Author's Note: Going for a little change of pace with this one! This I'm writing a bit more of a straight-up romance, mostly because the current subject in my Novel Writing class is romance. As such, this story will be significantly shorter than my others. I thought this'd be a great opportunity to explore a little bit, so we'll see how it turns out!
Hope ya like it.
My name is Madeline. I thank everyone who took their time to listen to my story- it's a good story, with a some romance, a little conflict, but ultimately a good ending. I believe it's a story that everyone should hear, so that my years of wisdom may be passed on and be remembered for future generations. But before we start, there is one thing we must get out of the way.
I am dying.
I ask that you do not mourn me; I have lived a good life- hell, a wonderful life- but my single regret is something I've never, ever told anyone about. Something very dear to me. Someone very dear to me.
It was, I believe, the most significant time of my life. It was a short time, but it changed it all for me, all for the better. I can never possibly thank him enough for what he did for me. Even now, I wish I could see him one last time. Does he know I am dying? Can he save me?
But. . . I am getting ahead of myself. I know I will not see him again, and it is probably for the better. But I can dream, of course. And I think. . . I shall begin my story, in hopes that my memory shall live on in the minds of others, as it has in my own all these years.
The First Day
I woke up on a day not unlike any other. The sun was already well in the sky- it must have been at least noon. I yawned sleepily and turned to my mate, Rino, but was disappointed to find he wasn't there. He didn't come home last night again. Probably out late with his friends from the city.
Of course, I could tell myself that as much as I wanted, but I would still never believe it. It would never be true. I sighed and got up, blinking in the noonday sun. I stepped out of our home, a cave on part of the cliff face that overlooked the rest of the pack. Many of the pack members were up and about already, collecting food, repairing dens, or just socializing.
I watched them, all the same species as I, and I wondered what made me better than the rest of them. Why did I, a humble poison-pin Nidoran, deserve to be revered over that busybody Nidorina, or that intelligent male Nidoran?
I sighed, because I knew I didn't deserve it. Neither did my mate, Rino. He just happened to be the pack leader.
I walked solemnly down the path leading to the pack's village, giving brief nods to those who wished me a good morning as I passed by. I knew none of it was authentic- they had to respect their leader's mate, after all. I was positive that most of them didn't like me much, which was fine. The feeling was mutual.
"How does Madeline find herself today?" I looked around for the source of the voice; approaching me was a fellow female Nidoran. She smiled at me and flipped a few stray strands of blue fur from her eyes. I sighed.
"Same as always, Deera," I said. Deera was the only member of the pack I could ever call friend and truly mean it. She was like a sister to me. We knew each other our whole lives, but we lived in two completely different worlds. She was a prime example of everything our race should be: long, fine lavender fur. Bright, intelligent green eyes. Long, round ears. Perfectly filed, flawless front incisors. She was smart and funny and beautiful and practically beating off all the male suitors in the pack with a stick, so to speak. Why she still associated with ordinary, ho-hum me was beyond my ability to comprehend. I appreciated it, of course.
"Rino's out late again?" Her eyes were sympathetic; I gave a slight nod and she tsked. "You poor thing." My mate had a notorious reputation of unfaithfulness. Everyone knew about his "secret harem" within the pack, but it was never talked about. To do so would be blasphemous, and Rino would not like that.
"I'm used to it, Deera. I don't expect any better from him now." I shrugged and continued my walk down into the pack's village. Deera walked right beside me.
"It shouldn't be like this, Maddy," Deera said quietly so as to not alert passers-by. "You shouldn't dread going home. You shouldn't fear your own mate. It's not right."
I shrugged, looking down at my paws. "There's nothing I can do to change it, Deera."
"Nothing? You really believe that?" Deera asked, shaking her head in bemusement. "Maddy, just leave him! You deserve better than that chump."
I froze in place, I was so shocked. "Leave him? Are you crazy!?" I cried. I glanced around nervously then lowered my voice back to a whisper, "Deera, that kind of talk could get you exiled! Maybe worse!"
