Hi! This is my 2nd fanfic, not as fluffy or sweet as the first, but with considerable AAMR. It has some strong elements of dark in it, and is not for kids due to some of the topics discussed in this fic, but please don't let it put you off! It's not going to make you leap off a cliff or tie a rope around your throat. Honest!

So, this fanfic follows on a while after chiko-envy one finishes off, and I reccoment you read chiko-envy if you want to get everything, but it can stand well enough by itself. Massive thanks for everyone who reviewed Chiko- envy, I hope all you wonderful people review this one too! I'd just like to point out that the characters are a little different from the Anime, in that they're all brighter. Especially Ash, he's a little limited in the anime, as is everyone else for that matter. I've just tried to expand them a little! I hope it works, I've tried to keep their basic attributes, Ash's single-mindedness, Misty's temper in it too.

So, on with the fic! Please R&R! Pretty please?! Support, comments, flames all welcome!

Scar tissue – Part I.

Concern washed into my mind, as the chocolate eyes of my partner widened. An urgent message from Pallet was odd enough, hell, any call from Pallet is odd enough. Pallet is barely big enough to be on a map, and the only reason people know it is for Professor Oak. Oh, and my partner that is. High finisher in Indigo, Orange champion and hot tip for the Johto title in a few weeks time, a name which has inspired a huge rush in Pokemon training among kids in Indigo. A famous face from a small town put on the map, a face which is now threatening to fall like the autumn leaves. I look on, and see his shoulders hunch, he almost slumps forwards. Brock nudges me, and a single glance shot form him to me echoes my exact thoughts – this isn't good. I heard from someone that over nintey-five percent of communication is not spoken, but by the way they stand not what they say, more what they don't say and when they look away… ..and it's never been clearer before now. Hand holding the reciever shaking, Ash dips his head and pulls his cap down, actions which speak louder than words. I try to catch another glimpse of his face but I can only see his mouth, his lips trembling. Slowly, he hangs up, but still stays where he is, fists clenched from some deep inward battle, whether it is a decision he needs to make or the battle to control his emotions, I don't know. Slowly, I move over to him, and lay my hand on his green-clad shoulder, which is as tense as a bowstring. Eventually, I summon up the courage to speak.

"Ash, what was that?" I jump back as he recoils and retreats like a wounded animal. Soundlessly, he paces off into the depths of the centre, face still shielded. But a reflection in the shiny pink floor of the centre tells me all I need. I spin around, and walked to Brock.

"Did you get anything out of him Misty?" He probed gently, displaying unusual tact, which is normally as subtle as a Rhydon.

"No, but I saw his face as a reflection, and whatever it is, he's completely broken by it. More even than when he was defeated by Gary or Richie, or even when Charizard left him." My worry obviously broke through, as Brock just nodded.

"Go on Misty, go look for him."

("Who is it?") I heard Pikachu's squeaking voice from behind our, that is my and Ash's room door. I gazed at the featureless white panelling before replying.

"It's Misty" Claws scrabbled on the inside of the door before the handle depressed and it swung inwards. I entered as Pikachu dropped from the handle and scrambled back over to me in a flash of yellow and brown, standing next to Chikorita who'd taken to being out of a Pokeball.

("What's up Misty?") Her ears flattened a little as she picked up on my look of disappointment as I scanned the otherwise empty room.

"Pikachu, have you seen Ash?" I asked, unable to keep fear out of my voice.

("No, he hasn't been here!") Her eyes grew as worry engulfed her. ("What's wrong?!")

("Has he gone off again?") Chikorita added.

"He had an urgent call from Pallet. When I tried to find out what it was he took off, but I know he's totally shaken up by whatever it is." Pikachu's look of worry became clouded by thought.

("If I know Ash he'll be looking for somewhere he can be himself, as far from anyone as possible. Did he leave the building?") Pikachu asked, voice tinged with terror at the last question. I shook my head, my orange hair washing across my face. ("Whew. At least he's here somewhere. This is the only building for miles, and he hasn't got his pokemon. So, the furthest he can go is.. .up. This is a four-storey building, so he'll have gone up high.") I nodded, it made sense. I turned to leave, but felt Chikorita tug my leg.

("Misty, I know you're the best one to do this, but please make sure you don't accidentally hurt Ash?") Memories of a month before sprang into focus, and I nodded to her.

"Don't worry, you can rely on me you two. I'll use my head and my heart guide me this time, not my outsized mouth." Turning to leave, I thought deeply about out promises. No secrets? Well, time to see if were really true to each other.

