Chapter 9: 小さきもの (A Small Thing)
~ 大切なものは すぐそばにある その事に気づいた (Important things are only close by, that is what I realized) ~
I came to myself in stages, my senses slowly crossing from my subconscious into reality. It was like being underwater, if water was a living thing that could feed you lies and memories until you weren't sure which was which anymore.
I heard them shouting, and knew that was wrong. The voices didn't sound like anything, friend or stranger, but they didn't make me feel safe and that wasn't right. There was always a voice to make me feel safe.
The ground was rough and cold under my arms. My face was mushed against the surface with gravel sticking to my mouth, and that was wrong, too. They always kept me warm, they wouldn't let me stay like this. The little girl, Bonnie, she should have been patting my arm, pretending she wasn't scared because she knew there wasn't any reason to be. The boy with blonde hair and glasses, he should be making some machine from spare parts to play music or something else that was only marginally useful to me but still really sweet. The girl who once had the straw hat should be telling me stories I don't remember and can only barely follow until someone else tells her what to do.
And him... my best friend should be telling me I was strong and brave, I fought really well and deserved a rest... But none of that was happening, just voices that didn't make me feels safe.
I started to recognize sounds, but still couldn't move or open my eyes, so I stopped pushing and tried to remember how I got there. I remembered Team Rocket. I remembered Straw Hat asking me if I remembered meeting her, like she did every morning, and I do remember. She always means it as a joke, but I think it hurts her that I need to be reminded of her name so often. What I think matters a lot to her, but I don't know why she's so worried about it. When she stops trying to impress me and focuses on helping others, I like her just fine.
Straw Hat wears a felt hat now, my mind told me, as if that was somehow important. She told me that, because apparently all different hats have different names and what it's made of is a big deal to her. She'd probably get along with my blue-haired friend, she doesn't think my hat is stylish, either.
I was starting to wake up now, and could make out Bonnie's voice. It sounded a little weird. Bonnie was the glasses boy's sister, or was she called his niece? Which was the right word? I was pretty sure it was sister, but I wasn't sure... Maybe it was Straw Hat, maybe she could be called sister? Or did it matter, because they all can be called friends?
Maybe they didn't care about the rest... "Pikachu!" With a jolt, my eyes snapped open and my heart stopped beating. YOU'RE GOING TO DIE! NOTHING IS SAFE, YOU'RE GOING TO DIE!
I remembered Pikachu levitating into the air, I remembered Meowth being afraid, I remembered my friends turning against me. And a giant squid pokemon, with a lady in a cloak. I could see them both int the darkness now, on top of their ramshackle throne and laughing down at me.
They were why everything was wrong. It was their hypnotic power that turned all my friends into mindless zombies, and all those other pokemon. They were the reason every muscle in my body ached, the reason I was alone and helpless on the stone cold ground. It was their fault my arms were scraped up and bleeding, my head feeling like someone cracked it open, because- "PiKA!"
I whimpered and pushed myself up a little. He was staring back at me from several feet away, hatred in his wild eyes, cheeks sparking like firecrackers. I wanted to pass out again. YOU'RE GOING TO DIE! HE'S GOING TO KILL YOU! YOU'RE NOT SAFE, HE'S GOING TO KILL YOU!
Quick Attack had nailed me in the gut and nearly taken out all my ribs, I remembered now. I still saw Iron Tail flashing right in front of my face. And Thunderbolt... THERE'S NOWHERE TO RUN! YOU'RE GOING TO DIE!
This was wrong. Nothing was safe anymore, my best friend was gone, taken by the monster. The lady told him to attack me, and he almost killed me with the attack that scares me the most. My arms were banged up and bleeding, my face was covered in tears and he didn't react. I'd had a grand mal seizure right in front of him and he just watched.
"Pikachu!" Pikachu, that's right, he had a name. Pikachu was a pokemon, I taught him those attacks. We laughed and played together, and sometimes we cried together. He wasn't an otherworldly demon, but a flawed and lovable friend.
My friend was lost, trapped inside that Pikachu, and he needed me to free him.
With shaky breaths, I lifted myself up, my arms far too weak to support me. But they were all I had. Painstakingly slow, I crawled towards Pikachu.
"PikaCHU!" The attack hit me, and I saw stars and birds and tornadoes before I grit my teeth and pushed forward. My friend needed me and I needed him, so I couldn't give up now. BLUE AND PINK LIGHTS COMING AT YOU! BIRDS IN THE SKY "COME AND GET ME!" HE WON'T STOP SHOCKING, HE HATES YOU, HE'S GOING TO KILL YOU!
