Chapter 4: Questions
Rui wasn't entirely sure this wasn't all just some sort of fever dream.
In the span of just over a day, she'd seen a crazed Pokemon, been kidnapped, had nearly suffocated in a sack, was rescued by someone who acted for all the world as though he'd rather have left her there, and was now flying across the desert in a crazy death trap of metal with said stranger.
It had been a weird day, to say the least.
Wes didn't speak at all as they sailed across the sands. Rui was actually quite all right with this, as most of her concentration was spent shielding her face from the sandy winds and trying not to panic at the absolutely terrifying speed at which Wes was driving.
Rui peeked at the driver underneath her hands covering her face. Despite his gruff demeanor and the begrudging manner in which he'd helped her, Rui did sense that Wes was a kind person under all the rough edges. His aura, a pleasant blue color, seemed to indicate so, at least. And he didn't have to escort her all over Phenac and treat her to a meal, least of all take her somewhere to find Pokeballs. His actions seemed very contradictory to his attitude, and she had to admit she found it a little amusing.
She pulled her gaze away from Wes to glance at her surroundings; at one point, she thought she saw some town ruins in the distance, and despite the desert heat, she shivered. Wes would probably scoff at her for it, but she hated even thinking of Noctis ruins. They were a bad omen.
The hours ticked by in silence as the sun slinked lower and lower in the sky. Rui's ears gradually adjusted to the dull roar of the engine, and she found that if she ducked her head at just the right angle, she could keep most of the sand from her face. She still found herself wishing for some goggles like the ones Wes had, though.
After what felt like ages, the bike started to slow. She looked up, hopeful to see their destination - and saw nothing but more desert and an old abandoned train car. What?
Wes rolled the bike to a stop. Bewildered, Rui glanced around again, thinking that maybe she missed something, but the scenery remained desolate and unchanged. She started to feel a little uneasy. Surely Wes hadn't dragged her out here with ill intentions...?
"Are you coming?" His voice made her jump. He'd already started for the old, worn down building and was impatiently looking at her over his shoulder. His Umbreon and Espeon had been released from their Pokeballs and were already waiting outside the car's entrance.
"Um...where are we, exactly?" Rui asked nervously.
Wes didn't answer, but jerked his head to the train car. It was only then that she noticed there were lights on inside the thing, and the dim strains of Western music reached her ears. So it wasn't entirely abandoned, after all.
Rui clambered awkwardly out of the sidecar, once again nearly face-planting into the sand as she did so, and followed Wes as they headed into the...whatever this place was.
It was a diner, apparently.
Rui blinked in the dim lighting as she surveyed the dusty interior. This place was very different from home, but it was also very different from Phenac. Most of the places she'd seen had tried to flourish despite the lifeless desert, as if trying to fight against their surroundings and prove to be something more. This place embraced the empty sands, the lawlessness of the desert, and made it a home - a creaky, grimy, dilapidated one, but a home, nonetheless.
Wes approached the sleepy-eyed man behind the counter, who could only be the owner of the place. He rubbed the back of his head as he addressed him. "Hey, Grogan. Got any Pokeballs in stock?"
The man, Grogan, gave Wes a bleary-eyed stare. "Pokeballs?" he grunted. "The hell do you need those for?"
"They're not for me, they're for her." Wes nodded at Rui.
Grogan looked her up and down. He raised an eyebrow at Wes. "Who's this, your mail-order girlfriend?"
Rui felt a wave of indignation at the snide remark. She was about to offer a stinging reply when Wes answered. "She's just a lost traveler. I'm doing her a favor."
"Awful long way to come for a favor."
"We're looking for Pokeballs, do you have them or not?" An edge crept into Wes' voice.
Grogan waved a dismissive hand. "Sure, sure, I got the old things somewhere." He turned and headed into the kitchen. Rui noticed a somewhat startled expression on Wes' face.
"You look pretty surprised he has Pokeballs," Rui observed. "I thought you knew he had them?"
Wes turned to look at her, his surprised expression melting into a smooth, unfazed one. "Well, yeah. This is the only place I've known in Orre to ever sell them, so he doesn't always have them in stock."
