Rated "M" for several reasons. This story contains pederasty, dubious consent, incestuous suggestion and a variety of other mature themes.

Begin With the End in Mind

Part One

-Max-

I once heard someone say time moves forward, never backwards. When I think about that saying, I really pick it apart. You can put daylight savings time into consideration, or you can just consider the saying to be figurative, having to do with goals, desires and dreams. The saying also alludes to not staying in the past, so you won't hold grudges. I once thought grudges were useless and served no purpose, but that was before I had a reason to hold one. Now that I did, however, I simply could not get over it. And, worst of all, it had to do with my sister, May.

Thinking back to the day May left never failed to upset me. The pain struck me hard, harder than anything else I could imagine. Sure, I'd get upset when I thought about losing a battle or when I realized I said something stupid, but it just wasn't the same as when I thought about her. Just a quick flashback or memory would cause my chest to burn and my throat to swell. It was a bizarre twist of emotions, but in the end, all I knew was that she shouldn't have done it to me. Yet, she did, and even now, it hurt.

May and I had traveled with Ash and Brock for over a year. She may have been older, but I always knew more about Pokémon than she did. I wanted to flaunt that fact in her face, and I did, too. Naturally, of course, she became better, and it was harder and harder to judge her, especially when I knew she was trying her best.

Yet, regardless of what she accomplished, part of me resented it. Her success and her achievements made my sister want something else: independence. That's why she decided to leave me; she left me, Brock and Ash. Just like that. We were sitting there, having dinner, and she just blurted it out like it didn't matter. I guess I could've dealt with going separate ways from Ash and Brock, but when she told me I couldn't go with her to Johto, I didn't know what to say or what to do.

I hated to admit it, but I relied on her for a lot of things. She relied on me, too, and while I knew now that's partly why she wanted to get out on her own and depend solely on herself, I couldn't comprehend that at the time. All I knew back then was that she was leaving me. I couldn't continue traveling with Ash and Brock, I couldn't travel with her—all I could do was stay at home in Petalburg and wait to turn ten years-old.

When May and I returned home, she stuck around for two weeks, doing this and that, and resting up for her next journey. For a while I thought that perhaps she changed her mind about going to Johto, and Ash and Brock were going to show up and take us with them all over again. That never happened, though. The next thing I knew, she was gone. She didn't even say goodbye to me.

Well, okay, that's not exactly what happened, but it might as well have been. It was me who refused to say goodbye. But, why did that even matter? May was the one who never asked Mom or Dad about taking me with her. She never asked. They would've let me, I'm sure of it. She just didn't want me around anymore. She thought I was a nuisance, a burden. No, it wasn't about her being independent. She didn't want to worry about me because she was being selfish and wanted to take care of herself.

My throat was starting to swell, like something was stuck in it. I closed my eyes, trying to think about something else to get rid of my anger, but I still felt upset. Once I started thinking about May, I couldn't stop. When I thought about her, I became sad, too, because truth be told, I hadn't spoken to her in a really long time. I was just too heartbroken with what she did to me all those years ago.

Sure, we talked every now and then, and we saw each other a few times over the course of our separation. When I had entered the Hoenn League, she even came to cheer for me. But, our relationship just wasn't the same, and it hurt me more than anything else in the world. I didn't know how to bring our relationship back to where it was before.

When I had lost in the Hoenn League—which was horrifyingly disappointing in and of itself—I wouldn't even accept May's comfort, because even after all my traveling alone, I still never forgave her for leaving me to go to Johto. It also could have been because I was bitter towards her success. Earlier that year, May had won the Johto Grand Festival. She finally won, and of course I wasn't there throughout her travels. I had been through nothing with her, and so, her championship meant nothing to me.

Mom and Dad were so proud of May, and I sometimes I felt like her success overshadowed my very existence. There were times I truly thought Mom and Dad were under the impression I was stupid. They worried about me far too much and treated my travels differently than they did when May started. In fact, when May went to get her first Pokémon, she traveled to Little Root Town on her own. With me, Dad insisted he come, too. So, he did. And, he practically hovered over me the entire time Prof. Birch explained to me the basics of starting out. Of course, I already knew everything he was saying, but I guess it was just a standard routine for beginners.

My first Pokémon had been Treecko. I always knew I was going to choose a Treecko, especially after how amazing Ash's turned out. His was way too cool. My Treecko was now a Sceptile, just like Ash's, but I didn't have it with me anymore. It was too obsessed with the greenhouse at home, and after a year and half of traveling with me in Hoenn, it deserved to just relax and worry about nothing.

Ironically, now, I was in Johto. It was kind of funny when I thought about it. After May left way back when, I had been so tempted to go out and follow her, even without my parents' permission. I learned everything about the Johto Region. I even mapped out how to get there. But, I never had to guts to run away from Mom and Dad like that. Still, Johto always intrigued me, maybe because May had so much success there. But, the scary part about actually going to Johto was that I truly had no idea what I was doing. Unlike Hoenn, which I was familiar with after traveling through it once, Johto was a blank slate. If I got lost, I could only rely on maps and my PokéNav. Regardless, I was doing quite fine, and I had even earned my Plain Badge two days ago.

I wanted to get going to Ecruteak by taking the train, but the weather wouldn't permit it. It had been raining so much that flood warnings were actually being released, but I doubted anything like that would happen. So, having nothing else to do, I just stayed in my room at the Pokémon Center, hoping that sooner or later everything would clear up, and I could get back on the road and prepare for my next badge. It was boring in Goldenrod City. I heard it was supposed to be full of activity and excitement, but I didn't think it was, personally. Maybe I was just wasn't old enough to enjoy it.

When I got right down to thinking about it, even though I was on messy terms with May, I thought I was doing pretty good on my own. Here I was, twelve years-old, and I had already participated in the Hoenn League. Maybe my adventures weren't quite as exciting as Ash's, but I was having fun. And, that's all that mattered, right?

My thoughts were cut off when I heard a sharp buzz coming from my backpack. It was my PokéNav, which I set to go off at 8:30. I looked at the device, turning off the alarm and setting it down on the blank desk. After dropping off my Pokémon earlier in the day, Nurse Joy told me I could come get them around 8:30. I didn't really feel like leaving my room, though. There were lots of trainers settling down here because of the rain, and all the rooms were booked. Every time I left the room, some trainer wanted to battle or just talk about nonsense. I wasn't in the mood for that. I just wanted to relax.

Deciding I would get my Pokémon in the morning, I dug out a guidebook at the bottom of my backpack. Brock had sent me this before I left for Johto. The book was full of tourist information about all the cities. Because I was alone, I couldn't get myself to go out and do the type of things I did with Ash, but I figured if I was going to be stuck in this city for a couple of more days, I needed to find something to do.

xxxxx

-Harley-

Goldenrod City was not what it was cracked up to be. That wasn't a big surprise, because most things that are cracked up to be glorious and great actually aren't. It's a shame, really, but even when I had originally visited this city I was so disappointed by its lack of anything remotely interesting that I would've preferred throwing myself off a rooftop.

I never thought anything would be worthy enough to drag me back to this godforsaken place. If anyone asked me why I was back, I wouldn't be surprised, because it was a good question, but I really couldn't give a decent answer, as I wasn't sure myself. I was bored, truthfully, and I wasn't in the mood for Contests. So, instead, I just wanted to have fun and travel around for the time being. Still, that wasn't a good explanation about why I came back here.

Wait, actually, there was a logical answer. I had to pass through to get to Olivine City, and I truly only intended to take the train to the other side of the city so I wouldn't have to deal with Goldenrod's atrocities, but the rain prevented me from doing so. And, I always hated rain, so it was no surprise that it'd fuck up my plans. But, really, why did it have to choose to come down and flood the city right when I was passing through? I believe the correct word for this was irony.

Sighing, I adjusted my position on the barstool. I had a cigarette in one hand and a glass of whiskey in the other, and it was plainly obvious even to myself that I looked pathetic. I was miserable and drunk, so I really didn't give a damn what anyone thought of me.

I leaned forward to trap the cigarette between my lips and inhale its intense fumes. I shut my jaw, blowing the smoke back into the air through my nostrils and then extinguishing it on a nearby ashtray. I gulped the rest of the clear, brown liquor, the liquid burning my throat more than the cigarette.

I was sort of sorry my liquor was gone, because my throat was now dry. I had been drinking since 11 p.m. and—what time was it now?—I knew it was probably best for me to go back upstairs to my hotel room and hit the hay, but gosh, I was so bored. Why didn't this goddamn city have anything fun to do? And, why was I here again?

"Sir, do you need some help?"

I looked up to the female bartender, a young and trivial looking thing, who smiled with concern. I was going to ask her what she meant until I realized I was half off my seat. Was I trying to get up? Oh, I didn't even remember anymore. But, I supposed it was best to go back to my hotel room.

"No," I finally said, lifting my weight off the stool by pushing onto the bar. When I got onto my feet, I leaned against it for balance. I felt the lady grab onto my arm when I stumbled forward, but I pushed her away and started towards the hotel lobby.

