Symbiosis

In a different life Ash Ketchum looks upon his world from an unique perspective.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/7917071/1/Symbiosis

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26. 25

It was another bright and sunny day in Celadon City, in the Kanto region. The day was just barely warm enough to avoid being chilly, allowing citizens one last day to walk around in their summer wear. Herds of large fluffy clouds floated over head, occasionally blocking the sunlight that glinted off of one of the many glass and steel buildings within the city.

Celadon City was not as large as Saffron City (though it was certainly in better shape than Saffron City was currently) but it came close. The skyscrapers of Celadon City were spread out a bit more, giving the city a sense of more space. Its streets were wide, many times lined with greenery, and there were a surprising number of parks throughout the city.

Despite all that, Ash was having a hard time being in the city.

The crowds of people, tall buildings, the automobiles, and all the strange sounds and scents of the big city set him on edge. The boy was constantly tense. The pokéraised child's jaw was constantly clenched, and he had to struggle to stop himself from curling his hands into fists. Deep breaths failed to help him to relax.

Saffron City had been nowhere as bad as this. The city had been deserted when they first arrived and people had only just started to return to their normal activities when they had left. Without the humans that truly made a city what it was, to Ash Saffron City had just been a strange bit of geography. But here in Celadon City he was forced to deal with the full experience.

Are you okay? Pikachu asked, tugging on Ash's pant leg. His nose may not have been anything special among pokémon, but it was enough to sense Ash's uneasiness. And the electric type could also see the interplay of muscles that showed how tense his trainer was.

Brock silently observed Aaron. He could tell that Aaron was uncomfortable in the big city. The gym leader had noticed it when they had gone to other towns, hell they had talked about it at the beach, but it had always been a small matter. The gym leader silently swore at himself. He really should have seen this coming and taken some precautions. He started looking around for some excuse to get them out of the crowds.

Misty was busy grooming Pidgeotto as the group walked, relying on Brock and Aaron to keep her from bumping into things. Whatever Aaron had been doing yesterday when he caught the Primeape had dirtied his flying type and so Misty volunteered to clean her. She had initially started spending time with Pidgeotto so that she would get over the spearow attack, but she had also grown to like the flying type. And from the contented noises Pidgeotto was making as the red head cleaned the hard to reach places, she guessed that the pokémon liked her as well.

But, even as distracted as she was, Misty could tell that something was up with Aaron. He didn't seem to be getting over it any time soon and Pikachu was getting worried.

"Hey, Aaron, are you okay?" She asked, moving Pidgeotto to her shoulder.

"I'm a bit... what's the word..." Ash searched around for it. "Uncomfortable I think is the word. I grew up outside cities, near the wild..."

"Is there anything I can do to help?" Misty asked Ash, putting a hand on his shoulder.

"Not really," Aaron replied.

"We could simply take a break," Brock suggested. "Go into a shop of some sort, like that one!" He pointed to a random shop across the street. "I don't think it should be very crowded in there. And it's a perfume shop, so we might be able to find some sort of wild scent to help you."

"I don't know if it will really help, but if you guys want to go there," Aaron responded hesitantly. "I guess we can at least go there until one of you two figures out a way to the gym."

"Can't you do it? You're usually the best navigator." Misty said to the youngest human in the group as they walked to the corner and started over the crosswalk.

"Not cities," Ash admitted. "They're too weird."

"Well, I've been here before a couple of times," Brock told the boy. "Misty and I can plan the shortest route and drop you off at the gym."

"Don't you guys want to come?" Ash asked as Misty opened the door. A bell chimed as she did so.

"No, we're good," Brock said to the boy as the group filed into the perfume shop. "By the way, as long as we're in here, you might want to put Pidgeotto back in her pokéball. Pikachu's just small enough to get away with being out, but Pidgeotto..."

"Sure," Ash took out a pokéball.

Remember to either visit a pokémon center or let Misty finish grooming me, Pidgeotto chirped to her trainer before a beam of red light touched her.

"So what are you going to do while I'm at the gym?" Aaron asked his human friends.

"Uhh..." Misty searched for an excuse. She was saved the bother by the arrival of the store attendants.

Brock sighed. A bunch of pretty women in form hugging, one piece, pink and yellow uniforms, with moderately short skirts? Why did they have to come as a group? He wouldn't have time to learn about each of them individually, find out what made each of them smile, to compose poetry for each of them...

"Good day gentlemen, miss," a pony-tailed blonde greeted them. "Can we help you?"

"Yes please," Misty answered them. "We're looking for some natural smelling... wild smelling... perfumes." She pointed her thumb over her shoulder at Ash. "He's not very comfortable with cities and we're hoping to find something to help with that."

"I think we might have something on hand that will work," the saleswoman told the group. "It'll take me a minute or two to find."

