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Drowning

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Starlight Aurate, Dec 31, 2013.

  1. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Dang. Just... dang. Talk about it all hitting the fan. Jirachi committing a bit of mass murder there was horrifying in its own right, but the cherry on top is the fact that, scared kid that he essentially was, he was quite possibly just as messed up by what he did as Tabitha was on some level, if not moreso.

    Marissa's pokémon being released was a good, strong punch right to the heart. I can't say for certain of course if we really have seen the absolute last of them--Golduck especially seemed too determined to get back to her to lose hope forever--but I'm disinclined to hold my breath.

    I can't even begin to guess what's next. Marissa's fallen out of the pan into a series of progressively more dangerous fires; it'll be interesting to see how--or even if--she gets out of this one.
     
    BTS_fan likes this.
  2. Starlight Aurate

    Starlight Aurate Just a fallen star

    Hi all, I'm back! I've debated on how to continue this fic, and whether I wanted to still post it here. I've also edited this chapter and switched the scenes around about 5000 times--but I've also written a couple of chapters after it. Anyway, here we go!

    Sike Saner:

    Thanks for the review! I'm very grateful for it ^_^ And yes, Maressa doesn't really get out of this like she got out of the previous one.

    Chapter 22

    The helicopter flew onwards, the wind beating loudly on its metal walls. Maressa sat alone in a room. Blood caked her shoulders where Altaria’s claws dug into her. Tears streamed from her pale amber eyes as she sniffled.

    The helicopter landed. She heard people moving back and forth, shouts, noises from unidentifiable Pokemon.

    The outside noise eventually faded, only her sobs punctuating the silence.

    Maressa clenched her eyes shut. Her heart ached—it ached. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw the submarines—nothing more than crumbled hunks of metal—sinking into the sea and Golduck staring at her in shock. She heard his screams echoing in her head, playing over and over. And her heart broke again and again.

    The door opened. She looked up; through her tears, she blurrily perceived Tabitha looking down at her. “Get up,” he said.

    She stood up and followed him out of the helicopter, which stood in a sort of hangar. The Magma commander led her through metal hallways. After a moment, he stopped, looked around, and opened a side door. Maressa followed him inside.

    He closed the door and turned the light on. It was cramped—they were in a small storage closet. He looked down at her, and Maressa raised her head to meet his eyes. For the first time, Maressa noticed how exhausted he looked. Lines dragged from the corners of his black eyes. His face was unusually pale, his eyes were bloodshot. But his gaze was confused and curious.

    “What happened? Team Aqua was right there, why did you release your Pokemon?”

    Maressa stared back at him, sniffling, and grimaced. She refused to speak. Tabitha sighed and glanced around, looking apprehensive—even slightly scared.

    “Look, just tell us everything you know right when we ask you—it’ll be much easier. Please, Maressa,” he said, staring intently at her.

    Maressa said nothing. Tabitha shook his head and led her out of the storage closet and down the hallway. He unlocked a door, told Maressa to go in, and left, locking the door behind her.

    It was completely dark inside. Maressa slowly sank to the floor. Her heart was heavy, throbbing with pain and sadness. Choking sobs rose from her chest. She wrapped her arms around her legs and tried to put her head on her knees, but her wetsuit was dry and severely inhibited her movements—the most she could do was lean forward slightly.

    Her heart jumped as she heard the door unlock. Her head snapped up as the light flicked on.

    “Derek!” she exclaimed as he closed the door.

    The medic crouched down next to her, looking exactly as she remembered him—tousled dark hair, chestnut eyes, white scrubs, and a beaming smile.

    “Maressa—you’re alive!” He gazed at her warmly, eagerly, drinking in what he thought was lost long ago. “How—how did you live? And how did you get back here?”

    Maressa opened her mouth to speak, but only let out gasping sobs. Tears flowed from her eyes once more. She inhaled deeply and rapidly started speaking.

    “Derek—Derek I released my Pokemon—they’re gone, all gone—they’ll know I took the Orbs, that I betrayed my team—I can’t face them Derek, I can’t, I can’t—

    Derek shushed her, repeating her name and gazing directly into her amber eyes. “Maressa—Maressa, Maressa look at me—look at me—Maressa, you’ll be fine, you’ll be fine.”

    She sniffled, staring silently at him. The smile never faded from his face. His gaze was so gentle, so soft.

    “They’re not going to find out anything,” he said tenderly. “I got you out of here once, didn’t I? I can do it again. Just wait for me.” He reached out and, grasping her hand, lightly squeezed her fingers. “I’ll keep you safe. I promise.”