My room was on level eight, at least that's what I remembered. I kept walking until I got to the elevator. Inside, there were two elderly women talking amongst themselves about how grand Goldenrod was, and if I hadn't been so drunk I would've made a snide remark to them. Well, I would've been glad to say something while I was drunk, but I was very tired at this point. I slumped against the wall and just closed my eyes. It was blinding in this elevator, all decorated with mirrors and lights and reflections.

After about six years and two hours, the elevator reached my floor. I walked out and stumbled to where I thought my room was. I took out my cardkey and slid it through the lock, and thankfully the bright green light signified I had the right room. I turned the knob and scraped my feet along the carpet, too tired to pick them up and politely walk through.

Before I knew it, my face was mashed up against my bed sheets. I groaned, knowing it was probably best to at least take off my shoes before I fell asleep. I attempted to kick them off, but I failed. So, I tried instead to reach down and slide them off, but, again, I failed. Finally, I just wiggled my legs around until they fell off, and I writhed back onto my stomach and yawned.

A number of random things were running through my head, which was always the case when I had been drinking. I thought of the most nonsensical things, which could be amusing and fun, but right now, since I was aggravated, I wasn't in the mood. I was tempted to pathetically lie here and jack off, but I sincerely doubted I had enough energy. I distantly thought about drinking to this extent more often, because every time I ended up remembering some weird event from long ago, which never failed to amuse me. Like some fucking hypnotic drug that therapists give you to unleash repressed memories or whatever.

Oddly enough, my eyes were burning despite the darkness in the room. I could still see around clearly, but the moon was hardly shining through the balcony window, blocked by the rainy clouds and other fucked up weather issues out there. I thought about getting up and shutting the curtains, in case the rain subsided in the morning, and the sun decided to shine its life away just to annoy me.

I didn't budge, though. I couldn't get my body to cooperate, so I finally just stuffed my face into the pillow again and fell asleep soon after.

xxxxx

-Harley-

A very dim, yellow glow burned through my eyelids, causing me to squeeze them shut as tight as I could. I tried my best to twist and turn in the bed to avoid the weak sun, but it seemed to be hitting all the shiny objects in my room and bouncing its reflection towards me. It was still raining and the sun was hardly out, but it sure felt like it was brightly glistening all over the place.

Ah, and of course, my head was throbbing, but I was used to it. In a way, I almost enjoyed it because it gave me an excuse to stay in bed all day. The downside to that plan was the fact I hated the way I felt after staying in bed all day. It made me feel like I needed a twenty-year shower.

I stuffed my face into the warm pillow, sneaking a peek at the alarm clock strapped down to the nightstand—really now, who was going to steal a fucking alarm clock?—but, anyway, it was 10 a.m., and it boggled me why I was awake so early when I went to bed so late. I couldn't say I was ashamed of my behavior last night. I had done that sort of thing far too often, but I never ceased to wonder exactly what else I did. I never fully remembered nights like those.

I sat up, the sheets covering most of my body. I had slept in my clothes and they felt wrinkled and clingy. I managed to remove my jacket and shirt, throwing them somewhere on the floor. Yes, that felt much better.

On the other nightstand, the one without an alarm clock, rested a glass of water and the phone, neither of which I was looking for. I lifted my legs a bit, reaching into my pocket and finding what I wanted. My cigarettes. No wonder my thigh hurt.

I opened the box, which was bent, flattened and crinkled, and looked at the contents. There were three left, and thankfully there wasn't much damage to one of them. I took it out, throwing the box across the room. Then I reached into my other pocket, knowing that if I slept with my cigarettes in my pocket, I must have slept with my lighter in them, too. Sure enough, it was there: a scratched disposable thing that replaced my precious zippo after its disappearance not too long ago. I flicked it several times before it spurted a flame. I lit my cigarette and placed the lighter on the nightstand.

Leaning against my pillow, I kept my eyes closed to avoid the sun. I wondered what day of the week it was today. I'd been such a mess I couldn't even remember what month it was. Boy, I really had turned into quite the pathetic thing, and worst of all, I didn't care. So, I sat there, smoking and pondering what to do with my day, if anything at all. My disdain for this goddamn city was so fucking immense. I didn't want to do anything, but I knew I ought to, just to avoid staying in bed all day and ending up feeling like I needed that twenty-year shower.

See, everything came around full circle.

I rose from the bed, the twisted sheets making it a bit complicated. I flattened the butt of my cigarette into the ashtray and walked into the bathroom, located all the way across the single-room suite. I decided it was best to take a quick shower—though, thankfully, not a twenty-year one—which, to a point, I dreaded. I enjoyed soaking in a tub with the perfectly warm and delightful water around me, not standing up and having the water hit me as my legs got tired. This damn place didn't have a tub, though. Just a stupid single shower, which put great mendacity on the title of "five-star hotel." What was I thinking when I decided to stay here?

I kept that thought going as I took my shower. Next time I didn't like a room, I was going to say something. Come to think of it, I wasn't sure why I didn't complain when I had discovered the absence of a tub.

Geez, I really was a mess. After being stuck in this city for two days as it rained and flooded the streets, I had just submitted to staying indoors and drinking and somehow managing to avoid much social interaction, including pleasurable company.

When I finished showering and began getting ready for the day, the realization struck me that, since arriving, I hadn't let my Pokémon out. Despite not doing much training or entering Contests, I still kept my Cacturne and Wigglytuff with me. The lack of attention I gave them was probably a sign I shouldn't have bothered, but there was always the chance trouble could have arose.

I dressed in my usual green attire, a clean black tank-top replacing the one I threw on the ground earlier. I did my best to dry my hair, but it wasn't much use, so I grabbed the brown bag that held my Pokéballs and other useful items, and threw it over my shoulder. I was craving another cigarette, and seeing as how I didn't have any left other than the two crushed and useless ones, I decided my first errand would be picking up another box.

I left my room, hoping the maids would straighten up the mess I made by the time I returned. As I rode down the elevator, I took out my black umbrella from my bag, preparing to go out in the rain. By now, my headache had subsided for the most part, but I still felt groggy.

Exiting the elevator, and soon after, the hotel building, too, I opened my umbrella and held it over my head as I began walking towards the drugstore. It wasn't raining as hard as it was yesterday, so I hoped that meant tomorrow it would be clear enough to get going. The streets were practically bare, most people avoiding the weather or fearing a giant tidal wave was going to swoop the city under. Although there were flood warnings, I sincerely doubted the city itself was going to suffer any damage. That disappointed me.

I reached the drugstore at the end of the street, promptly shaking off the rain on my umbrella before entering. Inside, a pleasant-looking old lady smiled at me. I tried to smile back, but failed, so I just got straight to the point and asked her to get two packs of cigarettes for me. I doubted this place had any items for Pokémon, even food, so I figured I'd go to the Pokémon Center afterwards.

I paid and left, returning to the wet outdoors to head towards the Pokémon Center. I sort of regretted going out now. The weather was depressing me. The absence of people made it seem like the end of the world or something.

As I walked, I noticed a number of finer-looking hotels than the one I was staying at. I'm sure they all had nicer lounges, too. The one at my hotel was so small and pathetic. The bartender embarrassed herself continually by having to read off a cheat sheet when a customer ordered a mixed drink, and the final results of her drinks were pretty lousy, too.

I saw the Pokémon Center not too far ahead. A number of young trainers were starting to make the streets look more crowded, but there was still an unnaturally low amount of people out. I just gave a heavy sigh, feeling ever-so despondent and tired at this point.

"Hello there!" Nurse Joy chirped, even before the electric doors shut behind me.

Again, I closed my umbrella and shook off the rain. I nodded a greeting towards her before I approached the counter. It was a rather large Pokémon Center, and it was pretty crowded with trainers talking to each other.

"How may I help you?" she asked me.

"Well," I started, finally breaking into a smile. Every Nurse Joy was so sweet, I couldn't help brightening up when I met one. Normally someone that happy and polite would bother me, but they seemed sincere. "I would like you to give my Pokémon a check-up. I have neglected to give them any time out of their Pokéballs in the past two days, and I'm feeling pretty awful about that."

Nurse Joy nodded. "I suppose that's understandable. The weather has made a lot people a bit offbeat."

I scoffed knowingly, then handed over my two Pokéballs, which she placed in a tray.

"I'll call you over the intercom when I'm done," she explained. "What's your name?"

"Harley," I told her.

"All right." She picked up the tray and turned to go into the back room behind the counter.

I exhaled again then shook off the excess water still dampening my umbrella. I turned, adjusting my bag over my shoulder before I caught a familiar sight at the corner of my eye. Or rather, a familiar person.

My day instantly became more interesting.

He, the boy, was standing next to a small Kirlia. His dark blue hair and glasses were the two features that caught my eye in the first place, and I swear he must not have changed a bit. He lazily sat down on the sofa behind him, leaning over slightly as he apparently began a conversation with the creature.