"That's okay," Brock said to her. "We need to look at a map for a bit."

Brock put down his backpack while one of the saleswomen went to look through their inventory. He opened it up and then he and Misty started reading it. Ash looked over their shoulders.

"Ideally we want something like a path through a park," Brock thought aloud. "Something he'd been fine with taking alone."

"Yes," agreed Misty, "but if we can't get that, we want to take the back ways to avoid the crowds. Just keep Geodude out, make sure Aaron stays close and then we shouldn't have any trouble. Plus if we drop him off through the back entrance we can get away quicker-"

"What do you guys have to do?" Ash asked curiously. "I can always wait to go to the gym. We can just stay in a pokémon center or a park."

"That's okay," Brock said hurriedly. "Don't sweat it. We can just drop you off first before we uh..."

"Before we...," Misty struggled to come up with an excuse.

Ash hadn't wasted his time among humans. He had been picking up on some things.

"You two just don't want to go to the gym!" He accused his two older friends.

Alright, I'm guessing that the gym leader's a girl and Brock got shot down by her, Pikachu piped up. But I've got no clue for Misty.

"Fine, you got us," Brock hissed, keeping his head low. "Don't tell Erika we're in town either. And don't ask about why we don't want to go near the gym. Let's just get your perfume, figure out our route, drop you off, and then meet outside the city."

"And if you do let slip that we're here in front of Erika," Misty growled, "I'll make it so you wish you'd never been born. Got it?"

"O-kay," Ash replied, confused by their vehemence. Ash decided to let them have a couple secrets. After all, he wasn't in any position to complain about people keeping things hidden.

The group found a route that satisfied them, and then sat down in the shop's chairs and waited.

"Miss," a purple haired saleswoman approached Misty. "As long as you're waiting, would you like to try out some of our products?"

"Why not," Misty responded, getting up. "I could stand to treat myself."

"Excellent. Right this way miss." The purple haired saleswoman led Misty away to a nearby part of the store to sample various scents.

Ash sighed and leaned back in his chair, while Brock gazed intently at the saleswomen. The pokéraised child decided to ignore his friend's idiosyncrasies and to simply enjoy his time out of the city. Sure the smells of the perfume shop could be a bit overwhelming for one's nose, but it was still better than that one July incident...

Pikachu sniffed the air.

You humans purposefully invent new scents to give to yourselves, the pokémon stated, shaking his head. I don't know if that's clever or crazy. But it's things like this that make spending time with you fun.

Ash covertly gave Pikachu a slightly put off look.

Okay, all the other humans, the electric type amended. But you'd probably come up with something like this as part of a crazy plan.

Ash shrugged his shoulders a little, barely noticeable to anyone not paying very close attention. He didn't really have a valid counter to that.

They waited for several more minutes. All the saleswomen that weren't occupied by other tasks were crowding around Misty, offering her different sample and suggestions. Brock grew bored and decided to browse their inventory.

From what he saw, it was a fairly high end shop, which explained the lack of other customers. He glanced at one of the prices. Misty probably wouldn't be able to afford much perfume, unless she wanted to break the bank.

Come to think of it, Misty didn't look like she had a lot of money. Why were all the saleswomen waiting on her?

Brock looked at one of the labels.

"An elegant fragrance," the former gym leader read aloud, "made with the finest pokémon extracts from the... Celadon City Gym."

Wait, this was the gym's perfume shop? Suddenly it all made sense.

It was a trap!

Brock whirled around, ideas on how to discretely warn Misty of the danger buzzing through his head. But before he could say anything the front door opened, chiming the bell.

"Sorry I'm late," said the newcomer. She was a svelte woman, with just a little bit more curves than the adjective usually implied, in a one piece green and light green one piece uniform that ended about mid-thigh. Her blue hair came down to just below the nape of her neck, and was crowned by a red head band. Her green eyes swept the store as she continued talking.

"There was a particularly difficult challenger, had to evaluate them myself," the woman continued. "Didn't have time to change into the kimono before I came over- Brock? Is that you?"

Brock laughed nervously.

"Er, yeah," he said. There would be no escape now. "Hi Erika."

The grass type gym leader beamed at him.

"I had no idea you were in town," she said, walking over and embracing the rock type trainer. "You've grown since we last met. I missed having that inch on you."

"Well, I'm not old enough to start shrinking," Brock replied, hugging her back.

"So where's Misty," Erika asked, releasing Brock and stepping back, "I heard she was travelling with you." The Celadon gym leader looked around for the red head. "Misty! There you are!"

Misty, who was in the process of trying to gracefully and covertly escape the ministrations of the saleswomen, winced. There was no hope of sneaking out now.

