Death. War. Destruction. The world of the future lies in ruins. I got the chance to go back and stop it from ever happening, only to discover that I was the cause. This is how I destroyed the world.


27. The Fight Inside

The key is to get to know people and trust them to be who they are. Instead, we trust people to be who we want them to be- and when they're not, we cry ~ Anon.


"For all the trust we may put in others, we never truly want to let them know us completely. As humans, it is our nature sometimes to want to keep everything we know wrapped up in a tight little ball inside of us. We don't really want to ever share such experiences with anyone else, for fear it makes us weak.

Which begs the question; is it a bigger sign of trust to let someone know something we don't want them to, or that we're willing to share it with them in particular?"

- Unknown, (Unknown date)


I wasn't sure of time or day when I awoke. All I knew was that it was incredibly dark, and I was still shaking in fear at some unseen foe.

A small grunt caught my attention, and I damn near leapt out of the bed in fright. Only when I caught the sight of Loki's eyes did I calm down, and relaxed as he crawled across the bed and sat down next to me. He made a few noises, no doubt questioning how I was as he stared up at me.

"I'm fine," I whispered to him with a shaky voice as I reached over and scratched his head. I blinked, looked around the unfamiliar room and then down at myself. "How'd I get here?"

Loki managed to chatter something small in response. I looked at him and groaned, realising my only hope for a decent explanation as to my whereabouts was from a creature who didn't even speak my language.

Instead I settled for questions with answers I'd be more likely to understand.

"Where's everyone else?" I asked my little sableye. "Like Ayd." I patted my chest, and feeling only bare flesh there, felt my blood freeze in my veins. "And the rest of the team?"

Loki grunted and dove off the bed, his head peeking over the side moments later, my bandolier wrapped around his head. I chuckled to myself as I pried it off him, feeling much securer with the presence of the rest of my allies – and weapons – with me. Another grunt caught my attention back to the sableye, and he pointed towards the door, signalling something.

I gathered he was telling me that Ayd was somewhere outside my room.

I thanked him once more, dressed quickly, though spent a good five minutes looking for my boots. I finally realised that Chris had probably decided to wash them free of the electrike piss. Instead I walked out of my room barefoot, and quickly decided that I hated the place as I stepped straight down in a puddle of something wet, warm and yellow.

I pulled a face as I rubbed my foot on the floor, trying in vain to dry it off. "This is some sort of divine menace, isn't it?" I grumbled, much aware of Loki's demonic cackles. "Some higher power deciding my life needs misery in all the smallest places."

He stopped laughing long enough to sniff at the small wet patch on the floor. Instantly he hissed at it, and would have carved the carpet up had I not quickly snatched him from the floor.

"Don't go around attacking carpets, please," I begged him, even as I held him out in my arms. "At least, not in the house of someone we like. If you really want to tear up some floors, I'll let you break into a carpet store. Or one of those home renovation places. Just don't attack anything in here."

He looked up at me, making a noise as his mouth dropped open and his tongue lolled out at the side. I took it as the closest I'd get to an agreement before I called him back into his poké ball. Granted someone would be quite easily able to take me by surprise without him skulking around next to me, but at least I'd be able to walk through Chris' house without anything being destroyed. She was one woman I did not want to piss off, not then, and not ever.

Though when I crept my way into her living room, at least she looked like she wasn't likely to harm me anytime soon. Relief brightened both hers and Ayd's faces, making me truly wonder just how freaked out I'd been by the whole undead makuhita ordeal.

Though with them both staring at me, I felt incredibly awkward. "Uh, howdy?" I mumbled.

"'Howdy' yourself," Ayd said, incredulously. He leapt out of his seat, face a picture of shock as he exclaimed, "What the fuck happened out there?"

I shrunk into myself, not wanting to admit anything. "What... did it look like was happening?" I murmured, hoping I could use that as an excuse somehow.

Instead I had Adryan stare at me as if my face were peeling away from the bone. "You had a headless makuhita trying to kill you. A fucking headless pokémon tried killing you! You're damned lucky Ripper was nearby – if you were on your own, you wouldn't be here right now!"

What I assumed to be his anger at my avoiding the question opened up a few question of my own. "What if Ripper hadn't been able to get rid of it?"

Chris gripped her arm stump. "You'd need another ghost to get rid of it. Dusknoir are able to... exorcise ghosts – for lack of a better word – instinctively. Ghosts can only be killed – or rather move on from the world – by two methods. Either forcibly by another ghost, or the ghost itself needs to choose to move on from the world."

I focused instead on Chris, rather than Ayd, who still looked like he wanted to strangle me for no doubt scaring him. "So Loki could have been able to get rid of it for me?"

She snorted softly. "Not without being taught specifically how to do so."

"You're still avoiding the question," Adryan pointed out flatly. "What happened out there?"

I felt my stomach flop as I looked at him. "I-uh, don't want to talk about it."

"What-" he hissed, though was cut off as Chris put her hand softly on his arm. She shook her head gently, effectively cutting him off. "Fine," he said sharply. "Whatever it was, it looked bad, alright? You were screaming your lungs out, there was a freaky dead makuhita trying to kill you, and none of my pokémon's attacks were harming the damn thing. It freaked the shit out of me, you understand that? I'd at least like to know the basis of how the fuck that all happened."

