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Peaks and Valleys

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Blue is Kanto Champion for thirty-nine minutes.

That’s it. Technically, he’s part of the Hall of Fame, technically he’s an accepted Champion. Technically, the title was his once, so it will always be his. Technically, he can’t lose it. He just loses being the present Champion.

He also, briefly, held the Kanto record for youngest ever Pokemon League champion. That was until Red, three months younger, caught up to him.

Really, Blue hadn’t even been surprised.

 

The news goes absolutely crazy over them for days. The two youngest champions in Kanto history, two boys from Pallet Town, a little coastal village that had only ever produced one Champion in the past. Not only that, but one boy was Professor Oak’s grandson, and his rival the mysterious, taciturn boy that had single-handedly brought Team Rocket to its knees.

Blue’s tiny house in Pallet Town is swarmed with reporters day and night, desperately catching photos of the disgraced victor. Two over-eager women interview him, doing everything short of pinching his cheeks. There is a photoshoot of him, Gramps, and his Pokémon team outside of the laboratory. He gets fanmail, from trainers aspiring to be him, fans aspiring to marry him. He receives long angry screeds from adult trainers bemoaning that the state of Pokémon training had fallen so low that two preteens had bested the Elite Four.

He gets letters mocking him for being the shortest-lived League Champion in history. Every time he reads one of those, he stiffens, bites his lip, and then as nonchalantly as he can, tears it to pieces and throws it away.

After a while, the fuss around him dies off. He becomes aimless, hanging out at home, occasionally making the trek to Victory Road for some battles and some training. Gramps suggests he travel to Johto, or maybe Hoenn, and try to further the Pokedex there. Blue shrugs and says he’ll think about it. It’s not untrue. He is thinking about it.

It’s just a bit tricky – you get everything you always wanted at age 11. Then what? People rave about your story for a few weeks. You have interviews, TV appearances, photoshoots. You shake hands. You answer fan-mail. You write pieces for magazines. You budget your time and your new prize money. You answer questions about your career, and try to give answers other than ‘What?’.

You try to fit into the shoes of a grown man, and realise too late that they don’t fit yet.

But eventually people move on. Aside from his age and his grandfather, after all, Blue isn’t that interesting a Champion. Haughty boys with teams of big, imposing Pokémon and even bigger egos are dime a dozen in the Hall of Fame. There’s only so much to say about him.

Red, though. Red is interesting.

Red is the boy who doesn’t speak, who brought a criminal organisation to its knees with just his Pokémon, and a whole lot of tenacity. A stony-faced child with a grown man’s disposition, but he still keeps an unevolved Pikachu in his team, of all things. He has intrigue. People can make up whatever they want about him.

One tabloid speculates that Red is Giovanni’s long-lost son. He snorts and leaves it on Red’s front step.

One day, the tabloids show a photo of Red, one arm up, hand half-covering his face, expression still. Pikachu stands by his side, her fur bristling.

Blue stares at it. Anybody else would just see the stoic Kanto Champion, reclusive and mysterious as ever, holding his privacy more dearly than any other Champion to date. Far more dearly than that arrogant idiot neighbour of his.

Nobody else spent as much time deliberately attempting to torment Red as Blue had. Blue recognised the crease in his forehead, the way his fingers were curled tight, almost into a fist. Red was freaked out.

The next day, Blue goes to the lab.

“Yo, Gramps, still need someone to go to Johto?”

 

Red could talk. Physically, that is. Blue has heard him talk before. Yes, no, thank you, please, Pokémon names and types. He’d never exactly been a chatterbox, but Blue was sure that when they were little, Red had talked way more. Blue couldn’t exactly remember when they had played together – only that Daisy, Gramps and Red’s mother insisted that it had happened – but he wasn’t sure it had ever happened. After all, Red had always been a social pariah in school. Blue wasn’t sure he’d ever been able to bear the idea of being friends with him.

Then, it seemed, he just started to go quieter and quieter. Teachers despaired with him in class – he answered the register by shooting his arm straight up in the air, before immediately ducking back down to reading whatever advanced training materials he’d brought in that day. He answered questions by nodding or shaking his head. Nothing they plied him with worked. Nothing they threatened him with worked. Red remained silent.

Blue found himself talking more and more, as if attempting to fill the space his silence left. He found himself following Red on the playground, jabbing a finger into his chest, over and over, telling him to just ask him to stop if it hurt. He never did.

But he did punch Blue in the face and gave him a split lip and a bloody nose.

Red was taken out of school.

 

Gramps sends Blue to a colleague of his – something Elm, because apparently professors are really committed to their weird tree gimmick. Blue is determined to change his last name as soon as he’s able. Elm isn’t much like Gramps – Gramps is all stern grandfatherly lectures, stony glares, and pristine labcoats. Elm jumps out of his skin when Blue turns up in the lab, drops the notes he was carrying, and babbles excessively. He fidgets, bounces on his heels, and smiles at lot.

Like Gramps, though, he doesn’t make much eye contact and isn’t exactly the smoothest operator in the world. Blue thinks that professors may all be like that.

“Well, Blue, I’m glad you’re here. We need a good trainer to help us with this next piece of research,” Elm says, pushing his notes into the arms of a harassed-looking grad student, and facing Blue with a broad smile on his face, adjusting his glasses, “We have received a mysterious egg that just appeared some day at the Day Care centre near Goldenrod –“

Blue snorts. Elm blinks at him, thrown off-script, and Blue can see him struggling to formulate what to say next. Blue smirks, resting his hands behind his head and cocking an eyebrow.

“Hey, Prof, maybe drop the baby trainer talk? You’re dealing with a Kanto Champion, okay, not some little doofus angling for a starter in exchange for some field work,” he says, if only to take mercy on the professor, “’Mysteriously appeared’. Honestly.”

“Er. How old are you?”

“Thirteen,” Blue says, “Old enough to know what happens when a Mommy Pikachu and a Daddy Pikachu love each other very much.”

“Ah,” Elm replies, his cheeks a little pink, and then breathes out, “Well, yes, it didn’t exactly mysteriously appear. But we do need someone to take it. Keep it with you, safe, among active Pokémon. Record any changes.”

“How many trainers you got out doing this?” Blue asks.

“Ah. Uh. It’s a decently sized sample,” Elm admits. Blue rolls his eyes. Every trainer who wandered in here probably got the same spiel. About what a good and talented trainer they were, this was a very special task, yadda yadda yadda. Blue had seen Gramps do it a million times before.

Citizen science, Gramps called it. Child labour, Blue could argue.

“Right, right. Well, I’ll take it. Hey, raising a Pokémon from the egg might make it stronger long-term,” Blue says, “Lower level the Pokémon when you start training it, the stronger it is maxed out, right?”

“That…that is the theory,” Elm says, looking at Blue with surprise. Blue has the feeling that Gramps didn’t exactly advertise his grandson as a bright, studious type.

“So, what are the parents?” Blue asks, as Elm gestures for an assistant to fetch the egg. Elm looks at him, smiling again. The guy smiled way more than was necessary or normal. Like he was just absolutely desperate to seem friendly. Trying to compensate for social awkwardness, and only making it worse.

“Wouldn’t you prefer it’s a surprise?” he asks, as an aide passes him the egg. It’s big, size of a coconut, with a pale shell mottled in earthy green.

“Eh, surprises are overrated,” Blue says, flapping a hand.

“…Well, er, it’s a double-blind procedure. And, eggs of different species are oddly indistinguishable from one another, so…”

“You don’t know, I’m not allowed to know, and there’s no real way to figure out,” Blue says, and takes the egg. A number was printed on the shell. “Go fig. Can’t see how that’d affect the Pokémon though.”

“We were concerned about trainers treating eggs differently depending on whether they think it’s going to catch into a Rattata or a Larvitar,” Elm explains. Blue cradles the egg in his arm. Against his expectations, it feels warm. He can almost imagine a pulse beating under the shell. He looks back up at the professor, and shoots him a wry smirk he perfected for the sake of his Hall of Fame photograph.

“Hey. I got beat by a Pikachu. Trust me, I’m not about to underestimate a rat any time soon.”

 

After taking him out of school, Red’s mother began bringing Red to the lab to study instead.

The thing was, Red wasn’t an idiot. His grades sucked, sure and he never answered a single question in class, so the other kids (and most of the teachers) assumed he was a moron.

Blue knew better. He was descended from eccentric geniuses. He noticed the way Red knew type match-ups better than the other kids knew how to spell their own name in kindergarten. He noticed how Red listened, squinting, out in the playground at the distant sound of a Pokemon’s cry, and then flipped his notebook open and scribbled down a name, a Pokédex number. He noticed when Red helped an injured Spearow behind the school, coaxing it to him silently, communicating without saying a word.

Most of all, he noticed how effortless it all was to him. While the rest of them were memorising rhymes and acronyms to remember that flying was effective against fighting, that Weedle evolved into Kakuna and then Beedrill, about TMs and HMs and the history of the Pokémon league, Red already had it in his head. He knew everything already, and more than that, he knew exactly how to apply it. So school had no point to him.

It made the other kids hate him, and, infuriatingly, he didn't even seem to realise why.

Blue asked him questions, loud and intended to humiliate, and Red’s eyes would go out of focus, as though accessing a secret computer in his own brain, and within a second he would spit out the right type to use, the level that Pokémon evolved, on average. Blue would laugh, the other kids would too, at this weird child with a computer for a brain.

Red would stand, mouth hanging open, looking from laughing face to laughing face, clearly clueless as to what he did wrong. That made them all laugh even more.

Those little games were the most Blue ever managed to coax Red into speaking. Maybe that was why he kept doing it, kept pushing him, pushed him until he fell silent and wouldn’t come to school again.

But just as Blue noticed Red’s intelligence, Gramps did too. Naturally, Gramps decided that Red was a genius, and took him under his wing, had him in the lab until late helping him with research Blue didn’t even understand the basics of.

Blue insisted to Daisy that he didn’t care, threw something at his door when he came in to check on him, and went back to the trainer’s manual in his lap, trying to get the information to stick into his head.

It did and it would, eventually. Blue would be a trainer who balanced his teams perfectly, caught hundreds of the same type to find the best IVs, trained EVs strategically, planned move-sets, saved up for vitamins and items and subscribed to battle magazines and tried every new training regime and technique he came across.

Red, however, would be the trainer who could just pick the Pokémon he liked best together, and still managed to win. Blue supposed that natural talent would always win out, in the end.

                                                                                                  

Blue begins his hike around Johto, armed with his Pokémon, a bag full of Pokéballs, and the egg in a padded bag on his back. He catches every new Johto species he encounters, sending them back to Gramps for study.

He’s not as mobbed by fans as he’d hoped – the occasional bolder trainer rushes up to him to ask for an autograph, or a battle, but other than that, he travels through Johto with his Pokémon for company. He battles Falkner and Bugsy, adding the Zephyr and Hive Badges to his collection easily.

Emerging from Ilex Forest, Blue sees his first glimpse of the Goldenrod skyline; the peak of the Radio Tower, the towering bulk of the department store, still lit up even at the dead of the night, all the lights of the skyscrapers and the creeping lights of cars. He passes by the Day Care centre, the doors locked for the night. He hears the rattle of the Magnet Train as it rushes through to the station, bringing weary travelers from Saffron City.

Blue always liked Saffron City. He liked the vastness of it, all the districts, the subway sweeping beneath it, invisibly connecting all the pieces of the sprawling city together. He liked the thrum of crowds, the laughter of schoolgirls at the crossroads, the trainers battling on the street.

It was better than claustrophobic Pallet Town. Gramps’ lab was the only interesting thing in the whole dull place.

Red probably hated Saffron City. Blue could imagine Red, shoulders narrowed and face pinched, striding through the clamour of Saffron’s wide streets. He couldn’t even imagine Red on the subway, hanging onto some loop from the ceiling, pressed under the arm of some salaryman, a trio of chattering tourists at his back. He probably took one look at the underground and bolted.

Goldenrod was busy even at night, the skyscrapers bulging with izakayas and all-night arcades and thriving restaurants. He passes by two trainers battling in the middle of a road, surrounded by a cheering crowd. A blue-haired girl with a bulky Ariados, the other trainer dark-haired, commanding a Pikachu.

Pikachu had really exploded in popularity after Red won the Championship. He has to wonder if Red even understood what a big impact he’d had.

Blue walks on before someone recognises him – even he didn’t have the energy to be adored after such a long walk.

Approaching the Pokémon Centre, Blue feels a shaking from his bag. He stops, crouches, and takes the bag from his back, tugging the cords open. Inside, the egg rattles to and fro with increasing desperation, cracks forming bit by bit across the shell.

A fuzzy paw smashes a hole in the shell, followed by another, and then a head, with closed eyes, long ears pressed to the sides of its face. Blue pulls away the pieces of shell and wipes away the fluid, bringing the Pokémon, small and downy, into his arm. It mewls.

An Eevee. Huh, Blue thinks, and he would usually make calculations about the balance of his team, check the Pokémon’s stats with his Pokédex, calculate whether to keep it or send it to Gramps, and if he was going to keep it, how.

He checks the Eevee’s stats, and feels disappointment lodge hard in his throat. She’s a total weakling – not the right disposition at all for a championship team. He assumed that any egg he raised would be a fighter.

“Looks like you’re going to Gramps, buddy,” he mutters at her, tickling her chin.

The Eevee mewls again, opening her eyes, and then catches Blue’s finger between her forepaws. All those usual calculations fly right out of Blue’s head.

 

“An Eevee?” Elm asks down the Pokégear.

“Yeah,” Blue says, scratching Eevee’s ear as she fidgeted in his lap, “The Joy took her in for the rest of the night for a wash and some check-ups, but she’s as energetic as any grown Pokémon, that normal?”

“From what we’ve seen, it is,” Elm says. Blue hums, as the Joy (Joy Karen or something, he never really bothers remembering their names) brings him a cup of coffee and some breakfast. Seemed weird to Blue, that a Pokémon was born practically grown-up already. Eevee’s fur is a bit downier than usual, and she’s a little on the small side, but Blue thinks he could probably begin battling with her today.

“What level is it?” Elm asks.

“One. Duh,” he says.

“And you’re certain it’s an Eevee? Not another form of Eevee?” Elm continues.

“Yeah? Seriously, doc, I’m not an idiot. I know what an Eevee looks like,” Blue replies, scowling.

“Hm,” Elm says, “Well…would you mind continuing to train it? I have a post-doc researching Eevee evolution lines, it would be interesting to see one raised from the egg…”

“Well, if I have to,” Blue drawls, feeding some of his oyakodon to Eevee.

“Blue?” says a deep, familiar voice. Blue looks up from the Eevee in his arms, and sees a man with red hair gelled into careful spikes staring at him. For a second, Blue doesn’t recognise him without the stupid cape.

“Lance? The hell are you doing here?” he asks, hanging up on Elm with a quick ‘Smell ya!’. Lance frowns, glancing across the room.

“I’ve had some…issues that required my attention,” he says, and then looks back at Blue, “Although it’s good I ran into you. I have something I’d like to discuss with you. Are you able to meet with me later today? The department store rooftop should be an appropriate spot.”

Why did so many Pokémon trainers talk like this?

“Hey, long as you’re not wearing that cape, I’ll meet with you anywhere.”

 

“So, what was the issue?” Blue asks, opening a can of soda as he sat opposite Lance. Lance looks at him carefully, appraising this arrogant, irreverent child, but apparently comes to the conclusion that Blue’s status as league Champions trumps his status as cocky kid with Grandpa issues.

“There has been some unfortunate rumours of Rocket activity in Johto as of late,” he admits, shaking his head at Blue’s offer of a drink. Blue resists the urge to sigh – Rocket news, of course. Boring. He had never quite been able to bring himself to care. Sure, they were evil, sure, they did illegal things, sure, they stole Pokémon. But, hey, they’d never done any of those things to Blue, so who cared.

“Sucks,” Blue says, ending the conversation before it can begin. He wasn’t Red – organised crime wasn’t any of his business, and he had absolutely no intent of making it his business. “So what about what you wanted to discuss with me?”

Lance’s frown deepens. Apparently he expected Blue to immediately offer to help stop Rockets, however, he could. Blue shrugs and eats a piece of his sandwich. He got the wrong Pallet Town boy if that’s what he wanted.

“Well…we have been struggling to recruit a new Gym Leader for Viridian City,” Lance begins slowly.

“Gramps won’t do it,” Blue interrupts. Lance blinks at him.

“Sorry?”

“Gramps won’t do it,” he repeats, “All he cares about is his research. He’s not gonna waste his time fighting trainers and handing out gym badges.”

“That wasn’t the proposition,” Lance says, “We were going to ask you, Blue.”

Blue chokes on his soda, sending Eevee bolting from his lap with an indignant yowl. He thumps his chest, twice, and then finally manages to compose himself. He tries not to stare wide-eyed, tries to look haughty and arrogant, as though he thought it was only a matter of time before the Elite Four decided to give a teenager his own Gym.

Then again, he can’t be much younger than Bugsy. It wasn’t that strange. Blue feels himself begin to grin.

“Well, I can’t say I’m surprised, bu –“

Blue’s speech is interrupted by a shrill ringing from his belt. He frowns and grabs his Pokégear, and then grins again. He answers.

“Hello?” Daisy says at the other end, her voice hoarse.

“Daisy? Ha, finally! You called your little bro! Johto’s great. Lot of cool Pokémon, some tough trainers, though, ha, not as tough as yours truly,” Blue says, glancing at Lance’s extremely irritated expression, “Having lunch with Lance right now. Really rude of you to interrupt.”

“Blue –“

“How’s Gramps? How’s Red? Still the golden boy?”

“Blue –“

“I know, I know, you miss me. Gonna buy you some fancy tea from Ecruteak when I –“

“Blue! Shush!” Daisy barks down the phone, and Blue falls quiet, unused to his usually serene sister raising her voice. Daisy takes a breath, and then says, “Red’s missing.”

Somehow, the only response Blue can summon is:

“Hunh?”

“He’s missing, Blue,” Daisy says, “He and his Pokémon are gone, no explanation, nothing. Nobody Grandpa contacted have seen him.”

“So? Guy’s probably just off training in Victory Road or something,” Blue says, but suddenly he isn’t sure. Red had been practically caged up in house by his own fame since winning the league. He’d probably been losing his mind.

“I’m not sure that’s it. Since you left, he’s dropped by a few times to get his Pokémon massaged. He looked awful, Blue,” Daisy says, “He would have let Grandpa or his mother know if he was going somewhere. We’re worried.”

Blue looks out across Goldenrod, and sees the Magnet Train snaking through to the station, touches Pidgeot’s ball still clasped to his belt.

He lets out a long, agonised sigh, letting Daisy know what a pain it was.

“Fine, I’ll come back,” he says, and glances at Lance with a smirk, “I do have a gym I should be looking after now.”

“…What?”

 

“I just don’t understand why he wouldn’t tell me,” Red’s mother repeats, for what felt like the thirtieth time that afternoon. Blue resists the urge to roll his eyes. She didn’t make such a big fuss when they left home to travel around Kanto unsupervised. “He would normally leave a note or something.”

“I’m sure Red is fine, he just likely wants a chance to get away from it all,” Daisy says soothingly, refilling her cup of tea and rubbing her upper back. She takes a sip from her tea, hands shaking hard enough to make the cup clatter in her fingers.

“Yes, I received a Pokémon from him recently, as well as an update on one of his Pokédex entries,” Gramps agrees, “Although we haven’t been able to pinpoint his location, he seems alive and well. Don’t worry, Masami.”

She nods, then fixes Blue with a look that makes him squirm.

“You were my son’s best friend, where do you think he has went?” she asks, and Blue could laugh. Best friend?

Adults were useless. It was no wonder they relied on eleven-year-olds to tackle national crises.

“Please? Anything,” she says, desperate.

He shrugs. He really has no idea.

He lets them use Pidgeot to look for him, though. Figures that he could at least do that much.

 

Red stays missing.

Blue isn’t surprised, or even really worried. If anything, that’s proof more than anything that he’s fine.

After all, only Red could possibly keep himself that well-hidden. Blue tells himself this as he sits up late, working through a stack of paperwork for the Viridian Gym, Eevee in a basket by his feet.

He’s not worried. At all.

Chapter Text

Being a gym leader turns out to be a lot more work than he’d anticipated. On his journey across Kanto, he hadn’t given them much thought beyond being obstacles for him to overcome. He’d thought about their type specialties (he still hasn’t gotten around to choosing one – as far as he can tell, there isn’t actually a law he has to), about what Pokémon they were famous for using, whether they focused on defensive or offensive tactics, but not much about who they were or what they did.

Information he knows a little too late now.

Who they were – mostly former Champions, or at the very least high rankers.

What they did – took responsibility for distributing first Pokémon to local trainers (in Blue’s case, that accounted for both Viridian City and Pallet Town, unless Gramps took an interest in them), building teams for all 8 badge levels (whether a trainer only had 1 or 7 badges, Blue needed to have an appropriate team for their level that would challenge them without being unnecessarily harsh, he could only use so many items or types of item dependent upon badge level), monitoring wild Pokémon in local area and dealing with any causing trouble (a pack of Mankeys had made their home in an abandoned house in Viridian, causing endless problems until Blue went and dealt with it),  teaching local kids about raising, catching and training Pokémon responsibly (endless letters from grade school teachers asking him to come in and talk to their kids), and a million other little tasks. Paperwork that needed to be completed, phone calls that needed to be made, meetings to be had, crises to solve, a billion duties that changed every day.

He didn’t get a break from having to do schoolwork either. Legally, he had to take part in long-distance education, specially designed for trainers. His Pokémon journey leave was well and truly up with settling into the life of a Gym Leader.

Although he found he was attaining celebrity status again. A lot of trainers he battled asked for photos afterwards, kids came by for autographs, a gaggle of teen girls had taken to hanging outside the Viridian Gym, all giggly and eager to talk to him. He enjoys that attention less than he expects.

On top of that, he was training and raising more Pokémon than ever. And the gym leader rules the League so insisted upon, while they seemed enormously arbitrary, it did mean Blue was actually having challenging battles again.

And it was way better than being in a traditional middle school. Blue occasionally sees old friends from Pallet Town, ones that had either never went on a Pokémon journey or only collected two or three badges before coming home, and they're boring. They act like the same little brats they were back then. So Blue is certain this is exactly the life he wants, for all it flaws and baggage.

Still. Blue wasn’t exactly sure he was in the right frame of mind when he decided to try and climb Mount Silver.

 

Gramps mentioned that Mount Silver had unusually strong wild Pokémon on it.

That was all.

The rumours of a mysterious ‘most powerful trainer’ at the peak, well, that was all they were. Local kids came up with stuff like that all the time. Train a Pikachu under the full moon and it would evolve into a mysterious Pokémon that was all types at once. Go to Vermillion City at night and do a special chant and you would see Mew. Not to mention all sorts of weird stories about the Cinnabar Island laboratory, attributing the volcano’s eruption to everything from Moltres to illegal Pokémon cloning, rather than just a force of nature that had went underestimated for too long.

That just wasn’t Blue’s style. He was a serious trainer, not some idiot legendary-chaser who was convinced they saw Zapdos in their morning toast or something.

He was going purely for training, and for research.

Blue closes the gym for a couple of weeks, and packs supplies for the trip. He picks out his team, all of his best and strongest, leaving Eevee with Daisy for the week, and the rest stored away in their Pokéballs at the gym. Gramps gives him a plush jacket and a pair of insulated gloves for the trip, warning him not to just rely on Arcanine for warmth. Blue waves him off with a ‘Yeah, yeah, whatever’, leaving Gramps muttering darkly to himself about teenagers.

Blue soon discovers that all of his previous hiking and caving experience pales in comparison to the trek up Mount Silver. Even with Rhydon clearing paths and helping him negotiate steeper inclines, the walk is onerous, leaving the backs of his calves aching at the end of the day.

The Pokémon are tougher than most wild Pokémon in Kanto, it’s true. And there’s Johto and Kanto natives mixed together, some of them unusual, all hardy from their environment. He even catches a Makuhita on his third day, a Pokémon he’d only ever seen on TV.

It’s the fifth day the snow begins to fall, and Blue begins to ride on Arcanine’s back, clinging to his warm fur. Alakazam and Rhydon make a path through the snow, Rhydon drilling through the ice, and Alakazam clearing paths with swings of his spoons, sending rippling psychic waves that made the snow vanish into thin air.

They’re close to the peak, and all exhausted. Blastoise and Exeggutor, least equipped to deal with the harsh mountain conditions, mostly remain in their Pokéballs, despite their best efforts to help. As the winds pick up, Blue returns Pidgeot to her ball as well, despite her caws of protest. He doesn’t want her breaking a wing.

Arcanine’s breath grows heavier, tips of his fur turning white as ice and snow begins to crystallise. Alakazam places a hand on his snout and closes her eyes, warming him through. With a satisfied nod, he turns to do the same to Rhydon. When he turns to Blue though, he fixes him with a stern glower that Blue is sure he picked up from Gramps, somehow. The implication is clear - Alakazam thinks they should go home.

Blue scowls, and shakes his head.

“We keep going,” he shouts over the howl of the wind, irritable at having his own Pokémon give him such a scolding look, “We keep going and find somewhere to rest tonight!”

Alakazam shakes his head and then rests a clawed hand on Blue’s forehead, and Blue feels his body temperature elevate, slowly returning to normal. Alakazam can’t keep doing that indefinitely. He knows he should teleport back down to the base of the mountain – he had collected a lot of Pokémon, made a lot of progress. There was nothing to be gained, really, from reaching the peak.

But Blue always liked to.

Patting Arcanine’s side, he urges him forward.

Through the snow, Blue sees a shadow charging towards them. He shouts out a command, but he’s not fast enough, and something hard and round crashes into Arcanine, sending them both flying backwards. Blue falls from Arcanine’s back, landing face-down in the snow. He lifts his head and sees Rhydon charge at their assailant, hears a trumpeting Pokémon cry that he doesn’t recognise.

Rhydon picks up the attacking Pokémon and hurls it down into a snow. A short, squat Pokémon, with a long trunk and curving tusks, its hide thick, spine covered with armoured scales. Donphan, a Johto Pokémon. Intimidating looking, but not all that strong.

They could handle that. Blue gets to his feet and smirks.

“Rhydon, Surf!” he commands. Rhydon barely has a chance to begin summoning the wave of water, when another Donphan charges into his side, making him slip and stumble in the snow. Another Donphan charges forward, and then another. Arcanine snarls, firing plumes of fire at their attackers that lick harmlessly at their hard hide. Alakazam puts up barriers, floating around Blue to keep him safe from harm. Blue can barely shout out commands over the noise of the battle and the roar of the wind.

How the hell they managed to get into a fight with the whole herd, Blue doesn’t understand, but Blue does understand something he’s very unaccustomed to.

He is losing. And he is helpless.

His Pokémon can’t hear him. Arcanine doesn’t understand that his fire doesn’t help. Rhydon doesn’t know that Surf or Ice Beam is their best way of dealing with them – without him, he charges forward with Horn Drills and rattles the ground with Earthquakes, all more likely to cause damage to them than the Donphans. Alakazam alone seems able, but being so focused on keeping Blue from being snowed under by Donphan’s Earthquakes, he barely has time.

A Donphan slams hard into Alakazam, and he collapses unconscious into the snow. Blue returns him, desperately trying to dodge the Donphan’s attacks and get to Arcanine, struggling on his own and just blasting torrents of flame in random directions.

In the distance, Blue sees a figure, and a dark shadow.

He smells something funny in the wind. Feels something go up his nose, and his brain goes funny.

He barely has time to register the sight of the Pokémon slowly sinking into the snow, before he collapses himself.

 

He wakes to Arcanine licking his cheek, an unidentifiable stench in the air, and the crackle of a fire.

Blue bolts upright, knocking his forehead into Arcanine’s nose. By the fire, a boy bent over a pot, adding something to it, a Pikachu perched on his shoulder.

“You –“ Blue begins, and then coughs, hard enough to make his chest ache.

Red looks over at him, expressionless.

 

“You’ve been living in a cave all this time,” he says, too stricken to say anything else. Red looks away from him, returning to whatever dreadful thing he was cooking. He isn’t even wearing full-length sleeves. On top of a mountain.

Blue takes a second to take in his surroundings. Alakazam sits in the corner, legs crossed, eyes closed, fingers pinched and spoons floating before him. Rhydon lays curled in a ball beside him, sides moving gently up and down. He scrambles around and finds the others’ Pokéballs, perfectly safe and fine, laid in a neat line by his side.

Red’s Charizard sits by the fire, tailed curled around her. Next to her, a bulky green Pokémon, with a huge flower on its back. Blue supposes that solves the mystery of the sudden Sleep Powder.

“You don’t have a Venusaur,” Blue finds himself saying.

Red doesn’t reply.

“Since when did you get a Bulbasaur?” Blue says, already annoyed with Red's brusque attitude. Why had he cared about finding this mute idiot again? He was the same high-and-mighty little jerk he'd been when they were ten.

Finally, Red turns and jabs a finger at Blue, and then at his Pokédex.

“Gramps…he gave you the remaining starter Pokémon. From that day. There was one left when we chose them,” he says slowly, and then laughs, resting his hand on his forehead, “Of course he did.”

Red shrugs again. He scoops the whatever-soup into a bowl and thrusts it at Blue, along with a battered-looking spoon. He doesn’t look directly at Blue’s face, or say anything, but shakes the bowl at him when Blue sits, stunned stupid.

“See you’re as much of a gossip as ever,” Blue says dryly, but accepts the food. It looks like hard lumps of dubious vegetables, floating in thin watery broth spiced with what Blue had the suspicion were Venusaur's leaf trimmings. Red fills bowls for himself and the Pokémon, and sits. Blue’s Pokémon see the others beginning to eat and, either oblivious to Blue’s hesitation or in a bad enough mood with him to ignore it, tuck in themselves.

Arcanine bounds over to Red and barks at him, tail wagging. Red smiles and scratches him behind the ear, easy as ever with Pokémon.

Something inside Blue snaps.

“What are you doing up here!” he roars, leaping to his feet. Red jumps, almost imperceptibly, and it feels good, it feels good to give this taciturn idiot a fright. “You can’t just go live up a mountain in a cave all of a sudden!”

Red tilts his head, and something in his gaze makes Blue feel almost embarrassed. He shakes it off, determined to stay furious, because someone needs to be.

“Look, hey, if you want to play wilderness survival, that’s no big deal to me,” he says, in the laziest tone he can muster, “But you know what? Maybe you should have told someone. Like, you know, your Mom.”

For a second, Blue is sure he sees a flicker of guilt on Red’s face. It disappears, replaces by his usual disaffected scowl, and he merely folds his arms, leaning back against Charizard’s belly. He leans his head to the side, looking at Alakazam. Alakazam opens an eye and looks back, as though they were sharing a joke at Blue’s expense.

Blue’s hands shake with fury, and he throws the bowl of soup onto the cave floor.

“You’re coming back to Pallet Town with me,” Blue growls.

Red spreads his hands, expression quizzical. As though Blue had just said something completely nonsensical. He wants to scream.

“Because – because you can’t live in a cave like a crazy hermit!” Blue says desperately. He looks around at the Pokémon, desperately trying to garner some support for his sanity argument. Red’s Pokémon, he swears, look uncomfortable, the tip of Charizard’s tail twitching, Venusaur slowly blinking its eyes open and closed. Alakazam giving him a piercing look that resembles Gramps too closely for comfort, and Rhydon tilts his head. Arcanine continues to wag his tail and beam at all of them.

Arcanine isn’t very good at noticing an atmosphere.

Red finishes his dinner and walks out of the cave, and Blue could scream. He stomps after him.

Outside, the snow and wind have finally stilled. Every footfall leaves a heavy print in the snow, making each step slow and heavy. Red moves quickly through it, Blue lagging behind, to a wide flat clearing in the snow, surrounded by towering pine trees.

Red turns and takes a Pokéball out of his belt, showing it to Blue, and then looks into Blue’s eyes. For just a second – that’s the most Red can bear to look anyone directly in the face. But the intent is clear.

“You want to battle?” Blue asks, as the Pokémon emerge from the cave, Arcanine bounding to Blue’s side and settling his head under Blue’s palm. Red nods.

“And if I win you’ll come home?” Blue asks again, struggling to keep up with Red’s bizarre train of thought. Again, Red nods, slower this time, graver.

“Fine,” Blue snarls, putting a hand on Rhydon’s side and glaring at Red, “But this time I’ll win.”

Blue loses. Badly.

 

“He just…lives up there?” Red’s Mom asked, toneless. Blue shrugs – he doesn’t really know what to say to the woman. How do you explain ‘Oh, your son seems to have went completely insane, ran away from home, and is living like a caveman with his Pokémon. He won’t come home unless I beat him in a Pokémon battle, which I have proven time and time again I am incapable of’?

“He’s training, apparently,” he says, if only for something to say.

“Oh…well, I suppose he has always been an odd boy,” she replies mildly, a sentence running for understatement of the year. She stands in silence for a moment, shopping bags trembling in her hands, and Blue hope she’s not going to start crying. The last thing he wants to deal with today is a crying person.

With a deep breath, she throws her arms around Blue’s shoulders, thumping him in the upper back with her groceries, and gives him a brief squeeze. Blue freezes, arms stiff by his side. After a moment, he manages to muster the ability to give her a tentative pat on the back.

Masami releases him and steps back, sniffing.

“Thank you. For finding him. I knew he had to be okay, but…” she says, and breathes in, biting hard on her lip, “I feel so much better being sure.”

Blue cannot understand why she isn’t furious.

“When you see him next –“

Blue wasn’t aware there was going to be a ‘next’, but his skeptical expression does nothing to deter her.

“Could you tell him to write me?” she asks, a note of pleading in his voice. Blue shrugs but promises to do it. Not like he really has a choice.

 

Red hadn’t been the easiest kid in the entire world to deal with.

At school, if the classroom got too loud, he’d slap his hands over his ears and shake his head back and forth so hard that Blue always imagined it toppling off his shoulders. In winter, he refused to wear a coat, and if a teacher tried to force one onto him, would wriggle and trash until, exhausted and resigned, they were forced to give up. He refused to play team sports, despite being a fast runner, capable of scaling trees and wall in seconds, throwing balls with pin-point precision and picking up objects twice his size. At the end of the day, when they set to cleaning the classroom, Red would sit against the wall in the corridor, hands over his ears. No amount of cajoling could convince him to come in with all the desks and chairs clattering, the music playing, all the kids laughing and chattering.

It was this stuff, really, that goaded all the kids on. Blue, sure, he had been the ringleader, but if he hadn’t took the reins, some other kid would have. You can’t go around acting like a freak, being deliberately difficult, and not expect other people to start getting annoyed, or poking fun at you a little. It wasn’t Blue’s fault. If Red had just learned how to be normal, nobody would have bothered with him.

When he came to Gramps’ labs for classes, it was better. Gramps didn’t blink twice at his weird habits, and didn’t make him study anything he didn’t want to. He just let Red read books about Pokémon far more complicated than anything a nine-year-old should be bothering with, let him help tag and feed the Pokémon Gramps was researching. Let him help the research assistants when they were working on some complicated statistical analysis, or compiling their field notes.

Red seemed happy. He still didn’t talk much, but he didn’t need to. He didn’t need to talk to deal with Pokémon. Gramps was delighted with him, couldn’t stop talking about what a natural with Pokémon he was, how bound for greatness he was. What a smart boy, what a talented boy, what a kind boy, he understands Pokémon so naturally, cares for them all so widely and deeply.

Blue got really sick of hearing about it.

 

He’s visiting the ruins of Cinnabar, sifting through the ash and the detritus, when he meets the Johto champion. He doesn’t quite register who she is at first – just sees a strange girl with pigtails walking towards him, a Houndoom loping by her side – and then he remembers her. Another young champion, just turned twelve, that had quashed the return of Team Rocket, and taken the league by storm.

Blue sees Red in the way she rests her hand on her Houndoom’s back, the uncompromising set in her shoulders. But in her face, she’s more like him. Just a trace of a smirk on her face, a way of looking at everything as though it belonged to her.

“Ey! Are you the Viridian gym leader?” she asks, in thick Johto-ben.

“Who are you?” he asks, Eevee standing in front of him, fur raised. The Houndoom growls, its tail lashing back and forth.

“The Johto champion. Lyra,” she says, looking at him with the same deadly-focus stare Red was capable of, but with a cocky smirk that Red would never use in his life, “You are the Viridian gym leader.”

Blue has the feeling she isn’t going to relent until she gets her battle. But he’s not the type to make it easy. He tells her to get the other gym badges from across Kanto and come back. He’s not wasting his time on a trainer like this with anything less than his best.

After he’s forgotten all about it, she turns up at his gym, with thirteen badges in hand. Surprised, but pleased, Blue decides to take her on with the best he’s got.

She orders her Pokémon quickly, but not with the slap-dash panic he sees in so many trainers. Her orders are calculated, taking advantage of more than just type match-ups, incorporating every element of the battlefield. Her team is well-balanced, every Pokémon fast, powerful, and clearly well-cared for. She’s better than good.

Blue puts up a good fight, but she wins. And he sees the disappointment in her face, the scrunch of her eyebrows as Blue’s Blastoise falls to the floor.

He goes into his usual ‘No way, how could I lose to you!’ spiel, the one he dishes out to every kid who comes to the gym, and she is so bored, jaw slack, just waiting for him to dish out the Earth Badge and his Trick Room TM, and shut up. He looked like that every time he beat a gym leader too.

“That it?” she asks, and sighs, “Here I was thinking I could actually learn something from you.”

Looking at her, the arrogant tilt of her hip against t he focus in her eyes, the Feraligatr hulking by her side as loyal and loving as a Growlithe puppy, he has an idea.

“Have you heard of the legendary trainer on Mount Silver?” he says, “He’s said to be the strongest in the world.”

That gets her attention.

 

He sees Lyra again a week later as he’s leaving the store in Viridian. She’s more cheerful than he saw her last, bright-eyed and smiling. He catches her eye and raises a hand in greeting. She waves back, rushing over to him, greeting both him and Eevee in turn.

“Someone’s in a good mood,” he says, “Assuming you beat him, then?”

“Nope!” she replies, chewing a wad of gum with loud smacks, “You’re right. He is strong. The guy who thrashed you at the League, right?”

Blue rolls his eyes.

“Yeah, thanks, I needed a reminder of that,” he says, wondering if he had been this annoying when he was twelve.

“Ha, well, I’m glad I finally have a challenge,” she replies, not even looking at him, a mad grin on her face. Blue can’t help but frown – what kind of kid is this pleased about losing? At almost fifteen, Blue still has to grit his teeth every time a gym challenger manages to best him. And as a gym leader, he’s almost meant to lose.

He shakes his head. All he can conclude is that the girl is nuts. Must come with the territory of being a truly prodigious trainer.

“So you’re gonna challenge him again?” he says.

“Yeah, that’s right,” she says, grinning, “Until I win. Which, you know, I will. And then, I’m gonna make him teach me everything he knows! Like, you know, a Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker sensei thing.”

Oh, yeah, she’s annoying. He likes her though, in spite of himself.

“What’s he doing up there anyway?” she asks him, blowing a bubble with her gum.

“Training,” he says. ‘Hiding’, he doesn’t.

 

When Lyra comes back next, she tells him, beaming, that she beat him. He laughs, takes a photo with her to celebrate. That weekend, he goes back to Pallet to see Gramps and Daisy, expecting to see Red there too.

He doesn’t.

Chapter Text

He’s better at scaling Mount Silver than he used to be. He brings a team not just for their strengths, but how well they deal with the mountain. Exeggutor and Blastoise stay behind, both of them tropical Pokémon ill-suited to the cold, and instead he brings Eevee – adaptable to anything – and Ursaring, a Pokémon he trained up from Johto. He packs and dresses carefully, preps his Pokémon with plans on how to deal with attackers if he can’t give orders.

It is way more effort than he usually likes to put into something nobody can see. But with half the residents of Pallet Town relying on him to go visit Red, he can hardly not.

Besides, he doesn’t want the humiliation of needing Red rushing in to save him again.

“Red! Red, are you here?” Blue shouts, as he enters Red’s cave. There’s the sleeping roll on the floor, the unlit fire, pots and plates stored in a neat, tied bundle in the corner. There’s the scent of smoke and boiled vegetables in the air, as well as the leathery, burning smell of Red’s Charizard. There’s a line with clothes and towels hung over it, strung from one side of the cave to the other. He can’t be far.

Blue sighs and sets the care package Red’s mother sent him up with on the floor. Eevee jumps down from his shoulders, sniffing at the ground, her tail lashing back and forth.

In the bundle of supplies in the corner, Blue sees something flashing. He bends and fishes it out, tugging it out from between a pair of Hyper Potions; a PokéGear with a scratched screen. The strap wasn’t even attached. Blue frowns – he had assumed that Red didn’t have one at all.

Blue presses the button on the side. No password, unsurprisingly.

The only entrants in his contacts were ‘Mom’ and ‘Professor Oak’. A lot of unread messages; mostly from his mother, although there were others from unidentified numbers. He scrolls through.

Interested in doing an interview with DJ Mary?

plz plz come back to the league!!!

ROCKET WILL PREVAIL TRAINER SCUM

Happy 16th birthday to my amazing son. Love you, Mom. xxx

Read an article the other day that said u were brain damaged. think that sounds about right LOL!

Red, thank you for your continued work on the Pokédex. Are you sure you don’t want to visit?

Stay hidden, freak

There’s hundreds, mostly unopened. Red must get two dozen a day, at the very least. He scrolls down faster. They only get denser and more urgent as he scrolls down.

Red, have you been getting enough to eat up there?

n00dz plz

Seeking Trainers special episode wants you!

died of frostbite up there yet lmao

RCKT IS BACK PLZ HELP US

Why did you run away?

Re: Viridian Gym Leadership

Blue almost drops the PokéGear. Eevee looks up at him, ears twitching.

“Sorry, girl,” he says, and sits down cross-legged beside her. She leaps into his lap, purring as he scratches his fingers through her fur. He opens the message. The number isn’t saved, but it’s obviously Lance.

Of course, Lance offered Red the gym leader job first. If Blue is honest with himself, he suspected as much. By the date, Lance asked just before Red went missing. He didn’t even bother to reply and say no. Just ran away to live on top of a mountain – because that was the sensible course of action. Duh.

There was the crunch of footsteps on snow, and Blue looked up to see Red approaching him, his Pikachu on his shoulder glaring bloody murder at him. Blue doesn’t bother to look apologetic, just holds up the PokéGear, making sure Red can see Lance’s message on the little screen.

“Is this what you ran away for?” he asks.

Red scowls at him, moves closer, and snatches the PokéGear out of Blue’s hand, shoving it roughly into his pocket. Pikachu’s cheeks crackle with electricity, ears pressed back against her skull. Blue sighs and shakes his head.

“I’m not here to fight, if that’s what you think,” he says, more at the Pikachu than at Red. Blue could probably live the rest of his life in his cave and Red would just very deliberately ignore him. The rat, however, might well electrocute him. “Came here to deliver that.”

He points at the care package. Red looks at it, and moves towards it to unbox it. Blue already knows what’s inside – food, new clothes, first aid supplies. All boring but necessary things. His Mom had put a lot of money and time into putting it together. Stuff that he knew Red didn’t really need – he was self-reliant enough to cope without them – but stuff he was better off having than not.

Red twists around to look at him, head tilted, thoroughly bewildered why this mother wound send him this. Or maybe why Blue would carry it up for him. Beep boop, does not compute.

“Yeah, you’re welcome,” Blue says, rolling his eyes, “I know I’m wasting my breath, but you should come back.”

Red sets his bag down on the cave floor, and looks at Blue expectantly.

“Or, at least, write your Mom. Everyone in Pallet’s getting sick of her moping and worrying,” he says, and looks at the PokéGear clenched in Red’s fist again, “What’s the point of having that thing if you don’t use it?”

Red shrugs and begins to take things out of his bag, roots and leaves and fruits foraged from the mountain. He lays them out, thinks for a second, and then releases his Lapras. He holds up a bucket for her, and she fills it with fresh, clear water. He sets to work cleaning the food, and begins to chop it.

“I’m assuming I can stay for dinner then?” he asks, if only to break the silence. Red gestures to the unlit fire, not looking away from the task at hand. With a sigh, Blue releases Arcanine from his ball. Arcanine, as always, is just delighted to be there. Blue calms him down, redirecting his attention to the campfire.

“Looks like we’re being put to work, buddy,” he says, rubbing Arcanine’s cheek. If Red notices the insult, he doesn’t let it show.

 

Blue decides to test his theory, and finds that yes, he can pretty much move into Red’s weird hermit cave, and Red won’t do anything about it. Over the next few days, he stays up there, sleeping curled up with Arcanine at night, exploring Mount Silver during the day, eating with Red on the mornings and evenings. If Red makes any changes to his usual schedule to accommodate a guest, Blue can’t tell. He’s out in the mountain with his Pokémon by first light, trudging back in as it goes dark, and then collapsing asleep by midnight. Or maybe not - sometimes Blue gets the sense that Red doesn't sleep at all. He doesn't ask. It's none of his business and frankly he doesn't care. At all.

The other thing Blue learns, is that Red's PokéGear just beeps and beeps and beeps the whole time. Messages from his mother, from Gramps, from gym leaders and people Red helped, all encouraging him to come back to the world, all asking if he’s alright. Then there are fans plying for photos, for a battle, for him to give interviews or appear on some reality show or another, people offering book and TV and movie deals, and a million other things Blue would kill for but never received.

And then there are the threats; messages from disgruntled Rocket supporters, from Blue’s own fans, from people who just hate him because they want a target to hate and he happens to be there. Insults, threats, mockery, images of dead Pokémon, links to speculative, tabloid articles about him and his potential mental deficiencies. All things that should make him angry, or upset, or something, but don’t. Or at least, seem not to.

Red doesn’t respond to his PokéGear beeping. Doesn’t even look at it.

Blue can’t figure out why he doesn’t hurl it off the side of the mountain and be done with it.

Sitting with Eevee in his lap, watching Red carefully note things down on his Pokédex, Blue decides to try a different tactic.

“So that girl I sent up here to battle you…” he says, and Red looks up, eyes wide.

“Oh, lemme guess, she didn’t mention me?” Blue says. Red shakes his head. Blue sighs, “Right, well. She beat you. How’d that feel?”

Pikachu rubs her head against Red’s hand, still glaring daggers at Blue. While the rest of Red’s Pokémon had grown used to him (Charizard even seemed to quite like him, in an odd way), she remained resolute in her disdain. Red seems unfettered by his question, but he always seem like that. Blue can tell he’s starting to get under his skin. Good. If anyone deserves someone to occasionally get under his skin, it was this guy.

“I mean, I figured once you’d been beaten, you’d give this wise old hermit act a rest and come home,” he continues, and then shrugs, trying to look as though he’s never cared about literally anything less, “Didn’t think you were so committed. I mean I know trainers have their gimmicks, but jeez.”

Red is glaring at him now, resting his fingers in Pikachu’s short fur.

“Oh, hey, if you want to tell me to shut up, go ahead,” Blue says, voice getting louder, “Just tell me to back off! Why not just do it?”

Red breathes in, and then out, opening his mouth just a little, his voice creaking in his throat.

“Go on! Just tell me to shove off!”

And Red swallows, and then gasps, moving his mouth wordlessly, and then claps both hands over his mouth, shaking his head, squeezing his eyes shut, and then hitting himself on the head with his palm.

Blue, to his own surprise, feels terrible. He gets up, moving across to him, thinking of schoolyard taunts and meltdowns in classrooms, laughed over later even when Red had to be taken to the nurse, or taken home entirely. He thinks of all the ways he’s ever made life worse for the boy in front of him, and how little effort he’s made to take it back.

“Hey, hey, sorry! Don’t…freak out! Sheesh,” he says, sitting down next to him. He puts a hand on his shoulder, but Red shakes him off, his breath coming in shaky gasps, and Blue is at a loss. He hasn’t seen Red do this kind of thing since they were in grade school together. And he had almost always been the one to instigate it, not to help him calm down. He has no idea what he could do that wouldn’t make it worse.

Red’s Pokémon, however, seem know exactly what to do. Pikachu crawls into his lap, pawing at his shirt until his hands find her back. Charizard steps forward, curling a tail around Red's body, resting his chin on the top of his head and taking slow, rumbling breaths. Lapras hums, very softly, the sound rising and falling with Charizard’s breaths.

Blue just sits, staring, fascinated despite himself. He had always assumed Red grew out of this kind of thing when he left on his Pokémon journey. The guy had taken down the yakuza with barely a batted eyelid - it was crazy to think he still carried all the same things that had made it hard for him to even go to school.

With his Pokémon comforting him, Red begins to calm down, his breathing becoming steadier, more even. Eventually, he looks up, almost back to himself, but his eyebrows still creased with frustration. Blue has the uneasy feeling he’s more frustrated with himself than anything else.