"Hi, Erika," Misty replied, turning around to face the gym leader. She though she saw some of the sales personal smirk at her. It was then Misty realized that they had probably planned for this. There had been no chance of escape from the moment they entered.

"Oh, you've grown as well," Erika said, enfolding Misty in a hug as well. "Soon I'll only be able to avoid being the shortest person in the room by wearing my high sandals."

"I've still got a ways to go," Misty responded, returning the hug. "You'll be safe for a bit longer."

"I just talked with your sisters on the vid-phone yesterday," Erika said, letting go of Misty. "They mentioned that they haven't heard from you in a while. You should give them a call sometime while you're here."

"Sure thing," Misty said with a slightly pained smile. "So how did you know I was traveling with Brock?"

"It's been the Kanto gym gossip for a while now," Erika informed her. "The young Pewter City gym leader and the youngest Cerulean sister traveling with a new trainer, gym members began passing around that bit of information pretty quickly."

"So you're the gym leader," Ash had gotten up at some point while Erika was greeting Brock and Misty and wandered over to join in the conversation. "You remind me of someone. Can't tell who. Do you know why these two didn't want to go to your gym?"

"You must be Aaron," Erika said, turning to face him. "Nice to meet you." She turned back to his friends. "So they wanted to avoid the gym," Erika continued. Brock and Misty looked sheepish. Erika gave them a gentle but knowing smile.

"Well, people can be pretty silly sometimes," she said, turning back to Aaron.

"I don't know," Ash returned. "I mean Brock can be a bit angry at times, and Misty makes no sense a bunch, they normally have good reasons for the stuff they do."

"Well, they don't really for this," Erika told him. "But I digress. What made you guys decide to stop by here?"

"They wanted something for this boy," one of the saleswomen spoke up, indicating Aaron, "he's uncomfortable in cities and they wanted to see if we had anything that could help."

"I see," Erika nodded. "Well, we might have something back at the gym. It looks like I'll be missing my shift today girls, carry on without me. Aaron, Brock, Misty, let's head for the gym now."

Brock and Misty grimaced. They couldn't think of a way out that didn't involve running, smashing things, digging, or riding Onix.

"Okay!" Aaron replied happily. As the gym leader she'd probably know the best routes, and he could prepare for whatever she'd have him do to earn his badge.

I still don't know what's up with Misty and Brock, Pikachu commented as he jumped onto Ash's head. She seems like a nice enough lady. Is she secretly evil or something?

Ash didn't think it was likely, for reasons he couldn't place. He was trying to figure out who she reminded him of. Something about the hair.

The Celadon City gym, the gym that trained grass types, looked fittingly enough like a cross between a green house and a gloom. That was to say it that the roof looked like a gloom's petals, while most of the rest of the building were rooms made out of glass and steel.

"Weird building," Ash commented.

No weirder than any other human building really, Pikachu rebutted. I get that you need shelter, but why couldn't you just dig caves?

"It's unique," Erika replied. "It fits its occupants, gives us plenty of sunlight for the plants, and room to train. And nobody's going to mistake it for anything else in this city."

"Still weird," Aaron said, opening the door. He remembered that it was good manners to hold it open for everyone else.

"Thank you," Erika said with a smile. "I see Brock's rubbing off on you?"

"Huh?"

"Don't worry," Misty spoke up. "He's just being polite. Brock hasn't corrupted him."

"Hey!" Brock protested.

"Yeah!" Ash added. "I know better than to copy him."

"Thanks for the support," muttered the rock type trainer.

Inside, all the parts of the gym Ash could see had dirt floors with a wide variety of all sorts of plants growing everywhere. He also thought he saw some grass type pokémon wandering through the foliage. Sunlight filtered in from all the windows and Ash could see large artificial lights hanging from the steel supports overhead. They looked rather odd. Ash wondered if they were those lights that produced UV rays as well, the sort he had read about once. It would make sense if they wanted to use the man-made lights to replace sunlight during times when the natural light was unavailable.

"I don't think we have a tour going on," Erika said, looking around the gym. "But I can have a couple trainers show you around the gym for a bit."

"When can I try for the Rainbow Badge?" Ash asked her.

"Later," Erika told him. "I've got some trainers I'm grooming for leadership positions, and I'm having them do some badge evaluations, under my supervision of course. In the meantime be sure to enjoy yourself here. Do you have any grass type pokémon?"

"Yes," Ash responded proudly. "Bulbasaur. He was pretty strong before I got him."

"Well you can learn a thing or two about caring for grass types here," Erika looked around for one of her trainers. "Ashley!" She shouted to one of them. "Over here! I've got a job for you!"

A redish-brown eyed girl, with blue hair like Erika's but in a small ponytail, She was wearing some sort of khaki scout uniform.

"This is my cousin Ashley," Erika informed her guests. She put a hand on Brock's shoulder. "Can you show Aaron and Misty around the gym for a while? Brock and I need to talk."

