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EVERYONE: All Together Now

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With his father's AI back in the present, Arven gathers his friends to help out

Blackjack Gabbiani

Back due to popular demand!
Jan 1, 2003
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This follows the events of Safe Passage so read that first if you want! Also Juliana is nonbinary because I said so.

"I'm not sure how much I can explain right now," Arven murmured, not directly looking at the phone before him, "but I'm going to need some costume stuff. And yeah I already called Penny but she hasn't answered." He sighed. "Do you know where to find a wig?"

Juliana paused. Through the phone, Arven could see their eyes widen slightly as they thought. "Um. I do. But you're not gonna like it."

"Ok, it doesn't need to be good." His friend's dramatic reaction was just comedic enough to take a bit of the load off his mind, and he laughed under his breath. "It's just temporary."

"Mr Saguaro's class wanting you to get into costuming? I know you know how to sew at least."

"Eh, not really. I can mend stuff but I'm nowhere near making anything new. Nothing like Atticus or anything." It was a relief for him, to be talking about something so casual. "Though I guess he's on a whole different level. I think he's done stuff even Mr Saguaro can't manage."

"You didn't hear it from me," Juliana said in a voice drenched in conspiracy, "but the scuttlebutt is that he's finally making her that Eevee suit she's wanted for so long."

Arven laughed, but there was work to be done. "Oh that's great. So, when you get that wig, can you bring it to the lighthouse tonight around five?"

"Absolutely! See you there!"

"Hey, so I need a favor."

This time it was Nemona on the other end of the line. "Sure thing! What's up? Need me to cover a new knife again?"

Arven had only recently been able to repay her for the purchase. It was expensive, but it was well worth it as an investment in his future as a chef, as Nemona had reminded him. "No, it's nothing like that. I just need to borrow some clothes."

Nemona laughed, the sound evolving into an extended "oooooooo! Are you going to have a job interview?"

He shook his head. "Nothing like that yet. But I do need to borrow some of your dad's clothes."

She paused and thought about it for a second, measuring things up in her mind. It had been a few months since she had seen her parents, despite living in their house, so she had to put some thought into it. "You're not as tall as mi papá, but I guess if you rolled up the cuffs..."

"It's not for me." The words were rushed and a little blunt. "I've got someone uh...in from out of town. He's taller than me. I need some uh...I don't know, casual shirts or something. Maybe a nice polo shirt maybe..."

"Haha, this must be really something. You're repeating yourself. 'Maybe a nice polo maybe'."

He sighed heavily. "Ugh, is it that obvious? I'm pretty nervous about introducing you. I mean, you kinda met him once, but--"

"Ohhh?" Nemona leaned in close to the phone and smirked at the camera.

It wasn't until her reaction that Arven realized what he had said. "Wait crap, no it's...I can't tell you anything else! I don't know what he'd be comfortable with, and I'd have to go all the way out there to ask him..."

She seemed confused. "He doesn't have a phone?"

He shook his head. "Actually no. He really did just blow in from far away..."

"Yeesh. Poor guy. Where's he from?"

"Uh..." Arven pretended to think about it, with a finger to his lips. "Paldea originally, I guess. But he's been away for a while."

"Oh, where has he been?"

This time he really did have to think about it. "I don't really know, actually. Around, I guess."

Nemona giggled. "Sounds like you've got quite the traveled amigo! I look forward to meeting him. Make sure he calls the airport soon, though. If they lost his luggage, it could be anywhere!"

Arven was going to ask what she meant by that but it only stood to reason. It was a logical conclusion to reach that a traveler who needed clothes must be in that situation. "Sure thing. Can you have them at the lighthouse at five?"

She leaned back and stretched. "Yeah, I can do that. It'll give me time to rest up a little."

"La Primera keeping you on your toes?"

"Oh, no, I actually haven't seen her for a few days. I've just been getting up early to go for a run before sunrise."

Of course she was. Arven smiled in a thin line, lips pressed tightly together. "Never change, Nemona."

"Actually, on that subject," She smiled back, much broader, with a familiar intensity in her eyes. "Your friend wouldn't happen to be a strong trainer, would he?"

"--Hahaha! Never change."

