Locked Away, Chapter 68
I wanna be the very best…
The hums from his favorite childhood song woke him from a dead slumber. Stiff and sore, Ash twisted out of his small, green sleeping bag and sat up to blink into the faint glow of the tent. He brushed his hands through his matted black hair, and then down his face. Blinking, he exhaled and swallowed the lump at the back of his throat. His head ached behind his tired eyes like he had been thrown into a grinder. Usually, he felt great when he woke up, but today, he felt like he had been hit by a stampede of tauros. The crisp morning air was not cold against his bare arms when he stretched out and rubbed his eyes. He didn't mind the cold too much. In fact, Ash liked the smell of fresh, morning dew, and the sound of chirping birds. Unfortunately, it was a quiet morning and the chill didn't tingle.
Ash's black shirt wrinkled as he cracked his back one way, then lifted his arm and did it another way. This was his best attempt to feel something, but he remained mostly numb from the neck down. Careful not to disturb the two sleeping females in sleeping bags beside him, Ash maneuvered quietly from their shared tent, and into the forest. Afterward, Ash collected his hat and jacket from the entrance of the tent, then zipped it up soundlessly. Bonnie and Serena loved their 'beauty sleep' and he'd hate to be the one to wake them. Usually, Ash also enjoyed sleeping in, but lately, he couldn't seem to rest, no matter how much he slept. The sun beamed rays of bright light, but he mindlessly wandered to the familiar campfire that Clemont cooked breakfast over.
Odd that the inventive boy was using such an antique method to cook breakfast, but Ash wouldn't complain. He loved food. Usually. The knot at the back of his throat returned, scratchy and uncomfortable.
"Another beautiful morning." Clemont greeted.
"I'd say." Ash agreed and sniffed the air. The scent around him was unfamiliar, too clean for a forest opening, he tried not to think about it. "I'm starving. What'd you make?"
Ash was more than starving. In fact, a giant hole existed where his stomach was supposed to be, gaping with no end in sight. Plus, the lackluster scent of alcohol emitting from the prepared food brought churning instead of saliva.
Weird. Ash thought as he took a seat near the fire. The flames flickered, and the soup boiled, but the cold grasping onto his body did not leave.
I must be getting sick. Ash thought simultaneously to Clemont's answer; he would never know what he was making, not that Ash particularly wanted to indulge. Clemont's words fell on deaf ears while Ash rubbed his eyes, adjusted his ball cap, and felt his pokeball belt. He must be getting sick, he reiterated, because he felt off. Empty. Like he forgot something. A quick glance down at his feet assured him that he didn't forget his shoes, but something was still off. Something yellow, and soft, and mousey.
"Did you hear what I said?" asked Clemont, stirring Ash from his thoughts.
Rather than voice his concern or repeat himself, Clemont appeared to hit reset, and simply returned to his breakfast stew. Ash's leg bounced up and down, shifting the dirt below. He was anxious but had no idea why. Exhausted, even though he technically slept the entire night. The hairs on his neck stood on the edge, and the forest slowly crept upon him.
"I think I'll go for a walk," Ash whispered, but Clemont didn't hear him, and Ash didn't seem to care.
Ash rose and started for the tree line. Strange voices plagued his quiet thoughts. Background noise. Best to busy himself. Ash snatched his backpack from the ground, and threw it on with a flinch, he expected to feel some pain, which was strange, since he hadn't hurt himself. Maybe a little stroll in the forest to look for pokemon would make him feel right as rain again? Ash hardly glanced over his shoulder when he disappeared into the shrub and inhaled the fresh air; or what was supposed to be fresh air. Once more, it smelled a lot more like stale air, and far too clean for the forest. Desperate, Ash kicked at the ground to stir up loose dirt, but when he felt eyes on him, he stopped. Not the familiar eyes of his companions, but of small, beady eyes. Ash spun quickly, only to see a pikachu sitting on the stump of a tree along the edge of the forest, staring wide-eyed at him. Ash blinked a few times at the strangely familiar rodent. His eyebrows lowered; his gaze hardened.
"You..." Ash muttered. The pokemon seemed like a reflection of himself that he'd seen a thousand times. Ash's head was heavy, his footing unbalanced, but it quickly passed.
With a creeping smile, Ash felt for a new pokeball. "I wanna catch you!"
