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we'll follow death and all his friends

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Johto and Kanto have always been at war.

Or at least that’s what they say, but Lyra doesn’t believe a speck of it. After all, she’s turning eleven this year, and it hasn’t been forever since she’s seen her father.

Lyra doesn’t remember her father though, doesn’t remember his warm brown eyes or his strong hands that carried her around the house, but her mother does.

Your father was a good man, she tells Lyra, her voice strong and confident and carefully untinged with any sadness, but even at ten, Lyra can still hear it.

Lyra’s father was a good man, her mother had told her, one of the first to volunteer when he’d heard about the war, and one of the first to die. He was a brave soldier, a good man, and that’s why he won an award for bravery - the PokéHeart, proudly displayed in their small living room - and why the army keeps sending them checks.

Why are we fighting? Lyra asks. Why did Dad have to fight at all?

Her mother looks back at her, smiles and says, Your father was a good man.

Lyra doesn’t know what to believe anymore.

 

Lyra is thirteen when the checks stop coming.

It’s that space of time right between spring and summer, when the nights are still cool and the air has yet to turn humid enough to be sticky and uncomfortable. In last week of class, Lyra comes home to her mother quietly sobbing in the kitchen.

Lyra knows her mother cries. Lyra knows her mother cries often, but never lets Lyra see it because her mother wants to be strong for her.

But her mother doesn’t even try to pretend when Lyra walks in.

Mother, mother, what’s wrong? Lyra asks.

Her mother waves her off, handkerchief dabbling away the tear stains in one hand, the other grabbing at the opened letter on the table. Lyra hesitantly retreats to her room.

That night, she sneaks out into the kitchen and finds what her mother’s been hiding.

 

Tell me about father, Lyra asks on the night before the last day of school.

Your father was a good man, her mother says.

Tell me a story, mother, Lyra says.

You’re too old for a story, her mother replies, but tells Lyra about a time when cities weren’t rampaged by destruction and debris, when Sentrets roamed wild and Hoothoots and Pidgeys fluttered across the fields, when sunsets were warm and colorful on the edge of summer - a time before a war that began forever ago.

May, Lyra thinks, used to be a beautiful month.

Good night, her mother says when she turns off Lyra’s lights.

Goodbye, Lyra says, but her mother never hears.

 

Lyra arrives at training camp with two outfits and as much food as she managed to stuff in her backpack that morning. She finds out within an hour that she doesn’t need the clothes anymore - exchanges her bright reds and blues for dull army greys - but it takes her two weeks to figure out that she should’ve forgone the clothes for food anyway, army rations wearing her thin.

I’m Lyra, she says to the enlister in charge of the registration forms, and tells him how she is her father’s daughter.

The enlister stops filling out the forms and looks up at her blankly.

He was one of the first people to serve, one of the first people to die. My father was a good man, she says again when her father’s name doesn’t spark any recognition in the man’s eyes.

A lot of good men have died for this war, he says before turning back to filling out the rest of her forms.

 

On the first night, she gets a hysterical phone call on her PokéGear from her mother.

Where are you? her mother yells, sounding close to tears.

You don’t need to worry about me, mother, Lyra tells her soothingly and smiles even though her mother can’t see her.

If you don’t come back by the end of the week, I never want to see you again, her mother threatens.

Lyra frowns. Don’t be like that, mother. I’m doing what’s best for our family. I’m taking care of you, and I can take care of myself.

Her mother hangs up, but calls back the next night to plead again. And the next night.

But the calls stop coming after a week.

 

Basic training lasts for two weeks. Lyra thinks that they are the longest two weeks of her life. She wakes up exhausted at 0600 hours in the morning, and goes to bed exhausted at 0000 hours at night.

She runs and trips, sprints and falls, rinses and repeats. She learns to do push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups until she can barely keep herself up anymore.

It’s all worth it, though, at the end of the week when she is presented with a check in a modest amount made out to her family.

Lyra’s smile is wider than the sun as she heads to their on-base postal service and mails it back to New Bark Town.

 

At the end of basic, Lyra takes an aptitude test. To see if she’s fit to have a Pokémon companion, they tell her.

