In Which Alvaro Learns Something
The Poké Ball split open along the black seam with a slight cracking noise.
Alvaro blinked. He looked down at the ground, and blinked again. He tried the trees. Nothing. He even glanced up into the air, but all he could see was a distant flock of wild Pidove. “Uh . . .”
“It's empty,” Kathy said in a hushed voice.
Alvaro looked at her blankly. “. . . What?”
“It's an unoccupied Poké Ball,” she clarified. “It's never been used to capture anything. There was no flash of blue light when you pressed the switch.”
“That's bull,” Alvaro grumbled. “She must have given me the wrong one. Right, back to town!” Mumbling curses under his breath, he turned and headed back towards the road. Stupid woman. How did she even get them confused anyway?
“Hey, Al!” Kathy called from behind him. “Look at this!”
He stopped reluctantly, but didn't turn around. “What is it?”
“Something . . . something did come out of the Poké Ball,” she said.
Alvaro frowned. There was an edge of amusement to her voice that he didn't like. It was almost as if she was mocking him. Nevertheless, he turned around and stomped back down to where she was still standing, holding something out towards him.
“It fell out when you started walking,” she said.
As he approached, she tossed it to him. He caught it awkwardly and examined it. It was a tightly folded piece of paper, easily small enough to fit inside the Poké Ball. “She did not,” he whispered as he struggled to unfold it.
It was a yellow Post-It note with two short sentences scrawled on it in his mother's handwriting. Have fun catching your first Pokémon! I'm sure you'll do splendidly!
“That bi tch,” he said flatly, crushing the piece of paper in his shaking fist and dropping it to the ground. “That absolute bitch.”
“Uh . . . Al?” Kathy said hesitantly. “Are you . . . okay?”
“Me?” he spat, rounding on her. “Am I okay? My own mother just pulled a fast one on me for the third fucking time in two days, and you wonder if I'm okay? Blondie, you are really starting to piss me off!”
She raised her left hand sharply, jabbing him in the chest with her index finger. “You listen here!” she said, and there was a fire in her voice that took him by surprise. “You're behaving like a spoiled child over something really inconsequential! Maybe I'd understand your frustration if I actually believed for a moment that you gave a damn. But I'm not buying it, Al! You're just flipping out for the sake of it, and I am not having it!” Stopping, she stepped quickly backwards, her chest rising and falling sharply.
Alvaro blinked. He felt a snarl tug at the corners of his mouth, but he fought to keep it under control. She was right about that, at least. He was too ready to let himself explode. It didn't stop him being pissed off, though.
“You want to think that?” he asked. “Fine. Think what you like. Frankly, I couldn't care less what you think of me. But I've had it with this bullsh it.”
“What's got you so riled up?” she demanded. “For the love of Arceus, Al, I hardly think your mother did it to spite you. Hell, she probably thought it was funny.”
“That's why!” he spat. “Yesterday was an absolute shitstorm of a day, and today isn't shaping up to be much better. Not even twenty-four hours ago, I was living a completely normal life. Then suddenly, Mom just throws one curveball at me after another! I thought I was managing this morning. I thought I could deal with it, because I didn't have to put up with her crap any more. But no, she's still going out of her way to piss me off! How is that funny? How the hell is any of that funny?” Even as he ranted, though, he could feel his anger beginning to evaporate. She was right; it wasn't a huge deal. He'd be damned if he was going to tell her that, though.
“You're right, Al,” she said, and her tone was noticeably softer. “It wasn't funny. But please, just go with it, will you?”
Alvaro sighed heavily and sat down on the grass, tossing the empty Poké Ball from one hand to the other. “Go with it,” he repeated softly. “That's all I've been expected to do recently. Let other people tell you what to do, and just go with it.”
Kathy sat down next to him. She lifted a hand slightly as if to reach out and touch him, but retracted it before speaking. “Sometimes, that's what you have to do, Al. Look, I don't expect you to like this right away. But please, would you just stop overreacting to things?”
He shot her a sideways glare. “Why should you care, anyway? Why do you care about me at all? I haven't made any secret of the fact that I don't want you around. What made you do what you're doing?”
