I'd never seen Ash like this.

Granted, I haven't been around him for very long. But it was still jarring to see him in this state.

Anyway, Ash wasn't happy. At all. He was just sitting there by himself, not saying anything, just looking off into the distance. Brock and Misty did their best to cheer him up, but nothing was working. Even Pikachu couldn't make him feel better. And I was worried about him.

Though to be honest, I get why he was like this. I mean, he had to say goodbye to Charizard. Charizard! His heaviest hitter! His MVP! I'd be down too if I had to give up my Pokemon too!

On the plus side, my team isn't gonna have to freak out every time he comes out.

It all started while we were discussing Ash's tendency to use Charizard in all his big battles. Ash was confident that Charizard could beat anyone, while Brock and Misty said he was using him too much, and it was kind of unfair. Which I can get. I mean, he used Charizard on me when we first met! And I was just a minor leaguer compared to him!

Anyway, we ran into a lady named Liza, which made Brock go gaga like he usually does (though that ended pretty quickly after I whacked him with my bat.) Turns out she was the guardian of the Charicific Valley, which was like a wild Charizard sanctuary or something. Anyway, Ash and Charizard were pretty excited about it at first. Then things went wrong.

Long story short, Ash's Charizard challenged the others, and struck out. Hard. Turns out, he isn't that strong by Charizard standards. So he decided to stay in the valley to become stronger.

Ash did his best to encourage Charizard to stay, but it still really hurt him.

I didn't know what I could do to help him. I can't even imagine what it would be like to give up my heaviest hitter. And I had no idea what I could say to make him feel better.

But I had to try, right?

Hesitantly, I walked up to him.

"Hey, Ash?"

"Hey Casey," he mumbled, not even bothering to look at me. I frowned. What could I even do to cheer him up?

"You know," I said, "I'll bet Charizard will be a whole lot stronger when he comes back."

"Yeah."

Well, this clearly wasn't working. Ash clearly missed his buddy if he was like this. Of course, they must have been through a lot if he had gotten like this.

Though, come to think of it, I didn't really know much about that.

"Hey, Ash?" I asked. "How did you meet Charizard?"

For the first time, he looked up at me.

"What?" he asked.

"How did you two meet?" I repeated. "I mean, I don't know anything about how you two got to be where you are."

Ash seemed surprised to hear this. I mean, I'd never really asked about what he or any of my friends did before I met them, so I guess it makes sense.

Anyway, he looked upwards as he began to speak.

"Back when I was doing the Kanto Gym Challenge, my friends and I were going towards Vermillion City when we stumbled upon a lonely Charmander. I tried to catch him, but I wasn't able to. So Pikachu went to talk to him, and we managed to figure out that he had a trainer already, and that his trainer had told him to stay put and he would come back for him later."

"He did that?" I asked in surprise. "Why?"

"Well," said Ash, "we made it to the Pokemon Center just as it started to rain. While we were there, we overheard some guy bragging about his Pokemon collection. He didn't even care about the Pokemon themselves, he just wanted to show off."

"Wow, sounds like a huge jerk," I said.

"That's not even the worst part," Ash said, his voice now sounding angry. "It turns out he was Charmander's original trainer, and he had abandoned Charmander for being too weak."

My jaw dropped.

"He did what?!" I said in shock.

"Yeah," said Ash. "And to make matters worse, the storm outside had gotten bad enough that it would be tough for any Pokemon. But for a Pokemon who had been abandoned without any food or water, and especially a fire type like Charmander…"

"It could have killed him," I said as the horrifying realization finally set in.

"Yeah," said Ash. "Even after we confronted him about it, he didn't care about his Pokemon's life. As far as he was concerned, if Charmander wasn't a strong battler, he was worthless."

"Wow, what a jerk!" I said angrily. "I hate people like that!"

"I know," Ash said with a frown. "Anyway, since he wasn't going to do anything, we went back to rescue him. We were just in time too; cause he was being attacked by a bunch of Spearow. Luckily, we were able to get him back to the Pokemon Center in time, and he managed to pull through."

"Wow," I said in amazement. "So he decided to join you after that?"

"Surprisingly, no," said Ash. "Even after all that, he was determined to wait for his old trainer."

"Seriously?!" I said in shock. "That jerk doesn't deserve a Pokemon as loyal as Charizard!"

"Yeah, I know," said Ash. "Then Team Rocket showed up, and Charmander helped us deal with them."

"Those idiots always have to be involved somehow, don't they?"

At this, I was happy to see Ash laugh a bit.

"Yeah, I guess they do," he said wistfully. "Anyway, it turns out that Charmander's old trainer was watching our battle, and once Team Rocket was gone, he came out and told Charmander that he'd come back for him."

"So he only wanted Charmander back because he saw how strong he was?" I said. "That guy is such a jerk."

"He was," Ash said with a scowl on his face. Fortunately, he perked up as he continued. "Charmander didn't fall for it, though, and he just attacked his old trainer. Then he decided to join me."

