Well, when inspiration strikes, it strikes.
This is a continuation of "Acrophobic" by EkaSwede. I tried to make it self-explanatory so reading the original would not be required, but if you want to read the original first, go ahead; it's just a quick one-shot, anyway.
By the way, Autophobia is "irrational fear or distrust of oneself" or "fear of loneliness".
Beep... Beep… Beep…
The sound rang through my ears, arousing my faint consciousness…
Beep… Beep… Beep…
I felt… myself. I felt my mind rising from a black pit of nothingness. I felt my lungs tremble as they rose and fell, bearing the weight of the rest of my body.
Beep… Beep… Beep…
With each breath, I felt a surge of horrible, indescribable pain. My body had been wounded. Abused. Brought to its very limit. I'd experienced something I shouldn't have been allowed to survive, and my body was rebelling against me for it…
Beep… Beep… Beep…
And still, that beeping just kept going… over and over… almost like a heartbeat…
"He's going to be okay."
My eyes fluttered open at the sound of the strange voice. Soft light poured in through them, showing me the blurry image of a tiled wall. A pillow. A bed. A cramped little room which I lay in, covered with the color white.
I turned my head, feeling the pull of the wires and attachments that bound me in place…
…and there you were, standing at my side. Looking… happy for me, but at the same time, angry. Angry at me, or perhaps angry at yourself, I couldn't tell. You just stood there, meeting my eyes with yours, exchanging wordless feelings with me...
When I saw you, everything rushed back to me like a relentless waterfall. The memories. I knew exactly what had happened, that fateful night at the top of the cliff. When you finally realized how I felt… that I was scared of heights, scared of flying… and that I didn't want to evolve… And that I was willing and ready to end my own life to escape it all… I became scared of you.
I didn't know how you would react. I didn't want to know. I never wanted you to know my secret. You had your visions of who I was. You had your hopes and desires for me. You wanted the day to come when I'd fly around the countryside with you on my back, leaving behind all those long, weary days and nights of walking…
To you, perfection was what mattered the most. But I couldn't bring you to see that I was not perfect. That I would never be perfect. That I was different than other Charmeleon. My fire was weak, and my fear of heights was crippling. As a Charizard, I would lose the one and only pride I had of myself—my speed—and with my newfound wings, I would gain a power, a responsibility that would torture me to the very soul.
I would become… useless.
I knew that day would come when I'd have to face your reaction. I didn't want it to come, but I couldn't stop it. I didn't know what you would do. You and the rest of your Pokémon would ridicule me until the end of my days. Or, perhaps you would disown me, leaving me alone in the wild as an imperfect thing like me would deserve. Or maybe you would trade me away to someone else, someone who didn't understand me as well as you, and it would all happen all over again…
…So, that night, I took matters into my own hands. I stood at the top of that cliff, knowing that all I needed was a little jump to escape it all. To escape from you. To escape my fears.
But, in my anger, I woke you, and it was then that you realized everything for the first time. It was then that I became scared of you, and foolishly took a step back… and another… until finally I found myself plummeting towards the water below…
You tried to save me, but your Pokéball missed me by a hair…
And I fell…
When I hit the water, it all went black.
But… that was not the end of me, was it? No sooner had I disappeared over the edge than you had jumped forward, still brandishing your Pokéball, and dove in after me…
As the water covered me, consumed me, drowning my flame like a tiny candle… I felt your hand grab my tail. I felt your arm wrap around me.
As I faded away… I felt myself being captured into your Pokéball…
And that was all I knew.
The flame of a Charmeleon is strong. Like a gas-fueled lantern, is difficult to put out, even after being submerged in water for a few moments. But the pain of such an occurrence is so indescribable, so all-encompassing, that death seems more like a welcome choice compared to survival…
…For the next thing I knew, there I lay, in the hospital bed… not even a Pokémon center, but a real, human hospital… still alive.
All thanks to you.
You said nothing. You didn't know what to tell me. And I wouldn't have known how to respond, anyway. You just stood there, looking sorry for me. Happy for me. Proud of me. And maybe scared of me. It was all you could do.
So much for perfection, I wanted to tell you.
As I said that to myself, a new thought began to dawn on me.
Maybe… I had you all wrong. Maybe I misunderstood you.
Maybe you didn't really expect perfection from me.
I remembered that one time, after that battle… it was the first memory that came to me that night, prompting me to inch closer to that cliff…
It was a battle against a fellow trainer, for practice. He released a Bulbasaur. You released me.
I knew that I could have ended the match in a moment with some well-placed fire attacks. But that was not who I was. My fire was weak, so I used other means to compensate.