Brock grimaced again. He was hoping to slip away unnoticed, but the hand on his shoulder made that impossible. He had to admit the woman was good.

Misty was trying to think about ways of escaping before it was her turn. Maybe she could slip away during the tour.

"Sure thing Erika," Ashley replied. "Come on you two. I'll show you how we care for and train hatchlings."

"You start training them that young?" Misty raised an eyebrow. "Doesn't that have negative long-term consequences?"

"Not if you do it right," Ashley answered, leading the two away. "But it's mainly for growing grass types. You see..."

"Come on Brock," Erika gently led the teenager to a side door and into the back areas of the gym. They seemed more suited for an office rather than a gym. Brock knew that this was probably where functions like accounting were handled.

Erika led him to a plain looking door, with a label to the right side that said it was the gym leader's office. She opened the door and led him inside.

It was a plain looking room. On one end of the room there was a desk, full of neatly organized papers, and a computer with a screen saver with a black background and an oddish clumsily running about. On the other end of the room there were a couple of comfy looking chairs and a couch.

Erika sat down on the couch, crossing her legs in a ladylike manner. She patted the seat next to her.

"Sit down," she told Brock.

"No," Brock replied sullenly. "There's no need to do this, I'm fine-"

"Sit down," Erika said gently but firmly.

"No," Brock said again. "Look, this is pointless. I'm fine. I'm just going to leave now-"

"You either are going to sit down or I'll bring in my pokémon and make you sit down," Erika informed him calmly, folding her hands in her lap. "You know I will go through with it."

Brock growled. He stalked over to the chair furthest away from the couch and sat down in a huff. He folded his arms, clearly angry, and looked away from Erika.

"There. Was that so hard?" Erika asked. "What's the matter? I thought you liked making ladies happy-"

"I remember you talking about that during the last one of these little 'therapy' sessions," Brock spat. "I thought you were worried it was 'unhealthy'."

"I am still worried about that," Erika admitted. "But it doesn't seem to be a problem thus far."

"Look," Brock said, "we did enough of these after my mom died. Nothing's changed since then-"

"Not true," Erika corrected him. "Your father returned."

"Yeah, so?" Brock fidgeted. "What does that have to do with the price of miltank milk?"

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"There's nothing to say," Brock told her, still not looking at her. "He's back. He's taking care of my siblings like he should be doing, running the gym like he should be doing, and I've already forgiven him-"

"I heard that you forgave him the instant he revealed himself," Erika said, in her infuriatingly calm and gentle tone. "After your friend Aaron punched him once, you forgave him, went home to pack and say your goodbyes, and then skipped town. That doesn't seem like enough time to have a real talk with your recently returned father."

"What's there to say?" Brock said bitterly. "He wasn't there when mom died, because of him I was stuck in that gym for years, because of him I had to learn how to take care of all my siblings, but he's back now and I'm free of all that. There's nothing to talk about?"

"It sounds like you only forgave him so quickly so you could get out of town as soon as you could," Erika leaned forward. "I'm interested in how you really felt about his return."

"How should I feel? Relived, that's how." Brock was growing louder. "He's back and I'm free to pursue my own dreams now."

"Is that it?"

"Of course it is! I don't care that the selfish bum missed some of the most important moments of my life. I don't care that he missed most of little Suzi's life." Brock was almost shouting now. He had uncrossed his arms and put them on the arm rests. His fingers were digging into the fabric of the chair. "Or that he wasn't there to dry Takashi's tears when he cried for a month after mom died. I don't care that the fucker wasn't there when Hinata had pneumonia and nearly died. I don't care that he just waltzed back into my life and all the little ones were happy to see him again despite everything. I don't care that they almost didn't even notice I was leaving because he was back! This is stupid! I'm leaving."

Brock got up and stalked towards the door. He felt a gentle hand on his shoulder.

"Sit down Brock." Erika said firmly. "You obviously do care-"

Brock snarled, spun around, and swiped a fist at her. But, Erika deflected the blow with an elegant looking block, took one flowing dainty little step that put her leg in between his, grabbed his arm with an attitude that almost seemed more like she was taking his arm so he could escort her somewhere, changed her stance in one smooth movement, and then threw him to the ground. The office rattled from the impact and Brock was momentarily stunned. Erika grabbed his arm, kneeled down like she was getting ready to sit formally or have tea, and then twisted it behind his back. She put just enough of her weight on him to make it difficult for him to get out of the hold.

"Brock, calm down," Erika gently told him. "Now tell me how you really feel."

Brock growled and struggled. But Erika was too good to let him escape.

"I can do this all day," Erika informed him. "Wouldn't it be easier just to be honest."

