Ch 1

He was in trouble.

She could tell from the way he scowled at the field, fists clenched as he crouched to study the battle before him. It wasn't the usual glare of determination, that glare that showed her he was completely in control of the situation. There was a tightening around his eyes that was responding to a surge of pain. Not for himself, but for the poor Pokémon on the field before him.

Seth was in trouble.

Rui gripped her ticket tightly, watching him from her seat in the Under Colosseum as the Snagger called out a new set of commands for his team, trying to salvage what he could of the disastrous battle. It hadn't started well at all; not only were the types against him, but the opposing trainer was using TM moves not native to Orre, so Seth had little hope of countering them with what attacks Jupiter the Espeon and Pluto the Umbreon had in their repertoire. Hence, the trouble.

She shut her eyes, waiting for it to come and dreading it all the while. There it was, that crackle of energy being gathered, then suddenly the whole Colosseum was shaking as Pluto cried out in horror, then fell silent. Jupiter howled in a fury, but he was silenced almost as quickly with a blast of wind that sent him tumbling head over tail in Rui's mind. She opened her eyes slowly, cringing at the dust that settled to reveal the twin Eons sprawled unconscious on the field and Seth glaring almost hatefully at the Primeape and Scyther standing on the other side.

The buzzer sounded and Seth dug into a pocket, counted out a few bills, then held them out silently to the winner of the match. The trainer collected the prize money, thanked him and headed off to rest before the next round. Seth stalked off the field after recalling the twins.

"Poor guy." Rui murmured and hurried to join him in the green room.

She found him with his back to the wall in a corner of the waiting room, an angry scowl on his face that lessened only a bit when he spotted her walking towards him. Rui sat by him and listened to him exhale in frustration.

"I hate Kanto Pokémon! They always have at least one trick hiding up their sleeves!" he growled irritably, arms folded over his chest in annoyance. "How am I supposed to earn a living if they keep coming over here and wiping out Orre's trainers left and right before I can get to them first?!" He pulled his wallet free and opened it up, counting the colorful bills within. "Great, I lost money on this one." the Snagger grumbled and clapped it closed, shoving the battered piece of leather back into his coat pocket. Rui squirmed under his arm and rested against him, listening to his heartbeat as it pounded from the turmoil of emotions.

"It's okay, Seth." she murmured, "If you need money..."

"I'm not going to leech off of you or your parents." Seth muttered under his breath, "I have my dignity, you know." Rui frowned and poked at him.

"You won't be leeching!" she retorted, "You'll just be borrowing a little bit of funds until the Kanto trainers head back for their Indigo League Challenge." Seth huffed at that.

"Which won't be for another four months. At this rate, I may as well start looking for easy targets to pick up some cash from." he muttered and yelped when Rui pinched him, "Ow!"

"You're not gonna steal anything from anyone!" she ordered, "Captain Sherles will throw you in jail for it and he won't go easy just 'cause he likes you!" Rui got up and motioned him to stand as well. "Under Colosseum is too crowded. Why don't we go to Phenac and cool off for a while?" she suggested. Seth sighed and stood with her.

"May as well. If I stay here much longer, I'll get tempted back into the battles, and I don't have much money left to lose." he relented and led the way out of the Colosseum.

Rui wasn't sure what brought on the sudden quest for money. Seth never really bothered with funds unless he was running low on personal supplies; food, water, Pokémon supplies, and the like. It had been four months since the final battle with Evice to rescue Wes and recover Seth, Wes having finally passed on to his eternal rest after helping defeat his insane father's plots, and it was only in the recent few weeks that the Snagger was making a mad dash for collecting funds. The toll it was taking on him and his Pokémon was alarming. Rui caught him once or twice during her visits to the Orre desert actually poking around the trash bins behind some restaurants. He claimed he was searching for lost items that could be gathered and recycled, but on a hunch Rui took him to a nearby cafeteria and watched, horrified, at his and the Eons' frantic gobbling of lunch.

