The shiftry rush at them through the swiftly thickening smoke, and the moment of shock shatters with the sound of their roars. Blue can feel his heartbeat in his throat, but it’s adrenaline that fills his veins, not fear. Now he knows what he’s up against. Now he can act.
Out of the corner of his eye, Blue sees Luis summon a doduo and Sarah an aipom. She yells, “Square!” and Luis echoes her, and their pokemon, including the nidorino and gloom, take positions in front of their left and right hands, covering all four corners as the shiftry close in.
Then Blue has to focus on his own opponent, who leaps toward him in startlingly quick hops. His left hand unclips squirtle’s pokeball as the right points at the shiftry. “Wing Attack!”
Zephyr dives and begins buffeting its eyes with its wings as its talons and beak tear at it. He aims his ball to the side, bracing with his other hand. “Squirtle, go!” As soon as his pokemon materializes, he clips its ball and points at the beedrill. “Soak!”
The turtle falls to all fours and opens its mouth, shooting water in a wide spray that drenches the bug. He hears the yells and cries of the other trainers and their pokemon as they fight, but his entire focus is on his battle. The shiftry is swinging at Zephyr, cutting itself up with its own leaves as the pidgey dodges and flits around its head. The smoke billows and gusts as Zephyr’s wings beat at it, making it hard to make out exactly what the shiftry is doing. Blue prepares to give another command, but the last one seems to be working for now.
Squirtle’s deluge slows to a stop as it runs out of water, and the air here is too dry for it to absorb any more moisture through its skin. Blue returns it to its ball, watching as beedrill begins to move less sluggishly. “Beedrill! Poison sting!” Its wings move faster as it shakes the water off them, but only lifts for a second before sinking back down. Come on, get up!
The shiftry fighting Zephyr roars, then bends its knees and leaps back to get clear before swiping clumsily forward with both arms. When Zephyr flies above the sharp leaves to continue pecking at its eyes, the shiftry’s forward momentum immediately stops. “Climb!” Blue cries, but it’s already reversing the feint, leaves slicing up quick as a blink as it bounds back like a spring loaded toy.
Blue unclips and points Zephyr’s ball as his pokemon falls to the grass, covered in blood and with a wing half shorn off. “Return!” He’s fine, he’ll be fine once I get him to a pokemon center- “Go, caterpie! String shot!” The green bug looks pitiful against the towering tree monster, but it dutifully sends a sticky stream out. The shiftry blocks it with one arm and leaps forward, but gets drawn up short when the arm tugs against the ground where the string had fallen and stuck.
Beedrill’s wings buzz as it tries again to lift itself up, but it still doesn’t last more than a couple heartbeats. The shiftry cuts the string and leaps aside to avoid a second, and as Blue aims caterpie’s pokeball at it and opens his mouth, the shiftry leaps forward and cuts his pokemon in half.
Blue stares in shock for what feels like seconds, but can’t be because the shiftry doesn’t pause in its forward momentum, bounding around the beedrill and slicing at him. Wait, hang on— Blue’s hands are already moving ahead of his thoughts, dropping his caterpie’s ball to the grass and pulling out an empty one as he leaps to the side to avoid the shiftry’s attack.
Pain lances down his side as the edge of the leaves cut through the protective mesh under his clothes, and he cries out as his thumb expands the ball and aims it. He bites down on any further screams so he can hear the ping, throws-only one left-and hits the shiftry from the side.
It vanishes in flash of light, and Blue collapses to his knees, hand scrambling at his bag. Zero sudowoodo one sudowoodo two sudowoodo three… He pulls a potion from his bag and sprays it on his side, losing count of the seconds as the relief washes through him. He pushes himself to his feet and scrambles toward his beedrill, who keeps lifting up then sinking back down.
Out of time. He grips the beedrill around the middle and heaves it toward the rocking pokeball on the ground, narrowly avoiding its lashing blades and stinger. The ball disgorges the shiftry in a blinding flash and a bang just as his pokemon descends on it in a frenzy.
The bug’s stinger and arm blades pierce the shiftry’s rough skin again and again. It roars in pain and swipes at his pokemon, but the leaves only scratch its exoskeleton, and the beedrill just keeps attacking.
But it’s still being injured, little by little. One of its legs gets cut off by a swipe of the shiftry’s leaves, and half of its wings get cut off from another. Blue thinks furiously of what standard commands his pokemon learned in the ball when he registered it. “Beedrill, climb! Beedrill, back! Beedrill, Twin Needle!”