I ran circles around that Bulbasaur. I clawed him, I slammed him, I whipped him with my tail, all while dodging his pathetic attempts to vine whip me and shoot me with seeds. His attacks never hit. My attacks never missed.
Finally, I gathered my breath and released a little ember at him, sealing his fate. He fell onto his side, unconscious, as his trainer rushed forward to put out the fire and recall him.
"Perfect!!" you said as you hit the button on the Pokéball, recalling me. "Good job! That's just what I expect from my Charmeleon!"
…And I never forgot those words.
It was hard to, since that wasn't the last time you used them. You said those same words after many other battles. It became clear that you expected perfection from me, and nothing less.
But now, as I lay in the hospital bed, wrapped up in all sorts of wires and instruments, I realized what you meant by those words. You just wanted to make me feel proud of myself.
You didn't hate imperfection. You wouldn't have been disappointed with my shortcomings. You even accepted my unique style of battle, and helped me hone my skills even though my fire was not as strong as it should have been. You were my friend, my master, despite all those things.
You had, after all, saved my life, even after learning my secret. If you'd have hated me for that, you would have just let me plummet to my death and walk away.
But there you stood, right at my bedside, showing me a small, broken smile with more meanings than I could count.
Eventually, the doctor told you to leave. You nodded sincerely to me, then walked away.
As I fell back asleep, I could still feel the rushing of the air in my face… I could still feel the thrill of free-fall, of having no ground underfoot… I felt my heart rushing with fear and exhilaration… I could see that wall of water coming up to hit me…
It was all I could think about. It was all I dreamt about.
I stayed in that hospital for a few days. You visited me every time the doctor would let you, and you always had the same look on your face. Sometimes you brought the other Pokémon with you, some of whom were friends I'd fought side-by-side with, others whom I despised being around. And one day, you even brought that Pikachu with you. He was lucky that I was tied up.
"You know, Charmeleon, when I told you to go jump in a lake, I didn't mean for you to actually do it," the Pikachu said oddly to me. "I didn't know you'd take it this way. I'm… sorry."
Yeah, right, I wanted to say. Means a whole lot to me now.
"But look," it said. "Master isn't taking it very well. He hasn't said anything for a long time. Make sure you straighten this out with him. I'm getting worried."
When the Pikachu said that, I looked back into your eyes. You really took this seriously, didn't you? You've constantly been deep in thought, deep in contemplation, for the past three days. You really did care about me, didn't you? I knew it was true.
Why didn't I see it before? I had no reason to go kill myself. I was not your slave. I was your friend.
In fact, you were just as new at all this as I was. You were still young, still learning the abilities and strengths of all your Pokémon, including me. And even though I was one of your favorites, one whom you used often in your battles, I was still a long way from my maximum strength. We were both striving for perfection. Not expecting it, but striving for it, just to see how far we could get.
And then, the doctors let me go. They unhooked me from all the strange machines, let me stand up, told you not to let me battle for a few weeks while I recovered, and sent me away with you.
You smiled sadly. You'd been waiting for this day. Instead of calling me into my Pokéball, you lead me through the halls of the hospital.
I waited and waited for you to say something, but you never did. Instead, you took me out into the fresh evening air. After all I'd been through, the gentle breeze against my skin felt so refreshing…
You took me to the park in the middle of the town, where kids were frolicking and trainers were playing with their Pokémon all around. We walked until we were away from all the others, until we found a nice, secluded tree… and there, you sat down, and you finally spoke.
"Listen… Charmeleon," you said to me as I sat next to you. "I've… been thinking a lot lately…"
Me, too, I wanted to say. But it wasn't time for me to speak. It was time for me to listen.
"I… I'm sorry for everything," you said. "I still don't understand why things happened the way they did. I never realized… that you were..."
You cleared your throat.
"As your trainer, I've done something very wrong. I don't exactly know what it was, but… I failed you, Charmeleon. You didn't feel comfortable around me enough to tell me about your fear. But I see now, and I understand why you acted the way you did all those times."
This was it. You were about to tell me that I didn't have to evolve if I didn't want to, that you'd let me stay as a Charmeleon. It was what I've been yearning to hear you say for so long.
"I made a decision," you said, your head hanging low. "I'm going to let you go."
I growled in surprise. What?! You were letting me go??
"After how I treated you, after how oblivious I was to you… I don't deserve to be your trainer anymore," you said. "I want you to go and be free, and be happy, and do just what you want to do without worrying about what your trainer expects from you."