"Fine!" Brock shouted. "I hate him! If I didn't need him to get away, I would've beaten his ass and then told him never to come back to Pewter City! You know what he did? He sat around in Pewter City for Arceus knows how long because he was too scared to face me! He was too 'ashamed'! He doesn't know jack about shame!" His struggles increased. "He trapped me there longer because of his 'shame', he hurt my brothers and sisters more because of his 'shame'" Brock snarled the last word, an ugly sneer on his face. "And I really hate that I was still glad to see him!"

Brock quit struggling and went limp.

"I shouldn't have been happy to see him again," he said in a tired voice. "I really shouldn't have been. I don't know why, but my first instinct when I saw him again was to hug him, not hit him."

"That's because, despite everything else, he was still your father," Erika said, releasing the adolescent and standing up. She offered the former gym leader a hand to help him up. He took it and stood up as well.

"Why? I feel like I should hate him, I do hate him, but at the same time I don't" Brock's voice was quiet. "Just why?" Tears started leaking out of his eyes.

Erika hugged him, resting his head on her shoulder. The boy began to cry in earnest, silent tears streaming down his face.

"It's okay," she whispered to him. "Just let it all out."

"Dammit," Brock whispered. "Why did you have to bring this up? I was fine-"

"The fact that you're like this now shows that you weren't," Erika whispered into his ear.

"I was fine until you brought this up," Brock voice was bitter through the tears. "Hell, other people have brought up dad and I was fine."

"It's easier to get down to business during later sessions," Erika told him. "Besides, I know you pretty well. Come on get it all out."

And remember," a woman in a red leotard said to the paras, bellsprout, and bellossom in front of her, "a pretty pokémon is a strong pokémon."

"Wow," Ash said, looking around. "I don't remember any of the other gyms being like this."

All over the area of the gym he could see, trainers were working with pokémon, caring for plants, and teaching groups of children. It was warm and humid inside, a change from his time outside. The mixed conversations of people and pokémon, talking about all sorts of things, filtered through the gym.

"Most other gyms provide these services," Ashley informed Aaron. "We are unique in that we start with younger children. Also, the pokémon of most other gym's don't offer the same benefits as our grass pokémon do. For example, much of the perfume from the shop was produced from materials given by our pokémon."

"Other gyms train children?" Aaron asked, tilting his head to the side.

"And we provide many of them with their first pokémon," Ashley informed him. "You started from Pallet Town, right? You didn't think that Professor Oak, despite his efforts in recent years, provides every new trainer with their first pokémon, did you?"

"No, I just never really thought about it before," Ash replied.

"Oak usually hand picks his recipients," Ashley continued, "so he knows they're good, but he prefers the 'sink or swim' method of training them. That hasn't been working so well in recent years. Ever since the Ketchum murders-"

Ash Ketchum kept his face impassive.

"-he's been giving out a lot more pokémon," Ashley. "He's trying to re-militarize the League."

"Yeah," Misty added. "I know the Cerulean gym officially took a neutral stance on the issue, but what do you think here?"

"Well, personally I used to believe it was useless, an old man trying to fix his past," Ashley began. "But after what happened at Saffron City... Well, I'm starting to think a bit differently."

Ash's stomach growled loudly. Misty and Ashley turned to look at him. He rubbed the back of his head, embarrassed.

"Heh, sorry," he offered, cheeks red.

Ashley glanced at a clock on the wall.

"Well, we've been at this for a couple hours," she said. "Why don't I show you two to the cafeteria."

"As good of an idea as that sounds," Erika's voice cut in. Ash, Ashley, and Misty turned to look at her. She and Brock were walking over.

Brock was feeling how most people did after a good cry. Light, somewhat empty in a good way, and a little tired. He had cleaned himself up after the impromptu therapy session, so there was no evidence of what he had been doing.

"I need to talk to Misty now," Erika continued. "But if you would be so good as to show Brock and Aaron to the cafeteria, I would be grateful. And after they've eaten, can you evaluate Aaron for me? Just remember to record the match."

"Certainly Erika," Ashley replied. "Come on, it's Swedish Meatball Night tonight. You'll like it."

Erika put a gentle hand on Misty's shoulder, preventing her from tying to slip away. The red head sighed. It looked like it was her turn.

"It's been a while since we've seen each other, eh Misty?" Erika said, once again on the couch. Misty sat on the other end, fidgeting nervously.

"Yeah, not since you last came to Cerulean City, what was it, five years ago?" Misty replied.

"I remember that time. You got in trouble for playing in the gyarados tank again."

Misty chuckled in embarrassment.

"Yeah, well, it's a good thing our gyardoses liked kids. Well, not to eat." She looked over at the door. "So, uh- what did you want to talk about?"

"Just about some things I've heard about your trip," Erika said, once more folding her hands in her lap. "Is there anything you'd like to talk about first?"

