|Flowers for a Ghost
Author: Saf Dawnheart PM
Your world is falling apart and all you can do is watch. — Rayquaza/Latias, Latios/Latias.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Drama - Rayquaza & Latias - Words: 11,320 - Reviews: 5 - Favs: 14 - Published: 08-12-11 - Status: Complete - id: 7279294
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
I have no excuses for this fic. Seriously. For the record, I'm not as depressed as the length and angst of this piece would make you think. XD Still proud of it, though.
So yeah, long-ass grief recovery process, yeah. And no, Latios and Latias aren't related in this.
Disclaimer- I do not own Pokemon, nor do I own the song "Flowers for a Ghost." Those honors belong to Satoshi Tajiri and Thriving Ivory. Oh, and I guess now would be a good time to say I completely ripped off John Green's Looking for Alaska in the structure of this fic. Yeah. This bodes excellently.
the day of
You look on, horrified, as he falls, drained, to the ground. Everyone around you jolts, moves forward, goes to your counterpart, but you don't even bother to move, because even from here you can see he's done. Finished. All but dead.
So many memories flash through your mind.
You see gardens, late nights spent talking together, afternoons of lying in the sun and swimming and talking and laughing and racing each other down the streets of Alto Mare. You feel the warmth of him against your back, keeping you safe through the nights; hear the sound of his deep voice, his anger as he tried to tell you to stay away from that Ash boy (why hadn't you just listened?).
But just as quickly as the illusion flickers throughout your mind, it vanishes, throwing you back into the present: your counterpart is weak, he is barely hanging on, he is dying dying dying.
Your world is falling apart and all you can do is watch.
25 days before
"Latios," you giggle, "where are we going?"
And even though you've heeded his teasing command and pressed both palms over your eyes, you can almost see him look over his shoulder at you and smile as he says, "You'll see." The situation pulls another laugh out of you, because you love these kinds of games and yet at the same time you doubt he's taking you to a corner of Alto Mare the two of you haven't already explored.
"Okay, fine," you say in mock grudging surrender, though you defeat the purpose right afterward by letting out another giggle.
A small chuckle is heard from Latios; it vibrates through your bodies, transferring to you through the tiny chain of contact offered by his hand leading yours. And in spite of yourself, in spite of completely trusting him, you find yourself clinging to that contact, that shred of warmth that radiates even from this meager touch.
You blink at the sudden desperation roiling throughout your body, lashes brushing against the inside of your hands as you do so. Because you can't fathom why you would feel this way; Latios is here and he always will be, a thought that tempers the fear with warmth.
With you, the problem is dismissed as simply as that, and you let him lead you forward.
one day after
Even now, hours after Ash and his group have left and the sun dips below the horizon (the first night spent without him; the nest you two – used to – share feels horribly cold without his presence beside you), you don't know why you did it. Why you felt you had to disguise yourself as Bianca, scamper up to Ash, and plant a kiss on his cheek.
Perhaps the desire to just feel something controlled your actions, as your entire emotional spectrum had frozen into a state of numbness after – after – that (after Latios used all his psychic power and died died died, a traitorous voice, one that is slightly more in tune with the harshness of reality, chants in the back of your mind). Your mind just keeps jumping back to seeing him fall, seeing Ash and the others run up, seeing Latios turn those beautiful crimson eyes on her one last time before they slipped shut forever.
And so, controlled by a kind of desperation you had never experienced before, you had leaned forward and kissed the dark-haired boy's cheek.
Predictably, nothing had happened. Nothing had thawed within you, and nothing akin to the fireworks and supernovas that had erupted in your veins with Latios melted away the numbness inside you.
Even now, you doubt nothing ever will again.
Ash's naïveté could not have been more transparent than at that moment, because he'd actually started at your contact with him, leaping back in a way that had made your nose bump against the top of his cheekbone. You bring a hand up to your own snout and wince a little; physical pain manages to get past the barrier around your emotions just fine.
Naturally, his companions had given the boy hell about it. You had noticed that much, even though dull disappointment was oozing through you with the sluggishness of a dammed-up river (a fitting analogy for your emotions, if you were that poetic about it all).
But then Ash had left, and taken any hope of distraction with him, and now you're left wondering how you can be numb and still hurt so much.
127 days before
It's almost funny, how many people and Pokémon alike think you and Latios are related. At first the assumption irritated Latios to no end; you remember well the tight, restrained annoyance in his voice – along with the furrowed brow and narrowed eyes, common symptoms of what you called his little grumpy face – as he had tried to persuade what he called deluded Pokémon that no, he was not in fact related to Latias. Pikachu look exactly the same as other Pikachu, but not all Pikachu are related to each other, was his argument. We don't even look that similar. Why would you assume that?
More often than not, that served as more than enough of a rebuttal to convince most of the wild Pokémon living in Alto Mare's garden of Latios' point. If his glare didn't send them away, his words did, a fact that made you laugh and butt your head against his shoulder and ask him why he felt the need to be so mean about it.
(Arceus, you were so naïve back then. Both of you were.)
But one day the two of you are stopped by a curious Taillow, who looks terrified to be talking to the two of you (especially since even compared to most of the larger Pokemon in the garden, Latios is huge, especially when he floats up in the air like he does) but asks the question nonetheless. Red means a girl, and blue means a boy. How do we know you two just didn't get color-coded when you were born?
The question is spoken in a much more broken way than that – the little bird stutters the entire time, and just the hesitation in his mien tells you that Taillow is probably just repeating what his mother said – but you get the gist of it anyway. You exchange a glance with Latios, give him a questioning look (because at this point, after millennia of living together and loving each other, you've got silent communication down to a science). You mind if I get this one?
He looks back at you, crimson eyes slightly wide in an imitation of a human raising their eyebrows. If you're sure.
A tiny smile. I'll be gentle.
A muffled chuckle and rolling of crimson eyes. Of course.
So you turn back to the Taillow, and explain. It's so simple, and yet so complicated all at once, because love is always both and everything in between: laughter and happiness and warmth and sorrow.
(Naïve naïve naïve you didn't even know about sorrow you didn't even know)
I'm pretty sure you can't be in love with your brother, you say, and for all the world it's like a public confession.
472 days before
I love you, he says.
