The Quest for the Legends (ILCOE)

This is an author's commentary intended for readers who have already read the entire ILCOE. My retrospective comments on the chapter are in bold below, with some remarks within the text and then some overall thoughts at the bottom. The commentary will contain significant spoilers! Do not read the commentary on your first read-through!

The Final Stretch – Chapter 73: Recuperation

March 22nd, 2017, four months! That's longer than I'd expected this one to take in editing; this is another one of my favorite chapters, but I had to rewrite most of the scenes here basically from scratch, working on phrasing and trying to refine the heavy dialogues to make sense and feel right.

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.

I mean, he totally can and probably would, but whatever helps you cling to something, Mark.

“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.

I know this isn't literally the same sentence, but it's the same thought. (It actually was literally the same sentence in the draft, but I felt it sounded more natural if he's not necessarily stuck on the exact same words.) Maybe I shouldn't have phrased it as "that one sentence".

“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.”

In the draft, Nurse Joy actually said that Rick had outbursts, which really made it incredibly irresponsible of her to give them his address.

This bit about Nurse Joy only being more sympathetic when May throws up on her carpet was inspired very specifically by a flight from South Africa in 2001, where I got sick, couldn't find the airsickness bags, walked over towards the lavatories and tried to ask a flight attendant who was there about it, only to then immediately throw up all over the floor. I felt really bad about it, but this flight attendant who watched me do it, who was about to have to clean up that mess, was just made of genuine sympathy and concern for me when as far as I was concerned she had every possible right to be at least a little annoyed. (Like, obviously I didn't expect her to be mad or anything, but it would've been incredibly understandable for her to look at least briefly like this was the worst part of her job. Instead the absolute first expression on her face was just pure genuine heart aching for this poor sick child, wanting to do anything to help me feel better.) I still think about that sometimes, and long story short now she's a character in my Pokémon fanfic. Thanks, anonymous flight attendant, you were too good.

This is another instance of vomiting that actually makes sense; nausea is one of the possible symptoms of strangulation. To my horror, looking up strangulation symptoms overwhelmingly got me domestic violence resources. Which, I mean, that makes sense, but GAH, I'm just trying to write a Pokémon fanfic, I was not prepared for this writing session getting so real. Google probably still thinks my husband tried to strangle me.

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.

That'd be the conversation explaining Pokémon training in chapter 6 - another nostalgic reference to the early parts of the fic.

In the draft, Nurse Joy was less focused on making sure May was all right and they just went to the back to take care of the Pokémon. This was pretty careless; you can end up with some serious complications after being strangled. I like that she sees how nervous May is in this public space and offers to take them to the back here; in the draft it was Mark who asked if they could come with to the back.

“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!”

I love Floatzel and Weavile a lot. They just spontaneously hit it off after I wrote Sneasel in because they're fairly similar personalities, and then of course, since I had planned out Floatzel being nearly killed here, I just had to have Weavile be the Pokémon Mark sends out at Rick's place, and her reactions there and here just came to me immediately, long before this actually got written.

For a while, I was considering killing Weavile at some point in the late game, primarily for the purpose of setting up the significant fact that you can't psychically sense and resurrect the ghost of a Dark-type Pokémon. This was never a fully concrete plan - one thing that always kind of bugged me about the idea was that in the moment it'd inevitably just come off as yet another instance of a character death where I come up with some asspull reason why Chaletwo can't just resurrect them, for the sake of drama. (This had happened in chapter 34 with the Manectric and 53 with Taylor, and even kind of in chapter 13 with May.) But ultimately, my final decision not to do it was largely because nah, Floatzel and Weavile deserve to ride off into the sunset together after all this. I just didn't have the heart to nearly kill one of them only to then kill off the other instead. They get to be alive and happy, damn it.

(I'm pretty sure at one point before that I was seriously considering actually killing Floatzel, too. You guys were truly lucky to have each other and thus escape the authorial axe.)

“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.

I went back and checked what kind of ball May caught Floatzel in back in chapter 43 for this. For some reason I was pretty convinced it was a Dive Ball before I did.

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.”

