Jericho

Disclaimer: Pokemon belongs to a lot of people who have a lot of money and power, both here in America and abroad. Unfortunately, I'm not one of them. No one should get bent out of shape; I'm just borrowing these guys for a while. All apologies also to any pop culture references warped. I'm just borrowing them, too.

Prelude: This little story was written for many reasons: to celebrate the creation of a new site for this shipping, to give writing a one-shot a try, to just experiment on a ton of levels! Warning: weird style and post-90s psychoanalysis ahead! Enjoy, send intelligent comments to cursumperficio@bellsouth.net.


Jericho

By Latonya Wright


He leaned forward, gazed at his reflection in his well-polished shoes. The face that stared back at him seemed to age about ten years today. He didn't know why he should feel so awful. Wasn't this supposed to be one of the happiest days of his life? Today was his wedding day, for Chrissakes! He was supposed to be calm and happy and in control!

The carpet of the cathedral's antechamber was a spotless cream hue; he figured that it had been cleaned the day or so before. He idly ran the sole of his black shoe along the rich, soft fabric, wondered how many other grooms had been forced to wait in exile before heading to the bachelor's guillotine. A sad smile crossed his face... should he really be thinking of an altar as a guillotine?

His foot raked the carpeting for a few seconds. Eventually his leg began to swing, trying to release nervousness by setting itself into motion. No, he ordered. Not nervous. No jitters today. Stop it.

To calm his nerves, he rose from the chair, strode purposefully towards the window. Fresh air would calm his nerves. Yes. He reached up, lifted the ancient catch of the stained glass window, pushed it open. The sun bathed his ancestral city in sparkling light. He gazed off at the city in the distance, glanced down at the cobblestones below...


...gazed at the beautiful woman striding purposefully toward him. His practiced eye took in the sight of her-the slight swells under her blouse, the long, slim legs, the steadiness of her walk.

What could this slip of a girl possibly want with him? He had seen her before, certainly, but only in passing, perhaps in the paper, or at a general meeting...very public places, where they could smile and speak and then gracefully ignore each other. Now, however, she was actively seeking him out; he could see it, could see her making a beeline for him.

He smiled bitterly. A-ha. Sooner or later it always happened. The singles of the city sought him out. Always, always. It never failed. It was so hard being someone of his stature in a city like this. Word would get out-"Look, there's a man, he has all sorts of needs, he needs mothering and sex," the town gossips would cackle, nodding sagely. The female of the hour would saunter towards him. Sure, she would have an interest in Pokemon. Sometimes she might even really care about them. Sometimes he played along and seemed interested; sometimes he just cut to the chase and turned her down.

The truth was, he had played the love game once, only once, and had lost miserably. After that fatal loss, he had all but retired from the sport, preferring to pass his time in more useful endeavors, like Pokemon.

Now, as he watched the latest player entering the game, he snorted. This one had taken long enough to play, he told himself with a sardonic chuckle. She had always seemed so standoffish, but finally she was coming to challenge him.

She approached him, red hair waving in the breeze. He braced himself.

"Have you heard anything yet?" she asked, in that clear, girlish tone.

He blinked. "What? Excuse me?"

"Heard anything from him yet? Good, bad, anything?"

"Er..." For the first time in a long time, he was flustered. "I, uh... No, I haven't."

"All right." Her smile lacked any seduction; it was just friendly ...geez, maybe she didn't want him at all! The thought simultaneously comforted him and irritated him. "If you do, please let me know! Thank you!" With that, she continued on her merry way.

Perhaps he had loved her right then, loved the way she confounded his expectations. Perhaps he had merely felt lust for her, wanted to drive her into a desire to do more than just breeze past him without a hello or good bye. He didn't stop to analyze it. He just knew, in that instant, that he had to see her again...


He glanced over his shoulder as he heard the antechamber's door creaking open. The organ's tones floated into the room. "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," he muttered to himself. "I always did like Bach." Oh, shit, it's almost time. He released a shaky breath, mustered up enough energy to give his visitor a shaky grin. "Hello there!"

His voice had none of its usual strength, but the attendant who entered the room didn't seem to notice. "Hey, there's the man of the hour!" The man, tall and proud, closed the door behind him, keeping the organ at bay for a while longer. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine!" But it came out two decibels too high.

