Nintendo owns Pokemon; Pokemon owns me; I own a lawyer, and he tells me that Nintendo doesn't care what I do as long as I don't own money.
Satoshi didn't want anyone to misunderstand. He had never been stupid, he'd just been too naive to wonder why so few "adults" wandered across the countryside. He'd figured that they got boring at some point, that they just became mere shadows of once-interesting people. He imagined that their backs started going out, and then, they'd just be stuck in that city where the arthritis hit, and they'd have to stay there forever.
It was in his thirteenth year when he began to understand. It took two more years before he began the journey that would lead him home.
It was in his thirteenth year when he passed through the Orange Islands, to visit Lapras. When he was there for two weeks, and in that time, no one recognized him as their champion. When he went to visit Takeshi, and the boy looked right past him and straight to Kasumi, and never regained his focus. When he was walking down a country lane with Pikachu, and saw another pokemon battered and abandoned.
When he kept walking right past it.
When, in one instant, he nearly won the world, and at the last possible moment, realized that a million people had done that before. And in the million faces of the crowd, he saw all the people he'd met along his journey - seeing people who'd become his friends. People whom he could no longer remember. People who likely no longer remembered him. He'd crumpled, at the side of the battlefield on national television, at Indigo plateau, knowing that he'd spent the last six year of his life chasing a dream that was as transitory as himself.
When Satoshi came home on the eve of his 15th birthday, Hanako had jumped from the table and wept with him. That night, he went to bed and slept for three days. When he woke up, he was changed.
Time had passed since then, and Satoshi laughed less often - if at all - and by then Hanako was worried that she had been wrong in letting him cry with her. After all, she had been part of the throng that had gathered in Ookido-sensei's lab and watched the deciding battle. She, along with everyone else, had seen him win the championship and lose something else.
But time had passed.
It had been a year since Satoshi had slept with the stars above his head, and he didn't want anyone to misunderstand that he was still a child. That was the purpose of the pokemon journey, anyhow - to grow up and realize who you were. And Satoshi had grown into the beginnings of a man, without knowing who he was, and without knowing what dream could hold a lifetime of value. He'd finished with his childish dreams, but now he had nothing to support him.
He'd finished his journey too soon.
So Hanako did the only thing that she could: She sent him back.
When Satoshi found himself standing outside his house, still only dressed in pajamas and smelling like the previous day, he'd not known what to do with himself. His mom had slipped into his room while he slept, and packed his backpack with all the essentials - she'd even labeled his underwear for each day of the week - but she had neglected to tell him what he was supposed to do. He didn't have anywhere to go, and suddenly the empty hole that had been eating at his chest swelled to impossible size. There was no better place to go than to the place where he always started. That place, of course, was Ookido-sensei's laboratory.
The front door to the lab was unlocked when he and Pikachu found it. He turned the handle, slowly pushed the door open and peered into the downstairs room. A few plants and couches decorated the space, spartan as always; there were few, if any, personal items, and for that matter, there were no signs of persons who would accumulate such things, either.
"Ookido-sensei! Kenji!" he called out with hands cupped around his mouth. "Hey, is anybody in here?"
His voice didn't echo, but it didn't garner response, either. Satoshi walked inside, thoughtlessly letting the door shut behind him. Pikachu darted between his legs, barely escaping the door with a soft chirp.
"Sorry," Satoshi said lowly, moving forward and plopping down on a sofa against the back wall. "It's just too early, Pikachu..." He yawned, and adjusted himself on the couch.
For a futon sofa, it was miserably uncomfortable. He bent forward and shrugged his backpack off. He lifted one of his legs onto one of the armrests, and the other on the otherwise functionless glass coffee table; and the rest of himself he wedged into the intersection of two cushions. Pikachu jumped on top of his chest, crawled up to his shoulders, and laid down cozily between her trainer's neck and the armrest.
It wasn't perfect, but it was better. Satoshi closed his eyes and shifted on the couch, as if planning to nap in that very place. He had just settled into a dream when a hand caught his shoulder and recoiled quickly.
"What the heck!" cried out the hand's owner. "What's that-"
Satoshi turned over and cracked his eyes open.
