Chapter 24: To Claim My Rightful Place

"You say your Pikachu's been unhappy," Nurse Joy looked us over dubiously, "Neither of you look unhappy..." We certainly didn't. Ash and I were still riding our winner's high and were grinning from ear to ear, occasionally catching each other's eyes and breaking into fits of giggles.

"Well, not now..." Ash tried to explain, "We just, we just won the match, but things have been bad and I want to make them right again..." We won our match in a blaze of glory and there was only one left... Very shortly, we would be fighting for the championship trophy, but along with giving his team a check-up, Ash was determined to make good on his promise of counseling. "Stuff keeps happening, keep forgetting, and I want to make sure the p-problem's really fixed."

Nurse Joy nodded. "Well then, tell me about it from the beginning."

From the very beginning would've been a long story so Ash skipped over some things. "I'm, well, I was in an accident and got hurt and P-pikachu was part of it..." Ash never said it was my fault, not once. "And I think he-he says he feels bad or, uh you felt bad about it, like, guilty, but things were getting better... I thought, but he still had nightmares, lots of nightmares and then, him yesterday-no! Today- our friend to said something mean 'n Pikachu got really sad again, and I don't know... I just want, I want Pikachu to feel happy all the time, you know, no matter what anybody says! Needs to be perfect."

"I see..." There was something about this Nurse Joy that seemed familiar, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. The shade of her hair was a darker hue than the usual nurses we saw, more of a red, but Ash and I had met so many different Joy's in our travels, and so many nurses had been called in to help at the Pokemon league. I couldn't remember if we had met this particular one before, not having Brock's skills for identifying subtle differences between them.

But Ash picked up on the signs as well. "You're voice sounds really familiar, really familiar..."

"I get that all the time! Everyone says I sound just like my sister, she's the Nurse Joy in Celadon City!"

"No, thasssnot it..." Both Ash and I were puzzled, but eventually had to let it go. We had a more important issue to discuss with Nurse Joy, anyway, so Ash continued to outline our problem for her. "... so I don't want Pikachu to get sad just 'cause other people say stuff, you know? Just want to make everything perfect."

"You keep using the words 'perfect' and 'I want'," Nurse Joy observed. "Why is that?"

"Well, uh..." Ash was surprised to be made the subject, and the more he thought about it, the more he squirmed. "Pikachu's my friend, so I want him to be happy."

"Of course you do, but you know Pikachu's happiness isn't up to you, right? It's up to Pikachu." Ash bit his lip and sunk back into his chair. "Does that make you uncomfortable?"

Now in the hotseat, Ash looked extremely uncomfortable. I was just happy we weren't talking about me. Ash might have been determined to drag me off to counseling, and he might have been right to do so, but after such a glorious battle and the peace I currently felt, talking about the past felt a little stupid, like I had over-reacted. "I know I can't m-make him happy, but..." I managed to catch Ash's eye, but it didn't take any of the pressure off him. "If he's s-sad or thinks it's his fault, he might go away again, and maybe this time, this time I won't find him..."

"I'm not going anywhere," I said, and Joy also tried to reassure him, but Ash just screwed up his face.

"It's not always, like, walking away, sometimes it's... urgh, that's not the point!" He crossed his arms and sulked. "Me being sick was really hard for you, hard for you. And it's hard now, but I can't fix that. Being like this, I hurt you and make you sad, 'nd can't make it better, so e-everything else has to be perfect, so you d-don't..." He saw my face, and grew intimidated. " know, want to leave..."

"Oh, this is precious," I snarled, suddenly ticked off. "After that big speech you gave me this morning? You're such a hypocrite!"

"I'ssnot 'cause I owe you!" Ash snapped back. "Not my fault how you feel! Just want to make it easier!"


"Stop being mean, being mean! I'm only trying..." Ash's frustration was getting the better of him. "Never mind! Don't understand!"

"What, that you think you have to fix all my problems or I'll ditch you?" I argued, "Because that's exactly what you sound like!"

"No! It's hard!" Ash pressed. "This! Watching me be sick and having to be my-my, um, taking care of me! And I get hurt or s-scared and you can't do anything, 'nd never get a break-"

"You think I resent that?"

"-even hard for Mom-"

"-We're friends! How many times do I have to tell you tha-"

"Normal people don't do this!" Ash finally exploded, and I had to stop when the tears burst from his eyes. Underneath the waterworks, Ash looked too miserable for my ranting.

"What do you mean by that, twerp- I mean, Ash?" Nurse Joy asked, and Ash gripped the edge of his chair with white knuckles.

"Sometimes, sometimes I'm so... helpless, like babysitting, but you do it, 'cause you're nice, everyone does. Have to watch me be hurt and can't do simple stuff, make me do stuff I don't want to, take med'cine I don't like, even if I'm screaming at you, have to make me do it, have to... Know it's awful, if it were you, instead of me, I'd cry every day, it'd be so hard..."

I reached out and patted Ash's arm. "You know I don't hate you for anything."

Ash ignored that with a shake of his head. "But then I say, "Let's train", or-or, "Let's go to the Pokemon League", you know, and you do it. I ask and now you have to deal with it all the time! Every day, never get a break, always your job now, but-but everyone, even Mom needs a break. 'cause this is hard... they get tired, and..." I watched Ash struggle and fail to compose himself. "Who does that? Normal people don't, Pikachu, need to get away sometimes, but I asked you to stay with me and now it's your life! All the time, have to deal with me, why would you want that, why would you want that? So I have to take care of everything else, so you don't get tired..."

