I actually wrote this last week, but my dog of 18 years died on Sunday, so I'm dedicating it to her...
"Does it get any easier?" I asked him, and he shook his head.
"...it never does. Never." He paused, disposing of the needle. "...I've been doing this for over thirty years, and every time stays with me..."
I look down at the prone Lanturn on the exam table. The trainer had caught it a little more than a month ago, and had it not been for a fateful battle with a strong Raichu, they would have been on the trail as usual.
Both trainers, the Lanturn's and the Raichu's, were in the living room, trying to comfort each other. Although it had been an accident, the Raichu will be taken away for a while, put under surveilance until it can be determined that it's safe to give back to the trainer.
I sigh. The professor will clean up, and it's up to me to talk to the trainers. My lower lip quivers as I head to the living room.
Lanturn's trainer stands. Her eyes are red and puffy, and she wipes her face on her sleeve before looking at me. "...he's gone?"
I nod slowly. "I'm sorry."
She blinks a few times. "...yeah...but it was for the best, right?"
"I'm afraid so." We had been through this before, when she made the decision to have it put down, but in times of trauma, the mind doesn't work like it usually does.
She sniffles, arms wrapping over her chest. The Raichu's trainer rises next to her, pulling her close. An instant bond, like those forged in the hell of a foxhole.
I had rehearsed the words in my mind, and had to force myself to say them. "It was over quickly. Lanturn didn't feel anything..." My voice is dry. I know if I show any emotion, I'll start crying.
She nods. "...can you do me a favor?"
"What is it?"
Gently pushing away from the other trainer, she sighs, wiping her face again. "...can I have Lanturn's pokéball back? I...I want to bury it near the river where I found him..."
"Of course." To ask for the Lanturn back, I knew, would be too traumatic for her.
She shivers again. "...please hurry, I want to get out of here as soon as I can."
"All right." I return to the lab, picking up the Lure Ball. Knowing its history, it feels so light, as if it only held a spirit.
Oak is still at the exam table, looking down at the Lanturn. "...this is the hardest part of our job, Tracey," he whispers.
I rest a hand on his shoulder, but cannot think of anything to say.
"Times like this make me work harder. Every new discovery, every new advancement..." He trails off, eyes falling shut.
I take the ball back to the trainer, and she and her companion leave without a word. With a sigh, I flop onto the couch, resting my hand on my forehead. Every trainer experiences the pain of loss sooner or later, in one way or another. I think about my Scyther, out on the preserve. He was rather on in years when I caught him, and it's only a matter of time.
I think the real reason we work harder is to distract ourselves from our own thoughts. I remember what he said about never forgetting any of these and I shudder. I don't know if I can take anything like that. But I know tomorrow, something will happen to draw me back in to researching.
It's like that river where the trainer is heading, all ebb and flow.