Regret

Death. War. Destruction. The world of the future lies in ruins. I got the chance to go back and stop it from ever happening, only to discover that I was the cause. This is how I destroyed the world.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/5808527/1/Regret

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59. The Seven Steps to Normality Part 1

Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams ~ Ashley Smith

-O-O-O-

"Can… hear… this?"

I shook my head and sighed. The doctor waved his hand a few times around my missing ear, scowled at it and quickly wrote down unintelligible scribbles on his notepad.

"I'm afraid you've suffered about seventy per cent hearing loss on your left hand side," he said, speaking on my right hand side. At least he was managing to do that with almost subconscious effort. It just meant it was another thing I'd have to get my team to do.

In addition to stopping Loki from continually trying to scream into the scar.

The doctor tutted and tapped the end of his pen against the infernal clipboard. "Otherwise, most of your injuries are superficial. Your kidneys, however…" He grimaced and pointed to a few x-rays on the wall. Information filtered up into my brain to tell me just what I was looking at. Big black spots covered most of the area where my kidneys should have been.

He sighed. "You've got perhaps a month until you'll have to be put on a kidney dialysis machine. Unless we can find a donor for you, you'll have to plug that in each night to help your body filter out everything. Which means, I'm afraid, that until you get a transplant, you won't be trekking across the country."

That hit me harder than I thought it would. I frowned and tried to disguise the emotions I felt in a sigh. The doctor didn't seem to be fooled. He tapped his clipboard again and scrutinised it with expert vision. "I see here that you're an only child, which means we'll have to take donors from the outside. The best I can do is put you on the register and hopefully you'll get something within the year."

I felt the building pressure on my brain. I had about until I needed that dialysis machine until my unwelcome guest killed me.

What Ripper told me played on my mind. I had to find the source of such a sentence.

I had to find a mewtwo… The Mewtwo… whatever it happened to call itself, whatever it happened to be.

"Thanks," I said tonelessly. "Can I go now? My pokémon are being treated in the pokémon hospital nearby."

He pursed his lips and still managed to sigh through them. "I don't think you understand just how serious this is, Alex. Your body is failing you. If left untreated, you could die."

That already happened before I was even born.

"I know," I said quickly. "I need to find a donor otherwise my kidneys will fail and slowly kill me. And if I don't stick myself on one of those dialysis machines, I won't be able to live that long before my kidneys fully fail anyway. I get what you're saying. But my pokémon are hurt and if I am pretty much doomed, I'd rather go see them before anything goes south."

He shook his head. "Fine. I've told you all I can. I'll have one of the nurses at reception have you fill in the paperwork for this." He flipped one of the pages on his clipboard up and pulled out a pamphlet from beneath. "This might help you. It has an unfortunate title, but it explains everything that you'll need to know."

I took it from him and managed the ghost of a smirk at the pamphlet's title. So, you're going to die.

Morbid was a bit of an understatement.

I thanked him and made my way from the hospital as quickly as I could. Outside I found Chris waiting for me, leant back against her car with Loki and Erra sat atop the roof.

She held a hand out and smiled. "It worked then?"

I nodded and handed her back a few papers and a trainer card. "Like a charm. How did you manage to create a trainer identity like that?"

She grinned. "When people leave their pokémon with me, they have to give me authentic proof they're who they say they are. It's really illegal and a massive breach of my contract with them, but I can use their paperwork to get all new identity paperwork created."

I grunted an acknowledgement and said no more on that. I was just thankful she could even do that. Turning up in hospital with my name felt like an invitation for more nameless suits to come after me. "Where's Scar?" I asked her.

She smiled and pointed upwards. He flew through the sky, stalking after a flock of swallow. He roared in delight as they squawked and tried their best to fly away from them.

I laughed at the sight. "Obviously that little trip through time made him a pretty good hunter."

Chris just chuckled disbelievingly. "This is all still a little hard to process. If it wasn't for the fact that he's obviously at least four years older than when I saw him last, I'd be convinced that you were pulling a prank on me." She hopped into her car and leant back against her seat as she waited for me to jump in after her. "At least I was right about one thing in all of this; you being from the future was nothing but an elaborate prank. It was just pulled on you and by extension, me."

I grunted as I took Loki and Erra from the roof and held them in my lap. "Don't remind me," I said as I got into my seat. "It's still too hard to process. My whole life's been nothing but a ploy. I always felt like a tool that someone else was using… I just never thought that was my entire existence."

She smiled and started her car. "Well, at least now it's dead, right? That means you can do whatever you want."

"Until my tumour kills me," I grunted.

She paled at that, but said nothing towards it. "You managed to kill a celebi," she said after a pause. "Maybe you'll find a way to beat this."

"Maybe," I agreed half-heartedly. "But that means finding Mewtwo. The Cluster's connected to places like Mount Silver and Cerulean Cave underground. That's how it's been getting around. That means it could be anywhere."

"It'll be Cerulean," Chris told me. She tapped her artificial arm subconsciously. "I always wondered why everything felt so wrong in that place. What you said about the fog in your mind… it took me a long while to even remember that, let alone understand it. I remember that when we in Cerulean. I think… I think that's what made everything with Owen happen. Even if it isn't, I'm choosing to believe that." She sighed and checked her watch. "Your pokémon should be out of the emergency room by now."

Dread settled like a lead weight in my stomach. "Yeah, but will they be walking out or being carried out?"

She reached over, grabbed my hand and squeezed it reassuringly for a moment. "Keep your hopes up. Things might turn out better than they seem."

"She'll never battle again."

I stared at the doctor, mouth slightly agape and brain almost medically dead. The woman adjusted a few tubes on Lacey's body and tried to move a few bandages without hurting her.

"N-never?" I gasped out.

She nodded slowly. "I'm afraid so. The injury she sustained damaged both her lungs. To save her life, we had to remove one of them. Unfortunately, the image also damaged her heart to a high degree. With time and rest, it'll heal fully, but any excess stress she incurs will be too much for her body to handle. At best, you'll be able to keep her… as a pet."

Lacey, as a pet? That wasn't going to happen.

"But she can still do simple things, right? She likes collecting herbs, making po… urm, medicines from them. She'll be able to do that, right?"

The doctor looked shocked for a moment. Then quickly she recovered and managed a tiny nod. "So long as there isn't excessive strain on her body, she'll be able to. But even when she's recovered fully, she's going to need to rest a lot. At best, she'll probably have just over half the stamina she had before this injury."

I touched Lacey's arm and traced the burns scaling down her body. One hand was missing the leafy covering and a lot of her body was missing fur. A machine kept her breathing for now; the doctors told me it'd be at least a week until she woke up, let alone was able to breathe on her own again.

The doctor sighed and led me into another room. "Your girafarig, however…" She couldn't finish her own sentence. The room she led me into was much bigger, with Gemini stood in the middle, hooks and tubes linked up to her. She glanced down as we entered, ears flickering in slow acknowledgment.

"She's… going to need constant care," the doctor told me. "Most of a girafarig's instincts are held in the tail-head. Without it, she's reduced to basics. She'll only realise she's hungry when her stomach is completely empty. She'll only realise she's tired when she's ready to pass out. Likewise, only when her bladder is near bursting will she realise she needs to excrete. Battle-wise, it's a lost cause. She still can perform her attacks, but she'd be reliant on you for everything; to tell her when to dodge, when to attack, where to attack.

