Well, next chapter done. Quick by my standards, but not fast enough for many, according to some reviews;; Next time I write, I'm going to finish the whole thing before posting the first chapter, to prevent long delays. At least it's not a year this time...

Thanks to Sarah for giving this the once-over and for her help, and also to Smileyaili for giving me more than one kick to get me going again. Also thanks to all those who reviewed, I hope that this chapter keeps you interested.

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Chapter 14 – Under the Waining Moon

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It's getting late. And I can see a certain person getting anxious. We've been friends and comrades for six years, so I can read him like a book. But I think anyone can see the clear worry on his face. It's only when you look deeper, into the eyes and around them, you see the tiredness which I've failed to spot until now. I never quite realised how much we've all put him thorough, not until Cyndaquil laid the law down this morning in the clearest way possible. At the time I was angry, and I couldn't see what he was getting at for the blinkers that my temper forces me to wear. But as the day wore on, and I mooched out of his sight but not out of my hearing, I listened to the story which I had had a leading role in being told by someone else, someone with a different viewpoint. And I must admit I was ignorant of the part I was playing, too wound up and thirsting for an outlet for my wanton blood lust to actually see what was going on before my eyes. And look at where that's got us all. Especially Ash. He was so spent that he even went to the twittering three for help. Not that they twitter any more.

It hurt, what I heard. It still hurts now. I spent hours this afternoon sat in a nearby park, near to the fountain as I could get without becoming a target for someone ambitious with a pokeball. Just thinking over the events of the morning. Learning first from Cyndaquil how far he thought things had gone, and then the no-holds-barred synopsis of the last month.

I didn't know that Misty had spent the night before last telling Ash her life story in a crazed state. I didn't know Hazel had tried to seduce him. I didn't know that Misty has had problems like this before. I didn't know a lot of things. And some of them were blindingly obvious to anyone who was listening to anyone but herself. All these facts really stung. That I'd never given my best friend the chance to tell me these things stung. That I'd never asked, or even noticed...

And then my personal war with Chikorita. That came up, oh yes. He even mentioned what happened three years ago, and how he found such similarities with now. That really shook me up. Last time, I didn't see it coming. After the fact, I swore that I had learnt my lesson. Yet now I would have hurtled head-first into the very same situation again, and then what? Another person spending months in hospital? Or worse? I couldn't believe my ears. That really struck deep.

But the worst, the very worst thing I can remember hearing, is my friend and partner bursting into tears and knowing, without a hint of doubt, that it's at least partly my fault.

I think something died within me at that moment.

("She'll be back soon, I'm sure.") Cyndaquil isn't referring to Chikorita. I'm sure Ash is worried about her too, but it's someone else that is causing him to stare out the window at the dipping sun like an old man watching a clock tick the last seconds of his life away.

"Yeah. Like you said an hour ago." He sits on Hazels' bed, which is occupied by the brown-haired girl currently snoring away, and grasps her hand nervously. I still don't know what is going on there, when I got back she was sleeping in Ashs' lap. I would have asked, but I felt a low profile was the way to go.

("Easy. Misty won't do anything stupid.") Cyndaquil replies, but everyone in the room who is conscious can tell he doesn't really believe it. After what I've heard, I certainly don't.

"Uhhhh..." Hazel stirs, putting a hand to her head and giving out a long, shuddering groan. The raven-haired trainer quickly scoops her up, and cradles her tenderly.

"Hazel, how are you feeling?" A pair of slightly red eyes open.

"Gah, like a Snorlax is sitting on my head." A tiny smile breaks out on his face, and I feel a pang of sadness. He hasn't picked me up with that much care for so long, or smiled that smile...

I suddenly want to get away from what I'm seeing, away from the reminder of how things used to be between me and him. A few quick hops and I'm into the bathroom, nudging the door with my foot. Leaping up onto the edge of the sink I peer into the mirror. Trying to work out what has gone wrong.

("What are you running off for?") Cyndaquil slips into the room, knocking the door firmly this time so it closes.

("Hey, don't come barging in here, it's a bathroom!") My diminutive friend visibly shrugs.

("Come off it Pikachu, that's a human excuse. When you grow up in the wild you don't care for niceties like those.") I glare at him.

("I've been living in the civilised world for years. I hold more in kind with this world than the one I was born into.") He pauses, and looks thoughtful for a second.

("Well, I never thought of that.") He smiles up at me. ("Guess I'm still learning. Although I do like the food and luxuries, etiquette is a pain in the ass, no mistake.") I find myself smiling in response, and hopping down to join him on the blue tiles.

("Can't argue with you.")

("That's a change.") I'm floored by the no-nonsense response. After a second of suspense I can feel my face heating up.

("Don't come in here and start with me now. You made things perfectly clear earlier.") I spring back up onto the edge of the sink, and look into the mirror again. ("I want a little peace. If all you want to do is berate me, push off.") I finish frostily. From somewhere down below I hear a soft sigh, and then silence. Silence is fine, although absence would be better. I examine my appearance carefully, if for no other reason than to try and ignore him. My cheeks are deep, deep red, far more so than normal. Both through overload of energy and mood. Misty always said she knew when I was happy, because my cheeks would be the shade of ripe cherries. But now they're a deep, blood red. Aside from that, I just look flat. Dark eyes that have no sparkle, lank canary hair without lustre.

