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the back of a hurricane (that started turning when you were young)

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Your grandfather’s been the professor for as long as you can remember - longer, really, he got the title before you were born - but he’s always been “Gramps” to you. You’ve heard he used to be a pokémon trainer, but that just seems ridiculous; he’s a bit of a fuddy-duddy, he’s the kind of person who researches pokémon, who understands the theoretical, but leaves the battling to the youngsters.

You’re going to be one of those youngsters.

It’s your birthday, and you make your way up the hill to Gramps’ home, his lab. You’re not one of those kids who buys a bunch of pokéballs and then just starts throwing them at the nearest ratata; you’re going to get a proper starter.

You knock on the door, but there’s no reply. No matter, you’re family, you’ve been here heaps of times before, he knows you’re coming. You push open the door, make your way to where he should be, outside the door to the room where the starter pokémon are kept.

You’ve never been allowed inside that room before, but he’s shown you the door, promised you your pick of them when you’re of age.

You’ve already decided; you want a charmander.

You’ve done the research, you know about its evolutionary stages, the moves it can learn. It’s weak to water, but there’s not a water gym for miles, you’ll have plenty of time to catch a magikarp and raise it to a gyrados before that becomes an issue.

Gramps isn’t here.

You come back the way you came, and find a kid at the door.

You say kid, he’s your age - exactly your age, you recognise him pretty easily: it’s Red.

You know him, not because you’re friends, but because of the mere fact that you share a birthday had prompted your mother to always try to organise joint parties with his. You’ve never liked him that much, he always ignored you when you tried to talk to him, and you never bothered to sink any further effort into your relationship than the antagonism you’ve got.

He’s probably here for a starter as well.

“Gramps isn’t here,” you tell him.

He doesn’t reply to you, but he at least recognises that you know your way around, and follows.

You backtrack outside, thinking maybe Gramps’ll be around the back, feeding the pidgeys.

He’s not, or at least, he’s not visible.

“Hey, loser, stay here,” you tell Red. He doesn’t have any pokémon, if he goes bashing through the long grass, he’ll be toast. You’ve at least got some repels, you won’t get set on by angry bug-types.

You’re only a few steps into the grass (still no sign of Gramps) when you realise that Red has followed you - and before he can step on a weedle, your grandfather appears.

“Hey, wait!” he calls. Good, he remembers what he promised. “You can’t go out into the tall grass without a pokémon,” Gramps continues, “it’s unsafe!”

Right, so Gramps is talking to Red, not you.

Only an idiot wouldn’t know about pokémon in the tall grass, but then again, Red’s always been a bit of a weird one, someone who’s had to have common knowledge explained to him.

“Hey, I know,” Gramps says to Red, still ignoring you, “come with me.” Maybe he just hadn’t seen you, you were a few steps further into the grass.

They’ll be going to the room with the starters, but it looks like Gramps is heading off to the front door; if you sneak in through the back, you’ll get there first.

You run for it, and stand in front of the door, waiting for them.

No way is Red going to get a starter first, Gramps promised you your pick.

“Gramps!” You call, somewhat accusingly, as they round the corner, “I’m fed up with waiting.”

He frowns at you, apparently more concerned with Red than his own family. He addresses you with a “What are you-- oh, that’s right, I told you to come,” which doesn’t fill you with confidence as he unlocks the door and lets you and Red in.

He most certainly did tell you, and you’re starting to get concerned that he’s forgotten his promise. “Look, just wait a minute.” He says, then turns back to Red, and starts explaining about starters, tells Red that he used to be a trainer, and that the three pokémon in the balls are his options for starting his own journey. “You can have one,” he says to Red.

What?

“Gramps!” You say, horrified. What if he picks the one you wanted? He promised you’d get to pick the one you wanted! “What about me?”

“Be patient,” he tells you. “Red, go ahead and choose one.”

There’s a one-in-three chance that he’ll pick the charmander you want - better than that, if he’s done his research, given that charmander is clearly the best of the three. Rather than say something like “just leave the charmander for me,” knowing that if someone had said that to you , you’d pick it out of pure spite, you say “Go ahead and choose, Red. I can wait, I don’t have to be greedy and jump the queue.”

You kind of hope that Red will shrug, and gesture for you to go first, but he doesn’t.

And.

He.

Picks.

The.

Charmander.

You’ve never hated someone so much in your life.

“The fire-type?” Gramps asks, as if you hadn’t talked to him at length as to how much you were looking forward to raising a charmander. “Are you sure?”

Red nods.