"No, I'm good." Misty looked at the door again and then at Erika. "Look, I know Brock may have had some issues for whatever reason, but I'm good, honestly. I was too young to even remember my parents, so their deaths didn't really effect me. My sisters can be a little overprotective, and reeaally annoying, but that's about all that's wrong with them."

"I see," said Erika simply.

"The journey's been a little hectic, true," Misty continued. "But nothing bad happened to me."

"Really?" One of Erika's eyebrows rose.

"Other than the spearow attack," Misty amended.

"Uh-huh."

"And the battle for the village," Misty continued.

"They're still releasing information on that," Erika said. "From what I've heard, it must have been... exciting."

"True, and there was the run in with Sabrina," Misty said, voice trailing off and her shoulders slumping as she finished the sentence.

She was quiet a moment before speaking again.

"I came close to death four times," the red head admitted. "And I killed some men."

"I see." Erika leaned forward, towards Misty. "What happened?"

"The first time I almost died was when that crazy fearow attacked me," Misty said quietly, looking down at her feet. "I don't remember too much, it happened really quickly. I just remember being hurt and there was a boy with a pikachu carrying me-"

"How you met Aaron," Erika said.

"Yeah. And I remember the point where he stood between me and the fearow during a storm." Misty continued. "I think he came close to death too. But he and Pikachu beat the fearow and got me to Viridian City."

"I know how it feels after nearly getting killed by an ambush," Erika told Misty. "Part of you is still scared, isn't it?"

"A bit," Misty confessed. "I mean it was in the area by Pallet Town for Arceus's sake. Right on Professor Oak's doorstep. It's supposed to be one of the safest areas in Kanto."

"There haven't been any problems in the area since," Erika said. "I think that flock's learned their lesson. But that doesn't really help with the fear now does it? I'm afraid there's nothing that really helps with that kind of fear but time."

"It's not so bad," Misty informed the gym leader, looking up at her. "It hasn't affected me too much. I've already gotten over any fear of flying types by spending time with Aaron's Pidgeotto."

"A nice solution," Erika nodded her head. "So what about the second time."

"It was during the battle for the village," Misty looked back to her feet. "I was outnumbered at the time and I was struggling to get up. One of the Rockets was about to finish me off before Geodude killed him."

"And during it was during that battle that you killed those men wasn't it." It wasn't a question.

"Yes." Misty sagged a bit more. "The first one I didn't mean to. I was only trying to knock him out, but he tried to dodge, and I was using my knives..."

"How did you react at the time?"

"I almost broke down," Misty said. "But I remembered my training and what Team Rocket had done, what they wanted to do. The second man I was also going to knock out, but there wasn't time. So I cut his throat. And I stabbed one of the others."

"And despite your training you still feel 'dirty', don't you." Once more what Erika said wasn't a question despite its phrasing.

"Yeah."

"Misty," Erika moved over and took the younger girl's hand. "There's nothing wrong with what you did or what you're feeling. You did what was necessary to protect innocents, and the fact that you feel bad about killing those men simply shows that you're a healthy human being."

"Will it get easier?"

"Yes and no. You probably won't come close to breaking down, but unless you change dramatically, you'll still feel bad each time you kill. But that's okay Misty. It's natural, healthy, and can stop you from making rash decisions."

"If you say so." Misty sounded skeptical. Erika put a hand on the younger girl's back.

"Trust me on this. I went through the same thing you're going through." The blue haired woman told the girl. "What about the next time you nearly died?"

"It was like the second. It was a, in retrospect, weird member of Team Rocket, part of a group that seemed to be stalking Aaron. I thought she was going to snap my neck. She was executing the perfect move to. But she just drew on my face instead. That one was the worst, I was only spared because on a whim of hers."

"And how did that one make you feel compared to the close calls?"

"I don't know," Misty whined. "Mostly scared, worse than the fight with the fearow. With the spearows they only got me because I was taken by surprise But with her, it's only because she didn't feel like killing me. And I'm probably going to have to fight her again."

"That's a bit more serious," Erika sat up a bit straighter. "What-"

"Brock's planning on calling in extra gym support and leading them into a trap next time we run into them." Misty said. "I'm just scared. I know I can pull through when the time comes, but until then..."

"You'll just have to deal with it," Erika finished. "Well, if you're prepared to face up to it again there's nothing wrong. What was the final time?"

"It was in Saffron City. We ran into Sabrina-"

"Agatha's report did mention something about your group being there." Erika sighed. "But it was very brief. What all happened?"

