I was looking much better. Better than I had been for ages. And there wasn't much to be responsible for me being this good.
It was all because of May.
Even back in my own world, I knew she was nice, but we didn't get along as well as we had these past few days. She became another person I could call a friend in this world.
Misty had her own life – I had to accept that, no matter how much it pained me to. She was one of my best friends, but I had no right to come in out of nowhere and force a relationship forged from unshared memories. That's how it was, and it wasn't going to change anytime soon.
I looked into Brock as much as I could. He was accomplished and was on his way up in the world, without me. His family life might still be the same, and that was another thing holding me back from trying anything. They would need him far more than I would.
Now that I couldn't count those two, up to this point, I had a handful of bonds here in this existence.
Mom, of course.
Professor Oak. He's been of great help and support, for both me and Mom.
Gary. He was my friend and always will be, even if he was a jerk.
And now May. She had barely spoken to Mom a couple of times before developing her own concern for me. It was really reassuring.
"You can pick any one of the three pokéballs here, Ash. I'm confident you'd do well with any pokémon by your side."
Outside my house, Professor Oak and Mom were the last two – the only two – to see me off. Gary, his female 'posse' and May would get here shortly.
I explained to Mom as best I could about my plan, but she was still anxious. I assured her that I would be back within the week.
Then came a knock on our door. Professor Oak came to bid farewell. And he didn't come alone. He came with a suitcase and an offer. A very enticing offer.
He let me choose whether to pick a starter pokémon right then and there. The Professor explained that his newly grown trio were fit and ready for the world. In light of my situation, and from the eagerness I had shown a few weeks ago, he decided I was a good candidate.
This was a chance to start over – start fresh. Completely new, untapped potential laid before me.
But I couldn't help but think of something. This one particular thought kept me from even considering picking a pokémon.
My fist shook before I calmed myself.
"Sorry, Professor. I'm just not up for it. Not right now." I masked my grief.
I had to decline. It may have been cynicism, but it just didn't really feel right. Not yet, at least. It probably never will.
Professor Oak tried to hide the pain in his own expression. I knew exactly what he was thinking though.
"If that's really what you want, Ash, I'll respect your decision." He set down the briefcase and walked toward me. He held out a hand. "Take care in Saffron. And look out for my grandkids. They'll be a handful," he chuckled.
I looked down, solemnly remembering what I was told the day after I was taken back to the hospital after the… incident I caused for myself and Mom.
They told me that on the day of the thunderstorm accident, Professor Oak was the one that found me by the road. And the next day, he told me personally about what he had found and what he didn't.
Professor Oak found me lying by a tree on the side of the road. Everything I had on me was fine aside from some scorch marks.
But he didn't find Pikachu, or anything that could tell where he was either. He looked nearly as disheartened as I was when he told me that.
Before I let myself look rude, I shook the professor's hand. That conversation was done with, and I didn't want to feel any worse.
"Thank you for everything, Professor. I can't repay you enough."
"It's alright, my boy." We let go. "Take care now."
I stepped aside and gave Mom one final hug.
"Promise me you'll be alright," she said, squeezing my shoulders.
"Of course, Mom. I promise I'll be fine… You promise too."
Cars really were useful. Even though they're not used much and are pretty expensive, I wouldn't mind getting one if it meant a week of walking could turn into a few hours. Not that I still didn't mind travelling on foot.
"Whoa, look at those doduo!"
"Oh! Up there, those butterfree! So beautiful!"
Before May could continue her sight-seeing and provoke Gary to respond with another confirmation of having caught the aforementioned seen sight, I noticed something.
"Wait. What's…" I shadowed my eyes. May tried to spy it, but Gary was still sitting back coolly. "Above those trees over there, it's leaving a trail of blue… glitter? Is that… Articuno?"
As soon as May shut her mouth after turning to the side, planning to humour me, her abrupt silence caused Gary and the driver both to react to her reaction. Everyone in the sporty red convertible couldn't help but dart their eyes to where I was pointing.
And lo and behold! With a long blue piece of shiny plastic or something in its talons, a pidgey could be seen flying above the trees in the distance in all its majestic beauty.
May and Gary gave me snarky looks.
"Are pidgey really that hard to catch, Gary? Wow, I'd better watch out."
"Yeah, you should watch out. I've heard Articuno drops ice chunks on unsuspecting morons every year. You'd best hope you don't meet one."
"I'll try to watch out for 'em when I'm around you then."
I could hear his growl. "Implying that I'm a moron?"
"A few feathers short of a pidgey, yeah."
A pause went by before he replied.
