There was something deadening about seeing her own body lying on the floor.
Hilda's airways constricted as she stopped breathing. There was no more air in her lungs. However, more than several seconds passed and she still didn't feel any inclination to take a breath until she realized something.
She didn't have to breathe.
The explosion for her absolute terror was interrupted when something came in through the door. A white wisp. And it shot straight into her body! Seeing this, she gave a cry.
What was happening!
Her body twitched once. Then the eyes flickered wide open, causing Hilda to scramble backwards. Just from a glance, she knew those eyes didn't belong to her. They were deep and at the same time too young to be hers. They were eyes that children had when they experienced something beyond what any human should go through. Then Hilda realized something.
She thought of N and the look he had given her two years ago, right before he left her behind. It must have been the same way for him! The eyes he had shown her then were just like the eyes of a child.
Then the mouth on her body moved and Hilda looked up to make out what it was trying to say. The person controlling her body repeated it one last time.
And Hilda immediately knew who it was. Before she could reply, however, Volkner burst into the room.
She leapt to her feet at the sight of him, but in the next moment her heart sank with disappointment when she saw that his eyes hadn't looked at her, but at the imposter before him.
"Volkner!" The imposter ran up to him with relief and gladness in her voice. Her eyes must've been shining with happiness. This was, after all, her second chance at being alive.
Hilda thought he might sense something was wrong, that he might be able to see through the lie in front of him. His next words, however, made her heart clench in hopelessness.
"Are you alright?"
She wanted to scream and yell and stomp her foot so she get him to look her way. She was panicking, seeing how invisible she was to him. 'Look at me!' she wanted to say. 'I'm right here!'
"The Haunter scared me a little before you came, but he ran away as soon as you opened the door." The false Hilda stepped closer to him. "We can use this chance to get out of here!"
She was about to take his hand when he pulled it away.
Shocked, Hilda looked up at him with fearful eyes, but it wasn't Hilda who was looking at him in that way.
It was the girl.
He had it figured out the moment he saw her expression. Those eyes…they weren't Hilda's. And when she answered his question, it only erased whatever doubt he had left.
This had been her plan all along: a new life. However, he knew that in the end her plan would fail because he was never going to let her get away with it.
She didn't see Volkner's hand pull back from the girl.
Hilda's emotions had temporarily blinded her to the world. The feeling of being ignored, of being invisible, was threatening to drive her mad. If this was how she was going to live the rest of her life, then she would do anything to stop that from happening.
Without hestiation, Hilda pushed forward, reaching both hands out to grab his.
"No!" She heard her own voice cry out for her to stop and knew it was the girl, but she didn't care. All that mattered was if he would just look at her like she existed.
Her hands touched his warm skin.
Volkner felt pressure on his hand.
Surprised, he immediately looked down to see a pair of see-through hands on his own. Then he felt an overwhelming wave of emotion wash over him.
A pair of arms quickly came into visibility, then the torso and body, and finally…
"No…" The false Hilda backed away. Her hands were beginning to clench into fists at seeing the scene unfold before her. This wasn't part of the plan!
Hilda cried his name once his eyes truly locked with hers and leaped into him so she could catch him in a tight hug. He could see her!
Volkner found his arms almost moving of their own accord as he wrapped them around her waist and pulled her even closer to him. Her head only reached his shoulder so her face was buried in the crook of his neck and he could feel her hair tickling his chin. Even as a spirit, he could still feel every little sensation of her being against him. It didn't take him long to realize that most of the satisfaction sweeping through him was his own.
"I'm not giving it back."
He released Hilda from their embrace when he heard those determined words and stepped back to look at the girl possessing Hilda's body. She had her arms crossed and stood with both feet planted stubbornly into the ground.
"I don't want to go back to being a spirit." She said and shifted her eyes to stare balefully at Hilda. "Now that you're one, can't you understand what it's like? Or maybe you don't because you still remember everything! It's not fair! Even after all these years I can't even remember my own name!"
Suddenly, a familiar voice declared from behind them, "It's Helen."
Volkner smiled at this. Her timing was impeccable.
"Your name is Helen and you are the younger sister of my grandmother who lived here fifty years ago."
Gardenia stepped past him; her eyes were blazing with a determination that was a reminder of why she was a gym leader. She was focused. She was driven. She was intent on telling Helen the truth.
So she did.
"You were reported missing. No one knew what happened to you and how you simply disappeared one day, but many efforts were made to look for you. For weeks, my grandmother searched the house, hoping you were just hiding somewhere for fun. However, eventually people stopped looking for a little girl. People stopped looking for a living, breathing person. People stopped looking altogether. Finally, after three weeks, you were declared dead."
Helen's breathing grew harsh. Gardenia's last words hit her hard. The Gym Leader did not pause in her story, however, because she knew that if she stopped, she might never be able to start again.
"Soon, your father decided to move out of the house because he couldn't handle the heartbreak of living in the mansion that took his younger daughter's life. But, before my grandmother followed him and left the house, she took two things with her."
Gardenia held the two items in front of her. The portrait in one hand was almost identical with the one on the wall, except this time this one looked exactly like Helen. And the other hand held an extremely old piece of cloth with faded symbols written in black ink. The spell tag.
"My grandmother told me how, in the end, she knew her little sister's spirit must still be in the house so she removed the cleanse tag from the wall. She never stopped telling me about you, how you were before you died, what you loved to do, she would always find a way to mention you. And, because of her stories, I know where every last room in this chateau is. If you'll let me, I can take you the room where you died."
Helen was silent now, her mouth pinched in an effort not to wail from the overwhelming emotions assailing her. How easily could a five-year old, even one with a soul older than fifty years, accept the truth about her death?
Gardenia swallowed hard, forcing herself to continue despite her pause. "She said that once you learn the truth and find your body, she'll be able to see you again." Then her gaze flushed with shame and she looked down, "But I was always too afraid to come here. If I had, I might've been able to reunite the two of you sooner."
The room was quiet for a long time.
Then Helen, with Hilda's face and body, started to cry. She cried because of her happiness at finally knowing her name. She cried at how overwhelming the knowledge of her death could be. And she cried at finally being able to express her bottled pain.
"I'll come." She looked Hilda straight in the eye. "Now that I know my sister's waiting for me, I don't want to hurt you anymore."
"If I were in your shoes," Hilda replied. "I might've just ended up doing the same thing. I can't stay angry at you, but Haunter…he…knew the truth and didn't tell you."
The girl shook her head and said,
"He always felt bad about it, even though I never blamed him. I think he always thought this way was better. I don't think he regrets it. But maybe once I find my body again he won't be so sad anymore."
Volkner could see an understanding in Helen's gaze that again went beyond what a five year old should have.
Feeling a longing come from Hilda, he turned his head to look at her. She subsequently avoided his eyes as the longing inside her turned to embarrassment. Having someone constantly aware of your emotions was something anyone could forget about every now and then.
Gardenia turned and led Helen away, bringing their attentions back to her. She motioned for them to follow.
Hilda continued to hold his hand. Perhaps it was so she could remind herself that she was still there as they followed Eterna's Gym Leader one room over to the right.
It was obvious that there used to be a doorway there, the doorknob removed, and the door painted and wallpapered over. There was another imprint on the wall where the cleanse tag used to be.
"I remember it now." Helen stood before the sealed doorway. "I came in here to play with Haunter as usual, but forgot about the workers and fell asleep." She shook her head with the memory. "By the time Haunter woke me up, it was already too late."
Gardenia did something unexpected then.
She walked up to the girl, who was standing so stiffly, and hugged her. There was no crying or murmurs of regret and remorse, just a hug.
After getting over her initial surprise, the girl returned it and whispered, "Thank you."
Then they pulled apart and Helen turned to Hilda.
"I'm leaving your body now. Haunter used destiny bond on you, but you still have time." Then she looked at Volkner. "Catch her."
Helen closed her eyes and Hilda's body suddenly stiffened, then went limp and started leaning to one side. Hilda released his hand so that he could lunge forward and catch it without hesitation.
He laid Hilda's body out before her, his hand supporting the head.
Hilda knelt down beside her own self. Then took a deep breath. Her heart must've been pounding with the sudden swell of anxiety that peaked inside him. "Here we go." She whispered, referring to them both. After all, he was still connected to her in mind. Once she returned to her body, there was no guarantee that something wouldn't happen to him as well.
Volkner watched as she reached out a tentative hand toward her body's face. Was a touch all it took?
Suddenly, her figure began to deteriorate. Hilda immediately caught him in an anxious look, but he kept calm and thought reassuring thoughts in his mind, knowing she would feel them.
