Simon could still hear the distant roaring of the Lake of Outrage’s thunderstorm. Even after a full day’s travel through Hammerlocke Hills, the weather in the adjoining areas only seemed to get worse and worse- though thankfully the air around here was not much more than a light fog. He and Raph had made their way to the local trainer lodge again - it looked fairly identical to the one in the southern wild area - and after taking the time to heal their Pokemon, they’d decided to spend the night there, both in desperate need of some rest.
After their encounter, the two young men had attempted to make their way back to the original site where the cars were, in some desperate hope to get more information or give chase to the suits. Yet, of course, they’d found the spot empty- with the only thing left behind being faded tire tracks and Simon’s discarded belongings. He’d returned to find his backpack thrown into the dirt and driven over, nearly all the supplies inside either taken or destroyed; pieces of his bug net strewn around the area. He’d been lucky enough to retrieve his coat with his badges inside, though the thing was now thoroughly soaked in the rain and dirty beyond recognition.
The journey to the lodge that followed was quiet. Raph had obviously tried to approach Simon about what he’d just gone through… but any words said then would have been lost to the wind. Simon had decided to leave his room soon after they’d checked in. He didn’t want to let his Pokemon out so soon after they’d gotten healed, and the idea of being trapped in a humid, small room sounded like torture at the moment. He’d thought of going to Raph’s, but he couldn’t bear the thought of the older trainer seeing him now. Defeated, broken, vindicated about whatever doubts he had concerning him.
Instead, he’d gone to the clearing beside the inn, and sat down beside a tree to watch the storm in the distance. The hill he was on was high enough that he could see above the fog- and for a moment, he might have even considered it beautiful. However, as he clutched the empty pokeball in his hand tightly, he was brought back to reality.
His mind kept reliving those same moments, again and again. What if he’d warned the Pinsir sooner? If he hadn’t been so distracted- he could’ve disabled the dark balls earlier. He could’ve just run- why didn’t he run? Why did he have to play hero, act like he was some incredible trainer who could fix a shadow Pokemon already beyond saving? Why had he not gone with Scolipede from the beginning, how had he so carelessly lost that ball? Why did he have to call out that order to his Pokemon? Why- why did Caterpie have to die?
The thoughts were suddenly cut short by a different kind of reality check, Raph’s hand clamped down on Simon's shoulder and the older trainer settled in to sit beside him. He didn’t say anything, didn’t interrupt Simon's thoughts, but kept the hand there for a moment, before letting it slink tiredly to his side. His eyes drifted to that distant storm in turn.
“...” Raph opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. He had never been in this situation, never needed to comfort anyone else, never needed to face the reality of loss in another person. Still, despite everything, he knew exactly how it felt.
Arceus, he knew how it felt.
“Exhausting.” He finally mumbled out the word, still staring at that distant sky. “It’s all just a little… too much, right? It drains you of anything else, you get sad, you get angry, until you can’t keep it up anymore. Then you have nothing, so you just feel tired.”
Simon took a moment to respond, surprised by how accurate his words were. “...yeah.”
“For a long time, that’s all I really had going on, you know?” Raph said. It was an open question, left for Simon to answer, or to hang in the wind. The boy stayed silent, but turned to look at him.
“All I had was that tired feeling.” He paused and looked down at his hand, still bandaged and wrapped from the day before. “Every day, looking out a window, feeling nothing but that. Going to school feeling nothing but that. Waiting for the day I could leave Wedgehurst, leaving, fighting Kabu for the first time… nothing but that. Feeling like I’d already lost everything before I’d even started.” He sighed deeply, that same tired and apathetic look plastered over his features, the same one he always had. As he looked up at Simon, meeting his gaze, the bug catcher would notice they were wearing the same expression.
Until Raph’s changed.
His eyes softened and his creased, uncaring scowl shifted into a small, tired smile. “Simon, I didn’t know how to feel anything other than that anymore. I didn’t know how to get rid of what you’re feeling now, I still don’t, but… I know how to live with it. Do you know why?”
