A/N: Last edited and revamped from its original version December 2011.
The Ties that Bind
By: Saffire Persian (undersaffiresky)
It's commonly said that time will heal all wounds, but people tend to forget the deep, everlasting scars it leaves behind.
The noise the crowd is making in the stands is almost deafening.
You turn your head, eyes wandering briefly over row upon row of avid spectators, smiling for a moment—but only for a moment—before you turn back to meet your opponent's scrutinizing gaze. You can't help but marvel at the fact that you'rehere, you're finally here, despite all those times you never thought you would be. Through the blood and sweat and constant toil, you have finally made it to the final battle that will ultimately determine who will be the next Champion. It feels strange, surreal, like you're trapped in a vortex of light and you don't know which way is down.
The journey to get here has been difficult, but it has been worth every bead of sweat and every long, sleepless night. Even the Elite Four were just another obstacle along the road to this—just another bridge you had to cross to get here. And here you are: one last stop before your dream is realized, minutes from possibly becoming a part of your reality if you play your cards right.
Because right now (you feel as if you are in a waking dream, and you hope to never wake up) you are facing off against the current Champion in a battle that has, as of yet, not been disappointing. After a spectacular double knockout, you are both down to your final pokémon. The sixth and the last. You're tied, tettering on the edge between winning all and losing everything, but you know that even if you lose, you'll still walk away with your head held high. In your hand is the pokéball that contains your last contender, waiting to be summoned. He's the first pokémon you ever received; you have been with each other since the beginning, when you were just a young kid who knew nothing but dreamed of being something more. He's trustworthy and loyal, and you know he'll never let you down. He never has.
The Champion, out of courtesy, is going first, though it doesn't really matter who goes first now. The pokéball flies through the air, erupting into a flash of white light. Out of the light, a giant verdant beast appears, a giant flower spread across her back. A long, steady grin emerges onto her long face as she bellows and stamps the ground in challenge. You smile and fancy you can feel it tremble.
The Venusaur doesn't daunt you—very few things in battle do now. You've seen just about everything. You only grin and, tapping the center of the pokéball once, throw it out into the battleground. In a bright flash of evanescent white, he emerges. Tough and vibrant, with a long, flamed-tipped tail that is lit and flickering, your Charizard surveys the crowd. It takes him a moment to react. He looks back at you first, with an obvious glimmer of amusement in his black eyes, then over to the Venusaur in front of him. He snorts as if this battle is nothing (though you both know equally well that it's everything but nothing), and with a loud roar, he sends a long thread of dark flame into the sky: his battle cry.
The Champion gestures for you to make the first move, and you take it.
He roars once before bolting up into the blue noonday sky, each flap of his wings taking him higher and higher until his body is finally in front of the sun so it's harder for the opponents below to see him.
The Champion is not a Champion for nothing: he does not hesitate. "Solar Beam."
Nor do you. "When the Venusaur uses Solar Beam, dodge it and dive."
He prepares for it, his wings folding in and slanting in expectation, and you know he's ready to dodge. Moments later, the Venusaur releases the beam of concentrated light. He dives, evading the Solar Beam by mere inches as it cuts harmlessly through the air. He is forced to continue his downward course as the Venusaur moves to direct the Solar Beam to the left, trying to score a hit before the energy runs out.
The Solar Beam begins to fade into nothing more than a few harmless yellow waves, and your Charizard, heartened by this, picks up speed, roaring in challenge. The Venusaur is too slow and too large to even attempt to evade the attack, so she braces herself the best she can, trying to squint away the light of the sun hitting her eyes.
Sharp, pointed claws rake across the Venusaur's tough skin and fragile foliage, leaving deep scratch marks in her tough skin and ripped pieces of leaf and petal in their wake. Your Charizard then cranes his neck as he flies past and spits out a small Flamethrower for good measure. You hear him grunt in satisfaction as the Venusaur cries out in pain, her low growl as deep as an earthen drum. Your Charizard begins to ascend, so he does not see the thick vine that emerges out of the Venusaur's body until it is too late.