Ookido-sensei's apprentice stood mere feet in front of Satoshi with an addled expression. Though, to say that he 'stood' was not entirely accurate, as he was hunched over by what appeared to be several tons of luggage and archaeological equipment that were strapped to his arms, waist, and shoulders. Pikachu let out a shrill noise at an un-sheathed pick-axe which dangled precariously near its' head. The danger posed by the pick-axe (and other equipment besides) went largely unnoticed to Kenji, who, besides surveying Satoshi, was concentrating on maintaining balance on both of his feet, a task which he had never completely mastered. The fact that his headband had fallen over his eyes did not instill great hope to Pikachu, either.
"Satoshi? Is that you?" Kenji shuffled his arms as though he could lift up his impromptu eye patches with his elbows and thus reclaim his vision.
"Yeah," said Satoshi, sitting himself up. "Pikachu's here, too."
"Pika pi," confirmed the yellow pokemon.
"Well, if Pikachu's here, I guess it's you after all," said Kenji, his voice light. "It's nice to see you out."
Satoshi bristled instinctively, even while the traces of sleep were clinging to his eyes. He rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand and muttered, "I've been around. You were probably just too busy researching to notice."
"I've been busy lately, that's true," Kenji agreed. He shuffled his feet and all of his gear clunked around him, clattering as object clashed against object; weights banged against weights.
"Kenji, what are you doing?" Satoshi asked. "Are you about to travel or something?"
"Yeah, actually. Could you... give me a hand maybe?"
"Yeah, sure," said Satoshi, getting up. He walked a full circle around Kenji before scratching at the mess of his hair helplessly.
"Kenji," he said, "I don't think that there's anything I could take from you that wouldn't make you fall over."
"Pika pika," complained Pikachu as the pick-axe wobbled closer to its' head. She cowered on top of the depression in the futon cushion left from Satoshi's form.
Kenji shook his head and his headband resituated itself over his eyebrows. "It's okay," he said to Satoshi with a grin. "I'll just go the rest of the way by myself."
"Good luck," said Satoshi. He followed after Kenji, though he couldn't help focusing on the room as much as his friend. The place looked exactly as he'd always remembered it, really, but like an air had settled over it and not been lifted. It made him feel peculiarly young.
"You and the professor have been traveling a lot lately, haven't you?" he asked.
Kenji bent his knees and began to push himself against the door. He obviously had too much girth - and he obviously wasn't going to let that stop him. "Kind of," he answered. "I'm going on my second research trip this month."
Satoshi shoved his hands in his pockets. "So where you are going, exactly?"
"To the pokecenter," said Kenji.
"Yeah, but after that."
Kenji grunted out, "Saffron City."
Satoshi rolled his eyes. "For some reason, I feel like you're only going to Saffron City on the way to somewhere else..."
"Naturally," agreed Kenji. "Oh, my. I think some of the paint on the door has come off."
Pikachu slapped itself on the forehead with a depressed little 'chu'.
Satoshi ignored him and tried again. "Before you and Ookido-sensei leave to wherever you're going, can you find him for me? I, uh, need to talk to him."
"I'd love to," Kenji said, half-ignoring Satoshi in favor of stepping back to critically consider the physical dimensions of the doorway, "But he's already in Johto. I'm going to visit him."
"So that's what you're doing!" Satoshi exclaimed. Then he paused. "You do realize that you're not going to fit through that door, right? You're about two times wider than it."
"Maybe I'll walk through it sideways," said Kenji. "It might help if you pushed me."
A few minutes later, after all of the luggage had been successfully dislodged from both the door frame of the Lab and from Kenji's arms. Pikachu wandered about the bushes, smelling and frolicking at random, and Satoshi stretched out with immense satisfaction himself.
"Thanks for the help," said Kenji gratefully from his side. "But if you don't mind me asking, what were you doing sleeping on the sofa anyway?"
Satoshi had the presence of mind to be embarrassed. "I came over to visit Ookido-sensei. I was hoping he could help me. But I was tired so I figured I'd just take a nap..."
"Any reason you weren't napping at your house?"
Satoshi stared at the green-stained toes of his Converses miserably. "My mom kind of kicked me out this morning."
"Yeah," he griped. "I didn't even get breakfast before I was out on the porch."
Kenji patted him on the shoulder in commiseration. "That's rough. Your mom makes a mean breakfast."
"That's not the half of it-" Satoshi started, but the sound of a computerized Pidgey twitter heralded the arrival of a mail on Kenji's phone. He fished the device from his pocket and scanned his message quickly.
"What's it say?" asked Satoshi.
"The cab driver got lost, but he'll be here within ten minutes."
"I'll wait with you," Satoshi offered.
