Author: Grey Saturdays
Word Count: To make the joke or not? Yes, it's over nine thousand—10,496, to be exact. That's discounting this stuff up here.
Summary: A trip to find the whereabouts of his father eventually becomes something much more personal for Falkner: a journey to find himself.
Disclaimer: It's a good thing I don't own it—Pokémon is not mine.
Author's Notes: Gift fic for asplious for the pokegamefic summer fic exchange on LiveJournal—the prompt itself was to base a Falkner fic using the lyrics below.
This story is so large, when I had originally tried to post it from my LJ account, it would not. My sincerest apologies to those watching pokegamefic, pokefics, and my normal account for having to come all the way over here, I promise I will never spawn something this monstrous ever again. ;;
The one hand throws the whiskey
And the other throws the gun
As he cries out to the heavens
I am not my father's son
- "Father's Son", 3 Doors Down.
"When will you be back?"
The key in his hand feels as if it's made of ice, as he looks up toward his father with expectant eyes. His father looks down, bemused for a brief second, before a good-natured smile graces his face and he ruffles his son's hair.
"You know, I don't happen to know myself," is his father's far too casual response, crouching on his haunches. "But at this point, it doesn't matter, because I'm not the Gym Leader anymore. You are."
"Why are you leaving?" Silence greets him after he asks; his father studies him intently, as if he had never laid eyes on his son, before opting to speak.
"Well, I had always thought that I had a firm grip on who I was and why, but these past couple of years have seriously made me reevaluate some matters in my life. And not all of them are bad, y'know. Honestly, I've reached a point in my life where I think a couple years of soul searching might do me some good. Help me get a better understanding of what needs to stay in my life and what needs to leave." The words sound genuine enough and he had known that he was going to be the leader someday for a while, but he still can't help to feel a little resentful that it's actually happening.
His father pulls him into a tight hug; the gesture automatically soothes him and he gives in to the urge to lay his head on his shoulder. "I don't expect you to understand what I'm doing right now. You're thirteen. You've still got much more to learn in this life. Even I'm still learning new things every day." He feels his shoulders being squeezed and suddenly, he realizes that his entire world has got him in a hug so tight, it's practically squeezing the air out of him. He doesn't want that world to suddenly up and leave and he tries to bury himself deeper in his father's arms.
"I know it'll be tough the first couple months I'm away, but I promise being a Gym Leader won't be so bad," his father says with a small smile. "But there's one thing you gotta promise me, okay?"
"You gotta promise me that—"
But before his father can finish his sentence, Falkner wakes up.
With a tired groan, he rolls over, eyeing the digital clock from the other side of the small room. 4:32 AM. Feeling a twinge of annoyance, he clasps a pillow over his head in hopes of drifting back to sleep, but to no avail. Giving up after nearly a half hour, he lies on his back, trying to make out the shapes in his ceiling in the dim light.
He already knows what today is. Falkner doesn't usually dream of his father, unless the anniversary of his becoming of a Gym Leader is near.
It's been six years since then, but sometimes he feels like his father had left yesterday.
With a dull resolve, Falkner decides to get up.
Falkner isn't surprised to find the rest of the Johto Gym Leaders in his gym when he comes back from running some errands in Cherrygrove City later that morning; the group has made it a tradition to celebrate gym anniversaries, and it's nice seeing everyone gathered together. The celebration isn't particularly extravagant: they give Falkner small gifts and words of advice to follow by, as well as recall funny anecdotes about his early days as the leader of Violet City.
"It's already been six years, huh?" Chuck asks, giving Falkner a hearty thump on the back. "Well, you don't have anything on Pryce, but here's to hopin' you'll have many more wonderful years as a Gym Leader to come!" They all make a toast to Falkner's name, and he feels confident that he'll live up to that promise.
The celebration ends at sundown and everyone returns to their respective cities, but Morty is the last one of the others to leave.
"Must be feeling kind of old, huh?" says Morty with a relaxed smile on his face. "They're funny things, anniversaries are—the first couple years drag on forever, but then before you know, they start to blur together right before your eyes." There's a definite truth to his words Falkner can relate to; he became the gym leader a year after Morty did.
"So, have you heard from your father recently? I know he usually gets in touch with you around this time."
"No, I haven't. He talked to me about three months ago, though."
"Ah. You know where he's at, by some chance?"
"No, I don't."
"Oh." The topic of his father dies at that point and Falkner stretches, feeling the bones crack in his shoulders. It does strike him as odd, however, that his father has not contacted him—he's one of the most punctual men he knows, and he certainly would not forget such an important occasion like this. It bothers him slightly, but he pushes it into the recesses of his mind: he'll probably hear from him in a couple days time.
Morty yawns, blinking sleepily and looking out into the setting sun. "Well, I'd better be getting outta here, I've got challengers tomorrow. I'll see you later, man." The two exchange a handshake and Morty, with his Gengar in tow, disappear on to Route 36, and once they disappear from his line of sight, Falkner turns back into the gym to finish the remaining mess left.
It certainly doesn't feel like six years to Falkner, and a part of him still can't wrap his mind around it, but nevertheless, somehow the years have flown by without him really realizing it. He isn't sure whether he feels content or dissatisfied by that revelation.
Later that night, Falkner goes into a small dresser beside his futon, and pulls out the worn down cardboard box that's nearly overflowing with the letters and pictures his father has sent him on his travels. He smiles as he pulls out a random one, with a picture—in the picture are hundreds of Taillows and Swellows in the sky— with the words, in slightly smudged ink, Taillows and Swellows. Just look at them all—beautiful, aren't they? Wish you were here! Another letter describes his misadventures in some town in Sinnoh, and yet another goes on about the frozen splendor of Mount Silver, although of all the letters he's received, Falkner notices they're mostly about and from Hoenn. Seeing them makes Falkner anticipate hearing from him; he'd contact his father first, but his father's addresses are constantly changing and he was never one to understand the technology behind phones.
Several days pass, and nothing changes; the young, optimistic challengers trickle in, and some are defeated within minutes, while Falkner sometimes finds himself beaten in a short time. All that's in the mail is colorful ads he never looks at, throwing them away as soon as he pulls them out of the mailbox.
