11 - Successor
"Hello?" I called out. No one answered. The air heater beat a constant hum, but otherwise I was the only thing making sounds. Appliances and decorations were approximately where I had left them. Everything was in its place and yet not everything was exactly how I remember it. The house felt strange and discomforting, as if some stranger had welcomed themselves inside. It's not right to come home with the lights on but no living bodies present.
Maybe Cynthia fell asleep. I wandered to the bedroom but found the bed flat and empty. An incense candle burned on one nightstand, but had nearly given out. The faint smell of lilacs filled the air.
The dining room was similarly empty, even though there were signs of recent habitation: a plate of half-eaten leftovers, a television in sleep-mode, a steaming humidifier. I poked a finger into the curry rice - it was cold.
Not an intruder, I thought, but a ghost. I was reminded of those eerie docudramas of disaster-induced ghost towns- walking into houses abandoned years ago, but looking as if the families had not been gone for more than a few hours.
"Cynthia?" A survey of the kitchen, study, and a dozen other miscellanies rooms turned up similarly just-shy results. I began humming, a made-up, aimless tune, just enough to break the silence hanging over the household. It was a habit of mine, when stressed. Total silence had never sat well with me; it was rather unnerving. Even in the deep bowls of the earth, I always kept Metagross out to create some ambient noise. This lack of sound, lack of definite habitation, was starting to creep into my skull, stirring up a faint whisper of a doubt.
I had left this morning, thinking how terrible it would be if we were to never meet again. True to my self-centered worldview, I had assumed I would be the one to meet with a psychopathic assassin or some catastrophic accident. I had never considered that I could become be the widow. Now, with every sign pointing to a sudden and unexplained disappearance, that scenario's viability crept into the realm of (slim) possibility.
A shiver ran down my arms, followed by a chill in my breast. My heart knotted.
She's just curled up somewhere with a book, I silently told myself. She probably fell asleep waiting for you to come home. But, having investigated nearly every orifice of the residence, I still had failed to find her.
"Amore," I muttered to myself. My Gardevoir might have a clue. She was supposed to lock up at the end of the day. The Pokémon couldn't recall herself into her pokeball, so she typically waited for me to do so. She'd still be there, in the rec center. If there was an emergency, Amore would have…
I reached towards the compad to unlock the door to the rec center's tunnel entrance, but halted. The door was cracked open. Odd. I checked with Sally to find that the security had not been activated yet. Also odd. Cynthia always turns it on when I'm out late.
I pushed the door open and proceeded through. Each step was taken with deliberate care, aiming to make no sound at all. At the far end, the rec center's lights were on. The far door was also cracked. I put my ear to it, hoping and dreading at the same time.
"-he's getting tired of me?"
"Voira! Voir vor garrdedevoir!"
"But he comes home later and later every night. I'm starting to think he's avoiding me. He's evasive at night, and he's very short on his text replies. He doesn't get as enthusiastic about sex, too… some nights it takes him a half hour to get it up. Are those signs I'm losing him?"
I blushed, and then mentally chastised myself for fearing the worst.
"I don't think he's seeing anyone else. It's not like he's distracted… just, what's the word? Drained. He's always tired, and he works way too much. And he seems so… sad."
"It's hard to put a finger on it. But… I'm not sure. There is- he doesn't know this, but I watch him leave each morning. He sighs at the door. What is he sighing for? It's like he's regretting something. I don't think it's me, but how can I be sure?"
"I just wish there were something I could do to cheer him up, damn it! Since when does a good fucking not work on a man?! Damn it all! Oh please don't blush, I'm sorry I said that…"
"I just want him to be happy. If he's unhappy now, how'll he react when I get pregnant? I don't want him to think of our child as a big nuisance to him. What if he doesn't want to be a father? But… he must, right? He married me, right? He's got to know what the all this sex will lead to. Amore, you're his Pokémon, do you know what's bothering him?"
"Gardede, voiravivivoir! Gard e devoir garre."
"I'm sorry, I don't understand what you're saying. If only you spoke a human language!"
There was no burglar. Just an unusual late-night visit to the rec center by my beloved. Still, the fact that my own body reacted in such a way at the mere thought of losing her should prove my feelings for her. In lieu of her conversation just now, it seemed I was worried about the wrong kind of "losing her".
