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Turn Around, Bright Eyes

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It has been a slow and winding journey to stand upon this precipice. One that has brought Ingo through time and space, from forgotten cliffsides to dusty training grounds, through wormholes to hospital beds and then to unfamiliar haunts clinging to the label of Home. And from these points, he has only just begun to broaden the borders of his existence once more, tracing the paths he used to walk to see what he can glean from what landmarks yet remain. Most of these, he has embarked upon with company, traveling through towns to reacquaint with the friends he's forgotten, every cafe date and Pokemon battle a careful exercise in treading upon eggshells. But for reasons he cannot voice, he felt the need to come to this destination alone.

The Castelia Gym and Art Museum. It is late in the evening, past when the building would normally close and the trainers have gone home for the evening. The Gym Leader is keeping it open late for a private viewing. He insisted, after Ingo had explained in his digital letter how the discomfort of large crowds had been an obstacle in his desire to view the exhibit. Ingo protested enough to be polite, but in all honesty? He is thankful for the opportunity, for somewhere to go other than his shared apartment for one night, seeing as he still has a ways to go before he can return to work at Gear Station.

(If he ever can, he thinks to himself. He isn't getting better around crowds, loud noises, or all those clinging smells. The train rides he's taken have left him shaken and nauseous. To say nothing of the first time he'd seen the train and suffered a violent flashback to the time he'd faced an Alpha, best not to dwell on that. He's taking a detour from that train of thought right now.)

This is a good step, Ingo tells himself. Proving he can travel alone in this world again. And the gym will be calm and quiet, he's been assured. Burgh had asked if Ingo might perhaps wish to wait for the next exhibit, as the current one is about to close and is "very personal, grapples with...a deep sense of loss. I wouldn't want to impose when you're already going through so much." But Ingo had insisted. Everyone tried to keep him away from shadows nowadays, even though that's where he feels most comfortable. Besides, what better way to learn about one of his close companions again than by starting with the deep end?

He hovers before the gym doorways a moment, though he can't voice what he's waiting for. His fingers worry the sleeves of his coat, feeling for familiar tears that are no longer present. New coat, new clothes in general, they all feel too stiff and formal. This is the Subway Master's uniform, not the Warden's, almost familiar but still off. Yet it's close enough to remain comforting, so he wears it even as fake as he feels while unable to perform the duties once expected of him.

What will Burgh expect of him? What is this man like? Ingo has tried asking others, but even Emmet is evasive and tight-lipped on that front. Just that they were "close". Ingo couldn't glean much from the letter (email, it's called an email) either; Burgh had certainly seemed polite, but those tiny lines had held none of the personality of a handwritten note, no tone for Ingo to read. There might be some hints in Ingo's closet, where the boxes of photo albums and other memory paraphernalia lurk. He doesn't know. Every time he looks, he only finds himself disappointed by all the sparks of recognition that never come, so he's stopped trying.

The glass doors slide open. "So sorry to keep you waiting! Unless you were enjoying the scenery? Certainly, there is inspiration to be found in a liminal space like a doorway..."

The voice is so bright, as is the man it belongs to. Lithe and elegant and dressed in green, reminding Ingo of Lady Liligant with such poise. He is disheveled in a put-together way, loose clothes artfully draped over his pale body, bushy brown hair artfully tousled. He's got an easy smile and sparkling eyes that do not narrow when they catch on Ingo's features that have given everyone else such concern, the scars and the facial hair and the weary lines of stress.

"Burgh?" Ingo asks, and waits for the man's face to fall upon realizing that Ingo has not magically remembered anything upon seeing him.

This does not happen. The man smiles soft as morning sunlight. "That's the name I sign on all my work, at least. Glad to finally lure you back into my web, Ingo. Here, come in, come in."

The lobby is Gym standard, save for the ticket booth on one side for visitors who only wish to view the art, and the walls bear paintings from other members of the gym staff, disparate styles that somehow still look cohesive when placed together. Burgh asks how the train ride down was (fascinating scenery; there weren't deserts like that in Hisui), what does he think of Castelia City (too much of everything, though Ingo voices that in kinder words), would he like a drink of anything before they begin (fresh water is fine, even if he can taste the plastic from the bottles). Ingo cannot think of many questions in exchange, but when he asks how the day's battles were, Burgh's eyes glisten like a Cherrim opening up to sunlight.