Max.

Yes, that was his name. But, where was his sister? Oh, I hadn't seen that little trollop in quite a few years. I almost forgot she existed, which, if you asked me, was a much better way to live since she was an awful human being.

For a moment, I wasn't sure what to do. He seemed to be alone, and then I remembered that way back when, Max didn't have a Pokémon. He hadn't been old enough. But, May and him seemed to have quite the bond, along with those other two, whose names I couldn't remember. They must have been around here somewhere.

I scanned the lobby, looking for a particular girl, most likely dressed in red. She was nowhere, though. I didn't even see that boy and his Pikachu. I wondered at that moment if Max had even saw me. If he did he obviously wanted nothing to do with me. That made me smile, and I was suddenly very eager to go over and talk to him.

I began walking over, my shoes clicking against the shiny tiles. Max must have heard the approaching footsteps, because he turned his head to look over his shoulder. It was quick, but I could see that he returned to facing the other way for a second, possibly not recognizing me at first, but also to possibly try and avoid my awareness. That was a little too late.

"Is that who I think it is?" I greeted in gleeful volume.

Max stood up, turning to face me with quite a puzzled look. He opened his mouth to say something, but shut it as he attempted to gather his thoughts. I smiled at him, standing right in front of the boy, who, I realized, hadn't really grown much since I last saw him. Before, he was barely taller than my hips. Now, his head seemed to be equal to the middle of my chest.

"Max—it's Max, yes—how are you?"

Again, the boy gaped. Finally, though, he seemed to shake off that clueless attitude and managed to say, "H-Harley…?"

I laughed at how he choked out my name. Just like his sister. "Yes, yes. That's my name. I'm flattered you remember me!"

The Kirlia behind him seemed interested in me. I walked past Max, bumping his shoulder on purpose as I bent down to get a good look at the Pokémon. It looked at me straight in the eyes, curious and cautious, before smiling brightly and squealing.

"Oh, how precious!" I announced, looking at Max with another smile. "You're a Pokémon trainer now. Are you here to earn a Plain Badge?"

Suddenly, Max seemed to brighten up a bit and that ridiculous blank expression was wiped away. "I already got it," he said arrogantly. He sounded exactly the same as when he was younger.

"Is that so?" I mused. "I hear Whitney is tough, so good for you."

Max blinked. He didn't know what to do with a compliment from me. Once more, he opened his mouth before shutting it again. Eventually though, the question I expected was asked: "But, why are you here?" Then, "Is there a Contest coming up?"

"I wouldn't know. Surely you should, though. I presume little May is around here somewhere, eh?" I put my hand above my eyes, searching around the lobby once more. I then stuffed my now-dry umbrella back in my bag and threw the sack back over my shoulder.

Again, something changed in Max's expression. This time he seemed to turn a bit pale and vacant. I was instantly intrigued. Now that I thought about it, Max hadn't been with May when she was in Johto. I never asked about him or her other friends, but I figured she just decided to go out on her own.

"She's not here," Max admitted, his tone seeming very bland.

"That's right. She went out on her own to Johto! Did she ever tell you how I beat her in two Contests there?" I laughed, reminiscing about her defeat. "I'm sure she didn't because it was quite humiliating for her, but it was really her fault for being so distracted by her little boyfriend, Drew. Did she ever tell you about the two of them—?"

"I need to go," Max said, returning his Kirlia and putting the Pokéball into his backpack. He began walking towards the back of the Center, and I realized that he was staying here.

"Oh, don't go yet," I urged, grabbing his arm.

Max, taken aback, pulled his arm out of my grip and glared at me. My smile widened. In just a short amount of time I had seen several moods of this boy: confused, shocked, angry, pleased, happy, proud. It was funny. Yet, all those moods never resembled May one bit. His cheerful pride in beating Whitney hadn't been nearly as dumb and lame as May's pride had been for her Contest victories. In fact, Max's moods were so unlike May's that I almost forgot they were siblings.

"How many badges do you have?" I wondered, knowing from before that anything about himself would get him to stay.

Max rose an eyebrow, but answered, "Just four from here." Then, very quickly, he added, "I have all eight from the Hoenn Region."

"My, you're halfway there, then. You're quite the trainer. I guess you battled your father. Unless Norman is a crooked Gym Leader and just handed it out to you, which I'd hate to think!" I put my hand over my mouth to emphasize my dismay.

Max furrowed his brow. "That coming from you?"

I pursed my lips, preventing myself from smiling even more. I was tempted to go on and on and tell Max I was a changed man, but even when that worked with May, he was never convinced. It was quite the adorable thing, his loyalty to May. While she was too dense to realize what I was doing, Max always looked out for her best interests. It wasn't the same with that brat Drew, though; he was just sticking his nose where it didn't belong.

Regardless, I ignored his comment and said, "I'm highly interested in knowing where May is now."

Max narrowed his eyes. "Why? So you can stalk and trick her all over again?"

"Stalk!" I repeated with mirth. "I never stalked her. And, that's the truth, Max. Believe me, I would've avoided that wench at all costs had we not both been coordinators."

"So, why are you so interested in knowing where she is now?"

I cocked my head, wondering why he didn't defend his sister. Oh, yes, something was definitely not right between those two anymore. Could it be that the happy siblings had a disagreement? It didn't seem possible, since they were so close and mushy with each other, but I witnessed May's constant fights with Drew while they were involved, and I could backup the fact she could be quite unreasonable. Drew had distracted her far too much during her Johto adventures. But, I had to know what happened between the darling Petalburg City siblings. I took Max's arm once again, pulling him towards my direction.

"It's so boring here," I complained. "How about we paint the town red and look for some fun?"

Max shook his head, seeming disgusted at the idea. However, interestingly enough, he didn't force me to let go of his arm. "No thanks, I'm busy."

"Busy? Doing what?" I wondered, looking around with curiosity. "It's still all yucky and raining out there. Not a lot trainers want to battle."

Although the boy had a defeated look on his face, he continued to argue, telling me straight up, "No thanks." He then shook my arm off.

"Fine then," I said lowly, watching him walk back towards the rooms. I kept my eye on him for a second, and I was half-ready to turn around and leave until I heard over the intercom:

"Harley, your Pokémon are ready."

This announcement caused Max to stop and turn, looking up towards the intercom. He then focused on me again. I returned his gaze with a smile. Over at the counter, Nurse Joy came through the backdoor, holding the tray with my two Pokémon.

I walked over, thanking her kindly. She chided me for keeping my Pokémon imprisoned in her Pokéballs for two days, and I told her it wouldn't happen again, which I wasn't sure was a lie or not.

I looked where Max had been standing, and there he was, still standing there. His face was a bright shade of red, and I couldn't figure out why. Maybe he felt ashamed for having judged me for just being at the Center for no good reason. He continued not to move, though. I would've enjoyed making a snide remark about his colorful blush, honestly, but it wouldn't have helped my predicament of not knowing what had strained May and him; it just would've made him angry.

As he just stood there, I happily replaced my Pokémon in my brown bag. Max stuttered something and walked over to me.

"What was that?" I wondered, wanting him to repeat.

"I asked which Pokémon you had with you."

I looked down at the boy, who still seemed so short and tiny. "My Cacturne and Wigglytuff."

"Oh," he voiced, completely uninterested.

I was insulted. Were my Pokémon not impressive? How could he express such a lack of enthusiasm when my Pokémon proved time and time again to be worthy of respect and admiration? This kid hadn't even heard about the other Pokémon I had captured in Johto, my most favorite being my sweet little Totodile.

So, bitterly, I grunted out, "Ha, and I suppose your team is better, kiddo?" I glared at him, putting my hands on my hips. Suddenly, I figured out how I could get the boy to hang around for a while. "Oh, Max, better yet, why don't you show me? How about a battle?"

"What?"

"You heard me. A battle."

"Um, I, um…" he stuttered, looking down at the backpack he held in his arms.

"What's wrong? I always thought you had such spirit in your system." I placed a hand on his shoulder, making him look up at me. "Surely you enjoy being a trainer, no?"

"Of course I do!" he declared. "I just never thought I'd battle you."

"Well, kiddo, you might have the advantage. You've seen me battle May so many times."

"And, lose to her."

I bit my lip. I did not like the way he said that. I had moved past my anger for that girl since I hadn't seen her in so long, but now that Max was around I certainly started to remember how annoying that brat was and how much she grated my nerves. First he insults my Pokémon and now he brings up that? What a prick.

Eventually, the boy shrugged. "Okay, sure. I don't see the harm."

Distracted by my thoughts, his agreement came as a surprise. But, I clapped my hands together and gave him a bright smile. "That's lovely! I just got my Pokémon healed, too! They should be nice and rested."

Max nodded. "There's a greenhouse in the back where we can battle," he said.

"Splendid. Lead the way!" I motioned my arms for him to get going. Before he began, though, he gave me an odd look, which I couldn't read.

