The Quest for the Legends (ILCOE)

The Final Stretch – Chapter 73: Recuperation

Mark half-dragged May through the automatic doors of the Pokémon Center, panting and shivering uncontrollably. “He can’t attack us in a public place,” he muttered, over and over, like a mantra; it was all he could think at the moment.

“Kids, are you okay?” called Nurse Joy before hastening over to them. “What happened? Was it Rick?”

Mark nodded, unable to explain; lingering terror seemed to have settled into his speech centers, allowing him only to think that one sentence: He can’t hurt us in a public place.

“Did he attack you?” the nurse asked anxiously, pulling May gently upright. She recoiled in horror as she saw the redness of her neck. “Oh, I should never have given you his address. I wasn’t thinking, but I never thought he would...”

May doubled over and threw up on the fuzzy carpet. Nurse Joy only seemed more sympathetic as she gently pulled them away from that spot and called over one of the Center’s Blissey to clean it up. “I’m so sorry. I’ll call the police; they can’t ignore an assault on a child on top of everything else. They just can’t.”

May shook her head frantically, pulling herself into an upright position on the nurse’s arm. “Don’t,” she said, her voice raw and shaking.

“The police should get involved,” Joy repeated. “This is serious. And you should go to a proper, human hospital and get professional treatment. There’s only so much I can do for you.”

“No,” May said. “Please just leave it.” She turned around, trembling, and unclenched her hand from around the two minimized Pokéballs she was still holding. “They’re… they’re hurt.”

“Your Pokémon too?” Nurse Joy shook her head, taking the Pokéballs from May’s hand. “Now, I’ll take a look at them later, but they’re safe in their balls for now, so we should focus on you first. Can you tell me how you feel right now?”

“I’m fine,” May said, glancing around the room. “Please, can we just…”

“Any lingering nausea, difficulty breathing?”

May shook her head, her gaze still flicking restlessly around. Nurse Joy peered at her for a second.

“Why don’t you come with me to the back while you regain your bearings?” she offered. “It’s safe and less public.”

Mark nodded automatically, and the nurse gestured at the Blissey to take over the front desk before leading them to the door at the back of the lobby. A strange memory floated to the top of Mark’s head as they entered: this was where he’d talked to Eevee, back when he’d first set off as a trainer. The thought felt inappropriate and out of place, yet somehow comforting.

“What about you?” Nurse Joy said as she motioned to close the door, looking at Mark. “Are you or your Pokémon hurt?”

Mark opened his hand to give her Weavile’s ball.

“Just sit down over there,” the nurse said as she took it, pointing to a bed with a simple white mattress in the corner. “Try to breathe normally for me, all right? And if you feel any different, tell me immediately. It could be a sign of more serious damage.”

Mark looked back at May; he realized vaguely that he was still gripping her limp hand and let go of it. She nodded slightly and they walked over to settle down on the bed.

May sat, staring down at the floor, clutching the edge of the mattress tightly with both hands, her arms shaking. Mark shuddered as he got a better look at her neck; the red marks were shaped visibly like thick, clutching fingers that almost appeared to still be strangling her. She coughed again, but said nothing. Mark didn’t either. His legs were trembling; he wasn’t sure he’d be able to stand up again even if he tried.

Nurse Joy sent out Weavile, and she appeared, panting, looking from side to side for any sign of Rick. “It’s all right now,” Joy said softly. “You’re safe and so is your trainer. How hurt are you?”

“Where’s Floatzel?” Weavile asked, ignoring the question.

“The others are still in their Pokéballs. I’m just going to take a look at you first.”

“I’m fine,” Weavile insisted. “Floatzel wasn’t. She needs the Pokémon Center, not me.”

Joy started as she looked Weavile over. “Is that blood on your claws?”

“I don’t care!” hissed Weavile. “He killed Floatzel!”

“If Floatzel is in a Pokéball, then she’s alive,” Nurse Joy said, her voice concerned but calm. “Did you attack Rick?”

“It was self-defense!”

“He was okay,” Mark said. “He... Weavile knocked him out so we could escape, but I think he was all right.” Oh, God, what if he isn’t?

Nurse Joy nodded, then turned back to Weavile. “All right. I’ll take a look at Floatzel, just to see where we stand.”

“It’s the Ultra Ball,” May said quietly.