The usher laughed, took up space in one of the room's folding chairs. He admired his friend's ability to remain cool and collected (actually, his friend was usually one of the most high-strung people he knew, but he was too jittery to notice). "Nervous, huh? Don't worry, your part is easy. You just stand there, look handsome, repeat the preacher's words, and give your best girl a kiss!"

He turned his gaze back towards the city. He could see his house-their house-from here. He was going to share that house with her in a matter of hours...His hand unconsciously tightened its grip on the sill.

"Doesn't that sound safe and foolproof?" The usher did not notice the groom's discomfort. He didn't notice much of anything that didn't involve girls or food, though.

He gave his friend a sharp glare, snapped, "It's not that! It's more than that!" A second later, he wished he could take it back. He almost never took a sharp tone with anyone... now this had made him raise his voice. He hung his head. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to yell. I just..."

"It's okay." The young man shifted in his chair. "I felt the same way before my own wedding too. Do you remember that? Granted, I never thought I'd see you there..." An elegant chuckle, and then he continued. "Anyway, I was freaking out. Do I really want to do this? Do I love her? How on earth can I take care of her? All those questions running through my head..." The usher smiled, tapped his fingers reflexively on his knees. "All that fear... I was so afraid to let someone close to me. You know how it is, don't you?"

The groom turned, rested on the windowsill. "Oh, yes," he murmured. "I've never really let anyone too close to me..."


Yes, he had seen her again. He had made it a point to follow her around. To look after her. Each time he had been given the opportunity to help her, advise her, he had taken it with gusto. The more he followed her, the more distant she'd seemed. She always followed what he secretly named "the third wheel," that younger man she always talked about. Poor guy... it wasn't his fault, and yet a hot surge of jealousy shot through him whenever she started talking about him.

He showed her, though. Just to prove how wonderful he was, he befriended the third wheel. Became absolutely indispensable to him. (Fortunately, he found the third wheel to be surprisingly good company.) It worked just as he had theorized. Once he had shown kindness to the other man, she fell for him.

They began to see each other as more than just friends, to the amusement of all who saw them in their daily travels. They did nothing that couldn't be seen by others, and nothing that the third wheel would find objectionable.

One day, thank the gods, he was gone. The third wheel had run off to get into trouble somewhere else, catching some godforsaken Pokemon or something. Then, she had stayed behind in the city to piddle around. That day, she had sought him out.

She came to him, red hair slightly windswept. Her face was redder than her hair. "I wonder if you'd like to have dinner with me," she whispered. She had always been so shy; it made her all the more precious to him.

Of course he had accepted, and they went to a nice Italian place in town. They chatted, laughed. He saw that she had alfredo sauce on the corner of her mouth, dared to reach out and wipe it away with his napkin. Their eyes met over the napkin, bright pools facing dark stormclouds...

The love he saw in her gaze scared him. He saw the openness in her eyes, the look that had looked so false on others. He felt her love then, and he was afraid.

He had walked her back. She stopped, turned to face him, took a step closer to him. "I...I wonder if you want to kiss me goodnight."

He carefully cupped her face, closed his eyes, drew nearer. She had to stand on tiptoe to reach him; he had to bend to her. Their mouths came together. She tasted sweet, a mixture of peppermint and Chablis wine. Her kiss was so innocent...the way her tiny hands pulled him closer...

He felt his own love then, and he was afraid. Could she feel his love in his kiss, as he had seen hers in her eyes?

He pulled away, trying to ignore the confusion writ large in her expression. "I...I'm sorry. I didn't mean...I mean..." He shook his head, released her. "I can't do this. I'm sorry. Good night."

Without another word, he spun on his heel, headed somewhere, anywhere that was away from her, headed away from that vulnerable part of himself.


A shrill feminine scream pierced the tranquility of the street, breaking his concentration. He looked over his shoulder, frightened out of his wits, afraid someone was getting killed at his wedding.

The usher looked unconcerned. "Oh, that sounds like my wife." He rose from the folding chair, dusted imaginary lint off his tuxedo. "Something must be going horribly wrong. They've got the window open in there too. I'll go check on them." He swaggered towards the door, placed a soft hand on the knob. At the last moment, he stopped, turned to regard the groom. "Anyway, I said something like that on my wedding day, and you gave me great advice."

"What was that?"

