Ah, Perfection, will I ever achieve you? Still, writing a straight drama/tragedy is a worthwhile challenge. But I can't deny it, I'm out of my element- where are all the jokes?

Well, since Ash is still down for the count in this chapter, please enjoy everyone's fraying emotional states...

Chapter 2: It's A Whole New World We Live In

The familiar smells of mountain dirt and flowery perfume woke me up, and even before I opened my eyes, I knew that Brock and Ash's mom had arrived. "Glad to see you're alright, Pikachu." They did their best to sound cheerful, and I think they were genuinely glad, but it was hard to be positive with so many tubes hooked up to the boy we cared so much about. I licked Ash's face, hoping for a response, but received none.

He looked so thin with all of his hair shaved off.

"Maybe now that you're up, Ash well be next?" So, Ash hadn't woken yet? That worried me. People had tried to explain to Ash and I the difference between Pokemon fainting and human fainting, and all we'd managed to come away with was that fainting kind of sucked for me, but it sucked even more for humans, particularly if they went beyond fainting and stayed unconscious. As Brock put it once, "The longer it takes you to wake up, the higher your chances are of not getting up at all."

Not the words I wanted to remember at this time. "Pikachu, I know you're probably tired," Brock's face was both sympathetic and tense, "But we need you to tell us what happened."

Cilan nodded. "You guys just disappeared, right in the middle of the tornado warning. If Officer Jenny hadn't thought to track Ash's Pokedex signal, we might never have found you." I wasn't really in the mood to, but nodded and filled them in on the Team Rocket attack, and how we took refuge inside that old building, brushing lightly over the more sordid details inside that house of terror. No one was looking for more than simple confirmation, for most of the assembled party couldn't understand me well enough to get the little details, anyway.

And I wasn't ready to acknowledge that this might not have happened if Ash wasn't always having to save me.

"That kid... why is he so stupid?" Brock groaned, and I blinked. If I was going to defend our actions, I had no leg to stand on, given the sorry state things were in, but it hadn't been just Ash's decision, so he wasn't the only stupid one here. "Well, I guess they don't get many tornadoes in Pallet, but you'd think he'd know a Rocket trap by now." As if Brock didn't fall for them just as frequently.

"Pika!" I shot back, somehow taking offense at the idea that Ash was stupid and ignorant, even though I'd said so myself on many occasions that he didn't have much in the way of common sense or survival skills. Ash was the type who ran into disasters, not away from them. But as he'd been trying to save our lives, it seemed wrong to criticize any decision he made with my best interests at heart. Delia seemed to understand how I was feeling, enough to reach out and stroke my fur until I calmed down. That pure, kind gesture reminded me of Ash, and I felt a tiny bit guilty.

It occurred to me that someone needed to tell the other Pokemon. I pitied whoever had that job, and tried to feign exhaustion so that it wouldn't be me. But the guilt took over, and in the end, I went with Brock, Iris and Cilan to break the bad news.

The second the pokemon all saw Brock, they knew something was up, and the expression on his face didn't fool anyone into thinking it was a random encounter. He was a stranger to them, only known through old anecdotes and had no business being in Unova with his studies. Released from the pokeballs with no Ash in sight made everyone nervous enough; a stranger with a face like the one Brock was wearing didn't soften the blow at all. We should have left him behind, but old habits died hard, and he was used to handling Ash's disasters.

Scraggy cried, which ironically proved to be a relieving distraction, as we all rallied together to convince him that Ash was fine and the doctors were taking good care of him. After that, we unanimously resolved to leave him out of any discussions that weren't positive. I dreaded what would happen when we wound up having to tell the others in the lab.

We sent Scraggy to play with Axew, who performed brilliantly as comforter, confidant and cheery voice of optimism, mostly because Iris had kept him sheltered from how bad things really were. All he knew was that Ash was sick and needed some time to get better, and we were fine with letting Axew reinforce this white lie.

In the meantime, there were updates, and there were tests. Supposedly, the more information doctors had to work with, the more they'd be able to help, but I still became nervous whenever nurses walked in to add or reduce fluids in Ash's body. Especially when they came to take blood; the act made me sick to my stomach.

