Disclaimer: I don't own Pokemon. I don't think I possess the genius of Satoshi Tajiri or Junichi Masuda.
A/N: This fic was inspired by Lull, so Breezy, thank you. However, it is a different breed from Lull, as you will probably notice. The Pokémon Battles (the Cynthia vs Black; partial Black vs Susan Riche) draw stylistic influences from Lamora's Game of Champions and the Sun Soul. Check those two Pokémon fics out when you get the chance; they're wonderfully written.
Dedicated to MattSilver, for reading and beta-ing. Also dedicated to enembee, because he dealt with my crap when I was writing my first Harry Potter story.
Also from SPPf: thanks to Sike Saner, Diddy (thanks for the convos), and Psychic. Believe it or not, Psychic was the one helped start this story for me. Years and years ago, she made a small remark that Champion Lance notably helped the protagonist of G/S/C. In comparison to that, Cynthia and Alder pale a little. And a story idea was germinated.
This story is completed. It was originally written as a one-shot, but the story ballooned out to approximately 40,000 words. I'll try to post the other chapters after a reasonable period. I don't want to overwhelm the reader. Besides, it's possible that I might want to edit the other chapters accordingly, depending on the criticism from your reviews.
One more thing: Before you ask, yes, the main character is the B/W protagonist. I rendered him nameless for thematic/stylistic reasons. It gives him an interesting "every-man" quality and ties in with the identity theme. I also didn't like the name "Hilbert" [/jokes]
UNDER THE SAME SKY
Chapter Seven - The Finale Sonata
Memorandum: "A Deathless Prelude"
Summary: A nameless teenager is heralded as the Champion of the Unova League. However, he's not ready to bear that cross. In order to deal with his inner demons, he absconds to Undella Town - and meets a certain blonde Sinnoh Champion.
Warning(s): Swearing and violent scenarios.
Verse: B/W Games (Gen. V)
"You cannot live under the same sky as your father's murderer."
-Proverb from the philosopher Confucius-
I try to open my mouth. Air bubbles escape before my own eyes, like little translucent marshmallows. The taste of sea salt blisters my tongue, while the din of turbulent waves rolls over me. Vicious tentacles start to wrap around my neck and throttle. My own grip loosens, and a few flashes of pink are swept away. As I struggle, I can see only the black expanse of the sea. It's like ink.
I think I'm drowning.
NOIR. Cheren gives me an intense glare.
"Champion of the Unova Pokémon League," he repeats.
I confirm it.
He's incredulous. "It's a little sudden, don't you think?"
I open and close an empty Pokéball. Fuck, for once, I agreed with Cheren.
BLANCHE. Bianca collapses against a wall.
"Why?" she asks. "Why does it have to be like this?"
Her voice is thick with phlegm and pity.
"Champion? But what about Alder?"
I don't know what to tell her. Is there anything I can say?
I don a smile; I don't think it reaches the eyes.
NOIR. Professor Juniper has her back against me.
"The Elite Four?" She sighs. "My, my, have you grown."
I wonder what she's doing with the computer.
"I'm making modifications to the latest Pokedex – Prototype #B06."
She swivels around in her chair. "Do you want to volunteer for the beta model?"
BLANCHE. My mother is silent.
Her voice sounds from the Xtransceiver. "You're too skinny."
I ignore her comment.
"Are you eating well?" Another question.
She wrings her hands. "I can't stand seeing you… like this."
I switch off the video-call.
I still dream about it, sometimes. About that day.
A flash of green hair shimmers before me, like a mirage. He holds onto his next Pokémon, as I do to mine. The rubble of the Pokémon League surrounds us, while fire and lightning shatter the black sky. The Menger sponge was already on the floor. The cuts through my shirt are starting to sting, while small spots appear in front of my eyes. We're both exhausted and about to faint, maybe. I never wanted to do this, fight him. And I think N is crying.
The white dragon then aims downwards. A pillar of red.
I'm sprinting, but it's too late. Of course.
That day has changed things.
And people ask me why Zekrom isn't with me anymore?
The first time somebody calls me "Black", I'm seven. My baby teeth haven't popped out yet, and ironically, Bianca is the tallest kid in class. I'm the shortest, but that doesn't faze me. At least to the best of my recollection. When you're a preschooler, there are only so many times that matter to you.
One of them is your choice of friends.