The question comes back to mind.

How has it come to this?

("What?") I realise I've just spoken my last thought aloud, and Cyndaquil has pricked his ears. But, strangely, it doesn't push me back into my shell.

("How has it come to this?") I reach up with a paw and brush my leaden cheeks, wincing at the feeling of tension within them. ("Not so long ago, we were stood triumphant together after winning a world tournament. Now...") I trail off, not really looking at my reflection any more.

("Things change.") Comes a quiet reply. I find myself snarling silently, frustrated by Cyndaquils apparent indifference.

("Why should they? We were happy! We had all we wanted in life!") I hurl myself down onto the floor tiles, cheeks sparkling with anger. ("And now, this. An endless stream of bitter fighting. But I can't stop, damn it!")

("What has brought all this on?") Comes a surprised sounding reply. ("Twelve hours ago, you were just about ready to go ballistic and beat a certain person into submission, maybe beyond, without an ounce of conscience.")

("Twelve hours ago I was blind as a fucking bat, Cyndaquil.") I take a long breath, feeling energy drain away until I'm under control again, and that hollow emptiness refills my chest. ("But then the dark glasses came off at the gym. You might not have seen me for two hours, but it doesn't mean I couldn't hear you.") I glance to him and see a look that almost says 'ah' spread across his face.

("It's good to look through someone else's eyes now and then.") His voice hardens. ("Especially if you refuse to see with your own. Come on, didn't you think, realise, that all this was getting to him, and to me? Ash isn't the only one who has had to act referee between you two, y'know.")

("I did, in the in-between moments, I did.") I scuff the floor with a foot, feeling remorse settle on me like a cloak. ("But I just get pissed, god-damn it! I know what I'm doing, then one word out of place, and bang! Red mist. It doesn't matter what she says, Chikorita is like a red rag to a bull. I don't know what it is, about her. She's selfish, possessive, argumentative and temperamental.") I pause, taking a sad breath before continuing. ("And so am I. We both want the same things, and neither of us give an inch. It just adds up.")

("Well, you're being honest with yourself.") Cyndaquil looks me in the eyes, firmly. ("But there's a big difference between you and her. One that worries you...") I feel myself sputtering in defiance.

("What? What are you talking abou-") My dark friend silences me with the stamp of a foot, one that resounds around the bathroom.

("Pikachu. My final wish is that you finally admit it, stop bloody lying to me and yourself.") I feel ready to tell him to stuff his wish, that I don't care any more. But I owe it to him, and to myself, to answer.

("Okay. I know. And I hate you for making me say this.") A deep, shuddering breath. ("I'm a maniac, okay? A psychopath, a killer. There now, happy?") I snap fiercely, barely below a scream.

("That's not right, and you know it.") Cyndaquils' admonishing reply just sparks my voice to greater volume.

("I want to hurt people. I want to make Chikorita suffer, make her cry out in pain, every time she opens her stupid mouth. I want to fight, maim, destroy. I want others to fight with me, and against me. To know and cherish the pain I inflict on others. I almost want to KILL, god-damn it!") I finish with a screech.

("You just want to do what you're good at.") Hah, you must be joking.

("What does that make me? Some kind of fighting machine? Someone who needs to cause pain just to make her life worth living? Well, that's exactly what I am. I may not like it, but that doesn't change the fact. Meet the Terminator, now sporting a fresh new look. Hell, I should rent myself out, become a mercenary for hire.") I'm cackling madly, so lost that I don't notice Cyndaquils' swinging paw until it hits me. On instinct I flip away as it strikes, and counter with a thunderbolt that knocks him clean across the room.

("Yow! Jesus!") I put a paw to my mouth in horror as he hauls himself slowly to his back feet, and meticulously dusts himself down. Eventually he straightens up and looks at me carefully. ("You know, you needed that smack. I don't need another hysteric scene right now. Maybe I should've expected retaliation.")

("Ah, damn, I'm sorry! I wish I could say I don't know why that happened, but I can't, if that makes any sense, it doesn't does it?") He waves me into silence.

("Pikachu, you're rambling again.") I think my horror at what I just did is pretty obvious, as he sighs and shuffles back over to me. ("We're all pretty brassed off right now. But you bring it out in a different way.")

("That's my point! I can't talk, I just fight!")

("That's not true. You're talking right now.") I hiss in frustration.

("Only after blasting you clean across the room.") He shrugs.

("At least you are.") I close my eyes, and shake my head bitterly, ears laying flat to my head.

("This is getting us nowhere. I can't even say for sure why I'm so damn angry all the time. I mean I'm used to fighting, but I've gone long periods before now without getting a craving to beat someone senseless. But this is different, I'm a walking land mine. Step on me and I'll blow.") I sound just like I feel, utterly defeated.

