Aquafeles grumbled to himself as he walked down the hall. On one hand, he probably should have been happy. He’d been wanting the boss to give him more responsibilities around Team Rocket for how long now? So being given an assignment of any kind could only be a good sign.
Still… he thought as he turned a corner and trotted down the same identical-looking hall with the Master Ball almost slipping out of his mouth again, Still, it would have been nice to get a job above delivery boy.
The hallway was empty, and he placed the ball down for a moment, working his jaw a bit before picking it up again. He was supposed to take Brock to see Misty and Ash separately. The boss had made that plenty clear enough. But the water cat Pokémon had made Misty a promise. And, what could he say? He’d been out in the field a long time, and a lot had changed in the Viridian City gym since his last trip here. Really, if he “accidentally” wandered to Ash’s quarters first, and the brat just “happened” to follow him to the pool area, he could hardly be blamed for whatever happened afterward.
Or so he told himself as he picked up the Master Ball, walked briskly around the next corner, and scratched at the third door on the right.
“Pika!” Ash’s electric rodent answered from inside the room. At first, there was no other sound. Then Aquafeles heard some scuffling and an annoyed, “Pi-KA, Pika-pi!”
Ash rubbed his eyes, looked around, and without seeing another human standing in front of him, he almost closed the door again. Aquafeles cleared his throat loudly, and Ash finally glanced down.
“Oh, it’s you,” he said in a tone that straddled some awkward place between forced politeness and profound disappointment. “Do you… need something?”
Aquafeles set the ball down and rubbed at his whiskers. “Oh no,” he said in a flat, sarcastic monotone. “What am I doing? I was supposed to take Brock to go see Misty first and then come here. How could I have forgotten?” He narrowed his eyes and continued without inflection. “I will be back later. You should definitely not follow me.”
Ash narrowed his eyes as if it was taking the kid’s full brain power to process Aquafeles’ complete lack of subtlety. “You’re… going to see Misty?” he asked then cocked his head. “What’s inside the Pokéball?”
Aquafeles stiffened. He knew Giovanni had been keeping Ash in the dark about his friends’ transformations, but this much? No wonder the boss hadn’t wanted the three of them in a room together. “I guess you’d have to follow to find out, wouldn’t you?” he asked, then picked up the ball again and walked down the hallway. It was only a moment before he heard Ash and Pika-Raichu’s footsteps behind him. The strange trio passed several grunts along their way, but very few of them took notice. Those that did gave Ash a polite nod or tip of the hat and continued about their business. The merger process had been successful five times already. Giovanni would be preparing to introduce it to the world at large soon. Soon, but not yet. In the meantime, there were many preparations to be made.
They reached the pool area, and Ash’s face brightened up again. “Misty comes here even when she’s not training you?” he asked. “Man, you can’t keep her away from the water, huh?”
No, you sure can’t anymore, Aquafeles thought but didn’t say. Let the brat piece everything together. He had no need of the drama. He attempted to push the heavy swinging door and didn’t quite have the strength for it. Ash stepped in behind and helped him out. Aquafeles nodded his thanks, feeling only a touch guilty for what Ash was about to see. He set the Master Ball down and approached the pool with caution. Neither Misty nor the other water Pokémon were on the surface, which meant he had to go underwater to get their attention.
Bracing himself, he stood at the pool’s edge, all but digging his claws into the siding. Then he swallowed hard and stuck his head below the surface. He could Misty along with some Goldeen and Tentacool hanging out at the pool’s floor. He didn’t blame her. If he still didn’t detest water to the very core of his being, he wouldn’t have minded having a quiet place to escape to as well.
“Hey!” he snapped quickly. “Get up here!” He then yanked his head out of the water and shook himself off. Misty had told him he’d have to get used to it sometime. It was his element now, after all. He just didn’t see why sometime had to be today.
The still water began to ripple with the movement from below. Then, in a spectacular spray of droplets that caught the light and cast several fleeting rainbows on the walls, Misty broke the surface. She threw her head back, and Aquafeles noted it had been cut fairly short. Whether for Misty’s convenience or the convenience of the grunts watching over her, it was hard to say. The white side fins of her muscular tail also surfaced, and she quickly swam over to where Aquafeles was waiting.
All the while, Ash stood to the side dumbstruck. “I… I, um…” he attempted to stutter.
Misty looked towards him, and her eyes widened. The Gyrados tail plunged back under the water. “A-ash! I… I didn’t know you came– why are you here?”
He didn’t answer. Instead he walked closer to the pool, like someone under hypnosis. His gaze locked on the water, which was perfectly clear and made the Pokémon half of Misty’s body quite easy to see. Misty didn’t attempt to move away from him this time. She simply let him absorb what had happened. Like she was still absorbing it herself.
