This chapter was ... hard to write. Not because I got all weepy eye knowing that it's over (I'm in fact ecstatic), but I wanted it to end on a non corny, non mushy, non lame note but still sum up everything anyway. My original idea was to have everyone reminisce and be all sweet and whatnot on the bike ride home and it'd be the lamest, safest thing ever, but I hope what I went with is a much, much better idea. =P

Soooo enjoy!

To the Top

"On the very top floor of that building, members of the Hoenn League committee are debating whether or not to disqualify two of the best trainers that I know," May said quietly. She looked up thoughtfully toward the building in front of her. It was four stories high, windows gleaming in the sunlight, with decorations of swirls and curls engraved into its steel-stained walls. It was almost blinding to look at, yet the girl stared at it, eyes burning, the intense heat of the sunlight engulfing her like a blanket. She didn't seem to mind, fists clenched tightly at her side, the soft breeze pushing strands of brown hair behind her shoulders.

"... Yeah," murmured a voice next to her.

She snapped her head down and glared at the green-haired boy next to her. "You could have more sympathy for what's happening to the two of them!"

Wally brushed off her comment, fiddling with the pokéballs clipped to his belt. "May, I'm in the preliminaries – the top six for crying out loud, and my battle is in–" he pulled out his pokénav from his pocket, "–roughly thirty minutes. The fact that I'm here and not curled up in fetal position in the hotel room is proof that I care."

May merely snorted, staring at the building again.

"And let's be honest with the situation at hand, May," Wally added. He shoved his hands inside the pockets of his khakis and looked up as well, staring at the blue Hoenn sky instead of the building. "Brendan was not forced to leave the stadium. Sure, harsh words were said to him, but all the top twelve finalists got flak. I'm expecting more of it at my battle."

"Gabby was just cruel," she argued. "You know how Gabby is. She should have never been a guest announcer; she had dirt all the finalists. Brendan, unfortunately, was paired up with her. If not Brendan, then some other kid."

"Right." Wally blinked a few times, though he wasn't sure if it was from the sunlight or May's denial. "But, again, he was not forced to leave. Neither was Chris. As noble as he was for leaving because of the circumstance, that doesn't save him from the consequences of leaving the stadium. They gave them time to come back, they didn't come back in the time alloted, and that is that. You also don't know if another trainer would have been under so much pressure and embarrassment from Gabby's comments that he would have left his battle."

"So what are you saying?" the girl demanded. "That it was not unfair about what happened to Brendan?"

"I'm not saying that at all." He raised his hands up. "Gabby was wrong, too, and there should be a line between gossip and personal life; however, as you know, that line is blurred when it comes to people like Gabby. I know I'm repeating myself, but Brendan did not have to leave. It's fact. Unfortunate fact, but fact."

"I don't like it." May crossed her arms and pouted. "Complete elimination over something like that ..."

"Yeah, well ... What can we do?"

"Something! Come on, Wally! We can't just stand here! We've got to ... I don't know! We just got to show that we still care."

"But ... how?"

On the very top floor of the very tall building was an office. It was a big office with windows as wide as they were tall, starting from the floor and ending at the ceiling. They were clean, no streaks across its smooth surface, and revealed the world before Brendan's wide, red eyes. Evergrande was below him, and the people on the streets were tiny, almost ant-like, bustling across the cobblestone pavement, making their way to various destinations: the stadiums, the hotel, the shopping street. None stopped before the building and stared at it – none he could see, anyway. He saw his reflection: he looked scared, nervous, and downright ashamed. Paler, too, like he were sick.

Here Brendan stood, after–humiliatingly–running away from his battle like a puppy with its tail between its legs the day before. Behind him were a group of members from the Hoenn League council, discussing his disqualification. If this were a "normal" situation, Brendan would be sitting in one of those plush, black leather chairs, hands gripping the plastic armrests, and staring the council in the eyes, perhaps more out of show than seriousness. He would be the one filtering through the paperwork that slid around the polished mahogany table. He would argue like his life were on the line. But no. He was pushed to the side like some ... like some child who couldn't handle the situation. His dad just had to come–out of all the positions Brendan had gotten himself into–and rescue his ass. It's not that he minded his dad coming as he was sure the young professor could handle it and, dare he pray, make things better for him, but he could have handled himself just fine.

"So what you're telling me," began Professor Birch, leaning back in his chair, making the springs creak, "is that you asked a newscaster – no, I can't even say that; you need a degree in journalism or something to become one, don't you? You lot hired–no, asked–a host on an entertainment show who, might I add, has no expertise in any field of pokémon other than basic trainer, to be a guest announcer for the finals of one of the most important competitions in Hoenn? Where was the thought process in this?"

"Professor, you know as well as I do that we pick our guest announcers based on their popularity – on who they can attract," murmured the president who sat at the head of the table. "It's all about gaining viewership. Announcing is very different from judging; we pick only the most qualified trainers, many who have been training for decades, to be judges. The job of an announcer is to reaffirm to the viewers about what is happening. Judges, on the other hand, are the ones that make the calls."

"I don't need a vocabulary lesson; I know the difference between the two," snapped Professor Birch, drumming his fingers on the table. He pulled off his white lab coat (Brendan actually found it odd that he wore it here) and draped it across the back of his chair. "Nor is that really the point. There needs to be a sort of professionalism in not only your choices for judges, but for your announcers as well. The Hoenn League has been a joke lately, used more as a profiting tool than a factor to determine the skills of a trainer. It is clear from your list of guest announcers – and your main ones, too."

