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Innocence

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She's ten years old and she just wants to go to sleep. Her body keeps trying to tell her that darkness is its signal to switch off, and it's always dark now. She wants to shut her eyes and shut out the ugliness. She wants to dream about sunrises and springtimes. That's why she goes with Grovyle. She isn't really sure, at first, whether she can do friendship anymore, not after what happened to… well, everyone. But what he tells her about the powers he thinks she has sounds a lot like how she thinks she remembers dreams being.

They walk the world forever. Friendship happens — inevitably, really — and, initially, not much else. There's no time limit, so they keep walking.

In Treeshroud Forest, it finally comes. Something pulses in her head, and suddenly she's on the ground, and Grovyle is standing over her, calling her name until the sound cuts out and all that's left is the shapes his mouth makes and the panicked flicking of his tongue. Then that cuts out too, and

Sunlight dances on the grass, flitting around the edges of the shifting leaves above. There is something on her skin, something that flicks the hairs on her arms and legs and cools the flesh beneath. She tries to brush it off, but she can't quite touch— wind? That's right, isn't it? And that sound, that steady, that lively-dreamy, that… rhythmic (Rhythmic! She loves that word! It sounds a bit like what she's hearing: rhythmicrhythmicrhythmicrhyth) sound — is that the wind, too, or—?

The Sun also comes through the living green leaves. It lights them up like… like Christmas. And there are smaller ones — new leaves, fresh leaves that will grow — so delicately colored, young-colored, spring-colored — shades that are swallowed up in the darkness of night, shades she had forgotten could exist.

The sound is running water. Out where it empties, a strangely-shaped stone ripples with light. She breathes in the glow of the sun and the glow of the stone, and for the first time in forever it feels right to be awake.

Then she is awake, and it's all wrong again, but that hardly matters. Grovyle is saying something, but she just says, "We found one," and he stops talking. Then she says, "I'm so happy!" And because she can, she repeats it. "I'm happy. I'm actually happy. This is happiness." If she keeps saying it, maybe it will stay a bit longer.

Tens of emotions converge on his face. If she couldn't read him quite so well, she might have missed the envy.

---

She's ten years old and her life is finally starting to take a turn for the better. At least she and Grovyle are now on the right continent; it's still a needle-in-a-haystack search, but she appreciates having a smaller haystack. And they know things now that they used to only be pretty sure about. They know, for example, that the Time Gears really exist, and so does her Dimensional Scream ability. They know that happiness isn't something they just imagined remembering.

Something that isn't exactly time passes, and they find another Time Gear. And another. And another. With practice, her visions become clearer, longer, and more in-depth. Then she sees it: Dialga — not the monster she knows by that name, but the Dialga that once was — explaining to a lapras something called the Hidden Land and something else called the Temporal Tower, and what the Time Gears really are, and all of their roles in holding time together. When she comes to, she tells Grovyle that she still doesn't know exactly what went wrong, but she knows how it could have been prevented.

They head for Dusk Forest. She begins to believe that they are actually going to get away with this. That turns out to be an extraordinarily bad idea; if she'd just been more cautious, she thinks as the sableye surround them, there would be no hopes left to dash, and this wouldn't hurt so much.

"I'm going to clear a path for you," Grovyle says to her, "and then hold them off as long as I can. Get away. Find another partner. I am trusting the fate of the world to you."

"I can't leave you," she tells him. "I'm not that strong."

They stand with their backs pressed together, not for any strategic purpose — the battle is lost before it begins — but because they need the contact. She doesn't know anything about fighting, but she swings her small fists with all the strength she has — pointlessly, since, after all, these are ghosts she's up against, and her blows pass right through them. Their claws, though, are solid enough, and one set tears off a large chunk of flesh right above her left hip. It hurts, and it doesn't stop hurting ever.

---

She's ten years old and wants to know what's really wrong with this world. Because it isn't that time's stopped, exactly. Time is just things happening, and things — mostly bad ones — still happen. But it isn't functioning quite properly. Nothing ever heals. The hole in her side fills up not with blood but with raw, screaming pain. Things that ought to cycle instead just sit and rot like the itty bitty pieces of people piled up beneath her feet that she is trying not to look down at.

She doesn't know why Dusknoir puts on these shows. If she were in his place, she would think them more trouble than they're worth. It would all be so much easier — for Dusknoir, for herself, for everyone — if she and Grovyle had just died where they fell. Maybe, she thinks, not understanding it means that she still has one last shred of innocence.

Many of those watching probably pity her, but if they do they don't say a word about it. The ones making noise hate her and want her to die. It's nothing personal; it's just the only form of entertainment they have. In a better world, they might have been better people. I did it for all of you, she thinks, and feels no anger.

"Don't listen to them," Grovyle tells her. "Listen to me." They're tied to opposite ends of the same pillar, so they can't see each other at all. That almost seems like the cruelest part, but she knows she'll feel differently as soon as she hears him scream. "We did the best we could. We have nothing to regret." He keeps talking, and she keeps listening, though she already knows everything he says, and even knows that he's going to say it. That isn't the point; the point is that they're together.

