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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51. The Opening Ceremony Part 1

"How can I – oh, it's you!" Janine said cheerfully as Ash walked into the gym. Ash just stared at her. The older girl was hanging from some of the low rafters without any visible strain, casually spinning a long, wickedly curved knife that gleamed in the dim torchlight of the gym.

Janine elegantly spun the knife into a sheath and dropped from the long wooden beam and landed nimbly on her feet, just like Sneasel. He'd known that the members of the Fuchsia gym trained their bodies and minds alongside their pokemon, but seeing just a small demonstration was far more impressive than simply hearing about it.

"Did you find it?" She asked eagerly. Janine crossed her arms and leaned heavily on one leg as she regarded him with barely restrained anticipation.

"I did." Ash smiled lightly. His mind flashed back to the events earlier in the day. He'd only just gotten back and dropped his friends off at the Center. If everything went according to plan he'd leave Fuchsia tomorrow and return to Pallet until the Conference. "You didn't give it justice."

Janine gave him a wry grin. "Hey, I've only actually seen it once. All most people need to know is to stay away from that thing. Most people who think they can take it don't come back."

He thought back to Rhydon's absolute power over rock, honed over a millennium of travels and combat. Combined with its overwhelming physical strength he could believe that the foolhardy that didn't take Rhydon seriously would be killed by the creature. A sad, rare truth but a truth nonetheless.

"Ah, so you found the Old One and presumably defeated it. An impressive feat, particularly for one so young." A deep, raspy voice said into his ear. Ash reflexively leapt and turned around. He wasn't surprised to see the lithe, powerfully built form of Koga.

"You have grown much since I last met you, Ash Ketchum." Koga greeted with a dip of his head. Interest twinkled in his dark eyes. "Would you care for a brief spar? I have not had an entertaining battle for a month now."

Ash frowned and shook his head. "I'm sorry, but I can't. My friends are still recovering from their battle with Rhydon. They're in no condition to battle at the moment."

"Of course, of course." Koga allowed. He gracefully walked around Ash to stand by Janine, who stared up at her father with adoring eyes. "Will you stay in the Fuchsia territories long?"

"I have to leave for home. The Conference is too close for me to go around adventuring." Ash said with a half-smile.

"Two weeks." Koga murmured as he ponderingly stroked his chin. He eyed Ash with his perceptive gaze. "I trust you will give the people of the League a good show? They enjoy grandiose displays of power, as does the Champion Lance."

Ash smiled. "That he does." His expression turned more serious. "If that's what my friends want to do. I'd prefer to only use what I have to, though."

"Wise." Koga commented. He gave Janine a glance that sent her away. Once she was out of sight he analyzed Ash and stalked closer, although it seemed to be more of a result of his training than an attempt at intimidation. Ash gazed up at the taller man, whose face was cast in the shadows he called home thanks to the dim torchlight. "The Champion has spoken to the gym leaders of what occurred two weeks ago."

His blood froze for the briefest instant. All he could think of for several seconds were the azure suns that regarded him with baleful malevolence and the brief glimpse of vibrant pink before darkness consumed him.

"My apologies. I forget that your mind has not been trained to weather traumatizing situations." The ninja said softly. It created an unsettling effect when combined with his harsh, raspy voice. "Are you alright?"

"Yes." Ash sucked in a mouthful of oxygen to heat his blood once more. "I'm fine, sorry."

"Do not apologize." Koga said sharply. When Ash looked at him strangely his features relaxed. "Fear is not shameful. You are experienced and strong, but you are yet a child. The body may heal, but the mind is not always so resilient. It is such in your situation."

Koga sighed and looked weary. "Your mind will heal, given time. I advise that you speak to Sabrina, however. She may assist you with your mental ills."

"Thank you." Ash whispered, very tired all of a sudden. He had gotten over New Island for the most part. His memories weren't explicit enough for him to truly hold onto it, although he still remembered most of it quite clearly. But Koga had given him good advice. He was tired of his mind, which should have been his sanctum, leading him into horrors at the mere mention of Giovanni or Mewtwo. Perhaps Sabrina would be able to help him.

The gym leader smiled, which looked rather out of place on his stoic face. "You are welcome. However, it was my original intention to thank you. I do not know the full extent of your involvement, but Lance was adamant that you played a role in the neutralization of the Creature."

Ash made out to protest, but Koga raised a calloused hand. Perhaps Mewtwo's attempt to utterly destroy his mind had crippled the Creature, but Mew was the one that had fought Mewtwo to a standstill even before the merge. Ash had only been of assistance through a miraculous stroke of luck and Mewtwo's own arrogance.

"I do not know what occurred and you do not need to tell me." Koga said firmly. "What's done is done and I do not seek to reopen scabbing wounds. I simply desire to thank you for whatever role you played, no matter how small. My people suffered greatly under the Creature's wrath and you helped to stop it."

