Pokemon Fan Fiction ❯ A Blond Ray of Sunshine ❯ Chapter 5

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Antoshi had gone outside multiple times to walk around and get some fresh air. He became more and more tempted to look for Fireball himself each time. Ultimately, however, he trusted Jenny and the other officers. He held on to waning faith that they truly would find Fireball. The waiting was wearing on him, but it was what he relegated himself to.

Back in the break room, Antoshi was losing what composure he had left by nightfall. It was a harsh test of his fortitude, and so far he was failing. Being separated for so long, he was worried constantly for Fireball's safety. Was he simply lost or … had the worst come of him?

The boy passed the time by sitting at the same table, setting his backpack down, and reorganizing its contents. In doing so, he eventually pulled out Fireball's Poké Ball. It was so weathered after nearly a decade of wear. The fading red paint on the top half had cracked and chipped in places. There were small dents, dirt, and scrapes all over it. As he studied it, he recalled the times he had to use it when he and Fireball first started their adventure together. He smiled, remembering how uncontrollably rambunctious he was as a Quilava. He sighed, setting the ball on the table in its minimized form.

His leg shook up and down, unable to keep still. He sat in boredom, withdrawing his compendium and quietly skimming over the maps within. He paid extra attention to the map of Viridian, ending up memorizing most of the city's layout by the time he stored it away again.

He folded his arms on the table to rest his head. He was tired and hungry, unable to sleep. His lips briefly curled into a tiny smile as he thought about all the times Fireball complained about hunger.

‘Of course! Every minute of every day is great with my best buddy around,’ he recalled Fireball say back on the ferry.

His heart sank, sliding further into misery. The waiting and not knowing was starting to deeply affect his psyche. He got up, gazing out the window with a forlorn look in his eyes. He watched people walking and driving around, some of them with their Pokémon. He envisioned himself and Fireball in their places, wishing he could be as carefree as they were.

He rhythmically clenched his fists again as they rest on the counter, his mind filling with anger and despair. Officers continued to wander in and out of the room. He noticed them at times, hoping the next individual to walk in would be Fireball.

Jenny entered the room, making her presence known by knocking on the door frame.

“Hey there,” she said with a gentle smile, trying to keep cordial with him.

“Hi,” he replied, distantly. He briefly glanced over to her, but it was as though he wasn't looking at her. His gaze was somewhere else entirely.

“I just wanted to update you and let you know that we now have over a dozen officers searching for Fireball.” Her attempt to keep his hopes up fell on deaf ears. She cleared her throat. “Would you … like something to eat?”

“I'm not hungry,” he muttered.

“All right. Well, how about I get you a blanket so that you—”

“I don't want a blanket!” he snapped at her in frustration before shoving a display of coffee condiments off the counter. “I just want Fireball back!!”

Jenny was shocked at first. There was an obvious sorrow in his eyes that hid behind his bitter expression.

“What's going on?” Robert asked, as he came into the room.

“It's okay,” she held an arm out, keeping the officer back.

Antoshi looked down at the scattered objects, becoming unsettled with himself for reacting so irritably. He looked down at his trembling hands. “I—I'm sorry,” he said, quietly, his expression suddenly wracked by grief, “I— …” He dashed past them, heading out the front door.

They both watched the boy sit down on the steps outside. “It's been twelve hours,” Jenny said to Robert, with a heavy sigh. “Every minute without his friend, waiting and wondering where he is, … I know how agonizing that is.”

“You think it's the Rockets, don't you?”

“Mm,” she nodded. “It's got all the same earmarks. Some innocent Trainer's Pokémon goes missing, they don't know where it went, they never see it again. We've scoured every inch of where he lost his Typhlosion and haven't found anything except some shoe prints and Typhlosion paw prints on the ground in a nearby alley. A Typhlosion can't be hard to spot. I wouldn't be surprised if this was some crafty scheme by the Rockets to lure his Typhlosion away so they could capture it. They don't care in the least about Pokémon, they only care about their profit. I'm just … sick to my stomach whenever I think of the horrible things they do to peoples' beloved friends.”

He placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “I know Archie's always smiling down on you for all the work you do to help those Trainers.”

“He is. That was … a long time ago, and I want to believe I've come to grips with it. Yet, every time it happens to someone else, I just feel those scars all over again. I feel it through the look in their eyes whenever they realize … their best friend isn't coming back. …” Jenny closed her eyes and turned away.

“I'll go get us some more coffee,” he quietly said.

“All right.” She sighed again as he left her company.

She continued watching Antoshi for a few moments. She reached a hand out to open the door, but quickly stopped herself. After letting her hand fall away, she decided it best to give him some space for the time being. He was more restrained that she was, and she saw strength in him that he didn't see in himself. He would surely overcome this. She nodded to herself before heading back to her office.

Outside, Antoshi couldn't stop shaking as his emotions boiled over. He had no idea what to do or where to go anymore. The reality that he may never see Fireball again was sinking in. He breathed heavily, staring at the concrete below him, eyes welled with tears.

