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lake that sticks to my finger

Chapter Text

Of all the things you thought you would be accomplishing in life, hanging off of the mangy fur of a wild Bewear was not on the list. And although Bewear was native to the region you were looking for, the weather certainly wasn’t. It couldn’t seem to make up its mind, alternating from sunny to cloudy to rainy all in a few short minutes. And with the temperature dropping, you were guessing that it would soon turn to snow. And of course, all the while you were thinking this, you were gripping for dear life.

You supposed it was half your fault for letting Rockruff run around unchecked, despite knowing how snippy he got around strangers. And what do you know, this place had bear territory, the worst kind of stranger. You would’ve been mauled had you not scooped the pup and jumped onto the Bewear’s back, the one place you were certain it could not reach.

But now you were realizing just how much stamina one pokemon could have, and that you might be hanging off of this Bewear for a while yet. It didn’t help that you only had one arm to do so, the other reserved for holding back Rockruff from biting something that would only serve to make the situation worse. He squirmed under your grip, recoiling from the drops of rain that hit his back. 

People might say that this was a bit of an emergency, and they would be right. But with your overwhelming desire to not be pummeled to death, you were confident that you could hang on for the rest of the week if you had to. 

You’d more or less resigned yourself to becoming the best Bewear wrangler (like no one ever was) when you heard a voice shouting. Something about a Chariz—

A pair of claws grabbed you by the shoulders as you were wrenched away from the Bewear, before setting you down a safe distance away with a surprising amount of finesse. One roar and a swat of the tail was all it took to send the pink pokemon packing. 

You set down Rockruff and spent a moment to nurse your arm, wondering how something so small could be so heavy. 

“Are you okay?” a voice asked, the very same that had brought out the Charizard. You turned to face the person that had saved you. Long purple hair, golden eyes, and a creased brow that told you he was genuinely concerned. 

“Yes,” you said back. For as relieved as you were, talking had never been your strong suit. Ugh. You might just throw up from being tossed around so much. From the wobble in Rockruff’s stance, you could tell he felt the same.

“Oh, good! For once I’m glad I got lost, who knows what would’ve happened if I didn’t come around—ouch!” The man was stopped in his tracks by Rockruff, who had taken a bite into his shoe, perhaps in confusion, or more likely, because he didn’t trust the man. 

“No biting,” you said, and though he didn’t move away, you could tell from the way his ear twitched that he had heard you. “He’s not going to hurt us.”

You looked up at the man, who gave a nod. 

With obvious reluctance, Rockruff loosened his jaw and slunk back to your side. 

“Sorry. And also thank you,” you said. You paused, wondering if your words had been too vague, and followed it up with, “For saving us.”

“It’s nothing,” the man said, taking an obvious step back to placate your companion. Though with the snow beginning to swirl around you, it was a bit hard to hear. “You should be careful, there are a lot of strong pokemon in the Wild Area.”

The Wild Area. So that’s where you were. A most fitting name, what with all the…wilderness. You didn’t recall the tourist brochures mentioning anything of the sort.

“This isn’t Alola,” you said. 

You had a feeling this might be the case, but it was a bit disappointing to confirm this out loud. The fact that you had just gotten out of an altercation with a Bewear just rubbed salt into the wound. 

“Er, no? This is Galar.” The man looked around him, as if he couldn’t be certain himself. “It sounds like you’re a bit lost.”

Lost was one way to put it, sure. If accidentally ending up on the other side of the world could even constitute as getting lost. 

That free boat ride really was too good to be true. Or maybe you had gotten off a stop too early. If only Rowlet and Rockruff hadn’t run off in the way they did…

Oh well. Not like you had much choice, since you were dirt poor. Hell, you didn’t even have a sleeping bag. You had been sleeping on hard ground for days now. 

After a time, Rockruff let out a short bark, which likely meant you had taken took long to answer, too busy thinking about boats and your aching back. No matter, as the man took it upon himself to continue the conversation himself. 

“Well, seeing as the both of us don’t know where we are, how about we travel together? I’d feel a lot better knowing you’re safe with me, too.”

“Okay,” you said, before giving your name. There was a small pause before you went on, “…and your name would be?”

The man seemed to start a bit at the question, as if he hadn’t expected you to ask.

“Oh! My name is Leon, pleasure to meet you. Now, how about we find ourselves a place to stay before the cold does us in?”

The two of you were able to find a cave that barely fit the four of you, with room for a fire in the middle. You couldn’t say you enjoyed how confined everything was (hello, fire hazard), but Rockruff really didn’t like how close the two of you had to sit next to Leon and his Charizard. He refused to turn his back towards the other pokemon and made a habit of baring his teeth every once in a while to intimidate them, though neither batted an eye at the tiny guy. 

As you huddled around the fire he asked you questions—a lot of them. Questions of all kinds, like where you were from (far away), why you were here (…lost in transit?), and even your hobbies (you couldn’t go wrong with a nice stroll).

In the pauses where nothing was said, you were busy staring at him and the lumbering lizard to his left. Not often you got to talk to someone new out here. Not often that you talked to someone new, period. You were especially intrigued by how the light bounced off of Charizard’s scales, like a glittering explosion of oranges and yellows. If it weren’t for your insistence on complete concentration when talking to another person, then you might’ve spent the entire time lost in that light.

Leon didn’t seem to mind your curiosity. In fact, he was rather pleased and went off on a tangent about the maintenance one did to keep a Charizard healthy, all the while with a puffed out chest.

But at last, that part of the conversation wound down, and Leon leaned back against the cave wall with a contented sigh. Instead of letting your gaze wander back to Charizard, perhaps to marvel at the literal fire sprouting from his tail, you continued to lock onto his eyes. They were yellow. If you were more poetic, maybe you would’ve described them as golden.

You felt a small nudge against your palm, spiny and abrasive against it. Rockruff was having a hard time not being the center of attention, giving you a whine as if to say, “look at me!”. You obliged, giving him a gentle stroke on the head. His tail gave the smallest of wags, mostly because he didn’t want to seem weak in front of the new people.

“You and your Rockruff seem close! Does he have a name?”

“No,” you said, moving your hand away from Rockruff to trace the cave floor. Honestly, not that different. For the first time your blank expression was replaced, something between pouty and sheepish. “…I’m no good at nicknames.”

Your sister was the first to suggest the idea. So you had tried to. By the end of the week, you’d narrowed down the list to Dog and Mr. Puppy, and you weren’t sure either of those were up to snuff. You doubted Rockruff would respond to a name like that.

Leon had the sense not to ask about it further, though by the way he covered his mouth, he seemed to already have some idea. 

“It doesn’t seem like your friend here minds, anyway. I’m sure a name will come to you if you just wait,” he said, giving you a small pat on the back. Rockruff growled at that, and Leon let out a chuckle, evidently finding the overprotectiveness more endearing than anything else. “In the meantime, you can have a champion time having battles!” 

You blinked. A champion time doing what now?

“With how fierce Rockruff is, I figure he’s a great battler…or not?” Leon slowed down, realizing you seemed hung up about something he’d said earlier. “A champion time means having a great time?” he tried, hoping you were simply confused about the turn of phrase. Because if that wasn’t it, then that had to mean…

You shook your head, and in turn, Leon’s jaw dropped. 

“You really don’t know?”

No, but you could guess. Though you couldn’t say it sounded very…safe? 

Meanwhile, Leon looked at you like you’d just come out of a ufo and greeted him in an alien tongue. 

“That does explain why you were on that Bewear. Well.” He squinted. “Maybe not. But to not know the thrill of a good battle…it’s a shame!”

There was a purposeful silence, and you were all too aware of the glances he spared you and your partner. He reminded you of a puppy, but in a different way from Rockruff. Less head biting and more inquisitiveness that he hadn’t known could exist in grown adults. 

“Are they fun?” you asked, taking the bait. You didn’t miss the widening smile that graced Leon’s features. It was too bright to look at. 

“Of course they’re fun! And winning one is the most exhilarating feeling in the world.” He looked ready to dive into a whole spiel about it before containing himself. “Fun for both parties. Isn’t that right?” 

Charizard let out a grunt, smoke trailing from his nostrils. 

“Just think of it like any other sport, with rules and regulations to make sure it never gets out of hand. It’s the ultimate show of trust between trainer and pokemon!”

That didn’t sound so bad, though you had reservations about fighting in general. And you didn’t like the idea of seeing your little companions getting hurt. It was hard not to be shaken by the sudden shift in values. As hard as you tried not to, you harbored prejudices that you could not control. At the same time, you couldn’t deny that the idea of combat for sport wasn’t a little bit intriguing. 

“Could you tell me more?”

Leon was happy to oblige. He regaled you with stories of his adventures, the fights where all hope seemed lost until they weren’t, the harsh training that both he and his pokemon went through in the name of getting stronger. 

The way he moved his hands as he talked showed you that to him, this was something special. Being so passionate about a subject was a respectable thing, and the bond between him and his Charizard was as real as could be. 

Passion. Something that eluded you at every turn, and as hard to catch as the horizon. You wondered if you listened hard enough, that it might be possible for some of the excitement to rub off on you. Probably not. In the meanwhile, the most you could do was ask more questions. 

“Are the rest of your pokemon at home, then?”

“Hm? No, I have them right here,” Leon said, patting his belt. 

“Are they very small pokemon?” You tilted your head and leaned a little in your seat, wondering what it all meant. You hadn’t noticed other pokemon and the idea that you might miss something so crucial made you frown.

“Ha! Good one. They’re in their pokeballs, of course. Where else would I put them?”

As if on cue, Rowlet burst out of your backpack, having woken up for the night, unaware of the peril it had nearly succumbed to that day. He gave an inquisitive hoot at the strangers before settling down onto your head, eyes never leaving them. 

A sudden thought flashed in Leon’s mind, too ridiculous to even be entertaining. But you were a strange girl who came from a different region and didn’t know a thing about battles and went climbing Bewears like it was another Tuesday. At the same time…there had to be a point where too much was too much.

When the question escaped his mouth, he was almost embarrassed that it did. 

“Um, by any chance, do you not know what pokeballs are?”

A look passed over your face as you considered every word you’d ever encountered. Pokemon? Yes. Ball? Yes. Pokeball?

Amidst the fog that had settled over your eyes and the cotton that had built up in your ears, you could make out Rockruff’s impatient bark.

Chapter Text

Leon seemed to do a double-take, but didn’t bother repeating himself. Neither did he bombard you with more questions on your knowledge, or rather, lack thereof. You thought he might, seeing as how inquisitive he was in regards to everything else, but he had more tact than you bargained for. Though with the way he stared into the cavern floor, it was evident he was replaying his question and your subsequent answer in his mind.

So he had tact, but a terrible poker face.

This reaction dragged on for some time, with all those inside the cave waiting for Leon to break the silence.

At last, he lifted his head.

“Well, that won’t do at all!” he said, before tossing something your way. Something spherical.

You managed to catch it and not make an utter fool out of yourself. It fit perfectly in your palm. The metal (you assumed it was metal) felt glossy and cool to the touch, and was surprisingly light.

So this was a pokeball? This small thing contained a pokemon? Did this thing come with a manual you could brush up on?You were trying to wrap your head around the logistics of it all but came up with nothing.

Your thumb brushed up against a bump connecting the red and white of the contraption. You looked at Leon for confirmation and he nodded.

“Go on, open it!” he urged, leg bouncing up and down. With how he was acting, you would’ve thought he’d never seen a pokeball either. 

You did as you were told, pressing the button. The seal released and the pokeball split open, sending out a stream of light you couldn’t help but squint at. And as advertised, a pokemon materialized in front of your very eyes. It was hard not to be impressed. Even more so when the pokemon turned out to be a dapper, cane-wielding mime. A small chill spread across the room with its presence, counteracting Charizard’s warmth.

Rockruff let out a cursory bark, though you gave him a shush that let him know that his response was not appropriate. Heaven forbid he bit anyone else that day. With a whine, he settled down next to you, shooting daggers at the strange new pokemon. Rowlet couldn’t be bothered to react, still staring at Leon. 

“Hello,” you said, putting out your hand for the pokemon, who took it. Though rather than giving the shake you were anticipating, he gave you a chilly pat on the palm. When the hand was taken away, there was a star shaped ice sculpture left in its place. The ice lingered for a few moments before melting from the heat of your skin. The corner of your lip curved up in the smallest of smiles. “That was beautiful.” 

There was a small grunt in reply, followed by a bow. 

 “He’s Mr. Rime, a pokemon native to Galar,” Leon said, his pokemon turning at the sound of his voice and giving a small dance. “Thanks for the show! This cave is a bit cramped, though, so you’ll have to go back in.” There was another flash of light as Mr. Rime disappeared back into his ball. 

Even as the last of the light particulate (or whatever the hell it was) disappeared, your eyes lingered where the pokemon used to be. You got a sudden chill down your spine, one unrelated to the cold of the room.

“It doesn’t hurt?” you asked.

“Nope! I don’t know the exact science of it, but these things are supposed to be quite comfortable. Nifty, innit?”

In your excitement you forgot how to form words, but you managed a small nod. Leon’s widening smile let you know that he understood.

“Great! Here, take these,” he said, having gotten all the confirmation he needed, procuring a handful of pokeballs from…who knows where, really. All the while he rattled on, “Even if you’re not thinking of becoming a trainer—though it would be great if you did—it’s important to keep your pokemon in a pokeball. It’d be complicated if someone caught your friends here, or worse, tried to poach them!”

You glanced down at your two traveling companions, and felt something catch in your chest. That was a compelling argument, all right.

And yet, you hesitated. Maybe it was a silly thing to others. Like refusing a bowl of warm soup based on the fact that they’ve only ever eaten pasta. But you couldn’t shake the feeling that ‘capturing’ was just a nicer way to say you trapped them into staying with you. If someone better came along and that was what they wanted, who were you to tell them to stay? And what happened if they never saw the light of day again? Technology was a terrifying thing.

Rowlet gave you a small peck on the forehead, causing you to wake from your daze.

“Thank you,” you said, half to Rowlet, half to Leon. You took the gift, sending the capsules tumbling down your previously-empty backpack. Noticing a slight tilt to Leon’s head, you explained, “I want to know more about things. Before I use the pokeballs.”

“Then I’d be happy to tell you anything you want to know,” Leon said, his eyes drifting towards the entrance of the cave. “Looks like it stopped snowing. Good a time as any to start heading back to civilization, eh?”

As you stood up you opened up your bag, waiting for Rowlet to swoop back inside as he usually did. Instead he stayed atop your head, even as you stepped outside. He was usually napping this time of day.

“You must be special,” you thought aloud, causing Leon to stop trying to figure out which way was back to civilization and instead back at the owl. “He doesn’t want to look away.”

Perhaps it was the cap. It did make for a tantalizing perch. Should you get a hat too? You spent a little too long considering the idea in earnest as you let Leon lead the way.

A terrible idea. Letting Leon lead the way, not the cap. You were still on the fence about that.

You’re not certain how, but the walls that you assumed belonged to Hammerlocke had gotten farther away. All the while, Leon walked with that confident stride of his, as if he didn’t manage to turn himself around every two steps. At this rate, you’d never make it to your destination. You said as much to Leon, and suggested that you be the one to stay in the front. With a slump of his shoulders and a nod from Charizard, he agreed. Though it didn’t feel good to be led around by someone who knew nothing of the region.

“How did you make your way before?” you asked. You had to assume there were other methods of travel that didn’t involve crossing wild pokemon territory. At the very least, he could get someone to guide him on the right path.

“I always get there eventually,” he replied. “And it’s a habit of mine to go through the Wild Area. It’s nice and quiet.”

You hummed in response, wondering what he wanted quiet from. You didn’t want to disturb the peaceful expression that settled on his face though, so you decided the question could be put off. Besides, you had plenty to think about as is.

It might’ve been half an hour until Leon piped up again.

“You say that you came by boat? That’s a bit strange… I don’t recall there being any major ports near the wild area. You would’ve run into a city before coming here.”

Your brows knitted together as you thought back to the scenery as you’d gotten off the boat. Admittedly, the memory was a bit fuzzy.

“I was chasing after Rowlet and Rockruff for a while. It’s possible I missed the city.” You looked down at Rockruff, who remained steadfast. He had no shame.

It was strange. Even if you were a bit of a space-cadet, you couldn’t imagine glossing over something as big as a city or town. You didn’t survive out here in the wild by being unobservant.

You and Leon met eyes, wondering what it all meant.

“I guess they could’ve built a new port without my knowing,” he suggested.

“Maybe.”

The train of thought was shelved for another day as Leon raised a finger, urging you to look. Indeed, the walls to Hammerlocke were no longer beyond the horizon.

“We’re finally here!” he said, picking up the pace as you passed through the dragon-shaped gate. “Gosh, Hammerlocke is a lot closer than I thought. It always takes a few days when it’s just me and my pokemon…”

The dirt path and trees were replaced with stone streets and concrete buildings. You couldn’t help but gawk at the large castle structure that lay in the center. You’d never seen a building so big before.

Leon took out his phone to check the time. A grimace spread across his face as his eyes scanned the screen.

“Does someone need you?” you said, taking notice of his expression.

“Yeah, I suppose you could say that,” he said, scratching the back of his head. “But don’t worry about that! I still have to show you around, after all.”

But before the tour could begin in earnest, someone stepped in front of your path.

“This has got to be a new record,” a deep voice rumbled. “You only texted me yesterday that you were coming to Hammerlocke. Is the world ending?”

“Oh, Raihan! I got a little help,” Leon admitted, stepping aside so he no longer blocked the two of you. He put one of his hands on your shoulders and introduced you.

Raihan, who had looked unbothered, visibly straightened when he got a proper glimpse of you, the corner of his mouth lifting. You gave a curt greeting, too aware of how he towered above you, and even more so that he seemed to find great amusement in this fact. It might’ve rubbed the average person the wrong way, but it seemed like such practiced gesture (how could it not be, when he was so tall?) that you could only assume it was an instinctive reaction for him. You couldn’t feel offense towards something like that.

He had the most mesmerizing blue eyes. They sparkled in the light, matching the sky. You were about to say as much when Raihan spoke up.

“Nice catch there, Leon. You got time to fool around with girls, now? I thought that was my thing.” He took a step towards you but a well timed growl from Rockruff had Raihan pause, his eyes flitting down to the pup. His smug expression didn’t waver, however. “He’s not gonna bite me, is he?”

“No,” you said, picking up Rockruff before he turned you into a liar. That didn’t stop him from snapping his jaws as an intimidation tactic, though. He trembled in your arms, ready to engage in a fight as soon as he deemed fit. “It’s nice to meet you, Raihan.”

“Pleasure’s all mine,” he replied smoothly.

“Good, now that we’re all acquainted, think you can step aside so I can show her around?” Leon said, unbothered by Raihan’s comment about girls nor the fact that someone was liable to lose a finger from a particularly trigger-happy dog.

Raihan snorted.

“Okay, you did not just say you were giving her a tour. You don’t even know how to get to the Pokemon Center without asking me for directions,” he said, staring into your eyes the entire time. “You’re better off on your own, trust me.”

With a roll of his eyes Leon explained the basic circumstances, that you were new to Galar and in need of a guide. And a very specific sort of guide, at that. He put a strong emphasis on guide, perhaps because of the Raihan’s dubious track record with the opposite sex, or because he was that unconfident in your ability to navigate the world after learning that you didn’t know what a pokeball was. Thankfully he didn’t mention the part about the pokeball. You weren’t embarrassed, but you had a feeling that Raihan wasn’t the type of person who would let the story go without teasing.

“And what are you doing, anyway? Gym season is coming up.”

Raihan put a hand over his chest in mock hurt.

“Are you saying I’m shirking on the job? I’ll have you know I posted two pictures of myself today.” He let the comment sink in, only continuing after he made note of the fact you remained placid throughout. People usually asked to see by this point. Or at least ask for an autograph. “Relax, I was just on my way to the stadium. But now that I know what’s going on, I can’t help but meddle a little.”

He gave you a wink, which did not go over well with Rockruff. His fur bristled further, pricking your palms. If you were a person of weaker will, you would’ve dropped him from the pain. Fortunately, you wanted this Raihan to stick around long enough to show you a place to eat. Preferably for free. Leon would be more than willing to help you with this, you knew, but you weren’t sure how long it’d take to get there between the two of you.

“Well…I suppose it couldn’t hurt having you around. You do live here.”

“That’s settled then.”

Raihan gave you a wolfish grin. The first time you’d ever entered a city, and it was in the presence of these strangers.

As you attempted (and utterly failed) to return his smile, you got the sudden feeling that you might be in over your head.

Chapter Text

“Boutique. Salon. Battle cafe all the way over there. PMC by the entrance, and two more on the east and west entrances. Station to the right, mart’s in the station. Vault is the left of the big castle over there, and then there’s the stadium in the center, of course,” Raihan said, pointing at all the locations as he listed them off. “And that’s it. Simple, huh?”

“That’s hardly a good explanation,” Leon said. For a brief moment, he seemed to regret allowing Raihan follow along. Despite the chiding tone, he was careful not to walk at the front of the group, lest he end up leading everyone astray.

“Battle cafe?” you said, already unsure of yourself. “Like a place where you fight with pokemon but also have food?”

That sounded messy no matter how you looked at it. Fighting indoors never boded well. Or maybe you fought with the food… No, that sounded worse.

Raihan whistled, looking impressed. “Leon was right. You really are behind the times,” Raihan said.

“You battle and if you win, they give you prize money and a snack,” Leon said, socking his friend in the shoulder, though it wasn’t a serious gesture. “And I never said anything about her being behind the times.”

“Yeah, yeah, I apologize. Do they not have battle cafes in Alola?”

“I don’t know,” you said. “I’ve never been there.”

“But you have a Rockruff and Rowlet anyway. You’re weird,” Raihan said, putting a finger to his chin before reassuring you, “In a good way. It’s no fun when there’s nothing to figure out, after all.”

“Oh. Thanks,” you said, unsure how else you could respond to such a statement.

“See? They’ve usually blushed by now. Maybe I’ve lost my touch.”

You put a hand on your cheek to check, feeling oddly self-conscious about the comment.

“He’s just teasing,” Leon said. “He may not look it, but he’s a good guy. Deep down.”

“You didn’t have to add that last part.”

“Did I, now?”

It was now Leon’s turn to look amused. Such banter continued throughout the tour, which turned out to be quite helpful. Leon was determined to make it so.

On the other hand, Raihan focused on ways to give out nuggets of personal information rather than anything relevant. For example, he would point to a restaurant and say that’s where he went to eat his breakfasts (the best pancakes in Galar), or maybe a theater that was a prime date spot (wink wink), though he added he hardly had any time for such leisurely activities as of late.

“I’ve just been real busy training up for the upcoming gym season, you know?”

“…you’re a competitive weight lifter?” you said with uncertainty. You knew there were other things that it could mean, but it was the first gym activity that came to mind. He looked strong enough to be one. Leon and Raihan both, actually. Not that you were an expert on the matter.

“Er, no,” he said, a look of confusion passing through his face for the first time, before glancing towards Leon, who had also frozen up. He knew that you wouldn’t know, yet it still didn’t make it any less shocking for him. You may as well have said you were the Loch Ness monster.

“Is this another pokemon thing?”

“If by ‘pokemon thing’ you mean the biggest sport event of the year, then yeah. It’s a pokemon thing.” Raihan paused, his long strides slowing. “You were acting awfully casual around Leon. And now that I’m thinking about it, you didn’t even ask to see Duraludon… Arceus, you’re serious.”

You gave a nod. You thought you made that obvious.

He let out a deep breath as he adjusted his headband. But it was Leon that said something first.

“That’s it,” Leon said, spinning on his heels. “We’re going to the gym. You’re gonna love it.”

“Agreed,” Raihan said, before adding, “Also, that’s the wrong way.”

Rowlet hid inside your bag the moment you stepped foot into the room, finding it was more comfortable in the darkness of your bag. Rockruff, on the other hand, tried to act like he wasn’t intimidated by the strange new scenery while sticking close.

The stadium was empty save for the three of you and your respective pokemon, which only served to make it feel larger than it already was. You looked around, wondering what it looked like at full capacity. You couldn’t imagine it.

“Don’t let your jaw go dropping just yet. Come out, Duraludon!” Raihan tossed a pokeball into the air, and as soon as it opened, a roar sounded out making your ears buzz.

Once the figure settled down, you saw that it was a dinosaur-esque creature made of metal. The light enhanced the metallic effect, a glare reflecting across the surface with even the slightest movement.

Despite the intimidating appearance, Duraludon went and cozied up to the trainer, walking circles around him with a speed you wouldn’t have expected from something with such a chunky build. Raihan laughed at this excitement, though as soon as he ordered the pokemon to calm down, the circling stopped.

Duraludon regarded first Leon, then Charizard. A lengthy pause ensued as they had a stare down, which would’ve lasted longer had you not been there. The pokemon stared at you and your companions with inquisitiveness.

“So this miss over here has never seen a gym battle,” Raihan said. Duraludon responded with a stomp on the ground. “Right? So I thought we could show her some of our moves. Plus, it’s been a while since we’ve battled Leon. I’m itching to beat him.”

“Too bad that’s not gonna happen. We plan on winning today.” Charizard gave a roar, echoing Leon’s sentiments.

You were ushered up to the stands so as not to get caught up in the middle of battle. The two men gave off a more serious air now that they got into place, and this commanded your attention as you sat down.

“So, one-on-one battle?” Raihan asked.

“That’s right. But don’t think that’ll make this any easier.”

“I was going to say the same thing to you.”

You were aware that Rockruff hadn’t said a peep this entire exchange, his gaze managing to surpass its usual intensity. He sat on your lap, as absorbed in this experience as you were. You could tell that Rowlet was poking his head out from the bag for a better view as well.

And what a show it was! Charizard was like a powerful dancer in the air, turning and spinning on a dime. His control over his trajectory was plain to see. The stands shook at the powerful attacks Duraladon performed, and your heart thumped in your chest as the two pokemon clashed.

You had never seen pokemon and their moves as anything other than a utilitarian way to defend themselves. But now, seeing the coordination between pokemon and trainer, with all of the respect they exuded, you couldn’t help but think it was a beautiful thing.

The battle itself dragged on for a while, neither trainer backing down. But at the last moment, Charizard was finally able to land a direct hit, causing Duraludon to fall.

As the show came to an end, you let go of a breath you didn’t know you were holding. You weren’t even sure you could recall what happened, just that it was something to behold. Raihan called back his pokemon with a somewhat regretful expression, though that disappeared as he approached Leon to shake his hand.

“Good battle,” Raihan said. “I really thought we had you there.”

“It was a close one for sure.”

You hurried down to the pitch. As you came closer, Leon turned to you with the most triumphant smile you’d ever seen despite looking a bit winded.

“What’d you think?” he asked when you came out, sheen of sweat visible on his forehead. His chest was heaving like he’d been the one flying around rather than Charizard. Raihan was similarly exhausted.

Well, he had been screeching the whole time.

You didn’t say anything, and perhaps for a little too long, because the two looked at each other with a bit of unease.

“We might’ve gotten a little carried away,” Leon said.

“Er, yeah. Didn’t expect it to take so long. Was it too much for ya?”

“It was unlike anything I’d ever seen,” you said in a quiet voice. Your eyes shone as you brought your hands together. “It was amazing.”

Leon gave a sigh in relief while Raihan’s self-satisfied demeanor returned to him, as if he’d never doubted himself.

“That’s great,” Raihan said, beginning to laugh. “That felt real good. We should take a selfie to commemorate!” Raihan took out his phone and extended his arm and snapped a couple photos of himself and Leon, who straightened up like he hadn’t been panting mere seconds prior. The two looked like pros as they posed.

When they were done, Raihan then motioned for you to come over. You obliged, though not sure what he needed you for. You were a few feet away when he reigned you in, slinging a casual arm over your shoulder, nudging Leon away with his foot. Leon’s proclamation in protest was ignored.

“You gotta be in this next one. People love a good couple pic,” he explained when you gave him a blank stare. “Now smile!”

Unfortunately, your face was not meant to be molded on such short notice. The pictures came out with Raihan being as photogenic as ever and you with the most deadpan expression. Did you really look like that every day? You thought he might be disappointed and prepared to apologize, but he chortled at the sight and decided this was even better.

“If you like this practice run so much, you’re gonna lose it when you see the real thing!” Leon said as Raihan was still getting over his laughter. He glanced at the screen and stifled a laugh himself.

“How does it work, exactly?”

Leon was eager to explain even as he was thanking Charizard for the battle and returning him to a pokeball for a deserved rest. He went on length about gym battles and the challengers that came by every year, vying for a chance to become the next champion.

Raihan was also chiming in with his two cents when he could. The adrenaline with every narrow victory. The motivation that came with every defeat. Perhaps was more subdued than Leon had been, but he clearly held passion all the same.

It had been hard to imagine with just the words of an overly-excited man, but having seen what pokemon and trainer were capable of, you were beginning to see the appeal.

The rest of the day was spent walking around with Raihan and Leon humoring you with tales of different battles he’d experienced. There was no shortage of them, and he talked even throughout dinner (which Raihan paid for as Leon was too engrossed in the story to notice the bill). It was evening before you knew it, and they’d led you to the front of a hotel.

“I’m fine with sleeping on a bench,” you said. “I don’t have the money anyway.”

“Yeah, no.” Raihan gave you a gentle push into the building.

For once, Leon didn’t berate his friend for his rudeness. Instead, he walked straight to the receptionist and asked for a room. The woman behind the desk didn’t look troubled at all by the sudden request, instead bowing at every opportunity as if she were the one being granted a favor.

“You can stay as long as you like,” Leon said, handing you a card key that was labeled VIP on the front in swirly letters.

“Thank you,” you said.

“It’s no trouble,” he said, looking out the window. “Time really flew by.”

“You’re right. I just noticed how dark it is,” Raihan commented, taking out his phone to take a snapshot. The red hues of evening had given way to a dark blue, the first stars dotting the sky. “Weren’t you supposed to be at a meeting today?”

“I was… I’m probably going to get a good talking to once I’m there,” Leon said, though it didn’t sound like he regretted his actions. “I should get going though. Are you okay on your own?” He turned to face you.

“You’ve already done a lot.”

“Here,” he said taking something out from his pocket. “My league card.”

“And mine.” Raihan took out his own.

You took the cards from them both, flipping to see a high-quality photos of them in dramatic poses. They really had no chill.

Turning a card over, you found what you assumed to be a phone number.

“I’ll call you if I ever get a phone,” you said with a small nod, holding the card towards Rowlet, who grabbed hold of it and slid it into your backpack.

“It’s one surprise after another with you,” Raihan said. “I’m beginning to think you came from the stone age or something. You don’t have anything? Not even those crappy flip phones?”

“No.”

“Well what about—”

“Sorry [Name], I shouldn’t have assumed,” Leon interrupted, shooting you an apologetic look. “We’ll figure something out later. But I need to go for real.”

Later. He planned on seeing you again?

“I should head out too. Sweet dreams,” Raihan said.

The two waved before leaving the building together.

You must’ve have been walking up and down the hallways for several minutes in order to find your room. It took a lot of walking around to figure out that you were on the wrong floor, and even more after as you walked up and down the steps. You hoped no one would try to report you for trying the key card on every door you came across.

At last you caved and stopped one of the cleaning ladies, showing the card to her and asking where your room was. Her expression scrunched up but she said nothing as she led you to the elevator you’d been too intimidated to approach (it was too fancy), sliding the key card in a slot marked Premium.

She gave a curt bow and exited before the door closed, leaving you to your own devices. The ride was long enough that you wondered if elevators were supposed to be so silent, but the doors slid open before you pressed the emergency call button.

You thought Rockruff would rush to be the first at the door as usual, but he was being well-behaved for once. His posture was still alert, but it didn’t appear that he could start tussling with the next thing that looked at you the wrong way.

You opened the door and found yourself hanging around the entrance, glued into place. You’d never been to a hotel before, but you had an inkling that this was no ordinary room you were staying in.

It was big. Like, really really big. An entire family could stay here without any problems. There was a chandelier, the largest television you’d ever seen, and a fully stocked kitchen, among other things. But most importantly…

The view. The view! Setting your backpack gently onto a sofa, you scurried over to smush your forehead against the one of the wall-to-ceiling windows. The building lights twinkled below, like a field of stars. A few pedestrians still walked around and reminded you how high up you were.

When you pulled away, a smudge stained the previously clear window. You attempted to wipe it away using your sleeve, but it didn’t do much. You sighed, resolving to clean it later. It was an apt way to visualize how out of place you felt at the moment, anyway.

A small paw swiped at your leg. You crouched down to meet Rockruff’s gaze, giving him a pat on the head.

That wasn’t what he wanted, though, and he pulled at your sleeve to drag you back to the sofa. He jumped onto the furniture (was that allowed? You hoped they didn’t ask you to pay for damages…) and shook the bag. Rowlet and the pokeballs tumbled out.

“Oh, right. Leon gave me these,” you said, picking one up.

Rockruff barked. A fire burned in his eyes as he looked from you to your hand and you could tell he was thinking about the battle from before.

“So it made a big impression on you too…”

It’d only been a day since you met them. Not even a day. And you were already thinking of plunging headfirst into something like this? Where was your self-control?

“He said they were comfortable though,” you murmured. Duraludon looked happy to be with Raihan. As did Charizard with Leon. You couldn’t fake teamwork like that, either.

You scratched your head. It wasn’t like you to be so hesitant. This wasn’t the attitude that got you stuck on the back of a Bewear. But this was all so foreign to you. And it wasn’t even you that concerned you the most.

“What do you think, guys? It’s your choice.”

You held out a pokeball in front of you.

Rockruff brightened, tail wagging at a frightening pace. If only he could be this friendly with other people. Without an ounce of hesitation, he pressed his head onto the button and was encapsulated in light. It shook three times before locking into place, and you knew he was captured.

You picked up another one for Rowlet, though not as expectant of anything this time around. You weren’t sure how much he’d seen of the battle, or if he cared about such things at all. But Rowlet was aware enough, stepping forward and pecking the ball to open it. He gave you a hoot as the ball closed.

And with that, you had caught a total of two pokemon. You were taken aback by how little they had to think about the decision, and your chest swelled with something you didn’t recognize. Maybe you’d been making a big deal out of nothing.

And for a moment, you wondered how good it would feel if you were to become a trainer of your own. A ridiculous thought, considering your background, but you’d never been the ordinary type.

Chapter Text

You couldn’t sleep that night. Not that you were usually a good sleeper, but that day it was especially apparent that you weren’t going to be well-rested by morning.

The bed, plush and with too many decorative pillows, had felt so strange that you’d ended up on the floor. But even the rug felt too soft, tickling your skin with every turn in a way unlike any grass you laid down in before.

It’d been too long since you’d had a shower. The water was warm without you having to wait for the temperature to rise, steaming up the bathroom. The bathrobe that you found hanging in one of the closets was oversized and a pristine white, as your own clothes sat soaking in the sink to wash out the dirt.

But that wasn’t the most pressing thing on your mind. Even if you’d been in the (dis)comfort of the wild, your mind would’ve been racing with thoughts.

You had let Rockruff and Rowlet out of their pokeballs shortly after the captures, and you could even feel the pup laying by your feet, heat radiating off of him. Rowlet was watching over the two of you. That should’ve been enough to reassure you. And up until then, it had been.

But every so often you would see the pokeballs you had set on the nightstand glinting in the moonlight, reminding you of everything that had changed. Everything that could change, if you willed it.

Your clothes were still damp when you put them back on. You’d done your best to blow dry everything, but there was only so much you could do. But hey, the time Rockruff got stuck in the middle of a lake and you had to swim to get him out was worse.

Did you mention that you had never swum before? Yeah, his rescue wasn’t the most graceful thing you’d executed. Rowlet ended up dragging both you and Rockruff back to shore.

The morning was spent sight-seeing and making sure you still remembered the landmarks you learned from the previous day. By the time you were getting hungry, you found yourself standing in front of the Battle Cafe.

If you recalled correctly, then winning a battle meant food and money. Both of which you were in need of. And also maybe you wanted to try a battle out for yourself. Just a little, though.

You opened the door and headed straight for the counter, being bombarded with an array of smells from pastries and coffee.

“Welcome to the Battle Cafe. You can battle once a day! Win, and you get a treat on the house! What do you say?” the man at the register said.

You looked down at Rockruff, who barked in response. 

“We’d like to battle.”

“Great, then let’s get on with it!”

The man left his station and led you to an area near the front of the cafe that was cleared of all furniture. He held two pokeballs in his hand and asked if you were ready. You nodded, and Rockruff bounded forward to meet his opponent.

What came out was a pokemon you’d never seen before, pink and squishy with a tongue lolling out by default. It somehow made the already-sweet scent of the air stronger.

“Slurpuff, Energy Ball!”

You shook your head, realizing that you had been too engrossed in examining the pokemon. Luckily Rockruff had the sense to move out of the way.

“Rockruff,” you called out, before pausing. Erm, what was it that you were supposed to do, exactly? Make up cool sounding words? You were terribly disadvantaged in that area so you already had a bad feeling about this. “…Energy Ball?”

So that didn’t work.

Not only did Rockruff give you the most disappointed look you’d ever seen, he was distracted enough that the opponent could tackle him onto the ground. Despite Slurpuff’s squishy exterior, she could pack quite the punch.

You wracked your brain and tried to remember the fight from the previous day. Surely one of those had to do something.

“Fire Blast? Stone Edge? Ancient Power? Dragon Claw?” you listed off, but each suggestion was met with an exasperated shake of the head. As time went on with you unable counter with any attacks of your own, the trainer in front of you looked increasingly uncomfortable. “Well if none of those things are right then just bite her?”

That seemed to resonate with the pup and he straightened up before charging at his opponent, jaws unhinged. He sank his teeth into the soft body of the Slurpuff, who looked unfazed for whatever reason. It always hurt when Rockruff bit everyone else, what was so different this time around?

Rockruff was shaken off and had to find his balance from the force. But before he could do so, another energy ball was shot his way. Coupled with the fact that he’d been running around the entire time, there was no way he could avoid getting hit.

And he most certainly would’ve, had you not jumped into the ring and pushed Rockruff out of the way, rolling before landing on your feet in a clean landing. You could tell someone was yelling at you but didn’t quite hear it, making sure that Rockruff was still alive after being squished under your body weight. A sigh escaped you once you realized he was fine. A few scratches, but nothing major. You set him back onto the ground.

“Are you crazy?” The man rushed at you, having put his pokemon back into a pokeball. “It would have been a disaster if you got hit!”

“Good thing we didn’t,” you said in earnest, looking down at Rockruff. His usual snippy nature was replaced with something that resembled an embarrassed teen who had to be saved by his mom, which wasn’t entirely inaccurate.

The man groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“I don’t have time to deal with this…” he muttered under his breath, thinking you couldn’t hear him. “I’ll have to ask you to leave.”

“Why?” you asked, wondering what you’d done wrong. The man only seemed to take the question as an insult, however, and began waving you to the door. Before he could close it behind you, though, he held out a hand. You stared at it before trying for a tentative handshake.

“You still haven’t given me the prize money I got from winning,” he said, voice a tad too strained.

Money? You didn’t have any money. This was your way of getting money, not the other way around. There was a moment of silence before the man groaned.

“Oh, isn’t this just wonderful. Of course she doesn’t have money Bernard, just look at the ruckus she caused!” he said, again, under-his-breath-but-not-really. He coughed, before giving what you assumed was a smile but was in reality a straight line drawn across his face. “Have a nice day, ma’am.”

It was only then that Rowlet came out of hiding, perching atop your shoulder. He hooted a couple times in what seemed to be laughter at both you and Rockruff.

Now, his pride was already wounded from losing a battle (though had the battle ever really begun?) as well as having to be saved by his trainer. And now Rowlet, ever-enigmatic and impossible to read Rowlet, was laughing at him. This could not stand. If Rockruff could blush, he’d be a sitting pile of red by now, but seeing as he was a dog and that was impossible, he settled for barking nonstop at the owl (who had gone back to his usual blank expression). One could only imagine the foul words coming out.

But since Rowlet didn’t react that only made things worse. Rockruff began trying to climb up your leg, puffed up like a balloon. When that didn’t work, he resorted to jumping, which worked too well. You fell onto your back from the sudden weight, Rowlet flew away like the (smart) coward he was, and Rockruff, in all his excitement, used the nearest platform to try and catch up. The nearest platform being your face.

