It wakes to the sound of rain. At first it actually smiles, snuggling down farther in the blankets and imagining a comfortable day spent lazing around the house. Then it frowns and rolls onto its side, flopping an arm across its forehead. Now it remembers why it had been waiting for the rain. It could have conjured up a storm whenever it wanted, of course, but it hadn't, had been perfectly content to wait for nature to provide. Now the rain is here and there is no more excuse for delay. It lies in bed longer than usual, and when it gets up, it can do no more than shoot the television a mournful look. This morning, there is work to be done.
The pokéball is retrieved from its place in the drawer. The card in the pokédex is exchanged. A grumpy raticate is roused. All is made ready. It sighs, ducks its head, and plunges out into the dripping forest.
You have to dodge almost immediately after Charizard takes shape from his pokéball. He’s nearly faster than you, but you remember the nasty scratch he gave you last time and make a point of moving a little quicker than normal. “Charizard, hey! Hey—!”
“That’s not my name!” The hiss of rain off his tail only lends his words extra bite. “Stop pretending!”
“Titan, Titan!” you try. It’s the right name, but aside from the briefest flicker of surprise, the snarl plastered across his muzzle doesn't change. “Come on, I just need to talk to you. Come on.”
“Talk? Talk?! My trainer’s dead! And you were there! You know! Stop pretending!”
“I’m your trainer! I’m not dead!” A flamethrower sizzles through the fallen leaves just beside you. In the sodden air, they give off heavy smoke, but no more. “Calm down. How many times do we have to go through this?”
But he doesn’t calm down. How long can this go on? He’s been raging at you since the day you died, and letting him cool off in his pokéball hasn’t had the slightest effect on his ire. He doesn’t trust you, and you can’t understand why. You are Nicholas Garret now. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that you're all that's left of him.
Titan lunges, claws rippling with the blueflame that isn’t touched by water. The rain is making him sluggish, though, streaming off his scales and dampening his tail flame. You are able to catch him now, wrapping your arms around his neck and pulling him to the ground. His claws dig into your side, but it doesn’t matter. The dragon claw is weak enough now that it barely hurts.
“Why won’t you listen to me?” you ask, trying to hang on despite the thrashing. “Why don’t you want to help me? I’m your trainer. Don’t you want to help your trainer?”
“My trainer is dead!” he chokes, struggling to reach you with too-short arms. “You’re just someone who looks like him. You're not even a real person! What are you?”
“I’m Nicholas Garret! I’m no one else!” you insist, feeling the blood mix with the rain as it rolls down the inside of your shirt. Damn. Now you'll need to mend these clothes again.
“You’re not! You’re not! Liar!” His voice is hoarse now, a kind of choked scream that is more rattle than sound. You realize that you may have been hugging his throat too tightly. You loosen your hold and receive thanks in the form of a flamethrower rushing out past your head, setting your hair on fire, immolating the edge of your ear.
“I’m not lying.” The urge to put a hand up to your injured ear and whimper is strong, but you’re stronger. Instead, you just let go. You fall back to the muddy ground with an unhappy sapling digging into your back. Titan staggers to his feet, head rearing towards the cloudy sky overhead and stubby arms reaching for the bruising at his throat. He coughs, sputtering flame, and you grab Rats' pokéball off your belt and release her onto the ground next to you.
“Here—if you don't want to talk to me, why don't you talk to Rats instead? You remember Rats, don't you? You can trust her. She'll tell you what's going on.”
Titan's face swoops back down as he practically presses his snout up against Rats' nose, staring at the raticate in utmost suspicion. Rats backs up nervously, muttering a greeting and staring warily back into the angry charizard's face. Then she has to throw herself sideways, just as you did earlier, as a gush of fire shoots from Titan's mouth.
“Hey. Hey! Is that any way to treat an old friend?” the raticate grumbles, then takes off again as another flamethrower rushes her way. “What, don't you remember me, you stupid lizard?”
“You could be anybody,” Titan roars, twisting around to keep the raticate in his line of sight. Rats is dancing back and forth now, on guard for more fire. Now that Titan is no longer looking at you, you get quietly to your feet and back up a little, just to be safe. “You think I can tell the difference between all the raticate I've ever met? You all look the same: big, hairy—big, hairy rats!”
“Ooh, so that's how it is, huh? Well, how about this, Titan, would just any raticate remember that time you totally got beat up by that magikarp you’d—oof!” Titan's tail snaps around, catching Rats off guard and knocking her onto her side. Then Titan is on her with teeth and claws and flame, and Rats can do nothing but shriek disparaging comments about Titan's parentage as she struggles to overcome the charizard.
Unfortunately, it looks as though long days lounging around on the island have dulled Rats' battling skills far more than you'd realized. Titan easily overwhelms her, pinning the raticate in the mud beneath one heavy foot while he stares down at his opponent, smoke streaming warningly from his nostrils.
“I don't know what you're doing working with that thing, and I don't care! My trainer is dead, and it was watching. There's nothing you can say that will make that right!”
You recall Rats before Titan can incinerate her; the raticate is too weak to escape, and Titan clearly has no interest in listening to her. You briefly consider raising the other pokéball on your belt and recalling Titan, too, but shove the thought away. The situation isn't going to get better by putting off the confrontation again, and it will only make you weak in Titan's eyes.
The charizard lurches sideways, foot splashing heavily in the mud as Rats dissolves from beneath it. Then he turns to look back at you, lips twisting up to show his fangs, water misting from his nostrils as he snorts out more smoke. “Is that the best you can do, you lying little human-thing?”
