Chapter 12: New rivals, as you fight for survival...

Every morning, Ash woke up and yelled at Charizard. Every single morning, he'd start pitching a fit at the orange dragon napping in the corral, and in response, Charizard would usually shut him up gently and take him flying. When they returned, Ash was a bit more subdued and tolerant of Charizard's existence, but by the next day, it would start all over again.

Charizard took it all in stride, or at least, he pretended to. "How can you stand it?" I asked him.

"Well, he didn't win me overnight, either," Charizard pointed out reasonably, even though I didn't think Charizard did calm reason. "I'm taking a page out of his book; I've just got to keep hanging in there until he gets a clue."

It sounded optimistic, but... "Do you think he will?" Because I wasn't so sure there was a point to this anymore. But Charizard was of a different opinion.

"It worked the other way around. Then again, it could take awhile..." He looked at me enviously. "He won't fight for me like he does for you."

I thought about that for the next few days, wondering what Charizard could possibly mean. When I'd asked him, all he'd said was "Come on, isn't it obvious?" Unfortunately, it wasn't, and I supposed he must be talking about how things used to be, where Ash raged against the world and beat it all for my sake.

But Ash didn't fight for me anymore. Like Charizard, I was usually the subject of a yelling match at least once a day. Unlike Charizard, I often was the instigator.

I didn't intend for it, but whenever we interacted, I was tempted to push Ash's buttons until one or both of us began screaming. It filled the void temporarily to have Ash interacting with me, even if it was in a negative way, but every time, I felt like someone was sticking a shovel into my chest and digging an even bigger hole in my heart. Which was fine, I'd already dug my own grave long ago; might as well keep going until I buried myself.

Naturally, this behavior caused all my friends who weren't currently aphasic amnesiacs to worry. "Don't you think this is going too far?" Bulbasaur often said, to which I usually tossed my head.

"No. He wants to fight me every day, and that's what he's going to get."

"You're a moron," Squirtle told me, and after that, I tuned out anything they had to say. Ash's words, however, always struck to my core, even when they were nonsensical.

"Always like this, you, you..." My stubbornness used to be one of the things he loved about me. "Can't take it, too much, go away." Well, there were things I couldn't take either, but I wasn't making him leave. Sometimes it felt like I was the only one who'd even tried to patch things up between us. "Don' care, Don'care..." Yeah, that was obvious, but I still cared, and I was still going to push him. "Lets go, just let go." I wouldn't allow him to let go of me.

"What are you hoping to accomplish, here?" Brock asked me often, usually at the end of his patience. Ash tended to gravitate towards Brock after I'd driven him into a meltdown, and I think the older boy was burning out. "You're going to wear the kid into a nervous breakdown." Everyone else was of the same opinion, but Charizard and I were the only ones Ash actively hated, and even Charizard could get Ash to rescind. No one understood how I felt.

That didn't stop everyone from pretending that they did, however, and even Gary bothered to add his two cents. "I know what you're trying to do," he said sympathetically, "Trust me, it doesn't work." Gary Oak would have to be the last person on earth with the right to tell me how to deal with Ash, and I made sure he knew that. He didn't talk to me again.

If Ash wouldn't remember me positively, I was going to make one hell of a rival, and either way, I'd never leave his memory.

That didn't always equate to me being wanted, however. "No," Ash told me forcefully, despite not looking me in the eye. "Not coming, stay back."

"PiKA!" They were driving into Viridian to visit the clinic. Ash was not done with doctors, not by a long shot, and between house visits and trips to Viridian, he saw a speech therapist and a psychologist once a week. Today, however, was a very important day. We'd finally be visiting with a brain specialist, and know for sure if the surgery we'd heard of could help Ash.

Today might be the day our prayers were answered, and if so, I had to be there.

"Pikachu," I insisted, hopping defiantly towards Professor Oak's jeep. My best friend was going through a crisis, and even if we weren't acting like friends anymore, I still cared about what happened to him. I had to know the prognosis, had to watch this whole thing through until the very end.

"No!" Ash stomped his foot, but his mother put a hand on his shoulder.

"Isn't it okay if Pikachu comes along?" she asked sweetly, while Ash grumbled. "He's very concerned for you."

"Not that..." Ash sighed with a bit of edge to his voice. He frowned at me, actually deigning to look at my face this time. "Jussss you, you, jussst... want to hurt, you, want to hurt." That comment caused everyone within earshot to look over.

I couldn't think of a way to interpret that without sending myself into shock, so I tried to ignore it. "Pika, pikachu!" I was coming on this trip, and I wasn't going to let Ash's harsh words stop me.

"What if Pikachu rides in the front with me?" Delia tried. "That shouldn't bother you." It usually did bother him, actually, but Ash was a lot more tolerant of my presence when I was off with the others, rather than right next to him. I was reluctant to call that improvement, but it was something.

Today, however, nothing would sway him. "No, no, no! Not coming, not!" It was Brock who decided to go behind Ash's back on the matter.

"Here, get in my backpack," he offered after Ash stomped off, having cleared out most of his stuff. "He can't object to what he can't see." I would have protested his choice of words, but between making my point and actually getting to go, I chose the latter option. Cilan frowned while I settled in.

"You know, I think Ash remembers more than he says he does."

"What, you think he's lying?" Brock fluffed out a towel to make his rucksack more comfortable, while Cilan shook his head.

"Not lying, exactly, just..." he sighed. "Listening to him talk, I get the feeling that there's a lot he's not saying."

"Well, that's the understatement of the year." Cilan's frown betrayed that this wasn't what he'd meant, but he didn't say more on the subject, wishing us off. The last thing I saw as the flap of the rucksack closed over top me was he and Ritchie walking back into the house.

Something about that sight made me uneasy. "Pikachuu..." I didn't like this, this felt wrong. It felt too much like a pokeball. "Pika!" Even Ash's backpack wasn't always warm and comforting, let alone Brock's, despite his efforts to make it comfortable. "Pikachuuu~!" I clawed at the flap and would have likely put a few holes in it if Brock hadn't caught on to my distress.