"Where… do you get these – the comebacks?" He turned back to face me in the seat behind him. "I mean, they're not great, but better than anything I thought you'd ever be able to come up with. I don't remember you being so… smart-mouthed," was the word he decided on, even though he probably could've gone for something else.
"You only have yourself to blame for hearing them."
May cracked an awkward grin and a… snort? Huh. Gary struggled and grunted for a retort, but sighed and turned back crossly.
"What I get for letting you travel with me…" I heard him grumble.
"We're not going there just for you, you know," May said, trying to sweeten Gary's sourness.
"Yeah, yeah." It didn't help much. "After my battle, Ash can have his little therapy sessio- Argh!"
May flicked her brother in the back of the head. Gary realised why she had done that, and tried to keep his eyes away from my general direction, dampening his own mood.
May turned to me to see if she succeeded in sparing my feelings.
"It's alright. I am basically going there for one." I tried to put them at ease.
May smiled sadly and I saw Gary's shoulders relax.
There was no way I could blame them for acting like that. I had told them before that I was okay with it, but they still don't completely believe me – not after how touchy I was about the subject a while ago.
Me and May talked it over before I decided on coming here with Gary.
It's easy to understand the denial someone might have against any sort of psychiatric therapy. You could feel yourself being degraded by it. Imagine someone you have no relation with, attempting to get to know you on a personal level, just to dissect your mind for a cause of some mental pain they have no idea of or have no real concern for – and being paid to do it! Anyone with a sense of pride would feel exposed or feel like they're being betrayed in that kind of situation! It would be the most humanly debasing circumstance to have to endure!
And May… She wanted to get me through that mental blockade.
She explained to me that they'd invest their time and energy just as much as I would – of course they wanna help. She said I'm not weak for asking, but I am weak for not trying everything I can and not accepting someone's practiced generosity.
Her words echoed in my mind.
"Just because someone else gets involved, doesn't mean you're taking a step backward."
May promised me that the person she was taking me to meet in Saffron wouldn't give me any of those woes. She promised I would come out of this feeling better. That was all she wanted to do – help me feel better.
"I spy somethi-i-ing… light green."
Both May and Gary turned to me with… I dunno what you'd call those looks.
Dusk had made its way into the day by the time the car came to its stop.
Shoes landing and back straightening, Gary looked before him at his next challenge.
The Cerulean Gym wasn't the same as I remembered it, but this gym was. From a birds'-eye view, it'd sort of look like a big clam. From in front, it looked like a… an abstract circus tent, I guess. It was still familiar to my eyes though. Not much different.
The car that had been following us since Pallet containing Gary's cheerleaders pulled up behind us and they poured out, cheering now that they were finally reunited with their trailblazing pokémon trainer.
"Well, time to shine," Gary said, rolling his shoulders. "Thanks for the tips, sis. And Ashy-boy…" He smirked. "You'd best get in there and watch how a real pokémon trainer gets it done."
With that, he walked for the entrance, followed closely by his merry women.
The drivers of both cars excused themselves for a chat in the other car, leaving only May and I left.
"Give 'em a minute," May replied. "He does this hammy introduction thing. The gym leader's not one to get too dramatic, but she'd probably play a little of her part as well."
"She gets all mystical and spirit-y the first time you challenge her, like," she continued in an ominous voice, "'I have foreseen your arrival, challenger', or something. She doesn't gloat, but you could swear she was doing it all for a camera somewhere." She laughed.
I gave a laugh too. 'Mystical', huh?
"But is she really… psychic?" In this world?
"Yep, she is. One time, when I asked her, she lifted a cup of tea into the air, right in front of my eyes. Not as spooky as I thought it'd be, to be honest."
"Oh, I actually asked about that once. She said she doesn't have full control over it, but she's done it on occasion." She raised her head – something must've just clicked. "You want her to…"
"Well, I was thinking about it. If she can, it'd probably help a lot, wouldn't it?"
"Mm. But are you sure you'd be ready for something like that? I mean, it might not be just a 'poke in, have a look, walk out' kinda thing. She might need the mind being read to be… stable or sound for however long or something."
"Believe it or not, I can compose myself pretty well. It's beneficial for trainers to be able to keep their emotions in check."
"Hmm?" she hummed mockingly, to which I took some offense to. She grinned. "What?"
I kept my glare for a moment longer, before hopping out of the car.
"He'd be done, wouldn't he?"
"Hopefully." She jumped out and we walked for the automatic doors of Saffron City's Gym.
Okay, now things were getting different. Again.
