That was all I could think when I saw him. Money in his swanky suit. Money in the rings he wore so casually on his fingers. Money in the way that he walked, sure and stately, almost gliding.
Then I caught sight of the pokeballs on his belt, and my face split into a grin.
"Hey," I said, slouching out from the shadows.
The man turned around and gave me a nod. "Hello," he said politely. His voice was level and posh.
"You're a trainer, yeah?" I said, shoving my hands in my pockets. He nodded. "Well, how 'bout a battle?"
He nodded again. "I would quite like a battle with you. I saw you fighting earlier today – your mightyena is impressive."
I felt a faint misgiving. He'd seen me fight before, and he still wanted to give it a try? I plunged ahead though. "Guess you're pretty tough then. Say, want to raise the stakes a little? One on one, forfeit battle."
He looked at me, seemingly amused. "If you'd like."
I sent out Mighteyena, since he seemed to like her so much. It wasn't like having seen her fight before would give him some kind of advantage. Queen and I don't fight with tricks. We win because we're stronger.
He sent out some pokemon I'd never seen before – it was big and steely. But when Queen gave a little smirk, I knew the weird pokemon had to be part psychic. Mighteyena only looked that happy when she was facing psychic types.
"Sucker punch," I said, smirking. Most of the time that was all it took. I'm no kind of poet, but there was something like poetry in taking down an opponent like that, quick and clean.
"Bullet punch," the trainer said at once. His words didn't register with me at first; it all happened in an instant. Mighteyena's attack was met by the steel pokemon's outstretched fist. The collision sent her flying backwards.
A jolt of adrenaline raced through me. I stopped slouching: I woke up a little.
Mighteyana wasn't really hurt. Her fall had been nothing worse than the blow-back from the two attacks colliding. But that wretched steel type hadn't even been scratched.
"Howl," I told Mighteyena. Clearly, she'd need to psyche herself up if we were going to do any damage to that hulking thing. She sat back on her haunches and let out a long piercing cry.
"Iron defense, Metagross," the trainer countered. His pokemon – the metagross – began to gleam more brightly.
I clenched my fists. So that's how he was going to play it, huh? Something about the guy's battling style was pissing me off. It was so passive, reacting to and matching my every move. It felt like he was playing with me.
"Shadow ball!" I called out.
"Shadow ball," the trainer said, something like a smile playing out on his face.
The dark balls of energy met in mid-air, exploded into smoke.
That was fine, though. That was what I'd been waiting for.
"Fire fang!" I shouted. In the smoke, there was no way that steel mass could dodge Mighteyena's attack.
"Psychic," the trainer said. Psychic? I grinned. Like that would do anything against Queen.
But I lost my smile when I saw the metagross rise above the smoke, lifted by its own psychic energy.
I swallowed. That pokemon had understood what its trainer wanted just from that one word. I'd never seen anything like that before.
As the smoke cleared, I could make out the other trainer. His stance had shifted, somehow. For the first time I could feel his engagement in the battle. His eyes were sharp and bright.
"Meteor mash," he called out clearly. The steel pokemon began to descend in a burst of gold.
"Shadow ball," I commanded in panic. Queen didn't have the time to build her attack to full power. She sent off a small burst of energy that broke against the metagross like a wave off a mountain.
Then the metagross slammed into Mighteyena, all pure power and gold light.
I knew the battle was over even before the smoke cleared.
When it did, I could make out Queen lying on the pavement. I knelt down by her side, stunned. She looked so helpless splayed out on the street like that, the dirt marring her beautiful coat. I ran my hand down the thick fur of her back, relieved when she cracked open an eye and made a playful attempt to nip at my hand.
I heard the other trainer make his way over to me, but I kept my gaze focused on Queen. I wondered what he'd ask from me in forfeit. Whatever he asked, I knew I would do it. I'm strange like that.
From my position on the ground, I could see his shoes. They were polished and shiny, as if they'd never met a single speck of dirt. "It's nearly noon," the trainer said. "How about you buy me lunch?"
My eyes widened. That was . . . I could do that.
"Sure," I said. Mighteyena had opened both her eyes now, and was pushing herself to her feet.
"Of course, we can stop off at the pokemon center first," the trainer added.
Queen and I shook our heads in unison. We don't use pokemon centers. We don't trust them.
The trainer looked at us, curious, and then shrugged. "My name is Steven, by the way."
"Sidney," I mumbled. I realized too late that he wanted to shake hands, and held my hand out just as he dropped his back to his side. I blushed and looked away.
Steven didn't make fun of me, though. I guess I appreciated that.
"I know a place," I said, and starting walking, Mighteyena close at my side. I didn't look back to check if he was following us, but I could hear his decisive foot-falls from behind me. It was only as we got close to the restaurant that I felt a tinge of doubt. This place was a real dive – great for me, but not exactly suited to guy dressed like Steven.
Inwardly I shrugged. He'd asked a punk like me for lunch. A punk's lunch was what he would get.
But I'd overestimated his snobbery. He did wince at the mispelled sign, but made no comment about the dirty floor, or the paper table-mats. And he dug into his greasy sandwich with every sign of relish.
The silence had gotten comfortable enough that I was surprised when he spoke. My bite of sandwich almost dribbled back out of my mouth.
"You're a talented trainer, Sidney," he said.
I gave a one-shouldered shrug, not sure what to make of the praise. I was pretty damn strong, yeah. But he'd been stronger.
"Are you on the pokemon league challenge?" he asked me.
