Disclaimer:I do not own Pokémon, which belongs to: Nintendo; the Pokémon Company; Creatures; GAME FREAK; TV Tokyo; ShoPro; Jr. Kikaku; Shogakukan Production Co, Ltd.; Satoshi Tajiri;and Ken Sugimori. These companies and the creators rightfully own the franchise. Please note that I do not write this story to infringe on copyrights or to earn money; this is merely for the entertainment of individuals who share my interests and desire new adventures for the characters they love.
"Love is a force more formidable than any other. It is invisible – it cannot be seen or measured, yet it is powerful enough to transform you in a moment, and offer you more joy than any material possession could."
Barbara de Angelis (1951-Present), American relationship consultant.
This story is dedicated to Kayasuri-n. I hope you enjoy your Christmas gift!
Once upon a time, some bad things happened: a war broke out, parents died, and children were lost or went mad.
In the aftermath, a scientist attempted to resurrect his daughter, a girl with red eyes who made bracelets of rue.
In the aftermath, a general found a pale wisp of an orphan, and made the boy a brother to his laughing little girl.
Years passed, and despite the intervention of the League, discontent in the land was re-sown; a second war, worse than the first, broke out, much to the two fathers' woe.
5. Two Guns:
The general's son, Yuè, dropped out of the League, took up two guns, and turned his skills and his team towards striking fear into the hearts of their foes.
The general's daughter, Ai, left medical school and followed her brother onto the field; she was determined to keep him from dying, whatever the cost to herself.
7. Safety First:
Their father, who'd always cautioned 'Safety first!" when he'd buckled up their seatbelts, was furious; he spat and demanded to know what they'd been thinking.
There was a moment of silence, and then they said, "It's our duty; and besides, we'll be safe."
After all, Yuè's psychic powers were as devastating as a tropical storm, and Ai was a strong enough telepath to contact him if she needed his help.
Between the two of them, they would survive the "glorious sport of war," as some of the other generals had taken to calling it.
So General Fuji sighed, embraced them, assigned them to Division Two, and gave them their orders.
"You'll gather intelligence on the enemy's locations and movements; you shouldn't have any direct encounters with them, but if you do, don't linger there – think of your own safety, first and foremost."
They nodded and joined the others; in the Division Two tent, they were each handed a container filled with rations and other supplies, and each were given a new name.
He was called "Mew Two," after his element and his tendency to manifest cartridge after cartridge of bullets out of thin air.
She, their honorary member and medic, was simply called "Ai Two" or, they joked, "Love Squared."
There was also "Charmander Two," their firearms and tactical leader; "Bulbasaur Two," their terrain and survival expert; "Squirtle Two," who specialized in naval strikes and navigation; "Meowth Two," their spy and defense specialist; and "Pika Two," their technology wiz – Masaki – who seemed too small to be a soldier.
While Yuè and the others fought and infiltrated enemy lines, Ai and Masaki stayed behind, minding the telephones to the other units and praying for their safe return.
That the two eventually did more than that – well, Yuè made certain Masaki knew to fear his brotherly wrath, for his sister was precious to him, and he wouldn't see her harmed in any way.
Years passed; the war intensified; they all gained scars; they witnessed the atrocity at Lavender Town; but they somehow all survived to the see the armistice.
And afterwards, when the negotiations were made and medals were handed out, "Char" spit in disgust, nudged Yuè, and said, "Have you ever considered having your own gym and showing these morons who they overlooked?"
Yuè supposed he had a solid team: a kadabra – his starter – a mr. mime, a drowsee, a venomoth, and a haunter he'd captured in Lavender Town (they'd been among the units sent to reclaim the town after the civilians and their allies had been driven out and massacred).
So Yuè thought it over and concluded, "I do crave a challenge – and besides, my kind need someone to make a society where they can be safe."
A month later, he swept into Saffron City and challenged the local gym leader, whose arena was designed with fighting types in mind: it was all rocky terrain and piles of weights.
Yuè then gambled with his life as casually as if he was playing a game of slots: if he, the challenger, defeated the leader's team by himself, then the gym would be his to control and change as he saw fit; if he lost, Yuè would serve the leader for ten years instead, doing whatever the man wished of him in that time.
25. Kick in the Head:
The leader, whose personality was as jarring as a kick in the head, laughed and boasted that Yuè would soon regret that bet.
But Yuè was strong in his own way; he wielded his powers and deflected his opponents' attacks as they punched, chopped, and kicked at his torso.
27. Breaking the Rules:
The leader's teammates fell one by one, and in the end, the verbal contract was considered valid by the referee and the witnesses – for Yuè's psychic powers were a part of him, so he hadn't been breaking the rules by using them.
The fighting gym then became a psychic gym, where mind was valued over matter, where trainers and their pokémon could hone their skills and go through teamwork-building exercises.
He also founded a boarding school for young psychics, where they could develop their powers and their minds; for war left war orphans, and though the school was a costly investment, he considered it fully worth the expense.
His family was proud, particularly Ai, who'd found happiness and fulfillment in her marriage to Masaki.
They were expecting their first child, who might well have power likes its mother or its uncle; only time would tell if blue energy ran in its veins.
The couple, naturally, would tease him whenever they visited, with their war buddies tagging along and making many misguided attempts to "lighten him up."
"Well what about you, king of the espers?" they said, pushing another White Russian at him.
"Isn't there anyone whose heart – or any other body part, we're not picky – you hold dear?" they asked, seeming immune to the glare he was aiming their way.
Yuè, whose fortitude when it came to alcohol was quite high, sipped his new drink and said, "My love-life is nonexistent, if you must know the truth."
They all sighed, "What a waste!" and began exchanging stories from their youths, from before the days when they'd faced horror after horror on the battlefield.
"Dino" was a ranger now; "Rayne" an ocean explorer; "Kat" made route censuses; Masaki was a computer programmer; and Ai worked as a surgeon.