I'm on the seesaw, pushing myself on and off the ground. The seat opposite mine is vacant. Because my family had only recently moved into town, none of the other children seem to want to talk to me. The perks of being "the new kid".
It surprises me when somebody approaches me. A bespectacled boy, with straight-laced hair and an even more straight-laced expression.
"I'm Cheren," the boy declares. "What's your name?"
I tell him.
Cheren wrinkles his nose. "That's your name? It sounds stupid."
I tell him that his face is stupid.
"Your name is stupider," replies Cheren, in a breezy way that only a seven year-old can muster. "I'm gonna call you something else."
Curious, I ask him what.
"I dunno. What's your favourite colour?"
"Really?" Cheren sits on the seesaw. "Isn't it too gloomy? Dad says you only wear black when somebody dies."
Black is cool. Black is my favourite sweet: shaved liquorice. Black is the colour of my sneaky shadow, which follows me everywhere.
"Weirdo. You probably only like black 'cause you're not ordinary or normal." Cheren rolls his eyes. "How did Dad say it? 'The black Mareep in the flock'."
I tell him that I'm not a weirdo.
"Whatever. If you like Black so much, that's what I'll call you."
Although I want to insist that my name isn't "Black", I'm too eager for Cheren's approval to disagree. I meet Bianca soon after, and Cheren introduces me as "Black" to her. She giggles and likes Cheren's reasoning. The name catches on.
Years after, people grow up, and the playground nickname fades out of use. Cheren graduates from juvenile insults like "weirdo". Bianca prefers to mispronounce and butcher my real name. "Black" is a leftover of my childhood.
But now? Do most people even call me by my real name? I'm not an ordinary boy to them. I'm always something else.
Maybe that's why I like to refer to myself as "Black" in my head. Nobody else calls me that name, but that's part of the appeal. I haven't been "ordinary" in a long time, anyway.
Fuck, I'm going crazy. Caitlin is right. I do need a break.
I check the map she gave me. Her cursive writing spills out.
"'Undella Town – A Town of Rippling Waves'," I read aloud.
East of Unova, huh?
I fold the map with my definite destination in mind.
/fin of Overture/
The storm beat down. The sky was cluttered with murky clouds, while gales of wind streaked like arrows from a bow, angling the raindrops against the wet pavement. Snarling, the ocean itself gnawed at the coastline. Undella Town's famous beaches – the soaring plains of white – had temporarily become nothing more than mere soggy sand dunes. Indeed, Undella had transformed herself into a desolate wetland, as the residents and tourists alike scurried to the warmth of shelter. The main road, normally packed with weekend stalls selling trinkets and 50-Cent Snow Cones, was empty.
A hurricane in a hamlet.
Through this baleful weather, a lone figure walked down the road. A boy, aged fifteen. He wasn't a particularly inspiring fellow. He was neither short nor tall, and his messy, brown hair was insipid, plastered with water against the slender nape of his neck. An official Pokémon League hat was squashed down on his head, hiding the face.
In his mind, the boy liked to call himself "Black". It was nothing like his real name, or what others called him, but it worked for him.
Black wasn't too fussed about the storm. He actually enjoyed the cool feel of the rain, as Arctic fingers trailed over his spine. It could have been worse. The cold was preferable to the hot, anyway. He still remembered the burning scorch of the Resort Desert. Wouldn't you rather die by ice than die by fire? Freezing numbed the senses, ensuring that the victim could no longer feel. No more pain – just a blanket of sleep.
The C-Gear on his wrist beeped, signalling a video call. Black checked the screen. The caller ID: Bianca. Hastily, he turned off the C-Gear. This was the third time in two days that Bianca had attempted to contact him, even though he had made it abundantly clear that he wished to be left alone. Yes, he was avoiding her, but could one blame him? He wasn't ready to talk about what had happened. No meant no. A concept which Bianca didn't comprehend.
Eventually, Black reached the end of the road. A series of buildings were clustered by a picket fence. He walked into the largest one.
As he trudged through the lobby, Black heard the whispers and gasps of the people around him. A young waiter nearly knocked over the wine cooler. A mother of three tried to quieten her suddenly agitated children. Ignoring the pointed stares, Black stepped in front of the concierge's desk.
"Welcome to Undella Town," recited the concierge in a dull tone. "How may I help you?"
"I would like to rent a villa," said Black.
"There are no villas available today. You will have to find alternative accommodation."