Every serviceman used to get a Pokémon, she’s overheard from older soldiers. But now, after an eternity of war, wild Pokémon are rare, Pokémon are hard to breed. They only present Pokémon to those who are capable, who are worthy of having them.

Lyra passes with flying colors, and at the end, is presented with a sweet, cheerful little Marill.

The Marill is sleeping the first time Lyra meets it. This is your partner, Marill, they tell her and Lyra leans in to pat her new companion on the head, smiling. The Marill’s bright eyes pop open as soon she touches it, and it leaps into her arms from the table it was sleeping on.

Lyra gasps and chokes back a sob as it cuddles against her neck. How could she force such a tiny thing to fight?

 

Lyra sees the first familiar face in a month at her Pokémon training course.

Lyra! her school friend Ethan calls out when she walks in the door to the class, and drags her over to where he’s sitting with his partner Cyndaquil and a red-haired boy with a Totodile.

This is Silver, Ethan introduces, and Silver manages to cast her a sideways glance before the instructor ushers all of them into their seats.

What are you doing here? Lyra asks him as they walk out the door, Silver trailing behind them.

Ethan laughs nervously and rubs the back of his head. Everyone has their reasons, he says, and looks back at Silver, who is pointedly ignoring both of them.

What about you, though? he asks. Never thought you’d be the type.

Lyra smiles. She doesn’t understand this, doesn’t understand war or why they’re fighting, but she’s still here. For my mother, she says.

It’s the only thing she’s sure of still.

 

Your partner Pokémon’s objective is to distract. The object of the soldier is to attack, they are instructed. If necessary, the partner Pokémon will play the role of defense in a retreat.

What happens if your partner is injured on the battlefield? someone raises their hand and asks.

Do not retrieve the Pokémon unless if it safe for the soldier. The priority is for the soldier to make it back to safety first. The Pokémon’s safety is second, the instructor replies.

Lyra looks down at Marill who’s leaning back against her chest, and wonders if it can understand the instructor.

What happens to the Pokémon if the soldier is killed in battle? she asks.

The instructor ignores her question.

 

The nights at the end of June of are thick and hot, and Lyra can’t sleep. She’s tired, miserable, but tomorrow, they’re shipping her battalion out to the battlefield, into the middle of the war. The only thing that comforts her is that she won’t be separated from her Marill or Ethan and Silver.

She glances at her clock. It’s 0132 hours, she thinks, and then jolts in shock when she realizes how she now thinks of it that way, instead of as 1:32am. She takes in a shaky breath, slips out of bed as silently as she can so as to not wake Marill or her roommate. In the hallway, she dials her home phone number on her PokéGear.

Her mother’s sleepy, confused voice answers the phone.

Lyra’s chest tightens, and fear and homesickness twists in the pit of her stomach.

She thinks, I miss you and, I want to go home, and I’m scared of dying, but instead, she says, Mother, did you get the checks?

There’s a long pause. When her mother finally speaks, her voice is tight and trembling. Lyra…

Something inside of Lyra breaks. Her eyes widen and she snaps close the PokéGear before either of them can say anything else, turning it off so her mother can’t call her back. Lyra lets out a shaky breath before opening her door again. She crawls back into bed and stares at her clock. 0140 hours. She has to get up in less than five hours.

Lyra turns in her bed and cries herself to sleep.

 

The battlefield is nothing like Lyra expects, and no number of classes or simulations could’ve prepared her for this.

It’s hot, slick, and muddy in the trenches, but even worse by the barricades, where most of the fighting is. Bullets whiz around her head and ricochet against sand, metal, wood, whatever there is to stop it; plow, cling, crunch echoing around her and in her ear.

Lyra holds her rifle, and picks out a partner-less soldier on the other side, instructing Marill to direct a water gun at him. As Marill attacks, Lyra aims to fire at him, but suddenly crashes to the ground.

Rill! Marill shrieks, and Lyra nearly fires into the air.

Lyra pushes Marill off, ready to yell at it, until she notices a bullet hole where she’d been standing less than a second prior.

Marill looks at her, scared, and she carefully pats it on the head in thanks. She won’t let her guard down again.

 

Ethan’s bleeding. Lyra screams and cries and begs, No no no no this can’t be happening it isn’t happening please tell me this isn’t happening this isn’t real, but Ethan’s still bleeding.