38. Broken Pieces:
Admittedly, they'd needed to pick up the broken pieces of their lives after the war, but they'd all found success and joy in their respective jobs and relationships.
Watching them, Yuè wondered if their suggestion for him – to find someone to love – might not be wise: for while he was content with his lot in life, smiles and laughter did not come easy to him.
Yet there was no one who stood out to him, no one he liked in that way, and certainly no one he could see himself making a heaven on earth with.
Perhaps he was just being picky; he tended to be about most things, from books to food to movies.
In any case, when the hour stretched late, he tipped back the rest of his drink and wished them goodnight.
They urged him to stay, but he was already on his way; he went out into the night, walking home beneath the half moon.
Now rewind the time to the start of the war, when a family-less man made a deal with a devil in orange.
45. Breathe Again:
"We both want the dead to rise from their graves; make this weapon for me, and I promise, your little girl will breathe again."
So Doctor Kurosawa complied, retrieving fossil samples from the depths of the Guyanese rainforest, where a temple had once been built for the mew.
He blended the DNA of the sacred panther with that of his daughter, and watched the resulting creature mature and stir in the mechanism that acted as an artificial womb.
When she finally awoke, he saw red eyes, her eyes, staring through the glass at him.
Once the potential biohazard was out of the tank, he wrapped her in a towel, wept, and embraced her.
She was bewildered, but his words put her at ease: "Natsume, Natsume, you'll be safe here with me."
Years passed; the war intensified; the monster-girl was trained in how to wield the elements; and when the devil asked when she'd be ready to fight, and Doctor Kurosawa always said, "Not yet, not yet."
In the Viridian Headquarters of Team Rocket, her father taught her to read, write, and calculate; introduced her to art and music; explained the sciences to her; and told her stories about spirits and the gods.
"You're part god, my dear," he told her with a fond smile, "You're 67% percent of a mew, to be exact."
54. Fairy Tale:
In the fairy tale he told her, the mew were dark jaguars wreathed in blue fire, who could shift their shapes, could change human fates, and could grant wishes to those pure in heart.
"Do you have a wish?" she asked him one day, bundled up in a blanket and scrolling through the list of pokémon on his international Pokédex.
He smiled, yet his expression was tinged with sorrow as he said, "You've already answered it."
Then, before they knew it, the war reached its resolution and her intended purpose dissolved.
The doctor and the devil argued long into the night about what would be done with her.
The next day, before dawn, her father came to her in tears.
He took her paws in his hands and whispered, "You must destroy the base, the lab, the offices, everything down to the very last warehouse – and me as well, or he'll use you like I always feared he would."
61. No Time:
She didn't wish to – "You're my father, I won't!" – but he hugged her and said, "You must, I'm sorry, please Natsume, you must, there's no time!"
He told her the devil's plans: that he was going to engineer an army, using her as its foundation.
The devil would breed her, take her children, and mold them to his will; or, if her womb wouldn't quicken, he'd dissect her and clone her until he had hundreds of her for his use.
"He'll make me to do this; he'll use my research and force my hands," he said, sounding hysterical as he tried to make her understand the gravity of their situation.
"And I would rather die than hurt you," he whispered, "So please, put an end to his plans."
They heard boots coming down the hall, heard the harsh wail of a klaxon start to sound.
67. No Way Out:
In her panic, Natsume could think of no way out.
She did as her father wanted, destroying the lab and the base; in the process, she murdered him, the devil, and her innocence all in one blow.
69. Under the Rain:
As she stood under the rain, she trembled and howled at the half moon.
She fled into its light, crying and consumed with regret.
Sometime in the next few months, she heard of Saffron's rising star, Yuè the War Hero – also known as Yuè the Feared.
She draped herself in a long, gray cloak, hiding her features beneath the dull fabric.
In the green depths of summer, she arrived in the marshland and the capital at its center, which smelled of bog and sweat and gasoline.
She navigated through the alleyways and found Yuè's lair, and watched the schoolchildren play on the grounds, levitating a white ball to one another.
Intrigued, she scoped the place out, noting the hours of the gym and the success rate of the trainers – which was quite low, according to their advertisement.
Aware of the risks, she made a plan and observed the school for a week, assessing when the trickle of trainers was at its slowest, and when she could safely test her mettle against that of the leader.
Then one evening, an hour before the gym closed, she swept through its golden halls and made her way through the spiral to the arena at its center.
She found an artificial marsh there, complete with tepid ponds and sluggish streams, clumps of algae, long grasses, and creeping vines, floating timber and muddy shoals; there also seemed to be an apparatus around the arena which belched out fog, obscuring the floor of the battlefield.
One wrong step onto that unstable ground and most foes went down into the murky waters, being easily finished off by their foes – unless, of course, they could levitate, teleport, or fly over the treacherous terrain.
Luckily, Natsume was capable of all those feats, so she wouldn't be making any false steps; if anything, it was the pungent odor of rot and the mushroom spores that would prove more of a risk, since both of them might cloud her thoughts.
Across the expanse, Yuè lounged on a throne, dressed in white suit; there wasn't a speck of mud on him.
He stood when she stepped forward, his spine straight, his expression stern, his eyes glowing blue and heralding misfortune.
83. Are You Challenging Me?
He called out to her telepathically, perhaps to intimidate her: "Are you challenging me for a badge, stranger?"
Having anticipated his attempts to unsettle her, she calmly shook her head and said, "I've come here for sanctuary, but would demand a boon from you first."
"I would fight you to earn it," she added, and, wanting to further challenge his expectations, she threw down the bait, "If I defeat your team single-handedly, you must grant it to me; if I lose, I will do whatever one thing you please."
"Are those terms acceptable to you, Yuè Fuji the Feared?" she asked, her telepathic voice dry as she added on his moniker.
Yuè saw what she was doing, having set similar traps for his opponents in the past.