Koga somberly bowed his head in respect. "Hundreds died and many more were made homeless, but it could have been many times worse. Thank you for your assistance. Fuchsia and the clan of Koga is in your debt. Should you ever require aid we will be waiting."

Ash nodded gratefully, a little stunned. Not many people could claim to have Koga owe them favors. It wasn't as though he often gave them out. Koga was highly self-sufficient. His small force was enough to police his entire territory, so long as there were a few Rangers wandering around to supplement it. Few people even had the opportunity to assist the Fuchsia gym.

"Thank you." He said calmly, not quite sure how one was supposed to respond to such a statement. "I hope you don't take offence if I say that I hope I never need it."

"Of course not!" Koga laughed, a sound Ash never expected to hear from the stoic gym leader. He crossed his arms and cocked his head. His eyes glittered with keen intelligence in their shadowed position as he sobered. "Regardless, we are here."

Koga turned and almost began to move away in his graceful manner when he suddenly looked back at Ash. "I'm afraid that I have many duties to attend to. Progress has been made, but my people still need me. I will be available to battle after the Conference, should you so desire."

Ash just nodded, which seemed to be enough for Koga to be satisfied. The edges of the lithe man's mouth curled up before he walked away. He watched for a few moments before he shrugged off the abrupt end to their conversation and left the gym. His friends would probably want to see him.

XX

Ash felt a little queasy as he put in Professor Oak's number. He didn't exactly enjoy being in trouble. It had been a rare occurrence thanks to the watchful eyes of Arcanine whenever he and Gary had played around the Corral so he hadn't had to worry about it too much.

That didn't mean he didn't know the feeling. And it certainly didn't mean that he was unaware of the consequences of his actions. He had made a grave mistake in avoiding his mother for so long and he was about to reap the results. It was not a good feeling.

He steeled himself for the Professor's anger. The last few times he had spoken to Oak the older man had been stressed and on edge. Knowing that Ash had broken a promise to him wouldn't help his attitude.

The phone picked up almost immediately and Ash unconsciously pulled back when he saw Professor Oak's stern countenance that was filled to the brim with frozen anger.

"Ash. It's been awhile since you called." Oak said calmly. Several empty mugs of coffee were on the table beside him and his face was taught with stress. His eyes were red and it looked like he hadn't slept for several nights. "You're well, I presume?"

"Yes sir." Ash said hesitantly. Oak watched him with his stern gaze that betrayed nothing. The man absentmindedly tinkered with a strange purple pokeball that Ash vaguely remembered seeing him with before. This time, however, he didn't bother hiding it. Oak's hands shook a little but continued to work with the incredible precision one would expect from the Professor.

"Your mother has been worried about you." The Professor said icily. Ash uncomfortably pulled at the neckline of his shirt, which was freshly cleaned in the Pokemon Center's facilities. It seemed far too tight all of a sudden. Oak leaned forward and fixed his bright eyes on Ash's. "Please tell me why she never received your call? I distinctly remember you promising to make one to her. My mind's not so far gone that I can't recall that."

He looked away. Professor Oak finally wore his scowl openly. It wasn't a pleasant sight and reminded Ash why so many respected the Professor. Oak would never lose his steel. No matter how genuinely pleasant he was, he was still the man who had trained a Charizard to the point where it could easily battle a Champion-level Dragonite.

That reminded Ash to look deeper into Professor Oak's history. Whenever he had looked through the Pokedex archives or in the Pokemon Centers' computers he could never find any sort of official rank the Professor had held, which was an impossibility considering how powerful his pokemon were. All the archives had mentioned was that he was a notable trainer in his younger years before he had abandoned training in favor of academic pursuits.

"Well?" The Professor's harsh inquest snapped Ash back into reality. He sheepishly rubbed the back of his head and looked away again, mind racing. "Care to give me an explanation?"

"Mewtwo told me something." Ash unwillingly admitted. It just slipped out. There was none of the familiar pressure he felt that kept him from speaking freely, so he assumed that it was safe. Unfortunately he wasn't quite sure how to continue.

Some of the anger drifted away from Oak's expression and was replaced with concern. That wasn't to say that he wasn't still angry. Far from it.

"What did it say?" The older man asked urgently, apparently worried about the glazed look Ash's eyes had taken on for a moment. Judging from his lack of outward surprise he assumed that Lance had informed him of the situation with Mewtwo.

"He – he said I was Giovanni's spawn." Ash spat out, uncharacteristically vehement. His fists tightened and he wanted to punch something until it broke. "That his sins passed onto me!"