His beedrill doesn’t respond at all, and Blue’s heart sinks as it continues its self destructive frenzy. The tip of one armblade breaks off in the tree pokemon’s chest, bleeding clear ichor, but it doesn’t even seem to notice. A beedrill should be able to bring a shiftry down in most cases where it catches one by surprise, but whether because of its nature, the circumstance it was caught in, or its lack of training, his has gone too berserk to make efficient, decisive blows.
Blue hears one of the other shiftry roar and turns to the others. Two shiftry are lying still on the ground, but the aipom and nidorino are gone, probably withdrawn back into their balls. As he watches, Sarah’s gloom shoots acid at one of the remaining shiftry, who keeps trying to evade with middling results. Luis’s doduo weaves into range and gets a pair of pecks in at his opponent’s elbow, severing the whole arm before leaping back out of the way of the other arm’s swipe.
It wails in pain, and its eyes suddenly glow as if lit from within. Within a second the other shiftry’s eyes are glowing too, and Blue feels a rush of fear as the two trainers and their pokemon suddenly stagger and collapse.
He turns to his own opponent and sees its eyes also glowing. His beedrill falls to the ground and twitches spastically, and the shiftry leans on its branches as it keeps its gaze on the bug, trembling and bleeding from over a dozen wounds.
Blue doesn’t stop to think: he grabs his caterpie’s ball as he runs toward Luis and Sarah, holding down the button and saying “Release Caterpie!” as his other hand takes out his last empty ball and expands it.
The shiftry with both its arms turns to him as he approaches, but he feels nothing, and soon he’s close enough to hold the balls forward so they can lock. Come on, come on…
The shiftry seems to realize something is wrong, legs bending as its eyes lose their light and it prepares to leap at him. The two pings go off almost simultaneously, and Blue throws just as it attacks. The shiftry bats the ball to the side, but not fast enough to avoid it opening and sucking it in, while the other simply gets nailed in the back and captured.
Blue runs forward and kicks first one ball, then the other, sending them sailing through the smoke before he rushes to Luis and Sarah. “Hey! Get up! GET UP!” He shakes Luis, who groans and presses his palms to his eyes, before going over to Sarah and doing the same with her.
Sarah quickly recovers, one hand rubbing her temple as the other picks up her gloom’s ball. “Return!” She clips it and picks out another ball. “Thanks Blue. Where-”
There’s an explosive crack and a flash through the smoke, and within moments the shiftry rushes back toward them. “Go, Ribbon! Quick attack!” Her newly summoned furret slinks between the shiftry’s feet in a dizzying whirl, biting and scratching while narrowly avoiding its return swings, not giving it a chance to focus a mental attack again.
A second explosive crack sounds, and Luis gets to his feet to face the oncoming shiftry. Blue turns back to the one with his beedrill and feels a jolt go through him.
His pokemon and the shiftry are both lying on the ground, completely still. He rushes back to them, hand unclipping beedrill’s ball. “Return!” He takes his pokedex out and aligns the lens, heart hammering in his chest as the screen shows weak but positive vital signs, and then:
No Neurological Response – Brain Patterns Critically Disrupted
Gone. Two of his pokemon, gone in minutes.
He looks over the shiftry’s wounds, some leaking a strange, thick blood, the flesh around others dark with poison. As the battle rages behind him, Blue mechanically sends his beedrill back out and orders the ball to release it. The shiftry isn’t moving, and he approaches it from behind and kicks the crinkly, tough white hair that drapes down its back.
It feels like kicking a log, and the shiftry rolls a bit onto its stomach. Dead too.
There’s a roaring in his ears, and it takes Blue a moment to realize it’s not something he’s actually hearing. He takes a deep breath as the anger boils up through his detached calm, trembling as he restrains the urge to kick the shiftry again and again and again.
Instead he turns back toward Luis and Sarah in case they need more help, but they’ve brought the last two shiftry down. The doduo seems to have pecked its way into its opponent’s eye socket until it reached the brain, but it got terribly cut in the effort, and one of its heads seems to still be suffering from the mental assault. Luis finishes applying a bottle of potion to the slice along its breast, then withdraws it. And Sarah…
Sarah sits with her pokemon draped over her crossed legs, stroking its long, sleek body. As Blue gets closer he sees the wide, dark stain in the grass, and realizes the furret’s neck is covered in blood. Its head was cut almost completely off.
She looks up at him as he approaches, crying quietly behind her mask. “Your pokemon?”
