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Something, Everything About You

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Sometimes, a kid just wants to be left alone with his thoughts.

Silver is not what one would call a social butterfly; he's quite the opposite, in fact. Socializing when you've been living your life on the run from just about anyone and everyone is generally a bad idea. Talk to the good guys, they throw you in jail. Talk to the bad guys, they wrap you up in whatever bullshit scheme they're cooking up. Silver, therefore, avoided talking to any gym leaders any more than was absolutely necessary, and he certainly avoided talking to Team Rocket's grunts beyond berating them and stealing their already stolen Pokémon. As far as he's concerned, he doesn't need a social circle, no, he doesn't need any friends. Above all else, Silver doesn't need to be social because he doesn't need sympathy. He sure as hell doesn't want sympathy. He just wants to be alone.

So yes, Silver is mostly recluse. That's why he stays here.

"Feraligatr, Hydro Pump."

"Raa!"

80% on target for that hit.

This is his favorite place in the region, he thinks. He's been all over Johto by now, pursued relentlessly by trouble and chaos - or maybe he's been following it, maybe he's drawn to it, maybe trouble is in his blood twice over. Maybe there's some genetic trait he was so graciously gifted by a mob boss and his admin that make him unable to escape a life of constant conflict. At the very least, he can hide from it here in the Dragon's Den. He's been traveling between here and Victory Road to train his Pokémon, trying to get stronger for his own sake: to protect them, or himself, or maybe to pass the time. His first instinct was to train until no one could possibly beat him, so that no one could take back the Pokémon he "rightfully" stole, the partners he's come to genuinely love.

"Again."

"Ferrra!"

Feraligatr was always his top priority: a Pokémon taken from the region's most well-renowned professor would surely have to return home one day, and surely, he would have to defend his partner with his life. Something in his head shifted between the time he stole the starter and the time he went to return it, though. Something shifted that made him want to return it. That was the longest walk he ever took, and the shortest sentence he has ever uttered was the hardest he's ever had to say.

"Here."

The professor looked between Silver's expression and the pokéball containing his stolen starter, and something in Silver's eyes must have said it all, said the words Silver refused to say himself; I love this Pokémon with all my heart, and I really don't want to lose him.

"You should keep him."

That was the most relief Silver has ever felt.

"Hydro Pump, again."

"Raaa!"

It was, frankly, the most difficult - and yet the best - decision of his life. Looking at his starter now, he's more than happy to say he made the right choice. If he had stayed on the run like some deadbeat asshole of a father, the law would've caught up to him eventually, and he would've had his trusted Feraligatr taken away by force. There is some honor in coming clean, in defeat, in admitting defeat. That's something Team Rocket has never been capable of, he notes. No, Team Rocket adamantly refuses to ever, ever admit defeat. Even when their team was completely dismantled years ago by a trainer that's since been MIA, they came back with those smug grins and stupid black uniforms, shouting helplessly into a radio in hopes that their disappearing act of a boss would come back and rule the Johto region.

Even his kid is missing, too, he once overheard, standing dangerously, comically close to the young girl rambling on about the rumored child of Giovanni.

I bet he's gonna take over Team Rocket next, another hushed voice replied. It probably runs in the family.

The only thing that kept him from fighting them hand-to-hand was the nearby police station.

"Ferr?"

Silver snaps out of his daze. "Right. One more time."

Feraligatr uses Hydro Pump again, aiming at a small target Silver painted onto the wall with crushed berries (and yes, he tried to use normal paint. He's been prohibited from bringing "toxic materials" into the den, though. Something about it being bad for the dragons, or something stupid like that). In the split second it takes for the water to hit its mark, he can gauge just how accurate Feraligatr's attack is: 85% this time, give or take. That's a bit better than the average for Hydro Pump.

"You're getting there." He's aiming for 100%. He's aiming to hit that stupid Typhlosion in the face and knock him out in an instant.

"Ra!" Feraligatr sounds offended.

"No, the power is perfect. We're working up your accuracy, remember?"

"Ferrr..." He's getting bored, though.

"Alright, alright. We'll break for tonight. I'm sending Sneasel back out. You're on Surf duty."

With a cheerful snap, Feraligatr hops into the calm water.

"Sneasel, come on out. We're doing one more round for today."

"Snea!"

Sneasel doesn't waste a second hopping onto Silver shoulders, and they're off to battle Dratini for the evening (he thinks it's evening, anyway. He's been awake for awhile). It's become a very natural pace for his team, a cycle of training and working up to be the best they can be. One of these days, Sneasel is going to Ice Punch that Xatu into the next century. They just need to train a little longer, and then they'll have that edge.

Not that Sneasel needs an edge to be valuable, though; he's something special. He always has been. Sneasel is the Pokémon Silver was supposed to be given on his tenth birthday, the day he was supposed to become a Pokémon trainer. The day came a little early and a little late, very bitterly and a little sweet.

Where are you going?!

Silver remembers shouting that at the tops of his lungs. He stood staring at the man who had, objectively, been a decent father until that point. He stood and watched him walk away, pause, turn back and answer without a trace of regret or remorse or anything in his voice.

Away.

And after two more hours of arguing, that was that.

"Draaa!"

"Sneasel, Ice Punch."

He tried to handle it. He tried to just grit his teeth and bear it. His father had been in hiding for some time before he completely disappeared, just after his crime syndicate got torn apart by a ten year old and a half. He wondered why they stopped going to amusement parks, why their dinners out would get cut short, he wondered why his dad was suddenly skittish and why the curtains were closed during the day. There was never a proper answer, always a slew of white lies, sheets covering up the reality that Silver was always dimly aware of as a child: dad does stuff that's against the law, or something. It never mattered to him back then, though. That was just how his life was.

"Sneasel!"

"Tini!"

"Dodge! Icy Wind!"

Being stuck with a mother who didn't want him wasn't just how life was, though. That was the last straw. He stole Sneasel's pokéball and ran like hell. He's had a touch of kleptomania since then.

"One more time!"

And he's never wanted to be as weak as Team Rocket since then. He has never wanted to cower in a crowd and fall to his knees at the feet of some kid from some hick town.

"Draaa..." The dragon faints and falls to the bottom of the lake.

"Sel!"

"Good. That was perfect."

"Snea snea!"

Feraligatr continues to make his rounds through the cool pools, and his life goes on far beyond where he started.

Growing up is weird. He's still a kid, but he's also a homeless kid with a team of half stolen Pokémon. He may as well be an orphan, even if his parents are alive. Hell, he doesn't even know if Giovanni is still alive out there, and somehow he doesn't even care. This is where life dropped him off, and this is where he's going to have to stay. This is just... where he is, and this is how he's been living. Some part of him craves a more stable life, but he finds his stability in training -

"Dragonair!"

"Sneasel, Icy Wind!"

- training his Pokémon and coming to terms with the past he never asked for.

"Aaaair!" A wave of energy comes from the Dragonair suddenly enough to bring Silver back to reality, hitting Sneasel and almost knocking him away.

"Hold on, Sneasel. Feraligatr, get to land."

His starter rushes toward the edge of the water, just slow enough to keep the Dragonair on their tail. Silver is not running, but he's not really eager to be on Feraligatr's back if the alligator starts battling.

"Ice Punch, go!" Sneasel's Ice Punch isn't as fast as Quick Attack, but he decided it would be better for battling dragons. He's eager to beat the hell out of Lance one of these days. He'd physically fight the dragon tamer himself if he weren't two heads taller than him. He might still fight Lance, actually. Him and his dumb cape.

"Draaa!" The icy bullet hits the dragon, which retaliates in an instant. She charges at the trio and knocks Silver and Sneasel off Feraligatr and into the shallow end of the water. Unfortunately, it's November, and it's just shy of unbearably cold.

"Ice Fang!"

The command is for Feraligatr, who wastes absolutely no time in attacking the Dragonair. The second round of Ice Fang comes after a Slam from the dragon, without a shout or even a whistle. Feraligatr knows how this training goes: if a dragon is out of Sneasel's experience level, Feraligatr handles it, because Silver refuses to let Sneasel faint during training. He would refuse to let Sneasel ever faint, but sometimes that's how a battle goes, and sometimes that's unavoidable. Everyone loses eventually. Sometimes you meet a trainer way out of your league, and you can't even begin to prepare yourself for the fact that this kid from the most rural town in the region is going to become the region's prodigal champion, and he's definitely going to hand your ass to you and make it worse by being so friendly and borderline affectionate.

No, Silver was not prepared for someone like Ethan.

"I see you're still training down here."

"Speak've the devil," Silver mumbles in Lance's direction. Lance is the devil, actually, not Ethan. Ethan's the furthest thing from the devil, and it's almost infuriating.

"Isn't it a bit late to be training?" Lance asks, as if Silver's starter isn't currently fighting a whole dragon.

"Dodge it!" Feraligatr dives under the water to dodge another pulse of energy from Dragonair, and suddenly there's waves and whirlpools kicking up. "I'm not about to run from a Dragonair, am I?"

"That's always an option," Lance comments. "Especially in this weather."

"Feraligatr, Crunch!" He hopes Feraligatr can hear him down there. "So?"

"It's close to 0 Celsius out there, and you're in here fighting in the water, hm?"

"Oh, shut the hell up." He's been trying to ignore the shivers from being slightly soaked. "Feraligatr!"

He sees his Pokémon bite down on the Dragonair with a Crunch, and she disappears deep into the abyss. Silver can only assume -

"Ferra!"

Yeah, he won. "Good job, Feraligatr. I know those ones are always tough."

"Raali!"

Feraligatr crawls out of the water and slinks over next to Silver, which isn't helping him dry off at all. This would not be the first time this happened.

"Do you ever rest, Silver?"

"Not with you around," he huffs. "What are you even doing here? Don't you have a league to run?"

"I was visiting Clair." Of course. "I decided to stop by and make sure... just see where you are."

He glares at the dragon tamer. "I'm fine. Don't try and babysit me."

"I'm sure you are." Sarcasm. Silver is not having any of that attitude.

"Why don't you go back to your post and get beat up by another ten year old?"

"Watch your mouth, boy. You know that attitude doesn't get you anywhere."

He rolls his eyes. "Whatever. Just leave me alone, I have training to do." No answer. "Feraligatr, let's go."

With Sneasel on his shoulders again and Feraligatr between him and the water, Silver takes off into the cave once more. The echoing footfalls of Lance's departure are a welcomed sound.

"He's so annoying."

"Sneasel." He really loves Sneasel. He loves having someone around who understands him.

The water is calm now. It seems like he missed his window for the night, unless he wants to spend an hour at a time trying to stir up another Dragonair. Dratini tend to rest after sundown, as if they know it's dark outside. They know better than he does, at least.

"...head over to the far corner. I think we're shutting down for the night."

"Fera."

Silver more carefully hops off Feraligatr's back this time when they reach the small patch of land, recalling both his partners into their pokéballs. This is the patch he likes to curl up on to sleep for as long as his body thinks the night lasts. Anywhere from four to twelve hours seems acceptable for someone who's... not exactly in peak physical condition. Everything about his body is a little out of balance. Maybe he can steal another meal from the food market in Blackthorn tomorrow, or try his hand at fishing. Despite having learned how to fish for food, he's still pretty bad at it. Maybe if Ethan comes by, he'll bring lunch. He likes to do that.

"Ethan."

Sometimes, Silver speaks out loud. It makes him more steady somehow; it makes the world real. It helps him orient himself, figure out where he is and what's going on. For as aggressive as a person as he can be, he finds himself floating three feet off the ground sometimes, struggling to even focus his eyes on the world he's in. Sometimes just... hearing something, validating his reality, can make him feel stable.

Ethan makes him feel stable.

"...Dragon's Den."

Silver opens his eyes at last; he realizes his eyes were closed, rather, and now he's looking up at the cave's rocky ceiling again. The ground below his fingers is slick and wet, peppered with a thin layer of damp gravel. The slightest bit of light coming from the far end of the den trickles over to the water, bounces off the calm surface, and sparkles against the crystalline calcite overhead. It's the only way he can actually see in this cavern, a pattern of constant refraction and reflection at the lowest possible luminosity. The low light makes it harder to tell when a Dragonair is charging at him and his Pokémon, sure, but it keeps the headaches away. No light-triggered migraines if there's no light.

He splashes his fingers in a tiny puddle of water, a diorama of the lake just in front of him. It is getting cold, he has to admit it.

Silver shuffles over to the corner of the den, curling against the wall with the blanket that may as well be a rag at this point. Sleeping is going to be hard if it's this cold, because yeah, he kinda fell in the water earlier. He can't exactly dry himself off very fast in a water-filled cave, though, and he's not going outside right now.

"Fuck's sake..." he groans quietly to himself. It's these moments that make him wish he could just stay in a Pokémon Center forever, but they don't usually take kindly to squatters, let alone squatters who also have a team of partially stolen Pokémon. Someone who steals Pokémon could easily take another from someone staying in the Center, or some such logic. He... can't really protest, actually. The only reason he ever goes to any Pokémon Centers anymore is because he has Pokémon to heal. He's changed the pokéballs they reside in, though. If they're under his trainer ID, no one is any the wiser. Feraligatr is his most recently registered Pokémon, actually. The first person he battled after his starter was properly registered to him was -

"Ethan."

Ethan Aurelia.

Ethan is... Ethan. Silver can usually define someone in a word. Lance? Grating. Green? Workaholic. Lyra? Obnoxious. But Ethan? He's just... Ethan. Angel is the only single word Silver can think of for him, someone soft, loving, unrelentingly kind, both meek and brave in the same breath. It's almost sickeningly sweet, unbearable.

Almost.

"Ethan."

He's energetic, in a way, but also muted. He's an introvert who likes to socialize. He's shy, and yet he seeks out friendship and conversation. He actually spent more time talking to Silver's Totodile than to Silver himself when they first met, though. Stupid that he didn't try to stop Silver from literally stealing a Pokémon - not that he would've let anyone get in his way. Letting him get away with that starter was probably the best decision Ethan ever made on Silver's behalf.

"Ethan."

The champion is nice to him. Too nice. Dealing with Ethan is hard because of that. No, it's not like he's aggressive or curt or disagreeable, nothing like Silver. It's the fact that he's so... soft. It's weird. It's hard to deal with because Silver doesn't know what to make of him, or what to do with him. Silver grew up in a family of crime and deceit and unpardonable evil. He grew up on the run as a criminal and a helpless vagabond. He did not, in fact, learn anything firsthand about kindness or warmth. He didn't learn how to be kind to his Pokémon on his own, or from Lance's curt scolding, he didn't learn from Team Rocket's very poor life decisions, no. He didn't even learn to be kind to his Pokémon by their own doing. Crobat did not evolve from Silver's friendship alone.

He does know something about gentleness, and all the shreds of it that Silver knows, he learned from a boy named Ethan Aurelia.

Perhaps that's what draws him to Ethan, then, this unrelenting tenderness in perfect opposition to Silver. Ethan is like a counterweight, a pound of feathers to Silver's pound of bricks, gold for silver. He means that quite literally, as Aurelia means something like "golden," he recalls. It's a fact Ethan mentioned during some stupid rambling of his.

"Our names match, huh?"

"What are you talking about?"

"'cause your name's Silver, and my last name means "golden!" So we match!"

"Whatever."

"Ethan Aurelia."  Golden. That's a single word to describe him.

...Silver needs to sleep. There's no reason he should be thinking about Ethan so much.

Chapter Text

It's getting colder.

Silver had hoped he'd wake up today having dried off enough to feel somewhat warmer, but he actually feels a bit clammier. Maybe he should've bothered to try and dry off somehow. He could've at least removed his jacket and had Crobat fan it off. He's... definitely going to get sick from this, now that he thinks about it. He tends to get sick every winter, but sleeping in single digit temperature in a cave in wet clothes isn't a great idea, that's for sure. He doesn't want to deal with constant shivering and mild hypothermia, but he doesn't have too many places he can go, though. He could try to set up camp in Ilex Forest, since it's a bit warmer in southern Johto, but he doesn't know how much better that would actually be for him if he's outside down there. If it snows, he'll be done for. Maybe Union Cave... that's still a wet cave though. The dampness in the air would keep it probably as cool as it is up here.

"Silver?"

He pulls the blanket over his head. He has about a minute and a half before the voice reaches him.

Maybe... maybe he was already getting sick. Maybe he doesn't make very good life decisions, but he swears he's better than Team Rocket, better than Giovanni, better than all of them. Still, he feels cold, and his head is swimming... Maybe he just didn't sleep enough last night? What other reason can he come up with to explain away the sickness growing in his chest? How long can he ignore this before it bites him in the ass?

"Silver!"

This is the voice of Ethan Aurelia, sweet to the point of causing painful cavities. This is also the voice of someone who willingly wakes up at 7AM feeling refreshed and ready to travel on foot from New Bark to the Dragon's Den. He's insane.

"Are you awake yet?"

"If I wasn't already, you just woke me up," he grumbles.

"Sorry," Ethan apologizes sheepishly. "I wanted to battle today, and I thought you'd be awake by now. It's almost ten o'clock."

"Ngh." Silver pulls the blanket a little further over his head.

"So... not yet?"

"Gimme three more hours."

Ethan giggles. "They day'll be gone by then, Sil."

Sil, this stupid pet name Ethan uses for him. "Whatever."

"Come on! Are you sure you don't wanna battle today?"

Ethan has this certain cadence, this lilt in his voice he uses when he really wants to get his way. It's surprisingly effective - odd, though, that he only seems to use that tone around Silver. He's more patient with everyone else; he's needier when it comes to Silver, somehow.

"Silver?" He almost sounds like a song.

"Go back to the entry. I'll be over in a minute."

He can almost see Ethan's smile through the relative darkness of the sheet. "Yay! Don't fall back asleep, though, okay?"

"Yeah, whatever."

He actually might fall back asleep, to be honest. If he does, Ethan will just come back over here and hassle him more until he wakes up. There's a good chance he'll make a whole huge event out of it too, so he may as well bite the bullet already. It's not like being around Ethan is that strenuous, anyway. He's better than just about anyone else Silver deals with on a regular basis.

"Ethan," said barely above a whisper, just so he knows what he's up to, what he needs to do and where he needs to go.

Silver forces himself off the ground and sends Feraligatr out into the water. Like clockwork, he hops on his starter's back and glides through the water like a hot knife through butter.

"Raa?" Feraligatr looks toward the exit, willing Silver to go outside and get breakfast. 

"Not yet. We need to battle Ethan first, then I'll find something to eat."

"Ferrr..." A noise of concern, or perhaps simply discontent. True, Silver hasn't eaten as recently as his Pokémon have - but if his Pokémon are ready to go, that's about all that matters. Silver can handle himself later.

"It's fine, I'll be fine. Let's just get this over with."

"Are you ready?" Ethan asks all too eagerly as Silver sets foot on dry(ish) land again.

"Sure, whatever."

"In that case," and of course Ethan would wait for Silver to come over on Feraligatr to get a type advantage on him, "let's go, Ampharos!"

And the battle is on.

"Ice Fang, then dodge!"

"Thunderbolt!"

Silver is always at a disadvantage when it comes to electric types, but he did kinda boycott ground type Pokémon, so he made his bed. "Get back! Gengar, go!"

"Uh," the wheels in Ethan's head are turning, a hundred possibilities floating in a span of a second, "Iron Tail!"

"Sludge Bomb."

Despite everything, Ethan still seems to be under the impression that poison types are inherently weak to steel. How he managed to become Johto's champion with a fundamental misunderstanding like that, Silver will never know. He's brilliant in battle, but his general knowledge is sometimes -

"Get back! Xatu, use Psychic!"

Focus, focus. "Confuse Ray, then get back!"

"That's not fair!"

"That's perfectly fair!"

They don't usually switch this much, but it seems like Ethan is trying to type match a bit more vehemently than usual. He must've been battling Green recently. He gets on these strategy kicks when he battles the Viridian City gym leader, but he rarely sticks with it for too long. He battles better on instinct.

