Chapter 11: おひさまと おつきさま かわりばんこに かおだして (The Lady Sun and the Lord Moon are always changing faces.)

It started out like an ordinary day... We'd managed to foil a team rocket attack, meet some new pokemon, and somewhere along the way, Oshawott trapped me under a box. I was trying to explain this to Ash, who just kept laughing at my tirade. "Hang on, slow down!" he chuckled, "I can't understand you!"

I did my best, but it felt like the slower I talked, the less Ash understood me. "What do you mean, you want to lock Oshawott in a box?" No, no, no I said, even slower than before, but it didn't help in the slightest. "You're going to trap me in a box?" Was he misunderstanding me on purpose?

Now, Ash was backing away from me slowly. "I don't understand you, it doesn't make sense... Why would you want to hurt me?"

"I don't!" I tried to say, but now Ash was terrified, cowering in the corner.

"Stop, please!" Stop what? "No more Thunderbolts, no more!" I wasn't attacking him!

Or was I? Ash was writhing in pain, yellow lights flashing around his body, and I couldn't be...

No, no, it wasn't me, I would never do this! I didn't want to do this, didn't even feel the electricity flowing out of my body, but I could see with my eyes as well as Ash could, and it was unquestionably my attacks. "Who are you?" Ash cried out, and I tried to answer, but the charge increased and Ash just closed his eyes and screamed.

"No, stay away!" I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and saw that I had evolved into a Raichu with fangs.

"PIKA!" I awoke with a start, Sparky and Silver's Chikorita standing over me. Sunlight streamed in through the window and I took a deep breath. Just a dream... I was in the other nightmare, now.

"Good morning," Sparky greeted, "They're serving breakfast in the kitchen, you coming?" I stretched and nodded, my mood uplifted by the thought of food. With Brock, Cilan and Delia all in the house, the fare promised to be good.

I heard a familiar sobbing coming from upstairs, and shuddered when I heard the sound of something large hitting the wall. "How long has he been awake?" Sparky stared up at the ceiling, transfixed, so it was left to Chikorita to answer.

"About two hours, I think. He hasn't left his room yet." How ironic; last night, we couldn't get Ash to stay in it. Everything had changed, he complained, he couldn't find his things. His mother had managed to put a positive spin on the situation, and Ash eventually was taken over by a curious spirit of exploration, but I should have known it couldn't last forever.

Silver and Ritchie were already polishing off stacks of pancakes when I entered the kitchen. "Good morning," they both called out cheerily, and Chikorita and Sparky jumped on their respective trainer's shoulders. I suddenly felt very alone.

"You're just in time, Pikachu," Brock broke me out of my thoughts, "A full course breakfast, coming your way!" Within seconds, a plate of pancakes and a bowl of cut fruit obscured my vision, and I started attacking them to fill the emotional void.

"Are you really leaving, then?" Ritchie said to Silver, who nodded ruefully.

"A man's gotta make a living," he said, and Ritchie just snorted.

"And here I thought you were just a freeloader." Silver flicked some juice at him.

"Mind your elders, half-pint. I can't stay forever. Are you gonna fly back with me?"

"Actually," Ritchie looked hesitantly at Brock and Cilan, "I thought I'd stick around for a few more days, if that's okay with Mrs. Ketchum. I haven't seen Ash for awhile, and, well..." he hid his face behind a fork-full of pancake. "Maybe I could help out a bit... you know, if they have room for me..." Cilan beamed.

"I'm sure she wouldn't mind at all," he said happily, "And I, for one, would be more than grateful to have an extra hand to stir the soup."

Brock agreed. "Yeah, Ash can really tire you out sometimes." As if on cue, another angry scream was heard from upstairs. I closed my eyes, trying not to think of what sort of day that boded for us.

Silver smiled and carried his dishes to the sink. "Well, if I don't have to wait around for you, then I think Salamance and I are going to take off. Hopefully we can make it to Shamuti before noon."

"Be sure to say goodbye to Mrs Ketchum."

"Do you think I just eat and run?" Silver snapped, and Ritchie's face said that's exactly what he thought. "You're just a little smart-alack, aren't you?"

"Look at who my role models are."

"Role model, nothing! My kid's not allowed to grow up into me and neither are you, got that?" Ritchie just laughed while the grizzled man grumbled up the stairs.

His mood dropped shortly after. "Grow up..." he muttered, poking at his food. "Is that ever going to happen...?"

