Crystal knows a thing or two about disappearing.
She remembers her first exposure to the concept. The snow was falling around Mt. Silver's peak and she could barely see, except for the snowflakes.
Then: a human.
A boy, really. Barely older than her. The snow blew sideways, heavy and thick between them. She couldn't make out his face.
She knew better than to call him a ghost. She reached for the poké balls at her belt without thought.
They fought and she lost and she awoke in the pokémon center at the base of the mountain. She wondered, for a moment, if he had carried her there.
His pokémon are very strong. Stronger than the champion, stronger than her rival. Stronger than the legendaries she fought and captured because she only fought one of them at a time, and he has a team of six.
She doesn't bother asking for his name.
She opens her eyes in the pokémon center and for a moment can't recall why her hands are so windburned, why her lips are chapped. She opens her eyes and it's as if the last day of her life has been erased. She's in the pokémon center. Had she ever left?
Then she gets her team back, sees the exhaustion in their eyes that the pokémon center couldn't heal, and knows that it's exactly as she remembers: snow, and losing.
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. But it's not like she has anything else to do.
Sometimes it feels like the journey she went on is a separate entity from herself, the person who lived it. She wonders if the story would have turned out differently if she weren't there. If it were someone else. Some other person, some other child—she loses again. She wakes up again, out of the cold. She thought she'd lost one of her hair ties on the way up but she finds it tucked into the palm of her hand.
Her pokémon throw themselves into training with a fervor that surprises her. She wonders if they like it, the challenge, the long climb up the cold mountain. She supposes it is a way to keep time besides the changeovers from day to night.
She doesn't challenge him very often, truth be told. She spends a lot of time walking along the routes that had once been so new, a surprise around every turn. She barely notices the paths she travels over now, instead trying to figure out how to fill the last nagging entries in her pokédex. She says hello to all the trainers she's beaten before, still standing in their places as if waiting for her. Everyone knows who she is now; besides him, no one will fight her anymore.
She wonders if he, too, has nothing better to do.
She beats him and expression, for the first time, changes.
She stands with Meganium in the snow for a long moment, peering through the shifting curtains of white. Where are his pokémon? Is there some reward? There's money in her hand but she doesn't remember him putting it there.
But she watched it happen. She replays the memory. He was there and then he was not.
Still, she knows better than to think he is a ghost. Meganium at least seems unconcerned, turning to whuffle happily in her hair, pleased by their victory. Crystal runs her gloved fingers over his soft petals on autopilot.
Where did he go? is the logical next question. Crystal knows every centimeter of Kanto and Johto, every person, every hiding place; if anyone can find him, she can.
She treks down the mountain herself and her eyes remain open. There is no sensation this time of waking up.
Dusty sneakers on well-worn bike pedals, pushing herself over hills and through city streets.
Everyone's heard of him. No one has seen him, not for years. She flies to Pallet Town and stands in his bedroom, because she is the champion and so she can go anywhere she likes. She stares at his old-fashioned game system and the children's books in his room. He isn't much older than her.
She visits his rival at his gym and he tells her the same thing he told her yesterday. She visits Professor Oak and he says the same thing he said yesterday. She backtracks and stands in the snow of Mt. Silver, puzzled. She fights golbats for a lack of anything better to do.
The next day, the nurse tells her she has a trade waiting at the pokémon center's time capsule.
She trades with—someone. Feeling tired, a little cranky, she sends over three golbats. In return she gets articuno, zapdos, and moltres. She rushes to scan their information and finds his name stamped in every OT box.
She asks where they came from, but they seem baffled by the question. She asks where he is, and they shift restlessly.
She stands in front of the strange machine that sits on the second floor of every pokémon center: the glass cylinder, the wiring of purple and red. When the technician introduced it to her he did not explain how it worked. She did not quite believe him when he said it traded pokémon through time.
Maybe she cannot find him because he is nowhere to be found. No one has seen him for years.
Perplexed, she turns to memory: the only other time travel she knows.
He always stood in the same spot up here. It's a habit most trainers develop. Even Crystal finds herself walking the same routes if she's not focusing on it.
She stands in his spot and waits for something to happen, some flash of light, some victory theme.
When he disappeared there was nothing fancy behind it. He was there, and then he was not.
She misses fighting him. She wishes she could do it again.
I want to find him, she thinks. I want to go to the place where he is.
She opens her eyes. The snow swirls around her. She stands there for long enough that she feels like she can see difference in each one—and then the spaces between them. The air is thick with frozen ice and she can still find empty spaces to slip through.
It's easy enough, once she knows what to look for. She looks up, thinks, ! —