With the few minutes of suddenly available rest, Kenji was happy to settle into the grass with a warm feeling. It pricked against his skin where his shirt rode up, tickling him, but he was too content to move. Satoshi followed suit, layying down next to him. He folded his arms behind his head to stare up at the sky.
"When you, Kasumi, and Takeshi traveled though Johto, did you ever visit the Ruins of Alph?" Kenij's voice asked from beside him.
Satoshi turned to Kenji, apparently struggling to gather an answer. "That's kind of random, isn't it?"
"Just a question."
"Oh. In that case, yeah," Satoshi said finally. "When I was... twelve? I think we went to the Ruins of Alph to see Ookido-sensei. He was working with some scientists who were saving a colony of Omanyte."
"Ah, yes. I remember that research. Outlying Site A."
"The where?" asked Satoshi, rather blankly.
Kenji explained, "Outlying Site A. It's one of several sites that constitute The Ruins of Alph. The one with the reservoir, right?" Satoshi nodded, and Kenji continued. "Alph has many different excavation sites, but they are all connected by this long, long series of caves that go underneath a desert."
"That sounds big."
"It's the biggest archaeological complex in the world. And that's where Ookido-sensei is right now. I'm going to join him to supervise the last stage of an excavation in one of the more central sites."
"But if everything's dug up, then-"
Kenji interrupted, "Even once everything is dug up, there's a lot of work left, you know. Most of the work is post-excavation, actually. Shigeru's team is researching the link between ancient pokemon and humans. It's generally agreed among scholars that Pokemon battling is relatively recent, but Shigeru thinks that mankind has always used Pokemon's powers, just in different ways."
"Shigeru's there?" asked Satoshi. Suddenly his attention was unfeigned, and the thought of his oldest friend swelled up in his mind.
"Yeah. He's leading a whole team, you know."
"Wow." Satoshi couldn't hide how impressed he was. "What's his team researching?"
"Shigeru has a theory that ancient people used to worship things with power in them. Rivers, mountains, the sun... all those things became gods. And that's why they worshiped certain pokemon, too. At Alph there appears to be a connection between nature worship and Unown worship. You know about the Unown, don't you?"
Satoshi answered slowly, "Yeah, kind of. When I was twelve, there was this girl named Molly, and she made friends with the Unown, and got trapped in their illusion-"
"That's right," Kenji recalled. "You were part of the Greenfield Incident. In that case, I won't need to explain much about what the Unown do. You probably know that Molly's parents were both abducted by the Unown while doing research. The place where they were taken from was the Ruins of Alph, and accordingly, we think that that place might be the Unown's origin."
"You seem to know a lot about the research, for having never even gone yet."
"I haven't had much to do since Ookido-sensei left, so I've spent the past week memorizing his emails," said Kenji.
"You're so weird," Satoshi grinned. "But that explains it, I guess."
Kenji eyed Satoshi. "What do you mean?"
"You told me that the Unown pulled two people into another dimension before. And I saw what happened with the Unown and Molly. So, going to a place where there were all these powerful Unown seems kind of stupid."
"Well, if I'm weird, then you're stupid."
Kenji pointed a finger at Satoshi critically."How many stupid things have you done since I've met you?"
"Right," said Kenji, to Satoshi's grimace, "So if there was more to learn, then don't you think that researchers would willingly go back to make new discoveries, even if it was dangerous? And for what grand purpose did you, oh great Satoshi, do dangerous things?"
"Well, I was... protecting pokemon... helping people... And okay, so it was dangerous, maybe, kind of," he admitted, letting his stubborn pride be punctured just slightly before continuing on, "But knowledge isn't exactly worth risking your life for! I always did it for way better reasons than that!"
Kenji punched him in the arm. "Whatever you say that makes you sleep at night."
"Ow, stop it!" Satoshi rubbed the spot above his elbow where Kenji had hit him. "What was that for?"
"Just friendly teasing. Anyway, you probably wouldn't even need a reason before going off and doing something dangerous," Kenji added.
"No way. That was then. I was younger," Satoshi defended.
"Yeah but you're still a wimp. You look like you're going to bruise," Kenji mocked.
"Am not a wimp," said Satoshi, letting go of his arm immediately.
"Besides," Kenji continued. "I know you. You can't act like you wouldn't leap at the chance to do something stupid in a dangerous situation again."
"Yeah well I wouldn't!" Satoshi shouted in defense.