She doesn't even know how close to the truth she is. It hurts to not be able to tell her. No one is threatening me to keep my feelings secrets. It's just me and my cowardice that is hurting me, when I so badly want to tell her how much I love her, and how much I would adore a child! I can't… I'm weak and I can't say it. I wouldn't want to get her hopes up, when there's no mini-me's or mini-her's coming. She underestimates the stress I'm under due to my job, because she doesn't realize it's not merely a job to me but a moral obligation. I can't even tell her that.
If I told her, I'd bring this self-deception crashing down around me, and then I would- I know would- quit the League in an instant. Then the hounds of memory would follow me every day of my life, accusing me of being blithe and callous when such misery as the World championship massacre happened and could still happen again.
As if, because of that one day, I was never allowed to be happy again.
I pressed through the doorway. Cynthia started, but only for an instant, before leaping into my arms. Her lips met my forehead, then each cheek, then my own lips, in her usual passionate, ritualized greeting.
"Long day? she inquired.
"I've got something to help," she said playfully. She beckoned to Amore. The Pokémon made a trip to the shelf and came back with a thermostat. She handed this to Cynthia, who handed it to me.
"What is this?" I opened the bottle and sniffed. A strong odor of cinnamon and.. peaches? reached my nose.
"A special tea recipe I found in my grandmother's keepsakes. It's supposed to help you loosen up."
"They're an aphrodisiac, supposedly."
"I see." I said that with a wearied voice, putting Cynthia on guard. Her eyebrow lifted and her head cocked to the side. She's on the verge of gently accusing me of being impotent for the night. I quickly took a long sip out of the bottle to show her otherwise.
"Are you too tired?" she asked.
"What about working? Are you going again tomorrow?"
"Yes… but I'll probably wait till noon, work the afternoon shift, so to speak."
Which was as good as saying "Tonight we're rock 'n' rolling baby!" Her expression was like a children who had just been promised an ice cream cone and a trip to Nimbasa Land.
"Let me put Amore to bed," I whispered.
Amore was watching the two of us, and blushing. The Pokémon was fully cognizant of our plans for the night, and the shy Pokémon could hardly contain her embarrassment.
"Alright, Amore, sweat dreams." She curtsied, and the pokeball zapped into her, reducing her physical body to a digitized wave of energy. I touched the occupied pokeball to my cheek, listening. There was no cry from within, but I liked to imagined I could hear Amore sighing herself to sleep.
"Stasis acclimation addiction," I began idly explaining to Cynthia. "I just read about it the other day, it'd explain why they all prefer the pokeballs. They get too used to sleeping under PC-induced stasis, so they find it hard to go to sleep naturally."
My wife nodded along.
"We should let them out at night and so they can get back to normal."
"Maybe," I replied. "I wonder how we'd fit them all." I had more than forty Pokémon, and Cynthia owned more than triple that- although some of hers lived at her grandmother's village. We paused a moment to look at the PC station and contemplate the Pokémon held within, then departed.
All the way down the tunnel and back to the kitchen she held onto my arm.
"Dear, you're making it difficult to drink this."
"How is it?"
"Refreshing, as promised, but-" and some of the precious liquid sloshed out of the bottle to demonstrate my complaint. Cynthia, playful as she was, simply stalked around and pounced on my non-drink-holding arm.
"What did you do at work?" she asked.
"I made the League oodles and oodles of money, but the board basically said "not good enough"- bunch'a unpleasable crybabies. And you?"
"Not much. Trained the Pokémon, browsed, worked out, baked."
"Aren't you getting bored house-sitting?"
"Not really. I think I could get used to it."
"But don't you want to go out into world again? Just because I retired from battling doesn't mean you have to."
"No, no. I could use a break. And Indigo has plenty to do when I
get that itch."
She says this and its obvious she's situating herself to be a stay-at-home mother. It's a little disappointing to see one of the era's all-time greats just fade out of the competitive scene. Now I know how my fans feel. I also know the malaise that can set in when one is dragged into a stagnant, unsettled lifestyle. Were it not for my guilt and conviction, I would not be able to stay mentally stable doing this job. How is she going to cope? What will her moral bulwark against the tedium of a settled life be? Hopefully it's not the thought of being a mother- that won't happen, not any time soon.
"As long as your happy," I told her.
"I'm sure I will be."
Every word. Every sign. Every glance. Every action.
Could I get inside her head, see exactly what she is thinking? Figure out why this sudden urge for offspring has now consumed her? Does she have some personal tragedy pushing her forwards, like me? Is it something happier? Is it disappointment in her own life, a need to live vicariously through her children? With all her accomplishments, that's absurd! Is it to honor the wonderful childhood her own parents gave to her?! What compels her?! I don't have a damn clue. I'm an ignorant idiot!
