Author's Note: I'm slightly irritated that this website doesn't show dashes ( - ) anymore. I dunno when this happened, but suddenly all my older chapters have become impossible to read because the paragraph breaks have disappeared. Damn.

Anyhow. I started this chapter MONTHS ago, and it feels really good to finally be finishing it. And hopefully, my updates will continue to be delivered in a timely manner.

It was the kiss.

That simple, quick, damned kiss was the cause of everything, all our troubles. It was a terrible mistake from the beginning, but after so long apart. . . we just couldn't help ourselves.

Don't get me wrong, it was wonderful, but that was the whole problem. We both knew we couldn't carry on like this. How could we? We had lived our own lives while we were apart, and we expected that everything would return to normal just like that. After all, we loved each other, right? And they say absence makes the heart grow fonder.

That was our big mistake. My big mistake.

The love was gone for good, I could tell that much from the moment our lips touched. We were lost in the moment, but it was abundantly clear as soon as it passed. It was to me, at least. It was a mistake to even consider that were we still good for each other after being apart so long. No one just recovers from heartbreak so easily.

So there we stood, love lost to time, left only to chase after the spectres of our past.

()()()()()()()()

We sat before the fire, watching the withering flames crackle and burn, but the real warmth came from our bodies. She sidled closer to me, resting her head on my shoulder and giving a satisfied sigh. I had enjoyed the time we spent together over the last couple of days, but I knew it would last. I would have to be on my way within the next day or so, but I was okay with that. It just meant I had to cherish our time while it lasted.

"Just like old times, eh Blaze?" she murmured softly, her familiar voice like a warm summer day to my weary spirit. I drew my eyes from the fire, watched her beside me for a moment. Her eyes were shut lightly, content, and her lips parted ever-so-slightly as she breathed. I had to smile.

"Yeah. . . it really is."

She smiled to herself and snuggled closer, her chin still rested on my shoulder. I could feel the heat of her breath on my ear. "You don't have to leave, you know. You could always just. . . stay. With me." Though I could not see it, I knew she was grinning. "Forever."

I coughed uncomfortably and scooted away from her, suddenly feeling uneasy. "Staying a while would be nice," I avoided her gaze and pretended like I hadn't heard the last part of her proposition. "But she'll be better soon. She'll want to leave right away."

She pouted, of course. "Her? Really?" She wrinkled her nose. "Don't you think there's something. . . odd about her?"

I nodded, conceding. "Well. . . she's not usually like this. But she's had a lot to deal with lately, on top of her injury."

But she shook her head. "No, not like that. Don't you think there's something decidedly. . . off about her? She just doesn't seem natural, y'know?"

I quickly shot her a look. She couldn't possibly have known about her special condition, could she? "Hey, careful with what you say. You're talking about my mate, after all."

She snorted, obviously trying to hold back an inappropriate giggle. "Your mate? Really?" I nodded and she chuckled, apparently finding the idea hysterical. "When you told me that I thought you were just having me on! You were serious? She's a bit. . . young for you, don't you think?"

"Of course I was serious! I love her, Az."

Azmaria pouted again. "But it's so weird! I mean, aren't you afraid of water types?" She shook her head disapprovingly. "It's just not natural."

"Not nat-" I was stunned into silence. I frowned at her. "Azmaria, she is my mate now, whether you think it's right or not! It's time you accepted it." After a moment. "And no. I've gotten over that stupid phobia."

She sighed and scooted closer to me again. "I suppose you're right. . . it's just such a shock to see you again. It was tearing me up inside to think that I lost you in the crash, Blaze."

I nodded, my eyes once more glued to the fireplace. "I thought the same, Az. For the longest time the only thing that kept me going was knowing I had to take care of Sam in your stead. But we've both gone our separate ways now." I sighed. "Whatever may have been between us is gone now."

There was a long silence. When she spoke, Azmaria sounded close to tears. "Don't you ever miss it, Blaze?"

I watched her for a long time as a thousand memories flooded my head. I remembered the way it was back then, before the car crash. Before Sam lost his eyesight. Before I lost my mate. "Of course I do, Azmaria. But it's all behind us now."

Azmaria sighed dejectedly and rested against my shoulder once more. "Yeah. . . I guess you're right." She chuckled. "Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if the crash had never happened. . . maybe we'd still be together, huh?"

"Yeah, maybe."