/Penny, you're not answering your phone. Can you meet me at the lighthouse around five tonight?/

/ah hi I turned my ringer off what do you need/

/Well, I need your hacker brain to look over a...really advanced computer/

/wow did you really just type out ellipses in a text? some of your dads shit then?/

/Yeah you could say that. I don't expect you to get into things tonight. Just look them over and see if you can help me out./

/yeah sure thing/

/Hey is it true that Atticus is making you that Eevee suit at long last?/

/goddammit juliana/

/Yeah it was Juliana/

/stg when I get my hands on them/

/Wow you're still typing. Uh, good news they'll be there too./


/Oh your shift key DOES work!/

The AI blinked as he exited sleep mode. The soft glow of the computer before him was a comforting sight, one he hadn't experienced since Zero Lab. He smiled softly at the graphs and figures before him. All of it would have been from some time before Turo had relocated to the crater full time, and some of the conclusions were incorrect. All simply because he would have lacked access to all the data yet; never because of any inaccuracies in the figures. Everything had been correct according to what Turo had known at the time, as always.

All of this was observed in less than a second, and he filed away a query for later to ask Arven for permission to update the calculations. It wasn't as though he lacked a sense of sentimentality; after all, that was what had kept him from altering anything in the rest of the rooms. But Turo would have wanted all the data to be as accurate as possible.

It would have to wait until later, though. What had roused him from sleep mode was the presence of four humans in the surrounding area.


The young man looked down the path to the south. Juliana was there, accompanied by their starter, Skeledirge. The croc kept waddling towards the lighthouse even as Juliana paused to wave. Arven waved back. "Hey! Good to see you! Seeing your mom?"

The student gestured for him to wait for a moment, and picked up their pace to jog up to him and recall Skeledirge to his ball before replying. "Ok, there we go. I wasn't able to get the wig I was thinking of, so I picked up something from an old costume." They fumbled in their bag for a moment. "Here, let me show you how to put the wig cap on."

Instinctively he started to bend over, even though Juliana was his height. They would no doubt be much taller than him in very short time. "Oh wait uh, it's not for me. I've got a guest staying here."

"And...your guest needs a wig..." They stared back at him, idly adjusting their purple sweatband. Recently, Juliana had taken to dressing more outlandishly, cutting their long brown hair into a purple shaved look, wearing tights that looked like a circuit board, and huge white shoes brought in from Alola, though Arven couldn't imagine that they could possibly be a popular style there.

"Yeah, he needs a wig. Uh...Juli..." Arven shifted slightly in place and looking up at the sky for a moment before dropping his gaze back to his friend. "I just want you to be prepared that this is probably going to be very emotional. Things are...going to hurt. They already have."

Their mouth fell open just a bit, head tilting towards the door. "Oh no. Does your friend have to hide from someone? Should we call Clavell? He'll know what to do..."

But just then, Nemona ran up the path, pulling a heavy canvas bag visibly overloaded with fabric. "I'm here! I...tripped once, but everything can just be dusted off. It'll be fine."

"I don't think he'll mind. Thanks a lot for doing this."

Nemona set the bag down and took a long drink from a canteen at her side. "Aaaah... Just let me know if there's anything else your friend needs."

Juliana looked northward, hand shielding their eyes. "That must be Penny. I hear Squawkabilly."

"I swear, you can hear those things anywhere. You even heard one on a tv down the hallway that time." Nemona patted her junior on the back.

Sure enough, the flying cab set down nearby, the four raucous birds chattering to each other all the while, and Penny emerged from the vehicle, hands stuffed deep in her pockets. She handed something to the driver and immediately turned towards the group. "Um. Hi guys."

Arven clapped his hands together. "All right, we're all here! So uh..." He paused, waiting for the cab to fly away even though it was unlikely the driver could hear him anyway.

"Ok, so I just got here," Penny noted, "but already your expression is, like, way more serious than it was thirty seconds ago."

"Yeah, I noticed that too." Nemona took a step towards Arven. "What's going on?"

"His friend is in trouble," Juliana told them. "He needs a disguise."

Arven backed away from the advancing champion and put his hands up in a weak defensive gesture. "That's not what's happening. He's probably the safest now that he's been in a long time. But I..." He sighed, deflating. "Look. Before we go in, I need to have a serious talk with all of you. Especially you, Juli. You talked to him more than any of us."

