The Butterfree Effect
Some things are unchangeable. I like to pretend they are.
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Rating: PG for implied character death
Word Count: 1,152
Author's Note: Written for pokeprompts on LJ. I'm a mixed bag on this one-shot; I'm not entirely digging the paragraphing in some sections, so feel free to point out the areas you felt were shaky. Or, you know, areas you liked. Whatever floats yonder boat. Hopefully you'll enjoy!
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I imagine you are dead.
I say this because it has been ten years since we have last seen each other, and who knows what can happen in a decade. (Gary tells me that the butterfree have a short lifespan. It is why, he tells me, your kind mate as soon as you reach adulthood.) I knew you had to leave. I don't think I entirely understood why back then. I still don't. I like to pretend I do.
I imagine things in different ways.
In one version, you turn around one final time. The sun is setting – do you remember? – and Misty, Brock, and I are standing at the cliff, and we're waving, and my mind is racing through memories, and it's blurry, and when I close and open my eyes for a brief second, you're flying in front of me, yellow scarf blowing back in the wind, and you squeak out your name with that delicate ring – a flourish on the “r,” a quarter-octave higher on the following “e's” – that echoes in my ears – I can still remember it – before you rest on my head and watch the rest of the butterfree fly off, your wings spread wide and antennae blowing in the wind, and we travel together again like nothing has ever changed, and I'm happy, eyes blurry for a different reason.
I don't like this, Butterfree. I don't like it because I realize you left your mate, the one you tried so hard to impress, the one you loved so dearly, just to make me happy, but I keep imaging anyway, part because I'm selfish and part because I like the comfort that accompanies it.
In another version, Team Rocket gets away with their plan, and you're alone, and I can imagine myself being enraged but secretly gleeful that you're still here with me, and I would have helped you through it; I would promise you the world (in the opposite way I would promise the world anything if it would bring you back to me) just to make you feel better, just to make you move forward, but that vision wouldn't be wiped away from your memory, the pink in the sea of captured white. That high-pitched ringing of despair ... how do you forget something like that? (You don't.)
You would have watched her be swept away without a chance to say goodbye. At least I had the chance to say goodbye.
I don't like this version either.
I keep doing it despite my disgust at my previous fantastical visions, and I should know better because it doesn't change anything, but I need to keep doing it. I keep imaging. I imagine I send out Pidgeotto – Pidgeot, she's a pidgeot now – to fly after Team Rocket instead of you, and I don't listen to Misty – I still don't, but I pretend I do – when she says it'll hurt your feelings. It wasn't my intention, you know, to hurt you by suggesting such a thing. But I think about it. I think it's Pidgeotto that saves the day. Replace that with Bulbasaur. Replace that with Squirtle. All the plans are executed differently, but the outcomes are the same. I imagine you alone because you didn't impress your mate with your false bravado. You're too ashamed to try to go after her, and, rejected, you come back to me because in the end I am the second-place prize.
I want to say that I'm glad you didn't settle for me. I'm not.
Return to that cliff. Return to where I'm standing there, trying not to cry, and you come back toward me. What then? Would you live a few more happy years?
A few more days?
Would you be here now?
(Gary says no.)
I imagine you're with me still. All the battles we would have won (and lost). Can you see it? You use Psybeam to confuse our enemies, Stun Spore to paralyze our foes, Gust to blow away opponents ...
I see it too, you know, you in battle. You're caught in the crossfire of Charizard's Flamethrower in one vision, and you die in a painful, fiery death. Pikachu accidentally electrocutes you when trying to master Volt Tackle. Bayleef's Vine Whip is just too tight around you. Tauros pins you against a tree for far too long. Maybe you'll die earlier than expected.
You're better off, I think. I'm better off not knowing how you are.
What would have become of your family if you were with me instead? I wonder what would have become of your caterpie children. (Gary tells me butterfree just lay eggs in safe locations away from predators but do not watch them hatch.) Maybe one of your caterpie helped another trainer beat a gym leader. Maybe another caterpie evolved into a metapod and had a staring stand-off with another metapod like we did.
Let's say your mate did find another mate for any number of reasons because you were stuck with me (don't make me list the reasons). What kind of eggs do you think your mate would have laid? Would those caterpie create havoc in this already messed up world? Would the world be better off with those caterpie instead of the ones you created? Would your mate even lay eggs that would have survived in the thick of the wood?
I wonder who I would be with you. One thing I learned that day was that sometimes you have to sacrifice your own happiness to make the ones you love happy. I learned what selfishness means and selflessness too. In some ways, I felt like everything, and everyone, was self-created for me until that very moment, that moment where I am standing on the sun-soaked cliff, eyes wide and burning, trying not to lose sight of your shrinking silhouette, not because I don't want to miss the last seconds of seeing you but because I truly felt you were going to turn around and flutter back toward me.
I think I grew that day. If you stayed with me, I wouldn't have learned that lesson, at least not yet, and maybe I needed to learn what I learned at that specific moment at that specific time in order to be where I am today. I'm still selfish, you know, and would still be if you stayed. But now I know that some things have to happen for better things to occur, not only for myself but for you, too, and others. It's hard to see it sometimes. I think that's why people imagine the hypothetical.
No amount of imagination can change what's concrete.
So I imagine you are dead.
It's not because I like it.
It's because that's the way things should be.