4 days after
Seeing everyone at the emergency meeting at the Hall of Legends is absolute torture. It's like waking up the day after – after – that all over again (oh for Arceus' sake just say he's dead already), when you were still in that half-delusional half-feverish state between sleep and awake and you had rolled over with your eyes still closed and a smile on your face and looked for azure-and-gray only to find nothing.
It's the same jarring feeling, to see the other legendaries eyeing you with sympathy and grief and pity. Part of you wants to scream, to silence every whisper that arises at seeing you floating down the hall with the eye-burning gold of the walls and tiled floor bathing your form in light (almost like an angel, but knowing the god of all existence had effectively shattered any illusions of a heaven or angels; after death it's either a complete and utter end or staying in Turnback Cave for all eternity and that's that) all alone.
Alone is a new feeling for you, and at this point, four days after the fact, the edge of numbness over your heart has dulled enough for sharp pain and emptiness to poke through.
It feels strange as well, like someone had knocked all your teeth out and you kept nudging around the empty spaces with your tongue expecting to find something only to find nothing.
You greet every sympathetic comment and strained apology that floats your way with an absent nod of acknowledgment or a mechanical, practiced murmur of agreement. I'm sorry, at least Team Rocket was stopped, how are you, at least your town is safe, he's not suffering anymore.
(He was never suffering until the very end, you want to scream, but you know it wouldn't help things. And so you let every bitter comment, every rebuttal left unsaid gather behind your lips until they almost choke you.)
Eventually, thank Arceus, just about every legendary has given you their condolences and you finally have a chance to steal away to a dark corner of the Hall of Legends and take a deep breath and think of how not to act. Stay calm, head high, plaster that fake smile on until the mask is stretched so tightly over your face it hurts. (Too late, too late, too late, your mind sings.)
Floating there, you think that perhaps one revealing aspect of a sentient being's personality involves the way they deal with grief. Because the notably "tougher" legendaries approached you with gruff words that skirt the edges of an apology but never actually get there; the ones who like to think they know the entire council, like Groudon and Mew, had a newfound brightness about their gazes as they talked to you; the calmer ones patted your shoulder awkwardly.
One thing of note is the single Pokemon who failed to approach you at all. Rayquaza. And it's odd, because you know he noticed your presence – anticipated it, even; the way his long, horse-like green head turned so quickly as you passed through the golden doors suggested it was a rehearsed action that he had perfected during the few minutes or so since his own arrival. Logically, one would think Rayquaza would then be the very first to step (well, in his case it's more like sidle) up and speak to her.
Not so. When his golden eyes landed on you, they had widened, just for a fraction of a second. Just for an instant – but then his composure was back in place and he was turning away, arms folded, moving across the hall to lean against the nearest wall as far from any chance of interaction as he could.
You could see the other legendaries giving Rayquaza reproving, angry looks. Hear what politeness leaves unspoken. Who does he think he is, that poor girl just lost her counterpart, of course he doesn't understand, he's always been alone but that's no excuse, even Giratina said something.
And yet –
Manners be damned (and you normally never swear, but legendaries normally never die and that happened recently), you find yourself so grateful to the standoffish dragon's antisocial ways it makes you want to cry all over again.
At the very least, you think, he understands you need to be left alone.
349 days before
Rayquaza's fascination with you is painfully obvious. You know you have a reputation for being one of the most blithe and fun-loving legendaries on the council – second only to Raikou and Mew in terms of playful antics and easy smiles, and even then sometimes you've heard the others wonder (but why shouldn't you be happy? You had the world and beauty and love and you took it all for granted) – but you're not stupid.
So yes, you've noticed Rayquaza. Noticed the softness that dulls his normally-sharp glare whenever you arrive; noticed the way genuine emotions besides annoyance and belligerence weave their way gently into his voice and action.
Latios noticed, too. It seems he was (was, was, emphasis on the was) exempt from the curse of obliviousness that normally marks males, and so his protectiveness ramps up even further than usual whenever he sees the emerald dragon's curious eyes land on you.
I don't like the way he looks at you, her counterpart grumbles, when you finally succumb to curiosity (to obligation, because at this point you know Latios loves you and you love him) and ask about his hostility around Rayquaza. Like, I don't know… like you're some prize to be won. Like you're this tiny, soft, fragile thing, and he drinks you in and stares because he's afraid of touching you and shattering you.
The comparison rankles you a little bit, but still considerably more than you expected it would. I wouldn't break, you protest. Why would anyone think that?
Latios shrugs, ignoring your indignation; probably because he knows no negative emotion lasts long with you (it's what he loved most about you, he told you so). Probably because you would, he says then, suddenly very serious.
You let out a startled laugh. Latios, what do you mean?
The question is innocuous enough, but you can still detect the subtle tightening of Latios' jaw, visible only for you, the one who has known and lived with and loved him for thousands of years (and only recently found the courage to confess; isn't that strange indeed, that you were so afraid to let any possible rejection flow from him and shatter your heart with poison pincers?). And suddenly, his arms shoot out, and with a start, you find yourself pushed into a tight, almost desperate embrace.
No, a part of you whispers frantically, this isn't right, you don't work like this, but then Latios is leaning down and murmuring into her ear.
I mean that… to some extent… I agree with him.
(Turns out he was right.)
17 days after
It's ironic that only now, almost three weeks after the fact, said fact fully sinks in. (and you hate that your recollection of the day everything had gone up in a half-complete caricature of a phoenix's fire – a fire that, you admit, you're still waiting for Latios to rise up from – has been reduced to a word as generic as fact in your mind)
You're not quite sure when it happens, but you do know that it reminds you of ice cream on a hot summer day. Frozen, almost unyielding at first, but then as time goes on and the heat of the sun and life and knowing he's gone gone gone begins to wear away, it gradually begins to melt. First at the edges, first at the trivialities and generic memories of him, first at his little frowns and the way he always looked down when he was thinking hard; then beginning to work its way into the soft core and through the days you had cherished most with him.
Until tonight, when, staring up at the agonizingly clear night sky, you feel something inside you break. Star-gazing should never be done alone, as far as you're concerned, and you almost look around for him – wonder where'd Latios go, he should be here to watch this with me – before remembering.
(the wave his agonized cries Ash's shock her terror no Latios don't die don't go don't you dare leave me –)
And oh, look – there's Ursa Minor, and there's the grass lurching up to meet you as you lose control of your hovering and crash to the ground.
