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Bellamy finds out about Pokémon Unite in early August, when his Switch gives him the little pop-up notification that Octavia has come online, and that's what she's playing. He doesn't give it much thought--there are a lot of Pokémon games, and Octavia seems to like most or possibly all of them--aside from wondering if he should turn off his Switch and come back online so she can see he's finally playing something other than Slay the Spire.

But he's only on the second case of the first game of The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, so she'll probably notice without his actually having to do anything, so he just goes back to investigating murders.

About a week later, Octavia calls. "I need you to download this game."

"Which game?"

"Pokémon Unite."

"You want me to play a Pokémon game?"

"You don't actually need to know any Pokémon," she says, like this should somehow be obvious. Like knowing Pokémon isn't a completely reasonable expectation for playing or enjoying a Pokémon game.

Regardless, his honor is at stake. "I know Pokémon. I like the brown one with the kind of fluffy chest. It's cute."

"E.V.," says Octavia.

He frowns. "Are those its initials?"

"E-e-v-e-e. That's its name."

"Okay, well, I like that one."

"That one's not actually in this game."

"Is Pikachu?" He may not be an expert, but he's pretty sure Pikachu is in everything. That's what Pikachu does.

"Yeah, of course. But Pichu and Raichu aren't, which is bullshit."

If he follows up on that, the conversation will get even more off the rails. He lets it go. "So, what is this game and why am I downloading it?" He has, over the course of the conversation, navigated to the eShop and at least discovered that the game is free and Pikachu is in the cover art. It's also apparently a five-on-five team battle game, which sounds terrible to him. That's a lot more Octavia's speed.

"It's free," she says, because she does know his priorities.

"I assume you want me to play it after I download it, so you're going to need to do a better job selling me on it than that."

"It's a MOBA."

"Is a MOBA another kind of Pokémon?"

"I hate you."

Bellamy grins. Octavia moved away from Boston in January 2020, which sucked even before the global pandemic hit. He hasn't been able to annoy her in person for a year and a half, but at least he can still do it long distance. "You're the one who called me, O. You started this conversation."

"Multiplayer online battle arena," she says. "M-O-B-A. Basically you get online with a team and try to beat another team."

"Pokémon's pretty much dogfighting, right? So this is virtual online multiplayer dogfighting?"

She ignores him. "Five people all with different Pokémon team up to try to score the most points. It takes ten minutes per match and I need more real people to play with because I hate rolling the dice on internet randos."

"You think I'm going to be good enough you won't hate playing with me?" he asks, torn between affection and distrust. Aside from his weekly Smash Brothers night with Miller, he doesn't really play many games that involve interacting with other people, and Octavia, in classic younger sister form, always teases him about being bad at them. It's kind of nice that she wants to play with him, but it's hard not to worry that she'll end up telling him to quit.

"At least I'll be able to talk to you. We can voice chat and I can give you tips. If nothing else, I can tell you where to go and what to do."

"So you're just going to boss me around the whole time? You're making this sound really appealing."

"Just until you get the hang out. And Monty's playing, which means Miller is going to start playing, and Clarke and Raven are playing too. It's got a social life built in."

"Fine, I'll download it," he says, like it's a great hardship..

"Cool, I'll invite you to our Discord."

"You have a Discord for this? How long have you been playing?"

"Monty made it, not me. He and Jasper got it as soon as it came out, which was like two weeks ago. The rest of us took a little longer. Let me know once you're high enough level to be friends with me."

"Like, if I'm not level ten you don't want to be seen with me?"

He can practically hear her rolling her eyes. "I think you don't unlock friending people until you're a certain level, I don't remember when. Once you do, we can be friends."

"Oh good, I thought I wasn't cool enough for you." He gives it a beat. "Who's in this Discord exactly?"

"No one you don't know. Lincoln, obviously, but we only have one Switch for now so he and I can't actually play together. I'm trying to talk him into getting his own. Monty and Jasper, Clarke and Raven, Clarke's friend Wells whose dad knows your weird roommate. Probably Miller, sooner or later. No one you haven't met at least once."

They're all his sister's friends, but before she moved, he kind of thought they were becoming his friends too. He'd thought, especially with Miller and Monty starting to date, that they might keep hanging out with him even without Octavia to bridge the gap.

Then the pandemic hit, and hanging out stopped being something people did, and he wasn't really sure if they'd really bounce back, ever. He and Miller are playing video games in person about once a month now that they're both vaccinated, but he still hasn't seen Monty at all. And he wasn't sure he'd ever interact with Clarke again, which he was kind of bummed about. He'd been getting pretty fond of her. He'd been thinking he might make a move.

"I need to sign up for Discord," he says.

"Well, you should do that anyway," says Octavia loftily. "Everyone's on Discord now. Let me know if you have any questions about the game, or just ask the Discord. Whatever works."

"If I suck at this, you don't get to yell at me. I'm doing you a favor."

"You'll figure it out," she says, completely unconcerned. "Talk to you later."

He signs up for Discord while the game downloads and does a quick google search to figure out the basics of how the program works. Miller uses it, so if all else fails he can call him for a walkthrough, but it's a chat program. Bellamy might not be great with technology, but even he can figure out a chat program.

And when the channel opens, the first name under online is Clarke. So that's a good start.

