A/N: I had to separate this chapter into another part, so some things are getting pushed back, sorry. ;; Mostly Touko's part, which is coming up soon, but I feel like she's getting snubbed so far. Ughh so sorry about that.
Anyways, thank you guys so much for all of the kind reviews. I very much appreciate them all! I wouldn't have thought to get so many so soon, so thank you! : D I only wish I could update faster. I'll try my best though. Thank you for reading, as always!
Chapter 3: Exchange Student
"Positive. These girls were talking about him, just like you predicted. But, well..." The third year uncertainty ran a hand through his hair, and Touya couldn't help but tense. He'd been waiting for this report all morning, ever since the dormitory doors had unlocked themselves at 7:00 o'clock. If something bad had happened...
"You see, I didn't actually get to see him for myself," the boy continued, sounding regretful. "There were too many people in the way, and this stupid teacher wouldn't stop eyeing me, so I left. Uh, but really though, he's in that wing! I think the girls were pointing at him."
It was good enough. His sanity would begin slipping if this delay lasted any longer.
"Alright, good work," Touya praised the third year, who looked relieved. "I'll take it from here. Can you go tell the others?"
The resistance member nodded and took off towards another wing, away from the student lounge.
Touya checked the school clock. He couldn't blame them for taking so long; they only had the grade level and arrival date to work with. A Plasma teacher had been stupid enough to reveal this information about a month ago in the cafeteria, oblivious to Touya's eavesdropping. Today, the entire club would be reusing that tactic, except on seventh years instead of teachers.
That was the exchange student's grade level, after all. There was no way the guy could walk around without being noticed by those of the same age. He'd be a total stranger in their midst. Completely stick out. Touya regretted that he didn't know anyone of that grade, as it'd make the task a hell of a lot easier.
The plan was for the resistance members to spread out around the school and observe, overhear any talk or rumors, then report back.
There were many complications with this, of course, but what else could they do so early in the morning? They had began as soon as possible just to make sure that the student didn't allude them in any way, and now it was 8:00 o'clock, just twenty minutes before first period began. He didn't nearly have enough time to find the guy, let alone question him. If he could at least get a physical appearance this early in the game, then that was good enough for him.
And besides, he'd been waiting weeks for this. If yesterday's discovery meant anything, then today's findings would be incredible.
Unable to hide his growing excitement, Touya practically danced over to where Cheren was sitting. Having forced his friend in accompanying him this morning (which had been on an unheard of level of difficulty), it really wasn't a surprised that Cheren hadn't spoken to him since. The atmospheres surrounding the two were that of polar opposites.
"He said they're in the history wing," Touya began rapidly. "I can probably make it if I go now."
Cheren didn't reply, only sparing him a dark glance before looking back down at the paper he was writing on. The number 1,844 was scribbled on it, whatever that meant.
Okay, he admitted it; he had gone overboard with the exchange student hype. He knew Cheren was already annoyed with him because of it, and forcing him awake probably hadn't help. But today was the arrival day, of all things! This meant everything to him. He couldn't risk being careless this time, and that meant he needed back-up.
"Come with me? I'll need help finding them, since I didn't get a description. And I don't have much time, so-"
"Of course you don't," Cheren grumbled, folding the paper and tucking it into his bag. "When you hastily stormed out of the dorm this morning- rudely dragging me with you- I had assumed that you were planning to immediately begin your search. But instead you opted to play 'spy' and sent your squadron of little kids to do all the work while you remained here, pacing." Ouch. It was obvious that he'd been devising this rant all morning. "Why didn't you just go up to a seventh year and ask? That would have been the smartest and quickest thing to do."
"Well, yeah, but if I started asking random people right off the bat, they'd know that I've had this information for awhile now." And rat him out, no doubt. Feeling the need to justify himself, Touya continued, "I mean, technically, the whole school shouldn't realize there's a new guy until later today, right? That includes me. And besides, he could be anywhere. We stationed ourselves around the building for a better look-out system. Once someone saw the student, they'd report it to me, here. It's perfect."
"Yes, I'm aware that you've conducted an outrageously complex system. You do realize that they'll probably announce his status as a new student soon, right? Why can't you just wait?"
