A/N: Hey guys! I wanted to thank those of you who are following/adding this story to your favorites. If you could do me a small favor and just type a small review, though, I'd really appreciate it! You have no idea how much that little review alert brightens my day. :)
Anyway, I'd like to warn you guys ahead of time that the rating WILL be going up to M in the next chapter, so if you're not comfortable with more adult themes, this story may no longer be for you. Just thought I'd give you a heads up!
Despite the fact that traversing Route 14 was a long and tiring ordeal, White refused to let any fatigue show. Her pride continuously reminded her to suck it up – she was tougher than that, damn it! After her embarrassing behavior in the deserts outside of Nimbasa City, White was determined to develop more endurance. Three years ago, the trainer had been able to cross the Unova region with ease, so this journey shouldn't have been nearly as difficult. But three years out of practice had softened muscle and dulled the sharp edges of her mind, and it was starting to show.
Even though she continuously lagged behind N, he said nothing; his only response was an ever-patient smile while he halted and waited for her to catch up. A tiny prick of guilt tickled at White's stomach. She knew full well that he could have moved much faster on his own, so she tried to hurry her pace, wincing at the unpleasant sensation of a popping blister.
"I'm sorry," White muttered for what felt like the hundredth time that day. N merely smiled again and turned to continue, his long strides quickly outmatching her short and frantic ones.
"Osh," Oshawott observed sagely from his perch on top of her head, poking her scalp encouragingly.
"Yeah, thanks," his trainer sighed, brushing her fingertips against her bangs to push them out of her eyes. Trembling droplets of sweat were beaded on her ruddy forehead; the late spring sun was doing her no favors.
"Osha…" The water Pokemon's sharp gaze wandered to his surroundings, taking in the magnificent waterfalls which were an impressive hallmark of Route 14. From what he had overheard of his trainer and her companion's discussion, this apparently meant that they were getting closer to the next town. Although Oshawott wasn't even a year old, his observation skills were unusually astute. Traveling with White had only sharpened this peculiar ability; there were so many new things to take in, and he was rapidly learning how to separate useless information from what may be of some importance later. His chest swelled slightly in pride as he recalled Zoroark's remarks about him being destined for greatness. Speaking of the fox Pokemon…
Zoroark was faithfully keeping step with his trainer and friend, visibly bored by the endless trek. From the conversations Oshawott had had with the Pokemon, he knew that Zoroark had been a part of N's life since he was a young Zorua. The older creature's perpetual scowl had deepened when the little otter inquired about his life before meeting his trainer, and he had snarled something about being stuck with a pathetic weakling who would beat him if he had the audacity to lose battles.
Oshawott, to put it simply, had been baffled; he could not comprehend anyone treating their Pokemon like that. White had always been the picture of a loving friend, especially after Momma had passed. And even though he knew that the human girl tore herself apart for the Samurott's death, the water Pokemon didn't blame her in the slightest. In the painfully short time he had spent with his mother, she had taught him to always protect his mistress, especially since she was a Hero. Momma had died doing just that, and he couldn't have been prouder.
Of course, Papa was still around – in fact, Oshawott could even see his Pokeball clipped on White's belt from his vantage point on her head. Even though he only met with Papa occasionally, the otter was comforted by the fact that he still had such a powerful Pokemon looking out for him. Momma and Papa were both incredibly strong and fiercely guarded the Hero of Unova, a shared quality which eventually brought them together despite being opposing types. With a sudden pang, Oshawott thought about how much he missed curling up in Papa's voluminous, feather-soft fur. Deciding to do something about this, he settled his eyes on Zoroark's mane, lined himself up, and jumped.
A sudden feral shriek caught N and White off guard, and both started in surprise. When N realized that it had only been White's Oshawott landing rather haphazardly on Zoroark, a chuckle bubbled out of him. A stern look from White had the Water Pokemon grinning a sharp-fanged apology.
What the hell was that for? Zoroark snarled, reaching up to smack some sense into the irritating child. He had been nothing but friendly towards the young Pokemon at first, but the otter's annoying immaturity was beginning to wear on him and his low tolerance for stupidity.
I need you to tell your trainer something for me, Oshawott chirped cheerfully, purposely ignoring the fox's ire.
Why didn't you just tell him yourself? He snapped in reply, finally feeling his pointy claws close over the otter's downy fur. Dragging Oshawott roughly out of his bushy mane by the scruff and dangling him in front of his snout, Zoroark fixed him with a menacing glare.
Squirming uncomfortably in his grasp, Oshawott whimpered sourly and pouted at the older Pokemon.