Yet he wasn't accustomed to turning down a challenge, and he didn't intend to start doing so now – especially since this one rather intrigued him.
"As you wish," he said, welcoming this confrontation and the novelty it promised, "Now let us see which of us is stronger."
As the fight began, the electrical lights were dimmed and torches were lit; their low, green flames, dyed with a special salt, cast the marsh in an eerie emerald light.
Natsume stepped forward, facing down her foe: a venomoth, who beat its wings forcefully to fill the air with poison.
She clutched her hood over her mouth, told herself not to breathe, and dodged the glittering cloud; when she was clear of it, she sent a blast of psychic energy to envelope the bug.
The insect weaved in confusion and smashed into the nearest tree; it fell in a heap of purple wings and skeletal black legs, its antennae waving drunkenly.
The leader frowned and gave the creature a sympathetic look, but then returned the venomoth to its pokéball and sent his hypno forward next.
It swung its coin, hoping to lull her to sleep and into nightmares – but she tore her eyes away and, with a quick twist of the vines, dragged it neck-deep into the mud and muddled its mind.
She struck it hard with her telekinesis, and it too sank down into the dirt and surrendered.
Then came a mr. mime, who was surprisingly fleet of foot; before she knew it, it encased her in a rainbow-colored barrier that soon began to shrink.
She coiled her muscles and spun, using her tail to shatter the barrier and send her opponent flying; it soared in a high curve over the ponds, landing face-first into the muck.
She saw Yuè's eyes go wide – and she pressed her attack, determined to make sure the clown stayed down.
She sent waves surging over the mr. mime, threatening to drown it as it flailed silently in the grime.
Yuè then sent out his starter, the strongest of his team, leaving his ghost to be sent out if he was in dire need.
He called out for lightning, blue and impossible for her to dodge – but Natsume didn't dodge: she deflected it, and the fox teleported away in response.
103. Out Cold:
Yet eventually she caught hold of the kadabra, bending its spoon backwards and shaking it until it was out cold in her psychical grasp.
When it slumped down, the ghost was sent out; it phased in the air around her, attempting to scare her by prodding her, licking her, and cackling at her scandalized face.
Her claws and fists didn't work on it, and her psychic attacks didn't seem to do it much harm; it was cheating, she thought with annoyance, and worst of all, its antics were working.
106. Give Up:
Using her powers so much had tired her, but she wouldn't let herself faint – she couldn't give up, not now, not on something as important as this.
So she extended a dark claw and began to summon up heat.
Fire gathered in her paw, red and gold, and she lashed out with it, catching the ghost around its claws; soon the flames were pouring over its face and eyes and between its teeth.
And that was enough: her final foe fell and vanished in a glow of red light; and Yuè shook his head, baffled but impressed.
"It seems you have won," he acknowledged, for while defeat was a foreign feeling to him, she – whoever she was – had earned her victory fair and square.
Yet this victor was a puzzle, an enigma, so he couldn't help but ask, "But tell me, who are you – what are you – for I've seen nothing like you before."
She pulled her hood down, revealing her feline face, her red eyes, and the fangs she bared his way, "Who I am, what I am," she said to him, "you might learn someday; but I asked for a boon, and I believe I have met the conditions for earning it."
He nodded, vaguely wondering if what he was seeing might be an illusion, but then encouraged her to go on: "Ask for it and I will see that it's yours."
"I want security," she told him, having decided on her boon weeks ago, "I want to live without the fear of being captured, and I want my identity to remain a secret."
That seemed reasonable to him, so he said, "That can be arranged," and extended a hand to her, determined to make her acquaintance, "Is there anything else you would ask of me, stranger?"
116. Mischief Managed:
Her eyes shined excitedly, like a child who'd pulled off an elaborate prank and was eager to whisper "mischief managed" into the ear of a friend; instead of seeking havoc, though, she wanted "A warm meal and a room, if it's not too much trouble."
"Not at all," he said, gesturing for her to follow him down the nearest passageway, "Allow me to show you around first, though."
He led her across the grounds, pointing out the cafeteria, the classrooms, the dorms where the students were housed, the staff apartments, the library, and the meditative gardens.
"I live above the gym," he explained, ignoring his colleagues' questioning stares, "There is too much space, to be honest, but it suits my needs."
"This evening, you may settle wherever you wish," he said at the end of their tour, and when she asked him about what the others would think of that, he smiled and said, "You needn't worry; I'll inform everyone of our arrangement and the benefits it provides you with."
Then he took her back to the gym and up to his suite, and there, in his kitchen, made her a simple meal and a cup of tea.
She ate too quickly, gulping down the tea while it was still hot enough to scald, and he noticed then how gaunt her face looked and how thin her arms were, as if starvation had been a very real and recent threat.
She may have been struggling to survive for a long time, abandoned and forgotten by her kind; but now she'd claimed her sanctuary, and Yuè would do his best to make her feel safe.
He was only to be feared by his enemies, after all; his guests were another matter entirely, and he'd devoted several projects to making sure their stays were comfortable.
He was curious, though, and couldn't help but ask where this creature – who bore a striking resemblance to the mew he'd once been associated with – had come from.
Hunger was still gnawing at her stomach, so she answered him over a second serving of rice, "A long way from here," which didn't really tell him anything.
"And what may I call you?" for he had to know that much, if only because he needed some sort of identifier for her.
She huddled into her cloak, suddenly looking broken and seeming to droop with exhaustion when she answered, "My name is Natsume – for my eyes."
They were a striking red, the color of jujube berries in the autumn, when frost was glazing the panes of every window.
The cloak obscured her body, but from what he could see, she was covered in inky black fur, with her features mixing those of a human and a cat.
She looked like a humanoid panther, like an anthropomorphic Aztec goddess or a Voodoo spirit, or perhaps like a young woman who'd been sewn into a dark pelt.