Did you mention this all happened on the street, right in front of the cafe? A few people were staring. They were trying not to, of course. But they definitely were.

God your eye hurt.

You weren’t sure where your pokemon had gone, but seeing as they weren’t huddling around you to make sure you were okay, it was likely that Rockruff was still giving chase.

You needed to get up. There were people hanging around you now, wondering if you’d fainted. Not wanting to waste their time, you sat up, patting yourself down like everything was normal.

It took twenty minutes for you to find Rockruff collapsed from exhaustion on the street as Rowlet sat on a nearby tree, only coming down to go back to his spot on your shoulder. You picked Rockruff up and he gave a small wheeze, letting you know he had yet to kick the bucket.

Your stomach growled to remind you that none of you had eaten breakfast or lunch yet, and of the preceding failure. So much for not eating berries.

It was getting dark by the time you escaped the clutches of the Wild Area back to the city. With how long the trip was, one had to wonder if it was even worth it. You could tell your stomach was on the brink of growling again.

Rockruff was out of commission for the second time that day, so you were carrying him. To be fair, you were also out of exhausted after having to escape a swarm of Beedrill. The honey had been a nice treat, though.

You were planning on staying in the hotel for the rest of the day when you noticed Raihan waving you down from the end of the street.

He was in stitches when he saw your face. Every time the wave passed, he would look back at his phone and start laughing again.

“Holy shit, it really was you! I mean, I already knew because off the Rockruff, but—” he had to pause because the laughter was choking his speech. You waited for him to calm down before asking for an explanation, to which he replied, “News travels fast here. You’re kind of a star now.”

He showed you his phone, pointing at something on the screen. It looked like a video. You could see the hearts ticking up every few seconds. An ungodly amount.

“…that’s me.” You confirmed with a straight face, and you thought Raihan might drop his phone. He resisted the urge, however, by sucking in his breath.

“What got Rockruff so worked up in the first place?”

You tilted your head back, trying to figure out the best way to explain.

“Maybe we should get you to the Pokemon Center first, to patch up that eye. And Rockruff is looking a little tired too. The guy didn’t try to bite me once.”

That prompted a half-hearted yip from him, though it wasn’t half as intimidating when he was being carried.

“Not going to put him in the pokeball? He looks heavy. I’d offer, of course, but…” Rockruff had already stiffened from the suggestions.

You shook your head.

“I’m used to it.”

By the time you’d arrived at the Pokemon Center, Rockruff had fallen asleep in your arms. You had also figured out that this was the fabled PMC Raihan had mentioned on the tour. Everything made a little bit more sense now.

Of course they would have a facility for healing pokemon. And of course it would be free. How did they get the funding for such facilities, anyway?

You put Rockruff in his pokeball at the request of the nurse, and stared in wonder as he was handed back within minutes. You would’ve been skeptical, but when you opened up the ball Rockruff leaped out, newer than new and ready to fight once more.

To keep him out of trouble, Raihan took out a pokemon of his own. A Torkoal, he introduced.

In the meanwhile, he led you to a table to sit down, asking you to wait. When he came back, he had managed to procure a drink and a bag of ice to put on your black eye.

“I didn’t know what you liked, so I just got water,” he said apologetically, setting it down in front of you.

“Water is fine,” you said. But perhaps that answer was too boring. “I also like tea. Any kind.”

“Noted,” he said. “So, you ready to talk about what happened?”

You nodded. You’d had enough time to organize the events in your mind and had been rehearsing up until Raihan had come back. He sat himself down, putting his phone in his pocket.

“I came out of the Battle Cafe,” you began.”

“Uh-huh.”

“And then Rowlet made fun of us.”

“Yeah.”

“And then Rockruff got mad and gave me a black eye.”

“Okay.”

Silence.

“That’s what happened.”

“Wait, that’s it?” Raihan said, leaning forward. “I was expecting something more…substantial. What were you doing at the Battle Cafe in the first place? And why was Rowlet making fun of you?”

“That’s a lot of things to explain,” you said.

“We got time.”

It never occurred to you that someone might want more than the bare necessities. You were indeed a fool for having spent so long curating the perfect amount of words to convey the facts. Then again, Raihan had yet to experience the lengthy pauses that came with you telling a story in full, like a computer that had to periodically update its information.

But he seemed interested enough so you got to recounting the day from the beginning. The hunger, your need for money, going to the cafe, getting kicked out. All of it.

Raihan had to cover his mouth lest he have another fit mid-story. And the entire time he looked at you as if you were a character on a tv screen that had come to life. He interjected with a “oh” or “I see” once in a while, but mostly stayed quiet. He didn’t make any snide comments whenever you had to think, scrolling through his phone.

You noticed that when you began talking he set it down at once every time, not picking it back up even if it blinked to life with a notification.

The story came to an end once you got to the part where you met Raihan. There were a few beats afterwards where you tried to remember if anything was missing, but it didn’t appear to be the case. You opened the water bottle, having to take a drink after talking for so long. You were pretty sure you’d never talked that much in a day, ever. Or even a week, if you were being completely honest.

“Whew. That was a lot,” Raihan said, stroking his chin. “And even better than I imagined. You really ran into the battlefield? That’s hilarious!” He smiled to himself before catching himself. He was a gym leader after all. He couldn’t let this behavior slide. Even if it was the hardest he’d laughed in a long time. “Don’t do that in the future, though. The man was right. You could’ve gotten hurt.”

“Rockruff would’ve too, if I didn’t go.”

“That’s why we call it a battle, not a playdate. Look,” he said, trying to figure out the best way to explain. The corner of his mouth twitched once he thought of something. “Repeat after me. Pokemon battles are not battles to the death.”

“Pokemon battles are not battles to the death.”

“I will not enter the ring until the battle ends.”

“I will not enter the ring until the battle ends.”

“The winner of the battle is entitled to prize money.”

“The winner of the battle is entitled to prize money.”

“Raihan is handsome.”

You had to pause at that one. Was that…a rule? A law of the universe? Objective truth written into stone? You thought about the statement with a graveness that probably wasn’t warranted.

“Aw, you’re sharp. Too sharp.” Raihan laughed. “I just wanted to hear you say it is all.”

You looked at him, taking in his playful smile and half-lidded eyes. Even in the artificial light, his eyes had a certain sparkle to them. He was tall enough that his knees banged against the bottom of the (admittedly short) table, even with his legs splayed out. That had to be uncomfortable.

“You look funny,” you said at last. “We should stand up now. And go. It’s getting late.”

“Right,” he said, pulling out his chair. As expected, he had to take a moment to stretch himself out from holding that position for so long.

Raihan called out to Torkoal, who was allowing Rockruff to gnaw on his shell up until the moment he was called back into his pokeball. Rockruff stood proudly, as if he’d vanquished the foe himself, strutting back to your side.

The outside air was cool on your face and you closed your eyes to relish in the feeling. The ice had all but melted away and left you with a bag of room temperature water in its place.

Raihan left after taking another picture with you (“gotta strike while the iron is hot. And while you still have that black eye”), waving you goodbye. You stood in the street for a while before heading back up to the spacious penthouse.

You weren’t sure when it happened, but the thoughts that had crowded your head just a few hours prior had died down after that talk.

You sucked at battling. You got a black eye as a result. Everything that people thought to be natural was backwards for you. But this was only your first try! You’d get better so long as you kept at it and did your best. 

There were a lot of things to think over, but ultimately it could be boiled down to a single question.

Would you try again?

Chapter Text

You were nothing if not fastidious, and had spent the past few days considering every angle of your situation. You knew there were a few things you could do.

One. Your original plan. Go to Alola. That would be the best case scenario. But how? You barely knew how to navigate through this region as it was, with no card, no phone, no money, or even house to speak of. There probably weren’t many other free boat rides in the area either. And you didn’t want to chance ending up in another region. The odds were against finding a fellow lost stranger as friendly as Leon.

Two. Get a job, then follow step one. But with your credentials, or lack thereof, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’d pay more than minimum wage for your efforts. This plan would take a while, and though you were no stranger to hard work, it seemed unnecessary to go to such lengths. As it was, you’d end up spending it all on necessities.

Three. Stay here. Potentially get into the culture. Learn about everything. This one didn’t do much for getting you to Alola, but at least you’d have fun? The people you’d met so far had been kind as well. If you explained the situation, maybe they could help. Not monetarily, as you had the pride to want to take care of that aspect on your own, but everything else was fair game.

To be frank, the longer you stayed the more hesitant you were to choose option one or two. It was foolhardy. Impractical. But if there was anything you had too much of, it was patience.

How would Rockruff and Rowlet feel about that? Their happiness was paramount to you. When you discussed the potential lines of actions, they reacted in a similarly conflicted manner. In the end, it was your call.

With a deep breath, you tilted your head upwards, getting a good look at the sky. It was a beautiful evening.

A beautiful evening to get pulled into an alleyway whilst in the middle of thought.

The hand came suddenly; enough that even your reflexes were not fast enough to evade them. Your heels had no time to plant themselves into the ground and you flew into the shade.

There was a distinct popping sound that you now knew to associate with pokeballs being opened.

“Go, Corvisquire!”

A loud squawk pierced your ears as a bird materialized a few feet away from you, tripping on its own feet but managing to rebalance itself before it fell face flat. It stared at both you and it’s trainer without moving an inch. You weren’t sure if it was him or you that was being intimidated.

“You’re coming with us. And if you don’t do so quietly, you’re in for a world of hurt,” a voice growled into your ear, and you were certain that spit had flown into it. Not pleasant.

The person continued to hold your arm throughout, squeezing it as if to make a point. It hurt a little bit, but their grip was nothing to write home about. Out of the corner of your eye, you could make out a familiar blur.

Like a knight in shining armor, Rockruff jumped to your rescue, clamping down on the hooded figure on the leg.

Missing the harsh tone from their threat, they yelped before clutching their leg, letting you go.

“Get her!” they said through clenched teeth, still nursing the bad leg.

And someone indeed got you, materializing out of nowhere behind you from the shadows, this time with a stabler hold around your neck and waist.

But now your mind had caught up with what was going on, and you weren’t about to take this all lying down. You swung your head back on instinct, crashing your skull into someone’s nose. There was a distinct crunch upon contact, hard enough that it even hurt your head. There was going to be a bump there later, you could tell. The person didn’t even have the time to react with a curse, though it surely would’ve been something you couldn’t dare repeat if they did. They slumped onto the ground, letting you go free a second time.

Hoping there wasn’t anyone left to add to the party, you let loose a punch on the first man, knocking him out with surprising ease. He didn’t even seem to register the blow fast enough to attempt to block it.

You stood for a moment, tense, waiting for the second wave. But none came. You nudged the two people with your foot, making sure they wouldn’t get back up. It didn’t seem like they would. Not with Rowlet still chomping on that leg, anyway.

The Corvisquire, aware that its trainer fainted, became even more timid. No longer frozen, it ran into the shadows, stumbling over its feet before remembering that it was a bird and could fly.

That gave you a sense of relief. You could fight random goons any day, but a pokemon battle? If experience told you anything, your odds weren’t good. It would’ve been much harder to escape without Rockruff to back you up.

Now that you were more certain that nothing else was coming your way, you dug through their belongings, trying to figure out who they were. But there was nothing to them except that single pokeball, which you broke, not wanting that Corvisquire to have to return. Poor thing, to have a trainer like that.

About all you knew now was that your assailant had been one man and one woman, both of whom had gone down with one hit each. They were skinny, beyond what you thought could be waved away as naturally so.

You hummed as you tried to think if you’d passed by a police station. Nothing came to mind. You’d think that knowing where the police station is would be an important thing to note on a tour, but not once was anything like that mentioned. But you didn’t like the idea of simply leaving the bodies here to wake up and go back to their mischief.

You grabbed the two limp bodies, carrying them like sacks of potatoes on one shoulder each. It wasn’t as impressive as it sounded; the bodies were that light. You looked around to make sure no one was looking for their now-unconscious thieving friends, and did what anyone would do when they didn’t know where the nearest police station was. 

You brought them over to your hotel.

Perhaps you should’ve considered how it would look carrying two obscured figures into a public hotel lobby, or maybe it should’ve occurred to you that it wasn’t coincidence that people began to vacate the premises the moment you entered. You were apprehended as you were waiting for the elevator, with handcuffs and everything.

So now the police decided to show up.

Your attempts to explain the situation were waved off with contempt, your pokemon wrangled away from you. Rockruff might as well have been torn apart from his own limbs with the way he was howling. The only way he calmed down was once you talked some sense into him, explaining that this only made her look worse. He seemed to understand, and sulkily let himself be led away with Rowlet.

The station was stuffy. There were papers floating around on the floor that needed to be picked up, desks that were crammed too closely together, and pokemon fur clumped on the chairs. You had said you wouldn’t run away, but the policeman didn’t uncuff you. The chains clanked together every time you moved, bumping against your wrists. The lights were too bright, exposing everything and washing it with an unpleasant pallidness.

You waited a long time for something to happen. If the clock was to be trusted, you waited an hour before someone entered the room.

The interrogation wasn’t the worst, all things considered. The man behind the desk didn’t seem too pleased with your short answers but seemed more convinced in your stupidity rather than any malicious intent.

“We found this,” the officer said, sliding out a broken pokeball.

“I broke it,” you confirmed, before thinking perhaps you shouldn’t have admitted to it. The man squinted.

“That’s destruction of private property.”

“The pokemon looked scared.”

“That’s no excuse,” he said, but you didn’t miss the softening of his expression. He sighed, pulling himself away from the desk to stand up, an action that you copied. “Look, you seem like an okay kid. Just… Next time, call the police instead of whatever you were trying to do. You’re real lucky that people have reported seeing hooded figures lurking around, or you might’ve been the one behind bars.”

“I’m sorry. I’ll remember that for next time,” you said. “And I’m not a kid.”

“There shouldn’t be a next time,” the policeman said back. “You might as well be a kid next to me. Reckless youngsters like you are the reason I can’t retire.”

You stood up, assuming that was the end of the lecture and a neat segue into the inevitable tirade about generational differences and how much better it was during his youth. But hey, it was nice of him to let you off with a slap on the wrist. You began to walk to the door.

“Stop. Even if that was self-defense, it still doesn’t excuse your attempt to break and enter into someone’s hotel room.”

“What?”

“Don’t play dumb. I have the key card right here. If you were trying to be sneaky, you really shouldn’t steal the ex-cham—”

“Sorry I’m late! I got lost looking for the taxi,” a voice yelled, before someone burst into the room.

“Leon,” you said.

He had looked as if he was going to say more, but had to pause when he saw you in handcuffs. When he did speak again, it was much slower, deliberate. “They said someone was trying to break into my room. Where’s the culprit?”

“That would be her,” the police officer said, nodding towards you.

A moment passed and realization dawned on his face. 

“She’s my guest, I gave her the key myself!” he said. “You weren’t in here for long, were you?”

The police officer’s eyes widened. Oh shit. Did he just piss off one of the most important people in the region?

“No,” you said, feeling bad for the officer. He was just doing his job. “It could’ve been longer. I want Rockruff and Rowlet back now though.”

“You took her pokemon too?” Leon said. His voice wasn’t raised, but there was a frown on his face.

“She’ll get them back right away, of course,” the man said, and brought out your pokeballs with great haste. He gave an awkward chuckle as he handed them back. “Here they are. That Rockruff of yours was a tough one, all right. Ran in circles around our officers for nearly an hour before we could get him in.”

“Thanks,” you said, opening the capsules. Rockruff came out with a pose that said he was ready to fight, but his ears perked up once he saw that it was you. With a spring in his step he jumped towards you in greeting, acting like the puppy he was.

He caught himself though, realizing that people were staring, and went back to acting aloof. He didn’t acknowledge Leon at all, though his nose did twitch as it did when he recognized a scent.

Rowlet, on the other hand, didn’t care what others thought. He swooped your way and curled up into a ball in your arms. You scratched the feathers on his head, and he leaned into your touch.

“Besides the misunderstanding, this lady here managed to get ahold two suspicious figures that have been reported on a few days ago,” the man said, regaining his professional appearance. “Since you’re here, maybe you’d like to visit them?”

“I probably should,” Leon said, eyes darting away from you.

“Luckily, they just woke up a little while ago from being knocked out.”

Leon stepped to the side to let the man lead the way, staying behind to talk to you.

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t know this would happen…”

“It’s okay,” you reassured him. “You should follow the man.”

“I’ll make this up to you. We can discuss after I finish up here. Can you wait at the Pokemon Center?”

You nodded.

“And about that black eye…” he started again.

Oh. So that’s why he kept staring at you. Did it still look bad? The swelling had gone down a lot the past couple of days. A lot less people were inclined to recognize you without it, so that was a plus. That video must’ve gotten big.

“It was from Rockruff. A few days ago.”

“Now that you mention it, Raihan did send me…” He didn’t bother finishing the sentence, biting down on his lip. He was better at hiding it than Raihan at least. His shoulders relaxed, a smile returning to him at last. “I’ll see you later then.” He turned to catch up with the policeman, who had already disappeared down the hallway.

As you left the building, Rockruff made sure to stay close by your side, unable to resist the urge to wag his tail any longer.

The wait was short. The cards had played out in your favor, with Leon able to make his way with hardly any mishaps.

“I thought you were being intruded upon, but then it turned out you were the one doing the intruding!” he said, after having listened to your side of the story. “I was a bit upset in the moment, but looking back I guess it’s funny, in a way…”

Rockruff grumbled in disagreement.

“Sorry buddy. You were worried for her, weren’t you?”

Leon got no answer, but he didn’t seem to mind, facing you again.

“Don’t worry, I let the people know that you’re here this time. No more misunderstandings.”

“That’s nice. But who were those people?” you asked, referring to the people who had attempted to abduct you. “They tried to take me away somewhere.”

“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” he said. His face looked grave, and he didn’t expound on the topic further. “I’m sorry you had to go through that. I didn’t intend to meet again like this.”

“It could’ve been worse,” you said.

“You weren’t scared?”

Scared? The word registered in your mind for the first time that day. It suddenly occurred to you the true danger you had been in. What would have happened if you hadn’t escaped?

But even still, the feeling didn’t quite settle into you. It was all far behind you, as tangible as a dream.

“I was surprised, but I don’t think I was scared,” you concluded. “You don’t have to be at work?”

“I said I would make it up to you, didn’t I? I’ll have you know I never go back on my word,” Leon said, not minding the change in subject.

He didn’t have to go to such lengths. But his look was stubborn, and you knew there wouldn’t be any convincing him of anything else.

“And how are you going to do that?”

“I’m getting you a phone,” he said. “Don’t look at me like that! If something like that happens again, I’d feel terrible knowing I could’ve prevented it. You need someone to contact if you get into trouble. And this way, you can ask all you want about pokemon.”

Rambling aside, Leon had a point. On a normal day, fighting two on one by surprise wasn’t the best of situations, even with a sharp-toothed dog on your side. You were lucky to have gotten out unscathed.

“Okay, then. Where do we get a phone?”

Leon had not thought that far ahead, clearly, because his expression locked up into a grimace.

You gave him a pat on the shoulder.

“We can ask around, Leon.”

Chapter Text

There were rows and rows of digital paraphernalia across numerous tables. Leon gave a grand flourish, telling you to pick anything you’d like.

“I’ve never owned anything so,” you began, scanning the aisles. Just where were you supposed to look first? Even the tables looked high tech. “Expensive.”

You’d used phones on occasion back home, but never had one of your own. Owning one had never been of much priority to you. Maybe because you had no one to call, maybe because you were technologically impaired.

“To be honest, I’m not much of an expert myself,” he admitted, flashing his own cracked phone. “I suppose the safest bet is to go with the newest model, then.”

He pointed to a nearby display. You had to blink a few times to make sure you hadn’t misread the tag. You read it over once, then twice. No, you were right the first time.

“That’s a lot of zeros,” you said to yourself, before repeating it once more to Leon so he could hear.

“It’s a business expense!” he defended, before handing you a sample. “Here you go. Don’t go dropping it, now.”

The device hadn’t been thrown at you and his tone had made it clear it was a joke, but the way you fumbled with made it a legitimate concern of yours. It made you uneasy to think how easily you could break it. The phone felt like paper in your hands, able to crinkle at the slightest pressure. Taking in a deep breath, you steadied your grip to get a better look.

It didn’t look too different from the one you saw Raihan using, except that one could float and talk. Now that you thought about it, that didn’t seem entirely normal. Did phones talk now?

“They insert the Rotom later,” Leon said, as if reading your mind. “So, what do you think? There are a lot of different colors if that one’s not to your taste.”

“I’m fine with something cheaper,” you said, putting the phone back and looking towards the back. You assumed they would put the less appealing ones where less people would see them. Though to your uncultured eyes, they all looked about the same anyway. Rectangular and a bit dull. “I just need to be able to call you.”

Leon let out a laugh.

“Don’t worry about the money,” he said, blocking you from walking away. “Look, they have a gold one! It’s my favorite color.”

He held up the sample next to his face, and you couldn’t help but think about how well it went with his complexion. Probably because it was the same warm yellow hue as his eyes.

“It looks nice,” you admitted.

“Oh, but this one,” he said, grabbing another phone. He examined it for a moment before showing it off to you. “It matches your eyes.”

You were caught off guard by his comment, mostly because you’d been so enveloped in thinking about his eyes. It took you a moment to take in the color. But it wasn’t so much the shade as it was the material.

It was reflective, like a mirror. There were fingerprints on the sides from where people had picked it up, but otherwise it was pristine, sparkling against the harsh lights that shone from above. You could see yourself distorted on the front, mouth open to say something but with nothing coming out.

“That doesn’t look like me.”

“Why not? I’m not the best with colors and whatnot, but I think it looks pretty similar,” he trailed of, scratching his beard as if contemplating something. “It’s all shiny.”

Yeah, that was the problem. No one’s eyes were mirror colored. You squinted back at your reflection.

Nope, definitely not the same.

You turned around and waved your hand around, pausing at each device before moving onto the next. At last, you found one that suited your needs and you picked it up.

“I think I’m more like this.”

It was about as close to your eye color as you could get. Contrasting Leon’s choice, the finish was a dull matte.

“Really? I still think this one looks more…you. Is that what you like?”

“No,” you said, setting it down. Shiny was the way to go. For one, it was pretty. For another, it wasn’t boring to look at. Then you thought twice. Shiny was nice to look at, but matte was easier to maintain. Less fingerprints. “It was just an example.”

“Then we should get this one!” he said. You took a look at the tag taped down to the table, and something caught in your throat.

“Why is this so much more…expensive?” Surely they had to have made a mistake. What the hell was this material, platinum? Just why did they allow something so valuable out in the open for anyone to poach?

It was then that you noticed, very clearly, marked at the top of the stand—limited edition, Hammerlocke exclusive! Ah, of course. Supply and demand. Though you had your doubts as to whether or not someone would be crazy enough to take this price all for some imagined feeling of exclusivity (oh, if only you knew…).

You blocked Leon from making his way any closer to the counter. Nope. Not that one. That was too far. You hadn’t known there was a line to be drawn in gift giving before this, but you’d just found it.

Before he could sneak around, you pointed to the first one he’d picked out. The gold one. Suddenly the zeros seemed reasonable. Amazing what a little perspective could do.

“And you’re sure you want this one?”

“Yes.”

“Well.” He said, eyes lingering on the limited edition item. “Then that’s settled.”

He continued on his way to the register, pointing at the phone you’d chosen. You watched this process with interest. The person ringing him up was charmed at once, and you had to wonder how he managed to do that so effortlessly.

His flippant use of money was also of concern to you, but then again, he had his own floor in an expensive hotel. His clothes were all tailored and looked to be of high quality. You were pretty sure he was rich.

“Where’d you get all this money from?” you asked, without the sense to word it more politely.

“Oh, you know. Battling.”

“You must be good.”

“You could say that.” He gave you an ambiguous smile. Strange, it was usually a simple matter to tell what was going on in his mind. He handed you a bag containing your new phone, complimentary Rotom included. “I asked them to set it up for you. It should be good to go.”

“How do I put in a phone number?”

You took out the league cards given to you from both Leon and Raihan. Before you could do anything, though, the phone buzzed to life and scanned the cards for you. Once it was finished there was a beep, notifying you that all the information had been uploaded onto the phone.

Technology was a scary thing.

“Rotom can handle most things automatically. You want to practice texting?”

“I know how to text.”

You held out your phone a little too far for someone who proclaimed to be proficient in the art of sending instant messages, swiping aimlessly around until you found a small speech bubble icon.

Aha.

There it was.

Pressing the plus button, you carefully crafted your first message on your phone. It took a little effort to figure out the placement of all the letters on the keyboard (why wasn’t it alphabetical?) but you got it eventually.

See? You could do it if you tried.

Leon’s phone vibrated and he held out his device with a proud smile.

“I got it! I guess I should’ve have worried.”

Since you were already on the texting menu (or whatever it was called), you figured it was a good time to update Raihan.

- Hello, Raihan.

The answer to your text was as close to immediate as it could get.

- uhhh whos this

- It’s [Name].

- wow you type slow

let me guess

you’re holding the phone away from you at a ridiculous angle and type with your index finger

You looked around the store, wondering how the hell he figured that out. Was he spying on you or something?

- knew it

congrats on the phone tho

i thought you were poor?

Upon further inspection you could not find him, and you could only assume he had psychic powers. Or you really did suck.

You wanted to explain the situation further, but your brain wasn’t up to the task of figuring out how to type out such a long sentence without imploding. So you gracefully exited the conversation to escape having to decide which text to respond to first.

- I’m leaving. Goodbye.

- lmao ok? let’s talk later weirdo

He never suspected a thing.

“I’m sure you’ll get better with practice,” was all Leon said, having glanced over your shoulder for the entire exchange.

As the two of you left the building, you let Rockruff out of his pokeball. The employees had taken one glance at him before informing you that they had a strict ‘no excitable pokemon’ policy. You wondered what had tipped them off on Rockruff’s difficult behavior before realizing that the two of you were, as Raihan said, viral stars. It didn’t help when Rockruff bared his teeth at another customer trying to pass through the door.

“What about Charizard?” you asked. You assumed he’d been put away for space reasons, so there was no reason to keep the guy cooped up inside any longer.

“I feel bad for the guy, but I wanted to keep a low profile for today,” Leon said, as if he wasn’t attracting the gaze of everyone already.

You also had to wonder if he was famous on top of being rich. So he must be a really good battler, then. He even knew Raihan, who was a gym leader.

Rockruff barked.

“Oh, I forgot to talk,” you said. “Sorry.”

At the same time, you made no move to continue talking. You weren’t sure what to talk about in the first place. It’s not like you got much practice from being around a bird and dog all day.

A cool breeze flew through the street, reminding you that it was late. You’d been in that store longer than you’d thought.

“Nice night for a walk,” Leon said, as if reading your mind. His face was lit up by the orange of the street lamps, looking uncharacteristically pensive. “Don’t go walking alone at night anymore, okay?”

“I’m not alone,” you said, looking at Rockruff. He was inclined to agree.

“You know what I mean.”

You hadn’t been joking when you said this, but his tone was nonetheless stern. For most people, seeing such a sudden shift in someone that was always so amicable might’ve been reason to stay quiet the entire rest of the night. But you weren’t one to mind such things.

Instead, you blurted out, “I’ve been thinking about being a trainer.”

The words caught Leon so off guard that he forgot his dampened mood.

“You mean, you want to enter the gym challenge?” It looked like he was trying to hold back a few more questions, but he was doing a shoddy job of hiding the fact.

“Is that what a trainer does?” you asked.

You only had a vague idea of the gym challenge based on what Leon and Raihan had touched upon. You had never been interested in competition.

You just knew you wanted that feeling again. What even was ‘that feeling’? Words failed to describe it, or maybe you failed to recognize it.

It made you breathless.

“Strictly speaking, I guess not, but I think that’d be great! Everyone could do with trying a battle or two in their life, why not do it on the big stage? Trust me, there’s nothing quite like being out on the pitch with everything at stake. And most of all the rush when you win!” He said all of this before remembering to breathe, taking in a gulp of air before continuing. “There’s a few weeks until the season starts, so you still have time to think. Though now that I think about it, you’re kind of a special case. There aren’t a lot of people who…don’t know the basic rules.”

From his expression there was no doubt that Raihan had told Leon what you’d done at the Battle Cafe. It had likely taken all of the man’s willpower to ask for all of the details the entire time you were together, though it was a bit late to praise him for the fortitude now that the dam had broken.

Perhaps you should’ve been annoyed by this small breach in privacy. Even if you were kicked out for all the public to watch and record, it was a bit rude to be gossiping about people’s failures behind their backs. But for whatever reason, you thought his sudden sheepishness was more amusing than anything.

A laugh, near silent, escaped from your lips. Your hand automatically went up to cover your mouth.

“Does something hurt? What’s wrong?” Leon began, until he saw the way your eyes were scrunched up. “Oh. You’re laughing. I don’t think I said anything funny…” But he mirrored your expression anyway, happy to have seen something new. It was the first time you’d laughed, to his knowledge.

“I was just thinking that I’ve never met anyone like you,” you said, gaining control over your breaths again.

Not a single person as bad at directions, as eager to please, or as excited about pokemon. Not a one.

“Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!” he said, tossing his head back to let out a loud laugh.

“But it’s true,” you said, not actually hurt. You supposed both of you had your quirks.

At this point the two of you had already gone inside of the hotel lobby and were waiting for the elevator. You assumed he was going the extra mile in bringing you to the room and clear up any potential mishaps again, but he followed you all the way to the door.

You gave him a look, and he explained, “I’d rather not get lost in the middle of the night. You don’t mind sharing, do you? I could get another room if that’s preferable.”

“It’s fine. The place is big.”

He stepped into the room, tossing his cap back on the otherwise empty hat rack. His fingers ran through his tousled hair.

“You’re right about that.”

There was a pause when he got a look at the prominent smudge on the window. You had tried time and time again to clean it, but it refused to budge.

“The view was nice,” you said, without looking Leon in the eye.

“It gives the place character.” You could hear a quiet snicker. “The place was too clean anyway.”

You showered first at Leon’s behest, only feeling a little uncertain about leaving Rockruff behind with the man. You gave the pokemon a good talking to beforehand about the things that he was and was not allowed to bite, and he surely had to know that Leon wasn’t ill-intentioned at this point. With those combined points, it was a wonder that Rockruff and Leon had yet to connect. This was a wonderful opportunity to do so. The more you thought about it, the more hopeful you became.

When you came back out to see Rockruff getting a mouthful of Leon’s hair, all those hopes were dashed.

Charizard sat nearby, making no move to help. He looked amused by the scene, if anything. It wasn’t every day that a pokemon refused his trainer’s friendship.

“I shouldn’t have tried to pet him,” Leon said, trying to get Rockruff to ease up and failing. “Sorry, buddy.”

Well. At least it wasn’t his hand. That had to mean something.

On the other hand, Rowlet had become taken with Leon, sitting on his head. He looked unbothered by the fact that Rockruff was getting tangled up in the hair below, simply stepping along with any bumps in the ride.

“Your turn,” you said, easing the two pokemon away from Leon so he could stand up. “You can take the bed when you’re done.”

“You’re a guest, I can’t do that.”

“I’ve been sleeping on the floor.”

There was a pause. On a regular day Leon would assume that was a way to get him to relent, but knowing you, it was probably true.

“Well… Have fun?” He turned around and left, leaving you with the pokemon.

You walked over to the windows and lay down on your side. Even with your eyes closed, you could sense the moon filtering through the windows.

At first there was a rustling noise as Rowlet and Rockruff got their daily romp in, but it soon settled down as the pup got tired. He curled up by your feet with a yawn, and soon his breathing became even.

A few feet away was Charizard, who watched over the three of you. You could feel the heat he gave off even from that distance, and it was much more comfortable than one of the heavy down blankets that were supplied here.

Tonight, you were feeling oddly relaxed. It might’ve been that you got used to staying here, or it could’ve been the hectic day. Maybe it was just easier knowing another person was there. You didn’t think too deeply on the subject, enjoying the feeling of security.

By the time Leon tiptoed out of the bathroom, you had already fallen fast asleep.

Chapter Text

Leon’s phone blinked on and off constantly, even in the wee hours of the morning. A part of you wanted to take a peek to see who was contacting him at such a time, but stopped yourself from doing so. Privacy was an important thing.

So you settled for observing the real thing instead.

You crouched by the sofa, which Leon was knocked out on. You guessed that he had felt bad about leaving you to roll around on the floor and decided to join you in the living room.

He was tall enough that his legs had to be bent to fit on the seat, but that didn’t stop him from being dead to the world. He’d tossed his blanket away sometime in the night, leaving his body exposed. You tried to put it back on, but it slid right off each and every time.

Surprisingly, he was a very quiet sleeper, only making noise as he rolled to his side, an indecipherable mutter escaping him.

He was now directly facing you, close enough that you could see traces of dark circles that were under his eyes. He must’ve been tired for a while.

Using your index finger, you pulled a few strands of hair from out his mouth.

His eyes fluttered open at the contact as he locked eyes with you. There was a fog in his stare that made you think he wasn’t sure where he was or even if he was still dreaming.

“Good morning,” you said.

“Morning,” he said with a yawn, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. When he stopped, you were still very much mere inches away from his face. He sat up a little too quickly in his seat, brushing down his mane of hair. He looked around with an exaggerated swing of the head despite knowing there were no clocks in the room. “What time is it?”

“It’s nine,” you said, knowing this because your phone had just ticked over to the new hour.

You’d been playing around with it as you waited for everyone else to wake up. With the help of Rotom, you’d even been able to set up a password and… well, that was as far as you got but any progress was progress. There was a possibility that you’d spent a bit too long pondering what to set it as. Even Rotom had begun to get huffy with you by the end.

In the end, you caved in to the pressure and ended up with the safest of passwords, 1234. Surely the simplicity would fly by everyone’s minds. No one would ever know, and you could rest assured that your phone was safe.

“I can’t remember the last time I woke up so late,” he mumbled to himself, before responding with, “Did you make something? It smells nice, whatever it is.”

“I made tea. Do you want some?”

“There was tea? I mean, not that I mind, but…” He trailed off, mouth not quite closing during the pause. “Huh. There was tea.”

“I found some in the cupboard.”

You pointed to one of the sleek wall cabinets, where you’d found an obscured box of tea leaves that was imprinted with what looked to be a pokemon and labeled “Authentic Polteageist Extract”. Whatever that meant. Maybe you didn’t want to know.

You walked to the kitchen bar where you’d set down the kettle, pouring out water into a cup. Steam floated upwards and filled the room with the subtle fragrance of black tea.

Leon sat down on one of the chairs and stared down at the cup you’d pushed in front of him before taking a tentative sip. The scalding temperature didn’t bother him, and he took a second gulp. You didn’t miss the sigh that came out of him as he closed his eyes to enjoy the peace.

“Your phone’s been going off,” you said, pouring a cup for yourself. That made your fourth cup for the day. This stuff was good.

“Just ignore it,” he said, eyes still closed. “My schedule’s full today anyway.”

“What are you doing?”

His expression brightened, and you knew that your question had erased any sleepiness that had been lingering in his body. He downed the rest of his drink, not bothering to savor the complex flavor, before leaning towards you in a conspiratorial manner.

“We’re making you into a proper trainer.”

The two of you stood in a rocky expanse located somewhere in the Wild Area flanked by a small stretch of trees. The atmosphere was serene, complementing the sunny weather that pervaded the area. It was nice, a sentiment echoed by Rowlet. He was awake for once, having decided to perch on your head at the mention of training. In stark contrast, Rockruff sat with a dazed expression, still not having fully woken up.

“This is a good place,” Leon commented, before taking out his phone. “Since you’re a complete beginner I figure we should start off by analyzing your pokemon, see what sort of moves they have.”

“Moves?”

“Moves are attacks or skills that pokemon perform in battle. We have to call them something, right?”

“I see. How does the pokemon know?”

“Hm? Well it’s pretty intuitive once you get the hang of it,” Leon said, scratching his beard. Evidently he’d never thought about such things before. “It’ll be easier if I show you. Charizard, Fire Blast!”

Leon pointed towards the air and Charizard lifted it head in suit, opening his mouth to let out a blast of fire.

Fire Blast. Blast of fire. Of course.

You looked at Rockruff, who had jumped in his seat at the sudden attack. His eyes were wide open now.

Yeah, he didn’t seem like the fire-breathing type. In retrospect, you weren’t sure what you were thinking in that first battle of yours, listing all those outlandish sounding moves.

As you were off reprimanding your past self, Leon had scanned Rockruff.

“Wow, Rockruff knows some pretty powerful attacks!” he said, turning his phone so you could see. Not that those words meant anything to you. “But, hmm…”

“What?”

“Oh, nothing. It’s a bit hard to explain right now. I’ll explain it afterwards.” Pause. He was still staring at the screen, like he’d read something wrong and was trying to figure out what. Realizing he was getting distracted, he put the device away. “Let’s see how strong Rockruff is, shall we? Rockruff, try using Rock Tomb.”

Leon pointed to a pile of rocks a few feet away. Rockruff gave it once glance before letting out an audible huff, turning away.

“Okay, maybe not. How about giving us a Roar?”

Still, Rockruff refused to comply, instead laying his head down on one of your shoes. He closed his eyes, feigning sleep.

“Rockruff, we’ve got to do as he says. I know you can do it,” you said, sliding your foot away. He didn’t move from his spot, even when his head bumped onto the ground.

“If we aren’t making headway with your Rockruff, we can always start with Rowlet instead?” But as soon as that was suggested, the puppy jumped up in protest. So he did want to train.

“I’m not sure what you want,” you said to Rockruff. “Leon’s trying to help us.”

Rockruff’s ears perked up. At first you thought he changed his mind about ignoring commands. However, he hopped past the both of you. He spotted something and made a mad dash towards the fields of grass that had begun to rustle a short distance away.

You and Leon ended up chasing after, having a hard time keeping up with the speeding figure. Rowlet struggled to keep himself on your head, and had to opt for flying by your side.

By the time all of you caught up, Rockruff had gotten into a standoff with another dog-like pokemon. This one had red and cream fur with red stripes.

“Hey, a Growlithe!” Leon said. You were about to take Rockruff away from the potential danger, but Leon put a hand in front of you. “Don’t get too close, remember? And besides, this is a good chance to see what your friend is made of.”

“What do I do?”

“Just call out a move!”

“Okay,” you began, recalling the list of moves you’d been shown. “Rock Tomb?”

Your voice wasn’t uncertain, per se, but you didn’t say it with much conviction. But unlike earlier, Rockruff stood at attention. He ran towards one of the groupings of rocks and kicked them over in quick succession, with a grace you weren’t aware he had. Growlithe was able to dodge the first few, but the barrage eventually became too much too fast. You could barely see the striking red fur anymore, as he had been completely surrounded.

This was easier than you thought. Based on the last battle, you would never have suspected Rockruff could lift such heavy rocks. Then again, anyone who’d seen that spectacle would’ve come out thinking you were an idiot.

“I think one more hit should do it!” Leon said, leaning forward at the scene. “Go on!”

“Use Return,” you called out.

You had no idea what that move was, but you figured it would have something to do with coming back for a job well done. Not slamming into the Growlithe with the force of a thousand angry suns. Coincidentally, it was the latter option that actually came to fruition.

The rocks crumbled from the impact, sending the opposing pokemon flying a few feet away. He wobbled on his feet before flopping over onto the ground.

Rockruff turned to you with a proud smile, but you were too busy walking over to the Growlithe.

“Oh no,” you mumbled. “Are you okay?”

“I don’t think that’s such a good idea—” Leon started, but you had already attempted to put a hand on the Growlithe to check its injuries.

He sprang back to life, clamping down on your arm as you were inches away. You could feel the trickle of blood running down and the dampness that ensued before the actual pain; you’d been too caught off guard to feel anything. The Growlithe scampered away, tail tucking between his legs as Rockruff began to give chase.

Once it was apparent that the Growlithe wasn’t coming back, Rockruff ran back to your side, staring down at the puncture wounds.

“The battle was over,” was all you managed to say, staring down at the blood. It sounded dumb the moment you said it out loud. In the end, you were in the wild. There were no rules out here. You knew that. The Growlithe was scared, and you’d run straight at it. What else was supposed to happen?