"Don't be obstinate, Satoshi-chan."
"I'm not being obstinate!" Satoshi refuted stubbornly, "And don't call me that, geez!"
"So you really think you could resist the urge to act stupid?"
"Of course!" Satoshi huffed.
"Alright, then prove it."
Pikachu stuck her head out of a bush where she'd been following an odd scent, and sniffed her nose curiously. Satoshi made a similar expression.
"Uh, prove what?" he asked curiously.
"Prove that you wouldn't do something dangerous even if you were in a dangerous situation," Kenji answered him succinctly. He got to his feet, and shaded his eyes. Satoshi mimicked the action and saw what appeared to be a trail of dust approaching from the main road to Pallet.
"How am I supposed to do that?" he wondered aloud. "And why would I willing get myself into a dangerous situation? Isn't that just as stupid -"
Kenji cut him off with a low whistle. "... Looks like that's the taxi in the distance. I guess it's time for me to go, then," he said, and picked up his bags.
"Woah, wait! You're leaving now!" Satoshi exclaimed. "Wait, I haven't proven myself yet!"
Kenji nodded, his expression starkly placid in comparison to Satoshi's open confusion.
"Of course I'm leaving now, Satoshi. Don't tell me you thought I was carrying all of this equipment for no reason. I need to get to the archaeological site as soon as possible. I'll see you in a couple of months-"
"Pi Pika?" the yellow pokemon mimicked as the white taxi turned onto the road in front of Ookido-sensei's lab.
"Well, it's a short enough journey to Johto by train, and a few days' trip by van once we get there. But if our archaeological team cracks the puzzle of the Alph Ruins as Ookido-Sensei thinks we may, it'll be enough media coverage to make us all rich and famous a hundred years over. That is, if we don't... Oh, I shouldn't say that."
"Say what! Say what! Tell me anyway." Satoshi begged.
"Oh nothing, nothing. Just that..." The taxi came to a stop. "Shigeru mentioned that if we're not careful, we could anger some legendary pokemon, die horrible bloody deaths, especially me, come to think of it. Well you know what I mean. And, ah! The taxi's here at last! Pardon me, driver! Could you please help me with these bags, and-"
"I'll do it."
Kenji turned around to face his shorter friend. "Excuse me?"
Satoshi stood before Kenji with his cheeks flushed and a spark in his eyes. It was an expression he'd seen hundreds of times - just not recently.
"I'm going to go with you," Satoshi declared, "And I'll prove it that I'm not some stupid kid! Even though it's dangerous, I won't get into any trouble."
With a raised eyebrow, Kenji purveyed Satoshi before he spoke.
"Are you sure, Satoshi? Just because I think that you need to prove yourself doesn't mean that you should go on this dangerous research dig with us..."
"It's not like you have a choice, anyway. I know where you're going and I can do whatever I want!" Satoshi curled his fingers into fists, as if he was daring Kenji to argue it. He didn't, in fact, and seemed almost suspiciously willing to give in.
"Okay, okay, I won't try and stop you," he said a bit louder than he really needed to, "That'd be pretty stupid of me. I guess you'll just have to prove yourself..."
"Yeah, that's right. So you better call Ookido-sensei and Shigeru and tell them that I'm on my way!"
"Well, a mail couldn't hurt..." Kenji fished his phone out of his pocket. Turning from him, Satoshi looked for his pet. "Let's go, Pikachu!"
"Pika pika chu!" the pokemon assented, trotting up her trainer's arm and onto his shoulder. She seemed quite happy, and while Satoshi wasn't quite happy he was at the least a bit smug at having called Kenji's bluff. He looked at Kenji in the eye, smugly, then got into the taxi cab and closed the door firmly behind him.
Kenji didn't really seem to care. From the other side of the window, Satoshi watched him slip his cellphone back into his pocket with a broad grin, and loading their bags into the trunk, humming to himself in what seemed to Satoshi as an inexplicably self-gloating way. After all, he'd just lost their argument - hadn't he?
"Oh, Shigerruuuuu, I brought you a present!"
The quiet of the open-air laboratory was a pleasant, natural one. Of course, conducting an immense research project over a mysterious, ancient ruin in the middle of a desert didn't make for the easiest environment. Sand had a habit to not only seep into every inch of the furniture, bodies, and technological equipment, but it would storm into the room when any person broke the tent's seal and emerged from the outside.