Thick clouds scudded across the sky, obscuring any shades of blue which may have brightened his day. *Kinda ironic, but they say the weather knows how you're feeling.* Ash sat on a flat section of the roof, and stared upwards. *Yeah, not a silver lining in sight. It only needs to be raining.. .. * On cue, a few drops spattered onto the floor around him. He stared around the treetops spanning far into the haze of rain and Mist, and felt his troubles flow away for a blissful moment as his mind lapsed into a standby like trance. He looked to the east. *I wonder how far it is home.. ..* Once again the contents of his recent phone call hit him like a sock full of wet sand. He hugged his knees to his chin, and felt tears begin to overwhelm him again. As a sob grabbed his throat, he heard the door to the roof open and he squeezed it off. *I'm not gonna appear weak, or cry in front of anyone.. ..*


*Except her.* Ash twisted to see Misty's worried face approaching. Misty stopped a few feet away, and looked back at him. *He's hugging his knees to himself, this is bad.* "Ash, what was the call about?" She enquired, Aqua eyes piercing his weak impression of indifference.

"I-it was Pallet town's clinic. It's my mother. She's been.. ..in an accident. They don't know if she'll be okay.. .." With that he folded up, and shook silently. Misty crouched down, ignoring the still spitting rain and dampening floor, and held him closely. "I-I j-just want to get back there and talk to her, but I don't know if I'll make it in time, the nearest coach to Pallet is from Megam town, but that's a couple of days journey…. what if she's gone already by the time I get back there?" His sobbing grew louder, and he pounded the roof with his fist. Misty sat next to him, and drew him into her arms even more tightly. *I knew that the news was bad, but I never thought it could be like this.* She grasped his now sodden cap, and slowly pulled it off his head, allowing his black hair to flow out fully, and stroked it like he did to her when she was feeling sadness.

"My god Ash, that's just terrible. I can see why you're so upset." Ash nodded briefly, his sobs slowly softening in response to her gentle caresses.

"Damn! Damn it all to hell!" Ash stopped abruptly, unable to articulate the anger he felt in words.

"Ash, I know that you can't see this right now, but the best thing to do is to try and stay calm, get packed and ready for the trip back." Misty got up again, yellow top sticking to her, and turned. "I'm going to tell Brock, and get packing. But Ash."

"Yeah?" Ash wiped tears form his red rimmed eyes, and looked back at her.

"Please don't stay out here too long, you'll catch a cold. Getting angry can't help you, so calm down for now. Please?" Misty's tone of pleading nibbled Ash into a reply.

"I'll try Mist." Misty smiled briefly, before opening the roof access door and descending back into the hotel. Ash put his hat back on, and scanned the scene one more time, hands clenched into fists with impotent rage. *But I can't promise anything, after all, you don't know the whole story. ...*

"Hope you get back to Pallet in time!" Joy's good luck blessing brought answering waves from Misty, Pikachu and myself, but the expression of the one walking between us remained stony, unresponsive. I quickly glanced down at Pikachu, who stared at Ash with soulful eyes, as she had for the last few hours since Ash last acknowledged her presence. She'd seemed upset about it when she talked to me about a half hour before we'd left, as the last time Ash had gone without noting her he'd gone almost to the point of self-destruction, which scared her to say the least. Chikorita looks equally troubled, but keeps her head down. Since that night with Misty, which the two of them were still very secretive of, Ash had changed subtly, seeming more bright and open, but at the same time a little less confident and brash. Chikorita knows something to, but she's as loyal to him as Misty, so no way of getting details from her. Pikachu seems to think there might be a repeat. I study Ash out of the corner of my eye, and he seems to be quivering with some sort of inner rage. Misty told me he said his mother had been in an accident, and was in a bad way in hospital, but there's more to it than that. Ash isn't just consumed by sadness, he's angry, no, furious. So furious that he can't shout or scream or even speak of it. If Deliah had been in an accident I'd expect him to be sad first, angry second. But his sadness isn't prominent enough. There's something he hasn't told us. Misty was totally sincere when she told me what she knew, so it's something which he won't even tell her. What could be so awful that he won't tell us?

The fire flared. Silhouettes cast into the darkness flickered and danced mysteriously. Brock and Misty sat close to each other beside the fire, staring at the flames as their minds wandered, wandered to a young man, lain in a sleeping bag s few yards away, facing the darkness, Pikachu sitting morosely at his side, Chikorita lain asleep on his other side.

"Brock?" Misty whispered as quietly as she could while still detectable over the crackling wood of the fire.

"yeah?" Brock replied in kind.

"Do you think there is something Ash isn't telling us?"

"I'd say so." Brock scratched his chin in absent minded thought. "If it was my dad, I'd be distraught. But he isn't so much distraught as….angry."

"I know from when my mother got injured in an acccident…." Misty bit her lip at mentioning her to Brock, but decided to keep going. "I couldn't believe it either. I was angry for….reasons of my own at her, but I still worried about her. Ash seems like he can't. Like something is getting in his way." Brock turned to Misty, and looked her in the eye.

"Why were you angry at your mother?"

"Oh Brock, it's something I'd rather not talk about. Please?" Misty looked back, pleading in her eyes.

"Misty, I'm your friend. Can't you trust me with something like that?"

"I've never told anyone….except him…." Her eyes darted to Ash, still silent and still, and back to Brock.

"C'mon Misty. I would like to know, and it'd help us work out if he's angry for the same sort of reason."

"No, it's not the same reason. Deliah's not the same as my mother. She wouldn't get hurt in an accident of her own making."

