Unfortunately, I have a clear divide between Season 8 and everything after it, and while writing this chapter, I realized that I don't know all the Isshu character's English names, haha. I did, at one point, consider writing this fic with all the Japanese names, but realized that I'd have the same problem with a lot of the pokemon Satoshi caught in Jhoto and Hoenn. It's a shame we can't mix an match. I'll probably have Ash making a joke about this, later down the line...

Chapter 7: けんか なかなおり またけんか 言いたいこと いっぱいあるけど (We fight, make up, then fight again, there are a lot of things I want to say to you, but...)

I had forgotten just how good Dawn was at deluding herself.

"This is fun!"

Fun. She was so much like Bianca, it was scary, excepting that deep in her heart, Dawn knew full well that nothing about this situation could ever be classified as fun.

"It's like a game!" she cried out cheerily, sifting through flashcards and grinning at Ash. "Come on, try to guess another one!"

Ash groaned and rolled his eyes, having little patience for word games on a good day, let alone a day when all of his memories had been fried and bashed out of his head. But he complied, in time, looking over at Dawn's flashcard and sighing. "Whyyy...?"

"Can you tell me what this is?"

An apple. "...aaaaah..." He shook his head. "...aaabbbuuu..." It was painful to watch, and only Dawn, with her constant "No need to worry!" mantra could handle these exercises for any significant length of time.

Luckily, Ash had no shortage of visitors, so the job was divided considerably. Stephan actually managed to make a joke out of it when he stopped by. "Now you actually have an excuse for getting my name wrong."

His reaction was considerably more positive than many of the others who stopped by. Burgundy was the worst. "I warned him," she told Cilan, an odd look in her eye that might have been grief or sadism. She looked straight at me with those eyes and a blank face. "I told him he should have replaced you."

Cilan made sure that she left immediately and never came back.

Georgia stopped by briefly as well. She didn't stay long, but she also didn't trade barbs with Iris, and that was the most thoughtful thing she could have done, really. Trip took one look at Ash, snapped a photo, and then left promptly. Iris yelled after him, wondering how on earth he could take a photo of his rival looking so incapacitated, but he didn't turn around. I was content to accept that Ash had a knack for attracting rivals with personality issues, and left it at that.

Not to be outdone by the others, Paul actually called the hospital, news of the accident having spread to whatever corner of the world he was currently spreading cynical-ism to. Not that he had much to say beyond general inquiries. "Figures the idiot would do something like that," was his parting shot, and he hung up with all the abruptness we had come to expect from him.

"Cheery," Gary drawled, after the fact. "Where'd you guys pick him up?" Brock sighed.

"One of Ash's rivals. Trust me, we never went looking for him, he kept finding us." That wasn't entirely true, as Ash had a disturbing masochistic slant to his behavior when it came to his rivals, and whenever he saw Paul, he tended to trail after him like a Poochyenna starved for attention.

"Rival, huh?" Gary said, with a touch of a smirk back on his face. "Ever as good as me?"

Brock's voice had never contained so much venom and ice, not even when he had Dameon by the collar. "You're probably about even when it comes to battling, but no, Gary, nobody's ever been able to beat you at making Ash feel so completely worthless." His voice had risen a few decibels, and it distracted Ash and Dawn from their conversation.

The color drained out of Gary's face, which was alarming, as he'd never quite gotten it back since first arriving at the hospital. "What's your problem, Brock? That's," he paused for a second, maybe having to choose his words with more care than usual. "That's in the past."

"The past?" Brock scoffed. "Every time I see you, you insult him! And if you haven't noticed, all Ash has got is the past! You might as well have shown up with those stupid cheerleaders!" Dawn got up from her seat and made her way over nervously.

"Don't you think you're being rude?" she pointed out with hesitation. "Gary is Ash's friend, just like you are-"

"You don't know him, Dawn, you've only met him twice!" Dawn mumbled that it was more than that, but Brock ignored her. "You didn't have to spend years watching this kid dismantle Ash's self-esteem. You didn't see Ash breaking over and over, and put himself together only to get bashed down again!"

"If I remember correctly," Gary snarled, "You didn't do much to stop me. Agreed with most of my insults, in fact." True, and it hit a nerve with Brock.

Not that it was helping the older boy's mood. "You came in, tore everything apart, and then left. I'm the one who traveled with him and supported him after you crushed his dreams."

