Phantom (dripping_candle) wrote,
Phantom
dripping_candle

chapter seventeen (part 2)



Act IV Stage I Part 2


“Brock, look!”

The Breeder groaned and swatted at the crumpled paper being shoved into his face, and Misty promptly brought her fist down over the top of his head. He yelped.

“Mew, Misty! What the hell was that—”

“Ash! Look, they have Ash!”

“They…What?

Rubbing the sleep dust from his eyes tiredly, Brock sat up in his bed, almost curiously devoid of any snoring siblings, and took the proffered paper from her, his eyes narrowing as they lit on the picture and its caption. “Elemental caught beneath the Stadium...”

“Not caught,” Misty interrupted, sitting hurriedly on the bed beside him and practically ripping the paper open to point at its continuation inside. “Trapped. They have him trapped, Brock, back in the very back of all those rooms, and he must be fighting for his life.”

Brock frowned as his eyes breezed through the article. “Says they’ve had him trapped since Tuesday,” he announced, frown deepening. “The lake’s between him and everyone else.”

“He’s only got so many Water Pokémon!” Misty said wildly. Mew, this was one of her worst fears, just short of Ash actually being caught or dead, but the way things were looking, both were very real possibilities in the near future. “He can’t hold them off forever!”

“Think he can hold them off till Sunday?” Brock asked, turning to look at her. He had worry and concern written all over his face.

“I don’t know! That’s three days! What if he can’t?”

“Well maybe Drake can—”

“Drake’s being held after his trial! He was convicted!”

Brock’s frown deepened further, and he began thumbing through the pages in search of some alternative. “Well Delia can—”

“Gary’s made her into some sort of an accomplice to Drake!”

“Didn’t you say Lance was—”

“Didn’t you read it, Brock? He’s one of the staff partitioning for Delia’s release! He’s got his hands full already!”

Brock was shaking his head now, and let his hands fall to his lap over the crumpled paper as he turned to look at Misty seriously. “I know how you must be feeling,” he said seriously, “and I know it sucks, but you do know where we are, and what day it is. The very earliest I can get us back is Saturday night, and that’s pushing it. Mom and Dad’ll flip either way—”

“Then I’ll go alone!” Misty declared, shoving herself up to her feet and starting back for her room. Brock caught her wrist and held her back.

“And what the hell are you going to do alone?”

“Like I know! Something!” She tried tugging her wrist free. That last thing she wanted right now was to have to sit here, nearly two hundred miles away, and do nothing.

“Wait a minute, Misty, hang on.” Brock stood behind her and insistently tugged her back. “There’s gotta be a million people there, plus the press and Mew knows who else. What the hell are you going to do that he can’t do himself?”

“I don’t care,” Misty snapped, whirling on her friend. “I’ll think of something. Let me go!”

Brock’s grip on her wrist tightened, eyes dating to the door. “Misty, shush,” he warned, voice going quiet. “Just hang on, don’t let my family hear you. Saturday, I promise. That’s when all the students are allowed back. Any earlier and they could arrest you just for trespassing.”

“But—”

“You can’t do anything while you’re arrested, Misty! That‘s what the word means!”

Misty knew he had a point, however much she hated it. Glaring furiously, she tore her hand from his and gritted her teeth until it bordered on painful. “Fine,” she snapped, “but as soon as we get there, we’re going to help him, and I don’t care who sees us along the way.”

Brock didn’t sigh, or wince, or even hesitate. He nodded and met her eyes. “Saturday. I’ll go too.”

“And Suzie?” Adrenaline was flooding Misty’s veins, but she knew they couldn’t enter Stadium grounds again until Saturday morning at the earliest, though they’d planned not to return until Sunday afternoon. Certain people were bound to notice.

This time Brock did hesitate, and flicked his gaze to the side quickly. “Er...”

Misty glared at him. “Er? What er? Did you tell her already?” This was not the time for new surprises.