Recycling; yeah, right. He'd been looking for a meal back there. Rui sighed from her seat in the sidecar of the speeder bike. It was worrisome; what was Seth trying to save money for that was so important, he would willingly go without food? And the twins, Jupiter and Pluto, were looking a little scrawny, not at all as sleek and healthy as they used to be. They caved a little more easily in battle and Seth...

Being a Pokémon himself, Seth often had to eat a lot more than normal to maintain the power of Raykyoudon. After all, as the Weather's Master, he had a duty to restore Orre's original lushness. But without food, without water, the Snagger collapsed more often in his work. Rui glanced up at him in concern. He seemed all right now, his visor down over his eyes as he kept his gaze on the desert before him, but there was always the danger that he would just suddenly wilt and send everything he was doing to hell. Like... now...!

"Look out!" Rui screamed, covering her head as Seth suddenly fell aside, dragging the speeder down with him. It skidded and spun out of control, the exhausts sputtering fire and sand as the redhead was thrown from the sidecar into the hot dunes. The speeder tumbled end over end and finally came to a rest, sputtering once, then dying as Seth followed roughly the same route, rolling along for a short distance before stopping short of the bike. Rui gingerly picked herself up after a few minutes, spitting sand and grit out as she checked herself for injury. Save for some bruises and cuts that she'd need to have cleaned soon, she was whole.

Seth managed to escape brutal damage, despite having been under the two-ton machine when he lost control and it began to roll. He lay sprawled and only began getting to his feet when he'd decided the uncertainty of Rui's condition surpassed the pain of the multiple bruises he collected. He seemed almost frail as he looked around, then spotted Rui walking towards him, his face pale.

"Rui! Are you okay? Is anything broken? Are you hurt?" he fired his questions, limping quickly towards her. She nodded, a smudge of grease on one cheek. Seth breathed a sigh of relief. "That's good. Ho-oh's fire, I'm sorry, really. I don't know what happened-."

"Didn't you eat anything today?" Rui interrupted with a frown, "I thought you said you had something to eat." Seth blinked at her, then sighed and hung his head almost ashamedly.

"You asked the twins, Rui." he murmured softly. Rui stared at him blankly, then blinked in realization. Before the awful match in Under Colosseum, she had been petting the Eons for a boost of confidence.

"Did you guys eat?" she had chirped brightly and Seth, in his usual bluntness, had answered, "Sure." She had forgotten that he would twist her words and his own to create the illusion of a response she wanted; it was something the Snagger often did and it annoyed her endlessly.

"You should have said something sooner!" Rui demanded, "I would have bought you a lunch!" The Snagger lifted his head and spread his hands helplessly.

"I wouldn't have any way of paying you back." he answered quietly and moved to reorient the speeder, checking it for damage as well. Rui growled irritably and shook her head.

"Seth, I don't expect you to pay me back for a lunch. I'm offering it to you as your girlfriend!" she scolded, "Come on! You don't have to starve yourself just to avoid borrowing money from people who love you!" The Snagger finished his check of the speeder and looked back at her tiredly. "If you're saving up to pay something off, why not tell me what it is? I could probably help you." she added gently.

"The people of Zirconia City are wealthy, aren't they?" Seth asked. Rui nodded uncertainly. "Then I can't borrow money. It sends too many signals I don't want people judging me by." he finally said, "I hate being judged based on things I can't control. I hate being judged because I'm a Snagger and a thief. Let me do this on my own." He climbed back onto the speeder and Rui hurried back into the sidecar.

"But if you keep this up, won't you lose strength as Raykyoudon?" she pressed, "You have to keep up your strength to maintain your powers!" The Snagger just shook his head and started the engine again. Defeated by the loud blast of the speeder's exhaust pipes, Rui sat back in frustration. What was he up to that demanded so much money and sacrifice?