    He looked at her. And in his tender gaze, at the gentle squeeze of his hand, Maressa felt a small measure of warmth blossom in her heart.

    Their gaze lasted for but a moment, as Derek abruptly stood up and left, locking the door behind him. Somehow, the room seemed even lonelier than before—but more hopeful.

    Maressa gazed down at her hands: pruned from the salt water, scratched and roughed up from the Sharpedo’s skin.

    What was Derek going to do? And how could he be so hopeful? Even if Maressa got out, how was she supposed to get anywhere or do anything without her Pokemon?

    At the thought of her Pokemon, tears came to her eyes again and she started sobbing again. A moment later, she stopped herself and sighed deeply—Derek had some sort of plan. He promised to get her out, and he did succeed the first time, though not in the way he intended. She just had to wait until he came; if she was interrogated by any members of Team Magma, she would refuse to speak. And once she was out, she would find her Pokemon—she would.

    … Somehow…

    She jolted as the door opened again. She smiled excitedly up at Derek as he walked in—but her face fell when she saw it was Tabitha, followed by two people. He noticed her smile and stared at her curiously but said nothing. Nervous, Maressa looked at the two people who had followed him.

    Both were clearly Team Magma members, though not dressed like anyone Maressa had seen. One was a woman with short, dark hair and a dark grey skirt that reached almost to her ankles. She caught Maressa’s eye and her face broke into a smile. Dread flooded into Maressa’s heart—she didn’t like that smile at all.

    The other Team Magma member was a man wearing a red and grey coat over his dark grey pants. His scarlet hair framed a pallid face with deep-set eyes. His cold gaze swept calculatingly over Maressa.

    “This is the Team Aqua member?” he asked Tabitha with a high-pitched, nasally voice.

    “Yes, sir.”

    “She’s not wearing their uniform.”

    Tabitha said nothing but kept his eyes lowered.

    “Are you a member of Team Aqua?” the man suddenly asked Maressa, his piercing gaze set on her.

    Maressa was caught off-guard and stared blankly at him. But she stuck to her resolve and said nothing.

    “That sounds like a ‘yes,’ to me!” the woman chimed in.

    The red-haired man nodded. “I think so, Courtney.” His piercing gaze never left Maressa. “Tell us what you know about them,” he ordered.

    “Or we can get it out of you!” So saying, the woman took out a Pokeball and unleashed a Ninetales in a flash of white light. The cream-colored Pokemon shook her brilliant fur, ruffling all nine of her tails. Her scarlet, pupil-less eyes stared at Maressa as she walked towards the Team Aqua member. Chills shot down Maressa’s spine—she got to her feet and tried to back away from the creature, ending up in the middle of the room while the Fire-type walked in circles around her.

    “Last chance,” the woman said. But Maressa wouldn’t speak—she didn’t know if she was even able to. She was so stunned and scared that words failed her. And as she stared into the Ninetales’ eyes, the room around her darkened. Orbs of blue flame hovered in the air around the two of them—the temperature dropped several degrees. Maressa’s airway tightened, her heart raced as she started to panic. Ninetales’ scarlet eyes glowed in the darkness. The blue flames danced in a circle around Maressa, growing ever closer, temperature dropping all the more, the room becoming so cold that it sent lances of burning pain through her. She fell to her knees—the flames were almost upon her—

    The entire scene vanished in an instant as the door flew off its hinges and slammed into the Team Magma woman, who was standing right in front of it. A Breloom leapt through the air, smacking Ninetales in the face with its clubbed tail. Green spores flew on contact, and the Fire-type fell to the ground at once, unconscious.

    Before he could do anything else, a Mightyena and a Houndoom appeared in a flash of white light. The Houndoom snarled and shot jets of flame from its snout while the Mightyena chased Breloom around the room.

    Someone grabbed Maressa’s upper arm and pulled her up—

    Derek.

    He started for the doorway, but the Mightyena leapt in front of him, baring its large white fangs. Maressa jerked her head around as she heard a horrible high-pitched cry—Houndoom finally caught Breloom, and the Grass-type was being roasted in a column of flame.

    The red-haired man shouted, “Derek, what are you doing?” He and Tabitha stared at Derek in anger and shock.

    Derek placed himself between them and Maressa, letting go of her upper arm, and instead holding her hand. “I can’t let you do this, Maxie. I’m not going to stay around and let you hurt innocent people—“

    “Innocent? She’s a member of Team Aqua!”

    “She hasn’t done anything!”

    “Team Aqua wants to flood the world, Derek, anyone who works with them is dangerous!”