I looked up at him and offered a guilty look. "Maybe soon," I whispered, barely able to hear myself. Yet judging by the small nod, I knew he heard me too.

He glanced over at Chris and shared an unspoken conversation for a moment. "I'm going tomorrow morning," he told her. "Few things I want to sort out in Fairfrost, and there's a big tournament for any sort of ice pokémon going on there soon. Figured I'd enter Siren and see how she fares."

Chris nodded. "Anyone you want to take off my hands?"

He thought about it for a moment and then shrugged. "I wouldn't mind having Ripper around for a while. Lucy too, I could do with training her."

"Help yourself," she said quickly. "I'll make a note of it when I've got time. Though can I have Hale and Apollo for a little bit? I've got a few bids coming through – same deal as always?"

"Sure thing," Ayd said, rubbing a finger gently over the poké balls on his belt. "I'll get them sent over for first thing in the morning. Though can you look after Siren and Leif for a bit? I think after being in caves for so long, without big bodies of sun or water has left them a little worse for wear."

"Only if you let me get a litter out of the both of them," offered Chris. "Even the zoos pay into six figures for lapras calves."

He nodded. "As long as they're willing to go through with it. But I think Siren isn't due for mating season for another few months."

"We do have a stock of hormones that could induce it in her," she said with a smirk. "But I won't do anything if either of you doesn't agree."

He shrugged. "I'm fine with it, if she is. But try to make sure it's after the tournament. I don't really want to enter her in a battle while she's ready to lay an egg." He stopped a moment and looked out towards a corner of the house. "So am I alright to see him?"

She nodded once more. "He's old enough now; you can take him if you want. He's just a little snappy – I think he's teething."

A grin blossomed on Ayd's face. "I dealt with a teething trapinch, I think I can manage this."

I stared after him as he left the room, their conversation completely lost on me. I guessed that they were arranging for some of his pokémon to be looked after by Chris, and for them to also mate and produce offspring for her to sell.

Though I had no idea where Fairfrost was, or what was meant to be there –aside from the ice pokémon gym – nor did I know who Apollo or Lucy were. I guessed that with Ayd still somewhat annoyed with me, I would't be getting any answers out of him about his pokémon – or more likely, I'd have my questions answered with a question. So instead of saying anything, I waited until Ayd had left the room to look over whatever he was so happy about seeing.

In doing so I found myself alone with Chris, who seemed to be in two minds about whether or not to grill me for the answers both her and Adryan no doubt wanted. Instead she merely gripped her stump once more and blew her fringe from her face. "You're sableye's a strange one," she said conversationally. "Most of the time, if their trainer's injured, a pokémon will defend them to the death from any outside help, or try and get help from anyone it thinks is trustworthy. Yours didn't do either of those."

I found my fingers softly running over his poké ball as I thought about it. "So what did he do then?"

"He tried calling out your other pokémon. Pokémon aren't meant to be able to use human-created technology, save for the smartest and most psychics, but your sableye went straight for your other pokémon's balls, as if it were trying to call them out to help." She made an amused sound and shrugged. "Though when he couldn't get them open, he tried gnawing them instead – he happened to go continually for two in particular. The one with your evolving lotad, and the third one on your bandolier."

I knew instantly that was Lacey's ball. I always kept them in one specific pattern, going down in order from the first pokémon I'd caught to the last. I couldn't fathom out why Loki would try to get Xander to help, but I assumed that he must have gone for Lacey because he knew she would be better at keeping away the makuhita than himself, or any of the others.

I knew then he had to be smarter than he let on. There was no way he could have chased after those two pokémon by sheer coincidence alone. The main problem with that would be figuring out how to get him to be smart all the time, rather than just when I wasn't conscious. It was something to add to the pile, with Lacey's murderous tendencies, as well as Erra's timidness.

"He must have been trying to get them to help then," I said, confirming Chris' suspicions. "We've pretty much learnt so far that the only people or pokémon we can trust are ourselves."

Chris put on a look of mock hurt. "So you're saying you don't trust me?"

I smirked. "I don't know you."

"Smart," she said, impressed. "Too many youngsters trust too freely, and they often end up with their pokémon being stolen, mugged, or worse."

I shrugged. "But then the opposite is that they don't trust anyone. You need to have some trust, even if it's just in your pokémon."

I had to laugh at myself. The thought of telling people to trust in their pokémon was such high hypocrisy to my upbringing. Yet at the same time, I felt that the words were right.

Chris smiled knowingly. "You know, I get the feeling that's more than you've let on about your journey to Adryan, and he's supposed to be your friend. I must have some high privilege or something." She grinned again, and I knew she was trying to make light of the situation. However, when she caught sight of my more sombre expression, she sighed and glanced in the direction Ayd left.

"You freaked him out, you know?" she said, barely loud enough for me to even hear. "Even if you don't want to tell anyone about what really happened to cause it all, he still deserves some sort of explanation. I mean, it was his pokémon that saved you, and he's still got Willow being looked after at the Littleroot lab, if only because you asked him not to have her around for a while – and you still haven't told him why about that yet either."