"They were wonderful–works of art! The children of today always impress me with how elegant they already are in the art of Pokemon battles. Why today, we faced this surprisingly elegant Dewott...have you faced those of late?"

Here is where Ingo can find common ground, a topic he can still discuss with minimal derailment. He knows of Dewott! Oh, and Burgh is a Bug Gym Leader, correct? Ingo encountered so many bugs in Hisui! He'd found himself chased many a time by Paras and Mothim, foraging alongside Heracross for honey, and who could forget Lord Kleavor? (Oh, right. Everyone. Kleavor is extinct now. Hmm...)

Burgh chuckles as he hands Ingo his water. "Your enthusiasm is as contagious as ever. I'm so glad to hear it! I was afraid that..." he trails off until Ingo gives him a questioning look. "Oh, pardon me. I'd simply heard rumor that you'd gone quiet since your return home."

Ingo fumbles with the bottle of water, worrying his thumb along the ridge of the plastic. "Is that so? I apologize if I'm being too loud." He was always too loud, back in Hisui. Or in the apartment. (Or during what Emmet called his panic attack. No one told him so, but he knows he was, he felt so many stares on his shoulders, like Alphas preparing to strike.)

"Quite the contrary, Ingo. I do so enjoy hearing your voice again. To be so passionate that it suffuses your every truly is wonderful, I say!" Burgh laughs, delight with no malice or remorse. "Now, are you ready for the exhibit? We could even have a battle of our own at the end, if you would like. I would love to meet your new teammates."

Ingo smiles. "I would love that. I think they would too."

"Wonderful! Now, the exhibit ahead is dimly lit in parts, and our regular guide has gone home for the evening. If you do not mind me guiding the way..."

Burgh offers his hand. His skin looks smooth, but Ingo's thumb catches upon callouses where the paintbrushes sit upon fingers, a patch or two of paint that weren't fully scrubbed away. Fingertips settle on Ingo's knuckles, brushing against scars.

(No, he's reading too much into this, stop thinking about hands , he's just being stupidly starved for contact again after being so alone.) Ingo clears his throat and points ahead with his free hand. "Then let us be off! All aboard!"

"All aboard indeed!" Burgh says with another little laugh. Ingo's stomach flips as they leave the brightly lit lobby and into the darkness of the museum proper. The sign next to the doorway shows a photo of a chair in moonlight, a broken chrysalis pod resting on the seat, bearing the simple title of Elegy.

The first room's walls are covered in bookshelves. A false window showcases a nighttime painting, and the clock overhead is stuck at 11:59. The lights in the room are obscured by Venomoth, which are chewing the cloth covers that adorn each book with names like "childhood" and "first attempts". A trail of dropped and discarded books leads to a large table in the middle of the room, where piles of books settle before two chairs alongside notebooks and painted coffee cups, names replaced by looping hearts. A dark coat has been draped over one chair.

"A library?" Ingo asks. He has visited a couple since returning, namely the one in Nacrene to help answer questions about Hisui. This place is not so naturally disorganized, as every book is artfully laid out, order disguised as chaos.

"A first meeting," Burgh says. He holds an arm out, and a Venomoth settles on his limb to nuzzle his face. "Also, a place to showcase some older work from college, the kind I used to be embarrassed of showing. But sometimes, we have to let go of how we view the past, let it out into the world for others to judge." He strides over to a book on the table, a collection titled "Words I Found For Love", and opens up to a tucked-in page of a man's body from the neck down, done in deep red ink. "For example, I long ago grew sick of this little assignment sketch, but others have found meaning I never would have guessed in it."

"Because they didn't live through the frustrations you did," Ingo surmises. He picks up the next book in the stack, titled "Your Favorite Comfort Read", and is surprised to find that it is a fiction novel about a group of rag-tag children living aboard a fantastical train. Inside this one is a sketch of a Charjabug-inspired train, clearly another early Burgh design, though it is accompanied by notes in blocky handwriting that looks suspiciously familiar. The notes comment upon the design, which elements are sensible and which are far too fantastical to implement, and even suggestions on how the train could feasibly, be created. "Hmm. Someone was a harsh critic."