418 days before
You can't hold back a breathless scream of laughter, so reminiscent of the children who sometimes come visit the garden. The wind tears the cachinnation away from your lips with as much force as the pure sense of freedom that had wrought it in the first place, and, panting, you look over at your flying partner. Although he wouldn't debase himself so far as to echo your sentiment – oh, Arceus forbid; it's one of the very, very few things you can't stand about him, even now in this early, honeymoon-esque stage of your relationship (yes, relationship; you can actually handle that label, unlike some of the other legendaries) – you can see a soft smile twitching at the corners of his lips.
And he turns to look at you, and you think as you look into his crimson eyes (so much like pools of blood, why didn't you notice that, the signs were all there even then), this is my world; this is the best it's ever going to get.
Race you to the waterway! you howl over the rushing wind. Without waiting for a response, you careen away from Latios, narrowing your eyes against the debris that slaps against your face as you do so.
You can hear him laugh and shout some obligatory determined remark back. In spite of yourself, a competitive feeling surges up within you, and you think, I can beat you, Latios, I can outlast you any day of the week. You may pace yourself, but getting there fast is all that matters.
It's all that matters.
25 days before
When Latios finally lets go of your hand long enough for you to focus on something besides his touch, you look around, only for your jaw to drop in undisguised shock and wonder. In your absent-mindedly following him, you hadn't noticed him flying you across the sea between Pacifidlog and Slateport and eventually lighting the two of you down in the currently garishly-lit latter city.
"Latios!" you gasp aloud, taking in the sight beneath you: the people moving about like fastidiously-traveling ants; the neon lights and signs sending rainbow fires into the air that leave spots in your vision when you tear your gaze away to stare at Latios; the sounds of happiness and serenity and joy that float up to you from your vantage point high above. "You… the Slateport Festival?" is all you can manage, you're so incoherent with pleased surprise.
Latios nods with a smile, reaching out to grasp your hand again and twining his claws with yours in an unspoken insecure gesture. "I know you were crushed when Arceus told you you couldn't go, but he didn't say anything about staying up here and watching it, right? So… I kind of figured this was the next best thing."
His pride won't let him say it, but you know Latios well enough to pick out the uncertainty in his eyes, the tentative desire for her approval that weighs his head down just so. The flickering lights from below play off the (blood) crimson in his gaze, and for the first time, you realize just how warm his hand is in yours.
So you squeeze it and lean forward, almost pressing your forehead against his but then angling your neck down a ways so it hits his shoulder instead. "Latios," you whisper, "this is perfect. Thank you so much."
His startled murmur rumbles in his chest, vibrating against your cheek in a way that makes you giggle, because it kind of tickles a bit. "I didn't think you'd like it this much," he says. "I thought you'd want to go down there and participate in the festivities like everyone else."
As he speaks, he pulls back a bit, hands sliding to grip the red of your upper arms and neck curving down so he can meet your eyes. You return the eye contact in kind, only briefly considering how to respond. A million thoughts trip over each other in your mind – you don't know me that well then, that's why I asked Arceus about it, if we were really here to party then you wouldn't have come with me – but you settle on the one that makes the most sense to you.
"No," you say, gently removing his hands with yours, "this is just fine."
(because just being with him – just that was enough.)
29 days after
After dreaming of the night the two of you had spent together at the Slateport Festival, forcing yourself out of bed to head to the next meeting is almost torture. But the steady tickle of a Shinx's whiskers against your cheek – along with the huge, worried red eyes (so, so much like his that waking up hurts even more than it would have after the warm sleepiness wore off and let reality sink in) – tells you that even without the meeting to obligate you, you would have to get up anyway.
You pass by a puddle during your ascent into the air, and the reflection that greets you there almost makes you crash back down again. Arceus, you think to yourself in a rare show of self-deprecation, you look terrible. Ruffled pelt; the normally-pristine white stained almost beige; bags the size of a Snorlax's stomach beneath your dull gold eyes.
What do you care what you look like, the only one that cared is gone now, your mind screams at you, but you still spare a couple of minutes to smooth down your fur and give your entire body a good wash. The way you see it, you were long overdue in the perfunctory rituals of taking care of yourself anyway; and besides, as odd as it seems, improving your appearance sends a twinge of half-hearted, but still extant, hope back into your heart.
(Besides, a part of you reminds you, one other Pokemon cares.
You think of emerald scales and contemptuous amber eyes and realize it makes you feel better than you would like it to.)
When you get to the meeting, you spend as much time on as little conversation as possible while trying not to seem too broken inside – it's an easier balancing act than one would think, and you suppose it should rattle you a bit, that plastering on a false smile is so easy, but you can't find it in yourself to care – and then go off by yourself to wait for Arceus to call for the council to start the meeting.
You scan the room, taking in every legendary chatting amicably with their counterpart, and suddenly the tears are rushing up in your throat and behind your eyes, creating warmth wherever they tread, at the sight of all you've lost.
(just being with him was enough)
(but now that you've lost even that…)
Thankfully, you manage to dissolve the growing lump in your throat and reaffix the restraints of your tear ducts in a few moments, albeit with a herculean mental effort. Don't hate them, a voice whispers in the back of your mind, they don't understand, they can never understand, but don't hate them.
I don't, you want to protest, but know it would be a lie. Jealousy, anguish – these are two totally unfamiliar beasts to you, and now that they prowl in the shadowy corners of your thoughts you're not quite sure how to subdue them.
To distract yourself, you watch your fellow legends. Two in particular catch your eye: Groudon and Kyogre, the former approaching his normally sea-bound counterpart with a helpless grin on his face. As Kyogre smiles and rolls her eyes at the excuse for being late Groudon gives her, it hits you all at once why you had found your gaze drawn to this particular couple.
You know from experience how well azure and crimson go together, after all.
And while you know you shouldn't create parallels based solely on appearances – Groudon and Kyogre are physically a gender-swapped version of you and Latios, after all, and they share an odd relationship of insults-bemused look-laughter, unlike you and Latios (had) – the sight still sends little tiny fissures down the already-cracked surface of your heart.
"Disgusting, isn't it?"