"Don't start wishing to be older," Brock warned with a chuckle, "Responsibility is over-rated." I suddenly wondered what Brock had been like at Ash's age, before his parent's left him to take care of all his siblings. Was he energetic and counting down the days until he could leave on his journey? Did he have hopes and dreams of starting out as a trainer, making friends his own age, working his way up to becoming a breeder?

Nothing in Brock's future had turned out quite like he'd expected, and for awhile, he almost wasn't able to chase his dreams. "I mean for Ash," Ritchie clarified, "Do you think he'll ever be able to be a Trainer again?"

I hated him for saying that. It made it sound like Ash had somehow stopped being a Trainer. Even worse, it reminded me that I may have destroyed my best friend's dream.

Brock and Cilan looked at each other. "I guess we'll just have to see..."

"But it's not hopeless, right?" Ritchie pressed, ignoring the awkward looks. "I mean, he was able to battle yesterday."

"He also told his grass-type to use Flamethrower," Cilan pointed out.

"And then she did it!"

"Ash has some really good days, but he has bad days, too," Brock said with finality. "He's working as hard as he can, but it's going to take a long time for him to heal. And even then, it might not matter..." He turned to the sink full of dishes with furious vigor, and it fell to Cilan to answer Ritchie's silent questions.

"Even before the accident, Ash had a progressive disease." How kind, to call it a disease, as if I had no part to play. "His speech and memory are improving, so it looks like he's getting better, but he's actually getting worse. If the doctors can't treat that, then he won't be able to train for long."

Ritchie looked like May's Munchlax being told it couldn't have any more food. "But they're gonna try, right?"

"Of course." And if that failed...? "We'll just have to wait and see what happens." There was some noise in the living room as Silver left, and we all called out our goodbyes. After shutting the door, Delia came into the kitchen to wave from the window, followed by a very sullen and red-eyed Ash.

He straightened when he saw all of us. "G-g-g'dmorn'g how're you 'm fine..." he greeted, though he looked like he was going to be hit on the head for speaking up. One of those bad days, then.

Everyone chorused back their own greeting, and Cilan guided Ash to his place at the table. "You got up just in time. Did you say goodbye to Silver?"

"Yeah..." Ash muttered, stiffly sitting down. He looked terrible, and his eyes were darting all over the room, scanning every little difference.

"We're going to go to Professor Oak's lab to see your pokemon after breakfast," Ritchie said with an attempt at enthusiasm. "Are you excited?" Ash brightened up for exactly one second, and then his shifting gaze fell on me.

"AAHH!" He pushed back from the table, the jug of juice threatening to spill over. "No, no, no, no, no!" I started, more surprised than I really should have been. After yesterday, I had hoped that things would be better, but it seemed things were back to how they always were. Ash clenched his eyes shut and clamped his hands over his ears. "G'way, g'way, g'way!"

"Ash, it's just Pikachu," Ritchie tried, looking hopelessly out of his depth. Ash just shook his head and screamed louder.

"I think I'd better go," I mumbled to Sparky, pushing my fruit bowl towards him and moving to leave. But I was stopped by the stamping of Delia's foot.

"Ash Ketchum!" she chided sternly enough that Ash opened his eyes and stopped his ranting for a second. "Is this how we act at the breakfast table?" The look on Ash's face was almost comical.

"But..." he whined, still on the verge of tears, but his mother just crossed her arms.

"You're a Pokemon Trainer now, remember? And Pikachu is your Pokemon. So, he will stay and eat with the rest of the family." I didn't dare disobey her when she used that tone.

"Yeah, but..." Ash's eyes darted back and forth from her to me. "Read, read, r'member, but..." Our eyes locked for a second, and I found myself holding my breath. He said remember... Did he remember that he was my trainer? Did he remember that he'd read that in Bianca's book? Was he aware of who I was, and if so, what was holding him back? "Can't!" Ash declared, shutting his wide, brown eyes and banging his head against the table. Brock ran to grab his shoulders while Cilan pushed the plate and silverware out of his way. "Can't, can't, can't!"

"Ash, you're fine!" Brock shouted, but it was Delia's calm, yet firm voice that brought the boy back to reality.