“This is my fault,” he quietly muttered to himself. “There was so much more I could've done. … I should've paid more attention, I—I should've noticed there was someone following us. I should've been more forceful when I told you not to run off. I shouldn't have stopped to help that lady. I should've— … I should've been faster! I'm a terrible Trainer and a horrible friend!”

He clenched his eyes shut, tears rolling down his cheeks. “I'm sorry, Fireball,” he whispered, before huffing and sobbing into his hands. “Please come back …”

As sadness overwhelmed him, his entire body became enveloped in the soft, transparent glow of the mysterious red light. With his eyes closed, he remained unaware of it. None of the people walking by seemed to witness the spectacle unfolding either.

“I can't be strong, Fireball, not without you here with me …”

The deeper he sank into heartache, the brighter the light became. It began to fluctuate around him until seemingly igniting, giving off the impression of a flickering red flame that swelled much more intensely than any of its previous appearances. Its very presence invigorated him with energy. That extra energy only served to help intensify his sobbing.

Once Antoshi finally calmed down, so did the mysterious light until it dissipated. He took a few deep breaths and wiped the tears from his eyes. He huffed sharply, getting back to his feet and attempting to recompose himself. He headed back inside the station, having no place else to go.

⁂    ⁂    ⁂

A short time later, after Antoshi settled back into resting his head on the table in the break room, Jenny came in to check on him.

“Antoshi?” she spoke up, grabbing his attention. He looked up and acknowledged her with a casual glance before looking away. She sighed, taking a seat across the table from him. “Antoshi — I know I've been keeping you at arm's length. I was staying professional and following protocol. Still, … I want to talk to you on a personal level.”

Antoshi's attention perked up. He kept a curious gaze locked on her, sitting up straight.

“I'm not supposed to do this,” she continued, “but I can't help but empathize with how much pain you're in. I've … been in the same position you're in now.”

“You have?” he asked, softly. She nodded.

“I joined the force about five years ago. Back then, I was given a partner Pokémon — Archie, my Arcanine. He was my best friend, and I loved him so much. One night, he and I were sent to investigate a break-in at a Poké Ball factory. When we got there, Archie heard a noise and took off. I tried to call him back, but he wouldn't listen. I went in after him, but … he was gone. Some other officers showed up and we looked everywhere for him. I was overwhelmed with grief, but, like you, I was determined to find him. Months passed, and eventually … I gave up. About a year later, I got a call about a lost Pokémon  in bad shape wandering through the city.”

She shut her eyes, becoming visibly uneasy. Her voice began to tremble.

“When I got there, I found out it … was Archie. He'd been … so horribly injured beyond recognition, I thought it wasn't him at first. I got him into the car and took him to the Pokémon Center, but … by then, there wasn't anything they could do. It was too late for him.” She sniffled and let out a shaky sigh, swiftly wiping the tears from her closed eyes.

After taking a deep breath, she looked squarely at Antoshi with a strong, determined expression. Her tone became firm and serious. “That is why I know what you're feeling. That's why I promised that I won't stop looking for your friend, because no one deserves to go through the pain that I endured. I know that, on some level, you felt like I haven't cared. … I care more deeply than you know.”

Antoshi was left speechless, maintaining eye contact with her as Jenny stood up from the table.

“Never give up,” she added. “Never forget how much you love your best friend.”

She straightened her uniform before leaving the room. Antoshi gazed out the window. Jenny's poignant speech gave him much to reflect on.

⁂    ⁂    ⁂

Fireball groaned, awaking to the sound of a nearby train slowly screeching to a halt. Under the cover of darkness, he had collapsed from exhaustion behind a train station. He sat up, dazed and incredibly hungry. He got up onto his hind feet and began jogging away, determined to get back to Antoshi. Some of the people at the train station gasped and muttered to each other as the large Typhlosion emerged from the darkness and fled past them.

Fireball panted nervously, noticing every set of human and Pokémon eyes that glanced his way. He desperately avoided contact with everyone.

"Psst!" came a small voice, as he passed by a dumpster. "Hey, wait!" Fireball turned around and saw a Rattata standing on its hind legs, gazing up at him with its jaw agape. "Wow, you're a tall one!" the Rattata remarked.

"Thanks," Fireball replied with a weak smile. "I—I gotta keep moving."

"Wait, you look hungry! Would you like some food?"

"Food?" Fireball mused, in wonder.

"Food!" a handful of Rattata exclaimed as they burst out from some nearby trash bags.

"Wow," Fireball said, following the first Rattata as it led him over to the others, "there sure are a lot of you."

"Of course!" the first Rattata said. "We Rattata always stick together. We also don't mind helping the occasional passing stranger — especially if they look like they're in need."

"Help yourself!" one of the little ones said, hopping out of a bag that spilled its contents on the ground. Fireball was unpleasantly surprised.

