Chapter 31: Risen
The sun setting in the distance, Siria wandered down a dirt road back home. Her cheeks no longer showed the tears shed earlier, spilled over navigating the roots of her inner problems. Despite her reluctance and shyness to the topic, Alyssa had guided her through the ordeal with an almost unnerving precision; never once did she feel nervous or anxious that what she was saying would reflect poorly on herself. Though her psychological state still wasn't quite stable, the improvement between her before and after was evident even in her steadier gait and the way she carried herself.
The persistent Dragonite, ever the expert in peer pressuring others, got her to quickly succumb to a day in the city, dragging her this way and that to see these tops and those dresses. Siria admitted that what they saw did look nice, despite how pathetically useless they would be in a combat situation, and was on the borderline of buying a pair of jeans had it not been for its exorbitant price. However, the Latias felt that the items she carried in her bag, a brand-new sketchbook and a set of soft charcoal pencils, were worth the money she would have spent on the clothing - after all, if there was one thing she insisted upon in their city run, it was resupplying on art supplies virtually nonexistent in the military. They'd definitely last her for another year of deployment.
A raucous commotion in the distance caught her attention. Training making her a little more than wary, she walked slightly faster towards the silhouettes against the dusk. As the noise became a little more distinguishable, she heard some laughing and yelling. Probably some elementary school kids doing something stupid, if anything.
"What did I ever do to you guys? Stop it!" a voice whined as she passed by.
"Why? Your dumb army dad going to come and hurt us? My mom told me that 'mon like your dad cause all the trouble we have now! It's all your fault!"
Well, as she was going to pass by. Interest perked, Siria practically towered over the scene below. A scrawny-looking Rattata kid, flanked by a fat Abra and a skinny, vain-looking Swablu. Between them was a Poochyena, crying out in pain as the Rattata gave him a firm kick in the gut.
"Hey, hey!" she immediately yelled at them as conscience bounded past logic. She shoved her way into the middle and stood over the victim, spreading her arms to mitigate their teasing. "Leave this kid alone!"
The normal-type gave her a smirk. He was the 'ringleader,' if his attitude told her anything. "Why? It's not like you know him or anything. Why don't you leave us alone?"
"You shouldn't be picking on someone, or beat him up! Aren't there other things to do besides hurt your classmates?"
An arrogant toss of the head. "He's not a classmate. He's just a whiny little bitch that no one likes-"
On normal days, the dragon was much more forgiving. But today, she had gone through an entire nervous breakdown - even though it had been cleared (temporarily, she assumed), and that hateful "army dad" comment made her decide that it wouldn't hurt to be a little bitchy. "Shut up," she said shortly. "If you don't shut your mouth and leave him alone, I'll..."
"You'll do what, bi-" His eyes bulged as the Latias focused a smidgen of psychic power on a patch of grass before them, foot-deep crater suddenly appearing with a sharp crack.
"I'll do that to you. Is that what you want, or can you leave this boy alone?"
"I- I- wi-" Without further ado, he ran tail between his legs, lackeys quickly following when they decided they didn't want to be pulverized into the ground.
With the annoying brats out of the way, Siria took a closer look at the Poochyena she had just saved. He carried the trademarks of harsh bullying, albeit harder to see because of his dark fur - a blackened eye, bruises all over his body... one of his legs seemed mangled, though it didn't seem to be from playground bullies pushing him around. She instantly set to fixing the more easily fixable wounds, thanking Arceus for her training with much more severe military wounds. All this time the small 'mon watched her, letting her fix his body without resistance. "What's your name?" she asked softly, not wanting to frighten him.
"Densen," he returned in equal softness, paws wrapping around her arm as she picked him up. "I... I can walk, you know."
"Not with that leg you can't, Densen," she said pointedly. "C'mon, I'll take you home. Where do you live?"
A few spurts of conversation later, Siria found herself walking towards the poorer area of the city. She knew the maze of apartment buildings and condos because of Alyssa, who had once lived in a particularly bad neighborhood. He was quiet for the majority of the trip, asleep in her arms from the slightly sedating effects of Wish.
It wasn't until she was a couple blocks from the address given when he woke. "Hey," he asked in the same softness as before. "Are you... you in the military?"
"Yes, I am. Why do you ask?" Her mind whirred into motion, though, as she started recalling what she had heard earlier. So far, she'd gathered that he was an army brat of sorts...
He curled up closer into her chest. "Well... my dad told me that some bad people hurt him, and that they took his eyes and his feet away. Mom said that he wouldn't be there if Arceus didn't send a blue angel and a red angel to look over him, and the way you looked... You should meet dad sometime. He's nice."
Siria's mind ground to a standstill as she tried to process this sudden information. "I'm sure it was just a vision he had," she said, remembering distinctly the Mightyena she and her brother had tried to operate on. That would be assuming that the kid's father was of the same species; he most likely wasn't though. She shouldn't be overthinking this!