You fought the urge to run after the pokemon to apologize. That would only make things worse. You really needed to listen to Leon more.

“Good thing I brought gauze,” Leon said, motioning for you to hold out your arm. You didn’t mention the fact that he’d (correctly) assumed you’d get hurt. “I know you just want to help, but it’s dangerous to run out in front of a pokemon, even if it fainted. They’re stronger than they look, and they’re wild for a reason.”

“I’m sorry.”

You said those words a lot, especially lately, but you always did mean it.

Leon sighed.

“No, I should’ve been more watchful. I was just so wrapped up in the battle,” he said. “We were both caught off guard that Rockruff sped off like that.”

“Why did you do that?” you asked, turning to the puppy. Your tone was as mild as ever, but he still shrank in his seat like you’d taken away his favorite toy.

“I’m no expert, but I’ve heard in Alola that Rockruff and Growlithe often have territorial disputes. It might be that he was trying to protect you.”

Rockruff let out a whine, putting a paw on your leg. You scratched his head with your free hand to let him know you weren’t angry.

“I know, buddy.”

“It was an amazing first—er, second?—battle, though! Rockruff was extremely fast to follow your commands,” Leon complimented, making sure the bandages were wrapped tight enough that they wouldn’t come undone. You could tell from how fluid his movements were that this was something he was used to. “I thought it might be that he wasn’t used to official battles, but it seems more that he doesn’t want to listen to anyone but you.”

That didn’t surprise you. Ever since you’d known the guy, strangers had always been the number one enemy. It’d taken no small effort on your part to get him to open up to you either.

Leon gave the gauze a final tug, letting you know he was done. He inspected his work by leaning back, a smile indicating he was satisfied with what he saw.

“If you’re not too worn out, how about we see how well Rowlet does?”

“What do you say?” you asked Rowlet. He fluttered onto the ground, purposefully pushing Rockruff away from you to get his own head pet, never cowering at the growls that ensued. It was all noise to him. You looked back at Leon. “I think that means yes.”

Rowlet’s test went much more smoothly, if only for the fact that he was willing to listen to Leon when asked. You had to stop the battling in favor of an impromptu lesson on pokemon handling and safety, though. In fact, the battling hadn’t even begun when it happened.

You thought were doing a good deed by giving a young Mudbray one of your extra berries, but apparently the nearby Mudsdale did not agree. You had to run a good distance before she let up. Luckily it was more of a warning charge than a legitimate attempt to trample you, and she was satisfied with leaving both you and Leon winded instead.

And that was the day you learned the wrath of a mother protecting her child.

“I’m not sure,” Leon said between heaves, “how you survived so long like this.”

“With my will to live?” you suggested, not quite as breathless but nonetheless tired. Rockruff and Rowlet were passed out on the ground from all the running around as well.

The two of you lay down on the ground for a well-deserved (?) rest. No one talked until they caught their breath.

A shadow passed overhead, blocking out the sun for a moment.

“What was that?” you asked.

“Probably a Flying Taxi. It’s where you call a service and they send a Corviknight to fly you to where you want to go. It’s awfully convenient. Especially for people like me.”

“They must be big. And strong.”

“They are! They’re an important part of our culture here. They’re known far and wide for their intellect and bravery. You don’t get to be that big without a lot of hard work.”

It hit you then how integral pokemon were to society. Leon probably couldn’t imagine a world without pokemon. You thought that might explain why he was so interested in sticking around.

“I don’t know much about pokemon,” you admitted, staring up at the sky. It looked like it could swallow you up.

“What do you mean?” Leon turned his head, hands over his chest. He no longer had any problems getting out full sentences, though you could see lines of sweat trickling down the side of his cheek.

“I was chased a lot,” you said, unsure how to explain. Where to begin? They were always so hard to sum up. “I guess I don’t know how to approach them right. Not like you. Even Rockruff didn’t like me much when we met.”

A cool breeze wafted through the area, blowing against the grass underfoot. You’d run so far that the landscape and weather had changed to something more pleasant. Not the worst, considering, though getting back to Hammerlocke would no doubt be a pain.

It wasn’t so much the fact that you didn’t know. It was a fact that you had a lot to learn. That you didn’t mind. You could learn! But your head was filled with strange thoughts anyway.

You suddenly recalled that video of you, the one Raihan had showed with all the hearts.

Maybe you were just something to gawk at.

“Don’t look so down,” Leon said, now leaning against his arm to more comfortably look at you.

Your eye snapped back into focus. You didn’t realize they were out of focus in the first place, nor the fact that you’d been frowning at nothing in particular. You hoped Leon didn’t think it was directed at him.

“You have your entire life to catch up. I don’t know what sort of place you’re from, but it’s obviously much different from Galar. But despite that, you have a lot of potential as a trainer!”

Even if he was off the mark on why you were frowning, it helped he was so supportive.

He gave you a place to live, shirked off on his job to make sure you were settling in okay, and was giving you a pep talk because he thought you were upset. He was just a person who wanted to help.

“Thanks.”

Words failed to encapsulate what you wanted to convey. Your tone, as it was, even came off as sarcastic.

“I’m serious! I was impressed by your battle today.”

Your battle had been nothing special, you thought. Nothing as striking as the one you saw before, anyway. To them, battling was like breathing. And you were the proverbial fish out of water.

“Especially that finishing move, Return,” Leon said, sitting up. Pieces of grass stuck to his skin. “That’s the move I was wondering about before.”

“What’s strange about it?” you asked, sitting up yourself.

“Rockruff shouldn’t be able to learn that move naturally. You have to use a TM.” Before you could ask, he explained, “A technical machine. It lets pokemon learn moves with technology instead of leveling up. Er, levels are just a number to show how strong you are.”

You knew what he was implying, but you asked the question anyway.

“So what does that mean?”

Pause.

“I don’t know. I guess accidents can happen,” he said, not quite answering the question. It didn’t help he seemed unconvinced by his own words. “But I suppose that’s besides the point. You know, novice trainers have a hard time with that move.” He was smiling now.

“How come?”

“See, Return is a finicky move. Its strength is based on your bond with your pokemon. If they don’t like you, it’s a weak attack. If they do, it’s really powerful! You see what I’m getting at?”

It took a moment to register the words. The image of Rockruff slamming into Growlithe flashed through your mind.

You looked at your pokemon, sleeping within arms reach of you as always, and felt something stir in your chest. It was, perhaps, the second time you’d ever felt this way.

Chapter Text

“I’m leaving,” you said, standing up. There was this inexplicable urge to run that had been lit beneath your feet, but for everyone’s sake, you decided not to subject anyone to more exercise that day.

“Where are you going?” Leon started, before remembering it was you he was talking to, and took on a more urgent tone. “You’re leaving? Now?”

“I don’t know.” You swiveled on your feet to look at him. It was a rare moment to be able to look down on him for once, since he was a fair bit taller than you. This was how Raihan felt all the time. You had to say, it wasn’t an unpleasant experience. “Around.”

Hammerlocke was a lovely place, sure, but you felt there wasn’t much need to stay much longer. There was a lot to be doing, now that you were trying to learn more about battling and whatnot. Where better to learn about pokemon than in the wild?

Not to mention you were better accustomed to the outdoors.

Leon jumped to his feet and took a few steps forward. If you didn’t know better, you might’ve felt threatened by the gesture. One of his arms raised as if to grab hold of your shoulder, but it stopped midway.

“Are you sure? It’s dangerous out there,” he said. “It’s not because of the hotel, right? Like I said, you don’t have to worry about the cost.”

“The hotel. You might be right,” you paused, looking down at his hand. It was still hovering by your side. You gave it a pat, not unlike when you were calming Rockruff down. He pulled it back and used the hand to instead fiddle with the rim of his cap, looking sheepish for having been caught. “I just don’t know what to think of all the things you’re giving me. You’re a good person. But it’s also unsettling. I don’t want to be stuck in one place, either.”

You stopped again, waiting to see if Leon understood. He nodded, but you had your doubts. Was it hurt that flashed by in his face? Disappointment? You weren’t sure. It had gone by too quickly.

“I packed,” you said, turning a little to show off your backpack, which was more full than usual. You’d predicted something like this might happen, so you had made a point of packing your bag with supplies a few days earlier. That way, Leon couldn’t argue with you about leaving you to your own devices. Not that he wasn’t trying. “You don’t have to worry. There’s enough to worry about.”

“I’ll worry either way,” he said with a light tone. “But I didn’t… You’re not burdening me, if that’s what you’re saying.”

“I’m leaving,” you said once more, and for some reason his shoulders straightened. More softly, you continued, “I’m grateful for everything. But I can’t stay forever.”

Eventually he had to relent, however hesitant.

Before you parted ways, you helped Leon back to Hammerlocke. You could do that much for him. He was surprised by how well you were able to navigate your way back, and he had to ask how you did it. You did your best to explain how you catalogued certain areas in your mind and laid them out together.

“We passed by that rock earlier. When we were being chased,” you pointed as an example. “And that tree.”

“Did we? Looks like all the other rocks and trees around here if you ask me.”

“The rock has a flower growing from it. And the tree has a gash.”

“You noticed all that while we were running?” Leon’s face scrunched up in a way that made you unsure if he was making fun of you or if he was just that impressed. It might’ve been disbelief. He thought he found kinship in someone as bad at directions in him, but no, that was the result of coming to a region you’d never encountered before.

You couldn’t lie, it felt good knowing you weren’t the one floundering for guidance this time around. It even made you feel a little mischievous.

“Jealous?” you asked. Leon started at the obvious provocation, though he realized you were just joking once he saw the smile on your face.

“Raihan’s been texting you too much,” Leon groaned.

“It’s only been a day.”

“Please, I saw the selfies he sent you in the morning. A day is plenty of time for the guy.” Leon rolled his eyes, though there was a hint of a smile. “Just don’t humor him too much, all right? He’ll let it get to his head.”

You didn’t mention that you’d only managed to get out a reply to Raihan twice, because your fingers were too slow. By the time you’d thought of what to say, the conversation had already moved onto the next thing. You would’ve thought that the lack of response would hinder the frequency of messages, but Raihan was a stubborn one.

The two of you made it to the gates for the second time since you’d met. It’d only been a week or two at most since then, but it felt nostalgic all the same.

“I’m good from here,” he said.

“Really?”

Okay he had to laugh at that one. You looked legitimately conflicted. Oh, how the tables had turned.

“I’ve got Charizard with me,” he reassured. “And Raihan, if I’m desperate.”

He managed to convince you and gave you a wave before leaving.

“Call me if anything happens!” he said, running off. Wherever he was going, he was in a hurry to get there. It made you question if going on this excursion with you into the wild was a good idea. Well. Too late now.

You hoped he’d get enough sleep that night, but you weren’t so certain that he would.

Evening had begun to settle in at this point, masking everything in orange. You turned around, facing what was to be your bed for that night.

You liked spot you picked. The grass was a perfect amount of soft. There was a river nearby so you wouldn’t have to stumble around searching for one when morning came.

But you couldn’t fall asleep, not unlike the first days of staying in the penthouse. You noticed the cold more than usual and was grateful for having the foresight to take Leon up on his offer to give you one of his sleeping bags.

Could it have been you had already forgotten the harshness of living in the outdoors?

You were contemplating such thoughts all while you tried to drift off. Needless to say, those two actions did not mix.

You would’ve continued, too, had you the ability to breathe.

What?

Indeed, something had landed atop your face and cut off all air in your system. It was heavy and springy all at once, filling your nose with the scent of grass. You pushed whatever had tried to strangle you onto the ground, but instead of a thump, there was simply a small baa.

Again, what?

You sat up, squinting in the dark. The fire had gone out a while ago, so it was hard to see just what you were looking at. From the silhouette, it was something very circular.

“Rowlet, are you seeing this?” you asked in a whisper, not wanting to wake Rockruff up. He’d go ballistic, whatever it was. And you did not want to deal with that in the middle of the night, nor the aftermath of a puppy lacking the sleep he needed the following morning.

Rowlet gave a hoot in response. You could barely make out the beating of his wings as he settled down onto the foreign object.

Whatever it was, it seemed safe enough. Rowlet wasn’t wary of it, and it made no move to hurt you, as long as you didn’t count the initial attempt. You crawled your way forward, one hand in the air until it bumped into what you were looking for.

Your fingers met with the same spongey material. You could close your entire fist around the mass, and still not hit anything solid.

“Hello,” you said. “And what would your name be?”

Pokemon can’t talk so this question was pointless, but you figured it was the polite thing to do after such a rocky start. The pokemon (you were pretty sure it was a pokemon) had near choked you, you flung the pokemon onto the ground, it wasn’t the best of first impressions.

Another baa.

You were in this position for an undetermined amount of time until you got another chill, and pulled back at last.

“I’m going to sleep. Good night,” you said, hiding back into your sleeping bag. It smelled of the penthouse. Clean, unassuming, and like whatever fancy detergent or softener they used there. But what struck you was the fact that it didn’t call to mind Leon at all. Those two things were separate in your mind.

And that was the last thought you had before waking up.

You didn’t recall bringing a pillow with you. It was extra weight, no matter how light, and you’d never been one for such things anyway. But then how else were you supposed to explain the thing smushed between your arms?

Baa.

Your eyes opened.

Half inside the sleeping bag and half popping out was a sheep you had never met before stuck on the zipper and sitting quite contentedly in your embrace. She had the smallest, most adorable smile you had ever seen stuck on her face. You were tempted to coo at her then and there but then remembered the companions you were traveling with. In particular, a certain cranky dog.

Oh thank goodness, he was still sleeping. You were glad that he was such a calm sleeper. It had to be tiring, pretending to be so mean all the time.

With surgical precision, you slipped one arm out of the bag and began to unhook the pokemon from the clutches of the zipper. At the same time, you slid yourself out of the bag. The pokemon made a few more noises during this process but you put a finger over your lips every time. In an amicable fashion that was eager to please, the pokemon closed her mouth with what looked like a silent giggle each time.

True love had been nothing but superstition until that moment.

You gave the sheep a gentle pat on the head to thank her for the cooperation.

And that’s when you heard a gasp. Or whatever the dog equivalent of a gasp was.

Turning towards the noise, you realized that Rockruff had risen from his peaceful slumber. Now, he looked back and forth from you and the pokemon, ears raised. His expression was a cross between absolute shock and betrayal, to the point that his jaw opened but no sound came out.

“Please don’t bark,” you said as he seemed to find his voice, lowering his body to pounce. “She’s sweet. I promise.”

With no sense of self-preservation, the pokemon rolled (rolled!!) towards Rockruff, bumping into him a little. He growled at the push but made no move to tear her to shreds. He batted the big floof with one of his paws, a tad too hard. The pokemon looked unfazed by the rude gesture, cuddling up to Rockruff like he was a long lost friend she’d just reacquainted with.

It wasn’t often that intimidation tactics didn’t work for Rockruff, though his record had certainly begun to wane ever since coming to Galar. Then again, this pokemon looked so dopey that even he couldn’t imagine there were ulterior motives involved. After a moment of inspection he relented, letting the sheep nudge him around with her nose, though he made a point of looking grumpy about it the entire time.

Rockruff had been defeated. What a momentous occasion.

You ate breakfast, and still, the pokemon had yet to lose interest in you. She even managed to charm to into giving some berries, which only made her more affectionate. But you had to pack up eventually.

There was no particular destination you had in mind, but you wanted to cover as much ground as possible. Perhaps if you met a more aggressive pokemon you could put your skills to the test as well. With a hesitant wave, you walked away, Rockruff and Rowlet in tow. You thought that this would signal to the pokemon that the strangers were leaving, and that she would move on to search for the next unsuspecting trainer.

But once in a while, you would see Rockruff turn his head back with narrowed eyes. There were an extra set of footsteps that sounded behind you. It had been perhaps ten minutes since you started walking before you stopped to turn around.

And yes, the pokemon was indeed following you. At first you thought this was because the pokemon wanted more treats, to which you showed off your empty berry pouch. But even then, she wouldn’t go away. Another ten minutes passed. Then thirty. Then an entire hour. She was still there.

At this point, you had long since left the area you’d slept in. It didn’t seem like a coincidence she was going in the same direction. Didn’t her feet hurt? How did her wool manage to stay so clean despite rolling in the dirt all day? You had many questions, but so few answers. And you desperately searched your mind for answers.

Sheep lived in herds, didn’t they? She must’ve been lost and attached herself to the first friendly faces she saw. That must be it.

After this epiphany, you felt bad for having ignored her in your walk and decided your first mission would be to find her flock again.

You turned around to let the sheep know of your decision but she’d vanished. Odd, she was just there. You looked around but couldn’t find the pokemon anywhere in the vicinity. It was impossible for her to have disappeared so fast without making any noise, even if she was mostly wool.

Rockruff let out a series of yaps towards the sky, interrupting your thoughts. You followed his line of sight, having to shield your eyes from the incoming sunlight. Once your eyesight adjusted, you balked at the sight.

Oh dear. That was your little friend in the air, wasn’t it?

A bird had picked her up, evidently finding her to be a suitable addition to the nest. Or worse, a meal.

You looked around. No trees to climb, and the bird was soaring much too high to jump.

“Rowlet, are you awake?” you asked the bird cozied up in your backpack. He responded with a soft snore. Typical. You had no time to shake Rowlet awake and update him on what was going on, you needed to do something now.

If only you had something to throw…

Wait a second.

Whipping your backpack around, you rummaged pushed the contents aside to get at what lay at the bottom. Your fingers wrapped around the sphere, adjusting your grip as you swung your arm back.

You only had one chance to get this right, but you didn’t think about the odds of missing, nor the ridiculous distance at which the pokemon had already flown away from you.

You just threw.

There was an audible whizzing sound as the pokeball flew, time slowing as it arced through the air. You could tell the moment it left your hand that you had aimed just a little too high, having adjusted too much for the speed at which the bird was flying, but at that point there was nothing left that you could do. You stood with your neck craned forward as if the exertion would make the ball hit its target.

As the ball drew closer it only became clearer that the sheep would not be caught. Your stomach dropped.

It didn’t hit the sheep. But it did, in fact, manage to encapsulate the bird itself. It shone with a bright light before being sucked into the ball, the sheep being left to hang in the air by her lonesome before being pulled by the whims of gravity.

She spun at a tremendous speed as she fell. It took a moment for you to catch up with what was going on, and you spared no time after, bursting into a sprint with your arms outstretched.

“Rockruff!” you shouted, with urgency you didn’t know you could express until that moment. He pushed ahead as fast as his four legs could allow, positioning himself under the pokemon’s shadow. She bounced off of Rockruff’s body with an impressive amount of height, giving you enough time to snatch her out of the air.

Before you could celebrate her survival, however, you were met with an angry screech.

Ah. The bird had escaped from the pokeball. And it was not pleased by your not-even-really-a-trainer self trying to exert dominance. One look at the large bird adorned with red, blue, and white could tell you that you weren’t about to win a battle against it any time soon. As such, there was only one option.

In complete sync, you and Rockruff began to run in the opposite direction. You could still hear outraged cawing behind you, so you assumed the bird was giving chase. The sheep didn’t seem to realize the dire straits she was in, looking all too pleased by what she thought was a nice romp around the park.

Oh, the things you did for strangers.

You had no idea how far you ran, or for how long. You didn’t even hear the bird’s cries anymore, but didn’t bother to turn around to check if it was still chasing as that could’ve been the difference between being caught and escaping.

Your legs gave out at some point and you slid ever-so-gracefully onto the ground. You made sure to cover the sheep with your body just in case the bird tried to take her away again. At least this time you’d be in the air with her. But the bird had tired long ago, and no talons came down to tear you apart.

It might’ve been just you, but it felt like you were doing a lot of running for your life as of late. This had been the most exhilarating circumstance by far, though.

“Rockruff, you there?” you asked, too wiped out to even turn your head. He gave a groan in response.

You closed your eyes, hoping that it might speed up the recovery process by a little. All that did was make you hyperaware of the thumping in your chest and the weight of your backpack still hanging off your shoulders.

Rapid thumping approached, and you thought that the bird had come back, with a set of hooves this time. Or with your luck, you’d run into an entire stampede of something dangerous and we’re about to face their wrath.

As it turned out, it was neither of these things.

“Oh my gosh, are you dead? I mean, are you okay?” a voice yelled out. The noise made your head hurt, even more so than usual.

Someone flipped you over from your face-planted position, and you cracked your eyes open. Since when had it gotten so dark? Had you been running the whole day, or was it that you rested for much longer than you thought?

“You look terrible!” the person continued, and something was held up to your lips. “Here, have some water.”

You took the water bottle with one of your hands and let the liquid slide down your throat. That did wonders for getting your life back. You gave some to Rockruff as well, pouring the water out in a steady stream over the ground.

It was at this point that you became clear-headed enough to thank whoever had found you. When you lifted your gaze, you met with a set of eyes you found strangely familiar.

“I’m Hop. What’s your name? Wait, is that a Rockruff?”

Chapter Text

Your voice felt scratchy, but you were able to give Hop your name, as well as a bare-bones explanation of what happened when he asked. You also confirmed that lying in a heap nearby was indeed your companion Rockruff.

“Must’ve been a Braviary,” he concluded after having gotten his fascination out of his system. There were a lot of flashes coming from his phone, as he took photos of the pokemon, switching up angles by going down on his knees and tilting his entire body until it was practically on the dirt. “It’s mating season, see, so they’re building up their nests with the finest stuff they can find. Unfortunately, the guy must’ve found your Wooloo here to be a prime candidate.”

“But are you sure you’re okay out here alone? The pokemon here are really strong,” he said. He scanned you over to see if you were up to snuff. Apparently not, because he continued to babble, “Wait, are you lost? I can take you to Hammerlocke, it’s not so far from here.”

“I’m not lost.”

Hop took a step back, mistaking your blunt words for offense.

“Sorry, sorry! Please don’t be mad, I was just trying to help.”

“I’m not mad.”

He opened his mouth as if to protest, but shut it again after some contemplation. You could tell he didn’t know if he should believe you. You really weren’t, but your inflection didn’t lend itself to sounding all that chipper. Now that you thought about it, you’d been pretty lucky to have met people who weren’t a bit off-put by you. So it might have only been a matter of time.

You just considered yourself lucky that Rockruff was busy wheezing on the ground as he tried to swat Wooloo away with his tail. Hop didn’t need to be any more on edge.

“If you want,” he said, emphasizing the word want, “You can set up camp with me! I was just getting a stroll in before dinner. I hope you like curry?”

He was doing his best to be courteous, but you weren’t sure if he was secretly hoping you’d leave him alone.

“I’d like that,” you said with a cautious nod, picking up Rockruff. You looked down at Wooloo, who was looking a bit lonely on her own. “Do you want to be carried too?”

She gave you a headbutt, and you took that as a yes. You scooped up the pokemon, arms now full. At least they weren’t sore from running.

You followed behind Hop. He looked back at you on occasion to make sure you were still there. You would meet eyes every so often and he’d snap his head back forward with a sharp inhale. This continued until you reached a clearing, where there was a fire being tended to by a pokemon. He looked rather bored, poking at the flames with his foot. They grew bigger with each nudge, then shrinking again once it was taken away.

“Cinderace, I’m back!” Hop said with an excited wave, before catching himself, as if he didn’t want to act so happy around you. The pokemon’s ears perked up at the sound of his trainer’s voice. “And I brought some other people. Good thing we always make too much food, huh?”

Hop set his backpack down by his tent, taking in the strong scent of curry wafting in the wind. He spared no time taking out the utensils, muttering under his breath about how hungry he was after walking around.

You set down the two pokemon cradled up in your arms as he did all this, though they didn’t run off to play as you hoped. Instead they hovered around your legs, and you had to stay vigilant to keep from stepping on one of them. You hobbled over to a log and sat down by the fire, thanking Hop as he handed you a piping hot bowl of curry.

“And for your pokemon,” he said, tearing a package and filling up another bowl, this time with dried up pellets. Wooloo hopped over at the smell, digging in without hesitation. Somehow Rowlet had caught wind of this as well, and came out to eat. Nice of him to show up after all the shit that went down. He didn’t question Wooloo’s continued presence for even a moment.

“Rockruff, you should eat too,” you urged, but he didn’t budge.

“There’s plenty to go around…” Hop said, shaking another packet. He took a step forward to bring the bowl towards the two of you, but was met with a growl. Cinderace stood up straight at the noise, ears pointed forward and elbows bent, inching in front of his now-stiff trainer.

Rockruff pulled at your shoes, wanting to drag you away from the strange people.

“That’s not nice,” you said, trying to calm him down. It hurt to run your hands over his fur when it was all spiked up like this, but you did it anyway. “We’re safe. I promise we are. So let’s eat now, okay? I know you’re hungry.”

His stomach rumbled as if responding to your words. His expression became sheepish, but still held his ground.

“I’ll just… put this here.” Hop set the bowl on the ground, pushing it with his foot before taking exaggerated steps in the opposite direction. “Let’s eat, Cinderace! No battles.”

The tense expression melted off of Cinderace at once at the reminder of food, and he jumped away. He dove at his bowl, spilling its contents all over the ground. Hop groaned at the mess before saying, “Not again…” The pokemon didn’t mind, however, and shoveled the food into his mouth without consideration for hygiene.

Meanwhile, you had leaned in order to bring the bowl closer, setting it down in front of the stubborn puppy. He sniffed it once before turning up his nose. One of the pellets from Cinderace’s mess rolled in front of Rockruff, and he made a point of batting it away with his paw.

“It’s not poison,” you said. “Look.”

You took a handful of the pellets and shoved them in your mouth. They broke down easily in your mouth, but it was drying. You regretted having taken so much. The taste was definitely not meant to appeal to humans. It reminded you vaguely of meat. Maybe?

The more you tried to understand, the less you became sure.

But you couldn’t back down now, Rockruff was looking at you. As was the rest of the camp (barring Wooloo, bless her fluffy and oblivious soul), because you were the crazy person that ate pokemon food. Cinderace ate the food off the ground slower now, as if he were eating popcorn in the theater and had just gotten to the good part of the movie. Hop’s mouth was slightly open, but didn’t dare say anything. You could hear the small clink of his spoon hitting his unfinished plate of curry, as he looked toward the scene. The sound echoed throughout the camp as you powered through the food. “Food”.

By some miracle, you were able to swallow what was basically debris in your mouth. You opened it once you were to to show it was all gone. The inside was a desert by that point, and screaming for water to wash out whatever aftertaste had been left behind.

“See? Safe,” you said, feeling a bit unsure of your claim. Your stomach did not agree with what you’d just eaten. But you refused to throw up now. Acting like you were fine, you took your spoon and began to eat the food that was actually meant for you to consume.

Rockruff’s snout crumpled up, appalled by your reckless behavior. But running around all day had taken its toll, and he was awfully hungry…

The first bite spelled his doom. After he got a taste, it was impossible for him to stop, and he scarfed it all down before anyone else was even close to finishing. He walked over to where Rowlet and Wooloo were, leering at their still-full bowls of food.

“Can we have more?” you asked, since you knew Rockruff was too proud to do so himself.

“Oh, uh, sure!” Hop fumbled with his bowl before realizing he could just set it down.

As he zipped open his backpack, digging around to take out more of the food, Wooloo snuck up on him, intrigued by all the rustling. She was nearly flattened as he turned, narrowly sidestepping around her. Bouncing forward on one foot, he managed not to lose balance and refill the bowl without incident.

Rockruff stared at you.

“I’m not eating it again.”

He didn’t move.

“You know it’s safe.”

You knew he must’ve been dying to get to the food. You knew in equal measure that he was as stubborn as you, and that he wouldn’t eat if you didn’t do anything about it.

“I’ll eat one.” You took a single piece and showed it off, popping it into your mouth. You had to shiver at the grainy texture. The gesture appeased your pokemon, though, and he began to chow down again. This time, at a more reasonable pace.

Meanwhile, Hop had been getting acquainted with Wooloo. He appeared much more relaxed than he had been, looking like he was remembering something.

“She likes you,” you said, walking up to him. He jolted at the sound of your voice.

“Aw, nah. She’s just really friendly. Just how’d you raise her? They’re usually scared of strangers.”

“Wooloo isn’t mine,” you said. “She just kept following me.”

Hop’s brow furrowed as he stood back up, waving Wooloo back towards you. She eagerly complied, rolling towards you until she bumped you in the leg.

“You didn’t catch her?”

“No.”

“Huh. Could’ve fooled me.” Hop stopped petting her. “If you aren’t lost, then are you here to train? Now that I think about it, the gym challenge is soon… I should call Gloria sometime.”

“Who’s Gloria?”

“Who’s Gloria?” Hop said, in disbelief, his previous nervousness having vanished. “Who’s Gloria? She’s only the reigning champion of Galar! Mate, have you been living under a rock?”

“Something like that.”

“Oh,” Hop said, shrinking back. “Sorry. I get a little heated, talking about the gym challenge. Force of habit.”

“Could you tell me more? I’m curious,” you said. “I’m not from here.”

“Should’ve guessed, with the accent and whatnot. Sure, I can tell you all about it. Gloria, like I said, is the current champion of Galar. Has been for the past three years. Honestly, no one was expecting her to be able to do it. I mean, it was my brother we’re talking about!”

He went on and on about his journey, his pokemon, the interesting things he found along the way. All the while he sang this Gloria person’s praises, talking about how strong she was to have defeated the longstanding champion of ten years.

Honestly, you couldn’t follow along for most of it as he talked so fast and barely giving you time to absorb all the explanations in between. It was fun to listen to regardless. His excitement felt familiar.

“You should’ve seen her last year! There were a lot of tough challengers, for sure, but she was in top form!” He attempted and failed to use his arms to describe the cheers in the arena, resorting to fishing out his phone. “You know what? I recorded a video of it, we should just watch that.”

You edged closer towards him, and he tilted the screen to give you a better look. In the center of the screen was a young girl with a confident smile. She unhooked a pokeball from her belt and threw it towards the battlefield, releasing a blue chameleon-like pokemon.

“That’s her Inteleon! He was her very first pokemon. You can tell how close they are by how well they battle together,” he chatted away, talking over the commentary already droning on in the video. The way he spoke was much easier to listen to, though. You could tell how excited he was to watch, even if it seemed like he’d seen the match multiple times before.

You felt stuck between wanting to pay attention to the video and listening to Hop in full. By then end, you weren’t sure you had gotten anything out of either.

“Cool, right?” Hop said as the screen faded to black. “She’s always been good at strategizing. Not just anyone can pull off those sorts of stunts.”

“You know a lot about the champion.”

“Well, she is my best friend,” he said. “We’ve been together since we were kids!”

“Did you do the gym challenge with her?” you asked.

“Yup, sure did! I was Gloria’s rival and everything. Though obviously only one person can be champion.” He fiddled with his phone, still smiling, but unable to look you in the eye. His shoulders looked stiff. Even Cinderace’s ears had wilted a little.

And you were the person dared to press the topic further.

“Do you regret it?”

“Of course not! I would’ve regretted so much more if I didn’t even try. And I always knew we’d have to face off one day.” His answer was immediate, jaw locked and resolute. “The gym challenge taught me a lot about myself. Who I am. Who I want to be. It was the most important decision of my life, to go through with it.”

You were struck by his candor. When he turned to you, having gained the courage to look you in the eye once more, you burned under the intensity of his gaze. His words rang on repeat in your mind, and you couldn’t find any words to say. It seemed he couldn’t either, and the confidence that had filled him came out, deflating him. Hop traced the pattern of the log with his index finger.

“That got a little too real,” he murmured. “I haven’t talked about it in a while. Or, ever, really. Sorry if I unloaded on you.”

“Don’t be sorry,” you said. In reality, you were thankful. Perhaps this was something you needed to hear. “You’re resilient, Hop. That’s a rare thing.”

“Oh. Y-you think?” He said with a nervous giggle. It had an even stronger effect coming from someone who appeared so…harsh? Intimidating? Wild? He wasn’t even sure how to describe you.

Feeling light-headed from the compliment, he stood up, stretching himself out with a load groan. “Who knew I was going to be talking about the gym challenge after all that? But now I’m feeling really energized for some reason! Thanks.”

“I’m glad you feel better.”

“What about you, then? I’ve been yakking about my problems all night, and I barely know why you’re here in the first place! Tell me. No, wait, let me guess,” he said, squinting at you. You looked around yourself, wondering if you were doing anything to give yourself away. Apparently not, because Hop’s shoulders soon drooped. “I got nothing.”

“I was here to think,” you said. “About a lot of things. I’m done, though.” You didn’t mean to be vague, but it was the only word that could describe all the thoughts in your head without some drawn out explanation.

“Yeah? Come to any conclusions?”

You nodded. There was no mistake.

“I’m going to be a trainer.”

Chapter Text

Hop ran circles around you and the camp, words coming out of him a mile a minute. You weren’t sure how someone could contain so much energy.

“That’s such a good idea! I’m sure you’d make a great trainer! You’re going to do the gym challenge, right? I mean, maybe that’s a dumb question. All trainers want to do the gym challenge!” he said, throwing his hands in the air. “You won’t beat Gloria, obviously, but it’s still a good opportunity.”

He barely knew you, and he was already getting excited on your behalf. Just where had you seen that before…?

“I don’t know,” you said. But you had to admit, all this hype surrounding the event had begun to pique your interest. “I’m not very good yet.”

“At what? Battling?” Hop turned around, looking over your party. Rowlet had settled into your lap. “Your pokemon seem plenty strong enough for the first gym. What’s the problem?”

“Everything else.”

You didn’t think Hop truly understood the scope of your cluelessness. It was something one had to see in action. Still, he didn’t brush you off, and began to think aloud.

“Well, if you’re looking to train, this area’s no good. The pokemon are way too strong for someone starting out. And there’s nowhere to go if you get into trouble either,” he said, slowing as he went on. “Wait! How about you come to Postwick with me? It’s a great place for beginners, and we can even train on the way. It’s where me and Gloria got our first pokemon, too.”

No longer burdened by such difficult questions as to what you were doing in Galar, the decision was easy enough. If it was good enough for Hop, then it was good enough for you.

“Okay.”

“Great! Let’s go, then!”

“Hop, it’s still the middle of the night.”

“Oh.” It was only then that he took notice of the dark sky, giving a bashful smile. “Sorry. Got ahead of myself. Again.”

“Sleep well, Hop.”

“G’night!”

Despite Hop’s enthusiasm, you were still the first one to wake up, catching a glimpse of the sunrise as you cracked open your eyes. You could hear the soft snores of pokemon huddled nearby.

Silently, you got up and sat down on the log bench to fiddle with your phone while you waited, anticipating that Leon had texted you with some concern of his. But it appeared that connectivity out in the Wild Area was spotty at best. You’d likely have to wait until you made it to the next town, or at least get a little closer.

You pocketed the phone again, closing your eyes. Looking at all those tiny letters made you feel a little sick. You weren’t sure how a person could manage to look at something so small all day.

Something bumped up against your leg, causing your eyes to blink open.

“Hello,” you cooed at Wooloo. It seemed she was an early riser like you, with no sign of fatigue in her eyes. Instead, they were sparkling with curiosity. “Say hello to Rotom. He’s my phone. Or…he lives in my phone. I’m not sure how it works, no one’s explained it yet.”

Rotom took great pleasure at the sudden attention, whizzing around Wooloo at great speeds. She spun with him, eventually unable to keep up, landing on her bottom after tripping on her feet. This didn’t deter her from getting back up as soon as she was able, chasing Rotom around the camp.

She was so engrossed in the activity that she didn’t even notice Rockruff snoozing like a log in front of her. She was sent tumbling to the ground once more, rolling and rolling until she bumped into a bush nearby.

Rockruff, disgruntled by the sudden attack, stood at groggy attention. He looked around but found nothing, not even you inside your sleeping bag, which only served to rile him up even more.

“It was just Wooloo,” you said, pointing to the sheep, who had gone back to playing tag with Rotom as if nothing had happened, a few sticks and leaves poking out of her from the bushes. The sight made Rockruff draw out a long breath. You could see the contemplation of murder in his eyes. He really might’ve done it, had he been a little more awake.

Instead he lumbered over your direction and laid down by your feet, closing his eyes again.

You stayed in this position as you waited for Hop, but eventually gave into the urge to peek inside his tent.

He was still fast asleep and sprawled over his sleeping bag. Must’ve kicked it off of him in the middle of the night. As if on cue, he shivered a little at the draft that came in from the now-open entrance.

You began to zip the tent back up, intending to wait for him to wake on his own terms, but he scrambled into a sitting position before you were done.

“Who’s there!” he yelled, slurring his words and rubbing his eyes.  He groped at the floor until he found his phone, bringing it up to his face. The artificial light woke him up, and he recalled the events of the previous day. He slapped his cheeks, tossing his phone back down. “I’m up, I’m up. Just gimme a sec!”

You closed the tent and could hear a loud rustling coming from within as he got himself ready. In record time, he managed to stumble out, adjusting his bag to sit more comfortably over his shoulder. His hair was a mess, however, and no amount of combing it down with his fingers seemed to fix the bedhead. He gave up after a few tries.

“You hungry?” He said, taking out a flattened piece of bread from his bag, chomping down. You informed him that you’d already eaten as you were waiting. “Just how long have you been awake? You could’ve woken me up too, while you were at it.”

“There’s no rush.”

“I guess, yeah,” Hop said, talking with his mouth full. He stopped to take another large bite, finishing off the piece of bread. He bit off more than he could chew, however, and coughed, thumping a hand against his chest. Once it became clear he wouldn’t be dying of asphyxiation, he continued to talk. “But the sooner the better, right? I can have my tent down in ten minutes, tops. Are you ready to go?”

Before you could say yes, he had already turned around and knocked down his tent, cramming everything back into his bag until the zipper looking ready to pop off at any moment. But it didn’t pop off, and true to his word, he managed to get everything packed up in less than ten minutes, turning to you with a proud smile.

It was during this time that the pokemon had woken up, save for Rowlet, who was nestled away in your backpack.

“Let’s go!”

He marched forward, and you and the pokemon followed suit. He seemed confident in where he was going, which was a nice change of pace from your previous traveling companion.

--

Now that he’d warmed up to you, Hop did not want to stop talking. It was more stream-of-consciousness than active conversation, where he’d comment on any random thing that came to mind and switch topics on a whim. It was impossible to keep up with, despite your best efforts.

“—and that’s how I learned that you should never play football with Cinderace. You’d think it’d be an efficient way to train, but,” he shivered before continuing, “the whole field went up in flames. It was a mess.”

“That’s—”

“And you know what? That reminds me!” Hop said, turning to you. It was only then that he noticed he was a good two paces ahead, having sped up as he’d recounted the story. He stopped to let you catch up. “This seems like a good place to train. I said we were going to train, remember? I have to confess, though, it was mostly just an excuse to get to battle you.”

He waved his hand at the scenery and you took the cue to look around. It was a grassy area that stretched uninterrupted for quite some distance.

Hop threw out his pokeball, allowing Cinderace to get some fresh air.

“We can have a sparring match! We’ll try and go easy on you. Right, buddy?”

Hop turned to his pokemon for confirmation but Cinderace was busy showing off his soccer moves to Wooloo, ignoring his trainer. Rockruff, peeking from behind your leg, tried not to look impressed by the show.

“He’s really good,” you said, admiring the footwork. You could hardly keep up with the movements Cinderace was making. He didn’t even have to keep an eye on the pebble as he kicked it around, as if it were an extension of his body.

“He’s a really good showoff,” Hop said with a sigh, clapping his hands together. Cinderace’s ears perked up at the sound and he stopped juggling the pebble, making it disappear into Wooloo’s wool, lost forever into the abyss. “We’re helping them train. And again, they’re just starting, so let’s take it easy.”

The rabbit cheered, rushing off to take his position. You had to question whether he heard the part about taking it easy.

Rockruff, not wanting to be shown up, ran after Cinderace. You supposed he was going to be the one battling. Not that you had much choice, with Rowlet sleeping and all.

Hop’s Rotomphone rushed out to act as a referee.

“Bzzt! This is a one-on-one battle between Cinderace and Rockruff! You ready?”

You and Hop gave each other a thumbs up.

“Then begin!”

“You can go first!” Hop said from across the field.

“Okay, Rockruff. Use Bite.”

