((LEGAL STUFF: Ash Ketchum, Brock, Misty, Pikachu, etc., are all property of whoever owns the Pokemon franchise including Nintendo, Game Boy, and the anime/cartoon version (it's such a large collective I'm not sure who owns what). I don't intend to infringe on anybody's rights, and I'm not getting any money out of this. Ranma Saotome, Akane Tendo, Mousse, Shampoo, and the other Ranma 1/2 characters are property of Rumiko Takahashi (hope I spelled that right). Again, this story is for reader enjoyment only. No profit is being made. Thank you, have a nice day...))
Part 7: Confrontation and Victory
Misty began to get very worried when Ash didn't show up after almost half an hour. Antsy, she stayed with Bulbasaur and Pikachu as Brock kept an eye out for their friend. Gary Oak, although still somewhat in shock, was prancing about patting himself on the back, making snide comments about Ash's "condition" and mocking the poor boy about hiding the fact that he was really a girl for so long. Several times Misty almost walked over to brain him with the nearest hard object she could find--she had Bulbasaur's empty Pokeball handy, and that was pretty solid.
"I can't believe that guy," Misty grumbled, glaring in Gary's direction. "He is so arrogant it's not even funny."
"Wait 'till Ash comes back," Brock said smoothly, trying to calm the redhead's temper.
Misty paused, sighing. "Do you think he is coming back?"
"He always does," Brock replied. "He won't let us down."
"But this...thing he's going through..." She frowned, her face shadowed with sympathy. "It's not like anything else we've ever faced."
With an understanding smile, Brock sat on the bench next to Misty and put a hand on her shoulder. "Misty, have faith in him. He'll be back soon, and he'll beat Gary like we all know he will. You know Ash--he will never, ever fail."
Misty smiled up at Brock. "I know."
Pikachu perked up. "Pikapi!"
Suddenly, the crowd, which had been beginning to disperse, began to murmer excitedly, bringing the two Pokemon trainers' heads around. Mousse, who had been sitting nearby, suddenly stood up with an almost proud smile on his face. "He's back," the Chinese boy said. "They're both back."
Misty almost shed tears of relief and joy to see Ash running through the crowd, heading straight for the makeshift arena. Her eyes were bright, and her face, though female, was the face of the Ash they'd always known. She was followed closely by a beautiful redheaded girl--a girl who made Misty's face turn thunderous.
Ash hopped over the barrier into the basketball court, her smile almost a smirk. "Hey Gary, are you ready to face me?"
Gary stood gaping in surprise for several seconds before blinking and coming back to life. "Ash? I can't believe you actually came back, you sissy."
Bulbasaur bounded out to Ash's side, giving a fierce little snarl, eager to continue. Ash's face flashed annoyance at Gary's words, then returned to its usual confident cast. "Sissy, huh? Let's see what you look like when you get beaten by a girl!"
"Atta boy, Ash!" the redhead who'd come in with Ash cheered, waving her arms. "That's the way to tell 'im!"
"Excuse me," Misty said testily, glaring at the blue-eyed older girl. "Who are you, and how do you know my friend?"
The other paused, blinking. "Oh, right. You must be Misty--Ash told me 'bout you."
Misty frowned. "And just how--?"
The older girl smiled disarmingly, sticking out her hand. "Hiya. I'm Ranma Saotome."
Misty's eyes nearly fell out of her head. "You're--? But he said--!"
"This is the same Ranma I was telling you about," Mousse said quietly as he came to stand beside the petite girl in Chinese clothing. "He and Ash share...a similar condition."
"Ohhh..." The Water Pokemon trainer's expression turned contrite. "I'm sorry."
"It's okay," Ranma replied with a shrug. "Easy mistake."
"I...uh...perhaps..." Brock, watching Ash, had just noticed Ranma and began to stutter, his face going goofy as he stared at Ranma. "Would you--oof!"
Misty removed her elbow from Brock's stomach. "Lay off! She may be cute but she's really a guy, like Ash."
Ranma raised an eyebrow at the humbled trainer, a cautious, sardonic smile on her face. "One of those kinda guys, huh? Hands off, buddy boy. You can look, but you can't touch. You do, you die."
"Eh...I'd rather not anyway," Brock replied, realizing his mistake and looking rather green.
"Hey guys, look--it's starting!" Misty cried, nearly bouncing up and down. Ranma, Brock, and Mousse jockeyed for position ringside, while Pikachu solved his seating problems by leaping to Misty's shoulder.
The announcer crackled to life again, at last announcing the recommencement of the match. "It appears our missing contender has returned! Trainers ready...and...let the match begin! Again..."