"Dumpster food?" Fireball asked. "I—I don't know …"

"Trust me, it's good!" the first Rattata replied, stuffing its jowls. "Besides, what else are homeless folks like us supposed to get?"

"Well, I'm not really homeless," Fireball said, sitting down by them. "I'm lost from my Trainer." His remark earned a collective 'aww' from the others.

"You got lost?" the first one asked in concern. "Wait, your Trainer's not one of those jerks that abandons Pokémon, right?"

"No! No, no, he's a really wonderful Trainer. He's my best friend, actually." The others again collectively 'aww'ed in response. Fireball chuckled. "See, I messed up and I ran off from him when I shouldn't have. I ended up getting kidnapped by these two creeps." The others gasped.

"Kidnapped?" the first Rattata asked with a worried expression. "They weren't guys with shirts that had a big letter 'R' on them, were they?"

"No, they didn't have any letters on their clothes." The others sighed in relief. "But, when they had me in the trunk of their car, I remember them mentioning something about 'Team Rocket'."

"Team Rocket?!" the others all exclaimed before hissing, and arching their backs.

"They're the lowest of the low," the first Rattata said. "They're nothing but poachers that kidnap Pokémon and force them into slavery, sell them off for cash, … or worse. Just thinking about what they've done to our brothers and sisters makes my blood boil."

"I'm really sorry to hear that," Fireball replied, quietly.

"It's okay, friend. I'm just glad you got away from them. Anyway, you seem like a stand-up guy, Mr. Typhlosion. Why don't you let us help you find your Trainer?"

Fireball's face lit up. "Really? You'd do that for me?"

"Sure thing! We may be small, but, brother, we got a whole network of friends and family all over the city."

The Rattata scampered up a nearby gutter to get on top of a building. He took a deep, mighty breath. "Hey, everybody~!" he shouted as loudly as he could.

For a moment, there was no response, leaving Fireball confused. He watched as ears, eyes, and snouts quickly began to pop up in every nook, cranny, and shadow. Fireball shouted in amazement as dozens, if not hundreds, of Rattata and Raticate scampered over and surrounded them.

The first Rattata hopped down and stood next to Fireball. "This here is our new friend! What's your name?"

"I'm Fireball," he replied, with a gentle wave to the crowd.

"This is Fireball!"

The others cheered raucously. Fireball chuckled nervously.

"Fireball here has recently managed to escape the clutches of Team Rocket!" The crowd hissed and jeered in response to the name. "I know, I know. But, like many other friends and family of ours, he's now become separated from his beloved Trainer. We have to help him reunite with his best friend!" The crowd cheered once more. "Now, Fireball, tell us what your Trainer looks like so we can spread the word."

"Okay," Fireball said, standing up on his hind legs, clearing his throat before raising his voice. "He's a boy about … this tall," he held a paw out while the entire crowd nodded, "he has blond hair, and he's wearing a black shirt and shorts. Um, … oh, and he also has a big, red backpack."

"You heard him, folks! You know what to do! Let's move out, spread the word, and help our new friend!"

The crowd of rat Pokémon dispersed at once, chattering and squeaking. The first Rattata sighed happily, sitting back on his pile of garbage.

"You can rest easy now, my friend," he said. "Just relax here with us and we'll find your boy in no time at all."

Fireball's eyes welled up with tears, sniffling. "Thank you so much, I—" he stopped as his eyes suddenly spotted something in the trash. "Are those … waffles?"

"Oh, yeah, help yourse—" Fireball dove in and eagerly began to scarf down the food. The Rattata's laughed in amusement.

⁂    ⁂    ⁂

In the wee hours of the morning, the Viridian police station was quieter and less populated than in the daytime. Officer Jenny visited the break room to check on Antoshi. She found him asleep at one of the tables, having finally succumbed to his exhaustion. She brought a blanket for him, gently draping it over his back. She noticed he was holding Fireball's Poké Ball.

‘No kid deserves to have to go through this,’ she thought.

She genuinely cared for his well-being, unwilling to go home until her job was done. But, Jenny's own lack of sleep starting to catch up with her. She covered a yawn with the back of her hand. For the time being, she had several other officers on the case in her stead, allowing her time to rest. She headed for the station's small sleeping quarters to do just that.

A few minutes later, a Rattata curiously scampered around the outside of the police station. It sniffed the air, squeaking and standing on its hind legs. It made its way along the side of the building. There, it hopped up into each of the windowsills. It stopped once it reached the one outside the break room.

The Rattata's eyes widened in surprise, staring at the sleeping boy within. It swiftly hopped down, finding the nearest storm drain. It chattered and squeaked in excitement, its voice echoing to its kin below ground. The Rattata sprinted back over to the windowsill, where it tapped and scratched on the glass relentlessly.

Antoshi groaned softly, rousing from his sleep. He looked over and saw the frantic Rattata in the window.

