=Chapter One=

By Cyberwraith9
Back to Introduction


     "I don't like it…It's too quiet."

     Henry Hatter looked over at his new partner, rolling his eyes as he watched the young man's steely gaze shift from one security monitor to the next. The boy-Ken Ichi, a man twelve years his junior-hadn't let his hand drift from his nightstick since going on duty, exactly as the previous five nights they had been posted together.

     "Look, kid," Henry belched, swiveling in his chair (which had shifted to fit his wide girth after two decades of security detail), "Maybe you don't understand this job all that well…"

He waved his hands, gesturing to the circular, cluttered security center for Saffron City's chapter of the Museum of Island History. Set up on one work station were half a dozen monitors, shifting from one exhibit to the next in a constant sweep of the building. At another was a communications' console, used to keep in touch with the security staff roaming the corridors of the facility.

     "This job here? It's cake. Twenty-two years I've worked here, keepin' this place safe. You wanna know why they put me in charge?"

     Ken's eye twitched nervously as he tugged his cap tighter over his brow. "Because they figured it was easier than buying a new chair for someone whose ass didn't fit perfectly into the groove in that one?"

     "You looking for an attitude adjustment?" Harry warned him with shaking fist, "No? Then shut up and listen." He snorted, pulling another doughnut from the communal collection of Krispie Kremes. "In all the time I've been here, ain't nobody tried to pull nothin'. Saffron's as safe a place as you'll ever find, kid. Relax, ain't nothin' gonna come, okay?" Henry chewed loudly, spitting crumbs as he spoke around a mouthful of jelly-filled. "Believe me, you should be more worried about the basket cases livin' down the road at that freaky Gym."

     "Ever thought of working on your English skills while you let security here go down the toilet?" Ken's eye twitched again, clearly part of a larger nervous tic. Suddenly one of the monitors blinked out, replaced with a field of snowy static. "What's that?" Ken said, yanking his nightstick from its holster and pointing it at the monitor. "Do you see that?"

     "Jesus, switch to decaf already." Henry leaned forward and pounded the top of the monitor. A frown creases his sweaty, balding forehead as the age-old solution to ailing technology failed to clear the picture up. With a hearty push, he sent himself and his chair rolling across the room to the comm setup. "Unit Two, I need a check on Room Twelve, Level Two." More static came, this time hissing from the communications' array. "Unit Two, do you copy? Unit One. Unit Three. Someone check out the Pokémopolitan exhibit already!" Growling in frustration, he grabbed the mike and began tapping it. "Hello? Is anyone out there?"

     "Still think I'm paranoid?" Ken hissed, clutching his nightstick so tightly his knuckles had gone bone-white.

     "Yes. But let's check it out anyway." It took some effort, but Henry managed to pull himself from his favorite chair. Grabbing another doughnut from the box, he gave a quick promise to the chair that he would return quickly, and set out from the security center with Ken in tow.

     Ken quaked harder with each step they took down the darkened corridors. The walls were lined with paintings, tapestries, tablets, and any number of paraphernalia from Pokémon Island's rich cultural heritage. Beautiful by day, they created an eerie menagerie in the dark, dead silence of night. "I don't like this, old man…" Ken whispered hoarsely as they approached the Pokémopolitan exhibit, displayed in the museum's largest showcase area. "This smells all wrong."

     "Sorry," Henry said gruffly, "Probably the onion burger I had earlier tonight."

     He led the way into the exhibit, leading them through the stone archway with his oversized flashlight. Though powerful, the tool did little to light the enormous room filled with dozens upon dozens of priceless artifacts. Lucky for the both of them, a skylight above filtered in enough moonlight to illuminate the room, albeit poorly. Surrounded by strange shapes and silhouettes, Henry was hard-pressed not to agree with Ken's attitude; something was wrong.

