⁂ ⁂ ⁂
— Part 4: Family Reunion —
Only a day passed after Antoshi's second, vicious fight with Latoshi. A doorman held the door open for them, as the blond-haired boy, and his best friend, exited the front door of the hotel they'd been staying at for the past two weeks. Antoshi quietly thanked the man, who tipped his hat, and headed back inside. Under the warmth of the midmorning sun and the cheerful, blue sky, the duo finally checked out, ready to move on. If nothing else, they wanted to get back to continuing as much of their carefree exploration of Johto as they could. A decision was made to save Goldenrod Gym as their final challenge, so that they would be able to head back home on the Magnet Train afterward.
In the aftermath of the brutal encounter, Antoshi was still fatigued — physically and mentally. The duo had taken an entire day of rest to recuperate. The boy wore a fresh change of the same red t-shirt and blue jeans he'd worn before, along with his backpack. Despite the severity of the injuries Antoshi received, his body had been healing at an astounding rate so far. He still showed some scars of battle, however. His face and blond hair were no longer bloodied, his scratches and bruises were nearly gone, his posture remained tall and straight — not favoring any part of his body. Faint burn marks remained on his arms and around his eyes.
Even though his physical injuries had almost fully healed, the internal scars from the battle left him dejected. Fireball showed deep concern for his friend, who hadn't spoken at all since the conflict's conclusion.
Antoshi had come to the realization of what Latoshi had to endure, and digested that knowledge over the past twenty-four hours. He was being controlled, manipulated, and lied to by the parasitic spirit Lazarus. It had been blocking Latoshi's memories, forcing the boy to believe what it told him, and to obey its commands without question. All along, Antoshi had firmly believed that Latoshi was the mastermind of his own doing. It pained him to think that Latoshi was being treated like a slave, to a force none of them could even see. The regret and sorrow that Antoshi carried was exacerbated by Serenity's warning that Antoshi could not help Latoshi at all. Latoshi had to deal with Lazarus on his own. That did not sit well with him. Neither did the image of Latoshi's eyes, full of sorrow, looking to him as if pleading for help before Lazarus forced Latoshi to leave.
The duo briefly stopped by the library, in order for Antoshi to drop off the book he'd checked out days prior. After that, they proceeded to make their way northward to Goldenrod's city limits.
The morning sky behind the skyscrapers was wonderfully picturesque. Towering pillars of clouds were illuminated by the pinkish hue of the rising sun. Happy tourists stopped on the street nearby to get a group photo with a Dragonite statue sitting in front of a store. A couple of small children laughed as they chased after a rogue Drifloon. None of the cheerfulness around him helped to perk up Antoshi's dreary demeanor.
“What was the point?” Antoshi finally muttered, catching Fireball off-guard.
"… What do you mean?" Fireball replied, quietly. After everything they'd gone through since coming to Johto, he kept his voice low in the hopes of keeping his friend from becoming any more upset.
Antoshi bit his lip. “Why did I even bother … trying to learn how to fight? It was useless.”
"But, that's not true at all. You became way stronger and confident in your abilities. You know how to defend yourself so much better now."
“I can't do anything for Latoshi,” he said, as the children and the Drifloon passed by them again. “I can't help him. I can't share his burden. … My brother's burden.”
Fireball was shocked by the remark. "Your …" he trailed off.
“Yeah, I know what you're thinking. I've never said it before. I never wanted to say it, or admit it. … You know, at this point, I don't even care if he's not my brother. Considering what we've been through already, he might as well be. I keep having this sinking feeling in my heart every time I think about that moment before he flew off. The way he looked at me, … it was like he was family all along. I just can't explain it.”
"It's okay, Antoshi — you don't have to. I'm your family, too."
The boy sighed, shakily, on the verge of tears as he momentarily glanced up to smile at his friend. “I know you are, Fireball. What Serenity said, about how Latoshi doesn't have anyone to confide in like I do, it only makes me appreciate what I have even more.”
Fireball placed a reassuring paw on Antoshi's shoulder. "He's strong," Fireball said, prompting a curious gaze from the boy. "Latoshi is strong. Obviously, I don't know him very much, but even when he was kicking our butts, he did it with everything he had. He has heart, just like you do. I think it's safe to put faith in him and believe he'll kick that creepy spirit's butt very soon."