Ash looked up at Professor Oak with desperate, haunted eyes. "It was lying, right? Do you know?" He asked of the Professor, who had frozen as if in shock. Oak shut his mouth and looked drained. "Please, tell me!"

"You need to come home right now." Oak said quietly, voice soft for the first time since he answered Ash's call. His eyes flitted to the side of the screen, presumably where it listed Ash's location. "Alakazam will be waiting outside."

He opened his mouth confusedly to ask some more questions, but Oak just shushed him and cut off the call. Ash sighed and let all of the tension flow out with it. He had to remain calm, even though Professor Oak's reaction was as good as an admission.

Ash fought the thoughts away and resolved not to think of that unthinkable truth until he could get solid answers. Ignoring his problem hadn't worked well when he hadn't spoken to his mother for nearly two weeks when she was worried sick about him, but this was different. This would be resolved.

His friends were arrayed on his belt. Three pokeball slots were still empty. Ash lightly let his hand brush over all of his friends in turn, letting their indirect contact comfort him. He took one more deep breath and turned from the black screen of the Pokemon Center's video phone. After a few moments he turned and in no time at all found himself outside the Pokemon Center.

As usual Alakazam waited outside for him. She stood a little out of the way of the sluggish stream of people walking through Fuchsia. Very few noticed her, so she was probably projecting an illusion of some sort.

Her wise eyes regarded him before he could even begin to call out to the psychic. Ash flinched as he felt a soothing mental pressure, although it flitted away almost instantly. Alakazam's eyes glowed luminously in the daylight, although not in the icy blue that he had come to despise. It was her own power that flooded through her body, soft and bright.

You have suffered, little human. I am sorry.

The same gentle voice as when she'd teleported him to the wharf spoke. Unlike Dazed her smooth voice was clear and distinct. It didn't echo in the least. She sounded like she was communicating with him verbally.

Now that he'd gotten over his shock he could analyze her voice more. Although it was gentle and almost maternal when she spoke to him it held the hint of power. The tone sounded almost false, although the core was true. It felt like her normal voice was harsh and direct. She was taking care for him, it seemed.

If she noted his mental ruminations she did not comment on them. Alakazam simply stared at him and he felt compelled to come closer. She watched him carefully and did not teleport him immediately as he had expected her to.

It is a shame that you were forced into contact with the Blight. The young should never have to suffer for the mistakes of the old.

Ash uncomfortably kicked the ground with his worn shoes. He idly noted that he'd need to obtain new ones soon. This was the fourth pair he'd gone through since he began traveling.

Alakazam's weary eyes crinkled at the edges. They still burned with power rivalled only by Sabrina's famed partner.

But I thank you, child. The world was twisted by the Blight's rage. Corruption writhed around it as tendrils of chaotic emotion. Through your sacrifice balance has been restored.

He nodded numbly, still uneasy with Alakazam's words. She must have been more powerful than he thought if she had been capable of feeling Mewtwo's presence as it stretched across Kanto. Perhaps that had been why she had been even more irritable than normal over the last few months. Ash remembered Professor Oak commenting on it at some point or another.

"Thank you." Ash replied after a few moments of terse silence. Alakazam nodded and shut her eyes. He saw a flash of bright light before he seamlessly appeared outside of his home hundreds of miles away from the ancient buildings of Fuchsia.

Live well.

Alakazam murmured into his mind before she warped away, probably to her lonely meditation chamber in the Professor's home. Ash took a deep breath and glanced around. Pallet was gray and dull. A light flurry of snowflakes danced and leapt in the air around him, a veil of tiny white crystals. It was late for snow. This would probably be the last time the frozen water fell from the sky until next year.

He assumed that it was probably due to Mewtwo's storm so violently disrupting natural weather patterns. The League would probably step in with those Castform from Hoenn to resolve any oddities and set the original path of nature back on track. It was their responsibility to maintain balance.

The trainer stood silently, a lone figure in the swirling snow that blanketed Pallet in pure white. He stared at his door, uncertainty fighting him with passion he rarely felt. Ash wanted to see his mother again, but he was afraid of what her reaction to seeing him would be. Anger? Sorrow? Concern? All three were more than possible.

Ash grit his teeth and steeled himself. He stepped forward and knocked on the door. The cold and wind gnawed at him hungrily as he waited on the doorstep, a dusting of snowflakes slowly gathering atop his shoulders.

He took his hat off and felt the freezing air bite at his scalp and the wind blow his long hair. Ash needed to get it cut sometime soon. It had been an afterthought for a very long time, but he'd like to look his best for the Conference.

His thoughts, meant to take his mind off of the judgment that would soon come, were reduced to nothing when the door creaked open. Ash stared at his mother, who stared intently at him for a moment before she rushed forward and wrapped him up in a crushing hug. He briefly wondered how such a slim woman could be so strong, but the struggle for precious oxygen soon overcame those mutterings of the mind.