     "E-Everything looks okay," Henry muttered, sweeping his flashlight across the room. "Guess we can-wait…" A small bit of movement caught his eye across the room. With a quickness his rotund bulk hadn't known for quite some time, he heaved forward in a lumbering run, crossing the room in a matter of seconds. "Who's there?" he shouted. Ken wasn't far behind, his flashlight and nightstick at the ready.

     Sure enough, a single man stood adjacent to one of the glass cases, filled with various ornate pieces of Pokémopolitan history. He was clad totally in black form-fitting cloth, with bandoleers of tools and devices set over his shoulders and criss-crossing at his chest and behind his back. Thick black boots glinted at his feet, and a black mask covered his entire head, off-set by a pair of electronic snoopers that sat over his eyes.

     "FREEZE!" Ken screamed, brandishing his nightstick and trying to put on a tough demeanor. With the crack in his voice, and the knocking of his knees, he still had a long way to go.

     The figure, however, obliged the security guards and raised his hands. The cloth surrounding his face stretched, suggesting a smile hidden beneath. "Looks like you caught me," he chuckled, lacing his fingers behind his head. "Lucky for me, you didn't catch my brothers."

     Two more thieves melted from the shadows on either side of the first, appearing as if from nowhere with black spheres in hand. Henry and Ken were caught totally off-guard as they tossed the spheres at their feet.



     The spheres split open, releasing a dazzling display of light that nearly blinded Henry, whose eyes had adjusted to the dark. As he blinked the spots away, his vision returned just in time to see the two creatures born of the light, both similar in size and shape, and yet as opposite as day and night. One was a being of pure fire, its flames licking and snapping hungrily at the cool, conditioned air in the museum. The second possessed a series of fins and ridges, with a flat flipper-tail jutting from its rear. Like the other, it stood on two sets of paws, the size of a large dog, with ears like a rabbit's, and cruel, black eyes.

     Henry's old training kicked in as he reached for his radio. "This is Unit Zero. We have intruders in Room Twelve, Level Two. Subjects possess Pokémon, repea-YARGH!"

     His cries were cut short as a wall of golden energy enveloped both of the security guards. His radio shorted out immediately, then began to smoke and melt. He could feel the metals studs in his shirt burning against his skin as the electricity coursed through him, dancing across his skin and jumping from filling to filling in his mouth.

     The first intruder stepped forward, his hands still cast casually behind his back. "Did I forget to mention my little friend, too?" he glanced around the portly guard at his Jolteon, giving the creature a nod. The collection of yellow, charged spines mewled and obeyed, ceasing its onslaught of power into the two humans and letting them drop onto the carpet, smoldering and blissfully unconscious.

     One of his two heroes stepped forward, clipping him upside the head. "Sparky! You nearly blew the whole job, you idiot!" he snarled.

     "Jeez, Rainer, chill!" Sparky reeled back, throwing his hands up. "We jammed communications, dropped the other guards, took out the camera…these were the last two. Chill, okay?"

     Rainer shook his masked head, gesturing to the third member of their team. "Pyro, open the case."

     "Gladly. Flareon?" he looked to his Pokémon, who leapt forward to face the glass case. With a small jet of flame, Flareon melted a neat hole in the glass, leaving plenty of room for Rainer to withdraw the targeted item once the edges had stopped glowing red. With great care, he pulled a small bejeweled medallion from the case, leaving the rest of the treasure trove untouched. "Got it."

     Pyro and Sparky were already moving to the far wall. With Flareon close by, the middle of the brothers began examining the wall carefully. "Right here, Flareon."

     "Flare!" Flareon's flames blasted once more, blowing a hole in the side of the building. A warm summer breeze immediately began wafting through the opening, heated even further by the Pokémon's attack.

     "Oh, wonderful," Rainer rolled his eyes behind his goggles, pocketing the medallion and recalling his Vaporeon. "Very subtle, Pyro."

     "Can it, the both of you," the youngest groused. "Let's just go already." In the distance, through their self-made door, the three brothers could hear police sirens howling in the distance, drawing closer with each second. There was no need for them to worry, though; they were gone long before the authorities ever arrived.