"Compared to other leagues, there is no difference," argued another member of the council who sat two seats down from Brendan's dad. "All the other leagues request guest announcers who do not necessarily specialize in some field of pokémon. All leagues hold a honored tradition. Hoenn's tradition is to rile up our top twelve finalists. Some take it a little more seriously than others."

"Honored tradition?" scoffed the professor. "What is so 'honorable' about proclaiming that my son was a former Team Magma member, something that no one here has evidence to prove? Gabby destroyed his confidence and turned the entire stadium against him with rumors which, again, no one here can prove. And even if they were true–which I know they are not–that still has absolutely nothing to do with his ability as a trainer, so it did not have to be brought up nor should it be a factor in determining proper punishment."

The sound of shuffling paper sounded throughout Brendan's ear as he continued to stare out the window. The weather was beautiful (he noted that the weather was usually ironic to how he was feeling ever since he started his journey), the skies cloudless and, despite the air being dry, just a wonderful day to be outside. Yet he was stuck in here, arguing–well, he should be arguing, but his dad pushed him out of his seat and took over. He scuffed his foot against the rough carpeting in frustration.

Chris, who had retained his seat at the table by throwing a pissy fit, looked at the back of Brendan before turning his head toward the rest of the council. "Shouldn't Brendan, um, you know ... be part of this?"

The crinkling sound of leather shifting and chairs creaking caught Brendan's attention, and the boy turned away from the window, staring at the table where six pairs of eyes stared back. The ceiling fans generated a breeze that blew his bangs around his forehead. Underneath the large sleeves of his t-shirt, he felt goosebumps prick up against his lightly-tanned arms. Nerves? Or was he cold?

"How did you feel, Brendan?" asked his dad, staring at him sternly, reminding Brendan of his younger days where where he was scolded for doing something wrong.

"Um ..." Like a nervous child, Brendan clasped his hands behind his back, avoided eye contact by staring at the floor, and shifted his weight between his feet. "When? Now?"

"No. During your battle. You were the only that was affected by Gabby's comments after all."

This is where things got tricky. Professor Birch did not know about Brendan's ties with Team Magma, and eff that noise if he had to tell him now, if at all. The Sootopolis court system made sure to cover their trails and make sure Brendan's identity was not reveal in public newspapers due to his status as a juvenile, and the court papers were locked up tightly. So it was really by word-of-mouth that Gabby got her story about Brendan's past – a rumor albeit only a true one to Brendan and his friends. Here, in front of the Hoenn League council, was not the place to tell the truth. Hell, this was a secret he might just take to his grave.

Now, truthfully, Brendan was downright shocked that Gabby knew about his past. He couldn't say that, though; it'd make things too suspicious in his case. Surprised? Amused? Scared? All of the above? "I don't know," he finally murmured. "I guess I was ... just ... put off guard. Like, how do you respond to a comment like that? I mean, you can't just scream that crowds, 'That's not true!'; they probably wouldn't have believed me. Then, you know, the boos, and ... well, here we are."

"While the situation was unfortunate," the president paused as Professor Birch snorted, "the rules still stand; if you leave the stadium outside the alloted time given, then you're disqualified from the competition. That's that."

"The circumstances were different compared to different situations." Brendan stepped closer to the table and stood in between Chris' and Professor Birch's chairs. He pressed his hands on the table, smudging its glossy finish, and leaned his weight onto them. "Wasn't that rule established so that people wouldn't arrive late for their battles, hence pushing back the time of other battles?"

"Yes, but it also insures that these battles, while they have no time limit, finish within the time gap we give them." The president stared down Brendan from the other end of the table, making him gulp. He strung his fingers together, leaned back in his chair, and rested his chin on laced fingers. He wasn't an intimidating man: balding, pale, and rather scrawny. A pair of glasses sat on the bridge on his nose. Brendan knew he was powerful, but he couldn't help but wonder if this man had been a trainer before. "Pressure, Brendan, is something that trainers must know how to handle. The reason why most trainers don't make it to the top twelve is because the pressure gets to them so much that it messes with their technique."

"It was out of the ordinary," muttered Brendan, eye twitching.

"Ordinary or not ordinary, you still need to learn how to remain under pressure. Again, I understand that the circumstances were different, but that really is no excuse. People boo. People cheer. You have to learn how to work under both. I still stand by my decision to disqualify you and your opponent from the entire competition."

The absurdness–the pure, unadulterated "what the crap?"–that came out of the president's mouth astonished Brendan to the point that all he could do was stare, mouth hanging open.

Professor Birch took over. "We get it, Jonathan, and I agree. These two boys broke Hoenn League violations and did not return within the alloted time given. You can't change that, and it would not be fair to other trainers to give them a second chance. However, what you're trying to motion is disqualifying both these boys from entire competition. Breaking a time limit rule just disqualifies the trainer from furthering in the competition but allows them to keep their rank, in this case, a top twelve placement. A trainer, according to the manual co-written by you, is only disqualified from the tournament if he cheats in any form, does not have a valid trainer's I.D., and etcetera. The circumstance does not match the punishment."

"I swear to latios I said that earlier," murmured Chris, crossing his arms, rolling his eyes.

"So what are you proposing, Professor? That we allow these two to continue through the competition?" replied the president, raising an eyebrow. "That's ludicrous!"

