Pierce and another Executive named Proton. We're still looking for Proton, but Petrel did give us good information on Pierce. All that kept us from taking Pierce were the Sevii Islands themselves."

Steven took a deep breath. Ash figured he was probably tired of talking for now. He'd been going for the last ten minutes.

"It took a week for us to be allowed to bring the League into the Islands." Lance elaborated. He took another chug from his bottle before continuing. "After that we sent Lorelei with about a hundred trainers. Normally Bruno would have gone, but Lorelei was born in those islands. She knows them better than anyone."

"After the League managed to quarantine the spread of the Rockets and force them back to just a few of the Islands, we came in." Steven began. "I contacted Professor Oak and got him to give me your location since I assumed you would be strong enough to hold your own and deserved a chance to strike back at Pierce. I'm glad I was right about that." He said with a small smile. "After that we found you at Blaine's gym and you know the rest."

Ash sat back and thought. He'd learned a lot more than he'd expected, about Pierce and Steven's mission to bring him in. He wasn't really angry with Steven to begin with. A little annoyed, but even that was fading. Hopefully Steven trusted him enough to tell him important things like that in the future, though.

He noticed that Steven looked a little anxious. Lance seemed to approve of Steven's choice to tell him, though, and had a slight smile on his face. Ash thought on everything for a bit longer.

"I don't hold it against you." Ash finally admitted. "I wish you would have told me before I heard it from Pierce, but the past's the past. Nothing can change that."

The former Champion smiled, but Lance interrupted them and stood up, towering over both the trainer and the former Hoenn Champion.

"Good, good. Now everything's fine." He laughed. Lance took another swig of whatever was in that bottle. Ash thought he should probably lay off of it. "So, how about this. We've had enough dark and dreary events and stories for the past few days. We just hurt Team Rocket badly! We should be happy!"

Lance let out a boisterous laugh and regally sat back down into his chair. Ash couldn't help but grin at the display and ignored the slight burning in his muscles. Steven had an amused smile on his face as well.

The Indigo Champion suddenly reached underneath the table and pulled up two more suspicious bottles. He handed one over to Steven, who looked at it with a distasteful look on his face and left it sitting on the small wooden table. Lance smirked and handed over the much smaller bottle to Ash.

Ash looked at it suspiciously. He really didn't think that he should even be holding the bottle. Nevertheless, when Lance gave him a "go on" motion, Ash took the cap off and smelled the bottle.

He recoiled from the bottle with a disgusted look on his face, nearly dropping it. Lance laughed and took the bottle from him in an easy, smooth movement.

"I figured that would happen." The Indigo Champion laughed again as he placed the bottle under the table. "You do seem like a Steven."

"A Steven?" Ash asked curiously. Steven rolled his eyes and pushed his own bottle over to Lance, who happily took it back.

"Someone who doesn't do anything fun." Lance said as he leaned back in his chair, sending a joking smirk towards Steven.

"Someone who doesn't do anything stupid." Steven corrected drily. "And really, Lance? Trying to give an eleven year old alcohol?"

Lance shrugged. "Just a little bit. One celebration drink isn't going to hurt him. Besides, he needs to loosen up a bit."

Ash blinked and stared at Lance. The Champion caught him staring and laughed again. "Well, since Steven doesn't follow the traditional way to celebrate our victory, I guess we'll just have to pass the time a different way. Anyways, did either of you ever hear about that time I beat…"

He grinned as Lance went off into a rather entertaining story and relaxed. It was a nice day and Lance was right – he needed to loosen up. For today, at least.

The time passed rather quickly after that.

XX

The familiar volcano of Cinnabar loomed in the distance, the only part of Cinnabar Island that was actually visible. Ash stared at it for a moment before heading back to his chair. He'd gotten restless of sitting in one place for so long, but he wasn't quite sure if the pain of getting up and walking around was worth it.

