Author's note: Hello, all! This story was originally written in 2012, then revised fairly significantly in 2020 and posted here. I got some good feedback on that one, and have been working on more extensive revisions on and off since. This, finally, is version three.
I would still appreciate any feedback, though I doubt I'll be making more major revisions to this from here anytime soon. Been fiddling with it for like a year; I need a break from thinking about it.
Content warnings: Abandonment/neglect, potential existential horror, a lot of guilt and self-loathing. This story does not contain violence or blood.
“Metapod, just a bit more! Hang on!”
And at that moment, your cocoon split open in a burst of blinding, searing light, and with a flutter of elation in my chest, I knew that you were evolving. This was the dream; we’d been training tirelessly for a full week in the hope that you’d evolve, following my second loss against Brock. We hadn’t quite made it, and I’d figured it was a lost cause for now – but there you were. Somehow, at the time, it felt like the climax of everything we’d worked for, like there wasn’t a whole journey and seven more gyms ahead of us.
I remember, almost in slow motion, watching you crawl out and spread your fragile wings for the first time. I remember your wingtips quivering, the experimental twitch of your antennae, that glorious moment when you leapt up and took flight. I remember how you circled me with a giddy titter, flapping your wings playfully in my face like you couldn’t contain your excitement, and Brock’s Onix growled, and I said “Confusion!” and you cried out and then…
Of course I remember it. It was our first gym victory; how could I ever forget? I remember how the Onix roared and collapsed, the rumble under my feet as it hit the ground. I remember Brock’s calm voice telling it to return while the widest grin I had ever sported spread over my face. I remember literally jumping for joy, feeling as if my heart were about to explode, and you fluttering down towards me in a little exuberant loop before landing on my head and snuggling into my hair.
It feels like yesterday.
It also feels like a lifetime ago.
Trainers aren’t supposed to have favorites, but you were my favorite. I loved Charmander and Pidgey and Nidoran to death too, of course, but I’d really wanted a Butterfree since I was a kid, and you were everything I’d dreamed of. Your enthusiasm was infectious, sheer giddiness radiating from you whenever you took flight, as if the week you’d spent as a Metapod had given you a permanent, unyielding appreciation for the novelty of flying. You’d cheer up the team when we were exhausted after a long day, always just brimming with energy. You had a knack for figuring out everyone’s soft spots: that Charmander liked snuggling, that Pidgey always felt better after an aerial chase, that Nidoran just needed space and someone to listen to him vent (or, at least, that’s what I assume he was mumbling at you when you’d go tilt your head and titter at him after a particularly bad loss). That all I needed when I was having a tough time was reassurance that you guys still loved me, and when you plomped down on my head with an affectionate little chitter, everything seemed okay again.
And in battle, when the others were struggling, I could always count on you. Your powder moves were indispensable for powerful foes. After you evolved, you were my strongest Pokémon by far, the pinnacle of my team. I don’t think I could ever explain just how proud I was every time I sent you out of your Pokéball and heard your defiant battle cry; every time a far larger Pokémon’s eyelids drooped as it breathed in your Sleep Powder and slumped helplessly on the ground; every time an opponent admitted defeat and you landed triumphantly on my head, giving me that cute little snuggle of yours. I earnestly felt like you were invincible. I imagined you putting Lance’s dragons to sleep, me carrying you on my head into the Hall of Fame to be crowned champions. I imagined it would be you and me on the covers of the newspapers, me grinning at the camera while you nibbled on my ear.
But then… you started losing. Just the occasional battle, at first. It hit me pretty hard when you were smacked into the ground by that hiker’s Onix and didn’t rise up again – the same Pokémon you had so handily defeated in Brock’s gym – but I knew you were at a severe type disadvantage, so all things considered it wasn’t that strange. But then it started happening more and more often. My other Pokémon evolved, not only catching up with you but overtaking you, and so did the Pokémon possessed by the other trainers I encountered. It started to dawn on me, slowly, that you were frail and not very fast. I tried buying carbos, offering them to everyone, but even then, more and more of the Pokémon we faced would land a heavy blow before you even got the chance to launch a Sleep Powder. Eventually, with a pit in my stomach, I gave in to my nagging suspicion that you were underperforming compared to the rest of my team and decided, silently, to start keeping track.