Then Ash leaped forward, further into the forest and so did the pikachu. Ash chased and stumbled over stray roots but forced his legs to run. For as limber as he usually was, he felt stiff this morning. It was as if the blood wasn't pumping to them at all.
"Hold on, I just want to be friends," Ash called to the pokemon, who retaliated by circling him, and whining before disappearing beyond view. For a while, they ran. Ash shoved and pushed branches from his face, trying to keep his sights on the mouse. Careless, Ash nearly slipped into a crystal-clear stream, and came to a screeching halt.
"Pikachu!" Ash yelled the familiar name. It fell off his tongue without question, or concern. A demand to stop, but the pokemon didn't. Instead, when Ash went to put his foot into the shallow water, he froze. The water suddenly tainted red. What…. on earth?
He had seen red water like this before...
"Pikapi!" The mouse squeaked from the other side of the river. He was much further now. The small gap between them wider than the short and shallow stream Ash vividly knew was there before. A bleeding river separated the two of them, the scent of iron and all. Excitement previously decorated the pikachu, but when Ash didn't move to chase him any further, his ears fell sadly.
"...chu..." The mouse commented, and Ash opened, then closed his mouth.
"I can't get across the river." he said.
"It's too far," Ash added shortly after. Pikachu cried at him, and then disappeared into the forest. For a while, Ash watched where the pokemon disappeared, hoping that it would come back. When it didn't, Ash's shoulders slumped, and his eyes fell helplessly back to his reflection.
However, staring back at him wasn't an eager ten-year-old in an old cap, but a rugged man, screaming at him.
"Wake up!" it screamed, startling Ash.
Panicked, Ash threw his arms in front of his face to block the view and fell backward onto his bottom. Great! Now he was imagining things, too! Ash laid back for a moment, carefully removing one arm at a time to view the dim, blue sky above, and then slowly pulled himself to his elbows.
The yawning river was gone.
Ash rocketed forward to stare at the water, awestruck. A crystal-clear stream stared back at him, no deeper than his calves. Licking his lips, Ash inched forward to glance cautiously into the river to check the depth of his crawling insanity. Or, maybe there was someone stuck under the water? At the edge of the water, only the refection of his innocent brown eyes wavered back at him. Somehow, it calmed him, until he touched it with his finger, and it disappeared.
"Ash, are you ready to go?" Serena's voice called for him, but it felt so foreign. Wrong. Ash blinked a few times and then found his footing.
"Yeah, I'm on my way."
The hike to the next town was an absurdly quiet one. Aside from rustling trees, Ash's occasional shiver, and the sound of Bonnie skipping rocks, no one spoke. Ash didn't have much to add to any form of conversation because he was still thinking about that pikachu, and the red river. What an odd thing to imagine, he thought to himself while folding his arms tightly around himself. Yet, his own displacement didn't explain why his companions were silent. Usually Bonnie and Serena's chatter took up most of the day, but not today, apparently.
"Are you guys feeling alright?" Ash asked, keeping his eyes forward.
"Fine." They answered in unison, and Ash left it at that. He wasn't really one to pry, and if they said they were fine, then they were fine. He was the one who felt uncomfortable asking, especially now that the sanctity of the silence was broken, and the rustling from the trees sounded like distant voices. As the surrounding forest changed quickly with their steps—it wasn't like any of the forest patches between the larger cities were massive, but the greenery grew blacker; Ash tried not to look at it.
Wake up. The leaves whispered, but Ash squared his shoulders with eyes trained on the emerging city. The pit in his stomach widened while he racked his mind for a reason that he would be hearing weird comments. Once, a long time ago, he ate some questionable mushrooms—maybe they were cooked into breakfast? Only, Ash didn't eat breakfast, and the cold grasp from the wind recoiled him into his coat. Misty would be laughing at him right now, calling him crazy if she were here!
Ash abruptly stopped, imaging the redhead, the faintest smile tugged at his lips. His chest hurt at her memory; he hadn't spoken with her in years.
Misty… The trees whispered and Ash took off again, legs moving faster, trying to keep the blood flowing, the energy, and heat in his body.
You're dying. The trees hissed to him. A chill crept down his spine, and he sprinted. Ran until he could no longer run, and his lungs were crying in his chest. Ran until his feet broke away from the dirt path and landed on solid concrete. Ran for the protection of the city and spun around to face the forest.