Last time I remembered, it was a yellow-coloured interior with a bunch of long hallways – kinda reminded me of a big beehive actually. But in here, just like Cerulean, things looked way more practical. It was a completely normal lobby. A reception desk, some table sets to the side of the room, a vending machine – nothing was too out-of-place.
No one was in the lobby to greet us, and we could hear the sounds of battle coming from a hallway to the right. Walking ourselves in, we continued on and stopped at some huge double doors which no doubt lead to the battle arena.
"Let's see if he's all he's cracked himself up to be," May joked.
I smirked and obliged to push open the door.
The first thing I saw was a bolt of electricity. And the first thing I felt was intense pain shoot through my skull.
My head flew back from the hit of the electric shock as if I had been shot.
I couldn't hear anything but a dim ringing. Everything was beginning to blur out of vision. I began to feel nothing from my neck down.
I barely sensed falling forward onto my stomach, giving me a chance to move my face to the side. My teeth were tightly clenched from the intense strain on my body's nerves.
I faintly heard my name being screamed. Another spark flew across my body as soon as someone touched me.
I felt myself being moved onto my back, not by hands, but by some sort of gravity.
I was starting to completely fade out into unconsciousness. I was completely numb and unaware of whatever would happen to me next as I stared straight up.
The last thing I saw was a pair of red eyes staring back at me.
Before I completely lost consciousness, I was able to strain a few last words out.
"D-Don't… t-tell… M-Mom..."
"Why... Why are you helping me?"
"Well, for one thing, you saved my pikachu. That's a good reason."
"The only one?"
"Do you always need a reason to help somebody?"
"Perhaps you are unique... A unique human... One of a kind."
"You're one of a kind too. Everybody is."
"Heh... I do not know what I am. And soon... it may not matter."
The first thing I felt waking up was a jolt of pain run through my head before a throbbing sensation took over.
My hands were free, which let me press against my forehead to help lessen the aching. It started to ease up thankfully.
I finally opened my eyes and was greeted by a plain-looking room, with orange-yellow walls. I was in a bed, above the covers.
As soon as the question of why I was here entered my mind, I remembered. An electric attack hit me. It was numbingly painful. I lost consciousness right next to May.
Wait… Where is she? Where is anyone?
I was about to get off the bed until the door swung open.
In stepped the leader of Saffron Gym, Sabrina. She looked more or less the same – dark-green hair and pale skin, but her outfit was a lot more casual than the red one I first saw her with. A dress shirt and pants weren't really befitting of a psychic-type gym leader with a reputation like hers. But she wasn't battling right now. It could just be a showmanship thing.
All in all, she seemed a lot more normal and a lot more approachable than when I first met her.
"How are you feeling?" she asked.
I rubbed my head.
"Uhh… A lot better than a while ago, actually."
"Good. Now get out."
Did… Did she just-
"Leave my gym. Now."
I was caught completely off-guard by that.
"Wait. I came with my friends for a reason."
"Yes, and now I am telling you to leave."
That question got her agitated for some reason. She glared daggers at me.
"I am telling you to leave."
"And I'm asking you why."
Her upper lip curled.
"Just as stubborn as I had thought," she spoke under her breath, clearly enough for me to hear. "I am letting you leave without any problem. That is what you want, is it not?"
I glared back at her.
"Listen. I came here to ask-"
"For my help, yes – May already spoke with me. She told me she helped persuade you to come here. I know all about the request." She held her arms in front of herself. "But she does not understand your entire situation now, does she? Because she is kind enough to let you keep your privacy, yet still chooses to help. She suggested you come see me, correct?"
I held my ground and nodded slowly.
"I have known May for a long time. I care for her, and I care for what she cares for as well. But what I do not care for is someone who is too cowardly and pathetic to see when their friend is pouring their heart out to help them, yet insists on continuing to lie to their friend's face."
She took a step forward.
"She told me you had need of my counsel…"
Another step closer.
"I would have obliged for a friend of my friend…"
"I would have done my best to help you through your troubles…"
She finally stood over me.
"I took a small peek into your mind while you were unconscious. Invasive, yes, but I was planning on giving you a considerate amount of time to help consult your affairs. It did not seem too unreasonable to try and understand you a bit better beforehand. But now… I am glad that I did look. Because now I can prevent us from wasting our time," she finished resentfully.
We stood before each other – her glaring down at me, and me glaring from under my hair at her. I refused to raise my head up, but our eyes were still locked.
"Hm… You are unexpectedly tenacious. You react as a person at least twice your age would." She furrowed, tensing her fingers. "But I am not helping someone like you. May told me you seemed enthusiastic about meeting me, but I see now that you were just indulging her good will."
She leant closer. We were now scowling at each other face-to-face.