I looked to Nurse Joy for advice, but she just watched me with an expectant gaze, so I turned back to Ash. "It's not like hanging out with you is a chore." Ash gave me a glance out of the corner of his eye.

"Sometimes I'm really glad this happened to me, and not you, not you. Like, if it had to be one of us... 'Cause I think dealing with all my stuff is easier than being you..." When I thought about it, I secretly agreed. If I could have switched our positions, I would have done so in a heartbeat and not just to spare Ash the physical pain. Going through such suffering had to be an ordeal, but it was easier to be the one who got to focus on themselves than have to watch a friend go through this and futilely try to help.

I was just glad Ash was the one who said it aloud. "Well, you don't make it look easy," I said, and my trainer laughed. "So, what's the problem? You don't want me to leave but you think I should?"

"I just don't want you to feel, like, over-over... um, too much, like it all makes you sad. Or it's a mistake, and you're too tired to feel good..."

"Yeah, but if you take everything on yourself, you'll be the one getting tired," I pointed out.

"I'm a Pokemon Trainer. 'Sssmy job to take care of everything."

"Not this again." I felt my frustration returning. "You always pull this! You're the trainer, so you have to do all the hard stuff! Run into danger and risk your life, everything's your responsibility, everything else has to come before you! That's how we got into this mess in the first place!" Ash gave me a weird look. "What? Was I too fast?"

"I understand," Ash replied, still with the strange frown. "But you... you don't, don't usually talk like that..."

"But I'm always thinking it!" Nurse Joy leaned back in her chair, ignored while Ash and I argued. "Who made you the boss of me?"

A wry smirk tugged at Ash's lips. "You let me be your trainer..." he teased. So, technically, I made him the boss. Or at least, Professor Oak did.

"Well, I never wanted a trainer, I wanted a friend!" I shot, and that wiped the smirk right off Ash's face. I regretted it instantly. "Look, I..."

"I thought I was being both..." Ash mumbled, and I cast a pleading look to Nurse Joy.

No help came. "You are," I backpedaled, "And I do like training with you. I just hate it when you make these life and death decisions by yourself, even if it's to protect me." Always risking his life, not telling me he was sick. "We're supposed to be a team."

"You decide stuff without me, all the time, all the time," Ash grumbled, and the tone in his voice bothered me.

"I feel like I have to do something special to be worthy of it," I tried to say clearly and slowly. He had to understand how I felt, I needed to make him understand this.

And it seems I got through, because his face softened a bit. "Don't want you to be special or anything," he told me. "I want you to be alive. But you, it's like you want me to be everything. Like, best trainer, best friend, do this, do that, don't do this, don't do that, save me, don't save me, like... dunno what I used to be like, but I bet I couldn't do it then, either. Bet I wasn't perfect then, either."

"No, you definitely weren't," I teased. This was an argument we'd been having since day one. Maybe we'd never find a solution, and would forever be frustrating each other with selfless concern.

Ash's smile twisted a bit. "You know, came here to talk about you, about you..." he teased, and I just laughed.

"I think we're making good progress here!" Nurse Joy said, even when Ash and I looked at her with disbelief. "I mean it! Sometimes you accomplish more by being honest than by being nice." Maybe she was right. I'd put Ash on a pedestal a lot recently, practically worshiping him some days, but it was only after I stopped treating him like some glass, graven image and recognized my own worth that we were able to fight such a great battle together. Ash wasn't so saintly or so fragile that I couldn't knock some sense into him.

"But it might be good to discuss things separately for a few minutes," Nurse Joy suggested, and Ash and I didn't see a problem with that. "Chansey! Please take Pikachu into the other room, and I'll talk here with the twe-Ash!" A Chansey hopped into the room, but one of the most unusual ones I'd ever seen.

It was far too short, and seemed to weigh a lot less than average, but despite being so light, it's moves were slow and clumsy. It was all I could do not to stare, after all, my own trainer was so very different from the average human. It wasn't fair to judge Chansey's capabilities because of how it looked.

I waved goodbye to Ash and followed Chansey into the other room. Honestly, after arguing with Ash I didn't think we needed a third party anymore, weird as that sounded. I had finally gotten the chance to talk openly, and after weeks of apologizing for everything and being hyper-considerate of each other, to let loose and argue like before felt natural. Our teamwork was back, we still had disagreements but we could say what we needed to say to each other. I didn't feel like I had to keep things hidden.

But talking with a professional couldn't hurt, or so I thought. "'Dis way, Pikachu," Chansey said, opening a door for me and I entered without a thought.

"Thank you." But the second I was through the door it suddenly occurred to me the Chansey had not spoken in it's native language, it had used human speech. With such a familiar accent...

"Hey, wait!" I cried, but it was too late. The charge in the air changed, and I was pulled by an unseen force all the way across the room and out the open door, across the lawn until I was stuck to the side of Team Rocket's balloon. They had a giant electro magnet, and I was helpless to do anything but watch as the Chansey revealed itself to be Meowth in disguise. "Da plan's working! All aboard!"

Nurse Joy came tearing out of the Pokemon Center, shedding her nurse's uniform and proving her true identity to be Jessie. "Step on it, James!" She hopped into the balloon and we lifted off into the air, and I watched Ash run out after us.

"Pikachu!" But he was too far behind, too far below. Even when he jumped, his reach was about a foot too short and I watched gravity pull him back down to the ground, far away from me.

