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I write and maybe I'll finish a line.

Title: Reprogramming
Fandom: Pokemon Special
Prompt: Forced to Face Fear
Medium: fic
Wordcount: 1871
Rating: PG
Warnings: None
Summary: To prepare for anything, Sapphire realizes she has to face her childhood fear.
Other notes: Spoilers up to the end of the Emerald Arc (Vol 29); Franticshipping.

Professor Oak called her “Conqueror”,  and she is proud to carry her title along with the eight Hoenn Gym badges she won in eighty  days, a feat worthy of acknowledgement certainly even among the amazing people she calls her seniors and juniors  – while saving the world, she adds. Even with her winning streaks, Sapphire knows how to lose, after being trained by Gym Leaders and battling them.

This time though, she cries when she loses. Again and again, she trembles, freezes, second-guesses herself. It is like she reverts to a young girl again, one that cannot do anything as her friend protects her from it, to the point of his getting hurt and showing her how scary someone you love getting hurt can be.

After her second loss, Dome Ace Tucker comes up to her and asks if she’s all right, but she shakes her head and forces a smile on her face for him not to ask any questions.

***

It is after Sapphire’s third loss to Tucker at the Battle Dome that Ruby finds her, shaking as she recalls her fainted Pokemon in the Battle Dome Arena.

“What are you doing here, Sapphire?”

She flinches after hearing his voice, but tries her best to keep herself calmer than she is. “R-Ruby? What are you doing here?”

“I asked you first, didn’t I?” Ruby frowned a s he scrutinized her; Sapphire blushed, she must look particularly messy. “What are you doing here at the Battle Frontier?”

“Challenging it?” she said lightly, maybe too cheerfully.

“You know, I’d believe that if not for your father telling my father that you’ve only challenged the Battle Dome so far, with now, three straight losses to Tucker and that he was worried about you.” He shook his head. “My father then essentially tossed me out of the house, telling me that I had to check up on you.” He kept his voice chipper as he added, “You know, I did have a contest to go to, but I came to see you, you know, you could look a little happier.”

“Well, you can just go march back out,” she said angrily, “I’m not leaving until I beat Tucker!”

“Tucker, huh?” Ruby said, a shrewd expression on his face. “So it’s that, isn’t it?”

She sighed, he knows, of course he does. Well, she wasn’t going to admit it, especially to Ruby, of all people. He’d have to work for it, she thought pridefully. “What do you mean?”

“It’s not even beating Tucker fully that you want; you’re trying to beat his Salamence, aren’t you?”

She exhaled. “How’d you know?”

“Sapphire, I saw the video of your match with him then,” he said. “And this last one, even, live.”

“And?”

“You do well against Tucker until Salamence appears, then your mind seems to shut down. You’re trying to overcome your fear of Salamences, aren’t you?” His eyes darkened. “Because of what happened when we were kids, right?”

She scratched her head. “I guess there’s no use hiding it from you, is there, Ruby?”

“Of course not,” he said. “I know everything!”

Sapphire fought the urge to roll her eyes. “Right, then I’ll just be going to the Pokemon Center to heal up my Pokemon for tomorrow’s attempt, then.”

“Wait, Sapphire!” Ruby grasped her shoulder.

“What?”

“Seriously, why are you trying to overcome it?”

“Because…” she said quietly, “I don’t want anyone to use it against me, when it counts.”

“You mean like with Senior Blue, right?”

“Yeah, Senior Crystal told me, from what Professor Oak told her.”

“I heard too, when I asked around. That’s why,” he led her into the Pokemon Center, “I think you’re going around it the wrong way.”

“Eh?”

“Think of what Senior Blue did, to conquer her fears.”

She tried to think about what she had heard from Senior Crystal. “She caught…”

“Exactly. So Sapphire,” he said cheerfully, like it wasn’t a daunting task, “We’re going off to Meteor Falls to capture you a Bagon.”

***

It takes a long time to get to Meteor Falls, and Sapphire is thankful for Tropius flying them most of the way there without complaint.

“Saa, let’s go, Sapphire” said Ruby charmingly as he stepped off Tropius.

She follows, unhappy at the thought of confronting a smaller version of the Pokemon she couldn’t defeat.

***

It takes hours before she can find a Bagon, one peeking out from a rock after she and Ruby had cleared a flock of Zubat.

“There, go, Sapphire!” Ruby cries, rushing forward, his hand pulling her into position.

“You don’t have to tell me,” she says, though her voice is thick with apprehension as she calls out Toro, her Blaziken. It looks at her questioningly as it notes the Pokemon it is to battle, but she nods shakily. “I want to catch it, Toro.” It nods, and follows her command to Blaze Kick the Bagon until it is shaky and almost knocked out.

Her first Pokeball tossed catches it easily, and Sapphire lets a long breath out.

“See, that was easy,” said Ruby, his hand on her shoulder. “Now, you raise it to defeat your fears, like Senior Blue did.”

She smiles at him weakly as she clutches the Pokeball in her hand.