Bulbasaur and Wartortle squared off one last time, their trainers ready behind them. Ash looked confident, Misty realized; a fire had returned to those amber-brown eyes that had been missing for almost two days. Somehow, the young Pokemon trainer had overcome the obstacle of mystical form-changing and returned even stronger than before. "Goooo Ash!" she cried over the crowd, offering encouragement with her voice. "You can beat him!"
Ash heard Misty's shout, and her heart warmed. "Okay, Bulbasaur, are you ready?"
"Bulba!" The little plant-dino looked back at him, a wide smile on his eager face.
"Then let's take 'em down with a bang! Get ready for a Solar Beam!"
Bulbasaur let out an acknowledging growl and began to gather power, its bulb starting to glow.
Across the ring, Gary's eyes widened. "Uh-oh--Wartortle, get ready. They're preparing for a Solar Beam attack. Knock that Bulbasaur over with a Tackle! We can take him out before he fires!"
Gary's Wartortle reared up, beak snapping, and charged toward Bulbasaur full-bore. "Look out!" cried Ash, startled at Gary's bold move. "Bulbasaur, you've gotta dodge him!"
It took a monumental effort to both muster the energy to leap aside and to maintain the gathering of solar power, but somehow Bulbasaur did it. Waiting until the last second, he jumped out of the way of the charging Wartortle, missing the attack by a millimeter. Wartortle barrelled past, frantically trying to correct its error but skidding on the wet pavement that still remained from its previous attack. It managed to claw its way to a halt and turn to face its opponent, but by that time Bulbasaur had finished charging his bulb and was prepared to fire.
"That's it, Bulbasaur--let him have it!" Ash ordered quickly.
The little dino let go with a light blast that half-blinded the audience. Wartortle frantically launched a Water Blast to counter, but the beam met the blast head-on and drove it back. The column of brilliant energy crashed into the unsteady Wartortle, knocking it backwards and slamming it into the barricade, almost breaking the makeshift ring walls. By the time the beam petered out, Wartortle was struggling to regain its feet, but its feeble attempts were unsuccessful. The Water Pokemon was effectively beaten.
"Well, folks, that's a wrap!" the announcer blared, sounding glad to finally end the strange match. "Ash Ketchum and Bulbasaur are officially the winners by a knockout!"
The crowd burst into applause, and Ash leaped upwards, fisted hands raised in jubulation. "Yes! Yes! We won! We beat him, Bulbasaur! All right!"
"Bul-ba!" the small plant-dino agreed heartily.
"Yeah, Ash, you did it!" Misty cheered, as Ranma hollered beside her, equally rejoicing.
In all the commotion, no one noticed the flimsy hot-air balloon that drifted downward over the little would-be stadium, nor did they see the cable net that enshrouded the weakened Wartortle, trapping it. Not one person noticed until the poor Pokemon was ten feet in the air, captive in the net, and the two figures in the balloon began a silly sing-song slogan.
However, they didn't get through even the first two lines before an irate female voice broke into their "song" from below.
"Hey, you mooks!" Ranma yelled, shaking a fist at the balloon. "This is a man-to-man fight! Keep yer noses out of it!"
"Team Rocket," Misty and Ash grumbled in unison, both annoyed, as Gary began running about and yelling about his stolen Pokemon.
"What timing..." Brock groaned.
"What a rude interruption," the red-haired young woman in the balloon basket said haughtily.
"These kids don't know who they're dealing with," said the young man.
Ranma stared incredulously at the balloonists. "You guys know these yahoos?" she asked of Ash and Misty, puzzled.
"You bet we do," Misty replied. "They're Jessie and James from Team Rocket. They're Pokemon thieves."
"Oh, really," Ranma said, something eager creeping into her voice. "Then I suppose you don't mind if I make their day a little harder, do you?"
"Not at all," replied Brock, Misty, and Ash.
"Pikachupi," said Pikachu solemnly, shaking his yellow-furred head.
Ranma cracked her knuckles with a feral grin. "Okay. I'll get that idiot's turtle back for him." Still grinning, she strode to the center of the ring and pointed up at the balloon. "Hey, you up there! You'd better give that Pokemon back right now!"
Jessie and James smirked down at the petite, harmless-looking girl glaring up at them. "Or you'll what? Ooooh, Jessie, she's scaring me!" James said, pretending to be afraid.
Disdainfully, Jessie leaned over the side of the basket. "Go away, shoo, stupid little girl. You obviously have no idea who you're dealing with. We're from the legendary Team Rocket. Even if you've never heard of us, you country munchkin, you should still stay out of our way."
By now, Ranma was shaking with indignation. "Stupid....little...country...munchkin...?" Her teeth gritted. "Grrrrrr..."
Mousse adjusted his glasses. "Oh my, I think they've just made him angry."
