In some ways, she knows he's kidding, but it's good enough for her. She hands him his last Friend Ball and poses her next question in such a way that it sounds like a challenge. Ethan smiles at her, the answer evident in his eyes.
Word Count: 4,350
Verse: Generation IV, HG/SS
Characters: Maisy/Chie, Kurt/Gantetsu, Ethan/Hibiki
Summary: Pokéballs are dying, and it's up to Maisy to stop it.
Author's Note: Written for poképrompts on LJ. It did pretty well there, so I hope you guys enjoy it just as much. =)
The creation of the pokéball is a dying art, a skill locked away and fading with time. Maisy knows this because Grandpa laments it to himself in his warm, creaky voice. She hears him late at night, and through half-open eyes, she sees his hunched form sitting at his workbench. She listens. She hears cracking, snapping, clicking. She leans forward as if it helps her hear better. More sounds fill her ears. The hoot of a noctowl. The snoring of Poe at the foot of her bed. Crickets in harmony, a symphony. Sweeping: the sound of Grandpa's slipper as he kicks his foot back and forth.
Then she hears him murmur, “Times have changed, and no one understands their purpose anymore. This is a dying art.”
She asks him what he means one morning. Grandpa smiles.
“You should have been asleep!” he remarks cheerfully. He ruffles her hair.
She pulls away, annoyed, flattening the top of her hair with her hands. They find their way to her looped pigtails, and she tugs on them, loosening her hair ties. Grandpa turns back around on his stool to face his workbench. He picks up the empty shelling of a green apricorn, tunneling the insides with a sharp chisel. She stares at his back. Poe nudges the back of her leg with his head and moans, “Slooooowpoke?” but she ignores this.
“Grandpa,” she demands. She stamps her foot, loud enough so it reverberates against the wood floor but soft enough so Grandpa would not snap his head back and lecture her. “Grandpa, what do you mean pokéballs are dying? How do pokéballs die?”
He shakes his head, his head bent down. Maisy can see the strain in his neck. “Never you mind, Maisy.”
“If pokéballs are dying, I want to help save them!” she cries. She inhales deeply, breathing in the concoction of conifers and smoke that floats through the open windows.
Grandpa wipes the side of his chisel against the workbench, apricorn shavings spiraling down dizzily. He gathers his long, gray hair in his free hand and sweeps it against the left side of his neck. He raps the apricorn against the table then brings up the hand holding the chisel. A crack then snap.
Magic happens. Maisy calls it magic because she can never detect the very instance when Grandpa transforms the apricorn into a workable pokéball in his wrinkled, but skilled, hands. She doesn't bother asking how he does it; she knows better than that.
Grandpa puts down the chisel and picks up a paint brush. He feels Maisy still standing behind him, so he turns his head slightly just so her frame sits on his peripheral. A frown is on her face, blue eyes fierce. “Yes, princess?” he asks, dipping his paint brush into a jar filled with an opaque liquid.
“How are pokéballs dying?” she asks again.
He swirls the brush in the jar. Maisy watches with observant eyes as Grandpa lifts the brush, its bristles dripping with the indiscernible liquid. He wipes the excess on a paper towel as he lifts the half-finished Friend Ball above his head and lets the morning sunlight hit it.
“As long as I'm alive, they won't die,” he says more to himself than her, turning the Friend Ball back and forth between his fingers. “I cannot help but worry about its future, but I try to pass it on. Still–” She notices Grandpa's hand grows shaky. “–I'm afraid that one day when I'm gone this skill will fade with time, be locked away with no key.” She notices how stiff Grandpa's back is when he says this.
They are arguing in circles now, and Grandpa's ambiguity annoys her more. “Grandpa,” she says, “what do you mean?”
Grandpa sighs. He drops his hand and delicately places the ball on the workbench. With his fingers wrapped around his paintbrush, he turns to face her, the balls of his slippered feet pressing against the floor. “Tell me, Maisy,” he begins, “what do you think pokéballs are used for?”
Maisy stares at him. “To catch pokémon?” she finally answers questionably, tilting her head.
Grandpa laughs warmly, making the big lump on his throat move up and down. “Besides that.”
