Essence

Ash has always wanted to be a pokemon master. When the time comes for him to pick out his first pokemon, he shocks Professor Oak with a peculiar request. One thing leads to another, and he ends up with a loyal Growlithe. How will this unique situation affect the boy's destiny?

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11113835/1/Essence

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32. Kanto 10 Part 2

The trip to the Pokemon Center was short and enjoyable.

On account of all of the chaos that had ensued earlier in the day, Ash hadn't really gotten an opportunity to soak in the beautiful, sunny weather. Moreover, although he had only gotten a chance to see a small section of Celadon's northeastern district, Ash had already come to the conclusion that it was a pleasant place.

It was busy, but the people were friendly, and Ash thought that the scenery was absolutely gorgeous. It wasn't quite as alluring as Cerulean which in Ash's opinion was still the most captivating city he had been to. However, after taking into account its size and unmatched population, its artistry was rather impressive.

The architecture that he had walked by was grand, modern and intricate, whereas the streets were immaculate and well designed. Obviously, during his short walk, he had only seen a minimal portion of the city. But, based off of his first impression, he could see why so many people chose to live in Celadon.

Everywhere he looked, Ash saw fun, entertaining things to do. On just about every block, there was an enthralling park that was full to the brim with lush greenery, and although they weren't in the heart of Celadon, there were tons of interesting shops and appetizing restaurants.

Unlike Saffron, the traffic in the streets was well managed. At no point did Ash ever feel overwhelmed, which said a lot. He liked cities, but often times their immensity and bustling atmosphere got the best of him.

Celadon was different, though. Even Growlithe seemed to be relaxed. Granted, his social anxiety wasn't what it used to be, but just because his angst had diminished didn't mean that he was comfortable in large cities with heavy populations.

The city's appeal and Growlithe's composed disposition almost made Ash forget that Team Rocket operated within the city's shadows.

The looming thought of Team Rocket's presence in the city left a part of him unsettled. He didn't quite know how to explain it. It kind of felt like a good dream that he knew was going to abruptly end in the near future. Ash had a feeling in the pit of his stomach that his outlook on Celadon was going to eventually take a turn for the worst. It was just a matter of time…

Anyhow, now that Ash and Growlithe had reached the Pokemon Center, the dark-haired boy's nerves had started to kick in. He wasn't quite sure what kind of scene he would be walking into. At this point, he was sure that Skylar's family had been notified that the Police Department had found her, so it was highly likely that there was a dramatic spectacle unfolding in the Medical Wing.

Ash had spent enough time at the pokemon center in Saffron – after the devastating battle against Team Rocket – to know that a pokemon center's medical wing was a place where emotions flew high. Of course, a lot more people were affected by the events in Saffron, so he doubted that Celadon's medical wing would be that crazy. Nevertheless, a sliver of him couldn't help but be apprehensive.

Before Ash entered Celadon's pokemon center, he couldn't help but file through his memory bank and compare it to the other centers that he had been to. It had become a habit of his ever since his journey had begun. Pokemon centers were one of the few constants that every major city in Kanto shared. In Ash's opinion, the unique variances in each centers' appearance said a lot about the city that they were in.

"What do you think?" Ash asked Growlithe as he surveyed the Center's exterior. "It kind of reminds me of the pokemon center in Saffron, only way bigger."

Growlithe nodded as his eyes pivoted back and forth, examining the Pokemon Center's humongous size.

Ash wasn't in the least bit shocked by how big Celadon's pokemon center was. It made perfect sense. They were in Celadon: the most populous city in all of Kanto. It was inevitable that the Pokemon Center was abnormally large. It had to be in order to accommodate for the vast amount of people that filtered in and out of it.

Still, although he had expected something of the sort, it didn't change the fact that it was impressive. In terms of size, the rest of the centers he had visited paled in comparison. Ash couldn't even begin to estimate how much money it must have costed the city to build a pokemon center as large as Celadon's.

As he approached one of the multiple sets of large, glass, automatic doors, Ash examined some of the Center's finer external details.

Its design was fairly similar to the pokemon center in Saffron. It was modern and built in the shape of an oversized cube. The two most notable features were its large pink roof that staggered upward into what looked like an artificial plateau and the plethora of large, gleaming windows that wrapped around the whole building.

Overall, its design wasn't anything out of the ordinary. If it weren't for the Center's gargantuan size, Ash wouldn't have spent nearly as much time looking it over. Once he was finished checking out the outside of the Center, Ash passed through the automated doors and into the building.

Upon entrance, he was excited to find that the Center wasn't that busy. Based off of its size and the city's population, he was expecting it to be a madhouse. Luckily, it wasn't. Maybe he had just shown up at a good time.

Even though it wasn't as busy as he had expected, it was by no means empty. There were still plenty of trainers scattered about the lobby, using the Center's standard, assorted amenities.

He saw a large group of trainers hanging out in the lounge, watching something on the large flat-screen TV that was suspended on the wall in front of them. There was another heap of people using the PC's over to the left of the front desk, while there was a small group of trainers utilizing the video phones on the right side of the front desk.

As he ambulated over to the Center's front desk, Growlithe following him at his hip, one of the things that stood out to Ash the most were the multiple, large directional signs that hung from the ceiling, guiding visitors to the different parts of the Center that they needed to get to. It wasn't unusual for pokemon centers to use a system such as cascading signs to direct traffic, but the sheer abundance of them is what caught Ash's attention.

Excluding the medical wing, most pokemon centers had maybe three or four wings that were freely accessible to all visiting trainers. Those wings didn't tend to differ too much.

All pokemon centers were required to have a cafeteria wing, a trading wing and a lodging wing. Sometimes, depending on the city, a pokemon center could have a recreational wing – full of games, movies and other fun things for trainers to do during their free time – or a fitness wing, where trainers could use state of the art equipment to exercise.

However, from what Ash could tell by surveying all of the Center's signs, there were at least twice as many wings as usual, branching off from the main lobby.

There were two of everything. Ash saw two signs that led the way to two different cafeteria wings—one labeled Cafeteria A and one labeled Cafeteria B. Likewise, there were two lodging wings and two trading wings. Surprisingly, there were even two recreational wings and two fitness wings.

