A/N:This took so long and so many mood swings. I am so happy the update is done and I can focus on stuff.
I really need to find a new place to reply to reviews. I think I will do that at some point. For now, thanks are in order!
Thanks go to Clouds of Silver for favoriting and following this fic! Now, for reviews:
ReadingBlueWolf (for two chapters! and loving Nai), Edhla (for three. I love that you want Nai to have friends; it makes me happy.), thats-a-moray (keeping up to speed!), Lady Paprika (your review made me want to think of N as walking celery, thanks a lot.), Datonman (There are way too many of the things, honestly.), DjinniFires (I'll definitely continue taking your advice into consideration.), Zias (You caught something pretty awesome when N was standing on Zekrom. Great catch!), perservera (Ooh! Ooh, you've got it in your head. You've got it! Just keep thinking about it!), little red cardigan (I'm glad you liked that description so much.), MadameGiry25 (GIRY, I don't care if you know about Pokemon or not, I love you anyway.), Aeci (Ooh! Why are all my readers catching this? You caught the nickname thing! Whee!), Storm Rex Lancer (I made you feel sympathy for N. My life is complete.), and Gilva Lepista (thanks for catching all those mistakes. Grammatical errors are my honest to goodness bane. I will catch and change those asap. :) )
And with that, and not wanting to detain you from the fic or anything else, and full individual replies coming at some point, onto the chapter! This is ended a little early because it would have sounded really awkward if otherwise.
Chapter 3: Reputations
Nai yawned softly, waving at the moon. "Hi Mr. Moon!" he called quietly from his perch in a large tree. He should be asleep. He wasn't tired though, like he usually was. Rather, today had been just… so… fun! He got to leave tomorrow and go all the way to Petalburg. Usually, he didn't get to go past Oldale. Maybe he would get to go farther this time. He thought that would be fun. Maybe this would be his chance to cross the sea. They were ambitious dreams, he knew that, but he couldn't help but wonder.
He wondered what the outside world was like.
Mr. N was from the outside world and he was pretty cool, so it couldn't be that bad. He was kind of skittish and definitely a rather weird person. However, he liked Pokemon and his Pokemon liked him. To Nai, that was simply enough. Clearly though, it wasn't enough for Kat. Kat needed these silly long explanations and reassurances that were easy to lie about. Pokemon could tell lies when they talked too, but body language never lied. If Nai was good at anything after helping with lots of babies, particularly Zigzagoon, he knew body language.
He was okay with this though. That was her right. That was okay for Kat.
"Kid, there is this wonderful thing called sleep. You need to try it."
Piku yawned as the human turned to look down at him, turquoise eyes widening with surprise and delight. Without a word, he opened his arms for Piku to leap into. The furry mouse almost missed, but Nai's thin arms managed to reach a single paw, pulling his disgruntled partner into his chest. "Nai… gotcha!" He giggled and pulled himself back up to staring at the moon. He really liked watching the moon. It didn't hurt his eyes, like the sun did. "Hey… Piku… we're gonna go far away someday… right?"
Piku cocked his head to the right, ear drooping gently down. "Everyone goes far away someday, Nai," he replied, confused.
"Oh, you know," Nai sighed. "Like… a place where Nai learns how to be strong and grow up, where there are lots of people to smile at and a bunch of sadness to make better! That kind of away is where he wants to go Piku!" His words fumbled in his mouth, making Piku laugh.
"Yeah, yeah I know Nai. I know…" He shook his head. Sometimes Nai could be so complex for such a simpleminded boy. Well, Nai was his simpleminded boy and gosh darn it all, he would keep him safe when he needed to. "Nai?" Nai grunted softly, shifting to lay back on his spine. "Why are you letting that weird guy come with us?"
Nai glanced at Piku, turquoise eyes bright with a small lingering fury. "Not you too, Piku…" he whined. "Nai is doing this because Mr. N is a good person. He's just really mixed up, that's all!"
"And just what is he mixed up about Nai?"
Nai yelped and rolled out of the tree. Simon caught him, gentle yet admonishing smile on his lips. "Well, Nai?" he hummed.