"You don't know that they'll announce it. This is Plasma we're talking about. They'll just stick to protocol and act like nothing's new." He wasn't going to let Cheren's difficult personality set him off today. It'd be hard to put up with, but he needed his friend's help, as he always had. "And honestly, I guess I just don't feel like waiting."
"And what if they've already went to class?" Cheren pressed. "You can't just walk into another grade's classroom without authorization."
"It'll be fine! It'll be fine! No one goes into their rooms this early." Probably. "Come on, please?" he begged. "Just for, like, ten minutes."
Cheren grew quiet, contemplating things. Probably weighing the pros and cons, seeing whether or not this would be completely pointless or not. It was starting to get on Touya's nerves.
6 Years Ago: 6 Months Before Liberation
His feet pounded against the ground as he tore through the town. Far behind him, he could hear Touko yelling at him, cursing him. Her hat was clenched in his hand, giving the girl a second reason to chase him. The first would be because she was 'it' in their hide-and-seek game.
But the game had grown boring, so after ducking behind a bush, Touya had sprang out in front of Touko, scaring her, then took off with the girl's hat. The idea was only to make the game slightly more interesting. She'd understand. It was all good fun.
Finding a large enough tree to hide behind, he dashed towards it, hoping Touko couldn't see him from her distance. The thought would have to wait. He nearly tripped over the person already hidden there, sitting against the tree trunk.
"Way to give my spot away," Cheren said dully.
"My bad!" Touya cautiously glanced back around the tree. He could still hear Touko, and she was gaining. "Quick! Help me hide somewhere!" he commanded Cheren in a hushed tone. "She'll beat me up for this!"
"Right..." Cheren eyed the pink and white hat Touya was holding, shaking his head at the troublesome dilemma. "Why did you feel the need to take it in the first place?"
"Because," Touya said simply. "It was funny. And she wasn't looking, and- ugh, does it matter? Just help me!"
"Fine, fine..." Picking himself up off the ground, Cheren leaned out from behind the tree, Touya mirroring his move on the opposite side. They couldn't hear Touko anymore, and guessing her to have taken a wrong turn somewhere, Cheren pointed over to the lab. "That would probably be the most efficient place to hide."
"Eh? But it's against the rules to go inside!"
"And?" Cheren questioned. "You're the one who made up that ridiculous rule. If you want to avoid Touko, then the only probable solution would be to go indoors."
Well, Touya supposed that could work. It'd result in even more problems later, but taking the hat had already ended the game's innocence. Touko wasn't going to forgive him without revenge.
He positioned himself to make the run. The lab was only a few yards away, closer than any other building in town, but there was still the chance of being noticed. He looked to Cheren, asking, "Are you coming?"
"Hm... I suppose visiting the lab would be more interesting than sitting out here, in this heat," the dark-haired boy replied. He was never much a fan of hide-and-seek, finding it as productive as watching paint dry. Everything for Cheren had to be beneficial in some way. "But if she finds out, I had no part in this."
The lab's automatic doors slid noiselessly open as the two boys approached it. Touya gave one last glance behind his shoulder, dodging inside the building after seeing what he thought was a flash of brown hair in the distance.
"Professor?" he called, looking around the room. Technology and equipment littered it, and while he had seen the professor use many of them, the purposes of most were still unknown.
Cheren walked over to the PC. "Weird," he said. "It's turned off." The computer held every Pokemon stored within the lab. Fledgling trainers came every day to Nuvema Town, all looking to obtain their starter Pokemon. Almost every day, Touya had watched them from the window in his room, jealously burning within his brown eyes.
It wasn't that he regretted his decision to wait on Bianca, but seeing these newbie trainers- excited, smiling- was always a punch to the gut for him.
"Do you think she's in the back?" Cheren asked, motioning towards another door which led to the second room.
Touya approached it, preparing to knock, then stopping himself. He could hear something from behind it- voices. If he knocked now, he wondered if he'd be interrupting something...scientific. And that wouldn't be any good. Unsure of what to do, he quietly pressed himself against the door, struggling to listen. It moved slightly at his touch, creaking, and he jerked back, convinced the person- or people- inside had heard.
