Notes: Set somewhere between Chapters 14 through 16, with spoilery references to how Chapter 13 closes out.


For days afterwards, Treasure Town was left buzzing. Though almost everyone had been present, almost nobody was certain exactly what had happened back there. Once again, the great Dusknoir had left them astonished... but this time, there was no praise of his amazing deeds. No admiration of his vast knowledge.

Long before his announcement, some had at least suspected he would leave after his business was concluded. But... not so soon. Not like that.

No, nobody had expected that at all. And since his departure, nobody was left to answer the obvious questions, like why? Why had he...?

Without any answers, the buzzing didn't so much die down as slowly fade into an uneasy murmur. Though they returned to their usual routines, a lingering restlessness hung over the community, all of those unanswerable questions resting in the back of everyone's minds.

What had Dusknoir been thinking? Why had he...? How could he...?

And what of Ichigo...? And Laramie...?

Wigglytuff's Guild had few answers to offer those who asked, for they had few for themselves. Still, this didn't prevent some pokémon from asking anyway, even when they already suspected they wouldn't learn much. Chatot quickly appointed himself the guild's official spokesmon on the matter; he spent the next several days camped just inside the guild's entrance, greeting all comers with the same short spiel.

No, they didn't know why the great Dusknoir had departed so quickly.

No, they didn't know why the great Dusknoir had taken Team Hanabi along.

No, they didn't know when they would be back.

But they would be back, Wigglytuff told anyone who actually asked him directly. He never explained why he knew that; he just believed it. If anyone happened to ask Chatot about that conviction, he wouldn't explain why. Wouldn't confirm or deny if he shared the sentiment.

The other apprentices stuck together, backing each other up. In a way, the bonds between them were much clearer in the absence of their last members. While they'd always been a common sight in town, now they tended to move in clusters, and often those clusters were centered on Bidoof. The plump mouse definitely wasn't taking it well; there was a distant, haunted quality to his eyes now, and he seemed prone to drifting off, lost in whatever had stolen his smile away.

If not for his friends, he might have backslid to the struggle of his early days as a rookie. As it was, he went about his duties almost mechanically, with another apprentice or two always hovering nearby, watching over him.

Perhaps it was partly for his sake, then, that the buzzing had receded to whispers and uneasy silences. Though if that were the case, he certainly wasn't the only one who'd helped ward off the awkward conversations.

Ichigo and Laramie were away, but Team Hanabi lingered on.

Every morning, without fail, Yuko visited Kecleon Market. If she noticed how the quiet blossomed around her while she walked, or felt gazes following her wake, she chose not to comment on it. Instead, she smiled gently, nodding at pokémon as she passed.

"Good morning, brothers," and she nodded to each in turn upon reaching the booth. "Do you have any big apples today?"

"Yes, yes! How many would you like?"

"...Mmm... three, if you have that many. And a couple of Cheri berries, as well."

As she spoke, the cubone's eyes flicked to one side; the movement was partly hidden by her headgear, however, and the green kecleon had already turned away. His brother noticed, but wondered if he should bother asking. Yuko was... difficult to read sometimes. Not like most of her usual companions. That squirtle, for instance -- Marcy was always pretty boisterous and blunt, and then...

"Misters Kecleon!"

Both of the brothers turned as two of their favorite customers came running down the path. Yuko unobtrusively stepped back from the counter, leaving a neat stack of Poké sitting there besides her order.

"The usual today, then?" the item clerk asked.

"Yes, please! We'd like an apple!"

"Coming right up!"

While the green reptile looked back to his shelves, his brother watched as Azurill balanced on his tail. The little mouse's eyes darted back and forth, from the twins to his own brother, over to their other customer, and back again.

"Is something the matter...?"

Dark, round eyes fixed upon him, Azurill asked, "They're not back yet...?"

"......"

"......" Handing an apple to Marill, the green Kecleon replied, "No, there's been no word about that yet."

"Oh..."

The polka dot pokémon's whole body drooped at that news, little ears folding down while his tail suddenly sagged under his own weight. Frowning, Marill put his payment on the counter before placing a paw on his brother's head.

"Azurill..."

"They'll be back."

"Huh?" Both turned to face Yuko, who had stepped up behind them, a large apple in each hand. Without waiting for consent, she gently passed one to each of them.

"Remember who we're talking about. Those two would never want to leave anyone so sad... especially not you two. We mean too much to them. So they'll be back. As soon as they can manage it, they'll come home."

"...R-really?"

"I promise." Tilting her head to one side, Yuko added, "If they could, they'd tell you that themselves, but... for now, I'll just have to pass that on for them. That's okay, isn't it?"

"...I think so..." Azurill nodded slowly, then clutched the large apple and nodded again, firmly. "Y-yes! Thank you!"

Rather than growing wider, the cubone's smile seemed to become more serene. "I'm glad... Now, you should hurry back. And... could you pass that message on to your mother, please?"

"Yeah!"

"T-thanks, Miss Yuko!" his older brother chimed.

"Oh... The 'miss' isn't necessary," and her laughter had a tinge of nervousness to it. "Now take care!"

"We will...!"

Watching the pair scamper off, Yuko shook her head slightly, then looked back to the Kecleon brothers. Their expressions were slightly different, she noted; the lilac-skinned one appeared a bit more thoughtful than his twin, who looked almost confused.

"My money's already there," she stated, gesturing to the carefully stacked coins while retrieving the rest of her order. "That covers everything, I believe."

"Ah... yes, yes! It's all here!" the green one confirmed with a quick tally. "Thank you for your patronage!"

"Always a pleasure." Half-turned away, she added, "Oh, and... that promise was meant for both of you as well."

"Oh...?"

"Was it, now?" his brother wondered, giving her a long, searching look.

"Yes... Like I said... Somebody has to pass it on."

With that, she headed off, feeling their heavy gaze on her back. So she kept it straight, her head high, focusing on the path ahead. Team Hanabi wasn't gone; they were still here... she was just part of the proof. A friendly reminder.