"Simon!" his little brother grumbled. "Don't do that! It's weird!" Simon chuckled and did not reply to this. Instead, he adjusted his brother, who was getting astonishingly heavy now that he had gotten past that stage of small and throwable, to rest against his chest. The young man sat down, cradling the bony, albeit strong form of his small brother. Nai blinked his large turquoise eyes up at his big brother and stared. "Why is everyone all freaked out over Mr. N anyway?" The boy's voice cracked a little at the last word, failing to sound deep and adult-like as he was trying to be. "He's just… not sure of stuff. Nobody's letting him figure it out either."
Nai looked away from Simon's old, rather frightening gaze. He loved the man, but gosh, Simon knew how to make anybody be uncomfortable. Jeez. "You have to give Mr. N a while. He'll be sure when he has to be sure."
"Are you saying that man is slow?" the elder teased, mussing his brother's hair.
Nai frowned. "Well… yeah."
Piku sighed and gently bopped the human with his tail. "You're such a kid, Nai."
"… Nai isn't ready to grow up yet."
"We know Nai. You can take your time too."
When the morning sun streamed onto his eyelids, N noted how dim it seemed. Opening his eyes, he recognized the thin film of a curtain by his sleeping spot. Ah… that's right. Nai made me stay the night.
Well, to be more accurate, Nai didn't force him to. N sincerely doubted that Nai could absolutely force anyone to do anything they didn't want to. It was just a soft, human bed was a convincing argument when coupled with exhaustion. He chuckled to himself at this and sat up. It was quite difficult; his limbs felt rather like taffy.
Zoroark flicked open an eye. "N, glad to see you with us living folk." N chuckled a little bit again and forced his legs to dangle over the edge of the mattress. "Clean that up, you slob." He gave the fox a look of amusement and stood, moving to make the bed as he had since he was a child. At least, he could do this much right.
"What time is it?" he said to the Zoroark, watching him pick at his claws in an almost human sort of way. Once, N had heard that the Zoroark had spent many years in the illusion of a human. He did not believe so, but the Zoroark never confirmed or denied such a thing, it had to be taken as a rather profound and oddly jarring truth, for a Pokemon who followed the path to the separation of humans and Pokemon at any rate.
In reply to his query, Zoroark jerked his head toward the innocuous clock on the wall. It was early morning, but not so early that it was a time to go back to sleep. So… with a small sigh and a crack of limbs, he left the room, quietly shutting the door to not wake anyone else.
He needn't have worried, he found moments later. All three of the family members were in the living room. Nai was, as seemed natural for him, plopped on the floor. Poochy was seemingly gnawing towards his fingers and they appeared to be in a wrestling match. It had been a while since he had played with Pokemon so roughly.
"Father, what if I break them?"
"Sometimes, you must break what you love. You will be a king someday, and a king that will break the spirits of his people."
"G'morning Mister N!" Nai called over the snarls and playful yips of the Poochyena, breaking him free of the reverie. "Was the night time fun?"
N blinked slowly, flabbergasted a moment. Simon, who turned the pages of his paper, helpfully said, "He's asking if you slept well." Nai pouted, but did not seem to disagree. At this, the man nodded and the child grinned, pacified. If only all of my questions could be settled so easily, N thought. Katherina's form bustled around food. "Do you eat meat, sir?" N almost felt bile in his throat at the thought. Seeing his grimace, Simon smiled; a slightly mischievous look on such a dangerous man. "Good, neither do we." He went back to the newsprint. "Nai, go feed the babies. Kat should be done then."
"Yes sir!" Nai's chirp was almost infectious, echoed by Poochy's muffled barking. He turned to N, Piku none-too-lightly smacking the puppy with his tail. "Do you want to help Mister N?" N stared, a little befuddled. He had never worked with Pokemon in this setting before. Perhaps it could prove to be educational. Slowly, N nodded and earned a quick little hug. "Thanks!" N blinked. They hugged me too…
"Pokemon do that to keep their young safe. Humans do it to feel safe. You're okay with me N. I promise."
N shook his head. He couldn't think about those things at the moment. Nai wanted his help. He had always wondered what entailed how breeding facilities worked. As he walked forward, Nai glanced back and gave him a cheery wave. His heart, which he hadn't even realized had been thumping incredibly loudly, seemed to relax the tiniest bit. Piku, who had been toddling along with Poochy's mouth clamped to his tail, threw the dog unceremoniously into the back of N's legs. "Get 'er movin, idjit man. Got a lot of mouths to feed."