Steven watched him as he walked back over to his chair on unsteady legs. The former Champion glanced over to Lance. "I think it's time that we give him his rewards. I've received a message saying that the crowds are going to be miserable on Cinnabar. It's simpler to do it now."

"Alright." Lance shrugged. "Sit down, Ash. I've got something for you."

Ash watched Lance pull a pokeball off of his belt with anticipation. Lance casually released his absolutely massive Dragonite, who caused the small ship to sink a little in the front.

Dragonite patted Lance on the back and cheerfully waved at Ash and Steven. They both returned it with a smile.

"Dragonite, remember what I told you this morning?" Lance said. Dragonite nodded and casually pulled a loose, awkwardly placed scale from its body and handed the scale to Lance. A new scale, bright and perfectly placed, was revealed to be underneath the old one.

"Here's your reward from me." Lance told Ash, handing him the Dragon Scale. Ash looked at it in awe. The scale was small compared to Dragonite's new one and it was still larger than his hand. It weighed about half a pound and was nearly an inch thick.

"I think you deserve a dragon of your own." The Indigo Champion grinned. "You've earned it."

Ash's eyes were wide and excited as he placed the Dragon Scale into his pack. He'd expected something like this, but actually receiving a gift from Lance was an honor in itself. The fact that it was from one of Lance's own prized dragons and would help him a lot was even better.

"Thanks!" He exclaimed, his grin as wide as it could be. Lance just smiled back and sat back down, motioning for Ash to look at Steven.

Steven didn't hand him anything, but remained sitting. "I have the same gift for you as Lance – something that will make you a better trainer and evolve your Nidorino."

"A moon stone?" Ash said, a bit confused as to why Steven wasn't handing him anything. The former Champion smiled.

"Not just a moon stone. A shard of THE Moon Stone." Steven said, smiling as he mimicked their first conversation about it. "Legends around Mt. Moon claim that the Moon Stone makes pokemon that live around it more powerful, pokemon that evolve from it or pieces of it even moreso."

The former Champion dug around in his suit pocket and handed Ash a tiny shard of stone. Ash took it carefully, noting its glossy, smooth texture before examining it more closely. It was impossibly black, seeming to suck all the nearby light into it. No light was reflected.

Ash placed the evolutionary stone into one of his storage compartments. There was no way he would just allow it to just be in his bag. A moon stone was rare enough, fetching thousands of dollars on average. It was a precious thing. But a shard of the Moon Stone? It was priceless.

"It's a little small, but it should be more than potent enough for Nidorino to evolve." Steven explained. "I only took a small sample. The Moon Stone is too important to the pokemon of the mountain to take any more."

"Thanks." Ash said gratefully, amazed that Steven had given him such a unique gift. He wouldn't be able to use it for another few weeks since it wouldn't be safe for Nidorino to evolve until after he had healed, but the fact that he had the shard was much more important.

He tried to extend his gratitude, but Steven just smiled and nodded. Apparently the man knew what the gift meant to Ash.

"You're welcome." Steven said. "By the way, I recommend that you pay a visit to Mt. Moon sometime during your journey. The journey to the Moon Stone is a difficult one, but it is nearly sacred to pokemon that evolve from it. It is a sort of status symbol, or so Metagross tells me."

Ash almost frowned at the mention of a metagross, but held it back. He wouldn't let a single bad experience color his views of the entire species.

"I'll be sure to do that." He commented. "Where are you guys going after this?"

Lance entered the conversation. He stepped away from the large dragon-type and Dragonite suddenly took off, the absence of its massive weight allowing the boat to rise up a few inches. It sped towards Cinnabar Island at an incredible speed, vanishing from Ash's sight after a few moments.

"Dragonite's just going to deliver a message to the harbor master at Cinnabar. He needs to know to prepare for the return of the League forces and Lorelei." Lance explained when Ash looked questioningly at him. "Anyways, I'm headed back to Indigo Plateau. We've got Pierce, but there are plenty of other Team Rocket cells. Perhaps Petrel will give us the location of their headquarters now that Pierce is out of the picture."