"Pikapi!" I knew it wouldn't work, but I let loose a thunderbolt that just ended up providing more power to the jet packs on Team Rocket's balloon. The magnet's force wasn't just holding me hostage, it was making me sick, throwing all my electric currents out of whack. I felt weak and exhausted, but at the same time, far too overpowered for my own good. What now? How could I escape from this?

Were they going to take me back to their boss?

More and more, the Pokemon Center was shrinking as we left the Indigo Plateau. We were headed towards the mountains now, far away from rescue. Above me, in the balloon, Jessie and James were running through their motto, even while Meowth protested, "Ya do know da twerp can't hear us, right?"

"Ugh, I wish I couldn't, wish I couldn't!" Ash! "Charmander, Flamethrower!"

"Will you ever get my name right?" Streaking through the air were Ash and Charizard, determination carved on both their faces.

I should have known they wouldn't be far behind. "Turn off the magnet, you're hurting him!" Ash cried, and I involuntarily cried out and supported his observation.

But Team Rocket didn't listen. "Frillish! Bubblebeam!" Charizard was forced to dodge the water attack, but Ash leapt from the dragon's back and landed in the balloon basket. I couldn't see anything after that, but heard the sound of shrieks and thuds and angry yelling. Hopefully my trainer was winning at whatever he was trying to do.

"You take care of Team Rocket! I'll get Pikachu, get Pikachu!"

"We're right here, twerp! Don't ignore us!" Charizard continued to battle Team Rocket's pokemon and occasionally took a shot at the trio, while Ash seemed to be making his way down the side of the balloon to the magnet that held me. He slipped once, and his sneaker dangled in front of my face, nothing around for a foothold.

"Don't worry, Pikachu, I'm coming, I'm coming..."

"Please be careful!" But then Charizard and Frillish's attacks collided and formed an explosion that could have lit up all Kanto. It overwhelmed Team Rocket, but the force blew back everything, Frillish flew off into the distance, Charizard was disoriented and gliding around in a daze, and worst of all, the magnet that held me separated from the balloon.

I was still stuck, and so in his usual fashion, Ash jumped and grabbed onto a section of falling metal. We and the wreckage screamed through the air until we collided with the mountainside.

Fo a second I thought I was back fighting Victini. Everything was black save the stars that danced around my vision. Even when I tried to open my eyes and focus, everything was a mix of black shadows and garbled sounds.

But worst of all was the pain. If I had actually broken a bone in that fall, I'd never know, for all the electric power coursing through my body. I shot off Thunderbolt attacks without any restraint, but it didn't relieve the pressure, and I felt like I was going to explode. I seemed to be free from the magnet, but I wasn't safe in the slightest.

"Pikagarbalarastop!" A voice was shouting at me that I couldn't quite hear, something was threatening me, and I fired a shot at the villain I couldn't see. "No! Gurabalapah it's me! Stopagrablegarble Ash!"

Ash! I immediately reigned in all my Thunderbolts, even though doing so made me feel like a balloon about to pop. "Pikapi?" I forced myself to listen, forced myself to focus...

"Uh huh! Don't worry, don't worry, it's okay..." Like all the times before, Ash was here to save me, like that time in Hoenn where I'd been strapped to another electromagnet and become overpowered...

Wait, this was terrible! "You have to get away!" I screamed, and electricity poured out of me with the effort. "I can't control this!" This had happened before, and it was disastrous! I might fire off horribly destructive attacks or I could even spontaneously combust from the power build up! As if to prove my point, more charges forced their way out of me and sizzled in the air.

"Pikachu, what are you-s-stop it!" He sounded terrified. Squinting my eyes, I finally could make out a dark blur that looked a bit like Ash.

"Urg, magnet!" I choked out, willing all the strength in me to keep me from accidentally frying my trainer. "Too much electricity, I can't..." I felt something shifting underneath me and my stomach turned. "What going on?"

"Don't move! Don't move!" Ash cried, and I help my breath until I felt the movement subside. I still couldn't see anything well enough to understand the situation. "Pikachu, you're, um... the metal thing, it's gonna fall, like, tipping!" The magnet? Was I on top of that? "It'ssson the edge of the cliff, and some rocks, like, not safe! You have to get over here! Okay? Jump!"

Easier said than done. I got to my feet and the ground beneath me shifted again, and my whole body was burning up. Just one step and I was shooting off electricity, there was no way I could hold it in if I tried to jump. "I can't!"

"Pikachu, you're gonna fall! Jump over to me!"

"I said, I can't!" I shrieked back, and Ash had some screams of his own when Thunderbolt shot out of my body. "It hurts!"

"'Sssokay, 'sokay," Ash soothed as soon as he composed himself. "Don' move, don' move, I'm coming over..." He couldn't be serious.

"I can't control this! Aren't you listening?" I yelled at him. "I can't even see you, I can't do anything! Don't you dare-" I heard rocks tumbling and a small yelp from Ash. "It's too dangerous!"

"Know you hate it, but we don't have time to discuss this, time to discuss this!" Ash snapped, fear in every word. "No time! I don't wanna l-lose you!"

I didn't want to lose him, either. But here we were, in another dangerous situation where if he didn't die trying to rescue me, I might accidentally kill him for succeeding. After some heavy breathing and listening to Ash nearly fall to his death a few more times, I was able to open my eyes and make out a clearer version of my surroundings.