I don't like him very much. He's kind of strange, and he hurt my trainer!
Well, you're going to have to deal with him from now on! They're mates now - I can smell her stench all over him.
Oshawott began flailing wildly in Zoroark's claw, spitting and hissing angrily. His fur puffed out in a silly attempt to make him look bigger and therefore more threatening; however, it only succeeded in making him look like an adorably oversized ball of cotton.
White does not smell bad! You take that back, or I'll make you regret it! He bared his tiny fangs before sullenly adding, And stop talking down to me like I'm stupid! I know they're mates!
Then you'll know to hold your tongue about their joining, Zoroark growled, shaking the child once more for good measure. Do you want to upset your trainer?
Defeated, Oshawott finally ceased his tantrum, and he drooped in the other Pokemon's grasp. He was about to say something else when a sharp gasp cut him off.
N was standing as still as a dormant Roggenrola, the color in his skin draining swiftly. Immediately concerned, White (who had yet again been lagging behind) ran to his side and tentatively touched his tensed shoulder, her fatigue momentarily forgotten.
"N? What's up?" she asked, tensing herself. Even though N was often prone to theatrics, she always tried to err on the side of caution and take him seriously.
"I can hear…a Pokemon needs help!" he said too fast, eyes franticly darting around to find the source of the pained cry he had overheard. "Something's hurting it! We need to go, now!"
"Slow down, N," White said soothingly, totally alert as she stroked the back of her hand against his upper arm. "Think for me. Where did it come from? Can you still hear it?"
Gulping back tears harshly, N forced himself to cease his racing thoughts and focus. Was it…no. Wait – there! The soft, wheezing sob for help flickered at the edges of his consciousness again.
"This way!" he cried, grabbing White's hand and all but dragging her off the beaten path. Without a second thought, Zoroark tossed Oshawott back up into his mane and bolted after his trainer.
Barging through wave after wave of waist-length grass, N shook his head furiously, trying to clear his head and listen. His heart was pounding in his chest as he went over every awful scenario and possibility in his mind over and over again. What if he was too late? What if it was beyond his help? No, he couldn't think like that, but then again, he had never been able to save them all, and that fact had haunted his dreams for years now. Unbidden, the distorted image of a bloodied, still Pidove surfaced in his mind, and he went faster still. Nothing mattered except for the sickeningly weakening cry, not even White's wheezing and gasping pleas for him to stop, because he was hurting her and she couldn't breathe...
Finally, a splash of royal purple appeared among the flowers and weeds. Unable to register anything else but the tiny creature, N dropped to his knees and brushed trembling fingertips over its torn body. A dying Drifloon gasped in front of him, its rubbery hide pierced with several cruel holes.
H-help me, please, it whispered breathily, rotating slightly so that its dulling eyes were staring into N's. The voice was high pitched, tinny, and distinctly female. I don't…want to die…
"Don't…don't say anything else," N all but sobbed, fumbling around for his bag. "Y-you're going to lose more air. Just be still, I can help you…"
It was hard to focus through the hot tears which blurred his vision, but N tried his best, sifting through his bag in search of his first aid kit. After several terrifying seconds, his hand closed around cold, hard plastic. Tearing the white box open, N choked back a scream as bandages, gauze, and healing potions burst out and scattered throughout the grass.
"Z-zoroark, please, help me," he stammered, threading his fingers through the vegetation in search of bandages. His faithful friend did not reply but began hurriedly gathering the wayward supplies in his paws and dumping them into N's lap. Grabbing a Potion, the former king bent over the Drifloon and gently misted the healing solution over her quivering body, using his fingertips to spread the beaded droplets. Something was kicking at the corner of his mind, but he firmly ignored it, focusing instead on the task at hand.
The holes in the Pokemon furrowed and tightened slightly, but not enough, so N meticulously began to cover each of them with an adhesive rubber bandage. When all but one was sealed, he lifted the Balloon Pokemon to his mouth and exhaled into her, filling her with life-giving air. Only when he stuck the last bandage over this final hole did he allow himself a sigh of relief. The Drifloon was holding the air in, and it would be enough to ensure that the small Pokemon would heal.
It was then that he realized the 'kicking' he had felt was actually Oshawott repeatedly ramming his scalchop into his arm, which was now scratched and bleeding. Furious, N opened his mouth to thoroughly chastise the otter for interrupting such a delicate procedure; he snapped it shut, however, upon noticing that Oshawott's expressive face was painted with a mixture of fury and terror. Tears were quivering in the corners of his coal black eyes.