"Ash, you are Pikachu's trainer, so this is his house, too," she told him, Ash continuously shaking his head. "Now, you can skip breakfast, or try to explain what's wrong, but you are most definitely not making him leave the table. Are we clear?" Ash had stopped thrashing his head around, but Brock still kept an iron grip on his shoulders while the boy sobbed. I chanced a look at Delia and realized that underneath her calm, motherly facade, she was just as terrified as the rest of us.

What I wouldn't give for one of us to have a clue what we were doing. "Are you ready to calm down and eat?" Delia asked, and Ash finally nodded, though tears were still pouring down his face. "And what should you say to Pikachu?"

The boy cringed, but he faced my general direction, eyes resolutely on the floor. "S-ss...ssssorry..." I wanted to tell him it was okay, but I was worried that might set him off again.

So I just nodded. "D-don't talk... don-ntalk t'me, k?" What? "Donnttt," he hiccuped, more tears pouring down his face while I could only sit there, helplessly. "Don't-t-talk t'me... jusss..." he looked over at his mother. "...pp-please... ...plsss jussss don'..."

I nodded again, slower this time. So much for that fleeting hope that he was finally accepting me. After a moment of awkward silence, breakfast resumed, and we all returned to our food. Ash set about trying to cut his pancakes, and seemed to be having difficulty. I tried to bring it to the attention of Delia, but she had turned around to talk to Mr. Mime.

"Mimey, would you mind getting some vegetables from the garden?"

"Mime, mime!" Ash's fork clattered to the floor, and Delia turned around.

He looked betrayed. "M-my, mm-mmy job," he stammered, staring at his mother with not-yet-dried tears on his face. "Used tttt... use't'be my job, my job..." Delia fumbled for words, not sure what to do and her earlier confidence wavering.

"Well, you always hated doing your chores, right?" she tried to reason. "Mr. Mime is just trying to be helpful." It seemed her explanation wasn't good enough, and Ash turned back to his food, shaking with emotion.

"Here, let me get that." Brock fetched Ash a new fork and cleared his old one from the floor. "Would you like some syrup, too? We have maple and blueberry." It wasn't enough to truly distract Ash, but the boy nodded, blinking back tears.

"B-bluebbbberry, please..." Brock served that up quickly, and Ash tried to go back to eating in silence, but his shaky arms knocked his glass of orange juice all over his pancakes. His breakfast a soggy mess, Ash had hit his breaking point, and he put his head in his hands and sobbed.

"Stupid, stupid, stupid!" Everyone rushed forward, stopping one step from Ash as we realized we had no idea what to do to make it better. "Can't, hate it, stupid, stupid, can't..."

It was Cilan who broke through the crowed, swinging a spare dishtowel with practiced ease. "Allow me," he said as he swooped in with grace, wiping up the mess and clearing away Ash's meal in the blink of an eye. Everything cleaned and restored, he knelt down by Ash's chair and offered a clean napkin to the boy, who took it and buried his face in it.

On one knee before Ash's chair, Cilan was the perfect picture of humility and servitude, the consummate waiter, and he radiated a gentility that seemed to put Ash more at ease. "This is really hard for you, isn't it?" Cilan said kindly, putting a hand on Ash's arm. "The house has changed, you're not feeling well, and there's all these new people hanging around. I bet it's a lot to take in." Ash nodded, blowing his nose in the napkin.

"H-hurts, 'nd can't...I can''t...don't-t b'long, don't belong, not my room, n-not... not my job... can't, can't..." Cilan kept patting Ash's arm while the boy rambled, waiting patiently until Ash finished all he had to say.

"You probably feel like you've been replaced, huh?" Ash nodded despondently. "You've been gone on a pokemon journey the last few years, but you don't really remember much of that. And everybody remembers an Ash that you don't know how to be anymore. That's a lot of pressure, isn't it?"

Ash was calming down, relieved that someone finally seemed to understand him, and I just watched Cilan with amazement. Why couldn't I, his best friend, see any of this?

"But what you need to realize, Ash," Cilan continued, "Is that your mom is never going to stop loving you. She'll always be your mom, and you'll always be the most important thing in her world. So don't you forget that, okay?"

"k-k..." Ash murmured, still sniffling into the napkin.

Cilan just kept his gentle smile. "And you're always going to be my best friend. I'll always love you, no matter what you think you can't do and no matter how many times you get hit on the head." He stood up and ruffled Ash's short hair. "And I'll make you as many stacks of pancakes as it takes for you to understand that."

Tearfully, Ash managed to match Cilan's smile. "Th-thanks..." Cilan patted his shoulder, and looked out the window.