“You…still find stuff hard, huh?” Blue says, stupidly. Red gives him a look that manages to communicate the loudest, driest ‘DUH!Blue has ever not heard in his life, and Blue has to laugh.

“And I’m still kind of a jerk,” he continues, “Guess we both have our issues to deal with.”

Red still doesn’t look at him. Eevee, watching the whole thing, approaches Red and places her paws on his knees, looking up at his reddened face. Red looks down at her, curiously, and then extends a hand for her to sniff, and scratches behind her ear.

“Hatched her from an egg myself,” Blue says, because he says this to everyone Eevee meets, and Red looks at him, for once not cautious or angry or bewildered, but interested. A confusing rush of delight comes up to meet that look, and Blue just barely manages to squash it back.

“Have you ever raised one from an egg yourself?” he asks.

Red shakes his head, leaning forward now. Blue has the feeling he’s not going to get any sleep until he tells Red literally everything he knows about hatching Pokémon eggs. Oddly, he doesn’t even really mind.

 

Blue gets into the habit of visiting Red when he can. Not that that’s often.

He’s still busy – he’s got the gym to deal with, a mounting amount of responsibilities aside from that; Elm and Gramps keep pulling him in for odd research jobs and field work. He’s almost a high school graduate, though that doesn’t mean much to someone who already has a back-breaking full-time job, as well as an article on Eevee evolution lines he’s supposed to edit for one of Gramps' friends.

His Eevee hasn’t even evolved yet – likely because, as Daisy points out, she’s more of a spoiled pet than a gym leader’s hardened battle Pokémon.

“I resent that accusation,” Blue says in response, feeding Eevee another poffin. Daisy rolls her eyes and ruffles his hair, heading out for work, leaving Blue muttering to himself and re-ruffling his hair into the correct state of dishevelment.

The point is, he and Red are sort-of kind-of almost-maybe friends. Red even starts to message his mother again.

One morning in the lab, Gramps chokes from a coffee when he sees an email from Red there one morning, a whole two sentences reporting both that he was okay and that he’s noticed some sexually dimorphic behaviour in the Donphan population he’s been tracking. Blue can tell Gramps is about ready to do a little jig, and writes a 3000 word spiel in response.

Blue visits, giving Red a Squirtle egg he bred from his Blastoise and a Ditto. He takes it, smiling wider than Blue’s ever seen him, almost making the whole stupid trek up Mount Silver worthwhile. He builds a nest in his cave for the egg to rest out of old clothes, carefully measuring it and taking photos of it on his PokéGear, conscientious as ever. Blue watches, amused, leaning back against Red’s Snorlax. It’s crazy how much the guy lights up around Pokémon, really.

There’s still no sign that Red is ever going to come down, Red’s mother still looks a little sad and lost when he sees her, but it’s better than it was.

 

Blue still thinks the Pokédex project as a method of data collection is absolutely insane.

He thinks this most often when he’s sifting through hundreds of completely insipid field notes written by literal preteens, about something they saw some Pidgey do, or what their Rattata’s like. It must be something like 95% of all submitted Pokédex entries are completely unusable. The only value they have is to the kid who wrote it.

When he reads a new submission about Marcargo, declaring it to have a body temperature of 18,000 degrees Farenheit, Blue needs to take a break to make a cup of coffee and gently hit his head against a wall.

Blue has brought it up every time he’s met any Pokémon professor. Every time he’s met with an indulgent laugh. He does not understand how the brightest minds in the world think this is the best way to gather data.

“Gramps, seriously –“

“Blue, we’ve been over this.”

“Gramps, it’s insane,” he says, tapping open a file on his computer, “Listen to this one: ‘Blaziken has incredibly strong legs – it can easily clear a 30-story building in one leap’.”

“Blue.”

“Oh, here’s a good one. ‘It happened one morning – a boy with extrasensory powers awoke in bed transformed into a Kadabra’,” Blue says, “That’s not a Pokédex entry, that’s Kafka!”

“I’m personally very impressed a 10-year-old is familiar enough with the story to rip it off,” Gramps says, not even bothering to hide his amusement at Blue’s frustration.

“Gramps!” Blue says, spinning around on his chair to face him, “And, hey, while I’m at it, why do we wear our lab-coats all the time? No, no, you know what, why do wear one lab coat when we’re just in the office or talking to trainers, and then a different one when we’re actually handling samples?”

“Blue, listen to me,” Gramps says, turning around and leaning back in his chair, “When you were ten, what did you imagine a scientist to be?”

“Huh?” Blue says, “Well, you know. White coat, glasses, clipboard…”

“Correct, and imagine you are a ten year old, meeting a scientist who just seems to be a rumpled man in a jumper and trousers?” he continues. Blue stares at him, not seeing the point, and Gramps smiles, “We wear the lab coats because that’s what the children who visit us want to see. And as for the Pokédex entries…yes, I’ll admit most aren’t of, uh. A great scientific value.”

Blue snorts.

“But that’s not the point, is it?” Gramps says, “The point is it gets children on their journey engaged in more than just winning battles. They don’t just go out and capture Pokémon wildly and throw their orders at them. They pay attention to them. They write about them. They read about them. They care for them more attentively, by virtue of being encouraged to stop and think about them more. And when they’re older, this experience working on the Pokédex might bring them back to one of our labs, ready to do real work. Consider it public engagement. Education, as much as it is data collection.”

“Yeah, right,” Blue grumbles.

“Well, it worked on you, didn’t it?” Gramps says, with a smile, and Blue turns away, furious because he knows Gramps is right.

“Still, getting a little sick of being saddled with the grunt work, Gramps,” he grumbles.

“Oh, we all have to do the grunt work,” Gramps says, gesturing at his own screen as proof – he’s been inputting data into a spreadsheet from written notes for the past two hours. He still has another file of them to go. The sight is enough to make Blue despair: Gramps was the top of the chain, so if he had to do the grunt work, truly everyone working in a lab had to.

But Blue doesn’t have to do this. He doesn’t have to help Gramps with research at all – he has his gym, he has his Pokémon, that’s more than enough to deal with.

Yet he chooses it. Sometimes it feels beyond him why, but he does. Because he’s good at it, because he’s got something to prove, because otherwise some other idiot would come in and do it and probably do it worse. But also, he likes it. He likes using his brain almost as much as he likes to win. He can’t imagine just battling with his Pokémon all day. As much as he loves that, the thought of doing nothing but battling is suffocating.

He just couldn’t imagine going back in time to tell his eleven-year-old self that. Blue shakes his head and returns to his work, straightening the collar of his totally unnecessary lab coat.

Gramps watches him, steadily, the same way he appraises a Pokémon’s behaviour in the lab.

“Blue, have you ever thought about other ways you can continue your studies?” he asks, carefully, as though it were a very delicate and sensitive question to ask. Blue looks up, because he really hasn’t, and finds himself drawn into a very long, in-depth conversation he never expected to have.

 

“I’m thinking of going to Kalos for a while,” Blue says. Red turns away from the move he was attempting to teach Venusaur, and fixes him with a look of astonished indignation. As though it were, in fact, Red that climbed a goddamn mountain every month to see Blue, and not the other way around.

“This guy’s proposed a new type there, and the Global League are considering accepting it, so Gramps wants me to head over there to check it out. Plus, the university in Lumiose is, you know. The best. And I’m the best. So,” he says, and shrugs, “I’m thinking I study there for a year or so, let one of my trainers rule the roost for a bit. What do you think?”

Red still looks deeply offended. Blue laughs.

“Hey, you know, if you get lonely here without me, you could always come back to civilisation,” he says, “I could call Lyra and tell her you want to take her on as your apprentice after all.”

Red visibly shudders.

“Yeah, I didn’t think so,” he says, “She still come up here all the time?”

Red closes his eyes; his pained expression is answer enough.

“She’s a good kid,” Blue says, grinning at the horror on his face, bending towards him, “You sure you don’t want to take her under your wing?”

Red physically pushes his face away with his hand.

“That’d be no,” Blue says. Red turns away, returning his attention to perfecting Venusaur’s new attack.

“Wow, are you mad at me?”

At a point of his finger, Venusaur slices a tree in half with a swing of a vine. Red keeps his back to him, making more gestures, wordless orders that his Pokémon follows without question.

“Wow, okay, you are mad at me,” Blue says, folding his arms, feeling himself becoming very irritated very quickly, “You’re mad because I’m going away?”

Red doesn’t respond, just continues to seethe and boss his Pokémon about in his weird silent way. Venusaur looks uncertain, but obeys orders as dutifully as ever, only glancing briefly over at Blue. Eevee looks helplessly up at him.

 “Oh whatever,” Blue says, irritable, and heads back to the cave as haughtily as he can. Charizard is curled up with the newly hatched Squirtle, opening an eye when Blue stomps in, Eevee trailing behind him.

“Oh, don’t give me that look,” he says to Charizard.

The thing with Pokémon was that, often, they grew up faster than their trainers. It was part of the reason kids could stray so far from home so young, as long as they had a good Pokémon at their side. Blue had seen it happen with Alakazam. He had went from an Abra that spent all of his time sleeping or clinging to Blue’s neck, to a Pokémon that would swat Blue on the back of his head with a spoon if he was being too much of a jerk, or force him to sit down and eat if he hadn’t for a long while.

Likewise, Charizard often looked at the humans as though he was considering whether or not to put them in time out for twenty minutes. Exactly the look he was fixing Blue with right this second. As much as Blue doesn't want to argue with a lizard, he can't help but feel defense.

He’s the one being ridiculous,” Blue informs him. Charizard huffs, breathing out a plume of steam, and rests his head back on the curve of Squirtle’s shell.

Blue grumbles, releasing Arcanine out of his ball, and lies down, propping his head up against him as a pillow and closes his eyes.

It’s dark when Blue is roused by the sound of footfalls, and feels the warmth of a body settle behind him. He blinks, twisting to see Red lying behind him, cap and shoes set aside. It was the closest Blue had ever seen him coming back with his tail between his legs.

He could say something about that. It would be an easy jab.

It would probably also just make the situation worse, send Red storming back out into the snow all night. Blue should really be old enough to know better now.

“Still mad?” he asks instead.

Red nods, face half-buried in Arcanine’s fur. Blue groans, hand over his face.

“You know you left without telling anyone, right?”

Red just stares at him.

“I’m saying, how you feel about me leaving, is how everyone else felt when you ran off. Only nowhere near as bad – at least you’ll know where I am.”

Red tilts his head. Blue sighs.

“Can’t you just write down what you wanna say?” he whines.

Red shakes his head, and Blue briefly considers just strangling him with his bare hands. He doesn’t know what it is – to do with Red’s head, or whether it’s some weird vow of silence thing, or whether Red’s voice just genuinely doesn’t work anymore. He just doesn’t understand on why Red insists on making things difficult.

Blue gets up, Arcanine snorting and scuffing his paws against the floor in his sleep, and heads over to his bag. He fishes out a notepad and pen, tearing out the first few pages he’d been making notes in, and then shoves it in Red’s face.

“Here,” he says, and then, when Red doesn’t take it, more insistently; “Here.”

Red accepts them, reluctance evident on his face. He draws his knees up and rests the paper on his thighs, pen poised in his left hand. Red holds pens funny – clamped between his thumb and the rest of his fingers, like a pincer. Blue remembered teachers attempting to teach him how to hold them correctly in grade school. It never made much difference.

“Now, how about you just write down what the problem is. I’m getting sick of playing charades.”

Red looks at him, and then back at the paper. He bites down hard on his lip. For a long while, he sits still, staring at it. And then starts to scratch out a few characters, slowly, clumsily.

Almost immediately, he scribbles over them, takes in a breath, and then starts again.

This keeps going. Every time, Red looks both more frustrated and more determined than before. Pikachu wakes up, looking up at Red, her tail lashing back and forth with concern.

Red can write, Blue knows. He occasionally sends emails – short, terse ones. He can write extensively about Pokémon, and read stuff that would send most university professors reaching for a thesaurus. It just seems like whatever makes it hard for him to speak doesn’t go away when he’s trying to do it in writing, either.

Maybe Blue should have gave him something to type on, rather than write on, Blue realises. It’s too late, though, he can tell Red won’t let him take it away at this point.

It feels like hours before Red finishes, shoving the notepad back at him. Two sentences, written messily, the characters sloppy and difficult to decipher.

It’s not the same. You don’t need to go.

“Oh for – you didn’t need to go!” Blue exclaims.

Red shakes his head, and nods towards the PokéGear buried amongst all his possessions. Still flashing and receiving messages, well into the night. Years after his first and last Pokémon league appearance.

“If you’d made a couple of appearances, they’d have left you alone by now. It’s the mystery they like,” Blue says. Red scowls, and taps his mouth with his three fingers, and then gestures to his throat. It’s a good point. How exactly was he supposed to be interviewed for the radio if he couldn’t speak?

“Disappearing up a mountain without telling anyone was extreme,” Blue says, not sure whether he’s amused or despairing. Red gestures for the notebook back, and reluctantly Blue hands it over, not exactly looking forward to another eternity of watching Red write and scribble it out, write and scribble it out.

It still takes forever, but it feels like it takes slightly less forever than he did last time. He shoves it back at Blue.

I disbanded an international criminal organisation when I was 11. Extreme is what I do.

Blue snorts loudly enough that both Arcanine and Charizard wake up, with a series of indignant barks and snarls. Blue apologises, shushing them, and they both lay back down to sleep. He turns his attention to Red, shaking his head.

“It still sucked for everyone else,” he says. Red snatches the notebook back, jabs the paper twice, and then swipes a single line on the page, and shoves it back.

:(

“Well. Okay. You were distressed,” Blue acquiesces, barely able to believe he was giving in to puppy dog eyes. Written down puppy dog eyes, at that. Red just stares at him, almost expectant. As if Blue could just read his mind to understand what the hell he wanted.

“You could come with me,” he suggests. Red sits up, rigid, and shakes his head, very fast.

“Well. You can’t say I didn’t offer,” Blue sighs, and lies back down to sleep, giving Arcanine an affectionate thump on the side.

He closes his eyes, and can still hear Red breathing behind him, can tell he’s still sat up. The quiet stretches out between them, and Blue wants to shout at him to just lie down, to just say something, even write another note, do anything. It feels like he’s waiting, and Blue hates waiting.

Eventually, Red gets up and heads outside again. Blue turns his face into Arcanine’s fur and huffs out a sigh.

He wakes up as the morning light spills through the mouth of the cave, Arcanine snoring softly beneath him, fur warm against his cheek. Grunting, he tugs the blanket back up over his shoulders, and his elbow brushes against something warm. Twisting, he looks back to see Red lying behind him, eyes closed, hands curled up under his cheek, his chest rising and falling with his breath. In the distance, he heard Squirtle burbling, soft thumping.

Trying to move as little as possible, Blue lifts his head to follow the noise. Squirtle and Eevee were playing out in the snow, Eevee leaping around, Squirtle bumbling more slowly, occasionally falling and retreating into his shell. Sitting cross-legged nearby, Alakazam watches them, occasionally lifting a finger to prevent one of them falling, or help them out of the snow.

Alakazam glances back at him, and Blue swears that he winks before returning his attention to younger Pokémon.

His first instinct is to get up in a huff at what an insinuating wink that is. Make a big song and dance about going out to catch Pokémon early, or needing to put Eevee through some more training, or something or another.

And it wasn’t totally an act. He did have a lot of work to do. He needed to head back to the gym soon, begin finalising closure periods and find his trainers something to do while he was away, sort out paperwork for his visa in Kalos. His desk at the gym, frankly, was creaking under the weight of all the work he had yet to do.

Then again, it’s cold out. And between Arcanine, the padded blanket, and Charizard still curled up nearby, warm and comfortable in Red’s stupid cave.

And Red probably doesn’t sleep as much as he should. Looking at him, Blue isn’t totally sure he’s ever seen him asleep, and the weirdness of it is enough to keep him staring longer than he knows is normal.

Deciding they both deserve a lie-in, Blue settles back down.

 

Airports are one of the few places where battling is absolutely off-limits. If Blue was totally honest with himself, before he arrived at Saffron Airport with his baggage in tow, he’d forgotten that places like that exist.

It took him half an hour to get through security, being padded down and scanned, handing over his Pokémon and stating their species and levels, being given confusing order after confusing order, asked again and again if he was really that Blue Oak, until, irritated, he asked if it would be easier if he just got on the flight naked. There was a smattering of giggling from behind him, and Blue was ushered through by the embarrassed-looking security attendant.

Without his Pokémon, and with a good hour until his flight was called, Blue realises he doesn’t really know what to do with himself. He buys a coffee, does an aimless lap around the bookstore, signs an autograph for a stuttering schoolkid. Eventually, he sinks into an open seat, magazine open but unread in his lap, and finds himself bored enough to people-watch.

It’s weird – seeing so many people in one place, and barely any Pokémon. There are Machoke and other similar Pokémon down on the landing strip, helping load and unload luggage, and security have a couple of Pokéballs at their belt each, but other than that, it’s just people. Sharp-looking people in suits and on phones rushing to their next meeting, exhausted fathers sagging under the weight of screeching children, families fussing with their luggage, excited teenagers gossiping in alternating whispers and screeches across over-priced airport burgers. It’s odd, and so loud, like people are attempting to make up for their Pokémon’s absence by making as much noise as possible.

Blue thinks of the white expanse of Mount Silver, trudging through snow that sank up to his knees. It took a while, but eventually you got used to walking through it; either becoming faster, or just getting accustomed to moving so slowly, Blue had never been able to figure out which.

You also got used to the frigid air, stopped noticing the sting of the cold on his cheek with the breeze, and started noticing the smell of pine needles. It didn’t exactly start feeling warm, but the cold began to feel more refreshing than snapping, buoying you through the day.

Then one day, standing in the snow and looking out at the white expanse of the sky, the silence parted, and you began to faintly hear the sounds of birds in the tree, Donphan trumpeting far away, the rumble of falling snow.

Listening to it, Blue had always felt as though the mountain were something alive beneath his feet, rather than dead, immovable thing he’d first though it as. Something slow, and quiet, but ancient and powerful, worthy of respect but something to trust and depend upon.

Blue is snapped from his thought by thumping. He looks up to see a family trampling past, struggling to keep their enormous suitcase upright. The mothers chatter very quickly to each other, one holding a small, squawking child under her arm, the other tugging a ten-year-old along with them by the hand, both attempting to drag along suitcases far too big for them.

“Mom!” the older kid whines, “Did they have to take my Pidgey? Is he okay?”

“Mama, I need to go to the toilet!”

“Ritsuko, I told you we should have left earlier.”

“Mom! What if the Pokéballs get lost or mixed up?”

“I’m sure that won’t happen, and dear,” the other woman said, sounding frazzled, before redirecting her attention to her wife; “And we couldn’t have left earlier, I told you –“

“Mama! Pee!”

Mom! Pidgey!

A headache forms in Blue’s temples as their voices faded away into the crowd, and Blue again becomes aware of all the noise.

He wonders if the din and chaos of the airport is what everywhere feels like to Red.

Shaking his head, Blue checks his PokéGear. His inbox is full of well-wishes from the other Kanto gym leaders, stern (and bizarre) reminders from Gramps not to ride his bike indoors, notes of encouragement from Daisy, and a few messages from friends. There was even an ‘Eat some macarons for me! :-) So proud of you x’ from Red’s mother. Smirking, Blue scrolls through them, taking a sip of his coffee, and then almost chokes.

There’s a message from Red too, with an attachment:

This might be useful.

Blue frowns and opens it, revealing a very long, dry article about rotation battle rules and strategies. He barely manages to cover his snort with a hand, and types out a reply.

Wow. This is how you wish me good luck?

He returns his attention to his magazine, when his PokéGear beeps again. Blue’s eyebrows quirk up – two messages? It must be his birthday or something. He opens it. As usual, Red proves his status as an insatiable chatterbox:

Yes.

Blue rolls his eyes.

Well, I needed something to read on the flight anyway. Thanks.

The next reply doesn’t come until Blue is in the gate, almost ready to turn his PokéGear off for the duration of the flight:

:)

Blue doesn't even notice the stupid grin on his face.

Chapter Text

Reeling at the bright Kalos morning, Blue staggers out at Lumiose Airport, his legs stiff and his neck aching from attempting to sleep in his seat. First class or not, twelve hours is far too long to spend cooped up in a flying metal tube without his Pokémon.

Finally through the gate, Blue finds himself fumbling to summon enough kaloçais to navigate through the airport and buy a breakfast pastry from the busy café on the other side. Having always done well in language study during high school, he hadn’t anticipated any issues. Faced with fast, colloquial kaloçais, rather than slow, clear-spoken language tapes, he realises this may be harder than he expected.

Sycamore isn’t there to meet him, as Gramps promised. Instead, there’s a pair of aides who introduce themselves as Dexio and Sina in competent Ranseigo. Apparently they didn’t trust the professor enough to turn up on time. From what little Blue knows about Professor Sycamore, he thinks this sounds about right.

The following day is an exhausting blur. Blue spends the whole day desperately trying to stay awake, being woken up every time he drops off by one of the aides (“You’ll regret that when you’re jetlagged tomorrow!”) or by Alakazam. He meets Professor Sycamore and has his arm shaken off as the professor introduces himself in effusive kaloçais that Blue can’t follow at all. He meets the starter Pokémon Sycamore has been breeding to hand out to new trainers. He’s taken on a tour around Lumiose he later remembers only three things of: slowly eating a parfait in a sleep-deprived stupor, watching some women fuss over their Furfrou, and managing to grievously offend the waiter by forgetting that people in Kalos tip. The rest is a sleep deprived mess of brightly-lit buildings and busy streets and snippets of conversation he can barely understand.

Eventually, as dark finally sets in, Sycamore and the aides taken mercy on him and take him to the apartment near the lab he’ll be staying in for the next year. Blue barely has time to take in the view of the city from his window before exhaustion overtakes him, and he slumps into his bed, passing out with Eevee curled up beside his head.

 

As eager as he is to explore Kalos and get into the nitty gritty of field work, there’s so much of Lumiose he finds himself there for the first few weeks. Far from the neat grid layout of Saffron City, Blue frequently finds himself lost in wriggling little streets, squinting at a nigh-useless map open on his PokéGear.

He signs up for classes at the university, under Sycamore’s erratic encouragement, catches up on Sycamore’s current research, and writes letters (carefully proofread by Dexio to make up for his less than stellar grasp of the language) to the local gym leaders to introduce himself. Walking around town, he finds himself more and more frequently mobbed by kids asking for pictures with him, or his Pokémon, or asking him chattering questions about Kanto, or about Red, that Blue can just barely manage to follow.

Daisy messages him continuously, asking how he’s doing, updating him on what little happened around Pallet Town. Gramps occasionally emails, long, complicated messages about fairy type research and recommendations on what he should be working on. Blue spends a lot of time at the lab, and in class, studying and working and meeting people, occasionally managing to squeeze in a battle at the gym or with his classmates, and he’s surprised by how much he enjoys it.

Even if the city is overwhelming, Kalos sometimes baffling, and his academic supervisor…ditzy at best. Even if sometimes he just wants a bowl of katsu-don that doesn’t have some kind of bizarre Kalosian twist on it, or for someone to just explain how much he’s supposed to tip and where and when. Even with the snooty boutiques and expensive clothes.

Even taking all that into account, there’s a lot Blue likes about the city. Despite its squeaky clean exterior, there’s a grit to the city that he never encountered in Kanto or a Johto, something he sees when he walks out at night and sees all the teenagers and students hanging out by the canals, drinking glasses of wine and laughing. There’s ever changing faces in the crowds, as people from all over the world come and go. The way that people sit outside the cafes, smoking and drinking, well into the night, staggering home well into the early hours of the morning. It’s sometimes exhausting, sometimes exhilarating, but the city is never still. And, whether he likes it or not, Blue often finds himself jostled along with it.

He barely has time for anything at all, so it doesn’t exactly feel too obvious that Red hasn’t messaged him since he left.

 

It’s not until the autumn gives way to winter snow, and class breaks for the holidays, that Blue finally gets an opportunity to explore Kalos. Naturally, Sycamore cheerfully loads him with fieldwork to do and tells him all about people he “really, really should get to know!” all across Kalos, so his time is not really his own.

As he’s been doing fieldwork for his Gramps since he was eleven, this is not exactly unusual. Blue rolls his eyes with his usual disdain, but takes it all in stride. At least now he’s getting paid.

And it’s not until the ground is frozen over, that Red messages him again.

Blue almost falls off his bike with surprise when he sees Red’s name flicker up on his wrist. He turns, skidding across the ice and almost into a tree. Eevee, previously peacefully asleep in the basket hanging from the handlebars, almost tumbles out entirely. She turns, hissing at him, tail plumping to twice its usual size. Blue waves apologetically, ignoring her huff of disdain.

There’s no message, no subject line, but there’s an image attached. Apparently Red finally figured out how to use the camera card on his PokéGear.

Red isn’t in the photo, and Blue feels a stab of weird disappointment. It’s just his Pokémon – Pikachu, Snorlax, Lapras, Charizard, Venusaur, Blastoise -

“Hey! Look at this,” he says to Eevee, showing her the picture and tapping the image of Blastoise with the tip of his finger, “There’s your buddy, all grown up.”

Eevee trills, looking at the picture, and then at Blue’s face, clearly unconvinced.

“No, really,” he says, and then, frowns, “How come you haven’t evolved yet, huh?”

Eevee’s ears press back against her skull, tail lashing back and forth. It hasn’t exactly been something Blue thought about that much, but he knows that Eevee, without a stone, evolve through their bond with their trainer. He’s raised her from an egg, and they’ve been together for years, battling and travelling. If that isn’t enough to evolve her, well, he doesn’t know what more is needed.

Is he still not bonding with his Pokémon properly? He thought that after losing against Red, he’d put that behind him. Sure, he wasn’t like Gramps, constantly babbling on about trusting and loving your Pokémon, as though that was a feasible replacement for actual battle strategy, but was that really so bad? He does not want to be one of those gym leaders who talk kids’ ears off about loving your Pokémon and blah blah blah, as though that makes them do anything other than roll their eyes.

He frowns, scratching Eevee behind the ear. She purrs, tilting her warm head into the palm of his hand, her fur soft against his skin.

The thought occurs to him – he’s never made a concentrated effort to train her. Not the way he usually does. He didn’t see the need – she wasn’t Championship material.

He doesn’t need to open his Pokédex to remind himself of her stats. Okay. They’re not great. Not even good. Definitely not the kind of Pokémon he’d pick for his team. But with the right TMs, the right strategy, a good bit of EV training, she could be useful. Maybe.

Red would be able to raise her to be battle-ready.

“You know what?” he says, glancing again at the photo of Red’s team, “How about we train you up a little?”

Eevee trills uncertainly, cocking her head to one side.

 

Walking through Anistar City, Blue begins to notice shoots of green through the frost, the pale yellow of growing daffodils clustered at the foot of the sundial. At the sight of them, Blue frowns.

He came to examine the sundial, following Sycamore’s wild theory about how it may relate to an as-yet untapped form of Pokémon evolution. The plan was for Blue to observe Pokémon behaviour around the sundial at different points of the day, but at this rate, he may not have time to complete the project before his research leave came to a close and he had to return to Lumiose for class.

Eevee trots by his side. Her muscles are more toned than before, her coat glossy, and she’s almost the same level as the rest of his team, after long hours in the Battle Chateau.

Yet she’s not even showing any tell-tale sign of nearing evolution – no increased appetite or temper, no sudden weight changes, no musty stink of sweat, nothing. She still isn’t even very good in battle – she’s clumsy and slow, and doesn’t hit anywhere near hard enough to keep up with the rest of his team. She never seems to even put that much effort in – after a few hits, she goes down, and he can’t shake the feeling she’s not dodging as well as she could.

Mostly, he sends her out first to do a few hits and get a bit practice in, and then replaces her with someone else.

It’s like carrying a dead weight in the team. And she would be so much less dead weight if she would just evolve already.

It shouldn’t bug him. It doesn’t bug him.

It totally bugs him.

He doesn’t have time for it to bug him though – with so little time left, he needs to focus on data collection. Although Sycamore is too…Sycamore to notice, he can’t reconcile the idea of coming back to the lab with nothing to show for it aside from an incredibly buff Eevee. He can practically hear Gramps nagging and scolding him about it already.

Sighing, he begins to set up his equipment, and is then tackled to the ground by a screaming maniac.

For a second, Blue thinks wildly that he’s being mugged, even though only a complete idiot who had lived under a rock for the past seven years would try to mug him, and Anistar is one of the safest cities in Kalos. Then he recognises the voice, babbling in fast Ranseigo, with a thick Johto accent.

Lyra?” he manages to wheeze out, and then she’s releasing him and laughing. She’s dressed head-to-toe in Kalos fashion – she must be throwing her League winnings at every boutique she comes across – and has somehow managed to procure an even bigger, stupider looking hat from somewhere. What was with Pokémon prodigies and hats?

“Yeah! Was wonderin’ if I was gonna run into you here some time,” she says, hands stuffed in the pockets of her bright pink coat, “Didn’t think you’d be looking so sulky. What’s that stuff? You messing with the sundial?”

Blue shakes his head, and opens his mouth to begin explaining what he was doing, but Lyra has already lost interest, instead spotting Eevee half-hiding behind Blue’s ankle.

“Hey, there’s the little fuzzball your Grandpa told me about,” she says, and crouches down beside Eevee, who fluffs up to twice her size and presses flat against the floor. Lyra smiles, softening, and extends a hand, “Hey, buddy, don’t worry. Old friend of your Pops.”

“I’m not her Pops,” Blue grumbles, to absolutely no effect.

Eevee sniffs Lyra’s outstretch hand and then, after a few more moments of consideration, rubbed her cheek against her palm.

“Ha, she’s a cutie. Not really your style, but a cutie,” Lyra says, ruffling Eevee’s fur and standing upright, “What you evolving her into? Lemme guess, Jolteon, right? You could do with a good electric type, no offense.”

“Did you stalk me all the way here?” Blue says, deciding that he’d rather not have that exact conversation.

“Oh you wish,” she says, shaking her head, “No. Just figured Kalos was next on my list.”

“Your list?”

“Oh, I’ve decided I’m going to beat every gym leader in the world,” she says, casually, “Figured at least one of them have to be a challenge.”

Blue’s eyebrows shoot up. That was the kind of ludicrous idea he would have came up with when he was eleven. And Lyra had to be at least sixteen, maybe seventeen. Either way, a little too old for that kind of thing.

“Already got Kanto, Johto, and Hoenn. Even thinking of going to that one weird gym in Orre too. But figured I’d do this place next,” she says, clearly revelling in his incredulous reaction.

Blue’s sympathies were just reserved for the gym leaders who would have to deal with this belligerent, badly-dressed girl showing up with twenty-four badges, demanding a battle. Gym leaders didn’t even have teams for that badge level.

“Ey, how about you? How about a rematch?” she says, pointing at Eevee, “I wanna see what that little fuzzball can do.”

He tuts, rolling his eyes, and takes a Pokéball from his belt, just grateful for the excuse to procrastinate.

“Whatever. I won’t lose to you again,” he says, noticing with a rush of adrenaline a murmuring, excited crowd gathering around them, “Bring it on.”

Lyra’s better than she was – Blue would give her that. But so was he. Exeggutor wipes out her Feraligatr with a few well-placed Giga Drains, and Blaistoise takes down her new Steelix with no issue.

With their audience growing larger, Lyra sends out a new Pokemon – an Arcanine - and Blue can’t resist, he sends his out as well. Lyra rolls her eyes, but the people watching love it, and shout all the way through as the two Pokémon snarl and snap at each other, breathing plumes of fire at each other. Eventually, Lyra’s Arcanine gets the advantage.

Grinning, she sends out a Dusclops, a Pokémon that Blue has never seen face-to-face before, and pulls down Exeggutor and Alakazam before he can fully remember Dusclops’ average stats and movesets. Pidgeot manages to take Dusclops down with little more than luck. Lyra counters with her Xatu, and the two are neck-and-neck until she attempts to return Xatu and Pidgeot catches it off-guard with Pursuit and knocks it out.

The crowd are shouting and snapping photos, and Blue takes the opportunity to smirk and wave to the crowd. Lyra is too focused to even roll her eyes, and sends out a Pokémon Blue has never seen her use before.

“A Raichu, really?” he says, “A Raichu and an Arcanine?”

“Shut up,” she snaps, not taking her eyes off the battle. Raichu takes Pidgeot out quickly, and Blue, suddenly, realises that he only has one Pokémon left. He looks down to see Eevee pressed close to his ankle, fur on end, back arched, tail twice its usual size.

Raichu glares at them, fur fizzling with electricity. Not just ready to fight, but eager to do so.

Blue looks down at Eevee, and she swishes her tail back and forth, and then takes a few steps forward. Ready, but not eager.

He feels like an idiot.

“I forfeit,” he calls, and Lyra blinks. The crowd looks confused, so Blue translates it, repeating it louder. They stare at one another, and then at Lyra, and then disperse, mumbling with disappointment and confusion. Eevee looks up at him, confused as hell.

“What the hell was that about?” Lyra asks.

Blue scoops Eevee up into his arms, sighing.

“She doesn’t want to,” he says, feeling stupid.

“Huh?”

“She doesn’t want to battle. It’s not what she’s good at. That’s why forcing her hasn’t helped!” he admits, “I wasn’t making her battle before, but that didn’t work either!”

Eevee jolts in his arms, frightened, and he instantly feels terrible for shouting, shushing her and rubbing the pads of his fingers through her mane. Lyra just stares at him, baffled.

“I ain’t following this at all,” she says, squinting

He sighs.

“I’ve been trying to evolve her. It hasn’t worked,” he admits.

“Oh. Huh,” she says, “What you been doing wrong?”

Nothing,” he snaps, “I’ve been raising her just fine. I’ve always raised my Pokémon…just fine.”

“Wow, okay. I never said you didn’t,” she says, raising her hands, “This sounds like you’re talking about way more than just an Eevee.”

Blue shrugs, sucking in his lips and running his fingers through Eevee’s fur. Lyra looks at him for a second, and then seems to come to a decision about something:

“Y’wanna grab lunch? There’s a pretty good crepe stand near here.”

Blue’s immediate desire is to haughtily pull back, snap some insult in her face and swagger off with a ‘Smell ya later!’ and a wave over his shoulder.

He knows that is not what he should do.

He tells himself not to do exactly that.

He reminds himself that he is 18, a legal adult. He should be way beyond what he was like when he was eleven. He reminds himself that Lyra hasn’t even done anything to deserve him behaving like a jerk.

He snaps an insult, strides off, and waves at her over her shoulder, ignoring the way her expression melts from shock to fury to something almost like disappointment.

 

Lyra doesn’t call, and Blue isn’t one to offer apologies first.

By the time he returns to Lumiose, he has all the data he needs to write up his final report. He focuses on that.

She sends him messages, terse little texts asking if he has anything to say. He ignores them.

Red sends one message, linking to an article about fairy type Pokémon with the mere comment ‘?’. Blue ignores him too, though he isn't sure why.

Eevee still hasn’t evolved

Chapter Text

The rest of the year passes in a blur. He sits exams. He writes papers. He revises Sycamore’s papers, trying to do the best to get his eccentricities into line. He picks classes, specialising more heavily in Pokémon evolution. He goes with Dexio and Sina to a conference in Castelia City, helping them present on their research into their proposed fairy type. He discovers his Unovan is mildly less competent than his kaloçais. He gets into the ‘Acknowledgements’ section of Dexio and Sina’s systematic review of fairy typing.

Gramps dishes out his usual effusive praise over that, describing it as a ‘mostly competent piece of work’ though Blue should have ‘perhaps contributed enough to earn authorship’. A day later, Alakazam has to drag Blue out of his dorm room, having spent a little longer than was maybe necessary moping around looking at his old spreads in battle magazines and feeding Eevee macaroons.

He hasn’t really tried to make Eevee battle since he ran into Lyra. She seems happier for it – even if she’s by far the laziest Pokémon Blue owns, and getting a little plump. He has to wonder if her Lumiose lifestyle is making her become a little spoiled.

He draws the line at having her fur styled like one of those awful Furfrou, at the very least.

“Do you just not want to evolve?” he asks her over breakfast one morning, watching her tuck into half a pan au chocolat. She gives a non-committal mew and wipes chocolate off her nose with a paw, and then drops down from the kitchen table to find her litterbox.

 “Very helpful,” he drawls after her, taking a sip of his coffee. Eevee looks over her shoulder at him, with an affronted look, and trills, her ears twitching.

He supposes that means she’ll do it in her own damn time.

Huffing, he checks his PokéGear. Around a week ago, Red’s mother sent him a message, asking if he’s coming home for Golden Week, and if he’ll try to bring Red home for the holidays again. As though the only reason Red hasn’t come home yet is because Blue hasn’t put sufficient effort into it.

He supposes Eevee isn’t the only one who does only ever does things in their own damn time.

Sighing, he replies to say he’ll see what he can do. His final exams will be done by then anyway.

 

Red’s reply is, at the very least, short and to the point, even if he only replies after three days of radio silence.

No.

Fantastic. Great. Blue isn’t entirely sure why he even bothers.

Alakazam pats him on the shoulder until he loosens his grip on his PokéGear, and Blue breathes out. Another message pops up on the screen.

You’re visiting though, right?

He doesn’t hesitate to reply that of course he is, he can’t imagine even not.

 

Daisy has Red’s mother, Gramps, and several of her friends from around town over the night after Blue arrives, still jet-lagged and ordinary, murmuring in kaloçais to the guests upon waking and wincing at the weak Kantonian coffee. He’s showered in hugs, questions about Kalos, told every tiny bit of Pallet Town gossip he’s missed in his absence. Gramps watches him, carefully, and even seems to nod approvingly at some of his answers, some of the explanations about the studies into Pokémon evolution he’s been conducting. He has no exam results to brag about yet, but they’ll be ready in a few weeks time, by the time he prepares to go back.

As tired as he was, all the attention does wonders, and he finds himself brightening up and gesturing for more coffee, leaning back and forth on his chair as he regales them with stories about his few days in Castelia City, networking with researchers and trainers alike in Ranseigo, kaloçais, and Unovan. He talks about the battles he had with the Kalos gym leaders, how advanced their gym designs were compared to the dull designs in Kanto. He shares a million funny stories about Sycamore, Dexio, and Sina, about all their eccentricities - Sycamore’s tendency to happily yell everything he says, Dexio and Sina’s baffling cosplay habits. Daisy laughs and pours more tea, even Gramps’ lips twitch.

As Daisy and Alakazam set to work on dinner, Blue finds, to his disappointment, that the conversation drifts away from him and onto other topics. As it inevitably always does, he supposes. Gramps talks about some work he’s been doing, expanding the Pokédex, some collaboration he’s been working on with some whackjob who wants to actually shove a ghost Pokémon in there. Blue doesn’t know what to think about that.

Gramps tells Daisy to box him up some leftovers and send it to the lab later, and takes his leave. That was probably the most Blue will see of him for weeks. His aides, to their immense relief, are allowed to stay and continue to enjoy the festivities. As the residents of Pallet Town chatter and laugh, comparing Golden Week plans, bottles of liquor are uncorked and poured, and Blue discovers he’s now old enough to be offered some. Having started drinking in Kalos, gotten used to wine as the usual drink of choice, he just nods and grins and lets various Kanto beers and tiny bowls of sake be thrust at him. He has no idea what half of it is, and some of it outright burns his throat, but it’s good not to be treated like a little kid for once.

He always thought Pallet was a bit of a Podunk, always wondered why Gramps didn’t just move them out to Celadon or Saffron. Couldn’t wait to get his trainer ID and get out as soon as he was old enough to. Yet he has to admit, being somewhere where half the town can cram into your front room, laughing and talking as though they had known each other their entire town (because they literally all had), after the busy anonymity of Lumiose City was…nice.

A few drinks in, helping Red’s mother lay the table for dinner, she asks what he knows she would.

“Is Red coming home this year?”

She always asks it so totally hopeful. Like she’s convinced, every time, that this is going to be the year he comes home. Blue’s pretty sure she’s the only one that thinks that’s every really going to happen.

“…He’s not ready yet,” Blue says, and finds his words are slurring. He straightens up, tries to look like a cocky, confident teenager, and not a teenage let loose on sake for the first time in his life, “Gonna go visit him later this week, though. Not too bad gettin’ up there with the right team.”

She hums. She gets better at hiding her hurt and disappointment each year. Red wrote regularly now, at least. Even if his emails and letters tended to be on the…blunt and unromantic side.

She returns to setting the table, laying out trays of food and folding napkins. For a second, he thinks that’s the end of it.

“Could you take me up there this year?” she says, suddenly.

Blue drops the dish he’s holding, and it shatters on the floor. With a huff, Alakazam flicks a clawed finger and the piece all rise into the air and drift safely into the bin. Red’s mother doesn’t seem to notice – unlike her son, she constantly looks into people’s eyes, and doesn’t tear her gaze away from Blue’s for a second. However, much like her son, she can have an extraordinarily intense gaze when need be.

“I’d like to surprise him,” she continues, voice steady, gaze unflinching.

Red would hate it, is his first thought.

Then again.

Red loved his Mom. Every time Blue talked about her, he looks sadder and smaller somehow, like he was regressing back to his ten-year-old self, the kid who looked out at the world from behind his mother’s skirts, gaze wide and bewildered. She was not the thing he was hiding from.

It was just that the world he had on top of that mountain was better suited to him than the human world, in many ways.

And maybe, it was that he had gotten himself trapped up there. Maybe Red could no more come down from Mount Silver than Blue could bring him down, as things were. Maybe bringing his Mom up would make it easier for Red to, eventually, come down.

It seems so obvious, suddenly, that Blue has no idea how it never occurred to him before.

He leans back, smiles, tilts his head.

“Hey, sure thing. He’d be happy to see ya.”

“Oh, thank you!”

“Blue! Did I hear that right? Are you taking Masami up to see Red?” Daisy interrupts from behind him, making him jump. He turns, grinning.

“Yeah, probably about time, right?” he says, keen to hear about what a stand-up guy he is.

“Oh! Me and Gramps should go too!”

“Eh?”

“Well, we’re practically family as well. I worry about him and his Pokémon a lot, and Gramps has always been fond of him,” Daisy says, and then it’s too late, others begin to look up and talk about it too.

“Red? We’re going to see Red?”

“Oh, that’s a great idea! Isn’t Mount Silver dangerous though?”

“We have the best gym leader in the Kanto region with us, we’ll be fine!”

“Oh, does Red know how much technology’s advanced since he left? He’ll be so excited!”

Blue can’t get a word in, can’t explain how much Red would hate to have to deal with so many people at once. He opens another beer and just tries to steer the conversation elsewhere – with any luck, it’s only the alcohol talking, and everyone will have lost interest in the visit by morning.

 

By morning, Blue’s inbox is flooded with messages from just about everyone in town about their upcoming trip to Mount Silver. People are buying tents, camp stoves, sleeping bags, winter coats, presents for Red, asking if they can borrow a Pokémon to keep them safe the journey up.

Gramps begins organising permissions for the visits, and although he seems to be refusing a few people who’d never earned any badges, or were older and sicklier, most of those who want to come seem to get the OK.

Blue starts talking about the time he almost died up there because of a run-in with some bad weather and a herd of Donphan. Nobody seems much bothered. He starts to exaggerate the story more, inventing more near-death situations, but people seem remarkably unfazed.

Daisy says it’s because all of the stories Blue tells sound sort of like that. Everybody knows not to take him too seriously at this point. He doesn’t speak to her for the rest of the day.

So, despite his best efforts, it looks like the trip is going ahead, and with half of Pallet Town in tow.

Red is going to murder him.

“Do you want to go back to Kalos?” he says to Eevee. She blinks at him, yawns, and then rolls onto her back for a belly-rub. Unable to refuse, he oblige.

 

In the end, the group is him, Gramps, Daisy, Red’s Mom, and an aide from Gramps’ labs.

Daisy, apparently, had went around telling rather more sombre stories about mortality rates on Mount Silver, as well as mentioning off-hand how many mountaineers needed to drink their own urine to survive. She could be remarkably cunning at times, he thinks.

So. A group of five.

Not that bad.

Or at least, it wouldn’t be to most people. To Red, it would probably feel like Blue brought the entire population of Kanto.

He is also very, very certain that Red hasn’t read the message he sent him explaining the situation. Which, in his defence, is his own damn fault.

And there was the matter of getting them up a mountain – only he and Gramps had high-level, battle-ready Pokémon, the rest just had pets or Pokémon that helped them out at work. The kind that would be squashed in five seconds flat if any of the nastiest residents of Mount Silver took a dislike to them.

“Can’t your Alakazam just teleport us up?” Red’s mother asks as they’re preparing and packing, and both Blue and Gramps sigh.

“Not that easy. Alakazam can teleport himself, one person with him in a pinch, but try to drag more than one person more than a few feet and it gets…complicated,” he explains.

“Complicated?”

“Are you familiar with Bill’s teleporter accident?” Gramps interrupts, and Red’s mother’s eyes widen, “If we had managed to make teleportation a safe form of travel, every other form of travel will have been rendered redundant long ago.”

“…Right,” Blue says, glancing across at their group, “Right, right, we’ll split into two groups, everyone stick with either me or Gramps. Get stuck, fire a flare straight away and we’ll send a Pokémon to come get ya.”

There’s murmurs of assent, a few people scramble to check they have their flare gun. People look nervous – for everyone aside from himself and Gramps, the hike up Mount Silver will be the most they’ve been in the wilderness since their own short-lived Pokémon journeys.

“Hey, if any of ya don’t wanna go, you can always back out now,” he says, maybe a bit too hopefully.

Nobody does. Blue’s last flicker of hope in snuffing out this stupid idea is extinguished.

“Excellent, let’s set out,” Gramps says, business-like as ever.

 

Blue sticks with Red’s mother, keeping her on Rhydon’s back. Her only Pokémon, an old and very fat Rattata from her own Pokémon journey, remains inside its Pokéball in her coat pocket. Gramps’s aide has a team of field work Pokémon, and despite their lack of aptitude as a trainer, the Pokémon can take care of them just fine. Daisy is with Gramps, lagging behind in the snow, clinging to his Tauros.

“He lives up here?” Masami cries down from Rhydon’s back, over the whistle of the wind. Her face is already bright red under her hood, teeth chattering.

“Wait until you see his cave!” he shouts back up, clambering onto Rhydon’s side as they came to a steep incline. She makes a disapproving noise, and Blue can only hope that Red has bothered to have Pikachu charge his PokéGear in the last week, and has at least made an attempt to make himself look less like a caveman.

Behind them, Alakazam is handling the luggage, including the countless things Daisy and Red’s mother insisted on bringing as gifts for Red, and the fancy food they want to prepare to celebrate. He hopes that they’re all committed to staying the entire week and none of them want to nip down to the convenience story for a can of soda or something. He doesn’t want to spend the whole week dragging them up and down a mountain.

 

Eventually, he and Rhydon manage to reach the top. The snow isn’t falling, for once, and as Blue breathes in the frigid air, feels the sun on his face, he realises he’s missed the mountain more than he realised. It’s the craziest, most inhospitable place for a teenager to live by himself, but sometimes Blue can almost see why Red likes it so much.

“He lives near here, we’re not far,” he says, hopping down from Rhydon’s side. In the distance, Blue sees an arc of bright yellow electricity snap above the trees. He grins and gestures for Rhydon to follow him.

He finds Red exactly where he expects – sweating and wordlessly ordering his Pikachu in a fight against a particularly nasty group of Ursaring. Despite the thumping of Rhydon’s feet in the snow, Red doesn’t falter, just gestures for Charizard to take care of it. There’s a rough fuzz of hair along his jaw and cheeks.

Blue helps Masami down from Rhydon’s back, and Charizard moves towards her, sliding his head under her hand and rumbling deep in his throat. She rubs the top of the Pokémon’s head, staring at her son, mouth open.

Blue can’t blame her. Last time he saw him in real life, he had still been a little kid.

“He...looks a little bit like a wild man, doesn’t he?” she says, clearly concerned.

He doesn’t really know what he expected. Her son has lived in a cave on a frigid mountain since he was thirteen. Of course he looks like that.

The last Ursaring hits the floor as Pikachu slams into its belly, and the three Pokémon retreat. Pikachu leaps into Red’s arm and he smiles, very briefly, before he turns around. To face whatever enemy he imagined Charizard was holding off.

And then the expression on his face…

Yeah, there was no way Red knew this was happening.

Pikachu jumps out of Red’s arms and rushes across to Masami, letting out a squeak as she jumps into her arms. She laughs, giving Pikachu a fond rub between the ears. After a second, the Pokémon hops out of her arms, and she turns her attention to her son.