Several weeks pass, and nothing changes; Whitney nearly breaks the gym's airlift one visit, one of the Pidgeottos he keeps has evolved into a long-awaited Pidgeot, and several older people drop in the gym for the first time in a long while, shocked to see that Falkner, and not his father, is the new Gym Leader. He knows perfectly well his father doesn't have a phone, but every night before the gym closes, he checks the gym's line and his personal line—just in case.
Several months pass, and nothing changes. It's nearing fall, and the trees turn bronze and red; there aren't as many birds in the sky, and not many people are challenging him for a badge. Falkner finds himself at his wit's end, but from what, he isn't sure. Is it because his father hasn't spoken to him in what feels like forever? Is it because his life has just become so painfully uneventful and meaningless? Was this how his father had felt the day he entrusted his son with the gym?
Falkner stares intently at the ceiling, not able to sleep for the third day in a row—he doesn't actually see the ceiling, but envisions an endless canvas of blue, blue, blue, with those picture-perfect fluffy clouds only seen in garden and home magazines. He's been up in that perfect, silent world before so many times, but he realizes that he hasn't been up there recently.
And then, just as perfect as those clouds, he realizes what he needs to do.
He quickly makes arrangements for his trainers to keep an eye on the gym, and to the association itself to notify them of the gym's temporary closing. When he finishes duct taping the hastily written sign on the gym doors, he feels much more liberated than he did this morning, but not enough to feel completely okay. There's only one thing left to do, and that's to actually do the trip itself. When he mounts Pidgeot's back, he chuckles at the bird's almost skeptical gaze.
"Oh, don't be like that, Pidgeot," he tells his companion, stroking its well-groomed plumage with a loving hand. "It occurred to me that we haven't flown in a while—I'm sure you realized that sooner than I did. And besides—" He shifts the light sack on his back to a more comfortable position—"There's certain things I need to take care of."
Falkner gives Violet City one last glance. When they will return, he expects it to be spring time, a time of optimism and renewal. He can only hope he will come back feeling as such.
"Let's go, Pidgeot."
Despite being under several pillows and blankets, it doesn't completely block the sound of his parents' argument from downstairs, and Falkner doesn't know how long they've been screaming at each other. He snuggles the stuffed Pidgey his dad won for him at the fair today as tightly as possible—he remembers the grin on his father's face as he told Falkner that this was no ordinary stuffed Pidgey, that it was a special Pidgey, a Pidgey that would always protect him, no matter the situation at hand—
He can hear his father shouting, a sound that sounds terrifyingly alien to him: You go missing for days on end and I'm here, worried sick out of my mind, come home to find you fucking around with some sleazebag I've never seen before—
He cares for me more than you ever did—
After everything I've done for you—
You never loved me, not one bit—
How the hell am I going to explain this to Falkner—
His mother shrieks something incomprehensible at the top of her lungs and shortly after, he can hear several things crashing, and his father bellowing like a beast, I hope you're happy with what you've done, you rotten bitch, get out, get out, and never come back, and more things are breaking, just like the family is.
He stares at the Pidgey, its shiny black eyes unblinking. It's not doing a very good job at protecting him tonight.
Falkner doesn't know when he drifts off to sleep, but when he wakes up, his home is eerily devoid of his mother's gentle voice and his father's merry laugh, a morning routine. Timidly he climbs down the stairs to find his father slumped on the couch, his face buried in his hands. Their rug is covered with shattered porcelain, flowers with still-wet stems, and their family portraits, which look far too happy for the situation at hand.
"Stay on the steps, Falkner," his dad mutters tiredly, without looking at him. "I still need to clean up the living room. I'll get your breakfast in a little bit."
The house is so silent, Falkner can hear the birds chirping high in the sky.
After a long moment of silence, his father rises from his seat and goes over to Falkner, seemingly oblivious to the shards of glass he's stepping in. He crouches on his knees, places his hands on his shoulders, and says, with a gentle smile and voice, "It's gonna be you and me from now on, okay?"
"Is she gonna come back?" A heavy sigh meets Falkner's question; his dad picks him up, puts his head in the crook of his son's neck and sighs, staying like that for a long, long time. His shoulder eventually feels wet. When he finally does pull away, Falkner notices that his eyes look a little red.
"You know, I don't happen to know myself. But in the mean time, I'm gonna be the one taking care of you, okay?"
"That's good. Now, breakfast. What do you want?" As he rattles off a list of potential meals, Falkner feels strange and rests his head on his father's shoulder. He tells his dad he wants pancakes, but doesn't tell him that he's not really feeling all that hungry this morning.
When Falkner arrives in Hoenn, he's genuinely shocked to discover how warm it is here, despite it being near October; the first person he sees is wearing shorts, sandals, and a gaudy floral print shirt he only thought existed in cartoons.
"Er, sir?" Falkner asks hesitantly. "Would you care to tell me where I'm at right now?"
"Ya mean to tell me ya didn't bring a map with ya?"
That has an embarrassing story behind it. "I… accidentally dropped it in the ocean and it was swept away before I could retrieve," he finally forces himself to admit, almost positive that his face is an unattractive shade of red right now. "I mean, Pidgeot is very good at navigating naturally, but we're obviously not from here."
"Right now, yer in Dewford Town," is the man's answer, hitching a thumb towards a building that resembles a gym. "If yer challengin' the gyms here, ya need t' go back t' Rustboro City to get yer—"
"Oh no, I'm… not here to challenge the gyms here," Falkner interrupts before realizing his rudeness. "M-my apologies for cutting you off. I'm actually here for different reasons." Falkner then inquires if there's a Poké Mart nearby, to which he's disappointed to hear that there's not. The closest one, however, is in Rustboro City, which is northwest of here and not too far away. Falkner thanks the man for his directions and soon sets off again.
As he soars in the sky, he's mesmerized by the blue surrounding him, feeling that the tranquility the color invokes matches the peacefulness of Hoenn. Briefly he wonders if this is where his father has been staying all along—it seems like it'd be a place he'd stay longer than others.
Rustboro City's skyline can't be mistaken after an hour of flying, and Pidgeot dives down to land. Unlike Violet City, Rustboro City actually looks like a city, with buildings reaching the sky like concrete mountains, and people and Pokémon alike filling the streets. The city looks more than inviting, so Falkner decides to stay here for a couple days before moving on.
