This is a very very slight AU in which Trainers don't get, like, a hundred thousand dollars (or yen, I guess?) by the end of their journey or whatever. Their incomes are, instead, very low. And people do not eat Pokémon. Berries seem to cover all the flavors, so expert chefs use the best and rarest Berries in their dishes. I wouldn't be surprised if someone from this world tried a Berry-flavored thing and said it tasted like chicken. Yeah, that works.

Also, what is it with me and making these two eat together? Heh! This is actually set during the game, though. I started Black over after a looong time. Feeling kinda nostalgic, but I even feel nostalgic over things from only months ago, so…

Have I mentioned that I hate Mistralton's Gym? Because I do. I hate it.

When I first got to the Gym this morning, I figured it'd be a cinch. With Zebstrika on my side, Flying types would be a breeze! Or so I'd thought. These Trainers were actually really tough, and kept knocking poor Zebby out. And running to and fro from Gym to Pokémon Center to Gym again is exhausting. I thought it'd take me about an hour to get through there, but instead it took all day.

Last night, I finally stumbled into Mistralton City. It was pouring rain, as it tends to do in the spring. And after a long, harrowing journey through Chargestone Cave (beginning with a meeting with my favorite green-haired weirdo) I was beat. I can't exactly remember everything that happened after that, and I don't think I got any dinner due to my being so tired. Probably why I ate such a big breakfast this morning. After breakfast, I considered not doing anything, but I didn't want to take advantage of the Center's hospitality. I mean, they let you room there for absolutely free, and their food might as well be! How cool is that?

So, I got my Pokémon together, had a little pep talk, and we stormed the Gym. But it took longer than we thought, as previously stated. We broke for lunch after a few hours. The Pokémon were hungry, and I was getting freaking sore after being flung across the room in cannons all day. For an idea that sounded awesome when I first heard it, travel by cannons really sucks. And after we returned it was about six or seven hours before we got to the Gym Leader. Longest hours of my life, and probably my Pokémon's', too.

But it'll all be worth it when we defeat Skyla. I'm so close to beating her. Zebstrika is up against her Swanna, her final Pokémon. The rest of mine are close to defeat and I'm all out of health items. Swanna's Aqua Ring is annoying and dragging the battle on, but Zebstrika is wearing her down. "Don't give up now!" I say. "We're almost there!" He looks back at me and nods confidently. I know he's tired, too. Everyone's tired. And we're so close to finishing up and getting dinner that everyone is trying their best for this. For me.

Have I mentioned I really love my Pokémon?

"I love your enthusiasm!" says Skyla with a fiery glint in her eye. "All right, Swanna, use Bubblebeam!"

Swanna allows a beam of quickly moving bubbles to fly towards my Pokémon. I grit my teeth as it makes an impact on Zebstrika, who lets out a growl and tries to hold on. I exclaim his name in worry, but he stands his ground. It's his turn, now. He looks at me and I suddenly feel in sync with him. We're reassuring each other with our exchanged glances, and I try to will him to do a critical hit. Just one and we'll win. Just one… "Zebstrika…use Spark!" I say. He runs forward, air around him charged with electricity, and he finally comes into contact with Swanna…who faints.

She…she fainted.

Finally…finally! I run forward and throw my arms around Zebstrika. "Oh, Zebby, I love you!" I sob. He makes a happy noise and hugs me back; at least, the best way a quadruped can. When I stand up, one hand still on his head, Skyla is smiling and petting Swanna.

"Being your opponent in battle is a new source of strength to me," she says, withdrawing her Pokémon. "Thank you!"

I grin. "You're, uh…welcome, I guess?"

Skyla chuckles. "You're an amazing Pokémon Trainer. My Pokémon and I are happy, because for the first time in a while, we could fight with our full strength."

How nice of her to say! "Thanks!" I say. You know, I'm not even bitter towards her for my exhausting day. Maybe if we hadn't succeeded, yeah, but right now I'm so happy I don't even care.

The Leader opens the pouch on her right leg and pulls out a Gym Badge. "This is an official League Gym Badge. I think it will look good on you." She steps forward and hands it to me.

I take the prize that I've been so looking forward to all day with shaking hands. It's finally mine after hours of exhausting battles! "Thank you…so much. You don't even know what this means to me."