As Ash said, we were on the edge of a cliff, my magnet and I balanced precariously on a small jutting of rocks and surrounded by sheer walls all around. Several feet away was a small plateau, presumably where Ash had scrambled over from, but now my trainer was dangling off the cliff walls with a death grip on a plant that was growing out. I didn't know how long it would hold his weight, and I couldn't see any way for him to progress from there.

He was still a good six or seven feet away, and the sight swam in front of me. "Pikachu, you have to jump!" he commanded. "I can't get over there, have to jump!"

"No way!" I grit my teeth and just tried to breathe. I couldn't risk moving, absolutely couldn't hit Ash with another uncontrolled attack. We couldn't go through all of this again, but even as I thought so, the dead magnet underneath me lurched again and I had to dig in my claws to keep from sliding off the edge.

"Pikachu, please!" Ash shrieked, arm straining to reach me. His arm was always stretched out to me, that was never going to change. But if I jumped now, if I got too close and lost control, I might hurt him again. If the power inside me exploded out, I might even kill him. Was Ash's life worth this risk? It had been one thing on the battlefield, but now... "Please, you have to jump now!"

He was crying. Terrified, and so was I. Our eyes locked and I willed him to understand my complex feelings, how terrified I felt with this current trying to tear me apart, how much I didn't want to hurt my best friend, how badly I didn't want to die here. But I couldn't bring myself to move. Ash had protected me before, leaving me in safety when I might have helped him through something dangerous. He could help me now, but he might also end up crippled or dead, and wouldn't protecting him be the honorable thing?

I was willing to die for Ash's sake, but that didn't mean I was looking forward to it. What I wanted most of all was to jump into his arms and race to the nearest Pokemon Center, I wanted to live, I wanted to win that Championship trophy with him... We were supposed to be making our way to that battlefield this evening, what time was it now? Were we going to be able to make it back in time? Would I even be in any condition to fight?

My life was in danger and all I could think about was a League match. I was turning into Ash. "I can't do it, I can't!" I sobbed, clenching my fists and trying to hold my power in. I couldn't bring myself to move, but I wanted to live, I wanted to travel to new regions and learn new attacks, watch a lifetime's worth of sunrises.

I didn't want this to be my last sunset, about to die on the edge of some unknown cliff while my trainer cried over me.

In dangerous situations, Ash would always make the decisions he thought best, whether I agreed with them or not, but he didn't get to decide my choices. If I jumped now, I might maim Ash, I might not. But if I stayed here, whether by falling or electricity overload, I was definitely going to die.

And in this one, specific moment, I decided that was a risk worth taking. "Okay," I wheezed, getting to my shaking feet. "I'm coming..." Ash seemed petrified by the electric shocks I couldn't help but release, even so, he kept reaching out to me, managing to stay present in the moment.

"It's gonna be fine, Pikachu, you're gonna be fine," he whispered, probably convincing himself as much as me. I braced myself and prepared to jump-

-But then the magnet shifted again, and I tilted to the side. I saw Ash's horror as I tumbled away from him, falling off the cliff along with all the rocks and metal. It would take more than Electro Ball to save me now...

Ash, in his infinite idiocy, let go of his handholds and dived after me, eventually managing to grab my arm with one hand. The touch almost resulted in electrocution, but luckily, the charge was diverted to a piece of falling metal. "I hate you!" I screamed at him, even though I meant the opposite. Now we were both going to die horribly and all our efforts were both wasted.

"I know, I know," I swear I heard Ash mutter, but his eyes still tried to keep up a brave lie. "I've got you, it's gonna be fine..."

"HOW?" The ravine below us grew ever closer, and the fear and adrenaline were finally at a level where the pressure inside me didn't seem so important. I closed my eyes, focusing only on the death-grip Ash kept on my arm, and prepared for the end.

"What's that?" Ash's cry snapped me out of it, seconds before we were both swallowed up inside a pair of massive, pink bubbles. "Ooof!" The impact knocked the wind out of me, but as soon as I regained breath, I realized all my pain was gone. Or, at least, I no longer felt it, no longer seemed in danger of exploding. I pressed against the edges of the bubble and looked out to Ash, also suspended in his own pink prison with no more clue as to how this occurred than I had.

We both floated down towards a small cliff, and once we touched solid ground the bubbles both shimmered, and some strange magic flowed into me. Slowly, the bubbles disintegrated and left me and Ash standing in front of each other, glowing pink and trying to make sense of what had just happened.

"You didn't do that, d-did you?"

"Sure it wasn't you, Sir Aura Master?" Ash raised an eyebrow, but before he could say anything, a small, glowing pokemon appeared before us. A Mew, gleefully gliding through the air and bearing Ash's baseball cap.

Both of us gaped for a minute before Ash remembered his manners. "Thank you, uh... um, thank you. Did you save us?" Ash stammered as he took his hat, and Mew purred happily.

"Yup! It's no big deal, that was fun!" Only a Mew could find our near-death experience amusing. "I was hoping I would run into you!"

"Huh?" I asked the question since Ash had no idea what Mew was talking about, but Mew was distracted by a faint roar on the horizon, Charizard's triumphant announcement that Team Rocket had been completely and utterly demolished. "Oh well, another time, then!" Mew flitted off before we could say anything, leaving Ash and I standing in awe. "I hope I'll see you again!"

"Thank you..." Ash repeated, almost dazed while I racked my brain trying to remember all our previous encounters with this species of Pokémon. Was it an old friend or were Ash and I famous in Mew circles? Considering how many times Ash had met legendaries and saved the world, I wouldn't be surprised if Ash had become the kind of legendary human that would live forever in our stories, the kind that even the most powerful Pokémon dreamed of meeting someday.