Even worse than the infernal sand was the habit of some people who had grown so used to the sand that it no longer bothered them. These people, upon reaching this point of maladaptation, interacted with their less fortunate colleagues in a mischievous and unbecoming manner. Many of the former would add sand to the latter's sandwiches, for love of irony. Others, such as (apparently) Kenji, apprentice of the revered Ookido-sensei, would act as though the sand no longer existed, and would use this as means of 'accidental' torment.
For this reason, Shigeru would not let it be known that he particularly disliked sand. It would undermine all of his hard-won efforts to appear as an equal if his colleagues pulled pranks on him. Not to mention that he had pride, and dignity; but quite frankly, he didn't know how much sanity he could possibly possess if he were to choose to spend the rest of his days like this.
"Shigeru, turn around, I brought you-"
"A present?" Shigeru asked tonelessly, moving away from his table and turning in his chair to face his visitor.
"Oh, did I say a present?" Kenji laughed at his err, leaning against one of the pole supports. "I meant to say presence. My lovely presence."
He flexed his puny biceps for emphasis.
"Wow, Kenji. With a physique like that, it's amazing that I didn't spend the past three weeks without you in uncontrollable sorrow," Shigeru deadpanned. "Are you going to stand in the door all day or are you going to come inside?"
Kenji turned his head and started, as if he had just realized that he was leaning on the door frames.
"Silly me, looks like I forgot to close the tent flap!" he said, (and did not, in fact, close the tent flap on this realization).
"I'm sure it's just because you were out in the sun too long. Maybe you should lay down a while."
If it had been any one else but Kenji, he would've been yelling already to get them to leave him alone. But Kenji had to be an exception, because he had blackmail. It had been two years since Kenji had coerced him into admitting that he was, and always had been, flaming gay. Shigeru imagined that his life had been rather downhill from that point . This ignored the fact that, beforehand, he would have compared his life to an uphill slope on Mount Everest without any oxygen supply. Never mind that, of course.
Kenji had indeed remained in place, holding the door open and exposing the innards of the tent to a world of joyous sand, and now cast his gaze around the room, posturing curiosity.
"I don't think closing the tent flap makes much difference; the sand's already everywhere anyhow. And it makes such a nice exfoliant for the skin, don't you think?"
"I tend to find my research easier to perform when it isn't buried in sand," Shigeru answered.
"But don't you love the challenge?"
"The only thing that's being challenged right now is my patience," Shigeru said, smoothly. "You can go back through that flap and leave right now."
"Oh, Shigeru, you're such a tease..."
"It's only teasing if it's not serious."
Kenji shook his finger at Shigeru. "On the topic of serious, I was packing my bags back at the lab in Pallet Town and..."
In spite of his efforts to remain calm, Shigeru couldn't help but find it to be rather annoying that Kenji still hadn't closed off the tent from the desert. This was his job. How was he supposed to analyze a sample that was covered in sand? Not that Kenji would understand, he didn't even wear gloves when dealing with raw meat... He had a whole artbook filled with sketches of his grandfather...
Shigeru rubbed his temples with his forefingers, silently repeating the only - and very weak consolation that he did have - 'Remember the blackmail.'
"...and so," Kenji broke in. "I brought along Satoshi..."
All coherent thought squealed to a halt.
"You know, Satoshi from Pallet town, pokemon league champion-"
"I said what, not who! You idiot!" Shigeru glared at Kenji with as much ferocity as he possibly could. Kenji was so startled that he actually dropped the tent flap behind him.
"Why are you so angry?" asked Kenji. "I thought you two were old friends... had put your differences aside..."
Shigeru threw up his hands. "That's not the point! Think about what you just did. Satoshi isn't a researcher, he's a pokemon trainer! What do you think he's going to do here for three months, our bills? Our taxes? Our Housekeeping? Let's say he gets the job of making dinner. Heaven forbid he tries to cook something without setting it on fire. After he loses that job in all of one day, he's going to get bored and then he'll do something stupid! And I'll have to stop him! Don't you get it? It's dangerous! He's dangerous!"
Kenji looked torn between fearful and put out.
"I'm sorry, Shigeru. I didn't think of it like that," he said, sullen for only a moment prior to recovering with an optimistic grin. "But I made a bet with him about whether he'd do something dangerous or not, and he says that he won't."
The young researcher's eyes narrowed. "The stakes of that bet had better be high."
There was a long pause between them, during which Shigeru held his breath and Kenji stared into space.