“You're right, Fireball,” Antoshi replied, wiping a tear from his eye. “I should have faith in him. I'm sorry for putting you through so much lately. It's been really hard for me ever since I started using these powers. Since coming to Johto, I found out I have … a brother whom I've never known before, who then beats us up. Then, I thought I just had to defeat Latoshi and we'd be able to move on and live happily ever after. Now, everything is so much more complicated. … I'm not sure how many more of these twists and turns I can take.”
"At least we'll take 'em together."
Antoshi stopped, suddenly, heaving a sigh before he embraced his best friend. Fireball was initially taken aback, but hugged him as well. It helped to ease some of the dull pain in Antoshi's chest. The Typhlosion's larger than average stature ended up acting as a blockage in the middle of the sidewalk. Neither of them cared about the accessibility of the passersby and their Pokémon that had to walk around, as they were too busy sharing a moment confiding in each other.
The blond-haired boy had achieved enormous strength and was capable of phenomenal feats. He had become stronger and faster than Latoshi — who had completely devastated him the first time they clashed. Fireball knew him as a strong leader that planned his moves, kept a level head under pressure, and always came up with a solution to any problem.
Yet, he was still just a 13-year-old kid.
⁂ ⁂ ⁂
At the southwestern edge of Goldenrod, in his usual clearing in the woods, Latoshi sat, gazing up at the morning sky. He, too, had also changed into new clothing. His eyes were glazed over, a weak grin spread across his lips, seemingly lost in a daze. He felt something off inside of him, something he couldn't explain. It was almost like a tickle in his chest. He gave a soft chuckle, which gradually shifted into a loud guffaw, as though he'd heard an exceptional joke. He continued laughing, holding his forehead, unable to stop himself.
'Latoshi!' Lazarus shouted.
Latoshi gasped, loudly, bringing his laughing to an abrupt end. He groaned and shook his head, rubbing his temples.
“Yeah, I'm-I'm awake,” he replied.
'Good. I see that your injuries are healing as quickly as expected.'
Latoshi stretched his arms up high, suddenly uttering a grunt of pain as he held his ribs. “Mostly,” he said, sighing. “That bastard Antoshi got me good. Damn good. How did he get so strong?”
'He is not stronger than you, Latoshi. He is merely faster and he appeared to have formulated a better strategy. That boy is much more clever than I would have expected. However, there is one thing you need to be aware of: Antoshi, either consciously or not, has managed to tap into the energy of his emotions. It happened after you threatened his family again. Because of that, Antoshi has grown substantially more powerful. It is for that reason that you, too, must learn to harness the power of emotion.'
“Well, how do I do that? I already feel like I have a ton of pent-up rage inside me, so I'm ready.”
'Very good. I already taught you the basics back in that prison cell. Now, we progress further. Close your eyes, and focus yourself like you do with your meditation.' Latoshi folded his legs, heaving a sigh, doing as Lazarus instructed. 'Now, visualize your enemy. Visualize the moments when he struck you down — when he dared to lay a hand upon you. Feel the anger and rage that seethes through your heart and permeates your spirit. You must hold fast to that emotion. You must truly believe in it with all of your being. Your emotion gives you strength. Your anger is your power.'
Latoshi focused for a few minutes. He clenched his teeth, straining, ultimately finding himself struggling to concentrate. “I can't seem to focus like you're telling me to. I can't grasp my rage. It's like … water that I'm trying to squeeze in my hands; it's all over the place.”
'That aggression inside you stems from your loss to Antoshi. It should be directed toward him. Harness it; weaponize it.'
Latoshi's aura turbulently flickered around while he strained and seethed. He balled his fists, hunching his back. His output of Ki refused to rise. Eventually, his aura dissipated altogether.
“I can't do it,” the sable-haired boy remarked, sighing. His forehead glistened with sweat. “It's too difficult. I don't understand what I'm doing wrong.”
'If it is too difficult for you right now, then you will work at it. I already gave you your instructions, now you must apply them. You are not to move from this spot until you get it right. You will not eat, drink, rest, or relieve yourself. You will stay in this position on this very patch of dirt until you achieve results. Is that understood?'