That gets a bark of a laugh out of Burgh, though he covers his mouth sheepishly afterwards. "Someone was merely passionate and had to jot down ideas on how to make the concept work. We actually collaborated later that term, made a moving sculpture based on the design. Shame I couldn't display it here as well. There incident involving one of the fraternities and a rampant group of runaway Tepig."

"How tragic. I would have loved to see it. I already find this design intriguing, though I can see where your critic was coming from on some of these notes..." He gently closes the book and sets it down, but when he opens up the next one, a Polaroid photo drifts out, and he barely catches it before it hits the floor. It appears to be of a room similar to this one, though without nearly so many Venomoths. "You took a photography class?"

"Ah, no. I mean yes, I did one term, but that's not what this is for." Burgh gently shakes his arm to send a Venomoth away. "These are for the Gym Challenge, you see. The challengers not only have to fight my trainers, but they also have to find a photograph hidden in each exhibit. Only by bringing them all to the end can they face me in the final room." He holds his hand out to take the photograph. "Here, I can set it back. You aren't a challenger, after all."

"Aren't I? After all, I do intend to battle you at the end of this. And I find this a splendid way to make sure the challengers are engaging with your art instead of bulldozing through." He tucks the photograph into a pocket to keep it safe. "Before we go, can you show me a few more of your college sketches?"

Burgh is happy to oblige, chatting about the circumstances behind each one, long studio nights and inspired spur-of-the-moment gesture sketches at events. Ingo hangs onto his every word, letting the enthusiasm wash over him. Even if he cannot quite imagine a college campus, some of the stories remind him of the goings-on in Hisui, like how this library reminds him of the occasional visits to Professor Laventon's office. It's quiet here. Peaceful. No one but them and the Venomoths, and Pokemon do not judge him for what he is or fails to be.

But they cannot linger here too long, if Ingo wants to catch a reasonable train back home, so onward they must go. The next room looks more familiar to Ingo, as it appears to be a forest clearing. Huge knit trees loom around the room, encasing it in darkness, save for a solitary artificial sunbeam filtering through the trees to illuminate the middle of the clearing. A man's shadow has been painted on the floor, but there is no figure to cast it. At the feet of where a man should be are field notes, a Pokedex, modern open Pokeballs, and a picnic basket winged by two thermoses.

Instead of Venomoths, this room is filled with Dustox, gently chewing holes in the knit trees, save for one that has fallen asleep atop the picnic basket. They look so peaceful, but Ingo still pauses upon noticing them. There are so many here, as if he'd stumbled upon a Mass Outbreak of them. His body braces for any number of powders they might inflict upon him, even as his mind forcefully reminds him that he is safe here.

"Ingo? Are you alright?" The hand holding his tightens, a thumb rubbing soothing circles along the back of his hand. "You don't need words if you cannot find them. A nod or shake is answer enough."

Ingo nods. Takes a deep breath. Exhales. "I am fine. I know yours are...tame. And small." He lets go of Burgh's hand (how long has he been holding on? Is that weird, has he been making his guide uncomfortable?) and holds his arm out the way Burgh did, whistling a tune close to the Celestica flute. One of the smaller Venomoths flits down and settles, wiggling its little antennae at him. Reminds him of the Dustox that would hang around the Galaxy Team hall. He pockets his emptied bottle of water and uses this free hand to pet the curious bug's head. 

"Hello there, passenger! Please remain securely fastened for this ride. Keep your feet behind the sleeve cuff. Now, let us depart and examine this room. All aboard!"

Burgh chuckles at the sight, and he follows Ingo around and provides the context for this room instead of asking (pleading) Ingo if he remembers such a place yet. "This is Pinwheel Forest! We used to come here a lot, to research bug types and generally escape the hustle and bustle of the city. There's something so...well, I would call nature relaxing, but I suppose that's a modern privilege."

"Depends on the nature. There were parts of Hisui that were certainly peaceful. There was one particular grove in the Highlands that was by the water, and the way the sun hit it was breathtaking. I'd try my hand at foraging there when I could, so long as I could avoid the Carnivine and Mothim." He pauses, the rest of his brain catching up with Burgh's explanation. "...We? You mean, you and the subject of this exhibit? Are they different people for each room, or the same one?"

Burgh holds a finger up to his lips. "Why, that is for the viewer to uncover. What is the story here? Who, or what, is the artist missing? While artist descriptions have their place, I want my visitors to draw their own thoughts and conclusions, create a dialogue between us. So that said...what do you think?"

