He paused. Cleared his throat. Tried to remember the words that had come so easily before, but were now so elusive.
“Ah, yes. I wanted to say a few things. Firstly, to assure you that you are welcome to keep the thing that I gave you previously – consider it yours. A token of my gratitude, if you will. Because I am – grateful, that is, for all that you have done, both in a general way for the entire world and Hoenn, but also personally.”
He sighed, and ran a hand through his hair before combing it back again with his hands and straightening himself up.
“That is all, I think.”
He left without waiting for a reply.
The door opened.
“Your father was just here,” Maxie started, without even greeting her this time. “Unfortunately, we do not get along. He continues to see me as the man who recklessly endangered your life on multiple occasions – this would be far easier to speak out against if it were not also unfortunately true.”
He trailed off, lost in his own thoughts for a while.
“Perhaps if you were to talk to him and explain your side, he might be a little more forgiving. You’ve always had that impact on people, even if they do not entirely deserve it. I might present myself as a number one example of that.”
He caught sight of the time, and sighed.
“It looks like I must leave you again. I hope to see you again soon, however.”
“They made Wallace the next Champion. Wallace,” he was saying, for once actually sat down. “Unthinkable. Unbelievable. At least Steven Stone uses various differing types, and of them ones that I can recognise as worthy. But Wallace…! They might as well have chosen Archie!”
He shook his head, still lost in angry frustration, but somewhat amused all the same.
“The flamboyant showman can’t even Mega Evolve any of his Pokémon. He refuses. The only one that could, and he says that he would prefer not to.”
Why would anyone refuse to use Mega Evolution? It made no sense. It was the height of power, and the height of the bond between trainer and Pokémon. The only reason given was that the trainer did not bond as much as they said they did, or that they did not like the appearance of their partner. Neither of which were good reasons, to Maxie.
“I obtained a new Cameruptite, by the way, in case you were curious. It arrived at the hideout last week, addressed from Steven. It’s good to be able to fight at full power again. It would be even better if we could battle again, sometime soon.”
This time, the door creaked open slowly, and he sat without a word.
Seconds ticked by, eventually becoming minutes, and he still hadn’t said anything.
“I brought flowers.”
The words came out hesitantly, somewhat stilted, and he winced after they’d been spoken.
He left without saying anything else.
He stood, as though at an important meeting, eyes facing front and hands behind his back.
“I was asked if I might want to take the team over to Sinnoh for some time,” he said, tone clear, precise, clipped. “There happens to be an Underground system there, a fascinating thing, and the soil samples would be vastly different from any found here. Of course I agreed.”
There was a brief moment in which he took a deep breath, and let it out slowly.
“I will be away for some two weeks, possibly more if something arises while I am there. Tabitha, should you have need of him, will be remaining here with roughly just under half of the team. The two of us will be in constant contact.”
He looked away for the first time, turned to the door, but as his hand was on the handle he hesitated.
“Should you express any desire for further information, you are more than welcome to know anything that he does, or contact me at your leisure.”
“I missed you.”
The words came out as a shocked rush. He was still coming to terms with the sentiment behind them.
Every conversation he’d had, every new person he’d met, he’d found himself wondering what she would think of them, what her opinions would have been of the towns, the places, the views.
“I… wanted you to be there. It didn’t make sense, these aren’t exactly conversations that we’re having, not really, but I just-”
He couldn’t continue.
For a while, he just sat there, slumped, looking as though he hadn’t slept. It might even have been true.
“I heard that there is a Pokémon of legend, here in Hoenn. Archie told me the other day of how he and one of his Admins had even encountered it – yes, yes, I have been trying to get along better with the man. He is still infuriating, however.
I digress. This Pokémon, once in every while, is said to grant wishes… a great and terrible thing if in the wrong hands, I am sure. I do find myself wondering from time to time what kind of wish you would make, Miss Maple.”
Jirachi. He wondered where it was now.
He sat a while longer, telling stories and explaining the differences between Hoenn and Sinnoh, and how a temperate climate changed from a colder, mountainous one, and how that affected the soil.
“I know that you are likely curious as to what I would wish. It has been five long months. I would hope that, perhaps… you could guess or deduce it from that alone.”
The next time he came, he was greeted by a friendly Mightyena – one that, if he was not mistaken, he recognised.
It was May’s. She had battled him with it, once. On other occasions, it had simply followed at her side.
“Your Pokémon seem to view me as almost part of the family,” he said dryly. “I can only assume that this is a good sign.”
He rubbed the Mightyena’s head, and it sat down next to him, still wagging its tail.
“In most cases, the reaction of the Pokémon is a sign of how their trainer would react. But in this case…”
The large black dog-type whined, then, understanding what he was saying, and put its head on his lap. Being used to the species due to having one of his own, he wasn’t too surprised, and reassured it, stroking the sleek fur.
“Your neighbour has been taking care of them on some days, however he is no longer always around. His father needs him to go further afield, and neither would feel in their right mind about taking your own partners away from you for that long.”
