All around a charred and torn-up stump of driftwood sticking out of partially glassed sand, fireballs the size of fists slowly bloom into existence one-by-one, forming a floating minefield of flames. Then as one, the fireballs converge onto the stump and explode. Most explode as one, but several are out of sync, detonating either early or late, but either way, it makes a bright flash in the early morning on the beach. When the smoke clears, even more of the stump is blown away.
With Treecko's guidance, Lee, Brendan, and Zinnia had cut the travel through the Petalburg Woods to a mere two days, and after rising before the sun on the third day, made it to the small port town along Route 104 that serves as the nearest ferry point to Dewford. With hours to spare before the ferry arrives, the group split up to do their own thing.
Naturally, Lee took the free time to train his pokemon on an abandoned part of the nearby beach.
"Nice work, love," Lee says, grinning down to Vulpix as he writes down a number of notes in his notebook.
Custom Techniques - Vulpix
N̶a̶m̶e̶:̶ H̶e̶l̶l̶z̶o̶n̶e̶ G̶r̶e̶n̶a̶d̶e̶
Description: Fireballs spontaneously manifest around target and converge, exploding for Fire damage.
+Leaves little room to dodge.
+Strikes all points of foe, negating need to aim for weakpoints
-Slower than Protect. Current speed can be dodged by faster foes that aren't surprised.
Requires pyrokinesis. (See - Vulpix bio notes)
Power good. Need to work on explosion sync, projectile speed, and energy consumption. Don't use in serious battles.
The vixen simply nods in reply, too busy hiding her panting behind deep breaths.
"Already, Corvisquire." He calls up to the bird pokemon hovering above him. He quickly turns the page in his notebook to a dog-eared page marked 'Problem Child' "You're up! Same as last time!"
Corvisquire caws loudly and reels his glowing wings back, throwing them forward a second later and hurling a barrage of Swift rays forward.
The starry projectiles fly not at the charred driftwood, but to an X drawn in the sand about forty feet behind it. As they pass the driftwood, however, the stars suddenly try to turn back to the driftwood target. Many of them crash into each other and others can't turn in time, hitting the sand with loud pops or flying wide. When the fliers try to turn around a second time, many lose power and fade away. Only a small handful of the stars actually hit the rear of the target.
The crow pokemon screeches in frustration at yet another failure, making Lee wince. "Easy, Corvi. We've only been at this for a few days. You'll get the hang of it," he says, looking down at his notes.
Testing: Problem Child
Swift, Scary Face, Taunt, and Extremespeed ripe for abuse.
Other moves need more research
He looks further down.
Swift #1 (Course Alter?)
Much like Vulpix's pyrokinesis, Swift relies on user focus to designate target. Mechanism that enables course correction currently unknown but seems autonomous once target is set. More testing needed. Current goal: Enable course alter mid-flight.
4 hours of practice. Corvisquire instructed to visualize Swift changing course mid-flight. Inconclusive.
3 hours of practice. Corvisquire instructed to intently visualize Swift changing course mid-flight. Inconclusive.
3 hours of practice. Corvisquire given instruction to fire at one spot but focus intently on another 1 second later. Inconclusive.
4 hours of practice. Course deviation seen at hour 2 after Corvisquire given instruction to fire at one spot but focus intently on another 1 second later. Turning speed of Swift too slow to land at new target.
3 hours of practice. See Test 4
2.5 hours of practice. See Test 4
3.5 hours of practice. Swift can now change targets after being fired. Note: Swift rapidly loses power and thus speed and homing after 7.4 secs flight time. Working to resolve this. Not battle ready.
Lee jots his findings down as Corvisquire lands before him in a huff.
1.5 hours of practice. Attempts to make Swift turn 180 degrees achieve mixed results. Some lose power, others cannot turn fast enough, and others collide. Less drastic maneuvers can land with decreased power. Effective flight time: 7.7 secs. Max flight time: 9.8 secs. Not battle ready
Lee doesn't even need to finish his sentence as a green blur rushes forward from his side, kicking up sand with each step. The blur slows down several feet away from the target just enough to make out Treecko's form with his tail glowing.
He blurs again, this time in a whirl.
The tree gecko's muscular tail lashes out, blowing through the driftwood stump in a burst of charred mulch and harsh crack of wood.
