I stand on a hill, looking down into a valley of gravestones stretching toward the horizon. The grass is green, shining in the bright early morning light. Blazing oranges, pinks, and reds spread across the sky, reaching out from the half-hidden sun. It's cold, but there is no breeze here. Nothing moves, not a single flowering weed or blade of grass.
The silence is comforting. I can only hear the balanced sounds of my own breathing and the steady-paced beating of my heart. Shadows stretch out over the dark ground, drawing massive lines in the damp dirt. A great hill of stone walls in the cemetery on its left side, while the right is held in by a river that does not dare break the quiet of this gentle place.
"So what are you going to do now?" She sits beside me with her arms wrapped around her knees. Her voice shatters the fragile silence but isn't any less comforting. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said anything…"
"No, it's fine." I can't speak in a normal tone; my throat feels like an echo chamber. I sound far away and quiet even to my own ears. "I'm going to find all the badges for you."
She doesn't look at me, her eyes glued to the fiery horizon. The clouds begin to shift, dancing and shaping themselves into strange new forms. The warm sunlight covers them in brilliant shades of orange and pink. "Jay, look! It's so pretty…" Her voice fades into the cool air. I sit down beside her on the hill and follow her gaze, taking in the fantastically colored view.
I want to hold her. I want to take her into my arms and say I'm sorry for everything. She's here again, she's alive. I have to make things right, I have to tell her how I feel. I start by reaching for her hand, but she absentmindedly shifts away at the last moment.
"You could've saved me." My heart plummets and weight rises in my chest. I don't recognize her voice anymore, it's no longer hers. She still doesn't turn to me, doesn't offer me the hopefulness that was once ever-present in her bright green eyes. "You couldn't fight against a little bit of pain, and it's your fault I'm gone now."
"Ch-Cheryl…Cheryl please…" I croak, my throat tightening around my desperate words. "I…I wanted so badly to help you! I love you, please don't-!"
"It's your fault. You failed me, the only person naïve enough to put her life in your hands. Your cowardice got me killed. In fact, if it's your fault I'm dead then you might as well have been the one to kill me." She's blurring now, her body growing fainter and fainter. The valley below us has dimmed, the light slowly vanishing as the sun dulls to a glowing ember. I can't move anymore. I'm locked into place beside her, the sting of her words digging into my chest. "You're a damned liar if you say you love me. You can't say that if you pushed me away."
She suddenly turns to face me, her voice snapping back to how I remembered it. Her eyes shine with hurt and fury, breaking through the blurry world around us. "I thought I was in love with you! But you don't think about other people! You only care about yourself. You can't protect me, or be there for me, or care about anyone other than yourself!"
I struggle to tear through the thick wall in my mouth, to tell her that I promise I can take care of her from now on. But it's too strong. It clamps down on my words before I can even conceive of them. I'm forced to stay silent, unable to justify myself against her anger.
The light is gone. The soft grass beneath us has been replaced by a pile of rubble. The valley is burning, fire leaping from tree to tree and building to building. It spreads across the dying gray ground and licks at the foot of our hill, catching on an old piece of broken furniture. I can't feel the heat as the flames climb toward us.
Her eyes reflect the beauty of the fire, shimmering brightly in the night. I tell my body to move, to save her from the flames but every part of me is paralyzed. I can't even call out to tell her to run. She smiles faintly as the blaze consumes her, and for the second time I'm unable to save the girl I love from dying.
The fire fades away slowly, leaving me alone with her charred body. It's twisted the way it was in the gym, with her hips pointed in a different direction than her back and shoulders. The paralysis finally leaves me, and I slide my arms underneath her limp and broken form. Pieces of old furniture and abandoned artifacts slip down the pile of rubble. I stumble and land hard on my knees, but I still don't feel any pain. She's weightless in my arms.
At the base of the hill something pushes me violently from behind and sends me to the ground. Her body has vanished, leaving my outstretched arms empty in the cold nighttime air. The dead grass prickles my bare hands and stiff face. I turn slowly as my vision refocuses, running my gaze over the strange woman standing before me.
She has blue pupil-less eyes and bright red hair. Her skin looks as though it's barely being held onto her body, though she's too short and small-looking to be very old. She's completely naked as well, with flat breasts and barely-noticeable dips at her waist. Her face is split where her mouth should be, her jaw barely held on to the top part of her skull by exposed tendons and yellow bone.
"Wh-what are you?" My voice shudders and I begin scrambling away from her. She takes a step toward me with a movement so natural I feel bile rise to my throat. A strange whisper escapes her gaping maw, something all at once extremely human and not human at all.
A strange noise slips out of her face, a hissing mumble that lifts up like a question. "What have you done…?" Suddenly a thick sheet of blackness covers everything. I can feel her hands on me but I can't see what they're doing. I swipe blindly through the darkness, panicking the more I feel her on me.
Pressure pushes in on every side, her touch enveloping my body. My heart pounds so fast I feel like it's going to burst. I try to control my breathing, to regulate my panic, but the all-consuming fear is too much. Pain explodes in my head and I lose all outside sensation. My chest burns violently for a second before everything stops, like someone flipped a switch on my brain.
