First-place winner of the Tall Tales, Fish Stories, and Whoppers One-Shot Contest, the inspiration for this fic came from a simple phone call I received in my SoulSilver version. It made me think about the NPC at the other end of the line, and what started as a one-sided romance evolved into a character gaining proper agency. Many opportunities open up when you realize an entire world exists outside of the player. Enjoy.
Telephone Tales: The Motionless Journey of Youngster Ian
“You know, lately I’ve been wanting to battle you again...”
It’s really hard to ignore the quiver in my voice as I croak these words into the receiver. I just pray you don’t notice it at the other end of the line. I just pray you’re listening. I just pray that I didn’t just go right to voicemail – you’re always so quiet I can never quite tell.
I just pray you’ll actually stop by.
You probably don’t remember me. I like to hope you do, but everyone meets lots of trainers on their journey. There are always so many people to keep track of it’s hardly even worth trying. It’s easier to just identify everyone as a Bug Catcher or a Lass, after all; they all seem the same anyway. I would know – I’ve done it, too.
Me, I guess I was a Youngster when we first met. My name’s Ian. I grew up in Goldenrod City, and it’s still where I spend my time. I used to train with my friends on the southern city outskirts, goofing off, playing around, begging the Day Care Couple (of course we never learned their names) to let us play with the Pokémon staying there. We spent some great weekends and summers just lazing around like that, dreaming of travelling the world and becoming Pokémon Masters like so many other kids in Johto.
I’m the only one who still trains on Route 34. The rest of my friends got tired of trying to train their household pets years ago and forgot their previous goals of becoming master trainers. I’m the only one who’s still there. Ziggy and Ginger grew from a nervous little Diglett and untameable Mankey to confident, formidable creatures. When once we struggled to beat a wild Rattata, now we can take on just about any trainer in our way. Even Officer Keith is impressed.
It’s all because of you.
You couldn’t have started your journey long before that fateful battle. It was around sunset on a spring afternoon, the warmth leaving the air and our shadows becoming long. Mom had already called me to come home on my brand new Pokégear, which I had spent most of the day proudly showing off. It was hard to ignore the signs of a day’s end; my friends were all packing up, Pokémon disappearing in flashes of red light or hopping on shoulders, panting from a long day of play. Sammy’s arms were overflowing with scuffed-up Pokéballs, and he hurried off with the others, his bare knees covered in band-aids again. He threw me one last warning that Keith would think me a hooligan if he saw me hanging around after sundown. I thanked him, but Ginger was still hopping around excitedly after his last win and trying to chase Ziggy’s disappearing form as he popped up from the ground over and over. Still too energized to leave just yet, we lingered.
That’s when I saw you. You seemed exhausted, actually. It only occurred to me later that you had probably been on the road from Azalea Town for at least a day or two, constantly bombarded by bugs in the Ilex Forest and challenged by eager trainers like me on Route 34 without rest. At the time I didn’t think twice; I was always hungry for new challenges and fresh challengers, and that’s all you were. You didn’t shy away or back down from my challenge, your eyes instead glinting with determination. You seemed fearless, resolute, unwavering. Strong. I knew before you even sent out your first Pokémon that you would be tough to beat. That just made me want to try harder.
Your Pokémon were clearly tired, but they bore the same unyielding look you did. I watched them staring intently at Ziggy and Ginger, sizing them up before you gave the first command, each one quiet, confident. It was amazing to see, so much so I could hardly concentrate on the actual battle. I’d never met a trainer like you before.
You were unstoppable. Both Diglett and Mankey fell easily to your team. As they disappeared in flashes of red, I realized that this was the result I had expected. I’d never taken training all that seriously before, never really thought to put any effort real into it. But seeing you, standing tall, your faith entire in your Pokémon, silently cheering them on and wincing at their pain, your bond so incredibly tight, made me want to take it seriously. Your relationship with your Pokémon, your utter confidence and determination, made a lasting impression on this little kid.
“There are better trainers...” was all I could mumble after our battle as the realization hit. While our battle wasn’t especially epic or stunning, I realized that you were an adversary unlike the many I’d faced before. Never before had I met a trainer like you, one with such willpower and determination. I had a distinct feeling that you would move on from the city I called home to do great things, things I couldn’t fathom then, and I saw just what I could be if I made training more than just an after-school activity.