He opened the backpack again. "What gives, Pikachu? You're supposed to be quiet." I didn't answer him, and sprang back into the fresh air, shaking the uncomfortable feeling off.

I'd been crammed into backpacks before. Usually Ash's, but Brock's ferried me more than once in the past. This shouldn't have been a big deal.

But Ash hated me now, and somehow, that made everything a big deal.

"So much for stealth- oh, no..." Brock grimaced, and when I turned to look, I saw that Ash was watching us. "There goes that plan."

Ash looked upset, but he didn't yell. "Should stay," he grumbled at us, clenching his fists. "Not nice..." Brock sighed.

"Ash, you know we're just worried about you-"

"Shut up!"

"Pi, PiKA!" I shouted right back, though Brock shot me a look. Ash fumed for a bit, then pulled something familiar from behind his back. Red and white, and though the paint had long since faded away, the little groove of a thunderbolt still remained.

My stomach dropped as he activated it. What if Ash actually managed to recall me? Would he keep me in there forever?

But he just rolled it across the ground, and my eyes followed it as it came to a gentle rest at my feet. "That way," Ash said with hard, judgmental eyes. "Only like that."

I wouldn't. I wasn't even sure I could.


"Only that way," Ash repeated, still aloof. Brock turned to me.

"I know you hate them, but they're not that bad," he pointed out. "They're designed to be a comforting environment." Yes, I knew all that, but it didn't change how I felt. Most of my friends loved their Pokeballs, and the theory of their design reflected nature and healing; I could understand that. Snivy and Sceptile often preferred to be in their Pokeballs, liking privacy, and Bulbasaur claimed that he felt linked to Ash psychicly while inside. All of that, I could appreciate.

But I could never get over the fact that Pokeballs were machines, and smaller than I was. If the hinge or the clasp broke, I'd be stuck in there until it was fixed, and if the trainer lost or abandoned the pokeball, I might not be able to let myself out until they came back. And if the pokeball broke completely, fell of a cliff and smashed into a million bits, what happened to the pokemon inside? Were they lost to the system? Just energy floating in the universe?

Stupid fears, everyone always told me, but I couldn't let them go. Besides, I didn't find pokeballs all that comfortable, anyway.

"Only that way," Ash said for a third time, crossing his arms across his chest. His eyes were shut tight, refusing to look at me anymore.

He was shutting me out.

"Pikapi-" Ash clamped his hands over his ears, and I gave up. "Pi." I smacked the pokeball with my tail and watched it bounce back to him.

He flinched when it hit his shoe, and cracked open one eye. Now I was the one crossing my arms defiantly. "Pika!"

"Pikachu doesn't like pokeballs very much," Brock interceded, but somehow, I got the impression that Ash was completely aware of this.

"Doesn't like," he sneered. "You, you, you... selfish." I started, arms dropping to my sides. "Not, not only one, only one, doesn't like..."

"You're calling me selfish?" I challenged, feeling another shouting match about to begin. "When you're the one who won't give me a chance?" Ash looked furious, but he directed his fury at my unused pokeball, picking it up in his shaking hands.

"Can't, won't, don't want to, always, always," he snapped at it, though his comments were obviously meant for me. "Me, too," he said while watching the pokeball shrink, "Can't do, lot's can't do, scared, but ask, always you." The pokeball disappeared behind his back, and I felt a little touched that he still wore it on his belt, after all this. "I... understand..."

"You don't understand anything!" I told him harshly, "You don't even try to understand!" And with that, Ash had finally been pushed to the edge.

"What?" he shrieked, torrent of emotions finally loosed. Tears came to his eyes, though his were mostly closed and would have only seen his feet if they were open. "What? Want what? Can't do... can't, can't!"

"Can't or won't?" I asked, but Ash, once again, simply covered his ears.

"Shut up, shut up! Can't..." Whimpers were coming out with his breath. "I... I, too..." Fine, I'd pushed far enough, it was time to back off.

Or, if I kept going, would I get what I wanted?

"PIKA, PIKACHU!" Ash curled deeper into himself, almost doubling over. "You can't tell me what to do!"

"FINE!" he shouted back, trying to drown out my voice with his own. "Fine! Win! Not looking, not looking! Go!" It took a minute before I realized that he would look away while I got in the jeep. Pretending I wasn't really there.

I wanted to shock him, but if he was going to let me come along, I decided to accept my victory for what it was worth. I hopped up and under a seat, while Brock reached out a hand to Ash.

Ash pushed him away. "Trick, not nice," he seemed hurt, and I felt bad for getting Brock involved in this. "So mad..." But Ash would forgive Brock in a few hours, and by tomorrow this would all be forgotten, possibly literally.

For me, however, I was doomed to repeat this cycle for the rest of my life.

Ash may have conceded to let me ride in the jeep, but once he arrived at Viridian, his confidence was back. "Stay," he told the seats. "Don't come, stay here..."

"I'm not a pet," I snapped back, and Ash bolted from the vehicle. I followed him, Professor Oak, Delia and Brock, keeping a safe distance where Ash wouldn't notice me.

It was a little more difficult to slip inside the consultation room without being seen, but Brock, ever my champion, distracted Ash while I slid behind a plant. I got settled and Doctor Proctor shook Ash's hand.

"Ash Ketchum. So nice to finally meet you in person." Delia looked surprised.

"You know Ash?"

"I've been consulting Ash via the videophone for years," the doctor revealed, which was news to everybody, including, sadly, Ash. "Ever since he was first diagnosed. I'm sorry to hear about the accident." Ash merely shrugged. Doctor Proctor gestured for everyone to have a seat, and pulled out a yellow folder with Ash's name on it. "Unfortunately, recent events have complicated your condition..."

"But he consulted you before?" Delia interjected, still surprised, as was Professor Oak. They shared a look of relief when the doctor nodded. "Thank goodness, I knew he wasn't incompetent..." Ash looked offended.

"Well, you still could have told your mother." With no argument against that, Ash sat back. Doctor Proctor open the folder and handed Delia some papers.

