Author's Note at the end, for all my dear readers.
"So, Shigeru Ookido, could you review your findings in a few words?"
The reporter stretched out her boom microphone toward the stage, and the auburn-haired researcher standing in the center of it, looked down at her from his podium with a tolerant, slightly puzzled nod. He had his own microphone after all, and he spoke clearly into it as he answered, ignoring her offered hand.
"Well, you see…" he began so evenly that his words had to have been practiced:"It's a very complicated tale, so for a full explanation, I would refer the interested viewer to my most recent paper "The Legendary History of Alph" published with my colleague, Yamatoshi Tano of Johto University." Here, a sneer was just barely dodged by a genuine smile: "But to summarize, we've discovered that the Unown are indeed responsible for the founding and the disbanding, ultimately, of the ancient civilization of Alph. This was done by the performance of psychic energy, and the manufacturing of illusions. This information was obtained firsthand by myself and my friend Satoshi, whom you might be familiar with as the Pokemon League Champion."
An excited murmur swept through the audience off-camera.
"The Unown created, on top of an existing ancient environment, an illusory world built out of Satoshi's - and sometimes, my own - memories. The hybrid dimension that we were placed in functioned off of Satoshi's key desires - both realized and unrealized. His desire to be alone warred with his desire to be with the people he loved. And these desires, when paired with his actions (manifested in emotional outbursts), ultimately gave the Unown both the motive and the power to create and deconstruct a reality that…"
"Listen to me. I sound like a psychologist."
"Shh," said Satoshi, bending his hand over his eyes. He strained to see the television past the glare in the glass of the shop window. "The volume's muffled through the glass. I can barely hear you."
"It's not like you haven't heard it before."
"But I haven't! I missed this part of the conference after all the ten year olds started rioting."
"Your fault, not mine," Shigeru pointed out, tuning back in to the program.
"… and it resulted, ultimately, with the Unown being able to control their massive power and for the people of Alph to expand and explore surrounding areas." Shigeru concluded. "Does that answer your question?"
"I'm sorry, are you saying that the Unown are psychologically manipulative masterminds? Do you think they're evil?"
"Umm… That's really a bit much," said Shigeru, though his face was clearly conflicted. A few people in the audience chuckled at his discomfort. "I think the Unown meant well, and still do today I suppose. But, here's the issue: just because they are able to make contact with the human psyche, it doesn't mean that they're able to understand the human psyche, much less all of the moral and ethical issues that come with creating false realities or creating closed-circuit escapes."
"When you say closed-circuit, are you referring to the legend? It was left very ambiguous in your report about what the legend actually was."
"Unfortunately," said Shigeru, pausing for emphasis, "the Unown were very ambiguous about the legend's nature to us, as well. The legend may have never actually existed in a way that makes intellectual sense, as much as it existed intuitively."
"You made that way more complicated than you had to."
"True," Shigeru admitted, "but I think they would've been kind of shocked if I'd said 'we intuitively wanted to make out with each other.'"
"Then how in the world did you escape using the legend as a device?" pitched in an older man off-camera.
"From the start of my experience, the Unown were focused on fulfilling the desires of the person who they had keyed into: as long as he was able to reach out and grasp what he really wanted, so to speak, the illusion would end by default. In this case, in order to overcome the power of the Unown, that person had to make the desires latent in his illusions desires that he could manifest in his own reality. The only reason we even were fortunate enough to have the riddle of the legend is due to my companion's uncanny knack for having legends attached to him. He wouldn't have seen his time in Alph as an appropriate adventure without having had a legend, or prophecy, to fulfill."
"How many unique prophecies has Satoshi been involved with, Ookido-san?"
"At least five," said Shigeru, nonchalant.
"Hey! There've only been four!" Satoshi defended himself.
"Yeah, sure. Four that you can think of off of the top of your head," Shigeru rolled his eyes. "There's probably some that you don't even remember."