Lee's fingers find Treecko's section in the notebook with practiced ease. Looking down, he's greeted with two entire pages filled with notes and training logs, even with Treecko's currently limited moveset. The sight makes worry swirl in his stomach.
Treecko is still working himself towards a burnout. Just a week ago he was just getting the hang of Quick Attack, and now he can casually use Quick Attack as a movement option like Vulpix. He's even rapidly closing the speed gap between himself and the vixen, as the games of 'tag' Lee had them 'play' over the past week or so are getting more and more even.
"Excellent work, Treecko," Lee says, forcing a smile to his face as he writes 'Pound is more akin to Slam now'. "That would knock around a pokemon twice your size easy, I would think."
Treecko crosses his arms and peers at the destroyed driftwood, then to Lee. Treecko's gleaming yellow eyes focus on his trainer's smile, and Treecko slowly frowns and chews on his twig in response.
Lee feels his smile falter and clears his throat before looking away. 'Of course he's perceptive enough to see that you're upset, dumbass. You can't lie to a creature with sharp instincts like that. What is this? Amateur hour?' He berates himself. "So I think thats good for some early morning practice. We've been out here for..." He glances over to the east at the sunrise, then to the town in the distance. "Probably an hour or two. Lets head back to town and see what the others are up to as a team, yeah?"
Corvisquire's sour look and up-turned beak already tell Lee what the crow's opinion is, so he is returned to his pokeball.
Treecko looks equally disgruntled, but steps forward and takes a spot next to his trainer.
The most surprising one is Vulpix, who looks up to Lee with a yip, and a silent request to be returned to her ball.
'You sure, love? Are you feeling okay?' Lee sends back, trying not to let worry bleed through his words.
Vulpix is quiet for a moment. From the border between her mind and his, Lee can feel Vulpix's brain working overtime to try and formulate something in English rather than just a feeling.
'I ** * *** t****. Yo* ****d *i** **** T*e****?'
The end result is a heavily garbled mess more akin to radio static than any language. The brains of most pokemon just aren't suited to rigid human language, and it shows especially with Vulpix. Just receiving the message makes his head throb. The man quickly responds with a telepathic burst of understanding after he puzzles out the message with the urges and feelings she could not filter out, the message being she's tired and wants him to spend time with Treecko. The stain of human speech begins to give her a headache, so Lee quickly shuts down any further attempts.
'We'll talk later, okay?' He sends to her, pulling her pokeball from his belt.
Idly, Lee feels his respect rise for other non-Psychic telepaths able to 'speak' in fluent English. If it's hard for a pokemon as intelligent as Vulpix, who has just recently started after months of constant conversation with him, then any pokemon with any proficiency must be truly genius.
"You deserve the rest, Vulpix. Return." Lee replies aloud with a nervous smile, mostly for Treecko's benefit as he returns the vixen to her ball. The pokeball muffles the constant connection between the man and fox, sending an uneasy shiver up his spine.
He feels... vulnerable.
Lee forces the feelings away and turns to Treecko. "Looks like it's you and me for now, bud. Take care of me, yeah?"
The gecko answers with a simple nod.
The tiny port town along Route 104 most definitely was just a single house that belonged to Mr. Briney in the games, and Lee struggles to recall if it was featured in the anime at all, but if it was, it had to have been small.
Sans the bustling port, the town (or more appropriately, village) could not have been home to more than three-hundred people, and it showed. A number of the buildings between the bright gift shops and restaurants meant to drain money from travelers and the boardwalk were built in an older, utilitarian style meant for lifespan rather than aesthetics. There isn't even a proper Pokemon Center, but rather a small clinic that proudly boasts the employment of a Nurse Joy on their dated website. If not for the beach backdrop, the town would have been rather ugly beyond the tourist area.
Lee and Treecko stroll into the town at a sedate pace, and Lee is silently relieved to see Treecko's fouled mood and narrow-eyed expression improve somewhat after the walk. He thinks back to Vulpix's words earlier.
'I...don't think I've bonded with Treecko or Covisquire very much at all,' Lee frowns to himself. 'At least with Corvisquire I have the excuse of him being uncooperative, which I need to address sooner rather than later, but with Treecko...'
Unbidden, all the moments and triumphs Treecko would have spent with Ash flash through his mind, and each one makes Lee's stomach tighten. The two would have become friends, and Treecko would go on to become a pokemon able to compete with legends, maybe even surpassing Ash's Charizard if not for the unfair type advantage.
