A/N: Insert the obligatory "sorry for taking so ridiculously long" note here. I'm focusing more on my other story Things You Never Heard, but seeing as how not even that one has been updated in a year, I guess that's not much of an excuse, is it? Heh.
At least I have this whole story outlined now, though.
Random trivia: I was originally going to name this story Owari no Ato but I thought that would be kinda weabooish so I translated it back. I still kinda like the first title better, though. You know what? I'll poll you. Which title is better? If people say they like the first title better, I'll change it.
In case you haven't noticed, every chapter in this story (except the first and last) has two parts: flashback and normal story. Each part may have more than one scene
Chapter Three: The Ice Box
"Green? Are you OK?"
Eight-year-old Green was roused from the state between waking life and sleep by the little boy's high pitched voice. He was leaning over her, staring intently into her eyes to see past the shadows cast by the mask.
Green sat up in bed and shook her head groggily. "Silver?"
"What's wrong?" Silver repeated.
"Nothing's wrong, Silver," she said as she patted the boy's head. "Why do you think something's wrong?"
Silver clearly didn't believe her. "You're in bed already."
"It's bed time. We can sleep. That man said so." Even as Green said it, she knew it sounded odd, or like something Chermaine or Keane would say. Green herself preferred to stick to the philosophy that if the masked man said it, it was more than likely a lie.
Silver tugged at Green's mask. "But you don't go to bed at bed time. You take notes at bed time."
"Ah," said Green lightly. "I know. But I don't want to take notes right now. I'm OK, Silver. Don't worry. I'm just hungry, that's all. And that man said I can eat again tomorrow, so I want to sleep so tomorrow will hurry up and come. All right?"
Silver continued to stare at her observantly, but finally he climbed down from her bed and left the room. Green was too tired to say anything more. She lay back down and drifted to sleep.
"Thief! You little thief!" The masked man's outraged scream woke Green from her slumber. The girl leaped from her bed and ran towards the source of the commotion, not taking the time to put on her shoes. The icy floor chilled her feet.
"I'll catch him, Mask of Ice!" Chermaine's voice sounded. Green poked her head out the door and caught a glimpse of two black figures dashing through the hallway towards her room. Silver and Sneasel?
"What's going on?" Green asked as she spotted Will, who was watching the whole thing as though it were a movie. "What happened?"
"Silver stole so much food from that old guy's room!" Will laughed. "The guy got ticked off! Hecka funny!"
Green felt a little sick. "What are they going to do to him?"
"Oh, nothing much," an amused Karen butted in. "Probably just toss 'im out the window."
Green punched Karen in the gut. "You're a liar. Silver!" She ran towards the boy.
Silver, running as fast as his tiny legs could carry him, caught up with Green and embraced her. "Green!"
"Silver, what were you…?" Green's voice trailed off as she realized that Silver had grabbed the front of her dress by the collar and was attempting to drop food into it. His intentions were clear - even though he'd been caught, maybe he could still manage to hide a few pieces of bread for her to eat.
Green tried not to cry as she hugged the boy tighter. It was a miracle that a boy who had spent the last three years of his life in this place could still be so generous. And yet he was still so much trouble. "Oh, Silver…"
"Now I've got you!" Chermaine came up from behind Silver and yanked the boy by the shirt, causing him to stumble backwards. She picked him up and held him so his eyes were level with hers. "How dare you steal from the Masked Man? How ungrateful! You should be punished!"
"Leave him alone, Chermaine!" Green ran up to the much older girl and yanked on her shirt. "It's not his fault! It's mine!"
Chermaine turned and looked at Green for the first time. "How is this your fault?"
"I – I made him do it!" Green said bravely.
"Made him?" A sick laugh came from behind Green and she turned to see that the masked man had appeared behind her. "How did you manage to do that?"
Green shifted uncomfortably, trying to think of an answer. Actually, she hadn't intended for the masked man to hear that.
"Did you brainwash him?" Mask of Ice sneered. "Could it be that my very own student has discovered the secrets of mind control? If so, why don't you teach me? I could certainly use that skill…"
Green said nothing. She didn't want to get in trouble.
"HA! Foolish girl, pretending to be so noble!" The masked man rasped. Suddenly he extended his icy arm and snatched Silver away from Chermaine, dangling the shivering boy in front of him. "And foolish boy, committing crimes to help a foolish girl. She acts nice to you, but when her own skin is in danger, just look at her – she'll deny you! You're both so foolish, but you're the stupider one. I should kill you. I should just kill you."
Green couldn't help but twitch a bit. Though the Mask of Ice repeatedly threatened to kill her and Silver, over the years, Green had come to the realization that the man had no intention of ever doing so.
However, she knew the man could easily change his mind.
