"...You should see them. I wish you could. They're growing like weeds," I said, leaning back on my arms. I grinned and glanced over at where Des was keeping an eye on a bickering Budew and Smeargle. "Lucian probably hates me on principle right now, but I've smoothed over some feathers by applying for a breeding license. ...Not where I expected my life to take me, but at least I can carry non-battling Pokémon with me in larger amounts."
I had traditions now. Not a lot of them, but enough to keep me going throughout the year. Every Christmas, no matter what, I made it home to see my parents. I visited Hanna and Cossette on their birthdays.
But more than that, I visited graves.
Once a year, on the day they died, I would visit my friends' graves. I would talk to them, update them on things in my life and in Sinnoh overall, and with a couple of them, the tradition expanded into something else. For Archie, some sort of alcohol (I tended to default to wine, since it was one of the few alcoholic beverages I could stomach). For Zoe, I'd wear the necklace she made me.
For Nick, I had a red snow cone.
The remains of this year's had long since melted; I got caught up talking. The past year had been busy, if only because of the fact that everyone seemed to be in a particularly romantic mood.
And by that I meant I suddenly had baby Pokémon running everywhere.
It was great to see little things, watching avidly as personalities changed and developed, and just to be reminded of life again. They were messy, loud, whiny, and I had collected a new amount of scars and injuries from them, but they were darling nonetheless.
"If they ever stop running around, I'll bring them over and show you," I said, looking around for any of them. Celia ran past, giggling madly, and I snagged her before she could waddle away. "This! This is—" The Budew immediately began crying. From somewhere I couldn't see, Estelle started crying, too. They did everything together, but this was ridiculous. I set her down and she starting laughing maniacally again, running for it. "...That was Celia. She and Estelle are Carlita and Bentley's, and it looks as if they've got all of the craziness and none of the calmness."
Fargo yelped and ran past, nearly tripping over a gravestone. Jocee chased after him, mewling and sparking. I still had many, many problems with why a fully grown Arcanine was terrified of a tiny Shinx kitten, but he never failed to run from her.
"...Well, our Pokémon have been getting along, that's for sure!" I said with a weak chuckle. I felt like I somehow had to explain that I hadn't kidnapped Harlan or something. I didn't even know why that feeling or mental image immediately come to mind, either. "...As far as I can tell, she's the only one who Ike actually likes, and she's been very helpful with him. He's moving just like he did before, now. Not quite as aggressive or immediately violent, but I'm not sure who or what to attribute that to. Still... They're both happy together. A-And they had babies!"
I almost felt like I was waiting for some sort of incredulous reaction.
I dumped out the red snow cone liquid and sighed. "Two Smeargle and a Shinx. Ike's a protective dad, but you should see Harlan. She's the warmest mother ever. She... insisted on naming one of them after you, the only boy, the little Smeargle with the gold paint. So... I have another Nick in my life. He's got his mothers shyness, though, so he's naturally nothing like you. Jocee is the little Shinx, and for some reason, Fargo is absolutely terrified of her. I have no clue why. I don't suppose you could give me some beyond the grave advice for why your Arcanine is a scaredy-Skitty?" No response. "Thought not. The other Smeargle is a little girl with pink paint, and that's Amaranth. I'm pretty sure she's the only one Ike named."
Fargo yelped again, this time actually tripping over one. He went tumbling, only stopping when he slid into Des. He gave him a look, and then picked up Estelle and set the Shroomish on the Arcanine's mane. "Watch something you're not afraid of," he said dryly, and then picked up Jocee as the Shinx skittered over. He set her on a napping Ike, much to his annoyance.
"...This is the most disrespectful grave visiting ever," I deadpanned, looking at the chaos.
"Only maybe!" Carlita squealed, chasing after Celia.
I was regulated to carrying two squirming infants out of the cemetery. I must've drawn the short straw, because I got the two Smeargle, and ended up pink and gold by the time we were out the gates. Konstantin offered to take them off me, but I figured I could handle them. They were just... colorful.
We made it to the park and turned them loose again. Carlita acted just like a kid again, and I could tell Zarek was enjoying running around with them, too. I washed my face off as best I could in a water fountain, and took off my shirt to rinse it, too. At least Smeargle paint came off with water. At that age, anyway.
I sat down in the grass next to Ike and Alice. It was still pretty nice out here, and the sun was warm, even if the breeze was a little cool. Especially while my shirt was off and drying. Ike's ears followed Nick as he chased a Butterfree. "...I must admit to my surprise," he said after a pause.
"I would have thought the one with the so-called 'motherly' instincts would have had a child of her own, but I suppose such a bloodthirsty harpy would have difficulties attracting a mate that could stand to impregnate her," he said coolly.
I lunged at Alice before she could do more than screech, drawing the attention of most of the children. Zarek reigned his mother back in as well, giving Ike a snip on the tail that made him jump. "Ike, stop antagonizing! Go kittensit your children!" I shouted at him. He slunk off with a laugh. He may have cooled down on the violence, but at times, I thought it had only transformed into verbal barbs.
"The insolence of that cat," Alice spat, fluffed up to the point of looking ridiculous. I tried very hard not to laugh. "How dare he insinuate..."
"Shh, I know, I know. He's a jerk. But he always has been, right? Don't worry, Alice—you're pretty, and any guy would be lucky to have you. Plus, you have Zarek!" I soothed, gesturing to the Kingler beside her. She nodded sharply and fluttered into the air and landed on him, much to his embarrassment.
"Shush! I am going to incubate you again." It was better than trying to teach him how to fly, although that subject had never been fully dropped. I even caught them on my parents' roof last Christmas, presumably for a lesson.
Sometimes, I wondered how much of the 'motherhood' thing Alice actually had down.
But she was good at it, regardless. I knew she helped out with the other small Pokémon underfoot, and she was the one Harlan and Carlita turned to with questions.
"Are you good now?"
"Yes," she said with a click of her beak.
I let out a relieved sigh and laid down in the grass. It was cool, but out of the slight wind. Zarek, Alice still on him, sat down next to me. All things considered, being the Champion was pretty easy.
Then again, after Lucian had his back turned, I had bolted.
I told myself—and others, when they managed to track me down—that I was taking a proactive approach to dealing with Sinnoh. A Champion stuck at the League and only drawn out by disasters wasn't a very effective one. This way, I could stay abreast of what the public was actually doing and saying, and avoid too much red tape and political hassles. I wasn't a politician. I was a trainer.
Of course, I acted like one when it suited me. New laws were passed, and old ones were edited. Surprisingly, I very quickly gathered a very vocal support group within the region, and even more surprisingly, one of the main things they had wished for me to do was change the training age. I didn't, since I had started at eleven and turned out just fine. While ten was dangerous, I figured they could handle it. Sinnoh was getting safe again, and it wasn't as if this was Hoenn or Unova, anyway. Not that I wasn't going to protect newbie trainers in other ways, though.
With Nathan's help and insight, I pretty much remodeled the police force. All training members had to have at least six years of experience and at least three Pokémon, and I expanded the training schools with more funding so they could train cops-to-be from the ground up. I especially strengthened the forces in the cities without Gyms, since that had turned out disastrously for Jubilife in the past. I also gave the Gym leaders more power, including superseding the police forces in certain cases. I figured they would probably handle the power a little better. Not to mention I trusted them personally.
Of course, I did things myself, too. The most immediate change I had to the region was instituting a proper method and system for taking care of dangerous, rogue Pokémon. They would not be tolerated, but I tried to be fair, especially after Des got on my case about it. Even the white thing had mentioned a second side to the Abomasnow thing.
I tried to make a level-based system, and I was extremely thankful I had only had to use it twice since then. If a wild Pokémon attacked—and attacked attacked, not the regular sort—but no Pokémon or humans were killed, that was a warning and either a Gym leader, Gym trainer, or one of the trainers on a special volunteer force would go track it down and see what the case was. Usually it involved some translated discussion and tagging the Pokémon. After a Pokémon or human was killed, then the offending creature had to be captured and taken in, and if that wasn't viable, put down. I wasn't going to wait around for several deaths to occur. Of the two times it had gotten that drastic, both times I had been there to help.
Just with those changes alone, I could already tell that Sinnoh was gradually becoming safer. Lucian had taken care of a great deal of the more obvious pockets of followers before I had usurped him, but he had helped me in finding the rest. No major occurrences dealing with them had happened since, for which I was extremely thankful. The last thing I needed was more reminders of what Nick had broken.
Beside me, Zarek stirred—the only warning before I was rudely cut off from the sun by a shadow. I cracked open an eye to discover an irate Hanna glaring down at me.
"Where do you think you've been?" she demanded, making a grab for me as I tried to dart away. My Pokémon were no help whatsoever, those traitors, and instead chose to watch as she got her claws in me and pinned me down to the grass. She even had the nerve to sit on me.
"Hi, Hanna," I wheezed.
"I haven't seen you for months! Months! You're not allowed to go and disappear on the world, remember? Least of all me and your other friends!" I didn't have to wonder how she had found me for long; I spotted Vaikuntha standing near Des, smiling brightly in my direction. I should have known better than to think Oreburgh was safe.
"I saw you at Cossette's birthday party!"
"That was three and a half months ago, you idiot!" She smacked me on the head for good measure. I could've thrown her off, but I probably deserved this. And I didn't want to make her any madder. "You can't just disappear again! It's not healthy for you, and you're sorta in charge of the region right now."
"I'm doing things to help it," I told her defensively.
"Fine then, it's not healthy for you. At all."
It probably wasn't. I laid there like a Slugma. It was my only defense.
"You need to come be nice and social and friendly again. You'll die alone, mauled by some wild Pokémon, and no one will had any idea for months because they're used to not seeing you!"
"If a wild Pokémon was rampaging again, we would have already—"
"You know what I mean!"
I gave up. I couldn't win against her. I looked over at Vai, eyes as big and pleading and pathetic as I could stand to make them. I could see his heart twist, and he trotted over. Oh so delicately, he pried Hanna off and extended a hand down to help me up. I latched onto him gratefully. At least someone was still reliably sane.
"She only worries," he murmured. I nodded, guilty again, but really, what else was I expected to do?
"It's... I can't do society anymore."
"Why not?" Hanna demanded, prying us apart forcibly.
"It's mean," I said childishly. I turned my back on them, but I could feel her glare and his sternness. I ignored it to the best of my abilities and instead eyed my traitorous team. "...After everything, I'm not cut out for being another Cynthia, or another Lucian. I'm just going to be me. I'm doing good... aren't I? I'm trying to. I just can't do it while sitting in that big, empty room all day, thinking of how much blood had been spilled."
"Is that why you never live in your villa?" Hanna asked, voice hard but slowly wearing down. She couldn't pretend that this was easy, even now.
"I don't like that northern island. If I wanted to live in a house again, I'd pick one in Jubilife or Sunyshore," I said with a dry chuckle. I turned to face them again, dropping my arms to my sides. I tried to smile, and partially succeeded. I think.
"But you do not have to exile yourself," Vai said softly.
"I'm not. I'm just making sure I don't lose my connection. Like Cynthia did."
"You can't hold yourself up against her, or Lucian. You're not them. You've already done a lot of good for the trainers of the region," Hanna broke in—but her specificity only made me feel a little worse. I had done good for the trainers. Granted, I was the head of the trainers now, but they weren't the only people or Pokémon living in the region. But they also didn't have as many problems... Maybe. I didn't know.
"I know that look," Vaikuntha said suddenly, jarring me out of my train of thought. He gave me a look and the strongest frown he could muster (which wasn't very, but the fact that he wasn't smiling at me any more was enough to drive his point home). "You are over thinking this."
"Why do you do this to yourself?" Hanna groaned.
"I just... I want to take care of everyone I still have left. I don't want them to have to suffer anymore or fall or go down any dark paths that can be avoided. I'm just trying to make things better." I looked up at the clear sky, a bright, serene blue. "...I want to save who I can." The words, after all these years, still left a bitter taste in my mouth.
"You don't have to do that alone," she told me, immediately. Just like before—just like always. "That's why we're here. To save you, you idiot. ...Stay out in the wilds if you like. Just don't run from us, okay?"
Celia ran past, being chased by Amaranth, who waved her pink tail like a sword. We all watched them mutely. A moment later, Harlan sprinted past us with an alarmed squeal. Across the park and with a panicked howl, Jocee found Fargo again and sent him up a tree. Konstantin collapsed into a breathless giggle fit.
"At least he is not alone," Vai pointed out. Hanna buried her face in her hands.
"You're getting bigger. Are you always going to use me as your Ponyta?" Des asked, ears perking up in faux annoyance.
"You're pretty big yourself," I shot back, leaning back against his second volcano. I folded my arms behind my head, pretending not to have a care in the world. "I think you'll manage."
Des pretended to stumble and wheeze at the weight of carrying me. I dug my heels into his side, although he probably couldn't even feel it through his fur. My legs were at an awkward enough angle just sitting on him.
