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Pokemon: Black Awakening

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"Yes, of course, I understand. I will, right away. Thank you."

With the click of the receiver, Nina set the phone down. Heaving a heavy sigh, she store blankly at the phone for a few minutes, her dark hands practically white-knuckling the inanimate object within her grasp. Releasing her hold upon the receiver, her hands rested heavily upon the object while she collected her thoughts, quelling her heart and telling herself that this must be done. It was the right thing to do, the only course of action to take. Although she knew this fact, it didn't make her task any easier.

Giving another sigh, she brushed some of the sun-bleached bangs from her eyes and told herself that it was now or never. Nina had an obligation - and now, so did her daughter. It had to be done, it must be done.

Glancing off to the side table beside the phone, Nina store at the Pokéball resting upon the wooden table. This was it, the object that would cause this life to end, and a new life to begin. After studying it's smooth, glossy surface for a few moments, she took the sphere in her hands and gave a small nod. This was right, it was time. But it didn't make letting go any easier.

Turing on her heel, Nina proceeded to the back door, opening it and stepping outside into the cool, crisp early spring air. The sky was clear and a gentle breeze brushed across the back lawn, rustling the budding leaves in the enclosure. She scanned the area, spotting several of the Dragon-types she tended to milling about, but she didn't see her daughter.

"Tanis!"

Nina's voice cried out, echoing across the empty area. Her voice piqued the interest of the Pokémon going about their daily lives, but she didn't see any other movement from the area beyond. The enclosure Nina maintained was quite large and her daughter could be anywhere right now, even as far as the back woods that surrounded it.

"Tanis!" Nina called out again, hearing her voice echoing loudly. She knew that she was loud enough to be heard from most of the enclosure, and if her daughter didn't hear her, one of the Pokémon would've and would go find her. She looked over in exasperation towards the nearest Pokémon, a Dragonair, who merely gave a small shake of it's head. Nina sighed and put her hands on her hips, wondering where on earth that girl had gotten to.

Nina opened her mouth and called out again: "Tan--"

"Jeez, I heard you the first time!"

Nina closed her mouth and looked off to her right, seeing Tanis approach her with a rather perturbed look on her dark features. Her pants were clamped up above her knees and she wore wet work boots, her long dark brown hair tied tightly back in a pony-tail and was covered in water and soil. Char - her ever-faithful, yet somewhat of a handful Charmander, which had just recently evolved into a Charmeleon last week - was following at her heels, also covered in dirt and looking supremely cross. Well, more then he usually was, that is. His temperament had only gotten worse when he evolved, but Tanis still was able to keep him in line. Usually.

Nina straightened up and looked down at her daughter, who had obviously just broken away from tending to the Pokémon in the enclosure.

"There you are!" Nina exclaimed, crossing her arms over her chest. "Where were you?" Tanis, in typical teenaged fashion - though she was a legal adult now - rolled her eyes dramatically and sighed in exasperation.

"Sorry for not having the speed of an Arcanine, Mom," Tanis muttered her apology half-heartedly, casting her raspberry eyes off to the side. "I was waist-deep in old Hilda's mineral bath," She looked back up after she said this, giving a glare at her mother, "You know, the one we give her every Friday for her arthritis?" While speaking, Tanis made sure to enunciate every word of the phrase.

Under any normal circumstance, Nina would be scolding her daughter for her sass, and was about to open her mouth to do so, but swiftly closed it when she realized. Damn, during the phone call and her own deliberations, she had totally forgotten that it was Friday. Which meant she forgot about the drawing the bath for the old Dragonite was an extremely taxing, very much 2-person job.

"Oh shit, I totally forgot about that!" Nina groaned, putting her face in one of her hands.

Tanis crossed her arms over her chest, clearly un-amused. "Oh, so that's why you left us high-and-dry and Char and I had to do it alone. You 'forgot!'" She snarked with another dramatic roll of her eyes. Char gave a disgruntled huff and crossed his arms as well, donning a pose eerily similar to his mistress. "I bet Char is so thankful that he, a fire type, got to play in the water for a change!" To this, the large, dark-skinned Charmeleon gave an angry snort and a short nod of his head.

Nina gave a sideways, awkward grin down at him, "Sorry, Char. I normally wouldn't leave you hanging, you know that." Char, however, didn't seem impressed, giving a huff of smoke in response.

"Eh, he'll live." Tanis snorted with a grin, only to receive a glare from her companion. She looked down at him and smirked, "He's one tough SOB, I'll give him that!" Char gave a snort of approval at this, followed by another short nod of is head. Looking back up at Nina, Tanis raised a skeptical eyebrow. "So anyway...what's up? It's not like you to up and forget about routine or our Pokémon's needs..."

Brought back to the situation, Nina pursed her lips together, looking beyond Tanis briefly and to the Pokémon wandering about behind her. She spoke in a low, soft voice, "Will Hilda be alright for a bit?" She asked.

Tanis blinked and glanced behind her, "Err, yeah? You know how she is, she tends to soak in the bath for a good hour or two...sometimes we need to go prod her to make sure she doesn't fall asleep." Turning her attention back to Nina, she furrowed her brows together. "...What's going on, Mom? You're acting kind of weird..."

Sighing, Nina returned her attention back to Tanis, "I'll explain. Won't you come inside with me, Tanis? You too, Char." The young woman and her Pokémon glanced at each other, Tanis raising an eyebrow down at him. He looked equally perplexed and shrugged his shoulders. Upon looking back at Nina, she gave a short, apprehensive nod of her head.

With her free hand, Nina gestured towards the back door. Tanis brushed past her and opened the door, entering into the kitchen, Char following close behind her. She quickly deposited her mud-soaked boots on the landing, so as not to track it all over the nice, clean house.

With them inside, Nina closed the door behind them and lead the duo out of the kitchen and into the dining room, signaling with her head for them to take a seat. Tanis took her usual seat beside the head of the table, plopping down rather unceremoniously down into the wooden frame. Char climbed into the chair beside her, careful not to wave his tail too close to the wood, as he always made sure to do. With them seated, Nina sat down at the head of the table, carefully placing the smooth, unused Pokéball in front of her.

Tanis gave a sideways glance down at the Pokéball, but quickly looked back up to her mother. "So...what's this about?" She asked tentatively, shifting a bit in her chair. Char watched quietly, careful not to place his claws on the table and mess up the finish, lest he get kicked out of the house again.

Taking in a slow, deep breath, Nina closed her eyes for a few seconds. When she opened them, she looked over at Tanis with a solemn expression in her eyes. "I have an important announcement for you."

Char gave an excited growl, smirking, but he was quickly swatted by his trainer to tell him to shut up. "Quiet!" She hissed between her pursed lips, which caused him to give a roll of his eyes, crossing his arms. Tanis looked back up to her mother with a bright smile, like this didn't just happen.

"You've had Char now for a few years, and when he was old enough to protect you, I gave you an unofficial trainer's license." Nina continued, giving Char a scolding glance that caused him to instantly stop smirking and straighten up. She gave a small nod of approval when he did this. "You know that it means you're allowed to keep him with you and train him and other Pokémon, but you can't take on a salary or challenge Gym Leaders with that level."

Tanis raised a cautious eyebrow at this. "Uh, yeah? I think I know this already." She shifted more in her chair, leaning over the table as a sign of her agitation. "Why bring that up now...?"

Nina gave a wan smile over at her. "I've decided to upgrade it...to a full trainer's license."

Tanis' jaw hit the table.

Char almost fell forward and almost hit it, but managed to stop himself before he damaged it, grabbing onto his knees instead.

The silence was so thick one could cut it with a knife. Tanis couldn't even formulate words right now; though it wasn't surprising to Nina. What was more surprising that this was happening at all. She never thought the day would come when she would be sending her daughter out on a Pokémon journey. But it was happening right here, right now, and she was almost...excited for it, even if it meant she'd have to let Tanis go. Letting go...yes, this meant it was time to let go...not just of her daughter's life, but of her own past.

Tanis managed to collect her jaw from the floor and continued to stare at her mother in disbelief. "W-wha...what are...y-you saying...?"

"I'm saying it's time for you to move on with your life, sweetheart," Nina responded coolly, "You don't need to be chained to me forev--"

"Not that!!" Tanis abruptly cut her off, putting a hand on the table and rising to her feet, "I mean, giving me a full trainer's license! Me, being a Pokémon Trainer!! This is so not like you!"

Nina sighed and shook her head, "Tanis, I want you to go."

"Why?" Tanis said sharply, plopping back down to her seat. She shot a cool glance over at her taller mother, "Mom, you gave up training after what happened to Dad! I thought you swore it off completely, and hated it after the accident!!"

"Tanis, that happened 14 years ago--"

"You've always told me training brings nothing but pain and suffering to Pokémon! That it brought all sorts of sorrows upon trainers, too!! So why did you suddenly change?" Tanis continued to protest, continued to bring logic into the situation. Nina could only purse her lips together and swallowed the truth, only to come up with the lies.

She gave a sigh, looking down at the Pokéball sitting before her on the table. "I know this seems...sudden, but this is something I have been debating for almost a year now," She raised her hand to silent Tanis' protest, looking up to gaze over at her firey daughter. "But you're young, bright, and brilliant with Char. Most rookie trainers couldn't handle a Pokémon like that. You are my daughter, Tanis, I know you want to do something more then just sit around all day and tend to my Pokémon and my livelihood. You deserve to go out there, seek adventure, and make your own path. I don't want to control what you become because of what has happened in the past."

Tanis slumped in her chair and looked down at her feet. "But Dad--"

"--Would have wanted you to not be chained down by the past and to find your own way," Nina said, clasping her hands together over the wooden table. "I might have given up training because of what happened, because of my grief - but I found my own path, what I truly love doing...breeding and tending to Dragon Pokémon. He would be at peace knowing that. And you won't know what to find in life until you go out there and do something about it."

Tanis looked up at her mother with a distraught, conflicted look. Nina knew that all of her daughter's life, she had believed that training Pokémon was what killed her father, even though it was merely an accident. But, she knew her daughter well, knew that she was antsy and itching to go out...and Char was equally restless. Charmeleon's would eventually evolve into Charizards, and those Pokémon couldn't ever contain their desire for adventure, combat and the search for strength. She gave a small smile over at her.

"Sweetheart, this is what's best for you. I know it's difficult leaving this life, but you are of my blood. Thirst for knowledge, exploration and adventure are second nature to you," She tilted her head to the side before continuing, "I will be fine on my own, I'll find someone to give me a hand. I want you to live, Tanis."

"But...I..." Tanis sighed, looking down at Char, who gave her an expectant look. In fact, he looked about ready to burst from his chair and drag her down the road himself, if it came to it. Just seeing his expression made Nina chuckle, reminded of her own path to adulthood all of those years ago in Johto.

Giving another sigh, Tanis looked up at her mother, but found herself unable to keep the grin down. "Alright, fine! I'll go on a 'Pokémon Journey,' or whatever it's called." She stood up after saying this, placing her hands on the table. "But only because I'm pretty sure Char's about ready to kill something if we don't get out of here soon." She smirked down at Char, who gave an enthusiastic nod of his head, followed by a wide, fangy grin.

"I figured as much," Nina chuckled again, smiling over at her daughter. "I already took the liberty of packing for you, Tanis."

Tanis raised an eyebrow. "Wow, so eager to kick me out, huh?" She muttered sarcastically.

Nina gave a short laugh at this, smirking up at her, "I just figured you'd say yes, so I went ahead and did it for you." She leaned forward and rested her chin in her hands, "Besides, I figured you'd be so excited to leave you'd forget something crucial, like your toothbrush or clean underwear."

"Yeah, yeah..." Tanis muttered, giving another roll of her eyes. Char made a smart snort in response, only to get swatted by his trainer again, giving a huff and a snap of his jaw. "Let me go change out of these work clothes, okay? And, err...what exactly do I do as a real-McCoy trainer, anyway?"

"Well, you'll earn a bi-weekly salary, for starters," Nina informed with a wave of her hand, "Which increases with the level of your registered Pokémon - you register them at the Pokémon Center - and Gym badges. You do need to hand over half of said bi-weekly earnings whenever you're defeated, though. Oh, and you get a registration card," As she said this, Nina withdrew the digital card from her pocket, which was held in a fancy case with the Pokémon League logo on it. "This also holds your gym badges along with your trainer information. You'd need something separate for Pokéballs, but I'll give you some money to buy things like those and potions until you get your first salary payment."

Tanis took the case and examined it, giving a nod of her head before putting it back on the table. "Got it. Anything else before I go change?"

"Mmm, just the rules, but you know those already, right?" Nina said, Tanis giving a nod of her head in response. She went to head upstairs to her bedroom, but Nina held a hand out, "Just a moment though, there is one more thing." Tanis turned back to her and raised an eyebrow, Nina picking the Pokéball off of the table and handing it to her. "I want you to have this."

"A Pokémon?" Tanis muttered, taking the sphere and eyeing it. "I already have one, Char. Why do I need another, since I'm just starting out?" She looked back down at her mother skeptically, Char giving a nod of his head.

Nina smiled knowingly. "Call it...a gift."

Tanis hit the button on the front, which showed an electronic display of the Pokémon inside of it. "Female Dratini with Extreme Speed...I don't recognized the ID attached to it...huh, this doesn't sound like one of yours, Mom..."

"It's not."

"Eh?" Tanis looked back down at the display on the Pokéball, "If it's not yours, where did you get it?"

Nina rested her elbows on the table, raising her hands to her chin. "An interested party." She informed coolly, "But the Dratini is yours, Tanis; it's registered to your name and your trainer ID. Feel free to nick name it, too!"

"Oooookay..." Tanis looked a little leery at the Pokéball, but decided to roll with it. Giving it a gentle toss, the ball hit the ground and released the Dratini...whose color was a little off. Tanis blinked her eyes when she noticed the pale pink-purple coloration in the Pokémon, especially since Dratini were normally a very light blue. "...She's...shiny..." She gasped in surprise, squatting down to the squiggly thing as it looked up at her with curious eyes.

The shiny Dratini gave a happy squeak and slithered over to her, rising up to a taller height to look Tanis in the eye. Tanis gave out a chuckle, holding her hand out for the Pokémon to sniff. The Dratini did so, and upon inspecting the hand nuzzled her cheek against it.

"Wow, she's adorable!" Tanis laughed, petting her on the head. Behind her, Char gave a disgruntled snort. "I think I'll call you Ciela, how does that sound?" The Dratini gave a happy nod in response, still nuzzling her new trainer's hand. "Haha, I need to go change, so I'll be right back, okay?" The newely-dubbed Ciela nodded her head, settling back down on the carpeting, watching Tanis head towards the stairs and go up to her room.

Nina smiled, though there was some sadness in her eyes as she did so. Despite the fact that Tanis would be leaving, Nina wondered what she wound uncover upon her journey, and what path she would take...but she knew one thing for certain:

Her daughter was growing up.



----



Route 1 seemed different now.

Tanis stepped outside of her house, taking in the crisp spring air. Although she had walked this route many times, going between the two towns her mother's house rested between, suddenly it looked and felt different then it had before. It was like she was seeing it, truly, for the first time in her life, despite having spent 13 years in this one house.

It was exhilarating, but also a little frightening.

Turning north and towards Accumula Town, Tanis took her first step in her Pokémon adventure. With Char at her side and her new Pokémon, Ciela, in her arms, she took a deep breath and calmed her nerves.

This was it, the start of her new life. And she wasn't sure what she'd expect.

"This feels...weird," Tanis noted while she walked down the path from her home and towards the main road. Char looked up at her with a quizzical expression, Tanis meeting his gaze. "I don't know, I just never thought that I'd be doing this...I mean, I've traveled to both towns on my own before, but never as a full-blown Pokémon Trainer." She gave a hollow chuckle at this, looking up at the clear blue sky. "I've never even been in a trainer battle before! Sure, fighting wild Pokémon is one thing, but trainers...I have no idea what to do!"

Char gave a dismissing wave of his hand, Tanis rolling her eyes at it, "Of course you think we'll be fine, you arrogant ass," She commented dryly, though received a steely look and a confident nod in response. "No one stands a chance against the Almighty Char, King of all Charmeleons! The world will tremble in terror as they face his firey wrath!" Although she was being utterly sarcastic and a bit melodramatic, Char puffed his chest out and gave a small spit of flame in response, obviously gloating. Tanis groaned in response, looking down at Ciela.

"At least you're pretty sane." She commented under her breath, Ciela tilting her head. If she had arms, Tanis was pretty sure the Dratini would be shrugging right now.

Turning onto the main road, Tanis was about to talk a bit more to her two Pokémon, but stopped when she saw to familiar figures along the path, conversing to each other. Raising an eyebrow, she quickened her pace and fell into line beside them.

The girl, who was blonde and wore a very large green hat, gave a startled gasp and practically tripped over herself in surprise. "T-Tanis! What are you doing here?" She squeaked, causing the black-haired boy she was walking with to look over.

"Walking, of course," Tanis said sarcastically, cocking a grin, "I should be asking you what you guys are doing here, Bianca, Cheren. You know it's not safe without Pokémon on these roads!"

The pair were from the town to the south on Route 1, Nuvema. Although they were a bit younger then Tanis was, she did talk to them fairly frequently whenever she or her mother would head down there to talk to the region's resident Pokémon expert, Professor Juniper. Both of them were fascinated by Pokémon, Bianca in particular always had a thousand questions about training and raising them whenever Tanis would show up. Though they weren't especially close, Tanis knew them well enough by now.

"We do actually have Pokémon now, Tanis," Cheren noted calmly, reaching to his belt and withdrawing a Pokéball from it.

"Yeah!" Bianca chirped, holding her arms out, where she held a Snivy, who looked up at Tanis and Ciela with curiosity. "Professor Juniper asked us to help her with the Pokédex here in Unova! So she gave us some Pokémon to start our own journey! Isn't that right, Vivi?" She nuzzled the grass-type Pokémon with her chin, who let out a happy squeaking noise.

Ciela made some noises over at Bianca's Snivy, who responded back, the two striking up what seemed to be a pleasant conversation. Tanis grinned, "That's great! Mind if we travel together to Accumula Town?" Bianca gave an enthusastic nod of her head.

"Sure!"

"Maybe we'll learn something by watching you battle some wild Pokémon, Tanis," Cheren said with a small nod of his head, replacing the Pokéball on his belt. "Speaking of...that Dratini is new, isn't it? I haven't ever seen one in that color before."

Tanis looked down at Ciela, who was laughing at something Vivi had just said, "Yeah, she is. I got her as a present for starting out on my own Pokémon journey and--"

"What?!" Bianca squeaked, looking up at Tanis with wide eyes, "You're on a Pokémon journey too?!"

Tanis gave a sideways grin, "Err, yeah?"

"I thought your mom was against you training!" Bianca gaped, her eyes still wide, "I-I mean, she never seemed keen on training in-general so...why now?"

"Beats me," Tanis admitted with a shrug her shoulders, "Just out of the blue she said she upgraded my license to a full one, and more-or-less kicked me out of the house." She cocked another grin after saying this, looking down at Char beside her, "Besides, I think any more sitting around would have resulted in Char burning the house down, and we don't want that." Char gave a disgruntled huff at this, crossing his arms. Bianca couldn't help but to giggle.

"That is a little odd," Cheren noted, raising an eyebrow, "I wonder if it's because she wants you to go your own way, now that you're 18."

"Probably," Tanis shrugged again, "But you know my mom. Sometimes she won't give you a straight answer."

"I guess so--oh look, a wild Pokémon!" Bianca stopped mid-sentence, pointing as a Lillipup came out from the tall grass, sniffing the dirt road. "Ohmygosh, it's so cute!"

"Why don't you try catching it?" Cheren suggested, looking down at his friend. Bianca gave an enthusiastic nod, hurrying over to the dog-like Pokémon and placing Vivi on the ground.

While she challenged the Pokémon, Char gave a small huff of dissatisfaction. Tanis glanced down at him and quirked an eyebrow. "Bored already?" He rolled his eyes and looked up at her and grumbled to himself. "We'll have plenty of time to test your oh so high-and-mighty powers, Char. Let them have some fun, too." Char groaned and popped his neck. Ciela gave a small sigh and squiggled out of Tanis' arms, curling up at her feet.

"So, have you guys fought many wild Pokémon?" Tanis changed the subject, looking over at Cheren.

"A few here-and-there, but you know this route is pretty quiet." He noted, crossing his arms, watching Bianca chuck a Pokéball at the Lillipup. "I think things get a bit more intense the further we go, right?"

Tanis gave a shrug, "I haven't really been very far from Accumula Town, but Pokémon get stronger and tougher the further you go into Unova. So I hear, at least." She noted. Bianca gave a jump into the air and whooped loudly, scurrying over to the Pokéball and grasping it. Excitedly, she returned to her two friends.

"I caught it! My first wild Pokémon!! I'm so excited!" She cheered, hugging the Pokéball to her chest. She then reached down and scooped up Vivi and also hugged it. "Great job, Vivi!" The Snivy gave a contented coo and grinned.

"Awesome, congrads," Tanis said with a grin. "We should probably get to Accumula and rest at the Pokémon Center soon." Bianca gave a nod of her head and put the new Pokéball at her waist. Cheren gave a nod of approval as well, the trio continuing up the road.



---



After conversing and traveling into the late-afternoon, as well as encountering some other wild Pokémon, the trio finally entered into the town. Considering how close her mother's home was to the town, Tanis visited it often for supplies and other things, such as school, it felt like coming home just as much as going to her actual home. Tanis directed the two new trainers to the Pokémon Center, as she didn't need it considering neither Char nor Ciela had done any fighting. She had to let the other two have a crack at it, right?

Once their Pokémon were healed, Bianca and Cheren came back outside, Bianca releasing her new Lillipup to walk with her - who she had nick-named Terry - they went to hit the road again.

"I haven't ever been here before!" Bianca chirped excitedly, looking at the staircase that lead to the upper portion of the city. "This is so exciting!"

"There's no gym here, though," Cheren said dryly, eyeing the surroundings. Bianca made a face at him when he said this, but didn't respond otherwise to it. He merely gave a shrug of his shoulders, "I think we should move on, maybe get some training--" He stopped when he noticed a crowd gathered in the center square. "Huh, what's that?"

He pointed towards the gathering of people, who were looking about and whispering amongst each other. Tanis raised a skeptical eyebrow, marching forward and towards them. Beyond the group of people gathered, a bunch of men and women wearing strange white outfits had gathered on a hill, surrounding an older man with pale green hair, who wore an elaborate robe of sorts. He appeared to be giving some kind of a speech.

"-- Pokémon liberation!" He exclaimed loudly, waving his left hand about dramatically, causing the crowd to hush and look at him. "I know some of you like to believe that you live in harmony with your Pokémon partners, but how do they truly feel? Is it really their ideal way of living, to be confined into Pokéballs and be forced to battle each other for our amusement? Have you even considered that, perhaps, this is our truth we force upon them because we do not care to listen?"

The crowd began to whisper amongst themselves at this point. Tanis exchanged a glance with Char, who shrugged his shoulders at this. Cheren leaned over to Tanis and whispered to her.

"Do you have any idea who that guy is?" He asked, as she had been to the town many times before.

"Never seen the raving lunatic before in my life," Tanis responded under her breath, returning her gaze back up at the green-haired man.

"Now, ladies and gentlemen, let me ask you: would you like to be subjugated to be crammed inside little Pokéballs or be forced to battle for the enjoyment of others? I'm sure you all are thinking 'no, of course not!'" The man continued dramatically, "It is no different for Pokémon! They will never be able to achieve their perfection while confined or forced to bow down to our beck and call! So we, Team Plasma, are working towards the goal of liberating all Pokémon so that they may achieve this perfection! Then, and only then, will we humans and Pokémon truly be equals." His eyes swept the crowd, who were beginning to whisper more amongst themselves. "I end today to implore you to consider your relationship with your Pokémon, and the correct way to proceed. We sincerely appreciate your attention." He gave a small bow and backed up into the sea of the weird-costumed men and women, they walking off and heading towards Route 2.

People began to whisper in dissent about the display. Bianca looked nervously over at Tanis and Cheren.

"I-is what he saying true...? Are we really that cruel to our Pokémon?" She asked in a low voice, looking over at her two companions.

Tanis gave a shake of her head, "Don't listen to them. There's always been outspoken people against training Pokémon, they don't realize that they're as much your companions as they're your friends. Giving them up is like giving up part of you," She encouraged, placing a steady hand on Bianca's shoulder.

"Do you really believe that's true?"

The trio looked up to see the crowds disbursing, leaving behind a young man with long, pale green hair and a baseball cap. He approached them, his hands in his pockets and standing before them. Tanis slowly blinked and quirked her eyebrow up again.

"Do your Pokémon think that they're your friends and would feel lost if you released them?" He asked again in a strange accent, though he spoke so fast it was difficult to make out what he was saying.

"Whoa, slow down there, buddy," Cheren said, "You're talking too fast!"

"Am I?" The young man asked, a bit slower then before.

"Err, yeah..." Tanis glanced down at her Pokémon again, then looked back up, "Look, you probably shouldn't listen to what those creeps were saying. They're obviously a few bricks short of a shithouse, if you get what I'm saying." When she said this, the young man raised his brows and blinked in confusion a few times, but didn't respond otherwise. She gestured down towards Char and Ciela, "My Pokémon are my friends, and some raving lunatics aren't going to change how I feel about that." Char slid defensively in front of her, obviously not liking this stranger one bit.

"Is that so? You have quite strong beliefs, don't you?" The young man questioned, though he still spoke rather quickly. "We'll see how they feel in time." Giving a small incline of his head, he turned on his heel and proceeded towards the exit of the town.

Tanis breathed out a ragged breath, "What the hell was up with that guy?" She muttered, more to herself then to anyone else.

"Must be taking what those goons said a bit seriously," Cheren sighed, scratching his head, "Though it's a bit hard to understand what he's saying..."

"What if they're right, though?" Bianca asked tentatively, looking a bit uncomfortable about the situation. "What if we're being cruel to Pokémon and not even realizing it?"

Tanis sighed, "While battling them can be cruel, can you honestly imagine a life without Pokémon beside you?" She asked, looking over at Bianca, "They help us with our lives and we form strong connections with them. My whole life has been shaped by them, and just ask your own Pokémon...would they rather be by you or on their own?"

Bianca looked down at her two Pokémon. Vivi came up to her and shook her head, confirming that she would rather be with Bianca at this point. Although she didn't know Terry long, the Lillipup still remained close to her, giving a yip in response. Smiling, Bianca bent down and gave them both hugs, sighing.

"Y-You're right! I can't imagine being without them." She admitted, kissing both of their heads. "I won't listen to those guys anymore!"

"That's the spirit," Tanis said with a thumbs up, grinning. "But I get the feeling that this won't be the last time we see this 'Team Plasma.'"

"Agreed, but I don't think they're much of a threat," Cheren added, giving a short nod of his head, "They're probably like the others you've mentioned, though it seems...odd they've formed a group."

Tanis shrugged, "Eh, whatever. No use worrying about them now, I really doubt they'll be doing much to 'liberate' Pokémon as they say." She turned on her heel, "Anyway, let's move on! I'm curious to see what the world has to offer us!"

Bianca grinned. "Yeah! Let's go!"

The trio headed towards Route 2, pressing forward to their adventure.

And for the first time, it felt like the world was waiting for them.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

"Ciela, use Twister!"

The shiny Dratini opened her mouth and released a torrent of energy that swirled around the enemy Lillipup, causing the offending Pokémon to give out a cry when it fainted. With his final Pokémon defeated, the youngster stood before Tanis with his eyes wide and his mouth hanging agape.

"I...I-I can't...I don't...I don't believe it...!" He stuttered, surprised at his rather stunning defeat.

"Hey, you're the one who challenged me, the girl with a Dragon-type and a Charmeleon." Tanis reminded the boy, giving a half-smirk over at him. She knelt down to Ciela and gave her a few pets on the head, "Good job, girl!" She encouraged, causing the Dratini to coo happily in response.

However, the charm was broken when the youngster pointed dramatically at Tanis. "Don't bring logic into this!! I've never been defeated like this before!" He wailed, glaring down at her.

Tanis gave a roll of her eyes, standing back up, "I defeated you fair and square." She commented, placing her hands on her hips. Char slid in front of her, glaring threateningly over at the defiant youngster. Tanis cleared her throat pointedly at the Charmeleon, who looked back to her with a 'what?!' expression on his face. His trainer gave a short shake of her head, causing him to snort and cross his arms. Returning her attention back at the defeated boy, Tanis met his gaze. "You might not have been defeated before, but rules are rules." She paused and tilted her head, "Unless, of course, you want to be reported to the League...?"

"UGH, fine!!" The boy snapped, giving a dramatic flail of his arms above his head. With a grunt, he reached into the pockets of his shorts and withdrew a fistful of credits, stalking over to Tanis and stuffing them into her hands. "...Stupid, freaking dragon and their freaking powers..." He muttered disdainfully to himself, turning on his heel and sulking towards Striaton City.

"Thanks, buddy." Tanis snarked, feeling almost sorry for the little shit...almost. She pocketed her prize money while she spoke.

The boy obviously overheard this, whirling around, "I'm not your buddy!!" He cried, his voice cracking, shooting Tanis a final glare before going back down the path. Yep...there went all of Tanis' sympathy, raising her eyebrows at the rather dramatic display."

"Someone's a sore loser," Cheren commented, watching the youngster disappear into the woods. Cheren gave a shake of his head, "He could have challenged any one of us, yet he chooses the oldest one and the one who obviously has a dragon-type with her.

"Eh, I warned him, but some people are overly-confident..." Tanis gave a shrug of her shoulders, "They think they rule the world, and get awfully cheesed off when someone proves them wrong."

Bianca giggled, "Sounds like you have some experience with people like that!"

"Not especially," Tanis admitted, putting her hands into the pockets of her pants, continuing down the path with her two human companions.

"Aww, but you're so cool!" Bianca gushed, looking up at the older girl with bright eyes, "You really know a lot about the world and about training, Tanis!"

"Just from observation and books, actually," Tanis said with a sideways grin, looking at the blonde girl out of the corner of her eye, "I'm no more experienced in trainer battles then the two of you are."

"You still know a lot more then I do!" Bianca continued, "I really hope to learn a lot!"

Tanis gave a short laugh at this, "You already are, Bianca! You're going to learn more as we go along." Bianca smiled brightly and nodded her head enthusiastically.

Cheren showed a rare grin, "I hope to test myself against you soon, Tanis," He offered, his eyes sparkling, showing his anxiousness to try his luck against her.

"Depends on how 'soon' you want it to be," Tanis looked over at Cheren, grinning, "We're all pretty pooped, both trainer and Pokémon alike! Maybe after we make it to Striaton City and we rest? Sound like a deal?" She stuck her hand out towards him, meeting his steely gaze.

"Sounds good to me." Cheren said with surprising enthusiasm, taking her hand and giving it a firm shake. Tanis gave a short chuckle and a nod, releasing his hand, the group heading back down the path.

The trio had been on Route 2 for the past few days, taking the time to train their Pokémon and explore a bit. Tanis had rarely gone out this direction, and with no time constraints she could walk at her leisure; both Bianca and Cheren seemed to be enjoying the extra time they were taking. Both of the younger trainers had gained some skill in battle, against wild Pokémon and rival trainers alike. They each had two Pokémon a pop, Cheren having recently captured a Purrloin.

It was interesting seeing their battle styles, and how they worked with their Pokémon. Although Cheren opted to keep his Pokémon within their Pokéballs, he still seemed to show affection towards them, though it was different then how Tanis or Bianca showed theirs. Bianca swapped between her two Pokémon being out with her, depending on who she wanted to carry or cuddle with at the time. Plus, her Terry had a tendency to wander off easily, so it was wiser for her to keep him contained. Meanwhile, Tanis liked both of her Pokémon out, though she did sometimes carry Ciela, as she didn't move especially fast, considering she didn't have any feet.

Tanis had noticed keeping her Pokémon out of their balls had caused several trainers to pass over her, opting to battle either Bianca or Cheren along the route. After all, Charmander's didn't evolve until higher levels, which were generally above the local wild Pokémon roaming the route. Plus, she had a Dratini, and a lot of people knew how though dragons were. The route was also rife with rookie trainers, and many of them probably wouldn't have ice-or-dragon types either. Along the way, she had learned that so far, trainer battles weren't too much different then against wild Pokémon, only a bit more challenging. There was something...exciting, or thrilling, about people whose tactics weren't as predictable.

Maybe this whole training thing wouldn't be so bad after all...

"Look! Striaton City!" Bianca chirped, pointing ahead of them and pulling Tanis from her thoughts. "We made it!"

The group hurried up the wooded path and entered into the city. Bianca gaped in wonder at the city, which was quite a bit larger then Nuvema and Accumula towns were. Even Cheren seemed a bit impressed by the size. Tanis hadn't ever gone this far before, taking in the view of the old town houses and the people milling about. Bianca hurried on ahead of them, gazing at the buildings, and it wasn't long before Tanis found herself lagging behind. The new area fascinated her and while she wanted a warm bed and warm food more then anything right now, her thirst for adventure was getting the better of her.

It wasn't until Char tugged on her pants that she was pulled out of her daze, looking down at him but movement caught her eye, looking back up.

Tanis blinked her eyes a few times. That green-haired guy from Accumula Town was approaching her, his grey-blue eyes looking right into hers. Tanis glanced down at Char who was tense and defensive again, like something about this guy irked him. Upon looking back up, the young man stopped before her.

"Err, can I help you?" Tanis asked tentatively, wondering where he came from and why he seemed intent on talking to her.

He paused for a moment, silently studying her, before he spoke, "We never got properly introduced, did we?" Once again, he talked rather quickly, but she had an easier time understating him then Cheren did.

Quirking an eyebrow, she shook her head, "No, not really. I'm Tanis." She held her hand out to him, but he store at it with a confused expression.

"My name is N," He said, hesitating before taking her hand and giving it an awkward shake; hadn't this guy ever shaken hands before, or was he a weird germaphobe? Either way, Tanis gave it a more firm shake before releasing it.

"N? Just N?" She said sarcastically, wondering who in their right mind would actually name someone simply 'N.'

He shrugged, "It's short for my full name, which is really too long and a bit of a mouthful. I prefer to just be called N."

Tanis chuckled, "Hah, fair enough." She stuck her hands in her pockets, "Anyway, what can I do for you?"

N looked down at Char and then Ciela briefly, Char tensing up upon the fast-talking humans gaze fell upon him. "I am...a trainer, like you are. Your Pokémon...they seem to be very attached to you. I wonder why this is?"

"Well, I raised ol' Char here from an egg. My mom likes to say we're thick as thieves, the two of us." Tanis explained, grinning down at her Pokémon, despite the fact that he still seemed rather focused and defensive right now. "We got into a lot of trouble back in the days, didn't we?" She nudged him with her foot, but he didn't respond to it. Raising an eyebrow, Tanis laughed awkwardly and looked back over at N, "Sorry, he usually doesn't have a stick up his butt. He's a little...protective of me, I guess?"

"I see," N responded, glancing back down at Char, "I would say he is a bit more then a little protective" He paused briefly, looking back up at Tanis, "...And what of your other friend?"

"Oh, Ciela? I just got her a few days ago," Tanis looked back down at Ciela, missing the fact that N addressed her as a 'friend' and not a Pokémon. "She's really sweet and a nice balance against Char's firey personality!"

"Interesting," N looked over to Ciela, who was a bit confused about why Char was so upset right now. "I am curious, why do you travel with them outside of their Pokéballs?" He lifted his eyes from the two Pokémon at her side and back over to her.

Tanis blinked a few times, glancing down at them, "I, uh...I-I'm not really sure. It just feels better to have them out and with me then confined into Pokéballs." She looked back up at N, wondering what the hell was up with the 20 questions

"That is...very surprising to hear. But I am glad for it," N said with a small smile. He looked almost relieved to hear it, actually. Tanis quirked an eyebrow and crossed her arms. Was this normal for people to ask this many questions of someone they didn't really know? "I can't ever help but to wonder if capturing and battling Pokémon really make them happy..."

"Oookay..." What the heck was up with this guy? He seemed nice enough, but he was a little...kooky. Probably got dropped on his head a few times as a kid.

"Tanis, I want to hear your Pokémon's voices." The abrupt phrase took her aback, looking over at N with a startled expression, "I want to test their will in battle!"

Tanis was shocked by this sudden segue and wondered what this guy was on...or if he was actually this weird. Still, he didn't seem like a bad guy, even if he was a bit nutty. But hey, she wasn't about to turn a battle down! "Alright, you're on!"

N gave an approving nod of his head. Without drawing any Pokéballs from his waist, a Purrloin appeared at his side, jumping in front of him. Odd, Tanis didn't remember seeing it with him before...

She didn't even need to say anything, as Char took precedence over her orders, marching forward, his eyes narrowed dangerously. "...Alright, then..." She said more to herself then to him, the Charmeleon giving a snort and squaring off with the Purrloin. Tanis turned her attention back up to N, who had his cautious gaze trained on her.

"Scratch."

"Scratch it, too!"

The two Pokémon burst forward upon their trainer's command, the Purrloin extending it's claws and raking them towards the much larger Charmeleon. Char reached out and grabbed a hold of the claws coming towards him, knocking the cat-like Pokémon aside while lashing out with his own claws, hitting it square in the face. The creature shrieked and rolled off to the side.

After rolling a few times, the Purrloin managed to right itself, dragging it's claws into the concrete below. It gave a few quick shakes it's head a few times before re-focusing it's attention back on Char. "Char, use Ember!" Tanis shouted, to which he rose up fully and took in a deep breath. Opening his mouth, he released a burst of flame that rocketed towards the Purrloin. His opponent braced itself for impact.

N visibly flinched when the attack hit, which caused smoke and flickers of flame to burst out from the Pokémon. When the smoke cleared, his Purrloin stood there singed and weakened, but it was still conscious. The cat-like Pokémon staggered to it's feet, shaking it's head and giving a defiant meow.

"No, you've done enough my friend," N said softly to the creature, looking down at it with pity in his pale eyes. The Purrloin looked up at him pathetically, N giving a affectionate smile. "You've done well. I'm glad to have worked with you." The Pokémon gave a solemn nod of it's head and a sad meow, slinking off.

Char, despite being weakened from the road, still crossed his arms and gave a confident nod, snorting out some flame from his nose. Tanis put her hands on her hips.

"Is that all?" She asked, meeting the steely gaze of N, who gave a small incline of his head.

Another Pokémon - this time a Patrat - appeared out of nowhere, much like the Purrloin had. Tanis wondered where the hell they were coming from, and noticed that the Purrloin was now missing. Odd...they must be coming from the crowds, which had begun to gather and watch during her battle with N.

Char took another step forward, but Tanis stopped him, "Not now," She informed in a cool voice. Char turned his head over his shoulder and opened his mouth to protest, but stopped when he saw his trainer's eyes harden. Snorting, he waved one of his hands in defeat and took his place next to her.

"Alright, Ciela, you're up!" The odd-colored Dratini gave an affirmative sound, slithering towards the Patrat that was before her.

N crossed his arms, "Use Bide." The Patrat gave a slow nod of it's head, spreading it's legs into a solid stance, and planting them firmly in place. It braced itself for impact, but didn't make a move otherwise. Tanis hadn't ever seen this move before, and as such she didn't know what it did, merely raising her brows in response.

"Use leer!" She ordered Ciela, who store intently at the Patrat, causing it to flinch slightly and drop it's defenses. Still, it didn't move, remaining perfectly still and retaining it's bracing stance. What the heck was going on? "Uh..." Ciela looked back at her trainer with a similar perplexed expression, shaking her head. Tanis reached up and scratched the back of her head. She looked back over at N, who remained as impassive as his Pokémon was.

"Err...use...Twister, I guess...?" She suggested awkwardly, unsure of what was going on. Ciela gave a nod of her head and released a cyclone of energy from her mouth that rammed into the Patrat. It wasn't strong enough to down it, though, the Pokémon still standing firmly, despite being near-defeated.

N uncrossed his arms and gave a small nod of his head. "Unleash the energy."

Tanis raised an eyebrow, "Unleash the energy? What does tha--" She stopped in mid-sentence when the Patrat thrust it's arms outwards, releasing a massive torrent of energy out from it's small body, crashing into Ciela. The Dratini gave a cry of pain and was easily knocked aside from the blast, returning to her Pokéball just as quickly as the attack hit her.

Tanis' jaw fell open.

The crowds were cheering over the impressive display, N keeping his cool focus on her. It took a few moments for Tanis to pick her jaw up off of the floor, "Th-the hell just happened...?!" She gaped, totally baffled at this new move she hadn't ever seen before.

"It's called Bide," N explained, his voice as cool as his expression, "A Pokémon bides it's time, absorbing energy from attacks thrown at it then unleashes it in one giant burst, greatly amplifying the energy stored."

Tanis felt a little miffed she was beaten by such superior strategy, as well as Ciela being defeated so easily by it. Then again, she had only battled against a few young and run-of-the-mill trainers...at first, she thought N might have been like that with how he handled his Purrloin, but now...it was pretty clear he was no average trainer. She would have to just swallow her pride and finish the battle with Char. She was about to open her mouth to inform him to step back up, but N shook his head before she could talk.

"I have seen and heard enough." He informed in a soft voice, smiling warmly down at the Patrat. "Thank you for your assistance, my friend. It was a very good battle." The Pokémon gave a happy squeak and hurried off, once again disappearing somewhere. Tanis blinked her eyes in confusion.

"You're...giving up...?" She asked.

N turned back to her and gave a nod of his head. "I wanted to test your Pokémon," He informed simply, stuffing his hands into his pockets. "What I have experienced here is a good measure of your character, thank you. It was a good battle." Those surrounding them clapped and began to disburse, N walking closer to Tanis. Char, once again, got rather defensive in front of her, but Tanis mostly ignored him. "Your Pokémon, they...seem to care for you very much. I never expected that from a trainer..."

"Eh? That's kind of odd for you to say," Tanis scratched the back of her head, feeling a little confused by that statement, "I know a lot of trainers love their Pokémon, and vice-versa. Why do you think it would be otherwise?" She cocked a smirk after saying this, adding, "Reading too many stories about Team Rocket, huh?" Her side comment only caused N to look at her with a baffled expression, obviously he hadn't heard of them. Weird, she was sure everyone had heard about those guys... "Err, never mind..." She laughed awkwardly.

"So...Pokémon are your friends, too?" N ignored her comment, tilting his head to the side. Tanis gave a nod of her head.

"Yeah."

"I'm glad to hear it." N said with a smile, "They're my friends, but I feel like containing them in Pokéballs is wrong...that they can't gain perfection by being contained." He looked off beyond her momentarily, before returning his gaze back to her.

"I agree, it is kind of cruel but...I can't imagine life without them." Tanis offered up, finding herself grinning too.

"I will find a way to protect them. I have to change the world so that they can be free..." N said softly, meeting her gaze momentarily, giving a brief smile and turning on his heel. "We'll meet again." He offered, giving a small wave of his hand.

Tanis stood there for a few moments, watching him go. "What a weird guy..." She found herself muttering, scratching the back of her head.



---



After catching up with Bianca and Cheren at the Pokémon Center and the trio had their Pokémon healed, they headed back out into the city. Cheren decided to go check out the Gym there, while Bianca was curious to explore and look into the place called the "Dreamyard" off to the east of the city. Apparently, it was an abandoned warehouse that Pokémon now dwelled in, and was a popular place for trainers to go.

"I think I'll go with you, Bianca," Tanis suggested when Cheren broke off to find the gym. Bianca smiled brightly at her, holding Vivi in her arms.

"Really? That's great! I could use some company." The girl chirped, walking beside the older girl.

"It sounds interesting," Tanis said, looking down at Bianca, flashing a sideways grin. Although she was curious about the place, she more wanted to test herself against a few more trainers. After what happened with N earlier, she wasn't so confident about facing an actual Gym Leader, as they were specifically trained to be challenging. Tanis needed to be sure she knew enough about Pokémon and moves before she would attempt the Gym. Bianca seemed somewhat oblivious to her companion's motives, though.

"So...where were you when we entered into the city?" Bianca asked with a tilt of her head.

Tanis blinked and looked down at her, "Oh, sorry...I ran into a trainer named N."

"N? That's kind of a weird name!" Bianca giggled, reflecting Tanis' thoughts exactly.

"He's kind of a weird guy," Tanis looked ahead of them again, the pair turning a corner and heading towards the Dreamyard. "A little odd, but he seemed nice enough. Really seems to care about Pokémon, too."

"Did you win?" Bianca asked, placing Vivi down beside her, just in case they ran into any wild Pokémon in the abandoned lot.

"I...guess so?" Tanis shrugged her shoulders, "He actually was a lot more skilled then the other trainers we've faced, and while he managed to knock Ciela out, he forfeited the match directly afterwards." Ciela, who was slithering along behind Tanis, gave a sad sigh. Tanis looked back at her and gave a reassuring smile, which said that she didn't blame the Dratini for the loss.

It was Bianca's turn to look skeptical. "Really? That's so weird!" Tanis chuckled.

"That's what I said! He's a bit of a weird-o. But, he seemed confident we'd meet again...I plan to make it a different experience by then." She found herself grinning at this, putting her hands on her hips. "Anyway, it looks like we're here!"

"Wowie!" Bianca gasped, looking at the large, abandoned, ruined building before them. The walls and roof were crumbling down, with vines and moss climbing up the remaining pieces of architecture. Long brush and grass grew around it, with a few trees here and there sticking up out of the ground. "I-I sure hope there aren't any ghosts around!"

Tanis laughed, "It sure does look like it would be haunted, wouldn't it?" She smirked down at Bianca, "Don't worry, if we run across any ghosts, I'll be sure to protect you!"

Bianca couldn't help the giggle that followed, "You sure are tough, Tanis!" She turned on her heel and smiled, "Let's go explore! I wonder what we'll find in there!"

The pair proceeded inside the ruined warehouse, encountering a few trainers there and battling them. Some wild Pokémon were lurking about as well, but nothing strange or out of the ordinary. But they began to hear some trainers talk about a Pokémon that could be seen in the yard known as Munna, who had the ability to create mist that would allow it to see into other's dreams, or for humans to see into other people's dreams.

"Wowie, Pokémon sure are amazing!" Bianca sighed, after walking a bit with Tanis after hearing about the Munna that roamed the Dreamyard. "I wonder what it'll see if it looked at our dreams..." Tanis merely shrugged at this, Bianca looking over to her and blinking, "Do you have a dream, Tanis?"

"Eh...I don't know," Tanis admitted, glancing back down at Bianca briefly before focusing her attention in front of her. "I've always been around helping my mom out back home, and I really didn't know what I wanted to do with myself. I was there because I thought that's what I wanted...but now, being out here in the world, I'm not so sure..."

"Hmm...well, I guess that makes sense..." Bianca noted with a thoughtful tap to her chin, "I really hope you find what you're looking for out here, Tanis!" She smiled brightly up at the taller girl, who returned the grin. "Me, I really want to find a place where I belong...I'm hoping to find it on my journey, too!"

"That's a noble cause," Tanis said with a wider grin, "I hope you find it, too!"

"Yeah!" Bianca chirped, giving an enthusiastic nod of her head. "Maybe if we keep looking in here, we can--"

Her voice caught in her throat when they heard a high-pitched cry of a Pokémon. Bianca and Tanis looked at each other as if to ask if they both heard that shriek, but from their expressions they could tell what the answer was right away. Tanis looked forward and furrowed her brows together.

"Come on, it was this way!" She gestured with her hand and sprinted off in the direction of the cry, her Pokémon and Bianca following after her. Dashing around corners and through tall overgrowth, they hard the cry again, this time much closer. Tanis found herself focused and glaring, turning a corner and spotting a small, floating pink Pokémon in front of her...

"Team Plasma...?!" She hissed, grabbing Bianca when she turned around the corner and stopping her.

"Give it up!" One of the grunts hissed, grabbing the floating Pokémon and shaking it. It gave a cry again, managing to squirm from his grasp. "We're not going to leave you alone until you give us the Dream Mist!" The Pokémon cried sadly and tried to float away, only to be stopped by another Plasma goon.

"Oh no you don't!" She barked, punching it in the face and causing it to cry out again, falling to the ground. "You give us the Dream Mist you little punk, or you're going to be in for it!"

The Pokémon cried weakly, looking up at the two Plasma grunts with pleading eyes, filled with tears. The two goons loomed over it, glaring dangerously down at the poor creature, their arms crossed and standing impassively. The male one scoffed and rolled his eyes, drawing his foot back to kick the poor thing.

"What the hell are you doing?!" Tanis shouted, marching forward with her fists clenched. The two grunts gasped and turned towards her, seeing the young woman flanked by her two Pokémon. "You quit whatever you're doing, you little shits, or you're going to have to answer to me!"

"Oh, look at that! Some hot-shot wanna-be trainer!" The male grunt snarked, giving a roll of his eyes, "You're not going to stop us from achieving our goals!"

"Yeah!" The female added, equally unimpressed with Tanis' bolstering display, putting her hands on her hips, "Once we get the Dream Mist, we'll force everyone to see our dream - liberation for Pokémon!"

Tanis gritted her teeth, "You talk about freeing Pokémon from us, and yet you beat up one of them to get what you want!" She shouted angrily, pointing dramatically at them, "You're nothing but hypocritical assholes!"

"Tch," The male grunt scoffed, crossing his arms, "You have no idea who you're messing with! Let's teach this pathetic trainer who we are!"

"Ready and willing!" The other said with a cocky smirk, grasping the Pokéballs at her waist.

"Bring it on! I'll teach you both a lesson!" Tanis hissed, gesturing for both Char and Ciela to come forward. Both of the Plasma grunts released their own Pokémon, squaring off with Tanis' team. Meanwhile, Bianca hurried around the two Team Plasma members and towards the injured Pokémon, giving it a potion and carrying it off to a safe distance.

"Purrloin, use scratch!"

"Tackle those Pokémon, Patrat!"

The two grunts let loose their Pokémon, the pair rushing forward with gusto. Tanis merely crossed her arms, narrowing her eyes at the display of prowess.

"Dragon Rush and Twister." She said bitterly at her pair of Pokémon, obviously not impressed with the so-called display of prowess from the Plasma members.

Char was surrounded by an aura of swirling blue flame, digging his claws into the ground. With a loud roar, he burst forward and rushed towards the two charging enemy Pokémon. Ciela opened her mouth and released her twister of energy out after Char, the energy swirling around his flaming aura. With the combined force of their attacks merged together, Char spread his arms outwards and lunged towards both the Patrat and Purrloin, causing an explosion of both his blue flame aura and the swirling energy of Ciela's Twister.

Both members of Team Plasma's mouths fell open.

The enemy Patrat and Purrloin were downed by the combo of dragon-type moves, returning to their Pokéballs. Char smirked confidently at them, dusting his hands off, as if it was just him who defeated the two Pokémon at once. Ciela only rolled her eyes at this obvious display of arrogance from her partner.

"N-no way...!" The male gaped, his eyes wide. "No way a punk kid can defeat us so easily!"

"For your information," Tanis hissed, pointing at them again, "This 'punk kid' happens to be 18 years old! And I will whop your ass again if you want me to! So back the hell off before I sick my Pokémon on you!"

Both of them looked panicked at this, but the girl looked nervously up at the man. "W-we can't just leave...what would our Lord say if we came back empty handed...?!"

"L-let's just take the Munna and--" He turned around and stopped in mid sentence when he noticed the Munna was gone. "...Where the hell did it go?!"

"Oh shit...we're in for it now...!" The female Plasma goon rang her hands together, looking about frantically.

"Get out of here before you're more in for it!" Tanis threatened, crossing her arms over her chest. Both grunts looked at each other before hurrying off.

"I don't get paid enough for this!" The male wailed, disappearing into the underbrush of the warehouse.

With them safely gone, Tanis let out a slow, ragged sigh and closed her eyes, her body losing it's tense posture. Well, so much for Team Plasma being harmless...she walked over towards her Pokémon and gave them gentle pats on the head, turning towards some of the bushes.

"They're gone, Bianca."

Some rustling occurred, and a moment later, Bianca stepped out with Vivi at her heels and holding the Munna in her arms. She looked over at Tanis with concern in her green eyes, gently petting the still-nervous Pokémon comfortingly.

"W-wow...that was scary..." She said quietly, looking down at the Munna, who gave a sad cry.

Tanis shook her head, looking over to Bianca and forcing a smile. "They're gone, at least. I don't think we need to worry about them anymore."

Bianca blinked and looked down, "I-I didn't think they'd actually do something like this...I mean, look at poor Munna! She's so adorable, and yet she's so scared..."

"I guess that joke I made about Team Rocket might be right after all," Tanis sighed, scratching the back of her head. Bianca looked up at her with a confused expression. "Err...never mind..."

"B-but you trounced them easily!" Bianca took a slow step towards Tanis. "And...and you were kind of scary, too..."

Tanis turned back to Bianca, blinking. "Oh, gosh...sorry about that...!" She apologized nervously, scratching the back of her head. "I didn't mean for you to see that...but my mom says my anger is like a brush fire; blazing, passionate and unstoppable. She always says I need some water to help put it out..." She sighed and shook her head, "Sorry, I don't want you be scared of me. It doesn't happen very often...my biggest pet peeve is when people abuse Pokémon. And you're too sweet to do that, so never fear!"

Bianca managed to giggle at this, "Y-yeah, I guess you're right! I'll try to stay on your good side, Tanis." She let the Munna go, but the floating Pokémon hovered back over and nuzzled her in the leg.

Tanis laughed, "Looks like you've got a new friend, there."

"I guess so!" Bianca knelt down and pet the Munna, "I promise I'll take good care of you, sweetie! Do you want to come with me?" The Munna made a happy cooing noise, Bianca withdrawing an empty Pokéball from her pouch and tapping the dream Pokémon with it. It got sucked into the vessel and willingly went with her, causing it to be instantly contained within the Pokéball. "Yey, I got a third Pokémon!" She picked the Pokéball up and hugged it. "Oh, I'm so, so happy!! This is just the best!" Bianca gave a happy sigh, before turning back to Tanis, "A-anyway, it's starting to get late! I'm going to head back and rest at the Pokémon Center. Want to come with?"

Tanis sighed and shook her head, "Not yet. I want to check and see if there's any more Plasma freaks roaming around here." She gave a sideways grin at Bianca, "I'll meet you back there later, okay?"

Bianca nodded her head, "Sounds good to me! Take care, alright?" Tanis gave a nod of her head, Bianca waving at her and hurrying off. Sighing, Tanis looked down at Char and Ciela; Char looked eager to keep hunting and Ciela looked up at her trainer with concern. Tanis knelt down and pat her on the head.

"Sorry if I scared you there...I guess I have the soul of a Charizard sometimes, huh?" She suggested, giving a grin over at Char, who snorted in response. "But if Team Plasma keeps on hurting Pokémon like that...I don't know how well I can control it..." Ciela gave a soft coo, gently nuzzling Tanis' hand. She smiled softly down at her Pokémon.

"I'll do whatever it takes to stop them...no matter what."

 

 

Chapter Text

 

When the next day came about, Tanis felt more confident with her skills as a trainer. She had managed to defeat two Plasma members without much difficulty, not to mention a handful of others in the Dreamyard. During her search, she didn't find any trace of them and returned to Stiraton City, meeting up with Bianca for dinner and resting. Cheren couldn't be found anywhere, the two girls figuring he went on ahead.

Giving a small yawn, Tanis left the Pokémon Center nice and early, looking down at her two Pokémon, "Are you guys ready to try taking on the Gym?"

Char enthusiastically put his fist into his palm, giving a confident nod. His reaction wasn't surprising to Tanis at all, giving a small chuckle and looking down at Ciela. She glanced off to the side, like she was deep in thought, before returning her attention back to her trainer. She studied Tanis' expression before closing her eyes, opening them with new determination and nodding. Tanis grinned.

"Alright, let's go!"

It didn't take long for them to find the Pokémon Gym, as it was a rather popular café as well. Tanis approached the old-fashioned looking building and put her hands on her hips, observing it for a few moments. She wondered what kind of trainers she would find in a food-themed gym...if it meant anything at all, that is. Walking up the stairs, she entered into the building and noticed several people dining there. A sever approached her.

"Welcome to the Striaton Café!" She said politely, giving a bow. "Are you here to dine, or to take on the challenge?"

"To challenge the Gym Leader!" Tanis said confidently, the server giving a small incline of her head.

"Very well. You may proceed into the back, but you will need to challenge some of the trainers of the gym first." The server reached into her apron, withdrawing a Pokéball. "Starting with me, of course!" She tossed the ball out and released a Sentret out into the center of the room, which was free from tables and clutter. Everyone in the café momentarily stopped their meal, and turned to watch the battle expectantly.

Tanis gestured for Char to take the lead, the Charmeleon eager and ready to go, walking towards the small Pokémon with a smirk on his face.

"Sentret, use Defense Curl!" The Pokémon squeaked and curled into a sphere with it's tail wrapped around it.

"Hit it with Ember!" Char growled and complied, spitting out the bust of flame from his mouth to strike at he enemy Sentret. The fire hit and burst outwards, but the Sentret didn't appear to be harmed.

"Use Quick Attack!" The waitress shouted, her Pokémon uncurling itself and squeaking, rushing forward. Char attempted to fire off more blasts of Ember, but the Sentret avoided them, leaping forward and hitting Char with it's tail, knocking him backwards. Char shook his head and glared at the enemy Pokémon.

Tanis needed to use more strategy then brute force with these battles, "Smokescreen!" She shouted, Char taking in a deep breath and clamping his mouth shut, causing smoke to billow out from his nostrils. The Sentret gave a confused sound, it's form quickly became enveloped in the smoke Char was creating.

"Now, use Ember." Tanis said quietly enough so that Char could hear her, but the opposing trainer could not. Sure enough, the fire burst out from the smokescreen and hit the Sentret hard enough to knock it out of the smoke.

"Use Fury Swipes!" The waitress ordered, and the Sentret leaped into the smoke again, but couldn't find Char.

"Finish it with a Scratch!" Tanis finished, Char rushing forward and hitting the Sentret in the face with his claws. It let out a final cry before fainting, the smoke clearing from the battle zone. It returned to the waitress' Pokéball, she giving a small nod of her head. The patrons of the café all applauded the battle.

"You're very good, well done!" She said with a smile, approaching Tanis and handing her winnings over. "Please, proceed into the next room where my co-worker will be your next opponent." She gestured past the bar and into a larger common area.

Tanis grinned, "Thanks!" She pocketed the prize money and gestured for Char and Ciela to follow her, entering into the next dining area. She approached the large, cleared-off space where a male waiter approached her, giving a small bow at his waist.

"I take it you are here for the challenge?" He inquired when he rose back up. Tanis nodded her head. "Excellent! Let's get things started, shall we?" From his apron he pulled out his Pokéball, "Go, Lillipup!" He tossed the sphere out where it released the dog Pokémon, who gave a bark and readied itself.

"Alright, Ciela, your turn!" Tanis said, the Dratini giving a determined nod and slithering forward.

"Bite!"

"Use Extreme Speed!"

Ciela was surrounded with a white, swirling aura and lunged forward. The Lillipup attempted to bite at her, but she moved to quickly, ramming her head into it and sending it flying backwards. It managed to right itself and shake it's head, growling at the dragon Pokémon. The Waiter looked back at his Pokémon and then back at Tanis.

"Try to Tackle it!" He ordered, the Lillipup barking and charging forward.

"Thunder Wave!" Ciela focused her attention at her opponent, shooting a blast of lightning from small gem on her forehead, striking the Lillipup with it and paralyzing it. "Now, finish it off with Twister!" One again, Ciela unleashed her now-signature move upon her foe, catching the paralyzed Pokémon in it's wake, causing it to faint.

Upon returning to the waiter's Pokéball, he gave an approving nod, "Well played, but I'm not done yet!" Pulling out another Pokéball from his apron, he tossed it out, "Your turn, Patrat!"

The Patrat appeared from it's owner's ball, giving a chirp. Tanis remembered the last encounter with one of these Pokémon, and that mysterious N fellow...she'd have to keep an eye out for it's Bide move. She gestured for Ciela to prepare herself, waiting for the waiter to make the first move.

"Bide!" He commanded, and Tanis knew she had to hold back until the Patrat couldn't keep the stance any longer. Taking in a slow breath, she would have to weaken it's defenses until one hit would knock it out before it could store and unleash the energy.

"Leer!" Tanis said, Ciela staring intently at the Patrat, causing it's defenses to weaken. "Now, Thunder Wave!" With another blast of lightning from the gem on her forehead, she paralyzed the enemy Pokémon, but it might still be able to move after absorbing the energy of Ciela's offensive attacks. She hoped that one more drop of the Patrat's defense would be enough, commanding Ciela to use Leer again.

"Alright, this is it...use Twister!" Tanis shouted afterwards, and Ciela complied, firing the swirling tornado from her mouth which consumed the Patrat, spitting it up into the air and throwing it down to the floor. It was a one-shot KO due to it's lowered defenses and weakened state, returning to the waiter's Pokéball.

"You're quite skilled!" The waiter said with a polite bow, withdrawing Tanis' winning fee from his pocket and handing it to her. "Proceed into the last room, and good luck against our Leaders!" He gestured behind him to the last area of the café. Tanis gave a confident nod and continued onward, feeling great about this last battle.

She entered into the final area, where a large stage with a small Pokémon arena was set up. As she approached it, three waiters with different colored hair appeared from the sides, walking up in front of the stage. Tanis quirked a brow at the appearance of three of them, but noticed they all looked similar to each other.

"Welcome to our Gym!" The first one said, who had light green hair that flipped upwards. "I'm Cilan, and I use Grass-type Pokémon."

"I'm Chili! I light things up with Fire-type Pokémon!" The second said, who had red hair that looked like flame licking up his forehead.

"And I am Cress, a Water-type specialist. I am quite pleased to make your acquaintance, trainer." The last one said, who had blue hair that covered one side of his face. "As you can see, there are three of us, and we like to change up who takes on challengers depending on their preferred Pokémon type."

Chili grinned, "It looks like you started with a Charmander, right? Judging by his evolved form, it looks like you quite favor him!" He stated, Char giving a grin and a confident nod of his head. "Darn, I wanted to fight this one, too! You guys get all of the fun."

"I-I got whooped by the last guy, the one with the Oshawott..." Cilan said with a sigh, shaking his head.

"Yeah, yeah, I just hope I can fight someone soon!" Chili grumbled, crossing his arms and walking to the side of the arena with Cilan. Cress gestured towards the stage.

"You're incredibly lucky, miss. You get to face me as the Leader." He said with a polite bow, "Ladies first."

Tanis felt excited, truly excited, for the first time since she started on her journey. Gym Leaders were the best of the best, picked to serve as stepping stones for all trainers in any region for the road to the Pokémon League Championship. Was this what it felt like? This excitement, this enthusiasm, to be a trainer? All the time? She couldn't help the grin as she ascended the stairs to the small arena, taking her place on one end.

Cress followed her up. By now, all of the denizens of the café had gathered in the room to watch the battle. "Do you have any badges?" He inquired first of all, Tanis shaking her head. "Ah, very good. Then, are you ready, miss?"

Tanis gave a nod of her head, "Ready and willing!"

"Very well. Let us begin the match!" With a Pokéball withdrawn from his waist, he tossed it outwards and onto the arena. From the burst of light came a Tympole, who hopped about on the stage.

Tanis knew a type weakness when it hit her. Not that she needed to, as Cress was a water-type trainer. "Go, Ciela!" She gestured, her shiny Dratini moving onto the stage and squaring off against the opposing Pokémon.

"Hm, interesting! Using a Dragon-type instead!" Cress noted with a thoughtful expression, "A wise move! Tympole, use Supersonic!"

Opening it's small mouth, it released a high-pitched shriek. Ciela recoiled, squeezing her eyes shut and the fins on her head clamping down against it. It wasn't enough to stop her from being confused by the attack, as she looked about in a daze once the shriek faded. Tanis pursed her lips together, already realizing that this was no run-of-the-mill battle. Still, she couldn't help but to feel excited by it. What could she learn from this?

"Ciela, use Thunder Wave!" Ciela unclamped her fins and looked around a bit, only to slap herself with her tail. Tanis winced when she did, hoping that she'd break through the confusion soon.

"Now then, use Round!" The Tympole opened it's mouth and started to sing a high-frequency, super-sonic song that knocked Ciela backwards from the blast.

Tanis gritted her teeth, "Use Twister!" Ciela managed to open her mouth and unleash the cyclone of energy from her mouth, swirling forward and hitting the enemy Tympole and dealing a great deal of damage to it. However, it wasn't enough to fully defeat it, and Ciela still looked a bit confused right now.

Cress stroked his chin, nodding his head, "Excellent! Tympole, keep singing the Round!" Another high-pitched song came from the water Pokémon, knocking more of Ciela's health away. It was slowly weakening her and with her still confused, Tanis wasn't sure if Ciela would last much longer in the battle.

Still, she had to keep going!

"Ciela, use Twister again!" However, once again Ciela wounded herself, and was now starting to look quite winded from the battle. Tanis pursed her lips together, wondering if potions were legal in Gym battles or not. If Ciela fainted, it would be up to Char, and no doubt the type disadvantage wouldn't work so well with him in the ring.

"Finish with a Bubblebeam!" A large beam of bubbles came from the Tympole's mouth, striking Ciela in the face and rendering her defeated, returning to her Pokéball. Cress smiled. "Do you wish to continue fighting despite having the type disadvantage, miss?" He inquired with a tilt of his head.

"I'm not giving up just like that!" Tanis snapped, feeling her fire begin to burn in her. "I'll keep fighting until the end, right Char?" The Charmeleon gave a nod of his head, snorting some flame from his nostrils.

"Very well, then." Cress said, crossing his arms. Char walked into the arena, eyeing the weakened Tympole with his dark gaze.

At least Tanis had an ace up her sleeve.

"Dragon Rush!" Now she was thankful that Char was specially bred by her mother, giving him a Dragon-type move he wouldn't have learned under any normal means. Char growled and was surrounded by a blazing blue aura, rushing forward towards the Tympole and striking it with the blast, defeating it. Cress looked on with wide eyes, obviously shocked by this revelation.

"Well...that was certainly unexpected," He coughed, regaining his cool demeanor. "I wasn't aware Charmeleons could learn that move."

"They can't," Tanis said informally, grinning while she crossing her arms, "But his father was a Garchomp that knew the move, and my mother specifically breed him with her female Charizard for that move set."

"Ah, I see! This will make things interesting!" Cress chuckled, withdrawing the next Pokéball from his apron. "Let us see if you can defeat my last Pokémon!" Releasing it, a Panpour appeared on the stage. "Go forth, my friend! Use Water Gun!"

"Dragon Rush!"

Tanis bit down on her lower lip, praying that it would be enough. Char once again was surrounded by blue flame and rushed forward, the Panpour spitting out a blast of water towards him. The water hit the Charmeleon square in the face, causing him to cry out, but he kept on charging forward despite the pain in his eyes. He struck the strange monkey-like Pokémon with the blast of the attack, knocking it backwards and severely damaging it. Both of them were weakened by each other's attacks, and only one more from either side would do the trick.

"Well played! This will be the final blow, miss. Are you prepared?" Cress inquired, meeting Tanis' firey gaze.

"You bet your ass I am!" She barked enthusiastically, feeling both nervous and like her blood was pumping at the same time. She wanted to see who would prevail in this battle; and if she lost, she'd just come back tougher and stronger then ever before! "Let's go!"

"Water Gun!"

"Dragon Rush!"

Once again, the two Pokémon squared off against each other, preparing their attacks. This was it, the final move; whoever won would be the winner of this battle. Tanis felt Char's fire burning within her. She wouldn't lose, he wouldn't either. They wouldn't! Internally she was rooting for her dear friend and partner, almost wishing he could hear her thoughts right now. He would win. He would!

Char was surrounded by blue flame as he charged forward again, the enemy Panpour drawing it's breath in to prepare the Water Gun. However, Char proved to be faster this time, reaching his foe before it could fully attack, striking it with the full force of the Dragon Rush. However, just as he did, the Panpour attacked, hitting him with the Water Gun as well.

Cress' Pokémon wobbled and fell over and returned to it's Pokéball, defeated. However, mere seconds after it fainted, Char also collapsed to the ground, returning to Tanis.

Both had fainted, but the Panpour had fainted first.

Did...that mean she won?

Cress smiled at her. "That was a most invigorating battle!" He exclaimed, approaching her hand holding his hand out, "You are a remarkable trainer who has such faith in her Pokémon. It is very refreshing to see!" Tanis took his hand and shook it.

"Heh, thanks." She chuckled, releasing his hand, "Do you mean to say I won?"

"Yes, indeed you did," Cress nodded his head, "Your Charmeleon fainted just moments after mine did, showing his impressive resolve and faith in you as his trainer. That means you are the winner!" He reached into his apron and offered Tanis a gold-plated badge with markings of green, red and blue upon it. "Allow me to present to you this: it is the official Badge for the Pokémon League, the Trio Badge. Take it, and always remember your battle here."

Tanis took the badge and found herself grinning like a fool.

She had done it. She actually did it! Right now, she felt more like a Pokémon trainer then she had before, having narrowly beaten her first Gym Leader and gotten her first badge! She would have to heal her Pokémon and show them what they helped her accomplish.

"Thanks! It was a nice lesson for me to learn, too!" She reached into her pocket and withdrew the case her mother had given her, placing the badge in it. Tucking it back in, she went to turn around, and noticed that everyone in the café were watching her and cheering loudly.

Promptly, she turned red in the face and scratched the back of her head, unused to any kind of attention like this. Laughing awkwardly, Tanis proceeded down the stairs from the arena, several patrons giving her pats on the back or words of encouragement. She hurried out of the café before any more attention was lathered onto her, squeezing out into the streets.

"Hoo-man, not used to so many people praising me!" She muttered to herself, wiping her brow. "Alright, time to go rest up these guys and treat them to something nice to eat!"

Putting her hands into her pockets, Tanis headed back towards the Pokémon Center. It was an enlightening match, showing her that she had a lot to learn. She would need to capture a few more Pokémon and learn more about moves and type match ups in her journey...all part of the road to being a trainer, wasn't it?

She couldn't wait to see what else she could learn about Pokémon next.



---



"Finish him!"

Tanis stood in the middle of Route 3 with her newest Pokémon, a Shinx she named Starlight. The electric Pokémon growled and sparkled with lightning, charging forward. She slammed into Cheren's Oshawott and discharged the stored sparks, knocking it clean out. The Pokémon returned to Cheren's Pokéball, the youth nonchalantly pushing his glasses up his nose.

"I thought with both of us having the Trio Badge, we'd be equals," He noted calmly, "But you still got the upper hand in our battle. Most interesting..."

Tanis folded her arms across her chest. "Well, I have been training a bit longer then you have. And I have more Pokémon, I guess..."

"Fair enough." Cheren gave a small, short nod of his head.

It had been a few days since Tanis narrowly won the Trio Badge and moved out of Striaton City and hit the open road. Bianca opted to remain behind to do a bit of training in the Dreamyard, and Cheren had gone off ahead to see what lay in store on Route 3, working on it's teams levels. Tanis had crossed paths with him, where he decided to take her up on the offer she had made for a Pokémon battle.

Despite having three Pokémon now, it wasn't a complete flawless victory. Tanis had juggled her teammates back and forth during the fight to ensure none of them fainted, but they were all still tired from the endeavor. She really didn't feel like back-tracking all the way back to the city to revive her fallen friends, not after all of the time she spent getting to this point.

"Good match?" Tanis asked, extending her hand out towards Cheren.

He took it and gave it a firm shake. "Good match. I'll have to train and study harder, so I can win next time."

Tanis chuckled. "I'll hold you to that, Cheren!" He gave another short nod and a faint grin, turning on his heel. He gave a small wave to Tanis and her Pokémon, before shoving them into his pockets and making his way back towards the city. Tanis exhaled through her nose, still grinning over the exciting battle.

"Well, now that that's done..." She turned to her three friends, her grin growing. "I bet you all are tired, eh? Cheren really gave us a run for our money! Let's take a breather!" Both Ciela and Starlight looked relieved to hear this, the Dratini heaving a happy sigh at the suggestion. The newest addition to the team gave a nod, glad for the break.

Char, however, was being his usual stubborn self. He gave a disgruntled growl, crossing his arms in defiance. Tanis turned down to him and rolled her eyes.

"Of course the Great and Impervious Char isn't tired. He never gets tired!" She exclaimed sarcastically, but Char only nodded his head vigorously, before gesturing to the road with his claws. Tanis groaned, "Yes, I know you want to keep pressing forward, oh-so-mighty-Char, but even if you won't admit it, you still need the rest, buddy!" Char met her gaze and snorted angrily. "No buts, mister! Get over here before I cram you into your Pokéball!" Char flung his arms up in exasperation, but begrudgingly followed his trainer towards a nice, shady tree, grumbling angrily under his breath.

After watching the scene between Char and Tanis, Starlight leaned over towards Ciela, wondering if Char was always like this. Ciela watched the pair walk together, Char snorting some smoke out of his nose. Sighing, the Dratini nodded her head grimly, slithering after the duo. Starlight trotted after her, shaking her head in dismay.

Once all of her Pokémon reached the tree, Tanis set her heavy pack down and rummaged around, withdrawing a blanket and flapping it out onto the ground. She leaned her pack against the tree, using it as a cushion for her back when she plopped down. She also fished some berries out for her team to nibble on, laying them out on the blanket. Both Ciela and Starlight dove into the berries, Char opting to sit to the side with his arms crossed and watching people milling down the road.

Tanis folded her arms behind her head and leaned back, watching the sun dance between the fresh, green leaves of the tree. There was a gentle breeze out, rustling the leaves. She listened to Starlight and Ciela chatter amongst themselves, though without seeing their actions she couldn't make out what the two were talking about. Unlike Char, Ciela and the Shinx got along quite well, Starlight being very curious and resourceful, while Ciela was warm and affectionate. Neither of them seemed to like the temperamental Charmeleon, who usually kept to himself or was too busy talking to Tanis to really get along with the other two. Hopefully things would change in their travels. The last thing she wanted was her Pokémon trying to kill each other.

Tanis was starting to feel almost drowsy, the world becoming numb and blurry and found herself beginning to nod off in the warm day and the comfort of her pack supporting her, and the blanket all nice and comfy under her toosh. This would be a great time for a nap...and if any trainer wanted to battle her, they could go screw themselves.

With her eyes closed, she heard some ruckus going on in the distance, like someone was running past. She didn't pay it any mind, however, nodding off more and more. Tanis hadn't realize she had completely dozed off until she felt someone shaking her shoulder roughly, followed by the sound of crying and someone buried against her chest.

"Mmmph...?!" She groaned, cracking her eyes open. Someone was crying, she felt her chest becoming wet and someone was clinging to her, sobbing loudly into her bosom. Reaching a hand up, she rubbed her eyes, looking off to the side to see Char with his hand on her shoulder. "Wh-what the hell is going--" She stopped when she looked down to see who was crying into her bust.

"B-Bianca, what's going on?!" Tanis was instantly snapped from her drowsy state and placed her hands on her friend's shoulders, who had collapsed into her lap in a weepy heap. The blonde girl lifted her head up, her face streaked with tears. Tanis furrowed her brows together, reaching out to wipe some of the stray tears from Bianca's face. "Oh, honey, that's no face for you to make! What happened?"

Bianca hiccupped and sniffed again, reaching up to rub her eyes with her hand. "I-I-It was h-ho-horrible...!!" She wailed, giving out another choked sob. "I-I d-decided...t-to-to...t-to g-go onto r-route 3...a-and...an-and t-then..." She sobbed again, putting her face into her hands. Tanis reached out to stroke Bianca's back comfortingly, causing her to hiccup and calm down. "T-then Team Plasma showed up! The...t-they stole my dear Dreamie...m-my sweet l-little Munna!"

The very instant she said those words, Tanis' blood turned to fire. It curdled within her and she snapped her eyes up to the field beyond Bianca, her hand on the girl's back gripping her shoulders tightly. That must have been who was running around while she was dozing off! Damnit, if she hadn't been sleeping, she would've caught those bastards!

Turning her attention back down to her friend, she placed a hand on Bianca's face. "Don't worry, we'll catch them." She rose to her feet, helping Bianca up, though the girl wobbled a bit and fell against her. Char was already rolling the blanket up and stuffing it into Tanis' pack. Tanis slung it over her shoulders and gave a nod at Bianca, who sniffed.

"Y-you really think you can stop them...?"

Tanis gave a short nod of her head, "You bet your ass I will! I won't rest until I catch those bastards who stole your Pokémon from you!" She placed a reassuring hand on Bianca's shoulder, who smiled weakly and nodded her head, wiping her tears away. "Let's go!"

Bianca took her hand and the two girls went dashing off, running down the main path of the road, Tanis' Pokémon trailing after her. They asked a few trainers if they had seen anyone wearing weird white outfits, and a few pointed in the direction they dashed off in. It didn't take them long before they reached a cave, Tanis fumbling in her pocket to pull out her Pokégear, quickly finding her map app.

"This is called the Wellspring cave," She informed Bianca, who was fretting about the situation, biting onto her fingernails. "It looks like we've cornered Plasma here! There's no known exit!"

Bianca looked over at her tearfully. "R-really...?"

"Really, let's go in and save your Dreamie!" Bianca gave a nod determined nod of her head, following Tanis into the cavern.

It was dimly lit by glowing algae, but seemed oddly...quiet. The pair of girls looked about and noticed that there were no Pokémon lurking about, and no trainers, either. It seemed rather odd. Taking a step in, Tanis gestured for Char to walk ahead of him, his blazing tail helping illuminate the dimly lit cave. She turned to Bianca and held her finger up, silencing her, just in case those Plasma goons were lurking about. They needed to get the jump this time.

As they proceeded further into the caverns, they could hear someone whispering. Tanis gestured for Bianca to follow close, moving to an outcropping of rocks. She pressed against them and leaned out, peering around the corner.

In the distance, she spotted the two Plasma grunts talking to each other in hushed voices, one of them holding a flashlight. They appeared to be arguing with each other, one of them gesturing to keep quiet in case they were followed. Tanis strained her ears to try and pick up what they were saying.

"--Bad idea!" The one holding their flashlight hissed, narrowing his eyes at his companion.

"What would you have us do? Run all the way to Nacrene City?!" The other threw his arms up in the air.

"Keep your voice down!" The first shouted, but quickly clamped his hands over his mouth when he heard his voice echoing throughout the cave. Glancing around to see if anyone popped up, he stepped closer to his companion and started to talk in a lower voice, lower then what Tanis could pick up.

She looked back to Bianca, who held a determined look on her face. Searching her friends eyes, Tanis was confident that Bianca would give it all to get precious Pokémon back with her. Giving a snort nod, Tanis leaped out from the outcropping of rocks and shouted.

"HEY!"

Both of the Team Plasma grunts jerked forward, looking a bit startled by her sudden appearance. The one not holding the flashlight smacked his partner upside the head .

"I told you this was a bad idea, you idiot!" The other rubbed his head and looked up at his partner with a disgruntled expression. "We have no place to run if someone follows us!"

"You're right, you don't have anyplace to run." Tanis spat, practically breathing fire, crossing her arms.

"Give me back my Munna!" Bianca tried to sound threatening, but it failed when her voice cracked and squeaked horribly.

The two Plasma members looked at each other skeptically, before putting their game faces on and returning their attention back to the pair of girls. One of them started cracking up, causing poor Bianca to flinch a bit. "I-I really mean it! Give him back!!" The other began to stifle a laugh too, biting down on his lower lip to keep it from coming out. "Q-Quit it...!!" Bianca stamped her foot, but her voice was still cracking. The second grunt let loose his laugh, doubling over and holding his stomach.

He didn't get long to laugh, as his body was wrenched upwards and a fist was buried in his face, sending him careening backwards with a bloody nose. Tanis pulled her fist back, just in case they wanted to try something funny. The Plasma goon groaned and rubbing his bloody face, staring up at her in disbelief.

That got them to stop.

"Char, sick 'em." She crossed her arms in defiance, the Charemeleon rushing forward with flame burning in his mouth.

"Eeeiiiyaaaa!!" The two grunts cried, the one with the bloody nose falling to the ground and attempting to scramble backwards, the other fumbling at his waist to grab his Pokéball. Char was upon them in a flash, jumping up and landing on the grunt on the ground and planting his rear claws on goon's stomach, causing him to groan. He reached out and grasped the collar of the human's uniform, bringing him up to eye level.

Ciela slithered forward and wrapped herself around the second Plasma grunt, encircling around him and causing him to fall to the ground. Tanis stood before them with her arms crossed and fire in her eyes.

"You've got two choices. We can do this the easy way, or the hard way." She hissed.

"B-But w-w-we don't even have the Munna!!" The one with Char on his chest blubbered, the Charmeleon stamping his feet and causing him to cough heavily.

Tanis snorted, narrowing her eyes. "You tell me where my friend's Pokémon is or I'll get the information out of you the hard way."

"H-he's right!!" The other grunt wailed, "W-we passed the girl's Munna off to another set of Plasma members on the way!! We were sent here to throw you off-course!" Tanis looked at the pair.

"Bianca, go search their pockets." She gestured for her friend to move forward, Bianca nodding sheepishly and going over to the incapacitated Team Plasma grunts, fishing around in their belts and pockets. She furrowed her brow and snapped up to her feet, looking over at Tanis with a distraught expression, shaking her head.

Tanis let out a frustrated sigh. "Alright, so you're not lying." She gestured to her two Pokémon, Ciela letting the grunt she wrapped around go, Char grumbling and roughly releasing the bloody-nosed one down and hopping off of his stomach. "You two stay here until we're gone. Come on, Bianca." She gestured to her friend, who nodded sheepishly and hurried after the older girl.

They went to the exit of the cave. "I'm sorry, Bianca. Let's hurry, hopefully we can catch up to them!"

Bianca nodded her head sheepishly. "I-I hope so."

"Bianca, look at me," Tanis placed her hands on the younger girl's shoulders, turning her around. "I said I would find your Dreamie, I meant it. I always keep my promises. We will find Dreamie."

Bianca looked up into her friend's eyes, seeing the truth within them; the fire she had displayed to the two grunts was gone, only a solid determination. Pursing her lips together, she nodded her head more resolutely.

"Okay."

"Then let's get going!" Tanis let go of her and hurried towards the exit, "We need to make up for lost time!"

"R-right!" Bianca added, quickly following after Tanis.

Daylight broke through the entrance of the cave, the two girls stepping into the late-afternoon sun. The breeze had stopped blowing, making it quite still, almost eerily so. Tanis knew that the only path the members of Team Plasma could have gone was south to Nacrene City, turning on her heel. She was about to urge Bianca to follow her down the path to the city, but stopped when she noticed someone leaning against the entrance to the cave.

"...N?"

 

 

Chapter Text

 

"What are you doing here?"

Tanis stood in front of Bianca and Char, the Pokémon looking between the figure before them and towards his trainer. Her stance had changed completely; she was no longer guarded, no longer focused on getting the job done. Now she was more relaxed, open. The Charmeleon quirked a brow, especially since they couldn't waste any time in tracking down that silly blonde girl's lost Pokémon.

"I was looking for you, actually." N pushed off of the rocky face of the cave, turning to face the group fully. His pale eyes glanced down towards Char, causing him to tense up. It was weird...even without speaking, the human seemed to be able to read him. But that cool, steely gaze said he meant Tanis no harm, but Char wasn't about to let this weird human do anything to his friend.

Tanis raised an eyebrow up. "Eh? L-look, N, now isn't a good time! I'm trying to help my friend find--"

"If you're looking for Team Plasma, they went south not long ago." The strange young man pointed down the path, cutting Tanis off. Normally, Char would expect the anger to rise in his trainer, but found her surprisingly cool about getting cut off. "If she hurries, she might be able to catch them."

Tanis gave a nod of her head, "Great, thanks! We should be--"

"Please. I'd like to talk to you a bit, Tanis." Now Char could feel the anger rising in Tanis, her lips pursing together and her brows furrowing together. However, N smiled pleasantly at her, as if she wasn't currently chasing after Team Plasma to give them the beating of their lives. Char groaned, but felt that cool gaze upon him again, returning the look with a glare of his own.

Giving a sigh, Tanis turned to Bianca and put a hand on her shoulder, "Go on ahead, Bianca! I'll catch up with you soon!" Bianca glanced between Tanis and N, before giving a small nod of her head and hurried down the path. Tanis then returned her attention back to the green-haired guy. "What's up?" Char groaned

'Why is Tanis going along with this guy?' He mumbled, crossing his arms. Once again, he saw N look down at him, but quickly turned his attentions back to Tanis.

"We can walk at the same time, I do not want to impair your search." He offered with a pleasant smile, gesturing before them. Tanis gave a short nod, walking back to the road and going down it, towards some human city Char didn't bother to learn the name of.

Char was about to protest, but was hit on the back by Ciela's tail. 'What? We need to help feather-for-brains, right?'

Ciela rolled her eyes, 'Bianca, Char. Bianca is Miss Tanis' friend.'

Char rolled his eyes. 'Whatever.' He mumbled, narrowing his dark blue eyes at N, who had placed his hands into his pockets. 'We need to focus on kicking some ass, not chit-chatting with this weird-o!'

'You just don't like another guy taking Miss Tanis' attention,' Ciela noted dryly, hitting the nail on the head. Char shot a glare at her, but by now the Dratini was used to it. 'I think he's nice.'

'Hmph.' Char snorted some smoke out of his nose.

'Our lady seems to like him, too,' Starlight noted, trotting along beside Ciela. 'Why can't you get along with him, too? If he's a friend of our trainer!' Char grumbled to himself, crossing his arms. He didn't like how close the two were walking together, talking about Pokémon and calling them friends and whatnot.

Stomping ahead of his two companions, Char wedged himself between Tanis and N, glaring up at the latter. 'I won't let you touch Tanis, jackass!'

N looked down at him, raising his pale green brows. "I have no intention of hurting your trainer, Char." He said coolly, "Also I do not think I have done anything to be called a 'jackass,' my friend."

Both Tanis and Char were taken slightly aback, Tanis blinking her eyes. "Erm...are you okay, N?"

'The hell?' Char muttered, staring up at the tall human with wide eyes.

N chuckled awkwardly, "I suppose I should have told you sooner, Tanis." He continued walking, Tanis hurrying forward to fall into pace beside him again...well, with Char between the two of them, that is. Sighing, N looked forward towards the afternoon sky. "I actually can understand Pokémon. And not just by their mannerisms or by spending time with them...I can see into their hearts and know what they are thinking, feeling, even what they are speaking with absolute clarity. It is just like talking to a human...only I can tell their motivations and truths as well."

Both Tanis and her Pokémon were somewhat dumbfounded by this revelation. Her eyebrows raised and she blinked a few times, looking over at N with her shocked expression. He coughed and touched the brim of his hat, pulling it down a bit over his face.

"F-Forgive me...I shouldn't have..." He murmured, casting his gaze off to the side. Char groaned and rolled his eyes, thinking this human even more of a freak then before; and the realization that N could also sense his thoughts and emotions just made the Charmeleon think them even louder.

"What, are you kidding?!" Tanis exclaimed, reaching out and putting a hand on N's shoulder, causing him to flinch. "N, I think that's amazing! I would give anything to have your ability! I can kind of figure what Char is saying since I know his mannerisms and have spent a lot of years with him...but to actually understand them? Oh Arceus, you shouldn't be ashamed of that at all!"

