Author's Note: I was really, really struggling with Marc's death scene, trying every route possible to keep it from being too dramatic and cheesy. Failing this, I had no choice but to make Marc's last line comic relief. Which makes it sadder somehow. shrug Meeko's rebirth was also a struggle, because /any/ sort of coming back to life is so freakishly cheap (hehe, sorry Lacey, the truth comes out) that I felt like I was violating a religion. I just couldn't live with a sad ending! Okay, it was still pretty sad, but there was no way I would defy the laws I'd created in the story just to bring back a character. I was disappointed by the awakening scene in the last chapter, probably the ending. It didn't turn out like I wanted it. Kinda funny how the story controls the author after a while instead of the other way around, huh? This last chapter is a perfect example of falling action. Nothing exceptional happens here, except maybe the completion of the story itself. It's just my little plot hole filler space. All I have to say to you guys is what I say every chapter... Enjoy!

Chapter Twenty Eight: The Last Chapter

When I slipped into a coma twenty three "days" ago I had just past the halfway mark of thirteen years. The next time I raised my human eyelids I was told that less than a month ago they mournfully celebrated my sixteenth birthday. Everything was mismatched now. I had the wit, maturity, and education of a preteen. My physical strength matched that of a three year olds, since I hadn't moved in so long. What's worse, my skill level in writing had finally been matched with my actual age (at thirteen I could write like a teenager). My soul was the tired, restful mind of an elder's.

It had taken several tries ((you have no idea)) to figure out how much faster time ran its course compared to the near slow motion of the pokémon universe. Apparently, as we sat idly watching fights and trekking through forests, every two and a third minutes that went by there cost an hour and a half over here. The final answer was so overwhelming that even now I wonder if it was correct.

All three of us went through countless physical therapy sessions. It's been almost eight months since we first started, and only now am I finding it easier to run short distances. I've gotten used to how deaf and useless human ears are.

Speaking of therapy, the ones with the long comfortable couch and the nosy doctors were, and still are, a great gamble. It's like they know how I spent my coma, but wanted the satisfaction of their patients telling it to them instead. There is no way in hell I'll tell them about the body change and the disembodied voice. Anti-depressants were wretched enough to take. Besides, I was sure they'd just connect everything that happened to books and movies I'd read before going under. It's quite possible. I have countless meaningless connections to the Voice in my head, the search for a certain tower, among other details therapists get paid handsomely to point out.

Ever since I returned home the Voice has been quiet. I know that each time I lose my temper or feel a mysterious rush of determination in dire situations its still there, influencing me, but I'm ready to embrace Instinct as long as it keeps its mouth shut. Thank god, right?

Well, maybe not God. I find it hard to believe a divine being was responsible for the creation of all those multi-universes when my former religion only preached about one. I don't buy it anymore. Yes to evolution, Karmha, and reincarnation.

After we regained enough strength, Jill, Joe, and I were forced to endure tutors struggling to fill in the blank spots of middle school. None of that knowledge was extremely important enough to commit to memory, aside from well known tricks that would assist me in classes such as chemistry and math. I've even forgotten those. Until we can wheel ourselves around in a wheelchair over long distances, our parents refuse to allow us to go on to our appropriate schools.

We became instant celebrities, being vaguely mentioned in movies or some other published work as advances in the field of science and the use of a sleeping pill to cure comas. Our mailbox is constantly filled up with letters from other families. They look for comforting words from us, hoping their own relatives would awaken from a coma if so-and-so was done to them. It was all very flattering for the first week or so.

We missed several major events in our absence from the world. The war against terror in Iraq was still going strong, but as some good news a woman has finally been elected commander in chief. I'll let you take a guess as to who it is. It seems gas prices have risen to near impossible numbers despite the fact that everyone has more than enough oil left to burn. I never really noticed the gradual effects of global warming until I experienced my latest "winter" on the north eastern coast. Another issue was the worst school shooting in history leaving over fifty people dead. It had followed about half a year after the second deadliest at a college in Virginia, so the tragedy is still fairly recent. For some strange reason, natural born honey bees (thoses that aren't cloned) became existinct, struck by a mysterious syndrome scientists are still baffled by. I can't say I'm sorry for that.

The tattoos on our palms are hardly visible anymore, even more so on Jill because she'd deliberately carved scratch marks into her hand to obliterate the image. She believes it to be the only memory linking her to that month long nightmare. I know better. Those hateful tags followed us all the way to our own universe. Thankfully, they'd appeared beneath the sheets of our hospital beds, unattached. Jill threw hers in the nearest trash, as well as Joe, and I later fished them back out to keep in storage. As a sort of keep sake, maybe.

