Now that Gary's here, I feel much more confident, not that he's proving to be too terribly useful to anybody...

Chapter 4: Our Courage Will Pull Us Through

When Ash woke, he was much more cooperative than the night before, though the sight of me sent him into another hysteric fit. Once he calmed down from that, however, and couldn't see any sight of me, he was willing to submit to being poked, prodded and asked all sorts of questions.

And that was where we ran into trouble.

Aphasia, they called it. I called it nonsense.

"I swear, they're making most of this stuff up," I muttered, and Snivy shushed me with her evil eye. I was on the receiving end of that a lot lately. "This is a fake disease!"

"Strictly speaking, it's not a disease." The therapist, who had sculpted a rough model of the human brain out of differently colored chunks of plastecine, was trying to explain to Ash what was happening to him, and the rest of us were trying to follow because the explanation we'd already heard was simply unbelievable.

"The red part controls your comprehension of words, and this blue part controls your ability to speak them." Ash nodded periodically, enough to suggest that he was understanding her, but retained a pained scowl that he refused to part with. "The red part is mostly fine, so you can understand us when we speak. But since the blue part was hurt, your brain is having trouble remembering how to talk." And read and write, among other things. "Do you understand so far?"

Ash nodded, but his face revealed that he thought the whole thing was absolutely ridiculous. I would have laughed if it wasn't somehow true. But, at least, we were finally able to establish some communication between reality and whatever hell Ash was currently living in.

"Nnnnnnnnn..." Words failing him, Ash picked up the pieces of the putty brain, moving them around and seeming to be asking a question, but no one was quite sure what. Frustrated tears came to his eyes and he eventually had to give up, letting the therapist try to play a game of Twenty Questions to get at his meaning.

Ash couldn't remember how to talk. He could hear us just fine, understand us with only minimal difficulty, but couldn't remember how to talk. He could still follow one of the Professor's lectures, but couldn't string together a three word sentence. Ash couldn't remember how to talk!

"Seriously, this can't be real." Apparently, reality had no part to play when it came to human physiology.

Oshawott wrinkled his nose. "How can they stand being so complicated? He must have a million things wrong with him!"

"Well, it's not like he chose it for himself." And then, everyone looked at me.

My fur bristled. "What?" They looked away; these interchanges were becoming far too routine.

I took a deep breath and tried to remember that we had Ash back with us, sort of, and that was a miracle. And there were steps we could take, everyone kept saying, training for his mind that would help Ash regain some of his language abilities. We had to keep hoping, keep working towards the brighter future.

Ash was patting his head, trying to ask for his hat through pantomime, and in that instance, realized that all his hair had been shaved off. At his face, my hope deflated like a balloon.

"I'm going to go play with Scraggy," I muttered to the rest of the company, who nodded with varying levels of distraction. I hopped off the windowsill that I'd been spying on my trainer from and trotted across the grass to where Tranquil was rolling a ball around for Scraggy to Headbutt.

I wasn't allowed to let Ash see me. Supposedly, it was a temporary thing, just until we could figure out why he'd been afraid of his own pokemon, but I suspected the nurses didn't want me anywhere near him after the report from Hoenn arrived. Doctor Proctor was a little kinder and didn't give me the evil eye whenever he saw me, but it didn't change anything. Ash went into hysterics at the sight of me, so I had to keep my distance until his heart got a bit stronger.

Scraggy tried to Headbutt me as a greeting, and I stepped out of the way. "How's everything out here?"

"I'm trying to help him perfect his attacks," Tranquill replied as Scraggy turned around and came charging the other way. We dodged in unison. "But I don't think he's actually listening to my advice."

"I'm not that surprised." But at least he was keeping busy. "And how are you doing?" We hadn't properly talked in a while, not since Ash was unconscious and our world was finding new ways to destroy itself.

She smoothed out her feathers as Scraggy rushed by a third time. "I'm much better now that Ash is awake."

I nodded. "Aren't we all?" I kicked the ball and sent Scraggy chasing after it, wishing I had half of his energy. "Little guy's pretty wound up, huh?"

"Well, it's been an intense few days, and we can only hide so much from him." True, sooner or later, Scraggy would realize that this wasn't a routine hospital visit, and I only hoped that Ash could show some improvement before we were forced to come clean about the real reason we were here. "I heard, by the way. Oshawott told me." I didn't need to ask what she was talking about. "I know that you never meant to-"

"It doesn't really matter," I sighed. What I'd meant to do, what I'd wanted, all of it was meaningless, because it had happened. "Compared to half a building falling on him, that's just icing on the cake." A terrible metaphor. "No wonder he can't stand me."