With a harsh crack, the vine wraps around your Charizard's ankle like a whip, and with a tough, vengeful jerk she brings the Charizard back to her own level, face-first. It's the Venusaur's turn to grunt in satisfaction as your Charizard struggles to rise. He's too close to the Venusaur for your own liking, now only a foot away from the green behemoth, the vine still securely wrapped around his leg.
A plethora of vines then burst out from all around the Venusaur's body just as your Charizard picks himself up. You know you have to fend them off before things gets worse. Some of them are already beginning to curl around the lower half of his body.
He spits out the attack as quickly as he can manage, the tiny, blackened shards of fire driving off the rest of the green appendages for now. The Champion sees this and his eyes meet yours. You know what he is going to do without trying. You would do the same in his place.
But you are going to try to stop it. "Flamethrower!"
A thick cloud of yellow, paralyzing powder erupts out of the flower, forming a thick cloud of yellow spores that surrounds both pokémon. It's so thick that you can barely see your Charizard through the haze. (It then strikes you how desperate the Venusaur must be to conjure up such a copious amount.)
The Stun Spore finally begins to thin and disperse into the air, and now you can see enough of your Charizard's body to watch him raise his head, open his lethal jaws, and inhale deeply—
But he stops in mid-breath, and you can hear a raspy, choking sort of sputter come out of him. The paralysis must be taking hold. Meanwhile, the Venusaur seizes her chance. The vines hiss as they cut through the air, tearing through it as if they were they were living things. They are all around him now: his arms, his legs, his torso—some are even curling around his neck, preparing to constrict and strangle.
(You face flushes in anger at this, and a bunch of expletives cross your mind, but you do not say them. You also think the move the Champion is using is low, but the referees say nothing about it, so you in turn say nothing, though your mind is aflame. But your feelings aren't what matter. What matters is the here and now: you cannot let the Venusaur continue. )
You call out to your pokémon by name (not his species name, but the true name you gave in Viridian Forest, when you and he first became acquainted with one another). You know he hears you, and you cry out, voice desperate and pleading, raw and hoarse from all the shouting. You can't allow the paralysis to take hold just yet. You can't.
"Flamethrower! Please! You have to use it!"
He hears your desperation, you know he does. The lungful of air he had taken in previously is released along with a torrent of white-hot fire. Nothing is held back. The flame washes over skin and plant like a giant tide, burning away many of the vines that cross the Flamethrower's path towards the Venusaur's face, where it hits with all the possible fury the Charizard can muster—and he does not stop there. The fire flows out of his throat until he can exhale no more and the smell of burned flesh mingles with the smoky, spore-filled air.
The Venusaur is still standing. The vines that have not been severely burned still hold tight around their quarry. The Venusaur is weary but alive, and it's only then you notice that she's been absorbing the sun's rays, converting them into energy meant to heal and restore, supplying her with enough energy to stay conscious and battle on.
You curse aloud, watching as your Charizard succumbs to the paralysis, his body twitching as he tries to move his limbs but can't. He can't fight off the vines that now are twisting around his neck in order to stop him from breathing fire.
The audience has gone quiet. No longer do you hear the excited screams and cheers, only a near-silent void where noise was once. And out of that silence, you hear the Champion speak, his eyes glimmering like ice while his tone is just as cold.
"Hold him down. Use Solar Beam. Don't hold back."
The vines constrict, but that is not what you are most worried about: it is the flower upon the Venusaur's back that you are most concerned over. It's already absorbing the sun's rays, glowing with a horrid white-yellow light. The going is slow, thankfully. You can see that she's straining to gather each essential particle of energy for the final attack that will, if it's not stopped, bring about the end of the match—the end of your dream.
(And you don't intend to let go of your dreams so quickly. Not after you have come this far.)
The only way to win is to stop the attack from charging, and fast. Finish her before she can finish you. The Venusaur can't hold out for much longer. Another strong attack might be enough to knock her out for the count. First, though, you have to get your Charizard to move. You know some of the bonds that hold him are fragile, weakened by fire's burning touch.
(Don't give in without a fight.)
Filling your lungs, you shout out his name again and you can see him strain his head to look at you. His pupils are constricted, like a cat's. Your eyes meet his own and you nod your head, only once.
True fire might not be an option now, but you can still settle for the next best thing.
"Dragon Claw!" you shout. "Finish it!"