"Why are we heading this way?" Alice asked, languidly swooping down from the clouds above, scarf fluttering.
"Because our dear Master Trainer wishes for us to, and we are but humble, spineless and gutless servants," Ike spat. He was only grumpy because he had to carry two sleeping Smeargle on his back, and they were getting bigger. If anything, he was probably the exhausted mount.
"If you'd prefer, I would be more than happy to carry you," Konstantin suggested with amusement, floating over. Ike hissed at him, facing forward and not bothering to turn at him. My ghost snickered and floated back over beside me. "I could carry you as well, comrade."
"No thanks, I've learned my lesson," I said quickly.
"I—! I apologized!" he whined at once, floating away and covering his face with his hands. It was a habit that had formed over too many years of being a Duskull, and even as a Dusknoir, it still stuck.
"Kostya, it's okay. I would just rather stay on solid ground. Or solid Pokémon."
"I am not."
"You are pretty solid," Carlita said snidely.
Ike's ears suddenly rotated backwards, picking up a sound that hadn't reached us; he had mostly become my radar for such things. I twisted around just in time to see a teenage girl in a traveling cloak step onto the path. My only warning before I was blasted off Des with a jet of freezing cold water and he staggered, nearly falling himself.
The bird arced around and flapped down, alighting gracefully on the ground next to the girl. "You! I challenge you to a battle!" And you could hardly hear her accent anymore. I almost missed it.
"I could have you arrested for assault," I muttered, shaking wet bangs out of my eyes. I held up a hand, preventing Ike from zapping the bird. "That one's new."
"His name is Cadel. I got him from the region of Unova," Cossette said, placing a hand on the bird's head. She turned to me and narrowed her eyes, tugging off her hood with her other hand. I wasn't happy that she finally got a water Pokémon to stomp me into the ground with, but I couldn't help the smile on my face at seeing her again.
Besides, it totally hadn't been completely my fault I hadn't seen her in months. When I was guilted into trying to find her by Hanna, my search turned up with nothing. She had disappeared just as much as I had.
But these challenges were nothing new. The new thing was that I wasn't holding back anymore. This wasn't our first battle, and it wouldn't be our last, and it certainly wouldn't be the last time I trounced her. Even if she did have a water Pokémon now. She had only ensured that it would be an easy target for Ike.
"It's nice to see you," I volunteered happily. She scowled at me and pulled off another pokeball off her belt. She released her Aggron, Rory, who immediately roared and charged. Des whirled around (or as quickly as he could whirl) and blasted him with fire, keeping him at bay. I danced around pokémon as they got ready for battle and as the little ones were taken out of the action. Ike shook off the Smeargle and Fargo gently nudged them away as they were rudely woken up. Harlan kept Jocee away and took Celia, although Estelle naturally ran right for the battle until I managed to snag her.
I called Carlita back out of the battle and handed her the Shroomish. Cossette only had five Pokémon, so I wasn't going to put half an army on her. "No fair," Carlita grumbled, sitting down and sulking with her child in her lap.
"You can be in the next battle. Watch her and the others, okay? The last thing we need are children underfoot." I strode calmly over to the fray, not at all perturbed by the flames and water jets and lightning bolts flying every which way. Cossette was struggling to control all of her Pokémon at once, not as used to letting them run wild as I was. "Cossette, I—"
She took one look at me and vanished as Jacques came near. She reappeared on the other side of the battle with a cry of, "Rory, keep the Luxray away! Cadel, knock out his Camerupt!"
"Hey, don't ignore me!" I shouted, annoyed by her blunt way of brushing me off. Konstantin took a moment to Shadow Sneak me over to her, although he appeared right in front of one of Florette's punches, which sent him flying. Jacques wasn't close enough to get her out of there this time. She simply walked away from me, cloak rustling around her ankles, and called back her Ninetales to put in between us. I think her name was Adele, or something. Either way, the fire pokémon growled at me, tails fluffed out and teeth bared.
She was knocked easily out of the way by a Magnitude, which also sent Cossette and I to the ground. Des reared back, ordering, "Ike, jump!" just as he slammed his front feet back down. The Luxray barely had time to jump, and actually knocked into Alice, while the rest of us were tossed about by the Earthquake. When I managed to stand again, two of her Pokémon were down.
As I watched, Ike finally struck down the Swanna, and she was left with Jacques and Florette. Cossette stood behind them, head held high, and ordered, "Keep battling!"
I sighed. Konstantin quickly took care of Jacques, but to Cossette's credit, he was beaten back by Florette not moments later. The Kangaskhan stared down my five Pokémon fearlessly, chest heaving and ears laid back. I felt bad, but I knew she wasn't going to give up. "Des, Flamethrower."
Cossette sulked, of course. She always sulked. But after awhile of morosely following me around, she'd talk to me and we'd manage a decent conversation. It was a shaky routine we had set up, outside the eyes of society and its judgment. Just two trainers facing off.
As I predicted, within the hour, she was playing with Jocee and announced, "I have all eight badges now."
"Oh? Congrats." I had a feeling half the circuit went easy on her, but oh well. I couldn't very well take them from her now. "Are you going to challenge the Elite Four...?"
"No," she mumbled with a fierce pout. The Shinx in her arms happily purred, at odds with her expression.
"...I have some items, do you want—?"
"No! I have my own items," she hissed at me, offended by my offer. When she had set out to be independent and become a fully-fledged trainer (basically running away in the process; that hadn't been fun to smooth over with her parents), she had gotten it in her head that I was her rival. Or something. Maybe just an obstacle to overcome.
But as she rose through the ranks, she had changed. Or maybe the way we treated each other changed. I wasn't holding back anymore, and she didn't smile at me anymore. Cossette had become serious and focused. I was missing her prior affections, if I was being honest with myself. She had always cheered me up, and she had grown into a cute trainer, that was for sure.
I cleared my throat and watched her as she moodily healed her team. She ignored me, even as I tried again.
"You are so subtle," Alice chided. I glared at her. She gave me her equivalent of a shrug and went back to preening.
"Cossette... Why aren't you going to challenge the League?"
"I do not wish to. There's nothing to gain by doing it," she said shortly.
Probably a good idea. She was still a growing trainer, and I didn't fancy her getting stomped by them, either. "...Are you going to get six Pokémon?"
"Je ne sais pas," she mumbled. She looked up at me, but I couldn't read the look. "...Training is hard. I had not expected it, but I'm glad it is. It's fun. But why can't I get as strong as you?"
"Six Pokémon would help," I said again. I was honestly trying to be helpful, but I really didn't know how I could help her. Or if she even wanted it. She was still stubborn, but now just more independent. It made an aggravating combination at times.
She finished healing her team with nothing more than a grunt offered to me. I tried to act casual and got up and stretched, ignoring Alice's tweet of disapproval. I gestured and she flapped up into the air, rousing the others. Konstantin picked an escaped Jocee and Nick up and Fargo gently picked up a sleeping Amaranth in his mouth, then set her on Ike's back, much to his annoyance. Carlita happily gathered her two up, though she needed Des to corral them for her.
"Where are you going?" Cossette asked suspiciously.
"Why?" she asked with surprise visible in her eyes.
I couldn't help but smile a bit. "Gotta drop off the children with their daddy. Some of them, anyway, but it'll be some peace and quiet nonetheless."
"Are you not glad to the very marrow of your bones that I have raised such well-behaved kits?" Ike asked with a smug smirk in Carlita's direction. She waved her prosthetic tail dismissively and pointedly ignored the jab.
I wasn't going to get dragged into an argument, either. "Carlita, do you wanna stay with us or stay with them?" It was strange. Benjamin was the one I visited most often, and true, it was due to our Pokémon, but his company wasn't too horrible. He had recovered well after Stark Mountain, and that was a relief. Carlita and Bentley would trade off taking care of their girls, and while Bentley could never bear to leave Benjamin, sometimes Carlita stayed with them for a couple days.
Then again, I couldn't bear to be without my Carlita for long, either. I could tell the others missed her, too—well, varying degrees of missing. Alice didn't like being the only girl left (she didn't count Harlan or either of her two, apparently) and Des and Carlita had been together so long, I could hardly keep his mind off her while she was gone.
"Are you coming?" I turned and asked Cossette. She narrowed her eyes and pressed her mouth into a thin line, but I could tell she was still thinking it over. Finally, she gave me a curt nod. I quickly turned back ahead to hide my grin.
I finally understood why the old Gym leaders got such a kick out of tormenting us younger trainers. We took ourselves and our career choice far too seriously. But it was sorta fun to have a human traveling companion again. Truthfully, Cossette was the only one who could even fill that role anymore. So many of my friends were bolted down in cities across the region, tending to other responsibilities. I had tried about a month with Hanna early on, but that hadn't worked out; she had been too worried about Molly and her healing injuries. She couldn't seem to decide whether she wanted her to stay a battling Pokémon or turn into some sort of massively powerful pet.
As far as I knew, she still hadn't decided. Not that she didn't send her Tyranitar after my team and I if we didn't visit her for awhile, but you didn't put pink bows on a battling Pokémon. Or at least, I wouldn't.
After a wild Starly dove at Cossette and spooked her, she released her Pokémon again. I reminded my own to behave, especially Ike and Alice, but it bizarrely turned out to be Des that I had to worry about.
I had been talking with Konstantin—coincidentally about the blonde girl following us—when we felt a flash of heat and turned to see her Ninetales bathing Des' head in flames. "Adele!" Cossette shouted, just as surprised as I was. The Ninetales stalked away from Des, tails lashing irately behind her. "Adele, why did you do that?"
"It's okay," Des said, shaking his head to clear it of soot and ash. He didn't appear to be too worse for wear, though his eyes were watering. "I started it."
I couldn't remember a time when my Camerupt had started anything. I sidled up to him and, wrapping an arm around his neck tightly enough he couldn't shake me off, asked, "Des, is there something you'd like to share?"
"No," he said blithely, pulling me ahead with him as he resumed walking. I growled and scrambled up his side, perching on his back so he couldn't get rid of me. Easily, at any rate. I glanced back at Cossette, who was admonishing and questioning Adele.
"What did you say?"
"Des, what did you say to her."
"He told her that he admired her coat. I believe he called it shiny," Ike said finally, growling with impatience. Des' foot came down particularly hard on that step, shaking the ground and sending him to his knees. Ike hissed at him, which turned into a full snarl when Amaranth slipped off his back and awoke with a start. The Smeargle began crying at once, earning him venomous looks from Harlan and Fargo.
Des rolled his eyes, though his defensiveness was puzzling. He complimented the rest of the team all the time. Well, Carlita and Alice and Zarek, when he wasn't soaking him with water. He was a fairly agreeable, friendly Pokémon. I watched, faintly amused, as Ike curled around Amaranth and licked her cheek and ear to calm her down again. The moments were rare, but he did try to be a good father. Though she was awake, she eagerly climbed back onto his back, demanding a ride.
And he said I was the one who embarrassed him. I tried my hardest not to laugh as he shuffled past, ears so flat against his skull they were practically lost in his mane.
"Her fur seemed soft," Des mumbled, drawing my attention once more. "It was shiny. Reminded me of Isabella's."
"Oh." Suddenly, his compliment didn't seem so normal or platonic. I hadn't seen him try to be anything but friendly in years; I had to pause for a moment to let that sink in. Alice fluttered over and landed on the volcano in front of me, lowering her head until she was staring me in the eye.
"It is about time he acted on it," she said snippily. "And about time you realized how he looks at the Ninetales."
"What, am I supposed to be able to read minds?" I hissed. "He says nice things about everyone. He calls your clouds soft and shiny and fluffy."
She fluffed up even further, though she only proved my point. "That is because my wings are the softest, whitest, cleanest, fluffiest wings in all the land," Alice told me, as if I was a fool for not realizing it sooner. I set my elbow on the rim of the volcano and put my chin in my hand, smiling indulgently and nodded.
"Of course they are. They're yours, after all."
"Of course!" She calmed down once more, however, and resumed her sharp look. "But that is not the point here. The point is that there is romance in the air, and matchmaking to be made."
Oh dear. I hadn't seen her in this mood since Zarek had looked at a challenger's Corphish a little too long. That had ended disastrously; I wasn't looking forward to round two. "Alice, I'm sure Des can handle this. I mean—if he wants to. Don't push him into anything, and it looks like Adele might be..."
"She is only embarrassed! I know the look of a flattered female," she said brusquely, poking me with a wing. "Des is a good friend of mine, and he has been nothing but loyal and protective of this team for all the time I have known him. But while the rest of us had had our flings, he has not. He deserves love!"
"I deserve the realization that you are on me and I can hear everything you are saying!" Des burst out, and in an uncharacteristic move, clumsily bucked us both off. I fell heavily onto my side, while Alice fell forward with a squawk—onto Ike. He took only the barest of moments to yank Amaranth out of the way before letting loose a disproportionate amount of electricity. Alice snarled and shrieked, and soon there were flames and even more bolts of electricity let loose.
