The crowbar shines in the mid-morning light, my reflection obscured on its gleaming silver surface. I hadn't anticipated how long it would take to get all of the blood off, but I think I did a pretty decent job. There are a few scratches on it, but that's nothing new. It otherwise seems to be in excellent shape, which is good because I don't plan on changing weapons anytime soon. This pretty silver death machine has seen me through the worst of them, and I hope it'll see me through many more.
We've been back in Rowan's lab for a week now. Leo doesn't talk to me much, and Dawn doesn't seem to know I exist. The Professor just lies around and coughs all day, holed up in a spare room so whatever he has doesn't spread to the rest of us. But I have a bad feeling he's neither contagious nor curable.
I know I can't stay here. I've spent the last seven days catching up on sleep and stealing food from the basement and kitchen. The Professor knows what my plan is, and told me to do what I feel is right. I'm not going to tell Dawn and Leo until just before I leave, and I'm not sure how much they'll care anyway. Their indifference can't bother me; I have to just suck it up and get moving. I'll need all my concentration and courage to face whatever waits for me out there and dividing my attention will only get me killed.
I examine myself in the mirror, an act I generally try to avoid. My face is worn beyond my age, and even to me my eyes look harsh and serious. Numerous scars run up and down my bare arms, and I trace my finger over one absentmindedly. The worst of them starts on my shoulder and crawls around to my upper arm, deep and ragged. The scar itself hardly hurts anymore, but I still get chills when I remember how I got it.
Breathing in a shuddering breath, I shove the memory from my mind and pull a thick sweatshirt over my head. My hat comes next, tugged down so that it covers my ears. The four-year-old backpack I'll be using waits patiently on my bed, its insides perfectly organized to suit my needs. I don't want to bring too much, but I could be gone for years. It would be insane to think I could prepare for that long, but I should be okay without any sort of civilization for a few weeks. But if I don't see anything and I choose to keep wandering around in the wilderness, I'll just have to admit this was a terrible idea.
I hear the floor by the doorway creak, and look up to see Scout standing there, one foot in the room. She has her own backpack to help us bring some more supplies, including our first aid kit and another bottle or two of iodine tablets. She'll never have to worry much about the cold, but she has her own blanket anyway. She grasps my hand and starts to pull slightly, but I tell her to wait. This is probably the last time I'll ever see this room or this lab. I've done enough moping around and staring at everything, but I'm not ready to leave just yet.
My shoes are hiding beneath my bed, a little too small and rather uncomfortable. But they're the only ones I have, so I'm stuck with them. I'm wearing two layers of socks, so the shoes are even smaller than usual. I sit down on one of the beds and start trying to pull them on. Scout watches me struggling with them and decides to help. I pull, and she pushes. After a few seconds of zero progress she shouts in frustration, and I accidentally kick her in the face.
I apologize rapidly, trying to move her hands away from her nose to make sure I didn't do any damage. She shakes her head a few times, covering her face and shaking her arm in the air. "Damnit Scout, just let me get a look at it." She relents, lowering her hands and letting them drop to her sides. It looks a little darker than usual, but not injured. She'll be fine, but I still feel awful.
Scout looks up over my shoulder, and I follow her gaze. Leo is watching us from the doorway, hands deep in his pockets. We've barely spoken since we got back. I feel like he's always known I would go back on what I said, even if I wasn't initially as excited about leaving as he was. It's pretty cold in here, but he's only wearing a t-shirt and a pretty flimsy scarf.
"Uh…how long have you been standing there?" Scout steps back a bit, and I push my foot against the ground as hard as I can. I could get them on during our trip to Twinleaf; I guess that extra layer of socks is having a bigger effect than I anticipated.
"Long enough to know you need new shoes." He walks into the room and sits down on the bed across from me. I stop trying to force my foot to go where it doesn't want to, and look up at my old friend wearily. He reaches underneath the bed and pulls out his own walking shoes. "Here. My feet have always been bigger than yours. These should fit a little better." He holds them out to me but I don't take them.
"Uh, no. What will you wear?" He shrugs and pushes them toward me again. "No, seriously. I can't just take your shoes."
"Yeah, well, I'm giving them to you." He pushes them forward again, raising his eyebrows. "Come on." I sigh and take them, looking them over a bit before pulling them on. Lacing them quickly, I look up to face my friend's tired eyes. The dark circles still haven't faded, despite the incredible amount of sleep he's had lately. Something tells me those will stay there for a long time.
"That can't be the only thing you came in here for." I say quietly, flatly. Scout hops on to the bed next me; her warm body making me feel too hot beneath my many layers. Leo licks his lips and glances down, his rather large shoes on me contrasted against his own sock-covered feet. He takes in a short breath before looking straight into my eyes.