"No, you're the one who ditched him every time you saw a pretty girl." And just like that, we'd unleashed a whole volcano of emotions. "I'm sure your 'support' meant so much coming from a guy who'd abandon him if ever a girl would say yes. You only travelled with Ash for so long because you're pathetic and no one else would put up with you." I thought Brock was going to punch him. He might have, if Dawn hadn't held him back.

"This is ridiculous!" she cried. "You're friends, Ash's friends! You shouldn't be fighting!"

"Friends?" Brock scoffed. "Trust me, Dawn, this guy doesn't qualify."

"What?" Gary was seething. "I've known Ash longer than you have! You're saying that means nothing?"

"The first time I met you, you were publicly humiliating Ash in front of his own mother, so, no, I don't think you're winning any best friend prizes today!"


"You're a spoiled little brat who has to have everything. You want all the toys, and everybody worshiping you, like a fussy toddler! But you couldn't have Ash," Brock accused, "So you broke him until nobody could have him, until you were the only person he looked up to. And it might have worked, if he didn't go off and get a new best friend." That struck a chord with Gary, but Brock continued before he could form a counter. "Interesting, huh, how he replaced you so easily. You've never been half as important to him as Pikachu. And after all your speeches and your insults, Ash has dozens of friends who will cross regions for him, and you don't have any friends at all."

"Stop." The voice came from Ash, and from the look on his face, he was threatening to get out of his bed. "...n-not... stop... nnnn... b-b-brothhhhhh... t-t-t..." Whatever he said, it was enough to guilt Brock into leaving the room. Gary continued to stare at the floor, lost in his own thoughts again.

"...wro...ng..." Gary looked up, slowly, unusually hesitant to meet Ash's eyes. "...so... wrong..."

"What do you know about it, Ashy-Boy?" And he left as well.

"Ga...ry!" But he didn't turn around, and Ash's shoulders slumped in defeat. Dawn looked torn, and eventually made her way back to Ash and picked up her flashcards again.

"Let's get back to this," she said kindly. "They'll calm down in a minute, and then you can talk some sense into them." I opted to go out and find our two comrades, recognizing that something had been stewing for some time now, and they wouldn't simply calm down.

Brock was in a corner of the waiting room, sitting in a chair with his head in his hands. He looked up when I came over. "Guess you're pretty disappointed in me, huh?"

"Pika." I was, though I could hardly blame anyone for emotional outbursts, particularly if Gary was involved. He had a knack for causing those. "Pikachu?"

"I..." Brock groaned and shook his head. "I don't want to talk about it, it's stupid." I would have pushed the issue, but a nurse came over and called to us. "A call for me on the videophone?"

"Actually, it's not for you," she said awkwardly, "I think it's for the Pikachu."

Odd, but when I got to the phone and hopped up on the seat, I saw that it was Bulbasaur, calling from Oak's laboratory. "Oh, good, I was wondering if I was ever going to get through to her." I hefted up the receiver and placed it to my ear, then realized I didn't need to go through such unnecessary effort and found the speakerphone.

"What's up?"

"You're asking me?" True, what could possibly be happening at home to eclipse this? "No one's updated me in days, what's going on?"

I did my best to fill Bulbasaur in. "He can talk now, sort of. A few words, here and there, but some of them don't make a lot of sense. It's hard to tell, sometimes, he's not as chatty as he used to be." Ash wasn't a lot of things that he used to be. "But he's improving a lot. I think his memory's getting a bit better, too, but it's hard to tell, since he can't really tell us stuff..." I swallowed, trying not to drown in cynical thoughts.

"Will he be able to leave the hospital soon?" Ah, that.

"We'll be coming back to Pallet in about a week or two," I announced, and Bulbasaur looked pleased. "He's supposed to go for some sort of procedure in Viridian, but I think they want him to recuperate a bit first, and he really wants to go home." Ash had no idea where he was, that Unova even existed. He didn't belong out here. "By the time we get back, he'll probably be walking."

"I'll roll out the red carpet for you," Bulbasaur promised with a laugh, and I smiled a bit, until a thought sobered me up.

"Have you told the others?" Bulbasaur's grimace told me before his words did.

"Everyone at the lab found out along with me, but I haven't called Squirtle, or..." his voice trailed off as his grimace grew more pronounced. "We've all been debating on who gets to call Charizard."

"Not me," I said quickly, then explained, "He'll kill me."

"Probably." I looked down at my feet, kicking at the useless receiver.

