For some reason, this chapter was hard to find a song lyric to title it. And then I remembered Pokemon Heroes, and it suddenly seemed so obvious.
Chapter 6: Give Me Just One Chance...
Ash was back, and attacked his new therepy regime with gusto, pushing himself as fast as he could in order to regain his ability to speak. The progress felt slow, but since he seemed to have more or less kicked his depression for the time being, progress was being made. Ash's physical condition was also improving immensely, to the point where he could stand to sit upright, and Doctor Proctor was willing to risk letting him be wheeled outside and spend time playing with his Pokemon.
"Now, he's still recovering, so be gentle, okay?" I told Scraggy again, hoping it would sink in this time. "Try not to be too loud, and no jumping on him, okay?"
"And no Headbutts," Snivy added, to which I was quick to reinforce.
"Yes, absolutely no Headbutting him." Scraggy nodded over and over, but the first thing he did upon seeing Ash was try to Headbutt his wheelchair. But after he got that out of his system, the rest of the afternoon was spent peacefully between Ash and the five pokemon.
It's not as if I wanted that to go badly, but it hurt when Ash's reactions to all of them were overwhelmingly positive. Ash, whether nine, ten, fifteen or twenty, would always love Pokemon, and the fact that he couldn't remember their past together was only a minor point of distress for him, at least on the surface. Not so much for the rest of our group, but the pain was easily soothed by all the warmth and affection Ash was so eager to shower them all with. Faced with their trainer's unconditional love for them, it was easy to accept that he might not remember small things like how they all met.
I had to go walk around by myself for a bit, because being near that display made me ill, especially once it seemed that being surrounded by his Pokemon was actually helping Ash recover. Not that I begrudged him, or was even surprised by this, but I couldn't understand what made my case unique. I went from being a best friend to being the only Pokemon that Ash Ketchum would turn away.
But I wasn't the only one having problems, even though it felt like it. After so many of us had endured the task of reintroducing themselves to our best friend, we walked in later that evening to find that he had forgotten over half of us. Again. By morning, he'd yet again forgotten everybody.
"How many times do we have to do this?" Bianca sighed, her cheery, oblivious attitude starting to wane.
"As many times as it takes." Iris, who had been so strong before, was starting to lose her courage. We could all see it, and half of what she said was meant to convince herself that she was okay. Her despondency grew every time she had to reintroduce herself to Ash, especially since he remembered Cilan more often than not.
"He's not really remembering anything we said or did, he just remembers that he knows me," Cilan tried to reassure her. "It doesn't mean he thinks one of us is more important, or anything." I, as well as Iris, did not find that comforting in the slightest.
Neither did May, when she arrived, pale-faced and on the verge of tears. But May was a paradox in cases like this, and she bravely sat by Ash's bedside and introduced herself as many times as she had to, smiling through the endless streams of tears. He might not have remembered her from visit to visit, but Ash clearly enjoyed her company, and that, at least, was something.
"He believed in me when I couldn't believe in myself," she said at one point. "I have to pay that back."
Misty wasn't able to leave the gym, or that was the reason she gave all of us. I didn't fault her, and neither did Brock. "The worst is over," he said with a sigh, "And Ash will be back in Pallet Town soon, where she'll be able to visit all she wants. Let her have the chance to brace herself." There were a million practical and personal reasons to keep Misty from flying all the way to Unova, but I still wished that she'd come anyway.
But she called, and Ash was absolutely delighted with her phone calls, one sided as they tended to be. He watched the webcam with rapt attention, hanging on every word, and always seemed disappointed when she had to hang up.
We didn't have any indication that he remembered who Misty was prior to each phone call, in fact, we suspected the opposite, but one day he surprised all of us by waving his left arm wildly while the nurse was checking the blood pressure with his right.
"Everything okay? Are you in pain?" she asked, but Ash shook his head and pointed to the computer. She complied and gave it to him, and Ash proceeded to access the videophone software and call Cerulean without any assistance whatsoever. Everyone in the hospital was floored, and on the other end of the line, Misty was in tears.
I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, Ash was retaining some information instead of perpetually losing it, and that was a miracle. But, still, it hurt. He couldn't remember enough about me to know that he didn't despise my entire existence, but he could remember the phone number for Cerulean gym.
It was never quite clear, just what Ash was thinking when he saw me, if he remembered meeting me before, or if each encounter was just a replay of that first time they let me into his hospital room. Some of his reactions were more violent than others, but all involved terror and avoidance, and I desperately wanted to know what was going on in his head.
And with desperation backing me up, I went to see him.
It was late evening, and for a rare moment, he was alone. I crept inside, hugging the walls until I got close to his bedside. In the back of my mind, I knew this was completely reckless; what if I triggered a breakdown? But, at the same time, I wanted to believe that we could work this out. I still believed that just being together could make a miracle happen, like it had so many times before.
Finally, I gathered my courage and jumped onto the foot of the bed. "Pikapi?"
He jerked, pushing himself as far back as possible, his wide eyes focused on me. "Aaaah, yuhhhh!" His usual incomprehensible sounds accompanied his retreat, pressing himself as far back against the bed as possible, but he didn't scream or press the call button for the nurse. I wondered if he remembered he could do that, but if not, I wasn't going to enlighten him.
"It's okay, I'm not going to hurt you," I said in my most soothing voice, but it wasn't having much effect. "Don't be afraid." Ash didn't listen in the slightest, gritting his teeth and covering his face in his hands. It wasn't right that Ash should cower before anything, least of all me.