"That's your excuse, then?" she asked skeptically. "You will sacrifice your happiness for fear of exile?" I started to speak but Deera shook her head. "Hun, you're my best friend. I only want what's best for you."
"I think I know what's best for me, thank you very much." I growled, turning my head away. Deera sighed and sat in front of me, looking me straight in the eye. I frowned.
What had I just done that for? She wanted what was best for me. . . why did I always feel the need to push people away? Especially the ones who just wanted to help?
The thought of leaving Rino never really occurred to me. Would being away from him really make me happy. . . And did I really deserve it?
I shook my head. No, of course not. And I could never leave Rino! He was unstable as it was. . . if I were even to try, he'd kill me! Or someone else!
I sighed in frustration. It was a conundrum.
"What do you think?" Deera asked quietly. I shrugged my shoulders, meeting her gaze.
"I don't know, Deera," I murmured. "It's just. . . hard, you know. Rino, he's. . . he's so different now." Deera nodded in agreement. Rino had been a sweet boy, once upon a time. We were friends as children and fell in love as we grew up. He was kind and considerate. . . until he was challenged by the previous pack leader. Then everything went to hell.
"It's never too late to make a change for the better, Maddy," Deera said pointedly. I nodded absently, my thoughts racing all over. A change for the better sounded too good to be true. Rino was just as strict with me as he was with the rest of the pack; stricter, even. I could not wander too far from our home, I couldn't leave the village at all without him knowing, and interaction with most other pack members was limited. If all that could change. . . I couldn't even imagine what it would be like.
"I think. . . I think it's too late for me, Deera," I sighed. "I'm too far gone to turn back now."
Deera shook her head again, tsking. "It's never too late, Maddy," she asserted. "You just need to recognize your opportunity and take it when it comes." When I didn't answer she stood up and gave me a hopeful smile. "Just promise you'll think about it, 'kay? Just humor me."
I nodded blankly at her, watched as she walked away. Was she right? I couldn't tell. I knew in my heart that something had to change, but. . . leaving Rino? I felt guilty just thinking about it!
My plight was unfortunate, for sure. But was there really anything I could do about it? And, most importantly, did I have the strength to do it?
I stood up and began the long walk back to our shelter. I wouldn't want to keep Rino waiting.
The Second Day
I went out to get berries that day. I remember it clearly. The harvest was new; the berries were bright red and fresh and bound to please Rino. I remember carrying a small basket fashioned from twine in my mouth, the fresh scent of the day's labor's treating my nose to a bouquet of smells. I couldn't be happier on this day, in fact, because Rino had allowed me to leave the village to gather food.
It had been so long since I had left the village, I had almost forgotten the path to the freshest berry bushes. I had been a bit naughty on that day, though- a small human city was just beyond the borders of my pack's land, and the berry bushes were close enough that I could take a short walk through the city without arousing suspicion.
The city was absolutely stupendous. I never thought so many humans could be in one place; large, shiny dens towered above the paved walkways. A small, quaint park was located in the center of the city and was one of my favorite places to stop when I visited the city. There was a small holding pond with water so fresh and clear that each time I stopped by I made note to take a detour to drink from it. I often gazed at my reflection in that pond, wondering how I could be so luck to be here, in this place. I gazed longingly at the humans and their pokemon, and the happy pokemon and their mates.
On that particular day, I had just finished taking a drink from the pond. I bit down on the twine basket's handle, adjusted it to make it comfortable, and navigated my way back to the main human walkway. It was a beautiful day; the sun was bright, reflecting the softness of the new trees and flowers. Birds chirped happily, insects buzzed busily. It was all going so smoothly, and I would be home before Rino suspected I took a detour. I was close to the city's outskirts, almost at the path back to the village.
Then I rounded the corner.
I did not see him there, turning the corner at the same time as I. We collided into each other, sending us both backwards onto our rears. I gasped in surprise and dropped the twine basket, sending it crashing to the ground and sending berries lying all over.