420 blaziken it
it's Bellamy!
hi Bellamy!
(this is Jasper)

Monty "Leaf" Green
Oh awesome
Nate's definitely going to start playing now
He said there was no way you were going to download a pokemon game

Bellamy
Octavia made me, obviously.
It hasn't even finished downloading yet, I have no idea what I'm doing.
I only know two pokemon and one of them isn't even in this game.

Clarke
Which pokemon do you know?

Bellamy
Eevee and Pikachu.

420 blaziken it
good choices!
pikachu isn't great in this game btw do not recommend
like not the worst, you can do better

Bellamy
So I shouldn't play the only pokemon I know?

Clarke
You'll be fine, you don't need to know the pokemon to play them
But I don't really know your playstyle well enough to make recommendations
Do you have a playstyle?

Bellamy
Again, I haven't even downloaded it yet.
I don't know how to play.

Monty "Leaf" Green
Nate says he's chaotic and unpredictable in Smash
"Nothing that requires aiming or precision"
Direct quote
He's also downloading btw
You did it Bellamy
You did what I could not

Bellamy
Good for me.
I wasn't even trying.
And yeah, I button mash. I can move in the direction I want and attack things there, but aiming on top of that is beyond me.

Clarke
Do the tutorial, I think you get to play Pikachu and Talonflame? See how you like them and report back before you pick your first license

zeraora supremacy
oh yeah hundo percent let us know before you pick your first license
i picked charizard and it was a Mistake
also sup bellamy, it's raven
glad your sister invited you and she isn't even online
very on brand

Bellamy
Yeah, I saw that coming.
I'll keep everyone posted.

The thing about being bad at video games is that most of the time, it doesn't bother Bellamy. He's not even bad, exactly, he just doesn't have the right skills for every game. He's great at Slay the Spire, for example, and even pretty decent at Hades, albeit on god mode. But Miller wasn't wrong about his Smash Brothers technique, nor does it help that he mostly plays multiplayer games with people who are both good at video games and very competitive. He told someone at work he wasn't great at Mario Kart because Miller and Octavia always destroyed him, and then when they played, Bellamy completely dominated. The guy hadn't been particularly comforted when Bellamy explained it was just that his friends were all total sharks.

Based on the tutorial, being good at Pokémon Unite doesn't seem totally out of Bellamy's reach. He runs around as Pikachu for a while, killing Pokémon he can't identify and scoring goals, and then he runs around as a little orange lizard that breathes fire. The controls are pretty straightforward and the game aims for him, so it doesn't seem outside the realm of possibility that he could be decent at it.

He'd love to ask Octavia if Clarke is actually any good and how invested she is in the whole thing, just so he can get his expectations in line, but that would involve telling his baby sister that he has a specific interest in one of her friends, and he'd rather eat broken glass.

Just because he's over thirty doesn't mean he's mature.

The tutorial wraps up and the game prompts him to pick his first Pokémon. There's Pikachu and the orange lizard thing, and then three others, none of which he has a strong opinion of. There's a bird, a smug cotton ball, and Totoro. He has no idea what he's basing this decision on.

Obviously, he could just tell the Discord it's decision time and leave it up to them, but he doesn't really want to be the guy who aggressively doesn't know anything about the game he's playing. After all, it's not like this stuff is unlearnable. He has google, he can come up with some opinions of his own. If nothing else, he can learn the Pokémon's names. Presumably, he'll be seeing a lot of them.

Charizard is apparently the lizard, which makes sense, so he knows not to get that one or Pikachu. His remaining options are Talonflame, the bird, Eldegoss, the cotton ball, and Snorlax, the one that looks like Totoro. He gets enough background to learn that each of the five starters has a different role and what the roles generally mean, and only then does he get back to Discord.

Bellamy
Okay, I'm picking my starting license.
I did some research and I'm leaning towards Eldegoss or Snorlax.
They both seem like I could handle them.

Clarke
I think Snorlax would be a good fit for your playstyle.

zeraora supremacy
says the eldegoss main

Clarke
We could both play Eldegoss as long as we're not playing together!
But he could do flail/yawn

Bellamy
I hope those are moves.
And not commentary on how I play games.

Clarke
Haha
Yeah that's one of the movesets for Snorlax
I think you'd be bad with the barrier move because you have to aim that

Bellamy
That does sound bad.
@Clarke you play Eldegoss?

Clarke
Yeah
Not exclusively, but she's my main

Bellamy
Okay, I'll take Snorlax.

420 blaziken it
oops I was in a match
we lost btw
anyway I like Snorlax for Bellamy
just a big sleepy boy

Bellamy
Again, I can't tell how much of this is commentary on my life.

Monty "Leaf" Green
We lost HARD
Also I think Venusaur is one of the pretty early free licenses?
Start with Snorlax but you might like Venusaur too @Bellamy

Bellamy
Yeah I got the Snorlax license.
Starting my first game.
Wish me luck.

Bellamy flails and yawns his way through his first battle. His team wins, which is cool, and he isn't the best, but also isn't the worst. He's a perfectly serviceable giant Totoro monster, and he could probably do it more often.

Like Octavia said, he could use more of a social life.

*

Bellamy's on the tenure track at Tufts, which means his summers should be spent doing research and trying to publish shit. And that's definitely a large part of his summer, but there's only so much research and writing he can work on before his brain starts leaking out his ears, and as it turns out, Pokémon Unite is a pretty good way for him to take breaks. He already does the pomodoro technique to get work done, and it's easy to replace his usual ten-minute break with one Unite battle.