In Ash's opinion, it was overkill. Despite Celadon's enormous population, Ash had a tough time believing that it was necessary for the Pokemon Center to have duplicate wings. He could maybe justify the need for two lodging wings and two cafeteria wings when things were really busy, but two recreational wings, well...that just seemed like a waste.

"I feel like I'm at a resort," said Ash to Growlithe as they got in back of the short line to see Celadon's Nurse Joy. "It kind of reminds me of a less fancy SS Anne."

The puppy pokemon let out a quiet, affirmative bark as he looked up at Ash with agreeable eyes.

It only took about five minutes for Ash to get through the line to the front desk. Waiting for him was a smiling Nurse Joy and a couple of chansey who looked at him with welcoming expressions on their faces.

"Welcome," said Nurse Joy in a soft, sweet tone of voice. "How may I help you?"

"I've got to deliver something to one of your patients," retorted Ash with a friendly smile as he reached into his back pocket, grabbing his pokedex before placing it on the counter. "Also, I need a room, and I have a couple of pokemon that I would like to have treated by a restoration machine."

"What's the patient's name?" asked Nurse Joy as she took his pokedex and placed it in the dock that was connected to the front desk's computer.

"Skylar Worthington," answered Ash as he sifted through the pokeballs on his belt, trying to decide who needed medical attention.

"Ah, yesAsh Ketchum…" drawled Nurse Joy, using the keyboard to type something into the computer, "I've been expecting you."

"You have?" asked Ash in a curious manner.

"Mhm…" answered Joy as she reached into a drawer and removed a room key, "the Chief Jenny at the police department called the Center to let us know that you would be coming. Ms. Worthington's hospital room is being guarded by security, so Officer Jenny had to ask permission to let you in."

"Oh, okay," said Ash, nodding his head, "that makes sense. I figured that the Center would provide security after what happened."

"Yup," replied Joy with a smile. "By the way, Officer Jenny told me what you did. It was really stupid…but brave. Thank you, Kanto's had enough tragedies as of late. If it weren't for you, Ms. Worthington may have lost her life. Her injuries were brutal. If you wouldn't have found her when you did—"

"It was nothing," said Ash, cutting her off. "I just did what I though was right."

He didn't want to hear her finish. Death wasn't something that he liked to talk about, especially as of late. For a kid his age, he had been exposed to way too much of it.

Most ten-year-olds were under the assumption that they were immortal. Death was a concept that they were so far removed from that it almost didn't seem real.

That wasn't the case for Ash, though. To him, death was a very real thing. Sid, Reid, Jack...Chance Chapman—all names of people he had once known whose lives were snatched away from them like it was nothing.

"Is something wrong?" asked Nurse Joy. "Did I say something that bothered you? You look a little flushed."

"Oh, no, I'm fine," lied Ash as he detached Ivysaur, Pidgeotto and Clefairy's pokeballs from his belt and handed them over. "Anyways, I'm going to check in these three and..."

He paused as he removed Growlithe's empty pokeball from his belt before shifting his attention towards his pup, "I'm going to check you in as well. I think it would be good for you, since you've been so tired today."

Growlithe hesitated for a second before nodding. Even though he liked the pokemon centers' restoration machines, he was never a fan of leaving Ash's side. Ash knew it; he could see the reluctance in his eyes.

"Don't worry," said Ash with a smile. "It won't be long. Besides, I'll still have Haunter, Wartortle and Charmeleon with me. They'll look out for me while you're gone."

Growlithe seemed to relax a bit right before Ash returned him. The dark-haired boy had to admit, Growlithe's loyalty was always reassuring. He couldn't explain how nice it was to have a friend that was so hell-bent on being there to protect him.

"Aww…" drawled Nurse Joy, "that was adorable. What a loyal Growlithe, I can tell you take good care of him."

"Thanks," said Ash as he sheepishly scratched the back of his head prior to handing Growlithe's pokeball over to Nurse Joy.

Ash watched as Nurse Joy took the four pokeballs that he had given her and placed them in a metal tray with six slots—enough for a full team. Once they were all secure, she handed them over to one of the two assistant chansey who smiled before shuffling through the door to the Medical Wing.

The second Ash took his eyes off of the chansey and focused them back on Nurse Joy, she placed the room key on the counter.

"Here's the key to your room," said Nurse Joy with a smile. "Your room number is A53."

She paused as she gestured toward the other chansey, "Now that we have taken care of all of that, I'll have Lucky take you back to see Ms. Worthington."

"Okay, sounds good," said Ash, walking around the front desk in preparation to follow the jolly looking chansey named Lucky.

"I'll buzz security to let them know that you're here," added Jenny as she reached for the phone on her desk. "Lead the way, Lucky."

Lucky flashed Ash a pleasant grin before turning around and heading straight through the door to the Medical Wing.

Ash let out an exasperated sigh before whispering something under his breath.

"Well, this should be interesting."

And on that note, he followed Lucky.

XXX

"Words cannot describe how thankful I am for what you did!" exclaimed the blonde, thin, elegantly dressed woman as she wrapped Ash up in a suffocating hug.

It didn't take a genius to figure out that the woman was Skylar's mother. Despite the fact that Skylar's face had been swollen and bruised when Ash had found her, he could still make out several of her features. Her face was cute and delicate. Even with all of the injuries that she had sustained, he could tell that she was a gorgeous girl.

The woman that was embracing him looked acutely similar to Skylar. Not only were their facial features comparable, but she had the same long, blonde hair that Skylar had. Furthermore, their eyes were the same color: sky-blue. Even though Skylar's eyes had only been open for a little while, he remembered them clearly.

How could he forget? The look of fear in her eyes when he approached her sent shivers down his spine. To think that someone could impose that kind of despair in another human-being was abominable.

"Y-you're welcome," managed Ash, trying his best to get the words out while being squeezed to death.

The woman's embrace reminded him of his mother's hugs. It was comforting, but at the same time excruciatingly painful. Now, he wouldn't quite say that Skylar's mom's hug was quite as agonizing as his mother's. When his mom hugged him, he felt like his ribs were going to cave in and his lungs were going to implode, whereas Skylar's mom just made it difficult to breathe.

"Honey, you're crushing the poor boy," said a smooth, cultured, male voice that Ash assumed belonged to Skylar's father. "Please, let go of him. He's turning pale."

"Oh, dear!" exclaimed Skylar's mother as she frantically let go of Ash and placed both of her hands on her cheeks. "I'm sorry, Ash! I guess I just got carried away."