It was on fire. The trees blackened, and smoke rolled over the hills, through the paths. An unwarranted amount of screaming bellowed from within, and Ash slapped himself in the face, hiding his eyes.
"This isn't real!" he screamed, and when he removed his hands—the horrible image was gone. Evaporated into thin air. A simple forest with winding, tall trees waved back at him from the treetops. Ash exhaled the breath he had been holding and listened for the voices. His chest hurt, he assumed from running. A sharp stabbing pain below his heart forced him to wheeze silently.
After a few moments and some feeling returning to his limbs, Ash exhaled tiredly and rubbed his hair beneath his hat.
"Did you guys see that?" Ash asked the empty space around him. He spun once, then again to find himself alone at the entrance to the city.
"…Guys?" Ash whispered into the vacancy. Not one soul.
Ash rubbed his head again; he could have sworn that he had…someone with him? He held his throat, rubbed his chest for a second, stared blankly into the city. Maybe not. In fact, he felt certain that he was always alone. At least, he couldn't recall anyone traveling with him, it was too quiet. With the loss of his companions, came the loss of knowing where he was, or what he was doing. Ash stared deeply into the empty streets, and then his eyes found the sign. Overgrown with weeds, and vines; someone clearly wasn't doing their job.
Viridian City! Ash knew that place from when he was a kid. That was in Kanto. Man, that felt like a million years ago. Eagerly, with his motives displaced, Ash marched forward without knowing that behind him, the forest wept, and bled into complete darkness without his attention. If he remembered correctly, Viridian City was constantly busy, alive with car horns, and chatter—but as he rounded off into the main street, it was as empty as a school on the last day.
"…Hello?" Helplessly, Ash called out. No one answered.
"Did everyone take a vacation?" Ash asked himself hopefully, kicking up dust as he walked in circles.
Naturally, the pokemon center was the hub of any city, so that was Ash's first goal. He traveled through waves of empty tables and chairs on the pavement and found himself at the front of a dive. Windows were boarded and nailed shut, the glass doors were broken off and replaced with boards and warping plywood. Ash touched the splintered wood to his fingers and then grasped the door handles to give a gentle tug. The doors creaked but didn't budge. Ash released the handles, and then followed with a solid kick.
"What the hell is going on?" Ash murmured as he turned away. Did Viridian City become a ghost town? Did they evacuate everyone and abandon the city? Maybe everyone had something better to do, but even the pokemon center being empty was strange…concerning. Ash felt the urge to call out for someone, but as he opened his mouth, scratching behind the decrepit door kept him quiet.
"Is there someone in there?" He asked, approaching the boarded door again. Ash knocked, and in return, whoever was inside, knocked twice. Ash jumped.
"Hello?" he asked again, this time trying to peer into the uncovered part of the window. Inside was eternal darkness. Not a glimmer of hope, or light. A terrible chill ran down Ash's spine, but he couldn't look away. Whimpering echoed inside.
"If you're hurt, please let me help."
Another bang and Ash glared back to the entrance for a moment and then back to at the window.
"Wake up!" shouted someone inside, slamming their hands against the window.
A blood-curling scream roared from Ash as he leaped backward off the stone steps and back onto the road and ran without looking back. As his heart raced and he slid and stumbled back through the ruined streets. That face again, calling after him. It couldn't have been a reflection this time, what on earth was following him?!
Ash slid to a stop at the corner of a street with sleeping bags lining the walls. A red, brick wall traveled to the sky and swallowed the light around him. He stood at the corner, in the darkness, watching the remnants of the homeless who panhandled and begged for mercy. They left their livelihood, their bags, their food, and their trash. Somehow, he still felt them here, watching with sad eyes, begging for answers that Ash didn't have. Then, as he backed away, a black vine tangled around the corner of the bright red stone and began to engulf the wall. A noise escaped Ash's throat, somewhere between a gasp and a yelp, but he broadened his shoulders and moved on.
The streets were muted from the absence of humanity, ruined with overgrowth. Odd that he didn't recall seeing that when he first entered the city. Ash was too mortified to look through any more windows, but an open cafe caught the corner of his eye. It wasn't different from any other building, but a newspaper shifted on top of a metal table and the fluttering was the only sound within the city other than his beating heart. Cautiously, Ash approached and brushed his fingers against the worn pages, brow furrowed.