Brock flushed, the red strangely bright against his tanned cheeks. “She, um. Er. Well you see, you came in so quickly that I didn‘t—”

“Um.“ Brock and Misty froze at the soft voice from the bed. “Hi, Misty. Sorry, we didn’t think you’d...be up this early.”

Suzie was blushing as she sat up beneath Brock’s blankets, very obviously clad in nothing but the Pichu tank top that matched his boxers. She pulled the sheets up over her chest a little more modestly and smiled faintly at Misty, who had frozen to the floor in shock.

“Uh—” Her brain was locked in Surprise Mode, and she didn’t know what to say. Oh Mew. Another person. Oh Mew. Not good.

“It’s okay,” Suzie told her with a smile. “Brock told me about him. You don’t have to worry, I won’t say anything.”

Misty’s eyes flew to Brock, and this time they were narrow. Brock scrambled to come up with something to say in his own defense.

“Well I uh. I might have, uh. Well she, um. She asked?”

This time Misty did keep him in the kneecap, and felt a rush of pleasure when her foot connected.

X


The next two days were agony. Misty frantically checked every newspaper, radio station, and television show that even mentioned Elementals or the Stadium, but a lot of them were taking advantage of the “scandal” to run documentaries on both, their audience heightened by the limited news flowing from the city. Flint rolled his eyes and continued to call it a hoax to get more funds. Misty was forced to chuckle dryly and agree. It was maddening.

There seemed to be some sort of stalemate, to the point where people were beginning to doubt there was an Elemental trapped at all, and tended to think more along the lines of Brock’s father. Misty knew better though, and was terrified that every time someone claimed to have new footage, it would be of Ash struggling in some sort of cage. They only managed brief glimpses of him using his electricity, though, and most attributed it to “the Pikachu” that always seemed to remain at his side. The entire incident was still hot news, but the kind that would taper off after a week or so of nothing new. Misty prayed that was the case. She also prayed that, between the three of them, they would be able to find some way to help Ash out of his predicament.

Leaving early was easy. Flint and his wife were sad to see them go, but they understood the importance of upcoming tests. On the bus, Misty sat near the driver and strained her ears to listen to his radio, only to learn that—finally—the Elemental had “slipped away” and was now being pursued by a team led by Gary Oak, the man most familiar with the Stadium’s underground labyrinth.

“Which means they can’t find him,” Brock told her reassuringly. “You know it does, Misty, they just don’t want to lose face. He’s all right. Eat something before you pass out.”

Misty was only able to nibble on some chips he’d nabbed on their way out the door. Suzie, having spent the last couple days learning about Ash from Misty’s perspective instead of Brock’s, looked as anxious as she felt. The girl’s talents lied in raising and nurturing Pokémon, though, not in Training them, and Misty didn’t expect much help from her. Suzie didn’t seem to mind. She hadn’t Battled since her basic exams years before had forced her to; it simply wasn’t something on the Breeding course track. Brock was doubling in both so he could help his family out at the Gym.

Misty wasn’t even sure what they were going to do when they arrived, only that she wanted to be back there to help Ash, especially now that it sounded like his mother and uncle were out of the picture—at least temporarily. Temporary was all Gary Oak ever needed, though, and it frightened her. She had reached the point in which she didn’t care if helping Ash meant her expulsion from the school, not even if it was a mere two weeks from her final exams. He was more important than some papers and a Pokédex, and the Stadium wasn’t the only school out there. It wouldn’t mean the end of her life, even if, after all the work she’d put in, it might feel like it.

There was a line when they arrived. A long line. This was new, slightly intimidating, and the last thing any of them wanted to do was wait in it; sitting immobile on the bus had been bad enough. After some inquiring, they were able to learn that, due to the Elemental events over the course of the past week, security had been beefed, and all students were required to check in upon arrival and participate in strict attendance roll for every class so that they would know right away if someone went missing. Misty cursed loudly enough to make a gaggle of younger teenage girls turn and stare at her. If Gary Oak hadn’t created that rule specifically for her, she was positive he’d had her in mind when he’d proposed it.

