She stares at me, standing with her feet together and wringing her dirty black scarf in her gloved hands. She's wearing a much heavier coat than I remember her owning, and her backpack is dark brown instead of bright pink. "Jay? You look so…" Her eyes flick to the side, then back to me. "How did you get here?" Her hair is shorter too, cutting off about a centimeter or two above her shoulders. It's thin and most of it is pulled back out of her face.
The floor creaks loudly. "I walked. Up through to Floaroma, then Eterna, and then south to here."
She sticks her left shoe up against the back of the other and wrenches her foot free. She does the same with her right, and then kicks them both to the side. They tumble loudly in the heavy silence. Her feet are small and quiet on the floorboards, her socks well-stained and covered in holes. She blinks several times in the dark, eyebrows furrowed in thought.
She's close enough now that I can see little scratches and markings all over her face, illuminated by the minimal light. I flinch slightly when she reaches toward my face, her fingertips lightly touching a ridge of my scars. "What happened?" She asks, her voice louder and stronger than I expected it to be.
"A lot," I don't know how to tell her everything that's gone on. It seems like I haven't seen her for years, though it's hardly been three months since I left Sandgem.
For a second she stands there studying my scars, eyes narrowed in concentration. "This looks bad. I'm so sorry…" Her face hardens and she shakes her head so slightly I wonder if I imagined it. Her hand drops to her side and she looks down. "We made a mistake by letting you go off on your own. I wish things …hadn't turned out like this."
I feel something warm against my leg, and hear Scarlet's soft paw steps padding over the floor. She's been silent for a while now, but seems to have taken an interest in who I'm speaking with. Dawn looks down and watches the Luxio carefully, her eyes sparkling in the dark. Scarlet circles the girl, tail flicking back and forth. She pauses just in front of her and sniffs Dawn's sock-covered feet, recoiling almost instantly at the smell.
Dawn cracks a small smile, "Not very pleasant, huh?" Scarlet looks up and begins to back away, snarling a bit under her breath. "Who is this?" Dawn asks, still watching Scarlet with distant eyes.
Scarlet turns to me and I kneel down so I can brush her thin mane with my hand. She purrs and rubs her face against mine, but her breath smells so terrible I have to turn so she isn't breathing right into my nose. "Her name's Scarlet. She joined me in Jubilife, completely of her own accord. I actually managed to find a decent amount of Pokémon; I have a full team, in fact."
Dawn raises an eyebrow and I straighten up so we're on the same level again. "That's strange…I've found quite a few as well. It's almost like Pokémon have been attracted to me." She pauses, her face falling and suspicion flashing in her dark eyes. "Where's Scout?"
"Uh…" Scarlet lies at my feet, one paw crossed over the other with her tail swishing over the floor. "It's a long story." I play with a piece of string coming off my pant leg, twirling it around my finger over and over.
"What happened to her?" Her tone has changed. The shift is smooth and immediate, her voice rising and her eyes gleaming with rage so suddenly my heart skips a beat.
A chair squeals loudly behind me and I start, whipping around. Roark clears his throat and slams his glass down on the table just like he did before. "Obviously you two know each other. Uh…friends? Rivals? What's going on here?"
Dawn steps around me while reaching deep into her pocket. Kitty nods to her and Dawn stands next to the older woman, placing both hands hard on the table. One of them holds tightly to a dirt-stained PokeBall, pressing it into the wood. "Old friends. He was the one I told you about. The one who left."
I don't like how she says that; I'm instantly nervous. She sounds almost accusatory; as if it's my fault she's been hurt.
Roark nods faintly in understanding, leaning his chin on his crossed hands. "I understand now. Wow, what a coincidence."
"I'll say," Dawn mumbles so quietly I almost miss it.
"I…I don't actually. What are you talking about? What happened?" I'm speaking louder than I usually do, but I'm pissed off. How can she be angry with me when I haven't seen her for months? And all this stalling is ridiculous. "Just come out and say it."
Dawn narrows her eyes and I catch her tighten her grip on the PokeBall, her knuckles turning white. "It's a long story." There's venom in her tone; she's spitting my own words right back at me. I can feel my blood boiling, heat rising to my face.
Kitty and Roark stand up at once. Her words are harsh, but Kitty's tone is even and carefully measured. "That's enough. This is retarded; you're not even arguing about anything. Go outside and settle this, we're not your Arceus-damned parents and we're not going to deal with any petty shit."
Dawn's gaze flicks down to her fingers and, after a second of hesitation, she nods. "That would be smart, yeah." She lets out a heavy breath and looks back at me, her expression hard as ever. "Come on, we'll just go right outside the door. It's getting dark, but I think we'll be fine."
At first I don't follow her, but I realize she's leaving whether I go or not. Even if I think she's being really dumb about this, I might as well get some answers.
The city babbles faintly, the mingled voices creating a distant cacophony in the usually silent twilight. A breeze blows a stray leaf across the ground, bringing it to rest at my feet. The cold claws at my face, stinging my eye and burning my nose. My fingers already feel numb and stiff, refusing to flex without sending a shot of pain up my arm.
Dawn leans against the wall with her hands shoved deep inside her jacket pockets. Her black hair shines in the weak orange light, the greasy strands gleaming faintly. At her feet sits a yawning Grotle. His leaves shiver and shake with the wind to create a soft rustling sound. Scarlet is curled into a tight, aggravated ball beside the grass-type, her head buried deep in her own fur.
"The Professor died not long after you left. We couldn't have known he'd been suffering for so long…there was nothing we could do to help. We tried of course, but the basic first-aid he taught us was hardly enough to save him. We found the softest patch of ground and dug as deep as we could. I'm sure it wasn't enough, because the next morning…the next morning all the dirt was torn up and there was only a skeleton. Leo was beside himself the whole time, and I think without Tinkerbell he wouldn't have been able to go on.
