The sun was setting over Stone Cove by the time the sore, charred group limped slowly back to the Pokémon Center.Ash bringing up the rear.
"Oh, dear!"Joy gasped, as the group began to mount the Center’s stairs.
"Chansey, get the burn kit."She told the nearest pink Pokémon, as she trotted out to meet the group.
Ash stumbled on the top step, staggering.
Joy caught the boy in mid fall, pulling his arm over her shoulder and helping him along.
"Didn’t I tell you to take it easy?"She chided him with a smile.
Ash just sighed.
Joy regarded him worriedly, but said nothing, as she helped him to join the otherssitting on the couch in the center’s lobby.
Ash slumped despondently into the seat she offered, his features darkened.
"Jenny, what happened?"Joy asked, turning to the officer.
"Chansey," the pink Pokémon chirped from behind Joy, holding the desired supplies up to her.
"Thank you, Chansey," Joy said, taking the kit, and beginning work on Jenny as the Officer spoke.
"We were attacked by Team Rocket and a powerful Raichu," Jenny explained.
"Team Rocket...Raichu..."Joy wondered aloud, her eyes wandering to the despondent Ash."Your Pikachu?"
"That’s what Team Rocket said," Brock answered for his friend.
"And there’s really no other way they could have gotten a Raichu..." Misty picked up, "...Team Rocket is pretty much incapable of catching Pokémon."
"All officers...robbery in progress at Stone Cove Municipal Bank...possible Team Rocket activity...respond immediately!"The radio clipped to Jenny’s belt chirped.
Jenny leapt to her feet, upsetting joy’s supplies."A robbery!Sorry everyone, I gotta go!"
With that, she ran for the door.
"I’ll bet anything that’s Jessie and James!"Brock exclaimed.
"Hear that, Ash?"Misty said, turning toward him and grabbing one of his gloved hands...a gentle expression on her face."There’s still a chance to save Pikachu!"
Ash pulled away from her, a heavy sob shuddering through his body."No..."
"What?!"Brock and Misty exclaimed in unison.
"There’s no point..."Ash said, his voice barely above a whisperthe first of his tears leaving dark splotches on his gloves and jeans."Pikachu ‘s gone.There’s no undoing evolution."
"Not exactly..."Joy said.
"What?!"The trio exclaimed, all eyes suddenly fixed on the young nurse.
"Stone Cove has a very special stone, one that can be found nowhere else in the world.A de-evolutionary stone..."
Ash leapt to his feet, his normal eager expression brightening his face, but his deep brown eyes still darkly serious."Joy, where is it?!"
"It was never a very popular stonefew trainers want to undo evolution," Joy said.
"Pikachu never wanted to evolve!"Ash insisted, fists clenched in frustration.
"As I was saying," Joy continued, "it’s not a popular stone, even this center only had one..."
"Had?!"Ash nearly interrupted her again."Where is it?!"
"That’s the unfortunate part, it was stolen by Team Rocket just this morning, along with all of the center’s other stones," Joy explained.
The trio facefaulted, but Ash recovered quickly."That’s alright!Joy, where’s the bank that was being robbed?!"
"In the town square, just around the corner," Joy said.
"All right!I’m gonna save you, Pikachu!"Ash exclaimed, taking up one of his "dramatic" poses.Only to sink back to the couch abruptly, ribs sending a lance of pain through him.
"Ash, please," Joy insisted, "take it easy."
"I can’t Nurse Joy," Ash informed her, already getting back to his feet."Not when there’s still a chance to save Pikachu!"
With that, he dashed for the door, once more bent on saving his friend.
"Ash, wait up!"Brock called after him as he and Misty rose to follow.
Thunder roared and lightning rent the air near the bank, as Team Rocket broke through the police barrier.Raichu in the lead, using her thunder powers on anyone who dared come too close.
"Ha, ha!Out of our way you pathetic fools!"Jessie exclaimed, heavily laden with sacks of money and greatly enjoying the team’s long overdue victory.
"With this Raichu on our side, we’re invincible, nothing can stop us!"James crowed, joyfully half-dragging his massive load.
"Dat’s right!"Meowth agreed, completely dragging his sacks.
At that moment, Officer Jenny leapt in front of the group, barring their path."Hold it right there!"
"You again," Jessie said airily."Raichu, thunderbolt!"
"Rai chu!"The mouse exclaimed, delivering a massive electric shock to Jenny.
"Team Rocket..."Ash growled, as he and the others watched from a distance."How can they make Pikachu do that?!"
"Easy, Ash..."Brock warned, laying a steadying hand on his friend’s shoulder.Sensing that the boy was ready to attack, full force, at any moment.
"Why can’t we just rush in and grab Pikachu now?!"Ash exclaimed, impatient.
"We already tried the direct approach, remember," Misty admonished."Besides, if we rush in now we won’t be able to follow them back to their hide-out and get the de-evolutionary stone.And that’s if you could still control Pikachu enough to keep her from electrocuting us again."
"Oh, yeah..." Ash said, subdued.
"C’mon you two," Brockthe only member of the group actually paying attention to Team Rocketspoke up, as he rose to his feet, "or we’ll lose ‘em in the forest!"
Within a moment, the trio was hot on Team Rocket’s trail, feet pounding in the dustAsh far ahead of the others and showing no sign of faltering.
"Ash, wait!"Brock yelled, as loudly as he dared.
The boy jerked to a stop, wincing only slightly as he fought to ignore his injuries."What?"
"Stop here," Brock explained, as he caught his breath.