We're gazing into each other's eyes over the kitchen table as we both sip on tea and steal sly glances, and I pray to Arceus that she can't see the frustration and inadequacy boiling inside me. Then her eyebrows furl and I know she's read me like a neon billboard. As if Arceus itself had perfectly crafted her for the purpose of dealing with me.
"What's the matter?"
"You've been distracted since you got home."
Her head tilted, waiting for an explanation.
"Just… had a rash of bad memories brought to surface today."
It was a truth, just not the truth that involved our relationship issues.
If only I could stop being a coward and tell her. "Honey, I know this will be hard to hear, but I don't want a child yet. Not until I retire." That's how simple it would be. We'd have a long, difficult conversation, but that first sentence would be the hardest. If I could only blurt that out…
"Honey, I have something to tell you."
She's so… damn… perfect. The way her platinum bangs drape over her eyes: seductive. Her bust, big and supple: utter fun to play with in bed. A strong, erect back that never backs down, no matter how much of my stress I take out on her. Eyes the color of the clouds, hiding within them the beautiful mind I, the earthbound wanderer, could never reach. The tenderness to nurse me back from the depths of guilt and shame.
"Are you okay…?" she said.
"I'm-" I choked again.
"You mentioned memories. Did someone bring up that day in Castelia?"
I nodded, not telling her it was myself who dredged the black memories up.
"It's okay. It's six years now. Six years! Think about all the people who've been born since then. Life goes on! Think about all the happiness you've created these past six years. No one blames you. They all adore you. I adore you."
"I know you do… I just wanted to say…"
Damn it! Out with it!
"I appreciate it, and love you, love you, love you, so much. I want you to be happy."
GAHGHGH! You filthy jacknifing liar! You have no intention of doing the one thing that would make her happy! She only wants one thing in the world and you won't give it to her! After every other sacrifice she makes for you, you deny her this!
But she still smiles, ignorant of the medicine, of my real feelings, and puts a hand on my shoulder.
"Will you be okay?"
We sat there, her hand on me, absorbing the heavy energy twisting around the air, until it had been wholly consumed and battened down. Her touch reached lower, caressing my hand. Then something else touched me under the table- her foot against my calf. It worked its way up, till it was prodding mankind's most personal space.
"It's late," I made up an excuse, desperately fighting the urges of my nethers.
"You said you would work the afternoon," she intoned.
"I'm simply saying we shouldn't be wasting time tonight," I replied. She smiled, one of those gentle, sealed-lips smiles that, more than any words, makes me feel like everything will be alright. Cynthia rose and drifted inside the bedroom door. She reemerged a few moments later, sans her shirt and pants, dressed only in her undergarments. Her index finger beckoned.
"Well, ready to try again?" she called.
Later on, the both of us exhausted and naked under the covers, we lay on the bed staring at the ceiling. Cynthia was already dozing off to sleep. Perhaps she was dreaming about the impotent sperm swimming around inside of her, hoping they'd find the egg this time.
I, out of the corner of my eye, caught the glint of gold. A trophy, shaped like a cup holding a Master Ball and adorned with elaborate wings, sat on the dresser. It was the third of my three world championship trophies: the one I had "earned" shortly after the Castelia massacre. Doral had forfeited the trophy to me in lieu of an actual final battle, since no one could stomach a continuation of that tournament. It would have been disrespectful. The trophy was a sham of a prize, something I held no pride in. That's why I keep it here, where no one could see it, and not in the office with my other two.
Two choices, and I was trapped between the two of them.
Not that I couldn't sire a child right now. Even with my exhaustive workday, missing out on their childhood was not what I truly feared.
Deep down, I could not allow myself to bring a human being into the world, with the way the world was so fucked up because of me and people like me.
I hear it, sometimes, the rumors. The naysayers. Less so than years past, but still existent.
"There goes Steven Stone, one of those die-hard extremist trainers who ruined Pokémon battles. They went too far, and now people are dead, and now no one can enjoy Pokémon battles."
And they're right. For now. The state of competitive Pokémon battling is in such a precarious position. Another massacre, and the entire sport would be banished. Children would never be allowed near a Pokémon again. We would go back to the days of barbarism, where Pokémon are treated as wild monsters to be feared.
I want my children to experience the same joys I did when catching their first Pokémon, growing and bonding with them, challenging the gym leaders, having their own adventure. I don't want them to live without the companionship of the special creatures that share our world. I don't want them forever living under my shadow, as the descendants of the man who drove Human-Pokémon relationships into extinction.