Harlan ran up and with a slash of her tail, the two were separated with a Barrier. I hadn't thought it possible for the mild-mannered Smeargle to look even more mad than she had earlier, but she definitely managed it. Ike couldn't have seen her expression, but he laid down his ears and pouted regardless. Alice took it a little less gracefully, hissing at her before taking to the skies where she was safer.
"Trainer, I think I'll stay with Bentley for awhile. He's less crazy," Carlita told me.
"I'm a little busy to be babysitting—Ben, get back here!" Benjamin howled after his traitorous Roserade happily carted off the Shroomish and Budew. Carlita giggled and ran after them. I watched the movement, sadness stirring in my heart. She had worked hard, and she had mastered running. The doctors had all been impressed at her agility and adaptation when making sharp turns, but even for all that work, she hadn't been able to regain many of her dancing skills.
Benjamin's challenger, a stunned young girl, only watched as he tore after his starter with a red face. I waved to her with a smile that was only partially forced, getting my mind off of dancing. The poor girl gave Benjamin a run for his money and blushed up to the roots of her hair. My hand dropped.
"It is not every day someone gets to see our renegade Champion, and certainly not in such casual wear," Cossette said airily, behind me. I had forgotten that I had an actual title. Out in the wilds, it was incredibly easy to forget. I jammed my hands in my jeans pockets and turned on my heel, marching quickly away from the challenger. Cossette made an annoyed sound and trotted after me. "Where are you going now?"
"I'm going to say goodbye to Carlita and the children before they get too deep into the maze," I tossed after me. I jumped back in surprise as Bentley raced past, Estelle in his arms, with Carlita and Celia on his tail. I reached out and managed to snag my Breloom, calling after, "Ben, get back here! Lemme say goodbye to them!"
Obediently, he came back and offered me up the Shroomish. I patted him on the head and kissed Estelle goodbye, though she wiggled and squealed in embarrassment. "Shroo! Shroo!"
"Dew," Celia added with a cackle, leaping out of her mother's arms. Expecting such a move, I caught her in mid-air and pressed my mouth against her forehead as well. She whacked me in the face. "Budew!"
"Ouch, damn. Fine, go be a little hellion." I released her and she ran off. Bentley gave me a betrayed look before chasing after her. I turned to Carlita and bent down, asking, "You sure you wanna stay here?"
"Yeah! I wanna go through the maze again. And I haven't seen Bentley in awhile!" she said cheerfully, wrapping her arms around my neck and pulling me to the floor in front of her. She laughed, only partially apologetically, and helped me back up. "When are you gonna be back, Trainer?"
"Um, how about a week?"
I gave her a kicked Growlithe look. "But you're my Carlita. I can't go on without my Carlita."
"Trainer, you are so silly!" she said, affectionately smacking me on the shoulder. Then again, affection from a fighter was usually a fairly painful experience. I rubbed my shoulder with a small wince. "A week, okay? You be okay! You don't die without me, okay? Or get into too many battles!"
"You could always battle Benjamin's challengers for him."
"Hey!" A panting Benjamin finally caught up with us, looking none too pleased. "You... Just leave her... And get out of my Gym."
I stood up after giving Carlita another tight hug. I tousled his straw blond hair, only serving to further annoy him. "Just make sure you do a good job of running your Gym, otherwise it will cease to be such. And keep an eye on her, okay? The kids have been wound up lately and I think it's making her antsy," I said, watching as she ran off after the others, tail waving behind her.
"Oh, great, dump her energy on me," he grumbled and crossed his arms.
"You'll survive. You can always send them through the maze a couple times, scare all the challengers out."
"Speaking of which, move. I still have one waiting for me." He pushed past me without another word or a goodbye. That was another reason I enjoyed visiting him; he treated me no differently now than when we had first met. Even if it was rough and outright mean at times.
Cossette trotted along at my heels as we walked out, ignoring further gasps and double-takes. "Why do you call them children?"
She gestured vaguely back to the Gym. "The little ones. They are not children—they are not human."
"Oh, well... I guess it's easier?" I wondered, rubbing the back of my head. "It's sort of a habit. They act just like human children, that's for sure, so I guess that's it? I dunno where it came from, it just did."
We approached where I had left my pokémon. Well, part of them; Fargo and Harlan, babies between them, and Alice and Zarek. I had let Zarek stay out so he could Surf around in the harbor, since we weren't always near a source of water and I knew he liked it when he could get it. Alice, naturally, had to keep an eye on things. If nothing else, she was responsible.
But then again, they were my Pokémon, and that meant things couldn't ever go smoothly. Alice wheeled down from the sky, having spotted us, and said breathlessly, "Zarek is battling without permission!"
"Is he winning?" I asked, a little surprised.
"Well, yes, but—that's not the point here!" With an irate huff, she flapped back into the sky and soared over where I could see a flurry of splashes spring up. As the water rained down, I spotted my Kingler grappling with a Crawdaunt. Alice called to him, but he ignored her.
There was an eruption underneath the water that sent both of them flying. I had no idea who had caused it. Harlan and Cossette ran beside me, though Fargo kept a bit more distance. The Crawdaunt's trainer was shouting orders frantically, though his double-take was pretty funny when he caught sight of me. "Is that—your Kingler?"
"Uh, yeah. Zarek, get back here." I felt more than a little proud when he actually obeyed for once. I could totally look powerful and in control in public. Who knew? He scuttled up to me, smaller claw pressing up against his frothing mouth rather Mareepishly. "What do you think you're doing?"
"I wanted a battle," he mumbled, staring down at the ground.
"Why did you have to instigate that battle? That was not a wise move!" Alice screeched, swooping down and landing on Fargo's head. He snorted out a plume of smoke in irritation, but she didn't notice. If possible, Zarek looked even more glum.
Fargo barked something, rolling his eyes, which must have caught Alice by surprise. "Smeargle," Harlan added matter-of-factly.
"I never... Zarek!" she squawked, turning on her child once more. "Is this true?"
He actually ran away from her, bubbling and clearly embarrassed. Alice didn't bother filling me in on the details as she swooped after him. Cossette and the other trainer looked at me, clueless and expectant. I sighed, running a hand through my dark hair. "...Yeah. That tends to happen around me. Sorry about my Kingler, hope he didn't hurt your Crawdaunt too much."
"Oh, uh, n-nah. It wasn't a bad battle," he stammered, looking anywhere but at me.
"Are you going to give chase to your teammates?" Cossette asked. I nodded and awkwardly fled the scene. No doubt accounts of my unruly Pokémon would be in the news later, but it wasn't the first time, and it wouldn't be the last. I really didn't care anymore.
I caught up with them again just outside Canalave. Zarek was seated in a puddle, all sadness and embarrassment and quiet. Alice seemed to be doing most of the talking. It was nearing sunset, so I figured we were far enough outside city limits (read: about thirty yards) to make camp. After getting off of the main trail, of course. To my surprise, Cossette continued following me, even having her Ninetales light a fire on a couple branches Jacques hacked down.
I looked at her, her blue eyes scarlet in the firelight, but my team had to come first. I wandered back to where Alice was—whatever she was doing. Comforting or reproving, I wasn't sure. Without saying a word, I seated myself in the half-dried mud next to them. Alice looked up at me, significantly calmer than when she'd left me, and said, "Zarek would like to apologize for running off and getting into a trainer battle."
"Sorry," he mumbled, hardly audible.
"Hey, it's okay. You weren't the first," I said with a pointed look up at his mother. She fluffed up a little. "Either of you mind telling me what the big fuss is about? From earlier?"
After a pregnant pause, Alice sighed wearily and answered for him. "He is feeling lonely."
"You don't have any other water Pokémon, and everyone else is just so—Carlita found that Roserade, and Ike has Harlan, and you have two fire Pokémon," Zarek whined.
"I only have one ghost," I said. "And ever since the chicks evolved, you know they haven't been around as much. It's like I only have one bird again."
"Mama had that thing with the Skarmory." She gave him a sharp peck on the head, shutting him up. I raised an eyebrow, but she glowered at me. I would have to ask about that later. "I never get to have water battles anymore," Zarek added with a fierce pout. I had never thought it possible for a creature with a shell to be so expressive—especially in the pouting department—but Zarek had long ago proven me wrong.
"Well... Cossette has that water bird, so we could battle her again later? I'm sorry, I didn't know you missed them that much. How about we head towards Sunyshore and spend some time at the beach there?" He nodded, but still looked down. I turned to Alice again.
"Fargo seems to think he has a thing for Crawdaunt." It was the third he had tracked down in the last two months. "Or Corphish."
"I do not!" he complained. "I just... like their shells."
"Oh my god if you and Des bring about a second wave of babies I'm going to have to hit one of you. I can hardly handle the batch right now." Both of them stared at me, though Zarek was significantly more mortified than Alice. I flailed, not settling on any one gesture. "I'm serious! Zarek, I love you, but you were a brat growing up. I don't want another thing with pincers around for awhile..."
"But—I could have grandchildren!" Alice realized suddenly.
I groaned and fled while I still could.
If Zarek was suddenly feeling romantic, or grown-up, or whatever he was—it was difficult to get his side of the story without Alice's spin—good for him. He had been quiet lately, I realized in hindsight. Probably due to the fact that we hadn't been near water for awhile, but that would soon be rectified. But I didn't need any more drama. Not that I thought he would start some, but again, with that Altaria of a mother...
"Get things settled?" Des inquired curiously, shoving his nose into my shoulder and nibbling on my sleeve. "I heard Zarek has been bratty again."
"No, he's just... lonely, I guess? We're gonna head back to Sunyshore for a couple days, chill on the beach. Vacation."
"Carlita will miss the beach..." he mumbled, hanging his head.
"...We'll go back with her. Let her have her time with Bentley, okay? You cheer up and laze around in the sun all you want, okay?" I grabbed his ears and tugged him back up to face me, scratching him to cheer him up. A mopey Camerupt was not a fun Camerupt to have.
"Smeargle?" Harlan asked, looking up at me from painting Nick's snout.
"She asks if Zarek has a thing for Crawdaunt."
I shrugged. "I dunno. Maybe? He says he likes their shells or something. I thought it was something like you admiring another fire Pokemon's flames or the way Kostya likes to follow Ike around for his scraps." The two in question growled at me and denied any such thing, of course. "Why is everyone so interested in him? Zarek can take care of himself, he's a big boy. Not the baby of the team anymore, that's for sure."
"S-Smeargle," Harlan mumbled.
"She was confused," Des translated patiently. "Evidently, it was a male Crawdaunt."
"...And you know what? It's still his business," I said after an awkward pause. "Let Alice sort him out. For him. I'm sure she'll keep us updated on things, at any rate. She's gotten it into her head to have grandchildren. Or crustaceans."
"Not if he fancies males," Des said dryly.
"And are you going to be the one to remind the harpy of that little biological detail?" Ike snorted, pausing in his bath of Jocee. Des shook his head hastily and Konstantin giggled nervously.
"...So anyway. Sunyshore. Beaches. Vacation."
"Are we departing tonight or may I continue setting up camp?" Cossette asked behind me, making me jump. I had forgotten she was there. Judging by her look, she realized I had forgotten about her and gave me a fierce scowl. "Or am I not invited along?"
"Y-You can come! Of course you can come, Cossette. Why would I boot you out?"
"You make plans without me, so why not go on without me?"
"Oh, come on. I was just... talking out loud. You can come along—I'd like it if you came along. Really."
"I would not wish to get in your way."
"Cossette, come on. I didn't mean it like that!" I swore under my breath and looked around for the nearest tree to bang my head against. And Hanna wondered why I was so antisocial. I had given up all social skills, and it seemed like everyone else around me was hell bent on being frustrating.
She got even more frustrating when she started returning her team and called Jacques over. I stomped over to her and she gave me a scathing look for it. "I will get out of your hair and return to my training. Peut-être, un jour, nous nous rencontrerons—"
"No, don't you French at me! I was just—Zarek wanted to go back to the beach, so I was just—"
Cossette whirled around on me, and behind her, Jacques' eyes briefly flashed scarlet. It was still her I shied away from, however. "Non! Ma puce, do not worry about me. I'll be fine."
"I'm not worried about you like that—I just don't want you to go. I don't want you to think I've chased you off, or not invited you along, or anything," I cried, seizing her by the shoulders.
She pushed me off and grabbed one of Jacques' arms. "We are not companions, and we are not traveling together. I already regret giving you that impression."
I made a grab for her again, desperate not to have her leave me on such sour terms. "Wait, Cossette, don't—" The world all around me changed at once. The first thing I consciously noted was the quiet, though. No crackling fire, no muted rumblings of Des' volcanoes, no tiny Pokémon squealing and running about, no oppressive silence that was Konstantin.
I didn't have my team with me.