Mask of Ice laughed at her fear. "Don't worry, silly girl. I won't kill him. I'll just… chill him out a little bit. Kekeke…"
The tower of ice loomed over Green, and she shivered just looking at it. It was the "ice box" – the Mask of Ice's twisted version of a time-out. An icy floor surrounded by four walls, just far enough apart that you couldn't sit down. Green had never been in it for more than fifteen minutes at a time, and she could barely stand it then.
Silver had been in there for an hour.
"Silver?" Green called out, concerned. "Are you all right?"
After a moment, a weak voice called back, "Green?"
"Silver," Green called again, "I'm sorry! I should have told that man it was my fault. I'm sorry."
"…It wasn't-t, your fault, G-Green." The poor boy sounded exhausted.
"Y-yes it was!" Green argued, more out of a desperate guilt than logic. Then she put her arms on her hips – not that Silver could see them - and changed to a scolding tone. "But what you did was stupid. I told you to stop picking fights with the masked man for my sake. I'm older. I'm supposed to protect you."
"You… always p-protect me."
"I can't protect you now!" Green snapped, stomping her foot in frustration. "I just don't get it, Silver! I would have been fine going one day without food. You've gone one day without food, and you were fine! So it's not like you were risking yourself for a noble cause, to save my life, or anything – it's almost like you get in trouble for me on purpose. I… don't mean just now. I mean always. Like the time you and Will got in a fist fight just because Will pulled my hair… and you were all beat up… and all he did was pull my hair, Silver!"
A silence came over the room as Green waited for Silver's reply. It took him a moment. Green began to regret sounded so harsh – the boy was probably too cold to even think straight by now. Yet she couldn't help but be angry with him, for a reason she couldn't understand. Silver was so much trouble…
"…You always protect me, Green," the boy repeated.
"Well, I try to!" Green retorted. "But you keep on getting in trouble!"
"I don't want to be trouble!" Silver said frantically. "I'm trouble for you. You're never trouble to me. I want to be to you what you are to me. I-I want-t to… help you… Green…"
"Silver?" Green cried, alarmed. "You're not making any sense."
Silver said nothing.
"Silver? Answer me!"
"…I'm fine." Silver's meek tone had returned. "S-sorry…"
Green was trying not to cry. She didn't understand Silver, she just didn't, and it made her want to cry. "You poor thing. You're slurring your words."
"...Why're you here?"
Green tilted her head at the unexpected question, then answered, "Well, actually, Silver… it's time to resume training soon, but before I go… I brought you something. You need it more than me. Can you catch?"
Green reached down her collar and retrieved a plastic bag. It was full of the food that Silver had stolen for her. Green herself hadn't eaten any of it – she knew that she would be getting food at breakfast, and Silver might not be. And a side effect of being in the ice box was the hunger. Green tossed the package over the wall and heard a thwuck! Then there was crinkling as Silver examined the package.
Green wasn't sure how Silver would react to this. Her first guess was that Silver would try to toss it back over to her – but she was sure she could convince him to keep it if she argued enough. If she argued enough, she could convince him to do anything.
What Green hadn't expected from Silver was complete silence. It felt a little awkward.
"I already ate, so I don't need it anymore," Green explained. "I thought you'd get hungry being cold, so…"
At this point, Green expected either an argument or a thank-you.
But all Silver said was, "All right. B-bye, Green."
After checking again to make sure Silver was all right, and promising to return to see Silver when her next training session was done, Green said her good-byes to Silver. Green walked away not knowing that her rejection of Silver's gift had done worse to the boy than any amount of cold ever had.
The masked man was gone, off running an errand, and Silver hadn't been released yet. Green couldn't believe it. Sickened, she dashed through halls towards the room where the ice box was located. She couldn't wait for the Mask of Ice now. It didn't matter if Green got in trouble. This had gone far enough. Silver would freeze to death if Green didn't save him.
"Silver!" Green squeaked as she spotted the ice box. "Tell me you're all right!"
If he responded, Green couldn't hear it over the ice wall. She couldn't hear anything, not even breathing. Panicked, Green jabbed the knife she had swiped from the kitchen into the thick wall, watching as cracks rippled across.
She had to be careful not to knock over the entire wall; Silver could be crushed by the ice falling from above his head. And so could she.
"Can you hear me?" Green called again, so loudly that one would think she was calling to someone who had been lost rather than someone who was a mere few feet away. She jabbed the knife into the ice again, maneuvering it so that this time a small chunk dropped from the wall. "I'm getting you out of here!"
"Th-there ar-re…" was the muffled response from the other side.
"What?" Green scraped her knife around, expanding the small hole she had made, and peeked through. She caught a glimpse of what probably was the top of Silver's head. She dug out another chunk and stuck her own head through the hole.
