Chapter 12: Epilogue
Groaning, Steven reached up blindly to hold his head. It was pounding, and there was a wet streak that could only be blood. He winced and tried to sit up, pushing away the heavy claw that was pinning his middle.
"Metagross," he called out, his voice unexpectedly hoarse. "Metagross, are you alright?"
The large shape next to him stirred. Metagross rumbled quietly and, coming to, began to give off a faint glow again — enough for Steven to look around the chamber.
To his surprise, most of it was intact. Several of the wall plates had been knocked loose, and they had left an impressive dent where they had been flung by the explosion and then fallen, unconscious, but there was almost no other damage. Whatever strange energy Murasaki's device had discharged must have dispersed quickly...
Infinity Energy was like that too, wasn't it? Although amazingly potent, it was difficult to keep contained for use.
More importantly, he felt alright, now that his disorientation was wearing off. And Metagross also seemed fine, picking itself up and waiting patiently for him to take the lead.
Murasaki's prone figure was not far, lying motionless where she must have also been thrown back by the explosion. Steven swallowed heavily, suddenly fearing the worst — no matter what she'd done, he didn't want her to die or her blood on his hands. Metagross loomed protectively over him as Steven stumbled hurriedly over to her side and, kneeling, reached out to turn her over.
It wasn't a trick or trap. Murasaki didn't spring up on him, ready with some final gamble, but she wasn't dead either, her chest thankfully rising and falling with her shallow breathing.
"What in the world happened? What is this?" Steven muttered, staring at her in shock.
The single gray streak in her hair had spread, until there was no black left at all. Deep wrinkles lined her face, and her hands had thinned into knobby sticks. It looked as if she'd aged decades in an instant.
A sharp, deep breath was the only warning that Murasaki was waking up. Then, her eyes opened, and she looked at Steven. He tensed, almost expecting another battle, but she only held up one hand, slowly and painstakingly, and stared at the gnarled, wrinkled fingers.
Her expression was blank for a long, increasingly strained moment — until she suddenly closed her eyes again, the tension spilling out as she gave a short sigh.
"So that's how it ends," she murmured, her voice raspy. "I lose."
"...some instability from losing their director suddenly, but it looks like Aeon Fund will be able to continue, since there is an actual, solid organization under that woman's insane schemes," Carat reported, flipping through her notes. "Our proposal to them will have to be put on hold for a while, of course."
"That's only natural," Mr. Stone agreed. He frowned pensively, then shook his head. "But I'm glad to hear that Aeon will be able to pull through. Many people placed their hopes and faith in it, and they don't deserve to lose that. Not like thirty years ago..."
The vice president paused respectfully, although her own expression was indifferent. "There were no other major issues during your absence," she continued. "I reorganized your schedule, so some apologies will need to be made, but there should be no long-term difficulties."
Mr. Stone chuckled, returning to his usual jovial mood. "Wonderful work as always! Devon is certainly safe in your hands!"
"Isn't that the reason you appointed me the vice president? It's only natural," Carat said calmly. Rather than a compliment, she seemed to consider it a statement of fact.
As his father laughed — apparently, he found the vice president's terse personality amusing — Steven sighed. "Is work really the most important thing to talk about right now?" he wondered.
"Yes," she shot back without hesitation. "You said that woman is no longer in any shape to continue her ambitions, right? It doesn't look like she trusted anyone enough to confide in them, so there's no one to carry on her legacy either. Both of you made it out safely, and we even got word from Mauville that Wattson is recovering. So it's over, everything worked out. Isn't it better to get on with our lives?"
She had a point. After the explosion of her life energy machine, Murasaki had instantly aged the thirty years she had staved off. It had taken a horrible toll on her body, and she hadn't even been able to stand on her own or stay awake for longer than an hour at a time.
"It's ironic, I suppose, but no one can escape time," Mr. Stone said, reaching out to pat him on the shoulder. "And it's long past time for this to come to an end."
His lips thinning uncertainly, Steven nodded. "I... understand," he said. "I just... I guess never expected something like this to happen. Even now, I'm not sure what to think."
"This... is my fault. I'm sorry," Mr. Stone said. "I've tried to change Devon to leave this kind of ugliness behind, but I also tried to hide Devon's past. Even this time — I should have said something from the start, instead of covering it up. I just didn't want anyone else to be dragged into that old darkness... I'm truly sorry."
"...You didn't do anything wrong," Steven muttered, looking away awkwardly. "I'm just glad you'd alright, Dad."
The awkwardness only grew as his father beamed at him. "That's my boy!" Mr. Stone proclaimed proudly. "And you did such a good job figuring things out too! Ah, I feel like I can just leave everything in your hands!"
"Please don't," Steven muttered.
"Is that so, President?" Carat said coldly, her eye twitching a little.
"Hahaha, I mean the both of you, of course," Mr. Stone corrected quickly. "After all, you seem to be getting along now. You finally see how smart my Steven can be, right? I knew you'd come around to old Stone charm!"
The vice president stared back at him blankly, apparently waiting for him to run out of nonsense to say. Mr. Stone beamed, making a shiver instinctively go down Steven's spine.
"So what do you say, why don't you marry him?"
There was a moment of silence. "What?!" Steven shouted, horrified.
"Please don't even suggest it, sir," Carat said blandly. "I'm not interested in a child twenty years younger than me."
"Come now, don't be like that!" Mr. Stone carried on, seemingly warming up to his terrible joke (?). "If nothing else, he's easy on the eyes, right? And it's not like he'll get in the way. Please think of this old man's worries. If it's you, I'll feel at ease about my son's future!"
"What?! You can't be serious!" Steven protested, his head spinning in growing horror.
"And no one can doubt your claim to the company if you marry into the family!" Mr. Stone finished in the tone of someone presenting a winning argument, or a deal that can't be refused.
"Stop trying to... to sell me!"
His father laughed uproariously, ignoring Steven as always. Why had he worried so much about this man anyway—?
Nervously, he snuck a glance at Carat, who turned and met his eyes. For the first time, Steven felt an instinctive sense of understanding with her. Her expression smoothing out into a very unsettling mild look, the vice president turned back to Mr. Stone. "Mr. President," she began, "is that really how you feel?"
Given that he had indeed appointed her his second in command, it was clear that Mr. Stone recognized that particular tone of voice. His laughter cut off with almost comical abruptness as he paled and frantically tried to think of a way to backpedal.
Crossing his arms, Steven leaned back and waited with amusement. For once, the shoe was about to be on the other foot. He was going to enjoy watching his father get wrecked instead.
It was, he thought, a rather pleasant payoff.
End Notes: It's over! Somehow. Not really sure what was going on there at the end... I didn't really have the conclusion planned out when I outlined the story, so I wonder if that shows.
It didn't really turn out all that interesting, and just dissolved into an OC fest instead. As the author, I can conclusively say that it's 25K words of wasting everyone's time with no literary value whatsoever. Oh well, too late now.
Thank you to everyone who somehow made it to the end (if there is, indeed, anyone like that). Special thanks to Wolflyn for being the only reviewer, haha. And, as always, please review!