You take another look at your P*DA in disbelief.
The Spot Monitor's going off, same as ever, and it's led you to this cave, but the sight in front of you is far from expected. You were hoping for an Aron, or maybe even a Wooper-you never did trade one over to Duking, and you'd like to do that at some point-but instead, you're looking straight into the eyes of an Umbreon, which has stepped away from the Poké Snacks (or rather, by this point, Poké Snack) you laid out and is sprawled out on the ground. No doubt that you interrupted the Pokémon's nap.
That's not the strangest part of all this, and you know it.
Looking up from the plate in the middle of the cave is a trainer. To their side, they seem to have tossed a dark blue longcoat, leaving them in a sleeveless top that exposes their arms, and with them, their scars. Numerous massive scars line their deep tan complexion, almost to the point where you can't tell where some begin and others end, especially as they casually reach for the single Poké Snack that's been left for them.
A white line stretches across their face, though it's a little faded. You're assuming it's a tattoo, and if it is, you wonder just how much that hurt to get.
This is the first time you've actually seen anyone eat a Poké Snack. They always smelled a little odd to you, though you've never really been able to describe how. You suppose you could just say that they smell like Pokémon food tends to smell and leave it at that. It's why you're a little amazed as this trainer scarfs down what little was left for them after, you assume, their Pokémon took the rest. They give you an amused look in the middle of it all, clearly trying to lighten the mood now that they've been caught stealing from you.
You want to be upset, but there's something about this bugging you, and that's the fact that this trainer is stealing from Poké Spots to not only feed themself, but their Pokémon. You can't imagine why else they'd be out here doing such a thing. The worst part of this is that at some point, you'll need to communicate to them that no, you're not mad.
Okay, that's a lie. You're mad. They can tell you're mad. You're just good at holding back. You know people get a little nervous when they realize this, and you know it's your age that's putting them off, but when you've stared down a group like Cipher and lived to tell the tale (getting those scars across your own shoulder as a memento from them, no less), you become good at holding back regardless of how young you might be.
The trainer stands up and looks over to their Umbreon, which gets up without missing a beat.
"Ehehe...Whoops," the trainer laughs, nervously, "So these were, ah, yours, yeah? Sorry 'bout that, kiddo."
You glare back at them, but they're happy to return that look. There's a certain exhausted darkness to their eyes that only serves to accent it as well. Their face is coated with dust and grime, and now that you've drawn your attention away from their scars, you're noticing the little grease stains dotting them as well. When they walk over, it's clear that they're taking advantage of any height they have on you, even if they're hardly imposing at all.
What you're getting from this look they're giving you is that they're definitely not just a run-of-the-mill trainer. That look in their eyes only makes you think of when you were in Eclo Canyon, speaking with the members of Team Snagem in their long-destroyed hideout and fighting for your Snag Machine back.
You step back involuntarily, reaching for your Jolteon's Poké Ball.
The stranger stops when they see that.
"...Awright, listen here, an' listen good. I've gotcha. Yer just a kid," they sigh, "I can let ya off easy here...Though...Wait a darn second, I feel like I know yer face from somewhere."
Oh, here it comes, more admiration that you're never going to be used to. You immediately turn away from them, but hearing your name stops you. It always seems to stop you. People know who you are, whether it be for better or worse.
You don't ever tell them what came with being their hero. You don't tell them how Cipher treated you, or how much you panicked when Snagem took your Snag Machine. You don't tell anyone that you still have nightmares of Lugia, or of the Zangoose that nearly ripped you apart long after it wasn't allowed to do so to your sister. You don't talk about how your Jolteon's leg was burned to the point where it had to be cut off, or how your Delcatty's eyes were practically torn out of her skull, or how these things only happened because your Pokémon didn't want them to happen to you.
You especially don't talk about what Cipher did to your neck, and what the treatment did to you even long after.
When the other trainer speaks, though, you stop in your tracks.
"Yer makin' me kinda nostalgic, actually," they laugh, "It's been so long since I gave up my ol' Snag Machine."
Then you realize who this is. You turn around faster than you've ever done so before. They know what it's like! You can hardly believe it, but those words alone are enough to say everything. The Umbreon, the scars, and the mention of snagging, all of these things point to the trainer in front of you being Orre's first hero.
You walk forward, grabbing their arm without hesitation.
"Whoa, whoa! What d'ya think yer doin', kid?! Y'don't-"
You immediately step back, though what ends up silencing their protests is a soft rumble from their belly, something that prompts a chuckle out of you, even if the most you're letting out is soft breaths. You once again grab their arm and give it a quick tug, your own (admittedly pushy) means of getting someone to follow you for once.
