Disclaimer: I don't own Pokemon. This fanfic was written for pure fun.

I'm sorry for any spelling or grammar mistakes. English is not my mother-tongue.

Once He Used to Smile

The skies above were begging to clear, as the raindrops pelted down from the green leaves. The air was cool, and the Pidgeys chirped as the sunrays fell upon the wet earth. I glanced at the mass of black hair on my shoulder, and on the calm, sleeping face of the young man, whose this face belonged to. I sighed, not deciding whether I should feel sad or happy. I could feel him cuddling closer to me, and I saw the woman smiling from behind her kitchen's window as she watched, and I could hear the young man from behind the white picket-fence saying that it's been a long time since he saw this boy sleeping calmly like that.

And I remember what happened two days ago, when I visited Pewter-City.

I remember how suddenly it dawned to me, that people can't stay together forever, that people change, and choose their own paths in life. 

Unless they follow in someone else's path.

And when that someone breaks and falls down, they all fall with him.

So here I am now, trying to bring this certain someone up again. And I see the middle-aged woman's smile, and I hear the words of happiness from the man behind the fence, and I remember…

-------------------------------------

"No, I'm sorry. No such person visited the center…"

Misty sighed heavily as she heard those words, bowed slightly to the Nurse-Joy behind the counter in thanks, turned around and left the Pokemon-Center of Pewter-City.

It was the twentieth one she visited this month, and still, no signs from her missing friends. She tried different areas: Kanto, Jhoto, Hoenn…

She even visited one in the Orange islands, in hopes that one of the travelers came there.

Now she was in Kanto again.

But as every nurse said "no", she began to become hopeless.

Will she ever find them?

The last time she saw Ash, Brock and their traveling companions was six years ago. She stayed with them for a bit and then returned home without her beloved Togepi.  She needed time to think. The time she needed proved to be a long one, and she didn't return once since then.

They kept in touch, but a few months ago any contact she had with her friends was lost.

She tried calling Delia, Ash's mother, but she always said that she hadn't heard from her son, either.

Misty kept on walking down the busy street, wondering which town she should visit next, when she heard a familiar voice calling her name. "Misty?"

She turned around and saw a tall man with brown spiky hair. Her eyes widened and she smiled widely. "Brock!" she called and ran over to him to give him a hug. She searched all over Kanto, and here they were in Brock's hometown! So… why did the nurse say she didn't see them? Maybe because she searched for Ash only, since she guessed that the rest were with him, and Brock came by himself, actually…?

He hugged her back and laughed. "It's been so long since I last saw you! How have you been?" he asked.

"I've been fine, helping my sisters around the Gym…" she replied and her eyes scanned him. He was taller, but other than that, didn't look too different than the last time she saw him. "And you? I see Ash and those two siblings aren't with you… did you come alone to visit your family?"

His eyes saddened suddenly. "Y-you can say that… now look at you!" he smiled again, looking nervous. "You look… different…" he said and fingered his chin, as if he were deep in thought.

She blushed lightly. "You think?"

He nodded. "Oh yeah… if you'd been older I'd be all over you!" he laughed, all nervousness he may have had gone.

Her blush deepened, but now it was from anger. She smacked him on the head. "You haven't changed one bit," she said quietly and narrowed her eyes at him.

"Come on, Misty, I was just kidding around…"

She huffed and shook her head. "You're hopeless. Brock…"

He laughed, but she felt that he laughed only because she expected him to, not because he found what she said funny. Then his eyes saddened again. "You were looking for Ash, weren't you?"

She blushed. "H- how did you know?"

He shrugged. "Just a hunch. I've lost contact with him too, by the way. But at least I can tell you where he is…"

She held his arms tightly, which scared him a bit. "Really?" she asked hopefully, eyes shining. "Where is he then?"

Brock sighed heavily. "In Pallet. He's been there for six months or so, if I'm guessing correctly…"

She cocked an eyebrow in confusion. "But when I called Mrs. Ketchum she said-"

"She said whatever she said in order to protect him. He's not… very stable right now. Or at least wasn't the last time I saw him…"

She suddenly felt like her heart is falling to her stomach. "Why? What happened?" she asked fearfully.