     Twilight blanketed the city in a lover's embrace, alighting Celadon in hues of passionate red and gold. The towering skyscrapers that formed the Island's largest center of commerce and industry glinted against the setting sun, pillars of cold steel and glass that came alive only once a day. Even the smog that permeated the air and hung over the city like an icing of thick, choking black seemed to shimmer in the sunset, creating a curtain of color for those lucky enough to look up at just the right moment.

     A lone man stood high above it all, absorbing the breathtaking view and appreciating the beauty that nature had offered to those select few capable of still noticing it. Then again, it was easy for him to see nature's elegance; he had spent the majority of his life exploring her kingdom, adventuring, and protecting her since the tender age of ten.

     He leaned on the guardrail of his forty-ninth-floor hotel balcony, looking down at his only companion present. His friend was resting up against the wrought-iron bars of the rail, looking down at the bustling metropolis as day transformed into night. Though a poor conversationalist, he knew his friend felt exactly the same way. "What do you think, Pikachu?"

     Pikachu glanced up at Ash Ketchum, his longtime friend and trainer, then back out at the waning sunlight. With his sharp senses, he was able to see and hear things that even Ash could not; the trill of the Pidgey, roosting among statues and alcoves hidden within aging stone masonry; the pungent stench of automotive exhaust that rose high above the streets to join the rest of the industrial waste that hovered over the city; the warm breeze that carried voices from all over, bringing shouts of glee, cries of terror, laughter and tears and conversation from all corners of the city, sight unseen…

     "Pika…" Pikachu murmured, glancing out at the rolling plains beyond Celadon.

     Ash nodded, smirking as he returned to the last few moments of the day. "You said it. It was definitely worth the extra cash for the view." From up there, it felt as though he could see the entire Island at once. It seemed so peaceful, without a single care or worry to be seen. His fingertips brushed lazily down his forearm, tracing the long, angry scar. It tingled to the touch, reminding him that, though the view was peaceful, it only told part of the story. He knew the Island's dangers, and no view, no matter how beautiful, could make him forget.

     "Hey, Ash!"

     Ash glanced back through the sliding double doors and into their hotel room, catching a glimpse of the room's other occupant as he exited the bathroom clad only in a towel. "Brock. Are you done, or is there still some hot water left?"

     "Funny." Brock rubbed his freshly-shaved chin, wincing at the raw spots. "Having one of those 'Hero On The Balcony' moments again?"

     "No heroes here, Brock." Ash chuckled, leading Pikachu back inside and closing the doors behind them. "Just a couple of average joes enjoying the sunset."

     Brock sat down on the edge of the bed. He reached for the remote and flipped the TV on, surfing for anything that might catch his interest. "Well, get a move-on. We've got a full night ahead of us, and while you're adorably scruffy, the invite does say 'formal'."

     Ash reached into his pocket, pulling out the very invite that Brock spoke of. It was printed on gilded paper, with golden words embossed in carefully scripted letters.

To Be Held at the Celadon Waldorf-Astoria
JUNE 16 AT 8:00 PM
At the invitation of


     Ash frowned at the invite even as Brock continued to read, "At nine o'clock, an explanation will be provided. Attendance is strongly recommended, but by no means required." He put his own invite down, looking at his partner. "So, what do you think they'll be explaining?"

     He shrugged, taking the remote from Brock's hand and continuing the surf. "I don't know. Maybe it'll be why they invited us to this thing. It just doesn't add up, Brock." He frowned, tossing aside the remote just as his channel-browsing came to rest on the evening news.

     "We're just a couple of rough-and-tumble schlubs." Brock scowled, letting his eye drift towards the news for a moment. It was more of the same; fires, murders, natural disasters…which, as horrible as they were, would mean more work for them in the long run. "Why would anyone invite us to a ball?"

     "I don't know." Ash reached over, rubbing Pikachu behind his ears. "I thought that was why we were going: Curiosity."