"Along with everything, most of her instinctual emotions are missing. Fear is one of the biggest ones; she won't be able to feel it anymore. It sounds good in theory, but in practice, it means that she lacks that gut feeling we have that warns us against doing something. She could wander into a salamence nest without a moment's thought."

Gemini craned her neck and regarded the doctor with a lidded expression. [I lack instinct. I am not a moron. My species do not live past twenty summers in the wild without some degree of intelligence. I merely need to think every decision through before I make it.]

"I apologise," the doctor said quickly. "Most trainer pokémon are caught still young. Anyway," – she glanced back at her clipboard, "-The three pokémon we discharged with you when you came in are fit and healthy, they just need rest to heal their wounds, as I'm sure you were told at the time. Your magnemite's wing will grow back and your charizard's wing should heal over with a new scar. You gallade, however…" She glanced up at the door as it opened and Alistair walked in. A heavy bandage wrapped up over his missing arm and stretched across his shoulders.

"I told you to remain in bed!" the doctor snapped at him.

He bowed to her. [I acknowledge your concerns, ma'am, but I feel rested enough to not take up more space. It is my arm that no longer remains, not my legs. I can fight, I can protect and I am able to function. Remaining curled up in a bed is not something I wish to spend my time doing, ma'am.]

The woman clicked her tongue and pushed her glasses up her nose. "Okay. That's your decision, but I would advise that you don't battle or lift anything heavy for two weeks until that injury is fully healed over." She turned to me and said, "After that, we can see about finding a prosthetic."

[No,] Alistair said quickly. [I will cope as I am. I appreciate the offer, ma'am, but I will learn to adapt.]

"Very well," the doctor said. "That's everything, for now. My advice; next time, be very careful about what you go investigating. Metagross are territorial creatures; you're lucky you got away with the injuries that you did."

I gave her an embarrassed thanks before she walked out of the room. Alistair waited a long moment, looking up at Gemini in silence before he spoke.

[Your actions were right, even if you do not see it that way.]

"Really?" I couldn't believe it. "Look at how you guys have suffered. All because I caught you and dragged you into this."

He glanced down at me and smiled wryly. [Believe me sir, you do not force us. The poké balls may help you capture us, but we make our own decisions towards everything. If we did not wish to follow you, we would have left long ago.] He gestured towards his missing arm. [This is but a small price to pay to know that those we care about are safe. Moreover, you did not come out of this completely unscathed yourself.]

"I suppose," I said distantly, pressing my bandaged ear. "What was the past like then? Or the future? Wherever the celebi dropped you and Scar off at."

Alistair shrugged. [It was a struggle. Every day was a fight for survival. More than that… need you know? Look at what has come from the constant thought of the past or the future already.]

"I guess you're right," I admitted reluctantly. "Still, that was all I ever had to think about. Now that it's all gone… now the celebi's dead, I'm just a tool without a purpose. What the hell am I supposed to do?"

He smiled and pressed his hand onto my shoulder. [Dear sir, you may have been a tool, but you still are an intelligent, thinking being. I have no doubts that you will be able to think of what you can achieve with your life now. And know that we are behind you.] He moved his shoulders, frowned and just stared at where his arm used to be. [It still feels like it is there. I know it only happened a short while ago, but still…]

"You get used to it in time," Chris said from the doorway. She smiled at us both and glanced up at Alistair. With a grin, she unhooked her fake arm and pressed herself by his side, her missing left arm against his missing right. "But look at us; we look like a conjoined twin!" She laughed and managed to get the tiniest of chuckles out of him. "That feeling never fully goes away. Even now I sometimes forget and try to grab something with my missing arm or even try to catch something with it. You have to make the effort to remember most of the time." She patted him on the shoulder and started to slowly try to hook her own artificial arm back in place.

"So how bad are things?" she asked me. She looked back up at Gemini and smiled. "I saw your shiftry; she's still alive. Clearly your girafarig is too."

Gemini rolled her eyes and muttered something about stating the obvious before reaching up and trying to remember where her food had been placed.

"Gemini's not going to be able to battle again well," I said. "If she does, she's going to have to rely on me completely for things like when to dodge and that." I caught the look Gemini gave me and quickly added, "But of course, she can figure things out herself too. I'm sure she'll be able to think of when she needs to avoid something and when to attack.

"Lacey… well…" I glanced back in the direction of her room. "She's not going to be able to battle again. The doctor said it would put too much stress on her. She's only got one lung left now too, which probably isn't going to do her much good when she's sat around making poisons. Alistair obviously has to adjust, but the others are going to be fine, once they've healed, apparently."

"Well, there's some good news in there, at least," Chris said. "Any ideas what you're going to do now?"

I had only one. I touched my head and knew what my decision had to be before I'd even consciously made it.

"Cerulean cave."

Everyone around me was deathly silent.

"I need to go there," I said, half to myself, half to them. "If that's where Mewtwo's hanging out… Ripper said Adryan figured out that only the thing that caused this lovely brain-guest can get rid of it again. Something gave me the knowledge to kill the celebi. I'm hoping that it was Mewtwo and maybe it'll do some good since I killed it."

Chris sighed, turned away and started tapping her foot on the ground. "When are you planning on going?"

I shrugged. "As soon as. Gemini and Lacey won't be coming – you won't be and that's that," I said as Gemini glared down at me. She huffed and retreated to staring out of the ceiling windows, pretending as if I wasn't there. "Lacey can't battle anyway now."

"So you're going into one of the most dangerous places there is with a one-armed gallade, two young pokémon and really, only a charizard for protection?"

When she put it like that, it did seem like a stupid idea.

"Well, yeah," I said simply. "Best I figure, I have maybe a month before this all goes south and my brain kills me. I don't really have time to waste."

"What about Natasha?" Chris asked.

I shook my head. "Her drapion's still out of it. She's only got a venusaur and a spoink. More than that, she said that if I do that, she'll start looking into things to see if she can find out where the celebi keep everyone. We've already decided on when we'll meet up again and where we'll leave any information we obtain if we don't make it to meet with each other again."

"You've got this all thought out, yet at the same time, you're going into it blind," Chris lamented. "Fine, I'm coming with you," she decided. "No arguments. I've been there before, I know what to expect. More than that… I need to go back. The place has terrified me and haunted my dreams ever since I was first there; I need to get over that phase of my life."

"Thanks," I said, meaning it. I felt an impish smile crawl over my face. "What about your job though? It seems like you're hardly ever there."

She snorted and poked me in the chest. "I'll have you know that when you're not dragging me around, I'm working almost sixteen hours a day there. I work that much that when I take time off, people are actually relieved."

"You're sure about this?" I asked her.

She pulled a face that said she clearly wasn't. "I'm sure," she said. "How soon do you want to go?"

I shrugged and glanced at Alistair. "When do you think you'll be fit enough to fight again?"

He flexed his arm and glared down at the missing other. [I shall endeavour to be prepared on the morrow, sir.]

"So that's when we'll get this out of the way then. Tomorrow I'm setting out to pay Mewtwo a visit."

"For years I've feared this place. Turns out now it's just mostly dust and cobwebs."

