Bede is self-aware enough to know that he’s only one of the Chairman’s many pet projects.
It doesn’t matter. He’ll do anything he’s asked. There are debts that can be negotiated, payments deferred, deadlines extended. Then there are debts which can only be paid with a lifetime of service.
This is what one does for the man who has plucked him from the gutters.
He’d been a child when he first met the Chairman. Smaller than most of the boys in the orphanage, scrawny and underfed as they always stole his food and he could never fight back. They’d laughed at him often, for his soft voice and feminine face.
It had been one of the Chairman’s routine visits - speak to the children, write out a cheque, shake hands with other suited people, photographer discreetly snapping photos in a corner - when he’d spotted Bede hanging quietly at the back while the others clamoured to the front asking for photos, tickets to see a match with reigning Champion. The Chairman had been the one to smile at him. And then he was asked to come forward.
After that, the - well, not quite adoption, but more like fostering and sponsoring by Macro Cosmos. Had his tuition paid for at a fancy private school Hammerlocke, one that accepted boarders so he was moved from the orphanage. In the summer, he was given internships in Wyndon with the company, and he stayed in the company apartments by himself.
He used to cry and cling on to the Chairman on his rare visits. Looking back, it was mortifying. He understands why the Chairman stopped by as rarely as he did then.
He was given hatenna quickly after that. Small, cute, easy to look after. You just have to strangle your emotions into submission first. He learns to smother down any extreme feeling quickly. Visits from the Chairman became more subdued formal affairs after that, and happened more frequently.
After a couple of years, he started getting late-night calls over to Wyndon Tower. The Chairman’s private chef would cook and serve them dinner in one of the Chairman's many private rooms. It would usually be late and Bede would only pick at the one food instead of eating, having eaten dinner earlier in the boarding house. He answers questions about his progress in school when asked, but it is mostly the Chairman who talks, painting out his visions for Galar. After all those years being alone one learns to lap up any other attention one is given.
One can’t walk away from a debt like this. Especially not when the man owns most of Galar.
He doesn’t know what he feels for the Chairman anymore. Tangled threads of love, gratitude, idolatry. It doesn’t matter. He sits where he’s ordered. Wears the clothes the Chairman picks out for him. Lies still when asked. Hides his flinches when touched, keeps a smile on his face at all times. Offers himself up, in pieces and in wholes, until there is nothing left. It doesn't matter since he was always the Chairman's anyway.
Bede listens. Bede obeys.
He runs into the Champion at Wyndon Tower from time to time - a loud boisterous boy who needs a minder to ensure he doesn't get lost all the time.
Bede doesn’t understand the fuss this boy gets. The leniency, the amount of attention he gets from the Chairman. But Bede is good. Bede is obedient. Every day he sets aside petty feelings like jealousy. The Chairman will know of his true value, in time.
Then the Chairman sponsors him for the Gym Challenge.
He takes the train to Wedgehurst and pays the Pokemon Professor a visit, as the Chairman suggests. Asks her what she knows about Dynamaxing, as he's been asked to collect any Wishing Star he finds on his journey. She takes one look at him and makes him stay for tea, won’t stop asking probing questions about his life. He can feel the pity dripping from every gesture, but he sips his tea quietly and answers when asked. She doesn’t give any useful information about Dynamaxing, but she does give her blessing as he leaves. He hops on the evening train to Motostoke for the Opening Ceremony.
And that’s when he meets the Champion’s brother.
The boy laughs at his coat, at the hatenna clutched in his arms. Makes him think of the children back in the orphanage. The boy talks about how he’s going to be Champion, just like his brother. Laughs at Bede when Bede stutters that he will be the one to beat Leon. He’s ready. Why else would the Chairman have sponsored him?
The Champion’s brother just laughs, cruel and mocking.
He wonders then - if the reason why there are so many loud obnoxious boys out there is because the world keeps rewarding them for that behaviour. Boys are supposed to be brash, and rude, and arrogant, and they get a pat on the head and a friendly punch on the shoulder for it.
What does this mean then for quiet ones like him.
There is another boy at the table, one wearing a red shirt and a gentle exasperated expression. He kicks his friend and tells him to shut up, but it’s too late - the damage has been done.
Bede never made it to the Opening Ceremony that year. He never even gets off the train at Motostoke, just continues riding it to Wyndon, curled up in his seat and only moves when the conductor checks the train at the end.
Oleana sighs when she finds him shaking in his dormitory the next day, and tells the Chairman that he is too young.
Leon was ten when he won his Gym Challenge.
Bede knows he’s a disappointment all round. Everything he does after - good grades, graduating early from university - does not make up for his failure. The Chairman never quite looks at him the same after that.
