Guys, I have a confession to make. This is scary. I'm scared to death about writing fanfiction, of all things. But I really don't know if I have this in my bag of tricks. Can I carry this thing all the way to the end? Like flying a plane, we had a rough takeoff, we're still going through turbulence, and I've just realized that I've never landed something like this before...

And yet, this is all incredibly exciting.

Chapter 3: なかなか なかなか なかなか なかなか 大変だけど (It's very, very, very difficult, but...)

Gary arrived the next morning.

With gale winds and an Aerodactyl the size of a small building, he made quite an entrance, but Gary always did have a flair for the dramatic. Brock said that it was a coping mechanism, or some sort of denial thing. I don't think about Gary's internal issues much, to my shame, because most of them end up affecting Ash. But I've had internal issues of my own, after all, and by the time I'd overcome them enough to even consider helping Ash and Gary patch things up, they'd done it by themselves.

It was far too early for Ash to be up, even by normal circumstances, but the younger Oak went straight to Ash's room and refused all deterrents. We tried to warn him beforehand, but Gary always did have to see things for himself. Even with reality staring him in his all-too-pale face, he had to see all the facts, and follow them to the very end.

Upon entering the hospital room, I thought briefly that we may have finally invented a scenario that Gary couldn't turn around by the sheer force of his attitude.

"This isn't happening," he declared upon arrival. "This can't happen, not to Ash."

Gary Oak, forever defying and defining the universe on his own terms. "Well, it did," Brock sighed, trying to gently lead him out of Ash's room and away from that tired, almost defeated face.

"No, you don't get it!" Gary protested, wrenching his arm free and ignoring Bianca's ironic advice that he had to calm down. "Because nothing happened to me! You can't have Ash hurt and Gary fine, because we're always together!" he all but cried, a slightly crazed look taking place behind his eyes, "And I won't let it!" Brock blinked for a grand total of three seconds before exploding.

"Since when?" he shouted, and Bianca gave up her frantic shushing. Ash didn't look like he had any inclination to wake, anyway. "For three years, you never said a civil word to him, and for the next few years, we barely saw you! If you're always together, then where in Ho-oh's blazes were you?"

Gary froze, and stopped responding to questions after that. Brock looked guilty over his outburst, but it was nothing compared to how secretly happy I was that, for a second, we could blame someone other than myself.

We had to call a nurse, who brought Gary a blanket and a hot drink, and helped us get him safely seated in a chair, but he never quite rose from his state of shock. His Umbreon was beside itself. "I've never seen him like this," it kept repeating, "Not ever." I'd always thought that Gary would be the type to stand strong when all around him had fallen, braving storms right until the end of the world. But Ash and I had faced the end of the world together, and I was only now discovering that without him, I couldn't face another day. Should I really have been so surprised if Gary proved to be the same?

Luckily for my sanity, we got the miracle we were all praying for around noon. Ash's heart actually made an attempt at having some semblance of rhythm and with every hour Ash moved just a little further from the grasp of the spirit world. In the early evening, his eyes fluttered open, and our tears of relief were shed freely. When we realized he could breathe without assistance, we thought everything was going to be fine.

But we celebrated too soon, because while he was awake and somewhat cognizant, Ash had not been as responsive to questions and stimuli as the doctors had hoped. I would have called that exhaustion, and thought that Ash was entitled to it, but there seemed to be some genuine concern over this. But they let us in to see him anyway, and graciously waited to descend upon my trainer with all the new tests they'd cooked up for him now that he was finally awake.

The visiting times were staggered, not wanting to overwhelm Ash too much upon returning to the waking world, and we all deferred to Ash's mother for first place, even though I truly wanted to be the one Ash saw first. But my turn would come, and I watched her run to Ash's side, stroking his hair and clutching his hand with relief and joy.

Ash smiled back at her, though he seemed distant and didn't make any attempts at speech. Again, I refused to worry, as the boy had only just started breathing earlier that day. If he didn't move or speak much, wasn't that normal? But I couldn't help but notice that he did seem different, not that I had a host of experience with a hospitalized Ash to compare to.

I'm not sure what I expected when I was finally granted entrance. Maybe for one or both of us to cry, maybe I secretly hoped he'd spring out of bed and start shouting wildly, fanciful as that was. But if he'd just smile at me in that happy way that always seemed to open up his soul, I felt like that would be enough.