That makes sense, Rui thought. She began to feel slightly ashamed of herself for doubting the Rogue Trainer. So what if he was a little guarded? He'd saved her life in more than one way today, and she ought to be grateful.
Grogan returned to the counter with a bag in hand. "Got 'em here," he grunted, and then unceremoniously dumped out the bag's contents onto the countertop.
Rui blinked at the little balls rolling across the dingy surface. There was a much greater variety than she'd expected; red, blue, yellow. She stared at them all and realized she didn't have the slightest clue what the difference was between them. "Uh."
Wes heaved a weary sigh beside her. "Just all of the regular ones," he said. "And maybe a few Great Balls."
Grogan obliged and packed about half a dozen red Pokeballs and about four blue ones. "Will that be enough?" Wes asked Rui.
"Yeah, those should be fine," Rui mumbled. She dropped her gaze to the floor and shuffled awkwardly, feeling acutely embarrassed at her complete lack of knowledge. She'd expected this to be a relatively simple errand, but clearly she had been utterly unprepared for it. No wonder Papi was hesitant to let me go. I have no idea what I'm doing...
To make matters worse, Rui quickly realized that neither she nor Wes had a bag to carry the Pokeballs. Grogan merely waved a hand and let her keep the old canvas tote he'd brought the balls out in. "I've got plenty of space for the rest of these old things, and that bag was just collectin' dust anyway."
Rui thanked him profusely and stuffed the balls into her new bag, feeling even more abashed than before. She heard Wes saying something more to the diner owner, but she wasn't paying much attention anymore. She leaned against a wall with a sigh, and felt something brush her hand.
She jumped, and then looked down to see Neo nosing at her fingers. He blinked up at her with dark, inquisitive eyes. Rui couldn't help but smile. He'd done this same thing just hours before, when they were at the restaurant, and he was just so darned cute she couldn't possibly resist showering him with affection.
Rui crouched down to his level and the Espeon allowed her to stroke his fur with a purr. "You're a glutton for attention, aren't you?"
Neo shamelessly purred louder in response.
She noticed Novo watching from a safer distance. He sat primly at Wes' feet, crimson eyes narrowed distrustfully as he observed her. She'd attempted to pet him, too, at the restaurant, and his only response had been to snarl at her. "Novo, was it?" Rui asked softly.
The Umbreon answered with a growl.
This caught Wes' attention. He looked over his shoulder and glanced between Rui and Novo. "What are you doing?"
Rui smiled up at him sheepishly. "Just trying to make friends."
The Trainer frowned at her, but said nothing. Rui was sure he thought she was crazy - although, given the day's events, she couldn't entirely blame him. She sighed and stood, despite Neo's soft protest for more attention. "I guess your Umbreon doesn't like strangers...sorry about that."
Wes merely shrugged. He nodded to Grogan and made for the door. "Let's go," he said.
Rui blinked. "Go...where?"
"It's too late to go anywhere else, so I booked us a place for the night." He didn't wait for her reply before pushing his way out the door, so Rui quickly followed him before giving a hurried thanks to the diner owner. She stepped out into the desert air and was surprised by how cool it already was - the temperatures were rapidly dropping now that the sun was almost below the horizon.
"S-sorry, but I'm just confused," she said as she tried to match Wes' brisk pace. "Where exactly are we staying? This place doesn't look like it has any rooms..."
Once again, instead of answering, Wes simply kept walking until they reached the back end of the train car. He kicked away a layer of sand to reveal what looked like some kind of cellar door, then wrenched it open and, to Rui's disbelief, gestured for her to step inside.
This is exactly how you die in horror movies, Rui.
Still, Wes hadn't given any indication that he planned to hurt her in any way, and she felt a little better upon seeing his Pokemon dart down the creaky steps as if they'd been here before. She took a deep breath before glancing briefly at Wes.
She couldn't help but notice that the golden rays of the setting sun matched his eyes. Rui balked at this sudden thought. What is wrong with you? she asked herself sternly. She shook her head slightly and then ducked into the cellar.