Her words burnt guilt into me, and I began to poke my big toe into the carpet, not wanting to look back up at her. "I don't want to talk about it," I whispered. "I just... I don't want to have to relive what happened again."

"That's fair enough," she said, her tone sympathetic and understanding. "I can't force you to do anything, but at the same time, you should know not to shut people out completely. Whatever you went through... it's obvious you need a friend."

"I suppose," I agreed. "So did he ask you to talk to me about all of this?" I asked.

She chuckled and shook her head. "No, I think he's too proud to ask for help. We talk, and I help that way, but he never really asks me to do anything for him. In reality, I'm just playing mum. I think I have done ever since him and Owen..." she smiled sadly, no doubt remembering their journeys. "Well, ever since I was travelling with those two goons. If nothing else, they helped me understand how much effort is needed to mother a creature, whether it's human or not."

I nodded slowly. "That reminds me," I said, and pointed back into the corridor. "Outside the room I woke up in, there's a wet yellow puddle."

She groaned instantly. "You didn't think to tell me sooner? I swear, the Mauville council must have put in carpeted floors just to appease their sadism. The moment I have enough money, we're getting laminated wooden floors. And then I'm going to have that little electrike brainwashed so it uses a human toilet."

"Lacey can do that already," I said without thinking, and caught myself a moment later. Chris was staring at me, amazed, and I felt my cheeks burn crimson. "I didn't teach her how to," I told her quickly. "I only found out a few days after I caught her – long story short, she got a bad case of the runs, and locked herself in the bathroom in our room on the ship to Dewford. Before then, I had no idea."

Chris stared at me a moment longer. "Whoever accomplished that is a genius. Seriously, you have no idea how many scientific papers are published each year with people trying to train certain pokémon to use toilets, and the various methods needed for each. Whoever they were, if they let people know about that, they could have made a killing."

I grimaced at her choice of words. Thankfully she didn't notice as she excused herself to clean up the electrike puddle, muttering something about finding something that would be able to clean the carpets.

Alone, I started to wonder what to do. It was dark outside, which meant that I couldn't really take any of my pokémon outside to train them. I hadn't yet found out how long I'd been out for, so had no clue how long it had been since my pokémon had run any drills, and how far behind they were.

I did know, however, that I would be leaving the next morning, regardless of whether Ayd wanted to travel with me or not. The way he'd mentioned he was leaving seemed to be a sly dig at me, if only in the way that he continually passed over mention of me. It was either him being childish and speaking loudly enough for me to overhear his plans, and just go along with him, or him dropping the hint that he was leaving the day after without me.

Either way, it really meant I was being pressured into at least saying something about what had happened. I really didn't want to have to relive the experience again, but I knew if I didn't, I could end up going mad. Or I could possibly end up with another shedinja trying to murder me, or possibly another demon trying to avenge those I killed.

Regardless, I knew I was going to need a friend. If not for my own safety, then for my own sanity. And if I was to be completely honest with myself, I knew that Adryan was my best friend, and that I could stomach reliving the experience again if it meant I could keep his friendship.

Though the main problem I had was how I was going to go about explaining everything to Ayd. I knew I couldn't very well tell him that I had murdered Aaron, though the part about the demons would no doubt be easier to explain, if not harder for me to actually say.

It was a conversation I definitely wasn't looking forward to.

It seemed I would have some small reprieve from it, however, when Chris walked back in, carrying a bucket filled with soapy water and sponges.

"You should get some sleep," she told me as she walked back into the room, placing the bucket down in the corner. "It's nearing midnight, and no doubt you'll be leaving with Adryan first thing in the morning. Feel free to use the same room I left you in before – it's the second guest room anyway. I'm going to bed soon; the guys on the late shift started two hours ago, and they're working through until dawn."

That caught my attention. "How many people do you have working here then?"

She smiled. "A number. Aside from myself, there's six supervisors, who work in pairs, changing every eight hours. After that, most people here are students from the local veterinaries, or even from further afield. There's a number of vet colleges all over Hoenn, and a number of breeder's colleges too. I take on a number of them as unpaid interns for three months at a time – they work for me, and get another reference for all their job applications. There's also a few people like Amanda, who are locals interested in becoming breeders, but have no one willing to give them the experience." She sighed, brushed some stray hair from her face then placed her hands on her hips. "Then there's others, but I suspect that you'll be using stories of my accountants, marketing managers and lawyers as a reason to stay awake."

I blinked. "That's a lot of people," I said, simply. "And it wouldn't be me trying to stay awake; I'm not tired anyway."

She laughed. "You fainted, and were out for nearly ten hours. Being unconscious isn't the same as sleeping – while you're out either way, the former leaves you without feeling restless, and instead more tired." She waved her real hand in a shooing gesture. "Get to bed. If you really want to ask me questions, bug me in the morning. Though preferably not until after nine. I want to be able to sleep in until eight tomorrow before I start doing all the admin before even starting to work on the pokémon at about midday. Just five more years, and hopefully the place will be able to run itself. And then I can start on my real dreams."

My curiosity was spiked. "What's that then?"

She grinned. "Creating an army of fire-breathing crobat."