They looked confused. "This is someone I've met?"

"Yeah, you told me that over the phone, but you didn't say who it was. And you hung up before you told me if he's a strong trainer!" Nemona pouted but with a smile.

Arven sighed again and looked towards the door. This time, the light was on inside. Good, the AI had gotten his message. He couldn't really look inside, though. His father's demand for secrecy had led to the installation of a special window in the door that only granted a few feet of visibility. Enough to tell if Scatterbugs were nesting in the sink again, not enough to see anything in the lab. "Guys, uh...This is really serious, like I said. This is uh...someone I really thought I wouldn't ever see again. That nobody would. And I haven't even decided yet if I want him to be part of my life."

Nemona closed the distance and rested her hand on his arm with a gentle smile. "Arven, whoever this is, we can handle it."

In an opposite move, Penny had taken a few steps back, and drawn her hoodie over her head like a helmet. "Unless it's your dad somehow..."

None of them noticed, but Juliana swallowed heavily at that, throat tight and lips pressed into a white line.

Arven paused just long enough to prompt a "no WAY" from Nemona.

"No geez, it's not my dad..." he dispelled with the same defensive gesture before drooping into a slump. "But uh...it's close."

Penny paused with her hands up on the cords to her hoodie. "Uncle or something?"

"It's the AI."

From inside, the AI could hear the conversation come to a complete halt. Of course, he had heard what was being said, and moreover the revelation that had caused the sudden silence.

The humans knew all of that. What they wouldn't have been able to tell but the AI could discern as easily as anything was how each of them reacted physically.

Arven had been demonstrating signs of anxiety since his arrival, likely before. His heart rate had increased, and his respiration was noticeably more constricted than normal. Just before he had spoken, his cortisol levels had risen. The human memories that still lingered in the AI's programming linked this with the sensation of a sunken stomach, and he knew that Arven would be feeling nauseated from these strong emotions.

803B121, Penny, held her breath. The reason was unknown, but the AI wasn't concerned, as her other vitals were within normal range.

805C001, Nemona...well, he supposed that she would no longer hold that designation and made a note to update his file once a current one could be found. Nemona's heart had skipped a beat, and she contrarily released a long breath, the duration of which saw her heart rate return to normal.

And 805C393, Juliana...

He had not anticipated that Juliana would have reacted in such a way. The youth briefly exhibited signs of the same sunken feeling that Arven had, but it was quickly overshadowed by a rapid increase in heart rate, hyperventilation, and the sudden pounding of footsteps as they ran up to the door of the lighthouse. "It's locked!" the trainer screamed as they tried to force the door open. "Arven! Arven, I can't get in!"

"I told him to lock it for security." Arven's voice carried a normal tone, something else the AI wasn't expecting. "Here, I'll--"

"It's all right," the AI said aloud. At Juliana's sudden movement, he had approached the door, and when he opened it, he was nearly bowled over, Juliana's arms around him in a tight hug.

They were shaking, and he could hear sniffling. "I was so scared..." they murmured, barely audible. "I thought you vanished..."

To be met with such a strong emotion was something the AI wasn't prepared for, either in the suddenness of it or from Turo's memories. When Arven had displayed strong emotion, his father had mostly dealt with it by ignoring it, but this was different. Though he couldn't comprehend what Juliana could be feeing, it displayed many traits in common with grief. He would set aside his confusion as to why the trainer would be demonstrating a contradictory emotion, because human emotions were often contradictory, and rested his hands on their shoulders. "I worried that I would vanish as well. But I did not."

His own emotions were contradictory too. Why would he feel proud, he wondered, at inspiring this outpouring? Instead, he looked past, at Arven. The young man was watching them with an expression that was impossible to read, and the AI felt that perhaps it would be impossible for a human as well.

"It's good to have you back," Nemona started, a cautious tone to her voice. She was holding something back, but it was doubtful to be the same reaction Juliana was having.

Penny had averted her eyes, but nodded. "Yeah. Um...I said I was sure you were having fun in the future...but I wasn't really sure. So I'm glad you're ok."

"I am...or I will be," the AI said with a smile. "I am, at least, safe."