"her own making?"

"Let's just say Brock," Misty gave him a bittersweet smile "That my mother is the female Ash, but did it for her own thrill. Danger, excitement, adrenaline. Ash can remind me so much of her, especially when he's being so stubborn." Brock noticed the emotion fuelling the last words, and decided to pry further. *Something here is important. Perhaps it'll help me to get a grip on what binds Misty to Ash too.*

"I wouldn't say Ash is being that stubborn." Misty's eyes flared, and she seemed to swell in size.

"He's hiding something! Locked it away from me, same as my mother used to! I hate that! HATE IT!" She hissed angrily, face flushed with pure fury.

"Why shouldn't he keep things from you?"

"Why shouldn't he? We promised, no secrets! Why should he keep something from me!" Misty's anger built up like a forest fire, fanned by Ash's reluctance to share his secret. "He keeps secrets to avoid looking weak, to seem confident, so we won't worry about him! He thinks he isn't worth our worry! The one I love thinks that he doesn't deserve it! I managed to get him out of his shell, but now he's crawled back in and shut it tight!" Misty slowly deflated as she realised what she'd said. "Oh my god, I've betrayed his trust, told you everything we promised to keep between ourselves! Oh no, no!" Brock, seeing Misty fill with tears, reached over to her and grasped her hand.

"Misty, you haven't betrayed him. I won't tell a soul, and by telling me I can treat him as he should be treated, not just believing he's a confident guy who can handle anything. I won't look down on him because of it. Honestly." Misty sniffled, but nodded slowly. At that moment, Pikachu hopped over, looking a little concerned.

("Brock, Misty, do you know if Ash has fallen over in the last few days?")

"No, don't think he has. Why?"

("He's got lots of scratches just by his shoulder, up above the end of his shirt sleeve. Maybe he fell on it?")

"Heh, he probably tripped up and landed on it sometime when we were going through the woods." Brock smiled to himself. "We all know how clumsy he is."

("It just seems a little odd that he's only scratched above the level of his shirt sleeve, but not further down. His clothes are all undamaged too.")

"Hmmm, it's probably when he was off having a bath in a river. Slipped and caught his arm on the bank or something." Misty cast a sidelong glance at Brock, biting back a response. He sure would be curious if she adamantly said that he hadn't. She knew, of course, but saying so would bring a suspicious question from Brock or Pikachu, or both.

("Okay, but let's ask him when he gets up.") Brock agreed with Pikachu, who then turned slowly to Misty, eyes moist.. ("Misty, I heard what you said, but I promise you that you haven't betrayed Ash. He just didn't know how to say it, so you said it for him. Please don't think you've done wrong.") Misty sighed, but then nodded.

"Thanks Pikachu." She slowly got to her feet, Brock following. Unrolling the sleeping bags, they both climbed into them, glad of their warmth and padding. Misty beckoned Pikachu over to her."Pikachu, promise me this. Try your best to find out more from Ash. If you get the chance, even look at his diary for a second. I need to know what is really wrong." Pikachu looked at her in shock for just a second, but nodded agreement. "Thanks Pikachu, goodnight to you."

("Goodnight Misty.") As Pikachu scampered back over to the sleeping Ash, Misty gazed at him for a second before letting her head fall to her pillow. *You've done this to me once Ashton Satoshi Ketchum, but you won't do it again.*

A scream. Where from? All is dark. Even sound seems unable to get through it. Except that scream…. Mom?! Are you in trouble? Running footsteps from behind, I turn to face them, I see nothing. A shout, another scream, I chase them blindly, sprinting in any direction. I hear running footsteps, closer now. My mother runs past me, then turns and looks past me, moments before she is assaulted by an unseen force. But in that brief second, I see the reflection of her attacker in my eyes.

I see…..me.

"NO!" I scream, and sit bolt upright. Panting heavily, sweat dripping from my brow, I look around. Trees. Grass. Misty, Brock, Pikachu, Chikorita. More trees. A burnt out fire. More trees. Dark sky. The moon, stars. Yet it doesn't ease my anxiety one bit. I know, I still know that my mother has been…. I can't even say it to myself. It's too much to take. A sob escapes my lips, echoing into the once silent camp loud as thunder. I have to leave for a moment. I can't wake them up, they'll want to know the reason for my tears. I can't say. Not to anyone, even to Misty. How can you tell anyone that? I stand unsteadily, trying not to wake anyone. I reach down to my backpack, and pull out a drawing compass. I've always kept them as they're supposed to be useful for working out map distances, but they've been more use for another purpose. I walk into the trees, head bowed. Out of sight, out of mind. A moment of peace. I reach around, and pull off my T-shirt. Now here I am, just me and the trees, and my chest. I usually keep my chest covered, so no-one will see. Mist and I always bathe at night so she won't see either. Slowly, I place the compass point on my chest, so it just pierces the skin, and I drag it across, leaving a scratch across my torso. The pain is bittersweet relief. Here is a pain that I can control, I can inflict at will, a pain that can be seen, withstood. Pain from outside, not hidden torment, concealed and decietful, eating away from within. Pain of the past and present, the present reflecting the past with horrific certainty. Do I want to see my mother while she still lives? To see her knowing what we both know? How to articulate such things that cannot be spoken, but if she were to die…. A soft sob passes my lips, and I place the compass once again on the very top of my chest, and pull it down, just scratching the skin, enough to distract form the thoughts running through my head. A cross on my chest, across my heart, as a cross I bear from the moment I came into existence. A louder sob escapes my mouth, and I kneel down on the dew-covered mossy floor and run the point across the top of my left arm. It feels good, like pressure is being released, the inward pressure released by puncturing my skin. I sigh, brushing away a tear, and place the compass to my arm again. I press down slightly, and begin drawing it down, letting a few drops of blood wash away my sorrows……