Screw him. You pick up the ball marked with a water symbol; if you can’t have a charmander, you’ll get the type advantage and beat him. “Mine looks a lot stronger,” you say, trying to cover the hurt.

He doesn’t say anything.

What a ratata-bag.

You both start to head out - make a name for yourselves, find wild pokémon, battle gym leaders (the nearest one is a stone-type - your new squirtle will make short work of that) but you want to make it clear that despite Red’s theft, you’re the superior trainer. “Hey,” you say, “let’s check out our pokémon. Have a battle, right here.”

He shrugs, sends out the charmander, and beats you .

Squirtle doesn’t have any water-type moves, and that’s the only reason. Screw it, you’ll buy some TMs if he doesn’t level up fast enough.

You’re going to beat this guy.

You fight other trainers en route to the bigger cities, fight wild pokémon in the grass; between your squirtle and the pidgey you manage to catch and start levelling with the others, the whole process is almost cruisy. Beat gyms, catch pokémon, move on to the next town.

You meet up with Red again at route 22, some months later, now, intending to give him a run for his money. Instead, his weakest pokémon is still a good ten levels ahead of yours, and he one-hit KO’s you.

It starts to become a pattern, then: you race ahead, beat everyone on the path, add new pokémon to your team, run into Red, get beaten by him.

Months turn into years, and you’re a few steps ahead of him in terms of progress - badges, routes travelled, that sort of thing - but lag behind when it comes to battling him one-on-one.

Lag behind is generous. You haven't had a single win.

You get to the Elite Four, and beat them handily. Your squirtle’s a blastoise now, and woe betide any fire-types he turns his pumps on.

You’re the Regional Champion, you’ve got a heap of prize money, Gramps actually acknowledged the letter you sent telling him the news, and what’s more, you’ve objectively proven your superiority to Red.

As a teen, no less. Youngest ever trainer to defeat the Elite Four - most trainers have to go to school, train part-time, or else they go to specialised training schools, but neither you nor Red are sticklers for tradition.

Just as you’re thinking this, of course, Red walks in through the door.

You challenge him to battle, not thinking that he must have beaten the Elite Four to even get in through the door, but thinking only that surely, this time you’ll beat him; thinking only of the rivalry between the two of you that you’ve both developed.

Or at least, that you have. He’s never been one for trash-talking, or… talking in general, really. He doesn’t ignore you, but he doesn’t talk back, either.

He accepts the battle request, throws out the charizard that should have been yours.

Sure, you’ve got Blastoise, and he’s great, he really is, but.

If you couldn’t have that pokémon then, you’re sure going to beat it now.

Your blastoise isn’t first off the ranks, but you keep to the order you’ve kept for your pokémon, expecting their strength to shine through, to finally put your name on the list of people who’ve beaten Red, but the charizard keeps going, flamethrower after flamethrower knocking your pokémon to the ground.

Red doesn’t say anything, but his smirk says everything you need to know.

He has other pokémon, you’ve seen them; more to the point, their data is entered into the computer that’s sitting in front of you, ensuring it’s a fair match - but he seems to have made it his mission to beat you with nothing but his starter.

You send out your Blastoise.

And he knocks that one out, too.

You hand over the prize money almost in a dream state, stunned at what just happened, sure you’re going to wake up soon.

You don’t.

He hands you a pokéball, plain, unmarked, as if to compensate you for taking all your money.

And your dignity.

You refuse to open it then and there - don’t want to seem overeager, nor do you want to give him the satisfaction.

It’s probably a ratata - it’s probably an obnoxiously high level ratata, to go with the rest of his team.

You set the ball on your desk, write Red’s name on the ball’s surface in marker. You leave it, clean it up after a while, toss it in a box in the back of the cupboard

You don’t think about it for about a year (at first it was very pointedly not thinking about it , like someone had said to you don’t think about phanpys, then later as more things came up, it escaped your mind completely) until you clean out your closet, and it comes out, along with a heap of knick-knacks and a stack of full restores, now long past their expiry date.

You see the mark on the pokéball, and remember - how could you not? - the circumstances that lead to the it coming into your possession. You look to your eevee, everstone glittering brightly on her collar - she’ll slip it off when she’s ready, but you don’t want her to be caught unawares - and she pricks her ears, as curious about the contents of the pokéball as you are.

You press the button, and hold your breath.

It’s a bird shape, at first, and your first thought is a pidgy? That’s worse than a rata- but you don’t finish the thought, because it’s huge, growing, until it’s as tall as you, then taller still.