I groaned, shaking my bruised head. I sat up and got a good look at my attacker: he was taller than me, a sort of brownish-yellow color. He was on his back, so I could see a cream-colored tummy and small brown paws. Powerful, oversized back legs and a long, whiplike tail coiled beneath him, the appendage ending with a vicious-looking bit shaped like a bolt of lightning. He groaned as well, sitting up and rubbing his head. I got a better look at his face; his ears were long and black, ending in cute little curly-Qs. He had narrow features, like a rodent, with yellow cheeks and a single, kind brown eye.
I gaped in spite of myself. One of his eyes and ears, and indeed a portion of the left side of his face, was masked by a curious human article of clothing: a black bandana with a simple orange triangle pattern. I was drawn to the bandana, wondering why he would hide his handsome face with it. Then I blinked, realizing the thoughts I just thought. Handsome? Where had handsome come from?
But it was true. He was quite dashing, even in his mild daze. I blushed, realizing how rude it must have been for me to run into him and then stare. I gulped, working up the courage to say something.
"I'm s-sorry. . ." I mumbled, looking down at my paws. The creature blinked at me for a moment, then chuckled.
"My bad, miss," he said cheerfully, with an aloof trace of an accent I knew came from far to the west. Was he a traveler? He did look a bit bedraggled, a bit road-toughened. He laughed again, rubbing the back of his head. "Should have been looking. Should have learned by now to keep my eye open, eh?"
I smiled and nodded meekly, unsure if he was making a joke at his expense or if he was really serious. The stranger stood up and brushed himself off, then offered a paw to help me up. I took it, he pulled me to my feet.
"There we go, all better," he said with a grin. His smile disappeared when he noticed the berries scattered across the ground. "Uh oh, are these yours?" I nodded again, not certain of what to say. The stranger huffed and went to his knees and began to pick up the uncrushed of the scattered berries.
"Oh, you don't have to-" I started. I was stopped by another grin from the stranger.
"'Tisn't a problem, miss. I spilt them. I'll pick them up." He picked up my now slightly broken basket and dumped the berries inside. He set the basket down in front of me, then proceeded to scrape a crushed berry from the bottom of his foot. He chuckled. "Uh oh, seems I've broken your cherry. . ."
My eyes widened. He must not have realized what he said at first, having muttered it absentmindedly. He finished cleaning his feet and looked back up at me, saw my face. "What's the-" he paused, then his face flushed beet red. "Oh, oh! No, no, I meant berry! I didn't mean it like. . . aw, bloody hell. . ."
I snickered, a small smile finding its way on my face. He sudden change from collected to flustered took me by surprise. I nodded at him. "I know, I know. Thank you for picking them up for me."
The creature cautiously stole a glance at me, saw that I wasn't angry. He gave a little sigh of relief and the smile returned to his face. "No problem, miss. . .?" He trailed off, as if expecting something.
It dawned on me. "Oh! Erm, my name's Madeline."
The stranger nodded. "Well, it is nice to meet you, Miss Madeline, albeit if in such an unconventional manner." He grinned and gave a little bow. "My name is Jack, at your service."
I nodded and bent my knees and dipped my head, returning the bow. "Nice to meet you too, Jack." I looked at him, studied his face. He could tell I kept glancing at the bandana, but he didn't take any notice of it. I figured he must have been used to being stared at. I wondered if he was willing to tell the story behind the cloth, as well. "Erm, could I ask you a question, Jack?"
"You just did," he pointed out with a chuckle. He shook his head to show he was kidding. "Of course, of course. What is it?"
I tried. I really did. But I couldn't bring myself to ask him about that bandana. I think now that if I had the guts to ask, I would not be reciting this story now. I would have moved on with my life, knowing no better, faring no better, no worse, missing out on so much without ever realizing it. But I couldn't bring myself to ask about that bandana.
"Er. . . I don't think I've seen your kind around," I blurted, instantly regretting my weakness. "Are you from around here?"
Jack shook his head. "I don't doubt that I'm the first Raichu you've seen," he said, adjusting the cloth wrapped around his head a bit. "We're from out west, traditionally. I'm sort of a wanderer, though."