Rockruff sprinted forward, baring his fangs. Cinderace looked ready to counterattack but his trainer made him hold back (“we said we’re going easy on them”). The rabbit looked disappointed, but listened to the command, letting Rockruff chomp down onto his foot with a wince. He was able to shake the puppy off with some effort.

“Cinderace, let’s use—”

“Bite him again,” you called out. Rockruff turned back to look at you, his ears standing straight.

“Wait a second—”

“And then use Rock Tomb,” you continued anyway, putting a finger up to your chin to think, adding, “And then use Return.”

“Hold on! Time out.” Hop waved his arms around, calling Cinderace back. “You can’t do that!”

You tilted your head.

“Do what?”

Hop gestured to an invisible force, unable to form words. “You know!”

You did not know.

He gave you a look of disbelief, jaw hanging open. He looked back at Cinderace, who looked similarly puzzled.

“You, you…” he sputtered. He squeezed his eyes tight to compose himself. “You’ve gotta let us attack too! We’ve got to take turns.”

“But it’s a battle.”

“Er, yeah. So?”

“Taking turns in a battle doesn’t make sense.”

Not to mention, that totally ruined your strategy. As a newbie, you had planned on chaining as many moves as possible as they occurred to you in order to control the pace of the battle. In this case, it was quantity over quality. Even if Cinderace was stronger, as long as Rockruff could get out enough moves and hit the opponent enough times, you thought you could eke out a win. Or at least not humiliate yourself. Which you might have done by breaking another rule you hadn’t been aware of.

“That’s just the rules!” Hop said, brow furrowing. “It’s not an official battle otherwise. I don’t know what it’s like where you’re from, but you’d get disqualified for that sort of thing in an instant if this was a gym battle.”

Thinking back on it, Leon and Raihan had also taken turns reciting their moves, though it certainly hadn’t felt that way in the moment. And even considering that they had, you could have brushed it off as a result of high-level play rather than any arbitrary rule. You didn’t think it was possible to calculate and spit out orders any faster than they had been going.

“That’s…” dumb, you wanted to say, but you held your tongue. You supposed all sports had their rules, and battling was no exception. If anything, this only served to make the whole process seem more civil.

Note to self, no ganging up on the opponent. That put a damper on your other strategy to release Rowlet and Rockruff into the ring at the same time. You supposed creativity was not something the officials wanted to see.

“I guess it’s kind of a strange rule, but it’s only there so that trainers don’t have to shout over each other. Probably,” Hop said. “You really weren’t kidding when you said you weren’t good. Ehrm, no offense.”

“None taken.”

A hush fell over the two of you as Hop tried to recover from his previous statement.

“At least you aren’t as bad as that one person who ran into the field mid-battle. How crazy is that?”

You and Rockruff exchanged a glance.

“How do you know about that?”

“Oh, you know. This waiter or something working at a cafe was talking all about it on social media. I didn’t believe it at first, but there was a video of what happened after and everything. It was hilarious!” Hop burst into a fit of laughter.  “Now that I think about it, the girl looked exactly like you! She even had a Rockruff…”

“You mean the video where Rockruff knocks me over and steps on my face?”

“Exactly! The video where your Rockruff—” Hop’s breath faded mid sentence as the blood drained from his face. He looked down at Rockruff. How many people did he know with a Rockruff? Actually, weren’t Rockruff technically banned over in Galar? “Don’t tell me that was you.”

“That was me.”

He covered his face in his hands, a strangled groan making its way out of his throat.

“What’s wrong?” you asked.

“I’m an idiot, that’s what,” he said, voice muffled. He turned away from you, grabbing onto Cinderace. His pokemon gave him a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. “Please don’t talk to me, I’m embarrassed.”

“It’s not a big deal.”

“I don’t know if I can face you ever again.”

“That’s a bit dramatic.”

He peeled himself away from his pokemon, looking at you out of the corner of his eye.

“Are you mad? You look mad.”

“I’m not.” You touched your face to check. Nope, not a single wrinkle.

“Me and my big fat mouth,” he said. “I didn’t mean to poke fun, I swear! I’ll take back the repost, too!”

“Repost? What’s that?” Amidst the conversation you’d shortened the gap between you and Hop, having crossed the field to not have to shout. “You mean those hearts on the web page?”

“No, those are likes,” Hop said, lifting his face fully. For a brief moment, you thought the change in subject had helped him get over his histrionics. “A repost is—well, it doesn’t really matter if it was a like or repost. It’s bad either way.”

Sure, it was strange to think so many people had seen you, but it was hardly the big deal Hop was making it out to be. Maybe it was your lack of knowledge on the scope of the internet.

You considered trying to console him some more, but so far that method had only made him feel worse.

“You’re not a bad person for laughing. I’m sure it was funny,” you said at last.

“It was funny,” Hop whispered. He said nothing for a while, before letting out a snort. “Oops. Sorry. I just remembered what happened in the video.”

“It’s okay. Do you feel better now?”

“A little.” Pause. “It wasn’t staged, right? Some people thought it was.”

“I’m not a very good actor.”

Hop mouthed a small ‘I knew it’ under his breath.

“I guess I’ve never met someone who didn’t know stuff about battles. Not anyone your age, at least.”

“That’s why I’m practicing.”

“Yeah, you are!” he said, brightening. “And you’re doing a good job at it, too. I mean, I haven’t gotten to see you and Rockruff in proper action yet, but, you know. I’m just assuming. Do you still want to spar?”

“Let’s do it.”

Chapter Text

Cinderace was having a bad day. It was a strange thing, because things had been going so well.

It all started with coming out of his pokeball, as things usually did. He was excited too, once it hit him that Hop was still in the Wild Area. The fresh air and open fields were the perfect place to run around and practice his moves. The feeling of grass tickling his feet was one of the most satisfying sensations known to pokemon-kind.

But what excited him most of all was the prospect of battle. He knew at once that was why he’d been called out. How could he forget the way his trainer thumped on the pokeball before releasing him, as if to knock on the door to tell him to prepare for something big?

His trainer was fidgeting in his place, despite nothing about the setting being formal or at all reminiscent of their time in the gym challenge. It had been a long while since they’d sparred, after all. And what a shame that was. Cinderace loved a good battle more than anything else.

The thrill! The rush of not knowing whether it would be a win or loss, barely getting in the last strike and standing proud as the crowd cheered on, knowing he was the last one standing and then collapsing from blissful exhaustion once the results were in, the celebration that happened afterwards… Food always tasted better after a good workout.

Yeah, that was the sort of thing that suited him the best. And for the first time in too long, they had the chance to do just that. Of course Cinderace was excited.

So then, how could his trainer, his bestest friend in the whole wide world, who knew him better than anyone else, seriously expect him to hold back? At first he’d thought it was just a joke and laughed at the though. Just imagine, a semi-finalist in the league tournament, reduced to coddling some newbie? But the sly wink never came, and there was only a nervous smile as Hop kept rearranging his feet as if the ground might cave underneath him if he didn’t balance himself just right.

In short, it was torture. A battle without any stakes was no battle at all.

Cinderace could hear his trainer calling to him in the distance.

“Sorry about this. He gets sulky when he can’t give it his all. I can’t say I don’t understand, but it’s a bit difficult when we’re trying to help you out,” Hop said, looking at his pokemon, who looked to have finally calmed down. But as soon as they met eyes, it was back into tantrum-mode, and Cinderace began to roll around on the floor once more. “I probably should’ve chosen another pokemon, but I thought it would be better to use a familiar face…”

Cinderace was still flailing his arms around when he heard soft steps coming toward him. Assuming it was Hop coming to apologize, he turned onto his stomach, playing dead. He already had a plan as to how it would go; Hop would beg for forgiveness and he would wait exactly three apologies until he forgave his trainer. Afterwards, they would find the biggest Steelix they could find and have a proper match.

“We can battle properly once I get better. Right, Rockruff?”

The plan was ruined.

Instead of Hop, it was the weird trainer girl, kneeling close to the ground to talk to him. He should’ve known that Hop could never hope to walk as quietly as she just did. If it was anyone else, they might not even have noticed her approaching. His hysterics had really messed with his senses.

Whatever. His plans remained unchanged. Unfortunately for her, he was impossible to sway.

“Hey. Get up,” a voice growled. “Are you listening? Get up. She’s talking to you.”

Ugh, and Rockruff. What a stick in the mud. Why was he so serious all the time? Battles were supposed to be fun. He acted like everything was a death match. News flash, battling was a sport.

“You can’t make me.” The sound was muffled because of the fact Cinderace was facing the ground, but Rockruff had gotten the gist well enough, from the fact that he started spouting out a string of curses that made his ears curl from the force. The guy needed to calm down.

Just who was this guy to boss him around anyway? He was the one that should’ve been calling the shots, having seniority in basically every aspect you could think of. In fact, he could probably beat the guy with his eyes closed.

As this thought flashed through Cinderace’s mind, the cursing came to a sudden halt, replaced by the heavy thuds of someone ready to attack.

“Rockruff, no biting.”

Cinderace couldn’t help but snicker at the pup’s immediate obedience. He could feel daggers being glared at his way, but Rockruff made no more snide comments. He could hear more shuffling of feet and turned his head to be faced with a pair of dirty sneakers.

“I know you’re disappointed,” the girl said.

That was the understatement of the century. Cinderace said nothing, intent on continuing his pity party for the foreseeable future.

“How about we play a game, then? To cheer you up.”

What a wonderful day to be alive.

“I knew it! You were just doing this for a laugh, weren’t you,” Hop said in mock accusation.

Cinderace didn’t even hear his trainer, for he was too busy running around, wondering what they might play. Wooloo wasn’t sure what was going on, but she did know that Cinderace had been sad and was now happy, and that made her happy too. She followed suit in the running.

“We aren’t playing until we have that battle! Hey!” Hop gave in and finally ran after him, somehow managing to drag Cinderace back to the field.

Well, if his trainer was going to be that way, then fine. He’d battle, or whatever.

“Cinderace, Pyro Ball!” Hop said, opening up the battle, before adding, “But not too hard!”

Trying not to grumble, Cinderace kicked up a stray pebble from the ground, letting it bonk onto Rockruff’s head. The puppy stumbled back from the unexpected impact, not having expected such coordination from a pokemon that had given off such a clumsy first impression, but it hadn’t done anything other than disorient him for a moment.

Hop let out an exasperated groan. “Mate, what was that?”

Cinderace turned back to his trainer and shrugged. Wasn’t this what he wanted?

A perfectly boring match with—“Rock Tomb!”

In the middle of his shrug, something hit the back of his head.

And again.

Then again, again, and again, like pelting rain, except it felt like a golf ball dispenser that had broken rather than drops of water. When he turned around to see what it was, a rock hit him straight in the eye, sending him tumbling onto the ground with a howl, paws shooting up to protect his precious face.

Tears welling up in his eyes, Cinderace managed to crawl back onto his feet, picking up a few of the stray rocks. Some of them weren’t even rocks—just hard clumps of dirt that managed to stain his fur. It crumbled in his grip, sending pieces of soil back into the grass.

“Fight me, coward!” Rockruff barked, lowered onto the ground and ready to pounce.

Pushing up his nonexistent sleeves, he wiped his face off. No one called Cinderace a coward. He saw Eternatus and lived to tell the tale!

“Looks like you’re finally in the zone!” Hop said, sounding pleased. “Let’s show them what you’re made of! Use Bounce!”

Getting a running start, Cinderace hopped into the air, fast enough that Rockruff didn’t seem to realize where he’d gone off to. Flipping in the air a few times for style points, he slammed into Rockruff with his foot. He’d intended to jump right off and rub the ungraceful fall that was to follow in his opponent’s face, but something chomped down on his foot midway, causing him to trip.

“Hey, you didn’t even get a command yet!” That’s what he said, but he was already winding up to Iron Head the guy himself, which is exactly what he did. He regretted this decision as soon as they made impact, recalling that Rockruff didn’t have ‘rock’ in his name for no reason. Despite the direct hit, Rockruff didn’t let go.

“You’re not even battling seriously!” Rockruff said through clenched teeth.

“I’ll show you serious!”

Hop was probably saying more things, but all Cinderace could think about was how frustrating it was. Oh, so his trainer wanted to take it easy, but suddenly it was his fault for not being serious?

It was hard to tell who threw the first stone. It was possible that both pokemon had the idea at the same time and decided to have an impromptu snowball fight with the scattered debris from the earlier portion of their battle, using Pyro Ball and Rock Tomb respectively in quick succession at the other.

Stones streaked across the sky, creating an impressive rainbow composed of varying shades of grey. Neither side let up in their assault, and despite the growing concern of their trainers, only focused on lobbing more rocks into the air.

At this point Cinderace didn’t quite remember why he was so riled up, only that he was and that his feet were growing hotter with each kick.

The flames had already spread across half the field by the time either pokemon realized the situation they were in. The orange and reds reflected against Rockruff’s eyes, which had become wide with horror.

They were in so much trouble.

“Next time we should choose a place that isn’t so flammable,” the girl said. Rowlet sat in her lap, fanning her by flapping his wings. It didn’t help much, not when the air itself felt warm.

Hop didn’t even respond this time around, simply grunting as he downed another bottle of water. The remnants of what had been an impressive line of flames glowed beneath his feet; the girl kicked up some dirt to choke the embers out.

Hop spilled some of the water on his shirt when he pulled the bottle away, wiping his mouth with his arm.

“This sort of thing happens sometimes. But he’s gotten a lot better since we started our journey,” Hop said, eyes flitting towards his partner. Cinderace, not sure if Hop was about to get into another one of his lectures, stood with his hands behind his back, rocking on his feet. All the while, he internally cursed Rockruff for having made him so frazzled. “He was just really excited today. It’s been a while since we tried to battle. Must’ve been a bit antsy. I’ve been meaning to, but I guess I was just busy… Well, I guess that’s just an excuse.”

The two trainers talked back and forth for a time, while the pokemon congregated for their own meeting; barring Rockruff who had no sense of camaraderie and was still grumpy about being scolded, despite the fact it was half his fault for going out of turn in the first place. He sat near the girl, eyeing them from the sidelines.

The general consensus was that it was a good day, as long as one ignored the whole being scolded for almost burning down the Wild Area. Wooloo was particularly pleased by all of the day’s events, having found the the flames to be a good alternative to the fireworks that shot up in the sky every year. They were just as pretty, and half as loud. It would’ve been less than half, if not for the fact that Hop had been yelling the whole time. It was a shame she’d been carried away, she’d been trying to get a closer look at the view.

Rowlet didn’t contribute much, other than the occasional snicker under his breath, but he did note Wooloo to be an above-average nest. Perhaps even on par with the backpack.

It was in this lull in the conversation that it came to Cinderace’s attention that his trainer had stopped talking, to let the girl speak.

No offense to Hop, but she had much more interesting things to say. In part because she was someone new and didn’t constantly talk about his “thesis” and “deadlines” but also because she saved up all her words until they were ready to be said.

Cinderace didn’t turn his head, thinking that might make the eavesdropping obvious (as if they couldn’t notice him suddenly creeping on the ground with Wooloo in tow). Instead, he let his ears do all the work, straightening to get the best angle possible.

“I think she’s lost. I’m trying to find her flock.”

Pause. A lengthy one, filled in by the sound of crackling flames. Since when had they built another fire? Now that he thought about it, since when had it gotten so dark?

“She sure likes you, though. You did save her from being flown off,” Hop said, choosing his words carefully. He paused, as if hesitating to continue. When she didn’t voice any disapproval, he pushed on, “It seems to me like she considers you her flock.”

“I…you think?”

Both Cinderace and Rowlet turned their heads to Wooloo. One couldn’t be sure if she was listening or not, with that persistent smile of hers. Cinderace poked her with his paw, eliciting a small giggle from the sheep.

Both trainers honed in on the sound, staring her down as if she might give them the answers.

“Not to brag, but I’m a professor in training. Not to mention, my thesis is on pokemon behavior. I think I know a thing or two about it,” he said, grinning. “It’s not uncommon for lost Wooloo to find and join new herds, they get agitated otherwise. And when two herds meet, they combine to form one big one! Pretty interesting stuff, huh?”

“That is,” she said, sounding like she meant it. More than all the other people who nodded along whenever Hop went on rambling combined. She never turned away, either. “Do they get lost a lot?”

“Hm, not really. Sometimes they’ll get separated, but I’ve never seen one wandering all the way out in the Wild Area like this. It’s just a feeling, but I think this one might’ve gotten lost more than once. Better keep an eye on her.”

Cinderace turned to confront Wooloo on the matter, but she had already disappeared. Just how the hell did she do that? When he looked back, she had rolled into the leg of the girl, who knelt down to put a gentle hand on Wooloo’s head.

“You’re so precious,” she said, taking out a pokeball from her bag, which had been strategically dragged next to her by Rowlet for easy access.

Rockruff, though his breathing was too fast to be asleep, did not say a word.

“Are you sure you want to come with me?”

There were no words that needed to be said. Wooloo smushed her nose towards the ball, essentially capturing herself.

It was the first time Cinderace had seen her smile so openly in the day that he’d known her. She held the pokeball close to her face, continuing to whisper some more with a tender expression. 

“This has never happened before,” she whispered, so quietly that only Cinderace with his hearing and Wooloo with her proximity could hear.

“Hm? What was that?” Hop said, though it didn’t look like he was paying proper attention to anything other than her serene expression. Cinderace knew that look on his face; Hop was up to something. But the girl didn’t look up from the pokeball she still cradled in her hand, wrapped up in her own world of strange thoughts.

“She didn’t look at me strangely even once.”

It was past bedtime. Cinderace had always been an early to bed, early to rise sort of pokemon, but that day (or rather, night) was an exception. He refused his pokeball and insisted on following Hop into the woods, much to his trainer’s dismay. His excuse to the girl was that he wanted some fresh air, but they all knew that in the Wild Area, the air was always fresh.

Still, he was not questioned.

“I think we’re close enough to Postwick,” Hop said conspiratorially to Cinderace once they were far enough from camp. Despite having been offset by his pokemon’s sudden insistence in staying up, Hop looked glad to have his partner to talk to.

He unpocketed his phone, waving it around as if to enchant the air. Once he was satisfied he turned it on, recoiling at the sudden light. Once he became accustomed to the overly-blue light, he smashed in a phone number rather than going into his contacts; he knew this one by heart.

Pulling the phone up to his ear, all that was left to do was wait. He took to biting his nails and pacing back and forth as he did so, growing increasingly agitated by the lack of response.

“C’mon, I know you’re there! You never sleep!”

The ringing tone of the phone echoed in Cinderace’s ears, imprinting them with the sound. He folded them over, feeling his head begin to hurt. But before he could fear the worst, the echoing stopped, and Hop straightened out.

“Finally! I thought you might not pick up! You won’t believe what happened today.”

Hop didn’t even wait for a response before going into an entire spiel about the day’s events from start to finish. Despite how long it took, it was hardly a comprehensive retelling, with Hop jumping out of chronological order as the thoughts came to him.

“—and I thought she was kind of scary at first but it turned out that’s just how she looks! Er, don’t tell her I said that. She’s really nice!” Hop stroked his chin. “And I think that’s about it. What do you think?”

If Cinderace tried really hard (and got really close to the receiver), he could just make out a tired voice.

“Hop, you didn’t even say who this person was, I could hardly keep up. What’s this about a burning field?”

“Don’t mind that, it’s fine now. We stopped it before it spread too much,” Hop said with a small cough. “And are you sure I didn’t mention her name? I must’ve done that somewhere in there…” Hop went on to talk about the girl in more detail, slower this time, and including her name.

“Anyway, I was just calling to ask for something, I hope you don’t mind.” Once he finished a second time, there was a noticeable pause. Hop even thought for a moment that the signal had cut off. “You still there?”

A cough.

“I am, I am! I was just thinking, is all. What is it?”

Chapter Text

Plants hung from every nook and cranny—ceilings, shelves, tables, and even the tiled floor were subject to numerous potted plants of all varieties. There was even proper greenhouse of sorts near the back. As you stared down one of the brighter blossoms, you found yourself nearly tripping over a book on the floor.

“Careful!” Someone stomped down the stairs, clad in a lab coat. “Sorry about the mess, I was in the middle of cleaning… Oh!” It was then that the woman seemed to realize that you were someone she had never seen before and began to smooth her lab coat down of wrinkles that didn’t exist. “You didn’t tell me we were going to have a guest, Hop,” she said through her teeth, clapping her hands together.

“Hi Sonia! You’ll never guess what happened while I was out on the field,” Hop said, glossing over the passive aggression in last statement. “She’s a gym challenger! She’s going to be, anyway.”

Hop breathed in, and you knew that no one else was going to get in another word for the next while.

No matter how many times you saw it happening, you couldn’t help but remain impressed by the sheer speed that words could spit out of a person’s mouth. It had to be something you were born with. You certainly didn’t have it.

“Slow down, I can hardly register what you’re saying,” Sonia said, having begun to pick up some of the papers littering the floor in a half-hearted attempt to make the lab appear tidier. She reached out to grab a paper in your direction, but gave pause at a snarl, falling backwards at the noise with a shriek. “What is that?”

You picked up Rockruff, who had been sneaking behind you the entire time. Seeing that he was only a puppy, Sonia put down her arms, which had been protectively extended in front of her face. You weren’t sure what she thought you brought that would be so dangerous. At first she simply looked relieved, but that soon turned to intrigue once she got a better look.

“A Rockruff! Oh, aren’t you just precious, protecting your trainer like that. Who’s a good boy?” she said, voice raising an octave. She leaned in at first, but had to take a step back once Rockruff attempted to bite off her nose. “Okay…maybe not such a good boy.”

“Sonia, are you listening?” Hop said, his foot tapping against the floor.

“Yeah, yeah. I got the gist,” she said with a shrug, before facing you. “Hi, I’m Sonia, the professor and owner of this lab! I see you already got acquainted with Hop over there. Hope he didn’t wear you out too much on the way here.”

You introduced yourself, assuring Sonia that you were fine.

“No, no, no. Sonia, you don’t understand,” Hop tried once more. “You won’t believe who I got to endorse her!”

You looked at Hop for an explanation but he didn’t pick up on the gesture.

“You know everyone in the league, Hop. You have to be more specific than that,” Sonia said with a raised brow, unimpressed. “Unless… are you endorsing her? Now that’s a story. Or maybe Bede fell in love with this fair lady and just had to show off his influence?”

“Wha—no!” he said with a stomp. “I mean, I would do it in a heartbeat if I wasn’t so poor. But I am poor. And Bede would never do something like that. Why would I talk to the guy anyway? He’s still a jerk.”

Sonia didn’t answer, instead asking a few more questions about Rockruff. Though she no longer tried to pet him, she still made a few kissy noises in his general direction, which were not appreciated. She even released her own pokemon, a Yamper, who happily jumped around at the prospect of a new friend. Rockruff did not return this sentiment, looking increasingly blinded by the sheer joy a single pokemon could exude. At least Wooloo could be averted with a well timed butterfly.

Hop was pouting now, disappointed that no one else seemed as excited by his accomplishments. His eyes seemed to flash even brighter, as if to compensate, like gold coins flipping in the air.

“What do you mean by endorsing me?” you asked at last, sensing that the conversation wasn’t moving forward. Despite the question, half of your mind was still preoccupied with something. Whenever Hop talked, there was just something about him that you couldn’t place, and whatever that something was, it had only become more apparent in that moment.

“You know, for the gym challenge! Can’t start your journey without a sponsor, obviously. And don’t worry, it’s not just any old person. It’s…” he stopped, despite looking red in the face from all the excitement. You were half-concerned that he might burst. “Actually, let’s just keep it a surprise! You’ll thank me later, I promise!”

You hadn’t even made the final decision to join, and here Hop was, putting the cart before the Rapidash.

Yamper and Rockruff were barking at each other, for entirely different reasons. The sounds pierced your ears, disrupting your concentration.

At last, Rockruff tired of the back and forth and turned away. Yamper whined, ears drooping at the reaction. With a sniff, he slunk forward, nudging Rockruff’s tail.

Rockruff bolted up at the sensation, jumping forward. Yamper, assuming this to mean their play session had resumed, hopped after.

“You aren’t saying anything. Um, did I do something wrong?” Hop shifted in his spot, hands rubbing together as you watched the miniature tornado that was forming around you.

“Maybe she didn’t want to do the gym challenge,” Sonia suggested. “You do get a bit carried away with these things.”

“Is that it? You don’t have to force yourself, we still have time!” Hop backpedaled. “It’s just, people are quite busy in the League, so I had to call right away! The sooner we can match schedules the better, after all.”

Sonia shushed Yamper, having grown tired of the sound of their paws scratching the tile. The puppy, always eager to please, came to a screeching halt, causing Rockruff to slam into the other dog at just the right angle to trip you. Although the force wasn’t enough to bring you down, it caused your phone to shoot out from your jacket pocket, causing it to clatter onto the floor.

Yamper grew small in his seat as his tail stopped wagging so quickly, head tilting to make sure you weren’t angry. Rockruff just harrumphed before turning away.

“Oh no, I’m sorry about Yamper,” Sonia said. “He rarely gets to play with another puppy. Your phone’s not damaged, right?”

“It’s okay,” you reassured, though you weren’t sure if those words were meant for Hop or Sonia or Yamper.

You could hear Rotom muttering a few unsavory words as he buzzed to life, but it seemed he was otherwise unharmed. The screen hadn’t cracked. Rotom flew upwards, lowering himself back onto your hand. The phone glinted from the movement, courtesy of the abundance of sunlight streaming in through the windows of the building. It enhanced the gold of the exterior.

Gold.

Gold?

“I’ll do it,” you said, not quite processing what you said until after letting them out into the open. You pushed the strange thoughts aside for a quieter time, shoving your phone back into your pocket.

“Right, right. I’ll have to text…” Hop began defeatedly, before realizing what you said. “You’ll do it? You mean, you’re doing the gym challenge?”

“That’s what I said.”

Hop gave a fist pump, jumping into the air with a hoot.

“Great! Actually, you’ll be able to get your endorsement in a few days, since the person is visiting soon for work. Life sure finds a way to work out, huh?”

“If that’s the case, then let me install the pokedex onto your phone,” Sonia offered. “It’ll be useful on your journey.”

You gave her your phone because she seemed so eager to be of help, but you really had no clue what a pokedex was. You’d probably only use it once before forgetting how it worked.

Nevertheless, Sonia, ever eager to appear more professor-like, paced around as she tinkered with the device.

“It’s basically an encyclopedia for pokemon,” Hop said. “It’ll tell you everything you need to know about the pokemon you catch.”

That did sound nice.

“Done! Here you go, your pokedex is up and running,” she said, handing back your phone.

You managed to open the app on your phone and there Wooloo was, in all her pixellated glory. You tapped around but nothing happened.

Hop, who had been peering over your shoulder, grew impatient and pressed something, causing text to scroll at the bottom.

[Its curly fleece is such an effective cushion that this Pokémon could fall off a cliff and stand right back up at the bottom, unharmed.]

“This is true?” you asked.

“Of course it is! Every single one has been peer reviewed multiple times,” Hop said.

“But that means…” you stared down at Wooloo’s pokeball, recalling her slow descent onto the ground as she was released from the clutches of the Braviary, the panic you’d felt in your chest.

“What does it mean?” Hop said, blissfully unaware of the flashbacks you had just gone through.

“It means nothing. Thank you, this is very helpful,” you said. “I’m going to walk around town, now. Do you want anything from me?”

“No, go ahead! I have to draft my findings so this is good timing. Have fun!”

You stared down at your phone, the dark screen showing you a glimpse of your reflection. But not for very long, as the screen lit up with a text from Raihan. Well, no. The text was just an excuse for him to send another picture of himself.

- happy to report that im still hot

i can see you typing

you know

it would be a lot easier if you just got instungram

Raihan had taken to having one-sided conversation in which he anticipated what you were typing. You were sorry to admit that more than half the time, you had to delete your half-composed text message. It was equally impressive and frustrating to throw away all your hard work, and you could imagine the self-satisfied smile he had on his face every time those three dots at the bottom of the screen disappeared for a moment as you started over.

But today, you were determined to get a word in. Nothing could stop your rampage of words.

- I’m entering the Gym Challenge.

Ha. Bet he didn’t expect that.

His response came less than a second after.

- damnnn congrats

but whos endorsing you

no offense but i don’t think anyones gonna scout you

yeah actually

how the hell did you get a sponsor so quickly

- Hop helped me.

You were about to explain who Hop was and how you met, but that would’ve meant Raihan had to wait for the next 10 minutes. And he couldn’t just wait.

- nepotism got it

lmao just kidding

you never went to a school so that was probably the only way it was gonna happen

lucky break though

it usually takes a few years before you get noticed

You made a note to thank Hop later.

- shame though

and here i was gonna offer to endorse you myself

- You’d do that?

- it would be hilarious so yes

but really, who’s endorsing you?

wait lemme guess

he told you its going to be a surprise

lmaooo you stopped typing i knew it

Your nose scrunched at that. Seriously, he had to have some sort of power. Or was he able to see you through the camera?

- youd be faster if you didnt write like you were sending a letter all the time

makes you look like a robot

- But writing like that isn’t normal.

- just try it

ill even wait for you

like a gentleman

- like this? lmao yolo

dab

Hop taught me new words on the way to Postwick.

sorry

ill try again

hop taught me how to do it on the way to postwick lit

For the very first time, there was a delay before Raihan began to come up with a reply. The speech bubble popped up and down before he finally sent something.

- lets just pretend this never happened

You didn’t quite understand what you did wrong. Raihan was in the middle of typing again, but your brain was beginning to hurt from scanning the keyboard so much, and your thumbs had cramped up from the tension.

“Rotom, call Raihan please,” you said, raising the device up to your ear. He picked up at once, evident from the chuckle coming from the speaker. “Hello, Raihan.”

“Sup. You all typed out, or something?”

“It takes too long. And what’s a lmao?” You weren’t sure how to pronounce the word, so you sounded it out slowly. Luh-maow.

Raihan kept inserting it into every other sentence and you had no idea what it could mean. It certainly had never been in any book you’d read, nor was it listed in the dictionary. Were people just making up words, now? How could a person possibly keep up?

There was a stifled snort that transformed mid-way into a cough.

“Oh, you know. It’s an acronym.”

“For what?”

“What do you think?”

“Let me ask…” You paused, before feeling a small peck on the head. “Owl.”

“Close. It means laughing my ass off. Did Hop tell you anything else?” His voice lowered at the last sentence, as if he had to be delicate about his wording.

No,” you said. Although you didn’t have any cool colloquialisms to show off, you did, in fact, have another question. “Is Hop, I mean, is Leon—actually, no. I’ll ask myself.”

“Ah. Sure.” Raihan, for whatever reason, didn’t quite have the same energy as he’d had for his other responses. In fact, he sounded rather cautious. You could hear the shuffling of feet across the floor, followed by a thoompf as he sat down on what sounded like a couch. “Is it that important?”

“Not really. I just think it’s strange to talk about people when they aren’t around.”

There was a slow release of breath.

“Makes sense. Well, other than that, you should take your time exploring the area if you haven’t. Take a picture or two while you’re at it, too.”

“You’ve never been here?”

“Actually, I was supposed to investigate Slumbering Weald today, but—shit, was that supposed to be confidential?” There was a long pause, followed by a creak as he shifted his weight in his seat. “Okay, don’t tell anyone I told you that. And don’t go there either, unless you wanna get lost.”

“I don’t even know where it is.”

“Oh, you’ll know. It’s the only forest around. Plus, it has a gate to prevent anyone from going in. So steer clear of gates and forests and you’ll be good.”

“Okay, I won’t.”

“I’ll hold you to that.”

The two of you talked a bit longer about more trivial things, with Raihan doing most of the talking and you going along with whatever he said. But the conversation eventually wound to a close, with you hanging up. Good timing too, as it promptly shut off from a lack of battery. The phone lay on your lap as you considered all the things you’d talked about.

Your thoughts were interrupted by Wooloo nuzzling her nose against your leg, asking to play. She must’ve escaped her pokeball while you weren’t looking. Not that you blamed her—she’d been in there all day.

While traveling, amongst teaching you about all the hip slang, Hop had also expressed his concern of having too many pokemon out at once, driving his point home by showing you numerous articles and posters of lost pokemon. The lecture had done its job, and you decided that the safety outweighed the strange feeling of keeping creatures inside technologically-advanced machines.

You’d felt awful for having to play favorites, but you couldn’t imagine not having Rockruff by your side. Nor could he imagine leaving you to fend for yourself. Rowlet stayed inside your backpack most of the day (and when he was awake, he always stayed on your head, as he was now), so he didn’t take up much space in the first place. That had only left Wooloo.

At least she didn’t seem cross with you. Then again, you didn’t know that she even knew how to be angry in the first place. She’d moved on from your leg and began to make her way towards Rockruff, who slapped her away with a flick of his tail.

You stood up from the public bench you had sat down in while conversing on the phone, stretching yourself out. The call had been a long one. So long, in fact, that you’d hardly gotten around to exploring Postwick.

No matter, it didn’t seem like such a big town in the first place. Certainly not as overwhelming as Hammerlocke. Hop was right; this was a good place to start your journey.

Walking around, you found yourself attracted to the small river that ran near the outskirts of the town. The stream was extremely clear and sparkled against the rising moonlight. It even looked good enough to drink. You leaned forward to see if any fish were swimming and immediately regretted it, for Wooloo ran right behind you and nearly caused you (and more importantly, your very expensive phone that had been gifted to you only a few days prior) to drop into the water below. Wobbling on your feet, you managed to keep your balance, but only just barely.

“Wooloo,” you said, sucking in your breath. But when you turned around, she had already rolled away, likely not even noticing that she’d nearly pushed you in. You decided to let it go, not having the heart to chastise a pokemon so sweet.

Rockruff didn’t seem to agree with your decision, however, and chased her down. Rowlet, unable to resist the show, flew after. You didn’t bother following. It was pretty clear that Rockruff was all bark and no bite when it came to Wooloo. Maybe, deep, deep down, even he had a soft spot for the pokemon. You also trusted Rowlet to mediate in the event that this turned out to be wishful thinking.

You began to walk after them, but perhaps you should’ve been quicker to react, as they seemingly vanished into the horizon. You paused, feeling your pulse quicken as you recalled the horrible stories Hop had fed you.

Your uncertain steps turned into a jog as you swiveled your head around, looking out for your companions.

The tension unwound from you when you saw a familiar silhouette.

“Please don’t do that again,” you said, picking up Wooloo from behind. You turned her around to make sure she understood you were serious about her well-being.

You were met with a panicked expression.

Wait a second. Wooloo didn’t have that chip in her horn…

The not-your-Wooloo wiggled free from your grasp, dropping onto the ground with a few bounces. Another baa resounded in the distance where the Wooloo rolled off to, and you followed the sound.

What you saw was not just the one Wooloo, but a whole flock of them. You were fairly certain that you could recognize the Wooloo you were looking for, but from a cursory glance, even you had to balk at the task. But what else were you supposed to do? You couldn’t just give up. Rolling up your sleeves, you began your search.

Midway, a voice snapped you out of your sheep-searching frenzy.

“Oi! Yeah, you!” You froze, mid-examination. It wasn’t often a stranger struck up a conversation with you. “What the bloody hell are you doing? You’ve been picking up and dropping the same ten Wooloo for the past fifteen minutes!”

Had you done that? Now that you looked, this Wooloo did look familiar. Had you already sifted through the entire group? Then where was your Wooloo?

“Look, you’re scaring the poor things. Sober up, will you? Kids these days…” The old man shook his head before continuing his stroll, muttering under his breath.

You set down the pokemon, and the Wooloo scurried away to huddle with its friends. You didn’t move, thinking perhaps Wooloo had just been having too much fun to realize your concerned search. She could have thought it was a game of hide-and-seek. But no figure came out of the quivering cluster of pokemon, eyeing you warily from a distance.

A small hoot. Your eyes snapped upwards, and Rowlet came gliding down.

But Wooloo was nowhere to be seen. Nor was Rockruff.

“Where are they?” you asked, before deciding that ultimately, it didn’t matter. “Take me to them.”

He flit back into the sky, heading in the direction out of town. You hopped over the fence that separated the grassy fields and the dirt path, over the stone bridge you had meandered too long on, and past a house that had you stopped to admire, would’ve thought was the embodiment of cozy, into the woods.

It wasn’t often that you went back on your word.

Chapter Text

You made no effort to hide the loud crunching of footsteps as you kicked up the foliage. Wild pokemon scurried away at the unnatural noise, unaccustomed to human contact. Rowlet glided in front of you, leading you deeper in, light fading as you grew farther from the entrance. Rowlet eventually landed on a rock that sat between two paths. You assumed this was where he last saw Rockruff and Wooloo. Neither of them were in sight.

“You’ve been a big help,” you reassured Rowlet. He wasn’t the most expressive, but you knew he held his friends in high regard, secretly watching over them in case things got out of hand.

Letting Rowlet rest, you took a few steps back to take in your surroundings, as you were prone to do, before realizing that it would be impossible. You blinked, rubbing your eyes as if it was a problem on your end. As expected, this did nothing to relieve the fog obfuscating your vision.

Even you felt disoriented from it all. You could barely make out the looming trees that scraped against the sky, the blades of grass that tickled your ankles. Some of the mist had settled near to the ground, making it appear as though your feet had been submerged in clouds, or that you didn’t have feet at all.

The scenery reminded you so much more of a dream than anything you knew about reality. A very, very real dream. In this dream, with the mysterious fog and echoing sounds of forest life, you felt as if you had stumbled upon a place far away from yourself. As you thought all of this, standing all the while, you felt that your balance might give way.

This was no time to be drifting off. You strained your ears for any sound of a bark, a growl, just anything generally dog-like, knowing even the slightest of sounds would help drive away the sleepy feeling. Rockruff, if he had noticed the situation at all, most certainly wouldn’t stay quiet about it.

But there was nothing. Perhaps there was a chirp, or rustle, or the occasional snapping of branches, but none of it was what you were here for. Such sounds didn’t register with you in that moment, and it was like you heard nothing at all.

“Ouch,” you said, as Rowlet pecked you right on the forehead. It seemed he had calmed himself down, enough that he’d settled back into his role of keeping you on track. He was still bent over from the top of your head, staring you down.

Rockruff and Rowlet hardly had much in common, but the both of them had a hell of a stare. You could feel the pokemon boring into your skull.

“You’re right. We should keep going.”

There was no difference between the two paths that sprawled out in front of you, so you picked the one on the left on a whim. In the back of your mind, you made a special effort to focus on the feeling of Rowlet’s talons digging into your hair.

“What do you mean she isn’t here?” A slip of paper fluttered onto the floor, but no one paid it any mind. “And you haven’t heard from her in two days? Hop, this is serious!”

“Well, I was busy typing something up the whole time… I didn’t realize she hadn’t called the whole time until a few hours ago,” Hop said with a sheepish laugh, shoes squeaking against the floor as he sought to relieve the tension that had settled. “Sonia wouldn’t know either, she would’ve said something. But you know, she’s a grown woman. For all we know, she’s just the next town over to explore. You don’t have to be so worried.”

Hop was right in all respects. But then what was that sense of unease permeating the lab?

“I’m going to look for her.”

“Wait, you can’t be serious. I haven’t known her long, but she’s the reliable type, you can trust her to come back.”

Hop’s words fell on deaf ears. For whatever reason, it didn’t feel as though the next town over was the answer, however reasonable the assumption. No, it couldn’t have been so simple.

As if to confirm these suspicions, the rickety gates of Slumbering Weald, always closed to make sure children didn’t wander in on accident, swung ajar.

And he knew it couldn’t have been a coincidence.

You were bound to find an unruly pokemon sooner or later, but you hadn’t thought that the pokemon in question would be a bear trap. Who knew that was even a possibility? Your leg would’ve been chopped clean off if you hadn’t jumped after noticing that the ground felt strangely solid.

Whatever pokemon it was, it did not take kindly to being stepped on, and began to flop over towards you at a pace you didn’t realize that something with no limbs could have. Were it not for the threatening gesture, you would’ve given genuine applause.

A few steps backwards later and you felt something brush up against your ankle. Another one. As if on cue, the jaws snapped shut as you stepped away. If you looked carefully, you could make out more figures on the forest floor from the metallic sheen they gave off, all around you.