“I was bored,” she said, leaning back and resting her weight on her hands. “You seemed interesting – you still do – so I thought I'd come along for the ride.”
Alvaro swore under his breath, but the faintest trace of a grin was doing its best to yank his mouth out of line. “It seems I'm stuck with a weird one, aren't I?”
“Oh, sure. Like I'm the weird one here,” Kathy said, standing up and dusting off the seat of her pants. She put her hand out to help him up. “Come on, grumpy-trousers.”
He eyed her suspiciously. “Where?”
“We're going to catch you a Pokémon,” she said.
There was a spark in her eyes that Alvaro hadn't seen before, and it made him shiver. He ignored the offered hand, pushing himself to his feet instead. “Fine,” he grunted. “But I still don't like it.”
As she led Al further from the road, Kathy mentally breathed a huge sigh of relief. He's even scarier today than he was yesterday. Standing up to him like that had taken all her courage, and she had the sinking feeling even now that if she stopped walking, her knees would give out.
There was something unsettling about Al's sudden mood swings, and there was a certain part of her mind that was all too ready to categorise him as a potential psychopath. Even so, staying with him was sure to be far more interesting than continuing to travel alone. He was a unique individual; she could tell as much already. Whether his outward demeanour was to be taken at face value, she wasn't sure, but in either case he was sure to attract all sorts of curious adventures.
If she was entirely honest with herself, that wasn't all there was to it. There was something intensely attractive about teaching an inexperienced Trainer the ropes, especially one as self-assured and stubborn as this one. She had always wanted to be a teacher, and although Al wasn't really what she'd had in mind, he was sure to be good practice.
“So,” Kathy said at length, trying to inject as much enthusiasm into her voice as she could. “You've got a Poké Ball there, and I think you should use it to catch your first Pokémon.”
“Fine,” he said curtly.
“Well, we're likely to find a good number of wild Pokémon around here,” she said, coming to a stop and surveying the area critically. She had led him still further away from the road, deeper into the stand of trees. They were in a small clearing surrounded by low, loosely spaced-out trees.
“I don't see any,” Al said, tapping the button on his Poké Ball to expand it to full size and glaring sullenly around at the surrounding foliage.
“You, uh. You have to actually look for them, you know,” Kathy said gently. “Of course, they'll be wary of people, so it could be tricky. On the other hand, though, we're quite close to the town and the road, so they might be more used to people than elsewhere. That should work in our favour.”
“Quite the expert, aren't we?” Al said, raising an eyebrow.
“Compared to you? Yes. I've been doing this for five years,” she reminded him.
“Whatever,” Al said. “Hey, I think I saw one!” Without another word, he slipped into the trees.
Kathy rolled her eyes and followed him.
He was good at moving quietly, she noticed. He passed between the trees with a natural grace, his stance balanced and sharp. Kathy was willing to bet that it had something to do with his apparent skill in the martial arts.
Rather than getting in his way, she opted to fall back a little and watch him. He was stalking something out of her sight, and while she was curious to find out what it was, she didn't want to ruin his game.
Suddenly, Al leapt forward, tackling something in the underbrush. He scuffled with it for a few seconds before getting a solid grip and standing up again, holding his prize at arms' length. It was a small brown Pokémon with large red eyes and a rigid tail, and it was chittering madly at him.
Al took the Pokémon by the scruff of its neck and thrust it in her direction. “Want it?” he asked.
“Me?” Kathy blinked. “Not . . . particularly.”
“Right,” Al said, dropping the Pokémon back to the ground, where it immediately skittered away between the trees. “Let's try that again.”
“Are you okay with letting it go?” Kathy asked, puzzled. “Why didn't you try and catch it?”
“I fu cking hate Patrat,” Al grumbled. “Creepy little buggers. If I really have to do the Pokémon thing, I want to at least start with one that's a little bit cool. Not that bug-eyed little fuck.”
“Er . . . right. But that aside, you know that's not how you're meant to catch Pokémon, right?” she pressed gently.