Juliana pulled back, the AI's hands dropping to his sides from their action, and sniffled as they looked up at his face. They had grown quite a bit since that day so long ago, and the angle wasn't nearly as pronounced as it had been then. "I'm sorry. You're here for Arven, aren't you, not any of us..."

He studied the trainer's face. Their vitals still indicated many complex signs, their mouth tight-lipped and wobbling. But the why remained unknown. They hadn't spent much time together, and he--

--No, that was it, wasn't it? Despite his connection to Arven, Juliana was the human he had spent the most time with, other than his creator. Even speaking with Arven earlier had been a shorter time than he and Juliana had spoken together in Zero Lab, or any of the calls he had made.

But while that was meaningful to him, why would it matter to someone who could easily spend any amount of time with any number of others?

He brought a hand to his chin, a gesture mirrored from his creator, and mimicked a sigh. He would have to set his questions aside for later. "I am sorry that my arrival has caused such painful emotions. However, I assure you that I am safe now. I do once again require your help, but it is nowhere near as dire as it was before."

Arven approached and put his hand on Juliana's shoulder. "Hey, little buddy. It's gonna be ok. He's planning on staying this time."

"Really?" The trainer sniffled.

The AI nodded slowly. "The program that tied me to the time machine no longer exists. Or..." He had just changed his position but assumed the same gesture as before. "More accurately, it does exist within me, but the machine itself has been shuttered. What code is in my programming is redundant."

Penny stood a little straighter at that. "That makes sense. But I imagine that's why I was called here. I'm not much for moral support, after all."

Arven nodded. "I was hoping you could give him a check-up or something."

The girl was about to reply when Nemona, who was in the midst of hugging Juliana tightly, piped up. "Oh! And if you have any pokémon with you, we'll have to get you supplies to take care of them!"

Juliana brightened a bit at that. "Nemona, is that your subtle way of finding out if he's going to battle you?"

"Weeeellllll, that too...but if you do, then I can help you with anything you need for them! Bigger beds or food or a vet recommendation, anything!"

The AI briefly turned towards Arven, head cocked in slight confusion, before addressing Nemona. "I am sorry to disappoint you. Although I formed bonds with a few pokémon in that era, I did not properly capture them, nor did any return with me."

The young champion pouted, but just for a moment. "Aww. Well, if you ever want any help, I'm your gal!" Juliana accompanied this statement with a thumbs up.

"So, what we should do is figure out what it is you do need and go from there," Arven said. "But the first thing we should do is go inside!"

"I suppose," the AI mused as he leaned back in the computer chair, "that what I want most of all is the ability to contact Arven directly, without having to rely on loopholes in my programming."

The three of Arven's friends sat in a line on the couch, with Arven leaning against the wall, petting Mabosstiff. "Yeah, he could only contact me if he didn't know for sure it was me."

"Even when I detected his specific biometrics, I still did not know for certain if you were carrying the phone that I had been contacting, so I was able to send you one final message before seeing you myself." The admission seemed to weigh on him, but it answered something Arven had been wondering.

"So I arranged this meeting without hearing from him," Arven told them, "just sent a message to the big computer telling him that I'd be coming with you guys around now."

Penny was taking notes on her laptop, something the others hadn't seen her bring and wouldn't have thought could fit into her Eevee satchel. "All right...but I assume that you're not going to be able to walk me through the process of breaking through the security system."

The AI's eyes widened slightly in an all too human expression of surprise, though he dropped to a neutral look a second later. "That is an unfortunate truth. I am sorry. However, once you are able to bypass that, I am confident that you will be able to make the necessary alterations."

"...sure hope so," she muttered.

"Yes. It is my belief, however, that if you are unable to do so, it is still possible. You may aid in potentially finding another."

Arven frowned. "Right now, I think it would be best to keep the number of people we know about this to a minimum."

"If my memory on this matter is still intact," the AI continued as he turned the chair to face Arven, "I believe Dr Clavell is a skilled programmer. I wish to speak with him regardless, on more personal matters."

"Doctor?" Penny mouthed.

"I remember Mr Jacq mentioning something like that," Juliana offered. "Though I think Clavell prefers the title 'director'."

The AI's eyes flashed the same brief blue they had when he had exited sleep mode when Juliana first entered the lab. "Ah, yes. Forgive me. The predominant memories I have of him are as a fellow researcher. My database has been updated."