Silver was leaning with his forehead against the opposite wall, barely seeming to notice her presence. Green's stomach turned. This was bad. This was really, really bad. She couldn't waste time vengefully destroying the whole ice box; she had to get him out of there immediately. She dropped to her knees and began digging from the base of the box so that Silver could crawl through, speaking to Silver the whole time so that the boy would hopefully maintain some level of consciousness.
"Did you eat the food I gave you, Silver?" Green said loudly. "Try to eat some. You'll feel better."
"I'll get you out of here," Green continued as she dug. "You can get out of here, and you can change into some warm, dry clothes, and maybe drink some nice, warm hot chocolate, and maybe you can take a bath, OK? You're good, so you should be able to take a bath."
This was a complete lie. The only change of clothes Silver had was his training uniform, which was not warm at all, and they only got hot chocolate and baths when the Mask of Ice was in a good mood. Which, considering he'd left Silver to freeze, he didn't currently seem to be. But it didn't matter if it was a lie – Silver barely seemed to hear her, anyway.
"Maybe Karen's Houndour will make a fire," Green continued. "Would that be good?"
Green wasn't expecting an answer to her question as she removed an ice chunk big enough to peek through. But to her surprise, she saw that Silver was lying down on his side looking back at her.
"Silver, get up," she ordered. She knew that lying down was not a good sign.
All Silver did in response to her order was to roll over onto his stomach. Oh, dear…
"Silver, sweetie," Green said in the calmest voice she could muster, "I know you're sleepy. But you have to stand up right now."
It didn't work. Time to change tactics. Green pursed her lips and grabbed the knife by the sharp end.
"Boy, get up this minute and start marching in place before I slice your face open!" She jabbed the dull side of the knife straight towards his face threateningly. Some part of him must have awakened at that. He sat up and leaned against the other side of the wall.
Green let the issue drop. She just needed to focus on making the hole. "All right, Silver, now tell me – the food you stole from that man, was it good?"
"Uh… I'm…m… no g-good-d-d."
Green paused a moment. Finally, an intelligible sentence. She hoped this was a good thing, despite the fact that Silver had shown no signs of being able to comprehend her previous question.
"Why would you say something silly like that, Silver?" Green asked distractedly as she continued to carve.
"T-troub-ble," Silver mumbled. "C-can I g-go to s-s-sleep-p n-now?"
Shwish! The hole was finally big enough. Green reached through and tugged on Silver's sleeve. "Not 'til you warm up. Silver, crawl through…"
"I'm s-sorry. I'm no good…"
With a final yank, Silver was out of the ice box and, though dizzy, back on his feet. He stumbled a bit and Green caught him, wrapping his arms around her both out of gratitude for his safety and fear that the boy would freeze right there without her body heat. She cupped her gloved hands over his ears and kissed his forehead. "Don't be silly, Silver. You are good. You may be big trouble sometimes, but you're usually good. Just don't steal food anymore. All right?"
"Mmph… all right…"
In all the years that Silver had known Gold, Silver had never realized how sloppy Gold could be. The boy's childhood home had always been perfectly tidy. Perhaps this was because Gold's mother did all the work for him. Perhaps that was why Gold was so messy now – he'd never learned to clean up his messes. Silver would have thought that after having traveled so much the last few years, Gold would have learned to keep his belongings in their proper places to save time packing. But then, Gold never really learned anything. In the brief time that the young man had been staying there, he'd managed to cover the entire floor in dirty dishes, dirty laundry, and dirty magazines.
"Silver? What are you doing here?" Gold asked lazily as Silver entered the room without knocking.
Silver took a moment to survey the area, searching for a piece of floor that would be large enough for Silver to place his own belongings. There wasn't much. Inwardly rolling his eyes, Silver answered. "Somebody apparently told Green she could sleep in the room that had previously been reserved for me, so I'll be staying in here until she leaves."
"What?" Gold sat up quickly at that. "That's not fair!"
"Then you shouldn't have given her my room." Silver glared.
"But," Gold protested, "that's why I gave her your room! I thought you'd want to share a bed with her."
That was such a stupid argument that Silver didn't say anything – Gold knew he was being stupid, and an intensified glare would be sufficient to communicate that Silver knew that Gold knew that he was being stupid. Glare.
The glare worked. Gold backed down, but not before grumbling and kicking his legs like a preschooler throwing a tantrum. "Why my room? Why don't you go sleep in the living room?"
Silver dropped the backpack containing his few belongings into a corner. "Because you're the one who volunteered out someone else's room and because there are already two little girls in the living room."
"So? We all know you're not gonna do anything to them."
Silver resisted the urge to face-palm. "I didn't even mean that. Geez, Gold. Are you always this – ?"
"OK, fine!" Gold interrupted. "But I get the bed. I was already asleep before you came in!"