The flash of light fades, and the bird colours from indistinguishable brightness into differing shades of recognisably icy-blue. From the snow-down chest feathers to the deep-ocean iceberg-blue of its tail to the icy sheets that make up its wings, it is unmistakably an Articuno.

An Articuno, as if there were more than one - there is only one of each legendary bird, they’re unique and incredible and one is perched on the back of your chair as if it belongs there.

The living god blinks its red eyes at you, and ignores your eevee, who has arched her back and has her fur standing on end - almost a sphere of fur, a faint line where the everstone-collar is. She’s looking at you for cues. Battle? Retreat? Run in circles, scream and shout?

You look at the Articuno, and look at the scrawled RED on the top of the pokéball.

You ring him up, because what are you supposed to do in that situation?

You’ve already dialled his number and are listening to it ring when you realise that you don’t know what you’re going to say.

What can you possibly say? “Hey, remember that time you beat me and became Kanto champion? I think you gave me the wrong pokéball, because I just opened this one up and it has a god in it?” Terrible, implies that you think Red’s an idiot who wouldn’t miss the fact that he’d given you a pokéball with a god in it.

“Thanks for the ice-type, that rounds out my team nicely?” Still a long distance from the issue of said ice-type being a literal god, also ignores the entire situation, additionally reveals that you’ve been keeping it in a ball at the back of a closet until just a moment ago.

The dial sound stopped a while ago, Red’s picked up, and you realise you’re just saying a very long “Ummmmm.”

You hear a soft chuckle at the other end.

Oh, Red knew exactly what he had given you, he’s probably been waiting for this exact moment.

You wonder, briefly, absurdly, if he beat this god with nothing but his charizard as well, wonder if he left it off his team because it wasn’t powerful enough.

You look at the Articuno, sitting on the back of your desk chair, grooming its feathers, unconcerned. Your eevee is bristling, hair raised in an effort to make herself look bigger, or at least look even slightly threatening.

Articuno is level 69.

Your brain does something funny.

“Was…” You’ve finally managed to croak something out. “Was that deliberate? That… that Articuno?”

You hear another chuckle, a soft kh , as if he was exhaling particularly hard, trying not to giggle, and the line goes dead.

If Red can capture a god in nothing but a pokéball, you can damn well become as good as he was. You might not climb a mountain and fight a deity, but you can beat the guy that did, and that’ll be good enough.

You release the Articuno back to the island from whence it came, let it out and smash the pokéball beneath your heel. You justify it to yourself in a number of ways: it would bring too many questions, too many people would hear about it, would try their own hand at capturing the gods. The sorts of people who would do that aren’t the sort of people you want in the region.

Red doesn’t count, somehow, you think, as you pick up the shattered pieces of the pokéball, trace around the still-whole mark of RED on one shard. You know he wasn’t malicious in his actions, could never do something to deliberately harm. The first time he found out that you’d wanted the charmander, back when you were kids, he’d offered to trade his prized charizard with you then and there. You’d refused, of course - that charizard had wiped the floor with your team - but the gesture had been there.

Red wouldn’t do something bad, and if he did it by accident, he’d do what he could to make it right.

But Red aside, you tell yourself that it is best that even the knowledge that there exists the possibility for gods to be caught in pokéballs doesn’t travel any further.

You wave the great bird away, watch it wheel in the air until it’s a speck of shining, sparkling blue in the sun, until you blink and then you can’t see it at all.

Surely it is best that the knowledge that they are pokémon like any other stay hidden.

Two can keep a secret, if neither of them tell it.

It hits you, at some point, as the years pass: you don’t hate Red, not anymore. It takes long after that simmering emotion has evaporated for you to realise its absence. How long has it been since you’ve felt it? Looking back, you can’t trace its absence easily, for your emotions have always run hot, whatever they are, but… maybe it was after you beat the Elite Four that it started to dissipate, transmute, evolve into something… else. Maybe after he beat the Elite Four, maybe after he gave you the pokéball.

It was before you opened it, definitely, because the you that hated Red with all your heart wouldn’t have dreamed of calling him up, would have been appalled that you even have his number.

The date is impossible to trace. After all, it’s not as if you don’t have a strong emotion that rushes through you when you think about him, about how he beat you, how he’s not even taking his duties as regional champion seriously, insofar as location is concerned, but it’s… it’s not hatred.

Envy, maybe?

Quiet awe and admiration at his feats - his hidden feats, like capturing the gods, those actions he doesn’t put on display like anyone else would?

Concern? Is that it?