Ash put his hands on his hips and looked down at me with a quizzical expression. "Did that feel really familiar?"

"It's not just you," I agreed. "Think it's the same Mew from the Tree of Beginning?" Ash raised an eyebrow and I realized I was asking the wrong person.

"Sorry." Ash giggled and I would've laughed with him but the pink glow was fading from our skin and that dampened my mood. The pain and pressure were returning and Ash jumped back when my cheeks began sparking again. I tried to hold it back but it was futile.

Charizard touched down on the ledge beside us. "Oh, now you show up!" I snapped, but he ignored me in favor of Ash's commands. "To the Pokemon Center! Fast as you can!" Ash gathered me in his arms, a little gingerly, and in seconds we were racing through the air with Charizard.

"Calm down, just rest, you'll be okay..." Ash kept up a steady stream of soothing chatter as we flew, and while it was comforting, it didn't make the pain stop.

The pressure inside me was too powerful to hold back. "Drop me, drop me!" I struggled against Ash's arms but he didn't let go so easily.

"Where?" he cried, just before I screamed out a Thunderbolt. I tried so hard to keep it in, but my control was fraying more and more. Both Ash and Charizard seized up and we plummeted for several hundred feet before Charizard could right himself and I stopped throwing voltage around.

"Pi..." There was barely any breath in my lungs to ask if Ash was all right, and even though his arms never let go of me, I could hear his barely suppressed screams and feel his tears on my face. "You..."

"'m fine, 'm fine," he kept lying, but growing more confident in time. "Try to hang on, 'k? We're almost there, almost there!" I whimpered into Ash's chest, not at all consoled by his thundering heart. "Not giving up, gonna make it!"

Another wave of electricity hit and we dropped again but not as much. My stomach felt queasy this time but Charizard managed to power through it and stay airborne. Everything was blurring together into one dark pool, and even the feeling of Ash's arms were becoming less tangible. It didn't help that night had fallen, the last vestiges of the sun's light disappearing behind the mountain.

"You're gonna miss the match..." I mumbled into Ash's chest, this thought suddenly taking over all my thoughts. "Because of this..."

"Huh?" I repeated myself for Ash at his request, and it took three times for him to catch on to what I was saying.

When he did, his body tensed up. "Don't even think it, Pikachu!" His voice was harsh, dark, determined. I couldn't help but obey.

"Okay," I answered in my faint whisper of a voice, before everything in the outside world fell away. There was just me and the exploding power that was going to rip me to shreds, but I couldn't allow even the slightest bit of electricity to leave my body. Just hang on I kept repeating to myself, Hold it in as best you can, just a little longer, you're almost there... We flew through the night, my hold on Thunderbolt steadily weakening along with my ability to remain in reality...

I woke up to beeping and the smell of electricity burning up the air. "Pikachu!" I blinked my eyes slowly and Ash came into focus, eyes bright and grateful. "You're okay!"

More than okay, I felt fantastic. I sat up in a hurry, noticing Charizard's head sticking through an open window and greeted him before looking around the room. "Nurse Joy, she used this machine, this one here," Ash pointed to a machine near my bedside, "Like, absorbs electricity, or s-something, all the Thunderbolts went in there, you nearly broke it! But she said you're fine now, are you fine?"

"Yes..." I felt great, but mentally, I was still trying to catch up. Being in the Pokemon Center was a good sign, but I couldn't believe it had all been so simple. "And you? How are you?"

"Fine, now that you're okay!" Ash smiled, but at my hard stare, he rolled his eyes. "Oh, that..."

"Yes, that!" I snapped, not liking the way he was trivializing the possible return of his old injuries.

But there was a flash of pain in his eyes that took away all my anger, and I realized that trivializing the situation might have been the only defense Ash had left to him. "Think I'm fine, the attacks weren't that bad, weren't that bad," Ash kept insisting, and when I looked to Charizard, he nodded.

"They were pretty weak. If you couldn't take me down I'm sure you didn't hurt the kid." Charizard had a point; he was a Flying-type and sensitive to electric attacks, but had managed to keep flying even as I was shocking him. My attacks couldn't have done too much damage...

Still... "Are you sure you're okay?"

"I did tests while you were out. Took brain pictures and stuff," Ash waved my worries away. "If something's wrong, they'll call me."

"Did you really?" I asked suspiciously, not backing down when Ash frowned. "You've lied to me about this before."

"I feel fine! Told doctor, what more do you want?" Ash huffed, and I gave up. There was nothing anybody could do but wait, and I was just going to have to let my worries go. Just like visiting Nurse Joy, if there wasn't an obvious problem, all she could do was run some tests and wait for the results.

"How long until they get back to you?" Ash didn't understand the question, so I had to repeat myself. "When do you know the results?" When did we find out whether or not the nightmare was back?

"I'm fine, Pikachu!" Ash whined, but after more pressing, "I forget, okay? Don't remember how long it takes to... to show stuff..."

"It doesn't really matter, does it?" Charizard interrupted my strained sigh and Ash's pouting. "We're just waiting, and even if something's wrong they probably wouldn't be able to do much for him right away."

"What are you talking about?" I asked, glaring at Charizard. Of course the test results mattered!

"I mean, based on what happened last time, they'll have to monitor him and discuss stuff before deciding how to treat him, it's not like they'll pump him full of meds or whisk him off to surgery right on the spot."