Great, you’d been surrounded by pokemon that weren’t even supposed to move.

Taking great care not to step on anything else, you made your way through the grass, managing to keep your feet intact by being on constant alert. You had just about made it all the way to the edge of the patch when something (or rather, things) burst out in front of you. Your body lurched back on instinct before remembering the peril behind you, but by then it was too late to change trajectory.

You could feel metal digging into your ankle as you managed to regain your balance, resisting the urge to take yet another step back and potentially getting your other leg stuck. Hopping forward, you tried to shake off the pokemon but it’s grip on you was tight. In fact, the pressure on your leg only grew stronger.

The pair of pokemon that had sprung from out of the foliage were headed straight for you, clearly angry about something despite the fact you’d never seen them before in your entire life. You couldn’t get a proper look, but you could feel from the gust of their flapping wings and the shadows cast over your face. A fine dust scattered over the area, coating the inside of your lungs with something that glued your lungs shut and made your eyes water. Your legs began to cramp up and you couldn’t be sure that you could move them anymore.

“Rowlet,” you called out, trying to cough up whatever had entered your system without much luck. Your words felt dry in your mouth. You weren’t sure how you got the next words out without having a fit, nor how you thought to say them. “Use Peck!”

You had completely lost sight of him at that point, having to wipe away the tears that kept welling up in your eyes while keeping an eye out for any more bear traps. But without missing a beat, you could hear whatever pokemon in the air being smacked down onto the ground.

Only one. Hadn’t there been two?

You forced your eyes back open and made out a shadow hurtling past with an indignant cry, further riled up from witnessing its partner being bodied. A command would come too late.

This was probably not allowed in the rulebook (scratch that, it was definitely not allowed), but you mustered the strength to lunge at the second pokemon that had dodged the attack. The two of you tumbled on the ground, with you getting a second dose of the powder, this time making you inordinately sleepy. Your grip loosened as you tried to keep awake, allowing the pokemon to wriggle free.

At least it made whatever pain you were feeling in your leg go away.

“Razor leaf,” you managed to spit out, thankfully loud enough that Rowlet could hear. You had to curl up into a ball to avoid being caught in the rain of sharp leaves falling from the sky. There was a cry as the pokemon were hit. There were more sounds as they retaliated but you couldn’t see; the fog and powder and drowsiness did not mix for the best eyesight.

Rowlet and the mystery pokemon tangled in the air as you attempted to deal with the pokemon attached to your leg. You couldn’t make sense of your own fingers but somehow jammed them between the iron teeth. You tried to pry them open, simultaneously digging your heels into the ground, but you didn’t have the strength.

In that short time Rowlet had already been surrounded, shrouded by the cover of the pokemon’s wings. His hooting echoed through your ears and you redoubled your efforts to escape the trap, now stomping in hopes that this would do anything, but how could you flatten this pokemon any further? In a last ditch effort, you pulled on its side appendages (fins? Were those fins?) with all your might, having forgotten your delicacy. With a groan the trap swung open as easily as a door and you kicked it away, crawling back onto your feet, ignoring the temptation to let them give out underneath you.

Before you could make sure Rowlet was okay, a sudden light pierced through the fog. Your first thought was that you had woken up and were about to see the sky again, the world as tranquil as it always was.

Your second thought was the realization that this couldn’t be true. It wasn’t the sun or anything else of that nature that was emitting this white light. It was Rowlet himself, engulfed in a glow that made the two pokemon cower. When Rowlet emerged, they had already fled.

“Are you okay?” were you first words in the aftermath, as you attempted to jog your way over before feeling a pain shooting up your leg. You had to settle for a determined hobble, holding our your arms so Rowlet could fly back into your arms.

You had to do a double take.

Rowlet changed. No longer was he quite as small and round, or as inconsequentially light. In fact, as he swooped into your embrace, glad to see you safe, it even crossed your mind that he had become heavier than Wooloo and Rockruff combined. Lifting him higher into the air, you could see he no longer looked the same either.

This was Rowlet? But then, who else could it be?

“What happened?” you murmured, finding yourself unable to raise your voice much louder now that there was no urgent need to yell. Of course, Rowlet was able to give you no answers, beginning to preen himself clean of some dirt that had been lodged in his plumage.

You turned him around a few times as if you might find a switch to turn him back to normal, but there was nothing. His feathers were as real as they had been before, now a spiffy white and brown rather than cream.

You stopped once it became apparent he wasn’t overtly harmed by the change. That and after he kicked you after running feeling you’d examined him enough.

If it had been up to you, then you might’ve spent the rest of the day in pure awe, poring over every square inch of your transformed friend, but you were all too aware of your current situation.

“We have to find Rockruff and Wooloo. Can you still fly?” you asked. He squawked (he had never squawked before), as if to say, ‘look who’s talking’, before settling down onto the ground next to you, picking at your bloody sock. Bits of it had been torn off and lay scattered on the ground. “It looks worse than it is.”

He still didn’t fly, deciding to walk instead, a rare show indeed. When you didn’t follow right away, his head swiveled to look at you. Taking care not to put too much pressure on the bad leg, you tottered forward.

“Thanks.”

This was a terrible idea. What else was supposed to happen when a person tried to walk through a foggy forest? Being lost sucked. But at this point, there was nothing to do but walk forward, spurred on by concern.

Despite all the panic though, there was a part of him that couldn’t help but feel nostalgic. It had already been what, three years since he came to this very forest? The situation’s were similar enough that it gave him deja vu to think about.

Wow. Three years. Time really flew by.

Life was certainly less busy these days. Perhaps that was a good thing. No one needed another Darkest Day. Then again, work was always looming over his shoulder. Even this trip had been business related, though business was the furthest thing from his mind at the moment.

His feet stopped as he tried to shake off all the unnecessary thoughts. Focus! You’re trying to find someone, here!

But wait, hadn’t he seen this tree before? And this path, as well?

He closed his eyes, remembering how you seemed to so easily absorb the environment around you, trying to channel this skill for himself. But gah, how could he do it, when everything looked so alike? Several minutes passed, and he was no closer to figuring it out.

He just couldn’t understand.

Perhaps it was due to Rowlet’s help as a nocturnal creature, but he was a natural at navigating through the twists and turns of the forest, leading you down path after path until they all converged into one. At some point in time that you couldn’t trace back to, the fog had even begun to thin out. 

There were no words to describe the following sight, but you’d be damned if you didn’t try. The last wisps of purple fog blew away and revealed a clear view of the greenery, emerald green in the shade, and a bright chartreuse wherever the sun hit. Yes, the sun.

For the first time in so long, you caught a glimpse of the sun’s rays, peeking out through the canopy above. Shimmering particles scattered as you passed, stepping closer to the ancient stone monument that stood in the center. The lake, appearing iridescent, served as the perfect backdrop to this ethereal scene. If the previous scene had been a nightmare, then this was the complete opposite.

But who cared about the scenery? Certainly not you, as you found yourself bursting into a sprint all over again, forgetting about all your aches and pains and dirt smudged all over your clothes.

In the center of it all, sitting with the vigilance of a statue, sat Rockruff. Beside him, Wooloo, who was taking a nap without a care in the world.

You could see his eyes lighting up as he recognized your figure, barreling towards you with his tongue hanging out and tail wagging faster than you could see. He jumped into your arms, nearly knocking you over from the force, but it didn’t even matter. You fell down onto your knees as you hugged him, forehead pressed against the dirt as you felt him lick your cheek.

“We found you,” you said, voice still hoarse but undoubtedly higher than usual. Rockruff barked, but not in the way he usually did, where it sounded like a death threat. It was his friendly bark; the one he saved for secret moments such as these. He would’ve kept going, were it not for the fact that he caught a glimpse of Rowlet standing beside you, waiting for his turn in the limelight.

His fur stood on end for a moment as he jumped down from your arms, demeanor immediately shifting. Rowlet gave Rockruff a light smack with his wing.

This caused the pup to jump back, never having expected anyone to act so bold as to slap him. But then there was a click, something about the action that told him it was no stranger that stood in front of him. A sniff only confirmed his suspicions as he realized who it was.

He acknowledged Rowlet with a begrudging nod, batting the bird with his paw as payback before trotting back to your side. Now that he wasn’t so riled up, he took notice of your red-stained sock, pressing his wet nose up against it.

Ouch.

It seemed everything inside you had decided to relax at the same time, and you could no longer ignore what your body had been telling you to do this whole time.

“I’m fine,” you said with a weak wave, trying to ease Rockruff’s concerns. But it was hard to do when you were still on the ground. You picked yourself back up and inched your way to the center of the monument, where Wooloo was still curled up.

You had to hand it to her, as far as places to nap went, it didn’t get much better than this. The sun hit in just the right way that neither burned nor blinded you, and the stone provided a cool surface to sleep on. Most importantly, there was nothing there to disturb or hurt you. Perhaps that wasn’t a given, but it was just a feeling you got, like a blanket that kept you safe. Any being that stumbled across this place would agree.

Rockruff and Rowlet appeared beside you, looking just as tired. You’d all had a wild ride, and the three of you were ready to take a well-deserved rest. Rowlet and Rockruff sat beside you as you slid onto the ground.

It was warm. The air was clear.

He wasn’t sure how it happened, but he’d somehow stumbled his way into the sanctuary of Slumbering Weald. He knew this place from Hop and Gloria’s repeated descriptions of the enchanting atmosphere.

It was silent, save for the sound of water flowing and the wind blowing against the trees. Not a single bird chirped, as if they knew this was a sacred place not to be disturbed.

He didn’t realize it himself, but he’d also begun to walk more carefully, to respect this peace. In stark contrast, there was a building excitement in his chest for whatever reason; it felt as if something important was about to happen.

And in a way, that was exactly what occurred.

In the center where the altar lay, was a girl and her three pokemon, sleeping the day away. It was you.

But rather than running, or yelling in relief, he slowed down, until he was at a near halt.

Your head was slumped over to the side as you took in quiet breaths, expression serene. Well, it always was, but the atmosphere made the whole thing seem meaningful somehow. He had only ever seen you sleeping twice, and this was the first you’d done so in broad daylight. The light that tricked through the treetops lit up the background in such a way that made him think you were glowing.

Leon was a busy person. In part it was his occupation that forced him to be this way. One couldn’t keep a region running by itself. But there was also just a part of him that was never quite turned off, the part that gave him the drive to become the Champion in the first place.

But in that moment, in a manner contrary to himself, he did nothing at all.

Chapter Text

Before your eyes even opened, you could tell you were no longer in the sanctuary. For one, you couldn’t feel the ground. Secondly, the ground would never feel this shaky. Or warm. Was this another dream?

You could feel arms tucked under your torso and legs. You could tell there was muttering but it wasn’t loud enough to hear any specific words. Cracking your eyes open, you were once more assaulted by the fog of Slumbering Weald and you could safely assume you were quite a ways from the monument you had fallen asleep against.

Your eyes drifted upwards, gaining focus with each blink. That purple hair and tan-complexion was familiar.

“Leon.” You lifted your hand and brushed your index finger against his beard. It felt very real. Scratchy.

“You’re up,” he said, entire head turning to look at you. Long lashes. You felt his grip tighten around your shoulders, but it didn’t hurt. At least you could be sure he wasn’t about to drop you. “You can keep sleeping, if you want. You’ve been through a lot.”

You let your hand drop back onto your chest, deciding it couldn’t be a dream after all. People never talked in yours, like some sort of silent movie. You opened your mouth to speak, but your voice caught in your throat and only a cough escaped you. It was exceedingly dry and you found yourself wishing you could have something to drink. A finger brushed up against your lips and sure enough, they felt chapped.

“I can walk,” you managed to get out. You tried to roll out of his grasp, but his arms wouldn’t budge.

“Maybe you can, but you really shouldn’t. I don’t have anything with me right now, but we’re getting that leg of yours wrapped up as soon as we get back to the lab, and I’m not letting you touch the ground until we do,” he said. “Just what happened?”

The question must’ve triggered something inside your mind because you felt many times more awake. Explaining the situation was a trivial thing.

“Where are they? Rockruff and Rowlet and Wooloo,” you said, twisting your head to see if they were trailing behind on foot. On the ground were Leon’s footprints and no one else’s.

“It’s okay, they’re in their balls. I put them in your backpack, see?” he said, shrugging one of his shoulders to show off the strap that hung from it. Indeed, the color and design were the same as yours. You hadn’t realized it wasn’t on your back anymore. It was almost always attached to you in some form so your brain had learned to forget the sensation of the backpack’s weight over time. You stopped trying to struggle against Leon and leaned back.

“Good.”

“I’m surprised, actually. I didn’t think Rockruff would be so cooperative.” Leon said with a chuckle. “I think he might be warming up to me, but maybe I shouldn’t jinx it.”

“You’re too nice to hate.”

“You won’t be saying that when I lecture you once we’re back in town. You didn’t even answer your phone, I was so worried.” He said, swapping out his gentle expression for a frown. It looked like he was making a conscious effort not to raise his voice, but that didn’t do much to get rid of the strain in his voice.

“Wooloo and Rockruff ran off,” you said, thumbing the backpack strap. To be frank, you’d forgotten all about your phone. It had probably run out of charge anyway, but still. What had he even gotten it for if you didn’t use it in a time like this? “I’m sorry.”

You remembered in the nick of time your promise with Raihan. It was too late not to enter the forest, but the least you could do was keep him away from trouble.

Your stomach sank a little bit imagining Raihan’s reaction. You had really messed up. Disappointing Leon was one thing, but you had promised Raihan just moments before rushing into the very place you weren’t supposed to go. There were few things that bothered you as much as appearing like you hadn’t been listening to a person. It didn’t matter how good your excuse was, right now you were looking like a Grade A hypocrite.

“Who knows what would’ve happened if I didn’t manage to find you? I can’t even imagine it, that we might’ve found you starved in the woods…” he began, before cutting himself off before he got any more upset.

There were no words you could say, truly. You could feel Leon looking at you again and you forced yourself to keep eye contact.

“It’s really frustrating,” he said at last, sighing, “but you’re impossible to be mad at. You’re just so resigned about it all, it makes me forget everything I was going to say.”

Leon looked conflicted about it all, tied between concern and going ahead with the lecture anyway. He looked more miserable than you probably should’ve been.

“Thank you.”

“That wasn’t a compliment. Actually, well… Hm.”

“I meant, thank you for coming to find me.” A small smile formed on your face. “You could’ve waited, but you came yourself. It says a lot.”

“Of course. I couldn’t just sit back and watch,” he said, suddenly very interested in staring at whatever was straight ahead. You turned, but you could only see more trees. He was quick to recover from the awkward silence. “And congrats, Rowlet evolved into Dartrix!”

“Dartrix? I don’t understand,” you said, brows knitting together. “He’s not sick, right?”

“No, no! It’s the opposite. Evolution is just what happens when a pokemon gets more powerful. And Dartrix is the name of the species he turned into, just like how he was a Rowlet before. You might want to call him by that name from now on. It’ll be confusing otherwise.”

“There was a light…” you said, remembering the battle, the sudden transformation. You hardly had time to dwell on things when you were trying to search for your other friends, but now that things had calmed down, something in you felt unsettled. Or maybe not so much unsettled, as concerned. Pokemon could just become other pokemon? Their names could change?

This wasn’t like learning about moves, or battles, or even poke balls. You could feel the sudden shift so much stronger with this, and unlike all those other times, it was hard to come to terms with, despite it being a seemingly positive event. But if it was true, and Rowlet was now Dartrix as Leon said, then there wasn’t much to do but come to terms with it.

“I’m guessing the two of you got caught up in a battle. The guy must’ve been determined to win.”

You wanted to get Rowlet—er, Dartrix—out right away, but you were certain that Leon would say to wait. The discussion would have to come later.

“But I’m surprised, I knew they were strong, but I really didn’t think any of your pokemon would evolve so soon. Are you sure you aren’t a trainer?” This question was posed lightly, but there was something about his tone that made you think Leon was legitimately confused, continuing his train of thought under his breath, “Starter pokemon are actually quite uncommon in the wild. Then again, you were able to catch Dartrix in a pokeball without any problems. Rockruff, too…”

He seemed to realize he was talking out loud and coughed. The conversation eased into silence as Leon continued to walk. You were impressed by the care he took to keep you as comfortable as possible, avoiding bumps and ridges that would require him to lift up his legs too much and disturb your position. It was only when he paused in front of a fork in the road that something occurred to you.

“Where are we?”

He didn’t answer right away. Rather, he wasn’t able to.

“How long have we been walking?” you tried again.

“A while…”

Oh dear.

You asked him to stop, and he obliged. If his hands weren’t full from carrying you, he most certainly would’ve hid his face in his cap.

You took advantage of this moment to look around. Even you had trouble with this area, your mind having been more occupied with wondering where your pokemon had gone and if it was even reality than your precise whereabouts. Luckily, you caught notice of something, and you pointed towards it so that Leon could bring you closer.

“It’s my sock,” you said, as he bent his knees to get a better look at the scraps of red and white littering the ground. “I think I know where we are.”

You could see the color coming back into his face.

“Oh thank Arceus.”

Other than you instructing Leon on how to get out of the forest, the two of you didn’t talk much for a time. You were feeling the effects of running around for what apparently had been multiple days, and it was not pleasant. Your stomach felt hollow, and despite the nap, you still had a hard time feeling completely there.

It was only until you were sure that there were no more complicated twists or turns to walk through that you said anything, no longer having to concern yourself with losing your sense of direction mid-sentence.

“What’s the champion like?”

Leon immediately stiffened.

“The champion?”

“Hop talked about her a lot. Gloria,” you said, repeating the name a few times. “It’s a pretty name.”

“Oh. Of course,” he said smile returning to him, albeit not as relaxed. “She became champion a few years ago, following the events of the Darkest Day. Have you heard of it?”

You shook your head, so he explained it to you.

There was a storm that swirled over the entire region due to a pokemon—Eternatus. Holes ripped in spacetime from the sheer power it wielded, energy pouring out in enormous quantities as it absorbed everything in the surrounding area. Both Hop and Gloria had been present for the climax of it all. The two even had the help of the legendary pokemon, Zacian and Zamazenta. In the end, it was Gloria who captured Eternatus and saved the region with her pokemon.

There were a lot of buzzwords in his explanation that you didn’t know the exact meaning of, but you were fairly certain you’d understood the gist of it. What confused you most was the wistful expression on his face. A deed so noble should’ve been met with pride, no? No matter how you looked at it, Leon wasn’t the envious type. It couldn’t have been that.

You had a feeling you’d known the entire time, and simply never addressed it. Numerous thoughts flooded your mind—colors, quirks, interests—so many that you didn’t have time to consider them all properly.

“Are you feeling woozy? You started to space out there.”

Perhaps it was this apparent wooziness that allowed you to speak so boldly.

“You and Hop are brothers,” you said. “And you were the champion.”

Leon’s whole body locked up once more, adam’s apple bobbing as he swallowed thickly. You could make out a tentative nod, but he didn’t seem to know if he wanted you to see it, not even looking down at you to gauge your reaction as he continued down the path.

“Yeah,” he said. His words came out in a continuous exhale. “How--did Hop tell you?”

You didn’t expect him to appear so small when you were the one being carried, as if he was a child caught stealing from the proverbial cookie jar.

“You two have the same eyes. And hair. And complexion. And,” you stopped, feeling a little silly now that you realized just how similar they looked. It wasn’t even their appearance that had made you question things in the first place.

Another part of you argued that they weren’t similar at all. Leon and Hop both loved pokemon, but so did a lot of people. Hop explained his excitement while Leon exuded it. There was nothing to compare; they were separate joys.

“It’s in your voice. The way you talk about things that excite you.”

“Well, we’re brothers,” Leon said with a sound that sounded like a cross between a cough and a laugh. “…you aren’t mad?”

“I don’t know what I’d be mad about,” you said, feeling a sense of deja vu. “I never asked.”

“I suppose you’re right.” But his shoulders were still tense. “I should’ve told you sooner. Now I’m the one who has to apologize.”

You wanted to reassure him that it was okay, but just how were you supposed to go about doing something like that? You honestly weren’t sure what part of the revelation was supposed to be so upsetting. It wasn’t like you were particularly loose-lipped about yourself either. Not because of any secrets you harbored, but that you never really thought to mention such things without being asked. You’d assumed Leon was the same way.

“I’m not usually like this. I mean, everyone knows who I am, at least in Galar. I can’t remember the last time anyone had to ask for my name,” he said. “I would’ve told you right away. I was going to.”

You looked around the forest to search for something to say, not that nature would tell you the answer. But something did catch your eye from the ground.

“You told me now,” you said, attempting to sit up. He stopped walking to accommodate you. “Can I walk? I’ll be fine on my own.”

He was taken aback by the sudden question. If it weren’t for his guilt over the conversation, he wouldn’t have let you down. He wouldn’t have even paused to consider such a thing. But he did let you down, on the condition that you let him support you. As you lowered your good leg onto the ground, you could feel an arm wrapping around your shoulder.

You gave your other leg a few taps on the ground to test that it could still hold you up; it hurt a bit, but nothing you couldn’t handle. You took the first step forward, and Leon followed suit, matching your slower-than-average pace without complaint.

“It must be a busy job. To be champion,” you said, eyes trained on the ground. You made sure to look up every once in a while, in case he thought you weren’t paying attention.

“That’s an understatement. You’re never not busy,” he said, eyes taking on a glint that told you he was reminiscing. “It’s a satisfying job, though. Important, too. People count on you to keep them safe.”

“What do you do now?”

“I work at the Battle Tower, and I’ve taken up the duties of the chairman. It’s different, but there’s always something to do. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed.”

“You’re not busy enough that you couldn’t search for me.” You finally reached the stone that had caught your eye. You kicked it, sending it a few feet in front of you.

“Hey, I was worried for you!”

“I know. Thank you. Again,” you said, focusing on the stone. If you kicked it at the wrong angle, it would be sent into the bushes.

The air felt nice, now that Leon was around to help you stay focused. It was like a mist that settled around your face.

“I wonder what you think about, when you go quiet like that,” he commented, as the stone landed in front of his feet. He gave it a hearty kick himself, but he was overzealous, and ended up throwing up dirt into the air along with the rock. He winced a bit, trying to wipe off the clumps of damp soil during the next few steps.

“Is that a question?” you asked. It wasn’t meant to sound passive aggressive, though it was possible it came off that way. You had never been the best at recognizing things like that.

“It is,” he said, after a moment of contemplation. “What do you think about?”

Now that was a strange thing to ask, with an impossibly large amount of answers. You stopped Leon to search for the stone, digging it back up with the toe of your shoe.

“Right now I’m thinking about the day you bought me a phone.”

“That’s random.”

“I don’t think it is.”

He kept giving you things you didn’t ask for. A room to stay in. Food to eat. His company. Time and money were both important things. It wasn’t very different, to compare both now and then.

You finally found the stone and kicked it high up into the air, catching it before it could hit the ground. You brushed off the dirt that had settled into it with your thumb, holding it in a clenched hand as you began to walk again.

The trees were thinning out and the sun more consistently peeked through the thinning rooftops of the trees, casting the forest in a more friendly green glow.

“I was thinking about the phone you picked out for me. The one that looked like a mirror.”

“Mirror?” He paused before seeming to recall. “You picked that dark one instead.”

“It wasn’t dark. It was matte.”

He scrunched his nose.

“Either way, my point stands,” he said.

“My eyes aren’t mirrors.”

“It’s not supposed to be literal. Just,” Leon stopped himself as if realizing what he was about to say. You could see him wondering how he should go about it, or even if he should continue at all. His brow furrowed, frustrated by his hesitancy. The next few words were forced out of him, stilted. “I can see myself in them. Not myself, necessarily. It feels like you see things as they are, rather than how people suppose me to be,” he said, flow of words slowing as he tried to get them out just so. His voice stopped being so strained and more…you weren’t sure. It was like he was trying his best not to disturb something. “Hop is Hop. Raihan is Raihan. And I’m me. Leon. With you, it’s all so beautifully simple. But I got carried away with that feeling. I lied to you.”

Was that how it was? People weren’t wrong, though. Leon had been champion, and now he was the chairman. Indisputable facts. You didn’t know the weight of those positions, but you could guess there was a lot of expectation to conduct oneself a certain way. To an extent that Leon and his persona became the same person. But what were titles to you anyway, except another thing to learn about? They weren’t all of him. But they were all him. And you didn't mind that at all. 

“Leon, you’re,” you began, before starting over. It was always so much easier in your head. Never in your life had you wished more than this moment that the words could flow out of you as it seemed to do for others. “You’ll always be Leon to me.”

A smile spread on his face, unlike all the other one’s he’d shown you before, and you thought that he might’ve understood, if only a little.

“I should never have worried about telling you.”

“Are we still friends?”

“I should be the one asking you!” he said. “But I’d love to be, if you’re willing.”

The two of you had made it to the gate now, and were engulfed in the sun. Taking a step away from Leon, you stared into your hand. You looked up at your friend, nodding to yourself. He gave you a quizzical look.

Hand still obscuring the stone, you set it into his hand.

The stone was smooth, polished from having been washed over a million times by the flow of the river. One might even describe it as svelte. It had the diameter of a ping pong ball, but not quite as spherical, able to hide comfortably in one’s hand. Staring into his eyes, you felt more confident in your decision.

“I know it isn’t a phone, but,” you began as he opened his palm, feeling the weight of the device he had bought for you in your pocket. Though from the look on his face, one wouldn’t have guessed you’d gotten him anything less. You could see it shine even brighter now that you were out in the open, a brilliant amber, clear enough you could see right through. “It reminded me of you.”


 

                                                                           

Chapter Text

The first thing Sonia did when she saw you was hold her nose and give you the keys to her house so you could use the shower. She also told you to borrow some clothes while you were there. Looking down at the state of your jacket (or your entire body, frankly), you could say nothing but thank you.

A woman named Magnolia greeted you at the door and let you in without any questions, nodding with a strange amount of familiarity. You turned around, wondering if you’d missed out on something, but found nothing behind you.

Magnolia guided you to the bathroom, handing you a spare change of clothes. You wasted no time hopping into the shower, shuddering as cold water ran down your body. You regretted not waiting for it to warm up first, but there was another part of you that welcomed the feeling. It made you feel clean.

Dirt and leaves flowed into the drain, causing you to have to pause your bathing session to unclog it in the middle. Now that the dried up blood had been scrubbed clean, the cut didn’t look nearly as bad, though infection was a concern of yours.

Coming out of the shower, you were given a good talking to from Magnolia.

“Dear, you’ve got to dry yourself more thoroughly than that! Just look at the back of your shirt, it’s practically soaking…” she said with a click of her tongue, whirling you around by the shoulders to comment on your job not-well-done. “You’ll give yourself a cold at this rate, mark my words.”

You thought you’d done a decent-enough job at first, but that confidence faded once Magnolia was done spinning you around. Needless to say, she made you go back for a second round of toweling. Still, she was nicer than any other old women you knew, though that might’ve come down to the fact that you knew very few old women.

There was a hair dryer, which you did attempt to use, but the sheer volume at which wind was capable of whistling through the devil-machine the first time you turned it on made you hesitant to try.

At last, an hour later than planned, you were allowed out of the house. Your leg was tightly bandaged to the point you would’ve been concerned about your blood’s circulation if Magnolia had not assured you, on her honor as a pokemon professor (though she technically wasn’t one anymore, you didn’t know that), that this amount was perfectly safe. A part of you did wish that it was Leon wrapping you up again, though. He had a delicate touch.

“Thank you for—”

“Oh, enough with the thank yous,” Magnolia waved. “Just grow some sense is all I ask. I don’t want to see you looking like you’ve been running through mud any more, you hear?”

“Yes ma’am.”

With that, you were promptly ushered towards the door, barely given the time to retie your shoes. Again, Magnolia gave a small nod, and this time, you were sure it wasn’t directed at you.

You stood at the porch for a moment, feeling as if you’d forgotten something in the house when you realized that you didn’t have your backpack nor any pokemon with you for the first time since—well, ever. It was among such thoughts that you caught a glimpse of something off behind a distant tree, a hint of purple that poked out.

“Leon, what are you doing here?” you said. You hadn’t gotten close enough to confirm that you were correct, yet felt oddly confident in your deduction.

Giving up at once, he stood with his arms in the air, sheepish expression written all over his face.

“Well, there’s tall grass on the way here, and I figured you want this back,” he said, unslinging a backpack from his shoulder. Your backpack.

You snatched it from him with as much grace as you were willing to exert at that moment (not much) and opened it completely, a few pokeballs rolling onto the ground. You dug through a myriad of other empty pokeballs before coming across one that was just a tad heavier than the rest. Perhaps it was your imagination, but you thought the ball shook a little in anticipation as you let the pokemon loose.

“Rowlet,” you said, recognizing the orange beak, before balking a bit at the sudden silhouette hurtling towards your head. A weight crashed down on your head as you felt your neck bend backwards, unable to accommodate for the sudden pressure. You had to hop a few step backwards as you grabbed hold of whatever had tangled itself atop your head, bringing it forward. A sense of alarm ran through you. This wasn’t Rowlet.

“Dartrix,” Leon corrected. You looked around, only then realizing he had shuffled over a few steps behind in case he had to catch your fall. “Looks like he’s too heavy to sit on your head anymore.”

Rowlet—Dartrix—gave a hoot. The timbre was unlike anything you were used to. It was rougher, certainly befitting a larger pokemon like the one in your arms, but not any of your pokemon.

“Right,” you said, staring down at the pokemon. “Hello.”

That earned you a nice peck to the face, causing you to recoil as he swooped away, instead landing on Leon’s arm. Not that you blamed him, not once since you’d first introduced yourselves had you greeted him with such distance.

You were about to voice your apology when the pattering of feet interrupted.

“What’s taking you guys so long? It’s been more than an hour!” Hop said, coming to a skidding halt, jaw dropping at the sight of Dartrix. “Rowlet evolved! Congrats, mate, I’m sure he’s much stronger now! But why is he with Lee?”

“Ever the sleuth, aren’t you, Little Brother?” Leon laughed, though it sounded more nervous than anything. His eyes flickered over to you, gauging your reaction.

“Do you think he’ll sit on my arm, too?” Hop said, already having forgotten the question. He lifted up his arm and brought it closer to Dartrix. “This is such a rare opportunity!”

Dartrix took a careful step onto Hop’s arm. It didn’t look nearly as sturdy, and Hop was already a bit shaky from the anticipation. By the time his second talon had gripped on, the arm had already lowered a bit.

“Okay, he’s a lot heavier than he looks,” Hop said with a grunt, managing to lift his arm back up to eye-level with some effort. “But wow! His plumage is absolutely pristine. Guess it’s true that Dartrix are dandies. What a beau! Just when did he get the chance to evolve?”

“We were in the forest, and he was fighting off two pokemon,” you said, conveniently leaving out all the parts where you bodied one of the pokemon to help out. “But then he started to glow.”

“Two pokemon!” It was Leon that made the exclamation this time, a mixture between concerned and impressed. “It sounds like the two of you make a good team.”

“We do,” you said, pleased by the compliment. From the way Dartrix’s feathers fluffed up, you were sure he felt the same way. “It’s because we think alike.”

“But enough about that. You didn’t say you knew her on the phone, Lee,” Hop said in mock accusation. “I knew it was fishy! You would never endorse a trainer you didn’t know. I’m surprised, too. When Gloria and I just started, we had to get Professor Magnolia to convince you.”

“I already saw her pokemon in action,” Leon said with a shrug. “And even if I hadn’t, Dartrix is proof enough.”

Leon was the one endorsing you? Now that you thought it through, it was strange that he’d show up in the woods without reason.

“Looks like you were in the dark too,” Hop said to you, arm trembling before finally giving out. Dartrix fluttered to the ground. “Well, surprise! I was hoping to get a bigger reaction out of the two of you meeting, but that’s too bad. I suppose it makes the whole process easier.”

It was then your stomach decided to gurgle in protest.

“I’m hungry,” you said. Until then, you’d been relatively fine. Your mind had suppressed any urge to eat, the task of finding your companions prioritized before anything else. But they were safe now. With that in mind, those two words released some sort of dam inside, and you felt that you could eat the rest of the day and still want more.

“That’s no problem, either! Mum’s gone and made food since Leon’s come back. You can come too!”

Rockruff acted off around Dartrix. Not that he was scared, exactly. You didn’t think it was that he didn’t recognize the bird that sat in front of him either.

You’d let Rockruff out (only Rockruff, to be safe) to free him before lunch. The two of you had a quick hug before Rockruff had his fill of being soft for the day, eyeing down Dartrix. He walked around and around, sizing up the newly evolved pokemon at every angle with his nose scrunched up, as if he were upset about something.

Rockruff and Dartrix had always been a package deal. They came with each other, and despite their quarrels, nothing had ever seriously come between them in all the time you’d known them. And that was a long time. In a way, Dartrix was Rockruff’s best friend. Only friend.

So what were you supposed to think when Rockruff hit him? Not a friendly bonk of the head gone wrong, either, but a legitimate attempt to scrap with the bird.

Dartrix didn’t take too kindly to this, retaliating with a kick of his own. It could’ve been dodged easily enough, and you knew Rockruff was aware of this, yet he didn’t budge, taking the hit full force.

You let out a short gasp before pulling the pokemon apart. From Rockruff’s stance, you could tell he wasn’t about to give in just yet, attempting to lunge over your arms to get to Dartrix.

“Rockruff, what are you doing?” you said sharply, and even the pup had to flinch at your tone. You never raised your voice at him, not in his brattiest of moments. He let out a small whine, putting a paw on your arm. “Don’t try to shift the blame. Dartrix didn’t do anything wrong here.”

You readied yourself to say more when the words refused to come out. It wasn’t that you wanted to take them back, more so that you realized the hypocrisy laced within them. It might not have been for the same reasons, but you didn’t know what to make of the sudden evolution all the same.

“Food’s ready.” You snapped out of your daze and found Leon standing with a plate of skewers. “Am I interrupting something?”

You shook your head, and Leon allowed himself to sit some distance away, taking a kebab from the plate. Eyeing Rockruff to make sure he didn’t cause any more grief, you took one for yourself.

You twirled the skewer in your hand, admiring the array of colors, before taking a bite. It was good. You thoughtlessly pointed the skewer in Rockruff’s direction before stopping yourself. Weren’t you supposed to be disappointed in him? You mulled it over for a moment, before deciding that food was something to be shared, regardless of any negative feelings.

Rockruff took a few hesitant steps forward before taking out a piece of the kebab. You watched as he turned around, as if ashamed, hunching over to eat.

“Do all pokemon evolve?” you asked, breaking the silence.

“Not all,” Leon said, looking unprepared to have a conversation with food stuffed in his mouth. He hastily wiped his mouth with a napkin before continuing, “But most do. Rockruff will, too, eventually. And Dartrix still has one more evolution to go.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“You don’t seem very excited.”

“So Charizard also evolved?”

“From a Charmander, yeah. We’ve been together since the very start.”

“I suppose Rowlet’s not coming back, then.”

Leon’s expression softened. He set down his now-empty skewer.

“So that’s what has you bothered.” Leon peered over your shoulder and gave a small whistle. Dartrix, who had been perched up on a nearby tree, swiveled his head at the sound. Realizing that Leon was calling for him, he swooped down without a sound, landing on Leon’s arm as if it were the most natural thing in the world. “He’s still the same pokemon.”

You knew that much. You knew, and had determined to get over it in your time at Slumbering Weald, but to no avail. It wasn’t so much the change itself that bothered you, but the pace of it all. It was jarring, no matter how you looked at it. There was no goodbye, no preparations, no warning of any kind. If you hadn’t fought that day, then perhaps he wouldn’t have evolved.

“When you took him out, he tried to sit on your head. I think he’s having to adjust from the change as well.” When you didn’t answer, he attempted a different approach. “Why do you think pokemon evolve?”

“To get stronger.”

“Yeah, that’s true. But it’s not all from fighting. It’s the experience that really counts,” Leon said, tapping his head. “You could say it’s a sign of maturity. A pokemon can’t evolve until it’s ready, physically and mentally. If you think of it that way, it’s not sudden at all! In fact, everything they’ve been through simply accumulated into one moment.”

“Hm,” you said, not having thought what to follow your statement up with.

A breeze wafted through the area, and you were reminded of the rest of the world. Blinking a few times, you peered at the horizon, where the sun was setting. A pokemon flew by at the exact moment your eyes came back into focus, and for once, you knew what pokemon it was.

It was a Corviknight, wasn’t it? Leon had told you about them. You supposed it would’ve been strange, for a pokemon to be born so big and powerful straight out of the egg. This one didn’t seem to be a part of the taxi service, as it was carrying nothing but the feathers on its back. It was probably one of the bigger things in the sky, flying without a care about what was below. How free.

You shifted your gaze back to the ground, inching closer to Leon while mirroring his pose, offering your arm to Dartrix. You weren’t one to ever doubt, but for a moment, you worried that you had offended the bird and he wouldn’t come to you.

But he did come, stepping onto you with a delicate touch to make sure his grip didn’t break skin.

“I’m sorry, Dartrix. I was worried I didn’t know you anymore.”

He cooed, giving you a familiar peck on the forehead, and you knew it couldn’t have been anyone else. Yeah, he was your little beau. You let out a short laugh, perhaps out of relief.

“You too, Rockruff,” you said, not having forgotten the pup who still stood awkwardly in the sidelines, having watched everything unfold. He cozied up next to you, looking unsure of himself. “Evolution or not, I would never think any less of you. I hope you know that.”

“I’m sure they know,” Leon said. “I’m glad we’ve got that sorted out. Now that we have, I can finally give you this!”

In a manner not unlike the time he gave you poke balls, he procured a formal-looking document out of thin air.

Your endorsement letter.

“You scared?” he asked, poking fun.

“No.”

Your quick answer made him raise an eyebrow, but his smile widened.

“Then, do you think you can beat Gloria?”

Woah there. You’d just learned how to battle, and here Leon was, asking about the champion match already. But that eagerness he had was what made him so eye-catching in the first place.

Your hand found its way over your chest, reminded of that battle between Raihan and Leon. Were you any closer to that feeling? You weren't sure yet.

“If that’s what it takes, I’d do anything.”

Chapter Text

“So you’re telling me,” Raihan said between gasps, “you ate the food? Without slipping it behind your head or anything?”

“Rockruff would’ve known,” you said, but your sound logic did nothing to hinder his laughter.

“You can’t make this stuff up!”

You were invited back to Hammerlocke once he found out you had gotten your endorsement. You had asked Leon to come along as well, but he simply said there was more business to attend to, omitting all other details. You figured it was the confidential mission that Raihan had mentioned on the phone and didn’t pry further.

Both you and Raihan sat on one of the numerous empty bleachers inside the Hammerlocke stadium, the sounds of his amusement bouncing off the walls as you recounted your journey as per his request. He had the general timeline since he pestered you so much on the phone, but you never had the energy to go into full detail via text, and calls just didn’t feel the same.

He laughed at parts of the story you didn’t realize were laugh-worthy. Not that it was a bad thing; it made you feel like you were a decent storyteller. But that did mean the story dragged on longer than you anticipated, since he kept digging for more details in unexpected places. You hadn’t realized how long it would take you.

Case in point.

“How was it?” he asked, smile wide enough you could see his canines. “The food.”

“It wasn’t food,” you said, all too seriously. A shudder ran down your spine. Raihan clapped his hands together, body heaving, unable to compose himself for a good while. “Please don’t laugh at my suffering.”

This only served to worsen his fit.

“I’m good,” he said eventually, coughing into his fist. “Go on.”

You continued the story, slowing down as you got to the part you weren’t sure was okay to mention. You did mean to tell him, of course, but not the way to approach it.

“I just noticed,” Raihan said, realizing you weren’t continuing for whatever reason and filling in the silence himself, “Rockruff is the only one out here. Are the others in their balls?”

You nodded, and his brow raised. Even Dartrix, who you always allowed to settle in your backpack, had been delegated to the contraption. Despite his new size, he fit well enough, and you were willing to put up with the added weight, but Rockruff was still on uncertain terms with him. You didn’t want to risk any more drama, at least not until you found a good time for a group meeting addressing the recent incident.

“You seemed pretty stuck on letting them roam free last time I saw you. Something happen?”

It looked like you were going to have to explain yourself regardless. You’d been hoping to have more time, but such was life.