I hardly noticed as Cossette ripped my hands off of her and stalked off, leaving me alone in the dark forest where we reappeared. It was silent all around me; the only sound was her and Jacques' steps on the damp leaves underfoot. The silence was deafening and overpowering.
"Send me back!" My voice rang in the still night. She turned to me, well, half-turned, all disinterest and no comprehension that she took me from my team and I wasn't okay with that little detail. I seized her, but after the snarl Jacques gave me, I let her go and grabbed him instead. "Fine! Run away—send me back to them! Now!"
"Send me back!" Cossette stared at me, taken aback and clearly concerned about my outburst. I fought the urge to hit either of them. "You—You're a trainer now, Cossette. You know what your team is to you. So send me back to mine."
"...Yes." She didn't sound as if she agreed, necessarily, and waved a hand at Jacques. He grabbed me roughly by the upper arm and next thing I knew, the sound and my team were back. He gave me a glare of distaste before Teleporting back to his trainer.
I let out a breath and let my body relax again. I had been gone all of what, a minute? If that? But I was back now. I was good now. It was all good now.
Only I had just acted insane in front of the one trainer who still stood me and now it was highly likely she had lapsed back into ignoring me for months on end. No more human company or communication. Heart rate returning to normal, I groaned and slumped to the ground—well, I meant to, but got caught by my Dusknoir instead. Then again, I wasn't going to turn down a hug right then.
"Are you alright?"
"Why not?" he asked gently, red eye shifting back to glance at the rest of the team, still near the fire. I flailed in his arms, intending on reclaiming my dignity and returning to them, but he just held me tighter. "I am... worried about you, my comrade. You have been seeing less and less of your friends."
"Oh, come on... You guys are my friends, aren't you?"
He sighed and after a gesture I didn't see to Des, carried me off into the dark night. I fought him, trying to get my feet back on the ground, but he was still bigger than I was and much stronger. With a spiteful growl, I decided to just gnaw on his arm and try to make myself as heavy as possible. Just because I realized I shouldn't have done that in front of Cossette (and definitely not in front of Jacques) didn't mean I didn't want to run back to my team and sleep in a big pile with them all. If Ike would permit it.
"I am unlike the others," Konstantin said after a long pause.
I stopped chewing on him and set my chin on his arm. "Never would have guessed."
"I grew up with my own kind. I was old when I was assigned to follow you, and I have a great many years of memories with them. The others... The populations in their areas were much more diverse. Humans are like Duskull and Dusclops. You live in populations with many of your own kind and few of other kinds," he explained gently, and finally put me down. I slumped at last, against the tree behind me, and crossed my arms.
"I've had you guys for... forever, now. It's not as bad as you're saying. Most of the time, I prefer you to the rest of Sinnoh."
"And you think that is healthy?" he asked sharply. "For you? For your country?"
"...It's not my country," I mumbled pathetically.
"Then whose is it?" I slid down the rough bark of the tree, guilt churning in my stomach and not making my view on the situation any better. I didn't even know what we were trying to discuss anymore. Konstantin floated down beside me and placed a large hand on my hair. "I do not mean to upset you, comrade," he said softly, sadly. I halfheartedly glared up at him through my bangs. "I—We are just worried about you. That is all."
"Why are you worried about me?"
"You haven't been adjusting well—"
I pushed his hand off of me and rolled onto my knees, standing up with my back to him. "I'm sorry I haven't been adjusting well, Kostya. I am. I've been... adjusting as well as I've been left to. I—I'm not happy with where I am, just like you, I thought things would be... better. Kill the villain, get the girl, ride off on my Camerupt into the sunset."
"Which girl?" I turned to him, surprised and incredulous at the question. He tilted his head to one side. "You have never... aimed for anyone. Is that truly your idea of a happy ending?"
I paused and thought about that. "...I dunno." I had learned, hard and fast, that happy endings most certainly did not work that way. They came about through blood, sweat, and tears, and even then, they were never a guarantee. By all rights, I should've been the hero. Villain vanquished, soothing Sinnoh, mending and healing the broken region. Young and skilled and whatever else they were calling me. (Hanna called me handsome, Vai called me cute, and unbidden, I remembered the time Arianna had called my eyes pretty. Overall, not the masculine, reassuringly strong adjectives I had been hoping for.)
Slowly, I realized that my happy ending had never included those things. Yes, they would be nice, and yes, one day I would probably strive to have a semi-functional romantic relationship and a marriage and kids and wait. No. I had enough kids underfoot. I shook my head, trying to put my train of thought back on track.
"...I just wanted Nick to be okay. My happy ending was... too many years ago, I think."
"That's not healthy," Konstantin murmured.
"No one's ever accused me of that one," I replied flippantly, unfazed until he placed his hands on either side of my face, forcing me towards him. His breath smelled like death, again and still, but I had long since gotten used to it.
I waited for him to elaborate, but he stayed silent. I also tried to wriggle out of his grip, but that stayed, too. "...Kostya, I—"
"All I want is two things," he cut in. I nodded as best I could. "I want you to be happy, and I want you to be healthy. We have agreed that you shouldn't hide away so much anymore. There is nothing wrong with humankind, not anymore, and you can do more good for yourself and others if you stop running away into the wilderness. Go and be one of your Champions, properly."
"No." He started, clearly surprised at my response. I continued trying to pry him off my face to no avail. With a heavy sigh, I gave up on it and elaborated, "I'm not going to be a proper Champion. That involves staying in that fancy building with no one around me in that... that throne room. I can't stay in there, Kostya. I just can't."
"...But you will return to your humans?"
"...I guess I could go visit some people. Again."
"No. Don't you see?" he lamented, finally dropping his hands from my face. He swung away from me, glaring up at the half-hidden moon overhead. "You use these words—visit! It is just another way for you to escape. Another loophole for you to crawl out of later."
"I—It's not like I have a home anymore. I'm not gonna move back in with my parents, and I haven't lived anywhere since the Gym—" I blabbered, alarmed at the prospect of... any of that. House hunting or living in a big, empty Gym, or with my overbearing parents—or maybe I was just panicking at being near so many people again. Maybe this had gotten out of hand. Even before, I had at least had stable traveling companions for most of my journeys.
I gave up with a weak chuckle. It's what I normally did, after all.
"...Fine. You guys win." They always did.
"H-Hey, Arianna," I said with my best attempt at a smile. Judging on Hanna's expression, it was better than usual, but still a failure overall.
Arianna nodded curtly towards me. "Hello. Haven't seen you around for... awhile. How have you been?"
Oh jeez. This was rapidly becoming awkward. I looked at everyone and everything but her, which was hardly subtle, but it was my only defense left. Hanna had obviously been my go-to girl for pushing my way back into the realms of human civilization, but that, predictably, led to me getting dragged all over town to meet up with anyone I had ever so much as looked at before.
And then it came to Arianna.
I knew she had been trying to save her until I was less skittish, but I had rather wanted to avoid her altogether. For at least a year, or two, or perhaps the next decade. But as Hanna had put it, it had been five months. Granted, five months of me hiding out in the wilds and Arianna's popularity in the fashion world growing like wildfire. Not that I kept current on her work or anything.
Just thinking about any of this stuff was getting to be rather terrible. I could feel my face heat up—and then I realized she had asked me a question.
I turned on my heel and marched stiffly away. I was the Champion, goddamnit. I didn't have to deal with post-breakup drama and awkwardness. Hanna gave me an incoherent snarl, but I heard Arianna say something in that cool, unaffected tone she had when she was kinda disappointed but had seen it coming anyway. I had grown to recognize that tone very easily.
"And where do you think you're going?" Jude caught me by the collar half a block away. While our height difference had evaporated over the years, he still had no problem reeling me back with one arm. I supposed wrestling with unruly Pokémon all day would do wonders for building muscle. I gave him a wordless whine and tried to imitate Harlan (who I knew he had a soft spot for). He cringed and let go of me, but before I could bolt, he said, "You can't be running away again, can you?"
"...Huh? No. Of course not. What would give you that idea?"
He pointed back to where Hanna was angrily stomping after me, Arianna trailing after her reluctantly.
"Oh my god. Have a heart, Jude. Think of Zarek. Think of Harlan and her children!" I cried, gesturing to the Smeargle and Arcanine behind me. Wait—Fargo was sitting still, and there was one on his back, one near Harlan—where did Jocee go? I whirled around in a circle, scanning for the little Shinx kitten, worry momentarily overriding my panic.
Just long enough for the girls to catch up to me, anyway.
Hanna took a swipe at me. I ducked under it and bolted, but Jude caught me by the back of the shirt, physically dragging me back towards them. "Hanna your boyfriend is being mean to me. Make him stop manhandling me," I whined, scrabbling for purchase on the nearest building to try to break free.
"Jude, sweetie, let go of him." He let go of me just long enough for her to wrap her arms around me and pull her back towards herself. I could fight Jude, but I couldn't fight her. Not again, at any rate. Hanna smiled sweetly down at me. "And you, my dear pet, are going to go shopping with us. You look disgusting."
"Please don't make me do this. It's too soon," I whispered up at her, all but begging.
"Five months isn't soon."
"It is for me! I haven't dealt with this sort of thing before!"
Hanna dragged me around and deposited me in front of Arianna. Talk about tough love. To my surprise, however, I found my missing Shinx. Arianna held her in her arms, stroking her absently. "...I thought we were going to stay friends. But if this is the reception I'm always going to get, then..."
"I'm sorry. It's just—"
"City is making you antsy, I'm making you antsy, and there's too many people around?" Arianna asked with a tight smile. I nodded. "Well, I believe in immersion to cure such things."
"Of course you do."
The only upside was that my body was used to such shopping trips. Stumble into a changing room, swap out shirts and pants and jackets for several hours, parade around. It left me time to think when the girls weren't attempting to get my opinion on clothes. Years and experience had done nothing for my fashion sense.
Unfortunately, I was relatively powerless. Jude had taken my Pokemon—and the semi-not-mine as well—for the day, so I was at the girls' mercy.
I usually lost myself in thought between snippets of conversation. Thinking about returning to this. To exes and friends and family and people all around me. Trainers and non-trainers alike. That was sort of the main kicker; I had spent all this time fixing things for trainers, it had made me even more awkward around those who weren't. It was a large part of why it didn't work out between Arianna and I.
Though once her sketchbook came back out, I distinctly remembered why it had worked for those few short weeks.
"What're you drawing?" I asked, leaning over her shoulder. A couple of the rough sketches were clearly of Hanna in various outfits, most of them I assumed designed by Arianna herself; I didn't recognize them from the shopping trip.
"I'm just... doodling, I guess. I want to come out with a new batch of clothing, especially since I've gotten so popular lately," she murmured absently, erasing the bottom of one of the skirts and making it a little longer. She looked up at me and offered a grin, one of the first real ones I'd seen in quite some time. "I've hit it big over in Unova, you know. Hoenn can go suck it, but my line is in fashion here and in Unova right now. I've even gotten Elesa to model some of my things."
That name sounded familiar. I had a feeling I ought to know who it was. "That's great. Congrats."
"Mm, thanks." She turned back to her sketchbook, unsubtly covering one of the corners with her arm. I had already seen—it was one of me, half-leaning against a wall or something, shirt half unbuttoned and fiddling with the sleeves—but I pretended like I hadn't. "I was thinking..."
"Hm?" She trailed off, which was sorta unlike her. Though I couldn't place whether it was due to the fact that she was lost in thought or trying to take back the subject.
"Well. You remember—it was what, two years ago now? That line that I designed while working in the Gym. Based on your team? Well, after development hell and getting it out there, you had been the Champion for a little while, but it's still been my most popular collection. Not that I disliked any of the clothes, of course, but if it hadn't been for you, the set would've been a train wreck," Arianna sighed and flipped to a new page, glancing up as Hanna came out of the changing room.
"How do you like this one?" she asked, twirling for us. I nodded and Arianna beamed at her.
"I love it. That looks awesome on you. Get it, okay?"
In between her flattered smiles and agreements, I saw her shoot the other girl a look. I couldn't quite understand it, but I knew it was one of those secret girl ones. Right when I had been lapsing into the comfort of routine again, too; I felt nervous again and took a step away from Arianna, backing way out of her personal bubble. The last thing I needed was for Hanna to get ideas about us. Again.
"You don't have to act so... you. I won't bite," Arianna grumbled, scribbling angrily over half the page. I had thought the poor doodle had been looking rather nice.
"It's just... I'm not used to this."
"To..." I didn't know how to end that. To her? To shopping? To everyone? To not having my team on me? Having reminded myself of that last one once more, I shuffled and glanced back at the door. I felt naked without them. And I probably wouldn't see Jude until dinner... "Why did he have to take my team?"
"Because you're becoming dependent on them," she supplied. I glared at her. "You're not secretive. The ghost told Jude—who flipped, by the way—and he told Hanna and she told me." It took me a moment for it to click that she was referring to the accident with Cossette. Just great.
