A/N: Whew, still re-watching pokemon episodes to get back in character. Obviously this is early pokemon timeline, so Shigeru is still arrogant, but he'll grow up. –winks-

My confidence is so very low when it comes to this story. . .sadly, I'm still working on re-playing GU to work on Selfish, so temporarily I don't have that comfort to fall back on. Hopefully things will turn out good.

- - - - - -


- - - - - -

Satoshi woke up to voices.

He blinked several times, Pikachu's sleeping face coming slowly into focus, and listened intently, bewildered.

" – are you doing? I'm sorry, Shigeru-kun, but he doesn't seem to like you very much – "

"How would you know about that?" came the even voice of Shigeru. "I've known him since I was a kid."

Silence. Satoshi sat up sleepily on his elbows, careful not to wake the dozing Pikachu.

"Shigeru-kun, is he really coming with us?"

"He can if he wants, Kimi. . .but I doubt he really wants to. I don't know why he's here." A pause. "You girls really hate him?"

"He's your rival, isn't he?"

"He quit his journey. I don't know what that makes him."

He sounded serious – far more serious than he had the night before. Did that mean he had been. . .playing with him again? Or maybe he just thought differently of him – different from how he treated the girls. But. . .

"About that. . .we were talking." Kimi said shyly, her voice cutting into his thoughts. "And we thought – well – maybe he's just like us, even if he is. . .you know, was – your rival. Maybe he just wants. . .something. . .and maybe he thinks you can help."

Something changed in Shigeru's voice. "Is he just like you, Kimi?"

Satoshi blinked. Unless he was imagining it, the voices he heard now were almost. . .romantic. Kimi's, shy and soft and sweet, Shigeru's, deep and serious, strange, even, hard to interpret. . .

"Is he?" Kimi whispered, and now Satoshi sat up far enough to see their shadows on the opposite wall – leaning closer. He thought automatically of Shigeru the night before – the hand on his chin, the soft spoken words – leaning closer – and something bitter rose in his stomach. Then, Shigeru turned his head away, and Kimi fell dejectedly back on her heels with a small sigh. Disappointment.

"You should wake the others. We'll head out in an hour."


"Don't worry about it, Kimi. I'll sort it all out."

"Okay." Kimi repeated, her voice slightly more cheerful now.

Satoshi had no time to lay back down as the door closed and Shigeru turned around. The boy's eyes widened in surprise for a moment, then, his expression quickly changed to a mask of smugness. "Rise and shine, jari-booi."

"Who was that?"

"Kimi." he answered shortly, sitting down on the edge of the bed. "Sleep well?"

"As well as you can sleep on the floor." Satoshi said poisonously. Shigeru shrugged. "You want the girls to chatter on about us sharing a bed for the rest of the trip?"

"They wouldn't – "

"They would." Shigeru warned. Satoshi got to his feet, careful not to brush against Pikachu and risk being on the receiving end of a startled thundershock.

"So." he yawned, stretching his arms above his head. "You still think I'm your rival?"

"That depends." Shigeru's eyes never left him. "Do you want to be?"

Satoshi stared. And for a brief second, he thought he saw a trace of something in the other boy's eyes, some unspoken something from their childhood, back when things were so much simpler and he slept with half a pokeball beside his bed each night. But then he blinked, and that something was gone.

"Pikapi. . ."

Satoshi jumped, startled. Pikachu was on her feet, gazing up at him sleepily, one tiny fist rubbing at her soft, brown eyes. Shigeru chuckled.

"She's cute."

"Don't even think about petting her." Satoshi said seriously. "She's very particular about who she's friendly with."

Another chuckle. "I'll keep that in mind."

That serious look on his face. . .the same that matched his voice when he was talking to Kimi. Satoshi turned away, uncomfortable, and scooped Pikachu into his arms. "You ready to go?" he muttered to her, patting her head affectionately. She nodded with a soft 'chu', her ears bouncing.

"I have a match today." Shigeru said offhandedly, and Satoshi felt a strange seizing in his heart he could only distantly identify as jealousy. "Are you coming?"

"I have to follow you." he muttered automatically. There was silence, and he immediately regretted saying it. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Shigeru tilt his head curiously to one side. "Then don't follow me. Don't be stupid, jari-booi, nobody's making you."

Satoshi felt the oddest sensation of something being lifted off his shoulders. The spell falling away.

But. . .

"Well, are you coming or not?"

. . .it would be a chance to see another battle. To see pokemon again. To feel the thrill of a fight. To forget about his worries and just cheer, even if it was for Shigeru.