It was true. You fainted more often than any of them and finished the fewest battles on your own. And the margin was increasing.
Initially I think I explained it as being that I’d been overconfident, that I’d used you in too many battles you weren’t well suited to while I’d been more cautious with the others. I took care not to do that. It helped, a little, but eventually I had to face the fact that you just weren’t keeping up.
I wasn’t disappointed in you. It’s hard to explain, but it wasn’t like that. It broke my heart to realize you were falling behind, not because you weren’t good enough, but because I loved you and loved your joy when you won and loved being able to trust you to win any battle. It broke my heart to have to recall your unconscious form after you’d done your absolute best; to let my hand wander past your Pokéball when I knew you wouldn’t be able to handle my opponent’s next pick; to switch you out and send out Charizard instead because you couldn’t take another hit. And more than anything, it broke my heart to notice that you were becoming more nervous, your battle cry losing confidence – something I could hear in your voice because I knew you so well, even though you were trying not to let me hear it.
(I never told you that I could tell. I never told you that I could feel the increasing desperation in your victory snuggle. I never told you how I felt, or that I knew how you felt. I should have, but I didn’t. I don’t think I could quite admit it to myself at that point.)
I started sending you out less in battle, only when I was facing a Pokémon that seemed like particularly easy prey for you. I suspect you noticed, but you never complained, just kept up the cheerful attitude and unyielding support of everyone else. I know now that it must have broken your heart to see that loss of confidence in your abilities, but I didn’t see that far, back then.
And then I started rotating my team. That wasn’t because of you; I’d caught more than six Pokémon now, and like any trainer with serious ambitions I wanted to train the others and pick the most adept team for any situation. But it wasn’t long before you were rarely on my active team. I felt a little guilty every time I left you on the PC and wasn’t sure when I’d get you out again, but I would think to myself that after I’d just gotten past this route, or beaten this gym leader, or battled these trainers, I’d withdraw you and we’d find someplace where you could really shine and get some training in.
And at first I really did it.
But over time it got harder to afford that extra time, and I started to put it off as unexpected situations and challenges that I couldn’t just put on hold piled up. And the more I put it off, the more time you’d need to catch up. I promised myself that when I got a good chance, had a few days to spare, I’d take you back to this one patch of grass full of Grass/Poison-types where you’d excelled before and get you back on level with the rest of my team again so you could hold your own from there. But I just never had a good chance. I never had a few days to spare. That hovering silent promise of as soon as I can somehow stretched out for months.
And then, when things quieted down and I finally did have plenty of time and opportunity to go back, I simply forgot. I have no excuse. I had gotten caught up in my journey; I loved my other Pokémon, I was excited about getting Blaine’s badge before my friends, you had been pushed to the back of my mind, and I just forgot about it. When I remembered, I was already on the way to the Seafoam Islands to investigate rumours of Articuno sightings; I couldn’t just turn back.
The evening after, we camped in the mountains of Seafoam, cold and shivering after a close call down in the caves, listening to merciless waves crashing against the rocks far below. I looked up at Charizard as he was gazing out towards the stars, his tail flame flickering dimly against his side, and I thought of the way that when he was feeling melancholy you’d always latch onto his neck and nudge his chin, and he’d roll his eyes like he was above this, even as he smiled – and in that moment, I missed you so much I wanted to cry. If I could have, I’d have retrieved you right then and there with a thousand apologies ready. But we were on a rocky island in the middle of the ocean, probably the farthest you could get from a Pokémon Center in all of Kanto. We were alone, me and the six I’d brought with me, and that was that.
So I sighed and wrapped my arms around Charizard instead, and we silently consoled each other. I remember wondering, with a sting of guilt in my gut, whether I only missed you when I needed you. And I wondered if he missed you, too. He probably didn’t know how long it’d been since you’d been outside your ball – you shared a common crippling weakness, so once I started rotating the team you weren’t often on the active party together anyway. The thought of telling him was paralyzing.