He shakes his head, not trusting his voice. Luis comes up behind her and puts a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry, Sarah. We’ll give Ribbon a proper burial later, but right now we need to warn the Rangers. There might be more shiftry out here, especially if we’re near a seedot nest they were guarding.”
She nods and puts her pokemon’s body down, whispering something Blue can’t make out. Then she stands and points a ball at it. “Good girl, Ribbon, r-return.” It gets absorbed in a flash, and Sarah turns away, one hand clipping it to her belt as the other goes to rub at her face beneath her mask.
“You alright?” Luis asks after a moment, gesturing at his side.
“Oh.” Blue looks down and prods at his wound, wincing a bit at the tender scab under the drying blood. “Yeah. I’ll get it checked out later, but it didn’t go too deep.”
“Lucky. No,” Luis shakes his head, then winces, hand going up to rub his temple. “Sorry, my head’s still a bit scrambled from their extrasensory assault. I’m sure luck had little to do with it. We’d probably be dead right now if not for you. Did you stay out of their line of sight, or are you psychic?”
Blue takes a breath, then lets it out. “Neither. I’m dark.”
Luis blinks. “Oh. Right. Well, good.”
Blue watches Sarah check each of the shiftry, cautiously approaching and kicking them the way he had. Here it comes…
“So, did you, uh, sense them?”
Blue looks at him.
“Is that how you knew? I’d heard that dark people can sense dark pokemon.”
Somehow Blue doubts that’s exactly what Luis heard. “That’s not how it works. We don’t have any mental powers, even where dark pokemon are concerned.”
“So how did you know they were there?”
Blue feels a bloom of heat in his chest, and imagines himself stroking a growling arcanine back to peace. There probably isn’t an undercurrent of suspicion in Luis’s tone. Blue’s probably just imagining it. “I just had a bad feeling, that’s all. The shiftry shouldn’t have stuck around when it saw it was outnumbered.” Blue looks at the original shiftry and is surprised to see it’s still alive. Despite being covered in acid burns and poisoned wounds, its chest rises and falls as it struggles weakly to move with its shattered leg.
“Well you were by yourself at first, weren’t you? How did it find you-”
“I don’t know,” Blue snaps. “But I didn’t draw it to me, if that’s what you’re implying. That’s just a myth.” He walks away before Luis can finish his surprised denial, heading toward the original shiftry.
“What are you going to do, Blue?” Sarah says as he passes her, voice still thick with sorrow. “Be careful!”
Blue stops just outside its reach, watching as it notices him and tries to attack with a sweep of one arm. It moves sluggishly, the remaining intact leaf dropping to the grass after a moment as it collapses onto its back again, breathing shallowly. Whether from blood loss or the poison in its system, it’s clearly dying.
He watches its yellow eyes slowly fill with light, a flickering, uncertain glow. He meets its gaze without blinking, and the light slowly drains away, leaving it staring blankly upward. Its chest still rises and falls, and Blue can hear the rattle of its breath as it struggles to draw in the next one.
Blue notices he has the pokeball in his hand, the one that held his beedrill. But it’s useless here, the shiftry are just too big… even the one that was missing its arm had broken out eventually, though it had taken a bit longer…
“Come on Blue, let’s head back.”
“It’ll die if we leave it here.” And all this would be for nothing. A total waste, like the pikachu that was almost his.
“What do you want to do, just heal it and let it go?”
“No. That would still be a loss.”
I refuse to lose again.
Blue eyes the shiftry that’s missing an arm, then looks back at the original that had set the ambush. Luis’s next question is just an annoying buzz as he carefully steps forward, then kicks the shiftry in the shoulder and leaps back.
The pokemon stirs weakly, emitting a rumbling cough and fanning its arms once before collapsing with a wheeze and going still, eyes closed.
Luis looks at him with wide eyes. “What did you do that for?”
“I’m going to catch it.”
Sarah’s brow creases. “You can’t, it won’t fit in a pokeball.”
“Then I’ll make it fit.” He takes a poison antidote and potion bottle from his bag and begins to spray the shiftry’s wounds. “You guys go ahead if you want, I’ll catch up.”
They don’t respond, merely standing and watching as he finishes treating the shiftry’s most serious injuries. When he finishes, he puts the bottles away and goes over to the severed arm of the shiftry Luis fought. He lifts it carefully, the barklike flesh rough beneath his hands, and brings it back to the living one.