"Focus," Silver breathes, and he's battling Ethan again. "Magneton, Discharge."

"Roost!"

Unfortunately for for champion, Xatu is confused, then she's down for the count. 6-5, in Silver's favor.

"Okay, uh," Ethan pauses, and Silver sees the world swirl around him for a moment, "Typhlosion, let's go! Flamethrower!"

"Thunder Wave!" There's no way Magneton will survive that, but if that stupid Typhlosion can get paralyzed, then Feraligatr can get a hit on him first.

Typhlosion is pretty fast, though, so they're 5-5. No luck today.

"Come back. Feraligatr, Aqua Tail!"

"Will-o-Wisp!"

The flames dance around Typhlosion, who dodged Feraligatr's attack, stupid weasel and his stupid fucking speed and these stupid fucking flames making Silver dizzier and dizzier -

"Hydro Pump!"

"Roll Out!"

One miss for Feraligatr, one hit for Typhlosion. He's getting understandably annoyed.

"One more time!" But they can do it. He trusts his starter. Feraligatr can do it, he has to be able to do it, there's no way he would choke up on this battle against Ethan fucking Aurelia -

"Ty!"

Direct hit. It's the closest to a one-hit knock out they've ever got.

"Perfect," Silver almost whispers, and his starter grins back at him cheekily. He's shaking with anticipation.

"Steelix, come on out! Giga Impact!" Quick, whats strong against steel?

"Hydro Pump!" Another hit. Not water though, right?

"Gyro Ball!"

"Feraligatr, get back! Alakazam, Focus Blast!" Fighting, right?

"Dodge it! Giga Impact!" Wait, Hydro Pump worked well, though. Unless Hydro Pump is just a good move, or...

"One more time!" Focus Blast is working pretty well, though.

"Dragon Tail!"

"Recover!" Steelix is just steel, right?

"Okay, come back. Heracross, Mega Horn, go!"

Wait, steel... steel ground? And Heracross is oh shit -

"Psychic!" Alakazam is in bad shape. Heracross is bug and fighting, right? He knows what dual type Pokémon are. He's fought Steelix before. Why is this so hard right now?

"One more time!" Bug, fighting, both weak to...

Alakazam is down, 5-4. Shit.

"Come back here. Crobat, Air Cutter." Weak to flying.

"Dodge it!" Crobat is way too fast though, and in one hit Heracross is down, 4-4. "Shoot!"

"It's pretty weird seeing you not at the top of your game, Ethan," Silver comments, watching the room rock. Rock? It's rocking.

"It's not that," he pouts. "You're just getting good."

Oh.

Um.

"Ampharos, Thunderbolt!"

And Crobat is getting weak. "Get back! Sneasel, come on, Ice Punch!"

"Focus Blast!"

Shit shit shit - "Dodge it, then get back!" This stupid fucking sheep - "Gengar, Confuse Ray!"

"Stop confusing all my Pokémon!"

"Stop whining about it! Shadow Ball!"

"Ampharos, Iron Tail!" No luck, though. The sheep is confused. "Amphy!"

"One more time."

Finally, Ampharos is down. 4-3, in Silver's favor, in a way. He's catching up to Ethan, or maybe Ethan is just having an off day, and tomorrow Silver will get his ass handed to him again.

"Quagsire, Earthquake!"

Oh shoot -

The switch happens too fast for Silver to even consider switching Gengar out, and now the ghost is down for the count. 3-3, Maybe? Does that sound right? Wait, 4-3? 

"Sneasel, Ice Punch!" Ice is fine against ground, right? Right?

"Get back! Typhlosion - " - water and ground, for fuck's - "Eruption!" - fuck's sake -

"Dodge!" But no, Sneasel doesn't manage to avoid or even weather the hit. "Feraligatr, Hydro Pump!"

Another miss. Seems like even Feraligatr isn't doing too hot today. Silver should get him to a center soon - or maybe they should've trained more yesterday - or less? Is he burnt out? Or -

"Steelix, Dragon Tail!"

"Crunch!"

"Again!"

But Feraligatr is down for the count, 4-1. One more, one more, then he can heal everyone and go back to sleep god the room is swirling -

"Confuse Ray!"

"Augh!" Ethan shouts in frustration. "I hate that!"

"That's why I do it." Silver feels like he's been hit with Confuse Ray too, though.

"Quagsire, come back out! Surf!"

Oh boy. "Confuse Ray!"

Crobat misses though, and he's about done for.

"Dodge!" And... attack? What is he even - "Air Cutter!"

"One more time!"

Yeah, of course Ethan wins. Maybe if someone didn't fall asleep in wet clothes, he would've actually won today. The one day Ethan isn't at the top of his game, and Silver is even worse. The one time he has a chance to prove himself to -

Ow fuck what did I just trip on -

"Are you okay?!"

Silver is... falling, more stumbling, but it feels like he's falling. He's just a little off balance, a little off kilter, but a single wrong step means you step on the rocky ground the wrong way and twist your foot and almost fall flat on your back.

"Silver?"

Ethan is close, too close, and Silver jolts back. "What?"

"Are you okay?" he asks, more softly this time.

"Don't worry, it's whatever."

He crosses his arms. "That doesn't answer my question, Sil."

"I'm fine, okay? What are you getting so worked up about?"

"Are you sure you're okay if you're getting a cold?"

Uh.

"What?"

"You heard me. I can tell you're definitely getting sick."

Great. "What makes you think that?"

"'cause you look really bad. You're extra pale and you were really really tired this morning, so..."

That's not even much of anything to go off for a formal diagnosis. That's definitely not how Ethan knows, no. Ethan is... Ethan, again, he's just himself, and a key aspect of Ethan is an unparalleled empathy. Pokémon have their way of empathizing with humans; some professors have gone so far to theorize that a Pokémon's power may stem from their emotional capacity, that their understanding of human language comes from their ability to understand not only language, but the emotions within the words. Ethan is, oddly, very much like that. He can read someone's emotions from across a room, and it's because of this ability that Silver can't exactly convince Ethan that no, everything is fine, because everything is not exactly fine.

So no, it's not that Ethan can see that Silver is getting sick. It's that he can feel it in the air around them, and that's making him worry.

"I'll be fine."

Ethan whines a little. "I don't want you to get sicker, though."

"I'm fine, Ethan. It's perfectly safe down here."

"Well, yeah, but - "

"No buts."

"Well... fine," he relents. "But only if you're sure! If you get any sicker, you should stay in the Pokémon Center, okay? 'cause being sick when it's this cold out isn't fun."

He says that as if Silver doesn't already know. He also says that as if Silver would be allowed to just live in the Center for more than a night. Maybe someone else could arrange that, but not the son of the boss of an organized crime syndicate.

"I'll be fine."

Ethan still looks unconvinced, but for now, he relents. "Okay... you should go to heal your Pokémon, though, so when you do that, maybe you can get yourself some cold medicine too."

Silver shrugs. He doesn't even remember what Giovanni used to give him when he was a kid, let alone if it would work now that he's fourteen and not... eight? Is that when he left? Does it even matter? He's always been fine without medicine, anyway. It's not like -

"Did you have food today?" Ethan's voice snaps Silver out of his thoughts.

"I just woke up, Ethan. Take a wild guess."

"Do you wanna have a cave picnic?"

"Sure, whatever." Oh yes. Hell yes. Stealing food to survive? Not today, no sir, just a wholesome picnic in a cave. Ethan is literally an angel.

"Yay! Mom made me two bento boxes today 'cause I told her I was gonna visit you!"

Oh. That's... that's actually really nice. He's never even met the woman. "Um, tell her I said thank you."

"Gotcha! She'll be super happy to hear that. You could come over some time, you know."

It's something Ethan mentions from time to time, and it's something Silver has only considered in passing. It's... it's complicated, for starters. It's a little weird, considering the way they met was Silver pushing Ethan down and knocking his Cyndaquil out with his Totodile. He actually wasn't all that nice to Ethan for quite awhile, and in some ways Silver questions why he was ever such a jerk. Ethan never did anything to deserve oh god food is so good -

"Do you like it? She put tuna in it today 'cause they had a special on it or somethin'."

"Y-Yeah, thank you." Food is so fucking good. He wishes he never had to worry about when he'd get another meal.

"Of course! I like making sure all my friends are happy."

Friends. That's what they are, apparently.

Ethan doesn't seem to fully realize what an asshole Silver still is, or maybe it's just easy to ignore. Part of it is that he is actually nicer to Ethan than he is to anyone else. He's still pretty sharp with everyone else, though - god, especially Lyra, she's an absolute disaster of a person. She's the definition of chaotic neutral in the worst possible way. Ethan is just... sweet, though, he's been so kind to Silver since day one and that's the only reason he broke through Silver's defenses. The only way Silver got attached to Ethan is because he's been nothing but supportive and caring. It's this sickening sweetness that's made Silver eager to see Ethan as the months have come and gone, and suddenly they've been friends for a few years.

Silver still hasn't visited his house, though. The idea of going over makes his stomach sink.

"Silver?"

"Hm?" He's already done eating, and if he had any less self-restraint, he'd ask Ethan if he was gonna finish that.

"Do you wanna visit New Bark sometime?"

He just shrugs. "I'll think about it."

"You've been thinkin' about it for awhile," Ethan hums through his food. Yeah, this has come up many times, almost monthly at this point, and Silver's answer is always the same.

"Whatever."

Ethan whines. "If you don't wanna come over, you can just say it."

Oh, but he almost does want to visit. He wants to be in a nice warm house, he wants to know what it's like to sleep in a soft bed again, but he doesn't want to impose. He doesn't want to ask for help in even this strange passing way; yes, that's still something he gets hung up on. He doesn't want to admit he could ever potentially need someone's help, because he doesn't need help. He doesn't even want help. He's fine on his own. He always has been, he always will be.

"...we could still travel somewhere."

Silver looks at Ethan in confusion. "What do you mean?"

"I dunno," he shrugs. "I just think it'd be fun to explore sometime. You usually stay here or at Victory Road, but maybe we can go look around Kanto more or something...?"

He's been through part of Kanto, but he only got as far as Mount Moon before coming back here. "Maybe. It's hard to travel in winter, though."

"Yeah, but Kanto's pretty in winter."

Hm. "Why are you bugging me about this all of the sudden?"

Ethan shrinks into himself a little. "I'm not bugging, I'm just offering."

"Okay, why are you offering?"

"Just 'cause."

Because he's worried, obviously. Ethan doesn't hide it all that well. It's not something he should be fussing about, though, because Silver is fine. Everything is fucking fine. He's been doing this for years, and - god, he never should've let Ethan know. It was at the end of last winter that he mentioned it off-handedly, and Ethan nearly had a heart attack.

"What do you mean you're homeless?!"

"It's fine, I-I just - "

"That isn't fine! What if you got sick?!"

"Whatever, I don't usually get sick anyway! Don't worry about me!"

That wasn't an argument so much as it was a back and forth of this isn't good for you and no it's fine, I'm fine. No wonder Ethan is getting worked up about it this season.

"Maybe we can explore around, whatever," Silver relents, because if he doesn't, Ethan sure as hell won't. "I'll let you know."

Ethan smiles up at him softly, softer than fresh snow. "That'll be fun." Pause. "Do you want the last tuna?"

Oh fuck yeah. "If you're not gonna eat it."

"Take it! Sharing with my friends is my specialty!"

It's either Ethan's presence or the sushi that makes Silver feel satisfied with this moment. Maybe both.

Chapter Text

The wind bites at his skin.

Ethan doesn't mind the winter too much, he has to admit. He likes to go on walks around the region whenever he can, so he's gotten used to the bitter chill that wrecks his body in sudden wailing gales of wind. It's not like he's out here without a coat or scarf, of course. He's not as crazy as some people who stay outside without bundling up. He wonders how he met two of those kinds of people, both living in various caves either below the earth or nine thousand meters above sea level. He has to wonder if maybe it would be exciting, maybe it would be fun to try and fight the elements and all odds at every turn, but Ethan is much too fond of stability in life.

Hence, he has his routine of visiting Silver and taking long walks. 

Ethan hugs the egg closer to his chest, light enough to keep it from getting hurt but close enough to keep it cozy. It was a gift (sorta) from Clair, one she thrust into his arms just before he left Blackthorn this afternoon. He mentioned that he was heading home, and then she blurted out something about I can't take care of this thing, bring it to the professor or something, and that was that. He can assume it's either a Horsea or a Magikarp from one of her dragon types, since he doubts Clair would give up a baby Dratini. He'd care for the egg himself if he didn't already have a full team, to be honest -

"Pi pi-pi chu!"

- though that's never stopped him before.

"We'll be back in New Bark before you know it, Pichu," Ethan hums. "Just hold on tight, okay? Do you wanna go back in your pokéball? It's pretty windy out here."

"Piiiiii!" That's a firm no, a proper pout. Pichu is more of a travel buddy than a battling Pokémon, so of course he'd wanna be out while Ethan is walking home. He doesn't mind that Pichu doesn't battle, of course; everyone needs just a good old fashion friend in their lives.

He wonders if Silver realizes that.

Ethan knows that Silver considers him a friend, murmured bashfully under the sound of their Pokémon playing in the water of the Dragon's Den. It's sweet, seeing him reveal this sensitive piece of him that the rest of the world never sees, but at the same time, he's worried about Silver. He wants to make sure he has more of a support system, more people to turn to if anything ever went wrong. It's not that Ethan would refuse to help Silver, but he's not a jack of all trades. He can help with food, and a little bit with having a cold, but if Silver got really hurt, Ethan isn't sure what he would do. Well, he has an idea; he'd panic first, then cry, then probably call someone else to step in and help. He wonders if it would be too late by the time help showed up, though.

I just worry that by the time the EMTs would get up there, he'd be dead.

It's a worry Ethan overheard once from a certain gym leader about a certain champion, and it's weaved its way into his own mind and planted the seeds of neurosis. It's not that he even has a certain scenario in mind, he doesn't have a doomsday nightmare brewing anywhere in his head. All Ethan knows is that he has a looming fear of something happening to Silver, and whatever that something is, he knows it's not good, and he knows he won't know what to do when it comes. It's a worry he tries to push to the back of his mind, a fear he tries not to ever let Silver hear about, but he knows his concern is getting more and more evident as the days get colder and darker.

The sun is already low in the sky as Ethan reaches New Bark, and the day is nearly gone. He trots up to Professor Elm's lab just as another huge gust of wind blows through the town.

"Professor?" Ethan calls into the lab, but he doesn't see him anywhere. "I have an egg from Clair!"

"...just don't know what to do anymore."

Speaking of that gym leader, it seems Green is here, no doubt talking to Crystal. Ethan hides and listens as closely as he can.

"...going back up, then he's just..." Crystal's voice is soft, laced with concern. He can sense a denser atmosphere to this conversation than usual, a thicker fog than he thinks he's ever felt around them before.

"But Red's not..." not coming down, is probably how that sentence ends. Ethan feels his heart sink.

The rest of the murmuring is more or less too quiet to hear, so Ethan just waits for the moment to pass so he can drop the egg off and leave. He knows that Green and Red have been having a bit of trouble lately; as to exactly what's wrong, Ethan isn't certain. He still remembers telling Green that he found Red on Mount Silver almost four years ago now, and he remembers seeing Green's eyes lighting up, and he ran faster than light. Ethan remembers seeing Green after he came back down, without Red, and he remembers feeling the gym leader's pain as if it were his own. Green is almost like an older brother to him, really, so seeing him that torn up is agony.

Seeing Green quietly worrying and melting over something Ethan doesn't understand, though, that bothers him even more. He wants to help.

"I might just... not, you know?" It sounds like they're getting closer. He really shouldn't be eavesdropping, but he's just so curious.

"Are you sure? I'm not saying that you need to break your neck over him, but I want you to really consider this." Crystal's voice is still low. The footsteps that were approaching the main room stop.

"...I dunno. I'm gonna go check on him now, though, just see how he's doing. I'll keep you posted."

"Alright, just, take care of yourself this time, okay? I don't want you doing anything dangerous again." He better not have tried climbing the mountain during one of the heavier blizzards. Best friend or not, there's no reason to go into a lethal snowstorm.

"Yeah, I know. I'll be okay this time. I'll call if I need something, though. Just remember - "

Uh oh.

"What are you hiding out for, hm?" Green grabs Ethan by the back of his hood and pulls him out from behind the bookshelves with ease.

"Lemme go! I'm not doing anything!"

"Mmhm." Green sounds unimpressed. "You know you shouldn't be snooping."

"Oh, give him a break," Crystal sighs. "He was just waiting for us to finish our conversation."

"Y-Yeah, right," but that's a bit of a lie. "Sorry, you just sounded really serious, and I didn't wanna interrupt."

"Oh, alright," Green relents, letting Ethan go. "Anyway, I'm gonna visit Red, as I'm sure you know. You wanna send anything up with me, or what?"

"Just some good vibes," Ethan grins. "I'll make sure to send some Christmas cookies soon, though! I hope he'll like them!"

"Trust me, he will," he grins. "Red's got a bit of a sweet tooth, after all. Crys? Anything?"

"Just what I already gave you," she answers vaguely. Ethan knows she's probably a bit annoyed at his nosiness, but can they really blame him?

"Gotcha. I'll be back tomorrow night, then I'm leaving again on Saturday. If Lance is looking for me, don't tell him where I am."

She laughs, but it's a bit bitter and disingenuous. "Just be safe, okay?"

"Will do."

"Stay warm!" Ethan waves him off, and it isn't until the door shuts that Crystal sighs. "Are you okay, Crystal?"

"Yeah, he's just... being himself," she answers. He can always tell when Crystal feels less than okay, but with how reserved she is about her feelings, it's hard for Ethan to really help. All he can offer is distractions and a shoulder to cry on (though she's never taken him up on the latter). "What are you up to, then? Delivering eggs?"

"Yep! Clair wanted me to send this to Professor Elm, but I dunno where is."

"Oh, he's visiting Professor Oak."

"Should I just leave it here, then?"

"Sure. Lemme have a quick look at it."

Pichu leans over Ethan's head to get a better look at Crystal as she examines the egg. She's gotten good at science stuff over the years, but Ethan wonders why she doesn't battle anymore. He likes that she does research, since that seems to make her happy. Crystal hasn't battled in over a year now, though. He knows she likes studying more than battling, but it still seems weird.

"Whatcha lookin' at?" he asks, peering over her shoulder now. He can almost see through the egg in the artificial light.

"The membrane is a little too thin," she comments off-handedly. "I wonder why... You said it's from Clair, right? Not feral?"

"Mhm," he nods, feeling a bit nervous. "Is it okay?"

"Oh, it'll be fine inside, of course," she nods confidently. "It's good she asked you to deliver it, though. I'm sure you were keeping it warm all the way here, huh?"

"Of course! I don't want anyone to get too cold out there!"

The thoughts are in his mouth, under his tongue.

"Well, you stay bundled up too, got it? We don't want anyone getting sick."

"Um, speaking of sick..." Silver.

"Are you coming down with something, kiddo?"

"No, but Silver is."

The room goes quiet for just the second it takes Crystal to process that information, but somehow the moment lingers for too long in his head.

"Is it just a cold?"

"I-I guess so, but he's still living outside, so..."

"He told you about that?"

Huh? "Yeah, at the end of last winter. Did you already know?"

She huffs a little, but decides to be honest this time. "He told me a little over a year ago, now. I kept offering to let him stay with me, but he refused every time. I did convince him to have a few main spots to live around so we could find him, at least."

"Why didn't you just drag him home with you?"

"You know how stubborn he is."

"Yeah," he pouts, "but I'm worried about him. I don't know if he got any cold medicine or anything."

"Medicine doesn't really cure a common cold, either way." She's brushing it off.