"How much have you..." I took a deep breath. "Have they told you this was all my fault?"

Bulbasaur was quiet for a moment before answering. "Well, to be honest, we suspected it had something to do with you and a Team Rocket scheme gone wrong. If not you, one of the other Pokemon, Ash has a problem with that whole savior/martyr thing he's got going on..." Bulbasuar always had the most cynical view of Ash, or at least, down to earth. Part of that attitude was likely just carry-over from his experience with the pokemon at the Hidden Village, and he saw Ash in a very human light. Even so, I knew he'd gone beyond the days when he thought Ash would abandon us or leave us behind in danger, and that Bulbasaur loved his savior/martyr and as critical as he was, never wanted Ash to change. I did, I wanted Ash to be just a little more selfish and self-preserving with every fiber of my being, but Bulbasaur, oddly, did not. Ash would cease to be Ash if he were not so consummately devoted to his role, and therefore, unworthy of Bulbasaur's trust in him.

Unfortunately, that led to situations like this. "Tracey told me the details, and about the tests in Hoenn, but I haven't passed that on yet. I won't, unless you want me to."

"I don't." They'd probably find out on their own, eventually. "If Ash wants them to know, he can bring it up."

"Does he even know?" A valid point.

"He goes into convulsions at least once a day, so I think he knows something's up," I said dryly. But he probably had trouble remembering exactly why, given that hanging on to new information was proving so difficult. Even so, it didn't feel like our story to tell. Ash had kept this to himself for so long, and I wanted to believe he had done so for a purpose, that when the time was right, he would share this secret. "I think it can wait."

"Right," Bulbasaur agreed, and we fell quiet. Talking with Bulbasaur, I felt like we had things under control, like we could plan and organize our way through this mess. I wished he was still traveling with us.

"You wanna talk about it?" I wasn't sure. I felt I hadn't done anything all week but talk about this, and yet, there was so much I had left unsaid.

"I..." By rights, they should all hate me. "I think I did this to him."

"Right," Bulbasaur sighed with the usual lilt he had when he thought I was being stupid. "Because a collapsing building had nothing to do with it, everything is always you, you, you..."

"I thundershocked him, okay?" I snapped back, and Bulbasaur was quiet, though not from surprise. "Like, a real one, the kind that usually knocks him out or makes him glow blue." Bulbasaur bit back a laugh, but he hadn't been there on the day we got attacked by aliens. I had been so scared when Deoxys grabbed Ash, not knowing what had been done to all the other humans that were taken, and had let loose all the vestiges of my power to break the foreign pokemon's hold. I probably should have worried a little more than I did at the time, but it was somewhat humorous after the danger had passed, even though I didn't think humans were supposed to be glowing like that.

"Trying to escape?" It wouldn't have been the first time, but, no.

"We were trapped, and... I panicked," I finally admitted, giving a voice to the thoughts I had been keeping buried. "I don't even really know why, just, it was small and cramped, and I could barely breathe..."

"That's not like you," Bulbasaur agreed. "Or maybe it is. You do hate pokeballs, don't you?" It's not quite the same. I don't like closed spaces, but it's a bit particular. Some places are safe, and some are not. Ash's arms are safe. Cages aren't. Tunnels were usually okay, but a broken down pile of rubble...

"I don't like feeling trapped," I said, "I always worry that if I go in a pokeball, I'll never come out."

"Maybe it felt the same? My mother used to say that the earth was the ultimate pokeball that catches all living things someday. Belonging to the great trainer in the sky." I thought about that for a minute.

"She really said that?"

"She was a trove of off-beat metaphors." Comparing death to a pokeball didn't help my mental state much.

"Well, maybe I'm just a coward..." Bulbasaur snorted at me, and I was mildly offended at first.

"You're not a coward, Pikachu. You used to be, but not anymore." For some reason, I didn't find this all that reassuring. "If you were a coward, you wouldn't still be here, now." Possibly not, but...

"I want to run away," I confessed, not knowing that of myself until that moment, "I want to run away from here so badly..." Run, as far as I could, without looking back to see the carnage behind me.

"But you don't, and that's what makes you brave. You're becoming just like him."

And I stopped, because that was the biggest compliment anyone had ever given me.

"Thank you."

"You'll be okay, Pikachu. And Ash will be okay. We're going to get through this."

"Right." In the corner of the screen, I saw Tracey trying to get Bulbasuar's attention, likely needing to make a phone call. "I'll see you in a couple of weeks. Try to get it through Bayleef's head that she can't tackle Ash when he arrives."