"As I told Ash, the damage to his neural system was most likely caused by an attack from an electric pokemon. It's extremely rare for the average trainer to encounter this, but after seeing Professor Birch's data on Ash's Pikachu, I felt confident stating that was the cause, particularly if the exposure occurred over a prolonged period of time." There it was, laid out in black and white. All of this was my fault, I'd been killing Ash from the very beginning. "Even so..." the doctor looked uncomfortable, "As I'm sure you're aware, the amount of power and the frequency of attacks necessary to harm a human to this degree is... unfathomable." He shared a look with Professor Oak, who nodded, reluctantly. "It was my advice that Ash turn Pikachu over to Pokemon Control."

I froze, and Brock went rigid. "Pikachu's not violent!" he said on my behalf, and the doctor smiled to placate him. Ash himself did not move, but did mutter something under his breath.

I couldn't catch it, but Doctor Proctor did. "Don't worry, Ash, you were very quick to let me know that. Even so, it was my recommendation that you stop training Pikachu."

"Would it have helped?" Delia spoke up in a quiet voice, and the doctor cleared his throat before answering.

"The damage was already too extensive by that point, but I thought it might slow the rate of degeneration. Most of Pikachu's attacks were, admittedly, not going to aggravate the condition further. Even if Pikachu shocked you now, it would be unlikely to do anything. However," everyone held their breath, "Pikachu's threshold of power is far greater than others of it's species. I'm sure it's a formidable foe in battle." The doctor smiled, and I couldn't see Ash's face well enough to see if he was proud to hear that. "While I agreed that Pikachu's average output posed no danger, and that Pikachu would never intentionally cause harm to you, I was compelled to point out that intentionally or not, you were often hit with attacks far above it's usual output."

Brock and Professor Oak came to my defense again. "Ash and Pikachu don't live an average life," they argued, "Pikachu had to use those attacks just so they'd survive!"

"Pikachu can't be blamed for things it couldn't help." Doctor Proctor held up his hands.

"I'm not here to judge," he chuckled a bit. "And anyway, Ash agreed with you all. You told me that you wouldn't hold Pikachu accountable for things beyond it's control, and though I advised against it, you resolved to continue training as before." He smiled at Ash. "Our health isn't only made up of physical things, after all."

I wondered if Ash felt differently, now.

"We began discussing-" the doctor was cut off when Ash stood up from his chair, whirling to face the back of the room.

"Out," he declared, more than a little annoyed. "Out. Know you're here, out." I didn't move. If he wanted me to leave, then he was just going to have to come over here and make me.

I was surprised when I heard his footfalls drawing closer. Apparently, he was going to do just that. "Said no," he said, with only a plant between us for protection. He looked nervous, but determined. "Go, go out."

"I want to stay," I tried, but Ash, as he'd already done several times that day, put his hands over his ears and turned away from me.

"No, just go. Don't want, don't want you here! Not good!" I shouldn't have expected anything else, but I could dream. "No more, don't talk, just go!"

"Oh, sorry," I retorted caustically, "How dare I care about you so much!" Before I had finished speaking, Ash had whiled on his heels, and I saw the red light coming for me before I registered that there was a pokeball in his hand.

He was trying to recall me?

Luckily, my reflexes were as good as they had ever been, and the beam missed me by a whole second. My first impulse was to laugh at Ash, but when I saw his face, I stopped. He looked so helpless.

"Keep saying, saying," he cried softly, "but never, you...why? Just go, go..."

"Don't you think I'm already involved?" I pointed out hopelessly, but Ash shook his head.

"Don't care, don't care 'bout that, don't want you here..." he continued to cry. "Go, just go..." His tears splashed onto the metal of the Pokeball, and it seemed deafening to me.

So I went. The door fell shut behind me and I felt the wall between me and Ash grow thicker than ever.

Brock, in his infinite kindness, followed me, claiming he had some shopping that just had to get done that day. I followed him around Viridian City, too listless to be distracted, so eventually, he stopped trying. Even so, it was nice to have another body there. It was more than I deserved.

I deserved to be hated. Doctor Proctor had confirmed it; I did this to Ash, and he was only going to get worse. The fact that he'd lived through that tornado didn't even matter, because I'd already killed him.

He was going to die because of me.

And the sad thing was, it wouldn't be the first time.

"Pikachu, you've got to get a grip." Brock put his hands on his hips and tried to look authoritative, staring down at the mess that was my being. I felt like a deflated Jigglypuff, probably looked like one, too. "Ash didn't blame you, so don't blame yourself." I couldn't overlook the use of the past tense. Who knew what Ash thought now? "He needs you to be strong for him, now." Oh, more guilt. Lovely. How many times had Ash stood by me through sickness and disease, delirium and amnesia. I owed it to him to take care of him now, was that it?

Well, I wasn't as strong as Ash, nor had I ever pretended to be. Our whole relationship hinged on the fact that I needed him to be strong and immovable, whether or not I admitted out loud, and whether or not he was capable of doing so. Who was going to be strong for me?

We finished shopping and returned to the hospital, meeting up with the others. Ash immediately dragged Brock back out into the city. "But I just went shopping!"

"He says he has something he wants to buy," Delia shrugged, and Ash was insistent. Finally, after some tugging and pleading, Brock relented, and the boys ran off together. I chose not to go with them.

Delia collapsed onto a bench, strength seeping from her limbs. Professor Oak joined, her, putting a friendly arm around her shoulders. "Hang in there, Delia. Your little boy is going to pull through this."

She nodded, but didn't smile. "I suppose it could be worse."

"Indeed, it could." The two were quiet for a moment, lost in their respective thoughts, until Delia spoke again.

"Can I ask you a question, Professor?"

"Anything for my favorite student." Delia looked away, clenching her fists.

"If you could switch our places," she said hesitantly, looking at her trembling hands, "Change Ash's accident with... well, would you want to?" Professor Oak was startled, but when he answered, he was completely serious.