With agonizing slowness, like his joints have fused into a single position, your Charizard begins to fight against his bonds that hold him. One of his hands is now surrounded by a pale green nimbus that flickers like a freshly struck flame, and the vines wrapped around it recoil, loosening.
(They are not strong enough to push him away.)
Then, mustering the last of his strength, your Charizard strikes.
Green flames dance over the surprised Venusaur, setting the already burned foliage alight in an explosion of dragonfire, while merciless claws dig into the already burned, tender skin in a last desperate attempt to snatch victory out of the claws of chance.
Then, as soon as it began, the attack is over. The Venusaur is swaying while your Charizard doesn't move from his upright position.
Vines loosen. The Venusaur teeters dangerously on her feet until she can keep herself conscious no longer and slumps onto the arena floor and moves no more. The vines fall away and your Charizard is given room to breathe. A few seconds of respite are all you're given before the referee is forced to give judgment. The noise of the crowd erupts anew, drowning out the sound of the referee's voice, but what has just happened is clear: you are the new Champion.
Another few seconds go by before you fully comprehend what has just happened—like your mind is stuck minutes in the past and has to skip things just to catch up. But when reality sets in, it hits you like something meant to kill. Your heart shoots up into your chest, and for a second you think it just might stop as your breath hitches into your throat. Only the feelings of reserved self-consciousness keep you from jumping up and down in your trainer box and breaking out into a wild smiles—that, and the fact your Charizard still hasn't moved.
You find it strange that he isn't up beside you. The Stun Spore may still be affecting him, but that hasn't ever stopped him from returning to you before. You notice his tail flame is low—dangerously low, and though he may be on his feet, he hasn't moved, not even to shrug off the limp pieces of blackened vine that have not fallen off his body.
It is then you first know something is wrong.
The noise of the crowd lessens while the sound of your own heartbeat magnifies a hundredfold. You stare, eyes concerned. You call out his name to see if he'll respond.
He only turns his head to stare at you, his muzzle open wide like he is breathing hard... but he isn't. His eyes roll, and to your horror, he collapses. Even as he's falling, you run out of the trainer box, knowing, just knowing, that something is wrong. A thousand different thoughts flutter through your mind in one spontaneous instant.
Don't let anything be wrong.
It can't go wrong.
It's not right, it's not fair.
He's just fainted, that's all. Nothing more.
You're kneeling at his side now, silently saying his name over and over. He doesn't respond to your pleas. Your can feel your heart pound against your ribcage, as if threatening to break through. He's always responded before.
You suddenly notice that he's not breathing. There's no reassuring rise and fall of his chest, no wispy smoke billowing out of his nostrils as he exhales.
You panic, and everything suddenly becomes a blur.
(Figures are melded; red is blue and green is black; noises sound fuzzy and distant, distorted as if a Supersonic has just disrupted your whole system; voices sound garbled, mixed around like written words in a paper shredder.)
You are barely aware that the standby medic has noticed your distress until two Machoke flit in front of your eyes, lifting a prone body of a Charizard onto a large stretcher. Your Charizard. They lift the stretcher effortlessly, leaving you behind to watch them go farther and farther away.
Suddenly, your emotions kick in. "Wait!" you scream. Well, you try to, but no words come. It's as though your voice is gone, coming out as nothing more than a rasping squeak.
Your head is spinning. They can't just take him away and leave you. You're his friend, you've been with him since always. What right do they have to leave you here? Shaking your head in an attempt to clear your mind (to dispel this waking nightmare) you finally compose yourself enough to stand and sprint after them.
You do not take notice the concerned look the former Champion gives you as he recalls his Venusaur back into her pokéball, his eyes full of something like regret. You also do not notice the group of reporters that are coming across the arena, cameras flashing. Everything is going by so fast, and you're barely aware that tears are brimming in the corners of your eyes. It's as if your whole body has been set to autopilot, your attention focused solely on the cold metal stretcher and your Charizard's diminishing tail flame. It's barely candle-sized now.