He looked down and away. When he lifted his gaze he pointed towards a park. "Let's talk there. It's a long story…"

The park was quiet, which was somewhat weird for this time of day and current season. It was spring, and it was the afternoon. The air was nice, and yet almost no one was in the big park. On their way to the artificial lake, she noticed only one couple sitting on a nearby bench, and a bunch of kids playing the ball. Oh, and there was this old lady walking with her dog…

But that was about it. She frowned. She was almost positive that the park would be filled with people on such a nice day.

Suddenly Brock stopped and sat on a white bench. He fixed his gaze on the lake and motioned with his arm for her to sit down next to him. She hesitated for a bit, but nonetheless, sat down.

"So… what happened? Why did Ash return to Pallet?" she asked quietly after a few minutes of disturbing silence. During those six years he had been doing remarkably well. Got fourth place in the Hoenn League, and then returned to the Indigo League and won second place! He was really close to achieving his dream…

Brock didn't reply, and just kept on staring forward. She was about to ask again, when he began talking: "It happened half a year ago or so. We were traveling as usual, in the Jhoto area, where Ash hoped to win first place after he got eighth place the last time he was there. May and Max were with us… it was getting cold, and Ash came down with something…"

A cough penetrated the calming silence of the forest. Then another cough, then another…

"Ash, do you need some water?" May asked, turning around to face the oddly pale older boy. "You've been coughing for quite some time. Are you choking on something?"

He looked at her, a bit confused, then shook his head and coughed again. "No, no… I'm fine."
"You sure?" Brock asked. "You sure look a little pale…"

Ash nodded. "Yeah, don't worry. How long till the next town?" they all knew he was trying to change the subject, because he knew there was something wrong with him, but didn't want to worry them.

Brock frowned. "Maybe… two days if we keep walking at this pace…"

Ash nodded, and said no more. Usually he was very talkative… now they were sure there was something wrong.

When they came to a clearing, Brock, who was in the lead stopped and put down his backpack. "Why did you stop?" Ash asked, looking around in confusion as the rest set their packs down as well.

Brock approached Ash slowly and put his hand on the other boy's forehead, much to his dismay.

"I knew it," he said. "You have a fever!"

"Pika!" Pikachu shouted from Ash's shoulder, a bit surprised.

Ash blushed in anger and pushed Brock's hand away. "I'm fine!" he shouted. "Now let's get to the next city so I can win my next badge…"

"No," Brock said sternly. "We're staying right here till you get better. I don't want you to faint suddenly from exhaustion."

Ash pouted. "But-" he tried, but Brock cut him off.

"No is no, Ash. You're sick, probably a flu. This is not to be taken lightly." Then he motioned for his younger companion to sit down, or lay down.

Ash crossed his arms on his chest. "You're not my father…" he said quietly.

"No, but I'm still the oldest here. Look, Ash- I understand you want to win a badge, but health comes first! What would happen if you got even sicker, and then couldn't battle at all?"

Ash was about to say something, but chose to keep silent, understanding. "Fine…" he muttered, somewhat angrily.

Brock smiled and patted Ash on the head, again, much to Ash's dismay.

Brock leaned back and took a deep breath, rubbing his face.

"That's it?" Misty asked, confused. "He ran to win the next badge, couldn't get it and became unstable?" she smiled as she said that, hoping that her old friend would smiled too, but instead he looked at her for the first time since they arrived at the park, and he wasn't smiling at all.

"This is not funny, Misty. This is really serious. I'm also telling you this because you may be his only hope…" he said.

"I don't understand," she replied. "How can someone become unstable from-" then she gasped. "Did he exhaust himself and got to the hospital?!"

"No, nothing like that… I wish it were that…" Brock said quietly, and suddenly looked distant.

"Then what?" she asked. "What can be worse than a hospital?" She thought about death, but then remembered that Brock said Ash was in Pallet…

Ah, sweet relief…

He was silent for a moment, and after he did speak, she wished he would have not said anything at all. "Pikachu's death," he answered coldly.

"What?!" she screamed, suddenly feeling empty. "You're kidding me, right?"

He shook his head sadly. "I'm not joking about stuff like that…"

She felt her eyes watering up and threw her hand to her mouth. "Oh my god…" she stuttered shakily. "How…?"