"I am... not. I'm working on it. I don't need an intervention." I plopped down onto the ground beside her, crossing my legs.
"So you're going to stand up for yourself?" she asked with no small amount of amusement.
"Yes. I am," I hissed back.
"You sure seem like you're doing that." Arianna returned to her sketching, though by the constant peeks up at me, I could tell I was the subject again.
"I'm trying to be social, I'm trying to be independent of my team again, I'm trying to be a good Champion and whatever else is expected of me." I sighed and leaned back on my arms.
"You're still just playing a role."
"...Yeah, I guess. I am. I know that, I have since the get-go, and that's the truth. It's just a bigger role."
"And you're running away from even that."
"I'm here, aren't I?" I couldn't help but snap. She wasn't spiteful enough (most of the time) to be doing this just to jab at me. "I'm trying, Arianna. I'm sorry if I can't just win at everything right away."
"I'm sorry, I'm not trying to get at that." She gave up on her designing and shut the book, setting it down on the chair beside her. She placed a hand on my shoulder and gave me a comforting squeeze. "I'm simply trying to get that spine back. You're confronted with something you don't like, something that makes you nervous, and you're acting like you're a scared little kid again. I've never owned a Pokémon, and you know that, so you can function in life without them. Contrary to your belief."
"Not that again. Arianna, it's different—" I was saved by a repeat of the only argument we ever had by my phone ringing. It startled us both, judging by the way she jumped, and I hastily fished it out of my pocket. Flipping it open, I said, "Hello?"
Sela's voice cut through static and more than a little background noise. "You asked to be notified. So I'm notifying you. Get your ass up to Snowpoint or I'm taking care of it myself." With a click, she hung up. Incredibly terse and not terribly specific, but I knew what she was talking about at once. I slid my phone shut and got to my feet.
"Where do you think you're going?" Hanna asked, peeking out of the changing room.
"I have to go now," I replied quietly, scrolling through my phone to get to Jude's number.
"So you're just going to walk out of here and go back to what, trees and avoiding life?" she demanded. She came out of the room, ignoring the fact that she was shirtless, and stood between me and the door.
"Hanna, I have to go now—"
"You're not running away again!" She jabbed her finger into my chest, hard enough to make me wince, but I grabbed her hand and forced her back.
"My duties as a Champion supersede a shopping trip," I said as evenly as I could manage, dropping her arm. "I will return, okay? Probably—later tonight, tomorrow morning at the earliest. I promise. But right now, there is a problem in Snowpoint concerning a dangerous Pokémon, and I have to take care of it."
She fell silent, anger gone and replaced with a distant sort of understanding. She crossed her arms over her bra and watched as I marched past her. "Well, there's the spine," Arianna said, just before I was out of earshot. I'm sure that was on purpose. "Someone just has to go on a rampage for it to come out."
I ignored how true that was and pressed the phone against my ear. "Jude? It's me. I need my team back—no, this is important. I need to protect Sinnoh."
"So what's going on here?" I had only stopped in the Pokémon Center long enough to grab snow boots and a parka; Sela wasn't there, and I wanted to hear the situation from her mouth. Though the state of the Center put me off balance. They were too frantic, too sad. This wasn't good.
Sela, hood drawn up tight and one sleeve of her coat half-shredded, didn't look at me as she said, "Wild Medicham, or maybe it was trained at one point. It's really strong."
"How many downed?"
"One trainer, three of her four, and two other trained Pokémon killed. We've been finding bits and pieces of wild ones around her for about a month, probably due to that thing, too. I lost count of how many others that were seriously injured, but at least half a dozen trainers who've tried to help. Half my Gym trainers are in the hospital," she said gruffly.
I looked around. The wind was blowing snow around us, but I didn't think it was actually snowing, and this weather wasn't terrible for Snowpoint, anyway. We stood at the city limits, not even into the trees. "...Why are we just standing here?"
She gave me a look that must have dropped the temperature another twenty degrees. I shivered and finally pulled up my hood. "...I'm not gonna blow my own horn here, but I've been around the block a couple times. I'm not a pushover. But. ...He was old, and he couldn't fly, I know." Her voice broke. I pretended not to notice, but her words gave me a chill that I couldn't attribute to the snow around us. "But that thing killed Asher, and he was probably my strongest Pokémon. Or had been. This is a dangerous one."
She turned from me. "Don't be. He was old, he had a good run. He went down fighting."
"You have a Honchkrow, don't you?" She bobbed her head. "I don't have any dark Pokémon, but I do have a ghost. If that thing is as strong as you say, then I'm not sure I want any of the rest of my team getting too close to it."
"I've been using Hark to keep it out of the city, but he's only one Pokémon, and this snow isn't doing wonders for him. Does that Smeargle of yours have anything that could help?"
I stiffened. "...I left Fargo and Harlan back at the Center. Harlan has kids now. I'm not sure I want her fighting, no matter what moves she knows," I said flatly. I couldn't ask her to go up against a fighter, especially a psychic one. Even if she had fought against Cynthia, even if she had been one of Nick's go-to Pokémon, I couldn't ask her to do this. "I'll use Kostya, and Des and Ike will be out for long-range support. How close can you get?"
"Not very. But it depends on how thick the trees are. Last I've seen it, it was more towards the southern part of the forest, getting out into the Route. I don't want that thing out in the open where there are trainers." Her Honchkrow flapped down out of the sky and landed in the thick snow beside her, murmuring something to her. "Hark knows where it's at. I have a Gym trainer who's been helping me with a Froslass, too, but we're gonna have to hike down there."
"Great." Worry about a rampaging psychic, freezing temperatures, and half my team all but useless against this foe and in this weather. And now a Medicham and a Froslass. Such memories were hardly as poisonous as they once were, but it still wasn't entirely pleasant to have to tramp through the snow with that oh so familiar ice ghost just behind me.
Hark led us from overhead, but Sela stopped us before we even saw it. The wind had picked up and it was definitely snowing by then, further reducing visibility, but there were few trees this far south. The ones that were there were little more than dark blotches against all of the white and gray. "Okay, it's about a hundred and fifty yards that way. Hark's seen it and it's probably seen him, so be on guard. Don't get too close to it."
"We can't even see where it is," the female trainer with the Froslass griped. I nodded in firm agreement.
"Once it starts attacking, you'll sure see it. Release your Camerupt and Luxray, if you're gonna, but I'd keep their pokeballs handy. This thing is nasty," Sela remarked. I took note of it and fished out the pokeball and ultra ball with my mittens, rather clumsily. Konstantin floated out, following the Froslass, as Hark circled us overhead.
Just as I released Des and Ike, snow blew up in front of us, showering us with ice crystals and cold. The Honchkrow shrieked and dove and both ghosts flashed out of existence. Des, taken aback by all of the snow, momentarily wavered, whereas Ike simply started sending lightning with frightening accuracy in the Medicham's direction. I immediately felt a severe headache coming on, just as it floated close enough for us to finally see it. I was surprised—it actually floated, not even bothering to walk.
It physically beat back Hark, unable to touch him with its psychic powers, but threw snow and ice at him. It was effective enough to prevent him from doing major damage. Ike's first Thunderbolt missed, but his second hit it squarely in the chest, throwing it back into the white. Des' volcanoes roared, melting the snow all around us, both on the ground and in the air. Ike zapped it again as it recovered, climbing back into the air as if it were tangible.
It didn't fall this time, and with brightly glowing eyes, turned and found our little knot. Without any further warning, it picked Ike up with a Psychic. He sparked and flailed, ears rotating madly to try to orient himself as best he could. The Medicham threw up another wall of snow just as Des shot a Flamethrower at it, just thick enough to repel most of it and throw up mist and steam. We lost sight of it again.
Overhead, it twisted Ike in the air and snapped one of his legs. I heard the crack from where I was standing. He yowled in pain and I realized then, very horribly, that Sela had not been overestimating this monster. I returned him as fast as I could, breaking out into a cold sweat, and searched the blinding white around us for any sign of Konstantin. I couldn't see him. Des kept bathing that general area in flames, but as my headache spiked again, I turned on him with his pokeball. He gave me a hard glare and snorted, but that was all the argument he got.
I heard an inhuman shriek as the snow finally settled. No—it froze. The other trainer and I looked around, alarmed, at the snowflakes hanging motionless in the air. As our visibility returned, we found the Medicham holding the Honchkrow by the neck, fist coated in ice, with the Froslass floating just behind it, a gigantic Ice Shard hanging just over their heads, pointed at the Medicham's neck. They were at a stalemate.
That was, until Konstantin reached up and grabbed the floating psychic's ankles. It screeched as it was pulled down into its shadow, grip loosening just enough for Hark to break free as he beat it with his wings. For good measure, the Froslass hurled the Ice Shard at it just before it disappeared completely.
The two remaining Pokémon stared at the spot they vanished at. I waited for my Dusknoir to reappear, but he didn't. Ghosts were not like the dark Pokémon. They had an advantage over psychics, but they weren't immune to them. And after the ease it had wielded its psychic powers, I couldn't help but worry. Ike had hardly fazed it and it had picked him up and manipulated his body like he was a limp doll.
"How could a psychic like that just crop up all of a sudden?" I asked as the snow began to fall again and the wind picked back up.
"I think it was trained," the Gym trainer said with a look up at Sela. "Miss Sela doesn't, but that was a strong Pokémon. It had to have had some training at some point."
"Look," Sela snapped and planted her fists on her hips, "That Medicham, however strong, has never shown anything but moves it would have learned naturally. Strong ones, granted, but still all natural. Try to show me a trained Pokémon who hasn't learned some sort of special move, TM or otherwise, through its trainer."
The two argued, possibly to break the tension, but I couldn't ignore the fact that neither Konstantin nor the Medicham had resurfaced. Shadow Sneak was like a Teleport, for the most part, but I didn't think it'd be able to Teleport out of there. I also didn't know how Konstantin was holding it in between, either. He had grown so strong since he had allowed himself to evolve, but it wasn't like Shadow Force. There wasn't another world to stay in.
"It doesn't matter where the hell it came from, what matters is stopping it!" Sela finally roared, shutting up her Gym trainer. The Froslass and Honchkrow, after no immediate return of the others, made their way cautiously back over to us. I rolled Ike's ultra ball between my mittens, nervous again. Konstantin and the Medicham were missing. Ike had just gotten hurt. I couldn't use any other Pokémon without the same problem.
The snow behind us erupted. Both psychic and ghost were thrown forward, skidding into the white, and both struggled to get back up. "Kostya! Are you—"
The Froslass created her giant Ice Shard again and lobbed it at the Medicham, catching it in the chest and pinning it to the icy ground with a spray of red. It struggled and beat at the ice, cracking it, until Hark swooped down and used his flying moves to beat it into submission.
I ran over to my Dusknoir, helping him back up into air. "Don't worry about me. It was just... tiring," he said preemptively, patting me on the head. His head was covered in something dark red, or perhaps even black, something I knew instinctively to be his blood. "But I crippled his psychic abilities." That would be why the other two were so easily keeping it pinned to the ground. The Froslass worked at freezing it down and Hark prevented it from getting up again. It looked as if we were going to win this now.
"Are you okay?" I asked, reaching up and gently touching his head. The almost-black stuff was liquid, so yup. Blood. He brushed me off, and I noticed that it was with the same hand that he patted me with. He wasn't using his other arm. I reached out to touch it, but he shied away from me, confirming the injury.
I looked back fearfully at the Medicham. Its struggles were weakening. Konstantin brushed past me when I wasn't looking and hovered over the fighter, eye narrowed. "You have been defeated."
It gave him a scathing look, clearly replying, "That's what you think."
And of course, being the stupid trainers we were, we hadn't consciously realized that we were just as vulnerable as our Pokémon. If anything, more vulnerable. The Medicham's eyes glowed again, and I caught movement out of the corner of my eye; I turned to see Sela collapse. "Miss Sela!" Her Gym trainer, running over to her, stumbled, before being lifted into the air. The Froslass screamed and dove for the Medicham, scratching its face with her tiny hands, but that only allowed her to get close enough to be tossed away as well, thrown into her trainer.
The Medicham turned its eyes on me, but Konstantin wasn't about to let that happen. He reached down and put his hand through its head. He phased it down through its bloody chest, then finally pulled his hand out only when its eyes rolled back in its head. My headache suddenly lessened significantly as the Medicham started to convulse, breaking the ice binding it to the ground.
I ran back to Sela, helping her up, not sure I wanted to watch it die in front of me.
This is part of the job, part of the job you created, I reminded myself, half-glad when the sounds of the Medicham's thrashing finally died down. My Pokémon had bloodied his hands for me again, and he wasn't the first. I knew he wouldn't be the last. I had saved who I could, and I wasn't going to let any other Pokémon did what that Abomasnow did. There would be no more Nicks or Lolas.
