After Rayla finally did manage to beat the Gym, Callum felt… oddly disappointed. He’d gotten kinda used to hanging out with her and talking battle strategy. It was really obvious that Rayla had studied up and knew her stuff. Half of the matches she referenced left Callum blank-faced and blinking – unless she referenced one of Mom’s or Harrow’s famous matches. Then he didn’t exactly follow along with all of the strategy talk, but you know, at least he had seen all of their battles.
Still, it was only polite to clap for her when she showed off the new badge. No one liked a sore… friendship… loser?
“Anyway,” Rayla said, when she’d finally had enough of recounting the battle and put her badge away, “you guys all packed up?”
“Uh?” Callum replied eloquently.
“I mean, I’m not done yet, so it’s fine if you’ve still got some stuff to put away.” She put her hands on her hips and scowled at him. “Unless you didn’t think I would win at the Gym today and didn’t bother packing!”
“No, no, of course I knew you would win!” Callum cleared his throat. “I’m, uh, I’m all ready!”
Rayla folded her arms, unimpressed. “You’re a really bad liar.”
“…Okay I’m not even slightly packed but I promise it is for totally unrelated reasons.”
They hadn’t spoken about travelling together when Rayla was done with the Gym. She’d just sort of… assumed that they’d be spending more time together. That Callum was a friend. A friend she wanted to get to know better!
The thought lifted Callum’s spirits and he packed in record time. He and Rayla stepped into the Centre lobby from separate staircases at exactly the same moment.
Rayla looked over at him and laughed, and Callum forgot all about training and Gyms in that moment: he was just excited to be travelling with her.
“You were a big help, you know,” Rayla said.
Callum blinked at her in confusion. They were two hours out of town by this point, and they’d spent most of it walking in silence. It wasn’t a difficult path to the next Gym, but long, winding through countryside and forest for days and days. For people without ride pokemon, one half of the continent was practically cut off from the other.
She glanced at him and caught his expression. “I mean with the Gym. Your tip for Sally was really important for the match! They could never see us comin’. So, thanks.”
Callum brightened. “Oh, well, I’m glad to have helped!”
“I’m just saying because things like that are really important,” Rayla continued, serious and stony-faced. “Not everyone can just… see that stuff, just get it. It’s a great talent to have.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say—”
“You keep doing this!” Rayla snapped, cutting him off mid-sentence. She stopped dead in the middle of the path and there was no escape from her steely gaze. “Keep undermining yourself, saying that you’re no good at training! If you don’t want to be a trainer, okay, that’s one thing, but stop sabotaging yourself before you even start! You’re good! You could be really great if you wanted.”
Callum’s throat was tight and even if he’d known what to say, he wouldn’t have been able to voice it.
Rayla’s intense expression faded in the silence. She deflated. “I think you’re good,” she said quietly. “I get that your parents are a lot to live up to, but you can’t—you can’t hold yourself back because you’re afraid people will compare you to them. You only have to live up to your standards, no one else’s.”
There were tears in her eyes, drawing Callum in even though he wanted to turn his burning face away and laugh the whole thing off. “I don’t…”
He didn’t know how to finish the sentence, or even quite what he wanted to say. They just stood there for a minute, looking at each other.
“It’s not…” Rayla swallowed. “It’s not the same, but my parents… I always worried about being like them, too. They got in a lot of trouble from abetting Team Rocket—it was an accident; they didn’t know they were helping Team Rocket. But they weren’t careful enough about not helping them, either. They were breeders; they sold dozens of pokemon to Team Rocket which got used in experiments.”
Callum sucked in a breath without meaning too.
She gave him a wan smile. “Yeah. It was… pretty terrible. They were never found guilty of breaking any laws but—everyone said they should’ve known better.” The tears in her eyes started to trickle down her cheeks, and Rayla hastily reached up to wipe them away. “But what’s worse is that they listened. They sold their business, left me with Runaan and then they just… ran away.”
He shifted his feet. “Maybe they were trying to protect you?”
“Maybe,” Rayla said darkly, “but it doesn’t solve anythin’. They could’ve tried to make up for what they did but they just ran away. Like cowards.” She spat the last word as though it was poison. “Where I lived, everyone knew who my parents were. I took an interest in pokemon and people just…”
She choked on the last words and Callum had to walk over and put his arm round her. “You’re not your parents.”