("Have you told Ash any of this? I thought not.") Cyndaquil puffs out his cheeks, before sitting down and apparently making himself comfortable. ("Why not? We used to be tight, close, all of us. Why haven't you taken the time to sit down and just chew the fat about life with someone? Like now.")

("Because he's busy, we're all busy. With Misty, Hazel and everything...") I trail off, and we sit in silence on the shiny blue floor for what feels like hours. Then, Cyndaquil pipes up again.

("What about me?") Damn. What about him?

("I, uh, gawd, I know it sounds awful, but I just didn't think of it.") I feel uncomfortable, and guilty. Some friend I am.

("I'm not surprised.") Uh, pardon?

("What do you mean?")

("Well, tell me why you came in here a few minutes ago.") He smiles at my obvious discomfort. ("It's because of what was happening out there, right? I could see the look in your eyes. You were watching Ash cradling Hazel with the face of someone who has just been told they have six weeks to live. You were thinking of when you were held in exactly the same way. Am I right, or am I right?") I stare at the floor, silent. Eventually, I give a slow, resigned nod.

("Yeah.")

("That's why you're so angry now. You wanted to come in here, close the door and dream about better days. But I didn't let you.") This sudden inquisition leaves me feeling like someone who's been caught with their hand in the cookie jar. ("You never thought of me because you were too busy thinking of him.") I don't know how Cyndaquil is striking so close to the mark, but I suddenly feel like I have to tell him my truth before he stabs it dead on with a guess.

("I just feel so left out. It used to be me and him, with Misty, and Brock. Then came Chikorita. Then you. Even then, it was okay. And now Hazel. So much has changed.") I exhale slowly, letting my mind drift back to better memories. ("I remember, the time I knew what happiness was. But now, well, the memory is fading. He's got no time, I've got no sparkle. I miss him. He's here, and so am I, but I miss him.") I chuckle morosely, shaking my head gently. ("Nah, that makes no sense.")

("It makes perfect sense.") My dark friend looks up to the ceiling. ("That's how I feel now and then. That's how Ash feels too. I never told you this, but when we were out in the wilderness, we said the same thing. I remember how he put it – 'I've never felt so surrounded, yet so alone.' - I know exactly what he meant.")

("But what can I do? I don't want things to go on like this.")

("Tell him about it. He needs help right now, we all do. Just be there for him. Then he'll come to you.") Cyndaquil smiles, and heads for the door. ("Burying the hatchet with Chikorita wouldn't hurt either.")

("I don't think I could do that just now.") My friend looks back over his shoulder, with a hint of disapproval. ("I know what you mean, but I can't deal with her. Not tonight at least.") He holds my gaze for a moment longer, before shrugging and turning away again.

("Okay. But remember, you can't ignore it forever. I know there's two sides to it, but both sides have to give peace a chance. I'll be having words with her too, but I can't make you sort all this shit out. You've got to do it in the end. And if you don't, then, well, you know what will happen then.") He leaps up, and pulls the handle down while kicking the door open. ("So come on out when you're ready, with a smile if you can manage it. But I hope you're ready soon, I know someone will notice if you're not.") With that, he's gone. I stare at the gap he just slipped through, mind working overtime. A smile, hmmm?

("Might as well see if I still can.") I murmur to myself, and jump up to the sink for the third time since I came in. I stare at the furry yellow creature staring back at me, and then watch it crack a smile. Crack is probably the right word, it's a tragic sight, like watching an impeccable statue cut from crystal glass shatter. Well, it's better than nothing. I decide that gurning at my reflection isn't going to help either, so I hop back down onto the blue floor, idly noting that I don't really need to jump up to the mirror to check how I look. All I have to do in future is look into the overly shiny tiles to find out. But that's a thought for another day.

I inhale slowly, and exhale even more slowly, before heading through the doorway and back into the bedroom. Time to start over.

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Chikorita returned a few moments ago, right after Pikachu waltzed out of the bathroom after exchanging views quite loudly with Cyndaquil. I couldn't make out what was said, since Hazel still holds my attention. She's better, I think, although I do wonder why she called me 'dad' as she slipped into dreamland earlier. For the last ten minutes she's been telling me about how, when she was little, she used to ride her father like a Rapidash. Well, more a Ponyta, but the idea is the same. It's strange, how sometimes memory can be better than the real thing. No doubt, Hazel will really come around to what's happened, and accept that this was, all in all, for the best. Cold of me to think it, but there you are. I've known people who have fallen that far, yet never known one to reprieve their crimes in the end. I would have ripped the man limb from limb for what he did, what he would have gone on doing. Maybe involved the police, maybe just made sure he would never think of going near Hazel again, and then left him to rot. Verbal and physical abuse, coupled to little perversions that might not have stayed so little as the last barriers of restraint were breaking down.

It's enough to make me sick.

"And then, one time, he accidentally bucked me off, and sent me flying into my grans lap. Her tea went everywhere! Luckily I didn't get burned, 'cause she always liked her tea cold, which I never really got since cold tea tastes horrible and makes me wanna gag..." But I'm not going to spoil Hazels' reminiscence. I can see in her pink-tinged brown eyes that she wants to remember the good before the bad, at least for now. Reality will come. But I won't wake her from the dream, not while she's smiling.