This was a lie. Gold's light had been on, and Gold never went to sleep before midnight, anyway. Silver kicked an empty soda bottle. "Normally, I wouldn't care enough to argue with you. But considering that this room doesn't have a floor – a problem created by you – I would remind you that it's your responsibility to at least clean up the mess."
"Fine." Gold whined again. He rolled out of bed and began lazily kicking things out of the way, creating a space next to the bed that was barely big enough before flopping back down on the bed. He then grabbed one of the pillows and tossed it over."Happy now?"
It occurred to Silver that the real bed was large enough for the both of them in the first place. He didn't say anything. Apparently, Gold was not comfortable enough in his masculinity to share a bed. Instead, Silver wordlessly went to turn off the light, and then went to lie down on the floor. "Good night, Gold."
"'Night," Gold replied nonchalantly.
The tips of Gold's fingers dangled off the side of the bed over Silver's face. Silver thought back to the time they were unconscious in the Whirl Islands. Silver had woken up then to the sight of Gold's fingers in his face; Gold had been sprawled out on his back, snoring as if he hadn't a care in the world. Gold was always laughing, even in the face of death. Though he never would have admitted it, Silver had always admired that part of him. But now Gold was the one who was angry all the time. Gold hated the world and the way it was. Gold was never meant for adulthood and the realizations that come with it, like the realization that sometimes bad guys win. Silver wished that he had the power to say or do something that could make Gold smile again; the way that Gold had always done for him. But Silver wasn't that kind of person.
Silver rolled onto his side and clenched his blankets. He was exhausted but too agitated to sleep. Too many things had happened. Professor Oak had finally died. He periodically forgot that fact; sometimes he would open his mouth to ask him something only to look and see that he wasn't there. For two years he had lived with the Professor, and he'd had only two weeks to come to terms with the fact that Professor was dying. Even though the others had known Oak better for longer, Silver secretly felt that they all had it easier than he did. They already learned how to be apart when they had all moved away to wherever they had moved away to, but Silver had spent the last two years only growing closer to Oak. Even though Oak's condition had worsened sharply last month, it hadn't been enough to prepare Silver for what was coming. And then Silver had reached out to touch the unconscious man's hand, and it was cold. Silver had gasped and dropped the vase of flowers he'd been carrying and Yellow had run in and screamed.
At least Yellow and Red had had the decency to come when they learned that Oak was dying. When the doctor had informed them that Oak had only two weeks left to live, Silver had stayed up all night while the Professor was asleep, trying whatever he could to get in contact with Daisy and the other Dex holders. He hadn't expected that everyone would be able to reply – the phone lines were down in many places and there was a long delay by mail since it was filtered. He hadn't gotten in contact with Emerald, Sapphire, or of course Green at all. Calling Daisy's house, he'd gotten only the same answering machine he'd gotten for the past three years. He had addresses for everyone else, but didn't know whether they were current or if the intended recipients still had postal service. But there was one person he was sure would come. Crystal was living in Orre – a faraway region that hadn't been touched by The End – working for an organization that taught underprivileged children how to raise Pokémon, and Crys had been sending letters regularly for the past year. The Professor had always lit up when he received a letter from her. "I always knew she'd do something good like this with her life," he raved about her. "People like her prove that humanity thrives even in a world gone bad." Silver had believed him. He was sure that Crystal would not disappoint her beloved Professor. Even if Professor didn't get to see everyone before he died, he could see her, his assistant, and know that at least she still cared about him. Silver was even stupid enough to assure him that she was coming.
But she didn't come. She was too busy and her boss wouldn't give her time off. That's what her note said. The note she sent with a flower gram. Silver had no idea how she had managed to get a flower gram into Pallet Town, but she had. Perhaps he should have credited her for the effort, but instead he was furious that she thought that a note would be enough. He'd hidden those flowers. He couldn't bear the thought of delivering them with the news that another of Oak's beloved followers couldn't come. But then he didn't have to. Oak had gone into a coma and never woken up. Crys's expensive vase had crashed to the floor.
And then everyone showed up. He'd tried to give the other Dex Holders the benefit of the doubt when they didn't come to visit; he took it to mean that they had moved, couldn't receive letters, were honestly physically incapable of leaving their location… or were dead. He'd been worried sick about Gold and Green. Not so much Gold – he knew Gold traveled and there was a high chance he wouldn't get the letter in time even if it did arrive at his house, so his concerns for Gold were easy to tuck away in his mind. But Green was never planning to move. Green was living with her parents on Sevii; he'd kept the slip of paper with her address in her handwriting. Every day when the mailman passed their house; every time he looked out the window and didn't see Green and her daughter skipping towards him, his heart plummeted and his fingers shivered in worry.