I shake and shiver, bringing the incredible-tasting tea to my lips and taking a quick sip before setting it down beside me on the bed. I pull my blanket tighter around me, but it's still not enough. This room is freezing, even with Scout sitting on the other end of the bed. Her twitching, shuddering tail hangs off the edge, the flame sputtering violently. I scoot back so I can lean against the wall behind me, laying my head on the hard paneled wood. Scout's dark eyes gleam in the dark, locked on me as I shift uncomfortably.
"I-I guess I should've asked you before making the choice with Scarlet to k-keep up with Cheryl's mission." The Monferno's eyebrows knit together and she eases back into the railing at the end of our bed. "Y-you have seniority over her, after all. You're more or l-less the leader." I turn my gaze to the ceiling, too exhausted to focus anywhere else. "And unless you want to leave, our ch-choice will affect you at least a-as much as anyone else."
She brings her shaking tail into her hands but doesn't respond. Though her grip is weak and erratic, the flame stays quiet and controlled. "I'm sorry, Scout…" I murmur, and her eyes flick up to meet mine. Her face is filled with confusion and suspicion. "I just…I screwed up so b-badly."
She shifts suddenly, swinging her tail over the edge of the bed and putting her paws against the fabric. "No, d-don't move, I don't want you to get hurt." She presses on the blanket beneath her and pushes herself to her feet, tottering a bit before regaining her balance. "I mean it, p-please don't…" She winces terribly and pads across the bed. With each step her face floods with pain. "Scout…" I close my eye, expecting her to hit me. Instead, she puts her arms around my neck and pulls me close to her warm, fluffy body.
"I'm so sorry Scout…" She takes my head in her trembling hands and locks her gaze with mine. She closes her eyes and shakes her head slowly and deliberately several times. With a tentative touch on her bandaged back I hold her to me, taking in the dank scent of her dirty fur.
It occurs to me that we've done this before. After Volkner stitched my face back together in Jubilife, I thought Scout had run off. But then she leapt on to the bed and held me in her arms. It was so simple then, when we had only ourselves to worry about. We've lost so much now, but somehow we've still come to the same place.
The difference is that now she's the injured one. I can barely touch her without thinking I'm going to cripple her forever. Sure, I've got some pain too, but whatever I'm experiencing is nothing like what she must feel. A Fighting-Type without the ability to fight...and it's completely my fault. I never want to see her hurt like this again, but how can I keep her safe if she has to stay by my side all the time in such a hostile place?
She breaks away from me to press her paw against her back. She closes her eyes tightly to fight the pain and blinks hard several times. The cold moonlight pouring in from a large window behind her sets her eyes glowing in the night. Our shadows stretch across the dusty wooden floor of our room and up the nearest wall. They look intimidating and fierce.
I bring my tea to my lips again and let my heavy eyelid flutter shut. It's something simple, and if I'd been drinking it as a kid I never would have liked it. But right now it's the most delicious thing I've ever tasted. They've been giving it to me for the past two days, believing that for some reason it'll speed up my healing process.
On a whim I hold it out to Scout. She looks at it skeptically before scooting close enough to me that I can give her a sip. She laps up a bit of it before wincing and crying out in disgust. She sticks out her tongue and wipes her paws along it to try and get the taste off.
I apologize to her between a toothy grin. She smiles slightly and pushes the mug back towards me. "Not your thing, Scout?" She shakes her head and I can't help but chuckle. "That's alright, I won't make you drink it again." She lays a trembling paw on my leg and I place my hand over it.
"Maybe there is a way to keep you protected…" I say quietly. She looks up at me skeptically, and in response I pull a shining new PokeBall out of my pocket. She hisses immediately and tries to move away, but quickly jolts back from the pain. I grab her paw lightly and hold it, trying to make her trust me with the desperation in my eye. "Scout, please. I want you to recover from this. I hate seeing you in pain… and knowing it's all my fault only makes me want to help you more!" She growls a bit but the aggravation in her expression is gone. "Please, just try it. I promise I will do anything to keep you safe from now on. I'll never let you get hurt like this ever again. You mean far too much to me. Please, Scout. I just want to keep you as safe as possible."
She eyes the PokeBall wearily, biting her lower lip with her stained yellow teeth. She looks back to me and I nod quickly, trying to assure her that everything will be fine. "I've heard of trainers doing this before. It's really not a big deal. I would never, ever do anything to hurt you."
Scout takes a deep, shuddering breath before nodding slowly and gripping my empty hand with her shaking paw. I press down on the button to the PokeBall twice, a great beam of light shooting out. I angle it at Scout and she yelps in surprise before vanishing inside.
I call her back out immediately, my heart racing for fear of her being hurt any further. She shakes her head back and forth a bit, looking mildly surprised but no worse off. The bandages and pole seemed to have traveled inside with her for some reason. None of my other team mates have been able to take items inside their PokeBalls, so I have no idea why that happened.
"You feeling alright?" Dazed, she nods before smiling and giving me a shaky thumbs up. "Good," I reach out to her and she takes my hand again. With great care I pull her closer to me so we can sit beside each other on the bed. She leans against me, the pole strapped to her back touching my face and making me feel even colder. I can ignore it though, as long as I can keep her here by my side.