Red’s up on Mount Silver, challenging those following in his footsteps (Red followed you, and the rest of the world follows him), and he seems well, or at least, he had last you’d spoken, and his pokémon are in fine form (still beating yours, though they tend not to do the one-hit KO like they have in the past); you’ve been running the gym, now that Giavonni’s…

Well.

You’re the gym leader, now, and you refused to conform to the rest of the region and make it a themed gym, despite the many requests of other gym leaders throughout Kanto.

What, you want one kid with a single blastoise to take out the entire lot with nothing but hydro pump? No thanks. If someone wants an Earth badge, they need variety in their team.

(Or just one really high-levelled charizard. But you don’t say that, because it ruins your mystique.)

It all comes back to Red, doesn’t it?

There was an article in the newspaper the day before, with grainy photos of the Kanto champion, as if he were a rare pokémon, only visible from far away, liable to flee if approached. They’ve published the general stats for the gym leaders and the Elite Four, but underneath Red’s blurry picture is a series of question marks and unsubstantiated rumours. Should you take him the paper? Does he get it delivered to Mt Silver? Would he even want his information published? Either way, you should ask him before writing to the paper with corrections. Maybe mystery is good for business.

Maybe it’s time for him to come down from the mountain. He could still be mysterious, meet trainers in one of the abandoned warehouses that Team Rocket used to use, hide his face, dodge cameras.

He could stay with you, at least until he gets his own place. He’s quiet, he wouldn’t be a terrible roommate, he doesn’t seem the type to leave dishes on the counter with half-caked tea in the mug, which is already a point in his favour.

Your eevee is sitting on the bed, unimpressed with your ranting, as you try and verbalise your thoughts, organise them. “I could just go see him,” you say. “He’s far away, but not so far away that he’s impossible to visit, and-- I mean, I think I might beat him, this time, if we had a battle,” you say, hands reaching to your belt, passing over your pokéballs, and your eevee rolls her eyes.

“Don’t mock me,” you say. Sure, you might not have beaten him yet, but… there’s always the next battle. “It’s… it’s the competitive nature of humans! I feel it in my soul, just like he does.”

Does he?

He must, surely. Red’s never turned down a battle, his eyes light up with a fire matched only by your own when you seem to be evenly matched - and he wins, of course, but you’ve been giving him a run for his money, the past few matches. Your gyarados brought down his charizard once or twice, though of course he was knocked out by Red’s pikachu in the next round - it does ridiculous amounts of damage, even wearing the silly cap. Red’s got two, now, one for the pokémon, one for him.

It’s enough to make you consider getting sunnies for your arcanine.

Eevee jumps on your desk, right on top of a red folder, shakes herself to get your attention, and there’s something off about the movement compared to the usual.

“Yeah, Red again,” you mutter, then stop. She’s maintaining eye contact, very deliberately, and her everstone-carrying collar is on the bed where she was sitting. She starts glowing in a telltale light.

Evolving.

You grab at the collar, make a note to get rid of the everstone and replace it with something that’ll boost her type - a twisted spoon, maybe, or-- ha, maybe dark glasses. Depends on what time it is right now, of course.

You glance outside - the sun’s right on the horizon line, it’s a coin toss as to whether or not she’ll be an umbreon or an espeon, but either way, you’re happy she’s finally felt comfortable enough to grow up, and you take a look at her, then blink rapidly as you realise she’s not turned into either of those evolutions.

She’s cream-coloured, fleshy ribbons flowing in a breeze only felt by her, pink tips on her paws and tail and ears and the crown of her head, bright blue eyes matching the ends of the ribbons.

Sylveon.

You’ve heard tell about sylveons, but never seen one before; they’re not common in this region. Intertwining pokémon, they’re called. They can sense emotions, and are especially attuned to lo--

To lo--

“Oh, no,” you say. That’s not the emotion.

That’s not.

Can’t be.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Ee-- Sylveon.”

She’s still looking at you, holding the eye contact, and taps the red of the folder, once, twice, three times, with her paw. Your move, she seems to say.

You let out a long, slow breath. Love. That’s. That’s heavy.

It doesn’t, however, seem entirely inaccurate.

When your pokémon evolves to tell you something, you’d better listen.

You sigh, and get out your bike, put a closed notice on the gym door, and make your way to Mt Silver, Sylveon in the bike’s basket.

You park the bike outside the steps, and take them two at a time up to where Red hangs out.

“Hey, Red,” you greet.

He nods in response, then holds up a pokéball in question. Battle?

“Oh, I’d love to,” you say, and then wince - there’s that word again. “But, uh, I’ve got a slightly more pressing matter to attend to.”