"I don't think that's an option," said Black brightly.
Bored, the concierge typed into her computer. "I'm sorry, sir, but we have no more rooms. You'll have to wait like everyone else. No exceptions."
"I think you can make an exception with me."
The concierge flicked her eyes towards Black, who took off his hat. A young tanned face emerged in the light. A face that had been sandblasted across billboards and television screens. The concierge dropped her jaw.
"Why don't you check the computer again," said Black. His amber eyes glimmered. "There might be a vacancy."
"O-Of course, let me check."
Black flattened the hat over his hair again, as the flustered concierge scrutinised the database.
"There is one villa available, but you will have to share with another person," said the woman.
Nervously, she returned her gaze to Black. The copious cakes of makeup could not hide the deep, red flush in her starstruck face. Immediately, Black was reminded of that beret-wearing girl from Altomare City.
"Is this arrangement to your liking?" asked the woman, her upper lip trembling.
A little exasperated, Black nodded.
"O-Okay. Firstly, I need to call the other party to confirm that she's also fine with sharing a villa."
Picking up a fancy receiver, the concierge dialled the phone. She waited for the tone, before speaking.
"Hello, Ma'am? I'm sorry for intruding upon your evening, but we have another client who wishes to share your villa. I understand that Lady Caitlin herself had rented you the villa, but Undella's policy states that – "
The concierge paused. Black wondered what the other person was saying. Was the person upset with the concierge? Not everybody could have been happy sharing what was once a peaceful, empty villa. People tended to dislike change. Black had seen how possessive people could become. Then, why could he hear laughter from the phone?
"Yes, Ma'am. It's the Unova League Champion," the concierge said.
Surprised, the woman buckled forward. "'Send him up?' Now? Y-Yes, Ma'am. Thank you for your time."
The concierge set down the phone. Nervous, she turned her head towards Black, chewing her lip. She straightened the hem of her pencil skirt. Black rolled his eyes, but did not falter his smile.
"The villa is available, sir. I'll arrange for bellhop to take your luggage," said the woman.
Black forced a placid smile. "No need. I can take my satchel myself."
The concierge fumbled with a knot of keys. She detached one from the bunch and called out to him.
"Here's your key," she said, passing the lacy metal to Black. "Your villa is the second one from the right. It has two blue shutters; you cannot miss it."
Black nodded, pocketing the key. When he began to step away from the desk, the concierge called out:
"Sir! My son is a huge fan; he wants to be just like you."
"Really?" Black replied, trying to keep his tone cheery and detached.
"Yes. If I could get him your autograph, he'd be over the moon. You're the greatest hero and Champion to him."
Chuckling, Black pressed his lips into a thin, bitter line. "I've done nothing worth noting."
"But – "
"Tell your son to find a better role model."
Without another word to the concierge, Black wheeled around and walked out of the lobby. People scuttled away from him, trying to avoid looking him in the eye. A fat tourist dropped his grease-stained camera; deliberately, the businessman with the tame Liepard headed in a different direction to him. Even the Plusle and Minun, playing by the granite fountain, squeaked upon seeing Black. Swiftly, they scurried behind their Trainers' pants.
The Minun's Trainer, a mousy haired girl with baby-fat cheeks and a ridiculous 'Hello Skitty' sweater, pointed at Black.
"Papa, it's the boy from television! The one who fought the scary man!"
As Black lowered his hat, he overheard the girl's father whispering to the girl, telling her that it was rude to point. Black didn't miss the franticness in the man's voice. It was dark and glossy, like a prowling Luxray. Black was familiar with it; he had witnessed it glisten in the eyes of far lesser men.
After exiting the lobby and enduring a few minutes of rain, Black arrived at his chosen villa. It was as the concierge had described: adorned with blue shutters, and impossible to miss. Large and ostentatious, sun-bleached walls stretched outwards. Like a fisher's trawl, lush ivy dragged across the Grecian colonnade. A matching set of polished, mahogany doors completed the image of luxury and affluence.
Typical. Caitlin was spoilt sweet, preferring her cucumber sandwiches to have their crusts off. Everything had to be perfect with her, from her Pokémon battles to her laundered Lilycove skirts. Her vacation villas couldn't be an exception.