White claws occasionally flicked out from her fingertips, and when she opened her jaws in a yawn, he saw lethal-looking fangs peak out – a testament to the raw power she possessed.
Yet she didn't seem threatening to him: she seemed sedate and restrained, like a beast who'd been tamed and hadn't yet turned feral.
And while he made these observations, Natsume observed him, noticing the locks of white hair falling over his scalp; the faint bristles of a beard on his chin; the alabaster skin that lacked any freckles; the callouses and scars on his hands.
He had a tall, wiry build; psychic energy was brimming beneath his skin; and then there were his eyes, violet as amethysts, which stared at her with surprising intensity.
In the end, if she was the dark side of the moon, then he would be the light.
In the months that followed, Natsume settled into her new life in Saffron and Yuè began to smile more (and not just when he was practicing in the mirror).
The students, after they got over their initial trepidation, began to see her as a guardian and as a best friend, for the younger ones loved having a giant fluffy "kitty" around, while the older ones found her more approachable for training advice than their headmaster (whose spare room she'd taken over).
139. Keeping a Secret:
The teachers and staff members, for their part, accepted Natsume and often asked her to look after the children for them; Yuè knew they were capable of keeping a secret from the outside world, even one as large as this, and was grateful to them for that.
The adults also enjoyed rehashing and betting on Natsume and Yuè's weekly sparring matches – for though their leader rarely won, the two were both improving at dramatic rates, and the matches were always exciting to watch.
Natsume, for the first time since her father's death, felt at peace; unlike in the wilderness, she was well-cared for here, and there were comfortable couches to curl up in whenever she needed a mini-vacation.
There was also Yuè's library, which he opened for her at special hours, long after the others had been ushered out.
When he needed some rest and relaxation, they would lay in front of the fireplace with a pile of books, reading long into the night and sharing cups of warm, sweetened milk.
They both had trouble sleeping, owing to his memories of the war and how her previous life had ended.
A touch on the shoulder was all they needed to wake, and afterwards, the stars would turn and the moon would set, and they would watch the sun rise over the eastern mountains.
They did not discuss what they saw in their dreams, merely accepting that there were parts of each of their lives that they didn't want to revisit; instead, they would wait until the dawn and their daily lives banished their demons away.
She gathered that he'd been a soldier, and he gathered that she'd lost her father – and really, that was all they needed to know: that if they could, they would delete entire sections of their pasts, if only so they could sleep easy.
148. Two Roads:
In the seasons that followed, little moments stood out as their steps down the two roads to their strange friendship and stranger love.
In the depths of winter, when colored lights and snow decorated the landscape, he gave her an afghan and a red ribbon with a silver bell on it; she wore the latter almost constantly afterwards.
During a blizzard, when he lay on the couch with a fever, she tried to make him chicken noodle soup; she nearly broke the microwave when she pushed all of the buttons to heat it up.
On New Year's Eve, they watched the dragonair costume weave down the main street, watched the men and women underneath it scatter candy to the children, and watched the fireworks go off in the night sky.
152. Deep in Thought:
Natsume, who'd never seen such a display before, watched the explosions with awe – and Yuè, deep in thought while he watched her, admired the spark dancing in her eyes.
The thaw began around his birthday, in the month when spring officially arrived; she joked that he was ages older than her and gave him a mew totem made of molded iron.
Knowing that she didn't want to be seen, he delayed his walk in the cherry tree groves until the evening – and then walked arm-in-arm with her down the petal-littered pathways.
155. Under the Sun:
On the first truly warm day of the year, as the students knuckled down to their exams and their teachers fretted over their scores, Natsume curled up under the sun with the members of Yuè's team, all of whom, like their master, had taken a liking to her.
When the summer storms hit, Natsume shocked Yuè by crawling into bed with him; he lay stiffly, unused to having someone else in his blankets; and as the rain poured down and the thunder crashed, lightning lit up her face.
157. Hold My Hand:
She looked concerned and rather nervous when she asked, "Would you hold my hand?" and when he did so and continued staring at her, she looked away and said, "You shouted in your sleep – and I don't really like the rain."
158. Pen and Paper:
He took her to the Tanabata Festival later on, showing her how to play the games, gave her a pen and paper so she could write her wish down and place it on a bamboo tree, and told her the myth of the lovers Altair and Vega.
When she heard that the god and goddess could only cross the gulf between them once a year, she surprised him by looking at him with watering eyes and saying, "It makes me sad, their story."
160. Seeking Solace:
But what made him sad was that look on her face, which was seeking solace and reassurance from him; if he could help it, he vowed, he would make sure she would never look that way again.
When school resumed in August, the heat was sweltering, and Natsume took to swimming in the school pool most days – and when Yuè joined her, her mouth went dry and her face grew hot, her body reacting in ways that had nothing to do with the temperature.
When the trees began losing their leaves, Yuè, Natsume, and the other adults raked the detritus into piles, determined not to use their powers for such a mundane chore (what example would they be setting for their students if they did?).
Afterwards, they treated themselves to ice cream, and Yuè found himself staring at Natsume as she licked the milky substance from her spoon and chops; to his mortification, he felt himself getting stiff, and couldn't look at her for days afterwards….
164. Seeing Red:
On occasion, challengers did not take their defeats well; some tried to attack Yuè out of anger or spite, and when Natsume stepped in front of him to squash the threats they posed, she was seeing red.
"You didn't have to do that – I can protect myself well enough," he chided her afterwards, bandaging a cut on her arm and rolling his eyes when she growled.
Sometime during the harvest, Yuè, who believed Natsume when she said she was "sick," accidentally walked in on her in the middle of a – compromising – activity.
167. Do Not Disturb:
When he slammed the door shut, nearly dropping the cup of broth in his hands, he told himself that he shouldn't be surprised; she was healthy now, so of course her sexual fires had been stoked up (but all the same, couldn't she have put up a "Do Not Disturb" sign?)!