After taking a moment to catch his breath, Ash observed his surroundings. Now that she had pulled away from him, he was able to see the tears in her eyes as they cascaded down her face, smearing her makeup. He couldn't tell if they were tears of joy or tears of relief. Most likely, they were a combination of both.

Whatever the case may be, it warmed Ash's heart. He couldn't imagine the kind of stress and apprehension she had been experiencing while her daughter was missing. He filled his own mother's head with worry felt thoughts every day, and she knew that he was on a journey with pokemon to protect him. Skylar's mother hadn't known where she was. For all she knew, her daughter could have been—

He shook his mind free of his current train of thought. After the past couple of months, his psyche had darkened. He needed to stop thinking such morbid thoughts. It was beginning to take a toll on him.

Ash's eyes shifted from Skylar's mother to the man – Ash assumed to be her father – when he put his arm around her. Ash could see a slight glimmer in his eyes as well. If he were to guess, he would say that the man was trying his best to hold back tears of his own.

After taking in the man's appearance, Ash could see some similarities between Skylar and him. They had the same short, thin nose, and their slender, arching eyebrows were nearly identical. Ash had to say, he was rather feminine looking. His light-brown hair was just as long as his wife's, and his physique was dainty.

He wore a charcoal grey sweater-vest over a lavender, long-sleeved button up shirt. The man had on long, black pants that were way too tight on him, and his shoes were derby-style and made out brown leather. Overall, Ash thought he was well-dressed, coming off as wealthy and eccentric. The man kind of reminded Ash of Bill or maybe even Wallace…

While looking around the room, Ash also saw Skylar who was sleeping in a hospital bed behind her parents. From what he could tell, it looked like the medical staff had already treated her external wounds. Her skin was void of any cuts or bruises, and there was minimal scarring.

The medical staff must have used some kind of concoction like the one his favorite Nurse Joy had used on him when he burned his hand. Since scarring had already occurred, her healing must have been accelerated at a tremendous rate. Unless the scars were from a set of previous injuries, which Ash doubted...

"She still hasn't woken up," said the man as he shifted his glance between Ash and Skylar. "The doctors think that she'll sleep through the rest of the day. Her injuries were serious, and the potion they used put a significant strain on her body. If you've come here to speak with her, I'm afraid it'll have to wait until tomorrow."

"Oh, alright…" said Ash with a nod, "that's fine. I'll be staying at the Pokemon Center while I'm in Celadon, so I can stop by later."

"We're both happy that you came, though," retorted the woman as she flashed Ash a massive grin while wiping the tears from her eyes. "Nurse Joy told us the story about how you found her. What you did for Skylar…well, let's just say that we owe you. You've been a miracle to our family."

At this point, he was absolutely positive that the man and woman in front of him were Skylar's parents. There was no need to ask for clarification.

"Thanks," said Ash, turning red from the praise, "but you don't owe me anything. Any decent person would have done what I did."

"Any decent person may have tried to help," said Skylar's dad as he grasped Ash's shoulder, "but there is no guarantee that they would have known what to do. No matter how modest you are, the truth of the matter is, you saved my daughter. And for that, my wife and I are in your debt."

"No, honestly," replied Ash, "it's not that big of a dea—"

"Oh, hush!" blustered Skylar's mom, smiling from cheek to cheek. "My husband is right, no matter how you view what you did. It doesn't change how we feel about it."

She paused as she grabbed Ash's hand and held it in her own, "Now, please, let us introduce ourselves."

While holding Ash's hand, she used her free hand to gesture toward her husband, "This is my husband and Skylar's father: Ruphus."

"Nice to meet you," muttered Ash as Skylar's mother awkwardly joined Ash's hand with her husband's."

"It's a pleasure to meet you as well, Ash," said Ruphus with a knowing smirk before setting his eyes on his wife. "Now, honey, I'm sure Ash is more than capable of shaking hands on his own."

It was apparent to Ash that Ruphus was well aware of his wife's outlandish and perky personality.

Much like how she had responded when Ruphus pointed out that she was suffocating him with her embrace, Skylar's mother immediately let go of Ash's hands before placing both of her hands on her cheeks, clearly embarrassed.

"Oh, Ash, I'm sorry!" she exclaimed. "I've gotten carried away again! My apologies!"

"It's okay," retorted Ash, trying hard not to laugh. "Don't worry about."

"My goodness, you are such a sweet boy," said Skylar's mom with a hint of giddiness in her voice. "Anyways, my name's Ellen. I'm Skylar's mother and Rufus' wife."

"It's nice to meet you, Ellen," said Ash as he reached out and shook her hand.

"The pleasure is all mine, Ash," replied Ellen with another heartfelt smile.

"So, Ash…" said Ruphus in a curious tone of voice, catching the dark-haired boy's attention, "did you come here just to see how Skylar was doing, or is there something else?"

"There's one other thing," retorted Ash with a nod as he reached into his coat pocket in order to retrieve the eevee's pokeball. "I was planning on giving this back to Skylar, but since she's resting, I'll just give it to you."

He paused as he took out the pokeball, "Officer Jenny told me that it belongs to you anyways. When I first found Skylar, I thought that she was a pokemon trainer, so I was under the impression that it was hers. Officer Jenny corrected me, though. She said Skylar was just pretending to be a trainer and that she was actually the daughter of a famous eevee breeder. That's you, right?"

"Yeah, that's me," retorted Ruphus with wide eyes as he slowly took Eevee's pokeball from Ash's hand. "Is this...?"

"Yeah," said Ash with a smile, "it is."

"But, how?" questioned Ruphus in a confused manner. "Nurse Joy told us that the Police Department had yet to go after the people that attacked my daughter and stole the newborn."

"Wait a second Ruphus!" interrupted Ellen. "Is that her pokeball!?"

Ruphus nodded to his wife before placing his eyes back on Ash.

"I can't believe this," said Ruphus—tears welling up in his eyes. "We were lucky enough to get Skylar back, but this…well, it's unbelievable."

"Oh…" drawled Ash, surprised, "I take it Nurse Joy hasn't filled you in on what happened after the Celadon Police recovered your daughter?"

"She hasn't," answered Ruphus, sniffling throughout the process. "Last we heard, Officer Jenny was preparing to send out a search unit to track down whoever hurt Skylar."