After buying a map and other supplies, he finds a quiet motel on the city's edge to stay in—the motel itself is shabby, in comparison to some of Rustboro's other areas, but it will do. He flips through the tiny TV's channels before growing bored, and decides to consult the map on possible areas of interest, finding that Petalburg Woods is just south of Rustboro.
Falkner finds that his nerves are easily soothed by the serenity of a forest, and Petalburg's, despite it being smaller than the Ilex Forest, is no exception. It's more heavily wooded than Ilex as well, towering trees blocking out the sky above, and their shadows engulf the place, giving it a mysterious feel that the Violet City Gym Leader can't help but to be drawn towards. Save for the occasional chirp of a bird and the cries of bugs he can't see, all Falkner can hear are his breathing and the steps he takes.
In a patch of grass several steps ahead, something stirs, and instinctively, Falkner crouches, silently observing. His heart skips a beat when out of the long grass comes a Taillow, beady eyes fixed on something else ahead of it. The bird stills before darting forward in a blur of blue, red and white to capture a Wurmple. The Wurmple flails helplessly in the Taillow's beak before it is promptly devoured in a single, swift motion. Falkner's fingers lightly brush the empty Pokéball he had brought along, grateful that he had decided to bring one along, just in case. He deftly throws it and the Taillow is swallowed up in a beam of light; it rattles in the ball angrily before the button in the center makes a definite click. Falkner picks up the ball and looks at his prize with a sense of satisfaction.
"Was that a Taillow you just caught?" a small voice asks; Falkner whips around to find a young girl with freckles, neatly made plaits, and a Zigzagoon sniffing the backs of her heels.
"I'm sorry, was this your Pokémon?"
"Oh, no no no," she says hastily, "I-I was just curious, that's all…" She pauses, and scoops the Zigzagoon in her arms. "Ziggy and I have been here a while trying to look for one, though. We haven't had much luck, though." The girl doesn't sound like she's trying to guilt trip him, but a part of him still feels bad after her words.
"If you want, I can help you lure some out."
"Yeah. I'll show you. Get behind that tree over there." He points to an especially withered looking one, and she obeys him, Ziggy trotting happily at her heels. Falkner joins her a few feet away, crouching low.
"You have to be extremely quiet, though, okay?" he whispers, and she nods, looking a bit apprehensive. Falkner cups his hands together, making sure to leave the important bit of space from his thumbs, and blows—the sound is a bit shaky at first, but soon the call floats in the air, wiggling a section of his hands to make the notes alternate from high to low. It doesn't take long for a flock of Taillows and two Swellows to land in a nearby clearing, chattering and flapping their wings. The girl looks absolutely awestruck.
"There you go," he tells her quietly, shifting his weight to a more comfortable position. At first, all the girl does is stare, but then she swallows and determination flickers in her eyes. She commands Ziggy to creep up on one Taillow, who's busy preening its white breast, with a Headbutt; it knocks the little bird off its feet, managing to scare away all the others, rising in the air like smoke. With impressive reflexes, she throws a Pokéball and catches the Taillow successfully.
"W-wow!" She bolts from her hiding spot, looking down at the ball and Ziggy with a definite reverence. She turns to gratefully look at Falkner for his help. "Thank you so much, sir!"
"Don't mention it." He stands up and stretches his legs, looking observantly into the sky. "I didn't think a flock would come that quickly, though. I usually have to call a couple times for anything to come, and even then, it's usually one or two little birds. Not that many."
"How did you know how to do that?"
"What? The bird call?" He grins. "My dad taught it to me. I'm actually from Johto—I specialize in bird Pokémon, so I have to know a lot about them. Magnificent creatures, aren't they?"
"Are you challenging the Gyms? There's a Flying-type Gym Leader here. Her name's Flannery… I think." With a sheepish giggle, she adds, "I'm just starting out on my own journey, so I really don't know a lot about how it all works. I… I kinda wanna be a Gym Leader someday, actually."
"Yeah! I live in Petalburg City, and the Gym Leader there is really nice! I wanna be just like Norman." From an ordinary adult's standpoint, it's nothing more than a childish ambition, but to Falkner, he understands the girl's desire completely.
"An important thing about being a Gym Leader, though," he tells her sagely, and she stares up with wide eyes, "is that you have to love your line of work a lot in order to truly become an effective leader. You can't really become a leader, if you're doing it for someone else's sake." The girl looks as if his words flew completely over her level of understanding, but she nods anyway.
"You'll understand better someday. In the mean time—" He looks to the sky, or at least what he can see of it. "It's getting late, so I think both of us should be heading back home."
"Right." Ziggy rubs up against her skinny legs, and she scratches his ears lovingly. "Thank you so much again, sir! Bye!" She bolts off in the opposite direction, Ziggy yapping at her heels, and Falkner smiles, watching her disappear into the trees, before heading back to Rustboro.
Falkner struggles to stay awake, but he isn't accustomed to waking up so early, and sleep threatens to pull him back into its pleasant haze. "Are we almost there yet?" he asks his father sleepily, yawning and flopping his head on his father's shoulder.
"Don't fall asleep on me now, stinker," is his father's playful reply, pinching his son's cheeks as an unwanted wake-me-up, to which Falkner grumbles and his father laughs quietly. "We're almost there, though, so no worries."
"What are we doing, anyway?"
"You ask too many questions, Falkner," says his father, sounding somewhere between amused and exasperated. "You ought to learn to live life as it comes." His father stops and sets his son down—they're in what looks like the Ilex Forest, and Falkner doesn't understand what's so important coming out at six in the morning to a place they've been to so many times before. They're behind a large pile of brush and in front of that, a clearing with beams of morning light barely breaking through the trees that blocks the sun's current position.
"Today, you are going to witness firsthand the splendor of Flying-type Pokémon," his father announces quietly, sitting down with crossed legs. "But before we do that, have a seat, kiddo." He motions his son to take a seat on his lap, which Falkner happily does.
"Now, we have to stay very quiet, 'kay? Birds are very sensitive to sound, so if we're too loud, you'll scare them all away."
"Good boy. Now, stay quiet for a couple seconds, okay? I'm gonna see if I can't get some birds to come out here." Falkner watches in silence as his father makes a peculiar hand sign, readjusting his fingers several times before pressing his lips to the backside of his thumbs. He blows in and at first, no sound comes out. His father frowns, and positions his fingers again, before blowing. This time, there's sound, although it's thin and can't be heard very well. The third time proves more successful than the first two tries: the notes he creates are hauntingly beautiful, and they send shivers up Falkner's spine, as he raptly watches his father play.
Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, Falkner sees a brown bird flutter into the clearing. His father keeps calling and more and more Pidgeys begin to arrive; Falkner's heart races with excitement as they all descend, chattering and chirping to find the source of the noise. Soon, there are hundreds of Pidgeys , Pidgeottos, and even some Spearows in the forest, their cries filling his ears like some beautiful melody.
"Beautiful, aren't they?"
"I remember the first time my father took me out to the forest to watch the birds," his father continues, a dreamy look in his eyes, as he watches more birds fly down in the clearing. "There aren't a lot of things I remember from my youth, but that experience will always stay with me. Just being out in the quiet, watching nature in its purest and most beautiful form… it had left such an impact on me, and from that day on, I had always wanted to be around Flying-type Pokémon. Hopefully you'll feel the same way when we leave here today."
Falkner curls up closer to his father. "Are we going to catch any of them?"
His father laughs. "Falkner, if I had any Pokéballs on me, you know darn well that I'd try to take all of them home with me. No, we're not gonna catch any of them; we're just here to observe today." Falkner is perfectly content with that decision, and continues to watch them with complete reverence.
When the morning gives way to afternoon, Falkner and his father head for home, with the promise of learning the whistle when they arrive back. Falkner sleeps easy that night, and all he dreams of are little brown birds soaring high, high, higher in the sky, until they're nothing more than tiny specks against a deep blue expanse.
With no sign of his father in Rustboro City, Falkner doesn't stay there very long, and continues to move eastward. From above, Hoenn is lush, green, and breathtakingly beautiful and unlike Johto, there aren't many large cities to mar its natural splendor. He makes a rest stop in Lavaridge Town (and to his amusement, he discovers that the Gym Leader here is Flannery, whose specialty lies in Fire-type Pokémon, not Flying) for a much-needed soak in the bubbling hot springs, before going further. The places here are nothing like Johto's cities, and he can easily see why anyone with an appreciation for nature would be drawn to Hoenn's unfettered atmosphere; Falkner makes sure to take in all its grandeur, from the towering trees, the clear rivers and creeks, to the bright, sunny skies above.
Of all the cities, Fortree City intrigues him the most, even in spite of its unfortunately gloomy weather. The trees in the Petalburg Forest, as well as the Ilex Forest, are puny little saplings in comparison to the trees here, which seem to endlessly stretch into the sky. Falkner feels different here than he has anywhere else; there's some mysterious element that pulls him here, like metal to a magnet, something that lets his soul feel freer than it has in a while—
"Are you lost, sir? You've been standing out in this rain for at least ten minutes," says a dreamy voice from behind; he turns to see a beautiful young woman with soft lavender eyes and hair peering down at him, concerned.
"Oh, no! No, I'm not," he quickly says, but is stopped when the woman's hand reach out to touch the badge pinned on his collar.
"Are you…" She pauses, and stares intently at the Zephyr Badge, as if to make sure it's indeed the correct one. "Would you, by some chance, happen to know a man by the name of Hayate, in Violet City?"
"Yes, I do! I'm his son, Falkner," he answers, flashing his ID from his pocket before extending a friendly hand to the woman, "and I'm now the Gym Leader in Violet City now."
She looks initially skeptical, but she scrutinizes his League ID before she does anything. "Ah." She clasps a gloved hand on his, a smile slowly creeping on her face. "I am Winona, the Gym Leader for this city. It's good to make your acquaintance, Falkner. If you'd like, we can go back to my gym and I can get you something to eat." He happily agrees and thanks her, and they return to the Fortree Gym. It's surprisingly small for a gym, but at least the birds look content being here. She invites him into her personal office, where, on a perch, a large, fluffy bird sleeps, head tucked under its cloud-like wings.
"My goodness, you're very sleepy today, Altaria," Winona notes, stroking the bird's long neck and immediately, its head pops out from under its refuge. It hums happily before taking notice of Falkner, and humming even louder.
"Are you particularly against cold tea?"
"Any tea is fine, thank you."
"All right." She prepares a package of green tea, sits on one of the old couches, while Falkner sits on the one opposite of her. "You and I have not been properly introduced until now, but your father and I were friends when he was still a Gym Leader. Tell me, what is he up to, these days?"
Falkner pauses, staring deep into the tea instead of Winona's inquiring gaze, feeling a funny lurch in his stomach. Winona seems to catch on this, and an uncomfortable look crosses her face.
"… My apologies. Did I touch upon something I shouldn't have?"
"It's… not that," he forces himself to reply. "My father—he entrusted the Violet Gym to me six years ago, and when he did, he left Johto. He didn't tell me where exactly he was going, but he would occasionally come back to visit me. He'd send me letters, more often than not, however. I haven't seen him physically in about two years, and haven't heard from him in five months. So I came here to…" His sentence trails off, but Winona is more than understanding.
"I see. I unfortunately have not talked to him in a very long time, so I am of no help to you."
"It's fine." He sets down the cup with a clink. "How did you know him? I don't remember him ever talking about you, Winona."
"I had become a Gym Leader four years before you did—back then, there was a different way to go about achieving leader status, and that was to fight four current leaders from other regions in a conference, and win at least three of those matches. The system was complicated and was in need of an overhaul anyway, so the association dissolved that method, before ultimately deciding that it should be left up to the leaders how they wanted to appoint future ones."
"So you were one of the last matches by that method."
"Yes." She pauses. "I had fought against Erika of Celadon City in Kanto, Wattson of Mauville City, Crasher Wake of Pastoria City in Sinnoh, and your father. Your father had been my very last match… and the only one I had lost. He was—still probably is—an impressive battler, and I found my defeat at his hands in five minutes."
"My thoughts exactly!" she says, laughing. "I couldn't believe it; we both specialized in Flying-types, and yet, he was miles out of my league… at first, I found myself feeling depressed. Yes, I still was qualified to become a Gym Leader, but…" Whatever Winona wants to say, it doesn't, and she stares gloomily into her cup before the faintest of smiles breaks on her lips. "But I remember your father still congratulating me, and he said he was happy that there was another Flying-type Gym Leader in the league, and that I would do a fine job. He didn't even act as if he had just won over me. It sounds silly, but his words… they reassured me."