Her thinking had distracted her from the walk, and she found herself in front of an apartment door. Two knocks later, a tall female Mightyena revealed herself to them. "Den, it's late ou- what happened? Den?"
"I found him getting beat up by a few kids on my way back home," the Latias quickly explained before several nasty assumptions could be made. "And his leg looked pretty bad, so I thought carrying him home would be the best thing to do."
"Ah..." Her muzzle contorted into a bit of a scowl. "Those damn kids, thinking they're better than him... I thought I took care of them last time, but they just seem to come back."
"If it's any consolation, they probably won't be able to pick on him without thinking about being ground into dust by psychic force."
A ghost of a smile graced her face. "Well, that's something to be thankful for. I insist, come in. It's the least I can do to thank you for defending my boy."
The interior of the apartment was spartan, living room consisting of only a couple couches and a small television. Siria set the Poochyena down on one before facing his mother. "He was talking about a lot of his father on the way back," she said. Both a truth and a lie, but what Den had set had set her curiosity ablaze.
Judging from the Mightyena's reaction, that was probably not the most strategic questions to ask. However, after a moment of painful silence, she scooped up Den in her arms and took him into one of the apartment's rooms. Moments later she reemerged, face distraught. "Please, sit," she said, motioning towards the sofa. Her voice cracked slightly at the command, though ever so slightly.
Before the Latias could open her mouth, the mother asked, "Did he say something about a blue angel and a red angel?"
She nodded, surprised that the Mightyena had deduced her motive so quickly.
"Thought so," she said with no small amount of bitterness. "You're part of the military, the Army, right? Right, I can tell just by the way you look."
"Soldiers carry a different look than everyone else. More grizzled, harder, less emotive. Subtle, but still there. Few see it. Fewer have the courage to acknowledge it." A rattling sigh filled the room. "Benard, my husband - my former husband, that is... he was part of a convoy going deeper into Tamsus territory, and his vehicle got bombed. That's what the report says, anyways. He lost the left side of his face and one of his legs to the damn guerillas fighters, and then, his life... I don't suppose that Den talked about his father as if he was still alive?"
If Siria wasn't convinced before, she certainly was now. "Yeah, he did," she responded hollowly, especially preoccupied in her thoughts.
"That's because I haven't broken the news to him yet. He's too young, way too young... but the days leading up to his death..." Though even, her voice carried no small amount of sorrow.
"He talked about how there were two 'mon who worked furiously to save him after he got bombed. A red angel and a blue angel... a Latios and a Latias," she said softly, fixing her gaze on her. "I know it's probably far from the truth, but did you... are you..?"
The Latias was bewildered, scared, and touched all at once. Bewildered because she realized that she was in the house of the Mightyena she had treated, scared because she didn't know how this heartbroken mother would react, and touched because of how poignant the story was...
"I...," she started unevenly, wondering if honesty was actually the best policy, "My brother and I tried to repair his wounds... my brother bounded out, and called me a few minutes later. We looked it over... he had lost a lot of blood already, from the leg and the face. I tried to seal up all the surface wounds so he would lose less blood, but it just... even my brother..." She stopped for a moment, watching the Mightyena's expression growing more and more griefstricken by the second. That didn't ease her speech in any manner.
"We didn't know whether he would survive or not after the helicopter evacuated him, but we hoped for the best..." Her eyes fell to the greyish carpet, regret and disappointment filling her heart. "We tried our best... I'm sorry..."
A paw fell on her shoulder, steadying her uneven breath. "Don't worry. I know you tried your best, child..." Siria sensed her eyes tracing her body. "You're young," she noted, looking straight at her. "What's your name? How old are you?"
"Siria, still under twenty," the Latias said. It was an odd feeling to her to have face down far greater threats, yet feel suddenly subordinate to this mother. Maybe it was because she sensed great intelligence and wisdom behind those dampened yellow pupils.
"Young indeed, young indeed," the Mightyena murmured. "Have your parents served before?"
"My father," she said rather tersely, moments later cursing herself for the acerbity in her speech.
The mother hummed softly. "Not your mother, I presume. How do they fare with you and your brother so distant from them so often? It must be hard..."
"My mother is dead." A slight widening of the eyes, but no further hints of surprise. "My father? I couldn't care less."
An uncomfortable silenced reigned between the two females, Siria's mood immensely soured by the slight mention of the elderly Latios. The mother seemed to work an amulet in her paws, causing the Latias to unconsciously feel the locket on her neck. Even though it had been so long, all of her experiences seemed to have happened yesterday... memories flew back past the valiant Wargle, back to selection for Special Forces, back to boot camp, back to their home, back to...