Emerald scales and amber eyes had flashed across your mind much earlier that morning, but hearing the owner of said scales and eyes speak from right next to you still startles you a bit, as even now it feels like a "speak of the devil" moment. Looking over, you see Rayquaza, fellow wallflower, floating there, arms crossed and eyes narrowed, looking silently judgmental as always.
He disproves the silent part by continuing to speak without looking at her. "You'd think they'd know not to act like a couple of teenagers in the middle of the Hall of Legends. 'Sacred ground' and all that crap."
You blink, because you don't think you've ever heard Rayquaza speak this much in a single period of time. Driven by the curiosity that surfaces due to that fact, you angle your head upward, just as he tilts his own head down and gazes at you with golden eyes that match yours.
(I don't like the way he looks at you, Latios mutters, and for the first time, stripped of the obligation to give Rayquaza the benefit of the doubt, you realize Latios had a point.)
To try and break the silence that suddenly suffuses the two of you – that and to stave off the prickles of discomfort (not déjà vu, oh no, and definitely not pain at how the softness in Rayquaza's normally-fiery eyes reminds you all too well of a bloodier gaze) stepping on your spine – you say, "Do you really want to begrudge them this much, though? At least they've found each other." Keep that bitterness out of your voice; he might pick up on your anguish.
Rayquaza scoffs. "Yeah, well, you don't have to live with them. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'third wheel.'"
Sardonic as his words are, they still coax a giggle out of you. You almost wince at the sound, because it's a tinny, pathetic caricature of the laughter that life and love and Latios used to pull out of you.
(At the very least, though, it's a reminder that you can still laugh, even after Latios. Guilty as the notion makes you feel, you cling to it with all your strength.)
Forced as it sounds, Rayquaza still lets a small, awkward smile twitch at the corners of his own lips. It's brief, and strange to see, and a gesture that he's obviously unfamiliar with using associated with an emotion he's obviously unfamiliar with exhibiting, but it's still there, visible just for you. For the first time you realize those liquid gold eyes have never moved from you.
Silence again. Keep talking, keep talking. You're not sure why you feel like it can never be silent between the two of you, but you have a feeling it has something to do with bringing up Latios and grief and why he had died in the first place. "I've never seen you smile," you say. "Or talk to anyone, for that matter."
Your words elicit a completely unexpected reaction from him. You had already begun to brace yourself for another scoff, a caustic retort – a word, a move, something to break the almost-maybe-comfortable atmosphere between the two of you. Maybe you'd even begun to hope for it, as horrible as that sounds, because while you definitely don't want to wallow in your grief forever you don't want to try and take any step toward forgetting about Latios, ever.
I love you, you had whispered to each other that day in Alto Mare. And damn it (more cursing, but again, it fits the situation), you had meant every word.
But Rayquaza just blinks, eyes wide in surprise (and the traitorous thought immediately crosses your mind that he looks strangely cute, all flustered like this). After a moment, during which you swear you can feel a smile begin to creep across your face, he shakes his head and sighs. "I guess… I just thought you could use someone to talk to right now. Someone who won't try and shower you with fake sympathy."
And now it's your turn to blink. When he had paused there, you had mentally followed it up with a remark typical of him, like I hated seeing your sniveling face like this. But no – he had come up with that, of all things.
Someone who won't try and shower you with fake sympathy.
True, he had hovered a ways away during the last meeting, while everyone else had been tripping over themselves delivering their condolences. With a thrill of – horror? Hope? Something or other – you realize that maybe Rayquaza knows more about grief than he lets on, if his knowing enough to leave you alone is any indication.
(He's afraid of touching you and shattering you, Latios says, and for once you want him to recede.)
You say none of this aloud, though (keep it all bottled inside, that's it, that'll work out just fine, won't it?). Instead, you sigh. "Thank you," you say, and mean it.
50 days after
The next time the two of you see each other, it's a bright day in Alto Mare and you're just getting ready to eat breakfast (another ritual you've recovered since that day you'd woken up and realized Latios was never never never coming back) when you catch sight of a long, slender shape moving across the sky. You squint up at it, trying to figure out its identity, before it passes over the sun and the golden light illuminates the dark green scales and forked tail.
I shouldn't bother him, you think to yourself, and Arceus knows you wouldn't welcome the interruption either (no matter how desperately lonely you are, and how much waking up to an empty garden every morning and not finding Latios already bustling about hurts). But something inside you – the remnants of your old self, maybe, the Latias who would have dragged Rayquaza down here without a second thought regardless of how Latios would have frowned and grumbled – something inside you pushes your desire to leave him be aside and buoys his name up to the back of your throat and the tip of your tongue.
"Rayquaza!" you call out.
You swear the silhouette stiffens in midair; then that long, tapering head slowly turns to face you, and even from this far below, you can see his eyes are narrowed in his typical frown. The ability to discern the emotions on his countenance ends there, but you would bet that frown is vanishing at the sight of you.
(Good to know you can still affect at least one Pokemon that way.)
"Good morning, Latias," he answers stiffly.
In spite of yourself, you smile at his awkward attempt to act cordial, and, driven by a curiosity you don't want to admit you feel, you float up to his eye level. The proximity to the sun makes you squint a little, but the heat soaks rather pleasantly into your fur, perhaps because it reminds you so much of the warmth of Latios' body pressed to yours (everything you've lost).
"Why are you here?" you ask, keeping the question carefully neutral. It's a valid one, because Rayquaza has never taken his patrols through this area of Hoenn before.
Maybe now that Latios is gone, he feels freer to, a voice in the back of your mind snickers. Immediately, you push it down; that can't be it, he just decided to expand his horizons a little.
(I don't like the way he looks at you.)
You're so busy vanquishing your doubts that you almost miss Rayquaza's response. He shrugs. "Just… wanted to see how you were," he mumbles, so softly you can barely hear him.
Once you do, though – pick up that evidence that the devious rogue thought is correct after all – you rear back a little, blinking. For some reason, his clumsy concern sends a tendril of warmth oozing through you, searing almost painfully when it reaches the cracks in your heart before calming again; and the look in his golden eyes (not bloody, not like his) reminds you so much of the tender gaze Latios always used to fix on you…
No, you promised yourself you wouldn't do this. Latios wouldn't want you doing this.
Would it matter, though, since he's gone?