This time, both father and son made the same look of complete "what the heck?"-ery. "No. I'm asking not to disqualify these two from the top twelve – the positions that these two have earned and what would have been the consequence had it been in ordinary circumstance, like a trainer arriving late for his battle. I'm not asking permission to allow them to continue to compete. Again," Brendan noted that his father put stress on the word, "the two broke the rules and should be punished accordingly for it. Disqualification isn't the proper punishment, and neither is retaining their title of being in the top twelve. Brushing off the work these two did after months and months of training because of a time limit rule is just cruel. Disallowing them from competing further for a higher position, however, is a proper punishment, a punishment that is written clearly in the Hoenn League Manuel."

"Right," Chris agreed. "I myself understood the penalties for leaving the field, and I'm willing to accept reasonable ones."

The president rubbed his temples. "My council and I–and Professor Birch, I suppose–need to discuss this further," he said, looking down the table where Brendan and Chris resided. "Will you two step out of the chamber? We will call you back in when we come to an agreement on a proper punishment."

Brendan stepped away from the table as Chris wheeled back his chair and stood up, stretching his arms over his head. Brendan lead the way to the heavy wooden doors, pushing all his weight against the steel bar to escape the confines of the office. Rough, red carpet turned into cool linoleum as the two tread down the narrow hallway toward the waiting room.

The strange thing about Chris, Brendan noticed, was his ability to remain cool under everything. He supposed his friend picked up this trait back in his first defeat at the Johto League – or perhaps over the grueling months of being in Team Magma. It was something, for sure, that Brendan had not experienced. He looked toward him: black hair was spiked up as always, and eyes, a deeper reddish-brown than Brendan's own, were wide, but not out of fear but because he was, plainly, awake. Unlike Brendan who barely managed to throw on his same wrinkly trainer clothes, Chris ironed a button up polo, legs walking in stiff, denim jeans. He cleaned up well, Brendan admitted, despite a restless night of tossing and turning.

"Cheer up," Chris said, pushing opening the waiting room where rows of armchairs rested. He motioned to the two closest ones and plopped into one, sinking into it. He draped his arms across the wooden armrests and leaned his head back, staring at the circulating ceiling fans. "It ... it could be worst."

Brendan snorted, taking the seat next to him.

"I'm serious. It's lucky your dad came here; he really helped. I don't think my voice would have been heard without him."

"We could have handled ourselves just fine without him. Besides, he didn't need to do that over-dramatic, 'burst through the doors' thing that he did."

"I'm sure. You were doing so well with your mumbling and leg shifting."

"I was nervous!" Brendan exclaimed with a cracked voice. He adjusted the collar around his neck and coughed to clear his throat.

Chris laughed a little and shrugged, sliding down further in his chair, tapping a sneaker against the carpet. "Just don't worry about it, Brendan. Even if they do disqualify us from the entire league, well, there's always next year or another region. It'll suck, sure, as we'll miss all the festivities but ... eh. You take whatever wins you can get."

Chris' coolness wasn't the only thing that bewildered Brendan, and he just had to ask. "Why ... why are you not mad at me?"

His friend closed his eyes, yawning. "Should I be?"

"I mean, if it weren't for me–"

"Brendan, it was my choice to leave. Don't flatter yourself – I didn't leave for you. I left for me. I didn't want to win like that."

"But think about it." Brendan sat up, shoulders stiff, looking at Chris who still had his eyes closed. "If you were battling someone else – someone else who didn't run away – then you wouldn't have had to leave, and you wouldn't–"

"That was always your problem, Brendan." Eyes snapped open and glared at Brendan, startling him. Chris' fingers wrapped tightly around the edges of the armrests. "It still is. That was your problem when I first told you about the truth behind Team Magma, that was your problem with May when she was with Wally, and that is your problem now. Always the whiny 'if, if, if!' What if this happened? What if that happened? I don't know, Brendan! I don't know what would have happened if I was battling another trainer yesterday, or if Gabby wasn't the announcer, or if you didn't chicken out–" it was Brendan's time to glare, "–and leave. And ... and crap! I don't care! There's nothing you can do about it! What's done is done! Get the hell over it! It's just so – I don't think I ever – goddammit, Brendan!"

Maybe Chris did have his problems. Maybe all his anger – all the negative emotion he kept inside – bottled up until it exploded into an incoherent stream of words.

Chris caught his breath, shuddering. "For latios' sake," he managed to get out. "Quit it."

"I was just wondering," murmured Brendan, still sitting on the edge of his seat. He ripped his eyes away from Chris to observe the waiting room. It mimicked the conference room the two were previous in: rough, red carpet and tall, spotless windows that revealed the outside world before him. Chairs covered in a mixed cotton and polyester blend were grouped in fours surrounding a mahogany coffee table, each table adorned with a vase of flowers. "I can't help it."

"Right," Chris replied stiffly.

"I've ... I've done a lot of stupid things throughout my journey that I wonder about almost everyday, Chris. Not even big things, like joining Team Magma, or quitting my league battle. All the small things, too. What kind of trainer would be I be if I didn't have a rival like Wally? Would I still be the same person I am today if I didn't travel with May? And you. What would have happened if I never met you? Would I still believe that Team Magma's cause was just? Would I still be with Team Magma? Would Team Magma still exist if I hadn't met you?"