"Jari-booi?" Shigeru probed impatiently.

"Yeah." he said quickly. ". . .I'll go."

- - - - -

Satoshi decided he would never get used to being in a car with six beautiful girls, no matter how often Shigeru was. Their hair fanned gracefully in the wind and then settled perfectly back into place when the car slowed, their delicate hands lay on their skirts, brushing a stray lock behind one ear or make a meaningless gesture as they spoke. They smiled white smiles to each other and even, he noticed with some surprise, managed not to glare whenever they caught Satoshi's eye. But he could never get used to it. The whole thing made him horribly uncomfortable, and more than once he found himself squirming in his seat.

"I'm getting pretty good, ya know." Shigeru was bragging, and it took a few seconds for Satoshi to realize he wasn't speaking to the girls, but to him. "My pokemon have gotten a lot stronger."

"Good for you." Satoshi said sarcastically, and Pikachu nodded her small head enthusiastically, brown eyes narrowed.

"It's a shame you quit." Shigeru continued. "We could have had a battle."

At this Pikachu's ears twitched upward, looking eager to take the challenge. Satoshi smiled distantly, almost wishing he could have said yes. But there was no way he'd put himself up for more shame by setting the stage for a pokemon battle. Not when he could lose – or when his curse could be found out – so very easily, as it was with Takeshi.

"Shame." he echoed quietly instead.

Shigeru whirled around in his seat, eyes fixed on Satoshi.

"You're so obedient, jari-booi, you know?" he said sharply. "What happened to having a backbone?"

Satoshi stared directly into his twin emerald eyes, stunned.

". . .I-I am not!" he stuttered back once he recovered from his shock. "What makes you think – "

"So why not fight me? You have a Pikachu!"

"Pika!" Pikachu said angrily, and Satoshi clutched her closer. "Because – I quit! How dense are you, Shigeru!? I said I quit!"

"That doesn't mean you can't – "

"No!" Satoshi said loudly, and the car feel abruptly silent. Even the driver had turned to glance back at them. The girls were positively gawking, neither of them daring to say a word. Shigeru's face was unreadable.

"Why did you come?" he asked at last. "If you quit, why do you want to see me battle? Trying to wallow in your self pity?" he added bitterly.

"It's not like that!" Satoshi insisted, feeling himself get worked up again. "I just – I – "

I miss it.

Yes. . .he missed it. It was his dream, after all. Fighting to the top, earning badges, traveling, making new friends. . .it was like some wonderful destiny just waiting to be fulfilled. He wanted it, more than just watching, he wanted to be a part of it, to fight in it, and damn it, couldn't Shigeru see that? Couldn't he see that it was impossible, that he was trapped, that for as long as things could be, he would never be able to live his own life freely? He was under everyone's command, no matter who it was. His life was just there for other's pleasure, just existing to be dragged along for the ride. But he missed it, he missed that little bit of freedom, like a bird in a cage who had gotten a small taste of the wind beneath it's wings, far from confining iron bars. He missed it.

Dimly, he realized there were tears rising to his eyes. Shigeru was staring at him.

"Listen, jari-booi – " he began, and Satoshi didn't have time to tell if his tone was annoyed or apologetic. "I'm not coming in." he interrupted shortly. "I'll wait in the car." Why go, when it would only be more torture to endure?

". . .Satoshi. . ."

"Drop it, Shigeru."

Shigeru tossed his head, and just like that, he was back to his old arrogant self. "Well, girls – we're here." he announced, turning back around. Satoshi glanced up – they had, indeed, arrived. Immediately they began to climb out of the car, chattering excitedly, Shigeru in the lead. He looked over his shoulder once, a strange expression on his face, and Satoshi seemed to feel the ground fall out from underneath him.

For what seemed like an eternity, he was caught in his gaze again, transported, his mind falling toward everything and nothing, toward sunnier days and warm, soft hands, and was this really the same guy that left half a pokeball on is bedside table?

What? he thought blankly. Shigeru. . .?

It was only when one of the girls leaned forward to whisper something in his ear that Shigeru finally looked away.

- - - - -

The sun was beating down on his back. The car seats seemed to have heated up beneath it's sharp glare. Pikachu was laying across his lap, fanning herself clumsily, uttering soft 'pika's as she looked up at him as if expecting him to say something.

"It's okay, Pikachu." he murmured at last. "But you know how long matches can take."

"Pika. . ."