I handed you your winnings, and the only other thing I could think to do was give you my new Pokégear number. Aside from being a means for my mom to nag me, it was also advertised as a way to keep in contact with anyone, anywhere in the region. This would likely be the only means of ensuring I’d see you again someday, and though I didn’t realize it then, that was what I desperately wanted. Still, seeing you weren’t much of a talker, I didn’t have high hopes of making any idle chitchat. As you walked away, I realized I wasn’t sure what I had hoped to accomplish. I would likely never see you again. You had no real reason to return. Why would you ever come back? And if you did, what then?
And that’s when it clicked. Battling. I could apply myself, train Ziggy and Ginger properly the way you trained your Pokémon. Then challenge you to a rematch, to bring you back and show you my skills, which would surely impress you by then.
This seemed the perfect way to play it, I thought, placing your number at the top of my contacts list, and I looked forward to calling you. Not right away – I should give you some space, not look desperate, I reminded myself. But soon enough, I couldn’t help myself.
“Howdy, it’s Ian! How are you?” I’m speaking to you before I even know what I’m doing, because I have no idea what I’m doing, but I can’t stop now that you’ve actually picked up. “Hey, hey, listen up! A few days ago I was trying to catch a wild Drowzee. We went down to the wire, but it ended up getting away! I really should have had a bunch of Pokéballs ready, I know...” You don’t really answer and my mouth is running ahead of my brain and I’m ranting like an idiot and my face is red and I’m off the phone as quickly as I can and resist the urge to smack myself while Ginger plays with my hat and Ziggy stares at me like I’ve lost it. I almost throw my Pokégear to the floor in embarrassment.
After this, as if to cover up my blunder, we begin to commit threefold to our training regimen. Whereas once, Route 34 was just a spot to hang out on weekends, we now spend most days there, before school, after school, on weekends, holidays. I stop spending as much time with my friends, instead becoming closer to my Pokémon in a way I couldn’t be when they were merely pets I was taking out for some fresh air. They become my friends, too, partners who share in victories and defeats, who spend tireless days working and training. We come to understand one another better, not only in how we communicated, but how our actions and emotions sync up. Our ups and downs are now the same, and I know when they can keep trying and when it’s time to stop, even when they’re resistant. They’re caught up in the same drive that fuels me.
Finally, I make the call, I send the invitation in that quivering voice. I hope you’ll show. Hope against all hope that you haven’t forgotten about me, though you probably have. I wait. We train. The Diglett and Mankey know we’re waiting for something important, and it’s hard to stay determined. This time, they’re the ones taking care of me, keeping me focused. But you still linger at the back of my mind, and I burn with the desire to...what? Impress you? Amaze you? Defeat you? I don’t know. Ziggy stares at me pointedly and Ginger has my hat in his paws. He holds it out to me. Yes, eyes on the prize.
We keep training. I don’t want to say it out loud, but I’m losing hope. Every day I return home without seeing you feels like a day lost. All I can do is pray that maybe you’ll show up tomorrow. As the days pass, I distract myself by channeling that hope into our training. My Pokémon feel it, too, and the tension is rising each day. But the days still inch by, and Route 34 remains as uneventful as ever. We wait, we train, we wait.
My heart jumps into my throat that day I finally spot you coming down the road, somehow striking an impressive figure in the afternoon light, even though you’re not much bigger than me. I’d almost forgotten, it feels as if I’ve called you so long ago. But we’re ready. We’ve been ready for a long time.
“I’ve been waiting!” is all I say before we begin. I can’t think of anything else. I grin.
We lose. I realize I’m not surprised, but I am disappointed. We couldn’t take out a single one of your Pokémon. We’ve improved, but so have you. You’re still leagues ahead.
I decide to try to distinguish myself the best I can, make myself stand out from all your other battles, all the other wins you’ve surely earned, so I give you a berry along with the prize money. It’s just a Persim Berry that grows in our backyard at home, but as I think about it, I like to imagine that maybe it will turn the tide in a battle for you someday. Maybe it will make you think of me when you use it. I watch you go without a word, and hope you’ll come back again. Maybe when I call you next, you’ll remember that determined Youngster, and think to return.
I get bold. I call you, resisting the urge to hang up and flee. We wait, we train. We wait some more. We wait until we’re ready to give up. But you do eventually come. Adrenaline spikes. We battle. We don’t win. You say nothing. I give you a berry. You leave.
I call again.