"That doesn't mean living outside in winter is okay, though."

"I - I know." In the split second of stuttering, her eyes dart towards Mount Silver. "I know it isn't the best decision, but there's only so much you can do for someone who doesn't want any help. I'm sure I can at least bring him a blanket or a jacket, but..."

"...just because Red is still up there, doesn't mean anyone should live in the snow."

She flinches away at that. "Th-That's not - I'm not trying to say that, I'm just trying to help you understand that Silver should be safe. If he's living in the Dragon's Den - "

"It gets cold in there."

"Not as cold as it does outside."

This is so frustrating. "Aren't you worried about him?"

"I am, Ethan, I really am," she replies. "I'm not about to drag him to my place, though. I'm sure as heck not about to tell him to go back to one of his parents, either."

Ethan fiddles with his jacket zipper. "Maybe he can stay with me."

"You can certainly make the offer."

"I keep offering to let him come over, but he won't."

"Maybe he doesn't want to, then. Either that, or he just wants to visit on his own terms."

"...I guess." Not a single satisfying answer has come out of this conversation. "What if it gets so cold that he gets sick? I mean like, really sick."

Crystal is quiet for a moment. "If you notice him getting that bad, bring him to a Pokémon Center or a proper hospital, okay? They'll know what to do."

That... works, that's a good answer, but, "But I don't wanna have to do that."

"I dunno what to tell you, kiddo," she shakes her head, a bit solemn. "If he doesn't want to go inside, he won't. You know how he is."

Stubborn, really stubborn. His stubbornness often manifests as pure determination, a will made of solid metal, and that's admirable. Seeing him refuse to give up in battles even when his team is done for, training his Pokémon as diligently as he does, that makes him a wonderful trainer. Even the more negative pieces of this stubbornness have drawn Ethan into Silver, in some weird, kinda embarrassing way. Silver can be so hot-headed, so contrary to Ethan, and god he's almost smitten with the other boy and all his weird mannerisms. Even his snappy attitude, his jabs at Lance and Clair, his eye rolls and smarting remarks are... well, it's mean, but Ethan knows the truth. He can tell it's mostly a fake bravado, a need to keep mostly to himself. That can be risky, Ethan feels, but Silver has always been a bit of an introvert, and unfortunately, that's that.  Even the more "unsavory" parts of Silver draw Ethan in, and that's that.

If there's one thing Silver is, it's constant; Silver is... Silver, he's himself, and that never seems to change. Ethan doesn't want to change Silver, no, but he does wish he could be just a little more pliable. He wishes he could convince him to come inside and sleep in a soft bed. He wishes he could at least show him what a sleepover is like.

"Okay," Ethan answers Crystal at last, though there's not much to say.

"If the weather gets too dangerous, we'll figure something out with him, alright?" she offers. "Maybe we can even figure out an emergency plan before anything happens, so if a blizzard comes in, he'll know how to take shelter. Do you want me to call him and ask about that?"

Ethan just shrugs. "I'm gonna go visit him again on Friday. I'll ask him then."

Crystal smiles softly at him, trying to ease his nerves. "That sounds good to me. Let me know what you come up with, or call me if you want another opinion, okay?"

"Mhm! I'll keep you updated. I'm gonna go grab dinner for now though, so I'll see you around!"

"You take care, now!" she calls after him, and with one more wave from him and Pichu, they're out the door.

Ethan, admittedly, will not let her know what their plan is, because he's not going to make a plan. Ethan's "plan" is to drag Silver to his house for the winter when the first snow hits, and nothing is gonna get in his way. The only uncontrollable factor is his mother, but considering she already seems to like Silver (she made him a bento today, after all), Ethan thinks he has a good chance of making this work.

"I'm home, mom!" Ethan calls into his house, shutting out the cold.

"Welcome back, sweetie! How was your battle?"

"Good! Silver is getting better every day! He's actually catching up to me," he admits.

"Well, you'd better get to training your Pokémon, huh?" she jokes. "Get back out there!"

"Mom!" It's half a whine, half a laugh. "You know it's gonna get dark soon!"

"Oh, I'm just teasing you," she grins. "By the way, did he like his lunch?"

"Totally! You always make the best food, after all," he smiles. "Do you think he could come over?"

"Right now? That'll be quite a hike for him, and we're supposed to - "

"No, no, just eventually," though he wishes Silver were coming over right now.

"Oh, of course. The door's always open - well, not for twenty people out of the blue," she adds, a bit of a jab at the prodigal extravert known as Lyra, "but you know what I mean. Go wash up, now. Dinner will be on in about ten minutes."

Ethan drops his bag off in his room and lets Pichu curl up on his pillow for a nap while he gets ready for dinner.

Ethan has noticed a little habit of Silver's, a tendency to murmur names and places under his breath. Inadvertently, Ethan has picked up on this, but only -

"Silver."

- only when Silver is running through his head.

Silver is pretty much Ethan's best friend - one of his only friends, in fact. While he's on decent terms with all of Lyra's friends, that doesn't necessarily mean they're his friends. He's friendly with the gym leaders, but is only really close to Green. He likes Crystal and Red, too, but that's about all. He's never really had anyone that close to him until he met Silver, and even when they first met, they got off to a bad start. He didn't have anyone else, though, and suddenly he was there, and Ethan just... fell into him, into Silver. Maybe it was a lingering loneliness that made Ethan overlook all of Silver's flaws when they met that day.

And maybe it's knowing the reality of Silver that's made Ethan feel this way.

He refuses to call the feeling anything, because he doesn't really know what it is. Some of Silver's flaws are still present, yes, his irritability and curtness towards everyone but Ethan himself, but that's just what makes Silver who he is. Again, it's even those flaws that draw him closer, make him lean in and want to see what's below the façade of bad habits and bitter introversion. It's the fact that Ethan knows how Silver sounds when he laughs, how even his eyes smile when his Pokémon are having fun, how he will rarely (very rarely) follow Ethan's bad pun with an even worse one. It's knowing that Silver can loosen up, that he can almost pull himself away from reality, falling into conversations that last until one of them falls asleep on the cool ground. It's the fact that Silver has never given in or given up to anything or anyone, the fact that he's a fierce defender of the ones he cares for the most. The fire under the ice glows and refracts in such a mesmerizing way.

It's really, truly, everything about Silver that makes Ethan like him. It's this friendship that makes him worry so much, though. Ethan likes helping his friends, making sure they're all alive and well. That's why he's so worried about Silver. It's not that Ethan can't help so much as it is that Silver won't let him help. If it gets too cold out there, though - 

"Ethan! Dinner!"

"I'm coming!"

Ethan takes one deep breath to clear his head. Maybe this winter will be milder than the last.

Chapter Text

It's been a month, and no progress has been made.

Ethan is heading up to see Silver again, having let the issue drop for awhile. It's not that he wanted Silver to live outside when he was sick, no, but his attempt to bring him home this past November ended particularly poorly. They tend not to fight so much anymore; Silver actively makes an effort not to yell at Ethan, since someone (Ethan) had to go and be overly sensitive about everything. Pushing Silver too far does lead to those arguments, though, it leads to the volley of I'm fine and I'm worried and don't worry, and nothing gets done. They compromised though; rather, Ethan visited Silver daily to make sure he was getting better.

He did recover, but that doesn't make this okay.

He understands. Ethan understands that Silver wants to make it on his own. He doesn't totally understand why, no, he doesn't get the whole don't help me thing. He does know that Silver wants to be independent, though, and he can respect that. He thinks it might have to do with his general history with Team Rocket, but Ethan's guess is as a good as anyone's. Letting Silver live outside in what's now early December, though, seems like a particularly bad idea. Sure, it's only early winter, but it is winter.

And a blizzard is en route.

Sometimes it snows hard in the Johto region, sometimes early on in the season. It only happens when the clouds from Mount Silver get backlogged and flow right down the mountain, and that happens every few years or so. What bothers Ethan is that Silver has definitely lived outside during one of those blizzards, and Ethan had no idea. He just wants to know Silver will be okay now, that he'll be safe, and right now he knows that Silver will, most likely, not be safe if he refuses to come inside somewhere. That's what kills him a little, stabs him through the heart. That risk worries him beyond belief.

He'll hide it, though. He's just here to visit, and he'll invite Silver in passing, so subtly that Silver will just agree.

"Silver?" Ethan calls quietly into the den. It's five in the morning, way too early for anyone to be up, but Ethan couldn't stay asleep knowing there was going to be a storm today. It's supposed to roll in at about nine, so if he spends awhile convincing Silver to come to his house to weather the storm, that still gives them plenty of time to get back to New Bark. He does have an excuse for coming down here before the sun even rises, but ultimately, saving Silver is his goal.

"Silver," he calls again. Ethan sends Quagsire out into the water, and they quietly glide across the lake toward Silver's island of choice. Sure enough, Silver is out cold.

Ethan should wake him up, but... but what? He looks so peaceful sleeping, even in this weather. It hurts a little, realizing that he can sleep in this cold because he's gotten used to it. Ethan also has to wonder how Silver handles sleeping in the sweltering summer months, the dog days where the only way to escape the heat is to be inside. The den here is probably cool enough, though.

Ethan absently brushes a lock of hair off of Silver's cheek, and he stirs.

"Silver?"

"Ngh..." He's kinda awake.

"Good morning," he greets softly. Silver hums quietly, and honestly, Ethan doesn't know if that was an answer or not. "Sorry, I know it's kinda early, but I wanted to show you something cool." 

"What? It's like... what time is it?" he mumbles.

"Five in the morning," Ethan answers matter-of-factly. "I know, I'm crazy and stupid for getting up this early."

"Nh... Not stupid, but definitely crazy." Silver actually sits up, rubbing his eyes sleepily. "Whatever. Let's make this quick so I can get back to sleep."

"It won't take long, don't worry." That's half true, at least. "Come on! It's just south of here."

Silver shuffles around for a minute, but he does follow Ethan across the lake and towards the exit to the cave. "What could possibly be so interesting that you had to wake me up at five in the morning?"

"Don't ask, just follow me!" Ethan grins, feeling a little mischievous. He knows Silver doesn't like the wild goose chases he brings him on sometimes, but Ethan finds a lot of excitement in adventures that don't really go anywhere. When you're not looking for anything, everything is amazing in its own special way.

"Fine, whatever! Slow down so I can keep up!" He doesn't, though. "Ethan!"

"We gotta be quick!"

One of the things Ethan has learned in his many travels is that Pokémon travel just as much so as a trainer does - no, even more so. While there are typical habitats that Pokémon live in, it's never really as simple as living on Route 45 forever. Ethan has found Pokémon in the most inexplicable places, from Wobuffet rustling in Ilex Forest in the fall, to Natu clustered at the roof of a hardware store during the heat of summer, to Sudowudo perched like palm trees on the coast. Ethan has to admit, part of why he wanted to go on a Pokémon journey was because he's always had a bit of that wanderlust. He's always just been the one following along, chasing Lyra around New Bark or losing his mom in the grocery store. Ethan is an explorer by nature, though; yes, even more than a trainer, more than a Champion, Ethan is an adventurer.

Silver, of course, knows this well, and is used to getting dragged along to who knows where to do who knows what.

"Where are we even going?!"

"Dark Cave! Just follow me!"

He can't help but pout a bit at Silver being this impatient, but Silver's exaggerated sigh still makes him laugh. Ethan has learned that Silver expresses himself even in huffs and groans, and there's a difference between ugh, Lance, leave me alone, I'm fourteen and I don't need you, and ugh, Ethan, I'm following you but this better be worth it.

Well, Ethan thinks it's worth it. He knows Silver doesn't always appreciate the little things as much as he does, but he hopes maybe his friend can learn to love the details as much as the big picture. Maybe it's because Silver hasn't been able to just settle down and take a breath for a long time. Maybe it's because he hasn't had the same liberty than Ethan has had. Ethan knows that if he lets his guard down, someone will be there to help him. Silver has only paid attention to the threats in the world, though, so he doesn't realize that the world has just as many little blessings to offer.

Ethan hopes to show him that. Ethan, more than anything, hopes to make Silver's life just a little bit better.

"Almost there! It's still dark too, so that's good!" Ethan calls back to Silver.

"Why does that matter if we're in a cave?" he asks, confused.

"You'll see!"

"Is this actually going to be worth my time, or what?"

"I think it is!"

Another groan, and Ethan laughs. It's just like him, it's just so Silver.

"C'mon, in here!"

"In the cave?" Silver chides. "No, I thought we were gonna climb over it."

"Come on, Silver!"

He rolls his eyes, but he does follow Ethan in, right on his heels. Dark Cave is, of course, dark, and more or less unpopulated at this time of morning. That means Silver will let his guard down just a little bit, let himself humor Ethan a little more. Silver has no reason to keep up an act that Ethan can see through.

"Look," he whispers.

Circled around a pool of cave water is a family of Clefairy, dancing and bouncing around in rhythm with each other. It's unknown exactly why they do this, but Ethan would argue that no one really needs a reason to dance with a bunch of friends. Usually, this happens outside of Mount Moon, being something of a homeland to the Clefairy line. Ethan remembers seeing their dance for the first time, watching the fairies bounce around a small pond in the moonlight. In this weather, though, they can't be outside - that, and they almost certainly sense the impending snowstorm, so they found shelter. Between studying the natural migration of Pokémon and the fact that it's a Monday (do the Clefairy know that?), Ethan knew he could find them here, and he knew he wanted Silver to see. He wants Silver to appreciate a moment like this.

Ethan struggles to read Silver's expression. Yeah, this is a little silly.

"What are...?" Silver's voice is quiet, as not to disturb the fairies.

"Sometimes Clefairy like to dance all night long," Ethan explains, barely above a whisper. "Usually, they're at Mount Moon, but some Clefairy migrate down south for winter. I figured they'd stop in here before the sun comes up, since Clefairy don't like traveling during the day. They always do this dance on Mondays."

"...why Monday?"

"I'unno. They just like to dance."

"Always on Monday, though?"

"Mhm."

Ethan looks at Silver, and there's a glimmer in his eyes now. He seems amused, at the very least, but only amused.

"Sorry for waking you up so early," he mumbles. "I didn't know how long they'd be here, though."

"You're amused by the damndest things, Ethan."

There's a lightness in Silver's voice, though, and a rare type of grin on his lips. Seeing Silver in this content state is as rare as a Suicune sighting, and even more precious and valuable. It's a sign that he's still okay in some way, that he's been coping and growing up and moving on from all the stuff that made living so hard to do in the first place. It's a sign that Silver is, in fact, going to be okay. It's progress in the littlest moment, a smile that the rest of the world will never get to see.

"I guess so," Ethan answers at last. "I guess it's kinda dumb, but - "

"Stop bullying yourself, only I'm allowed to do that."

Ethan quickly covers his mouth, stifling his laughter as not to startle the Clefairy party. Whether Silver means only I'm allowed to bully you or only I'm allowed to bully myself is up in the air, but he feels like either statement makes sense. This is Silver, after all.

For awhile, maybe even an hour, Ethan and Silver watch the goings on from behind the rocks, counting the Clefairy that slowly leave to go find a place to nap. Their chatter is rare and mostly meaningless; there goes another one and that one is so round, words that don't have an answer, words that they won't even remember tomorrow evening.

This moment, though, will live in his memory forever and always.

Maybe Ethan is a sap (well, that's a given), or maybe it's... just the fact that this is Silver. He doesn't often remember what they say to each other when they talk, only vague memories of conversation topics and a few important quips that caught his attention. It's not that the talk is really meaningless, though, no; it's quite the opposite, in fact. The words give meaning to the whole moment, and the moment is what sticks in Ethan's heart. These words give the time they spend together an essence, a feeling, a mood that sticks with Ethan for long after he's gone home and tried to fall asleep. It's... funny, actually, now that he thinks about it. Ethan doesn't really have this problem - well, this phenomenon with anyone else.

Ethan always remembers how he felt on some day at some time. He can remember the tension in his chest when he followed Lyra outside in a thunderstorm to watch the lighting, his heart beating out of his chest and his head buzzing with electricity. He can remember feeling his heart soar when Typhlosion stood in front of Green, finally earning him his last gym badge of the Indigo League, and the warm joy when his fingers touched the cool metal of the Earth Badge. He can remember his stomach sink when he lost to Red in a matter of minutes, and the confused appreciation when he was handed several revives and potions.

Yes, he can remember all of this, but they're only memories.

What sets Silver apart is that Ethan feels their time together all over again. He can feel the same ache in his throat when Silver called him weak when they first met, the rush of adrenaline when the two of them stormed the Radio Tower crawling with Rocket grunts, the sunny giddiness when he remembers the first time he made Silver laugh. Every time he thinks of a moment with Silver, he feels it, he feels the very essence of being with Silver, and that's something special.

That's why Ethan isn't sure how to describe his feelings for his friend. He's never felt this before.

"The last ones are heading out," Silver whispers, pulling Ethan back to reality. He just nods, letting the moment end. He'd like to stay here longer - no, he'd like to freeze time, but all good things must come to an end. That's what makes them able to be cherished for years to come. That's what makes something nostalgic.

"You glad I woke you up, now?"

"Eh." It's a half-hearted response by nature, but in that tone of voice, a little lighter than usual, Ethan knows he did a good job. Silver only lowers his voice when he's in some kind of battle mode, but Ethan is no threat to his friend. "Not the worst wake-up call you've given me."

"Oh yeah? What was the worst one?"

"You barged in at seven in the morning to tell me your egg hatched into a Barboach."

"They're not native to Johto! It was exciting!"

"Well, tired Silver woke up to just a foot long fish in his face. That wasn't very exciting for me."

"But they're adorable!"

"You say that about everything!" Silver almost laughs, and that makes Ethan giggle. "I'm serious!"

"There's a lotta cute Pokémon, though! Remember that Wobbuffet I caught down here?"

"Yeah, whatever happened to that guy?"

Oh, this is perfect. "Well, technically I caught him, but he was kinda a present for my mom. She was talking about wanting one when she was a kid one day, so I went out and caught one for her!"

There's a hint of something in Silver's expression, maybe something like longing. "You're too nice for your own good, you know that?"

"Well, yeah," he admits. "Did you wanna meet him sometime?"

"Who, your Wobbuffet?"

"Well, my mom's Wobbuffet, now, but yeah."

The air settles, and Ethan knows Silver is definitely catching on. "Maybe. I'll think about it."

He's definitely caught on, because he always, always says that. "Okay. Just lemme know. Mom said the door's always open - 'specially 'cause I don't bring like, twenty people over with no warning. Lyra gives her number out to everyone she battles, so sometimes she - "

"Is this about me being homeless again?"

Ugh. "Um... yeah."

"I told you not to worry." His voice is a little lower.

"I'm trying not to, but..." he shrugs. "I dunno. You said I'm too nice for my own good, right?"

"Yeah, obviously."

He's so frustrating sometimes. It's not that Ethan doesn't like this part of Silver, it's not that he dislikes his need for independence; again, he totally respects that. It's just that…"I just worry about all my friends. I'm not only doing this to you."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. I mean," he continues, "I'm not gonna like, spill everyone's secrets to prove it, 'cause that'd be mean, but I keep an eye on everyone. If anyone needs help, I'll be there, and if they don't, I'll... still be there."

"Hm."

The cave feels colder. Ethan can't hold back a sigh.

"Don't fuss at me, Ethan. Everything is fine."

"I just - "

"Do you not trust me?"

He feels needles in his chest. "I do, I just - "

"Then just let me handle myself."

"Okay." No, it's not okay. It's really not okay. "Do you wanna... um..."