Red takes a few awkward steps forward, glancing at Blue as though asking for permission, or for help, but his mother doesn’t hesitate. With a teary bark of his name, she surges forward, throwing her arms around him, and bursting into noisy tears that makes both Blue and Red look at one another, awkward.

Stiffly, Red wraps his arms around her, patting her on the back, and then the years apart seem to catch up to him and he softens. Blue can’t help but feel as though he’s intruding. He also can’t help but think that he’s never hugged Red once in his life. He wonders how Red would even react if he tried.

Feeling odd all of a sudden, Blue fidgets in place, tempted to take a few steps forward and give it a go himself as soon as Red’s mother let go of him.

Gramps’ voice sounds from a few feet behind them. Blue twists to see Gramps atop his Rapidash, leading the rest of the group towards them.

Red’s eyes widen by just a fraction as he looks over the approaching group. For a second, Blue thinks he’s just going to turn tail and run further into the mountain, and then Red’s mother carefully grips his wrist, and he stays put like a little boy.

His gaze slides from the approaching group to look at Blue, all betrayed and angry and confused all at once. All Blue can do is shrug, and smirk, and wonder when he started feeling guilty so easily.

 

Mount Silver has never been so noisy. Up in the unbroken snow, their little group’s voices echo and bounce, coming back louder than they would have ever sounded in town. Gramps has brought a tent up, for everyone to stay in, but Red stays in his cave. The others are surprised. Blue is not.

And there’s never been so much stuff on Mount Silver either. Expensive energy bars, bulky clothes and boots and winter gear, shiny sleeping bags that zip up to cover everything but the face, fancy cooking gear, flares, rope, all the things that good trainers, often, don’t even need to bother with. Red relies on his Pokémon and the mountain itself to provide food and shelter and warmth, and most of his possessions relate to training or caring for his Pokémon in some way. He barely owns anything for himself.

It would even be easy to think he only has one set of clothes, but Blue knows that isn’t true. He owns two identical jackets, a few pairs of identical jeans, some identical t-shirts, several pairs of invariable black briefs, and his cap. Blue, in a fit of optimism, had bought him some new clothes in Kalos, and attempted to hand them over as a peace offering. It hadn’t been very effective. Red had just looked bewildered and uncomfortable, and then went right back to being angry, storming off to help Gramps with something.

Blue had to admit, he was kind of impressed. It was something else that a guy who literally never spoke could so effectively give someone the silent treatment.

It wasn’t his fault. He had sent a message to warn him. Plus, if Red wasn’t so freakishly obstinate about whatever the hell he was attempting to achieve up here, he could have just visited his mother years ago and prevented this whole stupid trip taking pace to begin with.

The noise and all the stuff and all the stuff and all the people have Red tense and nervous, and Blue can tell he’s ready to rip his hair out in big chunks every time his training plan for the day is upended by a guest’s insistence on wanting to do this-that-or-the-other. But Blue is certain he did some good by bringing his mother to see him. Masami is beside herself with delight every day, and as she’s chattering to Red about this or that, shoving food at him, fussing over the way he wears his collar or straightening his cap, Blue sees Red smile now and then.

And over the week, Red relaxes. Not properly, Blue can see tension in his shoulders, in the way he leans back if someone corners him into a one-sided conversation, but they have settled into a routine. More specifically, they’ve all settled Red’s routine. Blue nudges people when they’re intruding too much, people begin to learn Red’s tics and mannerisms, nobody attempts to drag him away from his usual training regime after the first few days. His mother holds his wrist less. Daisy tries to hug him less. Everyone adapts more.

There’s some irritable murmuring about Red’s attitude problems in the tent late at night, but it’s not so bad. It’s nothing nobody’s ever said about him before, anyway.

Blue doesn’t contest any of their complaints. He should, but he doesn’t. It’s just easier that way. Even if it leaves him with an uneasy, sickly feeling in the pit of his stomach.

Eventually, Daisy even convinces Red and his Pikachu to join them for their last evening meal. Everyone is busily pitching in with the meal, cooking rice and chopping vegetables and mixing sauce and making miso, but Red only sits cross-legged watching it all, his fingers in Pikachu’s fur. Everyone knows better than to ask him to help out - group work isn’t exactly Red’s forte.

Dinner is good, even great for something cooked on top of a mountain, the sky is clear, and the night is surprisingly mild. They sit out in the snow, on little stools and upturned boxes and buckets, eating and passing around liquor (Red declines with a firm shake of his head, looking disturbed at the very offer).

Red sits near him, even half smiles as Blue cracks an EV training joke that only Gramps laughs at, so he assumes he’s been forgiven.

Pikachu still gives him a sly zap that makes him jump a foot in the air when he walks past her though. Not for the first time, he’s sorely tempted to give that rat a good boot. She jumps into Red’s arms and cuddles into his chest, making gentle peeping noises and twitching her tail. Red smiles and rubs his knuckles gently into her fur. They stay like that for most of the evening.

As Blue gets a little more liquor into him, he starts to appreciate that yes, that is pretty darn cute. Even through the rat is a rotten little creature with an attitude problem. Not to mention a baffling addition to an otherwise pretty strong team.

Red doesn’t pick Pokémon for that, though. He works with Pokémon he bonds with best – Blue is pretty sure he doesn’t even keep any of the other Pokémon he’s caught. Most of them seem to have been given to Gramps for distribution among younger trainers, or for breeding or research, or just released back into the wild.

He doesn’t care about their stats, or even balancing his team, Blue thinks, frowning. Which is why Gramps always praised him so much. Well, it was easy for Red to do that. He didn’t need to work hard at that kind of thing. He was a battling prodigy. He didn’t need to work at it.

Blue tries to shake the thought out of his head – it always knots him up inside in really complicated ways he cannot even begin to untangle. It was hard to pick out the envy from the pride from the fondness from everything else, it all obscuring the big pulsing ball of whatever lay underneath. That weird messy something Blue really tries not to think about.

“Grandpa, you said you’re working on a new Pokédex?” Daisy asks, interrupting Blue’s train of thought.

“Oh, yes,” Gramps says, and Red perks up, having spaced out for most of the conversation. Gramps notices immediately, and smiles at him with an enormous amount of fondness that Blue finds irritating despite himsef.

“Ah, yes, Red, you’ll be interested in this. There’s some work that, theoretically, we should be able to keep a certain type of Pokémon inside a Pokédex –“

Red looks alarmed, and Blue shoots Gramps a meaningful look. Gramps coughs, getting the picture, and changes his tune.

“With the Pokémon’s consent, of course,” he amends, “And the process would be reversible.”

Red looks satisfied with that, and Blue nods for Gramps to continue.

“It should provide a fascinating new way for Pokémon and people to communicate! Of course, that’s hardly a concern for you,” Gramps continues, practically glowing in Red’s direction, and Blue’s stomach does an unpleasant swoop. He opens another beer, distracting himself, nagging at himself that it doesn’t matter, this is stuff that bothered him when he was eleven. He should be over it.

Of course, in his usual way, Gramps doesn’t notice Blue is looking fidgety. Even with the nervous glances Daisy was throwing between them, the pointed way she was clearing her throat.

“Red has always had a natural talent for communicating with Pokémon,” Gramps says to his aide, a new postgrad Blue can never remember the name of, “When he was eleven, he became the youngest victor to ever win the Indigo League.”

The aide nods, doing his best to look impressed, as though the poor sap’s never heard it a million times before. Blue glugs more of his beer, his fingers very tight around the bottle. In his lap, Eevee opens her eyes and looks up at him, mewing tentatively and kneading her paws into his stomach.

“And of course, the Pokédex project would have never advanced as far as it did without Red’s contributions,” Gramps continues, beaming at Red, who avoids his gaze and fiddles with Pikachu’s ear.

Oh, sure, sure, it would never have, Blue thinks, his brain fuzzy and his teeth gritted. Wasn’t like there was anyone else around who had been around.

“Oh! I’m sure you’re familiar with Red tackling the Rocket problem several years ago. My grandson, of course, was never very interested in that sort of thing, but Red’s always had a strong sense of justice –“

Blue polishes off his beer, and suddenly, stupidly, furious, scoops Eevee up into his arms and heads out into the snow.

 

That was dumb.

That was really, really dumb.

It only hits Blue how dumb it is until the beer blanket wears off, and he becomes conscious that he’s wandering in the dark, Eevee shivering in his arms, still kind of tipsy, having paid no attention the way he wandered, his footprints already swept away by the snowfall.

He pauses, looking at Eevee, and angles her into the crook of one arm so he can get her ball from his belt. Nothing. His belt was back in the tent. With the rest of his Pokémon.

Idiot.

He stops, breathing out sharp clouds in the cool night air. Even in the height of summer, Mount Silver bordered on damn near inhospitable. He lean against a tree, unzipping his jacket so he could bundle Eevee into it. Why did he even grab her? He didn’t need to drag her out into the snow any more than he needed to keep forcing her into stupid battles.

Stupid.

The sad thing was, coming back to Pallet Town always makes him think about how much he’s grown up since he first left it, how much of his old attitude and problems he left behind. Thinking about that, all the ways he’s improved from the bratty little bully he used to be, it always makes him feel proud.

Yet, lately, he doesn’t feel like he’s changed much at all.

“Sorry girl,” he mutters down at the shivering lump in his jacket, “Dragged you into my issues again.”

She only blinks slowly up at him. He really wishes he had a Fire Stone on him. He pats himself down, for anything he may have missed, and finds in his inside pocket a hard lump. Careful not to let Eevee fall into snow, he snakes his hand in and pulls it out. A flare gun.

He stares at it for a while.

No.

Screw that.

He wasn’t asking for help. He was a trainer, damnit. Tipsy and stupid and clearly the inferior trainer, but he was a trainer. He had handled Mount Silver before, and he had handled being lost in the wilderness plenty. He could do this by himself.

He zips his jacket back up and tries to walk back the way he came.

 

He is, quite possibly, the dumbest person alive.

No, no. Not just alive. He’s the dumbest person to ever live, including those both alive and dead. And including everyone who wasn’t born yet.

He sinks down into the snow, Eevee shivering in his jacket but still wiggling up to rub her face against his cheek. His legs ached, and his whole body shivered, and he had the onset of a tight headache behind his eyes as the alcohol wore off.

Above him, a shadow soars past, blotting out the moon for a brief second. And then again.

Blue squints, and just barely makes out the shape of a pair of wings, a long tail, and the glow of a flame. Red’s Charizard. Of course.

So this would make the second time Red would save his butt on this stupid mountain. Great.

Red flew past overhead again, circling. Blue supposed the trees and the dark would make it hard to spot him.

Eevee bats at the flare gun in her jacket with a paw, and gives him a reproachful look. He laughs, the sound sticking in his throat.

“Alright, you win,” he says, and digs the flare gun out of his pocket, “But just so we’re clear, I’m doing this for you, got it?”

An Eevee shouldn’t really be able to roll her eyes. She manages it anyway.

Sighing, he fires his flare into the sky above, crackling in a bright orange line above him.

Within seconds, he sees the dark silhouette of Red’s Charizard swoop towards him, and staggers to his feet, raising one hand in greeting.

 

“Urgh, you idiot!” Daisy says, throwing her arms around his shoulders, “What was that about? Storming off without your Pokémon! You could have gotten hurt, you could have gotten in trouble, you -”

“Hey, hey, chill out. I just needed some air,” he says, shrugging her off him, “How was I supposed to know you’d all flip your lids, huh?”

“Well it was very irresponsible of you, Blue, very irresponsible indeed,” Oaks scolds as his aide (looking more tired by the second) checks Eevee is okay. Blue rolls his eyes.

“Yeah, yeah. Back, ain’t I?” he says, and slaps Red on the back in a manly sort of way, “Thanks to this guy.”

Red looks at him, nose wrinkled and expression thoroughly bewildered, and Blue quickly feels embarrassed. He isn’t entirely sure where the back-slap came from either. He coughs.

Anyway,” he says, “I’m worn out, so I’m gonna hit the hay.”

Gramps gives him a withering look, but Blue ignores it by making a big show of stretching and yawning.

“Smell ya,” he says, unzipping his side of the tent and stepping into his compartment, Eevee rushing after him. Red watches after him, frowning as though he were puzzling something out.

 

Aside from his own fit of stupidity, Blue considers the trip more of a success than he anticipated. As they pack up for the journey back down to Pallet Town, Red even helps bring down the tents. He has another hug from his mother, as she fusses and adjusts his clothes and tells him again all the supplies she brought and desperately tries (and fails) to hold back tears. He tolerates a hug from Daisy, and shares a firm nod with Gramps.

The aide, as far as Blue can tell, seems to have decided that they would never come on another Oak family trip if someone pays them and wants to stay as far away from these lunatics as they can from now until the end of time. Blue thinks that’s fair.

“Looks like we’re all ready to go,” Gramps says, released his Rapidash from her ball and climbing onto her back, “Let’s move in two groups again, shall we? Depending if the weather conditions hold, we may be able to fly quite a bit of the way…”

Gramp continues to babble on, heedless of his aide’s rapidly evaporating will to live, or Daisy and Masami’s deep disinterest in wilderness survival skills, and Blue feels a tug at his sleeve.

“Huh?”

Red stands behind him, gaze intense, and tugs him back towards his cave. Of course. After being mad at him for the whole visit, this is when Red chooses to get cuddly. Or, what accounts for cuddly with this guy, anyway.

“Hey, I can’t just hang out up here forever, buddy,” Blue replies, irritated, “Got exams coming up. A gym to run.”

A gym he had been somewhat neglecting, yes, but Blue shoves that out of his head. How much he did or didn’t enjoy being a gym leader was another thing he didn’t really want to think about for the time being. Or ever.

Red scowls at him and shakes his head, tugging again on his sleeve. Blue sighs, and throws his hands up in defeat.

“Alright, weirdo,” he says, following him towards the cave, conscious of Red’s hand sliding down to his wrist. How often did Red touch bare skin against skin? Probably not much. Blue always got the impression he didn’t like it. How often did he initiate it? Probably not at all. Then what was so important to have him practically holding Blue’s hand? Well not practically, not really, but almost, Red’s fingers were just about on his palm and that was as close as he usually -

He blinks and notices that Red has been holding a notepad in front of his face for a good five minutes.

Oh.

He’s sure he’s been getting stupider lately.

He takes the notepad from Red and reads the message there. There were a few versions scratched out, and Blue has to wonder if Red spent last night trying to write it out.

You got upset yesterday.

Is it because of what the Professor was saying?

A few more attempts, scratched out so harshly that Blue could barely make out more than a few characters. His eyes drift down to the bottom.

Is it because of me?

“This bugging you that badly?” Blue scoffs.

Red gnaws his lower lip and nods, totally earnest. Maybe not even picking up on the mockery.  Blue instantly feel awful for even saying it. Seriously, why can he never stop these things coming out of his mouth?

Pikachu, curled up in a ball on Snorlax’s belly, watches them, clearly read to leap into action and electrocute Blue within an inch of his life if he hurt a hair on her master’s head.

 “Right,” he says, “Uh. Well, a little of column A, a little of column B, I’d say.”

Red tilts his head.

“I mean it’s…it’s kind of both of you. I mean, not really. Okay, yes, it is both of you. Mostly Gramps, though, trust me,” he says, and then smirks, “Hey, I mean, come on. You didn’t ask to be the golden boy. It’s hardly your fault you’re perfect.”

Red scowls and snatches the notepad back from him, producing a pen from his pocket and tearing off the front page. He scribbles, again, intently. Scratching things out, shaking his head, but faster than he used to be. Finally, he gives the paper back.

Perfect?

I can’t TALK.

Blue’s eyebrows raise. He’s never heard – well, seen Red even acknowledge his…problem. It was like he didn’t even notice it.

“So it’s a ‘can’t’ thing, huh? Not a ‘won’t’?” Blue says. Red rubs his mouth with the back of his hand, twitching. He moves his lips a few times, clicks his teeth together, makes a rasping noise in the back of his throat, and shakes his head, frustrated.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Blue attempts in what he hopes is a soothing voice. Comforting people isn’t exactly his style. Daisy was the sensitive, touchy-feely kid, not him. It didn’t come naturally, and frankly most of the time he didn’t think it was even worth trying. In his opinion, most people just need to toughen up a little.

Red shakes his head and takes the paper back. He writes something down in slow, precise strokes. He hands it back. A single word that makes Blue wince just looking at it.

It’s a word Blue would never say, not any more. But one he’s heard lobbied at Red before. One, as a kid who hadn’t thought about how hard words like that could hit, he’d used himself.

“Oh, come on, man. You’re not a r- urgh, no, I mean. That’s not true,” he says, and then sighs, “Since when do you care, anyway?”

Red just looks at him, as though desperate to try and make him understand, and Blue is hit by how frustrating it must be. How aggravating to spend so much time trying to talk to people and not being able to. Just because people aren’t patient enough to wait for Red to get it out, or even consider trying to talk to him another way.

Blue sighs.

“Look, hey, Gramps has always preferred you right?”

Red nods. Blue can’t help but roll his eyes. Tact. Not Red’s strongest point.

“Right, so we’re on the same page here. And look, I figured I’d gotten that all outta my system, but it’s like you’ve been hiding on a mountain for what, nearly ten years now, while I’ve been out being a gym leader and travelling and doing all sorts of research, but you’re still the golden boy,” he says, “I’m practically not even a blip on the old man’s radar.”

Red stares at him, long and hard, and then gestures for the notepad back. Blue passes it and waits, back against the wall, as Red slowly struggles to write.

Eventually, Red passes it back.

The Professor doesn’t mean it.

He probably doesn’t know.

And then, under a few more tentative scribbles.

Talk to him.

“You know that’s rich coming from you, right?”

Red smiles, a little wryly. He’s never really seen an expression like that on Red’s face before, and there’s something about it that give Blue a funny little rush.

“Heh, either way I don’t see that happening soon,” he says, shrugging and trying to act as though there’s nothing in the world that interests him less. He looks at Red, who looks a little disappointed, and sighs, “But hey, this is nothing to do with you, right? Family stuff.”

Red looks confused, tilting his head as though Blue just said something very odd.

“What?” he asks.

Whatever it was, Red seems to shrug it off, and takes the paper to write something again.

Are you coming home?

“Well that’s a change of topic.”

Red scowls and jabs the paper with his finger.

“Okay, okay, you know what? I’ve been thinking about it.”

Red’s eyebrows rise.

“Kalos is fun and everything, but I think I’m gonna finish up my studies back home,” he continues, realising dimly that this is the first time he’s ever voiced the plan out-loud, “I mean, I got a gym to run, right? So I’m better off polishing off my degree at Pewter University.”

Red doesn’t smile, or write anything, and like hell he’s about to say anything any time soon, but he takes Blue’s wrist in his hand and holds it.

After a second, not sure how Red will take it, Blue moves his hand down so their fingers interlink. To his surprise, Red lets him.

Chapter Text

He returns to Kalos one last time, to sort out a few hanging threads and say his goodbyes to friends in Lumiose. Those two weeks pass in a wild blur; being begged by Dexio and Sina to stay (he suspects that he makes Sycamore much easier to deal with), Sycamore sobbing all over him, the region’s gym leaders arranging to take him out for sushi, trying to finish up all the work he had left, and waiting for exam results.

He also gets some very terse emails from Lance about his responsibilities and the integral role he plays in the community and blah blah blah whatever who cares. He refuses to send back a read receipt and goes on as normal. The trainers he hired can handle everything apart from handing out badges, and if anyone wanted an Earth Badge that badly, well, they know where to find him. Or, at the very least, they should be able to figure out how to find out where to find him.

The more he thinks about going back and standing around in that gym all day, waiting for challengers to wander in, the tighter his chest feel. Just walking to and fro Viridian City all day, spitting out the same lines for every trainer that comes in, helping 9 year olds catch their first Pidgey or Weedle...

No matter how much he tries to drum up some enthusiasm for the idea, he gets a sickly sensation in the pit of his stomach, like he’s on a ship that’s beginning to dip into the sea.

He pushes the thought away. Whatever! It might be better if he’s going to Pewter for class at the same time.

Sighing, he steps out into the cool Lumiose evening, groceries banging against the side of his calf. Eevee follows, mewling for the PokéPuffs at the bottom of the bag.

“You’ll get one,” he says down to her, trying to sound disapproving and doing a shoddy job of it, “You know, you’re getting to be really spoile –“

You!”

Blue doesn’t see who punches him – he just experiences a set of knuckles smashing into his cheek, and then he’s on the floor. Eevee leaps onto his chest, tail puffed up to twice its usual size, her fur standing on end, hissing.

He blearily recognises the Johto accent, and sees the big stupid hat, and sits up.

“Lyra?” he says. She glares down at him. Eevee looks ready to attack; Blue strokes his fingers through her fur and shushes her gently.

She folds her arms, face still screwed up. Behind her, Feraligatr snaps its huge jaws and scratches its claws along the ground.

“You’re still mad,” he says, wearily. He had kind of expected she’d be over it by now. He supposes that was a stupid assumption to make; Lyra seems as though she could hold a grudge until she was long past dead.

“You called me a dumb hick and a wannabe and laughed in my face,” she snarls, looking as though she was intending to punch him again if he moves too quickly, “When I was trying to be nice to you!”

“I’ve said worse,” he says, rubbing his jaw. He’s worried she dislocated it.

“You said my hat was stupid!”

“It is stupid,” he insists. He’s not willing to concede on that – her outfits range from ‘kind of dumb’ to ‘utterly ludicrous’. And her fashion taste didn’t seem to be improving with age.

“Excuse me if I don’t want fashion advice from a guy who wears capris,” she says, paying no heed to the amount of people who were beginning to stop and stare, or the pictures being snapped by people interested enough in foreign battling to recognise the Johto champion and Kanto champion having a tiff.

“I like my capris,” he mutters.

“And bleaches his hair.”

“What’s wrong with that?” he says, a hand going to his hair, “You used to dye yours blue.”

“The bleach makes it look orange,” she sniffs.

He fiddles with a strand of hair, frowning. Okay…he has been kind of worried about that lately.

“Okay, look,” he says, sighing, “Sorry I went off at you a few months ago. I do that sometimes.”

“Defence mechanism,” she says, with a look that dares him to disagree.

“Defence mechanism,” he agrees, and then glances around at the people watching, muttering to one another, “Hey, look, people are kind of staring –“

“Take me out for dinner.”

“What?”

“As an apology,” she says, pointing a finger at his chest, “Buy me dinner. Now.”

Blue begins to wonder why he exclusively hangs out with completely crazy people. Maybe it was something to do with professional trainers; to stick with it beyond the usual year out, you had to be a bit nuts.

Blue just didn’t think it had to be ‘travel around the world fighting everyone’ nuts or ‘live on top of a mountain for ten years’ nuts. Most people just developed a quirky thematic dress sense or something.

“Fine, fine,” he says, scowling, “Just don’t expect this to be a regular thing. And take it easy on my wallet, alright?”

 

“Still an Eevee, then?” she says, after having ordered the most expensive starters and mains, as well as a bottle of wine for the table. Blue has the distinct feeling she doesn’t even like wine, and is just trying to annoy him. He’s not about to rise to the bait. He likes wine, anyway.

“Yep,” he says, shrugging, “Hey, she’s not a battling Pokémon, it doesn’t matter.”

“Kind of weird though,” she says, hand on her cheek, “I mean, maybe she can’t? You hear about that sometimes. Pokémon with weird genetic diseases and stuff, who can’t evolve at all.”

He frowns – that was the kind of thing researchers in Sycamore’s department spent a lot of time looking into. He doubts that’s the case. Most Pokémon like that had some noticeable symptoms – deformities, tendencies towards physical illness, an inability to learn special attacks. Eevee had nothing like that. She was healthy, energetic, perfectly shaped, and despite her lack of inclination to battle, could use all the TMs Blue taught her with ease.

“She’s probably just not ready,” he says, taking a sip of his drink. Lyra takes a gulp, pulls a face, and then attempts to hide the face she pulled. Blue rolls his eyes.

“Right, right,” she says, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, “I’m just thinkin’ maybe it’s you.”

“Me?”

“Well, yeah, you’re kind of wound up all the time,” she says, nodding, “I think you can only bring out the best in Pokémon if you’re comfortable in yourself.”

“I am very laid-back,” he protests, flicking his hair.

“Hey, I’m just sayin’, maybe Eevee’s not reaching her potential because you’re not,” she says, “Slacking off at work?”

He tenses, lip curling.

“No. I’m just peachy, thanks for asking.”

“Mhm? When was the last time you’ve been back to Viridian City?” she asks, leaning forward. He doesn’t like the sly look she’s giving him one piece. Like he’s just so damn transparent.

“…Eat your appetiser,” he says, narrowing his eyes at her. She wordlessly tucks into her paté, smirking all the while. Blue huffs and tries to discard what she said, focus on his own meal, but it’s useless.

He hates to admit it, really really hates to admit it, but she kind of has a point.

If it was because he wasn’t reaching his potential, then Eevee may well stay an Eevee the rest of her life. He lost out on reaching his potential when was eleven. Since that whole fiasco, nothing else has really measured up. Not for Gramps, not for Red, not for his fans or the press or even really himself.

Peaking as a preteen. Tragic, really. Thinking about it that way made disappearing up a mountain seem downright sensible.

“’Ey, ‘ey, are you listening?” Lyra interrupts his thoughts, wiggling her knife in his face.

“Nope,” he says.

“Didn’t think so. You were looking down. It’s not a good look on you,” she says, pouring him more wine, “Come on, your whole thing is cocky, annoying pretty boy. Go back to that, jerk.”

“Are you even old enough to drink?” he sighs, lounging back in his chair as the waiter clears away their plates and prepares their table for the next course.

“In Kalos? Yes.”

They polish off the bottle, and Lyra orders another before Blue can have any input in the decision, their chatter returning to things going on across Kanto and Johto, the recent Team Plasma activities in Unova, Team Galactic’s failings in Sinnoh, as well as notable league battles. Blue isn’t sure there’s really been any particular notable champions since Lyra.

Lyra thinks that’s just because none of them have personally sought him out and fed his ego. He tells her where to go.

Desserts ordered, third bottle of wine (of indeterminate quality and price) opened and poured, Blue is finding it increasingly difficult to remember why he and Lyra had been fighting to begin with.

“Korrina!” she says, slamming her fist on the table. The couple next to them jump and scowl at them, Blue waves away their concerns. It doesn’t seem to help.

“What ‘bout her?” he asks.

“You know her, right?”

“Please. I know, like, all the gym leaders,” he drawls, rolling his eyes, “We all keep in touch. So, yeah.”

“She’s cute,” Lyra continues.

“I…guess?” he says, wrinkling his nose. It’s not really his area of expertise.

“You should set me up with her,” she says, smacking the curve of her spoon against the sugar topping of her crème brulee with a satisfying crack. Blue raises his eyebrows at her.

“Wow, no. Not happening,” he says, taking a bite of his floating island.

“Why not?” she whines.

“Oh a lot of reasons,” he replies, “For one, you’re only 18. And she’s…”

Through the fog of wine, it’s very hard to remember. He’s sure he knows this. Older than 18. Less than 40? No, definitely less than 30.

“Yeees?”

“Too old for you,” he says tartly.

“Urgh, come on,” Lyra whines, resting her chin on the table, her cheeks very pink and her hat askew, “Some of us want to get out there, meet people! Not all of us want to spend our time pining after a weird mountain man.”

Blue chokes on meringue.

“I’m sorry, what?” he says, too loud, and then continues in what he hopes is a much smoother, more arrogant tone, “I mean, what?”

She looks at him as though he’s a complete idiot.

“Oh, please. You’re like, what, 30?”

“I’m twenty.”

“So, yeah, super old –“

“Barely two years older than you!”

Ancient, and even though you’ve got all these dumb fangirls, you never go out with any of them. Or any of the boys. Instead, you just keep obsessing over the same guy you were obsessed with when you were like ten.”

“I’m not obsessed.”

“From what I hear, you climb a mountain to see him pretty often.”

“He – he lives there! The only way to see him is to climb a mountain,” he says, scowling, “And it’s not true that –“

“You’ve never had a relationship?” she says, smirking, “I keep a pretty close ear on trainer gossip. I would have heard something.”

“I’ve – that’s not – I’ve - I’ve had trysts!”

Lyra snaps upright and bursts into loud, raucous laughter, actually slapping her knee.

“Trysts?”

“No, look, I –“

“What are you, eighty?” she cackles. With a huff, he decides not to even dignify that with a response. It’s hardly his fault he was raised by his grandfather. He shoves more his meringue into his mouth, chewing it angrily and glaring at her. After a few more minutes of cruel laughter at his expense, she calms down, and looks up at him, expression just disbelieving.

“I mean, really, are you seriously denying it?” she asks.

“Of course I am,” he scoffs, “It’s a ridiculous idea.”

Really, he was only just about comfortable with the idea of calling Red his friend. And he was a weird friend to have, at that.

He stuffs a piece of meringue into his mouth, chewing as mutinously as he could. He swallows, washing it down with the rest of his wine and slams the empty glass down on the table hard enough to make the other diners jump.

“Ridiculous,” he asserts.

“Yeah, suuuure,” she replies, and then falls silent. She just looks at him. Smirking. Not even pushing the subject further, just waiting.

Slowly, clumsily, and very drunkenly, the gears in Blue’s head begin to turn.

“Huh,” he says, squinting.

No.

No, it was -

It was a weird idea.

Silly, really.

He wasn’t sure why she even -

Something in his head clicks.

“What.”

Lyra grins at him.

“Urgh! Seriously?” he says, Lyra’s grin not faltering for a second, “I mean, seriously!?”

His face hits the table.

Crap.”

Leaning over his comatose body, Lyra cheerfully orders them some cognac.

 

The sensible thing to do, Blue decides, was to avoid Red for the rest of eternity.

So, after he returns to Kanto and enrolls at Pewter University, that’s exactly what he sets to doing.

 

As his studies become more intense, and he tries to catch up with the work he’s been avoiding, this is both easier and harder than he anticipates. Easier because he has little time to do anything aside from run back and forth between Pewter and Pallet and Viridian, not to mention all the field work locations Gramps or his new supervisors keep sending him to, for work and class. Harder because all the work makes it more and more tempting to just flee up Mount Silver with the excuse of checking Red hadn’t dropped dead up there.

Pewter U turns out to be a good school, in spite of how Gramps pursed his lips when Blue told him that’s where he was going. Evolution studies don’t get as much funding as, say, archaeology or even ancient history, but his classes are good. After attending university in a foreign language for a year, being able to attend lectures and write papers in good old Ranseigo feels like a blessing.

And his supervisor, although lacking Sycamore’s notoriety or connections, is a welcome reprieve from his eccentricities, and from Gramps’s severity. If all goes well, his first named publication should be out by the end of the year.

(Blue doesn’t tell Gramps that. He’d want to review the paper beforehand, and then it would never see the light of day. He swears Daisy to secrecy on the matter, as well, ignoring the sad look on her face.)

The gym is still a grind. Every challenger he gets is the same. There’s the cocky kids, with the same six Pokémon – big, intimidating monsters, very similar to his own main team. Somehow it never felt so generic when he had been the challenger. There’s the sensitive sorts, usually getting their third or fourth badge, unlikely to get a fifth or sixth, with cute Pokémon they spend hours petting and brushing. Then there’s the wannabes, noisy kids with signature poses and catchphrases, with teams that look an awful lot like his, or some other famous trainer’s. Very often with a Pikachu perched, somewhat clumsily, on their shoulder.

It’s not that they’re bad kids. They’re just all beginning to blur into one another. Few of them challenge him with something new, most just utilise type advantages, spam items, or level their Pokémon above and beyond their badge level to score an easy win.

And he doesn’t have the capacity other gym leaders have, to play-act for the kids, acting as though he’s never faced a challenger, praise them on their strong bonds with their Pokémon and yaddayaddayadda. It feels way too much like lying.

Well, that, and he’s still not the most graceful loser in the world.

Especially since he has to play by the League’s rules (only so many items, only so many switches, set team, set levels, pre-determined move-sets and items), and the kids…well the kids don’t. The kids can come in with their bags bulging with Hyper Potions and Max Revives, and can switch their Pokémon back and forth as many times as they like. It’s frustrating. It’s not a fair fight – it’s one he’s designed to lose.

Which is reasonable, he reminds himself. The kids should have a fair shot at winning. That’s the entire point.

It’s fine. He likes his job. He does.

Sitting in his office, spinning back and forth on his chair and checking if he had any new messages (he did), and if any of them were from Red (they weren’t), ignoring the stack of gym-related paperwork and requests from locals for help with Pokémon-related issues, it’s hard to convince himself of that.

“Blue, sir?” came a voice from the doorway. Blue sits up to see one of his gym trainers, a gangly fifteen-year-old girl who battles here after school and on weekends, wheeling into the room. Her Hypno follows behind, coming to stand by her chair.

“Hey, what’d I say? Don’t need to bother with that ‘sir’ stuff. Just Blue’s fine, mkay?”

“Sorry, si – “ she clears her throat, “Sorry. You have a challenger.”

“Urgh, what, now? Can’t they book?” Blue whines. Sure, it wasn’t conventional, but most trainers in Kanto knew that if they wanted to battle him, they’d have to call him ahead of time. If challengers just came along, Blue would sometimes just tell them to come back after they’d won eight badges, just out of spite. He liked serious battles, and they’d have to come back through Viridian to get to Victory Road anyway. Lance didn’t have to know.

“Uh,” she says, looking flustered, “I don’t know how to explain that to him. Can you just come and battle him please?”

“Nngh.”

“It’s a seven-badge match,” she adds, practically pleading.

He rolls his eyes and stands up, stretching. Really, it was a good excuse to escape from his other duties, even if it was bound to be a boring battle.

“Right, right, thanks, kid,” he says, ruffling her hair as she walks past, ignoring both the blush and the scowl he received in return. Descending the stairs, he emerges to his battle area, expecting to see some smirking kid in a cap.

“Alola!”

Well. He was right about the cap.

Waiting for him is the oldest challenger he’s had in a long while – a dark-skinned guy a good few years older than him, wearing shorts, a lab-coat, a cap, and, for reasons Blue can’t fathom, no shirt at all. He grins and waves to Blue, one hand on his hip, some kind of brown dog-like Pokémon Blue doesn’t recognise standing by his side, its bushy tail swishing back and forth.

He looks sort of like he might be from Hoenn, but that Pokémon doesn’t look like any Hoenn Pokémon he knows.

“You’re the gym leader, right?” the challenger asks, in slightly clumsy Ranseigo. Blue suddenly understands his gym trainer’s panic – most people got a bit panicked when faced with someone who didn’t communicate the exact way they did. Blue, however, has a lot of experience in that department.

“Unova?” he asks. The challenger blinks at him, and then laughs.

“Afraid not, cousin! Alolan born and bred! The name’s Kukui,” he says, with a big grin. At Blue’s slightly blank expression, Kukui presses on, “Small region, lots of different islands, chock full of rare Pokémon, yeah! Kind of small though. Don’t even have our own league. Not yet anyway.”

Oh. It was a popular holiday destination for people from Kanto – he was fairly sure Daisy had been talking about going for months, hinting more and more to her boyfriend about how ‘It’s such a nice honeymoon destination, isn’t it?’.

“Kind of old for a League challenger, aren’t you?” Blue asks, raising his eyebrows, vaguely wondering if everyone on Alola wandered around shirtless. Kukui grins, unabashed. Both in regards to his age and his questionable fashion choices.

“Well, I’m researching Pokémon moves, and there’s no better way to research them than to use theem,” he says, “What do you say?”

Despite his laid-back attitude, Kukui has the aura of pressure and intensity that really talented trainers have. And besides, Blue has never battled against any Alolan Pokémon before.

Blue smirks and sends out Pidgeot.

“Ha, alright! That’s what I like to see. Lycanroc, go!” Kukui orders, and the strange dog Pokémon at Kukui’s side leaps into the fray.

Blue learns, very quickly, that it is not a normal type as he anticipated. The Lycanroc sets up a Stealth Rock, and before Blue can quite figure out what’s happening, almost knocks Pidgeot out with a Stone Edge attack. Cursing his lack of foresight, Blue orders Pidgeot to whip up a Whirlwind and sends Lycanroc soaring out of the battle lines. Kukui switches to a Magnezone, and Blue swears quietly to himself – that leaves him very little choice but to let one of his Pokémon take the hit from the Stealth Rock trap, whether he lets Magnezone knock Pidgeot out or not.

Or...right! He switches out to Rhydon, and hopes that Magnezone isn’t able to levitate out of the way of an Earthquake attack in time.

Kukui is a good trainer, smart and fast, never hesitating when picking his next move or when shouting encouragement to his Pokémon. He doesn’t have Red’s raw determination, or Lyra’s combination of manic energy and laser-focus, but he’s smart, and he’s creative, and that makes him fun to battle against. Plus, most of his Pokémon seem to be ones Blue has barely ever faced.

After Blue takes down Kukui’s Braviary with a well-aimed Thunder Punch from Machamp, Kukui sends out what may be the most beautiful Ninetales Blue has ever seen, with ice-white fur and a tail like a storm cloud.

Before Blue can figure out that no, it’s not a shiny Pokémon, and remember, yes, he’s seen this form in Dexio and Sina’s research notes, the Ninetales raises its tails and into the air, glowing with a bright light, and knocks Machamp out in one dazzling blast.

Fairy type.

Right.

Officially accepted into league battles now.

Returning Machamp to his Pokéball, Blue can’t find it in him to be pleased on Dexio and Sina’s behalf about it right now.

Mentally rotating through a type chart and shuffling around his usual strategies in his head, Blue sends out Arcanine. The battle’s been dragging on long enough that Blue’s gym trainers have gathered to watch, muttering to each other and admiring Kukui’s exotic Pokémon. Or just Kukui himself.

Blue feels a stab of irritation. He may not be a prodigy, or even the biggest celebrity any more, but he is not about to be outshone in his own gym.

With a few more switches and moves, and a clever little gambit involving Pidgeot’s Mirror Move attack and Citrus Berry, Blue manages to close the battle and win, one Pokémon left. He grins as his trainers applaud. Pidgeot wearily lands beside him, accepting a fond scratch on the cheek before returning to his Pokéball.

He looks across to Kukui and finds, to his surprise, that Kukui is laughing.

“Well! You Kanto gym leaders are really something, huh?” he says, grinning, “Not won right away once.”

“Right away?” Blue asks.

“Ha! Yeah, I’ll be back, cousin!” he says, with a wink, “I gotta see some more of those hot moves of yours!”

Before Blue can even figure out if he’s being flirted with (and whether he should be pleased or weirded out – he’s hot but he’s old and he’s a professor…ew), Kukui leaves with a wave, his hands in the pockets of his labcoat, humming to himself.

 

Kukui comes back the next day, but Blue still wins. Kukui is still remarkably unfazed by it, laughing and giving him a slap on the back.

It’s more annoying than it has any right to be.

Why is Blue still the only one who cares about whether he wins a battle or not, damnit.

Kukui doesn’t come back the day after that, but Blue doesn’t for a second suspect he’s given up.

Some trainers do give up. He thrashes them once or twice and they never even set foot in his gym again, either just frustrated or embarrassed or whatever. Some kids come to Viridian first. Cocky kids, usually fans of his. And when on losing their first real battle, a lot of throw a tantrum, blame their Pokémon, and decide to go home to their Moms.

Sometimes he wonders if he’d just have been one of those kids if any of the gym leaders had managed to take him out back in the day. He sure used to give Wartortle an earful whenever he had a bad battle. And whenever Red turned up to serve him his usual slice of humble pie, Blue would spend days afterwards sulking and muttering, looking up new strategies in whatever library was closest, working his poor Pokémon to the bone training, snarling at them for getting even the tiniest thing wrong.

It’s one of those things he tries not to think about.

Either way, he doesn’t really believe Kukui is the kind to give up after a few failed challenges.

When Kukui returns a week later, he’s clearly studied up. His Pokémon have new moves, new strategies, and he’s got something up his sleeve for every member of Blue’s team.

Alakazam is knocked out by a well-placed attack from Kukui’s Ninetales, and Blue again feels a stab of irritation that he’s not allowed to switch up his team for gym battles. Even though that’s the entire point of the system, he reminds himself. He’s supposed to be at the disadvantage, otherwise challengers wouldn’t have a fair enough shot at winning.

Still, it feels a bit cheap losing to someone when they’ve researched your entire team and all their move-sets ahead of time.

Finally, Blastoise slumps to the floor, and Blue recalls him, carefully rearranging his face into the most gracious loser expression he has on hand. He doesn’t waste his time with the usual speeches – Kukui is a little too old for that kind of crap – and instead just steps forward to shake his hand.

“Ha! That was somethin’ else, cousin,” he says, still grinning, “You know, I’ve never done a gym challenge before. Nothing like the island challenge back on Alola.”

“Island challenge?” Blue asks, raising an eyebrow.

“Eeeh, how should I explain it? Well, we have somethin’ different back in Alola,” he says slowly, “Little hard for me to explain it in Ranseigo. Basically, we have challenges and kahunas and…hm…”

He trails off, looking a bit puzzled. Whatever the system in Alola was, it sounded complicated.

“Would it be easier in Unovan?” Blue asks, switching languages. Although, if he was honest, he wasn’t entirely sure if that was what they spoke in Alola.

“Ha! You’re full of surprises, aren’t you, cousin? And yeah, maybe it would be but…eeh,” he says, and then waves a hand, “Hey, look, how about you give me your email? I’ll write you. You know, you could always fly over to Alola and give the island challenge a try yourself! Don’t think you’re too old for it…”

“I’m pretty sure I am,” Blue says, rolling his eyes.

“Ha! Well, if you say so,” he says, utterly undeterred by Blue’s attitude, and shoves his phone (not a PokéGear – some Unovan make Blue doesn’t recognise) into his hands. Feeling as though he’s not going to get out of this, Blue sighs and adds his details.

“Thanks – really, you should think about visiting Alola. Great place to vacation, lotta rare Pokémon about,” he says, taking his phone back and sliding it back into the pocket of his lab-coat.

“Eh, I’ll think about it,” Blue says, noncommittally. Really, he’s not sure why he’d want to visit somewhere without a decent Pokémon league. Like, what’s the point?

“Ha, you should. By the way…what’s this I heard about some mystical ultimate champion in Kanto?” he says, “I heard you were the guy to talk to if I want to face him.”

Blue just barely stifles a laugh at ‘ultimate champion’.

He shouldn’t. Red would not appreciate it.

On the other hand. Would be kind of funny.

“Riiight, well, you know, if you really wanna track him down…”

 

A few days later, Blue sees a text flash up on his PokéGear from someone he has doggedly been both avoiding texting and desperately hoping for a text from.

It’s not exactly poetry.

Why doesn’t this man wear a shirt.

Blue supposes that, as much as he’s been desperately trying to avoid as much as thinking about Red since his little revelation back in Kalos, he can’t really leave him hanging. Not when he sent Kukui after him himself.

He’s the only person I’ve met more ridiculous than you. Figured you’d appreciate the opportunity to battle him.

He puts his PokéGear aside, only feeling a little bad, and goes back to the essay about gender-split evolutionary lines he’s meant to be working on.

Eevee pushes open the door after a few minutes, mewing indignantly for dinner, so he sighs and goes to the kitchen to lay out his food. Most of his Pokémon stay inside their Pokéballs enough that they don’t need to be fed often, but she had gotten very used to a Kalosian lifestyle. He knows he should be stricter with her, but it's a losing battle. It really is.

Having finally satisfied the world’s most spoiled Eevee, he returns to his desk, his PokéGear vibrating noisily. Two missed messages. He opens the image from Kukui first, and almost drops his PokéGear har against the desk. It’s the first photo he’s seen of Red in years, looking very uncomfortable with Kukui’s arm around him, although not just tearing away like he once would have done. Although maybe he did after the snap was taken.

Kukui, for his part, looks as though he’s having the time of his life half-naked on top of a frigid mountain.

The caption: Battled your pal – see why he’s called the ultimate champion! And then a long string of boxes. He assumes they’re emojis his PokéGear can’t process.

He snorts and opens the message from Red next:

>:(

Blue snots, but then guilt and embarrassment catches up with him. He didn’t actually want to stress Red out or make him mad again. He didn’t know what he was trying to achieve, exactly. He might as well be pulling the guy’s pigtails and pushing him over in the schoolyard.

(Again.)

Before he can quite stop himself, he texts a reply:

Sorry – usually you like being sent good challengers.

To his surprise, Red texts back with surprising speed.

He’s weird.

But.

It was a good battle.

Thanks.

With that, his vow to himself of ‘Just pretend Red doesn’t exist’ breaks.

The sad thing is, he’s fairly sure Red didn’t even notice being ignored for so long.

 

Despite that, he doesn't see Red again for months, and barely texts him after sending Kukui after him. His time is eaten up by his gym leader duties, catching up on seemingly endless reams of paperwork, rushing back and forth from Viridian to Pewter to class, being nagged by Lance about his gym leader duties, and, on one occasion, jetting back to Kalos to help finalise a project he’d been working on – he doesn’t have the time to scale Mt Silver again. Or time to travel for himself. Or do much of anything aside from work.

It's. A little depressing.

And Lyra’s persistent photos from all the different regions she was visiting didn’t help. 80 badges, 3 Champion titles, and counting. She appears in magazines and on the news, grinning beside her ever changing team of Pokémon, often featuring ones he's never even seen in real life.

He’s starts to count down the days until graduation, so he can have at least some of his own time back.

 

In Viridian, most kids just go to Gramps for their first Pokémon. There’s a certain amount of prestige to be had in having a real starter Pokémon, given to you by the region’s most pronounced professor. The fact two of the most notable champions in recent history got their start in Gramps’s lab doesn’t hurt, either. So, Blue doesn’t really have to deal with total newbies that often.

Still, the occasional kid comes in. Ones who want to catch their first Pokémon themselves, or have old-school parents who spend a lot of their time muttering darkly about new trainers starting out too easily these days, or who just don’t like the Kanto starter trio and want something different. It was easy enough – give ‘em a bag full of Pokéballs, a few encouraging words, and let the kid lend one of his Pokémon. A smaller, weaker one that was laid-back and easy to handle.

Most of his Pokémon were a bit too on the big and wilful side for it – even Alakazam considered it beneath him. However, his Raticate, long retired from serious battle due to his funky leg, likes going out with the kids. He has a few low-level, friendly Pokémon in his roster fit for the task too.

(Eevee, however, always manages to make herself mysteriously absent whenever a kid wandered in asking for a starter Pokémon.)

It’s one of the better parts of the job, really. Not his thing, when it comes down to it – he’s not really the type of guy who gets all gooey-eyed over kids – but it’s easy, and it’s satisfying. Better than sitting in his office filling in reams of paperwork, or having the same battle over and over, or getting chewed out every time he strays too far from Viridian for too long.

He’s explaining how to catch Pokémon to a very nervous-looking pair of twins and their even more nervous-looking parents one morning, when the front doors to the gym open.

“Gramps?” he blurts out, promptly dropping Raticate’s ball. He emerges in a flash of light, chittering, and looks around confused.

“Ah, Blue,” Gramps says, “Hard at work I see? I’ll wait.”

Blue flushes and returns Raticate to his Pokéball, pushing it into one of the kids’ hands. They gawk openly at Gramps as Blue rushes them out of the door, wishing them good luck and recommending Viridian Forest as a starting point.

“Hey, Gramps, not like you to bust in here,” he says, turning to look at Gramps.

“Bust in…?” Gramps repeats. Like he’s never heard that slang before in his life. Or not heard it in ten years. One of the two.

“Yeah. Look, I’m busy. What you want?” he says, and he can hear Daisy in his head scolding him for being rude and defensive for no reason.

“Well, I hardly wanted to intrude –“

“Nah, was done anyway,” he says, waving a hand dismissively. Gramps narrows his eyes, but seems to decide to leave it be. Clearing his throat, he pulls two small envelopes from his pocket and hands them both to Blue.

“S’this?” he asks. The postmark is all the way from Unova. Despite being addressed to Gramps’s lab, it’s addressed to him. The other is addressed to Red. At Gramps’s impatient nod,Blue rips the envelope open, tugging out a letter. It’s printed on fancy stationary, printed with the title Pokémon World Tournament.

“Since when has there been a world tournament?” Blue asks. The letter is in Unovan, he realises with a barely-suppressed groan, but he’s not about to hand it over to Gramps for a translation.

Dear Champion Blue,

He grins a little – at least someone was using his proper damn title for once.

It is with great excitement we inform you…

Blahblahblah, boring. Blue skims as quick as he can – the gist, there were new world championships being set up in Unova, near Driftveil City, and they wanted to invite him to compete in it. It would be televised – as everything in Unova seemed to be – and a lot of international gym leaders, Champions, and other notable trainers, would be taking part.

“Hm, sounds like a pretty good set-up,” he says, “Sure, I’ll write back and go.”

“Wait, will you be done with your studies by then?” Gramps asks immediately.

Blue bristles. He wasn’t asking for permission.