("My god! Ash! NO! What are you doing to yourself?!") I turn to see Chikorita, aghast, staring at my arms and chest. My chest, illuminated by moonlight, bearing witness to the times I'd done this before in the past and present, and arms layered by a network of scars. I'd first found this way to relive stress when I'd accidentally cut myself on the night before the Indigo league, and had done it now and then whenever I felt really worried, scared or pressurised. But now Chikorita could see the scratches, the few with tiny smears of blood running from them, and the compass laying guilty in my hands. I opened my mouth, for a denial, an excuse, an admission, a cry for help….I don't know, but all which emerged was a strangled sob.

("Ash? Please stop this!") Chikorita hurried to my side, and took the compass form my now unresisting grip. I slumped down onto my haunches, and then into a sitiing position, still unable to make a sound, just smothered by shock that someone now knew what I was doing. ("Ash, why? Why are you doing this to yourself?") Chikorita asked me, still unable to fathom what she'd just seen her trainer do. I just shook my head, still staring into infinity. ("Ash, I need to know, else I'll have to bring Misty, Brock and the rest down here to find out.") I still couldn't respond, so she shrugged sadly and hurried off back to the camp. I still sat there, unmoving. Blank. They would know, I couldn't stop that. They'd ask questions. How would I answer them? I couldn't tell them why. Not yet, I need to work it out with myself first.

("Everyone wake up! EVERYONE!") Chikorita screamed, running into the clearing we slept in. I reached for my watch. Quarter-past four in the morning. What was the fuss about?

("ASH! Ash has been….") Ash?! I shot up instantly as Brock and Pikachu raised themselves from their sleeping bags and looked around dizzily.]

"Ash has been what?" I asked, feeling fer flood it's way into my stomach.

("He's been….cutting himself with this.") Chikorita let out her vine whip fully, placing an object in my hand. A compass?!

"He was cutting himself with a compass!" I gasped, feling my knees go weak.

"A compass! Oh, oh bloody hell!" Brock was instantly on his feet beside me, looking at the object with concern.

("Yes. He's got other scars, but a lot are looking new, they haven't even closed up yet.") Chikorita's red eyes filled with concern. ("I'll take you to him.")

"Pikachu, get Cindaquill out and light a fire. We'll go get him." Brock yelled. Pikachu looked worried, but complied, as I dashed into the woods following Chikorita and Brock.

The moonlight provided a faint, silvery illumination, enough for the three reaching Ash to see the extent of his scars. Several crusting scratches covered the top of his arms and shoulders, and freshly dug wounds formed a cross on his body and lines along his arms. A few indistinct lines crossed his arms, remenants of both adventures and self-destruction past. Ash just stayed fixed to the spot, frozen in place as Brock took a closer look at his injuries. Misty hung back, distressed by the scene present in front of her, hands over her mouth and tears in her eyes, Chikorita gently rubbing her legs with her vines. Misty had completely blown off when she'd set eyes on him, and Chikorita had to use some sweet scent and her vines to calm her down. After a few minutes the length of decades passed, Brock straightened up.

"He's okay physically, but I'm really worried about his mental state…." Misty stumbled over, and nearly tripped beside Ash but caught herself. Crouching down to bring herself closer to Ash, she gazed into his face.

"Ash, why have you done this?" That voice was enough to penetrate the thick fog which had surrounded his mind, the shock of the dream, being discovered.

"M-Mist….oh." He lapsed back into silence. Misty shuffled around to be face to face with him, and sat down. Staring into his chocolate eyes, it almost seemed as if the shutters were down, that he wasn't even conscious. But somewhere, deeply buried, she caught a flash of true bitterness, fury, anxiety. *This is a big problem, something so big that he's unable to come to terms with it.*

"Ash, come on. You can tell me anything you know that." Still seeing minimal response, she tried another tactic. "Ash, you're not helping by keeping all this inside. Tell me why!" At this Ash raised his head slightly, and for the first time met her gaze.

"Have you ever felt that you seemed to have a thing so huge inside you that you feel you're going to explode? Like a giant balloon which has been streched too far? I'm just puncturing the balloon, it lets some of the pressure free." He said this matter-of-factly, as if it were the truth not merely a metaphor.

