For an instant there is silence, then a great wash of emptiness and a sudden burst of confusion and rage.
I push my hands against her shoulders and shove her away from me. "What the hell are you doing?" I don't mean to sound so angry, but I don't make any attempt to apologize. "What are…what were you thinking?" Inexplicable fury blazes in my chest, heat pulsing through my veins.
She stammers and her face burns bright red. There's fear and shock in her eyes, and pain written all over her face. "I…just…I just thought…"
"You didn't think! Why would you do that? Why would you just assume that…that…" I shake my head rapidly and look away from her. The entire room has gone silent, and I can feel a powerful tension rising from our Pokémon. I catch Scout in the corner of my eye, her flame quiet and apprehensive. Colin has stopped bouncing Cheryl's Wynaut, and the two sit beside each other now with their eyes locked on my Pokémon.
"I'm sorry…I really didn't think you'd…I'm sorry." Her fingers entangle themselves with a stray thread on her pants. They shake as she hurriedly wraps it around and around each digit. The thread snaps and her hands shudder and clench. "I think I'm just tired, or something." Colin begins to snarl from the other end of the room and she whips around to look at him. His fur stands on end, his back arched. Her Wynaut doesn't move, staring at us worriedly.
I start to yell at her some more, but shut my mouth before I can make things any worse. Her eyes are dry but she's clearly hurt, with her brows drawn in together and her teeth gritted hard. I don't know why I'm so mad at her, why I feel more like hitting her than letting her kiss me. It's not that I don't like her, or even that I don't think she's pretty. She's given me more than anyone has in a long time, but at this instant I wish we'd never met.
Scarlet growls and I look over to see her facing off against Colin. Just a few hours ago she was acting like she had a crush on him. Now she's angry, irrationally hateful of someone who never did anything to harm her. Her body prickles with electricity, and her tail waves back and forth in the air. Hardened muscles ripple beneath her soft, dark fur, flexing with each step toward the Sun Pokémon.
"No…I…" Water has begun to gather in Cheryl's eyes, and I grasp her shoulders hard. "Please don't cry!"
"I'm not crying! I'm just angry, and hungry, and tired, and I'm hung over, Jay! I'm not…" She swallows hard and drags a dirty sleeve over her bright green eyes. "I'm not crying." She shakes my hands off her and glares at me angrily. "You're a jackass."
"Look, Cheryl, I just…I don't understand why you would do that." I want to tell her "I'm sorry." I want to tell her that I'm a jackass, and that she has every right to be mad at me. But I don't. Instead, I look away from her and start to stand up.
She grasps my wrist and yanks me back down. I grunt when my ankles turns at an awkward angle, but don't complain. "Help me up, my legs hurt." Rolling my eye, I grab her arm and pull her to her feet. She wavers for a moment, clutching me tightly. She releases me as soon as she regains her balance, and wraps her arms around her small torso. "Why do you think I did it?"
I wait for her to answer herself, not meeting her eyes. When she doesn't, I keep my gaze on the ground and ask "…is that a rhetorical question?"
"I did it because…because I thought I liked you, Jay. Because I thought I was in love with you! Because I… just wasn't able to see how awful of a person you are." I try to interrupt, but she tells me to shut up and points her finger at my chest. "You don't think about other people! You only care about yourself. You act all quiet and strong, but really you're just so...so…" She puts her hands in front of her face and looks at them in furious confusion. "Stupid! You stumble around in the forest without any idea of how any of this is supposed to work. You throw yourself into battles and just hope you'll be fast enough to kill everything. I thought you'd be able to protect me, that you were someone I could look up to and just…just enjoy being around. But you're nothing more than a lonely asshole who can't do anything for himself! You rely on your Pokémon for everything. They make your food, they hold your shit, they keep you alive, Jay! Hell, if I wasn't there when we saw that Gastrodon you'd be long dead by now! You're weak, and I just...I guess I just managed to convince myself you were someone you're not. I see now that what I wanted you to be, what I hoped you were...was someone you are not in any way. I…expected you to save me, but all you did was give me someone to babysit." Her voice drops and she looks away from me again. Taking in a deep breath, she exhales: "You're pathetic, Jay."
"I'm pathetic?" Heat raises to my face and my heart beats rapidly. I can feel adrenaline racing through my body, my chest burning with rage. "You have no idea what I've been through; you think just because I can't always fight for you that I'm weak. Well let me tell you I've seen things that would make you piss your pants. You live in a nice house with freaking hot water, Cheryl! You live in a town that actually has people working to protect it! Do you know where I've been the last four years? In a lab with a greenhouse and three other people. We were the only ones in our entire town, and we sure as hell didn't have anyone to protect us. We fought for ourselves; we never expected anyone to fight for us. You have no idea what it's really like, and I-I knew this would happen! I knew you wouldn't be able to handle life out here! I knew you'd-"
"Shut up! How dare you say I have no idea what it's like out here! How dare you say I can't defend myself! How dare you act like some old veteran who knows more about pain, and work, and suffering than anyone else! We've all been through a lot, Jay. Your life isn't any worse than anyone else's. We've all seen things that scare us, or make us cry. And it doesn't matter. I don't hate you because you can't protect me, or be there for me, or care about anyone other than yourself. I hate you because you think no one will ever understand you. You act all high and mighty; you act like your experiences give you the right to treat people however you want. But they don't. It doesn't matter that you've had a hard life. What matters is how you treat other people. And you treat other people like shit." A massive crash interrupts her tirade and she spins to face the window. The house shakes and her eyes widen as a blood-covered body flies through the hole where the window should be. Red splatters across the floor, and the feuding Pokémon freeze and look to see where it came from.