"Hmph." Losing interest, Satoshi moved over toward another television screen on a much more prominent pedestal. Pikachu was watching it with obvious interest, evidenced by sparks emitting from her cheeks. "Anyway, look. There I am," he said, and pointed proudly.
"You're always on the news.," Shigeru complained. "Let me enjoy my moment in glory a moment longer." He turned back to the sharp LCD screen and smiled indulgently at himself. "I can't believe they're showing this on mainstream T.V… You know what, it better not be just because you were involved."
"Hmm," said Satoshi, already tuning him out and looking at the digital rendering of his face on the screen. The caption beneath Satoshi's face read in capitals, P.L. CHAMPION SETTLING DOWN, RE-OPENING GYM IN JOHTO.
His television self, too, was swarmed with reporters, though he had to admit that his reporters seemed much more pushy - and had far too many boom microphones - to keep his interview as focused as Shigeru's had been.
"Why Hiwada Town in Johto?" one of the reporters was asking him, adjusting her chic wireless-rimmed glasses.
"Well," said Satoshi, bumbling a bit as he tried to rescue his Pikachu from a reporter's grabby hands, "Mostly because there's a gym that's gone defunct in the leader, Tsukushi's, absence. I heard there are a lot of locals who would like to reopen the gym, but lack battling experience, so I figured I would help them out."
"That sounds like you're building some sort of advanced poke-school… It's hardly appropriate work for someone of your skill level!"
"Pokeschool? Come on, I didn't say I was going to become a teacher, did I? It's not like that's all I'm going to be doing anyway. I'll be training my pokemon in the meantime as well," he added slyly, and looked directly into the camera. "And catching up with old friends. If any of my old friends want to visit me for a challenge or just for a visit, I'm only a short hop away by Goldenrod's Bullet Train."
Even in Satoshi's eyes now, he looked almost overly-sincere - It was kind of embarrassing. He was glad that Shigeru was too busy watching himself preen.
He turned back to the TV with his image.
"Isn't it true that you recently came out of a coma induced by the Unown, along with your childhood friend and rival, Shigeru Ookido?" the reporter was asking him.
"Erm, not a coma, actually… But fortunately, both of us have fully recovered from the experience, and Shigeru will soon be resuming his research, just like I'm looking forward to battling again, and-"
"We understand that Ookido will also be moving to Hiwada Town, to study ancient time travel pokemon in the Ubame forest. Do you have any comments on that?"
"Yeah! I'm really glad Shigeru's going to be moving close by to me. We have a very close relationship."
"Oh, that's cute," said Shigeru, lightly slugging Satoshi's arm.
"Oww," Satoshi complained, "You can't do that. I don't have tough muscles there anymore; that hurts again."
"Then you better start working out," said Shigeru, bending over to pick a brown bag filled with groceries. "You could carry half of the groceries by yourself for a start. The fact that Pikachu likes riding on your shoulder isn't an excuse you can use forever, you know."
"Pi pika," affirmed Satoshi's pokemon with matching confidence.
Satoshi looked down at his Pikachu, and stuck out his tongue. "What would you know," he said fondly.
"Pikachuuu," it answered, squirming out of Satoshi's loosely held arms and moving up onto Shigeru's shoulder.
"You can stay there for now," said Shigeru, looking down at it with playful sternness, "But you have to get down before Umbreon sees you. You know how jealous she gets."
"You didn't bring her with you today?" asked Satoshi as they turned away from the screens and began walking down the street.
"Nah. It was a lot of desk work. I figured she would rather stay in the house."
"Paperwork already? You barely set up your lab two weeks ago!"
"Exactly! That's hardly enough time to get all my sources together, much less to read them."
"Hey, as long as it's you and not me. Tell me before you go into the forest, though, okay? I wouldn't mind coming with you and seeing an old friend."
"I wouldn't leave you out," Shigeru affirmed, readjusting his bags. A loaf of bread threatened to topple out from the top, and wavered precariously. This grabbed the attention of a nearby Slowpoke, who lifted its fat, pink head with effort as Shigeru and Satoshi walked by the concrete wall on which it was resting.