The usher delivered a brilliant smile, filled with perfect teeth. "You said, 'You'll live, and you'll be just fine.' See you in the chapel!" A roguish wink, and the usher was gone, his wealth of helpful advice going with him.

The groom blinked. "Gee, thanks a lot," he muttered, irked at having his own flippant words turned on him.

The strains of the Rigadoun Processional broke through the shell of the door. As he wandered towards his chair, he covered his ears to drown the sound. Horrid moment! It was coming ever closer...

Without warning, another usher breezed into the room, slammed the door. "Those women are getting on my nerves!" he announced, mopping his forehead. "Is my bowtie straight?"

"Yes, it looks fine." He ignored the tap-dancing Butterfrees in his stomach. Perhaps this conversation would take his mind off the approaching doom. "What happened?"

"Oh, uh, nothing to worry about. Just bridesmaid issues. The hem on someone's dress came out, and now at least four people are trying to fix it." The usher shook his head. "Honestly, you'd think all those years I spent trying to teach them order and reason..."

The groom sighed. Order and reason used to be the guiding principles in his life too, until that woman had ruined him completely...


He managed to ignore that night well enough on the surface. He had a plan. He resolved to speak to the third wheel only when necessary. Meanwhile, the Pokemon helped take his mind off her. They needed feeding, grooming, exercise, attention. (So did he, the faint voice in his head answered smugly.) He wouldn't move unless he knew she was safely away from his path. For two days he lived this way.

For two nights, however, a flame-haired angel danced through his dreams, did things to him that he never would have imagined possible. Again the voice in his head taunted him, gave him a restless night with the mantra, "You know you want her."

The next afternoon, he got stuck in the rain. She saw him running towards shelter, umbrella-less, soaked. He did not observe his surroundings well enough to discern her shape, did not even hear the splashing sounds coming from behind him. Only when he heard the gasps did he come face to face with her.

Her hair, usually so well confined, now lay against her back, damp. Droplets fell from the tendrils, dripped onto her cheeks. "I want to talk to you."

He leaned against the wall, removed his wet coat. "All right, talk."

She neither wasted time nor minced words. "Last week you practically had to be pried from my side. Then I get up enough courage to let you kiss me, and suddenly you want to run away from me. What did I do wrong? Is it my age? My social status? Did you just want a fling?"

"Nothing. I just don't feel anything for you anymore." He looked down, scuffed his shoe on the floor.

"Look me in the eye and tell me that!"

He looked her in the face, remained silent.

"Tell me the truth!"

Silence.

She threw herself at him, began pounding him with her little fists. "I deserve to know what I did wrong!"

The nails raking down his chest, the constant thumping, her screaming, all combined to irritate the hell out of him. He grabbed her wrists, shook her. "All right, little miss, I'll tell you what you did wrong, damn you. You made me feel! You made me take down all those little walls that I put up precisely to keep myself from scenes like this! You made me weak! There, there's your answer!" With that, he shoved her, leaned his head against the wall, fought the emotions that threatened to overpower him.

A second later, she pressed her body to his. Her lips burned his neck, his cheeks. "Please, don't hide your love behind walls," she murmured, her breath hot against his skin. "Let it out. Or, if you must hide it, let me in."

Let her in. Ah, God, it would be so wonderful to let her into anywhere she wanted to go-into his room, into his bed, into his heart. Such relief...and yet frivolous, public emotions such as love were too transitory, could cause such pain... "No," he whispered, even as his hands caressed her back, subconsciously drawing her close. "If I let you in, you might be scared off."

She understood. She closed her eyes, stood on tiptoe, pressed tiny kisses to his lips. "Please, let me inside," she breathed. "I'm scared out here, where it's so cold and dark. Let me inside."

The fire in her eyes beckoned him, invited him to come inside, to warm himself in her depths. "No." But her warmth was too inviting.

"Please." She twined her arms about his neck.

The touch of her cool hand on his skin severed the last vestige of his reason. Savagely he swept her into his arms, practically broke down the door in his hurry to open himself to her. The wet clothes disappeared magically, melted away in the heat of their passion, the last barrier to the ultimate revelation.

After their furious lovemaking, he did not turn away. Instead, he tenderly held her to his chest, wrapped her in his sheets, decided to keep her close at all times. "Stay with me," he mumbled before drifting into dreams...


The groom sank into his chair. The Butterfrees had progressed to Irish jigs.