"My father isn't just a wonderful man," Falkner murmurs, picking up the cup to take a sip of tea, "but he's also a wonderful father as well. My mom left us when I was young, so he didn't just have the gym to worry about, he also had to worry about me. Yet not once did I ever see him complain about it—he not only managed to raise me well, but he also maintained the gym well. So just hearing your story with him as well… it truly makes me proud to be known as my father's son."
"Is that so?"
The intense look in Winona's eyes indicates that she wants to say something else, but whatever that may be, it never gets voiced. It unsettles Falkner a bit, and for a split second, he wonders if he had said something to greatly offend her.
"It's been raining the past couple of weeks," she says aloud, turning towards the tiny window, watching the rain steadily fall. "I don't know why it's Fortree that gets the brunt of the bad weather in Hoenn… pity, really. I don't know where you've been staying all this time, but as a fellow Gym Leader, you and your Pokémon are obviously more than welcome to stay the night here, and use my facilities as you wish."
"Thank you, Winona. That's very kind of you."
"No, thank you," Winona answers contentedly, "for keeping me company today. Perhaps tomorrow, you and I should engage in a battle?"
He grins. "Most definitely."
Before she can reply, one of her assistants calls out her name and with a hasty nod in Falkner's direction, Winona turns to leave.
"Wait, before you go!" he calls out, suddenly remembering something. "Could I please use your phone?"
"Certainly. It's right behind you, just dial 9 first. Excuse me for a moment." Winona disappears out into the gym, and Falkner dials his own gym's number; he's been meaning to do it since he left Rustboro City, but it had kept slipping from his mind.
His assistants seem more than delighted to hear from him. "You'll never believe it, Falkner!" one of them—he thinks, judging how excited he is, it's Abe—shouts. "Your father dropped by the gym a couple days ago!"
Falkner barely manages to catch the phone he's almost dropped. "He what?"
"We tried getting a hold of you, but you weren't picking up! Must have bad service over in Hoenn!" Falkner fights the urge to toss Winona's phone, to check his, but he forces himself to listen on.
"Is he still there?"
"No, he isn't," Abe responds, and he sounds just as brokenhearted as Falkner suddenly is; "We tried making him stay, but he wouldn't. You know how he is. Said he was gonna go over to Hoenn looking for you."
"How long ago was this? And did he say where exactly he was going?"
"Uhhh… I'm… pretty sure it was three days ago, and he didn't say anything about where he was headed. Where are you at right now?"
"Fortree City. I'm calling off the gym's line—the gym leader was kind of enough to let me stay here for the night."
He swears he can hear Abe try to stifle a snort. "I see. Well, from what I can gather, your father's probably already in Hoenn, if not near it. It's a pity he doesn't like phones, so… I guess just stay in Fortree until he finds you?" Falkner already knows that he won't impose on Winona any longer than he must, but still gives an affirmative grunt before ending the conversation.
"My apologies for taking so long—one of my assistants had asked me something, and then I had asked to set up a place for you to sleep tonight. Is everything all right with you, however?" Winona says, peeking her head back into her office.
"Yes. Yes, it is. Thank you for asking."
Winona leads him up to a small room in the gym's back area, its sole occupant being only an air mattress with sheets and flat pillows on it. She apologizes for the less-than-comfortable arrangements, but Falkner reassures her that he honestly doesn't mind, and that he's grateful that he has a decent shelter tonight.
"If you wake up before I arrive at the gym tomorrow, would you be so kind as to let the rest of the birds out of their cages?" He nods, and she smiles, before wishing him a good night's rest. Soon, he's the only human left in the gym.
The rain still patters on the windows outside and for the first time since arriving in Hoenn, Falkner struggles to sleep. His mind is whirling with the thought of his father; two years is far too long to go without seeing someone, yet a part of him dreads seeing him again, although he isn't exactly sure why.
One thing is for certain, though: the moment he sees him, Falkner is going to make sure his father invests in a phone.
As Falkner silently watches his father's Pidgeotto finish off the challenger's remaining team member, a hapless Chikorita, with one Gust attack, he can't help but to be awestruck. Pidgeotto looks worse for wear, but any Pokémon would naturally be, after oneshotting an entire team by itself. There is a reason Hayate is highly revered in Violet City, and Falkner has witnessed it.
The challenger, a young boy who looks no older than Falkner is, is nearly on the verge of tears as he shakily hands over the small losing fee. "T-thank you for the match, sir."
His father, looking as joyful as the challenger does, only gives the young boy a curt nod, and Falkner doesn't understand why he appears so grim. After the boy leaves, Falkner congratulates his father.
"That was a great match." His father says nothing, instead retracting Pidgeotto back into its Pokéball.
"Have I ever told you how much I don't like winning, Falkner?"
"I don't like seeing such young kids like you getting their dreams and aspirations crushed by someone like me." When Falkner doesn't say anything to his answer, he adds on, "It's a parent thing, I suppose."
He turns heel and waves an arm in Falkner's direction. "I'll be out in the Sprout Tower, if you need me."
The match between Winona and Falkner is short, because they had decided to use one Pokémon each, but it still is as fierce as any other battle he's been in. Falkner feels foolish for initially underestimating Altaria's demure appearance, as he shouts to Pidgeot to dodge Altaria's Aerial Ace attack.
"Pidgeot, Double Team, then use Return!"
"Use Dragon Dance, and then use Dragon Breath, Altaria!"
While Pidgeot swoops in blindingly fast circles around Altaria, the latter emits an intense aura as it prepares itself for its attack; Pidgeot makes a dive first, hitting Altaria squarely in its chest as a blast of Dragon Breath makes contact with Pidgeot. Both birds are sent flying back to the opposite sides of the gym, exhausted but not yet down.
"Give it all you got, Altaria! Use Aerial Ace!" Winona shouts.
"You're doing great, Pidgeot! Use Roost!" Pidgeot barely manages to evade its opponent's attack, and it spares a moment to heal itself, before Falkner commands it to use Return again. It does so, aiming for Altaria with every ounce of energy it has—with a shriek, Altaria is knocked against a wall, struggles to get back up again, before collapsing to the ground below.