The air falls quiet, and Ethan gives up on offering anything. He's running short on time, though, hours edging closer to minutes edging closer to seconds until the storm. This is the calm before it, then, this is where the world stops turning until the snow swirls down and spins them ten years into the future with wind chills that could steal a life in an instant. He's already worried enough about how Red survives on Mount Silver (I don't, was his answer once, and Ethan fears that wasn't entirely a joke). Red is more experienced though - or is Silver? - or, well, does it even matter? No one should live alone in the cold like this. No one should spend all their time in hiding. No one should spend the holidays alone. No one should live in such a way that they have nowhere to call home and no one to call family. This is... bad. This is bad and upsetting and you shouldn't have to do this, you don't have to do this -

"If we're done here, I'm going back to the den."

"Wait!"

Silver turns to face Ethan, having already started to walk off while Ethan's nerves were eating him. "What now?"

"Please don't yell at me."

"I'm not - " but his voice is loud, and Silver takes a deep breath before he speaks again. "I'm not yelling at you. What do you need?"

You. That's, um, that sounds weird, but Ethan knows what he means. "Why do you like living outside?"

Pause. Then, "I don't. I'm not about to barge into someone else's life, though."

"It's not 'barging in' if I'm asking you to come over."

"You may want me in New Bark, but there's a lot of other people who definitely don't."

"You don't know that!"

"Well, prove me wrong! Conclusively tell me no one would care if Giovanni's kid suddenly started living in their hometown! It's hard enough hiding out in the Dragon's Den and not having Clair or someone shit on me all the time!"

"Then just - "

"Just stop worrying about it! I'm not even worth worrying about! This isn't worth your time!" Then, louder, and in a more wavering voice, "I'm not worth your time!"

"Yes you are! You're - "

"You're the region's Champion, you're friends with every trainer in the Indigo League and then some, you're - you - why are you even wasting your time on some random criminal?!"

"You're not..." but it seems he can't argue that. He's losing his voice.

"I have stolen Pokémon. I'm not fucking wrong, Ethan."

He is, though, just a little bit. "You're not random."

"Please. Don't pretend that's a good argument."

Silver walks away at that, and Ethan feels himself shatter.

"You're special to me, Silver."

He can barely see through the tears, but Silver stops, and Ethan can only hold his breath.

Chapter Text

Oh fuck no he's crying -

Silver will admit he fucked up this time. He fucked up big time. He doesn't - he didn't mean for this to happen. He just wants to be left alone, that's literally all. He doesn't want to burden anyone, he doesn't want to bog anyone down with his presence. He doesn't care what Ethan says, his presence is - has always been - a burden. If he wasn't just another sack of shit to deal with, maybe his parents would've wanted him. Maybe he would've been accepted into society, and maybe he wouldn't have a history of stealing food to survive. If he wasn't a burden, he wouldn't have to carry the weight of the world; he wouldn't have to carry the weight of himself. Living wouldn't be so hard if he was worth anything.

Still, Ethan claims to want him around, and that kills him.

He... He can't. He can't do this. He can't let himself give in. Ethan deserves better than this, better than him. As to why Ethan has even been friends with him for this long, Silver will truly never understand. He's just an idiot kid with nothing to do and nowhere to go. Silver is not about to ruin his life like this. Does his mom know he's a criminal? Does Lyra even know? He feels like they have to had heard about it by now, they have to know that Ethan went and befriended the son of the Giovanni, the literal boss and founder of Team Rocket. They won't want him around. He doesn't even know if Ethan actually wants him around, or if this is some self-righteous bullshit.

That has to be it. It has to be self-righteousness, it has to be the Johto Champion putting on a show, insisting he's so kind, so selfless, such a perfect fucking angel giving himself a gold star -

No. That's not it at all, and Silver can't even try to convince himself of that. Ethan is actually, genuinely just... like this. He's perfect. Silver doesn't deserve him. He doesn't deserve Ethan, so he's going to leave but -

"You're special to me, Silver."

- but Ethan chases him anyway, and that makes him feel blessed and wretched at the same time.

Silver stopped walking, but he can't find anything to say for a moment. The cave is filled with darkness, vague shadows and tiny hiccups from the crying champion. What a monster he is, making an angel cry like that.

"What the fuck are you talking about?" he asks, because that's all he can think to ask. Ethan is truly baffling sometimes, but to say something like that is absolutely insane.

"What do you mean?" he whimpers, shaking from either the cold or just his overwhelming emotions.

"I'm not... special." That word sounds weird coming out of his mouth. Silver calls Sneasel special all the time, but hearing that word in reference to himself - in his own voice, no less - that sounds wrong, foreign.

"You are to me."

He shakes his head. "I don't understand you sometimes."

"You... You know what?" Woah that's almost a yell - "You don't need to. I like you, and that's that. That's all that matters. I don't need to explain why."

A part of him melts, or maybe it freezes, he's not sure. "I just - you - I'm - ugh," he huffs, "E-Ethan, look, I can't take this at face value, okay?"

"Why not?"

"Because there's nothing about me that makes me a good person!"

"Yeah there is! We already talked about this!" he chokes out, and yeah, they have had this conversation a few times by now.

"O-Okay, yeah," he backpedals, "I-I know we went over that, whatever. I like - I mean - you... I don't understand you."

Ethan wipes his eyes with his jacket sleeve. "Fine."

"But I want to."

"But - what is there to understand?" Ethan asks, as if it isn't obvious.

"Why do I mean anything to you?"

Ethan is quiet for a minute, and honestly, Silver both fears and expects the worst. He can only assume there's no good reason, and the conversation will end here. He'll go back to the den, Ethan will go back to New Bark, and that'll be the end of this. Another winter will be spent surrounded by dragons and his own Pokémon, another Christmas will come and go without so much as a holly leaf on the wall. Time is an illusion to someone with nowhere to go and no one to turn to, and the date means nothing to him anymore. It'll just pass, and Ethan will come visit and talk about all the fun stuff he did on that day, and Silver will remember nothing but the time Giovanni took him to Alola for the holidays one year and God why did everything have to fall apart -

"I feel you every time I think of you."

Silver flinches when Ethan says that. There's a weird stab in his heart, one that doesn't really hurt, but it's so sudden that he feels like something pushed him back. "What?"

"Sometimes I think about us, and I feel all the feelings I felt the day I first felt them." That's uh. Something? 

"I'm not entirely following." Ethan just shrugs and wipes his eyes again. "Can you elaborate on that, or...?"

"I just... I don't know. We're friends. You're totally different than anyone else I've ever met, and, um," and it seems like he's struggling with either how to say something or if he should say it at all, "I - I-I feel stuff about you that I don't feel about other people."

"What do you mean?" he asks slowly, trying to parse any of this. The words aren't making sense, but something is reverberating in his chest.

"I dunno. I just feel it. I can't make it into words. I mean," and the wind howls outside, "I couldn't have brought anyone else down here to watch a bunch of Clefairy dance and had the same feeling. When we're quiet together like that, everything in the world is peaceful. And when we're running around together, I-I feel like we're invincible! I like talking to you until way past my bedtime 'cause we talk about the weirdest, random stuff, and - and we're still always on the same page! I can think about all of those times and feel it like it's still happening! I-I - I've," and he's choking up again, "I've never had anyone like that before. I've never had anyone like you before."

But he could easily -

"And I know what you're gonna say, but I can't replace you. I wouldn't even want to."

- ...replace him.

"Oh."

"...that's why you're special to me," Ethan concludes softly. "There's no one else like you, and even if there was, I wouldn't care. I like you, Silver."

Oh.

"And that's why I want you to come home with me. I don't want you to freeze to death."

He could argue that. He could argue that the Pokémon World Champion has lived on a mountain and been just fine, so he's in no danger down here. He could accuse Ethan of lying about all of this (not that he would believe it anymore). He could insist that he's not worth the effort or emotional investment, and that the Johto Champion is just setting himself up for heartbreak. Silver could very well insist that he isn't good enough for him, for anything, for anyone, and that he may as well freeze to death.

I like you, Silver.

Silver has always wanted to believe that, and after all that he's said, he can't claim Ethan is lying.

"I'm sorry." That, however, is all Silver can offer. He's sorry that somehow Ethan decided that he's the person he wants to call a friend. He's sorry that Ethan is sinking everything into him. He deserves better. It's stupid that Silver always thought this moment would be satisfying, that he would be happier, relieved, enlightened by knowing just why and how Ethan likes him. He thought this would dispel all his worries, all his anxiety; yes, he thought understanding Ethan's fondness for him would make their friendship easier.

He feels like he's going to throw up, though.

"Why are you apologizing?" Ethan asks softly, so softly that his voice doesn't echo off the cave walls.

Silver is apologizing for being here, for taking up his time. He's apologizing for making Ethan get up at what would've been two in the morning, to come to Blackthorn at five, just to show him some migrating Pokémon. For occupying a space in his life, in his mind, his memory, for existing in the same region as him. For wasting his time with battles, with nonsensical babbling late into the night, with homemade lunches eaten on the dirty ground, with rants about a broken family and a lost childhood. He's apologizing for somehow tricking him into being his friend, for stealing a Pokémon that would lead to them meeting, for having even met him at all. He's apologizing for even existing in the same world as him.

More or less, Silver is apologizing for invading the life of Ethan Aurelia.

"Silver..."

"Just... sorry." He hears his words wavering, and he covers his mouth, as if that could hide his feelings bleeding out of his voice. "Sorry for being so frustrating."

"It's okay, Silver. I'm not mad at you."

He just nods. His breaths are becoming more ragged. The little scenery he can see in the cave is getting blurry.

"If you wanna stay here," no, "you can, but..."

"Whatever, don't worry." It's merely an automatic response. It doesn't even really answer Ethan properly. Idiot can't even fucking answer his friend right.

"I can stay with you."

"You fucking idiot." Maybe it was too quiet for Ethan to hear, maybe not, but Silver has to speak up. "You'll be too cold out here."

"I have a coat and stuff."

"It's still too cold for you."

"Then it's too cold for you, too."

He almost sobs, but he breathes, one breath after another of dank cave air. He needs to steady himself. He needs to just calm the fuck down and let this happen, honestly, he needs to let the world come back. He needs to settle down enough to convince Ethan that he'll be fine, he'll be just as fine as he was last year, and he can stay in the Dragon's Den without any issues. He needs - he needs -

"Ethan."

He needs Ethan.

"Yeah?"

That voice is so hopeful. Ethan has been waiting so patiently, for so long, he's been so fucking good to him and for some reason the way he says yeah? is what breaks Silver.

"Lead the way."

Pause. "To New Bark, yeah?"

"Yeah." He feels defeated, ruined, but somehow he feels stable. Ethan makes him feel stable.

"Thank you."

Silver looks up at Ethan at last, though he still has a bit of double vision. Stress and tears are still on his face, but even with tear-tracks on his cheeks and puffy eyes, Ethan looks happy.

"Thank..." Wait, what?

"Thank you. This means a lot to me."

He almost feels dizzy. "Me too," whispered almost inaudibly.

"C'mon, New Bark is just south of here." How can he sound so happy now? Was all of that an act, or is he really just this relieved this soon? "When we get in, I can - "

Ethan abruptly stops, and when Silver takes a step around him, he can see why.

The wind howling wasn't just a one time thing, it seems. There's maybe forty centimeters of snow accumulated already, and they were only in there for... what, maybe an hour at most? When did it start snowing? How long will it keep snowing? It's coming down hard, too, and it doesn't look like the clouds are going to let up any time soon. If the sun came up, he sure as hell doesn't see it.

"Oh no." Ethan sounds devastated in this quiet way - somewhere between actual despair and just disappointment, inconvenienced. "It wasn't supposed to snow until nine..."

"Well," Silver starts, "it's a three hour trek on a good day, right? How long will this take?"

"I-I dunno," Ethan admits. "I'd say we can fly back with Xatu and Crobat, but it's probably too cold for them to fly... Shit..."

Even whispered, barely breathed, any swear sounds strange in Ethan's voice. "Well, uh, what you do... what do we...?"

Ethan tugs his scarf tighter around his neck, and Silver realizes that a scarf would be really nice right about now. "I don't know if we can actually get back right now," he admits, saying each word as if it's a new language, tentative and uneasy.

Silver shrugs. "We can camp out here."

"Do you feel how cold it is in here?"

"Well, yeah, but what else can we do?"

Ethan pauses to think. "I know you don't like staying in Pokémon Centers, but there's an inn in Blackthorn that we can spend the night at. Even if we can't really walk to New Bark tomorrow, if the snow lets up, we can actually fly there. So, maybe..." He looks at Silver, seeking approval.

His pride is thick in his throat, but he swallows it anyway. "Lead the way."

He didn't want him to help. He didn't want anyone to help, but if anyone was going to break him down, at least it was Ethan.

The wind is cutting through Silver's clothes like a knife through butter, the snow half-melting on him and chilling him to the bone. This is actually the worst. Silver just stays in a cave most of the time, and blizzards like this don't come to Johto too often. How the hell does Red do it? Does anyone know? Silver knows Ethan has talked about him before, but even he doesn't know how the champion does it. He bets only Green would know, since the gym leader is more often up there than in his own gym.

Walking through the snow is harder when he's shivering helplessly, he notes. To think they were running down this route a mere hour or so ago.

"Do you wanna get food before we get to the inn?" Ethan calls over the wind. Silver fumbles to catch up enough to hear him better.

"I thought you had food in your bag, right?"

"Yeah, but just snacks. If we're snowed in town for the day, and if it's snowing this much, we might want more food stuff."

He shivers for another reason. "Uh... I dunno. I'll be fine."

"I think we should get food," he declares after a pause. "Is that okay?"

"Um, yeah, I guess."

"What's wrong?"

They've actually stopped walking, and while Silver knows Ethan would never be this malicious, he can't help but think this is a cruel trick to get him to talk. "Nothing."

"Are you sure? 'cause I could just get food for me, but that would be mean, so I - "

"I-I just don't wanna go in there," he blurts out. He catches his tongue before he adds because that's one of the many places I've stolen food from, and I'll get you in trouble by association.

"Okay, um," and now they're walking again through the sheer cold, "how about we get the room first, then I'll go pick stuff up for us. Is that okay?"

"Yeah, that's fine." He would argue. He would insist that Ethan shouldn't be spending his own money on him - hell, he shouldn't even spend money on the inn, but it's too fucking cold to fight about that. The last blizzard that came through the region was one Silver mostly ignored, back when he was hiding in Union Cave. He's never been outside in a blizzard, no, and it's so much fucking worse than he ever imagined. It's almost worse than the guilt of imposing on Ethan like this.

Almost.

Silver breathes onto his hands in an attempt to warm his fingers, but they immediately freeze up when he pulls them away. He can barely feel his nose, he's struggling to keep up with Ethan (who isn't even that fast right now), everything feels numb and his bones actually hurt from the cold. His ears feel like they're going to fall off any second now. He'd love to just fall down and shut his eyes for two seconds, pass out, and then he wouldn't have to feel any of this anymore, none of this cold and none of this guilt. This is the worst. This is actually the worst. Maybe this is worse than guilt after all.

"Sil! Over here!" Ethan calls. He spaced out at some point, and now they're in Blackthorn. It feels like another five centimeters accumulated in the time it took them to get up here.

The inn comes into view, and suddenly Silver regrets everything.

"...you know, if you don't wanna pay for a room - " but he's immediately cut off.

"I wanna make sure we're somewhere warm."

"The den is - "

" - not warm enough." He's never heard Ethan so curt, so definitive. "I don't wanna fight about this anymore."

Silver falls silent. There's not much he can say, and he can't argue with the idea of heat right now. He can't even think about whether anyone is staring at them or not when they get to the front desk to get a room key. He doesn't really remember the walk to the room, but suddenly a door shuts and they're in a one person bedroom.

Uh.

There's two of them.

"Sorry again about the small room," Ethan apologizes, apparently again. "I guess a lot of people got snowed in today, huh?"

"Yeah, I guess." Cool. This is fine. He'll just sleep on the floor.

"I guess it was 'cause everyone who left to get their gym badges in the fall is here. They're probably just now getting around to Clair's gym."

"Yeah," after a pause. He feels weird in this room, out of place. How... How long has it been since Silver has stayed in a real bedroom? Does this count as a real bedroom? More or less, sure. There's a bed and an outdated television, a single window with old floral curtains and a lamp from probably twenty years ago. There's even a makeshift kitchen, if a table, a few chairs, and a micro-fridge count as a kitchen. This is better than Silver has had in years.

His thoughts stray back to his childhood home, and he feels lost.

"Silver?"

"Huh?"

"Are you listening?"

"Uh," he can't really bullshit his way out of this, "n-not really. I spaced out."

"That's okay," Ethan hums sweetly. "I was asking if you wanted anything in particular from the store. I think the 24 hour place will probably still be open, at least unless the power got cut out or something. Hopefully that doesn't happen here." Pause. "Huh."

"Didn't think about that, did you?"

He shrugs. "Well, this is a lot better than being outside. The heat should be okay."

"Doesn't it run on electricity?"

"I don't think so?" It's more of a question than a declaration. "Even if it does, the room is small enough for Typhlosion to heat up if we needed that. Red does that with Charizard a lot."

"How does he survive up there, even with a Charizard?"

"I dunno," Ethan admits. "I worry a lot about him, but Green makes sure he's always safe." Pause. "I'm glad I can make sure you're safe, too."

God, he hates this, he hates that Ethan is wasting his efforts on him. "Thanks."

"Of course," he smiles too sweetly for this world. "But, uh, you didn't answer my question. Did you want any food in particular?"

"Honestly, anything's fine. I trust your taste."

"Gotcha! I'll be back in like, maybe half an hour?"

"Sounds good." He hates this. He hates that Ethan cares about him, him of all people.

"Are you warming up at all?" Silver merely shrugs in response. "Maybe you should take a shower. Being in hot water will make you warmer." Pause. "That sounded a lot more profound in my head."

That catches him off-guard, and he laughs before he can stop himself. "Well, you're not wrong."

Silver is always a little mesmerized with how Ethan's smile shines in his eyes. "Yeah, I guess not. Now go warm up. I'll be back soon, okay?"

Then Ethan does something that makes Silver feel like he's been killed and reborn, something that makes his body drown and burn, trapped in time yet swirling through space, something paralyzing and freezing and scorching and -

"I'll bring breakfast."

He's hugging him.

"So don't go anywhere, okay?"

Ethan Aurelia is hugging him and he feels like he's whiting out.

"Be back soon!"

The door shuts. Silver is still standing in place for seconds that feel like eons. Ethan's footsteps become progressively quieter, then he's out of earshot.

"Wh-What..."

That felt weird. That felt wrong and right. That felt like a brand on his chest, if the brand was heated in the light of Heaven, blessed by every God under every sun and moon and star, as if Ethan swallowed every curse placed upon him in one little gesture that lasted maybe two seconds at most, at best, at worst -

"What - "

Ethan has never hugged him before, he realizes.

"What the fuck?"

When was the last time anyone hugged him?

When was the last time anyone cared about him?

"Ethan?"

Oh my god what is this -

"Ethan, Ethan, Ethan - " but it's not grounding today.

Ethan's voice runs through Silver's mind again, a tornado of words that manifest as a sickness that almost feels good, you're special to me, I like you and that's that, I feel like we're invincible, I like talking to you, I've never had anyone like you before, I like you, Silver -

"Ah - "

He sprints into the bathroom, slams the door, and sinks to the floor against it. He - This is - Ethan is -

"Ethan, Ethan, Ethan, Ethan - "

He's so, so special, terrifying and beautiful, absolutely sublime -

"Ethan - !"

- and perfect.

"...what did I myself into?"

Something, everything about Ethan makes Silver want to hug him again and never let go, and that's mortifying.

 

Chapter Text

He's pretty sure the water is boiling.

Of course he turned the heat up to eleven; Silver hasn't had a proper shower in a lot longer than he'd care to admit. The closest he's had has been taking five minute showers in the Pokémon Centers while his Pokémon were getting healed up, and even then, the showers there usually run cold. This is nice, though, this is warm and comfortable. Still, it's familiar in a way that he doesn't want it to be. Memories of childhood experiences keep slipping back into his mind, memories of using the giant-ass shower in Giovanni's bathroom because it felt luxurious and fancy, memories of coming inside to warm up after snowball fights, memories of huge hotel suites overseas and views out to crystal blue oceans.