"Sweet latios. The world just revolves around you, doesn't it?" Chris' eyes swept up toward the ceiling fans, drying the light sweat that formed on his brow. He grabbed at the bottom of his black button-up and pulled it down, ridding it of the wrinkles that formed from his slouch. "You're a piece of work lemme tell you. Crap happens. You have to accept it otherwise you'll never be happy."

"I don't want to accept it. I want to make things right."

"Well, you're doing a hell of a job at it." Chris sighed and laced his fingers together, resting his enclosed palms on his stomach. "Listen, Brendan. Like I said, you can't do anything about it now. You accept it, you deal with it, and you live with it. Denying it – trying to find another reasoning, another source to blame – just isn't going to work. The truth shouldn't be hidden."

There was silence, more out of thoughtfulness than awkwardness. "You know, I've been told that before," Brendan said. "Muddy told me that, actually, right after I tied my old bandanna around his tail."

"Your swampert isn't as stupid as he makes himself out to look."

"It was near Fortree," Brendan reminisced, sunlight reflecting in his eyes, "and we were on the bridge. He just got out of the care unit in the pokémon center, and that's where I tied the bandanna around his tail. I did it so no one would notice his cut. I think that's what I said when he asked; I don't remember. He said it so nonchalantly: 'The truth shouldn't be hidden' or something like that. Or we shouldn't hide the truth. I'm not even sure if he knew what he meant. It was so long ago, and sometimes I try to figure out what it means today. I mean, it sounds simple enough, doesn't it?" He stared out the window. "I've done stupid things," he muttered again.

"Forgive yourself. Accept it."

"I don't think I can."

"Then thus we sit. Until then, I don't think you'll ever be okay with yourself and what you did."

Brendan finally relaxed, his shoulders slouching, and reclined into the chair, sinking into the cushions. Chris closed his eyes again, lips partially open.

"I'm trying, Chris."

"Keep trying then."

"Why are you so adamant against about my request? Everyone in this room has agreed to readmit Brendan and Chris' positions in the top twelve except you," said Professor Birch, eyes traveling down the table toward the president. It really was yin and yang. The president was scrawny while Professor Birch was buff, though a little chubby around the belly. The professor was furious, eyes narrowed, while the president relaxed into his chair, a slight smirk on his face. Hell, even their clothes: Professor Birch's dark blue shirt was stained with dried mud while the president wore a pristine suit complete with red tie.

"It's the entire thing, Birch." Fingers went to temples and rubbed them in small, circular motions. "Can you imagine the outburst that would result if I gave Brendan back his title? There would be public outrage!"

"Public outrage that shouldn't have happened if you didn't have such a mediocre entertainment host as a guest announcer," muttered Professor Birch, sliding a manila folder across the sleek tabletop. He leaned back, the leather chair groaning. "And either way, there's going to be public scrutiny. Listen, we can deal with this two ways. You can give Brendan and Chris their titles and we can forget this entire situation happen. Or you can disqualify them and rid them of their title; but I guarantee you I will fight this and I will bring negative attention to your council, and let me tell you, you don't want me against you. You don't weigh public opinion versus the hard work two boys put into their journey."

It must be a trick from the lighting as Professor Birch saw something twinkle in the old president's eye. As quick as it came, it went away. "I like Brendan. I really do. But I just can't have that sort of attention on my council. The public would interpret us giving Brendan back his title as rewarding him for being part of Team Magma."

"No one can prove that."

"It's quite publicized, actually, that Brendan did have a court date in Sootopolis months ago. The files themselves are locked away, though, and cannot be released to the public. People have looked into Sootopolis newspaper archives, and while his name was not in the paper, it can discerned that it was him."

This was news to Professor Birch, though he remained composed. "How? How can anyone discern that?" he asked.

There was a pause before the president reluctantly replied, "That doesn't matter, Professor. That's what the people think despite how ridiculous you and I both think it is."

"Oh. So you, too, think this is ridiculous. You just don't want to look bad. Is that it?"

Another pause. Professor Birch gave him a triumphant grin, though he wasn't sure why as he hadn't progressed that much. "I know I'm coming off strong, and I apologize for that. I also understand why you're reluctant to give back Brendan's top twelve title. What you're trying to propose just isn't fair, and it's for a selfish goal: to protect your council–yourself, really–from public scrutiny. This is my son – my boy. He's done a lot of stupid things, things that sometimes I'm afraid to ask about, and I know that there's going to be more stupid mistakes. I raised him to take his punishment like a man and to recognize the consequences for his actions, but this just isn't right or proper for what he did."

"A Team Magma member," the president muttered.

"You can't prove that," the professor said.

"That's what everyone else thinks. This is the entire Hoenn League Organization's reputation on the line, Professor."

"Oh, now you're exaggerating now."

"It's still something I'd rather not deal with."

"You'd be surprised at how many people use their common sense, Jonathan."

Something sounded outside much like a whoop, then a holler, followed by more whoops. One of the council members rolled backward in his chair and stood up, walked toward the tall, spotless windows, and peered outside.

"Let's go over the repercussions again," said Jonathan, much to the groans of the rest of his council. His eyes swept over them in a cold glower before he began to speak. "If we give Brendan and Chris back their title, we are bound to get a lot of negative feedback for it. People aren't going to be happy."

"Well, you won't know until you try."

Jonathan ignored this. "Yet we can avoid this entire mess if I give into the public."

"Where's the fairness in that, though?"