"So, what's your point?"

"Well, if neither of you are in pain and there's nothing we can do right now, then it really doesn't matter if we wait here for the results..." Charizard gave a pointed look at the clock. "Or in the stadium." 6:35. Our league match started over half an hour ago.

Would they have waited this long? "What is it?" Ash looked between me and Charizard. "You say you want to fight?" Charizard roared the affirmative and I leaped to my feet to help him persuade Ash, all worries tabled.

"If we leave now, we can be there in no time!" we cried. "It's the final match, they might still be waiting!"

"But Pikachu..." Ash seemed worried and I did my best to dispel any fears he might have.

"I'm fine, I promise," I said truthfully, trying to show him how energetic and free from harm I felt. Now that the excess electricity had been drained, I did feel like I could take on the world.

But Ash needed a second opinion and called Nurse Joy over. "Well, I would recommend rest after that ordeal," she sighed, but she gave me a smile. "Still, there's nothing actually wrong with Pikachu, it's completely healthy. Now that the excess electricity is gone, there's no danger in fighting a battle."

With her words, Charizard and I were all the more insistent. "We can't give up now! Not after we've come so far!" Ash hesitated for a few more seconds but I could tell he wanted this just as much as we did. There was no place he wanted to be more than on that battlefield.

"All right," he finally said, "Let's go! Pikachu-" He didn't even have to finish saying my name and I was already on his shoulder, and I'm sure it took all of Ash's discipline to run out the front door instead of jumping straight through the window onto Charizard. Before long we were in the air and racing towards the battlefield and our championship match.

In the back of my mind, I prayed to anything that would listen that the referee would've held the match for so long, that we would be to fight our most important match...

That's what I hoped, but the stadium was almost empty when we got there. Just a few people in the stands, and I recognized our group of friends, but not the crowds of spectators I would have expected. "No," I whispered as we came in closer, not wanting to believe what my eyes were telling me. Charizard landed on the field and Ash and I jumped off, looking around for one hopeful sign.

There were no tournament officials, no commentators, even the referee was collecting his things and chatting with some people by the stands. We ran over to him, desperate. "Please! Is-is it too late?"

The man was surprised. "Are you Ash Ketchum? We waited fourty-five minutes for you!"

"I'm sorry," Ash apologized, "Tried to make it, really, there was trouble..." The referee sympathized, probably because Ash, Charizard and I all looked like we'd been through a meat grinder, but there was nothing he could do.

"The decision's already been made. We had to call it a forfeit." Ash looked devastated, and he recalled Charizard into his pokeball before the dragon could fly into a rage about being deprived of his victory.

An empty pop can suddenly whizzed by us. "Hey, thanks for nothing, loser!" All of us looked to the stands, where a few angry people had assembled. "I waited in line for hours for these tickets!"

"Yeah, I'm so glad I saved up for this!"

"Who drops out of the final match?" another trainer cried. "Everybody worked so hard to get here! If you were just going to quit, then you shouldn't have entered at all!" Some more trash was thrown down at us before the referee ran up to chase them off.

"Okay, none of that!" I swallowed and looked up to Ash, whose fists clenched with enough force to break bone.

"We were so close..." he whispered, and I didn't know what I could possibly say in return.

A girl wearing denim cutoffs and a baseball cap approached us, and I guessed that she was supposed to have been our opponent. She had a look of hollow disdain in her eyes. "You're late," she accused, and her voice sounded like we were attending a funeral, not a league conference. "I tried to get them to wait, but you never showed."

"I'm sorry," Ash apologized, still a little dazed, but he had realized that there was no hope in begging. Nothing would change this outcome, and nothing would win us back respect.

"They declared me the winner, by default," the girl said in that depressed, factual tone. She looked over the arena, past the stadium lights and to the Flame of Moltres that still burned so brilliantly. "Tomorrow I've got to walk across that stage and accept a trophy I didn't earn. It's embarrassing." Her eyes grew soft as she looked over the two of us. "But it looks like you've been through a lot tonight..."

"Team Rocket... they, um... they took my pokemon..."

"Ah," the girl said knowingly. Given Team Rocket's hijacking of the opening ceremonies the last time we competed at Indigo, I supposed it wasn't such an unbelievable story. "Did you get it back?"

"Yeah... I'm sorry," Ash repeated again. "I did want to-to battle, but..." he looked at me, then quickly looked away. "Some stuff happened. Wasn't fair, but..." He shook his head. "You did earn the... um, you did. Becuase Pokemon Masters have to take care of the important stuff, and you were the one here..." Any second now and Ash was going to cry, I could see the signs, but he managed to sound calm and mature. "You deserve it..."

"Thanks," the girl said with a dismissive sigh. "My name's Hilda, by the way. From Unova."

"I'm Ash, from Pallet Town."

"I know, they only called your name a million times while we were waiting for you." Ash looked guilty again, but Hilda cracked a smile. "But, like you said, Pokemon Masters have to take care of what's most important, right?"

"Right..." Hilda left us to continue gazing at the Flame of Moltres with her thoughts, and Ash let his head drop. With matching sighs, the two of us shuffled off to face our friends.

"I'm sorry," I found myself saying. It wasn't really my fault, but I felt obligated to say it. "This whole mess happened because of me..."

"It's okay, Pikachu, you're more important," Ash said without a second of hesitation. "You're always more important." It did make me feel a little better, but not enough to assuage hurt feelings from being deprived of our ultimate victory.