"First it was like something out of a zombie movie," Misty began. "All the mind controlled people surrounded us. We tried to escape on Onix, but Sarbina stopped us. She tried to kill Brock, but Onix stopped her. She then tried to attack Onix, but a mismagius that had decided to follow Aaron stopped her. Then she tried to kill that, but Psyduck stopped her that time." Misty paused and smiled at the memory. "That was cool of him I admit." Her smile vanished as she continued. "Then she decided to kill Brock and Aaron for some stupid reason, and the attack was probably going to get me by accident. Luckily that's when Agatha showed up and put us to sleep."

"Yes, Sabrina," Erika closed her eyes and sighed. "I'm going to try and catch her as she leaves Cerulean City. We really need to have a talk as well. But what are your thoughts on what happened?"

"I don't know." Misty continued to stare at her feet. "Sabrina was the gym leader I was closest to other than my sisters, and nowadays Brock, and she's- she's- she's-"

"Been violated in some of the worse ways," Erika finished. "Yes I know. And you probably want to know if there's anything you can do to help?"

"Partly." Misty was still looking down.

"I'm sorry Misty, but there's nothing you can do for her," Erika told the red haired girl. "There's not much I can do either, especially since I can't make her visit regularly. But I'll tell her that you're worried about her."

"Thank you." Misty whispered.

"Misty, honestly, I'm impressed by you." Erika said, pointing a finger on Misty's chin to gently push her head up. Misty's turquoise eyes met Erika's blue ones. "You've been through a lot for one so young and you've weathered it admirably."

"No more than Brock, or even Aaron." Misty responded, her eyes leaving Erika's.

"Brock's a gym leader and from what I gather, Aaron's... a curious case. I'll be talking to him later. But that doesn't change your accomplishments. Your sisters are very proud of you, and I'm pretty sure that I speak for most of the other gym leaders when I say that we are as well."

Brock and Ash lay on the soft grass outside the gym, looking up at the stars. It was a cloudless night and the silver lights so far away shone cleanly. The night was chilly, so Brock was wearing a jacket he had stashed in his pack. Ash was fine with his current attire; he had learned to endure worse.

"You know, I think that was the first time I ever lost a battle," Aaron said to Brock.

"You still did good," Brock informed him. "Plus, technically speaking, you did lose to me as well. And you were about to lose to Surge."

"I know," Ash replied. "But this is the first time I clearly lost."

"A three-two loss against an experience gym trainer is nothing to be ashamed of, even if she did start out with a new pokémon," Brock said. "In fact I think Erika is grooming her to take over the gym some day."

"Still, it's something new." Ash continued looking up at the stars. He felt small feet patter across his chest, and then his vision was obscured by Pikachu.

Well, that was fun. I never knew scent therapy would feel so good. The electric type flopped over and lay down on his trainer's chest.

"Hi, Pikachu," Aaron said. "Where's everyone else?"

Over here! Bulbasaur shouted. He and the rest of Ash's pokémon were making their way down the gentle hill to join their trainer. He still had some bruises from his fight, but he seemed better now. He neglected to mention the bathes they have, especially for plant types.

"Just want to say, great job everybody! Even though we lost you guys were really good!" Ash told his pokémon. "Even if we don't get the badge, I'm proud of you!"

Course he is, Pidgeotto muttered.

Well he should be, Squirtle returned, we're all pretty cool.

But we might not be getting stronger, Charmander said, hanging his head.

"You're all pretty strong pokémon!" Ash told them. "Now let's just relax everybody."

Ash's pokémon joined him and Brock on the hillside.

"I see that all of you are enjoying yourselves," once more Erika's voice reached their ears. Ash propped himself up, gently as not to disturb Pikachu, and looked over towards the source of the voice.

Erika and Misty were coming out to meet them. At some point Erika had changed into a mustard yellow kimono, with stars and pokéballs decorating the bottom, and very wide sleeves.

"Why'd you change?" Brock asked.

"Didn't get to wear one at the shop today." Erika replied. "Well, I've reviewed the battle you had Mr. Autumns. Come walk with me for a bit, I'd like to talk with you."

"Sure," Aaron replied, gently moving Pikachu off his chest. The pokémon gave a little disgruntled sniff as he was dislodged. He got up and Misty took his spot, scooping Pikachu up into her arms.

Erika and Ash walked into the park that surrounded the Celadon City gym.

"So why didn't Brock and Misty want to come here?" Ash asked curiously.

Erika gave him a little smile.

"I'm sort of the unofficial psychiatrist among gym leaders," she informed the boy as they walked under the stars. "Brock and Misty didn't want to come because they knew I'd probably want to have a session with them."

"So they didn't come because they wanted to avoid a check-up with the mind doctor?" Ash frowned. "That seems stupid."

"Well, visits with a psychiatrist can be uncomfortable," Erika said. "It's only natural that they'd want to avoid it. We all have topics we're uncomfortable with talking about. Take for example, the fact that you spent a long time growing up without parents."