"Calm down, they're not hurting him," Snivy muttered at me on one occasion, eying me and my raised fur disapprovingly. "These are the people making him better, remember? Don't go shocking anybody." I hadn't planned on it, but she was right, and I was tense as a live wire. I needed to do something, and since the Audino had shot down my idea to thundershock Ash back from unconsciousness, I was running out of ways to be helpful.

As stupid as it was, I wished we could take Ash to a Pokemon Center and cure him there. I was used to Pokemon Centers, and though I couldn't claim to do Nurse Joy's job, I usually knew what was happening. The atmosphere was familiar to me, and to Ash, and I was sure we'd be more relaxed there. Snivy kept saying that it wasn't actually that different, but it felt different, and I was out of my element.

I missed Bulbasaur, voice of maturity, or Squirtle, king of diffusing tense situations. Mostly, I missed Ash, strong and in charge, except when he wasn't, but he'd pretend he was and we'd all pretend we believed it until he got himself together again. Now, I was de facto leader, the team captain. It probably wouldn't be good if I had a breakdown now, much as I felt I deserved one.

It would help if the other pokemon would quit directing their questions to me. "How should I know?" I finally snapped at Tepig, then regretted it when I saw his hurt little face.

"Sorry, you just always seem like you're on top of things..." In what world? "You've been traveling with Ash the longest, so I thought you'd know..."

I sighed aloud. "Well, hospitals aren't my specialty," I admitted reluctantly. "We don't usually have a reason to visit one."

"Really?" Snivy asked. "I was surprised it took Ash this long to end up here." I was struck with a sudden, completely unreasonable urge to hit her.

"Well, if you have questions, ask Audino, that's what she's for," I grumbled back at Tepig, deciding I wanted to be alone for a bit, though I doubted I'd be granted it. "Or Oshawott, he's supposed to be the expert."

I had doubts, extreme doubts at how much Oshawott actually knew about hospital procedures, but as he said, "I grew up in Pokemon centers and research labs!" He claimed that he knew everything there was to know about biology and medicine, though I'd been in my fair share of centers and labs myself, and was still drowning in all the information being thrown at me. Human physiology was too deep to understand in a single day.

Cilan didn't seem to be faring any better than I, which both comforted and worried me. It was nice to find someone else who felt overwhelmed, but I was used to looking up to Cilan when things went wrong. Like Tepig's view of me, I had an image of Cilan being a pillar of strength and a trove of knowledge.

As it turned out, this wasn't true at all. He walked around the halls like a zombie, often repeating, "This shouldn't be happening, I don't understand, I just don't get it..."

"Well, pay attention, then!" Iris would snap, and he'd shut up and try, but, like me, couldn't absorb all the information being thrown at him. I was a little surprised that Iris wasn't the one having some sort of culture shock, being the wild, natural girl she was, but she was taking the crisis with far less hysterics than I would have guessed. "Knowledge is power," she kept saying, and followed Audino and the nurses around to question every step of their duties.

And so, Cilan and I looked to Iris for explanations, when the doctors grew weary of speaking to us like we had just hatched from an egg and didn't know up from down. Maybe it had something to do with her being our friend, but things did seem to make more sense when filtered through her voice.

Sometime during the day, Bianca showed up, though I'm not sure when and I'm a little surprised that I missed it. As focused as I was on Ash's condition, I didn't think it was possible to be oblivious to the storm of energy and near disaster that followed that girl around. But, once I became aware of her existence, I was surprised to find her sitting fairly calmly with Cilan in the waiting room, still more energetic than anyone had a right to be, but not bouncing off the walls or flying into hysterics over the situation. I guess we all have hidden sides.

Periodically, the doctor came by to keep us informed. It was voted that Oshawott and Tepig should be exempt from these updates, and we tried to be discreet at first, but they eventually discovered what we were up to. Tepig understood, though not happy about it, and resolved to stay with Ash during these times and was very helpful in convincing Oshawott to do the same. Though Tepig was growing in maturity, bad news would be best broken to him by a third party and Oshawott would fly into a panic if we let him in on some of the things the doctor was telling us.