It was pleasantly cool in the place, if a little dank and musty. The only source of light was a tiny window right near the ceiling and an old, dim lightbulb that hung so low she nearly hit her head on it. The walls were covered with shelves of stored food, and the only thing on the floor was a small mattress and quilt.
The cellar door slammed shut and Wes stepped into the room behind her. "It's really not much," he said, "but it's the best option available out here." He must have noticed her eyeing the tiny mattress, because he then added, "You can take that. I'll sleep on the floor."
"Are-are you sure?" Rui turned to him uncertainly. She felt as though she'd been asking that question a lot today.
"I prefer the floor anyway."
The weirdest thing about that statement was, he seemed to mean it. This baffled her a little. What kind of person liked to sleep on the floor?
She sighed and flopped onto the mattress, only to cough and gag as a cloud of dust puffed up into her face.
Wes grimaced a little. "Sorry. Should have warned you about that."
Rui, still coughing, just shook her head and indicated it was fine with a wave of her hand.
The Trainer gestured to some water bottles sitting near the steps on a crate. "Some water, if you need any," he mumbled, then he went about setting up his space.
Wes removed his blue coat, revealing a black tank top underneath. Rui couldn't help but notice a variety of faint scars across his arms and shoulders; her overwhelming curiosity made her want to ask about them, but she'd gotten the distinct impression that the man hated questions, so instead she held them back.
But then she saw Wes push a large crate up against the wall under the small window, and she couldn't help herself. "What's that for?"
"It's for Novo," he answered simply. "He likes to watch at night."
As if on cue, the Umbreon hopped up onto the crate and peeked at the steadily darkening world through the grimy window. He turned to his Trainer and bunted him happily with his head. A tiny smile tugged at the corners of Wes' mouth as he rubbed Novo's chin.
Rui couldn't help but smile a little herself. Gruff though he may be, this odd stranger was certainly soft on his Pokemon.
Wes waited for Rui to get settled on her mattress before turning out the light. The dim lights from the train car overhead filtered through the tiny window, but they were left in almost complete darkness save for Novo's gently pulsing rings.
"Um, goodnight, I guess," Rui said awkwardly. What did one say in a situation like this?
There was a pause, and for a moment she thought he wouldn't answer her. Then he heard his mumble from his place across the small cellar. "Night."
Rui settled down onto the mattress. She'd never stayed in a place like this, and wondered if she would ever be able to fall asleep. But then the events of the day caught up to her, and her exhaustion pulled her under.
She couldn't be sure what time it was when she woke.
It was still dark outside as Rui sat up. She promptly stifled another cough as more dust swirled up from the mattress at her movements. So much dust everywhere...The first thing she was going to do when she got home was shower.
A soft glow caught her attention. She spotted Novo sitting on his crate by the window, ears pricked, eyes alert as he watched the world outside. Rui couldn't help but wonder if there was even anything to see out there.
All the same, the Dark-type Pokemon brought back pleasant memories of her childhood. Her mother's starter had been a Dark-type, and Rui had always had a soft spot for them.
Her mouth felt dry and sticky, and she realized what it was that caused her to wake. She slowly rose from her mattress to grab one of the water bottles that Wes mentioned earlier.
The Trainer in question was, indeed, on the floor. He'd apparently rolled up his coat to serve as a pillow, and Neo was curled up against his Trainer's chest. One arm was loosely draped over the Espeon, and the two were fast asleep. Rui smiled a little at the sight. There had been a time when she thought she would be traveling around, with a Pokemon to sleep beside at night...
She shook these thoughts from her mind and was making her way past the sleeping pair to the crate near the door when a low growl met her ears.
Rui glanced over her shoulder to see Novo watching her every move with narrowed crimson eyes. His body was stiff, hairs on the back of his neck raised. She noticed him glance between her and his Trainer.
"It's...it's okay, Novo," she whispered slowly. "I'm just getting some water. I won't hurt your Trainer, promise."
Novo continued to stare, but his growls subsided at her words.