⁂    ⁂    ⁂

Jalyn and Matt continued searching aimlessly in their drive around the city. They'd been on the move constantly, making only brief stops for snacks, to gas up the car, and to use the restroom. The endless grind felt more and more hopeless with each passing hour of their time-limited search. The pressure was mounting. The creeping sense of impending failure was wearing on them.

The city streets were incredibly quiet at such an early hour. Matt yawned loudly, leaning against the inside of the door. Both of their eyes were heavy, but Jalyn remained adamant in her mission.

“Come on, Jalyn. We've been looking all night. Can we just take a break for a while?”

“You can rest when you're dead,” she replied, coldly.

Matt scoffed, closing his eyes and leaning back in his seat to doze off.

When they turned at the next light, Jalyn spotted a single black and white car heading slowly in the opposite direction. The car had a manually moving spotlight that was pointed at the nearby buildings and sidewalks.

She gasped, recognizing it as a police vehicle. She swerved suddenly, ducking into a nearby residential area to stay out of sight. Matt shouted in surprise, jarred awake by the sudden turn.

“What the hell was that?!” he snapped.

“There was a cop nearby,” she replied, keeping her eyes locked on her rear-view mirror. “I'm sure that Typhlosion's Trainer probably reported it missing by now. I don't know what they're looking for. Hopefully, it's not the Typhlosion — or us.”

Matt sighed in frustration as they slowly drove around the neighborhood for a short while.

⁂    ⁂    ⁂

Fireball and his new friends sat together near the dumpster, chatting and laughing. They were interrupted by a Rattata sprinting toward them.

"We found him!" the little Rattata squeaked.

Fireball and the others gasped in elation.

"I told you it was just a matter of time, friend!" the first Rattata said. "Come on, we'll follow our guide here to lead us to him!"

The messenger started to scamper off. Fireball and the other Rattata followed behind on all fours.

⁂    ⁂    ⁂

Matt and Jalyn continued quietly drifting through the narrow roads of the dimly-lit neighborhood. Jalyn wasn't convinced they were out of sight of the cops just yet.

“Come on, Jalyn,” Matt said. “That cop has to be long gone by now.”

“Shut your stupid mouth!” she snapped. “I'm driving!”

Matt seethed, folding his arms across his chest. He idly gazed at the passing houses and side streets, eventually spotting a small group of Rattata going by under the light of street lamps. Accompanying them was a much larger Typhlosion.

His eyes nearly popped out of his head in disbelief. “Wait a minute!” he shouted with such panic that it caused her to slam the brakes. A dog nearby started barking, startled by his shout. “Jalyn — there he is!

She looked at where his shaking hand was pointing. She internally screamed when she, too, saw Fireball.

“Okay, … okay, hang on,” she said, her voice trembling. She turned off her headlights and slowly drove to the next road that Fireball was heading to.

“What are you waiting for?!” he exclaimed. “Let's get him!”

“Relax, you idiot!” she rebuked him, keeping her voice low. “You want people here to wake up and call the cops on us?! Shut up and don't scare him away! Just … be cool.”

The two kept their elation in check as Jalyn drove at the same pace Fireball was moving. Fireball and the others did not notice the car following them in the distance.

⁂    ⁂    ⁂

Antoshi curiously stood in front of the window where the tiny Rattata was. The Rattata hopped up and down, motioning for him to come outside. The boy was confused.

“What are you trying to tell me, little guy?” Antoshi asked.

The Rattata hunched over and huffed in exasperation. It stood on its hind legs, holding its forepaws out like claws. It made a stern expression, turning its head and breathing tiny puffs of fire with little roars.

Antoshi furrowed his brow for a moment before his eyes went wide in shock. “Fireball?” he asked in disbelief. “You know where Fireball is?!” The Rattata nodded, squeaking in excitement.

That was all Antoshi needed to know. He shoved Fireball's Poké Ball into his pocket and made a mad dash for the front door. The officers in the station were taken by surprise as he ran off as fast as he could.

“Hey, kid!” one of them shouted. “Wait a second! Where are you going?” He didn't answer, shoving the door open and breaking out into a sprint once he got outside.

He met up with the little Rattata at the side of the building. “Hurry, let's find Fireball!” he said. The Rattata nodded before taking off with Antoshi in tow.

At the same time, one of the officers headed to the station's sleeping quarters to inform Jenny.

“Jenny!” he said, shaking her gently. “Jenny, wake up!”

She groaned as she opened her eyes, looking at him. “Huh? … What is it?”

“It's the kid! He went flying out of here like a bat outta hell!” Her eyes went wide.

She quickly pulled the blanket away and got out of bed, still in her full uniform. She slipped her shoes on before the two officers headed for the front door.

“One minute, he was sleeping,” the officer went on, “the next minute, he was out the door like he was on a mission!”

“I have to go after him,” she said, sternly. “It's too dark and too dangerous for him to be running around the city. I know what he's feeling, and I know he wants to find his friend, but he's not thinking rationally right now. I owe it to him to keep him safe.”

“All right. Be careful.”