The room explodes with noise as dozens of undead Bug-Types fill the air. I scramble to find my crowbar, tearing it from the front of my bag and holding it out in front of me. A massive, rotting Dustox dive-bombs for me, but I move fast enough to drive the end of my weapon into its face. Blood spurts out the other end and one of its decaying wings slides off and drifts to the ground.
I toss the body aside and slam another into the floorboards. Pressing my foot down into its exposed brains, I blink through the mass of living corpses and struggle to distinguish one scream from another. In my panic, Lenny is the only thing on my mind. Scout and the others can take care of themselves, but he's too young to fight them. Even if he's immune to the infection, I don't want him getting hurt or killed from their relentless attacks.
I see a flash of fire and head towards it as fast as I can. Scout lets out a familiar battle cry and a blast of lightning pierces through the throng of airborne undead. Swiping my crowbar through the air, I catch another Dustox and hurl it to the ground. Scarlet's eyes flick up and she stands at attention when she sees me. Scanning the mass, I squint to see something small and pink huddled and shivering in the corner of the room. I order Scarlet to strike down as many as possible, but not to use any large attacks until I gave her a signal. If she shocks the whole room when Dracula, Lenny, or Marley is out they could be in serious pain. I've seen Cheryl handle being electrocuted before, and I think she could handle it if we had no other option.
Lenny cries out when I come near him, his eyes wide and wet with fear. I fish around in my pocket and show him his PokeBall, pressing the button on it twice in preparation for returning him. He yelps as the light bursts outward and consumes his small body, sucking him inside the little sphere. Claws grasp my neck and I grab the rotting Wurmple with my bare hands. I throw it to the ground hard enough that its head breaks open on impact and its green brains coat the floor.
Marley dances through the air, playfully dodging the zombies and making loud, happy "pchoo-" sounds. I call out his name and he blithely swings over to me, hovering by my side with a face full of curiosity and humor. "Return," I say simply, and he vanishes into his PokeBall.
A Dustox with hollow eye sockets and one shriveled antenna rushes for me, and I stab it through its head instinctively. In the midst of the chaos my mind falls back to what Cheryl was saying. I don't want to even consider that she could be right, that I could actually be as weak and pathetic as she insists I am. But my chest is too tight and my head is too confused not to believe her. I've gone these past few months -no, these past few years- convinced that I was somehow special because of what I'd been through.
I crush another Wurmple into a tired old wall with paint coming off in large strips. But she's right. She's been through just as much as I have, and if I just assume other people have no idea what the world is really like I'll end up getting myself hurt.
Still, I know she was wrong about my ability to protect myself. Sure, I rely on my team for a lot of things, but that's why we're a team. We work together to keep each other alive. I need them, but they need me too. They've all had the chance to stay on their own, and they've all chosen to join us. I would never force any of them to fight against their will.
I feel an immediate, instinctual aversion to apologizing to her, to admitting she was right and I was wrong. But I have to. I already regret the things I said and the way I treated her; I'm not sure if I could even move on without saying I'm sorry.
Cheryl is more than the little girl I took her for initially. She's impulsive, idealistic, and stubborn as an angry Tauros. But she's also honest and passionate. I can't fault her for being young and inexperienced, but I can value her for being determined and genuine. I have to apologize, I have to make things okay again. If nothing else, I know we'll be travelling together for a very long time. Making her truly hate me now will make that time a living hell.
When the horde begins to thin out I catch sight of Dracula dodging in and out of the fluttering, bleeding bodies. She sees me and I call her back to her PokeBall, her face nodding once before she disappears in a flash of light. I turn to Scarlet on my left and call out for her to attack, laying my weapon down in anticipation. Scout flattens herself to the floor and covers her ears as the Luxio begins to draw electricity from the air. Her body shudders with sparks and she lets loose a powerful and commanding roar. Thunder passes through the swarming bodies, and they drop to the floor in waves. They smack the hard, creaking wood loudly and shudder, their wings and antennae twitching from the shock.
I see Cheryl clearly now. She's directly opposite me on the other side of the room, bending down to grab her bat. Colin stands beside her, shaking off the effects of the spark and scanning over the pile of corpses with dark, calculating eyes. Her Chansey and Wynaut are nowhere to be seen, probably taking cover in their PokeBalls. A stale, cold wind blows stray hairs across Cheryl's sweat-covered face. She looks very old now, and suddenly very tired. My own body aches as the adrenaline fades, the effects of the hangover and the sudden burst of heavy movement beginning to take its toll. We breathe heavily, chests heaving and lungs struggling to suck in tainted air.
I open my mouth to apologize, but my stomach lurches and a great tightness in my chest makes me stop. The desire has overwhelmed the need. I know I have to make things right again, but my pride coddles me and tells me now is not the time. I have to apologize, but I won't.
She watches me carefully, then turns to grab her bag and leaves the gore-stained room behind. I don't follow her until she calls back for me, and by then I'm too lost in my own thoughts to notice the reluctance in her voice.