Floatzel somehow looked even worse emerging from the ball than she had before being recalled: everything seemed aligned strangely or bent at odd angles, things sticking out in weird places. Weavile stared at her in shock; Mark shuddered and looked away. “I can’t believe him,” the nurse whispered, a quiet fury burning in her voice as she quickly recalled her back into the ball. “Was it that Mewtwo²?”

Mark nodded.

“She’s going to need extensive surgery,” Nurse Joy said. “I just hope her system can take it.”

“Is she going to be okay?” Weavile asked.

The nurse shook her head. “I can’t make any promises, but as long as she’s in the ball, she won’t get any worse. Let me treat you first.”

May swallowed, still pale as Weavile nodded reluctantly. “My Ninetales was attacked by Mewtwo² as well, but she used Destiny Bond,” she said. “I think she’s not as bad but...”

Nurse Joy nodded, then started to gently feel around Weavile’s body, asking her to say when it hurt. She hissed as Joy’s hand passed over her left side, and the nurse reached onto a shelf for a potion spray of some kind. “Did he just attack you for wanting to talk to him?” she asked while she sprayed it. “I never thought he’d go to such extremes for something so small.”

Mark looked at May, a sting of guilt in his stomach, not sure what to say, but he didn’t have to. “He thought I killed his brother,” she said quietly, without looking up.

Joy looked at her, recognition dawning on her face. “Oh, you’re that girl from the finals, aren’t you? I suppose he thought you had something to do with it just because you used a Tyranitar.” She shook her head. “I’m so sorry I sent you there. I should have realized how unstable he was. What were you going to talk to him about?”

Mark stared at her in a numb panic. His brain felt like sludge, but some detached part of him managed to open his mouth anyway. “He… he gave me this Growlithe when I fought him,” he heard himself say. His voice was weird, raw. “It went missing and we wanted his help finding it.”

“Rick gave you a Growlithe?” The nurse glanced at him, frowning.

“Yeah, he… he seemed to just want to get rid of it.” Mark’s heart was thumping rapidly, his pulse hot in his ears. There’d been an Arcanine. He’d fought an Arcanine at Rick’s Gym. Hadn’t he?

“Oh.” The nurse turned back to Weavile, shaking her head. Mark exhaled slowly. He felt terrible misleading her, however slightly, when she was being so helpful and kind, but they couldn’t possibly tell her the truth. “That does sound like him,” she went on, sighing. “If he’s giving them to kids, I guess that’s better than dumping them behind the Gym.” She grimaced. “I hope you find that Growlithe. They do often return to familiar places, but to be honest I don’t know if he could’ve helped you any. Search around the Gym, maybe. Put out some food.”

“Yeah, we’ll try that.” Mark swallowed. “Thanks.”

After giving Weavile another check-up, Nurse Joy seemed satisfied that she wasn’t seriously injured. She handed the ball back to Mark.

“You’ll try to save Floatzel, right?” Weavile muttered.

“Of course,” she said, giving her a reassuring smile. “I’ll do everything I can.”

Weavile nodded, and Mark recalled her.

“Now,” the nurse said, turning back to Mark and May, “I know you’re in shock and need rest, but I still have to call the police. You’re kids; it’s the law, and they can keep you safe from him. I’m sure now they’ll listen. He always got far more leeway than he should on his Gym, but this?” She shuddered as she turned around to the telephone on the counter behind her and picked up the receiver.

Mark looked at May again, wanting to mouth some sort of objection, but she wasn’t saying anything now, just staring transfixed at the tiled floor.

“Hello, Cleanwater police? This is Joy speaking. I’ve got two children here, twelve or thirteen years old, who say they were violently assaulted by Rick Lancaster. I…” She fell silent, frowning. “They hung up on me.”

She hesitated for a second, then quickly dialled again. “Hello? I was just trying to call about Rick Lanc…”

“It’s no use,” Mark said as Joy was cut off again. “He… he uses Mewtwo² to hypnotize the authorities. They just do whatever he says.”

Nurse Joy blinked at him, still holding the telephone receiver. “What?” Her frown deepened, eyebrows furrowing in thought. “Oh. Oh. That… that explains a lot. Oh, God.” She put the receiver down hastily and took a deep breath, biting her lip. She was silent for a moment, then slowly looked back up at Mark and May, her gaze firm.