"Altaria is unable to battle!" Winona's shocked assistant manages to splutter. "The winner of the match is Falkner!"
Despite losing, Winona looks jubilant, bending down to put Altaria back in its Pokéball. "That was an excellent match, Falkner, one of the best I've had in a very long while! Truly, you and your Pokémon are graceful as they are formidable…" From her pocket, she procures a small box, opens it up, and hands a tiny trinket to Falkner. "In accordance to the Hoenn League, I bestow to you a Feather Badge. Congratulations."
"Thank you for the match, Winona," Falkner says, dipping into a respectful bow, "and thank you for your generosity in letting me stay at your gym last night. I sincerely appreciate it."
"Think nothing of it."
While their Pokémon recuperate, Falkner and Winona sit out on the Fortree Gym's balcony, gazing up to the now clear sky, in spite of the unbearable mugginess. Though there is silence, it isn't anything awkward, and Falkner notices just how dreamy, almost longing, his companion looks as she fixes her gaze to the crystalline horizon.
"I take it you will be leaving today?"
"Oh? Er, yes, I will be. Some things came up and I wouldn't want to impede on you any longer than I have."
"You're not doing anything of that sort. Did you hear of your father, then?"
"… My assistants had said that my father had visited the gym four days ago, and that he apparently has headed to Hoenn to find me."
"That's wonderful! Have you heard from him personally?"
"He doesn't have a phone."
"Unusual, I know." Aggravating as well, but Falkner doesn't mention this.
"Ah. Well then, I do hope you and your father reunite soon," is her kindly reply. "Although I'm sure that won't be a problem for either of you."
Before he leaves, Winona is insistent on giving Falkner her number and also some food to tide him over the next couple of days. As Pidgeot soars into the sky, he waves and watches Winona and her assistants become tiny dots on green ground. He'll definitely have to keep in touch with her.
While attractive and alluring, Falkner doesn't stay long in Lilycove City, although he does stop to visit the beach, pure white sand still sticking to the backs of his calves when he leaves. He flies over the ocean once again, and when he's impressed upon seeing a reef, he decides to fly closer to the ocean. Under the water's surface he can see Tentacool lazily drifting about, a group of Chinchou and Luvdisc barely peeking out of the seaweed, and shells scattered on the sandy bottom, like toys strewn on a child's bedroom floor.
He goes through Mossdeep City, before making his landing at the edge of Ever Grande City. It's a lonely place, with Hoenn's Victory Road looming ahead of him menacingly, and not a single Pokémon is in sight. He contemplates going to Sootopolis City, or returning to the places he briefly visited, but something tells him deep within that going to any of those places won't get him anywhere.
There is only one place he knows that may give him what he's looking for, so Falkner goes back to the beginning.
People could always tell where Falkner and his father lived, because so many Pidgeys surrounded it. It's mainly his father's fault, though—he tosses stale bread crumbs into their yard, humming an old tune, and the birds materialize from thin air, pecking at the ground intently. There is something insanely fun to Falkner in watching his father in an old flannel shirt and faded jeans, tromping around the front yard, flinging bread crumbs like coins, all while singing some cheery about how there weren't any true obstacles in the world, if there was enough dedication involved.
It's about three months after Falkner's twelfth birthday that his father begins to subtly change: he's still as easygoing as ever, but he spends more time in the Sprout Tower, thinking of things he doesn't discuss. There's also something different in his eyes—the shine is still there, but it's duller now. He seems more restless, and prone to spacing out. He also doesn't feed the Pidgeys as much anymore.
One evening Falkner takes it upon himself to grab the huge plastic bowl full of crumbs, and feed the Pidgeys themselves. He throws the first fistfuls out, but oddly enough, there are no birds. He only realizes then that he's not singing.
There is something peculiar about being exposed to something so many times that, when the moment comes to actually think about it, the details ingrained so well into the mind suddenly vanish. Falkner can't remember the first three lines of the song, but he can recall the fourth so he starts singing that.
"There'll be better daaaaaa-aaaaaaays ahead, oh oh oh, better daaaaaaa-aaaaaaaaays ahead, oh oh oh," he says loudly and soon enough, there are Pidgeys in his yard, hunting for bread crumbs.
His father, clad in an old flannel shirt and faded jeans, hears the ruckus, and sits on the front porch, an amused smile on his face. "You are a fine bread-crumb-thrower, if I do say so myself, Falkner."
"There'll be better daaaaaa-aaaaaaays ahead, oh oh oh, better daaaaaaa-aaaaaaaaays ahead, oh oh oh…"
"And when those days coooooooooooooome, we'll be together, forever and ever, dancing off into the setting suuuuuuuun," his father finishes, grinning. "So how much do you wanna bet the neighbors will be gossiping about crazy old Hayate and his oddball son Falkner singing songs to birds and dancing like fools in their yard, come tomorrow?"
"They already like you, though."
"Not everyone does."
An impish smirk crosses Falkner's face. "They're the ones missing out then."
"Ah, a child after my own heart indeed. Sometimes, my heart just bursts with joy looking at you." Falkner briefly stops spinning in circles to steal a glance at his father; for one moment, he sees the old shine in his father's eyes and his chest gets all warm. He goes back to singing, and his father joins in.
Well after the crumbs are gone, and the sun has set, both Falkner and his father still singing merrily of better days to come.
The Petalburg Forest is still as tranquil as Falkner had found it, but he feels as if there is something different as he takes in its stillness. It's as if something has descended upon it, but what it is and how it makes the Gym Leader feel, he isn't sure of that.
He slumps underneath a scrawny tree, and closes his eyes to run through options. There really isn't much that he can do at this point, except wait. Being gone for so long, being free of duties and obligations and shadows of generations before… being able to do what he had wanted, whenever he wished, without having to feel idly helpless—waiting has become something Falkner intensely dislikes.
It occurs to him that December has started mere days ago, and he thinks of Johto—it's probably a world of white right now, and the prospect of coming home to snow and cold makes the pit of his stomach feel equally icy. He's never been fond of winter, and becoming a Flying-type specialist only made that dislike greater.
Somehow, though, he knows that's not the real reason why he's so hesitant on leaving Hoenn.
