"Sir, I need you to calm down. You're disturbing the other patients."
"Fuck the other patients, then!"
"Excuse me? Sir, if you don't lower your voice I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to leave."
"I have two ex-military security guards to do that for me."
"Pfft. Women these days. They can never fight their own battles."
"Oh really? Explain then to me how it is I'm a black belt in karate, if I'm so incompetent."
"You? A black belt in karate? You're thinner than a stick! There's no way a woman your size could- ow! Ow! What the hell, lady? Seriously, what the f- ow! Knock it off!"
"Care to continue insulting me, you sexist asshole?"
"Me? Sexist? I'm not a sexist! I'm a realist! I tell the truth- ow!"
"If you care at all about your personal well-being, then I highly suggest you walk away from this conversation right now."
"I'm not surrendering to some girl. I can handle-" His words were interrupted by a loud crash, then silence.
Misty cracked open her eyes, then shut them out of reflex as white light flooded her vision. Rubbing her eyes, she opened them slowly again, blinking several times to adjust to the sharp light of the hospital room. She was lying in a hospital gown on a bed in a stark white room. An IV had been driven up her hand, connecting her to a bag half-full of clear fluid. She choked as she thought about the needle jammed up her vein at that very moment. She was about as aichmophobic as a person could get.
As a knot of nausea began forming in the pit of her hollow stomach, she tried focusing on something other than the pointy object buried in her skin. She was relieved that the commotion outside had stopped, but it didn't do anything to ease the splitting headache pulsating through her brain. She was thoroughly annoyed that Ash had the stupidity to come to her room and argue just outside of it- with a nurse especially. When she'd woken up briefly several hours before, her nurse informed her that the boy had already been over seven times to visit her. After awkwardly explaining that Ash was not her boyfriend, Misty requested that the raven-haired Pokemon Master be kept out of her room until she requested his presence. The last thing she needed was for him to make her headache worse by asking stupid questions like "Are you okay?" and "Will you live?".
As for the event that had landed her here, Misty's memories of it were fuzzy. She knew the basics of what happened. A bomb went off on one side of Viridian City, killing fifty-six according to her nurse. Mere moments later, a second bomb went off inside the Pokemon Center, killing whoever was inside as well as those in the immediate vicinity. Misty and Ash had both been spared by the latter's Aura, which he had used to erect a protective shield that fended off the bomb's effects. Almost immediately after the explosion itself faded, Misty had been scooped up into a man's arms and carried away from the site of the explosion. After a bit of thinking, she had realized this man to be Flint, her friend Brock's father. Before she had any chance to say anything, she passed out.
As for why exactly it was necessary for her to be in the hospital, she'd been told that she was being screened for "internal damage". The nurse had told her that the doctors were most concerned about her head. Apparently, she'd smacked it against the concrete sidewalk when the explosion had occurred. Whether that was a result of Ash tackling her or the actual explosion, she wasn't sure. She just hoped all of the tests came back okay. She didn't want anyone to worry any more than they already were.
Suddenly, a deep pit of despair opened itself up in her stomach. She felt a wave of panic wash over her as she thought of her family. Her mother and sisters were probably worried sick about her. Misty was certain that news of the Viridian City bombings had reached Cerulean. She prayed to Arceus above that her family had been informed of her survival. If that was the case, she also prayed that Ash hadn't been the one to tell them, as he was likely to have screwed the entire story up and made it sound like she was in the hospital for some sort of life-threatening injury.
As Misty sank back into the pillow and tried to calm her frayed nerves, the curtain at the end of her room slid back, and a man stepped inside. He had a thick black beard and shoulder-length hair, with tanned skin and large muscles. He was wearing a tan t-shirt and jeans streaked with ash and blood. His brown eyes showed concern.
Misty sat up as he came into her hospital room. He pulled out a stool for himself and sat down. He looked like he was eager to speak, so she let him.
"There's a police officer who wants to interview you about what happened," the Pewter City native said. His voice was hollow but rough. "He wants to ask you a few questions and gather any evidence he can from you about who might have done this."
The Cerulean City Gym Leader nodded. "Bring him in," she said, her voice sounding like sandpaper.
Flint nodded curtly. Standing up, he poked his head outside of the room and called to someone. A few moments later, he returned to the stool, foot tapping impatiently.
Misty's fingers curled around the sheets of her bed as the officer entered. He took off his cap in her presence, eyes lit with sympathy. Normally, this would have angered Misty. She hated it when others felt sorry for her. But this time was different.