I laughed nervously at her comparative lack of amusement. She kept a straight face up until my laughter died off, and offered me only a small grin. The woman was decidedly insane, and I could whole-heartedly see her leading an army of fire-breathing bats. I wasn't sure what was scarier; the mental image of her leading the bat-army, or the fact that it was so easy to imagine.

"Well as long as you promise to let me have one, I won't call the pokémon protection agencies on you," I joked. "But I won't keep you up; I'll head off to bed, even if I don't end up sleeping." I turned to leave, though thought better of it and quickly wrapped my arms around Chris in a hug. She looked completely shocked for a moment, and more confused than intrigued. "I just realised I should thank you for everything..." I mumbled sheepishly. "And well... just saying it seemed kinda useless... and I couldn't think of anything else to do to show my thanks... and well-"

"Enough with the embarrassed teenager, please," Chris laughed, waving a hand at me. "You're welcome. You're Ayd's friend, so I guess by some strange extension you're also mine. Though one small warning; don't make a habit of surprise hugging me. My robo-arm's still not completely tuned, so if you surprise me, you might end up with a metal gut-punch."

I flinched at the thought. "Thanks. I'll keep that in mind." It was entirely possible, I reasoned, after seeing her accidentally punch a doorframe just because she was angry. If she was surprised, I figured that had to be the least damage she could do.

"Well, I'll try to keep the damage to a minimum," she told me with a grin. "After all, if you're willing not to tell the cops about my fire-breathing bats, I think I might have some use for you." She laughed to herself before sobering and removing her artificial arm. "Come see me in the morning before you leave though. If nothing else but to show good manners in saying goodbye."

I told her I would before bidding her goodnight and heading back to my room. Just outside it the carpet was still covered in a small amount of clear, soapy bubbles, enough to provide me with the mental image of Chris going crazy in scrubbing the carpet clean.

Though it made me realise I had yet to see the little carpet-stainer since it had managed to mark my boots.

As long as Lacey hadn't murdered it, there wasn't really much of a problem with that. I wouldn't have minded taking the creature with me, as I decided that training an infant to battle would probably be easier than convincing Erra to stop being as afraid with new things.

Though I reassured myself that after getting Loki through a blood thirst, and managing to get Lacey on side, dealing with a timid magnemite shouldn't be much of a problem.

It did mean though, that I would have even more hassles on my journey. I still hadn't figured out what the hell I needed to do, nor had I managed to find any leads on the strange man I'd overheard on the boat to Slateport. Collecting information for myself was so new, and so strange. I was used to being nothing more than a gun – I had the information and orders given to me, rather than running recon for someone else. As far as I was aware, people in my time used to find out everything they needed to by listening in to conversations, as well as finding the truth in rumours and idle gossip.

The problem was I had no idea where to find such things in the world I was currently in. Granted, I did have the one idea of using the internet again, but I knew it wouldn't be feasible to continually access it whenever I was on the road – and I was still a little skittish of using it after the last time.

At least the problem of the demonic makuhita had been solved for me. I did feel somewhat safer knowing that it was gone, and that I no longer needed to have Lacey or Loki with me at all times to stop it coming near me.

Yet at the same time, I didn't like the feeling of safety it brought. It was like the calm in a storm – a quiet where it was too quiet. I'd gone through it before when I first came to the world; seeing dangers where apparently there were none, and it seemed I would have to readjust yet again.

Though when a shadow loomed into my room from the doorway, I leapt out of my skin in fright, clutching wildly at my poké balls. I nearly fell over my own feet as I searched frantically for my bag, only to hear Adryan sniggering lightly behind my back.

My ears burnt in shame as I turned around to face him. He was stood there, leaning against my doorframe with his arms crossed, wearing only a baggy undershirt and boxers. He looked nothing near intimidating or frightening, and I felt myself wanting to laugh at my own stupidity for it all.

"Good to know my pj's are frightening," he drawled, leaning his head against the wooden frame. "I'll be sure to remember that the next time a hungry pokémon is wanting to eat me." He laughed to himself. "Though, I think the sight of anyone stripping down in front of you is likely to be creepy and frightening. Or interesting, depending on who it is."

I ignored his musings with a roll of my eyes. "What's up?"

"Nothing," he said, shrugging. "I just wanted to see if you were more willing to say something since Chris isn't around."

My heart dropped into my stomach as I turned away, shaking my head. "I... I don't want to," I mumbled, staring down at my navel. "I just... not yet."

Behind me, Ayd made a loud, annoyed sigh. "Look, I know that whatever you went through was probably scary as hell, but you can't expect me to keep trusting your word on everything. You've still yet to tell me you don't want Willow anywhere near you, which means I've got to keep her at the lab in Littleroot. And do you have any idea how hard it is to convince a gardevoir to stay away for any amount of time? They're clingy as hell once you've trained them enough. And added to that, she can teleport here anytime she wants to, if she put her mind to it. You're lucky she hasn't warped herself here at any opportunity."

I shuddered at the thought of the demon appearing in my room in the blink of an eye. "Just... just trust me," I told him. "I'll explain it to you soon enough."

"That's the thing," he said, sharply. "You said I've got to trust you, but I don't know how I'm meant to if I don't know anything about what's going on. All you've told me is that you caught your nuzleaf and magnemite while you were away. There's only so much blind trust I can afford."