Fitting the key into the door, Black entered the villa. A spiralling, burnished staircase and a darkened marble floor greeted him, like a groomed butler. Black threw his bag on a coffee table. He chuckled when mud and rainwater seeped across the clean glass, dripping down the table-legs. That should give Caitlin a nasty shock; the girl cared far too much about cleanliness than was considered healthy.
Black remembered the first time he met Caitlin. Dressed in a white sundress, she was the epitome of grace and chastity. He didn't like her from the start. She claimed that he had no place challenging the Unova Elite Four. What was the phrase she used again? "dim-witted little boy".
The moniker wasn't entirely false, though. Once upon a time, he was a small boy from the smallest town in Unova. However, he had high hopes: he wanted to be the greatest Trainer of them all. The only thing bigger than his dreams was his toothy smile. His first Pokémon, a pig with orange fur brighter than the sun, liked his smile the most. Not even the tastiest Poffin could elicit from Tepig a squeal of delight more than his toothy grin. However, that was back in the old days, when Black's grin was genuine. Sure, the motions were the same: the dimples still curled at the edges, and his teeth still shone through.
But the joy wasn't there.
Abruptly, the clicking of heels brought Black out of his thoughts. Instantly, his hand snapped to his Pokébelt. He skimmed across each of the five capsules. Unfezant would provide the quickest attack, flying like a bullet to rip out a throat. Scrafty and Simisage could break the assailant's bones, while Carracosta would create enough Rock Slides to disinter the villa's underbelly. Even Beheeyem would be more than surfeit: two silent Psybeams would neutralise any threat. Avoiding the empty sixth slot, Black tried to make his final decision. He had two seconds to pick, before the other person would utilise her chance to attack him first –
"Isn't it a little late for a Pokémon Battle?" a female voice remarked from the stairwell. "I am more than ready for a good match, but I would much rather do this when I'm not so tired."
A tall figure stepped forward, allowing the moonlight to illuminate her body. She was a statuesque woman, with willowy legs and a generous bust. A black nightgown, verging on indecent and see-through, hugged her hips. Her long, blond hair cascaded downwards in rivulets, while grey eyes glinted with amusement. Pointed cheekbones, angled upwards. A silver ring, inset with an odd brown stone, twinkled from her middle finger. She stood akimbo, smiling slightly.
The woman was a household name. A breakfast cereal in Jubilife was designed in her honour. Black spoke without thinking: "Cynthia."
Cynthia tilted her head. "That would be my name."
"What are doing here? Aren't you meant to be in Sinnoh?"
"I decided to travel around the world, so Caitlin rented me a few overseas villas as a favour," said Cynthia.
She yawned and stretched her arms, causing the robe to open slightly at the chest. Black reddened at the glimpse of soft, pink skin.
"And I am not needed in Sinnoh anymore. My duties as a former Champion have been delegated," she explained gently.
Smoothly, Cynthia gestured at him. "I have some coffee in the kitchen. You're more than welcome to join me."
Black shot a doubtful look at Cynthia, who was starting to swan towards the hall. After a moment of contemplation, he followed her. So, this was the person with whom he was sharing a villa? In all honesty, Black was apprehensive. Champion Cynthia was many things, but predictable wasn't one of them. Indeed, Cynthia had frustrated the Sinnoh officials with her sporadic and random stopovers at interesting historical sites, throwing her schedule into disarray. Once, she had disappeared for four days, forcing Lucian to substitute for her as Champion. The press was in an uproar. Where was she for half a week? Visiting the Solaceon Ruins, because the "glyphs intrigued her". Living with her was bound to be a challenge.
As expected of Caitlin, the kitchen was well furbished. The marble benchtops had in-built ovens, courtesy of Devon Corp. An assortment of blenders, mixers and food processers clung to the walls, aligned in sleek, polished rows. Next to one of these blenders were some of Cynthia's belongings: an Everstone, a sketch of an Unown, and her notebook, which was open. Black barely caught the words "Chi-Ro: King?", before Cynthia had closed it. Accompanying Cynthia's curios was also a pasta machine and a series of non-essential, luxury trinkets.
One of these trinkets was a Silph espresso machine, which Cynthia approached and adjusted. Within minutes, the blond woman produced two cups of steaming coffee. She handed one to Black, who carefully took it with two hands.
He sipped it in silence.
"We should get you out of those wet clothes. Otherwise, you might get hypothermia," said Cynthia, glancing at Black's soaked jacket and cargo pants. "Allow me – "
"No, I'll deal with it," Black replied.