The Mightyena tilted its head up, and he dutifully scratched under its chin.
“I volunteered my services. The Magma base is no longer so secret, and it is far friendlier to all types since the entrance no longer necessitates a water-type or boat in order to access. And if there is work to be done, then any other member of the team would be able to give them the attention that they need. Not to mention, at least some of their number must be somewhat familiar with the place. You did, after all, break in twice.”
His movements were contained, but tense. His words clipped when they came out. His eyes flew to all of the objects in the room, one to the other, never settling on a thing, and he could not stay in one place, either.
“Courtney insinuated something earlier today,” he started, indignant at the thought. “She said that I’m in love. With you.”
He stood stock still for a good half a minute, staring into space, after saying the words.
Then he started moving again, pacing the carpeted floor.
“Ludicrous. Ridiculous. As if any such thing could have any basis in – in – it’s hardly realistic. I, the great Maxie? Leader of Team Magma! Me. You happen to merely be the one person who apart from Archie was always a thorn in my side. There is nothing special about you.”
He noticed that he was shaking.
“Wake up. Wake up, damn you. And then I could prove that she is wrong. I can’t prove her wrong unless you wake up, you silly little girl!”
He faced her quietly, this time, clothes rumpled, leaning against the wall and window.
“I wonder, sometimes… I wonder what you would think of me now, if you awoke.”
In the distance, he could hear people outside, birds, Pokémon battles. It all seemed so far away.
“I must admit, I have changed a great deal. Would you recognise me? Would you be pleased with what you saw?”
He often hoped that she would be, regardless of feelings, because there was, by now, an underlying need to make her proud in all that he did.
“I was asked if I wanted to go back to Sinnoh,” he said, not looking at her. The clock on the wall was very interesting, today. “I said no.”
Of course there was silence, just like there always had been, but he could by now almost imagine what her reaction would be.
“I know that were you able to, you would tell me what a fool I am being to pass the opportunity up. However… however. I had heard from the doctors that your condition seems to be improving. I- I could not leave Hoenn if such a thing were true, and you might awaken while I was gone. It would be unthinkable.”
He huffed and rolled his eyes as he told her of an incident that had happened two days prior.
“The boy was several years younger than you, and he had already obtained several badges – however, his intelligence cannot be too high, as he was, somehow, able to make his way into our base of operations, entirely under the impression that Lilycove had a Gym, and that we were it. Apparently the signs saying ‘Team Magma’ all over the place are not enough.”
He snorted, holding back a laugh despite himself.
“You should have been there to see his face when I informed him of his mistake.”
He’d slowly accustomed himself to actually using her name as she had always given it out. It had been odd, at first, but by this point it was hard to imagine treating her with as much formality as he had done once upon a time.
“The seasons are changing again. It’ll be cold, soon.”
He didn’t like the cold, and he’d be grateful then more than at any other time for the cosy warmth that the Magma base provided in the chilly nights.
It had been so long. He, along with everyone else, had waited. So patiently. Always hoping that it would end, but in the best way.
Sometimes, he was afraid, afraid that she would not wake up, that he would enter one day and her room would be empty.
He sat down heavily, pushing his glasses out of the way to cover his eyes with his hands.
She had undone him, in a matter of months. As if it were that easy. Every remembrance of her as she had faced him and as she had interacted with him at all, was made larger than life in the fact that she was not awake now, in the fear that she would not be again one day.
Please, came the silent prayer. Don’t do that to us. To me.
The touch, when it came, was electrifying. His eyes flew open, hands coming rapidly away from his face and leaving his glasses somewhere up on his forehead before he straightened them back onto his nose where they belonged.
No one else was there. He hadn’t heard a thing, the door had been closed.
His heart thudding in his chest, he saw that it was her fingers that had taken hold of his coat. And that her eyes were looking up at him, bright and aware and beautiful.
“You’re awake,” was all he was able to get out, whispered for all that it sounded to him like an echoed shout in a cavern filled with silence.
“I just woke up again,” she said, voice croaking, sounding dry, and he poured her some water, hands able to do the job despite the fact that they were shaking. “Maxie? That’s… you, right?”
He nodded, not trusting his voice again at first.
“How – how long?”
She blinked, concentrating more on the water than answers, and he didn’t mind. It didn’t matter. She looked back up, and frowned.
It was then that he wondered, just as had become a frequent habit – what was she seeing, what was she thinking – but this time, it was no mere fantasy. She was there, awake, and thinking her own thoughts and feeling her own emotions, rather than ones that he would project onto her.
Was she unhappy with his presence? She could not have been awake for long. He did not know what her reaction might be to his being there as one of the first person she saw.
“Are… you crying?”
He touched his face.
Wet. She’s right. When…?
“It’s nothing to worry about, May.” Not anymore. “Everything is fine.”
“Oh,” she said, smiling. Perhaps it was simply him, but the action lit up the room. “That’s okay then.”
She closed her eyes again, but this time he knew – everything would be fine.