When she did, her expression relaxed and Volkner no longer felt the sharp tension in his chest that had indicated her anxiety.
Finally, she was nothing more than a wispy, floating light, which then filtered through her body's mouth. The body shuddered in his arms as Hilda's spirit re-claimed then there was a distinct sigh of relief from her lips as her lungs began functioning properly once more.
Her eyes, however, remained closed.
Volkner pulled her closer to him, holding up her head with one hand and the other... He reached down to pick up her hand.
It was warm and alive, bringing relief to a part of him deep inside. Then, as he watched her, that part of him began to spread until it threatened to engulf his body in an emotion that was foreign to him.
All of a sudden her presence was overflowing in his mind! He was almost drowning in the contents of her soul.
As if instinctively, he pulled her even more tightly into him and pressed her hand against his chest where his heart was beating three times faster than it should've been. Was this what she could do to him? Her face was so close now.
Halfway to the space of her neck where he would've claimed the area in a searing kiss, Volkner flinched and pulled away. What was he doing?
How easy it would be to simply let go of her hand and push her hat away and press his lips on to her forehead and-
His heart no longer made sense.
Then Hilda's hat fell soundlessly to the floor, exposing her face and the few bangs that covered it.
Volkner stopped breathing in that moment, his mind so full with Hilda's consciousness, his heart so torn by the emotions that lived inside of it, and... before he could control his impulse, his fingers gently brushed the bangs away.
Something changed inside him then, feeding off the heart that pulsed with a foreign emotion screaming to be released all at once. It was the way he held her and the way her mind almost melded with his and the way he pushed the hair out of her eyes like a man would for a lover that fed the change happening inside him.
How could he suddenly feel this way? Or had he felt this way since the beginning?
As the Gym Leader cradled the girl's head in his arm and gazed down at her face, he felt a tenderness enter his heart.
Right then in that moment she never looked more beautiful to him.
Everything was happening too fast.
And then the reality of this new emotion hit him hard.
Throwing up logic and reason as barriers against his decided moment of insanity, his mind forced him to look at the facts. For most of his life, he had been treading a careful path to maintain a certain distance and a barrier between him and most everyone else. Even when he had entered what was supposed to be considered a close and personal relationship with Elesa, he had placed a line between them. But with Hilda, with their overwhelming mental link, and with the circumstances that had thrown them together, it was too late. From the start it had been impossible to keep this from happening, impossible to keep their relationship from staying as it was, impossible to stay nothing more than partners.
Volkner had the largest suspicion, lodged somewhere deep in his mind, that meeting Hilda had been decided for him since the beginning. In his mind, he saw the protective path he had walked over the years crumble right from beneath his feet as he fell into something he had never truly experienced before.
In his mind, he saw electricity course like a powerful thunderbolt through the solar panels in his dream, maximizing his city's power capacity. Everything had changed, just as he feared it would.
But who knew it could feel so good?
She saw the change in Volkner's eyes and watched as the man, who had always seemed to her a leader, a mentor, and a guide, bend his head down to press his lips in as tender a kiss as she had ever seen any man give on to the forehead of the girl lying so still in his arms.
"You'll have to move her, Volkner." Gardenia had to break the moment. No matter how important or special it was, there were still other things that needed to be done. "I'm tearing this door down and giving Helen a proper burial in the yard. Afterwards, if... she doesn't wake up, I'll take you to a house where you can stay the night."
She called out Roserade and, when the Pokemon appeared, paint and wallpaper were immediately sliced away. She kicked the door hard and it crumpled on impact.
"By the way, her dragon's waiting outside for her."
Then Gardenia entered the room where the remains of a girl, who was no longer alone, lay waiting to be discovered.
For the past two years, she had had recurring dreams where she would find herself in N's castle, standing at the gaping hole where she had last seen the castle's owner.
This time, though, things were a little different.
This time someone was with her.
"Hilda. You still dream about this place?"
Hilda turned to look at the owner of the voice. She turned a little too gracefully, a little too perfectly, which was natural since the dream belonged to her. "Do you?" She asked.
Her first question.
"Of course." N walked up so he stood by her side, staring at the hole in the wall alongside her. "I remember this moment like it was yesterday, if you don't mind me using such a common saying."
They stood together for a while in companionable silence until Hilda broke it by asking, "Tell me, N. What are you afraid of?"
"Afraid of?" He repeated. "I would think it was the same thing you're afraid of."
"It's not really the same thing." Hilda said. "It's true, I'm a little reluctant to call myself an adult and I don't feel confidant at all as the hero of Unova, but there's another problem."
N looked over at her. "What is it then?"
When Hilda turned to face him, he did the same. He saw she was being serious. "I'm waiting for you, N."
"Were you?" His eyes softened, which surprised her. He had never given her that kind of look before. "I guess it's my fault then. I didn't mean for that to happen to you."
He turned away then and started walking slowly down the long platform leading deeper into his castle.
"I did leave because I was scared. But it wasn't in becoming an adult, no. I was scared of what we would become." He stopped unexpectedly, which caused Hilda to freeze up as she had been about to fall into step beside him.
"We?" Now she was the one repeating things. "What do you mean?"
"That moment, right before I left…I tried to kiss you. Do you remember?" His words were quiet and his back was still turned to her so she couldn't see his face.
"It's the part I remember best," She said, half-jokingly. "Who forgets things like that?"
"I stopped halfway because I was afraid of what it might mean, what it might become." N shook his head, his hair swaying back and forth like the leaves of the White Forest caught in a gentle breeze. "I was afraid that I might be falling in love and I wasn't ready for it."
His last few words caused her to flinch.
Then he turned to her and Hilda had to ask herself if this was really the man she thought she knew two years ago. There was that soft look in his eyes, which was so hard to understand.
"But I've already grown up, Hilda. You don't need to wait for me anymore. Believe that you're an adult. Have faith in it. Then once you turn seventeen, that belief will become a reality."
She looked at him with an unasked question in her eyes. He smiled.
"How each person becomes an adult is different. For me, it was when I accepted the fact that I do have feelings for you and I hoped, with all my soul, that it would be the same for you. But that's only an example. I'm not forcing you to do anything you don't want to, Hilda."
Hilda didn't know what to feel, but she had to tell him the truth of the matter now. If she was going to start believing she was an adult, then she was going to have to be honest with herself.
"N…I…I knew I liked you then, two years ago. And I know I still like you now. But…" She faltered. Her mind was trying to grasp at the right words to say. "I... don't know if I can return those kinds of feelings to you just yet. There's still something I need to figure out."
The castle around her warped for a moment and suddenly Hilda was alone again on the beach of a Sunyshore City years into the past with a single, lone figure standing beside her. She looked up to see Volkner looking down at her.
Yes, even in her dreams she knew it. One day she would set foot on his side of the dream and see for herself the city that he had envisioned and built with his own two hands. And it was that feeling of anticipation, of excitement and curiosity, that kept her heart from belonging completely to the man who had disappeared along with her dream of the castle.
She thought hard of N again and the beach fell apart as the castle rebuilt itself around her.
"I see…" N had such a downcast expression on his features that Hilda felt her heart turn in pity for him. Then his look changed to mild disappointment. "I saw that one coming. You've spent less than two days with this man and he already has you so interested." He laughed when she made a face at his words. "I know this because, despite being trapped in this other dimension for possibly eternity, I can still keep tabs on you through Reshiram. It took a few tries, but it looks like I got it right this time."
Hilda perked up at this last bit of information. "How did you get there? To your father I mean." She tried not to look too hopeful at the possibility that he might just be able to give her a good answer, but she ended up failing anyway.
"I don't remember the exact location, but I can give you a general one." He gave her an apologetic smile. "I found out about his plan several weeks ago and I managed to get a few leads. By the time I got to the eastern part of Sinnoh, I had a chance meeting with the Shadow Triad in Veilstone City. But it seems that that wasn't the case for them. They were purposely sent by my…sent by Ghetsis to take me to some cave where he'd been waiting for me. I don't have any more information for you besides that."
Hilda shook her head in disagreement, taking note of the way N had avoided calling Ghetsis his father. "That gives us a city name and takes away about half the region to search. I'll also have to remember to call either Cheren or Bianca and tell them about the triad." She gave him a smile, a real one. "Thanks…I owe you one."
"Then you owe me an official answer. After you've 'figured things out'. Yet, somehow, I get this feeling that that won't ever happen until we meet again face to face." He gave her a smile as well, though this time Hilda knew it was just as real as hers.
"Am I waking up right now or are you leaving?" She asked as the castle around them began to shimmer and lose substance.