N lifted his head and looked down at Tanis and into her eyes. "You...really don't think me to be weird because of it?"

Tanis laughed, slapping him on the back, causing him to lurch forward a bit. "Nah, I already think you're kind of weird!" She grinned up at him, and he looked somewhat perplexed by this statement, "But this actually makes you think you're kind of cool."

'Oh brother.' Char groaned, running his hand over his face. 'Someone stop them before I throw up!'

'Now that I'd like to see!' Starlight noted to Ciela in a hushed voice, causing the Dratini to giggle.

"A-ah...forgive me, I didn't mean...I..." N looked down and away from Tanis, giving a sigh. "I'm not used to this. Most humans I tell or figure it out think I'm different, strange, or crazy because of it. They think it's unnatural...why do you think it's 'cool?'" He lifted his gaze back up to meet hers.

Tanis shrugged, "My mom's a breeder, so I learned from the best!" She encouraged, grinning again, "Sometimes it would make our jobs easier if we could fully understand them, but we try. I'm starting to learn Ciela, and I'm sure Starlight here will come in time! Right?" She grinned and looked down at the two Pokémon in question, both smiling up at her.

"You are...a very different trainer," N said quietly, causing her to look back up at him. He held her gaze with a cool expression, almost searching her eyes for something, anything. "I had a suspicion when we first met...but now I am more certain. You are special, Tanis."

Tanis was taken aback by this comment, looking to the side and laughing awkwardly, scratching the back of her head. "N-Not really..." She mumbled, her cheeks turning a bit red.

'Now I really am going to puke...' Char groaned, throwing his arms up in the air and skulking off to the bushes.

"Don't...mind him," Tanis mumbled to N, "Char's a little temperamental at times." She flashed an awkward grin at the taller young man.

"He's very devoted to you," N noted with raised brows, Char feeling his stare even when facing away from the odd human.

"...To put it mildly..." She muttered, "Char, quit your sulking! We need to keep moving!" She shouted at the Charmeleon.

'I am not sulking!' Char snapped, spinning around to face the two humans. He received giggles from Tanis' other two Pokémon, an eye roll from his trainer, and more of that soul-burning stare from N. Grumbling disgustedly, Char snorted and approached the group again. 'I will not be made a spectacle of!'

"You're doing a fine job of that on your own," N said with a small grin. Char shot a firey glare up at the strange human, who wasn't phased by it at all. Snorting, Char once again wedged himself between Tanis and N, the group continuing down the path again.

The two humans continued to chatter - well, Tanis continued to chatter - Char trying his best not to listen, only occasionally shooting a death glare up at N. He strummed his claws against his arm in a perturbed manor, wishing they would pick up the pace. Tanis' blonde friend was kind of hopeless on her own, and would probably need help fighting against the Plasma cronies. A fact his trainer seemed to have forgotten in the midst of her pleasant conversation with this strange guy.

Something was weird about this. Char knew N was kind of an odd duck anyway, even by human standards, but this whole situation rubbed him the wrong way. The fact that N showed up, right out of no where, in the middle of tracking down Team Plasma, only to demand a conversation with Tanis, slowing her down...it was all too convenient to Char. And Char wasn't the best thinker in the world. The real kicker? He couldn't voice his opinion, as N could frigging understand every word. Hell, he probably picked up on Char's suspicious feelings and thoughts already, but didn't show it. That also irked Char.

'Urk!' Char was abruptly pulled from his thoughts - quite literally! - when something bit down on his tail, dragging him backwards. He whirled around, fire in his mouth. Starlight let go of his tail, her eyes focused and determined. 'What?! Can't you see I'm busy!'

'It'll be just a sec.' The Shinx said in a cold voice, obviously having something on her mind. Char was about to protest, until she gestured towards N with her head. Char promptly closed his mouth.

Char, getting annoyed with all of these delays and hold ups, marched forward and pushed his way between the two humans again. He was about to open his mouth to object, but stopped when he saw exactly why they did so.

'What is that?' He muttered, raising his brows.

"An Eevee?" Tanis questioned, mirroring the same expression her Pokémon had. "I didn't think they were common in Unova..." The small, fox-like creature, looked a bit skittish, flinching when Tanis spoke in her usual booming voice. Not wanting it to run off, Tanis quickly squatted down so she wasn't so threatening, lowering her voice so it was softer. "H-hey, there, I didn't mean to scare you..."

The Eevee sniffed, but looked too worried about something to respond, taking a step away from the group. Char quirked a brow, glancing over at Tanis and N; N was watching Tanis closely, almost like he was waiting for her to do something, even though he could probably tell what was bothering the small fox-like Pokémon. Grumbling, Char wasn't sure what to do; he wasn't a comforter and had no idea how to calm the obviously freaked out Eevee without making things worse.

Tanis held her hand out towards the frightened creature, "There's no need to be scared, okay? I know Char here is ugly as sin, but he won't hurt you." Char glared over at his trainer, but she dutifully ignored him. The Eevee swallowed and shook it's head. Tanis tried to switch tactics, "Erm, I-I know I'm a big, scary human, but uh...hmm." She raised her stretched hand and stroked her chin, "...S-sorry, I'm not really good at this..." She muttered, hanging her head down. The Eevee looked at Tanis, loosening up a bit.

"I believe she's lost," N noted, his eyes still looking intently down at Tanis. She lifted her head up to meet his gaze, then looked back over at the Eevee.

"Is that true?" The Pokémon nodded her head slowly. "Did you lose your trainer, or your parents?" The Eevee looked down, as if nothing she would say would make sense anyway, at least not to a bunch of humans.

Well, if N wasn't going to speak up, Ciela was. Char didn't even notice she had slithered closer, 'Sweetie, that human man can understand you. Anything you say can be relayed and we'll do our best to help you!' The Dratini smiled down at the Eevee. Char would have objected, but knew that the skittish Pokémon needed to calm down, so he kept his mouth shut. This one time.

Eevee's eyes looked up towards N, who smiled warmly down at her. '...That's...ah...a-a little...um...weird...'

N didn't seem phased by a Pokémon calling him weird, even though he looked more offended when humans thought he was. "Pokémon are my friends, and as your friend, I'd like to help." He squatted down as well. "Let me know what's wrong."

The Eevee began to tear up, squeezing her eyes closed. 'I...m-my parents...they...t-they were kidnapped by these weird humans in grey outfits with hoods!' As soon as she said this, N's gaze darkened. He began to translate to Tanis, Char feeling the anger beginning to boil within his trainer. 'T-they...they've been chasing me...I-I'm so scared! I don't k-know...I don't know where I am or where my p-parents are!!' She began to cry at this point, burring her chin in her tuft of neck fur.

"Plasma." Tanis hissed, her hands clenching tightly at the sides of her pants. "The more I hear about those freaks, the more I just want to kick them in the balls." N looked down at her with a rather concerned expression, having not seen her temper flare up before. Gritting her teeth, she rose up to her feet. "Those idiots stole my friend's Pokémon, too. If you come with me, I'll find your parents, too."

N hopped back up to her feet. "You're...going to catch her?" His voice was more tense and slower then it had been.

"If she wants to come with me." Tanis looked at him out of the corners of her eyes, then looked back down at the Eevee. "You won't need to be afraid anymore, sweetie." For an instant, that fire faded and she smiled down at the scared Pokémon. Char noticed the Eevee had stopped crying and was looking up at Tanis with a rather...enamored expression. "I'll find them, I promise."

Glancing off to the side, the Eevee took a moment to deliberate. Taking in a breath, she looked back up at Tanis and nodded her head. 'I...feel like I can believe you. P-please...'

Tanis grinned and reached into the pocket of her pants, withdrawing an empty Pokéball. The Eevee looked apprehensive again, but Tanis squatted down once more, "It's just a precaution. I'll let you back out once you're in, okay? All of my other Pokémon walk with me." Eevee looked over at the trio.

'Despite the temper, Miss Tanis is very nice!' Ciela encouraged.

'We'll protect you!' Starlight said, giving a grin over at the other Pokémon. 'Tanis will, too!'

Char looked awkwardly off to the side and coughed, 'Uh, yeah. Sure.' He mumbled, not being very good at this kind of thing. The Eevee gave a small nod of her head, walking forward, meeting Tanis' gaze.

'...Okay.'

Tanis lightly tapped the Pokéball to the Eevee's forehead, the sphere sucking her inside. The sphere didn't even shake as the Pokémon came willingly, merely giving a flash once it accepted the new creature within it. As soon as the flash died down, Tanis tossed the sphere out, releasing the Eevee, who shook her head.

'T-that feels so weird...!' She gasped, looking a bit flabergasted by the experience.

'It'll take some getting used to,' Ciela said with a small nod of her head, slithering over to their newest teammate. 'Welcome to the team!'

The Eevee gave a cautious nod, looking up at Tanis. 'S-so...she's my trainer...?'

'More like a friend,' Ciela comforted, patting the nervous creature on the head with her tail.

'I-I'm...um...happy to meet her acquaintance, then...' Eevee bowed towards Tanis, who gave an awkward smile.

It was only then that Char realized that N was no longer translating the dialog. Blinking, he looked about him, noticing that the strange human had up and vanished. Tanis, too, noticed about this time, looking up from the Eevee and glancing around her.

"N? Hey, N!" She shouted, popping back up to her feet. "Where the hell did he disappear to?" She looked down to her Pokémon, but no one had noticed the human's sudden departure at all. He didn't even say any word of goodbye, just...up and disappeared; just gone. Weird...

'Good riddance.' Char snorted happily, crossing his arms and nodding in approval. Now he could let his mouth run without worries!

"That guy confuses me more and more..." Sighing angrily, Tanis scratched her head and looked back down towards her Pokémon. "But, we gotta get moving! We need to find your parents, Eevee...and--" She stopped and her voice caught in her throat, her dark pink eyes widening.

"Oh shit! Bianca!!"

Tanis began to sprint down the road towards the human city they were moving to, finally remembering their initial objective of finding that feather-brain's lost Pokémon. All of her companions had to hurry after her, Char grabbing Ciela so she wouldn't get lost along the way, the Dratini giving a squeak at being scooped up into the Charmeleon's arms.

And all he could think of was it was about bloody time!



----



Heavy footfalls hit the against the dirt road. Gravel and sand were kicked up behind worn boots, spraying behind her. Tanis' break-neck run had tapered down to a quick jog, to save her stamina while she tried to catch up with her friend.

"Bianca...Bianca..." She gasped between pants, fumbling through her contact list in her Pokégear with one hand. In her other arm she carried her Eevee, who was too young and low-leveled to keep up with her trainer's pace.

Starlight and Char followed closely, though off to the sides so as not to get a mouth full of dirt and gravel. Both Pokémon were still going strong - even with Char carrying Ciela - keeping up with Tanis' pace.

"Bianca!" Tanis panted triumphantly, hitting the call button. Flipping it to her ear, she heard it ring a few times. "Come on...pick up..." She groaned, feeling her calves starting to burn.

"Hello?" The voice came out from the receiver end a moment later.

"Bianca!" Tanis breathed, gulping down some fresh air into her stinging lungs.

"T-Tanis?!" Bianca squeaked, "Y-You sound like you're having a heart attack!"

Tanis managed to laugh through her panting, "Nah...just jogging the whole of Route 3...no big deal." She would have waved her hand, but Eevee was still wrapped up in it. Not that Bianca could see anyway, as the Pokégear was somewhat old technology that couldn't video share yet.

"Y-You don't need to--"

"I took too long, sorry!" Tanis cut Bianca off, the blood pumping in her ears and drowning out her friend's voice a bit. "Just trying to play catch up right now!"

"R-Really, Tanis! I-I'm--"

"Where are you?" Tanis panted, spotting the city just above the tree lines. "I'm almost to Nacrene City!"

There was a pause, followed by a sigh. "I'm in the Poké Center there. I'll meet you downstairs, okay?"

"Right!" Tanis tried to sound chipper, but by now her lungs were starting to burn pretty bad.

"Just don't kill yourself, okay?" Tanis tried to laugh at Bianca's comment, but all she got was an awkward pant. Clicking her gear off, Tanis swallowed, her mouth starting to taste like rust.

Ugh.

Even though she was in pretty good shape, Tanis hadn't ever run this long or this hard. She got so distracted talking to N and Eevee that she lost track of time, the sun already starting it's twilight descent. And if Bianca was in the Pokémon Center...it probably meant she got defeated by Plasma and needed to rest. Or maybe she defeated them, but Tanis wasn't terribly optimistic on the latter. Tanis would curse those Plasma goons right now, but her lungs were screaming angrily at her to voice it and her mind was too numb from the blood pumping in her ears to think it, either.

The next few minutes went by like a blur, Tanis barely remembering entering into the city. She charged into it and made a b-line towards the Pokémon Center. As soon as she burst through the doors and took a few steps in and let her Eevee go, leaning forward and doubling over with her hands on her knees, her lungs gasping frantically for air.

Char came in behind her, followed by Starlight. Once in the center and next to their trainer, Char put Ciela down on the floor. She looked over to him and gave a smile and a nod as her thanks, Char looking somewhat surprised and taken aback. Coughing, he scratched the back of his head and averted his eyes, quickly donning his usual "tough guy" appearance by crossing his arms.

Bianca had made her way across the lobby and towards the winded Tanis. "Tanis!!" She squeaked, putting a hand on her panting friend's back. "I thought I told you not to kill yourself!"

Tanis waved her off, still hunched over but stepping from side to side, keeping her legs from cramping. "...I'm...not dead...yet..." She managed to snark between ragged pants.

"Here!" Bianca produced a large bottle of water from her bag, offering it to her friend. Tanis shaking her head. "B-but...! You must be thirsty from all of that running!"

Tanis managed to raise herself upright, but kept shifting around and moving. "I...need to...calm my...lungs first. Otherwise, I'll...just throw...it all up..." She was still heaving, but starting to sound more human. She managed to flash a grim smile down at Bianca, who pursed her lips together and nodded her head.

By now, one of the nurses wandered over to the scene. "Excuse me, miss, but is everything alright?"

Tanis nodded her head, "Yeah...just ran a bit too much..." Her panting had slowed to a normal speed now, but she was still wheezing. "I'll be...fine soon...could you tend to...my Pokémon first?" She gestured to the group behind her.

"O-of course!" The Nurse exclaimed, "But please, let me know if you need anything, dear." Tanis nodded her head and called her team back to their Pokéballs, handing them to the nurse. The nurse gave a bow and scurried to the back to heal them.

"C-Come on, Tanis! Let's go sit down!" Bianca grabbed Tanis' hand and tugged her over to one of the lounges in the lobby. Normally Tanis wouldn't have been so easy to drag along, but she was so winded and exhausted to really put up any kind of a fight. Bianca plopped down in one of the chairs, but the older girl remained standing. "Tanis...you must be exhausted! Come on!"

Tanis began to stretch her legs and move her arms and torso about, still panting. "If I sit down now...my muscles will cramp up and I won't be able to get back up," She informed, switching her legs. At least her panting had slowed down to the point where she could talk more normally. "And I need to keep moving until my heart and lungs have calmed down, or it could cause...complications."

Bianca blinked. "Wow...I didn't know that..." She gasped, staring up at her friend, "You sure know a lot!"

"Hah," Tanis managed a low chuckle, but coughed afterwards due to her raw and scratchy throat. "You gotta stay in shape and keep healthy if you're taking care of Dragons...or they'll take care of you." She smirked, switching back and forth between her legs to keep her twitching muscles limber. Bianca giggled.

"I suppose you have a point!"

"Woo man...I haven't ever run that hard before!" Tanis sighed, her panting having mostly stopped though she still had some trouble talking. She stretched her arms over her head, "I'm so going to be feeling this in the morning, ugh..."

"So..." Bianca folded her hands in her lap and leaned forward, grinning mischievously up at the taller girl, "...How did your little date go?"

"It wasn't a date." Tanis huffed, closing her eyes and groaning when her neck popped.

"Uh-huh." Bianca teased, still grinning from ear-to-ear. "Then why did you go off on your own with a mysterious and handsome boy and leave me all on my own?"

Tanis rolled her eyes, "We just talked, Bianca! Hardly 'date' material. And he's not hand--" She stopped her thought and grumbled. Okay, maybe Bianca did have a point on that...

Bianca giggled, "I see, I see! So you do like him!" She continued to tease.

"What? No!" Tanis snapped, stopping her stretching and glaring down at her companion, who wasn't phased by this outburst, still grinning like the Persian who ate the Pidgey. "W-we barely know each other! Seriously, it was just a talk! Not a date!"

"Mm-hmm..." Bianca stroked her chin in mock thought. "And how would you know, anyway? Have you ever even been on one?"

"Have you?" Tanis retorted, crossing her arms. She quickly resumed stretching when her calf gave an angry spasm, grumbling to herself.

"W-well, that's besides the point!" Bianca flushed, tucking her chin into the top of her blouse.

"Hmph, so's that!" Tanis muttered, twisting her torso. "And yes, I have been on dates before. But it's kind of hard keeping a steady boyfriend when your mother scares the ever living piss out of them."

Bianca couldn't help but to giggle at that, quite aware of how formidable Nina was. "I have to agree with that!"

Before Bianca could keep pressing the issue, Tanis switched topics, "So...what happened with Team Plasma?"

Bianca's face practically fell off at the mention of their name. She sighed unhappily and hung her head down, looking at her hands in her lap. Tanis knew what that meant, stopping her stretching and approaching her and placing a hand on her shoulder. Bianca gave a sniff and leaned towards her hand.

"I'm sorry, Bianca." Tanis apologized softly. "I should have come with you..."

"N-no, no...i-it wasn't that..." She mumbled between sniffs, wiping her face with her arm. "Even if you went with me...they were too far ahead of us for me to catch up. They got away..."

"Bastards..." Tanis hissed, releasing Bianca's shoulder before she could crush the poor girl's shoulder, resuming her stretching. "I swear to all of the PokéGods out there that I will shove my fist so far up their--"

"Ahem." Her words were caught in her mouth when Cheren suddenly appeared, standing behind Bianca's chair. Bianca gave a startled squeak and turned around to see their other traveling companion. "Tanis, you do realize that there are children present, yes?"

Tanis rolled her eyes, "Whatever," She looked over towards him and raised a brow. "What brings you here?"

"I came to challenge the gym leader, of course." Cheren stated in a matter of fact tone, "What about you guys? You look like you ran a mile in the rain, Tanis."

Tanis wrinkled her nose and looked down at herself, noticing she was drenched in sweat. "Err...well...I guess I could use a shower..." Cheren was about to comment on this, but Bianca practically leaped from her chair and clung to him, almost tackling him to the ground. He gave a startled cry and she sobbed into his chest.

"I-It w-was ho-horrible!!" She wailed between gross sobs, "T-Team Pl-Plasma...t-the...they...t-they...!!" She sobbed again. Cheren looked pathetically over at Tanis to translate, awkwardly putting his hands on the sobbing teenager's shoulders.

"They stole one of her Pokémon," Tanis explained, feeling the anger starting to boil up in her again. "We were trying to track them down, but I got...distracted, and ran to catch up with her. By the time I got here...they were long gone."

Cheren quirked a brow, "You, distracted? I always thought once you set your mind on something, you'd need a crowbar and some fighting-types to break you away from it." He commented with almost a sarcastic tone, a rare smirk tugging at his lips.

Bianca hiccupped and almost instantly forgot her distress, turning over her shoulder and grinning over at Tanis. "Tanis got a boyfriend!" She teased, though she still had tears in her eyes.

"He's not my boyfriend!!" Tanis shouted, loud enough for the entire Pokémon Center to hear her, turning to stare at her. With everyone staring, Tanis quickly blushed and brushed past Cheren and Bianca. "I'mgoingtogofindthatshowernow..." She muttered quickly before any more embarrassment could be thrust upon her.

Cheren and Bianca watched her go, he turning down to the girl who was still clinging awkwardly at his chest. "...That touched a nerve, didn't it...?"

Bianca giggled again, "Sure looks like it!"

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Tanis stepped out of the restroom, feeling refreshed and restored by the shower. Her muscles had relaxed and her body was no longer drenched in sweat. Still, she knew she would be feeling the burn tomorrow. Ah, well, she'd just need to keep limber to help from getting too stiff and sore tomorrow.

Exiting out of the lodging in the back of the Pokémon Center - reserved for trainers on the road - she headed into the main lobby. Tanis approached the main desk, where trainers would check in both their Pokémon and for reserving rooms at the hospice. It was a nice thing for younger or less-experienced trainers who couldn't afford hotels. Granted, the rooms were undeniably cramped or had bunks in them, but beggars couldn't be choosers, eh?

Upon reaching the desk, Tanis fumbled in her deep pockets and withdrew her trainer's I.D. card and presented it to the nurse waiting there.

"I'd like to pick up my Pokémon, if they're ready."

The nurse scanned the card into her system. "Ah, yes! Miss Tanis, of course!" She smiled brightly over at the young woman, "Your Pokémon are fully healed! Let me go get them." Giving a small incline of her head, the nurse scurried towards the back.

Heaving a sigh, Tanis leaned against the counter with her hip against it. She lazily looked about the center - it was now evening and most of the trainers were either in their rooms or out in the city, looking for dinner. Tanis didn't see Bianca or Cheren loitering about, wondering where they got to; they probably ran off without her, the jerks.

I should probably go get something to eat after this... She mused to herself, feeling her stomach giving a loud groan of complaint. Shifting around her wallet and stuffing her I.D. card back in, she opened up the flap and wrinkled her nose at the contents...or rather, the lack of contents.

It hadn't yet been two weeks since Tanis got her full license, so her first salary payment hadn't come in yet. She was living mostly on the remnants of her mother's allowance, as well as battle winnings. And, of course, she couldn't cook worth beans, so she and her ever-growing team of Pokémon constantly ate out or used instant meals...which got terribly expensive. Ugh, Friday could not come soon enough!

"Miss Tanis!"

Tanis turned back to the counter, where the nurse had re-appeared with a tray of Pokéballs in her hands. She smiled pleasantly and walked forward, placing the tray on the counter, before folding her hands in front of her.

"Your Pokémon are all set!" She exclaimed, giving another polite incline of her head. Tanis was about to voice her thanks, but quickly noticed something was off, quirking a brow.

"Err..." She pointed down at the tray. "...Are you sure these are mine?"

"Positive!" The nurse chirped brightly, "They all have your I.D. number!"

"There has to be a mistake," Tanis leaned against the counter with her forearm, counting the spheres with her finger. "I only have four Pokémon, but there are five Pokéballs here."

The nurse blinked and looked down, quirking a brow as well. "That is...very odd." She put her chin in her hand, "I double checked, like I do with every patient...and sure enough, they're all registered to your trainer I.D."

Tanis blinked in confusion. "That's...weird...." She mumbled. Did one of her friends donate a Pokémon to her? No, if that had happened, the additional one would have their I.D. number attached. It couldn't be her mom, either...Nina would have told her if a new "friend" was going to show up, and also be tagged with her old number from Johto.

The nurse flagged down her supervisor, explaining the situation. The supervisor gasped and turned to Tanis.

"Ah, yes! So sorry, I forgot to put that note in the system!" The portly woman exclaimed, "My apologies, Miss." Tanis quirked an eyebrow.

"What were you going to log...?" She questioned skeptically.

"The additional Pokémon was a gift," The older woman explained, "It had your no trainer I.D. attached to it when we received it, so we tagged it with yours, as it was given to you. Sorry, I thought you would know about it!" She gave a polite bow, "I apologies for the confusion, Miss! It was my fault for forgetting."

"No harm done," Tanis assured, picking up the mysterious Pokéball and studying it. Before looking at it's stats and what kind of creature it was, she lifted her gaze back up at the supervisor with a skeptical look. "Any idea who it's from?"

The supervisor shrugged. "No. He wore a cape and a hood, so I didn't see his face," She informed in a matter-of-fact tone.

"That's not suspicious at all..." Tanis murmured to herself, wondering if there was a Voltorb inside that was rigged to explode when released, giving a small groan.

The supervisor didn't seem to hear this, "He just said it's from an...'interested party.'" She added with another shrug. Tanis wondered if it was from N...but why? And how? "He had a strange accent, though! Like he was from another Region...not sure which, though."

Which could mean anything, frankly. "Err, thanks." Tanis muttered dryly. It could be anyone from any region, or hell...N had a weird accent too. Damnit, Bianca was really starting to influence her way too much...

"You're welcome, hon! Let us know if you need anything else." Tanis gave a nod of her head, the woman waddling back to her station.

Tanis fitted her four Pokéballs to her belt, tossing the new one in the air and catching it. Bracing herself, she threw it out onto the floor, releasing a burst of light. Much to her pleasant surprise, it wasn't a Voltorb ready to blow, but instead, a Trapinch.

The strange, large-headed Pokémon blinked it's eyes, looking about with a curious expression. Tanis looked at the now-empty Pokéball, then down at the denizen that resided within it with raised brows. Although it was a basic ground-type upon first glance, Tanis had handled a few of this kind before. Although they took a lot of diligence to work with and level, they would evolve into a ground-dragon-type hybrid that would become quite powerful. Strange...this would be a Pokémon Nina would send her, but why the secrecy if it was from her?

The Pokémon squawked curiously up at her, snapping her from her thoughts. Tanis flashed an awkward grin down at it, squatting down and letting it sniff her hand. She quickly pulled it back when the Trapinch snapped it's jaws happily, not wanting her hand to get caught in that boulder-crushing maw.

"Hey there, little guy." Tanis cautiously set her hand on the top of it's head. She didn't need to check the Pokéball to tell the Trapinch was male, given all of her years helping her mom out with the breeding of dragon Pokémon. When the Trapinch didn't recoil, she confidently began to stroke the smooth surface of his head. "I guess you're part of my team now, huh?" She grinned down at him.

He studied Tanis for a moment with his beady eyes. The Trapinch then gave an affirmative nod, grinning his wide, toothy grin. He clamped onto her arm warmer with his jaw, as a way of showing affection, nibbling on the fabric excitedly.

Tanis chuckled, patting his nose. "You've got spirit, huh?" The Pokémon nodded his head, still nibbling on the fabric. Not enough to tear it. "Heh, I like that! I'm Tanis...welcome to the team!" The Trapinch released her arm warmer and gave a happy squawk in response.

"I think I'll call you...Draco."



----



"Draco, trap it in a Sand Tomb!"

The big-jawed Pokémon gave a growl and kicked up a sandstorm, encircling and catching the enemy Watchdog within it's grasp.

Two days had past with some training in the outskirts of Nacrene City, and now Tanis was facing off against the city's gym leader, Lenora. She had gone to explore the museum before heading out, only to discover that the gym was located behind it and a library. Tanis had managed to defeat the trainers within, and made her way to the office of Lenora, who was also the head archeologist and curator of the museum.

With the Watchdog effectively trapped by the swirling sand, receiving damage periodically, it left a perfect opening for an attack.

"Take it out with a Bite!" Draco rushed forward, impervious to the sand the enemy Pokémon was encased within, and sunk his powerful jaws into the flesh of the tall, thin creature. It was quite effective, causing the worn out Watchdog to faint, returning to it's master's Pokéball.

"Such a clever move!" Lenora exclaimed enthusiastically, her eyes gleaming with excitement, "I'm impressed!"

"Heh, thanks," Tanis grinned, already liking this woman, "I'm starting to learn there's more then brawn to win battles!" She thought back to the battle with N and how he thoroughly trounced her with just one move.

"Excellent! Learning is the best part about training!" Lenora smirked, reaching for her second Pokéball. "Now then...let the battle of wits commence!" She tossed the second sphere out, releasing a Herdier. "Go, use Retaliate!"

Tanis blinked as the Pokémon charged forward, hitting Draco with an overwhelming force. The Trapinch was knocked clean out from the attack, returning to his Pokéball.

Lenora smirked, crossing her arms over her chest. "Retaliate does double damage if used directly after an ally faints."

Another move like Bide. Damn, Tanis was really going to have to sit down with the internet and look up various Pokémon attacks! She'd need to be clever, and hope Lenora's Pokémon didn't know Bide as well. Sadly, she didn't have any type advantage, but she would have to make due, just like she had before.

"Go, Starlight!" She pointed before her, the former Shinx leaping forward and onto the field, her fur starting to spark. During her training in the wilds, Starlight had evolved into a Luxio, though the others on Tanis' team remained at the same evolution. "Charge!"

"Take Down!"

Electric energy began to sparkle around Starlight, gathering up all of her energy. Meanwhile, Lenora's Herdier began to charge forward, but with Starlight's keen eyes kept on it, it looked like the enemy was moving awfully slow. Tanis pursed her lips together, waiting for the right moment to strike.

It almost hit her like lightning, just moments before the strong normal-type could crash into her Pokémon. "Spark!" She shouted, Starlight crying out and releasing a burst of powered-up electricity from her body. It was enough to send the Herdier squealing backwards, it's fur singed and burned. It managed to right itself, shaking it's head. Lenora seemed to be studying the battle closely.

"Bite!"

"Retaliate!" Although the move wouldn't do the same amount of damage, it would still pack a pretty nasty punch when it landed. Both of the Pokémon charged forward, Starlight managing to sink her fangs into the Herdier just before it knocked her aside, taking a large tuft of fur with her. By now, the Herdier was badly injured, panting heavily. Just one more hit...

"Alright, you can do this, Starlight!" Tanis encouraged, the Luxio gave a confident nod and rushed forward again, "Finish it!"

Charging with electric energy, Starlight struck the Herdier one last time, releasing a blast of lightning out from about it. The Herdier gave one final cry before returning to Lenora's Pokéball, the gym leader smiling knowingly.

"Brilliantly done!" Lenora applauded, walking down the steps from her desk to stand before Tanis, "My theory was correct about you. You are a brilliant battler who cares for your team...and you're deeply motivated to succeed! My congratulations and salute to you, my dear!"

She reached out and took Tanis' hands, giving them warm shakes. When she withdrew, Tanis found a badge resting in them. "It is my pleasure to aware you the Basic Badge! I would also like to give you this," From her apron pocket, Lenora withdrew a disk in a case, "This is a TM! It contains Retaliate, so you can teach your dear Pokémon the move!" Tanis grinned, taking it.

"Thanks!" She looked down at her group, grinning widely. She hadn't ever gotten a TM before; now she could own anyone who would faint her Pokémon! "It was a great honor battling you."

"Please, it was my honor!" The tall, hearty woman slapped Tanis on the back, causing her to lurch forward. "There are so many mysteries out there, and I want to find them all! That is my dream...what is yours?"

Tanis blinked, tilting her head to the side. Come to think of it..."I...I guess I--"

"Dear!!"

Both women looked up to see Hawes, Lenora's husband, burst through the door and come charging down the steps. Lenora brushed past Tanis and looked up at her husband.

"What is it? What's going on?"

"D-dear, they...they're trying to steal pieces of the exhibit upstairs!" Hawes panted, clearly having run the whole way down to her office and gym.

Lenora's face turned into a deep glare. "Nobody messes with my exhibits!" She cracked her knuckles and marched up the steps. Tanis blinked and looked over towards Hawes, as if to ask him what happened. He merely gestured for her to come along too, Tanis following after him and up the staircase, through the large library and towards the Museum.

Even from a distance, she could hear the commotion going on. Lenora had charged ahead and down the steps into the main hall, Tanis jogging after her, her Pokémon following at her heels. As soon as she made it to the base next to Lenora, her blood started to boil.

"Plasma..." Damnit, she couldn't walk two steps without running into the freaks! And she still hadn't forgiven them for making off with Bianca's precious Munna!

The goons surrounded the large skeleton of the Dragonite. Several exhibits were busted in and broken as well, with glass scattered everywhere and pieces torn up and discarded across the floor. Obviously, Plasma was looking for something. The visitors had all fled when the commotion started, leaving just a gaggle of the goons and the trio of Lenora, Hawes and Tanis.

"What the hell are you doing here?!" Lenora demanded, pointing towards them, "Do you have any idea how priceless these artifacts are?!"

"It doesn't matter! All that matters is liberation!" One of the goons shouted, raising his fist in the air. The other grunts raised them as well.

"Liberation!" They all shouted in unison.

"And the key to Pokémon Liberation resides in the Legendary Dragons!" The head Plasma grunt added, lowering his arm down.

"You wouldn't--" Lenora started.

"Oh yes, we would! Our King demands it for freedom!!" The grunt pointed towards the large skeleton, "And this old Dragon is the key to reviving them!!"

"Oh for the love of--" Lenora grumbled, rubbing her temples. She didn't get to snap at them again before they all released a smokescreen, and seconds later, they were gone and the skull was missing from the bone structure. "I swear to Arceus when I find them--"

"--I will beat them with their own spine!" Tanis hissed, both Lenora and Hawes looking back to her with shocked expressions, noticing the blood burning in her eyes.

Lenora turned to her husband, "Well, I knew she was spirited..." She muttered sarcastically, the man nodding his head, "Anyway, we need to go after them! Come on!!" She gestured towards the entrance, dashing towards it. Tanis nodded her head and followed the Gym Leader out, Char once again scooping Ciela up so she wouldn't get lost when they made their mad dash after Plasma once again. He just hoped his trainer wouldn't over-exhaust herself like last time.

Once outside of the gym, Lenora spotted the goons high-tailing it towards the Pinwheel Forest. "Come on! We need to stop them!" She gestured for Tanis to follow. She didn't need to tell Tanis twice; she was more then eager to beat the crap out of these Plasma idiots for defiling such a noble beast's bones, and for the past incident with Munna. Plus, there was safety in numbers, the more chasing Plasma down the better chance they had at stopping the bastards.

She was so focused she didn't even notice walking past someone familiar, but did when she heard her name.

"Tanis."

Tanis stopped in her tracks, recognizing that voice. Her hands balled up into tight, clenched fists, her lips pursing together. God, why now? What did he want this time? She had half a mind to turn around and snap at him, but knew she couldn't let her anger at the situation boil over towards someone who had nothing to do with it. Turning at her waist, she met his gaze.

"What is it, N?" She managed to say through clenched teeth, trying not to sound too tense.

"I've been...looking for you," N informed, pushing off of the building he was leaning against. Char's groan could have been heard from miles away, but neither human paid it any heed. "I wanted to battle you again, Tanis."

Tanis tried her best not to yell, taking in some slow breaths so she wouldn't. "Now is not a good time, N! I'm trying to track down Plasma, and--" She went to turn around to keep moving forward, but stopped when his hand grabbed onto her wrist. The anger inside of her began to boil again, her fist clenching. She had to fight back every urge not to whirl around and slap him across the face.

"I insist you battle with me." His usually calm, fast-paced speech turned cold and precise, sending daggers of ice running down her spine. Tanis looked up into his grey-blue eyes and noticed a shadow in them, similar to how he looked when Eevee said her parents had been captured by Plasma. She glared up at him, pulling her wrist from his hand.

"Don't do that again," She warned, but he didn't relent.

"Tanis, I have to see the future you hold," N said, his tone still somewhat icy, but back to his usual rapid-fire speech pattern. "And I can only determine that by hearing your Pokémon's voice and battling you." He paused, his face softening a bit. "...Please." His voice softened as well, sending a different kind of chill down her spine.

Oh goddamn it.

Tanis groaned, running her hand through her bangs. "Okay, okay! Fine!" She relented, giving her neck a pop, "But make it quick! I have to help Lenora!" Ugh, she really was a sap sometimes...N was turning out weirder and weirder each time they met, but somehow, the oddball was kind of...growing on her, and she couldn't bring herself to hate him.

He gave a small smile, "Thank you, Tanis. Now, let us begin..."

Like the battle before, N's first Pokémon appeared out of no where; a Timburr appeared out from the bushes, walking up beside N. Seeing how Char wasn't a fan of the strange guy, he charged forward without any inclination from Tanis. Tanis would've groaned, but she just wanted to get this battle over and done with before Plasma got too far away.

Damn, every time they showed up, N came in to stall her...weird...

"Char, hit it with an Ember!" Tanis shouted.

"Focus Energy."

While the Timburr focused it's energies, gripping onto it's wooden beam tightly. Char spat a blast of flame at it, hitting it square in the face and knocking it backwards, but it still persisted. Tanis knew that it was building up for another attack, so she would need to be cautious. Thankfully, Char was still pretty close to her.

"Use a Smokescreen, we can't let it hit you after that!" She said quietly, hopefully low enough for N not to pick up on.

"Use Low Kick." N commanded, the Timburr grinning and rushing forward. Char, meanwhile, smirked and clamped his mouth shut, releasing large plumes of smoke that surrounded the make-shift battle area. The Timburr quickly got lost within the confusion, stopping in it's tracks and looking about.

"Ember!" Tanis commanded, Char releasing another spit of flame that caught onto the Timburr's wood. It gave a startled cry and dropped the burning object, the smoke clearing. It glared angrily up at the Charmeleon, who merely crossed his arms and smirked, as if begging the other Pokémon to attack him.

With the Timburr's log destroyed, N gave a small nod towards it. "That's enough, you've done well." He said, giving a small smile to the Pokémon. It turned it's head towards him and protested, but N shook his head. "No, he's wounded you enough. I don't want to see you hurt anymore, my friend." Huffing, the Timburr shot one final glare over at the gloating Char and stalked away. Strange, N seemed to always recall his Pokémon before they fainted...

A caw came from up above as a black shadow descended from the skies, revealing a Murkrow. It landed in front of N and challenged Char with it's beady eyes. Where the hell were all of these Pokémon coming from? Tanis never saw them with him, and come to think of it...neither of the two he had in the last battle had shown up. That was a little bizarre...

Still, Tanis hadn't ever seen this Pokémon before. She decided not to take any chances. "Char, come back!" He turned his head and protested, flailing his arms. His trainer shook her head, "No, I want Ciela to take care of this." Blinking, Char sighed and stalked back towards her, crossing his arms. The Dratini slithered forward, narrowing her eyes over at the new foe.

"Astonish."

"Thunder Wa--" Tanis' order got cut off when the Murkrow cawed and made a frightening face, lashing out with a confusing force that stunned Ciela temporarily. Damn.

"Now, use Pursuit, please."

Giving another caw, the Murkrow burst forward, surrounded by dark energy and lashed out at Ciela with it's claws, raking them down her face and knocking her backwards. The Dratini gave a startled squeak, closing her eyes and shaking her head. But Tanis knew she was stronger then that...and she needed to keep that Murkrow down!

"Now! Use Thunder Wave!" Snapped out of her wits, Ciela released a charge of electricity from the gem on her head, hitting the Murkrow and rendering it paralyzed. With it successfully incapacitated, Tanis prepared her next order. "Twister!"

Opening her mouth again, Ciela released the vortex of energy from it, catching the Murkrow within it's grasp and whipping it around, before spitting the bird Pokémon back on the ground. It was enough to damage it, but not enough to cause it to faint. Tanis was about to issue another command, but stopped when N strode forward. He fished a berry from his pocket and fed it to the incapacitated Murkrow, the paralysis curing as soon as it ate it.

"I'm sorry to have put you through such pain," N apologized to the Pokémon, gently petting it's beak. "But you have done well. You are free to go." Eyeing the human skeptically, it gave a small shrug of it's wings before flapping off and returning to the trees. That was the second one...what the heck was going on?

Tanis didn't have much time to think when Pidove fluttered down from the skies and landed before Ciela. Tanis gestured for Starlight to take the stage, the Luxio walking forward, narrowing her eyes at the foe, while Ciela slithered back to her side.

"Spark!"

"Quick Attack."

Starlight rushed forward, lightning sparking around her fur, causing it to stand on end. She charged towards the small Pokémon, who nimbly dodged the attack and zipped around behind her, landing a blow that caused her to stagger forward. Tanis gave a small nod of her head, Starlight snapping around and clenching her teeth around the Pidove and tossing it aside. The smaller Pokémon staggered back to it's feet, wobbling two and fro from the attack. N looked down at it in concern, but it focused it's attention back on Starlight, signaling it was still good to fight.

"Hit it with another Quick Attack," N noted, his voice slightly strained.

"Charge!" Tanis prepared to use the attack she had done with Lenora, but knew her timing would have to be more precise with the enemy using a Quick Attack. The Luxio took a calm stance, charging energy around her. The Pidove took off of the ground and shot towards her, moving almost too quickly for the eye to see. Tanis would need to be careful, or else--

Starlight gave a startled cry when the Pidove hit her, sending her backwards. However, it wasn't enough to knock her charge down, and now she was close enough to..."Quick, use Spark!"

Starlight complied, bursting with energy and hitting the bird Pokémon with it's weakness. The Pidove gave a weak cry and fell to the ground, limbs twitching. Although it had fainted, it didn't return to a Pokéball...which only meant--

"You're not actually a trainer, are you?" Tanis whispered breathlessly, her eyes going wide. N had gone to the fallen Pidove and scooped the poor thing into his arms, fishing out a berry to help revive it. He didn't look up to her or respond, gently cradling the Pokémon in his arms with a pained expression on his face. Thankfully, the Pidove was revived and it gave a sad, disappointed chirp, N shaking his head.

"You did very well, my friend. I'm sorry to have caused you such trauma..." It looked comfortingly up at him, as if to say it was alright, "Are you well enough to return?" It gave a sad chirp in response. "No, it is best if you return to your home." It looked sadly up at him, but gave a small nod of it's head, flapping away from N and over the tree tops. No other Pokémon showed up, so did she...win? Somehow, it felt a little strange, knowing she had just beaten someone who wasn't really a trainer.

N gave a small sigh and turned towards her. "I am a trainer, just...not in the traditional sense," He tried to explain.

"Uh, in case you missed the memo, training involves catching Pokémon," Tanis said skeptically, arching a brow up. "You can't train with them otherwise, or gain a connection with them, if you don't catch them."

N shook his head, "It's against my ideals and principles. Keeping them in those balls seems cruel, like you're trapping them in some kind of a prison..." He said sadly, down-casting his eyes. Tanis raised her eyebrows, suddenly feeling a bit apprehensive about him. It sounded awfully familiar to Plasma, except he wasn't a hypocrite who continued to use Pokémon while talking about "liberation" or whatever the hell they were on a high horse for.

"I do agree, sometimes keeping them trapped in there is a little cruel..." Tanis tried to ignore her suspicions and misgivings; maybe he was just one of those bleeding heart types? "Which is why I like to keep mine out of them for as long as I can. Besides..." She turned towards her team, giving a small grin, "I like having them with me. It makes me feel comforted that I can talk to them whenever, see if they need anything, yadda yadda."

N lifted his head up and met her gaze, "Ah...that's good. I'm glad we think alike, Tanis," He said in a soft voice, smiling warmly down at her. For some reason, she felt her cheeks start to burn. "Do you think they should be free to be on their own, away from humans, too?"

Tanis blinked, her suspicions increasing, "Erm...n-no, I don't believe that at all!" She said bluntly, causing N's face to nearly fall off. Suddenly, she felt a bit guilty for putting it so curtly, raising her hands and waving them about in an attempt to save herself, "I-I mean, I really can't imagine life without Pokémon at my side! Could you?"

N seemed taken aback by this statement, blinking his eyes. It was like he hadn't even considered that possibility before. Maybe he wasn't with Plasma...or hadn't he even think of that before? Ugh, she didn't know! It didn't seem like he did, either, rapidly shaking his head and taking a few steps towards Tanis, looking down into her eyes with an intense expression.

"You are a strong trainer, Tanis," He said quietly, though still spoke too quick. "But in order for me to change the world, I will need to become strong, too...this battle here has proven I'm not strong enough." Tanis wanted to say 'because you don't actually train your Pokémon,' but managed to keep her mouth shut this one time.

Still she had to say something. "'Change the world?'" She asked, tilting her head to the side, so proud that she didn't go the snarky route for a change.

N nodded his head, "Yes. So many humans are cruel to Pokémon, and it breaks my heart," He said sadly, down casting his gaze again, "They're my friends, and I want to build a world where they can be free." Tanis was about to respond, but he lifted his gaze back up to hers, his eyes suddenly stone cold. "This is why I need to awaken Zekrom. When joined with the hero of legend, he helped create Unova...and I intend to become the new hero."

Now it was Tanis' turn to be taken aback, almost flinching with the intensity of N's voice and expression. However, moments later it softened and he gently placed his hands on her shoulders. The emotional whiplash startled her just as much, twitching under his touch.

"This is why I want us to be friends, Tanis. I can't do this alone," He said warmly, smiling down at her. Tanis became even more confused, wondering what the hell was going on right now. With him, with her. "We...are friends, right?" He asked hesitantly, noticing her conflicted expression, his brows furrowed.

"Erm..." Tanis looked uncomfortably off to the side, then back over towards N. Although she had a sinking suspicion the guy was working for Plasma, which meant he was her enemy...she couldn't help but to like him. As strange as he was, there was something about him, something innocent and kind...sighing, she looked back up at him and managed to smile.

"Yeah, I'd say so."

N returned her smile, squeezing her shoulders. "I'm glad," He released her and took a few steps away. He briefly glanced off towards the forest, then returned back to her. "The future is changing, I can't see it yet...but I hope you will be part of it, Tanis." He gave a small incline of his head before walking off, disappearing into the woods surrounding the city.

Tanis stood there, completely dumbfounded. She was pretty sure N was apart of Team Plasma now, so he was her enemy. It would make sense why he kept appearing right when those grunts were fleeing from her, halting her progress. But why was he so nice to her? Why did he want to be friends, if she was so actively kicking the crap out of Plasma's behinds? Goddamn it...who was this guy?

And why was her heart beating so fast?

 

 

Chapter Text

 

"Damnit, damnit, damnit!" Tanis busted through the outskirts of the Pinwheel Forest, skirting around the long grass and keeping to the worn path before her.

Once again, she had spent too much time with N. Surely enough, she was lagging behind again. She really hoped that Lenora would be able to handle Team Plasma on her own, or stall them long enough for the younger trainer to catch up, right?

The Team had run into the maze-like Pinwheel Forest, obviously heading that direction to lose their would-be pursuers and make a clean get-away with the skull.

Tanis was not about to let them escape. Not this time!

With her four conscious Pokémon with her - Char carrying Ciela again and Eevee riding on the top of Tanis' backpack - she skidded around a corner and sprinted along the road, her eyes looking for any sudden movements in the bushes. Rounding another corner, she screeched to a halt when a man approached her in rather...flamboyant attire.

"Are you Tanis?" He asked, coming to a stop and taking a moment to catch his breath, resting his hands on his knees.

Tanis raised a brow. "Uh, yeah?"

The man breathed out a sigh, "Oh, thank god! I was hoping it was you!" He exclaimed, rising up to his somewhat towering height. Man, this guy is built like a bean pole, she noted at his tall height and slim build. A really, really flashy bean pole...

But, she kept her mouth shut on the matter, "Do I know you?" She asked skeptically, hoping he would finish his business with her and let her move on.

"There's no time to explain!" The man gestured ahead, "Come on, we can talk while we move on!" Tanis blinked, but gave a short nod in response, following him down the path. They moved at a brisk pace, the man's eyes also looking around for movement. "My name is Burgh, and I'm the leader of the Castelia City gym," He explained, Tanis wondering how this weird looking guy was a gym leader, "I was going to visit Lenora, but then a gaggle of Team Plasma grunts blew past and she was hot on their tails! So I offered to help her track them down."

Tanis nodded her head, "Any idea where they went?" She asked, and despite her rather short stature, she managed to keep up with the tall man's rapid pace quite well.

Burgh shrugged, "We ran across two trainers about your age, and they're helping us track them down," He explained, "The Plasma goons kind of disappeared into the woods, so we're 'dividing and conquering.' I went back to the entrance to make sure they didn't go back out the way they came...and then I ran into you."

Well, that would make things more fun. Sighing, Tanis scratched the back of her head, "How did you know it was me, though?" She inquired, raising a brow.

Burgh gave a chuckle, "Lenora said a trainer with dark skin and a temperamental Charmeleon." Char narrowed his eyes and huffed angrily at the comment, causing the gym leader to laugh. "Sounds like she was right on the mark, huh?" He cast a sideways glance over at Tanis, who couldn't help but to snicker.

They quickly reached a large fork in the road, diverging from the main path. "Which way should we go?" Tanis asked, looking over at Burgh.

"The thing with this forest is the moment you step from the main path that leads out, it becomes a maze," Burgh noted, stroking his chin. "Plasma could be anywhere right now, and likely off of the main path. We should split up!"

"Alright, sounds good!" Tanis picked one of the paths and stepped onto it, "We'll find those bastards and make them pay!" She announced, punching her fist into her open palm. Burgh grinned at her.

"You've got fire in you, I'll give you that!" He gave a wave and hurried down the other path, Tanis following suit down her own. She would have chuckled or made a comment about it, but she became focused on her objective. Pursing her lips, she hurried down the path, keeping her eyes peeled and her ears focused.

And it looked like the right one.

Tanis turned a corner and through the bushes she saw a Plasma grunt, looking terribly lost.

"Aw man, I knew I shouldn't have taken rear guard!" He muttered angrily to himself, looking around then shaking his head, "I have no friggin' idea where I am or where the Sage is...damnit!"

Tanis turned down to Char, the Trainer and Pokémon sharing knowing smirks. They no longer needed to run, so Char gently set Ciela down and cracked his knuckles. The Plasma goon still mumbled to himself about being lost, trying to figure out which path he took and where he got turned around, totally oblivious to Tanis and her posse waiting in the shadows.

"Fry 'em, Char!"

The Plasma grunt turned just in time to see an Ember moving towards him. He gave a startled cry and went to raise his arms, but didn't move fast enough. The fire hit him clear in the face and knocked him off of his feet, landing on his back. The Ember wasn't strong enough to leave too bad of a burn, but he did give a shriek of pain, fumbling in his pockets for a Burn Heal. Tanis leaped from the bushes and came to him, grabbing him by the collar of his uniform and raising him up to her level.

He gave another cry, seeing the fire burning in her eyes. "A-Ah..!! P-please, I-I didn't d-do a-anything wr--"

Tanis brought him closer to her face. "I don't care," She hissed, narrowing her eyes at him, causing him to shut up, "What you claim you have or haven't done! I want to know where you and your little buddies are."

"I-I don't--"

"You better start talking, or I'll sick my Charmeleon on you again!" Tanis snapped. Char came up right on cue, cracking his knuckles and smirking deviously up at the grunt. He gulped and looked back at her, nodding his head rapidly.

"O-of course...! W-wha-whatever y-you say...!" He stuttered, pointing a shaking hand. "I-I do-don't know w-which p-path, b-but everyone is m-meting Sage Gorm t-to the north!" Satisfied, Tanis released him with a thud, he giving another cry of discomfort.

"Let's go."

Her team followed her as she moved through the bushes, trying to catch sight of Team Plasma. Thankfully she had a pretty good sense of direction, so if she kept going north she'd eventually find them. It sure sounded like they weren't that far off, so she was just in time. Thank Arceus! This time, N didn't delay her too long...but for some reason, just thinking about him made her heart flutter. Whether it was from rage or fondness, she couldn't tell right now.

"Wah--!" Tanis was abruptly pulled from her thoughts when she felt a hand on her shoulder, but she was cut off from crying out when another wrapped around her mouth.

"Shh, do you want them to hear you?" Tanis whipped around, seeing Cheren behind her. He quickly removed his hand from her mouth.

"Cheren!" She gasped in an angry whisper, glaring up at him, "Jesus, you can't sneak up on me like that! I almost bit you!"

"Thankfully, you didn't," Cheren noted calmly, crossing his arms, "Besides, if I was really an attacker, I think your Pokémon would have noticed."

Tanis looked back at her team, who were all used to Cheren by now. Well, except Eevee, but she figured if Char wasn't concerned, she shouldn't be either. Turning back to Cheren, Tanis gave an awkward smile.

"F-Fair point..."

"Anyway, I believe they are right ahead," Cheren gestured before them, "With us working together, we should be able to stop them, even if the others aren't here."

Tanis gave a determined nod of her head, "Let's do it!"

They moved through the underbrush, sneaking forward. The pair soon heard some chattering ahead of them. Both trainers looked at each other, knowing that their target was within reach. Cheren gestured with his head around one side of the voices, signaling he would move about and flank them if they would try to escape. Tanis nodded and moved forward, watching him slip away out of the corners of her eyes.

Sure enough, a large collection of Plasma members stood in a thicket. They surrounded an elderly man in a fancy blue coat.

"--What our King requested." The old man said, causing the grunts to all groan at once.

"But he said--" One protested.

"I am aware of what he instructed you to do," The old man said in a low voice, "But this...this thing, is not it." It sounded like he was scolding children.

"Yes, Sage Gorm," All of the grunts said in kind of unison, some being a little unnerved by the aforementioned scolding. The sage was about to add more, but Tanis leaped from the bushes towards them, her Pokémon following behind her.

"Hey, assholes!" She shouted, causing all of the grunts to recoil in shock and stare at her. Gorm seemed unaffected by the surprise. "Give back what you stole!"

"Oh, yeah? You and what army?" One of the goons snarked, putting his hands on his hips.

Now would be a great time for you to appear, Cheren! Tanis thought desperately, trying to see movement from the bushes along the sides. Where the hell was that guy? Did he drop his glasses or something?

Oh well...time to make stuff up! "I don't need an army!" If all else fails, fake bravado the idiots into retreat! "I've kicked the asses of dozens of you idiotic grunts!" A massive exaggeration; Tanis wasn't even sure she had fought half a dozen of them. "So give back what you stole, or suffer my wrath!" She put her hands on her hips and stuck her bust out, trying to make herself look as imposing as possible, Char mimicking the gesture.

The grunt who spoke up scoffed, "Hmph! Well, I think you're nothing but hot a--"

"Enough." The Sage said in a forceful tone, holding his hand out. The grunt stopped and gave a small bow. "I do believe that this is the women our King spoke of."

Tanis' glare deepened. "And how the hell would he know me?" She spat, pretty sure she hadn't met their leader before.

Gorm gave her a knowing stare, "He has his ways, child," He paused, Tanis preparing a witty come-back, but he started talking the moment she opened her mouth, "But, I do believe we have guests." He folded his arms behind his back and turned the opposite direction.

Lenora and Bianca charged forward, never missing a beat, with Cheren popping from one side and Burgh from the other. No doubt, Cheren noticed they were coming and explained the plan...or he really did lose his glasses. About damn time! Tanis thought, but merely pursed her lips instead of voicing it out loud.

"The jig is up!" Lenora shouted, pointing towards the Plasma Sage. "Hand over my exhibit, Plasma!"

The Plasma grunts all went for their Pokéballs, but stopped when Gorm helped a steady hand out.

"No. This is not a battle worth fighting," He said coolly, keeping his gaze trained on Lenora. The henchmen all lowered their arms in defeat. After all, they were surrounded by trainers - including two gym leaders - so they really didn't have a chance. "We are seeking the Black Dragon of Ideals, but this skull will not aid us in our search. These fools took it by mistake." The Sage looked back at them pointedly, causing them to all lower their heads in shame.

"I wasn't expecting you to go down without a fight," Lenora admitted, her eyes wide. She relaxed her pose, the head Grunt walking over to her and returning the Dragonite's skull to her. She carefully wrapped it in a special fabric to keep the bone dry and clean.

"As I have said, this will not further our glorious purpose," He informed coldly, taking a few steps back from Lenora. "We mustn't fear defeat. But know this: Know your enemy--" As he said this, he looked back at Tanis with a pointed gaze, causing her to blink in confusion, "--Know yourself, and do not fear the result of a hundred battles." While he continued to speak, he slowly returned his attention back towards Lenora. "Farewell, Leader." With a bow, the Team Plasma grunts released smoke bombs, and when the smoke cleared, they were gone.

"...And here I was expecting an epic battle," Tanis murmured sarcastically, Char nodding his head in agreement. She was trying to ignore the comment Gorm said to her.

"I'm glad it ended peacefully," Burgh sighed, "The world would be a better place if more people stayed their blades. But, it makes me wonder what they were actually looking for..."

Lenora shrugged, "There isn't anything relating to Dragons in the museum besides the skeleton," She mused, going through the catalog in her mind, "Probably some member knew about it and assumed they were related..."

"Are we really okay with letting them go?" Bianca fretted, Lenora turning to her and nodding.

"Sometimes, the best way to win a war is to avoid fighting," She assured the teenager, placing her free hand on the blonde's shoulder, "But I doubt all other encounters with those freaks will be so peaceful..." Bianca nodded her head slowly.

Burgh sighed and scratched his head, "Anyway, with this resolved, I'm going to head back to my gym in Castelia!" He gave a nod towards the group, "And...I hope to see the three of you there!" With a smile, he turned on his heel and headed down the path.

"I'll take you up on that offer!" Cheren jogged after the gym leader, falling into pace beside him.

"On that note, I better get back as well! Gotta fix the exhibit now..." Lenora announced, turning to Bianca and Tanis. "Tanis, Bianca, thank you both for your help. If you guys need anything, give me a shout!" Inclining her head, she turned on her heel and headed down the return path, back to Nacrene. With her gone, Tanis heaved a sigh.

What the hell was Gorm talking about? Why did Team Plasma have an interest in her? Especially from their King, whom she hadn't met or knew who the hell he was. Maybe N had relayed their encounters to this mysterious Plasma King? It seemed the most logical conclusion. Or it could be a lot of bull that was meant to confuse her. But what about the "know your enemy" thing? Ugh! This was making her head hurt.

"Hey, Tanis?" Tanis was snapped from her thoughts, Bianca placing a hand on the older girl's shoulder. "Are you okay?"

Tanis managed a weak smile, "Y-yeah, I'm just...thinking..." She looked down at the ground and sighed.

"You must be tired! Come on, let's walk back to Nacrene and rest!" Bianca smiled, taking her friend's hand. "We can go together, alright?"

Suddenly, Tanis felt exhausted. Not to mention in all of the excitement, she didn't have a chance to rest her Pokémon. Between the battle with Lenora and N, then chasing down Plasma...no doubt they were pretty beat as well. Char didn't show it, of course, but he would never admit to being tired or weak.

Tanis managed a tired smile. "That sounds great, actually."

Bianca giggled, "Let's go!"



----



After a nice, restful sleep - and another shower - Tanis set off again with Bianca. The other girl had parted with her in the Pinwheel Forest, pressing forward towards the Skyarrow Bridge and Castelia City. Tanis, however, opted to remain behind to train in the forest.

It certainly gave her time to think. A little too much time to think.

The connection on the Pokégear was rather shoddy in the thick forest, so Tanis was sure to download information about Pokémon and their moves. She did have the Pokédex app as well, but it wasn't nearly as sophisticated as the real McCoy was. Information from the internet was more reliable, so whenever she had a moment, she would whip the gear out and get to studying. If she had any hope of defeating Plasma, she would need to be will informed.

But, of course, she totally forgot to search for information on the team before entering the forest. Damn.

When not training her team or packing her brain, she was left to her own thoughts. She wondered who the hell Plasma was, who had sent her Draco as a gift, why Plasma had an interest in her, who their King was...but mostly about N. She was pretty convinced he was part of Plasma and likely an informant to the King, but she wondered why he was so adamant on being her friend if this was the case. Was it because this so-called "King" had an interest in her, or was it because N actually did want to be friends? He was kind of an odd duck, so she wouldn't put the latter past him...but it still didn't make much sense. Ugh, the more she thought about it, the more her head hurt and the more confused she got. She'd need to ask him next time he decided to appear.

Progress was slow through the forest. Almost a week had past before Tanis noticed their food supply was starting to run low, so she headed towards the exit. Tanis shielded her eyes from the bright light, giving them time to re-adjust back to sunlight.

"Wow!" She exclaimed breathlessly, her eyes going wide at the sight before her. "There it is...!"

The Skyarrow Bridge.

Tanis looked back at her companions and flashed a bright grin at them, rushing forward. Jogging to the spiral staircase that lead up to the walkway, she leaned over the guard railing and looked out at the bay below. She had seen pictures of the bridge and the view in her school books, but they didn't compare to the real thing!

"Amazing!" Tanis breathed, her eyes wide and a cheerful smile on her face. "Isn't it?" She turned back to her team.

Ciela was peering over the edge as well, her tail twitching in excitement. She was completely ensconced with the view. Starlight, too, was absorbing it all, looking about curiously. Both Char and Draco seemed a bit neutral on the matter, Char looking especially bored. Eevee, however, was a different story.

The young Pokémon mewled in a timid voice, looking rather uncomfortable. She took some cautious steps back, shaking her head.

Tanis gasped and hurried over to the obviously scared Pokémon, squatting down, "Oh, sweetie! What's wrong?" She held out her hand. Eevee gave a cry and nuzzled against the hand. Tanis picked up the poor dear and stroked her head, "There, there! Are you scared of crossing the bridge?" The Eevee nodded her head nervously. "Look, it's okay! You can't see the ground and the ocean if we walk in the center, see?" She pointed up to the walkway, which was completely solid. "And I'll be right there with you!" Eevee still looked scared, pursing her lips and shaking her head. "And...if you fall off, I'll send Char down after you!"

Char gave an angry shout, clearly not pleased at the notion of being chucked down into the bay. Eevee managed to giggle at it, Tanis chuckling.

"See? It's not so scary!" She encouraged, "You can't overcome your fears if you don't face them." Giving the young Pokémon a squeeze, Tanis set her down. "We'll be here the whole time, 'kay?"

Eevee met her gaze. Tanis popped back to her feet and gave a thumbs up. Eevee gave a meek nod, slowly taking a few cautious steps over to the staircase. When she reached the base of the stairs, she stopped, a little unnerved.

Thankfully, Draco was there to save the day, giving her a nudge with his large head. Eevee stumbled forward, the ground type giving her a goofy grin and a playful snap of his jaws.

Bolstered, Eevee walked up the stairs towards the bridge. Tanis fell into pace beside her, grinning. Eevee gained confidence as they walked, and once they made it up the twisting path to the walkway, she seemed confident in this endeavor. With the young Pokémon feeling more confident, Tanis once again took in the sights.

It was a beautiful spring day. It was starting to get rather hot, actually, and Tanis was glad she had changed into her more summery clothes - a tank top with a vest over it, and super comfy cargo shorts. Breathing in the fresh air, Tanis folded her arms behind her head, looking at the birds flitting about the sky.

She was suddenly taken from enjoying the scenery when her Pokégear started to ring. Reaching into her pocket, she flipped open the device.

"...Oh shit..." She mumbled, hastily hitting the accept button and raising it to her ear. "Hello...?" She asked nervously, quickly lowering the ear piece down.

"Don't you 'hello' me, young lady." Came the irritated hiss of Nina. Tanis put the gear back against her head. "I've been trying to call you for the past three days! Where on Unova have you been?"

Tanis groaned and ran her free hand down her face. "Sorry, I was in the Pinwheel Forest, and there's, like, no reception."

Even over the phone, she could just feel her mother's disapproving glare. "You should have called me before," Nina scolded, "We agreed to phone each other on your pay days! Friday has come and gone and--"

"I was busy chasing down Team Plasma!" Tanis shouted, feeling herself getting angry again. Nina stopped talking, "I was in Nacrene's Gym when they busted in, stealing a piece from the Museum there! I was helping the leader reclaim it. I totally forgot to call you during all of the confusion that ensued!"

There was an uncomfortable, long silence on the other end. Tanis was about to check her phone to see if it disconnected, but Nina spoke a second later.

"...Team Plasma?" She inquired in a low voice.

"Yeah," Tanis confirmed with a groan.

"The Team Plasma? The ones on the news who are stealing Pokémon, and talking about liberation?" Nina's voice grew more focused and louder as she spoke.

"The one and only." Tanis sighed, looking up at the sky.

"Son of a tied down--" Nina muttered angrily, stopping herself before she started cursing. "Tanith, what have you gotten yourself into?" Her voice was softer, more concerned as she said this.

Tanis flinched at the use of her full name, grimacing. "I really don't know, Mom...I really don't..." Her mind flashed to N and his ambiguous motives, whether or not he was a friend or an enemy...but she shook her head, trying to free herself from those thoughts.

"Tanith," Nina used her full name again, her voice turning serious, "Why are you involved in this? This is a job for the police, or the Elite Four, not some teenaged girl."

Tanis sighed, "Mom, please don't call me that," She muttered, hastily continuing before her mother could interject, "A friend of mine got her Pokémon stolen by them, and in the process of helping her get it back, I seemed to have...gotten their attention, somehow." She debated telling Nina about N, but decided against it. Best not to worry her mother with assumptions.

"Oi vey..." Nina grumbled, Tanis almost seeing her rub her temples in her mind.

"And..." Tanis remembered they talked about some legendary dragon, "They're doing something that has to do with some legendary dragon-type here in Unova." Tanis furrowed her brows, "Mom, I don't know anything about that, but do you?"

"Not from Unova," Nina said in a low voice, "I do know of some other legendary dragons, though...there's Rayquayza in Hoenn, who is said to be the master of the weather and elements. Then in Shinnoh, there's Dialga and Palkia, who are masters of time and space, respectively." She paused and gave a hum of thought, "I don't know about Unova. Let me do some digging and get back to you, alright?"

Tanis soaked up the information and nodded, "Alright, thanks, Mom." She half smiled at this, even though Nina couldn't see her face.

"You're welcome, sweetie," Nina sighed, "Just forget about me next time!" She mock-scolded, which was evident by the laughter that came from her right after.

"I won't!" Tanis laughed as well.

"And Tanis?"

"Yes?" Tanis stifled another chuckle, lowering her head to look forward.

Nina sighed, "Just...be careful. Those Plasma members aren't all what they seem..."

Tanis furrowed her brows, "...I will." Snapping the gear closed, she put it back into her pocket and sighed. She'd need to do a bit of digging about Plasma, too. But what did her mother mean? "Not what they seem?" Damnit, this was getting a bit weird...

She was so engrossed in her discussion with her mother, that Tanis failed to notice she had walked almost all the way across the bridge. The massive cityscape of Castelia City loomed before her and her team.

Grinning, she looked down at them, "Let's go, guys!" Tanis exclaimed, "Castelia City awaits!"

 

 

Chapter Text

 

"Tanis!"

Tanis nearly spat her coffee all over herself at Bianca's sudden greeting. She sat in the lounge of Castelia City's Pokémon Center, her Pokégear in her hand, looking up information about Plasma from the past few years. Jerking her head up to her blonde friend, Tanis wiped the coffee from her chin.

"B-Bianca!" She sputtered, "You can't sneak up on someone with coffee in their hands!"

"Sorry!" Bianca said in a hasty apology, "But you have to come! Now!!"

Noticing her friend's panicked expression, Tanis snapped her gear closed and chugged the rest of her coffee, throwing the empty cup into the waste bin beside her. She kicked the dozing Char in the sides - her other Pokémon remained in their Pokéballs while they were in the Center - the Charmeleon jerking awake and hurrying after them, muttering under his breath about his disrupted nap.

"What's this about?" Tanis asked, looking down at Bianca and noticing her focused expression and pursed lips. She was trying very hard not to cry, Tanis noticed.

"We found them," The blonde said in a strained voice, "We found the guys who took my dear Dreamie from me!" She spat the words as if they were poison, Tanis never knowing her friend to get so angry before.

Tanis felt her own blood curdle as well, "We'll get your friend back, Bianca. I promise!" Bianca nodded her head, the girls and Charmeleon exiting the Pokémon Center. Another girl was waiting outside, much younger then the duo were, with dark skin and a giant mess of dark purple hair.

"There you are!" The girl exclaimed, "Come on, come on! Let's go!" She gestured for them to follow.

Tanis blinked, "Wait, who is this?" She asked Bianca, who was already following the girl, Tanis jogging to fall into pace with them.

"Oh, this is Iris! She's been helping me find Dreamie!" Bianca informed, her usually cheerful voice still distant and focused.

Tanis was about to open her mouth, but quickly closed it, narrowing her eyes. "Wait, Iris...I think I know her. Or, well of her."

"You do!" Iris said brightly, turning her head and looking back at the older girl, "My mentor, Drayden, is one of your mom's big customers! I actually just got my first dragon from her not long ago!"

"Oh, right! I remember you!" Tanis exclaimed, recalling that the girl had come in to adopt an Axew about eight months ago.

Iris turned away from the pair, "I'd really love to chat with you later, but right now we need to focus!" She proclaimed, pointing towards the docking warehouses, "Team Plasma is here, and we need to stop them before they escape!"

Tanis gave a determined nod of her head, forgetting her previous mindset; "Right, let's do it!"

They made a b-line towards the warehouses, the three girls traveled in silence. Tanis' fists kept clenching tighter and tighter, feeling her anger at the situation growing the closer they got towards their goal. Those Plasma goons were long over-due for an ass kicking! And she wanted to avenge her friend, save her Pokémon, and maybe figure out what the hell was going on with the creeps.

"Stop!"

A group of grunts appeared from out of nowhere, flooding in from all sides and blocking their path to the warehouse. Tanis reached towards her Pokéballs, but Iris held her hand out, stopping her.

"We can't let you go any further!" One of the grunts shouted, "Turn back, or suffer!"

"Not a chance in hell!" Tanis retorted, her fists so tight that her knuckles were turning white. Char gave a low growl to back up his trainer.

"Give me back my Dreamie!" Bianca's voice cut through the air, fueled not by her sadness, but her anger and desperation.

"If it's a fight they want, we'll give it to them!" Another Plasma grunt shouted, "GET THEM!!"

Iris released three Pokéballs, releasing an Axew, Druddigon and a Dragonair. "All of you, use Hyper Beam!" She commanded, the trio of dragons releasing massive blasts of energy from their mouths, carving a path through the grunts. "Go! I'll handle things out here!"

"But--" Bianca went to protest.

Iris flashed her a smile, "I'll be fine!" She assured, issuing a command to one of her dragons. Tanis nodded curtly and took Bianca's hand, dragging her through the path Iris had cut for them, leading her into the warehouse.

Weaving through the maze of crates and boxes, it was clear Plasma was present inside as well. Voices could be heard, but due to the large size and emptiness of the warehouse, it was hard to tell where they were coming from or what they were saying. Plus, the battle that raged outside was a little, erm...loud.

With hearing out of the question, Tanis looked down at Char, who had a stronger nose then a human's. He took the cue and sniffed the air, gesturing for the two girls to follow him. He lead them through a maze of stacked boxes and massive crates, the voices obviously getting closer. Char stopped and peeped around a corner, turning towards Tanis and nodding his head. Tanis gave a nod of thanks to her Pokémon friend.

"Hey!" She shouted while she suddenly popped out to face them. A small gaggle of Team Plasma grunts stood there, all turning to face her and Bianca. "Give my friend's Pokémon back!"

"Yeah!" Bianca conceded the point, "Give me my Munna!"

One of the grunts scoffed, "Oh? The little girl wants her slave back?" She laughed, some of the others joining in the laughter. "I guess we'll have to teach the dear what happens when you mess with Plasma!" She and the others reached for their Pokéballs.

"Bring it on!" Tanis shouted, her eyes narrowing. Char popped his neck, smirking excitedly.

"Wait."

A deep, accented male voice boomed over the Plasma members. They all gasped and parted like the Red Sea, revealing an older man with an imposing frame and stance. He towered over even the tallest member and had long, light green hair and wore elaborate robes. Strange, his hair color looked similar to N's, and that distinctive accent...

"S-Sage Ghetsis!" One of the grunts stuttered, "Why do you want us to stop?"

"Yeah! These punks deserve a lesson for demanding their enslaved Pokémon back!" The female from before stated angrily.

"The Munna is of no consequence," The sage Ghetsis, said in a low, commanding voice, his red eyes not wavering from Tanis. "It has served it's purpose."

The female grunt's eyes widened, "B-but, sir--"

Ghetsis jerked his attention down to her, narrowing his eyes. "It as served as a lure, nothing more. Return it, for it and the trainer attached to it do not matter, nor do they serve Plasma's interests." His voice was a low hiss, causing the female grunt to pale considerably, nodding her head and lowering her hand.

"Wha...what do you mean I'm not--" Bianca was about to ask, but stopped short when Ghetsis turned his intense gaze upon her. She gulped nervously and stopped talking. The female grunt stalked over and thrust Dreamie's Pokéball into Bianca's hands - evident by the fact it had the word "DREAMIE" with lots of hearts and flowers scribbled on it in marker. Bianca took it and clutched it to her chest, unsure what to do next.

Tanis narrowed her eyes. "A...lure? For what?" She asked under her breath, more to herself then to anyone else.

"For you, Tanith Castell." Ghetsis' intense stare fell upon her again, speaking as if it was a matter-of-fact.

Tanis felt a chill of unease run down her spine, taking a step backwards. She swallowed hard. "...H-how...do you know my name...?" Her voice was too weak and shallow for her taste, but found a lump had wedged itself into her throat.

Ghetsis began to slowly walk towards her, the robes swishing along the ground. "We have our ways." He said in a low voice, Tanis beginning to back away from him. His whole presence - his intense stare, his slow gate, his smooth voice - it was all incredibly unsettling. Sent chills of unease running down her spine! She wasn't a squeamish person, but something about this guy was like nails running down a chalkboard. "Our King has shown a...keen interest in you, Miss Castell."

"...It's Tanis..." Tanis mumbled, barely able to speak with how unnerved she was by this guy. Yet, she was unable to tear her gaze away from his.

"I have been wishing to meet you face-to-face for some time, Miss Castell." He continued, his voice silken poison that ran down her spine.

"...Tanis..." She murmured, a bit louder, swallowing to quiet her fears down.

"And so, I instructed Team Plasma to steal one of your friend's Pokémon," Ghetsis gestured towards Bianca with his head, "The boy is too guarded with his team, so this airhead seemed like the idea choice." Bianca was about to protest to the comment, but stopped again when Ghetsis looked at her. She paled and snapped her mouth closed, swallowing hard. Ghetsis returned his attention back towards Tanis, "I knew you would pursue us, Miss Castell, to the ends of the earth if necessary! And look!" He gestured out with his left hand, flapping his cloak open, flashing a devilish smirk down at her, "Here you are, just as I predicted, Miss Castell."

Tanis hit the wall behind her, Ghetsis looming over her with his intense stare and wicked smirk. Gritting her teeth, she lifted her eyes to stare right into his. "My name...is Tanis!!" She shouted in defiance, her fists clenching to keep her nerves down.

Ghetsis studied her for a moment, leaning back and sneering. "There is fire within you. He said just as much." He scoffed, as if this was offensive to him.

"What the hell do you want with me?" Tanis demanded with a glare. Outwardly, she was showing that she was brave and courageous, but internally...she felt weak and cowardly. Her knees were shaking right now, though she tried hard to fight it. There was just something about this guy, something that made all of her girlish fears come surging out...

Plus, this was the second time a Plasma Sage had mentioned their "King." Why did no one know about him? Hell, even the news knew there were Seven Sages of Plasma! But no mention of a King. Who was this mysterious guy? Why did he seem to know her? Was he stalking her?

What did he want with her?

"Our ideal is to liberate Pokémon and free them from humanity," Ghetsis exclaimed, Tanis rolling her eyes. Yes, yes, I know this already! She thought. What do you guys want with me? "We will awaken the Great Black Dragon with our glorious ideals, and create a new world for Pokémon!"

She had heard this before, too. "And what the fuck does any of this have to do with me?!" Tanis spat, glaring up at the Sage.

He took a step closer towards her, causing her to inhale sharply, the very air around him dripping with malice and venom. "You will become instrumental to our ideals and goals," He said in a low, breathy whisper, taking her chin in his left hand and holding it firmly. Tanis was too paralyzed with fear to pull away. "The role you will be great, Tanis." He said her abbreviated name with spite in his voice, "Join us, and become who you were meant to be. All will be made clear to you, Tanis." He released her chin and took a step back, extending the hand out for her to take.

Tanis let the breath out she was holding in, shaking her head quickly and repeatedly. What the hell was going on?! Instrumental to their plans? What the flying Tepig's made them believe she would ever, ever, join them? And who the hell was this King, who seemed so interested in her and knew her so well? A King she had never even met before? Tanis felt her head spinning, swamped with confusion and warring thoughts. Why did they want her?

Why?!

"...Why..." Was all she could physically say, her body starting to visibly shake.

"Our King wishes it," Ghetsis informed, as if that explained everything. "Now, come! It will be much easier if you just accept--"

"No."

Ghetsis was taken aback by the sharp, biting word. He glared down at her, "This is your place, girl! Your destiny! Take my hand and assume your rightful plac--"

"I fucking told you, NO!!" Tanis screamed, her eyes snapping open and looking directly into his, practically spitting fire at him. "I don't care if you think this is my fucking destiny to join you psychopaths!! Because it's not, and I will stop you!!"

Ghetsis lowered his hand back under his robe, taking another step back. Although he had a surface of calm in his face, his eyes were as burning as Tanis' were. "Tsk." He clucked his tongue at her, "What a pity." He sighed, "Very well, have it your way, Tanis." He turned to the grunts behind him, "Come, there is nothing more to do here." He waltzed out of the warehouse with the Plasma grunts following behind him, brushing past Iris, who had just entered.

She blinked, walking towards Bianca. "What...just happened?" Bianca was visibly shaking, white-knuckling Dreamie's Pokéball, tears streaming down her face.

She sniffed and gulped. "...I...I-I don't..." She stopped and gasped when she looked over at Tanis.

Tanis was looking up where Ghetsis was, and slid down the wall she had been pressed against, her legs giving out from under her. Char caught her and eased her down to the ground, where she drew her knees up to her chest. Her breathing was rapid gasps, the color having drained from her dark skin. Internally, she felt like the world was crashing down around her. Why was this happening? Why did they have an interest in her? And the way Ghetsis spoke to her, poison dripping from every goddamn word...

She put her face in her shaky hands, trying her damndest not to cry right now. She was better then this, stronger then this! Bianca rushed over and knelt beside her, placing one of her own shaking hands on Tanis' shoulders. Tanis flinched at first, then leaned against the younger teenager, giving a choked sob, but she refused to let her tears fall. Iris furrowed her brows, walking over to the pair.

"What happened here?" She asked again. Bianca shook her head, looking tearfully up at the girl.

"I-I don't...I mean, they--" She stopped when Iris held a hand up, silencing her.

"I want to hear it from Tanis," The dragon trainer's voice was stern, Bianca pursing her lips together and nodding. Iris walked closer, squatting down before Tanis. "What happened, Tanis?"

"Th...they're bloody insane, that's what." Tanis managed to hiss between her clenched jaw, separating her fingers to stare across at Iris. Gritting her teeth, her hands clenched into fists and she lowered them down to her sides. "Those sick sons of bitches stole my friend's Pokémon, just to get to me!" Her eyes looked down towards Char, who was watching her with concern in his dark blue eyes. He gave a nod of his head, telling her that he was there for her, no matter what. Tanis took in a shaky breath, closing her eyes and leaning her head against the wall.

Iris blinked, taken aback. "Why would Plasma want you?"

Tanis bit down on her lower lip, chewing on it briefly. "They...wanted me to join them." She said through clenched teeth, Iris paling considerably, "For some reason, I've caught the attention of their fucking King!" Tanis gave a cry of frustration, hitting her fists against the concrete wall. Iris was about to open her mouth, but the older girl suddenly shot up and thrust her fist into her open palm. "Well, they can shove their commendation up their goddamn ass!" She announced angrily, "Those bastards only want me to join because they know I won't give up until I've kicked them to Kanto and back!"

That had to be it! The whole thing about their so-called "King" having an interest in her -- bull! Ghetsis and that other Sage just wanted to confuse her, manipulate her into giving up and joining!" Well, Tanis was about to show those sick freaks how dangerous a wildfire could--

"So, you rejected them?" Iris said, tilting her head. Tanis gave a nod of her head. "Excellent! The test is going really well!" She exclaimed suddenly, smiling brightly.

Tanis turned her head towards Iris, suddenly looming over the girl. Although Tanis wasn't tall by any means, she suddenly seemed ten feet tall to the dragon trainer, fire blazing in her eyes.

"What. Test." Her tone was dark, enunciating the words forcefully. Iris looked up at her and blanched.

"I...u-um...I-I r-really should b-be g-get-getting back t-to--"

Tanis took a step closer, silencing her. Iris flinched. Tanis was about to ask the girl again, but stopped when she felt a hand on her arm. Tanis turned down to see Bianca, who shook her head quickly.

"We got what we came for...isn't that enough?" She asked quietly. Tanis studied her, the fire starting to die in her eyes. "I-I know Plasma makes you mad - but you're right. They're just tricking you, Tanis. Don't let your anger against them cloud your judgment, okay?" She smiled up at her, giving the other trainer's arm a squeeze. "Iris helped too, right?" Tanis sighed and closed her eyes.

"...Yeah, you're right." She conceded, opening them again. "Sorry for scaring you again, Bianca." She looked down at Iris. "Y-You too. I...just don't want anyone trying to control me, Plasma or otherwise."

Iris looked down sheepishly. "...You'll...find out what's going on soon," She lifted her eyes up and looked at Tanis, "But I've said too much. I shouldn't have."

Tanis gave a shrug, before reaching up and rubbing her temples. "Somehow...I think my mom new. Ugh, what a day..." She groaned, suddenly wanting to sleep forever.

Bianca giggled, "We really need to find you a balance for your anger!" She chirped, Tanis almost saying it wouldn't be a bad idea, but closed her mouth when she saw the dangerous gleam in her friend's eyes. Oh no... "Maybe we should give your boyfriend a call!"

"He's not my-- and I don't even have his number anyway!!" Tanis barked, glaring down at Bianca, who only battered her eyelashes innocently. Tanis rolled her eyes.

Iris chuckled. "I really should be getting back, though!" She informed, turning on her heel. "See you two later!" She gave a wave and headed towards the exit.

"A-anyway...thank you ssssooooo much, Tanis!" Bianca glomped her friend in a bone-crushing hug. "You saved my dear Dreamie!! Thank you, thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou!!" The blonde began to jump around with Tanis in her arms, dragging the poor girl along for the ride.

"Y-you're welcome...!" Tanis coughed, prying herself from Bianca's iron grasp. "Let's get out of here, in case any of those goons are lurking about." Bianca nodded her head in agreement.

"Yeah!"

Char huffed angrily, falling into pace beside Tanis, who walked with Bianca on the other side, her arm looped through the older girl's arm. The dark-skinned trainer rolled her eyes down at the Charmeleon.

"Yes, yes, I know you didn't actually get to fight, Mr. Hero," She grumbled dryly down at him, "But we'll get them next time, aright?" Char glanced up at her from the corners of his eyes. "You can set them on fire, explode them, or whatever you want! And we'll all make s'mores with their burning remains and life will be good, right?" Char gave an approving nod, grinning from ear-to-ear. Tanis chuckled and looked forward, the trio exiting the warehouse and returning to the city.



----



A new day came, and after a rather long journey to explore the city with Bianca - and getting hopelessly lost, as the poor dear had no sense of direction - Tanis hardly wanted to get out of bed. She was sore, tired, and still kind of annoyed. She lay face-down in the bed in the Pokémon Center's lodging, her head buried in the pillow and the blankets wrapped about her like a cocoon. Not that she needed them, as it was pretty warm out, but she just wanted to ignore the world until she felt good and ready.

Tanis was jerked from her peaceful sleep when the phone on her Pokégear started to ring. Groaning angrily, she reached out and fumbled for it, flipping it open and rolling over onto her back. She hit the accept button and lazily put it to her ear.

"Hello...?" She mumbled tiredly.

"Why are you still in bed? It's almost noon!"

Tanis put her free hand to her face and ran it down, groaning. "Ugh, Mom...I had a really long day yesterday..."

Nina huffed, "I would certainly hope so!" Tanis was about to protest, but her mother continued. "Anyway, I did some digging and looked into those dragons from Unova, and found some info about them."

Tanis abruptly sat bolt upright in bed, completely awake now. "And?" She asked excitedly, gripping the Pokégear to her face.

Nina cleared her throat, speaking in a mystical voice, "Legend says, that when a human appears with a strong ideal, they will become a hero, and the Her of Ideals will awaken the Black Dragon. It is said that this Dragon helped shape Unova, eons ago." Tanis took her breath in sharply, these words mimicking what N had said to her. Could it really be...?

"But he was not the only Dragon," Nina continued, "For the legends also say that a White Dragon exists as well - representing Truth. However, this dragon's chosen Hero of Truth warred against the other, and the White Dragon scarred and destroyed Unova."

"Wow..." Tanis whispered breathlessly.

Nina kept going, "The dragons grew tired of their master's deeds, and left, no longer believing in their ideals and truths." She took a slow breath in, "It is said that they turned to stone, encasing their beings within sacred orbs. They both flew to opposite corners of Unova, sleeping until the day comes when new Heroes arise to awaken them again."

So, that's what Team Plasma wanted. And this...this legend mirrored N's words. Was Zekrom the Black Dragon? And if Plasma wanted to use it for their own goals...it could either be catastrophic or they could actually do what they intend. The thought sent a chill down Tanis' spine. But then again, what about the White Dragon? Were they planning on gaining that as well? Whatever it was, they couldn't bring both together. The last thing anyone wanted was to destroy Unova all over again.

"--Tanis?"

Tanis was snapped out of her daze. "Err, sorry, what?"

Nina sighed, "That was all I found. I hope this helps you, somehow."

Tanis gave a wan smile, "Y-yeah, I think it does. I'll have to do some digging of my own - find out what exactly they want with these dragons." She took in a deep breath, heaving a heavy sigh. "Thanks, Mom."

"Of course," Nina said with a sigh, "If you need any more help, let me know, alright?"

"Yeah, will do." Tanis nodded tossing the covers off of the bed.

"I love you, sweetie. Take care."

Tanis grimaced at the sweetness, glad her Pokégear didn't have video. "I-I love you too. Bye!" She hastily hung up the phone, giving a stretch and a groan. With that, it was time to finally start the day.

Everything sure was getting complicated. Fast.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The last few weeks sure were busy.

After doing a bit more digging into Team Plasma, Tanis had decided it was time to give Burgh and his little gym a visit. Considering he specialized in bug-types, she demolished him with Char and his fire-power (literally) without much of an issue. With a new badge in hand, she prepared to leave the city, only to find another mysterious gift Pokémon waiting for her in the Pokémon Center. This time it was an Aerodactyl, a Pokémon that was previously extinct, but through the wonders of science, they were starting to make a comeback. Once again, it was given by a man wearing a cloak and a hood, and it has no trainer I.D. attached to it.

Not about to look a gift Rapidash in the mouth, Tanis took it along, naming it Rex. Despite his frightening appearance, Rex was surprisingly jolly and friendly - if not a bit hard-headed - and got along well with Draco, the two becoming best buddies in no time flat.

Continuing onto Route 4, Tanis encountered both Cheren and Bianca at different times, her friends challenging her to battles. Of course, she had defeated Bianca without much difficulty, the poor dear. She had some issues against Cheren, given that he was a brilliant strategist while she still mostly used brute force. But, she was still successful in fighting him, and was learning at least!

With that out of the way, Tanis went onto the sand-swept route. Given the hazardous conditions, she kept her Pokémon save in their balls, for fear of them getting hurt. Only Draco and Rex could survive in the sandstorms that raged without getting damaged, and she took her time training them up and exploring the Desert Resort. Tanis would have liked to remain there with the ruins - Draco certainly felt at home, too - but their food supplies were starting to run low, so back to the main path they went!

Ugh, it would take weeks to get sand out of her clothes.

It didn't take long for the team to reach Nimbasa City, their next destination. Free of the stand storms, Tanis had released her other Pokémon to walk with her. But she got a lot of weird looks when she wandered about town with her Aerodactyl beside her. Come to think of it, a few trainers did shy away from her with the giant thing lumbering alongside her...