"You know what, it's a gorgeous day! How about you and I go eat outside?" Soft and gentle, he extended a hand to Ash, who took it gratefully. The two of them retreated out to the front porch to relax in the sunshine, while the rest of us remained rooted to our spots with awe.

"He's amazing," Ritchie finally said, to which I could only nod. Cilan had a way of dealing with people, whether friend or foe, hot-headed brothers or scared little boys.

"Well, a good waiter should see the needs of the people around him," Delia reasoned. But Cilan wasn't just a waiter, he was a sommelier. He saw what was lacking, but he also saw the combinations that would best fill the voids, blends that would bring out the best in everything. And most of all, he loved to serve others, always happiest when he could watch us happily eating the food he'd prepared and presented for the people he cared about.

I was hopelessly, insanely grateful that he'd decided to stay with us. Ritchie sat back down in his seat, still a little shaken. "Is this what you meant by the bad days?"

"Still want to stay?" Despite clear misgivings, Ritchie nodded, turning to Delia.

"Would that be all right?" As expected, she was more than pleased to have more company in the house, particularly company that planned to make themselves useful in some capacity. I finished my breakfast and hopped across the counter to the windowsill, watching Ash and Cilan together. The latter was listening patiently while Ash was trying to describe something complex. I couldn't make out the subject, but he seemed unusually serious, and determined to get his message across. Whether or not Cilan was understanding that message was unknown, but he listened anyway.

I missed being the one Ash told his secrets to. "He'll come around, Pikachu," Delia said, kindly, and she scratched me behind the ears. I appreciated her words, but I wasn't as patient as Cilan. How long was I going to have to wait before Ash accepted me as a friend? Would that time ever come at all?

You know you deserve this, my reflection in the windowpane told me, I bet he wondered the same thing when he first met you. And that had worked out, but... all those months later, and he still thought you'd be happier without him. Was waiting the only thing I could do?

Ash had to nearly give his life for you, my inner self taunted. Are you willing to do that? Even if the opportunity arose, I didn't think that would be enough to solve my problems. I jumped off the counter and decided to make an early start for Oak's laboratory.

"Here, take the last piece of fruit," Delia offered, and I accepted the kind gesture, even though I was in no mood to eat. I walked outside while debating whether to toss it or give it to Snorlax and nearly passed right in front of Ash and Cilan.

Realizing this, I ducked out of sight, but not before Cilan caught a glimpse of me. He stared at me thoughtfully, then turned to Ash. "So, what is it about Pikachu that bothers you?" Ash looked as if he'd been asked on a date by that Macy girl.

"Ah! Don...Can't..." Ash racking his brain was a comical sight, because his hands would usually get involved, physically shaking his head like knowledge was a coin falling from a Pignite Bank. "Know... know... r'member, r'member things... lots of things, but... um... yeah, wrong..."

"Wrong? Your memory is wrong?"

"No! Just... just wrong... missing parts..." Ash sighed, his leg kicking lightly of it's own accord. "Just parts... do-doesn't make s'nse..."

"But you know Pikachu is your friend, right?" I held my breath. Even if he didn't remember, surely he could see that.

But the universe had no more desire to do me favors than Ash himself did. "No...not...not that..." What? "Always... then nothing, nothing... lets go..."

What did he mean? "What do you mean?"

Ash scratched his head. "Lets go, quick, too... too quick... can't hang on..."

"Do you mean you forget too quickly?" Maybe he couldn't hang on to the memories?

But Ash shook his head, frustrated. "No, hands." He held out his own for emphasis. When Cilan didn't get it, Ash groaned and stood up. "Hands, see? Eyes, c-close, close eyes, close your eyes..." Cilan, curious, obeyed, and I strained my neck a little further to see better.

"Stand," Ash instructed, and he took Cilan's right hand and walked up the porch steps. Cilan, now on a lower level than Ash, nearly stumbled, but Ash charged him to "Stay, stay on step." Slightly straining, Cilan planted his feet and held his ground while Ash gripped his hand.