The president shrugged. "Maybe there is none. I don't know. If we do it this way, this entire thing will blow over and everyone will forget about Brendan and whether or not the rumors circulating around him are true."

"He'll never forget it. I guarantee it. And neither will I."

More whoops, followed by some silence, which then resulted in louder, simultaneous yells. Cheerful ones, though, like people were rallying for something. Another member of the council stood and joined his fellow colleague, pressing his hands and forehead against the glass like it would help him get closer to the scene below.

"You should see this, sir," said the council member.

Jonathan ignored this as he stared down Professor Birch.

"I know you're eliminating him because you believe the hype," the professor said, leaning back in his chair. "You think he was a Team Magma agent too, right?"

A simple shrug though a noticeable eye twitch. "That group did nothing but harm Hoenn."

"Lately, yes. I agree with you there. There is no denying the good they did, like all the cleaning they did for the land. It was only recently – this year, really – where they took things to extremes. That's besides the point, though. It has nothing to do with Brendan and Chris' disqualification. That shouldn't be the basis of your punishment."

"Probably not."

"But it is."


"Really, sir," pleaded the council member, turning around the face the table. "You need to–"

Jonathan held up a finger. "In a second."

"You're a fair guy ... down there ... somewhere," muttered Professor Birch, doing his best not to roll his eyes to the side. "I don't think you'll be able to sleep if you unfairly punish Brendan and Chris."

"You'd be surprised at how comfortable my bed is."

"Sir, please!" cried the council member more urgently. "It's important!"

Jonathan gave an annoyed sigh before pushing his seat backward and standing up, the folds of his pants straightening out as the fell to their full length. "Good latios. What is it?"

"... That, sir."

"Come on!" May shouted as she stood on the top step of the staircase in front of the building. She pumped a fist in the air, energized. "You all know as well as I do that Brendan and Chris don't deserve to have their title withheld from them!"

Loud cries answered her back, most in agreement.

"We gotta be heard then!" May stopped as someone shoved a bullhorn into her hands. She rotated it in her hands like she had no idea what the device was before flipping the switch. The bullhorn let out a loud screech, making the audience groan in reply. "Er, sorry," she muttered in the bullhorn. "Anyway ... We gotta let that council know that we don't want Brendan and Chris to lose all that they fought for!" She pumped another fist in the air, making the crowds shout in mirth again.

"Hell no! Don't let them go!" the crowd shouted in unison, repeating it.

May, giddy, dropped her arms and turned her head to look at Wally who was fiddling with his pokénav nervously. "Isn't this great, Wally?" she said with a wide smile. "All these people here support Brendan and Chris. See? They know better than to believe what Gabby said!"

"Even if it's ... true," he murmured quietly, not looking up from the device. He looked up, staring at the crowd below. It wasn't huge, sure – only about twenty or thirty people – but it was bigger than he expected. It would at least make the council think twice if so many people supported Brendan despite what he may or may not have done (at least in their eyes). A lot of them – all of them, it seemed – were trainers, some he knew and some he didn't. "I am impressed, May, that you got all these people."

"All I did was shout and got heard," she replied, blushing, rubbing the back of her neck, picking up sweat. She noticed that Wally's eyes trailed back to the pokénav that rested in his hand. "What time is it?"

"Ten minutes to four," he said grimly.

She licked her lips. "Your battle," she said, blinking twice. "It's in ten minutes, isn't it?"

"Yeah ..." Wally trailed off, sweeping a hand through his hair. "I ... I gotta go."

"Do you want me to–"

Wally quickly shook his head. "No, no, May. This is more important. I'll be fine. Stay."

She gave Wally a warm, tight hug, hand still gripping the bullhorn, before releasing him, resting her hands on his shoulders. "I know you'll win. I can feel it," she remarked with a grin. "Now kick some butt for me!"

"Will do. You too, May." He gave her a small wave before bouncing down the steps into the crowds, giving a few of the members a few high fives, before running off to the stadium, the red tops of his pokéballs around his waist glistening in the sunlight.

May, taking in a deep breath, lifted the bullhorn to her lips, and shouted the chant along with the group. Little did she know that on the very top of a very pristine office was the Hoenn League council with a president muttering:

"Well, hmm ..."

"All things," said Chris, "are easier in retrospect."

The slightly deep voice broke through the silent buzzing that echoed in Brendan's ears for the past ten minutes. "You don't say," he replied dryly.

His friend ignored the sarcasm. "Yeah." A nod, comforting but slight. "You know what nostalgics do, right?"

"Remember the past but in a fond way?" Brendan murmured.

Chris kicked a leg out, his shoe brushing across the carpet. He stared at it, the bottoms of his jeans swallowing the tongues of his shoes, before dropping his leg. "Kind of. It's more about longing for the past."

"But in a fond way," Brendan added.

"Sure. I suppose that emotion goes hand-in-hand with longing."

"Creepy, too."

"What? Nostalgics?"

"Er, no. Longing goes hand-in-hand with creepy, too. Longing is a three-handed freak of emotion."

"Yeah, but it usually turns into stalking when it starts to get creep–" Chris shook his head to break the conversation. "That's not the point. That's what nostalgics do."

"They creep? Or they stalk?"

"Oh, get off that," muttered Chris as Brendan smirked. "They long for something in the past." He paused awkwardly, taking a finger and swirling it on top of the armrest, feeling its smooth, glossy surface. He watched it, focused like something important were to happen if he kept moving his finger.