Azmaria lifted her head suddenly, a grin on her face. There was a sly twinkle in her eye. "But while you're still here, perhaps we could. . . be together once more, for old times' sake."

"Az!" I felt the blood rushing immediately to my cheeks, as well as elsewhere better left unmentioned. "Az, I just told you! What was between us is over now! Christine is my mate, and there's no way I'd ever-"

She cut me off with a kiss, powerful and familiar. Everything- her scent, the taste of her mouth, the cute, helpless noise she made- brought me back to my youth, back to the days when it was just Azmaria and I. I was lost to the nostalgia and old love, inadvertently drew myself into her kiss, enjoying the moment immensely.

"B-blaze?" The words of dismay pierced the harmony of the moment, shattering it like a glass mirror. I broke away from Azmaria, my eyes falling on Christine, staring back at me in something that could only be described as absolute horror.

"Christine, I-" She didn't wait for an explanation, though. My mate took off before I could stop her, running out the Pokedoor and into the backyard.

"Blaze?" Azmaria asked from behind me. She chuckled. I hated that. "Now that she's left, maybe we could continue this elsewhere. . ." I whipped around, glaring at my old mate.

"Stay the hell away from me, Azmaria." I growled at the female growlithe. "I love Christine now. It's best you took whatever was left between us and leave it where you found it, because so long as I have my mate by my side, I never want to see you again."

Azmaria stared back, wide-eyed. "B-blaze?"

I groaned. Too harsh. Tone it down. "Leave us be, Azmaria. Yes, of course I miss you, but the difference between us is that I've moved on." Before I exited the house through the Pokedoor, I gave Az one last look over my shoulder. "I strongly suggest you do the same."

And so I went to my mate, my true love.

Through the Pokedoor was the backyard, and in the backyard was a garden with a little path leading through rows of flowers that seemed to glow with color despite the fact it was the middle of the night. I tossed the idea around of picking one for Christine, but I noticed all the flowers were ringed with tiny thorns, and I had no desire to cut up my mouth on the way to apologize to my mate. I had a feeling I would need it.

The path through the garden eventually opened up to a small stone courtyard, complete with silvery pond and perfect view of the moon overhead. Christine sat at the water's edge, head hung low and her finned ears drooping. I bit my lip, suddenly aware that I had no idea what I was supposed to say to her- how could I explain what I did?

As I approached, Christine's ears perked. She looked up slowly, eyes wide and vulnerable, filled with betrayal. She quickly wiped her eyes, but it was clear that she had been crying.

"Go away," she muttered, turning back to the water. My mind raced. What was I supposed to say? How could I make this better? Apologize, you idiot.

"Christine, I-"

"How could you?" She interrupted me, getting right in my face. Her eyes were wide and red. She'd really been crying before I approached her. "How could you do that to me, Blaze? I-I know she's your old mate, but. . . th-that doesn't mean you can go and. . ." Her vindication wavered, and at the end she hiccupped and began breaking down into tears. My heart sunk.

"Christine, I. . ." Now that I had the chance to speak, I still didn't know how I would fix this. "I don't know what to say. I can't deny what I did." I sighed. That sounded terrible. Why the hell would I start working against myself? "It was a moment of weakness. . . but Christine, she kissed me." And now I sounded like I was making lame excuses. Fantastic. "I. . . I guess I couldn't help myself." I sighed once more. I didn't dare, couldn't look her in the eye.

She took a deep breath. When she spoke, her voice wavered slightly. "I know what happened, Blaze. I understand it perfectly." She must have overheard Azmaria and I talking beforehand. "It's just. . . how can I trust you anymore?"

"Christine, you know I love you," I protested. "I love you more than there are days in a year! It's. . ." I trailed off. Frustratingly, I couldn't put my thoughts into words. Start over. "I can't explain what I did. Azmaria. . . I really don't love her. It was a mistake, really!"

Christine sighed, turning back toward the pond. "Blaze, how can I really know? You looked like you enjoyed it so much. . ."

I looked away for a moment. This felt like the only chance I'd ever get to redeem myself. I had to make it right. . . I had to choose my words carefully. " Azmaria. . . isn't even in the same league as you." I took a deep breath. "The twinkle in her eye, the brightness in her smile. . . it just doesn't appeal to me the way it used to. Christine, I'm over her. . . it's you I love."

Christine sniffed. "Blaze, I don't know what to do. How can I. . ."