Though I hadn't given the order to kill it. Konstantin had reacted when I was in danger. He had killed to defend me. I was sure that wouldn't be the last time, either, and that thought left a bitter taste in my mouth.
"Do you want me to Shadow Sneak you back to the city?" he asked worriedly, floating around us. When he was the one covered in ghost blood with a hurt arm. Like trainer, like Pokémon.
"You're hurt. You're not Sneaking us anywhere," I replied and fished out his pokeball. He gave me a pout, but I returned him nonetheless.
"Plus, I have a Cloyster that knows Teleport. I am not hiking back through that forest," the female trainer said with a growl for said forest. I rolled my eyes. A Teleporting Cloyster was just about as bad as a Teleporting Magmar. But at least it got the job done.
Back in the Center, Ike and Konstantin both had broken limbs to contend with, though the scrapes on my ghost's forehead weren't serious. Hark also had a nasty case of frostbite that needed to be treated. Sela didn't thank me for my help and I didn't expect her to. It was my job to help enforce the laws I helped put in place, after all.
"We match!" Konstantin exclaimed, holding up his cast. Ike gave him a curled lip and a growl, fur crackling with static, but that wasn't enough these days to deter any of his teammates.
"So why can a ghost's arm be set?" I asked for the umpteenth time, watching as Konstantin attempted to compare casts with a very sour Ike.
The doctor sighed. "Because. Ghosts have their own sort of skeletal structure, and we are setting it to ensure that that heals properly, just like bones in you or I or your Luxray." I had seen Konstantin pass through walls and people and me. I couldn't grasp that there was a skeleton in there to boot.
Though I was just glad they'd be okay. And the memories were sort of fun to revisit, too; Ike had had a cast before, and he'd gotten it just after we met Konstantin, in fact. The danger had passed and now I had two injured pokémon and an irritated Camerupt nipping at my ears.
"I would have been fine. I'm heavier than the feline," Des maintained.
"I wasn't going to risk it."
"You need to learn to trust me."
"Did you want a cast like those two? I could still ask the doctor to put one on you."
Now that the danger had passed, we slipped back into a less serious view of things. It wasn't so bad; it was definitely less stressful. I couldn't be worrying for their lives, or my life, or others' lives all the time, at least not on that level. Konstantin killing the Medicham didn't bother me as much as it should have, though. Death wasn't anything new to any of us. Neither was killing. It was just that he had done it without any direction from me...
"Are you going to return to those females and their whims?" Ike asked, limping over to me. He half bumped into my leg, but we both pretended he didn't, and he sat down beside me.
"...I guess. I sorta promised."
"You could always disappear again. No one would ever find you if you didn't wish for it," he purred. I knew him better than to think he was tempting me; he was actually forcing me back towards them. He knew that his words would only suggest what Nick had done. "...If we must return, could you at least keep that empty-headed canine away from my daughter? I don't need him yapping and creating such a fuss whenever he sees her."
"It is adorable when you refer to them as your own," I cooed. He slashed at me with his uninjured paw, ripping open denim and skin alike. I laughed through the pain; it was just a love scratch. "Harlan, can you bring Jocee over here? Her daddy wants to sit with her."
"I will kill you in your sleep yet and drag your entrails up out of your slit throat," Ike hissed at me. Harlan pattered over, Jocee in her arms, and set the little Shinx next to him. He grumpily set about to bathing her, ignoring her sparking and mewling. Harlan gave me a stern look, no doubt blaming me for his injury, and set about to painting his cast.
"Blame me all you want, but could you take us back first? Then you can have the day back to yourself and your sourpuss."
The days passed. City life wasn't so bad, once I got used to it again. We eventually migrated towards Sunyshore, so Zarek could have his time at the beach, and so I could check in on Alicia and Nathan. I was also really curious about what she had done with the Gym. Every time I meant to visit her, it wound up that we met some place else or it had to be canceled; I hadn't seen it since I'd left it. Vaikuntha took a couple days off as well to come visit, and if nothing else, he cheered the atmosphere up.
The awkwardness left between Arianna and I, for the most part, and we lapsed back into the friendship we'd had for years. Hanna, too, was the same as ever, but that was a good thing since it meant I could go to the beach as often as I liked. I was sure her bikini got smaller and smaller with every passing year, though. I missed Carlita terribly, especially her exuberance (and okay, it'd be funny to see her reaction to the two casts suddenly on her teammates) and perpetual excitement.
It was almost like I was still living in Sunyshore. The paparazzi was still annoying, we spent our days near surf and in the sun, and my team continued to embarrass me in public. Konstantin figured out that he could phase out of his cast at any time, so I usually had to get after him to put it back on. At least Ike couldn't wiggle out of his.
Naturally, it quickly got out that the Champion had returned to civilization and was vacationing on the Sunyshore beaches, and that had its pros and cons. The fun part was getting more battles. (I missed Carlita during those, too.) The bad part was Lucian giving me the evil eye when he dropped in to make sure everything was okay after the Medicham incident. Another annoying problem was that Alicia was still with Tessa, even through her prison sentence. Great that she had a solid relationship spanning several years, but she could have picked someone who hadn't beaten me with a shovel.
"I made you," Des said, sitting back and admiring his work. I looked at the blob of glass he had created out of the sand. It was a vaguely upright blob, but that was about all I could say for the similarities.
I returned to my glaring match with Tessa. "That's, uh, nice."
A yowl, a crack of thunder, and a howl. We both jumped and looked over; apparently, Fargo (running from Jocee again; I would have to have a talk with that Arcanine) had stepped on Ike's tail. Harlan was already separating them with a Barrier, Jocee in her arms and away from her teammate. Fargo beat a hasty retreat for Des' relative safety, and Harlan carried her Shinx over to—and to our group's great surprise—Arianna.
Pushing her sunglasses back onto her dark hair, she asked, "What?"
Alicia perked up between Tessa and I, doe eyes even larger than normal. "Woah, when did this happen?"
"Is the little Shinx hers now? Are all of them up for adoption?"
"Wait, what? No—!" I looked back at Jocee, contentedly purring in Arianna's arms, though the girl herself still looked a little nonplussed by the offering. Harlan trotted back over to Ike and began soothing him, leaving us with the Shinx.
I hadn't thought about them growing up and leaving before. The two Pidgeot leaving had been hard enough on my heart and there had been many tears shed that day. Come to think of it, they hadn't stopped in in some time... But the little ground-bound ones? Leaving? I was still getting used to having them around, and they could possibly be old enough to be leaving already.
Then again, did I really have any say in it? They were Harlan and Ike's, not mine in any sense of the word. And what about Carlita's twins? I still wasn't used to having more than six Pokémon, damn it. Harlan and Fargo didn't count. They were independent of me. The Pidgey chicks—when they had been chicks—had been more like pets, even as they evolved and aged.
"Brother? Are you alright?" Vaikuntha asked, suddenly leaning into my view. I gave him a shaky smile.
"Y-Yeah, of course. Just... thinking."
He smiled in relief. "That is a useful pastime to have. Are you worrying about the future again?"
"Yeah, sorta. I guess."
He sat down beside me, tugging my towel over to make room. It was a little more difficult to glare at Tessa with two people in between us, but perhaps that was for the best. "Worrying about the future tends to make you forget the present, if I may be so blunt. Please, try not to worry so much!"
"Easier said than done..."
"Yeah, I know. But I can hope. You have already returned to your friends, your family, so one day, I hope your mindset will return to a healthier place as well."
I gave him a sidelong glance. "Why's everyone so worried about my mental health all of a sudden? It's not like this thing happened overnight. I was left alone out there for years and no one bothered to worry then."
"Are you kidding? We were worried sick about you!" Alicia scolded at once. "But you've never been open to help before. Now, we saw weakness. And we pounced! And dragged you back out into the light where you belong."
"I don't want you pouncing on him," Tessa deadpanned. I leaned forward so she could see me again and stuck my tongue out at her. So much for maturity.
"Oh, shush. You know what I mean," Alicia said, smacking her thigh. "Hanna, quit making out with your boyfriend and come talk some sense into your child!"
"I was not making out with him!" Hanna called irately from the surf, splashing away from Jude. To be fair, I hadn't seen them kissing at all today. But to be just as fair to Alicia, there had been far too much giggling and splashing for that to be completely innocent. Which was why I was mostly entertaining myself with glaring at Tessa instead of getting diabetes from watching the couple do their couple things.
"If you're jealous, you should get a girlfriend!" Alicia said, catching my sour look.
"I've barked up that tree before."
"I don't count."
I jerked my thumb over to Arianna. She nodded lazily. Alicia groaned and rolled over onto her back, gesturing randomly in the air. "I mean—get a new one! I bet you didn't even know you were in Sunyshore's list of most eligible bachelors. You're legal, and even if you've been out of sight, you haven't been completely out of mind. I think you were ranked fourth or something. List of twenty."
I felt the color drain out of my face, even as it earned laughs from the others. "...No, I had not known that. Are you serious? That—They couldn't have done something like that without my permission!"
"You are a public persona," Vaikuntha reminded me unhelpfully. "You have been since becoming a Gym leader, remember?"
"So get a girlfriend."
"How did we come back to that again?" Tessa asked her other, poking her in the stomach. "I don't see why you care for his romantic life so much when you were probably the one responsible for crippling it in the first place."
"Can we please change the subject," I begged.
"I didn't cripple him! I was just—it was awkward for both of us, okay! It's not my fault he fell for my totally hot bod." Actually, I had fallen for her pretty eyes and cute face—but that was entirely beside the point and getting me nowhere fast.
"That reminds me. No one else is allowed to see that hot bod, so cover up that excuse for a swimsuit." Tessa rolled off her towel and threw it over Alicia, making her giggle and squirm.
Speaking of avoiding noxiously cute couple things. "I think I've outgrown this area," Arianna announced, already on her feet. Vai and I quickly mimicked her, stashing our towels.
We turned around and met a very big surprise. Actually, several surprises, and I wasn't sure who was the biggest. Lucian, still in his suit, standing behind a swimsuit-sporting Benjamin and our shared pokémon between them. Carlita leapt at me happily, crying, "We're on vacation!"
"Carlita—what—what are you all doing here?"
"May I have a word with you about your Pokémon?" Lucian asked coolly. Vai handed me my shirt—wait, that was his shirt—but Lucian was already walking away. I pulled it over my head, giving Benjamin a questioning look as I set Carlita down and passed him. He shook his head. That wasn't a good sign.
I pulled the shirt over my head and hastily grabbed the sandals Carlita brought to me. Of course, slipping on shoes while walking was a feat, nevermind the fact that my feet were covered in sand and rocks and I was trying to keep up with Lucian. The end result was that I managed to trip over my own feet, falling flat on my face.
When I sat up with a bloody nose, Alicia cried out, "Bingo!"
"...We are still playing that?" Vaikuntha asked after a pause.
"We?" I echoed, hands clamped over my face. I suppose it wasn't a vacation without blood spilled, but still. I thought I had been getting past the awkward kid stage. Unless I was just going to grow into an awkward adult. That would be in line with my luck, come to think of it.
Lucian pulled my hands away, leaning down to peer into my face. "It doesn't look broken, though it will probably swell. We can get you cleaned up while we talk."
As we walked through Sunyshore, silently, I must have looked a sight. Head tilted back and pinching my nose, trying to pick out bits of sand and gravel from my elbow with my free hand. The good thing was that I hadn't managed to get any blood on Vai's shirt. Lucian certainly didn't wait for me, though I had a sneaking suspicion that whenever we got where we were supposed to go, the blood would have not only stopped, but dried.
And I was proven correct.
He led me back to the Pokémon Center, but we didn't stop there; he simply picked up his Alakazam and we Teleported out of the city. I should have known. I recognized where we landed immediately: the Champion's room. It was a little dustier than I remembered it, but oh well. Wasn't my fault.
"So, would you like to tell me why you're giving the youngest Gym leader your bad habits?" Lucian seated himself on the step near the Champion's side of the arena and adjusted his sunglasses.
"Huh?" I jumped when I noticed we weren't alone; the rest of the Elite Four was here. And embarrassingly enough, it seemed as if Volkner had expected me to show up with some sort of bloody wound. He wordlessly held out a washcloth for me, and behind him, I saw Flint and Aaron exchange smirks.
"You left one of your main Pokémon with Benjamin, but not only that, you also left two unregistered pokémon with him as well. The limit is six," Lucian said icily as I scrubbed the dried blood off. He was right; my nose was already beginning to swell.
I wrung the cloth in my hands and avoided all of the judgment. "Carlita is still registered to me, and she's visiting her, uh... lover. Boyfriend. Mate? I don't know—but you can't try to pretend like I'm the only one in the entire region doing that. Because I'm sure love between Pokémon never happens between different teams."
"She is part of a Champion's team. What if you got a challenge while she was gone?" It actually wouldn't be the first time, but I wasn't stupid enough to let him know that. "What if she caused trouble for Benjamin?"