“Ha, course I will be, Gramps,” he says, his light-hearted tone strained, “Like I’d leave the docs at Pewter hanging high and dry. They’re totally helpless without me.”

“Hm,” Gramps says, clearly doubtful.

“Ha, what about this then? No delivery service to Mount Silver?” he says, waving Red’s invitation back and forth. It was addressed to his mother’s house in Pallet.

“Ah…well,” Gramps says, “Red’s mother would like you to try to convince him to go.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“…I tried to advise her it would be unlikely,” he relies, shaking his head.

“Ya know what? I’ll just message the guy, he’s been more attentive to his PokéGear than usual. Saves me hiking up a mountain just to be told where to go,” he says, unclipping his PokéGear from the strap around his wrist. Gramps watches him, amused.

“You do realise you and Red are the only people still using PokéGears?” he says, amused, “Even I switched to a Silphone recently.”

“…I like it,” he mutters. Even if a lot of trainers who challenged him recently start laughing at the sight of the PokéGear on his wrist. Why did everyone always act like he was such an old man? Like he was a washed up old 90s reject at the ripe old age of 21.

He sends the message to Red, looking forward to the usual deadpan ‘No’ he got in response to any suggestion that Red should, maybe, return to civilisation.

“So, your studies are almost over…?” Gramps says, incredibly awkwardly. Blue wishes he would just rush back to the lab like he usually did – it was easier than the two of them attempting to have a proper conversation. He wonders if he’s really had a conversation with Gramps as two grown men.

“Uh. Yeah,” he says, “Graduating in the next month or two. Gonna have a great piece of paper for my wall.”

“And that piece of paper will say…”

Blue breathes in through his nose. He’s told Gramps his major, he’s sure. He supposes since the guy has been known to forget his name on occasion, he really shouldn’t be surprised that what he spent the past few years studying would also slip his mind.

“Evolution Science.”

“Ah,” Gramps says.

“Thesis got accepted for publication,” Blue adds, sounding desperate even to himself. Gramps nods.

“And the journal?”

“Kanto Journal of Pokémon Evolution Studies,” he recites.

“Hm.”

Right, right, not one of Gramps’ favourite journals. Whatever. It fit the work he did. Who cares. He didn’t even really care about this crap – well. No. It wasn’t that. He just had no intention of becoming Gramps’s lackey in the lab again.

Made him wonder why he’d been running around like such a madman for the past few years.

“So will you be continuing your studies?” Gramps asks, looking at him in a way that suggested there was only one correct answer.

Oh, yep, that was why. Chasing after improbable parental approval. Grand-parental. Whatever.

“…Nah.”

“No?”

“Well, you know, I’m done with that. Sort of want to get back on the road again,” he says, trying to sound as grown-up and reasonable as he can. Gramps looks at him the exact same way he did when he turned up at the Indigo League almost a decade ago – all disappointment and exasperation, and not even the faintest trace of surprise. Like he’d always expected Blue to let him down so thoroughly.

“The road again?” Gramps repeats, incredulously, and sighs, “Blue, you’re a grown man, you can hardly want to start travelling again –“

“Why not?”

“You have certain responsibilities now! There’s a time –“

“There’s a time and a place for everything, yeah, yeah, yeah,” Blue snaps, and then rolls his eyes, “I got it. Don’t see why that means I gotta be stuck in this gym or that lab forever.”

“Stuck? You chose –“ Gramps retorts, his voice rising.

The argument is interrupted by a beeping from Blue’s wrist.

“Ha, there we go. Let’s see what golden boy says about the world championships, shall we?” Blue snaps, sounding like he’s 13 years old again. Gramps folds his arms, lips clamped together. Blue taps the screen of his PokéGear to read the message from Red. One tiny word, two letters, just like always.

Ok.

“Well well, what a surprise, golden boy doesn’t want to come ho – wait, what?” he says, jerking his attention back to his PokéGear.

Ok.

Sounds interesting.

Blue stares at it, dumbfounded. Gramps leans over to check the screen.

“Well!” he says, grinning, “I will have to let Masami know immediately. She’ll be ecstatic.”

“Huh…yeah, you do that,” he says, wondering why he suddenly feels so cold.

 

Blue expects Red to back out, but sure enough the week before they’re due to leave for Unova, he turns up in Pallet again. Very quietly. In the middle of the night, he lands with Charizard in front of his mother’s house, and lets himself in. The next morning, Daisy rushes across with ingredients for breakfast, and badgers Blue until he texts Red to come join them.

It’s surreal, seeing Red back in his old house, so much taller than he used to be. He nods at Daisy, uncomfortable, and listens as Gramps chatters away to him. He showers, and shaves properly (sort of. He’s not great at it. It’s not a bad look). Even wears the new clothes his mother and Gramps bought him. He still doesn’t speak, doesn’t really leave the house, and Pikachu is permanently perched on his shoulder, but he’s back in Pallet Town.

Blue had given up hope he’d ever come down from that stupid mountain, and then, as if just on a whim, he does. Blue can’t help but feel as though it’s slightly underwhelming.

Despite his misgivings, everyone else is beside themselves. There’s more excitement in the Oak household about this than there was when Blue graduated, or became Champion, or did…just about anything. Gramps and Daisy will not shut up about Red being home, and more than one news outlet excitably reported about the return of the ‘Ultimate Trainer’ to Pallet Town. It’s ironic, really. Red ran off to escape that kind of attention, but it just built his mystique. It garnered him a fame that Blue couldn’t build even while placing himself directly in the public eye.

Really, it was nothing new. Even though he was always two steps ahead of Red during his Pokémon journey, Red was always the one everyone cared about. Always the one saving the day, helping the needy, blah blah blah. Friend to all Pokémon, national hero. Nothing like that shallow bully of a rival of his.

He doesn’t get much sleep the night before their flight to Unova. All he can think about is how Red’s never been on a plane in his life. And he has the sneaking suspicion Castelia City won’t, exactly, be to his taste. Nobody but him seems to have thought this through all the way, least of all Red himself.

And then there’s his own weird personal issues to contend with. Lyra hasn’t stopped texting him advice (of questionable quality) since he told her Red was coming with him to the World Championships. Even his Pokémon seem to be looking at him a little oddly lately; Alakazam seems downright exasperated, shaking his head at him every time he’s out of his ball.

This trip is going to be a disaster, Blue thinks, and tugs his covers over his head, desperate to get whatever little sleep he can.

Chapter Text

Getting Red through an airport is…interesting. Yes. Interesting.

“I told you that you couldn’t bring your Pokémon,” he says. In the chair next to him, Red sits completely rigid, his arms resting on the armrests and his hands balled into fists. After the first half hour of the flight, the other people on first class stopped staring at them, aside from one small child who keeps glancing in their direction, her thumb crammed into her mouth. Red, however, didn’t relax at all. Since first sitting down, he’s remained in that awkward, stiff position, his eyes never straying from the blank screen in front of him.

“Pikachu’s fine,” Blue continues. He can’t imagine the scandal if airport security lost track of Red’s famous Pikachu; the staff have probably never been more careful with anything in their entire lives.

Red doesn’t reply, or move. Blue sighs, puts down his book, and grabs the remote. Connected to the TV screen by a wire and about as sensitive as a lump of sandstone, it’s not exactly the easiest thing to use, but he manages to turn the screen on. There’s a decent selection of movies on there – Red looks alarmed by all of them.

“So, I’m thinking you haven’t seen anything released in the past…what, ten years?” Blue says. Red finally looks at him, puzzled. He shakes his head.

“Heh. Right, right,” he says, flicking through the options. Thumbnails for various movies pop up – mostly romcoms and kids’ films, and other stuff unlikely to freak people out on a 12 hour flight, although there’s the occasional drama or horror. There’s even a small selection of documentaries, and…

“Ha! Wow, the documentary they made about us is on here," Blue says, looking at a still of his 15 year old self with mingled smugness and embarrassment. He remembers being interviewed a bunch for that – it had been so obvious that they really wanted to talk to Red, but nobody could get hold of him. Gramps refused to let them even try scaling Mount Silver to find him. So they’d settled for listening to his stupid teenage self witter on into the camera. Blue almost feels sorry for the poor crew, in retrospect.

Red blinks, and looks at him, puzzled.

"'Course they made one," he says, rolling his eyes, “You single-handedly brought down a nation-wide criminal organisation. At age ten.”

Red shrugs.

It’s a ridiculous response. Just shrugging that kind of thing off. He knows exactly what Red is thinking. That it just needed to be done. By someone. Red just happened to be there. Like he doesn’t even realise the enormity of what he did. He just saw something going wrong, and needed to right it. No questioning it, no wondering if it was his place, no thinking about all the things he’d rather be doing first, or thinking about how dangerous the whole thing was.

Stupid.

Admirable. But stupid.

He’s watched the documentary before. It’s not exactly brilliant journalism, but it’s entertaining enough. A lot of dramatic editing, terrible special effects, and the guy they cast as Giovanni  in the reconstructions is frankly hilarious. They also give Red a lot of melodramatic one-liners like “Your reign of evil is finally at its end, Giovanni!”.

“You wanna watch it?” Blue asks.

Red rubs his mouth, and turns his gaze back to the screen. That's a yes, if a slightly long-suffering one. Blue grins and hits play.

 

They arrive at Castelia City Airport and are immediately besieged by flashy advertisements and urgent voice booming from the loudspeaker, in Unovan Blue is far too tired to make any sense of. Blue slept a little, but he’s fairly sure Red hasn’t slept at all. Despite Blue telling him he should, over and over.

Despite that, Red doesn’t slow for a second. As soon as they disembark from the plane, Red rushes towards the arrival gate, clearly determined to get his Pokémon back from security as quickly as he can. All Blue can bring himself to care about is where his next cup of coffee is coming from. He can barely even remember who he had in his team when he reaches the gate.

Red rushing at least four steps ahead of him the whole time, Blue stumbles through warding off the curiosity of the security staff, and manages to retrieve their Pokémon along with their baggage. As soon as Pikachu is back on his shoulder and the rest of his Pokéballs at his belt, Red’s shoulders ease with a sigh.

“That was the longest you two have been separated in a decade, huh?” Blue says, watching Pikachu rub her stupid horrible rodent-y face against Red’s cheek with a total and utter lack of jealousy. Red nods, smiling as he scratches Pikachu behind the ear. Pikachu gives Blue a smug look. Certain Red is distracted checking his equipment, he sticks his tongue out at her.

They wait for a taxi, Blue sipping his cup of terrible airport coffee, and Red staring around at everything, his eyes wide. And everyone’s staring at them. Although he’s the subject of a lot of fascinated stares most of the time, Blue never gets this much attention from the general public when it’s just him.

The cab guy is one Blue has used before – used to carting celebrities about, so he doesn’t ask any weird questions or gawk at them. Blue is fairly sure the guy could have Mew itself in the back of his cab and he wouldn’t even look twice. Though he almost blinks when he sees Red. Almost.

The whole taxi ride to their hotel, Red presses his nose against the window, drinking in the sights of Unovan civilisation like a man who’s never seen anything like it.

And he hasn’t, really.

Blue stays quiet, and just watches him.

 

Castelia City is one of Blue’s favourite cities. He wanted the chance to look around again before he went off to the Tournament. When he had been arranging flights and hotels and dates, giving himself that time had felt as though it made sense.

He’d failed to consider other aspects of Castelia, however.

Castelia is loud, and crowded, and disorderly. Curious fans leap in their paths to bombard them with questions in rapid Unovan or garbled Ranseigo, and Blue hears the click of camera-phones snapping photos wherever they go. He fields the more curious strangers off with all the laid-back charm he can muster, and although he usually thrives on this kind of attention, it becomes tiring quickly. It’s never usually this intense when it’s just him.

Red hates it. Whenever anyone speaks to him, he keeps Pikachu tight in his arms, his expression stern, refusing to meet anyone’s eyes. The fans who try to speak to him falter, clearly wrong-footed and alarmed that their hero is so aloof and cold, and Blue is forced to intervene, smiling, to negate the worst damage. They smile back at him, a little nervous and confused, and are eventually sent on their way with a quick snap of Pikachu on their phone, and Blue’s autograph scrawled on whatever scrap of paper they have spare.

Blue is dealing with one group of kids – a few Hoenn kids on a trip with their class, all chattering and asking why they’re here and demanding selfies – when he glances back to see Red is gone.

He gives the kids whatever it takes to get rid of them and walks off, his heart pounding. His PokéGear has coverage abroad, but it’s beyond him if Red’s does. He doubts it, somehow, unless Masami had the foresight to sort that out for her son before he left. He hadn’t thought to ask her.

He sends him a text anyway. If all his Pokémon weren’t so ridiculously conspicuous, he would consider sending them out to look as well. As hilarious as the consequences of releasing an Aerodactyl into Castelia City airspace would be, he doesn’t really think it’s the most advisable course of action.

It doesn’t take him long. Red is just standing with his arms folded, staring into the window of an electronics store. His fingers grip his forearm, tight enough to turn his skin red. In the window, the widescreens show smatterings of different programmes – the Unovan national news, some ridiculous drama, a cartoon, a weather forecast, some entertainment show. Pikachu paces around by Red’s feet, tail and ears twitching, cheeks sparking. She looks ready to electrocute anyone that even comes close. Red looks pale, and ill.

It must be something else – being apart from civilisation for so long, and then returning to it with such an enormous crash. When Red left, TVs were just these bulky things with tiny screens. DVDs hadn’t even existed. The internet had barely existed.

The distance of ten years must feel like a gulf.

Blue approaches, unsure, stupidly wishing that he could inconspicuously take Alakazam out of his ball and look to him for advice.

He decides, for starters, that the worst thing he could possibly do is touch him. He stops a foot away, his hands in his pockets.

“Hey.”

No response. Blue sighs, rubbing a hand through his hair. He’s bad at this. He’s still bad at this.

“So. Kind of intense, right?”

Red looks at him, expression inscrutable. His arms and legs are still rigid, his neck tense. Pikachu bristles at him. After a quick glare, she backs off, but keeps her tail raised high and her eyes trained on her. Like she’s suspicious he’ll do something terrible.

He decides not to let the stupid rat get to him.Returning his attention to Red, he weighs up his options.

“Do you want to go back to the hotel?” he asks.

To his surprise, Red shakes his head.

“Right. Right, okay,” he says, trying to think. Just wandering around aimlessly clearly wasn’t working for him. It’s beyond him what the hell else he’s meant to do. What does Red want? Not for the first time, he wishes Red would – could – just say.

He can’t, though. Getting angry at him for that won’t solve anything.

He takes a breath.

“Hm. Right. How bout we head to the Pokémon Centre and make a plan, then?” he says, and Red perks up, “We could head to the Battle Company, then the gym…eh, I’m sure there’s maps there we can plot out a route on. That sound better?”

After a second’s contemplation, chewing on his lower lip, Red finally nods.

 

With their carefully plotted route and schedule in hand, everything goes much smoother. Red buys himself a pair of earplugs at the mart that deal with the worst of the city’s noise, and they check out the Battle Company, before looping round to the Gym. Burgh is only too delighted to see him – as though they hadn’t just met for five seconds when he popped by for a battle the last time he was in town – and is ecstatic to see Red.

After Blue defeats Burgh again, he stands back to let Red have a match, leaning against the wall with Alakazam by his side. Burgh’s bug Pokémon don’t exactly stand much of a chance, even with Red playing fair and keeping Charizard out of the running as much as possible.

Red’s completely different in battle, Blue thinks. Walking around the city, Red is tense and wary, like he’s expecting to be attacked from any possible angle at any moment. He looks at everything, lost and glassy-eyed, as though everything is too much to deal with.

Battling, he’s quick, confident, his gaze scanning and analysing everything, slotting everything in its place. It’s the same when he’s back up Mount Silver. He knows every inch of the mountain up and down, he notices the crack of every branch, knows exactly how high he can expect the snow to mount just from the first falling flakes, picks out the tracks and droppings of every Pokémon, knows exactly where and what and how many there are. Every tiny detail is crystal clear to him – nothing is unimportant, or filtered out.

That’s the thing, Blue thinks. The main issue. Red just takes everything in so much that the big bright noisy mess of the human world is too much to bear. It must feel like just an overwhelming wall of noise. Without some goal to narrow his focus – something as important as saving a bunch of Pokémon from traffickers, for instance – it must be unbearable.

He catches Alakazam looking at him.

“What?” he says.

The Pokémon, he swears, rolls his eyes.

What,” Blue repeats.

Alakazam shakes his head, and with a snuffly sort of sigh, returns himself to his Pokéball.

 

It’s weird, travelling with Red, rather than travelling ahead of Red. Walking through the desert north of Castelia City, Red stops to catch every new Pokémon they cross paths with. With every one, he notes every little detail about it as carefully and conscientiously into his Pokédex as he did when they were ten. Blue watches him, fascinated. As a kid, he'd barely done more than roughly note down his guess at its typing, and let the Pokédex scan its weight and height.

Outside of Castelia, the attention is much less intense. A few kids stop to ask them for a battle, or to show them their prized Pokémon, chattering in fast Unovan Blue struggles to relay to Red quickly enough. Mostly, they just want to hold Pikachu for a second, or get a picture. The younger kids don’t even seem to know who they are; they assume they’re just some weird foreigners wandering around. Blue is a little more insulted by this than he really should be.

Their time in Nimbasa is brief, and Blue sits up late the night before they arrive making sure he has a clear plan in mind, listening to the sandstorm screaming, battering the walls of their tent. He rules out the Ferris Wheel immediately, embarrassed even at the thought, and the Musical Theatre, plagued by the thought that Pikachu would have Red dressing her up for hours. Everything else, he decides, is feasible, as long as they go when it isn’t too crowded, and Red knows how long they can expect to be there.

Taking Red to the second most populated city in the world after he’s lived on a barren mountain for almost ten years, he realises, is probably not his most genius idea. If it all goes to hell, he decides, they’ll get the hell out of the city and get back on route to Driftveil.

It doesn’t go as badly at all. Despite Red’s grimacing when the crowds become too tightly packed, Pikachu’s bristling at strangers who intrude too close, he keeps it together. He even seems interested in seeing a baseball game at the Big Stadium, to Blue’s amazement. He vaguely remembers Red being into baseball when they were kids.

Blue can’t say he particularly relates – Pokémon battling is the only sport he’s ever really give a crap about. When you can watch a pair of creatures that can breathe fire, drop lightning bolts from the sky, or summon meteor showers battle it out…

Well, watching a bunch of guys run around after a ball seems a bit. Banal.

Shrugging, he buys them both tickets up in the box anyway, and mostly just enjoys eating a terrifyingly huge Unovan portion of nachos, and watching Red’s intense, silent viewing of the game.

It’s hard to tell, but he thinks Red is enjoying himself.

 

Blue has seen the bridges of Unova before, but they’re still impressive. The drawbridge between Nimbasa and Driftveil, bright red, is one of the most famous. Blue has seen it as establishing shots in a billion different Unovan movies, usually squeaky clean romcoms in Driftveil, or gritty showbiz dramas set in Nimbasa. The movies can’t capture the scale of the thing – seeing it on a screen doesn’t convey how impressive it is that real humans designed and built it. How hard that is to comprehend, standing tiny half-way across it, a good twenty minutes further to walk before you reach the other side.

Judging by how slowly Red is making his way across it, he’s pretty impressed too. He stops every few seconds to look over the edge, watching the Duckletts paddle through the water beneath them.

The bridge was probably still under construction when Red first went up, Blue realises. Guy probably only ever saw it as watercolour concept art on the news, if even that.

Halfway across the bridge, Red comes to a halt. As if given a signal from some unseen force, Red abruptly sits down cross-legged on the edge of the bridge, looking out over the river. He looks back at Blue, gaze expectant. Blue blinks, momentarily lost, but then glances at his watch. Ah. Right.

“Lunch time, right?” he says. Red nods, and Blue settles down next to him and starts fishing their sandwiches out of his bag. Red accepts his with a grateful nod, and Blue rips open a bag of chips he grabbed at the Pokémart to share between them.

He unwraps his sandwiches in his lap, dangling his legs off the edge of the bridge. Next to him, Red eats his meal as he always does – slow, methodical, in steps that make sense to him, if not anyone else.

A few Ducklett land by Red, accepting pieces of his food or chips. Red brightens up, petting their feathers and letting a couple hop onto his knee, eating straight from his hand. It always takes five seconds flat for Pokémon to warm up to him. It takes way, way longer when he’s dealing with humans.

Maybe that was the whole problem. Humans spend so much time rushing around, trying to get things done faster and better, never slowing down or waiting for anyone else, and someone like Red ends up left behind in the dust. Trainers treated their Pokémon like that a lot – buying fancy TMs and stuffing them full of Rare Candy, desperate to make them bigger and stronger as quickly as they could. Any Pokémon that couldn’t keep up was boxed and replaced. People that couldn’t keep up were replaced.

Red was nothing if not stubborn of keeping his own pace, however glacial or inscrutable it was.

It’s not too bad though, Blue thinks, watching as Red lets another Ducklett eat from his hand, keeping Red’s pace instead.

 

“So you arrived in Driftveil without incident?”

Blue regrets calling Gramps the second he picks up. He always does, when it comes down to it. It’s not like they exactly parted on great terms; their argument hadn’t even been resolved when Blue left. It was still hanging in the air between them, tense and uncomfortable.

Like that was anything new. Blue was pretty sure he and Gramps had been having one continuous argument since he was ten years old.

“Yeah, s’all good,” he says, shifting to adjust the laptop and Eevee’s weight in his lap, “Red got a little freaked out back in Castelia. Probably mostly jetlag.”

“Red has been removed from society for some time now,” Gramps says, rubbing his chin, “Things may be quite overwhelming to him.”

“Wow, really? I had no idea.”

“There’s no need for sarcasm,” he scolds, and Blue rolls his eyes. Gramps’ eyebrow twitch, be he charges on with a tone of strained magnanimity, “Well, either way, exposure to these things and a break in his routine is probably good.”

Yeah. Sure.

“I notice he’s made some excellent additions to the Pokédex since you both arrived! Very thorough.”

“Yeah, yeah, golden boy’s golden as always,” he says, waving a hand. Gramps’ brow furrows.

“You know, a compliment to him isn’t a slight to you,” he points out.

“Sure feels like it.”

He’s kicking himself for saying it before it’s even fully out of his mouth. It’s no wonder Daisy accuses him of always trying to pick a fight with Gramps. It’s not easy to stop though. Picking fights is sort of his thing.

“Well, I apologise you feel that way,” Gramps says, briskly, “It’s never my intent.”

Eevee lets out a mewl – he was gripping her fur a little too hard. He releases his grip and gives her an apologetic scratch of her ruff.

“When does the Tournament begin?” Gramps asks, sounding as desperate to break the silence as Blue feels.

“Eh, day after next. Tomorrow there’s like, a bunch of ribbon-cutting and a televised launch event and some fancy dinner thing,” he says. He doesn’t suspect Red would be remotely interested in said fancy dinner thing. How well the guests would take that remains to be seen. From the news coverage of the event, the fact that Red will be doing his first public battles for a decade is a big deal for the press and the public. They probably want him to attend.

Oh well. The dinner is private – as long as he’s prepared to take part in the battles and show his face for some of the boring opening stuff tomorrow, people can’t complain too much.

Gramps nods thoughtfully.

“Well, I’ll be sure to have Daisy record it. I’ll be in the lab more or less non-stop for the next few days,” he says, and begins to talk about some complicated research project he’s been collaborating with Prof Elm on, something to do with controlling passed down genes in eggs to produce Pokémon with this or that characteristic and how that could be used to control population size and reduce ecological impact of releasing trained Pokémon into the wild and blahblahblah.

Blue is practically asleep just hearing about it. It’s all well and good hearing about this kind of stuff when you ask. Getting it shoved down your throat at 12 in the morning when you were wanting to talk about something else is…well. Not the greatest.

“Right, well, Gramps I gotta hit the hay,” Blue interrupts, cutting him off mid-sentence, “Big day tomorrow and all that. Smell ya!”

Before Gramps can say anything further, closes the messaging client and slams his laptop closed, putting it on the floor.

In the suite next door, he can hear thumping as Red moves around. He’ll be awake for a good two more hours. Probably bored. He’d be pacing like a caged Arcanine, too agitated to just leave his suite to explore the hotel, too used to staying up until obscene hours to go to sleep.

There’s another few thumps – probably Red walking around and opening and closing random things in his suite. Eevee sits up in his lap, her ears twitching as she looks at the walls separating their rooms with concern.

“Yeah, girl, I should…probably go check on him,” he says, tentative. And do what? Just barge into his hotel room in the dead of the night to…what? What was he gonna do, take him down to the hotel bar for a few drinks, offer to spend the night?

Red would just stare at him blankly and challenge him to a Pokémon battle.

On the nightstand, his PokeGear buzzes. He leans over and checks it. Lyra. Of course.

made a move yet lol

Okay, nope. Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. He was not doing this. Nope. If Red couldn’t sleep, that was his personal problem. He wasn’t going to make an ass of himself.

He throws his PokeGear back down and tugs his covers over his head. Sleep can’t come quickly enough.

 

Unovans really go all out on celebrations.

The Pokémon World Tournament opens with a flock of Braviary circling and swooping in formation in the sky above, accompanied by the thrumming rock music of Roxie’s band playing on the stage beneath them. There’s confetti cannons and a lot of shrieking fans, cameras flashing and gleaming from every direction. After the Braviary display, there’s some kind of coordinated dance, with one Lilligant troop and one Gothitelle troop. There’s also some actual humans in there, but they’re dressed to look so similar to the Pokémon that Blue genuinely cannot tell which is which.

After the dance performance concludes, the music changes and there’s a thunderous roar as huge model versions of Reshiram and Zekrom appear over the stage, glowing (Blue is puzzled until he notices the troop of psychic Pokémon on the ground). Actors in complicated costumes appear on stage, acting out the story of some old Unovan legend.

Another performance follows that, and another. They seem endless.

It’s cool. They’re all impressive, not one thing appears that Blue isn’t blown away by, but. Man, it’s a lot of flashing lights and loud music and screaming. Even for him. Frankly, he’s amazed Red hasn’t disappeared back to the hotel yet.

He glances at him. Immediately, he notices the yellow foam peeking out of his ears – probably all making it bearable, aside from Pikachu resting in his lap. Despite his tense jaws, the exhaustion etched into the lines of his back and shoulders, he remains seated and keeps watching it. Blue cannot tell if he’s enjoyed it or not. He really can’t.

“Hey,” he says, catching Red’s attention, “You okay?”

Red seems to consider it a second, and then makes a funny gesture with his hands. It takes Blue a second to realise he’s miming writing something.

Oh.

“Eh…sorry, I didn’t bring anything,” he says, and then folds his arms, smirking “You know, you should really carry that stuff around yourself.”

Red presses his lips together and lowers his eyebrows at him, pouting. Blue laughs, unable to help himself. Pikachu gives him a look of such utter loathing that, while not novel coming from her, Blue is never failed to amazed that a Pokémon is capable of.

“Hey, am I wrong?” he says to both of them, lifting his hands helplessly. He sighs, and then inclines his head at the stage, “You’re enjoying this, right?”

Red makes a face as though he’s sucking on something sour, but nods all the same. Blue suspects that isn’t the whole answer.

“…Bit much?”

Red nods again.

“Wanna leave?”

Red shakes his head.

Blue sighs.

“Man, you are really determined to stick this stuff out recently, huh?” he says, running a hand through his hair, “What’s that about?”

Red gives him a funny sort of frown – as though Blue just asked him something that should be obvious. The guy’s giving Blue way too much credit, he thinks. He has absolutely no idea what inspired this abrupt return to civilisation.

“Right. Well, yanno, just, lemme know if you wanna bolt,” he says, shrugging.

Red nods once and then returns his attention to the stage. After a moment, Blue feels a grip on his forearm, iron-tight and warm.

 

Red does not own formal wear.

Maybe that’s not strictly sure – Blue’s half sure that his mother still has an old hakama at home that Red wore for his Dad’s funeral a billion years ago. Not something that would fit him now, and nothing that would be appropriate for a Western-style dinner.

Fortunately, he is a celebrity of enough mystique that nobody seems to really note that he rolls up to dinner in his trainers and sports jacket. Everyone is too stunned he turned up to even comment.

Blue, lagging behind, feels like a complete ass in his suit. Still, when Clay greets him, still wearing his hat despite the suit, he laughs the comment about Red’s outfit off with a wave.

“Golden boy gets away with anything,” he says amiably, hoping his accent isn’t ruining the devil-may-care attitude he’s going for. His Unovan isn’t as well practiced as his kaloçais. He Clay just slaps him on the back and thrusts a glass of champagne into his hands, before rushing off to chat to his other guests. Ahead of him, Red has been grabbed by Steven Stone, who is talking about evolutionary stones to him in enthusiastic Ranseigo. Red’s gaze is mostly at the floor, but judging by the way he occasionally glances up, he’s at least sort of interested in what he’s saying. Pikachu on the other hand, looks grievously offended anyone would dare mention a Thunder Stone before her.

Steven pauses speaking, smiling at Red. The silence stretches on between them, long enough to make Steven look around and let out a shaky, confused laugh. He presses on, talking instead about how long it’s been since Red’s battled in public. Blue decides to swoop in before things get uncomfortable.

“Hey, hey, Steve, don’t talk the VIP’s ear off about rocks,” he intercepts, taking a swig of champagne. Red shoots him a bewildered look, but Steven smiles, a little embarrassed.

“Ah, sorry, I can really talk about these things,” he says, “Still. An honour to get the chance to meet you in the flesh.”

Red blinks.

“Thanks, dragged him down from the mountain myself,” Blue says, prompting another confused look. Steven laughs, and the conversation moves on smoothly, into recent events in Hoenn and Kanto, the opening ceremony, asking about how Gramps is doing. Regular stuff that isn’t in the ‘Why did you disappear up a mountain for a decade? And why come down now?’ ballpark.

After a while, Steven drifts off to deal with an already embarrassingly drunk Wallace, leaving them behind. Blue breathes a sigh of relief. Red still looks completely baffled by the whole exchange. He looks entreatingly at Blue for an explanation.

“Sorry, swooped in. Was just looking a little tense there,” Blue says. Red doesn’t look any less confused.

“Looked as though Steven wanted you to, you know, speak.”

Red grimaces, glancing away. Blue laughs and pats his back.

“Hey, hey. Don’t worry about it. Try some champagne,” he says, plucking a glass from a passing waiter and pressing it into Red’s hands. He looks at it, frowning, and takes a sip. He makes a gagging noise, sticking his tongue out, and then pushes the glass into Blue’s free hand.

“You know this doesn’t make me look great, right?” he says, lifting up the two glasses of champagne. For a second, he sees a flicker of a smile across Red’s face, before he shakes his head.

“Suit yourself, dude,” he says, and drains his original glass, putting it down and moving his new glass to his drinking hand, “Look, just stick by me while I mingle. Heh, I got a rep as such a loudmouth, everyone’ll just assume you can’t get a word in.”

Red looks cynical of this, but Blue thinks that, as ideas go, it’s a pretty solid one.

 

It works well – Blue chatting and schmoozing, Red hanging behind him looking appropriately bored and distant. Since Red’s whole thing is ‘aloof prodigy who went to train on top of a mountain for a decade’, nobody really expected anything else. With the added bonus of all the Unovans just assuming he doesn’t speak any Unovan himself, the worst anyone seems to react to Red’s habitual silence is with a few confused looks. Since Pokémon trainers are generally an eccentric bunch, it’s quickly brushed off.

It’s been a while since Blue has had a chance to just swan around just bragging and basking in the fame of his peers, and in his belonging to it. He always forgets what a charge he gets out of it. It’s almost enough to keep him working as a gym leader.

Almost.

Somewhere after finishing dessert and accepting another flute of expensive something-or-another from someone-or-another, Blue obnoxiously sits on Lance’s table (to his great and very amusing disdain), chatting to Alder (very entertained) and Cynthia (really enjoying Lance’s despair). The other Champions, people he doesn’t know personally but recognises from news and magazines, just roll with it. He’s the (second) youngest of them, after all. And he has a rep. He’s a bad boy.

Crap. He’s way drunker than he thought.

But. Still. It feels good, hanging out with these world-famous trainers. These people he rightfully belongs with – he’s a Champion, after all. No matter how often people forget it. He belongs here just as much as any of them do.

He’s not sure what the conversation is even about when he says it. It’s probably not even relevant. One second he’s sitting, laughing and drinking, and then the next second he hears the words coming out of his mouth, loud and clear:

“Yeah, so I’ll be leaving the Viridian Gym next summer.”

He also realises he’s standing. He may have actually tinged his fork against his champagne glass, judging by the way everyone seems to be looking at him.

“Oh, is that so?” Cynthia says, raising a perfectly plucked eyebrow.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” Lance says, narrowing his eyes. Blue shrugs, despite the panic closing in around him. He just said that. He just said that, straight to Lance’s face, right in front of a bunch of world Champions. He hasn’t discussed it before, or done anything to organise it, or mentioned it to Gramps.

“Well, I am,” he says, despite the more sensible part of his brain shrieking at him to shut up, “Heh, I’m just not a big fan of being all caged up there. I’m sure you can find someone else to take over.”

He plucks a macaroon from Lance’s plate, and pops it into his mouth.

“Kinda chewy,” he notes, “You know, you should really import from Kalos if you’re going to have macaroons.”

“I’m going out for some air,” Lance says, getting up and walking off. Blue rolls his eyes, leaning his hands back on the table and crossing his legs. The conversation moves smoothly on, Cynthia tactfully shifting the conversation onto the roster of young challengers that would be guest entrants for the Tournament – mostly up-and-comers in the Unova league, but a few from abroad.

“Of course, there’s a few from the Kanto circuit,” Cynthia says.

“Ha, yeah, would be, wouldn’t be?” Alder says, and looks at Blue, “Noticed a couple of kids with colour names in there. What’s with that, anyway?”

Blue sighs – if there’s one thing he’s tired of, it’s explaining this. Sometimes he really resents his parents for giving him such a stupid name.

“It’s a Pallet Town thing. Really old tradition,” he says, gesturing, “Got more popular nation-wide when me and Red trounced the league. Back in school, there were kids in our grade called Green and Yellow and stuff like tha –“

Blue cuts himself off, looking around.

“Where’s Red?” he says.

He was sure that Red was with him when he came over to the table. Or had he been? Thinking about it, he isn’t sure.

The others look at each other. Alder frowns. Blue has to resist, very hard, from slapping his palm into his forehead. Smiling as smoothly as he can, he hops down from the table.

“Right, ha, he’s wandered off again. I’m gonna go make sure he’s not found some mountain to climb up,” he says, “Smell ya!”

Crap, crap, crap.

He does a loop around the hall, looking for Red’s cap and jeans in the sea of fancy clothes. Nothing.

Gramps will murder him if anything happens to Red. He will murder him twice if he discovers that something happened to Red while Blue was getting drunk and making an utter buffoon of himself in front of his boss.

He heads outside to check Red isn’t hanging out by the docks. A few guests are sitting on the edge of the fountain, laughing and chattering. They wave at him to join them, but he smiles and waves them off, smiling despite his rising panic.

His PokéGear is back with his usual clothes; he hadn’t thought it exactly appropriate wear for the night. As much as it pains him to admit it, even to himself, Gramps is right about this one – he should probably upgrade to a proper phone.

He spots a figure at the edge of the docks, and heads towards it. They’re watching some slim Pokémon weave and dive through the water. In the bare lighting, he can’t really make out who it is until he gets close, and recognises the Pokémon in the water as a Dragonair.

Lance turns around to look at him, a lit cigarette letting out a thin trail of smoke in his hands. Even the guy’s suit has a stupid little cape on it. Blue is like 90% sure he’s turning forty-five this year. What grown man dresses like that?

“You look like Tuxedo Mask in that suit, dude,” he blurts out. Lance looks at him, mouth twisted and brow furrowed.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Nothin’,” Blue says, shaking his head, “Have you seen Red?”

“Can’t say I have,” he says, shrugging, “I assumed he’d went back to the hotel.”

“Well that’d make sense, but Red doesn’t make sense,” Blue replies, shaking his head, “Since when do you smoke?”

Lance looks at the cigarette in his hand, as though surprised to see it. He plucks a pocket ashtray from the inside of his jacket and stubs it out.

“Apologies – I try not to do in front of the kids.”

“M’not a kid,” Blue replies, sounding exactly like a four year old.

“Of course not,” he replies, in a tone that made it clear he thought Blue was exactly that, “Was it true, what you said in there?”

Dragonair dives back beneath the surface of the water, swimming away with slow, snaking movements. Blue watches her go, his arms folded.

“Yeah, been thinking about it a while,” he says, “Just don’t think it’s for me.”

“Well, it’s a relief, I must say.”

“A relief?” he splutters.

“Blue, please. You’re hardly ever there, you make it intentionally difficult for trainers to challenge you, you frequently leave the country entirely, you don’t complete your reports on time or keep on top of your admin, and you never even picked a specialisation. In seven years.”

Well, it sounded really damning when put like that.

“You’re forgetting about my dashing good looks and endless charm,” he says, “Those count for something, right?”

Lance sighs, shaking his head.

“You are, by far, the worst gym leader I’ve ever employed.”

“Wow. You know, the guy you had before me was literally a crime boss, right?” he says. Lance rubs his temples with his thumb and forefinger.

“I’m aware,” he says.”

“So, you know. Maybe invest more in your HR department. Aaaaand maybe don’t hire a fourteen-year-old next time,” he says. Lance purses his lips and nods.

“I’m more than aware of my own failings in the matter. And it’s not really your fault – you’re perfectly competent when you want to be.”

“Wow. Thanks.”

“It was – it was just an unusual situation, having victors that young. There was a certain amount of…pressure, particularly as Red refused to take part in the usual pomp and ceremony,” he says, tilting his head, “I feel like becoming famous that young…it probably didn’t have a great impact on either of you.”

“Nah. We’re fine,” he says, with a flippant wave of his hand. It’s a lie, but not completely, he thinks. Lance observes him, choosing his next words carefully.

“…I meant to ask. Did Red talk before…”

“He does talk,” Blue interrupts immediately, and then swallows at Lance’s incredulous gaze. He continues, “He just doesn’t speak. He talks other ways. Most people just aren’t patient enough to figure it out.”

“And you are,” Lance replies, nodding as though he just managed to slot a puzzle piece that had been thwarting him into piece. Blue scowls, shaking his head.

“Hell no,” he says, “Still don’t get the guy half the time. Started trying lately though.”

“Hm. And how is that?”

Blue drums his fingers against his forearm, shivering a little in the night air now the alcohol is beginning to wear off. He goes for the most succinct explanation he can give.

“An uphill battle.”

“Hm,” Lance says, giving Blue a funny look. The kind of look he really wishes everyone would stop giving him lately. He returns Dragonair to its Pokéball, letting his arm drop to his side. “Well, I’m going to rejoin the party.”

“Eh. I’m gonna head back to the hotel and make sure Red’s there and hasn’t like. Cracked an underground criminal organisation again,” he says, not even wanting to imagine what kind of trouble Red’s gotten into in the whole five minutes Blue’s had his eyes off him. He shouldn’t even be chatting this long – now that the alcohol’s worn off, he’s gripped by the cold thought of how long it took them to find Red last time he disappeared without a word.

“Oh, I’m sure if there are any stray Team Plasma members hanging around, Red will have dealt with them at this point,” Lance replies, “Good luck. I’ll begin organising your resignation after the Tournament.”

“About that…sooo, maybe don’t tell my Gramps, huh?”

Lance fixes him with a weary stare.

“Yeah, that’s kind of the first time I’ve told anyone I was gonna quit,” he continues, scratching the back of his neck.

Lance keeps staring at him.

“It just kind of came out,” he says, raising his hands.

“Well, the professor’s a busy man. I doubt he’ll be in touch any time soon,” he says, “It really is your business, anyway.”

“Right, right, awesome. I’m gonna head back, tell everyone else I said bye,” he says, itching to get back and check that Red was in one piece. Desperately hoping that he’d be able to find him in the next few hours.

“Is that ‘bye’ or is that ‘smell ya later’?” Lance says, putting air quotes around the word.

“Ha. Like you even need to ask.”

 

Banging on the door of Red’s hotel room, he doesn’t really expect him to be in. He expects to need to go next door, find his PokéGear, send a series of frantic texts, and have to fly halfway across Unova on Aerodactyl to find him, because he got a message that some Pidgey on the other side of the world had a bad foot or something. Why doesn’t he ever tell people what the hell he’s doing?

What he doesn’t expect is for Red to answer the door in a bathrobe, looking thoroughly bemused. Judging by the smell, and his wet hair, he’s had a bath.

“Oh, eh, you’re here,” Blue says, stupidly, “Huh, well, that’s good.”

Red wanders off before he’s even done with the sentence and returns to his bed, sitting in a ball on the edge with his gaze fixed on his TV screen. In the basket in the corner, Pikachu is curled up with her eyes closed, her tail twitching. There’s some empty wrappers on the bed, and a half-drunk bottle of soda on the floor.

He’s just been watching TV and eating snacks from the mini-fridge this whole time, seriously?

Blue could kill him.

“You know,” he says, trying his best to control the rising desire to scream. He crosses the room and grabs the remote from the bedside table, “You can put subtitles on these – most of these channels have Ranseigo ones too.”

Red gives him a look as though he’s completely insane. Blue looks at the movie playing on screen – some psycho-drama thing popular a couple years ago – and then back at Red.

“Yoooou…understand this just fine, don’t you?”

Red nods, very slowly, as though Blue was the simplest being on the planet.

“Of course you do,” he says with a sigh, tossing the remote onto the bed. He releases a tight breath, his temper suddenly rushing to catch up to him, “What was that about back there? Why did you run off? No – don’t – don’t just shrug! Honestly!”

Judging from the look on his face, Red has absolutely no idea why he’s mad. Blue pauses, taking a breath, trying to figure out a way to explain.

“You should have said – told me you were going back. Not just wandering off. I was worried.”

Red gestures for something to write with. Blue huffs, and with a few stomping steps to make it very clear he was still mad, moves towards the bedside table and pulls the drawers open until he finds a pad of the hotel stationary, and a pen. He shoves them in Red’s direction.

“Hotels usually have this kinda thing there. Just f-y-i.”

Red glances up at Blue’s furious expression, and then scribbles a response in record time, thrusting the paper back into Blue’s hands.

Got bored. Sorry.

“Look, it’s not – it’s not the leaving I’m mad about. I mean, you’re a grown man, you can do what you want,” he says, passing the paper back, “I’m mad you left without explaining. Or saying where you were going! Remember what happened the last time you did that?”

Red bites down on his lower lip, and then looks back down at the pad, writing something down. After a few moments of writing, he flips the paper back around.

I get it, I think.

Will try to explain next time.

“Sheesh. No wonder Lance thinks we’re such a nightmare,” he says, rubbing his forehead. Red observes him for a second, and then looks down to write something else.

Something’s wrong.

“You can tell?” Blue asks, earnestly surprised. Red flips the notebook back round, and then shows it to him again.

You’re obvious.

Red frowns, and then underlines the ‘You’ a few times. Setting the notepad down on his lap, he brushes the empty packets off the bed and budges along to the other side, clearing a space. Blue’s stomach does a little twist – that was unusual. Red wasn’t exactly the sympathetic type, usually.

Sitting down, he grabs the soda from the floor and takes a swig straight from the bottle (ignoring Red’s disgusted expression). Tugging off his stupid tie, he leans back against the headboard, fiddling with the bottle.

“Eh, no biggie, just made an idiot of myself. Blurted out that I was gonna leave the Viridian Gym in front of everyone.”

Red perks up, and then scribbles something very quickly.

That’s good.

“No, it’s not,” he says.

But you don’t like it.

“Well I don’t but…“

Then it’s good to leave.

“Okay, really, you’re missing the point,” he says, struggling in the face of Red’s ruthless logic. When he puts it like that, it does sound remarkably straight-forward. While managing to completely overlook the enormous social faux pas he made, the titanic bridges burnt by his stupid antics, or how unimpressed Gramps would be if (when) the news got back to him.

Red looks at him, waiting for an explanation.

“I just really damaged my rep out there,” he says, flicking hair out of his face, “Was not cool.”

After a moment, Red writes something down, slower this time, more careful. There’s the look of concentration on his face again, the way he looked when they first started using this. He pushes the paper towards him.

You spend too much time trying to impress people.

“I – well you don’t spend enough time trying to!” he splutters. He can’t deny the accusation, exactly, but he can fire back just as hard. Red doesn’t look as though he particularly cares – he just shrugs, tilting his head as though he doesn’t understand what the issue is with that. Blue sighs, dragging his hands down his face.

Before he can say anything else, Red is thrusting the paper back into his hands.

You were like that as a kid too.

Blue cringes – usually, Red doesn’t really refer to any aspect of their childhoods. He can’t blame the guy; looking back, Red was probably miserable as a kid. Half the time, Blue likes to pretend to himself that Red doesn’t even remember what he was like when he was a kid. It would be a lot more comfortable for him if he didn’t.

“Yeah, well…” he says, and quickly runs out of ways to defend himself. Red writes something else down.

I did NOT like you when we were kids.

The ‘not’ is underlined no less than six times. Blue stares at it for a moment.

“I can’t blame ya,” he says finally, his voice heavy. Red writes for a few more minutes, leaving Blue staring blankly at the dumb movie and feeling like the world’s biggest jerk. This message takes longer than the rest, and judging by all the scratching from his pen, is the hardest to put together.

He thrusts it in his hands hard enough to crease the paper, and then stares at his lap.

I like you now, though.

He laughs, more nervously than he’d like, and scratches the back of his neck.

“Ha! Well I figured that out, weirdo,” he says, clapping Red on the shoulder, “I mean be kind of weird if we weren’t friends at this point.”

Red looks at him, wide-eyed, for a second. His lips press into a thin line and he throws his hands up, shaking his head.

“What?” Blue says, “What’d I –“

He’s interrupted by a low rumbling noise. Red presses his hands to his belly.

“Uh, you hungry?” Blue says, and glances around at all the crumpled packets of chips and cookies. Thinking about it, he hadn’t really seen Red eat anything at the dinner – he’d mostly poked at his food, looking tense and uncomfortable. The food had all been complicated, fancy dishes. The kind of stuff Red had probably never eaten in his life.

Sighing, Blue leans over to the bedside table and plucks the room service menus from the stand.

“Man, you know the room service here will bring you an actual meal, right?” he says, flipping the menu open, “If you were hungry you should’ve jus ordered one.”

Red scowls, hands clenching his bathrobe. For a second, Blue doesn’t understand what the issue is, and then Red jabs a finger at the phone on the bedside table. Blue looks at it, feeling enormously stupid.

“Oh. Right,” he says, and is hit by a rush of irritation. How the hell were people who couldn’t speak or hear supposed to order if the only way to do it was over the phone? Shaking his head, he picks up the phone and tosses the menu at Red carelessly.

“What’d you want?”

Red gestures to some hamburger meal on the menu, Blue orders for both of them. Despite stuffing his face with food at the party, after running around like an idiot trying to find Red for a good hour, he’s hungry again.

“Oh, yeah,” he says down the phone, sparing a glance at Red, “And if you could just bring the same meal every night at the same time ‘till we leave, that’d be peachy.”

Red glances up, surprised, his eyebrows raising. Blue puts down the phone and he tilts his head, pursing his lips.

“Don’t make that face. We’re celebrities, we can get away with stuff like that,” he says. Red looks as though he doesn’t quite believe him. He shakes his head, “You never did get used to that, huh?”

Red lifts a hand to quiet him and then snatches his paper and pen back up. Blue sits back, arms folded, and waits for him to finish, watching the movie onscreen come to a close. Finally, Red thrusts the paper into his hands.

Well, it was easier for you. You’ve been acting like you’re famous since you were 8.

“…I waited twenty minutes for you to write this,” he says. The corner of Red’s mouth twitches. Blue sighs and leans back, letting his weight drop against Red’s shoulder. He expects to be shoved off, doesn’t really know why he’s being stupid enough to let himself get all cuddly, but Red, surprisingly, lets him lie there.

It’s comfier than it has any right to be. Despite the pounding in his head, Blue feels something coil at the pit of his stomach, the skin on the back of his legs tingling. He has a weird sensation, becoming aware of every bit of space between them as though it was something physical. He turns to look at him, not exactly sure what he wants to say or how but -

There’s a pounding on the door.

“That’ll be the food!” Blue says, leaping to his feet, his voice too high. As he takes the tray from the flustered-looking bellboy, he feels Red's gaze boring into his back.

“Hey, gimme the remote,” he says, sitting down next to him and passing over the tray with Red’s burger on it, “I’m determined to get your pop culture knowledge up to date.”