"Oh, good grief," I nearly laughed at Bulbasaur's expression of realization. "I'll tell her. I'll tell them all, most of these nutcases need to hear that speech..." All we needed was an over-enthusiastic greeting to tear open all of Ash's stitches. "I'll call Squirtle, too, and all the others. I might hold off on Charizard until Ash is actually back home, though. I don't want him arriving and setting his temper loose on everyone."

"Good idea." Hanging up, I felt a feeling of dread when I thought of facing Charizard. Everyone was being extremely considerate towards me, considering how much I was involved in the whole mess, but Charizard would be sure to look for someone to blame, and there was no better candidate than me. Our friendship might not survive the fact that I had permanently damaged our trainer, actively, if not intentionally.

I wandered back into the waiting room to find that Gary had returned, along with that spacey, not-quite-with-us look he'd been sporting a little too frequently of late. I made my way over to Brock, to either comfort him or scold him for making Gary weird again, just when he was starting to act functional. It wasn't like Brock to take out his frustration on other people, but then again, this accident was bringing out the worst in all of us. If Ash could have seen us in his right mind, he'd be shocked at the way we were behaving.

May had found Brock, and was a good listening ear for him, able to listen impartially while he ranted about some boy she'd only heard about through old stories. "It's not fair, you know. Everyone thinks Gary Oak is so great, but we've been traveling with Ash for years! We're his real friends!"

"It's not a competition," May said diplomatically, rubbing her sneakers on the tile floor until they squeaked. She might be a good listening ear, but I could tell that our recent bout of infighting was making her uncomfortable. "Ash is still everyone's friend-"

"He doesn't remember us, May!" Brock cried. "He doesn't remember me! I've spent every day with him for the past three or four years, and he's forgotten everything about me, but he still remembers the little brat who picked on him, and it's not fair!" He looked like one of his baby siblings, throwing a tantrum. "Why? Why Gary? Wasn't I just as important?"

"Pika, pikachu," I assured as I joined the fray, and was startled to see that Brock looked a little misty-eyed. I didn't often see him cry.

May continued squeaking her shoes against the tiles. "You said some pretty awful things to Gary."

"Well, they're all true," Brock snapped, and I grimaced, biting back the thought that if Brock was going to say such things, he should have been saying them years ago, when Ash needed someone to stand up for him. We'd all let Gary tear him to pieces without a second thought, so none of us had the right to be dredging up criticisms after the two of them had buried the hatchet.

"That doesn't make it right." Brock would have agreed with her on a good day, but none of us had been having a good day for awhile.

"It should be me Ash remembered," Brock kept muttering to himself. "It should have been me. I'm the one who should be his best friend, Gary doesn't deserve it..."

"I think," May said, an edge forming around her constantly insecure phrasing, "That you're not the one who gets to decide who does and does not deserve to be loved by Ash." And with that, she got up to go join Dawn with the word exercises, leaving Brock to mope. I stayed with him for awhile, understanding his sentiments a little more than I would have liked to admit, but could only take about ten minutes of Brock stewing before I felt my own mood falling prey to darkness and depression. I went to go check on Gary, feeling that someone probably needed to.

He was staring out the window, watching the rain dashing itself against the glass. He didn't look away from the mesmerizing sight when I tugged on his jeans, but he did speak, which was probably a good sign of mental health. "When we were kids, I always wondered where rain came from. Gramps used to say that it rained because the pokemon who controlled the weather were crying." He laughed to himself. "And Ash used to say that we should go find them and cheer them all up. I joked that he was so small that if he got hit by a raindrop, he'd drown." I could easily picture the two of them as small children, bickering and playing with toys, running and teasing with big smiles on their faces.

I didn't like to admit it, but Gary knew a side of Ash that I could never know, an Ash that existed before the Pokemon Journey. That was just the way life worked, I supposed, but sometimes I did feel little twinges of envy when I thought that there was a part of Ash's life I had no place in. I understood why Ash hadn't chosen to use me in the Silver Conference when he faced Gary, and actually admired him quite a bit for making that decision, but it still hurt to be left out of something so important.

Gary continued staring at whatever it was he thought he was seeing. "There's actually an old Kanto legend where it rained for so long that the earth flooded, and all the people died. But the Pokemon cried, and their tears stopped the flood and brought the people back to life." I felt like I'd heard this before, but I couldn't remember where. But there are no pokemon tears today, just waters which no one can survive.