"Carlita's a little hyper sometimes, but she's a well-behaved Pokémon," I mumbled, glaring at the floor. Despite how much fun I had been having with my team and friends the past couple days, I suddenly remembered why I had gone off on my own in the first place. "It's fine. Benjamin agreed to it and she behaves for him. Bentley likes her there, and he likes to see his kids, and it's not like I'm taking him with me anywhere, so this is the only chance he gets."
"So you'll separate a Champion's Pokémon from her team but not a Gym leader's?" Volkner asked evenly.
"I can handle my own team. I can take on challengers with five—you all just have five. It's not that hard."
"If we get beat, we don't hand over the Championship to a newbie," Flint pointed out, not incorrectly. I grumpily crossed my arms and turned my back on all of them.
"We are simply worried about the state of this region. We can handle the international political affairs well enough, and you have been doing an admirable job policing what laws you have instated. We just don't want you to get a random challenge out in the middle of a route and have a crippled team, and then hand over Sinnoh to someone who's worse—" Lucian cut himself off abruptly.
"...Go ahead, say it. Someone who's worse than I am."
"It's not as if you're bad," Aaron volunteered.
"I'm just not Cynthia. Or Lucian. Or someone who will sit in this big, empty room all day and get what, one challenge a day? Two if we're lucky?" I turned back to them but maintained my hostile stance. "I battle challengers. With only my six who are registered to do so, I may add. So I have a couple... stragglers following me around. I'm trying to comply with laws, and I'm trying to set a good example. I'm just doing it by going out and training, traveling, being a trainer."
"Except you haven't," Volkner drawled. "You've been hiding in the woods."
I rolled my eyes with a groan. "Not you too."
"Sorry to say," Lucian broke in, "But you're the Champion of a region. You're popular and well-liked, despite the criticisms for abandoning your post. You're still a hero. It's just that you have responsibilities now."
"I'm not going to stop Bentley from seeing his kids or Carlita," I growled back at him.
"This isn't about that!"
"Then what is it about! What exactly are you trying to tell me, stop me from doing, change about me?" I demanded.
"You need to stop acting like a kid!" Lucian snapped.
"...Aaron was seventeen when he joined the Elite Four. Cynthia was nineteen when she became Champion. She nearly lost it to Dawn after the Galactic stuff, and she was what, thirteen at the time? Guess what most of the training population is."
"Okay, cut it out. Both of you," Volkner interrupted with a glare for Lucian. "Let's just talk this out rationally."
"How?" Lucian and I both asked.
"Well..." That seemed to put him at a loss.
"Well, how about we outline the good things and the bad things?" Aaron suggested, stepping forward.
"And do what? Impeach me if if the cons outweigh the pros?"
"No, we have to have a Champion. That was what made Cynthia's leaving even more stressful," Lucian muttered, rubbing his temples. "He's not a bad Champion, just an irresponsible one."
"Y'know. Cynthia had a villa in Unova, even while she was Champion. I remember more than one headache resulting from her taking an impromptu vacation out of the country." We all looked at Flint; I felt unexpectedly happy at the thought of one of them kinda defending me. It seemed that I had been doing nothing but avoiding and arguing with these people for far too long. "Volkner said he was gonna claim the Championship for himself if she left one more time. Remember that?"
"The sad part is that you all went along with it," he mumbled, rubbing the back of his head a little Mareepishly. "But Flint is right. Cynthia wasn't perfect and she had her flaws as a leader. At least this one has stayed in-country."
"But he still needs to set a better example for the younger generations."
"I got a breeding license! I've never used Harlan or Fargo for anything but setting fires and Teleporting. Which, may I remind you, was your idea that I should get something that knows the move," I reminded the psychic specialist with a sharp smile. He nodded wearily. "I—the kids are still young, but I guess... I'll adopt them out one day. Jude can help me with the legal issues, so don't worry, I'll follow all the nice little laws. I haven't seen my Pidgeot in months, so it's not like they're hanging around anymore, either..."
"And the law says that there's a divide between number of trained Pokémon and pets," Flint added. Not that Harlan or Fargo were pets, per se, but the point remained. "Look, I know we're all stressed out here. But the kid's getting better, aren't you? He's been in Sunyshore for about half a week now, and now he has the Breloom back. Just... He can visit up here every now and then for important occasions, but let the kid roam Sinnoh. It's good that he remains connected to the training population."
"Yes. Yes it is," I said primly.
"Then stay where you're more visible. The media gets nervous when the Champion disappears for weeks on end."
"I already have half the Gym leaders down my throat for that. I'll stay back with humankind, sheesh." I put my hands up in surrender. That had sort of been the plan, so may as well use it to pacify Lucian. Our relationship was still as rocky as ever, and I doubted that would change, but I probably should be a little more available to the public. Especially so I could stop silly bachelor lists.
"We have not slept together since we were roommates!" Vai said excitedly.
"Yeah. So can you get out of my bed now?" I deadpanned, trying to pull the covers out from under him. I half-wished I could have gotten a room to myself, just so I could sleep with my Pokémon out, but it had sort of turned into some sort of impromptu mass sleepover. Boys got one hotel room, girls got the next door one. (I didn't know why we didn't just sleep at the Gym, but I had a feeling it was the universe preventing me from seeing it yet again.)
"...We should make a pillow fort," Benjamin said suddenly, catching our attention. It was unlike him to be so... silly. He immediately caught that and reddened, glaring out the window. "Don't you judge me. They're badass."
"No—pillow forts are cool. I just didn't think you had it in you to still act like a kid."
Vai was on board for pretty much anything, but it took some force to enlist Jude's help. Well, the threat of bringing Konstantin into it, at any rate. "The girls have your Pokémon," he reminded me with a scowl.
"Alicia would totally let me borrow Kostya for such a noble cause," I retorted. "Now toss me that pillow." It was predictably thrown at my face. My nose was still tender, but it didn't hurt that bad, at least.
"I still don't see why the mandate was to get our teams taken from us. And after getting our asses chewed by Lucian for the same thing?" Benjamin complained, trying to drape the blanket across the top without it collapsing. It wasn't working very well, but I couldn't help but agree with him. Hanna had started with my team, then Harlan and Fargo, and then the children. But that involved taking Bentley as well, since he was still clingy towards them.
And, in all honesty, I was a little unsure about Harlan and Fargo staying the night in the same room as Hanna. Not that she was that mean, or cruel, or vindictive, but... it probably wasn't a good idea.
"I know that look. Don't think so poorly of her," Jude told me.
"I-I'm just worried they'll be handful of them."
"Because they have never dealt with a Pokémon before."
"I don't want Tessa anywhere near any of them, either," I muttered darkly, but my consolation on that matter was that she was outnumbered, and Alicia pretty much had her whipped. "I just—why couldn't they have stayed in the room with us?"
"Because girls are mean and Vai is afraid of fire," Benjamin grunted as he finally fixed the roof of our fort.
"I-I am not! I have gotten better about that!" Vaikuntha pouted, popping up from behind it. "I do not mind the Pokémon themselves!"
"...Why are we acting like such kids," Jude said suddenly as I dove into the fort. It was crowded with Benjamin and Vai both in there, and the heat was already collecting in there, but we just grinned out at him regardless.
"Because I have yet to mature and I'm dragging you down to my level," I told him with a cackle. Vai and I reached out and dragged him in, though he flailed just enough to bring down the roof and a wall on top of us. And really, we were too big for pillow forts. Literally.
Because acting responsible was overrated, anyway.
We were pushing three in the morning when I finally fell asleep; I was definitely not used to staying up that late. It felt like just minutes later when I was woken back up by a banging on the door. I found myself chilled and only half on the bed, to my surprise, but no one else seemed conscious enough to answer it. With a groan and a growl, I rolled out of bed.
Vai was curled up in the other bed and seemed to have ended up with most of the pillows, and I guessed that Benjamin was the foot sticking out of the blankets near the end of my bed. I didn't see Jude, though.
Puzzling over his absence, I opened the door to a tired and cranky French girl.
It took a couple moments for my sleepy mind to process what I was seeing. She seemed... disheveled. And I hadn't seen her in a couple days, and I hadn't left on the best of terms—oh. Yeah. I braced myself for some sort of physical abuse, but instead, she burst out, "I challenge you!"
"I have just beaten the rest of that Elite Four, at last, and I am challenging you!" she said breathlessly, hands on her hips.
What little of my mind had been conscious ground to a halt. I hadn't been aware she had been trying for the Elite Four, and if she had challenged them before—surely she didn't pull a me and beat them on her first run—those traitors hadn't said a word to me. Wait—she had just told me she got eight badges. Granted, I hadn't seen her for months prior to that, but...
"When...?" I asked, struggling to make sense of... all of this. The timeline was messed up. Was it? Well, the Elite Four could probably be beaten in just two or three hours, depending on the battles themselves, and I guess it was sorta late in the morning. But—this came out of nowhere. She wasn't even acknowledging when I had shouted at her.
Then I got a mental image of Cossette as the Champion and my mind gave up entirely.
"No?" she echoed, taken aback.
"I. Am. ...Hungry," I decided. I retreated back into the room, leaving the door open as I pulled on whatever clothes I could find. I recognized my jeans from the rip in the knee, but I had a feeling I ended up with someone else's shirt. I still didn't see Jude anywhere. "Come with me to breakfast. I want pancakes."
"But—as a Champion, you have to accept any challenges from anyone who has beaten the rest of the Elite Four!" she cried, pattering after me.
"Eh." She was too young to be a Champion. Lucian would hate her even more than he hated me—would he? Well, not as if he hated me, but surely he'd be even more frustrated with an even younger Champion. Wait, she hadn't been born here. Had she? Could a non-native become Champion? ...Was she even a legal citizen of this region? I knew Jude wasn't—and stubbornly refused to give him citizenship—but I guess I had only seen her in Sinnoh, unlike him.
This was too much thinking for me right then.
I realized that Cossette was chattering along behind me. I slowed, belatedly realizing I only had socks on, and looked back at her. "...And I decided to follow your advice, so I have a full team of six now. But Jacques is still at the Center, because the stress of Teleporting here after the battles was hard on him, so I will only have five, still. But do not go easy on me!"
"Ouais," she chirped proudly, puffing out her chest. "Her name is Celeste. I have only had her for two days, but she has been an excellent addition to my team."
She challenged the Elite Four with a Pokémon she had only been training for two days? She was either crazy or arrogant. Or possibly both. "What is Celeste?"
I choked on my breath—she had gotten a dragon and used it? She couldn't have caught it. "...Where did you get that Dragonair?"
"From Jude. I buy the Pokémon I do not catch from him." I would have to throttle him later. Why did he insist on giving away dangerously strong Pokémon to girls who probably couldn't handle them?
"How is that thing even listening to you? Dragons aren't easy to please, Cossette. It takes a lot of time and effort to earn their trust."
She looked away, cheeks red, and nervously played with her hair. I stopped on the stairs, one step down from her, and crossed my arms expectantly. "She, ah... Is a bit of a handful, oui." I maintained my expectancy. "D'accord, she doesn't like to listen to me. But she fights if attacked, so she'll battle for me. She just, ah, does not like to follow orders."
"And you... beat the Elite Four like that." Her pleased grin was all the answer I needed. But then I got distracted by the fact that that had been the first time she had smiled at me in recent memory. My heart did a weird little flutter that my mind wasn't awake enough to want to process, so I ignored it. "That was incredibly reckless of you, Cossette. And getting an evolved dragon? Even more reckless. They're proud and stubborn Pokémon and they don't take kindly to new trainers."
"She is not that bad." I turned and started walking again, padding down the stairs with the intent on going to the hotel's restaurant. My stomach was just now waking up and chimed in with a growl. "I know my team is not perfect, but we are working on that!"
Maybe I had rubbed off on her more than I had previously thought. "...I'm not battling you. Not with Jacques out of commission and an unruly dragon on your team. Feel free to try again when you have control of them."
"You don't have control of your team," Cossette shot back. Very truthfully.
"..." Truthfully enough that I couldn't get a proper comeback. I sighed and ran a hand through my hair, then, realizing that I must still have bedhead, used my fingers as a comb. Oh, I was just all sorts of presentable. "...I want pancakes still."
I got to kill two Spearow with one stone when I found Jude (with Hanna) in the hotel's restaurant. Breaking up what was probably a sweetly romantic breakfast, I slid into the booth next to Hanna and jabbed my finger at him. "You. You sold Cossette a Dragonair."
"To be fair, she's been hers since she was an egg," he replied, annoyed at our arrival but not at all bothered by my accusations. "She just paid to have me raise her for a couple years."
So it probably wasn't like they had just met the other day, but still. "She challenged the Elite Four with that Dragonair on her team, and it's still not listening to her."
Hanna and Jude looked at Cossette, seated primly beside Jude, with great surprise. She nodded smugly. "And I won."
"Wow, congrats!" Hanna said excitedly.