I shook my head, gave her a sad smile. "I never expected you to forgive me right away, Christine. I just want to make sure you knew it really is you that I love." I shrugged. She deserved some time alone, to think. I understood the gravity of what I had done. "Maybe in time, I guess."

I began to walk away, completely convinced that I had blown my last chance at being happy ever again. What reason would she have to forgive me? Why we she take me in the first place? I sighed. I didn't care if we would never have our own family. I wanted Christine, my Christine, and nothing more.

"Blaze!" Christine shouted, running to catch up with me. The moment I stopped and turned to face her, she pounced and planted a kiss on my lips. I blinked in astonishment, but I was overcome by such a strong feeling of relief and of love, I closed my eyes, returning the kiss with my mate.

Slowly, she broke away and licked my nose lovingly. I smiled.

"So. . . am I forgiven?" I asked quietly. She nodded, all smiles. I could feel tears- happy tears, tears of joy- running down my cheeks. I sighed softly and nuzzled her face. I made a silent promise to never let go of my loved ones ever again. I wouldn't make the same mistakes I made with Azmaria. I was determined to make this work, to make us work. I wanted Christine to be by my side, and I at hers, for the rest of our lives.

Of course, the Beyond Corporation had other plans.

()()()()()()()()()()

To avoid complicated farewells, we left early on the next morning, As we cut through Audrey's gardens, I swear I saw Azmaria's face in a window, watching us go, but as I passed through a bush she disappeared. We retraced our path through the city and left northward out of Geothera through the mountains. We walked on in silence through much of the morning, giving time to let the previous night's awkwardness disperse.

I wanted to say something, anything, to lighten her up, but I struggled to find the words to say. I could've told her how much I loved her, I could've told her how happy I was to be leaving behind those sad memories. I wish I had told her how perfect she was, how she made everything better by simply being there. She was an angel. My angel, and I wanted her to know it. I wanted to tell her how much she meant to me, but I never got the chance.

"Christine, you're-" Midsentence I was interrupted when a small purple hand clamped around my muzzle. Over my shoulder I saw its owner: Sableye was perched on my back, holding one finger over her mouth in the universal body language for silence.

-Ah, ah, ah. . .- Sableye hissed, glaring at me. -Don't say a word. We have need of you back at HQ, so I need you to do something for me-

"What's wrong, Blaze?" Christine was looking over at me, deep concern in her eyes. I waited for her to react to the dark pokemon on my back, but she never made and suggestion that she could even see Sableye.

-I am invisible to her- Sableye purred, patting the top of my head. I cringed, glaring at her over my shoulder. She scowled. -What sort of fool do you take me for? You know how I operate-

"Are. . . you afraid of the mountains?" Christine asked, voice full of innocent concern, blatantly unaware of the danger she and I were in.

-Ah, so naïve. How cute- Sableye spat the last word out, then direction her attention down to me. -Be a good doggy and repeat after me: "Christine, I have to go"-

I narrowed my eyes at her, resisting the urge to say something aloud and risk the ghostly pokemon's wrath. She grabbed the scruff of my neck in one hand and pulled her face close to mine. - Don't be a fool. You knew this day would come, now do as I say-

"I mean, it'll be hard. . ." Christine continued speaking to me, oblivious of the danger she was in. In this case, it may have been for the best that she did not know. "But together we can-"

"Christine, I have to go," I blurted out after a moment of hesitation. I glared briefly at Sableye, then turned my attention back to Christine. She did not answer at first, instead just watching me quizzically for a moment.

-Tell her you're leaving her- Sableye continued, grabbing my chin and dragging my head up. Her smirk was so unnerving it sent a shiver down my spine. -Do it, or the consequences will be dire. You know of my power- To prove her point, she slid a finger across her throat. I glanced at Christine out of the corner of my eye. Could I do it, if only to protect her? Could I bring myself to say it after what we had just gone through the night before?

"Well. . ." Christine said slowly, "there are some trees over there, but I don't-" I shook my head. She cocked hers to one side in confusion. "What's the matter?"

"No, I mean. . ." I hesitated. Sableye leaned over my shoulder and gestured with her hands for me to continue. I took a deep breath. "I'm leaving. . ." Christine watched me incredulously, eyebrows knit tightly together in worry. ". . . leaving you."

Christine's reaction was delayed. For a moment she just stared, open-mouthed, then slowly her eyes widened in disbelief. Over my shoulder, Sableye cackled. At least she was enjoying it. It meant that Christine was safe, for now.