    “But what about everyone else you’ve captured? What about those scientists, what about that child?”

    “Everyone we capture is dangerous in some capacity—“

    “Did you really expect any of us to sit around while we tortured a little kid?”

    “It was you.

    Maxie and Derek quieted down and looked Tabitha. His eyes were wide with shock.

    “You released Tate and Jirachi.”

    Derek breathed hard, staring straight at Tabitha. “Yes. I wasn’t going to let—“

    “Do you know what you’ve done? Do you know what happened to our team—”

    “You released the Wishmaker, and now you’re freeing a Team Aqua member?” Maxie put in.

    “Maressa’s not on Team Aqua anymore, she told me she left them—“

    “Derek!”

    He glanced back at Maressa and the fury in his face turned to fear as he realized he said too much.

    But Maxie didn’t seem to notice. His eyes were closed, and he was breathing hard. “Derek, if you take back everything you just said—if you deny all of it—if you unhand the Team Aqua member, I will forget everything and you will be forgiven.”

    “Maxie!” Tabitha exclaimed. He stared at his boss in utter shock. But Maxie put up a hand and Tabitha said no more.

    Maxie opened his eyes. He glared at Derek. “Well?”

    Derek swallowed. He was shaking slightly. “No.”

    At Maxie’s command, the Mightyena leapt on top of Derek, knocking him and Maressa to the ground. Tabitha ran to Maressa and grabbed her upper arms and pulled her back while Mightyena ripped into Derek’s shoulder. Derek let out an ear-splitting cry; Maressa screamed and fought to get out of Tabitha’s grip.

    Loud noises came from the hallway: banging, shouting, and various Pokemon noises. Maressa barely noticed a blue blur zip across her vision, leaving a trail of dark smoke. Tabitha threw her to the ground, still hanging on to her. Black smoke filled the room, leaving a clean layer of air only about a foot high off the ground. Maressa felt a powerful ripple of energy through the air—Mightyena let out a high-pitched howl, and something heavy hit a wall. Jets of flame surged through the smoke as the Houndoom tried to hit the unseen attackers.

    Maressa looked over to where Derek lay on the ground, his hand gripping his mangled shoulder. His dark brown eyes met hers—then he was gone.

    Maressa stared. He was gone.

    There was no trace of him, save for a few smears of blood. As the air cleared, there was no trace of the Golbat or whatever caused the psychic energy.

    He left.

    Maressa was hoisted to her feet and dragged through the room and out into the hallway. She numbly followed Tabitha wherever he was leading her—through various hallways, up some steps... Eventually they stopped before a door, and stepped inside. He unlocked another door, pushed her inside, and left.

    The darkness pressed in around Maressa. The sounds of pounding feet and shouts could dimly be heard from the hallway.

    The image of Derek staring at her, lying on the ground, his shoulder covered in blood, was imprinted on her mind. All she could see in the blackness was Derek’s face.

    How could Derek be gone? Why did he leave her? How did he leave her? Did he actually leave, or was this all some surreal dream?

    Maressa’s heart beat furiously within her. She was so tired, but she knew she wouldn’t be able to rest. All she could do was stand in the darkness, the only sound the pounding of her anxious heart.

    Maressa didn’t know how much time passed. But her head jerked up as the door next to her opened and she flinched as the light flicked on.

    Tabitha slammed the door behind him and stormed into the room. He tore his gloves off, threw them in his desk, and glared at Maressa. “What happened?”

    Maressa stared back at him.

    “What happened?” he repeated forcefully. “Why did one of our team medics just knock an admin unconscious, tear through our base, admit that he had been working against us, and try to set an enemy free?” As he spoke, his voice rose to a shout. His black eyes bore into Maressa, and he was breathing heavily.

    “Tell me everything you know. Everything about Team Aqua, about Derek, about whatever just happened.”

    Maressa automatically shook her head.

    Tabitha turned and left, slamming the door behind him.

    Maressa waited.

    A few moments later, Tabitha returned—dragging a woman with him. Her blonde hair stuck to her sweaty face and her Team Aqua uniform was scratched up. Tabitha took a Pokeball out of his pocket and released his Mightyena, who growled at the woman. She lifted her head; her blue eyes widened with fear once she saw the Pokemon. Then her eyes darted to Maressa.

    “Sarah!”

    Maressa bolted up and tried to rush to Sarah’s side—but Tabitha grabbed her and pulled her back.

    “Let go of me!” she snapped.

    But Tabitha didn’t look at her. He gazed coolly at Sarah, who eyed Mightyena warily.

    “Tell me everything what you know, or Mightyena will attack her,” he said coldly.