Even though he figured out how to add everyone as friends, he hasn't gotten over himself enough to actually play with them. He can view their profiles and see they're higher level than he is, and seem to have pretty decent win records. And as much as he hates playing poorly with strangers, they're strangers. It's going to be a lot worse when he lets his friends down.

Despite Octavia's insistence that he download the game, she's not actually asking him to play much either. She's in Colorado now, two hours behind him, and their schedules don't line up that well. Plus, she's mostly concerned with playing ranked matches, and Bellamy apparently needs to be Great class before he can play with her. So, maybe not surprisingly, it's Miller who first asks him to team up.

"You're Snorlax, right?" he asks. They're in a Discord voice chat so they can talk strategy, which seems like a lot of effort for a game where cartoon monsters throw lightning bolts at each other, but it is nice to talk to him.

"That makes it sound like an identity," says Bellamy. "I play Venusaur sometimes too. And the fox one, Ninetales? But none of my teams ever have defenders, so yeah, I play Snorlax."

"Dude, chill. I'm just trying to decide who I'm going to play. I just bought the Lucario license, I think I want to try that one out."

Bellamy does a quick search for Lucario. He's getting better at telling the Pokémon apart, but there are a lot of them, and not all of them have particularly intuitive names. Lucario looks like a furry drew it, but it also has spikes in its hands, so that's cool.

"Is Lucario good with Snorlax?"

"Yeah, I bet we can dominate the top lane, it'll be fun."

"Is there a reason you didn't get this game before I did?" he asks, curious. Miller has never needed much persuading to get way too into a video game. This whole thing seems right up his alley.

"Monty and Jasper have always done Pokémon stuff together, ever since they were kids. Like, Monty got Blue and Jasper got Red so they could trade, and they've done that every generation through Sword and Shield. It's one of their things. I didn't want to be butting in. And then more people started playing, but I'd already said I wasn't going to, so I didn't know how to tell them I changed my mind without making it a big thing."

The game matches them with a team and Bellamy hits the ready button. "Which is why you're playing with me instead of Monty right now?"

"I play with Monty too. But yeah, I try to balance it. He gets friend time, I get friend time."

"We could just play Smash Brothers."

"Hey, it's not like I was avoiding this game because I thought I'd hate it. Come on, Pokémon battle royale? I love this shit."

"You think I need to learn more about Pokémon?" he asks, before he can stop himself.

The game starts, but Miller isn't distracted. "More than what?"

"Should I play any of the other games? Try to get some background?"

There's a pause, but it's hard to tell if it's because Miller is concentrating on killing the weird monkey things or because he's thinking about whether or not Bellamy should play Pokémon. Finally, he says, "Is there a reason you're doing this?

"Doing what?"

"Playing this game. I know your sister told you to, but still. It kind of feels like there's something else."

Bellamy sighs. It's not exactly that he doesn't want to tell Miller, it's just that talking about crushes always makes him feel about fourteen years old. Which doesn't even make sense, because he didn't talk about crushes at fourteen, either. He was too embarrassed.

Still, he should probably talk to someone, and talking to anyone else would be even worse. "I kind of had a thing for Clarke. Before the pandemic hit."

"And then the pandemic hit and you haven't seen her in a year and a half."

"Yeah. Not like I've been pining away or anything, but…" He shrugs. "It was kind of on pause. And then O said Clarke was playing this too, and it unpaused."

"So you want to impress a girl by knowing the names of Pokémon?"

"I don't want to be the asshole who doesn't learn any of the names because it's beneath me or whatever. That's fine when I'm fucking with O, but not--" Discord makes a weird beeping sound, and he frowns. "What was that?"

"Someone joined the voice chat," says Miller. "Hey?"

"Hey," says Clarke, clear as a bell. "Sorry, I asked if I could get in on the next game but you two weren't responding. I figured this was easier."

"We just started," says Miller, smooth. "But yeah, if you want in next game, that's cool. Hey, Clarke."

"Hey," Bellamy manages to add. He's not even getting Snorlax killed, somehow. It's the first time he's heard her voice in what feels like forever.

"Hey, Bellamy. Are you guys doing ranked or standard?"

"Ranked," says Miller. "I'm still too shitty to play with Monty so I'm trying to climb. Can you play with us?"

"Yeah, I'm Expert level three, I think? I'm still not good enough to play with Monty, Jasper, and Raven either, so I should be able to play with you."

"And you're still Eldegoss, right? You run Exp Share?"

"Yeah."

"Cool, we should bottom lane."

Bellamy still isn't comfortable enough with the game to participate in or even fully follow the conversation, but he does know when it's time to shit talk Miller. "Wait, you're leaving me? We're kicking ass here."

"We are. But Clarke and I are a better combination."

"Are you still playing Snorlax, Bellamy?" she asks

"Yeah."

"Then yeah, I should lane with Miller. Sorry, it's for the good of the team."

"How did you two learn all this stuff?" he asks, more curious than annoyed. The game gives very little guidance, and most of the terminology he's picked up from context clues. He goes to the top lane because the game tells him to, and no one else has told him otherwise yet, and then he hits buttons until other Pokémon die or he does.

"Monty watched a bunch of YouTube videos and ranted at me about how no one knew how to lane," says Miller. "I knew strategy before I even had the game downloaded."

"I had Monty send me the YouTube videos," says Clarke.

