Ezra was jolted awake by loud shouts and the sound of a crowd moving through the city.
Such occurrences were not uncommon, but the boy couldn't think of any recent celebration that would warrant a drunken mob, which drove him out of his dark corner within the city's labyrinthine alleys.
Like many other children before him, Ezra had ran away from his place of birth as soon as he was able and had taken to life on the streets.
You learned quickly in such an environment, or else you wouldn't last long, and unlike many before him, Ezra was a natural at sneaking around and getting into places children weren't allowed.
Well, technically weren't allowed, as children were expected to help when called on by their seniors whether they were street urchins or well-groomed sons and daughters of those with rank. Such rules were enforced by the magical creatures that had been tamed over the years.
Ezra had long since endeared himself to most of the city's watchdogs and most of their chases were for show, but that didn't spare him from getting caught and punished anyway.
One such creature was a female pichu with a notched ear who had attached herself to him and followed him everywhere.
Shadowing the crowd, Ezra picked up a few interesting bits of information.
"Did you hear? Damos killed Arceus and ensured the survival of our city!"
Arceus was a name the boy had heard before. Legends had told of its generosity that had allowed the city to flourish in the first place and the thought of turning on such a benefactor didn't sit well in the boy's gut. The fact Pichu bristled on his shoulder showed she didn't like it either and Ezra gently rubbed her notched ear to soothe her.
"And it's now buried in the old ruins."
"Good riddance. Now we can focus on getting the crops in and get ready for winter..."
Ezra broke off from shadowing the mob and scampered up a nearby wall, taking to the rooftops for faster traversal. He glanced up at the palace that dominated the eastern skyline before turning his back on it to head in the direction of the old palace.
Which lay outside the city walls, within the nearby forest that had long since swallowed it.
Venturing outside the city limits - especially after dark - was dangerous enough without either an armed guard or a creature to protect you. Ezra leaped into the branches of a tree growing by the wall without a second thought and vanished into the gloom.
Plunging into the forest, Ezra again clambered to a higher level, since most of the larger dangerous creatures couldn't climb the thin trees and the ones living in the leaves were asleep.
He paused outside a cave when Pichu let out a squeak. Sounds emanated from within and Ezra glanced at Pichu, who nodded encouragingly.
Entering the cave, Ezra noticed the opening had been widened, with loose bits of rubble littering the floor. Carefully brushing a foot along the ground to avoid stepping on any sharp rocks, Ezra froze as he stepped in something warm and wet. The scent of blood filled his nostrils and he gulped.
Venturing forward seemed less and less fun, but Pichu shocked him when he turned to leave.
"I don't want to become lunch," he hissed at the mouse, who was emitting a soft yellow glow in the gloom. She rolled her eyes and motioned for him to continue forward.
Ezra hesitated before giving in to his curiosity, going further.
He rounded a corner and stopped, staring at the scene in front of him.
A massive four-legged creature lay on a bed of moss, sides rising and falling slowly as it breathed. Its body was covered in all manner of wounds - some scabbed over, others still oozing blood.
The most prominent feature of the creature was a golden ring around its middle, one Ezra recognized from pictures.
"Arceus..." he breathed, awestruck.
The creature stirred at his voice and Ezra ducked back around the corner, hands clasped over his traitorous mouth. To his horror, Pichu jumped off his shoulder and scampered towards Arceus, chattering excitedly.
"You don't need to tell me, little one. I knew he was there the moment he set foot in this cave. Come out of hiding, child. You have nothing to fear from me anyway. If you're here to kill me, I merely ask that you make it as quick and painless as you can."
Ezra rubbed his head as a voice sounded within it. He wasn't sure whether it was male or female, young or old. It was surprisingly relaxed and not at all what he expected.
Slowly stepping into view, Ezra moved carefully, hands out to his sides to show he was unarmed. It was a trick he'd picked up from the city's creature tamers, who found it easier to approach them if you didn't show any aggressi-
"You look like an idiot."
Ezra straightened up, scowling. "Oi!"
Arceus slowly lifted its head and looked at him. The glowing red eyes bored into the child before slowly blinking.
"A child? They send a child to finish me off? I'd be offended if I wasn't so tired."