Red tilts his head, and as Sylveon pokes her head out of the bag, he brings a hand to his mouth in surprise.

“Yeah, so. She evolved. And, uh.” You should have practiced for this. Insults can spring to your tongue with no preparation, but actual meaningful discourse, peppered with meaning? Far more difficult.

Especially when faced with someone who won’t carry the conversation by themself. “You should. You should come down from this mountain.”

Red frowns. Why?

“Because…” Because I just realised I’ve been carrying a torch for you for I don’t know how long, because you’re on my mind every single day and I need more contact than pokémon battles when the weather matches up with the gym schedule, because the eevee I hatched from an egg and raised to the level you see before you evolved into a sylveon while stomping pointedly on red paper to tell me to get my act together. “Because there’s no point in you being here,” you say, instead, and wince as it comes out, but forge on. “It’s just inconveniencing everyone. You’re regional champion, people still have to beat the Elite Four to get to the point of challenging you. And…”

Sylveon hops to your shoulder, wraps a tendril around your arm as they begin to move. You’ve become uncomfortably aware of your body, what your hands are doing, and have started to outline the words in Sign as you speak, for want of something to do with your hands. “The reception here’s super spotty,” you say. “How am I supposed to complain to you about upstart 12-year-olds who think they can beat me with nothing but a single jolteon when I can’t even see your face over the phone?”

Red looks… astonished. You’d enrolled in a sign language course in an effort to make your gym more accessible, up there with installing wheelchair ramps and a lift up to the public viewing platforms, and - unusually, because normally even in something six degrees removed from Red you’d find a link - only connected it with Red a few weeks ago, halfway through a battle with a kid who’d used Sign.

Never once had you ever considered that perhaps Red never spoke aloud because he couldn’t. It was a strange thought, but only insofar as it was a new one.

Maybe you could surprise him next time you battled, you’d thought, slightly guilty that the thought hadn’t occurred to you before.

As far as opportunities for surprise go, this works just as well.

“I’ve got room at my place,” you say, starting to wheedle, now. “It’s not like you’d be short of accommodation, or forced to live at the pokémon centre.”

“I’d--” Red’s hands shake slightly, whether it’s from the cold or from lack of practice for the past… years, now, surely, since he’s spoken to someone, or perhaps even from a nervousness you’ve never seen in him before. He’s smiling, though, so you don’t think he’s going to reject the offer.

“I’d like that,” Red signs, and you go back with him to the cave he’s set up shop in, help him gather up his possessions.

Sylveon is unhelpful in the extreme: she weaves through his legs, then yours, eventually giving up on that as Red’s Pikachu comes out, and elects to play chase with him instead. At least one potion gets smashed by her flailing ribbon-tendrils, but Red just laughs, points to the expiry date.

Months ago. “Hope you weren’t going to try feeding that to anyone,” you joke, and then the cave is empty, and you leave.

You wheel his bike down the steps, as carefully as is reasonable - bump, bump, bump it goes - and collect your own at the bottom of the path.

You ride back to town in silence, but it’s a comfortable silence. Sylveon’s ribbons are batted by the wind, sitting in the basket as she does, and she sticks her head out the side. Behind you, Red’s pikachu is doing the same.

You only realise that you don’t actually have a spot set up for Red to sleep when you’re just outside the door. “Uh, wait here a moment,” you tell him, and then race up the stairs.

Your Alakazam does most of the heavy lifting in good time, moving the computer to your room and moving the futon to what is now going to be Red’s room.

You buzz the intercom, tell Red to come on up, and for then next few minutes it’s incredibly strange. For all that you’ve spent time here thinking about him, having him actually physically present is a strange crossover between two parts of your life you always thought would be kept separate.

You’re not entirely sure that the disconnect is less than the knee-jerk reaction you had when you found a god in your pokéball. The flipping in your stomach is similar, but the urge to start grinning… less so.

Improbable as it might seem, your routine doesn’t change all that much.

Sometimes you’ll get home and Red will have cooked dinner; you make portions for two instead of one; you get used to the key occasionally rattling at weird times of the morning as Red sneaks out to do… whatever it is that he does in back alleyways at three in the morning, but on the whole it’s like nothing has changed.