The paper was dated July 22 and the first headline read: Coma patient dies after ten years.
"Poor guy," Ash murmured, trying to ignore the hairs that spiked on the back of his neck, and set the paper down. An icy grasp crawled from the earth and wrapped itself around his lungs once more. When he peered up from the paper, a small distance away from him was the looming hospital, all lights turned off. Untouched by the plague of time.
Dumbfounded, Ash glanced over his shoulder, the empty streets behind him appeared bitterly. Alleyways, street corners, all closed off, except for the path to the hospital. His eyes were heavy, and he rubbed them with the back of his wrist. Rather than fight it, Ash approached the large steps. In his life, he had only been in a hospital a few times. Usually, he was there to help people or pokemon. Ash sucked in air, and figured if someone had answers, they would.
Walking in, the place was unbelievably frigid. The entrance doors slid open quietly at his intrusion, the white walls swallowed the outside world, and the rest of it fell away behind closed doors. Beyond the entrance, a chubby nurse sat, holding a phone to her face, and glowering at a woman who just left the front counter. Despite the scowl, she was a cute woman who apparently loved her job, he could tell because she still smiled despite the situation. Ash walked to the counter to admire the many pokemon figurines she collected, but when he went to speak about them, she disappeared completely, and the room went dark, aside from the stairwell, which held a candle-light flicker.
Ash brushed his hand against the cold surface of the front desk, and briefly closed his eyes.
Let me in! He heard a familiar female voice and removed his hand. Slowly, Ash turned to the stairwell, seeing nowhere else to go. As he approached the stairwell, a seemingly invisible nurse rushed past him, calling after a woman leaving the hospital. Tears fell behind her and Ash held out his hand to catch them but turned away, toward the sound of beeping. When Ash looked up the stairwell, it looked endless, so he backed away.
Come this way. A voice called to him from the elevator.
"...No, I'm alright." Ash murmured. "I like the challenge." And without thinking much more, his foot found the first step, and started his climb.
Somehow, the steps didn't scare him as much as the darkness did. The flickering light had somehow, somewhere been snuffed out while he found his footing. The more he walked, the more familiar sounds of tapping filled his ears, in the same half-second interval. He knew those steps, and a smile returned to his features; if only he could remember from where. When he looked up to see who was with him in the stairwell, it was empty. The door at the top opened to reveal a sign to the eighth floor. He didn't feel like he walked that far, but time seemed to move so quickly...
By the time he looked up, the elevator dinged but the doors did not open. A light rang from a room to his left, but he scanned the rest of the hallway, first. A nurse played on her cellphone, chewing gum. At first glance, she seemed to be enthralled in the conversation she was having on her screen, but when Ash approached her, she was far more frustrated, tears at the back of her eyes.
Ash backed away slowly, she must have been having a pretty rough day.
Metal scrapping across metal echoed to his ears, the sound of curtains drawn from room 856. The nurse beside Ash walked away from him, back into the darkness of the rest of the hallway, and as if wandering around in darkness was becoming rather normal for Ash, he decided to see the moment through and approached the room. His heart was heavy, but his body moved quietly to stand at the door. It was bright inside. The daylight outside breathed color back into the dull gray, cut into the ambiance of the hospital. A blue vase sat in the corner with new flowers poking out in every direction.
The bed, however, was empty.
Unlike the rest of the hospital, the room was warm. Ash walked in with an air of familiarity. He had never seen this place in his life, and yet... it was so familiar. His feet moved to the window before he was able to stop himself, and he glanced outside.
To his horror, it wasn't daylight that brought the light or the warmth, but fire.
Ash drew the curtains closed and turned around to see that the bed was no longer empty. In the shrouded room, dimly lit by a small lamp in the corner, someone unrecognizable laid in the bed, with concave features. The man's face was sunken, his skin pasty white. His hair was matted and long. Machines hooked to his body, and the faint sound of a beep from before returned. At the door staring at this person along with him, was...
"Misty?" Ash asked.