Soon, it comes to feel like a game. I realized that you do come back, sometimes. I never know when, so we make sure to train near constantly, just in case you happen to stop by that day. We don’t leave unless we have to – I can’t afford to miss you. I can’t bear to think of you arriving at our meeting place with nobody to face, and perhaps think I’ve stopped caring. I can’t afford that.
You do go on to do amazing things, just as I had somehow expected. I hear about you on the radio. Your win at the Pokéathalon. You and the Elite Four Champion, together at the Lake of Rage. And when Goldenrod is under lockdown, who flies in, but you? Who chases out Team Rocket with hardly a thanks, but you? When I tell everyone at school that I have personally battled our city’s hero, nobody believes that my obsession with training has allowed me to meet a real celebrity. But that’s okay. As long as you’ll battle me again, I don’t really care.
And we do battle again. And again.
Our battles are still glaringly predictable; I come in energized, Ziggy and Ginger tensed and eager, but we fall quickly. I should realize this, see the pattern by now. But I can’t stop. The desire to see you again and show you how much better we’ve become keeps me going. Knowing you might be on your way fuels all of us. The mere thought of you being around the corner gives us that extra push when we’re tired and sore and ready to stop training altogether. Our battles always feel so short in comparison to the long expanses of time between your visits, but your appearances are the high points that make the wait worth it. We try our hardest, and then we wait again, the cycle repeating over and over. We soon discover there is something exciting even in the act of waiting, knowing you might be on your way that very moment.
I wear the Plain Badge we achieved on my shirt to remind us of what we can do. My old friends at school stare at it enviously, can’t believe I earned it. Sammy gets jealous when DJ Mary interviews me on-air about my conquest of the Gym, as if it’s some great accomplishment. But Whitney isn’t our greatest adversary by now, not the one we are trying to impress.
It happens. You’re back for the umpteenth time, we’re in the thick of the battle. Only this time, we’ve finally taken out all but one of your Pokémon, who is low on health and disoriented from confusion. Ziggy’s also suffering, struggling past his own exhaustion, but he knows one more clear hit and we’ll win.
That’s when you do it. Before I call out the final command, you pull out one of my Persim Berries, and all I can do is stare at that tiny little fruit before your Pokémon consumes it. With one last attack, it’s over. I’m returning an unconscious Ziggy to his Pokéball, shaking my head. We were close. So intensely close.
But as you approach me to shake my hand, I realize I’m okay with this. We just about reached our goal of defeating the greatest trainer we’ve ever known. And, almost ironically, we know you might not have been able to win without that berry. It feels like I’ve somehow helped you, like we did something, even if we didn’t create a lasting impression like the one you made on me. Maybe I’m still just Youngster Ian to you. Or maybe not. I don’t press you for answers.
You smile. I grin ruefully back.
We nearly reached our goal, but I realize that it wasn’t so huge of a goal. You’re not immortal or unbeatable – maybe nobody is. Everyone is only as good as how hard they work, how much they’re driven. You just need the right push.
I decide to set a new goal. I’m not sure what, yet. But I have a distinct, positive feeling, as Nurse Joy returns my grinning Pokémon, that it could be anything. Yep, anything. And we can probably do it.
“There are better trainers.” And I’m going to find them.
As mentioned, this was inspired by a phone call I received from Youngster Ian on my SoulSilver game when, for some reason, I got the impression from his brief dialogue that he really liked my protagonist, maybe even has a crush on her. I wanted to tackle what it's like being a stationary trainer interacting with the player character, and also the kind of development NPCs go through between your first battle with them and later rematches. Plus I see so few fics take advantage of the Pokégear’s many uses. Ian’s dialogue and Pokémon are the exact same as they are in-game - big thanks to bobandbill for helping me with that.
When I started writing this, I imagined a one-sided love story, but it became more than that, and the romance was essentially dropped. I had no idea how the story would end until I got to the ending and realized that the turning point was Ian realizing he could do anything. His new goal doesn’t necessarily have to be related to training, it just seemed like a good goal to start with (and it made for a good final line).
The player character’s gender is never specified for a more inclusive reading. Ian can be heterosexual, heterosocial, homosexual, homosocial, bisexual, asexual, whatever, depending on your reading. The point is that Ian is speaking to you both as the reader and the player, and no matter your gender, you inspired him.
Thanks for reading, and please let me know what you think – this is literally the first fic I’ve finished in years. XD