Even if the others didn't blame it on me for making us miss the match, I knew it would still sting. I remembered how I had felt back when Charizard cost us the fight against Ritchie and I had those same feelings now. We had proved ourselves in the last match but I wanted to reach the pinnacle.

We reached the stands and all our worried friends, and once Ash assured everybody that we were fine and all crisis had been dealt with, he bit his lip in frustration.

"'K, does this feel familiar, does this feel familiar to anybody else?" A good half of the party choked out some tension laughter, because this situation was so cruelly familiar to all of us, though we had been able to have our match with Ritchie back then. This was the first time we'd been turned away from a match, but it certainly wasn't the first time Team Rocket or some other villain interrupted an important battle. Really, one of these days Ash would just have to let me murder Team Rocket, and by the look on his face, he probably wasn't too far from it.

"I let everybody down," Ash said despondently, and while everyone rallied to assure him that he hadn't, it didn't lift his mood. "Know it's not, like... what'm'I gonna do, not fight Team Rocket? I just... A pokemon master should be able to handle this stuff..."

"Yeah, well, so should his pokemon, and I wasn't winning any competence prizes out there, either," I muttered. Really, how had I not noticed that Nurse Joy was really Jessie? And after months of training, how could I let myself be so unbalanced by one magnet? Or put my trainer in such a dangerous position?

We were a good team, but maybe not the invincible force we thought we were. And maybe that was fine. Ash held out his arm and I jumped onto his shoulder. "Next time," he declared, though without his usual energy. "We'll train hard, beat this next time..." And the two of us shared a look that did more for me than everybody else's reassurance. There would be a next time, Ash and I had proved we could travel and handle training, albeit with a little help. We had a future we could plan for, goals to aim for...

And that was better than any trophy.

"Hey." The girl from before, Hilda, walked purposefully over to our group. "You still want to battle? It wouldn't be official, or anything, but we might as well."

"Battle?" Ash was just as surprised as I was.

"Yeah, that way all our training's not a total loss. Besides," she said with a rueful twist of her lips, "I'd like to know I'm getting a trophy I deserve."

And Ash and I wanted to know what we could have deserved. We were only too eager to battle. We followed Hilda onto the field, but when the referee saw what we were doing, he stopped us. "Woah, wait up! Are you guys going to battle here?"

"Why not? We're scheduled to," Hilda pointed out. "It's not like this field was being used for anything else, anyway." The referee had to see the logic in that.

"Well, you can't battle without official authorization," he began, but then a voice echoed down form the stands.

"Aw, let them battle! That's the real spirit of this competition, isn't it?" We all looked up to see a short, elderly gentleman sitting in the bleachers. Mr. Goodshow.

If anyone had authorization, it was him, and since our battle was now sanctioned by the president of the Pokemon League, the referee had no more objections and even offered to officiate the match. Ash and I took our place across the stadium from Hilda. "Don't go easy, don't go easy just because isssnot off'cial!" Ash called, and Hilda just laughed.

"Are you kidding? I can't let you beat me before they give me the championship trophy! That'd be the worst!" She pulled out a pokeball while I readied myself. "You're the one who should watch out. I've traveled all over the world, and my pokemon are prepared for anything!"

"Me, too..." Ash looked down at me. "Ready?"

"Born ready." The referee threw his hands up in the air and a Serperior was released from Hilda's pokeball.

"Don't go full power just yet, save some for the end," Ash cautioned, before sending me in with Iron Tail. The two of us tore up the field, both attacking and dodging with ease as the silent stands slowly became more animated. Perhaps it wasn't an official match, but we were starting to draw a crowd.

"'Lectro Ball!" Electro Ball hit Serperior and sent it scrambling, and I heard a cheer rise up from the small crowd, before Leaf Storm suddenly obliterated everything. "Hold on! Coming from behind, Thunderbolt!" I couldn't' see, but I trusted Ash's directions. Serperior was strong, and we were trading attacks like playing cards, but I knew we could win. As long as I could hear Ash's voice, as long as we were still a team, there wasn't any force on earth we couldn't battle.

"Surround it on all sides, Serperior!"

"Thunderbolt the field, full power!" I hit Serperior with enough force that I'm surprised it stayed standing, but that didn't mean I made it out of there unscathed. Leaf Storm whittled my energy down and then I received a nice whack with it's tail that made me see stars for a second.

We were reaching the final inning. "Go for it, Pikachu, Electro Ball!"

"Energy Ball! This is it!" Serperior and I put everything we had into our attacks and they collided with an explosion that probably could have been seen from Johto. The shock waves knocked me off my feet and smashed me into the stadium wall, and I lost all sense of time, place and feeling.

But I could still hear Ash, telling me to hang on. There was still a spark of energy left, and as long as he had my back, I didn't need anything else. I couldn't be made to bow before anyone and if Ash thought I could win this match and I would do just that.

"Come on, get up! Can do it!" Yes I could. I made it to my feet and shook my head until I could make out colors again. A blurry vision of Serperior swam before me, also managing to rise, though it seemed just as beaten as I was.

"One more time, Pikachu, everything you have!" Once again I fired Electro Ball into Energy Ball, and the last thing I saw was the two titanic forces colliding into each other, neither one willing to back down...

I came to face-down on the field, a few seconds before Ash scooped me up in his arms. "Good job, good job, hung in there to the end." It took a few seconds for the world to stop spinning. "Was a tie, way to go!"