"Sloooo-" it began to say.
They both froze.
"Oh, now you've done it," Satoshi said to Shigeru.
"-ooooo-" yawned the pokemon. His toes scratched the concrete as he shifted slowly, awkwardly to his feet. Pikachu jumped off of Shigeru's shoulder, prepared to answer any command from his trainer. The speed of the movement showed the energy that still had it charged up from a day full of battling.
Satoshi called it back calmly. "We're not going to attack, Pikachu."
"Then let's get out of here." Shigeru scowled at the dopey pink creature. "Geez, that's an annoying sound. Small wonder Team Rocket started cutting off their tails..."
"And show him where we live? No way. He'll just arrive a few hours after we get home, asking for food, interrupting our sleep-"
"Sleep," Shigeru drawled, "Is that what it's called these days?"
"-ooooowpoke?" finished the pokemon, ambling to his feet.
"Give him the fish sandwiches," suggested Satoshi. "Maybe it'll distract him."
Shigeru looked at Satoshi incredulously. "You actually bought those?" he asked as he dug his hand through the bag, and Satoshi grinned. "Yeah, I thought the fish sandwiches would be funny. A good memory, you know, like old times in Alph."
Just as Shigeru fished the sandwiches from the grocery bag, several things happened. The Slowpoke in front of them perked up with unusual speed, the scent apparently stimulating it to action. At the same time, Pikachu began growling its name and emitting sparks from its cheeks.
"Pika!" cried out the little pokemon, turning to face them, its gazed fixed on something beyond their legs.
Satoshi and Shigeru turned. "Three more?"
"All right," Satoshi admitted, backing away instinctively. "It's too late to try a diversion. Let's make a run for it!"
"Pikachu!" agreed Satoshi's pokemon. But the Slowpoke also seemed to understand. Faced with the prospect that their meal might be about to take off, they began loping towards Satoshi and Shigeru with vapid expressions.
It was horrifying. Satoshi, Shigeru, and Pikachu took off at a dead sprint.
"Good work, Satoshi," Shigeru panted as the street fell away behind them. Satoshi could feel himself blushing. "You're the one who suggested I feed it!" he parried back.
"Well you should have known better, being League Champion and all-"
"Being Champion," he panted, "is more about pokemon battling, okay? Not about random pokemon habits-"
A few items threatened to fall from his shopping bag, and Satoshi stumbled in his flight, attempting to catch them. Pikachu chirped anxiously as it waited for his owner to catch up to him. But in fact they were slowing down, dropping from their frenzied pace to a gentle lope, and finally a fast walk. The Slowpoke were nowhere in sight.
Shigeru wiped sweat off of his forehead. "You know, this wouldn't have been necessary if you'd just used Pikachu to shock them into submission-"
"And leave them there, half-dead? No way, that's not ethical. Plus the townspeople would have a fit!"
"So? It's provably self-defense!"
"Pikaaaa-" the pokemon sneezed, a few sparks coming out. "-chuu."
"Stop it, Pikachu," Satoshi groaned. "We are not an old married couple!"
The pokemon rolled its eyes, then darted ahead of them. Shigeru hazarded a glance behind them. "Hey, look!" he said. Satoshi did. The Slowpoke were growing further and further away. Reshuffling his bag as he turned back around, he followed Pikachu and Shigeru down a verdant path that swung off of the main road to the left, leading up a gentle hill. Their pace slowed further - it was hard enough to run with so much baggage, but this was especially true as they made their way up the mild slope past cottages with conifer trees, stony chimneys, painted doors and gardens fully in bloom. Finally the path turned to gravel. Satoshi concentrated fiercely on the sound of each pebble picking up and dropping; anything to ignore the acid burn in his legs. He'd spent most of the day at the gym, running around before making the trip home, after all; he didn't have much energy left to spare.