Taking out a Pokéball, he released the Scrafty inside it. The hoodlum-like biped materialised with a flash of white light. The Pokémon's face, ordinarily besmirched with mischief and malicious glee, was scrunched in mild concern. Scrafty stared questioningly at Black.
Donning a warm facade, Black tried to focus on the task at hand.
"Scrafty, I'm a little wet from the rain," he said.
He leaned towards the Pokémon, giving a small smile. "Could you help me?"
Scrafty growled affirmatively. Cynthia raised an eyebrow when the Pokémon belched a shroud of soft flames around Black. The fire was rather weak in intensity, carefully controlled not to burn the boy. After another minute, Scrafty closed his mouth, and the flames self-extinguished.
Black was dry and unburned.
"Thanks, mate," was Black's muttered reply as he returned the scowling Pokémon back to his capsule.
"That was impressive, using Incinerateto dry your clothes," Cynthia said kindly.
Black shrugged. "It was nothing."
"You're too modest. We both know a Scrafty cannot naturally control fire like that, at least without being trained specifically. You taught him well."
Cynthia finished her coffee and set down the mug in the sink. "You must be a talented and powerful Trainer. As expected from the Hero of Unova."
Black nearly dropped his cup. Cynthia sauntered past him and patted him on the shoulder.
"The guest's bedroom on the second floor is yours," she said, as she left the kitchen. "Please turn off the espresso machine when you're finished."
Black didn't respond. His grip around the coffee mug tightened.
Somehow, the press finds out what happened. I guess it's inevitable, since nobody could have missed the sight of a fucking castle suddenly encircling the Pokémon League. Websites and newspapers discuss the events of that day. Witnesses say that they remember two gods – one white and the other black. They remember that a teenager controlled the white dragon. They remember that I controlled the black one.
The Nimbasa Daily has the bright idea of calling me the "Hero of Unova". The name catches on.
Then, the blog of some fatass sources photos of me and Reshiram; Reshiram is clearly in pain. Using this evidence, the bitter jackass lambasts me as a "god-killer" and "danger". The name catches on.
Even though Zekrom isn't with me anymore, people still ask how I subdued and captured the god. How I chose to become a Hero.
I didn't. Zekrom had dictated my destiny. Fuck, all this attention. It's everywhere.
Only my mother seemed to remember my real name.
The next day began as usual for Black. He woke up at daybreak and, after yawning loudly, stretched his limbs to maintain his flexibility. He brushed his teeth using a cheap brand of toothpaste ('Morning Budew with Extra Fresh™'), following with a wash in the nearest water source. In this case, that was the en-suite shower. The clothes for the day were the typical: fresh underwear, as his mother had always insisted, and the standard tee-shirt and cargo pants.
He fitted on his League cap. Nothing had changed, at least on the surface.
Grabbing his jacket off a chair, Black walked out of the guest's bedroom and headed towards the kitchen. Cynthia was probably there already. The woman looked like an early-starter.
As he strolled down the stairs, he heard a soft knocking at the villa's entrance. Within seconds, Cynthia appeared. With a smile, she opened the front door.
A weedy teenager, older than Black, stood on the other side. He was gawky and gangly, as though he had grown too quickly in too short a period of time. A few pimples dashed across his nose. Braces complemented a narrow face, which showed a wispy attempt at a five o'clock shadow. The feather-shaped logo on the teenager's shirt was telling: 'RUFFLET PIZZA: 24/7 Service. Wherever, Whenever.'
"One medium pizza for a Miss Chard?" said the scraggy teenager. He read off a piece of paper. "Vegan special, but with anchovies, kidney beans, and extra feta. No shallots and no beetroot."
Serenely, Cynthia nodded. "That's my order."
"That will be $19.55."
As Cynthia opened her purse, the pizza deliverer finally caught a good look of the woman in front of him. His eyes widened when he realised that this wasn't any blonde, it was Cynthia. The former Sinnoh Champion, biannual winner of the Lily Valley Conference for 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006. She was one of the League's living legends, not to mention a cultural icon. Even those who didn't follow the Pokémon Battle circuit would recognise her from the 'Hoenn Disaster Appeal' commercials, back when the region was experiencing freakish flooding and droughts.
Black rolled his eyes when the geeky teenager started sputtering.