She doesn't know the answer – the answer Grandpa is looking for anyway – and looks away from Grandpa's stern eyes and bushy eyebrows, scuffing the ground when she kicks her sandalled foot forward. Maisy hears the legs of Grandpa's stool scrape against the floor. He places his wrinkled but skilled hand on her shoulder comfortingly.
“Let me ask you this then. How do you think pokéballs are made?”
She doesn't know the answer to this either; Grandpa is too good at hiding his skill. Still, she naively whispers, “Magic,” because that is what she believes.
Maisy looks up and sees Grandpa beaming. “That's the best answer I've heard in a long time,” he tells her. “If you find someone else who gives you that answer, I bet they can tell you what pokéballs are used for as well. And if someone knows what they are used for, then pokéballs will not die.”
She declares out loud that she will make this her next mission. Pokéballs need her help. Time is her enemy. She will find their hero.
Maisy doesn't know why this makes Grandpa so happy.
~ ~ ~
Maisy starts at the pokémart because, logically, that's where people go for their pokéball needs. She pushes all her weight against the door, smudging the glass with her fingers, and manages to slip in when the door opens a crack. It swings shut behind her, rattling the bells tied around the metal bar.
Mister is up ahead, wiping the counter down with a moist towel. He looks up from his work when he hears Maisy's sandals flip-flop over toward him. “Miss Maisy,” he says with a smile, hanging the towel in the blue apron tied around his waist. “It's nice to see you.”
She laces her hands behind her and stands on tippy-toe. “Hi, Mister,” she replies. “Where do you keep your pokéballs?”
Mister looks at her with surprise, eyebrows raised, and she can read in between the wrinkles on his forehead. Does your Grandpa know you're here asking for *that*?
“Why, they're in aisle four,” he says after a few seconds. “Here, I'll bring you to them.” Mister walks around the counter, sliding his hand down its polished surface. Maisy follows after his big feet, feet held back in leather loafers, and they head down the aisles.
The pokéballs are sold in packages of three and are contained in cardboard boxes with cellophane windows. She delicately presses a finger against the window, and the cellophane crinkles under her touch. These pokéballs look nothing like Grandpa's. Grandpa's are shinier. Grandpa's come in a variety of colors. Grandpa's have texture, bumpy in ways. But these look dull, dusty, like they have been sitting here for years. They only came in one style, the boring red and white she often sees clipped to the belts of passing trainers. They are smoother, she realizes, but identical to each other because of that.
She picks up a box and immediately feels weird, a twisty, knotted feeling building in her stomach and rising to her throat, and she hears Grandpa lecturing her for some reason to put it down. But she hangs onto it by pressing the ends of the box against the flat of her palms. She reads the bottom.
© 2009 Silph Co. Made in Kanto. All rights reserved.
She wonders briefly if Daddy helped make these, but she's quick to remember her mission.
Maisy looks up into the curious eyes of Mister. “How are pokéballs made?” she questions. She keeps her head up and notices another surprised look grace Mister's face. She reads between the lines again. You are Kurt's granddaughter, aren't you?
Mister picks up a box of pokéballs for himself and shakes it. The balls rattle against each other. “I'm not sure about the mechanics,” he begins, “but I know they are mass produced with machines built by companies like Silph Co.”
She blinks. “Machines?” she repeats curiously.
“Machines,” he affirms.
“So people don't make them anymore?”
Mister wipes his chin on his collar bone as he looks away from her and toward the shelf. His eyes roam. “They do, of course. Your grandfather still makes them, no?”
“But there's a growing demand of trainers, therefore a growing demand of pokéballs, and making pokéballs by hand takes a while, doesn't it?”
She nods again.
“So the folk at Silph Co. use machines to mass produce pokéballs in order to meet the demand.” He looks at her again. “Does that help?”
Maisy puts the box back on the shelf. “Yeah. Thank you, Mister.”
Mister gives her a polite nod and strolls down the narrow aisle. He stops for a few seconds to adjust a few crooked boxes on the shelves before turning the corner and leaving her eyesight.
She backs away from the daunting shelves of manufactured magic, hitting the opposite side of the aisle and making a few boxes of potions behind her wobble slightly. She stares at the pokéballs. All pokéballs, essentially, do the same thing. They serve as capturing devices. Where the ball is made and where it comes from mean nothing in the long run so long as the ball is doing its job.