In fact, a pair of reasonable-looking folks just up and bolted from them the instant they noticed Rex. The scary looking dinosaur blinked and looked down at her. She shrugged. "I think people just aren't used to seeing you, buddy." She offered, which was a massive lie. Everyone and their mom knew Aerotactyl's were supposed to be these massively ferocious predators; hell, even Tanis thought he was going to be trouble. But Rex proved to be surprisingly good natured, going over to people and Pokémon and sniffing them, and usually scared the piss out of them in the process!

"They'll figure out that you're a nice guy under the rough-and-tough exterior!" She patted him on the leg, Rex giving an unhappy sigh and hanging his head. Maybe having him out in the city wasn't the smartest idea...but the looks on people's faces was well worth the price of admission!

Turning a corner, Tanis looked for the local Pokémon Center to check in and rest her Pokémon, then probably someplace where she could get groceries. And nice places to eat, she was getting a little sick of pre-processed foods. Ugh, if only she could actually cook...

She stopped her thoughts when she saw a group wearing familiar uniforms, bullying an old man.

"You're only encouraging the wrong way!" A Team Plasma grunt said, looming over the elderly man and cracking his knuckles. "Pokémon shouldn't be used for fighting!"

The old man kept his cool. "I only look after Pokémon, I don't raise them."

"But in the process of 'looking after' then, they get stronger!" Another grunt hissed, jabbing her finger against his chest. "How does that work if you don't train them?"

"Yeah!" Another grunt added, "And it's only making trainers keep doing what they're doing, which is totally not cool!"

The man gently moved the finger from his shoulder. "Yet, you all use Pokémon to do exactly what you are preaching against."

The first grunt huffed up, "Why you--"

"Don't have anything better to do then pick on old men?" Tanis shouted, standing before them with her arms crossed, glaring over at the Plasma cronies.

The female Plasma member began to turn, "And who the hell are...y...you..." She mumbled, stopping when she noticed Rex looming over his trainer, trying his best to look intimidating, which didn't take much. She gulped and turned somewhat pale, instantly shutting up.

"W-we...we're Team Plasma! We're not afraid of you!" One of the other grunts shouted, though his voice cracked.

"Y-Yeah!" The third added, looking about ready to wet himself. Tanis smirked.

"Oh really?" She looked up at Rex, who took a step forward and gave a loud roar. All three of the grunts gave cries of terror and quickly ran off, clamoring around a corner and heading further into the city. With them gone, Tanis smirked up at her newest companion. "Nice acting there, Rex! Remind me to get you some ice cream or something!" Rex smiled brightly down at her, nudging her with his nose. Which, of course, nearly knocked her over. Still, she laughed and rubbed the tip of his nose enthusiastically.

With the goons gone, the old man walked over to her. "Thank you for your help, miss. It is...a little disconcerting seeing an Aerodactyl just walking around with you, though." He looked up at Rex when he said this, raising his brows in concern.

"Who, Rex?" Tanis looked up at him, giving him scratches on belly. Rex gave a contented sigh and his leg jerked up and down, much like how a dog's would. "I know he looks scary, but he's just a giant marshmallow! Aren't you?" She scratched him more on the back, Rex purring and nearly melted into a puddle of happy goo. Char huffed, feeling a bit jealous over all of the scratching the big lug got. Tanis instantly grabbed the large Charmeleon around the shoulders and began to scratch under his horn, Char melting into her arms. "There's more then enough love to go around, Char!" She laughed.

The old man chuckled. "You really do love your Pokémon, don't you?" Tanis looked up at him and nodded with a wide grin. "It warms these old bones to see young trainers, like yourself, taking such good care of their team." Reaching into his pocket, he withdrew a card. "I run the Pokémon Daycare Center on Route 2. Stop in if you ever want to pamper your dear friends, I'll even give you a free visit for helping drive those idiots off."

Tanis took the card, reading it. "Wow, that's awesome! Thanks!" She let go of Char - who nearly fell over, if it weren't for Ciela catching him with her tail - and popped back up to her feet. "And it's no problem, I hate those Plasma grunts."

"Who actually likes them?" The man said with a laugh, "Anyway, I best be off. I just stopped in to find some supplies. Thank you again for your assistance, miss!" Tanis gave a nod to him, watching him wander off, back towards Route 4. Sighing, Tanis pocketed his card, still wanting to find that Pokémon Center...but now she knew Plasma was in the city. She looked over at Rex and Draco, who had done most of the battling.

"How are you guys holding up? I need to find those Plasma psychos." Rex gave a nod of his head and a rumbling chirp, signifying he was ready to go; Draco also looked eager, snapping his jaw angrily at the mention of Plasma. "Alright, let's go find them!"

Trotting off, with her Pokémon following, Tanis went the direction the Plasma members scrambled off in. As she rounded the corner, she stopped when she noticed the streets were jam-packed with people, all leading towards a massive amusement park. She knew Nimbasa had a park, but she hadn't expected it to be so huge - or so crowded! How the hell were they going to find Team Plasma in this mess?

More over, she was worried about her team getting lost. Turning to them, she reached for her Pokéballs. "Sorry, guys, I don't want you to get lost in these crowds!" She squat down to be more on level with them - well, except for Rex, "You'll go in here for now, alright?" They all seemed to understand, but Char looked angrily at her, saying he wasn't about to leave her when Plasma was afoot. Tanis glared down at him, "Look, as soon as I find them, you can set them on fire, okay? But for now I can't risk you guys getting lost, or getting nabbed by them!" Before the Charmeleon could argue, she summoned her team into their Pokéballs, returning them to her waist. Sighing, Tanis stood back up and began to weave through the crowds.

"Hey, have you seen any Team Plasma members here?" She began to ask people, many of them shrugging, having not seen anything. One person said they ran towards the amusement park, which made no sense, as it was one-way and lead into a thick forest, surrounded by fence. A tall fence, too! Good, that means they have no where to run! Tanis thought, pushing her way through the crowds and making her way towards the park.

It still meant there were a lot of places for them to hide, though. Damn, maybe she needed her crew after all.

Tanis was so focused on the park that she didn't quite notice what was going on around her, crashing right into someone. Giving a startled 'oof' - and noticing the person she ran into stumbled forward - she regained her footing and looked up.

Her eyes widened, "N?"

That mass of green hair turned, revealing the one and only weirdo, N. He looked equally surprised to see her there; this was the only time he didn't appear to be looking for her, or was somehow waiting for her. Even though Tanis had some misgivings about his motives, for some reason she felt oddly happy to see him there. Turning fully to face her, he smiled.

"Tanis, I'm surprised to see you here."

"Heh, you and me both." Tanis grinned, but quickly reminded herself she was looking for Plasma...and she was pretty sure N was a member of the team to boot. Her grin faded and she took a step closer towards him. "Sorry for running into you, but I'm trying to track down Team Plasma, and--"

"They went into the park." N said coolly, sliding his hands in his pockets.

"W-well, I figured that out, but--"

"Where are your friends?" N asked, tilting his head and cutting her off. Tanis pursed her lips and tried to keep her temper in check. Why did he keep cutting her off? Taking in a deep breath, she attempted to reply tactfully.

"I don't know where Bianca and Cheren ar--"

"I mean, your Pokémon friends," N once again cut her off, like it wasn't that big of a deal. Tanis glared up at him, trying to resist the urge to hit him for constantly doing that.

She took in another deep breath to try not to yell at him, "I didn't want them to get lost in the crowds," She heaved a low sigh after saying this, meeting his gaze again, "Look, N, I really need to find Team Plasma. And I...I need some answers from you, too."

N studied her for a moment, his face becoming unreadable during that time. Then, without warning, he pulled his hand from his pocket and encircled it around hers, lacing his fingers between her own. Tanis felt her heart skip a beat, and before she realized it, he had turned around and began to lead her through the crowds and towards the amusement park. It took her a few seconds to realize she was being tugged along against her will, and planted her feet into the ground. N jerked backwards when she locked her arm.

"N, what's going on?" Tanis asked in a low voice, furrowing her brows. "Where are you taking me?"

He didn't turn to look at her. "...It's not safe here." He informed quietly, nervously squeezing her hand. Tanis blinked.

"What?" He tugged her arm and she relented, allowing him to pull her forward. But, he didn't resume his walk.

N looked back at her this time, his face darkened by the brim of his hat and the summer sun overhead. His face was hard and the shadow from his hat didn't help, but his eyes...they were concerned. "It's not safe to talk here, Tanis." His voice was low, taking a step towards her. "Ghetsis' eyes are everywhere." He whispered softly, "I don't want you to be hurt by him." His hand clutched to hers. Tanis jerked her eyes from his suddenly, feeling her heart beat a little bit faster by the gesture, the look in his eyes...the words he spoke.

So he was in Plasma. Damn, and she was really hoping she was wrong...she really liked this guy, despite her better judgment.

Tanis gave a nod of her head, N continuing to lead her through the crowds. She fell into pace beside him, wondering where they could go where they couldn't be watched.

The pair walked in silence, heading into the amusement park. Tanis kept her eyes on the ground, unable to even look out for where the Team Plasma grunts were hiding; hell, she could barely even able to think right now! Her hand was warm within N's and her heart was racing because of it. If anyone looked at them, they'd look like a young couple. Oh man, if Bianca was around, she'd be having a field day right now! But Tanis hardly looked happy, and she glanced up at N out of the corners of her eyes, he looked focused and distant. What was going through that head of his?

And what the hell was going on with hers?

It was just a hand! A stupid hand belonging to a totally weird guy, but her heart was still racing and she wasn't thinking about Plasma right now, just about him. Please, please let her be wrong about him, that his phrasing was some kind of fluke! Maybe he was an agent working against Plasma, or--

"We should go to the Ferris Wheel."

Tanis blinked and looked up at N, not even noticing that they had stopped. His expression was still focused, but his eyes were less distant and were focused on her. "The Ferris Wheel. We can talk there without fear, Tanis."

About to object, Tanis realized that he was right. With only them on one of the carts, they could speak freely without anyone overhearing them. Plus, Ferris Wheels stopped frequently to let passengers on and off, so they would have ample time to talk. Looking up at him, she nodded her head.

"Alright."

Flashing an award-winning, yet still somehow distant smile, N squeezed her hand and lead her to the line for the Ferris Wheel. It was a short wait, the pair climbed into one of the Pokéball-shaped carriages, the attendant closing the door and giving them a grin. Once settled in, the wheel moved upwards one slot, and in their glass-encased world, nothing else mattered.

N sat beside her, having released her hand and turned his attention out the window. Tanis looked over to him, having to ask the one thing that was bugging her.

"N, are you part of Tea--"

"I love Ferris Wheels," N said suddenly, looking over to her and smiling. It was less forced and distant then before, it was warm, true. Tanis closed her mouth at this comment. Was he trying to avoid this issue? "There's something so peaceful about riding up them in a circular motion..." He leaned back in the bench, looking up at the sky through the glass above them. "Everything works in harmony with each other. The motion, the mechanics...it's an elegant collection of formulas, all working together. I wonder who came up with such a mathematical equation to make this wheel."

Tanis blinked her eyes a few times, feeling a little...left out of the loop? She honestly never understood math - it was by far her worst subject - and she wasn't exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. The talk of formulas and equations made her head hurt, but she managed to force a grin when N looked back down at her.

"Ah-ha...that's...interesting," She mumbled awkwardly. Okay, now she needed to ask him about--

"Do you know you're being tested, Tanis?" Tanis closed her mouth when N asked her this, his gaze softening. "By the Dragon Clan?"

"T-the...?"

"The Dragon Clan. They want you to join them," N informed, "Do you...know about them?" He tilted his head when he asked this, blinking his eyes slowly.

Tanis felt her breath catch in her throat, looking down at the metal floor of the carriage. Before, when her heart was racing, it was because she liked N - not that she'd ever admit to this - but now it was racing for another reason.

The Dragon Clan.

The Dragon Clan.

Who hadn't heard of them? Although they originated in Johto, they had agents in every region! They were an elite clan of dragon-type trainers, reputed to be incredibly powerful and fierce competitors. Hell, the most powerful Elite Four member in all of the Regions was one of the members of the Clan! Tanis' own parents were in the clan, too! Until her father was killed on a mission for them, causing Nina to leave Johto and come to Unova...as far away from the Clan as she could get.

And the Clan wanted Tanis to join them?! After what had happened to her dad?

"They're a clan of--"

"I know who they are!" Tanis snapped, her hands clenching around the edge of the seat. N was taken aback by the outburst, looking down at her with concern in his pale eyes. "My parents were both in it, okay? And I'm pretty sure she had something to do with this!" All she wanted to do right now was scream, to let loose, and to call her mother and demand a damn explination! She hated being told what to do, hated the idea of destiny, hated people expecting so much from her! Why would Nina do this to her? Just...ugh!

N looked briefly away from her, sensing her anger rising. Slowly, he turned his head back, gaining a serious expression to it. "There is more you need to know, Tanis."

Tanis looked up at him with fire in her eyes, ready to go kick something for what she just found out. N was unaffected by this, his face focused and his gaze determined. "...What?" She spat, wondering what else he could say to make her day any worse then it already was.

N studied her for a long moment, his eyes not leaving hers. The seconds that past felt like hours, as if he was collecting all of his thoughts together, trying to find the perfect way to tell her what would come next. Tanis was getting inpatient, wanting to know how he found out about the Clan testing her - which explained Iris' comments in Castelia City - if he was with Plasma, what the hell he wanted with her...what he wanted to tell her right now. If only she could see into his head for a moment, just to know what was going on.

Then it came.

"I am the King of Team Plasma."

All of her thoughts came to a screeching halt, crashing in the back of her mind. The fire that burned within her was snuffed out, her anger quenched, leaving nothing but a blank void. In her mind, nothing existed, nothing but the phrase N had just said to her, with complete truth and honesty, his eyes not leaving hers.

The world around Tanis crumbled away, falling to pieces away from her feet. The warm summer sun, beaming into their carriage was no longer shining down. There was no more wind that caused the carriage to slightly sway. All of her concerns disappeared with the world, leaving nothing behind. Only N remained with it, and only the truth he had just spoken to her was there: he was the King.

The King of her sworn enemy.

Outwardly, Tanis' eyes went totally blank, not even fully seeing N before her anymore. The color began to drain from her dark skin, and her arms and legs began to shake. It was a damn good thing that she was sitting down, otherwise she would have probably collapsed, just like she did when Ghetsis spoke to her and left her so shaken to the core.

Only this was worse. Way, way worse...

The world came crashing in on Tanis, her body visibly jerking, her eyes beginning to see once again. N was still sitting before her, though his eyes had softened, showing concern for her reaction. She didn't even notice his hand resting against her arm, trying to steady her and keep her from falling off of the bench, not until now. Slowly, Tanis looked down towards that warm, steadying hand, her breathing sharp and ragged.

N was the King of Team Plasma, and her enemy.

"D-don't to-touch me!" She snapped, swatting the hand away and scooting to the edge of the bench, pressing her back up against the glass. N's hand hovered in the air where it was swatted, and he looked genuinely hurt by the gesture. Tanis wanted to curl up in a little ball, but could only wrap her arms around her shoulders, suddenly feeling very, very cold right now.

N looked away from her, down-casting his hurt eyes and sighing. "I was crowned by Ghetsis and the other six Sages in order to help Pokémon a few years ago," He informed, his voice clear and crisp despite the heavy atmosphere. "I wish nothing more then for Pokémon to be free from pain, free from battles and torment - something humanity has thrust upon them. I will awaken Zekrom and become the Hero of Ideals and change the world for them." Slowly, he lifted his head back up and met Tanis' gaze, who had managed to calm down a bit by now.

That look, those pleading eyes, and how hurt he was before...it was apparent that N did truly like and want to be friends with Tanis. Plus, both Ghetsis and that other guy - Gorm, was it? - had mentioned that their King had an interest in her. Now she knew N was that King, that made sense. But...why tell her this? Why was he interested in her?

Tanis swallowed, "...Why...?" She asked quietly, N tilting his head and blinking.

"Why what?"

"W-why tell me this?" Tanis muttered, looking down at the bench they sat on, unfolding her arms. "You know that I...erm, don't particularly care for Plasma. Hell, I even told Ghetsis to shove it up his ass!" She looked back up at him, feeling her emotions begin to return to her. "I've done nothing but cause trouble for you guys, so why tell me? This makes us enemies, N!"

"We don't have to be," N said softly, managing a wan smile, scooting closer towards her. Gently, his hand came out and rested upon hers, her raspberry eyes flitting down to it briefly. "I...like you, Tanis." He admitted, briefly looking away with a soft blush on his cheeks, which caused her to momentarily forget her anger and her heart to flutter in chest. "You're a good, strong person. You share similar ideals to my own, and your Pokémon all adore you...I never thought that possible. I consider you my friend, and friends don't keep secrets from each other, right?" He smiled down at her, causing her to become more confused about this.

They should be enemies...they were enemies, but for some reason, Tanis didn't hate him. Why was that? She couldn't think of anything to say that didn't involve her yelling, so she merely pursed her lips and nodded. N sighed out in relief.

"I'm glad you understand!" He exclaimed happily, smiling brightly, "To be fair, I mostly wanted to tell you so there wouldn't be that weight lingering on me whenever we met...but there are other reasons." Taking in a deep breath, he lowered his head and then looked back up at her, gaining a serious expression once again.

"Tanis, I am glad to have met you and become your friend, because now I know...I can't do this alone," He informed in a low voice, giving her hand a squeeze. "You have been chosen to help me. You will be instrumental to my plan and ideal, and together, we will save Pokémon, you and I." He smiled softly down at her, and she raised a brow in confusion. Tanis was about to interject, but her voice caught in her throat when his other hand reached out and gently brushed against her cheek, causing her heart to skyrocket into her throat.

Wha...what's going on with me? What is he talking about? C-can't...can't think... Tanis' head was swimming right now, and she wasn't sure what she was thinking or feeling right now.

N rested the palm of his hand against her reddening cheek, still smiling down at her. "You'll be placed under my protection, Tanis," He continued, "Team Plasma will not take your Pokémon, or those of your friends. I will also ensure the Sages do not bother you on your quest. All I ask is for you to trust me, Tanis, as I trust in you." He lowered his hand from her cheek, leaning back from her.

Tanis' eyes managed to pull away from his, looking at the metal floor of the coach they were in. The wheel stopped with them at the very top, overlooking the entire city and the forest surrounding it. Briefly, the clouds overhead blotted the sun out, casting a shadow over the Ferris Wheel. Once again, Tanis felt her breathing pick up, her hands curling around the fabric of her shorts and clutching to them tightly.

What the hell could she say to all of this? N was her friend, someone she suspected of being a normal member of Team Plasma, sure...but now she found out he was their King. Their leader! That made him her sworn enemy! And she should hate him, despise him, be so full of anger and rage that she'd spit in his face and cuss him out!

But...

Somehow, she couldn't.

Damnit! She cursed to herself, squeezing her eyes closed and lowering her head. Why him?! Why did it have to be him? Anyone else but him...! In actuality, Tanis was more pissed at herself for not noticing the obvious signs sooner, allowing herself to grow close to him. This was making it all the more harder for her to deal with, this revelation that he was now her enemy.

It all made sense now!

How N showed up right after the rally Ghetsis had given at the start of her journey, speaking of similar goals! She should have noticed it right then and there that he was a member of Plasma; and the subsequent times they battled or talked, which always stalled her from pursuing the team members. He did it to protect them from her, knowing she was a fierce and strong trainer! Knowing how much she freaking hated Team Plasma!

But why...why did he still consider her his friend? Why was he still treating her as if they were...close? It didn't make any sense! He knew how much she hated his team, his people; so why bother being her friend? Why bother even telling her if it would just force a wedge between them?

"...Tanis...?"

Tanis slowly lifted her head up at his soft question, opening her eyes and looking up into his pitiful ones. "Tanis...please don't be upset at me. I don't want you to be angry at me, or hate me...I like you too much to lose you..." His voice was as quiet as his eyes displayed, showing hurt within his expression and his speech, having slowed down considerably from it's normal place.

She wanted to tell him that she wasn't mad at him, but didn't know how to say it without sounding like a character in a sappy romance novel. So, she had to settle for the second best choice, taking in a deep breath and heaving out a slow sigh.

"Why me?" She asked slowly, tearing her eyes away from N's, or else her heart would break even more then it was. "Why are you so adamant on being close to me? Why take an interest in me at all, knowing that I hate your...people?" Sighing, Tanis looked down at her hands. "I don't understand that, N..."

"Let me help you understand." N's voice was a soft whisper, though his usual rapid manor of speech returned.

Before Tanis could respond, he laced his fingers through the hand he held and moved closer towards her. Tanis jerked her head up just in time for N to lean over her, placing his other hand on the glass window behind her. With how close and almost...well, intimate he was right now, her heart felt like it was going to explode from it's chest. Especially since she was pretty sure all of her blood was being pumped into her face and neck right now.

"I will become the Hero of Ideals," N said in a low voice, his face focused and serious, staring intently down into her eyes. "And I strongly believe that you, Tanis, will be the Hero of Truth. You are strong, yet also compassionate, and you hold fast to what you believe in. That is what a hero needs; and I think you will be chosen for this task." He loosened his elbow, leaning a bit closer to her. She pressed her back against the glass window, her eyes widening. "This is why I can't do this without you, Tanis. Think of it: the two heroes, side-by-side, in the new world! No one would doubt us, with both Zekrom and Reshiram with at our sides."

Tanis was so panicked, so engrossed in how close he was to her that she couldn't think, couldn't respond; hell, she could barely breathe!

N smiled down at her, but it wasn't the bright or cheerful smile he usually showed her, it was more like a smirk. "I can only hope you will see the truth in time, Tanis." He said quietly, barely even a whisper, raising his hand from the window to gently touch her flushed cheek again. "Will you join me?" N gently ran his fingertips down her cheek, before resting it against her shoulder.

Tanis took in a ragged breath and lowered her head down, exhaling sharply. There was something about him...something that made her feel drawn towards him, unable to hate or despise him, despite what he stood for. She felt like a fool right now, so flustered at how he was able to make her forget her common sense, how close he was, the soft words...even though they were words she didn't want to hear. Part of her wanted this, wanted to be like this with him...maybe Bianca was right after all.

Closing her eyes, Tanis admitted it to herself: she liked N. She liked N a lot. More then a friend, even...and with the way he was acting, it was pretty obvious he felt and wanted the same thing from her. It would be so easy...so easy to just give in to him, his request. To be like this with him all the time...

But she knew it wasn't the right thing to do.

Whatever she felt for him, N was doing something that would be so damaging, so hurtful to many people and Pokémon. Tanis couldn't let him do it, and even though it would be difficult, she wasn't going to give up so easily.

Opening her eyes, Tanis lifted her head up and looked up at his expectant face, seeing that warm smile and surprisingly intense upon her. Taking in a breath, she collected herself.

"While I...I-I do agree there are a lot of people out there who mistreat Pokémon..." She started, thinking along the lines of Team Rocket, who were legendary even in Unova, "That some people shouldn't have them, and people should love and appreciate them more..."

N's smile faded. "And...?" He asked, almost hopefully, giving her shoulder a gentle squeeze.

Tanis heaved a sigh and sat upright, so she was closer to his height - though he had a good half a foot over her regardless of how she sat - and looked back into his eyes. "...I can't help you with this." She said quickly, looking away.

"...Oh..."

Even though she wasn't looking at his face, Tanis could hear the dejection in his tone. His arms went slack against her and he slouched downwards. The hand on her shoulder slid off and dropped back down to his side, though he still held loosely onto her fingers with his remaining hand.

"I-I'm sorry, N...but I can't help you take people's precious Pokémon from them," Tanis' voice was smaller then she would've liked, still unable to look at him. "It's not right."

N coughed and released her hand and scooted backwards, the Ferris Wheel starting to move down again. "I...I-I see..." He managed to mutter. Tanis glanced across at him, seeing him slouching against the back of the carriage and staring at the floor. "...I will just have to try harder to convince you..." His voice came back stronger then it was previously, his hands tightly gripped the bench they sat on. Tanis sighed angrily and rubbed her temples.

"N, if you knew anything about me, you should know I don't give up easily!" She retorted, causing him to look up at her with that pitiful expression. Her heart ached seeing that looked, but she shoved that feeling aside. "Doing that would be giving up on my beliefs, and giving up for everyone else like me! People who can't imagine their lives without their friends at their sides. Pokémon and human ones, together." Pausing, she looked out her window and sighed. "And I...don't like being controlled. I write my own destiny, no one else. If anyone decides I'm some kind of hero or whatever, it will be me."

To her surprise, she heard N chuckle. "See, I like that about you." Tanis turned back to him, seeing him smile faintly at her. "You're so strong, so assured...confident and firey. You're so different from anyone else I know, Tanis..." His smile turned into a grin, reaching back out and taking her hand firmly in his. "...But you should know I also don't give up on my ideals easily."

Tanis jerked her hand from his abruptly, rubbing her knuckles. "I-I guess we're at a massive impasse, then." She grumbled, looking away from him.

"Which is why I'm going to continue to fight, if it means I can keep you with me." N responded softly, Tanis glancing at him out of the corner of her eyes to see him still smiling at her. He had straightened up considerably, regaining his previous composure. "I like you too much to just give up on fighting for our friendship, Tanis."

Tanis looked back out her window, resting her elbow on the ledge and resting her chin in her hand. "...How can you still consider us friends?" She grumbled, more to herself then to him, but he heard it.

"We are though, aren't we?" Came his innocent response. Tanis blinked and looked back over at him with a dumbfounded expression. He was still smiling pleasantly at her. "This hasn't changed anything, has it?"

Tanis quirked an eyebrow, "I...think it's been pretty well established that you, being the King of Team Plasma, makes us enemies." It was true, though she couldn't hate him.

He tilted his head to the side. "We don't need to be enemies." N offered, "I like you, Tanis, and you like me too, right? We can still be friends until one of us sees the truth."

"I'll have you know that you--!" Tanis shouted, turning fully to face him, but stopped upon seeing his innocent smile, totally not phased by her outburst of anger. Huffing angrily, she crossed her arms and flopped back on the bench and kicked her legs out, causing their coach to sway slightly. "--Are a very infuriating son-of-a-bitch, N." She huffed. He chuckled and reclined back, watching the sun flit between the clouds.

"I'll take that as a yes." N offered, only receiving a few muttered obscenities from his female companion.

An awkward silence passed between them, the wheel still stopping every so often to let passengers on or off. Tanis looked blindly out of her window, her mind a mess of emotions and thoughts that she couldn't straighten out. But the silence was irritating her, and she couldn't stand it anymore.

"But...what do we do when we battle?" She asked, trying her best not to look at him. "I mean, I'm not going to stop fighting Plasma and you're not going to stop fighting for them, so..."

N gave a small shrug of his shoulders. "Why shouldn't we remain friends, even then?" He questioned, Tanis felt his eyes upon her. "You battle your friends all the time, and don't think any less of them, right?"

"W-well, that's different!" Tanis objected, raising her hands in the air. "They were my friends to start--"

"As were we," N noted calmly, causing her to jerk her head over to look at him. His eyes were studying her, and he smiled. She huffed and looked forward again.

"It's not the same thing." She grumbled, crossing her arms.

"It isn't?" N asked with a tilt of his head. Tanis hated to admit it, but he was right. She huffed again, blowing some of her bangs from her face.
She would have added something to it, but their carriage reached the bottom of the Ferris Wheel, meaning that their ride was over. Despite the fact that she was rather cheesed right now, Tanis felt her heart sink, knowing that her privet time with N had drawn to a close. Sure, they were enemies now, but against her better judgment...she kind of enjoyed this. Anger aside, that is.

N heaved a heavy sigh, rising to his feet. Tanis knew that he wanted to stay, too. Damnit, why couldn't they both be normal people? Then they could do this whenever they wanted! But as they were...

It wasn't meant to be.

He turned town towards her and extended a hand for her to take. "Thank you for coming with me. I...really enjoyed this," N said in a low voice, the smile having vanished from his face, "We should do this again sometime."

"Yeah..." When we're not trying to kill each other, that is. Tanis thought bitterly, taking his hand and letting him hoist her up. He released her hand and moved to the door, easing it open and stepping out with her into the open air.

"Oh, for the love of--!" Tanis' disappointment was quickly replaced with anger when she saw who was waiting for them outside.

"My Lord N!"

A large collection of Team Plasma members populated the entire line, having forced their way through and shoved the poor attendant to the side. They all gasped when they saw N, then quickly bowed down deeply before him. Tanis cast a sideways glance towards her companion. His posture had completely changed, no longer friendly and open, but was now hard and cold, making him seem taller then he normally was. If she didn't believe him before about being their King, this certainly drove the point home.

"What is it?" N asked them, his voice sounding refined and regal, not how soft it usually was. Though he still talked fast, apparently even that couldn't be shaken.

"W-we've been looking for you everywhere, sire!" One of the Plasma grunts exclaimed.

"We thought you had been kidnapped!" Another announced.

N shook his head, "No, I am quite alright," He informed, his voice softening a bit. "We were just--"

"Get away from her, Your Grace!"

Tanis looked up, seeing an old man - quite a bit older then Ghetsis and even Gorm - walk between the Plasma twerps. He wore the same robes Gorm did, only in a vivid purple color, marking him as one of the Seven Sages. He looked over at Tanis with a displeased expression on his face, his hands wound into fists.

N glared over at him, standing defensively in front of Tanis. "No." His voice was hard again, cold like ice.

The Sage pointed an accusing finger at Tanis. "She is the hooligan who has disrupted our plans a handful of times! Someone as horrendous and dreadfully common as her has no right to be beside someone as glorious as you, my liege!" His voice was like fire, jabbing Tanis verbally, but she stood tall and met his glare head-on. He wasn't nearly as intimidating as Ghetsis was.

N narrowed his eyes, his hand reaching out to hold onto Tanis' upper arm. He shifted her behind him, as if to shield her from the biting words. "Tanis is my friend." He answered, his voice so cold even she felt unnerved by it.

The Sage scoffed, "She is no friend to Plasma!" He exclaimed angrily, once again pointing at her. "You, above everyone else, should know she holds no love for us or our glorious purpose!! Stand aside from such filth, Your Grace!"

"Bite me, old man!" Tanis shouted, sticking her head out from behind N and flipping the Sage the bird.

"See?!" The Sage exclaimed, gesturing dramatically with his arms, "She has no respect for her betters!" He looked back to the other grunts, who all nodded their heads in agreement. "I wouldn't be surprised if she lured you onto the Ferris Wheel to end you, her sworn enemy, away from our watchful care!"

"She did no such thing!!" N snapped, his voice rising and his hand gripping her arm tightly. "I was the one who brought her here! I was the one who suggested riding it!" He took a step forward, releasing his hold on her and his glare deepening. "Lest you have forgotten, I am your King! You have no right to argue with me on this matter, Zinzolin, and I will not have a lowly Sage belittle my dear friend!!" By the end of this chastising, N's voice had raised to a shout, causing all of the grunts to recoil and bow deeply, and the Sage - Zinzolin - to pale considerably.

"I-I-I sp-speak out of turn...!" Zinzolin bowed sharply at the waist. "F-forgive me, Your Grace! I-I forget my place...a-as your l-loyal and faithful servant..."

"Apologize to my friend as well." N's voice went back down to it's normal level, though it was still biting.

"Forgive me, my lady." Zinzolin hissed out bitterly, spitting the words out as if they were too sour to keep inside. Anyone with half a brain knew he was only speaking them so he looked good in front of his king, nothing more; but N nodded his head in acceptance.

Still, it made Tanis wonder why he was protecting her like this. She could damn well take care of herself! But between the arguing of the Sage and King, she couldn't get much of a word in edgewise. But why was N doing this, right here, in front of his own men? His men that knew Tanis hated them, and was intent on stopping the Team no matter what. Yet, he still remained adamant on being her friend, defending her against the weak insults Zinzolin threw at her.

'You'll be placed under my protection, Tanis.'

N's words rang in her mind. She didn't actually expect him to uphold his promise...yet here he was. Defending her against people who hated her, his own men! The very thought caused her heart to flutter in her throat, even though she damn well knew she could do this herself. But, it...felt nice, knowing that N would protect her, even against the people who served under him.

Goddamn this guy...!

After a few moments of bowing, Zinzolin stood back up, "My lord, we should return back to base! I am sure your father is worried." He offered, shooting a parting glare over at Tanis. The grunts all nodded as well.

N turned and looked back at her. "...You know I can't just let them leave," She said quietly to him, and he flashed a sad smile down at her.

"...I know." He responded quietly, turning back to his men. "Sage Zinzolin, return to base. I will distract Tanis so she won't chase you down."

The Sage's mouth fell open, "B-but, my Lord N, we just can't--"

"I told you to go!" N's voice raised again, "Don't make me order you again."

Zinzolin bowed again, "O-Of course!" He muttered, turning back towards the grunts, "Alright, you louts! Hop to it!" He clapped his hands, the Plasma grunts scattering and dashing towards the exit of the park, with him following behind.

Tanis moved out from behind N to chase after them, but stopped when his hand grabbed her wrist. She felt anger rising in her again, turning to face him with a glare.

"I told you not to do that again!" She barked, trying to stand her ground, even with the gentle expression on his face. She expected him to release her and battle her, just like he had before; or even call forth wild Pokémon to fight against her...but what he actually did wasn't what she expected.

N pulled her forward against him, releasing her arm and drawing her into a warm embrace. Tanis' eyes widened and her body went stiff. The anger melted away as the blush spread across her face.

"W-wha...?" She mumbled in shock, totally not expecting this.

N rested his chin on top of her head, Tanis perfectly tucking under there. "I'm sorry you had to see me like that," He whispered softly against the crown of her hair. "I hope I haven't damaged our friendship because of it."

Tanis swallowed and tried to calm her racing heart. "T-That? Please!" She managed an awkward laugh, debating if she should hug him as well. "You know how bad my fire burns when I get pissed off."

N chuckled. "So I have heard," He gave a small sigh, shifting his head so his cheek rested against the crown of her hair. "In a way, I'm glad Zinzolin and the others showed up when they did...it allows me more time to spend with you."

Tanis looked off to the side, turning her head to rest against his chest. Closing her eyes and heaving a sigh, she was partially glad for this too, but knew that she shouldn't be. In honesty, she'd rather be battling him right now, it would show that they were, indeed, enemies, instead of sharing this warm embrace out in the open. Giving in, she gently placed hands on the sides of his back, if only for a moment.

"You're really good at this distraction thing," Tanis managed to murmur, hearing him chuckle again. Giving another sigh, she managed to muster up enough strength to pull away from him, looking up at his face. "But we...w-we can't be like this, N. You know that."

His brows furrowed. "...Why not?"

Tanis shook her head, "We're enemies, N, whether we like it or not." Looking away briefly, she lifted her eyes to look back up at him, seeing his distant expression. "I...I really want for us to be like this, all the time, but...it just won't work. It can't work! I can't let you constantly defend me in front of Plasma, when they all know that I won't stop until they're all gone..." Pausing, she chewed on her lower lip, down casting her eyes. "...Including you."

N's arms loosened around her back, sliding down her waist and resting against her hips. She heard him give a heart heavy sigh, and she returned her attention back up to him and seeing his distressed face. "...I'm sorry..." Tanis managed to say quietly. He nodded his head slowly and his arms dropped away from her. "M-maybe it's best we just...forget about today, and not see each other again..." It would be easier, wouldn't it? N's head snapped back and he looked down at her, his eyes wide.

"What...?" He managed to say, his voice barely audible over the chatter of the amusement park.

"N, we can't be friends, so we should just forget about--"

His hands came out and grasped hers suddenly, firmly, moving closer to her again. "No, we can't." N said in an intense voice, squeezing her hands tightly. Tanis was taken aback by the gesture, blinking her eyes up at him. "I can't! Tanis, even if we try to push all of this aside and only see each other as enemies...we both will still remember that we are friends as well. We may need to fight, but I promise you: I will have you with me, even if we must remain enemies until the very moment you accept my friendship and trust."

"W-what?! N, you can't--" Tanis blubbered, but stopped when he raised her hands and planted a kiss upon her knuckles. All of her blood went rushing to her face, her words catching in her throat. What the hell was up with this guy?!

"If we must fight, then we will fight," He whispered softly, lowering her hands, "I only hope that, in time, your battles against me and my people will show you the truth, Tanis." N gave a small smile to her, squeezing her hands and then releasing them. Without another word, he turned on his heel and disappeared into the crowds, leaving her standing there; totally dumbstruck and flustered.

He had to be the most infuriating man she had ever met! Yet, Tanis knew that she liked him a lot...even if they were enemies now. She wasn't sure what to believe or feel anymore...

But one thing was for sure: she had to stop Plasma, even if it meant going against N.

 

 

Chapter Text

"Why didn't you tell me about this?!"

Nina flinched at her daughter's outburst, carefully putting the phone back to her ear. In that single phrase, the Dragon breeder knew that Tanis had found out about the test. Somehow. How didn't matter in the long run, just that she knew.

"About what?" Nina asked calmly, even though she knew full well what it actually was.

"You know what!" Came Tanis' frustrated cry, Nina wincing at the volume. She was partially glad she wasn't there, lest she lose an eardrum.

"No, I don't." Nina lied again, her voice still as flat as ever. "I won't know unless you actually tell me, Tanis."

There was an angry sigh from the other line. "The test!" Tanis exclaimed, "For the Dragon Clan! Why didn't you tell me?!"

Nina took in a deep breath. "I see," She sighed out, taking a seat on the couch. She knew Tanis wouldn't be pleased when she found out - but Nina had hoped it would have been later. Much, much later. That way, Tanis would have time to grow and mature and come to accept it. But as it was...

"Well?" Her daughter huffed.

Nina gave another sigh, slumping in the couch. "Tanis, I know this is upsetting to--"

"'Upsetting?!'" Tanis shouted, her temper flaring like a Gyrados'. "You went behind my back and signed me up for something I don't even want!" She gave a cry of anger and frustration, "I don't think 'upsetting' covers it!!"

"Tanis, I--"

"How could you not tell me?!" Tanis continued to rant, "This is the whole reason I'm doing this stupid 'journey' thing, right?! To be tested for something I don't even want! Mom, I thought you left the Clan and came here to escape! How could you sell me to them?!"

"Tanis, would you--"

"And now I'm knee-deep with Team Plasma!" Nina's spirited daughter wouldn't let her get a word in edgewise. "Fighting them for whatever the fuck it is they're trying to do! For Arceus-knows-how long over their stupid ideals! And then there's this N guy that--"

"Tanith Meredith Castell!!"

Nina's sharp, firey voice instantly silenced the endless rant. Tanis shut her trap for a few seconds, allowing Nina to take a few deep breaths, rubbing her temples with her free hand. She knew her daughter hated the use of her full name of Tanith, but hated it even more when anyone mentioned her extremely girly middle name.

"Now that I have your attention," Nina's voice was still stern, but less sharp. "Yes, that is part of the reason I sent you off to become a trainer was because of the Clan. They wanted to test you for candidacy. But!" She heard Tanis about to protest, so Nina cut her off before she could do so, "I was already thinking about it. You needed to make your own path, sweetheart. To go out in the world and find what you needed to do, needed to become. The offer of the Clan was the final push I needed to make the choice."

There was a pause as Tanis thought this over. Nina could practically hear the gears in her head turning over the phone.

"...But why? I thought you wanted nothing to do with the Clan anymore!" She protested.

"For myself, not for you." Nina corrected, "But they exist for a reason, Tanis." She smirked slightly, "That, and their leader is very convincing." She found herself chuckling at the thought, remembering his comments regarding her daughter.

"W-well...I still don't like it!" Tanis huffed, as stubborn as ever, "I don't want other people deciding my fate!"

"You've always been so independent," Nina chuckled, "But you need to learn that, sometimes, you need other people to depend on. And do consider it at least, Tanis. Your emotions are running high right now, and it wouldn't be wise to just...brush it off."

"I don't need any time," Tanis retorted, her voice rising again, "I won't do it!"

"Tanis..." Nina said sternly, pursing her lips.

"After what happened to Dad? No way I want to work for them!" Tanis proclaimed, "I say now, and I damn well mean it!"

Nina sighed, rubbing her temples again. She knew this would go over badly. "Can I just explain to you what it is they do?"

"I don't care." Tanis snapped. Nina found herself rolling her eyes. Always the stubborn one...

"Alright, fine." She conceded, though she knew the test would continue regardless of how Tanis felt about it. "Just...be careful. Plasma is dangerous."

"I know." Tanis responded, sighing out her frustration. "And thanks."

There was an awkward silence on both ends. Come to think of it, there was something else Tanis had mentioned in her rant. Or rather, someone. Nina grinned when she recalled this.

"So...who is this 'N' boy you mentioned?" She asked teasingly.

"Ugh, Mom! No one!" Tanis shouted quickly, "Bye!" She hastily hung up, leaving Nina to chuckle. It would appear that her firey daughter had found someone special on the road; that was good. The girl could use someone to cool the fires of her temper. Not that Tanis would ever admit this to Nina, lest of all herself.

But, Nina was rather concerned about the rejection to joining the Clan. She glanced down to the phone still in her hand, furrowing her brows together. She hated to do this, but...Tanis needed a little push. And a push she would get.

Nina dialed a number for an old friend she hadn't spoken to in a long time.

"Hey, it's Nina," She said when she heard the response on the other line. "Tanis found out about the test." A pause, "No, I'm not sure how. It doesn't matter. She rejected the idea of joining the Clan. I heard you were in Unova...I think she might need a bit of convincing."



----



Why did everyone want to know her business?

After hanging up with her mom, Tanis tried to get the blush to die down. The last thing she needed right now as thinking about him. And with both her mom and Bianca butting in, it would be difficult to forget. Their ride on the Ferris Wheel, the warmth of his body against hers, the feeling of his lips on her hand...

Enough, stop it! Tanis growled at herself, stalking towards the Nimbasa Gym. It's been two days! Quit fantasizing like a silly girl!

With Plasma on the run, it took a bit of time to collect herself, letting her anger at being tested by the Clan overcome her confused, flustered emotions towards N. But of course, when she finally got pissed enough to call her mom about the situation, she just had to screw up. She had to mention him, and Nina being a mother and all, just had to ask! Ugh...

Naturally, the best thing to do was to kick some ass in the Nimbasa Gym! Unlike the last three gyms she challenged - where she went in blind - Tanis actually took the time to look up the leader. This time she would be prepared and not fly by the seat of her pants! And the type was something she had an advantage over.

Electric.

With Draco, she had this in the bag! And if worse came to worse, Ciela could also help out, as being a dragon-type she was resistant to electric attacks. Plus, doing some good ol' Pokémon battles would help Tanis get some of her aggression out.

...If only her blushing stopped. Damnit.

Nearing the gym, resting in the heart of the amusement park, Tanis was a little...shocked at the sight of it. It was a massive roller coaster! Talk about a weird place for a Pokémon Gym. Still, she couldn't help but too feel excited. She hadn't ever ridden one before, and was looking forward to it. Knowing this, she called her team back to their Pokéballs and waited in line.

When she reached the front of the line, the attendant looked up at her. "Just one?" Tanis nodded at him, "Are you here to ride or to battle?"

Tanis found herself smirking, "Battle." She announced, the people behind her gasping with excitement. The attendant grinned, giving his neck a pop.

"Alright, a new challenger!" He announced, folding his hands out and popping his knuckles. "If you want to challenge Elesa, you'll need to get through me first!" He reached into the pocket of his safety jacket, withdrawing a Pokéball. The crowds disbursed, clearing the docking area where the coaster would wait for new passengers to come on. "Go, Blitzle!" He shouted, chucking the sphere out and releasing the electric zebra Pokémon.

Time to kick some ass! "Let's do this, Draco!" She released her own Pokéball, summoning her faithful Trapinch. He snapped his jaws eagerly at the enemy Pokémon, narrowing it's beady little eyes at it. Instantly, the opposing trainer knew he had a type disadvantage, but he didn't lose his cool.

"Blitzle, use Flame Charge!" He commanded.

Tanis had to do this carefully, confident that she had buffed up Draco's defense enough to withstand some attacks. "Use Bide," She commanded, the Trapinch snapping his jaw closed and planting his feet firmly on the ground. The enemy Blitzle became engulfed with flames, rushing forward and slamming into Draco, who endured the hit quite well.

"Now, use Quick Attack!" Obviously the poor fool had no idea he was playing with fire - pretty much literally in this case! The Blitzle, already bolstered by the speed buff Flame Charge offered, rushed forward and kicked Draco in the face, but the little guy was only knocked back a few inches. Tanis was glad he was a tough son of a bitch.

Smirking, she looked over at her opponent. "Now!" She shouted, Draco opening his jaw and slamming into the ground, releasing the store energy in a massive blast, knocking the Blitzle back and clean out. Tanis saw the trainer's face look exactly how hers did back when she first encountered the move, glad she had this on her side.

Not one to back down, the Trainer withdrew another Pokéball, "Go, Pikachu!" He shouted, releasing the small electric Pokémon. "Quick Attack!"

"Trap it in a Sand Tomb!" Draco kicked his feet up, releasing a cyclone of sand towards the enemy Pikachu. It gave a startled cry, unable to move from the swirling sand and continue it's attack. "Now, Mud Slap!" Tanis ordered, Draco once again slamming his feet into the ground and releasing a blast of mud that hit the Pikachu right in the face, dealing superior damage to it. The Sand Tomb died down, the Pikachu shaking the mud from it's eyes.

"Try another Quick Attack!" The ride attendant shouted, the Pikachu nodding it's head and rushing towards it's enemy. Tanis remained calm, watching the small Pokémon zip forward. However, due to the effects of the Mud Slap, it completely missed Draco, and was now close enough.

"Bite!" Tanis ordered, Draco complying and snapping at the Pikachu, nipping off the last bit of energy it had. It gave a weak cry before returning to it's Pokéball.

"You're well-prepared!" The attendant announced, conceding defeat. The spectators applauded the spectacle, Tanis finding herself beaming. "It is my greatest pleasure to allow you to ride to face the Leader, Elesa!" Hitting a special switch on the controls, the multi-colored lights of the roller coaster turned pure yellow. There was also a mechanical clanking sound, and Tanis heard the crowd cheering louder. No doubt people knew what that meant and were looking forward to the show! "Hop on!" He gestured to the car.

Grinning, Tanis recalled Draco and jumped into the carriage. Several of the people waiting cheered her on, causing the sudden surge of attention to make her feel a little embarrassed, but excited all the same. With a throw of the switch, the coaster clanked over to the main hill, slowly climbing up it. Tanis felt her blood pump in excitement, waiting until the cart reached the very top.

When it did, it lingered a few agonizing moments before gravity took over, pulling it down the cart down. Tanis felt the thrill of being plunged down towards the ground, her stomach practically leaping up into her throat. The rush of the wind blowing past her, the exhilaration of the first plummet! Oh man, she had to ride the roller coaster more often, just for fun!

After many bobs up and down, twists and turns, the coaster finally turned down a special ramp that lead to another chain that pulled it upwards. Once it reached the top, it stopped by a large platform, surrounded by neon lights. The safety mechanism that kept her in place released, and climbed out and walked onto the stage.

"Welcome to my Gym!" Came a female voice, Tanis looking over towards her.

"...Is that even clothing?" She muttered to herself, spotting the tall, thin women wearing the oddest outfit she had ever seen. The blonde-haired leader scoffed, obviously hearing this remark.

"I am Elesa, the leader of this Gym! And I am also a model." She huffed, as if that explained anything. "This is fashion!" She gestured to the 'outfit' she wore.

Tanis eyed her again, quirking a brow up. "...If you say so..."

The slender model sighed and shook her head, "Such lack of taste," Elesa sighed to herself, "But are you here to battle or not?"

Tanis smirked, "Bring it on!"

Elesa gave a small bow, before raising her arms up above her head, like she was posing. Only then did Tanis notice some camera's rigged up and screens throughout the park, showing their entire battle. Oh god, really?! She wanted to hide herself, standing next to this tall, thin, gorgeous women when she was her short, broad, busty, uninteresting self. Lowering her arms, Elesa grinned over at her.

"Let's get the show on the road!" She announced, throwing out her first Pokéball. "Go, Flaaffy!" She shouted, releasing a pink sheep like Pokémon.

"Get 'em, Draco!" Tanis shouted, throwing out her dear little Trapinch.

"Oh, excellent choice!" Elena grinned, "Let me show you what my team can do! Confuse Ray!"

The sheep gave a baa, planting it's feet on the ground.

"Quick, Mud Slap!" Tanis shouted, Draco kicking up a splash of mud to hit the Flaaffy in the face. His attack landed successfully, knocking it back and blinding it temporarily. However, the confuse ray already was sent out by then, hitting him. He began to look about him, snapping his jaws nervously.

Elesa grinned, "Wise move, but can your Pokémon still attack? Use Take Down!" She commanded, the Flaaffy shaking some mud from it's eyes, rushing forward towards Draco. The Flaaffy missed and stumbled forward, damaging itself in the process.

"Try to use Bite!" Tanis said nervously, the Trapinch shaking his head and rushing forward. He managed to get his jaws on the Flaaffy, but it was just a grazing blow. He shook his head and tried to focus, but everything was spinning around way too much for the little guy.

"Take Down!" Elesa commanded, not having any other moves that would harm it.

Tanis gritted her teeth, "Mud Slap! All over the field!" She shouted, Draco nodding his head and kicking up a wide spray of mud. Which, thankfully, hit the Flaaffy in mid-run, knocking it out. ...And got some on Elesa too. The model made a face and shrieked, trying to brush some of the mud off of her. Tanis tried not to laugh. "Not to your taste, leader?" She snarked.

"If this stains, you're paying for a new outfit!" Elesa huffed, trying to wipe as much of the mud off of her as she could, making all sorts of hilarious faces each time she touched it.

Now Tanis laughed. "Are you to miffed to keep battling me, eh?" She taunted, Elesa turning a cold glare upon her.

"This won't stop me!" She called out, releasing another Pokémon: an Emolga.

Tanis had to resist the urge not to start swearing.

Just judging by the Pokémon's appearance, gilding around over Elesa's head, it was pretty apparent that ground attacks wouldn't work. She would have to use Bide and pray it didn't destroy Draco in the process!

"Quick Attack!" Elesa ordered.

"Use Bide!" Tanis countered, seeing the displeasure on Elesa's face when she announced the attack. The Emolga flew down and hit Draco in the face, but he was too confused to actually use the attack. He stumbled backwards, shaking his head, having taken damage instead of absorbing the power of it. The Gym Leader's grimace was changed into a smirk.

"Pursuit!" She ordered, the Emolga zipping down and hitting Draco in the head again, causing him to stagger backwards.

"Use Bite!" Tanis shouted, Draco snapping about, but the Emolga flew up too high for him to reach. "Damnit!" She shouted, wishing she could use ground-type moves, but on a flying-type, it meant they wouldn't work. And poor Draco was so short, and due to his large head size he couldn't jump.

"Finish it!" Elesa said confidently, crossing her arms. The Emolga gave a squeak of confirmation, zipping down and hitting Draco for one final blow. Giving a cry of defeat, Draco returned back to his Pokéball. The Emolga returned to Elesa, perching on her shoulder. "Now that you know my secret weapon, what will you do next?" She asked with a tilt of her head.

Tanis had to think. Although Ciela would be resistant to the thunder attacks, she couldn't get off of the ground to attack the Emolga. She did know Dragon Rage now, but that would likely destroy the gym - and the entire theme park. And Starlight's electric attacks would do no good, seeing as they had the same type. Hm...

An idea came upon her. Smirking, Tanis reached for a Pokéball. "Kick some ass, Rex!"

Elesa was taken aback when she saw the Aerodactyl pop out. Tanis smirked confidently over at her, knowing full well that his rock-based attacks would pulverize the little Emolga. Even the Pokémon seemed to know this, looking rather terrified right now. Which could also be because Rex was large. And terrifying-looking. Elesa gulped and gestured for the Emolga to take the field.

With that smirk still on her face, Tanis gave her first order: "Ancient Power."

Rex nodded his head, raising his wings up. Suddenly, the ground shook and he summoned forth massive rocks with strange telekentic properties. Giving a roar, he released the fountain of rocks at the Emolga, who squeaked and attempted to dodge them. However, one managed to hit and send it crashing to the ground, instantly KOing it. Elesa store in shock as it returned to it's Pokéball, Rex giving a toothy grin at his victory.

With the Emolga out for the counter, Elesa released her final Pokémon. "Go, Zebstrika!" She shouted, revealing the evolved form of the Blitzle. "Use Pursuit!" She commanded. Tanis gave Rex a small nod of her head, the Aerodactyl grinning and using his wings to flap up into the air. He dodged the ground-based attack from the Zebstrika, doing a flip in the air and turning around to face it.

"Scary Face!" Tanis ordered, Rex narrowing his eyes down at the Zebstrika. It cowered in fear, lowering it's speed and ability to dodge. "Now, another Ancient Power!" With a nod of his head, Rex summoned forth more boulders, chucking them down at the enemy Pokémon. It attempted to dodge some of them, but due to it's lower speed, it was unable to dodge all of them. Several of the rocks hit it clean in the face, dealing serious damage; but not enough to faint.

"Use Discharge!" Elesa ordered, the Zebstrika nodding it's head and charging with energy. Oh, that's right! Tanis remembered that due to Rex' secondary flying-type, he would receive normal damage from an electric move. The enemy Pokémon released a massive blast of electricity that arched up towards the flying Pokémon, zapping him and causing him to give a startled roar of pain, dropping down in the sky. Thankfully, he managed to catch himself and remain aloft.

"Hang in there, Rex! Use Bite!" Tanis said with encouragement, knowing full well that this battle was almost over. Rex shook his head and shot down towards the Zebstrika with his maw open.

"Discharge again!" Elesa ordered, but the amount of time it would take to charge wouldn't be enough. By then, Rex closed his jaws around the Zebstrika - gently enough to not seriously damage it - and tossed it across the ring. With one final cry, it returned to Elesa's Pokéball. The match was over.

"Alright, we did it!" Tanis cheered, Rex doing a happy spin in the air before landing beside her. She scratched his back, causing him to let out a delighted coo. "Good job, buddy!"

"...You...are a brilliant trainer." Elesa admitted, a slow smile crossing her pretty face, "Your temper may be biting, but...you are incredibly skilled! Truly, you are a worthy combatant. I would like you to have this," She approached the shorter woman and handed her the badge. "This is the Bolt Badge, signifying that you've defeated me! Congratulations."

Tanis grinned, whipping out her badge case and placing it in. "Heh, thanks!" She heard the crowds surrounding the coaster cheering and whooping, causing her to turn red and try to hide in the collar of her vest. "...Erm..."

Elesa tilted her head, "What? Not used to the attention?"

"Uh...not exactly..." Tanis murmured, nervously petting Rex on the knee.

Elesa eyed her up and down, "Well, you're actually very pretty!" This comment caused Tanis to turn even redder, wanting her to hide even more. "And you have such a gift with your Pokémon! I think you should be in the spotlight more often."

"T-thanks..." She mumbled quietly, wanting to just disappear right now.

"Anyway...I need to go change and shower. Ugh." She made a face at her soiled clothing and skin. "This will take so much work to get out!" She strode towards the roller coaster, hopping in. "Are you coming along?" She offered.

Tanis wasn't really keen on walking dead into the excited crowd, "Naw, I think I'll ride Rex down! You'd like that, right?" He eagerly nodded his head, nudging her with it and nearly knocking her over. She couldn't help but to laugh. "Alright then!"

Elesa chuckled and road down in the coaster, Tanis hopping onto her Pokémon's back. "Let's go!" She said, Rex giving a happy roar and flapping into the air, zipping down the coaster and landing in the crowds. People were cheering and clapping at her performance, Tanis noticing her face was now on the electronic billboards with the word "WINNER" on it. She smiled awkwardly at the people, nudging Rex to help clear through the crowds.

Thankfully, the battle with Elesa cleared her head, allowing her to forget her anger...for the moment.



----



After weaving through the excited crowds, receiving compliments and congratulations left and right, Tanis felt a little overwhelmed. Thankfully, Rex was there to ward off any annoying people just by his sheer presence, so it kept her awkward "thanks" to a minimum. She wasn't used to the praise, never being popular before, so all of this attention mounted up on her was a little weird.

With the crowds now behind her, Tanis made her way towards the Pokémon Center. Draco desperately needed to pay a visit, and she was sure Rex felt the burn of the previous battle. Plus, it would be good for her to get away from the crowds and have some quiet time for a bit. Rounding the corner, she was glad to see the Center come into view.

"Thank Arceus!" She breathed out, Rex giving her a curious expression. "I bet you need some R & R too, huh?" She cast a smirk up at him, the large Pokémon giving a toothy grin down at her, signifying that he was feeling as perky as ever. "Heh, starting to take some lessons from Char?" She suggested, Rex giving an angry huff, obviously not wanting to be compared to the ever-egocentric Charmeleon. Tanis chuckled and returned her attention in front of her.

"Excuse me, are you Tanis?"

Tanis stopped when she heard a deep male voice behind her, heavily accented. Was that Johto? She wasn't exactly sure, Johto and Kanto sounded similar sometimes. Was he another admirer of her battle with Elesa? Sighing, she slowly turned around.

"Yeah? Who wants...t-to...kn...ow..."

Her voice died down and the color drained from her skin when she turned fully to face who had called to her from behind.

He was a tall, broad man, probably in his mid-to-late 30's. His hair was a deep red color, sweeping back away from his forehead with a slight receding hairline. Draped across his shoulders rested an impressive black cape with a high collar, nearly trailing down to the ground. Anyone who knew anything about either history or Pokémon knew who he was!

Former Champion of the Indigo League of Johto and Kanto. Ranked fourth in the world for the longest-held title of Champion. Current leader of Indigio's Elite Four, reputed to be the strongest Elite Four member in all of the regions.

And one of the few living Pokémon Masters in the whole world.

Lance.

Tanis gave a whimpering squeak, having lost of her voice at the sight of a living legend standing before her. Apparently looking for her. She was surprised she didn't pass out right on the spot! Though she did feel incredibly dizzy right now...

Seeing her pale completion and gapping expression, Lance gave an uneasy smile. "I take it you know who I am?" He asked, Tanis now recognizing the Johto accent, very similar to her mother's.

Tanis wanted to say of course, who doesn't know the legendary Lance? All that came out was another pathetic squeak, though she was still too shocked to even mentally kick herself for it. Quickly closing her gaping mouth, she gave a quick nod of her head, barely even registering that she did nod. By now, several people on the streets had stopped to point and whisper at the training icon, just standing casually on the road. He gave an awkward chuckle at Tanis, ignoring the spectators.

"Come, now! You're not going to faint on me, are you?" Lance asked, Tanis lightly shaking her head. "Meowth got your tongue, I see?" She nodded, unable to believe that Lance, the Lance, was talking to her! "Perhaps if we moved to someplace a bit more secluded, your ability to speak will return, yes?" He gestured towards the Pokémon Center, Tanis lightly nodding her head and stiffly jerking after him.

Oh my god, ohmygod, OH MY GOD!! Tanis could barely even think right about now! She felt like a dumb fool, standing next to Lance, but what could you expect? The guy was an icon, a hero! Someone she had always looked up to and respected, given how he had a gentle approach to raising Pokémon, but was a fierce competitor that was rarely beaten anymore. In fact, from the news they received from the Indigo League, barely anyone even made it to their Champion, a girl named Akira (who was also considered a Master), since Lance often stomped them all flat.

Why on earth did he want to talk to a nobody girl like her?

Was it because of her involvement with Team Plasma? How would he know that if that was the case? Maybe he was visiting the fair grounds and saw her battle with Elesa and was impressed? Tanis hardly thought it was an impressive battle! Or maybe it was because she was wandering around Nimbasa City with an Aerodactyl? Or maybe...Tanis' mind raced, wondering what was going on, her hands ringing together in nervousness. But what didn't cross her mind was how he knew her name.

Tanis managed to register that Rex couldn't fit into the doors of the Pokémon Center, calling him back to his Pokéball. Once she and Lance were inside the doors, practically every trainer, shopper, parent, anyone within the Center stopped dead in their tracks upon seeing him. Several began to whisper and stare. No one seemed to know that Lance was in Unova for some reason - a thought that also didn't cross Tanis' mind - and wondered what that reason was. Lance ignored the stares and whispers, walking towards one of the smaller lounges that had a door. He gestured for Tanis to head inside, and she marched stiffly into it. Once he entered, he closed the door behind them. A few trainers followed them to the door, peering inside curiously.

"Please, take a seat," Lance offered, gesturing towards on of the arm chairs. Tanis nodded her head and flopped down in the nearest chair, letting out the breath she had been holding in. He took a seat directly across from her with a flourish of his cape, so he wouldn't sit on it.

Taking in a deep breath, Tanis managed to finally speak. "S-so...uh...why...um, do you...w-want to..." Her voice was small, smaller then it usually was.

"You can talk to me like a normal person, Tanis," Lance suggested coolly, seeming a bit irritated by the reverence and terror she had at speaking to a legendary trainer. "I promise I'm not going to treat you differently."

Tanis managed to chuckle awkwardly. "S-sorry, I just...never thought I-I'd be meeting someone like you." She managed to mumble, still wringing her hands.

Lance gave a small shrug of his shoulders. "I'm not different from anyone else," He paused after saying this, raising a brow up. "Except, of course, having loads of titles people keep heaping up on me..."

"Heh, I can see how that might get annoying," Tanis felt herself beginning to relax, slumping down in her chair. "So, uh...what is this about?"

Lance seemed to ponder this for a moment, "Hmm...well, Nina is your mother, right?" He asked, Tanis giving a nod of confirmation. "I can see that same fire, that same energy in you, too. I managed to catch the tail end of your battle with Elesa, it was quite impressive."

"So people say..." Tanis mumbled sheepishly, feeling embarrassed again and staring down at the floor.

"I'd say you've got the same knack for Pokémon as Nina and your father, Dominic," Lance continued, "I...am truly sorry for what happened to him." His friendly exterior faded briefly, showing deep remorse for it. "He was a good man, and a brilliant, focused trainer. I hope you still have some memories of him, despite how young you were when he passed."

Tanis slowly raised an eyebrow. This...was a little weird. Why was Lance asking about her parents, and speaking as if he knew how and when her father had died. Most people didn't even know the full story about it - hell, Tanis really didn't know the exact details - as Nina rarely spoke of it. How did Lance know this, and know both of them? Unless...

The gears clicked into place.

One of the memories relating to her father's passing popped into her mind. During his wake, she recalled some of the members of the Dragon Clan coming forward to offer condolences and help her grieving mother. Tanis didn't remember much, being only four at the time of his passing, but...there was a boy there. A teenaged boy with hair like flame...a young member of the Clan, grandson of the Elder...who looked like a younger version of the man sitting across from her

And she remembered that Lance was also a Dragon Trainer.

"Oh, no..." Tanis managed to whisper, her body tensing up.

Lance noticed this subtle change in position. His face grew serious and he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and raising his forearms up, lacing his fingers together. "You know what I'm really here to talk about, then."

Tanis' hands gripped the arms of the chair she sat in. She was trying not to let her temper get the better of her, but it was difficult given the situation she was in. On one hand, she respected this guy as a brilliant trainer, but on the other hand...he was just trying to control her life, like her mother was.

"I already said no." Tanis managed to say between clenched teeth, trying not to sound too angered.

"I understand why," Lance informed, his voice far colder and his face unreadable. "You blame us for what happened to Dominic."

"Yeah, why shouldn't I?" Tanis spat, glaring over at him, "It's your fault for what happened!"

Lance didn't even flinch, keeping his eyes steady upon hers. "...Do you even know the full story, Tanis?"

Tanis sighed angrily and crossed her arms, turning away. "Why does it matter?"

"It matters because you may not be aware of everything," Lance sighed, "I know Nina. She is stubborn and doesn't let others in on what she is thinking. She would not want to burden you or cause grief when it is not necessary."

"I know enough!" Tanis snapped, "Dad died doing some kind of stupid mission for you guys!"

Lance paused for a moment, studying the temper flaring in her face before continuing. "...Your father's death was an accident. We didn't send him to face certain doom; in fact, the mission he went on was very simple and without risk." Slowly, Tanis opened an eye to glance at him, "He was investigating some strange activity in Mt. Moon, where there were rumors of Dratini. However, while he was investigating, there was an earthquake. He managed to get out of the mountain just before the passage collapsed, but on his way out he tripped on a root and hid his head against a rock, killing him."

Tanis blinked, turning her attention back towards Lance. "It...i-it was an accident...? J-just...like that...?"

"Just like that," Lance nodded his head slowly. "While he was on a mission for us, everything that occurred was not a result from it. But it was so sudden that the...shock caused Nina to want to leave everything behind. I don't blame her at all, nor you for your anger."

Tanis snorted, "W-well, thanks for telling me, but...it still doesn't change my opinion on joining you guys!"

"Understandable, I wasn't expecting that for so little." Lance leaned back in his seat, but kept his careful gaze trained upon her. "However, do you even know what we do?"

"Erm...train dragons?" Tanis said somewhat sarcastically with a raised brow.

Lance chuckled, "Well, there's that, but you've heard of Team Rocket?"

"Who hasn't?" Tanis shrugged her shoulders. "You'd have to be living under a rock if you haven't heard of them."

"There are other Teams that exist or have existed within the world," Lance explained, "Ones who want to use Pokémon for their goals, often forcing them to do so. Sometimes with catastrophic results." He gave a small pause, to allow this to sink in, "We act as a...counter for that. We protect people and Pokémon from their schemes, and essentially, keep balance."

"Balance...?" Tanis questioned, blinking her eyes.

Lance nodded his head, "Pokémon shouldn't be used as tools, nor forced to do the dirty work of humans," He continued, "And often, these actions cannot be stopped by the police alone, so a secondary force is often needed. We have agents throughout all of the regions, subverting activity. Though sometimes, things...slip past the net."

"Like Plasma," Tanis muttered.

"Exactly," Lance confirmed, nodding his head again, "We didn't think much of them until recently. Some of our agents are tracking them, but you're...more involved then they are." Tanis felt herself shift, becoming uncomfortable. Did Lance know about her and N already? Or just that Plasma had an interest in her? "You're a strong trainer, and have good emotional values. The secret test was just to prove your candidacy, and so far, I think you're excelling expectations, Tanis."

"Thanks?" Tanis mumbled awkwardly, down casting her eyes. Ugh, more praise...

"So, now that you know what's going on, will you reconsider your position?" Lance offered, but his face still remained impassive. "You'll be given additional resources to stop Plasma, and you'll be in contact with our agents here in Unova." He managed to quirk a grin, "And you've already received a few of our donations for your positive progress."

Tanis had to admit: Lance did have a point. It was a little appealing, actually. To have more to go on, instead of just flying by the seat of her pants when it came to Plasma. Having a force to aid her in the battle, and actually doing it for a good cause to boot. It did also explain where all of her mysterious gift Pokémon were coming from, too. Plus what really happened to her father wasn't their fault...

But she still hated being controlled.

Just the thought of it made her feel bitter. Always the stubborn, independent one, as her mother used to say. Tanis hated the idea of being used or controlled for some grand scheme, even if it was for a noble goal. And with both the Dragon Clan and Team Plasma wanting her for various reasons, it didn't sit well with her. The thought of it made her grit her teeth again, her fingers curling around the edge of her shorts.

"I...I don't like it," Tanis finally admitted, still staring at the floor. "I don't like being used or controlled! This isn't who I am!"

"Tanis--"

"I can't do this! Even if what all you said is true...I'm no one spectacular! Just a dumb girl whose parents just happened to be in the Clan!" Tanis ignored his interjection, feeling her temper starting to flare. "I won't do this! I can't! Don't ask me again, because--"

"This isn't just about you!" Lance's voice raised, not enough to actually yell, but loud enough to stop Tanis before she began to rant. With her mouth shut, he stood up and walked over towards her, leaning down slightly. "Tanis, under normal circumstances I would agree to your resignation. But right now, you need to wake up and understand just how dangerous Team Plasma truly is!" Sighing, he shook his head, "You're too involved within Plasma's plan right now. Even if you give up pursuing them right here, right now...they won't give up on you." Tanis looked down from him and towards the floor. "So right now, you have a choice: stop being selfish and thinking you can carry all of this weight on your own and stop them before they destroy Unova...or risk going at it on your own, poetically hurting innocent people?" Leaning back, Lance crossed his arms.

Tanis closed her eyes and pursed her lips. Was she really being that selfish? She was so focused on fighting for her independence and getting pissed off at Plasma, she hadn't really thought about it...sure, Bianca and Cheren had helped her a few times, but for the most part, she was on her own. After what had happened in the park with N, it was pretty clear he wasn't intent on giving up on recruiting her or swaying her to his side. Just like Lance said - even if she did stop fighting him or the team, she couldn't ever really escape. Not now.

Could she really carry all of that with her?

Letting loose a sigh, Tanis opened her eyes and rose to her feet, meeting Lance's careful gaze. She hated being wrong, but...she was here. "I...understand what you're saying," She admitted, briefly looking away, but returning her gaze. "I haven't been thinking about other people. It's just...ugh, it's hard for me to do this. I've always been in control of my own self and my destiny..."

"You still will be," Lance assured with a small smile, "Just with additional tools to help you along the way."

Tanis managed a hollow chuckle. "Ha, yeah..."

"So?" Lance asked, folding his arms.

"So...yeah." Tanis confirmed with a short nod of her head. "I, uh...totally will. Erm, join, that is..." She scratched her head awkwardly. "I-if you'll still take me after getting a little hot-headed there."

Lance grinned, "I'm glad you've reconsidered the offer," He lowered his arms and reached into a hidden pocket in his cloak. "However, you still need some time to grow before you'll officially become a member, but we'll be watching you closely." He withdrew a Pokéball from it, offering it to her. "I have confidence that you'll exceed our expectations, Tanis."

"No pressure, right?" Tanis laughed nervously, suddenly feeling a bit uneasy about all of this pressure on her. She took the Pokéball and examined it, noticing it contained a flying-type Pokémon called a Swablu. Weird, it wasn't a Dragon this time...or even remotely Dragon-like, as Rex was. "Erm..."

"Give it time," Lance chuckled. She wasn't sure if he meant the Pokémon or herself. "I'll inform our agents here in Unova that you are aware of your test. They'll be contacting you whenever they find new information regarding Plasma." He placed a hand on her shoulder. "I will also give you my number in case you need to contact us about something."

Looking up, Tanis nodded her head. "Alright, sounds good." She whipped out her Pokégear, Lance informing her of his phone number and she entered it into the system.

"Now then, I really must be off. I've got some business to attend to, but if you do need help...don't hesitate to get into contact with me." Lance went do the door, but stopped a few paces short. He looked over his shoulder back at her, "Oh, and Tanis...always remember that the right path is often the most difficult one. While it might be rife with trials and heartbreak, the rewards will always be great." He gave a small nod at her, turning back to the door.

Numerous trainers were waiting eagerly to meet him outside of the room. He grimaced slightly. "...Time to fight through the crowds..." He mumbled dryly. "I knew I should have come in disguise..." Tanis couldn't help but to snort a laugh, biting down on her lower lip so she wouldn't crack up at the poor guy's plight. He cast her a sideways glance and took a breath, opening the door and stepping out into the adoring public.

Tanis opted to remain behind in the lounge, fumbling with her new Pokéball. She had accepted this part of her...but what would happen because of it?

Things were starting to get interesting.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 10: A Hero's Journey



"Did I hear correctly?"

Ghetsis sat within one of Team Plasma's many large meeting rooms, surrounded by the other six Sages, as well as their leading scientist, a man named Colress. They had all gathered together for their weekly progress report. Sharing details of their progress, what their teams were working on, improvements that could made, approval of plans. It was all run-of-the-mill statistics, the same they had been doing for years.

Only now, they had...problems.

Before, they were occasionally met with resistance. Granted it was becoming and more frequent, but it was nothing the grunts couldn't handle, aside from the occasional intervention by the police or, even more rarely, the gym leaders. But now...now she was getting involved.

The conversation had quickly shifted towards that troublesome girl, Tanis. She was becoming quite the thorn in their side, ever since disrupting Gorm's scheme. Which would have failed anyway, but that was beside the point. Now, when she should have given in and taken her rightful place, that child resisted them. Ghetsis should have known right from the start that biting temper of hers would be trouble. Ryoku had tangled with the girl just the other day, only to be beaten back, Plasma's plans disrupted. Again. And to make matters worse, their King had taken an interest in her.

More then an interest.

Ghetsis took a moment and rubbed his temples. Just thinking about Tanis was giving him a headache.

"You wish for us to...protect her?" The head Sage grumbled in disbelief, staring towards the head of the table where N sat.

The young King nodded. "Yes."

Ghetsis heard a groan, but it wasn't from him. His red eyes shot down the table where Zinzolin sat. The purple-clad Sage looked about as thrilled as Ghetsis did in this situation, having faced more of Tanis' impertinent behavior then he had. He gave the older man a sharp glare to shut him up, the other Sage closing his mouth and slinking back into the chair, looking off to the side.

Ghetsis looked back over to N, "My Lord N, I do realize that you...value the 'friendship' you have with that girl--"

"Tanis," N corrected Ghetsis, the man silently seething behind his calm poise. "Her name is Tanis." Ghetsis took some sharp breaths in through his nose before continuing.

"Yes, of course," He had to bite back the venom of the statement, "You value Tanis' so-called friendship--"

"We are friends, though." Once again, N had no grasp of social norms. Ghetsis had told the boy time and time again not to interrupt him. But, N was King and he had to swallow back his anger, biting on the insides of his cheeks to keep himself from sneering.

"Of course." Ghetsis' voice came out in a low, drawn-out hiss, his jaw clenched tightly. "I see that your friendship with Tanis is very important to you, my lord..." The Sage was practically white knuckling the chair he sat in. He shot a pointed gaze at N, waiting to see if the boy would interrupt again. Thankfully, the young man only nodded his head at the statement. This left room for Ghetsis to continue, "But the fact of the matter is, she is doing all in her power to stop us. She has rejected your offer, your grace, and mine as well. It's obvious she has no intention of helping Plasma...or Pokémon." N was about to interject, but Ghetsis silenced him with a raise of his hand. "While I understand her friendship, Tanis is our enemy. Why do you wish for Plasma to protect her when she fights so avidly against us, King N?"

"Because," N leaned forward in his chair, his pale eyes sweeping the table before settling across the table at Ghetsis. "She is the one."

The other men all looked about the room skeptically, whispering amongst themselves. Ghetsis remained cool and even tempered, raising his hands from the rests and folding them over the table. He looked straight across at N, wondering just what the young King was referring to. Lacing his fingers together, he waited for one of the other Sages to say something.

Finally, one of them spoke up, "Sire, to what are you referring to?" Bronius asked cautiously.

N met his gaze with a calculated one. Ghetsis silently studied the poise the young ruler had; he was relaxed, confident, assured. Whatever he was about to say was the truth in his eyes; the head Sage would determine if it actually was, however. Now that he had actually met the girl N was so interested in, Ghetsis wasn't sure what the appeal was. Possibly because she was unlike anything N had ever experienced before, and she was rather...exotic. Certainly different from the other women within Plasma. He only dreaded what the boy thought she was 'the one' of. Hopefully it wasn't what Ghetsis initially thought...

A small, faint smile tugged at the King of Team Plasma's lips. "She is the one...the one who will stand by me in the new world."

Ghetsis wanted to hit something.

Too bad there weren't any of those grunts lollygagging around for him to punch in the face. Instead, he tightened his laced fingers, practically white knuckling them. Several of the other Sages gave murmurs of dissent at this.

"Forgive me for interjecting, my lord, but could you...elaborate?" The scientist, Colress, said from the corner he was lurking in, raising his head from his tablet. Obviously the man could pick up on the fact that N wasn't saying something the way he should. The poor boy was too sheltered and didn't understand social norms nor traditional sayings, but still bothered Ghetsis that, despite her resistance, Tanis was still elevated in N's eyes.

N leaned forward in his chair, placing his palms on the edge of the meeting table. "She will be the one to stand by me when I create the new world," He explained, Ghetsis resisting the urge to rub his temples at this response, "And she will help us, because she is a hero." He rose from his chair, standing and sweeping his pale eyes across the room to each of the Sages. "Tanis is the Hero of Truth!"

Instantly, Ghetsis anger and irritation at the child's seeming obsession with that stubborn girl was replaced with a different feeling. His tightly laced hands loosened, leaning forward against the table with one of his elbows, resting the other hand on the arm of his chair. He narrowed his eyes over at the young leader, the other Sages whispering amongst themselves.

"Are you certain?" Ghetsis asked in a low voice.

"I am," N informed with a confident nod, rising up to his full height, his shoulders back. "In the future - her future - I saw Tanis with the great White Dragon, Reshiram. There is no doubt she is the second Hero."

This changed everything.

N had a unique gift - aside from his ability to understand Pokémon - to see the future of others, as well as a bit into the past. The future constantly changed, however, so to see something with such certainty and clarity...

Ghetsis leaned forward in his chair, propping his elbows up on the table and lacing his fingers together once again. No longer was the girl a nuisance to them - now she would be an asset. To have two Legendary Dragons on Plasma's side - surely they would be able to achieve their goals! Before, he only wanted her to join to get her out of their hair. Now he knew she was destined to forge their new world! To join their ranks and assume her rightful place!

Most excellent.

The other Sages were whispering amongst each other about this revelation as well. Ghetsis paid them no heed, "Then we must bring her here immediately." He informed N with a small grin, "Perhaps, even prepare her for a proper cor--"

"No." N starkly said, leaning forward and placing his hands on the table again. Ghetsis pursed his lips so he wouldn't snap at the boy; the other Sages stopped whispering to look at their King. "Tanis...isn't ready. Not yet," N continued, "Bringing her here now wouldn't be wise. She would resist too much, and we couldn't convince her to see the right way."

The young King had a point, Ghetsis had to admit. As much as he didn't want to wait to set their plans in motion, a resistant hero would be unlikely to summon Reshiram successfully. Plus, Tanis was rather...independent. And stubborn, and far too temperamental. She would have to be re-educated if bringing her to their side was going to work.

"This is excellent news," Gorm said from his side of the table, "But, I must ask: how are we going to sway her, my liege?"

N stood upright again, "Leave it to me," He said coolly, "I need more time with her, just a bit more. Tanis already sees some our views and understands some of our ideals. It won't take long for her to realize the truth." That boyish grin returned, "Besides, she's my friend. She'll listen to me." Ghetsis fought the urge to roll his eyes. The smile on N's face faded, becoming serious and focused again.

"But until then, Tanis is under my protection." He informed the group of Sages, "Do not attack or provoke her, or take her Pokémon friends. Only engage her if necessary, or upon my orders alone. Understood?"

"Yes, Lord N." Several voices said in unison, including the begrudging one of Ghetsis. Zinzolin was the only one in the room who didn't agree forthright, N's eyes turning towards the defiant Sage.

"But, Your Grace, what if she attacks us?" The purple-clad Sage protested, "And you know that she will!" He added for good measure, Ghetsis fighting the urge to smack him for provoking N.

Sure enough, N's gaze turned to ice, his body stiffening up. "Tanis will see in time," He said through his clenched jaw, "Until then, contact me if you see her and I will deal with it. Only engage her in battle if there are no other options." He leaned forward more, his cold expression twisting into a glare. "You will also stop belittling my friend, Zinzolin. Is that clear?"

Zinzolin paled. "Y-yes, o-of co-course, my lo-lord..." He mumbled feasibly, seemingly disappearing into his robes. "Per-perfectly clear..." He added when N's glower didn't relax. After a moment, the Plasma King gave a short nod, straightening back up.

"Thank you, that will be all. Dismissed."

The Sages all gathered up their folders, files and tablets, rising to their feet. Each gave a bow to N, uttering "your grace," before departing out of the large double doors. Except for Ghetsis, who remained seated, as he usually did at these meetings. Once the six Sages had cleared out, Colress looked over to N and gave a small bow.

"My lord." He, too, disappeared through the doors. Once he was alone with Ghetsis, N breathed out and relaxed his stance, falling back into his chair.

"This is a most fortuitous turn of events, N." Ghetsis rose from his seat and approached the King. "To think - your first human friend is the other Hero! What are the odds?"

N shook his head, looking up at the head Sage. "It's not chance - it's fate. We met and were drawn to each other because we were meant to. We were destined to be the two Heroes together." Another faint smile came to him.

"Indeed." Ghetsis slowly grinned, hoping that they'd find a way to sway the girl. She did seem rather steadfast in her beliefs.

N didn't seem phased by this notion, believing that she'd come around. "We need to know as much about Tanis as we can." He paused, "I want to know everything about her. Her family, her past, likes and dislikes...all of this I can use to help me convince her that this is where she's meant to be. I don't want us to fight."

Ghetsis gave a nod of his head. "Of course. I will send the Shadow Triad to track her movements and do some research as soon as possible." He reached out with his left hand and placed it on N's shoulders. "Never fear, we will bring her over to our side soon, my son."

N smiled up at him. "Thank you, father."



----



Boy, it had been a busy week!

After Lance had convinced her to keep going with the Clan's test, Tanis had decided to spend a good chunk of time training her team. With her new Swablu - who she had named Isis - in tow, she swapped out some of her members back-and-forth to keep their levels even. Between the Desert Resort and the Relic Castle below it, Ciela, Starlight and Draco had all evolved. Confident that her team was strong enough, and her own mind kept sharp by constant studying, Tanis went to press forward.

But didn't quite make it that far.

Upon re-entering Nimbasa City, Tanis got a call from the Clan. Apparently, in one of the abandoned houses, some Plasma members has gathered together, lead by a Sage named Bronius. They were working on subverting trainers and spreading their lies, but thankfully, Tanis stomped them flat. Bronius sputtered some nonsense about paths and truths, but she didn't really pay much attention to it. With the team defeated, he slipped away. Man, sometimes Team Plasma seemed hilariously incompetent!

If only dealing with N was this easy...

Tanis told herself not to dwell on it. With Plasma defeated and the day saved, she stocked up on supplies and headed out of the city. Next stop was Driftveil!

"Man, oh man!" Tanis exclaimed, stretching her arms over her head. "So glad to be out on the open road again, right?" She grinned and looked down to her side, where Eevee and the freshly-evolved Starlight walked. Eevee gave a small, gentle nod of her head. She had only recently gained enough strength and confidence to start partaking in battles, but Tanis made sure to only use her when the young Pokémon felt comfortable enough to do so.

She still hadn't nicknamed the poor dear. After all, she was only guiding and protecting Eevee until she found the Pokémon's parents.

Still, the timid creature was meshing well with the team, and Tanis was quickly finding herself becoming very attached to her. Starlight, in particular, had become a surrogate big sister to her, the inquisitive Luxray growing more and more protective of the young Eevee. Draco, too, had become a good influence upon her, with his cheerful disposition and encouraging nature. It made Tanis glad to see Eevee grow and flourish, but was becoming more and more pained with the thought of eventually letting her go.

Sitting upon her trainer's head, Isis began to hum softly, as she often did. Tanis was pulled from her thoughts, reaching up and scratching the fluff-ball on the head, hearing a happy chirp in response. The Swablu was probably the sweetest thing in the whole world, and a penchant for perching on Tanis' head or shoulders. Pretty much every Pokémon on Tanis' team liked her - even Char! - and she was pretty sure Isis had given cavities to most of them by now.

Speaking of Char, though...

"Nothing like a good Team Plasma ass whoopin' in the morning, eh?" Tanis looked back behind her, towards her lagging Pokémon.

Draco was busy zipping around with his new-found wings. Rex, meanwhile, had been sent to relax with Nina, since he wasn't exactly, err, "travel sized." Char lingered further back from Draco and didn't even hear his trainer's comment, especially since he seemed engrossed in his deep discussion with Ciela.

"Yo, Char!" Tanis called out louder, causing the large Charmeleon to jerk his head up at her, a befuddled expression across his face. He wasn't even listening to her. Tanis smirked over at him, knowing exactly why he wasn't.

"What? To busy chatting with your lady friend, eh Char?" Tanis teased, seeing Char's snout turn such a deep shade of red that it was almost purple. He huffed angrily and flailed his arms in protest, but upon seeing Tanis' devious grin he quickly crossed them and looked away. Tanis chuckled. "Sure you weren't, buddy." Char shot her another glare, and heard Ciela giggle. Tanis chuckled and folded her arms behind her head. Starlight gave a snort towards the scene, shading her head.

"I think Char's got a crush." Tanis snickered, lowering her voice so he wouldn't hear. Starlight bit down on her lower lip to stifle a laugh, Eevee giving a gentle giggle at the comment. Tanis cocked a smirk down at them, glancing back at Char and Ciela. If only her own romantic life was so simple...

What. What the hell am I thinking? Tanis thought bitterly, pursing her lips. Don't go there, Tanis! It's not like there is any romance there to begin with, right? She lowered her arms and nodded her head at this. Eevee blinked her large, brown eyes up at her trainer, but by now was getting used to the fact that humans were all a bit...odd.

Tanis stopped her thoughts when she looked ahead, spotting a large gaggle of people gathered. They were cheering loudly and practically took up the entirety of Route 4. When she drew closer, she could hear - and see - that there was a Pokémon battle going on.

"I wonder who it is!" Tanis mused excitedly, managing to find a gap to squeeze into. Damn her short height! Thankfully, she managed to ease into it, her Pokémon filing in beside and behind her.

It was a heated battle between a Panseer and Tranquill. Neither had a type advantage, and bird often zipping about the clearing and avoiding the Embers that the fire monkey was spiting out. Both looked to be at about the same level as well, and it didn't look like either of them had the upper hand. While the Panseer had stronger stats, the Tranquill was faster, so it was all a matter of brain instead of brawn.

Tanis found herself grinning. She hadn't watched another trainer battle since she was traveling with Bianca and Cheren, and these trainers were considerably more seasoned. The crowd whooped and cheered, Tanis getting drawn into the excitement as well.

"Go, go, go!" She whooped, watching the Tranquill swing back down for an Aerial Ace. It had a massive speed advantage, and the move also boosted speed as well. It swooped down towards the Panseer and struck at it with it's talons, nailing it good in the face. The monkey gave a squawk of pain and recoiled, rubbing it's face briefly before rushing forward for another attack.

The Tranquill swung easily out of the way, flapping it's wings and calling up a Gust. The Panseer gave another cry and tumbled backwards, but it wasn't beaten yet. Rolling back onto it's feet, it released another Ember, this time making contact. With a startled cry, the Tranquill fell from the sky and hit the ground, staggering to regain it's footing.

"Finish it." One of the trainer's called out. With it's aerial advantage gone, the flying-type was vulnerable. Bolstered, the Panseer rushed forward and clawed it's foe in the face, dealing enough damage to finish the job and end the battle. The Tranquill fainted and returned back to it's Pokéball, the crowd erupting into applause and cheering. After a few moments, the cheers began to die down, and only the sound of someone's clapping could be heard.

"Well done!" A booming, deep male voice called from the sidelines. Tanis peered around the person next to her to see who had spoken, craning her neck to get a glimpse.

Her jaw nearly hit the floor.

Towering over most of the audience was an older, strong-looking man with wild, flame-like hair. Anyone that followed the Pokémon League would recognize him! He was the current Champion of the Unova League, Alder.

He approached the losing trainer, clapping him roughly on the back. "That was a very good match, my friend!" The Champion encouraged with a bright smile, "You almost got it, too! Well done!" He reached into his cloak and withdrew a pouch, handing it to the young man. "I would like to give you this, a consolation prize for taking the challenge!"