"Yeah?"

"If I'm going to play the Pokémon game, I'm going to be good at the Pokémon game."

It's probably good they're not in the same room, so she can't see his stupid grin. He really did miss her. "Obviously. Will you send me the videos?"

"Sure. There are some guides on how to play Snorlax, I'm pretty sure."

"Those would be great."

"Will do. You have a while left in your game, right?"

"Yeah, like seven minutes," says Miller.

"Cool, I'm going to do a quick battle while I'm waiting. I'll try not to yell too much."

Miller snorts. "Yeah, I've heard you play with Monty, I'm not optimistic."

"Some people just suck, Miller. How are they going to know if I don't yell at them?"

"They're not going to know if you do yell at them," Miller shoots back. "They can't hear you."

It's weird, being reminded that Miller and Clarke are actually kind of friends now. Octavia met Jasper at college, and through Jasper she met Monty, who knew Clarke and Raven, and when Bellamy started going out for drinks or playing games with them, Miller came along too. Octavia and Clarke were friendly, but not particularly close, while Monty and Clarke have a long history of friendship. Of course now that he lives with Monty, Miller interacts with Clarke more. It just makes sense.

It's hard not to be jealous, though. Everyone hasn't been hanging out without him, but everyone else knew how to stay in touch through the pandemic, and Bellamy just didn't. It's no one's fault, really, and he does have other friends, but even aside from his crush on Clarke, he did like this group. If all Pokémon Unite does is get him interacting with them again, it will be worth the free download.

Clarke lets out a few creative bursts of swearing during her match, which is surprising, but hilarious every time, and Bellamy has a grudge against the Absol on the other team, so he gets to complain about them some too. Playing the game alone isn't bad or anything, but now that he's gotten to actually play it as a social experience, he gets the appeal a lot more. Yelling at video games alone in his apartment is never as fun as yelling at them with friends.

They wrap up their match and Clarke finishes hers, and Miller invites her to their lobby. Her avatar is a lot better than theirs, which makes sense, since she's been playing for longer. All three of them were basically trying to look like themselves, in terms of skin and hair color, but Bellamy's still wearing the default outfit because he hasn't gotten any clothes he likes, while Miller's put together the ugliest outfit he can from whatever he's gotten for free. Clarke has a cute, coordinated look, comfy in a hoodie and jeans, something he can actually imagine her wearing in real life.

It's not as good as actually seeing her, but it's the best he's going to get right now.

Then she says, "Okay, Miller, we're bottoming, right?" and Bellamy chokes on thin air.

"Everyone has a lot of fun with that, huh?" he asks, when he recovers.

"I don't know what else you'd call going to the bottom lane," says Clarke, with smug satisfaction. "That sounds like bottoming to me."

"And Bellamy's topping us," says Miller. "That all checks out."

"I bet children play this game," Bellamy says, but he knows that they can hear him smiling. He calls the top lane anyway. "Damn right I'm topping."

*

After their second game with Clarke, Miller says, "Oh, shit, I missed a call from my dad. I'd better call him back. Talk to you guys later."

He disconnects without waiting for a reply, and Bellamy puts it at roughly even odds that his dad actually called versus him wanting to give Bellamy some alone time with Clarke. Either way, Bellamy's not going to waste the gift.

"I can keep playing," he offers.

"Yeah, I've got an hour left of designated video game time today. And I know Octavia wants you to get up to expert."

"Yeah, I'm embarrassing her by not being better at the game she forced me to download." He starts the matching. "Are you still doing graphic design?"

"Yeah. Luckily, the pandemic didn't lose me any clients, and I was already remote. Aside from Raven moving out, I've been in pretty good shape."

"Raven moved out?"

"Yeah, at the end of June. You remember my friend Roan?"

"The weird one?"

Clarke snorts. "Yeah, the weird one. Come to the bottom lane with me," she adds, an afterthought, and then she's back. "He and Raven were starting to date when the pandemic hit, and they did, like, weird long distance until everyone got vaccinated. And once they were vaccinated, they decided they were done with that and she moved in with him. I'm happy for her, obviously, but it's been kind of lonely since then."

"Yeah, I get that. I mean, technically I live with Murphy, but that's only like, half a step above living alone. If he didn't eat my food I honestly don't know how long it would take me to notice he died."

"Yeah, I was kind of worried about you," she says, in an overly casual way that makes his heart pick up. "The pandemic coming so soon after Octavia leaving and you getting a weird new roommate seemed like it would be tough. But Miller thought you were doing okay."

"As well as anyone is, these days," he says, past a lump in his throat. The game starts up, and he makes himself concentrate on that. "Why do you have a lightbulb over your head?"

"It means I have Exp Share equipped. It's one of the held items, it means I'm going to let you kill all the wild Pokémon in our lane and you'll level up faster."

"What's in it for you?"

Her voice is prim. "I'm a support Pokémon. I support."

Bellamy has to snort. "That's not what I would have expected for you."

"No?"

"You yell so much, I thought you'd want to kill everyone."

Clarke laughs. "Yeah, I still do that. And I play some attackers too, sometimes, but I like being able to heal and getting mad at my team for letting me down. Whenever I get the most kills I like to imagine the rest of the team reevaluating how badly they played."

"I don't think I've been MVP yet."

"We'll get you there," Clarke says, with breezy confidence. "You're not bad. We just need to get your items unlocked and upgraded."