"I'm returning to Hoenn." Steven frowned. "Pierce's trial needs to be protected, and Wallace has other duties at the moment. In addition," he continued, his face darkening, "my family and I have some matters to discuss with Pierce. It wouldn't do for me to be absent."

Ash nodded, although he was a bit disappointed. He liked Steven. Even if he knew it was necessary, he didn't want the former Champion leaving.

"I'll be back in a few months." Steven assured him when he saw the disappointed look on Ash's face. He smiled. "I still have a vacation to catch up on, after all."

The trainer grinned. Lance suddenly looked over at the rapidly nearing Cinnabar Island. "Ash, do you have any idea where you're going now?"

Ash nodded. "I'm going home for a few days. Nidorino needs to relax and I'd like to see some of my other pokemon."

Lance looked thoughtful for a moment. "You live near Professor Oak in Pallet Town, right?"

He nodded slowly, not sure where Lance was going with this. The Champion glanced over at him. "Do you have transportation ready?"

Ash shook his head. He hadn't really thought about actually getting there. Since there were plenty of ferries that he could take, it hadn't seemed like it would be much of a problem. It would be quite expensive, but he was hardly strapped for cash at the moment.

"Well, you should thank me." Lance smirked, crossing his arms over his broad chest. "It's Cinnabar's tourist season. You won't find a ferry to anywhere other than the largest port towns and cities."

He cocked his head at the Indigo Champion, hardly understanding why he should be thanking him for that. It sounded much more inconvenient than anything else.

"The message Dragonite is carrying just arranged for a League ferry to take you wherever you need to go." Lance said with a wide grin. "It'll be waiting for you next to where we stop. Just head off of this ship and get onto that one. The captain will get you to Pallet Town as fast as he can."

Ash blinked, surprised by Lance's thoughtfulness. "Thanks! Do I have to show him any identification?"

Lance shook his head as he glanced back over to the growing form of Cinnabar Island. "No. All you need to tell him is that I sent you over."

"Alright, then." Ash shrugged. He leaned back into his beach chair and stared at Cinnabar. It would be nice to go back to Pallet Town. He needed a short break.

XX

"Welcome aboard, trainer!" A short, balding man greeted as Ash tiredly stepped onto the ship. He was very sore and the enhanced recovery had taken all of his stamina. "Champion Lance himself called and gave orders for me to take you wherever you want to go."

Ash grinned exhaustedly at the exuberant man. "Thanks. Could you take me to Pallet Town?"

"Of course!" The man cried out. "If I remember right, that's about a two day journey." The man scanned Ash over. "You look exhausted. Would you like me to show you to your room?"

"Yes, please." Ash responded. About two days of sleep sounded very good at the moment.

"My name's Taggart, by the way." The sailor said as he led Ash into one of the three cabins. "There's plenty of food in the pantries of your room if you ever get hungry, and if you need anything just come to me. You've got free reign of the ship, so feel free to wander around."

Ash nodded his understanding and thanks towards the man as Taggart showed him his room. Taggart slid a card key into the door in order to unlock it before handing the key over to Ash. He gratefully took it and placed it into his jacket pocket.

"And here you are." Taggart said jovially, waving Ash in. "Like I said, if you need anything just come and get me."

"Thanks!" Ash replied gratefully. Taggart just smiled and waved his gratitude away before leaving.

Ash closed the door and locked it before turning around and examining the room. He expected it to be like the ferry he had taken to Cinnabar from Fuschia: dreary, plain, and uncomfortable.

What he found was anything but. It was more like the lavish interior of the St. Anne than anything else, practically reeking comfort. There were several large, soft looking beds for pokemon and one massive bed for him. Four perches were spread throughout the room, each large enough to hold Plume. An absolutely massive aquarium dominated an entire wall. Torrent would definitely be glad to be out of his pokeball.

He grinned as he glanced around the opulent room again. Of course Lance would arrange for him to have quarters like this. Ash quickly released all of his friends except for Infernus. Even with the money Lance had given to him he wasn't sure if he could afford to replace all of this if Infernus burned it down.