“What now?” Suzie asked worriedly, and was obviously unfamiliar with Misty’s antics while determined to do something because she stared in surprise when Misty replied:

“We sneak in.”

Brock snorted and rolled his eyes. “Are you crazy, Misty? Look how many people there are! Where exactly do you suggest we sneak?”

It was freezing outside, and Misty stamped her foot as she turned to glare at her friend. “Like it matters? I am not signing in up there, Brock; as soon as Gary sees my name on the list I’ll have some crony or something following me around every time I leave my room. I need to find him first!”

The girls just in front of them were quiet, obviously listening, and Misty remembered not to use Ash’s name just in time; it had been released in the article about him, and though most people thought it was ridiculous for an Elemental to have such a human name, anyone might recognize it right now.

“Hey, if you can come up with some plan, I’m all for it,” Brock said irritably, crossing his arms. “It’s the plan part I’m finding particularly difficult here.”

Misty frowned and tried to lower her voice; a few of the girls were even turning to look at her, then quickly whispering something to their friends. It was both annoying and slightly nerve-wracking; she had no idea who Gary might have convinced to listen for him.

“There’s got to be an open door somewhere,” she hissed. “Either that or someone not paying attention to one, or one for private use only, or something. Rudi used some big fancy private ones sometimes after our dates—” There was a sudden small but furious explosion of giggling and beeping from the girls, and Misty turned to glare at them before continuing in a much lower tone. “He took me to private doors that you needed a keycard thing to get into. Maybe if I go to one of them and tell them I forgot my keycard, they’ll recognize me and, I dunno, let me in.”

Both Brock and Suzie were staring at her when she finished, the former with an incredulous look and the latter in disbelief. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” Brock finally snorted.

“Yeah, didn’t you like, break up with him or something?”

All three of them turned to look at the girl who’d suddenly addressed them. She was raising an eyebrow at Misty as if asking for proof of such an unbelievable thing, phone blinking in her hand. Finally, she turned to look at it, then burst out laughing and texted back, fingers flying over the number pads at a speed that made Misty’s head spin.

“Who are you, and who the hell asked you in the first place?” she snapped. Her nerves were frayed and getting worse by the second; she needed to get in there to find Ash, and she needed to now.

The girls looked at each other in almost comical shock, their mouths open in perfect little O’s. Misty set her hands on her hips and glared at them. They didn’t take the hint.

“Is it true you’re graduating early?” the one wearing an anorak asked. Not for the first time lately, Misty was glad she would be leaving some people behind fairly soon.

“I don’t see how that’s any of your business,” she said icily. A couple of them rolled their eyes.

“Duh, it’s everyone’s business.”

“Yeah, everyone knows you’re the one hogging up all of Rudi Trovita’s attention lately.”

Misty frowned. The way they said his name made it sound like he was some sort of celebrity—which he kind of was, but not that big of one. She was about to tell them off for butting in where they were obviously unwanted when one of them spoke to her without looking up from her phone.

“Oh yeah, May’s pissed at you now. Can’t you just let the guy go and move on?”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Misty demanded, her annoyance and confusion at the idiot girls only fueling her bad mood.

“Duh, May Haruka?” one of them asked, and looked at her like she was an idiot for not knowing. “She’s meeting him like, a million times a week.”

“Yeah, and you just busted one,” another added, and they all looked at her like she had just failed at some game.

“She’s pissed.”

“Yeah, you always do this to her. Every time her and Rudi start really talking, someone calls him about you and he’s gotta leave again.”

So annoying.”

“Can’t you just like, leave him alone?”

Misty’s frown had faded from one of anger to one of genuine confusion, but before she could ask what the hell they were talking about—again—a loud voice cut over the crowd’s and distracted her.

“Waterflower, Misty Waterflower! You’re wanted at the front of the line!”