Christine just watched him for a moment, before her own eyes widened in disbelief. "Wh-what?"

I couldn't bear to look her in the eye anymore. I dropped my head, shaking it slowly. Please understand, it's for your safety. "I'm sorry Christine, I-"

"This isn't funny, Blaze!" Christine shouted angrily. She sounded mad, but her lip quivered as she held my gaze, and her eyes were wide in fear. "So stop it! Just. . . just stop. It's not funny. . . let's go." She turned on her heel and began walking back down the road. I moved to join her but was smacked on the head from behind.

-You are not going anywhere- Sableye hissed, -You're not going with her. Tell her-

"I-I'm sorry, Christine. . . I can't go with you." Please, please, PLEASE understand! It almost killed me to say those words, but I didn't dare cross Sableye. I knew how powerful the witch was. . . I didn't want to think of what she could do to Christine if I upset her. Her safety comes first. Hopefully she'll understand what's going on. . .

"Blaze, stop fooling around!" Christine shouted, her voice cracked slightly. Her anger came from desperation. I wanted nothing more than to reassure her, but I couldn't take that risk.

Sableye tugged back on my ears, wrenching my chin up. -Look serious! She must believe your words- I snarled at her as she released my ears. -And no tricks. . . Or else.-

"I'm not kidding, Christine," I said as solemnly as I could, trying, with difficulty, to drop all emotion from my face and voice. When I looked at her, it made me cringe. She was crying now.

-Not good enough. You have to get rid of her completely- Sableye hissed threatening, grabbing the top of my head and forcing me to face my mate. -Tell her you've got what you wanted from her. Tell her that you don't need her anymore-

I cringed and squeezed my eyes shut as tight as I could. "I. . . I've already got what I wanted from you. . ." I swallowed hard, "And now. . . I don't need you anymore." I couldn't watch her pain anymore. I turned around and began walking away, back toward Geothera. Sableye patted my head.

-Good doggy-

"Blaze!" Christine cried, anguished. I couldn't bring myself to look back at her. It was too painful for me to even think. My movements were mechanical, one foot in front of the other, step after step, trying to put as much distance from this place as I could.

I growled, looking over my shoulder at the ghost, now reclining on my back, examining her nails. "You're a monster."

-Flattery will get you nowhere, dear- Sableye said with a smirk. She grabbed my ears and pulled me around so I faced Christine once again. She had followed me down the path, stopping abruptly a few feet away. She mouthed my name, but no sound came out.

-Make her cry, dog- Sableye hissed, then whispered something in my ear. I gasped.

"No. . . no, I can't!" I whispered back frantically. The ghost gave me a glare that said 'do-it-or-else', and I had no choice but to concede. I sighed, faced my mate, swallowed hard. Forgive me, Christine.

"I have to go. . . Azmaria's waiting for me." I didn't even want to see her reaction. I just wanted to be gone. I'm so sorry, Christine. . .

"Blaze. . ." Christine whimpered, desperation obvious in her voice. I gave her one last look over my shoulder and mouthed the word 'sorry', before breaking into a run down the path to Geothera.

-See? That wasn't so bad, was it?-

"Shut the hell up," I growled. I could feel that I was dangerously close to tears, but I kept running, as if putting distance between my mate and I would dull the pain.

-Don't pretend you didn't know this was going to happen. This was the risk you took from the beginning-

I ignored her words, my thoughts were busy elsewhere. He was back? Why now? What did this mean about me, about Christine?

Christine. I sighed, knowing full well that I would never see my angel again.

()()()()()()()()()()

He had no restraints. No chains or rope to bind him, no shackles to keep him. If he wanted to run, he could have. In fact, the very thought had crossed his mind several times, but he knew better than that. There would be no escaping, even if he managed to get past the scientists, guards, and crown drones.

-A band of red upon his head. . .-

That singing, goddamn that singing. I wished that she would stop that infernal singing. None of this would be nearly as bad if she weren't rubbing it in my face every five minutes.

"It's been a while, Blaze."

I couldn't bring myself to look at him. There were too many conflicting feelings. . . This man was my lifeline. He took me in when I was alone, he provided me with a home. He and his family showed me kindness, a kindness I betrayed when I went back on my word.

From the day Christine first appeared in my life, he saw that I was falling for her. He told me the risks, confirmed what Christine had told me: she was their project. An experiment, to use the word the scientists used to describe her, as though she were no more than a mere laboratory mouse. I was told not to become attached to her, that she would be gone from my life soon enough.