But a sly, insidious part of his mind fueled his growing obsession with her by asking what – and more importantly, who – she'd been thinking about while she'd made herself moan and shudder with bliss.
169. Mother Nature:
She avoided him for days after that incident, but when they finally did talk – eating raspberries and tossing them at one another – she reluctantly admitted, "I was in estrus – it's Mother Nature's little gift to me, which she usually gives me every three to four months."
At some point after the frost hit, Yuè remembered that it had been a year since her arrival; he threw her a party and, sometime during the evening, gave Natsume a thorough introduction to the wonders of alcohol.
He woke up the next morning with a bite mark on his neck, which was approximately the same size and shape of a certain feline's jaws.
172. Trouble Lurking:
It was then that they realized there was trouble lurking between them, and that they needed to take a hard look at where their relationship was going and what exactly they wanted from it.
Yuè knew his feelings for her went beyond those of mere friendship: her small gestures of kindness made him smile, her fumbled attempts to fully grasp urban life made him laugh (though not unkindly), and during the late nights he spent going over League updates, battle statistics, and paperwork for the school, her presence helped soother his frayed nerves.
As difficult as it was for him to come to terms with (for what did that say about his sexuality?) there was also the reality of his attraction to her: the brush of her fur to his skin left him wanting more exposure to it; he sometimes imagined the cold feeling of her claws and fangs tearing into his skin; and there was also that long tongue of hers, which…well, suffice to say he fantasized about just as much.
Perhaps it was due to his sister's influence, but he found himself wondering about romance as well: for Natsume was precious to him and now he was beginning to lust after her, too, and what did those things mean when put together?
Was the formula for romance, Yuè wondered, as simple as friendship plus sexual desire equals love?
Could he, perhaps, already be in love with her without realizing it, because it had crept up on him like a thief in a market, stealing his heart silently rather than proclaiming, boldly and brazenly, that it now belonged to another?
Or might he have a solid foundation for that love to be built on over time, like a tower they could raise together brick by brick?
He didn't know which was the case, could make no logical arguments for either thesis, so he asked himself another question instead: could he (or did he wish to) imagine his life without her in it?
The honest answer to that was a resounding "no"; he could probably live without her – he'd done so before her arrival, after all – but he didn't want to do so now, and knowing that made all the difference.
Not that he didn't have his doubts, which returned whenever Ai or their parents asked him when they could meet the "woman" he'd told them so much about; or whenever he thought about taking Natsume out to dinner or to some public event; or whenever he considered the ordinary things that romance was supposed to lead to, such as marriage and children.
Love could bloom in secrecy, he knew, but he doubted it could be sustained in such; their backs would break under the weight of it, and that certainly wouldn't be fair to either of them.
Yet he was getting ahead of himself and fretting needlessly; for now, shouldn't he see if she was willing have a relationship with him first, and from there discover if it had a chance of working out?
And so, in the midst of their Christmas shopping, he looked at Natsume and thought: I'll ask her on New Year's Eve – for what better time to could there be, than on the eve of new beginnings?
Natsume reached a similar conclusion as Yuè about her feelings, but what she decided to do with them differed.
Yuè had the qualities her father had always advised her to look for in a mate: he was literate and cultured, which would make his mind equal to hers; he was courteous to her, opening doors and pulling out chairs for her; he respected her mind, talents, and her need for personal space, never truly hovering over her or being jealous when she bested him in battle; he trusted her with watching over his people and with personal matters; he was committed to his causes, devoting himself to the gym and the school he'd founded; but perhaps most importantly of all, he was warm to her and made time to be by her side.
Sure, Yuè was also the antithesis of humility (though at least he had a reason to be so arrogant), he tended to lapse into brooding or surly moods, and there were instances when she'd seen him be surprisingly cold and ruthless when dealing with others….
But Natsume found she could temper those bad qualities by thrashing him in sparring matches, or asking him to discuss a book with her, or simply by being there to remind him that no insult or injury warranted an execution.
Then, of course, there was the physical side of things – and Natsume, when she looked at him, did wonder sometimes how his skin might taste beneath her tongue, or how his deft hands might feel over her fur, or what that mouth of his could do to her; she'd read enough books to know that humans had invented many forms of love-play, and knew enough about herself to know that she'd be willing to experiment with him….
Yet there were things she couldn't give to him: she couldn't go out in public as freely or openly as he could, and down the line, she certainly couldn't marry him or give him children; she was a Frankenstein-like creation, not even half human when the percentages were laid out.
It wouldn't be fair for him to miss out on those things – and if she loved him, shouldn't she want the best for him, even if it meant that she might be left alone?
Though the thought was distasteful to her, she decided she would let him take the first step if they tried anything at all; for she had nothing to lose by loving him, and he had everything to lose by loving her.
Christmas passed and they exchanged gifts, drank cups of hot chocolate, and found their gazes drifting to where the mistletoe was hanging and then, fleetingly, to each other, despite knowing that they could share no kisses (though they could share other, less permissible things…).
Then Natsume felt the signs of estrus hitting her: there was the fever, the discomfort in her abdomen, and, of course, the powerful hormonal drive to fuck anything, even a doorknob if it would get the job done.
Yuè, for his part, wondered if approaching her during this time wouldn't be…well, taking advantage of her (he hesitated to use the term rape, because he was determined to respect her decision, whatever it might be)…but he needed to ask her, to let her know that he was willing and the option was there.
He showered to calm himself down, threw on a robe, and knocked on her door; he entered when she said he could, and found her sprawled like some sacrificial lamb amidst the covers of her bed, her chest rising and falling in a rather…well, hypnotic way.
They stared at each other for a long moment, and then, as if seized by a bout of insanity, he heard himself saying, "I could give you some relief, if you wish."
She stared, seemed to struggle with herself and what he'd said, but then her eyelids lowered, her breathing picked up, and then she murmured, "Only if you're certain you want it too."