    Maressa’s heart plummeted with fear. Sarah glanced at her, looking terrified. “Maressa, what—AAHH!” she broke into an ear-splitting scream as Mightyena leaped on her, knocking her on the ground and ripping into her shoulder.

    “No! Please!” Maressa struggled uselessly in Tabitha’s grip. She looked back at him. His dark eyes gazed at her. “Stop this, stop it—please, I’ll tell you what I know, I’ll tell you everything, I promise, just stop hurting Sarah!”

    “Mightyena!” Tabitha called out, though his eyes were still locked on Maressa. The canine ceased its assault. Sarah lay on the ground, sobbing audibly. “Take her out.”

    Tabitha released Maressa and opened the door. Mightyena grabbed Sarah by the neck of her shirt and dragged her through the open doorway. Tabitha closed the door.

    “What’s going to happen to her?” Maressa asked frantically.

    “I promise you, Mightyena is not going to hurt her.” Tabitha crossed his arms and leaned against the door, staring at Maressa. “But unless you make good on your promise, that will change.

    “Now,” he said, “tell me everything.”

    Maressa closed her eyes, took a shuddering breath, and told Tabitha what she knew. As she spoke, tears started falling from her eyes. She told Tabitha about the friendship she had built with Derek—of how they bonded over being recent college graduates, of the friendships they had with their Pokemon, of Maressa’s horror at learning that Team Aqua wanted to awaken Kyogre and Derek choosing to set her free. She told Tabitha about ending up at Mossdeep, meeting the other Team Aqua members and Gloom, heading to Lilycove, meeting Archie and getting re-stationed near Fortree. She told him about fighting with Matt—at which point Tabitha’s eyebrows furrowed and he looked concerned—and how the two of them made an agreement with Liza and Phoebe to recover Tate and get the Orbs. She described the four of them fighting—altering the story so she never got the Orbs—about Gloom dying and her escape, her mission to find Seaking again, and unintentionally winding back up with Team Aqua. When she finished, she saw Tabitha still gazing intently at her.

    “You’re hiding something,” he said automatically.

    Maressa’s blood ran cold. She didn’t know how to defend herself.

    “Why did your Golduck mention something about the Orbs when you released him?”

    “You understood him?” Maressa asked in surprise.

    “I understand most Pokemon.”

    How?”

    He ignored her. “Tell me what you’re hiding, or I’ll have Mightyena drag Sarah back in here. Did you take the Orbs?”

    Maressa closed her eyes. She nodded.

    “How?”

    Maressa explained. When she finished, Tabitha stared at her, his eyes wide. “So now your Pokemon have the Orbs,” he stated.

    She nodded again.

    Tabitha gazed at her in wonder, his mouth hanging open slightly. He then leaned against the door, turning his gaze upward. He said nothing. Maressa shifted her gaze away, guilt gripping her heart. She set her Pokemon free, but now betrayed them—they would be hunted down and captured, one way or another…

    “Maressa,” Tabitha said softly.

    She looked back up at him. He didn’t look angry at all, just surprised, as if he was still processing what he had heard.

    “You haven’t told anyone else, have you?”

    “I’ve told Derek.”

    “But no one on Team Aqua?”

    “No.”

    He nodded. “I might still be able to help you.” Straightening up, he said, “If your Pokemon are in the ocean with the Orbs, then our only hope of finding them is if we enlist Team Aqua’s help. And they would probably want you back—to make an example of how they treat a traitor, and as payback for the damage you’ve done.”

    Maressa’s stomach churned. If she went back to Team Aqua… Matt already hated her. If she was to be treated as a prisoner, she knew what Matt would do to her.

    “Or,” Tabitha cut off her line of thought, “I can take you to Maxie now and you can tell him everything you just told me, with the promise that, moving forward, you will assist and serve Team Magma in any way possible.”

    Maressa switched her gaze away from him. “So… I either join you, or go back to Team Aqua as their prisoner?”

    “And,” he added, and Maressa’s eyes flicked up to meet his, “Derek isn’t here to help you this time.”

    Maressa wrapped her arms around herself as chills crept through her body. To be sent back to Team Aqua or to join Team Magma…


    “Maressa, join us. With your help, we’ll be able to find your Pokemon and you can be with them again. You won’t have to interact with the rest of Team Magma—I’ll watch over you and protect you. We would have you help us find the Orbs and fight with us—but that would be it. We won’t ask anything else from you.”

    Maressa closed her eyes. She could join Team Magma—

    And I’ll see my Pokemon again.