Once we made it back to Fuchsia’s shores, I did finally go straight to the Pokémon Center to get you out of the PC. As I’d sat clinging to Lapras’s neck on the way there, I’d felt a pang of sick dread in my stomach every time I thought of it, a steadily growing pit of anxiety. What would you think? Would you hate me for leaving you for so long, for making you miss out on so much? For forgetting about you? By the time I was fighting the clunky old computer interface, trying to find you in my box, my hands were shaking.
Instead, when you emerged from the Pokéball, you were exactly as happy to see me as you ever had been – or at least it seemed like it at the time. I awkwardly apologized for how it’d been a while, and you just chittered happily and nibbled on my finger like any other time. I watched you fluttering around Charizard’s head in that teasing way you liked while he smiled and rolled his eyes, and I cautiously told you about our journeys to Cinnabar and Seafoam, and you listened, and your only real reaction was to snuggle up to him and then me when I told you about that day in the caves, trying to belatedly provide the comfort you couldn’t then. We had a nice day of training; you battled with what felt like more enthusiasm than usual, if anything, and I was so relieved that everything was okay, that nothing had happened. That, apparently, you still loved me just as much, still wanted to be on the team, didn’t really mind how long it had been.
And I left it at that. I didn’t actually try to ask you about it. After all that mounting dread, it was so nice, so comforting, to just believe that everything was fine after all, that I never had any reason to worry in the first place.
When I headed out on Route 15, hoping to backtrack to Lavender and through Rock Tunnel to check out that abandoned power plant I’d heard whispers of, I’d managed to brush off almost all the anxiety that had been gnawing at me since I first realized you were falling behind. In between battling lower-leveled Oddish and Venonat that you made short work of, you fluttered around my head, chittering enthusiastically, and I reminisced aloud about old times, dumb little moments we’d had together in the early days – that one time you accidentally stole someone else’s baseball cap that you thought was mine, the time that I got sick while on the road and you made a valiant attempt to Sleep Powder me so I could get some rest when the fever had me tossing and turning half the night. I wished I could understand whatever memories you were sharing, too, but you didn’t seem to mind, eager to tell me something you could barely contain your amusement over.
By the time we got to the power plant, you were fully caught up with everyone, and for the first time in a long time, when I deposited you back on the PC – I wasn’t about to bring you to a place full of powerful Electric-types, and I had other Pokémon who needed training too, after all – I didn’t feel bad about it.
We narrowly made it back outside after discovering Zapdos’s nest in the depths of the plant, laughing in relief, shaking with adrenaline, and I felt like I could take on the world. Riding that high of confidence, I got Pidgeot to fly us back to Viridian, where I triumphantly watched Gyarados blast Giovanni’s Rhydon to kingdom come with a Hydro Pump.
And as I left the gym grinning with badge in hand and looked out towards Route 22, it finally occurred to me, like a sudden punch to the gut, that it was time to make a decision on who’d be coming with me to the Indigo Plateau.
It was inevitable, of course, that only six of my Pokémon would be taking on the Elite Four – it always had been, and all of you knew that, that of course I loved all of you but we’d have to pick and choose, because it was the rules. And we’d all agreed of course that meant we should go for the best shot we could get. But it stung anyway, here so close to where I’d first caught you, to know as soon as I thought of it that Victory Road was just no place for a Butterfree. And after all the times I’d used to imagine entering the Hall of Fame with you on my head, so vivid in my mind – it felt like a childish fairy-tale fantasy now, and that realization burned.
Nobody wants to make decisions like this, but as the trainer, it was my responsibility to understand everyone’s abilities and how they’d all fit together, put together a strategy that would maximize our chances. After confirming with the team I’d picked that they were ready and willing, I pulled out the Pokémon I wouldn’t be bringing one by one, explained my thought process, asked if they wanted to be released or if they’d like to accompany me wherever we wound up heading to after the League. Most stayed; a few chose to leave, and I waved goodbye to them along with some of their best friends on the team, lump in my throat, thanking them for everything as they headed off for new adventures.