Aloud, though, you just say, "oh," and let silence wash over you. Just like before, though, even that paltry quiet becomes too much for you to handle, and you quickly say, "Do you have to leave so quickly?"
Where had that come from?
Rayquaza clearly has the same thoughts, because he eyes you a little suspiciously. "I really should," he says, already moving off, and it's a testament to your self-control that you don't give in to the sudden impulse and grab his tail to snatch him back. "My patrol usually takes most of the morning, so if I want to get lunch sometime today, I need to get going." Even as he speaks, he sounds reluctant, as though wondering why he feels the need to tell you this.
You nod, mildly disappointed. "Right, no, I understand." Turning away with a soft sigh, you tell him, "Thanks for coming by."
"Yeah," Rayquaza says gruffly. Something moves over your shoulder, and you pivot back around in midair just in time to see his tail lowering from where it had brushed against you. "I, uh… See you later. Soon."
Before you can say anything else, he's gone, a snake-like being soaring gracefully across the sky.
You watch him vanish behind one of Alto Mare's buildings and sigh again, this time out of loneliness rather than disappointment.
It's odd, but you rather wish he had stayed.
54 days after
The next meeting rolls around, and this time, you don't have to force yourself to go out and face the world, knowing you won't have to do it alone (and the thoughts of that kind of optimism betraying Latios' memory have almost faded too). Moreover, you're actually humming to yourself as you move about, aware of the wild Pokémon's gazes on you as you fluff out your pelt and head out to town to get breakfast.
At one point, their watching you becomes a bit too unbearable, and you find yourself taking out the discomfort on a Taillow whose dark eyes have lingered just a bit too long. "What?" you ask, trying very hard not to sound angry. You're the sole guardian of these residents of the garden now; you can't afford to antagonize them.
(Right, because that was Latios' role and you were the mediator.)
The Taillow jolts, fluttering its wings in surprise, but manages to steady itself and respond coherently. "Nothing," it says with a tentative smile upon its beak. "Just… we're all glad to see you back to normal since Latios died."
It's a rather extreme way to put it, because you're not back to normal by any means; the dreams of the old days before his death prove that much, as well as the fact that the friendliness that once came so easily to you is still mostly feigned. But you mange to plaster a smile on your face (yes, that's it, fake it some more) and say, "You think so?"
"I know so," the little bird replies, and maybe that's when you realize it is the same Taillow that had asked you about you and Latios' relationship all those months ago.
To your credit, you manage to get up into the air and away from the eyes of those who claim to love you before the tears gush out.
Arceus, what's wrong with me, I thought I was done with crying.
When you arrive at the Hall of Legends, you pray that the tear-tracks on your cheeks have dried up enough to not cause worry. Under any other circumstances – well, the circumstances of the last few weeks or so, anyway – you would have been able to reassure yourself of at least that much.
But the reminder of what you lost has shaken you, so you find yourself tugged toward a corner of the hall, away from the chatting legendaries who appraise you with bemusement before being pulled back toward their conversations again.
"Hey, you all right?"
You cringe visibly before your self-restraint can stop you. Oh, but you'd forgotten about the other Pokemon who frequented the shadowy edges of this hallway.
"Yes," you mumble reflexively, not looking at Rayquaza. Lies.
He huffs out an annoyed sigh. "Liar," he accuses bluntly, making you flinch. "I know you haven't been all right since Latios died, but you could at least be honest about it."
His words mark the second time today that someone has mentioned Latios' fate so casually, and at the notion, you feel something inside you break. With the Taillow, you had felt the need to be polite due to your status as its benefactor; now, though, the obligation isn't there, letting every bit of pent-up emotion flow forth with all the force of the wave that had taken the one you loved (love) away from you.
"You don't know anything about what I'm feeling," you hiss, floating up to poke a claw against his skinny chest. "What do you know about love, anyway? You've never had friends; you've never had even a counterpart to have to talk to every once in a while. No, I'm not all right, and if you ever did anything besides sit around and make fun of people and scorn people for letting others in, you would know not to ask about it!"
Your voice grows louder and louder, heedless of your previous desire to remain unnoticed and blend into the shadows of the Hall, and before you know it, you've gotten the attention of everyone else in the corridor. The silence now permeating the area is almost eerie, causing you almost as much discomfort as the look Rayquaza is now fixing on you.
Because he doesn't look angry, even though he probably should at all the insults she just threw at him. He doesn't look annoyed, even though he probably should at the legendaries all staring at them now.
No, if anything, the most fitting emotion on his face is shock, clear in the slight drop of his jaw and the wide eyes.
You stare at him, panting with the force of every ounce of grief and pain and anger (yes, anger, toward him, for making you get even an iota closer to forgetting Latios) you've kept bottled up inside for the last fifty days, the tiniest hint of contrition flitting through you before even that vanishes.
Then he leans in, and the softness in his voice makes you lower the claw you had forgotten was still pressed against his chest.
"You're quite possibly the biggest hypocrite alive," he whispers. "You preach at me for not letting anyone in, when you're guilty of the exact same thing. Latios was the only one you really talked to and trusted, and now that he's gone, you don't know how to do the same for anyone else. You don't even realize I've been trying to let you in this entire time."
Is that a tremble in his voice?
Then he turns, flicking his tail over your face, and sets off toward the other end of the hallway.
You watch him go, heart beginning to race at everything he'd just revealed to you. The irony of him caring enough to allow you into his heart – him, Rayquaza, who next to Giratina is probably the biggest social pariah of the council – is so painful you could scream.
And yet – doesn't this explain his behavior in the last few weeks? Talking to you about Groudon and Kyogre, understanding you needed time to process and at least try to conquer your grief, even putting a temporary hold on his precious patrol to see if you were all right?
Suddenly, you understand why you felt so much warmth at the thought of Rayquaza's desire not to touch and break you, at the memory of how he looks at you, at everything that made Latios so wary of him.
It's not because you've fallen out of love with Latios. Arceus forbid that much.
It's because the potential to love Rayquaza the same way he so clearly loves you is there, and you don't want it to go away so soon.
73 days before
You and Latios have had little spats and quarrels with one another in the past, but somehow, the wonderfully rare arguments seem much more agonizing once you've entered into your relationship. This makes itself clear on a bleak winter day, when snow blankets the ground of Alto Mare and casts the stone fountain in a sheath of frost.