The rain cascaded against the windowpane like someone was crying waterfalls. "I don't think it's ever going to stop raining."

I sighed, watching the bewitching and disheartening rain with Gary for a time, until Professor Oak came up behind us. He coaxed a cup of hot chocolate into Gary's hands, then led him back to one of the chairs, awkwardly trying to start some sort of conversation. But Gary's silence and vacant stares to the floor made it clear that he had no wishes to acknowledge reality on any terms that weren't his own.

"It's going to be alright, Gary," Professor Oak promised kindly. "You can trust your Grandpa on that." He put an arm around Gary's shoulders and the boy leaned into him, and I found myself wishing fervently that Ash could come and put his warm arms around me.

Professor Oak would have to do, and I accepted the offer to jump into his lap and have my fur stroked by gentle, loving hands. "Do you remember when we first met, Pikachu?" he asked, just as I was closing my eyes.

That had been so long ago. "Pi..." I murmured, letting myself relax. Outside, the storm was still brewing on all fronts, but in this corner of the waiting room it was quiet and loving.

"I certainly remember you, chewing on my power cables. Right in the middle of the Boccer Championship game, too." He laughed a little and I joined in. The old man had been so furious. "You were so young. I don't think anyone's ever hated me as much as you did right then." It wasn't anything personal; I hated everyone, back then, particularly people with pokeballs telling me what to do. "I didn't know what to do with you." I laughed to myself, thinking on how the world spun around crazy until things fell into place. I could still remember Oak's face, grimy from crawling and slithering under his deck to find me munching on the live wires. The last thing I wanted was to be trapped in a pokeball by a doddering, old geezer, or get stuck with some little brat as their starter pokemon, and yet, that chance encounter with Oak was ultimately the best thing that ever happened to me.

Could the world work itself all out a second time? "The older you get, the more you start to worry about the future," Oak continued. "Your life becomes harder and the world becomes more of a mess. You start to wonder if a bright future can even exist." Especially now. "When I was young, I glimpsed the future, but, as time passed, it felt more and more like a half-forgotten dream. When I saw you, you reminded me of myself. You looked like someone who'd lost faith in the future." Professor Oak patted me, and I felt his smile through my closed eyes. 'Lost faith' was a mild way of putting it. I had gone so far over the edge that I was actively raging against the future. If I hadn't been placed in Ash's care, I'd likely have done something stupid and reckless before too long, which was ironic, as those were thing I generally accused Ash of having a penchant for. But his stupidity did not, thankfully, include self-destructive behavior.

Professor Oak sighed aloud. "I didn't really believe it was him, not at first. I didn't even suspect it for several years, but when I did, I wouldn't believe it. But over time, my half-forgotten dream became stronger in my memory. I lost faith in him a few times along the way, but he always reminded me that the past was the past, and that the future would be just fine. To Ash, I'll never be more than a foolish old man, but when I'm with him, I feel like little Sam again."

Sam... of course. Why on earth hadn't we realized it sooner?

Why now, when Ash couldn't remember him well enough to appreciate it?

"That's why I captured you, I thought you needed someone who could bring back your future." The future, and the past. Linked in ways I couldn't understand, all converging on the one boy who knew how to connect them. Ash could build a bridge between Past Gary and Future Gary and let the water flow underneath, could take Dameon's Chramander and turn it into Charizard and then, Ash's Charizard, the two of them laughing over their tumultuous past with perfect acknowledgment but none of the pain.

Ash saw where I was coming from, and saw a future I could never see for myself, and then, moving mountains, worlds and my own stubborn heart, he got me to that future. When I was with Ash, I knew that the sun would rise every morning, and we were ready to face what it held for us. Before him, I didn't care if the sun rose the next morning, and didn't much care if I was even around for it. I didn't care about much of anything.

Would I go back to that place, now? Having come so far, looking back on that part of my life, it seemed so dark and meaningless.

"Do you remember when you and Mrs. Ketchum used to take us to the movies?" Gary spoke up, changing topics completely. I think the question was directed at his grandfather, but he possibly could have meant it for the floor, as he was staring at it so intently.

"Yes, I remember."

"Ash always liked those stupid comedies. He'd roll all over in his seat and embarrass himself, and then I'd tell him to shut up and stop acting like a moron." He shook his head, a bit of a smile on his face but pain in his eyes. "I never told him, but I kind of liked those movies, too." Professor Oak smiled to himself, and patted Gary's shoulder.