"...Awright, clearly yer not much for talkin'," they sigh, "I'll go with ya. Name's Wes, by the way. And you...Michael, right? I keep hearin' that name, so I'm guessin' it's you."
You nod before turning away to head outside. In the back of your mind, you wonder how it got this way, though. Here you were, fully expecting a battle...
...And now you're taking pity on them and buying them lunch, even after you were hoping to get on their case about stealing every snack you'd put out.
If it were anyone but a hero of Orre, you'd have turned them away instantly.
"Hahaha! How long's it been, anyway?! An' you've still got yer Linoone, too! Aaah, we're gonna have to battle after all this, ya realize?"
"Aw, you're just gonna make me wait like that? Haha! Seeing you two out here is something else, seriously!"
"Yep, sure was a shock to find out I'd been stealin' from him, of all people! I shouldn't keep him waitin', though...I'll see ya in a bit, then."
You listen to what little you can catch of the conversation between Wes and the other trainer-Willie, you think?-as you sit in a booth in the back of the Outskirt Stand, with the other "hero" taking their place soon after. You swear you could hear them asking the staff for "the usual" moments ago, as well. You can certainly see someone like them being a regular here, of all places, but with the looks you're getting...
You suppose the best thing to do is ask the how and why of their situation.
You take out your P*DA once again, this time simply creating a blank e-mail. Addressed to no one, going nowhere, just the only place on the thing that you can actually get your words down for something like this.
So how did this happen?
You type that single sentence and show them the device, something that causes Wes to cock their head like a young Growlithe would.
"What d'ya mean, how'd it happen? You askin' why I'm poor? Yer real blunt, I'll give ya that," Wes sighs, "Truth is, though, it's jus' how Orre is. Region's not kind to folks like me. Ya spend so much time driftin', strugglin' to find a job, not wantin' to be tied down by anything...And ya can't make enough just as a trainer. So I drifted, and I fought hard, but in the end, havin' to keep the Pokémon fed and my bike in workin' condition's led to some hard times. I'm guessin' yer from a better situation, though? Ya got someone to go back to if it gets too rough on ya?"
You nod, not wanting to say anything else. You want to learn from Wes, more than anything, because they're right. You're barely twelve, and you're not sure where you want to go in life. Knowing how this is going, you wonder if you'll end up being a drifter like them someday, and whether or not that's actually going to be such a bad idea.
You're not supposed to feel like you need to know where you're going in life. You know this, but you keep feeling like you need to go somewhere now that you've had your time as a hero.
"...There's good points to bein' a drifter, too, y'know," Wes continues, "After I'd taken down Cipher, I left Orre for a bit. The nearby regions, they're somethin' else. Ya go outta Orre and there's so much more desert, but then...it's different desert, ya know? And the people are all so different, every person ya meet is. There's people out there takin' whatever resources they can from the earth, and there's people tryin' to keep the natural area untouched...And sometimes I look at both of 'em and I can't really tell if one group's entirely right 'bout things. I shouldn't start that sorta debate, though. Not when you're here."
...You certainly didn't take them as the type to ramble on like that. You half wonder if the arrival of any food is actually going to quiet them down at all. It's not like you mind, though.
You simply type in another few sentences.
I've never been outside of Orre, but I'd like to travel more. My mother worries about me, though. I can't leave the region yet.
"Ah...Yeah, it's gotta be nice havin' someone look out for ya. Or at least different," Wes replies, a smile crossing their face, "I never had anyone holdin' me back. Even my old friend couldn't put a leash on me once she'd stuck the idea of stealin' Pokémon in my head! Did ya ever hear 'bout what Rui did? 'Cause she's...she's somethin' else. I was plannin' on headin' out to Agate after all this to see if she was there...and if not, I'd at least be able to give my respects to Celebi at the Relic Stone."
Rui! It's all coming back to you now, bits and pieces of when you were little, of the visits from that red-headed girl that became less and less frequent before finally stopping altogether.
Rui used to visit the lab I work at, you type, I remember talking to her when I was younger. Is she doing okay?
Wes shakes their head, looking downcast.
"Well, I mean...she's still goin' strong out there, if that's what yer askin'," they reply, "But man, I can't help but feel like there's somethin' eatin' at her every time I visit. Like we've drifted apart after all that time we spent together. She became a trainer, and that was that. We kinda...stopped crossin' paths much over the years. But...I'm not gonna give up hope on reconnectin'. Y'know how there's mountains up northwest of this whole region? I wanna take her up to the top of those. Winter's comin' in, and I wanna go out in the snow with someone. If she's okay with it..."
You swear you see a rosy glow cross their face.
"...Yeesh, I'm feelin' just like a kid with a crush again. Guess there's some things ya never grow outta."
