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Author's Note: I think I killed myself trying to write this.
Hilariously enough, this all is a one-shot (and a response to a 50 Passages prompt once again). It, however, ended up being split into two parts because I hit the character limit. (50k characters in the fanfiction section? WTF?) Hence this long and unnecessary author's note to make me feel as if I'm justified in splitting this in half.
As a warning, I'll admit I might've rushed the ending (given how close I am to the deadline), and there are parts that feel as if I was high while writing it. I almost feel like adding more ficlets to this world because I tried to leave something fairly ambiguous and open to future rapings with fic, not to mention there's entirely too little decent Bill fic in this fandom anyway. Of course, mine isn't much better, but I try.
In any case, feel free to say something feels WTFy about the plot. I probably deserve it.
Now that I've probably evened out the number of characters in both halves of the fic, on with the story.
Come. Please come. Protect this.
Bill wasn't sure where he heard the actual voice or if he actually did. It might have been a figment of his imagination. Nonetheless, he followed it that morning, deep into the forest near his home, far from the golden beaches and the crashing waves of the ocean. He heard a song, something beautiful, like a woman singing, but the voice felt lighter than anything he had ever heard. Almost perfect. It was something terrifyingly powerful and holy.
He lost track of time and wandered far from the worn paths that wound through the forest. The trees and brush grew thicker where he was going, until the leaf-clad arms above him crossed one another to plunge the forest into brown shadow. Patches of light moved beneath where the leaves parted in the wind, and both swayed gently over the forest floor.
By then, he began to realize the forest was quiet. In fact, it was silent, except for that song. Part of him wanted to hesitate, to turn and run the other way before the song finished. He knew what it was. Goldenrod City was no great distance from Ilex Forest, where they say the legend began, and even then, all of Johto knew better than to let a story die as if it was just a fairy tale. Stories never liked to be forgotten. The burned tower of Ecruteak and the sunken ships around Cianwood were testament enough to the power a story had when it felt neglected. Even though he knew more respectable researchers classified the Voice of the Forest as only a myth, in his heart, he knew he could never deny the existence of the forest god, if only because he knew how vengeful and powerful a Johto god could be. Besides, he always felt he'd know the Voice when he heard it, and he was hearing it right then.
And worse off, he was obeying it. Try as he might, something kept him going. He knew that, according to the stories, whoever stayed to hear the end of the forest's song would disappear forever, but something kept him running towards it. Low branches scratched and tore at him with their thorns and twigs, as if they were reaching out to stop him, and his mind screamed for him to turn the other way. Yet, his body rebelled. He was called, and he had no choice but to answer.
With a sharp gasp, he felt the forest floor abruptly end beneath his foot. Before he could stop himself, he lurched forward and fell to the earth hard before tumbling down a sharp slope and coming to a rest on his side at the foot of a large oak tree. Closing his eyes, he winced as pain laced through his body. Nothing felt broken or twisted, luckily for him, but it still took a moment for him to recover from the shock of the fall. Rolling over, he lay on his stomach on the bed of dirt and wet, dead leaves. He inhaled, taking in the musty aroma of the earth and trees before the pain finally faded into a dull throb in his left arm.
Something green filtered through his eyelids. Slowly opening an eye, Bill found himself staring straight ahead at the base of a tree stump. The green glow came from something hovering over it, something that was watching him intently. Immediately, Bill opened both eyes and lifted himself slightly. Before he had enough time to recognize the creature, it placed an egg on the stump, perfectly in the center of a throne of splinters left by the fallen tree. Then, it lifted its blue eyes to stare into Bill's, and it sent his instructions.
This time, there were no words. No words entered his mind suddenly, as if on the edge of a dream. No words were spoken. Bill simply understood, and the creature knew this. Before waiting for an acknowledgement, it turned and flew past the trees.
He rested for a bit to let the shock of the moment subside. Swallowing hard, Bill curled his legs underneath him and forced himself to kneel beside the stump. For once, no questions entered his mind. It simply was an event that happened. He had his orders, and he was to fulfill them. There was to be no questioning it.
Carefully, he reached out and touched the egg. Pulling it into his lap, his hands ran over its smooth, green shell. It, in every way, resembled most other pokémon eggs he had seen, but on the other hand, he wouldn't have been given it by the Voice of the Forest if it wasn't something special.
Underneath his hands, something moved, as if to acknowledge his presence. It was close to hatching. Closing his eyes briefly, he nodded. He knew how close to hatching it was not only by the way it felt, as if the creature inside was trying to push through the shell to get to him, but also because that was what his orders had told him. He was to keep it safe until then.
Safe from what?
Behind him, a twig snapped. Drawing in a breath, he stood and turned as he shielded the egg with his arms. Stepping back, he kept an eye on the patch of underbrush straight ahead of him until he caught sight of a hulking man in black emerge through the trees. The darkness obscured most of the figure, but Bill caught sight of something red on the other man's chest and had a feeling, judging by the red letter and the lack of a backpack most trainers carried with them on excursions through the forest, that this would not end well.
The man, meanwhile, had caught sight of Bill, if only because Bill's brightly-colored clothing hardly served as camouflage in his brown and green world.
"Hey!" the man said, raising an arm in a sweeping gesture (as if a wilder gesture meant Bill would notice him more). "Hey you! You see a little green fairy fly through here?"
And then, without thinking, Bill turned and ran.
Behind him, the man continued shouting. "Hey! Hey! Come back here! I'm talking to you!"
As he careened through the underbrush, dodging trees left and right, Bill listened to the voice fade slightly. Part of him felt relieved, and paying attention mostly to this part, he slowed slightly in his mad dash through the forest.
Then, he heard a howl. It was a long, piercing howl that rose through the trees, eventually joined by three others. Bill stopped in his tracks, suddenly shivering at the sound as his entire body suddenly felt cold. He knew this sound. It was another sensation that was introduced to him by his homeland, something that didn't exist in Kanto forests except the ones around Celadon City. In his mind, he imagined the black dogs, raising their brown muzzles to the sky and curling their wet lips around glistening, white teeth. He envisioned their sleek, black bodies racing through the forest in a pack, just as they did in the wild.
In Johto, people told their children and grandchildren about packs of houndoom like that, lurking through the forest to devour lost and unfortunate travelers. Several at once would leap upon the victim and consume him whole, bones and all. They were the Big Bad Wolves of a Johto fairytale.
Remembering this story as well, Bill launched into another run, his heart beating at his ribcage as he frantically searched for a place to hide. The cold of the morning soon faded into the mild warmth of the afternoon, but Bill didn't dare stop. He no longer heard the barks of the dogs behind him, but he still fled like a terrified rabbit through the underbrush. Pains of physical exhaustion and hunger began to creep at his legs and stomach. He ignored both as best as he could until his legs began to stumble across the brush and carry him sluggishly. Several times, he tripped, twisting his body with a sharp gasp so as not to land on the egg. After the fifth time this happened, he remained on his back. His dark eyes stared towards the green canopy for a long moment as he listened to the wind and the barks in the distance. The egg sat on his chest, still and quiet as he composed himself. His breath felt like knives going down his throat as his lungs heaved for air.