In the draft, Nurse Joy didn't ask what they were going to talk to Rick about, but it was really what she would've wanted to ask. I enjoy this bit a lot, with Mark telling basically the truth except with a Growlithe instead of Mew, and feeling really bad for lying to Nurse Joy (I would've felt bad lying to that flight attendant, too). This is a sort of future mythology gag referencing the IALCOTN plans to have Mew in the guise of an Arcanine in the gym, but also just the tiniest nod to Rainteicune's ILCOE backstory for my own amusement - after all, Rainteicune was apparently thrown out by Rick as a cub, so one would imagine he'd probably release other clones not up to his standards similarly, too. (That's why Mark makes this educated guess that Rick would regularly try to get rid of extraneous Pokémon, but I did not get into that thought process, because haha no I'm not about to bring up Rainteicune again, you're supposed to have forgotten about Rainteicune)

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.

At this point May's not really in a state to object to this anymore; the initial adrenaline has died off and she's pretty sure she probably deserves whatever's coming.

“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.

In the draft, she didn't actually call the police; Mark just told her about Rick's hypnosis and she took him at his word, which was pretty silly. He also said He’d probably convince them that... that she really did it, or something, and that was the bit he felt bad about lying to Nurse Joy about.

The kind of mind-control that Mewtwo² does is not something commonly possible in this universe, because that would just be chaos. It wouldn't ordinarily occur to people as a possibility even for someone with a very powerful Psychic Pokémon; Mark only figured out that that must be what's going on because he remembered personally seeing Officer Jenny's eyes and behaviour just change completely abruptly, because Taylor wasn't very subtle about that one.

“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.

Mark's caution here was also new; in the draft they just didn't consider at all whether Rick might be able to find them there.

Meanwhile, Chaletwo feels a little bad for what just happened, which he still doesn't quite understand, and is awkwardly trying to give the humans space to deal with it.

Mewtwo² is indeed a very blunt instrument, when under Rick's control; he can obey basic orders, but not very complex instructions, and anything that'd require him thinking for himself and reacting intelligently is out. He'd be significantly better at it without the mind-control, though!

“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.

May does not want to be alone right now, and Mark doesn't really either.

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.

This scene was the big part of this chapter that'd been very vividly in my head for years and years.

May hates showing vulnerability more than anything, especially in front of others; this is a whole new humiliation on top of everything, for her, and her reaction to realizing she's starting to cry and can't control it is pure horror (she certainly wasn't intending on breaking down when she asked to stay in Mark's room for a while; she just figured she'd sit there for a bit until she felt less weird and like she could go to sleep). But Mark knows her well enough by now to get that, and instinctively understands the best way to be there for her in this moment: no reassurances or platitudes, no obvious concern, no reaction, no watching her like a spectacle, just quietly being there, looking away, until it's over.

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.”

As much as May appreciates Mark pretty much pretending that didn't happen, though, obviously he did see it and any pretense of being fine at this point would be ludicrous, however much every instinct she has wants to say that. She still feels weird and embarrassed about it.

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.”

The actual lines were rewritten significantly, but this confession that May did fantasize about Taylor's death before it happened was spontaneous during NaNo. As I mentioned before, as this came out I thought back to previous chapters, especially chapter 64, and a lot of things made a lot more sense.

She's been sitting on this ever since the murder, insisting it doesn't matter and didn't mean anything, but has never quite been able to shake it - and while Rick was strangling her, it was all she could think about. That he's right. That she wanted this to happen. And now there just doesn't seem to be any point to hiding it anymore.

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

May clenched her fists. “Go away.”

Chaletwo, the most sensitive.

May had actually forgotten Mark being there meant Chaletwo was there too, and it's not a very pleasant realization that she was crying in front of him, too.

“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.”

May's first thought when Rick mentioned them was that they'd wanted her dead, but once Rick said they'd just said it had a trainer, she realized what they were going for pretty much immediately, because she'd been thinking the very same thing when she approached Rick. It was actually a relief to her; she could perfectly well believe they just thought she was a monster, but they only wanted to help ensure Tyranitar's safety, and being that she'd been worrying she was too late, on some level she was glad they did. She doesn't blame them at all; her usual defense mechanisms kind of broke at Rick's. Everything that happened here is her fault.

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.

In the draft, Chaletwo ruined this scene by just going off on a frustrated lecture about why clearly this wasn't her fault and she's being ridiculous, and even if it was she can beat herself up about it after they've found Mew, and May ended up just leaving the room, and the mood just wasn't right and it only got May to put all her barriers back up, and it was creating this whole additional conflict with Chaletwo that I didn't have time to address a couple of chapters before the end, and all in all it just wasn't doing what I needed to do here.