Pichu clambered onto Arceus' body and licked at one of its wounds gently. Ezra frowned and took a step forward.
"How can I help you?"
The question hung in the air and Arceus blinked in surprise.
"Help? Why would you help me?"
"You're hurt! Why wouldn't I help you?" Ezra said, taking another step.
"You are a human, like the one that tried to kill me."
"Damos?" Ezra asked, remembering the name one townsperson had uttered.
"No, not him. It was...someone else. Can't really think straight at the moment."
Ezra reached Arceus' side and frowned. "How did you get here, anyway?"
Arceus sighed and winced in pain, shifting on the moss. "My children brought me here and went off to gather berries. Kinda surprised they let you in here, actually."
Its gaze then fell on the Pichu climbing on it.
"Ah, no wonder. She was with you."
"What's she got to do with it?" Ezra asked.
"She doesn't pick just anyone to follow. There's something about you she likes and the rest know better than to argue with her."
The ground suddenly erupted with several small geysers of dirt and several bidoof and another pichu climbed out of the holes, holding all manner of berries. They glanced at Ezra, then at Pichu, then proceeded to ignore him, depositing their berries within reach of Arceus' head. The other pichu ran up to the notch-eared one and Ezra noticed its coat was a darker shade of yellow than the other.
Arceus ate a few berries and relaxed, sighing softly before it glanced at Ezra.
"Well, boy, what are you going to do now? Lead your kin here to kill me before I get my strength back?"
"Don't lump me in with them," Ezra said, crossing his arms. "I don't like them any more than you do."
Arceus glanced at the various bruises covering the boy's limbs and after a moment, it pushed some berries his way.
Ezra blinked in surprise before taking a Sitrus berry. Biting into it, he winced as the flavor flooded his mouth and he almost spat it out. He wasn't used to such flavor and it took him a few seconds to swallow it. Catching his breath, he finished the berry and grabbed another and in a few minutes had eaten three more.
"Most odd," Arceus said, watching as the boy's head drooped from a mixture of good food, the warm interior of the cave and exhaustion. "Who are you?"
But the boy had already fallen asleep and didn't answer.
"Do you have a name, boy?" Arceus asked.
The child looked up from where it was helping the spiky-eared pichu grind some berries into a mixture with a frown.
"I do, but nobody ever uses it," he said with a shake of his head as the pichu offered him a berry.
"Well, it would be nice to call you something other than 'boy' or 'you'," Arceus said, wincing as it shifted on its bedding.
The boy carried a few bowls of mashed berries over to the pokémon and watched carefully as it licked the bowls clean, yet seemed hesitant to speak.
Arceus simply gazed at the young human, who had risked the wrath of his kinsmen by helping the pokémon they had sworn to destroy.
"Most people just call me Ezra," the boy said after Arceus had finished eating. Taking the bowls, he said down and began cleaning them with the help of a totodile and cyndaquil. Giving the cleaned dishes to a pikachu-colored pichu, the boy then glanced at Arceus, who had taken on a thoughtful look.
"Do they treat you well?" Arceus asked. The boy went still, arms resting on his knees.
"They treat me the same as the other dregs of society. Children are ignored, but are still expected to help with whatever needs doing that can't be handled by the creatures."
"Pokémon," Arceus corrected absently, mind churning.
"Poké...mon?" the boy asked, sounding it out slowly. "Does that mean anything?"
Arceus chuckled softly. "Some time, many centuries from now, you'll be able to carry those creatures you call monsters in your pockets."
The boy snorted in disbelief. "I do not believe you." He glanced at the two pichu and totodile. "They'd never be able to fit."
Arceus smiled and extended a leg towards the child. "Would you like to leave this place and come with me to my home?"
The boy stared at Arceus with a frown, before turning away, drawing his knees to his chest.
Time passed and the sun slowly sank, bathing the world in a warm amber glow.
The boy hadn't moved and Arceus hadn't repeated its question.
Finally, the boy exhaled and flopped onto his back, staring up at the sky.
"Yeah," he said softly. "I'd like that very much."
Arceus shivered violently and the boy paused his activities and stared at it curiously.