I wasn't so much interested in the battle as I was for what would come afterward. Regardless of who won—which, I, admittedly, planned to be victorious to this novice of a child—I knew he'd be more willing to stick around with me after. Max might not have been my normal choice of company, but this city was plaguing me with boredom, and the only interesting thing to do was try and get the gossip on May.

xxxxx

-Max-

I had been restless ever since the weather started getting bad. I was interested in battling with someone, especially since I hadn't had the chance due to being so worn-out and drained, but I really never thought I'd end up battling Harley. I never even thought I'd run into him. Of all people, really.

Harley hadn't changed much, to be honest. He still had the same trademark outfit, his hair was the same length, and even though I had grown, he still seemed to tower over me. He was also just as weird and suspicious, too. I had absolutely no intention of telling him where May was, because he had no business knowing, even if he was supposedly not going to find her.

I guess I couldn't say I was horrified to run into this guy. I mean, it was kind of awkward to deal with him alone instead of with May, but I figured I was smart enough not to let Harley try and pull one of his cheap tricks on me.

As the two of us walked to the greenhouse behind the Center, I began to get nervous about the battle. He had claimed I would have the advantage, but I knew he didn't mean it. He would never admit to possibly losing. I think he was just mocking me. Both his Cacturne and Wigglytuff were incredibly tough, and I worried whether my Pokémon stood a chance. I only had four Pokémon, having done something similar to Ash when he went to Hoenn and left all his Pokémon with Prof. Oak.

Harley took a deep breath when he entered the greenhouse. He put his hands on his hips, smiling up towards the glass ceiling and spotting the rain that still poured from the sky. I couldn't help looking up, too, but I was anxious to get the battle going, so I walked over to the nearest battle box, ready to begin.

Harley smacked his lips together and muttered something under his breath before heading towards the other box. He dropped his brown bag onto the ground and made himself stand in an assured pose. I wondered why he didn't want to ask which Pokémon I had. I doubted he truly wanted it to be a surprise.

"Since I only have two Pokémon, let's make this interesting and have a one-on-one battle," he called from across the small battlefield. "Is that all right with you?"

I shrugged my shoulders, now knowing for sure he wasn't interested in my Pokémon. "Sure," I called back.

"Good. Now, let's get thisgoing!" he shouted, throwing his Pokéball into the middle of the stadium.

The bright glow of the creature shot out, distorted at first, but quickly clearing into the large form of a green, scarecrow-like figure. The Pokémon, just as creepy and stiff as I remembered, gave a howl of its name and positioned itself, ready to see its opponent.

I was suddenly clueless who to use. Even if Harley wasn't interested, I still wanted to show off my Pokémon. But, Kirlia was my strongest, and I was determined to win this. Making a vain decision to impress Harley with my captures wouldn't be half as fantastic as impressing with him winning. (Then again, this was Harley, and even if I did win, he wouldn't be impressed, just angry.)

I gave a confident smirk, grabbing Kirlia's Pokéball and throwing it out just like Harley. Kirlia sparkled out of the ball, its small feet planting perfectly on the ground as if she were giving an Appeal in a Contest.

Harley stifled a laugh and shouted, "Oh, I've already seen that one, Max! I wanted to be surprised with the rest of your team."

"Well, you didn't impress me with anything new," I remarked, which caused Harley to inhale with anger. I could tell, even from far away.

"All right, enough talk," Harley growled. "Cacturne, darling, Poison Sting!"

Cacturne immediately jumped into the air, thrusting out its arm and shooting half-purple, half-gray pins towards Kirlia. Kirlia reacted without me having to say so, dodging as she shifted towards the right and giving a twirl while she was at it.

"Confusion, quick!" I ordered, and Kirlia did another twirl before forming a glow in its eyes and sending the blue waves straight in Cacturne's direction.

Cacturne couldn't avoid that one. The psychic waves tampered the green Pokémon's concentration, making it stumble backward and tremble with frustration. Harley urged it to shake it off, and Cacturne attempted to stand up straight, only to keep tilting back and forth.

"Double Team!" I commanded.

Harley followed up by yelling, "Needle Arm!"

Our Pokémon began their attacks at the same time, causing Cacturne's Needle Arm to miss Kirlia by an inch. While Kirlia made multiple spinning mirages of itself, Cacturne leapt into the middle of the figures, twirling around and around until he hit the psychic Pokémon right in the face.

"Kirlia, hang in there," I coaxed. "Try using your Teleport!"

"Catch it with your Needle Arm again!" Harley's tone revealed a large amount of frustration, but I was actually glad I was provoking such emotions from the man. If he stood there calm and confident it would mean I was doing a lousy job. I hoped, in a weird way, he was having flashbacks of battling my sister.

Kirlia kept dodging Cacturne's Needle Arm, and Cacturne kept attempting again and again. I watched as Kirlia disappeared and reappeared in various areas of the arena, waiting for him to get into the right position for a next attack. When it reappeared right behind Cacturne, I yelled:

"Psychic!"

And, with that, Kirlia quickly emitted its power, a swift and right-on-time hit that was headed for Cacturne's back. Cacturne turned its head, hearing the attack, but he was greeted by the large pink and blue beam, slamming against its face and sending him flying across the arena. The scarecrow Pokémon slid the last few feet of its travel, the attack deepening as it yelled out.

"Dammit!" Harley cried, seeming sincerely concerned.

The green creature just lied there, still and dusty. Its arms moved an inch or so off the ground, before it plopped its full weight down with a final howl. Harley growled with displeasure and let out a very potent swear.

"Ugh! I can't believe this!" he continued on, returning his Cacturne.

Kirlia twirled back over to me, squealing with pride. I smiled at her, kneeling down to pat her head and give endless praises.

"You were fantastic," I told her. "Thanks so much."

Kirlia gave a final squeal before letting its shoulders sag, revealing tiredness. I held the Pokéball over her head, and the red glow summoned the creature back into the ball. I stood up, placing the Pokéball back into my backpack.

Harley had already made his way over to my side of the arena. He had a very annoyed look on his face. He even seemed to have a gloss of sweat between his brow. I gave a small smile, which apparently made him more upset as he let out another curse towards the situation.

"Does this mean you're going to swear revenge on me?" I wondered, grinning.

Harley's expression changed. He laughed as well, but it seemed more towards himself. "Oh, maybe if I had my little book with me," he noted, putting his index finger on his chin. "Speaking of which, where did that thing go? But, no, I'm not."

I furrowed my brow, not knowing what on earth he was talking about. "Well, that's good to know, I suppose," I decided to say.

Harley rolled his eyes now. "Exacting my revenge on you wouldn't be much fun, Max. You're not worth it, just like your trollop of a sister."

"Can you stop calling her names, please?" I asked, frowning.

"So, you do still care about her."

I blinked. Then gaped. For a moment, I felt like telling him to mind his own business, but I realized he had caught onto something involving my sister and me. I just gave him a look and said, "Of course I do."

"Didn't seem that way a few minutes ago out there," he told me, motioning towards the lobby of the Center.

I gave a shrug. "She's my sister, and I don't like you calling her names that don't even really apply to her anyway."

"What, trollop? I'm pretty sure it does. Did you ever see how she acted around Drew? It made me gag!" He rose his eyebrows, seeming to recall his disbelief of her attitude.

"Not really," I answered. And, it was the truth. I knew something had gone on between Drew and her, but I wasn't sure what. We didn't talk enough for me to feel comfortable asking, but I knew they had spent most of their time in Johto traveling together, which had ticked me off. I also knew May had a tough losing-streak at one point, which, from what Harley said, I guessed was from concentrating too much on her relationship with Drew. Maybe that was why they stopped traveling together before she went to the Johto Grand Festival… and won it.

"So…" Harley began, and for a moment, I was nervous about what he was going to ask. "Since I didn't get a chance to see the rest, how about you show me your Pokémon?"

I pushed in my lips, not expecting that. But, I agreed, taking out my three Pokéballs and throwing them simultaneously into the air. I caught them as they bounced back to me. The gentle red radiance cleared, revealing my Hoppip, Mareep and Murkrow. Each of them gave a cry of excitement, Murkrow, especially, who flapped his wings and began flying around the greenhouse.

I looked up to Harley, who had a small grin on his face. It quickly went away, and he shrugged his shoulders, saying, "Sort of a girlie bunch, don't you think?"

"Girlie!" I echoed. "They are not!"

Harley seemed to be amused by my reaction. He asked, "Who was your first Pokémon?"

"Oh," I began, watching my Hoppip go off to explore the lush flowers while my Mareep just curled up and napped, "I got a Treecko. It's a Sceptile now, but I left it with my father."

"Why is that? Trainers are supposed to be close to their first Pokémon."

"I am close with Sceptile," I argued. "I just figured after such a long journey through Hoenn, he deserved a rest."

"What about you?"

I shrugged. "A good trainer never rests," I told him. "Besides, when I think about, I kind of consider Kirlia my first Pokémon. Or, Ralts, really."

"Is she the first you caught?" Harley wondered.

