Puu was always something of a curious character, for me. He joins late, his role in battle is to support Ness and Paula, and his stat growth was just obscene to balance out not having any equipment for forever. He really came into his own for me during the Pink Cloud Sanctuary, where he could use Healing Omega to revive anyone killed by PSI Flash.
I guess I just started thinking about how Poo must...work. Like, it's official canon that the reason he gets no healing from most food is that his stomach isn't used to Eaglelander food. But, according to Leavemywife's Let's Play, he only gets 6 HP back from a Bowl of Rice Gruel, which is actually from Dalaam.
So this fic is inspired by wondering what the hell is up with that, and what exactly makes a Brain Food Lunch so special, and whether or not Ness was dreaming or having a vision during Poo's play sequence, and maybe giving Poo a little character development. He's an interesting contrast to Ness - I can see why they'd be friends.
"So, Prince Poo…now I can communicate only with your mind."
Darkness. Darkness, all around him, and pain. He couldn't move, he couldn't see, all was silent and stifling and dark and terrifying.
"Your mind is all you have left. In the end, I will take your mind, though you probably don't want to allow that, do you?"
He tried to shake his head, but he couldn't move. He tried to open his mouth to scream that no, he wouldn't allow it, he didn't want it…but he couldn't even feel his mouth moving, anymore, and he didn't remember how to speak.
"So, you can't answer? You can't even move? Are you sad? Are you lonely?"
Yes. Yes, he was so lonely. There was nothing in this darkness, and no one. Everything he'd ever known or cared about had been torn away from him, leaving just his mind, alone and defenseless against the force of ages. He couldn't speak. He couldn't move. He was helpless, and soon he would be nothing. In the face of so much all consuming pain, he didn't even feel the tears of anguish on his cheeks.
"If you lose your mind, you also lose any feelings of sadness…do you accept this?"
No, he didn't accept it. He didn't want to lose his mind. This pain was unbearable, the fear was choking, but he didn't want to lose it. To not feel…if you didn't feel, how could you even be sure you existed? All the experiences, all the friends, all the sensations…to not have that anymore…
He didn't accept it.
But, at the same time…he did.
"I will take your mind, Prince Poo. Know that I will possess it…"
He drew in his last breath to scream…
…a scream that was stifled by a hand over his mouth.
Ness' eyes flew open. The only thing he could hear was his heart, beating like a hummingbird's wings. Panicked, scared, and confused, his gaze darted round the room.
…it was a room. Not the dark void of…before. It was a room, just a hotel room. His slowly returning senses told him that it was the room he'd bought for himself…and his friends…here in Summers. That was Jeff, just beside him, sharing the bed with him but still fast asleep. And he could still see the top of Paula's head, peeking out from beneath a thin top sheet in her bed.
And standing over him…
Poo pulled his hand away. Then he clasped them together, and bowed. "My apologies, Master Ness," he said, his voice low and perfectly calm. "I merely thought you would not wish to wake Sir Jeff, or Lady Paula, with your nightmare."
Dreading what he might see but unable to stop himself, Ness slowly pushed himself up into a sitting position. Later, he'd reflect that he should have known what he was going to see then and there, just by the fact that he could move. But, he didn't. Dreams were funny things that way.
He held up his hands – his hands, attached to his arms, attached to his shoulders, attached to him. He could feel them shake, the weakness in his muscles as the tension drained out of him. It was the way he always felt, after a hard fight.
Gripping the blanket in his shaking hands, he pulled it aside. There were his feet, attached to his legs, attached to him. Cautiously, he willed himself to wiggle his toes. They wiggled. His legs weren't broken, and his arms were still attached, and he could see and hear and…
…it had all been a dream.
"Master Ness?" Poo's voice was cautious. "Are you all right?"
No. He wasn't all right. Ness had had a few bad dreams since starting out on his journey, but…they'd never been anything like this. He could feel that he was shaken, on a level he never had been before.
No, Ness wasn't okay.
But, as the details of the dream sorted themselves neatly away from reality, he thought that Poo might be able to help him with that.
Carefully, so as not to wake Jeff, Ness got out of bed. Poo remained where he stood, watching curiously and with growing alarm as Ness pulled on his shoes. "Master Ness," he ventured hesitantly, as Ness slung his backpack onto his back and picked up his baseball bat. "Where are you going, at this time of night? You should sleep, for our journey tomorrow."
"I want to go for a walk." He didn't want to sleep. Ness wasn't sure he'd ever sleep again, after a nightmare like that. He'd need to get over that, he knew, but not tonight. Even with his wife safely back at her booth and producing Magic Cake for the rest of Summers, the captain of the boat they'd found had told them he wouldn't be shipping out to Scaraba for a while yet. They had time to rest.