Brock took a deep breath, then looked at the sky above, contemplating what he should say. "We stayed in the clearing… for three days Ash kept asking if we can leave yet, even though he was still sick. We kept telling him we aren't moving until he gets better, until on the fourth day he suddenly stopped asking…"

"This is not good," Brock said from his place on the log, staring at the map. "Really not good…"

"What happened?" May asked from across of him, throwing a stick into the blazing fire.

"The next town with a hospital is pretty far…" he answered.

"Didn't you say we would arrive to the next town in two days?" May asked, confused.

"Yeah, but in this town there's only a Pokemon-Center. Unfortunately, Nurse Joy can't take care of sick humans…"

May shook her head. "This is bad… Ash is getting worse…"she said quietly.

"You got that right," Brock replied, sounding tired, and stood up, pouring some soup into a bowl. "I'll go give this to him…"

Ash was lying in his sleeping bag; another bag was on top of him as an extra blanket. He was sweating and breathing fast. His flu got a lot worse in the course of a few days.

"Hey, Ash?" Brock asked quietly and crouched. "Do you want some soup? It will make you feel better…"

Ash opened one eye and looked tiredly at him, then shakily lifted his hand. Brock helped him to lift himself to a sitting position and handed him the bowl. Ash took a few sips from the boiling liquid, and then set the bowl on the ground and lay back down.

Brock frowned. He was glad that Ash didn't throw up everything he ate, but he certainly didn't eat enough. He tried to coax him to eat more, but Ash shook his head violently and muttered words of refusal. Brock sighed heavily and stood up. He was getting desperate.

How could Ash deteriorate so fast?

He returned to his place on the large log, and pulled the Jhoto-Guide out of his large backpack.

He flipped through it, searching for something that may help, when he found the chapter: "When In Trouble and No Town is Around". He smiled, glad that the writers of the book thought of this chapter. This was not in the old guide he used to posses.

He started reading quickly, searching for a passage that would help, and got to the next page. Apparently, some forests had small, hidden ponds, which had healing abilities on both- humans and Pokemon. He smiled widely and tried to conceal his joy when he found out that there was one really close by.

Oh thank you Lady-Luck…

"Hey, Max!" Brock called, and the young boy turned around to face him.

"Yeah?"

"Come with me. We're going to look or this pond… May, you stay here with Ash. If anything happens, just go straight in this direction and you'll get to us, eventually…" May nodded in agreement and Brock dragged Max along with him. Pikachu decided to follow.

They walked several minutes, Max asking where in the world they were going and Brock not replying. They came across a pile of rocks, which blocked the entrance to a small cave. Brock frowned. He tugged at one of the rocks but it wouldn't budge. Max helped him, and finally the rock moved a little, then fell…

…Causing the rest of the rocks to fall with it. The pair looked at the pile of small rocks near their feet, and the small hole, which led to the  inside of the cave.

Most of the rocks didn't hide a thing at all…

"It's a good thing Pikachu's with us," Brock said and looked at the little mouse. "Can you go in and check if there's a pond inside?"

The Pokemon nodded, smiling, and hopped into the tiny cave. "Pika!" it screamed after awhile and emerged out, smiling.

"There is one?" Brock asked happily. "Great!" he handed Pikachu a small canteen. "Fill it with the water from the pond, and then we'll give it to Ash."

Pikachu nodded, took the canteen from Brock and returned inside.

A few minutes passed, and when they were about to tell Pikachu to hurry, they heard May screaming their names.

"Brock! Brock!!!" the girl screamed, walking a few feet away from them.

"Over here, sis!" Max called and waved. She turned her head, pale, and hurried over.

"Quick! It's Ash! Something's wrong!" then she ran back. Brock and Max exchanged looks of worry, and guessed that Pikachu would know they way back.

Then they hurried back towards the camp.

Brock stopped talking, and just stared forward. Misty wondered what he was thinking about…

"Was there a cave in?" she asked, but he shook his head.

"Something much worse," he said. "Much, much worse…"

"What?" she coaxed, wanting to get to the point. Of course the details were important, but she needed to know what was wrong with Ash.

 "It happened a few minutes after we got to Ash. He was delirious, and I couldn't figure out what he said, and neither did May or Max. When suddenly, he regained his senses…"

They were trying to hold him down and calm him, for he was thrashing violently and muttering words.