"Ash!" She laughed into his ear and crushed him tighter. His smile became genuine and he hugged her back. Soon enough she pulled back and her glee shifted to anger. "What did you think you were doing, not calling me for so long?! I was worried sick!"

"Sorry." He whispered. His voice didn't seem to want to obey his commands. Ash felt his mother's hands grab his shoulders and he was forced to stare into her warm brown eyes that were lit up with concern.

"Is that all? No explanation? Nothing?" His mother asked with a sad frown. Her eyes flashed. "What happened? I know there's a reason you didn't call."

So Professor Oak hadn't told her. Ash figured that the good Professor wanted Ash to be the one to explain everything. He made to speak, but his tongue refused him. Frustrated, the boy changed subjects. This could come later, when the psychic presence would loosen the mental chains that bound him.

"I promise I'll tell you." Ash said seriously, a bit of a waver in his voice. He hadn't had to really talk about everything before. Lance had heard an abridged version of the tale, but to actually explain the full events that happened at New Island would be difficult. "I just need some time."

"You've had two weeks!" His mother exploded, pulling him inside with a surprisingly strong grip. Her eyes blazed with the fire that so few realized and he quickly seated himself beside the battered wooden table they ate at. As he tried to make himself comfortable and glanced away from her fury she sat down across from him.

Her anger was already blunted. His mother was terrifying when she was furious but she'd always had difficulty actually staying angry.

"Please tell me what happened. I'm here for you, Ash. You can talk to me!" She said pleadingly. Ash glanced away from her brown eyes again, regret bubbling in his stomach. This was difficult. He'd never really been good at emotional discussions. Battling was easy. Feelings? Feelings were hard.

"I want to, but I can't." He said. It even sounded unconvincing to his own ears. Ash cursed Mewtwo for taking his body's freedom away. There was nothing he could do to fight it. Not yet, anyway.

His mother's eyes narrowed dangerously at that declaration and she started, but Ash cut her off. If he couldn't tell her of the events that transpired at New Island he could get his own answers.

"Who was my father?"

Whatever words were on his mother's lips died. Her face was ashen as she took a deep breath and leaned away from him.

"Why do you ask that?" She said slowly, voice bereft of anger. It just sounded afraid now; hesitant.

"Something that was said to me." Ash replied quietly. He awkwardly ran a hand through his black hair. This wasn't a situation he liked. It looked like his mother was in pain from his question, which was unacceptable in his eyes. He felt guilt bubble up in his stomach from hurting her.

Ash watched his mother raptly. He'd thought of his father, of course, but it had never been a big deal. It was his mother that was always there for him. She had taken care of him and given up everything for him. She had been studying under Professor Oak and was on a fast track to being a notable figure in the academic community before she'd had to drop it all for him.

Since he'd been content with just his mother he'd never thought too much of his father. Sure he'd been curious but as he grew older that faded away. All his mother had told him that his father was a trainer still on his journey. From the sad, wistful look in her eyes whenever she spoke of him Ash had figured that he was dead or had left them.

His nostrils flared slightly. If what Mewtwo said was true then it meant that his mother hadn't been lying. Not completely. But his father's "journey" was very different than anything he could have envisioned.

"What did they tell you?" She asked, tired. His mother didn't bother asking who. Perhaps she assumed that he wouldn't tell her. In that case she would be right. Ash probably wouldn't be able to tell her thanks to his mental bonds.

"That Giovanni," he spat the name and saw Delia's eyes widen, "is my father."

She buried her face in her hands. "Oh no…"

Ash squeezed his eyes shut at his mother's expression of pain and tentatively stretched out his hand to squeeze her shoulder. His mother raised her head and brushed a few stray hairs back into position. She smiled tearfully at him and squeezed his hand in return, thankful for the comfort.

"I'm sorry." She wiped her eyes. "I'd wanted to wait a long time before I talked to you about this. But now you know and I can't hide you from the truth anymore."

"I can handle it." Ash promised. Any anger or that horrible fear he had felt was replaced with the need to comfort his mother. He hated seeing her like this.

She nodded again and kept a tight grip on his hand. His mother stared at him but it seemed as though she were gazing far into the past. Ash just patiently waited for her to speak. He wouldn't rush her.

"I met him while we were attending a conference in Viridan. Spencer and I went up with Professor Oak so that we could intern in some of the labs he had contacts in." She recalled, face tight. "Professor Oak took us to a banquet so we could meet some of his old friends. While I was talking to Professor Blaine Giovanni came up."

A nostalgic look flashed across her expressive features before she scowled. "You met Giovanni. You know what he's like. I was just a girl. I didn't know how to react to him."