The conversation went uninterrupted. Touya leaned in again, peering through the now cracked open door and making room for Cheren to listen as well, who had come up behind him. Apparently, this was intriguing enough for him to investigate.
Touya immediately noticed Professor Juniper inside, back turned against them. She was a familiar sight. Having visited the lab all these years, she was like another parent to them.
But something was off. Her voice lacked its usual peppiness, and she was slightly slouching.
"...mean to say that it's been raided?" the woman was saying. "But that is-"
"Not raided, my dear. Completely taken over."
A man's voice. Touya suddenly noticed the large face, projected onto a screen. He was talking to her over the lab's second PC. An older gentleman, with the same light brown hair as the professor, except streaked with gray. He kind of looked like the Kanto professor that occasionally spoke on radio shows. Maybe not as old. "At least, that's what Alder has told me. Have you watched the news recently?"
"This...this morning, yes. But there was nothing about Striaton."
"When have you last spoken to Fennel?"
"Just last week." Professor Juniper paused, smoothing a piece of hair behind one ear. Her words came out slowly, carefully recalling the conversation. "I called about the Musharna research. She said it'd be awhile before they found any results. If you want, I can call her right now."
But the man replied, "Don't bother. I tried a few hours ago. The line's dead."
The professor went silent. Though he had no idea what the two were talking about, Touya suddenly felt shameful at what he was doing. Spying on another kid wasn't a big deal to him- he did it all the time. But this was the Professor. They had so much respect for her, and he couldn't possibly do this to someone he respected.
Carefully, he began backing away, surprised that he wasn't bumping into Cheren. He glanced behind him, noticing the boy had already moved away from the door. He was staring at the ground, lost in thought. Touya guessed he felt as guilty as he did. If they left now, at least the professor wouldn't know about this.
"You need to leave," the man said firmly, breaking the silence and causing Touya to freeze in place. He momentarily thought that the man had directly addressed him. "I'm in Littleroot Town. Transfer any Pokemon you have there to Birch's lab, then use a flying Pokemon and come here. We can't trust the regular transportation systems."
"You've...left Unova?" the professor asked in disbelief.
"Yes. Alder asked me to yesterday morning. He's left as well."
"He's with you in Hoenn?"
"No, he didn't specify where he went. But he was very forceful in telling me to leave. He said to relay the message to you as soon as I had arrived here."
The professor stared at the elder man. "You're saying that the Champion has just gotten up and left? Unbelievable!" she exclaimed. "So we should just pack up and move? Since when would Alder say something like that?"
She began pacing, her heels clicking against the lab floor. "Something should be done! They can't really think that one town can get them anywhere, I- Dad, how could you just go along with this?"
"I realize it's hard to comprehend-"
"It's impossible! Isn't this what the police force is here for?" she asked blatantly. "And what about the Gym Leaders? Or the Elite Four? They don't just exist to battle trainers, after all!"
The man on the screen smiled sadly at his disgruntled daughter. "Yes... you're correct," he said. "I'm not quite sure what the Gym Leaders and Elite Four will do, truthfully. But it's absolutely necessary that you leave. These people...they are not like the organizations that have appeared in other regions. They aren't taking Unova by force, per say. They don't need to."
"What do you mean?"
"The people here, the regular ones we know and see every day, will carry out that task for them." The elder man sighed, looking grim. "...Willingly, even. This syndicate, you see, is very intelligent. Even with only Striaton City-"
"Touya, you idiot!"
Touya whirled around, gaping at the scene before him. How could he have forgotten?
Touko stomped into the lab, the automatic doors having opened silently, failing to alert him of a newcomer. Fury burned in her eyes, fists clinched. "Give me back my hat, now!" she shrieked.
He frantically waved his hands, desperate to shut her up. In the back room, silence signaled that the conversation had ended, and no doubt would the professor be making her way up front.
"I told you before to never take my stuff again!" Touko continued, approaching Touya so close until she was right in his face. He threw the hat at her, hoping that maybe that would work. She snatched it, but didn't relent. "Bianca felt sorry for me and tried to help look for you, but then she had to go home for dinner! And here you are, inside! And you-!" She turned to release her rage on Cheren, who was idly standing to the side, not even trying to prevent the unavoidable consequences that were about to take place. "You just went with him?"