Skyla laughs. "You're funny, Hilda! You don't have to thank me. You earned it!"

Boy, did I. But I hold in that comment and simply smile.

She goes on to tell me about the Badge, give me a TM, explain the TM, and tell me where to go next. Although she's quite nice about it and I'm grateful, I tune her out as I dream about eating and sleeping. It's enough to make me drool, the thought of food and a cozy Center bed…ahh…

I thank her once more and lead Zebstrika out. I bid Clyde a good night, to which he replies, "Night, Hilda! I guess I'll see you on your next Gym match!"

"Guess you will," I reply tiredly. "This match nearly killed me. I can't wait to go to bed."

"Yeah, those Gym Leaders'll getcha," laughs Clyde, clapping me on the back. "I'd say you've earned a good night's rest."

I chortle. "I'd say so, too, Clyde. If not me, then these guys here." I gesture to the Pokéballs on my belt and to the Zebstrika on my left. "They're the ones who did the work. I just told them what to do."

"If you say so. Good night!"

"Night," I reply as I open the door and walk out. Huh. It's dark outside. I hadn't been paying attention since I was invested in the battles, but it got late early. Hmm.

I start to walk out, but I realize that I'm not alone; there is someone to my right. It's N. He's leaning against the side of the Gym with his hat covering the top half of his face, and he's obviously been waiting for me.

Oh, come on! After my Gym Badge-induced high, N just has to show up and ruin my evening. Any other day, I could handle Team Plasma's "king" with ease but I am so not in the mood to deal with him right now. I mean, I can handle people like Skyla and Clyde because they're nice and easy to get along with, but N? He's just so…frustrating! I don't get him at all! His talk of truth and ideals just boggles me, even now, and math? I suck at math. I hate math. And yet, he seems to be fascinated by it! How does anyone become fascinated by…math? Eww.

What is the most confusing to me is his weird fascination of, not math, but me. He's always acting like I'm some sort of "special" Trainer who sees Pokémon "differently" than everyone else. What's so special about me, huh? I mean, yeah, I'm good at battling or so I've heard, but so are a lot of other people. I love Pokémon, but who doesn't like them? Does that make me "different" somehow?

Ugh, I hope he doesn't have some weird crush on me or something.

N tips the brim of his hat upward with a small "oh." I want to ask him how long he's been here, but I don't end up doing so. "You took a long time in there."

I purse my lips and blink a few times. "Yep. We did." Zebstrika makes a sound of affirmation and I pet his head.

N sighs and turns his eyes to the stars. "They may say it is for understanding one another better, but what Trainers really use battles for is to compete…And they hurt each other's Pokémon! Am I the only one who finds that terribly painful?" He looks to me with hurt and slight desperation in his eyes, searching for any hint of agreement on my part.

I shrug. "Oh, I guess not the only one…You have Team Plasma." Maybe I shouldn't be so rude to him, and it doesn't exactly feel good doing so, but I'm tired and I don't want to start another debate with this guy. I've been around the block enough to know that debating is pointless when everyone is holding onto their ideals as closely as people often do, regardless of the truth. And, well, he does have Team Plasma, and I think they agree with him. Even if they are total hypocrites.

N huffs, not amused. "Whatever...I'm going to talk to your Pokémon," he says, eyes shifting towards Zebstrika. I put a protective arm around him instinctively, narrowing my eyes. "I've been living with Pokémon since I was born, so it's easier for me to talk with them than with people…because Pokémon never tell lies."

Exchanging glances with Zebstrika, I can see that even he sees the flaws in N's words. Pokémon are just as imperfect as people. But Zebstrika nods at me, telling me that he'll let N ask away. I cautiously let go of him and take a small step back. "Go nuts."

N stands in front of Zebstrika, kneeling slightly to get closer to its height (although he doesn't have to kneel that much). "Hey, Zebstrika," he says in a friendly and conversational voice. "Would you tell me what kind of Trainer Hilda is?"

Why would he go through the trouble of talking to Zebstrika if it's about me? Ah well. Zebstrika responds in his language and N nods occasionally, making minimal comment until he is done.