He stole Treecko, plain and simple.
'But after making that childish promise and that stupid speech, I can't just let him go.' And a smaller, greedier part of him doesn't want to let the potential legend go. Lee glances down to the aloof little lizard. All the training in such a short time and the religious use of Quick Attack have refined Treecko's movements, even just walking, into a prowl rather than a simple gait. The only limiting factor holding his movements back from being seamless is his young body.
Already, he's standing out. A few of the smaller pokemon Lee and Treecko pass in the town eyeball Treecko with wariness.
'He's not having a good time with us, with me. I know he feels like I'm stifling him, like I'm going back on my promise,' A bead of sweat rolls down Lee's forehead, stinging the eye it drips into until he wipes it away. 'But...' All the times Treecko has worked himself to exhaustion struggling against Vulpix, Corvisquire, Marshtomp, Shelgon, and even himself as he practiced Quick Attack until his legs refused to move come to Lee at once, driving a painful spike of self-loathing into his chest. 'And I keep letting him do it some days, then fight to deny him on others. Fuck, to him I can't even make up my mind. What do I do?' Again, he glances at his pokemon.
If Treecko notices his trainer's slow nervous breakdown, he keeps it to himself.
'Maybe just be consistent and give him what he wants for once? Or are you afraid he'll see through your words and realize that you're an underhanded shit that just wants to use him? You weren't even fair in catching him.' A snide voice in the back of the zoologist's mind taunts. 'You're holding him back.'
Lee grits his teeth and takes a deep breath.
The gecko pokemon lazily turns his eyes to look up at Lee as the pair stop in the street.
"How about we head deeper into town and see if anyone wants a battle or two? We've still got an hour before we need to meet with Brendan and Zinnia."
"Tree..?" Treecko initially perks up and gives Lee his full attention, but frowns afterward, suspicion bleeding onto his usually cool face as expected.
"Really, I mean it," Lee hastily defends the offer, trying hard to not be flustered. The lack of Vulpix there to help him straighten his thoughts makes it a chore. "Look, you've been working hard... Too hard I think."
Treecko's jaw tightens.
"But!" Lee jumps back in. "But, I, uh... haven't been the most supportive of your desire to become strong. I wasn't lying when I said I saw how much potential you have, and that we're alike, I just have some hang-ups that maybe I need to get over. I haven't been a good trainer to you, and I want to correct that."
The green lizard turns fully to Lee and regards him carefully. For a long minute, Lee has to force himself to meet his pokemon's piercing, judging gaze without faltering. If he so much as twitches, all his credibility goes out the window.
Finally, Treecko offers him a slow nod.
Relief washes away the tension coiled inside of the man, and he feels his face pull upward into a smile. "Thank you. Now, lets get going. The competition isn't going to thrash itself."
For the first time since the gecko pokemon came into his care, Treecko smiles.
The rest of the jaunt to the edge of the port town is done without the previous oppressive silence. "I really am proud of you, you know," Lee remarks as they approach the port and the beach. In the distance, he can spy a few battlegrounds in the sand, and he even sees Brendan and Marshtomp battling a girl with a Poliwhirl. "You've grown by leaps and bounds and I know you punch above your weight class. It won't be long before you're one-shotting opponents."
Treecko crosses his arms and silently takes in the praise, but the upturn of his lips tells Lee that he's pleased with what he hears. As they approach the beach battlefields, though, his eyes lock onto Marshtomp.
The Poliwhirl across the field from the mudfish pokemon is in rough shape, bruises littering his body and one arm limp from an injury. The tadpole pokemon takes great heaving breaths, trying desperately to catch his breath as his panicked trainer looks around at the watching people and bites her lip in indecision.
Sans some scuffs and a single bruise on his cheek, Marshtomp is unharmed and not even winded. Behind him, Brendan smirks.
"Marshtomp, Take Down!"
Marshtomp tenses his legs, then rockets forward with a nerve-shattering cry, the sand exploding under his feet.
The girl behind Poliwhirl can't get an order out fast enough before Marshtomp impacts her pokemon with bone-crushing force, throwing up a plume of sand.
Treecko averts his eyes as his smile falls into a scowl. Neither he nor Lee need to look to know the outcome of Poliwhirl and Marshtomp clashing again.
Lee grumbles and keeps walking. "Don't compare yourself to him, Treecko. I told you Marshtomp is a freak. Soon enough you'll be smacking him around."
