a/n: This is it! The final chapter of Mergers. Thanks so much for your patience all this time and we hope you enjoy it!
Ash was laying in a forest. At least, that’s what it felt like. His eyes were closed, but he could feel cold, wet stone against his back and heard a distant whispering sound like the wind. Water trickled on his face, too, irritating him. He raised a hand to swipe it away. Then the wind sound became more distinct, and Ash could hear actual words.
“He’s coming to! He’s waking up!” It was a male voice, but not Brock’s…
James? he thought. His eyes flickered open. He wasn’t outside, and there was no stream dripping water onto him. That had been Aquafeles, spitting tiny Water Gun attacks at his face. Its cheeks bunched up as it prepared another one. Ash jolted up and held out his hands. “It’s okay! It’s okay! I’m awake!” he said quickly.
Aquafeles hmphed and spat the water to the side instead. Someone called out, “Hey, watch where you aim that thing!”
Ash turned, full of excitement. “Brock?” he asked.
And it was Brock. He had his arms folded, waiting off to the side, but now he uncrossed them and moved forward, the rock-snake tail pushing him along. He wasn’t smiling, exactly, but relief filled his face. Jessie and James stood beside him, Jessie trying her best to look annoyed while James gave an audible sigh.
“Well, at least we aren’t getting fried for knocking the boss’s kid unconscious,” he said. Then he looked thoughtfully at the ceiling. “Although we may still get fried for setting up this battle in the first place.”
Ash lowered his head. He hadn’t really thought through what this battle would cost everyone. Most times, he didn’t really think through anything. But now that the battle was won, he had to use what leverage he could to make everyone’s situation better. To take Team Rocket apart.
Ash turned to Brock. “Are you okay?” he asked.
Brock laughed a bit. “You’re the one who passed out from a Perish Song attack, and you’re asking me if I’m okay?” He shook his head in that Ash-is-hopeless way all of Ash’s friends seemed to know. “I’m getting there. Thank you for asking.”
“No prob–hey!” Ash gasped. “I can understand you now!”
Brock nodded. “So it seems. I guess you have just enough Pokémon DNA in your veins to comprehend their language.” He frowned, his features going serious, like he was about to give a lecture. “You do know how reckless this was, right?”
“Yeah,” Ash admitted, rubbing the back of his head. He looked back at the gym, which had been a massive battle zone only a few minutes before. The grunt who had refereed their match was now tending to Fi, who was still wiped out from her own attack. Ash felt sorry for her. She’d obviously gone through a lot. Maybe there was a way to mend things… make friends with her… someday.
Just as the thought went through his mind, the hallway outside echoed with pounding footsteps.
The gym door swung open, almost smacking James in the face. As if on instinct, Brock moved in front of Ash, blocking whoever was entering from fully seeing him. Ash shoved his clearly non-human hands in his pockets and lowered his head, the brim of his hat shadowing his face.
Giovanni stormed into the gym. “What’s going on here?” he demanded.
“N-nothing, boss!” Jessie said quickly, also blocking the way for Giovanni to get a good look at Ash.
“We were just, um… supervising a little match,” James explained. It must not have been a good explanation, Ash thought. When Giovanni took a step back and surveyed the damage–the mangled floor, Fi unconscious farther back, he was growling like an offended Ursaring.
“And did I authorize a match?” he asked quietly. Dangerously.
Ash swallowed hard. “I did,” he said. “To test myself against Fi.” He kept his voice loud and defiant. Just the right tone to get Giovanni mad.
It worked. “And what did you do to this place in the process? You destroyed half my gym, boy!” he snapped.
Ash felt the Banette-like grin trying to ease its way onto his face. He fought to keep his expression nuetral–and to protect his secret.
“Yeah,” he said. “And it was fun, too!”
He wished he could look up and see Giovanni’s face, because from the way the man was seething, it sounded like he was about to explode.