Latoshi was shocked. “But, I can't—” His remarks were swiftly interrupted by Lazarus' torturous method of punishment. A deafening, high-pitched tone caused Latoshi to cover his ears and crumple over, while shouting in agony.
'Is that understood?' Lazarus asked, over the terrible noise.
“Yes!” the boy cried out. Latoshi gasped as the sound came to an abrupt end. He panted, sitting up straight once again.
'I hate to do that to you, Latoshi, but you require focus. You need direction. Listen to me, and I will never lead you astray.'
Latoshi closed his eyes, scowling bitterly, resuming his mental training.
⁂ ⁂ ⁂
By the afternoon, Antoshi and Fireball headed across one of the many streets of the increasingly busy metropolis. Fireball smelled food nearby, so the duo stopped at a hot dog cart to grab a quick meal. Antoshi smiled, getting his with his favorite: just ketchup on top. Fireball insisted on having everything on it, causing the vendor to engage in some serious stacking skills. The duo went on their way, eating their food as they walked. Unsurprisingly, Fireball made a mess all over his claws and fur. It was one of the simpler things that Antoshi had missed on their journeys.
Not long after, they were finally nearing the last few miles before reaching the city limits. Goldenrod would soon be behind them. Antoshi had a rather stern expression, however, brought on by a suspicious vibe he was feeling.
"So, what do we do about battling other Trainers?" Fireball asked.
Antoshi glanced over at his friend with a reassuring smile. “I know how much battling means to you, Fireball. Considering how our last Trainer battle went, I'm really not ready to try again for a little while. Let's just take it easy, until this whole situation cools down.”
"Of course I do love battling, but I don't want to anything that you don't. If you want to take it easy for a while, then there's no complaints here." He cleaned off some dried relish on his chest before he grinned to his friend. Fireball immediately became concerned upon realizing Antoshi had a rather serious look on his face. "Is everything okay?"
“I guess you haven't noticed,” Antoshi replied, leaving Fireball befuddled.
“… We're being followed,” he said, quietly, narrowing his eyes. Fireball was surprised, turning his head to peer back. “Don't look. It's someone in some weird clothing that completely covers themselves. I don't know what they want, but I'm not okay with being stalked. Not after everything we've dealt with lately.”
It was the very same stranger that had watched Antoshi and Latoshi's fight along the beach. They strolled along at the same pace behind them, still wearing the same long trench coat, large fedora, and sunglasses. In the bright daytime, their ensemble was fairly conspicuous. The clothing was starkly different compared to how almost everyone else on the street was dressed for the summer weather. Whoever they were caught a number of curious glances and murmurs along the way.
Fireball kept his gaze forward with the same serious expression as his friend. "You think it's … someone from Team Rocket again?"
“No idea. I know it's not Latoshi, though. I definitely would've sensed his energy if he was this close.”
'Antoshi's senses have gotten really sharp,' Fireball thought, surprised. 'I never would've noticed that person following us around like that. I don't know if it's from how much stronger he's gotten or … how much more on edge he's been lately.'
“Let's head down this next alleyway,” Antoshi said, casually pointing to it. Fireball nodded.
The duo abruptly changed direction, turning down the gap between two businesses. Their mysterious stalker gasped, stopping at the entrance of the alley. They appeared nervous, looking around for a moment. After a brief pause, they ultimately followed on through, not far behind the pair.
The stalker slowed their pursuit as the alleyway became darker, quieter, and more eerie the further they went in. After turning a corner within adjacent alleyways, Antoshi and Fireball had somehow vanished. The person stepped quietly, looking around for the duo.
When the stranger passed by a recessed wall, Antoshi leapt out at them. The mystery person cried out in shock, as Antoshi dragged and shoved them against the far wall. The impact caused the person's sunglasses and hat to shift slightly. He kept his forearm across their collarbone, trapping them in place. The larger Fireball emerged from the shadows behind Antoshi, curiously staring at their suspicious stalker.
“Who are you?” Antoshi asked. “Why are you following us?!” He eased off a bit upon seeing their wide, terrified, brown eyes staring back at him. “Tell me!”