But as I stared at your name in the box, the last of them, I hesitated. I’d already picked out a team that didn’t include you, but now that it was real, it was a lot harder to make that call, that I no longer wanted you there for the climax of my journey after all the times we’d dreamed of it. I loved all my Pokémon, but you were special. I thought of all the memories we’d been sharing the other day, and imagined your antennae drooping, waving goodbye for the last time, and a cold hand clutched at my insides and refused to let go.
And as long as you were still there, it could still happen. I could take you out after we’d gotten through Victory Road, get you caught up with the others again, and just do it, challenge the Elite Four with you for real. Maybe we’d even win, just like we’d always imagined.
I don’t know if I ever really believed that; it wasn’t like I picked out a team member you’d be replacing. But it was such a striking nostalgic thought, lodged somewhere deep in my heart, that I couldn’t quite dismiss it either – couldn’t quite let go of it for good by telling you it wasn’t happening.
I agonized, and then I just left you there, in the box, safe, where I could put off deciding. I imagined I’d just figure it out later, closer, when I’d had more time to think.
By the time I finally stumbled through the doors of the Pokémon League HQ, weeks later, exhausted and stressed and shaking after getting lost in a deep, dark maze of tunnels for several days after a cave-in, though, I didn’t have the energy to do any thinking at all. I was already late to sign up; I just hastily scribbled down the team I’d picked out, the ones I’d been through the cave with. The ones I’d always meant to use.
I became champion with Charizard by my side. I was ecstatic. Ultimately, those original dreams, the image of you buried in my hair in the Hall of Fame, had long ago given way to different fantasies: a triumphant victory flight with my starter under the starlight, looking over the Kanto region’s cities like quaint little model towns and feeling like the world was ours. And that was everything I’d hoped for. I hadn’t really thought of you much at all since that day in Viridian, in the excitement and chaos of it all. When I finally did, it was when I was back home, being congratulated by my mom.
And again, shame burned up my insides. It dawned on me, horribly, that you didn’t even know I’d gone to the League yet. After leaving you behind for it, despite our early dreams, I hadn’t even told you, or remembered you in time to let you celebrate with me. And there wasn’t even a connected public PC in Pallet – I couldn’t get you out now. I’d have to go to Viridian or Cinnabar, just to send you out and tell you you’d missed it all, that I’d forgotten about you again.
The next day, I stood by the computer in the Cinnabar Pokémon Center, fingers fiddling anxiously with a peeling sticker on the side of it as it loaded up the box, far too slowly. The Sevii Islands ferry ticket I’d been gifted was clutched in my other palm, half-crumpled and damp with sweat. My eyes stared past the screen, out of focus, not quite reading the list of Pokémon or your name that I knew was there. The ferry was leaving in ten minutes, and they didn’t let you have Pokémon out on the Seagallop; did I even have time? What kind of conversation would that be – hey, sorry, you missed the League, and I have to go now, bye?
After an agonizing minute, still unable to get my eyes to focus on your name, I hit the logout button and ran out to catch the ferry. I wanted to be able to make it up to you somehow when I got you out – not just tell you you’d been forgotten like a piece of trash before putting you back in a ball to think about it. And after all, for you, on the PC, there wouldn’t be much of a difference between sooner and a little later, would there? You hadn’t minded, back when I’d gotten you out in Fuchsia, after everything. I clung to that memory, how easily we’d picked up like nothing had happened then. You’d be fine, I told myself, so long as I made it up to you.
And yet, as I clutched the railing on the boat, the cold wind whipping my hair, I wasn’t at all sure how I was going to do that. Train you up again – for what? There were more rumours of legendary Pokémon up on One Island, but I couldn’t exactly expect you to fight Moltres. Take you out, train you meaninglessly, just to have to eventually put you back on the PC again for any fight that was important, back to square one? Keep giving you extra training so you could keep up, a constant reminder that you just weren’t good enough without it?