He knows that growing up means letting go of the past. He has never learnt to let go. Only made an art of pretending that the bad things do not exist.
Andof course, the shock when the Champion’s brother comes up to him again at the Opening Ceremony. The boy - a man now, really, his brain helpfully supplements, tall and broad and with a deep baritone after puberty’s done its job - doesn’t even seem to recognise Bede. It’s strange. He’d thought about the boy on the train for so many years until he’s loomed like a dynamaxed pokemon before him. And now, he tries to be friendly. As though their meeting hadn’t ruined his life.
And he seemed genuinely shocked upon realising that Bede is a girl.
So when Bede runs into Gloria in Motostoke at the south entrance of the city, and Gloria demands What is your bloody problem with Hop he is grumpy. No, he's furious.
Hattrem is in her pokeball but its instinctive now, to keep his temper in check. Smoother it all down to ash. Gloria’s face is flushed, twisted up in annoyance. It’s an unseemly display of emotions, really.
“Trainer Victoria,” he drawls. He's long learnt from watching ridiculous people like the Champion, like the Hammerlocke gym leader, that arrogance gets one far.
What a stupid nickname. Pretentious, really. He wonders why she picked it. There’s probably a press interview somewhere if he can be bothered to look it up. “How nice of you to say hello.”
She rolls her eyes. “You lose any kind of politeness from me once you call my friend trash. I’m only going to ask one more time - what is your problem with Hop?”
He narrows his eyes. “Have you tried asking him what his problem is with me?”
She looks like she’s ready to punch him but flings her hands up in the air instead. “No, I didn’t think to do that at all, how silly of me - of course I did, and he’s just as clueless as I am!”
“Oh?” Bede can’t remember the last time he was this angry. He’s entitled to it, he thinks, having run through that incident over and over again in his head. “How convenient.”
He doesn’t know why - maybe because he’s angry, maybe because she's the first person in ages he's spoken to more than once beyond the Chairman and Oleana, but he tells her. Not everything, just about the train incident. Just enough so she knows.
He expects her to be upset. He expects her to defend her friend. But instead, she trembles, almost imperceptibly, but he’s grown used to picking up all sorts of subtle body language cues over the years.
“You met Victor.”
“Victor?” Oh. Oh. Hadn’t she said something about a twin?
“Bede.” She looks like she’s struggling to hold back tears. “I can’t apologise on Hop’s behalf, and it was a shit thing he did. But he wasn’t coming from a mean or spiteful place. Hop is… was just like that.”
He’s told himself this, sometimes. It doesn’t erase the damage of the words, or everything that came after.
“It is what it is,” he says. He just wants to crawl back into bed, but he has too many things to do for the Chairman. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, some of us actually have important things to do.” He leaves her standing alone by herself, trying not to pay attention to the grief emanating from her body in dark waves.
For the first time in years, he feels a pang of guilt.
Gloria doesn’t know how long she stands there, trying to pull herself together. Far too long. She’s lucky, that it’s early in the morning and there aren’t crowds around. She can only imagine the social media chatter then - League Challenger Stands Shellshocked For Hours.
She heaves in a breath and takes one step, and then another. She can do this.
She thinks of Victor and Hop on a train. Victor’s smile as he listens to Hop chatter. Of a pale-haired boy passing by with a hatenna in his arms.
Would it have been better if she’d been there? Would she have joined in Hop on his teasing, or taken Victor’s side to be peacemaker? Would she even have noticed the harshness of Hop’s enthusiasm?
Like so many things, she will never know.
Move. She screams to herself.
Sonia had decided the night before to take a train back to the lab in Wedgehurst, saying she needed to look for something. She'd shooed off both Hop and Gloria's offers to accompany her, telling them to focus on their own journeys. Hop had wanted to stay with Gloria then, but she said, as gently as she could, that she needed space.
Too little love and one starves. Too much love suffocates. She wishes she could be less ungrateful.
She’d done her best to make it up to Hop in the morning, promising to call him that night, that she would meet him in Hammerlocke for dinner.
She still hasn't told him about what had happened at Kabu's place. All that reality redefining information.
There is something very wrong with Galar.
She will process it. Later.
She doesn't understand what Kabu expects her to do with that information. He's the one with the victory pokemon with him.
Outside of Motostoke, she lets Orion, Tempo, and Hanabi loose. She'd decided to put the drednaw in the storage system, thinking she'd trade it - it had been more of a showmanship pokemon for Kabu’s gym anyway.
Her team is progressing as fast as humanly possible, but she only has a little over a month now for the Championship.
Flying against Fighting. Poison and Steel against Fairy. Steel and Water against Rock.