Ingo hums as he approaches the shadow on the floor, lines up his feet and tries to line up his own shade. "I think I need to look a little more. Leaping to assumptions is dangerous." He doesn't want to answer too hastily either, for Burgh's sake. After all, this is their first time meeting in person since his return, and Ingo has no idea what their relationship was beforehand thanks to how vague everyone has been. This territory is as unfamiliar as Hisui once was, and careful observation is the only way to survive.

So, he observes, meandering around the exhibit while he asks Burgh questions. About Pinwheel Forest, and what kind of Pokemon can be found there. About how often Burgh has visited the place. Where he got all these bugs for his exhibits. Ingo listens as he examines the fabric knit into the shape of trees, tries to determine the meaning of the colors used and wondering how often Burgh has to re-knit the exhibit with how many holes the Dustoxes have chewed up (or maybe that's part of the point).

In the back corner of the exhibit, Ingo finds a knit tree with a piece of actual wood dangling from it. It's carved in a heart shape with two letters carved in, the way couples have long since carved parts of their names into trees. Taped to it is another Polaroid. Ingo turns it around in his hand and says, "I'm starting to figure out what's connecting these stops, I think. But I'd like to see more rooms first before drawing any conclusions...not that I'm much of an artist."

Except then, even as Burgh protests "Yes you are! I mean...everyone is, in their own way," and Ingo pockets the photo, his fingers bump against something roughly hewn. Ah, yes. He supposes he did make these during Hisui, one of the odd habits he'd picked up. He scoops up the tiny whittled Sneasel and holds it out for Burgh to examine. The doll is a small one, unpainted and a little lopsided even after all of Ingo's practice, but he feels like he captured the mischievous glint commonly found in his charge's eyes.

"You...made this, Ingo?" Burgh's green eyes are wide as he examines it, and when Ingo hands it over, he takes it so gingerly as if cradling Ingo's own heart in his palms. He turns it around in long, delicate fingers, surveying every angle as he holds it up to the simulated forest light. "Why, this is beautiful, my dear...friend. I had not realized you'd gotten into woodcraft."

"It started as a necessity, in order to make Pokeballs. But one evening I had a surplus of wood and nowhere to go during a storm, so...I tried my hand at these." His fingers are littered in tiny scars as proof of his many trials and errors. He watches a moment more at how elated Burgh seems by the tiny craft (the way the light catches on his hair and cheekbones, the way his delicate wrists poke out from under his sleeves) before clearing his throat and saying, "You can keep that one. If you'd like. I can always carve another."

Why...does Burgh look almost sad at that? He nods, brows creasing, looking as if he wants to speak but has to choke his emotions down first. He clutches the carving to his chest before he's able to speak. "Thank you. I will cherish it." His voice is so soft that it makes Ingo want to reach out and hold him close. He settles instead for offering his hand again for Burgh to take, wondering why that feels so easy, so natural.

(Do not think about the carved initials being IB.)

The Dustox takes its leave from Ingo's arm, and onward they go to the third exhibit. This area seems to open up from the near-claustrophobic visages of the library walls and forest trees to the Castelia city docks, painted so that it almost appears there are no walls, only endless sea and sky resting forever on the edge of sunset. The entire room is cast in a manufactured golden hour, and it makes this false Castelia seem warm and vibrant compared to the smoggy gray streets Ingo trudged through on his way over.

Poised around this artificial street scene are wire frame humans covered in colorful stretches of moth-eaten fabric, engaged in activities such as ordering Castelia Cones and setting sail on small boats. They all give a wide berth to the dock in the middle room, where one figure wearing a familiar scarf clutches one end of a rope. The other end stretches across the water, floating in midair before the stern of a drifting kayak, as if a pair of hands were holding the rope to keep from drifting away. A black hat hangs suspended by invisible wire, blown off an unseen head by the ocean breeze.

"Is this how you see the city?" Ingo asks as he approaches the dock. The water looks so lifelike, he almost questions if he has perhaps entered a strange distortion on the Coastlands.

"It used to be," Burgh answers, though his voice is quieter now than it was before. "Sometimes it still is. But I must confess, more and more, it all seems..." He shakes his head. "Ah, that is this blue period of mine talking. Though I always found the phrase trite, don't you? Gray seems far more apropos when your every creation seems dreary."

