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Frontier Town Main Street

"Well then, maybe that means you get to choose on your own now!" Leaf smiled again, a little more earnestly this time in spite of the bleariness. "It's not just gonna magically come to you while you're thinking in circles about what someone else made you do before. If that was how it worked I'd still be stuck gardening or playing soccer or whatever." She rolled her eyes. "You could check out a restaurant you haven't been to yet—the sandwiches at Nina's are really good. Maybe there's a ridge somewhere in the outskirts with a good climb to reach it and pretty sunsets. You could ask other people what they like to do in their spare time and get ideas! Important thing's just to give yourself time to experiment and see which spaghetti sticks to the wall. Hell, even just taking that time to do whatever might help take your mind off all the stuff you were told to do. Usually works for me!"
Nova could choose. Right. That didn’t make things easy, though…

“Sorry.” He started forward again. “I’m being selfish. And making you talk in circles.”
"You're fine," Leaf said firmly. "I like having someone to talk to. If you need somebody to hear you out, I don't mind! Even if I can't really get my head around the whole thing, I know that helmet and the people who made you wear it screwed you up. Don't have to be a shrink to know that kinda thing doesn't just disappear overnight. It's like..." She thought for a moment, then clicked a hoof against the stones in the closest thing she could do to a snap. "Like Minerva, the aerodactyl I work with. She was all messed up because of what Team Rocket did to her. It took a while for her to trust the rest of the team, or to trust herself in a battle. Mostly the opposite of you—get her too worked up and she might really hurt somebody. But she's doing a lot better now! Doesn't freak out around other people as much, figured out a new way to battle that she liked more. Wasn't easy, but she got there, and I think she's happier now."

She sighed. Strain on the world or not, part of her still wished Betel could've brought her team here with her. (Felt really stupid now, of course—it wouldn't be fair to force any of them, especially Minerva, to have to put up with all this shadow stuff. She still missed them, even so.) "Anyway. Point is, when somebody's hurt, you've gotta be patient with them. And they have to be patient with themselves, too."
"Right. Trainers," Nova mumbled, continuing forward. Most of the human Wayfarers had pokemon waiting for them home. Or not waiting if Betel's whole "time stasis" thing was truly to be believed. "What is it like?" A beat, then, "Being a trainer where you're from, I mean. Are these all ferals you're working with?"
It took Leaf a beat to work out what Nova meant. "Ferals... oh, you mean like. They're, uh. Like they're not people? I don't think there are any pokémon like that where I come from. They're not pets or trained animals or anything like that. Most of 'em definitely don't act like humans, either, not like they do here, but they're still people. My teammates are pokémon that wanted to battle and travel the region, and we all like each other's company. They're my friends." She smiled wistfully.
Nova stopped walking. "Ah, no. Not like that. I mean like... pokémon that think and act more from basic instincts." He looked around. "Battling's a basic instinct for most 'mon."
"I thought that's what I said," Leaf said, confused. "All the pokémon where I'm from can think using more than just instincts. They're... what's the word? Sent— sapient? That one. I think." She shook her head. "Yeah, most pokémon want or need to battle where I'm from, but they don't always get to travel far or train alongside pokémon that are really different from the ones where they normally live, things like that. Pokémon that decide to find a human usually do it for the excitement or the experience."
"Hmm. Alright." Nova was used to a wide range of different intelligence levels with pokemon, but that was neither here nor there.

"By the way, you mentioned Team Rocket with your aerodactyl friend." He stopped to glance at the ponyta. "Was that your, um, only experience with them?"
"I wish," Leaf huffed. "Ran into them a few times while we were traveling. I rescued Minerva from one of their hideouts, but they were causing trouble and hurting pokémon all over Kanto. They even held up the company where my dad works, and my friends and I—my teammates and my human friends and their teams, I mean—we had to chase them out." Maybe Nova would notice the slightly frustrated emphasis on "had", maybe he wouldn't; she didn't quite seem aware of it herself. "Red even scared their boss right out of his stupid gym and they went quiet for a little bit, but they're still out there harassing people wherever they think they can get away with it..." She paused a moment and looked at the graydian, confused again. "Why do you ask?"
"They existed where I'm from," Nova said. He squinted, though Leaf was probably too short and his mask too obscuring to tell. "And from the way he talks and acts, Mewtwo's a lot like the boss, Giovanni."
The conversation had, in fact, been a very nice distraction from All Of The Everything, which Leaf had appreciated very much. This, though, was a much harder left than she'd anticipated, and this time she stopped for real. "He— wait, he's like who?"

God damn it. She should've known. Should she have known? She thought back to her battle with Viridian's gym leader: smug, condescending, dismissive because he seemed like a jerk and also seemed a little distracted. But it wasn't like he'd been going on about "all pokémon exist for the glory of Team Rocket blah blah blah" right there in the middle of the goddamn gym. She hadn't had any clue until Red had caught up with her in Victory Road and explained. But still... who the hell else would it be, blathering about power and conquest while wearing a stuffy tailored suit. Even had the gall to turn up as mewtwo, which he sure as hell didn't deserve.