You laugh at this before typing in another sentence.
How did you meet her, anyway?
Wes glances back, noticing that someone is approaching.
"Hold that thought," they say, "You order somethin' back there as well, or...?"
You nod, taking in the smell of...you can't exactly tell what's on the sandwich they ordered, but it smells incredible. Maybe you're just feeling as burnt out as they are, though.
"Awright. We eat, and I tell you how this all started, okay? I'll tell ya whatever ya wanna hear."
"...Judgin' by the look on yer face, I've talked enough for one day."
You're not entirely zoning out, but you're definitely thinking about your own journey in comparison to Wes's. You've both been through a lot, and you're sure that as the story goes on, they have some pretty horrific details in the middle of it all. You'll have to tell them about everything you went through at some point, too.
Just not this time. Not until you feel like you can trust them more. They're still admittedly a little shady, regardless of how much they've wanted to shake the criminal image from themself, and you DID meet them when they were stealing from you. At the same time, though, you wonder if you could call them more than an acquaintance at this point.
You'd really like to call Wes a friend, actually.
You take out your P*DA and open to a blank e-mail again, typing and showing it to Wes again.
I'd like to hear more soon. Will you come visit me? Do you know where the lab is?
"Oh? Yeah, 'course I know my way to the lab," Wes says, clearly caught off-guard by the question, "Heh...ya really wanna hear more 'bout a no-good thief like me, then? Guess yer no better, though! Hahaha!"
Wes's face lights up with joy suddenly, and they step up out of the booth, offering you a hand.
"Well," they continue, "C'mon then. How 'bout this, I'll battle Willie, and I'll see ya home, if that's where yer goin'. Awright? If ya still wanna hear 'bout things, I'll stay for a bit. If not, I'll just be on my way. Sound good?"
You nod energetically, because that sounds way more than good. You're looking at this trainer, with their scars covered by their coat again, their criminal past behind them, their vigilante work that saved the region...They're every inch a hero, though in a far different way than you are. You like this, though. Wes lives a life of danger and adventure, exactly what you want to do someday.
Once you're old enough. Once you're old enough to leave the lab, you'll go off on your own adventure. This you're sure of.
The lab calls you reliable, they call you a good kid, but maybe, just maybe, you'll have a point in life where you don't have to be that good, reliable and obedient child that you are. It's a fantasy for now, a distant dream, but it's far from impossible.
And maybe, just maybe, you'll end up asking Wes for help with that when the time comes.
You hope they don't mind the prospect of having an apprentice.
"Awright, there ya are. Go on, ya told me ya wanted to rest before headin' out, so I won't bug ya anymore. I'll be on my way to Agate, then."
You step off your scooter and smile at Wes, taking out your P*DA one last time.
Thank you for talking with me!
You swear you hear Wes's voice crack when they speak again.
"Aww, it's nothin'! You...yer a good kiddo, Michael. I'm hopin' I'll get to battle ya sometime soon, even. Somethin's tellin' me you'd be a good fight."
You're not sure how to respond with that. After the Shadow Pokémon incident, you'd actually prefer a break from battling for once, but for a friend? You might be able to. Might. All you do for now is wave goodbye to Wes before dashing up the steps towards the lab, hearing the roar of an engine growing quieter and quieter as the strange trainer leaves.
It's good to be home after such a long chat.
The fresh breeze blows against your face and fills your nostrils with the scent of earth, and you can't help but let Volt out to enjoy it as well. She deserves a chance to relax, to roll in the grass and play around for a bit while you head inside for a quick nap.
Your Jolteon immediately starts looking around curiously, her ears moving in every direction. You take another look, though brief, at the scarring where her right back leg was, and suddenly, it feels like it's been forever since she lost it. You've always been proud of her battle scars, and you're sure she is as well.
Maybe you will be able to talk to Wes about that someday.
You step inside, letting the chill of the air conditining hit you. You're not sure if you want to call it refreshing this time, though-it's far too cold for you, and you're amazed they're keeping it on when winter is almost in full swing.
Something catches your eye when you reach the entrance, though-or rather, someone. Speaking with the receptionist is a young woman with a Flareon by her side, her hair an equally fiery shade of red and tied back into a short ponytail. You seem to catch her off guard, but when she looks to you with her deep blue eyes, you remember everything about her.
"Oh!" she gasps, "Michael?"
You don't bother to listen to the rest of what she has to say.
You dash right back outside, Volt following you as you return to your scooter. She's quick to return to her ball as you begin to ride off, only one destination in mind.
Maybe, just maybe, Wes hasn't reached Agate yet. Maybe you can take them back here, and you'll get to be the one who made their little date with the girl they were head-over-heels for possible.
Wouldn't that be something.