But Ash was quite strong…

Suddenly Ash's eyes opened fully and he went silent, shaking with fear. "Pikachu…" he whispered. "Pikachu!!!"

They exchanged confused looks, and loosened their grip on their sick friend. He did not miss the chance and shot up, running shakily and wobbly towards the cave. "Pikachu!!!!" he screamed.

They ran after him and tried to hold onto him again, figuring he was delirious again, but Ash was strong… even though he was sick, something made him powerful, and he got away from them and kept on running. 

The bastard was fast, too…

He stopped suddenly, and fell to his knees, screaming. They approached slowly, uncertain as of what to do. Brock was hoping Pikachu would come out already and then Ash would calm down. When they got to where Ash was, May screamed, Max went pale, and Brock was speechless.

There, on the grass, lay Pikachu. His eyes were rolled back, his fur dirty…

But the most horrible thing, the thing which made them pale with fear and filled with worry and anger, was the blood.

A huge pool of blood beneath the Pokemon.

Ash stopped screaming and touched the blood, coaxing Pikachu to wake up and stop playing dead.

It didn't work. He knew it was futile, yet kept on trying.

Ash kept on calling for his Pokemon, until he could speak no more, and fell to the ground…

"This is terrible…" Misty said, wiping her eyes. She noticed some wetness in Brock's eyes too, but he wouldn't let the tears fall.

"Then we took Ash to the hospital," Brock continued. "He got over the flu, but never got over Pikachu's death. He wouldn't speak, barely eat, barely move… so we took him back to Pallet".

Misty nodded, suddenly speechless. "I want you to go to him," Brock said, looking at her with pleading eyes. "Go to him and make him better! I beg you, Misty!"

She looked at him sadly. "But what would I be able to do to help? I haven't seen him in such a long time… I bet I barely know him anymore…" she said and stared at her feet, not daring to look into Brock's eyes.

"Everyone tried, Misty," he said quietly. "Everyone tried but Ash just won't listen. You-" he stopped, as if not sure what to say anymore. "You and him… when I traveled with you two in Indigo and Jhoto I felt there was something special between you two, some kind of a bond. A bond he didn't share even with his Pokemon! I'm sure… I'm sure you'd be able to do something. Just go there, please!"

Misty blushed slightly as he mentioned the bond, and considered going. She was looking for Ash, after all. She just wasn't sure if she wanted to face him now. In her mind she could only see the happy teen she once knew, and she was almost positive that when she will see him, if she'll decide to go, he'd be depressed and… well, just not Ash. Then another thought came to mind.

"Pikachu is-was strong," she said quickly. "There is no way some wild Pokemon could just kill him like that!" she felt the tears again, and wiped them away quickly. "I refuse to believe it!"

Brock sighed heavily. "That's because… it wasn't a Pokemon, who did that…"

"Then… what?" she asked quietly, not getting where Brock was getting to.

"Pokemon hunters," he said and she gasped. "There's another reason as to why Pokemon should be kept in Pokeballs. Ash was always with Pikachu, and therefore he was never shot before, but when Pikachu was alone… a hunter got him. We came quickly, so the hunter ran away, leaving the… body…"he finished in a whisper, remembering the terrible sight. "He used some kind of a silencer, I guess, so we didn't hear a shot. I think that the special bond Ash used to share with Pikachu, is what made him know that something was wrong."

"How could someone do that?" she asked sadly, shaking her head.

"Just like people murder other people. Some are evil and twisted like that…" Brock replied, leaning backwards and gazing at the sky.

"And what happened to May and Max?" she asked after a brief silence.

"Well, from the beginning May wasn't interested in training. I decided to go home to my family, and Ash wasn't there anymore. Max was old enough, so he left to his own journey. So May, deciding that she didn't want to travel just with her brother- since the more the merrier- returned home."

Misty nodded, her thoughts somewhere else. "So you want me to go to him…" she said, and he nodded in reply.