Snivy actually suggested that I stay out with the other two. "You're a mess, Pikachu," she said in her blunt way that was probably supposed to be kind, but usually came off as haughty, "If you don't get a grip on yourself, they're going to kick you out." I knew she was right; several Audino had been watching me with wary eyes. But despite my aversion to acknowledging reality, I couldn't stay away, and told her as much. "Well, at least try not to look like you're going to fry us if we look at you funny."

"Isn't that my normal state?" I tried to joke, and she just rolled her eyes. But she patted my shoulder with one of her vines, and I felt just a little bit encouraged by the camaraderie. And so, I forced myself to sit through all the updates and pay attention to every word.

Ash's heartbeat was slow and irregular, and he still couldn't breathe by himself, "And that's what we're most worried about at the moment," the doctor valiantly tried to explain, even though Brock was the only one who could understand ventricular fibrillation and neuropathy without dumbing it down to imbecilic components. "It's taking everything we have just to keep his heart and lungs going." If Ash woke, and we had to acknowledge that he might not, there seemed to be a high chance that he would have permanent, lasting effects, might not be the same Ash we knew. We were forced to realize that he might spend the rest of his life in a vegetative state, even though I couldn't picture an Ash that didn't run and play freely under the sky.

"Ash is strong, he'll pull through," his mother said resolutely, more convincingly than I could have mustered at the moment, and Oak placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. It may have been a clue to my mental state, but I couldn't remember him arriving at all.

"Of course," the old man agreed, and for the first time, he really did look his age, "He's been through worse spots than this."

Yes, and the last time nearly destroyed the planet and he had to be rescued by a legendary, I thought bitterly to myself. Anytime Mew or Victini wanted to show up would be fine with me.

It was hard to resist the urge to let the doctor's endless stream of words wash over my head, and I wasn't the only one who felt that way. Tranquill surprised us all, flying off in the middle of a conversation. We didn't see her again for several hours, and when she returned, she informed us that she wanted to go to Professor Juniper's laboratory.

"I don't think I can stay here right now," she explained, sad and embarrassed. "I'm sure some of the others would rather be next to him." Actually, I had been positive that she would be the one to insist on staying at his side, but I was quickly learning that I didn't know anything.

"Please stay," I found myself asking, not realizing how much I appreciated her until she threatened to leave. "We need you here." Tranquill was cheerful, determined and gentle, while Oshawott was callous and oblivious, Tepig was young and inexperienced, Snivy was reasonable yet unapproachable, Scraggy was just a baby and I was a hopeless wreck. Without her, I was sure we would fall to pieces.

In the end, Professor Juniper decided for us; it seems she couldn't switch out Ash's Pokemon without his permission, excepting certain circumstances. If the current situation didn't qualify, it didn't take much imagination to figure out what would. Tranquill didn't argue, but she curled up on one of the tree branches outside and kept to herself, despite Oshawott's attempts to talk to her.

I probably shouldn't have, as there were many other things I could have been doing besides bothering worried friends, but I chased Oshawott away and joined Tranquill on the branch. I don't think she wanted me there, but she didn't turn me away, either. We watched the sky in silence for some time, caught in our own tormented thoughts, before she spoke.

"If it happens, where will you go?"

My blood froze. No, I didn't want to think about it, didn't want to go down that path, not again... But the truth was the same as it had always been. "Nowhere."

Tranquill looked at me sideways, but gave a small nod.

"Me, too."

Though I hadn't actually done much of note all day, it was surprising how exhausted I was, but having gotten my wish for a break, I decided to return to reality. Too late, it seems, as Ash's mother and Professor Oak were discussing something intensely with the doctor.

Wondering what I had missed, I ran up to Snivy, only to stop as I realized that everyone was staring at me. Oak and Delia had even stopped talking long enough to sneak glances at me, then look away hurriedly. "What's going on?"

"We'll tell you later," Snivy muttered, trying to walk away, but I chased after her.