"-and I would just like to tell you how attractive I thought she was...Hey, enough about stress in the other sector." The usher finished up his speech and strolled over to pat the groom's shoulder. "How are you doing, buddy?"

Oh, God, he was going to throw up. He could feel the sweat beading on the back of his neck, sweat pouring from everywhere. He shut his eyes, felt the pulsing in his forehead. He gripped the back of the chair.

"Yoo hoo! You knocked out that fast?" As if on cue, the organ broke into Sleepers Awake.

Silently he wished that all the people, from the guests eagerly waiting in the sanctuary to the organist to the rest of the wedding party, would just go the hell away and leave him in this room. Leave him to his own devices. If he wanted to be walled in, to just stay in here by himself, he should be allowed to do so.

He heard the brush of shoes on carpet, the click of the door. "Psst, hey, Pikachu, get the best man in here. The groom's fallen asleep or something. I didn't think my subject was that boring, but..." The door clicked shut.

Before anyone else could enter, the groom raced to the door, locked it. A second later, the knob jiggled. "Hey, the door's stuck!" the second usher's deeper voice called.

He squared his shoulders, then took a deep breath. "No, not stuck. Just locked." There! He had done it.

"Oh, this is just great! Can you unlock it?"

His chest seemed to be collapsing on itself. He continued, though. "I can unlock it. I just... I don't want to."

An unearthly human silence, punctuated only by the sounds of Bach, filled the hallway. After about a moment, the response. "Did I hear you right?"

He shook his head, drew an even deeper breath. "I can't do it. I can't marry her. I'm...I'm not going out there."

"What? What the hell are you talking about?"

He now leaned against the door. The wood made his back unconsciously stiffen. That was the good thing about walls: they straightened one out. "I'm not getting married. I'm going to stay in here." Yes. There, he had said it. That was how he felt; now people would know. So why didn't he feel any better?

Another unearthly silence. Then, "Oh, shit." And he heard the footsteps running away, the yelling for the best man.

He ambled back to the window. Right now he had all the time in the world. The Butterfrees flew away. Yet the sick feeling remained deep in the pit of his stomach; he didn't understand. The fresh air wasn't helping...


The fresh air was merely wafting the smell of fresh honeysuckle toward them. The Ledyba, Butterfrees, Caterpies, Spinaraks, all the little critters ran to and fro, eagerly pollinating the flowers. He and she had shared four sweet years of secrecy, of kisses stolen when the third wheel's eyes could be spared such an image. Today, however, they had one of their blessed "alone moments," and he decided to make the most of it. He had ravished her there, in the great outdoors, in what the ancient legends might have called a rite of spring.

Afterwards, she leapt up, gathered armfuls of dandelions, clover, began twining them into pretty necklaces. "Do you know how much I love you?" she murmured, crowning him with a garland of daisies.

His fingers tangled into her hair. "You only say things like that when you want something. What's today's request?" At her hurt look, he smiled. "Sorry, I'm only teasing."

"No, I just never realized that I do such a thing. I just wondered...maybe we should tell him."

She wasn't kidding; he could see it in the set of her jaw, in the determined dark eyes. "What brought this on?" Only one other person in their inner circle had seen their love. That friend had approved heartily, but he had nothing to lose by it.

"Nothing, really...I'm just so tired of hiding and sneaking." Her eyes filled with tears. "I mean, I don't want to be caught in a lie. I want to be able to walk out of this and tell everyone with my head held high, not be dragged out..."


"Pi...ka..."

"Pikachu, wait!"

He whipped around, wondered what the hell was about to happen in that split second-

"CHUUUUU!"

The door flew off its hinges, soared through the air, slammed against the wall. Tendrils of smoke unfurled from its electric scorch marks. He brought a hand to his mouth. Oh, shit, the last thing he needed was a pissed-off Pikachu.

Pikachu galloped into the room, tiny top hat perched precariously on his head. He locked eyes with the groom. "Pika pika! Ka pikachu pi!" He had been around long enough to understand the yellow mouse's words-loosely translated, he had said, "Hey, asshole, quit fucking around!" The mouse's fur began to bristle; sparks radiated from his little cheeks.

The groom quickly fell to the floor and curled into the fetal position.

"Pikachu, no!" Suddenly another body landed in front of him.

"CHUUUUUU!"

The smell of burnt fabric met the groom's nose. "Don't worry," his first usher groaned from the floor. "I'm used to it, I'm all right."