“My. Office. Now,” he said, barely controlled. And with that he stomped out of the room and slammed the door behind him. Ash winced at the sound and looked up to see a dent in the doorknob. So much for Ash being the only one to damage the building. But right now, he had other things to worry about. He took a deep breath and thanked everyone in the room–his friends–for their help. Are Jessie and James my friends now? It felt too strange a thought to consider. At least in the moment. Instead, he focused on getting himself to his father’s office without giving himself away.
When Ash entered Giovanni’s office, the man was already holding open the door to where the ghost Pokémon were waiting. Ash kept his head low, trying to look scolded. The dark in the room would hide his Pokémon-like features much better than the well-lit office. Or maybe he just didn’t care for light the way he used to.
In either case, he hurried to his usual seat in the back, relishing the darkness as the door closed.
“Now, then,” Giovanni said, taking his own seat on the opposite side of the room. “Why don’t we begin with you telling me what gives you the right to hold a match in my gym without my permission?” He sounded calmer now. The guy did seem to find exerting control over others to be incredibly relaxing. When other people went to spas or on vacations, Giovanni tortured his subordinates.
Not for much longer, Ash told himself. He could feel the ghost Pokémon in the room coming near him, but he no longer felt uncomfortable in their presence. The cold touch of their fingers on his shoulder was as familiar and comfortable as Pikachu taking its place there.
Then Ash felt a string of sadness, remembering Pikachu would hardly fit in that place anymore. Distractions. He had to focus.
“I’m waiting,” Giovanni prompted.
“What’s the point of talking?” Ash asked. “You’re just going to have the Shuppets and Banettes attack my mind again, right? Why not start with that and save us both some time?”
Maybe it had been too bold a move. Maybe he’d now made Giovanni suspicious. But there was nothing he could do to take back his words.
And after a moment’s hesitation, he heard Giovanni give a soft, evil-sounding chuckle. “Why not indeed?” he asked. “Well, you may be a defiant brat, but at least you’re an efficient one.”
Ash heard the fabric of Giovanni’s fancy red suit shift around as the man lifted his arm. He whispered something Ash couldn’t make out, and more ghost Pokémon began to gather around. Ash listened to their mutterings among each other, but even with his new flair for understanding Pokémon language, their words weren’t completely clear. He got a sense of confusion, though… of knowing what they had been asked to do but unsure of how to do it. They were supposed to manipulate a human’s mind. But where the human was supposed to be, there was one of their own.
Giovanni chuckled again, but the sound was cut off by a grunt of impatience. Or maybe confusion? Yes. This would normally be the part where Ash held his head in pain as the Banettes invaded his mind. But he sat still. It had to be putting Gioavnni on edge.
At last, Ash lifted his head. He knew Giovanni probably could see too well in the low-light, but he could feel his red eyes glowing with heat. Giovanni’s own eyes widened in terror and shock.
“No,” he said. It almost sounded calm at first. Then his rage built and he started yelling, “No, no, no, no!”
Ash stood up and pointed his fellow ghost Pokémon in Giovanni’s direction. “You’re not controlling me anymore!” he told his father. Then to the Pokémon, he added, “You want a human mind to attack? Well, there one is!”
A cold chill blew across his shoulders, Banettes and Shuppets alike rushing past in a fog. Giovanni cowered on the floor, begging for Ash to spare him. As the ghost Pokémon began to crowd around him like a building storm, a part of Ash was tempted to let the attack continue. Maybe they could affect Giovanni’s mind just like they had affected Ash’s. Maybe they could take away all his desires to do such terrible things to people and Pokémon. Or maybe…
Or maybe letting these Pokémon hurt Giovanni doesn’t make me any better than him. Ash raised his hand again, urging the Pokémon to come back to him. They weren’t happy about it. But they still came. A few of the smaller Shuppets even rubbed their heads under his chin. Ash smiled.
“You did good,” he said. “I don’t think he’ll be bothering me again.”
The smell of fear and sweat was heavy in the room, even though the former wasn’t a smell Ash could normally pinpoint. Just a feeling he had. Like something the Pokémon part of him just sort of knew. He stood up and walked over to Giovanni, who was now grasping his head and whimpering in the opposite corner of the room.