"He wouldn't have kept inviting you if he thought you didn't want to come." Insight. It always surprised me that Ash had it, but he did, and Oak was right; Ash could just as happily have gone to the movies by himself.

"I liked documentaries best," Gary continued. "Sometimes a drama or action, but I liked more realistic movies. I was always telling Ash that those zany slapstick comedies and hero fantasies were nothing like reality." Ash was nothing like reality, when you got down to it. "And one day, he told me that he liked movies because they weren't reality, that he saw enough of real life every day, and he didn't want to see anymore." Interesting. And now his real life was stranger than anything people could dream up for a movie. "I never figured out what it was he didn't want to see..."

"Yes, you did." Both Gary and I were surprised by his answer. "You forced him to sit through all those war dramas with you, and then you made up "secret endings" for him where everything turned out happily." Gary fidgeted, gripping the cup of chocolate long since gone cold. "You should stop blaming yourself for this."

So that was it. If The Great Gary Oak had been here, this might not have happened. In Gary's mind, he should have arrived in that shiny, red car, thrown that stupid cape dramatically over his shoulder and somehow thwarted the mafia and forces of nature. Like I wished I had been able to do.

"Who's going to make up a happy ending for him, now?" My heart broke for him. "I can't do it anymore. I've forgotten how to see the world like he does."

"Well, maybe it's Ash's turn to change the story for you. He makes his own happy endings now." Would that I could have such faith, that I could believe this story could ever have a happy ending. "The heroes only achieve their goal after going through the darkest hours imaginable, after all."

Gary's lips twisted, and his thoughts were the same as mine: we didn't want Ash going through dark hours, but constantly living out his zany, comedic life where the only danger was boredom.

But that was something out of our control. I left the two Oaks and wandered back into Ash's room, taking my customary spot under the shadowy table by the door. Ash seemed in decent spirits, though maybe a little frustrated by Dawn and May's insistence on drilling his vocabulary. I felt for him, Ash hated these sorts of games, but with all the progress he was making, I wouldn't be the one to stop the girls.

"Use your words, Ash." Ash responded with a moderately rude hand gesture, but refocused himself and grimaced at the picture of a Pokemon Center.


"Yes! One point!" May cheered, and Ash looked rather pleased with himself. "What else can you find at a Pokemon Center?"

"...ch-ch-ch...uh... chuh-bliss..." Ash struggled here, but May and Dawn hung on with encouraging looks. "...piii...nn...k..."

"Um, we'll give you a point if you can explain that one," Dawn said uncertainly, and Ash shot an exasperated look at her. "Well, I'm sorry! What are you trying to get at with "pink"?" For an explanation, Ash pointed to his arm and started making gestures that made no sense to anybody. "Words, Ash."

"Bah!" Ash grumbled, but tugged a little at his bandages and spoke again. "P-piinnkk... b-booorrr... pookkkeee..." May and Dawn shot each other worried glances. "Aaaft...ter..."

Dawn pursed her lips. "Well, 'after' is a word," she said to May, but May disagreed.

"We don't know what you mean, Ash. Try something else." She thought for a minute while Ash looked furiously helpless. "Is this thing alive, or inanimate?"

"Inanimate means it's not alive," Dawn supplied helpfully, which caused Ash to roll his eyes at her. "Sorry. Carry on."

"...dddd... dee-dea...ddd...de..ad..." Ash said, then paused and shook his head. "nnnnn... nnnnooo..."

"Alive, or inanimate, Ash, just pick one!" May sighed. "Just repeat what we said." Ash stared at her for a minute, wide-eyed with surprise.

"...d-did..." The girls stared back.

"No, you definitely didn't," Dawn replied, and Ash shook his head and insisted that he had. "Can't you just say it like we said it?"

"Did!" Ash repeated again, a little bit heated this time. But, under their unyielding gazes, he finally conceded and held up two fingers. "...t-tw..ooo... ti...ti-me..."

"Two time? Like, the second one?" Dawn interpreted, and Ash nodded, grateful to be back on track. "So, an object, how do you use this thing?"

"... uhhh... b-br... um, c-c-can...an't... bro-kkkenn..." Ash kept holding out his bandaged arm for emphasis, "hhhhhh... hhuuurrr... fffiixx...hu..rt...p-pok-ke...mnnn..." Dawn suddenly stood up, triumphant.