The stalker suddenly shoved him away as hard as they could. While Antoshi reeled, the stalker bolted further down the alley. Antoshi grumbled, as he and Fireball quickly gave chase.
“Stop!” Antoshi called out. “I'm not going to harm you! Just tell me why you're following us!”
Instead of running back out onto the streets, their stalker made a sharp turn down another nearby alleyway. Antoshi and Fireball turned to follow, finding their mystery person staring down a dead end a short distance away. The stalker panted, fearfully, hands scouring the dark wall for any kind of escape route. The stranger turned around to face the duo as they stood at the mouth of the alley.
“Listen — we just want to talk, okay? Fireball here isn't going to let you go until you explain yourself.” Fireball smirked, pressing his claws up against both walls of the alley to act as a blockade. “Don't try to shove him, too, 'cause he's a lot heavier than I am.”
The stranger panted and trembled in fear, as Antoshi slowly advanced toward them. Just then, the stranger caught a glimpse of a slow dripping faucet on the wall near them. The running water trickled into a small storm drain. The stalker quietly gasped in surprise. Antoshi stopped as the stranger suddenly peeled away from the wall. They turned on the faucet, letting the water rush out. Antoshi and Fireball watched, curiously, as the person knelt down, letting the water flow over their hands.
“I don't think splashing water at us is … going to help you here,” Antoshi remarked in confusion.
The person just chuckled in an oddly, raspy tone, as though they were trying to disguise their voice. Antoshi and Fireball both gasped in shock. The water from the faucet inexplicably bonded and flowed into the stranger's body. Their entire frame became as translucent as the water itself — including their clothes. The stalker gave the duo one last glance, before their body melted down into a large puddle of water and flowed into the storm drain.
Their stalker was gone. Antoshi and Fireball stared in stunned silence for a few moments.
"What … in the world … just happened?" Fireball finally spoke up. Antoshi walked over and pulled the small storm drain lid off to look inside. There was nothing but water, grime, and darkness.
“I have no idea,” Antoshi replied, replacing the lid, “but, this is definitely one of those 'twists and turns' I said I wasn't looking forward to.” With a heavy sigh, Antoshi made his way out of the alley. Fireball followed alongside him.
⁂ ⁂ ⁂
A few hours later, as the sun was starting to get low, the duo reached their next checkpoint. After being in Goldenrod much longer than expected, Antoshi finally had his Trainer Card scanned by the guard at the gate between Goldenrod and Route 35. The process updated his current location, which would also send an alert to his parents' tracking device. The guard was as friendly as any he'd met in Kanto, sending the pair on their way with a farewell. Exiting out from the automatic doors, into the pristine canopy of the large, wooded route, they both took a deep breath. Handfuls of passersby came and went past them while they took a short time to soak in their new surroundings.
"It's been so long since we've camped in the wilderness," Fireball remarked. "It's almost like our home away from home."
“You say that about every place we stay,” Antoshi replied, with a smirk. Their mirthful mood was short-lived, however.
"I can't stop thinking about that weird … water … person," Fireball said, as they resumed their trek.
Antoshi sighed heavily. “Same here. I don't know what's going on anymore. I don't know if I should be concerned about this person or not. Although …”
"Although what?" Fireball asked, as the boy kept him in suspense.
“… I know it sounds weird, but, just when I tackled them in the alley, I—I dunno. I got the sense that they were peaceful somehow. They didn't want a confrontation with me. It's the same sense I got when we first met Serenity.”
"Maybe it wasn't a person. Maybe it was a Pokémon."
Antoshi's head cocked back in surprise. “That's … actually a possibility. There's no way a person could just transform into water like that.”
"I bet we'll get answers out of them, eventually. They found us before, they'll find us again."
“Maybe so,” Antoshi replied. He abruptly stopped, and took a look around. “Well, I suppose we should start looking for a nice spot to camp out.”
Just then, the pair heard a sudden rustling in the bushes along the side of the road. Fireball and Antoshi immediately turned their attention to its source.
"What was that?" Fireball asked, as the duo curiously walked up to a tree where the sound came from.
“Maybe it was just a Pokémon we scared off.”