"So what do you want then?" I hissed as I spun round on the spot. "A deep, complex conversation on my life before you can afford trusting me? Does that mean I shouldn't trust you until I know everything that's happened in all twenty years you've been alive?"

He clicked his tongue. "That's not what I mean and you know it," he said coldly. "Believe it or not, I do trust you, whether it's through blind optimism or something else. But the main problem is Willow doesn't. And while I don't know what's caused that, I can't reassure her unless I know what's going on. You could have put me or Ripper in danger when that makuhita came after you, and I've got nothing to reassure him or Willow that something like that will happen again."

I looked up at him through my hair, dumbfounded. His demon didn't trust me? I figured it had to be because it could sense I had killed two of its kind. But it was obvious Ayd took the instincts of his pokémon to heart, and he would end up distrusting me and leaving me if I didn't give him an explanation. And I knew that I couldn't afford for that to happen.

He sighed at my silence and dropped his arms to the side. "I do trust you, and you're one of my best friends, but you need to understand; my pokémon come first. I can't risk putting them in danger, and I can't wait around forever with you, waiting for an answer." He shook his head and looked away for a moment. "That's why I'm heading off to Fairfrost tomorrow. Not only for the competition, but to give you some time. It's obvious that you don't want to talk about anything, but you haven't even given me an inkling as to what's going on. You are my friend, but if you're putting my pokémon in danger needlessly, and not letting me know anything about it, then I can't risk them being around you."

There was a pregnant silence between us. I kept my face to the floor, wars raging within me as to whether or not I should say anything. Finally, when I heard Adryan sigh angrily and saw his shadow move, I broke.

"Dewford," I whispered in a hoarse voice. It got his attention, and he froze in the doorway, head turning back to face me.

Just the memory of it alone was making my blood freeze and tears build up in my eyes. But I knew I had to push past it. "Dewford," I whispered again, hating my voice for breaking, and cursing the tear that broke free from my eye. "Check... check what's been happening in Dewford. I don't want to talk about it yet... but if you do that... you'll have an idea of what's happened."

He nodded slowly, uncertainly. "Alright," he whispered, unsure. "I'll check that out. I haven't exactly caught up on the world's news since I've been back, but I'll have a look while I'm in Fairfrost. I'm going to be in Sandstream in two weeks; it's in the desert east of Lavaridge. I say you go to Lavaridge first, battle the gym there, and then head onto Sandstream afterwards. I'll meet you there, and no matter what I find out, good or bad, I'll listen to your side of the story."

I sniffed and wiped my nose with a palm. "Thanks," I croaked. "I just... I need some time to be able to say it."

"I'll leave the same time as you tomorrow," he told me, changing the subject, though still speaking seriously. "If nothing else, I'll see you off. I'm sorry if you wanted a few days to laze around-"

"No, it's alright," I said, cutting him off. "I need to get going anyway, and I probably would have left tomorrow if you wanted to stay – Chris is your friend, I figured you'd want some time to catch up without me being around and making things awkward."

He shrugged. "Chris is working almost all the time anyway, so mostly we end up catching up in sporadic, few hour sessions before or after she's working." He stopped for a moment, went to walk away then caught himself. "You're... alright now though, right?" he asked.

I shrugged. Honestly, I felt pretty far from it, yet it was the best I'd felt in a while. "More or less."

He nodded, then rubbed the back of his neck with a grin. "I just realised that it's taken me until now to actually ask that. But you do know... whatever happened... whatever you did, I'm still your friend, right?"

I doubted he still would be after he found out I was a killer. "I know," I said, nodding.

"Good," he said, then laughed. "Now we've dealt with all that emotional, feelings sort of thing, I'm gonna get a beer. Then eat my own body weight in pizza and shout at football players on the television."

I laughed and bid him goodnight after that. Once he was gone did I only start to really think about how I would manage to explain everything that happened in Dewford, and possibly more than that; get the guts to.

Needless to say, such thoughts kept me from sleeping for a while that night.

The next morning, I found myself dealing with Erra yet again clung to my head, though this time at least I knew it was from a nervousness towards Chris.

Or maybe it was the fact that my boots had been cleaned, and now smelt strongly of some sort of bleach. Or fabric cleaner. I didn't know what it was, but knew it was strong enough to quite possibly scare off any small pokémon scampering around. Chris was to blame - or to thank - for that too.

"Those little shocks are a result of her nervousness," she explained as the magnemite on my head buzzed low and fast. "You know like how humans get all shaky when they're afraid, well some electrical pokémon can accidentally discharge – pervert!" she snapped at Ayd as he laughed, throwing her spoon at him. "Anyway," she said, pretending such an event had never happened. "She's giving off random shocks because she's afraid. You'll have to install some confidence into her; only use her in familiar situations, or locations where there's only you and your pokémon, then slowly introduce her into new things."

I nodded as I reached up and petted the electrical insect on my head. In all honesty, I did want her to man up and face everything without fear... but I also knew that her nervousness was probably somewhat my fault. If Lacey hadn't been out and delivered such a brutal beating towards her, she probably wouldn't be as afraid. I'd just have to get her trust, make sure she learnt that I wasn't going to make her suffer a repeat of before if she did wrong, and hopefully get her able to battle.