“Would you like to sleep at the Pokémon Center tonight while I do what I can for your Pokémon? We’re supposed to refer people to the trainer hotel these days, but we’ve still got rooms in the back. Rick won’t expect you to be there.”

Mark looked at May; she was still staring at the same spot. The thought of staying overnight so close to Rick made him shudder, but all he really wanted to do was curl up somewhere and never have to move ever again. Travel seemed an insurmountable obstacle; he wasn’t sure he trusted himself not to fall off Charizard’s back right now.

Is there… is there any way he could make her tell him where we are? he asked inward. It was all the caution he could manage.

“Probably not,” Chaletwo replied. His telepathic voice was quieter than usual. “From what I’ve seen, Mewtwo²’s power is very blunt. He never learned to use it properly. Getting someone to recall specific information would take finesse that I don’t think he’s capable of.”

That had to be enough. He nodded to Nurse Joy. May glanced over and nodded too, almost imperceptibly.

“All right,” the nurse said. “I’ll take you there. Get some rest, come to me right away if you experience anything unusual, more nausea, anything, and I’ll come tell you how your Pokémon are doing in the morning. Don’t leave the back until then, just to be safe.”

Mark stood up; his legs felt like lead, wobbling strangely, but they were steadier than before, slowly recovering strength. May stood as well, hugging her body with her arms. The nurse took them hastily through a locked door into a dark corridor, turned on the light and handed them a pair of keys, then left them with the assurance that she would do everything in her power to help Floatzel and Spirit.

“Good night, then, I guess,” Mark said as he opened the door to his room. A strange fear still trembled in his chest, but he didn’t know what to do about it. The thought of sleep was simultaneously welcome and terrifying. “I… I hope they’re okay.”

May gripped the knob of her room’s door, but stopped. “Is…” she said, staring at the knob, her voice faint and hoarse. “Is it okay if I come in with you for a bit?”

Mark was strangely relieved at the suggestion. He nodded and held the door open as she entered the room and sat down on the small bed with her hands clutched together in her lap. He closed the door, locked it and sat down beside her.

There was silence. The room seemed almost unnervingly peaceful and ordinary. Mark’s heart was still thumping faster than usual, his mouth dry, his mind reflexively picturing Rick bursting through the door, but now at least it felt like an irrational thought, something he could try to push aside and ignore. May was still staring at her lap.

“Are you okay?” he asked carefully, and suddenly May broke into sobs.

She covered her mouth with her hands as tears streamed down her cheeks, then clenched them into fists in front of her face, shaking. Abruptly, she stood up, walked to the corner of the room and laid the palm of her right hand flat onto the wall for a moment, as if to support herself, then curled it into a fist again and punched the wall. Once, twice. Three times.

Mark looked away; she didn’t want him to see this, he knew, but he couldn’t abandon her either. In the corner, May took a breath that trembled audibly, only to dissolve into suppressed sobbing again as she tried to exhale.

She was there for what felt like a long, long time, and Mark sat and stared at the side wall, trying to let her forget he was there.

Eventually her breathing started to calm. She sniffed a few times. Several seconds passed before she sat very slowly down on the bed again, in the same spot she’d been. Mark turned carefully; she was still looking down, her right fist clenched tightly in front of her mouth, her left hand fiddling around her neck.

“You okay?” he asked again, quietly.

“No,” she said without looking at him. Her voice was weird and nasal and still trembling. “You can see that.”

Mark looked at her, not sure what to say. “For what it’s worth, I think it’s... I mean, it’s normal to... Rick just tried to kill you and all.”

May stared at her lap. “I wanted him to die,” she muttered.

Mark blinked, dread creeping up his spine. “What?”

“I wanted him to die. I wished he’d just… have a fall in the mountains and break his neck. Many times.”

Her voice was faint, dull. Mark shivered, suddenly cold. “But you didn’t want Tyranitar to…”

“No! I…” she said almost reflexively before she trailed off, shaking her head slightly, still without looking up. She lowered her hands. “I don’t know.”

Chaletwo gave a huge telepathic sigh. “Not you too.”

May clenched her fists. “Go away.”