“You… you got the merger,” Ash finally managed to say.
She rubbed her arm. The movement splashed a bit of water on Aquafeles, and he backed up farther. “Yes,” she said quietly. “I… appreciated your encouragement. Even… even if it didn’t quite turn out the way I had hoped.”
“Wait, I encouraged you?” Ash rubbed his head. In confusion, yes, but it was more than that. He looked like he was in pain. “I’m sorry. It’s just… I remember talking to you. But I don’t remember what I said.”
“You don’t remember what you said?” Misty’s discomfort at being seen in her half-human state seemed to ebb as worry took its place. “Ash, we only had this talk a couple days ago.”
“I know, I know!” Ash backed up a bit, still rubbing his head and gritting his teeth. “It’s hard to explain. But lately… there’s these gaps in my head. Like I only have muddy pictures of what happened. And sometimes… I think I remember, but… the memory feels like it doesn’t fit right.”
Aquafeles frowned. He had an idea what might have caused the strange gaps in Ash’s head. That didn’t mean he wanted to think about it. Better to change the topic. “Listen,” he said. Both Ash and Misty looked at him with raised eyebrows. Probably they’d forgotten he was even there. Typical humans. Well, somewhat-humans, at any rate. Meowth walked over and nudged the Master Ball he’d set down earlier in Ash’s direction. “If you alls are gonna have this conversation, might as well do it with your friend here.”
Ash looked bewildered, but Misty’s eyes just went all… well, misty. “That’s Brock’s Pokéball, then?”
Aquafeles nodded solemnly.
Ash stopped holding his head and stared at the ball. He gave a weak laugh, like Misty had told a pretty lousy joke but he was too polite to tell her so. “O-oh! You mean the Pokéball belongs to Brock. I get it. Which Pokémon is inside, then? His Crobat?”
“Ash–” Misty said gently.
“His Geodude?” Ash asked again.
Misty grit her teeth. “Ash, enough.”
“Oh, wait! Don’t tell me he got his Vulpix ba–”
“Brock doesn’t own the Pokéball, you idiot!” Misty snapped. “He’s inside of it!”
Ash’s eyes widened–every bit as much as if he’d been punched in the gut. Apparently, it was hard to ask use stupid questions as a way to shut off reality when friends kept shoving reality back in your face. But still, Ash managed to bury his head in the sand a tiny bit more. “No…” he said. “That’s impossible.”
Says the brat who jumped off a building after his Pikachu and somehow survived. Aquafeles shook his head. Having lost a decent chunk of his own patience, he snatched up the Master Ball, jumped over to Ash and plopped the thing right in the kid’s hand. Ash’s thumb went to the release, almost as if on instinct, and in a flash of red light, Brock appeared beside the pool. Even Aquafeles had to admit, he was a bit taken back. Getting to Misty was easy–the Rockets didn’t really need to guard her so much when travel on land was so difficult for her. Brock they’d kept a much closer watch on–this was the first time Aquafeles had seen him, too. The former gym leader uncurled his arms as though he’d been holding himself in a fetal position before being released. As he straightened, he came to an imposing height, though nowhere near the height of a full Steelix. Perhaps a large Machamp. His tail flicked, forcing Ash to jump back. Steelix’s signature barbs stuck out from the back of his neck and skull, adorning his head like an crudely-shaped crown. He turned one way then the other, disoriented for a moment, until his eyes settled on Misty. His initial reaction was shock, as Ash’s had been, but there was something more to it than that. The two assessed each other’s new form with a completely different understanding. A shared struggle they’d both been through and would probably keep going through the rest of their lives. Aquafeles could sympathize with them on that front, even if he’d never had the “being human” experience.
“Hey,” Brock said, trying to smile and mostly failing. “You’re okay, then.”
MIsty’s eyes watered. So much for her putting on a strong face. “Brock…” she said, voice cracking a bit as she scanned him again, realizing just how short a stick he’d drawn in this whole mess. “Brock, I’m so–”
Brock put up a hand. “Don’t say you’re sorry,” he said. “Just… please don’t.”
Ash watched the two of them, his body shaking violently. “I-I…” he stuttered. “I don’t understand. Brock, I’m not following anything you’re saying. It sounds like… like…”
“It sounds like Pokémon speak,” Aquafeles cut in, his patience still rather thin. “Because it is. It seems after a certain percentage is passed, human talk gets tricky.”
“But Misty–” Ash began. Aquafeles held up a paw.
“Misty’s DNA is 55% percent Pokémon. It’s natural she would understand him.” He gave a nod to Brock. “You’re 70%, if you happened to be curious.”
“I wasn’t,” Brock said angrily, but Aquafeles shrugged it off. He more or less made a career of getting people angry with him. No reason he would take one more human’s rage personally.