I nodded. So I was right about the accent. And a Raichu? I remember hearing about their kind before; they we somewhat solitary, sticking to their small packs. It was odd to see a rogue one, especially so far east. I pointed that out to him.
Jack stretched his arms above his head. "I thought I'd come through this town because I'd heard the trees are incredible this time of year," he glanced around with his eyes, "yet I see no trees. I'm afraid I may have had the wool pulled over my eyes."
I shook my head. "You won't find any trees in any human village, except for in the park." Jack smiled and nodded. "I could show you where that is, or. . ." I trailed off.
Jack just smiled, waiting. His gaze seemed to pierce my soul. He stared right through me, reading my every thought, seeing through my façade. He shrugged nonchalantly, as if dropping the load of the subject from his shoulders. "Anything else you'd like to ask?"
He knew I was dodging the question about his bandana. But once again I couldn't bring myself to ask about it. I shook my head.
"Well, then," Jack said, stretching his arms, uncoiling his tail- which was massive, by the way, at least twice as long as he was tall- and rubbing the back of his head again. "I s'pose I should be going. Nice to meet you, Miss Madeline."
I nodded, my voice failing me once again. I realized I wanted to talk to him longer, but he was already walking past. I shut my eyes tight, stamped my feet in frustration. With a sudden flux in courage I turned and yelled back to the retreating Raichu. "Will you be in town long?"
He paused for a moment before turning back to me. He grinned. "I'm thinking about it now. Maybe we'll run into each other again." He gave me one last smile and nod of encouragement before turning back and heading down the street.
I watched him go. I felt something tug inside me, but I couldn't tell what it was. I knew I wanted to see him again, too, but the chances of that were slim to none. I doubted I would get another chance to return to the city anytime soon.
I sighed and, reluctantly, I headed back the other way, opposite the strange Raichu. Maybe we'll run into each other again, he had said. We couldn't have known then, but he was exactly right. And this meeting was only the beginning.
The Third Day
"He didn't come back again?" Deera asked, shaking her head. I frowned and lowered my head onto my forelegs, ears lying flat against my skull. Deera tsked, lowering herself down to my level. "You know this only strengthens my previous argument, sweetie."
After my encounter with the Raichu I returned home to find that Rino had disappeared once again. I thought it a blessing- unless he had just left, there was no way of him knowing I detoured in the city. However, as the hours passed and I waited patiently, night fell and there was still no sign of Rino.
"I know, I know. . ." When I woke up the following morning Rino had still not returned, so I sought out Deera. She was always able to console me in the numerous times of Rino's unfaithfulness. But she was absolutely correct; Rino had pulled this stunt one too many times. It had gotten to the point where he didn't even bother to sneak in and offer an excuse. It was a clear sign of his blatant disregard to our relationship. However, I still couldn't bring myself to completely agree with Deera.
"What are you going to do now?" Deera asked. "You're welcome to stay with me for a few days-"
"No, Rino would never allow that," I muttered, receiving an exasperated sigh from Deera. Of course I was angry at Rino, but. . . I couldn't leave him. It would be incredibly unwise, he was the pack leader, after all. He wielded ultimate power over the pack; if he so wished, he could have me exiled or worse for doing something so treasonous as leaving him. Or even worse, he could take out his rage on the entirety of the pack. Deera knew that, of course, but she still believed I should have acted in my own interest.
"Are you still going to stick around and wait for him?" Deera inquired, getting back to her feet. I shrugged noncommittally.
"I don't know," I said. I knew in my mind it was what I should have done, but I was so angry at my mate! I sighed again and looked around me; leaves in the trees were changing from their healthy green hues to earthy browns and yellows. I watched one flutter down from a tree and I was reminded of the mysterious Raichu I saw yesterday. Hadn't he said he came out to see the trees? I thought aloud without thinking, "Maybe I'll go to the park."
Deera's eyes widened. "Feeling a little rebellious, are we?" I felt the heat rush to my cheeks when I realized the foolishness of what I had said. Of course Rino wouldn't let me go back to the city. What was I thinking? Deera paused, her eyes becoming thoughtful. "You know," she said slowly, contemplative, "you should. Just to stick it to him."