It's ironic, then, that even now you barely remember what it was about. You remember him snarling at you, and you weakly trying to rebuff his accusations; tears and pain and your heart rending in two (not unlike now, at losing him for good). You remember thinking of Rayquaza, and how the two of you weren't like that at all –
Oh, wait. Now you remember.
"I thought you didn't care about him!" Latios spits at her, darting off through the stark trees. Helplessly, you follow, hands clenched over your heart, shouting after him.
"Latios, please…" you try, but even to you it sounds pathetic, so you just close your mouth and shut your eyes and resign yourself to his anger.
Yet in spite of Latios' tendency to focus far too deeply on the negative things (another flaw; the fact that only after his death do his flaws become clear to you is not lost on you), his enmity only lasts until later that night, when stars blanket the sky and you're sitting in the nest you share with him counting the constellations through teary eyes.
He slides in beside you, and you refuse to look at him but those tears in your eyes just get all the larger and vision-impeding. Silence for a moment; then you flinch and take a ragged breath as his claw brushes beneath your eye and sweeps away the tear that had escaped onto your face.
"I know you don't feel that way about him," Latios murmurs, leaning his head against yours, and you find yourself pressing back with all the desperation in your body. "But… the way he looks at you sometimes… I just…"
Like he's afraid of shattering you, the voice of the past whispers.
You turn your head to look at him, white-furred cheek brushing his in the process, and gaze into his (blood) crimson eyes with your vision blurred both by sadness and his proximity. "I wouldn't," you say, so softly it's nearly swept away into the icy night. "I'd never stop loving you. I promise."
And he smiles, the upward movement of his lips barely visible, and says, "I know."
(That night had been cold.
Tonight, the night you spend reminiscing on how you'd told him this would never happen – you promised, you promised, on your heart you'd promised – even though spring covers Alto Mare, it's even colder.)
66 days after
Apologies aren't familiar to you. They're painful for most legendaries, you know that much; but the feelings behind those two significant words are something you can't say you have experienced for yourself that often.
Despite that, here you float outside the main chamber of the Sky Pillar, hovering high above and peering into the hole in the roof of the tower. The room is wreathed in shadow, precluding you from getting a better view of its interior, and hope flares inside you that Rayquaza is out patrolling Hoenn again.
But then a flicker of movement draws your gaze – and no, you think with a sinking heart, there he is, coiled up in a deceptively relaxed position whose illusion is shattered by the twitch of his plated tail. As though he's trying to get to sleep, but that sleep eludes him.
You hesitate, then take a deep breath and swoop inside.
"Rayquaza?" you call out, softly at first, and when he only shifts and growls irritably, you risk moving closer. "Are you awake?"
At this point his long-bodied shape has become perfectly clear to you, every scale on his form visible. And you've never been this close to Rayquaza before, but you find yourself soaking up this moment of vulnerability (though that's over if, oh, say, he wakes up from his half-asleep stupor right now) and making it your own – not for blackmail purposes, like your old, playful, Latios-drunk self would have (because that drug is gone and you know it), but because you are truly interested in how he looks without a glare and his walls thrown up.
It's surprisingly beautiful, you realize, as you take him in without realizing the breath has caught in your throat. You had memorized Latios and everything about him by the time your feelings for him had arisen, but Rayquaza is a new beast entirely, his scars and little nuances completely unfamiliar to him. For a moment, you scan him as best you can in the half-light offered by the twilight: little nicks and cuts in the junction between one segment of his body and the next; the notch in his right ear; the way his brow is furrowed even in half-sleep.
The sound of the waves crashing far, far below knocks you out of your trance, and all at once, you become aware of what you're doing: staring far too deeply at someone who is not the one you love (loved – but that possibility chokes you and you push it back at once, because you'll never stop loving Latios) and memorizing his every detail. Quickly, you pull away and call his name a little louder. "Rayquaza?" In a small voice, you add, "Ray?"
Amusingly, the nickname seems enough to rouse him. He lifts his head and glares with bleary eyes at her. "What?" he growls, before it hits him who exactly has come to pay him an early-evening visit and sitting up. "Latias," he greets, icily. So he really hasn't forgiven you.
"Hi," you say softly. "I, um… I wanted to apologize. For how I acted after the meeting."
His response to your quick, to-the-point confession is not what you'd expected: surprise flits over his countenance, and he straightens, bracing the claws of his tiny hands against the floor. Golden eyes meet yours, and they remind you of the sun (not blood, like his had).
Then he sighs and scratches his claws against the ground, creating new furrows amidst half-gone scars on the ground. "Apology accepted. I, uh… I meant everything I said to you," he adds clumsily.
And you know what he means by everything. Everything about wanting to let you in, and wanting you to return the favor. About you being just as clueless about that process as he.
(Maybe he's not so terrified of possibly breaking you after all.)
Your thoughts must have shown on your face, because Rayquaza frowns even more deeply. "What?"
You blink a couple of times, thinking – then decide you might as well begin the friendship with him here (because isn't that the true moniker for what he wants from her, feelings for her aside?) and tell him what's going on. "Latios used to say you would look at me like… like I'm something fragile," you say, with a chuckle. Just thinking about his little grumpy face when he'd said that sends an unexpected spike of pain through your heart, and suddenly you have to fight tears all over again. Arceus, you miss him so much; how could you have ever tricked yourself into thinking you didn't?
Wiping the agony from your features proves surprisingly easy, easier than the realization offered by Rayquaza's proposal, and you wonder what that signifies. Nevertheless, you know you owe it to him to finish speaking, so you do, albeit with a sense of heaviness in your chest. "I guess it's just kind of funny that you're not afraid of breaking me anymore."
Rayquaza narrows his eyes. "Did he really say that about me?" When you only nod, unable to say anything, he snorts and rolls his eyes, though his voice is surprisingly gentle. "Latias, you've never been more fragile," he says, making you lift your head and look at him through blurred eyes. "That's why I'm not afraid."
73 days after
"They're having fireworks in Mossdeep City tomorrow night," Rayquaza explains gruffly, not meeting her curious gaze. "Celebrating the year the Space Center was built or something. I…" He hesitates, continues, though not without a hint of nervousness, an emotion so odd for him that you feel a powerful rush of affection for your almost-maybe-friend. "Fireworks are one of the few things I don't hate about this world, and I didn't want to enjoy them alone."