You are seconds behind the Machoke in entering the Pokémon Center, the strong scent of ammonia reaching your nose, while your eyes take in walls of sterile red and white. The resident Nurse Joy and two Chansey are already waiting for you. Already, you see her blue-grey eyes wander over the Charizard's prone form. You watch her carefully, hopefully, and you see her mouth twist ever-so-slightly into a frown, but it quickly disappears as her eyes drift over to you, giving you a faint smile. She gestures to the Machoke, and she mutters something indistinguishable that sends both of the Chansey scampering into motion, issuing high-pitched squeaks of their own before dashing into the emergency room. One of them peeks around the corner, beckoning the Machoke inside with stubby pink hands.
Your heart can't help but clench painfully in your chest as the Machoke move, taking your Charizard with them. You can't even see his tail flame anymore. Frightened, you try to follow them inside the ER, but Nurse Joy stops you, placing a cold, pale hand on your shoulder. It's meant to be comforting, but it isn't.
"Please—" you start to say, barely able to control the waver in your voice.
Instead of hearing you out, she says in a fake, cheery voice that sounds robotic: "We'll take it from here. Everything is going to be all right. Your Charizard is in good hands."
"You don't understand—"
She cuts you off again. "I understand completely. We'll notify you if anything happens, I promise."
Without so much as a backwards glance, she heads into the emergency room, leaving you to stare at the blank, white walls. Of all the emotions rising within you, anger and frustration erupt to the top.
Who does she think she is?
She says she understands, but you know she doesn't. She may know everything there is to know about pokémon anatomy in the world, but she doesn't know your pokémon like you do.
How would she know that your Charizard hates to be alone with people he doesn't know?
How would she know that he hates needles?
When he wakes up, will she know how to handle him? Can she comfort him like you do when he's frightened or sad?
So how would she know that leaving you out here is best for him? How can she tell you that everything is going to be all right when you can plainly see that things are anything but?
Tears are making your vision blurry, and you are hit with a sudden dizzy spell. You stumble over to a corner where soft, blue chairs and a wooden table with magazines on top are placed. You fight the urge to bury your head in the polyester cushion, instead pinching yourself to see if maybe, just maybe, you'll wake up from this horrid nightmare.
(Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!)
But the pinch hurts, and when you open your watery eyes, the scenery is just the same: blank, uncomforting, and cold. The only difference is that there is a Blissey in front of you, clutching a tissue in her small, knobby hands.
She smiles widely. You take the tissue she offers you, but you don't use it to dry your eyes. Instead, it's permanently clutched in your fist, and you squeeze into a tight ball, as if squeezing it will make everything go away. The Blissey is still staring at you, her pink and white rotund body teetering back and forth. The front doors to the Pokémon Center whiz open, and the silence shatters.
Flashes. Bright, inconsiderate flashes of light illuminate your face, momentarily blinding you. Normally you wouldn't have thought twice about giving any of these people a piece of your mind (even if only in your thoughts), but not right now. You are in no mood for fighting (and you don't know when you will ever be again).
You are barraged with questions from a thousand different voices, all clamoring to get the first word out of you, but you aren't going to give it to them.
Why must they ask such stupid questions? Don't they see you are in no mood to talk? Can't they see anything? Do they even have eyes? Don't they see that you're shaking? How pale you are?
How do you feel about being the next Champion? they ask. How do you feel the battle with the former Champion went? Are you pleased? Surprised? Disappointed? What did you have to do to get this far?
Not: Are you all right? What happened to your Charizard? Is there anything we can do?
How would you be feeling if you didn't know whether your pokémon was okay or not? you want to shout in retaliation, but you don't. You still do not trust yourself to speak, afraid that if you do, your voice will break, and maybe if you don't speak, don't give them what they want, they'll all go away.
The reporters show no sign of leaving or giving in. They stick microphones in your face and many try to touch you on the shoulder, to grab your attention, but you're aware enough to wave them off. This doesn't seem to deter them. They are forming a circle around you like a bunch of carrion birds over a dead carcass, and the Blissey, who has been standing by your side the whole time, is pushed roughly out of the way.
Out of the corner of your eyes, you see the Blissey's face scrunch up, her eyebrows forming a perfect wedge. The corners of her mouth twitch, and her body seems to grow in size, like it's made of elastic. She looks about ready to burst, a large, pink balloon of fury. She stands on her tiptoes, and you see her shoot furtive glances from left to right.