Eventually, when his heart and his lungs calmed, he sat up and undid the buttons of his jacket. Carefully, he slipped his arms from the satin-lined sleeves and pulled the velvet material around the egg. He felt a beat under the shell, as if the egg responded in gratitude. A small smile cracked across his lips, just before he tore his eyes away from his charge and towards his surroundings.
The forest floor rose in a ridge nearby, but otherwise, it was flat in all directions as far as he could see. Trees rose from between tangles of thorns and bushes to stand only a few feet apart from one another. Dead leaves blanketed the rest of the floor, where the shrubs and thorns and tiny forest plants left patches of earth otherwise unoccupied.
Nearby, a large cluster of tall bushes filled the spaces between trees. Their leaves served as a green wall, obscuring anything that might have been behind it. Taking a deep breath, Bill stood and walked to the wall of leaves. He reached his arm between two of the bushes to feel for anything on the other side. Slowly, his arm eased through the mass of twigs and to the other side, where his fingers wiggled in thin air. Biting his lip, he pushed the rest of his body (with his other arm still tightly around the egg) between the bushes. The twigs snagged at his clothing and dark hair and scratched his face, but he needed the cover.
It took a moment of struggling with the twigs of the bushes before he finally stumbled beyond its reach and into the small clearing. There, he stood beside a flat-topped rock covered with a blanket of green moss in the center of a circle formed by the brush around him. Overhead, the lowest tree branches crossed, creating a low ceiling for the tiny nook. It was, he thought, enough.
He sat on the rock with the egg placed in his lap. Carefully, he unwrapped it partway to examine it. No cracks appeared on its surface yet, and with a slight frown at this sight, Bill wrapped the egg again and held it as he stared upwards towards the branches.
The forest was quiet at that point, save for another chorus of houndoom howls somewhere in the distance and the chirping of pidgey in the canopy. Bill couldn't tell if the man was still following him, but weary as he was, he knew better than to risk it.
"I think," he murmured (although to himself or to the egg, he wasn't entirely sure), "we had better not move from this spot until it has gotten quite dark."
And although he wanted to stay awake long enough to contemplate his situation, within moments, his eyes eased shut, and exhaustion took over.
The first dream came in fragments. He couldn't remember so many details that far back, but he remembered scattered bits, colors, puzzles, rooms with white walls plastered with diagrams and posters.
Psychologists' offices, he decided, smelled like hospitals, and hospitals smelled like sterility and cold, if either one of them was a smell. He didn't like it.
He remembered it was the school's recommendation – actually, insistence – that he'd be sent there just months after he entered kindergarten. The teachers thought he was mentally diseased or disabled, what with the way he interacted with the other children, keeping away from them unless they approached him first. And even then, a certain incident involving a girl and chicken soup wasn't about to be forgotten, either.
There were tests. He remembered each of them, and he remembered the people who gave him them talking about him behind his back – literally. In the meantime, he played with the colored, wooden blocks they had given him. As he worked, they sat to watch him and the silver watches in their hands as he, in a plastic, orange chair, put it together easily. They scribbled notes across papers on clipboards and gave him another one and another one.
Eventually, they lost interest in watching him play – or at least, he thought so at the time – and called in his mother. She was a willowy creature back then, with jet-black hair, eyes that were dark and stern, and skin that was smooth and smelled like jasmine. Her voice was quiet back then too, soft and melodic like the shy foreigner she was. At the lead psychologist's (the one, Bill remembered, who was bald and blue-eyed and explained things as if he was writing a textbook) invitation, his mother sat down in one of the chairs behind her son. He, meanwhile, had given up the puzzle for a pencil and a piece of paper on which he was meant to work out the problems the psychologists had given him, should he need it (which he often didn't).
For every journey from point A to point B, one has to pass through a point C halfway between them…
The psychologist, meanwhile, sat across from his mother, and he spoke to her in a hushed whisper.
"Your son is quite remarkable," he said.
"You say that after every test," she replied. "How many more do you want to perform? I really don't like the idea of—"
"I understand that it's difficult for you to set aside time to take him here, but I assure you, it's well worth it. His IQ exceeds anything we've recorded at this particular institution, and we would like to know if we could spend a bit more time with him."
His mother let barely a beat of silence lapse between them before responding. "Absolutely not."
Here, there was a hole in the memory. His dreams tried to replace it with something irrelevant and incomprehensible.
And from point A to point C, the line must pass through point D halfway between them.
"These are your options," the psychologist said. "I highly suggest you consider them carefully. There's an excellent school in the city that can nurture his intelligence properly."
"How much would it cost?" his mother asked.
"Money shouldn't be an issue, Mrs. McKenzie. If he doesn't get the attention he needs from an early age, his gifts may go undeveloped, and his potential could be wasted. If you need financial aid, he can earn a scholarship to this or any of the other schools we recommend simply by taking the entrance exams."
"How much are those?"
"Are you so concerned about money that you would be willing to sacrifice William's future for it?"
There was a pause.
And from point A to point D, the line must pass through point E halfway between them.
His mother's voice dropped in volume, and any sweetness it had instantly vanished.
"I have three children to raise by myself, sir. Ignoring two of them for only one is not an option."
Another lapse in his memory occurred, although Bill was certain this one was because he simply didn't pay attention, rather than because the years had faded the image. All he could remember is that things escalated. His mother's voice climbed in volume, and the psychologist pressed further, like a car salesman trying to convince a customer to buy a car she couldn't afford. Bill didn't like it when his mother's voice rose like that. She spoke to his father that way.
Attempting to ignore her, he continued to work with the pencil, drawing dots and lines across it.
If the line continues to pass through halfway points, then that would mean that the journey from point A to point B is infinitely long because it contains an infinite number of halfway points.
"Your son has amazing potential, Mrs. McKenzie. What will you do with him if you won't send him to these schools?"
"Continue sending him to public schools, of course."
"You realize, Mrs. McKenzie, that public schools may be a little slow-paced for William, correct?"
"They can place him in the appropriate grade if he needs something fast-paced."
"A child like him wouldn't be able to cope with the age difference. He's exhibited acute emotional sensitivity compared to other boys his age, and studies show that children in older age ranges do have the tendency to be less than fully acceptive towards an individual who displays such uniqueness as being a six or seven-year-old in the fifth or sixth grade. I don't believe William would be able to handle it."
"Then I can home-school him before I go to work every night."
"Mrs. McKenzie, at the risk of sounding a bit forward, you're proposing to severely hinder William's intellectual growth. Is this really what you want?"
She paused for only a beat.
Because the journey from point A to point B is infinitely long because it contains an infinite number of halfway points, then by definition, one would never reach point B.
Then, Bill heard her sigh.
"Sir, I never mean to hinder any of my children, but yes. This is the best I can give him. I know what you think, but I don't think you understand our financial situation. I will not lie to you. We can barely afford this."
But, Bill thought, that can't be right. It doesn't make sense.
"Mrs. McKenzie," the psychologist began.