That perked me up instantly, and I twisted in Ash's arms to see Serperior being recalled into it's pokeball. Not as good as a win, but given how strong Serperior was, and my unfortunate track record against that evolutionary line, I was feeling pretty proud of myslef.

"Ladies and Gentlemen!" Ash, Hilda and I all ducked when we heard a booming voice come over the loudspeaker. "What a match that was!" We stared up at the commentator's booth, and the small group of assembled fans cheered out their agreement. I couldn't believe that the commentator, or anybody would remain. But his voice continued praising us. "It was an amazing showing from both teams. Aren't we all glad," his voice lost some of it's presentational quality and grew a bit more personal, "that we stayed to watch?"

Hilda then ran up to us. "Nice match. Looks like we're pretty even!"

"Serperior's really cool," Ash praised, "Energy Ball was- was amazing!"

"Well, that Pikachu's got a few surprises in him, too," Hilda grinned at me. "I don't feel like such a loser now. Next time, let's have a real fight!"

"Yeah," Ash agreed as she ran off, and he pulled me closer to him. "Next time..." He looked down at me, and I grinned up at him, not even feeling the effects of the battle. No trophy, not even a dignified loss at this League. But it didn't feel so bad anymore.

Next time, we'd be even better. And then the next time, and the time after that, until Ash and I conquered the world.

The boat to Unova had arrived, calling to us with the promise of adventure. Ash and I faced our group to say the final goodbyes.

Most of our friends had parted ways at the Indigo Plateau, returning to their homes or their travels. Only Brock and Misty traveled back to Pallet Town with us. Silver also left for the Orange Islands, but he told Ash that whenever he wanted a battle, all he had to do was pick up the phone. I doubted Ash was planning on taking him up on that anytime in the near future, but the two of them shared a goodbye that was surprisingly touching, given their usual friendly distance.

Iris and Cilan had returned to Unova after the League Conference, but they would both be waiting at the dock when we arrived, and the three of us would go traveling again. It felt so right, the idea of finishing our journey in Unova and traveling with those two again, like we had finally come full circle.

"Well, this is it!" Ash was itching to get on the boat, but I could also see some hesitation at leaving the others behind. The two of us would be completely on our own for the next stretch of the journey, with no one to rely on but each other.

To be honest, I was a bit nervous, too. Not for myself, but because Ash was my responsibility, and there was no one around to pick up the slack or fix my mistakes. Ash was putting complete faith in me to take care of him, just as I always did with him. It shouldn't have worried me so much, neither of us were helpless, but it was still a little daunting to think about.

In fact, it felt a little bit like those first few days of our journey together...

"Um, Brock, M-misty, uh, here!" Ash shoved some spoons and handkerchiefs into their hands, and Brock and Misty looked bewildered. "For you! Gonna miss you!"

Our friends echoed the sentiments, but finally Brock had to ask, "So, what's with the spoons? Does that mean something?" Ash furrowed his eyebrows, seemingly confused that this wasn't clear to everybody else. It made no sense to me, and I just shrugged when they all turned to me for an explanation.

"It's like, our thing?" Ash tried, now looking unsure. "When we say, say goodbye, give the spoons and-and f-f-for...f-forks and food, napkins, and wish everyone to be safe, because-because we're not alone... always , even if-if we split up, always together, always remember... so we'll be okay..." He crossed his arms and looked a little embarrassed. "Couldn't make any food, though. Not good at that stuff."

So that explained why Ash had nearly burnt the house down this morning. "But I r'member, used to do that, give spoons, always be with each other... isn't that our thing?" After parting ways in Johto, Brock and Misty had given us a boxed lunch, with a napkin and silverware. Such a tiny thing to remember...

"You're right, Ash," Misty smiled at him. "That is totally our thing." Ash beamed, and the rest of the goodbyes were sweet and heartfelt.

"Take care of him, Pikachu," Delia said to me just before we left. A small weight pressed down on me, but soon it dissipated. Of course I would take care of Ash. I had no intention of doing anything else.

I nodded my promise, and the next thing I new, Ash and I were running across the deck, relishing our new freedom.

"Don't forget to call when you reach Unova!" Delia called from below, her voice somehow standing out amongst the other well-wishers on the dock.

"I will!"

"Be good, and train hard!"

"I will!"

"Don't forget to change your underwear every-"

"Mom!" We waved until the boat carried us completely out of sight. Once Pallet Town could no longer be seen with the naked eye, Ash and I ran to the front of the boat, eyes fixed on the horizon.

"Well, this is it..." Ash breathed, and I nodded from his shoulder. The two of us, setting out to face a new challenge. "I'm finally going on a Pokemon Journey..." I looked at him in surprise, having momentarily forgotten that this wasn't a shared experience. "Well, guess, guess we did this before, huh? But it feels like the first time, I think, like a new start..." I nuzzled his cheek and decided I agreed.

The adventure had begun.

Pikachu's part of the story ends here. There is a second part from Ash's point of view, entitled "With Courage I Will Face", and it should be completely uploaded by the time you finish reading this.

But if you're absolutely DONE with all this melodrama, thank you for sticking around to the end. This was a challenge for me to write, and though I am pig-headed and don't always accept criticism gracefully, I do appreciate everyone's comments and critiques. You've given me a lot to think about, and I hope it manifests itself in better writing. There were a lot of things I wish I could change now that I have the whole fic uploaded, but overall, I feel proud of this project. Thank you to all who supported it.

Best Wishes.