"No, actually. I caught Ralts towards the end of my Hoenn journey. But, I met her way back when I was traveling with Ash." I was ready to tell my story to Harley, but he was 100 percent uninterested at this point. I frowned, but figured the tale would've sounded dumb anyway. "All these Pokémon,"—I motioned around the greenhouse—"are ones I captured here in Johto. A new journey should mean a new team."

Harley nodded. "When do you plan on battling Morty?"

"Whenever I can get out of this city," I informed him. "The train's been closed since the rain started, so I have no idea when they'll open it again."

"I'm in the same predicament," Harley sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "I really hate this goddamn city."

I tilted my head, seeing, for the first time, calm and orderly frustration. "Well, it doesn't have as much as people say," I said.

Harley looked at me, seeming to agree. "Well, Max," he said, "I ought to be getting something in my stomach. I'm starved."

The mention of food made my own stomach growl. I rubbed the back of my head and revealed, "Boy, I didn't even have breakfast."

"That's not healthy for a growing boy," Harley said, slapping my back.

I hunched forward with the impact, remembering the amount of times he pulled that on me before. Even now, my glasses slid down the bridge of my nose, and I was forced to give him the same old glare as I readjusted them. Mumbling beneath my breath, I called back my Pokémon. Harley just stood there, laughing cruelly, and I turned to leave the garden when I was done returning Mareep.

"Thanks for the battle," I voiced bitterly as I walked away.

Harley's laughter ceased and he said, "My pleasure, kiddo, but you know, I am very serious about it not being healthy for a boy your age to skip a meal."

I wasn't sure what he meant by that. Was he inviting me somewhere? I looked over my shoulder and let out, "Huh?"

"You heard me. Now, why don't I thank you for this entertaining battle and treat you to a meal?"

"You must be joking," I laughed. "Why would you want to do that?"

"As a thank you. Despite losing to one of May's kin, I think this is a wake-up call to stop slacking off and train again." Harley threw his brown bag over his shoulder and approached me.

I frowned, remembering when he had bought me that ice cream sundae when we first met. "I remember you treating me to a meal before…" I started lowly.

"A sundae isn't a meal!" he exclaimed. "So, if you don't want a meal out of gratitude of this battle, how about one as a makeup for feeding you nothing but sugar last time?" Harley smiled, tilting his head and making sure I realized how sincere he was trying to appear.

I looked at Harley, who had a very serious expression. "I can't help being suspicious when you're being so nice to me. It's so odd."

"Maybe you ought to lighten up. It makes things a lot easier."

"Sorry, but I'm just not up to it. Have a good rest of the day." I gave a loud sigh, shrugging my shoulders and continued to walk back to my room.

I could sense Harley still standing back there, but I didn't look back. I felt bad, because he may very well have been trying to just be nice, but it just didn't make sense that he would do anything out of the goodness of his heart. He wanted something. I wasn't sure what, but it was something. If it wasn't where May was traveling, I couldn't imagine what else it could be, or what I had to do with it.

When I finally got into my room, I placed my backpack on the desk, moving some of the books I had there. I looked at the clock on the wall, seeing it was almost one o'clock. It was going to be a long day, and I was already tired thanks to my battle with Harley.

Harley made himself look pretty pathetic, if you asked me. He never seemed to care about Contests and yet wasted so much time getting upset over losing and failing to ruin May. And, now, he seemed to be just taking a vacation and not even training anymore. Who did that? Ash had taken it easy many times, and so had I, but I never just stopped training all together. I hoped Harley was just exaggerating whatever break he was taking, because I would feel sorry for his Pokémon, who had a lot of potential.

My stomach growled, a loud and rude rumble in the empty room. Since I skipped breakfast I knew I needed to eat something. I could get something at the cafeteria even though the food wasn't that good, or I could just go out and buy myself something. Both options seemed pretty lousy.

I was running out of money and didn't want to call my parents, which seemed really stupid, but it was the truth. They'd always been more than willing to send me the things I needed, but what I hated about calling was that they'd never listen to what I wanted to tell them. And, if they did, they'd somehow turn it into something about May. I don't think they even realized they were doing it either. I never thought May would be the pride and joy of the family or that my dad would pay so much attention to her career, but both happened just like that.

I felt upset again, the usual reaction to thinking too much about May. Now that I knew Harley was roaming around the city, I couldn't help thinking about her even more. I really wish Harley never approached me in the first place. All my journeys with Ash, Brock and May were amazing; it was unfair I became upset when I thought back to everything now.

My stomach growled again. This time, I decided not to just ignore it. I figured that it was probably best to go out and find something to eat at the cafeteria now that Harley was gone. I couldn't say I regretted not taking up his offer, as I sincerely doubted he'd be kind enough to pay for my meal, too. I know that was sort of greedy to expect in the first place, but I wanted to save my money for the train to Ecruteak.

I could deal with not getting something better to eat at a restaurant. Eating bad food at the Pokémon Center was worth not having to walk all the way to the next city.

xxxxx

-Harley-

Since Max had beaten me I really should've been upset and plotting my revenge not only on him, but also on his sister. Ironically though, I couldn't say I cared that much. It was different when I lost a practice battle and when I lost in a Contest. In a Contest, I would be publicly humiliated and seen as the loser. In practice, I was just the one who needed more work. Besides, no one had been watching the battle between Max and me, so that helped clear the air.

I did, however, feel insulted by his complete dismissal of my generous offer to take him somewhere to eat. Kids had no manners these days. Well, maybe he was just a lot smarter than his sister, because I hadn't actually offered a meal to him as a thank you; I just wanted to get the full story on what happened between May and him. That goal was already starting to bore me, and I figured I should just find something to eat on my own accord. I mean, how interesting could a scrabble between those siblings really be in the first place?

My poor Cacturne, though! He certainly didn't deserve to be beaten. I could've handed him over to Nurse Joy again to be treated, but he would recover well on his own. Besides, that would have made my defeat humiliating, since I literally just got my two Pokémon checked-up.

As I walked through the Center's lobby, I noticed a majority of the trainers had departed, and with the exception of a few people, the place was nearly bare. Aiming for the exit, I pulled out my umbrella and the fresh pack of cigarettes I purchased earlier. Trying to manage opening both I ended up popping open the umbrella in a rather improper fashion, the top of it banging against my knee and making me drop the entire thing as it flung open. I muttered a curse, picking it up and holding it underneath my forearm as I continued to open the pack of cigarettes.

I heard a scuffle of shoes against the shiny tiles, and I turned around to see who it was, half-expecting to see Nurse Joy. But, it wasn't her. It was Max.

"Why do you have your umbrella open inside?" he asked me, looking at the open thing beneath my arm and my messy attempt to pull the plastic wrap off the box of cigarettes. He had his backpack lazily hung on his left arm, looking far more collective than myself.

I gave him a lively grin, raising my chin a bit. "I'm having a bit of trouble here, as you can tell." I tried to pull off the plastic once more, but I ended up dropping the umbrella again.

Some sort of reflex caused Max to step forward to pick it up, but he seemed unsure and timid about it for a second or two. I watched as he picked it up, having finished contemplating the gesture. By now I had pulled the plastic off, stuffing it in my pocket before I took out a stick and threw the box into my bag. I pressed it between my lips, finally having both hands free. I took the umbrella from Max, leaning it against my shoulder as I held it with my right hand.

"Seriously, though," Max began, "I thought that was bad luck."

I dismissed the idea with a wave of my hand. "You kids," I told him, grabbing my lighter from my pocket. I flicked it to life, lighting my cigarette. Sucking in the cancerous fumes I smiled, feeling calmer.

Max gave a disgruntled expression, obviously offended by the habit. I snorted, trapping the cigarette between my middle and index finger and blowing the white smoke directly into his face. The boy balled his hand into a fist, coughing into it and glaring up at me. I snorted again.

"What's little Max doing out of his room after such a triumphant victory and refusal of a good meal to celebrate?" I questioned. I couldn't help but picture how I looked—umbrella leaned against my shoulder as I held it in my left hand and had a cigarette between my fingers in my right—and I pondered whether Max truly thought such a cinematic stance was offensive.

"I was going to the cafeteria," he informed me in a rather harsh tone.

I rose an eyebrow. "I've heard some pretty odd things about the food they make here, kid."

"Stop calling me kid. And, I don't think you're supposed to be smoking in here."

"Oh?" I voiced, inhaling some more fumes when I placed it between my lips again. "Well, I'm off anyway." I turned, the electric doors opening just for me. Before I stepped outside, I faced Max again and said, "My little offer's still on the table. You can either eat the garbage here or be treated to some fine cuisine by yours truly."

There was a flicker of confusion that rushed through the young boy's face, but I could tell he was already leaning towards going with me. He just didn't want to admit it. I had to wonder whether he even knew I was still here and that's why he came out to the lobby.

"I still don't see why you would do something generous like that," he pointed out.