Antoshi found a hastily written cardboard sign taped to the tree that read, 'Free Food and Shelter for Pokemon Trainers!', with an arrow pointing further into the woods.
"What's that say?" Fireball asked.
“A place with free food and shelter for Pokémon Trainers,” Antoshi replied, musing.
"Free food?" Fireball grinned in elation. "What are we waiting for?"
Antoshi hummed in thought. “I'm a little worried about staying in houses in the woods.”
A look a dread suddenly came over Fireball's face. "Oh. You mean … the ghost house."
“I do mean the ghost house. We were both lucky to get out of there without having our souls ripped out of our bodies.”
Fireball shuddered in disgust. "I'll never trust another Ghost Pokémon ever again. … But, hey, what are the chances there are two houses like that? Don't forget, that was back in Kanto. Plus, you're a super-strong fighter now who can kick butt."
Antoshi sighed in defeat before nodding. “All right, we'll check the place out. But, if it even feels like the place is haunted, we're sleeping by a campfire.”
"Good call. Free food isn't worth my soul. … Most of the time."
The duo headed into the woods, following a hastily beaten path through the trees.
⁂ ⁂ ⁂
It wasn't long before they neared their destination. However, Fireball suddenly screamed in horror. Antoshi turned to his friend, panicked.
“What is it, Fireball?!” he asked with eyes wide.
"Spider!!" he squealed, frantically tearing away a spider web from his face. "There's spiders! I walked into a spider web and now they're all over me! I'm gonna die, Antoshi! I feel them crawling! They're gonna get me!"
Antoshi watched, quietly, as Fireball ran in circles, swatting at his face with his forepaws. The boy tried his best not to laugh. He walked over, grabbing the Typhlosion by his shoulders to bring him to a halt.
“Stand still,” he said, quietly. “Let me see.”
Fireball whimpered and trembled while Antoshi preened the webbing away from his friend's fur.
"I hate spiders," Fireball whispered. "I hate spiders, I hate spiders …"
“You're all right, Fireball. There's no spiders on you. You must've ran into one of their vacation homes or something.” Fireball sighed in relief. “Feel better?” Fireball nodded to him, expressing his embarrassment. Antoshi chuckled, patting his friend on the back as they continued on their way.
The pair soon came across a quaint, wooded cabin within a large forest clearing. They crossed a properly beaten dirt road for vehicles that led out into the woods. As they neared the one-story cabin, there was another cardboard sign, identical to the first, taped to a wooden beam on the front porch.
"This is really nice," Fireball remarked, as they walked up the porch steps. "Doesn't look haunted so far."
Antoshi chuckled as he knocked on the wooden front door's segmented, frosted glass pane. “Hello?” he called out, trying to look through the glass for signs of life. “Anyone home? We saw your sign along the pathway.”
The door opened, and the two were greeted by a younger girl, just a bit shorter than Antoshi. She wore a long-sleeved, white shirt, and a pleated, dark blue skirt. Her long, bright, electric blue hair draped down past her midriff.
“Welcome, Trainers!” she exclaimed. “Ohh, just one Trainer this time, huh?”
“Yep. My name is Antoshi, and this is my best friend, Fireball.” Fireball waved to her.
“He's so well-mannered!” she remarked. “But, which one of you was I talking to — right?” She laughed, boisterously, waving for them to come inside. “Come on in. I was just about to make supper. I'll bet the two of you are starving!”
“Fireball here is always starving,” Antoshi said with a smirk.
The girl laughed, heading into the modern style kitchen, her bare feet shuffling across the glossy, maple wood floor. Antoshi set his backpack and his shoes near the front door. The inside of the cabin was warm, cozy and clean. The space before them flowed as one, large, open area. The walls were paneled with oak. Bright lights in the vaulted white ceiling overhead illuminated the large living area to their left, and in the ceiling of the kitchen to their right. The left wall seated a couple of tall, four-pane windows, spread apart from each other. On the far wall from them were two open doors which appeared to be bedrooms, a hallway directly facing where they stood, and a third door along a wall to the right of the hallway. The cool, circulated air smelled of pine.
“Well, my name is Mimi, and I'll be your chef this evening,” she joked. “Please, sit.”