("Hey, where's Misty?") Chikorita finally realises that we're down on numbers, and asks the question I wish I knew the answer to.

"Who cares?" Hazel flippantly responds, stopping her serenade on riding family members. At this, I feel a twinge of something, not anger as such, but my grip on the brown-haired girls' shoulder tightens slightly. Something that stills her instantly.

"I do." The one sat in my lap rapidly turns red.

"Uh, I'm sorry Ash, I didn't mean it, really. I just do it, it's outta my mouth before I know it's there."

"I know. But try to think first. One day you might say something you really regret." Hazel looks ashamed for a moment, before snapping back into her usual manner with a cheery nod.

("I hope everyone here is listening...") Cyndaquil murmurs snidely, shooting looks at the other two pokemon. Chikorita seems baffled, but Pikachu just fixes him with a stare, eventually followed by a slight tilt of her head.

"So where is she?" The dark-haired girl asks the room. The room doesn't answer.

"I don't know, wish I did." I reply, worry gnawing at me like a starving rat. All is quiet, as no-one seems to know what to say.

("I think you do.") Until Pikachu pipes up. I look at her, confused.

"I just said I didn't." She smiles up at me.

("Come on, who knows Misty better than you?") When I don't answer, the smile gets bigger. ("Really, you do know. Think. If there was one place she'd go, where would it be?")

"To the gy – no, no. She'd go to the sea. She always has." Pikachu nods.

("And the one place she'd want to go above all others?") Oh, yes. Her favourite place on earth.

"The cape. She's at the cape." I see the eyes of Chikorita and Cyndaquil light up in understanding, as they get it too.

("Yeah, makes sense.") Hazel rests back against me, adjusting herself in my lap.

"So we gonna wait here, let her come to us, or you gonna go to her?" I didn't even need to ask myself the question.

"I'm going." With a sigh, Hazel gets off my lap.

"Okay. But I'm going to miss my favourite seat." I have to smile at her pout.

"Don't worry, he'll be back." I reach over to my dark blue jacket which is laying limp on my bed, and pull it on. "Anyone else coming?"

("I'll stay here. If we all go it'll just be uncomfortable.") Cyndaquil hops up onto the space vacated by my coat.

("Me too. Don't think I'll help any.") Chikorita adds, while clicking the kettle on with a vine. I think she's more interested in finding out what has been going on with Hazel.

"Ah, I'll sit this one out. She'd more likely jump in the sea if I was there." Hazel answers honestly, curling up on her own bed. Finally, I look at Pikachu. She seems to be fighting an inward battle over something. Eventually, she looks up.

("I'd, uh, like to, but I think I'll be in the way. I'd feel better about you walking through Cerulean at night if someone was with you though...") I look at my yellow friend as she fidgets on the aquamarine carpet, and feel a stab of shame. She shouldn't have to do this, talk herself into staying when she so badly wants to come.

"Hop aboard." I say simply, kneeling down before her. Her mahogany eyes light up with delight, and in a flash she's on my shoulder, slotting in there like she'd never left it. I see Chikoritas' face darken, but she keeps her thoughts to herself. She's already declined to come as it is.

"Tell her that I'll even promise not to insult her if she stops being a silly mare and comes in outta the cold." I just smile a little at that comment, although the brief flicker of good mood that lit inside me is rapidly dying out. The thought of Misty out there somewhere, and the way she must be feeling to not come back before nightfall..."

("Let's go, Ash.") Pikachu presses her cheek to mine, whispering quietly.

"Yeah." I murmur back, before casting a 'goodbye' as I slip out into the corridor, hearing three well-wishing replies as the door closes behind me. My pace quickens without conscious thought as I head for the stairs. I don't want to make her wait.

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A figure sits, forlorn, on a park bench. Beneath the light of the waning moon, normally iridescent hair is just a swathe of monochrome, and eyes once bubbling with life lie flat as the Cerulean sea that they gaze out over, waters resting mirror-like in the dead calm night.

Another figure stands nearby, a smaller shape at it's side. Without a word exchanged, the diminutive shadow moves away, to a spot looking back at the city, while the larger one moves cautiously towards the bench. It stops a few feet away, as if seeking permission. When no response is forthcoming, it sits anyway.

"I've been waiting for you." He says.

"Oh." Comes her reply. The two sit in silence which is anything but companionable for what seems like an eternity to them both. Eventually, he turns to face her, examining her face, which is still resolutely turned to the horizon. Whatever he finds there doesn't please him, as the sigh escaping his mouth speaks volumes.

"I've been worried. It's not like you to stay out all day and all night."

"I wanted to think." The girl answers, voice gruff and stony as her face.

"But until nearly midnight?"

"Lot of thinking to do." Both figures return to staring out across the sea, although neither really seeing the moon which bathes them in an eerie, ghostly glow.

"What about?" The man's voice again, leaden with emotion.