"And try to get your nuzleaf to be calm around her. Better yet, have your nuzleaf defend her from something, and then that way, she should learn that she isn't going to suffer again," Chris instructed me, as she rummaged around in a drawer for another spoon for her breakfast. "More than that, try to remember that – Adryan, did you just put that spoon in my hair?" she shrieked, spinning around to face him, hand clutching wildly at the spoon in her hair as Ayd hid his laugh behind a hand. "It has yoghurt on it you creep!" she all but screamed, and then dumped the remainder of her yoghurt in his own hair, making him laugh between screams of protest.

"Alright, alright!" he laughed, holding his hands up in protest as pink gloop slithered down his head. "I give! I give! Truce?" he offered, holding his arms out.

Chris glared at him a moment before she sighed and rolled her eyes. "Alright," she said, going in for the hug. Though to my surprise, instead of hugging her, Ayd stuck his hands into his hair, flung the yoghurt at her and then wiped the remains on his hands in her face.

"Sucker!" he yelled over his shoulder as he sprinted towards the bathroom.

Not that I could blame him. If Chris was any angrier, it wouldn't surprise me if the yoghurt started steaming dry.

"Every time, I swear," Chris growled as she wiped her face with a dishcloth. "Great," she groaned, pulling a strand of hair down to eye-level. "That means I've got to look after the pokémon with my hair smelling of artificial strawberries. I wonder how many of them are going to try and eat my head..."

I laughed silently, not wanting to upset Erra anymore. The whole time she'd been randomly sending bolts of static into me, and I was completely thankful that at least she wasn't strong enough to produce anything more powerful.

"You two seem close," I observed as I handed her a damp cloth.

She thanked me for it and shrugged. "I suppose," she said, pulling violently at the food in her hair. "But we did travel together for three years. A year in Sinnoh, then another in Johto, and finally Kanto. When you're with someone day-in, day-out for three years, you do become close. He's one of my best friends, and he's like a brother to me. So we do end up aimlessly playing about or flirting sometimes – even though that is several levels of weird, seeing as he's like my brother...

"Anyway," she said abruptly, shaking her head as she handed me a small card. "My number," she explained as I looked at the card. "Sorry it's a business card, and seems so informal, but I don't make a habit of giving out my number randomly. Well-" she blushed violently, "-except for guys with certain accents. But yeah, I'm giving you that, just in case, you know, you want to talk, or there's something you want to know, or anything like that."

I nodded as I pulled out my own phone and added the number. "Thanks. I mean, there's no need for you to give me this or, you know-"

"Embarrassed teenager!" Chris interrupted in singsong. As quickly as I stopped talking, she started laughing. "Sorry," she said quickly. "But seriously, what's all that about? You don't seem to be that way around anyone else. And apparently, you weren't like that around Amanda – speaking of, I would advise you not trying to sleep with her just for the notch on your bedpost," she warned, and I couldn't help but feel afraid of the woman. It wasn't because she was scary, but more that she had a sort of protective sister air about her.

I feigned ignorance as best I could. "What do you mean?"

She put her hands on her hips and narrowed her eyes at me. "You know exactly what I mean. I'm not going to interfere, and I'm not going to say who she should and shouldn't date, but she hasn't had a boyfriend before, and I don't want her romantic imagery squashed by a guy who is out for only one night of fun."

I nodded vigorously in response. The action caused Erra to buzz loudly in my ears, and instantly I stopped, fearing an electric shock.

"Good," said Chris, firmly. "But back to what I was saying before; don't worry about calling me, or even turning up randomly if you need to. Just... be careful, alright? I don't want this to be a repeat of last time."

My mind was blank for a moment as I tried to work out what she meant. Then like a tonne of bricks, my brain hit me with the conclusion that she thought Adryan may end up killing me too.

If anything, I was insulted at the thought.

"It won't," I promised her.

She relaxed visibly at that. "Good. And don't be expecting any discounts from me either. Unless you become like family, or I use your pokémon to breed, you're not getting anything less than full price! Or maybe mate's rates... if you remember to bring me a nice bottle of wine or two."

"Aw, so no free psychics?" I whined, shamelessly.

She laughed outright at that. "You wish! Psychics are some of the hardest pokémon to breed, as well as some of the hardest to look after. Added to that, I've only got two in at the moment; both baby ralts."

I shuddered on the spot. "I'll pass thanks. I really don't want any demon babies."

That made Chris laugh, though when she caught sight of how serious I was, she quickly quieted. "Well, anyway, psychics are hard to breed, if only because both genders will only mate with pokémon they choose to. Of course, that means half the time I've got two pokémon I really want to breed and make brilliant offspring, but then they go after the silly, drooling slowpoke in the corner, or something. They're like people in a way; you want nothing more than the gorgeous guy or girl, but they go for the shallowest girl around with the biggest tits, or the fittest guy with the biggest wallet."

"Not everyone's like that though," I pointed out.

"Maybe," she agreed, shrugging. "But I'm the girl with one arm. There aren't many guys out there who can look past the missing arm." She sighed and shook her head. "Anyway, enough of my moaning-" she nodded to the hallway over my shoulder. "King Freak is here, so I'm guessing you two are heading off now?"