    Warmth welled up in her heart as she envisioned seeing Golduck, Lanturn and Sharpedo. Another pang of sadness hit as she remembered that Seaking was still not with them. But she could at least see the other three—and they would find Seaking eventually. And none of them would mind working for Team Magma, right? After all, they never held any devotion to Team Aqua. She could be with them, and Team Magma would have the Orbs, and awaken Groudon, and turn the entire earth into a desert…

    Maressa’s heart plummeted at the thought. She released her Pokemon so they wouldn’t be subject to whatever punishment she might face. She gave them the Orbs so that the teams wouldn’t get them. And, as long as her Pokemon were free, there was some hope of keeping the Orbs out of Team Aqua’s and Team Magma’s reach.

    Tears welled up in her eyes again. Keeping her eyes closed, she said thickly, “I can’t.”

    “Can’t what?”

    Maressa swallowed, dropped her arms to her sides and opened her eyes. Tabitha looked surprised—and scared. “I can’t join you. It’s against everything I’ve ever worked for—I betrayed Team Aqua, but I can’t betray my Pokemon.”

    His gaze softened considerably. Maressa had never seen him look that way before.

    “You’d do anything for your Pokemon,” he murmured.

    She nodded.

    “Let me ask you a question, Maressa. What do you have waiting for you? What will you do if I release you?”

    She started to speak, but he cut her off. “You released your Pokemon and completely destroyed their Pokeballs, so they can’t be tracked down. They’re out in the ocean, and it’ll be nearly impossible for them to find you. Or are you thinking about your family? One that you’ve likely not seen or contacted since you started working with Team Aqua? How would they react to the news that you’ve joined a criminal organization and that you’ve caused massive damage to public property and endangered countless lives? Do you really think they would want to see you and help you after that? And I’d be surprised if you had friends who would take you in—if you’re like most of the grunts, then you haven’t kept in touch with anyone outside the teams. And how many people on Team Aqua do you know well enough that you consider them friends? And the one person who has been trying to help you abandoned you tonight.”

    His words hit Maressa like a hammer, and as she stood in silence, contemplating them, the reality sunk in painfully. Of course she had never told her parents she joined Team Aqua. Once she had decided to join, she had announced that she had gotten a job, told them that she’d be out on a submarine in the ocean for a few months and would be out of contact. She wasn’t really lying, but she didn’t tell most of the truth.

    And any friends that she had made while on Team Aqua weren’t that close; they might have a similar interest outside of helping the ocean, but there certainly wasn’t anyone she could confide her thoughts or heart in. Not even Cloe or Sarah—who had paid the price of her betrayal and secrecy. No, the only ones who really knew her anymore were her Pokemon.

    The Pokemon.

    She tried to push thoughts of them away. But she couldn’t. Tabitha’s words reverberated in her head, and images of Golduck, Seaking, Lanturn and Sharpedo kept on flashing before her in her mind.

    They’re gone.

    She turned away as she felt tears falling hot and fast down her cheeks. She didn’t bother to wipe them away. They couldn’t really be gone. They couldn’t.

    But they are.

    She kept trying to hang on to the belief that they were still close by, that she would find them again. She would, of course she would. She would go to the ends of the world to find them, they knew that. And she was sure they would do the same for her.

    But how? The ocean is so big.

    She grimaced as she tried to hold in sobs. When she found out Seaking was gone, she had hope of finding him again—when she was with Pokemon who could survive in the ocean. Now, it was just her, trying to find four Pokemon in the ocean all on her own. And she was stuck in a Team Magma base as their prisoner, and Derek was no longer around to help her escape. He had tried to, but as soon as she fell behind, he went on without her.

    The ache in her heart was unbearable. She couldn’t stop sniffling. She couldn’t stop crying. She couldn’t stop images of her Pokemon appearing before her mind’s eye. She couldn’t stop going through memories of growing up with Psyduck and living with her parents and sister. She couldn’t do anything. And she was alone.

    An arm wrapped around her and pulled her into a hug. Her face pressed into the shoulder of Tabitha’s red hoodie. He wrapped his other arm around her and leaned his face against her tangled hair.

    “I’m sorry,” he whispered.

    Maressa stood there, loneliness and fear gripping her heart, but finding some comfort in Tabitha’s embrace. How long the two of them stood like that, she didn’t know, but the longer she rested in him, the more at ease she felt. Tabitha held her, letting her spill out her tears and sobs until she eventually calmed down.

    Eventually, Tabitha spoke. “Maressa, join me. I promise, I’ll protect you.”

    Maressa’s gut twisted. She pulled back from Tabitha’s hug and looked up at him. “I can’t.”