"I'm not going to stop you. You can do whatever you want. Just know that if Scout, or any of your other Pokémon die, you will regret it for the rest of your life." Scout shifts uncomfortably, pressing her shoulder to my arm. "You know by now that you're risking a lot. Well…now I'm telling you one more. You leave now, and you're probably never going to see me, or Dawn, or the Professor ever again." His voice drops and he leans back, hands on his thighs. "Especially the Professor."
"Right, I…I figured that." I try to sound strong, but my voice comes out weak and small. I sigh, not sure what to say. We sit in awkward silence for some time before he gets up and starts to leave. But I stand up and grab him by the shoulder before he can say goodbye. "Wait a second. Just stay right there." He looks at me skeptically, and I sling my backpack down. I pull Tinkerbell's Pokeball from the side pocket and hold it out to him. "Please. Take her. She needs the care of people who know what they're doing, and I certainly don't."
Leo shakes his head, anger and bewilderment flashing in his eyes. "I don't get you Jay. You think you can take care of Scout and yourself, but not Tink? You think you can go on some huge adventure, risking your life for what amounts to no reason at all, yet you don't think you can take care of a little Starly?"
"Please. Just take her." I don't know what else I can say to defend myself. We've both felt loss, but he's lost everything. We've chosen our paths. This is the end. I can't take Tinkerbell, not on this journey. She's much safer here with him.
He laughs mirthlessly and takes the Pokeball out of my hands. "Fine, I'll take care of her. But you're on your own from here on out." He walks out the door, never to return. He's gone, and I have to be okay with that.
Scout drops down to the floor, looking back at me. I smile at her, ready to finally get out of here.
We face Route 202 for the second time in our lives. I remember it was a winding road, going through huge fields of tall grass until giving way to the urban sprawl of Jubilife. Younger trainers used to hang out here all the time; Leo and I battled them often. But I can't hear any laughter coming from it now. The wind carries no high-pitched voices or squeals of delight, just a hollow cold and the reek of death. The grass is just as colorless here as it is on Route 201, although it's too wet to give a satisfying crunch. It rained last night, and it's clear the area hasn't gotten over it. The sky is still a pale, bright gray, clouds swimming confusedly high above us. Scout stands readily at my side, the flames of her tail crackling in the thick air.
Someone calls out to us, but I don't turn back. I breathe in; steeling myself for what awaits us down the path we've chosen. Scout pulls on my jacket, trying to get me to acknowledge whoever is trying to get our attention. I gently touch her paw and look back into Sandgem. Dawn walks toward us, carrying a small bundle in her arms. She stops just a few feet from me, her eyes wet and wide.
"Here…the Professor wanted me to give you these." She holds her bundle out to me, and I take it into my arms with caution. "Sorry, I looked. I couldn't really help it. There should be a brand-new PokeDex, and some kind of blood test thing. A new map too, one you can mark off. And these," she reaches into a side pocket of her jacket and dumps five Pokeballs into my arms. "These are mine. I never used them, so they're pretty old, but they should work just fine." I already have five, but there's no such thing as too many. "Oh, and, uh, this too," She unwraps her scarf and holds it out to me. I stare back at her, waiting for her to realize my hands are full. "Oh, wait," she circles it around my neck, smiling as she pulls it tight. "There."
"Thank you." I look over the new items in my arms. They're wrapped in some sort of cloth, which I suddenly realize is to help me filter water. The Pokedex is surprisingly shiny for something that can't have any new plastic, and the map looks like a long, thin metal strip.
She nods swiftly, not looking at me. "Jay, I-I'm going to miss you." I have to hold myself back from asking her why she never bothered to show it. "Please…please be careful. I know I've told you that before but…I'm going to worry about you." I nod and smile at her, but she continues before I can speak. "No, really. After what happened to…to…just, what I said before, I still want you to do it. Just keep each other alive." I thought we already failed that quest, Dawn. You still think I can follow through on that? A feeling I can't identify shoots through me, and I feel a little nauseous. "This is still crazy, and you're still crazy. I just… I hope you're crazy enough to survive.
Something about the way she says that makes me genuinely happy. Maybe because she's right and that's absolutely how this is going to work. She gives me a quick hug, which I couldn't return even if I wanted to, and then hurries back to the lab.
I take Sandgem Town in for the last time, then turn back to Route 202. "This is it, Scout. This is the last chance you have to turn back." She looks up at me with a knowing look in her eyes, then turns back around to leave her home behind forever.