Chris rubbed a hand across a lonely rock and glanced around the cave. She held her lantern up just a little, stared into the darkness and tried to make out something in the distance.

"It was near here that the parasect claimed my arm," she explained to me. She turned away, looked over the floor and chuckled to herself. "I know it's stupid of me, but a little part of me wants to find it lying around here. I know it's been eaten. I know that even if I did find it, there'd be nothing left of it but bone and gooey, maggoty rot. But still…" She turned away with a curse and motioned for her arcanine. "Burn it," she said.

He looked at her, head cocked to the side. She gestured to the remains of a nest and told him to burn it again. He barked something at her and happily breathed flames over everything, burning the ancient debris to dust in seconds.

"Damn parasect," Chris said with a shudder. "The one pokémon I won't look after."

Everyone had their pokémon demons, after all. I'd never really taken time to acknowledge it before, but knowing Chris hated and feared parasect that rivalled my own towards gardevoir made me feel a bit more normal.

Normal was something I needed, after all. Knowing that I didn't actually deserve to be in the world… that I'd been essentially bred for one specific purpose… I needed to know that I fit in, even if it was in the most bizarre way possible.

Chris shuddered and pulled her coat a little bit tighter. "This place is freezing," she said, breath fogging on the air. The flames puttered out into nothing, leaving us back in the cold dark once more. "I don't know how you can stand it."

"Partial ice adaptation," I told her, no-nonsense. "Celebis apparently needed dark adapted kids to work with so they could fill our heads with all the shit they needed to. I'm guessing that the ice was just an overlooked blessing."

Chris said nothing, watching a golbat flutter in the distance. As soon as it saw us, she nodded to her arcanine. It leapt upon the bat, tearing its wings and face off without ever making even the slightest sound.

She turned back to face me, a question in her face. "Have you… no, it's a stupid question."

Stupid or not, she couldn't expect me not to pry after that. "Have I ever what?"

She shrugged and looked away. "Wanted to know if you have a family," she said, barely audible.

The thought was a new one. I stopped where I was, in a puddle of something I didn't want to think about and tried my best to picture it. "It's not going to happen," I told her. "Even if I did… even if I do… they think I'm dead. I can't really turn up at their house and be like, 'Hey, remember that stillborn baby you had almost eighteen years ago? Well, guess who I am!'"

She managed a small laugh. "I don't mean like that. I mean… just to know. If they're dead, if they're alive… if they're the ones that actually named you or not."

The thought stopped me shot. "You don't think they're the ones that named me?"

"I don't know," she said with a sigh. "I can't speak for other people. But I know my older sister decides on names for her kids pretty much as soon as she finds out the gender. Me and my other sister have had the names for our kids planned out since we played with the first dollhouse our parents bought us. Most of what you've done so far might have been the machinations of something trying to change the world, but that doesn't mean that's who you always were."

"Maybe," I said slowly. I glanced back over at Alistair, some distance behind us. He walked nimbly through the fallen rocks, occasionally stumbling as he tried to lean on his non-existent arm. I frowned, but every time he caught me looking, he'd pretend that nothing was wrong. I wasn't going to call him out on it if he wasn't getting hurt. "Where do we go from here? I can't feel any fog on my brain and there's no tracks lying around here. In fact, if it wasn't for that golbat, I'd be convinced pokémon don't live in here at all."

"It was a lot busier here when I was here last. The pokémon wouldn't have changed territories that fast." She placed a hand on her hip and gestured for her pokémon. "Khan, smell anything like pokémon in here?"

He barked and trotted up to her side, sniffing the air loudly. At her side he stopped rigid, still sniffing, eyes shut and snout pointed to the roof. Finally he stopped, yipped something and pawed at the ground.

"Maybe a level or two down," Chris translated. "But nothing really up here. I don't like this." She kicked a rock forwards a little and tensed, waiting for something to leap out. When nothing did, she glowered into the dark. "There was a lake here before. Weakly acidic, but nothing strong enough to erode through the landscape and change everything. It's almost like something or someone has come in here and changed the entirety of this place around."

I pulled a face and tried to picture it how it might once have been. "Celebi did say that Mewtwo absorbs the information of people it kills. Maybe it used that to change around things in here?"

"Unless he's been absorbing a few engineers, geologists and maybe an ecologist, I doubt that's happened," she said with a scoff. "Although, who knows. All I can say for definite is that everything in here has changed. A lot. I don't like it. If this were a movie I'd be screaming at the people to just turn around and leave."

"Isn't that when they usually get eaten by terrible monsters?"

"Don't remind me," she grunted. "That would well and truly be my role in a film. Token minority girl, first one to be eaten by the monster."

I smiled coyly. "If anything, you'd be the one killing in the film."

She sighed and rolled her eyes to the dark. "One day I'm going to go through with all these things you accuse me of. You're the one that's actually killed people. At least when I do it, no one knows anything about it."

"Why? What? You've killed people?"

She smiled. "All part of the mystery my friend." She stopped and gestured for her arcanine to follow her slowly. "The air feels different around here. Not as dusty. It's been disturbed recently. Can Alistair figure out if anything's been through here?"

He strode up behind us, remained in the shadows and shook his head. [I am not proficient enough. My prowess lies in physical fights, not mental.]

"Worth a shot," I grunted. "Haven't you got any psychics?"

Chris grunted a no. "Only Matilda. I don't really like psychics. Something about having something that can read my mind is just a little weird. I don't like it when Jon knows what I'm thinking just by knowing me, let alone having something actually read my mind. It's like having a diary that's constantly being read by all of your friends."

"Considering my mind's been the plaything of a time traveller, I can't complain about having pokémon knowing what I'm thinking."

"I suppose you're right there." She frowned and leant forwards towards a corridor. "Hold on a sec; this is the only way forwards from here. If I could just – well, that's not right."

Her voice was seriousness and sarcasm blended perfectly into one. "What? What's wrong?"

She moved and stood in the corridor, standing numbly in front of the darkness. She held her lantern up and let me see what she was looking at – a massive wall of boulders and stone.

"That wasn't there before. That's the only way down to the lower levels." She gestured behind her. "We've followed the only pathway there is here. Even though the lakes have dried up, they still only lead to here. Since when was it a dead end?"

"Since someone created a pissed off clone of a legend?" I guessed. I moved past her and inspected the wall with my eyes. There wasn't any place I could see that allowed any leverage. A few steps closer and I could feel like something was pulling me in. It wasn't the fog, nor was it anything in my brain. My gut told me what I needed lay somewhere beyond the wall.

I moved forwards and pressed my hands against the rocky wall.

As soon as I did, everything around my melted away.

I found myself in an empty room again.

One I recognised.

It was the exact same as the one that showed me the glimpses of the future. The movie screen rolled down again and I flinched away, expecting more pain. Last time it had shown me the future and given me a tumour.

This time however, it showed the past.

The celebi dying seemed to be on loop. Occasionally the video or whatever it would sped up. Sometimes it slowed down and panned around. At one point it froze at the exact moment Ward had charged through the celebi, where it looked like they were one unholy creature.

The whole time, it felt like there was a sense of… gratitude coming from somewhere.

Again words formed on the screen. This time, they were different.

The insurance paid off well. Only when you had everything to lose did you finally act.