Arceus abruptly vanished and the boy stood up in alarm.
A moment later, Arceus reappeared, but...
The boy's legs failed him and he sat down hard.
The golden ring around Arceus' body was gone and the pokémon was covered in wounds, ranging from gouges to scratches.
"Well," Arceus said bitterly. "There's that settled."
It blinked and shook its head, glowing briefly as it healed itself. "Mhhh...feels so good to have my power back," it said happily, turning towards the boy. Seeing the state the child was in, the mirth melted from Arceus like water off a piplup. "What's wrong?"
"What was that?!" the boy cried, throwing his arms wide. "You get up all panicked, then poof, you vanish before coming back almost instantly - what happened?!"
"Oh. Cyrus remade reality and had to be smacked around a bit before things settled down."
The boy stared at Arceus in disbelief.
"You're an idiot," the boy grumbled.
Arceus embraced the child and nuzzled him tenderly. "Sorry for doing that, but it would've been far too dangerous to have had you by my side. Things got a little dicey and I had to remove my limiter to handle it."
The boy glanced at Arceus' bare body and frowned. "Limiter?"
"It's what keeps my phenomenal cosmic power in check, otherwise I'd probably be erasing things and making new universes every time I sneezed or whatever."
"I've never seen you sneeze," the boy said doubtfully.
"That's how you know it's working," Arceus said, nuzzling the child's head.
"Sod off," the boy grumbled, pushing Arceus' nose away from his hair. "So...uh...now that you don't have it-"
He blinked and then stared at the gleaming golden ring that adorned Arceus' body once more.
"Show off," the boy growled, before getting a thoughtful look on his face. "So, when you say "remade reality..." What do you mean by that?"
"Cyrus was a man who wanted to create a perfect world for himself. He gathered Dialga, Palkia, Giratina, Azelf, Uxie and Mesprit and did just that, but in doing so, caused all of reality itself to connect, opening up holes to them. Sure, it meant he got a lot of support from alternate versions of himself, but it also meant fifty times that number came through to stop him. It pretty chaotic and..." Arceus faltered before continuing. "Some universes were flat-out destroyed."
The boy stared at his hands, flexing them. "Would we have known?"
"I do not know."
"But it's over. Cyrus is gone, right?"
Arceus nodded and the boy smiled.
"So there's no need to worry about it any more."
"It's not that simple..."
Arceus trailed off when it got a look at the boy's face and noticed the wetness in the child's eyes.
"No...it's not something we need to trouble ourselves with. We came out relatively unscathed and that is what's important."
The child grinned and lifted his hands towards Arceus' face.
Rolling its eyes, Arceus lowered its head to the boy's waiting grasp and gave the boy a light nudge, receiving a kiss in return.
"I'm just glad you're back," the boy said. "Please don't do that again. Not without telling me first."
There were times when Arceus descended from the Hall of Origin to mingle with humans, disguising itself as one of them to observe them.
A few times, it had taken the boy along with itself and they passed themselves off as a father and son while they went around whatever town they decided to visit.
During one of their earlier trips, Arceus had made a startling discovery about the boy.
He had spent so long among pokémon that he didn't know how to interact with humans, to the point he didn't even speak the same language as they did. Arceus was careful to point that out during subsequent visits and Arceus had taken some time to educate the child in the basics of human behavior.
"Running at them excitedly, jumping onto them, and kissing them is not how you greet them," Arceus had explained with some amusement.
The boy had pouted and crossed his arms. "But that's boring. Why are humans so strict about physical boundaries?"
Arceus paused, frowning. "Social norms, such as hygiene and nobility status probably had something to do with it. The latter was more prevalent in the older eras and I do believe they've more-or-less phased that aspect out while enforcing the former. It's also about manners."
The boy rolled onto his back and lifted his arms above his head to touch Arceus' legs. "That's a shame. You learn so much about someone via physical touch and proximity."
"Unfortunately, humans have evolved beyond such understanding," Arceus said sadly. "Whether or not it was for the better...varies from person to person, and pokémon to pokémon."
"Well then," the boy declared. "From this day forth, I am a human no longer!"