But when I sprang up on the bed with a cry of delight, I didn't see anything remotely similar in Ash's eyes. In fact, his body had gone stiff, and he looked terrified. "Pikapi?" I moved a little closer, which only served to make him more agitated. In the background, the heart monitor was beeping faster and louder. "Pika?"

He closed his eyes and turned away from me, like a frightened child, and it felt like a slap in the face. His body began jerking awkwardly, as if he was trying to move himself far away but couldn't quite do it. "PiKachu?" I asked, trying to get him to talk to me and tell me what was wrong, but he just kept inching away, making a high-pitched keening noise that sounded like screaming.

With the spasmodic movements and the shrill, dangerous beeping of the heart monitor, I began to worry that he might hurt himself, but even so, I still had to be forcibly moved from the room by two Audino. By this point, Ash had begun wailing, with loud, full shouts that echoed down the halls and only stopped with the addition of medicine to his IV bag and my complete removal from his sight. If Ash's awareness had been minimal before, it was non-existent now, and the best anyone could do was calm him down until the drugs kicked in and he fell asleep.

"What on earth?" Brock muttered, while Bianca stroked my fur with more gentleness than I would have expected of her. "I though he'd be thrilled to see Pikachu." I had thought the same way. Never once had I any reason to consider otherwise. We were best friends, and yet, he had been repulsed by me to the point of having to be sedated.

"Well, he's been through a lot," Iris pointed out reasonably, "And Ash is kind of an idiot. Who knows what was going through his head?"

"What, like a nightmare, or something? Day-mare? Are those real?" Bianca wondered aloud, and I wanted to believe that explanation so badly. Brock shrugged his shoulders.

"We'll know more once he talks to us. It might not have anything to do with Pikachu at all."

Brock was wrong, though. A few hours later, I dared to creep into the room of a slightly loopy but awake version of my trainer, but I didn't fare any better than before. This time, he just closed his eyes and sobbed, and I left before he got too worked up. Whatever it was, it had everything to do with me.

I heard some familiar voices as I exited the room, making my fur stand on end. "Look, we don't want any trouble-"

"Trouble? Prepare-"

"Now's not the time for dat, you knuckleheads!"

No, they couldn't be here, not now. I sped around the corner and my anger doubled to see that I was right. "Pi-Pikachu!"

Team Rocket turned in perfect sync, knowing my voice as well as I knew theirs. "Pikachu!"

"We heard," James said, in a voice so broken that I almost felt sympathetic.

Almost. "Get out," I hissed at them. They didn't get to be here, they didn't deserve to be here. Meowth took a tentative step forward, holding his hands up in a gesture of surrender.

"Look, we're not gonna steal anything," he insisted, flinching when my cheeks sparked. "We just wanna see the twerp, that's all."

"We swear," James interjected, but I wasn't at all swayed. I stood my ground, blocking the hall.

"I don't care what you came for!" I yelled at them. "I want you gone! You hear me?" Out of the building, out of my life, out of existence, all of that would be fine.

"Please?" Meowth tried again, bravely taking another step forward. "We didn't mean- well, we wanna apologize."

"Like hell I'm letting you in there!" I screamed. Iris ran forward, worried and nervous.

"Pikachu, calm down!" I didn't care what they wanted to do, or how innocent their intentions were today. They'd been making my life miserable since Viridian, causing trouble everywhere they went, breaking absolutely everything they touched. And I still had a score to settle with Meowth for duping us on our way to Nimbasa City, and this time, there was no Ash to talk me out of it.

They were a big part of why there was no Ash to talk me out of it.

"I said, get out!"

Brock stepped up, face tense and stern."Pikachu, stop it!" he commanded. "If you don't get a grip, they're going to make you leave!"

"Please, Pikachu?" Jessie spoke for the first time, taking her eyes off the floor.

"I hope you die!" I chraged up, prepared to release a thunderbolt and send them blasting off, but the Audino put a quick stop to that. Stupid Disable. "No! Don't you see? They're criminals! They-" I was cut off when Cilan scooped me up in a crushing embrace.

"I know, Pikachu, I know," he told me as his tears fell on my fur. "We get it, we do, but this isn't helping..." I struggled for a bit, but was eventually forced to give up and see reason. But I got my victory in the end; in the commotion, Officer Jenny was called, and since Team Rocket was still wanted for various crimes, they split without ever getting near Ash.

Throughout all of this, Gary displayed all the movement and pallor of a stone.