“Is this why you didn’t want me in your head? Look, this had nothing to do with whatever idle fantasies you were entertaining during the League; Rick couldn’t have known any of that. He did it because he’s insane and needed somebody to blame, and then Robin and Victor went and told him just to spite us. I swear, when I get my hands on them…”

“They did it for Tyranitar,” May said, still not looking at him.

“What are you talking about? They –”

“Rick could’ve had him put down in a heartbeat,” May said. Her voice was steady now, but still quiet. “They said he had a trainer so Rick wouldn’t go after him. They didn’t tell him it was me.”

There was a pause. May remained where she was, picking at her fingernails.

“I suppose that makes sense,” Chaletwo said reluctantly, “but…”

“Chaletwo,” Mark said, something about the voice in his skull sickening and overbearing, “just… stop.”

A flicker of psychic exasperation flashed through his mind, but then Chaletwo’s presence retreated back to a pinprick corner of his brain, something he could almost ignore.

“Thanks,” May said, quietly.

Mark nodded, and they sat together in silence a few more minutes. There was a strange comfort simply in being there, in the calm, not alone. Slowly, May’s breathing calmed and steadied, her legs stopped shaking, her hands lowered.

Then, finally, she took a deep breath and rose to her feet. “I should go to bed.”

Mark nodded again. As she opened the door, she turned around, looking him in the eye for the first time since they’d sat at the restaurant, a few eternal hours ago. “Good night, Mark,” she said.

“Good night,” Mark said, and she exited the room and closed the door.

-------

May sat down on her own bed, took a deep breath, and dropped a Pokéball.

“Stantler?” she said, her voice still hoarse.

“Are you all right?” the deer Pokémon said immediately when she had formed. She’d probably heard everything from inside her ball – and her other Pokémon too, May realized, wincing.

“Yeah,” she managed. “Floatzel… Floatzel stopped him.”

Stantler nodded slowly. “I never learned to let myself out of a Pokéball. Perhaps I should have.”

May looked away. She knew a couple of Mark’s Pokémon could do that; their balls must have been locked shut by the same power that’d kept Mark frozen, staring, choking. She’d always thought it was pointless: why have them waste time learning to come out on their own when she could just as well send them out herself when they were needed?

“She must’ve figured it out on the spot,” she muttered.

“That’s impressive of her,” Stantler said. “From what I’ve heard, it takes hours of practice for most Pokémon to learn to do it reliably, and the first time is always the most difficult. She must have been very determined to save you. Perhaps she cares more than she lets on.”

Yeah. What did it take to pick up a new skill, never practiced, under pressure, while in the dreamlike haze of a Pokéball? That only made it worse. If Floatzel had just done it for an excuse to fight, then at least it wouldn’t have had anything to do with May.

(Had any of her other Pokémon been trying and failing? She wasn’t sure she wanted to know.)

“She… she was badly hurt,” May said after a moment. “Spirit too. I sent her out to take down Mewtwo² with Destiny Bond, but that meant…” She swallowed; her throat hurt, and she took a slow breath as the pain subsided, shaking her head. “I don’t know what else I could have done.”

“Spirit is loyal,” Stantler said. “She would die for you. I have no doubt she’d have done it on her own if she could.”

“I don’t want anyone dying for me, okay?” She said it too quickly, too loudly, and her voice dissolved into coughs that tore into her raw throat all over again until she wished she hadn’t said anything.

“They survived, though, didn’t they?” Stantler said softly. “How are they?”

May shook her head. “It looked bad. The nurse said she’d do her best, but…”

Stantler nodded again, grave. “Then there’s nothing for us to do but to wait and hope they pull through. Remember that whatever happens, this wasn’t your fault.”

Her words left an acidic taste in May’s mouth. She looked away, swallowing again, hating the pain, wishing it would go away and let her just forget about what had happened.

“I wanted him to die. That’s why I told Tyranitar that.”

“Did you tell him that so he’d do it?” Stantler asked, her voice level as always. She’d probably heard that through her ball earlier, too. And yet she was still here, talking to her.

May stared at the wall. “No,” she said after a moment. “I wanted it but I didn’t expect it to actually happen. I just…”

“People often fantasize about violence without really, truly wanting it enacted,” Stantler said. “What matters is what you choose to put into action.”