"I'm working on it." He clears his throat. "Have you been seeing anyone since Raven moved out?" It's mid-August, so she'll be coming up on two months of living alone. Clarke's never seemed like the most social person, but it sounds like a lot.

"Like dating?"

"Like any human contact."

"Do zoom meetings count?"

"Not if they're for work."

"I do video calls with Wells and my parents sometimes. I've got my cat. I don't need a lot of human contact."

"There's a pretty wide range between a lot and none. Are you doing okay?"

"This stupid game is honestly helping. The group chat was kind of dead until we all had Pokémon to talk about again."

"Are you a big Pokémon person?" he asks. "Or did you just want to feel included?"

"A little from column A, a little from column B. I haven't played every game like Monty and Jasper, but I still play Pokémon Go, and I got really into New Pokémon Snap when it came out. A lot of the Pokémon are cute, I have fun with them."

"Is Pokémon Go still fun?" he asks. "I remember O played it some when it came out but she got bored of it pretty fast."

"It's good for me. I have to go outside every day to go to a pokestop or I lose my streak, and there have definitely been days if it wasn't for that, I wouldn't leave my apartment. And when the weather's nice, it gets me to take walks."

Assuming she hasn't moved, Clarke actually lives pretty close to Bellamy. He and Octavia used to take the train home with her and Raven after they hung out, and it was one of the things he'd thought a lot about, back when he saw Clarke more. It would have been easy to ask her to get dinner somewhere in their neighborhood. He never had, but he was getting there.

"That might be worth downloading. I wouldn't mind being more familiar with Pokémon. Or having a reason to go outside."

"Let me know if you do," she says. "We can be friends."

It's not actually pathetic, no sadder than it would be if he was getting Pokémon Go to hang out with Miller or Octavia or anyone else. It always feels a little worse and more suspect, doing things because he has a crush on someone, but it actually does sound nice. He could use more fresh air going into fall, and he doesn't even have to feel bad about hanging out with Clarke, as long as they're outside.

"Yeah," he agrees. "That sounds nice."

*

The Pokémon Unite Discord grows slowly. Jasper's coworker Maya plays, so Monty has to go back and delete a bunch of old conversations about Jasper's crush on her in case she's a backreader. Roan joins once he finds out he can play Ninetales, because apparently he likes Pokémon, but only ice types, for some reason. Bellamy finds out Murphy plays by accident, so Murphy and his girlfriend join, and Octavia gets Lincoln a Switch Lite for his birthday, so he's actually around instead of never contributing.

With so many of them, Bellamy sort of assumes that they'll hit five people playing together fairly often, but that doesn't actually happen. According to Monty, playing with a full five-person team isn't actually very good anyway, because the few times they managed it, they got matched up against actual five-person teams who knew how to play together really well, and their team got destroyed every time. Two- or three-person teams are a better fit for their level of play, and even those don't assemble as much as Bellamy was expecting. He still can't play ranked with Raven, Monty, and Jasper, who all made it to Master rank before anyone else started playing, but he'll sometimes try standard or quick battles with them. Octavia tends to play later than he wants to stay up except on weekends, but he'll usually get a couple games in with her a week, sometimes with Miller, sometimes without. Most everyone else just posts in the Discord when they're looking for teammates, and Bellamy jumps on when he's in the mood.

Clarke is the exception, because as soon as he tells her about his half an hour of work/one game of Unite system, she decides it sounds like a great fit for her, too. They move those conversations out of the main Discord into their own DMs, and after lunch every day, one of them will say, "Game in 30?" and then they'll alternate between being responsible adults and teaming up for Pokémon fights until they're done for the day.

He got Pokémon Go too, and he and Clarke are friends, but he hasn't figured out how to ask her if she wants to go on Pokémon walks together. Enough of the gifts she sends him are from places he also visits that he's sure she's still in his neighborhood, and they're chatting regularly enough that it shouldn't be a big deal. If it was anyone else, he'd do it without hesitation, but the last thing he wants to do is scare her off.

"If asking her to go on a walk with you scares her off, she's never going to date you," Miller points out. He's over for their monthly Sunday night Smash Brothers session, and as much as Bellamy enjoys Pokémon Unite, he's glad they haven't switched to that. It's nice to have some variety.

"I know," he tells Miller. "Trust me, I know exactly how irrational I'm being. I feel like I'm in a Jane Austen novel or something, I can't ask her to come over, I can't ask her on a date, all I can do is see if she wants to go on a walk with me and I'm still like, that's too much."

Miller studies him for a second, as if Bellamy is a line of code that won't work no matter how much he rewrites it. They've been friends since freshman year of college, and there's probably no one else in the world who knows Bellamy better, not even Octavia.

Most of the time, it's a good thing.

"You didn't used to be like this," he finally says. "With dating."

Bellamy runs his hand through his hair. "I felt like I was pretty much on the right track before this, you know? After O moved, I figured I'd still see Clarke sometimes and we'd go from there. And it's not like I spent a year and half obsessing about her or anything. Honestly, I pretty much wrote it off as a missed connection. Now I've got a second chance but everything feels weird. I don't know how much has changed."

"It's not like either of you was going out and meeting other people," Miller points out, reasonably enough. "She didn't have your number, you didn't have hers. Now you're hanging out online and talking most days. If you're trying to read the signs, they say she wants to spend more time with you."