He dodges around the actual question will you go with me, but it's more than implied, floating up from him like a toxic fog into the perfect seventy-three-degree air of the Hall of Legends. You can only stare at him for a few moments, heart beginning to race at the pleading in his eyes. At the unspoken please agree to go please please please.
(It reminds you of how Latios had looked the first time he had proffered any sort of desire to be in a romantic – gulp – situation with you. All hesitant and scared. So different from his normal demeanor.
It's maybe that moment that it hits you, how similar Latios and Rayquaza are.
And maybe it's that thought alone that makes you say what you say next.)
"All right," you agree, and the way those sunlight eyes fly open makes you smile.
75 days after
The outing (you refuse to call it a date, because that's a bit of a stretch for Rayquaza and your memory of Latios twitches violently at the label) went well. Hovering just outside the city limits, the two of you had watched the multicolored sprays of light explode into the sky and pointed out shapes you found there – on your insistence, of course. What Rayquaza had failed to mention was that he liked to stiffly look on, arms folded, with an introspective glow in his gaze you had so often seen before meetings as he watched the fireworks.
Eventually the silence had proved too much for you, crushing you in its thought-heralding grasp and spurring your doubts to nearly suffocate you. So you'd suggested the two of you search for images in the explosions. The ease with which he had agreed startled you, and you'd wondered whether he had doubts sweeping in on him as well.
You had remained there, letting the sea breeze caress your pelt, until long after the last flare had ebbed. Stared out into the darkness, reached out for Latios before remembering he wasn't there and lowering your hand in bitter disappointment.
Then Rayquaza had turned to you and said, "Do you want to head back to the Sky Pillar?"
You'd almost agreed, then. The desire to stay with him had nearly overwhelmed you, so strongly you could barely breathe with the force of it. At the time you hadn't even understood why, just knew you needed conversation. Companionship. The sound of another voice bouncing off yours, no matter how contemptuous.
But then Latios had floated into your mind, given you a baleful look, and told her you promised.
So you'd stuttered out something about how it was late and you needed to get back to Alto Mare, and even with the paltry light offered by the stars reflected in the waves far below you could see it glow off the disappointment in his gaze. To his credit, he concealed it rather well, only saying he understood.
(Relief. Guilty relief. That's all that pervades your senses as you remember his words.)
Just as you were turning to leave, though, you'd felt a careful hand grasp yours, and nearly jumped up in terror in the darkness before realizing the hand belonged to him. Strange, because you would never have thought him capable of such tenderness.
(But he had always appraised you with that tenderness. And the thought crosses your mind – as it did at that moment – that you don't deserve even the semblance of that pity-not-love, you who have spent your life loving someone else you're forgetting about.)
"Hey," Rayquaza said, his lips quirking upward in an actual, honest smile. "I had fun."
Gold met gold then. Even now you don't know who leans in first, but either way the dark shape of his snout was suddenly inching into near invisibility in your vision. Surprise and revulsion alike filled you at how your heart began to pound. Latios Latios Latios, think of him, think of him –
Rayquaza panicked, though, and pulled back just before your muzzles could touch. "I'll see you later," he said, hastily, and before you could react properly to his sudden change of heart he was gone.
(The day after, you stare up at the sky and think of his breath on your face. Of how memory-Latios had completely slipped your mind.
And you wonder – how can anyone find it in their hearts to love someone else?)
473 days before
That day you're feeling particularly bold, so you get close enough to lock your pinky claw with his.
And he just gives a start and stares down at your adjoined grip. You giggle and nuzzle closer to him. "I saw a couple in the park doing it a while back," you tell him, heart secretly pounding at how he might take this. "It looked… sweet."
"Sweet?" Latios repeats stupidly, red eyes wide as he stares at your pinky locked with his.
"Yeah," you affirm, hesitation oozing into your voice. "Is… this is okay, right?"
He eyes you with both surprise and affection taking over his prior shock, and he sighs, curling his claw around yours and causing tendrils of electricity to shoot up from the source of the contact. "Yeah," he says. "This is… perfect."
517 days before
Latios glances over at you, the multicolored light from the fireworks bathing his face in a preternatural glow before that, too, fades, leaving him in darkness again. "Are you all right?" he asks, concern etched into every word. "You seem kind of subdued tonight."
You lift your head and meet his gaze as best you can in the muffled light. Since you know him so well – every scar and nuance and imperfection – you can almost see the genuine worry turning his little grumpy face into something far less humorous, and feel your heart twinge under the weight of all it's carrying.
I love you, you want to say. I love you and want to stay with you and need you to say you feel the same.
And oh, isn't it ironic, that you – the shameless one of the two of you – can't summon up that shamelessness and just blurt it out?
So you don a blithe mask (it's never feigned, but it is now) and smile. "Nothing," you say. "Just… thinking if these days can last forever."
It's not a far cry from the truth, you try to console yourself.
The words have a different effect on your counterpart than you'd expected: a surprised murmur is heard from his direction, followed by a soft sigh that you have to strain to hear.
"Nothing is forever," he says. You blink, opening your mouth to deny it; but he knows you well enough to anticipate your rebuttal and can cut you off in time, even though the darkness keeps him from seeing your attempt. "Not even for us legendaries. Timelessness… it's… a concept that is more mundane than anything else. In fact, that's exactly what it is. A concept.
"But that's why it's so malleable. Why it's something we can make our own."
You only listen to him, mildly confused and wandering even further away from his point as he speaks. When he gets like this – all thoughtful and deep and contemplative – you never know how to respond.
He saves you from trying to figure out how by taking your hand. Every trace of bemusement immediately is wiped from your mind, replaced by only the knowledge of your racing heartbeat.
"I know you probably don't get it," he says. "But maybe we'll have the chance to figure it out someday."
85 days after
You look up and can't hold back a smile at the sight of Rayquaza's slender form high above, his green skin stark against the dark gray clouds that have gathered over Alto Mare. Apparently the sight of your reaction pleases him, because he does what you can count on one hand of his having done it and actually unknots his brow long enough to return your smile.