All of his friends did what he expected of them by now. Nidorino loyally took a seat by his side and gently rubbed his head against Ash's leg.

Plume chirped and lightly nipped at Ash's hat before hopping over to where she could listen to him speak. Dazed cocked her head and blinked happily at him before standing perfectly still, staring blankly at the bright lights that illuminated the room. She still hadn't gotten out of that habit.

He walked over to the aquarium and released Torrent into the water. Torrent blinked in surprise at being released before his black eyes widened and focused on Ash. The seadra rammed up into the glass in his attempt to touch Ash. Ash just grinned at his friend.

"Hey, Torrent. You did great the other day. We couldn't have gotten that grunt without you."

Torrent puffed up in pride at the praise. He snorted a few bubbles out before ramming the glass again. The thick, powerful material held up quite well against the force. It didn't even show a hint of cracking. Still, Ash would prefer that Torrent not break anything.

"That's enough of that." He chided gently. Torrent cocked his spiky head and gently rammed again, keeping his head against the cool glass. Ash smiled and lightly tapped the area where Torrent's head was pressed. "I've got some good news for you, by the way. I'll tell you in a minute."

His friend snorted bubbles before pulling himself away from the glass. Ash smiled at him again before turning to the rest of his friends and releasing Tangela.

The grass-type blinked in confusion and looked around before settling its happy gaze on Ash. He yelped as Tangela pulled him into a hug with his powerful vines, but laughed and lightly returned it. Tangela tapped him on the forehead with one of his blue vines before letting Ash up.

"Hey, everybody." Ash said with a tired grin. His friends were all incredibly attentive to him, peering at him with loyal eyes. "You all did great fighting the Rockets. Pierce got arrested and the others won't be seeing the light of day for a long time."

Nidorino grunted happily from beside him. Dazed's eyes lit up at the mention of Pierce being arrested, as did Plume's, although the flying-type's sharp eyes also narrowed in anger. Ash glanced over at Torrent. He seemed particularly pleased as well, despite the hatred burning in his eyes at the mention of the Executive.

They were the pokemon that had been with him at Mt. Moon or during the sinking of the St. Anne. Plume hadn't gotten a chance to actually encounter Pierce outside of the battle on Chronos Island, but she hated him with a passion after he had first threatened Ash. Nidorino held the same hatred, although he had actually met Pierce before the Executive stole him.

Torrent only knew of him, but the water-type was just as protective as Ash of the rest. The fact that Pierce had tried to kill him on the St. Anne had made just as deep a mark on Torrent as it had Ash. He was actually glad that Torrent had never gotten a chance to battle Pierce. While he would have been useful Ash wouldn't have been able to keep him from killing the man.

Dazed was much the same. Although less outwardly emotional than the rest of his friends, Dazed held a dark streak when it came to protecting him. He was surprised that she hadn't attempted to attack Pierce during their battle, although he supposed that she recognized Metagross as a greater threat.

Tangela didn't even seem to know who Pierce was and just cocked his head at Ash in confusion. Ash smiled at him, causing the grass-type to make his odd, happy noise.

"Anyways, we're headed back home." Ash continued, unable to hold back a grin. He loved travelling and training, but it would be nice to see his mother and Professor Oak again. Maybe Jonathan and Amelia would be there.

But he noticed that most of his team just looked confused at that. He gave a mental sigh. Of course. Only Nidorino had been to Pallet Town, and even that was only for about an hour.

"Anyways," he repeated, "it's going to be a two-day journey. We won't be doing anything, so all of you can rest or do whatever you want. We've had a hard week."

Nidorino snorted in agreement. Ash rolled his eyes. "So, I'm going to bed soon. The rest of you are free to do whatever you want."

Plume chirped at him and lightly pecked his head. Ash stumbled back a bit, making him wince as his sore muscles screamed in pain. He didn't let it show aside from that, though, and just smiled at Plume. She chirped again and fluttered over to one of the massive wooden perches.