"I wouldn't wish that fate on you, Delia," he said sadly, "But yes, I'd endure this if I could have them back with me." That seemed to satisfy Delia, and she nodded to herself. "May I ask you a question, now? If you could go back to your schoolgirl days, when you and Spencer were running amok all over my lab, is there anything you'd tell that girl to do differently? Anything you'd tell her not to do, perhaps?"

"...I guess not," she shook her head. "Maybe I'd tell her to raise her future kid with more common sense and less of a hero complex." I don't think she really meant that last part. Her voice betrayed that her heart wasn't really in that declaration, because as much as she worried for Ash's safety, she was proud of Ash. I didn't think she could honestly want to have raised Ash to any standard lower than the one he'd reached. "Maybe I wouldn't tell her to change anything..." She suddenly smirked. "No, wait, I'd tell her not to lend her bike to Silver, I still haven't gotten that thing back..."

When we finally returned home, Misty was waiting for us.

"Pi-kachupi!" I launched myself into her arms and willed myself not to cry with relief. I was ecstatic to see her, and she responded just as warmly.

"I missed you, Pikachu!" Of course, eventually, she had to greet Ash, which meant that I had to detach myself and move to a far corner of the porch. "Hello, Ash." He just stared at her, not even returning her wave. Misty fidgeted. "Do you remember me?"

Ash didn't reply, just tilting his head to the side, and Misty sighed, "Well, that's fine. My name's Misty." She smiled broadly, while Ash continued to stare. "It's really good to see you again."

"Bike," Ash finally said, which startled Misty, but she recovered quickly.

"That's right, you stole my bike." That had been so long ago. "And then you wrecked it." Misty was exceptional at holding grudges.

As always, Ash refused to act guilty. He smiled genuinely at her, and Misty moved on to Brock. "Long time no see."

"Yeah," Brock said sheepishly, "I've been wrapped up in textbooks the past few months." While they chatted, Ash kept staring at the pair of them, and I saw a small light flash behind his eyes.

"Spoons!" he cried out, as if suddenly realizing something terribly important. This revelation didn't mean anything to Brock or Misty, let alone anyone else in the party, but Ash was positively triumphant. "Spoons," he declared again, pointing at his two friends as if this one word explained something monumental, and he hummed to himself as we all entered the house.

"That was weird," Misty blurted out, and Brock just sighed.

"Trust me, that was nothing." The house was full now, and both reunions and introductions were made. With so many people, I could move a little more freely, without fear of setting Ash off. My presence bothered him less in situations like these, either because he felt protected or because he didn't notice me, though I'd been pressing my luck with him at the hospital. I wasn't sure he was willing to tolerate much more from me.

But, Ash was significantly distracted by all the other people, and once Gary came over, we had a full party going until we finally remembered what had really called us all together.

"So, how did the hospital go?" Cilan asked, which was the question on everyone's mind. Mine as well, I wanted to know the results more than anything. "Is that specialist going to be able to help?" Ash appeared to be ignoring the talk, sitting himself down on the couch and engrossing himself with the pictures in his Pokedex. Delia sat beside him and proceeded to fill everyone in.

"It looks like surgery might help stabilize his condition," she said with concealed glee. "I guess it's a new procedure, but Doctor Proctor said he was willing to try. If it works, Ash's problems won't get any worse."

"But they can't cure it?" Ritchie asked, disappointed.

"I guess not, but it will be easier to manage, at least. We're also trying him out on a new medication right now," she patted Ash's shoulder, but he didn't look up from the Pokedex, "He took some about an hour or two ago. It should reduce his symptoms a lot."

"So, if he gets the surgery and this medication works out," Misty reasoned, "Then he'll get better, right? He'll be able to live a normal life."

"Or die," Ash interjected, eyes still trained on the pictures in front of him. Awkward silence fell on the room before Delia spoke up.

"Well, yes," she admitted quietly, "There is a lot of risk. The surgery's a bit experimental, so we're still discussing it with Doctor Proctor." My optimism deflated somewhat. Ash closed his Pokedex and turned to his mother.

"Have to?" he asked in a flat tone, devoid of emotional inflection. "Do, do I have to?"

"No, Ash," his mother shook her head, "The decision is yours." Ash nodded to himself and left the room, and the rest of us looked at each other.

"Can he make a decision like that?" Ritchie finally pointed out. "Yesterday Ash told me that he was nine years old and his birthday was in March."

I thought his birthday was in May. Brock groaned, "So, what, he's delusional now?"

"Wasn't he always?" Misty smirked. Delia just rolled her eyes.

"Oh, Ash just told everyone that to try and leave on his pokemon journey a year earlier," she scoffed. "The kids here always leave on April 1st and Ash didn't want to wait a whole ten months after turning ten. He tried to convince the whole town, but his father and I made him wait the whole ten months, ten days and ten minutes." She laughed to herself. "And then he still woke up late and nearly missed the thing."

When the laughter died down, Brock got us back on the topic. "But Ash's memory is still really patchy from day to day. Do you think he's capable of deciding something like this?"

"I keep telling you, his memory's not as bad as we think it is," Cilan said, to which Ritchie didn't agree.

"He thinks he's nine."

"No, he just doesn't remember turning ten. There's a difference." If there was, no one saw it but Cilan. "Look, his memory is a mess, but I think we're over-generalizing it. I think he remembers a lot more that he can't articulate."

"It's kind of hard to believe that when you see him and Pikachu," Brock said dryly, and I couldn't help but agree.

Cilan, however, clung to his theory. "That just proves my point! He clearly remembers Pikachu, but he can't explain the missing pieces." When everyone stared, Cilan huffed. "Am I the only one who actually listens when Ash talks?"

Brock looked like he was considering Cilan's thoughts, but still wasn't convinced. "I don't know, you sure you're not reading too deeply?" Before Cilan could answer, Ash re-entered the room rather suddenly.

"Mom," he said urgently, all seriousness. "Look." He held out his right hand, but nothing happened, so Delia wasn't able to be impressed.

"I don't understand," she admitted, sheepishly, "What do you want me to see?" Ash huffed and grabbed a pen and paper, plunking himself down at the table.