He sighs, running a hand through his hair, all while eyeing the wildlife. He thinks of the Taillow he's caught—when he had arrived in Fortree City, he made sure to safely transfer it back to Violet City—the young girl with her Zigzagoon—hot springs—Winona and Fortree City—the ocean—the untamed freedom of this region—better days ahead—
It's in that moment Falkner makes a painful realization: it has only been here that he hasn't felt bound to the legacy his father had left behind.
Suddenly, the world seems very large and very, very still (and very, very, very unexplored).
"—be better daaaaaa-aaaaaaays ahead, oh oh oh, better daaaaaaa-aaaaaaaaays ahead, oh oh oh—"
It takes Falkner fifteen seconds to realize that he is not alone in the forest, and another fifteen to realize that squatting on his haunches right in front of him, peering at him with owlish eyes, is his father.
"—had a feeling you'd be here, and I have been talking to you for the past five minutes, Falkner, I don't think you are comprehending what is happening—helloooooooo? Is there anybody even—"
His next action comes more as an instinct than something voluntary: he launches himself into his father's unsuspecting arms, and the scene that soon unfolds is something no respectable man would be caught doing; he's got his father in a hug so tight, it would put the grip of a snake with its prey to complete shame.
"—is it—I—oh my God—I just—Dad, it's really you—"
"Well, who else would it be, the president of the Pokémon Association? Of course it's me—and it turns out my instinct about you being here was right, after all! Oh, man, Falkner…" He squeezes his son's shoulders. "Man, you've gotten so tall—I mean, damn, you're almost as tall as I am…" The two pull away momentarily and Falkner is left breathless by the entire situation.
"Man, I am seriously tearin' up over here," his father mutters, swiping at a hand at the corner of his eye, before beaming at his son. "But my god, Falkner, I am just in complete awe right now. Just look at how wonderful you've become. There's only so much satisfaction I can get from writing letters to you…"
"How about we move on outta here? I mean, the forest is great and all, but we'd be much better off in a hotel of sorts, wouldn't you agree?"
Falkner can feel himself nod, and his father lets out a loud laugh, before leading him out of there. As they walk, it's as if he's in a daze; it almost feels surreal, like only this would happen in those touching, best-selling stories, but it's happening to him and it's happening now…
Very briefly, his earlier plans about making his father get a phone cross his mind and he stifles a laugh. That can wait for now, he decides; there are many other things he needs to mind to.
Hayate's sudden resignation comes as a shock to the Johto Leaders, but for Falkner, it's no surprise. He's seen the signs for a while now, and he himself has been primed into taking over the gym the moment he could walk, but it still hurts. He tries to be as supportive as possible, but it still hurts, so very much.
"But Hayate's son is far too young to take on the gym—"
"He still needs guidance from his father—"
"Just what on Earth is Hayate thinking, anyway?"
The questions and whispers swirl around Violet City like some sort of malicious haze, and soon enough, Falkner is no longer Falkner, but rather, "Hayate's son"—if he's lucky, he's "the Gym Leader's son". Even Hayate himself doesn't appear to be satisfied with his certainly controversial decision; if more than anything, he seems worse off than he did prior to his announcement. He seems restless and anxious, staying up till the late hours just pacing around and compulsively rearranging things.
All Falkner does now is sit out on their roof—whenever he feels particularly angry, frustrated or sad, he climbs the roof to sit and reflect. It's a habit he unsurprisingly picked up from his father. This time, though, Falkner isn't sure what he feels.
Three days before Falkner is to take over the gym, Hayate joins him on the roof. He doesn't look at his son, just sits down and stares long and hard at the Sprout Tower.
"I hope you're not too angry with me, Falkner."
Falkner says nothing. It's the first time in four days since the two of them really bothered to talk to each other.
"I promise it won't be as bad as you think it will be."
Falkner still says nothing.
Time seems to slip without them noticing it and Hayate finally leaves when the first stars in the sky are starting to come out. Falkner still remains outside, and Hayate doesn't bother to retrieve him; instead, he turns on their stereo and begins to play sad, forlorn classical pieces loud enough to where Falkner can feel the music vibrating off his feet, but not so loud that it shakes the entire house.
Falkner wonders if his father only put on the music, just so he wouldn't have to hear his son's crying.
Falkner finds himself back in Rustboro, but in a nicer hotel this time—his father is currently showering (and also humming something, a sound Falkner didn't realize how much he missed), while he's out, flipping through the channels but finding himself unable to concentrate. Finally, he gives up and turns the TV off; there are so many things racing through his mind, and he doesn't know where on Earth he wants to begin.
He hears the shower shut on, and his heart skips a beat. Two years of absence certainly has made the Gym Leader's heart grow fonder for his father, but at the same time, he's wary. There were lots of things left with loose ends when Hayate had left, and Falkner wants them resolved, especially since he doesn't know his father's plans after this.
Shortly after, Hayate saunters out of the bathroom, towel wrapped tightly around his waist, dark hair sticking to his face. "Man, the water's hot here—think I got second-degree burns under that stuff
The last time Falkner had bathed was a couple days ago, in the stream by Route 119, and suddenly he wonders, with slight horror, just how awful he looks right now. "I get the feeling everything is hotter in Hoenn."
"Hahaha, definitely!" His father flops down on a bed with an enormous yawn, cracking his neck. "I've been to Sinnoh and Kanto in the time I've been gone but man, Hoenn's got my heart in the palm of its hand. There's something here that just compels me to this place… but surely you picked up on that by now."
"That, I did."
"Enough about me, though. I want to hear about you." Hayate takes a moment to look at his son with proud eyes, and Falkner suddenly and unexplainably feels as if he hasn't done anything to deserve such a loving look.
"Everything is still exactly the same as it was two years ago," he begins slowly.
"Pryce still around?"
Falkner laughs, sounding halfway between amused and exasperated—Hayate has never been fond of the Mahogany Gym Leader, but for what reason is still a mystery to his son. "Yes, Dad, Pryce is still the Gym Leader. Still doesn't talk much to the other ones."
"Are there any new leaders?"
"I don't think you've met Bugsy yet, now that you mention it. He became the new leader for Azalea Town about a year ago, I think. He's still pretty young."
"What happened to Ernest then?"
"Well, Ernest was old to begin with—I think he retired, and headed out to Kanto or Sinnoh, with his wife."
"That's disappointing; wish I would have gotten to say goodbye to him. Is there anyone else?"