The trainer opened it, revealing some rare berries. "Wow, thank you, Champion!" He said brightly, smiling up at the towering hulk of a man, Alder happily returning the grin.

"Now, then!" The Champion turned to the winning trainer, a teenaged girl with maroon hair pulled into a loose bun. "I do believe we have a winner for my challenge!" He grinned, turning back to the audience. "Unless, of course, someone else would like to try their hand?" Alder's eyes swept the crowd, but no one stepped forward. Apparently, this had been going on for some time.

A challenge? Sponsored by Alder? Tanis didn't even to know what it was to want to take a swing at it. Grinning, she stepped forward from her spot in the ground, her near-zoo of Pokémon trailing behind her.

"I'll do it!" She volunteered with a confident smirk.

Alder grinned brightly at her. "Ah, excellent!" He exclaimed, "Everyone give a round for the lady!" The group started to clap, the Champion approaching her and giving a glance at her Pokémon before looking back at her. "May I have your name, young lady?"

"Tanis." She offered, feeling a bit...awkward being spoken to so directly by the region's Champion, who had reigned for over two years. But, she remembered her discussion with Lance, and how he would rather be addressed as a normal person. Alder was likely no different, and seemed to be enjoying interacting with the common people.

He grinned down at her. "Very well, Tanis!" He clapped her on the back, hard enough to send her lurching forward. "Do you know the rules of engagement?" Tanis shook her head. "Alright, then!"

Alder approached the winning trainer, who looked evenly at Tanis through her glasses. "This is Rosa, my protégé! She will be your opponent in the challenge."

Rosa bowed politely at the waist. "I'm happy to meet you!" She said softly, rising back up and smiling politely at Tanis.

"So far, she's beaten four opponents!" Alder continued, turning back to Tanis, "You'll be facing her with a single Pokémon, and it neither Pokémon can be of a superior type. No items, no switching out, and who ever causes the first Pokémon to faint, wins!" He grinned again, "A battle of wits and ingenuity, if you will!"

Protégé of Alder? This kid must be good! Tanis thought, grinning widely. This was going to be an interesting - if not difficult - bought. It would certainly be a good test of the knowledge she had been stuffing her brain with! Still, she felt excitement tingling all the way down to her toes. A challenge!

"Do you accept?"

Tanis looked up to Alder and smirked. "You bet I do!" She didn't care what the reward would be if she won, really. All that mattered was the experience, the excitement and the thrill of the battle! And a good opportunity to learn something and continue to flex her training muscle. Arceus knew she would need it in the days ahead.

Tanis looked back to Char, gesturing for him to come forward. The Charmeleon grinned and gave his neck a pop, striding into the clearing confidently. The crowd roared in excitement, and Isis took this cue to flit off of Tanis' head and perched upon Starlight's, in case things got a bit...heated. Pun intended.

"Is this Pokémon your choice?" Alder asked, receiving an affirmative nod in response. "Alright, then let's begin the challenge!"

Tanis wondered what type of Rosa would choose. It couldn't be water, rock or ground, as they all had type advantages against the fire-type. Likewise, it couldn't be ice, bug or grass, as Char would stomp them flat with his flame. Her fingertips tingled in anticipation.

"Go, Missy!"

A large, pink, cuddly Pokémon materialized out of Rosa's Pokéball. It was a Chansey, a favored breed used by nurses across the globe for Pokémon and humans alike, given their gentle nature. Tanis knew that this would be a tough battle, as Chansey's health and defense were ridiculously high. No problem for a fire-type!

"Missy, use egg bomb!"

"Smokescreen!"

The enemy Chansey pulled an egg from it's pouch and chucked it at Char. He released a flurry of smoke from his snout before it had a chance to hit, quickly surrounding him and obscuring him from view. The egg flew through the smoke, Char easily dodging it. Those who were watching the battle quickly moved out of the way, where the explosive egg hurtled past and collided with a tree, releasing a decent sized blast.

"Flame Burst!" Tanis shouted, Char releasing a burst of flame from his protection of the smoke screen. He hit the Chansey clear in the face, knocking her backwards. She shrieked in pain and rolled away, but managed to right herself. Even with the full-on attack, she wasn't terribly damaged.

"Soft boiled!" Rosa ordered, her Pokémon complying and restoring her health. Damn, that was going to make this battle a whole lot more difficult. Hopefully, Char could keep up the pace and continue to whittle away at Missy's health with pot shots.

"Flame Burst!" Tanis ordered.

"Quick, minimize!" The Chansey suddenly shrunk down, the blast of flame whizzing past her head and hitting the ground below. Well, scratch that brilliant idea. Too bad Char didn't know a move like Swift...ugh, Tanis had been reading way too many articles..."Missy, Sing!" Rosa continued.

"Oh, crap..." Tanis mumbled, covering her ears; everyone in the audience following suit. Missy began to sing, and as she did, the smoke around Char began to disburse. The large Charmeleon started to wobble and rub his eyes, trying to fight off sleep. But, it didn't take long before he collapsed onto the ground, snoring loudly. In any other battle, Tanis would've whipped out an Awakening, but she couldn't here. All she could do was hope Char would wake up on his own.

"Egg it again, please!" Rosa commanded, Missy stopping her singing and withdrawing another egg. Tanis bit down on her lip, unconsciously clutching the pockets of her shorts. With Char knocked out and the smokescreen gone, the egg hit it's mark and nailed him right in the face, exploding and sending him careening back.

Thankfully, it woke him up.

Shaking his head, fire flared in his nostrils, he turned back to the Chansey. His anger was starting to get the better of him, but he managed to focus when Tanis cleared her throat. Char snapped his attention back at her.

"Fire another Flame Burst, but aim for her feet," Tanis explained in a low voice, "That way, she'll be hit by the splinter damage." Char swallowed the fire in his throat and nodded in agreement, giving a cocky smirk and facing forward. "Flame Burst!" She commanded again.

This time, Char aimed as he was directed. The flame hit right at Missy's feet, exploding outwards and hitting her with the full recoil damage of the blast. She rolled backwards, but popped right back up, barely even singed. Odd, that should have done more damage. Weren't Chansey's weak to special attacks...?

Suddenly, Tanis remembered. "Oh, shit..." She mumbled, putting her face in her hands. It was the other way around! Arceus, how could she have been so stupid? Chansey's had totally insane special defense, meaning that Char's fire would be pretty pitiful in the long run. This Pokémon good choice against a fire-type. Thankfully, Charmeleon's were far stronger physically then they were with their special, so the odds turned in her favor. She found herself smirking.

"Dragon Rush." She said confidently, Char grinning and surrounding himself in a blue aura. With a growl, he dashed forward, hoping to tackle his foe. Rosa remained very calm, however, waiting for the right moment. Mere seconds before Char could hit her Pokémon, she issued a command.

"Minimize!"

Missy shrunk even more then she already was, her small stature throwing Char for a loop. He completely missed his target, screeching to a halt before hitting the spectators of the battle.

"Now, Egg Bomb!" Rosa echoed, the small Chansey chucking a normal-sized egg at Char. The Charmeleon was still recovering from his missed attack and got beaned in the face with it, crumbling to the ground when it exploded.

"Char!" Tanis shouted. He hadn't returned to his Pokéball yet, so it was a good sign he hadn't fainted. How could he win now? The battle would be over if he could just hit Missy with his Dragon Rush, but she was now too small for him to land a clean blow on. Neither Dragon Rush nor Flame Burst would hit, though Flame Burst had the added effect of an explosion, it wouldn't damage the foe very much. And the only other attack Char had was...a bit extreme. Tanis didn't want to have to use it if she could avoid it.

What could she do?

"C-Char, maybe we should sto--" Tanis stopped talking when Char lifted his face from the dirt, his deep blue eyes showing a strong determination. Digging his claws into the ground, he managed to push himself up. Tanis didn't want to force him to continue, especially with such a difficult opponent, but he was a stubborn fool. Like trainer, like Pokémon, she thought, grinning at her friend's tenacity.

Rising fully to his feet, Char spat a small ember out, wiping his jaw. He wouldn't fail Tanis. He couldn't. The flame on the tip of his tail suddenly started to burn brightly and intensely, sparking up despite his weakened state. The crowd that watched the battle all fell silent, focused on the huge, dark Charmeleon. Battered and bruised, but not defeated, he held his head strong.

And his body started to glow.

Tanis' eyes widened. She knew what was happening...

Char stalked forward, the flame on his tail growing so intense and so large that it engulfed his form. The flame grew larger and brighter, towering over all of the trainers present. No longer did his feet make dull scraping sounds along the dirt and soil, but deep thuds. The fire continue to grow brighter, swirling around and slowly taking shape. Suddenly, the flame disbursed and returned to his tail, the crowd giving a gasp of awe.

"My! That is a very large Charizard!" Alder's voice could be heard over the stunned silence of the crowd.

Char had evolved.

True to his lesser evolutions, Char towered over the standard size of a typical Charizard. In fact, Tanis was fairly certain he was around the same height, if not taller than Hilda, her mother's 7-foot-tall elderly Dragonite. But, then again, Char's mother was abnormally tall, and his father was a Garchomp...even his skin-tone was noticeably darker then others of his race.

Now bolstered with his new-found evolution, Char loomed over the minimized Chansey, smirking haughtily down at her. While he was larger and stronger, Missy still had an advantage over him, being so small and hard to see. Tanis knew it was time to nip this in the bud with Char's last attack move.

Hopefully, the crowd would give the Charizard the room he needed.

Tanis took several large steps back and folded her arms. "Dragon Rage."

The crowd took the hint and instantly fled away, trying to put as much space between Char and them. Everyone knew the legendarily devastating move, how groups of Gyarados performing it could destroy entire cities with it. Even Rosa paled, knowing that even if it somehow missed her Pokémon, it would still deal severe damage.

As the move varied from Pokémon-to-Pokémon, even Tanis didn't know what would happen. She hadn't ever had the chance to actually use the move before, go fig. Sure, it was a battle of wits, but sheer devastating force? Tanis could live with that. And she hated losing.

Char's eyes began to glow pure white, the flame on his tail intensifying. Fire began to glow in his mouth, smoke pouring from his nostrils. The ground began to shake, suddenly giving away as pillars of flame began to burst out from it, surrounding the Charizard. The fire within Char's mouth and tail burst outwards, joining the spiraling bands of flame, Char smirked over at the still-minimized Chansey. Releasing a mighty roar, he thrust his claws and wings forward, the pillars of flame cascading outwards in a massive wave of red-and-white fire.

The pillars quickly surrounded Missy from all sides, and she had no chance to escape from them. Bringing his claws together, the pillars following Char's command, circling down and enclosing around the trapped Chansey. When all of them collided with each other, they released a massive hurricane of fire, which swirled about into the sky for a few moments before slowly dying down.

Missy fell down on the badly burned ground, giving a weak cry before returning to her Pokéball. For a few seconds, the audience stood in stunned silence, before erupting into thunderous applause and whooping. Char puffed his chest out and put his hands on his hips, soaking up the attention they were giving him. He gave a confident nod of his head, as if there was no contest at all.

Tanis whooped loudly and dashed towards her new Charizard, leaping towards him. Char gave a startled cry and caught her, his trainer hugging him tightly around the neck. "Way to go, buddy!" She exclaimed. Char gave a happy snort and grinned down at her. Her feet were literally dangling off the ground, and she leaned back to smirk up at him. "Man, I'm going to have to get used to you being so big!" He chuckled, lowering her back to the ground and crossing his arms, relaxing his wings against his back.

"Most excellent!" Alder's voice chimed over the still-cheering crowd. "It appears we have a new winner! Unless someone would like to challenge our new victor?" Once again, no one stepped forward. Giving a nod and grinning, the Champion walked over to Char and Tanis. "It was an exciting match! It's quite unexpected that your Charmeleon evolved during it!"

Tanis grinned up at him. "Yeah, I think that tipped the scales!" She patted Char on the knee, "Otherwise, we probably would've lost." Char huffed in disagreement, rolling his eyes. "Of course, Mr. Hero here thinks he would've won anyway." Char nodded his head. "Not all of us have your confidence, my friend!"

Alder chuckled. "It sure looks like you and your new Charizard have quite the bond!"

"Yeah, I raised the big guy from an egg!" Tanis chuckled, playfully punching his shoulder while he smirked and nodded his head.

By now, Rosa had wandered over. "Thank you for the exciting match!" The girl smiled over at Tanis. "I had a feeling you'd been different from the others."

"As did I." Alder added, still grinning broadly. Tanis blinked and raised a brow up, barely even noticing Isis had returned to perch happily upon her head.

"Eh?" Tanis questioned.

"You've got this...hmm, I don't know, this presence about you," Alder noted, gesturing for her to follow him and Rosa down the route. "Plus, I can tell you've got a strong bond with your Pokémon. Why, you even let them follow you along! Many other trainers don't do that."

Tanis looked back her collection. Everyone except Eevee were swarming about Char and congratulating him on his victory and evolution. Naturally, he soaked up the attention, at least until Ciela said something. Then his snout turned red and he quickly looked away. Tanis chuckled at the display and turned back to Alder, she grinned and scratched her nose.

"Eh, it feels right to have them with me," She admitted, folding her arms behind her head, careful not to hit Isis, who had returned to her perch. "My mom's a breeder, so I got used to always having Pokémon with me all the time."

Alder smiled genuinely. "I wish more trainers thought like that!" Rosa nodded in agreement. "Anyway, you've beaten the challenge! I think that requires a reward, yes?" He looked down at his protégé, who smiled up at him.

"I think so!" She chuckled.

Alder stopped and turned to face Tanis, clapping his hands roughly on her shoulders. "Them allow me to congratulate you!" He grinned more, "Your Pokémon's devotion to you is outstanding! It's rare to have a Pokémon evolve just through sheer will power! And while you didn't win with ingenuity, you still impressed." Tanis smiled awkwardly up at him, the crowd (which was still following them) clapping in agreement. Releasing her shoulders, he reached into his cloak and withdrew a small pouch. "Allow me to present this to you, Tanis!"

Taking it, Tanis emptied the bag into her hand, revealing a gold nugget and a TM. Raising the case up so she could read it, it revealed it contained Earthquake, a rather devastating ground-type move. Grinning, she looked up to Alder, pocketing the items.

"Heh, thanks!" She flicked the curved tip of her nose with her thumb.

The crowd gave a few more moments of applause before disbursing, leaving Tanis alone with the Champion and his protégé. She looked up at him curiously. Of course, she had heard the stories and rumors - Alder was rarely at the League, and was prone to wandering. What was he doing out here, though? Just testing trainers to find unique individuals, or something else?

Naturally, she just had to ask. "So, uh...what brings you out here?"

"I like to explore, to see Unova and the people in it." Alder explained with a small smile, looking up into the sky. "Even when you've thought you've seen it all, there's always something new. People will always be different from each other, so it's great to learn about them." That...didn't really answer her question, but she decided not to press further. Grinning, he folded his arms under his cloak, looking down at Tanis. "And what of you?"

Tanis blinked. "Uh..."

"What spurred you to go on this journey?" Alder asked again, his face growing a bit more serious with her confused expression.

Tanis looked away, blinking again. Come to think of it...she really didn't know why. Okay, well she knew the reason - she was being tested to become a member of the Dragon Clan. But, when she left, she didn't know that. Hell, even now she wasn't really sure what she was doing or what her goals were, besides stomping Team Plasma flat. Sure, Nina had urged her to start this quest, but Tanis didn't really know why, exactly, she was out here.

Was it to become a member of the Clan? Or to stop Team Plasma? Or...

"I...I really don't know." She admitted, scratching the back of her head and looking up at Alder.

The Champion nodded his head knowingly. "Hmm, I see." Unfolding his arms, he clapped her on the back and smiled. "Maybe, you're just out here to enjoy the journey, yeah? The outcome isn't necessarily the important part, my friend."

"Maybe..." Tanis mused to herself, looking up to the sky. "Just...a journey, huh?"

"It's the best thing, sometimes." Rosa added with a small smile. "To just enjoy it while you can."

Tanis looked down at them, finding herself smiling. "Yeah, I think I should do that! Heh, thanks!"

"No, no! Thank you!" Alder laughed, "For your fun and entertaining battle!" Turning on his heel, he continued down the route. "Now, if you excuse us, we have to see to our own journey!"

"Goodbye," Rosa said softly, bowing again. "I hope to battle against you again!"

"Likewise!" Tanis smirked, "Good luck!"

"You as well, my friend!" Alder laughed, giving a wave and disappearing down a hill. Tanis waved back, grinning all the while. She needed this - after all of her aggression of dealing with Plasma and N, enjoying her journey was important. Plus, meeting the Champion of Unova and beating his protégé had lifted her mood considerably.

Tanis turned back to her team.

"Let's go! Driftveil City awaits!"

 

 

Chapter Text

Driftveil City.

Cheren had arrived only yesterday, and had taken the time to gather his bearings in the new city. After learning the lay of the land - and resting at the Pokécenter - he made a b-line for the gym. However, much to his infinite chagrin, he discovered the leader wasn't there so the entire gym was closed down. Hmph. That put a damper on his plans - now he had to sit around and wait for their return before he could continue with his quest. And when one's goal was to become the next League Champion, waiting around for a gym leader to return wasn't exactly his idea of "fun."

What to do in his spare time?

Thankfully, he didn't need to wait around for an answer for too long.

Walking down a boulevard, Cheren stopped when he spied Tanis - and her large collection of Pokémon she always had following her. It had been a while since he had crossed paths with her, and he noted most of her team had evolved and she had a full six with her. And, more importantly, it had been quite some time since he challenged her to a battle! It would be a good way to pass the time.

It would be an interesting endeavor, considering her Charmeleon was now a rather large Charizard.

A rare smile came to him, approaching his friend. Even if he lost, spending time with the older girl was always enjoyable. Plus, Tanis often got herself into all sorts of trouble, which would also help kill the time.

"Hey, Tanis." Cheren called out casually, giving her a small wave.

She jerked her head up from her Pokégear, looking a bit startled to see him. Cheren raised an eyebrow at her reaction. "C-Cheren!" She sputtered, quickly stuffing the object back into the baggy pockets of her pants. "Err, what's up?" She looked incredibly distracted and uncomfortable right now. Usually she was forward and wouldn't react so...oddly.

"Nothing, actually," He informed simply, taking a slow step forward. "I'm more wondering what's up with you." He gave her a scrutinizing gaze. Tanis laughed awkwardly and scratched her nose.

"Shit, it's hard to hide stuff from you, huh?" She muttered, looking back up at him. "Look I..." She paused and glanced off to the side again. Cheren slowly blinked his eyes, raising his eyebrows. Even Char coughed, also feeling awkward with how she was acting. Giving a sigh, Tanis returned her gaze. "...You want to help me kick some ass?"

Okay, now he was even more curious. "Who's ass would we be kicking?"

Tanis' previous awkward expression was replaced with her usual cocky smirk and fire in her eyes. "Team Plasma, of course!" She practically cackled after that, "I got a tip that they're in the area. Are you in or not?"

Although Cheren had only run into the team a few times, he knew they were bad news. After all, they stole an exhibit from the museum down in Nacrene and sputtered something about changing the world and awakening Zekrom to do it. But, he knew that Tanis hated the team with a burning passion. If she wanted his help with the situation, he was more then happy to lend a hand.

Just as he suspected, she was knee-deep in trouble. This would certainly pass the time until the Gym Leader returned!

"Certainly," Cheren offered with a confident nod of his head. "I've got nothing else going on, and while I don't hate them as much as you do, I still want them stopped."

Tanis smirked. "Then let's get to it!"



-----



"Oh, I knew this was a bad idea!"

Zinzolin paced in the frozen locker he and his gaggle of grunts had ended up in. He rubbed his arms in an attempt to keep warm, his breath practically solidifying in the air. Blast it, how did he always find himself in situations like this?!

"I knew we should have headed north!" He continued to rant, feeling his teeth chatter between phrases. "Now, here we are, freezing our butts off!"

"Calm yourself, Zinzolin." The purple-clad Sage's eyes snapped down towards the origin of the voice. Rood sat calmly at the back of the locker, his eyes scrutinizing the other Sage. How he could be so calm was beyond Zinzolin. "The ship will be here to pick us up shortly."

"Bah!" Zinzolin threw his arms up in the air, then rapidly coiled them back up in his cloak again. "What if someone knows we're here? We're totally trapped! If anyone saw us come in here...!"

Rood sighed again, calm as ever. "Nobody saw us hide in here." His voice was direct and pointed, but he wasn't shouting. "We stick to the plan, Zinzolin. If we fled, on foot, north and to our base it would be much easier for anyone to track and follow us. As we are, we will be picked up in this nondescript storage unit and put onto a nondescript ship." He narrowed his eyes at the other Sage. "We achieved what we came to do. There is no reason to throw a fuss."

Zinzolin grimaced. "I still don't see how this mission needed two of us!" He continued, resuming his rapid pacing.

"Are you questioning our orders?" Rood raised a brow. Both sets of their grunts looked uncomfortable with the Sage's bickering back-and-forth.

"O-of course not!" Zinzolin continued haughtily. "I would never question orders from our Lord N, or the High Sage Ghetsis!" He huffed and breathed warm air onto his shivering hands. "But all we did is take some Pokémon! Hardly a job for a single Sage, let alone two!"

Rood took a deep breath, calming himself so he wouldn't snap at the other Sage. "Zinzolin, that sounds an awful lot like questioning orders."

"But--!"

"And we didn't obtain some Pokémon, we have enough to fill our pockets with their prisons." Rood continued sharply, rising to his feet. "More over, they are all high level. If our teammates had failed, their wicked trainers would have turned upon them and easily defeated them." He narrowed his eyes. "So yes, we were needed. Now, if you would please quit your complaining, I am most certain the ship will arrive shortly and we may leave this frozen place."

"Peh." Zinzolin scoffed and resumed his pacing. Rood merely rubbed his temples.

At least their bickering took the purple-clad Sage's mind off of the blasted cold. Why did they have to wait in a proverbial meat locker? And how come Rood wasn't shivering? Were his red robes super special or something? Ugh, sometimes he hated missions like this. But for all of his complaining, Zinzolin knew not to cross the words of Ghetsis - after all, it was he who came up with this mission.

There was a rattling coming from outside. Zinzolin uncrossed his arms and looked expectantly at the door. "Finally!" He exclaimed, "It's about time we got picked up!" Several of the other grunts nodded their heads in agreement, looking relieved. The Sage made his way for the clamped door, but stopped when he heard it being bashed. Odd...wouldn't those on the ship have the means to open it? He flinched when it was bashed a second time, the door starting to cave in.

"...Why do I have a bad feeling about this...?" He muttered to himself, taking a few paces back and ducking behind a row of grunts. Rood, too, was on the defensive.

The door caved in on the third bash, a pair of claws sticking into the metal and tearing it open. A massive Charizard pried the metal apart, making a hole big enough for it and two others.

"The jig is up, assholes!"

Dear Arceus, why her?!

Zinzolin felt his blood turn even colder when he saw that annoying brat, Tanis, bust in after the large Charizard. One of her friends entered into the container after her, his hand already on his Pokéball. Of all of the people who could show up right now, it just had to be that meddlesome child! And what was worse is her pesky Charmeleon had evolved, and was now strong enough to tear through sheet metal. The grunts surrounding him instantly fell into defensive positions in front of the two Sages. Zinzolin shot a pointed look at Rood.

"I told you this was a horrible idea!!" He wailed, throwing his hands up in the air. "'There's no chance we'll be followed! Nope!' Ugh, I can't believe I fell for that!"

"Zinzolin..." Rood muttered in an angry aside, rubbing his temples again.

"I dunno what the hell you guys are up to, but you have no where to run!" Tanis continued, despite the fact that she was outnumbered by the Plasma grunts ten-to-one. "Give it up!"

"O-oh yeah?!" One of the grunts spoke up, "We can take you on!"

"Exactly!" Zinzolin agreed.

"Zinzolin, back down." Rood's voice was rising, but it still wasn't a shout. The other Sage chose to ignore him.

"Psh, Cheren and I can take on all of you!" Tanis continued her bravado, just like she always did. Zinzolin fought the urge to laugh at her chances. Sure, she might have a Charizard now, but there was no way she'd win against so many of them!

"Even if we don't defeat everyone," Her male friend - Cheren, was it? - added, "The police and Gym Leader are already on their way."

Goddamn this girl and her meddling friend!

"What are you all waiting for?!" Zinzolin barked, "Take these two pesky children down!" The grunts went for their Pokéballs. That girl's Charizard slid in front of her defensively, fire sparking in his maw.

"Belay that order." Rood's eerily calm voice pierced through the still locker, the grunts turning to look back at him. "Stand down." The Grunts looked towards him and obeyed.

In a flash, Zinzolin whirled around and faced the other Sage. "Are you stark-raving mad, Rood?!" He shouted angrily. "We need to make our escape!"

Rood narrowed his eyes. "You will stand down as well, Zinzolin."

"What?! You can't--"

"I am your superior, Zinzolin, in case you have forgotten." Rood reminded sharply, "And you seem to have also forgotten our orders." He folded his arms under his cloak. "We are not to engage or challenge this young woman. Only our King is allowed to deal with Lady Tanis, a discussion we had not but a few days ago." Zinzolin's eyes widened. "Or do you wish to deal our Lord directly, after disobeying such an order?"

Zinzolin gulped. "N-no, of course not!!" He muttered hastily, waving his hands about. "W-we just need to make our escape somehow!"

"Yeah, and the only way you guys are getting out is through me." Tanis boasted, her Charizard gave a loud growl, digging his back claws into the metal of the locker.

"S-she's giving us no choice, Rood!" Zinzolin snapped, "What do you expect us to do? Sit around and wait to be arrested?!"

Rood narrowed his eyes. "We have our orders." He then spoke in a lower tone, so as that girl wouldn't hear. "More over, his Grace is already on his way. He will be there to break us free before we get too far." Zinzolin pursed his lips. "Now, will you shut up and finally listen to orders?"

It appeared he had no choice.

There was chattering coming from outside, and moments later, the Driftveil Leader, Clay, and a gaggle of police officers flooded into the canister. Zinzolin clenched his jaw and gnashed his teeth behind his pursed lips, his hands coiling tightly around the edges of his robe. He shot a seething, burning look towards that stupid, self-righteous, meddling brat, who only cocked a smug smirk at him.

Damn her!

The officers began to cuff him and the other members of Plasma, and as he was being hauled off, Zinzolin couldn't help but to continue to glare holes into that pesky girl. She continued to smirk, crossing her arms.

Mark his words, the next time they'd meet, it wouldn't be so pleasant!



-----



Well, that was certainly one way to pass the time.

Although no "ass kicking," as Tanis had put it happened, they had successfully rounded up about fifteen Team Plasma members, including two of the seven Sages. Cheren counted this as a victory. Both Tanis and her Charizard seemed a bit miffed that they didn't get to do any fighting, but sometimes fighting wasn't necessary. He was just glad they ran across the Gym Leader, Clay, along the way, who alerted the proper authorities.

Now, Cheren and Tanis lagged a bit behind the police, escorting the Plasma members to the Pokémon Gym. There were too many to be lodged at the station, so they'd be locked up there until they could transport the criminals to Castelia City. Char lingered further behind, his presence alone warding off curious on-lookers. After all, it wasn't every day you saw a near 7-foot-tall Charizard loitering around in the streets.

It still didn't explain what had happened in that locker, though.

The fact that Team Plasma were under some kind of special order not to attack Tanis was a bit...strange. Cheren knew she was knee deep in trouble with them, but wouldn't that just make her more of a target? Or maybe she had defeated them so many times that their mysterious "King" was the only one strong enough to deal with her. But it didn't explain why the red-clad Sage, Rood, addressed her as Lady Tanis.

When they left the storage unit Plasma was ineffectively hiding in, Cheren had pulled her aside. "What was that about?" He had inquired, Tanis merely laughing awkwardly and writing it off as some weird mumbo-jumbo. Of course, he didn't believe it. Of course, he knew she was lying about it. Tanis was a horrible liar, but she kept on waving him off whenever he pressed the issue.

He had noticed she was being a bit...tense. Cheren's judging stares were getting to her, but she was plainly ignoring him. Whatever was going on with her and Plasma had to be all kinds of messed up, especially since it was becoming more obvious that whoever their King was had some kind of an interest in her. What kind, however, he couldn't quite say for certain. All he knew is Tanis was avoiding the issue, and constantly pressing her for answers would only cause her to become more stiff-lipped about it.

While they walked, he noticed her flush a bit and rub the knuckles of one of her hands with her palm. Cheren raised a brow at the gesture, wondering what was going on through her head. Maybe that "boyfriend" Bianca had teased her about? Or...something else? Still, he knew not to press anything with Tanis, so he continued to stare at her and try to figure out what was going on.

Upon arriving at the Gym, Clay fished out his keys. "I gotta place down in the cellar that'll do," He informed the head of the police force with him. "Lemme unlock the door and we can throw these nasties in!" The purple Sage, Zinzolin, muttered angrily under his breath. However, Rood still seemed eerily calm about this whole situation.

Cheren was just glad that, after this, he could challenge Clay for a gym badge.

While he waited for the Plasma members to be ushered into the building, Cheren noticed movement out of the corner of his eyes. Tanis did too, the two friends exchanging a glance before turning over their shoulders.

Char had completely turned around and was in a tense, defensive position in front of them. He was giving off low, deep growls, the claws on his fingers twitching.

"Arceus, what is it now?" He heard Tanis grumble angrily, turning fully around to face whatever got the Charizard so upset. Cheren was about to as well, but stopped when he noticed something...odd.

Tanis blanched.

In all of the years he knew the stubborn, firey girl, Tanis wasn't one easily shaken. In fact, he wasn't entirely sure there was anything that could scare her, let alone make her nervous. Even her breath had caught in her throat, her eyes going as wide as Voltorbs. Never had he seen her react like that, and that put Cheren on edge. What on earth could possibly cause her to become so startled, so nervous?

"...N..." Tanis' voice came out as a shaky whisper, Cheren gasping when he heard the name. That was the name of that weird, green-haired guy, right? The one that spoke a lot about Pokémon freedom and all of that. Was this also the same man who Bianca claimed was Tanis' "boyfriend?" Narrowing his blue eyes, he turned around completely.

Sure enough, that N fellow was approaching, his hands in his pockets but his expression focused. Behind him was a very large compliment of Team Plasma members, easily over twenty of them to boot. This confirmed Cheren's suspicions that N was a member of the team, and possibly a higher-ranking one, given how they were willingly following him. However, instead of his usual calm and relaxed stance Cheren remembered from their few encounters, N held himself strongly and intently, the kind of posture that demanded respect and attention. Even if he wasn't leading a whole slew of those misguided Plasma members, he reeked charisma and presence, which further cemented the idea that N was somehow a high-ranking officer.

Why hadn't Cheren ever heard of him before? All of the Sages were pretty well known by now, as was their leading scientist. But why not N?

N stopped before them, the Plasma members fanning out behind him. Char gave another threatening growl, causing the tall young man to briefly look at him, before looking right at Tanis. She took a nervous step backwards, Cheren returning his attention towards her.

Her breathing was rapid and shaken, and her hands were balled into such tight fists her knuckles were starting to turn white. Tanis pursed her lips together, and Cheren noticed something even odder...her face was flushing. It wasn't an all-out blush, but her cheeks and ears were a bit more pink then the rest of her. Did she not know N was a member of Plasma? Or was Bianca actually right about something for a change?

Taking in a few deep breaths, Tanis began to steel herself. She swallowed hard and the blush receded. Lifting her head up, she regained her usual boisterous posture, though she was still a bit pale. Cheren wasn't sure if she was angry or shaken, it was a fine line right now. Taking in another deep breath, she took a few steps forward, sliding out in front of Char. The Charizard made a protesting growl, but she ignored him. What the hell was going on with her?

"Tanis." N spoke in a soft, pleasant voice, unbefitting of his posturing. He smiled fondly at her. "You look well today."

Cheren glanced at Tanis out of the corner of his eyes. She was reddening again. "C-cut the bullshit, N!" Her voice cracked when she spoke, swallowing hard and trying to regain her usually unwavering confidence. N didn't seem phased by her cussing - honestly most people should be used to it by now - merely tilting his head to the side.

"We're friends though, aren't we?" He inquired, "I can't talk to you as such?"

Tanis lowered her head, but kept her eyes on him. "You and I both know we can't be."

So she did know he was a member of Plasma. Yet, N was still addressing her as a friend, and she was becoming flustered by his presence. There was something else going on her, something Tanis didn't want to admit. Cheren would find out the truth, since this kind of thing shouldn't be kept internally. If she knew something about Plasma...

"Why not?" N asked again, still smiling at her.

"You're--and I--we...w-we just can't!" Tanis fumbled over her words, thrusting her hand out and shaking her head. "I-I know you're here to take back the Sages a-and other members...a-and you--y-you know I won't let you do that!"

N was still smiling. "I know." He offered gently, talking a stride forward. Char once again growled dangerously at him. "Don't worry, my friend, I have no intentions of hurting Tanis." He addressed the Charizard as if he knew what the Pokémon just said, but that couldn't be true, could it? Char growled again, but stopped when Tanis touched his elbow, jerking his head back to his trainer. She shook her head, signifying this was her fight. Begrudgingly, he backed down.

Returning his attention back to Tanis, N continued. "That is why I'm here, Tanis," His speech slowed down a bit, his voice becoming more quiet. "I told you, you'll be protected by me. Only I'm allowed to deal with you, and I know you won't easily release them, so I will distract you so they can escape."

Cheren blinked slowly, raising his eyebrows at this statement. What N just said...it mirrored what Rood had spoken moments earlier. Did that mean N actually was...?

"Like before?" Tanis was flushed again, looking down and away from N.

N chuckled. "If you'd prefer it, yes." Cheren noted she was turning redder at the notion, looking back up at N. "But, we could always engage in a battle."

Tanis pursed her lips together, taking in a few deep breaths to calm her nerves. "...I won't fight you, N." She finally said, taking Cheren completely aback.

Tanis? Turning down an opportunity to have a Pokémon Battle, let alone kicking the ass of Team Plasma? Okay, maybe Bianca was on to something there...

"I know if I do, no one else will resist and those bastards will just get away!" Tanis continued, gritting her teeth together and clenching her fists. Her fire was starting to burn again. "You only want to 'distract' me so you can save their sorry asses! Well, no, this time I'm going to stand my goddamn ground and make sure these two idiots remained locked up!!"

N seemed un-phased by this, though his smile faded to a more serious expression. "How do you propose to do that?" He asked, mirroring Cheren's exact thoughts. "My forces greatly outnumber you, your human friend, the Gym Leader and a few officers. Even if you build a barricade, we would simply destroy it."

Tanis gave a low growl. "W-well, I'm not going to let you do this!"

"Then battle me." N crossed his arms casually, Tanis narrowing her eyes at him. She was about to retort when Clay suddenly shoved his way forward.

"Hold yer horses, kid," The Gym Leader huffed, causing Tanis to look over at him. "Look, this guy's got a point. We're outnumbered, and some fights just ain't worth fightin'." She was about to open her mouth in protest. "Either way ya look at it, 's a losing fight." Once again, she was about to protest, but no words actually came.

"I agree, this isn't worth the effort, Tanis." Cheren concurred. "We're vastly outnumbered here." Plus, he was mildly worried about them losing so badly that their Pokémon would get stolen. Tanis looked over at him and opened her mouth, but slowly closed it, heaving a heavy sigh.

"...I guess you're right..." She muttered in a defeated tone, hanging her head down.

"Well, you've won this without a fight," Clay stated, crossing his arms. "Now take yer men and get! Before I change my mind!" He gestured with his head for the captured Team Plasma members to be released, the officers reluctantly complying. Soon, they brushed past Cheren and Tanis, heading over towards N and the other Plasma members. He noticed they bowed whenever they crossed N.

Zinzolin flashed a smug smirk over at Tanis when he moved past, bowing deeply before N. "Thank you for your kindness, my liege!" He said in a melodramatic thanks. N gave a small nod at him. Rood also bowed towards him.

"Thank you for informing me of the situation, Rood." N said with a small smile. "Your devotion is outstanding, my friend."

"Of course, your Grace." Rood bowed again.

Cheren tensed up.

So his thought process was right. N was the King of Team Plasma! It would explain the presence he had when surrounded by members, his words, and how they all acted towards him. All of this time, the authorities assumed the High Sage, Ghetsis, was their leader; but instead, it was a young man. This young man. It would certainly explain a lot of things. It still left the question of how he could be friends with Tanis, arguably their number one enemy, or why he insisted on protecting her from the team.

N looked over towards Clay. "I thank you for your cooperation," He said with a small incline of his head, "I would hate to harm your Pokémon friends needlessly."

"Yeah, yeah." Clay muttered angrily, "Just git before I kick ya out!"

Instead of turning to leave, N took a stride forward, closer towards Tanis. She looked back up at him with a raised brow.

"Thank you as well, Tanis. I'm glad this ended peacefully." His hand came out and took one of hers. Cheren felt himself tense up, noticing Char also swing around defensively in case N would try something fishy. But, instead of what Cheren was fearing - her getting kidnapped or hit or something - N raised her hand up and bent over, lightly kissing her knuckles. "I look forward to seeing you again, Tanis." He released her hand and smiled warmly down at her, before turning abruptly on his heel and heading off with his large collection of Team Plasma members.

Cheren was...too dumbfounded to react.

Hell, even Char was taken aback by the gesture. Apparently, the Pokémon had no idea what was going on, either. Tanis stood there, silently, her face flushed and her hand still extended outwards from where N held it. Okay, Cheren had to give a point to Bianca on this one. Usually she tended to...embellish her stories, but this one appeared to be true.

What the hell was going on?

"An' that's my cue to leave." Clay muttered awkwardly, turning on his heel and proceeding back into his Gym. Cheren looked over towards Tanis, who had finally lowered her hand and was looking down, her cheeks still burning. He wasn't sure what was going on, but he would find out.

Whatever it was, Tanis couldn't do it alone.



-----



Tanis and Cheren returned to the Pokémon Center in silence. Char had begun to throw a fit and started raving about what had happened, so she quickly put him back into his Pokéball. That was the last thing she needed right now. She could feel Cheren's soul-burning stare upon her every movement, and tried her best to ignore it. To ignore what had happened. At least he had the decency to wait until they were more secluded before grilling her on the situation.

God, could it have been any more embarrassing?

At least Bianca wasn't there. Tanis reminded to herself grimly.

This was the one thing she wanted to keep hidden from everyone. She and N were...complicated. The more Tanis interacted with him, the more complex and infuriating it became. He was so insistent on them remaining friends through all this, and she...shit. Even she wasn't even sure what was going on with her anymore. One minute, she could be threatening him, and the next she'd be a jumbled mess. Ugh. How pathetic.

The last thing she wanted was Cheren or anyone else getting involved in this mess. It would just add complications.

But she knew she couldn't avoid the issue.

Cheren was a bright guy. He easily caught onto things and noticed even the smallest little detail. No doubt he figured out N was part of Team Plasma long before she did, and probably figured from how the members acted around him that he was actually their King. And if he knew, Clay probably knew, which meant the world would know...

Tanis was not looking forward to explaining her complicated relationship with N to the Dragon Clan.

What relationship? She thought bitterly, holding her hand and rubbing her knuckles with her fingers, still remembering the lingering feeling of N's lips against them. Fuck, I don't even know what's going on anymore! We're not...anything special. Right? Sighing, she hung her head down. Who was she kidding? This was turning into a massive nightmare.

Tanis was so engrossed with her thoughts she barely knew where she was going. The next minute, she was in the Poké Center and Cheren guided her into a small, enclosed sitting room. Tanis slumped down on one of the sofas and rested her elbows on her knees, putting her face in her hands. Cheren closed the door behind him and leaned against it.

"What the hell is going on?"

The first, blunt words out of his mouth caused Tanis to flinch. She groaned into her hands and couldn't even look at him, feeling her face burn against her fingers.

"I don't know."

Cheren scoffed at this comment. "Sure looked like a lot for you not knowing." He commented dryly, crossing his arms. "Tanis, it's just you and me here. I need you to talk to me about what just happened."

"I don't know, okay?!" Tanis shouted in a frustrated snap, looking up at him. Sighing angrily, she ran her hands through her hair and looked back down at the floor. "It's all sorts of messed up and even I don't understand it!" She shot him a glare through her bangs, then put her face in her hands again.

"Look, Tanis, you don't need to be defensive around me." Cheren sighed, scratching the back of his head. He pushed off of the door and sat in a chair opposite from her. "I'm asking as your friend, alright? You're neck-deep in whatever Team Plasma is doing, Tanis, and it has me worried. You can't do this alone."

"I know." Tanis mumbled numbly.

"Then let me help."

She peered at him through her fingers. "...I can't." Cheren sighed and rubbed his temples. "This...this is my business. I can't get you involved, Cheren. They're dangerous." She sighed and felt a headache coming on. Damnit.

"I know they are," He responded coolly, "Which is why you need help. Don't shut me out."

"I have help," Tanis muttered, even though she couldn't outwardly say who they were. The Clan wouldn't approve, especially since she wasn't technically a member yet. "So I'm not alone. But, this...th-this thing you saw..." Her voice trailed off. "...It's mine to deal with."

Cheren narrowed his eyes. "Fine, whatever." He leaned back in the chair, obviously not satisfied with that answer but deciding not to press further. "But who is this N guy, anyway?"

"He's Team Plasma's King." Tanis responded simply, heaving a heart-heavy sigh. How the hell did she get so involved with N, anyway? Why couldn't he just be a normal boy...? Now she was getting depressed about this disgusting situation all over again.

"I figured that out already," Cheren explained in his usual cool manor. "The way he's acted, what he's said...I knew he was part of Team Plasma. But then when the others showed such deference to him..." Stopping, he sighed and shook his head. "It's not important how I figured it out. My original question wasn't about that." He leaned forward and put a hand on his knee. "Who is this N guy to you?"

Tanis hesitated.

What could she say? Honestly, she had no idea herself. She knew she liked N, liked him a lot...but knew she couldn't. That she shouldn't. That they were sworn enemies through and through, but she couldn't hate him. And with how he acted...

Sighing, she slowly lifted her head up, meeting Cheren's gaze. "...I don't know." She sighed again and looked off to the side, her hands twisting the fabric of her cargo pants. "It's...it's complicated. I'm not even sure...what I feel about him." She felt her voice become defeated and weak, which was so unlike her. "And things keep on getting more complicated by the minute..."

Talk of heroes and new worlds. Of being friends, yet enemies at the same time. N being insistent that she join him and help him with his goals; of how he clearly cared about her. And how Tanis was confused and conflicted about her own emotions. None of it really made sense to her, and she hated the idea of being pulled along by the hands of fate.

Tanis was no hero.

Cheren was either accepting of this answer, or decided not to press her further. Tanis wasn't really sure.

"So why is he so..." There was a pause in his speech, trying to find the right, tactful word. "...Close with you?" She grimaced at the term anyway.

Tanis sighed and scratched her head. "N's insistent that we're friends," She grumbled, briefly looking up to see Cheren's skeptical expression. "He knows how much I hate Plasma, and that we'll probably have to fight a lot...but despite it..." Once again, her voice trailed off. Arceus, she must sound like a weak little fool right now!

"He seems more then friendly with you." Cheren muttered rather tactlessly. Tanis felt herself blush again, pursing her lips together and trying to tell herself to stop, but she couldn't. If she wasn't so flustered right now, she'd be tempted to slap Cheren for saying it like that. "Why, though?" He returned to meet her gaze, pushing his glasses up his nose. "You guys are basically enemies, it doesn't make sense he'd want to stay your friend with all you've said and done against Plasma."

"I--" Tanis choked on her words. She couldn't tell Cheren, could she? After all, it was just some stupid legend! No way she was some kind of super-special, hero of destiny or whatever! He raised a brow at her, and knew if she told him she didn't know, he wouldn't buy that bullshit. Grumbling a string of obscenities, she looked down at the carpet below them. "...He likes me. I think he actually...kind of likes my stubbornness? I honestly don't know. And..." She paused, debating if she should say the next part, chewing on her lower lip in thought. After a brief moment of deliberation, Tanis looked back up and met Cheren's eyes. "...He wants me to join him."

Cheren slowly blinked, raising his brows up. "...Join Plasma?" Tanis numbly nodded her head. "He wants you to join, because he thinks you're...friends?" He emphasized the word, as if they were friends-with-benefits or something. Oh god, that got Tanis red when she thought of it.

"Y-yeah." She mumbled, down-casting her eyes again. Granted, it wasn't the whole story, but she wasn't about to buy into the legend mumbo-jumbo. "N's pretty convinced I'll join him one way or another...for some reason..." Groaning, she put her face in her hands. How did she find herself in this mess?

"Tanis..." Cheren's voice was, surprisingly, soft. Tanis looked up and noticed his concerned expression. "...I knew you had a penchant for getting into trouble...but this? Arceus..." He sighed and hung his head down.

"I know, it's a gift." She muttered dryly, forcing a smirk.

"You can't keep this kind of thing bottled up," Cheren offered, rising up from his chair and walking over towards her. He hesitated for a moment, before reaching out and placing a cautious hand on her shoulder. "I don't know him as well as you do, but...if N is anything like the other Sages, especially that Ghetsis, I don't know what length's he'll go to in order to get you to come to his side." Tanis was pretty sure N wouldn't resort to force, but she kept this thought to herself. "And with him wanting to resurrect Zekrom...this is dangerous. Really dangerous."

Tanis sighed and hung her head down. "I know it is."

"You can't do this by yourself, Tanis," Cheren continued, "Let me help. Get your mother involved, even! People need to know this, and you can't just drag this around by yourself."

Tanis took in a deep breath. "Cheren, please--"

"I know, you don't want others to get involved in this mess," He sighed, giving her shoulder a squeeze. "And even if I'm not always with you, I can do other things besides fighting Plasma. Let me do research, some digging, even be an ear to listen. You can't get more involved with this, or with N. All I'm asking is you let me in for once!"

Tanis looked back up at him, studying his face. Cheren looked down at her with a focused and intense gaze, his hand still steady on his shoulder. She remembered what Lance had said to her - she needed to let people help her. Against Plasma, she was more then willing to have Cheren aid her. But when it came to N...

"I know you want to help, and that I need it," She sighed and shook her head, but looked back up at him. "Against Plasma itself. Whatever help you can offer would be appreciated..." Her gaze darkened, "But leave N to me. I know, I know!" She cut him off when his mouth opened. "It's dangerous! But whatever...we...are, I need to figure it out and deal with it myself. Alright?"

Cheren closed his mouth and released her shoulder. "Well...at least it's something." He conceded defeat, scratching his head. "Just...don't go in too deep. I don't know if you'll be able to pull yourself back up."

"Y-yeah..." Tanis muttered. It's already too late for that, she thought, but didn't say it out loud to him. "But you know me, Cheren! I never give up without a fight. You can bet your ass I won't stop fighting Plasma or N until they're gone. Even if I have to keep fighting against him...I have to. And I will."

"That's the Tanis I know," Cheren said with an accepting nod. "Glad to know she's still in there."

"Hah, you couldn't ever get rid of me!" Tanis chuckled, flicking her nose with her thumb. "You're stuck with me for life. Sad, isn't it?" Cheren managed a rare chuckle and shook his head. "Just, ah...don't tell Bianca about this. God, she'd have a field day with this..." She muttered, scratching the back of her head.

"Heh, don't worry, I won't." Cheren confirmed with a nod. "If anyone's going to tell her, it's you. Just...don't get her too involved. I think she's already scarred after what happened with her Dreamie."

"Oh that." Tanis found herself seething at the remembrance. "Screw those guys, seriously. Bianca didn't deserve that." Coughing, she tried to calm her temper. "But yeah, I won't get her involved, not if I can't help it. She's too sweet to be able to deal with those scumbags."

"I'll keep an eye on her, too," Cheren noted, pushing his glasses back up his nose. "If Plasma targeted her once before to get to you..." His voice trailed off, giving a cough when he noticed Tanis' eyes beginning to burn. "We all have to be careful, is all I'm saying."

"Yeah." She took a few deep breaths to calm herself, closing her eyes and reclining back on the couch.

Cheren managed a rare smirk. "...But, I know when the time comes...we'll be ready. For whatever it takes to take Plasma down."

Tanis mirrored his smirk, meeting his gaze.



"I know I'll keep fighting - until those bastards are history!"

 

 

Chapter Text

 

It sure was a lovely day!

Bianca skipped happily along the road, humming a tune and enjoying the crisp, autumn sun. She was currently cuddling her newest edition to her team, a freshly-evolved Whimsiscott named Fluffy. The snuggly Pokémon also hummed happily along with her trainer, taking in the sights of Route 6. A gentle stream cut through the route, with cute little bridges criss-crossing over it, back and forth. The Tranquill were chirping happily, there was a pleasant breeze, the leaves were turning to orange and gold...ahh, what a good day to be alive!

However, Bianca stopped her happy skipping when she heard the sounds of a battle just down the road. Casting a glance down at Fluffy, she giggled. "I wonder who's battling!" And scurried down the path before the cottony creature could respond.

Rounding a corner of large pine trees, Bianca gave a delighted gasp. Tanis was there! It had been so, so, sssoooo long since she last seen Tanis! What was it? Nimbasa City? Oh, heaven's, she didn't remember! She gave a small squeal and hugged Fluffy tighter, scurrying closer towards the battle.

As usual, Tanis' large array of Pokémon were behind her, and what a team they were! She had a Luxray now, a Dragonair, a Charizard - who was currently roasting the crap out of a trainer's Deerling - an Eevee, a Swablu and a Lucario! Goodness, it really had been too long since they last crossed paths! Bianca would have to fix this issue...well, once the battle was over. Nothing could pry Tanis from a Pokémon battle!

With the bought over quickly, the trainer in question turned over her winnings to Tanis, Tanis grinning and pocketing the money. This was Bianca's cue to strike.

Placing Fluffy down, Bianca squealed and rushed forward. The taller, dark-skinned girl barely turned her head before she was glomped to the ground, giving a startled cry when Bianca smothered her.

"Taaaannniisss!!" The enthusiastic girl exclaimed, her arms around Tanis' neck. "Tanistanistanis TAN-IS!"

"I-I can't freaking breathe!" Tanis choked, struggling to right herself from being tackled. Bianca giggled and loosened her arms, but still was nuzzling into the older girl. Somewhere, she was pretty sure she heard the trainer Tanis was fighting mumble something, but she ignored it.

"Oh my gosh, I am ssssoooo excited to see you again!!" Bianca squealed happily. "It's been months since we last saw each other, Tanis!"

Tanis laughed awkwardly, trying to squirm her way out of Bianca's grasp. "I-it's only been a few weeks...!"

"No, it hasn't!" Bianca retorted, still clinging to her. "It's been at least two months, Tanis! We hung out a bit in Nimbasa, but then you up and disappeared!! Leaving me all alone, mind you!" She huffed at this, releasing Tanis and crossing her arms. Tanis took this opportunity to slide out from under her, popping up to her feet and adjusting her autumn clothing.

"Uh, well..." She muttered awkwardly, scratching the back of her head. "Sorry about that?"

"'Sorry' doesn't cut it, missy!" Bianca pointed dramatically at her. "I was so, so worried about you! And I love hanging out with you, and helping you, and seeing you fight and--"

"Okay, okay!" Tanis laughed nervously, raising her hands up in a defeated gesture. Off to the side, Char huffed in annoyance. "I get it! Sorry for ditching you, but I've been, uh..." She glanced off to the side and coughed. "Busy."

Suddenly, Bianca gained a devious glint to her eyes, reaching a hand up to stroke her chin. "I see, I see...!" She gave a knowing nod. "...Busy with your boyfriend?" She teased, smirking up at Tanis.

That got the blood pumping.

Tanis' snapped her head around and store at Bianca with saucer-eyes, her face turning beat red and spreading down her neck. The devious glint in the younger girl's green eyes only intensified, flashing a coy and cleaver smirk at Tanis. That reaction was allllll she needed to know!

"H-he's not my--!"

"Oh, honey, don't try to deny it!!" Bianca sing-songed, giving another nod of her head and folding her arms. Tanis glowered at her and turned even more red, but the blonde ignored it. "He totally is! I know, I can tell you reeeaaaallllyyy like him!!"

Tanis huffed angrily and crossed her arms. "L-look, ju...just back off about it, okay?!" She shouted, Bianca snickering. Anyone with a pair of eyes could see a full-blown crush! But, she didn't really want Tanis to hit her, which could very well happen. So, she backed off.

"Okay, okay!" She giggled, popping up to her feet and scooping Fluffy back up into her arms. "But, only if you'll walk with me, Tanis!" Tanis sighed and scratched her head.

"I think I can manage that."

Bianca swooped in beside the older girl and hooked her arm into Tanis', holding Fluffy in her other arm. She began to walk down the path, towards the Chargestone Caves. Tanis' entourage followed after the pair.

"So, Tanis! You certainly look like you've been busy!" Bianca offered, tilting her head and looking up at her. "You have ssoooo many more Pokémon now!"

"Heh, I guess." Tanis chuckled, looking back at her team and grinning. "Anyway, the two you haven't met are Mulan-" She gestured to the Lucario, who was silently studying Bianca, "And Isis." The Swablu gave a chirp, fluttering over to Tanis' head and nestling into her long, loose locks. "I guess you could say I've been trying to train hard, really. With all of the shit that's been going down with Plasma and all of that, I can't be too careful."

Bianca crinkled her nose up at her. "Ugh, you're still messing with those goons?"

Tanis sighed and hung her head down. "Sadly, yes," She mumbled, her cheeks turning a little rosy. Bianca wasn't sure why she was blushing right now - anger? Frustration? It was hard to tell. "I...really don't think I could stop, even if I wanted to." Her pink eyes glanced off to the side, away from Bianca. "And they won't leave me alone, either."

Bianca furrowed her brows in concern. "Oh, Tanis...you really got a mark put on you, huh?" Tanis gave a snort and sounded a hollow chuckle. "I-I mean, they used my Dreamie to get to you, right? Why would they? I-I really don't get it..."

"Neither do I."

Bianca looked up at Tanis, seeing the older girl's distant expression. She tilted her head and shifted her elbow back, resting her hand in the crook of Tanis' arm, squeezing it. Tanis sighed and shook her head.

"Really, I shouldn't get you involved in this," She turned down to Bianca, managing a grim smile. "You've already been hurt by those bastards. So, uh...let's talk about something else...?" It seemed like Tanis was avoiding the subject, but Bianca wasn't exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. Still, she could tell her friend was uncomfortable with the subject, and didn't seem as gung-ho as she once was.

Especially with that target on her.

"Okay!" Bianca chirped, regaining her sunny disposition. "So, what do you know about the Chargestone Cave?"

Tanis looked forward again, dropping her sullen expression and shrugging. "Not much, only it's really freaking weird." She smirked and looked at Bianca out of the corners of her eyes. "Floating rocks, odd Pokémon, electricity...most scientists can't really explain it." Bianca giggled and looked forward again, giving Fluffy another squeeze, the Pokémon cooing at her.

"Sounds like fun!" She chirped, "I wonder what we'll run across when we're there!"

Tanis smirked again. "Heh, yeah...it'll be interesting, that's for sure!"



-----



Once the topic had shifted from Team Plasma, the conversation between Tanis and Bianca was fairly pleasant. She got to meet her friend's new Pokémon, they discussed their adventures, things like that. Sure, Bianca got a little annoying sometimes, but in small doses, Tanis did genuinely enjoy her company.

It took only about another half an hour for the group to reach the caves. With how tight it would undoubtedly be in there, Tanis decided to recall her Pokémon to their balls. Especially since most of them - namely Char - were rather large and would have difficulty moving about. Once they were secure in their portable homes, the pair of girls walked into the caves.

"Wooowie!!" Bianca exclaimed breathlessly, looking about their surroundings with wonder.

Hell, even Tanis was a little awestruck.

The caverns were glowing a beautiful, rich electric blue, with sparks of lightning and electricity jumping between the stones and the ceiling, lighting the way. It bathed the entire place in an ethereal light, and illuminated it enough for them to venture about without a light source. Electrified, glowing stones and crystals littered the floors, walls and ceiling, replacing the traditional stalactites and stalagmites. Even some of the crystals floated in the air!

It was quite mystifying, and strangely beautiful.

"Another place the books can't do justice to..." Tanis whispered, sad that it was too enclosed for her to have her Pokémon walk with her.

"Oh, I'm so excited!" Bianca giggled, her voice echoing slightly off of the walls. "This is so romantic! Ah, if only I could meet someone special here..." Tanis shook her head at her enthusiasm, feeling a pang of uncertainty and guilt come over her at the mention of 'someone special.'

Not that he was actually special, or anything...was he?

Shaking her head, Tanis pushed those thoughts aside before Bianca noticed her flushing. "Let's keep going." She offered with a wry smile, her blonde companion not noticing the expression or the shift in mood, enthusiastically nodding.

The pair continued on their walk, Bianca excitedly pointing out the exotic local. Any time they passed by an interesting crystal cluster, or one of the Joltik's lurking around, she'd squeal and point. Okay, maybe now was about when her patience with Bianca was wearing thin...still, Tanis enjoyed the company. She'd been alone too long, festering in her thoughts. It was a nice distraction, to say the least!

Suddenly, Bianca's Whimsiscott started chirping in agitation. Both Bianca and Tanis looked down at the creature, it flailing it's little arms around, as if it to tell them something.

"Fluffy? What's wrong?" Bianca asked in concern, giving the Pokémon a reassuring squeeze. But, the poor dear didn't stop flailing around in distress, when just moments ago, it had been quite content and happy. Tanis furrowed her brows. Something was wrong. There was no way a Pokémon that was so cheerful two seconds ago would be acting like that! "Fluffy?!"

Suddenly, three masked figures, adorned in black, appeared around Tanis. They completely surrounded her, cutting her off from Bianca.

"...Well, that answers my question..." Tanis grumbled, wondering where the hell they came from. "Who are you?!" She demanded from them. They looked like some kind of weird, cracked-out ninja's!

"Come." The three of them said in unison. Tanis was about to open her yap again, but two of them grabbed her by the arms, and they began to forcefully drag her with them. The third followed closely at her heels, but far enough away so that she wouldn't kick him.

"Tanis!" She heard Bianca cry out, but the men hauled her so quickly that the blonde trainer's voice quickly diminished into an echo.

"H-hey! What the hell are you doing?!" Tanis barked, struggling in their grasp. But, to her surprise, they held her fast. "Let me go, you bastards!" She lifted her legs off of the ground to try and kick them, but they moved out of the way too quickly for her to hit them. All while still holding her. Realizing that she was effectively being kidnapped, and these guys were way too strong, she stopped struggling and hung there, her feet dragging along the ground. "Where are you taking me?!" She demanded.

Silence was her answer. These weird, cracked-out ninjas weren't even looking at her! The hell was their issue?

She got it soon enough. After turning a few corners, they abruptly stopped and let her go, and she fell flat onto her ass. Groaning, she began to stagger to her feet.

"We brought the one you requested, my lord." One of them stated.

"Thank you. Though, you needn't have handled her so poorly."

Tanis stopped on her knees, instantly recognizing the voice. Slowly, she turned her head around behind her.

"Tanis would have come with you, if you had only told her I wanted to see her."

"...Of course, my King." The trio of ninja's said in unison.

N approached the group, looking down at Tanis with concern in his blue-grey eyes. She instantly felt herself both tense up, and her ears started to burn. Oh, she should've known it was him! Who else would've orchestrated something so...well, weird?

"You may go." N looked briefly past her and towards the trio of strangely garbed men. They all bowed at their waists, before vanishing from sight. Tanis jerked her head to where they were, wondering where the hell they got to. When she didn't see them, she looked back up to N. His gaze had softened again when their eyes met, squatting down and offering his hand to her. "I am sorry for how they treated you, Tanis. It was not my intent for them to literally drag you here."

"...I'll live," Tanis managed to say, reaching for his hand with some hesitation. She rested it against his, his fingers curling around hers. It felt strange - his hand was so soft, so delicate-looking, but held hers firmly. He wasn't deterred by her calloused one, either, feeling the roughness of her skin against his softer palm. It showed how different their lives really were.

Why she thought of this now was beyond her.

N hoisted Tanis to her feet. Considering how willowy he looked, he was stronger then he appeared, yanking her with enough force to cause her stumble forward...right against him. Tanis instantly felt herself blush and began to move away from him, but soon found his hands resting lightly against her shoulder blades.

"You're always so strong, Tanis," N chuckled, looking down at her fondly, "I'm not surprised that you weren't roughed up by them." He lifted one hand from her back and tucked it under her chin, tilting her head up a bit.

Tanis' heart was racing in her chest - whether it was from her being flustered or from anger, she wasn't sure - but she managed to pull away from him. Briefly, she looked down and took a few deep, calming breaths, trying to get herself to forget her embarrassment, and allow herself to get angry. Once she felt her nerves returning to normal, she looked back up at him.

"What do you want, N?"

He tilted his head to the side, still looking at her fondly. "To talk to you, of course." Tanis blinked slowly at him.

"We're not friends, though." She muttered, clenching and unclenching her fists to keep her hands from shaking.

"Aren't we?" He offered, tilting his head to the side. "We can talk like this any time we want, can't we?"

Tanis pursed her lips and took in a sharp breath. There he goes again... "N, how many times do I need to tell you that we can't be like this?" She insisted, sticking to her guns. As much as she wanted to be friends with him, to be with him -- wait, were did that thought come from? Coughing, she flushed and looked off to the side. "Neither of us will stop until we reach our goals."

"It doesn't mean that we still can't be friends." N took a step closer to her, reaching out and lightly touching her red cheek, turning her head back towards him. "Please. Just for a moment, Tanis." He rubbed his thumb against her skin, and she was once again surprised with how soft it felt.

Damnit, she was really a mess when he was around.

"...F-fine." She mumbled, feeling awfully flustered right now. N flashed her a heart-melting smile, lowering his hand. With a gesture of his head, he turned on his heel and began to walk along the path of the cavern, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his pants. Tanis followed after.

"...I like this place," N said quietly, his eyes looking about the electrified stones with the same wonder she held not long ago. "It's beautiful, and peaceful here."

Tanis couldn't help the small smile on her face. "...Yeah, I agree." N looked down at her and smiled, tilting his head to the side again.

"The electricity in here - it's all connected to Pokémon," He continued, once again looking forward. "A world without humans, a world where Pokémon could live in a place like this, away from danger and harm...it would be an ideal world for them." He turned back down to her, "Wouldn't you agree?"

Honestly, Tanis wasn't surprised by this anymore. Not with N. She had to keep fighting against this with him, though; maybe, somehow, she'd get through to him. But, she wasn't sure how to say it - not without offending him. ...Why did she even care about that, anyway? Shaking the thought from her head, she met his gaze.

"You know how I feel about that already, N." She said quietly, seeing his eyes sadden at her words.

"...I see." He looked away from her, giving a deep sigh. "So you still cling to your own ideals..." He stopped walking then, looking up towards the ceiling of the cavern.

Tanis pursed her lips. "N, I--"

N looked down at her again. "As much as it saddens me to hear it, I know I will get through to you yet." His voice turned from forlorn and gentle to strong and determined, turning fully to face Tanis. His hands came out and took hers in them, giving them a squeeze. "It is our destiny to be friends, Tanis. I will not give up until you see the truth."

Tanis flushed in anger this time, trying to wrench her hands from his, but found he held them too tightly. "N, you know I won't, either! You're wrong in this, I--"

"Tanis!!"

Both of them turned to see Bianca jogging down the causeway towards them. N's grip on Tanis' hands loosened.

"...Forgive me, Tanis, but the real reason for bringing you here is to test you." N's voice remained solid and stern, causing her to look back up at her. "Ghetsis wishes to test your abilities, and to see what kind of a trainer you truly are."

"N?"

"I promise, I will explain things better to you shortly." N raised her hands and, once again, brought his lips to her knuckles, kissing them gently. "There will be members of my team throughout these caves, waiting to challenge you." Tanis turned red, his lips still brushing against the skin of her hands. Gently, almost reluctantly, he rose up and slipped his hands out from hers. He gave her a warm smile. "I will be waiting for you down below, my friend." And, with a small incline of his head, he turned on his heel and turned a corner, disappearing further into the cave.

Once more, Tanis felt herself dumbstruck by his actions. Her face was bright red, her heart was racing, and her hands hovered in the air where N had held them. Okay, what was going on? Why did he keep doing that do her? Ugh! She had no idea what to think or feel around him, whether she wanted to kick his ass or to actually let him do that kind of thing with her.

"Tanis!!"

Tanis was brought from her thoughts when Bianca popped up behind her, panting heavily and looking pleased as punch. It was only then that Tanis remembered that the spunky girl was heading towards them when N kissed her hands. And likely saw the whole damn thing.

"...Oh no..." She mumbled to herself, her blush instantly fading and the color beginning to drain from her skin.

"'Not your boyfriend,' huuuuh?" Bianca teased, having regained most of her breath by now. Tanis groaned and ran her hands down her face. "Sure looked like a whole lot of romantic words and kissing for 'not being your boyfriend,' Tanis!!" The blush returned at this point, and all Tanis wanted to do was go hide in a hole for the rest of her life. "So, what's he like? What's his name? He sure is handsome, huh?! How long have you two been dat--"

"W-we're not dating, oh-okay?" Tanis cut Bianca off before she got even more embarrassed, her face in her hands.

Bianca blinked her eyes a few times, then grinned. "Oh-ho! So you're admitting he's your boyfriend now!"

"I--" Tanis wasn't sure how to respond, honestly. Hell, even she wasn't so sure about their, erm, relationship status. With the way N was acting, it seemed like he wanted a whole lot more then to be mere friends with her. Sighing, she ran her hands up through her bangs. "L-look, N and I...we--"

"N?" Bianca blinked again, "What, is that a code-name or something?"

Tanis scratched her head, "I...I don't know, really? He asked to be called N, so that's what I call him." He said it was short for his full name or something a while back, but she hadn't asked what his actual name was. Not that she thought about it, honestly. Thanks, Bianca, for putting that idea in her mind now.

Bianca giggled, "Wow, he really is weird!! So, if you guys aren't 'dating,' how come he's so touchy-feely with you?" She prodded Tanis in the side with her elbow.

"As I was saying," Tanis said sharply down at her so-called friend, glaring at her, "We...we're complicated. I don't know what we even, erm...are."

"Eh?" Bianca tilted her head in confusion.

Sighing angrily, Tanis scratched her head again. "Look, even if I...I-I wanted to be N's girlfriend or whatever," And I think I actually want that, but she didn't say it to Bianca, "W-we just can't be together. At all."

By now, Bianca's brows had furrowed. "Why not? I mean, he certainly seems to really care about you!"

Tanis gave another sigh, glancing off to the side. "Because he..." Was it right to tell Bianca this? Tanis chewed on her lower lip, cracking her knuckles with the thumbs of her hands to calm herself down. In a way, she felt guilty telling Bianca this. But, she felt even worse keeping it from her. Well, Bianca would probably find out sooner or later. Better bite the bullet now.

"...You remember when we met Ghetsis?" She glanced back at Bianca out of the corner of her eyes, the other girl nodding slowly. "How he said Team Plasma's King had an...a-an interest in me?" Another slow nod. Sighing, Tanis flushed again and looked off to the side. "Well...t-their king? He's N."

Bianca blinked. "...What...?"

Tanis looked back over at Bianca, feeling herself turn red again. "N is their King, Bianca. He rules Team Plasma."

Bianca blinked once. Then again. Tanis could see the exact moment when the realization came to her, Bianca's eyes slowly widening and her jaw hanging open, taking in a sharp breath of air. Just as she thought, the other girl was taking it rather...poorly. Not that Tanis honestly blamed her. It was pretty rough news, especially since the younger teenager was adamant on the fact that N and Tanis were 'together,' such as it was.

"...So, now you know why we can't date or whatever you think is going on between us." Tanis sighed, looking away from her again. It was a deep, heartbreaking sigh, because just saying that phrase suddenly caused her heart to clench. Arceus, she wasn't even sure why it felt like that! It wasn't like they were...or were they? Ugh...

There was an awkward silence. Tanis just wanted to get this dumb test over with and get those answers N promised. Plus, she didn't want to drag poor Bianca into this--

"Well, you'll just have to try harder!" Tanis was brought from her thoughts when Bianca spoke, jerking around to see her friend with a determined expression on her face. Hell, she could almost see the flames coming from her mouth! "Forbidden love is the best kind of love! Loving each other despite all odds!! Finding stolen moments when nobody will notice! Keep it a secret, hidden from the world...it's oh, oh so romantic!!"

"...I think you're reading too many trashy books..." Tanis groaned, turning red and burying her face in her hands again.

"Think of it, Tanis!" Bianca enthused. "Love conquers everything! I mean, look at the story of Riolu and Jellicent!!"

"...They both committed suicide..." Tanis noted, but Bianca wasn't listening. Arceus, just kill her now...

"You will find a way to be with your beloved N!!" Bianca continued, practically crying in her passionate display. This girl really needed to stop reading romance novels, seriously. "I believe in you, Tanis! Just believe in the purity of your love, and it will win the day! Just--"

"Bianca." Tanis said sharply, finally lifting her face from her hands. To her surprise, Bianca stopped her tangent.

"Yes?"

"Stop before I slap you."

Bianca flushed and laughed nervously, scratching the back of her head. "S-sorry, I got carried away..."

"I noticed," Tanis grumbled, rubbing the back of her neck. "Two things, Bianca."

"What is it?" Bianca asked with a tilt of her head.

"One: don't get carried away. I don't even know what we are yet," Tanis held up her index finger, followed by shrugging her shoulders. Bianca nodded her head. "Two: if you ever mention this to anyone, I will kick your ass. Got it?"

Bianca blanched and nodded her head again. "Got it!"

"Now, I have to go down and try to find him," Tanis sighed, glad that this was over with. Ugh, she was never going to hear the end of it, though. "I need you to stay here."

"What?! Why?" Bianca squeaked, looking up with an appalled expression at Tanis.

Tanis groaned and scratched her head. "Look, Team Plasma is lurking around here and I don't want you to get involved again." With the whole mess with them stealing Dreamie, she really didn't want Bianca to get sucked into this mess. She was too good, too sweet for Plasma. "Plus I...I-I need to deal with N. Alone." Bianca was about to say something, but Tanis held her hand up again. "Remember number one?" The other girl quickly closed her mouth.

"Y-yeah..." Bianca muttered. Sighing, she turned on her heel and crossed her arms. "Okay, I understand, Tanis. Just..." Looking over her shoulder, she met Tanis' gaze with one of worry. "Please be careful."

Tanis gave a short nod. "I will."

Turning around, Tanis proceeded further into the cave. Down towards Team Plasma...and to get some answers out of N.



-----



The caves were a bit...bigger then she had anticipated. Tanis wasn't sure how long she was wandering around in them, but she had to take some breaks as she headed down. Not only did she have to deal with the general run-of-the-mill trainers, but she found the further she descended, the more Plasma grunts she ran across. They all seemed to be more high-ranking ones, too, as they were slightly more competent then the ones she usually ended up fighting.

But if Ghetsis really wanted to test her or whatever, wouldn't it make more sense to send the strongest Plasma had to offer?

Bah, whatever! Tanis mentally grumbled, It's not them I'm worried about.

Rounding a corner at what was surely the base of the stairs, Tanis stopped in a small cavern, with no other visible exit. Sure enough, N was standing at the base, illuminated in that eerie blue light the lightning produced. Upon hearing her approach, he turned to face the corridor she came from, smiling warmly at her.

"I knew you'd make it down here, Tanis."

Tanis tried to calm her suddenly-racing heart. "Y-yeah, uh, well...Ghetsis should've picked stronger goons." She managed to say dryly, trying to keep herself calm by making snarky remarks.

N quickly crossed the room with long, sweeping strides, standing before her. "Yes, but even if he did, I doubt you would had difficulty facing them," He said with a chuckle. However, his amused expression faded to a more serious one, raising a hand reaching out and lightly touching her shoulder. "You must forgive me luring you all the way down here, my friend." Tanis felt her ears start to burn, hoping that the dim blue lighting wouldn't show it. "But, it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to get away from the leering eyes of my father."

Tanis blinked. His...father? Who was that? But, before she could ask, N continued, "Even so, I am not entirely sure the Shadow Triad isn't here with us right now."

Tanis closed her mouth. "Those...weird ninja dudes that dragged me to you?" N nodded his head. She shuddered. "Wow, don't blame you for the dramatics. I'd be fuckin' creeped out if some guys could spy on me whenever." He squeezed her shoulder, which caused her to look down at the hand and flush again. Oh, bother...

"Thank you for understanding," N's voice came out in a gentle whisper, smiling sweetly down at her. The expression got her even more rosy. He lowered his hand from her. "Now that we are likely alone, we can discuss whatever you wish a bit more...freely." Pausing, he tilted his head before continuing, "And I do mean whatever you want to, Tanis. It doesn't even need to pertain to my team."

Tanis' jaw set. Well, that certainly wasn't open-ended! What else could she ask, though? Pretty much everything she had in her mind since that goddamn ferris wheel ride was about Team Plasma, his role in it, his (and his team's) interest in her, why he thought she was some kind of weird hero of legend...Arceus, what else was there? Thankfully, N waited patiently for her to mull some things over, reaching to the weird cube at his side and beginning to fiddle with the turning pieces.

"...What the hell is that?" Okay. So that wasn't about Plasma. Maybe. Hopefully.

"Hmm?" N looked up from the object and met her gaze. "Oh, this?" He was still twisting the sides, even without looking. "It's a Void Cube. You try to match up the colored squares to match them on each side, though mine is supposed to be more...difficult, due to the fact it's based on minor textures and not color." Tanis blinked slowly. "...It's a mathematic puzzle. I've had this since before I can remember, and it helps me..." He paused, looking down at the cube, where all of the sides were already lined up. Tanis raised her brows, impressed that he solved in less then a minute. N quickly reset it and began to fiddle with it some more. "...To...calm down, I suppose." He murmured quietly.

"Y...you're not calm right now?" Tanis questioned, tilting her head and watching in awe as he quickly solved the cube again. It seemed odd to think of him anything but calm and relaxed, though she had seen him get upset and angry before.

"It's difficult to remain calm when you're here, Tanis." N lifted his head up and smiled nervously at her.

"Well, glad to know I piss you off, too." Tanis grumbled sarcastically, crossing her arms. He shook his head.

"The opposite, actually." She quirked a brow in confusion at his simple response, though he quickly skirted the issue before she could ask him about it. "Is there something else you'd like to ask? I'm quite content to remain in this cavern for as long as you'll have me." There was a brief pause, "If that's alright with you, my friend."

Tanis cocked a grim smirk. "Believe me, I could keep you here all day if I wanted to." She instantly felt her cheeks begin to burn, realizing the implications of her statement. Oh, shit...why did I have to go and say that?!

N chuckled. "Of that I have no doubt." It looked as if he wasn't effected by her broad statement. Tanis breathed out a small sigh of relief, glad that he was rather...well, sheltered. Or so she thought.

Honestly, she didn't know much about him. Questions for another time, though!

"I..." Tanis began, suddenly not really sure what to ask first. This whole thing was one massive nightmare, and even she wasn't sure how to sort it out! But, if N was being honest, that he was willing to answer whatever questions she had, for as long as she wanted...

Sighing, she scratched her head. "Well, I guess the main thing is: why me?" N returned his gaze to her, halting in his fidgeting with his puzzle cube. "I mean, I'm not anything really...that special, right? So, why focus on me? Why try to be my friend, when you know we can't?" Pausing briefly, she chewed on her lip. "And, uh, why you think I'm some kind of weird destined hero or whatever-the-hell you were talking about before."

By now, N had replaced the cube on the chain at his hip, striding forward. Tanis' face began to redden again when is hands came out and gently took hers. He smiled warmly at her.

"You mustn't think like that, Tanis," He encouraged with a tilt of his head, "I knew, from the moment we met, that you were unique - different. You are a brilliant and compassionate trainer, but you are also strong, confident, fiery." His hands lightly squeezed hers, "I felt a strong...hmm, I suppose a connection with you, even early on. I wanted your help, especially since we're so similar in so many ways."

Slowly, Tanis blinked her eyes. How were they...?

As if reading her mind, N continued. "We both love Pokémon, for example. We both treat them with kindness and compassion - they're our friends, right?" Tanis numbly nodded her head in response. N smiled at it, "Yes, just right! I can feel your abounding love for your dear friends, and they for you. I do not understand how they can respect and adore a human that forces them to fight..." Those blue-grey eyes of his glanced off to the sides briefly, as if mulling that over. "...But it must be because they can sense who you are." He murmured, returning his gaze back to her.

Tanis had a feeling he wasn't talking about her as a person, but the thing he had mentioned about her being some kind of 'hero' or whatever. Of course, she thought that the only reason why they liked her was because she was this 'hero' was cock'n'bull, but N was still seeing the world with his head up his ass.

"Yeah, but--"

"More over, we share so many other things," N cut her off again, causing her to silently seethe. Damnit, and she had come up with a good response to that, too! "Our goals and ideals are so similar, my friend. You wish people would allow their Pokémon out more often, and show more love and care for them, right?" This time, he didn't even wait for her to nod, "We both desire to see them freed from such cruelty, to ensure humans no longer mistreat them or force them to do things they do not wish to do. You see, this is the goal I have been moving towards."

Releasing her hands, N raised his own up, lightly placing one on Tanis' shoulder and the other touching his fingertips under her chin. A fresh flush came to her cheeks from the gesture, her head starting to spin again.

"So, you see...we're both the same, Tanis." His abnormally fast speech pattern slowed down. "This is why I want you with me." Gently, lightly, he ran his thumb across the front of her chin, cradling her jaw in his hand so delicately.

Tanis' eyes began to widen, her heart skipping a beat and then, it started to thump too fast. All of that excess blood it was pumping ended up in her face, and if it weren't for N's hand on her jaw, it probably would be hanging slack right now.

I-is he saying...what I th-think he's...? Tanis let her mind trail off before it got too ahead of itself. No, she shouldn't even think it! She couldn't...could she?

Swallowing her heart in her throat, Tanis furrowed her brows together. "N, what are you--"

"As for you being the other Hero..." By now, Tanis honestly wasn't shocked at N cutting her off, but she was still annoyed by it. "...I have the ability to see the future of people and Pokémon around me. It is always changing, and shifting; for, you see, the future constantly shifts and changes around us. But, I know something I saw for certain," He paused, taking a breath, lowering his hand down to her other shoulder. "My dear friend...I saw you. I saw you, standing before me, with the Dragon of Truth behind you - Reshiram!"

This truth, this future- he honestly believed in it. She could see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice. Tanis felt her breath catching, her eyes widening again. N was smiling confidently down at her, giving her shoulders a squeeze.

"And I saw you, standing there with me, beside me. Zekrom and Reshiram at our backs. So, even if you do not believe yourself to be the Hero of Truth, I know that you are." Slowly, his hands began to run down her arms and down towards her hands, while he continued to speak. "And I know that you will be right there with me. Not because you are the Hero of Truth, and I of Ideals...but because we are part of a greater formula. We are the salvation for Pokémon!" That strong, commanding presence had returned during his speech, his long fingers lacing between hers and squeezing her hands firmly.

"And you will be with me, Tanis. I swear it." And, like that, N's presence faded to his more gentler stance, raising her hands up and kissing her knuckles again. But, it wasn't a light, gentle peck this time; it was longer, more lingering then it had been before.

Tanis swallowed hard. Then again. In her ears, her heart was pounding so loud she couldn't practically hear anymore, nothing but the rapid and hard rate of her pulse. Her face, neck and chest felt like they were on fire, and her hands were lightly trembling in his grasp. She was a complete, embarrassed mess - she could just stare blankly at him for the few seconds his lips were against her skin. To anyone passing by, she looked like a cute, sweet girl who was being courted by a boy she had liked for a long time. Even internally, she couldn't even think right now, she was so flustered and embarrassed! Why did N make her feel like this? Why did she become such a befuddled, silly little girl when he was around her? It wasn't like her, not at all.

N picked up on this.

Feeling her hands trembling in his, he quickly jerked his head up to look at her. His expression rapidly changed to concerned, lifting a hand up and touching her incredibly flushed cheek.

She jerked away from his hand.

"Tanis, are you alright?" He asked, his voice riddled with worry. "You're trembling, and your face is all red...please, my dear, what's wrong?"

Dear. He called her 'dear.'

"Wha--" Tanis' voice came out weakly, almost like she was waking up from a dream. Her head was spinning! In fact, she was pretty sure she wobbled a bit, probably due to how fast her heart was racing, but the next few seconds kind of...left her brain.

When she regained her senses, Tanis was in N's arms. They were still standing, and her legs weren't completely slack, so at least she didn't faint or anything. That would've made her embarrassment even worse. An arm was around her waist, the other across her shoulders, that hand resting against the back of her head. For some reason, she felt her nerves beginning to calm down, though her breathing picked up a bit. N held her closely and tightly, though it wasn't enough to hurt her - just close enough so she wouldn't collapse if she fainted.

And he was so warm...

"Please, I don't want you to be distressed." He whispered against the crown of her hair. "If I said or did anything to offend you..."

Briefly, Tanis forgot about it all. About N being the King of Team Plasma, about her fight against them...although this wasn't the first time he held her, something just...it felt right. Warm, tender, comforting. Like all of her fears and worries began to melt away in his embrace. She could feel herself begin to calm down, resting the side of her head against his chest and shoulders.

"...You didn't offend me." Tanis whispered, her arms almost moving on their own, looping around his waist.

N breathed a sigh of relief. "Oh, good. I don't ever want you upset at me, Tanis." He began to nestle his head into her crown of hair, his arms loosening around her; but she pulled herself closer. Chuckling, he lightly began to stroke her loose hair. "I wish we could be like this, always." He murmured into the crown of her hair.

Tanis closed her eyes. "...Me too."

In her chest, her heart was still racing, but she felt significantly less embarrassed right now. There was something about N that just...drew her in. It didn't make sense to her! She hardly knew anything about him, really. They had only known each other for a few months - well, it was probably getting close to half a year, now that she thought about it. But, they had only actually met a few times! And yet, and yet...

Before, Tanis had dated. She had been with a few boys, and that one girl...but no one had left such an impact on her. Not like N. Even though she liked this, and knew she cared about him and wanted this kind of thing from him...in the back of her mind, no matter how much it felt like she belonged in his arms, she knew. Tanis knew this wasn't right, that it wasn't meant to be.

She had to stop this, had to stop herself. She couldn't let herself fall for him.

But it's already too late...A small voice in the back of her mind said, but she shoved it aside.

After taking him in as much as she could, Tanis removed her arms from N's waist and placed them on his chest, forcing herself away. N looked down at her with a perplexed expression, obviously seeing her own hurt in her eyes.

"...But...you know we can't be together." Tanis was shocked at how low her voice was, how dreadfully awful it sounded. It sounded like she was sick, crackling and rumbling in the back of her throat. When she said the word 'together,' she knew how much she actually wanted it. But...

Seeing N's expression drop almost broke her heart, so she quickly looked away.

"I'm going to keep fighting you, N," She informed, wanting so bad to slip away from him and his forlorn face, but not having the strength to do so. "Because I can't imagine a world without Pokémon beside me."

N's arms dropped from her. Tanis took that moment to back away, turning from him. "Even if it means I have to..." Lose you, her mind added, but she didn't say it to him, "...T-to push you away and stop you, no matter what."

She felt the space behind her fill with N's warmth. Tanis’ back straightened up, her heart starting to race again. She felt his hands against her shoulders.

"And you know I won't stop until I have the future I saw with us, together." N's voice was low, but quick, his warm breath against her neck. Tanis shuddered. "I will ensure my dream is fulfilled - I will save Pokémon from humanity, Tanis. I will separate grey from the black and white of this world!" He lowered down, closer towards her, his hands squeezing her shoulders. "I only hope that, in time, it will become your dream as well." This time, his breath was close to her ear, and she felt her heart skip a beat.

Releasing her shoulders, N strode around her and began to head towards the exit of the room.

Quickly regaining control of her senses, Tanis started after him. "N, wait!" Sure enough, he stopped and turned back towards her, his expression unreadable. Setting her jaw briefly, Tanis began to clench and unclench her hands. "Why are you so determined to have me see things your way?! You know it won't happen!" N continued to stare at her, his eyes almost looking right into her very core. It was a little unsettling, to be honest; he hadn't ever looked at her that way. Tanis swallowed hard. "I-It can't just be because you think I'm the other Hero! R-right?"

Turning on his heel, N approached her again. He rested his hands against her shoulders again. "No, it's not." He responded quietly. "You will find out soon enough, Tanis. But, you need more time. You need to grow, to understand what it is you must do. Until then, I can't say more." Tanis was about to ask what he meant, but N leaned down towards her. He ever-so-gently pressed his lips against her forehead, causing her to blush deeply again.

Leaning back, N released her shoulders and took a step back. "I will see you again soon, I should think." Once more, his voice was soft and encouraging, "Please take care, Tanis, and think on what I have said." A faint smile came to his face, "And, perhaps, next time we can see each other on equal terms, my dear." And, with an incline of his head, N turned back around and proceeded out of the small cavern and into the main cave, quickly disappearing from Tanis' sight.

Slowly, she slid down to the floor. Tanis looked at the place where he was, feeling her heart still racing in her breast. Raising her hands up, she buried her face in them and heaved a deep sigh, curling her fingers against her eyebrows. Her breathing became ragged, her hands starting to tremble again.

Why him? Why did this have to happen like this? Why did she care so much for N, when they both disagreed and argued so much? When he infuriated her so!



Just...why.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Tanis wasn’t in a good mood these days.

Char cautiously followed behind her, with the other members of her team just as cautious as he was. Ever since she had let them back out after the Chargestone Caves, she hadn’t been...well, herself. Distant and unfocused, she was completely spacing out. Like that feathers-for-brains friend of hers, Bianca. On top of that, more than once she suddenly snapped at them, which was unlike her. She never snapped at them. Sure, she could be a stubborn little human and didn’t like talking about her personal affairs, but this?

This was unusual.

It was especially weird when Tanis didn’t go fight Skyla, the Gym Leader of Mistralton City right off of the bat. Char was beginning to wonder if she was sick, but any effort to reach out to her didn’t work at all. Probably didn’t help that she couldn’t understand any of them, but at least he was trying!

I wish she’d tell us what she’s thinking,’ Ciela sighed for the thousandth time this afternoon, the group following her stalk along Route 7 without any kind of aim. They only had a brief reprieve at the PokéCenter before leaving again. No trainer battles, no approaching wild Pokémon, just...wandering. It was like she was purposefully trying to avoid doing anything that was any worth or value.

Yeah.’ Char added worriedly, gnawing on his lower lip. A bad habit he hadn’t kicked since he was a Charmander, which now resulted in his lips to become chapped and occasionally bleed now a days. Ciela gave him a scrutinizing glance at the habit, but she didn’t comment on it. They had bigger things to fret about.

I can tell something’s wrong - we all can,’ She glanced back at the group with them, which hadn’t changed since Chargestone, either. Also unusual, considering how she liked to keep everyone nice and even level-wise. Starlight and Mulan – the Lucario somewhat unsettled Char, honestly - both nodded solemnly in agreement.