"Look," he insisted again, as the pen slid across the paper making elegant loops and curves. And that's when we started to see it, in his effortless movements and perfect control. The fact that we couldn't see anything wrong was the whole point. "Doesn't hurt..."

"Oh, my..." Everyone crowded around Ash, and Delia was ecstatic, "The medicine is working then? How do you feel?" She placed a hand to Ash's forehead to check his temperature, though Ash's tried to pull away. "It doesn't hurt at all?"

"Well..." Ash looked down at his hands again, biting his lip. He shook his head, but was still grinning when he looked back up. "Better, not gone, but can write, better."

Brock clapped him on the shoulder. "That's great, now your writing practice should be a lot easier." He smiled encouragingly, "I'll bet it comes back to you in no time."

Ash didn't seem encouraged. In fact, he looked insulted. "Can write," he said, irritated. "Don't need practice." Everyone sighed.

"We've been through this, Ash, you had an accident. You can't do a lot of things you used to."

"Know that," Ash shot back, "But can! Can write!"

"Is this like how you think you can read?" Gary sneered, "Because I remember you telling Snivy to use Flamethrower." Ash pursed his lips.

"Can write, can read!" he snapped, and it was Brock who stepped in to be the diplomat.

"Here, you can prove it to us," he offered, grabbing another piece of scrap paper and scribbling something down. "Read this, and then do it." Ash raised an eyebrow, but nodded, and he glanced over the paper. Then, seeming to comprehend the information, he began writing something on his own paper. Finishing triumphantly, he held up the paper and smirked at Brock.

"What did you ask?" Misty spoke up.

"I told him to write out the gyms where he got his badges. Go on, read them out," he urged Ash, who cleared his throat.

"P-pilfer, Cereal, Very, Sandstorm, Cellophane, Forest, Cinnamon, Vi-vigaroth." Ash looked proud, but the rest of us weren't so impressed.

"See, I told you," Gary sighed. "Better get in some more practice, Ashy-boy." Ash looked indignant, but Brock snuck a look over his shoulder.

"No wait, he's got it," he claimed, holding up the paper. "Pewter, Cerulean, Vermillion, Saffron, Celadon, Fushia, Cinnabar, Viridian." He grinned at Ash, "So, you can read, you just can't read out loud?" Ash shrugged.

"Did it," he said, "Told you."

"Since how long have you been able to write?" Misty cried, to which Ash couldn't really give an answer. "Honestly, Ash, would it kill you to tell us stuff now and then?" Behind her, Delia was exchanging glances with Professor Oak.

"Can it come back suddenly like that?" she asked, "I know he wasn't writing last week..."

"The brain is, sadly, not my specialty..."

Gary was still stuck on the challenge question. "You did not get Cinnabar Island's badge," he protested. "That gym doesn't exist!"

"Trust me, I was there," Misty sighed, "It was just hidden in the volcano."

"Or it was, until Team Rocket destroyed it."

"Are you kidding me?" Gary still didn't look like he believed it. "There was a gym that whole time?"

"Wait, how did you know the answer?" Ritchie interrupted, frowning at Ash. "I thought you didn't remember any of that stuff." Ash looked surprised, but pulled the black book he and Bianca had made out of his backpack.

"Don' have to 'member," he said, tapping the cover, "Read." Cilan stepped forward.

"But you do know, don't you?" he accused, though kindly. "You might not remember a lot, but you didn't have to read that in a book to know the cities, did you?" Ash looked uncomfortable, but nodded.

"ss like..." he hesitated, unable to find words to express his thoughts, and then turned to the paper in front of him. He wrote something down quickly and handed it to Cilan. "Like that," he said, and Cilan nodded.

"'Sometimes I remember with my head, sometimes with my heart, and sometimes I know things, but don't remember them at all.'"

"How can you know things but not remember them?"

"Just do. Weird," Ash offered.

"Yeah, I bet." Very weird. Ash, apparently, could write in perfect sentences, but could not read the very same words he'd just written aloud? Nor could he form those words when using his own voice.

I wasn't the only one picking up on that oddity. "If you can write it down, why can't you just say it?" Misty asked, to which Ash cringed.

"Doesn't...boom, flies apart," he said, slightly upset at the thought. "Stupid, so, so..." he fell silent, and it was Brock who brought the conversation back.

"So, where does Pikachu fit in your memories? The head, or the heart or whatever?" Ash glared at Brock, but the older boy didn't flinch. "Seriously, Ash, I'm getting sick of watching you two fight."

"Don't wanna talk," Ash snapped, "Not that, not that."

"Couldn't you at least tell us what's going on? It's like you don't even want to be friends again!" Ash stood up and snatched the paper from Brock's hand, seething as he committed a volley of words to the paper. When he finished, he deposited it in Brock's hands.

"Done, 'k? Done. Bye." He turned around and walked up the stairs to his room, leaving us to crowd around Brock. I crept into the open, as curious as the others.

"I see," Cilan looked over the contents, seeming to understand, "It's a very complex dish, isn't it?"

"Should we show this to Pikachu?" Misty spoke up, and everyone looked at me.

"Pi!" What could he possibly have written that was worse than what he'd already said? Brock knelt down beside me and showed me the paper.

"He says that you want everything instantly," Brock said sympathetically, "And he's really mad at you right now because he thinks you're selfish and always pushing him."

"I guess we're all a little selfish," Cilan said ruefully, "We're always wanting Ash to wake up one day and be the way he used to be."

"But if no one pushes him, he won't get better at all," Misty stated pragmatically, to which Cilan didn't agree.

"I think Ash is already pushing himself as hard as he can." I continued to stare at the words on the page. So, he was mad at me, not that I really needed a written note to confirm that. But, to think I was selfish for wanting things right now?

How could I not want my best friend back every second of the day?

"I didn't realize people still wrote like that," Cilan said about the letter, while I thought this over. "Hardly anyone back home uses those symbols."

"It's pretty common around here," Brock replied, "They teach both systems in the schools. Most people can use the alphabet, too."

