All things considered, it had been among the worst twenty-four hour periods of my life. Which was saying something. Of course, it had also been among the best. Which was also saying something.

To begin with, aside from the grief and loss that was so obvious it did not bear mention, the mind-numbing procedure that unfolded on the grounds of the arena was easily the worst part. It was bad enough with the police, emergency technicians, and assorted other agencies all needing facts for their records, but on the other side came the endless parade of strangers expressing condolences. King was already so far gone he could barely produce sounds recognizable as language, and he was in no mood for sympathy from his friends, let alone total strangers. When an overweight woman drenched in perfume had uttered the tactless words "just a Pokemon," I had honestly thought he was going to kill her with his bare hands. Only some quick action by James, who apparently was stronger than I would have thought, prevented the police from making an arrest that night after all. Things had improved after that, but only slightly.

The end, for me, had finally come when the meds finished their tests and presented King with the special ball that held all that was left of Ashley. In his first sign of life for several minutes, King had snatched the ball away so quickly that the nurse jumped, but he balked at signing the papers that they held out to him. So it was James that had to affix his name to the document-- and just like that, Ashley's life was officially over.

Then it was time for us to go home, so to speak.

"I'm not worried about the long-term," was James' reaction when I asked him, upon returning to the sleeping area, if he thought King would be okay. It was not lost on me, however, that James looked surreptitiously through King's sleeping bag, turning up a wicked-looking knife complete with a handsome leather sheath. I hadn't even known it was in there, but I had nothing to worry about: James ensured that the blade would not be found until he wished it to be.

Through it all, Snap was there. He never said anything, but he was there. He was there when I went to sleep that night, and he was still there when I woke up.

Cool, I thought, it wasn't a dream. Of course, if it had been a dream, Ashley would still be alive… That thought produced what seemed like an infinite sadness.

((Good morning.))

((Good morning to you, too.)) So what happens when the infinite sadness meets the infinite happiness?

I saw as soon as I nudged the curtain aside that the room contained the usual suspects: Ronald, still busily at work behind his desk. James, standing next to Ronald and leafing through a stack of papers. And… King, sitting on the room's ratty couch with his head between his knees, fingers interlaced across the back of his head as though to ward off a blow. It was obvious that the night hadn't brought him much peace.

What was surprising wasn't King, though. It was who-- or what-- was seated next to him on the floor, its arm protectively around him.

James noticed me then, and must have seen my surprise, because he quickly pressed one finger to his lips and motioned that I and Snap should follow him outside. We did so without protest. Once we were outside, I had to ask. ((Why on earth is there a Blastoise in there?))

"I was getting to that." James seemed irritated. "I know this will be hard to believe, but that's the Blastoise. If you know what I mean." He had to hold up his hand again to forestall the angry outburst that he knew was coming. "It wasn't his fault, Ponyta. He thought he was making a disabling attack, not a lethal one, and he would have been right had it not been for Ashley's weakened condition. On top of that, Pokemon that have been raised by PLA members usually have a very distorted view of the world. I know this, King knows this, Ashley would have known it… and that's why King decided to adopt that Blastoise."

((ADOPT him?)) I echoed in disbelief.

"Yes. Who else was going to? Even if his original owner isn't dead, as some people are starting to say, there's no chance he'll be back for his Pokemon, is he? It sounds like a disgusting platitude in a time of grief, but two wrongs don't make a right. Or, as I heard Ron say in one of the few times he's said anything to me, 'Revenge is best saved for those who deserve it.'"

I shook my head, not quite mollified. ((It's King's decision, I suppose… but you'll forgive me if I don't choose to fraternize with that Pokemon in there.))

James nodded, a little sadly I thought, and patted me on the shoulder before returning to the inside of the building.

((So what do you want to do today?)) asked Snap.

((Shouldn't you get in touch with your trainer?))

((Nah. He's used to me disappearing all night… and we were eliminated yesterday, so he won't need me for that either. I'm yours.))

I smiled. ((How would you feel about heading to the stadium and finding some standing room to watch the rest of the show, then?))

((Absolutely.))

The day was sunny and pleasant, a perfect temperature, much like the day I had spent with Snap three months ago. That wonderful day and perfect night had been followed by a nightmare of persecution and fear. Was this day to turn out the same, or did the immense tragedy already past give us some respite from the darker side of life?

That was a question that could only be answered one way.

((Did you sleep well last night?)) my lover asked.

((As well as could be expected,)) I answered, and I remembered something I had thought about before falling asleep. ((Snap, could you do me a favor?))

((Anything.))

((I still don't have a name. I was going to try and come up with one for myself when I had the time… but now that you're here, I think I'd rather have you decide what to call me. Would you do that?))

((You want me… to give you a name?))

((Yes.))

((Ponyta… I'm touched. And I'd love to give you the most beautiful name in the world. But… I need to think about it for a while. So that the name I pick is the very best it can be.))

((Take all the time you want,)) I said, smiling as we passed through the gate to the stadium. ((All the time in the world…))

* ~ * ~ *

THE END

* ~ * ~ *

This story was written while under the influence of the following musical substances:

The Police - King of Pain - Secret Journey - Don't Stand So Close to Me - Invisible Sun - Omegaman - Message in a Bottle - and others

Metallica - Nothing Else Matters - Of Wolf and Man - The Shortest Straw - Eye of the Beholder - The Unforgiven II - and others

The Offspring - Have You Ever - She's Got Issues - End of the Line - Million Miles Away - Vultures - and others

The Seekers - I'll Never Find Another You - A World of Our Own

America - A Horse With No Name

Die Prinzen - Mein Bester Freund - Ganz Oben

And many other songs, both relevant and irrelevant, too numerous to mention.

* ~ * ~ *

All persons, living and dead, are purely coincidental.