"I'd say both because I can't very well stay here, can I?" N put a hand on her head, like he would a little sister, though she knew now his feelings were beyond that. "If you want to talk again, just think of me. The place where I am now knows no time so it won't be long before I see you again. And I look forward to that." Then he leaned forward unexpectedly and kissed her on the forehead.
Indignant, Hilda bristled at the sensation and demanded to know why he did it.
Seconds before her dream completely collapsed, he said something that didn't really make much sense, though she shouldn't have expected it to. It was N after all.
"Just sending a message through."
Then her dream ended.
— Outside Someone's House, Five hours before Hilda Wakes Up—
"You can stay here. It's owned by someone who hasn't come back for a year so I'm sure they wouldn't mind if you stayed here a day or two."
Gardenia decided that it felt cool telling her senior Gym Leader what to do. She pointed at Hilda, who was currently being held in Zekrom's claws.
"You should probably take her back from him too. He's attracting a crowd."
It was true. When a dragon of unknown origin landed in the center of a city holding a girl in its claws with two of Sinnoh's gym leaders riding on its back, most people tended to be a little curious.
For a legendary, Zekrom's pride hadn't gotten in the way of giving a lift to his partner's comrades. Most of the reason for his decision, however, lay with his curiosity as to why the male had a connection with his mind as well. Only his partner could truly sense his presence and communicate with him. And yet, that man had easily sent him the message that he was not going to hurt his partner when he had approached him with her in his arms.
Truthfully, Zekrom was mildly impressed with this turnout. This man had a kind of darkness in him that Zekrom liked. Paired with the light of his original partner, that wasn't so bad. If Reshiram ever found out about this, he'd be very much jealous of him.
"Zekrom." Volkner walked up to the large dragon, arms outstretched. "Let me take her into the house. She'll be staying there until she fully recovers."
Excitement pooled in Gardenia's stomach when Zekrom handed Hilda over to Volkner without any fuss or hesitation. So he could win the trust of such a powerful Pokemon so easily? She supposed this was why he was known as Sinnoh's top gym leader.
"There's a market that closes at around five near the statue at the city's edge. You…have money right?" Gardenia looked closely at Volkner to make sure he was going to tell her the truth.
"There are PC's in the Pokemon Center. I can take money out from there."
Satisfied with his answer, she waited until the dragon crouched and shot up into the air before waving goodbye to Volkner. Then she turned to go back to her gym, shooing off all the curious onlookers on the way. People were just too inquisitive for their own good these days.
The whispers of the people and the children pointing fingers were cut off once he closed the door behind him.
He took a good look at his surroundings.
The house had seemed plain on the outside, but the interior was well-furnished with stately, wooden flooring, lush-looking carpet here and there, and practical, but decorative lights built into the ceiling. In the living room was a small high definition TV placed on a sturdy drawer pushed up against the wall. The kitchen was tidy and organized with a generously large stove and fridge, though he doubted if the fridge had anything good to eat.
There were three bedrooms: a master bedroom and two guests. Small bathrooms were located in each one.
Volkner placed Hilda in the master bedroom since the bed had enough space for her to roll around without falling off. He slipped her small travel pack off his shoulders and leaned it against the edge of the bed. Her transceiver had rung earlier, but Volkner had been a few hundred feet up in the air when it did.
Whoever called probably left a message.
He helped Hilda change out of her shoes, her socks as well, tucking them into her shoes. He hadn't bothered taking off his own since he planned to visit the market later. Then he walked back out and placed the shoes at the doorway.
Walking back to the bedroom, Volkner noticed that the house was kept rather cleanly for having had no inhabitants for at least a year. He half expected someone to walk through the front door and demand to know why he was trespassing on someone else's property.
When he entered the master bedroom again, he suddenly heard a sound and Volkner tensed, wondering if his thoughts had become a reality. He heard it again, only this time he realized it was coming from beside him.
He stared at her sleeping form for a long time, unable to believe his ears. Then, chuckling softly to himself, he knelt down beside the bed until their heads were level. "How long has it been since either of us ate anything? I can't believe I didn't notice."
She remained as immobile as ever, her eyes closed, her chest rising in calm, yet uneven breaths, and her lips parting slightly with each light snore.
Volkner closed his eyes and simply listened to her breathe. How could he describe what he was feeling right now? He couldn't think of a good word, but if he had to give one it would be...
He had assumed that things would change only after Hilda entered his side of their overlapped dream, which had occurred less than a day ago. Yet, despite that, everything still ended up changing after Hilda's very soul nearly melded to his for a fleeting second and he had been almost overwhelmed by the sensation that rushed through his body all at once. It was also most likely the sensation that led him to feel so... satisfied... by simply listening to Hilda's soft breathing.
And, even though the intensity of her consciousness was no longer filling that space in his mind anymore, he…
Volkner snapped back to reality. Before he knew it, his hand had strayed close to her face, having moved without his knowledge. This time, however, he managed to stop it before he made contact with the soft skin of her cheek. He knew that if he touched her now, then he might do something she may never forgive him for.
But she wouldn't ever have to know…
Volkner pulled himself away.
After pacing in the living room for a few minutes, he decided that he had to leave the house now before he gave in to... this growing desire. Volkner started for the front door, but before he left he called forth Luxray and had him stay. His glare would ward off any unwanted visitors to the house.
Then he left in hopes that walking through the Eterna market for their dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow would clear his head.
He then wondered if it was possible that that might never happen.
—Eterna City Marketplace—
Volkner wondered how he and Hilda could've missed this place on their way into the city.
On the main road there were long rows of similar-looking houses built facing one another. The roofs were all he same color. The wood was painted a light-catching white. In front of the houses were signs boasting of all kinds of meats, vegetables, Pokemon Exclusive Bits, and herbs.
In truth, the only house that actually sold herbs was the one at the very end of the street. It stood a little ways away from the others and no house had been built across from it. The herb-selling house was also painted in different colors; the roof was red instead of a light orange like the rest.
By the time Volkner had reached this last house, one of his hands was already holding a bag filled with a fresh cut of steak, a few slices of pork, several random vegetables he could make a salad with, and more than a few cans of Pokemon food.
Apparently, he was not the only customer who had felt drawn to the herb house. There was already a small line of people at the doorway and it seemed only one customer was allowed inside at a time. Volkner wondered why he was even here. It would be a while before it was his turn to enter the house. He already had everything he needed. And yet…
The next thing he knew he was almost at there to the front of the line. He knew many were either staring hard into the back of his head or practically turning their heads every now and then to sneak a look at him. Then they would quickly turn back once he made eye contact.
So it seemed that every last person in Eterna had heard about his conspicuous return to the city.
Finally, the last person in front of him entered and left the house and Volkner wanted to breath a sigh of relief. Now it was his turn.
The house was much smaller inside than its exterior had led him to believe.
There was a counter that spanned from the back wall of the house to the wall on his left, mimicking the counter found in a Pokemon Mart. An old man and woman sat behind the counter. On the wall behind the man and woman were many shelves and each one had rows and rows of various herbs.
Again, Volkner had to ask himself why he was here. It seemed blatantly obvious, just by looking at the sheer number of herbs in the room, that customers usually had a specific herb in mind. It didn't help that he couldn't recognize a single one sitting on the shelves.
The old woman suddenly spoke up, startling him out of his reverie. "Your name is Volkner, am I right?" The only sign of surprise he showed her was the sharp turn of his head as he directed his attentions to her.
She had kindly eyes, but the first thing he'd noticed was her black hair. There were enough wrinkles on her face to make it safe to assume she was in her late sixties, but her hair was black enough for a woman in her forties.
"Yes." Volkner answered evenly.
"Your story has reached our ears so we already know what you need." The old man spoke up this time. He also had black hair that didn't quite match with the age he appeared to be.
"What do you mean?"
The old woman gave him a small smile. "We heard of your journey into the woods and your adventure in the Chateau. When we were your age, the Chateau wasn't so old back then. We're glad you managed to free that girl's spirit. She's been trapped there for a very long time."
Then the smile disappeared as her voice turned solemn. "But I also hear she's possessed your friend's body for a period of time. Your friend's spirit must've left her body in order for that to happen. Then she had to return or else she would have been separated from her body for good. What you do not know, however, is that there are reparations…"
The old man continued without missing a beat. "In order to prevent those reparations from becoming permanent in your friend, you must have her drink a special mixture. We will give you the herbs you need for this drink, but there is another ingredient..." The old man paused.
And the woman continued, "And that would be the honey sold by the man in the town of flowers. Mix the herbs we give you with the honey, have your friend drink it, and she will recover from the aftereffects of leaving the body as a spirit."