"Do you have somewhere better to be? Tell me!" I insisted, and she gave a pained sigh.

"Can't you ever give it a rest?" Not making any ground with her, I caught Cilan's eye and started on him next. He was a little easier to crack, though he seemed to agree that he probably shouldn't be telling me whatever grand secret had been divulged.

I didn't think there was any news worse than what I already knew. "Well, they were just telling us about Ash's medical records, and some tests he had done in Hoenn..." What? I didn't remember that. "Like, normally Pokemon attacks don't do anything serious unless you get hit by a Zapdos, or something, but I guess something had gone wrong at the lab in Littleroot Town and the Professor there wanted Ash to get checked out."

Littleroot Town... A fresh start to a brand new journey, which somehow turned out exactly like our first one. As much as I like bonding with Ash, I prefer to not risk our lives while doing so.

"So, I guess they did some tests, and found that Ash had developed some sort of neurological disorder... It's an abnormality in his brain," he clarified when I tried to interrupt him. Ash's brain was abnormal? Misty had been saying that for years, but I didn't think she'd like to be proven right like this. "The cells were damaged, so the brain isn't sending messages the way it's supposed to..."

"Pikaa!" I waved my arms wildly, wanting elaboration. I also wanted Cilan to make eye contact, as he was deliberately not looking at me.

I got both of my wishes, though the look in Cilan's eyes made me wish he'd look away again. "When Ash was in Littleroot Town, they noted some problems with his reflexes, and when they followed up later in Slateport City-"

"Pi!" Cilan looked at me with compassion.

"Yeah, Brock doesn't remember either. But he thinks it's possible that Ash could have slipped away for a few hours." Possible, yes, there was a contest hall in Slateport, so we might have been focused on May. And though it's rare for him to go anywhere without me, it's not like I make him give a full report of his coming and goings. But for something like this, I should have been informed, and entertained the thought of zapping my incompetent trainer once he awoke. "But, in Slateport he reported some light tremors. The doctor there guessed that Ash had about five to ten years before he wouldn't be able to continue his Pokemon Journey... but obviously what's been happening here made it worse."

I stared, temporarily stunned into silence. This could not be real. But Cilan was too depressed for this to be some sort of joke. "I don't think there's anything we could have done if we knew. It sounds it was already too late when Ash first went in." Still, why on earth didn't he tell me? He told me everything. Cilan got up to leave, but I had one more question.

"What caused it?" He almost refused to answer, which should have been a warning sign, but I managed to convince him that I'd have to find out sooner or later.

"They're thinking it happened over time, because he ...well..." The look on Cilan's face told me I wasn't going to like this one bit. "Because he's been training an electric type..."

Oh, no...

And suddenly, all Ash's behavior made sense.

"I don't think this sort of thing happens normally, but you and Ash are, well... you're kind of unique." In that I'm a lot more powerful than my level says I have any right to be, or because we can't go three days without Ash getting caught in the crossfire of a full blown attack? "I'm sorry, Pikachu."

Sorry? Hadn't I asked for it?

In every sense of the phrase, hadn't I asked for this?

"Pikachu, are you all right? You don't look so good..." Probably not, but when the world starts going up in flames, you can't be expected to look all that great. Cilan's worried face slowly dissolved into white lights as I was suddenly accosted with several years worth of memories with me shocking Ash, and wondering which one was the one that made him break.

My vision was completely white now, and I realized I was about to faint without even battling. A new strategy for the League Conferences- Guilt: It's Super Effective.

Snivy's vines reached out before I passed out and hit my head, helping me lay down with gentle grace. "I told you to give it a rest," she sighed. Yes, because ignorance would make all of this go away.

"Pikachu!" A hand accompanied Professor Oak's voice and both were so authoritative that I was forced to pay attention. "Listen to me. I've seen those reports, and most of your attacks don't even come close to the levels it would take to harm a human."

"Pi?" My voice felt detached, like it was a balloon tied to my head with a string.

"Yes, your average output wouldn't give that boy tinnitus." Was that supposed to be good? "And Ash knew that, too, because he asked me."