Misty turned to Brock in surprise, worry written all over her face. This wasn’t right, no one should know she was there; they’d signed up to return tomorrow, not today, and while their return date had never been a big issue before, returning a day early was supposed to give them extra time to help Ash without being noticed.

“Should I—?”

“Probably.”

“But what if it’s...”

“Then you should go see what he wants.”

“Even if it’s about...”

Brock nodded. “Especially if it’s about him. Go see what he wants, and then go look for him. We’ll help as soon as we get inside.”

Misty sighed. Dammit. Dammit. Would the surprises never end today?

She handed Suzie her backpack and made sure Brock wouldn’t forget her suitcase if she didn‘t come back, then waved at the man calling out and scouring the line for her. A security guard. Perfect. He nodded and motioned for her to follow him up to the doors.

“Good luck finding Rudi!” one of the girls called after her, and they all giggled at the joke. Misty paused only long enough to give them a rather insulting gesture before hurrying after the man, careful not to slip on the icy sidewalk.

She was shocked to find Rudi waiting for her at the front of the line instead of Gary, and supposed the shock was evident on her face, because he only nodded, mouth set in a grim line, before slipping an arm around her shoulders and urging her inside. The staff manning the desk looked up at him as they passed, but he only waved them off and continued onward, and they didn’t argue. For once Misty wished they had.

“Where are you—”

“In here.”

He quickly ducked them into the first deserted room their came across, which happened to be a lush faculty room, then proceeded to kick the door closed behind them. Misty was left feeling extremely warm in her coat and uncomfortable in his presence, even when he released her.

“Rudi, I really don’t think we should—”

“This isn’t about us, Misty,” he cut in curtly, and held out his hand. “Your Rapidash. Now. Quickly.”

Misty stared at him in shock. “My…What?” At first she was convinced she’d heard wrong. You didn’t just demand someone’s Pokémon like that; it was rude, against Stadium rules, and altogether insulting.

Rudi sighed. “Please, Misty, I don’t have time to argue this. They’re checking Pokéballs at the door, searching for anything not officially bred or purchased by the Stadium. Give me your Rapidash before they confiscate it and haul you off for questioning.”

Surprised, Misty opened her coat and unclipped the warm ‘ball from her ‘belt; she‘d left it behind so many times now that she found herself bringing it with her into the bathroom, she was so paranoid she‘d leave need it unexpectedly again. Rudi took it from her fingers and minimized it to its smallest size, then tucked it into his interior jacket pocket. There was a small bulge there now, but Misty doubted anyone would stop and ask him about it.

He nodded to her, then turned and opened the door to leave. Surprised, Misty caught him by the sleeve. “Wait—”

He turned to regard her curiously, though his face wore the carefully blank expression she‘d become familiar with from him lately. Sighing, she released his sleeve and met his eyes. “Thank you.”

A single rust-red eyebrow rose to form an expression Misty didn’t have a word for. She frowned at him, but he spoke before she could continue.

“You’re very lucky May Haruka has her cell phone glued to her hand, or I might not have caught you in time. You shouldn’t have to miss your graduation due to a simple Pokémon technicality, let alone one you had, for once, no control over.”

Misty frowned at the passive slight, but chose to ignore it. He was helping her out. Again. Let him say what he wanted about it afterwards. “What will you do with her?” she asked instead. Rudi shook his head.

“Don’t worry, I’ll care for her until you can graduate and take her back again.”

That made Misty start in surprise. “Wait, graduate? I can’t get her back for the Battles before then? Rudi, I need her! She’s my sixth!”

Rudi continued to shake his head, his hand hovering almost possessively over his jacket pocket as if afraid she might make a lunge for it. Which she very well might, Misty acknowledged angrily. She couldn’t lose a Pokémon as powerful as Haraia two weeks before she needed her most!

“You’re a talented Trainer, Misty,” Rudi told her calmly, ignoring her glare. “I’m sure you can make it through one Pokémon short. Bring her out before then and you’ll be questioned, and unless you would rather be found in contempt for not answering or join Gary Oak’s side claiming to have gotten her from an Elemental, I suggest you lie low for a while and let this pass well over your head. I’ve spoken with the headMasters about her. Your mysterious benefactor took her back from you just before your break, understand?”