The pair take up residence at the end of one of the empty fields, making the challenge open to everyone around. It only takes several minutes before a pretty young girl in a sundress approaches with a surly-looking Zangoose as her heels.
"Hiya!" She greets with a bright smile. "I'm Laura, and this is Goosey,"
The Zangoose visibly twitches at the nickname.
"Lee is the name, and this is Treecko as you could probably guess," Lee introduces himself as Treecko silently takes his side of the field. "One on one?"
"Sure thing! Goosy is my only pokemon anyway," The teen trainer replies.
One of the gathering spectators, a boy clad in swimming trunks, steps up to the referee position. "Treecko versus Zangoose, is everyone ready?"
"Yep!" Laura answers with a smile.
"Ready," Lee mutters, steeling his nerves as he watches Zangoose lower his stance and ready his wicked-looking claws. 'Be safe, Treecko.'
"Goosey, Crush Claw!" Laura cries.
"Move in and counter with Pound," Lee instructs a second later.
Zangoose rushes forward, one paw held high in a telegraphed slash as his claws glow.
Treecko walks forward almost leisurely, watching the approaching Crush Claw with dismissal. The instant Zangoose's paw begins to descend towards him, the wood gecko pokemon twists around the blow and leaps over a follow-up slash aimed at his legs. With a twist of his hips, Treecko turns mid-air, his tail glowing.
Laura's eyes widen. "Goosey, duck!"
The words are too late, as Treecko's tail slams into the side of Zangoose's head like a club of muscle and sinew, throwing the mongoose pokemon to the sand in a daze. Before the opposing pokemon or trainer can even think of recovering, Treecko opens his jaw and sucks in great globs of yellow life energy from Zangoose with Absorb, making Zangoose yowl and writhe in pain.
Zangoose rises to his hindlegs and jumps back out of Absorbs range, glaring at Treecko with one eye beginning to swell into a painful shiner from Pound. Without an order for his trainer, Zangoose lashes out with another Crush Claw, missing as Treecko weaves around the swipe with ease. Poor Zangoose is rewarded with a Pound to his stomach that makes him double over with a grunt after another missed attack.
Slowly, Lee feels his heart calming. Treecko is doing fine. Why was he worried before? One thing he knows for certain, is that Treecko needs this, the feeling of being a winner.
"Treecko, Quick Attack into Pound, send him flying!"
Treecko crouches, his form coated in an angry aura of white. Then he flickers forward like a spear of green.
It'll be the first win of many.
Treecko's fourth opponent, a persistent and now very bruised Numel, finally falls with a groan to the sand, unable to fight further.
On Lee's side of the field, Treecko pants harshly and stands from a crouch. His medley of scuffs, cuts, and burns are ignored and he doesn't bother listening to the cheers of the onlookers. This isn't for them, it's for him.
Behind him, Lee can't help but grin at how fulfilled Treecko looks. Treecko holds his head high as the passed-out Numel before him is recalled by his dejected beach bro trainer. As Lee walks forward to meet the other trainer for a handshake, he stops for a second to give Treecko a congratulatory pat on the head.
Treecko still swipes at Lee's hand, but it lacks any venom.
"Geez, dude," the other trainer, a tall and tanned beach-goer begins as he and Lee break off their handshake. "I didn't think a Grass-type could beat a Fire-type like that..."
"Well, Numel has a Ground subtype, so Absorb let us stay in the game long enough for Treecko to land a few solid hits," Lee replies, unshouldering his bag and digging inside of it. "Your Numel is well trained and as far as I can tell, exceptionally healthy. My compliments to you," he says, fishing out a berry case. He takes an Oran berry from inside and tosses it to Treecko, who catches the little fruit and takes a bite. 'I should see if there is a berry vendor in town. I'm low on Oran.'
The other trainer grins. "Thanks bro. I try." With a last farewell, he turns and leaves in the direction of town.
Lee pulls his phone from his pocket and flicks the power button, noting the time of 7:37AM. "Huh, time flies. The ferry should be here in a bit..." Glancing around, he notices that Brendan and Marshtomp are gone, likely to the pier to wait for the ferry. "Ready to go?" He turns to Treecko, whose injuries are now partially faded as he finishes his Oran.
Treecko answers with a simple nod and falls into step beside Lee.