"Go on," Brendan urged.

"You're a nostalgic I realized," Chris finally stated, not looking up, though he felt Brendan's eyes rest on the top of his head. "A bad one, too."

"Aren't most people? At least now and then?"

"I suppose. But most people don't have a lot to regret like you do."

Brendan bit his lip. "Meaning?"

"Well ... it's not like everyone else doesn't have regrets. Some more than you do. But you're a nostalgic: you long for the past."

This confused the white-haired trainer. He scratched his head. "If I have so much to regret, so much that I would want to forget, then why would I be a nostalgic?"

"Well ..." Chris trailed off, finger still swirling across the wooden armrest. "Nostalgics yearn for the past, usually because it makes them feel warm inside, or happy. But the funny thing is, when you think of the past, it's usually not what exactly happened in the past. Maybe I'm not using the right term, nostalgic ..."

Brendan shrugged.

"But it's funny how we alter past events, however big or little, to make a story more interesting, or different, or, dare I say, better, whether we're telling it out loud or in our head. You do that, I think, don't you? You yearn for the past so you can change it."

Brendan shrugged again. "Sometimes."

Chris finally looked up, noticing that Brendan's eyes immediately darted to the side to avoid his gaze. He decided to stare at the ceiling where ceiling fans circulated a cool breeze. "Yeah. You think about life would be if things had been different. Ever since you started your journey, huh? The 'what if?'"

"I guess." Brendan let out a few loud coughs to fight back a gag reflex that worked itself into his throat. His left thigh was shaking – his whole body was quivering, actually, like a leaf. He had no idea why. "It bothers me ..."

"But don't you get that you might not be where you are now if, well, what really happened hadn't happened?"

"I know, I know. It's just ... I want to make everything right. I want everyone to be happy. A lot of the stupid things I've done hurt people that I care about. Especially May. And it's like ... god, if I just thought it through all the way, or if I didn't–"

"There's nothing you can do about it now. You know it. You can't make things right by thinking about the past and how you could have changed things. What matters is now, and what you do now will, eventually, make things right. Maybe not in the way you hoped, of course."

There was another break of silence, soothing instead of awkward. Brendan's finger wrapped itself around a loose thread on the armchair. He tugged at it lightly, feeling the thread tighten around his index finger, then relaxed it. His eyebrows crinkled so slightly.

"I always believed," Chris continued as Brendan drifted into his thoughts, "that everything happens for a reason. That there's purpose for everything we do. And no matter how minuscule the event seems at the time, it will effect the grander scheme of things."

There was another break. "But ... I don't know, Brendan. As much as things get us down–and I'll be the first to tell you that there a lot of things that will bring you down –there's always some unexplainable reason to push forward. There's always something that makes life so awesome. Even for a fleeting moment. And goddammit, it's worth it, even for that one millisecond." Chris let out a thoughtful sigh, like his rambling was something he had been building up inside of him, waiting for the right moment to be let out. "Did you hear anything I said?"

"What?" Brendan tugged at the thread, harder this time, and pulled it out. He threw it in the air, letting it spiral toward the floor. "No."

Out came another sigh from Brendan's friend. "Great."

"But thank you."

"You always were my favorite person to waste oxygen on, Brendan."

"Mm ... You need a girlfriend, I think."

"... Yeah."

There was a knock on a door, followed by a loud creak. Both boys' heads turned toward the double doors where a head peeped around the corner. "If you excuse me," began the person standing at the door, "the council requires your presence once more."

Everything was so surreal. His legs were like Jello. He felt his being – his thoughts, his memories, hell, his soul – leave his body, and he was watching himself walk, albeit shakily, down the staircase, Chris whooping and waving his arms in the air with May, who was huddled on a cement bench, jump up and into his arms, limbs swinging around him and gripping him tightly. But he didn't feel it.

Goddamn, the voice inside of his head did not sound like his voice at all.

Back in trainer school plastered all over the walls were these inspirational posters. Some of them were your basic meowth clinging onto a wire with yellow bubble letters stating "Hang in there!" Most of them had to do with studying with a pokémon sitting at a desk with its head bowed down as it took a test. I never understood that. Pokémon don't take tests.

But I remember one poster. It said something like "What's important is not the destination but the journey." I remember thinking that was the stupidest thing ever. Everyone wanted to be the champion, to be the greatest. The journey was just the annoying point B that just HAD to be done in order to get to the real reward.

I don't know ...

Wally walked down the cobblestone street, hands behind his neck, and greeted them, and Brendan, still in an odd state of outer being – or whatever it is called – noticed the slight sadness underneath his grin, and he knew the unfortunate fact that Wally, despite a rough journey, an illness, and a kick ass battle style to boot, had lost. At the same time, he knew that Wally was okay with it. He knew Wally too well now. Gross.

"All right! We're all losers!" joked Chris, and the friends high-fived each other, grinning.

I've learned a lot, you know. I've built on what I already knew when I first started.

Brendan felt relieved. He thought so anyway. Things worked out, right? Yet, he had this biting feeling in his stomach. The same nervous feeling that was triggered when his dad grabbed him by the shoulder to talk.

"You ... you weren't really with ... them, were you, Brendan?" he remember his father saying.

"Who?" He played dumb, but he knew what he was talking about.

His father's voice lowered to a whisper, like the words were now taboo. "Team Magma."

Quick was his reply and the shake of his head, "No!"