"'Fix hurt Pokemon', that's a sentence!" Ash looked up, almost as surprised as me and the girls, and a slow grin broke out across his face. "Triple points, Ketchum, way to go!"

It was, of course, kind of a bad sentence, but a few days ago, we weren't sure Ash recognized his own name. A tear fell from my eyes, and I was surprised to find myself crying, but for a change, with joy. Maybe Professor Oak was right, maybe Ash could still see the future none of us could see, and write his own special ending to this tragic tale.

Or, maybe, I thought, watching May and Dawn laughing with their old friend as if this were a typical game on a typical day, maybe we were finally being given the chance to bridge the gap between his past and future, writing the happy ending he wanted to see.

In my jubilation, I forgot how important it was for me to stay in the shadows, and I somehow managed to catch Ash's attention. Our eyes locked for a moment, and in those seconds, I saw our happy ending re-writing itself into something darker.

"...you..." he breathed, and May and Dawn were both on their feet in a second.

"He's not going to hurt you, Ash," they began, but Ash wasn't paying attention to them anymore, wide eyes focused only on me.

"...hhh...i-i-i..." I had no idea what he was saying, and he looked just as terrified as ever, but this did feel like progress. At least he was trying to say something to me. "...lll...l-liii...g-g-goouhhh..."

"I don't understand," I said softly, as non-threateningly as I could.

"sss...sca...rrr..." he whispered back in a choked voice. "...so... so sscar-ed..."

"I know." And I'd do anything to make that go away, but he had to tell me how.

May and Dawn were still poised at the ready, but they hung back a bit while Ash tried to form words to his thoughts. "...sa...sa... don-t..." He gulped, blinking back tears that were forming, and never once breaking eye contact. "...de...ad... g-go..ne... scar-ed..."

"You're fine, Ash," May said gently, "There's nothing to be scared of, anymore."

"...saave... mmee..."

Oh, I wished I could. "Pika?" How, though, that was the question. And from what?

"...go!" That was clear, and an order. "Go... g-go aaa...awa..yy...ugh... go... scareddd... sst-tooppp...stop..."

I'd had enough of torturing him for one day, so I slipped out of the room and slunk back into the waiting room. Just when things seemed to be going well, they took another turn for the worse.

Gary was alone again, and had gone back to staring out the window. I joined him in this pursuit, and tried to ignore the new jealous feelings towards this boy that I seemed to share with Brock. Hating Gary was an easy way to take the focus off of myself, but it wasn't his fault that Ash could remember good things about him.

"What's that?" Gary muttered, squinting his eyes and actually looking cognizant as he peered out of the window. I wondered if he might have dropped off the earth enough to be hallucinating, but when I followed his gaze, I also saw a shadow out in the rain. "It looks...sort of..."

Familiar. To me, at least, there was something about it that I was sure I'd seen before, and though it seemed like such a crazy idea, I nonetheless jumped off the windowsill and ran for the door, Gary on my heels.

We dashed out into the rain, following all the senses we had available to us to track down this phantom. Elusive shadows caught in the corner of our eyes, sounds that might be raindrops, or breathing, or something else entirely. A smell that was both familiar and not, and of course, a sense, pure and strong, that it was here, despite all reasons why that should not be so.

"Pika-Chu!" I fired a weak thunderbolt, not hitting anything but feeling the impression that I had not been so far off. Something had been there, and my gut instinct told me it was still nearby. "Pika-Chu!" Still nothing. "Chu!"

This was getting frustrating. "Show yourself!" Gary cried, hair plastered to his neck. Maybe that wasn't such a good idea. If my suspicions were correct, this would terrify the kid.

On the other hand, Gary supposedly raised an Aerodactyl from a fossil and had been there when Ash, Dawn and Brock had all gotten possessed by legendary Pokemon. Nothing should surprise him, anymore.

"Quit playing games and get out here!" I shouted into the rain. "I know it's you!"

"Games were never my design," I 'heard' the familiar voice speaking into my mind. So, I was right. "My apologies." I looked to the dark shadows in a group of nearby trees, and watched it step into the light, pulling back it's hood. A one-of-a-kind pokemon, with strong, athletic legs, a pair of spindly arms, a permanent scowl and the eyes of someone who could destroy the world with a thought.

"No way..." Beside me, Gary was going pale. I took a step forward, prepared for whatever new craziness that was about to be brought into our lives.

"MewTwo." The scowl became more of a smirk.

"We meet again."