I frowned at it and tried to figure out a way to talk to whatever was causing all of it. "You're… Mewtwo, aren't you?"

There was a long pause.

I have… been called that name before.

"Then, why me?" I asked it. "Why give me the tumour and let me fight that celebi?"

You were the best candidate. All the evidence showed you had the highest chance of succeeding.

"Me?"

Yes. You had a three-point-zero-six-seven per cent chance of success.

I winced, even though I'd already come out of everything alive. "So… you gave me this tumour… to do what exactly? Make me angry and desperate enough to go chasing after that thing?"

In a way.

"So, you can take it away again?"

Perhaps.

I glared at the screen, though it got me nowhere. "That's not much of an answer. I've done your dirty work for you here. I've taken out the celebi you wanted me too. It was you that put all that knowledge of how to kill it in my brain, wasn't it?"

Perhaps.

I swore at the empty screen. "What the hell is going on here?"

I thought you were the key. You are not. You are coincidence. I am waiting for destiny.

"Does being a vague ass come with the job description of being an all-powerful psychic or something?"

There is no job description. Only what is.

"I really don't care anymore," I muttered defiantly, crossing my arms and turning away. "Are you going to help me or not? Because if you won't, I'll go and find a bad surgeon who might be able to cut this tumour out of my brain. Or better yet, I'll find this destiny you're waiting for and stop it from ever meeting you."

My destiny comes long after your death. You cannot stop fate, merely delay it.

I growled and threw my hands up into the air. "I give up with you! I came here because you're meant to be able to take this stupid thing away from me because you're what gave it to me in the first place! That dead celebi decided you were such an inspiration that apparently it wanted to make me like a human version of you! Now, it must have failed because I'm pretty damn sure I'm not this much of an ass when someone needs my help!"

A clone of a clone? Curious.

"Yes, very curious."

They wish to clone me? Very well. I know of their plans to double-cross me. I act in secret against them. Their arrogance shall be their undoing.

"In case you haven't noticed, that celebi's kinda dead."

It is not the only one. More shall fall.

You however…

The room felt like it was melting again. Only this time the white was draining from the walls, leaving a complete nothing beyond. It was dark, but it filled me with dread like I'd never experienced before.

A favour for a favour. You have helped me; I shall help you. My acts shall remain hidden. They will not know I am aware of their plans. You will not remember ever meeting me.

Goodbye.

And…

Good luck.

Friend.

My head felt heavy as I woke up. As soon as I sat up though, it was like my head suddenly lost all weight and I had to fight against it to keep it tethered to earth. I grunted and kicked at the cushions beneath me, frowned and tried my best to remember how I'd gotten there.

Nearby me, Chris stirred, grunted and rolled off another couch and onto the floor.

"Huhwha?" She yelped, sitting up straight and looking in need of a year's more sleep. She frowned, rubbed a hand over her face and grunted a confused tone. "What? Weren't we… just at the hospital? When did… when did we get back to my place?"

I flailed uselessly under the weight of gravity and hit the floor myself. "I don't remember," I said into the carpet. "We were in the hospital with my pokémon. I had an idea to do something… something that felt important." It was like a name on the tip of my tongue; there, yet somehow lost to me all at once. "I can't remember."

"I'm sure it'll come to you," she said as she pushed herself to her feet. "How did we get here though?" She touched her belt and found a few poké balls there. "Huh. Either Khan or Alistair must have teleported us here then. We must have fallen asleep at the hospital or something."

[I apologise,] Alistair said as he teleported into the room. Chris and I both leapt out of our skin, glaring at him with shocked and angry expressions. [When you both lost consciousness, I thought it best to return you to a place which was better suited for sleep. Unfortunately, I am… not as well equipped to carry anything such a long distance anymore.] He motioned towards his arm and made a show of trying to carry something on a missing limb. [I did the best I could.]

"Thanks," Chris said. She glanced up at the clock, grunted and rubbed her eyes. "Wow. We must have been out of it. Slept like logs. Hard to think it was about three days ago you got to that hospital and were told you wouldn't sleep well without pain meds."

"Yeah," I said slowly, all traces of forgotten ideas vanishing. At once I remembered spending each day with my pokémon in the hospital, taking care of them and making sure they'd wake up. "I'll book a room in the pokémon centre for the next few days, so I'm closer to the hospital. That alright with you Chris?"

"Sure," she said, fingering through a little book. "Huh. My diary's all a bit muddled. I haven't drawn over what I wrote since I was little and found out my sisters were trying to read it. Weird. Ah well," she said, clapping the book shut. "Times of stress and all that. Keep me updated?"

"Sure thing," I said. "Can you teleport me there, Alistair?"

[Of course, sir,] he said with a low bow. [To the lonely, even the smallest act of help can mark one as their friend.]

I blinked, confused. "Urm, okay? What's brought that on?"

[Nothing, sir.] He smiled wryly and grabbed my shoulder. [Just some useful advice. It could be what led to your unwelcome brain guest suddenly vanishing.]

I stared at him, no idea what he was talking about. "Unwelcome brain guest? Just what the hell does that mean?" I felt at my head for something like a leech sticking out of my brain. "What's been going on there?"

He raised his hand to his chin. [If you do not recall such, it does not matter. Let us be off to the hospital and whatever awaits us, sir.]

It was at the end of the first month that the first change happened. I had always known it was eventually come to pass, I had just hoped that something would make it happen another way.

Gemini smiled down at me, ears flickering just a little. [It was kind of you, to drop me off so close to where we first met.]

I managed to smile back at her. "Least I can do, right? You know though… you don't have to leave. I've actually liked working with you for these past months. Despite our disagreements, you've been a good friend."

She craned her neck down and rubbed her head against mine. [And you too. But we were only working towards a common goal. While I am saddened I did not witness the creature's death with my own eyes, I am happy it is dead. Your memories of the event are enough for me. My foal has been avenged. That is all I can ask for.]

I reached up and scratched her behind the ears. "You sure you'll be okay though? We could always walk you back to your herd, to make sure you're safe."

She laughed and licked the top of my head. The hair there was still re-growing and I'd had to cut it all short enough to match. It still felt weird. [It is kind of you to offer. But no, you cannot. I am half what I was,] she said, nodding towards her tail. It still had a few bandages over it, but otherwise, it would be fully healed within a few weeks. [My herd will not accept me back unless I can find the way back to them myself. If I cannot, I am a burden on them all. The needs of the many must come before those of the few. It has been a pleasure being with you. All of you,] she added, glancing over my shoulder to the other pokémon.

[You are friends I never thought I would have. But there always comes the time when friends must part, does it not?]

"I suppose so," I admitted reluctantly. "I guess… well, try to keep in touch, huh?" I patted her head and managed to smile at her. "Either way, it's been good to know you Gem- I mean, Garmine Erine Mendus Indigo Nova Ilus."

She snorted. [I think I may honestly die of shock.]

"After facing down a celebi, that's a bit lame, isn't it?" I said with a laugh.

[Death comes to us all,] she said seriously. [Take care of yourself Callum. Yours is a death I would mourn.]

"You too," I said lamely as she said her goodbyes to the rest of my pokémon. Once everything was said and down, she bowed her head once more and took off slowly into the forests near Fortree, not looking back once.