-You shall do what we want to. . .-

The Sableye continued to dance around me in obvious glee. Off to my right, a pair of scientists readied an object I knew all too well: a small, thin band of red metal that was, in this instance, intended for me. The scientists worked with small, dexterous tools on the complex circuitry inside the crown. I sighed. I knew what the crown was capable of, and I feared that I would soon face the same fate.

-No telling why, you can't deny. . .-

"You can't say we didn't warn you, my boy." The man's voice was cold, but his smile was paradoxically warm and inviting. "It was foolish running off with Project Christine, but you knew the risks, right? Better to have loved and lost, and all that."

A moment passed in utter silence, save for the Sableye's incessant singing. All the while, the man continued to smile at me.

"I hear Azmaria's alive," he continued calmly, smile never leaving his face. He stroked his white mustache thoughtfully. "Does that bring back some memories, Blaze? Things haven't been the same since the accident, have they?"

I shook my head.

-Bend to our will, and you shall kill. . .-

The scientists approached the man, handing him the crown. He seemed unfazed.

"Ah, there we go." He spoke quietly to them for a moment, before turning back to me. "Don't worry, old friend. You and Christine shall be together again soon enough. There is a man under my payroll who is good at. . . collecting things. In fact, he has young Shadow and his companions under his care at this very moment."

For whatever reason, this comment made Sableye laugh hysterically. The man stood from his chair and approached me.

"You've been faithful to me for a long time, Blaze. I would like to trust you enough to stay at my side, but unfortunately I cannot do that anymore. Not without a little. . . insurance."

He handed the crown to the Sableye. "Would you care to do the honors, Noai?"

The ghost grinned and snatched the object from his hands. She floated above my head, holding the crown in the air with two hands, at the ready.

The Director of Beyond, Professor Samuel Giacomo Linden, smiled warmly at me, but he had an decidedly malicious gleam in his unseeing eyes.

"Welcome home, old friend," He said, nodding. The Sableye cackled.

-An unbreakable bond, submit to Beyond!-

()()()()()()()()()()

It's strange to be a passenger inside your own mind.

You're not aware of anything your body is doing, but you're still there. It's as if your body took the wheel and your mind took the backseat, but the seat in front of it was too high to see so it just buckled itself in tighter and hoped for the best.

In my own mind there was a lot of blackness, but occasionally I would see groups of memories flash by. I had a lot of time to think about things, all sorts of things. How I'd lived my life 'til now, what I planned to do with my life. I thought about my childhood, and my life with Azmaria up until the car crash, and my life afterwards. I thought about the day you crashed headfirst into my life. If you hadn't stolen that particular sandwich, or if I had known you were his latest subject. . . maybe all this could have been avoided. Maybe you would be safe and sound, and maybe I wouldn't be a prisoner inside my own head.

But then I never would have met you, Christine. We never would have spent all that time, all those adventures together. I remembered the first day I fell in love with you, and I remember the heartbreak I felt when your human-turned-Pokemon fiancée showed up next door. I remember the sadness I felt when you moved away, the sheer terror I felt as I charged through the rain, medicine bag in my mouth, begging, begging that you would live until I arrived to save the day.

I would never give up anything for all that. Knowing all that has happened, I couldn't give up all those memories, even it meant the two of us would be safe now. Does that make me selfish? Am I a bad dog for choosing the love of my mate over her life?

Maybe. Maybe not. I'll never know now.

When was the last time I told you I love you, Christine? When was the last time I told you that you were my angel?

In my head, the darkness closed around me like a warm blanket. It was comforting.

There wasn't anything else I could do. It was time to sleep. . .

. . . singing?

No, it couldn't have been. I was dead, right? But. . . I could hear it clearly. A song, a familiar melody. One that you always sang, Christine. One that you always sang. . .

There was an explosion in my head as all my senses switched to overdrive all at once. I could only see blackness, but I could hear singing and a tiny mechanical beep, even over the sound of rushing water. I could smell mud and water and something sweet and familiar nearby. I tasted. . . well, blood, but I didn't feel like dwelling on that for too long. But the most overwhelming feeling of all was something soft and warm resting against me.

I opened my eyes, just a crack. I was nearly blinded by the light, but after a moment I could see a blurry image of a creature standing over me. The creature was blue and the light seemed to make an angelic halo around its body. And she was beautiful.

"Christine. . . my angel. . ."