This time, when I forgot, I didn’t really forget. There were times, when I was running errands around the islands, that I thought of you and how I was going to get you out, and the anxious pit opened, and I brushed the thought off as quickly as possible with a yeah, later that I knew was hollow, deep down. It was a horrible kind of relief when I realized, after heading out of town again, that I still hadn’t done it, even without exactly deciding not to. And I could have turned back, then, but I didn’t. I imagined some sorry excuse, that turning back would delay me too much, that I had to wait until I had some way to make it up to you, that it didn’t have to be now because it’d make no difference to you anyway. You’d been fine in Fuchsia, I thought again and again.
I told myself I’d do it later.
I kept telling myself that and brushing it off, until I stopped thinking of it at all.
It’s been six years.
And now, I’m finally standing here, facing the sunset, on the road leading to Viridian Forest, right where I first met you that fateful day I headed out on my journey.
The breeze is light and cool, like it was that day. I still remember you, as a Caterpie, crawling out eagerly from behind that lone tree by the left side of the road, my first challenger and my first catch. Now all I can think is that you probably should have stayed hidden, evolved on your own time, and maybe gotten another trainer, a nice bug catcher or somebody, who wouldn’t have betrayed you like I did.
My hand trembles as I reach for your Pokéball. The scratches and tiny dents in its surface are nostalgically familiar; when I got it out I hadn’t seen this ball in so long I was surprised at how worn it was, but I guess I always remembered somewhere in the back of my mind, had a faint ghost of a memory of the sensation of holding it and rolling it between my fingers. This is the last time I’ll hold it like this, I realize, and it stings.
I press the button, and the ball maximizes in my hand. A part of me is still hesitant, still wants to go back and hand your ball to the Pokémon Center staff, plead with them to handle releasing you, so I can just pretend it never happened – but that’s not an option. I know that now.
(In the back of my mind I always half-expected the box inspectors to come after me eventually, take the burden of it away from me, but they never did. It can’t be luck; I expect they just haven’t been very thorough, when I’m the champion and everyone knows how much I love my Pokémon. So many have stopped on my team for a few months before parting ways – nobody would suspect one of my boxes held a single Pokémon who hadn’t been out in years. Part of me wants to blame them, for not doing their jobs like they were meant to. But there’s only one person who deserves the blame here.)
I take a deep breath. With guilt clenching in my gut, I drop the ball onto the ground, and you emerge from it in the air, facing away from me. I watch, unable to speak, as you scan the area for an opponent, then flutter in a half-circle and turn to look at me.
Your face can’t form expressions like a human’s can, but I can see anyway in the slight tilt of your head, the confused twitching of your antennae, the slight slowing of your wing flaps, that it takes you a moment to recognize me. That wrenches at my heart more than anything; suddenly it occurs to me that with your muddled sense of time on the PC, your first realization of how long it’s been is seeing me suddenly a teenager in place of the child that you knew. You hover there silently for a second, just staring at me with those unblinking red compound eyes; I feel as if I see accusation in them anyway. I try to imagine what must be going through your mind, what it might feel like to realize you’ve been in stasis for years, that everyone you knew has just moved on without you – but I can’t even begin to comprehend it.
“I’m sorry, Butterfree,” I whisper; my voice is hoarse, and as I say it, tears prick at the corners of my eyes. “I should have done this long ago.”
It’s painful to speak, so I point the ball back at you and press the button, showing you that nothing happens, that I’ve deactivated the Pokéball. I throw it away; it bounces off the ground and comes to a rest by the roadside. You stare at it for a second, then look back at me.
“I kept telling myself I’d keep training you,” I say, fighting the urge to avert my eyes; this whole time I’ve been refusing to face you, and I can’t do that anymore. “And I never did. I released the others I couldn’t get the chance to continue training, so they could move on and have a life, but not you. I could never accept that you’d be better off without me. But you would, and pretending for so long was selfish. It was… it was cruel. I’m so sorry.”
You stare at me for a moment more, and then you turn abruptly and flutter upwards, circling a few times in the sky for the first time in six years – six years that you never even knew. It’s not the lazy sort of playful flutter I remember; you’re agitated, flying in quick, tense swoops. I try to swallow the lump in my throat, but I can’t; my mind is full of every time I avoided using you, every time I put off training you, every time I remembered you and realized I hadn’t thought about you for weeks and then pushed the thought away again because it was easier. It’s an aching, suffocating feeling; opportunities lost, potential wasted, friendship neglected.