"Stakes?" asked Kenji.
Shigeru's stomach dropped. In a flash, he saw the future: it was snowing and he was homeless, hungry, hated by the entire world, and - most unspeakably horrific of all horrors- he hadn't bathed.
"...Why?" Shigeru asked, choking back a groan, struggling to speak.
"Oh, well, I don't know why. I suppose we simply forgot to set stakes. It was sort of an impulse thing," Kenji replied.
"An... impulse thing."
"Yeah," Kenji shrugged. "And when Satoshi seemed like he had nothing better to do, I just thought, oh, well, I'm sure that Shigeru would like to see one of his good friends. And of course, Shigeru loves a good surprise!"
"When have I ever liked surprises!"
Kenji stared into the distance, contemplating. At last, he broke out into a smile. "Yep! I really got you good this time!"
"If you don't leave in the next three seconds," said Shigeru, his voice frosty, "I will attack you and bury you in this godforsaken desert."
Within those three seconds, the room rapidly returned to its former quiet, and the stifled feeling abated to an extent. Yet, somehow, Shigeru managed to turn around and refocus on his research as if it had all been an immensely disturbing dream.
The fact that the entire sample was covered in several inches of sand was ignored entirely.
There was only so much of this nightmare that Shigeru could wallow in at once.
He was bored.
It had been two days, seventeen hours, fifty-four minutes and seventeen seconds, no, eighteen seconds, no nineteen seconds... And Satoshi was bored.
For one thing, the excavation was already largely finished. As a result, everything that the researchers were doing had to do with post-excavation analysis, which was really just another way to describe the life-threatening monotony of cataloging. Of paperwork. There were a couple of people and pokemon still out in trenches but Satoshi was definitely, definitely not allowed to join them, and it's not as if he wanted to anyway, since all they did was scrape back the thinnest layer of dirt at a time and then standing around talking about it. As if the dirt had changed in some inexpressible way and become interesting, which was actually impossible because it was dirt.
Of course, scraping dirt probably would have probably proved less disastrous than that one very terrible point when Satoshi had suffered his short-lived stint in the kitchen.
He'd wanted a purpose; he'd somehow gotten swept up into Kenji's excitement without remembering that he didn't really care about this sort of thing. It left him just as empty as he'd been when his mom had left him on the porch and told him to 'go.' Except it was hotter here than Pallet. Holy Ho-Oh it was hot; the research tents were sizzling on a furnace that stretched endlessly on every horizon. And the sand. There was sand everywhere. He had sand in his sandwiches at lunch, and the vile, bile-inducing sensation of tiny rocks gritted between his teeth was so off-putting that it nearly made him not hungry (that he ate the sandwiches anyway was a testament to his obsession with food).
He was actually a bit pissed off when he arrived, because apparently, he was the only person to notice any of it.
The ever-helpful Kenji had explained to him that most of the researchers had adapted to life in the desert. Satoshi had explained to Kenji that it wasn't adaptation as much as it was insanity.
Satoshi tried to visualize Shigeru in the situation, and he could see him being single-minded during work, not minding the conditions... until after he was done working, and would probably have a panic attack over all the sand in his hair, clothes, etc. Naturally, this led to Satoshi wondering exactly how Shigeru was still alive and functional after three months.
Not that Satoshi could say whether or not Shigeru was still sane.
The fact was that Satoshi hadn't even seen Shigeru yet, because, quote, 'Shigeru Ookido refuses to leave his personal lab until he has completed his current project'. He wasn't taking visitors; he wasn't taking meals with everyone else.
Which was kind of weird, actually. Satoshi had had enough of being stuck inside of a stuffy room doing laundry. Seriously. Laundry. What was he, a housekeeper?
And on top of everything else, Ookido-sensei wasn't anywhere around. He had apparently been called to the most nearby city, which meant that Satoshi couldn't ask him 'What should I do next to maybe help you out because I was kicked out and have nowhere to go and nothing to do?'.
After calling Pikachu over to him, Satoshi put his things down and wandered out of doors. Maybe a walk would help him deal with the stress better.
Shigeru was pissed.
He had so many reasons to be angry and half the attention to concentrate anywhere but at the distinct openings of displeasure; at the searing pain that shot up from his left thigh, and then at the person who had caused the injury years ago, and fate in general, and it was getting cold. Bad cold. And he'd dropped his gear when he fell and it was now who-knows-where in the sand, getting buried while he was clutching his leg in pain.