"I doubt he'd be too upset if you went out looking for more berries," Deera pointed out. "If that were the case, I don't think he'd try to blame you for anything, especially after what he's just done."
Huh. It was possible that Rino would be more lenient, but it would only be for today. And that was assuming he returned before I did.
"You're right." I said. The surprise was obvious on Deera's face. I surprised myself a little, too. "I think I'll go." I stood up and began walking down the trail to the city, afraid that if I looked back I would have second thoughts. Just keep walking, I thought.
"That's it, Maddy!" Deera shouted with a peal of laughter. I smiled. I knew I was walking on pins and needles, that I could possibly be invoking Rino's wrath.
But it felt good.
As usual, I took the trail past the best of the berry plants and through the trees, ending up right in the entrance to the human city. I took cautious steps, as if Rino himself was going to pounce out at any moment from behind any obstacle. I took a deep breath to calm myself down. I knew worrying would be silly, that nothing would jump out at me. I turned the first corner onto the main street, and-
I ran smack into someone larger than me. On an instinct I screamed, backpedaling on my rear until I was a safe distance from my assaulter, who had also been knocked off his feet. I sat gasping for breath for a moment before I realized who I had run into.
"Jack?" I asked with a disbelieving smile. What were the odds to run into the same person on the same street corner two days in a row?
The Raichu shook his head, adjusted his bandana and looked up at me. A wide grin broke across his face. "Well I'll be," he stood up and extended his paw out to me once again. "This isn't a hobby of yours, is it? Running into handsome strangers?"
I laughed as I took his paw and he helped me get to my feet. "I assure you it's just a coincidence."
He shook his head. "Nah, I don't believe in coincidences. There's a reason we've run into each other again." He rubbed his chin in mock deep thought, narrowing his eyes in what was supposed to look like concentration. "Well, what brings you back here? I assume you have a family, right?"
I nodded. "Actually, I came to see the trees in the park," I said. Jack's face lit up.
"Imagine that! I was just about to go find this park of yours, myself." He offered a paw with a gentlemanly bow. "Will you accompany me?" I smiled and briefly placed my own paw in his. His paws were roadworn and a bit rough, but his fur was soft and radiated a friendly kind of warmth. I drew my paw backing embarrassment and nodded towards the city's innards.
"The park is this way." Jack smiled and followed me, walking by my side.
"So, you say you have a family?" Jack enquired as we crossed the street. "Do you live in the city?"
I shook my head. "No, my pack lives outside the city." Jack looked at me with a strange look on his face, one that I couldn't quite decipher. Was it confusion? Sympathy? Envy?
"A pack, huh. . ." he muttered wistfully, his gaze drawn down to the ground. Then in an instant it was back on me. "So, you must have a large family, right?"
I thought about it. I thought of all the members of my pack. All the nervous glances, the looks of hatred, the secret whisperings behind my back. I thought of my mate Rino and my best friend Deera. The love and support they had both shown at one time, now only one still did. I shook my head. "No, not really. It's just my mate and I," I frowned involuntarily at the thought. "He's the leader of the pack."
Jack nodded, his one visible eye wide with fascination. "That must be very interesting, being leader." I gave him a weak nod as we rounded one last corner, the path opening up to a large courtyard. Humans and Pokemon alike were playing in the park. Couples sat on benches, children climbed the numerous trees. A few people fished in the small holding pond, fisher Pokemon watching close by their sides.
"What about you?" I asked him. We strode past groups of chatting humans, deeper into the park. Jack took a seat beneath a tall apple tree and stretched out, resting his hands behind his head. I sat down beside him, enjoying the cool shade provided by the tree.
"Nope. No family," he said. "Parents are gone and I never found anyone to settle down with."
"Oh. . . I'm sorry."
He shrugged. "Doesn't bother me too much, really. In fact, I sort of prefer it this way."