"I don't find this dreary." Ingo perches on the edge of the pier, next to the wire figure with the rope. He rocks the soles of his shoes along the edge, on the precipice of falling over, and stares out at the fake skyline. If he squints, he can make out distant flocks of birds, tiny details one can only see if they put themselves in the artist's shoes. "I wish I could see the city this way. Perhaps you could give me a tour sometime? If that's not being too presumptuous, I mean. I know you're busy."

"No no, not presumptuous at all. I have been far more embroiled in this exhibit than I should be. Even if an artist feels most at home in their studio, it is far more important to be out in the world, searching for inspiration and wonder." This false sunset warms Burgh's face, dusts his cheeks and the tips of his ears in pink. "I would love to show you the Castelia City I fell for."

Ingo almost says "It's a date," but he knows how that would sound. He forces out "Nothing would make me happier," then quickly sets about searching for the photograph hidden in this room. In the boat? No, that wouldn't be feasible for a child to reach. On one of the human figures? No...hmm...ah, here on the Castelia Cone cart! It's carefully taped over one of the flavors, which appears to be chocolate with...hmm...tiny mochi bits?

"Did you have a chance to grab one on your way over?" Burgh asks. Ingo shakes his head. "They do sell out quickly, but I suggest grabbing one if you can. You were always partial to Rocky Road."

And what is there to say to that? This accidental off-hand confirmation that yes, they were close, close enough to know each other's favorite ice cream flavors? That the initials in the wood, the critic in the library...

"What are the little white bits?"

"Marshmallows. They're sweet, like soft and chewy bits of sugar. You liked them for the texture contrasts. Said it was like frozen...did they have cocoa? Where you...ended up?"

He thinks a moment before nodding. Yes, Laventon had received a shipment from his home once and deigned to share it. It had been so warm and sweet, like a hug sliding down his throat to his heart. It had made him cry, first from happiness and then because he couldn't remember where that happiness came from.

"Good. At least you weren't completely bereft of small comforts. Though believe you me, try it again with marshmallows next time you can. I believe you'll find it quite enjoyable on a cold evening!"

Ingo has to wonder, as they close the door on a false sunset and escaping lifelines, if he and Burgh ever shared cocoa to stave off cold nights. He can't bring himself to grab Burgh's hand again, for fear of the familiarity his body remembers but his head's forgotten, so his arm hangs uselessly at his side as he tells Burgh a little more about Hisui.

The next rooms flow by in much the same manner. A crowded cafe full of sleepy Mothim, two orders of coffee suspended by unseen hands as old jazz numbers and excerpts of romantic exchanges play over the radio. An art studio with a wall-to-ceiling painting surrounded by Vivilion, the painting's subject conspicuously absent and the figure of the painting looking at a muse's empty stage. Gear Station, doors open to a carriage on the Single Line, the pictures on the wall slowly changing from advertisements for the Battle Subway to Missing Persons posters and finally memorial messages and flowers, the offerings left unguarded.

"Instead of moths, I actually had Crustle here. Yours, as a matter of fact. She felt...calmest here, I'm told. Like she could still protect some part of you."

"I see. Thank you for helping her."

"Of course. She helped me too, after all."

Walking through these exhibits, Ingo feels like a ghost haunting his own past. There are spots clearly meant for him, but he cannot step into place and make the scenes resume as they're supposed to. He no longer fits. Even in his old suit and coat, he is worn, he is damaged, he is missing. And he is missed too. Honestly, Burgh must have the patience of a Zen Darumaka, because the pictures he's painted are of a man deeply in love, a man who has lost his muse, and it becomes clear the longer they walk that those memories aren't coming back anytime soon. If ever. There is no movie flashback, no tear-filled statements of "I remember", no stirrings in his heart. Just a hand that feels far too safe to hold, so Ingo cannot let go even though he should, and a beautiful paint-smeared face that falls a little more with every room.

Now here they are, standing before a painted door with those initials carved into it again. Burgh coughs into his fist and explains, "I usually don't make the challengers go through this room. I have the penultimate Pokemon here floating with the photograph, and let the trainers chase it down a side hallway to let off some steam. They're children, after all. Now, I'm not going to make you run, but if you'd rather..."