Volkner didn't speak for a long while, though it wasn't so much because he wouldn't speak, but because his mind was still trying to process the strangeness of the whole situation. Word seemed to have traveled to them a little too quickly and in too much detail for him not to be suspicious of them. But suspicious of what? He could watch as the old woman reached down and brought out a velvet bag, no bigger than her hand, up on to the counter. She ignored the many shelves of herbs behind her indicating that they'd prepared this bag of herbs before he had even come in.
He concluded that this old couple wasn't normal.
"Who are you?" Volkner asked them finally after a full two minutes had passed in total silence. He had visited Eterna City many times, but not once had he ever paid much attention to the marketplace, let alone to the herb shop at the very end that housed this strange couple.
"We are people who have a connection similar to the one you and your friend share." The old man answered. "However, ours is the kind that only happens between two psychically enhanced people. Yours on the other hand was created through the work of a greater power. Thus, your understanding of who or what we are may be a little different…"
Again, the old woman spoke on as if she knew exactly what her significant other wanted to say. Just by seeing this, Volkner figured that the biggest difference between the couple's connection and theirs was that the couple's ran deeper.
"We know of your journey and wish to help because, after all, everyone's lives are at stake and we need to keep up on our share of the contributions. We will warn you of the effects of possessing such a beneficial yet exhausting connection of two minds. You have already experienced what if feels to have too much of a person's conscience in yours. Your eyes tell us that you have been influenced heavily by it. The truth of the matter is that your connection will be even stronger once your friend wakes because she will become fully conscious of you then. Your ability to work together as a team will increase dramatically. Few will be able to overcome your combined skills as Pokemon trainers. Your self-control, however, will naturally decrease. And that is where you must be cautious. This setback can happen to only one of you and, right now, you seem to be the one most susceptible to it. We believe that is simply because of who you are. And it is something neither of us can change for you."
The couple stopped talking and appeared to have finished saying all that they had to say.
Volkner took that opportunity to let the large piece of information they had presented him sink in. Loss of self-control? Their words were startling accurate. Yes, loss of self-control had to be one of the setbacks in the bond he shared with Hilda. Less than half an hour ago it happened to him while Hilda had been asleep. Nearly everything he'd done in those moments with her had been based on impulse, the unconscious roving of his hands, the traitorous thoughts that slipped into his mind before he could stop them from forming, the desire...
The couple was right in that they couldn't take those dark feelings away from him, but what about him? Was it possible to take them away using his own power?
He toyed with the thought for a moment longer before walking up to the counter and pocketing the small bag of herbs.
"It is a gift." The old woman said when she saw his hand reach for the pant's pocket where he kept his money.
After pausing for a moment, Volkner recovered and said, in a low voice, "Thank you." Then he turned and left, closing the door softly behind him.
Before the next customer could come in, the old woman whispered softly to her husband, even though she did not need to.
"He will attract many shadows indeed."
The old man merely nodded.
—Someone's House, Volkner returns—
He loosened the poke balls from Hilda's belt, as well as the ones from his.
In the back, the house had a yard and there he released all their Pokemon. Laying out Pokemon food in several bowls he'd found in the kitchen, he kept them busy for the time being.
By the time he came back to check up on her, Hilda was turning restlessly on the bed, her movements turning the sheets into quite a mess. She might as well have been trying to make a sushi roll out of herself. He allowed a chuckle to leave his throat before reaching down to help her out of it. Just how was she so adept at wrapping herself up like this in her sleep? As he released her from her self-made prison of sheets, her expression relaxed and her lips smoothed out until it almost looked like she was smiling. Her eyelids fluttered as if she was about to open her eyes.
But, instead of opening them, she made a noise. It was a quiet one. Gentle, teasing, pleasurable, quiet...
And was enough to make his body react and, suddenly, his hands were on either side of Hilda's sleeping form, his knee on the edge of the bed.
Did his self-control only amount to this much? Volkner thought with a combination of bitterness and alarm at the acuteness of his reaction. All it took was one sound from her and he was already fighting against the most basic of desires that a single noise from her could awaken in him.
Then she spoke while trapped in whatever dream she could've been having. A name.
Volkner was taken aback by the rapid switch in his emotions as a terrible, biting jealousy suddenly filled his chest. It became a shard of glass that cut into him so that his hands balled into fists on either side of Hilda's head, crumpling the sheets.
What did it matter if she became a woman right now and broke the barrier of maturity he had placed between them? What did it matter if she could join him in his dream and he told her the truth about how quickly the way he looked at her had changed? What did it matter if she tried to accept him?
For how could she do any of those things when the man she cared for was the one in her dreams right now.
Volkner tore himself away from the unsuspecting girl.
It was almost time for him to start making dinner.
—Someone's House, Current Time, Hilda—
She woke up to the smell of food.
Food? In an abandoned chateau? Her thoughts weren't adding up just yet, but the next thing she noticed was her cramped muscles.
Stretching herself out first, she used the next moment to sniff her clothes and hair and was mortified to find out how smelly they were. She really needed a shower. Sitting up, her fingertips explored the spacious and soft bed beneath her. Since when did the furniture feel so new? And why was it so dark in here?
Answering her latter question for assurance, Hilda assumed that it was night time already. After all, the foggy state of her brain hinted to her that she'd been asleep for a while.
She finally realized something was wrong the moment she tried to get off the bed and fell over instead. Her legs gave way completely and she cursed quietly as she landed painfully on to her butt. Hilda tried not to panic, but any attempts to stay calm became futile once she figured out the reason why everything looked so dark.
Numb, Hilda reached up to touch her face. Her eyes were wide open. So how come she saw nothing?
She tried to reason with herself, calm herself down, but in her mind she knew that even a person with terrible sight could at least make out a few stray details. She should be seeing at least something no matter how faint the room's lighting was. Yet, despite blinking multiple times, rubbing her eyes, and trying to clean them out, nothing happened.
She couldn't see.
Running footsteps came pounding toward her. Then there was a click as a light switch was flipped. However, her world was still smothered in total darkness.
But then a familiar voice called her and her senses flooded with relief. "Hilda!"
Shakily, she spoke to him, "Volkner…I... I can't see." It scared her to admit it out loud, but it had to be done. She had to come to terms with the glaring reality. "My eyes..." She placed trembling hands on both of them.
She felt Volkner kneel beside her. Then his larger hands took hold of hers.
In that moment, Hilda was suddenly overwhelmed by another surge of emotion, only this time it felt like her fear and insecurity had multiplied by threefold! Hilda cried out as her own emotions tore into her. Relentless, unforgiving...!
But wait... there was something else... something beneath all the chaos.
She could tell, as the whirlwind of fear began to die down, that the emotions there didn't belong to her. They were such strong emotions, but they were complicated, a mixture of things that made her feel heady, intoxicated... excited. They were emotions that made her body shiver in anticipation, but anticipation of what?
Before her mind could answer this question, a shuddering breath tore from her throat and Volkner subsequently released her hands.
Her mind still reeling, she could barely interpret Volkner's thoughts as they floated down on her conscience like feathers. They were nearly incoherent, but a whisper of it carried through to her and it was enough to send her shivers of anticipation vibrating down her spine.
He knew exactly when she'd woken up. The sudden flood of her consciousness into his mind nearly brought him to his knees and he narrowly missed upturning the meat he'd been cooking on the stove.
Every little thing she did: smelling the food, wanting a shower, feeling the bed. He knew it all.
Then she had fallen, her legs weak, and he had felt her fear at realizing that she couldn't see. Louder than any words she could've used to call him over, her anguish drew him. She needed him.
He ran faster than he'd ever run before as he rushed to her side. The sight that met him sent a pang into chest, surprising him so much that he had to clutch at his chest for a moment before kneeling down beside her. When was the last time his heart did that to him?
This must've clouded his judgement because, in the very next moment, he made the big mistake of placing his hands around hers in an attempt to calm her.
And it was in that moment when she entered his mind. Before, she only had access to the barest impressions of his thoughts, but now... now she felt things that clearly caused her body to react. The shudder that coursed through both of them at the same time said it all. In that instant, he couldn't hide it from her.
He wanted to kiss her.
He wanted to press his lips to hers and feel her in mind and body and soul. He wanted to let go of her hands so he could encompass her body with his, press her deeply against him, and hear her uneven breaths gasp in his ear as he trailed from her lips to her neck to consume her scent and replace it with his because she could only be his.
He wanted... he...
Probably wouldn't be able to look her in the eye for a while.
She sucked in a breath and let it out to calm herself, but it was like trying not to panic while sitting in a car that was rapidly filling with water. Even if the water pressure stabilized and the door was free to open, many drowned in the end because their minds went blank at the opportunity to escape.