I wrestled with this in editing for a while, and at one point even considered removing Mark altogether and having him not witness her breakdown the way he was always meant to, just to get rid of Chaletwo, because Chaletwo would not leave it alone when his recruited humans are starting to buy into all this human nonsense that he's been trying to get everyone to shut up about and focus for the past while now. But eventually Mark saved the scene instead, by just telling Chaletwo to shut up. May can't do that right now, and Chaletwo wouldn't take it seriously - she's the one who needs to snap out of it! - but when it's Mark, someone who should be agreeing with him, saying it this bluntly, he just gets kind of flustered. Fine, whatever, maybe the humans need some time to sort out their nonsense.

“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.

This is another one of my absolute favorite scenes in the fic - not just for May's breakdown, but for Mark. Their friendship became a major theme of the last few chapters, particularly in the editing process, and it kind of starts to come into focus here. Mark is exactly who May needs in this moment, someone who understands her thought patterns and knows exactly how to be sensitive to them, and while May is a bit awkward about expressing gratitude on the best of days, she appreciates it more than words could say that Mark was just there, with her, shutting Chaletwo up, without judgement or pity or condescending reassurances or unsolicited advice. This is basically where May realizes she can trust Mark, probably more than she's ever truly managed to trust anyone, and that's incredibly important for her.

-------

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.

In the draft, Stantler awkwardly explained that she'd heard everything, but really, she'd want to just immediately ask, and May'd figure it out.

One would kind of want to see what her other Pokémon have to say once they get to come out, but May's probably nooot really eager to do that.

“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?

It shook May to watch Mark helpless and choking there; she dragged him there, and it must've looked pretty disturbing from the outside.

“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.)

Stantler made that remark about how she never learned to let herself out of a Pokéball in the draft, but we didn't get this little bit about the implications (though Stantler also mentioned later that Floatzel must care more than she lets on).

Originally, for whatever reason, when I sketched out how chapter 72 would happen, I actually didn't really think through at all why Floatzel, or any of May's other Pokémon, wouldn't have intervened earlier while Rick was strangling May. At some point, when this finally occurred to me, I realized that while we've seen Mark's Pokémon releasing themselves, we hadn't really seen May's doing so, and this made a whole lot of sense given May's character - so probably none of them knew how, and perhaps it just took Floatzel this long to figure it out. Thus, I wrote in Stantler's remarks during NaNo, but when I was editing this chapter I wanted to make it more explicit, and to double-check that I hadn't misremembered, I skimmed through every part of the whole fic where the word "ball" appeared. Somehow, in this skimming I missed Floatzel breaking out in chapter 44 until the commentary (but then I decided that it was easier there because she'd only just been recalled, so nothing to see here, inconsistency what inconsistency).

I enjoy May's little moment of realizing that her figuring her Pokémon didn't need to be able to decide stuff on their own was the reason they couldn't help. Not that Mark made any special effort to encourage his Pokémon to learn it; this might've been the case even if May didn't treat her Pokémon as tools. But it's the symbolism of the thing. Right now, it feels like everything that's ever gone wrong is her fault, rooted in her treatment of her Pokémon.

“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.

definitely just because of the pain

(Again, I wish we saw more of Spirit's loyalty.)

“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.”

Silly fun fact: I realized when I was writing this chapter that this bit is the most thorough Bechdel test pass in the fic, as two female characters (May and Stantler) discuss three other female characters (Spirit, Floatzel, and Nurse Joy). Overall this fic is not great on Bechdel by virtue of having a male POV character for 95% of it (and that's okay; the Bechdel test is for measuring trends, not the value of an individual work), but I enjoyed getting this moment after early in the fic there were basically no recurring female characters other than May (a couple of her Pokémon were, but it took a while before they even got any real lines).

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?

There's basically a running thread through all of May's thoughts here that she doesn't deserve anyone's help or sympathy. Other people making sacrifices for her feels especially bad - it just makes her feel that she's somehow responsible for even more people being hurt. In Tyranitar's case, of course, she's pretty sure the real answer to that why is that he still loves and idolizes her, which he shouldn't and it doesn't make any sense, but that one's definitely her fault. And then, just when she's trying to somehow fix that, she gets some of her other Pokémon killed too, or nearly so, while Mark slowly chokes in the background. I don't want anyone dying for me, indeed.