"I'm not crying," I grunted as Scar sniffed my head. "I just… I'm allergic to the grass here. Stupid grass."

He mumbled something and leant his head against my shoulder. I sighed my agreement and reached up to scratch his neck.

I never did see her after that day.

"Do I look like an interior decorator to you?"

"You look like a few things. Do you want me to name them?"

"Oh sure, I'll just start listing things! I think we should add a rug over there. It covers up the blood stains rather well. That mush that remains of splattered pokémon? A new lick of pink paint should clean that right up."

"Is it that hard to just accept that I wanted your opinion on something?" I punched the wall nearby and winced at the metallic bite that shocked my fist. "I wasn't thinking, oh my god, you're a woman, you should know how to decorate! I honestly wanted your goddamn opinion!"

She threw her paintbrush at my head. "Well then, when you want my opinion, don't come out with shit like 'oh, you should know all about this!' I've never had to think about what wallpaper might clean up bloodstains before! I don't think that was the future the celebi were so intent on making me remember!"

"Well excuse me! We're meant to be doing this together and every chance you get, you pick a fight!" I sighed and dropped my paintbrush on the floor. It splattered white over the floor, barely even managing to cover the old blood stains. "Maybe we should try and figure out what caused all the damage in here. There was a massacre here and we still don't know what did it."

"I'll just add it to the list, shall I?" she sniped. "Before or after finding out a pool of water celebi and stillborn babies come back to life in?"

"This shouldn't be this stressful," I sighed. "Turning the old Magma base into a bunker is a brilliant idea. When the world falls apart, at least people will have a place they can live in. We need to get this done before we can move onto other places, like the old Aqua one, or even get them built elsewhere."

"We're going to need people to help us in this," she pointed out. "A lot of them aren't going to like knowing they're working for the people who happened to have a part in making the world turn into a nuclear wasteland."

"Or whatever it happens to turn into," I grunted. "Like it or not, we're going to have to sort this whole thing out. What do you think we should do here, Keeper? It's a bit much to try and do by ourselves."

"You know what Sharpshooter?" She sighed and sat down, leaning against the wall. "I wish I knew. I honestly do. It's not like we've got all the time in the world."

"Yeah," I grunted, heart heavy. I leant against the wall next to her and sighed. "So… what did you in the first time around?"

She pressed a hand over her chest. "Lungs. Didn't work properly. So until I get a transplant, I'm going to have to rely on something to breathe for me when things get bad. You?"

"Kidneys," I said, poking them. "I've already got the dialysis machine hooked up into me each night. I need a transplant soon or everything's going to fail and kill me again."

"Sucks, huh?" she whispered. "Say… do you ever find it all a bit strange?"

"What?"

She shrugged. "'Sharpshooter', 'Keeper'. Ever strike you as weird as those are the names in those insane visions of the future we get?"

I shrugged. "Somewhat. Considering that celebi went through such trouble to make us do what it needed… I guess it had some plan if we weren't released in time. And of course, it means that we get to go slowly insane as the memories collide with one another."

"They really did plan for everything," she mumbled. "Have you remembered… or whatever it is, about Kanto yet?"

I shook my head. "No. Why?"

She looked away, blushing around her burns. "N-no reason," she said quickly. "They never come in order though, do they?"

"Nope," I said with a shake of my head. "One of the first I had was when we were in Iron Island… I think. The actual first one I had… it involved me being killed by some guy who was trying to feed his camp."

"Rough," she said with a wince. "So you're shiftry's going to be okay then?"

"Depends on how you view it." I grabbed her poké ball subconsciously. "She's still not really out of the hospital yet. She was out for the day Gemini left, but that was only a day trip. Otherwise, she still has to spend most days there in physio. She's getting better, but of course, she's also tempted to kill the doctors and skate out of the hospital on their bodies. And I'm pretty sure if she could, she would."

"Grass pokémon, huh?" she said with a smile. "My venusaur's pretty foul-mouthed, I've found out. When I'm able to understand what she's saying, there's usually not a single word that isn't actually a curse. Timothy – the spoink – is still pretty playful. They're the only two I've got left now anyway."

"That sucks," I said, not knowing what else to say to that. "I guess you could always catch some more?"

"I've got a haunter too," she said with a grin. "In fact, I believe you might know it."

"I, what?" I said, tongue-tied. "The one Mia had?"

"The one that originally belonged to that gym leader, yeah. When that girl died, the haunter took off seeking someone else. She found me, recognised me and decided that she wanted to travel with me, rather than the person who killed her trainer."

I flinched and stared at the monochrome grey walls. "Thanks for reminding me like that."

"It's not your fault," Natasha told me. "We both did shit we'd have never really thought about doing because they nudged us in the right direction."

"It still only took just a nudge for me to do that," I muttered to the floor. "I lost Xander and Mia because of that place. There's nothing I can do that will make that better."

"Shoulda, woulda, coulda," she said flippantly, standing up and brushing herself down. "We were nothing but tools then. It's like feeling bad for suffocating a person if someone else was holding your hands over their mouth."

"It's not that simple," I growled. "I still did it."

She sighed and turned away. "We could argue about this forever. I'm fairly certain we will. But you know what? It doesn't matter. What's done is done. We did what we did, now it's time for us, not a puppet master pulling our strings but us ourselves to do something in this world. That haunter's busy becoming a gengar right now. Just like she's changing, so are we. Before you managed to kill the celebi, had you even thought of building an underground bunker in this place?"

I shrugged. "Maybe. I don't know. Things aren't exactly clear where everything about that is concerned."

"Tell me about it. It's like my brain's only sixteen but it's experienced over three times that amount of life." She wiped a finger over the wall, frowned as she rubbed it against her thumb and looked around for her paintbrush. "But, I guess that's enough angsting about our lives. This paint's dried already, so we should probably carry on trying to paint this stupid wall."

"I suppose," I said, standing up and handing her back her paintbrush. "You think we can really change that much?"

"I don't see why not." She kicked the lid off her tin of paint and swirled the paint within. "I like to think that the celebi didn't decide everything about us. Have you ever even considered out names?"

"That they named us?" I asked. "I'm hoping it wasn't them."

"If it wasn't, then it's one hell of a coincidence. If it was, then either their massive fans of irony or something bigger's at work here."

"Why?"

She drew out her name on the wall. "Natasha Keeper. Keeper's an obvious meaning. But my first name? It means peace. My name is literally 'peacekeeper'." She painted my name underneath and pointed towards it with her paintbrush. "Yours is a bit more subtle. Swift is an obvious meaning. Your first name? It originates from a name that means dove. A dove's the symbol for peace. So really, your name can be arranged as Swift peace."

I stopped painting; brush held in the air and stared at her, mouth open a little. "You've really done your research into this, haven't you?"

She smiled. "Well, finding out where a celebi keeps its stash of magical water isn't exactly the easiest task in the world. I get distracted sometimes. So either, the celebi thought it was funny to name two people some form of peace and have them destroy the world, or there's a bigger meaning behind everything."

"Maybe," I grunted. "But if we're named that for a reason the celebi didn't know of, doesn't that mean we're still just something's playthings?"