I expect you to turn in the direction of the forest and fly off, but you don’t. You slow down, looking back at me, hesitating. My lip trembles, tears fighting to escape; I wish burningly that you’d just leave before I lose my composure.
Instead, you stop, antennae twitching, take a dive, land on my head and bury yourself in my hair. A thousand memories blend together, guilt mixes with triumph and joy and love; everything shatters to pieces inside me, and I break into sobs as my resolve gives way.
“I’ll make it up to you,” I say without thinking, my voice thick and strained. “We’ll train and be together and make everything the way it was supposed to be and I’ll never leave you behind again – please don’t leave, I just…”
You don’t. You stay, nibbling lightly at me, a comforting weight to remind me you’re still there, while I cry and cry and can’t stop. You stay as I run out of tears and just stand there shaking. You stay while I finally collect myself, wipe my face and take a few deep breaths. I don’t deserve your forgiveness but you stay anyway, and a part of me hates that, wishes you’d just hate me as much as I do so I can stop feeling so undeserving.
“I’m sorry,” I say when I regain the ability to talk, staring unseeingly at the pink-tinged clouds in the distance. “That was… I shouldn’t have said that. It’s your life. I’ve taken enough of it away from you already. I have no right to want anything from you. And I don’t. I just want you to be happy.”
You snuggle up to me again, like you’re fine and everything’s okay now. There’s a burning feeling in my throat as I swallow. Everything is not okay. Do you not understand what happened? Didn’t I explain well enough? I reach up, pull you as carefully as I can off my head and let your wings take over to hover in front of me. “Butterfree, it’s been six years. You were falling behind and I started treating training you like a chore that I put off and forgot about. I went to the League without you and didn’t even tell you about it. And then I couldn’t admit it to you, so I just… left you there.”
And don’t you see how selfish that was? Don’t you see that a real friend would never do something like that?
There is a pause. Your antennae droop as you look away, and I immediately wish I hadn’t brought up your battle performance; it seems like I’m blaming you for it. “No, no, it wasn’t your fault,” I add quickly. “I was being impatient and it was unfair. I should have just…”
I trail off, my chest tightening again. Back then, I never did manage to figure out if there was anything I should have just done. That was part of the battle I had with myself after boxing you. Would you have been happier if I’d given you constant extra training, left you achingly aware that you couldn’t just be part of the team like the others without holding me back? If I’d continued to send you out only against the weakest of opponents? If I’d continued as normal, brought you to all those fights you couldn’t win, and you’d just gone on being pummeled and getting more nervous about battling until you dreaded it altogether? If I’d taken you out and told you that you just weren’t strong enough to keep up and released you? Every option just felt like it’d make things worse – every option but the one where you stayed in the box, where I couldn’t hurt you any more than I already had. (Or so I silently pretended – as if leaving you in stasis for years wasn’t hurting you.)
But growing up gives you perspective, makes a lot of things that seemed simple a lot more complicated, and a lot of things that seemed hopelessly complicated a lot simpler. I take a deep breath. “What I should have done is I should have tried to talk to you, Butterfree. We should have talked about it. Did you know, I – I could see that you weren’t really having fun battling anymore? You were losing your enthusiasm, I could tell, and instead of asking you about it I just kept dragging you on trying to – to make sure you just wouldn’t lose as much. Like that’d fix it.” I hate saying that; I feel so, so stupid, more so with every new thing I force myself to admit to. “I – can we talk about it now? Unless you want to just go. You don’t owe me anything.”
You seem a bit startled, looking at me hesitantly again, but you stay hovering in front of me anyway. Part of me still kind of wishes you’d just leave; something feels unjust about you still being here, listening to me. But this seems to be what you want, and the least I can do is respect that.
“Back in Fuchsia,” I begin after a moment, swallowing. “You were hurt, weren’t you? I thought you seemed fine because it was what I wanted to think.” And I was just a kid – but that’s not an excuse. “But you were just… trying not to show it, weren’t you? Taking care of us first, because it’s what you always do.”