Antoshi and Fireball looked at each other with a grin. They took a seat on two of the four pewter gray bar stools, set in front of the kitchen island's white marble countertop. As the stool strained under Fireball's weight, both of them gazed at it in concern. He hopped down, opting to stand instead, as he was more than tall enough to reach over the counter.
“Thank you very much, Mimi,” Antoshi said. “Both of us appreciate it. If there's anything we can do to repay you, we'll be more than happy to.”
Mimi filled a pot with water from the sink and placed it on the nearby gas range. “No payment is necessary,” she replied. “It gets a bit lonely out here, so the company of nice guests like you two is the only payment I need.” She turned a knob to get the water heated before reaching into a nearby pantry.
Antoshi took a look around while Mimi dropped some pasta into the boiling water. “This is a really nice house. I've always wanted to live someplace like this — a quiet, little home surrounded by nature. I really like the peace and quiet of nature compared to the hustle and bustle of the city. Is this place yours?”
“Err, well, yes and no,” she replied, stirring the pasta. “This is a vacation home my parents rent in the winter.”
“Wow. Your parents let you stay here all alone? How old are you — if you don't mind me asking?”
“They sure do! They trust me more than I trust myself, honestly. I'm eleven, since you asked. I'll be twelve in a few months!”
The group heard a shuffling noise nearby. They turned to see a Pokémon slowly sliding out of the far-left bedroom. It was a Lapras, who was being careful not to let the shell on its back touch the door frame. In its fin, it held a feather duster.
“Whoa!” Antoshi remarked, awe-struck, getting to his feet. “I've seen tons of Pokémon, but never a Lapras. They're so rare!”
Mimi laughed. “That's my company all the way out here, and my best friend. Say 'hello' to Bubbles.”
“Hello there, Bubbles,” Antoshi said, grinning as he waved. The Lapras smiled coyly and turned away, sliding itself into another room nearby.
“She's a little shy,” Mimi said. “It takes her a while to trust new people.”
Antoshi took a seat once again. “Oh, I see. I know a thing or two about being shy.” Mimi chuckled.
A few minutes later, she slid a couple of plates full of spaghetti with red sauce in front of the two boys.
“I hope you two enjoy it,” she said.
“Wow, looks great!” Antoshi remarked, picking up his fork.
Mimi sat down on a stool next to Antoshi. Fireball wriggled his claws in anticipation. The Typhlosion picked up his own fork to begin eating along with the other two. Mimi looked over at him and laughed.
“You taught Fireball table manners?” she asked.
“Yeah. He's been a part of our family forever. Whenever we eat at home he sits at the table with us, so my parents and I taught him.”
“That's really cool. I bet you have just about a million stories to tell about your life.”
“Fireball and I have been through some pretty crazy adventures, … especially lately.”
“Why? What's happened lately?”
Antoshi sighed. “A lot of complicated … drama and nonsense. It's nothing worth talking about. It's just been a really wild ride since we got to Johto over a couple weeks ago.”
“Where were you before that?”
“Before that, Fireball and I traveled from our home in Saffron City and went all around Kanto. We beat all eight Gyms there and then competed at the Indigo Plateau.”
She gasped in astonishment. “Really?! Did you win?”
Antoshi laughed. “No, unfortunately. We managed to make it past the qualifying bracket, but we lost in the first round of the actual tournament. Still, top one hundred twenty-eight out of all the Trainers in Kanto is pretty nice. We had some amazing moments to go along with it, too.” Fireball smiled and nodded in agreement. The Typhlosion eagerly went back to twirling more pasta around his fork. “What about you, Mimi? Where do you come from?”
“Well, when I'm not here, I'm at home with my parents in a little neighborhood north of Olivine City.”
“Olivine City? I've always wanted to see what it looks like there.”
“You should definitely go sometime! You can meet my parents, too — they're super nice.”
The two young people chatted away about anything that came to mind while they ate together. They continued to sit together and talk after finishing their food. Mimi laughed, playfully nudging Antoshi's shoulder with her own.
“You are so funny!” she remarked. At that moment, Bubbles emerged from the room she had been in.
"All of the bedrooms are cleaned now," the Lapras said, quietly.