"The Pikapi I know faces his fears," I said, hoping to appeal to his pride, if nothing else. And maybe that was the right move, for Ash did raise his head again, fearful and tear-stained as it was.
"...you.. mmrph..." he uttered, an attempt to say something, and I wondered if this was how he used to feel when we were first starting out, back when he couldn't understand me and before he learned to read me like a book.
"I won't hurt you," I promised, and though he looked like he was still waiting for the coming blow, he didn't flinch when I took a step closer. Inch by painstakingly slow inch, I moved closer to his side, until we were face to face. Less than a foot separating us; I could lean in and rub cheeks if I didn't suspect he might go into cardiac arrest. "Do you remember anything about me? Something bad?"
Ash just continued to stare, so I tried another question. "Are you mad at me? Did I do something to make you upset?" As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I felt kind of stupid. I've got a long career out of doing things that make Ash upset, most recently, frying him while he was trying to save us from a collapsing building. I may very well be responsible for most of his current condition, and who wouldn't be upset by that?
It was then that a thought occurred to me. "Pikapi, do Thundershocks... hurt?" A small, almost imperceptible nod, not that I was surprised. But to what degree? "A lot?" Humans process pain differently than Pokemon, I'd learned that a long time ago, but I didn't really understand it. Still, humans bled, as Ash had demonstrated in a rather spectacular manner, and even little scratches hurt and stayed on his skin for weeks. I couldn't remember the last time I saw a pokemon bleed, or any time where an electric attack did more than cause it to faint.
Ash didn't answer that question, but I forged ahead. "Is that why I scare you?" Still, no response, and I found myself getting frustrated. I was doing everything I could, but he wasn't even trying!
"I can't do anything if you won't talk to me!" I snapped, and I regretted that when he recoiled. Some progress I was making. "Sorry. I just want to make this right..."
"What are you doing?" We both turned out heads as Oshawott clambered up onto the bed, jumping between me and Ash, protectively. "You're not supposed to be here!"
"Says who?" I challenged, not liking the attitude Oshawott was taking, or the way Ash seemed relieved by his presence.
"Says me! You scare him!" he pointed with some proud posturing that was more annoying than it usually was. "Everyone knows you just make him worse!"
The part that stung was that deep down, I agreed with him. The rest of me was focused on how unfair this whole situation was. "Tell me," I all but growled, "Just how much are you enjoying this?"
Oshawott looked hurt, like he didn't shove me off Ash's shoulder at every possible opportunity. "Look, Pikachu," he said, changing tones completely, "I would never want to break you guys apart." Oh, please. "But you do make him...weird, and he needs to get better." He looked at me with stupid naivete. "Don't you want that?"
Was there any question? "You want me to disappear for the next few weeks? Months? Years?"
Oshawott fidgeted. "Well, no, but..."
"Then what do you want from me?" I cried, and the question was directed to Ash as much as Oshawott. Ash's heart rate sped up and he started making frightened noises again, which cause Oshawott to jump to his defense.
"You could try thinking about someone other than yourself for a second!" he shouted at me, scallop at the ready. "It's your fault he's like this, after all!"
"Why you little-" We started circling each other, stepping gingerly around Ash's knees while waiting for the other to make the first move. Battle was inevitable; I had trouble tolerating Oshawott on a good day, and under the current circumstances, I was ready for war. "Quit being so high and mighty! You think this is easy for me?"
"You're not thinking about Ash! You're just jealous!"
"Jealous! Of what?" I scoffed.
"You being here hurts him, but you don't even care," Oshawott shook his scallop angrily, "Because you can't stand it if his whole world doesn't revolve around you!" And that pushed me over the edge.
"That's it, you little squeeze toy, you're dead!" And I pounced, sparks clashing against scallop shell as we tumbled off the bed. It wasn't one of our better battles, for neither of us were going full out. Even as angry as we were, we didn't hate each other, not really.
But if I could just make him hurt a little... somehow, I thought it would make life fair again.
Finally, Oshawott misstepped and I got my chance. "Pika-CHU!" Not even quarter power, not nearly enough to hurt him as much as I was inside, but enough to prove my point. Whatever that point was, I'd kind of forgotten in my rage.
But it didn't matter, because a sharp pain in my cheek stopped everything. I turned, thinking Oshawott had pulled some sort of trick, but I stopped short when I saw Ash was on the ground with us, clumsily knocking Oshawott's scallop out of the fray and reaching out towards the stunned Pokemon.
Had Ash just slapped me?
"Nnnnnnnno," he kept saying in a distressed manner, and the two of us were sufficiently humbled enough to stop fighting. "I'm sorry," Oshawott mumbled, like a young child caught doing something naughty.
I didn't feel much more mature myself, but I went and collected Oshawott's scallop and brought it back to him with an apology of my own. But when I approached the other two, the look Ash gave me sent chills down my spine. I didn't think it was possible for someone to be so terrified, let alone someone like Ash. By now, the machines were sending out the frenzied signals to the nurses, and I was sure that I would be banned from this room again.
And maybe that was for the best, right now. "Pikapi," I tried to say, but Ash just scrambled backwards, and I realized that it was a pretty impressive feat of coordination, that he had managed to get out of bed and defend Oshawott without hurting himself too badly. That said, his arm was twitching madly, nearly convulsing, and the rest of him was shaking. Ash was in pain, couldn't move properly and could barely call for help, yet he had jumped in to defend a friend he didn't truly know from his own greatest fear.
That was the Ash I knew and loved.