She tugs on the brass house key she has strung around her neck while she thinks of Grandpa. Grandpa is picky. He pours over the apricorns he picks in the morning from the grove and narrows it down by sight, then touch, then sound. When he is down to two choices, he presses his big nose against them and whiffs them in, and he chooses from there. Maisy doesn’t understand it, but Maisy doesn’t understand a lot of things anyway, like what pokéballs are used for besides catching pokémon. She bets the machines don’t spend minutes upon minutes deciding what apricorn to use … if they use apricorns at all.
Grandpa is getting old, too. Maisy knows this because he has wrinkles and because his skilled hands grow shaky. His pokéballs aren't perfect spheres, but that’s what makes them so pretty in her eyes. They are so much better than these store pokéballs that are sold in groups of three in cardboard boxes with cellophane windows. They have souls, Grandpa’s pokéballs. Angry souls if Grandpa makes them while he is angry. Sad souls if Grandpa is sad. Pensive souls, and happy souls, and hungry souls, and lonely souls.
But these pokéballs, the ones that sit so blankly behind cellophane, have no soul.
Maisy doesn't know why she's so angry.
~ ~ ~
Grandpa is famous. Maisy knows this because there's a picture of him with Professor Oak and a lady with determined eyes, and she knows that not many people have their picture taken with Professor Oak. She also knows this because he gets a lot of visitors a month. They ask him if it is possible for him to make them his special pokéballs, but Grandpa doesn’t have the all the time in the world. He narrows the amount down to his main query: “What are pokéballs used for?”
Most say to catch pokémon, like she said a whole week ago, but Grandpa shakes his head. “Besides that,” he says. People look at him dumbfound, dismiss him as a crazy old man. Grandpa isn’t crazy, though. Grandpa is magical because he has to be in order to make pokéballs.
There are so many wrong answers, so many haughty attitudes, that Grandpa locks people out nowadays. He hates being bothered by people when he's working. Likewise, he doesn't like to get distracted by things outside and locks himself in, a place where time doesn't stop nor start. Grandpa measures time in pokéballs. Maisy is his binoculars, the key to the outside world. She tells him stories. She tells him how Teacher told her that she draws the best ponyta in class. She tells him Charcoal Man’s apprentice lost Farfetch’d in the forest again. Grandpa smiles and thanks her for being such a good storyteller.
Locals say Grandpa is becoming bitter with age, but she doesn’t tell Grandpa that because they’re wrong. She wonders if Grandpa gets lonely. The small cabin used to be filled with baskets of pokéballs for the people, the lovely pinks, the luring blues, the flashy whites, but now Maisy is lucky if she sees one of Grandpa’s old wicker baskets filled with hefty blacks and glowing yellows every few weeks. She stares into the baskets, and they look hungry in her eyes, but they look strangely satisfied when Grandpa drops his finished work into the basket’s gaping mouth.
She remembers one girl with her hair split apart in two thick, black braids and tied at the bottoms with purple ribbons. Maisy is told to go outside and play with Poe, but Maisy is good at being sneaky. She hides so well underneath the open window, her knees wet from the soil of the petunia bed.
She listens as the girl with the braids asks, “Sir, I have these apricorns, and I was wondering if you could craft them into pokéballs for me.”
Grandpa turns around on his stool, one hand gripping the empty green apricorn, and asks his question. Maisy sees the girl smile, like she already knows the answer.
“Friendship,” she says.
Maisy likes the answer, and she feels giddy for the girl, because maybe Grandpa will like the answer as well, and maybe there will be more pokéballs to feed the hungry but oddly content baskets.
Grandpa looks at the girl thoughtfully and hesitates to answer. Maisy holds her breath and counts, waiting for Grandpa's magical response.
“No. I’m sorry. That is not the answer I am looking for.”
Maisy gapes, and she is sorely tempted to tell Grandpa that he’s a bitter, old man. The girl with the braids politely nods and lets herself out. She doesn’t know that Maisy is in the planter below the window and is on the verge of frustrated tears. Her fingers angrily grip the wet soil.
“Princess,” Grandpa the magician calls from inside. “Get out of the petunia bed.”
Maisy doesn’t know why she feels so heartbroken.
~ ~ ~
Today is show-and-tell.
“Maisy, would you like to show what you brought the class today?” asks Teacher from her desk.