"Oh, things."

"Things?"

"Yeah."

"Oh." Once again, that screaming silence. The short-haired figure slides ever-so-slightly closer to the other, and almost has to choke back tears as his friend slides not-so-slightly further away from him. Another hiatus. Then the masculine tone once more, this time with an edge of pleading.

"Please, please don't do this -"

"I'm not doing anything! I'm sitting here! You're the one who's sidling up to me, sticking your nose in where it's going to get broken!" A furious shriek rips the air of tranquillity apart. "So why don't you go back to our jolly bedsit and snog my petite replacement!" A pause, dripping with hostility.

"She's nobody's replacement. She's Hazel. Not you." Several deep, ragged breaths punctuate yet another pause. Then the female voice, this time tuned down to a guttural moan.

"Well, substitute or replacement, either way, you're better off with her than me." At this the young man jerks as if stung.

"Don't say that, never say that." He leans over towards the girl, who is now deliberately looking away. "Why should I not want to be with you? The one I - "

"Because I'm a stinking worthless fucking failure, that's why!" The young lady cries, composure cracking and despair clear as crystal in her voice. "You should have seen it today! All I knew was my name! Every question, like trying to pick a single snowflake from a blizzard! I could almost feel them looking at me, those others in that hall. Hear them silently laugh, laugh at the pitiful excuse for a person dying a thousand deaths in their midst as they soared in the sky like stars!" She breaks off, inhaling like she's taking a long, deep drag on an invisible cigarette. "And you know the worst thing about it? I thought, actually thought, I could be one of them. But the truth will out, sure as the sun rises. I'm a failure, a nothing."

"You're not a nothing." Comes the sincere reply. Without warning, the long-haired girl rounds on the boy, gaunt face wild and furious, yet strangely beautiful, in the pale glow.

"I'm not a nothing! Let's see, I've given up on the gym, given up on being a water master, now proven myself utterly worthless at becoming a nurse too! All I've done is follow you around like a fucking dog for years." This brings out a gasp from her friend, but it doesn't halt the verbal torrent cascading from the slight girls mouth. "Now, what do I have to show for it all, to prove my worth? Nothing. That makes me a failure."

"Nothing? What about the memories? The experiences? The friendship?" The only response to the mans plea is a derisory chuckle that carries no humour whatsoever.

"Can I pin my friendship on a wall? Can I add the memories to a CV? That means shit to everyone else." The moon illuminates twin tear tracks on her face, which shine like winter frost beneath the silvery glow. "I'm nothing in my sisters eyes. I'm nothing in my parents eyes. I'm nothing in my citys eyes. I'm nothing in the eyes of anyone with eyes!" As she cries the final word the girl breaks into heaving sobs, leaning gently into the embrace offered to her.

"Not in my eyes." A gentle hand reaches up and strokes the tears from the girls face, although it is an exercise in futility as they are instantly replaced by more. "Never in my eyes." The raven-haired one sighs as he feels his jacket grow damp where his friend has buried her face into it, fighting his own treacherous eyes which, against his will, are threatening to overflow.

"But why? I'm not pretty, I'm not successful, I'm not even a candle to the shining stars that my sisters are." The young man twitches, but his distraught companion is too mired in her minds darkness to notice. "You'd be better off with someone like that, someone who can look you in the eye, someone who won't be a lead weight. Someone who won't drag you from your path to pursue phantom dreams." Her voice is now just a feeble wail, sobs dying into whimpers, but in a way all the more plaintive.

"But you're you. And that's what matters." The boy dashes his face with the back of a sleeve, trying to hide the fact he lost his personal battle. "Everything else is just words on paper. If I wanted you to go, do you think I would have come out here to get you?"

"...No..." The slight figure pulls herself in tighter to the other, almost as if in fear that if she lets go he'll escape. "But I still don't know why you came..." The two stare out across the placid sea, their hands linked, breathing in synchrony. Eventually, the young man sighs.

"Come on, it's time we went." A pair of moist aquamarine eyes look up to meet hazel, pleading evident in them.

"Can we just stay for a few more minutes? Please?" Another sigh, and a pause, this one comfortable.

"Just a few more then." A silken rustle of clothing, then the girl feels something warm slide around her shoulders. "But I'm not having you catching a chill on me." This spoken with a wry smile, and more than a touch of tenderness. She moves yet closer to him, close enough to hear each breath. For a minute that lasts a month, the two just stare at the moon, hung motionless in the cool night air. Eventually, Misty speaks.

"How did you know where to find me?" Her voice is barely a whisper, like a breath of wind in the still darkness.

"I just went to your favourite place." Ash replies with a languid smile, not taking his eyes off the moon.

"Oh..." The pair go back to gazing at the sky. In the darkness, just a few yards away, a small figure smiles.

("It's a small step, but a step none the less.") Pikachu murmurs to herself, before joining her friends in their stargazing.

All journeys begin with the first step...

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Cyndaquil can certainly make a good cup of tea. At least I think so...