“What are yo—”
Blue stands on one of its hand-leaves before it can recover too much and swings, the sharp leaves biting into the thin joint of its shoulder.
“Blue! What the fuck—”
The shiftry groans and thrashes a bit, but doesn’t try to retaliate, so Blue swings again and almost completely severs the arm. It hangs loosely by a bit of flesh, and Blue suppresses the revulsion rising in his throat, feeding it to the fire in his belly as he sidesteps and stomps down, snapping it off. The shiftry shudders, but lies still.
Blue hears a step behind him and turns, expecting Luis to take a swing at him, but Sarah has a hand on her brother’s shoulder. The boy looks sickened and angry, but she just stares at the shiftry with red-rimmed eyes.
Blue takes out the potion bottle again and sprays the oozing stump, then goes to the shiftry’s other side. “Plant pokemon can heal practically any wound, if they have something to absorb from. That, plus some help at a pokemon center, and it should be fine.” He steps on its remaining arm and chops it off with only two whacks this time.
“But this is…”
Blue glares at him. “Would you rather it die? That’s better?”
Luis is silent, but Sarah says, “I would.”
He turns to her, frustration about to boil over. “I’m sorry about Ribbon, but-”
She shakes her head, staring at the original shiftry. “Ignore me. It’s not the one that killed her, and it dying won’t bring her back. Do what you want.”
Luis is staring at his sister with a mix of pain and alarm, but he stays mercifully silent as Blue turns back to finish butchering the shiftry’s remaining limbs, then cutting at its thick, heavy hair. He expects the pokemon to wheeze its last breath at any moment, but it’s a tough one: it passes out shortly after its first leg is gone, but keeps breathing.
When Blue finishes dragging away its limbs and brushing the long cloak of its hair away, the remaining torso and head look relatively tiny. He takes out his last pokeball, hefts it for a moment as he considers… should he chop off its nose too? More of the thighs? But no, he doesn’t dare risk any more damage. It’s time to roll the dice.
He aims the pokeball until it pings a lock, and with an underhanded throw, it captures the remains of the plant pokemon.
Blue watches the ball bounce to the ground and roll to a stop, feeling hollowed out as he waits… and waits… and finally, slowly, lets his breath out a bit. Enough. It was enough.
“It worked,” Luis says, sounding a bit shocked and about as sickened as Blue feels.
“Not yet.” Blue takes out his pokedex and lines up the lenses, face blank as he watches the screen for the inevitable error-
His shiftry appears, information registering. Its vital stats are listed in critical levels, its mental activity subdued… but there. It’s alive. Alive, and his now.
And its first memory of its new master may well be him chopping it to pieces.
Something inside Blue loosens, the rage that he’d locked away pouring out in a scalding flood, diluted by nausea and sorrow and triumph. He wants to dance and cheer at having caught such a powerful pokemon, wants to sit and weep his self-loathing away. He wants to go back to the forest fire and throw the ball into the heart of the blaze.
But he can’t afford to lose control, not yet. Sarah and Luis are going to talk about this to others, and he needs to make sure the stories make him appear strong, determined. There are different ways he could react to this, all of them genuine, but still mostly within his control. Would it be better to look more relatable? Willing to do what’s necessary, but not callously? Would they respect him more for a moment of weakness, or would it just diminish what he’d done?
In the end he clips the ball to his belt, then lets himself slowly fall to his knees, resting back on his ankles with his fists on the grass to either side, head hanging. His legs were feeling unsteady, and it feels nice to just close his eyes and breathe for a while.
After a few moments, he feels a hand on his shoulder. He opens his eyes and looks up to see Sarah staring down at him with concern. Luis is behind her, looking less repulsed than a moment ago. Blue probably confirmed some of the nastier stereotypes of dark people to the older boy, but there’s not much he can do about that. He is who he is: he can’t change the fact that he’s dark. After tonight, he’s not sure he would even if he could, though that will probably change again eventually.
Blue nods and slowly gets to his feet as Sarah removes her hand. “That’s probably the worst thing I’ve ever done,” he says, voice hoarse. He clears his throat and lifts his mask to his forehead, then rummages in his bag for some water.
“Where did you learn to do a thing like that, Oak?” Luis asks. “I can’t imagine your grandfather thinking of it.”
Oh, he’d think of it alright. As for do it, well… depends which stories you believed.
Blue decides not to share that. Instead he finishes the bottle and tucks it away again before fixing Luis with his best glare, shoulders straight and chin up. “Well I’m not my grandfather.”