Wondering why she was there, his heart fluttered. Her short hair was tied into a side ponytail, and she wore a sleeveless, yellow tank top that was bright in the returned gray. Her knee-length blue shorts matched the blue of her shoes and brought out the green in her young eyes. When she looked at him, she said nothing. In fact, she stared through him. When he took a step, she did too. Only, she didn't stop when he did. Her features changed nearly immediately, and she evolved from a young girl to a young woman. Her hair was cut short, curling around her face, and she wore a light-blue shawl over a black tank top and long jeans.
Click, clack. Ash's eyes watched her boots-the familiar sound. Misty walked around the room to grab gloves from a box beside the door and a damp cloth from the washroom. Without missing a beat, she sat beside the person on the bed, and wiped the cloth down his face, followed by the gentle trail of her hand.
Weirdly enough, Ash felt her hand on his face instead, and he reached up to touch it. The woman turned to him, staring into his brown eyes. She peered at him; a limp figure unwelcomed at this moment. Ash didn't belong here, in this scene. He belonged outside, away from the dying man in the bed, away from her prying, green eyes. Then, her mouth opened.
I'm so sorry this happened to you. She said in a whisper, blinking tears from her eyes.
Nausea hit him like a battering ram, and seconds later, Misty screamed for a doctor. Ash crumpled to the floor, holding his head while the gloom clung to him. She was gone and the room was dark and busy, and he wasn't staring at the person in the bed anymore. He was staring at himself, huddled in the corner.
From the bed, he watched his ten-year-old self crumble, and then run out of the room.
Down the hall, through the stairs, beyond the entrance, into the street.
It was busy now. It wouldn't stop. People rushed past him. Through him. Ash whined, but his voice didn't work now.
And he knew where he was.
Two weeks passed at a crawl.
Misty stood quietly at Ash's hospital room door, watching his pale face. With a twitch, he occasionally provided false hope that he might wake up, like he was stirring awake. Sometimes, his eyes moved beneath his lids like he was sleeping, but his health declined steadily. The heart monitor beeped increasingly slower, the oxygen tank puffed louder and louder...and for how unusual his previous coma had been…
This one seemed terrifyingly normal.
His body wasn't recovering from the suspected internal damages that he suffered after his fall, and his body wasn't strong enough to survive an exploratory surgery to see if there were other issues worsening the situation. Often, the staff whispered quiet concerns, reciting that if he didn't react to the medicine soon, there was a high risk for major brain damage and little hope for cognitive recognition. He'd be an empty shell. Kept alive only by machines.
If he ever woke up—he'd have a heartbeat, but he wouldn't breathe on his own, or think, or speak, or see…. or… Misty covered her mouth, squeezed her eyes shut. Hoped when she opened them, he'd be staring back at her.
Slowly, she lifted her lids, hoping against hope—but the lifeless body before her remained still. Shifting from one foot to the next, Misty slipped into the small room and slid the door shut behind her. Stiff at first, she walked carefully to the side of the bed and ran her fingers from his covered foot to his hand. Both of his hands had IV's in them, and his right had a blood pressure clip on his index finger. Gingerly, Misty took his left hand in hers and slumped quietly into the chair beside his bed.
She was energy sapped, and the dim room provided the same sense of dread projecting from her spirit, so she left the curtains undrawn, and set her head down over the top of her hands, over his. Eyes wide open, she stared forward into nothing and nothing stared back.
It had been two weeks.
For years, Misty visited Ash's old hospital room, changed the curtains, brought the flowers. She talked with him, talked with Delia—and ten years after the incident, she thought she signed the first and last paper she'd ever have to sign: his release papers. This time, the papers resting on the nightstand beside the door in a chipper, yellow folder were not release papers—at least, not in the joyous sense. They were release papers, but not the ones she wanted to sign. Her stomach tightened and she curled up as a painful sensation crawled through her body, starting at her shoulder. A tremor ran down her right arm and she rattled for a solid minute before she sat up to calm herself down.
Nerve damage, the doctors told her as she retracted her arm into her lap to silence the vibrations. Worried they would disturb the sleeping body.
One eye at a time, she pried her gaze away from Ash to briefly observe the room, desperately trying to distract herself from the scent of chlorine and rubbing alcohol. Variations of flowers decorated every corner, or at least the corners that wouldn't be in the way of medical practitioners. People were so thoughtful in their gifts now. Maybe it was because Ash was somebody now, how quickly he changed so many lives… her head tilted back to his hand. She took it loosely and entwined their fingers. Misty hadn't bought him flowers this time. She should get around to that… with a huff, her gaze fell bitterly back onto his face. The flowers came with 'thank you' notes and 'get well soon' cards and every other type of friendly greeting. Soon, they'd say 'sorry for your loss', the flowers would die, and the world would move on.