The flash, however, had taken Nemona off guard. "¡Uy!" she startled. "What was that with your eyes?"

He tilted his head slightly. "Pardon? Oh, they must have flashed. Is that correct?"


"Ah. That is a sign that I am processing something. Pay it no mind."

She shifted a bit in her seat. "I'm just...yeah, I'm a bit on edge. I'm glad you're back! Don't get me wrong." When she smiled, her eyes were just a little more intense than he would have wanted. "And of course I really want to battle you someday." Her expression quickly fell to a frown. "But...you know, it's all so new."

Penny looked over at her sidelong. "I know computers are my expertise but I know you've seen them light up when they do things."

"But I've never seen a person do it! You know?" Nemona laughed nervously. It was clear to the others that there was something she wasn't voicing, but they knew to let it go.

The AI sat a little straighter. "A...person." A soft smile grew across his lips.

Arven coughed a bit. "Penny will figure out if there's anything wrong, or find someone who can, like we said."

"Aww, that's a sweet vote of confidence." It didn't come from Penny but from Nemona.

"I can at least try. Best foot forward and all that," the younger girl said flatly.

"So, what do you need?" Juliana blurted, tilting forward. "We're here to help with anything!"

The AI blinked in a startlingly human reaction, prompting Arven to look away again and pet Mabosstiff some more. "I...do not know."

Nemona stood and fumbled with the bag in front of her. "That's right! I got so caught up in things that I forgot to give these to you!"

Arven pushed off the wall and supported the bag from the bottom. "Here. Yeah, Nemona brought some clothes to borrow." He was looking at her when he talked.

"Oh, how generous!" The AI accepted the bag and glanced through the top. "Although, I do question why, when the closet in your father's room is still well-stocked."

Arven paused at that. "...of course it is. Of course. Why would I think he would take anything with him."

Mabosstiff snuffled at him, begging for Arven to pet him again.

"Uh..." Nemona watched Arven's sudden downturn with uncertainty. "Um, so...do you need them? My dad hasn't worn these in years so it should be fine. I don't know what your personal fashion is like but there should be something you like."

That was new. The AI set the bag down, next to the desk. "In truth, I have never thought about it before. I have always worn this garment." He placed a hand on his chest, gesturing to the bodysuit. "Although I suppose it would be nice to change things up."

"Pretty impressive that it's lasted this long," Penny remarked. "It doesn't look like it's even been scuffed."

"Yes! It was designed to withstand any sort of scenario. It's made from--" The AI was practically beaming as he launched into a long list of what were presumably materials, but were merely random collections of syllables to everyone else. There was no telling where one word ended and another began. But he stopped suddenly, bright smile tightening a bit, and bowed his head. "I suppose the specifics are not important. I am not used to speaking to others." With a look skyward, he let out a wistful simulated sigh. "I do miss the lab coat, however. It was not nearly as durable as the rest."

Nemona had been staring straight ahead, sitting rigidly at attention while he had recited the strange scientific terms, and it took her a second to blink back into the moment. "Yeah, I would imagine that would be something nice. Right now, what you have is basically a wetsuit."

"Dry suit, actually, but yes."

"And it doesn't leave much to the imagination," she continued. "You won't really be able to go anywhere without people staring at you, even without your resemblance to a very notable celebrity."

Next to her, Penny took a note. "On that subject, do you have a plan for dealing with that? You're going to have a lot of people thinking you're the professor, and I'm going to assume you don't want that."

"Especially after how he treated you..." Juliana sighed, a mournful tone."

The AI looked at Juliana for a moment before addressing Penny. "Eventually I would like to look into creating a slightly different face plate. I do not know if anyone but me can do so, however."

"A different face..." Arven murmured before finally slumping down the wall and gesturing for Mabosstiff to lay fully across his lap.

Juliana looked over at him but didn't say anything. If he was in distress, he would say something, right? He'd opened up since they first met and wasn't going to bottle things up any more. Right?

But the AI continued. "I confirmed that I still have access to Zero Lab, so I ought to be able to construct something like that myself. But right now, my priorities are open communication with Arven--"

To the side, the young man shifted further, burying his face in the dog's thick fur.

"--getting my programming examined, and speaking with Director Clavell."