Phenac's reputation as the Opulent City of Water was renowned in Orre and well-deserved. Checking into a hotel, Rui and Seth discovered a new attraction that was helping business boom in the city. Man-made hot springs were the latest fashion and the hot stones of Orre were perfect for creating several of the luxurious pools in Phenac. Rui was clapping her hands happily at the idea, Seth looked at it askance.

"What's the big deal? It's hot water. You can't really do much with hot water in a desert but wait for it to cool so you can drink it." he muttered. Rui laughed and shook her head at his words. "What?"

"No, no, it's therapeutic and relaxing! It'll do wonders for all those bruises we picked up!" she told him, "I love hot springs! Ms. Paterson on Emerald Lane in Zirconia had one installed a few years ago and she invites my family over for hot spring parties every month! They're sooo good!" She regretted telling the Snagger of it almost immediately, as he took on a strangely hopeless expression and tossed up his hands.

"Ho-oh's fire, it gets worse!" he breathed helplessly and turned to leave the hotel, "I'm going out to the shops. I'll be back whenever." Rui stared after him in confusion, then sighed. Whatever he was doing must involve a lot of money, or maybe he just couldn't stand hearing about Zirconia?

The stress of the day began to melt away when she entered the spring. Rui lounged in the water, towel wrapped around her body and hair as she soaked up the warmth. The bruises weren't as bad as they had felt, the purples and blues mottled her arms and legs mostly, as she had let them take the brunt of the fall rather than her body. She relaxed and reflected on the problems involving her Snagger boyfriend.

It definitely had to be a money problem. Seth was far too intense in Colosseum battles, almost desperate to win every match he entered, for it to be anything else. And his trips to Zirconia to pick her up for her visits to Agate were always accompanied with a sense of anxiety. He could hardly wait to leave the place the moment he arrived. She could remember an instance, back when he was fully confident and satisfied with himself and his life, where he had spoken quietly with her parents while she busied herself with retrieving her scrunchie from their pet Meowth. Out of the corner of her eye, Rui could see him motioning to himself, almost stumbling over words, then finally step back with a barely controlled shock. He was never the same after that.

Was that it?

Rui sat up in the hot spring, a frown coming over her face as she thought over that last bit of memory. Had something her parents said to Seth brought on that sudden change in him? This sudden desire to collect more money than Seth ever cared to have on hand?

Determined to find out, Rui exited the bath and headed for her room, throwing on a bathrobe for the sake of modesty. Surely the Snagger had returned by now. The door to their room was ajar and she put her hand out to push it open, pausing at the sound of his voice and the tinkling of bottles.

"Okay, if we play it right, we can get by on this. I had to sell off quite a bit of our items." Seth sighed. Rui peered through the crack and watched him talk with the twin Eons. He reached out and rubbed their heads. "If you guys get hit with a status effect in battle, do you think you can hold on until I get you to a center? We have to save our restoring items for those long-haul battles." he murmured. The twins whimpered and nuzzled his hands. Seth sighed again. "I know. But we have just a little more to go. Then I can check one item off my list. That brings us one step closer to Rui." he told the Eons and pulled his Poké Block Case free. "Here you go, guys! Treats for being there for me!" he added cheerfully and flicked them each a block.

Rui frowned and pushed open the door, startling the Snagger inside the room.

"Okay, what is this all about?" she demanded, ignoring his stunned expression, "What are you trying to get that brings you any closer to me? You're already close to me! We date, don't we?"

"By the fires of Ho-oh, put some clothes on!" the Snagger exclaimed in shock, "How do expect me to think straight when you're practically naked in front of me?"

"My parents said something to you four weeks ago, didn't they?" she accused, "What did they say that drove you to practically kill yourself gathering money?" Seth folded his arms over his chest, glaring away from her, silent. "Ooh, don't you give me that, Seth Evice!" Rui growled, "Come on and tell me! Why are you so desperate for money?"

"Don't call me 'Evice'." Seth muttered, "And that's my business. I'll tell you when I'm ready, but not before." He shut his eyes as a deep blush came across his cheeks, "Now will you please get dressed?"