I’m sure it has to do with Plasma,’ The Luxray narrowed her eyes up at her trainer, who only had Isis with her at the moment. But, it was kind of hard to shrug off a bird that insisted on using your hair as nesting material, ‘We did spend an awful amount of time fighting them in the caves.’ She sighed and shook her head, ‘But...she’s never reacted this way before. Not with them. I wonder--’

Char also narrowed his eyes, but at no one in particular. ‘Son of a bitch!’ He growled, his claws clenching when he thought about what it could be.

Char!’ Ciela scolded, smacking the Charizard with the tip of her tail, ‘Eevee is with us, watch your mouth!

He rolled his eyes, ‘She’s heard worse from Tanis,’ He grumbled, crossing his arms. This resulted in another smack from Ciela’s long tail, ‘Ow, ow! Jeez, cut it out!’ The Dragonair glared up at him, and he gave a defeated sigh, hanging his head down, ‘Okay, whatever mom.Ciela gave a small nod of her head, though Eevee just looked a bit confused about the situation.

Starlight snickered. ‘They fight like an old married couple, yeah?’ She muttered under her breath down at the confused Pokémon, who manged a small giggle in response.

Anyway! That’s not my point!!’ Char raised his head up and glared at no one again, gesturing towards Tanis’ back with his thumb, ‘Point is, I’ve seen her act like this before. With Plasma. And I swear to Arceus of that bas--’ He stopped mid swear, looking down at Eevee’s sweet and innocent face, followed by the glare on Ciela’s. He swallowed hard and awkwardly continued, ‘B-bass-fisher did anything suspiciousto her, I will crush his skull between my hands like a grape!!’

Oh my,’ Starlight blinked slowly, wondering what the hell Char was getting at.

Well, that’s one way to get a point across to someone...’ Ciela sighed and raised her tail tip to rub her forehead, looking back up at the temperamental fire-type, ‘But who are you talking about, Char? I can’t recall anyone who’s hurt Miss Tanis like that before...’

Char snorted a spark of flame from his nostrils. ‘He has, she just doesn’t freaking understand it yet,’ He muttered, crossing his arms, ‘It’s that weird human who keeps stalking her, N.’

Ciela was taken aback, as was Starlight. ‘N? He seemed really nice before...’ The Dragonair noted with a tilt of her head, ‘And Miss Tanis got along with him really well. And I didn’t think he was in--’

He’s their King,’ Char huffed, angrily strumming his claws against his arms.

Ciela and Starlight exchanged glances, ‘Another thing she didn’t tell us...’ Ciela sighed.

That does explain a lot, however,' Starlight noted, shaking her head slowly, ‘Why he just kept on randomly popping up, the things he talked about...I remember fighting him. He didn’t actually use trained Pokémon, just summoned wild ones. But why wouldn’t she tell us...’ Her voice trailed off, looking back over at their trainer. Who was still silent, even with Isis’ gentle humming.

I believe she deeply cares for him.

The group turned behind them to see the strong-but-silent Lucario, who hadn’t said a single thing the entire trip. Mulan glanced up from Tanis and over towards them, then returned her gaze.

I haven’t met him in person, but...lately, I’ve noticed fluctuations in her aura.’ She continued quietly, still intently studying their trainer, ‘I had a feeling there might be someone she likes, but knowing her, she isn’t even fully aware or admitting of it to herself.’ Mulan looked back at the quartet of Pokémon in front of her, ‘And if this N fellow is Team Plasma’s King...can you honestly blame our lady for acting like this?’

Ciela sighed and downcast her eyes. ‘No, I don’t think so...’ She shook her head slowly, ‘This does make things very difficult for her and--’

I will grind his bones into dust and use it for my damned baths!!’ Char suddenly burst, roaring so loudly Tanis stopped walking and looked back at them, raising one of her eyebrows.

“Err, Char, buddy? Everything okay back there...?” She asked, listlessly. Char laughed nervously and waved his arms in front of him, flashing an awkward grin.

No, no! Everything’s fine! A-Okay! Hunky-dory!’

He’s really bad at this,’ Starlight noted sarcastically, which caused Ciela and Eevee to nod in agreement.

Tanis gave a small shrug of her shoulders. “Ooookay then, keep it up.” She then turned back around and kept walking. The group lagging behind her resumed their previous pace. Once she was facing away from him, Char dropped the awkward smile and began to glare burning holes into nothing in particular, muttering angrily under his breath while un-clenching and clenching his claws together.

I swear if I ever meet that sorry son-of-a-whore again I will rip his innards out and decorate the walls with them and shiskabob them so crisply that not even the police will recognize the remains...’

Remind me never to get between Char and Lady Tanis,’ Starlight blinked up at the Charizard, who kept on muttering angrily about all of the things he wanted to do to N. Ciela sighed and shook her head.

As much as I’m sure he adores me, I don’t think I’ll ever compare,’ She said in an almost light tone, as if to make the mood a bit less...heavy. Char didn’t notice, though Eevee gave a small nod of his head.

He really loves her.’ The young Pokémon said quietly, looking over at Tanis.

This did make the situation more complicated.

Of course, Ciela wanted to be there for her trainer. More then anything, of course! While she wasn’t as upset as Char was about this turn of events, she did understand his vexation. Although he did care about Ciela - it was pretty obvious his crush on the Dragonair had evolved past plain infatuation - Tanis always ranked number one. She was like his little sister, even though she raised the Charizard from an egg, and he’d straight-up murder someone to keep her safe.

Which wasn’t hard to do, considering how large and strong he was.

But in reality, N hadn’t done anything...wrong, per-say. Though Ciela didn’t know exactly what was going on with them, she did recall the King of Plasma having an interest in Tanis, and he did show up a lot. Plus, last time he appeared around Tanis, Char was in some kind of mood and “didn’t want to talk about it.” Evidently he wanted to avoid the topic so much that he sort of forgot to tell his fellow teammates that N was the King they kept hearing about.

And, if Mulan was correct, Tanis was developing strong feelings for N. Maybe even beyond friendship. And with him being the leader of an enemy group...

That did put a bit of a damper on everything.

Sighing, the Dragonair turned from her angered boyfriend and looked over at Tanis with sorrow in her eyes.

I just wish she’d let us in for once...’

 

-----

 

Although they were still close enough to go back to Mistralton City to spend the night at the Poké Center, Tanis didn’t want to be in the city right now. She wanted to be out here, in the open, where she wasn’t so crushed by people who would judge her, or ask her what was wrong, or whatever. She really kind of wanted to be alone right now, but knew she shouldn’t. So, might as well set up camp, stare at the stars and just listen to her Pokémon chatter among themselves.

There hadn’t been much training or battling along this route. Tanis had avoided anything or anyone that looked like they wanted a fight. Oddly enough, she wasn’t in the mood. Usually, when she dealt with Plasma, she wanted to kick some ass to clear her head. But the situation with N was getting more and more complicated.

She hated it.

Giving a low, melancholy sigh, Tanis tried to name the constellations she knew in the darkened skies. The night was crisp, but not too cold; still, she had a sleeping bag wrapped around her just to be on the safe side. Leaves gently rustled and fell down from the trees, turning gold and orange with the autumn season.

By now, it was so late at night it was now very early in the morning. The only one who wasn’t asleep was Char, though she could never be sure about Mulan. The Lucario did like to meditate at night before sleeping, and Tanis never really knew which she was doing. Honestly, though, she was kind of glad Mulan was here, since Char had been in one of his moods all afternoon and evening. What crawled up his ass was beyond her.

And, of course, Tanis couldn’t sleep at all. Even with Isis snuggling with her.

Glancing at the Charizard out of the corners of her eyes, she saw him staring into where the fire only burned with a dim glow, lightly stroking Ciela’s head and neck. In the past few weeks, the pair had grown increasingly close, though Char still wouldn’t readily admit it.

Like someone else I know, she thought bitterly, grimacing at the thought. Tanis was trying not to think about him, but it was becoming increasingly difficult not to. Giving a low sigh, she looked back up at the stars and tried to distract herself again, when she heard some rustling in the tall grass not far from their little camp site.

Sitting up, she looked towards the origin if the sound. Mulan was already on her feet - which meant she was meditating and not sleeping - and Char jerked his head up as well. The other Pokémon either didn’t notice, or were too sleepy to. The grass began to part, and out came some Pokémon she wasn’t expecting to see on this route.

“Woah...”

Standing before here was a Leafeon and a Jolteon. That was odd, did they have a trainer? Or were they wild Pokémon...?

They both looked about the camp very briefly, before the Leafeon gasped and dashed forward, giving a chirp over at the other Eeveeolution. The Jolteon gave chase, the pair running towards the curled up figure of Eevee, nestled in the curve of Starlight’s body.

Tanis’ heart stopped for an instant when they both began to nudge the sleeping Eevee with their heads, making excited cooing and chirping noises. It didn’t take long for the young Pokémon - and Starlight - to wake up. Groggily, Eevee looked around before she noticed who was nudging her, before her dark brown eyes widened.

She gave an excited squeak and hopped up to her feet, nuzzling into the two Pokémon’s chests. It didn’t take long for her to begin to tear up and cry against them, the older Eeveelution’s nuzzling her affectionately and cooing contently, tears also pricking at their eyes.

It didn’t take a genius to figure out that these were Eevee’s lost parents.

Tanis couldn’t help but to smile at the scene. Even though it was incredibly late at night (or early in the morning, if her Pokégear had anything to say about it), her other Pokémon began to rouse at the heart-warming scene. Eevee had collapsed to the ground out of sheer joy, tears of happiness and relief streaming down her furry little face. She nuzzled into the Leafeon’s chest, crying against it while it nuzzled and licked the top of her head. Meanwhile, the Jolteon was cuddling as close as it could against her side, also nuzzling and grooming her with it’s head. They were too far away for Tanis to notice their genders.

The scene almost made her want to cry, too. Which might also have to do with her recent troubles.

After a few minutes of the relieved parents and their daughter were reunited, Eevee’s crying had calmed down. She sniffled loudly and wiped her face with her little paws, trying to put on a strong face with her new friends. She said something between her hiccups, which caused her parents to look over at Tanis. She smiled awkwardly at them, managing to wave.

“Uh...hi?” The Jolteon looked suspiciously over at her, then back at Eevee, who shook her head and must have said something encouraging. Sliding out from her sleeping bag, Tanis slowly approached the pair.

They both tensed up at her approach, which didn’t honestly surprise her. They were wild Pokémon until recently, and Arceus knows what kind of horrific things they experienced while being in the clutches of Plasma. That whole notion made Tanis feel sick to her stomach. But, she pushed it aside and squatted down by them, offering the back of her hand for them to sniff.

“Hey, I’m Tanis.” She introduce herself in a quiet voice, “You must be Eevee’s parents, yeah?” The Leafeon cautiously came over and sniffed Tanis’ hand, lifting it’s head up and nodding. Now that she was closer, she could tell the Leafeon was the mother, and the Jolteon the father. Slowly, Tanis reached out and lightly touched the tip of the Leafeon’s ears, lightly stroking them. She relented to the human’s touch, though still seemed a bit nervous.

“Nice to meet you!” Tanis encouraged with a smile, “Boy, am I glad we found you.” Eevee’s father chirped something, which caused Tanis’ other Pokémon to look at him skeptically. Of course, Tanis had no idea what he said, but offered her other hand to him. He didn’t approach right away. “She’s a very sweet girl, you two are so lucky to have a daughter so kind and warm.” She smiled down at Eevee, who tried to hide behind her mother in embarrassment. “Anyway, I’ve been keeping her safe until we could find you guys!”

When she said this, a pang clenched her heart. Tanis internally grimaced, realizing that this was likely goodbye to the sweet, gentle Eevee. She knew this day was coming. It was never meant to be anything but temporary, and since Eevee was still young, she should be with her parents. And while Tanis was happy they had found her parents, she had grown very attached to the girl and was sad that they would have to part ways now. All she could do was hope Plasma didn’t rear their ugly little heads again and snatch the entire family this time. Eevee didn’t deserve that.

Apprehensively, the Jolteon approached Tanis and gave her hand a cautious sniff. He recoiled briefly, before nearing her and sniffing again. Tanis kept her hand level and even, waiting for him to make the first move. After a few minutes of cautious sniffing, he rubbed his cheek against her, which caused the tips of her fingers to tingle from the electric current in his fur.

The Leafeon said something which must have been akin to “thank you,” and Tanis smiled down at her. “You’re welcome.” Her smile began more sad and distant, as she knew the inevitable was coming. Though, she still wondered how they escaped from Plasma...bah! Thoughts for another time. “But, I’m sure you want to collect her and head back home, right?” Both sets of parents nodded their heads, lifting them from Tanis’ hands. “Well, I won’t stop you. She should be with you guys, out in the wild.” The Leafeon smiled up at the human.

Starlight gave a coo and gently nudged Eevee with her snout, the smaller Pokémon still stumbling and smiling at her. But, when her parents turned to her, the smile faded. They said something to her, but she lightly shook her head, her big brown eyes looking up at Tanis. Another pang tore through her heart, and she smiled sadly at Eevee.

“Go on, now.” She encouraged the best she could, “You’re free, Eevee.” Tears pooled in Eevee’s eyes, which only caused Tanis’ heart to break even more. “No, you really should go with them. That was our agreement, right?” She tilted her head to the side, trying to fight back her own tears. She had an image to uphold, damnit! “You’d go back with your parents once we found them! Well, we found them, and you belong with them, not me.”

Eevee gave a sudden cry, and pushed past her parents. She leaped up off of the ground and into Tanis’ chest, who caught the fluffy Pokémon. Tanis’ eyes widened, looking down at the little dear. She nuzzled into the trainer’s chest, still crying. Heaving a sigh, Tanis lightly stroked her fur.

“I’m sorry, sweetie. This is what’s best for you.” The smile had faded from her face, really hoping Eevee would just go with her parents so she could get this over with. Eevee shook her head and lifted it up, looking up at Tanis with tear-filled, but determined eyes.

Suddenly, the light of the sun crested over the trees, bathing the small clearing in daylight. Tanis didn’t even realize that dawn was breaking until right then, blinking into the burst of sunlight. Ugh, had she really been awake all night? Damn, she really needed to--

Wait, was Eevee suddenly getting warmer...?

Looking down to the Pokémon in her arms, Tanis’ eyes widened. Eevee was glowing! But that meant she was...

With the rays of the early morning sun hitting her, her small figure began to glow a brilliant gold, more brilliant then the orange-yellow rays of the sun. The tears had stopped flowing from her eyes, and she looked up with unwavering determination at Tanis. Soon, Eevee was glowing so brightly that Tanis couldn’t even really look at her, squeezing her eyes closed. The heat coming from the Pokémon’s body increased, and she could feel Eevee growing and shifting in her grasp. The thick, plush fur that she once had began to shorten, but becoming so soft it was like velvet. Her ears began to get bigger, and the bushy tail she once had became longer and thinner, also covered with the same fur.

White pricked at Tanis’ closed eyes, and moments later, it faded. Slowly, she blinked her eyes open and allowed them to adjust to the light of the sun, and looked down at the Pokémon in her arms.

Tanis’ eyes widened when she looked down into the deep, focused purple eyes of the the Pokémon, her heart stopping for a moment. Sitting in her arms was no longer an Eevee, but an Espeon. An evolution that only happened when the Eevee had extreme devotion towards their trainers, bolstered by their love and affection for them. And if Eevee evolved into this, it meant that...

“You...you want to stay with me?” Tanis asked, still shocked by this turn of events. Espeon nodded her head, leaning forward and nuzzling against Tanis, her soft fur tickling Tanis’ neck and chin. She almost - almost - could have sworn she heard a voice in her head say: “I love you best of all.”

It made her almost want to melt.

Hugging the Espeon to her chest, she nuzzled her cheek against the top of her head, stroking the soft fur. “I love you to, sweetie.” She choked out, hopefully quiet enough that her team wouldn’t hear it. Had to keep up her tough-girl appearances, ya’know!

After a few moments of nuzzling her new Pokémon, she looked beyond Espeon and towards her parents. The Jolteon looked as startled as Tanis was, while the Leafeon was crying tears of joy. Actually, she was pretty sure she saw Ciela crying too, but that honestly didn’t surprise her. She managed a small, awkward smile at the parents.

“Um...I guess she’s staying with me?” She muttered sheepishly, feeling herself flush at the prospect. Jeez, she never expected one of her Pokémon - especially the one she didn’t intend to keep! - to evolve out of affection for her. Not that she minded, but...

Both of them nodded their heads, almost sadly. Was this like when parents said goodbye to their children as they grew up? Judging by the looks on their faces, that seemed to be the case. It made Tanis’ heart clench again, but she pushed the feeling aside. Considering how long hey had been looking for the pair, she didn’t just want to up and walk away...

Chewing on her lip for a moment, she glanced down at Espeon, who was purring contently against her, then back at them. “Um...” She started, wondering how to word this. “So, uh...d-do you guys, uh, mind if you come with me?” She offered awkwardly, “That way, you’ll be safe from those Plasma nutjobs and can see your daughter whenever! And if you’re not in my party, well...my mom is very nice and will take good care of you! And you can see Espeon whenever you want, right?”

The Jolteon looked skeptically at Tanis, then over at his mate. Leafeon gave him a small nod of encouragement, and he sighed, returning his gaze to her. He glanced at his daughter, who had turned around to face him. Then, almost reluctantly, nodded his head. Tanis breathed out a sigh of relief.

“Oh, thank goodness!” She grinned at them, “After all of the trouble we went through, I’m glad we’ll be able to find you again.” She’d have to go back to a Poké Center to switch them out, as her party was a bit full, but Mistralton City wasn’t too far. She wanted to be sure the parents got ample time to catch up with their long-lost daughter. Releasing Espeon, who flashed her a thankful smile, Tanis reached for her pack and withdrew two Pokéballs.

“Okay, this is going to feel weird, and you’re going to wake up at my mom’s place,” She explained, tapping the buttons to make the spheres expand, “But! Once I’m at the Poké Center, I’ll bring you guys on so you can catch up, okay?” Tanis flashed a grin down at the pair, tilting her head to the side. Both of them nodded her heads. “Alright! I’ll see you soon!” Tossing them out, the Pokéballs hit the Leafeon and Jolteon, sucking them inside. As both were willing - much like Espeon was when they first met - the spheres quickly stopped shaking and flashed.

And, moments later, they disappeared in a burst of light, transported to Nina’s house. They could spend a bit of time with Rex and Draco before she’d do some switching around! And, of course, the pair were her friendliest Pokémon, so they’d be more then happy to give the couple the lowdown and make them feel at home.

Giving a sigh, Tanis looked down at Espeon and smiled gently, reaching out and gently stroking her ears. “Well, I’m a little surprised by this turn of events!” She chuckled, seeing Espeon smile affectionately up at her. “But...I’m glad for it, all the same.” She didn’t want to admit how fond she was of Espeon, but figured the Pokémon probably already knew. All of them, actually. Jeez, she wasn’t very good at hiding her affections, was she?

“Well, I officially welcome you to the team!” Tanis chirped, Isis and Starlight coming over to give Espeon their congratulations. Char snorted his, and Ciela - who was still being stroked by him - smiled like the proud mother-hen she was. “Now, I’ll need to give you an actual nick-name...” Espeon looked up at her, with warm, studious eyes, her tail gently swishing back and forth. Tanis grinned when she thought of it.

 

“I think...I’ll name you Faith.”

 

Chapter Text

 

“Finish it with a Thunder Fang!”

Starlight leaped up into the air with grace, her fangs sparking with bolts of electricity. Sinking them into the enemy Unfezant, they released arcs of lighting that lit up the Mistralton City’s gym. With a final cry, the Pokémon fainted, returning to it’s Pokéball.

With that, Tanis stood victorious over the Gym Leader, Skyla. After reuniting the newly named Faith with her parents, Tanis felt her spirits lifted and temporarily forgot her problems. And, of course, she had to challenge the gym! A good fight always cleared her head, and this was certainly a heated battle against the leader.

It was fairly easy, for the most part. With Starlight and Rex at her side, they easily plowed through the gym. After sending Faith back home to spend some time with her folks, Tanis took out the Aerodactyl for a spin, and was glad for it. Given that it was a flying-type Gym, the two walked all over the trainer’s Pokémon until they reached Skyla. Her Swanna did give poor Rex some issues, since it was also being a water-type, but swapping him out for Starlight easily nipped the battle in the bud! Just the ticket to bring Tanis completely out of her grumpy mood.

“Wow, that was really exciting!” Skyla encouraged with a bright smile, applauding the battle, the surrounding trainers in her gym also whooping and cheering. “You’re such a brilliant fighter, I’m so happy to have fought against you!” Tanis had knelt down to hug Starlight around the neck, the Lurxray cooing happily at her. “Especially against someone who cares about her Pokémon as much as you.”

Tanis looked back up at Skyla, grinning at her. “Heh, yeah. These guys are my best buddies - my team!” She ruffled Starlight’s fur, popping back up to her feet. “Couldn’t do anything without ‘em!” They were her rock and had her back - even if she didn’t tell them everything.

Skyla mirrored her expression, “Heh, I know what you mean!” Reaching into her pouch, she withdrew her badge. “I’m glad to give you the Jet Badge!” She presented it to Tanis, who took it and held it in her hand, “I know my team and I are so happy to have fought someone as strong as you! It’s been a long time since we’ve really been pushed this hard.”

Tanis snapped open her badge case and deposited the new badge in it’s place, closing it and replacing it in her pack. “Thanks! Glad to be of service, I guess.” She smirked, meeting Skyla’s gaze and kneeling back down, hugging Starlight around the neck. The Luxray nuzzled into her shoulders. “And thank you, ma’am!” She exclaimed, Starlight laughing at her trainer’s gumption, “I think we all deserve a big ol’ lunch for this!” Starlight gave a grin and a nod of approval, Tanis mussing her fur again and popping back up to her feet.

“Keep it up, Tanis, and you’ll floor Brycen!” Skyla encouraged, “I’ve got a really good feeling about you...”

 

-----

 

An exciting day over, Tanis found a nice, Poké-friendly restaurant to take her team to. It had been a long time since she treated them to something so nice, so it was high time! With all of the crap they’ve had to put up with, between her own moods and then dealing with Plasma, they all needed some time to cut loose (and not worry about cleaning up). Only outside. On the patio. Because both Rex and Char were big boys that didn’t really fit indoors. Well, comfortably, at least.

Tanis was incredibly amused, too, but the array of people passing by the restaurant’s patio and gawking at her eclectic team - and imposing Aerodactyl. Totally worth it. She was glad that, given the levels of her Pokémon and the amount of badges she had, her salary had increased enough to afford some splurging. Plus her normal winnings from trainer battles. Thank goodness for the Pokémon League and raises for their registered trainers!

Once the rowdy lunch was over, Tanis dropped her team off at the Poké Center for some healing and R&R. While they didn’t need long to heal - the worst off was Rex and he was still as perky as ever - she wanted some time to wander Mistralton City on her own. As much as she loved her Pokémon, a girl needed a bit of alone time to think, and not have to worry about a hyperactive Aerodactyl accidentally knocking over street lights and smashing windows.

Tanis didn’t even realize how late it had gotten, or how long they had been at the restaurant. By now, the sun was beginning to set, casting warm light over the city. Ugh, we really spent too much time there, she grimaced, though she was glad they had some time to do something fun like that. At least she remembered to leave a really nice tip for the staff.

Placing in her hands in the pockets of her pants, Tanis looked up at the lowering sun, painting the fall leaves brilliant shades of orange and yellow. She found herself smiling at the sight, not even really paying attention to where she was wandering. It was a beautiful, calm day, with just enough chill in the air to remind her that it was autumn, but still warm enough to be pleasant.

Made her forget about her troubles, even for a moment.

Rounding a corner, Tanis stopped at a little local shop with a large window, displaying the products they sold. Little knick-knacky things, statues and teacups, pictures and postcards, things like that. She wasn’t the type of person to collect things, but the store did have some cool little items. She bent over to admire some of the teacups, spotting a really fancy one, adorned with little chubby Axew’s on it.

Man, I’d break that thing in two seconds, She thought, glancing down at the price tag and making a sour face at it, sticking her tongue out. Yeah, totally not worth it. Shit’s cute, though, her mind added, rising back up to her feet and turning around. And right into someone.

“Oof!” She grunted, stumbling backwards but managing to catch herself. “Aww, jeez!” She began to apologize, “I’m sorry, I wasn’t paying attention...to...” As she turned around, rubbing the back of her neck, her voice tapered off before totally stopping in her throat when she saw who she ran into. Her eyes instantly widened and her hand dropped down.

“...N...” She whispered breathlessly, her throat clenching.

“You do have a habit of running into me, don’t you?” His soft voice responded with a chuckle. Reaching out, he took one of her hands in his and lifted it up, bowing his head down to press a light, gentle kiss to her knuckles. “Though I was looking for you this time, Tanis.”

No, no no no no NO! Tanis’ mind reeled, looking up at him with a flabbergasted expression. Arceus, why him?! Why now? I was just starting to feel normal again...!! Everything was spinning, her emotions churning and colliding with each other. Frustration, regret, disappointment, nervousness...and her own self consciousness. Even with this simple gesture, N got her all kerfuffled, her heart racing so hard in her chest it threatened to burst out, her face turning a brilliant shade of scarlet.

N’s warm smile faded when she didn’t respond, giving her hand a gentle squeeze. “Tanis?”

Snapping back to reality, Tanis blinked, “...Wha...?? Yeah, yeah! I-I’m...” Her voice trailed off again. N opened his mouth to say something, but this time she cut him off. Jerking her hand from his, she took a few steps back, crossing her arms so he couldn’t sneak in more hand-holding. She took a deep breath.

“What do you want this time?” Tanis tried to sound assertive, but instead it came out as a mutter.

N ignored her question, “Is everything alright, my friend?”

Yes.” Tanis’ voice was more forceful, but she instantly realized her error and hurriedly corrected herself, “I mean, no! No, nothing is alright! Why the hell do you think anything is alright?!” Ire splintered her voice, but her own nerves caused it to crack. Ugh. Still, her previously befuddled expression darkened, managing a small glare at him. “How many goddamn times do I need to tell you this, us, we...we can’t be what you want us to be! You up and walked out of our last conversation, leaving me hanging and not letting me get a bloody word in edgewise! Why the fuck would you think I’m alright?!” She took a step towards him and lifted a hand up, pointing at him. “I don’t want any more of this goddamn bullshit, N! Tell me what the hell you want right now, or I’m walking away!”

To his credit, N didn’t seem phased by her flaring temper, merely looking down at her with a soft expression. “...You,” Came his quiet reply.

Tanis’ face flushed red again, but she took a few deep breaths to calm her racing heart, arching a bushy brow up. “I-I said no more bullshit, N.”

“I’m not, though,” N said honestly, tilting his head to the side, “I came to see you.”

Tanis heart beat even faster, but she tried to ignore it, “S-shut up, y-you said that la-last time!” Ugh, no good. Her voice was beginning to crack. Again.

“That was for a different reason,” N’s voice and expression turned serious, taking a step towards her. Tanis wasn’t able to look away from his grey-blue eyes, her feet glued to the pavement. “Ghetsis wished to test you then, and I thought seeing me and getting some answers would be a nice reward for that.” Yeah, not the ones I wanted though, she thought bitterly, but kept her lips pursed. “This time, it is for a more...” He glanced away from her, briefly fiddling with his Void Cube at his waist with one hand, “...More personal reason, I suppose.”

Tanis blinked slowly, unsure of what he could possibly mean by that. Recruiting her again? Fat chance! It seemed the most likely, but he should know by now that she wasn’t going to be a pawn, either his or anyone else. What did he want now? What was so personal to seek her out?

“Please, come with me,” N pulled her from her thoughts, offering his hand to her. She looked at it, then him skeptically. “I promise I’m not leading you anywhere heinous. Just someplace a touch more...privet.” He glanced over his shoulder, indicating the other people mulling about the street. Tanis hesitated, looking back down at the hand offered to her. The soft palm, the long, elegant fingers...Arceus, why was she thinking that?!

“Please, Tanis.”

Tanis jerked her head back up to him again, meeting his careful gaze. Sighing, she hung her head and reached for his hand. God, she was turning into such a sap! Why did he make her feel like this? How annoying...

Smiling, N gently laced his fingers with hers, turning to face the same direction as she was. Tanis felt her heart skip a beat, feeling the soft warmth of his palm against hers. She blushed again and looked down, matching his strides so they walked together down the road. She just numbly followed his lead, her heart thudding so loudly in her ears she didn’t even hear anything he was saying. And she was pretty sure he was talking to her. Nothing important, she assumed, because he didn’t look at her or ask for her thoughts.

Or maybe it was just her own racing mind she was listening to, because N wasn't saying anything. He was as still and as silent as she was, probably listening to his own racing thoughts. Was he...?

Damnit, why am I acting like some silly school girl from those stupid games Bianca plays? Tanis mentally kicked herself, her jaw clenching. But, as they walked along, Tanis could feel herself relax, even though she still wasn’t exactly sure what N wanted. Or why she was going with him. Despite herself, she trusted him. If he said it wasn’t anything sketchy, then he wasn’t going to do anything sketchy. Maybe. Hopefully.

Lifting her head up, she noticed they were walking towards the edge of town. Raising a brow, she looked up at him. “N?”

“Hmm?” He looked back down at her.

“Where are you taking us?” She asked honestly, feeling kind of nervous if they were going to leave.

“Just outside of town,” N confirmed, looking ahead again. “We should be able to speak there without too many curious onlookers.”

Immediately, Tanis planted her feet. N was jerked back, turning to face her with a startled expression, “N, we can’t leave the city!” She hissed, glancing beyond him towards the forest beyond, “I-I don’t have my Pokémon right now! I can’t--”

“We’ll be fine,” N assured, giving her hand a gentle squeeze. “I can ensure no wild Pokémon attack us, and we won’t be too far out where you can’t return without harm.” Tanis pursed her lips together and furrowed her brows, but knew arguing with him wouldn’t amount to anything. He might just leave again, like last time, because she said something that upset him. Not that it should have, she was just talking the truth before.

“Fine.” She admitted defeat, N smiled down at her, squeezing her hand again. He turned about and continued to walk, and she did a small jog to catch up to him, once again falling in pace beside him.

It didn’t take long for the pair to reach the treeline, N gently guiding Tanis off the worn path along the route and into a small clearing. They were still close enough to the city to occasionally hear the noises, but far enough out where no one would really interrupt them. Once they were fully in the clearing, N released her hand and turned to her, reaching out and lightly touching her cheek with his smooth finger tips. She felt her cheeks begin to burn from the gesture, looking up to meet his gaze.

“I spoke the truth earlier, Tanis.” N began, holding her gaze steadily with hers. His own was unwavering and gentle, displaying a warmth and kindness in his grey-blue eyes she had become accustomed to. “I came to see you. Not to recruit you, not to sway you. Just...” He looked away for a moment, trying to find words.

“N?” Tanis asked after a few moments. She unconsciously reached for his other hand and took it in hers. It felt...right.

“I feel the time is right, my dear.” He said after a few moments of silence, returning his gaze towards hers. He ran his his fingers softly running along her cheek to tuck some of her bangs behind her ear. Tanis felt her heart skip in her chest with the terminology. Why did he keep calling her ‘dear’ anyway? “You’ve become a remarkable, compassionate trainer. One in a thousand - no, a million. I truly believe there is no one else like you, Tanis.”

She gave a small snort, trying to ignore her thudding heart, “H-hah, I’d be scared if there was more then one of me,” She muttered, lowering her gaze. N touched her chin and lifted her head, her eyes moving back to his. He looked down at her with a serious expression, though his eyes were soft, full of adoration towards her. Tanis’ own widened, her ears and cheeks turning red again.

Wow, how come I haven’t never noticed how gorgeous he is...? Instead of kicking herself for the thought, Tanis found herself drawn into his eyes, finding herself unable to think negatively. At all.

N chuckled, “No one could replace you,” He continued, though his expression turned serious again. He raised his other hand up, resting it against her opposite cheek, gently cradling her head in his hands. “That was made abundantly clear to me when the Eevee we found rejected the notion of returning to her parents, all to stay with you.” Tanis blinked slowly when he said this, and was about to comment when he leaned forward, resting his forehead against hers. “The fact that her love and devotion towards you caused her to evolve - and that you wanted to do what you could to protect her parents...I never thought I would see that from a trainer to their Pokémon.” He sighed, his eyes closing. “Thank you, Tanis.”

“I, uh...” Tanis stood there, her eyes wide and her face so flushed, she could feel it spreading outwards towards her ears and neck. N was so close to her...he could feel his breath on her lips, his mouth barely an inch away from hers. It was such a close, such an intimate gesture...sure, she had kissed before, but this closeness, even without their lips touching...it wasn’t anything like she had felt before. Even though her heart was racing, being so close to him that she could take in his scent, it oddly calmed her. Taking in a low, deep breath, Tanis sighed it out and closed her eyes.

“N...you saw that...?” She whispered, her arms moving on their own to wrap around his back, pulling herself closer to him.

“Mm,” Came a contented response from him, “I was the one that released them.”

Tanis’ eyes flew open again, leaning back slightly from him, “Tha...that was you?!” She exclaimed, her eyes going wide. Unconsciously, her fingers gripped at the fabric of his jacket. “You were the one that...saved them from...?” Her voice trailed of, down casting her eyes again. Why would he save Pokémon his own team had captured? Just for her...?

“Yes,” N confirmed, his eyes opening up halfway to look down at her, “When Eevee informed me that my team had stolen her parents from the wild - I was angry. Our goal is to protect Pokémon from enslavement, not encourage it.” His voice turned bitter, his brows furrowing, “When I finally found them, and confirmed they were her parents, those who had taken them had evolved the pair - against their will. It was only best that I return them to their daughter, and severely punish those who wronged them.”

“W-wow...” Tanis was shocked. Did that mean N was realizing his precious Plasma wasn’t all that cracked up as it was in his own little world?

N returned his gaze to her, his expression softening again. “I had expected her to return with them to the wild, but...” He lowered one hand to the small of her back, gently pulling Tanis back towards him, “...While it wasn’t the outcome I expected, I am glad for it. I could feel her abounding love towards you, Tanis.” His eyes fell half closed, the hand on her cheek gently stroking it with his thumb. “And I can see why she feels that way.”

Tanis didn’t even get a chance to react. Once he finished his sentence, N closed the distance between them, leaning down over her and, with the gentlest touch, brought his lips to hers.

Everything just...stopped.

Tanis sucked in a sharp breath of air, and her lungs suddenly quit working after that. Her heart stopped it’s rapid thudding, her body went stiff and her eyes widened. That blush that was fused to her face began to rapidly spread, crossing down over her neck and down towards her chest and shoulders. The wind stopped gently rustling the autumn leaves, the world stopped spinning, the moment just went on and on, lasting for a thousand years in a single second.

N was kissing her.

Oh my god, this...this isn’t real, is it?!

Tanis’ mind began to race, so did her heart. The breath she had pulled in was released in a slow groan. Those wide eyes fell heavy lidded, staring up at the young man in front of her. Her stiff, heavy arms became lax, and she tightened her hold on him. Everything that lead up to this didn’t really matter, not anymore. Her worries about Plasma, the fact they were enemies - it all vanished in that instant. Rising up on her toes, Tanis leaned up towards N and returned the tender, gentle kiss, taking in another breath and releasing it as a sigh.

No one ever made her feel so elated when they kissed her before. What was this...?

The few seconds they stood there returned to normal time and, slowly, N pulled away from her. He kept his forehead against hers, gently stroking her cheek with his thumb again.

“Will you be my Queen?”

“Mm...wha...?” Tanis mumbled, still floating in an euphoric state from the kiss. She didn’t really hear N’s question, barely registering that he spoke at all.

N’s thumb stroked her cheek. “Will you be my Queen, Tanis?” He asked again, his fast voice barely above a whisper.

Tanis’ half-closed, heavy lidded eyes slowly blinked. “...H-huh...?” She muttered, the words that he said taking a few moments to actually sink in. N looked down at her with gentle eyes, almost expectantly, still gently stroking her cheek, his other arm wrapped around her waist. Another blink of her pink eyes, then another. “...Wha...what...?” Realization began to come to her, her eyes widening.

And, like that, everything shattered.

Every single drop of blood in her body came rushing up to her face, dying it a deep shade of scarlet. The blush spread across her ears, down her neck and shoulders, moving further down her chest. Every beat of her heart thudded so loudly that she could have sworn people in the next town over could hear it. Her arms, legs, fingers lost all sense and began to tremble. The realization of what N had said to her struck her in the face like a sack of bricks, and she physically reeled from the unseen blow.

Tanis’ knees buckled. N let out a startled gasp and quickly wrapped his other arm around her shoulders, drawing her close and holding her steady. His long arms were surprisingly strong, able to support her stockier form against him.

“Tanis!” He exclaimed, looking down at her with a worried expression. “Oh, no! Please, let’s go sit down.” He escorted her weakened form towards a fallen long, easing her down to it. He quickly sat down beside her, wrapping a supportive arm around her shaking shoulders and holding her to him. She flinched at his touch.

Th...this...th-this can’t be real... Her mind panicked, unable to really see or feel much of anything right now, except for her nerves. Even her breathing was rapid and ragged, feeling like she couldn’t catch a breath. Di-did...did he just...? D-did he really...?

Everything was crashing down around her. Tanis couldn’t believe what had just happened! N, up out of nowhere, just...he just...ugh! She couldn’t even think it! The word wouldn’t come to her, she was just too embarrassed. They weren’t even, like, together. Were they? Shit.

If that kiss was any suggestion, they were. Goddamnit.

Does he even have any idea what he just asked me?! Tanis thought frantically, stealing a nervous glance up at his concerned face.

“Please, my dear, are you alright...?” N squeezed her shoulders gently, looking far more worried for her, then an answer to his question.

Tanis felt her panic overcome her again, “I--I-I’m...I-I’m no-not...No!!” She exclaimed, her usually deep voice rising several octaves. She gave a squeak instead of a groan, and blushed deeper from how messed up she sounded. But, she found herself unable to look away from N. “N-...n-no, I’m not alright!!” Her voice squeaked again, talking almost as fast as he did.

“Tanis, please, tell me what’s wrong.” N’s brows furrowed in concern, squeezing her shoulders again. He didn’t seem to off-put by her squeaky voice.

Tanis swallowed hard, trying to speak more normally. “Y-you...y-yo-you j-just...just pro...pro-p-pro-- prop...propo--” Ugh! She couldn’t even say it out loud!!

“Proposed?” N finished for her, Tanis rapidly nodding her head. “Yes, I did.”

Tanis’ throat closed. Her hands coiled so tightly around the back of the log they were on, that it began to splinter in her palms. She didn’t even notice the pain. The world was spinning around her, and she wasn’t sure if her heart was beating so fast it was going to explode from her, or if it stopped entirely.

Swallowing the ever-growing lump in her throat, she lowered her head, but kept her gaze on him. “Yo--yo-you...k-know th-that...um, means w-we’ll, err...we-we’ll b-be...mar-- m-m-mar-ma-marr--”

“Married?” Another rapid nod. N smiled fondly down at her, lightly stroking her upper arm with his hand. “Yes, I know.” What little blush that has receded from Tanis’ face quickly returned, deep red spreading all the way down to her shoulders again. Her heart leaped up into her mouth, pounding so loudly she thought she was having a heart attack. She was on the verge of hyperventilating, she was so embarrassed.

Taking a few deep breaths in an attempt to calm herself, Tanis looked away from im. “A-an...a-and y-you...uh...” She swallowed hard again, thought it still felt like her heart was in her throat. “U-um...y-you...y-yo-you rea-really...um, wa-want to...?”

Another heart-melting smile. “I did say I wanted you with me, didn’t I?” Well, that was true, but-- “We will rise up as heroes, Tanis. Together. And I want you to me with me, so we can save Pokémon.” N took one of her hands in his free hand, lacing his fingers through hers. “This is what I’ve wanted since our Ferris Wheel ride, my dear.” He paused, gaining a more serious expression, “Though my reasons have become far more personal since then.”

Tanis was pretty sure the blush was spreading down her arms. She jerked her head up and store at N with a bewildered expression, not even sure if she believed this was really happening. Her eyes were so wide they were practically bugging out of her face. He..he really did want this, didn’t he? His words, his voice were so sincere...and his expression was warm and full of adoration. Was it just because she was the other Hero (so he claimed), or was it because...?

Feeling herself shrink down, Tanis quickly looked away and tried to ignore her heart. It was too loud to, but she could try. “B-but...but we-we’re--” Enemies, her mind thought bitterly. “We-- we’re not e-even to-together...?” She said instead, the phrase coming out more like a question then a statement. Shit, she didn’t even know what they were.

“We’re together right now, aren’t we?” N suggested, squeezing her hand softly.

“T-that’s not--” Tanis started, jerking to look back up at him and pursing her lips together in indignation. She shook her head rapidly. “I-I mean, we...we barely know ea-each other! We-- w-we can’t seriously be ta-talking about marr-- g-getting hitched, are we?” She felt like she was bargaining with the devil right now, looking up at N pathetically for an answer. Any answer.

“Sure we do,” N smiled at her, “Like, I know your favorite color is maroon, for example.”

“Lucky guess!” She snapped, looking down at the maroon sweater she wore. “I-I bet you can’t name my favorite food.”

“Belgium waffles, especially with strawberries and whipped cream.” N replied, not even missing a beat. “I also know your favorite season is early-fall, your least favorite is winter. Your favorite band is the Steelix’s, and you can’t sleep without a stuffed Dratini plushie.” As he listed these off, Tanis’ mouth closed and her jaw became increasingly taught. How the hell did he know all of that? Especially the Dratini!

As if reading her mind, N continued, “I wanted to know everything about you, Tanis,” He explained, “So I had the Shadow Triad do some research, and--”

“You had me stalked?!” Tanis suddenly shouted, her voice dropping back down to it’s usual level. Her anger was beginning to force it’s way through her embarrassment. N was taken aback by her sudden outburst.

“No, I--”

“N, that’s not how this goddamn works!!” Tanis didn’t let him continue, the fire beginning to burn in her eyes. “When people are together - either romantically or not! - they take time to fuckin’ learn each other!” She glared up at him, her arms now shaking for another reason. “Not have some creepy-ass ninja’s stalk the other person! Especially if it’s a damn girl you happen to really like!! That’s just creepy and wrong! Shit!

N looked hurt by her outburst, but she didn’t care. She was too upset to notice. “I-I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you, my dear.” His hand squeezed hers, and she realized that he was holding it. Jerking her hand away, she huffed angrily and crossed her arms, turning away from him. “I just wished to know all I could about you. And you can ask me anything you want to know about myself in return.”

Tanis tapped her fingers on her arms angrily, glaring up at the sunset. “It’s not the same.” She grumbled.

“It isn’t?” N asked innocently, tilting his head to the side.

“You...y-you have no idea how this works, do you?” Tanis muttered, glancing up at him out of the corners of her eyes. “You can’t just up and ask a girl to marr--” She swallowed hard, her face turning red again and she looked back down at the grass. “M-ma-marry y-you,” She whispered, shaking her head, “When all we do is argue in circles! Not to mention stalking her, not listening to her and just up and walking off when something is upsetting!” Her voice rose again, and she looked back up at him, “N, you need to realize when I tell you we’re enemies, I mean we are.”

N’s gaze softened. He leaned down and lightly kissed the crown of her hair. “We don’t have to be.” His voice was a gentle whisper. She flinched away from his touch.

Tanis gave an exasperated sigh. “But we are.” She felt her heart almost break when she said this, her face turning red. “Why don’t you understand that?”

“But I care about you, Tanis.” N’s voice was quiet, but still quick. “I want you with me. Don’t you want the same?”

Tanis’ flushed again, her heart fluttering in her chest. “...I...” Her voice lowered, looking away from him. I do, came her quiet thought, though she didn’t dare to say it out loud. Heaving a heavy sigh, she shook her head. “J-just because we want something, doesn’t mean we get it.”

“Tanis...”

“No matter how much either of us want...this.” Tanis wasn’t sure how else to put it. Them. Whatever. “It can’t happen. Not until one of us gives up, and neither of us will. That’s why we’re enemies, N.”

N’s brows furrowed. “I know you’ll see things the way I do, Tanis! Just a bit longer until--”

“You’re not getting it.” Tanis cut him off, still looking down at the grass. N stopped talking, his body tensing up against her. “N, there’s no way I will ever feel how you do about people and Pokémon.” Although she wasn’t shouting, her voice was firm and strong. She slowly lifted her head up and looked into his blue-grey eyes. He pursed his lips. “We--we’re like fire and water,” She continued, trying to find a way to explain it in a way that he’d finally understand. “A...Charizard and ah, um...Magikarp.”

Not the best analogy, but it would do. N lowered his hand from her shoulder, his face becoming hard and unreadable. Tanis swallowed hard before moving on.

“Do you see what I mean?” She asked quietly. “One is a, well...ya’know, a fish. Who needs to live in the sea, while the other is a fire-type who belongs in the sky.” Saying this made her heart ache, but she knew it was true. They couldn’t...they didn’t belong together. Heaving another sigh, she looked away from him, her arms shaking again. “So we can’t be together, N. No matter how much you--we may want it.”

An awkward silence passed. Tanis felt her heart clenching, her entire body wound up tight. So much so that it was to the point of breaking. Maybe it already was, she wasn’t sure. For some reason, she never felt so fragile as she did right now. Like a gust of wind could shatter her completely...

N had more-or-less confirmed he wanted a deeper, more romantic relationship from her. And Tanis had to admit to herself...she wanted it, too. But wanting wasn’t enough, not for them. N was wrong in his ideals, and too blind to see how misguided he was. As much as she tried to convince him otherwise, he remained ignorant of how badly this would hurt everyone involved - both people and Pokémon. She doubted anything would change, for either of them.

And enemies shouldn’t fall in love.

Love... The word echoed in her head, her brows knitting together. Tanis caught her lower lip with her teeth, chewing on it. Is...is that what he really feels? She glanced up at N out of the corners of her eyes. Is that what I feel...?

She didn’t want to think about it.

“That...may be true,” N’s voice broke the silence. He rose to his feet, turning to face Tanis. “But you’re forgetting - Magikarp evolve. They become Gyrados, so they can fly up to join the Charizard in the sky.”

“N--” Tanis was about to argue, but her voice halted when N leaned down towards her and gently kissed her forehead. The blush that finally left quickly returned. Damnit!

“And I will wait as long as it takes.” His voice was a breathy whisper against her skin, his lips brushing against her forehead. Tanis drew in a slow, shaken breath, watching N rise back up. His face was cold and unreadable. “Because, no matter what, I will keep fighting for the future I saw with us, Tanis.”

N still didn’t get it. As much as she didn’t want to admit it, her feelings towards N were deep...and romantic. But, there was no way Tanis would ever change for him - or anyone, for that matter - no matter how much she wanted it. Him. She wouldn’t give up either, despite the future she wanted with him. Even if it was different from is own vision.

Realizing that she wanted a future with him, Tanis’ conviction grew within her.

With another deep breath, she rose to her feet and met N’s cool gaze. “And I’ll keep fighting for a world where we can both exist.” Despite her racing heart and overwhelming nerves, her voice was even and determined. Her gaze softened. “Together.”

N’s brows rose, “Tanis--”

“Goodbye, N.”

Tanis flashed him a small, heart-wrenching smile. She turned on her heel and began to walk back towards Mistralton City, slowly coiling her shaking hands into tight fists. Even if he called after her, she ignored his words.

I won’t give up, N. Her mind rang with a solid determination, despite how much it felt like her heart was breaking. Not until I can save you.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 15: Discoveries

“I thought you said she was ready.”

Ghetsis stood in N’s study, trying so hard not to snap at the boy. His voice managed to come out as a slow, drawn-out hiss, though N didn’t seem to notice or react to it.

The boy-king gave a deep, melancholy sigh. “I thought she was.” He admitted, his face in his hands. “Everything was going according to plan, but...”

Ghetsis sneered. “But she rejected your proposal.”

N flinched in remembrance. “Yes.”

“Stubborn...” The High Sage muttered to himself, rubbing his temples. As if things weren’t already difficult... “It appears as if she will not give up her own truths. You’ve already spent a considerably amount of time to sway her, but to no avail. No amount of time or convincing will work.”

“It has to!” N jerked his head up, glaring at his father. “The future I see with us, side-by-side, still exists!

Ghetsis scoffed. “Then tell me, how do you plan to sway Tanis?” His voice came out cool and menacing, dripping with his trademark poison. He narrowed his red eyes down at the foolish boy, folding his arms under his cloak. “What you have been trying has not worked.”

“Earn her trust! Make her see my ideal--”

“We do not have enough time to!!” Ghetsis roared, his voice echoing across the otherwise quiet study. N visibly flinched, shrinking back down into his chair. “Words will not sway her. Actions have not moved her! Despite all of your continued efforts, Tanis remains grounded! Whatever you have planned is simply not working, N.”

N’s hands gripped firmly at the edge of the desk, matching Ghetsis’ glare. “What would you have me do?” He demanded, his tone cold but not loud. “I won’t have her forced against her will. I won’t have her broken!”

“Then you best give her up.” Ghetsis’ voice turned into a growl, his soul-piercing eyes boring into the stupid, stubborn child. “Because she will never stand with you, N, if you do not break her!”

N pursed his lips together and looked down at the scattered papers on his desk. The fool was impossible to read - Ghetsis had no idea what was going on in his head. Although the Sage wanted the other Dragon, Resiram, in Plasma’s grasp, it was turning into a virtually impossible venture. Tanis wasn’t as easily molded as he hoped she would be, remaining stubborn and was standing her ground. It was painfully clear she wouldn’t be giving in any time soon. If he had his way, he’d kidnap her, break her, and re-shape her into a form fitting for his own goals. For Plasma’s goals.

But N would never agree to it.

Ghetsis still needed N. He couldn’t have him defect, not now. Not when they were so close! Thankfully, N was far easier to mold into the shape he wanted, easily making N the hero Zekrom would approve of. But Tanis...she was another story. Despite how much he wanted to just shatter her completely to get Reshiram, N was absolutely infatuated with her. There was no arguing with him about that idiotic girl.

And with that damnable fire that burned in her, it only made matters more difficult--

Wait. Wait. That was it!

A slow grin twisted it’s way across Ghetsis’ face. “But, there may be another way...”

Slowly, N looked up from his hands, where he had replaced his face again. “...What is it...?” He asked meekly, looking downright awful at the prospect he might have to either give up Tanis, or break her completely.

“We need something to spark her fire,” Ghetsis continued, raising a hand to stroke his chin thoughtfully. “She will stop at nothing to halt our plans.” The grin on his face twisted further, “Perhaps it is time to seek out Zekrom in earnest.”

N’s eyes widened, letting out an audible gasp. “Really?” He gaped, “But father, I thought you said I wasn’t ready yet.”

Ghetsis approached his foolish son and placed a heavy hand on his shoulder. “You are ready, my son.” In truth, he wasn’t entirely sure N’s ideals were strong enough, but thoughts for another time. “By seeking out the Black Dragon of Ideals, Tanis will surely seek you out with more fervor.” His gaze became serious, “And once you awaken Zekrom and it becomes bound to you, I have no doubt she will realize her own part in it - as the Hero of Truth. Upon this realization, she will either realize it is hopeless to fight against you--” Primarily because no one knew where the Light Stone containing Reshiram was, but he didn’t mention it, “--Or seek out Reshiram with increased vigor so she may match you. Either way, she will come to face her destiny and accept the truth.

N’s eyes widened. “Y-you’re right...!” He gasped, his face instantly lighting up. “Thank you, father!”

“Of course.” Ghetsis said with a misleading smile, “Now, we will need to narrow down the location of the Dark Stone,” He explained, “And once we find it, we will need to find a way to inform Tanis of your plans, so that she may be present for the awakening.”

N gave a confident nod of his head.

“Just leave it to me.”

 

------

 

This sucked.

After returning back to Mistraltron City, Tanis had dragged herself back to the Poké Center and picked up her team. But, she kept them inside of their Pokéballs and trudged into her room. She couldn’t deal with them right now. Char’d just get mad if he found out what had happened, and she had a feeling they all had a vague idea of what was going on. With her, Plasma, and N. They’d be none the wiser whenever she settled her emotions. Hopefully.

Once the door was closed and she was away from prying eyes, Tanis slid down the back of the door and landed on the floor. She drew her knees to her chest and buried her face in them, overwrought with emotions. No tears slid from her eyes, no part of her was shaking, even her heart wasn’t thudding as loudly as it was. In that moment, that silent moment, she realized how she felt.

Tanis was in love with N.

This fact made everything so much more complicated.

There was no way it could work, and this cased her heart to break. With her face in her knees, she let out a choked sob and hugged her legs, feeling her arms tremble and her heart begin to stir again. But what could two enemies in love do? Almost every story along these lines ended in tragedy. In a thousand years, she never wanted this. Could never want this. Why did it have to be him? Why couldn’t it have been anyone else?

Nothing would change. Not unless one of them changed for the other. Neither of them would, so this “romance” was doomed to fail before it even began.

Tanis didn’t know what to do. She wanted to see him, wanted to be with him, wanted to save him. Wouldn’t stop fighting until she could save him, or to somehow find a way to stop him and his plans. But, she didn’t know how. Especially with how deep her emotions ran for N. And he was just as stubborn as she was.

There was no one she could turn to. Bianca would just encourage their “liaison,” despite it heading in a direct course for disaster. Cheren wouldn’t understand, and just tell her to give up. And Tanis couldn’t say anything to the Dragon Clan. Knowing she was so deeply involved in N, and he with her, they’d likely ship her far away from everything. Someplace where Plasma couldn’t reach her. Thus, she also couldn’t talk to her own mother. Despite Nina no longer being in the clan, she still had ties and it would result in the same thing. Tanis couldn’t let that happen.

And her Pokémon wouldn’t get it, either.

So, after a sleepless night, she left. Took her bag and Pokémon and walked out of Mistralton City without any goal or focus in mind. Just...wandering. Listlessly, she weaved through the trees that surrounded Route 7, avoiding the gaze of anyone who might be a trainer, and the patches of grass Pokémon might be hiding in. She couldn’t deal with it now.

While she walked, Tanis’ mind went blank, feeling completely numb, right down to her core. Nothing really mattered right now, not when the one thing that did was forever out of her grasp. It was nice, actually. Considering how heart-wrenching and broken she felt last night, her thoughts running a mile a minute and keeping her awake. The quiet was a good change. Maybe it was because of her walk, maybe it was the gloomy, over-cast weather; or because she was just too tired to care. Tanis wasn’t sure.

After a few minutes - hours? - of walking, Tanis stumbled upon a campsite in a small clearing, far off the beaten path. She stopped in her tracks, looking up and noticing a woman tending a small fire, an Arcanine curled up around her.

“Oh, uh...” Came Tanis’ hoarse voice. She didn’t even notice how dry and scratchy her throat was until then.

The woman looked up, matching Tanis’ startled expression, “Oh, my!” She exclaimed, her voice thick with a weird accent - sounded like a combo of Kanto and Johto. The woman popped up to her feet, dusting her comfortable-looking skirt off.

She was...really tall. A good head taller then Tanis, actually; probably close or at 6 feet. Willowy and slender, the woman was very pretty, her thick auburn hair was held back by a simple headband, with her long, slightly wavy tresses falling down to her knees. She had pretty green-blue eyes. She looked to be in her late-20’s or early 30's, if Tanis had to guess.

The Arcanine gave a defensive growl in Tanis’ direction, narrowing it’s black eyes at her. The woman sighed and looked down at it, “I don’t think she’s here to cause us any trouble,” She informed the Pokémon, who continued to glare at Tanis. But, it backed down and the woman turned back to her and smiled uneasily. “Sorry for him, he’s a bit over-protective.”

“N-no problem” Tanis muttered, her voice still gravely. “Err, s-sorry if I’m, uh, interrupting or anything.”

“Not at all!” The woman assured, her voice gentle and sweet. “I was just getting ready to make some lunch. I wouldn’t mind some company.” The Arcanine gave a huff of protest, and she turned to it. “Some human company, Flame. I don’t get that very often.” The Arcanine snorted and curled back up at the fire, but kept staring at Tanis. The woman flushed gently and laughed awkwardly.

“Sorry, I hope he doesn’t offend you. He’s not used to strangers.”

Tanis managed a weak, half-assed grin. “Nah. My Charizard’s the same.” She pat his Pokéball, feeling a bit guilty that they weren’t out right now. But, she couldn’t deal with them right now.

The woman chuckled. “Fire types, right?” She gestured for Tanis to come into the camp. “You’re welcome to share lunch, once it’s done.” Tanis gave a slow nod, though she wasn’t hungry. Hadn’t been since the big lunch she ate yesterday, honestly. She began to walk towards the woman’s little camp. “What brings you out here?” Tanis stopped in mid stride, pursing her lips together.

“...Uh...” She mumbled, feeling herself blush. Damnit. “I, err...i-it’s...complicated...” She kicked some leaves up from the ground, watching them scatter about her.

“I see.” The woman said, her voice soft and understanding. But, she didn’t press further and began to rummage around one of her packs. “Well, I wouldn’t mind someone else to talk to, if you want to take your mind off of things for a bit.”

Tanis cast another weak grin. “Thanks.” She was glad the woman wasn’t pressing the issue, and walked over to the fire and plopped down on the leaf-covered ground. She wasn’t sure why she was doing this, honestly, but there was something so...warm and comforting about the older woman. And having someone who didn’t know Tanis or about Plasma would be nice. A neutral party she could just talk to. “Oh, uh...I’m Tanis. What’s your name?”

The woman sat down too, placing a large wok over the fire and adding some oil to it. At Tanis’ question, she flashed an awkward smile, “Oh, I...I’m Anna.” She said with a bit of hesitation. Tanis raised an eyebrow at the odd response, but didn’t say anything. “Nice to meet you, Tanis.”

“Yeah, likewise.” Well, if Anne wasn’t going to pry, neither would she.

Pulling her knees to her chest, Tanis silently watched Anna cook. The older woman had placed strips of vegetables and some kind of meat - was it pork? - into the sizzling wok. She elegantly began to toss the food to and fro in the large pot, seasoning gingerly as she went. It was almost like watching a dance, really. And it smelled really good...

Tanis’ stomach gave a loud growl. It was the first time since yesterday she even thought about food, let alone feel hungry. Maybe eating would help her, even a bit.

In the midst of her cooking, Anna looked up. “So, you’re a trainer?” She asked, gesturing her head towards the Pokéballs at Tanis’ waist.

Tanis nodded. “Yeah.”

“You must be quiet talented,” Anne continued, stirring in some sauce from a bottle, “If you have a loyal Charizard.”

Tanis managed a sidelong grin, “Hah, yeah, well...I kind of cheated,” She mumbled, rubbing the back of her neck. “Raised the big guy from an egg and all.”

“True enough, but even then a lot of trainers still have difficulty,” Anne laughed, tossing the stir fry a few more times. “Don’t sell yourself short, okay? I’m sure you’re great.” She flashed another pleasant smile, causing Tanis to flush. She wasn’t used to praise...

With the stir fry done, Anna fished out some plates and silverware from a container. She served Tanis a plate full of the steamy stir fry, passing it over to her. Tanis’ stomach gave another rumble, and she inhaled the delicious aroma. Shit, she didn’t even realize how hungry she was until right now. Stabbing her fork into some of the fry, she began to dig into it. Wow, it was good...like, really good. Especially for being cooked over a camp fire and likely being processed food!

“Wow...dish ish rwilly goosh!” Tanis exclaimed with a mouth full of food, taking another bite before she fully swallowed her first one. Anna didn’t seem offended by the poor table manners, chuckling at the slurred words. Flame was less then impressed, rolling his eyes and huffing, resting his head against his paws and closing his eyes.

“Thank you.” Anne smiled, starting on her own plate.

Swallowing her mouthful of food, Tanis continued, “Man, I wish I could cook half as good as you!” Anne laughed awkwardly, her cheeks turning red.

“A-ah, well...my father is an excellent cook, and I learned so much from him,” She said sheepishly, twirling her fork around some of the vegetables. “And he was always busy with work, so I also learned out of necessity.” Tanis shoveled another spoonful or three into her mouth while Anne talked. “Plus, my husband is a disaster in the kitchen, so it’s good that I know how to.”

Tanis swallowed her food, “Wow, neat.” She cracked another sidelong grin, feeling a bit more chipper. She wasn’t sure if it was the food or the company. Maybe both. “So, uh, is your husband with you?”

Anne shook her head, “No, not right now,” She sighed, looking down at her plate. “He’s very busy with his work, too, and travels a lot. My own work has kept me away from home for years now, actually.” She looked a little sad and forlorn about it, but managed a wry smile though, “I just hope he hasn’t burned the house down or anything since I’ve been gone.”

“Hah, that would be me if I was left to my own devices,” Tanis chuckled, “My team and I have to eat out. About all I can manage is instant meals.” She ran her hand through her bangs, “Shit, I even manage to burn that stuff, too!” Anna laughed, though it wasn’t vindictive or anything. Plus, it was quite true. Tanis didn’t trust herself to boil water, let alone cook.

“Maybe you could take a cooking class sometime?” Anna suggested between her chuckles.

Tanis shrugged, “Eh, maybe. But I just don’t think it’s for me, eh?” She gobbled up some more food before continuing, “But, seriously! If you can do this with camping shit...I bet you could be some kinda famous chef!”

Anna blushed and gave a nervous chuckle, “It’s, ah, true I suppose...I do enjoy cooking and I’m good at it. But...” She turned and patted Flame on the shoulder, the Arcanine lifting his head briefly to nuzzle her hand, before relaxing back down. “But I love Pokémon and my job too much. Plus, I love to wander,” She looked back at Tanis, “Staying in one spot isn’t much for me, ya’know?”

“Heh, I know exactly how you feel,” Tanis found herself smiling, glad to have found a kindred spirit in the older woman. “So, are you an trainer, too?”

“Mmm,” Anne shook her head, swallowing the food in her mouth before talking, “While I do train and have a license, it’s only because I have to out here.” She tilted her head to one side, “I’m actually a Pokémon field researcher.”

Tanis gulped down some more food, “Really?” Anne nodded. “That’s cool! What are you researching out here?”

“Oh! Ah...” Anne hesitated again, her cheeks turning red and her gaze turning off to the side, “I-I heard there’s a very, uh...” She poked at her plate, “A v-very rare Pokémon around here.”

Tanis raised a brow. Wow, and she thought she was bad at lying. It was pretty clear Anna wasn’t being totally honest. But, whatever Anna was doing out here had to be important, or something. So, she didn’t press the issue. She merely shrugged and began to clean off the last bits of the stir fry from her plate.

“If you don’t mind me asking,” Anna changed the subject, clearly feeling uncomfortable with what she was doing out here, “What are you doing out here? It’s a bit off the beaten path...and you don’t look especially keen to fight.”

Tanis dropped the fork on her plate. She store blankly at it, reminded, painfully, of why she was here. For a moment, she was able to forget her woes with Anna, but they wouldn’t stay gone forever. She took in a deep breath and held it for a moment, before letting it out in a low, shaken sigh.

Anna furrowed her brows. “Oh, I’m...I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean--”

“It...it’s fine,” Tanis mumbled, even though it really wasn’t. She looked back up at the older woman, forcing a grin. “I...could probably stand someone to talk to...” Someone impartial. Someone who wouldn’t judge her for this, someone who might be able to give her some advice. She didn’t know how, but even talking about it might lift a huge weight from her. She didn’t need to do this alone. She couldn’t, really.

Anna set her plate down, turning her focus towards Tanis. “If you think talking will help, I’m a very good listener.”

“Thanks.” Tanis gave a grimace, rubbing the back of her neck again. “We-well, um...” Shit. How could she even begin? “There--the-there’s this guy...” She swallowed hard, feeling her heart in her throat and her cheeks turn red, “T-that’s this dumb, s-stupid, stubborn boy...who...who is so kind and goddamn gentle and amazing...” She found herself bitterly smiling at this, how she tried to just focus on N’s faults, but found it difficult to. “He's got this...smile, that goes on for days and just warms me up, and he's gorgeous and he's never once said a damn bad thing to me, and-- shit, I can't say anything bad about him...” It was almost like she was trying to hate him, but couldn’t. Damn...

“I see,” Came Anne’s gentle voice, “You really care for him, don’t you?”

Tanis blushed deeply and nodded. “Y-yeah.” She looked down at her plate again, “...Against my better judgment...” She mumbled, more to herself then Anna. Her hands gripped tightly at the plate in her hands, her arms beginning to tremble slightly, becoming overwrought with emotions once again. She set her jaw in an effort not to break down in front of a stranger. Anna remained silent, waiting for Tanis to continue on her own time. It was nice, actually. It gave Tanis time to figure out how to word it.

What should she say? She doubted blurting out that she was in love with the King of Team Plasma was a good idea. Or that he basically proposed to her. And that he wouldn’t stop until she belonged to him, even though she didn’t belong to anyone. Or that the Team wouldn’t leave her alone, or that she and N could never coexist--her heart clenched at the thought, and she let loose a shaky sigh and squeezed her eyes closed.

Tanis took in a shaky breath. “T-th-this, um, guy,” She fumbled with the plate in her hands. “He’s--h-he’s in Team Plasma.” Well, it wasn’t a lie per-say, she just didn’t elaborate as to who he was in Plasma.

Anna’s face softened into one of pity. Tanis looked away. “I’m so sorry, Tanis.” She apologized quietly. Tanis hated that voice and the look in the other woman’s eyes, flinching.

“Don’t.” She said firmly, lifting her eyes to stare straight at Anne, “I don’t need pity.” Anna nodded and lowered her gaze, beginning to gather the dirty dishes together. When the plate was pulled from her hands, Tanis wrapped her arms around her knees and buried her face in them, heaving another weary sigh.

The pair remained silent for a while, Anne sitting back down in the crook made by Flames’s body. “...So, this boy...” She started again, trying to keep her voice more even, “Does he feel the same for you, too?”

Tanis sighed, squeezing her eyes closed. “Yes. Maybe?” She sighed, “I-I don’t know.” She muttered, hugging her knees again. N seemed to be have fallen in love with her pretty hard, but she didn't know. Whether it was her he was interested in, or because she was some kind of hero in his deluded mind, destined to be with him or whatever. It sure seemed like the former, since he kept saying it was more personal than just caring for her as another hero. This was one giant nightmare...

“How does he act around you?”

Tanis lifted her weary eyes to look across at Anna, who had a serious expression on her face. Quickly, she looked away and flushed. “H-he...he holds me a lot, is always kissing my hands a-and...a-and he ke-keeps calling me ‘dear’...” Tanis’ face turned even redder, touching her lips. “A-and, um...an-and yesterday, he--h-he, um...” She buried her face in her knees again. “...K-ki-kissed me...” She swallowed down her throbbing heart, trying to forget the feeling of his warm, soft lips, gently kissing hers. “An-and...h-he keeps t-trying to g-get me to join...h-he says he do-doesn’t want to fi-fight me...” She left out the part where he basically proposed.

“I would say he most certainly recuperates your feelings, then.” Tanis jerked her head up, meeting Anna’s careful gaze. “I don’t know who he is, but from what you described...those are signs of deep affection and love.” At the mention of ‘love,’ Tanis felt her blush begin to spread. Anna’s bright blue eyes softened, “And you said he keeps trying to get you to join Team Plasma?”

Tanis blushed and nodded her head rapidly. “Y-yeah...” More-or-less. Plus now he wanted her to be the goddamn Queen...ugh, how the hell did she find herself in such a mess?

“I see,” Anne gave a small nod of her head, lowering her gaze and pressing her hand to her chin. “I take it you keep on refusing him too?” Another nod, even though N was a persistent bastard. “Good. Team Plasma, while their intent is good - protecting Pokémon from those that mean to hurt them - they don’t seem to realize that most trainers are good people who adore their Pokémon, and would never treat them wrong.” She sighed, shaking her head slowly. “I don’t understand how they can be so blind. Their methods are cruel and they don’t listen to what trainers or Pokémon want.”

“Y-yeah, I know.” Tanis mumbled, once again putting her face against her knees. She heaved a frustrated sigh. “But that stubborn, stupid fuckin’ idiot N won’t even listen to me!!” She clenched her arms tightly around her legs, trying to keep herself from crying out in anger or pain.

Anna’s brows furrowed, “So he’s dead set in his beliefs?” Tanis nodded rapidly, pursing her lips into a hard line. Her entire body began to tremble again, trying so hard to keep her emotions under control. But it was so hard...goddamnit. She really loved that bastard, but she couldn’t even control herself, let alone do anything to stop him and his idiotic plans. “And you’ve spoken to him about this.”

Yes.” Tanis’ voice came out in a hiss, squeezing her eyes closed again. “I-I try so hard, but that bastard won’t even listen to me!! I just...I-I just wish...” She let out a choked sob, unable to keep it contained in her throat. She clamped her mouth closed and set her jaw, trying to keep them internal.

“You want to save him, don’t you...?”

Tanis nodded her head, feeling tears sting at the corners of her eyes. She wouldn’t cry. She couldn’t cry! There was no way she’d allow herself to, giving a wet snort to keep the tears from slipping out. Anna’s silence didn’t help either, and the two barely knew each other, so it wasn’t like the older woman would do anything to comfort her. Not that anything would. All she wanted was this to be fixed, for N to listen to her, for--

Her mind stopped when she felt the space beside her fill, and a pair of arms gently loop around her. Tanis’ breath caught in her throat, turning her head to see Anna kneeling beside her, gently hugging her.

It was too much.

Even though she didn’t know Anna, the fact that a complete stranger showed such warmth and understanding caused the walls to break down. Tanis turned her head to rest on Anna’s shoulder, unwrapping her arms from her legs and snapping them around Anna. She let the tears fall, coiling her hands around the back of the older woman’s sweater. Anna said nothing, just gently held her, one hand lightly stroking the girl’s long, dark brown hair.

Tanis wasn’t sure how long they sat there like that. She wasn’t one to cry, hell, she could barely even remember the last time she had cried. But everything that was happening to her...it was too much. Just too much for her to deal with on her own, bottling all of the anger, the frustration, the pain and sadness inside of her. This whole situation was bullshit, and she was unequipped to handle it. No one would really understand her. Not until now.

Having someone like Anna was what she needed.

After the tears finally stopped flowing, Tanis loosened her arms and remained still in Anna’s embrace. Giving a wet snort, she turned her head to the side, looking away from Anne but kept her head on her shoulder.

“S...s-so-sorry...” She mumbled.

“Don’t be.” Anna said in a gentle, comforting tone, still lightly stroking her hair. “You’ve got a very difficult situation, and from the looks of it, no one to talk to or let it all out with.” Tanis pursed her lips and nodded, sniffing again. “You seem like a really good girl, Tanis. No one deserves the hand you got dealt.” She leaned back and smiled down at Tanis, “And I want to help, if I can.”

Tanis’ still watery eyes widened. “Wha-- y-you don’t have to!”

“But I want to,” Anna smiled again. “Even if all I do is give you my number, and you can call me whenever it gets too much and you just need to vent. Okay?” She pat Tanis lightly on the head.

Tanis felt herself blush. “...You’re way too nice...”

Anna tilted her head and grinned, “If I had five Poké Credits for every time someone said that, I could retire!” She laughed, the comment arousing a horse chuckle from Tanis. “Heck, even for every time my husband said it. He thinks I’m too much of a soft touch. Which is kinda silly, since he’s also a big softie at heart.” She smiled again. “But, I digress! I’ll do what I can, okay? It may not be much, but anything can help.”

“...T-thanks, Anna.” Tanis mumbled, feeling awkward about forcing this on her.

“Of course.” Anna smiled, releasing Tanis and rocking back onto her heels. “But, if you’re calm enough...I do have a suggestion to make.”

Lifting her head up to meet the taller woman’s gaze, Tanis gave a small nod. “Y-yeah, sure...” Really, any suggestion was better then what she was going on right now. She’d take what she can get.

“From the sounds of it, this ‘N’ fellow - that is his name, right?” Tanis nodded at Anna’s question. “Yes, well...it sounds like he does legitimately care deeply for you.” Tanis turned red, but quietly nodded her head. “Have you tried appealing to his emotions towards you?”

“Eh?”

Tanis blinked, taken aback by the suggestion. Appeal to his emotions? What the heck did that mean?

“What I mean is,” Anna explained, her expression growing serious, “Instead of fighting or rebelling against him, like I’m sure you’ve been doing...appeal to him. Don’t give into the pressure, of course - Plasma is bad news - but try to get him to see things from your perspective.” Tanis slowly blinked her eyes, trying to let this sink in. “Like, how he would feel if you didn’t care for him, or compare the feeling of you leaving him entirely to how you would feel if he took your Pokémon. Turn it against him so he actually needs to think about the pair of you, and where he stands with Plasma. He’s wrong, but doesn’t sound like a bad guy. So do what you can to get him to understand where you are.”

Tanis furrowed her brows and pursed her lips.

Anna...had a good point. A really good point. Plus, if she could somehow incorporate the fact N could understand Pokémon...it could work. But she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to word it right. Tanis gave a small grimace just thinking about it. She wasn’t exactly the most, err, eloquent person on the face of the planet. And she wasn’t the smartest, either. N was bloody smart, even though he was blind; but there had to be something she could do or say to demonstrate that she did want him, and to somehow show him that he was wrong.

But she knew one thing - she wouldn’t give up fighting for him. It was just so hard to keep her emotions in check...

“So chin up! I’m sure you’ll make him realize in time.” Anna said with a soft smile, patting Tanis on the head again. “Just keep in mind that the right path is usually the hardest one to take.”

Tanis blinked. Huh, she coulda sworn she heard that phrase said before...when was it again? She shook the thought from her head, everything was too muggy to really focus on that. “I’ll...try to keep that in mind,” She sighed, rubbing her now overly-dry eyes with her finger tips. “Th-thanks for your help, Anna. I...I-I really do appreciate it.”

Anna nodded. “Of course.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a Pokégear. “Anyway, let me get your number so you can call me whenever you need to, okay?”

“Y-yeah, sure.” The pair quickly exchanged numbers. Once done, Tanis replaced her Pokégear into her pocket, staggering to her feet. Anna went to raise a steadying hand, but Tanis waved it off. “I-I should probably get going...” I need to train a lot more if I want to stop Plasma, she thought, but didn’t say it out loud. “Um, I really appreciate all of the help.”

“Good luck, Tanis.” Anna said with another smile, also standing up. Gosh, she was really tall... “And call me anytime. If you need me there, physically, just ask. I’ll be in Unova for a few more months.”

Tanis gave a nod. “Thanks, I will.”

Slowly, she turned on her heel and began to exit the clearing, feeling better then she did when she walked in. Right now, she had some ammunition to use against N, but she just wasn’t sure how to use it. Still, it was more then she had yesterday, and she would keep pushing against him until he was saved. She just had to keep herself determined and focused, and she would find a way to break Plasma’s hold on him - and their hold on Unova itself.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 16: The Path Forward

 

Tanis felt more confident going forward now.

After her discussion with Anna, a lot of the weight she was lugging around had been lifted. Now, she could really focus on her training! She really needed it, if she was going to take down Plasma. Of course, this included the newest member to her team, an Axew she named Hildr. The little devil was incredibly energetic and protective, and looooooved to cuddle. Which made things rather awkward with her large tusks. And even more awkward when she evolved, cause the cuddling did not stop.

Ah well. Hildr was cute, so Tanis could forgive her.

She was breaking down camp a few weeks after her little chat with Anna. The group had found a nice little grove off of Route 7 to set up, taking a load off of them before going into Twist Mountain. They’d need it, considering the map Tanis bought of the place was a piece of absolute crap.

“I swear, whoever designed this goddamn path needs to be dragged into the street and run over by a herd of Taurus.” She grumbled, scratching her head and trying to make heads or tails of the blasted thing. Either that, or they really need a better map maker.

“Heading into the mountain?”

Tanis jerked her head up towards the sound of the voice, grinning at it’s origin.

“Cheren!” She exclaimed, slinging her now-packed bag over her shoulder. “Going the same way, eh?”

He gave her a small smile and nodded. “Yeah, I’m heading to Icirrus City to challenge the leader, Brycen.”

“Fancy that, me too!” Tanis chuckled, placing her hands on her hips. Although she wasn’t entirely sure why she was collecting gym badges, it was a good way to keep her mind off of...things. Things that she didn’t want to think about, actually.

Rex broke her from her thoughts when he toddled over to Cheren and nudged him happily with his nose, knocking the poor boy clear off of his feet and onto his back. Tanis burst out laughing and held her stomach at the sad display, Cheren sprawled out on the leaf-covered ground on his back, looking both shocked and a bit panicked. Especially since the Aerodactyl bore down on him, and began to nuzzle the bewildered human with his large head. Which wasn’t really “gentle” per-say, but at least it wasn’t hurting the poor sap.

It made her roar even louder with laughter.

“S-st-stop laughing and he-help me!!” Cheren exclaimed from under the snuggling Rex. Tanis unwrapped her arms from her sides and took in a few breaths to quell her laughter, staggering over.

“H-he’s just s-so happy to--to--pfft! Hahahahaha!” Tanis quickly doubled over again when Rex gave poor Cheren a wet, slobbery kiss, and promptly resumed his nuzzling. She could feel Cheren’s death glare on her. “--T-t-to s-see y-y-you!!” She laughed, flailing one arm out to scratch Rex’s side, right under his wings.

The Aerodactyl jerked upright instantly, giving a low, growling purr, his eyes closing in contentment. One of his legs began to jerk up and down happily. Released from the super effective cuddle attack, Cheren groaned and managed to pick himself up off of the ground.

He began to wipe the slobber off of his face with his sleeve. “Ugh. I think he really needs to learn he’s not a lap-sized Pokémon.” He grumbled in discontent. He peeled his wet glasses from his face and began to clean them. Tanis managed to control her laughter to occasional chuckles, wiping the tears from her eyes. Rex pouted when he no longer got scritches, but didn’t tackle Cheren again.

“O-oh my god,” She wheezed, holding her aching sides again. “I needed that so bad!”

“So glad my discomfort brings you entertainment,” Cheren mumbled dryly. He began to straighten his tie and smooth his hair down, but grimaced when he touched another drool-covered patch and wiped it on his pants. “Ugh...” He made a face at the slobber.

“Hey, I’m sure if one of your team knocked me over with love, you’d be laughing too!” Tanis retorted with a playful grin.

“Only internally,” Cheren scoffed, casting a sidelong glance over at the overly-excitable Rex. Rex stuck his tongue out and panted happily, his tail wagging enthusiastically - and nearly knocking Char over. The Charizard quickly moved out of the way and muttered some obscenities.

Sighing, Cheren returned his attention towards Tanis. “Anyway, I was about to say I would normally request a battle with you,” He looked back over his shoulder towards the looming Twist Mountain. “But we’re both going to need our full strength for that mess.” He gestured at it with his thumb over his shoulder, looking back at Tanis.

She made a face. “Let me guess: you saw the map, too?” She asked, crossing her arms.

He gave a small, grim nod. “Yeah, and it’s a total mess.”

Well, that made her feel so much more confident. “Oh. Goodie.” Tanis mumbled sarcastically, rolling her eyes dramatically. This was going to be just a swell trip. Why did this dumb mountain have to be in the way of Icirrus City?! “Well, let’s hope two heads are better the one.”

“Agreed,” Cheren gave a short nod of his head, watching while Tanis called her team back to her Pokéballs. Arceus knows what it would be like inside, and most of her Pokémon were very...large. Cheren heaved a disgruntled sigh. “Well...let’s get this over with.”

Tanis nodded, walking with him towards the entrance to the mountain. Thank Arceus she stocked up before leaving Mistralton!

------

Twist Mountain. God, she hated this place. Well, to be fair, Tanis had never been her before in her life, and was now pretty convinced that she never wanted to come back, either.

Since arriving, she and Cheren had been nothin’ but lost. They had been in this goddamn place for at least two days - if her clock had anything to say about it - and no daylight in sight. Their maps weren’t helping, and reception was so piss-poor that the Pokégear didn’t work, either. Plus everything looked the goddamn same, so even if they were wandering in circles, it was so hard to tell. At least the fact that Cheren was as lost as she was made her feel a little better, since he was the smart one.

“I’m sure glad I stocked up before coming here,” Cheren sighed, looking around and trying to gather his barrings in the dim light. Not that it helped, really.

“Same,” Tanis groaned, glad it was at least large enough so she could let Char out of his Pokéball, the flame on his tail helping light the way. It was so dark, dank and unpleasant in there that she was glad to have some comfort. Not that he liked the dank part, that is. But he had no choice but to deal with it.

Surprisingly, having Cheren around actually helped her forget for a little while. Though he was hardly the comforting type, he at least knew when to not ask her things. They talked about boring, mundane things while being hopelessly lost. Also about Pokémon, like interesting battles they were in, training techniques; adventures they had gone on. It was actually kind of pleasant. All of this took Tanis’ mind off of N - though being frustrated at being totally lost helped too. But, she could enjoy it for the moment. And if Cheren ever noticed if she was distracted every now and then, he didn’t say anything.

“Though I’m not complaining about the amount of training we’re getting in,” Cheren noted with a small, almost sardonic grin, “But why couldn’t they build a more straight-forward path through the mountain?”

“Because they’re batshit insane,” Tanis groaned, running a hand through her long bangs. “Talk about an ass-backwards way to get to Icirrus City! It’s like they don’t want you to keep going! Sheesh.”

“No kidding,” Cheren sighed, pushing his glasses up his nose. He squinted in the dim light, gesturing towards a bunch of rocks. “...Did we past this rock formation before?”

Tanis scrutinized the group of rocks, as if they were judging her. “Hell if I know,” She threw her arms up in frustration, “Everything looks the goddamn same in here!” She growled, kicking one of the rocks with her foot. She immediately regretted her decision, giving a gasp of pain and grabbing her toes, bouncing around on her good foot. “Ow! Shit!” Cheren rolled his eyes, but was actually trying really hard not to laugh at her expense.

“Tanis, you’re not a fighting type!” He almost teased, though his tone was as flat as ever. She huffed in indignation, before slumping down.

“This is it,” She muttered, staring at the rocky ground, “We’re never getting out of here. We’re going to goddamn die in stupid Twist Mountain.” She kicked some of the pebbles on the ground to emphasize her point.

Char groaned and rolled his eyes. Cheren raised a hand to his forehead and rubbed his temples. “We’re not going to die in here, Tanis.” He tried to be reassuring, but it came out far too stern.

Tanis jerked her head up and glared at him, “Well, how the hell do you propose we get out of here?!” She gestured wildly behind her, “You’re just as lost as I am! We can’t tell where we are, the map is goddamn useless, we have no reception down here and! We’ve been running around in circles for Arceus-knows-how-long!” She took in a deep breath before continuing, “So unless we can find someone who knows where the hell we are, we’re going to rot down here for--”

“I can help with that.”

Tanis froze. Shit. Shit shitshitshitshitshit SHIT!!

Both Cheren and Char slid in behind her, standing defensively at her back. The large Charizard gave off a low, menacing growl, the area beginning to light up with flame burning in his maw. Tanis took in a deep breath and steeled herself, winding her hands into tight fists and slowly turning around.

Damnit, why did N have to show up now?! Tanis was starting to feel relatively normal (again)! Why did it have to be when Cheren was here, or when Char was out?! She really hoped the Charizard wouldn’t tear N’s face off. Or fry him. Or worse, both. And while she was concerned about their reactions, she could still feel herself blushing and her heart rate jumping up. Shit.

“Why are you here?” Cheren asked in a surprisingly calm voice, though there was a frigid edge to it.

N remained calm, though his face was cold and unreadable. He took a step forward towards them, but Char instantly tensed up, the growl growing louder and the fire in his mouth and snout burning even brighter. Thankfully, N stopped before he could become toast, lifting his gaze up to meet Char’s.

“I’m not here to harm her.” Char didn’t back down, his growl turning into a roar, sparks of flame and embers falling from his burning mouth. His tail thrashed behind him angrily. “Please, let me see her.”

“No.” Cheren’s icy tone continued, glaring over at N. “I asked you a question, and I expect an answer!”

N lowered his cold eyes down to Cheren, who didn’t flinch at them. “I’m here to speak with Tanis, of course.”

“And you’re her enemy, and mine as well.” Cheren stood his ground, crossing his arms. “As far as I can tell, it’s just you here. We both outnumber you.” Char hissed, nodding his head in conjunction with Cheren’s statement. “I suggest you leave, before her Charizard turns you to ash.” Char dug his back claws into the ground, clenching his fists.

“I have no intention to fight, either.” N continued coolly, not intimidated by either of the men protecting Tanis.

Cheren scoffed, “Well, too bad. You’ll have to go through us to get to Tan--”

“Guys, seriously?” Tanis finally managed to find her voice, swallowing down her nerves and trying to ignore what had happened the last time she saw N. Cheren looked back at her with a raised brow, though Char didn’t back down from his aggressive posturing. “I can speak for myself.”

“Tanis, you can’t--” Tanis ignored Cheren and walked forward, standing beside him. She put a hand on Char’s hip, feeling him flinch in response to the touch. But, he loosened up a little, though he still held the same aggressive posture. “Tanis--!”

“Tell me what you want to say, N.” Tanis found her voice oddly steady and calm, though her hands were trembling and her heart was racing.

“Thank you, Tanis.” N smiled gently at her, though remained where he was standing. Even he knew not to mess with a pissed off, very large Charizard.

Before he could speak, Tanis did it for him: “And the answer’s still no.”

Surprisingly, he chuckled. “I know.” Tanis blinked, raising a brow. “I know now mere words aren’t going to do it for you, so I’ve come here to...hmm, I suppose the best way to say it is to give you a warning.”

“A warning?” Tanis was taken aback, as was Cheren. His posturing became defensive again, a hand hovering just over one of his Pokéballs.

“For what?” He hissed, narrowing his blue eyes at the older boy.

N smiled, though it was...less warm then usual. It was hollow, bone-chilling. Tanis felt a shiver run down her spine at the sight of it, his eyes almost unbearably cold. She had never seen him with an expression like that before...what the hell was going on?

“We’ve found the Dark Stone.”

“The...what?” Tanis muttered under her breath, raising her brows.

Cheren gave an over-dramatic sigh and rubbed his temples. “The Dark Stone,” He explained in an exasperated tone, low enough so N wouldn’t hear, “It’s where the legendary dragon, Zekrom, lies dormant.”

“Oh.” Tanis blinked slowly. “Oh.” She snapped her attention back towards N, who was waiting patiently. If Plasma found out where Zekrom is, that could only mean they were-- shit. “That Dark Stone.”

N nodded his head when she realized what the hell he was talking about. “And with it, I will be able to awaken Zekrom, and become the Hero of Ideals!” He held his arms out to his sides dramatically, “I will be able to forge a new world as the Hero - one where Pokémon will live separately and free from humanity!”

“You’re mad,” Cheren barked, glaring dangerously at N, “If you think anyone will let you get away with this!”

N lowered his arms, the cool, unreadable expression returning. “Who will stop me?” His pale eyes pierced through Cheren, actually causing the younger boy to flinch under that icy gaze.

Me.” Tanis pushed forward, shoving her way beyond Cheren and Char. Both store in exasperation at her, Char stomping forward to move in front of her again. But, Tanis held her hand out, halting him in his tracks. The Charizard went to protest, but could feel the intensity burning within his trainer. So, he settled for glaring at the King of Team Plasma.

Tanis met N’s expression coolly and calmly, despite her racing heart. She took in deep, smooth breaths to keep herself from hyperventilating, her hands wound into tight fists to keep herself steady in this situation. N’s own cold expression gently warmed when their eyes met, which made her heart skip a beat. Still, she took in a sharp breath and held it for a few moments, before releasing it. Tanis kept her cool surprisingly well, given the circumstances.

