Word Count: 1,319
Genre: Character Study, Drama, Romance
Summary: Flint/Volkner. "What a waste," he mutters. Forty-nine minutes.
Disclaimer: Pokémon isn't mine.
Author's Notes: Originally witten 3 May 2010. For Tuica, whom I adore beyond all reason. This was inspired by "Come Round Soon" by Sarah Bareilles.
Thirty-two days, twelve hours, and forty-five minutes.
Volkner toyed with two halves of a snapped wire, twisting the shining strands together and apart. Despite all the stress he was putting them under, he knew they wouldn't break. Copper wasn't the strongest material, but it was strong enough.
He was hidden in the shadows beneath the gym's empty walkways, kneeling next to a broken platform, and machinery spread on the floor around him like an oil spill. The electric hum in the air had always calmed him down, but it wasn't working today. He let out a breath he didn't realize he was holding, reattached the wire one last time, and pushed it gently back into place.
"What a waste," he muttered. Forty-nine minutes.
He'd only meant to stop by the store and buy another pack of cigarettes, but halfway there he'd started walking to the gym before he could stop himself, his hands itching with the need to create, to control, to build. It was the first time he'd left the house in over a week. He'd spent his days lying in bed, alternating between sleeping and staring at the ceiling; it was simply easier than dealing with trainers, government officials, city folk and passerby. His Pokémon didn't complain, and though they gave him looks sometimes, he knew they could take care of themselves.
He sat back on his haunches with his wrists resting limply on his knees. He still wondered how to make his gym more complicated; the harder the puzzles, the less people he had to see. It was getting to the point where even his own trainers were having trouble navigating the ever-shifting tangle of gears, and he liked it that way. They thought he was doing it to keep them on their toes. He didn't bother to correct them.
His phone began to ring, and he ignored it, staring at the newly-fixed wire. It was only a part of why the gear was broken, but it was still too easy; the contact point had slipped, that's all. Change a cog there, reattach the transmission line here, and it would work again. His stomach twisted as he thought of broken wires, and the air was cut by sudden silence as his jangling phone stilled.
Then the gym phone rang. Volkner was vaguely surprised by this; Flint usually tried his house next. Not that it mattered, of course—he never picked up anyway, lying in bed and listening to the phones shriek one after the other, first his cell, then the landline, then back again. He counted how long it took until the gym fell silent. One minute, forty-five seconds. He added it to the total.
He dug through his pockets and managed to find one last cigarette. He lit it and inhaled deeply, not caring about fire hazards or indoor smoking laws, definitely not caring about lung cancer. Flint didn't know that he'd started smoking, stopped fighting, or started building. Flint didn't know anything, and the thought made his lips quirk mirthlessly.
Volkner tipped his head back and sent a stream of smoke into the air, watching as it curled against the underbelly of walkways and cogwheels, trapped. He interpreted the aimless patterns it made, pretending it was an ink blot, and when it finally dissipated, he took another drag and set it free. He could feel the smoke coating his throat; his lungs burned; his fingertips around the cigarette felt warm. His eyes were flat as they studied the soot-drenched ceiling, thinking of capacitors and voltage sources.
The first time they had met, Volkner was ten years old, a cocky child with something to prove. He hadn't proven it that day. It wasn't that he'd never lost before—although it was rare—but he had never lost so badly, so fast. It was the beginning of a series of firsts: he'd never lost to a trainer more than once, he'd never trained so hard, he'd never wanted anything so badly before.
He defeated Flint for the last time as a storm was just starting to sweep the city. When Infernape finally collapsed to the ground, the rain was only minutes away; the air was choked with static and the wind was riding high. Volkner's high laugh snapped from his throat and his smile had some of that same dangerous spark, his eyes gleaming fever-bright.
"Next time," Flint said, standing tall and confident on the other side of the field; it was all he'd needed to say, because it wasn't even a question. Of course they would clash again—next time, and the next, an endless feedback loop. The next day, they'd fought again, and Volkner had lost.
That had been four months ago, right before Flint left to train far away on snowy mountainsides. Soon after that, Volkner was made Gym Leader. It galvanized him at first, thinking that now from far and wide trainers would come, strong ones, ones that would be enough to keep his skills sharp for when Flint returned; but the first trainer fell before him, and the second, and a month passed and he was still undefeated. But that was all right, he thought; it was only the first month. Certainly someone would come. Certainly there was someone else.
In those days, when his phone rang, he always picked it up immediately. "Flint!"
"Volkner! I had to call the second I got the news—I've been accepted!"
"The Elite Four! I got in!"
Volkner dropped the phone.
That's when he realized.
There was no one else.
"We're closed," Volkner growled as Flint pounded on the door.
"Volkner, it's me!"
"We're still closed." Of course he knew who it was. "Come back later."
"Come on, man! I haven't seen you in three months!"
He shrugged, not particularly caring that his friend couldn't see him. Flint waited for a moment before he started to bang on the door again, and Volkner huffed, thinking that he should build a security system for this place.
He glanced up at that. That wasn't a bad idea.
"Volkner," Flint said, pleading now.
"Come back tomorrow."
"But—I'm leaving tomorrow," he said in a small voice, and Volkner scowled. He should have known that Flint wouldn't stay long. Why would he? He couldn't wait to get out of this place, after all.
"Guess I won't be seeing you then."
"Don't be like this—!"
"Safe trip, Mr. Elite Four," he snarled as he turned away.
It felt good, for once, to be the one who left.
Thirty-two days, thirteen hours, and seven minutes. That was how long it had been since Flint had left for good, surfing away from the beach without once looking back at the gaggle of cheering people who'd come to see him off.
Volkner hadn't been in the crowd. Instead, he'd sat on top of the half-completed Sunyshore Tower, seeming not to care that he was precariously perched on an I-beam ten stories up, and gazed through a pair of binoculars. He waited for hours until he saw a tiny shape fight its way up the waterfall and disappear. Then he continued to watch until the next morning, and again until night fell. It wasn't until the third morning that the townspeople finally convinced him to come down from the tower and eat something.
Sometimes he thought they let him stay as gym leader just to try and keep him occupied.
His phone buzzed again, and he let it scream itself to death. But then it rang again, and again, and on the sixth time he flipped the phone open and held it to his ear.
"Volkner!" Flint's voice cried.
Volkner didn't say anything.
"I've been trying to get a hold of you for weeks! Don't you keep your phone on you anymore?"
He raised the cigarette to his lips and sucked it down to the filter. Now he really was out.
"Volkner? Are you there?"
"Come on, man, talk to me."
Volkner hung up and blew the smoke out of his lungs.
He could use another cigarette.