Penny finished typing her line before replying. "Those sound like reasonable goals. Do you want Clavell to come here? If you plan on leaving the lighthouse for any reason, we can get you a hat and probably a surgical mask."

"Oh! I brought a hat!" Nemona exclaimed. "It's near the bottom of the bag. I hope you like the Levencia Staraptors!" She laughed nervously. "Uh. You can keep that. My dad got a bunch of them when his company bought ads, and he never wears them."

The AI nodded in acknowledgement. "Thank you. I have never worn a hat before. This will be a novel experience."

"I'm glad." Juliana was smiling even with concern still lingering across their face. "Uh...Arven, aren't you glad?"

Arven sputtered a bit before looking up. "Uh? I guess, sure. Hey, Mabosstiff needs to go out, so I'm gonna step out for a few minutes." He prompted the dog to move a bit and shifted up to his feet. "Come on, boy. We'll be right back."

Mabosstiff tilted his head and barked softly, seeming to grumble from the sudden decision but following behind, and the two headed out the door.

Penny had watched him go, but returned to her list. "I can take a look at anything you can show me today, but I'll tell you right now that I can't do much from this laptop. I may need access to the system beside you. I understand it's connected to the the network in Zero Lab, correct?"

"Wow, look at you go!" Nemona was impressed. "So professional."

The girl smiled, though she continued to look at her screen. "Thanks. Now, would that be feasible?"

The AI turned towards the computer and typed something rapidly. "I can add permissions to this device. My creator did not anticipate that I would ever set foot here, so I was not restricted from it. Incidentally, has anyone gained access to the research in Zero Lab in this time?"

"I've tried," Juliana admitted, "but I'm also not a very techy person. Do you want anyone to?"

"I do not quite know. I asked simply out of curiosity. But right now, I believe I would only entrust that information to Director Clavell."

Nemona leaned back and stretched her arms out behind the couch. "Ah, that makes sense. You had other people working with y--with the professor, right?"

"Yes. At its biggest, the research team dwelling in Zero Lab was populated with fifteen people. Although I believe a total of thirty-six worked on the entire study at various points." He shook his head. "Admittedly, my information on some of them is incomplete, as Turo did not care to recall them."

Penny typed something more. "That's too bad. You had to be pretty skilled to be approved for that project, right?"

"Absolutely. Only the best and brightest were permitted clearance." A bright smile crossed his face, a little wider than what would be considered natural on a human. "The four of you are similar in that regard. Though it was not the same as selecting a researcher, you had proven your strength and dedication." The smile relaxed just a bit, as if he was realizing the intensity of it. "I did not plan it that way, but I am pleased that it worked out in a suitable manner." And the smile faded into a wistful expression. "On my way here, I made many observations of my surroundings. Paldea is...more beautiful than I ever could have imagined. That those who live here can do so without fear is..." His voice cracked, and he pinched the bridge of his nose. "I apologize. Though I am physically incapable of displaying certain emotions, I still possess the impulse to do so. It often manifests in contradictory ways."

Another clack of the keyboard. "It's understandable. Would you want to be able to do things like cry?"

He took on a neutral position, hands on his legs, and faced her directly. "That would be a major alteration that would require intensive physical restructuring. If it is even possible, it is not a priority. Do not concern yourself with it at this time."

"Gotcha." She typed something else before closing the laptop. "If you want to get started, I've got some time right now."

The AI glanced towards the door. "If...you do not mind, would tomorrow be acceptable?"

Juliana followed his gaze, but no one was there. "All of us?"

"If you wish." He smiled. "I am grateful to have such a warm welcome. It is an unfamiliar feeling, but a pleasant one. I greatly enjoy it."

Nemona shot to her feet. "¡Cáspita! I'm glad to hear it! I can't wait for Penny to work her magic on you!"

He stood as well, but her words stayed him. "Oh, I am not in need of magic. I require--"

Juliana's laughter was surprisingly high in tone given their lower voice. "It's an expression. Figurative magic."

The AI's eyes flashed briefly again. "Of course. I understand."

Penny opened her laptop again and wrote one more note.

Juliana held the door for Penny and glanced back in, waving at the AI before closing the door behind them. "I'm so glad he's ok..."