Pikachu, who had been contentedly running at heel, now bounded ahead of them toward the last cottage on the row. It was set back in a cloister of pine trees, the front yard encircled by a low, white picket fence. It jumped over the fence and Satoshi heard Umbreon barked happily from the other side.
"Really, Pikachu," scoffed Shigeru as they approached the fence surrounding the cottage. He had mostly regained his breath."An old married couple?"
Satoshi was surprised that he was still thinking about it.
"We've barely been living together for two weeks," he agreed. Shouldering the grocery bag on one arm, he used his other hand to lift the latch of the white gate, swing it out in front of them and walk inside. "Not counting the months together in Alph. Plus you only just had your birthday so you won't be twenty and an adult for another year! Seriously, you have to wonder what that pokemon is thinking sometimes."
"Yeah," Shigeru agreed, grinning only with one side of his mouth. "It's almost as if it knows its trainers better than they do."
Satoshi collapsed in one of the chairs at the breakfast table, and gulped back a cup of water that had been left over from breakfast. He dropped the ceramic glass back onto table and sighed with deep satisfaction. The tension, the activity of the day slowly began to drain out of his shoulders and arms. Light spilled in from the bay window onto the table and all of its assorted contents; papers covered with knick knacks, a couple of plates and a potted herb that hadn't yet found a home. He could feel the light playing against his hands, warm but not hot enough to make him sweat. The breeze helped. It swept in from the sunny back yard through the propped open glass door on the far end of the long, clay-tile floored kitchen. The wind ruffled his hair like a caring hand. He took another swig of water, and the cubes of ice tinkled in his glass.
Shigeru walked in from the hallway abruptly, his phone up to his ear. "Yes," he was saying into the mouthpiece. "Everything here is fine-"
Umbreon trailed after him, the handles of two grocery bags in its mouth. Satoshi wondered why the grocery bags appeared lighter than they had been before, and quickly got his answer. Pikachu followed into the room behind Umbreon, practically bouncing on its two long feet as it carried a jar of mayonnaise, a carton of milk, and a couple of apples into the room. The procession made their way to the refrigerator, where Shigeru was shuffling the contents of the shelves while listening to his pokegear phone, balanced between his ear and his shoulder. He had a long-suffering look on his face as he listened.
"Of course we're being well-fed, Grandpa…" Shigeru took the groceries from the pokemon with a gracious nod, and let them run off after each other into the backyard. "Yes, and we're completely moved in… I'd show you the cottage right now, but you know my pokegear monitor is still broken…"
"Liar," Satoshi mouthed at him as soon as Shigeru looked up. He just shrugged, however, as if to say he couldn't be expected to help himself, but smiled at Satoshi. Satoshi felt himself smiling back for no reason.
But maybe it had something to do with the way Shigeru looked at the moment, standing in the open kitchen with the light of the porch flooding in from behind him. As he smiled, his features - which Satoshi had remembered as a child being so sharp and spiky - now seemed soft, even though not much about them had objectively changed.
"You seem happy."
Satoshi froze. Shigeru had hung up the phone while he'd been lost in thought, and now he had to pay the price - he'd been caught being sentimental, of all things. He flushed, and defended, "I don't know what you're thinking but-"
"Don't worry. I'm not mistaking it for something else." Shigeru slipped into the chair across from him, and kicked his shin lightly with the toe of his sock. "I like the house, too."
"It is a nice place," Satoshi agreed. "And completely covered in azaleas."
"Yeah. I guess this place isn't called Hiwada town for nothing. Anyway, it's nice."
Satoshi gave him a sly look. "I think you just like it because it reminds you of the day we first kissed."
"The day we first kissed here," Shigeru reminded him, but the blush that cropped up on the crest of his cheeks betrayed him.
"Wasn't there a white fence there, too?" continued Satoshi. "Are you a closet romantic or something?"
"Satoshi, I'll kill you in your sleep."
"What would your grandfather say?"