"OSHA!" the Pokemon screamed shrilly, jumping up to slap N in the face with his slippery tail. N leaned back, momentarily stunned back into reality. "Wott, osh osh, OshaWOTT!"
You big JERK! What did you do to my trainer!? She won't get up, she's not moving, just like Momma! What have you done!? IF YOU DID ANYTHING TO HURT HER, I'LL MAKE SURE PAPA HURTS YOU REALLY BADLY!
N's heart stilled at the otter's words, and he glanced about frantically until his eyes found White. She was lying prone a few yards away, cradled by the tall grass.
"Oh…oh, Arceus, White!" he cried out in alarm, scrambling over to her side. Gripping her shoulder, he forced her over on to her back and lifted her into his arms. "Please, you have to be okay…"
Pressing his ear to her chest, he was enormously relieved to hear that she had a heartbeat. A second later she stirred in his hold, groaning hoarsely.
"Holy fuck, I have the worst headache," she moaned, squinting up at N. "Where am I? Don't tell me we got drunk or anything."
"I'm so glad you're okay, White," N whispered brokenly, clutching her like a child would his favorite plush.
"What? Of course I'm okay," White replied in confusion, wincing as he squeezed her a little too tight. Suddenly she remembered why she was in this predicament. "Ow! Okay, except my chest is a little sore."
"I'm so sorry," he sobbed into her hair. "I know…I know I'm a terrible m-mate, but I w-won't ever let you g-get hurt again, I promise."
"N…" White's eyes softened, and she reached up to grip his chin, coaxing him to look at her. Sniffling, he complied, his face swollen and red. The trainer suddenly realized just how much he looked like a scared child.
"I understand, okay? You were worried about the Pokemon," she said sympathetically, grazing her thumb against his cheek. "I've just been really tired because I'm not used to traveling, so I kind of passed out when you pushed me too hard. These things happen, sweetheart."
"I love you," he blurted out, blue-grey eyes overbright as he leaned over to firmly cover her lips with his. When he pulled away after awhile, White was smiling sadly, yet so beautifully.
"I know," she sighed, brushing strands of tea green hair out of his eyes. "Help me stand, okay?"
With a nod and a strangely hollow heart, N released his mate from his embrace and carefully helped her to her feet. Oshawott immediately scampered over to her and clung to her leg, fussing and whimpering apprehensively; he only calmed when White scooped him up into her arms and rubbed her nose against his, assuring him that she was unquestionably okay.
A gentle nudge at N's back had him turning around to face the Drifloon, who had recovered enough to float slightly about the ground.
"Floooon…" she whistled, bobbing up and down with the slight breeze.
Thank you so much for saving me, mister. I really thought I wasn't going to make it.
Beaming brightly, N kneeled down to the little balloon's level and rubbed his knuckles against her shiny skin affectionately. She leaned into it, closing her eyes and whirring softly.
"You're very welcome, my little friend," he murmured, lips setting into a hard line as his visage turned grim. "But you need to tell me who did this to you."
Instantly becoming downcast, the Drifloon quaked like a leaf in a storm. It…it was my trainer. I didn't do well enough in a battle, and he got mad at me…and then abandoned me here.
N clenched his hands into fists so hard that it felt like he was going to fracture the delicate bones within. However, his face remained stoic and cold as he asked, "Your trainer - where did he go?"
P-Please don't go after him, mister! The Ghost Pokemon begged, flitting about agitatedly. It was my fault anyway! I deserved it for not doing my best!
"Listen to me, young one." He placed a deceptively calm hand on the Drifloon's side, silently urging her to settle down. "A human treating you like this…there is no excuse. You did nothing wrong - it's he who was too weak to take care of you, to unlock your true potential. It's not your fault."
The Drifloon was silent for awhile after that. N rose to his feet, barely containing the rage which scorched through his veins like a volcanic flow. Even though he had long ago let go of his frivolous dream of forcing people to release their Pokemon, such careless abuse was still entirely unforgiveable in his eyes. It was actions such as these which made him doubt the status quo, and only the love trainers such as White exhibited towards their Pokemon mollified his discontent. No matter how much work he did, no matter how many lives he saved, there would always be the countless voices which he just couldn't reach in time. It was like throwing a weightless pebble into the crashing waves of the ocean, expecting the tide to ebb only for him.
But…mister… the Drifloon's nervous voice jerked N from his dismal thoughts, and he looked back down at her.