Dazed just blinked at him with an inscrutable expression and turned her focus back to the bright light, completely motionless in her concentration. Ash grinned at her as he slowly walked over to the massive, comfortable looking bed.

His thoughts suddenly flashed to his injured friend. "Hey, Nidorino, do you want me to just release you onto one of the beds?"

Nidorino snorted at him and shook his head. Ash watched sadly as his friend slowly hobbled over to the bed, keeping his head high despite his pain. Despite his pity for Nidorino, Ash couldn't help but be proud. His friend was tough and prideful. No injury would hold him back for long.

His friend carefully leapt onto the bed beside Ash. Ash smiled softly and patted his friend's head. Before he could lay down and took a nap, however, he realized that he'd forgotten to give Nidorino and Torrent the good news.

Ash glanced down at Nidorino. "Hey, buddy, I forgot to tell you something."

Nidorino twisted his head upward and stared at Ash curiously. The trainer grinned. "We got a reward from Lance and Steven. I know you won't be able to use it for a while, but I figured that I should tell you what Steven gave me."

The poison-type grunted questioningly, apparently a little annoyed by Ash postponing the question. Ash laughed. "Okay, I'll tell you. Steven gave me a moon stone, one of the fragments from the Moon Stone of Mt. Moon."

His friend snapped up, looking at Ash with awe in his eyes. If he wasn't so injured Nidorino probably would have tried to tackle Ash in excitement. As he was, however, he just nudged Ash and licked his face.

He grinned as the area Nidorino licked began tingling from the weak toxins in Nidorino's mouth. Ash gently patted Nidorino again before reaching into his pack.

"You're still too injured to use it yet, but when you've fully recovered I'll let you evolve." Ash explained. "But you can see it. Just make sure not to touch it."

Nidorino nodded excitedly, eyes locked on Ash's pack. When Ash pulled the glistening, inky-black stone from the storage compartment his friend nearly salivated. The poison-type just stared at the small sliver of black rock, enraptured in its appearance.

"I'll leave it out so that you can look at it, but promise that you won't get close to it." Ash said sternly. Nidorino nodded without a second thought, his ears twitching at Ash's voice. His eyes never left the shard. "Alright then. Make sure to rest a little."

Nidorino nodded again. Ash sighed and took the Dragon Scale out of his pack. The dragonite scale was heavy in his hand as he walked over to Torrent's aquarium, his sore muscles screaming in protest.

Torrent eyed the scale with barely restrained excitement. When Ash drew closer, Torrent suddenly rammed into the glass at full strength, futilely trying to get to the Dragon Scale in Ash's hands.

"Calm down, Torrent."Ash said softly. Torrent snapped out of his frenzy at Ash's words, suddenly becoming calm and complacent. "Thanks. Lance gave me this."

He placed the Dragon Scale up against the smooth glass of the aquarium. Torrent floated closer until his long snout was pressed against the wall. The seadra stared at the Dragon Scale in awe, shivering in excitement.

"Do you think you're ready to evolve?" Ash asked seriously. "I know that you're pretty young, but you're definitely strong enough. This is up to you."

Torrent didn't even hesitate before nodding. Ash grinned.

"Alright. I'll give you the Dragon Scale when we get to Pallet Town." Ash said. Torrent wriggled excitedly and began floating around backwards. He grinned. "It'll be nice to have you around more often."

Torrent snorted bubbles in agreement and continued to swim around the tank. Ash watched him for a while with a smile on his face as he thought of the coming evolution.

Seadra were almost unique in their method of evolution. They had latent genes that wouldn't be expressed until they came into contact with draconic DNA. The contact would cause the dragon-type DNA to transfer an activator, which would cause the latent genes to suddenly activate in every cell in a fast chain reaction and be expressed, resulting in the evolution into kingdra.