Ethan reaches up with a shaky hand to reassure her, but that only sends Lyra into further hysterics.

Move! Silver shoves her aside and bends down to put pressure on Ethan’s wound.

Tears are sliding down Silver’s cheeks as well, but Lyra barely notices, only seeing that Ethan’s eyes are glazing over.

I’ll be okay, Lyra, he says, as Lyra’s uselessly hovering over Silver’s shoulder. Ethan’s Quilava looks to its partner, then crawls into Lyra’s arms to comfort her.

Ethan raises a hand and brushes off the stray tear that’s threatening to spill out of Silver’s left eye. Don’t cry for me, Silver.

Shut up! Silver screams. Shut up shut up shut the fuck up you idiot.

He doesn’t stop screaming until the paramedics arrive.

 

Ethan gets an honorable discharge, a Zephyr Badge for his bravery, and a small monthly pension for the rest of his life.

What he doesn’t get, however, is to walk ever again.

He calls her on her PokéGear as soon as he’s returned to New Bark Town.

Is Silver okay? is the first thing he asks, and Lyra’s chest tightens a little with an emotion she doesn’t recognize. Please take care of him, now that I can’t.

He calls her every day, makes sure she is okay, that Silver is okay. She doesn’t pick up every day, sometimes too exhausted to even hand the phone off to Silver, sometimes still on the battlefield, but she looks forward to it when she can.

How’s Silver doing? Ethan will ask, and Lyra will smile even though he can’t see it, and tell him that Silver is fine, they’re all fine or as fine as people in the middle of warzone could be. What she doesn’t mention though, is how Silver is a little more careless, a little more reckless - almost daring to taunt death - without Ethan around.

I talked to your mother, Ethan tells her one day, and Lyra realizes it’s been weeks since she’s heard from her mother. She misses you.

I miss air conditioning. Lyra laughs, because it too painful to think about anything else.

You should call her, Ethan says.

Did you ask her if she got my checks? Lyra replies.

 

It happens at the end of August.

If Lyra hadn’t left, hadn't joined the war, she would’ve been staring school in a week.

When it happens, at first, an avalanche of thoughts race through Lyra’s mind. Oh no. No no no, it’s too soon too soon. I have more I have to do, more I need to do.

But then, she realizes, the outcome will be the same no matter how long she drags this out.

No! Don’t you dare die. Don’t you dare die and leave me too, you stupid bitch, she hears and sees a blur of red and grey and browns, her vision too hazy to make anything out anymore.

Lyra chokes out a gasp.

She wonders why she isn’t crying. Maybe she’d wasted all her tears on Ethan, on other things already, and doesn’t have any left for herself.

Rill… The flash of blur out of the corner of her eye tries to comfort her, and Lyra manages a shaky smile.

A chant of, Don’t die, don’t die, don’t die, is spilling out of Silver’s mouth now as he tries to stop her bleeding, and Lyra just wants to tell him that she doesn’t mind, that it’ll be okay.

Three months, Lyra thinks, three months is enough for her. Three months of her summer war story is enough, and even if it hadn’t happened today, she doesn’t think she could’ve held on for much longer anyway.

Three months is long enough for Lyra, and she hopes that ten years is long enough for her mother. Because war is death, and war is paid for in blood; but life? Life isn’t paid for in tears or in smiles, but in money, cold hard cash.

And ten years of it is all Lyra can leave to her mother now.

Tell Ethan to take care of my mother, she wants to tell Silver, but instead coughs up blood.

The paramedics will be here soon. Hang on, Lyra, Silver pleads, and Lyra thinks that it’s the first time she’s ever heard him say her name. She looks up at the blur of him, wondering if he’s crying for her too, and notices that the rest of his hair is now blending into the warm evening dusk.

Suddenly, Lyra is swept up with a wind of memories, chilling and comforting in the lingering pre-evening heat, memories of her mother’s determined smile, the smell of her delicious cooking, of her comforting hugs. Then - images of warm brown eyes, her father’s eyes in her own, a pair of strong hands, and a crowd of memories that she never knew she had. Them, three, all together, a family.

August, Lyra thinks, is a beautiful month.