“I know,” she said. She scrubbed her eyes with the heel of her hand and took a deep breath. “I didn’t—I couldn’t let them stop me. It wasn’t nice, though.”
Silence fell again. Callum wondered if there was a way to take his arm off her shoulders that wasn’t weird. How long before it stopped being comforting and started being awkward? …He’d probably already passed that point, hadn’t he?
“I know I’m not my parents,” Rayla said, more firmly this time. She stepped away so that she could look Callum dead in the eye, saving him the trouble of worrying about the arm thing. “And you aren’t your parents, either. You need to just concentrate on being yourself… whatever that looks like.”
He wanted to point out that Rayla’s situation wasn’t like his own – everyone loved and admired his parents, and Aunt Amaya. But that would mean pretending to have missed her point, which would’ve been cruel after she’d bared her soul to him like that.
The point wasn’t about positive or negative examples. It was about… not taking on burdens that weren’t yours. What Rayla’s parents did was on them. How awesome Callum’s parents were was on them too. Not on Callum.
“I…” He hadn’t been the one nearly crying, but it kind of felt like it; his throat was all clammed up and painful, and his voice sounded raw when he managed to get the words out. “I’ll try. You’re right!”
Rayla forced a smile. “You know I am!”
Callum didn’t have to force himself to smile back. His lips just kind of turned upwards of their own accord.
After Callum’s hellish quick march from Castletown to Borderlodge City, he found it was pleasant to walk at a leisurely pace with his pokemon.
It was nice to be with Rayla, too. Sometimes they would talk about random things and sometimes they would simply walk in companionable silence. Rayla didn’t seem to mind when Callum and Peanut would stop to draw something, a tree at a weird angle or some beautiful wild flowers or one of the pokemon they passed along the way.
It turned out that big heart-to-hearts could make you really at ease with someone that you didn’t know that well before. Who knew?
The journey to Borderlodge City was supposed to take a week, but Callum thought it would end up taking them longer. He still wasn’t that excited about taking on the Gyms, even if he was going to give it an honest attempt after Rayla’s pep talk, so it didn’t bother him too much, but he wondered if Rayla was itching to be making faster progress.
It was hard to feel too guilty about it when the morning sun cast such lovely shadows through the trees and the flowers were still scattered with dew. Even the early rising pokemon, like pidgeys and combees, passed by without a care in the world, like Callum wasn’t there at all. He would’ve loved to paint it, but he was busy making breakfast for everyone.
Ten minutes later, Rayla crawled out of her tent, still in her pyjamas. “I smell food,” she mumbled, rubbing sleep out of her eyes. “Feed me.”
“I don’t know how you get up so early, let alone manage to function around a travel stove. Are you sure you didn’t burn it or anything?” Rayla still happily accepted a bowl of porridge. “Thanks for breakfast, magic morning man.”
Callum laughed. “Ah, don’t worry about it. I’d get in trouble if I didn’t have breakfast every day, so I learned to function at whatever time I got up.”
Rayla frowned. “Get in trouble? For what?”
“Well, you know how in movies and TV and stuff the mom is always like ‘make sure you have clean underwear’?”
“…No, but go on.”
“Well, Aunt Amaya’s thing is breakfast.” He tried his best to mimic his aunt’s deadly serious expression. “It’s the most important meal of the day. You know she actually refused to award someone a Gym badge once because they said they’d skipped breakfast to train? It had to go to the League for an official ruling.”
“No way.” Rayla tried, and failed, to suppress a smile. “So, what did the League say?”
“Aunt Amaya argued that Gym Leaders are supposed to give badges not for just winning battles, but for showing they have important qualities as a trainer. She argued that skipping breakfast showed an inability to prioritise the trainer’s and pokemon’s health and happiness.” He waited until Rayla leaned forward, nearly trailing her loose hair into her porridge. “And they accepted it! The trainer was so mad they had to fight again. Aunt Amaya walked around smug for weeks.”
Rayla laughed. “But now she has the power of the Pokemon League behind her when she tells you you have to eat breakfast?”
“Ugh, don’t I know it. You would not believe how many times she’s used that line.” Callum sighed theatrically. “But I know what’s good for me and my kneecaps.”
“…Kneecaps?” Rayla asked, suddenly looking concerned.
Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. “Er, family in joke! So, uh, anyway, I wanted to ask you… are you… really okay with us going slow like this?”
Rayla sat up very straight with wide eyes. “What?”