"Here's twenty dollars," Cynthia said, pulling out a green banknote. Black twitched when he saw Alder's familiar face stamped across the watermarked side. It brought back his memories of the League, of meeting the Elite Four. Of meeting him.
Cynthia pressed the note into the spluttering deliverer's hands. "Why don't you keep the change?"
As she snagged the pizza from his hands, the weedy teenager squeaked, as though he was bursting at the seams. His ears became pink.
She blinked. "Pardon?"
"May I have your autograph please?" The teenager took a deep breath, slowing down.
"Oh! You want my autograph?" said Cynthia slowly.
From his semi-hidden spot on the stairwell, Black wondered how Cynthia would react. Would she indulge this recurrent request? She must have been exhausted from more than a decade of signing autographs. Wasn't she now free of such obligations? She was no longer Champion – it was not her duty or her concern.
To Black's surprise, she took out a pen. "Sure, why not. What's your name?"
"Matt Johansson. It's spelt with two 's's."
Cynthia picked up a napkin and scribbled something on it, flourishing the pen in wide strokes. Black thought that she was making a small spectacle out of it, as though she was conducting a ceremony of sorts. Matt Johansson, however, was spellbound. His face became as red as the tomato paste which had been slathered over Cynthia's pizza.
Cynthia returned the napkin, now adorned with some sort of trite platitude and her signature, to Johansson.
"Here you go," she said warmly.
Taking the napkin, the delivery boy read its message out loud: "'To Matt Johansson. Never give up on your Pokémon dreams. They'll come true someday. Yours, Cynthia.'"
Johansson cradled the napkin, as though it would disintegrate at the slightest touch. Reverently, he gawked at Cynthia.
"Shit, thank you! Thank you so much!"
"You're welcome," was Cynthia's response as she shut the door with a low thud.
Black watched Cynthia grab the pizza, humming a strange tune to herself. Opening the box, the former Champion chose a slice and bit into it. A pleasant aroma of melted cheese and roast vegetables wafted upwards. Black felt his mouth water a little. Abruptly, he was reminded that he hadn't eaten a decent meal in days. Yes, there were the water crackers and freeze-dried fruits which had proven to be staples of his diet while travelling the wildness, but those were ration-issue foods. They would provide sustenance but not satisfaction.
Lowering his League hat, he climbed down the stairs. Cynthia had already finished her first slice. She was halfway through the kitchen when she spotted him.
"Good morning, did you sleep well?" she asked.
"Better than usual."
Black tore off a piece of the peculiar pizza. Up close he could perceive the toppings, and he realised that while the pizza smelled palatable, it wouldn't necessarily have a good taste. He spotted shavings of anchovy, kidney beans, and oven-roasted broccoli, all held together by hot nets of feta cheese. What a bizarre combination. Did Cynthia always have such… specifictastes? It reminded Black of Bianca, who was encouraging him to try new foods whenever they reached their next Gym. "Try the Casteliacone, it's a local specialty!", "Rabuta Berries aren't just for Pokémon!", or "Moomoo Milk is a great aphrodisiac!" More often than not, Black regretted listening to Bianca; her peculiar taste in food didn't quite match with his. She was annoying that way.
Glancing back at the pizza slice, Black felt his empty stomach grumble. No matter. At this point, he was hungry enough to eat raw Krokoodile. Losers couldn't be choosers.
He chewed. Immediately, there were sharp bursts of saltiness, outset by the sweetness of pumpkin and the mild taste of broccoli. All in all, it was surprisingly pleasant. Swallowing, Black wolfed down the pizza, as the hot cheese burnt the inside of his mouth.
Cynthia leaned against the kitchen counter. "It must have been difficult travelling so much. The bad food, the constant camping. Didn't you ever get homesick?"
"I managed," Black stated.
"When I was starting out as a Trainer, I missed my grandmother terribly," said Cynthia, sprinkling a few more olives on her pizza.
She gave a low, throaty laugh. "I couldn't wait to arrive at the next PokéCenter so that I could use the video-phone to call her. If the booth was already occupied, sometimes I would cry until the person let me go ahead of him."
"That sounds a little – " Black tried to sound polite. "needy."
"I was young and inexperienced," she said, smiling. "People mature over time."
Black glanced at the blond former Champion, who was humming to herself again. A shred of curiosity pricked him, like a metal needle. The small detail about Cynthia's life had piqued his interest; what was a younger Cynthia like? How different was she to this statuesque woman?