"Want to come with me?" Now that he thought of it, this was Poo's first night with them. Coming from so far away, maybe the other boy was feeling just as lost as Ness was. The least Ness could do was offer him a chance to get some dinner and talk, one on one. It was the least he'd done for Jeff and Paula, back when they'd first fallen in with him.
Poo looked surprised, but he quickly rallied, clasping his hands together and bowing again. "It would be my honor, Master Ness." Urged on by grumpiness brought on by interrupted sleep, Ness made a silent note to ask him why he kept doing that, and also to ask him to stop it.
Poo didn't have shoes – he didn't seem to have anything – and so he merely followed behind Ness to the door. Ness hesitated, his hand on the knob, and glanced back at Paula and Jeff's sleeping forms. Rationally, he knew they'd be okay alone here for a little while. Nothing they' d met here in Summers had posed the slightest bit of threat, and nothing had seemed intelligent enough to actually follow them to this hotel. But, he hadn't been expecting the sneak attack in Threed, either. It might have led Jeff to them, but it still wasn't an experience Ness was looking to put them through again.
"They will be all right, Master Ness," said Poo. Ness started, sucking in his breath sharply through his teeth in surprise, and then staring back at the other boy in alarm. It was almost like he'd been reading Ness' mind. And, after all, he didn't know much about Poo yet – maybe he had been.
Poo merely smiled. All the same, Ness found himself relaxing. Poo seemed certain of his words, and Ness was so very uncertain of everything right now, that he found himself trusting the other boy. After all, they almost certainly would. Jeff and Paula were tough customers. Even between just the two of them, they could cause a ruckus if someone tried any funny business. They were all stronger now, than they had been then.
He drew some small comfort from that. And so Ness opened the door and slipped out into the dark, silent hotel with Poo just behind him.
It wasn't long to the restaurant, and it was actually open. A glance at his watch told Ness that it was after ten o'clock, a time he could only ever get away with being up and about for in the event of a meteor strike, or a nightmare. Threed hadn't counted. Clearly, grown ups had it differently.
"If you don't mind my asking, Master Ness, what business do you have here?" Poo asked curiously from just behind him. A glance back at the other boy showed him that Poo was actually standing on his tiptoes, apparently in an effort to get a better look in the window.
"I came here to get something to eat," said Ness. "It's a restaurant. Don't worry, I can get you something, too. Whatever you want."
"Something to eat?" Poo looked…troubled, at this. He bowed his head, biting thoughtfully on his lip. It was a troubled expression Ness had seen before, in some incarnation, although he'd seen it on the faces of Paula and Jeff. And because Ness was tired, he couldn't help but sigh tiredly at the thought of having to deal with that troubled expression again.
"Look," he said. "It's not a problem. I get an allowance, and it's probably more than most kids get. If you're going to be coming with us, the least I can do is make sure you're not hungry while you do. Don't worry about it."
Poo might have been a prince, but he didn't even have shoes. Somehow, Ness doubted he had very much pocket change to see him through this journey.
It was the closest Ness could come to ordering anyone to do anything, and Poo seemed to realize that. He bit his tongue, and he nodded, although he was still evidently reluctant. Ness was sure that would change as soon as they got inside and got the biggest bowls of Kraken Soup the place had, though, and so he pushed open the door and stepped aside for Poo to enter. Thankfully, Poo did so, and Ness entered after him.
The man at the little podium looked up at the sound of the little bell over the door giving a chime. He looked up, and then he looked down at the two boys standing right in front of his booth. He frowned, slight but noticeable. "And what brings you boys here?"
"Our stomachs." Ness patted his for emphasis, grinning what he'd been told was his most disarming grin up at the man. "Think you could help us with that?"
"I am afraid this is a rather…exclusive establishment. We only serve a very select clientele." He gave them both a once-over, a gaze that encompassed every bit of scruffiness or travel-wear in both of them and found it all inadequate.
"Cool. How about you select us for a table, then?" Ness said, still smiling despite this. Then, because it seemed he was dealing with one of those sorts of people, he pulled a fistful of dollars out of his pocket. "I'm pretty sure we can pay."
Eventually, they settled on Ness and Poo getting to order, but having to take whatever they ordered outside. Poo clearly considered this an insult, and even Ness wasn't too happy about it, but he hadn't really seen any sign of the vengeful taxi cabs or googly eyed beach bums on their walk here, so it would probably be safe enough.