"I see," replied Ash with a small smile, "well, I guess that makes sense. I don't think Nurse Joy found out that I got your eevee back until recently, and it's possible that Officer Jenny told her not to say anything until I got to the Pokemon Center."

"Hold on a second…" muttered Ruphus. "Did you just say that you got Eevee back?"

"Well, yeah," said Ash in between blinks, "that's why I have it. When I found Skylar, she was still barely conscious. While I was trying to help her, she mumbled something about an eevee, so I figured that whoever attacked her must have taken one from her."

He paused before realizing that Ruphus and Ellen wanted to hear the rest of the story, "I waited with your daughter until Officer Jenny showed up with a group of paramedics and a few other policemen in order to pick Skylar up. Once they teleported her to the Pokemon Center, I had my Growlithe pick up the scent of the people that attacked Skylar, and we followed it."

"Then what happened!?" asked Ellen.

"Well," said Ash with a scowl as he pictured what happened next, "it turned out that the people that attacked your daughter were from Team Rocket."

"Team Rocket!" exclaimed Ruphus and Ellen at the same time.

"Shh!" shushed Ash, pressing a lone finger up against his lips. "I'm not sure if I was supposed to tell you that."

"Oh-" blurted Ellen before covering her mouth with both of her hands.

"I understand," retorted Ruphus, folding his arms in a contemplative manner.

Ash had to admit, he was getting a kick out of Skylar's parents. The way that they interacted with him and each other was entertaining. They were like two little kids in adult bodies. In a way, their behavior and mannerisms reminded him of the Montgomery family.

"Anyways," continued Ash, "once I found them, I defeated all of their pokemon with mine and had my haunter put them to sleep. I took back your eevee's pokeball and called the Celadon Police Department so that they could take the Rockets into custody. Officer Jenny was a bit irritated that I handled things on my own, but she got over it."

"Wow…" retorted Ruphus, "I don't know what to say."

"How about thank you," quipped Ellen before wrapping Ash up in another dreadfully painful hug. "Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, you're our little hero."

"Honey, you're doing it again," said Ruphus as he tried to pull his wife off of Ash. "He can't breathe."

Once again, Ellen let go of Ash and instantly put her hands on her cheeks. "Goodness! What has gotten into me?! I'm so sorry, Ash!"

"I-it's okay," stammered Ash, taking a big breath in order to recover. "I'm used to it. My mom does the same thing."

"Oh, I'm sure she does," said Ellen with a smile, forgiving herself in the blink of an eye. "We mothers have a lot in common, especially when it comes to showing affection for our children."

"I can definitely see the truth in that," replied Ash with a laugh.

All of a sudden, his countenance flopped when a serious thought crossed his mind: Executive Petrel. He needed to warn them. He needed to let them know that a Rocket executive wanted the eevee that they were so happy to get back. Skylar's assault wasn't a random act of violence. It was planned in hope of capturing the genetically gifted specimen.

"Is something wrong, Ash?" asked Ruphus, raising an eyebrow. "You look like you've just seen a ghost."

"Um…yeah," muttered Ash, trying to find the right words to convey his thoughts, "When I was battling against Team Rocket, one of the guys that hurt Skylar said something that bothered me."

"What did he say?" asked Ruphus with an edge in his voice.

"He said that they were sent by their leader to steal your eevee," retorted Ash with a frown as he pointed at Eevee's pokeball which was in Ruphus' hand. "A Team Rocket executive wants that eevee, and his men were willing to beat your daughter to within an inch of her life to get it. I can't be sure, but I think there's a good chance that they'll go after it again."

For the first time, Ash saw anger on Ruphus' face. He wasn't sure if it was triggered by his paternal instinct to protect Skylar or if he was frustrated that his eevee was being targeted by Team Rocket. He hadn't known the man long enough to make an accurate guess about what he was thinking. Nonetheless, it was apparent that he was infuriated, and Ash couldn't blame him.

"What is the executive's name?" asked Ruphus, squinting his eyes.

"I don't know," lied Ash, realizing that he had already said enough.

Nothing good would come out of Ash revealing Petrel's name. Information like that was better kept amongst people that were in a position to help. Ruphus was an eevee breeder, not a League official. No matter how personal Ruphus' grudge against Team Rocket had become, Ash couldn't disclose that information. It wouldn't help anyone.

"Are you sure?" queried Ruphus suspiciously.

Ash's eyes widened in surprise. He hadn't been expecting Ruphus to question him any further. However, now that he thought about it, he was an idiot for assuming that Ruphus would instantly believe him.

After all, they had just met. No matter how well they were getting along, it didn't change the fact that Team Rocket had hurt his daughter in order to steal his eevee, and he wanted vengeance.

"Ruphus!" scoffed Ellen, smacking him on the back of the head. "Are you already forgetting what Ash has done for us!? Even if he does know the name of the Rocket that sent out the order to capture eevee, I'm sure he has a perfectly good reason for keeping it to himself."

Ruphus took a breath as he shook off the blow that his wife had delivered.

"You're right…" said Ruphus before shifting his attention to Ash. "I'm sorry, Ash. That was uncalled for."

"It's okay," replied Ash, shaking his head and waving it off. "I completely understand. If I were you, I would want to know more, too."

"Yeah..." drawled Ruphus as he grasped Eevee's pokeball and transferred his eyes over to Skylar, "it's just frustrating. I wish I could do more. I'm her father, and I wasn't there to protect her. The least I could do is make sure that the person responsible for her pain is punished."

"…And they will be," said Ash, clenching his fist. "The three Rockets that carried out the order are behind bars, and it's only a matter of time before their leader is too. The executive responsible for this will come face to face with justice. I'm sure of it."

"I hope so," retorted Ruphus with a half-hearted smile.

While Ash was thinking of an appropriate response, Ellen interjected, likely sensing the need to change the focus of the conversation.

"Rather than revenge," said Ellen with a hint of disgust in her voice, "we should be focusing on the fact that Skylar and Eevee are back."

She paused as she focused her attention on Ash, "Now, Ash, I'm sure you have other matters that you would like to attend to. Since Skylar probably won't be waking up today, why don't you come back tomorrow? That way, you can talk to Skylar, and it gives Ruphus and I an opportunity to discuss a way to repay you."

"Okay," said Ash, "I can do that. There's someplace I've got to be early tomorrow afternoon, but I can stop by before or after. Do you care what time I come?"