"I was only following orders," Cheren replied lightly. He wasn't going back on his deal.
"What's going on in here?"
Professor Juniper had entered the room. Touya could help but cringe, pulling his hat down over his eyes. He had no idea if the bewildered woman knew they had been spying on her or not. Regardless of the slim chances that she didn't, he sent a prayer to every deity he knew.
"Oh, Professor," Touko said, her anger slightly diminishing. It was hard to tell, though. The outside sun had reddened her face, causing it to look perpetually enraged. "Sorry, I've just come for these idiots."
"Haha, really now?" Juniper said, her mood entirely lifted. It only reminded Touya of how rare it was to see the woman bent out of shape. "I wasn't even aware. How long have you kids been in here?"
"Only a few-"
Touya and Cheren threw quick glances at each other. Then, Cheren continued, "Only for a few minutes. It was quiet, so we assumed you weren't here."
"Oh?" The relief in her eyes was all too apparent. "You two should have said something, I was just in the back!"
"Ahaha, yeah," Touya said sheepishly. His nerves were starting to calm, at least. "Sorry about that. Didn't even think about it." He was feeling a lot better, really. "Actually, we just came in to get out of the sun, so yeah. Nothing else to say, really."
Cheren was glaring at him, willing him to stop. "We're going now, though," the boy said before the brunette could continue. "Bye, Professor."
The woman waved as the three departed, stepping back out into Nuvema Town. As soon as the doors had slid shut behind them, Touya gave a tremendous sigh of relief and fell into the grass. "Ugh, that was waaay to close-"
He grunted when Touko pressed a foot against his stomach. Oh god, here we go. "I'm waiting for my apology," the girl said through closed teeth. Her hat was now properly placed back on top of her head, where it belonged.
"I'm sorry you freak out about your stuff so easily!" he spluttered, trying to push her foot off of him. The pressure only increased.
"What? This was a game of hide-and-seek, not steal my hat!" she cried. "What is with you and taking my things?"
"Ugh..." Touya glanced away, defeated. Regardless of how funny it had been, stealing Touko's hat had turned out to be a bad idea. Not worth the yelling, or the pain.
Then he noticed Cheren was walking away, back towards his house.
"Hey, where are you going?" Touya called after him.
Cheren stopped, only slightly turning his head. "Oh... I have to do some chores around the house," he replied, avoiding eye contact. "I'll see you guys later."
"Oh, okay." Managing to shove Touko's foot away (causing her to fall over in the process), Touya rose to a sitting position. "Hey, thanks for helping me!" he called again. Despite the failure hiding in the lab had proved to be, Touya was glad he had not been the only one to witness what had happened, even if he had no idea what to make of it. Probably professor business. After all, there was no way that Professor Juniper could leave Nuvema Town. There were too many trainers who needed Pokemon, and who else would do it?
"Wait, so you did help him?" Touko asked, sitting up and glaring in Cheren's direction.
Cheren sped up, casting an irritated glance behind him. "And thank you so much, Touya, for idiotically breaking our deal!"
Touya had momentarily forgotten about Touko and Bianca. They had wordlessly strolled up behind him, and it occurred to him of how much he hated being sneaked up on. He decided to give them a quick run down of the situation- very quick. There wasn't time for distractions.
"You guys can come too, if you want," he added.
"You're going with him, Cheren?" Touko asked, slightly surprised. Cheren stared at her for a moment, then shrugged.
"Oh, let's go then!" Bianca exclaimed, almost bursting with excitement. "That's so neat you were able to find him this fast! Let's go meet him!"
"Bianca, there's only eighteen minutes left until class starts," Cheren chided. "You two should just go on. Technically, I'm only giving this eight more minutes."
Bianca wasn't convinced. "No way, I'm totally going!"
"Well, I'm not." Touko locked her eyes onto Touya's, frowning. He knew she was probably going to try and talk him out of it. She always did. "Why can't you wait until lunch or something? Why right now?"
"I just want to see what they look like," Touya replied. Waiting any longer would be too difficult, anyways. "If you're coming or not, let's just go!" he said, heading towards the history wing. "Come on, Cheren!"