“How will you do that?” N asked in a low voice, his posturing still as commanding and icy as before, even if his eyes were softer. “Once I have Zekrom, I will be virtually unstoppable. Not even the Champion could do anything to halt my plans.” Tanis pursed her lips, but found the small ember of her inner fire again. It began to grow, turning into flames of determination, burning inside of her breast.

“Well...you say I’m the other Hero, right?” N quietly nodded. Tanis’ fists tightened again, her knuckles beginning to turn white. “Then I’ll just find Reshiram and awaken it! If you can do it, then so can I!” She pointed towards him, her arm shaking with the cocktail of emotions that were churning within her. “If that’s what it will take to stop you and this stupid fucking ideal of yours, then that’s just what I’ll have to do!!”

“T-Tanis...?” Cheren gasped breathlessly, staring wide-eyed at her. Even Char store down at her in disbelief as to what she had just said - she hadn’t told either of them about N believing she was the Hero of Truth. Tanis didn’t even notice their reactions, she was so focused on N right now.

N’s face relaxed, smiling warmly at her. “I was hoping you’d say that.” His voice was softer, too. More akin to what she was used to. N strode forward without warning, taking her hand and lifting it up, planting a delicate kiss against her fingertips. Tanis could hear Char roar in protestation, but he couldn’t actually attack right now. Not with N being so close to her.

Tanis quickly began to blush again.

“I will be waiting for you, my dear.” N whispered, squeezing her hand gently and lowering it before him. “When you’re ready, I will be at the Dragonspiral Tower.” He reached out with his opposite hand, gently brushing his knuckles against her flushed cheek. Tanis immediately turned redder, quickly averting her gaze down towards the ground.

Char threw an absolute fit at the affectionate touches of their enemy. He angrily stomped his foot on the ground, hard enough to release an Earthquake attack. The cave began to tremble and shudder from the force. The unstable, fracturing ground blew the trio of humans clear off of their feet. Rocks and debris fell from the ceiling and walls, rolling down onto the ground below. Thankfully, it wasn’t the full strength of the attack - otherwise they’d likely be buried right now - and only lasted a few seconds.

And Tanis found herself under N.

They were nose-to-nose, both staring at each other with wide, startled eyes. Tanis felt her blush spread further down her neck and towards her shoulders. Even N was red in the face from their...compromising position. She could feel his warm breath against her face, his heart beating in his chest; it was racing just as much as hers was. It was probably the first time he had seen as flustered as her. He swallowed hard.

“A--are you al-alright...?” N asked in a shaky voice.

Tanis gave a small, feeble nod. “Y-yeah...” Arceus, they were so close...

N managed an uneasy smile. “O-oh, go-good...” He was about to say something else, but the ground shook again. Not an other earthquake, but several rapid shakes at once. Char stomped over to the compromised pair, and they looked up at the miffed Charizard. He bent over and snapped his arm out, grabbing N by the collar of his jacket. Effortlessly, he yanked N off of Tanis and raised him up to eye level, glaring dangerously at the human, fire burning in his mouth.

Char!” Tanis shouted, scrambling up to her feet. The Charizard looked past N and down at her. “Put him down!!” The fire died down in Char’s mouth, beginning to protest to her order. “Now, Char!” Char almost pouted, before giving an angry huff and releasing N. He crossed his arms and turned away, practically sulking right now.

Tanis managed to catch N, just enough so he wouldn’t fall flat on his ass. Still, N didn’t seem as phased as he should have, what with a large and extremely angry Charizard staring him down. He merely gave an uneasy chuckle and straightened his jacket.

“Thank you, Tanis.”

She quickly removed his arms from him, “T-the smell of burning flesh kind of ruins my day,” She muttered sarcastically, rubbing the back of her neck.

N chuckled again, more genuinely this time. “Anyway, I hope I will see you there, my dear.” He smiled down fondly at her. “And that you will accept my proposal when we meet there.” Leaning down, he gently kissed Tanis’ forehead. Another blush spread from that point, moving down her face. The gesture left her temporarily breathless. “Until then, Tanis.” Smiling, N strode down the path before them, disappearing into the murky gloom.

Char stopped sulking, and started after the departing King. But, he stopped short when he noticed Tanis wasn’t following after him, turning his head over his shoulder. He gave her an incredulous expression, gesturing down the path where N had walked down. Tanis just pursed her lips and shook her head. Giving an angry cry of frustration, Char threw his arms up in the air and huffed angrily. Tanis took this moment to call Char back to his Pokéball. The last thing they needed was him bringing the cave down on them.

“What, you’re not going after him?” Cheren asked sharply, still not exactly sure how to take all of this in. Tanis shook her head again. He furrowed his brows, meeting her hesitant gaze. “Why? You said it yourself, he has to be stopped! And you were--” He stopped, remembering what she had said and how the two had interacted. His furrowed brows turned into a glare. “Unless you’re not pursing N because of how you feel about him.”

Tanis pursed her lips and looked down. “It’s not that,” She muttered, her fists clenching. Or maybe it is. At least a bit. “It’s just that I-- I-I don’t think I could stop him from awakening Zekrom.”

Charen narrowed his eyes. “You seemed pretty confident before.”

“I know! I--” Tanis heaved a frustrated sigh. She rubbed the back of her neck again, “I-I just...don’t know if I believe this hero crap. I’m just not, err, ‘hero’ material, ya’know?”

“What was that about, anyway?” Cheren demanded, crossing his arms.

Tanis sighed again and looked away from him. “I...may have omitted a few things when we last spoke.”

“A few?”

Tanis flinched at the cutting response. “Err, y-yeah,” She sighed and shook her head, “N, he...h-he thinks I’m the other hero - the Hero of Truth.”

“Why?” Cheren asked.

“I don’t know! Some kind of fortune telling mumbo-jumbo!” Tanis groaned, “But he’s so convinced that I am! Literally every time I see him, he talks about it! And I have no idea why and--” She groaned again and ran her hands through her bangs. “A-and that we’re going to have some kind of...of f-future or whatever. Together.” She reached up and touched her lips, remembering the gentle kiss he had given her there. Tanis squeezed her eyes closed. And I want a future with him, too. Her mind softly reminded her, giving a heavy sigh.

“A...future?” Cheren blinked, before his brows knit together when something clicked in his mind. “Wait a second, do you mean that he actually--”

“Proposed to me? Yeah.” Tanis groaned, glad she had stuffed Char into his Pokéball right about now. “And the thing is?” She gave a hollow, bitter chuckle, “I’m not even sure if it’s because he actually...a-actually cares for me, or if it’s because I’m a Hero and we’re destined for each other or some crap.”

“I think it’s the former,” Cheren sighed, crossing his arms. Tanis could feel herself turn red again, fumbling with the edge of her sweater.

“B-but an-anyway...” She segued before she got too flustered with the notion that N might actually love her, too. “E-even if this is all true,” She raised her gaze to his, “I have no idea where Reshiram is, or even where to begin to look.” Tanis gave another groan and put her face in her hands. “And I can’t fuckin’ stop him if I don’t have Reshiram.”

Truthfully, she didn’t know much about the legend. Tanis barely remembered it - or anything else - from school, since she honestly didn’t really pay attention to it in the first place. That and she wasn’t exactly a genius or anything. She vaguely remembered about warring brothers destroying the world or some bullshit. The rest she picked up from her mom. But Nina didn’t mention where to find them. Shit, did the books mention that too? Come to think of it, if N had just found the Dark Stone, it was likely not common knowledge. And if Zekrom was sealed in the Dark Stone, it meant Reshiram was in the Light Stone, right?

But where?

“Then the more reason to stop him before he can awaken Zekrom.” Cheren said sternly, Tanis meeting his intense gaze.

“Cheren?”

“We can use one of our Pokémon to track his scent out of here,” Cheren continued, “And once we’re out of Twist Mountain, the Dragonspiral Tower isn’t that far north of Icirrus City.” He held his hand out, his eyes determined and focused. “We have to leave now if we want to catch him. Now, or never, Tanis.” Tanis looked down at his hand. “You can’t be a hero if you don’t even try. Isn’t that what being a hero is all about, anyway? So let’s go and stop N.”

Tanis was shocked. Cheren wasn’t usually so...passionate. He was always the calm, steadfast one of the group. Resolute and strong. Very much the balance between her blazing fire, and Bianca’s airy head. Nor had he ever shown such faith in her before, he always regarded her as a friend, sure, but never as...this. What was this? Was he actually considering her a hero or...?

Did he actually believe this bullshit, or did he believe in her?

Pursing her lips, Tanis saw his point. “Y-yeah, you’re right, Cheren. Sitting here and whining won’t help.” She took a deep, calming breath and walked up next to him. “We’ll need to keep moving forward if we’re gunna stop Plasma and their batshit insane ideas.”

He grinned. “That’s the Tanis I know.” She returned the grin.

“Then what are we waiting around for? Let’s go!”

 

Chapter Text

 

“This is not a goddamn drill!

As soon as Tanis and Cheren existed Twist Mountain, her Pokégear was out and she made an emergency call. Because, Cheren had to admit, this was a pretty big emergency. He only hoped they’d make it out in time. Thankfully, the fire had quickly exploded within her, and she was bound and determined to stop Plasma before they got their hands on the Dark Stone.

About time, Cheren had thought, but knew better then to say it out loud. Especially since she was kinda ticked off right now.

On the path out, Tanis had explained a few other things she had...omitted from their previous discussion. Primarily that N wanted her to join him, literally at his side as his Queen, and this was his intention all along. It was also pretty clear Tanis kind of wanted that, too, though she would never agree to what Plasma was doing. Cheren just didn’t know how deep her emotions ran, and didn’t care to ask. He knew better then to, since she’d either yell at him or deny it up and down. Probably both, honestly.

But, more importantly was the fact she was undergoing some kind of initiation for the Dragon Clan. They were well known, even in Unova, as being high-class dragon trainers from Kanto. They also worked to subvert any nefarious plots to disrupt the balance of things in other regions. Naturally, Team Plasma was high on their list right now. And, even though Tanis wasn’t officially in the clan yet, she was their chief agent.

No doubt they knew that she was involved with Plasma. Just not to the extent she actually was.

“Plasma found the damn Dark Stone!” Tanis continued, the pair walking briskly towards the Poké Center in Icirrus City for a quick heal. “N, their King, is on the way there right now to awaken Zekrom! If he succeeds, we’ll have a hell of a time stopping him or Plasma!”

The doors of the Poké Center slid open, Tanis charging forward with Cheren at her heels. She was silent for a few moments, listening to the person on the opposite line, nestling the Gear between her ear and shoulder. She began to unhook her Pokéballs from her waist, Cheren following suit, the pair handing them to the nursing staff.

“Please heal them quickly, we’re in a major hurry.” Cheren instructed. The nurses nodded, taking the Pokéballs into the back.

“Yeah,” Tanis confirmed something, giving a brief nod of her head. She began to strum her fingers against the counter impatiently. Cheren wondered what was being said. He quickly found out.

“What?! No!!” Her voice rose loud enough to alert everyone in the Center, turning to face her with confused expressions. Tanis didn’t notice them, “There’s no way in hell N would outright lie to me! He’d never do that!” She huffed and leaned against the counter, “Especially not when he literally won’t shut up about that stupid dragon!!” She blew some of her bangs from her eyes and glared at nothing in particular.

Well, if the Clan didn’t know about Tanis and her involvement with N, they certainly did now. Cheren sighed at her outburst and turned over his shoulder, flashing an awkward, apologetic grin at the still-staring patrons.

“He told me he’s going to be there, so I damn well believe him!” Tanis continued to rant. Cheren had no idea who she was talking to, but it sounded like they were just checking their facts. After all, it wouldn’t be beyond Plasma to manipulate Tanis to do something for them - like when they kidnapped Bianca’s Pokémon just to get to Tanis. But he also didn’t think N would lie to her, not when he was so insistent on getting her to join him, and that she was the other Hero.

“My friend and I are heading there now,” Tanis further explained, while the nurses returned with their Pokémon. “This can’t be a small scale operation I can take on myself. Not this time! Too much is at stake,” She began to replace the Pokéballs to her waist. “I’m going to need some serious back up this go around.” Another pause. A grin came to her face, “Alright! Awesome!”

“We’re getting some help?” Cheren asked, Tanis giving a quick nod of her head. He quickly replaced his own Pokéballs to his belt. “Well, good to know we’re not going in alone.” He sighed, not sure how many of those Plasma goons would be there. As their whole plan revolved around getting Zekrom, it would likely be an entire army.

Cheren didn’t like those odds.

Tanis suddenly gave a cry of frustration. “What?! Are you kidding me!?” She shouted over the phone, the patrons of the Center once again turning to stare at her. She began to briskly walk out, Cheren falling into pace beside her. “That’s not enough! We can’t--” She stopped talking and walking, right at the entrance, just standing there before the sliding glass doors.

Well, there went the idea of back up...

Tanis ran a hand through her hair and resumed walking, heaving a heavy sigh. “Okay, okay. I get it,” She muttered in defeat, slumping down a bit. “At least we have something.” There was another pause, her eyes darting over to the gym. She grinned. “...Okay, got it.” There was another small pause. “Thanks. Oh! And Lance?” She narrowed her eyes. “Do what you can to find out where the Light Stone is. If this whole thing goes south...awakening Reshiram might be the only way we can stop Plasma.” She nodded her head. “Okay, thanks. I’ll...I-I’ll do what I can. Bye.”

Closing the phone on her Pokégear, Tanis took off again. Cheren blinked his eyes, sprinting to catch up to her. “Tanis, was that...Lance? The Lance?”

“Yep,” Tanis confirmed, “He’s the head of the Clan, and the only point of contact I have in it. Since, ya’know, I’m not technically in it right now.” She pursed her lips. “This situations so bad, though, I’d probably have contacted him anyway...

“Wow.” Cheren blinked, “And to think, you were yelling at the Lance.”

“He worked with my mom, he can take it.” Tanis said with a small shrug.

“Fair point...” Cheren lifted his head back up, and noticed they were heading for the gym, not the path that lead to the Tower. Quirking a brow, he looked over at her. “Tanis, I don’t think going for a gym badge right now is--”

“We’re not.” Tanis cut him off, her gaze focused and determined. “Unfortunately, there aren’t very many Clan members close enough to lend us a hand. At the most, 3 or 4 might be able to get here in time. Maybe.” Cheren winced at the odds. “But...we do have a gym right there. Lance said to tell Brycen he sent us, and he should lend us a hand.”

“Having a Leader on our side will help,” Cheren sighed, not happy with how few could give them any assistance.

“There’s someone else close enough to help.” Tanis added, grinning slowly.

Cheren raised a brow again, “Oh?” She turned to him.

“Lance said he’d call in a favor with the Champion.”

 

------

 

“Keep moving!” Tanis shouted over the chaos, looking back at the small group that followed her. “We need to hurry!” She took off again, another rag-tag collection of Plasma grunts taken care of. They had to keep pressing forward if they were to stop N from awakening Zekrom.

So far, her “backup” consisted of Cheren, the gym leader Brycen, Iris and one other member from the Dragon Clan who was close enough to lend a hand. Not that she remembered the poor sap’s name, Tanis had other things to focus on. More were apparently coming, but considering how many goons were around, things were already set in motion.

They didn’t have time to wait.

“Right!” Iris chimed in confidently, practically leaping after Tanis. She had no idea where the girl got all of her energy from, but it was appreciated right now. Especially since Cheren wasn’t used to this kind of physical exertion, and his team was getting a bit worn down. She wasn’t sure about the others, and she didn’t ask.

The group dashed up another flight of ruined stairs, scaling the Dragonspiral Tower one floor at a time. Tanis had lost count of how many freaking Team Plasma members they had beaten down. Stopped somewhere past 30, and that was only the first or second floor. But it felt like they had there was a veritable army in here. Not to mention they had already faced 5 of the 7 Sages.

“This really is a full scale operation,” Cheren noted, his usually even tone broken up by pants. But, he still kept pressing forward, wanting to lend as much aid as he could. Thankfully, Plasma was as incompetent as ever, though everyone was feeling the burn from fighting so many of the bastards.

“Yeah.” Was all Tanis could say. She was too focused right now.

“It’s so weird,” Iris sighed, the group reaching the top of the stairs and proceeding forward through the empty hallway. “I mean, we’ve been following their movements and plans so closely - but there was no word or whisper about this!” Her brows furrowed.

“It’s too organized to be a spur of the moment plan,” Brycen calmly added.

“Yeah, exactly!” Iris nodded her head. She was about to say something else, but stopped when they rounded a corner and entered into a large hallway. A huge compliment of Plasma soldiers stood there, at least 20 of them. Sure, they had beaten off several large groups before, but nothing more then 6 or 7 at the most. More over, they were lead by the purple clad Sage - and Tanis’ personal favorite - Zinzolin.

“Well, look who finally decided to show up!” He sneered down at her in a high and mighty tone.

“Sorry to disappoint,” Tanis retorted with a dark, sarcastic inflection, “I just know you’re so disappointed that your lackeys couldn’t stop me from dirtying up the place with my peasant filth!

The Sage bristled. “Y-yo-you--!!” Tanis crossed her arms, amused at how easily she could get him riled up. “Y-you insolent little child!!” Zinzolin pointed dramatically at her, “Well, you’ll soon eat your words, girl!” Haughtily, he crossed his arms and snorted. “My Lord N has given us express permission that we may engage you in combat.” He smirked, “So I brought a platoon of our brightest warriors to put an end to your meddling - and we greatly out-number you, girl.”

Tanis narrowed her eyes. “Stay the fuck out of my way, Zinzolin!” She barked, “Because I won’t stop until I reach N!”

Zinzolin gave a short, mocking laugh. “Oh, really? You and what army?” Tanis was about to open her mouth with something totally snarky, but someone beat her to it.

This army!”

Tanis turned towards the familiar voice behind her. She grinned when she saw Alder standing there, together with much more sufficient back-up. Rosa, his protege, was with him, as was a teenaged boy who obviously was related to the Champion. Further beyond him were 3 more Dragon Clan members, all characterized by their trademark cloaks.

The Sage paled. “T-the Ch-Champion?!” The Plasma grunts surrounding him also looked startled by his appearance, many of them physically recoiling.

“About damn time!” Tanis smirked.

“Sorry, we had to do a bit of regrouping,” Alder apologized, meeting her gaze with a small grin. “Lance told me everything I needed to know,” Though he left what exactly a bit cryptic, “And I want you to go ahead, Tanis!”

Tanis was taken aback. “Wha--”

“We’ll handle things here!” Alder informed her sternly, his gaze suddenly growing serious. “You need to do what you can to stop Zekrom from falling into Plasma’s hands!”

“But--”

“It’ll be okay!” Iris assured with a confident nod. “I think you’re the only one that can stop him.” She winked. Tanis pursed her lips, wondering how Iris knew about N, and why only she could stop his insane plans.

“Go do what you need to,” Cheren encouraged, finally having caught his breath. His fingers coiled around his Pokéballs, she met his gaze steadily, seeing his focused and intense expression. She furrowed her brows.

“...Okay.” She confirmed that she would press ahead, giving a small, short nod of her head. With that word, a flurry of Pokéballs flew through the air, releasing a wide array of Pokémon from them before Zinzolin and his grunts. Several of the dragons quickly cut a path through Plasma’s lines, Tanis seeing her window of opportunity open. Charging forward, she ignored the grunts and Zinzolin’s cries of protest to stop her, dashing towards the rear ranks.

Only one grunt stood in her way, an she used the momentum of her run to add power behind her arm. Tanis socked him hard in the face, feeling the bone of his nose cave under the blow. The poor guy cried out and held the blood gushing from his broken nose, falling flat onto his back. Once through the lines, a few Pokémon were released by her companions to block her exit and ensure that she wouldn’t be followed.

Turning on her heel, she walked backwards and watched the small group fight off the platoon of Team Plasma members.

“Please, be careful!” She said more to herself than to them.

Pursing her lips, Tanis turned back around and took off in a sprint, continuing onward and upward.

 

-----

 

The rest of the climb was surprisingly uneventful. Only a few grunts here and there, nothing Tanis couldn’t handle on her own. Apparently, they didn’t think she made it that far, or Zinzolin called them all down to halt her progress. Either way, she was concerned for the group she left behind, as she hadn’t heard them try to catch up to her.

But seriously! How many damn floors did this stupid tower have?!

Stopping in the thousandth stairwell she had climbed today, Tanis rested her hand on the wall and took a moment to catch her breath. She had been so frantic to make it to the top that she hadn’t really stopped for a breather. Let alone how to actually stop N. There were no ideas. Damnit. And she had no idea how much time she had left until--

The entire suddenly shook. Tanis stumbled, but managed to catch herself on the wall, jerking her head up.

Shit!” She hissed, taking off up the stairs again, running at full speed.

Not much time left, if those tremors had anything to say about it.

Everything pasted by in a blur. The twisting, turning stairwells; the large halls with crumbling walls and dilapidated pillars. If there were any members of Plasma on the her path, Tanis didn’t see them. She didn’t really see anything right now, she became so focused on her goal. The tremors began to occur more frequently and violently the higher she climbed - and she wasn’t sure if it was because she was getting closer to N...or he to his goals.

Every step became agony. Fire burned up her legs, her calves splintering with tight pain that only worsened with each movement. Tanis’ lungs screamed for air, her heart pounding loudly in her ears. The coppery taste of blood from her over-exerted heart and lungs filled her mouth. But, she ignored all of these warning signs that she should stop running, pushing herself to run harder and faster with each rumble.

Finally, after what seemed like eons, she climbed the final stair and turned on her heel. Tanis had made it to the top of Dragonspiral Tower. She almost collapsed in exhaustion right there, but found herself unable to move as she store at the scene before her.

“You’re too late.”

Tanis barely heard Ghetsis’ serpentine hiss over the roar that filled her ears. The entire top of the tower shook with the force of an earthquake, Tanis stumbling over to a pillar and grabbing onto it for support. The overcast skies suddenly tore open. A torrential downpour spilled from the heavens, soaking through her burning, sweating body in a matter of seconds.

The gray clouds overhead churned and turned as dark as night. Only the bright flash of lightning parting the skies illuminated the area, the booming roar of thunder drowning out her thudding heart and ragged pants. It echoed across the forest below the Tower, shaking everything from the reverberations alone.

The rumbling overhead amplified, rocks and debris beginning to lift from the ground. The entire area became charged and electrified, the hairs on the back of Tanis’ head standing on end. She could even feel the buzz of electricity coursing through the air, causing every piece of her to feel a strange, tingling sensation all over. The dark, churning skies sparked and crackled with lightning.

And standing in the center of this maelstrom was N.

Tanis called out his name, as loud as her lungs could carry, but her voice was swallowed by the storm. Slowly, she lifted her eyes away from N’s back and towards the skies. Directly above him was the apex of the storm, lighting spiraling around the circling skies.

Suddenly, the skies parted. From the center of the storm a figure manifested. Black as night itself, even darker then the black clouds, the figure was only illuminated by the flashes of lightning that surrounded it. Slowly, the figure began to unfurl, it’s blood red eyes snapping open and looking down at N. A loud, deafening roar echoed from it’s throat, so loud that it put the previous crashes of thunder to shame.

The figure began to descend. As it did, the storm began to lift, the skies returning to their previous gloom. The thunder and lightning stopped, and the rain tapered off to a steady shower. Tanis could now see the figure more clearly, now that it was brighter out and there was less rain obscuring her vision.

It landed before N, it’s large body causing a booming thud against the ruined marble roof of the Tower. Tanis’ eyes widened and her breath caught in her throat while she watched it, her heart racing in her chest. More so then she had ever felt it race before; and it wasn’t because of her previous mad run.

A great black dragon.

Tanis’ legs buckled. Giving way from under her, she collapsed onto her knees, looking up helplessly at the dragon. It wasn’t because of the pain of her run, or the cramps, but because of what she knew.

The dragon before N, it could only be one thing...and it meant she was too late. She couldn’t stop N. There was no way she could - not unless a miracle happened and she somehow found Reshiram. Which didn’t seem likely, in all honesty.

She had failed.

N’s hand came out and rested on the dragon’s snout, who had bent over to greet him. “You’re just in time, Tanis.” He said calmly, though his voice had an unusually icy quality to it. N didn’t seem to notice he was soaking wet too, merely stroking the dragon’s snout contently. Slowly, he turned towards Tanis, smiling a calculated, triumphant smile at her.

“Just in time to meet my new friend, Zekrom.”

 

Chapter Text

 

“What do you think of my new friend?”

The rain gently fell across the Dragonspiral Tower. But Tanis didn’t notice it. Hell, she barely even heard N speak to her, staring up in quiet disbelief at Zekom. The great black dragon store down at her with it’s red eyes, boring into her soul. As if to say that she had lost - she had been unable to stop N from obtaining it, and his ideals.

Tanis had utterly failed.

The world began to fall apart, shattering with each rain drop that fell on her. Her breath came out in slow, rapid gasps, and she was barely able to even think or focus on anything right now. Except that N had beaten her to the punch, and she wasn’t sure how she could save him now. Unless she somehow found Reshiram - and then the trouble of awakening it - she had no chance of saving N. And right now, he might be too far gone for her to save.

If anyone else went up against him...

Tanis coiled her shaking hands around the fabric of her pants, tightening her fingers into half-fists. She couldn’t let anyone else fight N. Doing so would result in them being beaten down and broken, and that was the one thing she didn’t want. Could never want! He wasn’t evil, she could tell he wasn’t, but he was so delusional and blind she didn’t know how to get through to him. Especially now that he had Zekrom with him, and he was one step closer to his ideal world.

Tearing her eyes away from the soul-burning stare of Zekrom, Tanis looked over to N. He stood before the black dragon in triumph, the rain sliding off of the brim of his cap like a waterfall. His expression was cold and determined, with an almost haughty smile on his face. But somehow, his eyes were softer, warmer. He stood with his arms out to the sides.

“With his power, I will be able to fight one last battle. I will forge a new world where Pokémon will be free from such cruelties ever again.” N’s voice was almost piercing, reminding Tanis of her failure and causing her to flinch. Still, she couldn’t look away.

The fact that he had won this race, that he had succeeded in awakening Zekrom and getting the Dragon of Ideals on his side left N looking...magnificent. Tanis normally would have blushed or mentally hit herself for such a thought, but she couldn’t tear her eyes away from him. Almost as if in awe. Of N, not of the literal legend standing just a few feet behind him. It was almost like he was glowing - there was a bright aura of victory surrounding him. It only further put salt in the wound for the fact that Tanis was too late.

Tanis sucked in a breath and held it. Really, she had no idea what to feel right now. On one hand, the man she loved had succeeded in the main step towards his goals and ideals. N was the Hero of Ideals, and the legendary Zekrom was at his side. On the other...

Tanis knew she was defeated, and knew that she shouldn’t want this.

Honestly, she didn’t know what to do right now. Just looking at Zekrom told her all she needed to know. On her own, with her team as-is, she had no chance. Hell, she wasn’t sure if Alder had a chance! All she had was another myth to cling to, a myth she knew nothing about. Nor did anyone else, as far as she could tell.

To stop N, she needed Reshiram. And yet--

Wait, when did N walk over to her?

Tanis was so lost in her own storm of thoughts that she hadn’t even noticed. N knelt down before her, gently resting his hands on her shoulders. She flinched at his touch, but didn’t have the strength to pull away.

“I’m so glad you could join me in this moment, my dear.” N said gently, sliding his hands down her arms and resting them over her own hands. “But you needn’t fight more anymore, Tanis.” His expression changed to something softer, more tender. Full of compassion and adoration and want. “I want you by my side. I want us to do this task, together. So that you may share in my victory, and aid me in my quest.”

Tanis opened her mouth, but her words were defeated before they could even leave. She just sat there, staring up at him and gawking. She was completely dumbfounded. Leaning forward, N gently pressed his lips to her forehead in a tender, affectionate kiss, squeezing her hands in his. If she wasn’t so chilled and conflicted at the moment, she’d be blushing like an idiot. Just like always. But right now, she didn’t know what to feel.

“Please, will you join me as my Queen?” N asked against her forehead, his voice so gentle it almost vanished in the rain. He kissed her skin again, leaning down and resting his forehead against hers. Tanis lifted her eyes up to meet his gaze, his eyes so soft and expectant, waiting in breathless hope for her response. He rested a hand gently on her cheek, stroking it with his thumb.

“I--”

It would be so easy. For an instant, Tanis’ resolve wavered. So easy to just say yes, to give in to her own silly desires. To be with N and leave all of this struggle - this heartbreak - behind her and be happy. To be touched like this whenever she wanted. To be with the one she cared for, but...

The right path is often the most difficult.

Lance’s words echoed in her mind.

Tanis knew she shouldn’t - she couldn’t. So many people were relying on her! Especially since N had basically just proven to her that the legend was true. He had successfully summoned Zekrom. If these legends were true - if Tanis really was the Hero of Truth - she was the only one who could awaken Reshiram and put a stop to Plasma’s madness. If she accepted his proposal and gave into her foolish wants, she’d be dooming people and Pokémon to live separately.

She could never live with herself is she allowed that to happen.

Which meant she and N had to keep being enemies. Knowing this, Tanis squeezed her eyes closed and heaved a heavy sigh. Leaning forward, she rested her head against N’s shoulder and wrapped her arms around his back. Just let me have this one moment... The bittersweet thought entered her mind, curling her fingers around the back of his jacket. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do this again.

N seemed startled by the sudden act of affection, taken aback. “T-Tanis...?” He questioned, but she didn’t respond. Gently, he returned the embrace, encircling her in his arms. Tanis trembled in his arms - she wasn’t sure if it was from the cold rain or from her own emotions - but she steeled herself for what was to come.

Defeated, but not finished.

“I...I-I can’t.” She whispered into his ear. She could feel him gasp, his body going stiff in her embrace. N tried to pull back from her arms so she could look her in the eyes, but she wouldn’t let him. Tanis couldn’t see his face, not right now. So, she tightened his arms around his back, holding him fast to her. In a show of physical strength, she greatly had him outclassed.

“I can’t be who you want me to be, N. I can’t do what you want me to.” Tanis continued, surprised by the sureness of her voice. Even with everything falling apart and her emotions shattering, her voice remained steady. “I can’t destroy the lives of people and Pokémon, N. As much as I...I-I want to be with you, I just can’t do that.” She gave him a quick squeeze to stop him from cutting her off. “Because if you continue with this goal, N...you’ll be ruining the lives of Pokémon, too.”

“Tanis, that’s not--” N started.

“Have you even asked them how they’d feel about it?”

Tanis turned her head, nestling it in the crook of N’s neck, her breath a whisper against his skin. N shuddered from the sensation, his body stiffening up again. Tanis didn’t dare to look at him, unless her strength should waiver. She couldn’t lose ground, not now.

“Don’t listen to her, N!” Came the protest from Ghetsis. Tanis internally groaned, forgetting that he was here. She tried to push the thought from her mind. Thankfully, N raised a hand to silence the Sage, which cut off any further complaint from that lying snake. Once he was quiet, N replaced his hand on her back.

Tanis took in a deep breath. “Have you even talked to Pokémon with trainers?” She continued, giving him another squeeze. Arceus, even though she was arguing her point, she didn’t want to leave his arms... “I know you can understand them, N! So have you listened to them? And not just a few, or just within Plasma - all of them! Every Pokémon you come across with a trainer!” Right now, she was feeling more and more impassioned. Slowly, she lifted her head up from his neck, leaning back to look in his eyes. “Because I can absolutely guarantee you, they will love and adore their trainers - and will want to stay with them.”

N looked shocked down at her, either from what she was suggesting, or maybe because of the fact that he never did think to ask every Pokémon if they wanted to be with their trainers. Tanis didn’t give him time to respond, continuing on her tangent.

“Sure, you’ll occasionally find the bad egg, but on a whole, trainers are good and kind to their Pokémon. They’re our precious friends and partners; our family.” She released one hand from his back, lifting it up to touch his cheek, brushing some of his unruly bangs away. She furrowed her brows, remembering what Anna had suggested. “How would you feel if I was taken away from you?”

N pursed his lips. “I...” He tore his eyes away from hers, looking down at the rain-soaked stone of the roof. “...I-I’d be heartbroken.”

“That’s how both Pokémon and trainers will feel if you separate them.” Tanis continued, turning his head back to look at her. “That’s how I’d feel.”

“Tanis...” N’s brows furrowed, his jaw tightening at the prospect.

“Stop listening to her, my lord.” Ghetsis’s voice cut through the calmness, both N and Tanis jerking their heads over to look at him. He sneered at the pair, approaching the pair with malice in his gate. Tanis could feel N tense up again, noticing him glaring at Ghetsis. “She knows not of what she speaks! She is just trying to fill your head with lies and slander. You have seen what enslaved Pokémon are like! You have heard their cries! You--”

“Shut the fuck up, you sick son-of-a-bitch!!” Tanis shouted at him, glaring up at him. “You’re just trying to manipulate N, you asshole!”

Ghetsis scoffed. “Why would I manipulate my own son?

Tanis’ mouth closed, jerking her head between Ghetsis and N. Wha...Ghetsis was N’s father?! Well that certainly did explain the hair, come to think of it...thankfully, N didn’t seem to inherit any of his father’s less...appealing personality traits. But ugh, what a horrible person to be goddamn related to! But that was neither here nor there, and she had to focus on the task at hand.

“W-well, even so!” She huffed. “I won’t let you fill N’s head with anymore--”

“Tanis, my father is right.” Tanis jerked her head up to N, noticing his cold expression. He wasn’t even looking at her anymore. “I’ve only ever seen what Pokémon have suffered under the hands of trainers - being forced to battle against their will. Forced into slavery. I won’t stand for it!” He released her from their embrace, rising up to his feet and turning on his heel.

“N--”

“I will keep pursing my ideal world,” N continued, walking towards the looming Zekrom. Reaching out, he placed a hand on the black dragon’s haunch, lowering his head. “...I can only hope that, in time, you will see my ideals and join me.” Zekrom leaned down to allow N onto his back, Ghetsis also walking over towards them.

Tanis clenched her fists, hopping up to her feet. “N, wait!!”

Slowly, N turned towards her. His eyes had turned into ice, his expression so cold that it sent chills running down her spine. Tanis shivered and set her jaw, finding the words she wanted to say. That she had to say - because she had to stop him before he left! She took in a deep breath and calmed her nerves.

“N, you know I have a point!” She could see the doubt in his eyes earlier, but didn’t mention that part. “And if you leave here, without even considering what I’ve said to you...” Another deep breath, she closed her eyes briefly and lowered her head. When she opened them, she met his cold gaze. “...Every time we see each other going forward, we'll be enemies.”

N’s eyes widened, his mouth slowly falling open. “T-Tanis?”

“No more talking, no holding, no enjoying each others company.” Tanis continued, her voice surprisingly strong despite how broken she felt inside. Her fists were clenched so tight she could feel the warmth of blood against her fingertips. “I will face you as your foe, I will fight you, and I will keep coming back until I win.” Another deep breath. “Because I will find Reshiram and put a stop to this insanity. I will save you, N.” Her face twisted into an intense, focused glare. “Whether you want me to or not.”

The color faded from N’s skin, and he turned completely to face her. His mouth opened to say something, but no words came out. Tanis stood her ground, looking him right in the eye, despite how badly she was shaking and how much her heart was breaking. She wouldn’t fall apart in front of him, she was too stubborn to.

Seconds past like hours. Slowly, N closed his mouth and squeezed his eyes closed and turned back to Zekrom. Wordlessly, he climbed into the dragon’s back, Ghetsis following suit. The silence from N was discomforting, but nothing was uttered. No words, no acceptance, no way he’d even consider what she had said to him. The only thing she got was a heartbreaking look from him, so shattering that it caused her own heart to clench in her chest and for tears to threaten to spill from her eyes. But Tanis remained strong, her face impassive.

“That’s you’re answer, then.” It wasn’t a question, but a statement. N wouldn’t listen to her. All of her aces were in her hand, and he still wouldn’t. Nothing would, it would seem. They’d have to be legitimate enemies now, and she would have to defeat him in order to save the world from Plasma’s goals.

Damnit.

“...I will save Pokémon,” N’s voice echoed across the empty tower. “With, or without your help.”

And, like that, he was gone.

Zekrom took the skies, dragging the storm with him. Even before he had fully vanished, Tanis began to sink down to her knees again, looking at the empty spot where N had once been.

Enemies...

Every bit of her heart had been shattered. Tanis was now convinced more then ever that she couldn’t save N. That he was beyond saving. Although she had wanted to save him more then Pokémon at this point, she knew it was hopeless. All she could do was find Reshiram and defeat him, grind him and Team Plasma into dust so she could protect the world from their madness. She didn’t want that. Knowing what she had to do, Tanis wrapped her arms around herself, holding her trembling form.

And she screamed.

It was an ear-piercing scream that tore through the skies, wrought with her anger, frustration, sorrow and heartbreak. The sobs she had been holding back began to choke her, falling forward and resting her head against the wet marble. She tried to grip it with her hands, but there were no cracks for her to hold. Agony ripped through her chest, spreading to every inch of her body, leaving her feel weak and helpless. Which she was. The man she loved was now her tried and true enemy, and there was nothing she could do to save him. Nothing but destroy him.

Why did this have to suck so much?!

 

-----

 

Tanis sat in the Poké Center, staring blankly at her coffee.

It had been hours since she had been dragged down from the top of the Dragonspiral Tower. Cheren had managed to calm her down enough to have some sense to walk, though she didn’t really see or feel anything on the way down. By the time they made it out of the bottom, the rain had stopped and evening had fallen. Tanis - who was still soaked to the skin and starting to shiver - was taken to the Poké Center to change and rest while Alder and the Dragon Clan members discussed what to do. Only Cheren and Iris stayed with her, though she didn’t feel like talking.

It didn’t keep others from talking to her, at least.

“The other Clan members with us broke off,” Iris explained to Tanis, when the girl entered the lounge she and Cheren sat in. “They’re going to look for any leads on the Light Stone, or any way to slow Plasma’s progression.”

“So, even the Clan has no idea where Reshiram is?” Cheren asked from the wall he was leaning against. Iris sighed and scratched her head.

“Sadly, no. Heck, we didn’t even know where the Dark Stone was!” She complained, plopping down on a couch opposite from where Tanis sat. “No idea where those creeps got their info from. It could be anywhere.”

Cheren heaved a heavy sigh. “Great.” He rubbed his temples. “What do we do know?”

“I’m...not sure.” Iris shrugged, leaning her head back against the couch. “There’s no direct orders from Lance yet, though I think he’s in transit from Johto right now.”

“What?” Cheren raised his brows, his eyes widening. He pushed off of the wall, “Lance is coming here?”

Iris slowly nodded, “Yeah, I think so at least.” She lifted her head back up to glance at Tanis, then over at Cheren. “Drayden told me Lance considers this an emergency, and he’s sent out a call to pretty much every Clan member to come to Unova.” She placed her hands on the edge of the couch, leaning forward, “It only figures that he’d be coming here himself. I...haven’t heard of such a mobilization of the Clan before.” She ran her hands down her face and groaned. “Things are really bad right now...”

“Yeah, and we can’t let it get worse.” Cheren sighed, reaching up to chew on his thumb a bit. “If we let N and Plasma win, who knows what they could do with Zekrom! But how can we stop it...?”

Iris looked back over at the silent Tanis, pursing her lips. She didn’t even look up at the girl, still staring numbly at her steadily-cooling cup of coffee. Her fingers lightly trembled around the porcelain cup, as if she was clutching it too tightly. If she held it too much tighter, it would likely shatter in her hands. Iris pursed her lips and furrowed her brows in concern at the older girl, and looked up to Cheren. He seemed to understand her meaning, slowly nodding his head.

“But where do we start?”

“I--” Iris started, but heaved a sigh. “I-I wish I knew. The legends never mention what happened to the Stones once Zekrom and Reshiram went dormant.”

Cheren chewed on his lower lip. “Damn. Then were should we look?”

“The Relic Castle.”

Both Iris and Cheren turned their heads to the entrance of the lounge, seeing Alder there. The Champion closed the door behind him, so as to keep the conversation privet. He walked towards the center of the room where the group sat, flashing Tanis a sympathetic expression before looking over at Cheren.

“I mean, it’s a mysterious, ancient ruin, yeah?” He folded his arms inside of his poncho. “And there’s an ancient maze under it that no one has gotten through...so it seems like it would be fitting something as ancient and powerful as the Light Stone would be in there, wouldn’t it?”

Cheren pressed a hand to his chin. “That does, actually.” He lowered his hand and met Alder’s gaze, “Plus, Zekrom was on top of a tower, close to the sky...it would make sense that Reshiram would be in a desert, with warmth and heat.”

“Yes, exactly!” Alder continued, nodding enthusiastically, “Plus, according to legend...one of the brothers, a previous Hero, built the Castle before Zekrom and Reshiram destroyed it all.”

“Whoa, really?!” Iris popped up to her feet, her eyes going wide. “That really does sound like where we could find the Light Stone!”

“Mmm.” Alded confirmed with a nod of his head, though his face grew serious. “Still, I don't like the idea of awakening the other dragon. The two dragons once destroyed the civilization before Unova...what would happen if we awakened them both again? Especially to fight against N and Zekrom.”

“What choice do we have?” Cheren asked, holding his arms out to the sides, “Zekrom is so powerful, there’s no way any other Pokémon could face it!” He furrowed his brows, “And we can’t let Plasma win!”

“But at the risk of destroying Unova all over again?” Alder asked calmly. Cheren closed his mouth, his lips pressing into a hard line. Alder sighed, “Look, I don’t like this idea, but I agree: we don’t have much of a choice right now. Unless we can find another equally-powerful Legendary Pokémon from another region...our options are limited to what we have.” His eyes flitted down to Tanis, then back up again, “Still, we need to consider the kind of disaster awakening Reshiram could bring about - something far worse then Team Plasma.”

“Well, it’ll be fine!” Iris assured, glancing down at the still-silent Tanis. “I-I mean, the other hero, she’s--” Cheren made a motion with his hand, signaling Iris not to mention Tanis’ own part to play in this. She was still recovering from what had happened on top of the Dragonspiral Tower.

“We can only hope she’ll be alright,” Alder said quietly, looking down at the broken girl with sympathy in his gray eyes. “We need her.” Cheren shot him a look, but he didn’t seem to notice.

“I think she needs herself more right now,” Iris said quietly, also looking down at Tanis. “Still, we’ll be fine with Tanis! If this is where we need to go, then we’ll go, right? We can awaken Reshiram--”

“--If it’s even a good idea,” Alder reminded her. She puffed her cheeks out at him. Cheren groaned and rubbed his temples.

“I told you, we don’t have a choice right now!” He sighed in exasperation, “All we have is--”

“Stop talking like I’m not here.”

The trio quickly shut up and looked down at Tanis. Her hands were shaking around the mug of now-cold coffee in her hands, an audible crack piercing through the sudden silence of the lounge. Small fractures appeared along the ceramic of the mug.

“Tanis...?” Cheren breathed, his eyebrows raising up.

“I’m sick and tired of hearing this.” Tanis hissed, her hands still gripping the mug tightly. “Of these stupid legends and destruction and things that happened Arceus-knows-how-long-ago! None of this goddamn matters right here, right now!” She grit her teeth together. “And I damn well won’t just fucking sit around here and wait for Plasma to win!!”

The mug shattered in her hands, shards of ceramic falling down to the ground. The cold coffee spilled over hands, but she didn’t even notice. Tanis shot up to her feet and raised her head, looking directly at Alder and meeting his gaze. Flames of determination burned in her pink eyes, her shaking, coffee-stained hands coiling into tight fists.

“I don’t care of Reshiram once helped destroy the world!!” She shouted at the Champion, raising a trembling hand to point at him, “Because I sure as hell won’t let that happen! If you all think I’m a damn hero or whatever shit it is you want to believe, then fine! I’ll go down to the fucking Castle on my own and awaken Reshiram!!” She thrust her outstretched hand to the side, “Because I am not just going to sit on my ass and wait for the world to end - because that’s what will happen if N succeeds!

Unwrapping the blanket from her shoulders, Tanis threw it to the ground and snapped her head back up. “So you either can come with me and help, or get out of my damn way. Because I am going to stop N!” She practically growled at them, reaching down and grabbing her pack from the floor and her belt of Pokéballs from where she was sitting on the couch. Without another word, she shoved past Alder and proceeded to the exit.

God, she was tired of this bullshit. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another! Tanis had more-or-less declared that she couldn’t love the man she actually did love, and that they had to be enemies. And the only way to stop him and his world-destroying Pokémon was with another world-destroying Pokémon. Damnit, how did she find herself in this situation?! But all she could do was keep going, keep fighting. Turn her heart into stone so she could focus on the task at hand. Because she sure as hell wasn’t going to give up. Not because of her emotions, not because of being unable to find some stupid legendary Pokémon she was somehow connected to.

“Tanis, wait up!” Cheren scrambled after her, also scooping up his bag. He quickly fell into pace beside her, “You know I’m with you, no matter what.” At least someone was. “You know Bianca would be too, if she was here.”

“I don’t want her dragged into this mess.” Tanis sighed angrily, reaching for the doorknob.

“I know, but I thought the sentiment would help.” Cheren offered with a small, uneasy smile. Tanis met his gaze, thankful that he was there to calm her down after the fiasco of the Dragonspiral Tower. She gave a small nod of her head.

“Yeah.”

“I’m coming, too!” Iris hopped over to where the duo stood, giving a bright nod. “My orders are to keep an eye on you, Tanis, so you’re stuck with me!”

“Oh...yay?” Tanis muttered sarcastically. Iris seemed like Bianca 2.0, only with more gumption and strength of character. She was enthusiastic, but also brilliant and strong. Still, Iris was a member of the Clan, unusual for someone as young as she was. And she had seen Iris in action, so she’d be a great help along the road. “B-but anyway, thanks Iris.”

“You bet!” Iris grinned, “Besides, even if I didn’t have orders, I’d still give you some help.”

Tanis managed a half-assed smile. “Heh, thanks.”

“I’ll join you as well,” Alder added from behind them, the group turning to look back at the Champion. “I don’t like the idea of these two Pokémon fighting again, but...we don’t have a choice right now. We need to stop Plasma, and I want to do what I can to help.”

Tanis furrowed her brows at his words, but nodded her head. “Okay, thanks Alder.” Another weak smile. “Any help we can get will be appreciated.” He grinned and nodded his head, the group leaving the lounge and heading towards the exit of the Poké Center.

Tanis pursed her lips together and downcast her eyes. Choice...the word echoed in her mind. Did she really have no choice right now? No choice but to war against N, to awaken an extremely powerful and dangerous Pokémon to fight against his? At the risk of destroying Unova in the process? Was it really worth it...?

There is always a choice, Tanis reminded herself, her jaw tightening. It just may not be the choice I want...but the choice that is right.

 

-----

 

Relic Castle. A place Tanis had only stuck her head in to take a break from the unrelenting heat and sandstorms of the Desert Resort (resort her ass). She knew it was someplace super important relating to history, but to be honest? History was never her strong suit. Or school in general, for that matter. Damn, now she really wished she had paid attention in class! Could’ve been useful right about now.

Alder led them to where they needed to go, but he quickly got separated from the group in the twisting labyrinth of the ruins. Tanis made sure Cheren and Iris didn’t get separated from her, too. Not knowing what the hell was down below the hissing wastes of the Resort made her feel...uneasy. Especially this whole “Hero of Truth” thing. Or whatever. She really didn’t know what was going on anymore. Only that she had to keep pressing forward so she could stop Plasma.

Plus a lot of Pokémon were down here.

“Ugh! How many turns are in here?!” Iris complained. She had taken lead of the trio for now, appearing to have the better sense of direction between them. “I swear whoever built this place did it just to confuse us!” She kicked some sand up off of the ground.

“And it’s a ruin, so there’s no map, either.” Cheren noted. Not that maps helped them in Twist Mountain, but whatever.

“And no reception.” Iris made a face. “I mean, there’s no reception up top, either! Stupid sand.” She sighed and rubbed her temples. “This is why I like Dragon-types! No sand to worry about!”

“Except Flygon and Garchomp,” Cheren sighed, Iris sticking her tongue out at him.

“Semantics!” She huffed, “Man! I wish Alder hadn’t just took off without us,” She crossed her arms, the group coming to a four-way fork in their path. “He’s fast for an old bugger! Now I have no idea where we are or where we should go.” She looked down all four paths, which all seemed to go about the same distance. Giving a sigh of defeat, she drooped down. “Ugh...”

Cheren pressed a hand to his chin in thought. “We should really start marking where we go,” He noted, “So we can figure out if we’ve been someplace befo--”

“This way.”

Tanis brushed past the two and turned down one of the paths. Iris and Cheren gave each other perplexed looks; Cheren knew that Tanis had the worst sense of direction, ever. Well, next to Bianca, that is. Which is why she relied so heavily on the GPS on her Pokégear to get wherever she needed to go. The fact she just...up and walked off was a little odd.

“Tanis, wait up!” Cheren jogged after her, falling into pace beside her. “Why do you want to go this way?”

Blinking, Tanis looked up at him. “I, uh...huh.” She furrowed her brows and looked ahead, continuing to walk. “I dunno, actually. Just...a feeling, I guess?”

“Tanis, usually when you follow your ‘feelings’ directions, you end up getting lost.” Cheren sighed, crossing his arms. Tanis narrowed her eyes at him, turning back around to face forward. By now, Iris had caught up as well, walking on the other side of her. She looked up at the two young adults.

“Yeah, I know.” Tanis admitted, lowering her head but keeping her eyes forward. “My sense of direction is horrible, you wouldn’t trust me to lead you to lunch, blah blah...” Her brows furrowed again, catching her lower lip in her teeth.

There was something...warm, growing in her chest. Not like a feeling or an emotion, but actual legitimate warmth. Like someone put a heating pad inside of her chest, or something. The further the group walked in Relic Castle, the warmer it got. Tanis could feel it almost...tugging at her, pulling her in certain directions. Almost like her feet were walking on their own accord. She didn’t understand it, but none of this made sense anyway. Might as well go with the flow.

“...This is different somehow.” Her voice grew distant, wondering what this was.

Iris blinked, tilting her head to the side. Tanis was guiding them down a twisting maze of paths like she was meant to. “Tanis?” She asked, the older girl blinking out of her daze and looking down at her. “Do you think this has to do with Reshiram? Maybe it’s...I dunno, calling you?”

Tanis looked ahead again, chewing on her lower lip. “I...I-I don’t know.” Honestly, she didn’t want to think about it. This whole Hero thing terrified her, what with the implications the title carried.

“It’s better then what we had a moment ago, at least.” Cheren said, keeping his eyes forward.

The trio walked in silence for a while, Tanis continuing to feel the warmth, the...call, urging her onward. It kept on getting stronger and more intense, but she ignored the pain. Ignored what it might mean. But it did make sense. Reshiram was associated with fire, so the fact she’d feel warm made sense.

It also made it more clear that Tanis was the other Hero.

Finally, the sensation just...stopped. Tanis blinked by the abrupt feeling, halting in her tracks. Cheren and Iris looked over at her.

“Tanis?” Cheren asked in concern.

“Something...s-something’s not right,” She muttered, her fists clenching. “The feeling that lead us here? It just...stopped!” She looked ahead, where the path lead to an open room. “Come on, let’s hurry!” Giving a gesture with her hand, Tanis dashed the rest of the way down the hallway, bursting into a larger room.

Honestly, it looked like some kind of antechamber. It was large, with elegant pillars surrounding it. They were eroded with time, but beautiful carvings of flame and dragons could still be seen. In the center of the room rested an...alter of sorts. The center of the alter had a carved groove in it, the stone being heavily burned and charred inside the groove.

And standing there was the last person she wanted to see.

“Well, well! I was wondering if you’d ever show up.”

Tanis gritted her teeth, her body tensing up. “Ghetsis.”

“How nice of you to join us, Lady Tanis.” Ghetsis folded his arms inside of his cloak, hissing out her name. Tanis noticed Alder was already there, and looked ready to battle. “We were just awaiting your arrival.”

“What the fuck do you want?” Tanis snapped at him, feeling her blood boil at just the sight of that slippery snake.

“Me?” He chuckled darkly, the menacing tone echoing off of the stone walls. “I want nothing here. It’s what you want that interests me.” Tanis narrowed her eyes at him. Scoffing, he unfolded his arms and gestured to the alter behind him. “I assume you were seeking the Light Stone, yes? Of course you were.” He lowered his arm. “Well, it’s no longer here. It hasn’t been here for years. You’re out of luck, girl.

“Cut the bullshit, Ghetsis!” Tanis shouted at him, her knuckles beginning to turn white. “What the hell do you want with me?! Not to gloat, surely!”

“He may know where the stone is,” Cheren whispered to her, narrowing his eyes at the Sage. “And may try to trick or manipulate you into doing something so you don’t find it.”

Tanis’ jaw tightened. “I know.” She muttered, un-clenching her fists only to re-clench them.

“I knew you would find your way here, so I am here to offer a warning to the Champion.” Ghetsis’ eyes fell upon Alder, who tensed up under his menacing gaze. “Our gracious King has decided, in order to change the world, he will challenge you and utterly crush you under the might of Zekrom.”

Alder narrowed his eyes, “What the heck does he hope to accomplish by that?!”

“By defeating you, the Champion, he will show Unova - and the world - how weak the human condition is,” Ghetsis continued, slowly pacing along the sand-covered floor, his eyes unmoving from Alder. “How you simply gave up continuing to fight and train since you lost your Pokémon to illness, all of those years ago.” He stopped pacing, facing Alder fully and sneering. “How the only reason why no one has defeated you is because your Elite Four always pick up the pieces!” Alder began to pale, his eyes going wide and his arms starting to tremble.

“H-how do you kn-know...” His usually loud, booming voice quieted to a shaken whisper.

“Ah, yes. How sad is it that the Champion’s Elite Four are stronger then he is!” Ghetsis continued to boom, practically looming over the shrinking Alder. “All because of how weak and feeble he became due to loss! How pathetic!” He sneered at Alder again. “But you...you do not matter in the long run, Champion. Our King does not care about you, or anyone else. N’s victory is already assured.”

“Back off, you asshole!” Tanis shouted, shoving her way between Alder and Ghetsis.

Ghetsis’ expression changed from a cold, menacing sneer into a sardonic smile. “Ah, and here is the key player.” His hand suddenly snapped out, grabbing Tanis by the chin and forcing her head up. Cheren and Iris went to run to her aid, but Alder held them back. “I fail to see why our King has chosen the likes of you, but if you found your way here...there is no doubt you are the other--”

Ghetsis stopped talking when Tanis spat in his face. Quickly, he released her and stumbled backwards, wiping the saliva from his cheek. He narrowed his red eyes dangerously down at her. “Insolent child...” He hissed below his breath.

“If you have something to goddamn say, then say it!” Tanis snapped, rubbing her jaw from where he firmly held it.

“Hmph,” Ghetsis snorted, narrowing his eyes at her again. “I suggest you hurry, little girl. If you have any hope of stopping N from his assault on the League, you best find the Light Stone and awaken Reshiram.” He sneered cruelly at her, “Or you will have no chance at stopping His Grace from ending the world as you know it!”

“You bet your ass I will!” Tanis said confidently, though her knees were shaking right now. “And I will stop you from what you plan to do!”

Ghetsis smirked again; a cruel, sadistic smirk. “Good. I do so enjoy watching hope burn brightly, only to be crushed.” He chuckled, taking a few steps back. His gaze snapped down towards Alder. “Oh, and Champion? I suggest you do hurry back to the League. You wouldn’t want anything to happen to it while you’re away...”

Alder gritted his teeth. “Damnit...!”

“Now, I bid you all farewell.” Ghetsis gave a sweeping, mocking bow at the group. “I simply cannot wait to see your hopes and dreams shattered when my son emerges victorious, and releases Pokémon from their bonds of slavery...” A sadistic smirk twisted it’s way across his face. “...Forever.” Reaching into his cloak, he released a smoke bomb.

“Damnit!! Wait--!” Tanis rushed forward, but by the time the smoke cleared, Ghetsis was gone. She fell to her knees before the alter, gripping the stone structure with her hands. “Shit!

“What do we do now...?” Iris asked, feeling a little panicked right now. Things just kept on going from bad to worse.

Alder took in a slow, shaken breath. “...I’m not sure,” He admitted, hanging his head down. “But I know I have to go back to the League,” He lifted his head up and looked over at Tanis, who was staring at the empty spot where the Light Stone was. “I don’t think I could stop Zekrom, but I sure as hell will try! I hate going along with whatever Ghetsis and N are planning, but...I have no choice.” Slowly, he approached Tanis and placed a cautious hand on her shoulder. She flinched. “I’ll do what I can to stall them, at least. You...you need to find that stone. I don’t want Reshiram and Zekrom to fight again, but the white dragon is our only hope of stopping Plasma.”

Tanis pressed her lips into a hard, firm line and nodded. One of her hands reached out and touched the charred grove in the alter, feeling the cool rock below her fingertips. She didn’t want to fight N, but she knew that Alder was right: She didn’t have a choice right now. She had to keep fighting to protect the world she loved. Even if it meant going against the person she loved. Damnit... Clenching her fist, she turned back to Alder.

“You don’t need to worry,” Tanis assured, the confidence in her voice betraying her true emotions. “I wont stop fighting until this is over. One way or another.”

 

Chapter Text

 

By the time the group exited the Relic Castle, Tanis was exhausted. She had been going non-stop, basically at full capacity, since she and Cheren left Twist Mountain. Which felt like forever ago, but it had only been...two days? Maybe more? Shit, she didn’t know anymore. It was so late out now that it was actually morning, the sun just peeking up over the mountains surrounding the Desert Resort. Physically, she felt like hell.

Emotionally, she didn't even know anymore. And it certainly wasn't helping her physical state any.

Alder parted ways from the group once they left the castle, and returned to the League. He had to prepare for N’s arrival, and do what both he and the Elite Four could do to stall Plasma. Cheren deducted that they were too tired to do anything productive right now, what with he and Tanis being up for nearly 48 hours, if not more. Of course, being the sensible one, he suggested they find a place to set up camp.

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Tanis had protested at the time. But once her tent was set up and sleeping bag inside, she basically crawled in and was out like a light. It was a deep, dreamless sleep, her subconscious thoughts avoided being tormented by N and Plasma. Thank Arceus.

And then her phone rang.

Jerking awake, Tanis gave a groan - her eyes weren’t even open - and she fumbled around the interior of her tent to find the buzzing Pokégear. Finally, she found it buried under her bedroll. When did it get there? Whatever. Sleepily, she rose the Gear to her ear and rubbed her eyes, hitting the accept button. She was so exhausted she promptly passed back out again, not even saying hello.

“...Nis?” The voice on the other end repeated. “Tanis? Tanis, are you there?”

Tanis woke up again, blinking her eyes but they fell back close again. “Huh...?” She mumbled groggily, rubbing her eyes again. “Wha...y-yeah, yeah...” She didn’t even recognize the voice.

“Sweetie, you sound awful. Is everything alright?” It was Nina, her voice riddled with concern.

Tanis groaned again. “No.” She said bluntly, still not registering who’s voice is it. Arceus, she needed some coffee right now. Preferably injected right into her bloodstream.

“Are you hurt?”

“I...uh, shit...” Tanis mumbled, running the hand that was over her eyes down her face, flopping it to her sides. She squinted in the daylight bleeding through the fabric of her tent. “M...Mom...?”

“Yes.” Nina continued, “Tell me, are you hurt? Or sick?”

“N-no, not...physically, at least.” Tanis grumbled, feeling both her heart tighten and her body so exhausted she couldn’t really think. At least she knew better then to tell her mom about the N situation. “Ju-just...super exhausted.”

Nina sighed in concern, “I’m not surprised. You have a lot on your plate right now. I wish you didn’t have to go through this whole mess, or shoulder it on your own...but we don’t always get what we wish for.” There was another heart-heavy, longing sigh from her. No doubt she wished she could be there to comfort her daughter in person. “I know you’ve the weight of the world with you, but you’re strong Tanis. You always have been.” Tanis could hear her mother smiling over the phone, “You’ll get through this.”

Tanis wasn’t so confident in herself, but she didn’t voice it. “...Thanks, mom.” She said halfheartedly.

“Of course,” Nina said, though her previously gentle voice hardened. “But, I’m not calling you just to catch up.”

Tanis rubbed her tired eyes again, they were still unable to focus right now. “Y-yeah, what is it?”

“We found it,” Nina informed, her voice hard and focused. Tanis’ eyes flew open, suddenly gaining focus. Her heart stopped beating for a second. “The Light Stone.”

Instantly, Tanis woke up. She sat bolt upright, her breath catching in her throat and her hand clutching the Pokégear. The Clan found the Stone? So soon?! How did they--wait, did that really matter? What mattered is they found it, at least in theory. Hopefully it wouldn’t turn out to be another wild goose chase, like the Relic Castle. Tanis held her breath a moment longer, before slowly exhaling.

“Whe--where is it...?” Despite how she tried to tell herself to be calm, her voice still shook.

“Turns out, it’s in Lenora’s museum in Nacrene City,” Nina explained, Tanis arching a brow up. How did they miss it before?! “It was excavated from the Castle years ago, but no one knew what it was. Until now.” Tanis furrowed her brows together. How did she never notice it? Or anyone else, for that matter? Plus, she didn’t feel anything abnormal in the gym when she was there, like when she was in the Castle.

As if reading her mind, Nina continued, “Apparently, it’s too dangerous to be kept on display, so she’s had it locked in the back since they got it. So even if Plasma or anyone else knew what it was, they probably would have no idea it was there.”

Tanis blinked. She was already starting to pack her stuff up. “Eh? ‘Too dangerous?’” She muttered, wondering what Nina was going on about. “Is it because there’s some kind of world-destroying dragon inside of it?”

Nina chuckled. “No, it’s basically a ball of molten lava.”

“Oh...well then...”

That certainly explained the burned marks on the alter in Relic Castle, and why it was kept hidden from the public. The thought that the weird stone Tanis needed to stop N was a sphere of lava made her feel...really uncomfortable, honestly. What the hell was up with that? How the hell could she use the damn thing if she couldn’t even touch it?

“Lenora’s been filled in on the situation,” Nina continued to explain, “She’ll be waiting for you in the gym with the Stone. The Clan has a few members there as well, in case Plasma catches wind of this discovery.”

Tanis slowly nodded. “...Okay.” She still felt a bit concerned about the fact she might need a hazmat suit to hold the Light Stone. Hopefully, once she got it, Reshiram would just...ya’know, pop out of it. And everything would be hunky-dory!

Knowing her luck, it wouldn’t be that easy. Jeez.

“I’ll let you go,” Nina said softly, “Lance is keeping me posted, but I do want to let you know the bulk of the Clan won’t get to Unova for a few days yet.” Oh, goodie. Which meant Tanis was going in alone. Again. “Keep me updated, too!”

“I’ll try,” Tanis crinkled her face together, “I mean, I am kind of out here, saving the world and all.”

Nina heaved a frustrated sigh. “Even heroes have time to call their mothers!” She scolded, the sharpness of her tone making Tanis flinch. “But, be safe, sweetie. And know we’re all rooting for you.” And, with that, Nina hung up the phone.

Taking in a deep breath, Tanis slid the Pokégear into her pants pocket and let it out in a low sigh. Trying to steel herself for what was to come wasn’t easy; especially if she did awaken Reshiram, she basically held the fate of Unova in her hands. No pressure, right? Either way, the final battle was getting closer and closer, and it just made her more nervous.

Stepping out of her tent, she saw that both Cheren and Iris were awake. They looked kind of shocked to see her.

“Pack up, guys,” Tanis instructed, “We’re going to get the Light Stone.”

 

----

 

A short flight later, and the trio arrived in Nacrene City. Tanis lead the group towards the gym, feeling the same burning sensation in her chest when they were in Relic Castle. Only it was a hell of a lot stronger, and kept getting stronger the closer they got to the museum.

To her surprise, Bianca was waiting for them just outside.

“Bianca?” Tanis asked, raising her brows. “What are you--” She didn’t get to finish her sentence when Bianca hugged her tightly. It wasn’t her usual glomp or cuddle, but an actual honest-to-goodness hug. Tanis blinked her eyes in confusion, looking down at the blonde girl. “B-Bianca...?”

“Tanis!” She exclaimed, her voice filled with tears. “I-I’m so, so, sososososososo ssoooooo sorry!!” Bianca sniffed, lifting her head up and looking at Tanis with deep concern in her green eyes. “Your mom, she told me everything! Oh my gosh, Tanis, this can’t be easy!!”

“It’s not,” Tanis said honestly, reaching out and gently petting Bianca’s head. “But, knowing you and Cheren have my backs makes it a little better.” She managed to force a smile. Bianca’s face brightened, hugging her tighter.

“I-I know I’m not that strong, but I’m with you!” She chirped, her arms closing in like a vice, “110%!”

Tanis chocked, “B-but I-I nneed 10% l-less hugging ri-right now!” Damn, for as small and willowy as Bianca was, she had a hell of a grip. She could probably win Ursaring-hugging competitions!

“Oops, sorry!” Bianca let go of her, blushing in embarrassment. Tanis sucked in some deep breaths. “But, come on! Lenora’s waiting for you!” Bianca took her hand and began to drag her away.

“Right, right,” Tanis let Bianca drag her, feeling incredibly nervous all of the sudden. This warm feeling that was calling her got stronger and stronger the closer they got, like her blood was on fire right now. Still, she couldn’t stop walking towards the sensation. The feeling, coupled with her own frayed nerves, made Tanis so uneasy she thought she was going to puke. Hopefully not on the priceless artifacts. Or in front of her friends. Honestly, the latter was the worse thought. Embarrassing.

Bianca lead the group through the museum and into a back room, where rows upon rows of dusty boxes and cataloged artifacts rested. Towards the back of the room was a heavy door that was cracked open, and a noticeable temperature difference. It was a lot hotter near the door. Lenora stood there by the door, fanning herself.

In a fire suit. Great.

“About time!” She grinned, ignoring the sweat beading down her forehead and walking over towards them. She roughly clapped her hand on Tanis’ back. “I was hoping you’d show up before it set off the fire alarm!”

Tanis felt even more sick. “Ugh...i-is it that bad...?”

“Bad enough that I had to keep it sealed in it’s own heat-resistant room,” Lenora informed, “And I’ve only had the door open for a little less then an hour, and it’s already hotter then a Rapidash’s backside in here!” Well, that didn’t help things. Now Tanis really felt like she was going to vomit.

“Why did you even take something so dangerous?” Cheren asked, giving a perplexed tilt of his head.

“Well, it wasn’t so hot when we found it,” Lenora explained, scratching the top of her head, “But once we got it here, it was too dangerous to study, and it kept increasing in heat. Eventually, we had to build this box,” She gestured towards the safe-like contraption it was stored in. “But...since Tanis got here, it actually dropped a few degrees in here.”

“Eh...?” Tanis blinked, looking over to where Lenora was pointing. There was a thermostat next to the safe.

“This bad boy monitored how hot the Light Stone was,” The Gym Leader said, “It usually sat around 800 to 900 degrees most of the time. I don’t think I saw it go less then 800, honestly. And look!”

“...It’s down to 600...” Cheren’s eyes widened, studying the thermometer.

Lenora crossed her arms and nodded. “Yeah! And it didn’t go down until Tanis walked in.”

“...Whoa...” Tanis breathed, unable to believe it. How could it get cooler because she was there?

“Neat!” Iris chirped, “I think it has to do with the legend, actually!” The girl turned to Tanis and put her hands on her hips, “There’s not a lot of info on the Stones, of course, but Reshiram is the White Dragon of Fire! It would make sense that it’s chosen Hero would be immune, wouldn’t it?”

“Uh...”

“Yes, exactly!” Lenora didn’t give Tanis a chance to talk, “I theorize it should be cool enough for Tanis to touch!”

“But--”

“I think that’s a good deduction,” Cheren added to the conversation.

“I--”

“Oooh, that’s really cool!!” Bianca chirped. “I want to see--”

“Guys, seriously?!” Tanis squawked in frustration, staring wide-eyed at all of them. “You seriously want me to reach out and touch a stone that’s 600 goddamn degrees just to see if it’s cool enough?! Because of some stupid story?

Cheren pushed his glasses up his nose. “Technically, it’s about 550 now.”

Tanis shot a burning glare at him. “Oh, jee! That makes me feel so much better now, Cheren. I’m so relieved!!” Tanis threw her arms up in the air, honestly not believing any of this! Sure, weird stuff had been happening, but her? A Hero? Of Truth? Holy shit, Reshiram could not have picked it’s hero more wrong!

Lenora tugged on some fire-resistant gloves, which honestly looked like glorified oven mitts, “Oh, just try!” She encouraged, though Tanis wasn’t sure if she was saying this on purpose. “Hover your hand over it. If it’s too hot to get close to, don’t touch it. Simple as that!” She smirked, though it didn’t make Tanis feel any better.

Turning on her heel, Lenora opened the door to the safe all the way and reached in. She grabbed whatever was in there. Bianca, Cheren and Iris all backed up, watching her carefully. Slowly, she began to back up until her arms were all the way out of the vault, and turned around carefully, holding her arms fully extended out.

Resting in her hands was a stone, about the size of a softball. Only, it didn’t look like a stone; it looked like a literal glob of molten lava. Except it was in perfect spherical shape. And not hardening. And...it...moved. Like the lava shifted around like it was actually flowing, but it retained it’s spherical shape completely. It was a little creepy to be honest.

Was this really the Light Stone?

Something was...inside of it. Something alive. Something that called to her. It wasn’t words or anything Tanis could actually describe. Not even the warm feeling in her body was like this. Her heart thudded heavily and slowly in her chest, her eyes wide. For some reason, her breathing slowed down and the nervousness flew away. She felt oddly calm right now. That was...weird, but she didn’t really have a lot to think about. Not when her mind was blank right now.

Slowly, compulsively, Tanis raised her hand up. Her hesitation completely vanished and she walked towards Lenora, her hand reaching out for the glowing stone. As she neared, the brilliant glow of the stone began to fade, and the room started to cool. When Tanis’ hand was hovering over it, the appearance of lava began to fade away. Until, finally, she brushed her fingertips against the surface.

The lava vanished from where her fingers rested. White, cool stone rested under it, and Tanis was brought back to reality. Gasping, she withdrew her fingers from the stone, and the lava-like appearance returned. By now, everyone in the room had crowded around her, watching in awe at the spectacle.

“Woooow...” Bianca said breathlessly, her eyes wide.

“Incredible!” Lenora gasped, looking absolutely giddy right now. “The Light Stone changed when she touched it!”

“The heat went away, too.” Cheren added in awe.

Iris looked up at Tanis, “...She really is the Hero of Truth, isn’t she...?” She whispered.

No pressure, right? Ugh...

Tanis sucked in another breath and reached for the Stone again. No pressure at all, She tried to calm herself, but could feel herself begin to panic again. But, she felt that same calming presence come over her once more, urging her to continue forward. Was that Reshiram...?

Wordlessly, Tanis placed her hand on the stone. Like before, the lava faded away to reveal smooth, white stone under her hand. It continued to radiate out from her palm, until the entire Light Stone now looked like it's title - a white stone. It was impossibly smooth, almost like touching marble, but it didn’t have the appearance of marble. It was smooth and spherical, with three grooves cut along the sides of it.

Tanis let out her breath and lifted the stone up. It was also surprisingly light - not like marble in that regard, either. It felt like holding a pumice stone, honestly, it was so light and airy! The calming feeling vanished and she was left with her own emotions, gawking at the sphere in her hand.

“Wowie...” Bianca breathed again.

She didn’t say anything else before Cheren yanked her back. With the Light Stone in her hands, Reshiram was bound to just...show up. Like it happened with N. Right? Tanis wasn’t even sure if the white dragon would fit in this room - especially if it was as big as Zekrom! Silently, she store at it, waiting for it to activate, or disappear, or whatever it is these things did, and for the Dragon of Truth to appear.

But...nothing happened.

Everyone silently watched and waited for Reshiram to awaken, but the room remained still and silent. The warm feeling in Tanis’ chest had vanished completely, so had any presence or calming effect she had felt prior. It just...felt like she was holding a ball in her hands. Staring at it like an idiot.

“...Erm...” Bianca leaned over to Cheren and whispered. “I-isn’t something, um, supposed to happen...?” Wordlessly, Cheren nodded.

Tanis’ jaw clenched and she inhaled sharply, heaving out a frustrated groan. “...It doesn’t work.” She muttered, clenching the Light Stone tightly in her hands. “Of course it doesn’t fucking work!” She shouted, chucking the thing down at the ground. Everyone recoiled from the object, but it didn’t turn back into a ball of lava. “Why would it goddamn work?! Shit, I knew wasn’t cut out for this stupid hero bullshit!!” Giving another scream of frustration, Tanis threw her arms up in the air. “What the fuck are we supposed to do if I can’t goddamn awaken Reshiram?!” She kicked one of the shelves roughly, causing it to shake. Thankfully, none of the contents fell out. “SHIT!” She shouted again.

“C-calm down, Tanis!” Iris reached for her, but received a burning death glare in response. She quickly recoiled, “W-we’ll think of something! There’s gotta be some kind of...um--”

“Ritual?” Lenora suggested, reaching down to pick up the discarded Light Stone. It retained it’s stone-like appearance and cool temperature.

“Yeah, exactly!” Iris nodded her head, turning back to Tanis. “We must be missing something!”

Tanis gritted her teeth. “N awoke Zekrom right away.” She grumbled.

“But you also weren’t there when Zekrom did awaken,” Cheren informed, “Only as he was awakening. You can’t be sure N did something on top of the Dragonspiral Tower to awaken it.” Tanis grunted in response.

What were they missing? Was it because she wasn’t adequate enough? Why the hell choose her if that was the case?! Or was it because there was some kind of cracked-up ritual or whatever they needed to do first? Ugh! This was a nightmare. Tanis should have known better then to hope the stupid thing would just open on the first try, like a jar of pickles! And she was pretty boss at opening pickle jars.

She put her face in her hands. Why is nothing ever easy?

Iris stroked her chin thoughtfully, “Hmm...” An idea popped into her head, jerking her eyes up to look at Tanis. “Oh, I know!” Tanis peeked out from between her fingers at Iris, which she took as a cue to keep going. “We can go see Drayden! He’s my mentor, and he’s both a native to Unova and has been a member of the Dragon Clan for, like, a bazillion years!” She put her fist into her open palm, “If anyone knows how to awaken Reshiram, it’ll be him!”

“And he’s a real sensible sort!” Lenora nodded her head, handing the Light Stone back to Tanis. “I’m sure he’ll have an idea of how to help!”

Tanis looked down at the inert stone in her hands, furrowing her brows. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another...she had been running all across Unova looking for this damn thing, now she had to run around again to figure out how to use it. She only hoped she could awaken Reshiram before N executed his plan...

Sighing, she closed her eyes and nodded her head. “...It’s more then what we had a second ago,” She admitted, cautiously opening her pack up and placing the stone inside. So far, so good; it looked like it wouldn’t start burning shit anymore. Hopefully. “Thanks, Lenora.”

“Of course!” The Gym Leader smiled, shimmying out of the fire suit. “Just be careful, alright?”

“Yeah, I know.” How can I be careful when I’m trying to awaken a dragon that once helped destroy Unova? Tanis thought bitterly, but kept it to herself. Zipping up her backpack, she slung it back over her shoulders. “Alright, let’s get going. N’s already got a lot of ground ahead of us, we need to keep up the pace!”

“Right!” Came Iris’ reply.

 

-----

 

N sat listlessly in his old room.

While it wasn’t exactly a quiet place - the colors were loud enough - it was completely his. Granted, everything in the castle did technically belong to him, being the King and all. But this was the only place that actually felt like it. It wasn’t overly bright or fancy, lined with elegant or expensive decor. It was the opposite, actually.

Not that he minded the decor in the rest of the castle, but it didn’t feel like home.

Here, it did. It was bright and colorful, adorned with checkered wallpaper and fluffy clouds on the floor and ceiling. Filled to the brim with things to keep his mind occupied, especially when he was younger. Games and puzzles, toys and books, not to mention lots of Pokémon-themed toys and plushies. Honestly, it was rather boyish; but he had spent so much of his life without a real childhood, that coming in here was like a blessing when he was dragged back into society. It was comforting and filled with nostalgia of his youth, it was safe. It was his home for many years as an adolescent, and still felt like it.

Plus, no one would bother him when he was here, and N wanted to be alone right now.

Zorua sat in his lap, cooing happily at the lavish petting his human friend was laying upon him. He was N’s oldest friend, and the only one still with him through all of the hardships he and the others were put through. His other Pokémon friends had all been taken away from him, one way or another. But, he was thankful he still had Zorua to remind him of his previous life, to keep him grounded.

N’s mind was elsewhere, though.

Every time we see each other going forward, we'll be enemies. Tanis’ words kept repeating in his mind, over and over again. Although it had been two days since their last meeting on the Dragonspiral Tower, what she had said to him continued to echo in his head. It left a bitter pit in his stomach, and he couldn’t help the malaise it had sent him into, often skulking about the castle and not really focusing so hard on his duties. Or the task at hand.

Tanis... N thought sadly, feeling his heart clench at the thought of her. Of them being legitimate enemies from now on. Sure, she had said they were enemies from the get-go, but neither she nor him ever acted like they were foes. Battling was one thing, but what she had said and how she said it to him...it was completely different then before. He didn’t doubt that she meant those words with 100% conviction. Why does it have to be this way? Why doesn’t she understand?

Squeezing his eyes closed, N lowered his head and heaved a sigh. He could still see the future of them together, so vividly. Of him and Tanis standing side-by-side, hand-in-hand, ready to face whatever it was that came their way. Zekrom and Reshiram behind them. Facing forward to the future - a future together. Opening his eyes halfway, N store at the carpet below the ramp he sat on.

Tanis would see the truth, eventually. Wouldn’t she? Why wouldn’t she, if he kept seeing the same future?

Are you sure it’s not her truth you will come to accept?

N looked up, hearing a deep, thundering voice in his mind. “Zekrom?”

She is the Hero of Truth, after all.” Zekrom reminded him coolly. Although the black dragon wasn’t in the room - he was too large to fit in most of the castle - both he and N shared a psychic link. Given how N was the chosen Hero of Ideals, and Zekrom had accepted him. Not that N needed this to understand the dragon, but it did allow them to communicate even when separate, like now.

N furrowed his brows. I’m...I-I’m not so sure. He focused his thoughts into a straight, clear line so Zekrom could easily read and understand them. While Zekrom could feel his thoughts and emotions, he still needed to be present to hear N physically.

There is great doubt in you, N.” The dragon continued. “If your resolve is wavering, so will my loyalty.”

N pursed his lips. Zorua gave a yawn and stretched, re-curling up on his lap. I know. But, I will still keep fighting for my ideal world! Despite how he’d keep pursuing the separation from Pokémon and people, he...wasn’t so sure anymore. If it was the actual right thing to do. There was so much doubt now, which only grew the closer he got to Tanis. The Dragonspiral Tower just made it so much worse.

I care not for what your ideals actually are, N,” Zekrom reminded him in his same booming, cold voice. “Only that they are strong and do not waiver. I will follow you for whatever goal or outcome you have until the end.” There was something so cold and otherworldly about the dragon’s voice. A detachment from the world surrounding him, only ideals and loyalty. No emotion or feeling in anything he said. N didn’t doubt his loyalty, but the lack of emotion...unsettled him.

I know, was all N could think of at the time.

When you awoke me, your resolve was firm and strong.” Zekrom added coolly, “But since speaking to the Hero of Truth on top of the tower, they have shaken.” If he were standing there, N was sure Zekrom was narrowing his eyes by the way his voice had turned sharper. “And I believe you have questioned your ideals for some time, and are only now coming to realize it.

N looked down at Zorua in his lap, continuing to stroke his soft, thick fur. “Have you even asked how they feel about it?” Tanis’ words rang in his head again. Asked Pokémon what they wanted...was it possible he was wrong? No, it couldn’t be! Could it?

All of the captive Pokémon he had seen and spoken to were all eager to leave their trainers, feeling like they were slaves to them. Except hers. Tanis’ Pokémon all adored her, would do anything for her, and none of them had been forced against their will. Faith, her Espeon, was proof enough of this. But, come to think of it...so were the Pokémon of her two human friends. And the gym leaders he had met, the Champion...why was it that he learned one thing his entire life, only to have it shattered by one person?

Tanis, N thought again, heaving a deep sigh. She was the one person who ever made him think. Almost every human he met just...fell into line. Did whatever he asked without question, never talked back to him. Always supported him and his decisions. Never gave him a reason to doubt. Then Tanis came into his life.

And everything changed.

She fought against him, argued with him, never bent or conformed to his will. Gave him pause. And N loved that about her. How Tanis always followed her own path, knew who she was and what she wanted. Wouldn’t let anyone else rule or control her. But, even though she had made it clear that she wanted him too, Tanis kept on resisting N. Fighting back, turning him down and rejecting him. Now, they were at war against each other.

And he didn’t want to break her.

N was suddenly drawn from his thoughts when the door to the room opened. He found himself glaring, wondering who would disturb him here. But, the glare vanished when he saw who had slipped into the room, closing the door behind her.

“Anthea.” It was the younger of his two older sisters, the proclaimed ‘Goddesses of Team Plasma.’ The pink haired woman crossed the room over towards him, folding her hands in front of her and giving a gentle bow at the waist.

Zorua yawned. ‘Aww, and I was just dozing off too!’ He complained, giving a stretch of his legs. N scooped the Pokémon into his arms and placed him on his shoulders. Sliding off the top of the ramp, he approached his sister.

Anthea rose up from her bow and smiled gently at him. “What brings you here?” N asked her with a tilt of his head. Zorua gave a miffed little huff.

Disturbing my nap, apparently!’ He grumbled. Anthea looked up at the little Pokémon and chuckled at the chagrin of the fluffy thing, reaching out and scritching him under his chin. Zorua began to coo. ‘S-stop it!’ He tried to resist, but his eyes began to roll back into his head contently. ‘I-I’m trying...to b -be up-upset...oh...ohhh...’ He began to purr against the woman’s hand, nuzzling against it and practically melted from N’s shoulders. N smiled at how easily his friend gave into affectionate petting.

With Zorua calm, Anthea patted him on the head and turned towards N. “I came here with some news, actually.” Her voice was gentle and kind, with the same Sinnoh accent N hand. The gentle smile on her face grew serious when she said this, N looking back down at her.

“What is it?” He asked, even though he knew what it was about.

“Lady Tanis is on the move,” Anthea informed calmly, “She and her group are heading towards Opelucid City as we speak.”

N wasn’t sure what to feel at the news, honestly. If she was going to Opelucid, it meant she was on the way to the Pokémon League. He would normally be glad that she was following along the path he wanted her to, that he would have a chance to see her. But, his face darkened when he remembered how they parted last. They would be meeting on the battlefield this time, as opponents. It was the last thing he wanted. N wanted Tanis to join him, to be with him - not to fight him. But--

“And she has the Light Stone.”

N’s eyes widened, his mind halting and his breath catching in his lungs. Tanis found the Light Stone? Already? Well, he expected no less from her, quite honestly. If there was one thing anyone could say about her, it was her incredible tenacity. She wouldn’t give up without a fight. Plus, she had the Dragon Clan helping her. No doubt they found the location of the Light Stone without much difficulty.

He knew she would find it, and he found himself smiling at the revelation.

I do not sense Reshiram’s presence,” Zekrom’s voice cut through the silence, booming in N’s mind. “She still sleeps within the Light Stone.”

“...I see.” N said aloud. He was happy - truly happy - that Tanis had found the stone. But, his gaze lowered when Zekrom spoke to him. She hadn’t awakened Reshiram yet. Her truth wasn’t as strong as he thought it was. If she didn’t manage to awaken Reshiram by the time she arrived at the League, Tanis had no chance against him. N didn’t want her to force a battle against him that she couldn’t possibly win.

Yet, even if she didn’t awaken Reshiram, N wanted Tanis by his side. Hero or no, she was his future, and the woman he loved.

Anthea didn’t question N’s response to Zekrom, her face growing grace. “There’s more troubling news, my Lord.”

N looked up and met her gaze. “Yes?”

“Father informed me that the entire Dragon Clan is mobilizing,” Anthea’s face hardened, her hands wringing together. “They are on the move towards Unova. They will be sweeping down from the North after regrouping, so they can stop hi--I-I mean, all of Plasma.” N tensed up at the news. “Father wanted me to tell you we should proceed with the plan, before they can arri--”

“No.”

Anthea was startled by N’s sudden, tense reply, but she didn’t question it. Her head lowered, though she kept her pink eyes on him. She waited patiently for his response.

“We will continue with the original plan,” N continued coolly. “I don’t care if the entire Dragon Clan comes to Unova to stop Plasma! They won’t find the castle,” Anthea quietly nodded. “I won’t challenge the Champion until I know Tanis will be present for my triumph. If she is to join me in my ideal, she must be there.”

“Even if the clan is a veritable army?” Anthea asked cautiously, meeting N’s cold gaze unflinchingly.

N gave a sharp nod. “I’m not afraid of them,” His voice had turned to ice, his heart hardening. “Our castle is well hidden and safe, so there is no point in raising it until the right moment.” He took in a slow breath, and his gaze darkened. “I don’t care how long it takes, or now many of the Clan arrive to stop us. They won’t find us, and I want to ensure that Tanis does.”

Despite how fierce and biting N’s words were, Anthea didn’t look away from him, didn’t falter from his icy gaze. She stood there, her hands clasped before her. When N was done talking, she smiled fondly up at him.

“My dear brother,” Her voice was warm and sweet, reaching out and gently taking his hands in hers. N blinked out of his stoic daze, looking down at her with a perplexed expression. “You really, truly do love Lady Tanis, don’t you?”

N blinked, his eyes going wide. His cool, forward posture broke apart, becoming suddenly flustered with the straight-forward question. He felt like the little boy who Ghetsis had found all of those years ago, unable to meet her gaze. Blushing, he looked to the side and down at the floor.

Anthea squeezed his hands. “You do, don’t you?” N flushed deeper and nodded. Anthea giggled, tilting her head to the side. “I’m glad, N. You need more human friends, especially one who loves Pokémon just as much as you do.”

Shyly, he looked up at his sister. Odd, how he could touch and hold Tanis as much as he wanted to, but when either she initiated something or someone else mentioned their relationship, he felt like a child again. A child who had no idea how human society worked. But, he couldn’t deny what he felt for her, even if he still wasn’t entirely sure how friendships or relationships worked. He just wasn’t so sure if Tanis felt the same about him...

“I’m sure she cares for you, too,” Anthea squeezed his hands again, smiling warmly at him. “I hope that she will succeed in making her way here, and the truth will come out.” N looked back down at her and nodded, the blush beginning to receded a little bit.

“As am I.” He managed to smile, hoping that she would be willing to join him, and he could show her everything in the castle. The castle that would belong to her, too.

“I can’t wait to meet her,” Anthea’s smile only grew, “Just...give it a bit of time. Everything will work out, I’m sure of it.”

N squeezed her hands as well, his smile brightening. “Thank you, Anthea,” He breathed slowly, “I appreciate all you’ve done to support me throughout the years.”

“Of course.” Anthea gave a small nod of her head, releasing his hands. “But, I’m sure you have much to do, my Lord. I shall leave you to it.” She took a few steps back and curtsied daintily. “I will inform Father of your instructions.”

