"...Brendan? I thought you were on Sabbatical in Sinnoh...?"
He wiped the sweat from his palms on his pants as she let him in her room in the Pokemon League Building. "...let's have a match, May."
He'd had many times over the years to think about May. She'd entered his life like a whirlwind, he the budding researcher that also wanted to take the Gym Challenge, entertaining dreams of being a League Champion that did research as well...
She'd explicitly shown him that he couldn't go do things haphazardly, hoping for things to fall into place. He'd trained, he'd worked hard - but he'd always come up short.
"Just a match between friends, May" he said quietly. "I didn't face our Elite Four before entering the Champion's room."
"Of course," she said, still bewildered at his serious tone. "I never turn down a challenge from a trainer and especially not after our eyes have met."
In the end, May had ended up saving the region, the world even before becoming Champion. When the rival you chose for yourself becomes Champion after saving the world, there was no way one couldn't feel inadequate. No.
He'd been so naked with his ambition back then. Go on a Pokemon Journey, get badges while completing the Pokedex... maybe even go up to Evergrande City if he could. May hadn't been in Hoenn until just before she'd started her journey and she'd certainly not said anything about her ambitions to anyone, not to him (understandable, since she'd just met him then) and not to her parents. But when she told him finally that she planned on going for the League Challenge, her words were firm. Honest.
And he knew it was only a matter of time before she'd take the mantle of Champion on.
"These are new Pokemon," she said, after her Garchomp had fallen to his Empoleon.
"Yes," he said. "I... learned a lot in Sinnoh."
She smiled at him, that quiet smile that always made his heart beat faster. Now he knew why May had always made him flustered, not that he knew it when they were both still on their Pokemon Journey in Hoenn. Those many years he'd spent thinking on her, especially when he was in Sinnoh...
Her eyes softened. "I'll repeat the words you gave me once... 'I wanna know about what you saw on your journey, how you felt, and what you experienced out there. I want to know all about you and your Pokemon, Brendan. But that's not all... I want you to know all about me and mine!'"
His eyes widened. "...you remember exactly what I said when we were twelve years old and you were fresh off that Champion win?"
"Of course I did," she said softly. "You're my best friend, Brendan. Those words meant a lot to me then; they still do now."
"Good," he said quietly.
"But other than my best friend, you are also my rival" she said, suddenly releasing her next Pokemon. "Which is why I'm going to do my best here and now and I hope you will too."
He'd worked on many things after he'd decided to go into full-time research with his father. He was his father's son and research had been ingrained in him since he was a toddler drooling over his father's notes in the lab.
Mega Evolution was the topic of the decade ever since he'd gone on his Pokemon Journey and May - May was one of the best users of this. While he could as well, May's bond with her Pokemon was undocumentable - dry scientific terms couldn't capture what exactly went into a bond of a Pokemon with its trainer allowing Mega Evolution and with May, like with all the other things she'd done, everything fell flat.
"...you're overthinking this too much, Brendan." His father had placed his hand on his shoulder after another sleepless night of staring at the blank screen on his computer. "It's about time you took a sabbatical, didn't you? See what's out there - maybe see other regions."
"...you're going to allow me to leave?"
"You've achieved a lot already at your young age, Brendan. I don't want you to burn out. May worries too, you know - why do you think she comes by Littleroot so much, when you know she has so many things to do as Champion? She comes by to check on you."
He did not want May worrying about him, when she had to worry about Hoenn,
"...we're down to our last Pokemon," he heard her say faintly. "Brendan, my god, you've improved so much-"
"You may be going easy on me, Champion" he said quickly, interrupting her. "No Mega Evolution yet?"
She blushed. "I thought we'd leave it for the last - back to the beginning. Because it's you, Brendan."
"...I like that." He pulled out his last Pokemon, the one that'd been with him since the start. "Sceptile!"
In Sinnoh, no one had known him. The reason he'd chosen Sinnoh was that it was far from Hoenn and it was unlikely anyone would recognize a young Pokemon Professor on sight. His father had also only traveled here in the distant past, so even his last name wouldn't bring much recognition.
It had been freeing, something that he hadn't experienced while travelling in Hoenn. Every day, waking up and knowing no one had expectations of him because of his father's name. Just spending hours at a time with his Pokemon, catching new ones and strengthening his bonds with the old. Devoting twenty four hours, seven days a week to just learning his Pokemon, not dividing his time between his training them and research. (Of course, he'd found some interesting research topics to pursue when he came back from sabbatical thanks to Sinnoh. His father had been right.)
"...you tied me, Brendan." Her voice was full of awe.
"I caught you unaware," he said self-depreciatingly. "I didn't even give you time to go to the Pokemon Center to choose Pokemon."
"...that may be true, but that doesn't discount this, Brendan. It doesn't discount you - how far you've come as yourself." She walked up to him and hugged him. "I missed you."