"Uh, huh…Okay, Okay, got it. So Hilda was born in Nuvema Town, lives with Mom, and was given the Pokédex to start off a journey to see the world."

What? Wow. He really can speak to them. I pull an impressed face and Zebstrika does the same.

N seems intrigued. "Still, this Zebstrika trusts you for some reason."

I narrow my eyes. "Some reason? It's because we're friends and we've been through a lot together," I say. "Haven't you paid any attention?" Seriously, I would like to punch him.

He raises his hands in defense. "But that's good! If every person and Pokémon cared about one another like you two do, I could watch over the future of people and Pokémon without having to liberate Pokémon from people who just use them."

That surprises me. I'd thought he wanted Pokémon to just be separated from people, but he seems to finally get that I really love my Pokémon. And that I don't want to be separated from them. "About time you figured that out," I snort. "There's always going to be abusers who are cruel to their Pokémon. No matter how hard we try to stamp it out they'll still exist. It sucks but that's how it is." I decide not to mention that many examples of such people exist in his own team.

N frowns and sighs. "Yes," he replies, "but liberating Pokémon should probably minimize that risk. And the more of that we can do, the better."

He has a point, but I knew I wasn't going to get through to this guy. "Whatever," I reply. "I gotta get back to the Center."

"So soon?" says N in a disappointed tone. "I like talking with you."

That makes me pause. "…You like talking to me?" Guess it explains why he waited outside of the Gym for so long. "I thought you were my rival, or whatever. You insulted my friends yesterday." And boy, did I give him a good kick in the shin for that. "Why would you like talking to me?"

N blushes at the reminder of his words—as he should! "I must apologize again for that," he mumbles, "I did not mean to insult them. I only meant to use them as examples of truth and ideals. As for the reason that I enjoy talking to you, it's simple. Just because we are chosen for opposite roles does not mean we should hate each other. Though you confuse me sometimes—" I confuse him?! "—I think your view of life is quite interesting to hear. You are an enjoyable partner in conversation."

That puzzles me. "…Oh. Um. Thanks, I guess," I reply, unsure of what the proper response would be. "You're definitely…interesting to listen to, also." I don't know if I mean that but whatever to get me out of here, right? "It's just, my Pokémon and I are tired, and we haven't eaten dinner yet, and the Gym took all day to finish."

N nods, still with a disappointed expression. However, his face lights up right after. "Ah! Here's a simple solution: why don't I take you to dinner?"

WHAT?! No no no no no no no no! I am NOT going to dinner with the green-haired hippie! Coming out of my mouth, the words translate to "Uh, what?"

But N seems too impressed with his "genius." "It's the perfect solution! We can continue talking and you can relax after your hard day!"

I fold my arms. "And what about the Pokémon?" I wonder. "If this is a thinly-veiled plot to get me to release them…"

"I just told you that you share a strong trust with them, didn't I? I don't want to break that right now."

I'm honestly a bit worried about that "right now." "Uh, that's really sweet, but…"

"It can be anywhere you want," continues N. "I've heard that there are some excellent restaurants in this town. And don't worry, I have been trained in etiquette since I was a little boy. I am a king, after all. I know about the male's duty in going to a restaurant with a female, and I have plenty of money with which to pay."

I open my mouth to protest, but then I stop and think. I haven't gone to any restaurants during my journey because I had to save money for buying items. That actually costs a lot more than one would think. And a Trainer's income certainly isn't much, I'll tell you that. Not to mention, sometimes when a Pokémon Center isn't around, I have to use money to pay for a hotel. And that just knocks out most of my income. And when a Center is around I automatically make that my second home. The food is really cheap, and probably good for you, but it's also really bland. Of course, when food is that cheap it's going to be bland. And I know that it's really generous of them to provide food at all, so I keep my mouth shut about it. But sometimes, you need a break from eating the same thing over and over and over. And restaurant food…that's an offer that's hard to refuse.

"And Pokémon fit in so much better in nature anyway," N is saying. "I doubt they'd enjoy restaurant food as much as the amazing cuisine they are offered in the forest."