“I couldn’t keep my promise,” you said, bowing your head a little. “Wooloo ran into Slumbering Weald and I went looking after her. Hop had just told me about the dangers of keeping so many pokemon out, too…”

“I’m guessing that’s why you didn’t respond to my texts for two days.” He said after a while, rolling his shoulders to stretch, deep in thought. You waited for his response, feeling guiltier as he let out a long sigh. What a fool you were. You wouldn’t blame him if he never trusted you after this, though it hurt to think about.

“I’m sorry.”

As you looked down at Rockruff for comfort, a hand came down on your head to ruffle your hair.

“Looks like I didn’t have to warn you after all, huh? Seeing you’re still alive and all,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about losing any pokemon in the gym. Feel free to let them out.”

He sounded…not disappointed in you.

Well, this was unexpected. You tilted your head as if that might make you understand his motives better, but he looked as self-assured as usual, possibly more so. You didn’t know how he kept that face up all the time. Maybe it was stuck that way after practicing for so long.

You tapped on the bench and Rockruff dutifully stepped out of your lap so that you could turn your backpack around to take out the pokeballs containing your pokemon. When you released them, Raihan let out a low whistle.

“Someone evolved,” he said, nodding approvingly at Dartrix, who sat on your shoulder now that he proved too large to perch atop your head. Wooloo skipped over to Raihan, jumping into his lap. He didn’t question the gesture, instead running his hands along her springy fur as he continued. “Was it Slumbering Weald?”

“We fought two bugs. They looked like butterflies.”

“We?” If you were anyone else, perhaps he wouldn’t have gotten so caught up on the wording, but he couldn’t help but ask.

“It’s not fair to fight two on one,” you said. “And I didn’t hurt it.”

Well. Looking back, perhaps the tackle was a bit more aggressive than strictly necessary, but considering the circumstances, you thought the situation had been handled pretty well.

The bear traps, on the other hand…

“Right…”

“Leon came to find me afterwards. I was very impressed that he found me.”

“He’s the one that ended up endorsing you, right?” Raihan rolled his eyes. “Should’ve guessed as much when he asked to switch jobs with me. The guy’s absolutely enamored. Never seen anything like it, frankly. You secretly a witch, or something?”

“I know a witch,” you said, too thoughtfully. “She said I’d make a terrible one. Because I have ‘no sense for theatrics’.”

“I…was not expecting that answer,” he said. “But looks like you’re taking it all in stride.”

“I really didn’t,” you said, lifting up your arm to give Dartrix a scratch under his beak. You could feel Rockruff staring at the two of you from his spot beside you on the bench. Dartrix pretended not to notice, enjoying the feeling of being preened. “But it’s new, and I’m doing my best.”

“Speaking of new,” Raihan said, taking out his phone. “You still haven’t made an Instungram account. Or Flappler.”

“I couldn’t find it.”

“Find what?”

“I searched on my phone but I couldn’t find an Instungram anywhere.”

“Did you download it?”

“…download?”

He waved his phone in front of you, pointing to a blue icon in the corner.

“You know, from the app store.”

You had, in fact, pressed on that button once. You’d been bombarded with sliding images and a number of icons you couldn’t make sense of and assumed this was for advanced phone users.

“You are such a grandma.” Raihan held out his hand. “But fine, I’ll show you how to do it.”

You scooted closer as he began to go over how to navigate the mystical app store. Thankfully he was much easier to follow than Hop and Leon. He talked slowly and paused ever once in a while to make sure you understood what he was talking about. By the end, you had two shiny new apps installed onto your phone.

Taking back your phone, you lifted it up in wonder.

“Raihan, you’re amazing. That was really fast.”

“I know,” he said, chuckling. “But the wi-fi had better be fast, the gym doesn’t pay extra for nothing.”

“Does this mean I can put my pictures onto the internet?”

“Sure thing. You have something you want to post?”

You did, actually! At last, something you weren’t completely clueless about. With an air of pride, you pulled out your camera roll, already filled with a couple pictures you had taken on your trip to Postwick. You’d meant to send them to Raihan but had trouble figuring out just how to do it. You ended up coming to see him in person anyway, so you had decided it would be easier to show him in person.

You pressed on one of your favorites and moved aside to give Raihan a better look.

“Woah, that’s…” he said. “You did this? This is, just—Wow.”

You nodded.

“Do you like it?”

“Were you having a seizure when you took this photo? Or was there an earthquake I didn’t know about?” he asked, squinting as he leaned in closer.

“What do you mean?”

“What do you mean, what do I mean? Just look at that. What is that.” He began to scroll as you continued to hold up the phone. “Holy shit. They all look the same. I’m so impressed, I might cry.”

Rude. So maybe it was a little blurry. But you could still tell what photo was which, easily. You gently pushed his hand away to show off your camera roll from the beginning, brandishing your index finger.

“This is the laboratory. Then Rockruff. The river. Hop.”

“That one’s not so bad, actually.”

“…he took that one himself when I wasn’t looking.”

“Oh.”

“This is a cool rock I found. A leaf. A coin. Another rock,” you said, recognizing each subject so quickly and with such conviction that Raihan was almost convinced that he had an aneurysm that caused him to see the photos as blurry when in fact they were completely normal for everyone else. “That’s a picture of a pokemon I took just outside the gym. It flew away so you can only see the head. Do you know what it’s called?” You pointed to a dark spot in the otherwise overexposed photograph.

“You know, looking at the picture, I can’t help but wonder the same thing.”

But at last, he came to a photo that just would not stand. The proverbial straw that broke Camerupt’s back.

“Okay, that’s literally just a black square.” He looked around, wishing he had someone to confirm he wasn’t crazy, but the stadium was predictably empty.

“That’s the night sky.” You frowned. “I don’t know why the stars didn’t show up.”

Raihan inhaled slowly, covering his mouth with one of his hands.

“A real shame,” he said, but he didn’t sound disappointed at all as he let out a series of coughs. If he’d seen how beautiful the sky was that night, you were sure he wouldn’t have sounded so insincere. “How about I take a photo for you? It didn’t look like you have any selfies.”

The infamous selfie. You had admittedly attempted taking one a few times, but it never turned out quite right. But when Raihan pressed something on the screen and turned the camera around, you were dumbfounded, to say the least.

“That makes a lot of sense,” you whispered, examining your face. No wonder you couldn’t get your face in frame. You took back the device and held it up, recalling how Raihan had done it before.

“You’re already shaking,” he said, stopping you before you could take the picture. His head loomed over your shoulder, casting a slight shadow. He was close enough that you could get a proper whiff of his cologne, which you’d noticed before, but had never commented on. Some sort of spice that made your nose itch. He crouched over and put his hand over yours, steadying it. All of a sudden, the screen looked a lot crisper. “Now copy my pose. Trust me on this one.”

He held his free hand like a claw, expression looking borderline feral as he showed off his teeth like some predatory animal. And here you thought you were the unrefined one. Was he really from the city?

You curled your fingers and gave your best attempt at a snarl, trying to channel some of Rockruff’s energy. Surely some of that aggression had to have rubbed off onto you at this point.

The shutter sounded off a couple times before he took his hand off of yours.

“You should put a filter over that,” he said, swiping at the bottom to pull up an array of different ways to edit the picture that you had not known existed.

“I like this one,” you said, stopping him in the midst of his scrolling. “It makes your eyes look blue.”

“Yeah, because they’re already blue. Do you want us to look like we’re swimming in the ocean?”

“We can do that?” you asked, turning around. Technology was amazing. “What filter is that?”

“Never mind. If you like it, then that’s what we should go with,” he said, tapping on the filter. “Now we just have to make you an account to post this on. What do you want to call it?”

“We can’t just use my name?”

“We can try, but it’s probably already taken. I’m an exception though, since I’m famous,” he said, giving a cheeky smile. “Maybe they’ll verify you once you go through the gym challenge. Some trainers get pretty popular. I can see it happening for you.”

You couldn’t imagine such a thing happening. What would people want from you, anyway? There was nothing to give them.

“You know what, I’ll make one up for you. I already got one in mind.”

“Okay.”

You weren’t sure what you were expecting when he gave you that smile of his, but it certainly wasn’t raihanfanpage123.

“You didn’t have an email either, so I made it for you,” he said, sounding all too amused. “It’s raihansnumberonefan@pkmnmail.com. I’m surprised no one used that one yet. Anyway, to keep things convenient, I already put up your first post. You’re welcome.”

You were handed your newly minted account, along with the one picture on your page, the one you’d just taken with him.

Raihan was as photogenic as ever. Somehow the animalistic-vibes he gave out in real life translated well onto the screen. You were there too, I guess.

At the bottom was a caption.

Omg <3 just met my hero today (crying emoji) raihan I love youuu #gymchallenge #raihan #senpainoticed me

“Look at that, you already got people liking the photo,” he said, as a red heart icon popped up at the bottom of the screen.

“Those are real people?” you asked. It was hard to imagine what kind of face would be behind these names. “Who is Stan? Do you know him?”

“Eh, it’s hard to explain. Hurry up and follow me back.” You were about to ask just what that meant and how to go about it when his pocket started to hum. The way his eyebrows shot up at the tune made you think it wasn’t a simple spam call. Muttering an apology he excused himself, finally stepping away from you to see what was up, sighing as he answered the call. “It’s like I’m the only one living in modern times. Does no one text anymore?”

He paused as the other person spoke.

“Funny you mention that, you won’t believe who I’m with right now,” he said. “You want to talk to her? No? Hey, I’m on the phone with Leon. Say hi.”

“Hi, Leon.”

You could hear Leon’s groan from the other side of the screen from where you were sitting.

“Heard you had a little tryst in the forest. Didn’t think to invite me, apparently,” Raihan said, putting a hand over his chest. “And here I thought we were friends.”

More words, faster this time.

“Okay, okay. No need to hang up on me. So, what’d you call me for?” he said, sounding only slightly more serious. He peeked up at you from the screen, shooting you with finger guns as he half-listened to what Leon was talking about. He kept making different gestures until something caught his attention and he turned away, but not before giving you a sneaky glance your way. “Huh. Interesting. By when?”

Pause.

“I can do that. I’ll shoot you a text. Which is what you should’ve done in the first place, just sayin’. Bye.”

“Is something wrong?” you asked as he headed back your way. It might’ve been a bit self-important on your part, but you thought they might’ve been talking about you.

“Don’t worry your pretty little head about it. Besides, we barely got to talk about the Gym Challenge yet,” he said. “You think you’re ready?”

“I am.”

“Big words for someone who didn’t know the rules just a few weeks ago.”

“I know them now. Most of them,” you said. The way he looked at you made you think he was still skeptical. Fine then. You’d just have to show him. “Then battle me.”

Chapter Text

“Battle? It’s a bit early for you to be challenging me, don’t you think?” he said, though his eyes flashed with mirth. He took a step forward, leaning to meet you at eye level. “Not even a badge to your name. Cocky of you.”

He wasn’t wrong, but you didn’t issue out challenges for fun.

“Please?” you said, taking a step forward yourself. You may have been overzealous in your approach however, and ended up bumping heads with him. Ow.

“Damn,” he said, recoiling at the impact, rubbing the spot where you’d hit him. “You drive a hard bargain. Who am I to refuse?”

Well then. You hadn’t thought that would actually work. But then again, it was Raihan. It could’ve been that he was digging for this kind of reaction in the first place. You didn’t know why he would want to, but it seemed like something he’d do. Not that it mattered, so long as you got that battle.

Raihan led you down to the pitch. Now that you were no longer occupied with talking, you could better hear the buzzing from the stadium lights. From everything you knew, hardly anyone got to see the stadium running when it wasn’t already full, and you felt a bit lucky to be one of the few.

You set Wooloo down near the walls, putting Dartrix on babysitting duty. No one would be getting lost again if you could help it.

“Are you ready, buddy?” you asked Rockruff, and he sauntered to the center of the stadium in response. There was a silent determination to him that day, and you swore he gave Dartrix a glance before getting ready to size up his opponent. You weren’t sure that Dartrix had even noticed this, as the bird was too occupied with preening himself, a new hobby of his that you were still getting used to.

“I suppose it’s good timing. I’ve been training up a new member for my team myself,” Raihan said, twirling a fancy-looking pokeball on his finger. He tossed it upwards and caught it midair. “Ready to lose?”

“No,” you responded honestly, watching as Raihan snapped a picture of himself posing before the match. He did so in such a fluid manner that it didn’t even take any extra time to do so. You could only imagine how many times he had done this. He really was a professional, even if you had a tendency to forget.

From the pokeball came out a bat-like pokemon with large ears. The pokemon gave a high-pitched squeal at the sight of his trainer, hugging onto Raihan’s arm as a koala might hang off of a tree.

“This is Noibat,” Raihan said. Noibat turned to look at you and stuck out his tongue, climbing up his trainer’s arm to perch up on the shoulder. When you didn’t make a move other than to nod, Raihan added, “You’re not going to check your pokedex?”

Right. You kept forgetting to use it. To be frank, you often forgot you even had a phone at all. Which was a bit embarrassing, when you had just gotten a crash course on social media just moments prior from up on the bleachers.

Taking out your phone, you fumbled with it for a bit, trying to remember just how you were supposed to navigate through it all. Raihan looked increasingly amused as he watched your struggle firsthand. He eventually offered to help, but you refused, wanting to figure it out on your own.

You estimated it took you several minutes to go through all the icons on your phone (despite only having two pages worth??) before Rotom opened it up for you, scanning the pokemon without prompting. Before the pokemon recited the entry though, he made sure to say, “Please just ask me to scan the pokemon in the future, bzzt…”

[No wavelength of sound is beyond Noibat's ability to produce. The ultrasonic waves it generates can overcome much larger Pokémon.]

“You should get used to that,” Raihan said. “You won’t be much of a trainer if you don’t know your way around a pokedex.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” you said, stashing Rotom back in your pocket. “I’m ready now.”

So yeah, you were sort of getting your ass beat.

Not just sort of, but unequivocally being destroyed in battle. Noibat had yet to be hit even once, while Rockruff scrambled to dodge the incoming attacks. It wasn’t even that he was weaker than the opponent; you simply couldn’t vocalize your strategies so concisely and with such speed as Raihan. As it stood, you were the one dragging the team down. It was a surprise that Rockruff had yet to turn on you to voice his complaints.

You would’ve been vastly more confident challenging Raihan to a duel in which you fought him yourself. In another world, maybe you would’ve, sword and all. There didn’t happen to be any gym challenge like that, was there?

“What’s wrong?” Raihan said, tossing the pokeball up and down in his hand, the other sitting casually in his jacket pocket. He didn’t even need to look at the thing to catch it every time. “You could always forfeit if the going’s too tough.”

Evidently, your opponents didn’t honestly expect you to get very far in the battle. Raihan took every battle seriously, but that didn’t mean he took you seriously. And Noibat, despite being “new” to the team, had real talent. Or perhaps that had to do with the fact that Raihan didn’t have to second-guess every command he spoke.

Unlike for you, the rules were as natural to Raihan as breathing air. There was nothing you could do that would surprise him within those bounds.

You just had to hit Noibat once. The strike to the ego would be enough to get in another hit or two, or so you hoped. In terms of power, you were certain that Rockruff had Noibat beat. 

You were still in a stand-off when something soft brushed up against your leg. It was Wooloo, who had decided that now was the best time to say hello. It wasn’t, but you greeted her under your breath anyway.

Dartrix came over and bowed his head in apology before grabbing her by his feet and flying away, sheep in his talons. He looked a bit tired, having to watch over a pokemon so energetic rather than indulging in his usual daytime snooze.

Yeah, that beau of yours did love his naps…

Oh.

“Rockruff, it’s time for bed,” you declared.

Ah, yes, your ultimate plan to win this battle. And to think, the answer had been in front of you all along.

For the past ten minutes, Rockruff had been chasing Noibat around the field, including the one where you’d been occupied with Wooloo. His short legs simply couldn’t keep up with something that had wings, and he was beginning to get sloppy from the frustration.

Noibat chittered all the while, taking great amusement in dangling himself in harms way for the sole pleasure of swooping away just before he could get bitten. Like trainer, like pokemon. You were half tempted to rush behind the bat and tackle him down to help out, but you reminded yourself to hold back.

Rockruff whirled around, not sure if he’d heard you right. You were more interested in Raihan’s reaction, though. It didn’t look like he was about to reprimand you (though he did look thoroughly intrigued), so you assumed this was fair play. Noibat stopped gliding around, opting to flap in place once he noticed his trainer’s expression, mirroring it.

“It’s time for bed,” you said once more, stressing the last word. You made a sleeping gesture to help him along. “Like with Leon, remember?”

There was a moment where he squinted at you, wondering if you’d gone off your rocker.

His ears perked up as he realized what you were getting at, though he looked no less convinced of a strategy in which he would leave himself so exposed for seemingly no reason. But you were his trainer, and so he’d play along. With a grumble, Rockruff let himself onto his stomach, though he made no effort to make the act convincing. His tail twitched with impatience.

Raihan obviously knew you were up to something, but being passive had never been his thing. Better to get the battle over with.

“Enough playing around. Noibat, Dragon Rush!” Raihan said. Noibat gave a cheer, beginning to dive forward towards the vulnerable puppy only a short distance away. You could see Rockruff jerking around, so eager to get out of the way. But one look at you told him that he was supposed to stay still. So he did.

Eventually Rockruff lay under Noibat’s shadow, defiantly glaring into the larger pokemon’s eyes. And you knew this was his chance.

“Roar!” you said, finding yourself shouting as if that might make the sound travel faster. Rockruff sprang upwards and opened his mouth to let out the loudest sound you’d ever heard out of him, and that was saying something. It even hurt your ears, and you weren’t even all that close. To Noibat, with his sensitive hearing, it was no doubt unbearable to take.

The bat’s descent slowed as he tried to reorient himself, shaking his ears as if to wring out the sound, but to no avail.

“Now hold on before he can fly away!” you said, and Rockruff nodded before biting down on one of Noibat’s ears, shaking his head around like his opponent was a chew toy.

“Noibat, Supersonic!” Noibat’s ears perked up as he closed his eyes before letting out a high-pitched ringing noise echo throughout the stadium. Rockruff was adamant on clinging on, ears curled tightly inward as he was lifted off the ground. “Shake him off while he’s confused!”

The bat flew in circles and you knew Rockruff’s grip was wearing thin. In a few moments, he let go, spinning in the air. You rushed to the center, calling off the battle, to catch his fall.

You lost. Aw, man. You hadn’t been close to beating them, exactly, but you thought you had a chance for a moment there.

“You okay, buddy?” you asked, cradling Rockruff in your arms. He quickly snapped out of his daze before jumping off. He tried to lunge for Noibat, which was very unsportsmanlike of him, but so was the fact that Noibat was laughing at the two of you for the loss. You caught Rockruff again before he was able rip off one of the bat’s ears. “Looks like you’re fine. That’s a relief.”

“Never had an opponent fall asleep on me quite like that,” Raihan said, jogging up to let Noibat perch on his arm again. “But good on you for hiding that move from me until the last moment. Roar has always been an underutilized move.”

“Was that against the rules?” Now that you thought about it, in your zeal to win, you might not have taken turns. “I think I said two moves in a row.”

“No, that was legal. It’s okay to say a move when the opposing pokemon is incapacitated. To keep the momentum, y’know. The other thing…” he put a hand to his chin. “I’ve never seen strategy like that tried on the pitch like that. Maybe in street battles, but in an official match? I’d be careful if I were you. They disqualify you for anything these days. Especially if you’re some random challenger from out of the region. Case in point, you gotta stop coddling your pokemon before the battle ends.”

“I guess I’ll have to learn to fight properly,” you said, mostly to yourself. You still had a month or two until you had to register. Hopefully you’d be up to par by then. “I’ll keep the other point in mind.”

“You’re awfully calm for a newbie though,” he continued. “You know how to think. Then again, most trainers start when they’re kids.”

“Isn’t that dangerous?”

“It’s standard,” Raihan said, beginning to walk away from the center of the pitch. You walked beside him, putting Dartrix and Wooloo back into their balls.  “Leon became a champion when he was ten. I guess he’s a special case, though.”

Ten? Really? Ten-year-old you didn’t know a thing and here Leon was, becoming one of the most influential figures in the region. Did you even know how to talk when you were ten? God.

“Enough about him, though,” Raihan said. “There’s still plenty of time left in the day, we should go somewhere.”

“The Pokemon Center?”

“That’s a given. You know, I won’t have time to call you up like this once the Gym Challenge starts.”

“That’s good,” you said, thinking about all the strong challengers the man would have to face.

“Ouch. You could sound a little sad about it, at least. You don’t want to hang out while we still can?”

“It’ll happen if we want it enough. And you like battling as much as Leon,” you said. “You must be excited.”

“To finally become Champion myself? Pretty much.” He put both hands on the back of his head as he leaned back to stare up as the two of you exited the gym. “Gloria didn’t beat Leon on accident, though. That much is pretty obvious. I have a ways to go.”

“Hop showed me a video. She looks strong.”

“She is,” he said. “I can show you more, if you want. At the cafe.”

“Yes please.”

“I didn’t know Hop was so amazing,” you said, pausing the recording midway to talk. You wanted to save the rest of the video for later as motivation.

“…yeah?” Raihan scooted closer to the table to take back his phone. “You know you’re sitting next to a gym leader, right?”

“I thought he beat you to get to the tournament.”

“Ouch. We didn’t face off in the final bracket, you know. I would’ve won the second time around.” Raihan looked down at the screen, before swiping the video away. “Though I gotta admit, the kid’s got spunk. Not just anyone can survive living in Leon’s shadow.”

“You can really see it. How important every battle is to him.”

You thought back to Cinderace, and how excited the pokemon was at the suggestion of battle. It was a shame that Hop had more or less quit. Perhaps his job didn’t need him to be good at it, but to you, it looked like he had enjoyed his time as a trainer.

Would he ever come back to battle again? You wished he would, but you knew better than to get your hopes up. It did sting, to think you became such a fan after his battling days were over.

“It’s probably because it’s Gloria.”

“He told me they’re childhood friends.”

“Is that what he calls it?” Raihan snorted, taking a sip of iced tea. The two of you ended up in a cafe after making sure your pokemon were fully healed. “Just look at him, he’s clearly—” Before he could finish the sentence, his phone lit up from the table. He snatched it up before you could see what it was about.

“Is it important?”

“It’s nothing,” he said, putting his phone back onto the table. This time he set it face down. “Anyway, what are you going to do about the first gym? Rockruff’s going to have a tough time fighting against Milo.”

“Is he that difficult?”

“Not really,” he drawled, stirring his straw around in the drink. The ice sloshed around in the half-full cup. “But you know how it is. Rock and grass types just don’t mix.”

You’d heard about types before in passing. You could guess what they were all about, but no one had bothered to explain anything to you.

“Rockruff isn’t going to be happy with that.”

“That’s life for you. He probably shouldn’t fight until Kabu, honestly. Dartrix is a much better choice for both. A bit hard to pass with only one pokemon, though.” Pause. “Do I need to explain? Types, I mean.”

“I’m sure I can figure it out,” you said. You needed to get the hang of using your phone anyway. It didn’t seem all that hard, either. Rockruff was was a rock type because he was spiky and had rock in his name. Dartrix was probably a grass and flying type because he was a bird who knew how to control leaves. And Wooloo was a fluffy type because she was fluffy.

You took a sip out of your teacup. Actually, what would Wooloo’s type be?

“Are you going to catch any other pokemon?” Raihan asked.

“It seems like I should.” From what little glimpses you had, it appeared that teams consisted of six pokemon. It would be a foolish move not to take advantage of those slots. The only problem was finding three other pokemon that wanted to join you.

You stared out the window to think about what your team might look like. It was impossible to imagine, but at least you got to appreciate the beautiful architecture of Hammerlocke Stadium. From afar, the entire building looked a bit like a pair of wings.

“Any specific pokemon in mind? I’m partial to dragons myself.” he asked, looking out the window himself. “How would you like a dragon around?”

“I don’t have a preference.” You turned back to fully focus on the conversation. “As long as we like each other.”

“Oh, so you don’t have a type,” Raihan said, grin widening. “Maybe I’ll go ahead and give you an Applin the next time we meet, who knows.”

Were Applins special? Was that a euphemism that you weren’t understanding? You were never the quickest to recognize them, but it wasn’t like you were born yesterday. Yet no matter how you wracked your brain, you couldn’t find the double-entendre. You didn’t even know what sort of pokemon (you were assuming it was a pokemon) an Applin was.

“I guess I like cute pokemon,” you said. “Like your Duradulon.”

“Okay, Duradulon is a lot of things, but he’s not cute,” Raihan said. “You’ve clearly never seen a Dreepy.”

“But he was so friendly.”

“Oh, so being friendly makes you cute now? I suppose I’m the cutest thing around then.”

“I,” you began, setting down your drink. He got you with that one. You needed to start thinking about the implications of your words more. Whatever, you weren’t about to back down on this. That would be a disservice to Duraludon. “Then I guess that means you’re cute.”

“Not an ounce of hesitation. Maybe the master flirt was you all along,” Raihan said. “But fine, you’ve made your point.”

A smile crept on you in satisfaction. See? So long as it wasn’t through text, you could get a leg up on the guy. You looked around to see if Dartrix approved, but—Oh. Only Rockruff sat beneath your feet today. Of course. Dartrix was in his pokeball.

Your stomach churned at the thought of all the loose ends that had yet to be taken care of.

“Thank you for humoring me today. It’s a shame I lost, but I learned a lot,” you said, standing up.

“Going already?” Raihan looked ready to stand up himself, but appeared to stop himself midway, leaning further back in his seat.

“I need to discuss things with my friends.” You pushed your chair back in, straightening it out before grabbing your near-empty drink. You sipped the rest of it down before tossing it into the nearby trash can. “And,” you said, stopping in front of the table. “I really am sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it so much. But you can tell me if something pops up again.”

You nodded, feeling the gnawing feeling in your chest lighten up, if only a little. It was strange how Raihan always knew what to say. With that out of the way, you had nothing more to do there.

“Goodbye.”

“Right. See you.”

There was no fanfare in the way you walked out of the door, nor any hesitation. No one but Raihan stared as you left through the door, bells chiming to signal your leave. You didn’t peek through the window once, your expression impossibly neutral even as a bird flew right in front of you, focused solely on your next task.

He now sat alone in the booth. As he took out his phone and began to scroll, he couldn’t help but be distracted. But of course he couldn’t concentrate. He’d never been bailed out on mid-conversation before.

Chapter Text

At last, you had time for yourself and your pokemon. You’d set up camp just outside of Hammerlocke, only taking the time to build a small fire (it was unusually chilly in the area) before gathering everyone around in an impromptu circle.

“We have to rethink some things,” you said, tapping on the ground to make sure everyone was listening. You made sure to eye Wooloo in particular, determined not to go soft on her just because she was cute. “When it was just the three of us, it wasn’t a big deal. Both Dartrix and Rockruff know how to take care of themselves. But Wooloo, you’re a bit different.”

Wooloo tilted her head, listening intently but not quite understanding. She shimmied forward for some pets. You put out your hand without thinking before realizing you were falling straight into her trap and stopped yourself. Instead, you grabbed her with both your hands and lifted her into the air. She let out an excited trill. You had not known sheep could do that, and had to stop yourself from cuddling her then and there.

“Everything wonderful about you is also what’s causing us all these problems. I don’t think you’re aware of your surroundings enough.”

You looked around to the other pokemon, who had been nodding along in agreement. Even Dartrix, who had always been the spacier of the two, could hold his own when things came down to it. He just happened to be exceptionally talented at delegating tasks to everyone else when he didn’t want to (and he usually didn’t).

“As our team gets bigger, I’m worried I won’t be able to keep you all safe.” Setting Wooloo down, you took out three pokeballs from your backpack and placed them into the center of the circle. You corralled them into a small dip in the center, where you were certain they wouldn’t be blowing away in the breeze, before leaning back. It wasn’t that you didn’t know what to do next, rather that you weren’t sure you wanted to do it at all. But stalling would do you no favors. “We might have to keep some of you in pokeballs. Anything more than two is a bit much.”

You expected Dartrix and Rockruff to team up to vote Wooloo out. You could admit you had some bias as well, considering you’d been traveling with the other two for much longer. Wooloo was a sweetheart, but she wasn’t prime exploration partner material either.

But Rockruff didn’t look at Dartrix, nor Dartrix at Rockruff. The pup had even sat in such a way that his back was slightly turned away. Dartrix stood there looking like he couldn’t be bothered, brushing away at his fringe.

Okay, onto discussion number two. You’d been planning to do this later, but it appeared to be more pressing than you’d anticipated.

“Did something happen between you guys?”

You knew it had something to do with Dartrix’s evolution. That was the only thing that struck you as significant enough to cause such a rift between the two. You’d hoped they would be able to sort it out between themselves, but with Rockruff being so stubborn and Dartrix equally aloof, it was hard to think waiting longer would do much good. All you had to do was figure out just what about the evolution had rubbed Rockruff the wrong way.

Unfortunately for you though, it was getting late. Most of the day had been taken up by that talk with Raihan and finding a suitable camping spot near the city. As it grew harder to see with the dying light, your pokemon became antsy in their seats. Throughout the conversation, the fire had begun to die out. Letting out a breath, you decided for now the best thing to do would be to talk to the pokemon separately and find out their thoughts on the matter.

“Okay, it’s time to eat. Dartrix and I’ll find some more firewood.” You stood up from your spot, dusting yourself off.

Rockruff leaped up as if to disagree. This had never happened before. Sure, he was protective of you, but he always trusted Dartrix to keep you safe up to that point when he wasn’t able to. Not just that, but he knew that the owl was better equipped to handle the dark.

“You have a very important job, and that’s to protect Wooloo from burning the forest down.” You nodded in her direction to prove your point. She was staring intently into the flames, leaning at a dangerous angle. With a grumble, Rockruff pulled her by the fluff to a safer distance before plunking himself down. Wooloo mirrored this action, cuddling up next to him. “Thank you. Dartrix, let’s go.”

“What do you think, Dartrix?” you asked, once you were a ways from the camp. You could still make out the remnants of the fire in the distance, but it’d be impossible for anyone to hear you. Not unless they yelled, anyway. “Rockruff’s been acting off.”

He hooted, picking up another stick and dropping it into your arms. With Dartrix’s superior vision, it hardly took any time at all to gather all the wood you needed. You did, admittedly, let yourself dawdle to look around. Why not enjoy the scenery while you were there? It could help you make an epiphany or something.

You had gone into a wooded area, but it wasn’t all that dense, and the trees themselves were on the barren side. It was a bit similar to the area you’d been in when being chased down by the Braviary. You could still remember that predatory gaze as it escaped the pokeball… Good times.

Looking around, you couldn’t help but feel like there was a similar vibe in that moment as well, but it was hard to tell if the rustling was from the foliage or from something else. Something told you it was the latter.

You stopped walking, staring directly into the bushes.

“Who’s there?”

No answer. You supposed a person wouldn’t sneak around if they were going to reveal themselves at the drop of a hat. But then what did that make Leon? Wait, this wasn’t the time to be mulling over such things.

You gave Dartrix a knowing look and nodded towards the bush, beginning to tiptoe your way over. Midway you remembered to take out your phone to get ready and scan whatever came out. The rustling became more evident as you got closer, but before you could pounce a howl pierced your ears. You recognized the voice as Rockruff’s and you whirled around. It was in that moment the figure in the bush burst out. Wind whistled in your ears from the force, and you knew whatever had been there was long gone, though that hardly mattered to you in that moment.

You broke out into a sprint, weaving your way in and out of the trees until you made it back to camp, letting the sticks you had held in your arms scatter onto the ground. Wooloo rolled over to you in a rare moment of self-awareness, trembling as she tried to hide behind your leg. This did not bode well.

Rotom, who had been on standby, buzzed to life.

“It’s a Galarian Farfetch’d, bzzt! Careful of that leek, they use it as weapons in battle!”

No sooner had those words been spoken, Rockruff was beaten down with the leek in question, unable to shorten the gap between him and his opponent. The Farfetch’d had the sense to keep distance by holding out his weapon to parry any lunges that came his way. It was slightly chipped from when Rockruff had taken bites out of it, but that was as far as the damage went. On the other hand, from the way Rockruff was limping, he’d already been hit—hard.

Rockruff didn’t look at you as you arrived upon the scene, staring down at the Farfetch’d with the largest grimace he could manage. Now this wouldn’t stand.

You made sure Wooloo stayed put before wedging yourself in the space between the two pokemon, Dartrix flapping after you. You had never had a proper battle with the owl before, but it couldn’t be any harder than working with Rockruff, could it?

“Dartrix, use—” But before you could finish your command, Rockruff had shoved Dartrix to the side with a growl. You could see spit pooling in Rockruff’s mouth and dripping onto the ground as he bared his teeth at his own teammate, and even Dartrix took a step back at the gesture. You had never seen anything like this. Again, such things had never happened before Rowlet had evolved.

And in that moment, it occurred to you that perhaps evolution was exactly the problem.

The revelation was great and all, but the middle of a battle wasn’t exactly the best time to be having a heart-to-heart. It was time to exercise your authority as a trainer.

“Come back.” His ear twitched, and you knew there was no way he hadn’t heard you. Before you could lecture him with stronger words the Farfetch’d began to run forward to attack, realizing that your addition had put a damper on Rockruff’s spirits. “I’m serious, Rockruff, come back!”

Of all the times to disregard you, it had to be now.

You pushed down the urge to run. Had you learned absolutely nothing from what everyone had told you? Interrupting a pokemon battles were a no-go.

Something dropped from the sky, and you found yourself catching it without much thought. Dartrix had just brought over a pokeball. Of course, with this, you could force him to return. Force him. Did you really want to do that? That was sort of your thing, to give as much autonomy to your companions as possible.

You looked back up at the battlefield, where Rockruff was narrowly dodging strike after strike, trying to counterattack but unable to overcome the distance. He was panting heavier as time dragged on.

There was no more time to think about it. If it was between being uncomfortable with yourself and watching your friend get hurt, you could deal with the former much easier.

“Rockruff, return,” you said, and it was only then that he turned around to stare back at you in utter shock, though he quickly disappeared into the capsule in a flash of light. You held the ball close, murmuring an apology, before facing the pokemon in front of you.

Though it hadn’t sustained much damage, the Farfetch’d looked worn out from having to move around so much. With Dartrix’s mobility, it was only a matter of time before you were able to make the pokemon admit its loss, giving you a bow before limping back into the wild.

You fell onto your back once it became clear it wasn’t coming back, covering your face from the sun with your arm. Wooloo’s fur tickled your face as she huddled by your head. Your heart was eerily still despite all the running around, and you could even hear the soft flapping as Dartrix landed next to you. He gave you a small nudge to make sure you hadn’t died of shock and you waved your arm to let him know you were fine.

Without bothering to sit up, you let Rockruff back out, staring up at him from the ground.

“You’re jealous of Dartrix.” Rockruff flinched at your matter-of-fact tone, but gave no objection. He looked very aware of the owl staring at him from the side, and did everything in his power to maintain eye contact with you.

It wasn’t that you were even disappointed. No, if anything, you were more upset at yourself for not having understood the situation sooner. You knew how Rockruff was—protective and prideful to a fault. Of course he’d be bothered by Dartrix’s sudden evolution.

“Come here,” you said, sitting up and gesturing to your lap. With some hesitancy, Rockruff complied, gently putting his two front paws atop your leg and looking up to see if he was in trouble. You put both hands atop them, running your fingers over his fur. “Just because Dartrix evolved doesn’t mean you’ve become redundant. You’re my buddy. I wouldn’t replace you guys for the world. So I hope we can all get along. What do you say?”

You nudged Rockruff towards Dartrix, and at last, the two met eye to eye in what felt like forever. There was a silence between the two, but the atmosphere wasn’t as heavy as it had been. When Rockruff gave the bird a headbutt, you knew they had more or less made up.

“Good,” you said. “I don’t know how to feel about things, but I know I want to keep you guys safe more than anything. If it’s okay with you, Wooloo, I’d like it if you would stay in your ball for when we’re traveling for longer periods of time.”

She let out a happy little baa, and you giggled in return, giving her head a pat.

“I’m very proud of you for sticking by my side this time.” Wooloo beamed, and all was right with the world.

Chapter Text

What was training? You had thought about the word for several hours, mulling things over in the way that you were wont to do, but you weren’t sure you liked the answer. The most obvious way would be to fight more pokemon, wild and trained alike. From your experience with Leon, you were pretty sure that was the case.

But you being you, picking fights with strangers wasn’t something you enjoyed at all. Rockruff did that enough as is, and he didn’t need any more encouragement in that department. But that didn’t have to be the only method. Surely there were other things to be done that could give you the experience you needed, at least to lessen the amount of time spent confronting wild pokemon.

And that was how you rationalized the fact that you’d drawn out an impromptu track field in the middle of the Wild Area as you ran alongside Rockruff. It was a relatively expansive area in the best oblong shape you could manage. The first few times you had tried to make it a perfect oval, but there were little tufts of grass spotting areas of the dirt that forced you to draw around. It wasn’t long before you resigned yourself to something less-than-perfect.

You’d been running this circuit for the past week or so. You figured speed wasn’t something you could have too much of, especially considering the previous fight with Noibat had been so much harder because of it.

You had tried to convince Dartrix to join in, but he wasn’t a big fan of running in circles or making a spectacle of himself, and had gone right to sleep in your backpack. It was a tighter fit now that he’d gotten bigger, but he was determined. If only he tried this hard for your training.

Wooloo was having a great time watching the two of you run, having given up after completing approximately half of the first lap. However, for the past while, she had instead become transfixed with a particularly fancy-looking flower. You had to wonder if she’d actually be of any help in the gym challenge. You’d yet to try battling with her—in fact, you weren’t sure you knew what moves she could use.

In other news, the sun showed no signs of letting up; not a single cloud was in sight. Normally you didn’t mind such days, but this really made you miss the air conditioning of the indoors. You really had gone soft.

What lap were you on again? You had lost track. Rockruff had an impressive amount of stamina, or perhaps he simply didn’t want to throw in the towel before you did. His tongue lolled out with every stride, only daring to look ahead in case he realized his feet didn’t know how to run anymore. Unlucky for him, you happened to be as determined as him to push yourself to the limit.

You were confident that you could keep going for at least another hour if you had to, when your pocket buzzed, causing Rotom to fly out. He spun circles around you and the dizziness made you falter. It was only when you stopped that the nausea hit you, and you sat yourself down in a pile of gasps and wheezes.

“You have a text from Raihan!” Rotom buzzed for the third or fourth time that day, but you’d waved them away in favor of continuing your run. It was possible that Rotom just wanted an excuse to fly around as well, since he’d never notified you like this previously. Or did you really look so pale that he was concerned? “Would you like me to read it out loud?”

“Yes.”

“Funny story, but someone’s been running circles in front of the nursery. You wouldn’t happen to know about that, would you?” Rotom did an impressive impression of Raihan’s deep voice, though it was noticeably more pitchy. “This was sent approximately two hours ago.”

“Are there more?”

“Yes! Sent thirty minutes ago—Uhh, so again, not to point fingers, but the running thing. Yeah, it’s still happening. Should I be concerned?” making a sound not unlike a chuckle, he continued. “And from just now—I’m concerned.”

You had, in fact, noticed a building a small distance away when you arrived. Sitting up and squinting, you could just make out two figures in the distance. Indeed, one of them was wearing clothes with a familiar blue and orange palette.

Ah, shit. He’d been watching you this whole time, hadn’t he.

And now you’d inevitably have to explain what you’d been trying to achieve. Frankly, you weren’t sure you had the capacity to do that at the moment.

You lowered yourself back down onto the ground.

“Rise and shine, sweetheart.”

“I wasn’t sleeping,” you responded, opening your eyes. A shadow had been cast over your face as Raihan leaned forward. His face betrayed his casual tone. Where his smug expression usually sat was the slightest downward quirk, as he tried to discern your condition. “Did you really watch me the entire time?”

“I just saw that you were still running when I checked in for the second time.” he said. “You really ran for two hours straight? Was it a horde of Zigzagoon or what?”

“No, it was training.”

“And you had to run with Rockruff because…?”

“I thought it’d be boring doing it alone,” you admitted. Just why did everything make so much more sense in your head? “What are you here for, Raihan? I didn’t know it was a nursery.”