She shook her head. "This is enough. It should be our decision what to do with him, regardless of what you think. If we have no money for that kind of education, you have no right to push us. If William has the potential you say he has, then he can figure out for himself what he needs to do with it and what we can give him."
Underneath the string of spots, Bill drew a long line with one spot on one end and another on the other. That made sense. But that wasn't what the paradox meant.
He awoke with a slight jolt. His body felt heavy and cold, and the egg remained on his lap. It twitched slightly, but he barely took notice of it. Instead, he glanced towards the afternoon sky. The blue between the branches had faded to gray.
Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath.
Eventually, he drifted into sleep again.
Bill dreamt about the day he decided he would become a researcher.
He remembered hating being a trainer. It was an excuse, a loophole that let him escape school. His mother was right. She couldn't juggle teaching him and working a full-time job, much less multiple. So, after consulting with the school board, he was placed in a higher grade, where the children coming back from their failed pokémon journeys occupied the rest of the classroom and did their best to pretend he wasn't there and where the teachers felt awkward and caught themselves trying to simplify things because they realized they were teaching a six-year-old.
He cut them breaks by finding every way possible to skip classes. Not every one, of course, but many of them without going over the limit that would have, with no questions asked, held him back a grade and made the road to graduation even longer than he would have liked. His mother and the principal caught on eventually. The latter put up with it only because he never had enough evidence to prove that Bill was doing anything wrong. After all, the child was sickly, but the principal never imagined that it was, in many cases, self-inflicted thanks to a glass of milk and a dangerous sense of ingenuity.
His mother, on the other hand, eventually figured out all his tricks, and before long, the only one Bill had left was obtaining a trainer's license and leaving the city. Trainers were exempt from school (aside from loosely structured online courses) until they willingly returned, completed enough credits to receive a degree, or otherwise lost their licenses. It was, in Bill's eyes at that time, both an easy and legal solution. Naturally, he took it.
In actuality, he had no interest in pokémon, even going as far as disliking a number of them. Pokémon were his father's thing, and if there was one thing Bill never wanted, it was to become his father. He was the shadow of his childhood: the rarely seen figure that nonetheless dominated the household with his dizzying charisma and debts, the deadbeat his mother still loved, the one who cared more about pokémon and games than his own family, and the one everyone said Bill was exactly like. Always.
Yet, no matter how much Bill resisted that world, it was right there in his blood. He tried to convince himself that he was just collecting – a harmless hobby born from a necessity to have a set of anything, an almost obsessive-compulsive tendency. Yet, no matter how often he said that to himself, something inside him nagged at him and tugged him towards that world. Weeks as a trainer became months, and even though Bill thought it was because he wanted more time to enjoy his freedom, he knew there was something else there.
He remembered waking up very early that morning. The world was still gray with the first light before dawn and green with the dew-drenched underbrush of the forest clearing. It had a scent, too – a cold and wet scent laced with something spicy and bittersweet, like cinnamon. Turning his head, he glanced towards his partner, the ivysaur that had grown from the bulbasaur his mother had given him for his tenth birthday. The thing had crawled while he was asleep to the far edge of the clearing where the most light fell through the branches of the trees, and there she lay with her eyes tightly closed and a growl rumbling from her throat.
Bill sat bolt upright.
"Ivysaur?" he whispered.
The grass-type ignored him. Instead, she sat and breathed calmly as the pink flower on her back quivered.
Bill never forgot what it was like watching a venusaur bloom. One by one, each petal gradually parted from the hard center and fell to the side softly, like feathers drifting in the wind. As the sun rose, painting the clearing in a soft pink and then a pale yellow, the grass-type sat, almost oblivious to the flower as it slowly opened on her back.
Sometime in the middle, Bill felt his heart stop. He could feel it fluttering against his chest, as if it was trying to beat but couldn't for fear of disrupting this moment. His throat hurt, and after a moment, he realized it was because he wasn't breathing. It was almost as if he couldn't, as if he suddenly felt inadequate and unworthy to be watching his pokémon evolve. Even remembering it, he lacked the words to describe it. It was beauty in itself, something nature considered mundane but the human mind couldn't fully comprehend. It simply was.
When Bill could finally catch his breath, he searched for words that best suited the situation. He could only find three.
"Oh my God."
When he awoke, he was barely aware of the fact that he muttered those words almost involuntarily.
Straightening his perch on the rock, Bill looked to the sky. It had turned darker and colder since he last fell asleep. Soon, he felt it would be safe enough to leave his hiding place and venture back through the forest, northward to the Sea Cottage.
As the last wisps of his dream faded, he began to realize how odd certain things seemed to him. For one, his dreams very rarely came so comprehensibly. Usually, he dreamt of odd little scenes filled with images that barely matched reality – things he didn't care to mention, like mushrooms with wings and meowth with no faces. On the other hand, he passed his sudden, vivid dreaming off as mostly stress-related.
And the others? Why did he follow the Voice? Why did he take the egg? Why did he run?
All three questions played across his mind, one after another. Didn't it call him early that morning, the moment he awoke just before dawn? If that was the case, then why him, of all people? He was, by no means, a strong guardian. Even in his younger years, when he'd been a trainer, he often failed on the battlefield. It was only by a miracle and his own pokémon's ability to think for themselves that any of them managed to win, let alone evolve. He couldn't possibly direct one of them to defend himself, and though they would know what to do if he needed their protection, the fact that he was hardly a valiant warrior meant that there were stronger trainers in the forest that the Voice could have called, especially if it knew that the only one he had with him right then was Venusaur, who couldn't possibly stand her own against a pack of houndoom.
But then, why did he run? Wouldn't it have made more sense for him to simply respond, to point in the other direction and lead the man away from the Voice? The egg appeared to be nothing special, so it couldn't possibly have made much of a difference.
On the other hand, he thought as he ran a hand over the smooth shell, this is my duty, isn't it?
That was right. It was his duty to protect a pokémon. He was asked, called specifically by the Voice for this one purpose. Running was his part. Running from anything that might have posed a threat to the egg, the way his instructions had told him. If he couldn't fight, then he would run, and either way, the egg would be protected to the best of his ability. After all, that's what a researcher did. The job, as he reminded himself right then, wasn't just a matter of discovery, of uncovering the past and present and unlocking the secrets of the world. It was a matter of dedication. Most individuals that claimed that pokémon was a large part of their profession – trainers, breeders, coordinators, watchers, researchers – had an obligation to protect them from those who saw pokémon as tools for their profession. There was to be no question about it. It was a fact, and Bill accepted it was what he was.
"Why do you want to go to this college?"
It was the third time someone had asked him that question. Since the day his ivysaur evolved, Bill had been working himself to the point of exhaustion – and slightly beyond it – to find a college that he could afford (or otherwise figure out how to afford college), much less one that would accept him. Many of them rejected him, sending him polite but vague, one-page letters in neat type explaining in as eloquent words as possible that the admissions office felt older and harder working students were more deserving of a place at their institution than an eleven-year-old who, regardless of test scores, had little in the way of his instructors' recommendations. He'd already damned himself with his hatred for the educational system, and it was coming back to bite him with a sharpedo's jaws.