She knew that. That was what she’d been telling Chaletwo when he was in her head. But it felt like a hollow excuse, a lie she’d told herself to shift the blame – a lie that Rick’s wretched gaze had shattered and peeled back from the naked truth that in every way that really mattered, she’d killed him. Tyranitar had acted on her words, words that hadn’t been just a figure of speech, and now Taylor was dead. Why would anything else matter?

And meanwhile, Tyranitar had given himself up and gone out of his way to pretend he’d been wild. To protect her. Why would he do that? Why?

May clenched her fists, her nails digging into her palms until they hurt. She stared at the floor beneath Stantler’s feet, imagining everything just melting away into nothingness, but it never would.

“I need to talk to the police,” she muttered, without looking up.

“When we have captured Mew, then?” Stantler responded, unfazed.

May hesitated. She wanted to just go now, get it over with before she changed her mind, so she could stop thinking about it. But Mark probably couldn’t take out Mew on his own, and Rick had no reason to go after Tyranitar anymore, so he should be safe in custody for the moment; she hated the voice that told her that, because it felt like the same voice that just wanted to go on and forget about Tyranitar and pretend none of this ever happened, but it was true.

“Yeah,” she said. “Once we’ve caught Mew.”

May took a deep breath and exhaled it, slowly, staring into her lap. She wished Spirit were here, but she wasn’t. Maybe she never would be again.

Stantler stepped closer and gently touched her nose to May’s forehead. May lifted a hand and stroked her neck absent-mindedly. It wasn’t as soft as the Ninetales’ mane, but warmer, steadier.

“Don’t blame yourself for what happened to Floatzel and Spirit,” Stantler said. “You never wanted them to get hurt. It was Rick who attacked them.”

“Does that change anything?” May muttered.

“Of course it does,” Stantler replied. “They were there because of you, but you didn’t cause the harm. Assigning blame down an endless chain of inadvertent causes leads nowhere. I’ve been down that road before.”

“When your… when your trainer died?”

Stantler nodded. May shifted on the bed. “He’s still just as dead, though.”

There was a brief pause. “That’s true,” Stantler said. “But blaming myself for his death didn’t bring him back either. Blame can never change the past; it can only direct our perspective on how we should proceed in the future.” She paused again before continuing, her voice softening. “Some things I realized I could have done differently, and I resolved to do better. But other things I couldn’t fault given the circumstances. Sometimes you’re an accidental link in the chain of causality, nothing more, and there is no real change you could have made without the benefit of hindsight. In these situations, there’s little to be accomplished by dwelling on whatever role you may have played in the chain of events. Focus on actions that you can take from here, not events that are already past. Sometimes that’s hard, but it’s all you can do.”

May nodded slowly.

“How are you feeling?” Stantler asked after a few seconds.

“I don’t know.” May looked up, forced her back to straighten. “Better, I think. Thanks.”

“I can use Hypnosis, if it would help.”

Her first instinct was to say no, but it wasn’t true. She nodded wordlessly, lying down on the bed, and Stantler leaned over her, her eyes gentle.

“Stantler?” May said as the air between her antlers started to shimmer with psychic distortion. “Do you… do you want to sleep outside your ball tonight?”

She nodded. “I will.”

The distortion between her antlers intensified, and within seconds the room and the world turned into a rippling, unreal canvas that crumpled and faded into nothing at all.

-------

Mark didn’t feel like he’d slept much at all. The night seemed like a long string of vaguely disturbing nightmares interrupted by periods of waking, tossing and turning, snapping awake at any sound from outside, until finally the light of morning streamed in through the narrow gap between the thick curtains and he decided he was too awake to fall asleep again. He got dressed and brushed his teeth in the hope of dispelling some of his grogginess, then knocked carefully on the door to May’s room. She opened it only a few seconds later, already dressed and ready, looking jarringly normal.

“Have you seen Joy?” he asked.

“No,” she said. Her voice was still a little hoarse, but better than yesterday. Her gaze flicked around the corridor.

“Do you want to hang out in my room until she comes?” he offered.

May shrugged, and they went back into his room. She glanced at Sandslash and Jolteon, who were still sleeping at the foot of the bed, before she sat down on the far side of it. She was still silent, looking away.

Mark looked at her, unsure what to say. After a moment’s hesitation, he reached for his bag and pulled out his sketchbook. “Hey, tell me something to draw and I’ll do it.”