"I'm sure you are. I know that was eating you up inside." The laptop had vanished from sight once again. "I'm happy for you. And for him." Though Penny's voice was unemotive from the prolonged social encounter, her friends would know her smile to be genuine.

"Oh, there he is!" Nemona began waving. "Aaaaaarven!" she called across the clearing to where the young man was, on the small cliff on the opposite side of the path. "Arven, we're going now! He wants to talk to you now!"

Even from the distance, they could see him inhale deeply before waving back. He seemed in no hurry to return, even with Mabosstiff bounding before him.

"Call me later, ok?" Juliana emphasized the instruction with a telephone gesture to their face, extended fingers to their mouth and ear.

Arven waved a second time and copied the gesture to verify, but said nothing.

He watched the group disperse, Nemona and Juliana heading south and Penny opting to walk, saying something about getting a snack in Cabo Poco, the town at the base of the hill to the northwest. Once they were out of sight, he finally eased himself down the small cliff, recalling Mabosstiff and letting him back out on ground level.

"...You think we could just leave him waiting, go back to the dorm tonight?" he muttered to the dog as he shuffled his feet still towards the lighthouse, already knowing the answer.

Mabosstiff barked softly and pushed against the young man's legs.

"Yeah, I can't be a coward. I guess I have to give him my answer at some point, yeah? I should at least make up my mind..."

He expected to see the AI at the computer again. Not at the kitchen table, sitting there expectantly with those same shining eyes his father had. "Arven. It is good to see you. Have Mabosstiff's needs been sufficiently met?"

What an awkward way of putting it. So stiff and formal, not at all like how a human would talk. Not even Turo at his most academic would have phrased it so roughly. "It's been a long time since you've talked to anyone."

"In a way," the AI nodded. "The pokémon of the future are great listeners, but they do not return the favor of conversation."

Arven sighed and turned a chair around before sitting, putting the back of the chair between himself and the AI. "You've always been pretty blunt, haven't you? Saying whatever you want to no matter what anyone else might think." Though he was facing the AI, he was again averting his gaze.

The AI's eyes flashed, and he bowed his head. "You have said something like this to me before. Just before I left."

The young man nodded. "Yeah. Because you picked the worst possible time to dump on me that d--what you said."

/Your father truly loved you./

The memory hung in Arven's mind, always there no matter what he did.

"I spoke the truth. I was created with his memories. I knew his mind, his thoughts, his beliefs." The AI rested a hand on the table and looked towards Arven with a slight frown and furrowed brow. "And I know that he loved you. I also know that he mistreated you. They are both true statements. I have struggled to rectify them, but the truth remains."

Arven shook his head. "Dropping that on me...did you consider how it would affect me?"

The AI lowered his head. "Would you have preferred not to know?"

The young man sighed. "I'm...I don't know. I can't really answer that. I'm kinda a...different person than I was back then." He tilted forward a little but pulled back, resisting the urge to rest his head on the table. "I'm really working hard now, studying cooking and nutrition and all that. I'm not aimless. He's not the center of my life and he hasn't been for years...Some days I don't even think about him!"

"And yet you are still Arven."

Arven paused before staring back at the robot, incredulous. "This is exactly what I'm talking about! If you're going to be around people, you need to think about what your words are going to do to them!"

The area around the AI's eyes tightened, his mouth dropping just a bit. He seemed almost hurt. "I am sorry," he murmured, his usually direct voice soft and regretful. "I do not wish to cause any harm. I wish only to make things right. It is one of my directives to protect you, and moreover, I want to protect you." His other hand rested over the first, covering it in a gesture resembling one of peace. "I will do what you ask of me but I must know what it is you want."

The young man flopped forward, head falling to his hands. "My god, you need to stop talking like that! Let's ignore for a minute that you did cause us harm, you acted like I wasn't even here earlier!"

The AI's expression returned to neutral, though he averted his eyes as Arven had done. "I apologize."

"All of this...changing your face, like it wouldn't mean anything. Saying it like it was nothing! That's my dad's face and you--" He stopped abruptly and tisked with his tongue before burying his own face in his hands and shaking his head.