The few that listed their acceptance as pending, however, asked him for an interview. In his first, the interviewer stopped halfway and politely told him that the college would get back to him. He expected a small letter of rejection and in fact received one less than a month later. The second listened to what he had to say, taking careful notes the way he'd seen psychologists record his every movement when he had his IQ tested. Every word he said, every gesture he made, was most likely scrawled across the woman's pad in messy, black ink. That made him slightly nervous, and because of that, at the end of the interview, she politely told him the college would get back to him. He received that rejection letter shortly before the one from the first college arrived.
By the time he stood in front of the city library for the third, he felt a little indifferent about the process. Nonetheless, with a deep breath, he decided to get it over with anyway.
The third interviewer was an older man, possibly ten or so years older than his father. Bill felt slightly intimidated by the intense look in the man's black eyes, though the smile above the square jaw reminded him of someone's grandfather. More than that, Bill couldn't help but feel as if he'd seen the man before, but like many other moments of recognition in his life, he couldn't quite place where.
They sat in a room normally used for the classes the library offered now and then, at a small table in the corner, by a window. The man took the chair against the wall, leaving Bill the open room at his back. Every so often, Bill would glance out the window, towards the sunny day and blue skies, as if they would somehow comfort him.
In reality, they didn't.
Taking a deep breath, Bill finally answered, but his voice came polite and stiffly, as if he was reading his response from a textbook. "I'd heard about Celadon University's reputation as one of the finest schools in Kanto. It's one of the few schools that offer a program for pokémology, and its professors—"
The older man shook his head, and immediately, Bill stopped. He could feel his heart go cold. His hands clenched into fists resting on his knees as he watched his opportunity slowly slip away from him. Seemingly ignorant of the child's desperation, the representative rested his elbows on the table and laced his fingers together in front of his mouth.
"Let me rephrase the question," he said. "Why do you want to be a pokémon researcher?"
Startled by the question, Bill answered, stammering his story at first. Then, as he recalled the evolution of his partner, a note of confidence entered his voice, and a small smile spread across his face as he told his story with as many details as possible. When he was finished, he stared at his elder for a long while. The latter sat in silence, listening to each detail as he closed his eyes. When he no longer heard the applicant's voice, he took a deep breath.
"Is that all?" He must have sensed that there was something else there. His voice carried a note of curiosity, not one of boredom.
Bill straightened. "I… I… Well, y-yes. That's all."
The man separated his hands and lay them flat on the table. His dark eyes opened, fixing themselves on Bill with an intense gaze. Bill shifted uncomfortably, feeling the weight of the stare on his entire body.
"Don't get me wrong, William," the man said (using his formal name because Bill still wasn't Bill back then). "It's all incredibly interesting, but you just didn't quite answer my question."
Bill blinked. "What do you mean? What else do you want to know?"
With a sigh, the man said, "You say that the evolution of your ivysaur was what sparked your interest in pokémon, but being a researcher is a full-time job. It's hard work, and it consumes your life. An interest in pokémon is fine, but you need to be absolutely sure you want to dedicate your life to it. You're young. You have a lot of opportunities ahead of you and a lot of life to see. Once you become a researcher, you might live only for your work and for pokémon, so you'll pass up many of the experiences you may have between now and your twenties. Are you sure that's what you want?"
It wasn't the first time he'd heard that too. Bill bit his lip, not so much in thought about the answer but instead about the other times he'd been asked, "Are you sure that's what you want?" The first interviewer had asked him, stating that the field wouldn't take him seriously because he was so young, so he would be turned down no matter what he did and besides, didn't he want to wait a few years and enjoy being a teenager before giving up everything for college and a career? The second interviewer had asked him, telling him that the field of pokémology is dangerous and citing the statistics of novice researchers who died in the field because of one mishap or another. His mother had asked him when he declared what he wanted. She had told him about his father, about how he couldn't handle it and turned to gambling because he was suffocating in his work.
But he had something his father never could have. Although he never compared himself to his father, he knew there was something in his heart no one else could feel. Something so powerful it threatened to consume him like a blaze and leave him as empty as a gutted building if he didn't do something about it.
"Yes," he said firmly. "It's what I want. You heard my story, but that doesn't do any justice whatsoever to what I felt then and what I feel now. Pokémon is the first thing I've felt this much emotion towards. Every day, I wake up, and I can only think about them and all the things I don't know about them. Each minute, I'm thinking about them. I know it sounds like I may be crazy, but whenever I think about pokémon – Venusaur's evolution especially – I feel this strong sense of wonder."
"And you want to become a pokémon researcher because of this?"
Bill nodded slowly. "I need to do this. It's the only thing I've ever felt was absolutely necessary."
Taking this in, the man leaned back. His head bobbed in a nod, and already, he was forming a decision.
"That's all I needed to know," he said.
What Samuel Oak didn't say, however, was that that was the first time in a long while that an applicant actually impressed him.
The sky was dark. Bill couldn't figure out what time it was, but he knew it was getting late and cold. He could feel the cold, early-autumn air pass easily through his thin, cotton shirt, and he shivered as he curled himself around the egg. The egg moved in response, beneath his velvet coat and the warmth of his body. Bill knew it wouldn't be enough. Not until he could get back to his home.
He bit his lip hard in order to focus on that pain enough to stop shivering as he stood. The last thing he needed was to drop the egg through trembling arms. Exhaling, he noticed that his breath came in a curling puff of moist air as another shiver wracked his thin body. Taking another deep breath, he pushed back through the bushes and to the open forest. Glancing around the forest, he realized he couldn't see much of anything except the silhouettes of trees all around him.
That is, until he heard a twig snap and a low growl.
Turning slowly, he saw one shadow move, just before it split into five: one taller and four shorter.
"Hey," the tallest shadow said in its gruff voice. "You're the guy from earlier, right? It took a long time for my pokémon to track you. Why don't you let me see what you have in your arms there? I promise I won't hurt you."
Bill glanced from the taller shadows to the four smaller ones that were advancing towards him. He took a step back as his eyes widened in fear.
The larger shadow extended a hand. "Come on. Let me see it."
With a sharp shake of his head, Bill turned and ran. He couldn't give up the egg. He couldn't let the man see it. It was his to protect. Those were his instructions. He was to let no one else touch it until it hatched.
Behind him, the dogs howled, sending another shiver down Bill's spine. The researcher stumbled slightly, nearly pitching forward if he hadn't slammed his other foot down painfully for balance. After a few moments, the howls transitioned into barks that refused to fade into the distance. They were faster runners than their master, and although the rabbit had a head-start, they could match his speed.
Bill didn't look back, but he could feel an intense heat suddenly flare as one of the houndoom attacked. An orange glow danced across the forest as Bill tried to weave in and out of the trees to avoid being struck from behind by the flames. He couldn't risk looking back, not with the trees as dense as they were in that part of the forest.