In truth, you’d been a bit hesitant to go up to the building in fear that it would be deemed as some sort of trespassing. Not that you were doing anything suspicious, but it felt out of place to do such a thing, out here in the wild. You’d bolted the moment someone started walking towards you, though looking back it might’ve just been someone trying to help you around. Now you looked doubly suspicious for avoiding them.

“If you can stand up, I’d gladly show you the ropes.” He held out his hand, and you took it. His hands felt cold, but that was probably because you’d been overheating in the sun for the entire day. There was a surprising lack of fanfare in the act itself; his grip was steady, but he let go as soon as you’d balanced yourself. Before he did that though, there was a moment he broke his stoicism, lifting up your hand to his mouth close enough you could feel his breath as if to give it a kiss. There was a smirk playing on his lips as he continued to hover above your hand.

“What are you doing?” you asked. That might’ve been a dumb question, but you weren’t sure how else to word it.

“Aw, you just looked a bit disappointed I wasn’t pulling anything, so I thought I’d oblige you. But I see how it is,” he said, lifting his head. “Guess I’ll have to save the theatrics for some other fan.” He let go of your hand, turning towards the nursery before you could respond. His hand was tucked away into his jacket pocket, but before it did, you saw it curling into a fist.

You looked down and Rockruff was still flopped over, eyes unable to open. You poured a little water in front of him and he stuck out his tongue to rehydrate. Once his tongue slipped back into his mouth Rockruff stood back up, if rather shakily, and regarded Raihan with a stare. Raihan just waved back.

As with most other buildings you’d seen so far, there was something antique about the nursery. The roof had green shingles that looked older than you. Upon further inspection, you weren’t sure if they were supposed to be that color or if some sort of moss had overtaken it. You did like that the building had multiple large windows spanning its entire width.

There was a fenced off area where pokemon played with each other towards the left. Rockruff poked his head through the fencing himself, but backed off once he saw it was mostly baby pokemon. “Did you drop a pokemon off?” You peered over and tried to guess which it might be, but none of the pokemon looked your way even as you approached.

“Sure did. Not to play, though.” You cocked your head to the side. “Little known fact—I breed pokemon in my spare time. I’m pretty damn good at it, too. But don’t tell anyone. I don’t like being asked for favors unless it’s of interest to me.”

“What pokemon?”

“Would you know if it told you?” he asked humorously, but the way he dragged on before answering made you suspicious. He leaned against the fence, picking at the splinters. “There’s a Dragapult in there. I’d show him, but we wouldn’t want to interrupt, would we?” He gave you a wink.

“I…guess not,” you said.

Speaking of breeding, the whole thing made you wonder where Rockruff and Rowlet came from, before they met you. You could make reasonable guesses, of course, but it wasn’t like they could outright tell you. The most you’d be able to do is relay your theories and have them nod yes or no.

You looked down at Rockruff, who didn’t seem to be listening. If he was, then he didn’t draw any parallels between the situation and himself.

The whole process felt a bit intruding, and you’d never been the type to pry, so you had never attempted to get anything out of them. But as you met more people and learned about them, you were starting to feel more curious.

You and Raihan made some more conversation and eventually parted ways. He gave you a wink and said he’d be sure to text. You told him you’d do your best to respond.

“And as for training,” Raihan said, unable to hide his mirth, “I’d suggest you go search for groups of Farfetch’d. They’re always up for training.”

As Raihan had suggested, you were now walking around to find a horde of Farfetch’d to challenge to a battle. No such luck as of yet. It was dawn now, and you ended up having to set up camp before you were able to engage in a single battle, much to Rockruff’s disappointment. There was nothing special about the place you set up camp in. It looked about the same as the place you’d started, with a dusty ground devoid of the usual greenery and bone-like trees off to the side where the dust ran in deeper. The other side featured much of the same, with the caveat that you could see leafy treetops in the distance.

But besides the somewhat ominous setting, there was something off about all this.

Since you left—no, even before that. Since you were in the woods, when you were collecting branches for the fire, the feeling that you’d been being watched had never left you. Out of the corner of your eye, you swore you’d catch a glimpse of something that wasn’t supposed to be there, a noise that couldn’t have been uttered by anyone traveling with you.

Whatever it was, though, it had yet to be of any real harm. There was no response the first attempt at confrontation, and so you doubted that would change with subsequent attempts.

You woke up not realizing you had ever fallen asleep.

A pungent smell was what forced your eyes open. When you sat up, disoriented, you found yourself sitting in a circle of Farfetch’d. They sat neatly and in complete silence, close enough that any stray movement would end up with feathers brushing up against each other. But from how still they were, it didn’t seem like that would be happening. They held their leeks over their shoulders, the only indication of life coming from the way their eyes trailed your every move.

You recognized one of the Farfetch’d from the teeth marks on its leek. The moment the two of you met eyes it stood up at attention and gave a squawk, pointing its weapon high into the air. The others, in an impressive display of synchronization, stood up and mirrored this move, before forming two straight lines that ran parallel to each other. The one who’d led this call stood in between these lines and tipped the leek forward, pointing towards the horizon.

Sensing that something was up, you turned your head in the same direction, rubbing your eyes to make sure this wasn’t all some hallucination. Instead it made the figure striding towards you all the clearer.

It was another bird, with an even bigger leek and a shield to boot.

“Rotom,” you murmured. At the sound of his name, your phone booted up in response. “What’s that pokemon?”

He flew out at once and examined the white pokemon.

“Why, it’s a Sirfetch’d!” he said, far too loud for your liking. You put up a finger to your lips, not wanting to wake up and freak out your other companions. Rotom continued, this time with an appropriately quiet volume, “The evolved form of these Farfetch’d. Only very skilled Farfetch’d can evolve, so be careful. Luckily, they’re quite an honorable bunch, so as long as you don’t attack first, you’ll be fine, bzzt.”

You nodded, standing up to greet the bird. At first you wanted to go for a handshake, but realized that birds didn’t have hands. Anyway, even if this Sirfetch’d did, his wings were full holding the sword and shield anyway. You settled with giving a bow, which the pokemon seemed to approve of, doing the same.

“Did you need something?” you asked, hoping with all your might that this wasn’t another case where you’d stumbled upon another pokemon’s territory. At least they were courteous enough to wait until you’d woken up. You peeked behind you, and luckily, Rockruff was conked out. A sigh escaped you. There was still time to negotiate.

Sirfetch’d pointed his sword in the direction of your backpack, where Dartrix was snoozing. It occurred to you that as the boss of all these Sirfetch’d, he’d decided to come and challenge the two of you himself. You nudged the backpack with your foot.

“Dartrix,” you said under your breath, feeling greater concern over Rockruff than the rows of wild pokemon around you, “you need to wake up.”

He didn’t stir. You shrugged towards the Sirfetch’d in a ‘sorry, but no can do’ sort of gesture, but he didn’t call off his troops. You pushed the backpack harder, which earned you a small groan from the owl. He must’ve sensed the danger and left you to fend for yourself. Great.

“It looks like Dartrix is out of commission for the moment,” you said, moving slowly and with your arms out so the pokemon knew you weren’t about to attack. You didn’t want Rockruff to fight. He was already hurt from the previous day and you wanted to let him rest as much as he was able. If he woke up now, he wouldn’t sit still until all of the birds were chased off. And Wooloo, well… You wouldn’t want to disturb the sweet thing, right? Better to find another solution.

And that was when you laid eyes upon something a short distance away. As you’d noticed previously, the trees in the area were rather withered. Branches were barren and prone to breaking off, littering the ground with sticks of various sizes.

The one you saw was as straight as you could ask for, without any pesky offshoots to grind down. The wood itself appeared smooth and without any major splinters you’d regret having to take out later on. Slowly, very slowly, you inched your way towards the stick.

Rather than being met with apprehension, the pokemon examined you with curiosity as you picked up the stick. What a strange human you were.

“It looks like my pokemon are sleeping, and honestly, I’m not a very good trainer yet,” you said, raising up your stick to form a cross with Sirfetch’d’s. “But if it’s okay with you, would you like to duel me instead?”

Chapter Text

Okay, you were no swordsman. Your moves were sloppy at best and just parrying each blow from Sirfetch’d had your head spinning. You’d already been poked numerous times, and needless to say, your stomach was feeling a little sore. Who knew such a small pokemon could throw you for a loop? His reach with the leek was astounding, and you found little opportunity to strike back.

But you were confident in your general athletic abilities, and even if you weren’t, in your ability to work under pressure. You didn’t get chased around by wild pokemon all the time for nothing. You could actually keep up with Sirfetch’d’s fancy footwork and somewhat predict it (though matching it was another thing) and since you didn’t have a bulky shield to carry around, you might have actually been faster.

Not once had you imagined you’d keep up the battle for so long. The real plan had been to do your best, get your ass handed to you, and apologize for wasting everyone’s time. But now that you were given the option to potentially not be in extreme pain, you were inclined to try and figure out a different solution.

The Farfetch’d had formed another circle, this time for battling, away from camp as per your request. You were glad you had the foresight to do so, even just the clanging of leek against stick was louder than you’d thought. The pokemon themselves stayed silent out of what you assumed was respect, unable to do anything but stare in awe. Whether it was at the strange sight of a human dueling a pokemon, or the fact that you were still standing, you weren’t sure.

Whatever it was, you were just glad Sirfetch’d didn’t try any fancy moves. Or regular moves. God knew that a Peck here and there would have destroyed you. This was more like a traditional sword fight than anything else.

As you traded blows with your opponent, trying not to trip over the circle of Farfetch’d and their pointy leeks, you couldn’t help but feel relieved Dartrix hadn’t come out. There was no way you would’ve been able to keep up with commands at this level. This pokemon was much stronger than any other you’d attempted to face off so far.

Even as Sirfetch’d fought he remained exceedingly calm. But unlike Dartrix, this pokemon had the most intense gaze in his eyes. There was a noble air about him even as he fought; and he never, not even when you knew he had the chance, tried to fight dirty. You knew it was impossible to win without doing something strange yourself, but this attitude of his made you want to fight only with the stick you were given.

As you pushed off a particularly heavy swing, you sucked in your breath, trying to steady yourself. You wouldn’t be victorious if you kept playing defense, but it was taking all your concentration just to survive. You remained standing now, but throughout the battle you’d been slowly backed into the edges of the ring, closer and closer towards the pointy leeks. If the battle continued as it was, it would not end well.

Unfortunately, to get a hit in, you could only see one feasible way… Ah, to hell with it. You’d already gotten this far.

You turned slightly away from Sirfetch’d and felt a hard smack against your back. You knew it wouldn’t leave anything worse than a welt from that angle, but man did it hurt.

But this was your one chance! Sirfetch’d was wide open from the swing.

You stepped towards him within striking distance. As anticipated, he held up his shield above himself to compensate for the height difference. But this also compromised his line of sight.

Digging your feet into the ground, you wound up for the strongest swing you could manage before he realized what you were up to. You struck the leek and the two “swords” collided with a loud crack. Both flew out of the respective wielder’s grip and landed outside of the ring. The leek landed blade down, wedging itself into the dirt.

There was a stunned silence in the air as all Farfetch’d stared between the center of the ring and the weapons. Sirfetch’d didn’t move for a while, posed in such a way as if he still had his sword.

“It looks like a draw to me,” you suggested at last. You had wanted to step out of the ring but weren’t sure if that would be perceived as rude or not. They seemed to have their own form of etiquette, and the last thing you wanted to happen was to offend them. In a last ditch attempt, you gave him a small bow. “Thank you for the battle.”

At last, he blinked, then stepped back, throwing his head back in cawing laughter. The Farfetch’d looked amongst themselves, looking thoroughly perplexed. Some of the braver ones joined in, when the laughing abruptly stopped.

After being given a once over, Sirfetch’d broke the circle up, making his way towards the sword. He dislodged it, and though the act in and of itself wasn’t anything special, the scene reminded you of that one book where the knight pulled up the chosen sword from the stone. The Farfetch’d were in a similar state of awe as the white bird walked up to you, before coming down to a kneel.

The trance was broken at last as the Farfetch’d kneeled as well in complete sync. You looked around you as if the world might hand you the answers again, clearing your throat to buy some time.

“I’m glad you enjoyed the battle,” you said, but Sirfetch’d’s head remained lowered. “You can stand up now.”

He did raise his head at your request, yet continued to follow you back to the camp, where Dartrix was waiting for you. Just how long had he been watching idly by? You supposed everything had turned out well enough, though, so you couldn’t be mad.

The Farfetch’d marched behind in solemn silence, though they stayed a safe distance away as their leader followed you to the camp.

“You should probably go, before Rockruff wakes up,” you tried again to dissuade Sirfetch’d, picking up your backpack. Since Dartrix had come out of it, the zipper had been undone more than usual, causing a few pokeballs to drop out. The bird pokemon approached one that rolled by, once again kneeling down. At last, you put two and two together.

“Do you…want to come with me?” you asked hesitantly. If you were wrong, then this was going to be an awkward conversation. But the pokemon nodded.

A murmur rushed through the horde of Farfetch’d, and again, some of the brave few seemed to voice their objections. You had to wonder if your question was even feasible. The other pokemon clearly looked up to Sirfetch’d.

One wave of the shield was all it took for Sirfetch’d to hush the crowd. He singled out one of them, beckoning the pokemon forward. It was the Farfetch’d from earlier, with the slightly worn leek. The pokemon bowed its head in front of the leader as the rest looked on.

A few words were given from Sirfetch’d before he lowered his sword towards the Farfetch’d’s shoulder, as if to pass on his title. No one dared question this decision. Once the deed was done, Sirfetch’d gave a bow of his own before turning to you, handing you a pokeball.

Teary-eyed, the pokemon gave Sirfetch’d one last salute before he was captured in the pokeball. The ball shook a few times before it stopped, signaling that he was officially a part of your team. You wanted to take him out to show that he was still there, but they all ran back into the forest before you could, led by the newly-appointed leader.

It was only then that enough noise was made for Rockruff to be shaken awake, causing Wooloo, who’d been sleeping next to him, to bounce off to the side as she was thrown off in a spectacular fashion.

“Good morning,” you said with your usual calm. “You won’t believe what happened today.” You showed off the pokeball and let the implication sink in, watching as Rockruff’s jaw dropped. He bounded over to sniff the pokeball, snapping his jaws as if to snatch it away from you. “I’ll introduce him if you play nice.”

Scrunching his nose, Rockruff took a few steps backwards. This was as close to a yes as you were going to get from the guy. You threw the pokeball into the air, releasing Sirfetch’d.

He gave you a salute before facing the rest of his team. He was particularly interested in Dartrix, who couldn’t possibly be bothered to come out of your backpack even at the prospect of a new addition. This no doubt, rubbed Rockruff the wrong way, and he kicked the backpack over.

The puppy puffed his chest out but was disregarded by Sirfetch’d, but not before being given a stern look of disapproval.

You clapped your hands together, knowing that leaving these pokemon be any longer was a bad idea.

“That’s enough. I know we’re a bit rough around the edges, Sirfetch’d, but I hope we can get along.”

He simply nodded.

Sirfetch’d nearly woke up as early as you, and that was an impressive feat. You watched with bleary eyes as he strutted up and down the camp, swinging his sword every few steps with a small grunt.

You did find it strange. You were a novice, but even you could tell that Sirfetch’d was well outside your scope in terms of experience. One could argue the same for Rockruff and Dartrix, but at least the three of you had history together, so there was a reason they’d want to stay.

Unlike any other member of the team, he had a good sense of manners and a certain reverence towards you. From the way he regarded you with such confidence, and from seeing how careful he appeared in leading his own troop, you couldn’t help but think that this could be explained by no other way than that he had been watching you and your team for a while.

You did feel bad. He had chosen to follow you, but it wasn’t even technically on the merits of being a trainer. Who knew, if you had been asked to fight some other day, you might’ve even lost. You and your team had a lot of training if you were to live up to his expectations.

Sirfetch’d was no longer walking around and had begun focusing on executing more complicated attacks. It was a frightening attack in which the bird lunged forward with all his might. After each jab he would stagger backwards a bit from the force but he got up every time with renewed vigor.

Any confidence you had in your endeavor to impress Sirfetch’d was beginning to wane. You closed your eyes, thinking it might help you to concentrate on finding a solution. But it didn’t do much but put emphasis on the battle cries that came with each strike.

And besides, all that was on your mind was all the trouble you’d gotten into as of late. Leon and Raihan had their work cut out for them. Wait a second.

Maybe you could ask one of them for help. They were supposed to be strong trainers, right? But they could be busy. Despite the fact they made no efforts to hide this fact, you often found yourself forgetting they were some of the most powerful people in the region. And powerful people had to have full schedules.

“Rotom, what’s Raihan up to? Do you know?” you asked your phone, who looked excited to see you were using him for something other than to take subpar photos for once.

“I can show you his Instungram page. It was updated just recently!” Rotom opened up the app straight to Raihan’s account, revealing a picture of him standing in the middle of a sandstorm. The caption mentioned something about getting serious about preparing for the gym challenge and wouldn’t be posting for the next few days. Perhaps he wasn’t the best person to ask, then. The two of you hadn’t talked so much either, barring the other day that you’d run into him at the nursery. You’d bothered him enough for the time being.

“Do you know what Leon is doing?”

“Errr, it doesn’t appear he’s updated his social media in a while. I’m sure there are articles being written about him, though. Would that suffice?”

You nodded, and were shown a short article detailing Leon’s efforts in building up the Battle Tower. That sounded pretty busy too… You knew that, he told you about his schedule himself.

But it wasn’t like sitting around would do you any good. With the help of Rotom, you were able to view a map of the region, with him pinning down the best route to both Hammerlocke and Wyndon, the city that the Battle Tower was located in. It was farther north than you’d ever gone, but nothing was impossible. Besides, all it meant was that you had the opportunity to train along the way.

“Rockruff, wake up,” you said, shaking the puppy awake. You wouldn’t normally do this, but you wanted to get to your destination sooner than later. You’d already packed up all your things, putting Sirfetch’d and Wooloo back in their pokeballs. Unlike a certain puppy, the new member was more than happy to listen to you. “We’re going to the Battle Tower.”

At the mention of battle, Rockruff’s ears perked up and his eyes cracked open, though he was hardly lucid. Deciding it’d be faster, you picked him up and went on your merry way.

Despite the new catch, and knowing all the Farfetch’d had scattered, you couldn’t shake the feeling that something still lingered behind you.

Hammerlocke was on the way, of course, so you couldn’t help but loiter a bit in front of the gym and wonder what Raihan was up to. Strangely enough, all the lights were out and the doors were locked. You assumed he was out training in the wild, but nevertheless asked Rotom to send him a message asking about it just in case.

You stood around in front of the doors in case they might decide to come back on, but not only did the building remain dark, no reply came.

Stepping out into the light, you looked up at the sky. It was a beautiful day, a lone bird circling the castle amidst a cloudless sky. The perfect weather as you began the walk to Wyndon.

Chapter Text

“Look darling, Leon’s a busy man, you hear? He has challengers to face today, so shoo,” she said, waving you away. The disdain was clear to see in her expression, despite her sunglasses. From the rest of the employees, it looked to be part of the uniform.

It made sense you’d be turned away at the door. But you did not just travel for weeks through caves and snow and mountains just to turn around and do it all over again without anything to show for it. Sure, you hadn’t showered in a while and your hair looked like a bird’s nest. But so what!

At the very least, the way the receptionist worded the rejection made you confident Leon was somewhere in the building.

“Well,” you said, looking around the room. The interior had a much more modern feel than you were used to. Even Sonia’s lab had plants to remind you of the outside world, but in this place, the walls were grey and dreadfully barren. How many hours did Leon spend up in this tower? “Maybe I’m here to battle too.”

The woman’s brow lifted so high you were afraid it might fall off. You were glad to have the insight to put Rockruff in his ball, or he might’ve had an aneurysm from the woman’s noncompliance.

“You, battle? I’ve followed every Gym Challenge for the past ten years and I’ve definitely never seen you.” She seemed to rethink her statement as it came out, her features scrunching up as she tried to place just where else she could’ve seen you. At last, she flipped back to looking at her computer screen. She smacked her lips before saying, “You’re not on file.”

“I’m from another region,” you said, and you weren’t lying. You turned to show off your backpack, unzipping it a little more to reveal Dartrix sleeping inside. You weren’t from Alola, but you didn’t think this was the time to get into your entire life story.

The receptionist sighed, twiddling with her company-mandated cap before typing away on a keyboard hidden behind the desk. After a moment of clacking on the keys, she looked up again, glasses giving off a twinkle you weren’t sure you enjoyed.

After making sure you had three eligible pokemon (thank god for Sirfetch’d, you weren’t sure Wooloo would make the cut), she began to prattle on about the rules of the Battle Tower. She took joy in speaking just a little too fast, pointing towards the opening elevator doors and urging you inside before you could ask your first question. As the doors closed, she gave you a patronizing wave. Just under her breath, she whispered a small, “Bye, Rockruff Girl,” but only loud enough so you could hear.

What a strange interaction.

You were still wrapping your head around the words when the door opened up to another employee. As you stepped into the room, you were surprised to find that you hadn’t been brought to the middle of a battlefield.

“This is the waiting room,” the employee explained, as he motioned for you to sit down on one of the white sofas. It reminded you a bit of the hotel. You did as he suggested, taking the time to find a position that allowed for a minimum amount of crinkling in the furniture’s fabric. “There’s a battle already going on up on the roof right now, so we’ll have to ask you to rest while they finish up.”

“I can’t go right now?” you asked, only to be met with an apologetic shake of the head. “Not even to watch?”

“It’s just policy, I’m afraid.”

“Then—” As you were about to try and find a way to coax your way to the top, the employee’s phone vibrated.

“Looks like you’re up. Good thing, you hardly had to wait at all. Here, I’ll take you up to the top.” The man turned around to open the elevator doors. “After you.”

“Are there more waiting rooms like this?” you asked, staring at the shiny metal walls. Despite knowing you were ascending the tower, there wasn’t any indication of it other than the blinking red number above the doors. The elevator was quick.

“Of course. We have some on every floor. Today just happens to be an off-day for us. It’s only natural, considering the Gym Challenge is around the corner. Ah, we’re here,” he said, giving you a smile. “Hope you do well. The other challenger and battle officiant will be up soon, so just sit tight and have a good one.”

He stepped back into the elevator and let the doors close. Turning around, you couldn’t help but let out a small gasp.

The tower had bigger windows and a better view than the hotel, which you hadn’t realized was possible. Since the elevator only took up the center of the floor, the entirety of the roof was surrounded by the clearest glass you’d ever seen. Momentarily forgetting what you were there for, you walked up to the edge and peered downwards, marveling at how small everything appeared. This time, you had the sense to pull up your sleeves so you didn’t smudge anything with your grubby hands.

You could see all the buildings and its people, bustling about the city. In front of the tower were a line of birds, some sitting atop taxis. One of them, smaller than the others, stood to the side. How cute. But it wasn’t long man came over and shooed the smaller bird away. It scrambled into the sky, higher and higher until you could see it no longer.

A small rustle at your belt reminded you to stop gawking. So you took out the pokeball to let Rockruff admire the scenery as well. Instead of doing so, he was determined to pull you away from the edge and instead closer to the center.

It turned out there were two battlefields on the roof, divided neatly in half by a small beveled line that ran along the floor, disappearing into the elevator and reappearing on the other side.

You attempted to pull your foot in the opposite direction, wanting to ogle at the view some more, but ended up feeling like you might lose your balance. You gave up trying to fight it and asked that he let go in exchange for your compliance, which he did after making sure you weren’t trying to pull the wool over his eyes.

The other battlefield was empty as well, so you were the only one on the rooftop. Probably something to do with the “off-day” the employee had told you about. The elevator was turned on, but based on how the number remained fixed, you couldn’t imagine it was being used.

Unlike you, who were forming the beginnings of a plan in your mind, Rockruff looked crushed that there wasn’t anyone to battle. This wasn’t what he was promised at all. He looked ready to pull you back when you pressed on the elevator button, which lit up in response. The numbers began to tick upwards.

At the same time, you could hear a small bell ringing from the other side, along two sets of footsteps echoing against the tiled floor.

“I thought you said there was a trainer waiting already?” a voice said, and you assumed it was the other challenger. It was a bit squeaky, and you could reasonably assume it was a teenage boy going through his awkward phase.

“That was what I was told as well,” another voice piped up. This one was more poised, probably the battle-officiant. “Excuse me, is anyone here?”

You could hear footsteps approaching your side of the tower. Glancing up at the numbers, you could tell it wasn’t going to make it in time for you to slip by unnoticed, no matter how fast the elevator was.

Picking Rockruff up, you hushed him before he could think to bark, tiptoeing around the other side of the elevator. You peered around the corner and sure enough, both employee and challenger had made their way over, looking thoroughly perplexed by the lack of response.

“Weird. We were only supposed to be hosting Singles today. Just why is this elevator…” the employee said, trailing off with increasing alarm in her voice. “Apologies for the delay, sir. Let me make a quick call.”

You could hear the crackling sounds of walkie-talkies as the employee whispered some company shorthand that was impossible to decipher. You stopped peering out of the corner, sliding against the wall towards the original elevator you came out of.

Luckily, the elevator had yet to go down. You pressed the button, only to have a voice yell out, “Hey! I think that’s her!”

It was the challenger, pointing at you just as the elevator doors opened. He really didn’t have to be so loud, it made you look like some sort of criminal. You gave a small, “Hello,” before stepping inside, ignoring the commands from the employee to come back out lest she think you were some stalker slash intruder. Maybe it was too late to prevent such assumptions, though.

You pressed on the button to close the doors faster, scanning the walls. You really hadn’t thought this through; you had no idea of knowing what room Leon would be in.

Before you could read through all the numbers, the doors slid back open, revealing an agitated employee. You gave her a small wave, which she did not reciprocate, before pressing the button to close the doors again. This went back and forth multiple times, with her opening and you closing the doors. With every reopening, the employee’s expression twisted further.

Rockruff stood watch by the doors with his haunches raised, just in case he needed to attack someone. He was barely able to hold back his barks, though growls did manage to crawl out of his throat. Luckily, neither the employee or challenger had the guts to shove their arm between the doors as they shut to pry them open.

You were beginning to wonder if it was better to cut your losses and turn yourself in, when something caught your eye. Near the top was a button more ornate than the others, labeled with a metal plate inscribed with the familiar letters VIP.

Continuing to press down on the only button keeping you from being torn into by the staff member, you jiggled Dartrix out of your backpack. He fluttered to the floor along with a few misplaced pokeballs. You shook the bag, less carefully now, not minding the clatter as everything spilled out. At last, when it seemed you had run out of things (since when did you accumulate so much?), a plastic card dropped out.

You extended your foot, not wanting to let go of your hold on the button, sliding the card towards you until it was close enough to pick up. You weren’t sure, but you thought you could hear alarm bells coming from outside. It was probably nothing.

The card was the one you’d obtained from Leon when you first met. He’d never taken it back; in fact, he insisted you keep it in case you ever wanted to stay in the hotel again. This wasn’t the hotel, of course, but the lettering on the metal plate looked almost identical, so you had to try.

Despite the fact that this was your idea, you hadn’t really expected the elevator to accept the input and start moving. Rather than going the floor directly below the roof, however, it appeared to go even further upwards, beyond any number listed on the walls. The number ticked forward by a single digit before letting out a quiet ring.

“I’ll be there right away—” Leon said, looking more stern than you’d ever seen him before crashing into you. Though he was the one who had been walking, you were the only one on the floor.

You could hear more voices on the other end of the receiver but it didn’t look like Leon was listening, mouth agape as he stared at you sprawled out on the elevator floor, surrounded by your pokemon and all the contents of your backpack.

“Hi Leon,” you said, breaking the silence, but the elevator doors began to close before anything else could come out of your mouth that was perhaps more pressing than a simple greeting. You jammed your foot between them before it sent you hurtling back down to your second arrest. But when the doors opened, with Leon stilled stunned, you could only draw a blank as to what to say. You did eventually manage, “The view is very nice up here.”

“You can see the whole city,” he added weakly, before turning back to his phone, as if only then realizing that he was supposed to be doing something. “I caught her. You can call off the search now. I don’t think I’ll be battling for a bit. I’ll…tell you what happened later.”

The red lights that you hadn’t noticed ever having turned red reverted back to their blaring fluorescent white.

Dartrix crawled back into the backpack head first, not caring that half his body was sticking out for everyone to see. Rockruff stuck close to you, still on alert. You were pleased to note that he didn’t attempt to bite Leon and dare you say, he even relaxed at the familiar sight?

The lights flickered off entirely.

You weren’t sure why, but it felt like every time you met with Leon you were bringing trouble.

“If you’re busy I can wait,” you said, standing up after grabbing your backpack. You thought about picking up the pokeballs, but were forced to abandon most of them when the doors began closing again.

“You came to see me?” he asked, adjusting the cuff of his coat. It was much fancier than the get-up you were used to seeing him in. More put together. But he looked naked without his hat. Red suited him, though. It felt royal. All he needed now was a crown and a cape…

“Yes. But they turned me away at the door, and…” You coughed. “I didn’t think it’d turn out like this. I did text you, in case. Did you see it?”

“No, I turn off my phone during matches,” he said, opening up his messaging app. To his surprise, there was, in fact, a carefully crafted text from you describing your plans to come to the Battle Tower just an hour prior. Despite himself, he had to smile. “Looks like you’re learning. And you did come all this way…”

“I wanted to ask you for advice,” you said, taking out a pokeball and releasing its contents. Sirfetch’d stood at attention and nodded at you in acknowledgement. When he saw Leon, however, his demeanor managed to become even stiffer. “He joined my team recently, but I caught him under unlikely circumstances… I’m not sure how to train him properly.”

Before Leon could ask just what ‘unlikely circumstances’ entailed, Sirfetch’d gently lay down his sword, before taking something out of his shield from between its leaves. He seemed to examine it to assure of its safety, before nodding to himself and handing whatever it was to you.

You lifted it up to your face to get a better look, muttering a small ‘oh’ at its beauty. The stone sparkled in the light.

“Well would you look at that,” Leon said, before you could comment on it. “He just handed you a Wishing Star.”

Chapter Text

“Wishing Star?” So this presumably came from the sky. How magical. It had cracks that revealed a red core, and you thought it was the best rock you’d ever seen. You held it between your fingers and showed it off for Rockruff and Dartrix to see.

“They’re very valuable in Galar. You hardly ever find this stuff out of mines. And they say that Wishing Stars fall down for people with true wishes in their heart. In your case it didn’t really fall down, but,” Leon coughed, “You get the point.”

“It’s pretty. Thanks, Sirfetch’d.”

He squawked, pointing to the Wishing Star like you were missing the point.

“You know, you could make a Dynamax Band out of this,” Leon said. “I bet Sonia would be more than happy to help you. Or rather, she’ll be happy to ask her grandma to make one.”

Dynamax…that term did sound familiar. Well, no matter. You trusted Leon’s judgement. If he was excited about it, then you didn’t see why you shouldn’t go and get this Dynamax Band.

“Thank you for the advice,” you said. It was a good thing you came.

“All that traveling just to ask me something. You could’ve texted me from the start.”

“It feels better to talk in person. It’s… I don’t know.” You hummed for a bit, finding the word. “More real?”

As you opened your mouth to say more, the elevator door opened, punctuated by the rolling of the pokeballs you’d left behind the first time around.

“Leon, get your shit together man—” A voice started, before cutting off. Even before the voice uttered your name, noticeably softer the second time around, you knew who it was.

Raihan stood in the doorway, almost awkwardly, as his eyes darted from you to Rockruff to Leon. Half-covered in his arms was a cylindrical sort of case made of glass. You couldn’t make out what was inside, partially due to the aforementioned arms and partially from the glare from the lights.

“You weren’t supposed to come this early!” Leon whispered to his friend, though you could easily hear his words. He couldn’t help but have a commanding voice, no matter how hard he tried.

“Well someone’s gotta be the punctual one,” Raihan retorted, in an equally conspicuous whisper. “And how could I have known she’d come to Wyndon to see you, much less make it to the top of the tower? Did you invite her up yourself, or something? How scandalous.”

“Of course not!” Leon pinched the bridge of his nose, only then realizing the volume of his voice. He covered his mouth as if that might take back the sounds he had uttered.

“Was I not supposed to come?” you said, not wanting to interject but not wanting to potentially be interrupting a secret meeting either. “I could go down. I should start heading off to Sonia’s lab again anyway.”

“No,” the two said in unison, staring each other afterwords, surprised by their own coordination.

“It was unexpected, is all,” Raihan said, nudging Leon with his elbow. “But in a way, this might be a good a time as any.”

“You’re right,” Leon said, coughing into his fist. “How do I put this…” For a minute or two he started and stopped himself, eyes darting around the room as he searched for the right words to say.

“What Leon is failing to say is,” Raihan said, rolling his eyes, “Here. This is for you.”

Raihan pushed the cylindrical object into your arms, making sure you had a proper understanding of its weight before letting go. Immediately, you felt a warmth radiating off of it. You lifted it up to eye level, unprepared as to what you were about to see.

“It’s a present from both of us,” Leon said, suddenly coherent. “Since the gym challenge is so soon, we thought you might do well with a new member. It was my idea. What do you think?”

“It might’ve been your idea but it only worked with my expertise,” Raihan countered. “I was the one that bred it.”

“You wouldn’t have been able to do it without my Dragapult. Which you said, and I quote, ‘the best damn Dragapult you’d ever seen’.”

“But not the best dragon. That title belongs to one of mine, obviously.”

The two bickered about who was the bigger participant in the gift, but all you could do was stare at the egg like a fool.

“It’s for me?” you managed, at last. No matter how many things you’d been gifted in your life, nothing could top this.

“I just thought you seemed a bit unconfident in your ability to make new partners,” Leon said, scratching the back of his head. The way his tone changed between addressing you and Raihan was comical. His chest puffed out as he continued, “But if you raise a pokemon as an egg, there’s no way that’s going to be a problem!”

“What pokemon…?” you asked, before stopping. “It’s a dragon, isn’t it?”

“I told you we should’ve gone with a Charmander,” Leon said.

“Dragons are the best type anyway. What’s Charizard if not a wannabe dragon?” Raihan shot back, before smiling at you. “Good guess. But we’re not gonna tell you anything else. It’ll be more fun to leave it a surprise, don’t you think?”

You just nodded, unable to place the sudden lump growing in your throat. Who knew people could be so kind? Or that you would be so lucky as to know so many?

Leon was right, you’d always been a bit disappointed in your apparent ineptitude in your dealings with other pokemon. But thinking about it now, your little group had grown so much since you stumbled into Galar.

“I don’t know how I’ll ever repay you,” you said, looking at the egg one more time. Just to make sure it was still there.

“You don’t have to,” Leon said.

“Date?” Raihan suggested, before being shoved to the side by Leon. “It was a joke, lay off me.”

“Then how about you don’t ruin the moment?”

Raihan sighed, putting his arms up in mock defeat.

“Fine. The guy’s right,” he said. “Just keep being you, sweetheart.”

There was something about the egg that drew your gaze in. You’d always been a bit too uptight and perhaps aggressive in the way you maintained eye contact, but that was no longer a problem. Words drifted in and out as Raihan and Leon launched themselves into a business-related discussion.

The three of you were still up in Leon’s room atop the tower, mostly because they didn’t want to deal with the inevitable barrage of questions that would accost them down at the entrance. Not to mention, Leon had yet to fully acquit you of what was likely an impending lawsuit for breaking and entering government property.

Somewhere between the quips and banter lay a grave undertone, one that urged them to stay upright rather than sitting on one of the sofas, to drum their fingers and tap their feet. It took them three tries to snap you out of your reverie, prompting you to set the egg to the side, letting your pokemon have a go at seeing what the egg was all about.

You looked up at Raihan and Leon, wondering what could possibly ruin such a wonderful moment.

“Like Raihan and I were saying,” Leon started, crouching down to eye level. Despite this, he didn’t seem eager to look you in the eye, focusing more on your dirt-laden sneakers. “We’ve gotten some headway on those weirdos that tried to take you away. Some new information.”

“…the ones that I knocked out?”

“Yeah,” he said. Behind him was Raihan, stifling a snicker. Leon shot his friend a look, but he couldn’t hide the way his expression brightened. “I can’t say too much on the matter, and I apologize. I’m sure you want to know, especially since you were affected by all of this yourself.”

You shook your head. Honestly, you hadn’t thought much about the kidnapping attempt after it had gone over.

“Not to pry, but what are you going to Alola for?” Raihan asked, leaning over from behind the couch. You could feel the slight bend of the cushions as he hovered over you. From the corner of your vision, you could see your backpack rustling. Rockruff, in turn, slunk back to your side, letting Sirfetch’d handle the egg.

“How did you know that?” you asked. You’d never even explicitly told Leon about your goals, much less Raihan.

“I’m a good guesser,” he said with a shrug. “And besides Alola, you wouldn’t happen to know about Kanto? You know, anything like—”

“That’s enough of that,” Leon said, clapping his hands together. “There’s a reason this information isn’t public. Stop dragging her into this mess.”

“Hey, it was an innocent question. We don’t even know where she’s from. ’Sides, you don’t know what I was about to ask her. Could’ve just been asking if she ever tried their tea.”

“I’m from Unova. Somewhere around there.” You said this so plainly that both men forgot their squabble. Their silence encouraged you to continue, and you went on, “I don’t know how they got there, but that’s where I met Rockruff and Dartrix. I was told they’re probably from Alola.”

You pulled up your backpack from the ground and helped pull Dartrix out of the bag. Much to Rockruff’s displeasure, the owl sat between your legs, taking the puppy’s usual spot. This didn’t stop him from shoving himself onto your lap as well, and you could already feel your legs getting pins and needles from the lack of circulation.

“I just thought,” you said, putting a hand on both Rockruff and Dartrix, “that if it were me, they’d want to go home.”

And they had, until you came to Galar, been fixated on the idea of progress. It was them that rushed off the boat in the first place, after all. But were you even trying, anymore? This was one hell of a detour.

You weren’t even sure what compelled them to go back to Alola in the first place. Or maybe you did know, deep down, that they probably had some sort of family of their own to go back to. A family that didn’t include you. Maybe it was a trainer that actually knew what they were doing.

Your chest clenched, and you put a hand up to it, unsure just what was happening to you.

“There’s not much else to say. I don’t know much about Alola at all.”

“Are you still trying to get to Alola?” Leon asked, voice quiet. You didn’t know why he was looking at you the way he was; like you were some piece of glass on the verge of collapsing on itself.

It should’ve been a resounding yes, without hesitation. But there was another part of you screaming no, to never let go of what you had. You hated uncertainty, and you hated it even more when it came from you.

With a gulp, you gave your two pokemon a pat, staring into their expressions. You always thought you were good at reading people, to notice the quirks about themselves that they didn’t know about. But in that moment, you weren’t sure you knew anything at all.

“If they want to,” you said, looking back at Leon.

You didn’t know how the tension in the room had gotten so thick. The only one unfazed by it all was Sirfetch’d, who guarded the egg despite it being safe up in the room.

“But what about you?” Raihan said. His voice shot into your left ear. He wasn’t even all that close, but it felt like the words had been shot into your brain.

“Me?” you said, staring down at your lap. “As long as they’re happy, that’s all that matters to me.” You were glad it didn’t feel wrong to say once the words escaped your lips, because that meant it was still true. But there was still something that buzzed inside your head that made everything seem so…uncertain.

“Anyway,” Leon said, clearing his throat. He didn’t want to probe any further, evidently. “You should register for the gym challenge, applications are opening up in a few days. I’d suggest waiting until next year, but it sounds like you’d want to do this sooner rather than later.”

“I should,” you said, but you were still hung up on the previous line of conversation. Leon and Raihan probably thought you were strange. Or blind, at least.

It had always been so easy for you. Life was black and white like that, and you found decisions that crippled others came without much fuss. It was always the simple things.

Chapter Text

“I’d love to help you make a Dynamax Band!” Sonia gasped, clasping both her hands together. She tripped over the corner of her desk as she walked towards you. “It’ll take a few days to convince gran—er, figure things out, but not any longer, I promise! You’ll be on your way to the gym challenge in no time.”