He nodded and watched rise from her bed in one smooth, sinuous motion, and then she was pressed up against him, her paws had slid under his robe, and her breath was rolling over his neck.
His robe fell away and he was stumbling forward in his need to possess her; he wanted to get his arms around her, wanted to get his hands and mouth on her, wanted to get them back to the bed so they wouldn't end up continuing this on the floor.
He was soon drowning in the feel of her: her fur was like hot velvet flowing over his skin; her touch was making him painfully hard; and then there was her tongue, tracing along his muscles and lapping at his erection in ways he'd long fantasized about.
He gave as good as he got, running his hands down her spine, sides, and stomach; massaging into her scalp and rear with his fingertips; kissing her down her neck, over her chest, and into the erogenous zone between her legs.
She was purring and gasping out his name, saying things like, "More, dearest, more, more," and he was moaning, muttering things under his breath, something about how much he wanted her and things like, "Yes, like that, keep going, keeping going" – though in that state of frantic, fantastic heat and lust, all they really heard was, "I need to be with you right now."
Getting into a comfortable position wasn't easy (her tail tended to get in the way), but they managed it, sliding and moving together, clutching and growling at each other as the pleasure built up between them and the pace went faster and faster….
She hit her peak first, clawing into his back and biting at his neck as pleasure shuddered through her, as heated flashed over her, as the world went white and the taste of blood bloomed in her mouth; the wounds she left would sting and bleed, but Yuè hardly noticed them, too engrossed in her pleasure and his own to care.
She licked at his shoulder, angled her hips at a different angle, and whispered into his mind, rather sultrier than she would've imagined herself capable of, "Let go; mark me as yours" – and that did it: he grabbed her hips and thrust hard, the discharge leaving him shaking in her arms, with a ringing in his ears, and with a feeling of glorious satisfaction.
They came down from their highs slowly, panting in the now damp bedcovers and feeling their hearts beating against each other's ribcages.
He cradled her face in his hands, smoothed back her ears, and gave her a kiss on the forehead, not seeming to notice the horrific marks she'd given him.
But she noticed the bleeding; her gaze filled up with horror and she whispered, "Oh gods – I hurt you – I'm sorry, I'm sorry," all the while looking at the gash on his neck and the lacerations on his back.
He'd just shrugged, still caught in the afterglow of the spectacular sex they'd just had; "A few more scars will hardly hurt me," he reassured her with a grin.
Even so, it took her patching him up with wrap after wrap of bandages before she was willing to settle down to sleep.
Yet as Yuè drifted off next to her, Natsume's eyes continued to trace the bandages she'd applied to his neck and his back, her unease mounting as she gazed at him; for those had just been marks of love – what if she accidentally did worse to him in the future…?
Her doubts returned as all of the worst possible futures flowed into her mind, and as they threatened to overwhelm her, she remembered one of her father's speeches from her childhood: "the mew could shed their skins and become human, taking human lovers and had human children; they sired great lineages that way, and they were the ones who passed their psychic powers to humankind – all for the sake of love…."
214. I Can't:
She made her decision that night, slipping out of the bed and gathering her things; she wrote him a note (which, when boiled down, read: "I'm sorry...I can't...not yet") and brushed a paw to his forehead; and then she left, her heart heavy with regret and sadness and resolve and no small amount of love.
215. 4:29 AM:
He awoke at 4:29 AM; he reached out and found the other side of the bed cold, opened his eyes, and sat up, looking around searchingly.
"Natsume?" he called out, throwing back the covers and finding his robe; he wandered through the floors of his suite, growing more and more uneasy when he didn't find her.
He found the note on his table, the words blurring as he read them once, twice, three times, his heart smarting as the rejection began to sink in, before he breathed out a low and pained "No."
He threw on some clothes and ran out onto the grounds, looking for her, calling out for her, trying to grasp at the wisps of her aura which, slowly but steadily, vanished into nothingness.
She was gone – and in the following months, he regressed to the person he'd been before she'd arrived and beyond: he limited his public outings, shunned the company of family and friends, and for a brief time, grew a rather long beard.
He did that until Ai, Masaki, and their war buddies came and began mucking around in his business; they verbally kicked his ass, telling him to get his act together and resume his life – and after the others left, his sister took his hand and asked him what happened.
Lost in the memory of the last night he'd spent with Natsume, he told her, "She left – and I don't know when or if she'll come back."
Ai hugged him and told him to wait and be patient – as if he weren't already waiting, wondering, and asking the wind, "Where are you, Natsume?"
223. Citric Acid:
The hybrid in question was halfway around the world, heaving a pack onto her shoulders and breathing in the moist, hot air of the rainforest, with the sour taste of citric acid in her mouth from her meal of oranges.
224. In the Storm:
Rain would frequently come pouring down, and when it did, she would stand in the storm, missing home and missing him.
Her father had showed her where he'd found her ancestors' fossils on a map: he'd gone to Guyana and, from there, followed rumors to the more primitive parts of the world, where the mew were still said to dwell.
His search had led him to an ancient city near the Andes Mountains, near sacred lakes and fields of flowers.
A triangle pyramid rose over the other buildings; after searching and calling out for the mew – or anyone at all, for that matter – she climbed its stairs and found the altar, and there prayed for the mew to grant her wish.
228. Last Hope:
She prayed for a week straight, becoming disheartened when no sign of her kind emerged; perhaps they were truly extinct, perhaps this venture would be in vain, perhaps her last hope would fade away.
229. Through the Fire:
Yet on the night of the seventh day, when the new moon rose in the sky, Natsume awoke to find blue flames circling around her – and when she looked through the fire, she thought she saw the shadows of great cats pacing to and fro.
There was a sound like beating drums and low chants rising in the air, as well as white flickers of light, as if the people who'd built this place centuries ago were here in spirit and were summoning up their gods.