This time, she didn't feel anything.
The police officer pulled out another stool and sat down at the side of Misty's bed. He whipped out a notepad and pen and cleared his throat.
"Where were you at exactly 3:41 P.M. this afternoon?"
Misty had to clear her own throat several times before she could speak in a fluent way. "I was standing with my friend outside of the Pokemon Center, observing an in-progress protest."
The cop nodded, scribbling her answer down on his paper. "Do you remember seeing any suspicious activity prior to the explosions?"
She shook her head.
More scribbles. Another question. "What was the protest about?"
She cleared her throat again. "They were protesting against President Kimbel. They wanted to impeach him."
The officer wrote down her response. He read through his collection of answers, nodding slowly. At last, he stood up and headed to exit the room.
Flint glared at him. "That's really all you're going to ask her?"
The cop nodded, looking at Flint as if he had just asked the world's stupidest question. "Yes."
Brock's father snorted. "Quite the inefficient cop you are, then."
The police officer's nostrils flared. Misty could tell that an argument was about to break out, so she cut in with a question. "Officer? Do you really think that the protesters could have had something to do with the explosion?" She kept an innocent tone of voice. Deep down, she knew that the protesters had nothing to do with the bombings. While they clearly had despised President Kimbel, they were still good people. They wouldn't have endangered innocent people's lives for their cause.
Without looking at her, the cop answered her question. "It's possible, ma'am. They may have been given false information regarding President Kimbel's location. Undercover agents are always doing things like that to deter potential assassins. Perhaps these protesters were misinformed regarding the President's location, and set the bombs off here as an attempt to assassinate him."
A hard lump formed in Misty's throat as she asked her next question. "Did any of them survive?"
The man bowed his head. "No," he answered solemnly. His voice hardening, he continued, "I personally find it beneficial that those protesters are dead. They were doing nothing to contribute to society, so they are better off gone."
Misty stared at the officer, bewildered. "You mean you're actually glad that they died?"
Misty's bewilderment turned to anger. "How can you say that? Those people weren't criminals! They were ordinary citizens trying to change something they believed was corrupt."
"By illegally protesting."
"So what? Driving above the speed limit is illegal. We don't kill people for it."
"That's not the same thing, ma'am."
"What's so different about it? Those people weren't hurting anyone! They probably had families, and friends, and a job-" Her voice involuntarily cut itself off.
"Take it easy, Misty," Flint warned.
She waved him off, clearing her throat. "They were just fighting for what they believed was right!"
The cop pulled the curtain back. "And so am I. They deserved what they got. End of story."
Misty's jaw hung open as the man left. Looking at Flint, she saw that the Pewter City native was just as furious as she was. He looked ready to punch out a wall.
Grabbing her knees and pulling them close to her chest, Misty demanded, "I want to see Ash. Now."
Flint looked a bit surprised at her demand. Misty stared at him seriously, letting him know that she meant what she said. Blinking, the large man got up and walked out of the room.
Now that Misty was alone again, the full weight of everything that had happened came crashing back down on her. That cop was so wrong. Those people didn't deserve to die. Not like that. He was a dick for thinking that. Without wanting to, Misty started to think about the friends and families of the victims. The injured Pokemon and their Trainers who were in the Pokemon Center when it blew up. Some of them might have been Tournament competitors. The thought of their lives having been so tragically cut short was what finally made the tears fall.
She hated how much she had been crying lately. At first, she had blamed it solely on hormones. Now, she was placing the fault on whoever it was that was behind all of this. Her grief turned into fury as she vowed to get revenge on whoever it was that killed all those people and Pokemon. A sadistic part of her that she never knew existed came out then, bringing with it thoughts of how pleased she'd be as she took her revenge on the person responsible for this mass chaos and destruction. She'd watch his demise with a grin on her face, finally having achieved her goal of avenging the lives that were so wrongfully stolen.
A stir in the curtains brought her back to the real world. Using her blanket to wipe her face free of tears, she waited for the person she knew to be Ash to enter. After a few moments he did, looking a lot less chaotic than he had sounded during his confrontation with her nurse. He still hadn't changed out of the clothes he'd been wearing during the chaos. His black hair was messier than it had been in a long time, and he wasn't wearing any shoes. Slowly, he made his way over to sit next to her bed.
"Misty?" he said softly.