"Aw, that's sweet," I said. "He must have really liked you to join you like that."

"He did," Ash said with a grin. "After that, he was one of my best Pokemon partners. We won so many battles together! At least… until he evolved."

I looked at him, and saw that his face had suddenly become much less enthusiastic.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Well, when he evolved into Charmeleon, he… stopped listening. He became rowdy and disobedient, and he would sometimes even attack me."

"What?! Why?"

"I don't know," Ash said. "But it only got worse after he evolved. He only really fought along with me if he felt like it, and most of the time he just didn't."

He sighed and closed his eyes, probably remembering the difficulty of dealing with Charizard. Meanwhile, I just stood there staring at him, wondering how the big guy could have turned out so rebellious, I mean, Ash saved his life, for Arceus's sake!

"In fact, I actually lost the Indigo League because of him. When I needed him the most, he decided to take a nap instead of battling his opponent, so I ended up losing."

I didn't know how to respond to that. I mean, Charizard always seemed so loyal to Ash, and Ash seemed so very willing to rely on him. The idea that it could have been so very different was just… unbelievable.

"How did you work it out?" I asked. "I mean, he must have grown out of it eventually, right? He never disobeyed you when I was around."

"Yeah," said Ash. "One time while we were traveling through the Orange Islands, we were battling a trainer with a really strong Poliwrath. Like before, Charizard refused to listen to me. And he lost, badly. Not only did he get hit by a bunch of water attacks, he even got encased in ice. I managed to get him free, but he was still really cold, so I just started rubbing him with my hands, doing my best to warm him up. At one point Charizard tried to attack me, but he was so cold he couldn't even use his fire."

I stared at him in shock. I wanted to say something, but I had no idea what to say. How could I even respond to that?

"I kept doing everything I could to warm him up through the night," Ash continued. "My hands were sore from all the rubbing I did, but I just kept going. I know he never obeyed me, and he was a pain to work with, but he was still my partner. My friend. And there was no way I would let him die."

His partner… Charizard had been unruly and hostile to Ash, and yet he'd done everything he could to help him recover. He'd still considered the big guy to be his friend.

How could Ash be so selfless?

"The next day, Charizard saved me from Team Rocket, and then we beat the Poliwrath that had beaten us before," Ash said with a smile. "And from then on, Charizard started to listen to me again. Once again, he was one of my best Pokemon partners. And we've won a whole lot of battles since then. He really was one of my strongest Pokemon.

His face then grew sad once more.

"Though I guess he wasn't as strong as I thought he was."

He looked downwards, most likely thinking about Charizard and their time together. And I lowered my head as well, wondering if it was really okay for me to have heard about all this.

"Why are you telling me all of this?" I asked.

"Well, you wanted to know," he replied.

"Yeah, but," I tried to reply. "I don't know. I mean, it all felt really… personal."

"I guess it kind of is," said Ash. "But you deserve to know. I mean, we're friends, right?"

I looked at him, the full weight of the words hitting me.

"We're… friends?"

"Of course we are," said Ash. "I mean, why wouldn't we be?"

Friends. The word made me feel so warm inside. And even though I tried to hide it, I couldn't stop some tears from leaking out of my eyes.

I grabbed Ash and pulled him in, hugging him as tight as I could. And while he was surprised for a moment, he soon hugged me back.

"I… guess you didn't have a lot of friends before?" he asked.

"No," I said. "The other kids said I was weird."

"Heh, it's their loss," said Ash. "If they don't want to be friends with you just because of how much you love to support your favorite baseball team, then they don't deserve you anyway."

Oh Ash. How I wish it was just that. And how I wish I could just tell you.

I want to tell you. I want it so bad. But I'm still scared. Scared of telling you the truth. Of telling you just why they hated me so much. And I can't.

At least, not yet.

For now, though, I just smiled as I let him go.

"Thanks, Ash."

"Honestly, I should be thanking you," said Ash. "I was feeling really down after leaving Charizard, but now I feel a lot better."

"Well, you're welcome," I said. "And hey, by the time Charizard gets back, he's gonna be strong enough to get you the biggest home run you ever saw!"

"I know," said Ash. "I sure am glad you reminded me of that."

"Well, what are friends for?" I said.

"Yeah," he said as he offered me a fist bump. "And I sure am glad we're friends."

Yeah. We're certainly friends. And yet I can't even trust you with my greatest secret.

But maybe one day.

For now, though, I just return his fist bump.

"Me too, Ash. Me too."


A/N: This one came out a lot sooner than I was expecting. Don't get used to it, though.

Anyway, I think that Casey would probably be the one to help comfort Ash after he left Charizard behind. Also I think she'd be really curious about how they became a team. Not to mention that Ash would probably enjoy telling her about some of his past adventures.

Also, Casey has some sort of dark(ish) and terrible(ish) secret.

Well, I'll do my best to get the next chapter out ASAP!