"Well," she stood. "I think I'll go. After all, I want to see him…"

Brock smiled. "You have no idea how glad you just made me. I'm sure Ash will get better if you see him". She nodded, smiling, and began to walk in the direction of the train station. "Misty!" she heard Brock call and turned around. "The train to Viridian-City leaves in thirty minutes." She nodded again, glanced at her watch, paled, and ran, missing Brock's chuckles from behind.

oOo

She swung her bag on her shoulder as she walked away from the small bus station in Pallet-Town. Ash's house was on the verge of town, about twenty minutes of walk from here. The town was quiet, and it scared her somewhat, but she figured all small towns are like that.

She walked slowly, still unsure what would she say when she'll meet Ash's mother, or more importantly, Ash himself.

As she wondered and walked, she heard a loud voice calling her name, and turned around to face a young man, about Ash's age, with light-brown spiky hair and a familiar necklace around his neck.

"Gary?" she asked, her tone surprised. She heard he's currently in Pallet, staying at his Grandpa's lab and studying to be a professor and a researcher himself, but still, she was surprised to see him.

"Yo," he waved nonchalantly and approached her. "My, you've grown…" he said with a smile.

"I'm sick of everyone saying that," she muttered quietly, and earned a slight frown from Gary.

"So what are you doing here?" he asked and leaned on the fence of some house's garden.

She cocked her eyebrow at him. "Haven't you heard?" she asked suspiciously.

He started to sweat and fidget nervously. "Heard… what?"

"That Pikachu died," she said, and could understand why Brock said it so coldly at first. There was a need to get over with it as soon as possible.

Gary sighed heavily and rubbed his forehead. "I've been visiting him ever since that happened," he whispered.

"Him? You mean Pikachu?" she asked, confused.

"What? No, I mean Ash!" he replied, wondering if the long time she spent with Ash made her dense as well.

"Oh…" she said quietly and looked away, embarrassed.

"No progress, though," he continued sadly. "He's like a zombie- that guy… He spends his days sitting near the grave, and at night, when he looks like he's asleep, his mother takes him to his bed." Misty nodded, wondering why Gary was telling her all that information. "Most of the time he isn't asleep at all, though. I think he takes long naps during the day, maybe sometimes at night… all near that tombstone. He never objects to his mother taking him away, and lets her do as she wishes," Misty was about to ask why he does that, since it seemed not to make sense. If he's so obsessed with that stone, why is he letting her take him? "He'll return to the yard when she falls asleep, anyway," he finished, as if sensing the question.

"Why are you telling me this?" she asked.

He shrugged. "Simple. You're here to help him, right?" he asked with a smile.

She nodded. "Brock asked me to come… more like begged…"

Gary seemed confused suddenly. "Why did he need to beg?"

She frowned, thinking. "I really don't know. I guess it was because I haven't seen Ash in so long, that I became afraid to see him again, although I've been looking for him for a month now."

"Ah," he nodded. "Well, I suggest you'd hurry. The sooner some sense is knocked into him, the better."

"You sound like you're mad at him," she said when he began to walk away.

He stopped and turned around to face her again. "Of course I am!" he said, somewhat confused. "The guy just won't listen! He keeps on being depressed, and I have no idea why. Everyone lost someone important to them, even I, and we don't spend our days blaming ourselves for it and not getting over it! We tried to help him, we really did, but the situation became… annoying." Then he smiled. "Do you best!" he called and walked away, leaving Misty to wonder once again.

"Wait!" she called, and he turned around again, now annoyed.

"Now what?" he asked.

"Don't you think there's something wrong with him, then? He's usually strong, and suddenly he breaks down like that…" she looked down to the ground, finding herself in a loss of words.

Gary sighed heavily and ran his hand through his hair. "Ash is not strong. He was never strong."

"But he put his life on the line so many times! Don't you think only someone truly strong could do that?" she asked, suddenly feeling like she felt in the old days when she traveled with Ash, for some reason.

"He was simply brave and reckless," Gary spat. "Not strong. He never thought something like this would happen. He was the one to separate himself from his Pokemon when he left them here and there, not vice-versa. You should know best, how desperate he became when Pikachu was taken away from him numerous times by Team Rocket. You know how broken he was then… yet he didn't show it. And when he saw his best friend in such… position, it broke him totally." He fell silent, and Misty found herself unable to reply. "I have to go now," Gary said suddenly. "Grandpa needs help… I'll come for a visit later today!" and then he left, never to turn around again.