She had to do something or else she would miss hers.
"Please…" Hilda managed to gasp out. "Help me. I can't…I can't stand up by myself." Hilda swallowed hard. "Vol- Volkner..."
When did it become so difficult to say his name?
"Do you know what's wrong with me?"
She wasn't sure why she was asking him, but she had a small feeling that, if anything, he would be the one to have a good idea of what was happening.
However, it was a long time before he said anything to her. So long, in fact, that she nearly thought he'd walked away even though she could sense his presence before her.
When he finally did speak, he said, "I met an old couple in the marketplace here. They knew about what happened to you and warned me that there'd be... reparations... You need a special medicine."
Hilda opened her mouth to speak, but Volkner continued on in a reassuring tone, "I have one of two ingredients with me." Had he known what she was going to say?
Despite her question, however, the impression she got from him told her he hadn't. It had been Volkner's own observation.
"And the remaining ingredient is in Floaroma Town? Just a feeling…" Hilda smiled at him, or maybe she was smiling at his neck for all she knew, but for now she didn't really care. For some strange reason that she couldn't explain, she was feeling content.
Suddenly, Volkner's plan unfurled itself in her mind and Hilda widened her eyes in surprise, despite not being able to see. This was no simple impression! This was... detail.
Wordlessly, he reached down and put one arm under her knees and the other behind her back. She wrapped her arms around his neck, making sure only her sleeves touched his skin and then he picked her up like he would a small child. Was she really that light?
Before she could finish asking herself that question, however, Volkner carried her away. His destination was the living room and then... the kitchen.
Hilda's stomach growled in anticipation and a light blush colored her cheeks.
Of course something like that would happen.
—Dinner for Two—
She hadn't eaten any food for nearly two whole days. He didn't have to listen to Hilda's stomach to know she was hungry.
He placed her carefully on one of two chairs at the dining table, which was made so that it could be adjusted to seat more than four. He had fixed it so only two people would fit.
"You know how to cook?" Hilda asked him when she sniffed the air and smelled the delicious food once more. "I always thought that as a gym leader, you wouldn't have time for this kind of thing."
"I had to learn from a young age." Volkner replied as he shut off the stove and placed the meat on to plates for the two of them to eat.
He knew what she was going to ask next.
He replied shortly, "My mother died while giving birth to me." Almost immediately, he felt a surge of sympathy from her.
"I-" She began. But, again, he had a good idea of what she was going to say. Probably something along the lines of I'm sorry.
"You probably hear that all the time don't you?"
"Eat." He pushed a plate in front of her.
Subsequently, Hilda opened her right hand and he placed a fork in it.
Then she did as she was told, stabbing into the steak and taking a small bite before she paused. Volkner took that moment to grab his own plate and join her at the table.
Her delight at the steak's tastiness filled him up better than what several bites of his piece might've done for him.
Volkner checked himself before the feeling could develop any more.
Throwing all caution to the wind, Hilda started digging in with healthy gusto as she quickly demolished her share. Afterwards, she poked around on her plate for a while, probably her best attempt at looking for any food she might've missed.
Volkner himself had finished his steak already and found himself watching her antics.
"My dad passed away when I was young too."
He was stirred out of a reverie he had unwittingly fallen into. Gradually, he realized the significance of what she was telling him.
"My mother and I never really found out what happened, but I heard that it was because of a mishap with a Pokemon. Despite all that, I still ended up becoming a Pokemon trainer just like him. Weird, isn't it?"
Hilda smiled and Volkner saw that it wasn't regretful or sad. Instead, it was a satisfied one and it impressed him. Not many people looked at things the way she did. Even he hadn't at first...
In reaction to his thoughts, her happiness brushed him as her smile widened. "If my dad were here today, he'd be proud of me," she said. "I'm glad I'm one of the people who can say that seriously."
Volkner spoke then. Her words deserved a follow-up from him. "My father always told me that what happened with my mother wasn't my fault. I finally accepted that only after I turned seventeen, so around your age."
"Did you learn how to build solar panels from your father?"
"No, he was a mechanic, but I inherited most of my skill with machines from him. He was a good man. Money wasn't easy to come by and he wasn't used to taking care of a kid at the same time, but he still did it anyway. He could've dropped me off at the orphanage anytime. The only setback in all this was that he couldn't cook."
A grin found its way to his lips.
Immediately, he felt a spike in Hilda's emotions. She was feeling happy again. But over what?
Hearing his thoughts again, he could feel her new emotion of embarrassment as she asked him, "How did you end up becoming interested in electricity?" Her fork, which had been randomly roaming her plate all this time, found a piece of meat she'd missed, stabbed it, and slipped it into her mouth. Nothing could go to waste here.
"My father presented me with a Pikachu on my seventh birthday. Pikachu shocked me at first, when I touched him, but all mouse Pokemon like him are nervous when meeting strangers." The memories filled him with a combination of fondness and nostalgia. "He didn't like me very much, but I eventually got him to trust me. By the way, I have all our Pokemon out in the backyard. They're eating."
Hilda nodded, though he could feel her impatience.
"There isn't much left to tell." He said, reading her impatience as a desire to hear the rest of his story. "Because of Pikachu, I was inspired to learn more about becoming an electrician. I also made the choice to pursue the dream of a Pokemon trainer. And I worked hard to make it to where I am today. I worked hard... and met you."
He didn't have to wait long for her reaction.
His last few words caused her stomach to jump like she'd just free-fallen for a second.
"Same here," she said somewhat lamely. "It makes me think about everything we've been through for the past two days. Anyone would feel like it was a dream."
She pushed her clean plate away from her and attempted to stand up. For a brief moment, she thought her legs had gotten better. Then they buckled again and she fell back down into her chair with a clatter as one of her legs knocked against the table, rattling the plates.
"Ow…" She groaned. "That's the second time today. By the way, is it still today? I don't know if what I ate was dinner or breakfast."
"You'll have both eventually." Volkner came to her side. "We'll be staying the night here since it's 7:00 p.m. right now and you're in no condition to go anywhere." He was going to pick her up again so Hilda quickly obliged, wrapping only one arm around his neck this time, while grabbing a random part of his jacket with the other, though she suspected it was his lapel.
Now that the distance between them was reduced to absolutely nothing, Hilda suddenly remembered how much she smelled.
That was just great! She was perfectly convinced that no one in today's society wanted to smell bad in front of anyone else no matter what the situation might've been.
Inevitably, a certain idea popped into her head. It was an incredibly crazy, insane, and outrageous idea, but it was an idea nonetheless. The reason why she was thinking these dangerous thoughts was clear. However, at the same time, that didn't change anything about how incredibly crazy, insane, and outrageous it was to even think about suggesting it.
But the words tried to tumble out of her mouth anyway. "I want to take a shower. Can you help me?"
Or that's what she would've said had Volkner not come to a stop an instant before she could speak.
In his mind, she was stunned to read the echoes of her own wish and, unwittingly, her heart began to pound.
She had only started noticing it now. What had changed about their connection... all of a sudden Volkner could...
His arms tightened around her and she froze.
In his mind's eye, Hidla's heart was like a myriad of colors.
One moment she was feeling something akin to embarrassment for some reason or other, then the next she was nervous because she suddenly had a new idea.
But now he could see more than that.
As if the thought belonged to him, Hilda's idea translated itself into a desire that was easily absorbed into his conscience. He heard it like it was his own.
Immediately, Hilda gave a start, surprising him. Then he realized that she must've seen his mind.
Her body trembled once and that was all he needed for his chest to clench up.
She was afraid... of him and the constantly changing connection they shared. If this was truly what she was afraid of, he couldn't say because he had no real access to the deeper thoughts in her head, but it made sense.
Without thinking, he tightened his grip on her and she froze like a deer in headlights.
His chest clenched again.
Volkner didn't like this. What was it that was acting up? His chest or his heart? Deep in his mind he already knew the answer, but he couldn't accept it yet.
He loosened his hold on her just a fraction. She felt so small in his arms.
He'd been with a woman before, knew what it felt like to be in the thing that everyone called a relationship and right now... right now the person in his arms was still a girl and both of them had been thrown into a mission to stop an evil man from fulfilling his own selfish dreams. That was the point of their journey so why was he so close to doing the same thing?
The truth was, the greater a man's freedom in the choices he made, the higher the price he had to pay.
"Do you have a change of clothes?" He asked her.
"No, but I have money." She gave a soft laugh and it brushed past his ear like a bird's wing. "Though you probably wouldn't want to go shopping for me. Just take me to the bathroom and..." She trailed off.