"Don't you get lonely?" I asked him. "I mean, you must be on the move a lot. . ."
"Being alone on the road is fine, and sometimes I get lucky and pass by fellow travelers. And when I stop I meet great folks like you." Jack smiled. I shuffled my feet uncomfortably. He didn't seem to catch my drift.
"I mean, when one is alone all the time, there are certain. . . things one must sacrifice?" I felt my cheeks burning hot with embarrassment. Jack caught my vague point and chuckled. "I mean, being alone, you must, erm. . . miss out on a lot?"
Jack chuckled again and scratched behind his head, his cheeks also tinted red. "That. . . I'm not entirely sure how to answer that one."
I shuffled my feet again, ears drooped with humiliation. I didn't know what had come over me; the question just presented itself. "I'm sorry," I muttered. "That was out of line. We just met."
Jack shrugged again and sat up a little straighter. "Well," he said slowly, picking his words carefully. I noticed he didn't look me straight in the eye as he answered. "When one travels as often as I have, one finds. . . alternatives. Aye?" He gave me a dismissive smile and left it at that. We both sat there for a moment, silence hanging awkwardly in the air.
"The trees are beautiful," Jack observed, leaning back against the tall apple tree once more. I nodded in agreement; the coming of fall had brought along changes in the trees: leaves that were once green were now firey reds and oranges and earthy browns and yellows. The fruit was in its prime around this time of year, so it was no surprise to see there was none hanging from the branches of this particular tree.
"You sound like you've never seen them do this," I noted with a laugh. He grinned at me.
"Actually, I haven't. In all the places I've been, the leaves have never been this vibrant."
"Nope," Jack gazed wistfully up at the trees. "I'm glad I decided to stop here. Wouldn't have wanted to miss this."
"Yeah, me too," I said, then blushing as I realized I spoke without thinking again. Jack just smiled at me, looking as content as anyone could be. Seeing the smile on his face, the glint of excitement in his eye. . . It all made me glad I decided to come out to the city today.
The realization hit me like a ton of bricks. "Oh, damn." I shot to my feet, looking up past the vibrant leaves at the sky overhead. It was starting to get dark; surely Rino must have noticed my absence by now.
Jack sat up, alarmed. "What? What's wrong?"
I groaned and shook my head, heading back towards the main street. "My mate. I need to be back home, now."
Jack caught up with me, a look of concern on his face. "Your mate? Does he not know you are here?"
I shook my head. "No, you wouldn't get it." I sighed when his look of concern persisted. "I'm not supposed to be here. I sort of. . . ran away."
"Ran away?" Jack sounded absolutely perplexed. "You need to escape to leave your home?"
I sighed, turned to face him. "I'm sorry I don't have time to explain," A thought dawned on me. How much longer would Jack be staying here in the city? I shook my head. "And. . . I probably never will. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me today."
Jack blinked, look of bemusement still present in his eye. "Um, of course, Madeline." He smiled softly, comfortingly. "Thank you for showing me the park. You were right." He gave me a wink. "The trees were beautiful."
I blushed and muttered something of a thank you and a goodbye, and I turned my back on Jack, heading back down that trail that was so familiar to me. I stopped and gave one last backward glance, but Jack was already gone, disappearing to who-knows-where. Perhaps he was already back on the road. I sighed and turned back to the trail ahead.
I passed by the berry bushes, now in full bloom, but all I could think of was Jack's smiling face. I passed beautiful trees and Pokemon readying for the long winter ahead, but I was only aware of his concerned voice echoing deeply in my head. I continued down the trail, watching my village draw closer and all I could picture of was his soft paws holding mine. And as I drew upon the entrance to my pack's home, my home, only one thought lingered in my mind.
I wondered if I was ever going to see him again.
A/N: Like I said, this'll be a shorter story, but hopefully you'll all enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! Also, I recently suffered a hard blow to the back of the head (apparently my skull may be bruised- no fun -_-), so I may take a few days away from writing. As such, my next update may take longer than I would have liked. In any case, I'll be updating soon-ish, so keep your eyes open!