She nods and scoots her chair back against the linoleum, scampering to the front of the classroom where the white board holds markings of the earlier arithmetic lesson. The bright eyes of her classmates stare her down anxiously, legs squirming, fingers tapping, eyes casts toward the wide, smudgy windows where minds and invisible bodies are galloping on the blacktop.
Maisy is anxious too but for another reason. She looks at Teacher nervously, and Teacher gives her a reassuring nod. Maisy puts her hand in the pocket of her shorts, wrapping her hand around a small object and pulling it out. She breathes in the swirling chalk dust and exhales anxiety before revealing her prized object, giddy when it is greeted with pleasant and elongated “oohs.”
“This is the Love Ball!” she proclaims proudly, gazing at the pretty pink sphere herself. “Grandpa made it for me for my birthday! To make it you, you need the Pnk Apricorn. They smell sweet, and they can be found all around Cherrygrove!”
More euphonious “oohs” fill the classroom.
“What a lovely gift to present, Maisy!” praises Teacher. Maisy beams, shifting her weight between the balls and heels of her feet in glee. Teacher directs her gaze towards the class and takes opportunity to make Maisy’s show-and-tell a teaching opportunity. “Class, do we remember when apricorn balls were first used?”
“Four hundred to seven hundred years ago!” chimes the class in unison.
“Very good!” Teacher says, tucking her hair behind her ears. “How about today? Do we remember how pokéballs are made today?”
The heads of seven-year-olds turn back and forth, searching for hands waving wildly in the air but there were none. Maisy continues to shift her weight between the balls and heels of her feet as she tentatively raises her hand in the air. “I think I know the answer,” she says.
Teacher smiles at her. “Go ahead, Maisy.”
She pauses to let the anticipation build.
“Magic!” she says excitedly.
The class stares at her with what Maisy assumes is awe.
“That's not how pokéballs are made!” a boy corrects her a few seconds later in his disbelief. “They’re made with machines!”
“You shut up!” she yells, furious. She stamps a foot forward, pigtails flying. “You shut up because you're a stupid head and don't know what you're talking about!”
“Maisy!” Teacher yells. “My desk right now!”
She begrudgingly goes to Teacher's desk, and they talk in hushed voices that causes the class behind her to whisper, too. Maisy tries hard not to cry and yell because Teacher wouldn't like that; and if she did cry and yell, Teacher would call Grandpa, and Grandpa is busy worrying about pokéballs dying. So she listens – she's good at listening – as Teacher lectures her, hands laced together and knuckles turning white, telling her how it's not polite to call people “stupid heads” (even if they are stupid heads). Her punishment consists of staying in for morning recess and writing a letter of apology. She glares down at the sheet of lined paper. She reads what she has written.
Dear Stupid Head,
Sorry you are so stupid. Sorry you got me in trouble. Don't do it again.
Teacher wouldn't take that. She crumples the paper in her hand and grips it tightly, staring at the swirls on her wooden desk that remind her of the eyes of the hoothoot. They start to blur together. She licks the saltiness off her lips when the tears get caught in the crooks of her mouth. She quivers, but she isn't cold. She has a big lump in her throat, and she thinks of Grandpa and how the big lump in his throat goes up and down when he laughs. She remembers what Grandpa murmurs into the late night when he thinks he's only speaking to an audience of hooting noctowl and its symphony of crickets.
Maisy doesn't know what she's crying for.
~ ~ ~
“He's here!” she shouts eagerly. She pushes herself away from the window and scurries to the door. Poe is asleep on the welcome mat, and she pokes his side lightly with her right foot. “Poe, get out of the way! You’re blocking the door!” Poe yawns widely, showing off his two front teeth. She tugs at his tail, trying to pull him away, but her socked feet give in and slip, making her fall on her rump.
Three knocks. A door jiggle. A shout:
“Hey, it's locked!”
Grandpa is disgruntled by the sudden onslaught of toothy yawns, falling girls, and yelling strangers. “Unlock the door, Maisy, please,” he says from his workbench.
Maisy scrambles back onto her feet and gives the sleeping Poe an annoyed look before unlatching the top lock and inserting the bronze key that hung around her neck into the doorknob. She wraps her hand around the doorknob and twists it. The latch clicks open, and Ethan pops his head in.
“Hello, Maisy,” he says cheerfully. “It's nice to see you again.”