He hugged her back. "I missed you too, May." He dared to touch her hair now - it'd been too long since he'd been able to touch it and those times only fleetingly, when gusts of wind blew them into his hands when they were observing Pokemon in their habitats years ago.
"...I think I have to train harder, especially if I want to keep my title" she said teasingly. "You might come up and seriously take it from me any day now."
"...that won't be an issue," he said dryly.
Her eyes met his and he saw the confusion in them. "Brendan, what-"
The door opened and Steven Stone came in. "May... oh! I didn't know the Sinnoh Champion was here. I've been looking for him since Phoebe mentioned he'd come-"
Immediately after, Phoebe came rushing through the door. "Did he-" She looked at May's confused face, Steven's oblivious smile. "Right, he did. Sorry, Champion Brendan. Steven just arrived so we couldn't brief him on your request."
"...I wanted to tell you myself," he said quietly. "On my Sabbatical in Sinnoh, I took the Gym Challenge there. I'm now the Sinnoh Champion."
He'd always felt inadequate next to May. It was hard when one's rival was the Champion r the future one and when May got involved in whatever criminal element wanted to take over Hoenn or the world he always felt that he couldn't stand by her side. What was he, to claim he could help her?
"Welcome, Challenger. Are you ready to challenge the Elite Four of Sinnoh, and the Champion, if you are lucky to defeat all of us?"
Thankfully, Phoebe had hustled Steven out of May's room immediately after, recognizing what they'd stumbled into.
"...I can't believe it," she whispered.
"...you didn't think I could be Champion?" This thought stung and in a callback to his younger years, it'd come out instantly.
"No, of course not! Of course you could be, if you wanted to. Brendan, I've always envied how much you know about Pokemon, what you note just by looking at them. I've never had that kind of eye. You could have become Champion if you wanted, but I wondered why you never tried - after I -"
But what May observed, she intuitively applied. This was a different kind of strength that he couldn't appreciate when he was younger. "Thank you. Do you want me to be honest? I didn't think I could beat you. I gave up too early, threw myself into research because it was something I knew I excelled in. Unfairly, maybe, because I've grown up observing my father first hand."
"...no, you excelled in research because you have the drive and talent, Brendan. It isn't just because of your father."
"Thank you, but how would you know that?"
She flushed. "...um, I may have helped him a little during this year that you were gone."
She nodded shyly. "...I missed you. And I wanted to know more about what you did - not just the things you explained painstakingly to me when I came by your lab. And your father - he missed you too. That... that helped."
Now his cheeks burned. "...he certainly appreciated the help, though he never told me that."
"...um, I was embarrassed, so I asked him not to tell you."
"...why were you embarrassed?" He reached for her cheek, gently caressing it. May's cheek was so soft.
"Oh gosh, you know I'm not good with words."
"...you aren't," he said and it was dawning on him. "And you're babbling, May."
"I am," she said with a hint of despair in her voice. "But Brendan, you still haven't answered my question. Why... why Champion? Of Sinnoh?"
"...well, I was there, for one thing. And..." His other hand reached for hers. "I wanted to prove that I could be by your side, fighting alongside you when you battled the evil organizations of the world. And what... what other way could I make that certain if not for becoming a Champion as well?"
At this point, his cheeks burned. He'd just inadvertently told her his feelings, hadn't he? By the way she looked at him, she understood that too.
"...I've always thought of you as able to stand by my side," she whispered. "And Brendan... you really became Champion... to help me?"
"And for myself as well," he said. "And Sinnoh, which I've grown to love as well. But yes, also for you." To prove himself worthy of her, to maybe somehow, someday - his feelings -
She reached up and pulled his head down to kiss him lightly, impulsively. He didn't even think she knew what she was doing, considering how quickly her body stiffened when her mind finally caught up to her. But this was what he'd wanted, what he'd not expected her response to be to his fevered confession - reconfession, even, since his words to her when they were twelve was a sort of confession anyway, not that he knew that at the time. He wasn't letting her take that back so when she pulled away, he carefully placed a hand behind her head and pulled her back to him, kissing her. Not so lightly, since he'd dreamed of this moment for a long time and especially during that year in Sinnoh.
"...I can't believe you became Champion for me, among your other reasons."
He touched her cheek lightly. "Gotta make it hard for any other guy who wants a chance with you, maybe?"
Her eyes were shining. "...there was never any competition, Brendan. Not since our first Pokemon Battle. You told me then I had a bond with Pokemon, even after I'd had Torchic for just a short time... those words meant everything to me. That you had faith in me, when I'd only gotten to Hoenn for the first time. Maybe I wouldn't be Champion now had you not said those words to me..."
There were a lot of other things they needed to talk about, like how he'd have to spend more time in Sinnoh both for his research and as Champion - he wasn't exactly planning on having the title just to lose it, how some of the other Champions had been calling for more meetings between them to further curtail the criminal elements in their regions, but for now, he wanted this moment to last forever.
"...I'll make sure that there won't be, now or in the future" he said, before leaning down to kiss her again.