"What was so special about him?" Ash asked. He kept any scorn for Giovanni out of his voice. This legitimately interested him. His mother was a good person. Why would she ever fall for someone like the former gym leader?

"So, so much." She sighed. "He was handsome, charismatic, and intelligent. I didn't even know that he was the Viridian gym leader back then, but he just stood out. There was a light in him that couldn't be quenched. Everybody knew that he was born to be great."

Ash held back a snort of disgust at the comment. Greatness came in many forms. Giovanni had picked the lowest of them.

His mother raised her head and frowned at him. "I know it's hard for you to understand now that you know what he is. But nobody who met him back then could imagine that he could fall as far as he has. Back then he was a rising star, somebody you wanted to know."

He nodded sourly.

"He was good at keeping people at his beck and call, too." She recalled. "Giovanni was more charismatic than almost anyone else I've ever met. There was just something about him that could draw everyone in. Maybe it was his mind, maybe his looks, or maybe it was just how passionate he was about everything."

Ash's right eyebrow raised in surprise. Passionate? He'd only met Giovanni once, but the man had been frozen. Polite and cold. He couldn't even comprehend Giovanni expressing emotion.

His mother shook her head after he verbally expressed his thoughts. "He's changed. The Giovanni I knew was a fire that couldn't be quenched. He was composed, but he was always fierce and firm in his beliefs."

All that garnered was another thoughtful frown from Ash. His mother painted a far different picture of Giovanni than what he had built in his mind.

"Anyways, where was I?" She asked rhetorically. It didn't take her long to remember. "We talked for a little while and he ended up asking me to dinner the next night. I was too infatuated with him to refuse, so I went along with it."

A slightly pained look came over her face as his mother recalled old memories. "I was drawn into his web almost immediately. You won't really understand it until you meet that special someone and fall in love."

Her hands shook a little. Ash waited patiently and squeezed her hand tighter, although he tried not to show that he'd noticed. It was hard to know what he was really supposed to do. His mother didn't often show this side of her. Most of the time she was so cheerful that he'd never needed to comfort her.

"We dated for about a year and a half. We couldn't always be together since I had my studies and he had his responsibilities as a gym leader, but I was with him whenever I could spare the time." She said bitterly. "I was in love. I thought he was the sun and the moon and everything in between. Giovanni could do no wrong. He was brilliant, kind, and strong."

"And then?" Ash prompted after his mother lapsed into a long silence. She recollected herself and continued, her voice hard as the steel that hid within her.

"Then we got engaged. It caused quite an uproar, I'll tell you." She said with a bit of acidic humor. "The poor girl from Pallet and Viridian's prince. Some people were less than supportive."

His mother's face was thoughtful for a few moments as she decided how to continue. Her fingers nervously tapped the couch's armrest, one of the more blatant signs of her discomfort. Ash could tell that she didn't think she would have had to have this talk with him for a long time yet.

She finally continued. Ash was surprised at how anxious he was to actually hear about Giovanni. It wasn't that he wanted to understand the traitor. He wanted to understand his mother.

"I'd never been in Giovanni's personal life. It was a consequence of our mutual responsibilities." She sighed, wistfulness painted over her. "We were close, sure, but I had never been around him for more than a week or so. When I moved in with him things fell apart."

"Whenever I was with him we'd never been around people. I'd met a few of his friends and associates, but most of the time we were alone. He was always very polite to waiters and workers." She smiled, although it twisted into one of her rare scowls. "It wasn't until we'd been living together for about a month that his façade started to crack and I found out who he really was."

"First and foremost, Giovanni is an actor. Or he was. I don't know anymore." She said with a shake of her head. "He knew how to pull everybody's strings. He could mold himself to be what anybody wanted. If there was something he wanted he would get it. I learned that the hard way."

Ash listened and let his mother continue in silence. She was spilling her deepest thoughts to him now. To interrupt would be a terrible offense.

"He'd been playing me." She sighed, a bit of the heartbreak she must have suffered infused into her words. "Once I moved in he couldn't keep it up. He was still affectionate and I'd like to think he really did love me, but to everyone but me and his Persian he was cruel."

"Things fell apart. He became less and less human. It didn't take long for him to try and control everything I did and he was rather…unkind…when I didn't put up with it. I only rarely left the house and I fell behind in my studies." She said with a low growl. "I'm afraid to say that it took me a long time to decide enough was enough."

Delia picked up a glass of water that sat on the table. Condensation dripped down it in a liquid layer as she took a sip and returned it to the table. The drink seemed to refresh her and her eyes lost some of the glaze that had covered them as she told her story.

"I came back to Pallet to pick up my things and tell Professor Oak that I'd be taking an indefinite leave from my education. Giovanni had fallen off of his pedestal but I was still in love. It makes you do stupid things." She said with a wistful shake of her head. "But Professor Oak knew me well enough to tell that something was wrong. He sat me down and got everything from me."