"I know." He offers Miller a wry smile. "I'm also just pretty rusty. I haven't dated anyone since Echo. I can't even remember the last time I asked someone out on a date."

"Which, like you said, you can't do anyway. When does school start again?"

"The eighth, I think?"

"So you've got a couple weeks. Ask her to go catch some Pokémon with you before classes start up. It's good to have a deadline."

"Were you always this overinvested in my love life?"

"I feel bad," Miller admits. "I didn't notice you were into her. If I had, I could have just given her your number when she was asking how you were doing last year. Saved everyone some trouble."

"You don't actually have to feel bad about that. I could have told you." He grins. "And I know you were too busy flirting with Monty to think about me."

Miller laughs. "Yeah, exactly. Now I've got a boyfriend, so it's your turn. We can make this happen."

"Generous use of we there."

"I can yell at you if you don't do it."

"Way more realistic. Thanks, though. I don't know why I'm so in my head about it."

"There are a few options."

"Yeah? What have you got?"

Miller counts them off on his fingers. "You're rusty, like you said. It's a global pandemic, and no one remembers how to interact like a person. Not that you were ever good at that. She's your sister's friend and you don't want your sister to be weird about it. Or maybe you just really like her and you don't want to fuck it up."

Bellamy gives the list due consideration. "E, all of the above."

"Yeah, I thought that might be it." He bumps his shoulder against Bellamy's. "You'll be fine."

"Probably, yeah. But thanks for the pep talk."

*

"So, how do raids work?" Bellamy asks Clarke on Tuesday. They're on their first Unite battle of the day, and Bellamy wishes the game had friendly fire so he could murder their team's Blissey. It's the newest Pokémon in the game, available for less than a week, and this person hasn't figured out how to play it yet. Not that Bellamy knows either, but whatever they're doing clearly isn't working.

"Raids?" asks Clarke. They're in different lanes and he's not sure what's happening in hers, but he figures it has to be better just because she doesn't have Blissey with her.

"In Pokémon Go."

"Oh, they're pretty easy. When there's one at a gym you use a raid pass, wait like two minutes, and fight the Pokémon. If you win, you can catch it."

"But you need a group of people, right?"

"Depends on the--fuck you, Garchomp! I'm going to kill that asshole if it's the last thing I do."

"I'll see if I can help," says Bellamy. "Heading into neutral jungle?"

"Yeah, I'm chasing it, we can meet in the middle."

Any given attempt Bellamy makes to track down and kill a specific person has only a 50/50 shot of working, but the unevolved Garchomp runs right into him, and Bellamy body-slams him to death.

"What were we talking about?" she asks, and Bellamy smiles.

"Pokémon Go raids."

"Oh, yeah. There are different levels? You don't always need more people, but I guess you probably don't have a lot of strong Pokémon yet."

"No. I got a couple decent ones from eggs, but I haven't been able to evolve them yet. I think my highest CP is like a thousand."

"Do you want to do raids or are you just curious?"

"I'm supposed to do some for one of my quests." He gives himself a beat. "I thought we could maybe do one of the ones in Davis sometime this week, if you're free. It always seems like there are a lot of them."

No matter what else is going on, he's definitely rusty, because he's been less nervous about asking people he likes out on actual, honest-to-god dates. This is barely even a walk and he's terrified.

At least Clarke doesn't make him wait. "Yeah, that sounds fun. We could do one remotely but then you have to use a remote pass. And I could always use the fresh air. Are you busy tomorrow?"

"As busy as I ever am. I have work I should be doing, but no real schedule."

Clarke gets distracted by the enemy Garchomp, who's once again plaguing her, and they're too busy trying to win for the conversation to pick back up.

But once they do win, Clarke says, "Maybe around lunchtime? I didn't have a plan for what to eat tomorrow, I could grab a burrito at Tenoch when we're done."

"Sure. We can see when the raids are and figure out when we want to meet up tomorrow?"

"Yeah, sounds good. Okay, thirty minutes of work and then another game?"

He manages not to say it's a date. But it's hard.

*

Clarke finds a raid she identifies as good starting at noon, and they agree to meet at Davis station then so they can walk to the gym together. Bellamy doesn't let himself overthink things too much; he refuses to dwell on what he's wearing or if he's leaving too early. A t-shirt and jeans is always appropriate, and anything more would have him dying in the August heat anyway, and the station is a ten-minute walk away, so he knows when he has to leave. It couldn't be simpler.

It's not even that hot out, thanks to a nice breeze, and Bellamy catches a few Pokémon on his walk over. A few of the gyms have the eggs on them to indicate impending raids, but he isn't sure which of them Clarke is planning to take him to. Maybe there are a couple he could handle, and they could do more than one. That would be nice.

She's already waiting for him at the station, and he can't help taking a moment to drink her in while she's looking at her phone. From this distance, she looks about the same, effortlessly lovely in a green sundress with her hair curling around her shoulders, but he sees a few streaks of pink in her hair that weren't there the last time he saw her.

He knew he'd missed her, but he still hadn't actually known how much.

"Hey," he says, when she still hasn't looked up once he gets to her.

She grins, bright and beautiful, like maybe she's missed him too. Or maybe she's just been lonely; he should have offered to meet up sooner.

Then again, she could have asked too. They can both work on this, if they want to.

"Hi! Wow, it's really good to see you."

"You too." He cocks his head at her. "How are you feeling about hugs?"