He should say yes, even to the running, Ingo thinks. But he cannot pull away from those initials, or the faint music he hears through the cracks in the door.

"Ever since I got back, I haven't known who I used to be. Who I am now is Warden Ingo. But before that, I was a Subway Boss, and a big brother, a son and a nephew and a best friend, and...a lover, it seems." He squeezes the hand he can't stop holding. "I am not those things anymore. I haven't been sure how to fit, or...or even if I want to, in some cases." He cannot look at Burgh's face right now. "But I want to know what's through this door. Because it was important to you. And...maybe I do want it to be important to me again, too. If you'll let me. But if it will hurt you more to let me back in, when I'm like this..."

He trails off, but Burgh is patient. Burgh is willing to wait. And that is why Ingo says, "I don't think I could stand to see you in pain. Even if my mind does not remember what we were, it appears my heart still does."

Burgh squeezes his hand back, tight, and the doors swing open.

The scene before them is domestic and dark, the only light being the warm fires of this room's single moth, a brilliant Volcorona. She guides them through a studio flat, an entire day from dawn to dusk in suspended animation. Here is breakfast floating from skillet to plate, there are coats and shoes being slipped onto unseen bodies on their way out the door. A couch faces an old TV, the coffee table covered in sketchbooks and stained mugs and half-built model trains. The TV screen is painted with a cheesy romcom title page, as if the couple living here had just settled down to watch a movie. Paintings and photographs of the last few exhibits cover the walls.

And here, at the end of it all, is a bed. It is a large and contorted piece in red sheets that seem to sweep up and around like waves ready to crash upon its occupants. There is no body here, but there are imprints on the mattress, and the blankets are hung in a way to seem like they are clinging to a body that is reaching for the viewer, as if asking a lover to return to bed for one more moment. A bedside alarm clock radio plays a wakeup jazz number Ingo actually finds familiar. It's the one his own clock plays every morning, one of the few bits of routine he's readily embraced again since his return.

He cannot remember what this bed really looked like, but he can imagine. Waking up as early morning light drifts through the window, this familiar tune playing, brushing back Burgh's hair to press a kiss on his forehead before departing. The thought makes his chest feel as if it's caving in on itself.

"...Burgh? If I had been living with you before our departure, why was I not returned there once I made it back to my proper station?" Why did no one tell him where his home really was?

The artist seems so small, and Volcorona's quivering firelight makes the shadows on pale skin grow long, washes out the color in his clothes. He can no longer bring himself to smile, even for Ingo's sake.

"When you first came back to us...when you were in the hospital. You barely recognized your own twin and starter Pokemon. The rest of us, we visited in turn, but you treated us all as if we were strangers meeting for the first time. You...did not recognize me, Ingo."

Ingo does not remember seeing Burgh before, but the time spent in that hospital room melds together in a haze of stress and panic wrapped in white linoleum, beeping machinery, and stringent antiseptic scents. He saw so many faces during that time, he cannot recall a single one.

"It was my decision to not bring you back with me when you were discharged. Because...what else was I supposed to do? Insist that you would love a complete stranger? Pull you away from what little of your old life you did recall? I...I couldn't do that to you, Ingo. I couldn't make you love me again."

So he'd cut off contact completely, until Ingo reached out, so Ingo wouldn't find the man's heart on his sleeve. So Ingo would have space to remember in his own time, even though that never happened, Ingo hasn't remembered anything at all. So he waited until Ingo made the first move, and he'd tried to take down this monument to memory but Ingo had waltzed right in anyway, both of them now strangers to each other.

Perhaps it would be easier if either could let go. But holding Burgh's hand is still the most familiar sensation Ingo has encountered since he's arrived. He closes the gap, wipes away the tears forming in the other's eyes and says, "It seems you didn't have to make me do anything. My heart brought me back to where it belonged all on its own."

Somehow, even though all the years apart, the injuries and loss and heartache, they still fit perfectly together. The way Burgh's face buries in the crook of Ingo's neck, the feel of a soft shirt under calloused hands, the hum that fills his chest as they embrace. It feels right to slowly sway back and forth, to nuzzle his face close and murmur calming words until the tears run out. They slowly sink to the floor in front of the fabricated memory of the bed they once shared.