Every time a memories slips back, he throws his face under the water and drowns it out (and he drowns himself a bit, but that's beside the point).

He's trying to just focus on the physical, the heat of the water. Everything else feels weird. Ethan came along and threw a wrench in his day, and bless him and everything he stands for, but now everything is strange and uncomfortable and... weird. He's thinking about things he hadn't thought about in years, feeling things he's never felt before, doing things he's never even considered doing before, just - it's everything, every thought takes too much out of his heart. He doesn't know how to cope with a whirlwind of change, of new life experiences waiting ahead, towering and looming over him like an old oak tree that's overgrown itself in a single moment.

He sighs. His thoughts are too murky to make sense of anymore. He just knows they feel like too much.

"Sil?"

He doesn't answer at first. Maybe he'll just sit in here until Ethan goes away and takes all this strangeness with him. It's not that he doesn't want to be warm this winter, no, he would love that. It's just that this is all so sudden. They went from being (admittedly pretty close) friends to being... closer friends? Maybe? He's not sure. One minute they're battling and hanging out, and the next minute Ethan is hugging him and bringing him home like they're -

"Silver?"

"Gimme a minute," he calls back. Like they're... what would they be? What are they? They're still friends, right? Is that all? Well, what else would there need to be? What else could they be? Rivals, sure, but -

"Okay! I got food whenever you're ready," he calls through the door, disregarding Silver's response, or maybe just building off it, it's hard to tell sometimes. "I'm microwaving some pancakes!"

"Can you microwave pancakes?"

"You can microwave microwavable ones!"

He laughs a bit to himself. Ethan certainly isn't wrong.

He hears the microwave turn on, so he shuts the water off and throws the towel around himself to dry off. This is new, new but familiar but somehow still foreign. A part of him wants to run back to the stability of training in the Dragon's Den and getting sick every month. It's not pleasant, but it's familiar, it's something he can understand, and it's less emotionally strenuous than being with Ethan and watching him make breakfast and hugging him and, and - where is this train of thought going? It's dead-ending in a pile of feelings he can't even explain to himself.

Again, Silver sighs. He throws his dry clothes on and heads out of the bathroom to face this mess he's found himself in.

"Hi," Ethan greets him with a smile. "Are you feeling okay?"

"Mm," he shrugs. "Been worse."

His smile falters at that. "What's wrong?"

"Just, uh," yeah, no, he's not about to get into all this shit, "just a little tired. I'm warmer, though."

"Good," and he grins again, more softly, quietly, as if he's about to lay him down to rest. "Do you wanna eat some pancakes with me and go back to sleep?"

"Sure." Admittedly, he doesn't think he can fall asleep right now, but food is always welcomed. This'll be the first meal in awhile he's legally obtained.

...actually, if he's going to be staying with Ethan, a lot of meals will be legally obtained. That's a weird idea; nice, but strange, but -

"Are you sure you're okay?" Ethan asks, snapping Silver out of his own little world.

"Yeah, sure." Not at all, but he's not getting into this right now, he refuses to get into all this shit. He's not about to make Ethan deal with his bullshit.

Their breakfast is eaten in more or less silence, leaving the two of them to their own thoughts. He finds it easy enough to ignore his mind in favor of food, though. It's been harder to come by as the holidays have come closer and the shops have more security. That might be part of why he gets so sick in winter, actually - or maybe it's just the cold? Whatever it is, it sucks.

Silver looks up at Ethan, and a part of him melts. He looks so happy with this stack of little microwavable pancakes. It's amazing to him that Ethan can be satisfied with the littlest things in life. It's amazing that Ethan can find the little things to be happy about.

"Do you think rocks have secrets?" Ethan asks through a mouthful of about 20% pancake and 80% syrup.

"What? Why?"

"'cause Clefairy really like them, and people talk about rocks with magical powers and stuff," he explains after another bite. "And like, some rocks can cause evolution, so like - "

"Sure, but what about that makes you think they have secrets?"

"Well like," another bite, "secret magic powers and stuff."

"I guess?" Ethan is weird sometimes. Silver doesn't have much room to talk, but Ethan really is weird sometimes.

"So maybe like, Clefairy are trying to get the power out of the rocks when they do their dances around them at the lakes they dance at. Fairies always do that in story books, right?"

"Those are just stories, Ethan."

"Well, they came from somewhere."

"Yeah, it's called imagination."

"But you get that from inspiration, so maybe..." Ethan grins stupidly at him. "I think I'm on to something."

Silver rolls his eyes. "Whatever makes you happy."

Woah wait -

"Well, believing in magic makes me happy, so I'm gonna keep believing! It makes things more fun that way. Like, I know there's a science reason that rings of mushrooms show up in Ilex Forest, but I like to imagine it's 'cause of fairies or something."

Whatever makes you happy?

"Don't spoil it for me though, okay? I don't wanna know the science-y stuff, 'cause that's not as fun."

The actual expression is whatever floats your boat, right? Where did that shit come from?

"Whatever," said out of an apprehension, almost a fear that his words will come out wrong again.

"...are you mad at me?"

"Nah."

"Are you sure?"

"Do you want me to be mad?" he snaps.

"No, I just wanna make sure you're okay!"

"I was until you got me into this situation."

Silence. Silver takes a moment to breathe in his emotions and exhale what he hopes is empathy.

"...you know I appreciate you, right?" Ethan nods shallowly. "I really do, I just... don't know how I feel about this."

"Oh."

"And you know how I am."

"I know... I just don't understand."

It's a conversation they've had before, of I don't want help and why? and that's just how I am. It's not something Silver has ever cared to explain in detail. Hell, it's not something he thinks he should explain. It's not something he needs to get into. It's jut a dumb personal thing, that's all.

"You don't need to understand, Ethan."

"But I want to."

"What is there to understand? I don't like people getting in my business, okay?"

"You don't like people worrying about whether or not you're safe? You don't like people caring about you?"

"No! That's why I keep telling you not to worry!"

The wind howls outside. The paper plates are coated in syrup and crumbs.

"What about this is confusing to you?"

Ethan shrugs. "I don't get why you don't want people to worry."

"I'm not worth worrying about. I know," his voice rings sharp, cutting off a thought Ethan was about to repeat, "I know we've already talked about the I'm not a completely irredeemable piece of shit thing. That doesn't mean I believe it."

Something in Ethan's eyes shudders, and Silver feels the reverberation of his self-doubt in his own chest. "How can I help you believe it?"

"You can't." Ice hits the window.

The room becomes quiet, and Ethan can't even try to fill the following hours of silence with small talk and fanciful theories. Silver knows, he knows he fucked up, but he needs Ethan to accept that he does not want help. He doesn't want to be weak, and that's just that. There's nothing else to it, there's no amount of begging and crying that's going to guilt him into sharing his issues with Ethan, and that's that.

...actually -

"I don't want help because I don't want to be weak." - maybe his guilt will win this round.

"Oh." He remains more or less quiet, though.

"Does that make sense?"

"I guess."

"Because of dad," Silver adds.

"Giovanni?"

He nods. "He was weak. I don't want to be like that."

"You're not."

The words resonate with him at a low frequency, deep in his chest but almost inaudible. "I'm trying not to be."

"Silver?"

"Hm?"

"Sometimes the strongest thing you can do is ask for help."

Silence. Silver lingers on that thought before he answers.

"Maybe I am weak."

"You're not."

He rolls his eyes. "Don't try to turn the tables on me. You're basically forcing your help on me. If asking for help is the strongest thing you can do, I'm far from it."

"...you're letting me help. That's a start."

He sighs. "Sure."

Then the room is quiet again, and Ethan is fast asleep by the early afternoon. They have a hundred unfinished conversations, all started but ultimately running into the same wall at a snail's pace. It's just... deathly silent now, with everyone's soliloquies started, but there's an audience, and the musings can't end until the world is empty. Half of Silver wonders if he should run away while Ethan is taking his nap.

And that half wins.

Ethan,

I'm going back to the den to pick stuff up. I'll be back in a few.

- Silver

He scrawls the note on the inn's shitty notepad and sticks it on the bed beside the sleeping Champion of Johto, and he's off into the cold once more.

The wind is killing him easily, stealing his breath and adding it to the gales of ice and snow. He wonders if this is what the end of the world will feel like, if everything will freeze over, and the only semblance of vitality will be in sheer cold and lifeless shrieks of wind against snapping trees and achingly frozen ground. The snow is so heavy and so cold that he can walk across the water cutting the Dragon's Den off from the mainland, like some kind of miracle worker using his powers for nothing of any value.

Silver climbs down the ladder, his fingers already stinging from the ice that's grown across the rickety wood. He lands in half a meter of snow, piled up from the winds shoving it down here. He worries numbly about the dragons in here, wondering if they'll be safe in these conditions. If the waters in here manage to ice over in even the smallest patches, the dragon types are going to get very sick very quickly. Dratini aren't exactly known for being the hardiest of Pokémon, and wild ones are often even more frail. It's their low survival rate that leads them to being so endangered - that, and the illegal trading of the tiny dragons.

Oh, he's familiar with illegality. 

"Can I have a Dratini when I'm a Pokémon trainer, dad?"

"Of course you can."

"Can I have that one?"

"Oh, no, no. You just be patient, boy, and I'll find you the strongest one I can fish up."

Silver walks to the edge of the water. There is frost on the ground.

"But I want one've those ones!"

"You'll need only the finest if you wanna be like your old man. Those ones are all too weak for a kid like you. You don't want to be a weak trainer, do you?"

"Nope! Never! I'm gonna be as strong as you one day!"

He remembers how Giovanni laughed and ruffled his hair, and suddenly it feels too cold down here.

"What Pokémon am I gonna get as a starter?"

"I was going to surprise you, but... let's have a look, shall we?"

"Woah! What is that?!"

"We call this Pokémon Sneasel. You can only find them where it's colder than cold, so you can imagine how special this guy is."

"He's so cool! Can I train him now?"

He looks out over the water. He watches chunks of ice form slowly, then all at once like a time-lapse.

"Be patient, boy. You're not old enough to be a trainer just yet."

"But dad!"

"...I suppose it couldn't hurt to play with him, though."

"Yay! Thank you! He's gonna be the best Sneasel in the world!"

"I don't doubt that. You're gonna be a prodigy."

He takes a few steps into the lake, barely a centimeter of water threatening to freeze him in place.

"I wanna make you proud, dad."

"You're already well on your way, Silver."

His phone rings, and he lets it ring.

"Can I take over the Viridian City gym for you when I'm a trainer?"

"Now, why would you do that?"

"'cause I wanna prove how strong I am!"

Again, it rings, and he lets it ring. 

"Don't you think you should aim higher?"

"But I wanna be like you!"

He's numb and lost in another era.

"I want to see you become a Champion, boy. I know you can do it."

"Would that make you proud?"

He doesn't remember how Giovanni answered.

Silver feels cold, tired. He's exhausted from dealing with childhood memories, with Ethan - with everything, really. He's tired of dealing with Ethan's unrelenting kindness and something that could be called affection, and yet it's an affection he hasn't had since he last heard that voice, a voice he hasn't heard since the words one day, you will understand, and still Silver has never understood. He understands the kindness of a father but not the reality that was, that is Giovanni, and he certainly doesn't understand the kindness ten times stronger from the Champion of the Johto region.

His phone rings a third time, and at last, he picks up. He needs to get out of here.

"Where did you go?" It's Ethan, of course.

"Did you get my note?"

"Y-Yeah, but, where are you right now?"

"In the Dragon's Den...?" It's half a question, because he should know this already. "I wrote that, right?"

"Yeah, you did, but - "

"Then what's the problem?"

"I dunno how long you've been gone!"

"I've only been out for like, maybe ten minutes." He checks his phone, and realizes no, that's a lie. It's gone from before noon to half past four in the evening... Ugh. Just like him to get lost in thought and lose a few hours. "Whatever. I'll be back soon."

"Okay," but he sounds uncertain, "just be quick. The wind chill is getting dangerously low. It's really not safe out there."

"I know, I know. I'll see you soon."

And he suddenly realizes he didn't actually have anything to look for our here, and he was intending on just leaving Ethan behind, or being left behind, or doing something, anything to get back to any semblance of normalcy. He was going to just give up the ghost and leave it all be, let Ethan go home crying, or maybe even yell at him so much that he would hate Silver unconditionally, and that would be the end of that, and this wouldn't be so complicated and uncomfortable and - and -

"Ethan."

He... He says that involuntarily. His voice works on autopilot to ground him sometimes, and sometimes it's fine, but sometimes he throws himself off and is even more confused than when he began. He's supposed to be walking away from Ethan, and yet -

"Ethan."

- and yet he can't give him up. He can't give up someone like Ethan Aurelia.

Silence eats away at him for seconds or minutes, he's not sure. Eventually he realizes that the only thing he left here is the sorry excuse for a blanket. He has to come back with something, though, or Ethan will know he was lying, and that'll be another argument. He surfs across the water with Feraligatr in a trance-like state, only coming out of his haze when the starter growls at the hunks of ice hitting his body. It's too cold to swim, but he'll be back in his pokéball soon, and Silver will be back in the inn soon, back with Ethan, in his arms waitwhat -

His phone pings with a message. It's Ethan, of course. It's been three minutes max.

[Silver it's been half an hour where are you]

Woah, what?

{it's been like three minutes??}

[no. check your call history, it'll tell you when I last called.]

Sure enough, the last call was sent out at 4:31 in the evening. It's now 5:02 Jesus Christ - 

{oh. i think i spaced out i guess}

[okay. please just come back i'm worried and the snow is getting really deep.]

{omw}

It can't be more than a minute later - yeah, no, he's right this time. It's been maybe thirty seconds at most.

[are you mad at me]

He doesn't answer. Half a minute later, another message comes through.

[Silver]

{i'm not mad. i'm just confused and trying to figure some stuff out on my own} His hands freeze over in the seconds it takes to type that reply. He literally can't check his phone again until he gets inside, unless he decides he doesn't need his fingers after all. He only checks his message when the door to the small inn closes.

[what do you mean]

{i'm reflecting on a lot of personal stuff and i don't wanna talk about it}

Silver barely walks up to the door of their one-bed lodging when Ethan opens it.

"O-Oh, hi," the champion greets him bashfully. "I-I, um, I was just, uh..."

He's wearing his coat and scarf. "You were gonna come look for me, weren't you?"

"Well... yeah."

He forces a smile, but he thinks Ethan can tell it's forced. "You're nuts."

"Nuh-uh! You're nuts for going back outside in the first place!"

"I've been out in bad weather before."

"Yeah, but you haven't been out in a blizzard!"

"Have you?" he asks, letting himself into the warm room god this feels nice -

"Actually, yes."

"Woah, what?!"

"On Mount Silver!" Ethan clarifies. "It's always blizzarding up there!"

"I - you - " He's not sure whether he's more surprised at the fact that, yes, Ethan is a champion who battled the World Champion Red, or if he's more confused that said champion made blizzard into a verb. "R-Right."

Ethan grins cheekily at Silver. "Did you forget I'm actually pretty good at battling?"

Silver rolls his eyes. "Shut up. I only ever see you battle when it's us two."

"Well, maybe one day we can go explore Kanto again and battle some new people! I wanna rematch against Green, so I gotta go back when the weather is nicer."

There it is again, this sudden lightness after an apparent overwhelming worry. "Ethan."

"Huh?"

"Were you actually worried about me?"

"Of course I was," and Silver can't doubt that voice. "Why do you think I wouldn't be?"

Because he's been trapped in his thoughts, trapped in a tornado of time and space, and he can't make sense of anything. "You seem fine now."

"I mean..." Ethan fidgets with his scarf. "I wanna be happy now that I know you're okay. 'cause I don't wanna bog you down with bad vibes or whatever."

That's - "That's ridiculous," he replies as Ethan gets his winter clothes back off. "I do that shit to you all the time. The least I could do for you is hear you out if you're not feeling all the way there."

"O-Oh."

There's a stillness between them for a moment, a swirling of thoughts left unsaid - and thoughts said without a thought, words blurted out without considering what they could mean or do, actions taken on impulse. Do you want me to be mad and I don't want help because I don't want to be weak, walking out on half a whim and offering comfort without second thought. Every motion they've made is hanging between them, painting a strange scene of nothing in particular, a story with no real end, hardly a beginning or even a rising action, just a strange series of events with nothing to prove.

"Sorry for worrying so much, Silver."

And now Silver does something that made him feel like he'd been killed and reborn.

"It's okay."

He's hugging him.

"Thank you for caring about me."

Silver is hugging him and he feels hotter than a boiling shower.

"But don't get used to me being soft, okay?"

Ethan giggles and hugs back, and now the fire is burning both of them up; maybe the fire is just melting off layers of ice they've built up from leaving the windows of their hearts open to the snow.

"Okay, fine. I still want you to hug me more when you're okay with it, okay?"

Oh, he's more than okay with this, but like hell he'd admit it. "Don't get your hopes up."

"Mhm." He feels Ethan smile, hears him sigh in peaceful content.

And Silver realizes that the last time anyone cared about him this much was never, because nothing can compare to Ethan Aurelia.

Chapter Text

He doesn't expect constant conversation, but some distraction would be nice.

Part of it is that Ethan is being left to his thoughts, and today he's just too sensitive for that. He already kinda cried his heart out over Silver today, but now that he's here, at least that's sorted out. Kinda. He's not sure if Silver maybe intended to run off, or if he really was just picking something up from the Dragon's Den. He's trying to just ignore it, just focus on anything else, but now that Silver is quiet, Ethan's alone in his own head. Basically, he's already wound up, and now he's struggling to keep himself steady.

There's a lot to think about, a lot to feel, but he just needs a distraction.

For the moment, Ethan is curled up on the bed, flipping through his pokédex absent-mindedly. Silver is at the window staring out into nothing, into the snow, thinking of who knows what. Ethan needs to hear something, anything.

"Silver?"

"Hm." It's barely an answer, a hum so quiet that he doesn't know if it was real or not.

"Did you hear me?"

"Yeah."

"...are you okay?"

"Just thinking."

"Oh. Okay."

And that's the end of that.

Ethan looks out into the snow, trying to follow Silver's gaze, but the glare of the lamp blocks most of his view. He wonders if Silver can even see anything out there with how dark it is.

"What's out there?"

"Mm. Nothing." That's all he says, so the room stays still again. Ethan wants to confront Silver about his behavior, since this is his closest friend (sometimes it feels like his only friend), but he's not that assertive.

That thought encompasses everything that's eating away at him, but he won't look into it.

This is what Ethan doesn't like about himself: he isn't even honest with himself. It's not like he's one to lie, no, but he never gives the whole truth and nothing but. He's empathetic, painfully so, but the one benefit in that is the ability to hide from his own emotions. This isn't the only reason he wants to help Silver, that's obvious, but it is a reason, and it's one of the most selfish ones, and he hates that. He shouldn't be helping himself, he should -

Think of something else.

Ethan flips through his pokédex, trying to distract himself. The entry he has up is about Dragonite, from when he was talking to Lance the other day. He had noticed then - and he still recalls now - that Lance is really a picturesque champion. He's strong, he doesn't back down from a challenge, and he's always looking to get stronger, be stronger, growing up even past his childhood. Ethan wondered then, and wonders now; is he ever going to have that kind of character? Is it bad that Ethan is still childish?

Should I even be a champion?

He often wonders about that. He feels out of place, unusual in the Indigo League's building atop a plateau in Kanto. He battled, he won, but those aren't his peers; they're his superiors, and he's still a kid at the bottom of this world. He wonders if Red felt that way, but at the very least, it sounds like he acted more mature than Ethan does now. His flights of fancy are just that, aren't they? Maybe he should take Silver's comment more seriously. Those are just stories, and he's just a kid who believes that the world is still magical and exciting, and he wonders if somehow, in some gross way, he's wrong to not have lost that childhood wonder yet, if he's wrong for not growing up, if -

Shut up.