"I guess you did that right. He was reluctant to take care of her at first, but she grew on him and they got really attached to each other. It was good for him, and I think she needed it too. As time passed she got stronger, to the point that she was actually useful against the horde. Grotle wasn't a fan either, initially, but like Leo he came to really like her and see her as an important part of us.
"Even…even with her though, I could tell Leo was done. He was broken. He'd lost his starter, his best friend, and the man who raised him for the past four years. He thought you were dead, and when we saw that fire we both assumed the worst. I tried to comfort him as best I could, but the more time passed the more he resented me and everything else….It-it hurt to watch him turn into that. I never could have thought he would bare the pain so heavily.
"But…I still don't understand why he joined them. I mean, they were so manipulative and clever I guess I shouldn't be that surprised, but still…the thought of Leo falling in with a cult is…it's impossible. They swept him up so easily too, like they knew exactly what he wanted before he even opened his mouth. They called themselves 'The Church of Galactic,' or something. They were all about a new world, and justice, and having faith in their leader as some sort of medium between gods and men. I've never been inclined to believe in gods, but the way they spoke –with such power and confidence- for one second I think I might have believed their load of shit.
"Leo was smitten with them. He hated his own life so much that by that point he was willing to believe in anything that promised to make a change for him. He turned against the people he thought were dead, and, despite everything he had always said, he started to accept their ridiculous ideas about race and who deserves what. And…and that was where I had to draw the line.
"I planned on staying with them to get the free food and shelter, but…I could never get past this strange sensation of being…judged constantly. I tried to tell Leo but he wouldn't listen to me. They tried to tell me that only the survivors deserve a new world, and that this whole outbreak has been a test by the gods to see who was fit to enter their kingdom. I…I couldn't buy that, Jay. I didn't believe that there could be a new world that was too good for the professor. I couldn't accept that they didn't think him worthy of something. But Leo…I think he was just too far gone to care anymore.
"So he left with them. Grotle and I watched him walk off towards Jubilife in a big singing crowd, looking happy for the first time in weeks. And I thought maybe it wasn't so bad. Maybe I was making a mistake for not following them. But…I knew anyone, any group, that could believe one section of people could be fundamentally better than another was just…wrong, I don't know, it set off some serious red flags.
"I was so scared, Jay. And…and I know it isn't really your fault. I know why you left and I wish I went with you. But I-I can't help but hate you a little for not being there when we all needed you. We were a family, Jay…we'd worked together, gotten through so much for so long…but after you left it was over. You abandoned us to fend for ourselves, ignoring the fact that we've always needed you. W-without you we fell apart.
"After Leo left, I knew Grotle and I had to go as well. It was so hard to leave that place. We grew up there, in our own little fort, fighting monsters and trying to carve out a life that wasn't as miserable as it had to be. But it was over. And…and as we travelled from Sandgem, to Jubilife, and through Oreburgh Gate we…we learned that things weren't going to get any better. Even if all the undead are gone, we are left with nothing. Eventually things will be different, sure, but they will never get any better."
She sighs heavily, letting loose hair fly over her face. It's become bitterly cold, and my fingers are past the point of hurting. My entire body feels frozen, and I wish I could just stand here and freeze forever.
But instead I take a step toward Dawn and pull her tightly into my arms. Her jacket rustles and I squeeze her tightly. She doesn't respond at first, but after a second or two she wraps her arms around my neck and leans her head on my chest.
We stay like this for a while, unable to move because it's just too damn cold. The wind cuts through my clothes with ease, raising painful bumps all over my body.
I tell her about as much as I can. The eye is easy to explain, but I find myself at a loss for words when I have to tell her about Cheryl. But Dawn just stands there, quietly shivering and patiently waiting for me to get my thoughts straight.
Even after we talk about it, even after I explain to her what my goal is and why I'm in Oreburgh at all, I hardly feel any better. My chest still burns with anger and a powerful desire for vengeance.
"Revenge?" She asks quietly, and I interrupt before she can continue.
"Don't give me the speech; I already know and I don't care."
"What speech?" She asks innocently, as if she genuinely doesn't know.
"The 'revenge' speech. Don't tell me not to fight violence with violence. Don't tell me to forsake my goal for something that won't result in 'an endless cycle' or some shit. Because I don't care. I know this is what she would want, and I would go to the end of the world for her."
She raises her eyebrows and smiles a bit. "Why would I say that? I think as long as you know what you're doing you'll be fine. You have to do things for yourself, and I think if you know and accept the consequences you should go ahead and do what you feel is right. I'm more concerned about you staying alive; if this girl almost killed you before, what makes you think she won't finish the job now?"
I clench my fists tightly within my pockets and grit my teeth against the pain. "Because I have a plan."
"A plan?" A detect a condescending note in her voice but I choose to ignore it. "What sort of plan?"
"The 'train forever and then kill her with all guns blazing' plan." She snorts and I roll my eye. "Oh come on, you never even met her! How can you think she'll best me if you haven't seen us fight? Besides, she took me by surprise last time. Now that I know she fights dirty I'll have a better idea of how to kill her."
She pushes off from the wall and Grotle immediately sits up, watching his trainer with big black eyes. "Well, then, if you say she had a Raichu, why not evolve Lenny so you have a ground-type? You'll have a better chance with a type advantage over the only Pokémon it sounds like she has." She yanks open the door and gasps with pleasure as a burst of heat flies out at her. "I'll help you, but we'll start tomorrow." Scarlet bounds inside without a single thought. Dawn holds the door open with one trembling arm, and I thank her as I step through the entryway.