So, when the forest lit on fire, he couldn't see the first tree being consumed in a blaze. Instead, he heard the crack of the bark burning and smelled the sweet aroma of a maple whose skin and leaves were turning to black ash. He could swear he heard the loud curse of the man pursuing him, but the dogs didn't seem to care. If anything, he heard their excited barks grow louder and more agitated by the warmth of the flame as it arced from tree to tree alongside them, engulfing another maple near the first, then an ash, then a birch. Each of them had pale trunks and branches that immediately turned dark brown and then black under the red and yellow of the flames that quickly consumed them. Another dog opened his muzzle to release another stream of flames to send a poplar tree up in smoke. They weren't even aiming for Bill anymore.
On the back of his neck, Bill felt the blaze. His eyes already began to water from the intense heat, and his skin began to feel raw from a growing burn. Thick, gray smoke quickly filled the forest and clouded his vision. He felt his nostrils and throat burn with each breath he took, and though he knew he'd soon choke on the black cloud surrounding him, he couldn't duck for fear of crushing or dropping the egg as he ran.
The ground suddenly gave out beneath him again. He gasped sharply as he stumbled for a stable footing on at least a slope, but for five feet, there was nothing but air beneath him. In seconds, he landed hard on his feet, and as a result, his left ankle protested and sent a sharp jolt of pain up his leg. With a sharp cry, he felt his legs buckle beneath him. Before he could catch himself, his body crumpled at the foot of the cliff.
Looking up, he saw the sky turn dark gray as smoke began to obscure the dark clouds farther above the forest. Orange light danced across the churning smoke; the fire had reached the edge of the cliff and was beginning to reach towards the trees on the other side. Four shadows leapt across the glowing sky and landed a few feet in front of Bill before scampering over one another and turning their glistening fangs towards him. The houndoom were apparently far more graceful than their quarry, given that they advanced on healthy paws towards the injured prey.
Bill curled around the egg, clutching it to his chest. Tears from both the stabbing pain in his leg and the hot fear in his chest trickled down his cheeks. He knew that one way or another, he was to die: if not from the dogs, from the fire. His sprained ankle made sure of that.
He shut his eyes tightly. The growls grew louder as the dogs came closer. His body trembled, anticipating their attack. Finally, with nothing more he could do to save himself, he began to pray.
The heavens responded. At first, Bill thought he'd imagined the feeling of something cool striking his head. Resolving himself to ignore a possible hallucination, he tightened his grip on the egg and continued to wait for his final moment. Instead, the dogs stopped and fell silent, except for a single hound that barked and whined abruptly.
Opening his eyes and looking up, Bill saw the pack turn their heads towards one of their companions. The dog had his eyes shut and his head bowed, and he whined pitifully as he attempted to shake something off his head. Bill's lips parted slightly, and he craned his neck to look towards the sky. Another droplet fell, splashing across his cheek. The others fell shortly afterwards. As it rained, the dogs retreated a few steps. The fire continued to consume the trees above the cliff, but its fingers shied away from the rest of the forest below it.
Then, Bill heard them. A pair of howls, vaguely canine but nothing like the barks and cries of the dog pokémon Bill had encountered before then, rose above the crackling of the fire and the hiss of rain. As if in response, the rain grew heavier with fatter droplets drenching the forest, and a great bolt of lightning split the sky in a brilliant flash of jagged white and amethyst. With a blinding flash and a deafening crack, a tree behind the houndoom split, sending splinters cascading down upon the squealing pack.
Bill screamed. He couldn't hear his voice above the explosion of the tree and the panicked howls of the houndoom, but he could feel it painfully reverberating across his throat. As if on instinct, he clutched the egg tightly to his chest as he waited for the sound and terror to be over. The two roars rose above the barks of the four houndoom again, prompting high-pitched whines from the pack. A sudden terror rose in Bill's chest as he felt the presence of the Voice creep across his body.
You have done well so far, Guardian, it said. Hold on. Your first task is almost complete.
With a nod, Bill struggled to rise to his feet. His injured ankle sent pain screaming up his leg, even though he put his weight on the other foot. There was no way he was going to run, so what could the Voice have had in mind for him? In his search for it to ask for help, he instinctively looked up first.
Then, he felt his blood freeze. Standing on the cliff above him were a pair of large creatures – the very source of the howls. One, the blue beast on the left, bent low and stared directly at the fire-types. Its mane flicked upwards in the wind, and the rain itself didn't seem to touch its sleek body. The other, the yellow on the right, lifted its head and jagged tail to the sky as another bolt of electricity slammed into a tree, splitting it to rain splinters on the pack again. Bill had never seen either in the flesh before that moment, but he knew of their stories too, just as he knew of the Voice's story from picture books and his grandfather's words. And he knew that in the stories, one was called Thunder and the other, North Wind.
Thunder lowered its head, turning a white eye towards Bill. Right then, time seemed to stop for him, and the sounds of the storm and fire faded into dead silence. He felt that eye stare deep into his body and touch the electricity pulsing across his nerves with its ancient gaze. The voice that entered his mind was not the melodic one of the Forest Guardian. It was something else altogether, something that rumbled with the sounds of storms on a summer day.
Bill flinched and closed his eyes again. His body felt as if something else was controlling it. Each motion wasn't his own but instead the result of something far older and more powerful than he could imagine.
Behind his eyelids, he saw a white light.
And then, there was black.
Light into darkness.
Only a few years had passed since he was accepted into Celadon University. He felt more comfortable there, in a setting where numbers of people shared his interests and dedication. There, he wasn't an awkward annoyance. He was a colleague, a legitimate classmate, someone whose opinions could be discussed and embraced, rather than restrained for the comfort of his classmates. Instead of being a child, he was a help, a potential study partner and a student to be respected rather than completely ignored. For that, because people were for once willing to listen to him, he felt actual creative freedom – the first inkling of such a sense he'd ever had.
Around that time, he also decided to become someone else. It was an abrupt change, rather than a gradual one. One moment, he felt perfectly comfortable being William McKenzie. The next, he told his mother he wanted to be called Bill. He never told her why, but really, it was a combination of matters. The first was the fact that everyone recognized his surname. Although his name was not entirely uncommon, his father's was, and people seemed to notice this fact. Despite the fact that his father barely did much in the way of pokémon research then, in his glory days, he had been respected and revered in that world, with numbers of books with his picture on the back. Pictures that looked remarkably like Bill. Naturally, Bill hated the comparison more than anything – not because his father never cared much for family life but instead because it felt like people were saying Bill was his father, rather than anything remotely unique.
The second came in the form of one of his newfound friends at Celadon University, a girl named Barbara Larson. She, abruptly one day, dubbed herself as Bebe for the sole reason that she hated her real name, and in the process, she'd announced that Bill was to stop using the name William, mostly because of the fact that it reminded her of the growlithe of stuffy English lords. Although Bill had preferred the name William at that time, he couldn't resist the name, and soon, everyone on campus knew him simply by that single syllable. When Bebe named something, the name stuck.