"Did you travel alone?" he asked, unable to resist.
"Initially, but not for long. When I was visiting Canalave City, a boy stole my bike. I was visiting the famous library to research Gible's evolutionary cycle. I come out with my books, and my bicycle was gone." Absently, Cynthia pushed a stray blond strand out of her eyes. "Moreover, when I finally found it behind a dumpster, someone had broken the chains and the spokes. In his haste, the thief had accidentally destroyed my bike."
Black gaped, while she languidly toyed with silver ring on her hand. The inset brown shard shimmered at certain angles of light.
Unaffected, Cynthia continued: "I was understandably upset at the time. Eventually, I found the thief and confronted him."
"You challenged him to a Pokémon Battle," Black speculated.
"Not everything in life involves fighting," said Cynthia carefully. She nibbled on the end of her pizza. "No, it turned out that the boy's Bronzor was very ill and needed urgent medical attention. The boy had to get to Canalave PokéCenter quickly. My bike just happened to be nearby."
"What happened to the Bronzor? Was it okay?"
Cynthia gave Black an approving look. "Your concern for Pokémon, even those who aren't yours, is admirable."
Reflexively, Black's hand darted to his belt. His fingertips ghosted over each of the five Pokéballs, protective and defensive. Suddenly, a strong emotion seared through him, like a comet, parching his throat; he found it a little hard to breathe.
"And the Bronzor was fine. But as a result of this ordeal, the Bronzor's Trainer and I became close," Cynthia elaborated. "We decided to travel together, at least until he could recompense me for my bicycle."
Black picked at the pizza box. "Did he?"
"Eventually, yes. However, by then we were already good enough friends that I decided to stay with him anyway. His presence made the wilderness much easier to tackle. It was nice not to be alone."
Reaching for her purse, Cynthia pulled something out and showed it to Black. It was a faded photograph, blotched with coffee spills and crinkles from excess handling. A younger Cynthia was leaning over a leering Gabite and an unidentifiable, pink-skinned slug, whose visage on the photo was smudged out. If Black didn't know any better, he would say that the latter Pokémon had been crossed out with a permanent marker – and then scrubbed at a much later date, in an unsuccessful attempt to remove the obscuring ink. Strange.
Black drifted his gaze up the photograph. The younger Cynthia looked different: her signature blond hair was cropped short, while her smile showed baby teeth. Instead of those signature Umbreon hairclips, a vibrant pastel flower balanced behind her ear. Black ironically noted that even the younger Cynthia had a disproportionate bust, though. Next to the Gabite and the pink slug was a dark-haired figure. The face was motion-blurred, but one could make out what appeared to be tinted, silver-framed glasses. The younger Cynthia held a victory V-sign over her human companion, who was clutching some sort of thick book.
Black was guessing that this photo was a picture of Cynthia and her bike-stealing friend.
"We're still friends, even today," said Cynthia.
She pocketed the photograph. Black threw the last pizza slice back into the box. A shiver of sadness tinged his mind; Cynthia's picture was reminiscent of that summer day in Nacrene City. Cheren had made everyone sandwiches, while Bianca lay back on the grass. She said that the clouds reminded her of cargo ships, with great, white sails which billowed in the wind.
"What about your own friends?" Cynthia asked, breaking him out of his stupor. "I heard from the Professor that you had journeyed through Unova with a few companions. Aren't you still in contact with them?"
Black froze. Inscrutably, he spun around and faced Cynthia.
"It's better if I stay alone."
When Caitlin and Grimsley approach me, I'm sitting in the top most tower of the Pokémon League. From my vantage point, I could see the bulldozers and construction cranes rumbling around the wreckage. The builders aren't alone. Trained Gurdurr cringe at some of their orders, but obey nonetheless. Would the builders understand what their Pokémon feel? Judging from their confused chain of command, the construction crews probably barely understood each other.
Grimsley is smoking. Fuck. That's not a good sign – he only does that when he's stressed.
"We need to talk," said Caitlin.
I try to be a smart alec. "You know I don't feel that way about you, but if you insist."
"Please stop blathering," she replied, in a sleek but waspish voice. "This is rather important."
Caitlin and Grimsley sit down next to me. When they finish talking, I'm on my feet. I give a small laugh and I ask if she's kidding.
Caitlin leans closer.
"I think you need to take a vacation."
/fin of Chapter One/