The groom managed to pull himself from the floor, held out a hand to help the shaky first usher up. "Uh, looks like you need a good dusting off."

"What in Mew's name is going on in here?" The best man poked a shaggy head around the doorframe, surveyed the angry rat, the burnt door, the smoked usher, the groom nervously biting his lip as he raked the soot from the usher.

"Kachu pi!" Pikachu pointed an angry paw at the groom.

"Yeah, I heard that. That's why I had to leave the girls and see what this was about." The best man strode into the room, regarded the groom with a practiced eye. "All right, pal, what's your problem?"

"No problem." Again his voice was too high, but he continued, fueled with knowledge and confidence in his position. "I just can't do it. That's all."

The groom saw a mischievous twinkle in the best man's eye. His young friend gave a few more dustings to the usher before shoving him towards the door. "Go look in on the girls for me. We'll be ready to go in just a few minutes."

"Are the girls still having problems?" The first usher still tottered dangerously, but managed to ask the question.

"More problems than you know. But I think they're all being straightened out right now. Just give me and my buddy here a couple of seconds alone." The best man gave a thumbs up to the usher.

When their friend had left, the best man and the groom looked at each other. "So, you say you're not going to do it," the best man began.

"That's right, and don't try to change my mind." He went back to the window, gazed again at the city, watched the Pidgeys soaring above the clouds.

His dearest friend, the person who had been closest to him over the past few years (besides her, of course) came to stand beside him. "Don't worry, I have no intention of changing your mind." Suddenly the best man laughed. "I think, if I can read you right, you're subtly trying to change your own mind. Wouldn't that be funny?"

"How am I doing that?" He toyed with the rose on his lapel, focused on the vision of his warm, comfortable house in the distance.

"I'll gladly tell you. Remember, though, I'm just using the powers of observation you taught me."

The young man fell momentarily silent; the groom knew that was just a preparation for a devastatingly accurate portrayal. The strains of Liebestraum wafted sweetly to their ears.

"Instead of choosing to enter the open spaces of the cathedral, even of the hallway, you choose to stay here, in a enclosed space, with walls all around you. Clearly a defensive mechanism, to keep others from approaching and wounding you. Shall I continue?"

The groom snorted, waved a careless hand.

"You feel that the walls are strong enough to keep anyone out, yet you also felt it necessary to lock us out. Why? Because you knew your plan had a flaw; because you knew your mechanism would fail. Were you counting on that?" The man gave a slight shrug. "I don't know. Perhaps deep down you knew nothing could keep anyone out, and that's why you tried."

Almost. The groom sighed, leaned on the windowsill again, his hands folded. In truth, he knew if he tried to let anyone past those walls, they had the right to hurt him again. It had happened once before her, and once after her...


He sat with one of the loves of his life one evening. He had made two pots of tea, trying to calm his nerves enough for the confession. Unfortunately, he had forgotten, in his fear, that tea had entirely too much caffeine to be calming.

"Geez, you're jumpy today," his best love noted, settled back into the couch cushions. "What's wrong?"

Now what? It was usually better in these sorts of things to just tell the truth. He cleared his throat, then plunged right in. "I have something to tell you. There's someone in my life..."

For ten minutes he talked about her. Who she was, how they met, how wonderful she was, how she made him feel complete. He thought that his words might sway his best love to understand his position. He had been lonely in his darling's absence...

Perhaps he had swayed the first love to his point; perhaps it was a lost cause from the moment he had mentioned her name. Regardless, the last sentence he used forced the beloved to leap from the couch. "I hope she'll do me the honor of becoming my wife-"

"No!"

He had made a move to comfort the beloved, but his hand was forced aside. "Don't touch me! Don't talk to me, don't touch me...in fact, just leave me alone!" And the darling had stormed away, leaving him downstairs to wonder if he had done the right thing.

When he awakened the next dawn, went to tell the beloved good morning, he found a room cleared of clothes and sentimental trinkets. He shakily sat on the bed, where a stray blue shirt lay abandoned by its owner. He picked up the shirt, buried his face in it, wept as he had never wept before.


The best man saw the teardrops falling on the windowpane. He kept talking, because he knew his words would give his jittery friend some comfort. "Ah, I figured out why your plan to stay inside failed. It was because you surrounded yourself with people who would do anything to get you out. We all care about you, you know?"