Jenny hurried out the door, climbing into her police cruiser. She backed out and peeled onto the streets, trying to find Antoshi as quickly as possible.

⁂    ⁂    ⁂

Once Fireball and his new friends reached the darker outskirts of the neighborhood, they were met with a tall, long wooden fence.

"Let's go around!" the first Rattata said.

They noticed a car's headlights suddenly turn on, pointed at them. The bright lights temporarily blinded them. The tires screeched as Jalyn slammed the accelerator down with a crazed look in her eyes.

All of the Rattata panicked and scattered. Fireball attempted to jump out of the way, but ended up being struck hard by the car. He screamed in pain, rolling over the hood. He launched off the windshield, cracking it, and landed hard on the asphalt before rolling to a stop.

Jalyn brought the car to a screeching halt and parked it. She and Matt couldn't get out of the car fast enough. The Rocket duo cautiously approached him, both of them bringing out a Poké Ball from their pockets to hold at their sides. They both gasped when he stirred to life.

“Damn,” Matt remarked. “He's still as resilient as ever.”

Fireball exhaled shakily, his entire body throbbing with pain. He set his dislocated jaw with a grunt, staggering to his hind feet. He glared at the pair, one eye bloodied and closed shut, snarling at them in rage. The fires on his upper back came alight, prepared for battle. Fireball wasn't content to attack people, but for the two callous ones before him, he made an exception.

“You're worth less than nothing to me,” Jalyn scornfully said. “You don't scare me. Now, be a good little pet and come along quietly. Otherwise, I will kill you.”

Fireball growled, baring his teeth. In an instant, he opened his maw and exhaled a scorching stream of fire at them. They shouted in surprise, diving to the side. When his attack petered out, they looked at each other, before looking at Fireball.

“Fine, you stupid beast!” Jalyn said. She and Matt each brandished a Poké Ball from their pockets. “You want to battle? We can battle.”

"Hey!" the first Rattata exclaimed. "Leave our friend alone!" The small group of Rattata all screeched and charged at the pair.

“What the hell is this?!” Matt shouted, he and Jalyn yelping as the Rattata bit and clawed at their ankles.

The duo threw their Poké Balls out which opened of their own accord. The streams of light that burst forth touched the ground and took shape. Matt's Spiritomb and Jalyn's Malamar stood silently. Both Pokémon had cold, menacing glares. Malamar looked down at the group of Rattata. There was a terrible killing intent in the Malamar's eyes that terrified them to their core. The Rattata fled fearfully.

“Ha! Stupid little pests!” Matt exclaimed, before turning his attention to Fireball. “Spiritomb, use Shadow Sneak on that Typhlosion!”

Spiritomb swiftly disappeared into the asphalt, reappearing in the form of a dark shadow behind Fireball. His uninjured eye went wide from the ominous feeling of dread he felt before Spiritomb struck him from behind.

“Malamar, use Psycho Cut!” Jalyn commanded.

Malamar's finlike hands glowed blue before running at Fireball, who was still reeling from the previous attack. Malamar swept both hands forward, creating a crescent-shaped blade of energy. Fireball shouted in pain as the strike staggered him backwards. He fell to all fours, glaring at them. Trembling in pain, he slowly rose back up on his hind feet again.

'Antoshi …' Fireball thought. 'I have to … get back to Antoshi. I'm not going to make him worry about me any longer. I have to beat these creeps, but I … can't do this without him.'

“Now, Malamar — Hypnosis!”

Malamar's eyes became a mesmerizing swirl of colors just like before. Fireball was far weaker at that point than the first time they used Hypnosis on him. It didn't take long before he fell forward, unconscious.

The Rockets sighed in relief, recalling their Pokémon into the confines of their Poké Balls. Jalyn got back into the car in order to back up closer to Fireball. She popped the trunk, both of them working quickly to lift the heavy Typhlosion up once again.

Just then, panting heavily, Antoshi and the single Rattata appeared at the scene just in time to see the Rockets struggling as they rolled Fireball into the trunk.

“Hey!” he shouted, his voice high-pitched from exhaustion. The pair were shocked as they looked over at him. Antoshi sprinted toward them. The Rattata ran with him, chattering angrily. “Let him go! Now!”

“Oh, you've got to be joking,” Matt remarked in disbelief. “That's the kid I stole the wallet from! That's his Typhlosion!”

“Damn it,” Jalyn muttered as she slammed the trunk closed. “Get in the car, Stupid!”

Jalyn no longer cared about the upholstery as the duo hopped into the car. Antoshi's rage crested upon seeing them trying to flee. They had already taken Fireball from him once — he wasn't going to let it happen again. His adrenaline carried him as fast as he could while Jalyn turned the ignition.

“You're not getting away!” Antoshi shouted.

Jalyn spun the car around, slamming the gas, charging at full speed into the wooden fence that had previously boxed Fireball in. Matt shouted in fear as the boards shattered all around them, damaging the car even further.