"Professor Oak made me promise to come back to Pallet if I ever got scared or if Giovanni hurt me. I didn't want to believe that it would ever come to that, but I could finally see clearly again after knowing Giovanni for what he was." His mother reminisced with a dark look that twisted her face with malice. "The part of me that could actually think kept it in the back of my mind, though. I never forgot Professor Oak or what he was willing to do for me."

Her small fists clenched. "When I went back to Viridian everything calmed down. Giovanni was polite and perfect again, just like he was when we'd just been waiting. I was a bit worried, but I was just too happy to think much of it."

"The calm lasted until a month before we were supposed to get married, which is when I found out I was pregnant with you." She said, finally giving him a true smile. Ash hesitantly returned it. "Giovanni wasn't happy. It threw a wrench in whatever plans he had, and he hated that. He hated having his clear, direct course thrown into chaos by a new variable."

"He was many things," his mother mused, "but adaptive wasn't one of them. If something went wrong he'd always make stupid mistakes, even though he was smart enough to work around it. It was his only great failing – outside of being a decent human being, anyway."

"That was the last straw for me. He finally lost control at the news. He never hit me, but he said things that I won't repeat about you." Her eyes blazed with righteous anger. "I left. I took my few possessions and ran. That was the first time I'd ever been really scared of him. Giovanni had been annoyed and cruel before, but he'd never lost control. I didn't think him capable of it. He was terrifying, and I realized that I couldn't go on living a half-life hidden in the shadow of a man who was willing to speak of his own child like that."

"I wasn't thinking when I ran away." She admitted. "Giovanni had too much power in Viridian for me to stay, so I started walking back to Pallet. It wouldn't be too hard for him to track me, but I knew that he wouldn't actually believe I'd left him for another few hours."

She shook her head at her own rashness. "There are much more dangerous places in Kanto than the route between Pallet Town and Viridian, but without a pokemon it was still terrifying. I couldn't have protected myself against anything – and it wasn't the wild pokemon that I was worried about. The pokemon here are newly hatched for the most part."

"I was never a trainer. I had no idea how to survive out there. It was a miracle that I escaped from the gym trainers Giovanni sent after me." His mother mused. "But I did. Eventually I wound up at Pallet Town dirty, sweaty, and exhausted. Professor Oak took me in and gave me a place to stay for a while."

"Giovanni knew where I went." Her fists clenched. "It was pretty obvious, especially to someone as cunning as he was. He knew how I thought better than I did. He showed up a few days later. He wasn't anything like he had been before. He was polite and charming as he asked Professor Oak to give his bride-to-be back."

"Professor Oak trusted my word and sent him away with a promise that he wouldn't let Giovanni near me if I didn't allow it – and that he would keep that promise with force if it was required." Delia said with a soft smile. "Giovanni was one of the strongest trainers in the League, but even he knew that he wouldn't be able to fight Professor Oak. He left and didn't return."

"After he left I started to reclaim my life. I had been addicted to him and it ruined any judgment I had." She said, disappointed in herself. "I renewed my studies and kept close to Professor Oak and Spencer. That whole time I was worried, though. Giovanni was a relentless man. If he wanted something he would get it. If he thought something was his he wouldn't let it escape his grasp."

"He thought that I belonged to him." She hissed, soft brown eyes hardened into shards of discolored ice. "I knew he would try something eventually, though, so Professor Oak took it to the upper echelons of the League. He hadn't actually done anything illegal, but gym leaders are expected to be paragons of their community. Any serious concerns about their moral fiber is taken to the top."

Ash couldn't stop himself from interrupting. "The Elite Four…"

"Not quite." His mother smiled at him. It was disturbingly vindictive. Her eyes gleamed with malice hidden deep inside of her for far too long. "The Champion."

She unconsciously squeezed his hand. Ash just watched her attentively. His mother had stopped looking like she was about to break down a long time ago. The tears were gone. All that remained was steel and fire.

"Normally a concern addressed by Professor Oak would be enough to have any member of the League outside of the Elite Four stripped of their title. Gym leaders are too important for there to be any worries about their character. Champion Lance would come down on them in a storm of fire, ice, and lightning." Delia smiled, although it twisted into a frown almost immediately. "But it wasn't Champion Lance that Professor Oak spoke to. It was still another four years before he would ascend to the Champion's throne."

"Lance is like a hero out of a story book. He holds himself and the League he commands to very high standards. He would sacrifice everything to make a wrong right and protect the weak." His mother reminisced fondly. "Champion Marcus was very different. Much more political."