I look over at Zebstrika. "Well…what do you think, bud?" I ask. "Are you okay with being let loose in the forest while N and I go to a restaurant?" He looks from N to me and nods. "That's one down, I guess. Let's see what the others think." I let out the rest of my Pokémon. They've probably heard everything already, and so I ask them if they agree with Zebstrika. To my surprise, they all agree with him. "You guys are awfully cool about me going to eat with N," I chuckle in a low voice. "Weird. It's like you're all my wingmen or something. Well, if you all are sure," I add in a more normal volume, "then go ahead and enjoy the forest. But I want you back no later than 10:00, at the Pokémon Center. And, uh, don't stray too far from the town or anything, either." They all make sounds of affirmation. "All right. I have a bunch of Berries here. Be sure to share and all that." I give them a bag with the food in it. "If anyone's still hungry when they get back, I'll be sure to have the Center whip up a batch of food for you. Okay? Go have fun!" They all go off to the forest, waving goodbye to me before they are obscured by the trees.

N is beaming when I turn back to him. "You really do trust them, letting them enjoy the forest like that," he says.

"…Are you crying?"

"It's just beautiful to see," he murmurs, drawing a hand over his eyes. "If only all Trainers were so kind as to let their Pokémon explore their home environments so freely."

I smile slightly. It's cute, the way he gets so emotional over silly things like that. Eh—what? "Yeah, well, they're not off the hook. I did give them a curfew." And I gave myself one, too, I add silently. "Out of curiosity, though, why do you want to go to a human restaurant? You seem to love the forest so much, it seems as though you'd want to eat there, too."

"While I adore the forest," N explains, "I feel that I would be robbing the Pokémon there of their own food if I were to find dinner there. But the real reason that I would be going to a human restaurant is for your benefit. You seem to enjoy being with people. I don't want to infringe on your pleasure."

Huh. That's…actually really nice of him. "Well…okay. All right, let's go, then!"

N smiles. "Did you have anywhere in mind?"

I place my thumb and forefinger in my chin. "Hrmm…I'm thinking somewhere casual, not too expensive. But not gross or anything."

"Okay. Let's look, then."

It takes us a little while to figure out where we're going to eat, but we finally decide on a small place called "The Garden." N holds the door open for me and we go in. The restaurant isn't very full, which I think is good for him. A nice waitress seats us at a mahogany table with light gray booth seats, and leaves us with brightly colored menus so we can decide on our orders.

"So. Um. Interesting contrast between the menus and tables," I say. I inwardly kick myself for saying something so awkward.

N nods. "Very interesting. It makes one focus more on the menu."

I wonder if he's applying some mathematical formula to it now. I return my gaze to the menu, skimming the options. They have pretty much the basics here. Soups, salads, pastas, sandwiches…still better-sounding than Center food, though. Infinitely better. I quickly decide on some Oran soup, since I dislike spending a lot of time on decisions. Setting the menu down, I allow myself to focus on the issue at hand.

I am sitting in a restaurant with N. N. Good-looking hippie king of Team Plasma who can talk to Pokémon. I…how does this make any sense? It's crazy! Since when do I dine with villains?

Well, okay. I wouldn't call him a villain. He's a nice guy, and his heart's in the right place. But we're on opposite sides, either way.

I glance at him occasionally. Each time I do so he is staring intensely at something insignificant, like his fingernails or an empty table or the floor. When I look up at him again his gray gaze is boring into my own. "…What?" I say.

"I hope I haven't made you uncomfortable," he says. He looks rather embarrassed. "I had hoped to do something kind but I fear I may have created an awkward situation…"

He has, but I'm not going to tell him that. "You're fine," I say. I wave a hand for emphasis. "It's just that I never go out to eat, so restaurants are kind of a rare treat for me."

"Really? Never?"

"Never."

N looks puzzled. "I assume it's not a voluntary decision."

"Yeah, well, gotta pay for my buddies' medicine somehow, right?"

"…Right."

Oh, boy. He looks rather unhappy; I had better steer the conversation away from Pokémon battles. "Sooo…you must have been going on an adventure, too, huh?"

N furrows his brow. "Excuse me?"

"Travelling Unova, seeing all the sights…you must have made some great memories on your way."

N smiles. "Oh, yes. I've made many memories, and many friends."

"Oh, yeah. You've cau…befriended a lot of different Pokémon, haven't ya?"

"I certainly have."