You look away again, your wing flaps slowing a little. Not an affirmation exactly, but definitely not a denial. Not that I needed affirmation; I realized a long time ago that something hadn’t been quite right about it, that if you’d really been okay you wouldn’t actually have acted so doggedly like nothing had happened.
“I’m sorry. I should’ve been paying attention.” My throat’s still burning. What more can I say? I wish you could talk, that I could just shut up and listen to you. I look away and shake my head. “I should’ve just… asked what you wanted. What did you want? Did you even want to keep battling?”
You pause to think about it. Then flap from side to side in a small, noncommittal shrug, still not quite looking at me.
“You used to love it, though, right? That’s the thing, I didn’t want you to give up on something you’d loved, but it just…”
You do that same indifferent motion again. “What, you didn’t? But you always acted so…”
You flutter straight at me and bump against my forehead, insistently. At first I can’t make sense of it.
“…Because of me?”
But it makes sense, now that I think about it, if what you enjoyed about battling was mainly about doing your best for my sake. You always did everything for others and not for yourself. You lost your enthusiasm because you thought you were letting me down, not because you hated losing. And of course when my reaction was to let you battle less and give you intermittent special training sessions just to keep up with the rest of the team, it only made it worse.
For a few seconds I can’t quite speak; I just stand there, feeling like a colossal jerk, a mixture of emotions fighting within my brain. “Butterfree,” I finally manage to say, “you shouldn’t… I don’t care how you do in battle.” That feels like such a hollow thing to say now. If I really didn’t care, I could have taken you to the League, couldn’t I? “Maybe I did back then, I don’t know, I was stupid – but even if I did, you don’t need to do anything just to make me happy. Is that… is that why you’re still here?” The way you turned around earlier, when I was about to cry, and immediately you were there to comfort me – was that just more of the same, you compulsively putting everyone else’s needs before your own? Even while trying to apologize to you, I still wasn’t paying attention.
Tears are pricking at my eyes again, and you fly at me to snuggle into my hair. My mind is numb. I pick you off my head so I can look into your eyes. “Butterfree, I mean it. What do you want? Do you actually want to be here, or are you just trying to make me feel better? You’ve gone this whole time doing things for me, and that’s… I’m grateful for that but I need to know you’re not doing this for my sake. If what you want is to fly away from here right now, then do it. I’ll be happy watching you go, I promise. And even if I wouldn’t be, you should still do it. You – you’re allowed to just want things for yourself.”
You look up at me silently for a few seconds. That’s actually reassuring; it indicates you’re really thinking about it, not just automatically defaulting to sticking with me no matter what. You flap your wings slowly, and I let go of you, watch you turn away and stare towards the forest as you consider it.
You flutter over to the tree where I caught you, and my breath catches in my throat, but I follow with hesitant steps as you circle the tree. I can see now that there are two other Butterfree there, resting in the boughs. You chirp a happy greeting, and they look up; one flies straight into you while the other circles nearby. You gently bump heads a couple times, a familiar gesture that makes my chest clench. After a moment the three of you settle back down on the branches of the tree and begin a chittering back-and-forth. My heart actually lifts, for the first time since I went to retrieve your ball. You’ve still got friends here. You really would be happy in the wild.
I smile at you, and I mean it. But just as I’m starting to turn around to leave you to it, you cry out again, take off from the branch and flutter towards me.
“…Are you sure?”
You hover cautiously, still looking at me. Waiting for something. I’m not sure what, for a few seconds. I still don’t feel right about the idea of taking you with me again; even if it’s what you want, I can’t shake the feeling that it shouldn’t be. It could all have been avoided if I’d paid better attention, or tried to understand you more fully, or just talked to you instead of leaving you on the PC so I wouldn’t have to – if I’d really treated you like someone who had feelings, instead of something that induced feelings in me.
But this is about you, not me. And I really do want you to be happy.