I turned around to find Ayd standing behind me, caught red-handed, trying to attack me with his damp towel.

"I wasn't doing anything," he said, hiding the towel behind his back and pretending to look innocent.

"Right," I drawled. "Though if you had of succeeded, you'd have only made the insect on my head electrocute us both anyway." Above my ears, Erra clicked in either agreement, or something else altogether. Either way, I used it as an agreement.

He however, glared at the insect on my head. "That thing is evil," he decided, folding his arms and grinning. "You're creating an army of diabolical pokémon, all out for my blood, aren't you? You've got Loki, who always hisses at me, and now you've got this magnemite that keeps giving me a creepy one-eyed stare."

My face fell blank. "She has only one eye."

"Still creepy."

I rolled my eyes. "Then what about Ripper? He has one eye, which also functions as a red torchlight. And he speaks in an old Sevii accent."

That stopped them both short. One of Ayd's arms fell limp by his side, the other still over his chest. "He... spoke to you?" he asked, as if he'd never heard the creature speak before.

I nodded uncertainly. "Yeah... so? He speaks to you, doesn't he?"

"Ripper doesn't speak to many people," Chris explained. "Aside from me and Adyran, he's only ever spoken to one or two people. Apparently he only talks to those are 'important to the...' something that begins with 't'," she finished uncertainly.

Ayd glanced at her, confused. "I thought it was an 'l'. Or maybe it's both. But the point remains; it's something that he actually spoke to you."

I blushed crimson. "That's nice and all, but can you both stop staring at me? I feel like I should be put on display in a museum or something."

Ayd's grin turned into a smirk. "Ah, you'd be perfect in the memorial displays in Mount. Pyre! I can see it now, 'A creepy trainer, and creepy team, forever immortalised in stone.' And then we can tell the kids that the spirit of you and your pokémon will stalk them forever if they daresay your name three times in the mirror. Which means that people will fear you and your name, and after a few years, none shall say or know it, all because of one little stone inscription."

Then to top it off, he actually did an evil laugh. I blinked and gave Chris a side-long look, though she could only pretend not to laugh in the face of Ayd's weird stupidity.

"You're insane," I told him.

"I'm a genius," he retorted. "I just don't have the success to legally qualify as one."

"And I wonder why I no man I meet sticks around after meeting you," Chris bemoaned. "There's only so much insanity they can put up with."

"That's nothing to do with it," he shot back. "They just take one look at me and fall in love, leaving you because they can't face life without me."

She snorted. "Yeah, of course. You keep telling yourself that. Meanwhile, back in the real world, I'll be lifting heavy boxes with my remaining arm, and you'll be doing a different sort of one-armed workout."

I howled with laughter as Adryan turned beat red, his mouth open ever so slightly. I just wished that I could take Chris along with me, if only because she was the only person I'd met who was capable of reducing him to speechlessness.

"I think that's my cue to leave," Ayd grumbled, burying his chin and as much of his face as he could in his scarf. "Perhaps I'll be able to sweep up the remains of my dignity and glue them back into something vaguely resembling pride."

She smiled. "And I'll be right here, waiting to smash it back to smithereens once more."

Watching and listening to them both, there was a large part of me that couldn't help but feel jealous. I'd never really known such friendship, or even experienced it. I'd formed bonds with fellow survivors in my own time, but we'd all learnt quickly, or been taught not to get too attached to people. Attachments generally led to people doing stupid things and dying, or to heartbreak when people died. In effect, we were always closing ourselves off, driving away pain before it would be able to hurt us.

Watching Chris and Ayd made me realise how wrong those beliefs I'd grown up on were. If we'd had such bonds keeping us to people, I knew that we would have fought better, and probably prospered in a world ravaged by war, disease and death. By being cold and callow towards other people, we'd probably destroyed our will to change the world around.

"Aw, look, he's upset about leaving already."

I snapped back to attention at the sound of Ayd's voice, and found that we were stood on the porch outside Chris' house. I blinked and rubbed at my eyelids, wondering just how long I'd zoned out for. Erra's clicking on my head was less sporadic, and her shocks were reduced to every once in a while, rather than every so often, making me assume she felt more confident in the outside.

I shook my head. "Not that. Just thinking."

"No wonder why he seemed so deep in concentration," Ayd quipped. "It must take a lot of brain power for you to do that."

"Not as much as it does for you," I shot back.

"And yet again, I feel like a mother with her two children," Chris sighed. "Take care, you hear?" she said as she pulled me into a hug. "If I hear something about how you've been mauled by a wild slakoth, I'm going to be disappointed."

It took me a moment to place the creatures. Wild sloth-like pokémon that moved so slowly, algae could actually form on the sweat on their skin.

Yeah, if I got killed by one of those, I'd be pretty damn disappointed too.

"And you," she said as she swept Ayd into a hug, squeezing him tight. "No weird trips into caves this time, alright? And I've got two weeks holiday I've arranged for myself if you want to stay for longer next time?"

A big grin bloomed across his face. "You bet. I'll give you a call sometime tomorrow night, alright?"

"Sure," she whispered, letting go of him. "Stay safe, alright?" She gave him one last smile – one I could have sworn had some sort of sadness to it – before she shut the door.