Antoshi froze in shock upon hearing it speak. He was at a loss as to why.
“Thank you, Bubbles,” Mimi said, smiling to her friend. “Would you like to spend some time with our guests?”
"Oh, … no, thank you. I think I'll return to my Poké Ball for the night."
“All right. Goodnight, Bubbles.”
Bubbles nodded. She turned her attention to a Poké Ball being held in the cradling hands of a small statue on a nearby table. Pressing her nose against it, her body was reduced to a mass of red light that was pulled inside the confines of the ball. Mimi sighed in content, turning to her guests with a smile. She noticed the stunned expression on both Antoshi and Fireball's faces.
“What's up?” she asked, curiously.
“Did you … just talk to your Pokémon?”
“Oh, … yeah, I did. I know, a lot of people think it's weird or impossible, but Bubbles and I have been able to communicate since we met. I … hope you don't think I'm crazy,” she added, nervously.
“No, I don't,” Antoshi replied, much to her relief. “Actually, to tell you the truth, I can talk with Fireball, too. Isn't that right?” He smiled and turned to his friend.
"That is right!" Fireball replied. "We have the best conversations together."
This time, it was Mimi's turn to be stricken with shock. “Wait, I—I just heard Fireball speak.” Both of them looked at her in disbelief. “He said … you have the best conversations together. That's … so cool! I've never been able to hear any other Pokémon besides Bubbles speak.”
The duo looked at each other in awe. “Well, now that you mention it,” Antoshi said. “I … may have heard Bubbles talk when she said she was finished cleaning the rooms.”
“This is unreal!” Mimi exclaimed, joyful, surprising the duo. “Fireball, what's your favorite, … um, ice cream?”
Fireball's eyes lit up. "Ice cream? I love all kinds of ice cream! My favorite is 'chocolate banana brunch crunch.'"
“Ohh, that's a good one. I've had that before!”
Antoshi grinned in amazement, watching the two of them converse back and forth. His expression suddenly turned to thoughtful curiosity, as he recalled a very similar conversation play out with a certain sable-haired young man.
“Well, I'm gonna get these dishes cleaned up,” Mimi said, hopping down from her stool to collect their plates and silverware.
“Are you sure?” Antoshi asked. “We'd be fine cleaning up for you.”
“It's fine!” Mimi reassured him. “I'm just gonna put them in the dishwasher anyway. It makes the funniest noises, like brr-brr-brr and bum-bum!” she added, laughing. The pair smiled in amusement.
“Well, in that case, Fireball and I are gonna go outside and get a little exercise.”
“Oh, that's fine. Whenever you come back, we can have dessert and chat some more!”
“That sounds good! See you in a bit!”
Fireball followed his friend to the front door, where Antoshi slipped his shoes back on. Mimi waved to them as they headed out the door together.
Outside, Antoshi and Fireball walked out into the forest clearing.
"You want to train some more, don't you?" Fireball asked.
Antoshi laughed. “You know me well, Fireball. I'm feeling better after that great dinner.”
"Yep," he replied, casually brushing his snout, "I'm pretty smart when it comes to my best bud. So, are we training you or training me?"
“How about … a little of both?”
Fireball gasped in surprise. "I'm definitely ready to get a good workout in. Man, that Mimi sure is nice, huh? She's already the best host we've ever stayed with."
“She sure is,” he replied, distantly, briefly lost in thought. “… Well, anyway, let's get to it.”
"Watch out, wild Pokémon! Here I come!"
⁂ ⁂ ⁂
Back inside the house, Bubbles re-emerged from her Poké Ball. Despite being contained within, she remained consciously aware of what was happening around her. She slid along the floor, making her way over to her friend. Mimi greeted her with a smile. The two of them looked out the kitchen window, watching the boys head into the woods.
"So, … that's him?" Bubbles asked, softly.
“That is him,” Mimi replied, sighing happily. “I can't believe how nervous I was! I barely kept it together when he first showed up.”
"Did you … take down the sign?"
Mimi giggled. “I sure did. They didn't even realize the sign on the house was the same one that was on the tree.”
"Are you going to tell him why you brought him here?"
“Not yet, Bubbles. … I just have to wait for the right time.”