The lab has been lit without electricity for two years. We do our work relying on the light of the day, and use Scout's tail whenever we need to go into the basement. The windows down there are too small to really do anything by, but all day sunlight fills the first and second floors well enough that we generally do whatever must be done up there. We slept by those upstairs windows for the first few weeks we spent holed up here before we discovered that it gets far too cold to get any reasonable rest. The heat was out long before the electricity, so all we had were our own bodies and whatever blankets the Professor had stockpiled through the years to keep us warm.
Today is no different. Dull early morning sunlight pours in through our favorite ground floor windows, framing her body and shadowing her face. Any hint of curves she once had are now long-gone, stolen by years of minimal nutrition and her strange fascination with sacrificing herself. Thin black hair falls messily from her scalp, resting on either side of her neck like a scarf. She has her arms crossed in protest, and if I could see her face I'm sure it'd be a mask of disapproval.
We've been planning this day for the past three weeks. We'd wanted to leave just months after our initial arrival, but the legions of zombies storming the lab the past four years had all but destroyed that dream. Now we are adamant; getting out of Sandgem is our first and foremost priority. Naturally, the Professor hated that idea from the very first time we suggested it. We can survive here, he'd said, his face filled with a desperate desire to keep us under his wing. There could be anything waiting for us out there: crazed survivors, roving gangs of criminals, and of course the never-ending hoard of zombies.
But that is precisely why we must leave. Leo and I have spent countless nights discussing our motives for leaving behind the only home we've known for the past four years, and have come to the conclusion that we can't spend our entire lives in the lab, living off experimental plants and reading books about the pre-zombie days for fun. Even if we wander off to certain death, we have to know what lies out there.
Dawn is clears her throat, trying to come up with one final argument to make us stay. We stand before her, hearts and eyes filled with irrational determination, wearing our thick winter jackets, four-year-old backpacks, and whatever else we could find that came close to fitting us in any way. We know she's scared, that she thinks we'll die out there, but if we do at least we'll know that's all we were missing.
I know it doesn't make sense, that it breaks my central belief that if isn't logical, it isn't worth doing. But we have to get out. I've lost four years of my life to this mess, and I refuse to accept losing any more.
"Please don't try to do this…" It's Leo who speaks first. Dawn looks up at him, shifting her arms slightly across her chest. "I told you, we can't stay in this place any longer. Someone needs to search for other survivors, and it might as well be us. And…" he paused, searching for the right way to word his feelings, "think about what could be out there!"
"You'll die, Leo!" Her voice is high with desperation. "At least wait until we can get a signal again, just a few more months."
"We've done that, Dawn. We've waited a few more months; we've waited a few more years. Whatever's out there, it's time we faced it like men." He speaks with a very cold, definitive tone. The only person who wants us to leave more than me is Leo. He wants to experience the world for what it is, to live the life of characters in all those old zombie shows.
He's forgotten what it's like out there, but I figure I'll leave it to him to remember.
She's silent for a little while, and I breathe the tension in deeply. I can feel the warmth of Scout's tail by my leg, the flame burning bright as ever. She makes me feel invincible; I know she'll follow me to the ends of the earth, but that, at the same time, she's smart enough let me know when I'm making a bad choice. It's comforting to know she hasn't stopped me on this one.
"I just…I don't want you to get hurt," Dawn has gone quiet now, barely speaking to us above a whisper. She's made her case before, and knows deep down trying now will just be a waste of time. "Can you at least try to contact us?"
"No," There's a note of regret in Leo's voice, but I can he's trying to be strong. "There's no way to. We'll go home, then return here before leaving for good."
Dawn shifts her weight, but doesn't show any other signs of emotion. She's always been strong and stubborn. She knows this is the end though, at least for now and possibly forever. After a few more heartbeats of cold silence she begins to nod slowly. "Take care of each other."
Leo nods in return, but doesn't say anything. I feel Scout move away from me, the absence of heat making me shiver. The little fire-type raises her paw up to Dawn, who kneels down and hugs her tightly. Scout doesn't quite know how to respond, so she just pats the girl on the back a few times before taking a step back. Dawn stands back up, the light still obscuring her face from us. "Very well. If you aren't back here from visiting Twinleaf in the next four months, we're going to assume you're dead."
"Naturally," Leo smiles a bit, light reflecting off his pale amber eyes. He crosses the room, pulling Dawn into a tight embrace. Even in the small space, I can't understand what he whispers into her ear. They stay like that for a while, only breaking apart when Leo's Prinplup tugs on his coat a few times.
"Remember to say goodbye to the Professor. I know you spoke earlier but…he'd like to know that you're leaving," Dawn says as Leo begins walking to the door. We'd broken the news to him last night, and argued with him for hours before we finally gave up and decided to leave without really telling him.
Leo nevertheless agrees to let him know, and leaves the lab without another word. I start to follow him, but Dawn grabs my hand and forces me to turn around. "Please, keep yourselves alive. He won't listen to me, but I know you will. So please, please do whatever you can to keep each other alive." I stare at her blankly before I smile a bit and nod.
"Of course, Dawn," I pull my hand out of hers and make my way for the door. I reach out to grasp the handle, but hesitate. I now realize this is the biggest decision I have ever made. I've gone out this door before, but never like this. Now I might never come back. I look down at Scout out of habit, and I catch a look of pure determination in her eyes. This is what she wants, and this is what I want. My stomach is tied into knots, and I swallow the bile that rises. The comfort of Scout's heat and the assuredness I get from looking at her convinces me to finally pull open the door.
A blast of cold air smacks into my face, the brilliant orange sunrise blazing far into the distance. I take one last look into the lab, only to see that Dawn has disappeared upstairs. I now know that there is nothing left for us here. With Scout by my side, we close the lab door and take our first few breaths of true freedom.
Leo walks toward us, his Prinplup trotting behind him carefully. He's looking out to the west, where Route 201 waits in the dull morning light. "Just like old times, huh?" I can't tell if he's trying to be funny or not. Either way, I don't laugh.
I walk away from the lab until Scout and I are at the border to Route 201. A stiff wind blows through us, and I shiver a bit. Taking a deep breath, I close my eyes for a second and secretly hope that everything will be as it was before this whole mess when I open them.
But to my disappointment, nothing has changed.