There was this ... mantra that May like to murmur every now and then. I don't know. I think it gave her hope or something when things were looking bad. It was her quote in the trainer's book.

"With you by my side, anything is possible."

Yeah, I know. Super cliché, and it's worst because we're kind-of-sort-of-not-really a couple now. She always believed in me. She always kept her word no matter how stupid I was. But the point of this isn't about May but about her quote. As much as I like it–as much as I like her–I know, deep down, that just isn't true.

They went to the diner for dinner again. Brendan wasn't sure what he ate – he did eat, right? It was surprisingly a lot emptier then a few days ago; he guessed that the defeated trainers just didn't want to stick around for the finals. He sat next to May like always with Wally and Chris in the opposite, burgundy leather seats across the booth and reached for her hand almost tentatively, waiting for her response. She grabbed it, smiled, and ran her soft fingers down the backs of his rough knuckles.

Then the fries came and she quickly let go to grab a spud.

A lot of crap has happened to me during this journey that fate–or God ... or whatever–just made me go through. For the laughs? For some sort of sick lesson? I don't know. But what matters is that it happened, and the kid who once believed in everything was whittled down to ... whatever I am today. Is that bad? Is that good? I don't know that either. Maybe I didn't learn all that much after all.

It got late (Brendan couldn't really recall what happened after they ate dessert), so they retreated to their room for the night. Brendan laid flat on his back, staring at the ceiling, hands clasped on his chest. He didn't change out of his daytime clothes; his pants were starting to bunch up and get uncomfortable. Tomorrow was the finals. It didn't matter to him, but he was still anxious and excited for tomorrow anyway.

He couldn't sleep. He hopped down from the top bunk and left the room, backpack in tow.

I think I grew up a little. I like to think I did anyway. I used to be so cocky. I still am, admittedly. But I think I toned it down a little. Yeah, just a little. That sentence is filled with a lot of I's I realized. I'll work on that, too.

When I look back on it, that's kind of depressing. Er, the me not believing in everything sort of thing. Am I not hopeful anymore because of this journey? All that I used to believe in is so skewered and contorted. "With you by my side, anything is possible." I used to believe firmly in that statement, but now I know that, nah, it's not true. But that's not the point. The point of that statement–why May likes it as a quote–is because of the sentiment behind it. It gives us reason to continue forward. It gives us reason to keep believing in things, corny statement or not. Yeah, maybe I still believe in everything in a stranger sense.

I like her bad if you can't tell. She can make me do things that I never dreamed of doing.

"Bikes!" May said happily. The boys looked at her in bewilderment.

She pouted, nose wrinkling a bit. "What?" she asked. "What's wrong with bikes?"

"...You do realize how far away Littleroot is, right?" murmured Brendan, staring at the shiny bikes that lined the window of the rental store.

"Oh, come on, guys!" She wrapped her arms around Wally and Chris, who immediately try to wriggle out her grip, and widened her eyes into big blues as she stared at Brendan. "It'll be fun! It'll be our last adventure for awhile! We can take shortcuts and stuff, and it's not like we have to stop through every town! Won't it be nice to see everything like we did during our journey? It'll be a lot nicer then a train ride home."

"No," was the dull reply from all three.

She stomped her foot. "Well too bad! We're doing it anyway whether you like it or not."

Chris, during that one day the Hoenn League Council was going over our punishment, told me that I was a nostalgic. Or something. I think he got the word wrong. He told me I reflected too much on the past and wallowed in it. He told me that it was time to let it go and accept it.

How she got them to do it, Brendan will never know, but soon enough, he was kicking the bicycle stand up and following May's wheels. It was going to be a long ride.

Journeys are important. It really isn't all about the destination. I've learned so much about pokémon, about other trainers, about empathy, about anger, and hate, and love, and happiness, and sadness and all these emotions I can't list. But more importantly, I learned a lot about myself that I could have missed had I just been focused–have I not taken the time to let my journey sink in–on the destination. I lost at the pokémon league. So what?

Bad things happen. I've come to accept that. It's time I let it out. The truth shouldn't be hidden.

All he could remember was trees. Trees and the sea and the fresh breeze the blew across his cheek and he pedaled as fast as he could. There was this freedom, this light aura, that built around him that made him want to whoop in joy. God, he felt better after he took that time to reflect. All that he wanted to say was contained in a letter fit snug in his back left pocket.

They say that the only way to go, when you hit rock bottom, is up. Let's start there.

So, Dad. Remember when you asked me if I was a Team Magma member, and I said I wasn't, and you had this look on your face that told me that you didn't believe me anyway? Yeah, you have every right to be. Because I was. I was a Team Magma member – a pretty high ranking one, too.

If you ever want to talk to me again after this, I can explain. Honest.

- Brendan


"What!" was his quick response. He snapped out of his thoughts as May clapped her hands in front of his face. His hands were grasping the handles of a bicycle with the frame of the bike resting against his thigh. One leg was settled on the sidewalk. The trainer looked around, sunlight blinding him. Rows of similar looking homes were stretched out before home. The grass was green, and taillow were tweeting in the oak trees.

He was back home. Littleroot.

"It's strange to be back here, isn't it?" May said with a smile, kicking down the stand of her bike so she could release it from her grip. She put her hands on her hips, feeling the fabric of her fanny pack. She then stepped forward, scuffing the concrete, to press her hands against the top of the wooden fence. She smiled.