Say your final words, they said.
You'll regret it if you don't, they insisted.
What was she supposed to say?
Final words seemed so… final. Misty's lip quivered once again, and she swallowed hard, fighting back the tears that threatened to fall. She's said them once before already.
Sorry this happened to you, but how was that good enough now? How was anything she could say…everything? Nothing seemed like enough, and so nothing is what she spoke. Silent as a mouse while Brock wrote a novel, her sisters cried a waterfall, and Dawn shared a brief thank you. But it wasn't enough. None of it was. Not the mention that pikachu couldn't be here today. He and togetic wanted to be, but unfortunately, hospital policy retracted the observation of pokemon when removing patients from life-support.
Tears dried at the back of her eyes reminding herself that Delia managed to do this… How? Misty regretted signing that form over a year ago; acting family member. Misty would have given her right arm to be anywhere else but here, and yet, this was the only place she wanted to be. Every day she took a seat at his side and prayed he would open his eyes. Most of the time, his pokemon sat with her, when they were allowed. Given her own injuries, it was difficult between physical therapy sessions, but if they'd let her sleep here. She would.
Misty simply did not want to sign those damn papers.
Misty leaned forward, raised his fingers to her lips, and placed a warm kiss against his cold flesh, hot tears streaming down her cheeks and choked up.
If you're going to wake up… now would be the time, Ash.
"I'm up!" Ash jolted from his small bed and immediately patted himself down to ensure his safety. The sun twinkled in from his bedroom window, bright behind his sheer curtains. For a moment, he forgot where he was until he shifted in his covers and saw the busted pokeball alarm clock on the floor, and his face drained of color.
"I'm late!" He shouted to no one in particular, and then without changing out of his pajamas, he was out the door, and halfway down the street before his mom called after him.
At this rate, the good pokemon will be gone! There won't be one left for me! Ash sprinted viciously down the dirt roads of Pallet Town, the wind pushing him forward, and his arms flapping wildly around him. He couldn't be late! He had nightmares about this day, but he never imagined he'd really sleep in on such an important day!
Around one corner, past an apple tree, through a meadow, and beyond a white fence. Up the hill, through a familiar path to Professor Oak's lab, and then Ash skidded to a stop at the front gate. Waiting before him wasn't the cheerful, bright lab he remembered, but a dark and decrepit building with a boarded gate. Rather than react with surprise, or fear, Ash touched the metal bar and placed his forehead against the cold metal. His eyes closed, and a breath parted his lips. This again.
So… he hadn't been dreaming.
Ash released the bar and stepped away, no longer dressed in his teal and yellow pajamas, but worn jeans and a scuffed and bloodied black tee-shirt. A fine layer of dirt covered his skin and matted his hair and features. Torn gloves adorned his hands as he dusted off a stone block and then took a seat quietly. Ash had sat here many times.
It'd start happy, it'd start cheerfully. It'd start normally. He'd be off to another adventure, and then he'd remember. The world how it is, and not how it was. Ruined and packed down by violence and darkness and so much fire. Nothing untouched by the frail hand of ruin that escalated throughout the world, through the hearts of man and pokemon, and through him. He was dreaming.
"I…wanna wake up." He murmured, though his voice did not carry. Anger pooled at the pit of his stomach.
"Let me out!" he screamed into the black and shouted until everything else fell away.
"What's wrong with me…?" He whispered, bracing his head in the palms of his hand. He squeezed his eyes shut and then started forward again. Walking in any direction.
Soon enough, he'd be out like a light and repeating another dream, or a memory.
He wanted out. He wanted to see his friends, and his family. He wanted to see pikachu—to hold his friends. Not the false sensations of growth, or the icy grip of his spiraling emotions. Again, Ash screamed out until his throat was raw and his lungs could shout no longer. Was this a punishment? Was Ho-Oh punishing him? Was it Mewtwo? Why else would his mind do this to him?
Whatever it was, he wasn't giving up. He'd find a way out of this, the same way he'd found a way out of everything else!