"Oh, my apologies." N hurried after the rapid footsteps that were Nai's, while the two Pokemon tottered after N himself.
Piku made a squeaking noise that sounded like laughter. "Hey, you're learning already." He bounded off, leaping to rest on Nai's head with a little grin. N slowly ambled after them, pausing behind the doorway at Katrina's voice.
"Simon, are you sure that-"
"It's certainly better than him going alone. He's twelve years old, yes, long past the typical age of most trainers, but he's also Nai. If he doesn't go now, he never will, Katrina. He will stay here forever because you and I wish him to. That isn't right, sister, no matter what Father told us. He must grow up someday, and he knows it."
"Yes, but with that man?" Katrina's incredulous dislike hurt a little, in some place that he had once used to deny was his humanity. "He was a-"
"An innocent, a manipulated piece under a monster's strings if we must be formal about it. He has experience Katrina. He grew. We can trust him with Nai. Nai will keep him safe."
"Oh for Arceus' sake, stop calling him that! He's Keenan; he's just a child!"
"And you're just an outsider." There was a rustling snap of paper being straightened. Katrina fell helplessly silent and as quietly as he could, N retreated.
Why are humans so confusing?
"They just are, N. That's why we have to liberate Pokemon from them."
For the third time today, N tried to shake himself out of it. However, he found himself in a great deal of confusion. Simon... he was rather like the humans he had seen be cruel. However, Katrina... he didn't quite understand her. Do humans treat humans differently? Well, that was a silly question. Of course they did. It was only natural. They were the same species and like Pokemon with Pokemon, they treated one another with... perhaps familiarity. So could they be cruel to each other as they could be cruel to Pokemon? Or... as Simon seemed to be, could they be worse? Even to him, those last words were cutting, cruel. What was the aim of being that harsh?
The voice of Nai, clear as a pool, called over to him from the side of a small picket fence. "Hurry Mister N!" the boy called, waving an arm like a windmill. "One is hatching!" He sounded so excited about it, about something that he had to have seen thousands of times. It was just that incredible. Or Nai was just that innocent, as this whole family seemed to claim. Just like him, innocent to the outside world. He was unperturbed by the darkness that N implied, or perhaps oblivious. Why would you want to ruin that in a child?
"He might break if you don't," N whispered, suddenly understanding, at least a little. He walked over to see it, the wonder of life. It glowed and crackled, like electricity. Despite having seen this more than once, N found his eyes drawn and stuck as the top of the shell wobbled and shook, before breaking off. Liquid dribbled to the ground and Nai shook his head. Removing his jacket, he trotted over to a nearby fence and opened a door. Two Pokemon carefully trotted out, each a blue and yellow beast. They reminded him of dogs in a way.
Nai gently placed a hand on the second one's head. "It's okay Mama, Nai's taking you over right now." The creature growled softly, glaring furiously at N as well as anything that moved. "That's Mr. N. He's good with Pokemon, don't worry. You're scaring him." N bit his tongue to prevent the almost childish denial from leaving his lips. He was not frightened. Pokemon did not cow him. That expression however... the growling anger did give him chills. Katrina wore it, various Pokemon wore it as well. They were protective of their young.
That Pokemon, whatever it was, could have been no more different. Yet there was Nai, his hand soothing upon the Pokemon's fur. Now that he looked, each fur was sparking, hackles raised higher and higher. Nai did not remove his hand, a gesture N knew he himself would mimic if he could and stepped to the other gate. He opened it one handed, fumbling with the lock. The first, male, trotted in. Though he was not sparking, there was a stiff movement in his leg muscles and it was clear that if he wasn't walking he would be springing over the egg and approaching baby like any father with a paternal instinct.
If only mine had been so kind...
The female went in, practically bounding inside to touch the fur of her baby, which was slowly appearing through the light. Nai tapped him on the shoulder and pointed behind him. There was a stack of bowls next to a few bags. N blinked but watched Nai creep, oddly quiet, past him. From the fenced area, he began to hear soft growls and croons. They were not particularly noisy, but they made a familiar song to the creatures in Pinwheel Forest. What was the emotion of the song? He could not remember.