Yet, it also opened the door for opportunities. Ironically, for whatever reason, people took his ideas more seriously when they didn't connect him with his father. He was his own person, not his father's son. So, it was probably for that reason that his first brainchild was ever even remotely considered possible, rather than passed off as a whim by people who knew his father's reputation then and assumed Bill would soon be the same. After all, it was his father who had, in his descent from a respectable researcher to a mediocre scientist who spent most of his time in gambling halls, designed at least fourteen oddball inventions that went from the nearly legitimate egg incubator (purported to be far efficient than anything else on the market – but known to catch on fire nine times out of ten) to the obvious scam that was a machine that automatically triggered evolutions (the plans of which he eventually sold to a peddler after the prototype killed a rattata in its first run). By the time Bill's father turned to gambling, he was thousands of dollars in debt from devoting his time, efforts, and personal funding (as well as grants) into creating prototypes that almost never worked, and the scientific community began to virtually ignore him.
Therefore, to be taken seriously and to convince people he was not about to follow that same path, Bill chose to be someone else. So, when he presented the plans to his colleagues in his final years of college, he only used one name. As eccentric as that seemed, he felt a sense of security as they listened to his ideas without tacking his father's failures onto him. Without that distraction, they considered it, and eventually, one by one, they agreed to help him.
The idea, like the initial inklings that mark the birth of something new and extraordinary, came from something incredibly simple. Namely, it was something he'd noticed in Celadon's pokémon center, during a time when he'd usually study in the back corner of the lobby (if only to watch trainers and their pokémon come in and out when he should have been working). Oftentimes, trainers would flock to Celadon for the department store and gym, and for that reason, many of them came with backpacks full of poké balls containing pokémon they had captured on the long trek to Celadon from its neighboring cities. It was hardly uncommon to hear a trainer complain of back pains or bulging backpacks, and judging by their loads, Bill knew immediately why.
Over the next months, Bill began to write volumes across napkins and through notebooks, often with pieces scratched out or rearranged or written suddenly, partway through a conversation. At first, everyone he encountered asked about it, but none of them received a straight reply aside from, "It's something I'm working on." They tried to understand the language and the diagrams written across every piece of paper he could keep, but none of them grasped the idea then. Not yet.
Eventually, Bill rewrote the language in a notebook, neat and organized and accompanied by a full description and pages of diagrams of what he wanted. That was when he began to enlist the help of friends and professors, particularly in the engineering department. When one asked, he showed them a page in the notebook and explained to them what he needed. Not long afterwards, he'd have it.
Slowly but surely, the idea came into being that way, piece by piece, with each fragment never made by the same person. He pieced the rest together, working with the computers and the parts he received or bought himself to slowly shape the creature in his mind.
Eventually, he graduated from that college, and as he moved to a secluded spot north of Cerulean – so chosen for the peace and security of isolation – the thing went with him. That was the last he'd asked anyone for help. He had everything he needed. All he had to do then was piece it together and give it a brain. For about a year, no one heard from him. Summer passed into autumn and autumn into winter, with green leaves turning gold and then brown beneath white. A world of color surrounded Bill, and he shut himself away in his cottage, not to be disturbed until he was finished.
When spring came, he finally opened his door and walked out of the cottage, towards Cerulean City.
Several months later, every pokémon center in Kanto ordered PCs to support his new system. It, what he simply called the Storage/Retrieval System, spread like a virus across the region, from one center to another. Trainers who started before it came jumped at the chance to register for their own accounts. Trainers who started after began receiving free subscriptions as if it had always been offered. By the following year, there were plans to bring the system to Johto, and both Bebe and the sister team of Lanette and Bridgette Rousseau (both of whom he'd met through online conversations) were already sending him requests for the system plans to implement and run their own versions in their home regions.
The scientific community had no choice but to notice Bill at that point, not only because he'd developed, nearly by himself, something widely considered to be revolutionary but also because he'd proven that modifications of the same technology that existed in poké balls anyway could be applied elsewhere. Before the system, pokémon were believed to have only the unique property to convert their bodies to energy – a fact that made the poké ball possible. The system, meanwhile, converted the energy (and the matter of the poké ball itself) into digital data. Within the system, millions of electrical pulses recorded themselves as different pokémon and filed themselves neatly into a complex network of computers.
While that alone wasn't enough to merit the attention of the Pokémon Symposium, the paper that came nearly two years later was. Previously, it was a mere assumption that a pokémon's DNA contained genes that coded for their unique ability to both deconstruct their bodies into pure energy and generate energy they needed for their techniques, but no one could actually pinpoint what the process entailed and what triggered it. The mechanisms of the poké ball itself had been a secret and therefore not much of a help; balls often were designed based on their ancient ancestors made from apricorns.
Bill, naturally, found the answer – or what he and the scientific community thought was the answer. Stemming from the research he had to do in order to figure out how to get his system to work, Bill worked out a theory, a complicated one that entailed an unstable chemical makeup, coded by unique expanses of DNA that all pokémon apparently shared – genes that also covered the possibility and methods of rapid evolution.
That was submitted as his final dissertation for his post-graduate program. A committee of professors at Celadon University read it, then handed it to members of the scientific community. Months after receiving his doctorate, Bill was invited to join the ranks of the Pokémon Symposium.
There was, of course, no way to turn down an invitation like that.
The induction took place one cool, autumn month, several after Bill began delving into the field pokémon psychology and several before he met a certain young trainer from Pallet Town. He was fifteen then, and though he matured since the day he last experienced an emotional outburst in front of Professor Oak, he still wrung his hands with nervousness in the hall. Several hundred people were in attendance, including members of the press. That night, after all, was the night the Symposium, the elite group of pokémologists, was admitting their youngest member, a record that was predicted to remain unbroken for some time to come. The others, meanwhile, were already members, waiting to observe the latest mind among their ranks, as well as the inductee's closest relatives. It was arranged like a school play, an intensely formal one in a wide, ornate hall with red carpeting and theater seating and pristine, white walls. The hall itself was often used for Symposium discussions and presentations, so seats were arranged in an amphitheater fashion, cascading down to a raised platform with a screen behind it that served as a stage. In one chair – metal framed with uncomfortable, red padding to serve as a seat – Bill sat in a well-kept, black suit with his hands folded in his lap. He tried his best not to fidget, not to bring shame onto his mother, who he insisted on having right there to witness the event.
The actual event felt scripted and overly "uptight" (that is to say, formal by his definition) for his tastes. Beside him, at a podium, a squat, gray-haired man in a tuxedo – one that conformed to his round shape in such a way that reminded Bill of black empoleon – stood and wove a speech that slipped past Bill's attention. The man, he recalled, was Professor Eustace Westwood V, an eccentric by every extent of the word. It seemed like no surprise to the current members of the Symposium that Westwood carried on with his speech, bobbing in and out of metaphors and anecdotes to avoid the overall point of having Bill recite an oath to uphold the values of the organization and presenting him with a medallion that all inductees wore until the end of their ceremony.
Knowing that Westwood wouldn't finish for some time, Bill allowed his eyes to wander into the crowd without turning his head. He spotted some faces that were plastered on the backs of his books: Samuel Oak in the first row (given that he was one of the highest-ranking members in the organization), Felina Ivy of the Orange Islands in the fifth row, Terrance Elm of Johto in the second, Quincy Rowan of Sinnoh next to Oak…
Eventually, his eyes fell on his family. His mother sat in almost a mirror image of her son, with her legs neatly crossed under her chair and her hands folded in the lap of her black dress. Her dark eyes met his, and for once, he couldn't read her expression.