Rui moved cautiously to the crate, grabbed a water bottle, and tiptoed past Wes and Neo back to her mattress. Novo again growled softly as she stepped past his Trainer a second time, but remained where he was.
She settled back on her mattress with a quiet sigh. She gave the Umbreon a tired smile. "See? I'm harmless, I promise."
Novo gave her a hard look that plainly said I doubt that very much before returning to gaze out his window.
Rui downed the water greedily and was just about to get back to sleep when she heard another sound.
She lifted her head off the pillow. Through the dim light of Novo's glow, she could see Wes twitching in his sleep. His breathing became labored, and he started to mumble something in distress.
Rui paused. Should I wake him? She wondered anxiously. She was pondering what to do when Novo, without a sound, slipped from his perch atop his crate down to the floor below, and stepped up to his Trainer.
The room brightened a little as his rings filled with light. He bowed his head, touching his muzzle to Wes' forehead, and a soft hum filled the room. After a brief moment, the sound faded, the lights dimmed, and Wes fell back into peaceful slumber with a quiet sigh.
Novo silently stalked back to his crate without sparing Rui so much as a passing glance. She could only stare at him in wonder. What was that? Was this a common occurrence? She'd never seen a Pokemon use Hypnosis on their Trainer before...
Rui rested her head back on her pillow. It seemed the more time she spent with this unusual trio, the more questions she had. She was pondering these many questions when she finally drifted back to sleep.
Wes could not believe that, a full day later, he was right back where he had started.
Not only that, but instead of his Pokemon sitting across from him in their usual diner booth, it was this girl.
He'd figured they could all do with some breakfast before returning to Phenac, so here they were, morning sunlight filtering through the dirty windows, waiting for their food to be ready as Neo and Novo downed their kibble at Wes' feet.
He put his head into his gloved hands and sighed. It's like Arceus himself doesn't want me to leave this place.
"Es-piiiii?" Neo peeked at him from under the table with wide, sparkling eyes.
"Neo, you're getting regular Pokemon food today, and I swear to Arceus if you whine to me about it, I'll put you in your ball for the rest of the day," Wes growled.
Neo looked thoroughly mortified at this answer, but he knew defeat when he saw it. He slunk back to his place under the table with a pout.
Rui giggled at the sight. "He must love human food, huh?"
"Mostly just bacon," Wes muttered. A small part of him regretted the day he'd let the two brothers try some. What a pair of monsters he'd created.
Rui placed her elbows on the table and leaned in a little, hands clasped underneath her chin. "So we're going back to Phenac today, yeah?"
"That's the plan."
"Do you have a P*DA or something? I'd really like to find a way to contact you and pay you back when I can..."
"I don't give out my number to people I don't know. Sorry."
"Oh?" She cocked her head at him, a smile dancing across her face. "You don't give out your number to strangers, but you'll rescue them from kidnappers, escort them around the city, and give them food and a place to stay for the night?"
Wes felt a small tinge of warmth in his face. "That's...different."
"It's very different from just giving out your number, I agree." She smirked.
"Look, I didn't - I don't-"
Rui laughed, and the sound filled the small diner. Wes was grateful that there weren't any other customers to give them weird looks this time. "I'm teasing, Wes. You don't have to give me your number if you aren't comfortable. I just want to pay you back, that's all."
"Well...don't worry about it," Wes mumbled in response. He'd much rather send this girl on her way and never have to contact her again. It was simpler that way.
The call for their order came, and he was grateful for the chance to end the conversation, if only briefly. He knew she would likely pepper him with more questions once he returned with their food - and, lo and behold, he was right.
"So, where are you heading?" Rui asked him around a mouthful of omelette.
"Pyrite, actually." Wes had pondered a few false answers to give her, so as to prepare for the onslaught of questions.
Rui's eyes widened in shock. She hastily swallowed her bite of food. "Pyrite? But...why?"
Wes shrugged. "Thought I might take on the Colosseum challenge there."
"Ohhhh!" Rui suddenly leaned forward in excitement, putting her face far too close to Wes' for his comfort. "That's so cool! Agate doesn't have a Colosseum, so I've never seen Colosseum matches before!"