Ethan's grip on his pokédex is tight enough to turn his fingers white. He needs to get out of his head. He needs to do something worthwhile.

"Watch'a thinkin' about?" Ethan asks, testing the waters with Silver.

"Not much." Seems they're frozen over.

"I was thinking of trying to raise a Seel," he comments, even though that's totally made up (not a liar, huh?). "I know Lyra has one, but I dunno how well they do in battle, so I'm reading some stuff about them." No answer. "Sil?"

"Still listening." It doesn't feel like that, but - no, stop, just talk.

"'cause like," he continues, "I don't really have an ice type on my team, but I know that training an ice Pokémon can be kinda hard. Seel are only water types, but I wanna figure out what to do when they evolve into a Dewgong. I guess ice types can be really reclusive, but I wanna make sure everyone on my team gets along. Lyra says hers is pretty social, but that's 'cause she's socialized it for like, a few years by this point, 'specially when it was a Seel. I bet - "

His Pokégear rings, and Ethan picks up without even checking the caller ID. He needs a distraction.

"Ethan, honey, where are you?" It's his mom - oh shoot, he hasn't even tried to call her all day.

"I'm up in Blackthorn, remember? I said I was gonna visit Silver," he answers.

"Well, you must have left early, because I haven't seen you today. I've been trying to call all day, but you haven't picked up once."

Huh? "What do you mean? I didn't get any calls." She sighs, annoyed at his absence -

"Ugh, must be the snowstorm, then." - or just the snow, okay, that's okay. "Are you somewhere safe, honey? It is way too cold to be out there with your friend, you know."

"Yeah, we - " but she cuts him off, as moms tend to do.

"And is he doing alright, too? He oughta be inside somewhere with weather like this."

"Yeah, I was about to say we're at an inn in Blackthron," Ethan replies. "We figured we'd stay the night 'cause it's snowing too much to go anywhere."

"You'd better get home tomorrow morning, though, alright?" she insists, protective as always. "It's supposed to snow again tomorrow night."

"Seriously? It's already snowing so much, though!"

"Nature does whatever she wants, honey." Well, she's not wrong. "Are you still bringing Silver with you?"

"Yeah." He... He thinks Silver is coming with him, at least. There's a chance that he'll try to just run off again, and Ethan is going to have to really fight to keep him nearby. He would rather not let him stay out in this weather, especially in the blizzard of the century. He's sure there's never been a snowstorm as bad as this one in at least a century.

"Good, good. Call me when you're on your way home, then, okay? Don't stall, either. I don't want you to get stuck in another snowstorm."

"I know, I know," he insists. "I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

"See you then, honey. Stay warm!"

With that, she hangs up. Ethan notices that Silver is looking at him, now.

"Who was that?" he asks before Ethan can explain.

"My mom just called to see where I was. I guess she tried calling earlier, but the snow must'a messed with the signal, or something." Pause. "I told her I was coming to visit you, but I think she figured I should be home by now. I guess I should've called her at some point..."

"Mm."

"...is everything okay?"

Silver is quiet for a moment. Then, "It must be nice."

"Huh?"

"Having a good relationship with her." Silver looks back out the window at that.

Oh. "Yeah."

Silence. The wind outside howls. Thoughts are creeping back up.

"Silver?" No answer, please answer. "What are you thinking about?"

"...I mean," and that tone indicates this is going to be an event, "I don't get it. Giovanni was completely fine with living in hiding for like, two years after he got taken down by a ten year old, but he just up and left one day out of the fucking blue. There wasn't even anything that set him off, there wasn't a police raid on our house, no overseas family trauma, nothing. He just left one day, and I never understood a word of why. He acted like I'd understand when I got older, and I'm fourteen now, and it still doesn't make a lick of fucking sense." Pause, then softly, "Things were fine for awhile. They really were. It all just fell apart one day."

He... Ethan doesn't know what to say. He's never felt anything even close to whatever Silver must be feeling. He's never been abandoned by a parent he loved - oh, his dad isn't around either, but he never knew the man. Silver is over here, trapped with memories of life going on and things going well, and suddenly all of that was just torn away.

"I'm sorry." And he doesn't know what to say. Some friend he is. "I-I... I don't know what to say. I don't even remember what my dad was like. I just know mom kicked him out because of something or other."

"Honestly, I'd prefer that over what happened."

He nods softly, searching for any sort of comfort he can offer. They've had conversations like this, but they've been far and few between. Never once has Ethan known what to say. Usually, the visit has ended with Silver asking Ethan to leave so he can be to himself, but that's not really an option right now, so they're at a stalemate. He feels bad for -

"Ariana wasn't any better either," he continues, pulling Ethan away from another spiral. "She basically just fucked Giovanni to get rich quick, and it's not like he actually gave a damn about her, either. I guess... I guess he did want to be a father eventually, so when he found out she was pregnant, he said - he told me this - he said he told her he was excited to be a father, and she just went along with it, but only because she wanted to keep living the good life. I only remember talking to her maybe once a week at most. I think that's why he put Archer in charge of Team Rocket after he left. Adding insult to injury for her, or something."

Huh. "I didn't know Ariana was your mom."

"What, you didn't notice the obvious red hair?"

"I dunno. Other people have red hair."

"True. Still, calling her my mom," and Ethan can practically hear the air-quotes, "is a hell of an overstatement."

"I guess that's how things are with dad, since I don't even remember him. Didn't she watch over you after Giovanni left, though?"

"Oh, hell no. Archer kept an eye on me, then I ran away a few years after with Sneasel." Pause. "Then I met you."

Ethan tries to smile, begs for some happiness to fill the room, wills himself to settle down. "I'm really glad we met."

Silver is quiet for a moment before he answers. "Me too."

"You really are a good friend, you know that?"

No answer, but Ethan can see Silver smile for half a second. That's enough of a reply to that.

"...what's your family life like?" Silver asks after maybe half an minute of nothing but wind and the absent-minded beeps from Ethan's pokédex.

"Um, good," he answers, because honestly, he's not sure how detailed to be right now. He's worried about being too blunt with Silver, about saying too much, bragging in some way about how good his life is or something like that. "Mom always watches out for us. Lyra heckles me a lot, but she's a good sister. She makes sure no one gives me too much trouble when we hang out."

"What's it like having a sibling?"

"It's a ride," he grins. "We get ourselves into all sorts of shenanigans. We used to try sneaking out of the house with Mom's Starmie and get him to surf us over to the Pokémon League, 'cause we totally thought we'd be able to win like that. Lyra was like, oh, Starmie has ice type moves, so he can knock Lance's dragons out, and we'll be Pokémon Champions! Obviously, that never happened, but we were only like, seven at the time."

"Well, you're a champion now."

That's debatable.

"Well, yeah. We liked to explore the woods around New Bark a lot, too," he continues, pulling away from this champion thing. "Mom would always come with us and make sure no wild Pokémon jumped out and attacked us, but they were always really docile. Lyra used to tell me there was a hidden treasure buried behind Professor Elm's lab, but I think she just liked tricking me into getting covered in dirt." Pause. "I dunno. We just kinda explored and learned about the world together. I think that's part of what makes having a sibling fun. You're never really alone. Mostly," he adds that last word a bit more quietly. Oh boy, more insecurities. Must be cabin fever.

"Mostly?"

He hesitates. "I mean, I didn't expect her to always hang out with me, but she's more extraverted than I am. So she started, like... leaving me in the dust when we went to get our gym badges," he confesses, something he never really mentioned to anyone before. "I dunno. She got way ahead of me, 'cause I don't really rush much, and I got caught up with Team Rocket. She actually challenged the Indigo League twice before giving up and going home for a bit, and that was before I even got Clair's badge. I think that was right after the incident at the radio tower."

Silver nods, listening, but offers no insight of his own - well, of course not, he's an only child. "I guess I always thought of you as extraverted."

Ethan laughs a bit. "No, no! I can talk to people, but it usually tires me out. I think I can talk to you a lot 'cause you're also kinda quiet, so we work well together."

"Hm."

"I'm usually more quiet, though." Pause. "And," and now he's being quite candid, "sometimes I wonder if I'm just out of place."

Silver shoots him a confused look. "You're out of place?"

"I mean," he backpedals, "not in the way you feel, I-I guess. I just mean that I feel out of place around her." Pause. "And around the Pokémon League, too," and now his heart is leaking. "I-I mean, I know Red and Green were like, about my age when they became champions, but I feel like they seemed... they fit better in the League when they were fourteen than I do now. Crystal was like that too."

"What do you mean by out of place, though?" He can't bring himself to look at Silver.

"It's just a feeling," he sighs, because he doesn't know how to put it into words properly. "I just... I feel like I'm not as mature or serious as anyone else. I can definitely battle, 'cause I did beat the Indigo League twice, but... I dunno. I just feel like more of a kid around the League than I think I should. Like, it made sense when I was ten, but now, I feel like I should be more..."

"...more mature?" He took the words right out of Ethan's heart.

"Exactly," he breathes. "I dunno what it is. I feel like I'm a hundred years younger than everyone I meet. Even Lyra! She can be kinda immature sometimes, but in a way that still feels more mature than me. I know fourteen isn't even that old, but I still feel like I'm even younger than that, and it's," and he's almost realizing this fully for the first time, "i-it makes me feel kinda inadequate."

Ethan looks back to the window, and Silver is gone - wait, other way. He's sitting next to him on the bed, now.

"...does that make sense?" he asks meekly. He feels his voice tremor.

"I understand." Silver's eyes wander around the room. "I always feel that way just because of how I came up. I'm the kid of a mob boss, technically a criminal, a runaway, whatever. The only way I feel even remotely worth anything is because I got this far, you know? I'm not really in a good spot, but like... I'm alive. That's something."

"Right."

"And because of you, too. I-I know I said I don't totally believe you," that doesn't mean I believe it, "but you really are helpful." Something is stuck in Ethan's throat. "...Ethan? You okay?"

"I dunno."

There's a thousand feelings pooling in his chest. There's the confusion over his feelings for Silver, guilt from not having called home, a fear that Silver will run away, an inadequacy about his being a champion - and now wondering what a champion is supposed to be. When he sees Green and Red, or Crystal, or Lance, he sees another world, another species, those are champions and he's just a kid who's in way over his head and I don't know if I even deserve any of this -

Maybe this is empathy. Maybe he absorbed some of Silver's self-doubt, his fears of never being worth anything. More likely, though, is that this is something Ethan has been hiding from himself. Maybe this is an insecurity he swallowed down and drowned out with words of encouragement to Silver. Maybe this is something he's been ignoring, because he's had someone else to help, someone else to protect from his own heart, and maybe it's just now that Ethan is realizing - perhaps re-realizing - that he's in an ocean of expectations he can't fulfill.

He can be a good friend, though - ah, but now, he's just dumping his heart on someone else, and that's not what a good friend would do, is it?

"Hey."

Silver's voice is so soft. His hand on his is even softer.

"Y-Yeah?" Ethan's voice wavers more noticeably this time.

"Do you want to keep talking, or no?" Ethan only shakes his head, fearing that he'll totally shatter if he says anything too soon.

"S-Sorry, I-I guess I should be helping you, b-but..."

"Ethan, you've done more than enough for me. Take some time for yourself."

He wants to, but the only thing that makes him feel better is knowing that he can make other people feel better. He's not doing a good job of that right now, though.

"Ethan." He can't find his voice to answer. "Do you think you'll feel better if you get some sleep?"

"Maybe." His voice is barely above a whisper.

"You should do that, then."

He needs to settle his nerves about something, anything, he needs any kind of closure. "Y-You're not gonna leave in the middle of the night, are you?"

"I doubt you'll let me, and the wind chill is awful, so no. I don't want to leave you, anyway." That last part is mumbled more, a hint of shyness he tries to coat under indifference. It's one of the little things that makes Silver who he is, and it's one of the things that Ethan loves about him.

Loves. Hm.

"Promise?"

"I promise." Okay, okay, maybe he can get some sleep. "Just trust me, Ethan, okay?"

"I trust you." He tests the waters again, leaning over onto Silver just a bit.

"Then get some sleep." He doesn't push away, though. The ice is melting. Ethan lets himself get lost in Silver now; not in his worries or troubles, no. Just in Silver himself.

"Are you gonna sleep too?"

"Eh. I'm not really tired yet."

"Okay, but we gotta head out early tomorrow. Mom said there's another snowstorm coming in tomorrow night."

"Ugh."

"Yeah, I know. That means you gotta sleep, too."

"Fine, whatever. You can have the bed, just give me a pillow."

"What?"

It's only now that Silver pulls away. "What do you mean what? There's only one bed."

"Yeah?" Silver just looks at him. "What's the problem with that?"

"...there's two of us."

"Yeah...?"

"Ethan, can you do math?"

"Yeah, and my math says the bed isn't that small!" Oh, it kinda is, but he's fine with distracting himself with Silver in any way possible - hell, he's fine considering that love thing over anything else.

"Fine, whatever." Aw, he's blushing. "Just don't steal all the covers."

"Don't worry about that! If it's that cold," and okay uh, he's just kinda saying this, apparently his heart is just on autopilot and desperate for a distraction, this doesn't mean anything - "you can cuddle with me for more warmth."

Silver's cheeks flush bright red, then a pillow smacks Ethan in the face. "Sh-Shut up! You're - I'm - I-I'm gonna go get changed. Don't do anything stupid while I'm gone."

"No promises!" Ethan giggles as Silver storms off.

Ethan shamelessly fawns over Silver for the minutes he's gone to keep the rest of his thoughts away.

Chapter Text

He wakes up out of nowhere.

Ethan opens his eyes and is greeted with a dim room, with a low beam of light slinking in through the thin curtains. He almost thinks it must be morning, but it's still too dark out, even for winter. Maybe it's a floodlight out there, or something. Someone must be walking around outside, then. So... maybe the snow let up?

Ethan rolls over and sees Silver sleeping next to him, and his memories come back into focus. His slew of surreal dreams almost made him forget he spent the night in Blackthorn and took Silver away from the freezing winds. He looks content now - well, most people look pretty calm when they're sleeping, but Silver looks especially at ease. It's odd, seeing someone who's typically so high-strung and ready to battle looking so... calm. He's, um, pretty, too, with the way his hair falls just so, definitely bedhead, but it almost looks perfectly swept. He's just... pretty.

...he wonders if Silver can tell he's staring.

Despite the fact that his friend is dead asleep, Ethan averts his gaze and sits up, checking the clock on the nightstand: four in the morning, which means... he got four hours of sleep. He should go back to bed until morning, he thinks. Maybe the weather will clear up by then.

He looks at Silver again, and he feels... he feels a lot. He's filled with adoration and anxiety, butterflies in his stomach that might be moths instead. Topping all his racing thoughts off with this weird new something-or-other isn't making falling sleep very easy. The cabin fever leaves him with just his thoughts and Silver - then just his thoughts, once Silver fell asleep, and now his head is just a racing slurry of you're so pretty and I really really like you and I wonder how much you like me and... it's just a lot. Admittedly, he'd rather think about Silver than his own flaws, but Ethan then has to face the reality that these feelings could ruin their friendship.

It... It wouldn't come to that, right?

Ethan hops out of the bed with a sigh and walks to the window. He needs to just watch the snow fall and clear his head. He opens the curtain and -

It's not snowing.

"Huh."

Ethan quietly checks his phone for the weather. It looks like it isn't supposed to snow again until about seven in the morning (well, now they're calling for hail), which means the latest they can leave is around six. Then again, the blizzard could kick back up before then. Ethan has lived in Johto long enough to know that they're on the bad side of Mount Silver, and when they get snow, they get a lot of snow, and it comes whatever it wants.

Maybe they can just head home now. That would maybe save him a little bit of the awkwardness of bringing Silver home. It's not that he would rather leave his friend in the cold, no, but Ethan's mom can be... yeah. He loves her, but she gets to be a bit much some days. Helping Silver settle in before dealing with mom would be good.

Ethan looks over at Silver, eyeing him nervously. If Silver already has his qualms about accepting someone's help, Ethan's main worry is that his mom might be just a touch overbearing. He doesn't know if there's going to be any way to make it not awkward, though, between his mother mom-ing them and Lyra - augh, Lyra is definitely going to make a scene out of this, too. She's already caught on to the fact that Ethan might have a thing for Silver, before Ethan himself even realized it. He just... ugh, he just wants to take his friend home so he can be safe through the winter. Is that too much to ask? Is he just being paranoid, though?

A gust of wind rattles something metal outside. Maybe they should get going now, unless they want to get snowed in.

"Sil."

No answer.

"Hey, Sil." Ethan nudges him gently. 

Silver stirs now. He's not too happy about being woken up, clearly.

"What fuckin' time is it?"

"Uh... four," and Silver groans, "but it stopped snowing, and it might start snowing again soon, so - "

"Ethan."

"I mean, w-we don't need to leave right now, but the latest we can leave is like, six, 'cause it's gonna hail around seven, and we should fly home before it does." Pause. "Also, uh, it might snow sooner than seven, so..."

"Ugh." Silver shoves his face back in the pillow.

"Sil...?"

"Give me ten minutes to wake up, then we can go."

"Okay." Pause. "I'm uh, gonna get my stuff packed then, okay?"

"Mhm."

"Do you need to pack too?"

"Ngh." Welp. He's gone.

Ethan starts packing his bags and tidying up the room a little, not wanting to leave too much of a mess for the staff. He used to wonder why his mom bothered cleaning their hotel rooms when they'd stay down in Cianwood for a week of beach time, since it's the staff's job to clean the rooms anyway, but the logistics of courtesy were still foreign to a five year old Ethan. Trying to be somewhat responsible here is the least he can to to pretend he has some maturity. He supposes that getting the room for the storm instead of just trying to trek through the snow was responsible enough, but that's not really setting the bar too high, is it?

He's still not where he wants to be in life, though, and the conversation some hours ago floods his mind again. Maybe the cold air will clear his head when they fly home.

"You still awake?" Ethan asks, pulling himself out of the start of a downward spiral.

"Yeah," Silver answers, even though he's still tucked in.

"Uh... you do wanna go soon, right? I guess we can wait another hour, but - "

"Well, you already woke me up, didn't you?"

His heart is too soft for this snippy tone tonight. "Sorry."

"Eh, don't be," and now Silver sits up. "The less time we need to rent a room, the better. Lemme get dressed, and we'll head out."

"Okay."

Maybe... what is it? He just doesn't feel right tonight. Ethan is a morning person, but it is pretty early (or late, he's never sure with the ungodly morning hours), so maybe he's just not at his best just yet - but he fell apart last night (this night?), too, so...

Ethan takes a few deep breaths, listening to the faint wind outside and the sink running in the bathroom. He needs to stay here, present. He focuses all his attention on the cold air hitting his skin as he changes out of his pajamas, the soft cotton of his white shirt and the warmth of his sweater, the little swish his pants make when he kicks them on, the weight of his shoes that always feel a little too heavy the first time he puts them on when he wakes up, footsteps, the soft light from the window, the dim glow of the bathroom light seeping into the bedroom, a murmur, the pressure from his backpack straps on his shoulders when he -

"Ethan."

"Huh?"

Silver is looking at him with something that may or may not be concern. "You good?"

"Yeah, just sleepy." Not a liar, but apparently even that was a lie, wasn't it? "I wanna get home before the snow, though."

"Mhm."

All he can focus on is Silver's eyes for a moment, grey and cool, before he finds his words again. "You ready to go?"

"Yeah."

"Alright." Something feels wrong. "Uh, let's get the keys back to the check-in lady, then we'll fly out, okay?"

"After you."