Misty nodded numbly, and with that Rudi was gone, leaving her to stare at the open door worriedly. A Pokémon short. Mew, a fully Evolved Pokémon short. As if that wasn’t tricky enough, she doubted Ash would appreciate learning that she had just—

Misty stopped short. Ash! She had to find him now, while she was inside and few others were; only the students who had made it past the front desk, all of them presumably “registered” with a ‘belt full of legit Pokémon.

This might be the only chance she got. Heart thudding crazily, she slipped from the room and forced herself into as unhurried a walk as she could muster, only to stop short at the Trainers and Growlithe milling around the construction zone’s perimeter. She did her best not to turn on her heel and quickly tried to think of somewhere else to go. Delia’s. She could check Delia’s. Then...Drake’s? Then Lance’s, maybe. And if he wasn’t in any of those locations, well, she would come up with somewhere else.

He wasn’t. By the time she’d knocked herself sore on Lance’s door, Misty was trying very hard not to panic.

Her room. The sconce in the hallway outside her room had a trick panel above it. If Misty could shove it aside and find her way into the crawlspaces...she was sure she would have heard rumors about the Trainers invading the walls if they’d gone looking for Ash there. And he’d said he would said up some sort of sentry system, right? Maybe he had some of the smaller Pokémon lurking about aboveground who could tell her where he was, or at least let him know she was back early.

Hurrying upstairs, she was horrified to find electric lights glaring from a fully-plastered, fully-finished ceiling. They’d been busy while the students were away, and they’d gotten all the way to the sixth floor. Misty gritted her teeth angrily, her chest tightening in real fear now. She was going to kill Gary. She was going to hang him by this own stupid Pokébelt and murder him.

Now what? Thinking frantically, Misty tried to remember some other entrance to the walls. Arena Five? Security had closed it off weeks ago. Lance’s office? Locked. Under the bed in Delia’s room? Misty had no idea where the panel was, let alone how to find and open it; each seemed to have it’s own unique trick, little safeguards against anyone unfamiliar with their secrets. Desperate now, Misty released a cry of frustration into the empty hall. What the hell was she supposed to do?

A dull thump from down the hall made her whip around in surprise, heart beating badly. It was coming from the end. Where her room was. Either that or the one across the hall, but she was fairly certain its occupant had graduated last spring.

Oh Mew. What if it was Gary? And what if it wasn’t? And what if it was Ash? Or a Pokémon he’d sent there? Or another Ariados? Shivering, Misty forced her feet to approach the door and tried to convince herself she’d been imagining it. It had been soft, after all, but it had been directly following the noise she’d made, as if she’d startled something, and her room was locked, dammit, no one else should be in there.

And it was her room.

Her room.

It wasn’t like she wouldn’t have to go in there later anyway.

Shivering in what she swore wasn’t fear, just adrenaline and nerves and Mew knew what else, Misty dug the key out of her pocket and slowly inserted it into the lock, trying to make as little noise as possible. It turned easily, but the resounding click sounded like a gunshot to Misty’s ears. She bit her lip and turned the knob anyway. This was ridiculous. There was nothing that could hurt her in this place; the Pokémon were all on Ash’s side and therefore hers, and Gary couldn’t do anything but attack her legally. She was being stupid, and it was just her room, for Mew’s sake. Not like she hadn’t slept in it a million times.

Taking a deep breath, she pushed the door open.

A hand darted out immediately to close around her mouth, muffling the startled scream that tore from it, then another grabbed her by her wrist and dragged her inside. She was pushed roughly up against the back of the door until it slammed shut again against her back, and something brushed her hand as she heard the lock click closed. The light was off. She couldn’t see anything. She was breathing heavily through her nose, and terrified for all of about three seconds, which was the time it took to recognize the callused hand over her lips and the familiar mix of dusty electricity coming from the body directly in front of her, muddled almost unrecognizable by the sharp coppery scent of dried blood.