That lady and the squid pokemon could laugh all they wanted, but what they did was unforgivable. They weren't Pikachu's trainers or his friends, they didn't work to earn his trust or give up everything to keep him safe, so they didn't get to use Pikachu's power. Pikachu was no one's servant, and no one was his master. This person and her pokemon took away Pikachu's control, his free will, reducing him to a puppet. And now they were making him torture his best friend.
I wouldn't let them humiliate Pikachu like this.
NOTHING YOU DO CAN STOP IT! GETTING CLOSER MAKES IT WORSE! HE'S GOING TO KILL YOU! YOU'RE GOING TO DIE! I didn't care. I was terrified, I knew I was going to die, but I couldn't run from it. Pikachu needed me to be brave, and Pikachu was worth more than anything I'd ever find outside this nightmare.
I know you're in there, I pleaded mentally. I'm right here. Come back to me. I reached out my hand, even as Thunderbolt lit all my nerves on fire. "I still believe in you..." If I could just touch him, I knew we could break through this. Surely, wherever Pikachu was trapped, he was reaching back to me.
"Give it up, Ash..." That was the Straw Hat girl's voice, and Bonnie and her brother's.
"No matter how you fight, you cannot resist the power of Madame X."
"The world now belongs to Madame X and Malamar..." Their voices sounded weird, not like them at all. They were still under her control.
But they couldn't control me. I remembered Meowth had escaped the hypnosis by using Fury Swipes on himself, physical pain kept one grounded in their own mind.
I wasn't the disabled one today. I had the ultimate immunity; everything hurt, and I could use that to save Pikachu and all my friends. "F-fight it, Pikachu! C-can you hear m-my voice?"
"You fool! You cannot win!" Madame X and Malamar could taunt me all they wanted; I just tuned them out. They didn't know me, and they didn't know Pikachu at all.
He was never so far that I couldn't reach him.
"I-I believe in you..." My hand brushed against his cheek, and Pikachu recoiled as if I'd burned him. I smirked despite my inner turmoil. Terrifying, isn't it? When your feelings are the exact opposite of what your mind tells you? I understood the feeling perfectly, and knew I had made it through to Pikachu, even if his eyes didn't return to normal right away.
I knew it, but Black kept pressing on me from every angle, and Madame X wasn't backing down either. "Whatever bonds still remain, I will soon break them!" YOU'RE GOING TO DIE! LIGHTNING, EVERYWHERE AND IN EVERYTHING! YOU CAN'T MOVE, CAN'T BREATHE, ENDLESS PAIN, YOU'RE GOING TO DIE!
I could see Pikachu struggling, and tried to call out to him, even as my fears kept escalating. He had to break free of this, he had to. IT'S NOT WORKING! IT'S NOT WORKING, HE'S GOING TO KILL YOU!
And then, salvation... a large robot shaped like a Pikachu suddenly sailed through the air, straight at us. For a second, I thought I was hallucinating.
I dived for Pikachu on pure instinct, even though all my thoughts screamed that I would die if I touched him. The robot Pikachu skidded and exploded into Malamar in a blinding flash, and I had a small moment to wonder how my life had gotten so screwed up before dust and smoke filled the room.
It tasted like death. I felt the weight of a whole building pressing down on me, even though nothing was there. I felt Thunderbolt coursing through my veins like blood even though Pikachu wasn't shocking me. I felt myself drifting off somewhere to be lost again, even though Pikachu was safe in my arms.
But when the smoke cleared, I wasn't dead, and I wasn't lost. I was still sure I'd die any second, but Pikachu was safe now, I'd gotten him back.
"Pikapi!" Pikachu jumped up and hugged me as I began to sob. "It's all right, I'm here now, everything's going to be all right..."
YOU'RE GOING TO DIE, YOU'RE GOING TO DIE! IT'S ALL OVER, YOU'RE NOTHING! THE WEIGHT OF THE WORLD IS GOING TO CRUSH YOU!
I couldn't stop sobbing, so I just held Pikachu tighter. "You did it, Pikapi, it's over. Just breathe now." I did my best, but Pikachu had to walk me through it. "Breathe in, slowly... now let it out..."
I did start to calm down, and I could see that my friends were all right, even Madame X wasn't a threat anymore. It was Officer Jenny, with her gentle face, and all my friends were running up to talk to her. But even so, I couldn't shake the fear or the urge to cry. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I-I don't know, I..."
"It's okay, you're fine," Pikachu soothed, "I know this was hard for you." He let me hold him while I tried to regain steady breathing, and whatever the situation was with Officer Jenny went completely ignored. "Tell me what you're feeling."