"Why am I being forced to come if no one else is?" Cheren complained, but Bianca was already leading him down the hallway. Touya knew that the blonde could be enthusiastic, but it was still surprising that she was supporting this with such delight. He wondered if she truly cared about this mission, or...
Touko didn't follow. She said she'd rather wait, since according to her, he would be babbling on about it later anyways. Fine by him.
Touya found himself in the history wing in a matter of seconds. Luckily, most of the students were still loitering about, and he easily separated the seventh years from the other grades. The prime suspects would be a group of girls, and so Touya pinpointed a posse he deemed love-struck enough to be talking about male exchange students.
He would need a lot of luck for this to work.
Careful to remain inconspicuous, Touya stood a few feet away from them, acting as if in mid-conversation with Cheren and Bianca. One of the two easily played along with it, if not a bit too obvious, while the other looked like he could care less, checking his watch every few seconds.
And then, miraculously, it began. "Ah, don't you think it'd be terrifying to be new?" one of the girls asked shyly. Touya couldn't help but grin. Maybe luck was on his side today after all.
"Maybe," another replied. "He looked so calm about it, though. Like he's always been here or something. Oh, hey, look!"
Touya looked at where the girl was pointing through his peripheral vision. Unfortunately, too many students were crowding the halls, and he was unable to catch exactly where or who she was indicating. He suddenly felt sympathy towards his club member.
"Oh, he went into the bathroom," the girl said sullenly, dropping her hand. "I wanted to talk to him, too."
Touya made a bee-line towards said bathroom. He tried walking slowly, not wanting any onlookers to assume something risque because of his pace. It didn't really matter to him, either way. Everything was setting up perfectly, and he still had about eleven minutes left until class. He held out a hand towards the door's handle.
"Hold on." Cheren stepped in front of the door, barring Touya's way.
"What? What's wrong?" Touya asked impatiently. "Oh, the time limit... Look, I swear we won't be late, I just want to know-"
"Girls can't go in there." Cheren motioned towards Bianca, who looked sadden by the fact. "We can't just leave her out here."
"It's fine! I can wait!" Bianca assured. "Take a picture of them for me, okay?" she added jokingly.
Cheren shook his head. "You could get in trouble standing around. Especially since we're in the wrong wing. Remember the last time that happened?"
But Touya didn't care anymore. They could sort out the problem on their own, but he was going in. Pushing past Cheren, he yanked the bathroom door open and stepped inside.
It was quiet. Fear immediately stirred within him. Had those stupid girls been wrong? The bathroom appeared completely empty. Did they only think they saw the student come in here?
He quickly strolled past the stalls, finding none preoccupied. Bianca came in after him, with Cheren looking distressed behind her. "This is terrible, Bianca," the glasses-wearing boy said. "If someone sees you in here-!"
"Oh, stop worrying! Really, there's no one even in here."
Was that true? Touya walked around to the other side of the bathroom, leaving the two behind. It was vacant as well, as were the extra row of stalls. Entirely empty, other than himself and his two friends.
Wonderful. Gritting his teeth, he heavily leaned against a sink. He hadn't realized he was gripping his fist so tightly, and unfurling it, noticed the small red marks his nails had dug. His stomach was churning, too.
This was so stupid. Why was he stressing out so much? Even if they weren't in here, the exchange student was still somewhere in the school. He would find him later, at lunch, like Touko had said. Everything would be fine. He just needed to calm down. Calm down and stop acting ridiculous.
He couldn't see Cheren and Bianca; a wall separated the two sides of the bathroom. They were still bickering about Bianca breaking the rules, about how a teacher would see her as soon as she stepped outside. He was glad they couldn't see him. He had almost broken down, like an idiot. Like last time.
He took in a breath. That would have to suffice for now. Regaining himself, and using the mirror in front of him to ensure all emotions were erased, he turned.
Someone was in there with him. He hadn't even noticed. They were leaning against the separating wall, glancing around to the other side at where Cheren and Bianca were standing, still arguing.
"Isn't that weird?" he quietly said to Touya, a bewildered expression on his face. "I wasn't aware that girls were allowed in here."