231. Playing the Melody:
They were playing the melody of a forgotten age, and when their song reached its climax, the flames stopped circling and a creature came forward: a giant mew, its fur black and glossy as an onyx, its eyes bright and blue as the summer sky.
232. Falling Down:
"You called for us," he said, his telepathic voice deep and rumbling like thunder, his tail lashing behind him and his paws falling down onto the stones silently.
233. Break Away:
She found herself unable to speak, but her heart spoke loudly enough: she wanted their help to learn how to break away from her current form and take another.
"We can take many more forms than the one you seek," the creature said, a low rumble rising from his throat, his fellows still lurking beyond the fire, "We can grant your wish, but you must pay a price for it."
That puzzled her; when she finally found her voice, she said, "I thought you granted wishes freely to those pure in heart?"
"You assume your heart is pure," he noted, and then began to circle closer to her, as if trying to make her balk, "Yet that is a story children are told."
"To gain our help, you must be willing to give us something in return," he warned her, and added, with a tilt of his head, "Are you willing to do that?"
238. Danger Ahead:
She wanted to tell him "yes," but she hesitated, sensing that there might well be danger ahead, "Will you tell me what you want from me, before I agree to anything?"
"That is fair," he said and glanced at the others, as if wishing to know what fate they would prescribe to her; indeed, he asked them, "Friends, what would you have the girl do for us?"
There was a lengthy pause, and at the edges of her mind, Natsume could hear them whispering and consulting each other about what sacrifice would be suitable – before, all at once, they fell silent.
"We know enough of your heart to know you will not stay here; however, this sacred place needs a guardian, lest unwelcome visitors desecrate it, and there are rites that must be completed each year to renew this land."
"You will return here on our holy days and complete those rites," he said, blue fire flaring around him, temporarily giving him cerulean stripes, "and you will pass these duties on to one of your descendants or to an heir of your choosing."
"If you fail us in this, we will come and spill your life's blood, down to the very last drop."
"Are we agreed on this, child of mew and man?" he asked as he turned to face her, his body going completely still.
The price was high, but might well have been higher; Natsume knew that, and as she watched the blue flames flicker and burn, she nodded and consented to those terms.
She could feel the creature smiling and tried not to flinch back as he stepped forward, as he peered into her eyes, or as she felt his power weave into hers, subtlety binding her to that promise as surely as any written contract.
"We will begin your training at sundown tomorrow, so you would do well to rest now, young one."
"Oh, and see that there are six roast birds prepared for us is the evening; offerings of food will be the least strenuous of your new duties to us," and then the mew seemed to remember he was supposed to have some playfulness to him, because he added "if you do not count scratching us behind our ears, that is."
She would be instructed by them over the next year: they would teach her the rites associated with each solstice and equinox, and they would tell her about the ones for each of the moon phases.
They didn't expect those lesser rites to be honored, however; not in this day and age when new stars drifted in the sky, the spirits had grown quiet, and preservatives were found in all the best fish.
They taught her which offerings brought about which miracles; taught her about their world – particularly about the hunt; and taught her how to shed her skin and take another form, from a crocodile to an eagle to a mew to a human and back.
She might have been lost to the rhythm of the wild, to the music of the old religion, to the glow of blue fire and to the shadows of the mew as they passed through the world; but she remembered Yuè whenever the full moon rose, and that kept her grounded.
When she left on the anniversary of their first meeting, the mew gave her two gifts; according to their views, she now had custody over their land, but she could not yet "own" it according to human laws.
The gemstone they gave her had been mined from the heart of their greatest mountain: it looked like silver in the sunlight and like ivory in the moonlight, and blue fire seemed to flicker in its depths.
255. Precious Treasure:
It was a precious treasure, carved in the shape of a crouching mew and worth its weight in diamonds.
She agreed to exchange it for ownership of the mew's lands; she traced out each border and turned their territory into a private park – this, she hoped, would keep the holy land safe from developers.
She made sure her ownership would last indefinitely, that her heirs would inherit the land after her, having those terms written into the fine print of the exchange; Yuè had used a similar method to secure his own lands, so she'd had a good example to learn from.
Meanwhile, the mew laughed as the humans fretted over a shiny rock; in the past, their followers had claimed it – and other stones like it – somehow captured the "essence" of their kind, on the basis of its rarity and its unusual appearance.
That belief had been in error: for the essence of the mew was as difficult to hold onto as smoke, and since there were many of those stones in their tombs, parting with one had hardly been difficult.
Far more valuable was the amulet that Natsume now wore under her clothes, crafted from the mountain's heart by the mew themselves, and, consequently, infused with a measure of their power.
This was their final gift to her, for it had been passed down from priest to priestess over the years, acting as the metaphorical keys to their kingdom.
After all of that was settled, she left for Japan, determined to return to what her teachers jokingly called her "nesting grounds" – and more importantly, to her human love.
She arrived on the school's five-year-anniversary: banners and decorations were strung up, the tables were decked in the school's colors, candles floated in bowls of fragrant water, there was a variety of foods and drinks spread throughout the main hall, and apparently there would also be a guest lecturer, who would be giving a speech that no one would probably pay much attention to.
The teachers, staff members, graduated students, their families, and other visitors all milled through the hall, introducing themselves to each other, chatting with one another, and discussing the latest city ordinance or bill, all of them seeming to be enjoying themselves.
Yuè stood beside a woman with dark hair, and for a long moment, Natsume stared, feeling her heart break, before another man came up to the woman and kissed her on the cheek, handing her a glass of champagne.
She realized, with a start and some relief, that her insecurities had been trying to mislead her: that must be Yuè's sister and brother-in-law, who she'd only glimpsed pictures of before.
Yuè had changed in small ways: his face seemed thinner and there were shadows under his eyes, but he was clean-shaved and still impeccably dressed in an imported Chinese suit, which reassured her that he hadn't let himself become a recluse in her absence.