Arceus blinked before shaking its head in amusement. "You are, of course, welcome to such thinking. You'll still have to abide by humanity's laws though."
The boy scowled. "But I'm not a human and their laws don't apply to me."
"They do," Arceus said sharply, causing the boy to blink at the tone shift. "There are laws in place to protect humans and pokémon alike. One of them does allow a human to use their pokémon to defend themselves if they feel threatened."
"Oh," the boy replied, staring up into Arceus' eyes. He looked away, exhaling hard before he took a breath and nodded. "Alright," he said cheerfully. "I can do that, at least."
Arceus nodded and gave the boy a nuzzle, who gave his nose a kiss and a hug in return.
Arceus and Mew watched as the boy scampered around the Hall of Origin, climbing all over the various other inhabitants and chattering away a mile a minute.
"You really know how to pick them," Mew remarked. "Haven't seen the Hall this lively since...I wanna say...the Time Crash?"
"We were lucky to come out of that relatively unscathed," Arceus said. "That boy is the result of the Crash, which caused my run-in with Marcus Gishin to go...differently."
"How so?" Mew asked curiously.
"Well, I didn't go to sleep for thousands of years, for one," Arceus said. "Instead, I was rescued by pokémon and nursed back to health by that child."
"So that's where you were these past weeks. And you brought him here," Mew noted. "Why?"
Arceus watched as the boy waved his arms animatedly, talking to Dialga about something or other and then glanced at Mew. "His living conditions were...less than ideal. No parents or support, no roof over his head, days without eating..."
"So you bring him here, where there's even less support and all those other things you mentioned," Mew said in disbelief. "I will ask again: why?"
Arceus smiled slightly as the boy glanced in its direction and grinned.
"I was given a chance to make someone happy and took it," Arceus murmured.
Mew stared at the Alpha Pokémon, eyes narrowed. "You...almost sound...infatuated with him," it said slowly.
Arceus blinked in surprise. Then it took a moment to think about the situation. "You may be right."
"People and pokémon are gonna talk," Mew warned. "Some will probably be uneasy about a relationship between a pokémon and one of its creations."
"Relationship?" Arceus said with a bark of laughter. "Never gonna happen."
"Of course, you say that now..." Mew said.
"I have a relationship with all of my creations," Arceus said cooly.
Mew raised its paws defensively. "I'm not judging you. You do whatever makes you happy, and if that child is able to make you laugh and smile, the least I can do is support you both."
"Thank you. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to prevent my ward from becoming a time traveler. DIALGA!"
Arceus woke up at a startled yelp and opened its eyes to see the boy backpedaling away from a hovering mass of glitched geometry.
"'M, I'd appreciate it if you didn't terrorize my ward," Arceus said politely.
The mass of glitches paused before a screaming face came to the surface and let out a wheezing gasp of laughter.
"Ward? Are you joking? What need does a god have for a ward?"
"He saved my life," Arceus said simply, causing the hovering error to go silent in thought.
Arceus glanced down at the child hiding behind its leg and smiled. "Pay 'M no heed. It's merely a curiosity."
'M morphed into an odd bird with pale purple/gray feathers and chuckled. "A curiosity, indeed! Understatement of the century there, my dear Arceus."
"That's the name of the game when it comes to you," Arceus replied. "What brings you here?"
The bird-type shrugged. "Was in the area and decided to drop by." It peered at the boy curiously, tilting its head. "Never thought you'd pick one of them up though. How did he save your life, O Invincible One?"
Arceus ignored the barb and gently pushed the child forward. "When Marcus betrayed me, I was buried. I was dug out by pokémon and carried to safety and then this child found me. He ignored the orders of his kind to care for me and helped me regain my strength."
"And you repaid him by stealing him away?" 'M said shrewdly.
"I came because Arceus offered me a better life!" the boy said defensively.
"Ah, it speaks!" 'M cackled. "Splendid, splendid. And quite quick to leap to your side," it added. "How sweet."
The boy's ears heated and he glanced at Arceus before looking back at 'M, who flapped its wings.
"Well, it's been nice seeing you again. Unfortunately, I've got places to be and not a lot of time to get there before the window closes, so if you'll excuse me..."