"That's really cool." I hadn't thought about it before, but Cilan was right; most of Unova seemed to favor the smooth, curved, modern symbols for their writing, whereas Kanto was definitely a mixture of old and new. No wonder Trip kept telling us we were from the boonies.

It was such a simple thing, something Ash had always been able to do, but knowing he could write in three different systems made me admire him just a little more. He could be so intelligent, and yet...

...all that potential was wasted, since I'd blasted apart his brain.

"I think we should go by Route 1," Misty said suddenly. "We can visit Pidgeot, and, well, that's where Ash and Pikachu started their journey, right? Maybe he'll remember something?"

"Is this the same start that involved blowing up the sky and nearly getting pecked to death by birds?" Cilan raised an eyebrow. "Don't you think that might be a bit traumatic?"

"It is Ash's most important memory," Brock offered, thinking the idea over, "He treasures it."

"Yes, but now he can't talk about it without going into hysterics." Cilan shook his head. "Didn't he just tell us how he feels about being pushed?"

"It's not pushing, we're just going to walk down the road and see if anything happens!" Both sides had a point.

However, I wanted Ash back to me, and if we got him back, he'd thank us regardless of the method we'd used to do it. "Pi! Pika!"

"Okay," Misty smiled at my enthusiasm. "It's settled. Tomorrow, we're going down Route 1!"

News spread fast in Pallet Town, particularly in my circles. The air hanging over the corral was ominous, and it was with trepidation that I made my way to my friends.

"Hey, what's going on?" Bulbasaur looked tired when he answered.

"Oh, there's a rumor going around..." He shot a look at the other Pokemon, "And it's not worth the fuss everyone's making!"

"A rumor?"

"You've already heard it," Bulbasaur muttered, and suddenly, everyone's shifty eyes made sense. Who was the leak? Tracey? Professor Oak? Oshawott? I felt like I deserved to take a swing at somebody, since everyone was crowding around me with accusatory looks.

"Is it true?" Bayleef started, echoed by at least a dozen other voices. I decided to feign ignorance.

"I don't know what you're talking about." But no one believed that.

"Don't avoid us!" I think she would have held me down with Vine Whip if I'd tried to run. "Are you really the one who hurt Ash?"

I hated that she worded it like that. "It was an accident," I admitted nervously, and watched everyone recoil in horror.

Bulbasaur stepped up to be my advocate. "Yes, it was an accident," he repeated, stressing the last word. "It could have happened to anybody."

"But it didn't," Bayleef pointed out, and I flinched.

"Oh, please, it's a miracle you never broke that kid's ribs," Charizard growled, but I wasn't sure if he was defending me or not. There was a fire in his eyes that I didn't like at all. Tauros was about to add something, but Charizard blew smoke rings at the herd. "And the same goes for you."

"I think we all have a tendency to play a little roughly," Noctowl said diplomatically. "Ash as well. Therefore, it's unfair to blame each other for these sorts of things."

Buizel tossed his head, "We're not blaming Pikachu-"

"I am." That sounded suspiciously like Oshawott.

"-we just want him to start using his head. You seriously need to smarten up."

"What are you talking about? I didn't know this would happen!" Buizel ignored my protests.

"Of course you didn't, but you never think, Pikachu! And Ash is always the one who suffers!"

"Oh, and you're so much smarter?" I snapped back, unwittingly setting myself up for Sceptile's barb.

"Well, he's not the one who got Ash killed because we had to drag his lazy ass down a stupid mountain."

I wanted to murder Sceptile.

"Excuse me, but what the hell?" Bulbasaur sounded traumatized. I ignored him.

"You've sure been sitting on that one while, huh?" I sneered at Sceptile, who nonchalantly stuck a blade of grass in his mouth. "How did I know the stupid Tree was alive?"

"It shouldn't have mattered! You could have rescued your damn self in half the time it took for us to come and get you. If you'd stopped playing with Mew long enough to give a thought to that trainer who was worried out of his senses for you, maybe he wouldn't have been eaten by the mountain!"

"What the hell?" Bulbasaur tried again, but nobody answered him. I had always thought this secret would be kept amongst those unfortunate enough to have gone through it.

"And you're just bringing this up now?" I shouted. "How could any of us have known what would happen? I'm not the only one Ash has rescued, you know!"

"No, but you need to start thinking about someone other than yourself!" Charizard had butted back into the conversation, and that was the last straw.

"Oh, this is rich," I laughed, turning to face the dragon, and the other pokemon gave us a wide berth. "You're telling me to think about someone other than myself? And I suppose you're the perfect model of selflessness?"

"Okay, stop it, you two!" Quilava shouted out, backed up by Squirtle.

"I've got a Water Gun, and I'm not afraid to use it!" As if that scared either of us.

"You're so spoiled, you think the world just revolves around you, don't you?" Charizard sneered, twitching his tail in anticipation. "Well, just because Ash worships the ground you walk on doesn't mean the rest of us have to!"

"Ever think there's a reason he likes me best?" I taunted back. "You're getting after me for an accident, but everything you did to Ash, you did on purpose!" His eyes widened, and I knew I'd hit a nerve. "That's right, he loved you so much, and you kept tossing him aside like garbage. You're his pokemon in name only, always dropping him whenever something better comes along!" Charizard's flames had just as much potential to damage Ash as my thunder, the guy was certainly powerful enough. Who was he to put blame on me? "And after he saved your life!"

"So? He saved yours, and you still kept him begging like a dog for the next five months." Oh, he was going to pay for that...

"Please stop fighting," Boldore called out, but the two of us had begun circling each other, ready for battle like we never had before.

"You talk tough, but talk is all you are!" I called to Charizard, relishing my new-found bout of insanity. "I remember how you used to be, just a weak little lizard, always needing me to protect you." Charizard's eyes narrowed dangerously, and I knew I was close. "Crying like a baby because your trainer didn't love you anymore-"

-In a fury of orange, Charizard whipped his tail at me, and if I hadn't jumped at the last second, it would have been a K.O.