“There’s no rush,” you said, handing over the Wishing Star to Sonia, who nearly dropped it once it came into her possession, even though you were the one having to lug around a fragile egg incubator the entire time. She caught it before it fell to the floor and splintered into a million pieces, sighing with what could only be described as intense relief. Her hands continued to tremble even as her grip became more certain.

“Yeah, no rush!” Hop echoed from the top of the stairs, causing Sonia to snort. He practically slid down the banister, narrowly missing the wall before swerving towards you. The papers scattered on the ground fluttered from the force. “But never mind that! I was just thinking… If you don’t mind, could you let me check out your pokemon?”

“Sure,” you said, starting to dig out the rest of your pokeballs.

“Why? Well, it’s because,” Hop began, puffing out his chest. His index finger had popped up, ready to be waved, when he came to an abrupt stop. “You’re just going to…hand them over?”

You nodded. Maybe not the egg, because you wanted to keep it close at all times in the off-chance it was about to hatch. Raihan had said it would take a while yet, but you never knew. It could be an early bloomer.

“Guess you rehearsed that speech of yours this morning for nothing,” Sonia said with a snort. It wasn’t very ladylike of her, but she covered her mouth to make up for it. “He was really nervous, you know! He wants to impress you. Unfortunately, that means I had to listen to him for two hours while he talked to himself.”

“Sonia!” Hop said, arms raising up defensively. “I was just excited to share what my project is about. I’m specializing in pokemon behavior after all, and environment is a pretty important factor in its disposition, so I thought it would be interesting to try and predict a pokemon’s past upbringing based on—”

“Looks like he’s going to say it anyway,” Sonia whispered to you. “But he’s mixing up his sentences. I suppose it’s fine, you can’t even tell what he’s saying with how fast he’s going.”

The two of you let Hop continue on until he had a coughing fit.

“Rockruff, can you stay with Hop for a bit?” you asked, staring down at your pokemon. He shrunk back, hiding behind your leg. Before then, the pup had been walking around the lab, since last time he was too distracted by Yamper to do much scouting. “It’ll only be for a bit. And Hop is a very good trainer, so you’re in good hands.”

“You’re overestimating me,” Hop said, scratching the tip of his nose. There was no hiding his goofy smile, though. Or the way he rocked on his feet, leaning closer towards you as if to ask for more.

“No, you’re amazing,” you said, stepping closer to him. If not for the fact that you were holding something, you would’ve grabbed onto his shoulders. “Raihan showed me you’re battling. You really did your best, and it’s such an admirable thing.”

Hop couldn’t even speak anymore, he was too busy hiding his face in his hands and giggling to himself. You noticed the tips of his ears turning red as he attempted to cough out the giddiness in his system.

Rockruff gave you a look, his snout scrunched up as if to say, ‘Really?’, but you had already made up your mind. With an audible sigh, Rockruff shuffled his way over to the still-immobile professor-in-training, sitting down a pace away not unlike a gargoyle. Hop gave the puppy a smile, but was only met with a growl.

“But no pokemon means no wandering out of town,” Sonia warned, the memory of Leon lecturing her on not keeping an eye on you still fresh in her mind. “There’s still plenty to do here. Like window shopping! Or maybe you would prefer looking at pokemon? You know, I’ve even seen a Corvisquire hovering around today.”

“A Corvisquire? That’s a real coincidence!” Hop said, finally able to switch gears, “I was in the Wild Area just the other day and I saw one myself! Thought it was pretty strange, considering you only really see them farther north. I even saw it run into a tree while it was flying! I think it saw another bird and got spooked. I felt bad, but I have to say, it was kind of funny…”

“That really is strange,” Sonia said, covering her mouth to let out a silent giggle. “The Corvisquire I saw had a squabble with some of the Rookidee out in the front, but the poor thing was ganged up on and flew away!”

“You don’t see a clumsy Corvisquire every day,” Hop said, after the two had shared a hearty laugh. “Maybe it was even the same one!”

“You mean, like the one outside?” you asked, pointing at the bird peeping through the window. You’d noticed it some time ago while Hop had gone on his lengthy explanation on his research.

Sonia and Hop both turned, but by then, it had hustled away in a flurry of feathers. The feeling of the looming presence that had settled over you for so many days lifted. It was possible the Corvisquire was of bigger importance than you initially thought. “It ran away. I think I’ll go follow it.”

As you walked towards the door, Rockruff, instinctively trailed after. You held out an open palm to indicate he should stay with Hop. He whined, but walked back. Though he did give you a sad look, no doubt an attempt to guilt you into taking him. You were sorry to say that you did consider it, but your stubbornness prevailed.

“I’ll take good care of your pokemon, I promise!” Hop said, already waving you goodbye. “Have fun!”

“And no running into the Wild Area!” Sonia added.

You nodded, and then you were off.

Except you didn’t have to run to the Wild Area, across town, or even down the street. You had taken maybe five steps out the door when you slammed full force into what you could only assume was a brick wall that had dropped from the sky, or built in the short time you’d been inside. Stars filled your eyes as you staggered backwards, barely maintaining your balance by leaning against the laboratory wall. It took a moment for you to regain your vision, your head too busy spinning to process anything more than a blur of colors.

You heard the squawk first. Then a flurry of loud flaps as the wind picked up, blowing your hair into your face. Strands went into your mouth as you opened it to ask whatever stranger to calm down, and you were thus forced to resort to turning around to protect yourself from the whirlwind. By the time you counted to ten, whatever panic that had gone down had more or less smoothed over, and you could face the stranger at last.

“Hello,” you said, covering your face in the off-chance that another blast of wind was headed your way. It didn’t seem that way, and through the gaps between your fingers you could see a shrunken silhouette dashing off behind you and between the lab and the building beside it, hiding behind the trunk of a tree much too skinny to properly disguise him. “You must be Corvisquire. The one that’s been following me, right?”

The bird trembled a bit at the mention of his name, and even more when you approached. His feathers puffed up as if to appear larger, and you took the hint to stop. The bird didn’t notice right away and hopped backwards some more before brushing up against another bush behind him. The move was far from intentional, and he flew upwards in shock of the sensation, fluttering away in a frenzy.

At first you thought he had flown all the way back to wherever he had originally come from, but you found him quivering behind another lone tree. This time you had the foresight to make your presence known before you got too close. The pokemon was still startled, but at least this time he didn’t shrink back.

Now that Corvisquire wasn’t moving so much, you could take note of more subtle quirks; unkempt plumage that looked a bit too plucked, a twitch that never seemed to go away, and a plastic ring around his foot etched with small numbers that you couldn’t make out. Overall, you thought there was something about the pokemon that felt too familiar to be dismissed. Not just because you’d been trailed by him as of late, but something else.

Someplace dark, the back of some cramped street. A time when night had only just begun to settle, the peace disturbed by loud people you didn’t know.

“Those kidnappers,” you whispered, eyes opening back up to let in the bright light. You hadn’t realized you’d ever closed them at all, but now you were having trouble readjusting. “You’re the Corvisquire from Hammerlocke.”

At the mention of the city Corvisquire stood a little straighter, giving a vigorous nod. His feet danced up and down as if pleased by your revelation.

“I thought I released you,” you said. You definitely had, the policeman had berated you for it. “It’s good to see you again.”

Corvisquire creeped closer towards you. Each step was slow and preceded by an internal battle in which he tapped on the ground in front of him a few times to check if it wouldn’t cave in under his weight. Once the pokemon was within arm’s reach, he stopped, snapping open his beak a few times with no sound coming out.

You lowered yourself onto the ground in a crouch, meeting his eyes. They were hesitant to linger very long, flickering this way and that before settling somewhere on the ground.

Neither of you said anything. Corvisquire looked too nervous, and you simply didn’t know what to say. It was only when your leg started to lose feeling that you said, “You look hungry.”

You set both incubator and backpack on the ground and fished a mostly-intact berry from it. You examined it to make sure there wasn’t hair or something stuck to it. Once you were satisfied, you rolled it towards Corvisquire. He stared dubiously at the fruit for a moment before giving it a peck. Deeming it safe, the berry was gone within seconds, with only a small stain on the ground to indicate anything was ever there in the first place.

Before you were able to toss out any more, a pitter patter sounded from behind you, accompanied by a string of loud barks that you could only guess was some sort of cursing. Already knowing it was Rockruff, you braced yourself for some combination of feathers, fighting, and more barking.

But to your surprise, Corvisquire, who had already cemented himself as a most timid pokemon in your mind, didn’t cower. He hopped from side to side as if doing a little dance, to a degree that Rockruff screeched to a halt to stare. This didn’t encumber the excited movements at all, and the bird actually began to walk circles around Rockruff.

Eventually the dancing subsided and Corvisquire hid behind his wings as if remembering to be bashful. From behind the feathers you could see a glittering sort of gaze, and you thought it almost looked like…admiration? You would have stared for a good long while if not for the fact that you remembered Rockruff and how he most certainly wasn’t supposed to be next to you.

“You said you’d stay with Hop,” you said, putting both hands on your hips. Rockruff simply sniffed in Corvisquire’s direction. “Come on, bud. We should go back to the lab. Corvisquire, can you wait here? I’ll—“

But before you could even start towards the lab, Corvisquire sprawled out its wings in front of you in a strange bellyflop sort of position. You attempted to lift your foot up but he latched on, unable to be shaken off. The pokemon began to caw in a manner you could only describe as someone on the brink of tears, and you fell backwards from how much he shook.

You closed your eyes and prepared yourself for a good knocking in the head. Instead you were met with something softer, bouncier, and all around safer, before rolling off. A soft beat of wings shaded the sun above you before landing atop your stomach, and a second set of footsteps followed, stopping a few paces away from you before making a sound of salute.

Hop had not done his job.

Or he had finished his research in ten minutes, which was an impressive feat, even taking his impatience into consideration.

Your eyes were still closed, but you could feel the shifting of bodies as they headed towards your foot. There was a low murmur between them as they gave a few grunts in unison as if to count down. On the third cry, you felt a pulling on your leg, and raised your head to see your pokemon attempting to unlatch Corvisquire from your person. Wooloo stood a few feet to the side for moral support.

Corvisquire was a lot stronger than he let on, especially for a pokemon with no arms to speak of. His grip only grew tighter around your leg as your team tugged away, the “brink of tears” transitioning into a full-on wail.

Barking, hooting, cawing, baaing, crying, and grunting sounded off; the sounds melted into each other in a discordant symphony, and you lay your head back down onto the ground as you let the noise flow through your ears. It was taking more strength than you wanted to admit not to be flung around from the force of being pulled at by four pokemon at once. Your backpack was knocked over and everything spilled out, only adding to the mess.

This sort of thing happened way too often. The most you could hope for was that the egg wasn’t listening.

“Guys, maybe we should calm down,” you tried, but the group was too loud, or maybe you were too quiet. The pulling lessened for a brief moment, and you thought perhaps that the worst was over. And it was over, once Corvisquire disappeared in a flash of light.

You shot upwards, feeling your leg as if there might be something missing from it. There were marks where feathers had once been. Your eyes drifted to the group in front of you as they shifted from looking at the ground, mouths open but none making a sound.

A pokeball shook, inches from your feet. By the time you thought to grab the device, it had already stopped.

“Okay, who threw that?” you said, able to find your words after a good minute of staring slack-jawed at the pokeball that now contained the most neurotic being—human or not—that you’d ever met.

The pokemon all pointed at each other, shifting the blame. You hushed them before it turned into another brawl and ushered them back into their own balls. Surely Hop would know what to do, wouldn’t he?

Nope.

He was too busy laughing at you from the side of the street to be of any help whatsoever. You guessed that he’d run after all your pokemon to reign them back towards the lab and had caught sight of the scene as it reached its peak. And based on his fit, you weren’t sure he would’ve noticed anything other than his own amusement.

“Hop please, I’m being serious,” you said, trying to be stern but coming off all-too soft. Maybe it was a little funny. Just a bit.

“B-b-but—“ he gasped, trying to even his breath but only spurring himself on further. “I’ve never seen it! I didn’t know a person could catch a pokemon like that! I should’ve filmed it!

You sighed, taking out a pokeball. You’d have to let Corvisquire back out and apologize, at least. You opened up the device, and watched as Wooloo materialized in front of you.

“Wrong one,” you murmured, and Hop made no effort to hide his continued laughter, doubling over as he waved his hand as if begging you to stop.

You tried another. You were encouraged by the wings, but no, what came out and sat on your shoulder was Dartrix. Then came Sirfetch’d.

How did trainers do this? The pokeballs looked exactly the same!

It was on your next attempt that the bird finally flew out. Or rather, face-planted onto the ground.

“I’m so sorry,” you said, wondering if it was appropriate to kowtow in the middle of the street. You stopped yourself from doing so, on the premise that Hop was likely to die of laughter if he saw anything even slightly amusing. “I’ll let you go right now. I can do that, right, Hop?”

“Yeah,” he said, wiping a tear from his eye. “But are you sure?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“It wasn’t like Corvisquire had been battling. He could’ve easily escaped, especially with how antsy he is,” he said. “Maybe he wanted to be caught?”

Corvisquire didn’t look particularly agitated, now that you looked. He could’ve flown off as soon as he pleased, but had instead opted to observe your pokemon again, eyes sparkling.

“Plus, you have a full team now! Once he evolves into Corviknight, he’ll be really powerful!”

“Like yours?” you asked, hands coming together. Hop gave a terse nod, cheeks tinging red. “I should’ve guessed they were related. I saw him poking around by the Flying Taxis.”

“Taxis? We don’t get many of those here.”

“I mean in Wyndon. I think he’s been following me for a while.”

“Then that only makes me more sure!” Hop said. “Looks like he wanted to join you the whole time, but was too awkward to go ahead and ask.”

Corvisquire’s feathers fluffed up as he tried to hide his face in them. Looked like Hop was right.

Now that you knew you weren’t holding a pokemon hostage, you felt a renewed vigor. At last, you could focus all of your efforts on training your team, rather than wondering if a pokemon would want to join your adventures.

You were a real pokemon trainer. You’d been one for a while, technically, but it was real. You would get your Dynamax in a day or two. Go to the exhibition match. Try and go through the gym challenge, just like so many before you. What a perfectly normal thing to do.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure I can go in?” you asked, shifting from foot to foot. The card felt strange in your palm, and though it was only plastic, felt as if it might cut you if you handled it in the wrong way. Your backpack also felt heavier than usual, though Dartrix had been neatly tucked into his pokeball. Regrettably for him, the spot had been taken up by the egg.

“We went through this when we missed the train yesterday,” Hop said, trying to nudge you along. “You’ll be fine. And if we don’t go in now, we’re going to miss the ceremony!”

At last you walked past the sliding doors, which shut as soon as you did. The train wasn’t all that full all things considered, and you had to let out a sigh. Before you could get your bearings, though, Hop had once more begun pushing you towards the seat.

The material was some sort of blue fabric that you couldn’t understand the texture of. As Hop situated himself in the seat across from you, taking out his phone, you set down the backpack into your lap before. leaning up against the window.

It wasn’t long before the vehicle began to move. There was a constant vibration in the seat as the train ran over the tracks, and you placed your hands on the table. Cold plastic, but not as shaky. There was a constant chill in the room that turned the tips of your fingers numb. Hop had already lost himself into the world of digital devices, tapping his foot in time with a rhythm that only he could discern.

Your head then turned, scanning through the aisles. Other passengers were similarly engrossed in their own lives, talking to their companions, sleeping, eating, and the like. No one paid any attention to you. Perhaps you didn’t stick out as much as you thought.

This reassured you enough that you decided to stare out the window to watch the passing scenery. You recognized the green as grass, the brown as tree trunks, and the white that streaked through blue as the sky, but nothing more than that. It was simply too fast to register.

Was this what Leon saw, when he got himself turned around on a straight path? Certainly, if someone asked you to walk back now, you would not be able to without following the train tracks themselves.

There was a certain beauty to it, though. Things melting into each other as you whizzed past, swaths of forest that led into clearings that revealed the sparkling coast… It all felt like one big thing, and gave you the feeling of making tremendous progress, even if you were only sitting in your seat. A week or more of traveling, condensed into a single day.

As you settled into the idea of the trip, your hands began to wander. Namely, to your brand-new Dynamax Band. You had yet to test it out, and frankly, you didn’t even know what you were supposed to do with it. But people were impressed by the way you obtained a Wishing Star, and you might’ve even caught a few strangers staring.

“—hello? Hey, we have to get off now.” A hand waved in front of your face, and you blinked. The rumbling had stopped, and so had the scenery. “Don’t want to be late to registration, right?”

You nodded, and followed him off of the train.

“What were you doing?” you asked, looking around. “In the train, I mean.”

It was definitely a big city, but its architecture had a more modern flair than you’d seen in Hammerlocke. As you adjusted your grip on your backpack, Rockruff came out of his pokeball and squeezed out.

“I was just rewatching Gloria and Raihan’s exhibition match,” Hop said, showing off his screen, which had been paused mid-battle. “Have you seen it yet? It was amazing.”

You shook your head. No one had sent you the match, or even told you it was happening. Not even Raihan. Why hadn’t he sent it to you? It was something you thought he’d be excited to share, or perhaps you were being presumptuous.

“Where can I see it?”

“I’ll send it later,” Hop said, patting your shoulder. “You can watch it once you get to your hotel! But seriously, we really need to get going. We’re already cutting it kind of close.”

There were white tents sprawled out across the entire length of the street just outside the building you needed to enter to register, with even more people—challengers and avid fans alike. The stands had food and merchandise of all kinds so long as they were related to the gym challenge.

Hop explained as the two of you walked, saying the city had begun holding commemorative events in the days leading up to the ceremony.

“We should explore after,” he suggested, holding the door for you. “Right now there aren’t many people since they’re all waiting in the stands, but trust me, it’ll be super festive!”

He wasn’t wrong. The building wasn’t packed, per se, but there were more people than you imagined, standing around and talking amongst each other in their newly attained uniforms. You caught a few watching Hop, and couldn’t help but feel a little proud. He didn’t seem to notice, too busy trying to psych you up instead.

On the other hand, you couldn’t place the snickers that hid behind the coy hands of some as you locked eyes. Was there something on your face?

You didn’t have the time to check, because you were already at the reception desk.

“We’re here to register!” Hop declared, grabbing the attention of anyone who wasn’t already watching. “I mean, she’s here. She’s the only one registering. You have the papers, right?”

The receptionist, who looked much too tired to have heard, held out a hand. You smoothed out the crumpled letter and gave it up, watching as the man scanned over the words.

“Looks good to me. Wow, Leon endorsed another one…” The man laughed, before it was cut off by a choking sound. “Leon?” He wiped his eyes to check that he wasn’t seeing things before squinting at you, then at Hop, then back to the letter.

The room was quieter than before, and you felt a weird pricking sensation on the back of your neck as people’s whispers swirled around you.

Something about Leon. Disbelief. A double-take. Recognition.

Rockruff’s fur stood on end as he turned around to growl.

“A Rockruff,” someone murmured, not quietly enough. “Isn’t that…?”

Of course it’s Lee—er, Leon!” Hop said, voice cutting through the din. “So you’re gonna give her the uniform now, right?”

“Right, right.” The paper was given back to you. “Here’s your badge case. I need your size.”

You gave the man your the information and were promptly handed the corresponding clothes from underneath the desk. An employee guided you over to the changing room, all the while informing you of the complimentary room challengers were offered in the hotels sprinkled throughout each town with a gym. Seeing as you came the day of the exhibition itself, there wasn’t any time to settling into your room.

All you could do was wave at Hop as you were instructed to wait inside a white room, until you were called upon the pitch.

The lineup consisted mostly of children, a fact that made you stand out even more because you weren’t exactly the shortest person in the world. A few other adults were sprinkled throughout, but there was an air of resignation to them. Their shoulders were a little more hunched, chests not as puffed out. Rather than excitement, they shifted in place with anticipation.

You were instructed by one of the staff that you had to leave your backpack behind, pokemon included. Rockruff was disappointed, but you thought it was better than having a fiasco on national television. Plus, someone needed to guard the egg.

You didn’t realize you were called until the rest of the room started trickling out the doors. The roar of people, previously muffled by the thick walls, blasted your ears with a volume you had not known possible. The camera panned down towards the line of challengers, and it felt like you were staring at a stranger. It was surreal, and you unnerved yourself.

People you didn’t know, looking at you from every angle. You were vaguely aware of Leon stepping out onto the center to introduce each challenger, and then for the gym leaders, who had somehow stepped out themselves without you knowing. Had Leon skipped over your name, or had you zoned out for that too? The cheering only got louder with each introduction.

If you had to describe the feeling, it was something between nerves and nothing at all.

You wished Leon could turn around. For some reason, you thought him acknowledging you might make things better.

“—and of course we can’t forget Raihan, Galar’s top gym leader!”

Raihan, you knew him. You looked up from the grass that you hadn’t know you were looking at and caught a glimpse of the man confidently striding down the stadium, even daring to take a picture amidst the madness. He gazed over in your direction and gave a wink. A high pitched shriek ran through the stands as fans swooned over the gesture. Unsure who it was meant for, you gave him a small wave back, just in case. His smirk widened as he turned back the other way, not wanting to neglect either side.

The rest of the ceremony went over your head. It was all noise to you. When you got to sit back down outside, your head remained buzzing with the residual effects of being the center of attention for so long. Rockruff sat in your lap, allowing you to stroke him as you rested.

Thankfully, the area you had chosen was quiet. You had the foresight to seat yourself down farther away from the festivities and practically had the whole street to yourself.

It made it all the more apparent when the peace was disturbed by what sounded like a woman trying to reason with someone not very reasonable. You stood up and scanned the street, but it was impossible for them to be there without you having noticed first.

The sounds of the struggle got louder.

Your feet moved before your mind did, and Rockruff made no complaints as he followed. The harsh voices led you down a darker, narrower street that reminded you of Hammerlocke.

There were two people. One wearing all white, the other clad in a dark uniform you’d seen before, in a situation much like this one. Despite yourself, you found yourself thinking about how Motostoke and Hammerlocke weren’t so different after all.

This really wasn’t the time for that.

Thanks to the angle, you managed to avoid being noticed by the dark figure while catching the attention of the girl in white. Her eyes widened and she covered her mouth, staring at you like she might break down and cry. You attempted to give her a reassuring look, but that didn’t dissuade her expression and even worsened it.

“Rockruff,” you whispered, and he looked up at you with those intense eyes of his, and you already knew what he wanted to do. And for once, you agreed. With a nod, you said, “Okay, go do your thing.”

With a series of barks he burst into a full-on sprint. The sudden noise caused the figure to turn as you jogged up to the girl, quivering where she stood.

“Hello,” you said, ignoring the shouting coming from the figure behind you as he tried to escape the clutches of Rockruff’s jaws. “Are you okay?”

She didn’t answer at first, so you went ahead and introduced yourself. You recognized her from the ceremony; she was one of the older ones, like yourself. She had been wringing the hem of her skirt the entire time while mumbling. Something about trials.

“T-this isn’t the time to introduce ourselves! Just run!” she said, jumping back to life and grabbing onto your hand. She pulled you back into the sun and you called for your partner pokemon. Rockruff stopped his assault and caught up to you with ease. Despite the fact that this woman was the one leading pulling ahead, she wasn’t all that fast. In fact, she was already reduced to panting.

Based on the yelling, you assumed the figure had already reoriented themselves. At this rate, the two of you would be caught.

“I apologize in advance,” you said, and before the woman could ask what for, you’d already picked her up and started running again. She squealed at the sudden contact, and the sound rang in your ears. Despite the extra weight, your pace upped considerably, and the two of you managed to disappear into the crowd of people perusing the tents.

Based on how the would-be kidnapper was dressed, there wasn’t much reason to think they’d follow you into a crowd where there was a chance to be caught. You gently set the woman back down onto the ground, continuing to lead her until you reached the inn.

“Thank you,” she breathed out as you handed over a bottle of water. Her hand trembled, almost spilling the contents. She sipped some before continuing, “I don’t know what I would’ve done if you didn’t help.”

“What happened? Did they try to kidnap you?” you asked as you continued deeper into the building. Only the receptionist remained on the floor, everyone else outside as they enjoyed their time in the festival. The employee himself looked longingly towards the doors every so often, before shaking his head and reassuming his stick-straight posture.

“I’m not sure. One moment they were asking if they wanted to join something—I didn’t realize they were talking to me at first so I don’t quite know what—and when I tried walking away they started to heckle me.” She sniffed, and you took the cue to change the subject. If she started crying, you really wouldn’t know what to do.

“I saw you at the stadium, but I didn’t catch your name.”

“Lillie,” she said, twiddling her thumbs as she cupped the bottle with both hands. She paused as you greeted the receptionist.

“Do you mind if we go to my room? We can stay in the lobby if you prefer.” You turned to her. “I just wanted to get settled before going back out, and I figure it might be safer for you to stay with someone for a bit.”

“O-oh, if you don’t mind…”

You were handed your key card as well as a brief rundown of the services available, and you were on your way. You noted that the card was not nearly as ornate or even sturdy as the one Leon had given you. Rich people plastic was different.

You and Lillie fell into silence as you pressed the elevator button. She rocked back and forth on her feet, clearing her throat a few times as she looked around more animatedly than strictly necessary. There was a sigh as a bell rang out and the doors opened, followed by another, less relieved one as you stepped in.

As the numbers ticked up she occupied herself by reading the label on the water bottle. You didn’t think one could be so absorbed by something that had no calories, additives, or nutrients to speak of, but Lillie stared that bottle down as if she were reading a novel.

The hotel hall was decorated to the slightest degree, just enough that it didn’t feel empty. The sound of footsteps were dampened by the carpet, but were nonetheless audible.

“I saw you too. You were much more composed than me,” Lillie blurted as you stopped in front of your room. “And you were…tall.”

“Thank you?” you said, unable to help the lilt in your voice. You weren’t used to compliments. Was that even a compliment? “You’re pretty tall yourself.”

You unlocked the door and were pleased to see there was a large window at the end of the room. After setting your bag down, it was the first thing you checked out. Lillie remained lurking closer to the door, as if she might be intruding.

“Um!” Lillie said, crunching the plastic in her hands. She winced at the sound. “You have a Rockruff.”

You nodded, averting your attention from the outdoor scenery, just in time to see a drop of sweat sliding down from Lillie’s forehead. Weird. It was pretty chilly in the room. Her clothes didn’t look all that thick, either.

Now that you got a full view of her, you noticed even her shoes were white. It was a miracle that they were still clean after that running. The only indication of the struggle was the slight crook in her ponytail, which had come loose. Her skin was pale, but had a flush to it that made you think she was still unwell.

“Are you…also from Alola?”

“I’m going there. Eventually,” you said, staring down at Rockruff, who was eyeing Lillie with suspicion. “After the gym challenge. You came from Alola?”

“Yes. I mean, no. I came from Kanto. But I’m originally from Alola. It’s complicated,” she said. “I heard Galar has very strong trainers, and I thought maybe I could be strong too, if I came here. It’s not going very well, though.”

“That makes two of us, then,” you said. “I only became a trainer a few months ago.”

You made your way over to the edge of the bed and sat down, before patting the seat next to you. After what looked to be an internal conflict, Lillie lowered herself down on the other side.

“And you’re so confident,” she said. “That’s amazing.”

“I wouldn’t say that. I’ve lost every battle I’ve been in so far,” you said. “I have a lot of catching up to do. It looks like most people start young.”

“Right? I was so self-conscious the entire time,” Lillie said, leaning back on the bed and staring up at the ceiling. “Everyone’s so talented. It feels like I have to try twice as hard for half the results.”

“Then I suppose we’ll have to try even harder than that,” you said with a small smile, and Lillie blinked. “Battles didn’t make sense to me at first, but I’ve learned a lot. We’ll get there eventually.”

“I’m sorry, I think we got off on the wrong foot,” Lillie said, looking a bit breathless. You tilted your head as Lillie gave a sheepish laugh. “I guess I was a little intimidated. You made quite the first and second impression.”

She stood up and pumped her fist.

“I don’t know why, but I suddenly feel really motivated!” she said, giving a small twirl. “I think I’m okay now.”

“That’s good,” you said, standing up as well. It was then that you hesitated, for the first time. You clumsily took out your phone and waved it in her general direction. “Do you want to exchange numbers?”

Her eyes sparkled as she took out her own device. The two of you held out the phones for a while.

“Um,” she said. “You need to tell me your number, right?”

“How do I do that?” you asked, turning the phone in your hands as if that might solve the problem. Lillie giggled before asking to borrow it, giving it back once she inputted her digits.

The two of you left the hotel together and she turned to you once you made your way to the exit.

“Thank you again,” she said.

“Where are you going now?”

“Well the first gym is in Turffield,” she started, walking to the left. “Route 3?”

“Then that’s the wrong way,” you pointed out.

“O-oh. Of course,” she mumbled, gripping her backpack a little tighter. “I’m not the best with directions, you see.”

Now that was a familiar story. But before you could say anything, Lillie shook her head as if to push away the incoming daze.

“It’s okay though! Like you said, we’ll get there eventually.”

That wasn’t really the correct context, but you didn’t bother to correct her. She seemed happy enough. Besides, she couldn’t be any worse than Leon.

The two of you waved at each other and you watched as she disappeared into the crowd. Once she was gone, you faced the row of tents again. It was time to explore.

Chapter Text

This was yet another type of crowd you’d yet to become acquainted with. The kind where everyone was jammed inside a spot at once, pushing past each other as they tried to get to the places where they wanted to be. This was still preferable to whatever had happened in the stadium, though, so you pushed on.

You stopped at every single tent, combing through each item with great interest. Some had the same sorts of merchandise, but with different themes for each of the gyms. Clothes, jewelry, toys, phone cases, even figurines… there really was something for everyone.

It wasn’t as much of a fool’s errand as it initially seemed to be. For starters, you were rather late to the entire event, and with evening about to fall, tents were beginning to close. The ones that remained open often didn’t have that much stock left, a testament to the popularity of the figures in question.

And so you marched onward through every tent at a respectable pace, until at last you stumbled upon a rare opening in the crowd. It was as if there was an opposing force that compelled people away from the area.

You let yourself sit in the feeling of not pressing up against someone else before stepping closer towards the tent. The person that sat behind the table remained immobile even as you glanced around, staring straight ahead like he was being held at gunpoint.

Well. Looking around, you had a feeling you knew why.

Unlike every other tent you had come across, this one was a bit different. For one, it was completely full of merchandise, to the point that you thought an entire week’s worth of stock, or even more than that, had piled up with no one buying it. For another, there was very little variety in what was being sold. Actually, there was exactly one thing being sold.

You didn’t think you were an easily disturbed person. Nay, people might often describe you as unflappable to the point of detriment.

But.

“Hello, welcome!” the salesperson jumped up as you brushed up against the table. You stepped back at the enthusiasm, and upon closer inspection, it might not have been eagerness so much as it was desperation. “You’re the first person to come in all day—no, the entire festival!”

Your hand was grabbed and despite your attempts to back away, his grip was too strong. Almost like he was begging you to stay. Rather than turning tail like you should’ve you let yourself be dragged back into the shade of the tent. It was a lot quieter in there, more than a person might expect.

“Tell you what, since you’re obviously a true-blue mega fan, I’ll give you a freebies. Scratch that, take as many as you like!”

“I think I’ll be fine,” you said, but the tears in the person’s eyes stopped you from leaving outright. He pulled in closer, enough that you could hear shaky breathing.

“Please,” he murmured. “My boss is gonna kill me if I don’t get rid of this stock. It’s been years. Years.

There was a strain on the person’s voice that made you believe him. Staring down at the mountain of merchandise, you couldn’t help but feel bad.

“I guess I could make space in my backpack…” you said. You’d have to take out the egg, but that wouldn’t be so bad. It was good to let it get some sun once in a while. “I don’t think it’ll make much of a dent, but—“

At this point the man had begun to shed tears. Honest-to-god, actual tears.

“Please don’t cry,” you said, trying to find something, anything that could be used as a handkerchief. Of course there was nothing. You pulled out your jacket sleeve as a last ditch effort.

“I’m fine, I’m fine. It’s just shock. I didn’t think someone would actually take these things away.” He sniffed, letting go of your hands. “Are you my guardian angel? Sorry, that probably sounded weird. Let’s pretend I never said that.”

Allowing yourself to feel bad was your first mistake out of many that day.

You had made it through perhaps half of what the tents had to offer at that point, your productivity levels dropping after entering that cursed tent. Seeing as it was nearly evening, you’d decided to stop exploring for the day and find something to eat. A difficult task, considering you still had approximately zero money. How had you survived all this time, again?

“Finally found you.” A hand grabbed onto your shoulder and turned you around, putting you face-to-face with Raihan. “Don’t you think you’re doing the whole playing hard to get thing too literally?”

“You don’t have important business?” you said, looking around the mostly-empty tents. Raihan had taken off his gym uniform and replaced it with something more casual, but considering his towering height, it didn’t do much to hide him from any fans. It was far from the center though, so there weren’t as many people wandering around. The Raihan-themed merchandise had been situated on the other end of the street as well.

“You’re important business.” He grinned, looking down at the multiple tote bags you were lugging around. They bulged out the sides, but were deep enough that it wasn’t easy to see what exactly they contained. Your backpack was similarly bulked up, since Dartrix had kicked out the incubator to reclaim his favorite spot. You resorted to holding the egg in your hands. He’d refused to share the space with any of the merchandise. “Your hands look pretty full.”

The salesman had procured many tote bags from under the table and convinced you to take as many as you could carry. Even with your efforts, you had only managed to take away about half of what was in stock.

“I,” you paused to hike up your backpack. Everything’s straps kept slipping from all the things jangling inside, but readjusting one thing meant losing hold of something else. “Got free samples.”

“If you wanted stuff with my face on it, I’m happy to oblige,” he said, framing his face with his index finger and thumb, posing for an invisible camera. “The real deal’s always better, right?”

“Oh, I didn’t get any of your things.”

Raihan put a hand to his chest in mock hurt as you began walking again. It wasn’t that you wanted to ignore him, but your arms were getting tired from all the things hanging from them.

“You need help with that?” He posed it as a question but didn’t bother to wait for a response as he grabbed hold of the incubator, freeing your hands. He attempted to grab some of your bags as well but you pulled them away before he got the chance. “Come on, at least let me hold your backpack. People are gonna think I let girls carry all the bags.”

There was a pause as you considered what he said. If it was an image thing, then he had a point. You dropped the bags for a moment before sliding off the backpack and handing it over, picking them back up before Raihan could snatch any. And just so he couldn’t convince you any further, you changed the subject.

“I saw you during the ceremony.”

“I know.”

So he really had noticed you. But even considering the fact that you were older, was it really so easy to pick you out from the crowd? Everyone was wearing the same outfit. You looked down at yourself. You looked normal…right?

But that was besides the point. That conversation was doing you no favors in avoiding your bags from being taken away. You needed to think of a more substantive conversation piece.

A question. That would do it. Raihan enjoyed talking about himself.

“I heard you had an exhibition match. How come you didn’t tell me about it?”

His footsteps faltered as you popped the question and you thought he might trip. He managed to shrug it off by rolling his neck as if distracted by something flying overhead, though the sky that day was clear of anything.

“Oh, that? Must’ve slipped my mind.”

“That’s…” You hated to doubt, but was that really something a person would forget? Especially when that person was Raihan. He’d texted you plenty during that time, and the match should’ve been at the forefront of his mind. Even if he’d forgotten to mention it beforehand because of how hectic the schedule was, he surely had plenty of time to send a recording afterwards.

There were a lot of reasons it could’ve been. Maybe you wouldn’t have gotten it. Maybe he didn’t think it was important enough. Maybe you weren’t as close as you thought. Maybe he really had forgotten, and you were overthinking it.

“You must’ve been really busy,” you said. “Can I watch it when I go back to the inn?”

“You don’t need my permission or anything,” he said. “You really didn’t miss much. It’s all the same stuff.”

“I’ve never seen you in an official battle before. I think I would’ve enjoyed it.”

He didn’t respond to that, and there was a slump in his posture that wasn’t there before. You weren’t sure what it was that you had said that upset him and wracked your brain to try and think of a way to lighten the mood. He’d done a lot for you, so it was the least you could do.

The bags bumped against your legs as if to remind you of their existence. It wasn’t much, but maybe this would do. You loosened your grip on one of the bags, pulling it up so you could take something out.

“Raihan, do you want—”

As you turned around a corner you crashed into another person, someone sturdier than you were. There was enough force that everything was knocked out of your hands, and you could only be grateful that you hadn’t been in possession of the egg.

The moment you caught a glimpse of that purple hair and glowing yellow eyes, you knew you were in deep shit.

You fell to your knees not because you had particularly lost balance in that direction, but more because you were preparing yourself for the reaction that was to come.

Balls flew out in droves from your poor bags, shedding free of all the extra weight you had done so hard to shove down.

Not pokeballs, the kind you threw at pokemon after becoming friends at them, or caught them on accident. Balls as in the kind you played around with and bounced on the ground or threw around with your friends. 

The purple kind that were specially made during a certain someone’s reign as champion and hadn’t sold for years and years and years because they were cursed. The purple kind that also had Leon’s face on them, that for some godforsaken reason, had been made to resemble him with the most stern expression they could muster. Leon’s face! Sure they were kind of endearing, in their own way, but now you’d been exposed for having literally eight bags worth and you weren’t sure what to do with yourself.

You heard your name being called and you looked up despite yourself, only to see Hop running towards you.

“Where have you guys been? I’ve been looking everywhere!”

He tried to wave but failed from all the bags he was carrying. It only got worse when he tripped on one of the stray balls on the ground and dropped his own bags.

Was it just you, or were there even more than before?

“Um,” Leon started, and you suddenly recalled you had yet to say anything.

“It’s not what it looks like,” you blurted out in unison with Hop, at which the two of you stared at each other in disbelief. Leon stared blankly at all the cursed replicas of him rolling around on the floor. One of them bumped into his foot.

You considered falling onto your back and letting yourself be carried away by the purple spheres. Hopefully to a place very far away from Raihan and his peals of laughter. At least he didn’t seem to be in a bad mood anymore, even if it was at your expense. Again.

“See, there was this tent, and I just felt so bad looking at the guy,” Hop tried again. He stood up for a second before realizing the mess needed to be tended to and squatted back down, corralling whatever came into his reach. You followed after. “I walked back and forth that tent every day and no one bought anything! And it was the last day and he was trying to give them away but no one took them and I think he was crying…”

As he rambled on you found yourself nodding along. Hop understood you. Every so often you would chime in, saying something like, “He looked very sad,” or, “I think his boss is holding him hostage,” or other such relevant information.

Somewhere in the middle, Leon and Raihan had also grabbed onto one of the numerous bags scattering the street and helped with the clean up. Raihan waved one in front of Leon a few times, only to get another thrown into his face.

“Leon,” you said, interrupting their squabble. He stopped his roughhousing to focus on you, only to get decked in the shoulder while he wasn’t looking. “Were you going somewhere? I think we have this covered.”

He scratched the back of his head.

“Oh, I was just looking for you,” he said. “You didn’t see the text?”

“All of us were, actually,” Raihan added.

“Yeah! Awfully convenient we ended up in the same place, huh?”

“I was busy running around,” you said, wondering if you should elaborate further. You looked around. It didn’t look like there were people to listen in, but it was probably better to wait until you were somewhere private. And also somewhere without Hop around to loudly exclaim something was preferable. This stuff was supposed to be confidential, right? “What do you need me for?”

The three of them smiled at each other before turning back to you.

“Congrats on joining the Gym Challenge,” Leon said with a big smile. “We’re all going to be busy in the coming months, what with our jobs and your journey, but we’re all rooting for you.”

“And you looked really cool out there!” Hop said, giving you a thumbs up. “I’m sure you’ll do great.”

“Enough with the sappy stuff. We’re here to take you to dinner,” Raihan said. “I think we’re done cleaning up here, so let’s go.”

As you all stood up, you couldn’t help but feel at a loss for words. Everyone helped carry the bags, to the point that you only needed to worry about your backpack and incubator.

A thank you was in order, but you had already said it so many times. The more you said it, no matter how earnest, the less it could properly sum up how you really felt.

“I,” you started, clutching the glass tighter. It was warm. Everything was warm. In that moment, you felt like the luckiest person in the world. “I’ll do my best.”