She stood there for a moment, just staring blankly forward and not thinking of anything in particular, and then turned and continued to walk towards Ash's house.

oOo

"Oh my…" was the only thing Mrs. Ketchum said when she saw Misty in the doorstep. She wasn't smiling as usual, like the old days when she saw her, but rather seemed nervous.

"Hello, Mrs. Ketchum," Misty said. "Is Ash here?"

Delia looked around nervously. "I told you on the pone Misty, I have no idea where-"

"Sure you do!" Misty cut her off angrily. "Brock and Gary even confirmed it!" when Mrs. Ketchum didn't reply, Misty sighed and continued: "Look, I may be able to help him. I knew him for a long time… just give me a chance!"

"He's in the yard," Delia replied after seeing Misty's pleading eyes and looked down. "Please, try to help him…" and then those annoying tears came, but she wiped them away immediately.

Misty nodded, and went to the back yard. What she saw there scared her.

Ash was leaning against a small rock, probably Pikachu's tombstone, and seemed to be asleep. He had a small beard forming on his chin, and he looked worn out. When she got closer she could see that even though he was asleep, he seemed very distressed.

"Ash?" she asked tenderly and crouched. "Ash, are you awake?" He opened his eyes slowly to look at her, and she felt a pang of hurt when he didn't show any signs of happiness or familiarity. He simply stared at her. "Do you remember me?" she asked, trying to keep her cool.

"Misty?" he asked quietly. "What are you doing here?" she was surprised he talked, even more surprised that he asked that.

"I heard what happened," she said and he looked away. "I came to help."

"What can you do?" he asked, sounding angry.

She sighed. "Look, Ash. I've known you and Pikachu for a long time, and I can assure you that Pikachu doesn't want you to be like-"

"Would you stop saying that?!" he suddenly screamed, and she backed away, surprised. "Everyone, everyone who came here said that! I know that Pikachu wouldn't want me to stop training and sit here all day! No one wants that! But why does it matter? Pikachu's dead, Misty! Dead!" she could not say anything in return. She was sure Ash would be weak, that he would listen to what she has to say. That he would never speak of his first Pokemon in such a harsh way. "And it was my fault…" he whispered. "If… if I weren't sick, Pikachu would have never had to go there to get me those water… and I know he's looking from above and not wanting me to be like that, Misty, but you have to understand, that his will is not a factor anymore! There is only my will now, and I want to be like that! So enough with the cheesy talk!"

"Ash," she said quietly and sat down next to him. "Your thinking is wrong. Don't you think you should at least make him happy?"

"But I can't, Misty. It was my fault! How can I overcome this ordeal when I don't even forgive myself? When I loath myself, Misty!"

She never thought Ash could say something so meaningful. Was it the incident that made him this way? "You know, Ash," she said quietly and stared at the big oak tree in front of her. "I understand."

"How can you possibly understand?" he spat angrily.

"Because it happened to me, too."

"What?"

She sighed. She never thought she would reveal this to anyone. "When I was seven," she started, "I was really sick, and my parents went to get the doctor. It snowed heavily, and their car…" she couldn't continue and wiped her eyes, also noticing it started to rain. "I blamed myself for years. For years I thought it was my fault. 'If only I weren't sick!' Is what I always thought, 'then they wouldn't have died'." Ash was looking at her with an unreadable face, and she wondered what he was thinking. Then she continued after sniffing a few times. "So I know how it feels like… and I can tell you one thing, Ash: it's not your fault. It's really none of your fault. But you'll continue to blame yourself for it, and you'll continue to think 'what if…?', but it won't get you anywhere. What's done is done, and there's no use for crying over it, for you are not able to change that. Death is a part of life, too."

He was silent, She just spilled her heart in front of him, told him one of her darkest and deepest secrets, and he was silent. He wasn't even looking at her!  He was staring forward, blinking fast because of the rain. "Why are you here, Ash?" she asked somewhat angrily. "Why do you spend your days sitting here? You can't bring Pikachu back to life and you know it!"

Misty had to admit she was a bit surprised. She was positive Ash would barely respond, much less yell at her. Everyone made it seem like he was really broken. She figured he was, seeing his appearance, but his spirit was still there.

It was simply focused on something else, besides Pokemon training.