As they walk, the scarred man looks down at Treecko, mentally conjuring the image of him just an hour ago as well. It's like night and day, silently amazing the man.
Where Treecko previously walked with a subtle tension to his shoulders and his gaze locked forward, he now walks with a much looser gait and allows his eyes to lazily wander as they cross the beach towards a set of stairs leading up to the raised pier, where a large boat begins pulling in.
'I know it'll take more than just a few good battles for him and I to actually be on good terms,' the thought is sobering to Lee when it strikes him. 'But letting him work his frustrations out and feel the results of all his work has to be a good start..?'
As they crest the stairs onto the wooden boardwalk that leads to the pier, both man and pokemon spot Brendan and Zinnia before one of the colorful shopping stands that line the boardwalk, one marked with a bold sign saying "Taste of Kanto." Zinnia turns, and when her eyes fall on them, she waves them over.
'What is that I'm smelling?' Lee wonders and he and Treecko approach the stand. Something vaguely fishy and mouth-watering fills the air, and a half-forgotten taste ghosts along his tongue.
"About time you got here," Zinnia says through a mouthful of whatever she's eating. One hand rests on her hip, and the other holds a skewer of three fried balls. She thrusts the skewer his way. "Here, got you some breakfast."
"Erm, thanks," is his unsure reply as he takes the offered food. "What is this?"
"It's takoyaki, my good man! A treat beloved in beautiful Kanto!"
Lee turns to the voice, seeing an older, apron-clad man of vaguely asian descent behind the stand smiling at him. Seeing Lee's eyes on him, the man continues. "Succulent Dewford octopus and traditional Kanto fillings come together in a crispy batter shell for a treat sure to please! Give it a try!"
'Octopus?' Lee blinks. Looking past the owner of the stand, he sees a Machamp in a too-small apron that he somehow missed. The Machamp in the rear of the stand expertly chops and dices a whole octopus with one set of arms while the other set mixes up a batter blend.
The sight of the octopus, the exact same as it would be back on Earth, is nothing short of jarring. There were several of the intelligent little critters back in the zoo's aquarium, all of them crowd-pleasers, and he remembers his mother freakout when a freshly dispatched octopus twitched in her meal at a japanese restaurant some years ago.
The warm memories of the zoo and his family vanish with a stabbing pain in his chest that robs him of his breath.
'Remember them all you want, Lee. The zoo is nuclear ash now, and lie to yourself like you always do, lie to yourself about mom and dad escaping. They're all gone.'
You can never go back.
"Sir? If you're a vegetarian, we do have meat-free takoyaki."
Lee blinks and realizes he's been staring at the octopus Machamp was working on. His heart races and his hands feel clammy. "Oh." He sucks in a breath and mentally reaches out to Vulpix, only to get a numb mental thread through her pokeball. He fights to stifle the ache in his chest and swallows the rising bile in his throat that his churning stomach forces up. "Uh, no no, thats fine," he offers the concerned stand owner an awkward smile and steadfastly ignores the raised eyebrows from his friends. "Just thinking, is all. I, uh didn't realize there was an octopus farm in Dewford?"
If the stand owner notices the deflection for what it is, he does not comment on it. Instead, he just smiles again. "Sure is! Dewford is a prime spot for seafood, second only to Slateport here in Hoenn. If you kids are headed to Dewford, then be sure to sample some!"
"We will!" Brendan polishes off the last octopus ball on the end of his skewer with gusto. "If anything they have is half as good as this, then it'll be a hundred precent worth it. Hey, Lee? What was that ju-Ow!" The boy is cut off by an unsubtle elbow and glare from Zinnia.
The man quickly takes the offered lull and laughs. "Thank you, my young friend! If you go to Dewford's Gilded Seaking restaurant, tell them Nagi and Machamp sent you!" The now named Nagi exclaims. He starts when Machamp turns and taps his shoulder. "Oh! And something for your vegetarian friend, too!" He takes an offered skewer with two takoyaki handed to him by his Machamp and leans over the stand, presenting it to Treecko. Treecko takes it with a silent nod of thanks before biting into the treat.
A loud boat whistle cuts off any further conversation, making everyone turn towards the now docked boat on the pier.
"We should probably get going," Zinnia says whats on everyone's mind. "C'mon!"
She races off, but not before catching Lee's eyes with a look he can't place. Brendan follows just behind her. Lee makes to follow but turns to Nagi and Machamp at the last second. "Thanks for the food, sir."