Cel's plan to bring Shimmertail into this world must have worked. Within the same day of our awakening our long lost sister reappeared on the face of this earth somewhere a few miles from Boston. We've reunited since then, obviously, and none of us found it particularly strange that she spoke in heavily formal phrases. She hasn't mentioned anything about becoming an espeon, but that coincidence is too uncanny for me to lurk other possibilties. Shimmertail is our big sister, and I won't hear anything otherwise.

As for the little mutant? He's come to accept the fate of his legendary brethren and can only hope the next generation won't inherite the Instinct's strength. He still keeps in touch via dreams, giving me updates about Meeko, Shadowveil, and Adrian (and I pass the message on to the others). Unfortunately, the outlaw must have survived whatever it was Waterburn did to him. After he was released from the hospital he proceeded to search out that Griffin guy and give him Meeko's backpack with the camera in it. He must have succeeded in this, because so far no one's attempted to kill Meeko. They trust society not to believe in a child's accusations of illegal testing. Shadowveil remains the guardian of Ilex forest, and has recently become the guardian of captured pokémon released into the wild there as well.

After Cel transported Meeko back to Ecruteak city, the first move Meeko made was his return trip home. This took little time thanks to an available short cut leading from the five mile route to Violet city. In New Bark Town he'd drawn hardly any attention to himself, trusting no one old enough to be possible lab employees. His mother was more than overjoyed to see her son, partially bald or not. When she asked about his travels he curtly changed the subject, and, sensing his discomfort, his mother pretended to go along with it. She replaced his clothes and threw both shirt and pants away. Of course, she would have to have been a moron not to notice the blood and claw marks in the shirt's chest area. Her worry had deepened, but he seemed fine now and she didn't bother to pursue the matter.

According to his current thoughts, Meeko plans to release or give away his pokémon and go back to school. He isn't sure how to break this to Damion, since his gift of tongues wore off about an hour after the healing. I didn't need a soothsayer to know that those put back into the wild would all die eventually. Each had been drilled with the arts of fighting, yet knew squat about anything else. Cel also mentioned that in the late future Meeko would help shut down the lab in his birth town, but then again, Cel explained to me that in a few years he and Adrian would be on civil terms with each other. I'm still waiting for some proof of these theories.

It turns out a close online friend of mine from New York literally bought Jill, Joe, and me half a year's worth of time in the hospital beds. She'd heard of my falling into a coma and the financial issues that would soon follow, and worked her tail off to publish a best seller (way, way easier said than done, even for a writer like her). It was more out of service than pleasure to become an author so early, to which I apologized for when we met face-to-face for the first time a week after I woke up. Our families hold strong binds now, despite the distance of miles between us. That's one bright side.

Today, nine months after waking up, it's that time of the month again.

...not //that// time of the month.

Every month, on the same day we'd awakened, Jill, Joe, Krissy (Shimmertail, I'm telling you!), and I meet up at chosen spots. It could be the movies, the mall, one of our houses, the library, whatever. It's our own type of silent therapy, the one link keeping us from obeying the doctors and telling ourselves it was all a dream. Today the spot is Marc's grave, chosen by yours truly.

Krissy car pools us, not trusting either of we learner's permit weilders to drive after we'd taken our pills. She slows down outside the graveyard, but not without reminding us how she thinks driving around inside is disrespectful to the dead. We nod mutely, having heard this belief of hers more than once.

This month I'm hoping we can actually discuss our experience. I'd been having troubled thoughts lately about the idea of them all humoring me so as to prevent the complete breakdown of my psyche and the likes. Also, I wanted to banish this thought from them if they shared the same frightening scenario.

Krissy helps us out of the car and runs to the trunk to retrieve and unfold our wheelchairs. During this ten minute long period we lean against the car breathlessly, eyes shut, determined not to buckle and fall in an ashamed heap on the ground. It kills me to remain an invalid after all of the physical therapy I've endured, and more than once I wonder why Krissy hasn't suffered the same weakness. My raw envy of her mobility is only matched by my fear of never regaining all the strength I'd lost. The therapy was just so hard...

Krissy takes turns pushing us as we manuver, Joe most of the time because he has to juggle with a small bundle of flowers in his lap. Walking in a graveyard used to disturb me, but not anymore. I know that for every corpse in the ground it means the death of that person's Instinct. It's a win-lose situation I most definately favor. We don't visit Marc's grave that often (it tires us out emotionally), and finding its location is an exhaustion in itself. In all it takes fifteen minutes of clueless wandering, even with Marc's coordinates, to find it.