But she was alive. She was here now. She was here now, but he wasn't as relieved as he thought he'd be. She was able to come, but she hadn't come when it really mattered. She was like Gold, waltzing in and acting to happy to be reunited with everyone, and acting sad like this was her loss even though she clearly hadn't cared enough to say good-bye to her own grandfather-in-law. They were acting like this was a party, all of them, laughing and smiling while Silver was still mourning. And he let them. He let them because he was sick of angry people. He missed seeing laughter in his life, and he gave in to his longing even though the occasion was completely inappropriate for it.
And Oak wouldn't want them all to be sad, would he? He tried to tell himself this, but it didn't make him feel much better.
Faces, names, voices. They swirled around in his head and he allowed them to form a dream. Green as a little girl, but her face looked as old as it did the first time she took off her mask. Gold as an eleven-year-old placing a feather in Silver's hand. Green, Gold, and Silver played tag while Professor Oak watched. The image had all the nostalgia of a memory, but it was just a dream. A memory of a dream. When he was younger he wished that he'd never been kidnapped, but also that he could have met Green some other way. He wished he had grown up as her next-door neighbor in the town she always talked about, Pallet Town. He wished he was Gold's brother. He wished he could have played tag. Silver had never played tag, but it had always looked so much fun…
The freezing cold bore into Green's hands and feet. She was kneeling over, digging through ice with her bare fingernails. Reflected in the ice was the vacant white image of the Mask of Ice standing over her. Karen and Will stood at his side, laughing, and Silver watched solemnly. She scraped her nails against the masked man's reflection, destroying the image, but not bringing her much closer to her goal: to free the child who was buried in the ice. Green could see her daughter lying unconscious underneath her, but no matter how much she dug, she couldn't dig far enough. As the tears fell from her eyes they froze, repairing the obstacle she sought to destroy. "Please," she cried. "Unfreeze her, please! I'll do anything, just help me un-dig her!"
But no matter how much she pleaded, the others merely watched on. Even Silver shook his head at her. "Stop it, Green. She's already dead, anyway."
"No!" Green cried out. "Don't say that! Don't you dare say that!"
But as she turned around to face him, she saw that he had vanished. In Silver's place stood Green's father, beside him her mother. And instead of the old man Pryce, the person wearing the mask was Teal's kindergarten teacher.
"You!" Green filled with rage. "It wasn't him! You did this! You buried her! You stole my daughter, now give her back! Give her back! Aaugh!"
Green lunged at the woman in the mask, and it quickly turned into a struggle. But no matter how much Green screamed and cried, the teacher remained unfazed behind the mask. The teacher refused to help save Teal. And then the woman grabbed her by the shoulders and started shaking her. But something was wrong. It wasn't an offensive move, it was gentle. Affectionate.
Green opened her eyes and they met with darkness. "Wha – what?"
"You're all right," a man whispered. "You were having a nightmare. You'll be OK."
It took her a moment to recognize the voice. "Silver?"
"Of course it's me."
"Oh," she said as her heart rate gradually slowed to a normal pace. Was she crying out loud in her sleep? Who else had heard her? "Thanks for waking me up."
"Of course. Do you want to talk about your dream?"
"Well… no, actually. I'd rather not," she admitted.
There was a long pause before he said, "Good night then."
"Wait," she said, sensing he was about to walk away. "Come talk to me. It's been forever since I've seen you."
She didn't want to go back to sleep. And she missed Silver.
He sat down on the bed. "OK."
"So…" Green said quietly, "how have you been the past… five years? What have you been doing? Wandering?"
"No," he said quickly. "I forgot you didn't know. I've been living here with Professor Oak for the last two years."
"Oh!" Green gasped. "Taking care of him?"
Silver looked at his knees. "I never really thought of it that way, until he started getting sicker. It was more like… he took me in."
"Oh, Silver." She covered her mouth. Silver and Professor Oak had never been particularly close when she'd known them. Two years? That was probably the longest that Silver had ever willingly stayed in one place. He'd finally found a place to stay, with another human being to bond with. And now that person had been taken away from him too. "I didn't realize. I'm so sorry."
"Sometimes he asked about you," Silver said with a hint of accusation. "He was worried about you. He wanted to see you and Teal before he died. When you never showed up… we were both afraid that something had happened to you two. And when you showed up, do you want to know the first thing I thought? "I thought, 'Green and Teal are here! I need to go tell Prof!'"
Green swallowed. He was clearly upset with her, and now she was upset with herself. She should have come. She should have taken it more seriously when she received the letter informing her that Prof was sick. It was wrong of her to leave her friends behind when she moved– especially Professor, to whom she owed everything. She had only been thinking about how it hurt her to see them. She'd never thought about how it might hurt them to not see her. She was so selfish. Just as selfish as she'd been when she met him. "I'm sorry."