 

He cannot believe he slept in his suit. Red’s gone by the time he comes to, on top of the covers with his suit jacket still on, and he has to curse and rush to his room next door, garnering some odd looks from the hotel staff. They probably think he was partying all night or something. At least, that’s what Blue vaguely hopes they think – it sounds a lot cooler than eating a burger and then falling asleep in your clothes at like half eleven.

Scrubbing himself down and changing into his battle outfit, he rushes off to go join the rest of the tournament.

 

The contestants are good – the best up-and-comers from Unova and other regions, all with their best battle teams prepped and ready to go. Even Red looks as though he’s working up a sweat; he’s not used to double and triple battles, but takes to them with his usual natural talent.

It’s been a while since he’s really enjoyed a battle. As he watches Aerodactyl deftly dive out of the way of the other trainer’s Salamance, he shouts out an order, and Aerodactyl twists in midair and lands an Ice Fang on the other Pokémon’s exposed throat. The other trainer gasps as Salamance lets out a roar and plummets, returned to its ball before it hits the ground. Aerodactyl lands beside him, and Blue leans up to rub his snout, grinning.

The other trainer tosses out a ball, and a Blissey emerges with a cheerful trill. Blue’s never battled one before. He’s heard they can be effective when used defensively – mostly used for spreading status effects, healing, acting as a physical wall. Should make for an interesting opponent.

After a quick calculation in his head, Blue grabs Machamp’s ball and tosses it out.

 

He falls into an easy pattern. Battling contestants and mingling with the other invited trainers all day, and then usually returning to Red’s room for dinner in the evening. They’re some of the best battles he’s been in for a very long time. Judging by Red’s good mood, he’s thinking much the same.

“The kids they invited for this one are good, huh?” he says, as he flicks through the channels after dinner, finally settling on a chat show is showing clips of some of the World Tournament battles from the day. Red’s battles receiving a disproportionate amount of screen time. He supposes that he can’t really blame the media for focusing on it. They haven’t had any footage of Red, or his Pokémon, since the 90s. Pikachu takes precedence, and there’s a billion loving shots of Pikachu scooped up in Red’s arms after another decisive victory against a Pokémon six times her size.

Blue wonders if another surge of Pika-mania is around the corner because of this. He glances at Pikachu, lounging in her basket with Eevee. Pikachu glares back at him, sparks crackling from her cheeks in warning.

He hopes not.

Red, at the table, twists around to look at the screen, turning his attention from his TMs and items. He watches himself onscreen with a look of polite bemusement, as though he couldn’t possibly conceptualise why anyone would want to televise anything he did.

“Man, have you lost any battles since we got here?” Blue says, arms folded as he watches Red’s Venusaur and Charizard take another pair of opponents. Red blinks and holds up a finger.

“Ha? One? Seriously?” he replies, scratching his chin. He’d lost at least five – one against the new Unova champ, Rosa or something, and then a few against some foreign trainers who had one or two Pokémon he’d never seen before.

“Oh, hey, I think they’re showing the one you lost…” he says, as a familiar girl with buns and a cap appears on screen – Rosa. Red gets up and joins him on the bed, crossing his legs and watching the battle with intense interest. Probably studying up so Rosa never gets the jump on him again, he thinks, amused.

It’s a close battle, but Rosa manages to get the edge on him. As Red’s Lapras is wiped out and Rosa jumps and squeals with delight at having won, it cuts back to the studio. The newscasters rave about their new champion taking down the illusive ultimate trainer, and go on and on about how this is Red’s first reappearance in official league battles in a decade.

As they begin to speculate about the reason for Red’s length disappearance, Blue feels his stomach tense.

“Well, I always assumed it was some sort of intensive training thing –“

“He does have a very different line-up compared to the team we saw after his Kanto Championship battle…”

“Ah, no no no, there was a rumour that his involvement with Team Rocket at such young age was traumatic,” one man interrupts, “Clinicians speculate that he developed severe mental difficulties during his journey.”

Blue glances over at Red, almost terrified to see his reaction. It’s subtle – a tenseness around his mouth and shoulders, the fingers of his right hand twitching.

“Hey –“ he begins.

“Well, I think we can all agree it has certainly not done him any harm!” one of the hosts says, loudly, “He’s grown up well.”

There’s laughter in the studio, as a picture of Red with Charizard, looking very broody and mysterious, appears onscreen.

“Yes, yes, he really has that tall, dark, and handsome thing going on, doesn’t he?” another host chimes in, prompting more laughter.

“Oooh, do you think he’s seeing anyone?” the first host says, “If not, someone absolutely needs to get me his number, I –“

Blue turns the TV off, his face suddenly feeling very hot. Stupid gossipy Unovan chat shows...

He glances over to see Red bent over, his hand over his mouth and shaking with breathy, near-silent laughter. Forcing out a laugh himself, he lies his head back down against the pillow, lacing his fingers behind his head. Red leans back against the headboard, letting his arm rest across it. His laughter fades away, replaced by a tense, nervous look.

“These crappy gossip shows are always the same,” Blue says, tilting his head, “Don’t worry about it – anyone with more than two brain cells to rub together won’t listen to that stuff they’re spouting about your head.”

Red bites his lip, and looks down at him, his forehead creased with concern.

“They’re not right about it. Got no idea what they’re talking about,” Blue says, “And even if they did, it’s nobody else’s business.”

Red nods, slowly, his expression still pensive. Blue sighs and sits up a little. Not much gets to Red, but this stuff is different. Although, Blue can’t help but think it wouldn’t be such a sore spot if people didn’t feel the need to prod at it all the time.

Red touches his shoulder, and then gestures to where his notepad (getting thinner and thinner by the day) sits on Blue’s side of the bed. He passes it over. After a minute, Red shows him what he’s written.

You’re leaving the gym when we go home.

“Ha…yeah, I guess I am,” he says, “I mean, not right away, I gotta give Lance time to find a replacement and finish off some stuff there and…urgh, tell Gramps.”

Just the thought of it is enough to make his stomach cramp – he has a feeling that no matter what he does, whether he has Daisy there to mediate or not, it’s going to end in a shouting match.

Or, at least, Blue yelling and regressing to being 10 years old, and Gramps being infuriatingly calm and reasonable, all his stern reprimands managing to come out as though they’re the only rational options. Blue would prefer a shouting match. At least then he didn’t come out of it feeling like a ridiculous brat.

Red’s staring at him. His worry must be showing pretty obviously.

“I’m fine, buddy,” he says, waving away his concern, “Just not looking forward to that conversation.”

Red writes something else down.

What do I do?

“Huh?”

Red underlines the ‘when we go home’ on the line above, tapping it urgently with the end of his pen. Blue scratches the back of his neck – if he was honest, he’d been trying to avoid thinking about it. He had been expecting Red to disappear again as soon as their plane landed back in Kanto. At least, he’d been trying not to get his hopes up it would end any other way.

“Hey, I don’t know. Isn’t that up to you?”

That clearly isn’t a good enough answer. Red grits his teeth, frustration seeping out of him. Blue doesn’t know what he’s trying to say. All he knows is that there’s something he wants to get out, so badly that Blue can see him aching with it. It’s been a long while since Blue hasn’t been able to get what he’s trying to tell him.

“You want to go back to Pallet Town?”

Red pauses, and then shakes his head.

“Mount Silver?”

He bites down on a finger, and then shrugs. Blue breathes out through his nose, Red’s frustration rubbing off on him.

“If it makes you feel better, I don’t really know my plans for after I leave the Viridian Gym,” he says, fiddling with a strand of hair in front of his face, “We’re in the same boat.”

Red taps his fingers against his knee; it doesn’t look as though that answer is particularly comforting. Blue doesn’t know what else to say – he has no idea what he’ll be doing, he just knows he won’t be a gym leader any longer. Or working at a lab. As freeing as that will be, it’s terrifying as well. He thought for so long that it was what he wanted, and then for reasons which were complex and hard to articulate or solve, they weren’t. What did you do then?

He has no idea. There’ll be invitations to other tournaments, other interviews for talk shows or magazines, other trainers to battle, but as for what he’ll do between all of those things? It’s beyond him.

“Ha, maybe we should just ditch it and go journeying again,” he jokes. Red perks up, his eyes widening.

“I was kidding,” he says. Red tilts his head and lifts a hand in a questioning gesture. Blue rolls his eyes and leans against Red’s shoulder, glancing up at him with an exasperated scowl, “Don’t ‘why not’ me. We’re too old, is why.”

Red doesn’t look convinced. If he’s honest with himself, Blue would love to have a second chance at it. He would do a lot of things differently if he got the chance to do his Pokémon journey again – the way he treated Red just being one of them.

Even if they boxed all their Pokémon, got new starters and went to a new region, it wouldn’t be a fresh start. Not really. Everyone would still know who they were. Nothing Blue has said or did would be erased.

Still, the idea of just travelling and catching Pokémon again, it has a certain appeal. Doing it alongside Red, as well, instead of constantly, desperately dashing to outdo him…he would probably enjoy it a lot more. Notice the places he was going and the things he was seeing better, rather than seeing anyone and anything as an obstacle to get over as quickly as he could.

Man, his Pokémon journey had really been wasted on his child self.

“Heh, I mean, it’d be cool to go somewhere new,” he says, looking at his hands, “Hoenn’s meant to be nice.”

Blue glances up and notices Red staring at him, with the usual intensity he studies Pokémon or replays of tough battles. He doesn’t often look directly at people, but when he does, it’s so weirdly penetrating. It makes Blue feel as though he’s being pinned down and split open and oh hell why did he have to think of it like that.

“Ha. What?” he says, his voice very small, suddenly conscious of every point their bodies were touching. Red’s mouth flexes, as though he’s thinking about something, and Blue becomes intensely aware of Red’s hand on his upper back. When had Red started being comfortable getting all touchy feely with him like that? He still jerked away if anybody else as much as tried to hug him, wincing his way through hand-shakes and squeezed shoulders. Blue couldn’t think when that had changed for him.

Red shifts, as though about to move away, and Blue does not want that. He hates missing out on things, he hates hesitation, and he feels like he’s keeping so many things tied up he’s going to explode if it goes on. Seizing Red’s shoulders, he pushes himself forward and kisses him as hard as he can, knocking his elbow hard against the headboard.

He pulls away, and Red blinks at him. Not exactly surprised, Blue notes with embarrassment (seriously? Is he that obvious?), but more as though he’s trying to process it, doesn’t know what to do with it yet.  For a second, Blue scrambles to think of how he could fix it or play it off as a joke if he had just made a horrible mistake.

He’s about to speak, when Red seizes his hands and shoves him down with surprising speed and force, kissing him back with enough enthusiasm that all the doubt in Blue’s mind vanishes.

Chapter Text

He wakes up because of the pins and needles in his arm. Red’s entire weight is pressed against his forearm, cutting off his blood supply. Blinking, Blue tugs his arm free as gently as a he can – Red only fidgets, making a hoarse noise in his sleep, but not stirring. Guy can seriously sleep like the dead when the occasion calls for it.

He should probably get up and have a shower. Usually in those scenarios, he did it before going to sleep, but after they were done he hadn’t really wanted to move. He had felt, sort of stupidly, that moving out of the bed would break something, somehow, and he’d just wanted to stretch what he felt as far as it would go.

Flipping the pillow to the cold side, Blue resigns himself to remaining a bit sweaty and gross for a few more hours. A shower could wait.

Unfortunately, he also really needs to pee. That couldn’t wait.

Resigning himself to the fact he genuinely couldn’t stay in the bed for the rest of the life, he shuffles out from under the covers, wincing as he discovers what’s sore and where and how badly, and staggers barefoot to the bathroom.

It’s still dark out, he notes standing over the toilet and gazing half-asleep out of the window. Castelia and even Lumiose at this time would still be bustling and brightly lit, but the low buildings of Driftveil are dim, and only a few figures move, slowly, through the streets. He sees a Pokémon, a Swoobat or something, lazily gliding over the rooftops, returning from some early morning hunt or training session. There’s some kids on the roof across from his, with their Pokémon. Not battling, just sitting, talking. Blue assumes they’ve been up all night.

Other than that, everything is still.

He finishes up and flushes the chain, moving back to the living room as quietly as he can. As he passes by, he glances at the clock on the wall. They don’t have to be up for another few hours yet.

Good.

He crawls back into bed. Red hasn’t physically moved from the position he left him in, he notes with amusement.

Breathing out, Blue settles back in and closes his eyes, dropping again into easy, dreamless sleep.

 

When he wakes again, bright sunlight is streaming through the gap in the curtains, stirring him. He shifts, his nose brushing Red’s shoulder, and then turns over. Stretching his arm out, he grabs his PokéGear from the bedside table, blinking as he checks the time.

Ah.

“Red,” he says, turning and shaking his shoulder, “Hey, come on. Wake up. We gotta get ready.”

Red’s eyes open, just a little, and then close again, and he tugs Blue closer, pressing his forehead against his shoulder.

“No, come on,” he says, exasperated and trying to extract himself from Red’s arms, probably not as forcefully as he should, “We need to get up.”

Red makes absolutely no sign that he intends to get up any time soon.

“Seriously? The one time you’re not up at five AM on the dot…” Blue says, but relents a little, fiddling with Red’s hair. It’s nice, he supposes, that Red is comfortable enough to lie in like this around him. He’s also vaguely, peripherally aware with a fuzzy sense of embarrassment that Red probably had never done anything like that before. Blue supposes if anything’s going to put a break in Red’s usual rigid routine…

There’s an irritable squeak from behind him. He turns his head to search for the source of the noise.

Pikachu is staring at him from her basket, Eevee curled up next to her with her tail lazily swaying back and forth.

They had completely forgotten to return them to their Pokéballs, he realises with mounting horror.

Eevee just looks bored and as though she’s about so start complaining for breakfast. Pikachu looks outright murderous.

“Oh, don’t look at me like that,” he says. Pikachu makes a dignified squeak, and turns around, curling up with her back to him. Frosty, but a good deal warmer than their usual interactions. Blue supposes he has her tiny yellow blessing for now.

There’s a thumping on the door.

“Good morning! Your usual breakfast, sir!”

Blue sits upright – he’d forgotten about that. Cursing under his breath, he sits up and starts looking around for his underwear. The girl on the other side of the door knocks again, more urgent this time.

“Sir, can I come in?”

Still no underwear. Have they ended up under the bed?

Next to him, Red stands up and scoops his boxers from the floor, tugging them on swiftly. Before Blue can say anything, he crosses the room to the front door and opens it up.

Not in the way Blue had been expecting. Not with a little crack. He throws the door fully open, just as Blue was standing up straight.

The girl on the other side of the door, holding a tray carrying Red’s morning coffee and omelette, gawks. First at Red, answering the door just in his underwear, and then her gaze drops behind him to Blue, desperately attempting to cover himself with the quilt, mostly failing.

Red, utterly oblivious to the social faux pas, or to Blue burying his face in his hands behind him, just accepts the food and closes the door. He turns, and then pauses on seeing Blue’s reaction, tilting his head.

Sighing, Blue stoops to drag his underwear and jeans out from the under the bed, dressing himself as quickly as he can. He grabs his wallet from the table. Red sets down the food on the table, pursing his lips.

“Right, I’ll be back in a second,” he says, checking the contents of his wallet. It looks like he has a decent amount of cash on him, at the very least. Red blinks at him.

“You have no idea what you just did, do you?” Blue says. Red shakes his head.

“Don’t worry about it,” he says, “I’m just…I’m just gonna go pay that girl off.”

 

Fortunately, if everyone in the world was on a sliding scale from Daisy to Lyra, that girl was firmly on Daisy’s side of the spectrum. Despite seeming intensely amused, she accepted a larger-than-usual tip  (Red never remembered to give one) with a small smile, and promised she wouldn’t rush off to the tabloids. Blue was grateful – the last thing Red needs after just starting to get used to being a member of civilisation again is a big messy celebrity gossip scandal. If anything was going to send him up Mount Silver again, it would be that.

Although, he realises, he hadn’t really gotten a clear answer either way on if Red was planning on going up there again when they get back. His heart thuds dully at the thought.

He pushes it out of his mind. That’s the kind of issue he’d rather deal with later.

By the time he returns, Red has left for his first battle of the day. Eevee greets him with a cheerful trill eating an expensive-looking meal Red left for her. Looking at the bed, clean and neatly made, at Red’s things neatly stacked on the table and Blue’s stuff in a pile on the floor, he feels a funny little twinge in his stomach.

There’s a lot that remains uncertain.

Deciding to deal with that later, Blue heads into the shower and starts getting ready for another day of the tournament.

 

Eating his lunch, discussing the morning battles with Cynthia, Blue’s PokéGear buzzes against his wrist. He checks it. A message from Lyra.

lololololol

Well that’s…opaque.

“Is everything alright?” Cynthia asks. Blue sighs, putting down his fork.

“Yeah, just a friend of mine…hold on,” he says, and writes a reply. If he knows Lyra, which he does, Blue can expect more ‘lololololol’s where that came from if he tries to ignore her.

What?

just thought id offer my congrats for finally getting somewhere

...How.

It had been less than twelve hours. It had barely been six. Whether Lyra was just an incredibly lucky guesser, had some kind of disturbing sixth sense, or was actively spying on him, Blue wasn’t sure. He wasn’t ready to rule any of those options out, though.

How do you know this.

lmao dont worry it hasn’t leaked

That’s something, at least.
How did YOU find out about it though?

a girl has her ways :3c

Don’t do that.

>:3c

Blue is about to sigh and put his PokéGear down, when it vibrates in his hand. Another text, black pixels on a cracked green screen, pops up.

u think he planned this lmao

What are you talking about?

just interesting that he chooses to come down from mount silver now aint it

What.

its :3 just almost like :3c there was something >:3c to motivate him >>:3c

He chokes on his salad. Cynthia stares at him.

I’m blocking you.

fine fine, but i want all the details next time i see u, k?

The next text takes much longer to come in.

just hope u know what ur getting into. thinkin it could get complicated. b careful, k?

He frowns at the screen. Every time Lyra says anything half-way serious, it always sounds as though it physically strains her. He’s touched she managed to push through what was, undoubtedly, excruciating pain to even vaguely admit any sort of concern for another human being.

Blue can’t deny she may have a point; he’s heading into uncharted territory, in almost every avenue recently. And if things went wrong…

He shakes his head. There was no point worrying about it. At least, not over his lunch. Not until they got back to Kanto.

I’m a big boy. I’ll be fine.

 

“We’re heading back home tomorrow, huh?” Blue says, completely unnecessarily. Red looks up at him from where he’s lounging with Eevee and Pikachu curled up on his chest and stomach. His expression is politely surprised – as though the date hadn’t even occurred to him. As though their impending return to their usual (or somewhat-unusual) lives looming over both of them for the past few days.

Battling in the tournament had been great, exploring Unova had been great, hanging out with all those big famous faces, seeing himself on the big screen again, spending actual time with Red that wasn’t in a frozen wasteland…it’s the most fun Blue’s had in a long time.

He doesn’t want to go back. He still has months left at the gym, having the same battles over and over, saying the same lines over and over, filling in paperwork and pacing the four walls of his office. And he has Gramps to face – if he hasn’t already heard the news about his little outburst at the party the other week. And where Red will go after their plane touches down…remained to be seen.

He really doesn’t want to go back.

“Do you know what you’re doing yet?” he asks, pacing back and forth.

Red looks at him, inclining his head a little, and then shrugs. Blue shakes his head, huffing.

“Course you don’t,” he says, and continues to pace, “It’s easy for you, I guess, you’re always the golden boy. Practically doesn’t matter what you do, you stay the favourite –“

Glancing back, he catches sight of Red’s expression, and feels guilt hit his gut like a fist. He takes a breath. He needs to calm down.

“Sorry, sorry, getting myself all worked up,” he says, brushing his hair back with a hand, “Not cool.”

Red rolls his eyes, and sits up, disturbing Pikachu and Eevee on his chest. They get up, both disgruntled, and hop off the bed as Red shuffles along, giving Blue space to join him. Blue releases a breath and perches on the end of the bed, resting his elbows on his knees.

“Look, it’s…it is gonna be a mess with Gramps when I get back,” he says, perching on the edge of the bed, his arms folded, “My apartment’s part of the gym, so I lose that too when I leave. Then. I dunno. Everyone’s gonna want me to do something. I better do something really good.”

He doesn’t look back at Red, too caught up in his own thoughts. He needs to do something impressive, something Gramps and Daisy and everyone can be proud of, but what is there? He screwed up being a trainer, a champion, a researcher, a gym leader; what else is there to even try? Nothing he does now will compare to anything he managed to do when he was eleven.

Sighing, he rubs his forehead.

“You know, maybe I should just go talk to Lance, eat my words, say I’ll stick it in at Viridian –“

A hand grabs his forearm, and he twists his head to see Red shaking his head back and forth.

“No?” he says.

Red purses his lips and shakes his head again.

“I know I don’t like it, but…”

Swallowing, Red rubs his mouth, and then gestures to the bedside table. Blue understands, and reaches across to pass him his notebook and pen.

“You should really keep this on your side of the bed,” he says. Red makes no response to that, focusing on writing.

Your side of the bed – as though they’d been sleeping like this for years, not just a few days. He shakes his head. Wouldn’t be any good to get carried away. It wasn’t like they’d even really talked about what was going on, if anything officially was.

Red taps on his shoulder, gently, and Blue breaks out of his thoughts to glance over at the piece of paper being thrust into his hands.

Stop worrying about what everyone thinks.

Even the professor.

Blue stares at it for a moment.

“Don’t you tell me what to do,” he says, lamely. Red’s mouth twitches.

“Don’t laugh,” he says, and Red holds his hands up, palms outward, trying to gesture innocence. Despite that little ploy, he’s still smirking. Blue hits him over the nose with the notebook.

“Idiot,” he admonishes. Red makes a beckoning gesture with his hand, and Blue hands the notebook back, sighing. The reply is quick this time:

An idiot with a point, though. :)

“Ha. You know, when I try to tell people what you’re actually like, they act like I’m making it up,” he says. Red squints at him, clearly surprised by this news. Of course he would be.

It’s true, though. Blue can try to explain what Red’s actually like: how smart he is; how much he cares about his Pokémon and the limited circle of people who interest him; his weird sense of humour; the way he inhales new information, like he’s starving for new details all the time; how much he cringes and winces to see a Pokémon, or a person, suffering, and how fast he’ll act to help, even if it’s the kind of thing that’s harder for him to do than most…

Well, he tries to explain it anyway, in as cool terms as he can manage. It doesn’t matter though - people look at Red and see what they want to see, or what they expect to see. They want the illusive ultimate trainer, the broody loner and the wise master, so that’s what they get. People always only ever see others the way they expect to.

A gentle tap on his shoulder. He breathes out. Getting trapped in his own head, again. It’s weird; people probably expect it to be the other way around between them. If anything, Red was trapped in the details of everything around him. He couldn’t find his way back into his own head, sometimes.

“I’m fine,” Blue says, brushing a hand over his hair. He glances at the clock, “We should sleep, our flight’s in a few hours.”

With a yawn and a stretch, he settles himself down to sleep. Red, sitting up next to him, watches, and then scribbles something on the page, hastily, and then scratches it out, and then scribbles something beneath it, and so on. Face half-buried in the pillow, Blue watches, heart pounding uncomfortably – the more important something was to say, the harder Red found to write it. What the hell was he about to announce?

Finally, he stops writing, puts the pen aside, frowns at the notebook a little, and then turns it to show him.

I’m not going to completely disappear again.

Blue huffs out a half-laugh, not quite sincere, and reaches a hand up to tug him down onto the bed with him. It’s not exactly the most reassuring promise he’s ever been given, but it’s a start.

 

The airport is still a nightmare with Red – better, with his earplugs in, but he’s still edgy and irritable without his Pokémon. They rush through, keeping closer to each other than they had when they caught their flight here.

The flight home feels so much faster than it is. Maybe it’s because it feels like Blue’s being sucked back into his old life, the parts of it that were keeping him unhappy brought into clarity by how happy he’d been in Unova, but it doesn’t feel anywhere near as long as the flight there.

It’s night in Kanto when they get back, the buildings of Viridian City looking strangely small and squat after time walking through Unova’s skyscrapers. Blue notices a few paparazzi in the airport as they breeze through, taking snapshots, but he puts his hand on Red’s upper back and ushers him past. Otherwise, they return home quietly.

Red follows him back to the gym; Blue isn’t sure what that means. Probably that he’s tired, or doesn’t want to deal with his Mom fussing over him, or doesn’t want to deal with whoever is waiting outside of his house when he gets back, cameras at the ready, inquisitive questions ready on the tips of their tongues even in the late hours of the night. Whatever – he’s grateful for it either way.

Bed, sleep, and then its morning again, cold because of the window Blue left ajar last night, bright because of the curtains he forgot to close.

Colder, because of the empty space beside him.

Gone again. Not sure what he expected, really.

He crosses to the kitchen, slamming doors harder than he can justify and biting hard on his lip more than he should need to, and then he spots a piece of paper, neatly laid out on the table.

Went to see Mom. Will go back to Mount Silver for a while too. Need to check on things, get my stuff.

See you soon.

Something scribbled out, unintelligible.

His hand leaning on the surface of table, reading the words over and over again, some of the tension in his back eases. Laughing a little, he picks up the note and sticks it on the fridge, a magnet of himself (picked up in Lumiose for comedic value) keeping it in place.

If Red says he’s coming back, he’s coming back.

Although, he can’t help but hope it’s his definition of ‘soon’, rather than Red’s.

 

The gym is mind-numbingly boring. He’s found it boring for a long time, but after Unova, every little thing that annoys him about it seems sharpened to unavoidable clarity. Every battle is the same – the same Pokémon, the same exchanges, the same trash-talk, the same wins, the same losses. All constrained within terms he has to prearrange weeks in advance. Every possible change wrapped in miles of red tape, paperwork too dense to be worth it.

He tells himself, again, it’s only until summer.

He thinks about Mount Silver.

He thinks about how he needs to talk to Gramps, sooner rather than later.

Outside of his window, the leaves are turning crisp golds and reds, and coming loose in the cold breeze.

 

“You haven’t eaten again, buddy,” he says, looking at Eevee’s almost full food dish. Eevee looks up from her basket, glowering.

It’s been like this for a while. She’s been in a bad mood – mewling constantly, pacing, her tail swishing back and forth, ears pressed low against her skull. Even her fur seems coarse, a different colour than usual. The restless extents to the occasional nipped finger, growling, and then darting away, to disappear under some couch, or pace the small outline of the kitchen.

He thinks he has some idea of what the issue is.

She mews, stalking past him with her tail held high, an aura of utter wounded dignity radiating from her.

“Yeah, yeah, I miss him too,” he says, sighing.

 

“You need to talk to Grandpa,” Daisy says.

“Oh, so this is what you invited me for dinner for?” Blue replies, leaning back on his chair, “Sis, if I wanted a lecture, I would be talking to Gramps.”

Rocking back and forth on his chair, he feels himself start to tumble backwards. Daisy leans forward and grabs the back of his chair. With a stern look, she forces the chair to the floor, with a look that suggests if he’s on anything less than four legs there’ll be trouble. Blue leans forward on the table instead, his arms folded, huffing the most teenager-y sigh he can muster.

“Do I need to talk to him?” he says, “Just gonna be the same argument we’ve had a million times.”

“Blue, this is silly,” she says, “Chances are, Grandpa already knows you’re leaving the gym, and is waiting for you to talk to him about it.”

Blue sits upright, hands clenching in his lap under the table.

“How could he know?”

“…You stood up and announced it to a room full of people he knows,” Daisy says, shaking her head.

Ah. Yeah. That.

It hadn't been his finest moment, admittedly.

“Right,” he says, grimacing, “You know, I’m not dumb -  I did ask people not to say anything…”

Although, he knew fine well that was a moot point; a little known fact about professional Pokémon trainers was that, for all their quirks and gimmicks, they were some of the gossipiest people alive. Mostly, he’d just been relying on the fact Gramps didn’t pay enough attention to the grapevine to catch wind of it. He was, normally, far too wrapped up in his research to deal with anything as pedestrian as gossip.

“I’m not trying to lecture you – really, I’m not!” Daisy says, raising her hands, giving him a little smile, “I just think, that it won’t be as bad as you think.”

“Yeah, easy enough for you to say. Gramps actually likes you.”

Daisy winces, as she always does when Blue says something like that. She sighs, sitting down on the seat opposite him, her lips pursed.

“You know, you seem down lately…” she says, very slowly, “Even more than you did before you went to Unova…”

There’s something in her tone that Blue doesn’t like, like she's perilously close to talking to him about something he'd rather not even think about. He has to say something before she gets there.

“Look, just while I was there, I ended up remembering why I liked battling in the first place. Why I wanted to do it. And then I get home and remember why I don’t like working at the gym. Kinda makes it worse,” he interrupts. It’s half the truth anyway. Daisy gives him a skeptical look. From the kitchen, the rice cooker lets out a ding.

“Oh, hey, sis, look, the rice is ready, why don’t you go get that, huh?” he says, grinning at her. She doesn’t budge, folding her arms and giving him a look that’s so like Gramps it makes him shiver. His older sister had always been the sweetest one in the family, but she was still an Oak, and could be just as stubborn as the rest of them when pressed.

She clicks her tongue.

“Listen, I’ve been talking to your friend Lyra –“

Blue groans.

“ – and, from what I’ve managed to get out of her, it sounds as though while you were in Unova, your relationship with Red, um, became intimate –“

“Ha, wow, you’re really going to put it like that?”

“- and I know this isn’t my place, but I think that’s bothering you as well,” she says, “You’d feel better if you talked about it.”

“Oh, yeah, because we’re great at talking about our problems in this family.”

“Blue,” she says, very seriously, “I can sit here all night.”

He glowers at her. She smiles, utterly serene, back at him from across the kitchen table. Her husband is away for work for the night, and Blue knows that she will have cleared her entire calendar for the night just for the specific purpose of fussing over him. With a sigh, he has to admit defeat.

“Fine, fine,” he says, “Look, I’ll talk about it, if you actually make me the dinner you promised. I’m starving. Seriously.”

Her face breaks out into an enormous grin, and Blue rubs the back of his neck, suddenly self-conscious.

“I can’t believe you’re forcing me to talk about boy troubles…”

“What are big sisters for?” she says, ruffling his hair as she crosses to the kitchen.

The annoying thing is, he realises later, sitting cross-legged on her couch and on his thirtieth incoherent rant about Red of the night, is that talking about it does make him feel better. He hates it when Daisy’s right.

 

It’s close to midnight when Daisy retreats upstairs to bed, after grabbing a spare quilt from the cupboard so Blue can crash on the couch for the night. Lying with Eevee asleep on his stomach, he grabs his PokéGear from the floor.

Hey, you planning on coming home any time in the next century?

It’s a little more aggressive than it needs to be, but he’s tired, and after two hours of complaining at his sister about him, all wound up about the situation. Daisy says he deserves an answer, and damnit, he does, he does.

He’s dozing off when it buzzes in his hand. He lifts it up to his face, blinking and rubbing his eyes.

Stuck.

He sits up, eyes widening and heart speeding up.

Stuck, what do you mean stuck? Are you trapped somewhere up there???
Do NOT take a billion years to answer this!

The message comes after a few minutes

Not literally.

He relaxes, if only a little. At least, that means Red hasn’t gotten stuck under a pile of rubble thanks to a landslide, or something equally as awful. He taps back a reply:

What do you mean then?

The reply doesn’t come quickly, this time. Sighing, Blue gently shifts Eevee off and gets up, ignoring her sleepy growl. As quietly as he can, he heads into the kitchen and helps himself to some of Daisy’s endless supplies of tea while he waits. He’s not normally a tea guy, but he feels like this is a conversation he needs caffeine for.

There are two texts waiting for him when he returns, tea in hand.

Leaving again is harder.
I know what it’s like down there now.

What it’s like down – down with people? Another text pops up as Blue is puzzling this out.

It’s quiet here.

That’s true, but he feels like ‘quiet’ isn’t exactly the word Red means.

The word he’s looking for is safe.

He sighs, leaning back and taking a sip from his tea, as he tries to think. There’s a part of him that is just screaming that he doesn’t get it – Red has left the mountain before, now. He’s been to the biggest cities in Unova, and done well in them. He’s went through airports without his Pokémon and taken long haul flights. He’s done it before – it should be easy now.

How could he fall back on himself like that? Had the past few weeks just been a waste of time?

Biting his tongue, he texts back with all the restraint he can muster.

You’ve done it before.

A moment of silence, and then:

Yes.

Blue taps his foot. Should he offer to come up there and get him? Hell, should he offer just to fly up there and move in himself? That would solve a lot of both of their problems, all in one fell swoop.

He tries to imagine himself just living up on the mountain, just Red and his Pokémon for company, nothing in sight but the fresh snow and the towering pines. At first, it isn’t a bad thought. The peace and quiet, focusing on training, deciding how he spends each and every day. Then he stretches it longer, over weeks or months or years, and he starts to get the same feeling he gets when he sees the Viridian Gym from a distance – his chest becoming constricted, the sensation of walls closing in around him.

No way. He’d go nuts up there. And, even if Red pretends otherwise, he thinks Red is going nuts up there.

Look, he starts to type, not sure what he’s going to say, but knowing he needs to say something.

Look, I think I kind of get it. It’s easier up there, right?  Thing is, I think you’re a little

He pauses, erases a few words.

I think you’re –

No.

I don’t think you’re happy up there. But the more you stay there, the harder it is to leave. For your own good, you need to leave.

And keep leaving, he thinks, but doesn’t write. It’s not just leaving that kind of place once that does it. It’s leaving it, over and over again, not because it gets easier every time, but because you know it’ll get harder if you don’t.

Red knows that already though, he thinks. If he didn’t before, he does now.

Red is silent for a long while. The tea in Blue’s hands is cold by the time the next reply comes in.

You’re right.

When am I not?

:\

Blue isn’t sure where Red picked his emoticon use up from, but he really could be brutal with it when the mood struck. Shaking his head, he puts his tea on the floor by the couch and lies back down. Eevee jumps back onto his lap, curling up and burying her face in her tail.

Want me to come get you? Blue types.

A long stretch of silence, and then three texts, in rapid succession.

Yes.
No.
I don’t know.

“You don’t make this easy,” Blue groans, putting a hand behind his head. Another message pops up on screen.

I should do this on my own.

And there’s the problem. He should. It doesn’t help if Blue has to drag him, kicking and – well not screaming – but kicking and miserable every time. That doesn’t get either of them anywhere. Clicking his tongue, he tries to think of what he should be doing. His instinct is to either drag Red down from that stupid mountain by the ear, or do nothing at all, just shut his PokéGear off for the night, turn over, and go to sleep.

Neither of those work. And he’s sick of going in circles making the same blunders, over and over.

Okay, I have an idea, he types, even though he doesn’t. He’s hoping it’ll come to him as he’s texting.

I’ll give you a week. I’m stuck in the gym for the next week, so just come here and let yourself in through the back. Remember the stairs at the back, that go straight up to my apartment? When you get down here go straight there.

It’s not a brilliant plan, exactly. Hell, all he’s done is just stick a deadline on something Red’s already trying to do.

What happens after a week?

It’s a great question, Blue has to admit.

I’ll come get you then, he types back, Or at least come up there.
Does that sound okay?

He almost dozes off before the next one comes in.

OK.

He huffs out a breath and lets his PokéGear drop to the floor, knowing after that kind of sign off Red has either went to sleep or wandered off to do inscrutable mountain-man things. A week, and then what if it doesn’t work? Back to going up and down that stupid mountain, ending up back in the same stupid places they’d been before, only now tense and weird with each other, Blue periodically galloping off to some other country to do whatever new thing he was trying to be the champ at, arguing with his Gramps every few months…

Or maybe the whole stupid pattern would actually break for good.

Hey, he can hope.

 

There is one thing about Viridian City that’s both a blessing and a curse – everyone in town is so used to them, he doesn’t get any fuss, or any special treatment.

It hadn’t always been the case, of course. When he had first taken over the gym, all those years ago, it felt as though everywhere he went, everyone came to a grinding halt just to gawk at him. The cashiers in the supermarket would, nervously, ask him to sign a notepad, a Pokéball, even their trainer ID. Down the market, he’d get free blocks of tofu or packets of cookies or cake to take home, or free food for his Pokémon. When he came to give a talk at the school, talking about the importance of not littering or what to think about when choosing how to get your starter Pokémon, the kids would stare at him as though he’d just been beamed down from the moon, some clamouring just to touch him.

Now, he just buys his shopping and goes. The kids are always excited to see him, but no more than they would be for any Pokémon trainer – most of them don’t even know who he is any more. A guy who won the Indigo League a billion years ago, their local gym leader, the kid their big sister or their auntie maybe had a poster of on her wall, way back when. Kind of cool to meet, maybe, but not really that exciting.

Mostly, kids ask him about Lyra now.

She has her own action figure, so he can’t really blame them.

On the one hand, being able to buy groceries without having to have a twenty minute conversation pep-talking some guy about the Nidoking he was raising is great. On the other hand, Blue thinks he’s always going to be someone who likes the red carpet treatment. At least a little.

Packing his groceries, the staff barely give him a second glance. Sighing, he leaves the store and heads home for the night. Viridian City’s streets are slippery with ice under his feet, the winter chill settling in hard. The snow’s bound to start falling heavy soon – it always piles up in Viridian in winter. A lot of people end up just riding their Pokémon around for sake of easy, or ask him to get his fire Pokémon out and melting the ice. That’s another fun chore he can look forward to. Sighing, he tugs his scarf tighter around his neck, readjusting the shopping bags hanging off his arms.

The streets are quiet on his way back – he passes a few locals who wave or smile at him, some Pokémon out running errands or accompanying kids home from after-school clubs or cram school, a few old people sitting out on their porches with their Pokémon on their laps or by their sides, who barely lift their heads as he walks by. He pauses to watch two kids battling in the street, one ordering around a chunky Rattata, the other with a squealing Zubat, fluttering in wild circles around their heads. Like most kids that age, their battle style totally over the top, shouting orders and pointing and jumping around and trash-talking each other. Their Pokémon barely really pay any attention.

It’s cute, but Blue always just finds him wondering if they’re treating their Pokémon as well as they should. He didn’t, when he was that age, after all. Things have changed since then - kids are prepared more thoroughly, laws about Pokémon treatment are stricter, people understand these things better, so they probably do.

Blue hopes so, anyway.

He leaves before either of them catch him watching.

Arriving home, he lets himself in and dumps the shopping on the floor, kicks off his shoes and hangs his coat and scarf on the rack. The lights are all on – Alakazam must’ve let himself out of his ball again.

“Hey, I’m back!” he calls, expecting Eevee to come gambolling out to greet him. Nothing.

Honestly. She’s so moody lately.

“Right, right, guess you don’t want your favourite treats, huh? Picked them up, just for you,” he says, picking up the shopping and heading into the kitchen to put them on the counter. There’s a used plate in the sink, crumbs by the toaster, a knife with a smear of butter on it on the countertop. He’s pretty sure he didn’t grab breakfast this morning before heading out.

He could have, though. He had been in a hurry, he might have just forgotten. Trying to stay calm, he whirls around and rushes into the living room, his heart finding its way to the front of his throat.

As he slides open the door, he sees Red, sitting cross-legged on the couch with Eevee curled up in his lap, purring harder than he’s heard her in a long while. He turns his head to look at him, something close to a smile on his face. Blue swallows, sure he had something he planned on saying if Red actually made it down. Something cool, and witty, that would make the moment feel as significant as it was.

“So. You managed to get here, huh?”

That wasn’t what he planned to say, but it would have to do.

Chapter Text

The next few days are a little surreal. As thrilled as he is to have Red actually in Viridian, he realises he doesn’t have much of an idea how to incorporate Red into his daily life. The day after he arrives, he closes up the gym for the day and gives Red the tour, showing him the Pokémon Centre, the supermarket, his favourite restaurants and bars, making sure the locals got a good glimpse, so they could get used to it. He fields off questions and pestering from surprised fans and kids, curious about this man they vaguely know was a national hero over a decade ago. Red mostly stays behind him, soaking everything up and letting Blue chatter away. It isn’t long before pictures of Red hit the press, displayed alongside headlines like HERO BOY’S RETURN TO KANTO, or THE ULTIMATE TRAINER: BACK FOR GOOD??, or (embarrassingly) RIVALS REUNITED AS ROOMMATES? PALLET TOWN BOYS SPOTTED SHOPPING.

Masami and Daisy arrive the next day for dinner, both clearly restraining their urge to fuss over him. Gramps turns up late, long after the take-out has went cold on the kitchen counter, and gives Red a firm handshake and tells him he looks well. He leaves just as quickly, barely exchanging a word with Blue. Blue tries not to let that feel like a blow.

Masami lingers after Daisy lets Pidgeot drop her off back home, washing dishes and looking at Red out of the corner of her eye. Blue has an uncomfortable feeling he knows what she’s thinking about, or wants to ask about. He supposes Red’s probably divulged about as much of his plans to his mother as he has to Blue. If he had any clear plans at all.

“Hey, look, I’ll do them,” he says, trying to elbow Masami out of the way of the sink, “I got a dishwasher ya know, can just put them in after this load’s done.”

“Oh, don’t be silly,” Masami says, as she always does when someone else tries to take a chore out of her hands, and Blue somehow finds himself at the other side of the room, watching Masami scrubbing dried Szechuan sauce off a plate. He shakes his head.

“You should go join Red in the living room,” she says, nodding towards the door, “I’m sure you have plenty to catch up on.”

“Ha. Please, he’s still busy catching up with my Pokémon. I won’t get a minute until he’s done,” Blue responds, and grins, “You should know that.”

She laughs, shaking her hands dry and pulling off her rubber gloves as the sink drained, glugging.

“Of course. Pokémon always come first,” she says. She falls silent for a moment, letting her hand rest on the countertop, “Are you and Sam butting heads again?”

“Huh? Gramps? I mean, yeah, I guess. Aren’t we always?” he says, waving a hand dismissively, “Don’t worry about it, kay?”

She tuts, but says no more about it, which Blue is grateful for. He feels that between Daisy and Red, he gets enough nagging to go to deal with Gramps.

“I don’t know, by the way,” Blue says. She looks at him, blinking. Looking at her face, he’s never really thought about how she’s changed over the past decade. Her hair is turning grey at the roots, now, her eyes and mouth lined with soft crinkles, her figure a little stockier than it used to be. She’s still got that piercing stare, just like her son, her face still lively.

“Don’t know what?” he says, slowly. Blue shrugs.

“What he wants. Whether he’s staying here, or going home with you or…what,” he says, because he really doesn’t. They haven’t talked about it. He’s not sure if it’s something they’re both avoiding, or one of those things Red has just assumed is the case. Masami blinks at him, and then shakes her head, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear.

“Well, I think it’s pretty obvious,” she says, and then gives him one of her stares, “Although, just to be clear…you only have one bedroom, don’t you?”

“Uh…yeah,” he says, suddenly feeling as though he’s under interrogation.

“…And Red isn’t sleeping on the couch.”

It’s not a question. Blue coughs, suddenly intensely aware of the knife she absent-mindedly wiping dry with the tea towel.

“No. He isn’t,” he says, finally. Masami watches him for another moment, her expression inscrutable (another skill she shares with her son), and then puts the knife away in the cutlery drawer. She hums, and the silence feels stiff between them. He really wishes she would just say something.

“You haven’t always been a good person.”

Sometimes someone says something to you that feels like a freight train barrelling out of nowhere, threatening to smear you across the tracks. Blue has no idea what to say to that.

“Uh,” he says, “Well, I paid for take-out, didn’t I?”

She laughs, the sound a little hollow, and shakes her head.

“I’m not naïve. You were a child, but you were not a good person. You hurt my son a lot, back then,” she says, her tone thoughtful. Blue stays silent, unsure where she was going with this, but sensing he shouldn’t interrupt.

“But, again, you were a child. And, well, I think I understand why you were the way you were,” she says, shrugging, “And, I think you’re a good person now. Or, at least, I think you try very, very hard to be. Which counts for a lot. For most of it.”

“This is getting a little heavy, M,” he says, rubbing the back of his neck.

“It needs to get a little heavy, sometimes,” she says. Blue laughs, leaning back against the kitchen counter, his hands in his pockets.

“Sooo, is this where you tell me that if I hurt your son you’ll kill me?”

To his surprise, she laughs. Shaking her head, she folds up the tea towel and puts it on top of the microwave, turning to look at him.

“Of course not,” she says, and smiles at him, “What I’m saying is that I trust that you won’t.”

Blue laughs, a little more high pitched than he intends to.

“You know, the prospect of disappointing you is way scarier than anything else you could have come up with,” he says, rubbing the back of his neck. Masami grins at him, all teeth.

“Oh, I know.”

The door to the kitchen creaks open and Red’s face appears in the crack, blinking at them. Masami laughs at his expression.

“We’re just about to join you, don’t worry,” she says, and then glances at her watch, and then at Red. Masami can clearly read that Red wants her to leave just as easily as Blue can.

"Actually," she says, clearing her throat, "It’s late…do you think you could lend a Pokémon to fly me home?”

 

For a while, Blue’s busy enough that Red is mostly left to his own devices. From what he can tell, the guy spends a lot of time in the Cerulean Cave, searching for some Pokémon he released there some years back. Or he flies further afield with Charizard, returning to the Safari Zone to catch the new Pokémon they had there, or walking through Mount Moon, scouring for fossils.

Blue is manic with work, kids who had started their journeys in the spring desperately attempting to cram their last gym battles in before being forced to go back to school. There’s also the kids starting their journey in the coming spring he needs to prepare for as well - licensing is way stricter than it had been when Blue was a kid, they need to come in a couple of times to get used to handling Pokémon, and have Blue teach them basic care and safety. As though they haven’t been around Pokémon their entire lives anyway.

He supposes that, as annoying as it is for him, it’s a good thing in the long run. Means kids are more likely to actually raise their Pokémon right.

He could live without all the paperwork though.

By the time he’s finished all the battles for the day, written up the paperwork confirming any wins (counterfeit badges are becoming more and more common, with kids trying to order them from the internet and go straight to the league that way), responded to any emails, organised the gym trainers for the next few days, and done a million other little jobs and duties that build up like a thick layer of dust over everything if left unchecked, he gets home late. Red is usually home already, sitting on the sofa with Eevee watching TV, or reading one of Blue’s books, or chopping vegetables for dinner. The latter not as often as Blue would like, but hey.

They fall into an easy pattern. They see the flash of cameras less and less, draw fewer gawks and stares, and the tabloids and gossip columns move on.

Blue is still waiting for summer. Waiting for his resignation from the gym to be official, to pass the torch onto some poor sucker, and get the hell out of there.

Yet, at the same time, everything is so comfortable, and easy now, Blue dreads it all ending. Even if he’s bored out of his skull at work, barely even awake even as he goes through the same speech he gives every challenger, every new kid wanting a Pokémon, every winner, every loser. Even so. The idea of that structure, constricting as it was, melting away and leaving him free-falling, is enough to make him queasy if he thinks about it for too long.

He mostly manages not to, until another email comes in from Lance. It’s late, and he’s lounging on the couch with his laptop balanced on his knees, cleaning up some old emails, his back against Red’s side and Red’s arm looped around his waist. Red is preoccupied with some magazine article debating the use of Mega Evolution in league battles, and doesn’t even notice Blue’s jolt as the email comes in.

It’s nothing bad, just. A reminder that it’s going to be spring soon. That his decisions are going to catch up to him.

“Hey,” he says, “So, I might need to go to Celadon for work next week. Lance wants to meet up and talk about my resignation and blahblahblah. Probably end up there overnight.”

Red looks at him for a second and then leans forward, grabbing his notepad from the coffee table.

“Hey, ow, I was comfortable,” he whines, as Red scribbles something down. Red completely ignores his whining, as he expected, really, and shoves the notepad at him.

What’s Celadon like now?

“What’s it…like now?” he says slowly, blinking. Red tilts his head at him, gaze expectant. For a second, Blue has no idea what to say. Thinking back, he’s not even sure he could think what Celadon had been like the last time Red was there. When he was a kid, Blue hadn’t really even paid much attention to it – he had just rushed through to the gym, gotten his badge, and left. He’d been so frantic to win he’d never really stopped to look around or appreciate what he was doing. Stupid kid.

“Still big. Bigger,” he says, finally, “Lot safer ever since someone decided to single-handedly dismantle a national criminal organisation.”

Red grins at him.

“Ha. Well. It’s a cool place. I think so, anyway,” he says finally, shrugging. He’s about to settle back down against him when an odd thought occurs to him and he pauses, twisting around to look at him, “…Why? Do you wanna come with me?”

It’s weird that, despite how much Red liked routine and structure and order, he was still completely unpredictable. He nods, his expression completely determined. Blue supposes it makes sense – another step in his impromptu quest to reintegrate into human society. This time, he doesn’t even question it – if Red’s decided that’s what he wants to do, it’s in the bag, even if it gets a little bumpy on the way.