"Look—" you finally say, your voice catching in your throat, but you are cut off as an endless cascade of questions assault your ears.
(Can't they just go away?)
The Blissey is now walking purposely forward, waving her small, stubby arms back and forth. You stand up just as the Blissey enters the crowd, pushing through it with her oval-shaped body, her gaze that of righteous indignation.
Three successful Egg Bombs later, you find yourself in a small guest room into which the Blissey has ushered you. You are sitting down on the bottom bunkbed, looking out the window when she comes in the room again three minutes later. You see she has brought a bowl with her, full of what looks like an egg salad. She sets it on the coffee table, looking up at you expectantly.
"Umm... thank you."
Your voice is weird, and she notices it. She gives you an odd look and seems about ready to say something when a horde of loud, obnoxious voices waft from outside the door. Her face comically scrunches up again, and her mouth takes on form of a scowl. She quickly leaves the room, pulling the door shut. Now that she's gone, you can't help but feel that her endeavor, though good-hearted in nature, was a waste of time: any appetite you had is all but gone, and your thoughts are elsewhere.
Still, you poke at the egg salad with the fork provided and sigh, looking at the window just in time to see a small flock of Pidgey fly past. As the minutes go by, you think you can hear singing, gentle and soft, coming from just outside your door, but you aren't too sure, because you suddenly can't even concentrate long enough to string two thoughts together. You eyelids are oddly heavy, creeping shut of their own volition until you can no longer fight the unexpected drowsiness, and you sink into a dreamless sleep, your mind a jumbled jigsaw of thought and worry.
(You don't know that it was the Blissey who was humming the sleep-song outside your door. You also don't know that she was the one who guarded your room from invaders for the rest of the afternoon that you slept away. You also don't know that she sent exactly fifteen pokémon to Nurse Joy, all suffering mild to severe concussions. You also don't know that eight trainers now sport black eyes and bruised cheeks because they asked one too many questions.)
When you wake up again, it is late into the evening.
Exactly forty-five minutes later you find out your Charizard is dead.
It takes you three days to accept it.
Only when you have no more tears to shed and no longer have a voice to scream do they tell you how he died.
The answer is painfully simple: he suffocated to death. When the Venusaur released her Stun Spore, your Charizard inhaled it in so that he could use his Flamethrower, pulling the spores deeply into his lungs, ensuring that they settled there, paralyzing not only his lungs, but the muscles and tissue around them so that he couldn't even hope to breathe.
A freak accident, they call it.
They say they tried to save him, but with it so deeply rooted in the lungs, the affliction was hard to dispel quickly, and by the time they did, it was too late. He was already gone.
(But you suddenly think that you knew that he was dead the moment the Machoke had carried him away. Your mind was just too busy denying it to listen to your heart.)
How he was even able to fight and stay conscious as long as he did surprises the medical staff. It doesn't surprise you.
He always gave you his best and more besides. He would forgo food and gladly suffer pain to make sure you were satisfied and well taken care of.
Once, when you and he were traveling through a dense forest, you fell ill, so much so that you could barely move, forehead slick with sweat and burning with fever even though every inch of your body felt stiff and ice cold. It was your Charizard (who was only a little Charmander then) who made sure that there was always a fire going to keep you warm at night. He also was the one who gathered the wood and he who found the berries for you to eat, knowing, perhaps instinctively, of their healing properties. Often you later suspected that he went without food, because he gave it all to you instead so you would get better.
The current situation is no different. He made sure that you accomplished your dream, even though it cost him all he had to give.
It's a gift you have trouble accepting, and there isn't a night that goes by in which you don't dream that you had lost instead, that you had done something different: surrendered, made a different call, or maybe even noticed things just a little bit sooner, and that he was still alive because of it.
"Cheer up," most tell you in varying degrees of sympathy and sincerity. "Everything will be better. Think positive. You're the new Champion. Isn't this what you wanted? Isn't this what you dreamed of?"
But you can't cheer up. Not right now. The wound is still too fresh, too deep, and it's slow to heal. Right now they are doing little more than pouring salt into it, aggravating it more and sparking your temper. They're worse than the people who think you murdered him, because maybe they're right, though they're not quite as bad as the ones who also believe you killed him but think you are miles away from caring: those people are the ones that really make you angry.