And so what if it had been his fault for sitting at his desk for too long without doing any stretches? Even if he still had his gear, he wouldn't use it to call for help. He could deal with this on his own. It was his problem, and no one else's.
Shigeru stared up at the sky above him. The sun had set some thirty minutes ago and the sky was rapidly losing its color. The constellations, which always appeared to keep their poise in the deepest darkness, were mocking him from far, far away. You think this is cold? Loser.
Oh, God. He was imagining that the stars were sentient beings. And he wasn't even cold enough to write that off to hypothermia.
With a groan, Shigeru shot his hand out to his thigh and heaved himself upright. He needed to work out more. He needed to get out more. If only he could get to his feet and shuffle towards the Ruins, this would be much, much easier.
He closed his eyes and concentrated on getting his leg to work for him. He imagined all of the muscles unkinking, just like his physical therapist had explained, and the good news was that Shigeru knew that the mental therapy helped. The bad news was that it didn't help quickly, and he might just die before unkinking happened.
Okay, so that was an exaggeration, but that didn't mean he wanted the skin on his face to be rubbed raw from the sand and the ice. Nor need he mention his appendages being consumed with frostbite. He did want to have children someday, thankyouverymuch.
Ah. Another completely ridiculous statement. How was a gay man to have children, exactly?
Stupid leg. Stupid desert. Stupid cold. Stupid -
The voice cut off his thoughts like a knife through butter. He turned his head towards the disembodied voice.
"... Is that you?" asked the voice. No, it's just a Shigeru-shaped rock, Shigeru was about to say, but thought better of it as soon as he realized who was approaching him. Satoshi. Of course, Shigeru didn't need to see the face to guess that it was Satoshi. Wherever he went, he ran into Satoshi, even despite his best efforts. It was some conspiracy of the universe.
He squinted his eyes to get a better look. Satoshi had picked up his pace, jogging toward him with Pikachu at his heels, matching step for step. He looked older.
"Hey," said Shigeru, cool.
Satoshi skidded to a halt in front of him.
"I've been looking for you - for the past three days!" He put his hands on his knees to catch his breath, and once he'd deeply inhaled several times he continued fervently, "So - what are you doing - just sitting in the desert?"
Shigeru gestured to his leg. "I got hurt," he said.
"What happened? Are you injured?"
"What? What? Is it-"
"Look, I'm fine. Just shut up for a second, okay?"
To Shigeru's surprise - and, honestly, to his - consternation, Satoshi complied. What had happened to the brash, flippant attitude that practically characterized everything about who Satoshi was? He looked at Pikachu, whose eyes looked out at him dimly. She, like Satoshi, looked older.
He'd hoped that if Satoshi stopped annoying him he would be able to gather enough willpower to bring himself to his feet, but the pain wasn't going down like it was supposed to. He'd been massaging his muscle, but it had been no use; the cold was agitating the weakness, locking him in place. A jolt of pain shot up Shigeru's leg, and he clutched at it before he knew what he was even doing. It felt like little needles were stabbing at his bone from every side and he groaned as the world blackened at the edges.
"Can I talk now?" Satoshi whined from beyond his haze.
He could've been mistaken, but Satoshi definitely looked concerned. In any case, Pikachu had long since been staring at him with big, soppy eyes, as if she were apologizing for not knowing how to help.
"Fine," relented Shigeru.
Satoshi scrambled to the ground, determined to look Shigeru in the eye. "If you've broken your leg, I can go get someone," he offered.
Shigeru shook his head.
"No. I just... can't move it; that's all. The muscle's all cramped up," Shigeru made a vague motion towards his stiff limb. It wasn't hurting so badly anymore, but now a creeping, tingling sensation was in its place. Hopefully, the stars would soon clear from the edges of his vision.
"I've been out here for about half an hour now, so the cold hasn't been helping, but it's not a big deal."
"It's only getting colder, why didn't you call anyone?" asked Satoshi, scratching his head on reflex. Shigeru took the moment to look at him. His messy hair was squashed underneath the same hat he'd been wearing for years, but it didn't look so awkward on his face anymore. His shoulders were more broad - not to say he was muscular, but it was a different proportion now. He was taller, even, though from his position on the ground, Shigeru couldn't measure the degree accurately.
"You wouldn't have any of your other pokemon with you, would you?" Shigeru asked.
Satoshi shook his head. "No, I haven't gotten them back from your grandfather yet. Just Pikachu."