“Well, awesome - guess we can make a trip of it,” he says, and opens another tab in his browser window, “I’ll look into getting us a hotel room.”

 

Blue has flown into Celadon City a billion times before on Pidgeot’s back. When he was a kid, he’d never really been impressed. Or at least, he’d tried very hard to be impressed. It was more important to be impressive, after all, than to be impressed.

Now, he’s willing to admit it: the view of Celadon and Saffron from the air is incredible.

“Hey!” he shouts across to Red, on Charizard’s back not far from him. He tilts his body a little and Pidgeot obliges, swooping to come in closer to him.

“It can get pretty crazy down there,” he says, looking down at the city. Even from above, he can spot Pokémon and people moving around below, big crowds of them crammed between the buildings. There are other trainers in the air as well, on the backs of Fearow or Pidgeot, one even on their Crobat, flying to and from the rooftops, or soaring between the buildings. And it never really gets any quieter than this.

“You got your earplugs and everything?” he shouted. Red stares at him, taking a second to lip read, and then gestures to his ear – Blue can see the little yellow bud of foam tucked in there.

“Right. You ready for this?”

Red looks determined. It’s almost a little funny, sort of cute, but it really is a big deal. Blue gets why he’s all worked up for it.

“Alright, let’s land.”

They land in some quiet street, not far from the gym, but it’s not long before people notice, recognising them – recognising Red – and some points and squeals and questions begin. Blue smiles and fields them, parrying away the more inquisitive people and charming away the fans. It’s a mob though, and Blue wouldn’t blame Red for running. Almost expects him to hop back on Charizard and fly off.

Red, holding Blue’s hand in a vice-like grip, shaking just a little bit, stays right there.

 

They spend a couple of days taking in the sights, Blue excitably showing Red his favourite hang-out spots and clothes stores, Red trying and failing miserably to feign interest. The effort to even pretend he gives a crap is sweet though, Blue thinks.

Red is fascinated by the city, even if he cringes a little when they walk past the Silph Company building in Saffron, even if sometimes he needs a time out, sitting down with his eyes closed and his fingers in Pikachu’s fur, breathing in and out slowly.

After some deliberation (and a lot of assuring Red that, no, they don’t actually have those stupid teleporter pads any more), they actually go to the Silph Co store. Red’s eyes almost bug out of his head when he sees what phones and computers they have on sale, and Blue can’t help but laugh.

“Yeah, it’s not the 90s any more, buddy,” he says, touching the PokéGear on his wrist a little self-consciously. He takes it off, examining how worn the strap is, the crack on the screen, how bulky and ugly it is compared to the sleek Silphones on sale. He looks at Red, also examining his PokéGear with a frown.

“You know, it’s probably about time we upgraded these things,” Blue says, rubbing the back of his neck.

Sitting in the hotel room later, they set up their new phones, trying to puzzle out touchscreens and frowning. Blue makes the mistake of sending his new number to Lyra. They both receive a text from her in minutes:

my grandpas have finally entered the 21st century im so proud :’)))

And then one from Daisy, barely ten minutes later:

FINALLY! Yay, I can actually add you two to the family group chat now! :-) xx

Blue feels the weight of Red’s judgmental stare as they’re both entered into a chat with Daisy, Gramps, Daisy’s husband, and Red’s Mom.

“Hey, don’t look at me, I didn’t give her your number!” he says, lifting his hands in self-defense. Red shakes his head and mutes the chat, but, to his surprise, doesn’t block it. Blue supposes that’s something.

 

On the third day, Blue has his meeting with Lance. Red, apparently keen to not have to answer to why he’s literally never attended to a single one of his Champion’s duties in his life, decides to hit the gym instead. Blue can’t really blame him.

He meets with Lance at some overpriced nabe place at his request. Blue isn’t too concerned – the boss always pays, that’s the rule. Once there, Lance asks Blue to confirm his retirement, again and again, and then tells him about the replacement he’d been looking at. A girl who won the league a few years ago – another kid from Pallet Town, with a hat and a taciturn attitude (like Red), a fondness for high-tier Pokémon (like Blue), and a stupid name (like both of them). She was, more importantly, very reliable (like neither of them).

Blue thinks he remembers battling her. A stocky girl with long brown hair sticking out from under her panama hat, a friendly smile on her face. She’d been a good competitor – a little on the predictable side, but quick and clever, clearly having committed type match-ups and base stats to memory, wielding them well. She’d be a good gym leader, probably.

Lance wants him to be there when he interviews. Something about giving her an idea of what the job actually includes on a day to day basis, blah blah blah, making sure he’s happy with any decisions being made, blah blah blah.

“You interview people, now?” he says, adding more vegetables from the clay pot into his own bowl, “I thought you just offered the job to whatever kid you’d seen last.”

Lance frowns at him. He grins.

“Well…we’re trying to improve how we run,” he says.

“That’s good. No more overworking underage kids, eh?” he says, still grinning like an idiot. Lance stares at him for a second, narrowing his eyes.

“You seem to be in a better mood lately,” Lance comments.

“Isn’t that a good thing?” Blue replies, stuffing a piece of tofu into his mouth. Lance’s deadpan expression doesn’t change. He wonders, not for the first time, how many preteens would be crushed that the dashing, melodramatic hero they had on their bedroom walls was an exhausted grouch in real life.

Well, he often wonders how many preteens would be crushed by the reality of the trainers they considered heroes. Probably just needed to see what the New Years and summer festival parties were like. Seeing Sabrina snort-laughing at a gif of an Abra in a sweater really changes your perspective.

“I suppose it is,” Lance says, finally.

 

“The Game Corner?” Blue says, staring at the piece of paper blankly. He looks up at Red, who nods, slow and serious.

Well, when he asked Red how he wanted to spend the day, he had mostly been anticipating either spending the day at the Saffron Fighting Dojo, or cataloguing wild Pokémon prints on the outskirts of the city. He hadn’t anticipated Red taking up an interest in pachinko.

“Well. Sure. Why not. Never been since someone chased Team Rocket outta town anyway,” he says, shrugging, “Besides, we can actually legally gamble now.”

Red blinks, and scribbles something else down:

I used to sneak in to play the slots anyway.

…Unbelievable.

“And everyone thinks you’re such a goody two shoes,” he says, shaking his head in amazement. Sometimes, he thinks it’s just a good thing Red has such a strong sense of right and wrong. He would have been a total menace otherwise.

Red looks at him blankly. Whether he’s baffled that was his reputation, or that this assertion is apparently incorrect, Blue can’t say for sure. His confused expression is cute, though, and he has the brief, powerful urge to kiss his forehead.

“Ha, don't worry about it,” he says, embarrassed by his own thought process, and grabs Red’s jacket from the back of the chair and toss it at him, “Let’s go.”

 

The Game Corner is very different from how Blue remembered it as a kid – much less seedy than it had been when it had been run by Team Rocket, and much bigger. Apparently, Red’s battles there and Team Rocket’s previous ownership had only bolstered interest. Tourists had their photos taken in front of the poster that had hid the switch to the hide-out, and the restaurant on the upper floor even served a bunch of cheesy Team Rocket-themed foods. Some of the staff were even dressed up in the old black jumpsuits and hats – albeit Blue didn’t remember Team Rocket grunts wearing multi-coloured badges and carrying trays of cheesy drinks.

As soon as they arrive, most the clientele drop what they’re doing and rush to talk to them, kicking up a fuss that has Blue preening and Red clinging to Blue’s arm, his jaw tense and his shoulders drawn tight in on himself. Pikachu growls softly, her cheeks fizzling, and wards away anyone who gets a little too close.

The manager, quite against both of their wills, bundles them up and takes them to the VIP suite, pressing cocktails into their hands and rushing out apologies for the fuss, and expressing her delight, over and over, that they had decided to patronise her establishment and oh yes, it’s so wonderful to see them both so grown-up and such an honour, sirs.

Red wanders off half-way through her little speech to inspect the slots, oblivious to her stunned expression. Blue follows after him with a laugh and a quick apology, thrown over his shoulder, maybe not as sincere as it should be. He can’t help it, he always enjoys seeing Red completely flout somebody’s attempts at normal human interaction. The guy just doesn’t give a crap, and it’s incredible to witness.

He buys them some chips, shoving most of them at Red. He’ll play a hand of blackjack and take a couple whirls of the slots, but he’s not really that interested in doing much more aside from hanging out and buying overpriced drinks and snacks. He’s not totally sure Red will stay that long – he doesn’t really get his motivation for coming in the first place.

Red first paces the floor, checking out all the machines and the tables, his eyes very quick – the same expression he has when he’s weighing up his options during a battle. After a long while just wandering around and watching, Red walks over to a table playing poker and joins them, utterly silent, and unmoved by their gaping stares. Blue comes over to watch, leaning against a nearby pillar, his drink half-forgotten in his hand.

After Red wins his fifth hand in a row, Blue remembers to close his mouth.

 

It’s late when they finally leave, and the streets are quiet. Red looks more at ease than Blue’s ever seen him in the middle of human civilisation. Blue has to admit – he wasn’t expecting Red to actually be interested in playing at the Game Corner, much less be such a whiz at it.

The house is always meant to win, but clearly the house had not accounted for Red. Blue guesses it makes sense – its Red’s eye for detail and his strategic abilities, among other things, that make him such a fierce battler. Not to mention his permanent poker face. All skills that transfer well to playing cards.

Still, though. He wonders if Red will ever stop surprising him.

They walk for a while in companionable silence, shoes crunching against the frosty pavement. Red looks as though he wants to say something – something in the way he holds his back, glancing at Blue over and over.

“What?” he asks.

Red bites his tongue and then draws his phone from his pocket, typing a message. Blue waits – he had tried to sell Red on the idea of using the text-to-speech function, but on hearing the electronic voice reading out his words, Red had twists his face and shakes his head. Wasn’t right for him. His reason? He wouldn’t sound like that, of all things. Honestly.

Red pushes his phone at him:

It’s different now. Better. Thanks.

“Different how?” Blue asks stupidly. Red shakes his head, a little crease of concentration forming in his forehead as he types another message. They both come to a halt, Red retracting his arm from Blue’s shoulders to concentrate on typing. Whatever Red wanted to say, it was a difficult one for him.

Just used to not be as nice. Not as safe.
The whole city was like that, too.

Blue laughs.

“Well, yeah, guess who we have to thank for that?” he says, amused. Red rubs his cheek, clearly not satisfied with what he was trying to communicate. He types something else:

People used to hurt their Pokémon more.
It used to be okay.
People don’t do that now. I’m glad.

Blue sucks in a breath – so this was what was on his mind. Not just what Kanto was like back then, but what trainers used to be like, too.

Blue remembers it too. How many trainers carried whips, back when the two of them started their journeys. Not just the Rocket members, but so many regular trainers too. Blue hadn’t thought much of it back then, not exactly. He couldn’t remember approving, ever wanting to use those techniques himself, but he certainly didn’t look twice when he saw someone doing it.

It had been a different era. Mass produced, accessible Pokéballs hadn’t been around for that long. After centuries of people spending almost their entire lives with one Pokémon, one companion, suddenly people could have as many Pokémon as they liked. Hell, it was encouraged to have as many as possible, to start to value quantity over quality. And with that fervour to have more Pokémon than the person next to you, all of them powerful, but not the time or knowledge to care for each Pokémon properly, was it any surprise how people started to deal with it?

Maybe that’s all just excuses, though, Blue thinks.

“Yeah, guess so,” he says, breathing out, “That kind of stuff became illegal not long after we got our championship titles, though. Was dying off a little even then.”

Blue can’t figure out Red’s expression at that. Blue shakes his head, rubbing a hand through his hair.

“Hey, I’m glad it’s changed too, believe me,” he says, and then smiles at him, “By the way…where did you learn to play cards like that?”

Red shrugs.

Of course. Another thing wonder boy was just a natural at. Ridiculous. The thought doesn’t needle him as much as it used to – in a weird way, he’s kind of proud. Exasperated, but proud.

“Right, right, you’re a prodigy, I almost forgot. Just never wager anything we’d miss on a game,” he says. Red startles, and then fixes him with a wide-eyed stare. It takes Blue a second to realise what he just said.

“Uh. Wow, okay, so I worded that like we’re married,” he says lamely. He hadn’t intended for it to come out like that – it just felt natural. At some point, they’d stopped running their lives on single person pronouns – everything had turned into we and ours, without Blue even noticing. He scratches the back of his neck, grinning a little.

“Sorry,” he says, and then Red grabs his hands. He tries not to start – Red never initiates affection. Red shakes his head, very urgently.

“So…you’re good with me and you being, well, us? This is what you want, for good?” Blue asks. Red nods his head, very fast. His cheeks are a little pink – maybe because of the cold, maybe because of the conversation, Blue isn’t sure.

Blue’s chest feels lie he’s going to explode. He takes a quick glance around – it doesn’t look like there’s anyone nearby, but he should be careful, he doesn’t want another big media fuss driving Red back up to the mountain, they should always be careful…

Red squeezes his hands. Snow is landing in his hair. He’s not speaking, of course, but Blue has the weird feeling he’s telling him something all the same.

Screw it, he thinks, and grabs Red’s cheeks in his hands, kissing him hard.

It doesn’t take long for Red to wrap his arms around Blue’s waist in response, and Blue’s entire body feels electric and light.

 

The buzzing of Blue’s phone wakes him up in the middle of the night. It doesn’t stir Red, naturally. He blinks, and leans over to grab his phone from the bedside table, Red’s arms still looped around his middle.

The message is from Gramps, and just that alone is enough to make Blue’s heart drop to his stomach with a rush of cold. The message is even worse.

We need to talk. Tomorrow.

 

Red is still asleep when Blue wakes up in the morning, to another note from Gramps on his phone. The message will keep on coming until he goes to Gramps’ lab. Sliding out of bed, he gets dressed with a huff, his stomach doing uncomfortable flips. It’s ridiculous. He doesn’t even know what he did wrong, but he still feels like he’s going to get grounded.

At the door, Eevee brushes up against his ankle.

“I’ll be back before long, girl, you can have your breakfast then,” he says, waving a hand. Eevee flicks her tail and lets out a trill, staring up at him demandingly.

“You wanna come with?” he asks. Eevee purrs, her ears pressing back against her skull. Blue shakes his head.

“Alright, come on. Guess I may as well have a witness to my death,” he says, running a hand through his hair.

He decides just to walk to Gramps’ lab – maybe just to put it off. It’s early enough that there’s barely anyone on the route between Viridian and Pallet, and the people out are just boring adults with jobs, not the kind of people who would stop to chat to a famous Pokémon trainer.

The lights are on in Gramps’ lab by the time they get there. Only one of his aides – a tired-looking PhD student – is in, giving him a brief nod and a wave as he walks in.

“Professor Oak just stepped outside – he said he’ll be back in five,” they tell him, looking as though they’re relieved to have an excuse to take a break from work, “I’m sure you could wait in his office.”

Typical – he came at just the time Gramps said, and he’s not even here. He shrugs and heads to Gramps’ office.

It’s been a while since he’s been here. The office looks the same as ever – stuffed full of complicated books, a great deal of them written by Gramps himself, posters from recent conferences on the wall, pictures of Gramps with PhD students, a picture of Gramps with Red at the Hall of Fame on the desk. There’s a picture of Blue and Daisy when they were little as well, but that’s on the shelf beside the desk, rather than on it. Blue tries not to think too hard about that.

He sits down, letting Eevee leap onto his lap, scratching her behind the ear. He sent a text to Red, pestering him about what he was doing. No reply – guy was either asleep, or out exploring some long-forgotten caves on the Sevii Islands and capturing never before seen Pokémon. Red didn’t really do much that was in the middle. He sighs and pockets his phone.

Across the lab, he hears the door open.

“Sir, your grandson –“

“Oh? He’s here?”

Blue rolls his eyes. Of course he forgot.

“Um, yeah, he’s waiting in your office.”

“Oh, that’s right, I told him to come! Thank you,” he says, and then sighs.

“Uh. Something wrong?” the student asks.

“…Not particularly looking forward to this confrontation, I’m afraid. I can’t say these kinds of conversation are really my forte…I’ll likely put my foot in it yet again,” Gramps replies, sounding tired, “You may wish to take a walk – I suspect it may be difficult to work in the next room if Blue loses his temper again.”

The student makes some horribly awkward sounding noises, and Blue grits his teeth. As if he’s the only one at fault when he and Gramps argue. He hears the student’s chair scraping as they rush off, and then Gramps opens the door to his office. Blue forces a smirk onto his face.

“Gramps! Where you been? I’ve been waiting for ages,” he says, lifting a hand. Gramps looks at him, expression stern, and Blue drops his hand, rolling his eyes.

“So, what I done now?”

Gramps crosses over to his desk, opening a drawer with a rattle. He pulls out something, a magazine, and flicks through it until he finds the page he’s looking for. Blue has to admit – he’s baffled.

“So a staff member came across this and decided to show it to me. Apparently, he was under the assumption this wouldn’t be news to me,” he says, and shoves the magazine at Blue. One glance is enough to make his face heat up.

It’s a two page spread in some kind of tacky gossip rag, the kind that was more pictures and advertisements than actual words, and six different colours on every page. Spread across the page is a picture of himself and Red in Celadon City from the other week, kissing. There wasn’t a single possible other thing they could be doing.

Across the top of the two-page spread, there’s a headline screaming ‘OLD RIVALS TURNED LOVEBIRDS?’ in eye-searing yellow letters.

“Uh,” Blue manages to say after a long minute. There’s a second photo, smaller and in a box next to the first, that looks like them the second after they’d pulled away from each other. Somehow that one is even more intrusive – Blue can barely look at the soppy expression on his own face there.

He looks back up at Gramps, who seems to be waiting patiently for an explanation, his expression giving nothing away.

“Uh,” Blue says again. Brilliant.

“Now, when I asked Red’s mother and Daisy about this, imagine my surprise when I discovered that I was the last person to know,” he says, “Even much of the gym leaders and league trainers were fully aware of the situation.”

“Wait, how the hell did they know?” Blue blurts out, “Sure, Masami and Daisy know, but we haven’t been broadcasting it.”

Gramps rolls his eyes, looking surprisingly like Blue as he does so.

“Blue, I’m informed that the two of you were sharing a room for the majority of the Pokémon World Tournament, despite the fact you had your own quarters,” he says, “That isn’t exactly subtle.”

Blue is certain his face is beetroot. He feels guilty, awful, even though he has literally nothing to feel guilty about. He hasn’t done anything wrong – Gramps is just somehow managing to make him feel as though he has.

“Right, right, ok, so, what’s this about, Gramps? I mean, I wasn’t aware I needed to get your blessing first,” he says, trying to pretend that this isn’t bothering him – not the strangers hiding in bushes snapping photos of his private life, nor Gramps inexplicably getting on his case for it.

“That is hardly the issue. Blue, this isn’t the first secret you’ve been keeping from me,” he says, and folds his arms, “When were you planning to tell me you had resigned from the gym?”

Crap. Blue bites down on his lower lip and glances down at the floor.

“I dunno, next time I was in the mood for a lecture, I guess,” he says, sounding sulky even to himself.

“Don’t be immature.”

“I’m not being immature,” he says, trying to hold his temper, “Maybe I’d tell you things more if I didn’t get criticised for everything I do.”

“I don’t criticise everything you do,” Gramps says, very calmly, “I give credit where credit is due. You, however, insist on making incredibly foolhardy, impulsive decisions that warrant criticism. Really, Blue, have you thought about the effect your resignation would have on the league? Do you have any plans on what to do afterwards?”

“I’ve been thinking about it,” he says, hotly, because he knows that Gramps is right. He has no idea what he’s doing after he leaves the gym. Not a single damn clue.

“This is exactly the same as your time in university – you spent several years studying, taking advantage of every opportunity given you, and then you decided you were bored of it,” Gramps replies, “Just having you in my lab exposed me to a great deal of accusations of nepotism, but I gave you the opportunity regardless –“

“You didn’t make you do that! You practically forced me to,” he says, frustrated.

“I did nothing of the sort. I’m simply pointing out that you have a well-established pattern of making impulsive, poorly thought out decisions. Which, yes, before you say anything, I know, you’re a grown man who is entitled to his choices,” he says, before Blue can say anything. He lifts a finger, “But, I’m concerned about your involving Red in this.”

Blue’s blood runs cold, and he feels Eevee tense in his lap, whipping her tail back and forth anxiously.

“What about Red’s choices?” he asks, voice chilly.

“Pardon?”

“Yeah, okay, okay, I’m an idiot who makes terrible decisions, whatever, you’ve made that clear. What about Red’s decisions – you know, running off to hide up a mountain for a decade, ditching his Champion duties, getting involved in organised criminal activity when he was a preteen…don’t you think those qualify as a little impulsive?” he says, getting louder and louder despite himself, despite how determined he had been to play it cool, “And hey, if you haven’t noticed, there were two people in that photo!”

“Don’t shout,” Gramps says, perfectly composed, “I’m fully aware –“

“Then how come you’ve never called Red here for a little chat?” he says, crossing his arms and leaning back in his chair. Gramps shakes his head.

“I’m just concerned that –“

“Do you think I’m dragging Red into this?” he snaps.

“It’s reasonable for me to have reservations - Red is a vulnerable person, and I wanted to be certain he was fully consenting to –“

What!

“Don’t shout.”

“It sounds as though you – you think I’m taking advantage of him or something!” Blue splutters, leaping to his feet, Eevee in his arms. He doesn’t know what’s making him angrier – the implication that Red can’t make his own decisions, the implication that Blue would ever do anything that awful.

“Well, you haven’t always been above being cruel –“

“Yeah, when I was ten!” he says, gesturing wildly, “What is your problem, Gramps? How come you literally always have to think the worst of me?”

“I’m just concerned for both of you, and I –“

“Because you don’t trust us. If you didn’t think I was an asshole and that Red was a – a baby, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” he says, frustrated. Eevee growls, her ears pinned back and her little teeth bared.

“Please stop interrupting me –“

“Oh, so you can lecture me in full? No. Screw this,” he says, heading for the door, “I’m out of here.”

“Blue, please calm down, I want to be able to have this discussion with you. I’m sorry, this isn’t coming out right at all, I just want to -” Gramps says, and follows him.

Several things happen at once. Blue turns around. Gramps reaches over to grab his arm. Blue hesitates, just for a second.

And then Eevee bites down hard on Gramps’ hand.

Gramps screams and Eevee drops to the floor, her little mouth lined with blood. Blue scoops her up from the floor, taking a few unsteady steps back. Gramps cradles his left hand in his right – it’s bleeding everywhere. Her teeth have torn straight through the skin. He can feel her heart pounding in his hands, her whole body shaking, her tail still lashing back and forth.

“Leave. Right now,” Gramps says, gasping.

Blue doesn’t need to be told twice. He rushes out, past the now-very-wide-eyed PhD student (they should have really taken Gramps’s advice and gotten the hell out of dodge), and into the frosty streets of Pallet Town.

 

He’s gripping Eevee hard as he heads home. She’s still growling in his arms, shaking hard, and he’s shaking too. He’s never been this angry in his life. Seeing Eevee bite Gramps should have made him feel better, but it didn’t. It just made him feel worse – Eevee would barely lift a paw even if Blue sat around prodding her with a stick all day (he’s tried). To get her that wound up, Blue knows their strained relationship can’t just be in his head. It’s not just that Blue is a bad grandson, or that they don’t get on.

The truth of the matter is that Gramps is an asshole. He’s been an asshole a very long time and today just proves it.

He feels like he’s going to explode as he enters their apartment. Red steps out from the kitchen, holding a cup of yogurt in one hand and a spoon in the other, his expression thoroughly bewildered. Eevee is growling, and it takes Blue a second to realise that he is too, as stupid as that is.

There’s only two things he wants to do right now. Both of them involve Red. After a second, he decides on the latter.

“I need you to battle me. Right now.”

He grabs Red’s wrist and dragging him downstairs to the gym. Red drops the yogurt and stumbles after him, still wide-eyed and confused. Eevee drops to the floor, keeping pace with Blue, her whole body language still taut and angry. Pikachu follows, looking just as confused as her trainer, her tail held high and her ears twitching.

Nobody’s in the gym today – he’d cleared the morning for his argument with Gramps, and then the afternoon for sulking and being angry about his argument with Gramps. It doesn’t matter anymore. He doesn’t need to pretend to like this job, or that he’s any good at it; he’s ditching it soon. He can do whatever the hell he likes.

“Six on six, and don’t go easy on me,” Blue snaps. Red isn’t even wearing shoes – he looks completely at a loss. Blue plucks a Pokéball from his belt, tossing it up and down in his hand. He waits for Red to do the same. He doesn’t – he just glances down at Eevee, then at Blue, a look on his face as though he were putting the pieces of a complicated jigsaw together.

“Why the hesitation? You out of practice, golden boy?” he says, trying to go for cocky and arrogant, like he always does when he’s battling, but it comes out weird. He just sounds deranged. Red shakes his head and steps towards him, resting his hands on Blue’s shoulders.

“What? Come on, just – this is what you like to do, don’t tell me of all the times to decline a challenge you’ve decided on now,” he says, and it comes out as a whine, “Let’s go already.”

Red shakes his head again. Why is he being so stubborn?

“Why not?”

He makes a face, pressing his lips together, and then glances down at Blue’s hands. They’re shaking.

“Okay, so I’m pissed, so what?”

Red grimaces, tilts his head to the side. He doesn’t know how to explain this. Checks his pocket – his phone isn’t there. He breathes out through his nose and then looks Blue in the eye, flinching only a little.

“Lemme guess, you think this isn’t a good reason to have a battle,” he says, pressing his palm to his forehead. Of course – Red would never let Pokémon fight for something as mundane as resolving Blue’s personal emotions.

But. Maybe that was all Blue had ever battled for, really, when it came down to it. Maybe it had always been his issues.

Winning the entire Indigo League just for the sake of his own granddaddy issues and inferiority complex. It’s ridiculous to think about.

Was that true though, Blue thinks, glancing down at Eevee by his side, the Pokéballs at his belt. It hadn’t been a bid for approval every time. In Unova, against Lyra, against Kukui, against Red, he’d enjoyed it for its own sake, right?

He breathes out, suddenly feeling like an idiot.

“Right, okay. I’m – I’m calm. Sort of,” he says, slumping to the floor. He leans back against one of the league statues – the one his and Red’s names are carved on, from way back when they each defeated Giovanni all those years ago. Red sinks down opposite him, legs crossed. Pikachu jumps into his lap. He tilts his head at Blue, raising his eyebrows questioningly.

“You wanna know what that was all about, huh?”

Red nods. Blue buries his hand in Eevee’s fur, certain for a second that he won’t find the words to talk about it. He doesn’t know how.

And then it all spills out of him anyway. Red listens, the whole time, even as Blue goes off track, or rants for longer than he should, or descends into incoherent cursing. He listens – he’s much better at that than anyone would think.

After Blue finishes speaking, almost gasping for breath, Red gestures. Blue passes over his phone – he knows Red has the passcode memorised anyway. Not because he meant to. He just couldn’t not.

Red tells him that the Professor isn’t very good with people. Blue snorts, points out that that’s obvious. And also, pot, kettle, black? Red smiles a little at that, and tells him that’s why he sort of understands.

And then he goes quiet, and dark for a minute. It’s a scary look on him – Blue’s only really seen it when Red’s faced Rocket grunts, or when he encounters someone being cruel to their. The realisation that Red is just as mad at Gramps as he is – well, it’s…weirdly touching. It’s always felt like Red – like everyone else – would always act like Gramps was always the more reasonable one, always the one in the right.

Somehow, Blue feels a lot calmer.

“Hey,” Blue says, reaching over and taking his hand, “I’m fine, just – got worked up. You know what it’s like between me and Gramps. Bad.”

Red frowns and taps something into Blue’s phone with his thumb, flipping the screen towards him.

It shouldn’t be.

Blue laughs, rubbing the back of his neck. Red looks at him, totally serious, clearly not getting why he’s laughing. It’s just a sweet sentiment. Urgh, what is he becoming, actually thinking the word sweet? He’s not Daisy.

“Right. Right. Sooo,” he says, very quickly, getting to his feet, “Now I’ve, you know, stopped having a breakdown…think we can have that battle?”

Red gets up and grabs a Pokéball from his belt immediately. Green smirks despite himself.

“Yeah. I thought as much.”

 

Red is, as always, a spectacular trainer. Blue had half the thought that his newly domesticated lifestyle may have turned him a little soft, but if anything he’s sharper than he was when he was living on Mount Silver. He’s more in tune with his Pokémon, has newer strategies, is quicker on his feet…and, in all likelihood, is significantly less malnourished.

Blue’s been getting better too, though. He matches him, almost blow for blow, until they’re down to one Pokémon each. Pikachu hops down from Red’s shoulder to join the fray –she looks a little tired from having taken down Arcanine earlier.

He’s calculating the best way to optimise Exeggutor’s chances against this damn rat when he feels a pressure against his ankle. He glances down to see Eevee rubbing her ruff against his leg.

“I’ll feed you later, girl,” he mutters. Eevee trills, a harsh, nagging little noise, and stares up at him. All her muscles are tense, and her face is determined. There’s still a little blood around her mouth.

“Uh, you wanna fight?” he says. Eevee nods, swishing her tail.

From across the battlefield, Red and Pikachu exchange a look, both clearly as surprised as Blue feels. Blue glances at Pikachu – Eevee may be a match for her in size, but…

Before Blue can say anything, Eevee is already marching out onto the field, her tail held high. Blue stares out after her for a second, and then laughs.

“Hey, you know what, why not. You’ve already tasted blood this morning,” he says, “Let’s see if we can’t give this impossible rodent a run for her money, huh?”

 

Eevee’s no fighter – Blue’s learned that the hard way. She’s not as fast as she could, she doesn’t hit as hard as she could, and unevolved as she is, her movepool leaves a lot to be desired. Maybe if she’d been up first, Blue may have been able to take advantage of her Baton Pass abilities, or at least her Double Edge would have been less self-destructive. Her stat-focused moves, like Baby Doll Eyes, aren’t going to be enough to put her on the same level as Pikachu. The best she can do is use Shadow Ball, but Red’s wise enough to that – he has Pikachu keeping close enough to her that Eevee can’t get the range or time to charge it up.

She’s going to lose. Blue sort of knew this the second he let her get into the fray.

“Good, Eevee!” Blue calls. She is going to lose. But. He has to admit, he’s never seen her try so hard before.

She dodges a swipe of Pikachu’s tail and launches a volley of star-shaped bolts of light at the other Pokémon, putting some distance between them. She bounds back, obviously panting, leaning on her side.

Blue thinks about recalling her and calling it quits before she gets hurt, but she’s already charging up another Shadow Ball attack. Pikachu darts in to try and strike her, but Eevee releases the attack first, and Pikachu is tossed across the field by the force of the blow.

Pikachu lands with a thump that makes Red wince, and Blue lean forward. She lies still.

Eevee glances back at Blue, all her fur on end. At this point, she just wants this to be over so she can be back in her basket eating pastry. He can tell. This is a favour to him, not a change of heart in her.

Pikachu gets back to her feet. Her fur begins to bristle, and her tail stands on end. Red makes a gesture that Blue can understand just fine.

“Dodge, move!” he shouts, but Pikachu is far faster than Eevee. She darts forward in a blaze of yellow electricity, and smashes into Eevee, sending volts of electricity through her.

Eevee drops to the floor unconscious. Pikachu pants to regain her breath, her ears sagging. Look at that – Eevee did manage to wear the little yellow snotrag down a little after all, Blue realises with pride. He crouches down to pick her up, as Red rushes over to check.

“She’s fine,” Blue says, waving Red away, “I’ll just let her rest up for a while, she’ll bounce back.”

That was the thing about Pokémon – even the “weak” ones. They were all so resilient.

Red’s looking at him a little funny.

“What?” he says. Red grabs Blue’s phone from his back pocket (“Hey!”) and taps out another message.

If you hadn’t used her, you would have won.

“…Maybe,” he says, trying to sound casual despite the way his breath catches at the thought, “Not a big deal, though. I mean, I can have a rematch with you whenever I want. This one was just – well, I dunno, I could tell it was important to her, for whatever reason.”

Red stares at him with a funny look on his face. It’s sort of like the look Blue saw on his own face in that stupid magazine photo. He feels his cheeks heat up.

“H-hey, c’mon,” Blue says, and then claps his hands in a ‘Well that’s enough of that!’ manner, “Anyway, you won again, big guy, so I’ll make lunch. Omelette sound good?”

 

They end up spending the whole day in the apartment, which is unusual for them. Blue usually has to get back to work, no matter how hard he tries to slack off, and Red is usually off at the Seafoam Islands or exploring the old power plant or something until late at night. After Blue’s disastrous encounter with Gramps, though, neither of them really want to do much.

It’s later in the afternoon, after Blue’s dozed off, his face pressed into Red’s bare shoulder, when the door to their bedroom creaks open. Blue groans, refusing to open his eyes.

“Go away, Alakazam,” he mutters, “I’ve closed the gym for the day, okay, I’m not dealing with it…”

He feels a weight drop onto his chest – much, much lighter than Alakazam. Four paws, one prodding his cheek.

“Eevee?” he murmurs, twisting his head to look up at the Pokémon standing on his chest. It’s lithe, with pale fur and long, twitching ears, and a bow shaped tuft of fur under its chin.

“Sylveon?” he asks, quickly sitting up, eyes wide with surprise. On his lap, Sylveon mewls, rubbing her cheek against his jaw.

Chapter Text

“A Sylveon! How wonderful,” Elm says, beaming from Blue’s laptop. Sylveon, seated comfortably in Blue’s lap, preens and swipes a paw across her ear, flicking a ribbon through the air with a trail of glitter. Little show off.

“Yeah, dunno why she went that direction instead of an Espeon. Maybe all her time in Kalos?” Blue offers, and then adds, as a joke, “Or…well, she eats a lot of pastry.”

“Ah, perhaps, perhaps,” Elm says, scribbling down notes as the joke flies over his head. Professors, honestly. Not one iota of common sense between them.

Personally, Blue’s theory is that Sylveon evolved the way she did because that’s what she damn well wanted to do. He doesn’t exactly have an empirical basis for that, though, so decides to keep that theory to himself.

“I’ll email you over the notes I have about her, before and after evolution. Some of it gets a little…uh…personal though,” Blue says, rubbing the back of his neck.

“Personal?” Elm repeats, frowning.

“Family drama,” Blue replies, waving a hand dismissively. He doesn’t really want to talk about the other day in too much detail. Daisy has been nagging him to talk to Gramps, Gramps has been sending him weird texts, and Red has been giving Gramps the iciest treatment Blue has seen him give anyone, ever. It’s gratifying, in a way, but Blue mostly wishes that the whole stupid fight hadn’t happened, or was over already, or that their stupid strained relationship wasn’t like this to begin with.

“Ah!” Elm says, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose with a finger, “I thought something was amiss! Sam emailed me the other day suddenly all worked up about some project that had been puttering along perfectly well, insisting we needed to speed up data collection. He always throws himself hard into his work when he’s upset.”

“Oh, I know, prof, trust me,” Blue says, sighing.

“Hmm, well, I’m not usually one to pry –“

“Liar,” he says. Researchers were almost as gossipy as trainers. It was just that they just only cared about gossip concerning other researchers. Blue was fairly certain that Gramps had an itemised list of every researcher who had ever given a paper of his a particularly scathing commentary or peer review hidden in some obscure folder on his computer.

Elm smiles in a self-depreciating way.

“Well, in my defence, I don’t think anyone in the research community can honestly say they’re not interested in the newest Oak gossip,” he says, and then clears his throat, “This wouldn’t be to do with that, ah, little tabloid leak you had a few days ago?”

Blue groans, burying his face in his hands. He hears Elm laughing on the other end of the line.

“Oh, don’t worry about it. Every famous trainer has had some sort of scandal about them at some time or another. And this is a rather sweet one, all things considered,” Elm says.

“Well, wish Gramps had that perspective. He got all up in my face about it, talking about being concerned for both of us, blah blah blah,” he says, rolling his eyes. Elm tuts, and Blue is surprised about how genuinely annoyed he sounds.

“Sam is ridiculous. He had far worse press when he was young,” Elm says, “I mean, at your age, he had already gotten embroiled in that whole ordeal with Agatha – oh that had been a destructive relationship from start to finish. I was only a young lad at the time, didn’t care a jot for celebrity drama, but I still heard every twist and turn.”

“Ha, really?” Blue says, grinning. He’d heard that Gramps and Agatha had had a thing back when they were both trainers (gross), but nobody had ever told him the details. He’d never imagined it being a scandal.

“Oh, yes. And of course, after that, there was the gym leader he saw for a while – that caused quite the controversy. He had been considerably older than your grandfather at the time, you see,” Elm says, “Agatha insists to this day that Sam was only interested in him to spite her – he was her boss at the time - but that didn’t stop him.”

“Uh.”

“Oh, and then there was that member of Team Rocket he was caught seeing – now that was a disaster, I remember that. Dominated the headlines for weeks. Oh, and there were some people from his university days who insisted that he had, er, come to know them,” Elm continues, oblivious to the nausea welling in Blue’s poor stomach, “Oh, and there was that professor, although that was when he was doing post-doctoral work. Since he had retired from battling by then, most people didn’t care but  –“

“Okay, prof, I get it –“

“Ah! And then there was his first marriage, and the subsequent affair. Well, that was a huge mess. The tabloids really dragged everything out of that divorce they could. Fortunately, he had settled down considerably by the time he met your grandmother, but it had taken far too many sordid incidents to get to that point and…“ Elm trails off, distracted by a noise coming from behind Blue, “Blue, what is that noise?”

“That would be Red,” he says, twisting his head to glower at him, currently leaning against the wall and wheezing noiselessly with laughter. Red doesn’t even have the decency to stop laughing under his withering glare. He doesn’t even look a little apologetic about it, just continues shaking and snorting.

Blue lets out the haughtiest little ‘Hmph!’ he can muster, and turns his attention back to Elm.

“Oh, I did go on a little more than I meant,” Elm says, looking sheepish, “I’m sorry. The point I’m making is, well…I don’t know, exactly. Just. Sam has made a lot mistakes. I’m sure he just doesn’t want you to do the same.”

Blue didn’t think that was an excuse. He didn’t want to make his own stupid mistakes again either. And he didn’t think he was, really.

“Yeah, well, I’m not. We’re fine. Better than fine,” Blue says, folding his arms. Behind him, Red finally stops laughing, and leans across Blue to pet Sylveon, who purrs and rubs her cheek against his hand.

“Never said you weren’t,” Elm says, with a kind smile, “Well, I must be off! Do keep me informed of how Sylveon is doing. And I’ll make a point of telling Sam how well the two of you seem in my next email as well.”

“Ha, thanks prof,” he says, “Smell ya.”

He hangs up the video call and glances up at Red. Judging by the way he’s hovering nearby, Blue can only imagine that he wants something. Guy can be surprisingly transparent.

“What?” he asks, sitting up. Red shifts from foot to foot, and then takes his phone out of his pocket, tapping out a message slowly. He shoves it into Blue’s hand.

Interviews tomorrow?

“Ah. Yeah. Next couple of days, gonna find the new up-and-coming leader of the Viridian Gym,” he says, scratching his neck, “Formality, really. Lance already got the girl picked out, so he’s just pretending it’s a fair process. Soo, yeah, gonna probably be coming home late.”

Red nods and takes his phone back.

Going to Cerulean Cave for a few days.
Thought you should know.

“Hey, look at that,” Blue says, grinning wider than he really should, “You’ve finally learned to tell people where you’re going.”

Red just shrugs, unfazed as ever. Something weird and warm surges in Blue’s chest, and he finds himself reaching up to grab Red’s arm and drag him down onto the couch with him.

 

Interviewing people turns out to be harder work than Blue had anticipated. He’s never interviewed anyone for a job or had an interview for a job, so he just let Lance take care of the details. Lance forwarded him a list of candidates, an outline of the interview questions to go through, and then told him Blue will be battling any candidates three-on-three. It didn’t matter if the candidates won the battle or not – it was just about seeing how well they battled under pressure, and how they treated their Pokémon.

He brings Sylveon along to the interviews. Not because he plans to use her for any of the battles, but just because he trusts her judgement. If she doesn’t get a good vibe from anyone, he can just scratch them off the candidate list immediately.

Though why he’s even bothering is beyond him – it’s clear Lance has already made his decision. It’s just a formality, really.

The candidates start to blur together quickly. Nervous recent champions or near champions from around Kanto, with well-balanced teams that look as though they just came straight out of a battling website. They babble at him, at Lance, most of them will say that they had posters of one or the other of them on their walls as kids, trying to butter them up. Blue enjoys this as first, but it quickly gets boring. Sylveon curls up in the corner of the room and goe to sleep by candidate number 3, and Blue wishes he could do the same. He’s pretty much just a pretty decoration in the whole process, anyway.

Finally, Leaf is next. He can just give her blessing to her, go through the final few candidates, and go home for the night. He calls for one of his trainers to go fetch her from the waiting area.

Leaf is a good trainer – a bit quiet, but clearly highly competent. She nods along as Lance does most of the talking, but talks about her league challenge in detail. In her match, she beats Blue – the only candidate so far to do so.

“I want to become a gym leader because I love Pokémon, and I love battling,” Leaf says, her voice very even, “I want to give back to the league as much as it’s given to me. I look forward to helping the next generation of trainers reach their potential, and growing stronger myself in the process.”

She speaks confidently and clearly. He’s seen her on variety shows and news reports before – she always interviews well. Friendly and personable, but down-to-earth, never giving the impression that her fame has gotten to her head. Not something he’d exactly ever been able to pull off.

It’s the shortest interview, by far, but it’s the one Lance smiles most throughout.

Leaf, Blue notices, doesn’t really smile much at all.

 

“Hello?” says their final candidate, peeking through the doorway. They nod to him and he walks in, his grin nervous. There’s an Azumarill, bouncing at his side. He’s skinny, and looks a year or two younger than Blue himself. His dark hair falls over one eye, and he keeps tucking it behind his ear. The guy looks familiar, but Blue cannot place him at all.

“Ethan, was it?” Lance says, standing.

“Oh, yes, that’s me, sir!” he says, bowing deeply. The kid’s so earnest it hurts. Lance gestures at him to sit. Sylveon lifts her head, flicking her ears curiously.

Blue glances down at his notes. According to his current address, he’s from New Bark Town. Huh. He thought the accent sounded faintly Johto, but what…

“You’re Lyra’s friend!” he blurts out. That’s where he’s seen him. Lyra has posted photos of him and her on her Fame Checker profile before, usually cheesing into the camera, and often accompanied by a wide range of stickers and filters. Ethan looks surprised, and then grins, resting his hand between Azumarill’s ears.

“Yeah. You two are pretty close, right?” he says, “Lyra always seems like she knows everyone.”

“No kidding. I mean, with how much the girl travels around, makes sense she knows just about everyone on the battle circuit,” Blue replies, folding his arms and tilting his head, “Though I thought you were a breeder, not a battler.”

“Well, yeah, that’s what I was. I knew her before then – back when we were in elementary and needed me to patch her up after real fights,” Ethan replies. Blue laughs. Yeah, that sounds about right.

“Yes, yes, the world is a very small place,” Lance says, waving a hand, “Can we get on with it?”

“You’re a ray of sunshine as ever,” Blue says, “But sure, whatever keeps ya happy. Let’s get the battle portion over with first, hm?”

Ethan isn’t a typical candidate. Compared ot the other trainers who have walked in, with their fearsome high-tier team, his Pokémon skew on the cute and cuddly side. All the same, in battle he guides them with confidence and enthuasism, and has some strategies up his sleeve Blue isn’t expecting. His skill as a breeder shows – despite his Pokémon choices all being fairly unconventional, they all have perfect stats, and well-balanced move-pools. Despite that, Blue still makes an easy win, with two Pokémon left. Most candidates could at least get him down to one, at the very least. Lance is less than impressed.

After that, they return to the office and go through the usual questions. Any previous work, experience battling and raising Pokémon, big league wins and opportunities to name drop. Ethan talks about his previous work at his grandparents’ daycare with enthusiasm, but fumbles when talking battling, and the only big name trainer he knows is Lyra. Lance’s frown deepens. He clears wants to end the discussion and get Ethan out of the gym as quickly as possible.

“Right, right,” Blue says, trying to wrap things up, “I gotta ask though, kiddo. What made you wanna be a gym leader anyway? I mean, it’s not exactly raising eggs at the day care.”

“Huh? Oh. Well,” Ethan says, rubbing the back of his neck, “I wanted something new, y’know? I’m not the best battler in the world, but I like working with people, and with kids. One of my favourite things at the day care was helping kids hatch and raise their first Pokémon, straight from the egg. Making sure the two of them have a real bond early on, ya know? As a gym leader, I can do that on a much bigger scale.”

Sylveon is on her feet and nosing at Ethan’s palm. He glances down and pets her, smiling.

“Well, we’ll be in touch,” Lance says, very quickly. Ethan bows again and leaves, and Lance leans back on his chair, smiling and releasing a sigh.

“Well, I think we know who our new gym leader is,” Lance says.

“Hm, yeah, you know, I’m not so sure,” Blue says, getting to his feet and making a quick gesture at Sylveon, who scampers over to his side.

“You’re not sure?” Lance says, sounding more surprised than anything else.

“But hey, how about we discuss this more tomorrow? I gotta run, right now,” he says, “Smell ya!”

 

Leaf has moved back in with her Mom in Pallet Town over the past few months. Blue hasn’t been so far out of the loop of Pallet Town gossip not to know that. He finds out, with a quick text to Daisy, that their house isn’t far from where Daisy and her husband live.

“Down here,” he says, patting Pidgeot on the side of the neck. Pidgeot tilts down and lands in Leaf’s street. A few people come to the windows, curious, to see, but it’s not like a Pokémon, even one as large as Pidgeot, landing in the street is anything that unusual. With how frequently Blue visits his sister, most of them are used to him, as well.

Sylveon drops down from Pidgeot’s back as well, with a cheery little trill, and Pidgeot returns to her Pokéball. Blue eyes up the line of houses.

“Which one was it…” he mutters, “Right. This way, girl.”

It’s further along the road than he thought, but he finds it. Leaf’s name is on the plate by the door – her family must be like his and Red’s, keeping that weird tradition of putting the youngest child’s name on the nameplate. He supposes since she’s too has the misfortune of getting stuck with a weird old name, it makes sense.

He jabs the doorbell, and waits. Standing out on the street in Pallet Town, waiting for someone’s parents to answer the door – he feels vaguely as though he’s going to ask her if she wants to come out and play. Never mind that it’s eight at night and he’s 22 years old.

After a second, and the sound of a set of keys being fumbled with, a middle-aged woman opens the door, and lets out a yelp of surprise on seeing him.

“Blue?” she says, eyes wide. It’s probably one thing to occasionally pass by the local celebrity on the street, another thing for him to appear on your front door step unannounced.

“Yo,” Blue says, lifting a hand in greeting, “Is your daughter home?”

“Uh,” Leaf’s mother stutters, “Leaf! Um. You – you have a visitor, honey.”

“Coming!” calls a voice from upstairs. After a few seconds, Leaf comes down the stairs, her Raichu loping at her side, with a toothbrush sticking out of her mouth. She almost chokes on it when she sees him.

“Hey,” he says, suddenly becoming aware of how deeply bizarre and awkward this whole situation he’d made was. How had he not thought how weird this would be beforehand? Was Red rubbing off on him? Leaf’s mother excuses herself as Leaf comes to the door, toothbrush still in hand and wiping the foam from around her mouth with the back of her palm.

“What’s –“

“Why do you want to run the gym?” Blue asks, it bursting out of him before he could stop himself.

“I’m sorry, I thought I answered this earlier. I’ll be happy to talk about it again if you –“

“No, I mean. Really. What’s the real reason you want this job,” Blue says, “Not…not the reason you think we wanted to hear, ya know?”

Leaf falls silent, chewing on her lower lip.

“Did I do something wrong?” she asks, finally, and her voice shakes on the last word, just a little. Like the idea of having screwed something up frightens her more than anything.

And of course it does, Blue thinks. Doing something less than excellently is probably the scariest thing in the world to her. She completed her league challenge at 14, only a little older than he and Red had. That’s the thing with doing so well so young – you end up building higher and higher standards for yourself, end up under tighter and tighter pressure, and the slightest slip-up, when set against everything that people expect you to be, feels like the end of the world. Blue’s been there, he gets it.

“No, no, sheesh,” he says, sighing. Sylveon purrs, waving her ribbons in slow, rhythmic patterns from side to side. “Listen, it’s nothing like that. You did the best out of everyone. Hell, you could have the job right now if you wanted it.”

She’s silent at that.

“I’m here to ask if you want it,” he says, “I mean if you actually want this job, or if you’re just going for it because you think it’s what you should do.”

“That’s – wow. That’s kind of a big question,” she says, “Especially with my Moms listening in from the next room.”