"Actually, you don't want to know." Shigeru put up a hand, stopping the playful banter. "No, seriously. You don't. He's… sentimental."
"Okay…." Satoshi dropped the topic, writing it off to Shigeru's occasional weirdness. He swept his fingertip around the cool rim of his cup, picking up beads of condensation as he went. A few dripped down anyway, blotching the lines of a boldly calligraphed letter from Takeshi. "Anyway, if you've finished putting the groceries away, let's get started in the studio already. I thought of a cool new decoration I wanna try on my next glass."
Shigeru put a hand on the back of Satoshi's chair and leaned down. Satoshi craned his neck to look at him. "What is it?"
"What did Takeshi say in the letter?"
"Oh. He and Kasumi are getting married." Satoshi picked up his cup and passed the letter over, stealing a swig of water in the process.
"Aren't they still kind of young to make a decision like that?" Shigeru scanned the message quickly. "Kasumi's my age, right?"
"Yeah, she is. It's weird."
Shigeru put down the letter. "How so?"
Satoshi shrugged, twisted in the chair to face Satoshi. "I just don't know how she can be so certain about Takeshi and marriage. It's just… forever."
"Huh. I can't imagine being stuck with either of them forever," Shigeru commented, turning his face away to the window. There was nothing outside to look at besides the waving camellia bushes, and Satoshi could tell that he was thinking. That he was over-thinking, probably.
"When I said that, I wasn't talking about us," he hazarded.
"So? The point still stands."
"Yeah… I guess you're right. Sometimes I don't get how people can make one choice they know they'll always be happy about, that's all." Satoshi covered Shigeru's hand with his own. Shigeru looked back at him, willing to reveal to Satoshi an expression that hovered at the edge of hurt. Satoshi moved his bravery to the limits and plunged forward. "But sometimes, even most of the time, I feel like I could make a choice like that with you. Like the only thing I'd ever want in the world would be just to stay like this. To know that things will always be this good. It's different from before, when I was just wanting to be the best. Being a pokemon master was all about ambition. But the only time I've ever felt like I've ever been happy exactly where I was, it was when I've been with you."
Shigeru bent down and kissed him. Satoshi could feel the senses of appeasement, the pleasure, even the love in the touch. Moved, he reached out pulled Shigeru further down by the lapel of his lab coat, tilting his head to deepen the kiss, but Shigeru broke away.
"You know I'm not planning on going anywhere," he said, serious.
"Except for that camping trip next month in the forest, right?"
Shigeru rolled his eyes. "It's not a camping trip, it's research. Besides, I was thinking of bringing you along, if you still wanted to go…"
"Of course I do!" Satoshi confirmed. "I'm ready for another adventure."
"Funny. I had a feeling you'd say that," said Shigeru.
And thus, after four years, I've finished my first full-length novel… It's hard to believe that I'm rolling the credits at long last! It's going to be strange having days go by without thoughts of Alph and Unown circling in my head. Thanks go to my beta and friend Vivian, first, for having walked through and discussed a lot. She's responsible for a lot of updates when I didn't know where to go, and a lot of little edits that made this story stronger and more in character. She helped with a lot of spell-check and grammar flubbing, too. So applause to this sweet lady is indeed in order.
Thanks of course go to all my readers. Your reviews, each one of them (each one of you), have been cherished and read dozens of times. Each time I've had writer's block or sit down to write I've gone over them, revising and rewriting. This is after I usually dance around my room with excitement, of course. You guys have made this process such a joy! Thank you to all of you who have read with me since the beginning, since the middle, even from the end.
Thanks also goes to Snow Patrol (laugh). I don't know if it's appropriate to thank a band for indirectly assisting me, but for whatever reason, their music has been wildly inspiring for this story, especially the songs "Warmer Climate," "Tiny Little Fractures" and "You're All I Have."
And now… after all that's been said and done, I have a niggling idea for a sequel. But I suppose I shouldn't say anything more than that.
Take care everyone, and until next time.
It's been a great run.