"Pi!" Pikachu confirmed his presence by crawling up on the best man's shoulder.

He knew his friend was correct. Still, because he hated to hear his own techniques turned on him, the groom decided to spar. "That's true. I suppose I do have really close friends who care. But you began by saying that I was doing something myself to find a way out of this enclosed space... you haven't quite explained what I'm doing. Care to comment on that?"

The best man laughed again, ran a hand through his tousled hair. "I didn't explain it, did I? Sorry, I thought it was obvious. You see, even as you stayed in the room, you opened the window." At the groom's puzzled expression, the best man grinned. "You instantly sought the unconfined way out. You can't get more unconfined than the air."

For perhaps the first time all day, the groom threw back his head and laughed. "Nice job, Professor!"

"I try." The two friends chuckled for a few moments more. Then the best man noticed that the groom had grown sober again. "What is it? Still nervous?"

"That too." The groom bit his lip, fiddled with his cufflinks. "I'm not so much scared about the ceremony itself. It's... well, now you know how I am. I'm too afraid to let people close to me...what if... what if she's making a mistake? What if I turn out to be a cold, unfeeling thing? What if I hurt her?" The mere thought of causing her pain summoned the Butterfrees again.

"You know what I think?" The best man propped his chin on one hand, traced patterns in the window's dust with the other. "I don't think it's so much that you're afraid to let anyone close to you. Using your tactics again," and the best man added a wink, "I note that I can come in and analyze you without any resistance on your part; that takes a high degree of intimacy for someone who theoretically doesn't want anyone to know him. Rather...you won't let yourself get close to anyone else. You'll let people in, but you won't go out. I haven't exactly worked that one out yet, but you can figure it out while you're standing at the altar."

"Damn you." But the groom was smiling. "Damn you and your pedantic conversation."

"Exactly, all this psychoanalytic crap and theorizing when we should be out taking action and living." The best man stood up and wiped the dust from his elbows. "I guess what I'm saying is this. I can't really tell you if this is the right decision or not, and I can't really tell you what the future will bring. I only know two things." He held up his index finger. "Item one: You look so happy when you're with her, happier than I've ever seen you before." He added a second finger. "Item two: More than one person is out there waiting to see if you'll dare to step outside these walls and come into their lives."

Pikachu hopped onto the groom's shoulder at that moment. "Pikapi," he announced, with a nod that had as much sagacity as a Pikachu could muster.

The groom pondered the wisdom of both his best man and Pikachu's words...


He had stopped the "third wheel" one day when she wasn't around, asked if they could talk. After the failed interlude with his dear one, he was scared shitless to have this conversation. So much would happen if her beloved responded in the same manner...he might divide them, he would definitely lose her...

"Sure, we can talk, what is it?" The young one's eyes were filled with questions, but he stopped to listen.

In the fraction of a second before opening his mouth, he wondered if he had an easier way to break the news. As he parted his lips, however, he decided that beating around the bush or lying just wasn't playing fair. "I have something to tell you," he began, then plunged ahead with his speech as before.

The third wheel said nothing, merely cocked his head to one side and listened.

This time, he hesitated before delivering the last sentence. "I hope she'll do me the honor...I mean...hell, I want to marry her," he finished softly, spreading his arms open in a pleading gesture. After all, on some level he was asking permission to do this.

Silence.

Then, "Oh, is that all? I thought it might be something serious!"

For the second time in a long time, he was flustered. "What? Excuse me?"

The third wheel laughed. "We've been through too much and we're too close for me to get upset over something like that. Hey, if it makes her happy, it makes me happy." And the third wheel gave him a smile he had seen a thousand times before.


"So what do you say?" His best man (and truly he had been the best man for the job) punched the groom's shoulder lightly. "Shall we have a wedding today or not?"

He fiddled with his cufflinks once more, adjusted his white bowtie, gently stroked Pikachu's head. Pulling himself to his full height, he gazed into his best man's eyes and gave him a confident smile. "Let's do it."

"Ka!" Pikachu leapt off his shoulder and scurried towards the door.

"Yeah!" his friend cheered as he headed for the door. "Because three angry redheads are the last thing this wedding party needs!" He raised his voice just a bit. "Places, people! If we all move, we can start on time!"

The groom squared his shoulders, took a deep breath, and strolled confidently out of the antechamber.