 “We can go for a walk?”

“…I’m in my pyjamas,” Leaf points out.

“Yeah. Cute Mareep print by the way,” he says, scratching the back of his head. For a second, he flounders, unable to think of what else to say.

He’s no good at these heart-to-hearts – he tries to think what Daisy would do in this situation.

“Cup of tea then?”

“Did you just offer me a cup of tea in my own home?” she asks, raising both eyebrows in amusement.

“…Uh. I did just do that, yeah.”

He’s making a magnificent mess of this. He’s certain that he can hear Sylveon is snickering a little by his side.

After a moment, Leaf laughs and steps aside to let him in.

“You know what?” she says, sounding both tired and amused, “Just come in. I’ll put the kettle on.”

 

Tea made, parents shooed away, Leaf gestures for him to take a seat at the living room table. It’s too warm for the kotatsu by now, with spring well underway and the cherry blossoms about to fall any day now, so she leaves it off and sets down a cup for him. With a smile, she also puts down a saucer of milk for Sylveon, who laps at it eagerly. That done, she sits opposite him, holding her cup in both hands.

“You know. I heard you were kind of impulsive,” she says, “But I didn’t think you would turn up on my doorstep on the spur of the moment.”

“I just – listen, kid - Leaf. I just feel like I had to make sure that we’re making the right decision here,” he replies, gesturing, “Couldn’t do that with the boss breathing down my neck.”

“What? Lance?” she says.

“He pretty much wants to give you the job right now,” he says, shrugging, “I get why. I had a check up on you – you’re really popular right now. You taking up the gym after I leave would give the league a good boost, maybe deflect the attention from the fact I’ve been doing such a crummy job at it for so long. And you’re the best battler we saw, by far. It makes sense.”

“Then – I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be rude here – what’s the problem?”

Blue rubs his face.

“Listen, the thing is with this job…it’s not just battling trainers all day,” he says, and leans back on his hand, rolling his cup of tea between his thumb and forefinger, “There’s a lot of other stuff too. It’s not just about fighting and winning and looking out for number one. Hell, it’s never really about winning. You’ve got to care about the kids who challenge you, and you’ve got to care about the whole damn town as well. It’s your job to keep the Pokémon and people in it safe. It’s your job to make sure that new trainers are leaving prepared, and able to care for their Pokémon right. You’ve gotta be willing to plant your roots here. You’re not just here to battle and hand out badges – you’re here to nourish the town.”

Leaf watches him, with the expression of someone listening intently. Despite her serious expression, she looks really young.

“That sounds like a lot,” she says, very slowly.

“It is,” Blue agrees. It was too much for him.  Or, at least, for the way he was when he took the job. It’s probably still too much for him. He shakes his head.

“So. Honest answer, this time – why did you want the job in the first place?”

“Honestly?” she says, “I…I dunno.”

Yeah. That’s what he was afraid of. He remains silent, and takes a sip of his tea. Just as he expected, the moment of silence is enough, and everything begins pouring out of her.

“I just, I became champ, and then I went to Johto to challenge the gyms there, but I just kept winning. I kept winning and winning. It got so easy that it started to feel…kind of pointless? I felt cruel, you know, battling kids on the road. It sounds cocky, but they really didn’t even have a chance,” she says, and Blue knows this story, even before she’s finished telling it. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, her hands bundled into fists in her lap.

“So, I stopped journeying and came home but then – what next? I had no idea. I’d never thought about a next. I ended up just sort of hanging around my parents’ house for months. I thought about going back to school but it just, it seemed like that would be such a let-down for everyone, at this point,” she says, speaking faster and faster, “Everyone was waiting to see what I’d do next, and I couldn’t admit I was just lounging around on my parents’ couch all the time. I had to do something good. I’d set such high standards for myself and –“

She takes a shuddering breath. Her Raichu crosses the room to rest by her side, cheek pressing against her thigh. For a frantic second, Blue thinks she’s going to start crying (he hopes  not, he’d have no idea what to do with that), but after a second, she opens her eyes and seems to calm down, rubbing her cheeks with her knuckles.

“So, you know,” she says finally, “Lance suggested this and, I thought. Well. This is something. This is something.”

She swallows, and takes a long drink of her tea. Blue watches her, not surprised at all. He wonders if there are any gifted kids who don’t end up screwed up by it later down the road. If there is, he’s never met one.

“I figured it was something like that,” he says, quietly, and then clears his throat, “Listen, I’m no good at this touchy-feely crap, so I’m not gonna waste your time giving you the usual sentimental spiel. I just don’t think it’s a great idea for you to take this job if you don’t want it. Like…how old are you? Seventeen? Eighteen?”

“Sixteen.”

“Damn,” he says, breathing out, “You’re still a kid. And don’t argue with me on this – you are, okay?”

She closes her mouth, although she still looks a little indignant. It only makes her look like more of a kid, really.

“Seriously, if you want this job – really want this job – just say the word and it’s yours. But if you just want it because you’re freaked out and don’t know what to do with your life then…I don’t know. Figure out what to do with your life instead?” he finishes lamely.

She laughs, her voice hoarse.

“Oh, it’s that easy?”

“I know, I know, it’s not. But just trust me on this one, okay? You don’t want to jump into taking on a big responsibility like this. Forget what everyone else is expecting out of you, and screw worrying about letting other people down,” he says, with a wave of his hand, as though trying to dismiss how embarrassing what he was saying was. She smiles at him, tilting her head to the side as though trying to figure something out.

“You know…I heard that you were kind of a jerk,” she says.

“Ha,” he says, putting down his tea and leaning back with a cocky tilt of his head, “Always good to know my reputation is as accurate as ever.”

Her smile softens.

“Ha. Well, sorry to disappoint but, in this case, I don’t think it is.”

 

The next morning, Leaf retracts her application for the position. Lance eyes Blue over his morning coffee as he reads the email she sent. For his part, Blue just nibbles his croissant and tries to look as innocent as possible.

“What did you do.”

It’s not a question. Blue rips the remains of his croissant in half and sneaks his hand under the desk to offer half to Sylveon.

“Just had a talk with her,” he says, shrugging, “No biggie. Turns out she didn’t wanna do it that much. Just kind of agreed to apply for the hell of it.”

Lance sighs and buries his face in his hands. Blue wipes crumbs off his hands and lets Sylveon jump into his lap. She’s way too big to sit on him now, but he knows there’s no point in trying to push her off. He’ll just have to deal with the lack of blood flow to his legs.

“Blue –“

“Look, I know you wanted her. She’s a big-time celeb now, right? She’ll make the league look really good,” he says. Lance’s mouth tightens to a thin line.

“Public opinion is important. Most of the league funding is based on donations and trainer registration fees, we need –“

“Right, right, it’s important, I get that, I’ve been doin’ the PR thing since I was eleven, ya know. But there’s more important things to consider,” Blue interrupts. Lance shuts up, and his expression is more curious than irritated, for once.

“More important things?”

“Yeah. Like will the kid be any good at the job or not,” he says, and then holds up a hand as Lance opens his mouth, “Look, Leaf would have done perfectly fine. She’s a smart kid. Works hard. Puts her all into everything. But let’s face it, her heart wouldn’t have been in it. She’d have ended up sucking for the same reason I ended up sucking.”

“I think saying that you suck is a little harsh,” Lance says, fiddling with his cape. He’s clearly a little concerned that he’s given Blue self-esteem issues. Blue isn’t sure if it would help him to know that he’s had an inferiority complex since he was 8. Probably not.

“Well, whatever. Listen, long and short of it is that it’s not what I want,” he says. Lance is looking at him a little oddly, as though reconsidering him, and Blue finds himself flushing angrily and preoccupying himself with some imaginary paperwork on his desk, “Not that I give a hoot either way, but you know.”

“Well…” Lance says slowly, with the tone of someone very much wanting to move the conversation elsewhere, “I suppose now we should look over the other candidates again...”

“Ethan,” Blue say immediately. He’s taking another breath, ready to launch into a spiel about how Ethan is really the best option, even if he’s not the best battler, but Lance speaks first.

“Okay.”

“I – what. Okay? Just…okay?” Blue says. If he’s honest, he’s almost disappointed – he’d been all ready for a big argument about it. Came up with a big speech in his head before he fell asleep last night and everything.

Lance turns back towards him, not smiling, but the creases around his eyes look a little deeper.

“Blue, despite popular opinion, I do think I have learned to be a little less stubborn over the past ten years or so,” he says, “You have been doing this job for a long time. I think I can trust your judgment.”

Blue has no idea what to say to that. He just blinks.

“Again. Despite popular opinion,” Lance says. He stands up from his chair and places his empty cup of coffee on Blue’s desk, “I’ll let the boy know you’re offering him the job.”

“Great,” he say, putting his feet up on the desk and his hands behind his head, “So that’s that and –“

“And, of course, you’ll need to finalise your plans for handing over your accommodation.”

Blue jerks upright, sending Sylveon tumbling off his lap with an indignant ‘Mraow!’.

“Oh, yeah. I uh. Remembered that.”

Crap.

 

It’s a week since Red left, and he hasn’t come home yet.

Blue doesn’t want to worry. Aside from just being kind of lame, he knows Red can take care of himself. And it’s not as though he’s completely AWOL. He’s replied to texts, just with quick little messages that let Blue know he’s still alive. He even warned that, for whatever reason, whatever the hell he was doing would take longer than he thought.

All the same, he doesn’t sleep any easier for it.

 

It’s two weeks days later and well past midnight when Red come home. He wakes to the mattress tilting underneath him, a warm body shuffling in behind him with an exhausted, breathy huff against his neck. He has to admit, as much as he’s been reminding himself that Red lived on one of the most dangerous place in Kanto alone for a decade, he feels a rush of relief to have him back home in one piece.

Back home.

Hm.

It probably hasn’t occurred to Red that they’ll have to move, and soon. Spring is almost over, and his final day as gym leader is looming closer and closer. They will need to pack. They will need to decide where to go afterwards. At some point, they need to get some idea of what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives. Which is a difficult decision to make at the best of time, but especially when you’ve already achieved your childhood dreams and found them under-whelming.

He turns around. Red hasn’t shaved since he left. Typical. He also really needs to nag him to go see his Mom for a haircut. The longer hair is cute, but Blue draws the line at it becoming a mullet. Still, it’s nice to see him again.

Red tilts his head, and Blue realises he’s been staring. He clears his throat.

“Hey. Uh. So. We’re moving at the end of the month,” he says, as Red shuffles closer, “Though you might’ve known that.”

He feels him nod into his shoulder, his breath slow against Blue’s shirt. Well, okay, Red is clearly not paying any attention right now. Blue sighs and wriggles his arm free to loop it more comfortably under Red’s waist. Maybe this is a conversation for the morning.

Despite that thought, Blue finds himself awake for hours yet, fingers bunched in the back of Red’s shirt.

 

As usual, Red is awake by the time Blue gets up. He spends early morning doing some kind of some damnably complicated training regime, for both his Pokémon and himself. Blue is a little curious about the details, but not curious enough to cut down on his lie-in on one of his few days off. Red’s in the shower, so Blue puts the coffee on. Sylveon and Pikachu follow him in from the bedroom, both complaining for breakfast. Blue rolls his eyes and serves them up some food.

For some reason, looking around at his tiny kitchen makes him feel almost melancholy. It’s not like he’s living in the lap of luxury here. Even the student flat he’d lived in in Kalos has been better, in a lot of ways – bigger, a better view, better local amenities. Still. He’d lived here for a long time now. And it felt like Red had lived here for a long time too. It was home.

Still. Moving upwards and onwards. He’d wanted to for the longest time.

The percolator had just filled up when Red wanders in, feet wet, towel tied around his waist.

“Morning, pal, how’s – shit!” Blue yelped and slopped hot coffee on his hand on taking a glance at Red. Red was across the room in a second, manoeuvring Blue’s hands under the cold tap in a fussy manner that was so much like Masami he could have laughed, if he wasn’t completely concerned about something else.

“Red, what the hell happened to you?”

Red glances down at himself, as though the bruises all across his shoulders and down his torso had somehow escaped his notice. Worse than that is a red raw, lace-like pattern seared up his side.  Blue recognise the markings them immediately. That’ what it looked like when powerful psychic Pokémon’s attack struck human flesh. It didn’t happen frequently – most psychic Pokémon were the restrained and careful type, but occasionally a trainer who had pushed their Xatu or something too far ended up with them. It was hard to feel sympathetic to those trainers.

Red though, Blue couldn’t for a second imagine Red ever treating a Pokémon so badly it felt the need to attack him.

Red just examines Blue’s hands, frowning.

“My hands are fine, are you serious right now?” he says, the conversation about their impending move pushed clear out of his mind, “What happened to you?”

Red just pours himself an espresso and takes a seat at the kitchen table, shoving aside an Unovan novel and a book of basic Native Alolan. He digs around in the jacket he’d left on the back of the chair, and fishes his Pokédex out from an inner pocket. Still that chunky red original model, the cover held in place with a strip of tape. Blue would normally comment about how he really needs to get Gramps to upgrade the stupid thing already, but neither of them are exactly on speaking terms with Gramps at the minute.

Red presses a few buttons and an image of a Pokémon that Blue has only seen as sketches pops up on screen.

No. 150
MEWTWO
GENETIC Pokémon

There’s more data, most the kind that could be recorded automatically by the Pokédex – weight and height, typing, lists of feeding and sleeping habits, movesets, a lot more photos, some annotated in excruciating detail. What catches Blue’s eye is Red’s entry on it.

It was created by a scientist after years of horrific gene splicing and DNA engineering experiments.

“You caught that thing?” Blue splutters.

Honestly, he hadn’t even been convinced that it existed. A lot of Gramps’ colleagues had been arguing for its removal from the Pokédex for years.

The Cinnabar Island research was, of course, real. After the volcano erupted, the excavation team had uncovered evidence of horrific experiments, and the corpses of some utterly unidentifiable Pokémon, ones that had likely been dead long before the eruption. From what he’d seen, as horrific as the work there had been, it looked as though it had been unsuccessful.

Red nods, but presses his lips together. Clearly that’s not the full story. Blue sighs and grabs a coffee for himself. There’s a part of him that could throttle Red for doing something so dangerous, especially without even telling anyone. There’s another part of him that’s just glad he’s okay. He decides to let that latter part win for the moment.

Red finds a notebook from under a stack of books and starts to write, worrying his lower lip with his teeth all the while. His hands move slowly, tip of the pen creasing the paper – this is hard for him to write about. Whatever it is that happened.

He waits, watching as Sylveon and Pikachu finish their food and slink off, bored by whatever human proceedings are taking place.

Red shoves the notepad across at him. His handwriting is always kind of bad – plus he doesn’t use as many kanji as a guy his age should – but it’s especially wobbly and difficult to understand now.

Tried to help.

Some more things, scribbled out. And then:

Pokémon and people going to Cerulean Cave were getting hurt.

Blue looks up at him, one eyebrow raised.

“Uh, yeah. Nobody’s been allowed to go there for years now, bud. Everyone knows the Pokémon there are vicious.”

Red shakes his head with a vigour that surprises him, and snatches the notebook back to write something else.

Trying to stop people going doesn’t work.

Someone needed to do something.

“You know, that someone doesn’t have to be you?” Blue says, raking a hand through his hair, his nerves frayed. He can’t stop looking at the bruises and psychic ripples on Red’s body; it feels as though there’s more every time he look. Red frowns, clearly not understanding why Blue’s so irritated. He shakes his head.

“Look, sorry, just,” he says, quickly, “So. What happened next?”

Found Mewtwo. Caught it.

Couldn’t bring it back. Too dangerous.

Tried to train it.

“…And I’m guessing that didn’t exactly go great,” Blue says. Red smiles a little, almost self-depreciatingly, and just writes one word:

No.

Underlined, twice. Blue breathes out through his teeth.

“Well…look, if you can’t train it, doubt anyone could,” he says. Red snatches the paper back, and scribbles something else, faster this time.

I could have.

More time.

Needed more time.

That, crossed out. Underneath it:

Could have made more time.

Chose not to.

Failed weak selfish

His writing becomes more and more difficult to decipher. His hands tremble, and he fumbles with the pen.

“Hey, hey, hey,” Blue says, trying to keep his voice low, reaching his hands across the table. Red takes them, breathing hard.

“Look, calm down, okay?” he says, feeling as awkward as ever. After all these years, he feels like he should be able to calm Red down better than he can. He always just feels as though he’s making things up as he goes along, and always teetering on the edge of only making things worse. He pushes the thought out of his head. He needs to focus on Red, right now.

“Just, I dunno, tell me what happened next. We’ll figure the whole, what the problem thing is, later, okay?”

Well, that sucked. Yet it seems to work. Red takes a few deep breaths, drops Blue’s hands, picks up the pen again. His grip is a little steadier.

Difficult. Didn’t trust. Jumpy. Violent.

Scared.

Really scared.

He’s pressing down so hard on the paper that it creases.

Tried to earn its trust. Slowly. Thought maybe it was opening up.

Then something would happen. It would get worse again.

Blue doesn’t say anything to that, but Red is still writing, as though he’s just been bursting to talk about it.

Kid wandering around the cave, tried to challenge us in the middle of a session.  It reacted badly.

Blue winces at the thought. Red shakes his head, waving a hand.

Kid was ok.

“I figured,” he says, relieved all the same. Even if the kid was a total dumbass for sneaking into Cerulean Cave, they wouldn’t deserve to get hurt like that.

It could have easily been him, ten years ago.

Red nods, looking as though he’s thinking much the same thing.

Got

More things crossed out, scribbles.

I mis

Scribbled out, barely visible. Red tries again.

Wanted to go home.

“I can’t blame you,” Blue says. He glance up at him. He looks completely miserable. This must be the first Pokémon Red has ever failed with. Every other trainer has had their disaster – Pokémon they didn’t get along with, that just never learned to trust them, that maybe just never took to the work the trainer wanted to give them.

Blue had failed completely with Raticate, ended up getting him hurt pushing him too far, and he’d never been able to turn Sylveon into a battle Pokémon. And there had been more than those two. Less dramatic, just Pokémon he’d never been able to bond with, and either sent to Gramps or traded to some other trainer on the road.

Red, though. Red had never failed with a single Pokémon he’d ever caught. And he’d caught a lot.

“So, what did you do?” Blue asks. As Red starts to write, he gets up to refill their coffee.

I was tired.

“Red, you don’t need to make excuses to me,” he says. Red shakes his head, and just keeps writing.

I didn’t want to just leave Mewtwo there.

Told it people would keep coming. Scaring it. Getting hurt.

I think it saw my point.

He pauses, glances at Blue as though trying to assess something about him, and then writes something else.

Went to Mount Silver.

“Ah,” he says, putting his coffee down with a click. Red nods.

I think it liked it. Quiet.

Could live even further up. Harder for anyone to find.

“So…you think it’ll be fine up there?” he says. Red nods, but he looks uncertain. He drops his head into his hands, twisting his fingers through his hair. Blue feels at a loss.

“You know, you could always go see it,” he says, shrugging, “You’re the expert on that mountain. Could probably give the damn thing some pointers.”

Red fidgets. The idea doesn’t seem to be as comforting as Blue hoped it would be.

“Look, just,” Blue says, continuing to struggle, “Things aren’t always straight-forward, ya know? It’s…it’s not linear, sometimes. Sometimes things go badly, the first time. Doesn’t mean it’s going to be like that forever.”

He’s not sure if he’s making sense, but Red looks up, an expression on his face as though something has hit home. He finds Blue’s hand again, squeezes it.

“So…yeah, you screwed up. Big whoop,” he says, making a wide who-cares sort of gesture, “You can always try again. I mean, like you said, might just need time, right?”

Red twists his mouth, unconvinced. Blue wants to launch into a big eloquent speech, about how hard it is to stop being hurt and grow past it, how long it takes, how it can’t be rushed or forced, how you can’t make anyone anything they’re not, but he isn’t the kind of person who can or does make speeches like that. He wishes he was, sometimes, but he just doesn’t have that in him.

“You don’t have to do everything perfectly,” he says, instead, because he doesn’t know what else to say. One person can’t do everything.

Red gets up, heedless of the fact he’s still only in that stupid towel, and walks to the other side of the table to wrap his arms around Blue’s shoulders.

 Blue is so startled by Red initiating affection that he just sits there stupidly for a moment. Finally, he puts his arm around Red’s back, turning his head to rest his cheek against his shoulder. After a minute, he speaks.

“Listen, next time you want to do something dangerous and crazy, at least tell me what you’re doing and why, okay?” he says, pulling away to look him sternly in the face, “You never know. I might actually be able to help. Crazy idea, I know.”

Red at the very least has the decency to look a bit sheepish about that one. Good. He should be. Going off capturing the most powerful, dangerous Pokémon on the planet on a whim. Honestly. Impulsivity, thy name is Red.

“Hey, uh. So I have something else to talk to you about,” Blue says, “I mentioned last night I’m losing the apartment soon, right?”

Red nods.

“So we have to move out,” he says, “Any opinions on that?”

Red shakes his head.

“Any opinion on where we move after that?”

Red shrugs. Blue almost laughs. That isn’t exactly the most helpful response, but at least the conversation is simple.

“So. I was thinking. Probably shouldn’t be taking a new place before I got an idea about work. And I’m thinking we don’t wanna be moving in with Gramps –“

Red shake his head emphatically, expression fierce.

“And Daisy’s trying for a baby at the minute, so, uh, don’t think she’s gonna want us moving into the spare room –“

It takes Red a second to catch the implications of that, but when he does, he twists his mouth and shakes his head again.

“So. I’m thinking we can ask your Mom to put us up for a little while?” he says, not sure what the reaction to that idea is going to be. Red just tilts his head for a second, expression pensive, and then shrugs. Blue decides to take that as a tentative affirmative. It’s only a temporary measure anyway.

“Cool. How ‘bout a trip to Pallet this afternoon, then?” he asks. Red nods.

“Well…feel like putting pants on before that?” he says, tilting his head with a smirk. Red looks down at himself with a blink, as though he’d just completely forgotten he wasn’t dressed. Entirely possible, really. Blue laughs and leans back, resting his hands behind his head.

“Trust me, I’m far from opposed to you walking around in the scud -” (Red rolls his eyes, although Blue can’t help but think he looks a little pleased.) “- but I’m thinking doing it outside would probably caught a bit of a scene.”

Red scratches the back of his neck, glancing across at his backpack. All his clothes are probably in there, and probably all in various terrible states. His Mom would make a big fuss if he came to her wearing scruffy, battle-worn clothes. Blue snorts.

“I bought you some new clothes the other week,” Blue says, jabbing his thumb towards the door, “They’re hanging up in the wardrobe.”

Red blinks, surprised.

“Don’t worry, they’re just your usual jeans and T-shirts. Nothing fancy,” he says, waving a hand, “Cut the tags out yourself though, I’m not your Mom.”

Red scratches his cheek and gives him an awkward smile.

“Yeah, yeah, you’re welcome,” Blue says, “Lemme know when you’re ready to go, okay?”

 

As Blue expected, Masami is only too delighted to have them. If she’s wondering why he’s not going back to Gramps’ place in the meantime, she doesn’t ask. Or maybe she isn’t wondering at all. She’s been the Oak family’s neighbour for long enough, the fact they’re not speaking to each other probably doesn’t come as a big surprise.

They pack up Blue’s stuff (and Red’s few, scant possessions) and hand over the keys to Ethan over the next couple of weeks. Blue expects it to feel big, but it doesn’t, really. He’s a little sad to see it go, but as soon as he steps outside, glancing back at the gym with the knowledge he doesn’t have to come here again, he feels as though a weight has been lifted.

For the next few weeks, Blue mostly does interviews about his leaving the gym, just a few reputable magazines and one talk show that Lance recommends. It’s one part for the league’s PR, one part to sate the public’s curiosity, and one big part because Blue can’t resist the opportunity to talk about himself. He talks grandly about letting the next generation of trainers take the reins, about focusing on improving himself and not letting his skills go stale, he talks about plans to travel some more. He avoids specifics.

A lot of interviewers try to steer the conversation towards Red. Blue laughs and gives vague answers, cute but impersonal anecdotes that are designed to keep the audience happy but give absolutely nothing away, and turns the conversation back to himself pretty effortlessly. One interviewer tries to steer the conversation towards his sex life. Sylveon ‘accidentally’ slaps that guy in the face with one of her ribbons.

Red takes infrequent trips up Mount Silver. The first time he does it, Masami is stricken with panic. She shakes him awake, all flustered, telling him that he’s gone again. Blue supposes the bare-bones note he left probably seems a bit strange to anyone else. Red is back within a week, thankfully with less bruises and scars than when he came back the first time.

Masami relaxes a little after that, but Blue always sees her stiffen, fingers curling into fists, when she gets up in the morning and Red is nowhere to be found.

Blue resolves to try to get Red to apologise to her for that, at some point.

Before he even knows how, a month has passed.

He still hasn’t spoken to Gramps.

Chapter Text

“Hey, I’m here!” Daisy says, closing her umbrella as she steps through the doorway. Masami takes Daisy’s coat and umbrella from her, and offers her a towel. Across in the living room, Red looks up from his book – his version of basically running up and giving her a hug. Blue gets up and heads over to her with a wave, Sylveon bounding up to her and rubbing her cheek against Daisy’s ankle.

“Hey sis, nice to see you,” Blue says, accepting the gift she shoves into his hands – beautifully wrapped, as always. Homemade chocolates - shaped like different Pokémon, and a new squeaky toy for Sylveon, shaped like a Dragonite. Favourite for fairy-types, apparently.

“Isn’t this more of a gift for her than for me?” he says, squeezing the Dragonite, “Wow, good to know which of us you love more.”

“Oh, Masami – I have something for you as well,” Daisy says, completely ignoring him to stoop down and tug an expensive-looking bottle of sake out of her bag and thrusting it into her hands, “A thank you, for taking care of my baby brother.”

“I’m twenty-three, Daisy,” Blue complains.

“Oh, he’s no problem at all!” Masami says, beaming as she accepts the bottle, “He’s so much better behaved than he used to be.”

Twenty-three.”

The women ignore him, laughing as they serve the sake, chatting about some thriller novel they’ve both been reading. Blue shakes his head and rejoins Red on the couch. With Masami and Daisy in full book-club mode, he can tuck into the chocolates without someone scolding him about ruining his appetite.

It’s a low-key birthday – most of his good friends being in different countries, or hopping between different countries (Lyra’s birthday text: happy birthday loser i appreciate ur friendship or whatever) – but settled on the couch, listening to Daisy and Masami laughing in the next room and Sylveon and Pikachu play-fighting over the squeaky Dragonite, he can’t find it in him to mind.

He’s half-way through a chocolate Gengar when Daisy sweeps in, hovering by the arm of the chair. He looks up at her. Masami comes into the room with a tray of drinks, her expression equally as anxious. Blue squints at them.

“Uh, hey, what’s –“

“Grandpa called,” Daisy says, very quickly, in the tone of one who very much just wants to rip a bandage off as quickly as possible.

“Oh,” he says, feeling Red stiffen next to him. Daisy takes a breath.

“He says happy birthday, and that he’s sorry he can’t be home for it; he’s working on something in Hoenn right now.”

“That’s nice of him,” Blue says icily.

“He’s honestly sorry, he’s just been…you know,” Daisy says, “Busy…not wanting to tread on your toes. He says he can completely understand if you’re angry – he behaved boorishly. In the process of attempting to voice his concerns, which he understands now were unfounded, he said things he didn’t at all mean…um…”

She glances down at her phone.

“Did he write you a speech to give me?” Blue asks, sitting up, not sure whether to be outraged or amused. Daisy blushes, tucking her phone into the pocket of her dress.

“Well, you know how he is. He’s much better at writing than talking,” she says.

“The man is an idiot,” Masami blurts out. Red jerks his head towards her, looking as surprised as Blue feels. Daisy laughs, rubbing the back of her neck.

“Yes, that’s one way to put it –“

“I’ve been telling him to set things right for months,” Masami continues, not seeming to even hear Daisy, her face much pinker than it had been an hour ago, “And this is the best he can do? Honestly, Sam. Honestly.”

Red pointedly glances at the flask of sake on the coffee table, and Blue has to bite his lip so he doesn’t start laughing.

“Come on, guys, he’s – he’s trying,” Daisy says, throwing her hands up.

“Oh he’s trying, alright,” Masami grumbles, pouring herself another cup of sake. Blue loses it, collapsing into himself with a wheezing laugh. Daisy giggles as well, still looking a bit exasperated.

“Ok, ok, this…this attempt at an apology kind of…um. Sucks. Really bad,” she says, fumbling now her pre-prepared speech had been interrupted, “But listen, he’s our grandpa. And – well. He wants to try and make things right.”

“He’s got a lot of stuff to make right,” Blue replies, “This isn’t just one incident, Daise.”

“I know. I was there for our childhood too, you know,” she says, a little curtly, as she perches on the arm of Masami’s chair, her arms folded, “He didn’t expect to have to take care of us. It’s, you know, not what he wanted -”

“So what?” Masami says, very sharply, “A child is never a burden.”

Red fidgets. Pikachu immediately jumps onto his lap. Suddenly, Blue has the uncomfortable sense that a nerve has been touched.

“Of course not,” Daisy says, squeezing Masami’s shoulder, “I’m just saying…he’s made a lot of mistakes and now he wants to try to make amends. And he says that if you’re open to it, he’d like to talk to you about it when he gets back.”

Blue makes a face and drains the rest of his beer. Daisy swallows.

“I’m not here to tell you what to do, little bro, I promise,” she says, “Just, think about it, maybe?”

“Okay. Fine. I’ll think about it,” he concedes, if only because Daisy’s puppy-dog can’t-we-be-a-nice-family eyes are killing him, “Can we not think about it tonight, though?”

“That’s fair,” Daisy says, laughing, and leans down to grab the remote from the arm of the chair, “There’s a Rotation Battle tournament in Sinnoh today. Want to watch?”

 

Blue would never want for Red to be up Mount Silver again. He means that.

However, two grown men, both of them a bit on the tall side, sharing a bed intended for a preteen boy is hardly the most comfortable experience. They’ve managed to make it work, somehow, mostly because Red has an unnerving ability to collapse asleep within seconds wherever he lays down. In his defence, he slept on a rock floor for his entire adolescence, so sleeping on a too-small mattress with another man crammed up against his chest, a Pikachu on his feet, and a Sylveon trying to lay across his face, is probably not a big deal. Red likes small spaces, and being cuddled up with his Pokémon (and Blue, a rare human exception), so it’s all good for him.

For Blue, it’s trickier. It’s even trickier with a belly full of beer, birthday cake, and chocolate, and with Gramps’ crappy attempt at an apology spinning around and around in his head.

So, typically, the second he manages to doze off his phone rings. Groaning, Blue gropes out blindly and grabs his phone. Next to him, Red rolls onto his stomach, pressing his pillow over his head, dislodging the sleeping Pokémon as well with a wide array of indignant squeaks and yowls.

Blue tries to answer the phone and say a chill ‘Hey’. What comes out of his mouth is closer to ‘Hmmmnghh?’.

The voice on the other end says something that, for a second, in his half-asleep haze, sounds like utter gobbledegook. That is, until Blue realises it’s Unovan.

“Happy birthday!”

“Huh?” he says, sitting up, “Kukui?”

“Haha, yeah, that’s me! This a good time for you?”

“…It’s four AM,” Blue groans. Kukui’s loud, cheerful voice feels like someone driving a nail through the skull this early in the morning.

“Oh! Always do forget about that time difference,” he says, sounding utterly unfazed by Blue’s less-than-perky reply, “Don’t suppose I could take a moment of your time all the same, could I?”

“Uh –“

“Trust me, cousin, you’ll want to hear this.”

Red elbows him.

“Uh, hold on, Red’s trying to sleep next to me,” Blue says, getting up and heading out of Red’s room and down the stairs, almost tripping over Arcanine at the bottom.

“Sure, sure, though this includes him, too, you know!” Kukui continues.

“Trust me, he only gets up when he wants to get up,” Blue says, sitting down at the kitchen table. Arcanine comes to rest his big head on Blue’s lap, tail wagging.

“Haha, know how that is! My wife does not take being woken up well,” he replies, “So, cousin, are you seated, are you ready to talk? Are you feeling good?”

“Sure. I’m just peachy,” Blue mutters, leaning his elbow on the table, certain that if Kukui wasn’t so unbelievably loud he’d have fallen back asleep already.

“Alright, yeah,” Kukui says, “So, I hear you’re between jobs right now.”

“That’s the gossip, yeah,” he says, chin almost touching the table.

“Well! If that’s the case, I have an opportunity that I think you’re going to be very interested in,” Kukui says, “How would you and your partner like to head up Alola’s first advanced battling facility?”

“Huh?” Blue slurs into the phone, his half-asleep brain still point-blank refusing to follow the conversation.

“You’re familiar with the Battle Frontiers popping up over the world, right?” Kukui says, “Well, us here in Alola have taken it, and as we do with all things, put our own unique spin on it. The Battle Tree, we’re calling it.”

“And you want us to, uh, ‘head it up’…?” Blue asks, cautiously.

“Sure do, cousin. See the battle scene on Alola…it’s been a little quiet over the past few years. We don’t have the old-school gym system like most places. It’s mostly little kids battling out here. So we’re trying to kick some juice back into this old machine!” Kukui says, sounding more and more passionate about it by the second, “Even gonna try to set up a bona-fide Elite Four.”

“Well, that’s all dandy,” Blue says, “But I gotta level with you, still don’t really see what this has to do with us.”

“Getting to it, cousin! See, the Battle Tree’s something Alola’s never done before. We’ve got all the nitty-gritty settled, me and my staff are handling the paperwork, but we don’t really…well, we don’t have any headliners,” Kukui says, “Not really any big stars on the Alola battle circuit – nothing that would draw in the big crowds. So I thought, hey, I know two guys who would fit the bill.”

 “Wait, so…what, you want us to endorse it?” Blue says, bemused and unsure whether or not to be sort of insulted by the offer. Kukui laughs down the phone.

“Ha! You’ve only got half the picture there, cousin!” he says, “What we want, is to design something that can really give the best of the best a real challenge. Kick out the cheap tricks and make the best people really rely on their brains and skills. We don’t really have anyone with the expertise to bring that to life, though.”

Blue drum his fingers against the tabletop, heart hammering.

“Huh,” he says again.

“So, this is what I’m thinking, cousin. You two sit at the top of the tree. You take on the challengers that have risen to the top. You plan challenge rules, special events, training regimes, that kind of thing,” he says, “And, hey, you’re not shackled to it. Maybe you run it for a year, two years, and then when the battle scene has kicked up a notch we can get our new local champ to take over. This is a trial run, so it’s gonna be flexible. We’ll try a lot of different stuff. Probably gonna be a lot of ups and downs as we try to get it right.”

“You know that doesn’t really sell it, right?” Blue replies, amused.

“Ha, are you kidding me, cousin? It’ll be the best part!” Kukui replies, “Or, you know, at least the most exciting. So, what do you say?”

The way Kukui is talking about it, it sounds perfect. He wants to have real battles, the kind that force him to really push himself and his Pokémon, against opponents that know their stuff and aren’t just there to play a game already half-rigged in their favour. He can too-easily envision himself lounging on the beach after work with a cold mojito, Sylveon running over the sand, Red halfway out at sea and fishing from Lapras’s back.

He catches his tongue between his teeth, just seconds from agreeing. This is not a decision to be impulsively made in the early morning. Or by himself.

“We’ll need to talk about it first,” he says, instead, “And we have things to sort out here.”

“Of course! Wouldn’t expect you to make this decision alone, anyway,” Kukui replies, not sounding remotely put off by his hesitation, “Let me know when you’ve made up your mind, alright, cousin?”

“Sure,” he says, stretching an arm over his head and releasing an enormous yawn, “Right now all I’m ready for is to get back to bed though.”

Kukui laughs and promises to remember the time difference next time. Hanging up, Blue heads back upstairs. Sylveon and Pikachu have already commandeered his half of the bed (“Would you two jump in my grave as fast?”), so he shoos them to the floor before slipping back under the covers.

Sleep doesn’t come as quickly as he’d hope.

Kukui’s offer is interesting, for sure, but Blue can’t help but wonder if it would just be the same as the gym. If this would just be the start of making the same stupid mistakes, all over again.

 

Red is gone again by the time Blue wakes up, so Blue spends the day on his laptop, looking up stuff about Alola, about running a Battle Frontier facility. He prints things out, highlights and underlines the parts that seems important, asks a few vague questions of a few contacts he has. He learns a lot of things he had no idea about.

A Battle Frontier costs exponentially more than running a gym. The battles are tougher by a mile, and far less constrained. They are themeless and fast-paced, for established, skilled trainers, rather than stretched thin to be suitable for any trainer, regardless of how talented (or untalented) they were.

He tries not to, but he finds himself thinking about prizes and about different challenge rules and themed events. They could have item-less challenges, rotation matches, Nuzlocke challenges, and really get inventive with different battle formats. It would make sense to have some straight-forward rules, at first, just while they got established, with short events, and then they could start expanding…

He really didn’t mean to start brainstorming.

“What are you doing?”

Blue jumps and glances up to see Masami standing over him.

“Oh, uh,” he says, scrunching a piece of paper in his fist, “Just. Thinkin’ about stuff.”

“Anything I can help with?” she asks, tilting her head to try and read the scrunched up paper. He scratches the back of his neck. She sits down opposite him, smiling serenely, “Or, anything you want to tell me about?”

“Uh. I got a job offer, I guess.”

“Oh?”

“Well, both of us did.”

Oh?”

Blue coughs.

“Yeah,” he says, “Contact of mine just offered us a pretty big gig.”

Masami doesn’t say anything, just looks at him, chewing her lip a little. He rubs his cheek with his knuckles, sucks in a breath. It is good news, he reminds himself. He’s giving her good news.

Good news to him, at least. For Masami, he’s not so sure.

“It’s in Alola.”

“Oh.”

Masami’s expression is unreadable. Sometimes, she and Red have an eerie family resemblance.

He feels terrible for someone who’s just given someone good news. He swallows.

“Yeah, so, just thinking about that,” he says, “Haven’t talked to him about it yet.”

“Well,” she says, “Does the job sound good?”

“Yeah, I mean, it’s…pretty much perfect? I think,” he says, and then shrugs, smirking with his head tilted to the side, “I always think some job I’ve got lined up is perfect. Then it, yanno, doesn’t exactly live up to expectations.”

“Well, that’s adulthood, I’m afraid,” she says, laughing.

“Wow,” he says, leaning back and folding his arms, “That’s cynical, M.”

“No, just sensible,” she replies, raising a finger at him as though scolding a naughty child, “Perfect or not, though, does it sound like it may be worthwhile?”

“I mean. Yeah, maybe?” he says, glancing away, squirming a little under her stare, “I’m thinking I should be more sure. I mean, jumping into something not right for me was really what landed me in that mess in the first place.”

“Please. If you wait until you’re absolutely one-hundred-per-cent certain, the two of you will never get out of my house,” she replies, laughing. At his expression, she leans over and squeezes his forearm, “Not that I don’t like having the two of you around. After this long it’s…well, it’s nice seeing so much of my son. But…you know. That room is a little small for the both of you.”

“Yeah, our Pokémon can’t even fit in there all at once,” he says, running a hand through his hair.

“Well, just think about it,” she says. As she gets up, she wraps an arm around his shoulders, giving him a quick squeeze, “Any idea what you want for dinner?”

“Oh, sit down,” he says, getting up with a shake of his head, “I’ll get it.”

 

Red isn’t home for a few days after that. Blue does research on Alola, revisits some of his old Unovan textbooks, reads up a bit on Battle Frontier structures and challenges different leagues. He tries not imagine in any of the situations he reads about, or on any of the beaches he sees photos of, but it is getting harder and harder the more he researches it. Reminding himself that Red hasn’t agreed yet, doesn’t even know about it yet, doesn’t do much to help.

He wants this now, damnit.

He’s on Pidgeot’s back with Daisy, having agreed to take her shopping for the day, when he sees Red’s Charizard circling down to land over Pallet Town.

“Hey! Look who’s back!” Daisy yells over his shoulder, as though Blue would somehow not be able to recognise his own boyfriend’s Pokémon.

“About time!” he says, nudging Pidgeot in the side with his heel, easing her over to intercept Charizard in the air. She lets out a shrill cry underneath her, and both Charizard and Red jerk their heads to look at him. Daisy waves as much as she dares (not much – Blue hates flying her around, his waist is gonna be bruised from how hard she holds on. He wouldn’t have agreed to it if she hadn’t pulled the pregnant card on him). Red waves back, clearly startled. Blue has to laugh at his expression.

They circle down to land, coming to land down by the beach, Cinnabar Island a dark shape in the distance. Blue helps Daisy down as Red comes up to meet them.

“Red, it’s nice to – oh,” Daisy says, cutting herself off as she sees Red’s face. He looks exhausted – worse than he usually looks when coming back from Mount Silver after a few days. He smiles, a little, when he sees them. Which is something.

“Are you okay? Are you sick?” she says, darting forward to put a palm over Red’s forehead before Blue can stop her. Red flinches back, and Blue places a hand on Daisy’s wrist. She flushes red and retracts her hand, clearly embarrassed.

“I’m sorry, I forgot you don’t like touching,” she says, rubbing the back of her neck, “Are you alright though?”

Red makes a dismissive gesture with one hand, mostly looking at his feet. Blue can feel Daisy’s desire to help radiating off her in waves. It feels like she’ll explode from trying to stay out of Red’s personal space if she stands there another minute.

“Uh, Daise, can you maybe give us a minute?” he says, handing her their shopping bags. Daisy bites her lip for a second, and then nods.

“Alright, I’ll talk to you later. Come round for dinner some time, okay, Red?” she says. Red shrugs, still not looking at her, and she walks back to town, only glancing fleetingly over her shoulder at them. Blue stretches, arms over his head, as Red greets Pidgeot and leans down to pet Sylveon.

“So,” Blue says, finally, prompting Red to look up at him, hand still between Sylveon’s ears, “Training Mewtwo going as well as ever?”

Red fixes him with a glower so fierce all it does is make him laugh. He holds his hands in front of him, shaking his head.

“Hey, hey, I’m sorry,” he says, “You got something you can talk with?”

Red takes his phone out of his pocket, tapping it awake.

“Awesome. Let’s walk,” he says, nudging Red with his elbow. Red glances at him and then shrugs, following him along the beach.

 

“So, what actually happened?” Blue asks, after he’s sure Red’s managed to gather this thoughts. Red tenses, but taps something out on his phone.

Nothing much.

“Nothing much?” Blue says, raising an eyebrow, “Buddy, I find that a little hard to believe. You look exhausted, and stressed. Like you’ve been up there three months, not three days.”

Red twists his mouth, and then taps out something else:

Mewtwo is doing better.                               

Better still isn’t good.

Blue sighs, rubbing a hand through his hair.

“Yeah, it’s not,” he says, and then grins, “You know any sane person would have given up by now, right?”

Red tilts his head at him.

“I know you’re not going to long-term but…would you consider postponing it?” he asks, his voice coming out far more nervous than he hoped. Red looks at him, quizzically, and Blue finds himself scratching his cheek, fidgeting.

“So, uh. We kind of got a job offer. Both of us, I mean,” he says, “In Alola.”

Red widens his eyes.

“Yeah, Kukui – you remember him, right? Loud, lab coat, no shirt? Yeah, of course ya do,” he says, “Well, he called the other night. Offered us our own Battle Frontier, more or less.”

Red doesn’t look like he believes him, and, if he’s honest, Blue can’t blame him.

“Says he wants experienced trainers to head it up for a year or so. Get things set up, bring our ideas to the table, drum up interest. Apparently he’s trying to inject some life into the hardcore battle scene in Alola,” he say, and sinks down to sit cross-legged in the sand, propping his chin up on his palm, “Sounds like a pretty good deal for both of us, if I’m honest.”

Red just stares at him, expression blank. Blue gestures to him to sit and join him, and he complies. They sit for a minute, watching Pikachu doggy-paddling in the water. Sylveon watches her from the shore, her contempt that any creature would willingly both get wet and do exercise palpable. Further down the beach, a group of high school kids, still in uniform, sit in a group laughing and chattering. Looking at them makes Blue feel old.

After a second, Red thrusts his phone towards Blue’s face.

Alola’s far away.

“Ha, yeah, sure is,” Blue says leaning back on his hands, “You’ve been that far from home before, though. Unova, remember?”

Red fiddles with the lip of his cap, before typing something else.

Mewtwo.

Blue sighs. He saw this one coming from a mile away. He’d been hoping that it somehow wouldn’t.

“I know, but listen. I don’t think…what you’re doing is working. Not right now,” he says, and then raises a hand as Red begins to frantically type, “I’m not saying you give up on it. Just...think about yourself too here. Think about giving it space and time. Maybe there’s nothing you, in particular, can do right now.”

Red twists his mouth, palms balled into fists in his lap.

“Listen,” Blue says finally, as Sylveon comes to curl up by his side, resting her chin on his hip, “I know that’s a hard pill to swallow, but listen, how about you just consider it? I’ve been looking stuff up, I’ve got some material you can look at. Figure out if this is what you want, alright?”

Pikachu comes hopping up to them, her fur standing end. She shakes herself dry, ignoring Blue and Sylveon’s cries of disdain as they get soaked, and then clambers across both of them onto Red’s lap. Red smiles at her, totally dumb and soppy, and Blue can only roll his eyes.

“So?” Blue says, scratching Sylveon behind the ears, “You gonna consider it?”

After a second, Red taps out another message in his phone.

Maybe.

“Hey, that’s good enough for me at the minute. End of the week sound good to make a decision?” he asks, twisting around to look at him. Red makes a face, and Blue leans over to swat the lip of his cap.

“I need to give you some sort of deadline, Mister Lived-on-a-mountain-for-ten-years. You’d never decide otherwise,” he says. Red frowns, readjusting his hat, and then leans over to mess up Blue’s hair.

“Hey, quit it,” he says, half-laughing as he pushes Red away. They’re almost play-fighting when Blue hears his name.

“Blue, hey!” calls a girl’s voice. One of the high school girls is rushing towards him, her shoes in her hands and her bare feet kicking up the sand. Behind her, her friends have stayed put, but are watching the whole time. She’s tall, with long brown hair tugged up into a bushy ponytail. It’s not until he notices the Raichu at her side that he recognises her as Leaf.

“Oh, hey, Leaf?” Blue says, sitting up, embarrassed. Red’s hand is still on his forearm, his grip tight and his shoulders tense.

“Wow, sorry, uh. Did I just interrupt something?” she says, glancing at Red.

“Nah. We were just shooting the breeze,” Blue says, all airy confidence. Seeing her staring at Red, he interrupts: “Hey, so, what’s with the uniform?”

“Oh, uh, well that’s what I wanted to come and talk to you about,” she says, sounding sheepish, tugging at the hem of her skirt, “After you came and, you know, broke my door down trying to warn me about the evils of being a gym leader, I did some thinking and, well, uh. I actually decided to finish high school.”

“Woah, you serious?” Blue says, raising his eyebrows. Leaf scratches her cheek, her smile a little shy. Blue hadn’t exactly anticipated that – most kids just went back to school after their journey, but not if they got as far as Leaf did. Most kids like that couldn’t stand to be confined to a classroom

“Yeah, my agent’s been really good about it. She’s going to spin this whole angle to make me a role model for continued education for trainers and stuff,” she says, and then laughs, “I was really worried when I told her. I thought she’d be disappointed and try to talk me out of it, but it was fine!”

“Hey, that’s great, really,” he says, “And you’re not bored?”

Leaf shakes her head vigorously.

“No, they’re all advanced classes so they’re tough, but they’re never boring. I didn’t realise maths could still be so interesting when it wasn’t about battling.”

 “Aren’t you getting mobbed by adoring fans every day though?” he ask, smirking.

“Well, uh, a little, at first…” she says, going very pink, “People got used to me fast, though. And –“

“Hey, Leaf!” cries one of the kids by the shore, all of them on their feet and watching them, “Are you done talking to your uncles or whatever yet?”

“Uh, well…my new friends don’t really follow the battling scene,” she says, glancing back at them, “They barely even knew who I was when I transferred in! That’s…been nice, actually.”

“So I shouldn’t be offended they don’t know who we are?” he asks, tilting his head.

“No! Don’t take it personal, it’s just, uh,” she splutters, “I mean, they might recognise you if they get closer, but trust me, they barely –“

“Leeeeaf!” calls one of the kids, waving her phone in the air above her head, “C’mon, we’re going to Mitsuki’s – her brother’s gonna buy us beer!”

Leaf’s face rapidly goes from pink to scarlet. Blue stifles a laugh.

“Hey, don’t look so freaked out. We’re not gonna rat you out to your Moms,” he says, waving a hand at her, “Go on, scram. Go have fun with your pals.”