We sit outside the lines of his grave, the upturned dirt overrun with grass but still harshly visible. As I've expected, they all stare into space, faces unreadable. I feel a flicker of dismay and irritation.

"Hey, I need to say something guys." They turn at the sound of my voice, but their eyes are in another place. With all the attention on me, circled around a grave, I feel like a cult leader marking the beginning of a sick ritual. "From ten months ago."

A twitch of discomfort squirms through each of us like an unseen wave. Jill swallows and answers in a voice I mentally applaude for its neutrality. "Ten months ago we weren't alive, Jade. Don't you mean nine months?"

"No." I reply coldly. "I mean ten months. When we-"

"We were in comas. Dreaming our lives away."

"Oh, sure! Dreaming!" My own desperation drives me into shrill remarks. I lurch upward in my chair and reach behind my pants pocket to fish out three tiny items. When they find purchase I pull out the evil tags we'd brought over with us and shove them as close to her face as my arm span allows. I won't let her do to me what the therapists had already done to her. "So that means we dreamed these up out of nothing, huh? That Marc just died for no reason, huh!?"

There is nothing worse a feeling to the subconcious than the moments when their known logic is proven wrong. Driven by this wretched feeling, Jill heaves herself out of the wheelchair and claws at my hand. The force of the harmless tap sends the tags scattering to the ground, above the grave. I howl at the sight, my own logic questioned, and brace myself to rise from my seat. It's Krissy's firm voice devours the anger.

"Enough! Silence, both of you!" She snarls, and Jill stumbles back into her chair. The sudden movement has her suffering a brief period of nausea.

"I wonder the same thoughts." Krissy states after she has the attention of each of us. This is no ordinary month of staring out into space while our confused thoughts slowly drown us. She wants to straighten some issues out, too. "I want to know whether or not I have- I mean//I've// just dreamed everything up."

"You didn't! We all remember it. We felt pain, we met people who acted so... //real.//" I manage to keep from saying Meeko's name. It's become part of the unspoken rule. She nodded somberly.

"Yes, but ten months ago was a time of peril, mental turmoil, insanity..." Krissy looks to each one of us now, brown eyed and most definately sane. "I would rather it be a dream."

I flinch at the harsh words and summon up a quick retort. "Would you? Would it be better to know that Shadowveil never existed?"

That looks like it hits home; she sits there on the grass without anything else to say. I turn to Joe who, up until now, had been given the luxury of remaining quiet without my caring. He fidgits with the flowers in his hands.

"...I like to think that Marc died for a friend." He says, wringing the stalks of the unfortunate flowers. "That he's actually pretty good inside."

This concludes my lurking theory; Jill doesn't want to remember the Ten Months Ago because nothing in that time of madness made her want to. There's nothing keeping her faith anchored to the possibility of multiple universes. For Krissy it was Shadowveil, Joe's was the heroic death of Marc, and me... Well, I wouldn't have minded getting to know Meeko a little more. He reminded me of someone, somehow, though who exactly escapes me.

"Like it or not, it did happen, Jill." I state, closing my eyes to prep myself for the chore of retrieving the tags. After this month there will be no debates about Ten Months Ago with Jill. I don't mind letting her forget if it leads to her full recovery. She doesn't need to remember the pain.

I'm not so sure how to start off anymore, belittled by Jill's hostility, and slip into an extremely awkward silence. Joe saves me from my embarassment.

"What I want to know is why me and Marc evolved so quickly." He says, leaning forward to put down the flowers. "I'll deal with all of us evolving at the same time during that one battle, but that's something I can't let go of."

"Well, you're forgetting about what evolving actually is. The show dumbed it down to avoid religious issues, I think." I start, forgetting about my journey to grab the tags. "We evolved to adapt to the situation and avoid dying... and let's face it; that was as close to dying as we'll ever get to the real thing. I guess pokémon can just...speed up the process by a few million years."

"Mmm." He nods thoughtfully, digesting this. Joe appears satisfied enough, so I pick up where I'd left off.

"I just need to know that this really happened, everyone." I say, eyeing Jill. She glares at the papery hands folded on her lap. "After this, you can do what you want with your memories of it. Call it a dream, pretend it never happened, whatever."

"It's hard to call it a dream when you felt the pain so vividly." Jill comments, eyes sad, smile bitter. That's one issue I can't quench, so I continue as if I'd never heard it.