What, no! I growled. You don't have to do this… I'll stay! Really! I will! You're not a bad trainer! It was me! It was all my fault! I was the one who was being stupid.
"Believe me, Charmeleon, it's for the best," you said, closing your eyes and ignoring me. "It'll make both of us happier in the long run. And here."
You pulled a small pouch from your pocket and set it next to me.
"It's a fire stone," you said. "It's yours. Take it with you. Your evolution is in your own hands now. You can use it, or you can throw it away. It's your choice."
I grabbed the small, yet weighty sack. These were the words I had waited for you to speak, but it wasn't nearly the way I expected you to say them!
Yet, at the same time, I understood you. You were so convinced that you had driven me to the point of suicide… That my pain and suffering was all your fault… that you didn't trust yourself anymore. And, as much as I hated to realize it, I had to obey you. I had to leave after what I had done. It would, indeed, make both of us happier in the long run, even if it's not what I wanted. It was, after all, my fault.
But you thought it was your fault, too… thus, we could no longer live together. You were right.
"So, go," you said, looking to the ground and pointing away. You sniffled, trying not to break down. "Go away, go be happy, Charmeleon. Don't let me, or anything else, stop you."
I couldn't tell whether it was my greatest wish or my worst fear coming true. I was finally going to have control over my own life, but at the same time, you were disowning me, just as I always feared you would do. I supposed that I couldn't have one without the other; freedom is a double-edged blade.
So, I gave you one last hug, my dear trainer. I grit my teeth and held back my own tears, trying to leave my last impression on you as a proud and strong creature… a creature well-raised and well-trained… Then, I took the little pouch you offered me, and I went away.
And, for what seemed like the second time, that was the last I ever saw of you.
The wild took a bit of getting used to, but my instincts were there to guide the way, and I managed to find peace there. There was plenty to eat, plenty of shelter, and miles upon miles of untamed wilderness to explore. I was never bored. I was happy.
Or was I?
Every night, when I lay down to sleep in my favorite little cave, I curled up with that little pouch you gave me and dreamed of only one thing.
The powerful feeling of the air brushing against my skin…
The feeling of free-fall… the feeling off total freedom, even from the earth itself…
The sight of the water rushing up to hit me… The sight of my doom…
Knowing that there was no turning back…
The memories of that night never went away. They never faded in the slightest. Over and over, night after night, it haunted my dreams. Even in the day, it looped, over and over, in my mind. The feeling of falling… falling to my death…
One night, in the midst of my dream, a powerful thought had hit me like a wall of water.
If I had wings… I could have saved myself.
It was true. I could have just tilted my wings… harnessed the very power of gravity which had held me captive, harnessed the power of the air's resistance…
…and I would have never hit the water.
Suddenly, it was all so clear to me… Wings are the cure for acrophobia!
In that pitch-black cave, my eyes snapped open. I scrambled around, and I found that little pouch you had given me. I tore it open without a second thought. I was resolute. I was so sure of myself. I knew that this was the answer. I wanted to be Charizard. I needed it more than I could ever imagine.
I wanted to fly.
To my surprise, two things fell out of that pouch. One was the promised fire stone, a little blood-red rock the size of my fist, burning faintly with a strange energy. The other was a small, rectangular box made of metal. I swung my tail forward to read it, squinting at the weird words and pictures which covered the front…
I fell down, laughing. I don't know how you knew, but you apparently understood me a lot more than I had thought. With each passing day, my memories of you had grown fonder. You were a kind, thoughtful, yet ambitious human. You wanted the best for your Pokémon. You really wanted us all to be proud of ourselves, and to be happy.
I took the fire stone in my claws, and immediately felt its energy pulse through me. It wanted to change me forever, it only needed permission.
I closed my eyes and held the stone against my chest.
The transformation began immediately. The stone started glowing, turning white-hot in my grasp. It seared my flesh and started burning into my chest, but somehow, it didn't hurt. It was a wonderful-feeling intensity. I pushed it harder against myself, feeling it spread deeper into my heart…
The fire in my stomach grew so hot, it took my breath away. It grew and expanded, feeling like it was completely engulfing my entire body. My vision turned a blinding bright red…
And for a few moments, I felt like a bodiless spirit unanchored to reality, floating in the realm of dreams…
I found myself lying on the cave floor. I was panting. My heart beat so rapidly, I thought it was going to explode. Fire filled my insides. The deed had been done. The transformation was complete. There was no going back.
I stood up and looked myself over. My new form was huge! I smiled as I tested my new muscles, my new, sharper eyesight, my new, massive tail… and my new set of wings. I was greatly satisfied with my new form. I felt mighty. I felt dominant.