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.

May's had a couple of these little desperate moments of fantasy lately, all of which were added in editing, which are meant to show a bit of a progression. First, in chapter 67:

She felt bile rising in the back of her throat. In a flash, she imagined the Pokémon Center on fire, people running and screaming, Robin stuck inside and –

There it's a straight-up violent thing, but she cuts the thought off abruptly, because after Taylor she's unsettled by it and tries to block those sorts of thoughts out. Then, in chapter 69:

Alan turned around, too. May imagined them vanishing, just blinking out of existence and leaving her alone, but that wasn’t helpful. “I released him.”

There she's managed to tone her imagination down to a more abstract, nonviolent 'problems please just go away' thing, even as she knows it won't actually help (and it isn't even really properly cathartic for her in the way that the violent equivalent used to be).

Here, again, she imagines everything just going away - but this time, she realizes that it isn't going to go away. This happened and she has no choice but to actually face up to it. Hence:

“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.”

It does feel pretty shaky that she could consider Tyranitar safe simply because Rick knows he was hers. Sure, he obviously believes it was May who ordered it, and Rick really might just focus on May as the culprit to the exclusion of everything else and basically forget about Tyranitar himself (trained Pokémon committing crimes on their trainer's orders are widely popularly considered to be basically irrelevant, with the human being the 'real' criminal, but also it's just something Rick might do) - but does May know that, with enough certainty to decide that she might as well just leave him? Is she not worried about him suffering right now? I probably really should have them spring him out of jail.

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.

It took me a bit to write Stantler's speech there; I wrote on Tumblr on February 9th, tfw you want to have a character make a particular point, and it’s a point that they would make, but you can’t figure out how to say it in words that they would actually use, and I was talking about this. I noted that my first thought sounded like a rationalist blog post; unfortunately I've forgotten exactly what that phrasing was. She still talks about the chain of causality, but it was considerably worse.

I kind of wish we got to see Stantler's issues about the death of her trainer a bit more in the fic in general. She's largely worked them out to a fairly healthy place, but still.

“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.

May phrases that question like an offer for Stantler's benefit, but Stantler answers it like it's a request - correctly picking up that May really just wants someone in the room with her.

Most of this scene was completely rewritten; in the draft it started fairly similarly, and May did tell Stantler that she'd wanted Taylor to die, but then it was quite short and awkward from there, just a "well but you didn't really mean it" sort of thing from Stantler and May just kind of going okay, maybe you're right. It felt half-assed even when I wrote it, but as usual, I just had no time to sit there staring at it for the time that it really needed. Unpacking complex emotional hangups during NaNoWriMo is not the best idea.

Stantler is basically mostly serving as a rubber duck here, someone for May to bounce her feelings off while she works through her thoughts and comes to the conclusion she should go to the police. That's completely her own decision here, and had to be; Stantler doesn't nudge her towards that conclusion at all, just offers her take on the guilt that May's feeling. In the draft, May didn't actually decide this here; it just came suddenly out of nowhere in the last chapter. I'm pretty happy with how that plays out here and the buildup to it. I'm less fond of how relatively uninteresting Stantler's actual contributions are, though - it's just fairly generic not-your-fault stuff, which is a shame. Maybe getting more into Stantler's issues would improve it.

-------

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.

In the draft, May wasn't ready when Mark knocked on the door:

“I’m awake,” he heard her say from the inside; he was strangely relieved to hear her voice. “Have you talked to Joy?”

“Not yet,” he said. “I thought I should get you first.”

“Hang on,” she said. He waited a few minutes; finally the door opened and she stepped through, looking normal as always. He just did not get her sometimes.

This kind of unnecessarily wasted time, and really if May had been awake for a while, it made sense she'd have gotten dressed - it'd have been something to occupy her mind with for a few minutes, and she'd have wanted that.

“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 didn't want to sleep alone, either.

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.

We established Vulpix is Mark's favorite (non-legendary) Pokémon back in chapter one. May, of course, is thinking of Spirit, but not Spirit now who's possibly dying, young Spirit from when she was a kid and they were safe and happy.

I like how May never knew that Mark's favorite Pokémon was her first Pokémon - but she does now. They really are becoming friends, and Mark's spur-of-the-moment idea to draw something for her is going to be an important little ritual in their growing closer.