Icy flowers bloomed within Ash, their thorns pricking his inside. He tensed up, his fight or flight response flaring, and he started looking at the different ways of escaping.

Another feeling arose within him. It wasn't true. He had never spent a long time growing up without at least one parent. The pokéraised child nearly growled.

"Don't worry," Erika noticed his reaction, even in the dark. "I won't tell anyone."

"How did you know?" Ash's voice was gruff and sullen.

"I wasn't sure until I saw your reaction just now." Ash let out a small groan when he heard her words. "Don't worry about it. I'm not going to tell anyone. You've done a fine job managing by yourself thus far. But, for future reference, you'll probably want to study how adults act and behave more from now on. It'll be a big help when you get older."

"But why did you guess that?" Ash asked the gym leader.

"It's your vocabulary, certain mannerisms, behaviors, and a hundred little signs. Things that you should have that you don't, things that you do have that you shouldn't," Erika said, looking critically at a tree branch despite the lack of light. "But one needs to both be observant and educated in psychology to know what they mean."

"I can start to see why they didn't want to come here," Ash said. Even in the dark he knew that she looked like someone. She did look a bit like her blue haired cousin Ashley...

Wait, blue haired? That was it!

"Melanie! That's who you remind me of!" Aaron exclaimed.

Erika gave him a strange look.

"Sorry," Aaron said sheepishly. "It's just that, this whole time, you seemed really familiar and I just figured out who you resemble."

"I do have a cousin named Melanie," Erika said. "But my family lost contact with her a while ago."

"Oh. Well, it's just you look a bit like her." Aaron told the gym leader. "Blue hair and some other things. She was the girl who was running the village."

"Really now," Erika mused. "I might have a stop to make between Vermilion City and Cerulean City. If it's her then I know my aunt and uncle will be delighted. But, as wonderful as that news is, that's not why I wanted to talk to you."

"Why did you want to talk to me then? And why do you do the whole mind doctor thing anyway?"

"I always was a bit of a meddler," Erika admitted. "Eventually I realized what I was doing with the other gym personal from Kanto and decided to become formally educated on the subject."

"Doesn't that take a lot of schooling?"

"Yes, but there are tests to take to see if one can skip certain parts," Erika answered. "Especially for gym leaders and other League personnel. It wasn't easy, but it was worth it. The gym leaders of a region aren't one big happy family, or even always a group of friends, but we are all close in some way. I do my best for all of them, except Giovanni. He avoids me like the plague. It's probably because of his missing son."

"You do seem a bit pushy," Ash said bluntly. "You sure you're doing good?"

"Pretty sure," Erika said. "I've got the psychiatric license, but mostly I'm their friend. Simply talking with one's friends can do wonders."

"Are you trying to get me to talk to Brock and Misty bout stuff like my parents?" Ash asked in a suspicious tone.

"In a sense. You probably have your reasons for keeping it a secret, but I'd like you to at least consider talking to them. Just think about it."

"I won't be, at least not anytime soon." Ash told her. "It's a bit complicated. So you managed to fix them in one day?"

"I can imagine that the situations would be. I just ask that you consider talking to them. And as to 'fixing' them in on day, I didn't fix them. I just got some things out in the open and helped them to deal with some things. As I said, talking with one's friends can do wonders. My psychiatric training simply helps me to make sure that I'm not making things worse." Erika looked up at the sky. "It's a nice night out. Almost makes me wish I was on my journey again. But I digress. I looked over your battle with Ashley and listened to her assessment."

"Do I get the badge?" Ash asked eagerly.

"You've got the last Marsh Badge anyone's going to get for a while. Don't you have enough badges? Aren't you just getting greedy?"

"So I did get it!"

"You're no fun, did you know that?" Erika said, crossing her arms and huffing. She reached into one of her large sleeves and took out the badge. It was shaped like a seven colored flower, fitting for the badge of the Celadon City gym. "Hear you go you little brat."

"Awesome!" Ash took the badge.

"You might want to occasionally take the simple solution," Erika advised the boy. "Bulbasaur might have lasted longer if you had simply used brute force against the bellsprout. But your pokémon are in good shape and you show a good grasp of tactics. You're shaping up to be a fine trainer Aaron Autumns."

"Thanks," Ash said. On impulse he gave her a hug, throwing his arms around her.

"Errr.." Erika was caught off guard by the hug and wasn't sure how to react. She was a good deal taller than the boy, tall enough so he wasn't touching her in any awkward places, but-

"You're a pretty cool gym leader, you know!" Ash said. "Thanks for the advice. But I've got to go tell everybody that we got the badge!"

He let go and then ran off, back towards the gym.

"Kids these days," Erika said, shaking her head and smiling. Had it been day the spots of red on her cheeks would have been easily visible.

Aaron really was a good kid.

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