The Mightyena bowed her head slightly. "It's a shame to hear... I don't mean to pry on family matters, but if I could offer a few words about it, in the light of recent events..."
"Sure," she said, still disgruntled by the topic.
She saw a flash of an angular, black face in the mother's metal charm before she drew it back close to her chest. "Sometimes... sometimes you don't understand how much you value a person until he's gone. Sometimes, Bernard and I had so many arguments, so many fights, and I took his presence just for granted. We would make up, things would mend, and he'd be there tomorrow, and forever. It wasn't until... it wasn't until he disappeared that I realized how empty I felt inside." For the first time since she met her, Siria saw tears well in the dark-type's eyes.
"And now, my son has to grow up without a father, without someone to look up to, without someone who would support him no matter what the case is. I can try to support him on my own, but it only goes so far before everything starts breaking down, before he realizes that someone in his life will never be there ever again." The Latias heard a slight sniffle as her thoughts immediately darted back to Shadrach and the missions he was probably assigned when she was gone. If he disappeared from her life...
"And then I sometimes think about what would happen if I suddenly go missing, and it's frightening, to say the least..." She unclenched her paw and set the amulet on the table before her. "If I could pick something to have said to him before he died... if I could have done just one thing for him before he died..."
The Latias muffled a small yelp as the Mightyena took her hands in hers. "You still have something left. You still have a chance to cherish what you have. Don't be like me. Don't get complacent with them being there every day because you don't know if they'll be gone the next. You seem to have problems with your father - would you be the same if he was suddenly gone tomorrow? What about when you return home from your next deployment, to find him forever gone? It's easy to say it to someone's face, that 'I don't care', or, 'It'll never happen,'" she said as Siria began to open her mouth, "but when you search your soul... what you find is a little different, isn't it?"
Siria inhaled as she processed all that she had just heard, preparing some sort of rebuttal or response about how her father treated her awful, or how she'd been abused. But as she felt the doleful wolf's eyes staring- no, boring into her, she hoped that the mother wouldn't pick up on her squirming. Despite trying to prevent it, she began to think about her father, and whether it was just to accuse him of what he did, and whether she was in the right in keeping an eternal grudge...
She looked back up to see the dark-type smile knowingly at her. It was more than probable that the Mightyena saw her struggle with some of her inner demons - the Latias wasn't sure what to do. Should she thank her for giving her somewhere to start, or hate her because it made her think differently, or remain ambivalent, or-
"Siria, was it? At the very least I should offer you dinner for helping Den back home."
The dragon gave an emphatic nod, thankful for her ability to produce anything that would ease an otherwise awkward social situation.
Dinner was nice, if not as simple as the apartment. It tasted better than military slop at least, which she was thankful for.
After a couple of profuse thank-you's, a long walk home, and avoiding waking her father sleeping in the rocking chair, the Latias found herself cross-legged on her bed, not quite willing to sleep yet. That, and her brother was snoring so loudly that she probably couldn't sleep even if she tried.
What the Mightyena told her still rang clear in her mind, unshakable no matter what she tried to distract herself with. Was she undervaluing someone she really cared about? But she didn't really care about him, did she? Did she?
Yes, her father had yelled at her her, but he was drunk with sorrow at the time. Yes, he had beat her, but he sought her forgiveness no matter how many times she gave him the cold shoulder. And what made her more confused than ever now was how despite knowing that there was someone who could help him clean up his mess, he still tried to do it independently. Did that mean that he didn't want to rely on her, or try to show her that he wasn't weak, or...?
Speaking of which, he was still sleeping in the living room without a blanket. He'd get sicker than he already was.
Speaking of which, when did she start caring?
It dawned upon her that in the past several years of her life, she had never looked into her father's room.
If anything, it was cramped. Photography equipment littered the oaken bookshelf to the right of the room, looming over a desk with tons and tons of papers - undoubtedly from Sirius and her father cleaning during the past few days. To the left was a large bed, suited for two even though it was painfully obvious that only one side was really used. A television and several picture frames dotted the dresser before the bed.
She thought nothing of the pictures at first as she retrieved the thin blanket, but curiosity ate at her as she walked back from the living room. Peering at them, she had to use her fingers to wipe the dust off of a couple. The first, the most dusty of all, was a picture of him and her mother on their wedding day. Although it made her hate herself to admit it, he looked rather handsome, hand in hand with a rather lucky Latias. She pondered for a moment what her mother would have thought of her predicament, had she still been alive.
The second was dusty still - the very same greyscale picture of her father with Sirius in the scrapbook, posing outside the military base after they had been recruited into the Army. She noticed that her back retreating in the distance was cropped out, and an involuntary pang struck her heart.