NOTHING IS SAFE! YOU CAN'T RUN, HE CAN'T PROTECT YOU! YOU'RE GOING TO DIE! THE BUILDING WILL COME DOWN, THE LIGHTNING WILL STRIKE, THE BIRDS WILL GET IN AND THE PINK AND BLUE LIGHTS ARE COMING FOR YOU BECAUSE YOU'RE NOTHING!
"I-I'm gonna die," I stammered out. "This place, it isn't safe, everything's wrong, everything hurts..."
"I really scared you, didn't I? I'm sorry, pika pikachu..." Pikachu was so calm, when I knew he must have been scared, too. "But you rescued me. I'm here now, and I won't let anything happen to you. You're strong, Pikapi, you're going to be fine."
Pikachu had so much destructive power, but could be so gentle when I was afraid. He carried so much guilt on his shoulders, but right now, I was the only thing he was focused on. The pokemon who had brainwashed him still needed to be brought to justice, but instead of hunting them down, he was comforting me.
It made me feel a lot better, and while I couldn't completely shake my fears, the panic lost it's hold on me. "...Sorry... 'm fine now. Sh-shouldn't have freaked out like that..."
"You're fine. Pikachaaa." Pikachu's eyes were full of determination and compassion. "Can you stand?"
"Yeah..." My resolve was greater than my ability. As soon as I tried to move without the adrenaline driving me, I doubled over.
"What is it? Where are you hurt?"
Everywhere. "Ribs," I choked out. "Quick 'ttack..." Pikachu swore and ran around me to push against my sides.
"Pikachu pi, but they don't feel broken..." Was he sure? To me, they felt obliterated. But he must have been right, because the next time I tried to move was much more successful. "Don't worry, we're going to get you out of here pika pikaka take a long rest pikachu and you'll feel a lot better..." I needed to get Pikachu out of here, too. His own feelings were tossed to the side in order to take care of me, but I knew he had to be freaking out under the surface.
We'd both be having nightmares for weeks about this one. "When are you going to start thinking about yourself pipika pikachu always risking your neck pikapika," Pikachu grumbled as he helped steady my swaying feet.
"Yeah, yeah, love you too," I grumbled right back. The room spun for a few seconds, but I managed to stay on my feet until it came back to normal. My vision focused and I saw Malamar, and could hear Meowth translating something about how it was going to build a weapon and change the structure of the world.
It felt so familiar, like a speech I'd heard a million times before and always ended with me and my closest friends in pain. No world was worth causing people to suffer like that. "Pikapi? Are you okay?" No, I was churning with anger, I wouldn't be okay until this was over. "Tell me what you need."
This ended now. "I need you to battle." Pikachu's face instantly drew into an almost feral grin.
"With pleasure..." his voice dripped with suppressed glee. I didn't envy Malamar one bit.
Malamar locked eyes with me for a moment and I bristled, Black's warnings still in the back of my mind but drowned out by my own rage. Did it think I was weak? It was so wrong. I'd beaten it's control and rescued Pikachu, and I was still on my feet, not backing down from anything. And Pikachu was just as strong, not cowed or crippled by anything Malamar did to him or made him do. For all the feelings that hid in the shadows of our hearts, nothing stopped us from protecting the other. That was why we were going to be the best, better than the League, better than the champions, better than the stars themselves.
I took a deep breath and steeled myself. "Pikachu, Thunderbolt! Everything you've got!" Pikachu shrieked something about bloody vengeance and let loose a Thunderbolt that could have totaled a semi-truck. Good grief, Pikachu, how are you even real? But this was my life. A little overwhelming, a little messed up...
...but also amazing. "Good job, Pikachu!" This was right. Pikachu and I battling together was something I recognized, something that made me feel brave in the midst of all this terror. I was still frightened, but I wouldn't trade this experience away for anything.
Malamar escaped down a hallway and we all rushed to chase it. As I ran, I shared a look with Pikachu. There would be time later to talk and apologize and heal from our injuries, physical or otherwise. Later would come the battle of guilt and doctors and both of us praying this latest stunt hadn't driven another nail into my coffin, but for now, we'd won. If this was the last thing I ever remembered, if this was the last thing I'd ever experience, I had no regrets.
This was one of the good moments. There would always be another battle, and endless string of obstacles, and most of them were going to terrify me. But that was fine. Moments like this, looking at Pikachu and seeing him look back with the same expression of love, pride and gratitude, they made it all worth it. The universe could throw it's worst at me, it could scare me all it wanted, but it didn't matter.
I was going to be the world's greatest Pokemon Master, after all, and I had the best partner I could ever ask for.
I wasn't afraid to battle anything.
... and that's it.
I've been working on this project for three and a half years... and now it's over.
For everyone who made it to the end, thank you. This story meant a lot to me, and I'm glad I got the chance to share it.