She continued in a hushed, icy voice.
"I saw the forefront of your thoughts, and they disgusted me. You were never persuaded by May's words. You simply wanted her to stop worrying over you."
I noticed the sudden, slow flickering of the room's lights, but we did not break our gaze. The flickering quickened with every second she spoke.
"You could tell she was the kind of person who would not give up on her friend, which is why you went to such lengths... But what you do not seem to realise is that she is the kind of person who would not give up on her friend!"
The lights stopped after her yell, and slowly returned to normal.
I finally broke our stare down, looking away from her.
"Although I did not delve deeper into your mind to ascertain exactly why you are so troubled, I do know one thing… Continue lying to others and to yourself like this, and you will not get any further in your journey."
She rose back up and finished.
"Now get out."
My fists were balled beside me. My arms were shaking, but I kept the rest of my body under control. I lowered my unstable breaths back to normal as best I could.
I walked by her without a sound to the door that had been psychically swung open by her words.
Before I left though, I stopped.
"You know something?"
She turned her head. I turned to her as well.
"I actually did think of you as one of the more promising people I could find." I turned back. "Your powers could've been the key I've been searching for. I thought of you as reliable, more so than most I could contact. And that was before May spoke to me about you." I paused. No reaction from her. Sigh. "Even before all this happened… I had some faith in you."
She continued looking at me, unchanged, before turning back around.
"You are unexpectedly good at feigning emotion as well."
My body didn't react instantly. But that was the hardest I've ever slammed a door.
Have you ever at some point felt like you were worth nothing to anyone?
It's not a good feeling.
I would have called it 'angst', but I wasn't supposed to have anything to feel anxious about. I stayed true to what I believed – throughout all this.
Sabrina was absolutely right. I still hadn't given May enough reliance to let her lead me anywhere she might've thought would help me find answers. She didn't understand, but I didn't want her to understand. I didn't even want to try to let her understand. I kept saying to myself that it would be a fruitless endeavor, that getting her to empathise with the fact that I thought I had crossed over two different realities and had been turned back into a ten-year-old would lead me nowhere. I kept thinking it would all be pointless.
Why did I still feel so empty?
Was it because of May, and how she had cared so much for my sake that it makes me feel guilty? As simple as it sounded, I don't think it could all be pinned on just that. It felt like it had to be something more. It felt heavier, deeper.
I felt frustrated at how Sabrina described me, but it was all true. I was disappointed by the time I had wasted coming here. I felt disgusted with myself for trying to deceive May, Gary and Mom with all this. I was worried because I began feeling powerless again.
Just like that time I had awoken, ran away from the hospital and ended up in the rain.
I stared at my shaking hand. A hand that had nothing in it, and nothing to hold on to. I had nothing to show for the time I've spent trying to find even a clue to my past, future, whatever it is I'm trying to find!
I hated this feeling most of all. The feeling of complete loss of action. Powerlessness.
I balled my hand into a fist and I was that close to letting loose a punch against the wall. Luckily I caught myself before I went through with it. I lowered my arm and let out a defeated breath.
I looked back at the door down the hall I had exited after being driven into the ground by all my mistakes. But after a moment, I turned back and walked away, dropping the thought of going back.
It wasn't worth it. And neither was I.
Just as I saw the entrance, the doors slid open.
In walked May, looking composed, but frantic in her steps. She stopped when she saw me, and that's when I caught a glimpse of her hand.
I remember being hit by that electric shock. And I felt someone touch me when I was on the ground losing consciousness.
Her hand was bandaged. She was hurt. And it was my fault…
At that moment, I realised why I felt so depressed about seeing her.
It was fear. Fear that I would lose something important.
I couldn't get over how selfless she was – how she went this far for me, despite me not letting her know anything further than my disposition. I was afraid that after this, I would go back to being helpless again, having nowhere practical or useful left to look – the same state I was in before I met with May.
I didn't want to admit it to myself at that time, but I was at a complete loss of what to do. I may have tried to tell myself there were still places to go and people to see, but that was far from the truth. Nothing was close enough, and there was no one reachable left. I didn't know anymore phone numbers to call, and travelling to another region on the slim chance that I could meet up with someone who might not even know me back would more than likely end up being a waste of time.
But this was the last good chance I had left. Going through with this – this right here – had the highest probability of accomplishing something and the least potential for unnecessary complications. I wasn't going to let it slip by.
May noticed me looking at her hand. She pulled it behind her, once again trying to spare my feelings.
We stood there in an awkward silence. The moment she opened her mouth, I had made a decision on what I wanted to do next.
"May… I'll tell you. Everything."