She feels her cheek grow hot and her stomach fill with butterfree, and she fights the urge to bring her hands up to her face. Something about the boy's backwards hat and confident smile makes her feel funny. “Hi, Ethan,” she says shyly, looking up to meet his golden gaze.
Ethan tries to push the door forward but finds it stuck. He looks down at the welcome mat and notices the sleeping Poe. “Hmm, napping already?”
“Naps wherever he lands at 12:30,” Grandpa replies as Maisy looks down at Poe as well. “Like clockwork.”
“So that means I'm late, aren't I?”
“By seventeen minutes,” Grandpa remarks without turning from his work.
Maisy watches Ethan pull his watch up to eye level to look at the time. “Shoot. I'm suppose to meet my mom for lunch at one.” Ethan manages to push the door in far enough so he can squeeze in. Maisy shuts the door behind him. Poe is unfazed. “Anyway, I'm sorry if I disturbed you, Kurt. I know you like to keep things on schedule.”
Grandpa lets out a chuckle as he places his chisel on the workbench and turns a half-finished pokéball above his head. “You're always late, Ethan.”
“I aim for consistency.” He grins. “Did you finish the Friend Balls?”
Maisy sees Grandpa nudge his head in the general direction of the hungry baskets. “Of course. Will you get them for him, Maisy?”
Maisy scampers over to the hungry baskets and peers into them. A few Friend Balls, shiny and green, look back at her eagerly. She gathers them in her hands and skips back over to Ethan. Ethan grins at her again, and she feels her tummy flip and her heart beat fast. He bends down a bit so the two were at eye level.
“Thanks,” he tells her as he picks up each Friend Ball. He swings his backpack over his shoulder and carefully places them in the front pocket. He opens his hand to receive the last Friend Ball clutched in Maisy's hand, but Maisy doesn't relinquish it.
“Do you know how pokéballs are made?” she asks the older boy curiously, blue eyes wide.
Ethan stands up straight and scratches the side of his nose. “Do I know how pokéballs are made?” he repeats with a laugh. “I don't know. I never paid attention in school when we were going over that stuff. Some magical process, probably.”
In some ways, she knows he's kidding, but it's good enough for her. She hands him his last Friend Ball and poses her next question in such a way that it sounds like a challenge.
“Then what are pokéballs for?”
A click sounds. Ethan enlarges the Friend Ball in his hand with the press of the button and smiles at her, the answer evident in his eyes. “Possibility,” he says as he holds the ball tightly in his gloved hand. “Where anything that can happen may happen. Not just the good stuff; there's the bad, too, and the in-between. But that's what makes the pokéball great. It's a realm of possibilities.” He reaches out and squeezes her hand for half a second, and it feels like lightning is running through her veins.
Maisy snaps her head toward the left to stare at Grandpa's back, tugging at her key. She waits for something to be said, but Grandpa happily chips away at his work with his trusty chisel. She expects some sort of fairy tale ending, a “you have passed my test! I will make you your pokéballs!” (even though Grandpa has been making Ethan pokéballs for months now), but ... nothing. There's nothing but cracking, chipping, then clicking. Magic again.
“So do you have any more apricorns for me, Ethan?” he asks as he places his work down on the table.
“No, sir, but I'll be back in a few hours with some if that's okay.” For some reason, Ethan gives Grandpa's back a polite nod.
“I'll see you later then,” Grandpa replies.
“Yeah. Thanks again.” Ethan turns toward the door and notices that Poe hasn't budged from his position on the welcome mat. “Um, I'll just go out the window then.” Maisy only waves goodbye to Ethan's cheery, “Bye!” and watches him push the fluttering lace curtains away so he can escape through the window. She hurriedly skips toward the window and sticks her head out, curiously watching the back of her hero head down the beaten path. The wind feels nice on her oddly flushed cheeks.
She goes to lock the door with her key but Grandpa stops her, turning on his stool to face her.
“He'll be back sooner or later,” he says. “Only time will tell.” She sees him smile, and it's a smile she hasn't seen from him in such a long time. She feels free because Grandpa looks free for once, even if it's fleetingly.
She declares out loud that she is going to marry Ethan even if he's a thousand years older than her. Time is her enemy.
Maisy doesn't know why this makes Grandpa laugh his warm laugh.