Nothing feels right, and Ethan doesn't know if it's just him, or if it's the whole world.

The sound of jingling metal and footfalls on hardwood are enough to keep him in the physical world, but the wind breezing past Ethan as he leads Silver back to New Bark somehow isn't enough. Ethan lets his fingers run over Xatu's feathers, desperately trying to urge her to release some psychic energy, something to keep him focused on anything but his own head, but she either doesn't notice, or doesn't have enough energy to fly and ground him. It's not her job, anyway. It's not anyone's job but his own to keep himself steady.

Ethan, though, feels like a child, like a kid lost in a mall, looking for a way out, or even just a sign of something, anything familiar, anything to soothe him in such an unforgiving terrain. He's lost in the rows upon rows of identical storefronts, shops named you're not Champion material and Silver didn't want your help and what made you think you could be responsible and what makes you think he likes you, and the exit signs are too far above his head to see, and even the red lights mean nothing when he's too young to read and the mall is filled with neon lights, kiosks selling bootleg video games and incense and overpriced pokédolls.

"Xaa?"

Ethan nearly jumps, but he manages to keep himself from plummeting off of Xatu's back. He must have been gripping her too tight, or something.

"S-Sorry, sorry," he mumbles over the wind, just loud enough for her to hear, he thinks. His heart is racing.

For the remaining half of the trip, Ethan forces himself to focus on his breathing, measuring each shuddering gasp. They land in New Bark after 649 breaths, in and out, and he still doesn't feel steady.

"Are you alright?" Silver asks when he lands just behind Ethan. The crunching snow offers one full second of calm before the moths in his stomach overtake him again.

"Yeah, I'm fine," but his voice is hoarse, probably from mildly hyperventilating in the dry, freezing wind.  "Just, um, uh..."

His mind is blank, completely blank.

Then, he gets the feeling that this was a terrible idea. He feels like he's in ten meters over his head.

"Do you wanna get out of the cold?" Silver asks. Each word processes individually in Ethan's mind.

"Um... yeah."

Pause. "Should we go inside, then?"

"Yeah." Go inside, in the house - which Ethan has to open, he needs to open the door, he can manage at least that much because he can just barely be trusted with a key to his own house - "Yeah."

There's a sudden fire on his wrist, magma surging over his skin in contrast to the rest of the air around them, and - and -

"Ethan?"

It's the heat of Silver's hand, holding his wrist. That's enough to bring him back for at least a few seconds or so.

"Are you sure you're okay? You seem really out of it."

Not a liar, he says.

"I dunno." And he's really not sure if he's lying anymore, he's not sure if this is a weird emotional spell, or if something else brought all this on. "Um... let's go inside. Try to be quiet, though, 'cause I don't want mom to wake up. She's probably still asleep."

"I'd hope most people'd be asleep at five in the morning," Silver mumbles. It sounds like it's supposed to be a joking tone, but Ethan can still hear something bitter in it - or maybe that's just him - or maybe not, he's not sure of anything.

Even though Ethan's house gets cold at night, it feels like a spring day compared to the air outside. The only light on the first floor comes from the nightlights, one in the kitchen and the other halfway up the staircase. It's definitely enough light for Ethan to navigate by, but he holds Silver's hand to lead him through the dark, so he doesn't trip (or maybe the gesture is actually so that Ethan has something to keep himself out of his own head). The stairs gently creak as they make their way upstairs, soft enough that no one should wake up, but loud enough for Ethan to focus on, the rhythm echoing in his memory from every night he would sneak up and down to get snacks or water or some such thing from the kitchen. The dark wooden handrail is cold, the painted walls even colder, the doorknob to his room is a little warmer with it's fake metal finish, and finally, they're home.

Ethan is home, and so is Silver.

He's still holding Silver's hand, he realizes, but he doesn't have the modesty to let go right now.

"So, uh, welcome to my room. It's a little messy, but... hey, it's warm," Ethan grins. He's still thinking maybe a word ahead of himself tonight. God, this is impossible.

"It doesn't look that messy," Silver replies, even though it's probably too dark to even see (hence, it was dumb for Ethan to even mention the messiness).

"That's good."

The room is silent now. There's not much to say in the wee hours of the morning, but there's everything in the world to think about.

"Um..." Ethan searches helplessly for something to say. "Did you wanna get some more sleep before the sun comes up?"

"Trust me, I could sleep well after the sun comes up," Silver replies, and Ethan manages to laugh a little. "But, yeah, sleep sounds nice. I have a massive headache right now."

"O-Oh." His heart sinks. "Sorry for waking you up."

"I told you it's fine," Silver says with a bit of a snap in his voice, just his natural snippiness, but it still hurts Ethan's fragile heart in this moment. "It's not like you gave me the headache."

"I-I know, but," and he doesn't even need to defend himself, but he does anyway, "I-I still feel bad for waking you up when you could've slept longer and not had a headache."

"It's probably just the weather."

Ethan isn't buying it, though. "D-Do you need medicine before you go to sleep? O-Or, um, water, or... something?"

"Nah, just sleep. But hey," he offers, "you got us here, so now we don't have to wake up in another hour to travel."

"Right." His voice feels weak.

"...Ethan."

Silver grips his hand tighter, but Ethan can't think of a way to respond.

"What's with you?"

A thousand thoughts swirl through him, insecurity and anxiety that he usually keeps wrapped under layers of optimism and curiosity and energy, but none of that light breaks through the moon nor the storm clouds overhead, and -

"Nothing, I'm fine," and Ethan finally pulls away from Silver. "I-I'm, I, I just... need to sleep. That's all."

Ethan refuses to look at Silver, but he hears his concern loud and clear. "You're acting weird."

"Sorry. I-I'll be back to normal tomorrow."

"I mean, that's good," he starts, "but if something's bugging you, you may as well tell me now instead of worrying about it all night."

He feels sick, genuinely sick. "I just need to sleep."

"I'm not buying it."

"Well," Ethan's voice wavers, "neither am I."

"Then what is it?" Silver whispers.

Pause. Then, "I don't know. Everything?"

Silver raises an eyebrow. "Give me somewhere to start, Ethan."

"I'm supposed to be helping you, not the other way around," he replies with a forced laugh.

"Yeah, you helped by getting me out of a blizzard. Lemme pay you back."

His chest is tight. "Not right now. I-I swear, I'll be fine, I just need some sleep, and I'll feel better in the morning."

"It's already kinda morning," Silver comments, gesturing to Ethan's alarm clock; 5:29, dark and early. "If I can dump my emotional baggage on you - "

"It's not like that," Ethan cuts him off. "I actually want to help you."

"So do I, and you're making that as hard on me as I make it on you." Silver crosses his arms.

"Well, an eye for an eye." Ethan just throws his bag on the ground. "I'm getting back into my pajamas and going to bed. Don't look while I change."

He's sure Silver complies, but he can hear the eye-roll in his voice. "Yeah, whatever. We're talking tomorrow, though."

"I mean... yeah?"

"About this, I mean."

"No, it's fine."

"Ethan."

Silver says something else, too, but he tunes him out now. Ethan tunes the whole world of heart and soul out in favor of the emotionless corporeal, fleece on skin and the sound of hail outside. He only turns back around when the physical can't distract him anymore, and he looks at Silver. He's changed back into his sleep clothes too. His hair is still a mess from the flight over, but it still looks soft, and his eyes are still grey, his gaze is still accusatory and yet worried in a way that Silver only seems to look at Ethan. He's still beautiful, breath-taking. 

Maybe he's just tired. 

"Ethan."

Ethan can't find the energy to answer at first.

"Hey," Silver snaps, just a little too loud, and Ethan shushes him.

"What?" he whispers.

"Are you even listening to me?" Silver whispers back.

"I don't wanna think about anything right now," and no, god, he hears the weepiness in his throat, the stress forcing him to cry because he never learned how to deal with stress like a well-adjusted adult.

"Well, I don't want you to go to bed in tears." Silver's worry is evident, even though his snappy tone. "Can you just tell me something? Anything?"

"I'm fine, I'm just being a cry-baby." He feels tears in his eyes now, no, god, why can't they just go to sleep already -

"You're probably crying because you won't open up."

"Like you're one to talk," Ethan snaps. "You're the one who didn't even wanna come home with me when a literal blizzard was on the way."

The floorboards creak, and they both fall silent. The house is just settling, Ethan is sure of it, but he lowers his voice nonetheless.

"...I just didn't get enough sleep," Ethan insists, more to himself than to Silver, "a-and I get really emotional when I'm tired. It's fine. I'm gonna be okay tomorrow."

Silver finally seems to be relenting. "Are you drop-dead positive about that?"

He swallows his heart down, but it comes right back up. "I dunno."

Silence. The hail is falling harder.

"Silver?"

"Yeah?" Their voices are softer than snowflakes landing on a window pane.

"Can we talk about this tomorrow?"

"Sounds good."

"Thanks."

"Of course."

Even with that soft conclusion, even with that settled, Ethan still breaks down into quiet sobs. He doesn't resist Silver's hug - and he barely even registers that he's being held. He just... god, I don't even know. He doesn't even know. Maybe it is fatigue, or pent-up stress coming out just now, maybe it's a few years of insecurity that refuse to be ignored anymore, a wanderlust for the world of love and the queasiness that brings, maybe it's something, everything.

"Ethan?"

Maybe Ethan is just bad at being a person.

"Ethan, you hear me?"

"Yeah." His voice is raw. Maybe he's just tired.

"Do you wanna go to bed, now?"

"Mhm." Through his bleary vision, Ethan can read 5:47 on the clock. "S-Sorry for keeping you up."

"It's okay, it's okay," he coos, and Ethan finally feels like it might be okay, even when Silver breaks the hug.

And Ethan finally realizes, as he's drifting off to sleep, that Silver hugged him again.

Chapter Text

He's awake, he thinks.

It's still dark, Silver realizes, and Ethan is missing. Something doesn't feel right; maybe it's just the sleep still nipping at his consciousness. It's too warm, though, he thinks, or at least it feels too warm, even with the snowstorm still raging outside. Ethan must've invested in some damn good blankets, huh? He wonders why Ethan would leave the comfort of the bed, in that case.

His thoughts trail off there. Ethan is missing, and that's all he can think about.

"...Ethan?"

No answer. Silver sits up in bed.

"Ethan."

Still no answer. He decides to look for him. It's not like there's much else he can do, and he couldn't have gone far.

Silver feels like he's walking on air, or maybe not actually walking, he's not sure. Every move he takes is like cutting through syrup, thick and slow. He can't tell what time it is (his eyes must be too bleary to read the clock), but he's sure he hasn't had enough sleep. It's still dark out, after all - or maybe he slept for so long that some days have passed, and he's coming out of a coma or something, he can't tell. Everything feels far away.

"Ethan?" Silver calls into the room again, to no avail, as if it could've worked. "Ethan!"

Nothing. Somehow, his voice sounds lighter than usual.

Silver trudges over to the door, slowly yet all at once, as if he's lagging. He slowly reaches for the doorknob, hesitating for... for some reason, he's not sure. Turning the doorknob elicits a loud squeak, and the door creaks as it opens, echoing through the hallway like the storm outside. It's only now that Silver realizes that Ethan's house has a strange layout. There's three closed doors down to his left, all on one side of the hall, and the stairway seems impossibly narrow and steep. Maybe it's just the sleep messing with his head, his perspective, but he can't help feeling like he's going to stumble and break his head open on those stairs. They're shaking under the weight of the howling winds outside.

"Ethan?" Silver calls down the stairs. No answer, and he sloshes through his haze down the hallway. "Ethan?" Still nothing. He's a broken record.

Silver passes some of the doors in favor of the one at the end of the hall, as if it makes sense to do that - or maybe it does, maybe he'll check the rooms in reverse order, then try to shimmy down the narrow stairs. He can probably sit down at the top of the stairs and slink carefully down, as not to hurt himself. That makes sense, right?

He opens the door, or maybe it just opens. The room is almost completely empty. All he sees is a figure under a sheet in the corner of the room.

"Eth?" Silver calls out quietly, even though that's not a nickname he uses for Ethan, but he doesn't question his tired mind. He approaches the sheet, tugs on it delicately, and it falls to reveal an old, broken floor lamp. Ethan isn't here, then.

Something is wrong.

"Silver?"

Something is very wrong.

Despite his instincts, Silver follows the source of the almost inaudible noise down the hallway, past five doors, until he reaches the stairs. They've become even more narrow. Perhaps the house is just old, old and strange. Why else would someone put seven doors in a row like that? Maybe that's how houses were built back then.

"Silver!" Ethan's voice is so quiet, but it is distinctly Ethan. Silver grips the hand rail of the stairwell, as if that will save him from breaking his neck.

He takes one step forward, and he falls through the stairs, and -

"Silver!"

And he wakes up.

It's light out, there's a faint wind outside, and Silver can actually read the clock now: 11:14 in the morning, apparently. Okay, cool, so that was a hell of a dream. That was the first dream he's had in months, and it was fucking awful. That's over with, though. It was a dream, and now he's awake; he'd better be awake. If this is another dream, he's going to be so pissed off.

Silver looks around his waking world for a moment, scanning every little detail. The sun is out, and the wind outside is intermittent. His bag is still on the floor. Ethan's dresser is covered in small plants and countless Pokémon figurines. He faintly smells eggs or something downstairs. Everything feels fine. Everything looks fine, now that he's awake. Everything seems - everything is fine.

Silver flops back into the mattress. He feels exhausted from that weird dream, or maybe just yesterday's events.

"Silver," Ethan calls through the door with a short knock. "Are you up?"

"Uh, yeah." It takes a moment for him to find his voice.

"Cool! Mom's making us breakfast, so she wants you to come down whenever you're ready, okay? We got Kalosian toast and eggs and stuff."

"Okay." He doesn't hear Ethan move away from the door, though. "I, uh, I'll get ready."

"Gotcha. See ya soon!"

Now Ethan walks away, and Silver is left with the much more real nightmare of well fuck now I can't be socially inept, and somehow that's worse than a weird dream house.

Silver is nothing worth batting an eye at when he's on the move, or when he's just with Ethan. His weird quirks and socially unacceptable behavior (namely, being a jackass) is more tolerable when A) he won't be seen again any time soon, or B) when he's with a friend who's used to his standoffishness. He's always felt like he's walking on eggshells when he's going to be somewhere for longer than a day or two, though. He even felt uneasy training in the Dragon's Den for as long as he did back when he first "moved in." He was too close to Clair's gym, too close to Blackthorn, too close to things that weren't going to move, and he had to really bite his tongue and hold his breath. Ultimately, he opted to more or less hide in the cave until after sunset, when the city became empty enough that he could navigate it without incident. It's stressful, to say the least. He's used to being a vagabond. He's not used to watching his mouth and having to face the consequences of his actions.

Maybe that last part is hereditary. Giovanni was the same way.

He glances at the clock. 11:20. Okay. He should do something.

All he really needs to do is get dressed and brush his teeth, that's not hard. That shouldn't be hard, rather; his mind is just racing for no fucking reason, and it's giving him just a grand old time. Anything and everything he's doing to do here is going to be open to critique, and he's not at all happy about that. For example; can he wear his jacket? He probably won't be totally comfortable without it; it's a sort of security blanket, though he won't admit it. Wearing a jacket inside will look weird though, right? It's light enough that it can pass as a sweatshirt - he basically wears it like one, anyway. That could come across as rude, though, acting like this house is cold enough that I'm gonna wear my jacket inside, or -

11:26, the clock reads. Okay. Everything is fine. He literally just needs to do something or else this is gonna be even more of an event.

It's like he's dreaming again, now, even though he's certainly not; he can read the clock, and everything is objectively normal. It takes a moment for him to actually get his jacket on, flipping it inside out and back and back holy shit until he has it right. It's like Silver is buffering, malfunctioning, like he's been loaded into a new world and it's just too much for him to handle. He feels sick. He feels physically sick and he wants to just lay back down and go back to sleep and maybe even fall back into the dream. At least he can wake up from that stress. This is inescapable.

He hears chatter and laughter downstairs, two distinct voices that could only be Ethan and his mom. He... it should be fine. This is fine. It's not like Ethan would let this go wrong, and yet Silver feels like he could find a way to fuck it up for everyone. He has a knack for being a fuck-up, after all.

Silver presses his ear to the door, just to ease his nerves, just to prove to himself that nothing is wrong down there. It's hard to make out much.

"I mean, I guess..." Ethan says, then the rest is meaningless syllables. "Well, it's funny, because..." Ugh. It's easy to catch the turns of phrase that Ethan uses. It's a lot harder to hear anything else, harder to make sense of muffled conversation when he doesn't know the words by heart.

"Ethan." Silver whispers his name, breathes even below a whisper. More chatter floats up the stairs.

"...that's not gonna work!" Ethan declares theatrically, quoting something, from the sound of it. "And I'm like, uh, excuse you! I know how to..." Something or other, and then laughter. He feels out of place up here, but it seems just as out of place for him to go down there.

He looks back at the clock: 11:31. Just do something for fuck's sake -

Silver reaches for the doorknob with an unnecessary force, trying to force himself out of the room, but he feels meek again in an instant. He turns it as quietly as he can. It clicks a few times. No horrible squeaking, though. He opens the door a bit. No creaking. He's awake.

"That's so funny," Ethan's mom laughs along with her son, the champion of Johto. "Did you tell him?"

"I did, and he was like, oh, I'll think about it," Ethan mocks. "Seriously. Green is so strategic, but sometimes I don't think he thinks about really simple things."

Silver places his thumb over the latch on the door, and he lets go of the knob. There's no reason to be so quiet, but this is a lot. He had consistently refused to come to Ethan's house (until today, that is), but... he's here now, right? Why is this still so hard? It's the I don't want help and I don't want to impose thing, isn't it? If he's here, though, he may as well act like it. Being in a proper house still feels foreign, though, and yet it's too familiar, to close to some childhood memories.

He starts to drift, but the smell of breakfast wafts up the stairs, and that's more than enough to snap Silver out of his daze. Food wins out all anxiety and tension.

"...so I'm supposed to go check on him whenever Green can't," Ethan says, finishing some thought Silver didn't hear. "So like - oh, hey!"

Silver kinda stops short of coming down the last few stairs, but he somehow wills himself to take them after that hesitation. "Hi."

"So you're the famous Silver, huh?" Ms (Mrs?) Aurelia grins at him, and he feels like he's gonna sink into the ground.

"Famous?"

"Well, to Ethan," she grins, and Ethan looks away sheepishly. "He's always talking about either you or his Pokémon, so I'm happy to finally meet you. Welcome to New Bark Town, by the way! Have you ever been around these parts?"

"Uh, no, not really." He opts to omit the time he visited New Bark with the sole purpose of stealing a Pokémon.

"Well, you two can feel free to explore around the area, since the storm finally passed. Come sit down, kiddo," she adds a kiddo, a term that Silver hasn't been called in awhile, "breakfast is still hot. I wasn't sure what you wanted, so I just fixed you up a plate of everything," she grins. "Feel free to take seconds, by the way. I may have cracked a few too many eggs today."

"Thank you." Oh fuck yeah, a whole plate of food. That takes some of tension out of this. Now he doesn't have to look like a starving Pokémon by taking literally everything.

Silver kinda floats in and out of the moment, drifting between being elated to have some good food, and trying to be part of a conversation. It's mostly Ethan and his mom going back and forth, asking Silver for his thoughts on whatever subject comes up, and Silver's replies are generally less than ten words. This could be going better, but it sure as hell could be going worse - and honestly, the less he says, the less chance there is that he'll say something dumb, and the less chance there is that he'll get kicked out.

Actually, maybe being kicked out wouldn't be the worst outcome. This is more stressful than living in a damp cave.

"By the way, Ethan," Ms Aurelia hums through the last bite of her breakfast. "I need you to go pick up some food from Cherrygrove for dinner. I need to go visit your grandparents this afternoon, so can you do that for me?"