"What?!If we stop we’ll lose Team Rocket!"Ash exclaimed.
"Ash, pay attention!"Misty exclaimed, she was worried about Pikachu too, but Ash’s blind devotion was starting to get on her nerves."They’re going into that cave up the mountain"she pointed ahead to where Team Rocket was clearly visible, doing just that"it must be their hide-out."
The trio waited in the place they had stopped for hourseach seeming like another lifetime for Ashwatching the firelight slowly dim as it reflected off the cave’s entrance walls and waiting for the triumphant voices to fade.
"They’re lucky the police haven’t come looking up this way yet..." Misty grumbled.
"Hey!"Brock spoke up."Why don’t we get the police and take Team Rocket by surprise!"
"We can’t!"Ash exclaimed."What if they get away while we’re gone?!"
"Ash has a point," Misty agreed, "besides, Raichu was an accessory to Team Rocket’s crime.Who knows what the police do with criminal Pokémon."
Beads of sweat stood out on Ash’s face; he was more worried now than ever.He turned his attention back to the cave entrance.
"Don’t worry, Ash," Brock said, picking up on his friend’s suddenly heightened concern."We’ll get Pikachu back...we always do."
Ash turned toward him, eyes sparkling a little."But this is so...differ...Guys, listen!"
"What?!"Brock and Misty wondered, surprised by the sudden shift in demeanor.
"It’s quiet..." Ash said.
"You’re right," Misty agreed after a moment.
"I’ll find out if everyone’s asleep," Brock said."Zubat, go!"
"Zu bat, zu?"The flying Pokémon asked.
"Zubat," Brock said, "fly into that cave up the mountain and find out if everyone’s asleep."
"Bat!"Zubat answered an affirmative.
The blue Pokémon returned a few, achingly long, moments laterhis nocturnal abilities making the task given him simple.
"Zubat, is everyone asleep in there?"Brock asked.
"Bat, zu bat," Zubat answeredanother affirmative.
"Great!Let’s go!"Ash exclaimed, charging out of the trees and up the mountain, Misty close behind.
Brock returned Zubat to his Pokéball and followed the pair upward toward the cave entrance.
The embers of Team Rocket’s fire were beginning to grow cold when the trio reached the mouth of the cave, leaving only a scant flicker to light the expanse within.Unabated, they crept into the ample shadow, ducking behind stalagmites whenever possible.
"Be careful," Brock warned softly, as they moved into the inky blackness of the cave’s rear."We don’t wanna wake them up."
But by then it was too late...
Someone had left a peice of firewood lying in the middle of the cave floor, away from all other obstructions.Ash was the one to find it, first stepping upon it, then catching it between his feet.He fell flat on his face, knocking the breath from his lungs and sending searing pain through his chest as he struck the cave’s rock floor.
"Ash!"Brock and Misty whispered between clenched teeth, each diving behind a rocky outcropping to avoid detection.Yet hoping that the sound had not disturbed their sleeping enemies.
A single pair of eyes snapped open, shining black against the darkness, taking but a moment to adjust themselves to the scant light, before focusing upon the source of the disturbance.
"Rai..." the electric mouse rose to her feet as her gaze fell upon Ashjust starting to lift himself from his prone position on the floor.Sparks leapt from her cheeks, as she prepared to carry out the order Jessie had given her:"Annihilate any intruders!"
Yet there was something about this boy, something that tugged at the back of Raichu’s mind, making her want to insure that he wasn’t hurt, to guard him until he was back on his feet.Rather than attack him.Raichu hesitated, even as Ash met her eyes.
Behind Raichu, Brock motioned to Misty.Raichu had been sleeping against Team Rocket’s pile of loot.Now the coast was clear for the pair to search through it.
"Pikachu?Do you remember me?"Ash’s words drifted through the acoustics of the cave.
Raichu’s cheeks sparked again, more violently this time.
"Pikachu, please!"Ash begged, bracing for the shock.
Another pair of eyes sprang open at Ash’s exclamation."Meowth, what’s going on?!"
Brock and Misty dodged back behind the rocks, avoiding detection by Meowth’s powerful feline eyes.
It only took Meowth a moment to take in the scene before him.Then he raked both Jessie and James across the face with his claws."Meowth, wake up you’s two!"
Jessie and James awoke, enraged, and began to pummel Meowth.
"What’s the big idea, waking us up?!"They yelled.
"It’s the kid!Look over dere!"Meowth yelled, struggling to point.
James grabbed a nearby lantern and switched it on, illuminating Ash!51;half prone, all but at their feetRaichu standing over him.
"You again!"James yelped.
"Raichu, why are you just standing there?!"Jessie exclaimed."Thundershock him!"
Energy leapt from Raichu’s cheeks, coalescing into a lightning bolt, and surging toward Ash.
Ignoring pain and scrambling against the smooth rock cave floor, Ash barely managed to get out of the way.
"How can you miss him?!"James exclaimed, reflecting bitterly that the Pikachu they’d known never seemed to miss them."Use Agility!"
Ash found his feetand ranhe wouldn’t battle against his best friend, he could see no other way.
Raichu dodged in front of Ash, the mouse’s speed more than superior.Leaping, she tackled Ash full in the chest.
Ash crashed to the cave floor, clutching his chest and gasping, tears of pain rolling down his cheeks.While Raichu landed a few feet away, still at the ready for another attack.
Legalities: Pokémon © the zillion people who own the series, none of whom are LH-chan, who just borrowed their characters for a brief thrashing. =^_^=