"Falling," he said to Cilan's closed eyes. "Sinking, maybe, falling, going to fall, to fall, but... this..." He pulled on Cilan's hand a bit more and the green-haired boy nearly lost his balance. "Can't see, can't feel, just this... hand..." Ash bit his lip, watching Cilan struggling to keep from falling over. "Can't...can't save, just... going to fall, can't do anything, but... miss...scared, so scared, don't tell them, so scared." Ash took another step backwards and Cilan lurched forward, grabbing the porch railing. "Nothing to hold!" Ash chided, and Cilan gingerly and shakily let go of the railing, eyes still shut and dangerously close to falling on his face. "Just hands, can't save you, but... but..." Now, Ash seemed as if about to cry. "Don't let go," he whispered, "Can't save, can't save me , but, please, don't... miss you, love you, goodbye... love you, don't let go..." Ash released Cilan's hand, and the poor boy was so hopelessly off-balance that he fell to the steps with a yelp.

"Nothing," Ash sighed, and he sat back down on the steps while Cilan scrambled to do the same.

"What was that?" he asked, the message not getting across to him.

"Remember," Ash said seriously, looking at his own hand. "Nothing, always nothing... end... always lets go..." he sighed again, despondent and maybe even bitter. "Can't hang on forever, can't, nothing..."

Neither I nor Cilan knew what to make of that. "Is this a memory of Pikachu?"

Ash hesitated before answering. "Pi..." He couldn't bring himself to finish my name. "Nothing, fall, hurt, gone, nothing, always nothing... but, something... so scared, can't tell, so scared..." Cilan bit his lip and glanced over at me.

"Have you tried talking about this to Pikachu?" Ash went rigid. "Do you think it would help if you tried?"

"Try?" Ash snapped, giving absent, weak punches to his bouncing leg. "Try... one, just one! Can't, can't... not... good enough, good enough, let go. Just let go, can't."

Because that made sense in a completely non-hurtful way. "I think it would mean a lot to Pikachu if you let him talk to you," Cilan tried again. "He loves you so much, and all he wants to do is show you."

"Can't." Ash was absolute. "Voice, sound, can't, just can't, remember! Remember... dirt, can't, can't breathe, dark, flash, flash, hurtpaindarkstopsaveme nothing! Hear it, hear it, remember, and can't... can't do it, can't, can't..."

"What if I were right beside you? Nothing bad would happen to you."

"Know, no, but..." Ash took a deep breath, shuddering. "Don't wanna r'member... don't wanna forget... can't know..." Ash clutched his knees, both as a vulnerable gesture and to keep them both still. "...I ..."

Cilan patted his shoulder. "Ash?"

"Try," Ash whispered resolutely, and I felt my heart leap. "Fine. Try." Cilan looked over to me with entreating eyes, and I shuffled forward without a second thought.

Once I was standing in front of Ash, though, I almost backed out. What was I going to say? How could I convey the wealth of emotions I felt for Ash in just a few short words that he might not even understand? How could I convince him that all his fragmented thoughts about me were wrong, when he just admitted that my voice conjured up unbearable flashbacks? I stood before Ash, still clutching that piece of fruit and not knowing what to do when he realized my presence.

He didn't lift his head, or meet my eyes. "...h-hi..." Already, he was tense, bracing himself for whatever trauma was to come. I saw his hands twitching, and suspected that he was fighting the urge to clamp them over his ears. Was there anything I could say to change this?

And then, watching him tremble and Cilan start to look like this might have been a bad idea, I realized that I didn't need to say anything. What he wanted most of all was for me to not say a word, and I wanted him to know he could trust me. And so, I took a few tentative steps forward and wordlessly offered him my piece of fruit.

He didn't take it from me, and I'm not even sure he saw it with the way he was determined to look anywhere but at my being, but I gently pushed it into his hands and backed away slowly. Ash stared at the gift, shoulders trembling, and neither he nor I said a word.

Finally, I couldn't take any more of the silence and gave a small wave, before turning around and bolting out of sight. I couldn't stop running once I'd hit the road, and the further I got from Ash, the faster I ran, until I was skidding into Professor Oak's door head first.

"Oh, hello there," Professor Oak said when he opened the door, and for a second, the bump on my head made him look like Sam. "You're a little earlier than I expected. Shall I let you out back to see your friends?" Yes, please, at this point, I needed them more than oxygen.

When I stepped out into the field, the first thing I saw was Bulbasaur and Squirtle. "Guys..." Now, it was okay for me to have a breakdown, and I ran towards them at full tilt, sobbing all the way.

Bulbasaur's vines wrapped around me and Squirtle patted my head while I wailed away about how happy I was to see them, and not once did they comment on what a complete and total wreck I was. That would be saved for later.