"Huh," I grunted as we walked away.

"What?" Ayd asked, complete obliviousness clouding her face.

"Just then," I said as I frowned, placing my fist under my chin. "Just then, when she said goodbye... she looked almost sad."

He looked at me, then back at Chris' house, before settling on me once more. "Are you sure?" he asked, unconvinced. "She seemed fine to me. And I've known her for going on five years now."

I shrugged. "I'm not sure. Maybe it's one of those things that only an outsider can see?"

"Maybe," he agreed, still unsure. "So don't those hurt?" he asked randomly, then gestured to Erra afterwards. "Every minute or so, I keep seeing you twitch from little static shocks. Surely you must feel them?"

I waited until the next one, and although I felt myself jump a little, there wasn't any pain to go with it. "Nope," I said, shaking my head delicately. "They're big enough to make me jump, but little enough so that I don't feel any pain. It's like one of those things; you know when you put your hand to something hot, and you keep flinching away because of the pain of the heat? But then, after enough times, the heat doesn't hurt you, but you can still feel it?"

He nodded. "I understand. I sorta had the same thing with my electrical pokémon. Except she was a lot stronger than your magnemite, so I had to go around wearing rubber boots and gloves whenever I was near her." He laughed at something and put his hands behind his head. "It was in Vermillion I bought it, seeing as they're sort of high-up with electric pokémon care and that. The salesman tried offering me some sort of rubber pants to wear. I don't care if her electricity was powerful enough to kill me, even if I wore them – there was no way I was going to chance dying and being found wearing rubber pants!"

I grinned at him. "Well, it's that, or they would have found your porn stash in your bag. What one would be worse?"

He glared at me, groaned, buried his face in his hands and then laughed. "Why, why, why did I ever let you meet Chris? She was the only person that made me suffer with those sort of digs, and now she's corrupted you too! I swear, the moment my pokémon start making those jokes, I'm going to become a hermit and live in a cave for the rest of my life."

I tapped my finger against my chin. "So how exactly do you teach pokémon to speak, anyway?"

He looked at me, expecting a genuine question. However, when he caught sight of my grin, he groaned once more and let out a string of curses.

"So you're okay with me going for a bit then?" he asked.

"Mh," I grunted. "I need some time. I... some stuff did happen, but I never really wanted to let anyone know about it." I felt a big lump in my throat, and yet again was forced to take a deep breath to calm my emotions. At best, all I could do was laugh as tears built in my eyes again. "See?" I laughed more than cried as I pointed to my face. "Just thinking about it makes me like this."

He nodded quickly, no doubt scared by my sudden display of emotion. "Alright. So, you know I've got to get to Fairfrost, and-"

"It's alright; get going," I told him, even as I pressed the heels of my palms into my eyes. "Just because I'm like this doesn't mean I can't find my way back to Mauville. I've got a magnemite on my head, which, if nothing else can be used as a scout. I'll see you in about two weeks."

"Two weeks," he repeated as he tossed a poké ball forth, bringing out his flygon in a bright white light. She flapped her wings happily, stretching her neck out and letting him scratch at the softer scales underneath. The sound she made was almost like purring, except it was still frightening, and I half expected fire to burst out of her mouth at any random moment.

"You'll be alright, won't you?" he asked as he put an arm around my shoulders, somehow avoiding the insect drooping down the back of my neck. "There won't be any more crazy shit that you'll be afraid to relive and tell me?"

"I hope not," I muttered, answering as honestly as I could. "I think if any more shit happens to me, I might just end up living in a padded cell."

That at least, made him laugh. "Well, you know five percent of all trainers do end up needing some sort of professional psychiatric help."

"Really?" I asked. It seemed believable enough, after all.

"Yurp," he said, grinning like a fool. "And on top of that, sixty percent of all statistics are made up, though it's gospel that twenty-three percent of people that meet me want to spend every moment of their lives worshipping my body."

I snorted and shoved him towards his dragon. "You're an ass."

"Maybe so, but it's the first time I've seen you actually smile since yesterday," he countered.

"Really?" I asked, and couldn't help but smile again. "Well that's nothing to do with you. I just think Irenui's a brilliant creature that inspires joy to everyone."

At that, Adryan laughed derisively. His flygon, however, preened at the compliment, and I found myself with a grinning flygon – or as close to it as I ever thought possible – cooing up to me like a regular housecat.

"Brilliant," Ayd grumbled. "And now you've inflated her ego. When she decides that she's the queen of Hoenn, I'm placing all the blame on you."

I bowed overdramatically to the pokémon. "My queen."

"Please stop," Adryan groaned. He reached out and rubbed the back of his pokémon's neck, leaving his hand softly on her back. "You ready to fly girl?"

She reared back and growled something low, quick and quite frightening. Though it must have been positive as Adryan mounted her without complaint from the pokémon.

"Jealous, aren't you?" he asked, grinning at me. "You'll get your own flier soon enough. Though you'll need to buy a specific saddle for whatever it is first. It takes a long while to get a pokémon trained and to trust you enough to let you ride bareback."

It was another small downer he provided me with. Somehow it always seemed that he could give me good news wrapped in a bundle of bad news and major effort.

Which of course, would eventually make any bad news he had to give me all the worse.

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