    His cool gaze shifted slightly and he looked worried. “Did I do that to you?” he asked, gesturing to the side of her head where Matt had hit her.

    “No, that was Matt,” Maressa said offhandedly.

    Tabitha’s eyes widened. “Your commander did that to you?”

    Maressa’s face turned red and she looked away. She didn’t want to mention the other things Matt tried to do to her.

    “Maressa, don’t go back to that,” Tabitha said pleadingly. “Stay with us. It’s the only protection I can offer you.”

    She and Tabitha gazed evenly at each other. Maressa thought of Golduck—always trying to rescue her, always trying to become stronger. He frantically swam after her as Flygon carried her away; he protected her from Matt every time Matt struck her; he went along with her plan to slowly sabotage Team Aqua from the inside; he tried to protect her from Jirachi when it went tearing through their bases; he fought against Team Magma, the Slateport police—even when he was a Psyduck, he protected her from wild Loudred and Whismur in the Rusturf Tunnel, though there were hundreds of them and only one of him. And when he wasn’t strong enough to fight them all, he evolved—he evolved for Maressa, so she could stay safe. And if he could do all that for her, she could at least try to defend him once.

    “I won’t join you,” she said coolly.

    Tabitha’s gaze hardened.

    “That’s your final answer?”

    “It is.”

    He gazed at her, regretfully and—longingly? Maressa’s heart twinged with unease, but after a few seconds, Tabitha withdrew from their hug and left, closing the door behind him.

    Maressa stood there, staring numbly at the door. She felt so heavy inside. She turned away from the door, and, for the first time, noticed the rest of the room.

    It was a small bedroom. A bed stood against the wall across the doorway. To the left was a small desk. There was a single picture on the desk of a small boy with purple hair holding a Poochyena on his lap. To the left of the desk was a shelf with four black stone tablets. To the right of the bed was a closet, one of the doors hanging open loosely. And after the closet was a closed door. Maressa walked to the shelf, observing the tablets. A name was inscribed onto each one; they all held the same surname.

    Maressa’s head jerked up as Tabitha walked back in the room. His eyes were downcast and he looked perturbed. He noticed Maressa looking at the tablets, and suddenly looked pained and hesitant. His eyes met hers and, for a moment, he just looked at her.

    At last, he spoke. “I just talked to Maxie. You’ll be sent back to Team Aqua tomorrow morning.”

    This seemed odd to Maressa, but she said nothing.

    Tabitha pursed his lips, his eyes darting around the room. At last, he asked, “Do you want to take a shower? You might not get another chance, and what with being outside in the water at all…” He trailed off awkwardly.

    Maressa dropped her eyes to the ground, not actually thinking. She nodded.

    “I’ll get your water running and I’ll try to find you some clothes. I might not be able to find anything other than Team Magma uniforms.”

    Maressa half-shrugged. Tabitha went through the other door, which Maressa realized was a bathroom door, and she heard water turn on. He then walked past her and left his room entirely.

    When Maressa first stepped into the shower, her shoulder wounds screamed with pain. Her skin burned—the water was scalding hot. She made herself stand under the water for a few minutes, enduring the searing pain in her shoulders. Eventually, the pain dulled into a throbbing. Maressa merely stood, no motivation to do anything. Without Tabitha to distract her, she could think only of her Pokemon and of Derek. Of how he looked at her right before he vanished…

    And she was going back to Team Aqua. They knew of her betrayal. She didn’t have any Pokemon to help this time.

    And tears started rolling down her cheeks again and she started sobbing openly again. They were gone, they were gone, they were gone…

    Eventually, her sobs faded. She didn’t think she could produce any more tears. Her throat felt raw, and everything was heavy inside. She turned off the water and grabbed a towel to dry herself off. When she opened the bathroom door, Tabitha was nowhere to be seen, but he left a grey tank top and skirt by the doorway for her. Maressa pulled them on, her shoulders smarting as the fabric rubbed against them. She looked up as she heard the door open. Tabitha walked in, carrying a few bottles.

    He gestured to a chair. “I have something for your shoulders, if you want. Take a seat.”

    Maressa sat down. She was facing away from Tabitha, but heard him mixing different liquids from bottles.

    “Okay,” he said, “this is going to sting, so be ready.” She pulled aside the strap of her tank top so he could apply the medicine. As soon as the cool liquid touched her shoulder, it sparked with pain and she flinched. She clenched her fists, annoyed—and angry.

    “Why are you doing this?” she asked, still facing away from him.

    He paused. “You released your Pokemon.”