Mmm,” she said against the hand, but it only tightened over her mouth as Ash’s voice rasped right beside her ear.

Don’t. Don’t move, don’t speak, don’t do anything. Chances are someone followed you. Just—Just wait until they look, and then you can—”

He stopped short as footsteps sounded in the hallway. Misty froze and tried very hard to slow her breathing; Ash seemed to realize the hand over her mouth was making it louder, and quickly removed it. She could feel his stiff body pressed lightly against hers as he listened, head cocked beside her ear for the faintest hint that they were about to be discovered. Misty didn’t dare move for fear of rustling against the door. If she wasn’t so frightened she might have tried to completely restrain the urge to breathe.

The footsteps approached, then stopped outside the door, the light creeping in through the crack at the bottom wavering as shoes blocked it. The doorknob shook, and Misty’s breath caught in her throat. It was locked, though, and whoever was on the outside seemed to think that was good enough, because the footsteps quickly receded again. Neither of them dared breathe again until at least a full minute had passed after they’d faded away completely, and then they both let it out in a whoosh.

The first thing Misty did was hug him tightly, but she quickly let him go again when he stiffened in her arms and tried to squirm out again. She recognized that reaction; he was hurt, and she wanted to see how badly.

“Ash—”

She was cut off by a pair of chapped lips against her own, almost hard enough to bruise. The back of her head struck the door in surprise, but Ash didn’t stop, and Misty didn’t try and make him. She kissed him back just as fiercely, hands coming up to tangle in the hair on either side of his head as she struggled to draw him in even closer, so much adrenaline draining from her system that she felt almost giddy with relief. Ash willingly obliged, his body pressing her flush to the wall now as she felt one of his hands around her jaw, the other curling around her neck to thread through the hair there. He tugged somewhat gently and Misty tipped her head back, and they both released a small moan at the sudden, better change in angle.

Misty wasn’t exactly sure what was happening; she couldn’t see anything in the dark, not even the gold from Ash’s eyes, could only feel him as he pressed firmly against her and she returned the gesture, hands slipping from his hair to crawl up and down his back in an attempt to reassure herself that he was in one piece. He didn’t protest, didn’t even shy away from her fingers, only tried to step even closer to her until she was completely immobilized by his body and the door.

“You’re okay,” she tried to tell him, but he was too busy exploring the contours of her mouth and jaw with his own that it came out as more of an unintelligible mumble. Ash seemed to understand it, though, because he grunted.

“You’re back,” he said against the underside of her jaw, and then he was kissing her again and the hard door was beginning to hurt Misty’s back, so she slid her hands up his sides under his jacket and tried to tug back on it to urge him backwards. Instead he momentarily released her to slip it off. Misty forgot her discomfort and decided this was immensely preferable anyway, and when Ash’s inexperienced hands hesitated at the hem of her coat she quickly struggled out of it. He pulled away only long enough for it to fall to the floor.

“I can’t see you,” Misty protested breathlessly, heart pounding in her in the wake of Ash’s touch. Ash’s gruff voice came from her shoulder as he urged her shirt collar aside to explore the skin there with his lips.

“I can see you.”

“But I want to see—”

“They’ll notice,” Ash reminded her, and Misty made a frustrated sound at the knowledge that he was right. Then she gasped as his teeth closed over a particularly sensitive area between her neck and her shoulder and he stopped, clearly worried he’d done something wrong. Misty dug her nails into his sides, having just worked them beneath the hem of his shirt, and now it was his turn to gasp.

“Again,” she demanded, and it only took Ash a moment to work through the meaning of her words before he repeated the action, this time soothing the sting of the bite with his tongue. Instinct, Misty had to remind herself. Ash was acting on instinct—he’d never done this before, his instincts had always just happened to be particularly good. So was the soft sound he made when she raked her nails up over the bottom of his ribs. Misty smoothed the skin with her fingertips before doing it again.