"You think things through too much," she said. "You're alive despite the fact you're not meant to be. Take that and keep that thought in the back of your mind all the time. It helps… knowing that… it makes the knowledge that one day I won't be able to tell fantasy from reality a bit better." She bit her lip and looked up at me. "Do me a favour? If I decline into madness like that before you, put me out of my misery?"

I smiled and mimed shooting my own head. "Only if you do the same for me."

She smirked. "Does it have to be only when you're crazy though?"

"Unless you want me coming back as a ghost and haunting you. And I'll be one of those really weird ghosts that just floats around you, making things happen so subtly you think you're going insane."

"Jackass."

I grinned. "And proud."

It was the end of the second month that the second change came about.

It was the one that saved my life.

The doctor coughed and pushed his glasses up his nose. "Well… this is… unusual, to put it best."

I frowned. "What is?"

He coughed and glanced between us. "Your blood types are a perfect match. The operation would be extremely complex and would carry a higher chance of mortality than it would a normal transplant but… it's perfectly feasible for you both to provide a donor organ for the other."

My eyebrows were nearly meeting my hair. My hands shook as I managed to grin at the girl sat next to me. "What do you reckon?"

She laughed and pulled her trilby a little over her face. "Have a part of you inside of me? It's something I thought I could go through my entire life without having to suffer."

My face fell. "Very funny. You know what I mean."

She bit her lip and gestured for the information from the doctor. He handed them over to her and she read them all quickly. "I… well, it's not like we've got a lot of time to choose on this, do we? You realise that we'll both live with one lung and one kidney each afterwards?"

I shrugged. "Better that then being dead."

Her hand found mine. "You mean you'll do it?"

"Well, I don't exactly want to wind up dead by the end of the month," I said with a smirk. "And that machine I have to plug in is still making it hard to sleep each night. So I guess I can suffer carrying around one of your kidneys."

"Jackass," she said with a laugh. "Alright," she said, nodding at the doctor. "Sign me up. Replace these haggard old lungs of mine and give me one of his. Can you wash it first though?"

He laughed. "I'll see what I can do." He took the information from her and presented me with a form and a pen. "Sign here if you wish to go through with this."

It was a no-brainer.

Sign here if you want to live.

Of course I signed the paper.

If I have to deal with another lab coat wearing fool, I am going to feed him his own intestines.

The good thing that came out of all the time I spent with Lacey trying to help her regain everything that she had lost was that I could understand everything she said.

Of course, sometimes that wasn't exactly the best thing in the world.

Trainer, kindly tell that woman if she tries to smear me with make-up again, I am going to lace it with something that will make her eyes melt out of her face.

I smiled nervously at the woman and kindly pushed her hand away. "I don't think my shiftry needs a pamper session, thanks."

Moronic clod, she said with a roll of her eyes. Why are we here? You are to rest for another week, so the infernal doctors told you.

I smirked and looked around the shop for anything to distract myself with. And probably a toy for Loki to play with, rather than yet more dismembered pokémon. He still had the kabutops scythe hidden away in the Magma complex, slowly rotting and stinking the place out.

"I guess I like hospitals just about as much as you do," I told her. "Besides, I figured you could teach me a bit about things. You're used to growing everything you use, right? Surely you can tell when something's not good enough to use."

Of course I can. She waved a leafy hand at the various counters in the shop. There is nothing good here. It is nothing but unrefined garbage.

"I'm trying to figure out how to get a little garden for you in the complex," I told her. "But at the moment, it's a bit easier said than done. You're still going to need someone to go with you if you want to plant stuff there. Just in case something attacks you."

She swiped at the air and made a very clear gesture. I am not an invalid. I can defend myself.

"But what if you injure yourself and we don't know about it? I don't want to find out that you've bled to death somewhere without me knowing."

There is not much strong enough near the site. She cocked her head and made a few signs with her hands. I can murder a grumpig without much effort. Machoke are easily dispatched with subtlety and surprise; two things I can do easily. The only problem lies with camerupt and I am not fool enough to slap one in the face.

I rubbed the back of my head. "Still though. I'd rather you didn't try to go out there on your own."

Rather like you would keep us in the poké balls and never let us know what was happening when you were in trouble?

I flinched away and laughed nervously. "Okay, so maybe I'm guilty of that. But I worry about you guys."

Because clearly, we do not do the same for you. She reached over and poked me in the stomach. I yelped and batted her hand away, holding my side tenderly. Exactly my point. You are squishy and easily hurt. We are far sturdier than you expect from us. If you wish, I shall take the crazed ghost or the one-armed psychic with me. The insect gets tangled in my hair too often and the dragon sets fire to everything there is in the garden.

"Okay, fine," I said with a laugh. "Scar and Erra will stay behind whenever you go there. Anything you want to do while we're here?"

Murder all these fools?

"Aside from that."

She shrugged. Nothing comes to mind. We should leave before more pokémon trainers come. Already a number wish to challenge me for a battle. I would gladly tear their pokémon apart, but alas humans do not seem to think of that as socially acceptable.

I looked around at her warning and found a number of people watching me a bit more intently than others. Their gazes kept getting drawn to Lacey and I decided that maybe her advice would be good to follow.

"Let's go then," I said and led her from the store. She happily left the place behind, glaring at anyone that came too close to her. "So… do you think I'm doing the right thing here? Making this place so that people can hide when the world goes to shit?"

Define 'right'. Are you doing it because you wish to, or because you feel required to?

I shrugged. "Well… originally I guess it was the second one. Now… it's more the first. When I started it was because I felt like it was a sort of penance for screwing up the world. Now it feels… it feels like I'm actually doing some good and I want to keep on."

Then it is right. You should do something because it is what you wish to, not because you feel indebted to. Also, you will require copious amounts of bleach to rid the place of blood. A rug and a coat of paint will not suffice.

I laughed. "How do you always manage to spin things round to involve blood or gore?"

It is my nature, she said, holding a hand up to the sky and watching the sunlight crawl between her fingers. Death intrigues me. Why build things as complex as pokémon or humans if they can die so easily? A cut here, a misstep there and they die. Many places argue that pokémon are made in the image of god and that humans are made in the image of another. Does that mean Gods themselves could fall as easily?

"Not a clue," I told her. I slid my hands into my pockets and closed my eyes as the salty air of Lilycove sprayed over my face. The waves crashed somewhere nearby and a flock of wingull cawed from high on above. "Unless you're planning on attacking The Arceus or something, I doubt you'll ever need to know."

It would be interesting to see how that battle would pan out. She cracked her knuckles and pressed a hand to her chest. Although, wounded as I am, I doubt it would end well for me. Walking up too many stairs tires my heart. I grow annoyed with how weak I am on occasion.

"At least you're not the only one with one lung though," I said with a smirk. "I traded mine off for a working kidney, remember? I've also only got one ear now. Alistair's got one arm, Erra's got just one eye… if Scar or Loki lose something, I guess we can just be a team that have only one of everything everyone else has a pair of."

Many true words are said in jest. I propose that we do not tempt fate no more.

"Any more than we do on a daily basis?" I said, grinning. "I guess we might have to make a few changes there." I looked up to the sky, put to fingers into my mouth and whistled. Far above the clouds I heard a familiar roar and watched as orange descended from the heavens, charging back down to earth.