Annoyed, I bent over a little and blew some more smoke into his face. "Because," I said, in an exaggerated tone, "I feel like it. Let's bond over our mutual dislike of this hellhole."

Max turned away to try and avoid the smoke in his face. He then let out possibly the longest sigh in the history of the world, seeming to disappoint himself with his next statement of: "Okay, fine."

I smiled even though I had my cigarette tightly between my lips. "Ah, now that's more like it, kiddo." I walked out of the building, the boy following. We were still under the awning of the building and I said, "I'm not too keen on sharing my umbrella with other folks, so you're either gonna have to get wet or buy a newspaper to cover that wee head of yours."

Max began digging through his yellow backpack, grabbing something that crinkled and sounded like plastic. He pulled out a gray poncho-looking thing, which he threw over his upper-body. His head was now covered with the hood of the garment, and I ended up letting out a rather loud laugh.

"What?" he questioned, looking up at me.

The plastic gray hood ended right where his glasses began, which, by the way, already were slightly fogged by the perspiration around us. I laughed again, and Max repeated himself very firmly. I couldn't help but shake my head, wondering how someone would be able to walk around in a sheet of goddamn plastic and still keep his or her pride.

I threw my incomplete cigarette on the street and then transferred my umbrella to my right hand. I looked down to Max again, who was glaring at me. He looked absolutely pathetic and young in that poncho of his, yet I couldn't help but think of the whole thing as precious since he obviously had no clue how stupid he looked. I'm sure my laughter was already starting to fill him in on that, so I avoided the verbal explanation.

"Where do you want to go?" I asked him.

"I don't know!" Max shouted, on-edge now. "You're the one who invited me. I thought you'd have a place in mind."

I began to realize Max was far too moody. "Weeell," I sung out, "I saw this sandwich place not too far away. It might be worth a try."

Max just nodded, wanting to get going. I began walking and he followed, right beside me. From the corner of my eye, I could see his figure covered by the gray poncho and I laughed all over again at his expense, not even caring at this point.

"Stop it!" he ordered in a very whiny tone.

I should have told him to just take off the poncho if he wanted me to stop, but the silence aggravated him more. Despite how dumb he looked, he seemed to be staying just as dry as myself.

"So, how's your father?" I asked him, making idle conversation to take my mind of his poncho.

"He's still a Gym Leader," he declared proudly, "and he's still one of the toughest to beat."

I gave a very whimsical smile. Norman was quite the handsome man, oh yes he was. I swear that man had been blessed with every perfect gene the Lord could give you. He was an absolute extravagant combination of princely, suave magnificence. All the beautiful men were taken, by women worst of all, and he was no exception to that cruel fact.

"What?" Max said, interrupting my thoughts with a very perplexed pitch.

"Ah, just thinking about that father of yours," I enlightened him softly.

The boy furrowed his brow deeply, half-catching the tone that revealed my interest in his father. He looked ahead, keeping his eyes forward as he obviously tried to grasp something.

"Do tell me about your battle with him," I urged on.

Max was now hesitant. But, I doubted he'd be able to contain gushing about his father and the fact he beat him. "It was a three-on-three battle, just like all battles at the Petalburg Gym have been since the beginning—"

Geez, this kid really had a way of sucking the life out of what should've been a simple story.

"—and my dad used his usual combination of Slakoth, Vigoroth and Slaking. Some people tend to think that strategy makes him predictable and easy, but that's far from the truth. He's trained them all so well that they keep getting stronger and more and more unpredictable."

"Mmhm," I hummed, wondering when he was going to get the fucking point.

"I prepared for that battle since I got my first Pokémon. I didn't battle him right off the bat, obviously, so I came back home after I earned my Heat Badge, just like Ash did. Anyway, I used my Treecko, Mightyena and Breloom against him."

The two of us turned a street corner, and I could see the sandwich shop from before just a head of us.

"It seemed like the longest battle in the world. He knocked out my Breloom with Slakoth way too quickly, but Treecko managed to beat both Slakoth and Vigoroth. After those two rounds it started to get complicated, what with Dad using Slaking. In the end, it was Mightyena who pulled through and won the match."

I sincerely wondered if Max went on and on like this with everyone he met. He had the most ridiculous look on his face, recollecting like it was the best day of his life.

Max let out this seemingly mawkish little sigh and stated, "I still can't believe I won sometimes. My dad is so strong."

I smirked. "Oh, I bet he is," I told Max, taking my own perspective of that statement.

I looked over to Max, who again seemed a tinsy bit thrown off by my comment. I grinned to myself, wondering if his thoughts were anywhere near the truth. I couldn't help myself. When I originally found out May and Max were Norman's children, I was shocked. It did explain the resemblance, but I had never really thought about it until I found out the truth. Max did have all his father's features, after all.

"Is this the place?" the boy voiced, stopping in front of a small restaurant and cutting off my thoughts.

I stopped, too. "Hm, what?" It took a moment for his question to registry with me. "Oh, yes, it is."

I began closing my umbrella as the two of us entered. Max removed his stupid poncho thing, the plastic drenched with every ounce of rain that fell on it. I really felt like telling the kid to just throw it away, and I'd buy him fifteen umbrellas if it'd stop him from every wearing that thing again.

Inside the brightly lit restaurant, we were greeted by this thin little lass, who asked if it were just two of us. Max stuttered at the question, probably realizing for the first time that it was just the two of us. I was busy checking out the lame attempt of snazzy décor, the entire place defiled strictly in green, gray and creme. There were these shiny vases and strange figurines on each and every ledge separating the booths, making the space look like every other independent restaurant I had eaten at.

When Max and I were seated—thankfully at a table and not a booth, where we'd have to suffer the sight of those weird figurine things—I began looking through the menu, trying to find something that would fill me for the rest of the day. I glanced over at Max across from me at the wooden table, noticing he had his bottom lip tightly sucked into his mouth. He was so uncomfortable, that was thoroughly obvious.

He stopped staring at his menu and said to me, "I never thought my day would end up like this."

"You also never thought you'd battle me," I reminded the boy. "Seems to be a day of new experiences between Harley and Max."

Max cleared his throat, shifting his position and unintentionally letting me know he didn't like the sound of my comment for whatever reason. Not long after, the waitress came and took our drink and food orders. Max ordered basically the smallest thing on the menu, but I decided not to interject. I couldn't say I cared about him trying to be courteous and keeping the cheque small, because hey, it was him who would be hungry later and me who would be saving money.

"So, Max!" I exclaimed, not even sure where I was heading.

The boy rose an eyebrow dully. "What?"

"Tell me about your little stint at the Hoenn League."

Max's confused expressed furthered. "Do you really care?" he inquired.

I gave a matter-of-fact shrug. I was surprised he even bothered to suggest I didn't care. Before he went on and on about details I hadn't cared about and didn't seem to quite grasp my disinterest. I guessed it was his current discomfort that was preventing him from opening up. I suddenly remembered that I wanted to know what happened between his sister and him, but again, that objective was fading fast, since whatever May was doing these days just didn't strike any interest in me.

"Well," Max started, "I didn't really do that well."

"And, you're not embarrassed about that?" I cocked my head, sincerely curious.

"Of course I am," he confessed. "It's just, I don't even know why I did so poorly."

The waitress returned, placing down our drinks. Lemonade for Max and a cup of tea for myself.

"Maybe someone's not as good as they think," I told him.

The boy's expression flattened, and he muttered, "Maybe it's because May was there."

I hoped I heard correctly. Instantly my interest in their spiff ignited all over again, and I jumped at my chance to learn more. "Now why would you ever say that about your beloved sister?"

A narrow of his eyes revealed regret for the statement. He stared down at his place mat, looking at the thing as if it were some famous document. His posture began to sag as he continued to just sit there, not even bothering to glance back up to see if I still cared.

Knowing Max wasn't going to continue on his own, I decided to tell my own tale. So, I began with: "I last saw May right after the Grand Festival here in Johto."

Success! Max looked up, engaged, or at least interested enough to stop glaring down at the place mat. I leaned back in my chair, giving the lad across from me proper eye-contact as I went on with my story.

"See, I almost didn't enter the Grand Festival. I just didn't care enough to go, but I was determined to show May a thing or two about what a real Ribbon Cup Champion should be. May and Drew went, which I'm sure you know."

"And, May beat Drew in the final round and won, and so on," Max dully concluded for me, not even focusing on the fact May had once again beaten me in the Festival.

I was stunned. Was he really speaking that way about May's success? He really wasn't on good terms with her, if that even began to describe it. I gave him a serious look, picking up my cup of tea and taking a small sip. This must have reminded Max he had his own drink since he took a sip of his lemonade through the straw.

"She sure did," I affirmed. "I was surprised myself, but once again disappointed Drew couldn't seem to beat her in the most important round." I huffed.

"You seem to think they distracted each other."

I laughed at this, slamming down my cup and nodding as I smiled broadly. "Oh, they sure did. I'm not sure when those two started—what? dating?—but May was nauseating with her affection, and I swear, I sometimes thought Drew wanted to puke, too."