After a long moment, the AI blinked, keeping his eyes shut for longer than normal, before looking back at Arven. "To continue looking like the man who hurt us both...I know that how I look hurts you. That you cannot look at me without seeing him." His voice, though so familiar, was softer and more stilted than Turo's in delivery. "Additionally, his celebrity would yield undue attention. I do not wish to lie about him any further, meaning I do not wish to make anybody falsely believe that he is still alive. I am aware that lying to you on that subject was harmful, but I judged it to be a necessary action for the greater good of Paldea." He mimicked a sigh again. It was amazing how realistic it sounded, though Arven knew it was just a sound file of his father's own voice. "I do not have to maintain that lie any further now. I do not wish to give anybody false hope. That is why I know that I cannot continue to look as I do."

Arven glanced up briefly, at that familiar face, before looking away again.

"I respect your father's brilliance. I loved him dearly, and I still do. Do not take this as a sign of disrespect."

"That's not the issue. It's not even what you said." Arven's hands balled up on either side of his face. "You just say stuff without...like when you were saying that dad's closet is still full of stuff. You said that so casually, like it didn't mean anything."

The AI was silent for a moment before cocking his head. "I am sorry. Both for that my statement caused you pain, and that I do not understand why that would have hurt you. It was an observation, nothing more."

"Oh come on!" Arven emphasized the cry with a fist pounded to the table, startling Mabosstiff at his side. "Telling me like it was nothing that he never came back for his stuff? That he didn't have any intention of coming back here? That he was just going to ditch me and the whole outside world?"

"It was an observation," the AI repeated, voice quiet and more halted than his usual stiff delivery. "Nothing more. I am sorry."

"Nothing more..." Arven grumbled. But the more he thought about what he had said, the stranger it sounded. "...dammit..."

The AI said nothing, just slid his hand across the table to rest over Arven's still-clenched fist.

"It sounds stupid now that I say it out loud..." Arven covered his face with his other hand, knuckles bent tight. "If one of my friends had said there were clothes in his closet, I wouldn't have gotten mad. I wouldn't have read all that extra stuff into it."

Again, the AI said nothing, only stroked the back of Arven's hand. His usually intense and direct gaze faltered, drifting to the table.

Arven didn't say anything either for a few minutes. Finally he sighed deeply and pulled his hand back to stand from the chair. "...I still...haven't decided yet. If I want you in my life or not. But after today I think I can make a more informed decision."

A nod. "Whatever you decide, I will abide by."

"I know. You seem like you'd stick by what you say." He fell silent again before slumping at the shoulders, and finally kneeling to nuzzle Mabosstiff, who eagerly leaned into the touch. "Would you be ok..." he started with his face in the dog's thick fur before looking back up at the AI. "Would you be ok if you were only in my life a little? Like, if we saw each other but not often?"

He couldn't see it through the table, but the AI smiled. "Of course. Though I know you have not yet made your decision."

"Right, right, just...makes it a little easier. I don't want to ditch you, after all. Even with human memories, you spent three hundred years in a world that sounds pretty desolate, so you'd got to readjust to things." He hugged Mabosstiff tightly before standing again.

"I would not call it 'desolate'." The AI was still smiling. "It was teeming with life, and very beautiful. It was simply not what I or he believed it would be..." He shook his head. "But that is behind me. I am here now, and I must exist here as things are. So I welcome any aid you would offer."

"Yeah. Just it might come slow. You can meet with the others without me, you know."

The AI nodded. "Thank you. I did know, but it is good to hear you say it. I did not wish to be rude."

Arven chuckled. "Well, you've already got a leg up on my old man then. He sure didn't care about being rude, unless the press or a sponsor was nearby."

"I apologize for his actions."

"It's not your place to do so," Arven reminded him. "You're not him. Otherwise we wouldn't be having this conversation. For uh...a couple of reasons." He shook it off as he turned towards the door. "I've got some work to do tonight, but I want you to think about what I said."

"Absolutely. Thank you for your own patience. I know that this is asking a lot of you."

Arven paused before smiling just a bit. "I feel like we'll probably have more talks like this, won't we?" The smile, however, dropped. "I don't think you realized it. But when you told me dad really loved me. In the past tense..." His expression dropped further, into a dim frown. "That was how I found out he was gone. I don't know if you realized that when you said it, and I suspected something had happened to him, but.. that was how I found out for sure."

He waited just a moment before turning to the door, catching a glimpse of the AI's ashamed expression as he did.
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