Twenty minutes later, I had finally had enough of losing it completely, and was able to greet my friends properly. "I'd ask you how you've been, but I think you just answered that," Squirtle said when I'd calmed down, and I chuckled while wiping tears. "I'm sure it's been an intense few weeks for you."

"You don't know the half of it," I said, smiling at both of them. "It's good to be home."

"Good to have you all back," Bulbasaur returned, then frowned. "Well, almost everyone. There's a few I wasn't able to get a hold of." I nodded to myself.

"I could go out tomorrow and find Pidgeot. I think it's somewhere around Route 1 still." Route 1, with it's psychotic gang of Spearow and more memories than I cared to count. "I suppose we should call Ambipom, too. Even if she can't come visit, I'm sure she'd like to know."

"She might be better off not knowing," Bulbasaur sighed. "The one I'm most worried about is Butterfree." I felt guilt in the pit of my stomach, not that there was anything I could do about it. But Bulbasaur was right; Butterfree would be devastated to learn that all this had happened, even though we had no way of keeping in contact.

Lapras, too, probably would have come if there was any way to relay the news. "We're regular globe-trotters, aren't we?"

"Speaking of," Squirtle drawled, "There's a certain dragon that still needs to hear about this..."

"I thought it would be better to wait until Ash got home," Bulbasaur defended, but Squirtle clearly disagreed.

"The longer you put it off, the worse it's going to be when he finds out." He was about to say more, but there was a commotion amongst all the other pokemon that stole his attention.

Ash had arrived.

Bulbasaur paled visibly. "Oh..." Not the reaction I expected.

"He looks terrible," Squirtle finished. "You didn't say it was this bad." In defense, Bulbasaur looked at me, though I couldn't respond. To me, this was an improvement over that broken wraith in the hospital bed.

"Didn't we tell you?" Brock was saying, guiding Ash into the corral. "All these pokemon are yours, Ash. Why don't you say hello?" Ash looked like a kid at Christmas, but also a little taken aback. I could only imagine what a dream come true it must have been to suddenly have so many Pokemon, all eager to play with him.

"H-hi!" Ash waved, but as our friends drew closer, they stopped in their tracks. I might not have the same perspective, but they could all see that something was terribly wrong with their trainer. He looked sick, sicker than any of them could imagine a person being.

"Oh, come on!" Bulbasaur cried, mustering up some bravery and color for his cheeks. "Is that the kind of welcome you guys give your friends?" Backed up by Squirtle, he rushed forward to greet Ash, and once Ash began petting and tickling his two old friends, the rest of the crowd followed.

I saw a blur of green and yellow rush by me. "Stop her!" At my command, Snivy and Bulbasuar sprang into action, tackling Bayleef into the ground, but no one caught Corphish and Totodile, and Ash went down like a ton of bricks. "No!" Without thinking, I rushed to Ash's side, arriving faster than Brock and Ritchie. "Pikapi, PiKAchu?"

"AAAHH!" Ash scrambled back into the arms of his human friends, apprehensive and trembling, and silence fell over the rest of the Pokemon. I wished I could rewind my life by sixty seconds and choose to keep my distance, because the last thing I wanted was to go through this in front of the others.

"Ash, are you alright?" Brock wrenched Ash's attention away from me, and he managed to confirm that Corphish and Totodile hadn't completely maimed him. After all, that was my job.

"Fine, fine...jussst scared, fine," Ash breathed, anxiety slowly coming down. But then the whispering started.

I could tell myself Ash was sick, and that he'd get better. I could remind myself that he didn't hate me, and he really was trying his best. I could tell myself that I just needed to give this time, we could get through this, no matter how long it took.

But when they all started whispering behind my back, I couldn't take it anymore. I had always been the favorite, the Team Captain, the Veteran Player, Ash's best friend in the whole world and now they were all watching me lose everything. Even worse, I was being humiliated in front of everyone, they were all whispering about me and Ash was just sitting by and letting it happen!

"Pikachu? What is it?" My shoulders shook and I hid my face. Did they really have to ask? Hadn't they all seen my fall from grace? Squirtle ran up to me, but I turned my back.

"Pikachu, what's going on?" I hadn't told Bulbasaur, or any of them about this. They knew Ash had lost his memory, and that included me, but I hadn't talked about how I'd been relegated to the monster that haunted Ash's nightmares.