“Thank you, Anthea.” He gave a small nod of his head, watching as the Goddess exited the room and near-silently closed the door behind her. Letting out a deep sigh, N looked up at the painted sky above his head. His hands clenched and he felt his resolve strengthen.

He wouldn’t give up his ideal. And he would find a way to bring about the future he saw with Tanis, one way or another.

 

Chapter Text

 

Bianca didn’t like this new Tanis.

All day, she had been watching her! Since leaving Nacrene, they stopped at the Poké Center to rest. Tanis dragged herself into a room and was dead to the world until the following morning. Of course, Bianca had heard from Cheren that Tanis had basically been running on 5 hours of sleep the past two days. So, Bianca figured a good night’s rest would help!

Only it...did the opposite.

Tanis barely spoke the entire day, and didn’t really eat, either. She pushed the group to fly all the way to Opelucid City without any breaks. “No time,” she had said, and left it at that.

So, here Bianca was, tired and hungry, her arms clinging tightly to Tanis’ waist while they flew on the back of Char. After all, the blonde didn’t have any flying types of her own - Fluffy, her Whimsicott, didn’t count - so she had to bum a ride with Tanis. The entire hours-long trip was draining and Bianca was so tired of the wind constantly whipping in her face and from holding on so tightly to Tanis! It felt like it took years to get where they were heading! With only one stop for a potty break, too!

And Tanis didn’t say a single word during it.

“W-when will we get there?” Bianca complained for the bazillionth time. As usual, her older companion didn’t respond, keeping still and silent on the back of her large Charizard. Huffing in indignation, Bianca looked off to the side. Cheren was flying slightly behind them with Iris on her Hydreigon, as his Unfezant was a little too small to carry a young man on it. Cheren met her gaze with a concerned expression of his his own, but due to the wind they wouldn’t be able to communicate.

Huffing again, Bianca rested her head on Tanis’ shoulders, really wishing right now that she could take a break. And eat something. Preferably cake. She could really go for some cake right about now. And snuggles with her Pokémon. But noooo! Tanis had to push them to get to Opestupid City as fast as they could! On the back of her scaly Charizard! Hmph!

“We’re here.”

Bianca blinked, startled by the fact that Tanis just talked. For the first time in this loooooong 6-hour flight! She was so shocked by this that she didn’t even notice Char was descending upon the city. Attempting to peer around the bigger, bulkier girl, Bianca squinted in the wind whipping in her face, her eyes widening when she saw the city looming closer and closer.

Once they landed, Bianca practically fell off of Char and onto the ground. “Oh, sweet, solid ground!” She nearly wept, so glad to no longer need to cling to Tanis for dear life. And maybe get that cake she wanted...and real food. Maybe. Tanis didn’t even bat an eye, continuing to walk around Bianca and heading off again.

In the opposite direction of the Poké Center.

Bianca looked up from the ground and blinked. “Um, Tanis?” She called after her friend, “Don’t you want to rest fir--”

“No.” Tanis said shortly, continuing to walk, heading towards the Gym. By now, Iris and Cheren had disembarked, Iris giving a frustrated sigh and hurrying after Tanis.

“Tanis, stop!” She shouted, the older girl actually listening. “Look, I know we’ve got to hurry, but we’ve been in the air for six hours non-stop! And we only had that one short potty break!” She put her hands on her hips, glaring up at Tanis. “You need your energy! I’m sure Char’s exhausted, too! So come in and rest for a bit, and at least eat some food!”

“I agree,” Cheren added, Bianca surprised that he was with her for a change. “You need your energy if you’re going to figure out how to awaken Reshiram, and stop Plasma.”

Tanis’ hands clenched into fists. She heaved a heavy sigh and hung her head down. Slowly, she turned on her heel and walked back towards them. Char, too, nodded his head in agreement, gesturing towards the Center with a hopeful expression. Which, of course, was saying something; Char usually never admitted he was tired! But, honestly, he was also likely hungry too. A Pokémon has to eat!

Taking in another breath, Tanis sighed again. “...Fine.” She muttered sharply, walking over to the Center.

“Oh, thank goodness!!” Bianca breathed out a sigh of relief, scurrying after Tanis. Once they got some rest (and food) in them, Bianca would try to find a nice pastry shop in Opelucid while Tanis talked things over with Drayden.

And maybe get a piece for her, too! Tanis could use some cake right now.

 

-------

 

It was evening before she finally convinced Iris to take her to see Drayden.

Damnit, Tanis didn’t need these delays! She was fine! The rest wasn’t needed. She could have just left Cheren and Bianca behind and taken Iris to introduce her. But no! She had to be goddamn babysat and coddled! There wasn’t enough time for that!

Arceus knows when N would hatch his scheme! With Zekrom in his grasp, he could easily do it at any time. Hell, he could even be challenging the League right now, as she walked! Tanis needed to figure out how to awaken Reshiram so she could stop him and his insane plans to basically take over the world, forge it into something of his making that would hurt everyone involved.

Tanis didn’t want to fight him, but she had to. So she ignored the stupid, foolish feelings of her heart and shoved them aside, moving with a focused determination and urgency. There was no way she could feel anything, or allow herself to. Those feelings would just drag her down in the battles to come, and she needed every ounce of her focus so she could save everyone.

Especially N.

Flushing, Tanis quickly shook the thought from her head. She couldn’t think it. Not anymore.

“Here we are!”

Iris had stopped at a fancy building in the center of town. Tanis was pulled from her brooding and her eyes went wide, gaping at the large estate. “Whoa...”

“Drayden’s also the mayor of Opelucid City!” Iris chirped, turning on her heel to face Tanis and folding her arms behind her back. “I let him know we’re coming, so he’s expecting us.” Turning back around, she walked towards the mansion and through the gates. Tanis silently followed after, gaping at the fancy architecture and overall grandness of the building. Wow, it was no wonder the mayor lived here!

The doors were opened by a butler, who smiled when he saw Iris. “Ah, miss Iris! We’ve been expecting you.” He gave a small bow, opening the door the rest of the way.

“Thanks!” Iris skipped in, waiting for Tanis to follow.

“And you must be Tanis.” The butler stated. She turned towards him and nodded her head, then resumed staring at the really fancy, ritzy decor. Shit, she was almost too scared to be in here! Like she’d move just the wrong way and knock something expensive over. And then have to pay for it. Ugh. The butler didn’t seem to notice her unease, closing the main door behind him. “Drayden is waiting for you both in the lower parlor.”

“Great, thanks!” Iris chirped, smiling up at the butler.

“I assume you recall where it--”

“Yeah, yeah!” Iris gave a dismissing wave of her hand, grabbing Tanis by the hand and beginning to drag her off. “I remember!” She gave another dismissive wave, turning down an equally-lavish hallway and releasing Tanis. “Alright, it’s just in here!” Nudging the door open, Iris popped into a small room that overlooked a courtyard. It was simple, mostly with some chairs and a chaise. It was very open and airy, with similar lovely decor.

Standing at the large bay doors that lead into the courtyard stood an older man with a very...impressive beard. Iris shut the door behind her and he turned to face the two girls. His beard was so bushy Tanis wasn’t sure if he was smiling or grimacing under it, but he didn’t seem unhappy to see them. He walked over to them and gave a small nod of his head.

“Iris, thank you for bringing her.” His voice was deep and gruff, but it wasn’t unpleasant.

Iris grinned. “No problem, gramps!” She chirped, wandering over to the windows to peer out of them. It was then that Tanis noticed the windows were framed by elegant dragon carvings, and the bay doors had two pillars with dragons swirling around them as well. Come to think of it...the entire house seemed to have dragon motifs everywhere. Even in subtle ways.

Turning back to her, Drayden’s eyes smiled. “I’m glad to finally meet you, Tanis.” He held his hand out for her. “My name’s Drayden, a member of the Clan. Though I’m sure you know this by now.”

Tanis gave a small nod, taking his hand and giving it a shake. “Yeah.”

“I had met Nina a few times on missions when I was younger,” Drayden continued, releasing her hand, “We kept on contact when she moved to Unova.” He walked over to one of the chairs, gesturing for her to sit. Tanis awkwardly wandered over to it and sat down, Drayden sitting in the one beside hers. “I was the one who recommended you to the Clan, actually.”

Tanis blinked, raising her bushy brows up. “Eh? Really?” She asked, unable to believe a man she had never even met before would recommend her. “Why?”

“Nina always said you were good with Pokémon, and itching for adventure,” Once again, Drayden’s eyes sparkled to signify a smile, but his beard kept his true expression hidden. “There’s a lot of you in her, I think. But, that isn’t why we’re here.”

Tanis sucked in a breath, pursing her lips and nodding. “...Yeah, it isn’t.”

“May I see the Stone?”

Nodding her head, Tanis slung her pack from her shoulders and set it on the floor. Rummaging around through the item balls that compacted all of the gear and food she needed for travel, finally fishing out the Light Stone. It was wrapped in flame-retardant fabric - just in case - though it was still cool to the touch. Not that it mattered to her, anyway; it was always cool when Tanis touched it.

Sitting back up on the chair, Tanis unwrapped it and held it out towards Drayden. “Don’t touch it, though,” She warned, “Apparently only I can do that without burning my hand off.”

Drayden leaned closer, examining the item without touching it. “...Very interesting,” He mused, stroking his beard. “The fact that when Lenora found it, it was a ball of lava. Once you touched it, however, it turned into this material?”

Tanis nodded slowly. “Yeah,” She looked down at it, feeling another wave of frustration over the fact that it was basically a fancy stone that didn’t work. “It hasn’t gone back since.”

“Hmm...” Drayden stroked his beard again, “Perhaps the legends are true...”

“Tell me how to awaken Reshiram, then.” Tanis lowered the stone onto her lap, giving it a brief glare before looking back up at him. Drayden met her gaze steadily, his own expression turning serious.

“There is not much that we do know,” He explained, his voice as stern as his expression, “Only that Reshiram and Zekrom were both one Pokémon, shared by a pair of brothers. When their Truth and Ideals were the same. However, the brothers’ thoughts on each of these emotions began to split and waiver. So, the Pokémon also split.” He looked down at the Light Stone again, then back up to Tanis. “This singular Pokémon, said to have created Unova in one fell swoop, was now in two. Reshiram and Zekrom were both singularly devoted to the brother they sided with, and they warred against each other.”

“And Unova was destroyed,” Tanis sighed angrily, rubbing her temples, “Yeah, I know the story! How did they get sealed? How do I un-seal them?!”

Drayden didn’t flinch from her anger, calmly continuing. “However, neither Reshiram nor Zekrom could win against each other,” His voice was still firm as he spoke. “So, the brothers, realizing that it was all for naught, claimed that neither Truth nor Ideals are right. So, they ended the war, and the two dragons fell into a slumber, becoming sealed in the stones.”

Tanis looked down at the stone sitting in her lap, her brows furrowing. In the past, when the last Heroes used Zekrom and Reshiram against each other, neither side could win. How...how could she possibly win against N with Reshiram, then? What was the point of trying to awaken it, if it wasn’t going to do her a damn thing in the end?

Her hands clutched at the stone. Hope. That’s all she had left to cling to. Tanis gritted her teeth behind her pursed lips. She knew that if she had any chance to win against N, she needed an edge. Her own team wasn’t strong enough - despite Char’s boasting - to face off against a legendary dragon. Against Zekrom. But with Reshiram, she had a slim chance of weakening it enough for her own team to fend off. And maybe, just maybe, she might be able to stop N before the world got destroyed again.

So much was riding on her right now. How was she going to do this...?

She felt a hand on her shoulder. Blinking out of her stupor, Tanis lifted her eyes up to look at Drayden. His eyes were softer now. “Tanis.”

“Y-yeah...?”

“Reshiram is extremely powerful, but it’s evenly matched with Zekrom,” His words, while serious, came out gentler then his previous explanation had been. “You cannot win with it alone.”

Sighing, Tanis looked back down at the stone, clutching it in her hands again. “...Yeah, I know.” She lowered her head and squeezed her eyes closed. How could she...?

“However, you don’t stand a chance without it.” Drayden lifted his hand up and crossed his arms. “You need to have faith in yourself, and in the Truth you believe in.” He tilted his head to the side. “I’m not sure what exactly is needed to awaken the legendary dragons, but I believe it is a key in the factor to doing so.”

Tanis opened her eyes, staring blankly at the stone. Her heart ached again. “But I don’t even know what that is...” She muttered, more to herself then to him.

“It will need to be strong enough to reach out to Reshiram in it’s sleep,” Drayden informed. “But, I have faith in you. So do many others.” Tanis looked up at him, and his eyes were smiling again. “All I ask is you do what you can to stop Plasma. But, I think you should wait for the rest of the Clan to arrive. You will need as much help as you can get against Team Plasma and N.”

Tanis numbly nodded. “When do you think they’ll arrive?” She asked quietly, unsure if she really could wait that long.

Drayden sighed, giving a small shrug of his shoulders. “At least five days, maybe a week.” He looked down to her again, “Many of them had to come down from Johto and Kanto, which is quite a trip.”

“Mmm...” Tanis sighed again, still gripping the Light Stone tightly in her hand. What truth did she follow, anyway...?

“Regardless, I spoke with Alder in regards to you, Tanis.” He uncrossed his arms, “He’s waiving your right into the League.”

Blinking, Tanis looked back up at him again, arching a brow. “Eh?”

“Considering the fact N plans to assault the Pokémon League with Zekrom, you are the last line if Alder fails,” Drayden explained cautiously, “If you are to awaken Reshiram, you will likely be the only one in Unova who could stand up to him. So, even though you don’t have all of the badges, you will be permitted to go through Victory Road and enter the League.”

“Wow...”

“And you’ll also be permitted to bypass the Elite Four, if it comes down to it.” Drayden added. “But, I shouldn’t keep you. You have a long trip to make through Victory Road, and we have no idea when N plans to attack.”

Tanis nodded her head, wrapping the Light Stone up and replacing it in her pack. Zipping it back up, she hoisted it back onto her shoulders. Slowly, she looked up and managed an awkward, half-assed smile. “Um...t-thanks for the information, Drayden.”

He nodded. “Of course,” Once again, his eyes smiled. “I’m just sorry I couldn’t tell you more.”

“No, no, it’s cool.” Tanis lied through her teeth, flashing another awkward smile. “I’ll...um, just find a way to stop N.” She took in a deep breath, telling her heart to shut up right now. “I need to...I have to.”

Another nod. “And I’m sure you will,” He gave an incline of his head. “After all, you have Nina’s fire in her. That kind of determination is hard to find in a person - trainer or no.”

Tanis felt awkward with the praise, but gave a small nod of thanks. “Uh, yeah. Sure.” She mumbled, turning on her heel and heading towards the door. Iris scurried after her, falling into pace beside her.

“So...what do we do now?” Iris asked curiously, the pair heading back into the hallway and out towards the exit.

Tanis pursed her lips and inhaled sharply. “...We go to Victory Road, and find a way to end this.”

 

-----

 

The looming, complicated maze of Victory Road awaited.

Tanis sucked in a deep breath and store up at the mountain, it’s twisting paths leading up to the plateau that the Unova Pokémon League rested on. Her hands were shaking pretty badly now; she wasn’t sure how she was going to keep this up for much longer. Especially considering the path that lay before her. Both figuratively and literally.

“Tanis?”

Blinking, she looked over her shoulder and back towards her friends. Bianca looked worriedly up at her. Even Cheren was showing a bit of concern beyond his normally unreadable appearance. Awkwardly, Bianca shifted from one foot to another, still looking up at Tanis.

“I - we - Ch-Cheren and I, I mean!” She muttered awkwardly, fumbling with her fingers. “We’re not...um...” Tanis furrowed her brows and turned fully to face them, balling her hands up into fists to hide how badly they were trembling. Bianca swallowed hard. “W-we’re not coming wi-with you.”

Tanis blinked slowly, then again. What...?

“Neither of us are strong enough to keep going,” Cheren explained, Tanis was shocked that he was admitting he wasn’t as strong as she was. “And I’m also not sure we’d be waived from continuing up Victory Road without the appropriate badges, either.”

Tanis down cast her eyes. “...You’re...not coming with...” She repeated in a low mutter, her fingers relaxing though they still trembled slightly. She let out a dejected sigh. Knowing that both of them were with her helped her feel stronger then she actually was. Especially right now.

“B-but!” Bianca interjected, taking a step towards Tanis. “Cheren and I, we may not be strong enough to help directly...but we’ll find other ways to help!!” She offered a forced smile, “So...it’ll be like we’re there! Only we’re not.” She giggled a bit at this, though even that sounded a bit forced. Tanis sighed again, squeezing her eyes closed. She gripped at the sides of her pants.

“...I understand.” She muttered.

Tanis flinched when she felt a hand on her shoulder, lifting her eyes up to see Cheren. He met her eyes with a cool and steady gaze, giving a short, confident nod.

“I have a back up plan, in case Plasma attacks and the Clan isn’t here.” He assured, giving her shoulder a small squeeze. “But, I have confidence in you, Tanis. You should too.”

Tanis managed a short chuckle. “Optimism, from you?

“It’s...been known to happen from time to time.” Cheren coughed, releasing her shoulder and straightening his tie. Tanis actually grinned, noticing he was actually kind of embarrassed right now. It was little bit cute, honestly.

“Heh, thanks.” Tanis chuckled, giving a short not of her head. “I...I get why you’re doing this. And I appreciate any help you can give me, really.”

“Of course!” Bianca smiled, skipping over to Tanis and taking her hands, squeezing them. “Just be careful, okay?? I don’t want to have to come down and kick your butt for losing!”

Tanis smirked, “As if you could kick my butt, Bianca. You’d break your foot on my ass!”

Bianca blushed and giggled. “T-true...”

“We’ll let you go,” Cheren said sharply, more to Bianca then to Tanis. The blonde flinched and laughed awkwardly, rubbing the back of her head. “Do whatever you can, Tanis.”

“Yeah.” Tanis said halfheartedly, unable to grin anymore. She silently watched as Cheren and Bianca departed, only kind of waving at them while they left. Her hands were still shaking. Actually, they were shaking more now. Damnit.

If she didn’t have her friends behind her, what else did she have...?

 

-----

 

Complete and utter failure. The world ending; Pokémon and people separated. Everything falling apart, torn, fragmented. Plasma succeeding. N becoming King of the new world, segregating humans away from the Pokémon they loved, and Pokémon from the humans they loved back.

Tanis let out a cry and shot up from where she slept. Tears ran down her face and her entire body was shaking so badly she couldn’t even sit upright. Falling back down onto her bedroll, she pressed the balls of her hands into her eyes, sniffing loudly and attempting to keep the tears from falling down her face. Like an idiot.

She couldn’t sleep.

It had been three days since she and Iris entered Victory Road, and they were making their way up it. Tanis got in a lot of training she felt she needed with the team she brought - Char, Ciela, Faith, Mulan, Rex and Hildr - but nothing she did could keep her mind off of what was to come.

Every time she managed to nod off, horrible nightmares plagued her and no amount of tiredness could keep them away. They kept on getting worse, too, and she had probably only slept a total of two or three hours since arriving at the entrance to Victory Road. Exhaustion racked her every sense, and no amount of coffee could keep her alert anymore. Still, she kept pushing forward, because she had to. Everything was riding on her getting to the League, and somehow finding a way to wake up Reshiram and stop N.

The stress was even more exhausting. The fact that so many people were relying on her made it feel like she was dragging around a sack of bricks behind her. Worst part was, barely anyone even knew what Tanis had to do to help them! Goddamnit.

Her Pokémon were concerned. Iris was concerned. But no one knew how the hell to help her. It was so frustrating that alone made Tanis want to break down, curl up into a little ball and cry pathetically for days. Just...find some hole and hide in it. Wish all of this away. That she didn’t have to fight the man she grew to love, that she didn’t need to save the whole goddamn world from his stupid, idealistic goals! That someone else - anyone else - could deal with this bullshit and not her.

Tanis just wanted to be happy. And she wasn’t.

Food didn’t sit well with her. She ate just to assure her team and Iris that she wasn’t as bad as she actually was; but she always felt like anything she ate was too much. It would make her feel too full to even move or think properly, or a rock would settle in her stomach and make her feel like she was going to throw up. In fact, Tanis had puked once or twice on this trip, but was able to do it when no one was looking. Not that it was food, just pure bile.

The nightmares didn’t help, either. Ugh.

Choking back another frustrated sob, Tanis bit down on her lower lip so hard to keep it all internalized that she began to taste blood. All of this was riding on her, and a stupid dragon that didn’t want to wake up!

Gritting her teeth, Tanis turned towards her pack that sat on the ground of the cave she was camped in. Throwing open her sleeping bag, she crawled over to it and began to throw things out of it, digging out the Light Stone. Without any care, she gave an angry cry through her choked sobs, tearing apart the flame retardant fabric that surrounded the damn thing.

“Why th-the h-hell don’t you fu-fucking work?!” She shouted at it, hiccuping both in pain and in sadness. “Wh-what the fuck d-do you want fr-from me, y-you...yo-you--!!” Giving another scream, she clung to the stone and buried her face in it, her lungs so wracked with sobs she couldn’t keep them in anymore. Unbridled, she cried over the stupid stone that seemed to be mocking her by not working.

By now, Iris had woken up. “T-Tanis!!” She gasped, stopping before the older girl and kneeling down beside her, placing her hand on Tanis’ shoulder.

“D-Don’t touch m-me!!Tanis spat, swatting Iris’ hand away violently, glaring at her blurry form beyond her tears. Sniffing loudly, Tanis wiped her teary eyes, and turned away from Iris, her nails cutting into the stone.

“Tanis, what the heck is wrong--”

“’W-what’s wrong...?’” Tanis hissed, her hands shaking around the Light Stone. How the hell could Iris not know what’s wrong?! Arceus, everything being thrown at her at once, and-- Tanis choked back another sob, the tears coming to her again. “T-This...t-th-this go-goddamn f-fucking pi-piece of sh-shit stone is the g-goddamn fuckin’ problem!!” She shouted, her voice cracking across the barren cave. By now, her Pokémon were awake too, all of them looking at her with concern. But none of them dared draw near, because they knew she didn’t want anyone near her right now.

“E-everything is r-riding on th-this fuckin thing!!” Tanis cried, giving a wet snort in a feeble attempt to stop her nose from running with all of the uncontrolled sobbing she was doing right now. “A-a s-stupid st-sto-stone w-we have to pla-place our goddamn fai-faith in!! And it...i-it doesn’t e-even f-fu-fucking work!!

With a loud, agonizing scream, Tanis threw the stone across the cave. The Light Stone hit the opposite wall and bounced back at her. Tanis gave another scream and knocked it away again, where it rolled over to where Char was sitting. Tanis wrapped her arms around herself and doubled over, biting down hard on her lower lip again in an attempt to stop herself from crying.

Goddamnit! She hated this. She hated being so foolish, so weak!! But the stress, the lack of food and sleep was getting to her. Everything was piling up, and the last thing she needed was the fact the Light Stone didn’t work, and Reshiram still remained dormant inside of it. If the White Dragon was still even there. Shit... how could this possibly get any worse?!

She wasn’t a damn hero.

Iris tried to comfort her, but Tanis didn’t hear her. Didn’t feel her. All she could do was cry pathetically against the floor of the cavern, her lungs heaving for breath between her uncontrollable sobs. The one man that actually made her feel something, feel real emotions and connection just happened to be her enemy. That they were at war with each other. Nothing she could do would stop what was to come. As much as she just wanted to walk away from all of this, she couldn’t.

Not only would N not allow her to, but she could never forgive herself if she didn’t even try.

The right path is often the hardest.

Tanis wasn’t sure how long she lay there, crying like an idiot, but by the time the tears stopped flowing and her lungs stopped heaving, those words rang in her head. Lance and Anna both said those things to her - was it a coincidence? Coincidence that they both advised her of this? Did they know what kind of trials she would have to face? Was her being selected by a sleeping dragon tied in with N’s as well?

Fate...did fate really exist...?

With her cries stifled, Tanis managed to sit upright, though she was still trembling. Char had moved behind her, sitting down and holding her up with his claws. It was oddly gentle for the giant, temperamental Charizard. Turning to him, Tanis buried her face against his stomach and hugged him - as best she could - still quietly crying.

Faith came over as well, rubbing up against Tanis’ thigh. Lowering her head down, she reached out to the Espeon and lightly rubbed her head, barely able to see her through her tears. Another figure came behind her, Tanis looking up to see the newly-evolved Ciela and Hildr. The Shiny Dragonite knelt down and placed a hand on Tanis’ shoulder, Hildr getting as close as she could without hurting her trainer. Mulan also walked over, giving a comforting nod and patting Tanis on the head. Finally, Rex wandered to his trainer, giving her a big, wet kiss.

Tanis felt her heart bursting, more tears coming to her. Leaning into Char, she choked back another sob, hugging Faith to her and not even caring she was covered in Aerodactyl slobber right now.

She couldn’t lose them. Her team, her precious friends - the thought of them being ripped from her in the world N was planning to build made her heart shatter. Every piece of her heart felt like it was breaking apart at the notion that these Pokémon would no longer be there for her. To help her, to support her, to do things like this. They weren’t just companions, they were part of her. As much as N was part of her. To take them away would be taking away pieces of her.

There was no way she could allow this.

Firm resolve built within her. As painful as this whole situation was, she had to fight. Tanis couldn’t give up. She wouldn’t give up. If she had to fight and cut down N in the process, she would do that. To protect her friends. The world she lived in, and every person and Pokémon out there. She had to stop him, no matter how much it would break her heart to do it.

Even if she couldn’t awaken Reshiram, she would find a way.

“Tanis...?” Iris asked cautiously. Nervously, she reached out and touched the older girl’s shoulder. This time, she wasn’t smacked away.

Tanis sniffed loudly. “I...I-I’m sorry...” She mumbled, lifting her watery eyes to meet Iris’. Despite the fact they were flooded with tears, Tanis’ eyes were filled with fierce determination. Reaching up from Faith’s soft fur, she wiped some of her tears away with the back of her hand. “I...I-I shouldn’t ha-have...”

“You’re under a lot of pressure right now, Tanis.” Iris said calmly, holding her gaze. “I don’t blame you, really! I’d probably be freaking out too if I were you.”

Tanis quietly nodded. “Y-yeah...t-th-thanks...” She forced a smile, sniffing again. “I...I think I’m ready...”

Iris grinned. “Great! We should be at the League tomorrow, I think.” She gave Tanis’ shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “But, are you sure you’re going to be okay? Fighting N?”

Tanis pursed her lips and looked away, down at Faith. The Espeon’s deep eyes searched hers, giving her trainer a comforting nudge. Tanis took in a sharp breath and squeezed her eyes closed, giving a small nod of her head. Iris released her shoulder and rocked back onto her heels, looking down at Tanis with concern.

“There’s, um...just one thing I need to know.”

Tanis looked back up at her. “...Yeah?”

Iris’ brows furrowed. “How do you feel about him? N, I mean.” She crossed her arms. “And don’t you dare lie to--”

“I love him.”

Iris stopped talking, her eyes going wide and her arms dropping to her sides. She store at Tanis with a dumbfounded expression, her mouth slowly hanging open. It wasn’t the kind of response she was expecting, though Tanis wasn’t sure what the young Clan member had thought was going on. Tanis hung her head down again, stroking Faith’s incredibly soft fur.

No more running away from the truth. Although Tanis knew she loved N for a while now, she hadn’t ever admitted it to anyone else. Especially not to someone in the Clan. She wasn’t sure how this would change things now, but she doubted she would be taken off of the mission. After all, she’d be the only person who could possibly save N. If it was possible. She wasn’t sure.

“W-wow...” Iris managed to gasp, breaking the awkward silence. “I-I...I-I guess I shouldn’t be surprised...? But, um...I didn’t think...”

Tanis sighed. “Yeah, I know.”

“And you’re still going to fight him? And stop him?”

Tanis met her gaze again. “Yes.”

Iris flashed a wry grin. “Wow, you’re so strong, Tanis. To go against the guy you’re in love with...” Tanis gave a snort at this. She really wasn’t that strong...she didn’t have a choice, really. “And to keep fighting, despite it all. No wonder why you broke down.”

“...I have to,” She informed coolly, feeling her heart harden at the prospect. “I can’t let him succeed. As much as I want to try and save him - I’m not sure it’s possible.” Lifting her eyes up, Tanis’ met Iris’ gaze. “Even if it breaks my heart, the thought of losing my Pokémon is worse. I can’t let that happen to anyone. I won’t.”

Iris’ wry grin turned into a genuine smile. “You’re amazing.” Popping to her feet, she roughly clapped Tanis on the back. “But you need to get some sleep, okay? We don’t know what’s waiting for us outside.”

“Y-yeah...” Ugh, Tanis really didn’t want to sleep. She didn’t want anymore nightmares...but even so, she needed to try. Exhaustion was a sure-fire path to disaster, and she couldn’t lose the fight coming up. No way, no how!

Mulan eased her to her feet, the Lucario taking one arm while Char held the other. Tanis wobbled a bit, still sore from all of the sobbing she had done only moments earlier. Her Pokémon helped her back to her sleeping bag, where Faith curled up beside her and started to purr happily, tucking under Tanis’ chin.

Forcing her eyes closed, Tanis heaved a sigh. No more nightmares, no more dreams. Just silence. She prayed for silence in her sleep. Silence to give her the focus she would need when the dawn came, for whenever she came across N and tried to stop him from his plans.

But what is the Truth I seek...?

 

Chapter Text

 

“The League is straight ahead.”

Tanis and Iris stood at the exit of Victory Road, looking up at the set of stairs that lead up to the Pokémon League. Tanis took in a deep breath and held it for a few moments, trying to quiet down her nerves. It has been another two days before they made it out of the Road, and she still wasn’t sleeping all that great. More over, Reshiram still remained dormant inside of the Light Stone, and Tanis didn’t even know what truth she was supposed to follow.

Was she really ready for this?

Letting out her breath, Tanis looked down at Iris. “...You’re sure?” She asked hesitantly. The girl nodded her head.

“Yeah,” Iris crossed her arms, keeping her gaze focused on the path that lead to the League. “Someone has to stay behind and make sure those Plasma creeps don’t follow you up there.” Tanis took in another deep breath and nodded her head too, lifting her eyes up to the entrance.

Everyone who was with her until now was leaving. She’d be facing off against N alone. The Clan was still at least a few hours off, and both she and Iris had received word that N was spotted approaching the League about thirty minutes ago.

It was now or never. Tanis would have to meet him, even if she didn’t have Reshiram between now and then. She would need to hurry if she had any hope of catching up to him.

Clenching her trembling hands, Tanis closed her eyes and told her heart to calm down. It was beating so fast she was sure it was going to explode from her chest any moment, which only caused her to shake even more. But, nothing could quell the raging storm of emotions within in her. She had to do this. There was no way she could fail; she refused to fail! Opening her eyes, Tanis reminded herself of her resolve. She had to protect the world she knew from Team Plasma.

“You can do this, Tanis.” Iris assured in a deeply serious tone, looking up at the older girl. “Lance wouldn’t be sending you in there alone if he didn’t believe in you.”

“I know.” Tanis said quietly, barely above a whisper. Her eyes turned skyward, noticing the massive cold front moving in. The wind whipped through her long hair, making the already chilly day even colder. But, she wasn’t sure if she was shivering from the cold, or from her nerves.

An appropriate setting for today.

Steeling herself and firming her resolve, Tanis began to jog up the steps. She heard Iris say something after her, but she didn’t hear it. Her heart was thudding too loudly in her ears to hear much of anything, and her mind was racing. In silence, she ran, ascending the stone steps that lead into Unova’s Pokémon League. The guards at the gates casually let her through, not even checking for her badges; they knew she was coming. Mentally, Tanis gave a small thank you to Alder for this.

Even though they weren't present, those she had met on her journey were helping in their own ways.

Finally, at the top of the stairs, Tanis broke into a full run, passing the elegant stone pillars that lined the pathway to the League itself. There was a large, circular building in the center of it, with four spires surrounding the building. Those were where trainers would face down against the Elite Four, but Tanis wouldn’t be visiting them today. There was no point in it, especially if N was already here. Lighting cracked in the distance with the storm front moving in, but she didn’t know if it was due to Zekrom’s presence or if it was an actual storm. Fitting, if it was the latter.

Running into the circular building, Tanis bypassed the mini- Poké Center off to the side. She didn’t have time for that now, and she was sure to restore her Pokémon with the healing items she had brought with her. A guard stood in the center of the room, where teleport pads rested that would lead those challenging the League to the Elite Four.

Tanis slowed down her run into a jog, approaching the guard. “H-hey, I’m--”

“Tanis, right?” The guard asked, wringing his hands together. Tanis nodded her head, feeling her heart stop for a moment at his nervous demeanor. She pursed her lips and nodded, taking a moment to catch her breath. “The Champion told us to expect you, but...” He bit down on his lower lip, turning behind him where a staircase lead up to another building. “...He’s already beaten the Elite Four, and on his way to Alder.” He looked back at her. “You need to hurry.”

Tanis’ heart sank into her feet. N was here? Already?! And he had beaten the Elite Four! Goddamnit, Tanis didn’t think it would be that easy for him...but with Zekrom--

Tanis inhaled sharply and nodded. The guard gestured to the statue in the center of the room. “This will take you down to Alder.” He walked over to the controls, Tanis hurrying over to the statue. Hitting a button, it began to lower her down towards the staircase that lead up to the building on top of a hill. “Good luck, miss...!”

Shifting awkwardly from one foot to another, the elevator ride down took way too long. It only took a few agonizing seconds, but it felt like a thousand years. She had to stop N before he got to Alder!! Dear Arceus, please let her make it in time...!

Before the elevator even hit the bottom, Tanis jumped off of it and broke into a run. There were a million stairs ahead of her that lead to where Alder resided, but she didn’t care. Every step she took felt drew her further away from her goal, every second lasted decades. Even with the square building looming closer and closer in her view, it felt unobtainable. If she listened closely, she could hear the sounds of a battle going on.

Even with her heart pounding in her chest, Tanis pushed herself harder. There would be no breaks for her, and her sheer determination to stop this madness from happening drove her forward. Step after step, her calves cried out in pain and her lungs heaved for air. It was just like the Dragonspiral Tower all over again.

Her friends had remained behind again, behind to help her in their own little ways. It was just her against the clock, against N. Everything was riding on her making it on time, only now the stakes were higher. It wasn’t just to stop N from getting a legendary Pokémon; it was to stop him from destroying everything she knew and loved. From ending this world and plunging it into an era of misery! There was no way she could let it happen.

But how could she stop him when she had nothing to actually stop him with?

After years of running up the stairs, Tanis made it to the building and tore through the doors like a Zubat out of hell. There was another set of stairs, as well as floating video cameras to record the matches. Lighting cracked through the entire building, flashing with a brilliant blue light. Tanis winced against it, but kept pressing forward, dashing up the stairs. She skidded to a halt when she saw Alder and N facing off against each other, Zekrom easily one-shotting Alder’s Volcarona. The bug Pokémon returned to it’s Pokéball, and Tanis’ eyes widened.

A screen was hovering over each of them, showing their respective teams. Every single one of Alder’s Pokémon had been crossed out out. The former-Champion sunk down to his knees, staring up at N with a blank, defeated expression.

No...nonononono... Tanis could feel her heart stop beating for a few seconds, her face falling apart. An onrush of tears threatened to escape from her eyes, but she stubbornly refused to let them escape. Everything was collapsing around her! Again, she was late. Again, she had failed to get there in time!! If only she had been faster! If only she hadn’t lollygagged so much in Victory Road! Or talked to Iris for so long, or...or...!!

Tanis’ hands curled into tight fists, her fingernails cutting into the palms of her hands again. Every muscle on her body was trembling, but she tried her best to keep it from being too noticeable. She sucked in a sharp, shaken breath, letting it out slowly. Failure wasn’t an option. There was still a chance, wasn’t there? Alder may have failed, but she was here now. Doubting herself now would only make things worse. She couldn’t afford to doubt, to wonder about what she could have done to stop this! If she could show that she was stronger then N and Zekrom, she had a chance to bring this madness to a halt.

There was no option but victory for her.

N placed a hand on Zekrom’s haunch, looking down at the defeated Alder with an unbearably cold expression. “Just as I thought,” Even his voice sent daggers of ice down Tanis’ spine, “Even you’re no match for my new friend, Zekrom. The battle is over, and I will issue a new world order from this moment forward!” Tanis opened her mouth to speak, but her voice had been silenced. “With the power shared with me by Zekrom, as the Hero of Ideals and the new Pokémon League Champion, trainers of Unova and the world will release their Pokémon!! I will carve a new world from the old, separating Pokémon from the humans that force them to do unspeakable acts in their name!!”

“N-no, you...you can’t...!!” Alder shouted, staggering up to his feet. “You can’t force people to part from their precious Pokémon!!”

N’s expression hardened, turning so cold and dark that Tanis wasn’t even sure it was him anymore. “My strength is greater then yours, Alder. It has been so long since you last had to fight at your full strength, with all your heart, that there was no competition.” He narrowed his blue-gray eyes down at the former Champion. “I emerged victorious, and now you cannot do anything to stop me.” Alder downcast his eyes, swallowing hard.

“I--”

“N, stop!

Tanis finally found her voice, marching forward. She was still shaking all over and she couldn’t calm down her thudding heart or ragged breaths. There was no way she could back down, not now. Not when she was the only one here who could stop him.

N blinked and looked over at her, his eyes widening. “Tanis!” He breathed, his expression immediately softening and posture turned into what she was used to; warm and inviting. He turned on his heel and began to walk towards her, a smile forming across his face. The shift in moods made her feel even more unsettled right now. “I’m so glad you could make it, my dear. I was worried you wouldn’t be here to witness my rise.”

“N--”

He took her hands in his, though his expression turned serious again. “I don’t wish to fight you, Tanis,” He said in a low voice, reaching a hand out to touch her cheek. Tanis flinched away from his touch, trying to ignore her own heart. “Nor do I want to war against you. Won’t you reconsider? We could still have a future together.”

Tanis took in a deep breath, finding the inner strength to resist him. “No, we can’t.” She said frankly, looking up to meet his gaze. She pulled her hand’s from N’s, taking a step backwards. “What you’re doing is wrong, N. As long as you believe in this, we don’t have a future together.” Her heart felt like it was falling apart, but Tanis took in another steadying breath to keep herself from crying or screaming. “As much as I want this, I can’t do it. I won’t let you win.”

N’s expression grew distant then, his brows knitting together. A low, dejected sigh came from him, lowering his gaze from hers for a few moments. Closing those pretty eyes of his, he took a few steps backwards, his arms hanging limp at his sides. A shadow spread across his face; Tanis could tell he didn’t want to do this, either. Neither of them did. But, like it or not, they were at war with each other.

“...I see.” Came his low voice. Opening his eyes, he raised them to meet her gaze. A piercing coldness glazed over them, stabbing into Tanis’ heart. “Then you leave me no choice, Tanis. I had hoped there would be another way, but...”

Tanis furrowed her brows. “N...?”

Lifting is head up, N’s countenance became cool and confident, holding his arms out to the sides. “It is time for my new, ideal world to be formed!” His voice echoed across the building, booming as loud as the thunder rumbled overhead. “From the darkness, Team Plasma will rise! From atop of the castle, my words will speak of the Ideals that will save Pokémon everywhere!!” A rare glare crossed his face, the same cool determination ringing out in his voice. “Now! Break through the shackles and surround the center of this evil world - the Pokémon League! All will tremble before us!!”

Tanis was about to ask what the hell he was going on about, but the ground started to rumble. “Wh-what the...?” She muttered, looking out the large, open windows that surrounded the building they were in.

Cracks began to splinter the ground. Tanis’ eyes widened when she saw the fissures appear in the rocky terrain that surrounded the League. Some kind of huge earthquake was happening! The rumbling only got more intense as the seconds past, Tanis stumbling forward and grabbing into a pillar to support herself. Finally, one of the massive fissures split open, and from it came a segment of a building. It was lined with huge black, metal spikes to pierce through the ground and continued to slowly rise up.

More pieces of this building began to emerge, each segment rising at a different rate. All of the blood began to drain from Tanis’ face while she slowly turned her head around, watching as each massive piece of this castle burst through. Bit by bit, the Pokémon League became surrounded by this mysterious castle she’d never seen or heard of before. Nervously, she turned behind her and saw that even the way that lead to the rest of Unova - through Victory Road - was also getting cut off by this imposing, spike-encrusted castle.

N was literally cutting off the League from the rest of Unova! The only way anyone could access it would be from above, and no doubt Plasma would be watching the skies and ensuring that no trainers could sneak in. Goddamnit! And Clan still wasn’t here yet, as far as she could tell!

Everyone in the League was trapped! Her, the Elite Four, Alder...even the poor people who just worked here! And to think - Team Plasma’s base of operations was under the League this whole time...!

Finally, each piece of the castle clicked into place. It was huge - easily 40 or 50 stories tall - with a larger section in the middle that was no doubt the royal quarters. N had risen his arms up with the castle, a dark, triumphant grin across his usually soft features. Tanis briefly wondered how much of this was actually his plan, or that bastard Ghetsis’. The castle was certainly large enough to account for Ghetsis’ massive ego.

Alder was also gaping up at the castle that had them effectively trapped. “This...th-this is madness...” He muttered breathlessly, his eyes wide with horror.

It wasn’t over yet, either

From the center of each segment of the castle, large slots opened. From them thrust giant metal staircases, coming down towards the League. Tanis watched in pure, white-faced horror as the stairs descended upon them. They rammed into every segment of the Pokémon League, shattering the towers and buildings that resided there. No doubt to allow Plasma to move freely about the League itself, but it also effectively destroyed most of it. As if things couldn’t get worse!

A final staircase came down from the center portion of the castle, the tallest and most elegant looking. It flew down towards the building they were in, Tanis being thrown off of her feet when it crashed through the roof and embedded itself mere feet from where N and Zekrom stood. The stairs tore through the tile floor and caused fissures to form in the ground below, Tanis coughing from the sudden explosion of dust and debris. N didn’t falter from where stood.

“Now, you see where Plasma’s glory began.” N continued, lowering his arms. “We have risen up from the ashes, and at the top of the castle is where everything will be decided.” Tanis blinked the dust from her eyes and looked up at him, seeing the same distant, unreadable expression on his face. “Tanis, if you truly wish to stop me, you will meet me there. This is hardly the place for the fate of the world to be decided.”

“N, yo-you can’t just--” Tanis struggled back up to her feet, but N didn’t let her finish.

“Either your Truth will prevail and I will be defeated, or my Ideal world will be formed.” N’s voice was cold and unfeeling, sending chills down her back. “Regardless, the world will be changed. I only hope you will join me at my side in the end.” He flashed her a pained, almost sorrowful smile, before turning on his heel and walking up the stairs. Zekrom gave a low growl and burst through the ceiling, flying off towards the top of the castle.

All Tanis could do was stare at N in disbelief, her mouth hanging open.

This can’t be real. This can’t be happening...! Tanis thought desperately, reaching up and running her hands down her face.

Here she was again, with no back up to speak of. Again, she was to face N alone. This time, there would be an actual fight. A battle she had no hope of winning. Reshiram still hadn’t stirred, even with how close Tanis had come to Zekrom and the other Hero. Without it, there was no way she could defeat N. Not logically, anyway. No chance in hell.

But...it wouldn’t stop her from trying.

Squeezing her eyes closed, Tanis focused her thoughts and energies on what needed to be done. It would be the hardest fight of her life, but she had no choice. No other options. Failure was not one of them, either; too much was depending on her victory. It was a heavy burden to shoulder, but she had to do it. Alone. Just like always. Tanis gave a hollow snort at the prospect.

Am I really going to do this? She thought bitterly, looking up at the spot on the stairs where N had disappeared. Fight an impossible battle that I can’t lose, but likely will...? Tanis had no illusions about her odds, but she couldn’t give up now, not when she was so close.

“Tanis?”

Blinking out of her thoughts, Tanis snapped her head over towards Alder. In the midst of her stupor, she had totally forgotten she wasn’t alone right now. The tall, burly man walked slowly over to her, a concerned expression showing all across his features. She furrowed her brows at him.

“Are you ready?” The former Champion asked hesitantly. Tanis gave a hollow chuckle, looking up at the path she was to take.

“No.” She admitted bluntly, feeling her heart clench thinking about her odds. “Not in the slightest.”

Alder pursed his lips briefly. “And yet, you’re still going to try?” Tanis quietly nodded her head. “You...have a rare gift, Tanis. Most trainers would give up knowing they’re fighting a losing battle.” Another short, hollow chuckle.

“Being smart has never been my strong suit,” She muttered dryly, “I don’t know when to give up.”

“Probably a good thing in this kind of situation!” Alder tried to be encouraging, placing a hand on her shoulder. His gaze softened. “But...are you sure you’re okay?” Tanis lifted her head up to look at him, raising a curious brow. “What...what happened between you and N. It’s pretty clear the two of you care deeply for each other, don’t you?” He squeezed her shoulder gently.

Tanis looked down, letting out a heartbreaking sigh. “...Y-yeah.”

“This can’t be easy for you.”

Another sigh. “...It’s not.” Slowly, she lifted her gaze up to meet his again. “But we’re not, uh...compatible, I guess.” Groaning, she ran her hands through her bangs. “We’re like fire and water. There’s no way either of us could be togeth--I-I mean, coexist.” Sighing, she raised her eyes towards the looming castle, lightning cracking across the dark skies. “This - us - we’re not meant to be. And this whole mess just drives the point home.”

Tanis forced a hollow chuckle, trying to keep herself from breaking down again. Sniffing, she reached up to her eye and wiped away the tear that threatened to escape. She refused to cry right now, specially in front of Alder.

“But, my feelings for N won’t stop me,” She firmly said, her voice crackling slightly. Coughing, Tanis continued. “I can't live without Pokémon.”

Alder’s face softened. “You’re...a remarkable person, Tanis.” He managed a small, reassuring smile. “If circumstances were different, I’d be honored to battle you - and lose to you. There is no one else I could imagine passing on such a high honor to.”

“...Alder...?” Tanis questioned, her eyes going wide. Was he saying he wanted her to become Champion...? He briefly looked away, then returned to meet her gaze.

“But, Tanis,” He lowered his hand, folding his arms under his poncho. He quickly changed the subject. “You need to remember something very important - fire and water exist as opposites for a reason. Neither can exist without the other. For the elements to be truly in harmony, they need to have their opposites.” He gave her a sly grin. Tanis blinked up in surprise at him, and was about to interject when he continued. “Now then! Don’t you have a world to save?”

“Oh shit.” Tanis totally forgot about that, glaring up at him. The bastard did that on purpose! Filling her head with ideas to think about, then reminding her of her purpose. Giving an angry huff, she turned on her heel and headed towards the castle. He did have a point there, at least.

Stopping at the base, she turned back to Alder. “...Thank you.” She said quietly. Alder smiled at her, giving her a confident nod. Turning back around, Tanis took in a deep breath and proceeded up the stairs. Forward, and to her destiny.

 

-----

 

Oh my god, this place is way bigger on the inside!

Tanis had been jogging around the Castle for probably about twenty minutes or so. It was like the Dragonspiral Tower, except to the uptenth level. Like, she had no idea where was. Sure, Tanis knew the fucking castle was huge, but when every single hallway looked the goddamn same, it made things a little hard to figure out where the hell she was. The lack of windows didn’t help either.

On her way down one of the halls, she had heard the sounds of a battle behind her. Cheren had showed up - just in the nick of time - with all of the gym leaders to fend off the Sages. She had pressed on, knowing that they’d all want her to keep going. Plus, of the Team Plasma members she had stumbled across, they didn’t attack her. In fact, they all either looked downright terrified of her at this point, or called her “My Lady.” Ugh. No doubt N had ordered them to treat her like their Queen, despite the fact she had repeatedly rejected the offer.

Still didn’t help her find her way.

Everything was way too goddamn fancy here. Like, worse then Drayden’s place. There were fountains with man-made streams fucking everywhere, the marble walls looked like they were lined with gold or whatever, and everything was so expensive-looking and breakable. Tanis had wondered if Ghetsis had a favorite vase or statue she could break. Priorities, though. Damn the fact that she was on a schedule!

In her wanderings, she kept checking rooms to see if N was there, or if they any kind of map or someone who didn’t pee their pants when they saw her. Or address her formally, because then she just wanted to punch them in the face. So far, she hadn’t had any luck in either regard. Then there was that one guy who had sputtered a formal greeting while looking like he was about to piss himself in fear. That was annoying. At least she was still heading up. Somehow.

Pushing through to another room, Tanis immediately stopped when she entered a room that...wasn’t like the others.

“What the...?”

The room had bright, checkered wallpaper, and the floor had soft blue carpet with clouds on it. In fact, the ceiling was painted with a sky, too. In the middle of the room was a skateboarding ramp, along with half a basket ball court. A train set was built in the middle of the room as well, with the tracks half missing. The entire place was lined with toys and Pokémon plushies, and beyond it was a bed and comforter. All in brilliant, boyish designs.

This...was a little weird. Who’s room was this? Tanis furrowed her brows and wandered inside, poking around. It didn’t look like most of this had been used in a while, though the room was surprisingly free of dust. She didn’t get it. Why would a room like this be here...?

“This was Lord N’s room.”

Gasping, Tanis whipped around and fell into a defensive position when she heard the voice speak behind her. However, her posture relaxed when she spotted two women standing at the entrance. Neither of them dressed in Plasma attire, and they both wore very pretty, draped dresses. They both looked a few years older then her - maybe in their early-20’s - and didn’t appear hostile. The taller of them had long pink hair, down to her waist, and the other had blonde hair that was loosely braided. The pink haired woman smiled gently at her.

“You don’t need to be afraid of us, Lady Tanis.” She offered, being the origin of the voice who spoke behind her. Her voice was so soft, so gentle it was like falling into a mess of pillows. “We’ve been waiting to meet you.”

Tanis raised a brow. “...Really?”

The blonde nodded. “Indeed. Our Lord N has talked non-stop about you for months.” Her voice was still gentle, though it was a bit lower and more firm. “Though you’re...a bit different then we expected.” Her amber eyes raked up and down Tanis. The pink-haired woman elbowed her in the sides.

“Concordia!” She hissed under her breath.

“Err...” Tanis blinked again, raising a brow up. “What the hell were you expecting? And who are you, for that matter!”

“Oh! Forgive me, my Lady.” The pink haired woman gasped, her eyes going wide. “I am Anthea Harmonia, and this is my sister, Concordia.”

“We are our Lord N’s older sisters.” Concordia continued with a small, almost uneasy grin. Tanis wasn’t sure why she looked like that. “And...well, we’ve heard so much about you from both the Sages, and from N himself.”

“They painted a picture of you being a loathsome, fearful deity,” Anthea added gently, “While N made you appear so warmly and full of emotion and strength. The two rather...contradicted each other.” Well, that did kind of make sense...but why were they here?

“Look, that’s all cool and whatever,” Tanis muttered awkwardly, rubbing the back of her neck. “But if you’re here to turn me over to the dark side or whatever-the-fuck, I told N before and I’ll tell you now: I’m not--”

“We’re not here for that.” Concordia interjected. Tanis felt some ire rise up in her, but remembered this was also something N did. Maybe they were related after all. But how could three fairly decent (seeming) humans be sired from that lying asshole, Ghetsis?

Anthea’s gaze darkened. “We’re...actually here to ask for your help.”

Blinking once, then twice, Tanis raised her brows up. Honestly, she was taken aback by the comment. Why did they need her help...?

“I do not know if Ghetsis is really N’s father,” Concordia said, her voice distant and sad, though she didn’t lower her gaze from Tanis. “However, we do know he was raised with Pokémon.” She closed her eyes and heaved a heavy, burdened sigh. “Raised by those who had been hurt and betrayed by humanity - forced to see and experience everything that is wrong about the relationship between them. And, given his innate ability to speak to them...”

“...Lead him to believe all humans were mistreating them.” Tanis added. Concordia sadly nodded her head. Giving an angry sigh, Tanis ran her hands down her face again. “But why? How? Surely if he was raised by Pokémon he’d know that’s not true!”

Concordia opened her eyes again to meet Tanis’ gaze. “Ghetsis was controlling him, even from a young age. He only allowed N to see what he wanted our brother to see.” Tanis felt her blood begin to curdle with that notion, her hands clenching into fists. “N was touched by their plight, and grew up with the notion of an ideal world - one where humans and Pokémon are separate.”

Tanis’ anger towards Ghetsis only grew. “...That sick bastard...” She muttered angrily, her voice rumbling in the back of her throat. Both sisters nodded their heads in agreement.

“When he was ready, Ghetsis brought N back into the world of humans. Concordia and I raised him from adolescence into adulthood, though it wasn’t under what would be ideal circumstances,” Anthea explained, her voiced wracked with as much pain as her face displayed. “Everything we did, his teachings and enclosure from the world - it was all governed by the Sages. By Ghetsis. We had no control over it, and were forced to keep him isolated from the world.” Taking in a shaking breath, Tanis noticed Anthea’s hands were trembling. Letting it out, she continued, “Ghetsis kept him innocent and ignorant of everything, so he could better mold and shape N into what he wanted. What he desired him to be.” She lowered her gaze, her hands clutching the fabric of her dress. “...And we had no choice but to go along with it.”

Tanis’ own arms were shaking. Not from sadness this time, but from anger. The fact that Ghetsis had been using and manipulating N - her dear N - practically all his life made her blood turn into liquid fire. Pure rage towards that sick, slimy asshole was building, and she wanted nothing more then to trash this entire castle and everyone in it. Except N. And possibly Anthea and Concordia, they seemed like nice ladies.

“N has no idea he’s been manipulated this whole time,” Anthea whispered, her voice trembling as much as her delicate hands did. “He’s become exactly what Ghetsis desired him to be - pure, innocent, naive. A weapon to use and discard.”

“And there is nothing more beautiful and terrifying as innocence.” Concordia added.

Tanis chewed on her lower lip and shook her head slowly, finding herself glaring. “Why the hell did he do this, anyway?!” She demanded, her voice raising.

“To mold a Hero to awaken Zekrom.” Concordia informed, her voice turning cold. She, too, was glaring; though not at Tanis. “Ghetsis wants the Dragon of Ideals so he can use it to take over the world.” How original, Tanis thought bitterly. “And he could never do it himself, so he built N from the ground up for that goal.”

“He wanted to do that to you, too.” Anthea added cautiously, nervously lifting her head up to meet Tanis’ eyes with her own.

“Of course he fucking did!” Tanis shouted, throwing her arms up in the air. “Holy fucking shit, as if I didn’t have a reason to hate Ghetsis before...!!” Giving a cry of anger, she ran her hands down her face and took in a few deep breaths. Now was not a good time to be losing her cookies. Too much was at stake, and she needed to be somewhat lucid if she had any chance against N. Both of the sisters remained silent, waiting for her to calm down. Finally, Tanis lowered her hands from her face and looked over at them. “...Why do you need me, anyway...?”

“To save him.” Both Anthea and Concordia said in unison.

Slowly, Tanis blinked. “...Eh...?”

“You’re the only one who can save N from himself,” Anthea said gently, slowly walking towards her. Both of her hands came out and took one of Tanis’ own in her hand. They were so soft, so delicate it was like a china doll was holding her. Like if Tanis flinched, she’d snap Anthea’s hands clean off.

“He believes you, he trusts you,” Concordia added, taking Tanis’ other hand. Hers were less delicate, but still soft and gentle. Both of them looked down at her with pleading eyes. “N is what Ghetsis made him to be - but since you arrived in his life, he has begun to see things differently, began to doubt.”

“You are the only one who can get through to him,” Anthea continued, squeezing Tanis’ hand softly. “Our brother has realized this, but...he’s spent so much time in this isolated world to accept it.”

“So please!” Concordia implored, bowing down at her waist. “Please save him.”

“Please save N!” Anthea begged, also bowing down over Tanis.

Tanis stood there, totally dumbstruck. She looked down at the two older women, bowing over her and clutching her hands desperately. Anthea’s hands shook over hers, her entire body trembling with fear and worry. Over her brother, who had been misguided and used by Ghetsis for years. God knows how long. Concordia’s entire body, meanwhile, was wound tight, like she would snap at any moment. Wanting to rectify their mistake, wanting to save the brother she cared about.

Of course, Tanis wanted to save N too. Wanted nothing more then to break this foolish delusion he had and live a normal life with him. But, she had thought he was beyond saving, especially after what had happened on the Dragonspiral Tower. But with how both Anthea and Concordia were acting, it seemed like he had begun to actually listen to her. And when you’ve been taught one thing your whole life...

She didn’t doubt either of them. The emotions, so raw in their expressions and body language couldn’t be faked. Not like this. Here were two sisters, concerned over their younger brother’s well being. Who were forced to mold him into an object, a weapon that could be used by their twisted father for his own goals. Without N knowing.

They wanted him saved.

Tanis took in a shaken breath and slowly let it out. “...I want to save him, too.” Was her quiet reply.

Both Anthea and Concordia lifted up from their bows, their eyes wide. “Really?” The blonde sister asked.

Tanis nodded again. “I...I-I love him,” She admitted, feeling a little awkward saying it to members of his family. She could feel the familiar blush spread across her face, unable to hold either of their gazes. “If you believe he has a chance to be saved, as well as Pokémon...then I’ll save them both.” Lifting her eyes up, she looked at Concordia, then Anthea. “I will do everything I can to stop Ghetsis, and save N and the world.”

Suddenly, she gave a startled squawk, finding the pair of woman hugging her at the same time. Tanis nearly toppled over from their combined weight. Jeez, it was like getting tackled by Bianca! Only it took two taller woman to do that. Which made her wonder about Bianca, honestly. Awkwardly, Tanis patted them on the back, one hand on each sister.

“Thank you.” Anthea whispered breathlessly, her voice quivering with emotion. “There hasn’t been a single person or Pokémon that N has cared for more then you.” Leaning back, she smiled gently up at Tanis. “If anyone can save him, it’s you.”

Tanis felt herself blushing furiously at the comment, her heart jumping into her throat. Swallowing it down, she laughed nervously. “T-tha...that so...?” She mumbled, looking away from them. “But...we’re so different. I mean, we’re like fire and water! That...this--us-- we’re not possible, are we...?”

Concordia leaned back as well, smiling warmly down at her. “It is always a difficult existence, that’s true,” She patted Tanis on the head, the gesture seeming somehow...patronizing. She grimaced and tried to ignore it. “But, once they discover that they need each other as much as repel each other, there is no bond stronger. No where on this world, nor the next.”

The blush only deepened and Tanis shifted uncomfortably from one foot to another. Gosh, this was embarrassing. But did Concordia have a point...? There were two sides to every coin, right? Maybe it just meant she and N were...

Tanis quickly shook the thought from her head. First, she needed to find him and defeat him, pull his mind from this nonsense of separating black and white from the gray. Taking a step back from Anthea and Concordia, she took a few steadying, deep breaths and quelled her racing heart. The future, being together with N - it had to wait. She had to stop him first. If she could stop him. Ugh...

“I...I-I’ll do what I can,” Tanis informed awkwardly, still feeling a bit nervous about the situation. “Thanks for the information.”

“Of course,” The sisters said in unison.

“Just...where should I go?” Tanis managed a wry smirk, scratching the back of her head.

“Out of this door and to the left,” Anthea explained, “Follow the hall straight down, and you’ll find a set of stairs. Keep following them all the way up, and you’ll reach the throne room.”

“N is waiting for you there,” Concordia added, “Just...please, if you can save him...”

Tanis sighed, “I know. I’ll try.” Try being the operative word.

“Thank you,” Both sisters said, again in unison. Okay, that was getting creepy. Tanis nodded her head rapidly, moving past them and pushing open the heavy doors that lead into the room, walking back out into the hallway. She could still feel Anthea and Concordia’s eyes on her when she turned left and continued down the path, feeling her heart begin to race again.

It wouldn’t be long until she faced down against N.

 

Chapter Text

 

“Do you still insist on resisting us?”

Tanis had finally found her way to the top of the castle, the throne room. Where N was waiting for her. Of course, Ghetsis was loitering outside, just waiting to taunt her. The bastard. She wanted nothing more then to give him a piece of her mind - and her fist - but knew this wasn’t the time or the place. So, instead, she just rolled her eyes.

“If you really think your hot air is going to intimidate me, you obviously don’t know me very well.” Still, Tanis’ tone was biting, coming out as a long hiss. She wondered where the asshole’s crotch was under those exceedingly fancy robes...

Ghetsis sneered at her. “It is quite clear that you have no idea where your place is, girl.”

“On my back?” Tanis muttered angrily, her eyebrow twitching. Ghetsis scoffed.

“Broken and obedient.” He correct her.

“...While on my back,” Tanis said under her breath, folding her arms. She glared up at him, now wondering how much it would cost for him to clean those fancy robes. Thankfully, he didn’t seem to hear her aside. “Look, I don’t care for whatever the fuck you have planned for your high and mighty speech, Ghetsis! I ain’t got the time to deal with it, or with you!”

“Do you honestly think you can beat a hero?” Ghetsis spar, narrowing his red eyes at her. “When you’re obviously not one yourself?” Okay, her patience was starting to wear thin... “Don’t be stupid, girl! Why fight a losing battle you have no hope of winning? Why even try?! You can’t save the world! You’re just one foolish, stupid, weak gir--”

Well, that was enough of that. Ghetsis let out a startled cry when Tanis rushed forward and rammed her knee into him. If she missed his groin, she at least got a solid hit on his solar plexus! Either way, it was good enough for her. Ghetsis crumpled onto his knees, holding his midsection in pain.

Well, that got him to shut up. Smirking in triumph, Tanis skidded around him and proceeded into the throne room - taking a moment to spit on his fancy robes - walking past the large gates. Boy, kneeing that jackass really lifted her spirits, but the hard part was to come.

Entering the massive, open throne room, Tanis’ jog slowed down to a walk. The hall was framed by two fountains, with man-made waterfalls that ran down from them to large pools on either side of a long walkway. A set of stairs lead up to where the large throne sat. A plush, blue velvet rug ran the entire length of the room, from the entrance right up to the throne itself. Banners and standards baring Team Plasma’s insignia lined the walls, and the flashes of lighting illuminated the otherwise dark windows.

Behind the throne loomed Zekrom. His red eyes bore down at her, judging her. Waiting to see what she would do. Tanis ignored the soul-burning stare and lowered her gaze to where N stood. He was in front of the throne, his blue-gray eyes locked with hers. Walking down the stairs and towards the center of the hall, N approached her at the same pace she was walking.

Clenching her fists, Tanis took in a deep breath and began to steady herself. Enemies, she reminded herself, pressing her lips into a firm, hard line. You’re enemies now. I have to stop him...I can’t let my emotions keep me from saving everyone.

The pair met in the middle of the hall, just past the stairs. N’s face was cold and unreadable, partially shadowed by the brim of his hat. The dramatic lightning flashes outside made everything as dramatic as they felt inside of her. Tanis wasn’t sure what she looked like, but she was sure to keep herself steeled. So much was riding on this...

“This is where it all began,” N said, his voice as cold as his expression. “Where I was crowned three years ago by Ghetsis and the Seven Sages. And...it will be where the new world will begin.” There was a slight pause. “Yours, or mine.”

Tanis pulled in a deep breath and nodded her head. “...Yeah.”

“Though I am...saddened by the fact the Light Stone and Reshiram aren’t reacting to you,” N reached for her, his expression warming just a bit. Tanis flinched slightly when his warm, soft hands encircled hers. Holding her hands in his, his cold expression changed into a gentle, almost sad smile. “Despite that, and even if I defeat you today...I will always love and care for you, Tanis.” Tanis felt her heart jump in her chest, her face flushing a deep shade of scarlet. “And I desire you to be at my side, as my Queen, regardless of the outcome.” Raising her hands up, he gently kissed her knuckles and lowered her hands back down.

Those words, the gesture, the pained smile on his face...it caused Tanis’ heart to break even more then it already was.

Without even thinking, she acted on her own. Slipping her hands from his, Tanis grabbed N by the collar of his shirt and pulled him down to her level. Hungrily, almost desperately, she pressed her lips to his. Over and over again, her fiery, deep kisses claimed his mouth, each one turning deeper then the last. She was unable to control herself right now, letting all of her burning feelings take over and rule her actions. Each kiss lingered longer, each kiss turned less fiery and more full of want and pain. She engraved the softness of his lips against hers, committing the feel, the taste to her memory.

It would be the last time she could do this.

At first, N went stiff in her grasp, letting out a startled gasp upon the first roughly passionate kiss. Tanis could feel how flushed his face was against hers, and for a moment he just stood there. Totally shocked. But eventually, he began to relax. Tenderly he began to return each kiss, and she could feel want coming from him too. N wrapped his arms around her back, one slinging across her waist and the other resting between her shoulder blades, weaving through her long, thick hair. Tanis threw her arms around his neck and brought them closer, breathing heavily with the intensity of her own kisses.

One of her hands slipped through his hair, cradling the base of his skull, the other desperately clung to his shoulders. Tanis felt like she was melting into N, her heart beating so heavily in her breast she was sure it was going to explode. She wanted to savor each kiss, each second of this moment for as long as she could.

Because, once they parted, one of their hearts would break tonight.

Reluctantly, Tanis finally pulled her lips from his. Both of them were rendered breathless from the endeavor, though she couldn’t bring herself to look at N. Tightening her arms around him, she buried her face against his shoulder, squeezing her eyes closed. She had to take it all in - his warmth, his scent, his taste - one last time. She struggled to fight off the tears that threatened to burst from her.

I hate this. Tanis thought bitterly, lowering the hand from behind his head to wrap more firmly across his shoulders, rising on her toes to lean into N. I hate this, I hate this, hatethishatethishatehatehateHATETHIS!! She sucked in a shaken breath to avoid sobbing.

“T-Tanis...?” N questioned in a low voice, still slightly ragged from pants. His arms were still around her, holding her gently but firmly.

“I...I-I love you, N...” Tanis admitted in a small, broken voice, practically muffled by his neck and shoulders. She tightened her hold on him, in an effort to keep the tears and the sobs at bay. “I-I love you so goddamn much...”

N gasped, his arms gently squeezing her. “Tanis!” He exclaimed breathlessly, his voice filled with nothing but happiness and joy. It just make her heart ache even more, made her glad she wasn’t looking at him. “Oh, Tanis...my dear Tanis! I’m so happy to hear that you love me too. So happy...” She felt his lips on the crown of her hair, flinching slightly. “Does this mean you’ll be with me? At my side...?”

Tanis shook her head shortly, taking in a few deep, calming breaths. She couldn’t outright say no to him. “...And I will stop you.” Another deep breath to steady herself.

Tanis felt so overwrought with emotion and pain that she was surprised she was still able to stand right now. Every fragment of her heart was shattering into a thousand little pieces, stabbing their way through her whole body. But, she knew she had to do this. To protect the world she loved - more then anything. Even him. So she remembered everything from these past few moments, especially the lingering taste of his lips against hers. Somehow, someway, she found the strength to pull away from him, releasing N from her embrace and lifted her misty eyes to meet his startled expression.

“...No matter what.”

N’s eyes went wide with shock - and a bit of fear. “Tanis!” He gasped, “Please, don’t do this!” He reached out and placed his hands on her shoulders, but she shook them off and took a step back. He store at her with a panicked look, his arms hovering in the air. “You have no chance of winning against me. Not without Reshiram! I don’t want to break you.” I’m already broken, Tanis thought to herself, pursing her lips. “Please, my dearest, you’re pride isn’t worth this!”

Tanis closed her eyes and let loose a deep, shaken sigh. “You think I’m doing this for pride...?” Her voice came out as a low hiss.

“Tanis?” N questioned. Opening her eyes half way, she lifted her gaze to meet his, her hands clenching again.

“This is bigger then you or me!” Tanis snapped, her voice rising to a shout and echoing across the empty stone room. “I’m not doing this for myself! I’m not fighting the man I love because of goddamn pride!” Her teeth grit together, glaring up at him. “I’m doing this for everyone - for the whole world!” Reaching up, she placed a hand on her chest and tore her eyes from his, taking in a few calming breaths. Pointedly, she slowly lifted her eyes up to meet N’s again, conviction and determination burning right within their pink depths. Tanis’ own broken heart was held together by her sheer fortitude.

“I’d rather break my own heart and destroy the one I love, then to ever live in a world without Pokémon.”

Tanis’ voice echoed across the throne room, clear and true. She stood her ground in front of N, her the pain in her heart dying down to a dull ache. What she had just said was the honest-to-goodness truth. She had said this before, of course, but she didn’t believe it herself until right now. In this very moment. No matter what the cost would be, Tanis wouldn’t let N win. And that was the truth...her truth.

Something changed right then. Tanis felt hot again, all over her body - her skin, her muscles, even her very blood was boiling. Not from anger or any of the other cocktail of emotions she was feeling, but...

Instantly, she knew what was happening.

Tanis scrambled to get her backpack off of her shoulders, dumping it on the ground. Hurriedly, she ripped into it. A massive burst of steam - or smoke? - billowed out from the open bag, causing her to recoil and cough. Tanis shut her eyes and began to fumble around inside of it, but she didn’t need to. The Light Stone floated out on it’s own, hovering high in the air.

N had taken a step back, his eyes widening. Tanis, too, stumbled back and landed hard on her behind. The Light Stone was glowing vibrantly, illuminating the entire room in a pale yellow light. The ground began to shake, just like it did at the Dragonspiral Tower. Lightly at first, then steadily increasing to an earthquake-sized tremor. Flame started to swirl around the stone, and the entire throne room started to rise in temperature. Soon, Tanis could feel herself beginning to sweat under her late-fall clothing, unable to look away from the beautifully dancing flame before her.

The swirling inferno only grew larger and larger with each passing moment. The water surrounding the throne room started to hiss and steam. Even N was starting to sweat. The ground rumbled more and more violently the larger the flame grew, pieces of the plaster wall beginning to tumble down and small cracks forming in the pillars and walls.

The grand hall was ablaze with yellow-and-orange light. Suddenly, the flame began to change colors, shifting from orange to yellow to green. Finally, it turned a beautiful, ethereal blue color, then began to burn so bright it was practically blinding. Tanis had to squint and cover her face with her arm from the brilliant light, wondering how she wasn’t on fire with how goddamn hot it was in here now.

The fire began to dissipate, Tanis lowering her arm to watch. White, feathery wings slipped out from behind the blue inferno. The wings then snapped open, scattering the fire into an explosive display of multi-colored embers. Hovering down from where the flame once was, a great white dragon descended. It’s entire body was covered with beautiful white, silky feathers, shifting with iridescent color within the light of the dying flame it had cast aside. It’s blue eyes met Tanis’ with a cool regard, landing gently behind her.

Reshiram had awakened.

Tanis store up at the dragon with a mixture of shock and awe, completely unable to look away from those pretty blue eyes. Words wouldn’t come, and she couldn’t move. She was completely dumbstruck, her mouth hanging agape, her voice trapped in her throat. The legends were real...and she was living them, wasn’t she?

Hero of Truth,” A beautiful, medium-ranged female voice echoed in Tanis’ head. Blinking, Tanis raised a shaken hand to her ear, furrowing her brows. She briefly wondered if only she could hear the voice. “Your strength and conviction in your Truth has stirred my soul, and awoke me from my long slumber.” Was Reshiram speaking to her? Psychically? Was that even a real thing? “I greet you, Hero. I am Reshiram, the Vast White Dragon of Truth. I am your servant, so long as your resolve does not waiver.”

Reshiram bowed it’s - her? - head down to Tanis’ level, closing her eyes when she said this. Well, ‘said.’

A strange feeling of calm washed over Tanis. Swallowing down the lump in her throat, she stumbled up to her feet. Taking a staggered step forward, Tanis approached the white dragon. Reaching out, she lightly brushed her fingertips against Reshiram’s snout, running her fingers along the silky soft feathers that lined it. Gently, she rested her palm against the dragon’s nose, and Reshiram gave a contented growl.

Tanis breathed out the breath she had been holding, giving a small smile. “I’d rather you be my friend, Reshiram.” The dragon’s blue eyes opened and looked over at Tanis with the same cool regard. “And, uh...please, just call me Tanis.”

As you wish, Tanis.” The same beautiful, yet surprisingly cold voice resounded in her. Tanis nodded her head, giving Reshiram another stroke before turning from her to face N.

It was all true. The stories, the legends, N’s vision of her. Tanis now had the means to face him eye-to-eye, tooth-to-tooth. But, she wasn’t sure how she could actually save him, or somehow prevent the two dragons from destroying Unova again. She just had to believe in herself and in Reshiram. Right? Arceus, that sounds like a kid’s movie, Tanis mentally groaned, resisting the urge to run a hand down her face.

I believe it is a noble idea, Tanis.” Reshiram commented. Tanis turned over her shoulder and glared at the Dragon. Well, goodie. Now she had a mind-reading dragon that would go snooping into her thoughts. Ugh. Things to address at a later time. Thankfully, Reshiram didn’t further comment. She got the idea that it wasn’t helping. Hopefully.

“So, it’s come to this.” N’s voice was quiet, yet firm. Tanis turned back to him, seeing his distant expression again. “New Heroes have been chosen, and the Dragons have awakened. I’m glad the future I saw with you and Reshiram was true, Tanis.” There was a pained, forced smile on his face. “And yet, you still want to fight me?”

Clenching her fists, Tanis nodded her head. “Yeah.” Her own voice was firm.

“I see.” N’s smile faded, his expression darkening. “Then let us see who’s resolve is stronger - your truth or my ideals!

 

-----

 

Nina didn’t like this.

Standing out at the hurriedly thrown-together base for the Clan, she blinked against the blinding flashes of lightning. A raincoat hood was drawn up over her head to shield her from the rain. Her gold eyes were staring intently at the towering, intimidating visage of Team Plasma’s castle, which surrounded the Pokémon League only a few miles away from the camp.

No one had expected this.

While the Dragon Clan had known that Team Plasma had planned to attack the League, they didn’t know they would up and do this. Their secret base of operations had been under everyone’s noses the whole time, buried in some lost area of the mountain below the League. The fact that Plasma outright surrounded the League with their castle was drastic. It was certainly one way to ensure no more battling took place there.

Lance had quickly rounded up the Clan and organized them to get everyone in the League evacuated. A lot of Plasma’s grunts had spilled out of the castle to resist, but the Clan members were able to fend them off. Arceus knows what the Team planned to do with the poor souls trapped within the League. Especially since their King, N, had so soundly defeated the Elite Four and the Champion that their Pokémon had all fainted - and with no time to heal them when the Team struck.

Nina had wanted to go with the gym leaders that Bianca and Cheren had rounded up - Cheren going in with them - so she could help Tanis. But, Lance’s wife, a researcher named Anna, had convinced her to stay behind. Apparently, she thought only Tanis could stop N. Nina bit her tongue. Anna had met Tanis sometime on the road, apparently, and she was a good judge of character. Nina only hoped she was right.

It didn’t make her worry any less, though.

“--Missing anyone?”

Nina turned her head towards the sound of voices, spotting Lance heading towards one of the near-by tents with the Champion, Alder. Pursing her lips, Nina set off towards him.

“I think so?” Alder responded, looking over the list Lance had with him. “All of the support staff, the Elite Four...” He scratched his stubbly chin. “I believe Iris and Drayden are working on getting the remaining leaders out - I think just Burgh and Brycen are left.”

“Good,” Lance sighed, setting the clipboard down on a table and tossing some of the water from his hair with his hand. “Things are going more smoothly then I expected.”

Alder heaved a heavy sigh, looking up at the looming building. “...Yeah...” He furrowed his brows together in worry. Lance looked up at him, placing a consoling hand on the burly man’s shoulder.

“We’ll figure it out,” He assured in a low, yet kind voice. Alder pursed his lips and nodded slowly. He didn’t seem all that convinced, honestly.

“And what of my daughter?”

Both men looked behind them to see Nina standing there, a glare of determination burning in her eyes. She placed her hands on her hips and, like that, she towered over both men, despite being considerably shorter then both. The sheer presence of her stance made her seem taller then a Dragonite. Alder turned and blinked down at her.

“Wh-who...? Wait, ma’am, is your daughter in--”

“I wasn’t asking you.” Nina snapped, glaring daggers of fire at Alder. He physically shrank. With him backing off, she turned her attention to Lance. “Where is she?”

Lance sighed and shook his head, “I wish I had better news, Nina,” He informed in a grim tone, meeting her burning gaze. “No one has seen Tanis since she--”

“So you’re telling me that my child, my own flesh and blood, is in that damn castle, fending off the entirety of Team Plasma on her own?” Nina bore down on him, still seeming taller then he was. Though she wasn’t shouting, her tone was fierce and firm. The kind of voice children feared hearing from their mothers. Lance flinched from her words, “With no help and no back up?!” She jabbed him in the chest with her finger, “And you still aren’t sending in the Clan to assist her?!”

Lance furrowed his brows, his dark blue eyes rife with concern. “I don’t like leaving Tanis alone in there, either,” He spoke in a cool, even tone. “But you and I both know she’s the only one who can actually stop Team Plasma’s King.” Nina narrowed her eyes at Lance. Alder took the incentive to back up before she literally started to breathe fire.

“And yet,” She continued in her stern tone, “We have several Master-class trainers here,” Nina crossed her arms, donning a pose that almost always struck fear into the hearts of men - a confident, assertive woman. “And I know at least one of them has another Legendary Pokémon.” Her eyes narrowed further, giving Lance an extremely pointed look.

She knew he had Rayquaza. While Lance didn’t publicly show the Pokémon, or even really talk about it much, Nina still had enough connections within the Clan to have caught this little tidbit. He wasn’t considered one of the strongest Pokémon Masters in the world for nothing, after all. Plus, she was pretty certain Anna had one too, and was almost positive Anna’s younger sister – who was Indigo League’s reigning Champion - also had a Legendary or two. But, she couldn’t force the information out of him. Not really.

To his credit, Lance didn’t back down from her. “Even if the Pokémon you speak of is strong enough to face Zekrom,” He kept a steady tone, “I don’t think it would be enough.”

Nina narrowed her eyes again. “And why is that?”

“Believe me, Nina, when I say I hate this as much as you do,” Lance sighed, lowering his gaze away from hers. “Leaving the fate of the world to her. It’s too much for any one person to bare.” He lifted his eyes up to meet hers, his face growing serious again. “But, you know she’s the one who has to do this. She’s the only one N will listen to. If there’s any hope for him to reform, Tanis has to be the one to defeat him.”

Nina scrutinized the Dragon Master for a few moments, then gave a forced chuckle. “You’re starting to sound too much like Anna.”

“She is a soft touch, isn’t she?” Lance also chuckled awkwardly. “But, she is my wife. Not surprising she’d rub off on me a bit.” Another sigh, this time it became more frustrated. “But, I trust her judgment. If Anna thinks this is the path that we need to take, then we should listen to her.”

Nina glared, “But--”

“I think Lance has a point,” Alder interjected. Nina remembered he was still there. “Tanis - your daughter - is remarkable.” He smiled faintly at her, “I’ve never seen so someone so strong, so focused before. If anyone can do this, she can.”

Nina pursed her lips, studying him for a moment. “...Do you have any children, Alder?”

“Yes. Actually, I’m also a grandfather!” He smiled fondly.

“The you should understand how I feel!” Nina snapped again, and Alder gave her a sympathetic look. She ignored it, pointing towards the castle behind him. “My daughter is in there, alone! Facing off against Plasma, alone!! So how can any of you honestly expect me to just sit here and--”

A loud crash echoed out from behind her. It wasn’t from the camp, or from a roar of thunder overhead. It was something much more violent, more dramatic. It shook the ground, loud enough to make even Nina jump out of her skin. A flash of orange-colored light briefly lit the skies, followed quickly by another flash of gold.

Nina turned around. A large hole had been blasted through the top of Plasma’s castle, where the throne room likely was. A figure darker then the churning clouds flew from it, whipping around to face the opening. Glowing blue markings pulsated in the dim light. Lightning tore through the sky and down towards the hole from the figure, ripping through some of the iron-clad and spiked rooftop. It was Zekrom, obviously...but who was he fighting?

Nina’s eyes widened when she got her answer seconds later. From the rubble burst a figure of pure white; a white dragon. The rain evaporated from it’s gleaming feathers before it could even hit it. That was--

“Reshiram!” Lance breathed, his eyes wide.

“By Arceus, she did it!” Alder exclaimed, though Nina wasn’t sure if it was in awe or in fear.

The skies lit up again with flame, Reshiram’s tail glowing a vibrant orange and yellow. Fire burst from it’s mouth in the shape of a massive glowing sphere, firing it towards Zekrom. The black dragon met it with a blast of lightning as well. The force of the two conflicting attacks collided was enough to tear through another big chunk of the top of the castle, and the concussion alone tore through the Clan’s camp.

The storm suddenly got worse. The wind picked up and the rain crashed down from the skies, pelting the campsite relentlessly. More violent bolts of lightning parted the skies, the thunder crashing loudly that it resounded all across the mountains. But, Zekrom wasn’t the only one who could alter the weather, and change the atmosphere.

The skies brightened and warmed behind Reshiram, it’s presence churning up a different kind of storm. The heat from it’s tail began to effect the atmosphere surrounding it, bringing down rays of light from the parting clouds overhead. The hot air from the white dragon collided with the cold air from the black, beginning to mix together above their heads.

Nina watched while Zekrom charged forward, knocking Reshiram clear down into another portion of the castle, dragging it along the spiked rooftop for several segments. However, Reshiram quickly retaliated with a blast of dragons breath, hitting it’s opponent clear in the face and sending it cascading backwards again. Reshiram stood up again and lunged at Zekrom, releasing another blast of fire towards it, which it dodged. The blast exploded brightly against the castle, throwing massive chunks of the construction in every-direction.

But that wasn’t the last of the problems.

The skies of the clashing atmospheres the dragons summoned began to churn, twisting together in a funnel shape. First one began to spiral downwards, then another, then another. All forming down the path where the cold and hot air mixed together. Horror quickly spread across Nina’s face, her eyes wide while she watched as multiple tornadoes descended from the mixed skies, already beginning to tear through pieces of the castle. They swirled around the battling dragons, lighting crackling around the storm.

If Reshiram and Zekrom’s battle wasn’t enough to terrify people, that would.

Lance quickly sprung into action, his voice somehow echoing above the chaos just a few miles away. “I need everyone out of that damn castle, now!!” He shouted with urgency, cupping his hands to make his voice project, “I don’t care if they’re Plasma or not, everyone needs to get out!!” He ran along the line, continuing to shout orders.

Everyone with flying Pokémon needs to help!!” His voice continued to ring out, “No matter how big or small, we need to evacuate every person and Pokémon from the castle and get them to safety!!” He pointed towards the castle, his cape whipping wildly in the storm. “No one in that goddamn castle will live if we don’t hurry!! Everyone, release all of your Pokémon and--” The Dragon Master’s voice began to fade out, swallowed by the raging battle and the storm it created. Sure enough, everyone began to spring into action, summoning all of their flying types to get as many people out of the castle - and vicinity - as possible.

Except Nina.

Standing there, petrified, she couldn’t look away. Somewhere in that chaos was her daughter - and she knew there was nothing she could do to help.

 

Chapter Text

 

Tanis clung to Ciela’s back for dear life.

It was getting more and more worse outside as the minutes past. The massive storms caused by the clashing power of the dragons resulted in not only a severe thunderstorm, but also in several tornadoes tearing down through the area. Even though the castle and the surrounding mountains were enough to disrupt the tornadoes, they just kept on spawning. With the wind whipping around like crazy and the lighting tearing through the sky, Tanis had lost her pack somewhere in this mess, and her favorite vest had been lost too. Really, she didn’t care at this point. At least her flying goggles hadn’t been blown off, or else she’d never be able to see in this rain. Her belt with her Pokéballs was still secure, and her pockets were stuffed full of potions and revives, so she was good. Too much was at stake for her to worry about trivial things. She had bigger fish to fry. Like not getting sucked into a tornado. She had to keep focused and to trust in her Dragonite’s judgment, that she could keep them aloft and out of danger.

Which was getting harder to predict, honestly.

Tanis didn’t need to give any commands to Reshiram. As the white dragon’s chosen hero, she could basically read Tanis’ thoughts and followed her directions through their psychic link. Which was still kind of creepy, but she didn’t have much time to dwell on it. Tanis didn’t really get it either, but knew now wasn’t the ideal time to be questioning things. All she had to do was think what Reshiram should do, and she’d do it. Good thing too, because the storm would swallow anything she shouted, anyway.

How the hell they’d actually beat Zekrom was still a bit of a mystery.

Neither of them had a type advantage, except for Dragon. Wonderful. Zekrom was easily physically stronger, but his special defense was lower; likewise, Reshiram’s special attack was much higher, but her defense was lower. Their own strengths and weaknesses balanced each other out perfectly, and neither fire or electric moves would cause super effective damage against each other.

At least the massive storm Zekrom had kicked up wasn’t effecting Reshiram. Water just sort of...bounced off of it's body. Her body? Whatever. But, Tanis couldn’t say the same for Char, which is why she decided to fly around the battle on Ciela. She didn’t want him to get hurt because of this downpour. And she couldn’t just stand around, she had to be part of this. Plus, being in the castle right now was pretty dangerous.

It looked like the Clan finally arrived, at least. They were working on getting everyone out of the castle - human and Pokémon alike - before it got totally demolished. Which was highly likely the way things were going.

“How are you holding up, Ciela?!” Tanis shouted over the chaos, the deep violet Dragonite swerving around another newly-formed tornado and swooping down closer towards the battle. Ciela gave a confident nod of her head, indicating she wasn’t tiring yet. Tanis was just glad she had thought to shove some hyper potions into one of her buttoned pockets, otherwise she’d be doomed right now. Patting Ciela’s neck, she lifted her head up, squinting through the blinding rain towards the battle again.

The two dragons were zipping through the air. Despite how Zekrom was black, he easily stood out with his glowing tail and glowing plates, releasing sparks of energy from it. Reshiram, too, was noticeable by her tail. Blasts of flame and lightning exploded from their mouths, parting the skies. Each of them were able to dodge these long ranged blasts, but Tanis wasn’t sure if she should allow Reshiram to get in close to Zekrom.

No, I have to trust her, She reminded herself, clinging tighter to Ciela while she barrel rolled out of the way of one of Zekrom’s attacks. Tanis felt it just zip over her, her hair standing on end from the high-voltage of the electricity. I have to believe that she’s strong enough. She can do this!!

Sure enough, without even saying anything - or directly thinking it - Reshiram charged in towards Zekrom. With her claws bared, she gave a loud roar that echoed over the booming thunder and roar of the tornadoes. Zekrom charged himself with blue lightning, causing sparks of it to fly in every direction. Still, Reshiram continued to charge towards him, not swaying in her course. Tanis pursed her lips together. You can do this, Reshi! She mentally cheered, seeing the white dragon twist and turn out of the way of the Fusion Bolts.

Reshiram reached the other dragon and clawed him in the face, then whipped around and hit him hard with her tail. Zekrom fell backwards and crashed into another portion of Team Plasma’s castle, but he wasn’t down for long. Almost immediately he zipped back up, nailing her in the abdomen with a powerful Zen Headbutt. Reshiram gave a cry and was also sent flying backwards, tumbling down towards the Pokémon League.