"We don't know that's the case."

"I'm his best friend, and he doesn't want me near him. What other explanations have you got?" She was quiet after that, and the two of us silently took turns knocking the ball across the lawn so Scraggy could Headbutt it back at us. Ash hadn't freaked out over any of the other pokemon. Granted, he hadn't gotten more than a glimpse or two of them, as everyone had been preoccupied with the discovery of his lack of language ability. But he hadn't cried or yelled when he saw them, and actually seemed to like the Audino.

"I didn't like him at all, when we first met." Even after deciding to give him a chance, it was several weeks before Ash truly won me over, before I realized how much I cared. It had been instantaneous for him, but for me, we were halfway across Kanto before I realized that I would break if he ever abandoned me.

As it was, we weren't that far from that situation, now. "To be honest, that first day," I said quietly, "If he'd been hit by Gary's car and died, I probably wouldn't even have cared."

"I don't believe that." Very kind of Tranquill, to believe in my better nature, but she hadn't known me for that long. It had been a long journey, and I'm not the pokemon I was at the start of it. But the conversation was interrupted by Oshawott running towards us it breakneck speed, nearly tripping on the way.

"You're not going to believe this! It's terrible!" He shouted, and we shushed him quickly.

"Scraggy might hear you, idiot!" A quick look over our shoulder told us that we were safe, for the moment. "Keep your voice down."

"You've got to come right away," Oshawott continued with no regard for the preservation of Scraggy's innocence. "Come on, you guys, it's really bad this time."

"What happened?" Now, I was the one who didn't care who heard me. "A heart attack, seizure? Did he stop breathing?" Tranquill's eyes were wide, like a Stantler in headlights. "Tell me!" I was already running towards the door, leaving behind a stunned Tranquill and Scraggy, who was just starting to catch on to the conversation. Oshawott toddled behind me, not able to keep up as I raced through doors and around corners, flying into Ash's room and only remembering at the last second that I needed to hide under the table.

I caught my breath; he was alive, seemingly fine. It was everyone else who looked like they had died. "What's going on?" I asked a nearby Audino.

"You're not supposed to be in here," she sighed.

"But I heard-" I was interrupted when I heard Ash's mother speaking, and thought I had better pay attention.

"What's wrong, Ash?" she kept asking, and I craned my neck to get a good look at them. Ash didn't seem to be in any more pain then usual. If anything, he just seemed confused. "These are your friends, aren't they? You're acting like you don't even recognize them."

Oh, no, no, nononono... Oshawott skidded into the room beside me. "This is what you were talking about?"

He nodded, blubbering ferociously. "He wouldn't smile at me! Not even when I made funny faces!"

"Maybe he's just not in the mood to deal with your idiocy after all he's been through today," Snivy snapped, joining us under the table. "I know I'm sick of it." But she looked concerned, hurt, even.

Cilan approached the bed, hesitant. "Ash, it's me," he said earnestly, "Cilan. We're traveling together, remember?" I don't think Ash's reaction really surprised anybody, but we were all hoping our instincts would be wrong. The shaking of his head was a pronouncement of doom. "No, no way..."

"He's just tired!" Iris proclaimed, stepping forward with a confidence that everyone knew was false. "And you've got so many bag's under your eyes, Cilan, nobody would recognize you!" She leaned towards Ash, grinning expectantly. "Of course you remember me, right?" But Ash shook his head again, innocent and nervous, and that changed Iris' whole demeanor.

"Y-you, you," she stuttered, staring at her friend in horror. "Ash, you... you run off, sleep for days, and then forget all about me? You- you're such a child!" With that, she fled the room, almost knocking over Brock on her way out.

He turned towards the doctor, as shocked as anyone else. "It couldn't be amnesia, could it?" The doctor frowned to himself.

"It's possible..."

"No." Gary stood up so quickly that his chair fell over with a clatter, thus proving that he wasn't furniture for the first time that day. "No way, Ashy-boy, you can't forget your friends!" He was by Ash's bedside in two strides, shaking with emotion. "You forget about Brock, too? Your pokemon? Dawn? Misty?" As far as I could tell from my awkward angle, Ash looked lost and confused. "And me? Did you forget about me, too?"

No. Miraculously, Ash did seem to know him, for all the comfort it brought Gary. "But not them? They're by your side every single day, and you forgot them? What else did you forget, huh?"

"Gary..." Professor Oak began, but Gary was beyond listening. Possibly beyond reality, if the look in his eyes was any indication.