Nai gestured for him and pointed at the bags. It was the same food, he realized, and gently began to pour the little nuggets into the bowls.
"Isn't this degrading?" N whispered, before almost clamping a hand to his mouth in surprise.
Nai shook his head. "When Pokemon are little, they need the same nutrients," he said. Once again, the words were spoken with the calm by-roteness that even after only a day seemed profoundly un-Nai-like. "Otherwise, we'd give them berries or plants mixed with meat because Pokemon need the protein. The pellets are easy to digest and are good for the mother's milk." He continued to fill the bowls, placing them carefully in each fenced area. "Also, we aren't allowed to use specific foods or blends without Trainer permission or Pokemon permission. It's bad."
N swallowed. "How so?"
Nai only shrugged. "Pokemon can be allergic to stuff too. Piku's allergic to the Pinap berry. Simon could get in trouble if the wrong food was given to the Pokemon whether the allergy was known or not." He continued to walk, humming a little bit. "Might even go to jail. So everyone gets the same thing unless asked."
For a moment, N wanted to speak. He wanted to ask why Nai spoke the way he did. He wanted to know who Nai's parents were, and why he was a breeder. For the first time, he found himself wanting to know. Then... he swallowed it. He did not grasp why he had done so, but the recollection of the argument in the house made him fall still and simply watch Nai at work.
Instead however, it seemed Nai had something to say. "Mr. N?" N looked at him, a difficult task in his swimming thoughts. "Nai is looking forward to going with you Mr. N. He can't wait to see your place." He lifted up an egg delicately and cradled it in his arms. "Nai has waited a long time to go somewhere and he is happy it is with a new friend."
N wasn't certain what he could say to that.
Standing outside of the front door, N watched Nai practically dance around Poochy, giggling with excitement. The backpack on his back was hand-me-down, patches in awkward places and pockets fraying at the ends of the fabric. Nai naturally took no notice. N twitched shyly, uncomfortably pressing the weight of Zekrom's Pokeball in his pants pocket. Oh, how he hated these things. It wasn't as though great, beautiful dragons belonged inside tiny, ugly spaces any more than small Pikachu and Piku was perched carelessly on Nai's arm. N found that unfair.
Kat brushed past N, making him stumble. She didn't even appear to notice, business frown registering on her face and staying there. She tucked a paper into Nai's bag and pushed at his back. "Be careful," she warned him, voice low. "You can't charm everyone." Nai nodded, quieting at once. Simon watched from the window and gave his brother a small, sidelong wave.
"N." It was a testament to how much he was listening that Ne didn't jump. Katrina's expression was mullish but resigned. "You... take care of Keenan."
N nodded. Nai gave his sister a little giggle, his young face abound with delight.
"Whatcha worried about Kat? Nai's done this a thousand, thousand times! He'll be fine!" She smiled a little at this, and gratefully stepped away from N to hug her brother. N noted, oddly disconcerted, that Nai reached her slim waist but little more. He saw the utter bewilderment in his eyes and realized Nai did not know what was happening. To him, this was just another trip a little farther away. Why hadn't they said anything to him?
Zekrom's ball shook, as if he wanted to speak. Nai glanced at it through his sister's hold, the young woman whispering something in his ear that he was barely nodding to. N wrapped his fingers around the ball and held it tightly, waiting. At last, the siblings separated, and Simon exited from where he was watching to stand there. He was tall and impressive still, and he made N mentally cringe even now. Despite that, he found himself unable to doubt the pride that glimmered in those bright blue eyes as he watched his brother. He stepped out, mussed Nai's hair, and promptly dropped a bottle into the boy's waiting hands.
"Two drops, Nai," Simon said gravely, and his brother nodded, little face firm. "Show Mr. N what a breeder boy is like. Show him our Hoenn." Nai saluted at this before tearing away down the path of the house. N followed him a few steps back, looking back at the door. Now that he looked, it almost seemed to blend in with the nearby foliage. It was merely a door in the midst of trees, quickly forgotten as Nai called him forward.
Like it or not, this was his mission. He would go forward and see what humans could be.