Out of both need and compulsion, Misty fell against him. She started sobbing, not even caring that Flint had entered the room as well. She'd been through so much turmoil over the past few days. She just wanted it all to be over. She felt her best friend rub her back, soothing her with whispered words.
"It's okay," he assured her. "It's all gonna be okay. We're gonna find out who did this, and we're gonna make them pay. I promise. I know I don't keep a lot of my promises, but trust that I'll keep this one. Nobody kills a bunch of people and gets away with it."
"How are you going to find them?" Misty asked between sobs. "We don't even have a clue as to where to look."
"I don't care." Ash's voice was firm. "I just know that we'll find this person. Everything's gonna be just fine."
As she let him rub her back, Misty began to realize how much Ash really had matured over the past ten years. Sure, he was still just as dense and cocky as ever, but the caring side of him had developed greatly. He no longer made jokes and poked fun at bad situations in an attempt to lighten the mood. Now, he actually comforted people like, dare she admit it, a man. Maybe he wasn't such an immature, spoiled, rich-as-fuck brat after all.
As he held her in his arms, Ash felt that strange sense of protectiveness wash over him again. He felt like he would take on the world to protect this one girl. He didn't understand why, but he did. He vowed to himself that he would find the person responsible for the bombings, no matter what. He'd do it for Misty.
Although he knew it wasn't the time, Ash reached out in an attempt to probe Misty's mind. He already had a pretty clear idea of how she was feeling at the moment, but the question of why she had run away from him before still stood unanswered. Perhaps, in her weakened state of mind, Ash would be able to break through her mental wall and access her thoughts and feelings. Only then would he truly be able to find out what she thought of him. Only then would he be able to rest assured that she didn't think of him as a monster.
All of a sudden, a loud gunshot split through the air. Ash jerked away from Misty and sprang to his feet.
Both her and Flint looked at him in alarm. "What's wrong, Ash?" Misty demanded.
He stared at both of them in shock. "You didn't hear that?"
"That gunshot!" He started sprinting toward the door. "There was a gunshot just now!"
Flint jumped to stop him from leaving. The Pokemon Master struggled against the strength of the older man. "Ash, there was no gunshot."
"Yes, there was!"
Flint forced him down into a chair. "No, there wasn't." The former Gym Leader looked at him seriously. "Are you alright? Do you want me to call a doctor?"
Ash spit at him. "I don't need a doctor! We need to get out of here before we get shot, too!"
Flint exchanged a worried glance with Misty. Ash's gaze darted between the two of them. At that moment, another gunshot hit the air.
"There!" he said. "Another one!"
Flint shook his head. "Ash, there are no gunshots. Wait here with Misty. I'm going to get a doctor."
"No!" Ash screamed. He put his head in between his knees as more gunshots sounded. "I'm not crazy!"
"Ash, what's wrong with you?" Misty's voice was laced with concern. "Flint, what's happening to him?"
"I don't know," the man admitted. "But whatever it is, it's not good."
Ash screamed and began rocking back and forth in his chair.
"Flint!" Misty screamed. "Help him!"
The man looked around frantically. "I don't know what to do! I'm not a doctor!"
"Yeah, well neither am I! Now help him!"
"I just said I don't know how!"
And then the power was cut.
Ash screamed again, followed soon after by Flint swearing. Sirens began wailing in the distance, much to his alarm.
After some fumbling around, Flint managed to locate Ash and lift him over his shoulder. The twenty-year-old screamed as he did so, which made Flint stiffen slightly. However, he refused to put the screaming Master down.
"Misty!" he called. "Let's go!"
"What?" The Cerulean native sounded incredulous. "The power's just out! What about that makes it so we have to leave?"
"Just get up!" Flint's voice took on the strict tone he always used when disciplining his rowdy bunch of children. "Now!"
The only response he got was a loud groan. Misty felt like she was back home again, being ridiculed by her bratty sisters for her "like, poor fashion choices". She gritted her teeth as she stood up, being greeted by a wave of nausea. She staggered a bit, trying desperately to maintain her balance. The last thing she needed was to fall and break a bunch of expensive hospital equipment.
"Come on!" Flint's impatient voice sounded from the other side of the room.
"I'm coming!" Misty snapped. "I just narrowly escaped a bombing! Don't treat me like I'm Wonder Woman!" After some fumbling around, she found her shoes. Yanking the I.V. drip out of her arm, she half-limped, half-ran over to where Flint was silhouetted against the now-active emergency lights. "There. Happy?"