Max's brow creased, and he just shook his head. "And, what, she just stopped caring about battles?"

"Well, no, I don't think so exactly. She still battled with what I'm guessing was her all, but there was something less competitive about it. I beat her twice—twice!—and she was royally pissed. Drew seemed to be, too." I gave a snort and continued on saying, "But, after I beat her a second time, the next Contest I went to, only Drew showed up. He didn't want to talk about May, and well, since then, they've been broken-up. Or, at least, since I last saw them however long ago at the Johto Festival."

"Who won that Contest? The one with just you and Drew, I mean," Max wondered, and he must have known I had lost otherwise he wouldn't have said it so nonchalant.

I rolled my eyes, giving him my answer and feeling a spurt of rage develop inside me. I hated thinking about Drew and May. They were two of the most wretched people on earth. I had to remember that not thinking about them was for the good of the people around me, and for myself, too.

Finally, the waitress came back once again, and set our food in front of us. Max really had ordered the smallest thing on the menu: a sandwich that only seemed to contain lettuce, tomatoes, cheese and whatever else. It was sad looking compared to my rather fancy eggplant sandwich.

"In the end," I finished up, "I guess it was good Drew and your sister called it quits. I highly doubt she would've won the Grand Festival had she been with him still. I'm sure their bitter feelings towards breaking up made their final battle all the more meaningful, too."

After taking a bite of his food, Max chewed it down and then said, "She worked really hard…"

It was a rather trite comment, something I presumed he only said just to say something. "And, when was the last time you spoke to her?" I asked, trying my best to sound casual.

I'm not sure if I succeeded, but he responded anyway with: "I don't know."

I was positive that was a little quibble. I'm sure he had the days marked and numbered since he last spoke to her. "Why's that?" I mumbled between bites of my food.

Max put down his small sandwich and just sat there, looking at his meal. "I… I don't know…" he droned.

Was that a lie, too? I couldn't tell. He seemed so sad and disappointed all of the sudden, but was that because he was facing the truth? Who knew with this kid, really. He was giving a terrifically pitiful look, his shoulders sagging all over again. I wanted to reach over and slap his back like I used to do, but he wasn't bothering me with his disdained look, just provoking curiosity.

With Max's head slightly down, his glasses slid a centimeter down the bridge of his nose, and that's when I realized I never really looked at this kid. Glasses and dark blue hair were all I ever could have said about his appearance, but now—now that I was actually analyzing this kid—I noticed the full extent of his resemblance to Norman. It shocked me. And, not in the same way it would shock a parent to realize their child's resemblance to themselves, but in a way that felt like all the times I had admired and fantasized about Norman I had been admiring and fantasizing about Max. Now, I suppose that should've grossed me out, but it didn't. If anything, it felt like I had my own version of Norman right in front of me, one that was reachable to communicate with and get to know.

But, did I really care about getting to know Max? Not at all. His father and him were two completely different people. My fan-crush on his father was, admittedly, just that, and I couldn't imagine throwing all my obsessions onto his son, who probably would've shot me had he been able to read my thoughts.

"You should feel lucky, Max," I told him as I finished the first half of my sandwich. "There are some siblings out there who never have been close. You and May were close at one point, so you should be grateful."

Max looked up with a very angered face. "What do you know about it? Do you even have any siblings?"

"Why, no, I don't." I tapped my fingers on the edge of table, trying to think of something else that would get this kid out of his pit of depression. Finally, I said, "I bet it's not even your fault."

"My fault?" he echoed. "You know, this really isn't even your business."

"I didn't say it was, Max," I spat out, annoyed. "You're the one who came with me here. I was just trying to make idle conversation."

"Can it not involve May then?"

"You don't even want to talk about her? My, she really must have hurt you!" I chirped, putting a hand over my heart. "That's terrible."

"Stop," the boy demanded. "I know what you're trying to do."

I grinned. His back and forth attitude reminded me of when I had first met him and ended up buying him that ice cream sundae. I had spotted Max on the boat with May and her friends, and when I saw him in the café near the Contest Hall the next day, I knew it was a perfect opportunity to use him for my scheme against May.

I wasn't sure what Max was doing in the café, but when he walked by my table, I purposely dropped the spoon I was using for my tea. Max, being a sweet little gentleman, picked it up and returned it to me. It was, most likely, the lamest thing I had ever done to get someone's attention, but I knew Max was a kid, and he wouldn't have caught on to my cliché antics.

I remembered I thanked him overwhelmingly, trying my best to appear as a regular, nice guy. I asked him what he was doing there, and he told me his sister was entering the Contest nearby, and when I asked who she was, I pretended to be surprised as I explained I had met her the day before. The two us began talking as I had my tea. I put on a show of fear and uncertainty about my Pokémon, and Max comforted me by explaining details of May's early childhood and how she was not fond of Pokémon. It was pretty amusing to let Max tell all those stories as I recorded them.

Eventually, after I got what I wanted, I felt the sincere need to thank Max for giving me my weapon against May. He didn't know that, of course, but regardless, I ordered him an ice cream sundae—and so early in the morning!—and stuck around with him as he ate it. The poor child couldn't even finish it all, and he felt so terrible, but I just smiled and waved it off, telling him that I didn't mind.

Thinking back to all of that made me laugh, even more when I thought about his reaction to discovering I had used him. Goodness, that boy knew how to hold a grudge. I looked at him now, and he just gave me a puzzled raise of his eyebrow, questioning my laughter.

"Do you remember when I treated you to that ice cream sundae?" I asked him, taking a sip of my tea afterwards. I knew he remembered since he mentioned it earlier, but I wanted to know how much he remembered.

"Yes," he answered in a tense tone.

"We had quite the talk," I reminded him.

The boy's jaw tightened as he began swirling the straw in his lemonade around and around. I just smiled at him, glad to know he most likely was thinking back to that day. Even though I had been faking my personality, the two of us had gotten along quite well. If I recall, I wasn't even annoyed with him. Max surprised me with his brightness, and even more so, with his manners. He was such a polite and proper boy that I couldn't help inventing a little nickname. Oh, what was it again?

Maximus!

Yes, that was it. My grinned widened as I geared up for calling Max the name. I knew he wouldn't like it. In fact, I knew he would be downright embarrassed by it. Those facts made it all the more enjoyable to use.

I watched as Max finished his sandwich and drank his lemonade. As his head was slightly tilted and turned to the side, I swear I could see an astonishing resemblance between his father and him. I had personally met Norman once at one of his many fan events, but I never bothered approaching him again during some of the others I had attended. Admiring the man from afar fulfilled me enough, but I couldn't help but wonder what Norman really was like. Did Max's gentlemanly manners come from his father? And, was that occasional arrogant and overconfident attitude Max displayed also from Norman? I could care less about his mother. As a boy, Max was more likely to take after his father anyway.

I finished my sandwich, wiping my mouth with the paper napkin and moistening my lips before I said, "I wonder if that goddamn train is going to be open tomorrow."

A shock of interest ran through the boy. "The train?" Max repeated. "Where are you going?"

"Olivine City," I informed him.

"Oh," he voiced. "Why?"

"I never had the opportunity to fully check that city out. It seems like quite the interesting place. Jasmine's lighthouse might be worth a visit."

"Are you touring around Johto?" he wondered.

"Pssh, no," I dismissed with a wave of my hand. "Like I said, I'm just taking it easy. Traveling without any real plans is fun."

"I was about to go to Olivine City," Max told me. "Before I came here I earned my Storm Badge on Cianwood Island. But, because I heard so many good things about Goldenrod, I chose to go here first."

"Is that so? So, I assume since you have one badge from there and the one from here, your other two are from Violet City and Azalea Town?"

Max nodded in response. Then, the waitress dropped by for a final time, giving us the cheque and clearing the table of our plates. Max slurped the rest of his lemonade and peered over was I viewed the cheque.

"I can pay for my half," he insisted.

"Oh, Max, that wouldn't be very mannerly of me, would it?" I reached into my brown bag, digging through the various items as I searched for my money.

Max peered over some more, trying to see what was taking me so long. He seemed worried, as if he thought I was about to trick him and say I couldn't find my wallet and needed him to pay for the meal. But, I didn't even have a wallet. Wallets were for organized fucks, and gosh, were they tacky. I pulled out some money, a small amount at a time, before Max finally got the picture and questioned:

"Don't you have a wallet?"

I looked up as I placed a tin of mints, a crinkled flyer and a pack of gum on the table, clearing them out of the bag. "Do you?"

"Well, no, but I keep my money in a certain pocket of my backpack. It's called organization." Max's snotty little tone returned.

"You and your organization," I began, mocking his emphasis, "makes you look ridiculous."

"How can you even justify that statement when you're scrounging around for loose change at the bottom of that bag?" Max interrogated.

I just gave Max a face, placing a few more loose items on the table. While I was at it, I grabbed a cigarette from my pack, placing the unlit thing between my lips as I found a cluster of money.