Tanis winced when she collided with the building Alder was in just moments ago, Zekrom firing off another round of Fusion Bolts. They tore through the ground below, cutting through the League like a hot knife through butter. Tanis felt her heart leap into her throat, clinging unconsciously tighter to Ciela. The bolts finally convened at the center of the League, causing a massive explosion of electricity to burst from the building. The explosion even tore through some of the lower levels of the castle, causing more fragments to tumble down.

“Reshiram!” Tanis cried out, though she wasn’t heard by anyone but Ciela.

Zekrom hovered in the air, seemingly waiting to see what the result of his attack was - likely under N’s orders. Wherever he was. Tanis panicked, feeling her heart thudding in her throat, searching the rubble with her eyes. Wiping some rain from her goggles, she squinted and desperately looked for a sign - any sign - that Reshi was alright.

Flame suddenly burst from the rubble, and a great white-and-blue streak shot from the ruins. Reshiram charged up from where she had been shot down, nailing the startled Zekrom in the stomach. Her tail flared brilliantly, summoning a massive sphere of fire from her mouth and chucking it down at him, the black dragon crashing straight through part of the castle where the fire then exploded brilliantly.

“Whoa...”

You needn’t worry so much for me, Tanis,” Reshiram’s voice assured, though it still sounded...distant. “Should Zekrom strike me with a Fusion Bolt, my Fusion Flare only increases in strength.

Tanis pursed her lips and nodded, glad that was the case. But, if the Fusion Bolt effected her like that, did it also mean--

“Look out!!” Tanis shouted, also thinking it. Ciela gave a startled cry and dropped down, allowing herself to fall several yards when the sky lit up again. Blue lighting streaked out from where Zekrom had fallen, cutting through the castle and reaching Reshiram. Tanis craned her neck to try and look upwards, but instantly winced at how bright the lightning was, quickly shielding her eyes.

When the sparking energy died, Tanis blinked her eyes open. Another burning hole had been made in the castle, and she frantically looked around for Reshiram. Ciela cautiously flew upwards again, twisting out of the range of another tornado, also looking around for the other dragon.

Suddenly, something huge and black zoomed past them, nearly knocking the Dragonite side. Tanis yelped and clung tighter to her, watching as Zekrom shot towards where the burned hole was, lightning charging in his tail. Reshiram must still be okay, then! Otherwise he wouldn’t be pursing her like this.

Tanis pursed her lips. She had to use strategy with this fight. There was no other way this could keep going if she didn’t use her brain! Otherwise their fight might expand past this area, and hurt a lot of people.

Extrasensory! Now! Tanis thought directly, knowing that the move could cause flinching. If Zekrom could flinch, even for a second...

Sure enough, Zekrom stopped, shaking his head when the attack halted him temporarily. Now! Tanis instructed, glaring at him. She would not lose! She couldn’t...!

Bursting forth from the castle, Reshiram charged at Zekrom while he was still stunned. Ramming her head hard into his chest, she sent the black dragon crashing down through another portion of the League. Opening her mouth wide, she summoned another sphere of fire, launching it down at Zekrom. The fireball chased after him and struck him moments before he stopped moving, causing a large explosion of fire. Gritting her teeth, Tanis knew they had to keep up the heat. There was no way they could ease up now!

Dragon Breath! Before Zekrom could rise, Reshiram obeyed Tanis’ command and released a massive blast of blue-and-red flame, mixing together to almost make it purple. However, she apparently wasn’t the only one with this idea, as from the still-clearing smoke came the same attack. Tanis’ eyes widened while she watched them head towards each other.

No, no no!! She thought desperately, her eyes wide with fear. “Ciela, we’re too close!! We have to--” She tried to shout, but was too late. The blasts collided with each other and created a large explosion of energy, strong enough to push Reshiram backwards. Tanis winced from the bright light, the force of the explosion knocking Ciela backwards and she began to tumble through the air.

Tanis cried out and clung tighter to her, but with how wet everything was, the Dragonite was also very slippery. And she was tumbling closer to a tornado. The disorienting effect of the tumble and the wind combined caused Tanis to lose a grip on her Pokémon, her hands sliding off of the smooth, slick scales that lined Ciela’s back and neck. Giving a cry of shock, she tried to scramble to get her grip back on Ciela, but she couldn’t. Before she knew it, she was also soaring through the air...but with no Pokémon under her.

“A-ahh...!!” She cried out, feeling everything begin to slow down to a stand still. Tanis watched in sheer horror while her Dragonite continued to roll in the air, trying desperately to get herself upright and back to her trainer. How she was falling down to the ground - at least 100 feet below her - the visage of the castle’s roof becoming further and further away. How more flashes of lightning and fire were above her. She was so shocked, so filled with fear and dread that she couldn’t even scream right now. Not that anyone would hear her right now, anyway.

Squeezing her eyes closed, Tanis felt hot tears come to them. No, I don’t want to die! She thought frantically, she was so panicked that she didn’t even think to fumble for one of her other Pokémon. No, no no...please, Arceus, no...! Not when she’d come so far...not like this! If she died, who would protect the world...?!

Tanis!” She could have sworn she heard someone shout. Who was that...?

She braced herself for the end of the fall, whenever it would come. Only, instead of hitting the ground and everything fading to black a few seconds later, she landed on something soft and feathery. It was still far enough of a fall for the wind to be knocked clear out of her lungs, forcing her eyes open and for her to cough violently. Pain splintered through her body from her back, shooting down her limbs and around her head. Giving a cry of pain, Tanis lay there in shock, the rain pelting her body.

Finally, her senses returning to her, Tanis groaned and rolled over onto her hands and knees, feeling the silken feathers below her hands...and they were completely dry. And white. Blinking, she looked up to notice that she had landed on Reshiram’s back, her eyes going wide.

Tanis, are you alright?” Came Reshiram’s voice, fragments of concern splintering her usually cold tone. Tanis numbly nodded, though she hurt all over right now. Especially her back. Ugh, she was going to be bruised in the morning...but at least she didn’t die. That was a bonus, right? “Thank goodness. I would have had to return to my slumber if something had happened to you.”

Tanis pursed her lips. Well, that was comforting. But... “Reshi, you can’t fight with me on you like this! I’ll be in danger if you do, and I can’t hold you--”

Have no fear, and believe in me.” Reshiram assured, her blue eyes glaring over towards Zekrom. He wasn’t moving, so Tanis briefly wondered if N had seen her fall and ordered the fight to temporarily stop. “We will win this fight, Tanis, if you believe in your Truth enough. Your belief gives me power - and the Hero of Ideals’ belief is wavering.”

Tanis’ eyes widened, looking over towards Zekrom. She spotted another flying-type near him - it must be the Pokémon N was using. N’s ideals were getting weaker...? Was it because he was actually doubting himself now? Somehow, she must have gotten through to him. How? When? Tanis’ eyes softened when she looked over at the figure beside Zekrom, feeling her heart clench. It was all because of her, wasn’t it. She had made him doubt, and that, in turn, made the black dragon weaker, while her own conviction had only strengthened.

I, too, share a link with Zekrom,” Reshiram explained, “And he has informed me that his Hero is deeply concerned for you, and wishes to know if you are alright. I have informed him that you will be fine.” Tanis pursed her lips and nodded, her brows furrowing “Indeed, he seems more concerned for you right now than holding fast to his Ideals.

“N...” She found herself whispering. Had she really caused him to change...?

Ciela had finally made it over to them. Tanis looked up at her, seeing her riddled with concern. Slowly, she shook her head. “I need to do this with Reshiram.” She said coolly, causing Ciela to gain a panicked expression. But, before the Dragonite could continue to protest, Tanis recalled her and re-attached the Pokéball to her waist. Determination burned within her, coiling her fingers around Reshiram’s soft feathers.

“We can do this, Reshi.” She encouraged, feeling confidence grow within her. “We can save N.”

I can save him.

New determination burned within her breast. Tanis tightened her hands around the soft, silky feathers of Reshiram, turning her eyes towards the hovering figure in black before her. Seeing into Tanis’ mind, the White Dragon burst forward from where she hovered, cutting through the torrential downpour and towards her counterpart, Zekrom. The pair circled around each other in the skies, forming an elaborate dance of fire and lighting, the skies churning with their clashing energies. Even without Zekrom’s power, lighting partied the heavens, the mingling hot and cold air continuing to summon devastating tornadoes that cut through the remainder of the Pokémon League and Plasma’s castle.

Each blast of flame and lightning from the dragons created large explosions. Tanis pressed her body flat against Reshiram’s back to minimize wind resistance while her dragon danced in the air, avoiding Zekrom’s attacks or being knocked back by the other dragon. She had a much better time keeping steady in the air with everything going on then Ciela was; Tanis didn’t feel as in danger. Her heart thudded heavily in her chest, blinking in the light of the explosions and wincing whenever she felt Reshiram get knocked back.

Everything was riding on this fight; and she wouldn’t lose. She wouldn’t destroy the world! She had to stop N, had to save him from himself. His ideals wavered, and while the battle raged on, she could feel Zekrom’s power slipping. Reshiram was having an easier time dodging attacks, and her own Fusion Flares were hitting their mark more frequently and striking harder. Of course, that meant that Zekrom’s Fusion Bolts were getting stronger; but Tanis began to notice he was being pushed back.

Turning her head away from another explosion, Reshiram blasted Zekrom down towards another chunk of the castle, tearing it apart and causing it to begin to collapse upon itself. Lifting her head up, she watched the dust quickly dissipate due to the heavy rain. Slowly, she lifted her head up and spotted a Braviary struggling in the storm. Reshiram was close enough where Tanis could make out some details of the figure riding her, spotting a mass of green hair whipping around in the wind. His resolve is wavering...I have to save him. I will save him.

Turning her head down, Tanis pursed her lips and furrowed her brows. Almost the entirety of the Pokémon League had been destroyed; and most of Team Plasma’s castle had been, too. If this continues, I don’t know how Unova will survive...she thought, once again tightening her hands around the silky feathers of the Dragon of Truth. Zekrom was beginning to rise up from the collapsed portion of the castle he had been thrust into, struggling to return to the skies. Lifting her head up, she looked towards N again. In doing this, she knew that she would shatter him completely. But it was the only way to stop him, stop this madness. And maybe, if Reshiram was right...there was a chance he could be saved. Tanis closed her eyes and took in a few deep breaths, steeling herself.

By now, Zekrom had become airborne again, and was moving towards them. Opening her eyes, she looked towards the black figure before her, flame burning within them. “Now!” She shouted, even though she didn’t need to.

Reshiram took off. With a loud roar that shook the very heavens, she rushed towards the weakened Zekrom, fire blazing from the end of her tail. Tanis braced herself for the impact, squeezing her eyes closed and tightening her hold on the dragon.

I will save Pokémon, and I will save N!!

Lashing out at Zekrom, Reshiram slammed into him and dug both her front and hind claws into his limbs. He gave out a loud cry of pain, the pair of dragons hurtling downwards and towards the castle again. Tanis felt the wind whipping her hair back, and the force of the blow was enough to send her flying forward on Reshiram. But, she managed to quickly right herself, gasping for air while they hurtled down.

Just before impact, Reshiram opened her mouth and charged a Dragon Breath attack. Suddenly, she released Zekrom and unleashed the attack at point-blank range, causing a large explosion of purple-and-orange energy before her. Even she was blown back by the attack; Zekrom didn’t stand a chance. His massive form was blasted into the building, the attack causing a large explosion that tore away at the floors above where he had been blown into. Light burst through the skies, a concussion from the attack tearing through the surrounding portion of the castle and League. Tanis had to squeeze her eyes closed from how bright the attack was, her breath catching in her throat and holding there.

Almost instantly, the skies began to calm.

Slowly, Tanis lifted her head up and released the breath she had been holding, turning towards where Zekrom had been knocked aside. She hadn’t even noticed how hard she was panting until then, when the world stopped moving and turned quiet. The rain lessened, the skies lightened and the tornadoes began to die off. Sunlight started to prick through the dark clouds above, and Tanis felt her heart race even harder then it was. Her fingers, hands, arms began to tremble from the sheer rush of adrenaline that was pumping through her system, scarcely able to believe what had just happened.

It was over.

All of the fighting and struggling she had gone through in the past few months had come to an end. Every pressure piled upon her, every burden and weight that was saddled upon her shoulders eased. The tension up inside of her unwound, and Tanis found she was finally able to really, truly breathe again. It was over...she had done it. Reshiram had done it; Zekrom was defeated and, with him, all of Plasma’s ambitions. She had saved the world from them! She had protected Pokémon and humans alike, all without bringing Unova to ruin all over again. Together with Reshiram.

Tanis let out a laugh, relaxing her body and turning her head to the side and resting against Reshiram’s unbelievably soft feathers. Her hands uncurled from them and she stretched out, sucking in the damp air that surrounded her. Free...she had finally freed herself from these struggles, all of this pain. She had created a new world now...

Turning her head, she spotted the Braviery that N was on. Her heart swelled seeing it, knowing that she had finally made a world where they could coexist. Together. But in that moment, Tanis knew that had come at a great cost, seeing his panicked expression and watching the Braviery shoot down towards the collapsed building Zekrom had been knocked down into.

Sitting upright, Tanis was about to command Reshiram to follow after N, but she didn’t need to. The dragon followed after him, at a respectable distance, with only a thought. Once he landed he rushed towards the fallen, fainted figure of Zekrom.

Zekrom!!” His voice cut above the still-calming storm, his hands reaching out to try and pull some of the rubble off of him. Reshiram landed gently down not far from where N was frantically trying to save his friend, his pain-filled voice continuing to repeat the Pokémon’s name. Tanis felt her heart break hearing that tone of voice, cracking desperately in pain and sorrow, cutting through her worse then any knife could. Sliding off of the dragon, she quietly approached N.

“No, no no, you ca-can’t be defeated!” N’s voice continued to plead, falling down onto his knees once he realized it was hopeless. “Th-this can’t be it...! W-we...we have to...ha-have to...!!” He choked back the tears that threatened to come out, though Tanis couldn’t tell if he was actually crying, or if it was from the rain. N placed his hands on the fallen dragon’s head, shaking it rapidly. “N-no...I...I-I’m sorry, my friend...I-I f-failed you...I-I wasn’t...” He sniffed, letting loose another pain-filed sob.

Tanis quietly knelt down behind him, managing to hold her own emotions back. Reaching out, she hesitated slightly before placing a gentle hand on N’s shoulder. “N...” She said quietly, his shoulders jerking at his touch. He whirled around on her, his expression filled with hopelessness, tears threatening to spill from his gray-blue eyes.

“...T-tan...Ta-Tanis...?” He gasped, his shoulders shaking.

Tanis reached into one of her pant’s pockets and handed him a revive. “Here.”

N looked down at disbelief at the item she was offering him, then jerked his head back up. “Wha...wh-why are you...?”

“I defeated you, N,” Tanis said quietly, keeping her gaze level on him. “My truth was stronger then your ideals...that was the point of all of this, wasn’t it?” N’s lips parted slowly, his eyes widening. She faintly smiled. “And now that I’ve saved people and Pokémon...I want to save you, too.”

N’s lower lip quivered. “...I...I-I...” Tears began to ran down his face and he turned fully towards her, wrapping his arms tightly around her shoulders and burying his face in Tanis’ neck. “I-I d-don’t de-deserve y-you, T-Tanis...” His voice cracked under his tears, his shoulders shaking. Tanis closed her eyes and held him gently but firmly, resting her cheek on the top of his head.

“I love you, N.” Her voice was a quiet, gentle whisper, softly rubbing his back. “And I want to work towards building my ideal world - one where we can be together.” She ran her fingers through his tangled, rain-soaked hair. “And I wont stop until it becomes a reality.” N clung desperately to her back, nuzzling his face into her neck.

“I...I-I love yo-you too, Tanis...” His voice tickled against her neck. Tanis couldn’t help but to smile at the feeling, giving a slow sigh. “A-and...” He lifted his head from her neck and sniffed, reaching up to wipe his tears away. He looked at her in the eye, his brows furrowed. “You...y-you were right. All along...you were always right. I...” He looked away from her, biting down on his lower lip. “...I should have listened to you sooner. I should have believed you - but I was too stubborn, too proud. I thought I was a-always right, but you...” He rose one shaking hand and rested it against her cheek, sheepishly lifting his gaze back towards her. “...You never stopped fighting, even when I was breaking your heart. And you won. You stopped me, you showed me the truth.” He ran his fingers down her cheek and rested his hand against her shoulder, looking down.

“...Can you ever forgive me...?” N’s voice was quiet and slow, riddled with the shame he felt towards the situation. With everything he had put her through.

Tanis felt her heart sing. Wrapping one of her arms tightly around him, she embraced N to her. With her other hand she lifted his head back up and leaned down, pressing a slow, lingering kiss against his soft lips. N gave a small gasp at the sudden burst of affection, but didn’t get a chance to react when Tanis pulled away from him, resting their rain-soaked foreheads against each other.

“Yes.” Even her voice was smiling. N managed a smile too, tightening his arms around her back.

“...Thank you, my dear.” He whispered breathlessly.

Pathetic.”

Both Tanis and N jerked their heads up to the sound of the slithery voice that boomed from the other side of the destroyed room they were in. Ghetsis approached them with a sneer on his face, his red eyes gleaming in the dim light. Tanis felt her entire body tense up at the sight of him, tightening her hold on N almost defensively.

“What the fuck do you want?” She spat, her gaze turning into a dark glare. “I already stopped your grand scheme! It’s over; Plasma’s done! I won’t let you use N anymore, you sick son-of-a-bitch!”

N Lifted his head up to her, his brows furrowed in concern “...Tanis, what are you talking--”

“Meddlesome brat!” Ghetsis hissed, cutting N’s question off. “If it weren’t for you, this would have been perfect! The perfect plan!” He pointed accusingly at Tanis. “I had everything all worked out, everything calculated down to the very last detail! By abandoning my own son, a freak of nature, I had no idea that he would grow so attached to Pokémon! It posed a perfect opportunity!”

N’s brows furrowed more, his grip tightening around Tanis. “Father, what are you saying...?”

Ghetsis scoffed down at him, “When I returned to you, it was so easy...so easy to shape you, to mold you into what I wanted!” He continued on his tangent, “To make you into a human worthy of being a Hero - a Hero of Ideals! And you...you were so blind you would have followed anything I said!” He gave a cold, short cackle at this, running his hands through his hair. “Would have easily allowed me to take over the world, to give my Plasma all of the power we could possibly dream of! All with Zekrom on our side - and my blind, ignorant son unable to even see this fact! It was perfect!!

N’s eyes widened and his arms went slack around Tanis’ back, his lips parting as he store up in disbelief at the man who was his father. “F-father...y...y-you...you used m-me...?”

Another sneer. “You were nothing more then a pawn for my goals.” Ghetsis snorted, narrowing his eyes dangerously down at the pair. “Did you really think that releasing Pokémon was my ideal? Feh! They’re far to useful for us to simply get rid of! No, I would have kept the best for myself and ruled over a perfect world!!” He hissed, his hand jerking out and pointing at Tanis again. “And now, because you had to fall in love with this meddlesome whore...everything is ruined!!”

N’s gaze darkened, lowering his head but keeping his gaze firmly upon Ghetsis. “Don’t talk about Tanis like that.” His voice was brittle, cold as an Articuno’s breath.

“She’s nothing but a foolish girl who doesn’t know her place!” Ghetsis spat, “And she destroyed all that I built, all that I worked for for years!!”

“I’m glad she did.” N retorted, glaring up at his father, though Tanis could feel his arms shaking around her. “Otherwise, I would have remained ignorant to your manipulation for the rest of my life, and hurt both Pokémon and humans with your megalomaniac ideals!”

“Give it up, Ghetsis!” Tanis shouted, also glaring up at him, “You fucking lost! I’ve destroyed your castle, your entire team is now in the custody of the Dragon Clan, and I stopped N and Zekrom! It’s goddamn over!!

Ghetsis narrowed his eyes. Almost right on cue, the castle began to lurch. Tanis jerked her head up and noticed what little remained of Plasma’s castle was beginning to collapse and crumble. She clung tighter to N, her eyes going wide. The slimy Ghetsis gave a low chuckle, taking a few steps backward.

“It’s not over yet...not until I destroy you, child.” His voice boomed ominously, before releasing a Hydreigon and leaping onto it’s back, flying away into the darkened skies.

“Get back here, you coward!” Tanis shouted again, but the castle gave another quake. She gasped and looked frantically around.

The castle is collapsing,” Reshiram advised Tanis, her voice still icily calm. “We must escape before it is brought down upon us.

Tanis gave a shaken nod, staggering up to her feet. N also climbed up, quickly giving the revive she offered to Zekrom. The great black dragon groaned and began to rise up. “Come on, N! We need to get out of here!” She shouted, one of the still-intact walls falling down not far from where Zekrom was still clamoring to get up.

N pursed his lips, “R-right...!” He stammered, reaching out for Tanis’ hand. She gripped it firmly, the pair quickly rushing towards the destroyed outer wall they had come into. There was enough clearance in that area for both Reshiram and Zekrom to take off from there, and carry the pair to safety.

It felt like miles that she ran, dragging N along behind her and towards where Reshiram was waiting. The floor surged and cracked below their feet, but she was determined to make it! They were not going to die here - not after all she had done! Not after all of the pain and the struggles and the heartbreak she had been through to get to this point!

Just about to reach Reshiram, Tanis stumbled when the ground shattered below her. She gave a cry of pain as she collided with the marble floor, her knees skinning across the fractured surface and her chin cracking against it. Blood gushed from her, a tooth was chipped and blood pooled in her mouth, but she felt more of the ground behind her break. All of her weight was suddenly pulled backwards and she cried out, feeling N’s hand jerking her backwards.

“N-N!!” She shouted, turning behind her to see him sliding down into the hole that had been created from the tremor. He reached up with his other arm and quickly grasped onto the wrist of the hand he held, gritting his teeth against the force. Biting hard onto the inside of her mouth, Tanis managed to grab onto a jagged rock with her free arm, her body jerking when it extended past where her arm went. A cry of sheer agony echoed from her lungs as she was pretty sure her shoulder dislocated with the attempt, and she could feel the rock cutting into her hand. Blood began to make her grip slippery, and her arms began to tremble from the weight and the pain. She looked frantically down at N, who had a calm expression on his face.

“Let me go,” His voice was as calm as his expression, and he had released her wrist with his off-hand. “You can’t keep both of us up, Tanis!”

“N-no...!” Tanis groaned, tightening her grip on his hand. “I-I won’t let you go, N!” Another tremor shook the floor, causing more of the room around them to collapse and fall into the pit that the collapse had created. “I-I c-can’t...!!” She shouted, hot tears flooding her eyes. She looked sadly, desperately down at N, the man she loved more then anything. She wasn’t going to give up on him, not like this! But her grip was slipping, both on him and on the rock she haphazardly clung to, her heart shattering at the very thought of losing him right now.

He smiled gently at her. “I love you, Tanis.” He whispered, almost...accepting of his end. “Goodbye.”

And, like that, he allowed his hand to slip from her fingers, falling down into the depths of the crumbling building.

N!” Tanis let loose a bloodcurdling scream, her voice echoing around the sound of the building falling around her. Hot, burning tears flooded her vision while she continued to scream after him, her hand flailing in the empty air, trying to desperately grope onto a man that was already gone. Agonizing sobs wracked her lungs, mingling in with her heartbroken screams. No, he couldn’t be...he wasn’t...he didn’t just--!

But that was it. He was gone, and there wasn’t anything she could do.

N!!

 

------

 

Everyone outside watched in horror as the castle collapsed.

After what was a great victory for them, this was heartbreaking. Tanis had successfully defeated Zekrom, managed to stop N and Team Plasma’s insane plans. They had rounded up all of the members of the team inside of the castle - well, those they could find - though the Sages had somehow managed to escape. However, not long after the remnants of the castle began to collapse from the sheer intensity of the battle.

There was no sign of either Zekrom or Reshiram emerging before everything came crashing down.

TANIS!

Nina couldn’t stand it anymore. Her baby was in there, fighting for the fate of the world alone, and now the entire castle had come down around her! She was not about to sit around anymore, not when her own child, the only thing she had left was in there!

“Nina!” She heard Lance shout from behind her, but she was deaf to it. The entire castle had come down by now, the air filled with smoke and dust, but she didn’t care. Nina charged forward, ready to dig Tanis out of that mess with her bare hands if she had to. However, she felt a pair of strong arms loop around her into a full nelson, holding her in place. She gave an exasperated cry and struggled in the grip, turning her burning gaze back behind her.

Let me go!!” She insisted, unable to break free from the taller man’s grasp. “My daughter is in there!!”

“Nina, there isn’t anything we can do!” Lance shouted, keeping her in check, “There’s too much dust, too much rubble! It will take too long for us to try to find--”

Nina suddenly leaned back and hit her head against Lance’s chin, hard enough to cause him to release her and stagger back. She whirled around him, her eyes blazing. “I am not abandoning her in there! I will find her, even if it kills me!!”

Lance rubbed his chin, “Nina, think logically! There’s no way you can--” He stopped, however, when she sound of wings beating in the air could be heard, jerking his head up.

The cloud of dust that had billowed from the ruined castle blew away almost serenely. A figure in all white descended upon the Dragon Clan’s cap, almost like an angel descending from heaven. Nina turned her head up towards the Vast White Dragon, Reshiram, her eyes going wide at it’s presence. It wasn’t Reshiram that shocked her, but what it carried in it’s mouth.

“Tanis...!” Nina breathed out, her eyes wide with shock and relief. She ran forward, dashing towards where Reshiram was landing. Everyone moved out of the way to give it a wide birth, and they all store up in awe at the beautiful, feather-clad dragon before them. Even members of Plasma - now in the Clan’s custody - were in sheer awe of it.

Gently, Reshiram landed and lowered it’s head down, gently releasing the back of Tanis’ shirt. She was covered in dust and dirt, her hair matted from the rain. Her pants had been torn up at some point and her knees and calves had been skinned, blood still oozing down from the wounds. One of her arms hung limp at her side. Streaks of tears stained her dust-covered face, her eyes looking hopelessly and blankly ahead. Blood oozed from her mouth. She slowly staggered forward, breathing heavily and her bloody, good hand holding the limp arm.

“Tanis!” Nina called again, rushing for her injured daughter. After only two steps, Tanis collapsed onto her knees again and fell face-first into the ground, letting loose the most heart-wrenching cry of sheer agony Nina had ever heard before. It was almost the same sound she made when she found out about Dominic - and to hear it coming from her own child...there was nothing more heartbreaking then that. Nina knelt down before Tanis and scooped her up on her arms, holding her broken daughter against her and rocking back and forth, running her hands through her matted hair.

Tanis clung desperately to her with her good hand, sobbing and crying against her mother, her entire body shaking. She was sobbing so hard that she could barely breathe, gasping for air only to let it out as another heartrending sob. Just hearing her daughter sob like that caused Nina’s own eyes to flood with tears, her heart shattering with Tanis’. She gently rubbed Tanis’ back and nuzzled her head against the top of Tanis’, giving it a gentle, motherly kiss.

“I’m here, baby,” She whispered gently, sniffing softly to keep herself from sobbing, too. “I’ve got you.”

“Someone get a medic!” Lance shouted overhead, though his words were drowned out by the pain that Tanis was feeling right now. Nina was glad he was still taking control of the situation, at least. She wasn’t in the emotional position to be sensible right now.

“It’s over now, sweetie. I know it’s been so hard on you, but it’s over.” She kissed the crown of Tanis’ hair again. “Mama’s got you.”

Tanis shook her head against her mother’s shoulder. “M-mom...i...it’s no-not--” She swallowed hard, tightening her grip on Nina’s shirt. “He...h-he...h-he’s go-gone...” She hiccuped, the notion causing another wave of sobs to wrack her body. Nina’s eyes widened and looked down at her. That’s what this was...it was heartbreak. Pure, legitimate heartbreak.

Tanis sniffed again, a wet, gurgling noise. “H...h-he s-s-sac-sacrif-ficed him-hims-self fo...f-for m-me...” She hiccuped, shaking her head once more. Nina’s eyes softened, tightening her hold on her heartbroken daughter.

“Oh, baby...” She whispered softly, knowing now that there was no consultation for this. “I’m sorry, sweetie. I’m so, so sorry...” Another wet, messy sniff.

“I...I-I l-loved him, M-mom...l-loved hi-him s-so mu-much...” Tanis sobbed. “A...a-and n-now...h-he’s g-gone...”

 

Chapter Text

“She still hasn’t come down yet?”

It had been a week since Team Plasma’s defeat and N’s death, and things hadn’t gotten easier. The League was in ruins, and while Lance had been able to coordinate the Clan to track down the Sages - with the assistance of an international detective named Looker - they still had no sign of where Ghetsis had gotten to, or if N had survived or not. It would take months to dig through the rubble, and at least a year before the League could be fully rebuilt. Alder had ceased all League activity until it could be mostly restored, but that wasn’t the main problem right now.

The main problem was Tanis.

Lance had stopped by every day since then to check up on Tanis, both when she was at the hospital and when she had been released and returned home. She had been pretty badly injured - a dislocated shoulder on her left arm, fractures in her right arm and some crushed ribs from when she had went down, a skinned chin and a few chipped teeth, not to mention her skinned knees and calves. All of those could be easily fixed, but it was her heart that was the problem. Once she had been admitted to the hospital, she had...shut down. She wouldn’t talk to anyone, didn’t even want her Pokémon with her. Once she had returned home, she stayed in her room and only staggered out to go to the bathroom. She barely ate and slept constantly.

She had saved the world, but couldn’t save the one thing that mattered the most to her.

Giving a small sigh, Nina shook her head. “No. I’ve even tried to get her smaller Pokémon to stay with her, but she doesn’t even acknowledge them. She’s wasting away in there.” It was hard on Nina, too. Lance had always known her as a strong woman, but even she had times in which her iron will was broken down. The fact that her own daughter was hurting so badly caused her more grief then when Dominic had died. “She won’t talk to me, either.”

“Have you...?” Lance questioned, not even able to finish the sentence.

Nina sighed and nodded. “I told her you accepted her into the Clan, but there was nothing.” She slumped her shoulders down. “It’s like - she put so much work and effort into trying to save N, but when it actually happened, she couldn’t even save him at all.” Another heartrending sigh. “All of her energy went into this, and without him, it’s...gone. I don’t know what to do.” She put her face in her hands and groaned.

Lance’s heart was breaking, too. Though he didn’t know Tanis well, he knew enough by her actions, and the brief meeting they did have. She had an indomitable will, and it was through that will that she had gotten through to N. Just like his dear Anna said she would. Lance even brought her with him today, looking across the room to see her at the patio window, her bright blue eyes gazing solemnly out at the fields where Nina raised her dragons.

Char came over to the glass, looking sadly at Anna. He pressed his forehead against it and sighed. Anna sighed too and rested her forehead as near she could to the Charizards, resting there a moment. Even though Anna had changed over the past years she had been away, chasing her responsibility, she was still a warm and caring person. Lance just wished she’d understand that she didn’t need to do it alone, just like Tanis didn’t need to.

Suddenly, Anna leaned back from the window and went upstairs. Char’s dark blue eyes followed her. “Anna?” Lance asked after her, but she didn’t respond. That women had a mission in mind.

“What's she doing?” Nina looked up from her hands, following Anna up the stairs with her eyes. Lance watched Anna too, knowing exactly what she was going to try to do. Turning back to Lance, Nina furrowed her brows. “Should we go with her, or...?”

Lance shook his head. “No, she'll be fine.” He smiled fondly at the place where Anna disappeared, “Anna has a warm heart – and she's helped Tanis before.” Still, he furrowed his brows when he remembered all of the troubles the poor girl had been taking on throughout her journey...and then this. Lance sighed and looked back towards Nina. “Anna's been knocked down too, but has always climbed back up. She's strong, just like Tanis.” He touched Nina's shoulder. “Tanis will pull through this.”

Nina sighed, looking down at her hands. Her gold eyes focused intently on them, tracing the lines and cracks and callouses with them. “...I know she will, eventually.” Nina clenched her hands. “But she'll never be the same.” She looked up at Lance, her eyes showing the own hurt that she had hidden away so carefully. “There will always be a part of her that's broken.”

 

-----

It took several more days before Tanis emerged.

Anna was with her most of the time. It helped to have someone who wasn't her mother to talk to. Then, she let Faith and Isis in. Tanis realized that she couldn't lay around, sulking forever. Even though she saw him vanish into the abyss, a small part of her didn't believe that N was dead. N was alive out there, somewhere, she had to believe it...even though she had the proof that said otherwise.

But she had to live without him.

It took even longer for her physical wounds to heal; weeks. Another month for her arm. Once she was well enough, Tanis flew across the sea with Lance and Anna to Johto. She barely remembered the trip. Lance officially inducted her as a member of the Dragon Clan in Blackthorn City. She would be an official delegate in Unova from that day forward. Tanis felt a small flicker of pride for the first time in months. She wanted to show N her cloak.

The pride vanished and was replaced with heartbreak and sorrow.

Then, it was off to the Indigo League between Johto and Kanto. It was the first – and therefore oldest – Pokémon League established in any of the regions. Any trainer to be considered a Pokémon Master came here, to this League. Complete with lots of fanfare! A celebration festival, battles, fireworks, the whole shebang! Not to mention it was a multi-region televised event, and live streamed all over the internet, too!

Of course, Tanis was the most recent Master to be announced! It was to be a week-long celebration event, complete with games, carnival rides, and even Pokémon Battles with other Masters and the Elite Four, which did rile up Tanis a bit. She was actually eager to meet them and face them down. A real emotion for the first time since the battle with Team Plasma, it felt good. And all of this was before the actual ceremony itself! After all, she was the first Master in nearly 4 years.

Above all else, she got to meet the Champion's of two different Leagues! Indigo League's long-reigning Champion, Amber, as well as Hoenn's, a boy named Wally. Well, he wasn't a boy anymore, but still! They were living legends, and Tanis got a bit too excited meeting them. Amber was surprisingly friendly and amicable, and chattered excitedly with Tanis about her achievements in Unova. She even laughed at Tanis' awkward jokes, and made a few herself. Wally, on the other hand, was far more reserved and was more strategically minded. Most of what he talked about kind of went over Tanis' head, but he seemed nice enough otherwise.

It also turned out Amber was Anna's younger sister!

The Gym Leaders of Kanto and Johto were there as well, and none of them seemed to mind that Tanis was making a fool of herself in front of them (or for the other Masters that could make it). Though she still couldn't believe she got to meet the Blue! And stumbled over herself when she spoke to him.

After all, he was one of the youngest Champions ever! And the shortest-lived, only holding it for a few hours before an even more legendary trainer, Red, dethroned him. Blue was a Master in his own right, and a tough gym leader to boot. Red himself had vanished years ago, which only made the legend surrounding him that much stronger. He had held the title for about a year before leaving it all behind one day. Many rumors and sightings popped up now and again, but no one, not even Blue himself, had any idea where he was.

After the week-long festival, the ceremony happened. Tanis was embarrassed by all of the pomp and the attention thrust upon her. But when Amber – as the current reigning Indigo League Champion – placed the medal around her and proclaimed Tanis a true, bona-fied Pokémon Master...tears threatened to pour out of her eyes. Pride swelled up in her breast and emotions overcame her. She had done it – she had achieved a dream she didn't ever knew she had. To become a Pokémon Master, just like all of her idols before her.

Tanis was a Pokémon Master. She beamed with pride and joy, sniffing back her tears and waving at the crowd.

Unconsciously, with her other hand, she reached for N's beside her to share in the moment. But he wasn't there. He wouldn't ever be there.

Hollowness overtook her happiness.

Then, it was time to go home...but it didn't really feel like home anymore.

 

-----

 

Unova felt different when Tanis returned. The League was still under re-construction, and living with Nina didn't feel like her home anymore. So, she took to traveling again, trying to find someplace where she belonged. But nothing really fit anymore; not without N or chasing Team Plasma or having some sort of goal in mind. Everything just felt hollow and empty. It wasn't until she came to a new, smaller town across the bay, Aspertia City, that something settled in her. Tanis didn't feel like she had to wander anymore, but maybe a quiet life in the woods outside of this city could comfort her.

So, she built a house. With a large area outside for her growing collection of Dragons. With it, she felt content. Although she wished she could share it with someone, at least she found some sort of peace.

The trials against the Sages came to pass; though Ghetsis and N were still MIA and presumed dead, the seven Sages all were found guilty and sentenced accordingly. N's sisters, Anthea and Concordia, were not charged and released due to a lack of any evidence that they had anything to do with Plasma's actions. Tanis offered both of them a place to stay and a job working for her to help take care of her Pokémon, since she felt some connection was better then nothing. The sister's readily accepted her offer.

Anthea was the kinder and gentler of the two, and was an excellent cook. She took to housework and preferred to remain indoors with the smaller Pokémon. She did take to Tanis' team quite well and encouraged Ciela and Char's budding relationship. Concordia was more sarcastic and became good friends with Tanis, spending more time outdoors and was a lot tougher then her gentler sister. But she also liked finer things and got Tanis to trim her hair (a fete hard to accomplish for anyone!) and take better care of herself.

Cheren became a gym leader in Asperita, and having him near by helped Tanis' mood as well. Bianca, who was now Professor Juniper's assistant, also found time to visit Tanis frequently. It also turned out Alder lived close by as well, and became Tanis' mentor figure.

The sorrow was replaced with a semblance of feeling normal again. For once, Tanis felt happy.

The League opened one year after the attack. Tanis took Alder on and won, becoming the new Pokémon League Champion in Unova. Her fame only grew exponentially, but she was slowly getting used to it. Everyone in Unova recognized her anyway. Pride swelled in her and it wasn't quashed by missing N; somewhere, she knew he was happy for her and proud of her...whether or not he was still alive, somewhere, or was beyond her reach. It still brought tears to her eyes thinking of him, but they were less sorrowful and more fond.

But her heart would forever be broken, even if it had been mended with time and her life becoming stable and happy again.

 

Chapter Text

The first thing he noticed was the smell of antiseptic.

He couldn't see anything, couldn't even feel his own body. Just the nauseating smell of being trapped in a hospital; everything smelling clean and sterile and full of sick people. He tried to move, but couldn't get a sense of where his body was. Tried to see, but had no idea where his eyes were. Panic began to set in. Where was his body? His eyes? His ears?

Sound came next; the sound of beeping. A heart monitor. It was going crazy with a heart rate that must have been him. It had to be. The sound of a respirator going steadily, was that him too? Muffled voices were talking, he couldn't make out their voices. People going around him, he could start to tell where they were; then he felt it. A hand over his. Just barely ghosting over his numb fingers. His own heart racing in his chest. Then a blurry figure before him in the shadowy murkiness of his vision.

The figure held an arm out. Slowly his vision began to clear. The figure was talking to him, but it was still muffled. “John? Sir? Can you hear me?” Was that what she said? He tried to talk but couldn't feel his throat. Just his heart and lungs. No hands, no mouth, no feet or torso.

He tried to nod. Remember how to nod. Everything screamed at him, but he felt it. Felt it. The figure sighed in relief. There was more muffled voices and rushing around. He closed his eyes again and tried to focus, listening. Trying to find his body.

The first figure said to him, “We never thought you were going to wake up, buddy. You've been in a coma for almost a year.”

A year? He thought. Did his brows furrow? He didn't know. Everything was numb and what he could feel he couldn't do much with. It hurt, felt stiff. Or wouldn't move at all.

“The doctor is on his way, he can explain how you were brought in to us; but you had a lot of traumatic injuries, including brain damage.” The nurse continued, “We'll need to run some tests now that you're awake, but can you talk?”

Something was pulled from him. He couldn't tell what it was. The breathing tube? It made him gag on the way out, but he barely felt it. Falling back down, he tried to move his mouth, but he couldn't tell if he was. But the first thing he tried to say wasn't a confirmation on if he could talk, or even his own name.

Ta--Ta-nis.

“What's he saying?” One of the nurse's asked. She leaned down, her ear nearly against his mouth.

Ta-nis...” He repeated. There was no voice. He couldn't hear himself. In his mind, he heard his voice loud and clear say her name, but with his ears he just heard his breath barely come out of his mouth. It was a breathy, raspy whisper, if anything.

“Tanis?” Another nurse asked. He cracked his eyes open to see three of them leaning over him, trying to listen.

All he cared about was if she survived. Not his condition, not that he had been comatose for a year. He had survived, he would make it. His brain was fine, he could remember his last moments before blackness overcame him. Her grief-stricken face staring at him moments before he fell, then waking up here; whatever brain damage he had suffered was physical. Whatever else he had suffered he would overcome as well. He could deal with it. All he wanted to know was that she was safe.

The first nurse looked back down at him. “Sir, did you just say Tanis?”

“Y-y-ye-yes...” He stumbled over his words. He nodded his head at the same time he spoke. It hurt. It was hard to talk, his jaw was so stiff and his vocal cords were sore and no longer flexible from lack of use. It still came out as a low, raspy whisper that was more akin to an exhalation of air then anything else. It didn't sound like him. There was no voice at all. He nodded his head to confirm. It hurt to move his neck too.

“As in, the Champion of Unova, Tanis?”

He felt his lips twitch at the corners. His body relaxed as best it could for being so stiff after laying in bed for a year without moving. Thank Arceus, she was safe. She was now Champion of Unova, which meant everything was fine now...everything was fine now.

“Oh honey, he's not going to know that!” Another nurse scolded, “You mean, Tanis who defeated Team Plasma!”

“Oops, I forgot that just happened only last month! Seems like she was meant to be Champion all this time, eh?” The first nurse laughed.

He knew it was the same Tanis. Why wouldn't it be? Closing his eyes, he allowed the nurses to chat and fuss over him, happy with only the fact that Tanis was fine and moving on with her life. A life away from him...but now that he was awake, all he wanted was to see her again. No time had passed for him, but...how had she fared in this past year?

N would have to wait and see.

 

------

He hated this.

After being released from the hospital, a certain John Doe – N hadn't corrected them on who he was, since he was a wanted criminal – had been sent to an intensive rehab center so he could finish re-learning how to use his body. His mind still worked perfectly well, but the brain damage he had suffered, as well as being in a coma for about a year had caused a lot of issues with his body. It was the most frustrating experience of his life, re-learning how to do literally everything. He couldn't write, could barely talk, couldn't move let alone walk, and all he wanted to do was to do math or fidget with a rubix cube – or anything really - but he couldn't.

Talking came much easier of everything else. His Speech Pathologists got him up to the point where he could talk, but he stuttered now and spoke too slow. His mind worked faster then his mouth so he constantly stumbled over his words. It was infuriating for someone who always spoke a mile a minute and never stuttered.

He could now wheel himself around on a wheelchair at least, and was working on writing; but he had no fine motor skills yet. Also, he couldn't walk yet. All N wanted to do was get into contact with his dear Tanis and let her know he was alive, but he had no way how to without being able to write. And he didn't want to talk to her over the phone because he didn't sound like himself, and he'd be monitored and couldn't readily identify himself verbally. But with writing...

Embarrassment be damned, he just wanted to hold her again. Weak and damaged as he was.

N had suffered a fairly severe concussion and a series of minor strokes and swelling of his brain after falling down at the destruction of his castle. On top of it, he also had many fractured ribs, a broken collar bone, several fractures in both arms and legs and a broken pelvis, and his spine had broken in 2 different places. Because of the spinal fractures it would be difficult for him to walk properly again, but they were going to try. Zekrom had managed to get him out before the whole thing fell on top of him and before he had died, and got him to a hospital. Zekrom had vanished since, but N had confidence he'd find his new ideal world soon...once he was better.

Surprisingly, no one recognized him and with his hair all shaved off to crack his head open to get clots out and to get his swelling down, it was even easier to go incognito. The nurses kept his hair short during his coma as well, so it remained out of the way of the equipment.

N had opted to keep it short in the rehab center as well. Best to remain incognito best he could. The last thing he needed right now was the police breathing down his neck while he fought to get himself well for his dearest one.

“Johnnie, you really are obsessed.” Desiree, his nurse, chuckled when she came in for his checks. She was friendly and the two had become close during the four months he had been here.

N sat at his desk with the TV on, which was showing reruns of some of Tanis' defending battles as Champion. He was furiously going at attempting to get his penmanship up to snuff, with a children's book propped up with guides on how to write each and every letter properly. He hated that he had to go back to basics like this, but if this is what it took...then this is what he'd be doing.

And his handwriting used to be so beautiful, too.

“I'm going to write a letter to her.” N said confidently, speaking truthfully and from the heart. It came out at three times slower then his mind said it, but at least he didn't stutter. He was focusing on every word so as not to, like a good boy. He looked up at the television and smiled, seeing the determination in Tanis' raspberry colored eyes.

“If I didn't know any better, I'd say you have a full blown crush on our Champion,” Desiree teased, leaning over his work, “Mmm, don't press down so hard, you're going to tear your paper!” She prodded him in the arm, “And get outside sometime! I know you love the Pokémon we have here, but if you're cooped up writing all day, they'll start missing you!”

“They understand.” N was glad the rehab center had therapy Pokémon available for everyone, primarily outside but also roaming the hallways. Of course, all of them understood that he was writing to his dear Tanis and would bring her here for all of them to meet, and because Pokémon understood these things...they knew he wasn't lying. Desiree gave him a skeptical look.

“Uh-huh.” She turned on her heel, “I'll make sure Mr. Jabbers comes in for some cuddles, alright?” Mr. Jabbers being a very talkative Meowth. It was partially because of him that every Pokémon on the premises knew who N was, his ability and his desire to bring Tanis here and see him. His endless talking also helped sooth N when he had gloomy thoughts taking over him at his infuriating situation of being trapped in his own broken body.

N looked down at his work. “...I'll make sure you come soon, my love.” He whispered, smiling gently.

 

-----

“Tanis, mail's here!”

Tanis inwardly groaned when she heard Concordia made the announcement. Sitting up from the couch where Junior, Ciela and Char's favorite child had been curled up on her stomach, she leaned over the back and made a face at the former-goddess.

“How much of it is junk?”

Concordia made a face as well. “Junk or junk?” The latter being fan mail, of course. “More then half, if that's what you're asking.” She tossed the fat packet of fan letters at Tanis. “I'll give the bills to Anthea since she's got this math thing covered, and the actual junk into the bin.”

Tanis groaned and flopped back down, pulling the blanket over her head. “Thanks.” Junior squeaked and began to nose his way through the fan mail. Giving up the ghost, Tanis began to fish through to see if anything fun might have come in; the usual thick packets of mile long letters of people waxing poetic, the obvious love letters, the ones with pictures of Pokémon stuffed in, ones with dick pictures – she tossed those right into the garbage can beside the couch – and then...

“Eh? Some rehab center outside Castilla?” She muttered, blinking. Tanis got mail from hospitals and nursing facilities somewhat frequently, and the occasional rehab. She usually opened those first, cause they were often from sick people who wanted to see her. Of course, she always went to see them. This was a new facility she hadn't heard of or been to yet, and was for people recovering from severe injuries and brain damage.

Breaking the seal, she unfolded the several pages. The handwriting was large and not terrific, but legible. Yeah, seemed about right.

My dearest Tanis,

Oh boy, a love letter. Great start.

I'm so sorry for not writing to you sooner, but I've been in a coma for a year, and in this facility for the remainder of the time since we last faced each other at the top of the castle.

...Wait...

My injuries were great and it has taken me this long to even just be able to write legibly enough to let you know that yes, I am alive. I am still recovering, my dear, but not a day goes by where I do not think of you. You remain my queen, even if you are just the queen of my heart and not the queen of my team. The new world you fought for and built for both of us still exists, I promise you...I am right here waiting. For you, for us.

No, it couldn't be...

Please come to me, as I am unable to come to you at this moment. I will gladly live in your world of truth, as my ideal world is a world with you in it...you, and I, coexisting. Humans and Pokémon, coexisting. Living in harmony. Where I can be a bridge between them with my gift, and you can help me build that bridge.

I am waiting, my love.

Yours,

N

As she read the letter, Tanis' hands began to shake, her eyes flooding with tears. No way...no way...this...it couldn't be! Could it? All this time? They rolled down her cheeks and fell onto the paper, smearing the ink that was written in the large, shaky hand that claimed to be her dear, beloved N. Pressing a hand to her mouth, Tanis choked back a sob and looked around. Scrambling to throw the blanket off of her, she hurried outside.

“Anthea, Concordia!!” She shouted, “You guys won't believe this!!”

 

Chapter Text

Tanis was shaking as she walked into the rehab center. Of course, she'd also visit the other people here, but...she had priorities. N was here. Not under the name N, he wasn't that dumb, but she'd find him, whatever name he was using. Well, if he was under N, Tanis would know about it. The place would be crawling with police, and she'd have been alerted to it. She was the League Champion. That kinda fell under her jurisdiction. For now, though, he was under an assumed identity and her trembling hands clutched a vase of white roses, hiding how badly she was shaking.

People were staring at her. It had been a long time since people staring at her had bothered her like this. Normally, it just annoyed her now; Tanis liked her privacy, which wasn't something she got often these days. Not being the most famous person in Unova, at least. But now, she was embarrassed. Because she was coming to see her boyfriend. Her very, very very wanted, criminal boyfriend. Who just so happened to be injured...how badly, though? That letter was shoddy. Even Anthea and Concordia didn't recognize it as his handwriting, which apparently used to be very beautiful and elegant. But the style of writing was him.

The nurse at the desk nearly spat out her coffee when she saw Tanis. “A-ah! U-Um, wha...what can I--” She stumbled over her words, unable to believe that Tanis was standing literally right in front of her.

“I got a letter from a fan.” Tanis said, surprised at how calm her own voice was. “They...wanted to meet me, so I came to see them.” She grinned nervously. “O-Of course I'll take a tour, meet other patients! B-but I want to see them first!”

“That'll be Johnnie!” Another nurse, a short and portly woman grinned from around the corner, “He's a huge fan of yours, Ms. Tanis!” Pausing, she cleared her throat, “Err, Ms. Castell.”

“Tanis, please.” Tanis corrected her, feeling twitchy at being addressed formally. Johnnie, really? Ugh, what a bad fake name!

“But John's just wrapping up therapy right now, so it'll be a few minutes before he's back,” The portly nurse informed, “If you want, Tanis, I can take you to his room. Man, he's going to be so floored to see you in person!”

John...Johnnie? Was he just going by John Doe? So creative, N... It was probably the name they had given him at the hospital. He probably feigned amnesia or something so he wouldn't get arrested. How ill was he? Honestly, if he was here, he probably needed to be here instead of locked up in some prison cell. Tanis braced herself for seeing what kind of state N was in, but knew she wouldn't be prepared either way.

“I'd like that.” She flashed a wry smile at the nurse.

The pair headed down some hallways, the nurse – named Desiree – chattering up a storm. It was nice to be talked to like a normal person, honestly. Tanis noted how nice the facility was; nice wide hallways for multiple wheelchairs to get through. The rooms were large and accommodating, and Pokémon wandered the halls. They even had Chancey and Blissey nurses on staff, too! Each room opened to a little courtyard so everyone could go right outside to enjoy some fresh air. Good for patients who had suffered brain damage, at least in her opinion.

Rounding a corner, Tanis stopped in her tracks. At the other end of the hall, she saw him. Him. His head was turned upwards and was talking with a Chancey walking behind him, but he was wheeling his own chair. His legs were thin and knobby, and obviously weren't functional in the least. Hands trembled on the wheels. His body was a lot thinner then she remembered too; and his once long, beautiful green hair was cut in a close crew cut. Several scars wrapped around his head and were noticeable, even from a distance; they were also on his arms and legs. But she knew his face, his profile, the sound of his voice.

Even if his words were slightly slurred. Even if they came out of his mouth slower then she had ever heard them before. Even if they stumbled and stuttered at times.

Tanis dropped the vase. It shattered at her feet, water and glass spraying everywhere. “Oh goodness!” Desiree exclaimed and leaped backwards. He stopped in the hallway and turned towards the sound, slowly, like the universe stopped moving for an instant.

Blue-gray eyes met hers, and her heart skipped a beat. N, she mouthed, clutching her hands firmly before her to stop them from shaking. Tears began to flood her eyes, his own widened when he saw her standing there. It was like fate meant for this to happen, right then and there.

She saw his beautiful eyes turn glossy and he began to wheel towards her. Tanis stepped over the broken glass and hurried down towards him. The pair of them were drawn towards each other like magnets, even though they weren't supposed to know each other. They both forgot that fact, and in that moment, they were star crossed lovers meeting again for the first time in a year and a half.

Tanis leaned over him and placed her hands on either side of his face. N's shaky, uneasy hands rested over hers and leaned into her, their lips touching in a perfect kiss. Time stopped in that instant, and she savored in his taste, his scent, letting all of him overcome her senses once again. Only now, they didn't need to fight a desperate battle against one another. They could just be.

She almost couldn't believe it was real, that this had to be some kind of a dream; that he wasn't really here, right now, in her hands and kissing her. That it was some cruel nightmare that she'd wake up from, and he'd be gone again. He was alive, he was here, and he wanted her, too. Still. After all of this time, always.

Slowly, tenderly, they deepened the kiss. Everything else had stopped in that moment, and Tanis forgot where she was. That people were around, wondering why Unova's Champion was kissing this John Doe like she was in love with him. Of course, she was in love with him. Time and her mended heart couldn't change that fact. Tanis had forgotten that N was in a wheelchair and not an actual chair, and the breaks weren't on. She lifted a leg up to rest next to his hips to deepen the kiss, but the chair shot out from under her and he went wheeling away, and she whacked her chin on his knees.

“Acugh!” She groaned, finding herself face planting on the floor. “O-ow...”

“Tanis!” N was wheeling back towards her. The Chancey also hurried over as well, offering Tanis a hand. Desiree, meanwhile, was gaping at the whole turn of events. Tanis was already getting up. “Are you alright, my dear?”

“F-fine...” She flushed, rubbing her chin. “How're your knees? I know I'm not light...”

“I...can't feel much in my legs...” N admitted sheepishly, “I can barely walk, even with a lot of support.” It was so strange to hear him stumble over his words like this. Tanis furrowed her brows down at him. “But um, lets take this in my room. I don't want anyone else staring.” He gestured at Desiree, who was still dumbfounded.

Tanis looked over her shoulder, promptly blushed and nodded her head. “R-right!” And the pair hurried into his quarters, closing the door behind them. Which were nice, of course; a bed, a desk filled with paper and books and even a rubix cube (so like him). The patio door was open allowing the breeze to come in, and the TV was facing the desk so he could work and watch at the same time. Tanis watched him wheel over to the bed and lock his chair in place, and hoist himself onto the bed. She was impressed, really; and noticed he had a fair amount of muscle mass on his arms now. Still sleeker then he looked before, but maybe the cushy life as Team Plasma's King made him a bit softer then he was now.

Still, her heart broke to see him like this. Tanis took a seat next to him and took one of his hands in hers. “...N, what happened to you?”

He looked down at his hands, then over at her. With his other hand, he lightly touched her cheek, stroking it with his thumb. “I...don't really remember much.” He admitted, looking away. “I remember falling, and then...nothing.” He shrugged, “Then waking up at the hospital a year later. I had suffered a severe concussion, a few mild strokes, swelling in the brain--”

“Oh Arceus...”

“I'm fine now, Tanis.” N assured, turning to face her and taking her hand in both of his. He smiled gently at her. “My mind still works, and I remember everything clearly. While it is...extremely frustrating that my body isn't caught up to my mind, I am working on it.” He squeezed her hands. “My many therapists believe I can regain most of my motor skills and speech, but...” He looked down at his legs, “I...did suffer several fractures in my spine. They're not sure I'm going to ever walk properly again, if at all.”

Tanis looked down at his legs. Slowly, she reached out with her other hand and touched his thigh, which was exposed by the exercise shorts he wore. “You...can't feel this?” She asked, looking up at him.

“...Sort of?” N shrugged. “I can feel it a little, but it's muddled.”

“Oh, N...I'm so sorry...!” Tanis threw her arms around his shoulders. He was startled by the gesture and fell backwards onto the bed, landing with her on top of him with an 'oof.' “I-I should have...if I had held on a little longer, then--”

“Hush, my dear.” N wrapped his arms around her back and began to stroke her back and her hair. “What's done is done! This is what fate has handed to me, and I accept it.” Tilting her head back with one of his hands, he smiled gently at her. “What matters is I'm alive, and I'm here with you, my darling. I don't plan on leaving you again.”

“N...” Tanis whispered, right before he captured her lips in a warm, loving kiss. For a moment, she allowed herself to be overtaken by the love and warmth of his embrace, of his kiss; forgetting that her boyfriend was a wanted criminal. As injured and recovering as he was. Their lips continued to move against each other, over and over again, each kiss just as tender and full of love as the last. It almost made her want to cry, it filled her with such happiness. A world where they could coexist...

It wasn't quite there yet.

Slowly, Tanis broke away and sighed, burying her face against his chest. Quietly, she listened to his heartbeat while N stroked her hair. Their dynamic was different, now that they weren't fighting against each other. She liked this. But reality was going to set in, and neither of them could hide who he was for much longer.

“...I can't keep you hidden here.”

N sighed, but continued to stroke her hair. “...I know. You have an obligation to the League.”

“As much as I want to just live a normal life with you, N...”

“I know.” N kissed the crown of her hair. “I knew as soon as you came here, you would have to report me. I understand, Tanis.”

Tanis lifted her head and looked down at him. “And you're not going to fight this?”

He shook his head. “No, it's pointless to.” He stroked her cheek, “I've spent all of this time fighting you, fighting for the wrong side...it's time to own up. I only wanted to get well enough to see you again, and well enough to face a jury.” He smiled that same gentle smile. “Don't fret for me, we'll be together soon either way. I know it.”

Tanis pursed her lips and nodded her head. “I just hope you're right...”

 

------

True to her word, Tanis had to report N's whereabouts to the police. Given his unique situation and condition, N was allowed to complete his therapy regime before his trial and arrest. However, he would be under surveillance constantly. Once she reported the situation, Tanis bowed out of all events, given the fact that she was emotionally tied into the case and would be rather prejudiced to the entire situation. Grimsley, one of her Elite Four, would be taking over in her stead. Thusly, she still visited N whenever she could.

“You keep getting better and better.”

Tanis had gotten used to the officer in the room with N by now, and the pair usually afforded some romantic cuddles and kisses while he was there (he knew to look away). Though she wished they'd allow some more privet time, such was the case with a very well known criminal.

It had been four more months since, and N's speech and motor skills had improved. Though his walking hadn't gotten any better, he could talk a lot better with less stuttering and his writing had moved up to a fourth grade standard! He could drag himself around on crutches primarily thanks to improved upper-body strength, but it was more tiring then the wheelchair. Tanis was already making adjustments to her home, considering his trial was next week. She was hopeful his sentence would be short, and he would be well behaved...several of the Sages had already been released into community service based on good behavior! Surely N would be the same, right?

“Alas, it means we'll know soon what my fate will be.” N teased, trying to keep the mood light. His sense of humor had gotten slightly dark since the concussion, but at least he had one now.

“It'll be fine. Your lawyer is a good one and, well...” Tanis trailed off. She was to be a key witness, but N's lawyer didn't want him, or anyone else, to know about it. Not even the prosecution had any idea. It made her nervous, actually.

“I know.” N smiled and kissed her knuckles. “We'll make it fine.”

Tanis flushed, “There you go with the sappy stuff...” She muttered, looking away from him. N smiled and tilted his head. His hair was growing out now that he had dropped the pretense. And lord it was a beast, already several inches long! What did he eat to make it grow so fast?!

“How can I not be sappy, when my Queen is right here with me?” He chuckled, kissing her knuckles again, his lips lingering on them this time. Tanis blushed even more, especially since a cop was right there. Not that N ever cared about PDA's, honestly. He'd probably make out with her in the center of the Pokémon League on public television and not care!

“Ugh, you're impossible.” She muttered, nudging him with her shoulder.

“With you? Always.” He chuckled, stealing a quick kiss against her temple. The officer cleared his throat.

“Isn't it time for therapy?” He muttered uncomfortably. He always did when it came to them being mushy with each other. Tanis sighed and looked at the clock, wrinkling her nose when she realized it was about five to his OT session. Tanis usually stuck around for those, but she had League duties to attend to this evening.

“Ugh, I hate to do this, but I need to leave.” She slumped. N put a hand on her back and rubbed it. “League needs me back, stupid funding meeting or something.” Boy, they didn't tell you how much involvement the Champion had in these things! Sure, they could opt out if they wanted to, but Tanis, for all her complaining, actually kinda liked all of the busy work. While not smart like N and a lot of this crap went over her head, she liked being involved in League operations and it gave her something more to do.

“You like it.” N grinned slyly up at her, pressing a quick kiss to her lips. “Even if you won't admit it.”

“Shut up.” Tanis mock punched him in the shoulder, watching as he hoisted himself back into his chair. “This is way more your area then mine, I hate numbers.”

N flashed a teasing grin at her. “Math is quite easy, Tanis.”

“For you.” She teased right back, “Nerd. Get going to your session.” N chuckled and headed off with the officer in tow, people parted like the red sea in the hallways for them. Things were more tense around him at the facility since his identity was revealed, but most of the Pokémon seemed to trust him before hand. The humans, on the other hand...

Wasn't every day they came across a legendary criminal.

Tanis sighed and grabbed her cloak, heading out herself. People flocked around her, on the other hand. But they knew to keep their distance, since she wouldn't answer any questions regarding herself or N, and tended to head straight for the exit.

One more week, Tanis told herself, feeling the nerves come back, One more week, and we'll find out how much longer we have to wait for our new world.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“All rise.”

They were calling it the 'Trial of the Century.' Even before it had happened. Never before had a villainous team leader been captured and stood trial for what they had done; not Team Rocket, nor any of the others that had followed. Not until today, when the King of Team Plasma had willingly turned himself in to stand trial before the court.

Natural “N” Harmonia Gropius had wheeled himself into the courtroom earlier, and how stood with assistance from crutches and his lawyer while the Judge strode in. Behind him came Grimsley, who would serve as consultant, as this was a Pokémon-related crime.

The courtroom was packed. It was televised, livestreamed. Everyone was watching this, even in other regions! Tanis sat at the front of the courtroom, her face as concealed as she could get it with her hair and the popped collar of her Dragon Clan cloak, her mother on one side and Anthea and Concordia on the other. She tightly held both Anthea and Nina's hands in a vice-like grip when they sat back down. Camera's were focusing on her just as much as N.

Lawyers made their opening statements; N's lawyer stated he was manipulated from the very beginning by his father, Ghetsis (who was still MIA). N was psychologically abused from childhood and conditioned to believe every human physically and mentally used and abused Pokémon. The prosecution however, stated N was always in sound mind and knew exactly what he was doing, manipulation or not.

Finally, the first witness was called, the lowest ranking (and still incarcerated) sage, Zinzolin. After being sworn in, the questioning began.

“So is it true that the defendant was manipulated from childhood?”

“What? I have no idea what you're talking about!” Zinzolin scoffed. Oh boy. Tanis always hated this bratty old jackass, and of course he was low ranking, and didn't know what was going on with the higher ups!

“So you're saying he wasn't being manipulated by Ghetsis?”

“As far as I know! He was in charge of Team Plasma, not Ghetsis!” Zinzolin insisted, to much murmuring from the crowd. “He knew exactly what he was doing, and even overrode decisions Ghetsis made on several occasions!”

The questioning of Zinzolin continued for quite some time, but he continued to deny any knowledge of the fact that N was manipulated, and that he was of sound mind. Tanis grew nervous and uneasy from his testimony; the crowd was tense during it as well. N, however, remained calm and collected during it. So did Anthea and Concordia, like they knew something.

Each sage was called in turn; each gave a similar testimony to each other. That they had no knowledge of manipulation, but couldn't prove or disprove the theory. All of them believed it was in Ghetsis' character to do so to his own son, as well as to any one of them. However, they all agreed that N did call the shots and was a true King of the team. It wasn't until Rood came up that something changed.

“Have you witnessed anything relating to the aforementioned manipulation of the defendant by his father, Ghetsis Harmonia Gropius?”

Rood, who now had his own non-for-profit organization helping abused and abandoned Pokémon, sat calmly in the witness stand. “Yes.”

The crowd burst into murmurs, the judge having to hit his gavel to calm them.

“Explain for the jury, please.”

“I have been with Team Plasma the longest, even when it was an underground organization, long before the name was known.” Rood explained. “Ghetsis did, indeed, abandon his own child when he discovered he could speak to Pokémon and believed him a freak due to this. However, once he learned of the legend of Reshiram and Zekrom, he found he could use this child to his advantage, and mold him into the hero he needed to gain control over one of these dragons.”

“And this child, is he here in the courtroom?”

“Yes.”

“Could you point them out for the jury, please?”

Rood nodded his head sagely, lifting his hand and pointing to N. The crowd burst into more murmurs and whispers. The lawyer cleared his throat. Tanis gripped her hands tighter around Nina and Anthea's, Anthea giving her a knowing look out of the corner of her eyes.

“So I see,” The lawyer continued, “And you knew of this plot, this...plan?” He furrowed his brows and looked back towards Rood.

“Yes, I was there during the depositing and the plotting. Allow me to explain further.

“Ghetsis purposefully only allowed the defendant to play with Pokémon who had been abused by humans. Given his unique gift to speak and understand Pokémon, it built up his idealistic world where humans and Pokémon could be separated.” Rood continued without emotion, explaining fully so everyone in the jury could hear how monstrous this whole plan was. Tanis' blood was boiling, “This continued into adolescence and into his young adult life – as Team Plasma's King.”

“Very interesting...” The lawyer turned towards the jury and recapped everything Rood had said, ending his statement with, “And it was so deep-seeded into the defendant's psyche that it took Miss Tanith Castel to defeat him, and severely injure him, in order to drive that insane notion out of him!” He gestured towards her in the audience, and she wanted to hide. Reporters and people began to scramble towards her, and Tanis shrunk down into her cloak, pulling it up over her face. Thank Arceus photography wasn't allowed inside!

 

And that was just the first day.

The following day, Anthea and Concordia each took the stand. They took over the entire second day, given how both of them had further, more intimate knowledge of N's life and upbringing as his (foster) sisters. They explained what they had told Tanis before, each of them giving essentially the same information as each other. Very solid testimony, all things considered. Very solid evidence.

Day three involved questioning a few Plasma members, trainers who had gone up against N, as well as doctors who had seen and evaluated N since his identity had been revealed: psychologists. The prosecution believed they had a solid case against him, but the defense was strong as well. It was clear that N had been psychologically damaged from childhood by Ghetsis regardless of his mindset during his time as King, and it was clear with his psyche evaluation from his doctors. His mind was not entirely sound during any of it, and he was deluded.

This continued on until day four where the doctor was continued to be questioned regarding N's mental state. It was finally determined that Ghetsis had mentally and emotionally abused and manipulated N from his childhood into adulthood, though it was still unclear as if the choice of separating Pokémon and humans was entirely his or part of the abuse. However, N was mentally unstable due to the abuse and should not be considered mentally of sound mind during that time period. However, they did not want to declare him insane as he wasn't completely mad yet, as Tanis had managed to pull him out of insanity before it completely took control. She did save him before it got too far, and now he was getting the help he so desperately needed. The defense was at a standstill now.

Tanis knew exactly what was going to happen now, and she took a deep breath when the defense pulled their trump card.

“If the defense has nothing more, I believe the jury can convene.” The prosecutor stated, but the defense met his gaze with a smug expression.

“I do have one more witness to call to the stand.”

“Oh? And who would that be?” The other lawyer asked skeptically.

“I call Tanith Castel to the stand.”

The court burst into thunderous murmurs and shouting. Tanis rose to her feet and straightened her cloak, holding her head high and trying to ignore everyone staring at her. All of the television cameras were trained on her, and she walked towards the bar with as much bravado as she could muster. Internally, she was a complete mess; but she had been in worse scrapes. Like fighting against the man she loved. Now she was fighting for him.

“Objection! We all know that the Champion is emotionally tied to and involved with the defendant!” The prosecution shouted, pointing at her waiting at the bar. “It's why she's bowed out of the trial!”

“Yes, but she's being called as a witness,” N's lawyer noted.

“But her emotional ties might cloud her judgment!” The prosecution added.

“Miss Castel, will you be telling us the honest truth and without any emotional ties?” The judge asked, looking down at her from his seat.

“Yes, your honor.” Tanis replied.

The judge looked over at Grimsley. “As this is your boss and also your case, how do you feel about her giving testimony?”

Grimsley grinned, giving her a knowing look. “I have no issue with it.” Tanis knew she liked him for a reason.

“She may testify.” The judge decided, allowing Tanis to cross the bar and take the stand. The crowd erupted again, but he quickly hit his gavel to quiet them down. Tanis was sworn in and she agreed to tell the truth, and took her seat.

Showtime.

“So, Tanith--”

“Please, I prefer Tanis.” Tanis interrupted.

“Tanis, then.” N's lawyer began, “When did you first meet the defendant?”

“Uh...we met in early spring the same year we fought at Team Plasma's castle. That was in mid-autumn, I think.” How long was that? “Six, seven months prior, I guess?” Man she was bad at time.

“Did you know he was part of Team Plasma then?”

“No, I had my suspicions the third or fourth time we met though.”

“So you met several times?” The lawyer continued to ask.

“Yeah, he kept popping up.” Tanis shrugged, “He had an interest in me from the start – said it was because my Pokémon really liked me. But it also turns out he could tell I was the other Hero, and also saw us standing side by side later on as the two Heroes.”

“So he was the one who initiated contact, then?”

“Yep.”

“How long did you know he was the King?”

“Uh...” Tanis thought. Why was she so bad at remembering time? “Summerish? We met in Castilla City and road the Ferris Wheel. He told me then.”

The defender tilted his head, “Why would he tell you that?”

Tanis chuckled. “You got me! He said it's cause we were friends, even though he knew I hated Team Plasma. I insisted we were enemies, but I couldn't deny we were friends, too.” She paused and pursed her lips, remembering the time. “It's...complicated, I guess. We were friends, but enemies at the same time. I know it sounds stupid, but I couldn't hate him.”

“But you never told the authorities.”

“No...I never thought about it.” Tanis admitted. “I wanted to handle it myself.”

“Because you were friends.”

“Well, yeah, I guess--” In truth, Tanis wasn't really sure why she had decided to keep it to herself. At least, not anymore. She furrowed her brows. “I guess I thought I could, you know...save him. Because I wanted to believe that there was a good person in there, and I could stop him. Because we were friends.”

“And maybe something more?”

“Objection! We weren't going to bring their emotions into this!”

“Sustained, witness will ignore the question.” The judge noted.

Tanis rolled her eyes. N's lawyer cleared his throat and continued. “But it is true he did ask you to become the Queen of Team Plasma, did he not?”

“Objection! Emotions, your honor!”

“Your honor, may I approach?”

The two lawyers squabbled for several minutes with the judge and Grimsley, before they were waved off. “Overruled, the witness may answer the question as it is related to the case.”

“Err, yes, he did. N-not officially, at least, until later.” Tanis felt her cheeks burn to have this all out in the open. Her eyes zipped over to N, who was smiling fondly at her. She knew it meant he wanted to marry her, and that he still did...and she wanted it, too. Once things settled down, of course. Clearing her throat, she looked back at the lawyer. No emotions could be brought in though. “Because we were both the Heroes of Ideals and Truth, and he believed we could change the world together. To his ideal, of course. But I rejected him because I didn't believe in his Ideal world where Pokémon and Humans would be separated.”

“Did you believe he was manipulated at this time?”

Tanis shook her head, “No, I thought it was all him. That he was just...really misguided.”

“And you still wanted to save him.”

“Yeah.” Tanis fumbled with her hands on the edge of her vest. “He...wasn't crazy, you know? Like...he always made sense when he talked to me, he was nice to me, if not a little weird sometimes.” She grinned, “And we were friends. But I knew he was wrong. That there was no way Pokémon and humans could live separately, and I didn't know how he could believe that. Especially since he could talk to them. I thought he was misguided, somehow, or was being lied to.”

“Do you believe he was manipulated now?”

“Yes,” Tanis nodded her head, “Right before the castle collapsed, we ran into Ghetsis. He ranted about it, said he wanted to mold N into a perfect puppet to rule the world with. Wanted to do the same with me, but I'm too stubborn.” She smirked half-heartedly at that. “Anthea and Concordia also told me the same before the fight, too. So yes, I believe he was. Wouldn't put it past Ghetsis, either.”

The questions like this continued for another 30 minutes.

“Nothing further, your honor.”

Next came the prosecution. Oh, goodie.

“So, you had no idea until the very end that the defendant was being manipulated?” Well, that was quick. Right to the punchline, this guy.

Tanis fought the urge to roll her eyes. “Yeah.”

“So you believed all of this – his beliefs and ideals at separating Pokémon and humanity – was all on him, correct?”

Tanis stared hard at the prosecuting attorney. She hated this guy. Could she punch him? Wait, that was illegal. Damn. “Yeah, you could say that.” Unfortunately, it was true. Sure, she thought N was deluded at first, but she didn't think he was beyond saving until the Dragonspiral Tower.

“I see,” Straightening his tie, he went in for the kill. “But you kept trying to convince him that he was wrong, correct?” Tanis affirmed this again. “Because you wanted to save him.” Once again, she confirmed. “Was there ever a time you believed he was...beyond help?”

There was the kill shot.

The courtroom went dead. Silent.

Tanis felt herself begin to sweat. A shudder went down her spine. Why did the bastard have to ask that?! He leaned in, leering at her, and she felt her defense fall. If this was a Pokémon battle, she'd be wide open for a critical hit! Shit. Swallowing hard, she knew she had to tell the truth.

“Y...y-yes.” She admitted. N looked startled, his brows raising, then furrowing. The stuffed courtroom began to murmur among themselves. “At...at the Dragonspiral Tower. I-I told him that, well...he needed to ask Pokémon what they thought about his plans, and--” Arceus, she hated this. She recounted the whole event, feeling cold sweat running down her neck and back. Reliving that moment made her begin to shake. That whole event brought back horrific flashbacks and she didn't like remembering that traumatic day. Hell, she hadn't even thought about it since then. It shook her to her very core to recount it, let alone think about it, and she was visibly shaken in front of the whole court – the whole world watching – to tell them about exactly what happened. All while answering questions for the prosecution.

She couldn't even look at N while explaining. Or anyone, for that matter.

Once she was finished, the prosecuting attorney brought her some water, as she was very shaken after.

“So I see.” He stated, before turning to the jury. “And yet the defense claims he was manipulated this whole time – yet the defendant claims to understand Pokémon! He could have spoken to any of them at any time, yet he did not listen to them or our witness here! I believe I am finished here. You may rest, Ms. Castell.”

Now, it was up to the jury.

 

-----

 

Hours felt like years. Days felt like an eternaty. At least Tanis had a break and could sit with N while they waited for what was an eternity.

“I think you're more nervous then I am, my dear.” N commented, giving her hand a squeeze from the small, guarded cell that he was kept in. Every so often his attorney would check back on them to say the jury was still out. She visited him every day while they convened for hours. It had been eight hours for eight days, it was going into the ninth; food had been brought to them but no further news had come. Tanis was bouncing her leg and had chewed off her nails and cudicals with worry. Anthea and Concordia had taken turns back with them as well.

“I...I-I just feel...so awful!” Tanis groaned, running her free hand through her hair and returning to chew on her thumb again. “If he hadn't ask me about my doubts I wouldn't--”

“You had to tell the truth, I understand.” N smiled at her, stroking her hair with his other hand. “Whatever happens, happens. I'm ready to face whatever they decide.” He kissed her knuckles. “I've done some terrible things, and while Ghetsis is to blame for a lot of it, many of it I did of my own free will.”

Tanis furrowed her brows and groaned, “That doesn't make me feel any better, N...”

Only moments later, the lawyer returned. “N, Tanis, the judge has called the Jury back. Let's go.”

Tanis' heart flew into her throat and she nodded her head. N squeezed her hand and the pair headed down the reporter-filled hallway, lined with cops to keep them under control. It went by in a blur, and soon they were back in the courtroom. That eternity of waiting for days vanished into seconds, and the world moved too fast all of the sudden. She wasn't ready to hear the news. N's fingers slipped from hers as he went to his place, and she felt very alone and vulnerable again. Everything closed in around her while she was ushered to the courtroom, reporters voices muffled in the chaos while she took her place back in the front. Her heart and heavy breathing drowned everything out. She felt like she was suffocating.

Tanis took her seat in the front with her mother, Anthea and Concordia again, gripping as many hands as she could and trying not to hyperventilate. The courtroom quickly filled with eager Bibarels to get the verdict and conviction of the infamous Natrual Harmonia, King of Team Plasma. The walls were rapidly closing in around her and she hated every second of it. N was as cool as a cucumber, and she hated him for how relaxed he was about getting his damn verdict. How could he be so damn calm?! Stupid amazing boyfriend.

“People of the jury, it's been nine damn days. Have you reached a verdict?”

One of the members rose up, clutching her hands. “No, your honor.”

Hushed murmurs came from all around. Tanis gripped the hands in hers. “Would more time suffice?” The judge asked.

The woman pursed her lips and shook her head. “Your honor, we've been arguing in circles this entire time. We can't make up our mind on most of the charges and very little has changed at all.”

With a heavy sigh, the judge turned to Grismely and the two conversed for some time. After a few minutes, he turned back to the spokesperson of the jury. “We'd like to do a pull of each of the convictions. Would each jury member please state whether they believe the defendant is guilty or not guilty on each charge I read. On the conviction of stealing and releasing other trainer's Pokémon, how do you find the defendant, starting with juror number one?”

“Guilty.”

“Not guilty.”

“Not guilty.”

“Guilty...”

This continued on for each of the charges, with the jury being more-or-less split down the middle for each of the multitude of charges that had been brought up against N. The only charge that had an overwhelmingly to one side was the assault on the Pokémon League: guilty, with only two of the jurors stating he was not guilty of that charge. Otherwise, of the sixteen members of the jury, none of them could agree enough one way or another.

Tanis' heart was racing so hard she felt like it was going to explode.

Sighing and rubbing his temples, the judge hit his gavel to quiet down the explosive courtroom to quiet it down. “As the jury is unable to come to a conclusion, then myself and Grimsley of the Elite Four have no choice but to acquit the defendant of all but one charge. However!” He paused and looked at N, pointing his gavel towards N, “As they still weren't able to agree on that one, but you were still found there and mostly found guilty, I am going to be passing judgement upon you.” The crowd erupted into booing fits. “Order! Order!” He hit his gavel again.

“Be nice now, your honor.” Grimsley snickered, and received a scoff in return.

“Nothing you won't approve of.” He huffed, “Natural Harmonia Gropious, I do believe you are a danger only to yourself at this point. I hereby sentence you to receive government funded therapy, weekly, for at least five years. It's going to take a lot of work to get whatever the hell Ghetsis did to you out of your system. However, it is clear you did assault the Pokémon League – we have video evidence to prove it – so I am going to hinder you from ever engaging in League activities.” He folded his arms on the table, “You may have a trainers license, but you may not ever partake in League challenges: no gym battles, no champion battles, no elite four battles. You are hereby banned from those activities, and may not go within 100 yards of any gym or Pokémon League for the remainder of your life. Is that understood?”

N met the eyes of the judge. “Yes, your honor.”

“Good. Now I expect you to behave, because you're getting off very light. Any so much as a peep of trouble out of you and I will expect to see you back in my court, young man.”

A smile from N. “Of course, your honor. Thank you.” He gave an incline of his head.

“Court is adjourned. Everyone behave themselves out there and try not to mob the free man in a wheelchair.” He slammed his gavel down, and the entire court erupted into sheer madness.

Tanis didn't hear any of it. She just stood there, dumbfounded. Her eyes began to focus in on the back of N's head. He had eased himself back into his chair, and slowly started to turn around. Those pale, gray-blue eyes focused on hers. The vice-grip she had on the hands of her mother and his sister's loosened and she leaned forward, over the bar, finding her way towards him, his face, his cheeks. Lips found their way towards his and she touched them together, kissing him earnestly. N leaned forward into Tanis and pressed his hands against hers, kissing her just as fervently, just as deeply as she did.

 

“I told you, everything would be alright.”

 

Chapter Text

 

'N! Your ride is here!'

N smiled when the Pidove swooped by to deliver the news to him. It landed on his shoulder and he gave it a scritch under the chin, inciting a gentle coo from the little Pokémon.

“Thank you, my friend. I'll be departing shortly.” The Pidove nodded and flew back over to a perch on N's desk, beginning to play with one of the many toys dangling from it and chirping happily.

His office was filled with Pokémon beds and toys, and several Pokémon had made themselves comfortable within it. It had been over a year since his trial, and since he had established his non-for-profit business. It was a sanctuary for abandoned and orphaned Pokémon, as well as a rehab center for those who had been abused by human hands. They were allowed to roam free on the grounds, and were prepared for adoption to loving homes. Homes that would only see these dear little Pokémon as their companions and friends, not use them for battles. N was using his ability to speak and understand Pokémon for good now, and because of what he was doing for the community, a good deal of stigma associated with him was beginning to lift. Though many still feared him and were leery of his motivations, many more still saw him as he was: a gentle soul who felt for Pokémon more than humans.

Rood had joined him in this business venture, as did many former Plasma members who saw eye-to-eye with N. Anthea and Concordia occasionally helped out as well. It warmed his heart to see so many wanting to help out for minimum wage, relying entirely on donations from others who felt as they did.

N reached for his crutches and secured them to his arms, rolling his chair to the side and gave a grunt. “Until tomorrow, my friends.” He smiled and waved to the Pokémon in his office, giving a Growlithe a pat on the head before beginning to slowly walk his way out, one foot at a time.

Walking was a slow process for him, but at least N was able to do it now! With the assistance of crutches. It was even slower since he insisted on saying goodbye to all of his Poké friends on the way out, as well as his employees and volunteers. With a smile, he reached a hand out and shook it with Rood's.

“Another fine day, my friend.”

“As ever, my King.” Rood bowed his head towards N.

N laughed and released Rood's hand. “Every day we go over this, Rood. You don't need to address me as such anymore.”

Rood smiled. “And every day I say the same: You will always be my King, N.” He chuckled, giving N a pat on the back. “Say hello to Tanis for me when you get home.”

“I will.”

“And she needs to come by more often! The Pokémon love it when she comes by...but she's not around oft enough.” Rood sighed with a shake of his head.

N sighed as well, “I know, but she's busy with her work with the League.”

“Bah, she can make time.” Rood faked a scoff, then laughed. “Take care, N. Remember your nightly therapy.”

N rolled his eyes and laughed, patting Rood on the back. “Of course, of course. Where would I be without you, Rood?” He grinned over at the man who was more of a father to him then his actual so-called 'father,' “Have a good night.” With a wave, he proceeded out of the back door and into the vast backyard where the Pokémon could play and run around. He smiled up at his ride. “Sorry for the delay, I got sidetracked.”

You always do, N.”

Zekrom's booming voice echoed in N's head, the Vast Black Dragon having curled up on the grassy lawn while he waited for his charge to leave. N smiled and hobbled over towards the Dragon of Ideals and patted him on the snout, receiving a pleasing growl in return.

“Shall we?”

Indeed.” Zekrom shifted in such a way where N could easily get on with his disability. N unhooked his crutches and held them in one hand, using the other to hoist himself up onto the dragon. Once he was on, he slid further onto the center of Zekrom's back, slinging his other leg over. “Miss Tanis had a defense title earlier today. Concordia recorded it for you, she was victorious.” Of course she was. Tanis was spectacular, and a Pokémon Master. No one could beat his beloved. “She departed the League two hours ago.”

“Oh, good.” N smiled. He always loved to watch Tanis battle; it was so beautiful, her confidence and strength. It took about four or five hours for her to return home after one, even on Reshiram, so he'd have some time to prepare for her arrival. And watch her match, of course. He'd have to bring it by his work tomorrow for the Pokémon to watch, several of them were quite obsessed with her. Not that he blamed them...he loved his darling Tanis, and anyone else would be daft not to love her, too. “I look forward to it.”

Of course you are.” Was that a chuckle N heard in Zekrom's voice? “Hang on.” Rising up to his full height, the Black Dragon spread his wings and took to the skies, launching into the air and flying back home.

 

Coexistence. That's what N had found was his Ideal again. A world where Pokémon and Humans could exist together in harmony. And he would be the bridge between them once again. As soon as he found that ideal once more, Zekrom returned to him.

 

------

There he was. A mess of long, green hair a few shades lighter than the grass, standing outside of the front door! Damn, how did he know to wait at that exact moment for her?!

Tanis felt her heart squeeze in her chest when she saw N waiting for her. Goddamn N. He was good. He was really good. Like, impossibly good at this romance thing. For someone so sheltered his whole damn life, it was like he was made for being a hopeless romantic sap. It still made her blush after all this time. Shit, what was it going to be like when they got married? Crap, she couldn't think about that! Even the thought made her want to throw up. Will you be my Queen?

That scene still played in her head whenever she thought about it and holy shit it still made her weak in the knees. And she was still flying on Reshiram! Okay, calm down, Tanis. You've been living with this bastard for about a year. Stop it. You're used to it, right? No you're not.

It didn't help that Tanis' adrenaline was pumping hard from the defense battle she had kicked ass in a few hours ago! Which made her way too excited about literally everything and that caused her passions to flare up, especially around N and-- shit were they landing?

Reshiram gently touched down and those passions fired right up again. Tanis flew at N and wrapped her arms tightly around his neck and kissed him deeply, nearly knocking the poor guy over. N was startled by her kiss-attack landing such a critical hit, but it didn't cause him to faint. His hands went to her hips – about the most motion he could do with his crutches or else he would fall over – returning her kiss just as fervently.

“Mmm~!” Tanis released him from her kiss and grinned, her face flushed and slightly out of breath. “Hi.”

N was red in the face too, his eyes heavy-lidded. “Why, hello there.” He chuckled, nuzzling his nose against hers. He was used to the adrenaline rush that came over her after her bouts, no doubt. Smooth mofo he was. “That was a good battle, my dear.”

“Yeah, that was a fun one.” The challenger had studied her team and battle tactics so, despite being under-leveled, he had a slight upper hand against Tanis. She still won, of course, but the dude had given her the most run for her money she had gotten in a loooong time. Tanis slid her arms further around N's shoulders and wove her hands through his long mess of green hair. “Really wish you could be with me, though...” She pouted, leaning up to kiss his jaw.

N nodded, planting a kiss on the bridge of her nose. “You know the court ruling, and I'm fine with that.” He slipped one arm from his crutch and leaned on one leg, looping it around her waist and drew her closer. “This is what life has given us, darling. We need to accept it.”

Another pout and a whine. “Yeah, but it it suuuucks.” N laughed at Tanis' pouting, raising his hand and tapping her on the nose.

“This is our world we fought for, Tanis. We get to coexist now...isn't that enough?” Tanis pouted at this, but N continued. He leaned in and gave her a tender, warm kiss, silencing her whine. His hand moved to cup her cheek. “We can spend every day together like this, get to love each other freely – that's enough for me.”

Tanis looked down and sighed, leaning her head against his chest. “You know, I hate it when you're fuckin' right.” She grumbled, running her fingers through his green hair. N laughed and kissed the crown of her hair. And he was – N was usually right when it came to this sort of thing. Tanis loved the bastard to death, but he was always right. Goddamn him. Sighing, she untangled her fingers and rested them against his shoulders, giving them a squeeze.

Looking back up, Tanis gazed up into N's gray-blue eyes. “I love you anyway.” She grinned, pecking his lips. “Let's go inside.”

 

“And I love you, always.”