“You say that like it’s a good thing.”
“He’s a great man. I’m going to be a greater one.”
Luis doesn’t look impressed. “Greater than the first Professor in Indigo? You’re not like any researcher I’ve ever met.”
“That’s because I’m not a researcher. I won’t ever be a professor. My grandfather was Champion in your parent’s day, and I’m going to be Champion in yours, but that’s where the similarity ends. My skill is as a battle trainer, and my priority is to win, whatever it takes.”
“If this is what winning looks like, I wouldn’t want to have to face you,” Sarah says, looking around at the shiftry’s limbs.
Blue shakes his head. He has to make them understand. “I’d never do this in a match or tournament. This was about survival. The shiftry’s, and eventually mine. I’m stronger for having it on my team.”
“Which will help you become Champion.”
“Becoming Champion is just a means to an end. It’s not my ultimate goal. On its own that wouldn’t make even things like this necessary.”
“Then what does? If being Champion isn’t enough, what is it you want?”
He meets her gaze. To tell, or not? Is it too early to set such high expectations? He might get mocked, laughed at, before he even has a chance to prove his capabilities.
Better to wait. Better to reveal it after he has a few badges at least, has demonstrated his skill.
He opens his mouth to say something generic about protecting the region-
All of them duck, kneeling in combat ready positions as they scan their surrounding. The mighty roar fades, and the smoke around them is suddenly ominous once more. I can’t use Zephyr again, he’s hurt…
“I don’t think that was a shiftry,” Luis says after a moment. “Way too loud.”
Blue shakes his head. “It sounded familiar, but… it wasn’t a venusaur…”
The earth rumbling roar echoes through the forest again, and this time Blue recognizes it. He lets his breath out in relief. “Finally.”
“Is that…?” Sarah slowly straightens, hand falling from her belt.
“Onix. An enormous one, by the sound.” Blue smiles, relief easing the last of his tension as he heads back toward the fire. “Looks like Pewter finally showed up.”
“Did you hear that?”
Leaf nods, standing and looking in the direction the roar seemed to come from. “Is that the real thing, or is someone else copying our trick?”
The two of them have been waiting over an hour since Blue left, quizzing each other on pokemon trivia to keep themselves awake and vigilant. Occasionally a ‘chu gets close enough to use the pokedex again, and they began experimenting with different sounds, one of them keeping onix on standby in case the golem or nidoking roars don’t work.
They haven’t been able to try many though, as the number of ‘chu running around their area of the forest seems to be dwindling. As they reduced, other wild pokemon have passed by in growing frequency, but luckily none have come near them.
Now the onix roar sounds again, and goosebumps run up Leaf’s arms. Something about hearing it triggers a primal fear in her hindbrain. She can imagine that sound traveling and echoing through each chamber of the rocksnake’s body before releasing in a hammerblow of sound and fury.
“I think it’s the real thing.” Red cranes his head in the same direction, then plops it back down. “Which means Leader Brock or one of his lieutenants might be close by. Maybe they’ll have enough people to send someone here soon.”
“I hope so. The fire doesn’t look like it’s gotten much smaller.” Leaf looks at Red. His face has been pale since he fell out of the tree, but it’s showing more and more strain as the night goes on. “You holding up okay?”
He grimaces. “Arm is starting to hurt, that’s all. Is there any more…”
Leaf worries at her lower lip a moment. “Yeah, but I don’t think we should use it unless that dose wears off completely. Sorry.”
“It’s okay.” Red props his pokedex back up on his chest. Another half hour of trivia passes, Red randomly scrolling through pokemon files and turning a listed fact into a question, then Leaf doing the same for him. At first they stuck to local pokemon to help Leaf get more familiar with the native species, but eventually they drift farther.
“Why do some basculin have red stripes and some blue?” Leaf asks.
“Um, one’s salt water and one’s fresh water?”
“…You’re guessing, aren’t you?”
Red smiles. “Yeah. Am I right though?”
“No. We actually have no idea.”
“As far as we can tell, yeah, it seems pretty random.”
“How was that a fair question, then?”
“You should have just admitted that you don’t know!”
Red grumbles, scrolling for his own question. “Hm… ah, here. What’s the maximum horizontal airspeed velocity of a swellow?”
“Um… I think it was about 290 kilometers an hour.”
“Nope. Says 274.”
Leaf frowns. “That’s not right. Wait, is it a Unovan swellow or a Kanto swellow?”