“I’m not lying,” you say again. You are, indeed, the only Nicholas Garret left, Titan's trainer. He needs to learn to obey you, and it looks as though you're going to have to do the teaching yourself.
Titan opens his mouth, sucking in a great breath of air. You raise crossed arms in front of your face, palms out towards the Charizard.
Titan’s throat glows as fire rushes up to gather at the back of his mouth. The ball of flame grows larger and larger, flickering out around his teeth. Dancing red and orange fills your vision. Titan lets all his air out in a rush, blowing the fireball straight at you. You make no attempt to dodge—and then Titan is screaming, twisting away, as the fire blast strikes the glinting barrier that has appeared in front of you. Brilliant streamers of light burst from the midst of the flames and arc back towards him, searing his scales and evaporating raindrops straight out of the air.
He falls to the ground, hiding his face behind his claws as scalding energy roars around him, the mud at his sides bubbling and letting off a hideous stink. He can’t see what it’s costing you, holding the mirror coat in place. Your raised arms tremble as the glittering sheet of light between you and the last of the fire splinters, crumbling away into nothing. You let your arms fall and try to remain standing, waiting to be able to force your body to move again. It’s bad enough for you, and you were only hit by one fire blast; Titan took the force of two.
After a couple of minutes you gather your strength and stagger over to where he lies, breathing harsh and eyes distant. His tail shudders in the hot muck, burning lower now, but not low enough to be dangerous.
You fall to your knees in the mud in front of him, oblivious to the slop getting all over your clothing. Reaching down, you lift his head; his small arms shudder as he tries to raise his body with it. You bring his face to eye level, close enough that a lick of flame would be enough to do you in, engulf your entire head in fire. You’ll have to watch his eyes closely to know when to pull away.
Titan's scales are feverish to the touch; he’s weak enough now that he can’t control his inner fire, and it’s starting to eat him up from the inside. He’s more powerful for the moment, but he can’t stand it for long. “What… are…” His voice is hardly more than a croak.
“What do I need to do for you to accept me as your trainer?”
“I don’t… you’re not my trainer. My trainer is dead.”
“Bullshit!” He flinches, something wary in his expression. His gaze is trying to slip away from yours, but you wrench his head around to keep his eyes on you. “What do I need to do?”
“Can’t… you can’t make me.”
“I don’t need to ‘make’ you. I’m your trainer. Stop trying to deny it.”
“That’s what you wish, isn’t it? You wish I were dead!” You’re screaming now, and his wings flare open in shock, beating wildly as he tries to pull away from you. You see in his eyes and the tensing of his muscles that the moment is now, and you’re forcing his head down even as the fire starts to gush out around his teeth. The flamethrower is lost as you force his face into the mud, and he thrashes harder, gagging as a gasp of shock sucks the foul stuff into his mouth. You wrench his head up again and stare into his tearing eyes.
“Fuck that! I’m your trainer! You were there! You know! Stop pretending!”
His eyes show white; he’s probably too terrified to hear his own words thrown back at him. “I can’t.”
“You liar! You liar!” You let his head drop back into the mud, and he just leaves it lying there, the rain washing the tears off his muzzle. “What do I need to do?”
While Titan tries to control his sobbing, you try to control your temper, just kneeling where you are, soaking in the rain and the mud, and flexing fingers that long to turn to claws. You're glad you're human, for the moment; it's hard enough to keep your head when you've been fighting, but as a pokémon, it's even harder. “Please. I don't understand. Who are you?” the charizard says at last, and you almost can't understand him for the hitching in his voice.
You would sympathize, if you weren't so frustrated. It took you years to figure things out. But for now, he already has the facts: “I told you. I'm Nicholas Garret. Your trainer.”
That is enough to bring Titan out of his funk, if only for a moment. He glares up at you from the mud, wings flaring to emphasize his words. “No! I saw him die. You look like him, but you act like you're someone else.” He blows out a muddy, exasperated snort. Then he turns away from you, almost speaking to himself as his wings start to droop again. “But they died, too. They're both dead.”
“I was someone else before. I could be someone else tomorrow. Right now, I'm Nick. But what doesn't change is that I'm your trainer, and I need you to help me. What will it take for you to accept that?”
He takes another one of those great breaths, but this time you don’t bother preparing for an attack. He just chokes on it, turning it into a sob. “Please… you told me you would save her.”
You punch him in the snout as hard as you can, hard enough to dislodge teeth. “You bastard. You know I can’t do that without you.” You push yourself to your feet, shaky. He keeps his eyes on the ground, blood leaking from his mouth. It might be a while before he realizes you’ve left.
In the end, the child has to use what's left of Nick's shirt to bandage the dragon claw wound. Too much excitement—it’s lost a lot of blood, and if it loses much more, it won't be able to make it back to the house.
Some hours later, when it's resting in bed, it hears the door open and something large blunder inside. It smiles and hugs the sheets more tightly around itself. It’d known the rain wasn’t enough to be dangerous, even with the injuries that Titan had sustained, but it's glad the charizard was able to find his way here, where he will be safe.
The kitchen table falls with an incredible crash, and the child can imagine the soaked and muddy charizard slipping around on the tiles, searching wearily for somewhere warm to curl up and dry off. That's fine. It doesn't mind the damage. It’ll see to the charizard in the morning, when it's feeling well enough to walk again.