What a lonely place the subway was—Dawn never liked public transportation much, but on days such as this when thunderstorms ravaged the skies normally populated by trainers on the backs of their bird Pokemon, she had no choice. There was something dismal about the transit, a dreary, tired atmosphere that one could not encounter on a bus or an airplane. Every soaked and disgruntled soul that boarded alongside her, either occupying seats or holding onto the grimy metal poles that existed for support, gave off a bitter air that made her wish she could just disappear into the off-white upholstery of her seat. Businessmen in suits weighed down by the pervading rain, teenagers nodding their heads in sync to the imperceptible songs streaming through their headphones from their music players, frazzled mothers with bawling infants and looking as if they hadn't slept in days—all boarded without a smile, and all departed in the same state. The stable dark cloud that followed every character through the sliding doors into this filthy subway car disheartened Dawn, and she wasn't sure why strangers' bitterness made her so sad.
For some reason, even in this train filled with people, she was more alone than ever.
She was on the direct line from Veilstone City back to Sandgem Town, having been sent there by Professor Rowan to discuss a research opportunity with Fighting-type Pokemon with Maylene, the city's Gym Leader. Even as she flew above on Rowan's Staraptor, she saw that Veilstone was much larger than the miniscule village where she lived with Lucas, and the broad cobblestone streets and walled alleyways daunted her. She found Maylene's Gym rather easily, but navigating the old roads congested with hurried citizens, traveling with their heads down and refusing to make eye contact with any unfamiliar face, made her very nervous. Even the close presence of her Empoleon tittering about behind her did not give her the sense of protection that she desired. There was something about this city that upset her, consternated the swirling memories that she'd rather have left be. Even the churning storm clouds in the murky, smog-ridden sky above tested her patience, threatening to burst as she ran without cover to her destination.
After her meeting with Maylene, as she'd departed the Gym, the first droplets of a violent, acrimonious rain kissed her cheeks, stinging her with the realization that she wouldn't be able to fly back to Sandgem. She'd never liked the rain—in Twinleaf Town, where she'd grown up, snow was a more common occurrence than rain, and such weather was a cold drizzle that stuck to her clothes and froze her more so than the soft flakes that fell in the winter. Out of habit, she began to dash toward the underground subway entrance that was nearby, her Empoleon whining as it pursued her, wanting to stay behind and play in the downpour. Dawn wanted to get out of the wet, dismal precipitation and into heat and warmth—the stony but insulated walls of the subversive station would have to do. In fact, she wanted to get out of this city. She'd hardly been to Veilstone before, and yet she felt that the spirit of this place wished to infuse her, dye her its color.
Somehow, she did not want that. She worried that it would arouse sleeping beasts within her that she'd kept dormant for years.
Here she sat on the subway, watching the crowd mill and change faces with every brief stop that the underground train made in small towns along the way. Dawn knew that this particular line had a direct route to Sandgem—Professor Rowan had told her so, although she'd never taken this form of transportation before. It stretched from Snowpoint City to Sandgem, he'd told her, and she should feel free to use it if weather or other circumstances manifested themselves. She hadn't had to use any means of travel except Staraptor until now, and the situation made her uncomfortable. Dawn sighed and folded her hands in her lap, staring down at her strong, fleshy thighs that spilled into a pair of black tights. She was wearing a black skirt, as she always did, but it was longer and more modest than she'd worn in the past. Her days of sexuality were over—they'd lasted all but four months, and though she was eighteen, she believed that her prime had gone long ago. She still had regular sex with Lucas, but she didn't like it. Without a doubt, she was a pillar of constant grief, a shell that refused to open up to her lover. He was dense enough not to notice, and Dawn got away with that.
The last man to please her was also her first—and he was no more. Yet Dawn could not move on, no matter how hard she tried to forget that he ever existed. The building in the Eterna Forest was dilapidated and decrepit, a home now for wild Buneary and the occasional straggling trainer, struggling to reach Eterna City for their second Gym badge. What was there presently was a husk of dying days, haunted by ghosts of a history that Dawn couldn't remember.
She felt a heavy weight against her cashmere sweater, and she glanced down to see Empoleon, who was sitting in the seat to her right, pressed against her body. It buried its pale blue face inside the fabric of her shirt, sighing and grumbling through its beak. Giving an exaggerated yawn, it leaned deeply against her and indicated with a peep that it was going to sleep. Dawn chuckled at her Pokemon, reaching over to stroke the moist down on the back of its neck.
"We're almost to Oreburgh," she told her Empoleon. "Can't you stay awake for a bit longer?"
She was slow on that comment; already, her Pokemon was fast asleep by her side, snoring delicately into her sweater. Smilingly, Dawn continued to stroke its feathers, smoothing out the rain that had caught in its pelt. Empoleon was the steady reminder that she did have an everlasting friend in at least one person—well, it was a Pokemon and not quite a person, but she loved it nevertheless. Pokemon were eternal companions and provided a sort of friendship that humans could not. During her days as a trainer, the only living beings she interacted with were her team members, and she would not have had it any other way. If she'd continued pursing the Champion title, as she'd wanted to as a child, she might have learned to enjoy the company of Pokemon more than people. But now, even in a place as centered around the species as Professor Rowan's lab, she craved the gait of Lucas and the studious smile of her employer and his many assistants more so than the starter Pokemon that Lucas was in charge of caring for.