Silver shifted. Now he was apparently feeling bad for making her feel bad. He shouldn't feel bad – his accusations were true.
"Never mind," he said. "What's been going on with your life? How are things in the Sevii Islands?"
This was a question she wasn't prepared to answer – not even to Silver. She bit her lip. "Things are bad. There are a lot of Pokémon raids. I lost most of my Pokémon in one – all I have left now is Ditty."
"Even Jiggly?" He sounded stricken.
"Gone," she said sadly. "And Blasty and everyone else."
"I still have all of my Pokémon," Silver pondered. "I'm lucky."
"But in the Sevii Islands, The End people mostly leave us alone except for when they decide to have raids. I wasn't expecting Pallet Town to be so… totalitarian!"
"It's not The End that's totalitarian," Silver informed her. "They've barely even come here. It's the police force that's totalitarian. They don't want to draw unnecessary attention to the city and provoke a raid, so they don't let us have light, send too much mail, or try to catch Pokémon. They want to pretend Pallet Town doesn't exist."
"How have you stayed here if they don't let you be here without ID?"
"Stayed inside as much as possible," he answered. "Though their problem with me and Prof is more about the fact that we're famous than the fact that I'm illegal. Anyway, they can't force me to do anything and they know it. No one in the police force has Pokémon. But after the funeral I'll probably pick up and leave anyway. There's nothing for me here anymore… without Professor…"
Without thinking, she threw her arms around him. She'd been away too long. She'd escaped from worrying about him for too long. She thought of him only as a figure from her past. She was wrong. He wasn't from her past. He would always be a part of her life. He would always be that little boy who risked himself to sneak food for her. He was the one for her to protect and teach. When they were apart, it had been much too easy to forget that.
She started to cry.
"What's wrong?" he asked her, alarmed.
"What's wrong is that I let you be alone. I should've come to visit. I shouldn't have waited for a funeral… I'm sorry, Silver. I'm so sorry."
"It's – it's all right! I'm a grown man; I can take care of myself, you know…"
"It's not all right," she protested, squeezing him tighter. She knew he knew it wasn't all right, too. "You would never have walked off like that and left me, no matter how much your mail was filtered or anything… and I shouldn't have done that to you."
He returned the hug, somewhat awkwardly. "It's fine. I forgive you."
It occurred to her how unusual the phrase was. Normally when Green apologized about something, Silver would deny that she was at fault. To forgive was to acknowledge that there was something wrong.
She was guiltily disappointed, but also relieved. It was about time he learned she wasn't perfect.
"Remember that time you stole food for me?" she asked him.
"What… when I was, like, five? Kinda…"
"For some reason I just thought about it, and… I'm sorry I yelled at you back then. You were just trying to be nice."
Unexpectedly, Silver chuckled. Apparently Professor Oak had taught Silver how to laugh. "I forgive you for that, too."
Green wiped her eyes and laughed.
Green didn't want to wake up until the light bore into her eyes and forced her awake. As it was, she was still tired, but she'd been hearing voices outside and doors creaking for quite some time. Without bothering to change clothes, she dragged herself from her room and towards the kitchen.
"Good morning, Green," said a distracted Yellow, who was trying to keep Ana subdued long enough to straighten the girl's jet-black long hair. "You must have been tired."
Green glanced at the kitchen clock. 9:54. "Yeah, since I've been traveling so long."
"And also because you were crying all night," Gold chimed in out of nowhere.
"Sorry. I get nightmares sometimes." How embarrassing. Then she did a double-take. Gold was wearing a suit top. Yellow was wearing a dress – a black dress. Ana had on a black dress too. Green gasped. "Wait? The funeral isn't today, is it?"
"You didn't know?" Yellow questioned. "Yes. It is."
In the excitement, she'd forgotten to ask. "I'll get ready right away. Teal? Where are you?"
Teal was on the couch drawing pictures, while Silver sat beside her watching an old movie. Like Green, Teal was still wearing the same clothes she'd worn the entire time they'd been traveling and looked quite mangy. "Come on, Teal. Let's take a bath and get ready."
"All right…" Teal said as she reluctantly placed her drawing paper upside-down next to Silver. Green caught Silver's eye and smiled at him. He waved back.
Green took Teal's hand and led her up the hall to the bath after taking a moment to remember where it was located. "Were you hanging out with Silver, Teal?"
"Who's Silver?" Teal asked back, very deliberately giving the impression that she didn't care to know at all.
"…You were sitting next to him," Green answered, picking the clips out of Teal's hair and very much doubting that Teal didn't know who Silver was.
"Oh, that guy. Yeah, he kept trying to talk to me, but I just kept telling him that I'm not allowed to talk to strangers and eventually he shut up."