Scar flipped around and landed gently on the ground, wings beating a powerful tune. A dead pelipper hung from his mouth, bleeding down his chest. He threw it up into the air, roasted it with a jet of flames and snapped down on it as it fell. Little bits of gore splattered everywhere.

Lacey sighed and pulled entrails from around her nose. You have all the table manners of a mentally retarded banette. She flicked them back at him and they made a wet splat against his face.

I rubbed my temples in familiar weariness. "You'd think beating a time travelling devil would lead to a sense of class, really." I recalled Lacey and patted Scar on the side. "Alright buddy. Think you can make a quick flight over near Fortree? I want to see if we can find any tracks from Gemini's herd."

He snorted as he chewed his food.

"There's always a little bit of hope," I said, checking to make sure the saddle was secure. "Alright then," I said, tapping his side with my feet as soon as I was ready. "This time, don't anger a flock of altaria, alright?"

He snarled a laugh.

"It wasn't funny! I nearly ended up falling to my death! I only have one lung now! I have to take it just a little bit easier than normal for a while!"

His response to that was to zoom into the air. I yelped and hugged his neck, heart thundering in my chest. "Evil lizard-dragon-thing."

"Still no signs?" Chris asked me when I arrived at her place.

I shook my head and tried to wipe the dead little bugs off my clothes. "Nothing."

"You'll find out where she went someday," she told me. "You can't expect to be able to see them that easily. They're naturally prey, not predators. They know how to hide themselves well."

"I suppose," I said, stealing an apple from her. "But I'd still rather know just whether or not she's alive."

She frowned, stole the apple back and took a massive bite out of it. "Some things take time."

"Nearly two months though? I'm still worried."

Chris smiled and placed a hand on my shoulder. "You always will be, even if you know she's fine." She patted my back and gestured for me to follow her. "Come on, gotta show you something. Alistair seems to be learning quite well how to function with just one arm."

"If he's managing to do press-ups one handed, you owe me a drink."

She laughed. "It's better than that, trust me."

She led me through her house and towards the patio. I heard continuous growls and occasionally the odd human voice thrown in there for good effort.

"Can you believe it?" she asked me.

I honestly couldn't.

She'd set up an arm wrestling contest.

Using Alistair as the main opponent.

"If this was your idea, I'm going to beat you with your own fake arm," I told her.

She laughed. "All your gallade's my friend. I told him that when I realised my remaining arm had become so much stronger because of doing everything with it, he got this little idea into his head."

He was facing down a machoke at the time. The pokémon's trainer was leaping up at down behind it, screaming commands. In the end Alistair just smirked and threw the machoke's arm down with such force the pokémon went flying out of the chair and onto the concrete floor beneath.

[Hello, sir!] he greeted cheerily as he saw me. [Would you care to partake in the competition? It is rather fun.]

I glanced at the long line of people and pokémon rubbing their injured arms and decided against it. "Maybe once I've fully healed, huh? I don't want you to rip open any of my stitches."

He nodded. [As you wish sir. As an added bonus, the competition is drawing in enough revenue for you to use towards your project.]

I turned to Chris. "What's he talking about?"

She smiled and pointed to a chalkboard behind her. "We decided to make the game a bit more interesting. Myself or one of the people here checks out the condition of the pokémon being entered and from that, we draw up a figure on whether they'll win or lose. If a trained pokémon wins, they get to take half of the bets placed on Alistair. Betting if their pokémon is competing isn't allowed; only spectators can bet. So far… well I'm honestly upset I didn't think of this scheme sooner, because it would have made my life so much easier a few years ago."

I could only laugh at the spectacle. "This is… it's just insane. I have a hard time believing Alistair was the brains behind all of this. More than that," – I lowered my voice to a whisper –"Isn't this illegal?"

"It sure is."

I turned and found a familiar looking woman stood nearby. She had blonde hair cropped extremely short, but the blue eyes and general air of confidence gave her away.

Chris' mouth fell open just a little before she managed to recover. "I don't know what you're talking about. This is simply a sporting competition between-"

"Save it," the woman said. She flicked out a hand with a bright green bill wedged between her fingers. "And put me down for a hundred on the medicham. What can I say?" She laughed at our shocked looks. "I like a challenge."

"Marsha?" I breathed, completely shocked. "What the hell are you doing here?"

She smiled and hugged me. "Well, I did hear from a friend that this is one of the best breeding facilities in Hoenn," she said with a pointed glance to me and then Chris.

Chris' mouth dropped open a bit more. "You mean you've been advertising me with your friends?" She barked a laugh and slapped me on the back. "Keep it up. I can do with the custom. Marsha, huh? Chris, good to meet you."

Marsha grinned and shook her hand. "Likewise, I'm sure. Actually, I'm here to chat to our mutual friend. Mind if I steal him from you?"

I shrugged. "Chris can stay if she wants; she knows everything about me anyway."

She laughed and shook her head. "No, I'm fine. I need to register this new bet and kick Alistair's butt so he doesn't lose to this medicham."

Marsha just smirked and grabbed my arm. "Always been a sucker for something that's against the odds." She dragged me away and finally, when she decided we were far enough away, poked me square in the chest. "Moron," she hissed.

"Ow," I growled. "Recovering from an operation here. Why am I a moron?"

She sighed and slapped me around the head. "Uh, hello? First, you didn't let me know you were even damn well alive after fighting what you did. Secondly, you didn't let me know you were having a serious operation. Thirdly, what kind of idiot sends a letter detailing information about how a company might be not all it seems, to a person who works for said company, without even using some kind of code?"

I turned bright red and rubbed the back of my neck sheepishly. "Okay, on the last count, yes, I'm a moron. The others? I thought your people were hunting me. I didn't think you'd want them knowing you knew me."

"That doesn't matter now anyway," she said with a shrug. "I read your letter and after that, a few things made sense. A couple of my bosses occasionally have claimed they've been somewhere they haven't been on a few nights or even days. Of course, at the time, I thought; affair, but after I read your letter, I did some digging and found out even that wasn't the case. That and it always seems to be people that have gotten too far in certain investigations. It just felt like I'd be saving my brain from an extra passenger if I retired early."

She smiled and leant back against the wall. "Pretty retirement bonus too. Of course, now I'm freelance, doing what I want, being hired by whomever. Mostly scorned women wanting to find out if their husbands are cheating, but it's safer and more importantly; I get to see my girlfriend more often. So, I figured I owed you after that."

I laughed self-consciously. "Don't worry about it. I just thought you should know something about that."

"Well, I did worry about it," she declared. She reached into a pocket, pulled out a cigarette and happily sparked up. "As of three days ago, the paperwork and files for the investigation into you have officially gone… missing."

"Missing?" I felt my mouth drop open. "Can't you get into a lot of shit for that?"

She smirked. "Not when it appears to be nothing but a plumbing error. It's easy enough really; have a pokémon freeze a specific bit of plumbing. Water pressure builds up behind it. Pipes burst, water soaks everything. Computers, paper files, even back up computers. Conveniently, I'd backed up everything the night before. Everything, except of course-"

"The investigation into me," I finished for her. At her nod I laughed and hugged her. "You're pretty awesome, you know that?"

"I do," she said shamelessly. "So, this Chris?"

I grinned. "She doesn't swing that way, I'm afraid."