“Your methods won’t work on me anymore,” Ash declared. “If you want to win me over to your side, you’ve got to do it fairly. No more tricks. Agreed?”
Giovanni didn’t look up. But he did nod. And gave another small whimper. That was as close to an agreement as Ash could probably expect to get.
Sabrina had been sleeping for a while. When her Pokéball opened and the red light finally released her, it felt about the same as someone pulling the covers out from under her and dumping her on the floor at five in the morning. Not that anyone who dare to do such a thing to someone who could telekinetically hurl them across the room.
She kept her eyes closed and felt herself floating down to touch ground on a rough wood floor. Her senses were magnified. She could smell the place. Her telepathic powers tuned into the auras of the room, like listening to music. Her body had changed. In her mind, she saw an image of herself. Green, white, and a splash of red. Her stick-like arms ended with three fingers, not five. From a distance, there was no distinguishing her from Gardevoir. Only her face remained her own. Still her normal skin tone. Still human. She felt no loss from this fact. In fact, any human concerns felt trivial to her now.
She listened to the sounds of the room. Voices. Right nearby. One voice was Gladion’s. And there was another a gruff, older voice. She slowly allowed her eyes to open. Her vision began to adjust and she saw him standing next to a man wearing obnoxious yellow sunglasses atop a mop of wild white hair. Getting a better look at his face, he wasn’t as old as Sabrina first thought, despite the dark circles under his eyes. He might have been only a year or so older than her.
“Man, you weren’t kidding,” the man said, then he circled around Sabrina getting a better look at her. Guzma, Sabrina remembered. His name is Guzma. She had seen pictures of the Team Skull boss before, and thought him more ridiculous-looking than actually threatening. But he had given Gladion work and shelter for a time. And from the way he had duct-taped a large X over his team’s logo, she suspected he wasn’t as into the petty crime scene as he once was. Still, just to be sure…
Let’s see how well my new powers work. She focused and sensed no dark intentions from him as she did from Giovanni. He was ambitious but wouldn’t abuse her or others for his goals. She was safe here.
Guzma shook his head, apparently barely noticing her presence in his mind. He turned to Gladion. “You can hang here for a bit if you need, but if trouble comes knocking, I never saw you,” he muttered. “Me and Plum are starting over here, and I don’t need any of that Kanto drama.”
“I understand,” Gladion said. “We appreciate it.”
Sabrina tuned out their conversation and looked around the building. The place was old and crumbling. The rain pounded outside and from the way it shook the windowpanes, she was shocked the place wasn’t flooded. It also smelled faintly of mold and week-old pizza.
But… it wasn’t Giovanni’s gym. As unsavory as this place was, it was safe. And for now, she was satisfied with that. She curiously held out a green hand and focused on the heaviest thing she could find, which happened to be a beaten and battered sofa. At her thought, it lifted with almost no effort. She smiled. The loss of her humanity had been a small price to pay. And when she was ready, she would get Giovanni back for trying to capture her. But for now, the best she could do was wait and rest.
Ash sat outside, watching the last rays of sun dip below the horizon. Beside him, Misty lay on her stomach, flicking the end of her tail this way and that and probably enjoying the wet grass way more than he was. It had been raining all day, but the clouds had finally parted, even as day was about to give way to night. Brock, not so anxious to get himself wet, relaxed on the steps leading up to the Viridian Gym. Somewhere, in a clump of damp clover, Pika-Raichu was napping. The scene felt familiar and foreign to Ash at the same time.
“You did really well today, you know?” Misty said to him.
He nodded. He still felt like if he had really done everything right, he wouldn’t have gotten his friends into this situation in the first place.
As if reading this thoughts, Brock added on, “You had no idea what Giovanni was planning. Everything you’ve done, you’ve done it to protect us. And Pokémon.”
“Right,” Misty said. “And if you think we’re going to leave your side now, you’re even stupider than your dad.”
Ash laughed a bit. It was true–he didn’t know what the future had in store. But whatever it was, however he and his friends had changed, they would face the challenge together.