"I know I've forgotten all of this," Ingo says, his voice ringing through the room even though he tries to be quiet and tender. "I did not remember, and perhaps I never will. It could be argued that I am no longer the man you once fell in love with. But despite all that, I was wondering...if you would have me anyway. Being by your side is the closest I've felt to feeling like I'm truly home again since my return."

Even though he's worn and battered, with unexpected traumas that hold him hostage at unexpected times. Even though he can no longer handle crowds, bright lights or loud noises. Even though he doesn't remember anything about the people or Pokemon he once loved. He would understand if–

"Of course I would take you back." Burgh cups his soft hands around Ingo's face, thumbs running over gaunt cheekbones. "No matter what you look like, or what you remember...that doesn't change what's in your heart. If you feel like you no longer have a place in this world, then we'll carve you somewhere new. Whatever it takes, so I never feel the need to create an exhibit like this again. My heart isn't strong enough to lose you a second time."

Under Volcorona's unfailing light, the pair untangle themselves from the floor, promises dripping from lips. But there is still one last room. Ingo finds the final photograph needed on the nightstand beside his unseen doppelganger, and then he is ready to face the final challenge Burgh and this gym have laid out for him. The hallway to the final room remains in darkness, but Burgh knows the way and guides him through. "It's like an old fairytale of lovers escaping the afterlife. And I must admit, I'm just as afraid that if I turn around at the wrong time, you'll disappear again."

"I do not intend to." Though he's sure he never meant to leave in the first place, either. Words can only withstand the barrage of reality for so long, but he doesn't have much else left to build with. That's why you built this exhibit though, isn't it? So I wouldn't completely fade away."

Burgh's voice cracks as he speaks. "It is. After all, most people only ever knew you by the sound of your announcements over the subway lines, your photos hanging up in Gear Station. They didn't really know you."

The hallway opens up into a dim red room lined with Polaroids hanging from strings, and equipment along the walls for developing the photographs. Past the rows of photos is a stage where the floor is scuffed, which must be where Burgh's battles as gym leader take place. Ingo's confusion must show on his face, but Burgh leads him to a string of empty clothespins, one for each of the collected photographs. Ingo clips each of them into place in order of acquisition. When the last one has been placed, Burgh whistles a swift and lilting tune.

The photographs glow with the familiar violet of ghostly energy. Up on the stage, one last bug flickers into view. It takes Ingo a long moment to recognize the floating husk as a Shedinja. When the glow fades away and the lights in the room turn on, Ingo's gaze is not on the paint-splattered walls of Burgh's studio, but the seven photos that are no longer missing a subject.

They are all photos of him. A furtively shot picture of him working at the college library as a youth, backlit by a window as he reaches to shelve a book. Feeding a berry to a Venipede in the forest. Smiling oh-so-slightly at the pier, a smudge of chocolate ice cream on his cheek. A coffee date, a modeled pose, dinner after his first shift as a Subway Boss. A domestic, candid shot of him snuggling their shared collection of Pokemon on the couch.

"All of's my homage to you. Sharing what made you so important to me in the vain hope that others might understand and keep that memory alive."

For the first time since his return, Ingo does not find himself shying away from these photographs of himself. It's one thing to know that he's traveled Unova, went to college here and lived his life in cities for years. It's another to see his handwritten notes on an art student's passion project, to hear the song he once awoke to every morning, for someone to remember the tastes his tongue savored most on sunlit outings. All these little things are not lost to the past, but roadmaps for things that can happen again in the future if he wishes, or guideposts to pass along the way to somewhere new.

"Do you...want the photos, when I'm done? I'm changing the exhibit at the end of the week. Seeing as you're back and all. I would have removed it the moment you got home, but..."

"No, it's fine. I'm glad I got to see it. Even if I don't remember being this Ingo, I feel like...I now have a better idea of who I might like to be." He looks at the photographs again, thinking long and hard about their fate. "Instead of keeping them, how about we reshoot them? Return to these places and take new photographs. Together."

Burgh smiles at that. "The moment you're ready, dear, just say the word. Nothing makes me happier than being by my muse's side again." He unclips something from his belt, and at first Ingo thinks the artist has a camera at ready. Instead, it is a Pokeball. "And recalling what makes you happy...are you still up for a battle?"

Ingo finds himself smiling back. "Some things will never change."