She looked at him. “Vulpix,” she said, without thinking about it.

Mark smiled as he picked up his pencil and sat down on the bed with her. “Vulpix is my favorite Pokémon.”

“Huh.” May wasn’t exactly brimming with enthusiasm, but she still looked over at the paper to watch him sketch. After the Vulpix, she suggested a Skarmory, and he was halfway through that drawing when there was a knock on the door.

“It’s me,” said Joy’s voice on the other side.

Mark stood up to unlock the door and opened it. Joy’s face was tight, grave, and Mark’s stomach stung.

“How did it go?” May asked, hugging her chest.

“They’re resting,” Joy said, putting on a brief smile. “The surgery went well, and they should both make a full recovery, but they’re going to need a while before they can get out of the Pokémon Center, Floatzel especially.” She took a deep breath. “Rick came here late last night,” she said, her voice quieter. “He asked if I’d seen you.”

Mark’s heart skipped a beat. “And what…?”

“I told him you’d come by to get your flying Pokémon and left in a hurry,” the nurse replied. “He seemed very out of it; he appeared to be suffering from a severe concussion in addition to the slashes on his face. I persuaded him to let me call him an ambulance.” She took another deep breath. “His memory seemed fuzzy on exactly what had happened, but he clearly still wanted to find you. Given his injuries, I expect he’ll be in the hospital for most of today at the absolute least, but to be safe, I strongly suggest you get out of town as soon as you can.”

Mark glanced at May. She shifted, not looking at the nurse. “What about Floatzel and Spirit?” she asked after a moment.

“You’ll have to leave them here. I’ll take care of them; you can call me from any Pokémon Center, and when they’re ready I can transfer them to you.”

May nodded. “Can… can I see them before we go?”

The nurse smiled slightly. “Of course.”

She led them into the recovery room. Floatzel was lying on one of the beds, most of her wrapped in a cast; she was fast asleep. Spirit lay on another, blinking slowly, her legs bandaged. She turned her head as they walked in, wincing in pain.

“Spirit,” May said quietly, approaching her bed and stroking the fur on her head. “Are you okay?”

“It was worth it,” the Ninetales said, her voice hoarse. “Nothing else could have taken down Mewtwo².”

May gave a faint wince. “It was Robin’s idea.”

“At least the gems are unharmed,” Spirit went on, looking at the pendant still hanging around her neck and the three rubies embedded in it. “To think Rick could have destroyed them without even knowing.”

Oh. Mark looked dully at the soul gems and realized he wouldn’t have cared if they’d been broken, wouldn’t have even noticed. He stood back, silent, as May ran her hand through the Ninetales’ silky fur a few more times before moving over to Floatzel’s bed, hesitantly placing her hand on the sea otter’s head. Floatzel twitched a little in her sleep.

“So she’s going to be fine?” May asked, stroking her Pokémon’s fine, orange fur carefully.

“She should be,” the nurse responded. “Pokémon are resilient. I’ve set the bones and stopped the major internal bleedings; her system should handle it from here with some help from standard potions. But she will need to rest for a while. They can’t heal as fast when the damage is so widespread.”

May nodded, staring at Floatzel for a few more moments before turning to Spirit. “We need to go,” she said. “Rick’s trying to find us again. We have to leave town and stay under the radar.”

“What?” Spirit looked up sharply. “Where is he?”

“He’s at a hospital now,” May said. “But we have to get out of here before he gets out. We have to leave you behind until you get better.”

Spirit struggled to stand up. “I’m coming with you,” she said. “I will be fine if I just…”

“No,” May said, her voice a little unsteady. “You’ve done enough. Please just stay here and rest.”

Spirit gave a pained whine as she gave up and laid herself back down on her front legs. “Very well.”

“And…” May hesitated. “Be nice to Floatzel when she wakes up, all right?”

Spirit glanced over at Floatzel’s bed, sighing. “She saved your life, didn’t she?”

May nodded without words.

“Perhaps I misjudged her,” the Ninetales said. “I don’t know if she will grant me the same courtesy, but I suppose she deserves it.”

“Tell her… tell her thanks.” May turned around. “Goodbye, Spirit. I’m sorry.”

And with that, May walked out of the room without looking back. Mark waved a brief goodbye to Spirit before he followed.


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