The battle had begun.

"I can't watch, I can't watch!" Oh, but they should have watched, and the brave ones did, with their mouths falling open while our titanic power clashed. Of course, no one was brave enough to step between us.

"Take this, you little rat! Fire Spin!"

"Pikaaa CHUUUUUU!" I hadn't battled in so long, let alone against an opponent as tough as Charizard. As much as I hated his guts at the moment, I had to admire his skill. I dodged another swinging tail and jumped on his back, delivering an Electric Ball to the back of his head. He responded with a Seismic Toss, followed by Fire Blast.

Counter Shield saved me for a bit, but I grew sick of defense and allowed myself to get hit by a Wing Attack so I could get up close again and start biting his arm. Charizard Body Slammed me back into the dirt, but Thunder managed to send him scrambling back a few feet.

I climbed up a nearby tree, reaching the top and leaping as high as I could into the air. "That the best you got?" I shrieked down at him, and saw his intake of breath. We were about to find out if my electricity was stronger than his fire.

"Get back! They're going to blow the whole corral apart!" The corral? Please. If that's what it took to put Charizard in his place, I was going to wipe out the planet. Charizard beat his mighty wings and took flight, head arching back as he prepared to release his attack. "Chaaaaaaaaaaa-"



That voice brought us both back to reason, like a switch in our personalities. Only one person could command so much authority over us, and it had nothing to do with how many gym battles he'd won.

Charizard and I fell straight to the earth without any grace whatsoever, and looked up to find Ash glaring down at us.

"Idiots!" he lectured, brows furrowed and eyes intense. "Idiots! What thinking, what?" I wasn't sure if he actually wanted us to answer.

"Sorry," Charizard and I both intoned together, feeling appropriately shamed and humiliated. It suddenly struck me that I hadn't seen Charizard so humbled in years, nor had the two of us been chastised together since he was a Charmander.

It felt oddly comforting, to have Ash chewing us both out as if no time had passed.

"No more fighting," he charged, in a voice that told us he wasn't in the mood to deal with us if we dared disobey. When he turned that look on the others, I could feel their collective shrink. "All of you. Just stop it. Not..." he sighed a bit here, closing his eyes but still keeping all his irritation with us strong, "Not that stupid... me, about me, but stop it." He opened his eyes again, resolute. "All of you. Cut it out."

We all nodded and most of the others slunk away with embarrassment, but I ran forward, even as Ash flinched. "Wait! I just... I want to say I'm sorry."

Ash turned and walked away, a little quicker than he might have from any of his other pokemon. I chased after him, wanting to make this right. If he was in the mood to forgive me and Charizard for going at it like twin Primapes, maybe he'd be willing to listen to a second apology? "Would you just listen to me? I'm sorry!"

Ash stopped, but didn't turned around, and I paused a few feet from his heels. Anyone still within earshot had turned to watch this momentous occurrence, and I felt more pressure than I had bargained for. Ash had told us all not to fight, which would probably keep everyone's negative emotions on the back burner for awhile, but whether or not he would forgive me directly was the true test.

Because Ash was the only one in our circle whose opinion truly mattered. If he forgave one of us, the rest of us would learn to follow. But if he rejected me here...?

I tried to pretend they weren't all watching and judging me. "I know I'm the one who did this to you, and you know that, too. All of this happened because of me." Why wouldn't he turn around? "You're hurting, and scared, and I can't do anything to make it right, but I want you to know I'm sorry! And I'll do anything it takes for you to forgive me!" Still, not a movement, not a sound in response. "Really, I'm so sorry. This is all my fault."

"Don't care." Ash pulled his cap down, as if he needed to hide his face when his back was facing me. "Don't care, not about... any of that, don't care. Just don't fight." He began walking again, and I followed desperately.

"Pikapi!" As usual, he wouldn't turn and face me. "Please! What do I have to do to prove it to you?" Ash remained unsympathetic.

"Said, don't care," he sighed, resolutely moving forward. "So, so, cut it out." And with that, he walked off, leaving me behind in the dust.

I curled up in the branch of one of the trees Charizard and I nearly decimated and tried not to cry. It wasn't hard; I was running out of tears to shed. I also tried not to think about Ash's words, "Don't care".

I had less success with that.

"Hey." I turned my head to the side and tried to ignore Charizard. "You ever going to come down from there?" Hopefully, he'd get bored and go away. "You know I can fly up there, right? Or just knock the tree down."

"You're a jerk," I shot back, having lasted in my resolve for all of two seconds. Charizard had that effect on me.

He looked up at me with solemn eyes. "Yeah, I am a jerk." I was surprised, even more so when he didn't point out that I wasn't much better. "I'm sorry."

"I meant what I said," I lied to him. "You all blame me for this, but I'm not the only one who's ever hurt Ash, or the only one he's put himself in danger for." Everyone wanted someone to blame, so it was natural that they'd vent their anger out on me, but I couldn't stand up to the weight of my own hatred, let alone Ash and all my other friends combined. It wasn't fair at all.

Charizard seemed to understand how I was feeling. "Look, you know what we're all like. We fight and snipe at each other for a bit, but once we've gotten it all out of our systems, we're still as close as we always were. That's how families work."

"I thought families loved each other and always had each others' back?"

"Not mine," Charizard smirked, and I found myself chuckling a little. "It works, because of the one who's raising us. If the guardian does his job, we might still want to fight, but he won't let us break each other. The others will be mad for awhile, but Ash raised us better than this, Pikachu. This can't break you unless you let it." I mulled that over a bit.

"Very profound, for a guy who's hardly ever here." Charizard sighed.

"Look, what happened between me and the kid is between the two of us. Just like this business with you and Ash doesn't belong to anyone but you. The others don't matter; this is between you and Ash and no one else." I nodded, getting to my feet to face Charizard properly.

"Maybe, but I'd be pretty heartless if I didn't care what they think."