"Finally." Grabbing her shoulder, he lead her out of her hospital room.
Much to their surprise, the hallway was empty. The emergency lights just barely illuminated the hallway, forcing them to stay against the wall as they followed the emergency exit arrows. Misty flinched as a loud bang! resonated down the hallway.
"What was that?" she demanded, alarmed.
"Probably just another one of the patients," he responded.
Misty narrowed her eyes. Flint's quick response, followed by a quickening of his step, lead her to believe that he was lying. Either that, or he wasn't sure. Still, Misty had a feeling that he knew more than he was letting on.
Suddenly, a thought occurred to her. "Hospitals are supposed to have back-up generators. Why aren't the ones here on?"
"Sabotage." The ferocity with which Flint spoke the word sent shivers up Misty's spine. "The generators not being on is the exact thing that told me the power was cut and just didn't fail. Someone deliberately cut off all of the hospital's ties to the power grid."
"But why? Why go through the trouble of killing the generators and cutting the power in a hospital? What could possibly come of that?"
"Perhaps the perpetrator was trying to create a diversion. By doing what they did, they'll draw the police here. While the cops are busy searching the grounds for the culprit, they'll leave the city wide open for more attacks."
Misty didn't respond. She was now thoroughly disturbed. Why was all this happening? Weren't two bombings enough? Why did Viridian City have to go through another cataclysmic event, let alone practically on the same day?
After what seemed like an eternity, they finally reached the waiting room. The tall, open windows allowed sunlight through, fully illuminating the spacious area. Misty found herself captivated by the beautiful view of the sun setting over the rest of the city.
Her attention was caught by Flint as he lay Ash down on one of the couches. Misty had been so preoccupied with escaping into the waiting room that she had failed to realize that Ash had stopped screaming. In fact, he seemed to be in some sort of comatose-like state. His eyes were wide open, but cloudy. His entire body was stiff. Misty herself stiffened as Flint rested an ear against Ash's chest.
"Is he alive?" Misty couldn't keep her voice from cracking.
Flint nodded, slowly pulling away from the Pokémon Master. "Yes. His heartbeat is slow, but strong. It's almost as if he's fallen into some strange sort of self-induced coma. He's perfectly fine, yet he's acting as if he's asleep." He shook his head. "How strange. I've never seen anything like this."
Misty felt her skin crawl as she wondered if Ash's state had something to do with his Aura. Had he really put himself in this state? Or was it the doing of a force beyond his control? She didn't know.
A loud ding! sliced through the silence. Misty and Flint whirled around as the elevator doors slid open. A trio of men dressed in all-black spilled out of it, carrying nasty looking guns. They caught sight of Misty, Flint, and Ash and quickly trotted over.
"Well," the apparent leader of the gang said. His voice was smooth and charismatic. "What do we have here? The World's Greatest Pokémon Master, his girlfriend, and his father."
"I'm not his girlfriend," Misty growled.
"I'm not his father," Flint said.
The gang leader snorted. "Whatever." He gestured toward his companions, who aimed a gun each at Misty and Flint. "Now hand the man over, or we'll kill you."
"Never!" Flint spat. The viciousness of his voice surprised Misty.
He laughed. "As if you even have a choice. Don't you value your life at all, Flint?"
"Of course I do! But I value this kid's life more! Look, if it's ransom you want, I'll just pay you up front. I'll write you a nice big check, and then you can let us go."
The man sighed. "Money is such a nice thing. Unfortunately, it isn't within our contract to accept ransom offerings. You see, we've been hired to kill Mr. Ash Ketchum and Ms. Misty Waterflower. You are merely an obstacle in our way. We'll kill you and the girl here and bring him to a nice special place for a nice, special public demonstration. It's time for the world to know that Team Rocket is back, and we're stronger than ever."
The mention of the world's most hated organization turned Misty's blood to ice.
"Team Rocket?" Flint and she echoed in unison.
"That's right," the leader drawled. "Of course, ridding the world of the Pokémon Master and his girlfriend isn't the only part of our mission. In fact, it's only a minor part. You see, our goal is still the same. World domination." He raised his gun. "However, our methods are different."
Flint stepped forward. "If you want either of these kids, you'll have to shoot me a million times to get them!"
The Team Rocket member laughed at this. "You get points for bravery, Flint. But not as many as you just lost through your stupidity."
A bewildered look passed over the Pewter City man's face. "What?"