"Mhm!" Ethan nods, finishing his food too, ten minutes after Silver did. Maybe he ate too fast. Oops. "Just gimme the list, and we'll head out!"

We, as in both he and Ethan. He just wants to climb back into the earth.

"That'll be a good way to show Silver around, won't it?" she grins, then looks at Silver. "Speaking of which, kiddo, do you have a heavier coat than that?"

Uh. "Not really."

She frowns in the way that a parent does, a mix of disappointment mostly overridden with concern. His stomach sinks. "Well, you can either borrow one of Ethan's coats or one of mine, whatever fits you better. You're not going out in below-freezing weather without one. That goes for you too, Ethan."

"I know, mom," he whines.

"I sure hope you do. The last time you - "

"I was like, twelve! I'm older now!"

"Yeah, not by much, honey," she teases. "You kids get goin', now. I'll handle the dishes and be back for dinner. Grab whatever coat you like, Silver."

He's not sure if it would more awkward to wear one of Ethan's old coats or not, but he opts to borrow one of Ms Aurelia's coats, since it's the only one that reasonably fits him. He should invest in a scarf sometime, too, with how windy it's been this winter. He's - fuck, a lot of things are gonna change soon, if he's gonna be stuck in New Bark for awhile. The social anxiety is almost enough to dissuade him from coming back, if there weren't a promise of actual good food here, even if eating with other people is kinda awkward oh god I'm gonna have to do this all over again tonight -

"Silver! Come on!"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm coming." I'm gonna have to do this for awhile. That thought isn't comforting. The roof over his head and the hot food is, but he could live without the rest of this.

"Good! We're on our way!" At that, Ethan leads Silver outside, or maybe Silver is just following after Ethan. He's bouncing around the snow like it's no big deal, like a kid in a candy shop. Silver is still a little peeved at the cold, after the Blackthorn blizzard incident.

"Where are we going, anyway?" Silver asks.

"Over to Cherrygrove to get food and stuff."

"I mean, what direction are we going?"

"Just follow me!"

Ugh.

Ethan is... maybe he just has really sharp mood swings. Maybe suddenly he feels totally okay, and then he doesn't, then he does, and so on until he dies or works the hormones out of his system. It's just weird, though, watching Ethan jump from crying at five in the morning to bouncing around and chattering on about nothing six hours later. He's adaptable, maybe that's the word; or maybe not, maybe he always tries to reset to this cheerful default, maybe it's impossible for Ethan to keep a smile off his face for more than half a day.

If that's the case, Silver envies him.

"So that's the professor's lab," Ethan comments, gesturing toward the familiar building. "I guess you remember that, though. Apparently he lives in like, a little apartment thing upstairs. Crystal lives down the road in Cherrygrove, by the way - oh! Maybe we can stop in and see what she's up to! Would you wanna do that?"

Silver shrugs the jacket back into place; it's a little loose on his shoulders. "Eh. Whatever you want."

"But do you wanna, Silver?" Ethan grins cheekily.

"I don't care," he rolls his eyes. He's not playing Ethan's game in this weather. He doesn't think he'll get used to the cold after walking through a fucking blizzard on the way back to Blackthorn. He shouldn't have to do that again any time soon, hopefully. At least they're not getting pelted by ice on this trip.

"Then we'll go visit her!" Ethan decides. "I gotta go see if she wants me to bring anything up to Red next time I get a chance to head up, anyway."

"What are you, an errand boy?"

Ethan shrugs. "A little. I just like helping people."

"I've noticed."

The pit of guilt sits low in his stomach as they carry on down the rural route to their destination. The path is familiar only in passing, only when he doesn't focus on the trees or the Pokémon milling about. The only time he's been down here was when he sprinted away from New Bark with a stolen Totodile in tow, running until he almost plowed straight into Ethan. He didn't mean to eventually befriend Ethan, nor did he even mean to ever cross paths with him again, but that's life, it seems. There's no sense in mulling over days gone by, and yet he can't help but replay everything in his head. He can't help remembering how his legs were burning by the time he reached Cherrygrove with his stolen Totodile, how he swore he would never come back here, never let anyone take his Pokémon away. He can't help remembering the last time he was properly dressed for the winter, after some snowstorm, when he went outside with a now absent father to have a snowball fight and find the best sledding hill. He can't help remembering how hot the inn over in Blackthorn felt after being in a blizzard, how hot his old home used to feel, how hot the summer heat was on his cheeks when he ran away from home -

"Silver?"

"Wh - Yeah?" He's back, now, with that jarring cut through time and space, as if the world around him is playing out faster than he is.

"Do you wanna pick up anything in particular while we're there?" Ethan asks. "Mom said we can grab some extra snacks if we want."

I don't want help and I don't want to impose, but he can only avoid one of those things, at this rate. "I'm fine."

"You sure?"

"Positive," Silver snaps with maybe a bit too much bite. Watch your tongue.

"Sorry," Ethan apologizes, even though he literally didn't do anything wrong. "I just thought I'd ask." Pause. "You're still tired, huh?"

"Yeah." Yeah, that's as good an excuse as any. "I'm still waking up. Gimme half an hour and I'll be fine."

"Sounds good!" he cheers, and Ethan gives him this stupid little grin, as if nothing could ever be wrong with the world, or maybe Silver feels like nothing could be wrong when Ethan smiles at him like that, or - or - "In that case, I'm buying us a bunch of fruit snacks!"

"...okay. Sounds good."

Honestly, Silver has never spent this much uninterrupted time with Ethan, and it's messing with his head in ways he can't even begin to understand.

Chapter Text

When Ethan is missing this time, Silver is actually awake.

It's definitely a weird time for him to be out of the house, but Silver can only assume Ethan is outside. Even though the sun went down a few hours ago (before Silver "accidentally" took a nap), even though it's probably below freezing out there, Ethan must be outside. If he's ever in the house, Silver can almost always hear him talking to his family or humming to himself. It's as if he can't be quiet, as if silence is too much for him, or maybe it's grounding to him in the way Silver's whispers ground himself.

He doubts Ethan needs to be grounded, though. He's always very present.

"Ms Aurelia?" Silver calls down the stairwell after a few false starts. He still doesn't handle talking to people other than Ethan very well yet. It's already - only - been a few weeks, though.

"What's up, kiddo?"

"Uh," his voice catches for half a second, "do you know where Ethan is?"

"Oh, he went down toward the Tohjo Falls. He said there's supposed to be a meteor shower tonight. I bet he wants to make a wish or two," she adds with a chuckle. That'd explain it. Ethan constantly lives in a world halfway between himself and fantasy.

"Oh, okay."

"Have you ever seen a meteor shower?" she asks. "They're really pretty. I used to watch them a lot back when my parents took me Hoenn - well, as often as we'd catch them, that is. You should go catch up with him if you've never seen one! The sky is actually clear enough to see it tonight."

"R-Right." He hesitates though, his brain catching up with his automatic reply. "I, um, I'm gonna grab a coat, then."

"Good idea. Bring your Pokémon, too," as if he wouldn't, "it's pretty dark out. You never know what you'll run into."

Silver throws the winter coat on, definitely too warm for the house, but the second he steps outside, it's a blessing in disguise. The slick fabric wicks away the flurries of snow that the wind kicks up from the drifts around town, like a shield from winter's icy sword. He never thought he would appreciate a piece of clothing so much. He's just become accustomed to the cold over time - well, not blizzards. Blizzards changed his mind on how much cold he can handle.

"Feraligatr, come out. We're heading to Tohjo Falls."

His partner growls at the cold, his eyes easily adjusting to the low light. "Ferrrr?"

"Ethan's out that way," Silver murmurs. It feels weird saying that. It feels weird chasing him for a change.

"Ra."

Feraligatr lowers himself into the water, no doubt cold, but not intolerably so, according to Feraligatr's only somewhat annoyed growl. Silver is surprised that Feraligatr can handle this kind of weather, but he knows that Feraligatr generally only hibernate during the worst month or two of winter. Maybe - actually, that would explain why he was struggling a little with his training last month. Silver makes a mental note to reorganize his training schedule around that.

Hm. That's odd.

It's not that Silver intends to overwork his Pokémon, nor mistreat them, but there was a time that he wouldn't have thought twice about doing so if it were for his own benefit. Even with this sort of redemption he's been given, even with this peaceful tempo he's found, Silver can't help but feel like a black sheep. He's out of place, an anachronism, too mature for fourteen but not quite mature enough. He still hears bits and pieces of a much angrier Silver from a few years ago, and yet he almost hears pieces of his future self whispering reassurance across time and space, calm down, it's okay, you deserve this simple silence, some such sentiment that he can't trust just yet.

There's land up ahead. On the south shore, a small figure sits in the snow at the water's edge. That's gotta be Ethan.

Silver tries to call out to him, but something compels him to bite his tongue, he's not sure why. He tends to not question those kinds of impulses, though, opting to let his instincts take over for a moment or two or twelve. He's used to keeping quiet, though. Maybe he's too used to it.

"...wish that he..." Hm. Ethan is murmuring something, but Silver can't quite hear. He hops off Feraligatr and calls his Pokémon back with just a nod. "I wish that..." Nope, still too quiet, or maybe Silver is too far away. He - and maybe this is weird - he creeps up closer to Ethan as silently as he can, fighting to take muted steps in the snow. "...wish I could..."

Ethan turns suddenly. Silver isn't sure if he was too loud, or just too close, but now he really feels like he's not supposed to be here.

"Uh... hi."

"Hi," Ethan greets him. "What'cha doing out here?"

"Um," looking for you, for some reason, but that's too conspicuous, "I'm just... out. Your mom said there's a meteor shower, or something?"

"Yeah," Ethan grins, and his eyes light up in the way that only his do. "Come watch it with me!"

Silver sits next to Ethan, wincing at the cold ground, but if Ethan isn't bothered, Silver's not going to complain.

The sky lights up every so often with a meteor streaking across it, fleeting sparks among the usual glow of the night sky. The new moon makes it even easier to spot the flashes, trailing along the black canvas behind them, something of a painting in motion. They're almost invisible sometimes, it feels. Silver can only spot them when they're just trailing off, even though he's methodically scanning the sky. He almost wonders if it's just a trick of the light when he sees a particularly bright meteor streak down toward the horizon.

Ethan is still whispering every so often. Now he's intentionally being too quiet to hear.

"...what are you saying?" Silver asks softly, just above Ethan's voice.

"Making wishes." Of course, Ethan and his magical streak.

"Do you really think that works?"

"It's worked before."

Silver looks incredulously at Ethan, though the champion's eyes are still on the stars. "What did you wish for?"

He's quiet for a moment - rather, he's whispering to himself, some other wish, words meant only for Ethan and the sky. "When I was like... maybe eight? I think I was eight, and mom took Lyra and I outside at like, four in the morning to see a meteor shower. She told us that you can make wishes on shooting stars, so I wished I'd be a good Pokémon trainer." Pause. "And that I'd be a Champion, one day. I think that had something to do with it."

Silver just shrugs. "Or you're just that determined."

"Maybe both."

"...maybe."

A meteor streaks across the sky, and despite his disbelief, Silver makes an impulse wish: I wish I felt normal.

It's not a bad tempo he's found, not by any means, but Silver remains the odd one out in this town. He's always known he was more mature than Ethan - and rightly so, for a kid who left home before he was even ten. Living with him has just accentuated that fact, though. It's the fact that Ethan will do things like this that's really highlighted the figurative age gap between them. He can't join in Ethan's fantasy antics or his snowball fights with Lyra. It's not that Silver is intentionally excluded, no, but it's always nonsense to him, and he can't really let himself play along without feeling like he's not where he's supposed to be.

In essence, he realizes, he doesn't really know how to be a kid.

Maybe it's just because his childhood backfired before it could hit its peak, because he got thrown between a rock and a hard place, and he chose to run from a home that wasn't going to look for him anyway. He thinks it may be a combination of that and an innocence he never had, growing up under Giovanni, with Team Rocket always just around the corner; rather, Team Rocket was always there, and to a very young Silver, that was perfectly normal, and so today, Silver is anything but normal.

It's a little easier surviving in this newfound life when it's just he and Ethan, though, that much is certain. He's no stranger to walking through crowds, but actually interacting in them is a disaster for him. Ethan's mom threw some holiday party last week, and Silver ended up hiding in the bathroom for about a third of the event, then feigned a migraine to hide in Ethan's room for another third of it. This new life is easier when it's just him and Ethan, when it's just someone he trusts and a quiet place. Still, he finds himself murmuring to ground himself throughout the day, focusing on whatever he can to stay steady. It's a nice rhythm now, though, snow, Ethan, dinner, training, Ethan, Pokémon, sleep, Ethan, cold, Ethan, Ethan, fuck it always comes back to Ethan and he - it's just Ethan, it's always Ethan.

Maybe that's because Ethan is the only thing that makes him feel normal some days.

"Ethan?" Speaking of which -

"Yep?"

"What are you wishing for?"

"I can't tell you," he grins cheekily. "It won't come true if I say it out loud."

Silver rolls his eyes. "Sure."

"I mean," he adds, "I can tell you after it comes true, but not before."

"Why would telling someone what you wish for make it not come true?"

Ethan just shrugs and looks back at the sky. "I dunno. That's just how it works."

Silver looks back at the sky in time to see a bright streak trace across his frame of view. The thought comes back again, and - no, he still doesn't believe in wishes and magic, but -

I wish I could feel normal.

It doesn't mean anything, no. It's just a spur of he moment thought, a fleeting sentiment - no, actually, fuck it, he can't really hide this from himself. He feels like he doesn't belong here, and he just wants to feel right, and he's willing to dabble in Ethan's weird little world in search of solace.

He looks over at Ethan again. The champion whispers another heartfelt wish into his hands and to the stars above them. He looks right at home here. He looks right.

And Silver feels all wrong.

"Ethan."

"Yeah?"

"How do you deal with feeling out of place?"

"Hm..." Ethan is pensive for a few moments. The sound of lapping water and the flashes of meteor tails are the only motion in the world during that pregnant pause. "I dunno. I guess I just try to distract myself. Like, when I feel weird about the Champion stuff," and Silver's mind flutters back to a conversation in Blackthorn for a moment, "I try to do something else that makes me feel better. I like running errands for mom and Professor Elm and everyone 'cause of that. Pichu likes traveling, too, so I like taking the long routes with him to do stuff."

"Ah." That's... not a great answer, but it is an answer.

"And like," he continues, "there's people I like being around, too, 'cause they make me happy, a-and I feel like I belong." Ethan's eyes are fixed on the sky again after a glance at Silver. "Like... like you."

"Oh." He feels warm.

"...s-so, um," Ethan tries to conclude his rambling with a coherent summary, "I guess if you feel out of place, then you should do stuff that makes you feel like you belong, or spend time with people you like to be around. I-I mean, I do that, at least."

"Right."

"...why do you ask?" Ethan is just trying to fill the silence at this point.

"Just wondering."

"Oh." Pause. "Do you not feel good?" Silver shrugs. "I mean, like, do you feel out of place?"

"Kinda."

Ethan hesitates. "Can I... can I help with that?"

Again, he shrugs. "I think I just need time."

"Okay." Silver feels Ethan shift closer. "If you ever need me, though, um, you know where to find me. And I know where to find you, now," Ethan adds with a grin.

"Please," Silver scoffs, desperate to fight off the fluttering in his chest. "You already knew where to find me. It just doesn't take you hours to get to me. Is that Pichu seriously why you never flew up to Blackthorn City?"

"I mean, I did sometimes," Ethan insists. "I just like walking with him! He doesn't get to battle, so I wanna spend some time with him."

"Why do you keep him if he can't even battle?"

"'cause he's my friend! It's not like every Pokémon you have needs to be good at battling. Sometimes you just... you want a friend." Silver sighs and rolls his eyes again. "I mean, why are you my friend?"

That catches him totally off-guard. "I-I, uh... um..."

Ethan grins smugly. "You don't have a reason, do you?"

"W-Well," Silver looks away, and god he hopes it's dark enough to hide the flush on his cheeks, "it's not like I had much of a choice! You kept following me around!"

"Yeah, and you stopped running away after awhile," he coos in a sweet voice, sickeningly sweet.

"It was no use anyway."

"Yeah, but then we started battling together, right?" Shut up - "And you even wanted to battle as my partner when Lance and Clair came to challenge us!" Oh my god shut up - "And you - "

"Shut up, I get it!"

"So that's that. I don't need a reason to be friends with my Pichu." Ethan smiles triumphantly. "Or anyone else, for that matter. Sometimes I have a reason, but sometimes I just like someone - er, I guess that is the reason I usually have..."

Hm. "Well, what makes you like someone?"

"O-Oh, uh," that seems to catch him off-guard this time, "just... I dunno."

"That's not a real answer, Ethan."

Ethan gasps at the sky and quickly murmurs another wish. Silver swears he could hear friends in that one, but that's all he caught. Hopefully that doesn't jinx if for him.

...Silver must be spending too much time with Ethan if that's an actual concern he has.

"...Ethan."

"I mean," Ethan starts, almost carefully measuring his words, "I think I make friends with people when they're kinda different from everyone else. Like, when someone stands out to me, I wanna know more about them, and when we end up talking, we end up being friends." Pause. "Maybe I'm too picky, though. I guess that's why Lyra has way more friends than I do."

"Maybe you're just more discerning of people."

"Maybe," Ethan half agrees. "Crys and Green say I'm a good judge of people's character, but I dunno."

"I'd mostly believe that, if you didn't get attached to me."

"Shut up. You're my friend, and that's that," Ethan pouts. "You're stuck with me, now. You made your bed, now lie in it."

"More like you made the bed and threw me into it. I didn't ask you to stalk me everywhere."

"I wasn't stalking you! I was just... uh... trying to keep up?"

"Yeah, we call that stalking."

Ethan rolls his eyes. "Whatever. I think I am good at judging people, actually, and I like you, so you must be a good person at heart, and you can't convince me otherwise."

"You just said you like people because they're different, not because they're good people." Now that Ethan's tone has changed to I like you, Silver, Silver's backtracking away from that positivity.

"Well, you are, but you're also a good person. You can be both."

"I'm just a black sheep," he breathes, and it stings a bit more when he says it out loud. "That's all."

"...like a shiny Pokémon."

"No, I - you know what I meant."

"Yeah, and I know what I mean. Different isn't bad." Ethan is getting better at arguing these days. Maybe he's spending too much time around Silver, too.

"Not inherently, but it can be."

"I guess, but," another pause for another wish, "but that's why I like you. You're special."

Silver feels a surge of emotion pulse through him at that, and suddenly, being the odd one out doesn't sound as bad.

Silver looks back up at the inky sky for an answer to a question, he's not even sure what question or what answer, but the sky offers no resolution. This feels... maybe he's just absorbing too much from Ethan, but it feels like his words are echoing through the atmosphere, that this is okay, he can like this life because it's different and weird, not in spite of its oddities. It doesn't feel right yet, but maybe it will eventually, maybe he'll break it in like a hand-me-down winter coat, maybe his feet will know the paths in New Bark by memory one day, and he'll wonder why he ever felt like this wasn't home.

Maybe that's a bit of Ethan speaking in the back of his mind, though. Optimism isn't Silver's forte.

"Silver."

"Huh?"

"Have you been making wishes too?"

"...should I?"

"If you have something you wanna wish for, yeah! You don't see shooting stars this often."

"Alright." He'll humor Ethan, and he'll resist the urge to tell him that meteors aren't stars. He's sure Ethan has that fact somewhere in his head, but science isn't as fun as making wishes and stargazing - not to Ethan, anyway.

A bright meteor (or a shooting star, whatever) pulses as it crosses the sky. This time, Silver whispers with Ethan.

I wish Ethan's wish would come true.

No, Silver doesn't know what Ethan's wish is, but he has a heart of gold, and Silver trusts him.