"There," I said, counting out the right amount and sliding it to the end of the table.

Max rolled his eyes, sending off a message of a sudden dumfounded realization of who he was with. I knew that later on, once the two of us had gone separate ways, he would be utterly boggled by how he ended up spending so much time with me. I was sure the same could be said about me. But, I wasn't finding his company frustrating or irritating. I was actually quite amused.

The waitress came by and picked up the cheque and money. When she noticed I was trying to get my lighter to work, she said, "There's no smoking in here, sir."

"Oh?" I said. "Well, that's fine. We're done here anyway." I rose from my seat, nodding for Max to follow.

The boy stood up and grabbed his backpack and scrunched-up poncho. We exited the establishment, and I managed to get my lighter to discharge a small flame. I quickly lit my cigarette, pushing the lighter back into my pocket. I then looked down at Max, who was watching me intensely.

I pulled out my umbrella even though a very small awning above us blocked the rain. "What?" I asked.

Max's brow creased and he asked, very softly, "Why do you smoke?"

I blinked. "I don't believe anyone's ever asked me that," I revealed, and that's all I would say. It was a really stupid question anyway. I just gave a shrug afterwards, inhaling the smoke and readjusting my bag to go over my shoulder.

After a short bit of silence, though, Max spoke up and said, "Thanks."

"You're welcome, Maximus."

Sure enough, the boy's eyes widened at the name and he flushed—honestly, flushed—before looking down at his feet and shaking open his poncho. I chuckled, wondering how in the world busying himself with that shameful poncho was supposed to make him feel any less embarrassed about the nickname.

"I gotta go back that way," I explained, pointing towards the opposite direction we originally walked from the Pokémon Center. "So, I'll see you later."

Max looked up to me after pulling on his plastic poncho. "Oh…" he trailed off, not sure what to say. "Okay, then. Thanks… again."

I snorted and said, "Well, you managed to rectify some of my boredom today," I assured, walking past him. I paused for a moment and said, "Maximus, be sure to tell your sister all about this. I'm sure she can afford to let some of that brown hair turn gray."

From the corner of my eye, just as I walked completely past him, I saw him gape, attempting to say something back before he realized I was already on my way. I bit my lip, preventing a foolishly large grin to spread. Sure, spending my day with little Maximus wasn't what I had intended, imagined or even predicted. But, it kept me from wasting my day just sitting in a bar drinking myself into a hazy savageness. I regretted not telling him so.

I turned around briefly, just to see if he was still standing there in that goddamn poncho. But, he wasn't. He had begun walking back towards the Pokémon Center, where we had met-up only a few hours ago.

xxxxx

-Max-

It's so hard to believe I had actually done that, that I had actually spent most of my day with Harley and allowed him to take me out to eat and battle with me. He was such weirdo, and I expected halfway through that ordeal at the sandwich shop I would realize I was wasting my time. I also feared he was also going to try and humiliate me somehow. Harley never did anything out of the goodness of his heart, and even after we had separated, I still sensed that he was going to use this experience against May somehow.

I felt some form of lightness in my spirit, though. That either meant I didn't care if he was going to use our day to his advantage, or that, deep down, I didn't think he going to do anything. After all, he told me to share the whole ordeal with May. I wasn't going to do that, of course, and that was a result of simply not wanting to and just the basic fact I hadn't been in touch with her much.

With Harley gone, I was sort of feeling lonely. I almost wished May and I were on good terms so I could call her. I even felt like calling my parents, just to see what they had to say about her this time.

By the time I made it back to the Pokémon Center, it was around 4 p.m.. Thankfully, I hadn't lost my courage or desire to call my parents, so I walked over to the videophone and quickly dialed my home number. As it rang, I removed my poncho, holding it in one hand to let some of the water drip off. After a couple of rings, my mother appeared on the video, holding a bowl of something, which she was stirring. She looked frazzled.

"Max!" she exclaimed through her exhaustion. "Oh, honey, it's been such a long time since you've called."

I gave a very small smile. "Yeah, I know. I'm sorry about that." I then asked, "What's the matter? You look so exhausted."

She continued to stir whatever was in the bowl and said, "Why, yes, I am. I'm just trying to get some food ready for tomorrow."

"Tomorrow? Why, what's going on?" I then remembered myself. It was my father's birthday. I felt very stupid for forgetting. I haven't even thought about it at all. "Oh, wait, it's Dad's birthday," I corrected myself.

My mother nodded and smiled. "Honey, you really shouldn't overwork yourself. You're so busy with your travels you've forgotten your own father's birthday. I hope that doesn't mean you're going to forget your own."

I shook my head. "Well, sometimes overworking yourself pays off. I earned my Plain Badge the other day!" I informed her.

"You did? Oh, your father is going to be so proud."

"Thanks," I said. "Where is he right now?"

My mother put a finger up to her mouth, silencing my question. "He's in the greenhouse, so I'm using this opportunity to bake things for his surprise party tomorrow. You two are so alike—I don't even think he remembers it's his birthday tomorrow." She laughed, shaking her head at the foolishness of it all.

I just sighed. "Have you heard from May?" I finally asked. I knew if I didn't, my mother would bring her up and cut off whatever I was saying.

"May is competing for her third ribbon in a few days. I really wish you would call her and wish her luck, honey," she urged, giving a very small sigh afterwards. "It hurts her that you're so cold to her."

Me cold to her? That was a new one. I felt bad thinking so negatively, but as far as I knew, May and I were both not making any efforts; it wasn't just me. She was just as capable of apologizing as I was, but we just chose not to. Instead of debating the issue, I just said:

"I know."

My mother placed down the bowl on the table behind her then turned around to speak with me again. "Well, she's on Valencia Island right now. She's staying at the Pokémon Center, so if you want to call her there, you can."

"Okay," I said, even though I knew I wouldn't go through with that.

"Is there anything you need?" she wondered.

"No, I'm fine," I lied, dodging the issue of money.

"Okay, sweetie. I gotta go now, but call us more often, all right?"

"Okay," I repeated. "Bye."

"Take care, Max," she finished before the screen went blank when she hung up.

I hung up the receiver, too, and gave a hefty sigh. At least that was one of our better conversations, thanks to me mentioning May first. I had already forgotten the name of the island Mom said she was on. May had been traveling through the Orange Islands, and it surprised me that she wasn't getting too distracted there with all the beaches. Maybe that was good thing, but it still boggled me how she managed to get distracted by Drew in Johto and not resorts in the Orange Islands.

I stood in front of the videophone for a moment or two, half-wondering what May would do if I did call her. I don't know why I would though, despite feeling lost and alone. I think bumping into Harley was provoking such a temptation. Being with him all day brought back so many memories of traveling with Ash, Brock and May. I would've called Ash and Brock since they were still traveling together, but I had no idea where they were in that Sinnoh place.

I walked away from the videophone and plopped myself on one of the many couches in the lobby. I was facing towards the large glass windows, which displayed the nearby buildings, all of which looked pretty boring. I wondered where Harley was and what he was doing. He seemed so miserable in this city, but still pretty lively attitude-wise. Gosh, he was a weirdo. I couldn't help keep thinking that.

'I hope that doesn't mean you're going to forget your own.'

My mother's statement ran through my head briefly. My birthday was coming up soon. My father and mine's birthdays were so close, unlike anyone else in the family. When I was younger, my mom claimed that was the reason my dad and I got along so well, which I now knew better to believe and recognized as just something fun my mom decided to say.

I was going to be thirteen, making me an official teenager. In a way, I already felt like one since I was traveling around on my own, but now I could finally have it by label. I hoped by then I would already have my badge from Morty. I really wanted to get going to Ecruteak and hoped the weather would be clear tomorrow. If it was, I could possibly even make it to Ecruteak early enough to battle Morty the same day.

I let my shoulders sag as I relaxed against the couch. My chin was close to my chest, and on me, I could smell cigarettes. I pulled some of the fabric closer to my nose and realized I smelt a lot like cigarettes, no doubt a result of having Harley blow the smoke all over me. The man himself had a peculiar smell. He did smell like cigarettes, but it was dimmed down to something else I couldn't label. It smelt like perfume, but I doubted he wore any, despite being sort of campy. It didn't have a strong scent to it, just tame and mellow, but enough to cover-up most of the tobacco. It was like some powder or something.

I suddenly felt uncomfortable thinking about how the man smelt, and so I let myself remember how Harley actually mentioned wanting to take the train, too. I wondered if the weather was nice tomorrow if he'd take the same train as myself. I wasn't sure why the possibility of his presence onboard interested me, though. He was a weirdo, plain and simple, and I shouldn't have wanted to mull over possibly spending more time with him.

Having enough of the outside view, I got up and walked towards the rooms in the back. It was way too early to go to bed, but I couldn't think of anything interesting to do with the weather being so depressing and all. I figured I could go back to my room and read, or at least wait until the Center got busy and I could ask some other trainers to battle.

Apart from bumping into Harley, this day was just as boring as all the other rainy days.

End of Part One