Technically they could evolve into kingdra from any part of a dragon-type or even when battling a dragon, but there was a reason the Dragon Scale was the most common method. Aside from the fact that dragon-types were incredibly rare, the simplest and most pain-free way was to simply get a scale. They were the only part that would be shed into the ocean by aquatic dragonair and dratini, and a mere touch in combat wouldn't allow the activator to work.

At least, that was what his pokedex said. He understood the gist of it, but didn't really dwell too much on the scientific aspects. All Ash needed to know was that he just had to touch the Dragon Scale to Torrent for a few seconds and then he would evolve.

He smiled at Torrent one last time before hobbling back over to the large bed. Nidorino had adjusted to a more comfortable position and was already asleep, his exhaustion overpowering his obsession with the moon stone shard.

Ash picked up the shard and placed it into the storage compartment along with the Dragon Scale. Both of his friends were completely obsessed with their respective evolutionary items and he would like to be able to talk to them over the next few days.

Once they were safely packed away, Ash looked over at Tangela. His newest partner was walking around and looking at each of the exhausted pokemon, confused as to what he should do.

Ash felt guilty for leaving his new friend like that. Tangela seemed lost.

"Tangela." Ash softly called out, careful to not wake Nidorino. Tangela gurgled happily and bounced over to him before tapping him on the forehead with a vine. He grinned and pointed at Dazed. She had turned the lights out and was now staring out the window, enraptured by the bright light of the sun. "Dazed could use some company, and I'm sure you'd love to get some sun. Most of us are going to be asleep."

Tangela made his odd noise and affectionately tapped Ash's forehead again before waddling over next to Dazed. She gave him a cursory glance before returning to her observation. The grass-type lightly prodded her with a curious vine before he gracelessly fell over and basked in the sunlight.

After Tangela was happy, Ash got underneath the covers and relaxed his head into the soft pillow. Exhaustion overcame him instantly, and he was asleep within seconds.

He had no dreams.

XX

Ash strolled through Pallet hesitantly, surprised at just how foreign the place seemed. It was his hometown, but now it seemed as strange and unfamiliar as any of the great cities he had visited.

He had just disembarked from the ship. Taggart had waved him goodbye and Ash had to admit that he was a bit sad to leave the man and the ship. The sailor was good company on the few occasions that Ash emerged from his room and his cabin itself was magnificent.

Of the two days they had sailed, Ash spent about a day and a half of it sleeping or resting. Any other time was spent eating or talking to his pokemon. It was the most he'd relaxed since beginning his journey and was certainly the most comfortable he'd been.

All of his pokemon had enjoyed the ride just as much. Dazed often left the room and explored the ship. She could never sleep, so there wasn't as much appeal in lazing about all day. Torrent wasn't quite as tired as the others, so he spent most of his spare time trying to break the glass of the aquarium, although he never even managed a crack.

The two days of rest did Nidorino good. He wasn't hobbling around anymore, although his movements were still stiffer and displayed obvious pain. Ash suspected he would be able to move freely within another two or three days.

Right now Dazed was shuffling alongside him, able to easily keep up thanks to him still being sore and weak. Ash wasn't sure what had made him weaker, the explosion that caused the damage in the first place or the healing that had drained most of his vitality.

He had his cap lowered over his eyes at the moment. Ash was aware of the curious gazes of Pallet's few inhabitants focused on him. Some of them probably guessed who he was, considering that not many new trainers visited Pallet. Professor Oak didn't hand out starter pokemon to just anyone, after all.

Ash wasn't sure what day it was, so he walked over to the restaurant his mother owned and operated. If it was a weekday she'd be working there. If not she'd be at Professor Oak's or working around the house.

Dazed attracted more attention than he did, Ash noticed. Most people looked at the psychic-type warily, fearful of the hypno. Ash frowned at that. Those stupid stories about hypno made everyone distrust them. Dazed wouldn't hurt anyone as long as they didn't try to hurt her.

It only took a few minutes to reach the restaurant, even with his slowed pace. Despite how strange and odd his hometown was to him, Ash could never get lost in it. He remembered every building and every road of the small town.