Raikou,” he swore, and Misty took this opportunity to push him gently backwards.

“Bed,” she murmured, and could feel Ash looking at her in surprise.

“What?”

“The door‘s hard, Ash.”

“...Right. Sorry.”

There was something on it, but Ash only swept it to the floor. Then he had taken hold of her hand and was leading her to it as if she didn’t already know the way. Grinning, Misty quickly caught up to him and flopped down on her back, pulling a surprised Ash down on top of her. He stiffened, draped sideways over her stomach, before she laughed at him and he quickly relaxed again, pushing himself up on either side of her to rearrange himself more comfortably. Misty drifted a hand up his chest to feel out his movements and then hooked her fingers in the top of his shirt and tugged him down for a gentle kiss. It wasn’t long before it had deepened into something more, and then Misty was tugging up at the bottom hem of his shirt, and he was sucking in a breath as her fingers grazed his abdomen, pulling suddenly away. Misty stopped.

“Ash—?”

“No.” Before she knew it he was kissing her again, something hungry and desperate fueling his actions. This time it was Misty who pulled back, though it was quite some time before she could gather her bearings enough to do so.

“Ash, what‘s—”

“I love you,” he blurted breathlessly, then pressed his forehead to her own and sighed heavily. “I love you,” he repeated more slowly, and she felt him brush his lips over hers. “I love you, and I don’t want you to leave like that again.”

It took Misty a moment to work her voice past the lump in her throat, her arms snaking around his back to squeeze him tightly. He winced, but didn’t pull away. Misty only loosened her grip a little.

“I’m not going anywhere, Ash. I promise.”

This time when he kissed her she returned it just as desperately, and when his hand found its way under her shirt she arched in encouragement for it to continue, and when Misty finally managed to get him out of his shirt and ran her hands over the flawed skin of his chest he murmured things she didn’t need to be intelligible, skin trembling at her touch. He was so sensitive. Misty wasn’t nearly as new at this as Ash was, but she found herself reacting to his hesitant, curious fingers in much the same way.

She felt vaguely self-conscious, aware that Ash could see her better than she could him, restricted as she was to mere tactile sensation and the faint outline of skin whenever he moved, but she was hardly about to complain. Ash was okay and she was with him again, and that was all that really mattered to her until a loud rapping at her door some time later jolted her from a quiet half-sleep she hadn’t realized she’d slipped into.

X


Rudi was sure she was here. She wasn’t with Brock and she hadn’t been seen anywhere else, and she had nowhere else to go. Pounding his fist against the door once more, he finally stopped and sighed, reaching into his pocket for one of the master keys the headMasters had gifted him with. This was not one of the things he would let her avoid him for, and if she wasn’t there, well then, he’d leave the card where she would find it and return to the eight dozen pressing things he’d been putting off for her today.

The heavy door clicked open and he stepped inside only far enough to flip on the light, rolling his eyes at the immediate shuffle from the bed. “Come on, Misty, it’s barely eight o’clock, I know you’re not asleep yet—”

He stopped, eyes flashing. Misty had sat up quickly and was now pulling up her sheets to hide herself, and beside her a certain black-haired Elemental was scrambling to pull on a pair of jeans backwards.

“Rudi! This isn’t—ah—what it looks like, really!”

Rudi felt his anger flare at her words, then drain from him completely as he watched the pair fumble about. He tried to bring it back, to yell at them for being so careless, so stupid, so infuriatingly obvious, but he couldn‘t seem to grab hold of it again. “So this is how it is,” he said instead, calmly. Ash paused to look back over his shoulder at him, eyes an eerie deep, unbroken black, and Misty’s mouth set in what Rudi now recognized to be a sort of dimly muted fury.