“Seriously?” he asked, looking genuinely puzzled for a moment before snapping back to his usual suspicious glower. “That's how I usually do it.”
“You've caught Pokémon before? But-”
“I've caught people before. It usually involves sneaking around until you're close enough, then jumping the guy and hitting him until he gives up. I figured it was kind of the same deal with Pokémon. Am I wrong?”
“Um . . . yes,” she said, unable to meet his eyes.
“Right, then,” he said, dusting off his hands before crossing his arms across his chest. “If you're so smart, you show me how to do it.”
“All right, then. I will,” she said. She snatched a Poké Ball from her belt and double-tapped the release switch to enlarge and open it. A familiar crack and flash of blue light heralded the appearance of her Pokémon, a grey-and-black Flying-type with red markings over its eyes.
“A Tranquill,” Al said. “Hardly awe-inspiring.”
“Hey! I'm trying to help you out here. The least you could do is be a little grateful, or at least cooperative.” He'd recognised the Pokémon straight away, she noted quietly. While Tranquill weren't exactly rare, they were hardly a dime a dozen in the Accumula area, unlike the weaker, smaller Pidove.
“I don't have to cooperate with you!” he snapped. “I managed to catch a Pokémon just fine by myself, you know. If I'd wanted to keep it, I could have.”
“You really don't know a thing, do you?” Kathy said, shaking her head in disbelief. “Even if you'd tried to capture that Patrat, it would have broken free of the Poké Ball.”
“Uh . . . they can do that?” Al was looking more and more uncertain. It was as if he had forgotten to glower.
“Yes, they can. Now, listen. Are you going to let me help you without getting snarky at everything I say?”
“No guarantees, but I'll do what I can.”
I guess that's the best I'm going to get , she thought wryly. “All right, Tranquill,” she said. “See if you can find any other Pokémon around here that we haven't scared off already.”
“And no Patrat!” Al added quickly. Tranquill cocked its head questioningly at Kathy.
“Yes, what he said,” she confirmed. With a coo and a flutter of wings, Tranquill was gone, streaking through the trees like a grey bullet.
“So . . . now we wait?” Al asked.
“Yes, we do,” she said. “Tranquill's very useful for hunting out wild Pokémon, but it's been a while since I've had the need to.”
“Whatever,” Al grunted, dropping his bag on the ground and sprawling next to it. “Let me know when something happens.”
“You know, if you think you owe me for the stuff I bought you, you're going to owe me double for this,” she said.
“I know, I know,” he said, closing his eyes as he lay back in the grass.
Kathy smiled. He seemed to have calmed down a little, even if he was still doing his best to be stubborn. Suddenly, she noticed a flash of purple passing behind Al's head. “Hey!” she exclaimed.
Al cracked one eye open. “What?” He sounded vaguely annoyed at being disturbed.
“I . . . I thought I saw a Pokémon behind you.” Kathy squinted into the underbrush where she'd spotted the movement, but it appeared undisturbed.
“I don't see anything,” Al groaned, rolling over onto his stomach and scanning the area. “Stop making things up.”
“Hey, is your bag moving?” Kathy asked with a frown.
“The fu ck are you on about now?” he grumbled. “Bags don't move.”
“Yours is,” Kathy pointed out, indicating the bulky backpack on the ground next to Al, which was indeed wiggling.
“The hell?” he growled, sitting up and snatching it up off the ground. Items flew everywhere from the unsecured top of the bag, and a small Pokémon was visible, frozen in place on the ground with something in its front paws.
It was a small, purple feline with cream-coloured patches on its body and large green eyes with pink markings that stretched up towards its ears. A Purrloin? It was holding a grain bar that it had evidently pilfered from Al's backpack, and it seemed to be in the process of trying to get it out of its wrapper.
“You cheeky little sh it!” Al roared, diving for it. The Purrloin swiftly leapt out of the way, dropping the grain bar in its haste to escape.