She'd changed in many ways, of course, but in other ways she'd stayed the same: seeing him made all that warmth, all that affection, all that love and desire she felt for him come rushing back; she could hardly wait to be in his arms again, for she felt incomplete without him by her side.
270. Can You Hear Me?
Yet nervousness made her steps falter, and after a minute of standing there, she took a shaky breath and called out to his mind, "Yuè, can you hear me?"
He'd been listening to Ai and Masaki talk about their child's newest word ("kitty!"), and suddenly, so suddenly that his head jerked up with a start, Yuè heard Natsume's voice in his mind, calling out to him as if in a dream.
His heart began pounding like a drum, and he turned his head back and forth, searching for her amidst the crowd: "Natsume…Natsume, where are you?"
"I'm here, by the sculpture of a lynx wearing a flower necklace – which is a rather manly mascot to settle on, I must say."
He smiled and started towards the sculpture, like a man nearing an oasis after a long walk in the desert.
"It was that or a giant mushroom, and we didn't want to potentially promote its recreational use."
His brow furrowed when he still didn't see her; there was a few people standing close to the sculpture, but there was no sign of Natsume in her usual cloak.
277. Standing Still:
"I'm the one resting my hand on the nape of its neck," she clarified; he looked closer and saw her – and the world abruptly seemed as if it were standing still.
She wasn't the person he'd shared a bed with over a year ago: she was human now, small and slender, long in limb and slight in her curves, and she had long black hair and snowy white skin.
She wasn't wearing any shoes (he wondered how she'd gotten clearance to come in here, but he supposed she had her ways), but she was wearing an amulet and a red dress that perfectly matched the color of her eyes.
Those eyes were the same as always: the same shape, the same warmth, the same tendency to draw him in like a gravitational field; he stood in front of her, stunned and amazed and not certain if he would have believed what he was seeing, if not for them.
"What happened to you?" he asked, wonderingly, not sure how he felt about this transformation, despite her retaining many of her previous qualities.
I learned from others of my kind; they were good, if demanding teachers," she told him, briefly fiddling with the amulet on her chest.
Her words shocked him – for though he'd supposed there must be others like her, he hadn't thought she'd seek them out and find them – but asking about that could wait until later, "You didn't have to do this," he said instead, "I was happy with you as you were."
284. All That I Have:
"I know," she said, and then smiled, "but I wanted this – and I wanted the chance to share all that I have with you."
"...Idiot - we could have crossed that bridge together, not…," he trailed off as he hugged her, burying his nose in her hair, feeling the pain of her absence beginning to fade, "It doesn't matter – I'm happy you're back – I missed you."
She held him back tightly, gave him a sweet smile, and murmured, "I missed you too – and I'm glad to be home."
They stayed like that for a moment, ignoring the stares they drew; they'd waited for this reunion for months now, and a few whispers weren't going to disturb them.
He introduced her to Ai and Masaki; others overheard the exchange; but before anyone could re-greet the much-changed Natsume, she was slipping away with Yuè, intent on celebrating her return and the end of his solitude.
They returned to their home; there was already a fire going in the hearth and, inconsistent with the rest of the décor, there was a dark pelt laid out in front of it, which he recognized as hers.
"The bit about shedding one's skin proved rather literal," she told him, musing on how easy it might be to misplace her true skin; "don't ask me how it works, because I don't think I can give you a satisfying answer."
Still he wondered, still he asked, and finally Natsume just pressed a finger to his lips and said, "It's magic; it's not going to be explained by science, my dear, as much as you want it to be."
He scowled but began tugging at the ties of her dress, while she, in turn, worked at the buttons of his shirt; they were both good at multitasking, he thought, and said, "I will decipher how it works, someday; for now, I'll be content with the gift it's given me."
As her dress fell away, leaving her bare before him, he shrugged off his own shirt, tilted her chin upwards, and kissed her lips softly for the first time, blessing her magic and what it enabled.
The kiss deepened and their hands strayed, and then he was shucking off the rest of his clothes, being led over to the fireplace and to his fate.
She drew him down onto the fur, twining her body with his in a way that would be Rated X, and he found himself feeling torn: for he loved every new part of her he was discovering, but he also missed everything he'd experience with her the first time around.
She, in turn, savored the intense feeling of his skin against hers, moaned as he ran his fingers through her hair, and opened her mouth to trace her tongue along his teeth.
They glided together, exchanging soft touches and softer words, bringing each other to the precipice of pleasure and dragging each other over its edge.
And afterwards, as he traced her face with his fingertips, he murmured, "I love you; promise me you won't disappear again" – for he didn't know if he could endure the hardship of her absence a second time.
She kissed his fingertips and whispered, "I promise" – and as she curled up against him, determined to heal the wound she'd left him with, she added, "And I love you, too."
They lay like that for a time, warmed by each other and by the fire nearby, and made agreements to stay together and see what the future held in store for them.
And outside, the half moon rose and witnessed their promise – and in the years to come, it would see them live together happily ever after.
Thank You: To my beta, Larka, who looked this over at an obscene hour of the morning. Thank you also to those who read this story and will, I hope, review it.
Author's Note: "Write me a one-sentence challenge using these words," Kayasuri-n said. "It'll be fun!" she said. "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you," I said to her as I wrote it. Basically, Kaya wanted to see a species-swapped romance between Mewtwo and Sabrina/Natsume for her Christmas gift this year – and while the idea bent my brain, my muse complied and gave me ideas. Those ideas grew on me and resulted in this nearly 11,000 word story, using every word Kaya gave me, plus one (I only had to use fifty of them, actually, but I forgot about that somehow). It was quite the challenge, but I'm pleased with how this story turned out (despite how it made me want to rip my hair out several times). Also, yes, there is a reference to The Hobbit in this.
In any case, I hope you all enjoyed "Half Moon." Until next time!