"I would love a hug."

He doesn't think he's ever actually hugged her before, but it doesn't seem weird at all to wrap her up in his arms. She's his friend, and he hasn't seen her for a year and a half. It's the kind of occasion where you hug.

And given the way she clings to him, he's pretty sure she's been needing someone to hug her.

He gives her a final firm squeeze and makes himself pull away. But he's definitely going to offer her a hug goodbye too.

"I like the hair," he offers.

She grins. "Thanks. One of my pandemic projects was learning to cut and dye my own hair. It was a lot worse the first time I did it."

"Well, it looks great now."

It feels like the point where the conversation gets awkward, so he quickly jumps in to ask her about which raid they're going to and how she picked it, and she shows him how to interpret the different colors of eggs and other raid symbols.

It's not how he pictured his first one-on-one in-person interaction with Clarke Griffin, but 2021 has thrown him way worse curveballs.

"I downloaded that game you're always playing," she says, casual, while they're waiting for the raid to start. "Slay the Spire."

"Really? Why?"

"I can't just play Pokémon Unite all the time. If I play too many games in a row I just get mad at people. Slay the Spire looked cool."

"Yeah, I like it. It was my go-to when I needed a break before I started playing Unite."

"I haven't really gotten into it much yet. I did one run and died before I got to the boss, but it seemed like that was pretty normal?"

"Yeah, the first few runs I was just figuring it out. And it gets kind of easier as you play more? Not just because you're more familiar with the cards and enemies, but as you play you unlock more cards and relics."

It's nice to be the one who knows more about a game for once, so he answers Clarke's questions as they walk around to a few different raids. She puts in her lunch order and he gets a quesadilla too, mostly so he doesn't have a reason to leave before she does. She's the one to suggest they have their lunch at the park, and of course he agrees. It's not exactly a date, but it feels more like a date than not. And, even better, it feels like she wants to do this kind of thing more often.

He did think he had a chance with her, way back when. He might still have a chance.

They're going different ways from the park, so he offers her another hug before she goes, and she accepts. He sends her a picture of the new Pokémon he catches on the way home, and she responds with the confetti emoji.

Bellamy
There are raids every day, right?

Clarke
There are

Bellamy
It was nice to get some air with another person. I could do that more often.

Clarke
Yeah, me too

*

"Are you boning Clarke?" Octavia asks on Friday. They're doing their weekly games, and he's finally high enough rank that they can actually play together, which feels like a major accomplishment. He's not the worst at this game.

"Did you seriously use bone as a verb?" he asks. "That's what you're going with?"

"That's not a no."

"It's also not a yes. I'm just disappointed. Update your slang."

"You're playing Pokémon Snap."

"And?"

"And Clarke likes it and she's the only unattached person in the Discord, so I assume that's why. Unless you're suddenly into Jasper and trying to keep him from asking Maya out, but I don't think he's your type."

"Unlike Clarke."

"Yeah, as soon as I thought about it I was like, yeah, that's definitely what's happening. You know like all the Pokémon names now, you used to be proud of not knowing those. And she's playing Slay the Spire! So something's going on."

"Maybe I just like Pokémon now. I never gave them a chance."

"Uh huh. Have you actually seen her in person since I left?"

He thinks it over, but it's not like he actually wants to lie to Octavia. He was keeping her in the dark, but that wasn't supposed to be forever. And things are honestly going really well. He and Clarke have been taking walks together every day, and most days they even bring lunch to eat at the park together. They're both fully vaccinated and working from home, so he's pretty sure the next step is trying to hang out inside, but he hasn't figured out how to ask for that yet. Even knowing it's probably safe, it feels risky for non-pandemic reasons.

"Yeah, we've been playing Pokémon Go."

"So you really like her."

"I do, yeah. So much that I almost didn't start playing Pokémon Go because I didn't want to make it weird."

Octavia cackles. "I can't believe you didn't tell me."

"Can't you?"

"Well, you should have! I could help."

"Please don't. I'm doing fine."

"Really?"

Bellamy shrugs, even though she can't see him. "Honestly? Yeah. I need to figure out how to ask her on an actual date, but you're right, we hadn't seen each other since you left. No need to rush."

"Okay, well." She huffs. "Good luck. I think you guys would be good together. Even if it's weird you're learning Pokémon names to flirt with her."

"If it works, it works, right? Remember when you were hitting on Lincoln and you joined like three gyms and stopped eating gluten? He wasn't even gluten free. Being bad at flirting is a family trait."

"Going to the gym is good for you!"

"So is going outside to play Pokémon Go. And you didn't join three gyms for your health, you just didn't know where he worked."

"Okay, fine. We both suck at this. I couldn't have helped you. But I did get you into Unite! So that was good. I get some credit."

"You do. Are we playing or what?"

"Yeah, yeah. I was changing my outfit." There's a pause. "Let me know how it goes, at least?"

He does feel a little bad for not telling her sooner. But only a little. "Yeah, I'll let you know."

*

Clarke
What are you doing tomorrow?

Even though it's summer, Bellamy tries to maintain something like his usual schedule, which means he's doing his Saturday cleaning when the message from Clarke comes in. In the past, he would have felt the need to come up with some sort of lie, to not let her know how little he has going on, but he doesn't go anywhere these days and she knows it.

Bellamy
I was going to get groceries at some point.
Maybe do some reading?
Nothing definite.
Why, you want to try to get to Ultra rank?