     "Hey, I'm all for curiosity," Brock quipped, rising from the bed and moving to the closet. There, he withdrew a garment bag and made laid it out, drawing the zipper open. "But you and I both know that curiosity can lead to some very bad things, right?" He pulled his rental tuxedo from the bag, holding it up to examine in the mirror. "I mean, come on; The Elite? A meeting at a dance? It sounds like one of those cornball mystery-spy-thriller dime store novels."

     Ash ignored him, perking his ears to the television. "And in national news," the anchor rattled his blank papers, never taking his eyes from the teleprompter off-screen, "Terror struck once again in Saffron City as the Museum of Island History was struck last night, the third in a daring string of museum thefts. The only item taken was a Pokémopolitan medallion, containing ceremonial gems believed to-"

     "See?" Brock gestured at the TV emphatically, "This is the kind of thing we should be sinking our teeth into. These museum thefts are right up our alley!" He tossed the tux back on the bed, picking up his forest green utility vest and khaki shorts. "C'mon, I'll throw my good clothes on, and we can be to Saffron in a couple of hours. Whata'ya say?"

     Ash looked again at the invite. It was their benefactor's name that fanned the flames of his curiosity; The Elite. The name itself was quite a boast, and their mysterious methods piqued his interest. "It's too bad," he casually fanned himself with the invite, rising to pace the length of the ravishing room. "I went down to the Center just this afternoon, and Celadon Joy seemed to be pretty excited about going tonight."

     "Joy's going?"

     "And with something this big going on, I'd be willing to be that the local Jenny will show up to keep an eye on things."

     "Officer Jenny?"

     The Waldorf-Astoria's ballroom was rated among the most elegant on the Island, and certainly one of the most expensive. One entire side of the hotel was composed of a half-dome of crystal glass; walls, ceiling, and the pillars supporting it all were made of flawless translucent material. If one did not experience the building firsthand, especially in the middle of summer, one might have thought it to be carved from ice.

     No expense had been spared on the interior, either. The furniture, the tables, and the tasteful glassware set up at the buffet table were of the same material. Already, the ballroom was filled to half-capacity, with men and women milling about in their finest eveningwear. Tuxedoes dotted the crowd, set off by the women's cocktail gowns and designer dresses of differing color.

     And standing in front of it all, sweating slightly after a brief walk a few blocks down, were two men and a Pokémon, woefully out of place. They wore their tuxedoes as one would wear a ball-and-chain; unused to the new restrictions in movement, they kept tugging at the garments uncomfortably. Even Pikachu had dressed for the occasion, wearing a tiny red bow tie with matching cummerbund.

     "I told you we should have paid the five-fifty for valet parking…" Brock groused, wiping a thin sheen of sweat from his forehead with the sleeve of his stifling tuxedo. "Now we're all sweaty and smelly, you cheap bastard."

     Ash ignored him, as he usually did when Brock began complaining. He gazed up at the glass structure in awe, truly impressed at the architectural marvel. "Makes you wonder, doesn't it?"


     "No. Wonder what?"

     "How they keep it all clean. Can you imagine how much Windex it would-"

     Brock elbowed him hard as they entered the building. "God, you're an idiot. This whole thing is stupid. We should be looking for work!"

     The instant they entered the building, Ash began to agree with Brock. Everywhere he looked, there was a person he recognized, and most of the people he had spent the last eight years avoiding. There were Gym leaders, master Trainers, League officials, and the rest of the ilk he had left behind when he had departed from the Indigo League.

     "Look at all the trainers…" Brock whistled, taking in the room. "Bet you we know nine out of ten of the people here."

     "Bet you we've beaten nine out of ten of the people here," Ash muttered, scanning the crowd. One person in particular caught at him, a short, dark haired man nearly Ash's age, wearing a tuxedo…and wearing it far better than Ash was. "There's a piece of bad news. Hey, Sammy!"