"More sugar!" Hazel proclaims, shovelling a further spoonful of the white granules from the bag perched precariously on the edge of the bed beside her, before dumping the lot into her mug. The cups they provide here aren't exactly huge, and I'd swear on my life that you couldn't physically fit any more sugar in, even if there was no tea in it before hand. But no, she stirs quickly a few times before taking a tentative sip. This is odd, as normally if a cup of tea isn't at almost boiling point, Hazel will drink it so fast it doesn't touch the sides of her throat.

"Better now?" Cyndaquil asks, with a touch of humour. His reply is a couple of rapid nods, before the drink is, inevitably, drained in one gluttonous gulp.

A pause.

A belch.

"Oh yeah." The brown-haired girl wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. And then looks into the empty cup (which just happens to be blue) with a pitiful expression. I can't say I've ever actually seen a kicked puppy, but I expect that they look a lot like Hazel does now. It takes only seven seconds for my dark furred friend to submit, and go to make her another with a mumbled 'oh, alright then'. As he hefts up our kettle (which stands out, being the only yellow thing in a blue room) and staggers off to re-fill it (it's bigger than he is) I take a rather more dainty sip of my drink. And give Hazel a careful eye.

("You'll get indigestion if you keep drinking like that") She shrugs, grinning a little too much.

"Ah, who cares? It was too nice to mess about drinkin' politely!" This statement (which must be blindingly hilarious) sends her into a fit of hysterics, and she rocks over onto her back to laugh at the ceiling.

Something's wrong here, I know it is. Hazels' cheer is going way over the top, even by her standards. It might be the sugar talking, but even so. In the short time I've known her, it's pretty clear that more worked up she is the more extreme her moods. And right now, well, she's almost insanely happy.

And I'm worried.

("One cup of tea coming right up.") Cyndaquil perches the now full kettle on its plugged in stand and clicks it on. ("Now, I might actually get a chance to drink my own.") He adds with a chuckle, one which sends the prone Hazel into a fresh fit of convulsions. I give him a 'what's up with her?' look, and get a 'not for me to tell' look back.

"Ah, you crack me up." Hazel swings back up into a sitting position, face pink, eyes watering. "Hah, so, where's me tea?"

("Afraid you'll have to wait for the water to boil. The laws of physics aren't ones that you can break easily.")

"Why don't you heat the water? It'd be quicker." Hazel asks.

("Because it'd melt the kettle, burn the wallpaper and probably set of the fire alarms.")

"Fair enough."

("I think so. Besides, it'll be done in just a minute.") The slim girl on the bed passes her cup down, and as the 'waiter' takes hold of it I see a half-inch of sugar sludge loitering like a grimer in the bottom of it, which turns my stomach. It brought to mind a semi-dissolved slug I'd come across once when a disgruntled gardener decided she wanted her plants to be unmolested this spring. Not a slugma, which would toast anyone who would think of salting it, but a common old garden one which was half-buried, and half-gone, under a white powder mountain. Slimy, wet and horrible, yet somehow eerily still alive... No, forget it, think of the happy flowers, the happy flowers, the pretty flowers...

"Nah, leave it, it tastes better that way." Cyndaquil shrugs and sets the cup down, turning his attention to the now steaming kettle. I keep half an eye on Hazels' cup, just in case the sugar sludge slug manages to channel a spirit of one of it's dissolved brothers and decides to make a break for freedom. The sound of water getting hotter, a gentle hiss gradually becoming a bubbling boiling is the only sound in the room until a click signals it's ready. I drag the three cups closer, and then the two of us, with teamwork borne both from several years together and making countless hot drinks, manage to empty the boiling water from a container as big as either of us into the teapot without any third degree burns. Cyndaquil peers into the pot, and then decides to add a teabag, before going to add milk to the (mostly) empty cups. I eye the sludge one more time, and, deciding that it's probably going to stay dead, look up at Hazel.

And realise she stopped laughing too long ago for her eyes to still be wet, or her face still red.

"Ah, crap, sorry about this." She mumbles, voice breaking. I quickly hoist myself up onto the bed with my vines, knocking the bag of sugar to the floor and creating a mini-landslide on the carpet.

("What have you got to be sorry about?") Hazel turns to me, still crying.

"Nothing really. Apart from killin' your own dad." It takes a good few seconds to work this one out.

("He's died? When?") The young girl sniffs.

"While I was away. Went back up there, but it was like a new house. Got told by the woman downstairs, they carried him out yesterday." She leans forwards, and her dark brown hair washes across her face, but I can see the tears through the strands. Everything suddenly makes a lot more sense. Her severe moods, Ash treating her with kid gloves.

("What happened?")

"I dunno, he was carried out, that's all I know about it. Maybe if I hadn't gone running off into the mountains, he would still be with me..." This lights something within me, something that burns brightly.

("No! Don't ever go down that road!") I realise that I've screamed those words, and that I'm searching for breath while Cyndaquil and Hazel look at me with astonishment in their eyes. But I don't regret the vehemence, not at all.

("What do you mean?") Cyndaquil asks, ignoring the teapot and focusing only on me.