“We don’t have swellow here actually, the closest live in Hoenn and Sinnoh. Are they faster in Unova?”
“Yeah, look.” She goes to its page on her dex and shows him. “Huh. The tails look a bit different.”
“Yeah, I can see that one on mine too,” he flicks the picture aside and the Unovan swellow takes its place. “But there’s only one number. I think we found a bug, or at least an oversight.”
Leaf smiles. “In yours, yeah. Mine’s fine.”
“Well it is still in beta,” he says defensively. “Guess I’ll write a ticket for Professor Oak.” He begins to awkwardly prop the dex up on one upraised knee so he can navigate and type one handed.
“You want me to?”
“No, it’s okay. Are you hungry, by chance?”
“Yeah, I could use a snack.” She takes some granola bars out of her bag, settling it down just inside the circle of unburnt grass. She unwraps one and puts it on his stomach, then opens her own and begins to munch on the sweetened grains, stomach gurgling.
As they eat, a spark through the trees to her left makes her grab her pokedex. She’s about to press the button when a pichu dashes out of the bushes across the clearing where they originally set up their sleeping bags, closely chased by a spearow.
The bird pecks and claws at the small yellow rodent with its hooked beak and talons, blood flying as the pichu squeaks and scrambles away. Leaf drops her pokedex and reaches for her belt, but then the fight is abruptly over: the pichu leaps away to get a moment of respite, and its red cheeks glow before lancing a bolt out at the spearow, who drops out of the air and tumbles along the ground. It tries to rise, but the pichu sends another bolt at it, then another, and the spearow lies still, the sickening smell of burnt feathers filling the air.
Leaf stares, hand over her mouth. The whole thing had happened in the space of seconds, too fast for her to do anything. She watches the pichu send another spark out into the grass, seemingly at random. It’s ragged and bleeding, and begins to crawl along the grass in a pained daze. Its nose wriggles as it sniffs its way toward them in a slow zigzag, and as it gets closer, she can hear a faint squeak with every exhale.
Her chest feels tight. “Red…”
He has his neck craned at an awkward angle to watch. “Yeah. Got a pokeball?”
“I do, but it’s too far to get a lock.”
“Do you think its parents might be nearby?”
“I think they would have shown up by now. Maybe it fell out of a tree and got left behind, or they were attacked by other wild pokemon…”
The pichu stops moving, ears twitching as it looks at them. It seems poised to flee, and Leaf’s pulse quickens. If it runs off into the forest with those wounds, it’ll die.
“Red, got any shock potions?”
“Could I have one?”
“Sure. What are you going to do?”
She opens his bag and finds one, pocketing it. “I’m going to try to catch it.”
He looks at her. “By leaving the rods? Bad idea, Leaf. It’s not as strong as a pikachu, but it can still put you down with a strong enough bolt, and then you’re just another spearow.”
“I’ll have to risk it. It needs medical attention, and I can’t just leave it out there to die.”
“And what am I supposed to do if you do get shocked? Just scare it off and leave you lying out there?”
The pichu’s ears cock to the sides, then forward again. It’s too far for Bulbasaur’s sleep powder, even if she wants to risk sending him out, which she doesn’t: the sound and light would probably make it run off. But Red’s right, it’s too risky to leave the protection of the rods.
She could take one out and move it forward with her, but she would need to constantly be planting it for it to be of any use: she can’t react faster than the pichu can shock her. But if she could bring the pichu closer…
Leaf kneels down and begins breaking off little pieces of the granola. She discreetly draws her hand to the side, then tosses a piece of the granola forward, moving only her wrist.
The pichu dashes away into the dark as the granola piece bounces over the grass, and Leaf’s heart leaps into her throat. “No! Come back!” She wants to chase after it, catch it before it runs itself to death… but she can’t leave Red here alone, even with the rods. There might be other spearow around. She swallows her sorrow and sits back down, staring at her granola bar and trying not to cry. First the hoothoot, now this…
“Leaf, look!” Red says, voice low.
She turns and sees the pichu returning, slowly crawling toward the bit of granola. Hardly daring to hope, she watches as it sniffs at the granola, then chars it with a quick spark of electricity and begins nibbling. Only then does she break off and toss out another piece, then another, each closer than the last.
She takes out a pokeball once it starts to get close enough, but doesn’t throw it right away. If the pichu sees the ball come at it, it might run for good.
Instead she rolls the rest of her granola bar over the blackened grass so that it comes to rest past it. Once the pichu crawls over to the bar, Leaf quickly removes her shoes and socks.