Five minutes later, the groom's hard-earned resolve disappeared under the glare of the lights, the rolling and flashing of the cameras, the reverent silence of the guests, the kindly smiles of the preacher. Now, thanks to the lights, he was scared shitless and hot. "Can anything be done about that?" he whispered to his best man. "I'm practically blind." The best man had disappeared, returned a second later with someone who adjusted the light.

When he had blinked away the green "afterglow" of the lights, he took in his surroundings. Big, brilliant arrangements of lilies, roses, laurels decorated the cathedral. Above and to the left, the organist played Clarke's Trumpet Voluntary, flanked by a timpani player and three trumpet players. Out in the audience, a sea of nameless faces...Nonsense. He looked for familiar faces and found them: a friend here, a colleague there, small pockets of rivals, a crowd of relatives. The Butterfrees calmed themselves again...

...only to become riled up at the sight of the last face he expected to see. He covered his mouth, fighting to hold back the scream of joy. One of his darlings sat in the second row, his untamed shock of brown hair instantly visible. He wanted to run to him, envelop him in his arms, ask where the hell he had been.

The beloved merely smiled sadly, held up the wedding program. He had scrawled one word on the back of it. SORRY, hastily written in blue ink.

The groom didn't care what anyone thought, openly mouthed the words I forgive you toward the prodigal son and got a relieved look for his efforts.

Above their heads, the cathedral bells pealed, announcing the wedding's imminent beginning. His hand was shaking. He gazed at it, trying to be as clinical about it as possible. Merely a nervous reaction. Involuntary responses to high amounts of adrenaline in the bloodstream, sparks traveling rapidly across nerve synapses...Hell's bells, who was he kidding? If anything, thinking like that was making him more nervous!

The two ushers marched to the altar to light the candles. He tried to envision the symmetry of their movements from the audience's angle: long-stemmed ceremonial lighters crossing to spark the wax into bright flame...then afterwards, the ushers turning in identical, crisp military turns to return the lighters to the rear of the church.

The three trumpeters slowly raised their horns. Long herald trumpets reached above the crowd, bells pointed toward heaven. As they rose, the sun streaming through the chapel's stained glass windows provided them with brilliant flashes of light. At the nod of the lead trumpet, the organ, trumpets, and timpani began the pickup to Mouret's Rondeau, the processional music for the bridesmaids and groomsmen.

It took every ounce of willpower he had not to bite his nails, or even worse, not to run screaming out of the chapel. Instead, he focused on the attendants, decided to think about them for a while to get the hell away from himself for as long as possible.

Each groomsmen/ bridesmaid pair approached the altar with a stately, sure step. The men were gallant gentlemen, dashing in their tuxedoes, who supported their partners with a strong arm. The ladies were shy, lovely, as they fluttered their fan bouquets and raked the dusky rose skirts of their dresses across the aisle carpet. They arrived at the altar, separated, bowed and curtseyed to each other, then proceeded to their respective sides. The groom watched them intently. Finally, when the two flower girls strew rose petals and green leaves, the groom allowed himself to relax a bit. See? he told himself smugly. Nothing to be worried about at all. Everyone was right.

Rondeau came to a triumphant close just as the flower girls took their places. The trumpets ended on a three-note chord; the organ opened most of its stops; the timpanist gave a booming roll. The final chord reverberated from the walls of the cathedral, hung in the air like the memory of a sweet dream. He closed his eyes for a moment, savoring the sound, letting it soothe him.

In that blessed silence, when all was peace, he watched the trumpets lower as one, saw the sun's glimmer on their golden forms once more.

Then the best man murmured, "Ready? Here she comes."

His heart flew into his throat.


He took her into the gardens one day. She believed it was just another picnic in the great outdoors, but for him it was much, much more. "I have something I want to ask you," he murmured, caressing her face as she lay in his lap.

"All right, ask away." She placed kisses on his fingers.

"I will. But you have to promise not to interrupt me!" And he kissed her lips to keep her quiet.


The doors of the sanctuary flew open. They made a clanking noise in the silence. A moment later, the organ began a reverent rendering of the Wedding March. She and her escort began the long walk up the aisle. As the ushers had before him, her cavalier offered her a stable arm to hold. He was not as tall as the others, but his deportment made up for what he lacked in height: his posture was the most rigid, his face the most serious, his movements the most precise.