She still needs a good counter against Piers and Raihan. Liberty would have been perfect in Spikemuth, but no point thinking about that now. Not for the first time, she mourns her Hoenn team - her salamance would be perfect against Raihan’s goodra. And really, she should be building a team to beat Leon, not the other gym leaders, since the goal was the Championship seat.
Time. Time is what she needs. But dragons take years to train.
Leon beat the League on his first try.
Tempo knows he's too heavy to climb onto her now, but he tries it anyway, touching her cheeks and making soft concerned noises.
"It's okay," she says out loud, trying to stop radiating all her fears out to her pokemon. They don't need to be antsy too. "We're going to have a good day."
They do not proceed to have a good day.
Everything is fine, her pokemon clearing a neat path up until they cross the Motostoke Riverbank and the sandstorm kicks in. Gloria has her goggles on and her hood up within moments of it starting - but the sand still grates at her exposed skin.
She debates between recalling her pokemon and training them in the area. They're going to have to learn to deal with sandstorms sooner or later.
She releases Seriyu, who roars as he forms, especially grumpy at being let out into the storm.
"Fifteen minutes, and you can all go back in!" she calls.
Seriyu growls and blasts water from his mouth in a circle around him. Rhyhorns, rolycolies and suduwodo flail and fall over from the force of the water. Hanabi sticks close to the gyrados to avoid getting splashed by the water, spits her poison at the pokemon still struggling to get up. Seriyu’s grown protective over the salazzle, despite the violence of their first encounter, and is especially careful to shield her from any stray drops of water. It's nice to see her pokemon build their trust with each other. Tempo finishes off stragglers with razor leaf while Orion goes bother a group of squabbling skorupi, who had come out from the sand at the commotion.
Orion is barely battered by the sand - good, he’d hopefully be a corviknight by the time they get to Stow-on-Side. She makes a mental note to make sure he gets more gravel in his diet, especially while they’re in the Dusty Bowl. Once they make it through this sandstorm, that is.
Underneath her hands, her bike buzzes and then speaks. "Bzzt - I can use your phone to scan for safer places."
She starts, having completely forgotten about her bike being essentially possessed by a sentient ghost.
"Right. Do that.”
The little ghost pokemon wizzes out of the bicycle and into her phone hanging by her side.
"There's a day care centre three klicks to the northeast. You can shelter there."
She’s still not sure how she feels about rooms in bicycles, or phones, or Pokedexes. But she’s not going to ignore help when she gets it.
She glances down at her watch. Her team has cleared the entire area.
“Good job!” she calls out, looking at them closely. Yes, run ragged, but they can still last a while longer. Impressive, given the sandstorm. She returns them into their pokeballs and sets for the direction that the room had pointed out.
When she squints, she can still see the clear skies across the other side of the riverbank.
The day care is run by an elderly couple, who usher her in the second the door opens.
"We have a spare room in the back, go ahead and use the shower!" She can't stop apologising for trekking sand across the day care, but the old lady just shoos her to the back after handing her a towel.
The sand is everywhere. She wants to ask Raihan how he deals with it and catches herself typing a text to him. She can ask him herself when she’s in Hammerlocke.
When she emerges into the living room, she’s immediately bombarded with warm solicitous remarks.
“Come have some tea! It’s been a while since we’ve had a visitor!”
“You’re one of the Gym Challengers, aren’t you, sweet?”
She gets their names - Ethan and Lyra. She wants to sink down into the cushions in her exhaustion but her mother’s voice is already echoing in her head about being polite, so she’s at the edge of her seat, carefully sipping her tea.
“Isn’t it hard running a day care in the Wild Area?”
“Oh, it’s not as bad as you might think it is, once you get used to the weather. Our daughter runs our other branch over at Route 5.”
Gloria remembers passing by it on her way to Hulbury. “Why aren’t you running that branch then?”
Ethan huffs. “Young people these days! They don’t have the stamina - not of course, referring to you,” he adds, though still crotchety. “Since you were out training in that sandstorm and all.”
“I still wouldn’t have the gumption to actually live here.”
“We’re really only a quick ride away from Motostoke," Lyra interrupts.
“Do you use the corviknight cabs?” Gloria asks, surprised. They’re expensive to be used for grocery runs.
Lyra cackles delightedly. “Now why would I do that when I have a perfectly good corviknight of my own?”
“But the Macro Cosmos rules - "
“Chairman Rose can come visit us himself if he’d like to register a complaint,” Ethan snarks. "That is, if that arse can even make the trek here without being blasted down by a hailstorm.”