“Are you crazy?!” he yelled at her. She didn't answer him, keeping her stern glare forward. She drove up a small grassy incline before getting onto an empty side street.

Antoshi panted as he and the group of Rattatas stepped all over the splintered wood, up the incline, out onto the road just in time to see them speeding off down the road.

“No!!” he shouted in anguish and anger as he they escaped with Fireball. He couldn't run fast enough. His energy was completely spent, falling to his knees in defeat. He'd let them get away.

Fireball was gone — again. He wasn't sure if he'd ever see his best friend again. The police were nowhere nearby. He would have to run all the way back to the station to tell them what happened. By then, it could be too late to do anything.

Antoshi trembled and sobbed, tears welling in his wide eyes. The horrifying end of Jenny's story replayed in his mind. Fireball was likely to meet the same fate. The Rattatas stood by, looking at him with sorrowful gazes. The boy clenched his fists, his eyes, his jaw. He struggled not to cry.

“Fireball …” he whispered. “I … I blew it. I'm sorry. … Please come back. I can't be without you! Please come back! Please come back, Fireball!!”

The rage and sorrow that had been building up inside of him burned like fire in his veins. He shook with anger, weeping in despair. Antoshi suddenly slammed his fists into the concrete sidewalk, cracking it. He screamed at the top of his lungs, unable to hold in his emotions any longer. In a flash, the fiery red light erupted and flared wildly around his body. An incredible rush of adrenaline and vigor surged through him.

The Rattatas were shocked, backing away. They were bewildered at the sight of the glowing flame around him, unsure what to make of it.

Antoshi clenched his teeth, staring at the fleeing car with a vengeful gaze, his normally brown irises glowing bright red. He suddenly noticed the flickering light surrounding him. His expression turned to surprise and curiosity. He looked at his arms and body, patting his chest in disbelief. It was so much more intense than it had ever been before.

Taking a deep breath, he got to his feet and exhaled slowly. All of his previous exhaustion took a back seat while he tapped into an unknown source of power. He had become completely rejuvenated. The mysterious light's very presence reassured him, soothing him with its warmth. Fireball wasn't gone. There was still a chance. He wouldn't let the Rockets take away the most important thing in his life: his family.

With his entire body like an explosive mass of boundless energy, he raced toward the car with an immense second wind. The group of Rattata were too intrigued by the turn of events not to follow him. The boy was so much faster than before, and they had trouble keeping up with him.

As the car quickly rounded a corner, Antoshi did his best to keep them in sight. By the time he turned the same corner, the car had gotten too far from him. He shouted in agony, pushing himself as hard as he could, struggling with all he had to catch up that he suddenly stumbled over his own feet. His arms thrust outward to break his fall, only for him to realize he was not touching the ground yet continued moving forward.

He was flying.

Antoshi let out a shocked cry at his situation, trying to wrap his head around what was happening. The break in concentration caused him to fall face-first onto the street.

He got up with, inexplicably, nary a scratch on him. He huffed with determination, watching the car round another corner in the distance. He took off running once again, fueled by the burning desire to save his best friend. As he hit his stride, he let himself fall forward again and, just as before, he began to fly. He was moving much faster than he could run — fast enough to catch up to the car. He was at a loss for how he was doing it, but remained focused on his target.

The Rattata group gave up on their pursuit. They stayed behind, squeaking, jumping, and cheering for the flying boy.

⁂    ⁂    ⁂

At that moment, Officer Jenny was racing in the opposite direction down the same empty street as the two Rockets. Her eyes were focused on the sidewalk, looking for Antoshi. She paid no mind to the two in the passing convertible with the horribly cracked windshield and busted front fender. She gasped and hit the brakes upon finding the young man she was searching for — as he soared over her car.

With her jaw agape, she followed his movements, gazing incredulously out the back window. “No way,” she whispered.

Jenny quickly backed up, spun around, and turned her flashing lights on as she gave chase to the bizarre scene.

⁂    ⁂    ⁂

Jalyn stuck to the side streets where there were no other cars around.

“Is that kid still following us?” she asked, as she rounded another corner.

Matt saw nothing in the side-view mirror and nodded to her confidently. “Come on, he's not fast enough to …” he trailed off after seeing a reflection of Antoshi flying behind them. “What the hell?!”

“What?” she asked with immediate concern. “What is it?!”

Matt turned around to confirm the sight of the flying kid. Not only was it so, but Antoshi was quickly gaining on them. He sat forward again, his blank eyes wide, his face pale.

“He … is still following us,” Matt replied, dumbfounded.

She was confused until she glanced in the rear-view mirror and saw the same thing he did.

“That-that's impossible!” she screamed. She nearly veered off the road before correcting.

Antoshi was getting closer. Matt continued to stare at him in the side-view mirror, utterly aghast at the sight. He sat quietly for a moment, pondering what to say next.