He laughs. "Thank your girlfriend, boyo. She paid for it after all."
"We're not-" The boat whistle drowns out Lee's denial, making him sigh. "Whatever, thanks anyway," he says, turning and speedwalking to the boat with Treecko easily keeping pace. He looks down at the Kanto treat in his hand, and his stomach protests at the thought of food. 'Damn.' He throws the skewer up in the air, and a Wingull is quick to dive from the sky and grab it before it can fall. Its almost like the trips to the Florida gulf he and his family would take way back when, when they'd feed the seagulls out on the beach. Then they'd-
You can never go back. They're all gone.
Lee falters, drawing Treecko's attention. "A-Ah... Sorry, Treecko," he murmurs, stopping beside an empty stand out the view of others and bending over, placing his hands on his knees and taking great, heaving breaths. Twice he's almost sick again, and no matter how much oxygen he takes in, his chest is still painfully tight and his head is light. Black begins to bloom at the edges of his vision and his ears ring with the roar of a waterfall.
You can never go back. They're all gone.
Why did he agree to put Vulpix away? Why? He tries to grasp the thin psychic thread leading to her, but it fails again and again, slipping through his weak grasp like smoke would bare hands.
Vulpix. Help me. Please. Make it stop.
The scarred man is shocked from his trance when a small paw slaps him across his face with enough force to knock him to the ground. He blinks and raises a hand to his unmarred cheek, rubbing the stinging spot. "What the fuck?"
Lee blinks the spots away from his vision and looks up to Treecko, feeling his heart sink.
The gecko pokemon stands with a shaking forearm still extended from where he struck his trainer. He chews on his twig, almost biting through it, but it's his eyes that give his feelings away the most.
Treecko's eyes are wide and with his pupils fully contracted, making them dark slits against a sea of yellow. The stares are Lee with an expression so out of place on him that it takes the man a moment to place it.
It's fear. The same fear tell that other reptiles use.
'One step forward and one giant leap back. Nice one, Lee.'
"Oh, oh shit Treecko I didn't mean to...freak out like that, I'm sorry." Lee gulps and looks away, unable to meet Treecko's gaze any longer.
At the words I'm sorry, Treecko seems to come back to life, shaking his head and leveling his trainer with a much steadier look, one demanding an explanation.
"I..." Lee trails off, rethinking his words. "It's..." Again, he stops.
'This is too fast. I wanted to fix this over the course of weeks. Why is this happening?'
"Treecko," he starts slowly and unsurely. "Remember the day we met those weeks ago? I told you then, and then again today, that you and I are a lot alike. We both know what it's like to lose our homes, our lives, and the difficulty of starting over from nothing."
Treecko's jaw sets and his brows furrow at the reminder.
"The thing is, Treecko," Lee sucks in a deep breath of air, the previous pain in his chest gone.
Go on. Lie to him again. Do it.
Lee grits his teeth and banishes the thought, blurting what's on his mind before he can second guess himself. "I'm not as strong as you are when it comes to dealing with it. I'm a weak man propped up by expectations, childish dreams, and companions much more resilient than I, companions like you, because if I don't keep moving forward I'm going to have a nervous breakdown. You would have been better off in another trainer's hands, but my greedy ass saw how much potential you have and now I do an about-face and fucking stifle you because I'm afraid you'll hurt yourself and burn out! If I lose someone else, I am going need a long fucking stay in the nuthouse!" His voice rises to an open scream near the end, drawing the gaze of passing people, but he can't find the willpower to care. He slumps against the pier railing behind him and pants, utterly drained. "There you go, Treecko. Thats me, your coward trainer. Say the word and I'll break your pokeball. You'll be free again."
For a long moment, The gecko stares at Lee with a blank expression, which is somehow worse than any yelling or scorn. "Hah, what am I even saying?" Lee pulls Treecko's ball from his belt and opens the empty capsule, hands poised to break it at it's hinge. "I told you I'd get you to the top of the world, and god damn that was an empty promise. You'll get there much faster without me."
A green, scaly paw lands on his hand and stops him from twisting the ball in two. "Treecko?"
The same paw lashes out and catches him right on the unscarred side of his face again, knocking his head to the side. "Fucking..!"
Treecko grabs the front of Lee's jacket and easily pulls the man down to a forehead-to-forehead staring match.