("I know that parents don't always mean the best for their children.") My dark blue friend just stares at me while Hazel asks the inevitable question.

"How do you know that?" I bristle a little, and reply with more anger than I intended.

("Because your dad is a perfect example.") Seeing her face soften a little, I continue. ("But also because I remember, it happened to me...")

The first time I saw the sky. I knew I was supposed to stay out of sight, my parents had told me something like that, but I just crept up to the light that had dazzled me for what could have been forever, just through curiosity. And saw my world was more than a dark little hole. I couldn't have been more than a few weeks old. But I still think I somehow grasped the sheer size of life, just by seeing that scene. As my eyes slowly adjusted to the intensity of the light, something beyond my dreams crept into focus. A field. Stretching out far beyond my view, with every colour I could imagine. Lurid shades, grass and flowers rippling in a gentle breeze, ocean-like...

("I was sent back underground by my parents. I'd seen life as it should be, and as it really is. But they decided their opinion was the best, and fought me while I tried to see the sky again, just for a single breath of fresh air. Then, when the world was opened to me, they refused to let me live in it, stubbornly claiming me as one of their own and so chained to them. Eventually, I gave in until I grew old enough to move outside their reach, but not before they threatened to beat me into submission.") I'm amazed how calm my voice is. But now, after everything that has happened, I no longer feel their pressure. Except when someone is trying to force me into a Pokeball...

"But I did it, I sent him down -"

("No, he sent himself!") I pause for breath. ("He did what he did knowing the consequences. I'm sure Ash would have beaten the living daylights out of him. To be honest, dying was the best thing he could have done.")

"Why?" Hazels' completely distraught, her voice like a prayer. "He could have come back! I could have brought him back. He wasn't gone, no, just lost, if I'd stayed by him, then maybe, maybe..."

("Maybe what? Maybe he'd change, snap back into his old self? Not a chance, sister. Life ain't like that.") I stop, reigning in my temper at the utterly lost look in Hazels' eyes. They speak of the kind of despair I hope I never have to endure. She doesn't need to be shouted at at a time like this. ("Look, if I'd chosen to do nothing, hoped for a change of heart, where might I be? Still under their thumb, only living the life they allowed me. Not here. I'd never have achieved, never really lived!") I give her a soft smile, and am delighted when she replies with one, albeit shaky and weak from a face that is flushed and wet with tears.

"Yeah, I guess.. Hoped that maybe if I left him for a while he'd really wake up, he'd have to wake up. Really wake up. Seemed to me he was just asleep all those years, and he might wake up one day." Sadness tugs at her lower lip, and yet more water leaks from her eyes.

("He wasn't asleep. He just had his eyes closed, and he was the one that chose not to open them.") Cyndaquils' brisk voice surprises me, I'd almost forgotten he was here. Hazel sniffs a few times next to me, and he sighs as she then breaks out into fresh sobs. But he continues none the less. ("I know it's painful to hear, but you need to all the same. I don't think you could have brought him round, it's not like on the TV. He made his bed, and buried himself under the covers for too many years. Even if you'd pulled his head out, all he'd see would be four walls, nothing to keep him from hiding again.")

"B-but what about m-m-me!" Whimpers the girl at my side. My dark friend sighs again, and then signals to me that he wants to come up. I use my vines to hoist him onto her other side, silently praying he knows what he's doing. I wouldn't have pushed things this far.

("You wouldn't do.") I decide to step in, he's going just too far.

("Cyndaquil, give it a rest, leave it - ")

("You wouldn't do because when he sees you, he sees what he lost.") I stop my complaints. Hazel stops crying. It's as if the whole world is drawing breath. After an eternally long moment, he continues. ("He sees you, he sees what might have been.")

"But I know, I know he blames me for what happened, he'd tell me time and again." Cyndaquil slowly shakes his head.

("No, I don't think that's quite it. He blamed you because when you blame the world you can't tell if it's listening. You remind him. Of his wife and family. Of his dreams and ambition. Of how life could be. And he hates it, he knows that he let it pass him by. When he lost the Gym battle, he let everything go. Don't you think he could have made his move after the shit hit the fan with Mistys parents and all the scandal that followed? Or when the running of the gym was left to four young girls? But he just pulled the blankets tighter around him, and pretended he wasn't letting life pass him by.") I glance across at my diminutive friend, and give him a tiny nod. Well done, Cyndaquil. He's sharp as cut diamond, and most of the time you'd never notice, he's just on the edge of things taking notes. But when he puts things together, he's, well, scary.

"I guess. I just never wanted to believe it." Hazel sniffles yet again, still very upset. But, I can see somewhere in there that, amongst the desolation, is a flicker of thought, the hint of wheels starting to turn. "But I still miss him..."

("Ah, too many tears tonight.") My partner hops down onto the carpet, and pours out three hot cups of tea with his usual élan. ("I usually find this helps.") He adds, lifting the now full cup up towards the still tearful girl beside me, who takes it with what might, with a bit of imagination, be called a chuckle, although normally chuckles are dry and this noise far too wet to qualify.