I'm okay now, and that's all because of you. You don't need to hurt my old trainer, really! Before he caught me and took me from my parents, my Father always used to tell me that two wrongs don't make a right. I think that's really smart.
"But he shouldn't go unpunished!" N protested, throwing his hands up. "What if he goes on to do the same thing to another poor, innocent Pokemon? I can't let this keep happening!"
The Drifloon nuzzled against his leg like she was trying to comfort him. I can't be sure…but after he hurt me, I think I saw regret in his eyes. I think he knows what he did was wrong, and I don't think he'll hurt another one of his Pokemon ever again. But you know, it doesn't matter! Whatever he does from now on...it isn't your fault! You're a good person, so don't spread more sadness by bringing more pain and hurt into the world, okay?
"I…I suppose…" N muttered, looking away . The corners of his lips twitched into a frown as he glanced over at White, who was busy tickling a giggling Oshawott until he cried for mercy. Am I really a good person? By punishing bad trainers, have I been spreading happiness…or pain? How many times were the injuries I patched up only accidents? Have I been too impulsive in my actions? I wonder…
Becoming aware of N's gaze, White looked up at him, a tremendous grin plastered on her face. Skipping over to him, she dropped Oshawott next to the Drifloon, urging them to play with each other.
"I'm glad everything's okay," she said, straightening out and reaching over to squeeze N's hand. "I have an idea – how about we have lunch here? I can even let all of my Pokemon out! I haven't been able to do that in forever."
"S-Sure," he replied, taken aback by her sudden enthusiasm. Her moods, it seemed, changed as often as his these days. Regardless, he was glad to see her smiling again.
"All right," she cried, unlatching the five occupied Pokeballs on her belt. "Arcanine, Lilligant, Hydreigon, Braviary, Reuniclus - come on out, guys!"
Various roars filled the immediate area as White's Pokemon were released, and all of a sudden things were a little more crowded. N was familiar with all of her team, save for the large and majestic Arcanine who was currently stretching and nibbling at his broad paws. Even more curious to him was when Oshawott immediately ceased his antics with Drifloon and bounded over to the Arcanine, crying, Papa! It's my Papa!
"Oshawott's part Arcanine?" he inquired, amused.
"Uh, yeah," White nodded, staring fondly at the strange father-son pair. "Weird, right? I was really surprised to find Samurott with an egg one day…"
She trailed off abruptly, lost in memories of happier times.
"Where did you even find one?" N prompted gently, pulling her from her thoughts. "I thought that they were only found in Kanto, maybe Johto."
"Oh, he was given to me as a gift when he was only a Growlithe," she explained, walking over to rest a hand on the lion-dog's shoulder. Growling affectionately, he turned and dragged his long tongue up her cheek. Sputtering and wincing, the girl bounced back and cried, "Goddamnit, Arky! How many times have I told you not to do that!? Disgusting!"
A deep rumble of laughter resounded in Arky's throat, and White scowled at him, clearly not amused. Scooping Oshawott up, she balanced him on his father's back and muttered, "Here, spend some time with your kid. He's missed you a lot lately."
Turning to N, she clapped her hands together and puffed her cheeks up as she exhaled.
"Right, let's eat!"
"I meant to ask you about something, White," N said sometime later, after they had eaten a very filling lunch. The two trainers and their friends were all contentedly reveling in the afterglow of their lunch beneath a nearby tree.
"Yeah? Shoot," she responded, cracking an eyelid open. The trainer was currently splayed out on her back, arms thrown behind her and cradling her head. The warmth from the late spring sun was making her drowsy, and she gladly welcomed the brief respite from their journey.
"Yesterday, before that Colress man so rudely interrupted our conversation…" White snorted in a very un-ladylike fashion, and N shot her a look before continuing, "I asked you something."
"What was it?" she yawned, stretching like a satisfied Liepard. "I can't quite remember. Jog my memory?"
"I, uhm," N coughed out, nervously clearing his throat before going on, "I asked if you had had any other attachments of a…romantic nature while I was away."
The former king was met with a dubious silence, and his heart seemed to skip a beat. White opened her eyes and sat up with crossed legs, fully aware now.
"N, I'm not sure I really want to talk about it," she said shakily, squeezing her eyes shut. Damn it, she had hoped that he had forgotten about their little exchange yesterday. Nothing got past the man, it seemed.
"But it's really important to me that I know," he replied, a frown tugging at his mouth.
"It was just a really difficult time for me, okay?" White ground out, slightly angry at his unwillingness to drop the subject. "I don't really like to think about it."