"I'll take you there."
Volkner set her down on the toilet seat once he entered the white-tiled room. Then he made his way to the vat-like tub, against the wall, taking up most of the space. Beside the tub was an enclosed shower and Volkner marked it as future reference for when it was his turn to wash.
He hadn't had one since he'd left Sunyshore and, judging from the way he couldn't seem to smell anything unpleasant from Hilda who had a record of two days, he could only come to terms that his own scent was probably several times worse.
Hilda couldn't fight back a giggle.
"I keep forgetting you can hear me." He said, as he peered over at her from where he was working the taps on the bath.
She was smiling, her lips curling up in a way that he wouldn't mind seeing again. Then they parted so she could tell him, "But you have something new now." Her words were followed by a swell of insecurity and Volkner could practically hear her unspoken question.
Just how much had their connection changed?
"I can't read your mind if that's what you're wondering." He said in reassurance. "Except-"
"You know what I want?"
"Something like that." Volkner felt his own sense of insecurity. What about him? How long could he go about with the fact that she could read his thoughts clearly enough to pull the words right out of his mouth? Before he could properly reign it in, a flash of irritation rippled through him.
It took Hilda by surprise and he felt her conscience literally flinch away from his as she quickly tried to apologize. "Sorry," she said with genuine guilt. Volkner supposed it was a sizable perk to know when her words matched how she felt. "I... I felt that."
He looked at her.
She sensed his inquiry and elaborated. "I didn't just read your thoughts. I... felt something too." Her hands, which had been resting on either side of her, reached down to grip the edges of the toilet seat. She was struggling to find the right words. "Normally I... feel only hints of your emotions, but this time it was a lot stronger than before." She laughed. "I guess something changed on my side too."
All he said to her was, "Perhaps," and left it at that. He'd assumed from the beginning that, although she couldn't feel his emotions the way he did hers, she was still somewhat susceptible to them. None of it came as any big surprise.
"If you're trying to be polite by not telling me your real opinion, there's no point." She was grinning at him now, apparently finding this amusing. "So you think I'm wrong? I thought you'd be more on the offensive in arguments. Lightning strikes quickly, doesn't it?"
Her question compelled him to say, "Then should I strike you like I strike my opponents?" It was supposed to be rhetorical, but she answered him anyway.
"If you did, then doesn't that mean you consider me an opponent worthy enough to attack with all your strength?"
He didn't reply at first. Turning the last tap, water came rushing out into the bath and the air quickly turned humid.
"I used to be like that." He said quietly. When he felt her confusion, he explained. "I used to put all my effort into finding worthy opponents."
"And getting into big arguments?" Hilda was just joking, but in his case it rang true.
"And big arguments." He said, nodding and enjoying her interest at this new piece of information. "I was like lightning, striking fast and mercilessly. If I thought someone looked strong, I challenged them on the spot. For a long time, I lost to no one until one day-"
"You challenged Dawn."
"And you already know what happens from there." A nostalgic smile found its way to his lips. "After that battle, I realized that, while Dawn was one of the stronger opponents I'd faced in a long time, plowing through life like I was at the time wasn't the way to go about it. Aggressiveness should be reserved for the battlefield, not the world."
"I see..." Hilda contemplated this seriously for a moment. "So basically you're telling me your attitude went from yellow to mellow."
The way she said it caught him off guard him. Yellow! Was that just because of his hair or-?
"I mean it in a good way! Geez!" Hilda laughed heartily for a few seconds before putting both hands up in surrender. "You used to be 'electrical', but then you rewired yourself to accommodate your surroundings. I think that was very nice of you."
Volkner found himself staring at her and he was glad that she couldn't see him do so. Shaking his head in disbelief at the parallels she drew, he cleared his throat and said, "That's... one way to put it." Though he made it sound like her words hadn't meant much, inside he was feeling rather satisfied, as hard he tried to stifle it.
Then she asked him unexpectedly, "Are you going to take a bath later?"
"A shower," he replied as he came over to offer a helping hand. "This bathroom has both."
He led her to the edge of the bath. Judging from the surprisingly little pressure she put on him, he could tell that, without him, she possibly could've made it to the tub by herself, albeit clumsily.
"And I think I'll be able to get out by myself too. You won't have to come back for me."
He nodded and was about to leave her be when his new awareness of her suddenly picked up on something she wasn't telling him, something that caused her so much embarrassment she couldn't even bring herself to ask it.
"Anything else?" He prodded, despite the misgivings his mind had. "If you want me to do something else for you, tell me and I will."
"No…I can't…" She sounded distressed, but inside nervousness and longing clashed together. She was torn between two decisions. "You'll probably laugh. Or tell me it's a bad idea."
So he made the decision for her. "I won't. What do you want?"
Shocked into silence, Hilda had to pause a moment before asking him, "After I get into the bath, could you...help me wash my back?"
Knowing he was the one he put them in this situation, he had no choice but to comply. "Get in then. I won't look."
His heart beat for an instant with foreign happiness before Hilda released his arm and he turned away. He wondered if he would ever get used to that.
If Hilda had a reply, she didn't say.
She stood still for a few seconds, still trying to wrap her head around the fact that he had actually consented to her request. It made her more than a little nervous when she couldn't even get a sense of what he thought about the whole ordeal.
She started unbuttoning her shirt.
Once her last piece of clothing landed noiselessly on the floor, she slid as quickly and quietly as she could into the bath.
He wouldn't look. She was sure of it.
The water was hot, but just enough to relax her body once she settled herself down completely. "This bathtub is really big." She sighed, more to herself than to anyone else. The water reached her shoulders.
"Are you ready?" Volkner asked her. He had two towels in his hand. She didn't have to see. She just knew.
He placed one on her shoulder. Then Volkner's hand moved there to latch on firmly.
"I know I said I won't laugh, but I have to ask: Does your mother do this for you at home?" Another towel touched her between the shoulder blades and he began moving it up and down, scrubbing her back.
She laughed. "How did you guess? Don't tell me you feel like a mother duck!" The analogy washed a new wave of laughter over her and Hilda pictured Volkner with a very amusing expression as he made a face at her words.
When her laughter finally died down, Hilda continued to smile, but at a certain point, she began to realize that there was something else keeping her lips curled up in such an expression. She relaxed her face and even tried to frown a little to see if it made a difference and was surprised when her lips remained firmly in place.
"Is something wrong?"
The force holding her lips up was suddenly gone as her cheek muscles became hers again.
"No. Nothing." She said it a little too quickly and a light poke of suspicion tapped her mind. Volkner was curious to know what was up with her, but she didn't feel like elaborating.
He was dropping the subject, whatever that subject was going to be. So for the remainder of the time, they were quiet. Then Volkner finished washing her back.
"Th-" She coughed to clear her throat. "Thank you."
As he had been washing her back, she had noted how his hands had applied just enough pressure to clean her back, but not enough to irritate the skin. Perhaps that kind of control was one of the perks of having a mechanic as a father.
She heard Volkner's footsteps and knew he was leaving the room.
"Volkner, wait. If you want…" She fought to keep from stammering because that would only increase the awkwardness of her offer. "I can... help wash your back too since I can't see so... I won't have any chance to look. Please... let me pay you back." As she finished speaking these words, her heartbeat grew in speed. It was so easy to get nervous now. It felt almost... exhilarating.
Hilda waited for his answer.
The frustration in him threatened to reveal itself through their mental connection, but Volkner easily beat it down.
It was a frustration concerning both Hilda and himself.
"Hilda." His voice came out sterner than he intended so that it almost sounded like he was reprimanding someone much younger. "There are better ways of repaying me."
Her shoulders stiffened and Volkner felt the expected backlash of disappointment, but underlying that emotion was something else.
Suddenly, he heard the water splash as Hilda stated in a controlled voice, "I'm not a child."
"Get back in the water, Hilda." He kept his voice even, forced his mind to clear so that she couldn't pull words from his mouth.
"Then quit treating me like a kid."
He didn't answer her question, but said to her instead, "Get back in the water. You know better than this.
Her anger lashed against him fiercely.
He endured it without a word, but his discomfort must've slipped through their connection because, in the next moment, there was an overwhelming guilt as Hilda came to her senses.
Water rippled as she slid back down into the tub.
"Sorry... I didn't mean to hurt you."
Volkner started walking away.
Immediately, he felt a pang in his chest, which could've only belonged to Hilda, and it left him feeling satisfied because he taught her a lesson.
Yet there was another part of him that felt empty too. It was a strange combination.
He stopped, halfway out the door.
And it refused to go away.
Relenting, he turned his head and spoke to her over his shoulder. "If you really want to do me a favor, then you can help me with the dishes later."