"Then let me tell you what I think," Charizard countered. "You're an idiot, and anyone who calls themselves your friend has a right to say so." I bristled, but he continued. "But you're our idiot, and we've kind of gotten used to that side of you. So when we're done calling you out on all your faults, you'll go back to being the lovable team captain again, just like always."

"That doesn't make it okay to pick on me."

"Well," Charizard winked, "As I'm sure you know, you're not the only idiot on this team." He looked at me encouragingly. "I'm sorry I said all those things, earlier. This will blow over, I promise."

I didn't know if I was ready to believe him, but I decided to accept his apology. "I'm sorry, too."

"You gonna come down from that tree, now?" After a thought, I jumped down into Charizard's arms, taking comfort in one of his rare hugs. "I still look up to you, you know. I might have gotten bigger, but I've always known you could jump in and kick my ass if you felt like it."

"I don't know, you've leveled up a bit since leaving for the Charicific Valley..." The amount of power Charizard had control over was getting scary. At this point, my best bet was to just not get hit.

"Oh, I found them." We both turned to see Squirtle approaching, followed by Bulbasaur. "We were going to try to get you two to make up, but I see you don't need us."

"And yet, you're still here," Charizard said dryly, but there was a welcome twinkle in his eyes. "Sorry we nearly wiped you all off the face of the earth."

"No biggie," Bulbasaur deadpanned, their collective understatement caused me to break into a fit of giggles. "Oh, good, he can laugh. I was worried you might be broken." It felt good to laugh about something properly, and I let the chuckles grow until I was rolling on the ground in mirth. "I take that back, we're locking you up in the looney bin."

"I'm fine," I wheezed, finally getting my senses back. "I just... I'm just a mess."

"Nothing we didn't already know," Squirtle said wryly. "Sorry things got out of control back there. Everyone knows this isn't really your fault. We'll just work harder to remind them of that."

"Thanks." An awkward silence fell over us, and I sensed that there was more Squirtle wanted to say. "What?"

"That thing you guys were talking about, you know, did Ash really...?" Ugh, right, we'd broken our unspoken code.

"Yeah, he died." I could almost see the gravity forcing down their shoulders like a tangible brick. "But, don't worry, he was brought back."

"Somehow, I gathered that," Charizard quipped. "Did you get the bastard that did it?"

Who, me? "Well, that was the weird thing, no one was actually trying to hurt anyone. Ash was just trying to find me, and the Tree just thought it was defending against diseases, or something like that. The whole thing was just a huge misunderstanding."

The others didn't look like they believed me. "Ash got killed over a misunderstanding?" The part where the Tree was really a sentient mountain that thought Ash was a disease was left untouched.

"It was kind of a weird couple of days..." Everybody assumed the worst, nobody trusted anyone, we all jumped to conclusions and the next thing I knew, I was staring at a spot of ground where I used to have a trainer. "I guess things aren't so different, now. I didn't mean to hurt Ash, but it looks like I was the bad guy all along."

"Pikachu, quit blaming yourself. Ash wouldn't want you to feel bad over this."

"Oh, that's right, because Ash doesn't care." Not the ideal words of comfort. "He couldn't care less about this whole thing."

"Wrong," Bulbasaur stated with authority. "Because if he didn't care, he would have told you about it from the beginning." That sunk into my head, though I wasn't sure I could make sense of it. "Think about it: He kept the whole issue a secret from you because he cares about you so much. He didn't want you to know the truth until he'd found a way to beat this thing."

A good thought, but... "He just said he didn't care about me! So, I guess he changed his mind!" The others shared a look between them.

"Pikachu," Bulbasaur said gently, "Are you sure this isn't another misunderstanding? I don't know why you keep thinking Ash hates you, when all the rest of us keep seeing an Ash who loves you more than anything else in the world."

"And where are you seeing that?" I challenged. "In the way he cries and yells at me, or the way he tells me to shut up and leave him alone?"

"Hey, I tell you to shut up and leave me alone all the time, but it doesn't mean I hate you," Squirtle joked, but I just glared at him.

"Oh, isn't it obvious? He just wants Ash to hate him," Charizard rolled his eyes. "It makes it easier to hate himself." I was about to protest, but then realized that it wasn't that far from the truth. "You keep looking for signs that he hates you, so that's all you're going to see."

"Right, you shouldn't give up hope like this." I was so sick of hearing those words.

"Don't give up, keep believing, don't lose faith," I ranted. "What exactly is it that everyone expects me to do?"

"You? Please, we don't expect you to do anything," Charizard snorted.

"No offense, Pikachu, but you're not that special."

Bulbasaur's tone was less insulting. "We don't expect anything from you, but we tell you not to give up because we're expecting a lot from Ash." I wasn't sure I understood.

"From Ash?"

"Don't believe in yourself," Squirtle advised, putting on his black shades and trying to look like he was saying something impressive. "Believe in Ash, who believes in you." Bulbasaur gave him a sideways look.

"Nice speech."

"I might have borrowed it." Squirtle cleared his throat and turned to me. "You're nothing special. But Ash, he's incredible. So, don't give up."

"Right," Bulbasuar finished, "Believe in that very special Ash who never stops believing in you."

The Ash who never stopped believing in me... "You think that still applies?" Charizard shook out his wings casually.

"Well, I know a thing or two about having your entire world change overnight," he drawled, and we all shared a look. "First, you have to figure yourself out, then everyone else, and then, you have to find a way to fit it all together. No matter how strong you are, it's the weakest feeling in the world." I was a little surprised that Charizard was willing to share that with us. "But if I could do it, Ash definitely can. And it helps," his tone changed a little bit when he caught my eye, "To know that there's somebody loving and supporting you, and that they're going to wait for you forever. Even if you don't want them to."

"Maybe, especially if you don't want them to," Bulbasaur suggested knowingly, and Charizard just shrugged.

"Could be," he conceded. "You don't have to do anything, Pikachu, or try to be strong. You just have to wait."

"Yeah, well, we had to wait over a year for you to be our friend again," I pointed out glumly, and Charizard looked appropriately chagrined.

"Well," he finally posed, "Do you think Ash is worth the wait?"