“I mean, it’s going to take us ages to get to Borderlodge at this rate!” Callum said. “Are you sure you don’t mind?”
“Oh!” Rayla let out a strange, high-pitched laugh, shaking her head. “That’s what you… No, actually, it’s kind of nice just to travel with someone, you know? And hang out with our pokemon. Even Duster.”
She seemed sincere enough, so Callum was finally able to relax. “You’ve got a point. I promised Lin I’d work with her on her form, but I haven’t had that much chance yet. I think she learned a lot from Duster, though.”
Raya raised an eyebrow.
“Well… at least a bit from Duster.” Callum smiled. “Also, Peanut gets really mad if he doesn’t have chance to paint. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. He gets real petty.”
She chuckled. “Does he? He doesn’t seem the type to me.”
“He doesn’t? Oh boy. Once, Harrow decided to renovate the house, but he forgot to warn Peanut that his favourite painting room would be out of bounds for a while, so Peanut…”
They didn’t end up moving on at all that day. Peanut sketched and totally ignored everyone else, apart from the time Duster ran into him whilst chasing Lin, ruining Peanut’s painting in the process. The smeargle threw such a fit that Duster eventually ran away to hide behind Rayla, who was too bewildered to put up much defence of her pokemon.
“This has never happened before,” she said, blinking at a cowering Duster.
“I told you, he’s a menace when it comes to art,” Callum replied. He grunted, struggling to hold back a furious Peanut. “But, uh, can I get a little help here…?”
Sally seemed to have fun searching out random shiny objects and as many local berries as she could get her talons on. The pile of fruit attracted dozens of local pokemon, which distracted Peanut enough from planning Duster’s demise that he picked up a new painting.
Lin preferred to ignore the berries, going slowly through her favourite moves with Callum. She listened attentively to his suggestions, and peered over his shoulder with interest when he sketched out a few new ideas. Sometimes he couldn’t see the movement clearly until it was on paper. She seemed interested in the idea of sketches, and tried doing a drawing herself, but gave up and went back to her training when her paws proved to be the wrong shape for holding pencils.
Rayla seemed content to spend the day doing stretches, jumps, and backflips.
“I did gymnastics in school,” she explained, the first time she did a cartwheel and Callum was so surprised that he accidentally threw his pencil at her. She picked the pencil back up and, narrowing her eyes, threw it into Callum’s open bag. “Gotta keep in shape.”
“For what?” he asked, confused.
She didn’t seem to think that question deserved an answer. Or maybe she was just too busy keeping her balance whilst walking around on her hands…
They spent the entire day like this until the sun had sunk low in the sky, turning the horizon a rich red colour, and the pile of berries had dwindled to almost nothing. The wild pokemon had long scurried away, but it wasn’t yet late enough for the nocturnal ones to venture out.
Despite having done virtually nothing, it was one of the best days Callum had spent in a long time.
Rayla went to wash up their dinner things, Lin and Duster following her and arguing between each other about something. Callum was just about to move the remaining berries somewhere further from camp to prevent night time visitors, when he spotted something small lurking in the bushes on the edge of their clearing.
When he looked, he caught nothing more than a blur of movement. After a moment, a small green head with red horns peeked out—a ralts! Callum remembered Harrow telling him about them; the so called ‘King of Psychics’ didn’t have one, but he knew about all kinds of psychic-type pokemon. They were supposed to be quite shy. What a treat to see one in the wild!
Callum held out a berry towards it. “Do you want some?”
The ralts shrank back a little, so he gently rolled the berry towards it. It stopped just out of arms reach, and the ralts quickly snatched it up with the aid of a little telekinesis and chowed down.
Aw, it’s so small! It’s pretty cute… I wonder if Rayla would like it.
The ralts quickly finished the berry, and to Callum’s surprise, darted out of hiding to snatch up another one, even though it meant sitting right next to him. He made sure to keep very still. The ralts retreated a little after grabbing the second berry, but it was still within arms reach. Well, he guessed food was an easy way to make friends with… well, with anyone. It was certainly the way into Ez’s good books…
Suddenly, the ralts froze, tilting its head right up so it could see out from under it’s helmet-like head. Then it curled its arms around itself and teleported away, taking the half-eaten berry with it.
Huh. Harrow said it took months for his pokemon to teleport small objects with them. Kinda cool that it learned to do that in the wild by itself…
That just made him think how great a wild pokemon with that sort of potential would’ve done with Rayla as a trainer. He sighed.