The restaurant was empty and dark. Ash smiled. That meant it was a weekend and he would actually have time to talk to his mother without her work getting in the way.

He made his way over to the housing section of Pallet, following the worn dirt path in a daze. It was a short journey since his mom wanted to have work close to home and he was there in just two minutes. There were a lot less people walking around when he neared the houses. Most were probably working at the small harbor or at Professor Oak's.

When Ash finally made it to his house, he just stared for a moment, barely believing that he was back here. It had been about four months since he'd left on his journey. He couldn't believe that he had actually come back to Pallet Town.

Dazed tapped him on the shoulder, yanking him out of his trance.

"Thanks." He smiled. Dazed returned the smile with her sleepy, expressive eyes before Ash walked up to the door. Ash rang the doorbell and waited to see if his mom would answer. While he waited he looked over at the large hill that Professor Oak's laboratory was located at. It overlooked all of Pallet, the dominant feature of the town. Its windmill sluggishly churned, barely visible from where he was standing.

He snapped his attention to the door as it was suddenly opened, revealing the familiar face of his mother. She looked at him oddly, clearly not recognizing him. Ash grinned and pulled his hat up, showing his face.

"Hey, mom."

Ash's eyes widened and he wheezed as his mother pulled him into a rib-shattering hug. He managed to awkwardly return the hug, despite the fact that his arms were essentially crushed. His mother didn't let go of him for another few seconds.

When she finally let him go, Ash took a few deep breaths and winced as he rubbed his ribs. It looked like he would be bruised even worse tomorrow. Nevertheless, he grinned at his mom.

She had faint traces of tears in her eyes as she looked down at him. "Oh, Ash! I'm so glad to see you again! Why didn't you tell me you were coming? I would have cleaned everything up and made you something to eat and –"

"It's fine, Mom." Ash replied, still grinning widely. He couldn't believe how happy he was right now. "I wanted it to be a surprise."

His mom wiped her eyes. "Of course. Come in, I'm sure you must be starving."

Ash's eyes lit up. He might have had plenty of good food onboard the League ship, but nothing measured up to his mom's cooking. The trainer nearly dashed into the house after his mother, pausing only to keep the door open for Dazed.

He thanked his mother before finding a place to sit. The house looked just the way he remembered it. Ash sighed and stared at everything that was so familiar, yet so foreign. It was going to be strange staying in Pallet Town.

XX

"So, who's your friend?" His mom questioned as he finished eating. Ash smiled and looked over at Dazed. She was staring at a clock, tracing its ticking hands with her lightly furred fingers.

"That's Dazed." Ash replied, still watching his friend curiously. "She's my fourth pokemon."

His mom hummed for a moment to signify her understanding. "I guess you never told me about your pokemon. I've met the ones at the Corral, but I don't know any of the others."

A grin split Ash's face. Now that he was done eating he was more than happy to show his friends off to his mother. "Do you want to see them?"

His mom's eyes lit up. Ash sometimes forgot that she was as interested in pokemon as he was. She had been studying to become a Pokemon Professor before she'd met his father, after all.

"Of course!" She exclaimed, quickly standing up and taking his clean plate. "Just let me clean everything up and you can show me."

Ash scratched his head. He didn't want to wait to show his mother his pokemon, but he didn't want to imagine what Infernus would do if he was released inside a house. Torrent wouldn't be too happy about it either, but at least he wouldn't burn it down.

"A few of my pokemon probably wouldn't be too happy inside a house." He explained. "Could we go over to the Corral? I want to see my other pokemon anyways."

His mom nodded excitedly. She seemed even more excited than he was. "I'll just be a minute!"

He smiled and relaxed in his chair. Dazed shuffled over to him, glancing at his mother curiously as she furiously scrubbed dishes and put them away.

"That's my mom." He whispered to Dazed. She nodded in understanding but continued to stare at the woman. "Can you make sure that Infernus doesn't cause any trouble? Nidorino isn't up to it at the moment."