"...do you think it's actually him?" she asked slowly, glaring over her shoulder in the direction of the bulletin board. "He ran off somewhere after Red kicked him out of his gym, and we figured he was just hiding out somewhere, but, like... is it really possible he's here?" (If Mhynt's friend could've turned up here, somehow...)
"Dunno. Could be. Or a trick." Nova made eye contact with the ponyta. "But that reaction... says you've got a Giovanni. My world's bit the big one a long time ago. Flew too close to the sun and took a relaxing dip in Cinnabar Volcano." He tapped a claw on the ground. "But that bit he said about butting heads with Mew in the past despite not being from the same world... makes me think he might be, like, a version of Giovanni who can hop between worlds. Maybe... he didn't have any adversaries who could stop him until he met Mew."
"Your world's? There's more than one of him?" Leaf made a face like she'd licked a durin berry. "And you think this is another different one?" That was entirely too many Giovannis. At least three too many. Possibly seven. Surely everyone would be better off with negative four Giovannis.

But there was apparently more than one of that Wes guy, if last night meant anything. And at least two different Team Rockets... no, three. Jade knew about them, had faced them. Did that mean there was a Giovanni in her world, too? (Had she recognized that mewtwo for who he was?)

At least if this was a "Giovanni who couldn't be stopped", it probably wasn't the one she'd met. Even so...

"If you think that might be Giovanni—a Giovanni, whatever, ugh,—do you think it's safe to trust him? With actually helping you? I met my world's once, and even if it was only in his gym, I wouldn't trust anything he says about 'friendship' farther than I could throw 'im." Forget Cipher; those poké balls were suddenly a helluvalot more shady all on their own.
"I dunno. But something about Mew..." Nova looked down. "I can't explain it. He just makes me feel like... I can trust him. Maybe it's a psychic thing. And I, uh, think it doesn't apply to you ex-humans."
"Hm." Leaf frowned, still agitated by Oops All Giovannis but trying to remember. It had seemed an awful lot like Nova and Mhynt were getting more from Mew than she had been, back then. Kinda like...

"Like Purple," she said aloud, giving one hoof another quick snap-click. "The nidoran. I met him again the other day, me and Grace—she's another Wayfarer, a togepi, only just returned from traveling recently. Grace and some of the shopkeepers could understand what he was getting at, but I couldn't. I don't think he's the same as the other fully-wild pokémon here, and I think I could kind of tell what he was thinking, sometimes? The general vibe? Better than the first time I met him, at least. But maybe he has the same kind of pokémon-only telepathy Mew does, or whatever it is."

Another frown, then a sigh. "If you trust Mew, I won't doubt you. Definitely doesn't seem as slimy as the mewtwo; I can buy that he wants to help, at least." (She hoped.) "And I know you know how to watch out for yourself. But just... be careful around him."
"I'll try."

Even if it wouldn't be the end of the world if the "worst" happened to Nova. Even if it would be better for his own world if he couldn't return from Forlas. Or disappeared entirely.

"At the very least... I won't go running for him like Ridley did to the big spiritual darkness ocean." Nova started forward again. "Has anyone checked on him this morning? I have a bad feeling..."
"I think you'll be okay," she said. "You just need to trust whoever's there with you. And trust yourself."

Ridley... what did he mean by that? What'd happened to Rid... oh. Oh. She'd been so busy thinking about masks and Giovannis, and pointedly not thinking about a bunch of other things, that she'd almost forgotten the dream.

(Part of her had been curious about the vast, dark ocean surrounding them. Was it really Powehi himself? How big was it, how far? What did it mean for an ocean to be made of the sadness of all the people in the world? She couldn't hold the guy's sense of wonder against him. But she hadn't exactly been in the mood for a swim of all things last night. Even her priorities weren't that terrible.)

"It... it was only a dream, right? I mean, Powehi was actually talking to us, I guess, but it was still a dream. It can't have been that bad..."

(Honestly, where shadows were involved, she was starting to think it probably could.)
"We're dealing in spirits," Nova said. "Betel put our spirits into other bodies, after all. You don't think Powehi's dream realm would have similar effects on our souls?" He shook dusk from his coat, but stumbled trying to make sure the zoroark stayed on his back. "I could feel the shadows eating at me during the dream."

Nova shook his head. "I don't think he's okay. Someone ought to check on him." He shifted his weight, and the body along with it. "But I, uh, gotta do something about this right now."
"Yeah... yeah, maybe you're right." Leaf glanced toward the Haus. Was Ridley even still staying there after the drapion attack? She wasn't sure... "Should see if anyone knows where he is."

She saw the bundle shift on Nova's back and flinched. So much for not thinking about that. But it had to be done, whether she liked it or not. "Sorry if I held you up. Good, uh... good luck with Lucien. And with the training," she added, just about managing one more smile. "I'm glad it's helping. If you ever need someone to come with—even if it's just to keep an eye on that guy—the offer still stands."
"I was gonna head over this afternoon," Nova said. "Y'know, if you needed something to take your mind off this." Admittedly the company would be nice. Mewtwo wasn't much for conversation. Pragmatic like that. "No pressure though. I'll see you around."

With one swift arching his back, Nova repositioned the zoroark so his mask was supporting it in part.

He started forward, only to flinch at a sudden pinch against his neck. "Nrrgk. Fur must have knots." Nova shook his head, then continued on ahead.

The null wouldn't notice it, but a spike-shaped chunk had broken off the back left of his mask. It hit the dirt and bounced to a stop by Leaf's forehooves.

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