I was starting to make out rough outlines of Oak and Cilan's faces, and the colors gradually bled back into my world. "I didn't know why he was so curious, at the time," the professor admitted, "But he wouldn't let me off the phone until I'd shared all my data. You are certainly capable of disastrously high power levels, but we both agreed that you'd never even think of releasing such an attack if you thought there was a chance of it hitting someone."

If this was supposed to make me feel better, it wasn't. It took years of training before I had the kind of control he was talking about, and according to Cilan, it was the past I needed to be worried about. More importantly, my intentions don't have any bearing if I'm sick and delirious, possessed, brainwashed, or amnesiac, all of which have happened with unusual frequency to me since leaving Pallet. Not that anyone could have planned for those events.

"Ash knew," Professor Oak kept insisting, "As we all know, that you would never hurt him." And yet, somehow, I did.

Knowing that, I couldn't sit still, and once I got my full awareness back, I dashed to Ash's room and leaped onto his bed. "Why didn't you tell me? You idiot!" I yelled, though I knew full well that he couldn't answer. Even if he could, when faced with my temper, he knew it could be tactically advantageous to feign ignorance. "You should have told me! I could have..." What, exactly? Would it have even mattered? "We could have tried..." I said vainly, even though I wasn't sure what I was really talking about.

He was always doing this to me. "If the trainers are scared, then the pokemon will be scared, too," he'd said on occasion, and Ash had always taken those words too seriously for my liking. Far too often, I'd seen him put on a brave face as he rushed off towards danger and certain death, somehow managing to get us all out of it at the last minute. Except when he couldn't, and that was the part I was learning to watch out for. Ash would never let us see doom approaching, but would stand up to whatever threat while ushering us all to safety, faking a calm smile or a fighting spirit. Somehow, his mask was so perfect that we never caught on to his plans for martyrdom until they were already set in motion.

"Get inside your pokeball, you'll be safe there," he'd say, as the temperatures dropped. He'd stand under the rain and shout defiantly at the sky he couldn't hope to beat in a lifetime. "After that, just trust me." And then he'd shove us to safety, close the lid of the capsule, bar the doors or recall the pokemon. "Don't worry, you just stay right there." He'd take care of it, he had a plan, there was nothing for us to be afraid of. Until we realized that he didn't expect to ever see us again. He was always doing that, even if we'd willingly follow him to certain death if it meant a chance to protect him. And maybe that was why he did it.

"You're so stupid," I whispered through tears. Or was I the stupid one, for falling for it so many times? "At least, tell me you were going to do something about it." Surely he was, this was his Pokemon Journey we were talking about. He'd never compromise his future as a Pokemon Master, or be a slave to a ticking clock. Ash must have been asking about a solution, looking for a way to beat this.

For all it mattered, now. "You could have the decency to wake up so I can lecture you properly."

His face was still, yet surprisingly peaceful. I wondered if he was dreaming. His arms had scrapes and bruises, but not as many as I would have expected. If I overlooked the lack of hair, I could almost imagine he was resting after a long day of playing outside.

I could still remember the spot on his right arm where I'd bitten him, even though that scar faded after only a few days. But until it was gone, it was like a tiny, vicious voice slipping into my mind. You did this. This is your fault. This happened because of you.

All that for a simple bite. How long were these scars going to last?

"You idiot. What would I do without you?" I nuzzled his cheek. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I don't think he told anyone, Pikachu." Snivy slipped into the room and joined me on the bed. "Not even his mom."

I decided not to point out that Ash told me plenty of things that he never told his mom. Instead, I lay down and curled up against Ash's side. His hand was just millimeters away, and if I held my head just right, I could imagine he was scratching me behind the ears. "They're all saying it's my fault, aren't they?"

"No one's saying that."

"But it's probably true." Snivy was quiet for a moment, then came over and patted my shoulder.

"If you want my opinion, I think that old building deserves most of the credit." She stayed by me while I pretended I wasn't sobbing into the bedspread, and eventually we both fell asleep.