Dazed nodded again, her eyes showing a bit of amusement. Ash shook his head and looked over to his mom. She had just finished getting everything put back up again.

"Let's go!" She said. Ash nodded and stood up, leaving the house after his mother exited. Dazed shuffled after them.

Ash had a smile on his face the entire time. It was nice to be around his mom again. Just talking over the videophone wasn't the same.

XX

As they neared Professor Oak's lab, his mom changed the topic. They'd been catching up a little bit. Ash informed her of how far he'd come, although he refrained from telling her about the Rockets just yet. Professor Oak's promise still weighed heavy on him, but he wanted to have a conflict free day with his mom before getting into the Rockets.

"So, where's Nidoran?" She asked him.

Ash frowned. "He got hurt a few days ago. He'll be fine, but he's not really up for moving around a lot right now."

"I'm sorry." His mother said comfortingly. "How'd he get injured?"

He glanced away. "Just a really tough fight."

His mom seemed to be a little suspicious, but left the topic. They'd just arrived at the laboratory and had rang the doorbell.

Both of them were quiet as they waited for Professor Oak. His mom seemed to want to touch upon a topic, but couldn't manage to get it out. Ash didn't want to force her to talk about something she was uncomfortable with, so he just remained silent.

Before that could happen, however, Professor Oak opened up the door. He had a friendly grin on his face as he saw them.

"Delia, Ash!" He exclaimed. "Come in, come in. Do you need anything? Are you hungry?"

"Oh no!" His mom replied, clasping her hands together. "Ash is actually here to show me his pokemon."

Professor Oak nodded and grew serious all of a sudden. "Ah, yes. I actually need to speak to you about your Golduck, Ash."

Ash inwardly groaned. He should have known that Golduck would cause trouble. "What did he do?"

"He's been attacking the other pokemon." Oak replied. He narrowed his eyes at Ash. "I know that you have difficulty with him, but you need to speak to him during your visit. If his aggression continues, I will either have to bring out dragonite or keep him in his pokeball for extended periods of time."

"Understood." Ash replied, his face hard. He liked Professor Oak. He wouldn't let Golduck cause any more trouble.

Professor Oak lightened up after that. "Anyways, I'll take you to see them."

The Professor led Ash and his mother to the wide fields of the Oak Corral. There were hundreds of different pokemon wandering around, playing or simply investigating the area. Most were grouped up with their own species.

Packs of growlithe – one led by an old, absolutely massive arcanine that Ash recognized as Professor Oak's – ran around, yipping and shooting small embers at each other. Rattata and raticate hissed whenever they came too close and some of the trees at the back of the fenced in area were completely filled with pidgey and several pidgeotto.

Ash grinned when he saw a large herd of nidoran congregating in the center of the largest field. They were led by a large nidoqueen. Members of both genders were present and several Nidorina sat in the midst of the group, playing with the young nidoran. Two nidorino guarded the group, eying the rest of the pokemon in the area distrustfully.

Oak noticed Ash's stare. "Ah, yes, how is your Nidoran coming along? I haven't seen him since you left my lab."

"He's doing great!" Ash grinned, happy to talk about his friend. Dazed rolled her eyes as she shuffled alongside him. He ignored her. "He evolved a few months ago, but he's hurt right now."

The Professor sent him a serious look, clearly asking him if Nidorino had been hurt against Team Rocket. Ash gave the man a guilty nod when his mother looked away for a moment. Oak sighed and shook his head.

"I suggest you keep him away from the herd. The two nidorino don't like newcomers. They barely tolerate the other pokemon at the Corral." Oak explained as they walked past the herd. Both nidorino growled and extended their barbs as they passed. Ash just snorted in amusement. Nidorino would easily beat both of them.

As it was Dazed's sleepy eyes widened in glee and her eyes glowed. Ash smiled as she used a weak psychic to kick up some dirt in the poison-types' faces. They sputtered and snorted before warily glancing around.

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