"And what about you?"
He laughs quietly. "What about me?"
"You know exactly what. How have you been doing, Falkner?"
"I've been good. I've become stronger, since you've been gone."
Hayate grins. "I told you being a Gym Leader wasn't so bad—definitely takes some getting used to, huh? One of these days, I'll have to come back to Violet City to see you fight."
"Speaking of that," says Falkner, brushing his dark hair from his visible eye, "can I ask you something?"
His father pauses, and stares at his son with a certain intensity that unsettles Falkner a bit. It's not a glare, but it's something much deeper, but what exactly it is, Falkner doesn't know.
"What is it?"
Falkner swallows hard, knowing exactly why he suddenly feels so trapped and uncomfortable. "When you left the Violet Gym, there was another, more important reason you had left, wasn't there?" he finally forces himself to say. Hayate looks bemused after his son speaks, but that same look crosses his face again soon after.
"Stronger, but wiser as well," Hayate murmurs, letting his lips curve into a gentle smile. "I had a feeling you'd ask about that someday. I figured you wouldn't really comprehend it then, but six years does a lot to a person. Makes them see things they didn't originally see. To answer your question, though, yes, there was another motivation I had for leaving. But it makes me curious… why do you think I left?"
"What are you trying to do, quiz me?"
"Merely curious, s'all. You mustn't get so defensive, Falkner." To this, Falkner frowns, but his dad looks genuinely inquiring, and the Gym Leader continues:
"Leaving to find your own self was important. I could understand why you did it. But… you—you also left to help me find myself, didn't you?"
"My goodness, I am impressed! You've gotten to be so philosophical."
"Was I right, though?"
"Essentially, yes." Hayate takes a deep sigh before he speaks again. "Falkner, when your mother left me, I was scared completely witless, not because someone that I had cared about suddenly left me like our relationship meant nothing—obviously that was a huge factor—but really, it was more because I didn't know if I would be able to raise you by myself without hindering you in the long run. Kids from single-parent homes… typically, they usually don't become well-adjusted in life, at least in comparison to kids from homes with two parents. And I'm not saying every kid turns out that way, but… I didn't want you to become like that. I wanted you to still be happy, and able to handle things well. Words can't describe how completely fortunate I am, knowing that you turned out up and beyond my expectations for you. Truly. Falkner, you really don't realize how much you have done for me, not as a parent, but as a person as well. I wanted everything that you would ever desire to come true—and I still do." Hayate pauses, hands now clasped together, looking deep within Falkner's eyes.
"None of that would have happened for you, if I had remained the leader for Violet City," he goes on gravely, sitting up. "You were very attached to me. I'm going to guess to an extent, you still are. You were more than happy to please me any way you could, and you were comfortable living that role, which is why you were so eager to train when I had originally told you that you were going to become the Gym Leader. There isn't anything wrong with that, but there was going to be no way you would succeed as a Gym Leader, if that was how you were going to go about it."
To say Falkner is floored would be the understatement of the century.
"When I had left, do you remember the promise that I had asked of you?
"Of course I do. How would I forget?"
"And how you didn't have a single clue what I was talking about?"
"Now does it make sense?"
"I hadn't wanted to leave you, Falkner. But if I didn't, you were always going to be just my son, and not Falkner. I didn't want you to have that fate of always staying in my shadow for the rest of your life."
Falkner isn't sure of what to say, or even what he can say. He hadn't resented his father when he had relinquished his title, but somehow he had always felt, just slightly, as if the reasons he was given weren't really the true reasons for his father's departure. Hearing it from Hayate himself leaves Falkner feeling indescribably numb.
"Can I ask you something now?"
His father's question snaps him from his reverie. "Of course."
"Did you keep my promise, Falkner?"
Falkner realizes that the development behind his journey to Hoenn is very similar to his father's journey away from Violet City: there had been goals to initially find and achieve, but slowly they morphed into far different and much more personal ambitions. It was true that his original motive to come to Hoenn was to find Hayate, but now, that was only a secondary goal, against finally discovering himself.
The Violet City Gym Leader straightens his postures, smiles, and genuinely means it. To say any other answer simply would not have sufficed.
"Of course I did."
"I know it'll be tough the first couple months I'm away, but I promise being a Gym Leader won't be so bad," Hayate says with a small smile. "But there's one thing you gotta promise me, okay?"
"You gotta promise me that you have to become the Gym Leader for Violet City."
Falkner eyes him oddly. "But… I already am."
"No, no, no, I know that you are," Hayate answers with a laugh. "You take things too literally. What I mean is, you have to become the Gym Leader for this city." Falkner continues to look strangely at his father—if there had been some other meaning behind his words, it is well over Falkner's level of comprehension.
He admits as such to Hayate, who, once again, ruffles his son's hair with a large hand. "It's a funny thing, being young—there are things you notice that we don't, while other times, they go completely over your heads. Not that that's a bad thing, but it's very interesting, from my perspective. But just keep my promise, even if you don't understand. You're a bright kid, with a bright future, Falkner. I know your talent will come naturally to you."
He cranes his next to the sky: the sun is just beginning to rise, and the sky is an eerie shade of pea green, meshed together with soft oranges and pinks. "Well then," he murmurs in a matter-of-factly tone, giving his son, his belongings, and his Pidgeot one last glance over, "you will be hearing from me soon, so do your best. I have the utmost confidence in you." He bends down to give Falkner a kiss. "I love you."
Falkner returns the affection, and Hayate grins, mounting his Pidgeot. He gives his boy one last look, before he takes to the air, disappearing into the horizon. Falkner wistfully watches the sky, long after he's vanished from sight.
The sun soon breaks over the trees. It's a bright, sunny day, with the clouds from sunrise mostly gone by now, perfect weather for a perfect first day of official gym duties.
The two Pidgeys his father left behind flap onto Falkner's shoulders, and he pets them both.
"Let's do our best, okay, you guys?" Falkner whispers, taking a sleeve to dab his eyes.
The birds do nothing; they are more occupied with preening their fathers, but that's all right with him. One day, he will not only become their master, but a master that would make his father proud.
As he retires into the gym (his gym) to wait for the other members of the Johto League to congregate in Violet City, Falkner knows that there is going to be a long road ahead, and can only hope it will be filled with better days, just as his father said.