As most brides seem to be on their wedding days, she was an angelic vision in her layers of satin and pearls and lace; however, the groom hardly recognized his love under the fabric and crinolines, the makeup, the slight curls in her red-auburn hair. He nibbled his lip again, shifted his weight to his left foot.

Jessica and James Morgan gazed at each other across the bottom stairs of the altar, shared a secret smile as they simultaneously remembered their own wedding a year ago.


"The past four and a half years have been the best years of my life. What's made them so wonderful? Not any contributions I've made to the wonderful world of Pokemon. I still love studying them, working with them, don't get me wrong... but all of a sudden it doesn't seem like enough for me.

" Not anything I've done to improve myself, sort of. I mean, nothing like working out, or changing my look. Hell, I'm in such a rhythm with the way I do things...if I change it now... such a radical change might literally kill me!

"I think the only thing that's given me any sort of meaning these few years... is you, and your love."


The audience watched as she and her escort walked down the aisle. She took tiny steps, as one of her bridesmaids had taught her. Tiny steps caused ripples in the heavy brocaded skirt, ripples that caused her to "float." The escort remained firm, safely anchoring her to the earth.

The groom carefully ran a hand through his hair, damned the electric sliding Butterfrees inside him to hell once and for all.

On the second step of the altar, the devilishly handsome Brock Slate winked at the buxom May Oak. They grinned, excited at the prospect of a new love.


"Yes, you, and everything that you've brought into my life." He brushed his fingertips along her lips. "You brought me so much love-not only through your sweet self, but through all the people you love too. I consider them part of my family now, can't imagine a single day of my life without all these exciting new folks. You and the others have shown me that there is more to life than just Pokemon and paper and words."


Her veil tumbled down her back, white water attempting to cool the ember-colored curls. The bouquet even spilled over her hands, a bounty of roses and ivy. She glided along, a veritable goddess of the waves, plunging forward. Still her escort bound her to earth; the Pikachu and Meowth carrying her train held her down even as they created their own ripples in her.

At a shove from the best man, the groom stumbled down the altar stairs. His hands were practically vibrating with fear.

Best man Tracy Sketchit smiled, shook his head at the groom's behavior. He patted one flower girl, Chikorita, who snuggled into his shoulder. Across from him, Misty Waterflower wiped her eyes and those of the flower girl Togepi wriggling about in her arms.


"Yet none of this would have happened if it hadn't been for you. You changed me so much...you made me actually open up long enough to let you inside. I didn't think that was possible. Not after the other one hurt me, took advantage of me. She...she is not important right now, though. You are..."


As the bride and her escort approached the altar, Gary Oak sat on the edge of the second pew. He smiled, laughed to himself, wondered what kind of divine being was responsible for this little irony. Oh, well...


"...and you're so important because...well, now that I've opened up enough to let you inside, I just want to keep you inside, close to me forever." He pulled the ring out of the box, heard her small cry of surprise.


At the bottom of the altar, the groom stood, smile pasted on his face. Ash Ketchum carefully placed the bride's hand in the groom's, stepped back, and grinned. "Come on, you guys, breathe!" he whispered, then giggled.


"Will you marry me, Delia Ketchum?"


He gazed into her face. She was actually a mess of tears and mascara, but she managed a weak smile. Suddenly the lightning-thought stuck him: perhaps, all this time, she had been putting on a brave face for him. Perhaps she wasn't the untouchable goddess he thought she was...maybe, just maybe, she understood how it was to be walled up and scared shitless too. Maybe she was mortal after all...


"Yes, Samuel Oak, I will!"


The walls crumbled inside him.

He lifted her hand to his lips, kissed it reverently. "I love you so much, Delia," he murmured, giving her a shy smile.

"Oh, Samuel...I love you too," she whispered. He watched the fear, the pain, all the negatives drain from her face, watched her replace them with hope, expectation, love.

They climbed the stairs, hand in hand, ready to face the wide open world together.

"Dearly beloved..."


Fin

Postlude: Oh my God. This began as an exercise in writing a one-shot, as an exercise in a totally different writing style, and as a warmup for another in the "Darker Shade of Indigo" series I'm writing. It ended up being one of the few serious SADRNs (Samuel and Delia Romance Novels) out there. I don't know how well it works, how plausible it is, or anything. I only hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Eldershippers unite! ^_~