"What about J, remember her?" Brock and Professor both grabbed one of Gary's shoulders to stop him from throwing himself at the bed. "We faced her together! Or that time you got possessed by a legendary, you've got to remember that!" Ash's face remained blank, and Gary's eyes actually teared up, something I never thought I'd see.

"I think we'd better step out for a minute," Professor Oak was saying, and he attempted to guide his grandson towards the door, but Gary was having none of it, and struggled against his captors.

"And the Silver Conference?" he all but shrieked, yet all he got for his effort was some confused blinking from Ash. "You can't forget the Silver Conference, you hear me? We battled, you beat me, we spent the whole night talking!" Everyone who wasn't occupied with trying to hold Gary down was looking away and wiping tears. As for Gary himself, he was bawling openly, angry tears cascading down his face. I felt like we were back facing that tornado.

"You won, don't you remember? You finally beat me, doesn't that matter to you?" He kicked the edge of the bed, and now all the medical staff were on red alert. "Come on, Ketchum!"

"That's enough for now, Gary." And with Brock's help, Oak forced his grandson out into the waiting room while Ash simply stared. He looked sorrowful, if nothing else.

My mental state wasn't much better than Gary's. Ash had lost his memory! Years of his life- accomplishments, failures, friends, rivals- gone! Already, Doctor Procter was discussing with Ash's mother all the things they could try in order to figure out just how much of Ash's life had vanished, but it almost didn't matter, at this point.

He forgot us. He forgot all of his friends, excepting whatever he remembered about Gary, and me, whom he couldn't stand.

He forgot us!

"I can't believe it," I breathed. How could he- He promised he'd never forget! "He doesn't even know us..." Oshawott continued to sob, and I caught sight of Tepig across the room, sniffling in Bianca's arms.

"Maybe he'll remember later?" she was saying hopefully, even though I didn't think even she could be such an airhead. "I forget things all the time, right?" But if it made Tepig feel better for a few seconds, then it was a nice lie.

"Well, this explains a lot about last night. Ash just doesn't remember you," Snivy said to me, trying to find the silver lining, but I wasn't buying it. Giant chunks of Ash's memory had winked out of existence, memories I had a place in, and there was no silver lining in that.

"It doesn't explain anything!" I tried not to shriek. "Ash Ketchum loves pokemon. He loves all pokemon! He loved me the second he saw me! He loved me before he even met me!" I was approaching hysterics, and everyone had taken a step back and was eying me warily. "Ash has always loved me, and if he forgot, he'd just start all over again from the beginning! He can't hate me, and he can't forget, it's impossible..." Someone had called an Audino over, who started chanting something that made me a little bit drowsy. I resisted that at first, but the sleepiness forced me to let go of my frustrations and eventually, I calmed down.

"He can't forget, he just can't..." Impossible. "He promised he would never forget me." Never forget me, never forsake me, never abandon me, never stop being my friend. He'd promised that to a lot of people, and now, he couldn't even remember!

It was Cilan who picked my groggy self up off the floor, with tentative, shaky arms. He carried me out into the waiting room, and I had to comply, since it would take a good ten minutes before I'd be able to shake that darn sleep attack.

Gary and his grandfather were several feet away, still causing a ruckus. "Now, calm down, Gary! He hasn't forgotten you, that's more than many of the others can say."

"But he forgot everything that matters!" Gary insisted, far gone enough that he didn't care who saw him weep. Those cheerleaders of his would have fainted, if they were here. "Everything that makes me me! Who am I, now?"

Professor Oak sighed and put a hand on Gary's shoulder. "I know that it hurts, but Ash hasn't stopped being your friend-"

"You don't know!" Gary cut in. "You have no idea! You don't know what it's like to look at him now, to be his friend when he doesn't know anything about you! You can't imagine what it's like to look into his eyes and see that he doesn't know you anymore!"

"Actually," Professor Oak said in a terse voice that made Gary pause, "I can imagine it pretty well." The two generations of Oaks gazed at each other for a moment, before the Professor pulled his grandson into an embrace. "Oh, Gary, Gary..."

Gary just sobbed. For my part, I stopped resisting my growing weariness, wanting to sleep my way out of this bad dream. Cilan's arms, though still shaking, were warm and familiar, and if I closed my eyes, I could almost pretend things were normal.

"It'll be alright, Pikachu," Cilan said, "Somehow. We'll get through this." With those words echoing in my mind, I curled up closer to him and willed myself to dream of a healthy, hale Ash who laughed aloud and hugged me in his arms.