Ranma glared at the balloonists. "Ash, toss me that ball," she said shortly.
"Huh? Oh!" Quickly, Ash snatched Bulbasaur's empty Pokeball from Misty's grasp and lobbed it in Ranma's direction. The boy-turned-girl caught it without even turning around.
By now, James was the one leaning out of the basket as the balloon rose. "Yeah, buzz off, cutie! You'd have to get up a lot earlier to foil Jessie and James of Team--ouch!"
Without missing a beat, Ranma had hauled back and let the baseball-sized Pokeball fly. It bounced with and audible whock! off of James' head and struck the control valve that fed heated air to the balloon above. The valve popped, and the balloon began to lose altitude.
"Cutie, huh?" Ranma raged at the pair. "I'll show you cute!"
As James rubbed his head, Jessie screeched in indignation. "Why you little harridan! James, get her! Arbok, go!"
"Go Weezing..." James groaned painfully, also releasing his Pokemon.
The two purple Pokemon dove at the young martial artist. But instead of ducking as any sensible human being would, Ranma in fact grinned at this development. Taking a single running stride, she launched herself into the air, meeting the threat head-on. A flying kick knocked Weezing spinning off like a lopsided beach ball, while a solid uppercut put Arbok out of commission.
Ranma managed all of this while at the same time leaping up to the net that held the injured Wartortle. Hanging on the tough fibers of the net, Ranma peered in at the semi-conscious creature. "Take it easy, fella, I'll get ya outta here," she said soothingly, beginning to tear at the net's coils. She easily ripped a hole in the side of the net and hefted the blue Pokemon out. "Comin' down!" Ranma announced, letting go of the net.
The audience gasped--after all, Ranma was still some twenty feet off the ground. However, the young redhead landed with easy grace as if she'd just hopped down from less than a yard, carefully cradling the Wartortle she'd rescued. Gary, near to panicking, ran up to fetch his Pokemon.
"Here ya go, kid, safe an' sound," Ranma said, handing the wounded Wartortle to his rightful owner--just in time to be swamped by Ash and her friends.
"Wow, Ranma, that was amazing!" Ash exclaimed, clapping the martial artist on the back. "Man, if I could do that we wouldn't have so much trouble with them all the time!"
"You were so cool!" Misty gushed, amazed at the feat.
Ranma smiled and pointed upwards. "I think there's just a few more things to do to wrap this up, guys."
Above them, Team Rocket's balloon was running out of steam. It gently floated down and collapsed in the arena, burying its occupants in yards of silk.
"Oh, dear, I believe we've crashed," James observed from beneath the fabric.
"If that was a crash, it was certainly the least painful one we've ever endured," Jessie replied, sounding puzzled.
"Pain?" Ranma said, cracking her knuckles again as she advanced. "You ain't felt nothin' yet."
"Oh yeah?" demanded a higher, squealy voice as one of the figures struggled out of the balloon. "Come on, tough girl, take Meowth on!"
Ranma stared down at the diminutive figure that had clawed its way free of the balloon material. The sandy-furrred, catlike Pokemon was glaring up at her, claws extended.
"That's right, I'm talking to you, Red!" Meowth challenged. "Put 'em up! Meeeeowth!"
Ash and Misty watched in surprise as Ranma went completely rigid.
"This could be a problem..." Mousse muttered, managing to focus his glasses on the Pokemon Ranma faced.
"C-c-c-cat...!" Ranma hissed, eyes as large as Pokeballs. "T-t-talking c-c-c-c-cat!"
"Come on--are you chicken?" Meowth demanded, fisted paws up and ready to fight.
All of Ranma's prowess seemed to melt away in a second. "C-c-c-c-caaaaat!" she squealed, panicking. She turned and ran, leaving Ash, Misty, Meowth and all the rest in blank astonishment.
Seizing their chance, Jessie fired a smoke grenade at the crowd, scattering the milling people like stampeding cattle as the fake bomb let off flashes and smoke. "That will get those silly peons out of the way," she smirked. "Now, Arbok, get that Wartortle!"
Frightened, Gary found himself cornered by Arbok and Weezing, unable to escape with the heavy weight of the Pokemon in his arms. His hands weren't free to fetch his Pokeball and return his Wartortle to safety. "Somebody help me!" he shouted.
"I'll get you out of there, Gary!" Ash called back, signalling Pikachu--but the electric mouse couldn't use the Thundershock with them so close to Gary and the Wartortle, and Meowth was standing between Ash and her target.
"Cat-cat-cat-cat...!" Ranma screeched, running for the bleachers.
Ash snagged the martial artist on the way by, keeping hold and trying not to be dragged along with her. "Ranma, get ahold of yourself! What's the matter with you!"