With a stubborn huff, Ash brushed his long hair from his eyes and then sprinted aimlessly into the darkness of his mind until the next memory found him.
Since arriving at the hospital in Saffron City, Misty had not spoken with the media. People accused her of hiding, but she wasn't hiding. She simply wasn't ready to face them, to tell Ash's story. Dawn and Iris both tried to convince her to speak with the public, yet Brock vehemently denied their advances on her behalf. Today that was supposed to change. Two weeks in, the region was ready to revolt against the last Elite Four member, and everyone wanted answers from her—not from someone else. If they didn't hear it from her, they weren't going to believe it. Yet, for the first time in many years, Misty placed herself above everyone else and stayed hidden away.
Today that was going to change. Everything was. Her fingers tapped against the papers she was supposed to sign a life away with, but she couldn't find it in herself to sign them. She was no closer now than she was three hours ago.
Brock waited outside the door for her over the last few hours. He'd been patiently waiting for one.
She wasn't ready.
Misty inhaled a shaky breath. For years she wanted a united government and the regions working together. She wanted the world to see eye-to-eye and for criminal organizations to be out of the government. She wanted the world to be safe, and for trainers to be happy and the world to exist in perfect harmony. Only right now, as she stared down the only boy she'd ever grown to love, she found her sense of justice slipping away. Right now, she didn't care about anything else but her dying friend, and no one else understood that.
Only Gary, who couldn't be here right now, understood. His wound became septic so he couldn't leave Goldenrod City, but when Misty told him what she had to do, he cried on the phone for an hour.
We just got him back. And she cried, too.
Ash wouldn't want the alternative. She tried to rationalize, and yet she continued to flick the pen. At some point, the body would stabilize, and he'd live—he'd be empty though. She reminded herself over and over.
He wouldn't be there. They'd be protecting a body… and yet… she tapped the pen and gnawed on her lip until she tasted blood. She was furious, and miserable because he still looked like Ash. His face still carried the same boyish charm behind the bruising. His skin was pasty, but it hadn't lost its tan. He wasn't worn down to skin and bone and he still completely looked like himself. Like he was having a very long nap. Misty found herself curling his long hair between her fingers.
How was she supposed to move on? Through innocent eyes, Ash brought adventure and bravery into her life. They saved Kanto together, saved pokemon, and for all they knew, prevented the end of the world. He opened her world, and her mind to an entirely new existence of possibilities that she never believed in, nor cared about. He reminded her how magical this world was and could be. How good people could be. How well pokemon and humans worked together.
Ash gave her courage, and for that, she could never...
Hot tears ran down her face silently, and she wiped at them with her free hand, scolding herself for crying. Since that day, she couldn't seem to get herself under control. Everything brought tears. When she saw the empty meeting room at the Saffron Tower when she saw the reports about Viridian City evacuation; having breakfast in the morning. Reading the morning paper. The tears wouldn't stop.
Weird, since she rarely cried. Yet, why wouldn't she? She had every reason to. In the last year, she learned so much. Experienced so many great moments since meeting Ash... and it was all ending.
She hiccupped and hung her head. She just got him back.
Finally, Misty leaned over his head, and the necklaces she wore fell forward and brushed against his face. One was the cascade badge her sisters turned into a locket, and the other was the water-droplet she gave to Ash. He had it on him in the hospital, and it was one of the last items returned to him from the Celadon City hospital after they were transferred to Saffron City.
Obviously, he couldn't wear it, so she promised to keep it until he woke up. If he woke up. The pendant brushed against his lips when she kissed his forehead.
This wasn't acceptance. She hated this.
"You…" Misty's voice broke the silence of the room, cutting through the air and bringing her tears to a standstill.
"…Why did it have to be you…?" Her voice was hoarse, barely above a whisper as she collapsed lifelessly back into her chair, holding her forehead and throwing the papers onto the floor.
She wouldn't sign them.
Moments ticked away until Misty leaned forward, and placed her hands over his chest, and held them there.
"I can't sign those fucking papers." She swore quietly. "I can't."
She looked up; eyes bloodshot from tears that didn't fall. "I won't say goodbye, either. We promised no more goodbyes."
Her voice cracked, "It's selfish, but I know you're still in there. You're not done—you still have so much more to see and I…I can't accept this as the end like some horrible, sad movie… you know I hate sad movies, Ash."