Green grimaced. She should have known. "Silver's not a stranger, honey. He's your godfather. Be polite to him."
"I didn't know who he was, so he was a stranger," Teal argued. "Anyway, I just didn't wanna talk to him. It's not like there's a chance I'll ever see him again once we go back home, is there?"
Not really, Green secretly agreed. But she didn't say anything.
With hair still slightly damp from the bath – not that she'd taken a long one – Teal sat by the door staring down at her feet in her funeral shoes. Her feet had apparently grown bigger since she'd last worn them, as her toes were pinched together. She knew she was obligated to feel sorry about her dead great-grandfather, but the only thing she felt was a desire to get this business over with and return home. Relative or not, what was the point in attending the funeral of someone she didn't even know?
Other members of the group – including the girl Ana and her parents – walked past her and left, but Teal waited to leave until her own mother was ready. She quietly walked behind her, hoping no one caught on to how stressed she was feeling. No one did; everyone was absorbed in his or her own thoughts.
"This isn't the way to the cemetery," Teal's mother observed at one point.
"They don't use that cemetery anymore," explained the red-haired man, Silver. "The company that owns it is located in Viridian City, so we can't. There's another one in the woods. But we're not allowed to do cremations, either… we're not allowed to start large fires here."
The group walked on in silence, passing a variety of buildings. There were more wild Pokémon around than Teal was used to seeing, and she observed them curiously. But very few people were out and about that morning; those who were gave them awkward and solemn nods or avoided the group completely. Teal recognized that these people harbored unspoken feelings of distaste for the group, but didn't want to show she cared by asking anyone why.
As they approached the Western Woods, she became aware of two figures standing in the distance. Both wore only black from head to toe, and at first Teal wondered if they were more funeral guests whom Teal hadn't yet met. But the others' reactions suggested otherwise.
"Who are they?" Green whispered. "They're creeping me out."
"Reclaimers," Yellow answered gravely. "Do you not have them at Sevii?"
"I've never heard of them before," Green said. "Who are they?"
Teal lifted her head to listen. She was curious.
"No one knows – not for sure, anyway," Silver answered. "They clearly have Pokémon, or the cops wouldn't let them stay around. But other than that, I have no idea who they are. They don't socialize much with normal people. They don't give straight answers when we talk to them."
"They claim they don't hurt people and refuse to offer any more information than that. I'll admit I've never seen them attack anyone, but you have every reason to be suspicious," Gold chimed in. "They're in every town in Kanto and Johto, and I've noticed a pattern: once a town starts filling up with Reclaimers, it's time to get out. Because it won't be long before that town is raided by The End."
Teal shivered as the group passed the Reclaimers and entered the forest.
By the time they arrived, three men were already digging a hole. No one else was there. No one was singing a song or giving a speech. What kind of a funeral was this? Teal was guided by hand and forced to stand in a circle around the coffin with everyone else. Someone sniffled. The crying was starting. Teal felt her hands and forehead becoming sweaty. The adults started speaking. "Sorry I didn't arrange a real funeral. I didn't think anyone would come." One of the men asked Green if she wanted to say a few words, and Green said OK. Teal wanted to sit down but knew she'd be scolded for it. Her mother began speaking.
"When I first met Professor Oak… when I first spoke to him… he was wearing this weird… black bandage over his eyes and stuff. I… I didn't know who he was back then. He knew I was scared of birds. I thought maybe… that Mask of Ice had sent him." She swallowed. "I didn't know he was Professor Oak. When I learned who he was, I thought I'd have to escape or I'd end up in jail. I didn't think he would forgive me for stealing from him. No one had ever forgiven me before. He was the first person who ever showed me… that people can change."
Jail? Stealing? What?
Green went on. "He did so much for me over the years. I honestly don't know who I'd be right now if he hadn't been there for me. The most amazing thing is that I did nothing to deserve it. I was just some girl who stole a Pokémon from him. But he gave me a fresh start. Because of him, I have friends… like you guys… and I was so happy… when I could start calling him 'Grandpa', and…" Suddenly her knees seemed to give out. Teal watched, stunned, as her mother doubled over and started sobbing loudly. The man with long red hair and the blond woman ran over to comfort her, but Teal couldn't bear to even watch. First her mother was talking about stealing Pokémon, and now she was crying, and the three men were still digging a hole. She looked away. Graves. Graves everywhere. She hated graves. She hated sad people. She wanted to cry too, but that would have been stupid. She didn't even know him, after all. But her mother was still crying. Everyone was crying now. She couldn't take it. She had to get out, now. Heart pounding, she took off running into whatever direction led away from the cemetery.
When her legs just couldn't catch up anymore, she dropped beside a tree.