Simon shook his head slightly, still quiet but now clearly paying attention.
“Because I met people like you.” The answer came almost second nature, as Raph closed his eyes momentarily, only to look back towards the skyline. “And Arrietty… and Pia… Melody and Aeliana… hell even Catherine.” He smirked a little and shook his head. “But mostly you… and my pokémon, of course. I met you in the middle of the Southern Wild Area and you wouldn’t shut up! So full of energy and questions all the time, the world seemed so open in your eyes. So limitless. I thought you were naive, but to be honest…” He sighs and his eyes darken just a little.
“I think I just… never thought to look at it that way before.” His gaze went vacant for a moment and a bandaged hand gently clutched at his shirt, just above his chest, as if instinctual. “Simon, I learned something very important from you. I learned that life is something you should be excited for. Something you should try and reach out for, take and enjoy. Something to be excited about, no matter what you’ve lost, no, because of what you’ve lost..!” He found an energy in his voice, but it quickly dissipated. “Because of what we’ve lost, we have to keep going, keep smiling and keep doing everything we can to find where we’re supposed to be.” He smiles a little wider, kind but very tired eyes looking at his younger friend.
“I took a long time to learn that, more time than I had to waste… but you? You knew it from the start. You just forgot for a while, so I came back to remind you.”
Simon paused for a moment as his eyes grew wider. Someone like him, as weak and unimpressive as he’d been… had made an impression on Raphael? More thoughts of regret and self-pity flooded in as he began to realize what he’d done- he hadn’t just joined the wrong people and turned his back on others, he’d turned back on himself. He felt that lump in his throat grow again, and used every bit of his energy to keep it down. He couldn’t succumb to those emotions. He mustn’t.
He had to pull his mind away from those memories. Raph’s words had made him think about something else. As comforting as they were… the young man was talking about loss as well. Simon’s eyes drifted to Raphael’s hand, which was still clutching his own chest. Was it… related?
“By the way.” he began after a few more moments of silence. “I did notice the pin you had on.”
“Aha, well that’s good, right?” He says with an awkward smile. “I’ll be honest I… really regretted that day. Almost immediately after it happened.” He paused and his eyes grew tired again, staring less at the horizon and more at the empty space lingering between it and himself. “I pushed you away and you thought that it was your fault. I understand now, that was one of a series of bad days… but if I hadn’t been so selfish in that moment, I could have helped you with whatever came next.” He sighed a little, his smile fading away.
“So I kept wearing the pin… hoping you’d see it and know I was sorry, until I could tell you properly.” He furrows his brow, that tired look still hanging on his every feature. It came back to haunt him, even now. He knew where this conversation would go, the conversation he pushed away and avoided with everyone. The reason he pushed everyone away before they could ask. The reason for everything he did. He could hear the words before Simon even spoke them.
"But then… what happened that day?"
Raph would dance around the question, make an excuse, draw attention away from it. Hide it. Protect it. Make sure only he had to deal with it. Forever. Alone, Forever. Was that what this had been building to? More hiding everything away? Was he ready to throw away who he was pretending to be? Had he changed at all? No.
“...I’m going to die soon, Simon.”
Everything seemed so harsh and still in that moment. Everything turned to ice, chipping and cracking away. Everyone he had ever met already knew or was never supposed to know. He had never said that combination of words, in that way, to anyone before. He wasn’t ready to stop hiding and face the consequences of loss… but he was ready to end a lie he had told this one friend, that had already caused them both so much pain.
The younger of the two furrowed his brow as he blinked in disbelief. "...what?" he said incredulously, not entirely sure he'd heard him correctly- and hoping that he was wrong.
“When I was born, the doctors said there was something wrong with my heart. My father worked overtime to raise the money needed to fix me, even with a well paying job, the treatment required to keep me going as a newborn was draining my family down to nothing.” He paused and his gaze continued drifting into that open, empty space. “Then the Z incident happened all those years ago… and, well, there’s not much point in saying more than that.”