". . .I miss it." he said aloud, and voicing his thoughts like that made him feeling suddenly and blissfully free. "Yeah, I miss it, who am I kidding? You miss it too, don't you, Pikachu? You miss being able to fight."

"Pikachuuu. . ."

"Why should I go in anyway?" he said, ignoring the steady rise of his voice as no one was there to hear. "What does he expect, for me to be one of his cheerleaders? I'd fight him if I could." he fell silent suddenly, looking down at Pikachu and wondering if she understood the curse yet. "If I could." he repeated in a whisper. "Pikachu. . .maybe I should have told you a long time ago."

Pikachu sat up. "Pika. . .?"

". . .oh?" A high, female voice interrupted, and Satoshi whirled around, startled, to see one of Shigeru's cheerleader's heading toward the car, her skirt swishing. "Tell her what?"

Satoshi gawked at her, his fingers unconsciously closing protectively around his pokemon. ". . .is the match over?" he asked at last.

"No, I just came out to talk to you." the girl said, smiling. "I'm Kimi, remember me?"

Yes, he remembered her – from just this morning, in fact. He could recall every breathless word she said to Shigeru. Satoshi tried to smile at her and failed miserably.

Kimi was a truly beautiful girl now that he saw her alone, without Shigeru or the others to crowd around her. Her hair was thick and shining, her body graceful, expressive eyes large and not without stunning depth. She was the kind of girl that could wear a simple skirt and top and make it look like designer clothing.

Satoshi didn't trust her at all.

"And you're Satoshi, Shigeru's. . .friend." she said happily when he didn't answer. "At least, I think you are. I really can't tell."

She opened the car door and slid easily into the seat beside him.

"Satoshi-kun. . .what are you to him?"

Satoshi looked at her, puzzled. ". . .we used to be friends. . ." he said slowly, wondering what sort of answer she was looking for.

"Used to?" Kimi frowned, the corners of her painted lips turning down just enough to give her a doll-like look. "Whenever he talks about you, he gets this strange look in his eyes, like. . .well, I'm not sure what." she explained cautiously. "Something different than what I've ever seen before. Maybe he misses being your friend, Satoshi-kun."

"I doubt that." he sighed.

"Everyone misses someone." Kimi insisted.

"Not him." Satoshi said bitterly.

"Hmm." She placed a slender finger to her lips. ". . .by the way, I heard you were sleeping on the floor." she noted, a sudden change in topic.

Heard? She must have seen him when she came to the doorway to talk to Shigeru. Satoshi's lips thinned. "Yeah." he said shortly, unwilling to discuss it further. "Kimi, how come you're not inside cheering on Shigeru?"

"Oh, I'd love to." she said honestly. "But he already knows I'm cheering him on." Her finger fell from her lips and rested instead at her chest, directly over her heart. "Right here." she said, tapping the spot gently. "Besides, I wanted to ask you how you felt about him."

How he felt? "Why does it matter?" Satoshi questioned, his face feeling strangely hot.

"Because. . ." She trailed off, and the finger over her heart became and open palm, clutching, as if she could feel some sort of power radiating off of her. "Because I love him."

Satoshi tried not to stare, averting his eyes to his feet instead. She loved him? How could anyone. . .possibly. . .? "I'm nothing to him." he said at last.

"I wouldn't be so sure about that." Kimi said. "He's letting you travel with us, isn't he?"

"He's just making sure I know that he's better than me." The same bitterness crept back into his voice.

"He's not like that." Kimi whispered, sounding hurt.

"I know him." Satoshi said. "We used to be friends, and then. . ." he trailed off, suddenly wishing he hadn't said that. Kimi's hand fell from her chest, and she leaned forward a little, curiously.

"And then what?" Her large eyes seemed to trap him.

". . .I don't know what." he admitted uneasily.

And then, to his surprise, she laughed.

He jumped, staring at her in genuine surprise.

"I don't know why I was even concerned!" Kimi giggled, wiping at her eyes. "If you can't even hold a friendship together, why should I be worried that you would take him from me?"

He blinked. "'Take him from you'?"

"Oh, yes." She said, her laughter ebbing away to be replaced by lingering smile. "But I guess I was wrong. You're cute, Satoshi. . ." She leaned closer, dropping her voice to a whisper. . .

". . .but I'm cuter."

Kimi smoothed out the folds in her skirt and slipped out of the car, shutting the door delicately behind her. She looked over her shoulder at him, smiling still, and winked.


She headed back inside, hips swaying confidently.

Satoshi was only vaguely aware of his hands curling into fists.