Deciding that that was good enough, Volkner left.
What was that?
Hilda was unsure of what to feel right now. She hadn't prepared for that whole exchange between Volkner and her. It had been a shaky moment and she tried to recall what just happened.
She could remember the frustration that had permeated her body, how she could tell most of it belonged to Volkner and how it had rolled over her in waves.
And the anger.
For that one instant in time, she was provoked so far beyond reasoning that she got up from the bath and faced Volkner down, not caring whether he saw her body or not. She figured out the reason why he rejected her offer.
Again, Volkner had labeled her as a child!
For a while now, she was noticing this. It started since their incident at Snowpoint Temple, where their strange connection had been created. Hilda knew the idea often played around the edges of his mind every now and then when he looked at her, but she hadn't expected it to sink so deep into his consciousness that he wouldn't see her as anything else!
Just because she had appeared as a child in their dream didn't mean her mind still resembled one...
There was nothing child-like about the way she could remember every detail in the moment Volkner clasped both hands over hers.
If she had to describe it, she would say lighting her her belly on fire was as close as she could get. And, unlike actually setting her stomach on fire, it had felt…good.
It was something that, no matter how much her mind screamed at her otherwise, she wanted to feel again.
Hilda was glad Volkner couldn't make sense of her thoughts. They just sounded so depraved sometimes that, once he knew about them, she was sure she would never be able to look him in the eye again.
However, despite this foreboding in her heart, the moment he'd said those last few words before closing the door behind him, Hilda couldn't keep from smiling.
Washing dishes didn't sound like such a bad idea.
—The Hallway, Thirty Minutes Later—
Stepping on to wooden flooring with messily-tied, long hair practically dripping wet wasn't a good idea.
But Hilda had little choice in the matter because she could only be so meticulous in drying herself when she no longer had the same hand-eye coordination as before.
"Volkner! I'm done over here! Lead me to the kitchen!" She called, although she really didn't need to.
Besides the unsettling amount of water that was dripping and seeping into the woodwork beneath her feet, it was even more so to feel the shift in Volkner's thoughts as he caught on to her needs before she even finished her last sentence.
Just another example of how much his side of the connection had grown.
In the end, she didn't want to make him do all the work so, in an attempt to walk a little by herself, Hilda started feeling her way down the hall. Inevitably, her hand came into contact with something on the wall. An oil painting.
Gasping, she quickly withdrew her hand, hoping she hadn't ruined it. Then she heard footsteps.
Reaching out in his direction, she started, "Volkner, I-" and was cut short when he caught her deftly by the wrist, just before her shirt sleeve ended.
He led her away mid-sentence.
"The kitchen?" she asked.
Reading his nod, Hilda smiled. It seemed washing dishes was inevitable.
By the time they got there, Hilda had counted a total of twenty steps. The place was pretty big.
Volkner stopped and she dutifully halted behind him. Then he positioned her next to the sink and Hilda immediately put out a hand to feel for the faucet head. She felt the bare counter instead.
"I'll dry then." She beat him to the punch.
There was a brief pause as he realized she'd read his thoughts again.
Then the faucet was turned on, a dish was washed, and the plate was placed into her expectant hands.
Truthfully, the task didn't take them more than five minutes, but it allowed both of them a way to let their minds idle for a moment and get used to how easily they could read each other's movements. Volkner would finish washing a dish and Hilda would reach her hand out to grab it from him without hesitation.
He mused that this was probably what the old couple in the herb shop meant when they talked about an improvement in teamwork. This also explained why double battles with Psychics were often more challenging than others.
"Are you thinking about Pokemon battles, even when you're washing dishes?" Hilda asked him mock incredulity.
"Are you reading my mind now or are you still getting impressions?" He returned, though he was genuinely curious.
"They're getting stronger. The impressions I mean." Hilda smiled, then looked at him even though she was blind.
It was almost uncanny how she could position her eyes so convincingly that, if you weren't paying too much attention, she could trick you into thinking she could see.
"Only with you."
"I mean..." He felt uncertainty flash within her and her smile wavered. "I think I'd only be able to do that trick with you. I can sense you. I know you're there. Probably better than most other people, but..." She closed her unseeing eyes. "I don't get much emotion from you. Sometimes, I wish I had that instead."
He opened his mouth to speak.
"And no, that doesn't mean I want them 'flying at me'." She laughed while miming quotation marks with her fingers.
"Then I think we'd both be in trouble." Volkner said, allowing a chuckle or two. "But when I told you that, I didn't think it was possible for our connection to grow any stronger."
"Do mine fly at you now?"
Volkner fell silent. She was suddenly asking him this in such a soft voice, expecting him to give her a legitimate answer. But he couldn't, not without...
Before she could react, he did something neither of them expected him to do.
He reached over and held her hand. Gently.
But that was all it took.
The plate in Hilda's hand dropped on to the counter with a clatter!
Overwhelmed, Volkner shuddered as her emotions crashed down into his like a wave against a wall and her thoughts became tangible to him, opening up so that he could see Hilda was torn between either tearing away from him or holding on even tighter.
Volkner held on tighter.
Hilda was flooded with a longing that didn't belong to her, so intense that she tried to back away, but her hand was held fast.
Stop. Stop it, Volkner! Before I-!
Suddenly, as if in answer to her mental cry, she heard a loud screech and then the sound of impact, along with Volkner's yell of surprise, as something made contact with his body.
"Simipour!" Hilda called out at first in shock and then in horror as she realized Volkner could be seriously injured. "You're hurting him!"
The sound of feet hitting the ground told her the water monkey was doing as he was told, but it turned out he wasn't done yet. There was a splash as Simipour drenched his target from head to toe in water.
Volkner hissed in another bout of unpleasant surprise, cursing silently in his head.
Had Simipour tackled him too hard? Hilda wondered.
She reached out and was about to check his cheek for swelling when he caught her wrist firmly. This time he made sure he didn't touch her skin.
"I'm sorry." He told her quietly. "I didn't mean to do that to you."
Feeling a sliver of his genuine sincerity, Hilda accepted his apology by simply nodding, albeit a little shakily.
Then he let go and she heard him start to walk away.
"Wait, where are you going?" For a moment, she was afraid that he might just leave the house.
But then she finally focused enough to read his impressions and calmed down.
Oh, so that was where he was going.
"Just finishing the shower your Simipour gave me. You can wait for me in the living room and I'll take you to the bedroom afterwards."
Then he left.
Crooning softly from beside her, Simipour tugged on the bottom of her shorts to get her attention.
Hilda placed a hand on his head and said, "Thank you, Simipour. I think both of us needed that. If you hadn't shown up…" She couldn't finish the sentence.
Then, remembering where Simipour had come running from, she asked him, "How are the others doing? Are all of you getting along? I know you probably didn't like Volkner's Pokemon very much." The monkey was a Water-type Pokemon after all.
Simipour hooted and Hilda assumed it was a positive answer so she nodded her head and smiled at him or at least in his general direction. Then she touched the counter and knew she would have to clean all this up herself.
"There's an easier way," She mused. "Simipour, go back to the yard, but can you call Darmanitan over for me?"
The monkey ran off, probably leaving wet footprints behind him and making Hilda want to sigh, but the solution to the problem came in less than a minute. Before long, the large fire ape was calling to her from the doorway and Hilda somehow managed to coax him into helping her clean up Simipour's mess. On the way, Darmanitan had probably already blown the monkey dry, leaving the rest of the house wet-free. Simipour was just going to be a mess of fur tomorrow.
Darmanitan worked quickly and the kitchen was dry before long. The ape left after a good belly rub down from his trainer.
Now all she had to do was get to the living room without overturning an expensive vase or something stupid like that.
"And I doubt I'll ever be that lucky." She grumbled to herself.
True to Hilda's word, at least three expensive-sounding vases hit the floor on the way to the living room, though none of them broke because they were apparently sturdier than she'd imagined. It took her several minutes groping around on the floor to find each one and several more put them back in their original spots.
So this was what blind people went through every day? Maybe not even like this. At least most were either well-equipped to handle their blindness or completely familiar with the house they lived in.
In Hilda's case, it was neither.
Collapsing on to the living room couch, Hilda mused it must've taken her a full ten minutes scrabbling her way to this small sanctuary of rest.
Volkner should be back by now.
As if on cue, a door opened and Hilda stood up holding out her hand, expecting Volkner to take it.
But, the moment he walked up to her, she realized something felt very out of place, promptly dropped her hand, and stammered, "Volkner, wh-why aren't you wearing any clothes!" She didn't even have to see him to feel terribly embarrassed!