"Ash, we need to know what is making you do this. Notwhat cutting yourself does, but why you have cut yourself." Again the curtain behind his eyes dropped.

"I can't say."

"Don't you realise we're here to help?" Brock chided him gently.

"C'mon, you need to share this with us." Misty nudged.

"I can't. I haven't made my mind up yet."

("We want you to come round. You can't stay like this forever.")

"Ash, we know it's about your mother. What is it?" Ash clenched his fists, and beat the earth.

"Isn't it enough that she may be dying? I might not get to say anything to her? EVER AGAIN?!"

"Ash, all of us here have been through this. Brock's mother, my parents, Chikorita's brothers. This isn't possible bereavement, it's anger." Misty slowly waited for her words to sink in, and continued. "She knows you love her, and that's all that matters. I know you want to, but why should you need to speak to her again?"

"Wouldn't you want to tell her something if they might br the last words she hears?" Ash responded, anger growing strong once again. "I've got something I need to say. An apology. An apology that none of you could even dream of needing to say. An apology for ever being here." A solitary tear rolled down Ash's cheek, expressing sadness a thousand words could not say.

"Ever being here?" Misty repeated the words and looked around at Brock and Chikorita, who both looked completely noneplussed. She looked back at Ash. "What do you mean by that?"

"I really can't say Mist. But it's come round to her again, and I couldn't stop it. I should've been there for her…." Ash suddenly exploded into floods of tears. The other three looked between each other in shock. Brock looked back down at Ash who still wept, lying prone on the floor. *But wasn't it an accident? How could he be there for her if it was an accident? And what did he mean by apologising for ever being here?* Crouching down, he put an arm around Ash.

"It's okay buddy. C'mon, let's get back to camp to work this out." Slowly, with Chikorita and Misty's help, he picked Ash up, and carefully carried him back to the campsite.

Cindaquil's flames lit, and she fired a wall of flame over a hastily collected pile of twigs which caught alight in an instant. She walked over to the welcome heat, and curled up by the base of the fire.

("Thanks Cindaquill!") Pikachu called to her.

"Cinda-queeeel!" (No problem!) She called back, and rested her head on one of her front legs. Pikachu turned back to Ash's bag, and took a deep breath. *Sorry Ash, but I have to find out why you can't tell us. Please don't think badly of me.* She leafed backwards through the empty pages of the diary, and then came to the current date – where there was nothing. Pikachu stared stupidly at the blank page for a moment, before coming to her senses. *Ash hasn't written anything. I don't know the last time he didn't write anything.* hastily, she leafed through some of the past days, looking for anything which looked odd. He eventually came upon the entry from the day after they'd left Janerio town, around a month ago. She stopped flicking through, and started reading.

"I can't believe the last few days. Chikorita nearly died of alcoholic poisoning, I found out the truth about Misty's parents, Brock won a bet we didn't even know he had, and Misty and I finally got together. I feel like I've waited too long already.

It was also amazing what we did that night. After tying Brock up for a little revenge of our own, we went off in the dark that night, and shared a bath in the river under the moonlight. It was romantic, but also fun. Maybe I didn't think that the two ever met, guess I was wrong! We shared a kiss, and came back to camp talking about how life had changed, and now I wouldn't change it for the world!" *Ash and Misty sharing a bath together? I think a few people around here would like to know this! But then again, Ash would find out it was me and know there is only one way I could've found out….he'd have me court-marshalled for that.* She sighed. *Why is good gossip always traceable?*

"There is one thing, I can't help feeling some guilt. Misty thinks that she knows me inside out, but there is one thing I still can't tell her. But how can you say to someone…." Pikachu's reading came to an abrupt halt as noises signified the approach of the rest of the group. She hurriedly stuffed the diary back into his bag, and ran back over to the fire, vowing to finish reading the entry sometime soon. *I was so close to knowing something then, damn!* The trio who had set out minutes earlier crashed through the final shrubs, Brock carrying a limp-looking Ash, and set themselves down by the fire. Pikachu gave a faint "Pika!" at Ash's cut chest and arms, and ran over to nuzzle him. Chikorita sat on his other side, rubbing his ribs. Pikachu looked up and saw Brock studying Ash's face with some concern, and Misty….Misty seemed to be caught in a crossfire. Fear for Ash's safety, despair for his sadness, and a lot of anger. Anger for being so stubborn, unwilling to let her in on his secrets. *If I know Misty, there's only one outcome. We'd better get to her before she goes bang at Ash, or any of us.* She looked back at Brock, who seemed better balanced to answer her question, and said "What's happened?"

"Erm, Ash has a few things on his mind, and he says he cuts himself to let the pressure out, or something bizzare like that." Brock, slightly cynical, was unable to keep the doubt out of his voice. However, it did work in one way.

"You have no idea! How can you say that! It helps, else you might find me swinging from a tree by daylight!" Ash screamed, fingers digging into his palms. Brock took a hasty step back, unnerved by the pure hostility which eminated.

"Ash! Don't scream like that! Brock didn't do anything to you!" Misty retorted, feeling her pent up frustration begin to boil for the first time in weeks.