“What are you doing?” Red hisses.
“Be right back,” she whispers, and starts to slowly move to the right toward the pichu’s side, bare feet making almost no sound over the dead grass. Red looks frustrated, but doesn’t say anything, simply raising his pokedex up, ready to sound the onix roar.
The pichu shocks the granola bar, inspects it, then does it again. From this close she can see the bloody scratch that runs down its back, and as soon as Leaf is outside of its peripheral vision, she expands two pokeballs and points their lens, holding her breath…
The pichu twitches and turns to the sound, but she’s already throwing, the first one straight ahead, and then turning the hand with the second up to toss it overhead at the last moment, so that it arcs carefully up, then down onto the pichu.
The pichu doesn’t dodge, sending a jolt at Leaf that travels through the first ball before hitting her like a burning, tingling punch that goes straight from her outstretched arm and down her left side, into her foot and out into the ground below. She collapses in pain as Red cries out, but even as she grits her teeth over a scream, she sees the flash from the pokeball, hears the rush of energy as it absorbs the pichu.
Ha… gotcha… Her eyes water as she curls into a ball. Swords of Justice, that hurt!
“Leaf! Leaf are you okay!?”
“Think so… ” Leaf carefully checks her hand, then foot. There don’t seem to be any visible burns. “Yeah… I’m okay…” The left side of her body feels tense and sore, and she uses her right hand to take the shock potion out of her pocket, spraying them over her hand and arm first, then tucking them under her shirt to spray the rest of the wound down to her foot, skipping her leg. She feels the pain and soreness fade through her body, first on the surface, then into the deeper tissue, and eventually in her leg as well, though not as much.
“Is your heart beating normally? What about your lungs, are you breathing alright?” Red stares at her anxiously as she stretches her arm, then tries standing up.
“Yeah, I’m okay. Just some soreness.” She limps over to the pichu’s ball as Red sinks his head back in relief. Leaf smiles as she picks it up, then returns to sit beside Red, tugging her socks and shoes back on.
There’s a warm glow in her chest that she’s fairly sure doesn’t have to do with being electrocuted. Unlike those that follow Ghetsis back home, she believes catching and training pokemon can be fundamentally for their own good as well as people’s, as long as they’re treated with respect. Especially since tamed pokemon usually live much longer than those in the wild, even without counting the time spent in stasis in the pokeball.
Saving a pokemon from what would have been a sure death, however, makes this the first capture that she feels unambiguously good about.
It almost makes up for the hoothoot that died from her forgetfulness.
“Well, I’m glad you’re okay.” Red smiles. “Also, congratulations! They’re pretty awesome pokemon, as you had plenty of occasion to see tonight.”
“Thanks. You guys said they’re rare, right?”
He grins. “Oh, yeah. Viridian Forest is practically the only place they’re native to in Kanto, and normally you’d be hard pressed to find any. I’m a little jealous, to be honest: I’ve always wanted one.”
She looks at him, and something in her gaze makes his smile slowly fade. “What?”
“Red, if I asked you to do something for me, but didn’t tell you why, would you do it?”
His pale, strained face becomes guarded. “That depends on what it is. But if you need help with something…”
“I do.” She looks down at the pichu’s ball, then smiles and holds her hand out. “Could I see your pokedex for a minute?”
Red raises a brow, but hands it over silently. His curious expression turns to shock as she aligns the lens with the pokeball. “Wh-hey, Leaf, what…?”
They watch the screen fill with the image of the sleeping pichu, the pokedex listing its mass, length, and other vitals. It’s dangerously low on blood, but nothing a pokemon center can’t fix. She places it back on his stomach, then meets his confused, wondering gaze. “He’s yours now. I want you to take him, okay?”
“I can’t… Leaf, get your dex and transfer it, him, over. I can’t accept that, why would you-”
“You can, and you will. Promise me you won’t do anything drastic, and then I’ll tell you.”
Red’s brow creases, and she can almost see the gears turning in his head as he tries to figure out what and why…
“I reserve the right to keep arguing with you over this after, but… okay. I promise not to do anything drastic. Now why did you do that?”
“Because your hoothoot is dead.” Leaf looks away from him. “It’s my fault. I forgot that you caught it, I forgot that it was on the ground. It got electrocuted when all the ‘chu were here. I… found it while I was walking and I didn’t… I couldn’t tell you…” Her head dips down and she closes her eyes, throat tightening. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, Red, this is the least I can do to try and make up for it.”