What had she just done? She'd get in trouble. Or maybe she wouldn't. If she was crying when her mother found her, she most certainly wouldn't. Which was convenient for her, because she could feel the tears coming already. Why, she didn't know. Maybe it was the graveyard. Maybe she just wanted to go home and not have to deal with so many strange grown-ups. Maybe it was because her mommy was crying.
Maybe because her mom had just confessed to having stolen a Pokémon. How could her mother be a Pokémon thief?
"What's wrong, little girl?"
Teal spun around as she jumped in surprise to hear the voice. When she saw the person it belonged to, she almost screamed.
He wore only black, with a black mask over his mouth. A Reclaimer.
"Don't be scared," he said lightly. "I won't hurt you. And don't scream, either. It'll give you away."
"What?" This was confusing.
'The people you were running away from – they'll find you if you scream."
Teal sized up the newcomer as best she could. A tuft of red hair stuck out from his black hood. His skin was a bit darker than she was used to seeing and was splattered with freckles. His eyes were large and blue, and as he was bending over to speak to her, she could estimate that he was almost twice her height. She was surprised to realize he was still a kid – quite a bit older than her, but definitely not an adult.
She relaxed a little bit. "Who are you?"
"I'm a Reclaimer," he said casually, sitting down. "Nebula the Reclaimer."
"I'm Teal." She stood up cautiously.
"Nice to meet you, Teal. I have a question for you."
"What is it?"
He grinned broadly. "Will you be my friend?"
Teal took a step back. "Wh – what?"
Nebula shrugged. "I'm just asking you what you wanted to be asked. I'm a little psychic, you know. I'm not very good, but it's easier to read minds when their owners want them read. Right now, you're saying, 'I push people away out of obligation. I feel the need to show them that they're better off without me. Somebody, please, just tell me that you really do want to be my friend and I'll let you.'"
She shook her head. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Oh?" he asked. "Too young to recognize even your own psychoanalysis?"
"Um… I don't know what that means. But if you're saying I need more friends, you're wrong." She bit her lip, suddenly gaining courage to speak her mind. "Besides, I definitely don't want to be friends with you. In fact, when I grow up, I'm going to kill you. I hate The End, and I hate you Reclaimers!"
He looked at her, unfazed. "Which of us do you hate?"
"We Reclaimers hate The End just like everyone else. I know a lot of people think we're their spies or something, but we're not. We're a separate group."
"If you seriously want to fight in The End, maybe you could join us someday. Someday when you're old enough that you don't need your mommy anymore."
"How about now?" she asked him suddenly.
Now he was taken aback. "What?"
"My mom used to be a Pokémon thief. She said so. I don't want a Pokémon thief for a mommy anymore."
He looked at her, concerned. "Is she still a Pokémon thief?"
"Then maybe you should forgive her," he advised gently. "No one will ever be able to save the future if they can't let go of the past."
"I just," she choked, "I don't know if I can trust her anymore."
"And she was the only person you trusted at all, wasn't she?"
She turned away to hide her crying face.
"If you want to join us, you have to know when to trust people," he went on. He put a hand on her shoulder. "So let me give you an assignment. Think about every single person in your life right now. Can you trust them, or not? Answer the question for everyone. Make a list of solid reasons why or why not. By the time you're done with that, if you still want to join us, come see me." He didn't bother to tell her where to come see him. He slid his hand down her arm until he reached her finger, then moved her arm to her left side. Teal looked up at him, confused."But first, I want that list. You can start with that guy. The one you're pointing to."
She turned to look in the direction towards which Nebula had moved her hand. He had pointed her hand at a tree. And from behind the tree, she could barely see a strand of red hair blowing in the wind.
"Uncle Redhead Guy?" Teal called. She wasn't sure why she called him "Uncle"; it had just slipped out that way.
He poked his head out. "Teal! Are you all right?"
"He was about to ambush us. He thinks I kidnapped you," Nebula informed her. "Please go tell him I didn't."
She ran over to him. "What are you doing?"
"Looking for you, of course! Haven't you heard everyone shouting your name?"
"Everyone was worried. Why did you run away?"
"Because I hate funerals!" Teal announced loudly, determined to get back to her usual self. "I never wanted to come here in the first place. What were you expecting?"
Instead of answering, he reached out for her. She stepped backwards, but he caught her and lifted her up in his arms. He held her against his chest. Teal squirmed around and was considering kicking him in the crotch when she glanced over Silver's shoulder and saw Nebula, still watching them. He gave her a thumbs-up sign and then briskly walked away.
Teal relaxed. "What're you doing?"
"Come on," Silver said gently. "I'll give you a ride back home. Those shoes look like they hurt your feet."
So this chapter is like… over half the story so far. But somehow, even though it's so long… no one does anything in it. T_T It's pretty much filler and background. Next chapter, stuff will happen. Promise.