"It doesn't matter to me," replied Ellen with a smile. "We'll be here all day tomorrow. There's no way I'm leaving my baby's side, and it'll be a couple of days before she is well enough to go home.

"Likewise," added Ruphus.

"Gotcha'," retorted Ash, nodding his head. "I'll be on my way then.

He paused while adjusting his cap, "By the way, you really don't owe me anything. There's no need for you to go out of your way to repay me."

There was a brief moment of silence.

"If that was an attempt to change our minds," said Ruphus with a smirk, "you failed miserably."

"Yeah," added Ellen with a chuckle, "we're Worthingtons, and Worthingtons always repay those that assist them. You're not going to talk your way out of this one, Ash. Believe it or not, it will be doing us a favor by accepting whatever reward we come up with."

Ash let out a sigh as he scratched the back of his head. Like the Montgomerys, it appeared as though he had just made friends with another wealthy and insistent family.

"Okay, then," said Ash as he shook his head, "since I don't have a choice in the matter. I'll just be sure to thank you for whatever you come up with."

"That's better," retorted Ellen, placing her hands on her hips. "Now, was that so hard?"

Ash couldn't help but laugh before answering, "Actually, yes…it was."

XXX

After getting a bite to eat at Cafeteria A and picking up his pokemon from Nurse Joy, Ash went to his room to get settled in before his xtransceiver started to ring.

"Ring..."

"Ring…"

Ash couldn't help but chuckle when he saw the name that popped up on his xtransceiver.

It read: Sabrina Marvil.

He should have known that she would get a hold of him first. After all, Sabrina was the greatest human psychic in the world.

"Ring…"

"Click."

The moment Ash pressed the receive button, Sabrina's fair face popped up onscreen. Despite the fact that her last couple of weeks had doubtlessly been jam packed with a multitude of tedious matters, she flashed him a small smile, revealing to him a rare hint of emotion.

"Hey, Sabrina," said Ash with a massive grin on his face. "What's up?"

"Greetings, Ash Ketchum," retorted Sabrina, speaking in her typical monotonous voice. "I've been looking forward to this conversation since shortly after you left Saffron. I take it you're at the pokemon center in Celadon?"

"Yeah, I'm at the Pokemon Center," answered Ash, unsurprised by Sabrina's comment. "How did you know?"

"I had a vision right before you left Saffron," said Sabrina matter-of-factly. "Destiny told me that I needed to call you at this specific moment in time. Moreover, I've been supernaturally informed that you would have imperative information. The rest is a blur, but I assume that you will enlighten me."

Ash let out a deep sigh. Destiny, again…he should have guessed.

"Are you alone?" continued Sabrina. "The vision didn't clarify that you would be, but I believe this will end up being a conversation that should not be listened in on."

"It's just Growlithe and I," said Ash, turning the face of his xtransceiver in the direction of his pup – who was lounging comfortably on the room's twin-sized bed – so that Sabrina could get a good look at him. "And, yeah, you're right. This won't be a conversation that we can afford to have eavesdropped on.

"Salutations, Growlithe," articulated Sabrina. "You look stronger since the last time I saw you. I see Ash Ketchum has trained you well over the past few weeks."

Due to the angle of his xtransceiver, Ash couldn't see her countenance. However, he could hear a tiny sliver of jovial emotion in her voice as she praised Growlithe.

Despite the fact that Sabrina rarely showed any emotion, she seemed to have a strange inclination to act out of character with Ash and his pokemon. He couldn't even begin to explain why. It was just the way things were. Ever since they had gotten to know each other in Saffron, Sabrina had taken an odd liking to him and his friends.

It was as if she had adopted them into the small, select group of people and pokemon that she considered her family…

In subsequence to Sabrina's acknowledgement and praise of Growlithe, the pup responded with a benign yip. Regardless of the psychic's irregular personality, Growlithe had always liked her. He was just as happy to see Sabrina's pretty face as Ash was.

"Since it's just the two of you, how about we begin our discussion," said Sabrina as Ash angled his xtransceiver back towards his anticipatory mug. "Ash Ketchum, why has destiny deemed it necessary for me to make this call?"

"Team Rocket," spat Ash, deciding not to beat around the bush. "I have some important information about Team Rocket."

"I see," replied Sabrina with a bit of malice in her voice. "Does this have to do with Ariana and what happened in Saffron?"

"Probably," replied Ash, "but not directly…at least that's what I think. This has more to do with Celadon."

"Elaborate..." muttered Sabrina.

At this point, it was obvious that Sabrina was more than interested in what he had to say. Because of Team Rocket, her home had been turned into a war zone, and the man she looked up to more than anyone else in the world, Robert Montgomery, had been temporarily kidnapped. It was safe to say that there was presently nothing on the planet that she despised more than Team Rocket.

Thus, she was all ears...

"Well…" drawled Ash, "it all started earlier today. I wasn't too far away from Celadon when Growlithe picked up a strange scent. His reaction was wild and instinctual, similar to how he responded to the horrible atrocities that happened aboard the SS Anne."

He paused as he recalled the memory in his head, "Of course, we followed it. It took about thirty minutes to reach the location that the scent was coming from. When we got there, what we found was awful. There was a girl, around my age, beaten to a pulp and tied to a large stone. All around her was a massive mess; the people that had attacked her and tied her up had trashed all of her stuff.

"So, once you found her, I'm assuming that you contacted the Celadon Police Department," said Sabrina, following Ash's story. "Am I correct?"

"More or less," retorted Ash. "I did everything I could to help her first. She was still barely conscious when I found her, so in order for me to calm her down enough so that Growlithe could bite through the rope that constrained her, I had to get her to trust me. It was during that time that I found out that she had been attacked by three people and that they had stolen an eevee from her."

He took a moment to think about everything that had happened before continuing, "After Growlithe gnawed through the rope, and Clefairy laid her down carefully, I called the Celadon Police Department. It didn't take too long for them to show up, probably about ten minutes because of the abra that teleported them."

"The Celadon Police Department has an abra…" said Sabrina with a hint of surprise in her eyes. "At least they're doing something right in that city. Interesting…I must say that my outlook on Celadon has become slightly less negative."