Brock probably asked her to come because Ash didn't get over it himself, like they all thought would happen sooner or later. He was depressed, but certainly not lifeless like she thought he would be.

Ash frowned, thinking. Didn't he know the answer? "Because it's so hard to say goodbye…" he finally said.

"Ash, but even if you'll stay at your home, you'll be able to visit his grave every day! Why do you need to sit here for hours?" she really found this entire situation ridiculous, and she could understand why Gary sounded like he was mad at Ash.

"Because I need to, Misty!" he yelled, "I need to! Can't you understand that?" his voice was quieter now, and his lips quivered. He looked down. "I feel… less depressed when I'm here…"

She couldn't help but feeling a bit sad and somewhat helpless when he said that. Were they all wrong to be mad at him? It seemed like Ash knew that he was hurting himself, but he also knew that this is the only way for him to cope. But Ash was getting weaker and thinner, and she knew it even though she saw him now for the first time in six years. "Why is it that you don't train anymore? Do you feel that you're unworthy?"

He shook his head violently. "It's not that," he replied. "I just think that after what happened to Pikachu… I just don't want to endanger my other Pokemon."

"But they're inside their Pokeballs," Misty objected.

He nodded. "Maybe so, but still… look at me now, Misty… I don't know what I'd do if I were to lose one of my other Pokemon."

"So this is it, then?" she asked, sounding disappointed. "You gave up everything, and now you do absolutely nothing with yourself? Not even trying to get better?"

"I want to get better, Misty," he said quietly. "I really do… but it's just so hard…"

"I heard that Brock, Gary and your mom tried to help you… weren't they able to bring you up just a bit?" she asked.

"No… they all kept on saying that Pikachu forgives me, and that he wants me to keep training. I know he does, I don't need to be told that. I figured it out myself not long after Pikachu… died. They didn't ask me how I feel about it. They didn't try to understand…"

"But now," he continued. "Now that you talked to me… somehow I feel better." He looked at her again, and she was quite surprised to see he wasn't smiling. She expected him to smile, but he just stared at her, serious. "You said the truth, and didn't try to cover it up with some cheesy talking…"

"That you'd always blame yourself?" she asked, leaning forward so she'd be able to get a better view of him.

He nodded. "Yeah… And I'm not sure why, but… I feel a bit better, somehow. I know now I'm not the only one… and that I'd be able to recover, somehow." Then he looked away again, and started to play with his fingers and fidget.

Embarrassed? Now that was surprise… Brock and the rest overacted when they described him. He was simply very depressed… she guessed it was so rare to see that from Ash, that it made them somewhat scared for him.

"W-would you stay here?" he asked quietly, and she could barely hear him because of the rain. "Would you stay here and talk to me?"

He sounded almost begging, and she smiled softly. "I will," she said.

Ash nodded, still not smiling. She guessed that because they're kind of on the same boat, he feels that she can understand him better than anyone else. But still, she had to wonder. There was still a very big difference between her case and Ash's. Her parents died because of an accident. Ash's best friend was murdered brutally.

But Ash… Ash was not one to hate. Or did her get over the Hate-Stage already?

"I'm tired…" Ash said and his eyes drooped. "So very tired…" then he leaned slowly to the side and began to fall, landing on her shoulder. He seemed calm. Very calm.

But Misty still found it unfair. Ash was one of the nicest persons in the world, always willing to risk himself for the sake of others. Always putting his life on the line, and always getting away with it. There was always someone to help him…

So why did he deserve such cruel fate?

He'll get over it in time- she knew it.-now that she's here, and he feels safer.

The rain became lighter, and she smiled in relief. It was worth coming here.

Ash Ketchum was now at peace, and she knew that Pikachu was, too.

Yet, why did he have to die…?

-------------------------------------

So here I am now, trying to bring Ash up again. And I see Mrs. Ketchum's smile, and I hear the words of happiness from Gary, who's standing behind the fence, and I know the answer to it all.

Ash always challenged God.

So God challenged him back…

The End

Author's Note: Whoa, My longest one-shot yet! And I have to say I'm pretty proud of it, too :)

The idea may not be original, but I wanted to write it, so there!

Hope you feel the same! Please feel free to review!

-E2K