"Thanks." She takes a sip as Cyndaquil hands me mine, and then frowns. "Hmmm, not quite right."

("Let me guess, more sugar?") At her nod, I point to the white anthill still sat on the otherwise very blue carpet. ("Might have difficulty with that.")

("Let's see if I can salvage some.")

"Nah, it's okay, this cup's fine. Plenty of sludge in there to sweeten it up." She takes a big mouthful, and another, and another. And we now have an empty cup again.

A pause.

"Buuuuurp. Ah, that was nice." She holds the empty cup down to Cyndaquil, whose smile is now somewhat frozen. "But for the next one, yes, I'd like some sugar. Lots, actually."

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I don't know what time it is, but it's late. Late enough to be early, maybe. It's certainly been hours since I came in through that door, into a room filled with half-smiles and awkward silences. I'm thankful enough that Hazel was comatose on her bed, to me snoring is easily preferable to conversation. I could tell that Chikorita didn't know what to say, and I bet Cyndaquil was holding his tongue too. I decided to go to bed before someone worked up the nerve to start asking questions, and lay down facing the wall without even changing out of my clothes. Thankfully, everyone else managed to pick up the obvious clue, and left me alone. I don't want to be alone, but I don't want to be with anyone either. It wasn't long afterwards that the lights went out, and it wasn't long after that that the only audible sound was the tidal in-out-in-out of breathing at rest, like waves lapping at the shore. But sleep is not a mistress who visits me often, she remains elusive as knowledge to my muddled mind.

So now, in the deepest depths of the night, I sit looking out of the window, trying to ignore the pain. Pain in my head, as it begs for the release of rest. Pain in my stomach, as it demands satisfaction. Pain in my heart, as it is twisted and torn like a woman condemned to death by horses and chains. The first pain I ignore, it is not one I can solve. The second I abhor, it is only a weakness to be controlled. The third, the third...

I don't know what to do. I tried writing in my diary, but no words came. In the end, I just signed it. 'I love you. Goodbye.' I don't know exactly why. But it felt right. Like I wasn't just finishing a journal, but drawing a line under my life. Discarding all that went before, and facing the future.

The problem is, the future is empty.

I spoke with Ash, sat with him under the waning moon, and for a short while I could see something waiting for me. Yet a few hours later it was a year ago to me. I feel so tired again, the tiny light that flared into life extinguished as a match beneath a waterfall.

All the same, something is different now.

Before, I was drowning. Exhausted and alone in the open ocean, waiting to join Atlantis. Now, just maybe, there's a flicker of hope. Maybe the cry of a gull, the hint of land on the horizon. Still too far, beyond reach. But it is there.

I'm still a failure, still worthless. I can't see why Ash wants to know me, why he can't cut the umbilical cord and let me go. I feed off him, a parasite that lives through another's toil. But he endures, and won't do the cruel but kind thing, put me out of my misery.

I let my sight drift into the room and drift across him, seeing him peaceful in the grip of slumber. I suppose if life were poetic he'd be dreaming right now, unconsciously calling out my name in a voice laced with desire or desperation. Or he'd stir, awaken, and look over at me, in silent concern, or maybe with unblemished love. But no, reality is in charge, he just keeps on sleeping. Besides, I'm glad he's not awake. I don't want to be looked at in that way, not when I know he deserves better than this big lump of neuroses.

Maybe, just maybe, if I can attain respectability by some freak of luck, I could look him in the eye and not blink. But now, no.

Although it felt nice, so nice, to be cuddled up to him, feel his breath on my neck, let my body moulding with his, just for a few moments...

No. I can't. It wouldn't be right.

He's a winner, I'm not.

He'll be famed, I'll be forgotten. He'll be respected, I'll be rejected.

It's the best way. The only way.

I look back out into darkness. I like the dark now, it's a place to hide. It's quiet, it hides flaws all too glaring under a glaring sun. I'm alone beneath it, which is what I should be. Maybe I should wander off into it, get myself lost for good.

No. I can't. It wouldn't be right. I have to see this through, at least until I get confirmation of my failure. Then, maybe, I can cast myself adrift...

I have to stop lying to myself.

I won't go now because I'm a coward. I've never been able to stand on your own. Even when I rode away from my responsibilities, and then ran into a young boy on a river bank, I chose to follow him rather than make my own decisions. Blaming a bike until I didn't need an excuse any more. And, most of all, I won't go because I still hope and pray that, despite all my gaping flaws, I might still might gain his love. And when that is all that is left to hold on to, when every other dream has slipped through feeble hands, it is gripped all the tighter.

My eyes skate back over to the sleeping figure. I just hope that my grip doesn't grow so tight that I strangle him.

Outside, a street lamp dies, signalling the night is drawing to a close. Another day is dawning. All too soon. But the sun will rise ignorant to my wishes. Well, if I close my eyes, maybe I won't have to acknowledge it.

Behind me I hear a bird chirp, and someone in the room stirs.

Well, sayonara solitude. Until tomorrow...

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Well, that's that for now, see you again soon! Please leave a quick review if you have the time

Dan.

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