"Didn't he? You think I do this for fun?!" Ash gestured to his arms. "I do this to let out my frustrations, my guilt, and It feels like I'm being ridiculed! Well if you think I'm weird or that I'm being stupid, fine! I didn't ask you to find out!"

"We needed to find out! You could have really hurt yourself!" Ash's head drooped.

"I knew you wouldn't understand. That's the point, you see?"

"What's the point?" Misty's wave of temper suddenly broke at the change of Ash's words, and she looked on in confusion.

"The point is – is that this pain, this suffering I can control." Ash's eyes closed as everyone else's opened wide.

("What do you mean this suffering?") Pikachu probed.

"….It's a distraction."

("A distraction from what?") Chikorita asked, red eyes showing confusion.

"From my other pain."

"What? Are you ill?" Brock asked in concern.




"Is it what's worrying you?" Misty reached out and stroked Ash's cheek, trying to evoke an answer.

"….Yes." Ash's eyes still lay closed.

"Something that hurts you more than physical pain?!"


"Is it to do with your mother?" Misty turned her attentions to his bedraggled hair.


"What?" Ash's eyes slowly opened, filled with water.

"I-I can't say Mist."

"What is so bad that you can't tell me?" Misty caressed his face, trying to ease the truth from him.

"If you knew….you wouldn't be able to say either." Ash felt his resolve creaking under the pressure, but vowed to himself that if it broke he'd not give them anything to learn from.

"But Ash – Why?"

"Please, don't ask. I don't even know what to do myself, so please just let it be…." Sensing his need, Misty leaned forward and took him in her arms.

"C'mon Ash. I'll wait, just calm down. Please?" Ash nodded, shedding silent tears into her shoulder. *I feel like I'm five again, just sitting here sobbing into someone's arms. But it'll never be the same, since those arms will never be able to greet me again.* he pulled away, trying to control his emotions. He looked around at evryone who was watching him, at Pikachu whose dark eyes gazed at him with deep concern, Cindaquill watching silent by the fire, at Brock, still stood back but with worry written on his face, Chikorita, her eyes glazed with tears, and finally at Misty, who seemed to be willing him to tell her his secret by just being with him. He took a deep, shuddering breath, and nodded his assent. Gradually, Pikachu and Brock moved back to their sleeping places, Cindaquill extinguishing her flames and walking to near Brocks bag, and after gaining his permission, climbing into it. Chikorita and Misty didn't move an inch, just sat by Ash and stared at the fire until it fell to glowing embers, when they fell asleep still leaning on him. Ash just sat, thinking. Of the future, and the past, and their terrible link….

"The next pokemon centre is up ahead!" Brock shouted to the rest of the group. Mid-afternoon, and they were starting to be affected by the events of the past night. Misty's feet dragged, her eyes cast downwards. Chikorita seemed to be walking out of pure determination, and Pikachu took advantage of the opportunity to sleep on Ash's shoulder. Ash himself, well, Brock had seen dodgy films with zombies in them, but after seeing him walking all day, he'd decided that maybe they weren't so ridiculous after all. The news of an upcoming pokemon centre didn't even change his expression. *He'd probably walk 'til he drops. Tonight though, he isn't getting any time to himself. I don't want him waking up and dragging a pin across his arm again.* Unbeknownst to him, Ash was hatching a plan, involving a past face, who perhaps felt she owed him a favour. *Maybe she can help me. She should be able to do it, and if she can't her pokemon can. I need to contact her sometime tonight, well, with the dreams I've been having, it's not exactly likely I'll have trouble waking up.* The doors of the pokemon centre whirred open, ushering them inside. They walked into the cool pink-floored room, and wandered over to the desk, behind which a nurse Joy sat talking to a trainer. An all too familiar trainer. As Misty drew her mallet and totalled Brock before he could even make a move towards Joy, the young man in the blue top slowly turned around, and flashed them a smile.

"Thought I'd heard you come in. Mind you, I probably could've heard you from a mile away." Misty hefted her mallet once again, Ash's story of his past with Gary still echoing fresh in her mind, while Chikorita's eyes narrowed. Gary, however, first looked over Ash, noting his hanging head, arms limp by his sides, only standing by willpower, and a hint of concern entered his mind.

"Hey Ash, still working at becoming the biggest loser Pallet has ever created?" Misty and Chikorita both growled, but Ash seemed oblivious. Gary blinked slowly as what had just happened passed through his mind. *I gave him a taunt which would otherwise have him screaming his head off at me, but he didn't seem to hear at all!* "Hey, Ash, you hearing me?" He asked with a loss of his usual scathing tone, and walked over to pat him on the shoulder. Concern turned to perplexion as Ash flinched. *It wasn't trying to evade me, it seemed more like, like that hurt.* he turned to Misty, who was still scowling at him. "What's the matter with Ashy boy?"

"Why should you care?" She growled back at him.

"Geez, just being friendly, that's all!"

"What, like before you rejected him as a loser?!" Misty hissed back, filled with venom.

"Wha?" Gary stumbled, taken aback.