“Alright, I’ll see you later. Thanks again for, you know, the pep talk…” she says, and then leans over to look at Red, “Um, it was really nice, uh, meeting you, Red. We’ll have to battle some time.”

Red gives her a tense nod, his hand still on Blue’s forearm. Leaf waves and runs off, joining her friends as they walk back across the sand, Leaf’s Raichu bounding alongside them. Blue watches them go, feeling strange. He wonders how things would have turned out if he’d decided to do the same thing when he came back from challenging the league, all those years ago.

He feels Red tug on his sleeve, and turns to see him holding up his phone:

Some people don’t care about battling???

Blue laughs, unable to help himself, and Red’s affronted expression doesn’t help matters. He slings an arm around his shoulders, shaking his head.

“Yeah, weird, right?” he says, “Gotta wonder what they do with their time.”

Red looks earnestly bewildered by the idea. He’s gotta say he kind of agrees – it’s hard to imagine himself really, at the end of the day, doing anything else.

“C’mon, let’s go to my sister’s. She’ll want to make you dinner.”

 

Red pretty much piggy-backs him home. It’s Daisy’s fault, really – with her expecting and her husband away for work so often, she has a bunch of booze clogging up the back of the fridge she wanted to move. In retrospect, Blue maybe attended to the task with more enthusiasm than was strictly necessary, but hey, he was just a good little brother looking out for his sister.

After they get back to Masami’s house, Red dumps him on his bed, ignoring Blue’s endless stream of chatter – about Leaf, about his time in Kalos, about how cute Red looks when he’s irritated – in favour of changing into his pyjamas and tugging off Blue’s shoes. He slides into bed next to him, and Blue finds his shoulder against the wall, his arm trapped under Red’s weight.

“This bed is too small for both of us,” he mutters, not for the first time. He turns, trying to get comfortable, resting his cheek on Red’s chest. Even with soft haze of beer over him, the bed is too damn small.

Red lean over the side of the bed and picks his phone up from the floor.

“Are you buying us a new bed?” Blue says, prodding him in the waist, “Please say you are.”

Red shakes his head, literal as ever, and then thrusts his phone in Blue’s face.

I’ve decided yes.

“Yes? Yes what?” he asks, sitting up.

Alola.

“What? Really? Before the week is out, you made your decision, just like that?” Blue says, momentarily too stunned to sound excited, “Oh, oh wow. Yeah, that rules. You’re really into it?”

Red nods, his expression determined, and then he taps out something else:

We should see Mewtwo before we go.

“We?” he says. Red nods again.

“Well, I mean, alright…ha, you must be getting desperate, if you’re going to pull my expertise in,” he says,  grinning. Red rolls his eyes, but Blue thinks he can see him just holding back a smile. He taps out something else.

And the Professor.

Blue’s own smile disappears.

“Oh yeah. That.”

It’s up to you.

But I think we should.

Blue sighs and lays his head back down on the pillow.

“Right, right. Can we do your thing first?” he whines, picking out patterns on the ceiling, “I’d way rather deal with a murderous genetic experiment, honestly.”

Red doesn’t reply, but squeezes Blue tight before dropping off to sleep.

                                                                                                   

On the morning they head to Mount Silver, Red gets him up at six sharp, shaking him awake. Their rucksacks are already packed, ready for Mount Silver. Blue groans through his hangover, dragging himself down the stairs and sucking down some instant coffee as Red ties their baggage to Charizard outside.

He jots down a note to Masami – they told her a few days ago they were going to head to Mount Silver together today, but he knows she gets tetchy when Red forgets to leave a note. He’s pretty sure she’s still scared he’s going to leave and never come back again.

He tries not to think about the fact he has yet to tell her they’re going to leave for Alola. Gramps has even less of an idea.

Sylveon is curled up on her bed in the kitchen. She opens one eye as he sets down his pen and drains the rest of his coffee.

“Morning girl. Interrupting your beauty sleep?” he asks, crouching down to scratch her under her chin. She purrs, lifting her head.

“We’re heading to Mount Silver. Wanna come with?” he asks. She gives him look that clearly manages to ask if he’s a complete idiot, and then flops back down on her pillow, curling up even tighter. Lazy lump.

“Fair enough,” he replies, shrugging. Outside, Red is already on Charizard’s back, and Aerodactyl is waiting for him, scrubbing some dirt from the crook of his wing. “Won’t be long, girl.”

He climbs onto Aerodactyl’s shoulder blades, wrapping his arms around the Pokémon’s neck. Red nods at him, and then the two of them are airborne, gliding above Pallet and then Viridian, heading straight to the mountains between Kanto and Johto.

They fly as high as their Pokémon and hike the rest of the way, Blue shivering even through his insulated parka and boots. A few steps ahead of him, Red looks in his element, as though he was born and raised up here. Blue already half-wishes he’d just curled up with Sylveon and left Red to deal with the dangerous traumatised Pokémon by himself.

It’s been a while since Blue’s been up Mount Silver. He almost expects it to look different – everything else has changed, enormously, since he was last here, after all. Yet it doesn’t – the snow and the pines and the long dark tunnels remain the same. This far above society, nothing changes. Even the air tastes the same.

Finally, they find somewhere to set up camp, not far from Red’s old cave. A family of Donphan had moved in his old spot, and Red point-blank refused to make them homeless. Blue’s back and legs are aching as he steps out of the tent, stretching, pressing his palms into his lower back. Red and Charizard have already set up a campfire.

“So. Where’s Mewtwo at?” he asks.

Red gestures into the distance, not taking his eyes from the meal he was heating up over the fire. He feeds a spoonful to Pikachu, perched on his shoulder.

“It’s more hiking isn’t it?” he groans, sitting down next to him. Red smirks at him and shoves some food into Blue’s mouth.

“Right, okay,” Blue says, swallowing, and then leaning forward to serve himself some food to smother the desire to lie face-down in the snow and weep from exhaustion, “I can do that.”

 

Blue lasts another hour on foot before calling out Arcanine from his ball and riding his back, face and hands buried in his pelt. Red is doggedly hiking on foot, Pikachu perched on his shoulder with her tail raised high and twitching. The wind is slicing cold ice against his cheeks as Arcanine melts the snow ahead with a blast of hot air from his mouth Arcanine bounds through the cleared path to catch up with Red.

“Are we nearly there yet?” Blue whines, breathing heavy against the collar of his padded coat. Red, as he expects, doesn’t answer, just keeps hiking on ahead. He sighs, thumping Arcanine on his muscular shoulder, and urges him onwards.

The snow beneath them is thick and white, indistinguishable from any other snow on Mount Silver, but Blue can’t help but feel like there’s something strange about it. A sheen over it, like spilled oil. The pines around them seem strange too – the trunks bent, the needles long and dark.

The air feels as though it’s getting warmer.

Red thrusts an arm out, stopping Blue and Arcanine in their tracks. He hesitates, chewing his lip, and t turns his head to look at Pikachu. Her tail twitches, and she squeaks, tone indignant, but Red’s glower doesn’t flicker, so she jump from his shoulder to the snow. Red unclicks a Pokéball from his belt and returns her.

Blue stares like an idiot for a minute, mouth hanging open. He’s never seen that yellow rat go in her Pokéball before. Red looks across at him, and then glances at Arcanine. Blue gets the picture.

“Alright boy, this is as far as you go, I guess,” he says, dismounting and dropping into the snow. Arcanine licks his hand before being returned to his ball, leaving nothing but a trace of slobber on the ground behind him.

“So, no Pokémon, huh?” he asks. Red nod, very seriously. Blue sighs and shoves his hands into the pockets of his jacket.

“Well, that makes me feel safe. Lead the way, buddy,” he says, prodding Red with an elbow.

As they walk, Blue notices more and more than seems…off. Warped. The pine needles are falling in spirals. The snow is hard, slick and almost shimmering purple in the dusk light. It’s definitely getting warmer, and Blue’s hands are soaked with sweat under his gloves. Breathing heavily, he tugs them off and shoves them into his pockets, and tugs down the zipper of his coat. The air ripples.

Abruptly, Blue sees it. It doesn’t feel as though it was there before, or even that it teleported the way Alakazam does. Just, one minute it wasn’t there, and the next minute it was. A Pokémon, humanoid but taller than a man. Sickly grey-white. The face is feline, but not much else about it is. It doesn’t even seem to have fur – it’s closer to skin. There’s some kind of pipe from back to the nape of its neck. The skin is almost transparent there - he can see something moving under there.

Mewtwo turns, looks at them. Its paws aren’t touching the ground.

The silent mountain air is crashing with noise – sirens, screams, smashing glass, shouting, whispers, metallic screeching.  Human voices and Pokémon cries, all mixed together until they’re inseparable from one another, just a wall of deafening static. All radiating from Mewtwo in waves.

He stumbles back, shocked, almost dropping to his knee in the snow. Red grabs his elbow and moves them closer. Blue, desperately, does not want to any closer, but Red’s grip is firm, and he moves forward, foot by foot, as if walking against the wind.

He sees Mewtwo’s feet lowering closer to the ground, millimetre by millimetre. The noise is still unbearable – can Red not hear it? How is he still moving? Blue wants nothing more than to clamp his hands over his ears and scream until the noise goes away.

He feel Red squeeze his hand, their fingers slick with sweat.

This is what the world sounds like to him all the time, Blue thinks numbly, the realisation like a cold flower opening in the pit of his stomach. Shit. How has he never appreciated that before?

“Red –“ he croaks out.

Mewtwo jerks up, whipping its hand forward in an arc. An elbow crashes into Blue’s side, and he’s knocked to the ground, hitting his shoulder hard. Something bright and purple blazes past, just where he was standing. The snow is gone in a second, the revealed ground beneath gnarled and black, as though a nuclear bomb had hit. Red is a few steps ahead, hands up. Even from where Blue’s lying, he can see he’s trembling, head to toe.

Blue doesn’t dare move. He on the ground, feeling like the world’s biggest idiot, and watches as Mewtwo lowers its arm and slowly lowers back to the ground. Red gestures at Blue, and then looks back at Mewtwo.

Whatever that exchange was, it seems as though Mewtwo approves of it, because Red is rushing back to him, helping him to his feet. If Blue clings a little, well, damnit, he can’t stop looking at that psychic sear in the mountainside, and thinking what his body would have looked like if that had went through him.

Red brings him closer, grip firm on Blue’s shoulders, as though he’s worried Blue will outright vanish if he moves again.

The noise closer to Mewtwo is even worse. The state of its body is…well, Blue tries to find places he can look without feeling sick. What the hell were they doing in the Cinnabar research labs. What were they thinking.

For a second, Blue doesn’t know what to do. He opens and closes his mouth, barely able to hear himself think over the noise, and then fishes his phone from his pocket. Pushing aside thoughts of how strange the whole situation is, he types out a message and shows it to Red:

Can I pet it?

Mewtwo and Red both look at him in utter disbelief. Their expressions are, for a split second, so identical that it is only blind gripping terror that stops Blue from dissolving into a laughing fit. Red shakes his head.

Apparently having gotten bored of them already, Mewtwo sits cross-legged, levitating just an inch from the surface of the snow. Red sits next to him, albeit much less neatly and with much less levitation. He looks up at Blue, gaze expectant.

Blue frowns, and types out another message on his phone:

Ok, so you gotta fill me in on this. What, exactly, are we doing now?

Red tilts his head at him, and types something back.

Meditating.

Blue only just suppresses a splutter of disbelief, and types something back so quickly his phone almost shoots out of his hands:

In this racket!?!?!?

Yes.

Blue breathes out the quietest sigh he can muster, rubbing his forehead. A migraine is already finding its home behind his eyeballs, he can tell. This is utter lunacy of the highest degree. He should grab Red by the ear and drag him home immediately.

Instead, he settles down to sit next to them. He rests his hands together and takes in a lungful of the hot air, releasing it slowly through his nose.

Strangely, the longer they sit, the easier it is to stand the noise.

Chapter Text

“It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, honestly,” Blue says, as they change for bed. The tent is dark, lit only by a small lamp in the corner, and kept warm by Arcanine, lying with his head in his paws, his tail lashing from side to side.

“Way you were going on about it, thought it would try to murder me way more than the once,” he says, pulling his head through his jumper. He smoothes his hair down and settles next to Red in the sleeping bag, prompting him to glance up from his book.

 “So, after I left you hung back for a little while…what was that about?” he says, glancing at the Pokéballs by Red’s belt. If he’d added Mewtwo’s ball to his belt, Blue couldn’t see it.

Red closes his book, and leans across to fish something from his rucksack. He tosses it into Blue’s lap. Two thin curves of metal, one purple and one silver. The Master Ball Red had been given all those years ago at the Silph Company, split in two.

“You released it?” Blue splutters, trying not to think about how much yen is sitting in two pieces on his lap. Red nods, expression suggesting he sees no issue with this.

“But – the entire point was that Mewtwo was too dangerous to leave out there,” Blue continues, not understanding in the least, “I mean, why?”

Red pause for a send and then grabs his notebook, resting it on his thighs as he etches out a note, his hands trembling just a little:

It’s calmer now, but still

Not ready for a trainer.

It wants to be alone, for a while. Decided I should respect that wish.

“Well…I guess that makes sense,” Blue says, and lies back down, rubbing a hand through his hair, “Still, it’s a risk…”

It will steer clear of humans, I think.

Red pauses for a second, twisting his pen between his fingers, and then writes something else:

I think it felt trapped up here.

Blue falls silent for a second. He can see that.

“Well, if you think this is for the best…I mean, you would know better than anyone,” he says finally, shrugging, “You can always track it down again later. Or, hey, maybe some other trainer will have better luck. You never know. You know I heard a kid went into space on Rayquaza’s back a couple years back?”

Red makes a face.

“What, no, I’m not making it up – it was on the news! Don’t make that face – urgh. I just mean there’s a lot of good trainers out there, who may be able to deal with it better than either of us at this point,” he says, putting his hands behind his head, “Well, either way. I think you did it some good. Gave it a way better impression of humanity than it did before just by…you know, doing this.”

Red looks embarrassed at that, hiding his face as he writes something else.

So are we dealing with the professor next?

Blue groans and places his hands over his face.

“Well,” he says, through the gaps in his fingers, “Guess I can’t put it off much longer."

 

They land outside Masami’s house on their return, the mild autumn weather making them sweat through their thick mountain clothes. Blue gives Aerodactyl an appreciative scratch on the nose before returning him to his ball. He yawns, stretching, as he waits for Red to do the same to Charizard.

“Man, I am wiped. I hope Masami is making dinner, I’m starving,” he says, digging in his pockets for his house keys. There’s voices coming from the house – Masami must have one of the neighbours round. He could do without that this evening, if he’s honest, but he’s nothing if he’s not good at putting up a face.

He turns the key in the lock and lets himself in, dumping his key in the bowl by the door.

“Hey, we’re back!” he calls, and then stops short.

At the dining room table, Masami and Gramps both turn to look at them, Masami clutching a cup of tea in both hands, Gramps sitting very rigid in his chair with his tea untouched.

“Boys!” Masami splutters, eyes wide, “I thought you would be up there for another day at least…”

Blue feels Red hovering by his shoulder, his hand on Blue’s back.

“Well,” Gramps says, getting to his feet and almost tripping over his chair in his haste, “Thank you for chatting to me, Masami, but I really must be going –“

“Samuel, for goodness sakes, this is what we were just talking about –“

“Yo Gramps!” Blue blurts out, his voice cracking on the latter word, sounding exactly like his 12-year-old self. Gramps stops, if only out of confusion. He can practically feel Red trying not to laugh behind him. Flushing, he decides that he may as well plough through. He clears his throat.

“Kay, right,” he stutters, “Maybe you should sit. We’ve kinda got something to tell both of you –“

“Oh wonderful!” Masami interrupts, and she’s up hugging them both in turn, and then grabs Blue’s hand, “I was wondering when you’d both get round to this, so where is it, let me see –“

“Huh? What? No!” Blue blurts out, his face scarlet. Beside him, Red blinks, clearly not getting why Masami is so interested in Blue’s hands right now. Blue can only hope he doesn’t figure it out. Masami sits back down, clearly disappointed. Across the table from her, Gramps looks as confused as Red.

“Right, so…right,” Blue says, and then takes deep breath, “Okay…so…right…well, um –“

For once, his words actually get stuck in his throat. He doesn’t know what the hell to say.

He hears a sheaf of paper being drawn, and glances beside him to see Red holding up a sheet of notepaper, a messaged scrawled in big clear characters across it.

We’re going to Alola.

Well. Alright then.

“Oh!” Masami says, hiding whatever brief glimpse of disappointment may have passed her face quickly enough that Blue barely sees it, “Well that’s almost as exciting as the news I thought you were giving us! So you’re certain then? It’s all arranged?”

“Ah, boys, perhaps I’m missing a trick here, but I’m afraid I don’t quite understand why your holiday is big news,” Gramps interrupts, before Blue can say anything else, “I mean, Alola is lovely, but –“

“Oh, you great buffoon,” Masami says, before Blue can reply, “They’re moving there.”

“Moving?” Gramps repeats, sounding small and lost all of a sudden. Blue sighs, putting a hand on his hip.

“Yeah, riiight. So, we kinda got offered a pretty big job in Alola, running their new Battle Frontier…thing,” he explains, waving a hand dismissively, “So, you know. Decided to take it. Gave Kukui the okay, and he’s sorting the admin stuff for us.”

“So when are you going?” Gramps asks. Blue shrugs.

“Soon as it’s sorted, I guess. I was thinking after New Year’s,” he says.

“Well, I think it’s wonderful,” Masami says, after a moment of awkward silence, “Oh, we should throw you a going away party at New Years! I’m sure a lot of people would like to come by and say goodbye…”

Masami chatters away, and somehow manages to steer the three of them around the dining table before disappearing into the kitchen. As she goes, Blue swears he sees her look over her shoulder and glower at Gramps, mouthing something that looks a lot like ‘Talk to them!’.

They both hover there in awkward silence. Blue folds his arms – he is not going to be the one to talk first. Nuh-uh. No way. It goes without saying that Red says nothing, but he somehow says nothing with even more conviction than usual.

After a while, Gramps sighs.

“Well, sit down, both of you,” he says, gesturing at the chair opposite him. Blue look at it for a moment, and then sits down, trying to make it clear he was just doing it because standing was uncomfortable, and totally not because Gramps told him to. Red follows his lead, grasping Blue’s forearm hard under the table.

“I suppose I owe you both an apology,” Gramps says, voice slow and uncertain.

“You suppose?” Blue repeats, raising both eyebrows at him. Gramps sighs, rubbing his temples.

“Blue, please, can this not descend into a shouting match immediately?”

Blue says nothing, not quite trusting himself to. It’s been two seconds and his temper already feels frayed. He maneuverers Red’s hand into his own, and feels a bit calmer for it. Gramps takes a long sip of tea, and then sets his cup down with a clink.

“I’m not very good at this.”

He breathes in, running a hand through his hair.

“You know that, I suppose. I was hoping Daisy would be able to act as a good intermediary for us but…I realise now that probably wasn’t the best solution,” he says, and ignores Blue’s derisive snort with a long sip of his cold tea, “I am sorry, though. I, well. I was concerned and I suppose, in a way, I underestimated both of you.”

“No kidding.”

Gramps sighs.

“Sometimes, it’s just very hard to remember you’re both grown men now,” he says, “It feels like I turned away for five minutes, and you both went from little boys to men I barely even know.”

“Well, whose fault is that?” Blue snaps, before he can help himself.  He expect Gramps to snarl back at him, but he just winces, expression guilty.

Somehow, Blue thinks he’d almost prefer a shouting match.

“Alright, so I haven’t been present as often as I should have been,” he says, “I do want to do better, though. If you’d both let me.”

Blue leans back, swinging back and forth on his chair.

“Hey, well you know me. Always easy going. Can’t speak for this guy though,” he says, nodding his head at Red sat next to him, “And I can’t say I’m not still pisssed. Both for how you’ve treated me, and you know. You insulted Red big-time, acting like he’s incapable of being in a relationship or whatever.”

“I know, trust me. Masami, Daisy, Elm…well, uh, quite a lot of people I know have been giving me an earful about it,” Gramps says, and tilts his head, “Your friend Lyra recently sent me a photo of herself with the caption ‘Come to Fiore in the next thirty minutes if you want an ass-kicking’. Not sure I completely understand, but the sentiment is clear enough.”

“Yeah, that sounds about right,” he says, squirming a little. He hadn’t realised so many people were going to kick up a fuss on his behalf. It was more than a little embarrassing. Not altogether unpleasant but...embarrassing.

“Still. I hope you will both be able to forgive me, sooner rather than later,” he says.

“Well, you’ve kind of got a lot to make up for, on my end, but,” Blue replies, and spreads his arms wide in a shrug, “I know what it’s like to need a second chance. So, why not. Let’s try not to be terrible to each other from now on, huh, Gramps? Gonna be hard work, but it’s worth a shot.”

“Ha. Yes. Let’s,” he says, very slowly and carefully, “I have to say, I didn’t expect you to be so…reasonable.”

“Yeah, I’m actually not much like you were at my age, huh?” Blue says, with a smirk. Gramps widens his eyes at him and then groans, burying his face in his hands.

“How did you –“

“Academics gossip, Gramps,” Blue says, grinning ear-to-ear at his utter despair, “How come you never told me and Daisy about your wild child days, huh?”

“Blue, trust me, in forty years you will not want to talk about anything you did in your twenties either,” he says, and then looks at Red, “I – well, Red, what is your take on the matter?”

Red stares at him for a long moment and then retrieves his phone from his pocket.

“Oh –“ Gramps begins, obviously believing he’s been snubbed.

“He’s replying, okay, give it a sec,” Blue interrupts, irritated. He doesn’t get why nobody can wait more than five seconds for someone to get their words out. Red finishes whatever he’s writing, glances at Gramps, hesitates, and then passes the phone to Blue.

“Uh, want me to read it out?” he asks. Red nods, and Blue has to hold back a sigh. Well, this is going to be unbelievably awkward.

“I thought you knew me better than to act like I was fragile,” Blue reads out dutifully, conscious of both Red and Gramps staring at him intently, “You have always treated me like I was just as capable as anyone else. I’m still mad that you clearly don’t really think that.”

It takes a lot of Blue’s self-control not to add the word ‘Yikes’ on the end. He knew Red was pissed and hurt about all the whole thing, but he’d never seen him talk about it so directly. Gramps looks utterly floored, like he’d been struck.

“I – I can only apologise. Of course you are capable, it’s just, well, I was concerned and I – no. Never mind all that. I was wrong. Long and short of it,” Gramps says finally, “I’m very sorry.”

Blue passes Red’s phone back him and waits for another reply. Across the table, Gramps fidgets and drums his fingers on the table-top. After a few minutes, Red passes the phone back to Blue.

“Thank you. Don’t do it again,” Blue reads out, spluttering back a laugh at Red’s peculiarly blunt form of forgiveness. Gramps raises his eyebrows at that.

“How are you boys doing in here?” Masami interrupts, poking her head through the kitchen door, “I think I’ll make us some nice hot udon for dinner. Sam, are you staying?”

Gramps glances at her, and then at Red and Blue across the table from him, and seems to come to some kind of decision.

“I’m afraid I can’t – have to take the train to Goldenrod this evening, so I should be going,” he says, standing up. As he puts his shoes on, he glances across at Red, hovering in the kitchen doorway.

“You know, we have some family and contacts in Alola. I’ll put you boys in touch with them,” he says finally, “Goodnight.”

 

The next few weeks pass in a blur. Blue spends his time dealing with the surprising amount of visa paperwork required for moving to Alola (it seems as though they’re sticklers for health and safety over there – you can’t even fly on a Pokémon there that hasn’t been fully trained and licensed to carry passengers), occasionally shoving stuff across at Red for him to figure out or sign. Kukui’s enthusiasm is more than a little overwhelming, constantly calling to give them updates on the Battle Tree’s construction, as well as giving Blue impromptu native Alolan language lessons.

Gramps occasionally drops by. The conversation is weird and stilted, interrupted by frequent stretches of stony silence, and almost always concluded by a rushed “Well I have a lot to do, so…”. Red hovers nearby, neither exactly rejecting his attempts at rebuilding their old relationship, or actively encouraging it. He still hasn’t made his mind up. He won’t for a while yet.

It’s better than it was, not that that’s saying much. At least he’s actually trying, even if it’s painfully obvious he’s measuring every single thing he says before it comes out of his mouth. Blue hopes that by the time they get back from Alola, they can all be in the same room together without it being painful.

By the time the final leaves drop from the trees and the snow begins to fall, their flights are booked for first week of January. Kukui almost wants them to put it off – Alola’s been having some problem with some criminal kids recently – but Blue waves the concerns off. Team Skull don’t exactly seem intimidating. Red outright laughed at the news reports Blue showed him about it.

They have both almost completely forgotten about Masami’s promise-slash-threat of a farewell party, until she posts a list of invitees on the family group chat, asking if she’s forgotten anyone. Blue squints at the screen, aware of Red lounging in the bed beside him, too wrapped up in the article about evolutionary theory he was reading to notice his phone buzzing on the floor.

“Hey,” he says, nudging him in the side, “You seen this?”

 Red turns his head, glancing at the screen. He frowns.

“Yeah, I figured you might not be ecstatic,” he replies, sighing, “Figured M would know that, but hey. Want me to talk her out of it?”

He puts his book down, bending over to grab his notebook and pen from the floor. Writing by hand is still easier than texting for him, even now. Blue doesn’t know if it would be easier than learning by sign; neither of them had ever brought the idea up, and he knew fine well that Red was more than smart enough to have considered it before. He can only assume he has a reason he’s never talked about it. He’s happy enough not to push the topic.

He’s interrupted from his thoughts by Red shoving a piece of paper towards him.

Would you want to have it?

“Huh, the party?” he asks. Red nods. Blue scratches the back of his head.

“Well, yeah, sure I would. You know what I’m like – an entire day of everyone telling me how great I am and how much they’re gonna miss me? Sounds fantastic,” he says. Red half-smiles, managing to look fond yet utterly exasperated at the same time. Blue sits up, prompting Sylveon to trill irritably from her resting place on his thigh, and loops an arm around Red's shoulders, “But hey, know big shin-digs aren’t your thing. Ain’t about to force you into it.”

Red scribbles something else:

Didn’t stop you bringing half of Pallet up Mount Silver :)

Blue sighs, rubbing his head.

“You are not gonna let that one go, are you?” he says, “Also, I’ve told you a zillion times. Wasn’t my idea, wasn’t half of Pallet Town, wasn’t my fault.”

Red tilts his head at him, smirking.

“Don’t give me that look,” he says. “So should we tell her to cancel?”

Red shrugs, pauses for a long second, and then finally shakes his head.

“Huh? You sure?” he asks. Red thinks for a second, drumming his fingers on Blue’s thigh, before writing something else.

If we have it at Daisy’s. So I can leave.

Blue snorts.

“Well, we’ll have to, you know, ask her,” he says, “Depending on how the baby’s doing, she might be cool with it. I’m surprised you’re down for it at all, though.”

Red actually looks embarrassed – a rare occurrence, since he seemed bizarrely immune to it most of the time. Even the time his mother had walked in on them (an incident that made Blue want to crawl under the bed and die), he had barely been rattled.

He scribbles down something else:

You want to.

He hesitates, but then adds one more line.

I’m still not good at parties though.

“Hey, hey, don’t sweat it. As always, just let me yap – nobody’ll question you not getting a word in edgewise,” Blue says, immediately, “Besides, trust me, you’re nowhere near as bad around people as you think.”

Red twists his mouth in disbelief, and Blue has to laugh.

“Okay, okay. But if it all goes south, just slip away. I’ll cover you,” he says, “But you gotta tell me this time. I can’t help otherwise.”

Red nods, expression so utterly serious that Blue snorts.

“Right, now let’s have a look at this invitee list and make sure we’re not inviting any losers, shall we?”

 

Daisy consents to hosting their farewell party, with far more enthusiasm than any sane person should. Blue sometimes wonders if Daisy soaked up all the general goodness and patience in the Oak family line. She glowers at him and sternly tries to tell him what a good man he’s grown into when he mentions it though so, more than a little pink in the face, he always quickly drops it.

Late New Year’s Eve, the Kanto gym leaders arrive, in a flurry of flying Pokémon that brings even the most jaded Pallet Town resident to their doorways, snapping photos on their phones. Bruno and Brock both smack Blue on the back in a brotherly way the second they get through the door, both chatting away about previous holidays to Alola at him. Sabrina arrives late, silently helps herself to a glass of wine, and slides away to talk to Alakazam (typical). Misty flounces straight up to Red, wielding a list of Alola water Pokémon she wants him to catch for her. Before long, the house is lively with trainers and Pokémon alike, and Blue floats between them, bottle of beer in hand, cracking jokes and enjoying everyone telling him how much of a bummer it’ll be to see the back of him.

Leaf turns up, but is sternly chaperoned away from the alcoholic beverages by Masami, and is instead given one of Red’s sodas (nobly ignoring Blue’s laughter). Ethan and his Azumarill turn up, telling him how running the gym has been since he passed the torch. It sounds like he’s been doing a great job with it. It almost makes him feel a bit nostalgic for the job. That is, until Ethan starts talking about the pre-schoolers he tutors about Pokémon care on weekends, and the new online system they’ve got to handle the new health and safety admin, and Blue wants to hurl himself out a window at the thought of it.

Even Lance makes an appearance, looking like as much of a ray of sunshine as ever. Daisy, apparently never having recovered from her middle school crush, is so giggly and goofy that it makes both her husband and Blue want to melt through the floor and vanish.

Despite all that, no sign of Gramps. Blue pushes that thought out of his head with some more snacks and alcohol.

It’s noisy and crowded, and Blue is tipsy enough to be recounting a story about his Kalos days when he realises Red has vanished from his side.

He swears to himself – he told Red to tell him. Excusing himself, he slips away, check his phone. No messages.

After he told him, he told him, to let him know if he needed to go, if he needed help, how was he supposed to do the whole good boyfriend thing if he didn’t communicate

“I believe Red went upstairs,” Sabrina says, interrupting his chain of thought.

“Hey, what have I told you about reading people’s minds?” Blue says, glaring at her.

“You think very loudly,” she says, and then turns her attention back to Daisy’s daughter, sitting on the  carpet between Alakazam’s knees. He really should breed her an Abra when she’s old enough for her own Pokémon, Blue thinks, before heading upstairs.

He finds Red in Daisy’s bedroom, sitting on the bed with Pikachu curled up tight in his lap. He’s breathing in and out slowly, his eyes closed.

“Hey,” Blue says, rapping his knuckles on the door frame until Red opens his eyes, “You doing okay?”

Red sucks down on his lower lip, and then taps out a message on his phone.

Bit much. Taking break.

“Ha! Yeah, bit crazy down there. And this is just people we know in Kanto – imagine if our guest list had stretched further afield,” he says, sitting down next to him, “Really though, you good?”

Red rubs his cheek, and then writes something else on his phone:

Yeah. :) Just gimme five.

“Cool,” he says, and then lies back, putting a hand behind his head, and fishing his phone out of his pocket – Lyra had been nagging him to install some app or another anyway and he couldn’t figure out how to get the damn thing work, “Lemme know when you wanna go back and join the action.”

He’s struggling through the eight million weird updates and downloads his phone needs before it’ll do a single thing he wants, when the bedroom door slams open with a crash. Red jumps, Blue squawks, and his phone ends up on the floor with a sharp clatter.

“Heeey neeeerds!” Lyra greets them, leaning against the door frame, her usual grin on her face and three small bottles in her hands. Her Houndoom slinks in besides her, horned tail sweeping lazily back and forth and her expression almost identical to her trainer’s. Lyra regards them both with an inscrutable expression for a second, tilting her head.

“Ha!” she says finally, “I told Daisy you weren’t going at it in here.”

What!” Blue splutters, sitting up. Beside him, Red just blinks. “Why would we be – it’s my sister’s room!”

“Hey, that’s what I told her,” Lyra says with a shrug, and then strides in to seat herself between them.

“Wait, you thought that was even a possibility and you just barged in?” he says, sighing rubbing the bridge of his nose, before catching a glimpse of Red’s expression, “And you wipe that look off your face.”

“What look?” Lyra asks, cracking open a bottle of beer with her teeth and tossing Red a soda.

“He’s wondering why he didn’t think of that,” Blue says, rolling his eyes, “Honestly, I don’t know how you can’t tell.”

“Yeah, he’s an open book, really,” Lyra comments dryly, “So, hey, come on? Aren’t you two pleased to see me? The world’s best trainer and your wonderful protégé ditches her globe-trotting to drop in on your farewell party, and all you can do is glower?”

“Ha, yeah, alright, I suppose it is good to see you,” Blue concedes, accepting a beer from her (but wiping the lip of the bottle with his sleeve before he takes a sip), “Though honestly I assumed you’d chase us down in Alola.”

“Well maybe, but hey, your sister invited me. And everyone else in the region, by the looks of it,” she says, leaning back on her elbows.

“Masami was in charge of the guest list,” he replies, shrugging, “And hey, we’re famous, we know a lot of people.”

“Surprised you let ‘em put you through this one, Red,” Lyra says, turning her attention to Red, now cross-legged and sipping at his soda.

“He’s tougher than you think,” Blue says immediately, sounding defensive even to himself.

“I think he’s plenty tough, trust me,” Lyra replies, as gently as she ever says anything, and then looks between them, grinning, “So you guys excited about the beach, about Alolan forms, Z attacks? Your big ol’ fancy pants Battle Tree?”

Red nods, expression not even twitching. Lyra barks a laugh, and then launches into a spiel about the different special moves she’s been mastering, showing a clearly fascinated Red some of the foreign battle items she’d collected over the past few years. Blue lies back down with a yawn, letting Lyra do the showing off she’s clearly been bursting to do. He can hardly judge her, after all. Pot, kettle, black.

“And these pretty things are from this weird tiny island I visited, they have loads of these shells, you wouldn’t believe. Still don’t get what half of them are for, if I’m honest. Not as good at languages as Blue over there,” Lyra chatters, rubbing the back of her head, “And, you know, my Pokémon are all well and good, but you really need another person around if you want to figure something complicated like that out.”

“You know plenty of people,” Blue interrupts, looking away from his phone for a second.

“Well, yeah, course I do. I’m a superstar,” she says, petting Houndoom’s head in her lap, “It’s different though, travelling by yourself. It can get – well, you know how it can get. And you know, when you’re at the top, like we are, it’s rare as hell to come across anyone who can even keep up with you. Never mind someone at your level. Means you spend a lot of time by yourself.”

She goes quiet for a second and Blue lifts his head. She scratches behind Houndoom’s horn, her expression pensive.

“You guys are just lucky, you know?” she mumbles, so quietly Blue thinks it’s just to herself. He opens his mouth to try and say something – hell if knows what – when Lyra leans over and snatches his phone out of his hand.

Any-way!” she shouts, “What have you been trying to do on here this whole time? You’ve been screwing up your nose like someone just shoved a Skuntank’s ass in your face”

Blue rolls his eyes. He should have known Lyra would only be able to maintain a sense of introspection for about four seconds.

“I’m trying to install that app you want me to use so badly – the one that lets you send people pictures for 6 seconds or whatever,” he explains, waving a hand at his phone, “The thing must be busted, I can’t get it to work.”

“Seriously? Oh, jeez, what is with all these extra search bars on your browser?”

“I don’t know, I can’t get them to go away!”

“My grandma’s phone looks better than this,” she says, sighing, “You can’t just click on anything you see online, seriously! I’m guessing this one’s doesn’t look much better?”

She jabs a thumb in Red’s direction. Red takes his phone out of his pocket and taps it on before showing to Lyra.

“There’s nothing even on here!” Lyra says, despairing. Red types something onto the screen.

Can text, write notes, show time, and check sports, news, weather…

What else does it need to do?

“What else – oh honestly!”

She leans over and snatches up a pink phone from her bag, weighed down with an avalanche of tacky charms. She turns it on, showing a background of herself with her Pokémon at their most recent championship victory, confetti hanging from her pigtails.

“Now, this, boys, is what a phone looks like,” she says, showing them a series of weird fancy programmes she has installed on hers that Blue didn’t even know existed. Some of them are useful – IV calculators and battle simulators and language dictionaries – but some of them, like a camera app that automatically adds Pokémon ears and noses to their faces, Blue can’t make any sense of. Judging by Red’s expression, he isn’t faring much better.

“And this one lets you see reports of shiny Pokémon sightings in the area – some people who spot one but can’t catch it will put help up. Some people actually make a sport out of just trying to see them. Not even for catching or anything! They just wanna look. Crazy,” Lyra says, shaking her head.

“Huh. Weird. Hey, what’s this one with the Charmander symbol?” he says, gesturing to a small red box amongst the dozens Lyra has on her screen, “And why’s it missed the second ‘e’ out of ‘Ember’?”

Lyra sniggers, covering her mouth with a hand.

“Ooooh, thaaaat,” she says, and Blue really dislikes the sly note in her voice, “Well, it’s a really good way to meet other travelling trainers. You know, for hang-outs, battles, dating, trading…or hook-ups.”

“What?” Blue says, trying not to sound as scandalised as he feels, “So people just trade email addresses on this thing and then just –“

“Oh honestly,” she says, and taps the app open, showing a photo of herself, smirking, displayed next to a few scant personal details, and above some tiny pixel images of her Pokémon. She taps on the Charmander icon in the corner, and a picture of some girl Blue vaguely thinks he’s seen around town before pops up, “So, you open this up and it finds people nearby who also have the app. It shows you their pic, their team, a few things about ‘em. If you like the sound of them, you swipe right, if not, left. If you both swipe right, well, time to get talking.”

Blue stares at her.

“Hey, come on, let’s try it! It’s fun just sitting around swiping left or right on people, even when you don’t really want to take it any further.”

“I’ll pass,” Blue says, shaking his head. Lyra snorts.

“Suit yourself. Hey, Red, you wanna play this with me?” she says, “I’ll show you them and you tell me if you would or wouldn’t – thumbs up for yes, thumbs down for no.”

“Lyra –“ Blue begins.

“Oh, hold on. I got it on the default settings – you know, showing both girls and guys and whoever else,” she explains with a wave, “If your tastes run a little more specific like your boyfriend over there, I can switch it to just show guys.”

Red shrugs in response, somehow managing to look even more indifferent than usual.

“Awesome! Okay, what about this one –“

“Red, you really don’t need to humour her right now,” Blue says.

Red gives the poor girl on screen a definitive thumbs down.

“What, really? I think she’s cute!” she says, “Not into dark hair, huh? Alright, I can appreciate that –“

“Okay, I give up on you two, I’m going to see if Daisy needs help downstairs!” Blue says, throwing up his hands in despair. Lyra laughs, and Red waves him goodbye, not even looking up from Lyra’s phone.

He shakes his head as he makes his way out and down the stairs, almost tripping over Pikachu, who gives him an almost-friendly zap on the ankle as she rushes past. He passes Ethan, chattering away to a tipsy-looking Misty, his Azumarill playing with her Starmie. They wave at him as he passes, try to drag him into their conversation, but he squeezes past them with a laugh.

Finally, he finds Daisy in the kitchen, keeping an eye on the curry bubbling on the stove and feeding Sylveon chunks of sweet potato. Masami passes him with a pitcher of some brightly coloured cocktail as he enters, giving Blue a squeeze on the forearm as she goes by.

“Oh, Blue, you’re here! Is Red okay?” Daisy says.

“Yeah, he’s fine. Figured I’d come in and see if you need a hand,” he says, sliding in next to her. Sylveon slinks toward him, tucking her head under his hand and purring.

“You really haven’t grown out of asking if I need help with the cooking when I’m already finished?” she says, arching an eyebrow at him with a wry smile.

“You knew about that trick?” Blue asks, surprised.

“Blue, you were a child Pokémon prodigy, not a master of subterfuge,” she says, shaking her head with a giggle. Blue rolls his eyes and stretches his arms high above his head, then leans back against the counter.

“C’mon, I’m not like that any more. Genuinely here to help, sis,” he says entreatingly. Daisy looks at him out of the corner of her eye, the cogs clearly turning in her brain.

“Weeeeell, if you want to help, how about you go get Grandpa? Food’s almost ready and he’s not answering his phone…” she says, her tone delicate but gaze stern. She’s not going to let him get out of it easily, now he’s promised to help. He huffs a sigh and stands up straight.

“Alright, alright. Can’t promise he’ll come, though,” he replies.

“He wants to. He’ll just be all caught up in his research and have lost track of the time,” she says.

“Just like when we were kids, huh?”

She laughs, a little awkwardly, and pats him on the shoulder, shoving him back into the living room.

As he’s slipping on his shoes and bundling into his coat and scarf in the doorway, Sylveon bounds up to his side with a jingling mew.

“Hey girl,” he says, crouching down to scratch her cheek, “You wanna come with?”

Sylveon trills an affirmative, already at the door. Blue smiles at her.

“Well, alright, but no getting blood-thirsty this time, right? Don’t need to be taking Gramps to the hospital at this hour,” he warns her. Sylveon closes her eyes and flicks her ears in a way that conveys she isn’t about make any promises on the matter.

“Good enough. Let’s go,” he says, sliding the front door opening and walking out into the fresh winter air. Gramps’ lab is only a few minutes away, but he’s still not savouring the walk in this weather. Beside him, Sylveon walks with just the barest touch of her toes, sliding around on the ice. She wraps her ribbons around his arm to steady herself, and they walk down the street together.

The streets are near-silent, the only noise being the soft rattle of the wind, and the sounds of laughter and music from the houses nearby. It hadn’t really occurred to him before that this might be his final New Year’s in Pallet for at least a year. It’s not as though he’s not spent plenty of New Years away from home before, but the thought is still bittersweet. For better or worse, it’s home.

Breathing in the cold night air, he rounds the corner to Gramps’ laboratory. The lights are all out, apart from the one in Gramps’ office. He punches in the key code at the panel by the door and lets himself in. Gramps should really change it – he’s been using the same one since Blue was eight years old. Probably half of Pallet knows it.

The lights flicker on automatically as he steps into the lobby. With no research aides or grad students rushing about, and no Pokémon being shuffled from room to room for study, it’s almost eerily quiet. He shivers, and heads up the stair to Gramps’ office, the same one he’s had for as long as Blue can remember. He and Daisy used to hang out in there all the time when they were really little, waiting for Gramps to finish up work so they could head home. He can hear the rapid clattering of Gramps’ typing from the other side of the door.

He pushes the door open with an elbow, hoping it doesn’t look as though he’s been drinking. Gramps is at his computer, one hand curled around a steaming, still-full cup of coffee. He’s doing some complicated thing with genetic data, the type of thing Blue’s read papers on but still never managed to completely get his head around. Red usually gets this stuff better than him, and he never even really tries.

That’s alright, though, really. It’s not like he doesn’t have his own share of things he does better at.

Gramps doesn’t notice him standing in the doorway, completely absorbed in his work. Blue sighs a little and approaches him, resting a hand on his shoulder.

“Hey, Gramps,” he says, making Gramps jump and slop coffee down his jumper.

“Oh, Blue,” he says, rubbing his eyes. He glances up at the clock on the wall, “Hm? Has it gotten that late already?”

“Yeah, the party started like an hour and a half ago,” he says, “Daisy sent me to drag your ass out of lab for once.””

“What? Oh, yes, your farewell party, isn’t it?” he says, rubbing a hand through his hair, “I have to admit, I complete forgot.”

“What a surprise,” Blue says drily, “Gramps, seriously, you need to hire a PA or somethin’ to keep you on schedule.”

“Oh, I’ve never quite found one who can keep up with me,” he replies, waving a hand dismissively, “Too much travel, too long hours, apparently. I’m much better off working alone.

“Eh, maybe that’s the world telling you to slow down a bit.”

Gramps shakes his head, ready to argue the point, when he notices Sylveon is standing by Blue’s leg, her ribbons wrapped tight around his arm and her gaze fixed on Gramps. Blue has to bite his lip not to laugh at his expression.

“Don’t worry,” Blue says, putting a hand on his hip, “Told her to behave this time.”

Sylveon mews, the utter picture of innocence. Blue doesn’t believe it for a second. Gramps stares at her, expression contemplative.

“So, a Sylveon.”

“A-yup.”

“Is that how you expected her to evolve?”

Blue laughs.

“Oh, hell no,” he says, “I had a moveset all picked out for a defence-oriented Umbreon. But hey, since she’d rather eat her weight in Poffins than have a battle, that idea might have been doomed from the start.”

Sylveon makes a small, indignant noise. Blue reaches down to pet her between the ears, smiling.

“I see,” Gramps says, his expression strange. As though he were thinking very carefully about something he’s never considered before, “Well, if it’s not what you expected, are you happy with it?”

“Sure,” Blue says slowly, not sure what this conversation is about, “Why wouldn’t I be?”

Gramps nods, slowly, that same weird expression on his face. Blue rubs his head, feeling a bit self-conscious and weird. Like he always did when he and Gramps were trying to do the ‘two-mature-adults-having-a-real-conversation’ thing. It was always such an uphill struggle.

“Hey, so, I’m kind of ditching my own party here, and let’s face it, the vibe has probably nose-dived without me there,” Blue continues, his voice too loud in the quiet office, “So, are you coming over for some food and beer or what?”

“Hm? Oh, yes. No problem. Just give me a minute, there are a few small issues I need to –“

“Gramps,” Blue interrupts, “Seriously, it’ll be there tomorrow morning. I’m starving, are we going or not?”

“Yes, yes, of course,” he says, and begins to turn around back to the computer, “You go ahead.  I just –“

Gramps,” he snaps, prompting Gramps to stop. At Blue’s side, Sylveon bristles and growls.

Blue wishes he could say something more coherent than just snapping out his name; tell him he needs to spend time outside of the lab, that Daisy misses him even if she won’t say it, that he has a great grand-daughter he should really get to know better, that he promised both him and Red he would make more effort, and this is part of that effort. That the work will be there tomorrow, that there’ll always be more to do, and not enough time to do it in, so why not portion some of that time elsewhere?

He can’t bring himself to say out loud though, just finds himself glowering, picking at the collar of his coat. Yet, somehow or another, Gramps seems to get the message and stands, taking a final sip of his coffee.

“Well, alright then, let’s go,” he says, “After all, I’d rather not your Sylveon bite me again – the scars haven’t quite healed from last time.”

 

Even early in the morning, Saffron City airport is still bustling. Blue, nursing a hang-over from the previous night and wearing sunglasses to hide his face from potential fans, scrolls through his social media feeds, full of snaps from the previous night. There’s a few vaguely professional ones – himself and the current Gym Leaders toasting their drinks together, Blue with his arm around Ethan’s shoulder, cheesing it to the camera, Blue and Red standing out in the yard, leaning against the fence as Blue rambled on and on about something, he can’t even remember what. A lot are blurry, less-than-glamorous shots of people laughing and drinking and eating. Kukui has liked and left enthusiastic, emoji-filled comments on damn near all of them.

He closes that and checks his messages.

Good luck in Alola! Make sure to video-chat me once in a while. :)
LoL Masami

hey lol send me hot pix of any beach babes you see while ur there
also im gonna come n kick both of ur asses when u get that tree set up just fyi be ready

Have fun! Be sure to check out some of the restaurants I recommended. :D
Daisy xx

Have a safe trip. Please be a more conscientious employee there compared to at home. You are representing Kanto’s finest, remember.
- Lance

There’s more, well-wishes and congratulations from people they know in Kanto and beyond that, and Blue can’t bring himself to respond to each one.

Sheesh. You’d think he was going off to war or something.

I have a horrible hang-over. I assume that means you do too. I hope it does not make the flight too unpleasant.
Have a good time. Be sure to contact my cousin while you are there.

-Grandpa

Shaking his head, he puts his phone back in his pocket.

He glances back to the café he’s waiting outside. Inside, Red is causing utter chaos by ordering them some coffees, through a lot of gestures and pointing. Half the staff were gathered around him, some very giggly, and most of the other customers were staring, clearly starstruck. Blue has to admit, he’s a little jealous – if he wants to cause that much fuss he really has to put the effort in.

Getting coffee is usually Blue’s job. In fact, he offered, but Red had insisted on doing it himself. He’s doing stuff like that more and more, lately.

Finally, Red emerges from the chaos with two cups of coffee in paper cups, looking a little pink in the face, but proud of himself. Blue accepts his with a grin, sipping it as he glances up at the board, detailing flight times and departure gates.

“Hey, bud, I think our gate’s open now,” he says, with a gesture towards the board, “You ready to go?”

Red fishes a pair of ear plugs from his pocket and then pops them in, muting the worst of the airport hustle and bustle. He pauses, just for a second, takes a deep breath, and then gives Blue a definite nod.

“Alright, let’s go,” he says. With Red’s warm hand at the small of his back, they cut through the crowds and the noise and the curious stares and snapping cameras, and head to the gate.