Ness ordered a double helping of Kraken Soup and Chef's Special. Poo, after a significant look from Ness, quietly put in an order for some Pasta Di Summers and a Royal Iced Tea.
Ness paid, and they waited obediently outside, both sitting on the curb, until a cautious looking waiter came out with boxes and thermoses and plastic utensils. Ness, for his part, immediately pulled the top off of his Kraken Soup, stuck a spoon in, came out with a mountainously meaty handful, and stuck it in his mouth. It was scalding hot, but he managed to resist his initial impulse to spit it out if only because, under the heat, it was absolutely delicious.
"Oh, man!" he cried delightedly. "This is great! Almost better than steak! Man, maybe I can catch a Kraken out in the ocean, and bring it back home, and Mom could make Kraken steak!"
He knew that he was probably scalding his tastebuds, but Ness still managed to shovel a few more forkfuls into his mouth until the heat became too much, and until he realized that Poo was playing with his pasta instead of eating it, and watching Ness instead of his food.
"What's wrong?" Ness asked, looking over at the boy. They were sitting under a street lamp, and so he couldn't miss the fact that Poo actually seemed to be smiling…at least for a moment, before his apparently usual somber expression returned. "Doesn't it taste good? Want to try some of my Chef's Special instead? Or, hey, this is a big bowl. You can share with me, if you want."
Poo's expression became something…strange. Something Ness didn't understand, but wanted to. "Master Ness," he said, his tone gentle and careful. "I am not hungry."
"Huh?" It was a stupid reply, perhaps, but it was an answer Ness hadn't been expecting. "What do you mean?" Poo hadn't eaten anything when they'd all had dinner, but it had been hours since then. How could he not be hungry?
"I mean what I have said, Master Ness. And, more than that…" Poo looked down at his pasta, clearly trying not to look as offput as he felt. "This is…not the sort of food I am used to. There is so much sauce, and spice. I am not sure how much I could eat, even if I wanted to."
"Really?" Ness peered at the pasta. It didn't look like very heavy food to him – pasta in a creamy sauce, mixed in with sea food and, yes, some spices, but no more than he might add in salt or pepper. "What kind of food are you used to?" he asked dubiously. How much lighter could you get?
"During my early training, I dined largely on rice gruel, sometimes mixed with vegetables. On occasion, I would have what is known as a 'Brain Food Lunch'."
"…gruel?" Ness felt as nauseated at the thought as Poo seemed to be by the sight of his pasta. He only knew what gruel was from television, and he knew it as being a step below oatmeal, and he knew oatmeal as something that you were subjected to when you were sick. It had always been one of the many reasons Ness hated to be sick. "How can you live on gruel? Didn't you even have any cheeseburgers, or cake, or steak, or anything like that?"
Poo shook his head, looking serious now. "I remember having cake, once or twice, when I was very young," he said. "But those other things…I have never heard of them. I doubt they even exist, in Dalaam."
"Man…" Ness could hardly believe it. If such basic, fundamental, necessary foods as steak didn't even exist…what else could you eat? Gruel? How could anyone live like that?
"Of course, that was a long time ago," Poo continued on. "I have not eaten anything besides the occasional Brain Food Lunch in…a little over a year now, I suppose."
Ness spat out his next mouthful of soup. Poo looked over at him in alarm, and reached over to pat Ness gently on the back, as though it was Ness he should be concerned about at all.
"What do you mean, you haven't eaten in a year?!" Ness squawked for the entire street to hear. He stared agape at Poo, but the older boy looked nothing like someone who by rights should have starved to death long ago. In fact, he looked healthy, strong, alert. Ness had been forced to go without food for a couple of days, when he and Paula had been sealed up underground back in Threed, and he'd thought he would die long before Jeff found them. Paula had proved herself a saint for not bashing him in the head for all his complaining.
"I mean what I have said, Master Ness," said Poo, staring at him as though he honestly couldn't understand Ness' distress. "When I progressed far enough in my training, I no longer needed to eat to sustain myself. It is a part of growing closer to Mu, and merely one milestone among many."
"So…you don't eat at all? I mean, even if you can't, don't you want to?" Sure, Ness didn't need steak to live, there were always hamburgers or, maybe, Kraken Soup, but that didn't mean he didn't love it whenever he could have it. "What about Brain Food Lunches? What makes them so special?"
"Even those are more about sustaining my mind than my body. Preparing a Brain Food Lunch is a very special endeavor, trusted only to a few. Everything must be prepared and arranged just so, and it must be eaten just so. The colors, the shapes, and the tastes are all meant to invoke a state of deep meditation and contemplation, beyond what can normally be reached by one's own endeavors."