The two were standing in front of two nearly identical homes, albeit the one on the left had a darker paint job, at the end of a street. The one on the left had a rose garden planted underneath its windows while the one on the right had finely trimmed hedges. The doors were placed on the front face of the home differently, with the one on the left positioned on the more to the left and the one on the right more toward the center. May pointed her head up, squinting her eyes a bit as the sunlight assaulted her eyes, and stared at the red shingle roofs.

"I mean ... I know we were just here a week or so ago," she began, "but that just seemed like a break. This time, though, we're really home. Like ... maybe for awhile. Our journey is, well, over." For some reason or another, May felt her eyes watering, so she wiped at them, slim fingers pulling down on her cheeks. "It's truly the weirdest feeling ever."

Brendan said nothing in response and leaned the bicycle against the fence. Inside his house was his mom, possibly his dad, and the life he had left behind almost more than a year ago. He liked to think he changed from the person he was when May bound up those steps to his room and surprised him just when he was packing.

"Yeah," he finally replied quietly, left hand reaching behind him and resting on the letter. He pulled it out and gazed at it as if trying to read the letter through the envelope.

May, curious like always, peered her head in Brendan's direction. "What's that?" she questioned.

You've come this far. You can do this.

Brendan opened the door of his mailbox, noting that the silver wording of his surname on said mailbox was starting to lose its shine, gave the letter a final look over before sliding it in, closing it with a satisfying shut. May looked at him, puzzled.

"Did you just mail a letter to yourself? You're freakin' odd."

Okay, so he did want to give the letter. But maybe he wanted to wait justttt a little before the doomed conversation – before his life would go through another drastic change – would take place.

He grinned, tapping the mailbox with his forefinger. "I know, right?"

May shook her head and unlatched the gate of her home with a flip of her hand. It swung open with a loud creak. "Right. Well ... Uh ... I don't know what to say. It still feels so surreal. I know we should say something. I just don't know what."

"Hmm." Brendan rubbed his chin. He snapped his fingers. "When we left here, you weren't my friend. And now that we're back, you're still not my friend." He turned toward May, making the girl turn toward him. "You, May, are so much more than that to me."

For a second, Brendan thought the girl was going to cry (not like that was anything new) as she stood there, hands swinging back and forth.

Nope. Instead of a hug, or a kiss, or a warm gesture, his heartfelt line was met with a light punch in the arm and small, light laugh.

"You're such a cornball," she said while giggling.

"You think?" the boy asked, grinning.

The girl nodded. "Yep! No ifs, ands, or buts!"

She kissed him lightly on the lips. And then the two walked toward home.

Muddy: Ocrap. It's really over.

Si, senor.

Muddy: GOOD GOD! FINALLY! (cheers) Celebrate, Flare, celebrate!

Flare: You're a moron.

Inorite. After five (or is it six?) years of utter crap, we finally reach an ending. Hopefully it wasn't too disappointing of a ride (outside of year long hiatuses and annoying cliffhangers), and hopefully you got something out of it, too. I know I did.

Muddy: Oh god. She's going to go into a ramble. (covers ears)

I'm not. I mean I could. I could ramble about a lot of things. All the planning-

Flare: You mean the lack thereof.

Right. And all the inspiration.

Flare: Again, the lack thereof.

Right. But, you know, the story speaks for itself. It's easy to track my progress as an author throughout the six-hundred pages of this story (and yes, if you're here, you did trudge through six-hundred pages of crap). I really had no goals for this story. Well no, I do. In fact it's the same goal that it was back when I started this story at the innocent age of thirteen: a simple, enjoyable journey fic that doesn't get overly complicated with themes. The fic did take a darker dip than what I intended with the Team Magma sideplot, but other than that, I hope you got a few (cheap?) thrills out of it. I hope it was something that you could read after a hard day and just enjoy because that was what I was aiming for. A lighthearted, humorous fic and nothing more.

Now there's the question of the supposed sequel, something that I still haven't decided on doing. It's another huge task to take on even though it shouldn't be as long as this story. I have ideas, of course (hell, I implied something with the ending of this story), but the entire idea of writing something so huge just sounds ... tiring. If I do write it, I want to make sure I want to do it so we won't end up with annoyingly long hiatuses again. I'd like to think I ended this story on a relatively high note, so I think a sequel might be pushing it. We'll see, though. If it does happen, it might not be for awhile as I'd like to start new projects (some including Brendan and May and some not) that have been patiently waiting in the back.

HLBMA isn't done, though.

Muddy: YES IT IS. GOD.

Well, I mean technically it is. I still have to revise chapters, and even after that, I still need to go back and refine it. If you haven't already, I suggest skimming a few of the earlier chapters; you might be surprised at the difference. Some tell me it's like reading another story.

Muddy: You're killing me, Breezy. We're never going to be finish with this story. I wanted to retire, move to some tropical island, but you tell me there's still work to be done? I'm already so old.

Flare: We went over this. We're only one. Remember our birthday party chapter? We only had one of those, hence we're only one. The timespan of the journey was roughly a year or so.

Muddy: Psh! Whateva!

I am excited for the sequel, though! I have a lot planned for it, especially for character development. It's the actual bigger back bone plot that I'm having trouble with. I'm not sure how one circulates a story around a place dedicated toward battles without it being ... redundant.

Or more redundant than usual.


Anyway, for the final time-

Muddy: Better be.

-for this story-

Muddy: WHAT?

LaTeR dAyZ!