"You heard me. There's no way an unarmed man like yourself can take on three highly specialized Team Rocket officials armed with hi-tech armor and stun guns set to kill mode."
"Why are you doing this?" Misty blurted out. All eyes turned on her. "What's the glory in killing three innocent people?"
The trio's leader tightened his grip on his gun. "A child like you wouldn't understand. You can't live peacefully in this world anymore. You have to fight for what's yours. If you don't, you wind up bankrupt on the streets."
"That's not the case! If you work for it, you can get anything! Just look at Ash!"
The man's eyes flashed at the mention of the Trainer. "He only managed to get into his position because the Pokémon League is corrupted beyond repair. They have a unique way of cycling through their World's Greatest Pokémon Masters. Give it time, and I assure you that your little boyfriend here will lose his title. They pay out insurmountable mounds of cash to the current World's Greatest Pokémon Master in exchange for their submission to whoever challenges them next for their title. That way, the cycle can continue and they can retire peacefully. It's a win-win situation."
"That's not true! Stop feeding me lies to get me on your side!"
"They're not lies. The Pokémon League is broken. It needs to be wiped clean of all of its representatives, its officials, and most importantly its President. Team Rocket is working hard to do just that. Unfortunately, the minds of the citizens have been brainwashed into giving their lives for the preservation of the League. The only way we can achieve our goal is through the use of force."
"I prefer the term visionary." The grunt aimed his gun at Misty. "Now, any last words before we invade your body with electricity?"
Misty's brain began to spin. What should she say? Nothing? Something? Everything?
Before she could decide, time was up. The leader grunt gave a shrug of his shoulders. "I guess not." He and his acquaintance curled their fingers around the triggers.
Both grunts jerked their heads to the side as Flint lunged for them. Mere seconds later, a light show broke out all around Misty. A stray current struck her in the side. Normally, it wouldn't have been much, but coming from a gun that was set to kill mode, it was enough to send her tumbling to the ground. Screams of unknown origins swirled all around her, threatening to split her head in two. She shielded her eyes from the flashing lights with an arm.
And then it was done.
When Misty opened her eyes next, she saw two of the three grunts lying on the floor, their bodies twitching with an overwhelming amount of electricity. The third grunt had escaped, as evident by the closing doors of the elevator. In a smart way that was unusual for Team Rocket grunts, he had taken his gun with him.
But where was Flint?
Misty's eyes darted around, frantically searching for her friend. Ash was still lying in the same position on the couch. The two grunts were now still. Dead, probably. The entire waiting room was eerily quiet. After several searches, Misty's gaze finally fell upon a trail of blood leading around one of the couches. Forcing herself to stand on unsteady feet, she followed it.
She nearly fainted at what she saw.
Flint was lying next to one of the couches, bloody and electrified. His eyes, filled with so much pain words couldn't describe it, were practically popping out of his head. His muscles were involuntarily convulsing, his breaths shallow but fast.
"Misty," he wheezed.
She crouched down beside him. "Shh," she urged him. The hard lump forming in her throat was making it hard to talk. "Just be still. You're going to be okay. Just be still and I'll get help."
"No... I'm... beyond help."
"Don't say that!" she said, the desperation in her voice apparent. "You're going to be fine."
"No," he said again. "This old man's finally run his course."
She opened her mouth to speak, but he silenced her.
"Don't... save me," he whispered. A cough, then, "Save yourself and... and that boy. Get out of here." Another cough. "Go... to... Vermilion. Battle... Center."
"Vermilion?" Misty echoed softly.
"Vermilion," he repeated. "You... you're gonna be great, Misty. You're strong. You and that boy... you're gonna be fine."
"Stop," he urged her. "Keep my family safe. Please..."
"I will," she promised him. "I swear." Her last word ended in a sob. "Don't go..."
"I have to," he whispered.
"No, you don't. You can- can wait here. I'll get help. We'll take you to the hospital, and- Flint? Flint? Flint!" She shook him violently, ignoring the shocks it sent through her body. "Flint! Flint!"
There was no response.
Misty fell back. "Oh God..."
Tears clouded her vision. This man saved her life. Not once, but twice. And now he was... gone.
Shaking, she placed her hand on his. "I'll... I'll keep my promise. I'll find your family, and I'll keep them safe. I'll go to Vermilion with Ash, and I'll beat that Battle Center."
She hung her head, squeezing the motionless man's hand. "I promise."