“Jalyn,” Matt began with a calm, serious tone, “I've … never questioned my life's choices as much as I have in the past twenty-four hours. This — all of this — isn't worth it. The Typhlosion's not worth it, the money's not worth it, my life's not worth it. I can't do it anymore. It's not worth it, it's not worth it. …”

“Pull yourself together, you idiot!” she replied. “We're dead if we don't finish this!”

“We have a flying kid chasing us, Jalyn. All of the mishaps and convenient obstacles along the way — being stopped from nabbing the kid's wallet, Jeff not coming to the door, the Typhlosion escaping, and now this. They're all signs telling me I made a huge mistake. I should've stayed in Cinnabar. I don't care what happens to me now. I'm … I—I'm ready to face my consequences.”

The look in his eyes reaffirmed to her that he'd lost the will to fight.

“Damn you, Matt,” she muttered. She reached over and hit the glove box to pop it open. Its contents shifted around and Antoshi's wallet fell to the floorboard. She grabbed the gun inside and handed it to him.

“Even if you don't care what happens to you,” she said, “I'm begging you to at least care what happens to me, okay? If you want out of this game after this is over, then I promise I'll help you get out. Just do one last thing for me: kill him.”

He gave further thought to his situation, staring at the gun she held against his chest. He closed his eyes, taking the gun with a heavy sigh.

“All this for one kid's wallet,” he reflected aloud.

He turned around, balancing himself while taking aim. The boy was trailing mere meters behind them. The others were not able to see those flames surrounding him or the glow of his eyes.

Antoshi gasped, his eyes going wide with terror as he stared down the gun's barrel. With his life in danger, his irises suddenly glowed brighter and the fiery light around him flickered far more intensely. In an instant, Antoshi's whole world began to move in slow-motion.

His eyesight became precise enough to see the bullet exiting the chamber. It ejected ahead of a burst of fire, followed by a cloud of smoke and tiny, burning cinders of gunpowder. Antoshi pivoted his body to the side with ease, avoiding the trajectory of the bullet by a wide margin.

All Matt witnessed was Antoshi disappearing and reappearing an instant later.

“Wh—what?!” Matt shouted.

“What happened? Did you get him?” Jalyn asked. She glanced in the rear-view mirror. The boy was still giving chase. “You missed?!”

“I— … h—he dodged it!”

“Just keep shooting!”

Matt seethed, firing shot after shot at Antoshi. The boy evaded with the same swiftness each time. He shouted in frustration, chucking the empty gun at him — only to have him dodge that as well.

“Do something!” Jalyn shouted, panicked.

“It's too late,” he replied, slinking back into his seat and hunching over. “It was going to end this way. I should've known it when the universe was working against me to keep from stealing the kid's wallet. I brought this on myself. …”

Jalyn sucked her teeth. There wasn't anything left to say or do to console him.

Both of them shouted in surprise as the car rattled hard as though they were rear-ended. They looked back, watching Antoshi grab onto the car's back bumper. He strained with effort as he pulled the car and dug his heels into the asphalt, gradually slowing the car down.

Jalyn cried out in terror, flooring the gas pedal. The car had already come to a halt. Smoke poured off the screeching tires as it revved and bounced in place. Antoshi's grip was slipping, clamping down so hard on the bumper that it snapped off of the car's frame. The car immediately barreled forward.

Matt and Jalyn screamed as they lost control and crashed into a metal light pole, coming to a sudden stop. The light pole flickered and went out, bent around the car's hood. The two inside were knocked unconscious, faces planted in the deployed air bags.

Antoshi looked at the mangled bumper in his hands, awe-struck at how strong he was. He quickly brushed the thought aside, far more concerned with Fireball. He tossed the bumper aside while jogging up to the car. He grabbed the trunk lid, using far less effort than before to tear it off the frame. Fireball was still knocked out, with no further injuries other than the ones he suffered earlier.

“Fireball…,” he whispered. His eyes welled up with tears, a relieved grin spreading across his face, reaching in to pet Fireball's head gently. The torture of being separated and the wild chase to get him back were over now. He was finally able to relax. As he did, the red glow slowly faded from his eyes and around his body.

Antoshi heard a car racing toward him from behind. He turned to see the approaching red and blue lights of Officer Jenny's cruiser. She screeched to a halt, quickly putting the car in park before getting out.

“Are you all right?!” she exclaimed, baffled by the scene. “What in the world happened here? Were—were you flying?!”

“I— … well, …” he trailed off, chuckling nervously before recomposing himself. “Yes, I am all right. I, uh, I guess I was flying — a little bit.”

With her jaw hanging agape, she walked over and looked at the unconscious thieves.

“Wait a minute, I recognize these two. They're part of Team Rocket!” She reached into a small pocket on her duty belt, tossing out a Poké Ball of her own. “Quagsire, move out!”

The ball opened and the ensuing light faded to reveal an energetic Quagsire that happily jumped up and down.

“Quagsire, keep an eye on these two. Don't let them move.” Quagsire saluted and gave a nod. It waddled over to the side of the convertible.