Kathy stepped in front of it, hands dropping automatically to her belt. With a trill, her Tranquill swooped out of the trees and blocked the Purrloin off as it changed its tack. The wild Pokémon stopped in its tracks, casting around for a way to escape, but between Al, Kathy and Tranquill, it was all but cornered.
“Right, you little bastard,” Al said, cracking his knuckles and glaring at the feline. “Nobody tries to steal my stuff and gets away with it.”
The Purrloin mewed pitiably as it backed away from him, tail waving cautiously.
“Oh, leave it alone, Al,” Kathy said. “It was probably just hungry.”
Purring appreciatively, the Pokémon padded over to Kathy and bumped its head against her leg.
“Hungry, sure. Doesn't mean it gets to steal my food, though,” Al said, dropping to his hands and knees to make eye contact with the Purrloin.
It stared back at him innocently, and Kathy barely suppressed a smile.
“All right!” Al declared suddenly, sitting back. “I like your guts. Get in the Poké Ball.” He pressed the button on the ball and tossed it at the Pokémon. The sphere split open in midair, and a beam of red light shot out, striking the Purrloin head-on. The Pokemon's body was enveloped in the light, which was quickly sucked inside the Poké Ball.
The ball fell to the ground, wobbling and shaking madly as the indicator light flashed warningly. A couple of seconds later, there was a crack as the two halves split apart, spitting Purrloin back out in a flash of blue light as the Poké Ball flew back to Al's hand.
“Uh . . . huh?” Al said, frowning.
“I thought you were supposed to be smart,” Kathy said, shaking her head. “I told you that you can't just do that.”
“All right, then. Stop being so stuck-up and tell me what I'm supposed to do to make this work!”
“You really want this Pokémon?” Kathy asked.
“Of course I do,” Alvaro said, glaring at the Purrloin, which was still coiling itself around Kathy's legs. “It tried to nick my stuff, so in exchange, I have to catch it. And it's got some serious balls to try and steal from me.”
“It's a girl, you know,” Kathy told him, a disapproving frown on her face.
“Like I care,” Alvaro said. “If you're so smart, then, tell me what I have to do.”
“You seriously don't know how to catch a Pokémon?” she asked, seeming genuinely confused.
“Of course not!” he said. “I never thought I'd ever have to. I never wanted to do this, remember? I actively avoided pretty much anything to do with Pokémon training my whole life.”
“Fine, then,” Kathy said, taking a deep breath. Her voice took on a learned-by-heart tone as she proceeded to explain. “You have to tire your target out by battling it with your other Pokémon. It makes it harder for the Pokémon to break out of the Poké Ball, and it shows it how serious you are as a battler. Pokémon aren't going to go along with just anybody, you know. Some of them might not want to be captured at all, and those you just can't do anything about. Purrloin seems curious at least, though. Otherwise she'd probably have bolted as soon as she realised you were trying to capture her.”
“Thanks for the lecture,” Alvaro said, “but in case you hadn't noticed, uh . . . no Pokémon over here. Unless you want me to punch it myself – which I kinda get the feeling you don't – you're gonna have to think of something else.”
“I'll battle it for you, just this once,” Kathy said with a smile. “Seeing as you haven't got one yourself, that is. But in future, you have to do everything yourself. All right?”
Alvaro sighed. “I'm going to owe you for this as well, aren't I?”
Kathy's grin didn't waver. “Yep.”
“Ugh, fine. But – hey! Put that down, you little creep!” he snapped, noticing that the Purrloin had crept back over to the dropped grain bar and started nibbling at it.
“She's cheeky,” Kathy chuckled. “You sure you want a little kleptomaniac on the team?”
“Damn right I'm sure,” Alvaro said. “Now if you're going to do it, then damn well do it. Tell me when to throw the Poké Ball.”
“Fine then, bossy,” she grumbled, but she made a small gesture with one hand and Tranquill swooped in to land a couple of feet from Purrloin. The wild Pokémon dropped the grain bar instantly, leaping backwards with its hackles raised. It hissed warily as the Flying-type hopped closer to it, head tilted expectantly.
With a yowl, the Purrloin sprang forward, sharp claws springing from its front paws. With blinding speed, it pounced on Tranquill, claws swiping at its opponent's face.