Clarke
Yeah
But I thought we could maybe do it in person?
We're both vaccinated, right?

Bellamy
We are both vaccinated.
That could be fun.
I don't actually know your address.

They get the logistics figured out fairly quickly, and then Bellamy is left with a full twenty-six hours ahead of him where he knows he's going to see Clarke but isn't seeing her yet. Which, to be fair, it's not like seeing her is as novel as it was before, but this feels like a step up. The fact that she's also interested in hanging out more inside and in private is encouraging, even if it doesn't mean exactly what he wants it to.

He texts Octavia and Miller and they both tell him, in their own words, to fucking make an actual move, which seems like not a bad idea. He could at least tell her he's interested, and then they can move on from there one way or another. They're at the point in their friendship where he thinks it could survive her turning him down, and he doesn't want to accidentally blow past there and make things weird.

He offers to pick up some food on the way and gets them a couple pizzas from the weird hipster place in Davis. Clarke's apartment is about a twenty minute walk, an easy distance that he could definitely do more often. And her building is nice too, one of those cute old three-story houses instead of a small apartment building like his.

He could definitely visit more often.

The doorbells are unmarked so he just texts her from the doorway, listens as she thumps down the stairs to let him in. She's dressed in jeans and a t-shirt today, her hair in pigtail braids, and part of him wants to lean down and kiss her just to say that he did.

He should definitely use his words, though.

"Hey."

"Hey, thanks for coming. And bringing food."

"You're getting me away from Murphy, it's the least I can do."

She smiles. "He's really good at Unite, though. I'm surprised you don't play with him more often."

He follows her up the stairs to the second floor. "He always plays Mr. Mime, so if I play with him, I have to look at Mr. Mime. I'd rather lose, honestly. It's not worth it."

"I don't know why they decided they needed to include him," Clarke says. "There are like eight hundred Pokémon or something, why did they have to make us look at Mr. Mime."

Her apartment is bright and sunny, but there's something empty-looking about it too. Raven's only been gone for a couple months and Clarke clearly hasn't filled in the space she left behind yet. But her cat is friendly, coming over to meow and weave between Bellamy's legs, and her TV is already on to the Unite home screen, like she was just waiting for him.

"Nice place."

"Thanks. My parents helped me with the downpayment or I could never have afforded it."

"Must be nice to have living parents with money," he teases, and she laughs.

"Most of the time, yeah. Do you want something to drink?"

He leans down to scratch the cat behind the ears. "Water would be good. What's the cat's name?"

"Calla. She's three. I got her a couple weeks into the pandemic."

"Makes sense. Hi, Calla."

He straightens to find Clarke watching him, the expression on her face enough to make his heart flip. For a second, he's so sure this is going to go well.

"I wanted to ask you out," he tells her. "Before. I was working up to it."

Her smile is still so soft. "Yeah, I thought maybe we were heading that way."

"I still don't really want to go into restaurants, but I like all the outdoor seating in Davis. So we could do dinner outside sometime, if you're still interested."

"Yeah, that would be nice." She bites her lip and then crosses the room to stand in front of him. "I was thinking we could stay in today, though."

He's already leaning in when she tugs him down, and they meet in the middle. It's hard to say if a kiss can really be worth waiting a year and a half for. If he'd had his way, he definitely wouldn't have waited so long.

But he's definitely going to kiss her a lot more. It's hard to be that upset. Even if they don't end up playing any video games that afternoon.

*

8th wonder of the world
good news for bell!!!

Bellamy
I don't trust you

8th wonder of the world
I am your sister how dare you
they're putting sylveon in unite!!!

Bellamy
That's the trans one, right?

8th wonder of the world
it's EEVEE, bell!! finally you get the other pokemon you know!!

Lincoln
At this point, Bellamy might know more Pokemon than I do
I'm not sure it's fair to act like Eevee is his only touchpoint

Bellamy
It would be cool if you actually had evolution options in the game
Like depending on how your team was doing you could decide to be an Espeon or an Umbreon instead of Sylveon
I know it would be a logistical nightmare, but still

Lincoln
See?
Bellamy might actually be good at Pokemon now

Bellamy
Thanks?

420 blaziken it
yeah but he just got good at pokemon to get laid so it doesn't count
you're only REALLY good at pokemon if it prevented you from getting laid
it had to have been a deterrent

zapdos but a corvid
hey fuck you
i'm good at pokemon and it never stopped me getting laid

420 blaziken it
bc you're a hot girl

zapdos but a corvid
so???? your experience isn't more valid than mine, jordan
and bellamy's experience of learning about pokemon to get laid is also valid
there are many ways to become a pokemon master

Montyferno
tbh I think we should all give @Clarke the most credit here
not only did she get a hot new boyfriend but she taught him how to love pokemon and game with her
she should teach a class

8th wonder of the world
um also ME I was the one who got bell to download unite

Bellamy
Yeah but like 75% of that was that you said Clarke was playing
I don't know if I would have kept going with it if she wasn't involved
Sorry, O

8th wonder of the world
hdu tbh

Clarke
I don't think I can actually teach anyone to be like me
First the guy needs to have a crush on you, then a global pandemic has to hit so he can't ask you out, then you need to get into the same pokemon game to reconnect
I'm not sure this is something anyone can recreate

Bellamy
No, probably not
But it worked out for us

Clarke
Yeah
Like a charm