You still battle on Red’s turf, in warehouses now rather than the top of a mountain. He teases you for it, asks why you won’t let him into your gym. You don’t want your win-loss ratio with Red (still… entirely in his favour… but you’ve been experimenting with movesets and item combinations and you’re pretty sure his lapras will go down to your arcanine if you give him a quick claw) to affect the gym’s rankings. “You’ve already got an Earth badge,” you say, hip-checking him out the way to get to the sink, washing your plates. “And can you imagine the media? Mysterious champion Red, spotted at the Viridian City Gym, shocks and awes the crowd after losing to the resident leader--”

He snorts at that, not in an arrogant way, but in a you’ve-never-beaten-him-once way. “I already live with you,” he signs, and wow, does that make your internal organs sloosh around like they’d decided to dive and not tell the rest of your body. “Surely the media would put the focus on that ,” he says.

You’ve got a good thing going, you tell yourself. Don’t mess it up now.

“As long as they don’t know you’re in town, they’re not going to worry,” you say, rinsing the plates off. “Hey, Syl, little help?”

Sylveon Fairy Winds the plates dry, and you put them away. You turn back around to Red and see him change his expression -- you didn’t see what the expression was before, but you catch the movement to where it is now.

“Do I have something on my face?”

“Yeah, your face,” he replies, and you laugh. Your class hadn’t covered insults in an extensive manner, but Red was patient to take you through them at first, and now, rather than you monologuing insults that grow progressively more ridiculous, you can both tease each other until the insults devolve into primary-school level-levels of sillyness.

So your routine has grown to accommodate talking to Red (instead of talking about him to Sylveon, an upgrade which she seems to appreciate, though she does constantly get underfoot when you and Red are near each other, seemingly trying to get you to trip into each other) in the evenings, but it’s surprising how little things change.

The months go by, festivals marking the change of seasons, and Sylveon starts to let up, staying on the counter rather than weaving between their legs. Maybe she’s realised that you might know what your emotions are, but you’re not going to do anything about them; maybe she’s just given up on you as a lost cause.

You put on the pokéleague channel, where they’re broadcasting a Contest from a few regions away, and you and Red squash into the couch. You mute the commentary and offer your own; Red blows razz-berries at moves that are flashy but pack no punch, and as the hours grow later you go from sitting at your own ends to leaning up against each other.

You wake up at four thirty in the morning with a crick in your neck, and realise you fell asleep on him. He’s out for the count, apparently happy to use you as a blanket, his pikachu curled up on the arm of the couch.

You don’t move, you don’t want to risk dislodging him, waking him up.

Glowing blue eyes attract your gaze, and slowly, slowly, you turn your head to where Sylveon has made a loaf of herself on the countertop, watching the two of you. Her tail lashes in time with her ribbons, her eyes remain unblinking. Goading.

You hold her gaze, and shake your head, very slowly.

Not the time, not the place.

Don’t wreck what you’ve already got.

She huffs, and turns around, curls into a ball and goes to sleep.

Soon, you’re lulled back to sleep as well, Red’s slow, even breathing underneath you just the right tempo to send you off.

And so it goes.

Almost before you know it, the town starts gearing up for celebrating the new year. It’ll be the year of the ponyta, people have brought hundreds of them in from villages around the area for the midday parade tomorrow, the shops are filled with masks and broomsticks with ponyta-heads for kids to play with; you expect an uptick in the number of trainers with a ponyta on hand, just as you had a surprising number of kids with ekanses for the first few months of the past year.

The gym’s closed for business for the week of celebration, and the Elite Four is in the same position. Red makes a half-hearted argument that there could still be trainers out there who have fought their way past the Elite Four, who are eligible to battle him, and you end up pulling some strings and finding the records: not a single pokémon trainer fits that criteria.

“Come on, Red,” you cajole, trying to bribe him. “There’s a fair, they have-- they’ve got magikarp in plastic bags, I’ll win one for you, then we can have matching gyarados.”

He’s wavering. “It’s your money,” he finally says.

Most of the magikarp are gone by the time you get there, and Red’s not interested in the fishing game anyway, preferring to steer you towards the stage. The organizers cut some corners when it comes to microphones, you can spot some loudreds sitting atop the stage, blaring out the music.

You can feel the bass even from where you are.

“There’s fireworks, later,” you add, checking the time. The afternoon’s turned into evening, and hurtled straight towards night-time. There’s still a lot of kids underfoot, probably here with their parents to watch the show.

You tell Red what you saw last year, blitziglows making shapes in the sky with their attacks, the crowd ooh-ing and aah-ing as the time ticked over. “They’re imports,” you say, at his confusion at the species name. He raises an eyebrow at your sylveon, perched on your shoulder.

She doesn’t count, you argue, the eevee she used to be came from a Kanto breeder.