Alvaro winced, glancing at Kathy. She didn't appear concerned at all, however.
“Tranquill, get up in the air.” With a hooting trill, Tranquill hopped backwards and flapped its wings powerfully, taking to the sky and leaving Purrloin to yowl in frustration on the ground. “Razor Wind! Just, uh . . . go easy, all right?”
Trilling happily, Tranquill flapped its wings faster still, hovering on the spot as it sent gusts of air slicing down towards the Purrloin. The feline Pokémon yowled as the force of the wind sent it flying backwards, crashing into a tree.
Alvaro winced. “That looked like it hurt.”
“That should just about do it, actually,” Kathy said. “It's only young, so it's not very strong. You can throw that Poké Ball now.”
Shrugging, Alvaro obeyed, lobbing the sphere in the Purrloin's direction. It sucked the Pokémon inside again and fell to the ground, hidden from view in a tuft of grass. Alvaro hurried over and snatched it up; it was still wobbling in his hand. He stared intently at the flashing sensor on the button, willing it to stay closed.
With a soft, cheery ding, both the shaking and the flashing stopped. He stared at the Poké Ball with mixed emotions. My first Pokémon . . . A part of him was quietly pleased with himself, even though he knew Kathy had done the actual work. Mostly, however, he felt a burning sense of irritation. He'd gone and blown it now. It seemed that he was a Pokémon Trainer, for better or worse – most likely worse.
“This cannot end well,” he said drily, turning to Kathy. He stopped, though, when he saw the self-satisfied look on her face. “What are you grinning at?”
“You owe me big time now,” she said.
Alvaro squeezed his eyes shut and exhaled through his nose. “I know,” he said reluctantly.
“So . . . no more thinking about ditching me now, right?”
He tossed the Poké Ball from hand to hand, thinking. She had him there, unfortunately. No matter how much he wanted to get away from Kathy, he couldn't bring himself to ignore the fact that he did, in fact, owe her 'big time'. “I'll stick with you till Nacrene,” he said at length.
Kathy raised an eyebrow. “I don't think so. Nimbasa.”
“You stay with me till Nimbasa, then you can go your own way if you like. It's a crossroads, so you can go whichever way you want. We'll be going the same way until then anyway, so it makes sense to stick together.”
Alvaro shook his head. “Castelia. I'll go with you until Castelia, and that's where I draw the line. I don't care if we happen to go the same way after that, but I'm not going with you any further.”
“And if you change your mind between here and Castelia, you'll carry on with me?” she asked, a teasing grin slipping onto her face.
Alvaro threw his hands up in exasperation. “Whatever. If I take leave of my senses and decide you're not likely to annoy the fu ck out of me, I'll keep travelling with you. Not that I'm likely to change my opinion.”
“Stranger things have happened,” she said. “So, Al.”
“Stop calling me that.”
“You just caught your first Pokémon,” she continued, ignoring his protest – as he'd known she would. “How do you feel?”
Alvaro raised his eyebrows, but quickly carried out a mental inventory anyway. “Um . . . slightly tired, because normally I sleep for another four hours. Kinda pissed at the world in general, specifically you and Mom – mostly Mom, but you're up there. A little bit hungry, seeing as I only had cornflakes for breakfast. That can wait, though.”
“Are you feeling anything more . . . specific? Something a bit more immediate?” she asked, trying a different tack.
“Yeah,” he admitted. “Yeah, I am.”
“And what might that be?” she asked, a knowing smile on her face.
“My leg itches,” he said, reaching down to scratch it.
“You're unbelievable!” she exclaimed, shaking her head.
“I get that a lot,” he said. “Mostly from Mom, though. You done psychoanalysing me?” The whole amateur psychologist act was getting old already.
“Yeah, I'm done. But seriously, Al! You just caught your first Pokémon ever. That's a big step in the life of a Trainer. Heck, not many people catch their starter Pokémon – they're usually gifts. Don't you feel at least a little proud of yourself?”
“No,” he lied.