To his shock, Treecko's blazing yellow eyes are filled with unshed tears. His mouth is locked in a grimace so intense that his teeth sheer through his twig, dropping the remains to the ground. The gecko pokemon takes the pokeball from Lee's limp fingers and closes it before shoving it back in his hands.
Lee blinks. "T-Treecko?"
Treecko turns his eyes back to Lee with a look the man has seen on Vulpix more than once. It's the same vaguely annoyed one she wears right before she washes away whatever he's feeling in favor of adoration and reassurance.
The pokemon then sighs, and in a movement almost too fast to see, rushes in, hugs Lee tightly around his middle, then retreats just as quickly. He picks up his now shortened twig and puts it back in his mouth, chewing on the end as he looks away with practiced indifference. "Ko."
The hollow in the man's chest slowly begins to fill with hope. "You want to stay with us? Even after all this two-faced drama?"
Treecko sniffs, then holds out a paw.
It takes Lee a moment to realize the significance of the act. When it finally hits him, he can practically see the Petalburg woods, the ruined Evertree, and a shadow of himself behind Treecko, who patiently waits with his paw extended.
With a small smile, Lee reaches out and takes the paw in his hand. "Top of the world, together. Don't let me bitch out, okay?" He says, letting go and standing.
Treecko openly smirks at him. Anything further is cut off as the boat whistles again.
"Shit, we need to go," Lee turns toward the boat further down the pier with a worried frown creasing his face. He jumps a little when Treecko hops to his shoulder, resting himself along the top of Lee's backpack rather than draping himself like a scarf as Vulpix would. With his pokemon in place and feeling lighter than he has in weeks, Lee runs to the boat.
'Alrighty, no more drama. Nope. Think about something else... I really need to find one of those farms or animal reserves. They can't be perfect analongs of Earth animals, can they..? That octopus looked exactly as I remembered one through. No one seems interested in publishing anything about non-pokemon beyond the absolute basics. I have to know.' Lee thinks to himself. 'Dewford, don't disappoint.'
It only takes a minute to reach the boat. It's a medium-sized cargo ship with faded paint and crewed by obvious career sailors, as one burly man by the lowered ramp checks the ticket of the boarding stragglers.
"They must stop here to offload some cargo and pick people up for a few extra bucks," Lee theorizes to Treecko. "They were certainly cheaper than all the other options."
As Lee and Treecko approach, the sailor holds out a hand to stop them. "Ticket?"
Lee withdraws his phone from his pocket and pulls up the ticket emailed to him, turning the phone around to show the sailor.
He inspects it for a second then waves them along, but not before taking a look at Treecko's roughed up form. "Only warning to ya. No battling on this ship."
With that, Lee and Treecko board.
The bunkroom provided to Lee, Treecko, Brendan, and Zinnia is exactly as Lee expected. Spartan, cramped, and musty. The single port hole window is open to try and alleviate the stale smell somewhat, but the success is limited. It has a small bathroom, one bed per corner, and an old TV on an equally old table. Considering the lack of power cord on the TV though, its just a decoration for the next eight hours of their ten-hour trip.
"Ugh, I'm going to be sick..."
Brendan groans and holds his stomach when the ship rocks again, rolling over in his bunk and trying desperately not to be sick.
"Yeah, I feel that," Lee murmurs in agreement, mentally kicking himself for not going to a drugstore for motion sickness medicine beforehand. While his stomach isn't revolting as much as Brendan's, seasickness still isn't pleasant.
"Jeez, and I thought I was the only one with a vagina here," Zinnia, now minus her cloak smirks. The tattered brown cape lays in her lap as she sews up a little hole in it.
Brendan, too sick to reply and facing the wall, just raises a hand and presents a certain finger.
Lee rolls his eyes. "You really had us fooled then, Zinnia." He ducks a thrown pillow as Brendan lets out a few chuckles punctuated with an ill groan.
"Sea sickness isn't real, it's all in your head," Zinnia insists. "Once you both try flying on a pokemon, you're going to wish it was this leisurely."
"I'll walk then, thanks," Brendan grumbles.
Lee stands with a stretch and takes a deep breath, feeling his stomach settle somewhat. "Well, I dunno about the rest of you, but I'm going on a walk. Some air sounds nice." He shoulders his bag and Treecko is quick to take up residence on his shoulder. "We'll be back in a bit."