Misty inhaled, and grasped the hospital gown into clenched fists. Her voice trailed off with a cry at his name. Ash deserved so much more than this. He promised that he would have a normal, healthy life.
Anger curled into her heart, but it was quickly beaten out by regret as she stared blurry-eyed at him, her hands flat against his chest, feeling the beating heart beneath.
"...I... I love you so much..." her voice caught in her throat. "I'm not ready to lose you, Ash. I can't say goodbye. I... I'm not ready."
Feeling disappointed in herself, her eyes closed. Elbows retracted onto his bed, leaned forward to cradle his hand.
"Please." She squeezed his hand, not for the first time. She did it often. Too much. The IV lines probably collapsed so often because of her, yet she squeezed until her breath evened out, and her shoulders stopped shaking. She held on until she convinced herself that he was squeezing her hand back and then slowly pulled away, her eyes stuck to their entwined fingers, watching with sorrow.
"You didn't deserve this."
Slowly, her grasp released, and perhaps she was losing her mind already, because it took a moment for his hand to fall back to the bed. The doctor said that traditional coma patients still had some reflex. He grabbed her hand many times the last couple of weeks because of reflex. He twitched and behaved like he would wake up any minute so often, that she forgot he was... dying.
Misty leaned against his bed exhausted, face propped up by her hand, elbow buried into the bed.
"I'm so sorry, Ash…"
This was it.
…This was really it.
The clock ticked minutes away, Brock's shuffling outside of the door worsened, and she wondered how much longer she'd sit in here.
She'd wait years if they'd let her.
However long it would take.
Flickering, sharp green eyes found his deep chestnuts from across the bed. There he was, eyes fluttering very timidly, struggling for appropriate sounds with a tube stuck into his throat.
"BROCK!" Misty bellowed at the top of her lungs, rising with such intensity that the chair flew and smashed into the wall behind her. As the door flew open, Misty brushed her hand against Ash's cheek, and found his shaking hand and clutched it tightly. He was awake. She wasn't going crazy.
Her hands were always surprisingly soft against his rough ones. He always wondered why he imagined her hands would be rough, probably because she was such a tough person, or maybe because for ten years, the only hands he knew were his own. Everyone had rough hands. Above him, Misty doubled—three, maybe four other people crowded around her, but she didn't move. Didn't leave him. Her hand held his. Desperately, he wanted to squeeze back but didn't have the strength. Instead, he hoped she wouldn't let go. If she let go, he was afraid he'd go back, and he was tired of waking up in different places. Listening to different stories. Hearing people cry.
He was tired of floating in the darkness. He was tired of living in a fantasy of the world he'd created. He only hoped this wasn't another one.
His eyes fluttered, and her voice carried through the haze. She was so bright, the halo of the light above her, he hoped he wasn't already dead.
"C'mon Ash, you're strong. Don't go back to sleep!" Misty's voice cracked, he hated when her voice cracked. It made his body feel like butter and his heart hurt. "Stay with us."
Couldn't she see that he was trying? He wanted to be here. In this terrible world.
After all, he wanted to be the "…ver..y. .est.."
"Don't talk, you'll hurt yourself." She encouraged over the other voices; doctor voices. Ash made them out one by one around him. They were reading off chart information and calling for certain medication. Brock's hum carried over, a muffled cry. The poor guy sounded rough.
Mist… don't cry. Ash thought and exhaled while he squeezed his eyes shut. Praying that when he opened them, he'd still be here.
Exactly where he wanted to be.
I decided to update quickly because I realized that the wording of my last Author's Note sounded like that was the end of the fic (and most of the reviews assumed that it was?) Man, we still have two more chapters to go. (Not including this one) Sorry for that confusion! I wanted to keep my author's not short and ended up making it confusing! Sorry guys!
As for Misty's "not" goodbye. I know it was kind of cliche/cheesy, you know the tears, the unwilling to accept what was happening and etc, but I think it was all in line with within reason for this story. I decided to change the 'dream world' Ash was in to be something a bit different, to say the least. I rationalize the changes because he isn't 'innocent' anymore, like he was in his initial coma, so given everything that he knows he can't simply go back to how it was. Plus, there are other reasons, too. Anywho, hope you all liked it. Hope it wasn't 'too dramatic' XD.
See you next chapter