"Krissy, grab the tags for me, please. Thanks." Retrieving them from her, I toss one each to Jill and Joe. I feel qualms of regret for not having anything for my older sister, and hope she could use something else as a symbol for her Ten Months Ago.

"See these? They're your little reminders of what happened." I absentmindedly play with the durable plastic in my right hand. "You have to keep them until you think you're ready to let go of... that time."

"We've already let go, Jade. It's been almost a year, now..." Joe trails, examinating his tag.

"No, I mean really let go. Stop crying yourself to sleep over Marc. Don't feel guilty to smile. Try to get your strength back in physical therapy."

The four of us wince; physical therapy is a horrible invention to mankind.

"So." I hold my tag up as an example. "When you think you're ready to go on with your life... throw it away. Destroy it. Make sure you won't go back and find it again later on."

"So you just want me to forget about everything?" Joe growls, clutching his tag close. "Forget about Marc and Meeko?"

"I never said that." I retort. He shuts up satisfyingly fast. "Forgetting someone and going on with your life are different."

Krissy nods in agreement, no doubt already on this pathway given her wiser age of twenty-one. She probably won't need a tag to throw away. I sigh- it's a clincher sigh.

"That's all I have to say this month." I scan each of them, without much thought. They have nothing to add on, and the need to leave itches in our shoes. We hold a moment of silce for Marc, and then Krissy raises to her feet.

"Shall we atte- are we going to attend another gathering next month?" She asks, sensing a larger conclusion than this month's meeting.


"Okay." She and Jill begin their walk-and-wheel back to the car. Joe turns his chair and wheels after them, glancing down to make sure his tag still sat tucked in his front pocket. He still needs some thought about this, I assume. The teenager swerves his body around and gives me a puzzled glance.

"Are you coming, or what?"

I grin awkwardly. There's never a time they aren't. "I'll be there in a sec."

"You sure?"

"Mhmm. Now get out of here." He smiles at my typical rudeness and continues on down the paved walk. When he's out of sight, I take an enormous breath and pull myself out of the chair. My eyesight wavers and I fight a brief period of light headedness, then lower myself beside Marc's grave. I can smell the scent of the disturbed dirt even from here.

"You're awesome, Marc. You know that, right?" I pause to let him answer, as if he could whisper replies through the coffin. The image makes me squirm, but I remain on my knees over his grave stone. It's not polite to walk away in the middle of a conversation. "All my life I never thought you'd go the way you did. Dying for someone else, and stuff."

The wind picks up. I like to think it's Marc's hearty, unmodest agreement.

"You gave your life to Meeko just for Joe. And Meeko too, but mostly Joe." I brood on this thought. "But I wish you could have said goodbye or something. Not that I'm complaining." I wait for the wind to die down, and resume my semi-crazed monologue.

"Maybe he'll tell me why you told him to kill you someday. I won't ask, don't worry. It had to be for good reason if Joe let himself get talked into it." I look down at my tag, narrow my eyes in thought. I searched around for a decent sized rock, found one, and placed the tag against the thinner side of Marc's grave stone. Then, muttering a hasty "Sorry...", I swing my bludgeon against the tag; the otherworldly item shatters into a mini blizzard of white fragments. I gather the pieces up as much as possible, and bend down to inspect the damage I'd done to his grave stone. There's a slight scratch that will heal over as time wears down the rest of the stone.

"You'll take care of these for me, won't you?" I say softly, digging a shallow hole over Marc's grave. The tag's remains are sprinkled in, like a fine spice, and then hidden from sight by a simple swish of my hand. "Make sure an animal doesn't dig them up."

Brushing the dirt from my hands, I hoist my rebellious body upward, and then back down in the accursed wheelchair. The spot I'd put the tag in is still a little visible, but that should fade off soon. And so won't my brooding over Ten Months Ago. I'll get my strength back; I'll graduate highschool. I'll continue my life the way I would have wanted before Ten Months Ago. Maybe write a book.

//Yeah, that's it. I'll write a book. About this, maybe. I won't publish it, of course.// I smile at the thought, and begin wheeling my way to the car. The weakness is hardly noticed. //Probably just pass it off as a fanfiction online.//

"But what'll I call it? A great story's gotta have a great name." I say to no one, unconsciously stopping. My eyes find themselves staring at the tattoo on my palm. The pikachu stares right back. I'm suddenly slapped in the face by inspiration.

"Hehe, I like the sound of that. Has a nice ring." I lean back in my chair, pleased.

//The Changelings, it is.//