    “And?”

    “And I don’t want to hand you over,” he added quietly.

    Maressa sighed. “Why are you with Team Magma?”

    Tabitha hesitated, and Maressa launched into a rant. “Because you say how you ‘don’t want to hand me over,’ but are fine with terrorizing innocent people. And you got angry at Derek for releasing Jirachi, but you captured Jirachi in the first place and now you’re about to awaken another powerful Pokemon!” Maressa jumped out of the chair and stood facing Tabitha, fuming. “And you believe that once you hand me over, Team Aqua is going to be all friendly with you guys and just help you find the Orbs and give you one of them? Not likely! I worked with them, Tabitha, I know what they’re about and they have as much interest in working with Team Magma as they do in working with the police.”

    Tabitha gazed at her patiently while she went on. When Maressa paused for breath, he answered, “There’s a lot you don’t know about our teams.”

    “Maybe not about your team, but—“

    “No,” he cut her off firmly, “Our teams. You’ve only been on Team Aqua for a few months. I’ve been with Team Magma since it was first created six years ago.

    “Take a seat. I’ll explain everything to you.”

    “I’ll stand.”

    Tabitha looked annoyed for a moment. “Fine. The reason why Teams Aqua and Magma exist is to return the state of the world to how it was before humans changed things. To do that, we need Kyogre or Groudon. That’s why we didn’t use Jirachi to expand the land—Maxie wants something that he can have permanent control over. Jirachi is awake for only seven days. Team Aqua wouldn’t have used Jirachi either—and Archie didn’t think it existed.

    “That’s not the only reason,” he said when Maressa was about to speak. “Those are just the basics about Teams Magma and Aqua, what you and some of the team know about. The rest of it,” he said with slight hesitation, “is known only to me, the other admins, and our leaders. And that’s because once either Kyogre or Groudon are summoned—or both—Teams Magma and Aqua will disband and no longer exist.”

    Maressa stared blankly at him, trying to process what he just said.

    “Once either of our teams get the Orbs, that’s it. We win. There’ll be no use for the Teams any longer. The leader who controls the Orbs will decide everything—what the world will look like, how it will work, even who lives and who dies—and whoever has served them has a higher chance of living.”

    “But the world will be wrecked if either of those Pokemon wake up,” Maressa cut in. “Millions of people—if not billions—will die in the initial phase, and how many more will go afterwards from things like starvation?”

    “That was part of the plan from the beginning. We never intended many people to live.”

    Maressa gaped. Tabitha calmly stared back at her. “Why?”

    “They both want the earth restored,” he said simply. “They want it free from the influence that human life has had on it. They want to reduce the human population to its minimal size and let Pokemon populations grow and natural processes to take place without the disruptions humans cause.”

    “Then why don’t they work together?”

    “They did. Originally, they both had the idea to get the Orbs, control both Groudon and Kyogre, and set the world straight from there.”

    “So why don’t—”

    “They realized that they were too similar. They were both too smart, and that presented a threat to the other. What would happen if Archie decided to take both Orbs for himself? Maxie would hardly be able to defend himself if that happened.

    “Not only that, but they found out that Groudon and Kyogre cannot both be awake at the same time without causing massive chaos. This was why humans made the Orbs in the first place—to put them to sleep and make sure they stay that way. And as it’s too dangerous for both Pokemon to awaken, we’ll just have one.

    “Once Maxie and Archie realized it was only safe enough to awaken one Pokemon, they no longer trusted each other. Maxie had always wanted control over Groudon, as he knew that would be the Pokemon to restore the earth. Archie thought the same of Kyogre. They knew that they couldn’t let each other control either Pokemon, and so they went their separate ways with the aim of taking both Orbs and using one to control a Pokemon and keeping the other Orb hidden away. They propagated ideas of saving the earth, gathered bands of followers, and formed the teams that you know today,” he finished simply.

    Maressa stared at Tabitha, feeling sick to her stomach. “That still doesn’t explain why you think Team Aqua will help you.”

    “They will. Archie and Maxie know each other; they’ll work something out. And there are other factors involved—neither Team knows where Kyogre or Groudon are, so we’re both racing to get that information.”

    Maressa’s heart jumped and she averted her eyes guiltily.

    Tabitha noticed. “What is it?”

    “I… I touched the Orbs, and when I did, I could feel the Pokemon and—Tabitha, just don’t do this! Don’t follow through with this! Groudon and Kyogre are too powerful to control. When I touched the Orbs, it was only for a few seconds, but it felt like I could barely remember who I was!”