"I know what you did! Did to him!" Misty seethed, pacing towards him, predator-like.

"CHI-KA!" ("Dead right!") Chikorita added with vehemence.

"What I did? I didn't…"

"He's been haunted by you for years, just because you resented him!"

"Resented? Ash? Why should I?"

"Resented his success, just because you were too lazy to work, slave like he did!"

"Um, Misty, what are you talking about?" Gary uttered, back to the Pokecentre wall.

"I'm talking about when you slagged Ash off, then had the cheek to hit him and blame your faliure on his luck!" Misty yelled, face inches from Gary's, fist waving beneath his chin.

"Oh, oh that…." Gary's eyes swivelled to Ash. "He told you that?"

"It's what's been tormenting him for years!"

"Uh, maybe it's done something, but I wouldn't say that's all that he's been scarred by." Gary saw Ash's head come up, eyes wide, face pale.

"What? What do you know?!" Misty pressed up against him, aqua eyes burning.

"Chik-ka, chiko-rrrita!" ("Yeah, tell us now!")



"Misty! Chikorita! That's enough!!" Ash screamed, the first sound he'd made for hours. Misty backed away, and shot a glance at Ash, before turning white in shock. Chikorita's head drooped as she saw his expression, and she backed away. "I'm sorry Gary, but I had to tell Misty this, it explains…a lot of things." Ash said, walking over to him and patting his arm. Dropping his voice, he moved close to his ear, and whispered. Gary frowned, but then agreed.

"What? What are you telling him?!" Misty felt the flames of anger raise again, but only to be quenched by the burning tower of ice in Ash's eyes.

"Misty, Chikorita, how low can you go? I know not knowing something can itch, but I hoped you'd respect it. But you stoop to threatening people I know to get the answers! How can you do that? Don't you have the courtesy to me and Gary to not go behind our backs about something like this! I'm really angry, no, disgusted that you'd do such a thing! What next, bribery? Blackmail, tapping into phone conversations? Do you want my life to be a completely open book for you to read at your leisure and shut when there's nothing interesting being written? I'm sorry, but that can't and won't happen! Can't you both just LET IT BE!!" The entire centre echoed with his last words as several other people and pokemon looked on in shock at the scene. Misty and Ash locked eyes, and stared at each other, each too stubborn to back down without a fight. But the burning rage in Ash's face won, and Misty dropped her gaze. "Misty, you know that when I'm ready, you will be the very first to know. But I'm disappointed. I can't be angry at you for long, but remember what I said." At that, Ash walked back to Gary.

"Ash, um, what's the problem?" He asked, brushing stray hairs from his face.

"Could we go somewhere quieter?" they went over to a pair of chairs in the corner, and sat down. Misty and Chikorita gaped at each other, and then at the quiet pairing. Well, the briefly quiet pairing.

"WHAT! When? Oh no, Ash, this can't have happened! Not AGAIN!" Gary jumped up from the seat, face frozen in shock, as for the second time the entire centre stopped dead. Ash looked up at him, with red-rimmed eyes.

"Well think what I'm feeling right now."

"Yeah, oh jeez I'm sorry man! It sickens me…." Misty strained to hear any more of the conversation, but the conversation had dropped to a murmur, punctuated only by an occasional deep breath from Ash, or a gasp. I looked down at Chikorita, while she looked back up at me.

"Get a room?"

("Yeah, let's go for it.") The two of us walked over to the desk to check in, while Brock still watched joy-faced birds orbit his head.

Why would he tell Gary? Not me? Whatever it is, he thinks he can tell him before me. That makes me so….pissed off? Upset? Maybe both. I stare at my reflection, red hair around my shoulders in the way Ash told me it looks best, but tangled and messy. A little like myself with Ash today. Well, maybe it was a little snide trying to wring it out of Gary, but I didn't even realise I was doing it, I was so furious with him. I sigh, taking off my top and shorts. I mean, what is so terrible that he can't tell me? God, I feel like I've asked myself nothing else for the last day or so! I move into the bathroom, take off my underwear, and step into the shower. Ah, the water never fails to cool me off, relax me. This is heaven, almost as good as the first night Ash and me took a bath in the river, the night after we'd admitted our shared desires. I reach for the shampoo, work it into my hair, creating a rich lather. Maybe it wasn't so hot, and I didn't have soap, but I'd felt cleaner than ever before. I remember realising the way that night, and that act showed me the trust we share, the bond linking us, how we were both naked to each other in mind as well as body. But now, now there's something in the way? Was all he said and done a lie? I turn, and wash the lather from my hair. No. that isn't Ash, he always fulfulls his promises, and doesn't lie unless he really must. But again, that asks the question as to what is so bad he needs to conceal it? I shut off the water, and wrap myself in towels. It's something from back before his journey. Something from his distant past which Gary already knows. But how does that relate to his mother? Oh, I give up! I sit down on the end of the bed, and begin the rather lengthy process of drying my long hair. Chikorita hops up beside me, lassoes a towel, and starts giving me a hand, no, a vine.