Your temper has been easier to spark ever since he died and to all but a few of the sympathetic, you acidly reply, "When you've figured out how to revive the dead, let me know. Maybe then 'everything will be better.'"
(They don't have a response for that.)
You don't have your Charizard buried, like many thought you would. You have plenty of money now, so you could have bought him a large, grandiose tomb, befitting of his noble line. You could have had him buried somewhere in Mt. Silver, where only the Elite Four and a few other privileged individuals have access to. But you don't. Instead, you have him cremated, and leaving atop your Skarmory, you take his ashes and intend to fly over all the places you and he journeyed to and sprinkle some of his ashes over the most important of them. That way, wherever you go, there will be a little bit of him there. Besides, he never did like to be confined to one space. It's the least you can do. Let him be everywhere.
The first place you visit is the Viridian Forest. It's where you and he first began your journey. You gave him his name (his special name that only you could call him) here.
Pewter City: Your had your first gym battle here—how could you forget? It was your first victory against a Gym Leader, receiving the first badge that proved that maybe, just maybe you and he could do anything you set your minds to. You also can't forget the look in his wide, black eyes as he gazed up in amazement at the ancient pokémon fossils housed in the museum. You think he wanted to evolve into an Aerodactyl someday, and laugh at the thought. He was so naïve then. Then again, you were a little too.
Mt. Moon: You danced with the Clefairy here, after you accidentally interrupted their Midsummer's Eve ritual. Neither of you thought you'd make it out alive unless you succumbed to their pleas and danced with them around the rock they seemed to worship. It's a pity you didn't know then they were gentle creatures who had no intention of hurting you, but because of it, you stayed up until the late hours of the morning after the both of you managed to 'escape,' telling tales of barbaric Clefairy who made their victims dance until they died. (You were both hopelessly young then.)
Cerulean City: You lost your first Gym Battle here. Afterwards, you were depressed enough that you suddenly weren't sure if you wanted to be a pokémon trainer anymore, because you thought you were no good. But you tried again later and won.
Celadon City: How were you supposed to know he was allergic to the perfumes Erika made?
The Cycling Road: He evolved into Chameleon here, after a group of wannabe thug bikers made up of a handful of pretentious, cocky teenagers threatened you. (You could've handled it without him having to evolve and torch their motorcycles. Really. You could've.)
Lavender Town: It was here you discovered that the both of you were deathly afraid of ghosts, both the type and the mythical apparitions. You remember running out of Lavender Town's Pokémon Tower, scared half out of your mind while your Charizard (then a Charmeleon) followed fast on your heels, faster than you were but always remaining just a step or two behind as he shot flames at the invisible. It still feels like it had barely happened. You both had nightmares for months afterward.
Fuchsia City: If you remember correctly, it was he who ticked off the Scyther in the Safari Zone, not you.
The Sevii Islands: He evolved into his final form here, though you aren't sure which island it was, exactly. It was just after you had run and jumped off a cliff. He probably thought you were suicidal when he evolved into his draconic form, bolting into the sky on his newfound wings, only to find that you were resting safely on your new Skarmory's back, because you were teaching her how to Fly.
Your home is your final stop. You have your Skarmory land just outside your mother and father's house. Without going in and telling your parents that you're finally home (What has it been? Three years? Four?), you recall your Skarmory, heading into the backyard. You walk slowly, inhaling in the clean air that's tinged with the fresh scent of the berries your parents grow.
It's so peaceful out here… you think, pulling out a small bag from your pocket.
Inside, it holds the last remnants of your first pokémon. Slowly, you loosen the drawstrings that hold the contents inside, staring at the black, dull ashes that were once a living, breathing creature who (once upon a time) flew unchallenged across the heavenly sky.
You move towards a cliff edge that overlooks the sea. A gentle wind is blowing.
You take a deep breath.
(Time will freeze, Eternity will wait, and Death will stop its inevitable course for these few precious moments, for they are yours, and forever will be.)
You slowly lift up the ash-filled bag, and you hesitate for only a moment more—
(It's hard letting go. You never really got to say goodbye.)
—before you scatter the remaining contents to the wind.