If I hadn't been captured, then maybe-
Suddenly, a jolt passed through her, an electrical current of comprehension. Overwhelmed with uneasiness, she reached over and gripped one of the flippers of her partially Steel-type escort. Empoleon awoke immediately, sensing her apprehension, and burrowing into her with consoling chirrups. It prodded Dawn, staring up at her, inquiring with its sharp gaze about what she was so abruptly discomfited about. She swallowed and clutched at her Pokemon's embrace harder. Someone is watching us, she understood, and she knew right away that it wasn't her memory that triggered this unforeseen event. Turning her head furtively to scan the train, she searched for the pair of eyes that she detected on her, hidden in this train that wasn't as full as it could have been.
But she could not find them—there were only three people in this car, and all were minding their own seemingly monumental businesses. A light-haired art student with a suitably crafty grin and a pair of bifocals that were no doubt fake sat two rows down from Dawn, drawing something in his sketchbook, one earbud from a new white pair tucked in his right ear. A woman that was presumably his girlfriend sat beside him, her bouncy blonde hair cascading far down her shoulders as she gazed with gleaming emerald eyes at the screen of her cell phone. She crossed her legs in her short, silver leather miniskirt, causing the third person—a tall, thin bald man in a pinstripe suit holding a nearby rail with his back to Dawn—to snort disdainfully and go back to reading the newspaper in free hand. It was a typical commute, and all seemed distracted.
Dawn slumped in her seat and bit her lip in frustration. Had she only imagined a voyeur? Perhaps that was so—after all, dwelling in her old, long abandoned thoughts of days gone by might have made her on edge. Empoleon was still tugging at her clothing with its stubby fingers, so she placated the nervous Pokemon by patting it on the head and hushing that she was all right. It murmured something unintelligible, questioning her quietly, but it eventually believed her and settled into Dawn's side once more to sleep. Sighing, Dawn gazed out the window at the blur that was created by the dark concrete tunnels through which the subway passed—it was so dank, so unfeeling that she wished that Sinnoh had an above-ground means of transportation rather than this.
She really did hate the train. She did.
"In one minute, Extension 203 of the Sinnoh Subway will be arriving in Oreburgh City. Please remain seated or holding onto the rails until the car comes to a complete stop, as movement might cause injury to…"
The rest of the conductor's announcement became a jumble of words to Dawn as she tuned them out. She was one stop away from Sandgem, and the only interesting thing to do as the train made its scheduled disembarking was to watch new people spill onto the transport, fresh faces to study and wonder about. The thought passed briefly in her mind to get off in Oreburgh and fly home on Staraptor, for the extended storm might have subsided, but a quick glance at Empoelon revealed that her tired friend was already fast asleep once more. She smirked clandestinely and decided it wouldn't hurt to wait; Staraptor needed the respite as well, and she knew how angry Professor Rowan would be at her if she came back to the office with his Pokemon beaten and exhausted. He wouldn't mind that she took this long to return, as long as her attendants were in good shape when she did.
Very slowly, Dawn saw the car slide from dusk into blinding light from the Oreburgh subway station, creeping to a gradual halt as it approached the platform. The student and his girlfriend chattered animatedly among themselves, discussing where they were going to go in this city rich with mining history and development, a stellar place for architecture and design. The businessman folded the newspaper and cavalierly tossed it onto the seat to his left, leaving it there for a future passenger to read as the doors opened to the small crowd of waiting travelers. Without hesitation, the girlfriend of the art student jumped to her feet, dragging the young man behind her eagerly. As Sandgem-bound people entered the car, Dawn noticed that the gentleman in the suit did not move aside from taking his hand off the rail.
He turned around, gazing at Dawn with a set of powder blue eyes that she knew all too well. They were filled with joy and life, far from the vacant, hungry set that she'd grown accustomed to two years ago, in spite of his smaller frame and receding hairline, no doubt both executed for blending in. If he'd kept his hair, people would recognize him. Or perhaps they wouldn't—he gave off too much of a cheerful air to be the emotionless man that the world knew him to be.
He smiled. Dawn had never seen him smile. Ducking his head, he stepped out onto the platform of the Oreburgh City subway station and faded into the endless swarm of faceless men and women, something he'd been too afraid of himself to do before. By the time she realized who he was, he was gone. The entire scene was so circumstantial, so succinct that Dawn wasn't sure that it had happened—it was as if he'd been a specter, a figment that she'd made up. Physically, he wasn't recognizable. He was different, just as his grandfather had said. Yet no matter how much she deluded herself, he had been there. He had made eye contact with her, something that had taken her weeks to find the courage to do when she was forced at his side. And he allowed her the smallest glimpse of the character she was aware existed, but it was a rarity she hadn't seen.
Dawn let him go. What else could she do?
She could say his name.
Empoleon was not aroused, even as the train groaned back to life and carried them away from a time that was all but forgotten.