There’s silence, and after a moment she gets her emotions under control and takes a deep breath before looking up at him. He’s staring at her with a mix of shock and something she can’t interpret. “Are you angry?”
“I’m… a little upset that you lied,” he says carefully. “But no, I’m not angry. I understand. And I won’t say not to blame yourself, because I don’t think you’ll listen if I do. And because maybe it’s okay to, a little bit.”
Leaf nods, some tension running out of her. “Thanks for understanding.”
“But Leaf, I still don’t think you should give him to me. A hoothoot for a pichu is hardly a fair trade!” He blinks at her expression, quickly adding, “Unfair for you, is what I’m saying! Not as in the value of their lives… you know what I meant! If you want to make it up to me, you can catch another hoothoot, but pichu are rare, and you got yourself shocked catching it!”
“And you got your arm broken catching that hoothoot.” She smiles. “Come on, we’ve given each other enough pokemon at this point. Think of it as payback for giving up your chance at one of the beedrill.”
“I didn’t want them anyway.”
“Still. Please, keep him. It’s the only way I’ll be able to have any peace over it.”
Red wipes the sweat from his face and grimaces. “You shouldn’t argue with someone who’s injured, you know.”
“So just say yes.”
“I… oh, alright! I’ll keep him.” Red lets out a breath, fingers rubbing over the red half of the pokeball. “Thank you.”
They sit in silence after that. Another distant roar sounds after a few minutes, and Leaf wonders if Blue’s alright. The weight that had been over her heart since finding the hoothoot is partially lifted, and she watches with Red as he examines his new pokemon’s information.
Red has rarely found himself at a loss for words, but ten minutes after Leaf registered the pichu she caught to him, he still can’t quite think of the right thing to say. So he just reads over its information with her, and slowly gets used to the idea that he really has one now. He didn’t lie when he told her he always wanted a pikachu: when he was younger he imagined catching one and naming it Faraday, or Tesla, or Ayrton if it were female. Maybe he’ll go with Volta?
He’s a bit sad that the hoothoot he caught is dead, but he didn’t really have a chance to bond with it, or even consider it his yet. He knows Leaf feels much worse about it than he does, so he tries not to dwell on it. He soon has something else on his mind anyway.
The pinching pressure in Red’s arm grows worse and worse as the night passes, and eventually real pain starts to bleed through the numbness. The excitement with the pichu distracted him from it for a bit, but an hour later he’s struggling to last another minute without asking for more medication. He doesn’t want to risk any adverse side effects from using too much too soon, and tries to lose himself in their trivia game again.
Just as the pain begins to get unbearable, he hears the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps. “Leaf-”
She’s already standing, a pokeball in each hand as she faces the direction they’re coming from, waiting to see what the newest threat is. After a moment Red realizes the ground is shaking, and dread fills him until the rhyhorn steps out from the darkness between the trees and into the light of their lamp, the trainer on its back looking down at her phone.
The relief is so strong it actually makes the pain go away for a bit, and when the trainer looks up and smiles, he smiles back, though it probably looks more like a grimace. “Got a distress signal from this area. That’s you, right?”
“Yeah. Did Blue send you?”
“Sorry, don’t know who that is. I’m from Pewter, came to help with the fire. We’ve got it under control now, and the pikachu around here seem to be gone.” She slides off her rhyhorn’s back and withdraws it, then walks over to them. She gives the lightning rods an appreciative look, then seems to notice all the burnt grass. “Wow. What happened here?”
“It’s a long story,” Leaf says. “Can you help with his arm?”
“You bet. Why don’t you tell it while I work?” She takes a container out of her pocket and opens it on the grass beside Red. Inside its box there are a bunch of medical supplies, and after taking a few moments to examine Red’s arm and ask some questions, she gets to work as Leaf explains what happened.
Red closes his eyes in relief as she gives him another local anesthetic, this one stronger, and something to reduce the swelling. He barely feels it as she realigns his bone and puts on a cast.
“Okay, that should do it for now. Let’s get you to Pewter, and they’ll take care of the rest.”
Red just nods dreamily, exhaustion and the lack of pain making him nod off. He thinks he hears something about Leaf staying behind to wait for Blue, and feels a note of alarm about that, but when he opens his eyes to say something he realizes he’s strapped onto the back of the rhyhorn as they travel through the forest. It’s surprisingly comfortable, and before he can say anything to the rider (I don’t even know her name…) he’s already drifting back to sleep.
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