"We are the luckiest people in this whole forsaken world," she says. He's still speaking, but she can talk and listen at the same time. She wants to be there for him, too. "We had a purpose. We had each other. We knew real happiness, if only for a few brief moments. I don't think any of the people jeering at us have ever been happy in their lives, at least not since everything fell apart forever ago. I think that's more tragic than death, or even failure. I can't ever thank you enough for everything you've given me. Just for you, I promise I won't scream at all, no matter what. You shouldn't have to hear that at a time like this. You can just hear my voice, just like it is now. Isn't it good?"

Between the two of their voices, she can only barely hear Dusknoir give the order. She can only barely hear the horrible, shivering laughter of the advancing sableye. It all seems so simple and easy that she can almost accept it. Then Celebi shows up, and she remembers to be glad for complications.

---

She's ten years old and she is ancient. Celebi asks whether she feels like an elderly woman trapped in a little girl's body, and she explains that it's closer to the other way around. Even the mental part of age is largely physical: chemicals need to be released, certain parts of the brain developed, and if those things aren't there, experience alone cannot compensate. So in many ways she really is just a kid, but she's hurting and she's tired and it doesn't ever stop.

In a different world, she once had a grandmother who passed away in her sleep, and at the wake everyone said how peaceful she looked That was what people called it then: passing away. No one uses that phrase anymore, because in this world death is always violent and never natural. Death is being torn into so many pieces that you can no longer function at all. Some people — people she tries to ignore, but usually can't — are convinced that if no one can be born and no one can grow then no one can die either, and that even in a million parts you're still somehow conscious. And even if that's not true it must hurt while it lasts, like the hole in her side does, but all over. So, no, she doesn't want to die. She just wants to disappear, to shed her body and her memories and everything else that causes her pain, even if that means there's nothing left.

Celebi cocks her head and says, "Don't you know?"

---

She's ten years old and about to go somewhere where that actually means something. "Be careful," she tells Grovyle as they stand before the Passage of Time. "My mind fell to pieces the first time I saw just a glimpse of it, and you haven't had anything to prepare you."

"I look forward to it," he says. "And if I start to go catatonic, you'll be there to snap me out of it." He must actually be at least half serious about that, because she's never known him to be capable of anything more than half a joke.

"What do you think we'll be like, when this is all over?" she asks. "I mean, not us. The people who will be us instead of ourselves. Do you think they'll ever meet?" She still can't really wrap her mind around the concept of someone who has her name and her body and her childhood up to age ten, but almost nothing else in common with her. As much as it seems like the best possible thing, it still scares her, and she doesn't know why.

"I'm sure of it," he says. "You and I were meant to be partners. But you're nervous and you're stalling. Take my hand, and we'll jump on three."

She does. One… Two… And…

---

When their hands come apart, she twists her fingers around his and tries to hold on anyhow. When their fingers come apart, she knows what despair is.

---

Sound of water. Hot sand. Something's wrong. She untangles her tail from her hind legs and—

What.

---

When he meets her again — or, actually, when he realizes that he's met her again — it occurs to him that this is her with her innocence back, and, aside from the skitty body (how did that happen?), it's almost exactly what the version of her in the better world will be like. It's not terrible. It's not even bad. It's just not the person he knew.

They can't synch up like they used to because she isn't suffering anymore and he still is. He refuses to let himself resent her for it. He allows himself to resent her new partner, but only within reason.

The one part of the plan that ever gave him pause was the idea of losing her and Celebi (who left them with a lie, though there's no reason these two children should have to know that). Now that he already has, it's the easiest thing in the world to fall into the Passage through which he's pushing Dusknoir and wait to be undone.

---

She is a very old delcatty and she has had a good, long life — good enough and long enough that she is completely at peace with the reality that there's probably not a lot of it left. But ever since she worked out what exactly it meant for someone to disappear like she almost had, she's felt like there's something she needs to do, once she gets the chance. Now would be that time.

"What do you think?" she asks her partner. "One last journey, farther than we've ever gone before?" Of course he's up for it. He always is.

It takes years to even find a clue. But now they're on the right road, at least, even if it is a long one, and partway down they realize that they are unlikely to make it all the way back. That's all right though; this is important, the most important thing they can do at this late point.

They may be well past their prime, but they're still legendary explorers, so of course they reach their mark. "Hello stranger," she says to the ancient sceptile. "We came half-way around the world to thank you for saving our lives."

He looks them over through clouded eyes and scents the air with his tongue. Deep in her heart, she can feel a miracle coming; she knows he can't possibly remember something that for him never happened, but surely he'll feel, in some indescribable form, the way they once were.

"You're mistaken," is all he says. "We've never met." And just like that, before she can respond, he turns and walks away.

So then... she thinks, stunned. So then… do I follow him? What do I do? How am I supposed to get through? "Wait!" she calls. "We can still meet now!" He ignores her and keeps on walking.

Her partner nudges her shoulder and says, as gently as he can, "Maybe miracles don't happen after all."

She's held onto it for all these years but, at the very last, innocence still breaks.