It was peculiar that she could see the last so easily, or so she thought. As she picked the oddly clean frame up, her hand began to tremble as her brain tried to comprehend what she was seeing. Her memory came fast to her; the picture was taken when she was a sophomore, a year before they were expelled. The Latios had an arm curled around her shoulder as she held out one of those stupid certificates for being top of the class. Trivial as it may have been, it made her parents happy at the time, and it made her look good, so why not?
That was the last photo she remembered having taken with her father.
She set it back with a whimper, choosing to collapse on her father's bed. As she put her face in her hands, tears began to fall from her cheeks with her convulsions. It hit her harder than any bullet or any attack could - the minor details of how only hers was kept so clean and how long ago that photo was taken hit her like an Ice Beam, so petrified she was. For all these years, she thought of him as nothing but a devil, and he put her up so high up on a pedestal just to be slapped in the face for his efforts. She had been so foolishly blind, so caught in hate and anger that she didn't recognize that there was someone who loved her so deeply he would give his life for her in an instant.
She didn't even realize it was her father's room as she fell asleep, tired and crying.
It was fairly embarrassing for her to have woken up in her own bed the next morning, blanket tucked in up to her chin. She had panicked, frantically wondering if her father had brought her back, or if Sirius had found her, or if she went back on her own accord. The thought never left her mind as the last few days of leave slipped away. She had made amends with her father, or at least tried to. She had been bold enough to cook a meal for the family on the last night, and was glad to see that the skills she acquired from her mother had not worn thin from combat.
Now, as Sirius mumbled in his sleep about "Getting that hottie" or an equally shameless subject, Siria sat quietly at her desk. The yellow desk light illuminated a small sheet of paper before her and the pencils she had bought a few days beforehand.
The Latias, in all of her time with her father, skirted around the topic of why she was treating him so differently, why she didn't simply give him the cold shoulder all the time. She didn't feel that it was something she could talk to him directly about - not yet, anyways; she would burn to death with shame if she tried.
Instead, she picked up a pencil and drew a stroke. Then another. Night faded to day as she worked ceaselessly on the drawing, putting more passion into it than anything she had ever drawn before. What laid before her deserved that much.
Much like the night, the day boiled away as she and Sirius prepared to return to the wintry Drakes, packing their bags half resignedly, half eagerly. Unlike her Latios brother, Siria appeared much more exhausted. Her work robbed her of much of her vigor as she tiredly folded clothing and packed away the remnants of her civilian life.
Finally, it was time to exchange goodbyes. Sirius looked abashed for once in his life, reciprocating a great, hearty hug from her father while shooting his sister a look along the lines, "Don't you dare say anything." She smirked at the two, knowing that his futile request would be the subject material to occupy their trip back. After the old Latios finally released the younger one, he attempted to look at his daughter, but his gaze faltered. As he shuffled his feet slightly, Siria felt that it was finally time for her to take initiative.
The height disparity was painstakingly apparent as she tiptoed to hug him, giving him a small kiss on the cheek as she felt his claws fumble awkwardly back. As they released each other, the look on his face would have made her laugh had the simple gesture not meant so much to her. "I...," she said, unable to look him in the eye. "Goodbye, father. Stay well, for both your sake... and mine."
He ascended the staircase slowly, injuries making the trip more laborious than ever. He had seen his children - though they really couldn't be called children at this point - off back to the war, which made him more distressed than ever. Would they come back to him alive or in a coffin? Or would they returned mangled physically, or mentally, or both?
Maybe it was time to retire.
He went through the door straight to his room, thoughts lacking the clarity they usually had. The Latios was absolutely boggled by what her daughter had done to him, considering her harsh attitude towards him in the past years. That was the first time she had made physical contact with him since... he would settle for the answer, "too long ago."
He laid on his bed, rubbing his leg. A bandaged claw reached for the remote on the table besides him, about to turn on the television when his eyes registered a slight disturbance among the picture frames on the dresser. The dragon bothered himself enough to walk the distance between his bed and the photos, even though it hurt him to do so.
There was one less! He recognized the picture with him and his deceased wife, causing sorrow to rush back into his heart. He had promised himself he'd let go because he knew that's what she would have wanted, but doing was much harder than saying...
But the one with Siria was gone! Blood drained from his face; what intruder could have possibly done something so sadistic to his cherished-
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed something different about the picture he took with Sirius. And as he raised it closer to his face, he too fell back on the bed where he had found his daughter that morning, tears beginning to cascade down his cheeks as he started laughing and laughing. He had mistaken it for a photograph at first, but it was a charcoal drawing so impeccable that it very well could have been a picture. He and Sirius still stood outside of the compound, as usual, but there was a third, shorter character standing besides him wearing a brilliant smile.
He opened the back of the frame, the original photo peeling away before he felt rough paper. There was something written on it that made him crack a smile through his tears.
It is one thing to imagine the past amended, and another to truly amend it.
My convictions lead me to walk between the two.