Sorry, Cynthia. I couldn't live with that. I need to do this job. I need to see the Pokemon League righted, its future, and the future of all trainers, secured.
But, I wonder if I'll ever make it to that point. The madness of trying to stick to such a high ideal, even if it tears me away from Cynthia?
If I lose her, what makes me think I'll stay sane enough to carry out my mission? Wouldn't that leave me childless, and thence rip from me the purpose for my personal sacrifice?
Cynthia, what should I do? I need a way out! Where is my third option?!
And it came to me, slowly, over the course of a timeless hour spent staring at the ceiling in the darkness.
I needed someone who believed in what I believed in. Someone single. Someone younger. Someone who could handle the pressure of running the world's largest public organization, and could guide it towards an era of positive relations between Humans and Pokémon.
No such person existed. Not as far as I knew. Certainly no one within the League.
"An heir," I muttered.
This theoretical person didn't have to exist…. YET.
I'll take some schmuck with lots of promise, mold them into a world-class specimen, and designate them as my successor.
Then I could unload the burdens of the Pokémon League onto them. Then I could retire. Then I could drop the teclazone, and then I could welcome Steven Jr. into the world, and my family would be complete and happy.
That is something I have been yearning for for six long, long years. For six years, I didn't see a path to attaining it.
Tonight, I finally have a plan.
It's so simple. I feel embarrassed I hadn't thought of this sooner.
It's your big fat ego, Steven. You assumed you were the only person who could get the job done, and never considered someone else would be as able, perhaps more able (given your personal situation) to lead the Pokémon League.
Now, I just needed to make sure I find the right person.
They had to be young. Old people are corrupt and rigid, and most of them are beholden to the same grim world-view as Gabriel Brach.
They had to love Pokémon- perhaps more so than humans. Let's not have them facing the same conflict of interest as I am, torn between a woman (or a man, as the case may be) and their duty. Someone willing to strive, with everything they've got, to ensure a positive future for trainers.
Someone rich- no, scratch that. Whatever clout, whatever resources they needed, I could provide. The only thing they needed in this regard was… Charisma. Likability. Popularity. In other words, the personal ability to sway people's hearts, especially the hearts of the clod-heads in the Pokémon League Board of Trustees.
Lastly, someone with a good work ethic. The CEO position is not doable by someone who only wants to put in forty hours a week. It would be incredibly tough on them… A trainer, a champion of some regional. I've yet to meet someone who's pulled that off without the ability to commit significant chunks of their lives to a cause.
Someone I could shape. Mentor. Mold.
Three years. That's all it would take to train a successor. Much less than the ten or fifteen I had predicted before coming home tonight. Even then, I could start reducing my workdays, give this theoretical heir some of my duties, spend more time with Cynthia. Make sure our quality time includes more than just bedtime rumpuses, much as I enjoy them. We could go cycling. We could hunt down obscure museums in the far corners of the world. She could teach me how to brew that cinna-peach tea.
I fell asleep, mulling the details of my succession. My last thoughts before drifting into slumber were of Cynthia, and how much I wanted to make her happy. Well, the very last thoughts of the night were these, actually:
"I wonder whose looks they will take? Hers, I hope. She's so beautiful. I need to find this successor fast. Hmm. I know… those two upstarts from… nearby… Kanto. Pallet Town, I think? The Pallet trio. Two boys and a girl. One's the grandson of Professor Oak. The other KO'd the local Elite Four recently. Trio got into a huge public spat after that. But they're good at the game. And they seem to have good hearts. I can't remember their names. What were they? They had some silly nicknames… Red and Blue and Green. That's it, that's them. Odd names. I watched the one take Lance down. Entertai- YAWN - entertaining battle. I think it was Red who did it."
My hand crept towards the slumbering hand of my wife. Already asleep, she still instinctively grasped it, fingers interlocking. My eyelids slowly closed, their last vision focusing on Cynthia's face.
"Red, huh. CEO Red of the Pokémon League. Just imagine th-" and with that unfinished sentence, my conscience went out and my long day ended.
I hope you enjoyed Succession. Feel free to review, comment, or criticize. You may also contact me if you have any questions or just want to chat, or you can look at my profile for news, updates, and insights.
Also note that, while Succession works on its own, it is beneficial to read my work "Olivine Romance", as the one provides context for the other and vice versa.
That all said, the only thing left to say is good night. So...
Good Night everyone!