Just as Westwood turned to ask Bill to stand and take the oath, Bill's eyes fell on the place on the other side of his mother, and he suddenly stopped. In his memory, he knew that his father should have occupied that space, but instead, someone else was there.
She was a small girl in a white dress. Her green hair was done up in two buns on the sides of her head, in the same style as his youngest sister's, but his sister should have been too young to watch this ceremony and would have been, if he recalled correctly, asleep in Goldenrod and watched over by his grandfather. This girl looked about her age presently, and even then, the crystal-blue eyes defined her as something that wasn't part of Bill's family, much less human at all.
Time had stopped then. Even if he moved from the stage, all eyes were glued to his former spot. Professor Westwood didn't even question why he was staring into the audience or why he stepped away and jumped off the edge. No one seemed to notice as he approached the girl except the girl herself.
She smiled at him shyly, and it was in that expression that he realized what he was looking at.
"You're not supposed to be here," he said.
She shook her head.
As if that was the answer to everything he wanted to know about her, he took a few steps back and pulled himself onto the stage to sit at its edge. He barely noticed that he was no longer an awkward fifteen-year-old, as in his memory, but instead an adult, slightly taller and at ease in his movements. It could have been because his black suit had suddenly disappeared, and the absence of the choking necktie and the presence of more familiar clothing acted as the skin in which he was most comfortable. Taking a deep breath, he exhaled slowly.
"Why?" he asked.
She looked at him strangely, with a tilting head and large, blue eyes.
"Why me?" he asked again.
The girl's blue eyes rolled upwards, so she stared at the ceiling while her head still rested on her shoulder. Bill watched her before pulling one of his legs onto the stage. Wrapping an arm around it, he furrowed his eyebrows and tried to make sense of this reaction.
"I'm not a fighter, you know," he said. "There were two wild pokémon who had to help me. I wouldn't have even survived an attack from those houndoom if they hadn't stepped in."
The girl thought about this statement for a moment and said, "You know, not many people believe us anymore."
Bill blinked. "Believe you? You chose me because I believed you?"
The girl shook her head, rolling it back and forth on her shoulder. "Everything has a beginning and a story to be told, you know."
"I don't understand." Bill exhaled. Why was he even having this conversation with her? Why was he questioning her? "Why did you give me the egg?"
"They wouldn't have come if you didn't call them," she said with a shrug.
"Who?" Bill raised his eyebrows. "You don't mean… them, do you?"
She shook her head. "They like you, you know. A lot of them do. You have a certain heart. You just need to be guided to your purpose."
Bill stopped. The question of who kept flashing in his mind, but he had a feeling he knew exactly who she was talking about. Moreover, he didn't think it was remotely possible for the stories to simply like him.
And anyway, what did they have to do with his purpose?
As if reading his mind, the girl continued, "The stories did not choose you specifically. There is another who is our champion. But you – we cannot ignore you. You are another spirit altogether, a story that may be lesser known but still written. Whether or not your story will be remembered at all is your choice to make, but we can at least guide you if you choose us."
Silently, he thought about this response. None of it made sense to him, but he had the strangest feeling that if he asked her to clarify, he would only receive a longer and far more cryptic explanation. After a long pause, a second question surfaced in Bill's mind, but he couldn't bring himself to ask it. Her blue eyes fixed on him, and by then, he knew she had entered.
"Take care of her. She was meant to be yours, just as you are meant to be hers. Your paths are intertwined to remind you of your purpose and to give her one of her own. If you were not hers, she would not have found you."
"Purpose? Intertwined? Found?" Bill blinked. "In that case, she called me?"
"That is how it always is." The Voice nodded. "Your second task is simple, Guardian. She will hatch, and you are to watch over her. In turn, she will remind you of your promise you made on this night and the night your companion evolved. You will be written, yes, but only if you agree to follow that promise."
The Voice straightened and furrowed her eyebrows. Bill found himself staring deep into her blue eyes, eyes that saw the past, the future, the present – everything. He saw the form of the green pixie, small and delicate, yet woodlands incarnate. This creature was the spirit of majestic redwoods and oaks, rising high above the forest floor. This creature was the carpet of flowers fed the stantler and the rattata at the height of spring and summer. She was the leaf-obscured sky, the shadows that played across the forest floor, the earth itself into which roots reached deep, the time that passed from the first forest to the last on that green planet. She was nature itself, an unpredictable and beautiful force.
"The stories," she said. Her voice resounded off the walls, as if it came from everywhere – and it probably did.
Bill felt himself cringe slightly. "The stories?"
The Voice nodded once. "Tell them. That was your promise."
Before Bill could question her, he was blinded by a brilliant, green light.
Slowly, it transitioned into a white light. Then a red light. Then nothing at all.
When a wave crashes upon the beach, the sound is unique. Try as one might, it's nearly impossible to replicate to the exact detail the sound of a wave hissing and cracking against sand.
Bill awoke to that sound, a familiar noise that he'd heard all his life. It called to him the same way the Voice did, but it did so for different reasons. Like the Voice, it was powerful and eternal, something ever present as long as there was land for water to meet and water to rush back and forth across sand in its wild rhythms.
It called him back to consciousness and life, pulling him like a pebble into the tides. For a long moment, he lay there, on his stomach with his cheek against the cold, white sand. His ankle throbbed slightly, but even that pain was ebbing away like the ocean itself. He couldn't remember why he was there as he curled his fingers deep into the soft earth. His eyes fixed first on a Krabby, its red shell contrasting sharply to the beach itself as it scuttled towards the blue-green waters. Along the way, it passed a green shell.
Suddenly, Bill sat bolt upright. The events of yesterday stormed his mind in a torrent of memories. He remembered the smell of the fire, the dogs, the woods, the egg – everything. Looking around frantically, he searched for the egg. His fingers picked up the shell fragment, part of the top half of the egg broken and still wet. Immediately, his heart raced in panic. Did he fail? Was the egg broken and eaten by a sea pokémon?
On his other side, he heard a small growl. Glancing down, he saw another part of the egg, the bottom half turned upside-down on top of a set of blue-green legs. The legs pawed helplessly at the shell as the thing beneath it squirmed and growled again. Carefully, Bill reached down to pull off the shell. Beneath it, a small, frog-like pokémon sat. Its green bulb dominated most of its back, making it look smaller than it actually was. Slowly, its red eyes opened, squinting into the sun and then up towards its protector. Its nostrils flared as its bulb opened slightly in the sunlight, just enough to let the tip of a brown seed jut from its center. Catching Bill's scent, the female bulbasaur opened its wide mouth to let out another small, scratchy sound before attempting to climb into his lap.
At once, Bill cracked a smile and scooped the newly hatched bulbasaur into his arms. Holding its squirming body, he glanced towards the forest, still as green and healthy as it ever was.
Two years passed quietly. One month faded into the next, and the air warmed to its peak in the summer and chilled as the days edged quickly towards the first snowfall. At the end of autumn, the bulbasaur that hatched from the egg grew several sizes, from a runt to a healthy creature that ran around the floor of the Sea Cottage with alarming speed for someone of her species.