A few birds flew from the tree they sat upon as Raph looked silently into the distance. “From the earliest estimates, I’ve got about two years left to raise the money I need to get treated. I don’t know if I can do that. So I didn’t…” He stops, feeling something clenching at his chest, rising into his throat.
Why did it… hurt so much to say it out loud?
“I didn’t…” It hung there, struggling to break free, before finally it echoed quietly between the two. “...I didn’t want anyone to… get too attached to me, alright? That’s why… that’s why I acted the way I did…”
Simon wasn't sure what to say. This was the first time he'd seen Raphael like this in person- the only other time the young man had shown a sliver of it was in his battle against Kabu. This revelation explained so much- he realized the countless times he'd seen him clutch his chest during their stressful encounters; all those times Raphael had been hiding his pain, mentally and physically.
"Don't… don't apologize to me, mate." Simon finally said after Raph's words had hung in the air for a moment. "I… can't even pretend to know what it's like to live with something like this, but…" he looked Raphael in the eyes. "...for the sake of those who care about you… don't ever tell yourself that you're not worth it."
He continued to stare at his friend. "It's not your job to decide if or when people will get attached to you, and it's not your place to make decisions for them. And psyducking hell, it's not your job to protect us from our emotions when we made the decision to care about you-"
He stopped, realizing he was raising his voice aggressively now. "I'm- I'm sorry. It's just- I'm talking from experience, my mom has a condition as well, it's what she used to tell me when I was really young. And she also was the last thing that Pinsir got to tell me about before…" he clutched the Pokeball in hand tightly. "...yeah."
Raphael continued to stare silently into the distance, a painful quiet lingering in the air, butfor once he was the one to break it. “When I was a kid, I’d look at trainers battling on the telly… thinking that I’d never get to do what they did. It was so bittersweet. Now, I’m standing where they are… and living the life I always wanted. I think, in the end, I was protecting myself too, a little selfishly.” He smiles sadly and turns to meet Simon’s gaze. “I didn’t want anyone thinking I was any different, I wanted to be like the people that inspired me all my life, not a special exception.” He paused again, looking with contemplation to the ground.
“I’m sorry… I had no idea, about your Mom. If I’d known, maybe I.. I don’t know.” He looked for an excuse, but didn’t find one, instead he went back to silence for a few moments more.
"Hearing everything you're telling me now… I would've told you the same things at the time, Raph." Simon said. "It's about not letting it define you, living life to the fullest for others' sake as much as yours- that's what my mother would always say. And I don't think you need to hide it anymore."
Raph shook his head, “I… need you to keep it a secret for now, I’m sorry, that’s a selfish thing to ask… but I’m not ready for anyone else to know. I’m not ready for the world to know. This is something I need to face myself, it’s something I need to prove that I can overcome. For the longest time it’s the only thing that’s defined me, I want to become someone else, I don’t want this to be what people know me for.” He grew more comfortable talking about it by the second, maybe because it was to a friend?
It was okay to share it… with a friend.
“Loss is something we’ll never shake off. Be it the impending loss that hangs over my head, or the recent loss of someone we love.” He looked with a bit of pain towards Simon with that, but he still forced himself to smile through it… and pull himself to his feet.
The fog was finally starting to fade away to a clear sky. The storm had fled as the sunrise took its place. The orange light eclipsed Raph as he stood over Simon and extended his hand to the boy still sitting on the ground.
“But life is more than loss. Caterpie… and my Dad… they wouldn’t want us to sit here and give up.” He smiled one more time, fighting back all the pain they felt, standing in its path as best he could. Raphael wouldn’t be beaten by it anymore, he couldn’t afford to, for the first time in his life he was fighting for more than just himself.
“C’mon, Si… it’s time to get back on track, right?”
Simon looked at his hand for a moment, before cracking a slight smile and taking it to get up. "For better or for worse."