***

While Bagon, her Melo, is identical in color to the Salamence that she still has nightmares about sometimes, Sapphire finds it almost too easy to love her new Pokemon as it cuddles up to her affectionately when it is cold, how it excitedly dances when it is able to learn a new move. It is quick to learn, cheerful even with its tough façade, and gets along with the rest of her Pokemon well. Ruby, when he comes to visit after a few days, gently brushes its skin and praises her for taking good care of it “even though it could use more style, you know”, though she could see his shadowed eyes and the way his hand reaches to his hat as he does so.

Senior Yellow had said, when she had held her new Pokemon in her hands and read its thoughts, that her Bagon wanted very much to grow big and to fly, “why it sometimes flaps its arms, it imagines that one day it’ll fly and carry you like your Tropius does”, she trembles.

***

She cries when Melo evolves into Shelgon, because she realizes that he is much closer to becoming identical to the figure that still haunts her dreams sometimes, the Pokemon that caused Ruby’s scar. She tries to hide it by coughing a lot to feign allergies, but Ruby isn’t fooled when he comes by after his father mentions it in a call.

He wordlessly hands her a new set of clothes before he leaves and it helps, helps as her Shelgon comes up to her for praise to think that Ruby’s encouragement, support, even when he isn’t here is stitched in these clothes.

***

“You are able to stop evolution by pressing the Pokedex button; it is a privilege of being a Pokemon trainer” she remembers Senior Crystal and Senior Yellow telling her, one of the times the Dex Holders got together, after Senior Green offhandedly mentions to the juniors that Senior Yellow, when she trained with him, didn’t want to evolve her Pokemon. “If you don’t have your Pokedex with you and your Pokemon starts evolving,” Senior Yellow added, “you won’t be able to cancel it, so be careful.”

She knows that her Shelgon is ready, more than ready to sprout wings and fly like it wishes to, but she isn’t ready.

She wonders if she’ll ever be ready.

***

She notes how wistful Melo is as it looks at the sky and feels guilty, guilty, but she keeps her Pokedex in her hands, her finger on the important button.

“Sapphire,” said Ruby. “I think it’s time.” He continues, “I mean, catching Melo will be for naught if you don’t evolve it, right? You won’t conquer your fear if you don’t evolve it.”

She sighs. “I know, but…”

“I’m just reminding you.”

She hesitates, and she feels that she is again the little girl who disliked battles, so far removed from the Conqueror, the one who many Pokemon Trainers tried to emulate. “Will you- will you-”

His smile is sad and his hand pats her arm. “Of course, Sapphire, just tell me when and I’ll come and be with you when you stop pressing that button.”

***

She takes a breath as she doesn’t press the button. Ruby holds her shoulders encouragingly as she stares blankly at the device, as her Shelgon finally evolves like it has wished to all this time.

She could see her newly evolved Salamence hesitate as it looks at her, her Blaziken blocking it from her view and apparently trying to explain, and she could see from her view that it hangs its head in sadness.

“Sapphire,” Ruby says lowly as he hugs her, and she wonders that he doesn’t seem to mind her wetting his –handcrafted specially designed- shirt, “Even if he’s evolved, it’s still your Bagon, your Shelgon. your Melo. He isn’t the one who caused this,” he lifts her hand to his forehead and Sapphire feels the healed skin, his scar from that incident, “and I’m sure you’ve trained him so well that he won’t ever do to anyone what he did to us.”

***

Even with Ruby’s words deep in her heart, Sapphire still finds it hard to train properly with Melo.

Baby steps.

Baby steps.

Baby steps.

Senior Blue comes to her one day, her eyes and her Melo’s both downcast, and puts a hand on her shoulder.

“Ne, you should have asked me,” she said, “but I think you’re feeling too guilty about it.”

“Just take it day by day, and eventually, you’ll be able to kick it. Just face it head on, day by day.”

Sapphire can only get out a sob, but she knows Senior Blue understands by that encouraging smile the girl gives her and the pat she gives Melo before she leaves.

Baby steps.

***

After one year she heads back to the Battle Frontier, intent on challenging the Battle Dome again. Tucker, surprised to see her, nods as he passes by as a fellow challenger.

She meets him in the finals, of course, and his first Pokemon is Salamence.

She shivers, slightly, then she calms her thoughts as she calls out her Toro. It is just a Salamence like my Melo, it isn’t wild, and now I’m much stronger than before.

Later, against his Arcanine, she sends out her own Salamence.

***

She sends him a picture of her after the Battle Dome, with her Salamence, Toro, and Rono by her side and her holding the Frontier Symbol.

Ruby smiles, frames it, and places it in her Secret Base, with a Salamence doll purchased for her victory since he knew she would succeed.

When she comes back, he’ll hug her, he thinks, and finally they can hopefully put that incident behind them, even if it changed their everything.

Then maybe, he’d bring up what he had supposedly forgotten again, for seeing Sapphire face her fears allowed him to face his.

.

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