Marsha laughed and punched my shoulder. "That wasn't on my mind. Dolt. I wanted to know if you can convince her to give me a friend's discount. I find myself in the position of having to find a pokémon for my nephew and I wish to see just how this friend of yours lives up to your advertising."

I made a show of sighing and pretending like she was putting me out. "I suppose I could look into it for you. Oh and by the way?"

"What?"

"The medicham lost."

She laughed. "Damn. That's what I get for betting on the underdog."

The third month brought Erra unexpectedly being ready to evolve.

I played with her self-sealed poké ball and tried to figure out how long she'd be out of action for.

"I'm still waiting for my gengar," Natasha told me. "But the stronger they are, the longer pokémon take to evolve, don't they?"

"So hopefully she shouldn't take that long. I'm guessing that fighting an army of ancient pokémon helped make her a lot stronger too."

"There's always that," Chris said. She threw a disc on the table. "Raise twenty."

"I hate your poker face," Jonathon moaned. At the sharp look she gave him, he quickly paled. "I mean, not that there's anything wrong with your face, of course, but…"

I made a whip noise. He blushed and glared back at me. Chris' death glare settled on me as Marsha sat next to them both, cackling like a lunatic. Amanda, Chris' employee sat next to her and Simon, Adryan's boyfriend was next to her.

"I think that's his tell," Marsha said as she threw a chip in the middle of the table. "Every time he's got time to think, he plays with her poké ball. So either he knows he's got a good hand, or he actually knows what those cards mean. So you've got a double, don't you?"

I tried to keep my face a stone. I did have a pair of three's, but I wasn't going to tell her that.

Unfortunately, the burning tips of my ears proved to be my undoing.

"He does!" Natasha cackled. "The tops of his ears always go bright red when he's caught out on something."

Chris laughed and dealt a card. "Interesting that you know him so well. Care to share? Have you two been doing the nasty?"

It was Natasha's turn to go bright red. "I don't think so. I've already got enough of him inside my body, thank you very much. It's weird to know you've got a bit of someone else inside of you."

Marsha barked a laugh. "You've lost me there."

"I get the feeling there's a really lame joke here," Amanda said. She frowned at her cards and sighed. "Fold. So, a gay guy, a lesbian, an interracial couple, a guy with one ear and a girl with burns are sat at a poker table."

"So what's the punch line then?" Simon asked.

"It's the line I stand behind and punch you from if you keep looking at my cards," Marsha deadpanned.

Chris snorted out most of her drink. "Know what that reminds me of? 'You know what the chain of command is?'"

"It's the chain I go get and beat you with 'til you understand who's in ruttin' command here!" everyone but me and Natasha said at once. They all burst into laughter and left us looking at each other, equally confused and wondering if we'd missing something incredibly important.

Chris nudged me in the side. "You've got all the time in the world now. You've got to watch it. It's awesome."

"I'll make a note of that." I glared at my cards as she put another on the table and lost all hope of ever being able to win any of my money back. "That's you know, maybe after I go and enter a championship to win back my money."

"Why don't you?" Chris asked, smiling all the while. "Your pokémon are strong enough now. Get two more, get the remaining badges and I'm sure you'll be strong enough to get through to at least the quarter finals."

I made a face. "I dunno. Don't they have some sort of limit on people that can compete?"

"You'll be fine," Marsha said with a smile. "Damn, I fold. Just enough for a cig break! Back in a few." She pointed at Jon. "Don't steal any of my drink. I know it's you. If I find that's gone down even a little, I'm going to make you experience pain on a new level."

"Kinky," he snorted. "Chris, what do you say?"

"If she wants to murder you, I'll happily give her an alibi," she laughed.

"Back to the other conversation, you'll still be able to enter the tournament," Simon said. "Although there's the official cut off point, from a legal point of view, they can and have to accept people until the battles have been officially announced. What?" he asked as everyone looked at him. "I'm a lawyer."

"Do they have much cause for pokémon law?" Amanda asked him.

"You wouldn't believe," he said with a roll of his eyes. "In fact, there was this one case in Unova, where this trainer snuck into a party thrown by the gym leaders and had their icy pokémon create phallic shaped ice cubes for the punch."

Marsha choked on her drink. "With that, I'm going to quickly go smoke," she said, turning bright red.

"No way," I said, grinning as she ran out of the room. "You don't think?"

"Penis-shaped ice cubes?" Chris roared with laughter. "That's amazing! At a big party like that? Oh, I'd have loved to have seen people's faces when they saw little ice-willies floating in their drinks!"

"Apparently they turned it into a competition," Simon told us. "Supposedly, once a few people had drank enough, they decided to see who could fit the most in their mouth at once."

Chris laughed and then elbowed Jonathon in the stomach. "Don't even think of saying anything to that."

"I wasn't!" he gasped.

"So, how are your pokémon?" Amanda asked me, clearly hoping for a distraction.

I smiled. "Loki's as insane as ever. Alistair's trying to teach him to speak using psychic powers. Lacey can't battle anymore, but she's adapting. As I'm sure you've seen, Alistair is launching his own arm-wrestling career from Chris' back yard and Scar seems to be overjoyed every time he gets to take flight. He's still as serious as ever when needs be, but now it's like he's learnt how to have a good time on top of it. And then Erra's locked away in her ball awaiting evolution."

I turned my head to look at Chris. "Are you sure I could actually enter a championship, even now?"

She grunted a yes. "Even with only four pokémon, you'd still get far. Your pokémon are pretty damn strong too; you're operating at maybe about seven, eight badge level with Loki and Erra, maybe seventeen upwards with Alistair and Scar. Even if you don't get all that far, you still get money for competing."

"It's worth thinking about," Natasha said. "Everything we're doing doesn't come free, after all. Even if it is for the greater good and all that. Unless you plan on having your sableye learn how to rob banks…"

"I could always try that," I said. "He robs enough as it is."

"I'm so not a part of this conversation," Simon groaned, burying his face on the table and hiding his head under his hands.

"Square," Marsha said as she came back into the room. "But of course, you'd have to think of a few things past just getting him out with stacks of cash."

I smirked. "I guess we should take advice from you, Miss Prankmaster."

She turned bright red again and looked away. "I have no idea what you're talking about!"

Amanda looked between us all, perplexed. "Is everyone in this friend group missing a brain?"

Simon looked up and sighed. "It certainly seems to be a prerequisite."

[Master! Master! Loki knows… talk!]

I laughed, scooped him up and rubbed his head. "You certainly do! Can you say anything else?"

He twitched, gargled and came up with nothing.

"It's alright," I told him, rubbing his head again. "I pretty much understand most of what you say now anyway. It's just nice to hear you actually speaking the same language as me."

He grinned and pointed between us.

"No, I don't think I'll ever be able to speak your language. I'm not quite smart enough."

He sighed, ears drooping. Almost instantly he leapt out of my arms and ran down the familiar hallways, hopping into shadows and letting his laugh echo down through the halls.

"How many badges now then?" Natasha asked from a nearby room.

I stopped at the doorway and looked in. A number of metallic bunk beds lined the walls of the room. It had cost enough money to put it all together, but it was something I enjoyed doing. Marsha had even put the word out that a few psychics had predicted bad things were going to happen and certain people she knew were helping out on other projects over the country, as well as in places like Unova and Sinnoh.

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