"Good afternoon," you call up to him, as he dips down and begins to descend into Alto Mare's garden. As he completes his descent and straightens his body to steady himself in midair, his gaze locks onto yours, and immediately every memory of that outing (date, date, date, it was a date and you know it) rushes back into your mind with the force of a flood.
(fireworks wanting Latios Rayquaza's breath on your face his invitation you wish you'd taken it)
"I, um… What's going on?" you stutter out, hoping, as always, to find distraction in conversation. As always, it doesn't work; you can only remember the way fear had flickered across his eyes as he had withdrawn from your hold.
Rayquaza blinks. "Just wanted to see you, I guess," he says, and he sounds so earnest it makes you want to cry.
With herculean effort, you shake it off (he doesn't want to see your tears) and give your attempt at a smile. "Oh. Thanks."
"I was hoping we could talk," Rayquaza adds, sweeping past you and further into the garden. You catch the final traces of the garden's wild Pokemon recoiling into the foliage as the green dragon passes and have to cover your mouth to muffle your giggle; Rayquaza is intimidating, yes, but the past few months of his friendship have told you more lies beneath that façade.
(And then you have to do a mental double-take, because has it really been months since Latios –)
"I wanted to talk to you." Rayquaza hesitates then, actually hesitates, such a rare behavior for him that the desire to tease him for it darts across your mind.
Just before his next words shatter that desire entirely.
"About Latios," he says, softly. Carefully.
He turns around and looks at you, then, and even through the haze of panic that engulfs your mind you have to admire how he steels himself to meet your gaze. Almost as if he knows how much the topic hurts you.
(Like you're something breakable, Latios whispers, and right now it's true, that tentativeness has returned to his eyes all over again.
Even now that he knows you can take anything he throws at you.
Except this. Never this.)
"I could see the way you looked at him," Rayquaza says, the tone to his voice suggesting pain, like it hurts him to have to broach this subject to her. "Even before that meeting day when you got there holding hands. You loved him; I could see that. And I didn't want to break you two apart. Not when you seemed so happy."
You remember the day he's talking about. Latios' claws had fit perfectly into the spaces between yours, and you'd thought, that's a sign, right? That this is right.
(That first night after his death, you had spent the hours that insomnia plagued you twining one hand with the other and pretending one was his.)
"And then he died, and you changed." He sees you about to say something, about to deliver the uncharacteristically bitter remark yeah, losing the one you love tends to do that, and cuts you off before you can speak. "Latias, just hear me out. This…" Swallows, renews eye contact, tries to reaffix the armor always in his voice even when every word is breaking it apart bit by bit. "I might be confessing how I feel by the time I get done with this, and it's something I need to say."
Clumsy, awkward, brusque, to-the-point.
Exactly how Latios had done it, several months and an eternity ago.
"You changed, and I thought – I thought, maybe it's possible that… that I could be friends with her. Make sure she never has to put on that fake happiness ever again." Rayquaza laughs, a harsh, angry sound that emerges amongst the thud thud thud of the clouds above beginning to unload their rainy burden. "It's corny as hell. I know that. But it's how I feel."
Sunlight eyes lock on yours, and it hits you that maybe you can be in love with two at once after all.
Because his words send not only embarrassment and panic and terror surging and twisting through your body – but acceptance.
(And memory-Latios voices his disapproval only for a moment before receding.)
(Well – do what you must.)
Silence permeates the air between the two of you. You can only stare at Rayquaza through the curtain of steadily-increasing rain, taking in the nervousness that is conveyed through his fidgeting claws and narrowed eyes, and find yourself ignoring the whispers of the wild Pokemon you've all but forgotten still look on.
"I'm not him," Rayquaza states bluntly, blinking the water off his lashes. "But I don't want to be. He's gone, Latias. And he won't come back."
The bitter change of tack he has chosen sends a dagger of grief lancing through your heart all over again, and the pain coaxes a gasp out of you. It's a fact that you've known since that seventeenth day (and how long ago was that, anyway? Denial hasn't deluded you since then, so it should be okay to hear this, right?), but that fails to preclude the way the pain leaves you all but speechless.
(I love you, Latios says.
It's because to some extent… I agree with him, Latios says.
We don't even look that similar. Why would you assume that? Latios says.
Yeah. This is… perfect, Latios says.
And maybe then your heart shatters entirely, too much for time and grief and loss and possibly forgetting to take anymore. It's a silent process, but a very tangible one, one that leaves you choking on the rain-laden air and completely disregarding the water soaking into your skin and making you bone-chilled.
Rayquaza sees your distress; he has to, because fear crosses his face, fear that he's said far too much, but regardless he opens his mouth to say more.
He can't, though, because the impact of you colliding with him drives every contrite remark away.
"I can't," you sob against his chest, clutching him like he's the only anchor to reality (which, for all the world, he is, because he's not soft like Latios or round like Latios and this is wrong, it's not him, but you don't even care anymore because the hint of love is there). "I can't… I don't know how to –"
He just shushes you, one arm curling around your back, and you can feel his chin nestling against the top of your head. Surrounding you. Keeping you safe.
(Latios would get it. Right?)
The storm rages on.
115 days after
"I think I finally understand," you say suddenly.
From next to you, Rayquaza gives you a bemused sidelong glance. "Well, that came out of nowhere," he says, narrowing one eye in an imitation of a human raising their eyebrow. "What, pray tell, do you understand?"
Although normally the words would have emerged on the fiery current of acrimony, he manages to keep the question fairly neutral, curious, genuinely interested.
And you want to tell him the honest truth. Of how it had just hit you, what Latios had meant all those months ago when he had dissected the concept of forever.
But something tells you he wouldn't quite understand it, either, freshly taken and buoyed by the honeymoon phase of love as you had been back then.
There's no such thing as forever. Not even you – you, or Rayquaza, or Latios, or even Arceus, no legendary at all – no being, mundane or arcane alike, is immune to that fact of life. Latios dying had been proof enough of that. Loss alone, you reflect, is proof of that.
But there is such a thing as today.
Rayquaza had kept you from losing yourself in the past, and taught you that much, without even meaning to.
You say none of this aloud, though. You just brush your claws over the Soul Dew, sitting glowing in all its azure glory in the fountain (watching over, even now, keeping you safe, just like he had in life), and smile.
"Everything," you say, and know it's true.
Now review, please, and let me know I didn't go too overboard with this. Because I feel like I did. XO