She took another sip of water. "There wasn't really enough evidence to get Giovanni thrown out of his gym, anyways. Professor Oak just wanted to raise some suspicions about Giovanni. But even if there were I doubt that Marcus would have done it. Giovanni was too good at his job to let go. He was willing to overlook a few indiscretions if it meant Viridian's criminals stayed quiet."

"It didn't matter in the end. Marcus was dethroned a year later, even though Lance didn't become Champion for another three. But it kept everyone's eyes on Viridian. Lance didn't trust Giovanni. That's what Professor Oak told me, at any rate." She smiled softly. It looked like some of the hate had seeped out of her. "I guess it paid off in the end."

Ash just sat there as he processed everything. It was a lot of information to take in, but he felt like he could already recall the entire conversation word for word. He couldn't have forgotten it even if he wanted to.

He ceased his thoughts when it seemed that his mother wasn't quite done.

"Everything was quiet for the next few months. I stopped studying and focused on the restaurant my mother left me." Delia sniffed. "By the time you were born it was running pretty smoothly again. Professor Oak's influence and threats protected us from anything Giovanni might try to pull. The rest is history."

A thought seemed to pass through her sharp mind.

"I never knew anything about his involvement in Team Rocket, if you were wondering." She sighed. "I'd suspected he had a few shady dealings thanks to some of his behavior while we were engaged, but I never even suspected he was involved with them. I'm just glad that's over and done with – Giovanni and Team Rocket are gone. They can't hurt anyone anymore."

She crinkled her eyes at him as a smile spread across her face, a true one that banished the darkness that had consumed her visage for the last few minutes. Ash smiled back. It wasn't hesitant this time.

"Thanks for telling me." He said quietly, not really sure what else he could possibly say. Was there anything else he could communicate to his mother?

"You're welcome. I'm so sorry you had to find out like this. I'd always wanted you to have more time." His mother said softly. She looked at him, a hint of worry in her brown eyes. "You don't…?"

He shook his head frantically at the question his mother couldn't even finish. "Of course not!"

Relief passed over her features and she seemed to sag down into the chair. She looked exhausted, completely drained emotionally from the long sealed memories that had been crudely yanked up from their deep-seated roots.

"Do you have any questions? You deserve the truth and I won't hide anything from you. Not anymore." Her voice washed over his ears. He sat back against the soft cushion of the sofa and thought.

"I won't end up like him, will I?" The question slipped out of his lips. Ash looked away the moment he asked it, aware and ashamed of how childish it was the second he'd said it. "Sorry."

Before he knew it he was wrapped up in the warm arms of his mother. It wasn't meant to crush every bone in his body and make him squirm and gasp for air, but to reassure and comfort. Ash returned it as best he could, although he still mentally scolded himself for letting that stupid question get out in the first place.

His mother pulled back and looked him firmly in the eyes. She held a tight grip on his shoulders, her strength more than a match for any that he might muster.

"You are not Giovanni!" She said firmly, fiery eyes blazing with life. "You're similar…so, so similar. You have his intelligence, his will, even his looks. But you are not him." His mother stressed.

She tucked an errant lock of hair away from his face. "You have the same fire as he does. You were born to be great, Ash. You were born to change the world. In that way you're the same.

"Giovanni's missing something. He can act like a normal person, but his true self is harsh, cruel and manipulative. You have a good heart. You're what he could have been, in a better world."

Ash nodded slowly, still embarrassed at the question he'd asked. His mother's answer was almost exactly as he'd expected. He knew that he wouldn't end up like Giovanni. The traitor might be his father, but he had no part in his upbringing. It was his mother that had raised him and shaped him into who he was.

"Thank you." He mumbled. His mother's tight grip on him relaxed.

He had a slight frown as he continued to think over everything he learned. Ash needed some time to himself.

"I'm going to my room for a while. If you need anything…" He trailed off, the rest of the sentence clear. His mother smiled softly and waved him off. Ash stood up from the couch, his legs moving in an almost awkward manner as they were commanded by his dazed mind, and walked up the stairs.

"I'll call you down for dinner!" His mother shouted up to him when he stepped into his room. A smile played across his lips at the return to normalcy, although it faded as he looked into his mirror. Ash pulled out his pokedex and quickly searched the database for Giovanni's League profile. It was still up, although edits had been made since he openly betrayed the League and returned to Team Rocket's fold.

Ash glanced down at Giovanni's picture. The man's features were just as he remembered them: Sharp and somewhat aristocratic. His eyes were dark and had a keen intelligence evident even in the static shadow of him captured in the picture.

There were similarities, now that he looked. Ash had the same sort of bone structure and facial shape, although it looked to have been softened by his mother's influence. His hair was about the same shade of black, a tad darker if one looked carefully. He hadn't inherited the traitor's dark, cold eyes, though. Those were much more similar to his mother's, although a soft brown rather than her amber.