"I don't think my journey would have been half as fun without my new pals. Sure, I can't speak with them like some people…" I throw N a half smile and he chuckles. "But I can read their expressions pretty well and at least decipher their tone of voice. And that's good enough for me!"

"If only more humans thought that way," N says. His smile is even wider. "It's good to see that you've bonded so well with your Pokémon friends. Would you tell me some of your experiences with them?"

Ooh! I have a ton of those. "Sure I will! This one time, in Nimbasa City…" I go on to tell him about the time that, following Elesa's defeat, my Pokémon wanted to keep riding the roller coasters. I tried to get them to get off but Zebstrika (then, a Blitzle) would shock me every time I tried to get close. Only when he threw up did I finally get everyone back inside their Pokéballs. But then, the next time I let him out he ran away from me to get back on the roller coaster! He was my newest Pokémon and, although he was powerful and I knew I could trust him, he was not a good listener. Long story short, I spent an extra day in Nimbasa that I did not plan to.

N is silent during the story, but he smiles the whole time.

As I finish my story our food arrives. My Oran soup is a pretty light blue color and it tastes delicious. N munches a salad flavored with Nanab dressing. Judging by his smile, he seems to like it, too.

"I wish I could eat salad," I say. "It's just so…gross, to me."

"I think Nanab is delicious."

"Sure, the dressing is good, but I can't stand the taste of lettuce. It's really nasty."

"Really? I rather enjoy it. Sometimes when I eat salad I leave out the dressing altogether."

"Wait…you mean straight lettuce?! Ewww!"

When we finish eating I feel awesome and full. N pays for the food and we exit the restaurant. Neither of us say anything but we both make our way to the Pokémon Center.

We're nearing the Pokémon Center, and I really feel like I should say something to him. He did pay for dinner, after all. "…Thank you, N."

N looks at me with surprise. "Oh, it's no trouble, Hilda. Team Plasma has a lot of money, and as king I get a sizeable portion to do with as I please."

Did he have to go and bring up the Team Plasma thing? "That's…good."

"I know you don't agree with their policies…so I was pleasantly surprised when you agreed to join me for dinner."

Oh…Now I feel bad about having accepted because I don't eat out often. I manage a smile and go, "Mm."

"We should do this more often, shouldn't we?"

Somewhere along the way, I forgot that I was dining with my enemy. All I considered was that I was dining with just…N. N, the oddest person I have ever met, but a nice guy all the same who is in reality pretty fun to dine with. And that disturbs me, yet it also doesn't…

But now we're enemies again. And the next time I see him will probably be just as serious and odd as usual. He'll tell me more about this "chosen" thing and I'll retort in my usual way. He'll be going on with Team Plasma's plans and I'll be desperately trying to stop them. So where would a friendship fit into that?

And yet…and yet, as I look at the man standing with me, I can't help but feel something akin to affection. I enjoyed our excursion much more than I had planned to. So much so, that I'm actually disappointed to leave.

"…You know that's not possible."

N's smile fades. "…Yes," he says. "I know."

"I'm sorry. I really did have a good time, but come on. You're the king of Team Plasma. I'm a kid trying to stop your goals. This...probably can never happen again," I say. I take a step back. "…I'm sorry," I say again.

"So am I." N looks wistful. But he takes a step forward. "Even so, I did enjoy this evening. Like I said before, we don't have to hate each other. After all, it seems that through the bigger differences between us…we seem to be compatible with each other. That makes me happy."

Argh! Why did he have to say something like that?! "Me, too." Why did I have to say something like that?!

N nods towards the Pokémon Center. "Your friends are waiting for you. I had better leave."

I put out my hand to shake. "Well…see ya."

N takes it, but instead of shaking it he kisses it. Ohh…This guy is really trying to make me blush, isn't he? "See you," he says quietly. He tips his hat and walks away.

I stare at his retreating figure. I involuntarily massage the hand that he kissed. He does not look back.

I stuff my hands in my vest pockets and turn around. My Pokémon are near the Center, getting up when they notice me. They make their way towards me and I walk towards the embrace of my Pokémon friends that sounds pretty comforting right about now.

I turn my head one last time, and I see that N has gone. I pretend like the pain in my chest isn't there, and force a smile as I greet my friends.