Misty and Brock joined the restraint effort. Mousse stepped in front of Ranma, seeing the terrified look on her face. "I'm afraid he can't face that Pokemon," the Chinese fighter informed them. "Ranma is phobic of cats."
"Aw, man! Come on, snap out of it!" Ash tightened her grip, shaking Ranma hard enough to rattle the other's teeth--even though they were already chattering in fear. Finally, Ash managed to get Ranma to focus on her.
"No! You told me to face what I'm afraid of!" Ash accused. "And now you're running off like a sissy girl! Pull yourself together, Ranma!"
"B-b-but it's a c-c-c-cat...!"
"That's okay. Pikachu and I can take care of Meowth. Can you get Gary and Wartortle out of harm's way?"
Ranma calmed slightly, looking over her shoulder to take in the situation. "C-can you keep that c-c-cat away from me?"
"Pika, kachu!" Pikachu replied from near Ranma's leg, smiling reassuringly. "Pika pika pikachu!"
"He means 'yes,'" Ash explained. "If it helps, think of it this way--Meowth's not really a cat, it's a Pokemon. Come on, we gotta hurry!"
"Hot water..." Ranma whispered. "I wish I had hot water..."
A sudden steamy sizzle and two yelps signaled Mousse's timely intervention. Ash found herself back to himself again, and Ranma was suddenly almost a head taller than she had been before--and much too strong to be restrained. Misty dropped her grip in embarassment, blushing furiously at how tightly she'd been holding on to the very handsome dark-haired young man that Ranma Saotome really was.
"Mousse!" Ranma exclaimed in surprise, seeing the Chinese boy putting the lid back on his thermos and tucking back in his robes.
"Oh, come on, Saotome. You don't think I leave home unprepared, do you?"
"Sometimes I wonder..." Ranma muttered, then turned back to Ash. "Okay, sport, now that we're both at our best, can you keep that lousy c-c-c...Meowth offa me?"
"Let's go!" Ranma sent Ash ahead, where he and Pikachu intercepted Meowth's attempt to get at Ranma. Whiskers crackling, Pikachu engaged Meowth in a furious Quick Attack battle. Gulping a little, Ranma gathered his nerve-- "...not really a cat, not really a cat..." --and circumvented the fight, heading straight for the four figures closing in on Gary and the Wartortle.
"We've got you now," James crowed, advancing.
"You'll never take my Wartortle! Back off, you creeps!" Gary threatened.
Jessie smirked. "Arbok, take care of this nuisance."
The giant snake Pokemon spread its hood and hissed. "Chaaaar-bok!"
All were surprised when Arbok was suddenly yanked backwards by the tail, its lethal fangs and crushing coils dragged away from Gary and his burden. Ranma swung the Poison Pokemon by the tail, its head colliding painfully with the pole of the court's basketball hoop. Weezing turned to defend its partner, but Ranma swung the senseless snake Pokemon the other way, using it as a bat, knocking both Arbok and Weezing high into the air.
"Oh no, what a tragedy!" Jessie cried, clinging to James.
"We're doomed for sure!" James sobbed, hugging Jessie.
The teenage martial artist laughed, and moved. In less than a second, Jessie and James joined their Pokemon in a high orbit above the city, courtesy of Air Ranma.
"Team Rocket's blasting off again!" they wailed as they flew. No one paid them any attention, as flying bodies are common enough in Nerima.
Ranma started as a flash of light and thunder shook the ground behind him, and with a screeching cry of "Meeeeeoooowwth!" the catlike Pokemon followed its partners-in-crime. Ranma turned to see Pikachu standing over a minor crater in the basketball court, its whiskers fizzing with golden energy.
"Whoa, little guy, that's some hefty voltage you got," he complimented the little creature, coming over to pat the electric mouse on the head.
"Kachu!" The yellow Pokemon smiled up at Ranma, liking the youth's rough, friendly manner. "Pika!"
"We did it!" Ash laughed, running up to lift Pikachu above his head. "Wahooo!"
Ranma laughed at Ash's enthusiasm, even as Misty, Brock, and Mousse came over to add their congratulations.
The impromptu celebration came to a halt as Gary stumbled over to them, cradling the Pokeball that now held his resting Wartortle. "Who...who is this...person?" he demanded, pointing straight at Ranma. "I saw him...her...turn into a man! And you--you're different too!"
Ash grinned embarassedly, fiddling with the brim of his cap. "Well, your eyes aren't deceiving you, Gary. I really was a girl there for a while. But I'm not, really. Honest."
Gary's eyes narrowed. "What's going on here?"
Ranma shook his head in amused resignation. "I guess I can explain that one, kid. It's like this: There are these springs in China, see? And each one has this curse..."
To be concluded...