She paused, "Speaking of abra, Ash Ketchum, did you have any luck finding one on Route Seven? I can't get a good read on you and your pokemon from this distance. Unfortunately, my psionic prowess is limited by range. I have an empathy link with you, but it is restricted to knowing only your current state of emotions. Unless I get a vision, your present and future is a blur to me. As long as you are outside of Saffron, we will have to rely on traditional conversation to catch up."

The moment Sabrina asked if he found an abra, he frowned. Despite the fact that he really wanted one, his luck fell short. Over the past couple of weeks – prior to coming across Skylar – his friends had gotten a lot stronger, and he had run into some rather intriguing wild pokemon. Almost everything had gone his way except for the fact that he had never come across an abra.

He had even had Growlithe reach out with his aromatic awareness multiple times, but it was to no avail. Every time his friend picked up a scent that belonged to a member of the species, it was several miles away. Ash and his friends had tried tracking one down at one point. However, as soon as they got to within a two-mile radius, it teleported way beyond reach.

Basically, it got to the point where trying to capture an abra was a waste of time. He didn't know what it was, but it almost felt like destiny didn't want him to have one. Maybe he was overreacting a little bit, but that's just how it felt.

"Unfortunately," said Ash with disappointment in his voice, "I never ran into one. I guess it wasn't meant to be."

He paused before responding to the rest of what Sabrina had to say, "In regard to your powers, I figured as much."

"I'm sorry that I got your hopes up about the abra," articulated Sabrina, "but I wouldn't rule out the possibility yet. Sometimes, we get what we want…other times we don't. And sometimes we get what want through means that we never would have imagined. Destiny is a mysterious thing. We can make guesses, but there's no way to know exactly how it is going to unfold."

"I guess you're right," retorted Ash with a sigh. "Anyways, how about I finish my story. It's a lot more important than the fact that I failed to catch an abra."

"We're in agreement," answered Sabrina with amused eyes.

It was obvious to Ash that she was entertained by his frustration. Sabrina had an outrageous sense of pride when it came to the abra line. He could tell that, even though he hadn't captured an abra, Sabrina liked the fact that it was near the top of his list of pokemon that he wanted to catch…

"Continue please, Ash Ketchum," said Sabrina, pursing her lips.

Ash took a moment to remember the last thing that he had said before speaking.

"So…the head Officer Jenny of the Celadon Police Department arrived at the scene, along with a couple other officers and some paramedics," said Ash, resuming from where he left off. "As soon as I found out that the Officer Jenny that had shown up was the department's chief, I became suspicious. In situations like this, lesser ranked officers would have been sent, right?"

"Most of the time," answered Sabrina as she habitually ran her fingers through her hair. "Typically, a chief Jenny only deploys herself into the field during an emergency or an extremely important matter. In this case, I would have been thinking along the same lines as you. Either the girl that was assaulted was important to Celadon, or the attackers were already on the Police Department's radar."

"That's what I thought," said Ash with a nod.

"So, which was it?" asked Sabrina, raising an eyebrow. "Was the girl significant to Celadon, or were the assailants already being targeted?"

"Well, there is a little more to it than that," replied Ash, scratching the back of his neck. "The girl, Skylar, is definitely significant. I wouldn't necessarily say that she is important to the city, but she is the daughter of Ruphus Worthington: a famous eevee bree—"

"I know Ruphus Worthington," interrupted Sabrina. "He's a good friend of the Montgomerys. They've been getting their pet eevee from the Worthington family for years."

"Oh, really?" asked Ash, interested.

"Yes…" retorted Sabrina, "really."

"I'll have to ask you more about that later then," said Ash, trying not to get off topic. "Anyhow, Skylar Worthington had been missing for three days, so the Police Department had already been searching for her when I found her. At the time, they had no idea who had attacked her, so the head Jenny's reason for showing up solely had to do with Skylar. Apparently, the safety of a Worthington warrants the attention of an entire police department. The Worthingtons are that influential."

"Well, yeah," replied Sabrina. "They're one of the richest families in all of Kanto. Of course the disappearance of a Worthington would warrant that kind of attention. You saw how the public reacted to Robert's disappearance."

"Good point," said Ash, nodding his head.

"Well, right before they teleported Skylar to the Pokemon Center," continued Ash, "Officer Jenny offered me a ride to the Center as well. I said no."

Sabrina shook her head, already knowing where Ash's story was about to go.

"Ash Ketchum, you went after the eevee that the perpetrators stole from the Worthington girl, didn't you?"

"Err…yeah," answered Ash, fully aware that he was about to get scolded, "I couldn't let them get away with what they did. Come on now, Sabrina. You would have done the same thing."

"That may be true," retorted Sabrina with an edge in her voice, "but I have the power and authority to do so. Did Officer Jenny send you to go after the attackers? I highly doubt it."

Ash gulped. He didn't know what to say to her.

"That's what I thought," added Sabrina, responding to his silence. "Dammit, Ash Ketchum, didn't we tell you before you left Saffron not to do anything moronic?"

"Err…maybe," stammered Ash, "but you didn't see what they did to Skylar. I couldn't just let them get away with it. Besides, if I hadn't done what I did, Team Rocket would have gotten away with the eevee!"

Sabrina let out an exasperated sigh. Ash could tell that she was clearly disappointed in him.

"You have allies, Ash Ketchum," scolded Sabrina. "You could have called me, and I would have teleported to your location at a moment's notice. You're not supposed to take on Team Rocket alone.

"Well…" drawled Ash, "at the time, I didn't know that it was Team Rocket that attacked her."

"You may not have known for sure," retorted Sabrina, "but I'm sure you had a pretty good idea that it was them. A scene like that has Team Rocket's name written all over it. Have you forgotten what they did to the SS Anne and Saffron?"

"I could never forget that!" blurted Ash, raising his voice. "You're right! I knew it was Team Rocket!"

Tears welled up in his eyes as the volume of his voice dropped, "Sabrina, after everything I've been through, I couldn't stop myself. I had to do it…"

"Listen, Ash Ketchum," said Sabrina, capturing his full attention, "I understand why you did what you did. Trust me…I do. However, it doesn't change the fact that Team Rocket is beyond dangerous. You, more than anyone, should know that."

"I know," said Ash, "but—"

"No more buts," interjected Sabrina. "You will not go after Team Rocket on your own again. Now, please, finish the rest of your story."

Ash wiped away the small buildup of tears that had accumulated in the corners of his eyes before he responded.