I take a deep breath. “If you still want to come with me, not for me but for you, then you can.” And what? That’s not enough. Why would you just want that, after everything? “If you do, then… you don’t have to battle. We can just… if you want, you can just come along and… not battle. Or you can battle, if you want. Just tell me if you want to battle and…” I shake my head, inhaling sharply. None of that’s the real point.
“I’m never putting you on the PC again without asking and clearing how long. I’ll listen to you, and pay attention, and talk to you about anything that involves you. And – if anything’s wrong, and I don’t realize, please let me know. I want you to tell me, because if I hurt you again I’ll never forgive myself. I’ll try to notice even if you haven’t said anything, but if I’m an idiot again, please tell me. Tell me I’m being an idiot.” There’s a lump in my throat again, my voice shaking. “But – Butterfree, if you’d rather go, just go. Don’t stay with me just to be nice. I don’t – I don’t get it. Why are you still being nice to me, after what I did? You shouldn’t be nice to me when I–”
There are tears running down my cheeks by now and I don’t even care. You dive down at me again, and I actually flinch away, expecting another round of undeserved comfort.
Instead, you give me a little bonk on the forehead. I blink stupidly, and you give me another. I stare at you for a second, numb. And then I realize. It’s you, telling me I’m being an idiot.
Some twisted cord of wound-up tension snaps and unravels within me, and before I know it I’ve somehow cracked a smile, chuckling through the tears. You plomp down firmly on my head and nibble at my ear. I still don’t really understand how you could forgive me so easily. But I’ll do everything I can to deserve your forgiveness. It’s the least I can do.
I take another deep breath, wiping my eyes. “You know, it seemed like you were having fun with your friends.” Your family? Not sure. Some Butterfree that you know. I wonder if they were Caterpie last time you saw them – there’s another sting in my gut. “I’ve been wanting to check out the Trainer House – if you want to stay and catch up a bit more, I could go do that and come pick you up after?”
You seem surprised for a moment, like it hadn’t even occurred to you. But then you give an excited titter and snuggle into my hair for a moment before fluttering back towards the tree. And that… makes me happy.
The others did miss you. They were surprised, of course – they probably assumed, like everyone else, that I’d released you long ago and there just hadn’t been a chance to let them say goodbye. It took some courage to work myself up to telling them what had happened – I don’t know what you might have told them, if anything, but I had to face up to it myself.
I braced myself for them to be angry, want to leave me. Nidoking stormed off partway through my explanation, and my stomach twisted into a knot but I didn’t try to stop him, didn’t expect him to come back, even though you flew after him. Charizard interrogated me on it for a while in intimidating growls that had me convinced he was leaving, too, but in the end he just pulled me close with a quiet sigh while I cried into his shoulder. And the next morning, when I was about to return to the Pokémon Center to deactivate Nidoking’s ball, he was back; wary, quiet, but back, with you sitting on his shoulder. I don’t know what you told him, but I told him I’d do everything I could to earn his trust back, too, and slowly, over time, he started to relax around me again.
I got used to having you back. It’s easy to almost forget what I did to you when you’re there, keeping me company, cheering my team on, as if those six years never happened. You really do seem happy, and your joy warms my heart, like it always did. I still don’t quite understand, but maybe I don’t have to understand. Maybe this is just who you are – who you want to be.
You don’t battle much; you usually seem to have more fun watching, nestling comfortably on my head and flapping your wings eagerly when the others score powerful hits. But now and then, on a whim, you take off and ask to take part. And sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but it doesn’t really matter, now. You’re thrilled either way, and so long as you are, so am I.
Some of the others like to watch sometimes, too – not that I hadn’t let them before if they wanted to, but I get the sense you broke the ice a little, made it easier for them to decide to sit one out. Charizard snorted when I asked, fighter that he is – but I finally convinced him he doesn’t have to fight those Water-type trainers that make him nervous, either.
Trainers aren’t supposed to have favorites. And that’s fair. Having a favorite is something you do as a kid, before you really get to know your Pokémon. But you’re incredibly important to me, and I’ll never forget that again. Every day I strive to deserve the confidence you decided to place in me for this second chance.
And every time you disagree with my plans, or call me on my nonsense with a playful bonk on the head, I feel a little better.