You and Red wander the festival, walking around kids battling their pokémon, offering occasional pointers. Reminders about type-weaknesses, about combining movesets, about not being afraid to lose, as long as you learn something.

The night deepens, and it gets later and later, the party growing rowdier and rowdier until it’s only a little bit until midnight.

Red tugs at your arm, then says, “we should find a good spot to watch from.”

You feel Sylveon twitch on your shoulders, but before you can do anything, she’s jumped off your shoulders, and used Red’s to spring into the crowd. “Quick!” You say, “before we lose her!”

She’s a smart pokémon, sure, but there’s a lot of people here, and a large portion of them are closer to the utterly sloshed status of consuming alcohol than the mildly tipsy - you don’t want her to be crushed.

Red darts after you, and you follow after Sylveon, spotting the telltale ribbons as she turns corners of tents, ducks around the food stands, until you’ve wound up on a hill.

You’re not the only ones there by any means, but it seems to be populated all by people who wanted a good vantage point to see the fireworks.

Sylveon’s play-bowing on a rare patch of unoccupied grass.

“Nice spot,” you say, then look at Red for his opinion.

He nods.

As you sit and check the time, you start to get a weird tingling at the back of your neck.

You look at Sylveon, whose expression is entirely too innocent, and you realise you’re surrounded not by random festival-goers, but, quite specifically, couples.

All around you, they’ve begun to chant the countdown: Ten, nine…

Sylveon’s looking at you.

Eight, seven…

The situation is going to be awkward no matter what - either the couples are all going to kiss and you’re not, and it’s going to be odd, kind of weird and uncomfortable, or--

Red’s mouthing six, five, along to the countdown, watching the sky, seemingly not noticing the silent argument going on between you and Sylveon.

Four

She planned this.

Three…

It’s not a bad plan.

Two…

You can play it off as tradition, you think, as you look at Red, his eyes glinting with starlight, his lips, stretched into a smile, if he protests or doesn’t want it, then it’s the one moment in the year where something like this doesn’t have to mean anything.

Where it won’t ruin what you have.

Where it could start something new.

One!

The fireworks burst into flame, and you kiss Red on the stroke of midnight.

For a moment, he looks surprised, but he doesn’t try to duck or turn his head, nor does he try to push you away even as those around you, following the same tradition, break apart one by one.

When you finally do end the kiss, you don’t move your head far away at all, flicking your eyes up from his mouth to his eyes, then back down again, trying to determine what his reaction is.

The fireworks crackle and your heart races in time with them.

You’re fluent in the smiles of Red by this point, have been at least well-versed since before he left Mt Silver, but this one, eyes shining bright and lips slightly parted, looking at you like you might turn into smoke like every other firework in the city, this look is new to you.

(Anyone who’s been around the two of you would say that it’s not a new look for Red to be directing at you at all; the only new thing is that you’ve noticed it.)

He brings a hand to your face, and leans in, kisses you this time, and it’s.

It’s good.

Better than the first time, now that you’re not consumed with stress as to how to pass it off with an excuse, now that you can just focus on the warmth of his lips, the light pressure of his hand on your face, the way one of your own hands traces up his neck, threads into his hair.

And wasn’t this always the way? You do something, show it can be done, and then Red comes in, a moment later, and shows you how to do it better .

“Happy New Year, Red,” you say.

You spot Sylveon over his shoulder, sitting on the grass with Red’s pikachu, and she’s wagging her tail in glee, but she’s got an expression on her face that you can’t identify as anything other than smug. The thought comes to you with another crack of fireworks: sylveons can sense the emotional state of whoever they are faced with, not just their trainers.

She could sense Red’s emotions, too. She wiggles. Finally, the motion seems to say, as she catches your eyes.

You hold his hand, and the two of you gaze out to the fireworks.

“I’m still going to beat you, one of these days,” you say, squeezing his hand.

He raises his eyebrow. Oh, really?

Call it a resolution.

The year of the ponyta passes, then the venonat, then the mankey, and it’s surprising how little anything changes.

There’s details, of course. For one, when you feel like kissing Red, you generally can ; for another, the room Red was staying in got turned back into the mix of office/storage space it had been before he came back.

Red’s got strong arms, you discover, when you mock a swoon and fall into his arms after being tripped by Sylveon, and he dips you like you’re a ballroom dancers.

Your parents have written to you, occasionally - when are you coming back to Pallet town, when are you going to settle down? Pokémon battles are a young person’s game, they say. You’re getting into your second decade now, they say. Help out your grandfather, find a proper job. Come home.