I turned to her, still annoyed with the situation in general. "And you—why're you up so early? I know I heard you girls up just as late as we were."
"Jude gave me his bad habit of enjoying the occasional date for breakfast," she replied. She caught my incredulous look and gave me a smile. "Yeah, trust me. I don't like being a morning person. It just has its perks."
If he had that much power over her, I was going to make sure he never became a citizen. "...Anyway." I turned back to the two across the table with all the disapproval I could muster with how little sleep I was running off of. "Cossette has a dragon. A dangerous, powerful, unruly Pokémon that she should not have at that age or in her situation. You have a habit of giving girls too-strong Pokémon, don't you—oof!" Hanna elbowed me, hard, in the side.
"I could handle Molly just fine from the get-go, thank you!" she sniffed. "She has always behaved for me. Never once has she been unruly or misbehaving."
"I am working with Celeste!" Cossette added before I could get my breath back to retort. "All Pokémon teams are a work in progress, you have said so yourself! I remember that Luxray of yours when he was small, and you cannot lie to us and say Celeste is any different."
"She has a point," Jude chimed in dryly, pointing his straw at me. "Ike was a terror. He's only slightly less of a terror now without his sight and with that cast on his leg."
"And even Des will disobey you on occasion," Hanna added with a dark look.
I bent over and set my chin on the table, closing my eyes. "I'm the Champion. I'm the most experienced trainer here. Why can't I get a little respect now and then?"
"When you start giving solid advice, maybe you will."
"I'm trying to! I'm just worried about her. Yeah, Ike was a little beast, and I have the scars to prove it." I reached up and tugged my shirt collar down, revealing just a portion of the scars he'd given me over the years. "I don't want you to get in trouble like I did. That's sorta the purpose of advice, not me saying it never happened to me."
Hanna ruffled my hair affectionately. "See, now that had some wisdom in it. That's how you can earn some respect."
"I don't see what you're making such a fuss about," Jude said as he slumped down in the booth. "All new pokémon have the potential to be a little wild at first, and at least she hasn't evolved yet. She's probably just not used to battling on a team. She'll calm down, Cossette will be fine, and at this rate, she'll be taking your throne from you."
Imagining Cossette sitting in that big, empty room at the League didn't make me feel all that great about the situation. The young girl in question leaned across the table, into my personal space. "So. You will allow me a challenge after your pancakes, oui?"
"No," I replied. Hanna elbowed me again. "Ow—hey! I don't even have my team on me, remember? And Kostya and Ike still have casts on. And Zarek's been sort of a brat again lately, so I'm not sure I want him battling in another high-stakes battle." I cast about for more excuses, but not very many were feasible. At least the cast argument held up strong.
"I'm sure there's provisions for when the Champion's Pokémon are injured like this. Just put the battle on hold." I realized I was, yet again, stalling a battle with Cossette. It hadn't happened in years, but the irony wasn't lost on me. It seemed as if I had no problem battling her normally anymore, but for stakes... That was a different matter.
I suddenly realized that once her Dragonair evolved... Aggron, water bird, and a Dragonite. I sat bolt upright and exclaimed, "You have been with me too long! You have a team half full of double weaknesses, too!"
Cossette turned a brilliant shade of red, though whether it was the accusation or the realization that caused it, I couldn't tell. Jude burst out laughing, gloved hands trying in vain to cover up the sound, and I heard a barely restrained (and very undignified) giggle from Hanna beside me. Cossette hit Jude and kicked at Hanna under the table—missing her but hitting my shin. "I will overcome these—these double weaknesses of yours, but do not think for a moment that this was because of you! You are not that important!"
With that, she stood up and stomped off. I watched her go. I wasn't sure which stung more, my shin or that last remark. "Smooth," Hanna said casually, putting an arm around my shoulder comfortingly. "So... Are you going to chase after her?"
"Maybe. Once my leg stops hurting," I mumbled, stomach growling again. I still wanted pancakes. But I suppose they would have to wait in favor of smoothing ruffled feathers.
"...You know, you two look pretty good together," she said innocently.
"Not that again, Hanna. Please."
"I meant that in a platonic way! You totally have a mentor-student thing going on."
"Except we've seen each other for all of a total of a week the past couple months? If that?"
"You know, I do believe she has a point here," Jude said with another flick of his straw at me. "I seem to recall you acting the same excited way about another certain older trainer..." I flushed, but at Hanna's smug look, Jude added, "Both of you."
She blushed too and hastily said, "N-No! I wasn't... I mean, it was different..."
"Regardless of how it was, that's what little miss Beaumanoir is going through right now. She's been trotting along after you like a Lillipup for years now, and you've only set yourself up on a higher pedestal for her to strive for." It felt weird for other people to use that word around me. Especially in relation to me. And then I realized that he was effectively saying I was Cossette's Nick.
"...Then I guess it's decided for me; I chase after her." I pushed myself out of the booth and stood by the table. One last thing. "As thanks for your wonderful insight, Jude, and for helping Cossette out so much with her team lately, I'll think about approving your citizenship one day."
"You're still applying for that?" Hanna asked, confused.
"Why of course! He can't marry a Sinnohan citizen without one," I replied with a smirk and a dismissive wave. It was hard to tell who went redder faster. Jude's Pokémon gossiped a bit too much, if you asked me, and even if the plans weren't all that immediate, I knew they were definite plans.
"M-Marry?" Hanna repeated dumbly.
"You prat!" Jude snarled, swinging at me. I laughed and retreated, jogging out of the restaurant. So what if I was spiteful. He teased me with Cossette, so I'd use Hanna against him in the same way.
It occurred to me that I didn't know where Cossette would have gone. I also didn't have shoes or any of my Pokémon with me, and that was slightly easier to rectify. Back in the room, Vaikuntha and Benjamin were finally awake. Or at least up. I found my boots and pulled them on, barely waiting to lace them, while Vai decided to fetch my team for me. Benjamin just grumbled crankily at me.
"Why are you in such a hurry?" Vaikuntha asked, coming back with hands full of pokeballs and a sleepy Arcanine behind him. I shooed Fargo back into the girls' room; he and Harlan could sleep in with the children. He gave me a grateful yawn and retreated back out the door.
"I have to catch up to Cossette—wherever she is. She beat the Elite Four, and she challenged me, and then I think I may have said something stupid? I'm not entirely sure."
"Sounds reasonable." I took the pokeballs from him and jammed them in various pockets. His casual understanding of my random life had never been more welcome. I gave him a quick, one-armed hug before racing out the door. If I were Cossette, where would I have gone? ...That answer depressed me, because if I were her, I'd have a psychic that could Teleport me anywhere. And me being me, I didn't have a psychic to track her down with.
Looks like it'd have to be the old-fashioned way. I released Ike in the lobby and asked, "Do you smell Cossette's scent anywhere around here?"
"...Do you mind following it for me?"
"...If I must," he said with a great sigh. He sniffed at the air with no small amount of boredom, ears swiveling casually to take in the area around him. "She left the building, not long ago."
I grabbed hold of his translator collar and help lead him out. Not that he couldn't maneuver just fine on his own between smell and hearing, but I always got nervous with him and big crowds. Especially since we hadn't been near so many people in awhile. All it took was one wrong step or a hard bump and there would be zapping.
"I can handle this by myself," he growled at me.
"I know." He sent a little jolt into my arm, a warning. "Ike, please."
"Do not waste your concern on me. I can handle myself just fine, and I have been for these past years. Shouldn't you be worrying more about the girl you are pursuing so desperately?" With that, he shook me off.
"...It's not desperately."
"Then why am I ordered to follow her?"
"I just want to talk to her. Could you please cooperate?" He didn't reply but again sniffed the air, then turned and walked down the sidewalk. At least that meant she hadn't Teleported out right away. Wait—hadn't she said Jacques was in the Pokémon Center? So she couldn't Teleport out, but I knew where she was headed, then. Without warning him, I ran past Ike, making him jump in surprise.
"What are you doing?" he called after me, struggling to keep up. Not that I was faster, but he still didn't like running.
"I'm sorry!" I returned him. I wasn't going to make him run blind through Sunyshore City, and it'd be easier to confront Cossette without him making snide comments, anyway. Though he did raise a valid point—why was I so worried about this? I slowed to a jog as the Center's red roof came into sight. This wasn't the first time I'd gotten her upset with me. I was sure it wouldn't be the last.
I caught her just as she was exiting the Center, rolling a pokeball absently between her hands. She jumped as I trotted up, but at least her blush wasn't as pronounced now. "Ce qui fait vous voulez avec moi maintenant?" she asked sharply, stuffing the pokeball into a pocket on her jacket. I blinked at her and she grudgingly repeated, "What is it you want with me?"
"I wanted to..."
Talk. Apologize? (For what?) Give her more excuses why I couldn't battle her? Try to get images of Nick out of my mind. Ask her to go for a walk with me? Ask for a battle anyway? I wasn't entirely sure.
"Do you want to go out for pancakes with me?" I asked after a beat.
You know what? I was indecisive. I was prone to running from things. I tended to rely a little too heavily on close friends and my team for emotional support. I was flawed, but I was getting better. About all of that. I was evolving, too, just a little slower than my Pokémon.
And I would start by confronting my worry for her. I wouldn't criticize her reckless actions, I wouldn't stall (unduly) on our battle, and I would simply try to advise her from afar. She could grow into her own trainer, and I'd try to step back and let her do that. It wasn't what Nick had done, but I wasn't Nick. I had only been his friend.
"You know? You challenged the Elite Four younger than I did. Good job." I pulled her over towards me and pressed my lips against her hair. She giggled nervously and tried not to squirm. "I'm proud of you."
Pedestals weren't all bad. I could be a hero, but I just wanted to be a little more selective about it these days. And definitely more realistic. I couldn't be a saint, I couldn't be a designer, I couldn't even be a Gym leader. I was still trying to be a Champion. But I could try to play hero for a little while. Just to see where it led.
"So you'll battle me?" she asked hopefully, wiggling out of my grasp.
"After the casts come off and you age another couple years. I like having the title of youngest Champion," I replied evenly. She pouted at me. "Oh, come on. Give me something to work with here."
"I give you far too much already!" Cossette exclaimed and smacked my arm. "But... Just so long as I get to battle you. As an equal."
"Hey, you have to catch up to me to be an equal."
"I will catch up to you, and I will surpass you! I'm going to become the best trainer ever, and you won't stop me!"
I couldn't help but laugh at her determined face. This would take some work, but maybe I could play the mentor type with some work. And maybe more than a little late. But better late than never.
She ran ahead of me with a huff. I let her go and instead looked up the overcast sky. I thought I saw something white up there for a moment, but I hoped it was just my imagination. I suddenly felt a little colder. I zipped up my black hoodie and jammed my hands in my pockets, wrapping them around the comforting weight of my team's pokeballs, and followed her.
No, perhaps pedestals weren't all bad. At any rate, they were still damn hard to get rid of completely.
Last & Long Author's Note That Is The End Of The Story:
(Yes, that up there is the end of the story itself. If you don't want sap and thanks, leave your review while ignoring this. Thank you!)
Well... That's it. That's the end. This story saw me through the end of high school, graduation, my first job, two boyfriends, two new cats, one and a half original works, and the beginning of my third year in college. Hard to believe, huh? It's been a journey, both for me and the cast. So let me just start off all this sap with a thank you. To all of the readers, reviewers, fans, skittens, everyone. This story would not have been possible without you.
But really, literally, this story would not have been possible without my good friend, Nyaa-Neko. Granted, I haven't spoken to her in awhile, and I miss her terribly, but she was the one who started this crazy pact with me to celebrate us being second semester seeeeeniioooooors. We were nerds. I ain't even gonna lie. This is what friendship does, folks! It creates crazy stories.
I am going to miss this story terribly, but I'm glad I got to reach the ending with it. (As you can see from my atrocious record on this site, I don't often finish long stories.) Thank you, everyone, for reaching the ending with me.
This epilogue wasn't meant to be perfect, and it wasn't meant to detail every little thing and wrap up all of the issues neatly. That's no fun. It's just supposed to be one last, fun, crazy adventure with the characters we've grown so fond of over the past couple years. But if you have any questions, and since there's basically no more spoilers, I would be glad to answer any.
And now the exciting news! SEQUEL NEWS! That being, there will be no sequel. NamNar's (why yes I will still call him that, shush you) journey has come to an end, at least in story form. Nick's dead, Hanna's stable, and Sinnoh is healing again. And the character parallels come full circle.
However. HOWEVER. (Yes, this means you can be excited again.) My next Pokemon fanfiction project, Ree Majors' Wonderful Journey, will take place in the same universe, and as such, will contain references and small-ish cameos by some of the Pedestal cast. And hey, if you like my writing for some silly reason, there's more of it! And with pokemon, too!
Well, that's all folks. The end. Goodbye. Adieu. I love you, thank you, and again, thank you. Team Awesome, signing off.