"But you told me that if we are to be successful mates, we need to communicate!" N protested, hurt flashing through his eyes. "Why does that apply to me and not to you?"
"Just drop it, N!" she growled, eyes narrowing to irate slits. No, she definitely was not dealing with this right now.
"…fine." N finally ceded, although his lips were still pursed into a childish pout.
"Look," White sighed, combing her fingers through her hair in nervous habit. With a huff, she let herself fall on to her back again. "I'm sorry. I promise that I'll tell you one day, but not now. It's still hurts too much."
Exhaling his frustration, N scooted down until he was beside his mate. He snuggled against her side, meekly hiding his face with her bony shoulder.
"Oh, N," she chuckled lightly despite her rapidly beating heart, curling around him and holding him close. Some things never changed, indeed.
Two more days passed relatively quietly, and White noted cheerfully that her old endurance seemed to be returning. The Drifloon had decided to follow them, using the excuse that she should probably go to a Pokemon Center to heal, something with which N agreed whole-heartedly. However, her real motive soon became clear: she was spending all of her time trying to convince N to be her trainer. Even though the Hero had very much given up on forcing his beliefs on others, he still held fast to the ideal that Pokemon should not be enslaved by humans.
Undeterred by this fact, the Drifloon (who White had affectionately nicknamed Floonie) continued to whimper and whine, disappearing and reappearing in front of the former king constantly (scaring the living daylights out of him and Zoroark every time), until he had finally begrudgingly rolled an empty Pokeball to her. Floonie allowed herself to be sucked into the device, and upon her immediate release, danced around N's head gleefully, whistling an upbeat tune about her awesome new trainer. White couldn't help but burst out laughing at his harangued look.
In spite of all of this, the couple's anxiety levels continued to rise; now that they could sense how close they were to their dragon companions, N and White were constantly uneasy and on-edge. Their unrest manifested itself in their nightly 'sessions' – it was as if each Hero was vying for dominance, their touches and actions becoming more heated with each passing minute. Electricity explosively mingled with licking flames, searching for something deeper, something neither could put a finger on. Even though their desires were clearly matched, it was White who stopped each time, stammering that she was tired, and they needed to be up early in the morning so bedtime is now.
And so without an outlet, the tension continued to grow and weigh heavier in the air, until they finally reached Undella Town on the morning of the fourth day of travel, and White knew that she couldn't deny her counterpart any longer.
"Sir, Colress is here to see you. May I let him in?"
Lazily, Ghetsis rotated his chair until he was facing the intercom on his desk. With an irritated sigh, he replied, "Let him in, Margaret" and leaned back expectantly.
Plasma Admin Colress waltzed in, graceful as usual, and delicately sat on the chair facing his superior's desk. Ghetsis wrinked his nose; he could barely tolerate the strange man, having no patience for his distracting talk of the potential of Pokemon. All he cared about was if Colress could do his job and execute his plans satisfactorily.
"What is it?" he asked in a bored tone, shuffling through some of the paperwork on his desk.
"I have news which might interest you," Colress smirked, folding his hands on his lap. Ghetsis raised a thick eyebrow, only partially interested.
"I seem to have run into some important figures who may interfere with our plans," Colress explained, smoothly sliding a manila folder in his boss's direction. With a 'hmph', the Sage opened the file and quickly skimmed its contents. Two names made him pale visibly, and he began to quake in rage.
"You found my…son, and that useless whore of his," Ghetsis ground out through gritted teeth, gripping the paper so hard that it crumbled. "And you didn't fucking think to inform me of that fact immediately?"
With a look of mild disinterest, Colress merely shrugged.
"I didn't think it was that important, sir," he sighed, casually adjusting one of his gloves.
"You fucking idiot!" Ghetsis screeched, jumping to his feet and slamming his hands down. "They're already in Undella Town at this point! We have to accelerate our plans by a week because of this information!"
A vein throbbed in his forehead, and the Sage tried to compose himself. There was no sense in wasting his anger on something as useless as this. In fact, such an acceleration of their carefully cultivated plans might even play to his advantage. Leaning over, he pushed in the intercom button and muttered, "Margaret, send me the leaders of Squads Alpha through Epsilon for debriefing immediately."
Turning to Colress, the Sage fixed him with an eerie one-eyed glare.
"You're dismissed, Admin," he all but snarled, settling back into his desk chair. "Do not let an oversight like this happen again."
"Certainly, sir," Colress sighed, bowing before exiting the room.
With a frustrated grimace, Ghetsis steepled his fingers and centered himself, forcing himself to be calm. He had much to do.