"Chikorita, do you ever feel like a growlithe chasing its' tail?" Chikorita think for a moment before the proverb catches.

("I do right now. You feel like that too?")

"Yeah." I start work on the top of my head, while Chikorita wrings out the water from the back.

("I do know one thing, and that is that Ash wouldn't deceive us. It must be something we would never know if it hadn't come up.") She stated matter-of- factly, delicately using the leaf atop her head to cut off a few split ends.

"You're right. But it is grating at me. I suppose we should let him tell us in his own time and way."

("I think it's the only thing we can do…But Ash's cutting is something I don't yet understand.") She continued, worry pawing at her.

"Neither do I. Self-mutilation *heh, looked it up in a pokemon psychology book* is said to be a way of proving control, but I don't really see why."

("Maybe you need to be in his position to find out.") Chikorita reasoned.

"Yeah, maybe. I just wish he could explain…"

I wish I could explain, really, why I do this. What I said last night means something, but it doesn't tell the whole story. Perhaps if I could put it all into words, and write a poem or a song or a letter expressing it, maybe I wouldn't need to. There's a difference from before, an element of self- revulsion, never present on the rare occasions before when I did this. I drag the safety pin across my chest again, letting my neuroses flow through the medium of blood. It feels good, as if I can express myself physically rather than emotionally. I don't attack people, well I try my very best not to, and I try to not take it out verbally at anyone, human or pokemon. Besides, I don't want their pity. I'm not worth it. A stain like me shouldn't be treated in such a way. I dig the pin in a little deeper, enough to tear the skin a little more. The blood flows more freely, the pain bites a little more, but I don't care, it detracts from the pain within. I turn the shower I stand in on, and scrape myself a little more, allowing the evidence to drain away. This is self-control. Being able to control what happens to you, not letting the finger of fate define you. Fate dealt from the bottom of the pack when she handed out my cards. But at least I can show her this two fingered salute, locked in the bathroom, she can't interfere. I jump as a banging rebounds around the room.

"Ash, c'mon! You've been in there for a while, it's time you came out!" Brock's voice permeates my haze, brings the world into sharp focus. I smile bitterly, and send fate a mental curse. I guess I was wrong about her being unable to interfere.

"Uh, okay, gimmie a minute!" I hurriedly dry myself off and put tissue on my wounds, then slip into my pyjamas. I give off a smile as I open the door, a smile which he frowns straight through. He moves slowly into the room, like an executioner preparing the axe. He prods around the shower, then turns and looks at the peach towels, peach stained with red streaks. Am I an idiot or what? So much for concealing the evidence. He turns back to me, and glares.

"Off with the top." Knowing the futility of argument, I slip it off. He gasps at the criss-cross of red scratches, and then his eyes fix on a particularly deep gash running along my upper arm. "This needs treatment, come with me." I follow him meekly until he stops, and opens a box, containing bandages, antiseptic cream, plasters….I slowly back off, until I stand with my back to the door. Brock finds something, gets up holding a bottle, and looks confused at my actions. "Come here Ash, unless I treat it it'll never heal properly!"

"I-I don't want it to." I shake my head frantically, damp hair obscuring my vision, fists unknowingly clenching.

"Don't want it to?"

"No. I want it to stay there, marking my body 'til I die."

"Why do you say these terrible things?" He looks at me as if I'm crazy.

"It'll mark me for what I am."

"What you are?" the bottle hangs in his hand, forgotten.

"Yes, a scar myself."

"A…scar? Ash, are you crazy?" There. He's said it, what I've seen from his manner for the last day, he thinks I'm a headcase.

"No, I'm not crazy. I'm a scar from the past, a scar which has been re- opened." I clasp my arm, covering the deep gash. "It's no more than I deserve." Brock backs away now, and I inwardly smirk at his obvious confusion. He doesn't get it, well, I guess he shouldn't. I just want to be left alone, and if the only way is by scaring off a good friend for a while, so be it. He puts the stuff away, brushes past me without a word, and opens the door, leaving the room. I sigh, and rest my back against the door, sliding slowly down it. I'm alone at last, for a short while at least.

Dark, I can hear her scream again, she's trying to escape, but no. She trips and falls, and I can see my face, my face a scar on her heart….

I awake, as last night, sweat streaming into my eyes. Getting used to the dark, I look around. Everyone is breathing silently, except Gary, who snores. It was my idea to share the room with him, at least someone I can share this with, but now it's time. I've already written a note to explain what I'm doing so they won't think I've gone and jumped off a cliff, and they know how to get there fairly soon. But I can't wait any longer. Half past five, she might be up, I think the sun rises earlier in Indigo. I cautiously open and close the door, and tiptoe to the nearest videophone. I diall the number, and after a dozen rings, she appears in the picture, rubbing sleep out of her eyes, black hair a mess.

"Hello, who is it calling at this godforsaken hour?"

"Uh, sorry about this, but it's Ash Ketchum."


Hope you like it so far, don't forget to R&R! I'm already working away at part 2, which should be ready in the next few weeks. See you soon!