"He hates me, don't you get it?" I hiccuped. "I did this to him, so now I don't get to be his friend anymore, that's what happened! So you can all just shut up about it!" If anything, they only whispered more.

"S-stop..." That familiar voice. I looked up to see Ash with his hands clamped over his ears. "Stop, please, stop..."

"Well, I can't stop!" I finally shrieked, having reached my breaking point. "I can't just not say another word around you for the rest of my life!" Ash got to his feet, angry and nervous, with hands still covering his ears. "I can't take this anymore! You want me, then you don't, you're nice and then you can't stand me, which is it? If you're going to throw me away, then just do it already!"

"Idiot!" Ash stamped his foot in frustration. "You, you, you, wrong, always wrong! Never understand, always let go, let go, too quick!" Now, I wasn't the only one crying, though I was surprised Ash still had tears left in him after this morning. "Can't take it, can't take it, too much! Too much! Just... wait... not good enough, wait..." Ash was starting to lose steam, and I stepped forward, having broken enough to keep pushing this.

Around us, human and pokemon alike were stunned into silence. At least they had stopped whispering. And if they wanted something to talk about, I was going to give them a topic worthy of it. "Not good enough, huh?" I bellowed, refusing to feel guilty when he cringed. "I said I was sorry, isn't that good enough?"

"Shut up," Ash moaned, closing his eyes and shaking his head. "Don't care, don't care..." That stopped me dead. He didn't care... If he was angry, I could work with that, I was masochistic enough to accept that, but ambivalence... Was nothing I did ever going to be good enough?

"Why are we fighting?" I found myself asking aloud. "You don't want me around, you don't really know me or like me, and you don't even care about this fight. So, why are we still here?" Ash looked at me, fury in his eyes.

He clenched his teeth and forced his hands to his sides. "Idiot! Listen," he seethed, and I backed up a step. "...I...don't... lose...never lose, never give up, fight...fight, I'll fight you every day, every day, w-whole life, understand? Understand...?"

Yeah, I understood. I was just some argument for him to win. But I could be stubborn, too. "Fine," I came back with some scathing words of my own. "Fight all you want, it's the only thing that's ever been important to you, anyway." I turned around, calling one last shot over my shoulder. "But even if you win, you'll always be a loser." And with that, I ran away from the crowd, not daring to look behind me.

I couldn't believe him! It probably wasn't fair to blame Ash, he was the one with the head injury, but I couldn't be expected to stand up to all of this pressure either. Ash didn't care about me anymore, though, that was pretty obvious. He didn't remember anything about our friendship, or hold any love for me, all that was left was a few traumatic memories and a compulsion to prolong arguments until he won.

I meant nothing to him. With heaving breaths, I flopped, exhausted, onto a mossy spot by the pond, unable to go any further. I wasn't sure if I wanted to scream or cry, but I knew that if I started, I wouldn't ever stop.

"Pikachu!" Squirtle had followed me, and I heard the sound of Bulbasaur's heavier tread.

"Go away," I groaned at them, but predictably, they didn't listen.

"You have to go back!" Bulbasaur insisted worriedly when he caught up. "You should have seen his face! The things you said-"

"The things I said?" I shrieked, my second wind returning. "Did you hear him? He reduced our entire friendship down to a stupid argument!"

"Really? 'Cause from where I was standing, that sounded like you..." I wanted to kick Squirtle in the face.

"I can't believe you're blaming me for this!"

"We're not," Bulbasaur was quick to jump in. "We wouldn't, that was terrible, and I'm sorry, but you have to go back and make it right! You can't just leave things like this!"

"He's the one who started it!"

"But you can end it!" Squirtle tried again. "No, wait..." Bulbasaur rolled his eyes.

"Is this how you want to end it?" the grass pokemon rephrased. "Just like this, your friendship is over?"

"What am I supposed to do?" I shouted back. "He said he didn't care about me!"

"Pikachu, were you even listening to him?"

"I heard enough," I snarled, and tried to walk away, but a familiar shadow passed over the grass, and I looked up to the sky. "Uh, oh..." When Bulbasaur and Squirtle followed suit, similar expressions appeared on their faces.

"I thought you said you didn't call him?" Squirtle asked, while Bulbasaur grew steadily paler.

"As if this day could get any worse..." With a giant thud and a flamethrower that could have incinerated the whole corral if he felt like it, Charizard landed in front of us, smoke pouring from his nostrils.