    Tabitha’s eyes widened. “Maxie is strong—“ he started to say, but Maressa cut across him.

    “Do you actually think this is all a good idea? Tabitha, just looked at what happened with Jirachi!”

    Tabitha cast his eyes downward; he nodded. “Kidnapping Jirachi was a bad idea,” he whispered. “I shouldn’t have done it—I wish I hadn’t…”

    “And after seeing that, you still think you want to kill other people?”

    He looked up at her. There was no anger in his eyes, or shock—Maressa couldn’t make out any reaction in him. Here merely gazed at her, and Maressa gazed desperately at him.

    “Right or wrong, Maressa, Maxie is my leader. I have pledged to serve him, and I will do what he says.”

    Maressa’s heart sank. She could think of no more to say. As she stood there, the weariness of the day caught up to her. Her body was sore and tired. Her shoulders ached and burned. But she knew she would be too anxious to sleep.

    “Make me a promise.”

    Maressa looked up, noticing again how exhausted Tabitha looked. Bags hung under his eyes; his hair was a disheveled mess; his face was starting to show lines Maressa had never noticed before.

    “Promise me that, no matter what, you’ll try to live. Don’t give up,” he added pleadingly, shaking his head. “Live. Please.”

    Maressa cast her eyes down. She thought of Team Aqua—of Matt…

    Her insides felt flipped upside down. She gave a half-shrug and said nothing.

    She heard Tabitha sigh. “I… have stuff to do.” He gestured to his bed. “You can stay there; try to sleep.”

    Maressa shook her head. “I can’t sleep.”

    “Would you like some medicine or something to help?”

    She gave a brief though to it and nodded. Tabitha went into the bathroom and returned with two little white pills in his hand.

    “That should help. I’m… I’m going to get back to work. Let me know if I can get you anything. Otherwise, I’ll come get you in the morning.”

    “Tabitha,” she said as he opened the door. He gazed at her questioningly. “Will you make sure Sarah is okay?”

    He nodded. “I’ll take care of her.” Without another word, he left, closing the door behind him.

    Maressa took the pills with water and lay down on the bed, staring at the door Tabitha left through. And, before sleep took hold of her, she felt more alone than ever before.


    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


    The sun beat down. Maressa wiped sweat from her forehead. Though she wasn’t wearing their hoodie, the grey material of Team Magma’s tank tops and skirts was trapped heat and was stifling. Why they would choose to design their uniforms that way…

    But her mind was barely on her uniform or the weather. She stood in the midst of several Team Magma members, right behind Tabitha. Maxie stood at the forefront of their group, just a few feet ahead of them. Across from him stood Archie with several members from Team Aqua—including Matt and Shelly.

    “So Maxie,” Archie called, “have you got your payment?”

    “I see you, Maressa! Matt called. Maressa gasped when she heard his voice and lowered her head. She did not want to see Matt as long as she could avoid it. “I see you hiding behind those Team Magma members, you traitor! You dirty—“

    He continued to hurl insults at her. Maressa’s insides clenched; she felt like she would be sick from fear. Then she felt someone take her hand—though he was standing in front of her and facing away from her, Tabitha had reached back and held her hand in his own. He gently squeezed her fingers. Finding some comfort, Maressa held on to him.

    Maxie cut off Matt and called out, “We have an agreement, then? A few Team Aqua members and an exchange of Pokemon for the Orbs?”

    The smile faded from Archie’s face. “Agreed,” he said stonily.

    “Tabitha, bring Maressa to them,” Maxie told him.

    Maressa closed her eyes and pursed her lips. She had no dignity, no shame—she didn’t want this. Her heart pounded furiously within her chest and her stomach was doing backflips. She wanted to collapse, to pass out—anything to avoid being awake for whatever was to come.

    Tabitha put his arm around her shoulders and led her forward. Maressa kept her eyes closed as they walked across the grassy ground. When they stopped, Maressa opened her eyes to see Matt glaring down at her, looking disgusted. He grabbed her upper arm and pulled her away from Tabitha—for a moment, it seemed as though Tabitha would not let go. But then his grip slackened and he let Matt push Maressa behind him, into the throng of Team Aqua members. Someone—Maressa didn’t recognize her—immediately tied her hands behind her back.

    Maressa looked over to where Matt and Tabitha stood. The Magma commander hadn’t moved.

    “Is there something you’re waiting for?” Matt asked him. Even though Matt towered over him, Tabitha showed no sign of fear. The look in his eyes chilled Maressa’s bones. She wondered if he was going to hit Matt. But after a moment, he turned around and walked back to his own team, not even sparing Maressa a glance.
     

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