The bird flapped its wings before forming back into a shapeless mass before it twisted out of existence.
The boy sat down and leaned against Arceus. "I didn't understand any of that."
Arceus sighed heavily. "Neither do I, honestly. 'M is a byproduct of the time crash from a while ago and it's been poking around seeing what's going on in different universes. It's merely a force of curiosity and wants to know everything. Whether or not it's malevolent...depends on the universe, I suspect."
The boy stroked Arceus' leg lightly and raised an eyebrow. "So it takes on aspects of the universe it currently occupies? That'd explain the odd bird form, I suppose. Kinda wanna see what other forms it takes now. Something to ask next time it pops up, I guess."
Arceus grimaced, not really looking forward to it.
The boy stared at the gift Arceus had gotten him curiously.
"A poké ball?" he said in surprise. "Whatever for?"
Arceus knelt in front of the boy, leaning down to nuzzle him affectionately.
"I do it as...a way of solidifying our bond," Arceus said.
The boy stared down at the ball again, turning it over in his hands. He then looked up at Arceus with a smile. "I..." He ducked his head, ears burning. "I'm not entirely sure what to say here."
"An exchange of vows, usually. At least, I think that is the human equivalent to what is happening here."
"I see," the boy murmured, resting his head against Arceus'.
I am here for you and nobody else.
When I smell your scent I'll always melt.
My heart is in your hands.
Nobody can take care of it like you can.
From this day forward,
You shall not walk alone.
My heart will be your shelter,
And my arms will be your home.
My promise to you is simple,
I'll endure until the end.
I'll be your one and only,
Your lover and your friend,
I'll listen and I'll nurture,
I'll fight and I'll be true.
I'll do my equal share and I will never give up on you.
I'll try to do my very best,
To fulfil your every need.
I'll walk beside you hand in hand,
I'll help you to succeed.
I'll be your constant equal,
I'll give you room to grow,
I'll tend to you when you are sick,
Build you up when you are low.
I stand before these witnesses,
And I say unto you,
No matter what hard times we face,
Our love will make it through.
The boy touched the poké ball to Arceus' forehead and the Alpha Pokémon dissolved into pure white light. The ball wobbled for a few seconds before it beeped successfully.
The boy cradled the poké ball to his chest before he kissed it and opened it.
Arceus curled its neck around the boy and the two shared their thoughts with one another on a level only they could understand.
Arceus was many things.
Infallible was not one of them.
The being paced back and forth in front of a store, staring at the various knickknacks on display in the large window.
What to get for its partner?
The young boy never asked for anything, seemingly content with watching Arceus work, offering his own suggestions now and again whenever a problem caught the Alpha Pokémon's attention.
Toys and clothing were meaningless. The boy had all the playmates he could ever hope for among the Legendary and Mythical pokémon that called the Hall of Origin their home.
Arceus paused, head tilted.
Perhaps that was the answer.
Teleporting, Arceus appeared back in the Hall.
Looking around, it spotted the boy deep in conversation with Manaphy and Lugia, balancing Phione on his head while doing so.
Arceus took a moment to watch, admiring the boy's smile, which came easily and naturally to his face. The boy's eyes landed on Arceus and his smile turned radiant.
Handing Phione to Manaphy, he made his way to Arceus and hugged the pokémon's leg. Arceus lifted the boy onto its back and turned its head to look at him.
"Dare I ask what you were plotting with those two?" Arceus asked, giving the boy a nuzzle.
"We were discussing the possibility of organizing a get-together. Manaphy hasn't visited Lugia in a while and they've finally managed to coordinate their schedules for a meeting," the boy said.
"Oh," Arceus said, taken aback. The boy frowned briefly, touching Arceus' neck.
Arceus sighed before gazing at Manaphy and Lugia. "Well...I was planning on taking you to the temple of the sea for our anniversary, but if you were already making plans..."
"Ah," the boy said. "I see. I'm sorry."
He leaned against Arceus and stroked its neck tenderly. "Would it help if I said I don't care where we go as long as you're there with me?"
Arceus smiled, nuzzling the boy's hair affectionately. "It helps, even if it's quite a silly sentiment."
"There's nothing wrong with the classics."