Shigeru sighed "I was hoping one of 'em could carry me back to the tent site."
"Oh," said Satoshi, clearly disappointed. Then- "That's no problem, though! I can carry you!"
Satoshi crossed his arms and scowled. "C'mon, I'm not a weakling or anything, I can do it."
"I'd rather take my chances out here, thanks," said Shigeru.
"But you're injured-"
"And you're such an idiot that you'll probably end up injuring me even worse," Shigeru pointed out.
"You think I'm an idiot? Fine! You can just - just take care of it yourself, you jerk," Satoshi returned, louder than before.
He turned around and stalked off into the direction from which he'd come. Shigeru lifted his head, cursing himself for being such a smartass. He noticed that Pikachu hadn't left his side. He made eye contact with her, and she anxiously looked at him, then at Satoshi, then at him again, and then in a flash, she was gone, sprinting after Satoshi. Shigeru dropped his head to the sand.
"Satoshi, come back!" he called out. And even though his voice was vaguely muffled, it must have gone through; he was gratified to hear the sound of sand-stuck footsteps returning. Shigeru sat up, contrite.
"So you do want my help?" asked Satoshi, his arms folded.
"Yes," Shigeru answered tightly.
"I thought you didn't want my help," Satoshi pushed.
Shigeru sighed in exasperation.
"No," he drawled, "I just meant to say that I didn't want you carrying me back to camp."
"I can always drag you," Satoshi suggested.
"I'd rather use your shoulder, thanks."
"I don't see what's the big deal about letting me carry you back; you obviously can't walk."
"Yeah, except that everyone would see you holding me like I was your bride or something."
Satoshi looked at him with a quirked eyebrow and snickered.
"Who'd think that?" asked Satoshi.
"I don't know, people! Now do you mind getting over here?"
Satoshi jogged back the couple of steps towards Shigeru, and squatted next to him.
"What do I do?"
"So yeah, put your arm around my shoulder and I'll support myself on the closest one of yours. Then, we'll stand up," instructed Shigeru. Obediently, Satoshi reached out and slid his arm around Shigeru's back, and settled over his shoulder.
"I'm ready to stand up," said Shigeru. He tried to shake off the weird feeling that came from the contact.
Satoshi slowly unbent his legs, and he jerked Shigeru upright.
"You got it?" asked Satoshi.
Satoshi took his first step forward, and Shigeru leaned into it as best as he could. There was something awkward about using a person as a crutch. There was more of a trust factor there than with the crutches that he'd had to use before. But it wasn't altogether unpleasant. Shigeru found that he had no choice but to concentrate less on his pain and to focus more on making sure that his steps didn't sink his feet too deeply in the sand.
After they had gained a sort of awkward rythym to their steps, Satoshi tried to restart the conversation.
"So how's your manly pride?" he asked. His voice was light and teasing.
"Been better," replied Shigeru, shortly. He felt Satoshi's shoulders shrug in response, and he felt the warmth of Satoshi's back radiating out from his shirt, and he focused hazily toward the ever-circling stars as another spasm of pain clamped down on him.
And that was that.
After three days, Satoshi found Shigeru on accident, and that was the long and short of their conversation.
It was among the most annoying, stupid exchange of words that Satoshi had ever had with him.
It was driving him nuts.
He didn't know what it was that had made Shigeru act so tense around him. Last time he'd seen Shigeru, it had been like visiting old friends (which they were, so it made sense). Sure, it was two years earlier, but Satoshi hadn't seen most of his friends for three years, much less a mere two. He couldn't understand why things had changed so much. Because it was very clear to him that Shigeru was not his friend anymore. From the time that he'd found Shigeru collapsed in the sand, and during the entire walk back to the little community of tents and temporary buildings that wasn't even big enough to be a town, they'd hardly exchanged enough words to constitute conversation, and their banter had only been rare and slightly forced. He thought that Shigeru had warmed up to him since he'd become a researcher, but it was clear to him now that Shigeru was as cold as that same desert at night.
He couldn't ignore the fact that Shigeru wanted nothing to do with him anymore, and he felt like he was ten years old all over again.
But what could he do about it? The only thing he did besides sleep and eat was spend time doing cleaning and menial labor for the researchers. He was stuck in the middle of a desert until the next supply trucks came in to drop off food and water to the camp, which wouldn't be happening for at least another week.
And still, Satoshi didn't have it in him to go home.