     The man turned, punch in hand, and watched as Ash, Brock and Pikachu approached him. His eyes scanned the trio, appraising them, evaluating them for some kind of threat. It was more out of habit than anything else; when one lived by the sword, one developed certain skills to stay alive. "You know I hate that asinine nickname, Ashura." Samurai said in a monotone, looking up at the taller trainer impassively.

     "You know I don't care." Ash smiled, swapping a firm, adversarial handshake with the slight warrior. Though he topped the swordsman by a good four inches and belittled him with humiliating nicknames, he knew the swordsman to be a formidable opponent. "What brings you here?"

     "Doubtless, the same thing that brought you and Brock here as well." He pulled his invite out of his pocket, flashing it briefly to the pair. "Do you know anything of these 'Elite' that have orchestrated the entire ball?"

     "Not a thing. Wanna chill for a while, make it a guy's night out?" Brock offered, sidling up to the punch bowl and pouring himself a glass. He spotted a pretty young thing a few feet down the buffet table, wearing a revealing red number that did little to tone down the beautiful figure beneath it. "We could go trawling for company."

     Samurai caught him eyeing the woman, and approached her with an air of confidence. "I would gladly accept your offer, Brock," he took the woman's arm, giving her hand a gentle kiss, "But I have not attended this dance without escort."

     The woman turned, revealing stunningly sculpted features. Dark eyebrows knit as recognition set into her green eyes, which rested on Ash and his Pikachu. "Oh goody…and he brought his rat, too."

     "Giselle." Ash offered back with as much syrupy sweetness as he could force, "What a pleasant surprise. I didn't know they invited has-beens to these things, too. When did you and Sammy hook up?"

     "I'd love to stay and watch you pretend to hold an actual conversation," Giselle sneered, handing her half-empty punch glass to Brock, "But my brave warrior here promised me a dance." She looked at Samurai, her eyes becoming googily and mushy. "Come, love, let's away to the dance floor."

     "Ashura. Brock. Always a pleasure." Samurai nodded to them both before being swept away by the towering diva. The difference in their height might have seemed ridiculous in another couple, but Samurai carried with him a dignity that made him seem ten times taller than he actually was.

     Brock adopted a deep, formal voice as they watched the mismatched pair stalk off. "And tonight's forecast will be partly bitchy," He quipped sidelong at Ash, "With a ninety-percent-chance of towering ego." He looked over, ridding himself of Giselle's glass at the table and picking idly at the hors d'oeuvre. "Are you ready to go yet, or do we have to stay here and humiliate ourselves further?"

     Ash sighed, looking down at Pikachu. The Pokémon appeared bored and irritated, watching the veritable sea of feet swaying to the beat of an unseen DJ and a string of slow songs. His patience, which was never his strongest asset, was beginning to wear dangerously thin, especially in regards to the uncomfortable cummerbund looped around his tiny waist. "This couldn't possibly get any worse."

     Brock chuckled, staring out into the crowd along with him and munching on a cracker spread with caviar. Suddenly, his laughter stopped abruptly, replaced with a sharp intake of air. He began to choke on the cracker, spewing little black fish eggs across the floor in front of them as he tried to clear his windpipe.

     His partner cast a glance at him, raising an eyebrow. "You okay?"

     "I think karma heard you," Brock managed to choke out, pointing across the room.

     Ash rolled his eyes. "Don't get started on your karma kick again, Brock. What are you talking a-"

     Then he saw her. She was standing across the room, at one of the other tables of refreshments. Her upturned, pug nose hadn't changed, adding a sense of playfulness to her flawless face. Punch held in delicate hand, lips played in a silvery smile, carroty hair piled atop her head in a mass of chic curls that cascaded down into her stunning ocean eyes, all served to paint a face that Ash knew all too well.

     Her eyes…he remembered them best of all. They were as blue as the sky, as clear as the tepid waters on a calm, crystal lake. One moment, they could flash terrible anger, only to radiate with more love and kindness than he had ever known before…so peaceful, so mysterious, so…


     Brock nodded, swallowing the last of his aborted caviar. "I hardly recognized her, it's been so long. What, five years, six?"