Since the day she hatched, Bill had meditated on what to do about his last instructions. Months passed, and all of his projects began to collect dust on the shelves of his laboratory as he continued to watch the bulbasaur grow. His colleagues – particularly Bebe, the Rousseau sisters, and Celio – grew slightly concerned for him, but mostly, other than an e-mail or two a day, few bothered him. They had, after all, figured Bill was just working in silence on his latest project. None of them knew that he hadn't stepped foot inside his laboratory (save to run routine checks on the system) for over a year and a half.
Mostly, he thought about the visions, the dreams he had that day and night. He carefully considered why he had them and what they meant, especially the final one. Seemingly oblivious to his meditations, Bulbasaur remained by his side, depending on him like a newborn human. Without a question, he took care of her as if she was his own daughter, not a pokémon companion.
Eventually, it was Bulbasaur who inspired him. She reminded him, the way she sat in the spring and summer sunlight, of why he was there – of that initial rush he felt the moment his venusaur evolved and the lingering desires afterwards. The ideas began to form in his mind, one by one, until finally, he sat down with a fresh notebook and, like he had only a few short years ago, began to cover its pages.
That October, curiosity got the better of his colleague in the Sevii Islands. One crisp morning, Celio came to the Sea Cottage, and an hour later, he sat across from Bill in the kitchen as he read what was written so far in the notebook. His chestnut hair formed a curtain that, at an angle, worked with the notebook to obscure his expression from Bill's view. Every so often, one pale hand would reach up to push the glasses on his long nose closer to his dark eyes, but other than that and turning a page, Celio didn't move. In the meantime, Bill waited patiently, sipping tea from a hot cup every so often. He kept one eye on Bulbasaur whenever she entered the room (and whenever she exited a few moments later) while the corner of the other remained steadily on his closest friend.
Finally, with a deep breath, Celio closed the notebook and placed it on the table. His hands transferred to his own cup of tea, and for a long time, he didn't say anything.
"Well?" Bill asked. "What did you think?"
Celio took a sip before answering. "I still think it's a little odd that you're giving up research for this."
Bill shook his head, sending dark curls into his dark eyes. "Oh, no. I'm not giving up my career. I just feel I need to take a moment to write this."
"Even so, it's a little strange," Celio said with a shrug. "I never thought you would want to write a children's book. It seems like a complete change compared to scientific papers."
Bill leaned back. "It's really not much of a difference. In both cases, the scientist and the author still tell a story. The difference simply lies in how the story is told."
"And whether or not the story is true."
A strange smile played across Bill's face as he picked up his cup again. "Who said these stories weren't?"
Celio jolted in his seat. "You don't actually believe these, do you?"
Bill brought the cup to his lips. "All stories have a shred of truth to them, I think."
"I guess, but…" Celio closed his eyes. "These are fairy tales, Bill."
At that comment, Bill calmly placed his cup on the table again. "That's a possibility, but who knows? These pokémon are documented in the National Dex. It would be right to record the stories about them."
"The ones your grandparents told you."
"Yes." Bill eyed Celio carefully. "You sound incredulous."
Celio sighed and let his eyes wander away from his friend. "I'm just worried about you, Bill. You've been acting a little strange lately, and I wonder if you just need some time away from this place. You're always welcome to come to Knot Island, you know. I'd make sure you could find some time to relax."
"I am relaxed." Bill smiled in the way an adult smiles at a child who's said something cute, innocent, and obviously incorrect. "You really don't have to worry about me. I'm fine. I just need to do this."
With a nod, Celio turned his head to fix his eyes on the table. Setting his cup down, he held his hands with the palms towards Bill. With a push, he motioned that he was backing down from his position before his hands lowered to rest the heels of his palms against the edge of the table.
"That's fine," he said. "That's fine. I'm just saying that Bebe, Lanette, and the rest of us were wondering if this was a sign that you were overworking yourself. The last thing we want is for you to hurt yourself or suffer a burnout. That's all. I completely support you with whatever you choose to do. I just hope that after you're finished with this project, you'll come back onboard."
Bill nodded. "Of course I will. I'm still primarily a researcher, Celio. I just… am writing a different sort of paper."
"I guess you're right." Celio's voice, of course, carried a note of uncertainty that Bill chose to ignore.
Leaning back, Bill took his cup in his hands again. Celio rested his elbow on the table and his chin on the back of his hand. His other hand rested beside his cup as he glanced towards the kitchen window. A few minutes later, a soft scuffle and a grunt pulled his attention from the blue sky outside to the floor. Bulbasaur scampered across the linoleum tiles, headed towards a water bowl set up in the corner of the room for her. Celio watched her for a moment, as if only now realizing she existed at all.
"Congratulations," Celio said.
Bill lowered his cup. "For what?"
Turning his head, Celio lifted his other hand to motion towards Bulbasaur. "Your venusaur laid an egg, didn't she? Why didn't you tell us she was expecting?"
"Oh!" Bill smiled. "No, no. That isn't Venusaur's. I found her in the forest."
Celio raised his eyebrows. "The forest? I didn't know bulbasaur lived around here."
"Not many, no," Bill replied. It was a half-truth. There were, but he avoided mentioning that Bulbasaur wasn't one of them. "I was lucky, I suppose, to come across her."
Celio nodded, as if acknowledging that he accepted the explanation. "Will you release her back into the forest, then? I'm surprised you caught her. You haven't caught anything for a few years now, have you?"
With a shrug, Bill said, "No, I haven't. She doesn't seem to have much of a desire to return to the forest, though, so she's welcome to stay here for now."
"For now? What do you mean?"
At Celio's question, Bill glanced towards Bulbasaur as the frog leaned over the bowl and continued to lap water from it. The words of the Voice played through his mind again. She had her own purpose, and it wouldn't be with him.
"My sister – you know her, the youngest of our family – will be beginning her pokémon journey in a year," Bill said. "I think Bulbasaur would make a nice partner, once I raise her a bit."
Before Celio could ask anything else, Bill stood and picked up his empty cup. Bulbasaur scampered across the floor, back towards the door to the hallway just before Bill crossed behind her to approach the sink under the window. Placing his cup in the sink, he reached to the window, opened it, and leaned against the counter. The warm sunlight played across his face, and a cool breeze blew gently into the room. Celio, in the meantime, finished off his own tea and stared at his friend's back.
"What if your sister doesn't want to be a trainer?" he asked after setting the cup down again.
Bill shrugged. "Everyone has their own purpose. The only way to discover it is to step into the world and search for it. She will."
Celio leaned back in his chair again. He knew very well about Bill's philosophies, and oftentimes, he even agreed with them. This time, however, something didn't seem quite right.
"Purpose? So, then, how do you know that Bulbasaur's purpose is to go with your sister?"
Bill leaned towards the window to feel the cool breeze. He closed his eyes, and listened carefully. On the wind, he could swear he heard a familiar melody.
"I just know," he said.
Outside, the wind blew between the trees, carrying with it a song that told a story.