"Um, yeah." Wes leaned away from her to regain some breathing room. Not for the first time, he wondered what in Mew's name was wrong with this girl. Had she never heard of personal space?
Thankfully, Rui sat back in her seat with a resigned sigh. "If this trip has taught me anything, it's that I really haven't seen enough of Orre. So much of it is so different from what I'm used to."
It's about time you realized.
"You could always change that, you know," said Wes as he picked at his plate. "You shouldn't wait too long to leave a place." Like me, he thought ruefully.
"I would, but...I probably shouldn't go alone." Rui gave a slightly bitter laugh. "I mean, we both know how that went when I tried it."
"Then go with someone."
"I don't really have anyone to go with."
"What, you don't have Trainer friends?"
She dropped her gaze to the table. "No, actually," she said hesitantly. "I mean, Agate is mostly full of old, retired Ace Trainers and maybe a few young families that are related to them. There wasn't anybody my age growing up, so...I didn't really have any friends." She grinned at him sheepishly. "Sounds kind of pathetic, huh?"
No, Wes thought, It sounds...lonely. For once, he thought he could relate to her, if only just a little. "Well, get yourself some Pokemon, then. Be a Trainer. You're probably safest that way, anyway."
Rui laughed again. "Come on. You and I both know Pokémon aren't easy to come by. They haven't been since the Kantonian War." The smile faded from her face a little. "I...I don't do Pokémon, anyway."
Wes frowned at her. "Why not?" She certainly seemed to like them enough.
It was the first vague answer she'd given. Wes took the hint and didn't press the issue further. They finished their meal soon after and headed out to Wes' motorbike.
Neo had warmed up to Rui quite a bit over the last twenty-four hours. Wes had a suspicion that it had to do with the fact that she was always showering him with attention and praise whenever the Espeon so much as looked at her. He narrowed his eyes as he watched Neo rub up against her legs with a hopeful mewl.
"Oh my gosh, you're so adorable!" Rui giggled as Neo brushed against her. He answered with a happy chirp. She grinned over her shoulder at Wes. "I think he really likes me!"
"He likes everybody," Wes replied dryly, although he knew that wasn't exactly true.
Rui didn't seem to hear his remark and walked ahead to the motorcycle with a spring in her step. Wes glared down at his Espeon. "Stop sucking up to her. She's not staying."
Neo's only response was to blink smugly at his Trainer before sauntering ahead, tail held high.
He once again had to return Neo and Novo to their Pokeballs to make room for Rui in the sidecar. Neo was more willing to go along with it this time, but Novo seemed more sour about it than ever. Wes sighed quietly to himself and wondered how long his Umbreon would hold this against him.
Once they were both seated, he heard Rui speak up from beside him. "To Phenac, then?"
Wes nodded and gripped the handlebars. "To Phenac." And then, finally, to Gateon. And beyond.
He roared up the engine, and they were off into the desert once more.
Neo liked the new girl.
He had decided so almost immediately upon seeing her emerge from that stuffy brown sack. Even though he'd sensed anxiety and fear rolling off her in waves, he also sensed something else: kindness. Gentleness. Sincerity.
He liked that. It reminded him of his Trainer.
Her vivaciousness made itself known as they walked around town, and he liked her even more. Her bright spirit added a new dynamic to the trio that Neo had not seen before, and it was fun. Novo was always serious and alert, and Wes always made an effort to remain composed and impassive. Neo loved them, but Mew above, being the only energetic one of the group sometimes got downright boring.
Her energetic enthusiasm, while thrilling to him, only seemed to agitate his Trainer. She peppered him with questions, laughed a lot, and walked with a bounce in her step all while irritation quietly emanated from Wes in spades.
Neo found this highly entertaining to watch.
But aside from her odd red hair, her loud laughter, and her bubbly personality, there was one reason above all others why he liked the girl so much.
She was a total pushover.
He'd discovered this as they sat at their booth in the Phenac restaurant. While his Trainer spoke with the girl, Neo had cautiously leaned forward to sniff her hands from his place at Wes' feet. Her scent was pleasant yet unfamiliar, and it stoked his curiosity. She must have felt his whiskers, because suddenly her attention was on him and she was stroking his head and cooing at him all the while, telling him how handsome and beautiful he was.