Suddenly, his hand caught hers, immediately striking her with a powerful sensation of calm. Then Volkner quickly moved so he was holding her wrist.
"I'm wearing a towel. There's no need to scream." He told her with the barest hint of amusement in his voice. Much to her surprise, her own lips lifted in a smirk that didn't belong to her. "Besides, your Simipour soaked my only change of clothes so I have to hang them out to dry."
Hilda wanted to know. "How did you do that?"
"Make me smile like that!"
Volkner laughed, which sent her into a few chuckles too. "I don't know anything about that."
"No, of course you don't," Hilda released a breath she didn't know she'd been holding, "Neither of us know anything about what's happening."
His fingers tightened on her wrist. "So it just means we'll have to work all the harder to understand it. Come on, Hilda. It's time to go to bed."
"Treating me like a kid again."
"Are we sharing a room tonight?"
If Volkner ever took the time to dole out awards for the worst questions to ask at a given moment, he'd be awarding Hilda one right now.
On cue, she made an apologetic face at him. However, she felt no remorse whatsoever and, based on the way she'd asked him, the question was practically rhetorical.
"Do you trust me that much?" He returned.
He was still trying to understand why she wanted to sleep on the same bed as him, despite his actions earlier, but perhaps knowing the reason wasn't really that important.
Because he found himself feeling the same way as well.
Much to his dismay, Hilda's cheeks colored red. She heard that.
"I can take you on if you try anything." She said half-jokingly, lifting a fist up to his face for good measure. "It's scary sleeping in a big room by myself, but whatever happens..." She released her fist. "I know you didn't do it to hurt me."
She was just a little too trusting, but right nonetheless. Before he could help himself, his hand reached out and patted her head, then stayed there, causing Hilda to give a small start.
Her surprise was magnified several times as the full extent of her emotions flowed through their point of contact. Volkner found himself whispering, "It's easier to sympathize with you because of this... If we didn't have it. I guess I... I guess everything would be different."
Hilda grinned at his words, clearly pleased. And perhaps also pleased by whatever other impressions she might've pulled from his mind that even Volkner himself might not have been conscious of.
When he reached down to take hold of her wrist, she grabbed his hand instead.
Shocked, he braced himself for a fresh onslaught of rampant emotions, but it ended up being something else entirely.
He simply felt... happiness.
"We can learn to control this."
Hilda was focusing, concentrating all her energy into creating that semblance of happiness. But that was all it was. A semblance.
Volkner shook his head, which caused Hilda to frown. "Just how long do you expect to stay like that? It's not reasonable."
Already, he could feel her concentration slipping, just enough so that he became aware of the dormant flurry of emotions running just beneath her facade of happiness.
"I don't have the same control as you do, Hilda. Let go-"
"Have you even tried?" Hilda demanded. Her irritation with him immediately dominated their connection.
Volkner flexed, then switched it so that his hand was the one gripping now, and squeezed, just enough to make a point. "Every time."
Then he let go, but not before he felt a stab of fear. What kind of fear, he didn't know, but he knew, from that moment, none of her fears would ever sit well with him.
"Go to sleep now, Hilda." His voice came out gentle, coaxing. "I'll be back later."
When she didn't move and just stood there in what looked like a daze, Volkner decided to act quickly and swept her right off her feet into his arms.
She squealed in total surprise. Then clapped both hands over her mouth as if she couldn't believe she even made such a noise.
Walking over to the mattress, Volkner placed her down softly. Then he turned to leave.
"Wait." she called.
She sat on the bed with crossed legs. Her ponytail came undone so she hastily pulled the rest of it out, resulting in a tangle of bangs blocking part of her face.
Knowing he was waiting, she chose her words carefully. "I... I don't know how to thank you, Volkner. For all this I mean. You've done more than... well, much more than I expected a stranger to do. I know thank you isn't enough, but I'll think of something." She chanced a promise, "Maybe I'll save your life a second time."
She heard him shift.
Suddenly, the thought of her hair came to mind, from the way it ended just a few inches above her back to how familiarly messy her bangs were. The thought filled her mind quickly and without warning.
Then, as if in answer to that thought, fingers picked up a good portion of her bangs and tucked them behind her ear.
Hilda froze, dumbfounded.
"Let's hope it doesn't come to that." She heard him murmur. Then he shifted again and Hilda knew it was to leave the room this time.
Once he was gone, Hilda lifted a hand to her chest, feeling the rapid beating of her heart. There was no doubt that he read her spike in emotion, heard the shallowness of her breath, and saw the burning flush that traveled up her neck and into her cheeks.
Alone in the room, Hilda shakily released the breath she'd been holding.
His fingers never even touched her skin, but that was all it took. Just one touch.
She shook her head roughly. This wasn't the time to dwell on it any more!
With renewed purpose, Hilda slipped under the covers after removing her bra and tucked her legs close beneath her.
There were more pressing matters at hand, one of which was the fact that her seventeenth birthday was in two weeks, than any future issues she might have regarding her relationship with her new partner.
In fourteen days, she was officially going to be an adult. Many things could change on that day or nothing at all.
Hilda was asleep before she could finish that thought.
—Fifteen Minutes Later, Volkner—
He flicked off the lights and the master bedroom was drowned in darkness.
Then he lay down on the bed wearing nothing but his boxers. For as long as he could remember, he'd always slept this way so he did it without thinking.
However, the soft breathing of the girl beside him served as a reminder that he had someone else to consider when going through his normal routines. Almost immediately he had a premonition of Hilda waking up in the morning and screaming because of him.
With that in mind, he reluctantly got out of bed to go slip on his shirt. Sometimes, it was hard to act like a gentleman.
Once he came back, he whispered, "Good night," though he knew Hilda was already long gone. It was surprising to see how, even after being unconscious for five hours, she could still fall asleep so quickly.
He wondered for a moment how their sleeping arrangements were going to work out. The bed had two pillows, but only a single large blanket. Was Hilda a sheet stealer?
Volkner prayed with some determination that she wasn't. The last thing he wanted was to wake up cold in the morning.
As he pulled his share of the blanket over him, the girl shifted in her sleep so that she ended up facing him. Subsequently, her hand fell on his hip and he felt the pleasant tingle that was now a trademark of any physical contact between them.
He closed his eyes, breathed in slowly, then exhaled and opened them.
The bedroom had a single window looking out into a small part of the yard, which allowed moonlight to stream in through its sills. The light illuminated a part of Hilda's sleeping face and that was what he studied when he opened his eyes.
There was something unique about her looks, something that drew him in and set her apart from other girls. Of course, that had also been the case with Elesa.
The name brought forth a rush of memories and Volkner closed his eyes in an effort to control it. For two years, he'd been reluctant about even thinking of his previous lover again, but it was inevitable. Elesa and him…
If the time came for it, how should he tell Hilda about it? How would she react?
He wondered, for a moment, if she would laugh it off as an interesting piece of news. Or would she send him a wave of jealousy? Volkner was a fool if he couldn't see that he had a place in Hilda's mind to some degree. Her reaction to his touch earlier had been proof or... had she reacted that way simply because of their connection?
He opened his eyes again.
Hilda's lips were lifted in a slanted smile.
What could she be dreaming about? Volkner wondered. Who could she be dreaming about?
The answer came in the form of a single letter in his mind, but Volkner pushed it away before anything could manifest.
Then he found himself smiling. Even if Hilda had someone else in her dreams right now, slowly, but surely, he was becoming a bigger part of her thoughts than anyone else.
The satisfaction he felt from this surprised him.
"Dangerous waters, Volkner. You're treading in dangerous waters." He murmured to himself, almost like a mantra.
Then he finally broke out of his reverie and realized that his arms had wrapped unbidden around Hilda's waist and pulled her close to him, close enough so that the top of her head touched the bottom of his chin. Her breath was tickling his neck ever so slightly and he wondered how he hadn't noticed it earlier.
The way he held her was familiar. He'd done it back at the Old Chateau when Hilda was still separated from her body, only now she was warmer, more substantial. Alive.
There was a faint scent coming from her hair. It was a soothing smell that led him to bury his face there. She'd probably used the unmarked shampoo bottle near the bath, while he'd used the one marked Spelon.
Perhaps after they reached Floaroma Town and found the man with the honey, he could ask around for the flower with the soothing smell. It suited Hilda very nicely.
As he continued inhaling the light scent, he began drifting off.
Yes, Volkner found himself thinking right before his eyes closed, it's okay to stay like this.
Just a little longer.
A/N: On with the series.
See you next time.
P.S. Cheren and Bianca are still next. Their story takes place seven hours earlier.
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