"Fine," retorted Ash, "I won't go after Team Rocket by myself again. But, I can't promise that if I run into them by chance – and they are doing something suspicious – that I won't do something to stop them."

"That's understandable," said Sabrina, nodding her head. "If destiny chooses to place Team Rocket in your path, then there is nothing you can do but fight. All I ask is that you do not continue to seek out situations such as this most recent one. I commend you for helping out the Worthington girl, but you should have left the Rockets and the eevee to the Celadon Police Department."

Ash nodded his head. There was no point in arguing with her; she wasn't going to budge. Besides, deep down inside, Ash knew that she was right.

"Anyways…" drawled Ash, sitting down on the foot of the bed as he tried his best to calm down, "back to the story."

He paused, recounting where he left off, "After Officer Jenny left with Skylar, I had Growlithe follow the attackers' scents. Along with Haunter and Clefairy, we tracked them down. They weren't too far away from Skylar's ruined campsite. When we found them, they were having lunch in the middle of a small clearing. The conversation they were having sounded interesting, so I decided to eavesdrop before I attacked."

"Is this where you picked up the information?"

"Yeah," said Ash with a nod, attempting to remember the entirety of the Rockets' conversation. "A lot of what I heard was just typical conversation, but then they started talking about their ranks and something about how Team Rocket chose its members."

"Did any of that stand out to you?" asked Sabrina.

"Bits and pieces," said Ash with a shrug. "All of the stuff that we don't already know was rather confusing, though."

His eyes intensified as he thought about what happened next, "That is…until they started talking about their leader."

"Their leader?" queried Sabrina, perking up onscreen, "as in—"

"Not the leader of the entire organization," interrupted Ash. "That person is called the Boss. They were referring to another—"

"Executive," finished Sabrina monotonously. "That's what I was going to say before you cut me off."

"Oh…" muttered Ash, "how'd you know?"

"Up to this point, we've interrogated hundreds of grunts in Saffron," answered Sabrina. "Not a single one of them knows the identity of the Boss. Moreover, all information regarding the executives and the organization's plans is locked inside impregnable mental barriers. Everyday it's becoming more and more apparent that the abomination has safeguarded each and every Rockets' mind."

She paused, "The mental barriers that have been put up over the Rockets' psyches go beyond anything I have ever seen before, especially the one guarding Ariana's mind. Even Midna and Kaz haven't had any luck with the majority of her mental barrier."

"Damn…" drawled Ash, "that isn't good news."

"I know," retorted Sabrina, "but it's what we're dealing with. Anyways, continue…I am eager to find out what the Rockets you captured said about the executive."

"Alright," replied Ash, "the first thing I found out about the executive was his name."

Sabrina's pink eyes widened. Apparently, Ash had caught her by surprise.

"Wait a second, Ash Ketchum," answered Sabrina with a hint of astonishment in her voice. "Any details would have been nice, but you managed to get a name."

Ash smirked.

"The executive's name is just the tip of the iceberg," crowed Ash. "I've learned a lot of interesting things today, Sabrina."

"Tell me…" demanded Sabrina, "now."

Ash gulped; Sabrina could be scary when she wanted something. By now, he had spent enough time around her to know that much.

"The executive's name is Petrel," blurted Ash as he felt Growlithe lean up against him. "He leads an entire division of Rockets. I'm assuming that he is on the same level as Ariana."

"Petrel…" drawled Sabrina, "I don't recognize the name. What else did you find out?"

"Well," said Ash, "after they talked about Petrel for a little bit. They mentioned the fact that they needed to hurry up and get back to their base. Apparently, Petrel gave them orders to steal the eevee from Skylar and bring it to him."

"I see," retorted Sabrina, "so there must be a Team Rocket hideout in or near Celadon. At least, that's what makes the most sense given the information you've shared with me."

"I'm pretty sure I know where it is," answered Ash, causing Sabrina's eyes to widen once again.

"Where?"

"I'll tell you in a second," answered Ash. "Let me finish my story first."

"Very well…" said Sabrina, "this time I will not interject until you are finished."

"Perfect."

He took a deep breath as he ran his fingers through Growlithe's tuft, "Right before they were about to leave, I attacked. Growlithe, Haunter, Pidgeotto and Clefairy made quick work of their pokemon before I had Haunter use Hypnosis on the grunts."

"After that, it was just a matter of calling back Officer Jenny to have her pickup the unconscious Rockets. This time, I chose to tag along. I accomplished everything I wanted too on Route Seven – except for catching an abra – so there was no reason for me to decline her offer to take me with her to the station."

Sabrina nodded with attentive eyes, letting Ash know that she was still following him.

"When we got to the station, Officer Jenny locked up the Rockets before she took me into her office for questioning. She scolded me for a bit for going after Team Rocket on my own—"

"As she should have," inserted Sabrina with an edge in her voice.

"I thought you said you were going to stop interrupting me.

"My apologies," retorted Sabrina. "I couldn't resist."

There was a moment of silence as Ash waited for the smirk on Sabrina's face to go away.

"Are you satisfied?" asked Ash, raising an eyebrow.

"Yes," said Sabrina. "Yes, I am."

Ash let out a deep, exasperated sigh before continuing.

"So…" muttered Ash, "once Officer Jenny was done giving me a hard time, we talked about what had happened. I asked her how much she knew about Team Rocket's ranks; she had a pretty good idea."

All of a sudden, Ash noticed Sabrina's glowering eyes. It was rather obvious why she was staring at him so intensely.

"Don't worry," said Ash, "I didn't tell her any information that you would deem classified. I only brought up the fact that I overheard the Rockets and that they mentioned the name of their leader."

Her gaze lightened up, letting Ash know that his response was satisfactory.

"Next, I gave her Executive Petrel's name," continued Ash, "and I'm glad I did because she knew him."

Ash watched as Sabrina sat up in her chair. It was clear that she was even more focused than she had been before.

"It turns out that Petrel is the name of the manager at the Game Corner," said Ash, causing Sabrina to once again break her agreement not to interrupt him.

"Are you sure that the Petrel at the Game Corner and Team Rocket's Petrel are one in the same?"

"How many people do you know named Petrel?" queried Ash sarcastically.

"Fair enough," retorted Sabrina.

"Besides," said Ash in a serious tone of voice, "according to Officer Jenny, she's been suspicious of him for a while now, although she never guessed that he could be a Rocket executive."