You think about your gym, how you’ve developed the systems in there so it almost runs itself, how you’ve calculated your team’s levels and moveset so that it’s not impossible for a kid to come through and beat you on their way to the elite four, but it’s not likely unless they’ve spent every waking moment of their holidays training their pokémon.

The gym’s government-sponsored, it’s good for the town.

And you look at Red, asleep on the couch, your sylveon on his stomach, his pikachu on your shoulder. You realise you’ve been home for a long time.

The first major disruption comes in the form of junk mail, holiday flyers advertising flights to a distant island chain. Beside the typical junk mail is an envelope, addressed to the two of you.

It’s from someone named Kukui, who claims to be forming his own version of the Elite Four.

He’s seeking champions to head something called a “battle tree”, and the two of you were first on his list.

Alola is for lovers, Red underlines with his finger, looking at the flyer. He quirks an eyebrow in question.

You ask, “Is that not us?”

There’s flexi-tickets included in the envelope, to be used some time in the next four weeks.

Enough time to organise someone to take your spot in the Gym for however long you’ll be gone for; enough time for Red to track down the last trainer to beat him and bestow upon them the dubious honour of becoming the regional champion.

Half the hotel bookings have honeymoon specials, most of the activities that aren’t pokémon-based seem to cater to the same crowd. “Maybe we should get married,” you say, realising you’re serious halfway through the sentence.

Sylveon leaps from her basket and trills.

Red grins, and reaches into his pocket, and pulls out some rings.

Show-off.

So you honeymoon in Alola.

You know how Red speaks, now, can recognise the jokes he makes and the thoughts he’s having based on the movement of his eyebrows. He’s wearing a shirt that says ‘96, and he winked at you when he saw you reading the numbers.

There’s two options, one is that it’s the year you both got your starters, and the other’s…

Well. You’d seen him pick up two shirts a few days prior, one with a 9, the other with a 6, and raise his eyebrows at you. He’d held them up the way they’d look if the two of you stood next to each other.

“We’d get kicked out of the place for… for lewdness,” you’d spluttered. “There are children there, Red!”

Still, you think it might be door number two.

Red catches a wild sandshrew on the way to the hotel - one of the Alolan variants, ice-type - and you make your way across the island chain with him, gawking at each and every one of the weird variants the islands have produced.

(Red seems to like the ridiculous long-necked exeggutor, you find them terrible, not a patch on yours. Both of you agree the raticates and dugtrios are abominable. You vouch for the persians, mainly to watch Red puff his cheeks out in imitation of the variants’ face.)

You fight trainers who challenge you along the way, sometimes alone, sometimes together, and generally wipe the floor with them.

You face two couples in double battles, both of them of them armed with an Alolan ninetails and sandslash apiece.

“Guess I gotta get myself one of those vulpixes now,” you joke to Red, and then you do so, levelling it up alongside your team as you fight your way through the island. It’s a higher level than his sandshrew, and when you get them to battle, for once, you’re the one who wins.

It’s cute now, but when it evolves into a ninetails it’ll be deadly.

“Ice-fairy,” you say. “Can you say ‘dragonbuster’?”

Red laughs, soft, and holds his ice in his mouth as he signs. “Ice-type, huh. Remember that ice-type I got you?”

He lingers on the word type, as if he could imbue it with the meaning of god . “Was that you trying to give me a present?” You ask, elbowing him, gleeful. There’s a joy in shared secrets, and another in discussing them with no-one else around to understand the context. “Normal people start with chocolates, or flowers, not-” you check, there’s no-one within earshot, “-local deities.”

He elbows you back, grinning, until you’re pressed up against a tree, Red’s hat tilted at an angle so that the peak doesn’t hit your head as he kisses you. “Might not have been chocolates, but it worked, didn’t it?” He winks.

“I guess it did,” you say, spinning him back onto the path before a fearow starts shaking the leaves. “Now, come on, Poni Gauntlet’s at the end of this meadow. Race you there.”

You laugh your way to the battle tree, challenging everyone who looks at you, feeling almost like you’re a kid again, hand-in hand with your best rival.

You set up shop, local champions out to challenge the up-and-comers from this island chain. You handle the talking, mocking the kids with overblown insults that are easy to laugh off when they choose to fight Red instead of you, watch as Red shakes his head with soft bemusement.

Some of the kids challenge you.

Some of them even beat you.

Two of them - Sun and Moon - catch your eye for one specific reason, and when Red sees them, he laughs.

Apparently, capturing physical gods and putting them in a pokéball is not as uncommon a feat as you once thought.