The three of us huddled together, trying not to act terrified of our friend. "Why the hell didn't you tell me?" Charizard growled in that 'I battle with legendaries and that's not even my biggest accomplishment, so don't waste my time' voice that struck terror into everyone's soul save, possibly, Ash's.

"We were just waiting until Ash got back to Pallet," Bulbasaur reasoned, rather bravely, since Charizard's type could send Bulbasaur to the Pokemon Center before he could even blink.

"Why?" Neither Bulbasaur or Squirtle could come up with an answer, but I had been pushed over the edge enough to tempt fate.

"Because you're an unstable rage monster who breaks everything he touches, that's why." If I thought Ash had been mad at me...

"I had to find out on the news!" Charizard roared, stomping his feet angrily enough that the earth shook. "Do you know what that's like? All this time, he's been in the hospital and no one thought they should tell me?" Bulbasaur and Squirtle looked away guiltily.

"Look, we're sorry," they said in an attempt to smooth things over. "We thought it would be better if you didn't know. We made a mistake."

"A mistake?" Charizard was beside himself. "Don't you realize that nothing that kid does is ever going to be as hard as having to relearn his entire life? No matter what happens to him, nothing is ever going to be that hard or that horrible, and I wasn't there for him!"

"Oh, like that's anything new," I shot without thinking. In hindsight, I should be grateful that I'm still alive.

Charizard fixed me with a smoldering gaze. "If you want to start pointing fingers, there's a whole lot I could say about you..." I bet there was, and I decided to keep my mouth shut.

Besides, we weren't alone anymore. "You!" Charizard turned around to see Ash, Brock and Ritchie, who had followed either me or the giant balls of smoke and flame. "You...!"

"Hey, kid."

Ash balled up his fists, now even angrier than when he'd fought with me. "You... why here, why now? Why?" Wait, did Ash know Charizard? I pouted and raged inside at the injustice.

On the other hand, while there was none of the fear, Ash's opinion of Charizard didn't seem to be any more favorable. "Left, gone, always gone, why now? Why?" Ash was clenching his fists so hard his knuckles were turning white. "Not good enough, never good enough... go... go back! Go back!"

Charizard was surprised, and took a step forward. "Hey, wait-"

"Back!" Ash shrieked, actively raging now. "Not good enough, weak! Why now, why now, I... I-I'm weak... weak, stupid, stupid..." His anger was still present, but I saw his inner spirit deflating, and at that sight, all my previous anger melted away. "W-who... w-who wants... weak trainer, right? So, go back."

As if Charizard listened to commands. "But-"

"Go back! Go, go, go! Don't want, don't want, can't... weak, weak, stupid, not good enough!" Charizard had had enough, and walked forward to his trainer. Bulbasaur and I shot each other a look, both of us with Vine Whip and Iron Tail at the ready in case this got ugly. "Hate, hate, hate! Why now, why now, always left, why now? S-stupid, w-weak..."

I was ready to attack, sure Charizard was about to let loose a flamethrower, but he surprised all of us when he reached forward and pulled Ash into an embrace. Squirtle pinched himself just to be sure we could believe what we were seeing.

Ash fought against the hug at first, but was powerless against Charizard's arms, and eventually collapsed into a sobbing mess. "N-no, go away... weak, don't want, no one wants... weak trainer..."

"You're not weak, kid," Charizard informed Ash in a gentle voice I had never once heard escape his lips. "You're just evolving." The dragon looked around at the rather sizable crowd of pokemon that we starting to gather, and snorted disdainfully. "Come on, let's get out of here."

"No," Ash protested halfheartedly, but before he could say another word, Charizard had him in the sky, flying off to who knew where.

"Do you think we should follow them?" Ritchie asked, but Brock couldn't be sure.

"If Charizard had enough sense not to fire a flamethrower at Ash, I guess we can hope he'll be smart enough to bring him back safely." All the same, he called out Crobat to keep an eye on them, not that I believed we had any chance of catching up. "Who knows, maybe flying will calm him down?" Ritchie looked doubtful, which wasn't surprising; he remembered how he'd won at Indigo.

Would that I were ten times my size and could just force Ash to bond with me. "I think I made a mistake," Bulbasaur said thoughtfully.

"How do you mean?"

"Well, I was worried that if we told Charizard what happened, he wouldn't be able to handle it and would do something crazy. But," he looked up at the sky with a smile, "Maybe our unstable rage monster was what Ash needed all along?"

I could only hope he was right.