Well, she clearly had good taste.
He tested this a few more times, and sure enough, each time he brushed against her, he was showered with her affection. She seemed absolutely thrilled every time he paid attention to her, and she was more than willing to return the favor.
They were at the Outskirt Stand when Neo decided to test this even further. He was pouting under the table after he'd given Wes the Begging Eyes and was told a hard no. The smell of bacon wafted tantalizingly in the air, and Neo chuffed and gloomily laid his head on his paws. He couldn't believe his Trainer sometimes. Who could possibly deny him, Neo the Great (and Handsome, according to the redhead) Espeon, when he put on the charm? Apparently his stone-cold Trainer could. Hmphf.
His eyes rested on the pink pair of boots across from him, and he had an idea.
He waited until near the end of their meal when Wes briefly left the table to pay for their food, then slunk over to the girl and rested his head in her lap. He let his ears and tail droop, then looked her straight in the eyes and blasted her with Irresistible Cuteness, utilizing his Begging Eyes to the max.
It was a sight to behold. Her face crumbled, her resolve wilted, and she glanced quickly about before discreetly slipping him a piece of bacon under the table.
"Don't tell Wes," she whispered.
Neo devoured the meat with gusto. He could feel his brother's stare of disbelief on the back of his head and could practically hear him asking where his dignity went. Neo chose to ignore this, and instead licked the last remnants of bacon from his muzzle and settled down smugly at Wes' feet when he returned. Score one for the Espeon.
Yes. Neo liked the new girl very much.
Novo was very unsure about current events.
True, he did help his brother pressure Wes into stepping in to rescue the girl, but he hadn't expected her to stay. The longer she stayed with them, the greater the anxiety was that he could sense from his Trainer. And Novo disliked anyone who set his Trainer on edge.
Which was basically everyone that wasn't him and Neo, but that was beside the point.
This girl. She was naive. And boisterous. And loud. Her laugh grated on Novo's ears, and he thought her voice was loud enough to draw attention from two streets over. Hadn't the plan been to blend in and go as unnoticed as possible? In fact, wasn't the plan to be well on their way to Gateon by now?
Novo sensed from Wes' quiet tension and frustration that he was having the same thoughts as the Umbreon. The mounting anxiety to be on the road almost made him regret begging his trainer to save the girl. Almost. Much as he disliked her, he was sure that sack had not been a comfortable place to be, and kicking those men and their Whismur to the curb had been fun. Still, her bubbly demeanor rubbed his fur the wrong way.
His opinion of the girl lessened even further when, at the restaurant, she tried to pet him. She'd stretched out a cautious hand, as if to touch his head, and he snarled at her. Sure, she didn't seem like a threat - far from it - but if Wes didn't want her to get close, then Novo wouldn't let her get close to himself, either. It was that simple.
Nonetheless, he suffered through their annoyingly long stay at Phenac City. Once the girl was set, she would be on her way, and they would be on theirs. No more invasive questions or weirdly bright smiles.
But for some reason, she followed them as they finally made their way back to the motorbike. Wes had picked up the pace considerably, and Novo felt joyous at the prospect of moving ahead as planned. Yet...the girl was still here. Did she not understand? Was she that naive? Surely - surely - Wes wasn't planning on bringing her along?
Novo was not prepared when Wes crouched down to level with him and told him he would have to go in his Pokeball.
His Trainer seemed displeased at the idea, too, as he mumbled an apology to him, but Novo's shock only deepened further when he saw the redhead make for the sidecar.
Not only was he being forced back into his Pokeball for the second time today, he was being booted out of the sidecar? His spot? The spot where he loved to watch the scenery fly by and feel the wind in his fur? All for this -this girl? This girl, of all people?
The feeling of betrayal was palpable. He made certain his Trainer knew this by cramming every fiber of his wounded pride into a piercing glare before he was sucked into his Pokeball.
Novo did not like this girl.