"Woah…" It made sense, though, when Ness thought about it. He flashed back to Paula, during certain moments along their journey. There had been moments where she'd seemed especially thoughtful…meditative, even. And she was certainly one of the most thoughtful, contemplative people Ness had ever met. He'd just thought it was part of her personality, not something that came with having psychic powers. He'd certainly never thought of himself as prone to meditation.
"Still," he insisted, picking at this new information like a scab on his knee. "You don't eat anything else? Really anything? Like…even just because it tastes good? I mean, this…" He gestured down at his cooling Kraken Soup. "This tastes great!"
Poo shook his head, still looking unnervingly, worryingly serious. "More than taste, I imagine it is also very filling," he said. "You are right, Master Ness. It is a very large bowl. With care, a bowl that size could perhaps serve as a meal for an entire family."
Put like that, it almost seemed wasteful to be stuffing his face with it, just because he'd been shaken up by a dream.
"What I mean to say, Master Ness, is…there is a reason that my family, and all my ancestors, have gone through Mu training, a reason beyond honing our psychic powers. And it is because that every worldly object we do not need might be better put to use by one of our citizens. Those blankets might keep them warm instead. Those shoes might guard their feet. Those meals might fill their stomachs. What we sacrifice, they gain."
And, miraculously, Poo smiled. "I have known this since I was small. And…I would never have had it any other way."
It was a truly staggering though – Ness, for all he'd seen and done, could still barely wrap his mind around it. All he could do was stare as, unbidden, his mind drifted back to the dream that had drawn them both out here to start with. Are you sad? Are you lonely?
"I…I can't even imagine," he mumbled, awed and shamed and scared and so many other things in the presence of so much responsibility and power. "I can't imagine living like that and…liking it."
No good food cooked by your mother just because? No long walks in the sun? No climbing trees, or playing with your dog, or riding bikes, or wasting your allowance at the arcade?
In so far as Ness could imagine hell, a life like what Poo had described was what he would have imagined. Not because Ness was a selfish boy – he had never before contemplated his activities and his life as denying someone else, and was horrified at even the implication. He was, however, a physical one, who had always loved the world and all it had to offer him. It was this world with all its people and good things that he was fighting for.
But Poo clearly meant and believed every word he was saying with all his heart. He really seemed…happy, at the thought of his life. Ness couldn't believe it, but he also couldn't deny the evidence that was the boy sitting companionably next to him.
"Master Ness…you dreamed of me, did you not?"
"W-What?" The question came out of nowhere, caught him off guard and, most importantly, drew him out of his dark reflections. He stared up at Poo in alarm, but the boy only stared back calmly, looking not at all abashed at having asked such a strange question. Well, why should he? He clearly knew what he'd asked, clearly knew that Ness had dreamed of him. Ness realized that he'd known since he'd woken Ness up back in the hotel room.
"Yeah," he mumbled, embarrassed all the same. It was nothing new. He'd dreamed of all of his friends, before meeting them – first the hazy glimpses of Paula, then the snatches of Jeff's journey. Poo's, however, had been the most vivid…and the most terrifying.
"I am sorry," said Poo, and he looked it. "Master Ness…I asked you not to judge my training, or my life, based on what you saw in your vision. What you saw was the culmination of everything I learned and prepared for. While you are a very strong boy in your own right, you still saw the end of the road that is Mu as a novice. You were not prepared. No one, not even my strictest teachers, would have subjected you to that."
It made sense, when put that way. What he'd seen had been Poo's final test, a notable day. He probably hadn't had to endure having his legs broken and his arms ripped off every day, right?
Or at least, Ness hoped that he hadn't. But Poo looked healthy, and calm, and strong. Ness couldn't believe that anyone, no matter how strong, would be able to hold up against daily trials of that level.
"For what it is worth," Poo added, smiling gently. "I think that, had you been trained properly, you would have made a fine disciple of Mu, wise enough and strong enough to make any of my ancestors proud to have you."
"R-Really?" After everything he'd seen, Ness could appreciate what a compliment this was, so that he actually felt his cheeks grow a bit hot. But, all the same, he mustered a smile in return. "Thanks, Poo."
"You are welcome." He bowed his head in acknowledgement, before looking away and staring thoughtfully back down the darkened streets. Ness thought it might have been the street light shining down on them both, but he thought he almost fancied he saw Poo blushing in turn. "I believe we have been gone long enough," he said, hastily changing the subject in a way Ness knew well. "We should get back to the room."