     "Good lord…" Brock shook his head, exchanging glances with Pikachu. The Pokémon simply looked up at him, shrugging his tiny shoulders. "Has it really been that long?" He grabbed Ash's shoulder, dragging him out across the floor. "C'mon, we gotta go say hi!"

     Ash broke Brock's grip with his forearm, halting in his tracks so abruptly that it nearly threw Brock to the floor. "No."


     "No." Ash shook his head, folding his arms across his chest. "Absolutely not."

     For a moment, Brock's face was twisted with confusion. Then his memory kicked in, spreading recognition and understanding across his features. "Oh, I get it." He drawled, rubbing his chin. "You're still upset because she dumped you."

     "She didn't dump me…exactly." Ash snapped defensively, and not entirely convincingly. "She just…"

     "What?" Brock nudged him jovially, grinning. "Broke your little heart? C'mon, it was ten years ago. Let the past go already!" He resumed dragging his protesting partner across the dance floor, with Pikachu hot on their heels. His other arm was reserved for flagging their target down. "Hey, Misty! MISTY!"

     Misty looked up from her punch, and nearly did a spit-take just as Brock had. "Oh my God!" she cried, hastily setting the punch down and running over to embrace Brock. "Brock Stone, is that you? Oh my God! This is so amazing!" Her hands barely met as she tried to get them around Brock's massive chest, putting considerable effort into the hug.

     Ash stood awkwardly to the side as Brock wrapped his arms around Misty's slender, curved waist and picked her up in a massive bear hug. "Misty!" he laughed enough happiness to make Ash gag. The entire display was embarrassing, really; to look at the familiarity and ease between the two, one wouldn't guess them to have been separated more than a day, let alone a decade. But, he supposed, an entire childhood of traveling together, and sharing zany adventures with one another, could forge such a bond.

     "What on Earth are you doing here, Brock?" Misty gasped for breath when he finally released her, beaming the entire time. "You were about the last person I expected to see here. What are you doing with yourself these days?"

     Brock snapped his fingers, digging through his jacket pocket for a moment. "Oh, we run a self-employed business."

     "Self-employed? That sounds very…successful."

     He laughed again, finally finding the object he had been seeking in his pocket. "Not really. It just means we're lazy, and go hungry half of the time." He handed her a small business card, which seemed even smaller in his strong, massive hand. "Odd Jobs!"

     She took the card gently, holding it up to read, "They don't come odder than us," beneath the business logo. "Us?" She looked around Brock to the brooding figure and Pokémon behind him, cocking an eyebrow. "Is this your partner?"

     If it was at all possible, Ash thought he felt his heart plummet even further into the inky black depths of the wound she had left inside. Brock was shocked as well, and dragged Ash over. "Come on," he demanded amiably, unable to keep the surprise completely from his tone, "Don't tell me you don't remember the future Pokémon World Champion…"

     Ash finally raised his amber eyes to meet with hers. Clenching his hands to keep them from trembling, he managed to mumble, "Hello, Misty."

     It was Misty's turn for sudden recognition. Her eyes were as wide as saucers, and her hand flew to her mouth, which had become a perfect circle of shock. "Oh my God," she said again, but this time in a whisper much less joyful than her shouts of glee at her reunion with Brock.

     Seeing her put off-guard gave Ash a bit more courage. With noticeable effort, he drew himself up, and croaked, "It's, ah, been a long time."

     "The Three Amigos together again!" Brock grabbed both of them by the shoulder, drawing them all together. He had completely missed the uncomfortable tension between Ash and Misty, possessing a grin that threatened to split his face. "What do you say we three single cats tear this party up, eh?"

     Misty could hardly tear her eyes away from Ash as she removed Brock's arm from her frame. "I…I'd love to, guys, but I'm afraid I'm…spoken for."


     The cry caught Misty's full attention; she turned away from Brock and Ash to greet a small child running their way. The two men watched in silent confusion as Misty bent to one knee, scooping a young girl into her arms as she ran to the carrot-topped dynamo.

