As Yellow travels the country, chasing one adventure after the next, she feels an occasional resonance, making her heart sing like a plucked string. She flinches at the feeling and looks around wildly, searching for the source, but it only lasts a moment—just one moment—and it's gone.
Chuchu grows accustomed to her trainer starting at shadows. I don't see anything, she always reports, dutiful, but with worry hanging around the edges of her thoughts.
"Me neither," Yellow says, and laughs to hide how unsettled she feels.
At sixteen, Yellow is still the baby of the group, but she doesn't feel like one anymore. Her movements have grown out of the gawkiness of youth and she walks with a lady's poise (after years of Blue's drills) and a young man's confidence (after years of watching Red stare his enemies down). She laughs at Diamond and Pearl, learns the backstroke from Sapphire, teaches Ruby how to play the grass whistle. But as much as she loves the others, her favorite moments are the ones she spends alone, when she can slip away from the group unnoticed and listen to the forest sounds that mark a place as home.
(And every now and again, when she's alone, she feels it again—that plucked string.)
She forces herself to stay still. "Come out," she coaxes softly, as she would to an injured Pokémon.
The feeling hesitates and lasts for a little longer this time, long enough for her to feel a flash of recognition—
"Lance?" she says, but the feeling is gone.
When she fights Green again, he frowns at her. "You've lost your edge," he says. "You're not training enough. Do you want to lose all of your hard work?"
Yellow shakes her head, slightly ashamed; Green can always make her feel small, even though they're both equals, even though she's not a teenager anymore. The next day she takes her pack and hikes up the mountain, blowing hard as the sun beats down on her golden hair. (Her old, battered hat finally fell apart a few days ago. Red promised to buy her a new one but hasn't yet found the time.)
She stops at sunset and scans the nondescript landscape. "Guess this is as good a place as any," she says to Rati.
She asks the local Pokémon for permission to train in the area before she settles in. She receives it in exchange for healing a Marowak's injured leg. She smiles and pats the Pokémon's glistening helmet after she's done; it nuzzles her in gratitude, the bone cold against her cheek. They show her a cave where she can stay and then leave her in peace.
Yellow eats dinner by the fire and drowsily scratches Chuchu's ears. She has been a bit lazy with her training, but it's been a long time since the world's needed saving, she thinks. Doesn't that mean she can lower her guard a little?
With a sigh, she curls up on the cold stone and falls asleep to Chuchu's light snores.
She's sitting upright before she even realizes she's awake. Every nerve in her body is jangling, jangling—
She hears the soft sound of whirling cloth, and the feeling's gone.
She waits for him the next morning, but he doesn't return. That's all right, she thinks, frowning as thunderously as her sweet features will allow. "I know you're here," she shouts at the open sky, clenching her fists. "Somewhere. I'm not moving until you come out."
Yellow only has a few days' worth of supplies, and when she runs out she goes to sleep stubborn and hungry, curled around Chuchu to stop her Pokémon's anxious protests. When she wakes up, a small pack of supplies is sitting outside the cave's mouth.
"Just come out!" she calls, frustrated. After waiting for an answer that never comes, she pouts and puts her hands on her hips. "If you really want to help," she shouts, "I need a new hat."
The next morning she finds a shiny straw hat on the cave floor.
"You're favoring your right side," she hears behind her. The voice is gruff, part foreign, part familiar. She turns and sees Lance standing on a cliff face nearby, his Dragonite calm and patient by his side.
"If you pay closer attention," he continues, although there's a rising blush in his cheeks, "you'll see that Chuchu will close the gaps in her defense."
She stares at him for a moment. "I guess Green was right," she says. "I am slipping."
He shrugs before looking away.
Yellow licks her lips, not sure what to say, distracted by the way her senses are prickling. "I could probably use some help," she decides on, voice wavering. "Would you mind...?"
He sighs and clambers down the rock, and she feels the tension ease.
"You didn't have to stay away," she says later, almost scolding.
"I was busy," Lance says, voice dry. "Besides, your friends...probably wouldn't have approved of my presence."
Yellow shakes her head. "I would have liked to see you," she insists. "Besides, you're different now."
She props her chin up on one hand and considers him. "Nicer," she says, "Not so angry. They might like you now—it's been a long time."
"I'll take it into consideration," he says, in a voice that clearly says he won't.
Yellow frowns, but doesn't press the point. "What have you been doing, anyway?"
Lance settles back against the stone. "Traveling," he says. "Training. Thinking."
"And how is that going?" she asks, inching closer. If he notices, he doesn't comment.
"Slowly," Lance sighs, reaching up to rub his face. His next comment is quiet. "Not everyone can be a saint, like you can."
Yellow ducks her head. "You're fine as you are," she says. She sees him turn to stare at her out of the corner of her eye, his eyebrow quirking.
"Is that so."
Yellow nods, refusing to look up. She picks up a long stick and prods the fire.
"But, um...you should cut your hair," she says, "It's getting long."
He reaches up and stops halfway; his hair, if anything, is shorter than it was before. "Is that a joke?" he says severely.
She peeks up at him, eyes dancing, cheeks pink. "Maybe."
A few months later, their hands brush accidentally on the railing of the S.S. Anne, and the feeling sharpens for a moment, a twisting feeling in her chest that's almost intolerable.
"I—I think I like you," she blurts.
He turns to her, eyes wide, and the feeling settles into butterflies. She feels exposed, foolish.
"Sorry," she mumbles, pulling away.
His eyebrows draw together into a frown. "You're too young for me," he says.
"I'm twenty-one," she retorts, although her face is burning.
He scoffs and turns away. "I'll think about it," he says, but she can hear the way his voice shakes.
The silence stretches and almost turns awkward—but before she can lose her nerve she stands on tiptoe and plants a kiss on his cheek.
("If not you," he says, later, "Who else is there?"
She doesn't reply, but her hands squeeze together so tightly that her knuckles hurt.)