"Yeah, I guess you're right." He wouldn't push. Ness had a lot more to think about than he had when he'd first set out, but he thought that he understood a lot more in the bargain and, anyway, he'd be an absolute wreck tomorrow if he didn't get some sleep. He boxed up his soup, took Poo's boxed up pasta, and managed to balance the food precariously in one arm while keeping a hold of his bat with the other. Together, in a rather more companionable silence than they'd left with, both boys began to walk down the street, back towards the hotel.
They both stopped at the sound of an engine revving, and the glow of headlights falling across their path. Even Poo, a scant day after arriving in Summers, knew what that meant.
They both turned to face the looming, menacing bulk of the taxi, rumbling nearer with its headlights narrowed.
"I'm gonna need to buy a new bat, if this keeps up," said Ness, slightly irritated at the interruption, but far from afraid. He made to et the food down, only for Poo to step between him and the menacing automobile.
"Allow me, Master Ness," he said, cracking his knuckles. "You were generous enough to pay for my meal, even if I did not eat it. In turn, the least I can do is ensure that you are not troubled by this…minion."
"…cool." Ness stepped back. He hadn't really paid attention to how Poo fought, yet, but tonight seemed to be a night for learning. Angry taxis were nothing, even with their size, and he could always jump in if things got bad. "Have fun."
Things didn't get bad. Ness didn't need to step in. In fact, he was treated to a show of watching a boy beating a taxi into submission with his fists, something that he would actually have freely admitted was better than television. Well, not entirely with his fists – Poo did break out a bit of PSI Freeze that would have made Paula applaud.
Ness couldn't applaud, because his hands were full, but he did knock his bat against the sidewalk in an approximation, as Poo leapt neatly from the back of the smoking taxi wreckage. "Great job," he said happily, feeling better just for seeing that. "Welcome to the team."
"Thank you, Master Ness."
Poo made to set off down the street again, but suddenly found himself blocked by Ness' bat, being held out in front of him like a barrier. This was enough to get the other boy to pause, looking curiously back at Ness and waiting.
"Just one thing…it's just 'Ness', okay? We're friends, right? And none of my other friends call me 'master', or anything like that. So you don't have to, either." Ness grinned hopefully over at Poo. "I mean, hey, you could call me 'Great and Almighty Overlord of Coolness', like they do back home, but that's kind of a mouthful."
"…then 'Ness' it is, Master Ness."
Ness brightened – it was always nice to know you were going to be traveling with people that had a sense of humor, even a very little one. He lowered his bat, gave Poo a friendly nod of acknowledgement, and together they set off together again.
Nothing stopped them until they were walking up the stairs of the Summers Hotel together. And, even then, it was Poo's voice that brought Ness up short again.
"Ness…I hope you do not think that I was disparaging you, or the way you live your life, with what I said earlier. I only wanted you to understand me, especially since I will be traveling with you."
Poo paused in his recitation, leaned over and gathered up the boxes from Ness' arms, clearly having seen that Ness had been just a few more feet shy of just leaving them on a bench for some wandering beach bum to eat. Ness smiled gratefully at him for this kindness, Poo smiled back.
"I am a prince, Ness," he continued on. "One day, I will be king. It is your destiny to save the world from Giygas' evil but, when you have, you will have an ordinary life to live. We come from very different lives, and will return to very different lives. There is nothing to be gained by comparing us beyond understanding."
"I guess you're right." Now Ness was positive that, whatever he said, Poo had some ability to read his mind. It was easy to compare them both – they were friends, after all – but it wasn't like you had to be exactly alike, or come from exactly the same place, to be friends.
"And what's more…" Poo lingered in the doorway that Ness thoughtfully held open for him. "My training might have been difficult, but I am happy that I endured it, for many reasons. One of those reasons is that completing it allowed me to meet you, Ness. I am…happy, to be thought of as your friend."
"Feeling's mutual, Poo." This time, there was no mistaking the color in Poo's cheeks, or the feeling of the warmth in Ness' face. "…thanks."
They stepped back inside the safety of the hotel together, then, and let the door close behind them to shut out the terrors of the world for a little while longer.
It had been a long night. But Ness felt that he had learned a lot from it, he'd gotten a lot to think about and mull over. More than that, he'd gained a new appreciation for his new friend. Maybe Poo wouldn't ever claim his quadrant of one of Mach Pizza's Large Specials, but that didn't mean he couldn't sit and laugh with them.
Maybe one day, they would have to part ways and Poo would have to return to his kingdom in the sky, but if that wasn't what PSI Teleport was made for, Ness didn't know what was.