I felt… fearless.
My eyes widened as I scanned my own heart, realizing the truth.
My fear of heights… was gone. Completely, utterly gone. Drowned like a tiny candle dropped into the ocean. Replacing it was a hunger, a yearning for the freedom of the sky.
Once again, I laughed. I couldn't help it. I laughed long and heartily at myself, at my own foolishness, at the awkwardness and stupidity of everything that happened to you and I. All along, it was so simple! So obvious! Of course a wingless creature such as my old self would have a natural aversion to heights! It was merely a simple instinct of self-preservation, just as it must have been for so many other creatures who could not fly. To a Charmeleon, the sky is a place of powerlessness, a place where nothing can save you from plunging to your death. To a Charizard… the sky is a playground.
I stepped out of the cave, and took a moment to enjoy the sight of the starry night sky with my new eyes. I let out a loud, triumphant roar, spread my wings, and leapt into the sky.
And I flew.
I found that place we had slept under the stars so many nights ago, that cliff which had doomed both of us to separation. I stood on the edge and peered at the water below, noticing how shorter the drop seemed now. Noticing how the lake which had previously instilled me with deep terror now seemed weak and harmless.
And I fell, down towards the water. It felt like forever. I closed my eyes, enjoying the feel of the air brushing powerfully against my skin…
With an effortless flick of my wings, I leveled out, plunging my front claws down under the surface of the water as I went. I skimmed the water, creating a huge ripple in my wake. Scarring the thing which had almost taken my life.
I had defeated the water. I was the victor.
Take that, I roared at the lake as I flew past, banking to the side to turn around.
I recalled my other fear of evolving—of losing my speed to a bulkier, more awkward body. How wrong I was! My speed had been increased tenfold. As I quickly found out, nothing can outrun a flying dragon as it swoops and dives through the air.
I flew for a very long time, testing every maneuver I was capable of, roaring joyously whenever I felt like it. I flew until the sun started to come up, until my wings started to cramp from the strain. I loved it. I wanted to live in the sky.
But when the sun rose, signaling the beginning of my first day as a Charizard, I knew what I wanted most of all.
Deep down inside, I knew a life all alone was pointless. I wanted to forget all about that incident that happened so long ago in the past. I wanted to put the past behind me and return to you. You were, after all, my best friend. I grew up with you, and you made me who I was. You deserved to see what I had become. You deserved my help and support. Now that I was ready and more than willing, you deserved to be flown around on my back. Together, with that Ekans, that Pidgeotto, that Nidoran, and yes, even that Pikachu, we would be the best team the Pokémon league would ever know.
Having spent the last of the energy in my wings, I trudged across the ground that morning, back to the city. I was bulky and slow on the ground, but I couldn't care less. I was happy. And I couldn't wait to share my happiness with you.
But as I walked back that morning, I was met with the last thing I ever expected to see. Scampering across the ground in my direction was a little yellow rodent, one that I recognized all too well.
"Pikachu?" I gasped, getting its attention.
"Charmeleon?" It responded in disbelief. "Is… that really you?"
I smiled evilly as I sized him up, showing off the bulk of my new form to the one who once called me powerless and useless. Who was the powerless one now, huh?
"I'm going back to Master," I told the Pikachu proudly. "Charmeleon may have been weak and stupid, but he doesn't exist anymore. He jumped into a lake and drowned. I'm ten times as strong as he was. I'm ready to fight for Master again."
The Pikachu only responded with an odd look on his face. I couldn't tell what it meant.
"What are you doing here, anyway?" I asked him curiously. "Out for a morning run?"
"Char… izard, I guess I have something to tell you," The Pikachu said. "You… can't go back to Master."
"Why not?!" I demanded. "You think he won't accept me? I put the past behind me. I think he will, too."
"No, it's not that," the Pikachu said, shaking his head. "After… after he let you go, Charizard, he… let the rest of us go, too."
"Yeah," the Pikachu said. "He was so hard on himself for screwing up with you, he… gave up training. He released the rest of us all into the wild the next morning. He even turned in all his badges and gave away all his items, too."
"No," I whispered. "That's horrible! He's a great trainer! We should all go back and cheer him up."
"Well, we tried that," the Pikachu said. "We stayed in the wild for a few days, and then we all decided to go back and see if he felt any better. When we got back… we found out…"
He paused, trying to choke out the last words…
When I saw his broken, wavering eyes, I realized what he was about to say.
My blood ran cold.
"He… his body was found in the riverbed outside of town. He… killed himself."