This was all new in editing; in the draft, they just walked out to see Nurse Joy in the lobby - which didn't make any sense, because Rick could easily have been there. Here, Nurse Joy told them last night to wait for her, and since that meant they had to wait a bit here (I could have had Joy wake them up, but Mark was just having a really hard time sleeping), this really was just a spontaneous idea on Mark's part for something nice and comforting to do that won't involve talking or thinking about yesterday.

“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.”

Joy's alarm over Rick sure made it seem like she was about to give them bad news about Floatzel and Spirit, didn't it. Gotta work on presenting the correct face, Joy.

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.”

In the draft, Joy told them he probably wasn't going out to look for them because he has a gym to run and she'd indicated she didn't know anything about where they were headed, to flimsily justify the bit where Rick went on to just not do anything from here. In editing, of course, Rick would be going out to find them.

Rick also didn't have a concussion in the draft, but after an Ice Punch strong enough to knock him out for an appreciable amount of time? Yeah, that's definitely a concussion at the very least. I also just enjoy the idea of Rick stumbling in there, the whole side of his face crusted with blood, confused about what just happened but knowing that girl with the blue hair killed Taylor, and she was there???, obviously erratic and half-coherent, asking Nurse Joy about May like he didn't just ask that three times already, while she tries to convince him no seriously you need a hospital and a CT scan right now.

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.”

In the draft she actually smiled saying this. Hahahaha no. The fact she escaped from Rick using a technique she shamelessly stole from Robin was an awful cherry on top of this whole traumatic experience.

“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.

In the draft:

“Most important is that the gems were not damaged,” Spirit said, looking at the pendant still hanging around her neck. “He must have seen them only as a necklace, with no conception that they carried Entei himself.”

Mark wasn’t sure why Rick would want to destroy Entei’s soul gems even if he had known, but Spirit seemed to consider it extremely fortunate and he didn’t really want to press her on it, remembering how forceful she could get when anything relating to Entei was questioned.

I actually kind of enjoy draft Spirit nonsensically deciding that Rick totally would've been a danger to Entei, but he never knew this unassuming Ninetales was carrying the soul of a legendary! It's very Spirit to try to make this into a thing where she successfully kept Entei safe. I guess I thought it was an inappropriate moment for it? But I kind of want to bring it back anyway. (But without Mark bluntly explaining to the reader why this is actually nonsense.)

“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.”

May, still hating the thought of Spirit intentionally suffering for her sake.

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.

It's so hard for May to leave Spirit behind like this right now, but letting her come along when she's clearly in pain and needs rest and recovery is even worse. And she can't even say thanks to Floatzel, even though Floatzel stepped up to save her for no reason at all.

I originally wrote this last scene as part of chapter 73 during NaNo, but then, as I wrote on, I decided to move this scene over to chapter 74, largely because I wasn't sure chapter 74 was enough material, so that's where it is in the draft - but in editing, I moved it back into this chapter. I don't quite remember this decision, but I imagine it was because thematically this scene very much belongs with the rest of this chapter, dealing with May's guilt over Spirit and Floatzel (and Tyranitar) risking themselves to save her.

The chapter plan for this one said: Chapter 73: They spend some time recovering and reflecting on this. Mark realizes he still has Mew’s Pokéball, which would allow them to capture Mew without a battle; the problem is just finding it. Mark switches that Pokéball to his belt, carrying only five Pokémon to make this possible. He also realizes Mew talked about residing in Rainbow Woods; though Rainbow Woods must have been searched before, they decide to search it one more time. Chaletwo, getting very weak and nervous, severs the connection to Mark’s mind but asks to be kept in a ball actually on Mark’s belt so he can send himself out easily. Everything but the first sentence of that ended up being in chapter 74 instead. I knew May's breakdown would happen, and May would probably talk to Stantler afterwards, and I had a couple of brief images of them stumbling into the Pokémon Center and Weavile yelling at Nurse Joy about how Rick killed Floatzel, but that was pretty much about it for what I knew going into it; otherwise, I just let the chapter play itself out.

All in all this is another favorite chapter of mine, predictably enough. Characters having traumatic emotional breakdowns can't not be some of my favorite chapters. There's some stuff I'd want to do differently as usual, but I'm fairly satisfied with most of the important emotional parts here, and Mark is just such a good in it.


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