Gloria snorts into her tea, but can’t help but smile. It’s nice to know then, that there are still people finding their own small rebellions against the Macro Cosmos rule.
Then the first bang happens and she almost jumps out of her seat. “Is everything alright back there?” Barely before finishing her question, there’s a drawn-out wail.
"We picked up a mimikyu near Giant's Mirror last night, after it had been roughed up in a fight. Its disguise is broken, so we're just leaving it alone until it finishes fixing it."
Mimikyu. They’re rare, but powerful heavy hitters, and fairy and ghost type. This one might just be what she needs.
“Is it alright if I try speaking to it?”
Lyra blinks. “You can try, but really, I wouldn’t advise it.”
She's already out of her seat and digging through her bag. “Thank you!”
“Door to your left, all the way at the end!” Ethan calls.
She takes out her berry container and the sewing kit Ruby had insisted that she bring along. Although he was probably hoping she would be using it to sew accessories for her pokemon or something.
She knocks on the door, just to be polite. “I’m coming in,” she calls, and is very careful to keep her eyes shut once she cracks the door open.
The room is chilly. She doesn’t bother flicking on the light switch as she shuts the door behind her, and instead crouches low on the floor and reaches out with her hand. Then she waits.
She knows its coming when her skin begins to prickle. Then - something touches her hand. She feels a weight, though her fingers can’t seem to grasp hold of anything.
“I’m not looking, I promise,” she says, her eyes still shut. She holds her other hand out, which is full of berries - oran, lum, leppa, citrus, persim - hoping that it will like at least one of the ones there. There is that ghostly weight again, tendrils crawling over her skin as she feels it reach out for a berry.
“If you give me your disguise I promise that I’ll fix it,” she calls out.
Its answering screech makes all her hair stand on the back of her neck. She takes a steady breath, thinks of her banette and how, despite the weight of doom and hatred that emanates from it, would just enjoy being held after a long day.
She’s not sure how long she stays like that, crouched low, the berries in her hand disappearing one by one. In the dark, the sound of the mimikyu’s chewing and slurping is the only sound apart from her breathing. Finally, when the last one is plucked from her hand, she feels soft breath against her hand.
“Will you let me?” she asks softly.
Another long moment. Then she feels the fabric dropped onto her waiting hands.
“Thank you,” she says. “I’m going to turn my back now, and I’ll have to turn on my light to do this. Just wait a moment, will you?”
Another long screech. She does not flinch.
She pulls out her phone - still inhabited by the rotom - and speaks to it.
“You can make the phone float, can’t you?”
“Bzzt - of course.” It almost sounds offended that she had to ask, and then springs out of her hands and into the air, glowing softly.
“Okay. I’m going to need you to use the phone torch and shine a light at my hands - and my hands only.”
She can make out the pokemon’s large eyes on the phone's screen, sees it blink a couple of times. “Oh,” it says, and the mimikyu screeches again.
“Can you do that?”
The light springs out of the back of her phone, and into her hands, as she asked.
She’s hyperaware of the tendrils creeping up around her back, the soft breathing against her neck. She counts to ten, takes slow even breaths, trying to not shiver or flinch. There’s a reason why most people don’t specialise in ghost types.
“Give me a few minutes,” she says out loud.
She mentally thanks Ruby over and over again for teaching her - over a few very painful afternoons - how to sew. At least enough so she can fix this. She makes a few stitches around the disguise’s neck so that it will stay upright. Then she mends the remaining stray rips and tears, all the while fighting every instinct telling her to leave the room and never come back again.
“Alright, it’s done!” She holds out the disguise, keeping her eyes shut again. “Here!”
The rag lifted out of her hands. The mimikyu screeches again, but the sound is slower, gentler now. “I’m going to open my eyes now, okay?”
There’s that ghostly weight on her hand again, and she tries not to flinch or gasp at the coldness, her body rebelling against the weight of it. It makes a sound, high-pitched and drawn out.
She chokes - there is much sadness, so much loneliness seeping from the pokemon’s touch. It makes that sound again and she instinctively reaches out to press its small heavy body to her chest, rocking in place. She wants to tell the mimikyu that it will be alright, but she can’t bear to bring herself to lie, only makes wordless tearful promises as she cradles the mimikyu in her arms.
Ethan frowns. “Are you sure? The thing’s completely feral.”
"Are you sure you wouldn't like a baby toxel instead?” Lyra adds. "We just had one hatched from the last batch of eggs."
"Thank you," Gloria says, smiling as she hefts the mimikyu in her arms. It gurgles slightly, pleased at the attention. Her hands have already grown numb from the cold emanating from under the disguise, but it's nothing she can't get used to. "But I think I'll have my hands full with this one here."