“What was that?” came Rayla’s voice.
Callum tried to keep the disappointment out of his voice, but he couldn’t help the little bit that seeped through. “A ralts came to eat our berries.”
“Oh no, did I scare the poor wee thing off?” She sounded nearly as put out as Callum felt.
“I thought you might want to try catching it,” he offered, standing up to help her put everything away. “You said you like fairy-type pokemon.”
“I do!” Rayla brightened. “They’re really strong and so versatile and—wait no I’ve told you all this already haven’t I?”
Callum laughed at her sheepish expression. That topic had come up on at least three different occasions whilst Rayla was training for the poison-type Gym. “Yeah. Kinda.”
Rayla was still grinning, but then she shook her head forcefully. “Anyway, no. I do think fairy-types are really great, but I have Duster already—” The clefairy puffed himself up, even though he was tiredly dragging his feet and following Rayla around like a lost growlithe. “—and I’d like to add more variety to my team. I know it’s a psychic-type too, but Duster is pretty good with those kinds of moves… when he can be bothered.”
Callum’s heart sank a little. It made sense, but it would’ve been nice if he’d gotten a chance to get to know the little ralts better. “Oh.”
“There’s a cave near here that does have a pokemon I’ve been looking for, though!” Rayla added. “It’s pretty rare, so it might take me a while to find it.”
He smiled. “Is that why you don’t mind me and Peanut slowing you down?”
She shrugged. “If I’m going to be slow, you get to be slow too. Fair is fair.”
Callum had been joking but her logic did make sense!
“Have you thought about catching any other pokemon?” Rayla asked.
It was a totally fair question – expected even – but it still caught him off guard. Obviously, he’d been thinking about catching a dark-type to show Claudia. The trouble was, he wasn’t sure of any good places to find them nearby…
“Well, I have this… friend from back home...” Callum’s fingers were twitching nervously for some reason. “Her name is Claudia, and she’s a really great and established trainer already, she’s Professor Viren’s daughter, and she specialises in dark-types and… well…”
“You wanted to get one too?” Rayla hazarded. “So… you guys could talk more? That’s why you wanted Sally at first.”
“Yeah. Yeah!” Callum beamed. She seemed to really get it! “She told me about these dark-type pokemon that live in the back of Luminon Cave but uh… obviously I didn’t go in there.”
Rayla only smiled in response, but it seemed a little thin. Maybe she was just getting tired. Callum had woken her up early this morning with breakfast and now he was keeping her up with random pokemon chat!
“Anyway, it’s getting kinda late, huh? We should probably go to bed.”
She blinked at him for a moment. “Oh… Right. Yeah.”
They had to finish a few last minute chores around camp – Callum still needed to move the berries further away from their tents – and then they said their goodnights.
He was just opening the flap of his tent when Rayla said, “Callum, wait.”
“The cave I wanted to visit isn’t far from here,” she said. “I don’t know very much about dark-types, but there’s bound to be some living in there, right? Maybe we can track one down together.”
It took a moment for this to sink in and then he beamed at her. “Rayla, you’re a genius! That’s such a great idea! I should totally have thought of that. Oh, maybe we could even find some dark-type pokemon there that Claudia hasn’t seen before! Wouldn’t that be cool?”
“Sure would,” Rayla said, yawning.
“Aha, sorry, we can talk more about it tomorrow.” Callum waved at her. “Goodnight for real this time!”
He was pretty tired himself, but it took him a while to fall asleep. He kept trying to remember what he knew about dark-types, which admittedly wasn’t a whole lot. When Claudia was talking about them he’d tended to focus so hard on listening to her that he forgot to focus on what she was actually saying. What were dark-types like? Weren’t they supposed to be kind of sneaky? Maybe even like Viren’s ghosts?
I’m sure they’re not that bad, Callum told himself. Claudia is really nice, and she loves dark-types!
She did like to play tricks sometimes, though…
Never anything mean, of course! Claudia never meant it badly! And Callum didn’t mind; he always thought it was funny when she explained the joke! But… Lin was pretty serious. He wasn’t sure if she would really get that those kind of tricks were meant affectionately. And Peanut would absolutely hate tricks that got in the way of his art. Would they be able to get along with a dark-type?
All teams have growing pains. It wouldn’t be weird to have pokemon that don’t get along at first. I’m just overthinking it.
Still, Aunt Amaya said he was a worrier, and worry Callum did until he fell asleep.