"Nah," I said. Which was an answer, but his silence made it feel incomplete. "I mostly just travel around battling."
He looked at me hard, as if he could hear the bits I'd left out from that.
"Battling," he repeated, something stern and knowing in his tone. Then he asked, lightly, but with unmistakable intent. "Make a lot of wagers, do you, Sidney?"
I found myself going cold a little. It's not quite illegal, the way I fight, the stakes I get my opponents to agree to. But, it's not exactly legal, either. If some high-baller like this Steven wanted to make trouble for me, things could get hot, fast.
I tried to think. Deny all? Admit and appease? Or just make a dash for it? I doubted he'd risk his shiny shoes in chasing me.
Then again, I'd already make the mistake of underestimating this guy once. I wasn't about to do it a second time.
Maybe he could see where my thoughts were going, because he leaned forward suddenly and said firmly, "I'm not going to report you, Sidney."
I blinked. "You're not?" Then I found my cool, and added, "Not that there's anything you could report me for. I fight clean, man." I looked him straight in the eyes when I said that, so he could see I wasn't lying. I'm proud of the way I fight. No dirty tricks for me, and if I meet a loss, I take it.
When I was younger I'd run with a less savory crowd, but in the end, their cheating got on my nerves. I never needed to cheat to win my fights, especially if the opponent I picked was flush with cash and green as a spring-born pidgey.
Steven was studying me through narrow eyes. "You may fight cleanly, but you don't fight honestly," he said, enunciating that last word loudly in his pish-posh tones, as if it somehow explained his meaning. He took one look at my blank stare and frowned. "Pokemon battling is not about winning," he said firmly.
"Really?" I said, smirking. "Guess you're doing it wrong then, man. What with beating me, and all."
Steven shook his head. "You shouldn't play dumb. It doesn't suit you."
I opened my mouth to reply, and then closed it. I didn't know what to say to something like that. I stared at him, lost. Where does a stranger get off on saying something like that, anyhow? In that firm voice like a polished stone, as if he knew anything about how dumb or not-dumb I am.
"I watched you battle," Steven said, placing his hands on the table. "I battled you. You're a good trainer – not just a strong one, a smart one. You're in tune with your pokemon, you know how to think on your feet. You could be so much more than this."
I swallowed hard, trying to find my footing against that barrage of compliments. "And what exactly do you think "this" is?" I managed to say.
"You're not a pokemon trainer, you're a confidence man," Steven said. His tone didn't change at all; he could have been discussing the weather. "You find a trainer you know you can beat, you talk them into some kind of frenzy, you make some kind of bet. Then you pocket the cash and move on. That's not pokemon battling. That's . . . income." He pronounced that last word like a society girl turning up her nose at a grimer.
A harsh laugh escaped me. "Is that what you think of me? Well, fine. Guy dressed like you, doubt you're at any risk of dirtying yourself for cash."
I made a good show of it, as I spoke, held my back up straight, and looked him right in the eye, daring him to fault me. But I couldn't help the sinking feeling in my chest. I liked this guy, I realized, shiny shoes and prissy voice, and all. I'd thought for a moment he'd understood. But, no – I was just a punk to him.
"Are we done here?" I said, flinging a few bills down on the table.
Steven's hand caught mine as I stood up. His grip was cool and surprisingly firm.
"I'm not done," he said in that implacable, even tone. "So I would be very much obliged if you would sit back down, and hear me out."
I sat back down.
The next minute passed in silence. I stared down at the greasy surface of the scratched-up table, fiddling with the cheap bracelets on my wrist.
And then Steven spoke.
"Battling," he said, "is not about winning. It is about testing your skills and those of your pokemon against an opponent you do not know that you can beat. It is about pushing yourself to the utmost of your limits, and surpassing them. In caves there are wide tunnels and well-lit paths. You can walk along them, and find some trifling stones. Or you can climb the waterfall –" Steven paused, a tremor in his voice. I watched him, transfixed. He'd changed somehow, as he spoke. Color rose on his cheeks and there was the same light in his eyes that I'd seen towards the end of our battle. "Or you can climb the waterfall," he continued, softly. "And who knows what you'll find, then?"
I couldn't speak. It was all there in my head, suddenly, the loud, terrifying roar of the waterfall, and the glimmer of light just beyond it. I'm no poet, but I know poetry when I hear it. The image pulled me under, until I was choking on it, feeling that thick salty water clog up my lungs. I shook my head, trying to clear it.
"I'm not –" I said. "I don't –" Steven was looking at me, and for the first time I found something pleading in his gaze. What he'd said to me had come from the inside of him, I realized, that dazzling and bright inside that every geode had. He'd opened that up to me, allowed me to see inside it. He'd given that to me, as if I were worth it.
I wanted to be.
"Look, man," I said, "look. It's not that I don't want to try, but I – I don't know, see, how it works, and what the rules are, and how you have to be – "
Steven held up a hand to staunch the gush of my words, and smiled at me. It was stunning, his smile. It was disorienting. It was like a diamond suddenly sparkling in some coal. "I know, Sidney. I'll help you."
No, it was like I was a diamond he had found in some coal.
"Listen," I said roughly. My voice felt like some kind of blunt tool. It was hard to make the words come out right. "I'll give it a try. I'll do it, okay?"
Steven smiled again.
And I thought, hey man, I'm gonna battle for you.
a/n: well, this is random. But I've always had a very strong head-canon for Sidney's backstory, so I thought I might as well write about it.