He sighed and sat down on his bed, which bent under his light weight. Ash idly noted that his room looked to have been freshly cleaned. His mother had been getting everything ready for his visit, it seemed.

Another flash of guilt. He hadn't made the best decision, although it looked like everything had worked out in the end. Ash had learned the truth and his mother seemed relieved at finally telling her story. He couldn't imagine having to keep that knowledge secure for years on end, just waiting for the right opportunity to try and explain everything.

Ash idly noted his own dull acceptance of the knowledge. Some people probably would have been furious or railed on about the injustice. Some people probably would have been sad.

He was neither. Ash just felt sort of tired. Giovanni was his father. There was nothing he could do to change that. All he could do was try to right the wrongs that Giovanni had left in his wake. His mother said that he and Giovanni had the same light in them, the same potential for greatness.

The father had used that potential in all the wrong ways. If what Petrel had implied was correct than Giovanni was Team Rocket's leader. He'd conquered Kanto's underworld and united it in ruthless progress. For a decade it had been the one threat to the League, although Giovanni had been intelligent enough to keep it at the point to where the League didn't feel the need to directly oppose it.

Great wrongs had been done by Giovanni. Innocents had been killed on his orders. Pokemon and trainers alike killed or enslaved. Terror had been spread. Pokemon were forced to undergo sick experiments that twisted them into faded mockeries of their former selves, fit only for battle and savagery. He had even defiled Mew's essence and corrupted the Guardian of Life's DNA into a monster.

The son would do his best to make the world a better place in turn. Mewtwo had said that the sins of the father passed onto the son. Ash didn't believe that, but he'd do his best to do penance for Giovanni's atrocities. He could do so much. It was time to get started.

On that note he laid back in his bed and closed his eyes. He didn't sleep, however. There were far too many errant thoughts floating around in his brain for him to even consider taking a nap.

Just because he'd accepted that Giovanni was his father didn't mean that he was done thinking about it. There was so much to think over now…

XX

"Ash?" The firm, steady voice of Professor Oak asked quietly as he came up behind the lazily reclining boy. Arcanine followed behind him, his huge tongue lolling out happily as he pranced through the fields of the Corral with nimbleness unexpected for such an old specimen. Several Growlithe, now almost fully grown, raced behind him and playfully spat small sprays of sparks and embers at each other.

"Hey, Professor!" He greeted cheerfully from where he laid on the exposed, scorched layer of soil that Infernus had blasted for him several hours ago. It was rather comfortable once Dazed had drained some of the heat out. The grass around him was still dead for the most part, although some of the innumerable blades had early green threaded throughout.

Sneasel, who was curled up on his chest, opened one eye and hissed in annoyance as he saw the Growlithe. During their last stay at the Corral they had learned that Sneasel was a great toy. He was fast and had great endurance that let them chase after the spitting, puffed up Sneasel for hours on end, but more importantly he could do little to harm them. His ice was practically useless against the small pack while their flames would send him scurrying for cover.

His claws would have been deadly if he'd ever had the opportunity to use them. Unfortunately for Sneasel, however, Arcanine always kept a watchful eye over them. Sneasel was fast. Arcanine was exponentially faster. Sneasel's Quick Attack would be enough to get one good shot in, but Arcanine had been a master of Extreme Speed for decades. He'd have knocked Sneasel out before the ice-type had even begun his attack.

As such, the Growlithe pack so no harm in endlessly tormenting Sneasel, only dissuaded when Tangrowth, their object of affection second only to Arcanine, whined and gurgled for them to stop. Few of Ash's friends were willing to step in aside from the grass-type. Sneasel hadn't done much to make friends.

"Your mother spoke to me this morning. You know everything now." He said quietly. "Delia said that you were handling it well. I just wanted to speak with you."

Ash sat up. Sneasel hissed angrily at the unexpected movement, although a quick scratch behind his feather placated the snarling dark-type.

"What about?" Ash inquired with a frown. His jovial mood from earlier shifted to a more serious one. It looked like his one day of vacation would have a brief interruption.

"The Conference." Professor Oak stepped forward and took a seat next to Ash. He grunted softly as his back bent, although he straightened up quickly. "It's just around the corner. I just wanted to make sure you weren't worrying over it."

Ash smiled up at the Professor, any stress he might have had leaking away. "No, I'm fine."

"Really?" The Professor raised an eyebrow. "I must say that I'm surprised. Gary's having some anxiety regarding it. I tried to help him with it when he was here last month."

He let the mention of Gary go. Ash couldn't help but hope that he'd get to battle Gary. They'd never gotten to truly test each other's skills. All of their matches had been unsatisfactory, to say the least. He was confident that he was superior to his rival, but he'd like to force Gary into a match that he couldn't run away from. That was when their true colors would be revealed and the better would be crowned.

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