Zinnia opens her mouth to say something, hand raised with an impending question, but she stops herself short. "Yeah, sure. Don't get lost."
With a blink, Lee turns to face her, but by then she's already returned her focus to sewing her cloak. "Right... Will do."
With that, Lee and Treecko exit the room.
The bunkroom leads out into a hallway with a few other doors, each one labeled with a letter and leading to another guest bunkroom. The other wall of the hallway is devoid of doors sans one in the middle labeled 'Deck' that Treecko and Lee walk through, finally taking them to the open starboard side of the deck.
For as far as the eye can see is open blue ocean. The crests of the waves sparkle in the morning light and Water pokemon can be seen near the top of the strikingly clear water. A school of Magikarp swim alongside the boat, their orange hides highlighting them in the water easily. They all scatter when a huge Sharpedo comes out of the gloom of the deeper ocean and makes an unsuccessful pass at them with jaws wide open.
"Hum, so he's back."
Lee and Treecko turn.
Approaching them is one of the cargo ship's sailors, a leaner man with a deep tan. He leans on the ship's railing and watches the Sharpedo lazily dive and vanish. "He's been hasslin' us, that Sharpedo. Those Magikarp keep followin' us to get our scraps, and that Sharpedo has been picking them off. Capt'n is worried one of them will panic and evolve. An angry Gyarados would send us to the bottom of the ocean."
A chill runs down Lee's spine. "What? You're awful nonchalant about this."
The sailor shrugs. "Ocean life is like that. I ain't too worried, though. First Mate Johnny's Vaporeon kicked that Sharpedo's rear just a few days ago. If he stirs the Magikarp up too much, she'll probably go down and fix it."
An odd, throaty mewl comes from just below Lee, making him jump and prompting both he and Treecko to look down.
Standing between his legs and intently watching the water from the side of the ship is a Vaporeon. The pokemon's slick skin and glossy black eyes shine in the sunlight. She blinks, scanning the open ocean by the ship.
"Speak of the devil and all that," the sailor chuckles. "What are you doing startling guests, you soggy biscuit?" He addresses the Vaporeon. "Johnny's not going to be happy."
Other than an ear twitch at her trainer's name, the pokemon ignores him. She flicks her tail then jumps off the ship in a perfect dive, cutting through the surface of the water with nary a splash and vanishing.
For a moment, the pair of men and Treecko watch the water. After a long minute, the Sharpedo appears, rushing away from a blurry blue figure chasing him. The Sharpedo and the blur dart around in the water in an elaborate pattern before Sharpedo breaks away and beelines away from the ship, leaving Vaporeon behind.
Vaporeon lingers in the water for a moment, then turns and leisurely paddles to the ship. Once close, she dives deep underwater, disappearing. Then she rockets straight up out of the water with enough force to land back on the deck.
Lee can't help but smile at the show and come down to a knee as the Vaporeon approaches him. He holds out a hand and lets the pokemon take a few cautious sniffs, then she smiles and presses her smooth head into his palm. "Vaaa!"
"Strong, stylish, and social. You've got it all, don't you, sis?" Lee asks, silently enjoying the cool, smooth skin of the Vaporeon on his palm.
Behind him, the sailor clicks his tongue. "Don't give that one too big a head now. Johnny can barely keep her under control as is."
Vaporeon sniffs at the sailor's tone before pulling away, walking towards... the wall? No, not the wall...
By the hallway leading back to the starboard bunkrooms, there is a drain grate, probably for flushing away water from high waves. Vaporeon steps on it, then melts into water, phasing through the grate like it's not even there. An instant later, she's gone.
Despite knowing the gamedex entries on a number of pokemon by heart, watching a Vaporeon spontaneously change her full body-makeup from flesh and blood to just water blows out a little more of Lee's sanity right out of his head. From the corner of his vision, he sees Treecko's own eyes widen a fraction.
"Hey," he begins, turning to the sailor. "Did I just see that?"
The tanned man grunts. "Never seen a Vaporeon before? They all can do that."
The scarred trainer is silent for a moment, mind whirling the possibility of such a power. 'That's so fucked up. That's pyrokinesis levels of broken. I cannot believe I forgot about such a bullshit power until it was literally shoved in my face. I really need to sit down and make a list of what pokemon I want.' Outwardly, Lee clears his throat. "If your First Mate isn't busy, do you think I could talk to him? I think Vaporeon just went to the top of my next capture list."