“Team … Rocket?” Antoshi asked in surprise, his eyes shifting back and forth as he recalled old newspaper articles. “The Rocket Gang still exists?”

“Indeed they do,” Jenny replied. “They have a tendency to disband or go underground every so often, eventually resurrecting in some form with new leaders. It's been impossible to put a permanent end to them. After all these decades, they keep popping up like cockroaches.” She placed her hands on her hips, turning to the boy with a stern expression. “Antoshi, what you did was extremely reckless and, quite frankly, foolish. By chasing after Team Rocket like that, you or others could've even gotten hurt — or worse.”

He held his head down in guilt. She sighed heavily, quickly lightening up on him and gave a warm smile.

“Even still,” she went on, “I can't help but be happy for you. You caught the criminals, your Fireball is back, and I know how happy you must be. You're no ordinary kid, Antoshi. I know that after what I just witnessed from you. I promised that I'd find Fireball for you, and I'm sorry that I couldn't personally deliver on that promise.”

“It's all right, Officer Jenny,” he said, smiling graciously. “Fireball is back, and that's what's important. You still did so much for me. You gave me a place to stay safe, you took care of me, and hearing your story really meant so much to me. You lifted me back up when I really needed it. For that, I thank you.”

The pair smiled and shared brief hug. Jenny walked over to check on the two fainted Rockets.

“Well, looks like they're not going anywhere,” she remarked, in a more authoritative tone. She reached for her shoulder radio. “Central, 10-52, requesting a bus at 74th and … Persian. Also requesting backup; potentially dangerous suspects.”

Jenny gave her Quagsire a pat on the head for a job well done. Antoshi sighed heavily, opting to stay close to Fireball until assistance arrived. He felt so much more exhausted than usual. He sat on the edge of the trunk, barely able to keep his eyes open. He yawned loudly, wishing for nothing more than to get Fireball safely to a Pokémon Center and get himself some much-needed rest.

Unbeknown to them, the pertinacious Jalyn had not only regained consciousness but was already scheming a way to get herself out of there. She slipped a hand into her pocket, expanded the Poké Ball within and threw it into the air. Just as the ball popped open, she quickly opened her door and rolled out.

“Hey!” Jenny shouted, reaching for her sidearm. “Stay in the car!”

Jenny and Quagsire gasped as Malamar landed on the hood of the car with a thud, staring at them with its bitterly cold eyes.

“Malamar, Psychic!” Jalyn commanded. The pair shouted in surprise as they were lifted off their feet by its telekinesis.

“Quagsire! Use—!” Before Jenny could finish, Malamar flung the two further down the sidewalk.

“Now!” Jalyn exclaimed, pointing at Antoshi. “The kid!”

Malamar turned to the startled Antoshi, lifting him into the air.

“No!” he shouted, reaching out in vain to Fireball. “Fireball!!”

He looked at Jalyn with a terrified expression. She stared back at him with a twisted grin and a vicious look in her eyes. Her lack of sleep, the fear of death hanging over her head, and bewilderment over the events of the past day all came together with her typically misanthropic nature to make her finally snap. She was done with everything and everyone, shifting in self-preservation mode. She was getting out of there with that Typhlosion, and she was ready to crush anyone and anything in her way.

“You think you're special because you can fly?” she asked. “How about I teach you how to fall instead?! Malamar, give him a lift!”

Malamar used its psychic powers to send Antoshi high into the air. He screamed, flailing helplessly. He tried desperately to summon the same powers he displayed earlier, but couldn't due to his overwhelming fear and exhaustion. Held aloft by Malamar's powers, he hovered higher than the roof of a nearby ten-story building.

Matt groaned as he came to. He quickly noticed the scene playing out before him.

“Jalyn!” Matt shouted as he pushed the air bag down. “Stop this! You're taking it too far!”

She turned to him, wild-eyed. “Shut up!” she screamed at the top of her lungs. Matt slowly climbed out of the car, keeping his eyes affixed to her as she hyperventilated. “All you've ever done is complain and doubt me and give up! You're a worthless loser, Matt! I'm the one who always has to get the job done! I'm so tired! I'm tired of everything! No one's stopping me now! Malamar, end this damn child!!”

Matt reached for his own Poké Ball and tossed it into the air.

“Spiritomb, use Shadow Sneak on Malamar!” he exclaimed.

Spiritomb appeared behind its former cohort, striking it hard enough to cause it to stumble to the ground. The attack broke Malamar's hold on Antoshi — but there was no one to catch him. The boy fell toward the asphalt.

“No!!” he shouted, panting and screaming in horror as he rapidly plummeted.

His mind spiraled into a level of extreme panic, helplessly watching his end sprinting toward him. He thought of his parents, of his best friend, the day he left home, the happy and carefree moments he shared with Fireball. He never expected he'd be in this situation. He never expected his Pokémon journey to become the end of his young life.

With one last exhale, Antoshi looked at the convertible in time to see Fireball climbing out of the trunk. A reddish flame surrounded him just before he hit the ground.

Everything went black.