He paused, "Officer Jenny and I are convinced that there is a Rocket hideout somewhere in the Game Corner. If we're right, it would answer a lot of the questions surrounding Celadon's crime rate and the flourishing success of the Game Corner."

"It's a solid hypothesis," answered Sabrina. "After listening to what you have to say, I have a feeling the two of you are right. Did you discuss a plan of action?"

"Well, not really," said Ash. "She's been trying to get a warrant to search the Game Corner for a couple of months, but hasn't had any luck. Erika won't allow it, and the other gym leaders aren't interested in getting involved. Now that she's positive that Petrel is a part of Team Rocket, though, she's determined to get one. I told her I'd ask you, since we're friends. So, she wanted me to talk to you before I meet with her tomorrow afternoon."

"Okay," articulated Sabrina, "so destiny wasn't kidding when it said that you had something important to tell me."

"Nope," retorted Ash, "it definitely wasn't."

"Well, I suppose it is what it is," said Sabrina with a blank face. "Is there anything else that you need to tell me?"

"I think that's everything," answered Ash.

"Alright then," said Sabrina monotonously, "so you're, without a doubt, speaking with Officer Jenny tomorrow, correct?"

"Mhmm…" murmured Ash, nodding his head.

"Can you deliver a message to her for me, then?" asked Sabrina.

"Of course."

He paused, raising an eyebrow, "What is it?"

"Tell her that there is no need for me to issue her a warrant," said Sabrina, causing Ash to look at her in a highly confused manner.

"What are you saying?" questioned Ash.

"I'm saying that it isn't necessary to give Officer Jenny a warrant," said Sabrina, "because she will not be searching the Game Corner."

"She won't?" asked Ash. "I don't understand. Why not?"

"The reason that she will not be searching the Game Corner," said Sabrina, "is because, from here on out, I will be handling the situation. After I get off of the phone with you, I'm going to make a few calls. With everything that is going on in Saffron, I can't go to Celadon myself, but I plan on getting in contact with the ACE Corps and League headquarters. This job is too big for the Kanto Police. It requires someone that can go toe-to-toe with a Team Rocket executive."

"I see," retorted Ash, breathing a massive sigh of relief. "For a second, I thought you were trying to say that you were going to leave the Game Corner alone."

"There is nothing to worry about, Ash Ketchum," articulated Sabrina. "I would never leave a situation such as this one unattended."

"That's why I was so surprised," said Ash as he lifted his hat and scratched the top of his head. "Anyways, why don't you contact Kent? Wouldn't he be the perfect person to handle something like this?"

"Yes, I am planning on relaying everything we have talked about to Kent," said Sabrina. "However, it is unlikely that he will be able to go to the Game Corner himself. He has been a major help to me in Saffron, handling the aftermath of the battle against Ariana. I can't afford to let him go yet."

She paused, "Besides, he is under direct orders from the Champion to stay in Saffron. Until Lance says that he is permitted to leave, he won't be going anywhere."

"Wouldn't Lance understand, though," replied Ash. "I mean, the League has an opportunity to take down another executive. Shouldn't he be all over a chance like that?"

"Yes, he should be," said Sabrina monotonously. "But, whether he is or isn't, there is no need to remove Kent from his current objective. Kent isn't the only first-class ACE trainer, Ash Ketchum, and there's always the Elite Four."

"There are other ACE trainers as strong as Kent?" asked Ash, flabbergasted. "I saw Kent battle in person. I kind of find that hard to believe."

"Whether you believe it or not, I speak the truth," retorted Sabrina. "Anyways, just pass my message on to Officer Jenny, and stay away from the Game Corner. Assuming there is a Rocket hideout, it is way too dangerous for you to be snooping around."

"But, I was going to try and win someth—"

"Ash Ketchum, I swear to Mew…" drawled Sabrina in a cold tone of voice, "if you so much as take one step inside of that putrid place, I will hunt you down, suspend your license, and send you home to your mother until Team Rocket is terminated."

Ash gulped.

"D-don't you think that's a little excessive?" queried Ash, grabbing onto Growlithe for support.

"If excessive is what it takes to protect you," articulated Sabrina, gazing at him with her ominous pink eyes, "then I won't hesitate for a second. It was different when you were in Saffron. You were never alone, and I could always keep an eye on you with my clairvoyance. This time, it's different. You are much more vulnerable."

Ash had to admit, she did have a point. As much as he didn't like it, it would be stupid to go to the Game Corner. He wasn't strong enough to protect himself from an executive. Going to that place, knowing what he knew about Team Rocket, was just asking for trouble.

This time, he would obey Sabrina. He could check it out another time—once the League had rid it of the debased, scum that it was infested with.

"Alright…" muttered Ash, "I'll stay away from the Game Corner."

"You better," retorted Sabrina, running her fingers through her hair.

She paused, "Anyhow, I should get going. I need to make a few phone calls. This situation needs to be handled as soon as possible."

"Okay," said Ash, "I'll let you go then."

He smiled and waved at the screen, "Bye, Sabrina. Let me know how everything goes."

"Farewell, Ash Ketchum," retorted Sabrina with a small smile on her face. "Stay out of trouble."

"Click."

The screen read "Call Ended" before fading to black.

Ash shifted his attention over to Growlithe, "Well, that was interesting…"

The puppy pokemon let out a quiet bark, signifying that he agreed with his trainer.

Ash took a deep breath before falling backward onto the bed's firm, albeit comfortable, mattress, "Looks like we're not going to the Game Corner anymore."

Growlithe disembogued a soft murmur, picking up the disappointment in his trainer's voice. He knew how much Ash wanted to see everything that Celadon had to offer.

"Hmm…I guess we're going to have to switch up our plans for tomorrow," said Ash as he thought about an alternative option.

"I wanted to go to the Game Corner after we visited Skylar and talked with Officer Jenny," continued Ash. "However, now that that plan is up in flames, maybe we'll go to the Department Store instead. It's in the city's northwestern district, so it can't be more than an hour away if we take a taxi…"

He paused as he looked Growlithe in the eyes, "How does that sound?"

Growlithe nodded. As long as Ash was okay with it, he was okay with it.

"Alrighty then," said Ash, "I guess it's decided. Tomorrow, we're hitting up the Department Store."

Hopefully, he'd walk away with some noteworthy things.

XXX

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