     The young girl possessed waves of stunning raven hair that hung to the small of her back, and was topped with a yellow and black beret. It rippled in the bright light of the ballroom with the tiniest movement of her head, which bobbed and swayed in her mother's arms. The girl's features were soft and round, not at all like Misty's sculpted, angular face. In fact, the boys had a hard time believing that it was true, until she opened her eyes; they were the same soft, stunning blue color as her mother's, and seemed to shimmer and smile no matter where she looked.

     "Momma," the girl's light, airy voice sang as Misty finally put her down, "I went and looked, but they didn't have any veena…veenana…"

     "No Vienna sausages?" Misty provided for her.

     "Nu-uh." The girl nodded and dug into her pocket, pulling out the crushed, smeared remains of a cracker with some sort of cheese spread on top. "But I got you one of these, instead." She offered the treat up proudly, not at all caring that most of it was oozing between her fingers.

     The yellow beret perched atop her head wiggled and stirred, suddenly producing a pair of inky black eyes. Yawning from a mouth that Ash would have sworn wasn't there a minute ago, the beret stretched out a complete set of limbs, topped off with a tiny lightning bolt tail. It crawled lazily from her head and down her arm, nipping and licking at the gooey mess much to the girl's giggling delight.

     Misty laughed too, producing a napkin and wiping at whatever the living beret couldn't finish. "Thank you-oh!" She straightened, suddenly remembering her previous company. "I'm sorry! Guys, this is April. She's my daughter."

     "Hi!" April was obviously not the shy type. She grabbed the greedy blob of yellow off of her hand and tucked it under her arm, looking up at the dazed duo with intense curiosity. "Mommy," she looked back at Misty, "These strangers look awful familiar…"

     "April, dear, this is Mr. Stone." She introduced Brock in a no-nonsense tone, exactly the kind that Ash remembered his mother having on several occasions.

     Brock knelt down, taking April's hand and kissing it delicately. "Just call me Brock, li'l darling." He said charmingly, giving her a wink she couldn't possibly see through his squinted eyes.

     April giggled. "You're funny, Mr. Brock." She grinned up at him, beating her long, luxurious eyelashes at him. Brock took one look at her eyes, and, seeing her mother as evidence, knew without a doubt that she would break more than one young man's heart in the years to come.

     Misty smiled briefly before glancing over at Ash. "And this," she said, this time with a leaden voice, "Is Mr. Ketchum."

     Ash simply stared down at the young girl, too shocked to move. Ever since that fateful night ten years ago, he had known that Misty had moved on. Somehow, though, that knowledge wasn't enough to prepare him for this; Misty, with a daughter?

     Unperturbed, April examined Ash thoughtfully. Finally, her cherubic features brightened. "I know you! I've seen you in Momma's picture books!" She looked down at Ash's ankle, where Pikachu was observing the entire scene from. "And you still have your Pikachu, too! Lookit!" She held her yellow blob up excitedly, "I have a Pokémon too!"

     The blob spread its arms and legs, and perked its tiny black ears up in interest. "Pichu!" the tiny Pokémon squeaked. "Pi pi!"

     "Pika?" Pikachu approached the baby Pokémon carefully, sniffing its outstretched paw. After a moment, the elder Pokémon smiled. The Pichu wriggled out of April's arms, and together, the two Pokémon bounded off, lost in the crowd.

     "Zapper!" April cried out, starting to chase after them. Misty put a quick stop to that, grabbing her daughter's arm and scolding her for trying to run off.

     "Don't worry," Ash glanced back at his Pika-partner, who was attacking the opposite buffet table, "Pikachu'll keep an eye on her for you."

     "Yes," Misty said a bit archly, raising her eyebrow at the rogue Pokémon, "They'll be okay, April dear." She looked into Ash's eyes, silent as a tomb. Her expression was unreadable, and Ash, who ten years ago could have known exactly what she was thinking with just a glance, found himself unable to even discern her mood.

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