“What the hell are you doing barging into my room like that? Where did you get a key? What gives you the right to just—”

“Don’t bother, Misty,” he interrupted coldly. He could hear the words coming from his mouth, but he was hardly aware of them. She’d slept with him. He wasn’t even fully human, and she’d slept with him. He wasn’t sure this was all the Elemental’s fault anymore, so much as a grave error in judgment on Misty’s part. A continuous error. A flaw in her character, so different from the innocent island girl he remembered from his youth. Too reckless. Self-destructive. Oblivious.

They’d both stopped moving now, and were watching him from their respective positions on the bed: Misty halfway to the floor, ready to beat him to the ground naked if she had to, and the Elemental halfway into a pair of upside-down pants, bent crookedly over the far side of the mattress. Rudi hoped every one of the burns, scrapes, bruises, and cuts visible on his back hurt like hell.

“How long?” If she’d been going behind his back like this for the last few months, he was going to turn on his heel and leave them like this right now.

Misty looked momentarily surprised. “Just—Just—” She stopped herself suddenly and glared. “What the hell business is it of yours? We’re not dating, Rudi, we’ve been through this. We’re not—”

“Just the once, then,” he interrupted, and her mouth snapped shut as a light blush flashed across her cheeks. Rudi pulled the card from his pocket and set it on the desk beside him, then had a second thought and pulled the minimized Pokéball out as well, tossing it to Ash. The boy snatched it from the air and blinked at it in confusion, then snapped his head up again warily. Rudi snorted dryly. “Yes, that’s your precious Rapidash,” he confirmed. “Make sure it isn’t seen.” He’d rather give it back to its filthy owner than have to find some way to exercise and feed it in private on his own.

“Rudi, you’re—”

“Finished here,” he finished for her, and brought his hand down on the doorknob again to leave. He paused, though, before stepping outside again, and turned to regard the girl once more. Something heavy and painful tugged at his chest, but he quickly shoved it aside again. He had too many things to do today to bother sorting through the myriad of emotions he was sure were clawing to get out. His eyes caught on the Elemental’s easily.

“You should leave now, while you have the chance.”

“I’m not going anywhere!” he responded furiously. “You can tell Gary to shove it up his—”

“I meant this room,” Rudi interrupted dryly, then tapped the tips of his fingers against the card he’d placed on Misty’s desk. “This is your registration card, since I happened to prevent you from receiving one earlier. Without it you’re not allowed on Stadium grounds at any time, whether someone recognizes you or not. Do you understand?”

Misty nodded, worry beginning to creep into her features at his emotionless tone, he was sure. Rudi ignored it. “Good. This is the last time I go behind the headMasters’ backs to pull strings for you, Misty. The next time you get yourself caught doing something stupid for him, you’re on your own.”

He didn’t know if he meant that, he realized a second after he’d pulled the door shut behind him, but he certainly hoped so. He loved her, so much it would hurt if he allowed it to, but the new rules had been laid down for her protection as well as everyone else’s, and he couldn’t keep going against them or she wouldn’t learn. Oak had used the student body’s absence to seal off most of the well-used passages out of the depths of the Stadium, making it nearly impossible for the Elemental to sneak freely back and forth as he’d done before. Trapping him underground had served it’s temporary purposes; keep him occupied so that work could be done above, and injure him so that he couldn’t fight back quite as powerfully.

It was only a matter of time, really, he mused to himself, feet carrying him to the headMasters’ office on their own as he thought. He wasn’t sure why the Elemental didn’t just leave now, while he still had the chance, and then make plans to meet with Misty again later, if they were as involved with one another as they’d just implied. At the rate they were going, he was going to get himself killed and she was going to get herself expelled, and for once Rudi wasn’t going to be able to save her. He briefly considered whether or not he wanted to. Perhaps being expelled after ten years of study was the jolt Misty needed in order to snap back to behind herself again. And maybe, just maybe, that’s would he would have to let happen.

Gary Oak’s plans were flawless. Rudi almost felt sorry for Misty and he precious Elemental lover. Almost.

X

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Tags: 17, act 4, act four, act iv, chapter, part 2, seventeen
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