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Chapter Text

 

Their break-up is nothing short of explosive.

 


 

 

“Are you trying to kill me?”

He stares at the cracked remains of the lamp she threw at the wall next to his head.

Moon bares her teeth.

“Don’t tempt me, Gladion.”

 With a humorless laugh he cracks, throwing his hands up in the air as he mutters, “Of course. I try to talk about this civilly – “

Excuse me?” she scoffs, crossing her arms, shoulders still tense despite the violent outburst of rage. “You came over here to yell about how I’ve ruined your life, so please point out where I’m being unreasonable.”

His brows go to the ceiling as he points down to the broken lamp at his feet. “Right about here, when this went from an argument to attempted murder!”

“You really get off on being overdramatic,” she spits, daring him to take another step closer to her and see what comes flying at his head next.

“You’re one to talk,” he snaps, feeling his hand shake. His vision is blurry and red and he can’t look at her for another minute longer so he stares instead at the broken bulb next to his foot. He wants nothing more than to scream and stomp on it, feeling it crack and shatter under his foot so he can break something besides both of their hearts for once.

She watches him, still livid as she mutters, blinking back tears that threaten to put out her fire, “At least I don’t tell people I never loved them.”

It sounds so much worse coming out of her mouth.

But he only clenches his fists, biting the inside of his cheek to keep from taking back his words. He tastes blood, and his fingernails are digging into his palm. “At least I don’t abandon people,” he argues, finally looking up at her with betrayal written all over his face.

“Don’t you dare,” she whispers, her voice wavering as tears finally begin to spill over and she points her finger at him accusingly. She plows on even as she feels herself falling apart, “Don’t you dare turn this around on me. You’re the one who’s afraid.”

“I’m the one who realizes he has responsibilities!” he roars, stepping forward as he feels the force holding him back let go. He’s steps away from her before he stops, chiding, “You think I can just up and leave behind my family? The foundation? Arceus Moon, you’re the Champion, and you’re just going to give up your title to prance around the world like a child!”

She gapes, hands going to her hips as she refuses to wipe away her tears, because to do that would only make them real, and make her realize there’s no going back from any of this. “You’re the one who’s acting like a child,” she tells him, feeling something ugly and spiteful travel through her body as she continues, “You’re the most childish person I’ve ever met in my life. The second you hear anything you don’t like you lash out. I’ve told you a million times why I’m traveling and you refuse to listen so that you can throw a tantrum like a damn toddler!”

“You threw a lamp at me!”

“You punched the wall!”

She points at the mark he left on the other side of the room not twenty minutes before, and he tries not to cringe at remembering that yes, this particular fight was absolutely started by him. Then again, it’s not like he can really keep track of who’s at fault at this point.

He feels himself losing momentum. Everything else wrong with them has been brought up countless times in the past few months, and now that he’s facing her for the final time, he’s too tired to even try to bring up that bad blood. Instead, heavy silence smothers them both as they stare at each other from across no man’s land.

There’s a moment where she softens, and he hesitates. She’s within arm’s reach; a simple touch, a simple apology, a simple moment of honesty, and they might be able to fix this.

He turns on his heel and walks to the door without a word, missing her face fall with the first sign of genuine, lasting hurt.

“Gladion.”

Her voice stops him just as he reaches for the doorknob, and he turns to face her slowly, like a death march. His face is stone as he refuses to budge.

She looks at him, a new wave of tears in the corners of her eyes. It strikes him just how small and broken she looks, hunched over and trying not to cry as she watches him about to walk out on her. They both know it’s past time, but she steels herself with a deep breath before trying for one last shot at closure.

“Did you ever love me?” she asks, the silent plea clear in the way she holds herself tighter.

He swallows the lump in his throat.

 

“No.”

 

And now she’s stone, too. Slowly, she goes to her neck, reaching behind and undoing the clasp of the necklace he gave her a year ago. He remembers the dress she wore that day, the way he promised her a future they could see so clearly then, the way she couldn’t stop smiling with all the love in the world right in her eyes and just for him.

Seven steps and then she’s shoving the simple pendant into his chest, causing him to fumble as he catches it, eyes wide as she levels him with a glare.

 

“I hate you.”

 

He wishes she had hit him with the lamp instead.

“I don’t want this,” he chokes out, feeling the cold stone in his palm and the delicate chain already tangling itself into a multitude of knots. “I gave it to you.”

Her hands turn to fists but she’s done fighting; she’s been kicking and screaming on this sinking ship for so long that she’s drowned herself.

“Give it to someone you actually love.”

And he only lets himself cry after the door clicks shut behind him.

Chapter Text

 

They go on with their separate lives for nearly ten years. 

Then they come crashing back together in the second worst way possible. 

 


 

 

The engagement dinner is when it truly feels real to Gladion. 

Across from him sits his sister with a simple ring on her finger and her husband-to-be at her side. Hau’s managed to scrounge up a simple button-down for the occasion, and with the young man’s athletic build and chiseled face, he’s nearly unrecognizable from the scrawny kid he once was. It’s the smile that connects the two, as Hau makes another series of cringe-worthy jokes, beaming at his puns as Lillie only laughs, forehead against his shoulder. Her hair is shorter now, and she’s no longer a bundle of nerves, but she’s every bit as genuine and driven as before. 

Together, they’re unabashedly happy, and they aren’t the only ones at the table. 

Family friends crowd the long table, and as Gladion looks over them for the millionth time during the night, there isn’t an unhappy face amongst the crowd. Trial captains, scientists, and kahunas alike talk excitedly about wedding plans and young love and the fact that these two finally figured things out and are tying the knot. It’s a surprise to no one that after six years of friendship and three years of dating, Lillie and Hau are more than ready to spend the rest of their lives together. 

“Kiawe, please convince my lovely fiancée that we absolutely need the Marowak dance you had at your wedding,” the young kahuna says across the table, sparking laughter from those seated around him, Lillie only shaking her head. 

“Ilima, please convince my wonderful fiancé that while it was amazing at your wedding, it’ll only give me a heart attack,” she adds, the laughter growing into a roar as Hau pouts. Even the pout can’t stay around for long as the second Lillie gives him an apologetic smile, it cracks into a radiant grin and he kisses her forehead. 

From one end of the table, a melodic voice pipes up, “I’d like my daughter to remain alive for her marriage, please.” Heads turn to look at Lusamine, who looks at the young couple with a nostalgic smile, Hala sitting to her right and nodding with a chuckle. She’s spent the engagement dinner speaking quietly with most of the older guests around her, especially with Wicke regarding wedding planning. It’s been years since she’s recovered, and she’s never looked better; Gladion remembers seeing her this healthy and calm only when he was a child, back before everything went wrong and they were a simple, happy family. 

Now things are far from perfect but he can’t deny that he’s somehow finding himself celebrating his sister and his best friend finding love with each other with a group of people he’d trust with his life. 

Which doesn’t explain why he keeps biting his bottom lip and thinking something’s missing. He suspects it’s the familiar nagging feeling of a what if that’s been haunting him for years. 

Still, he shakes it off as the couple of the hour stands, Hau excitedly tapping his knife against a glass to prepare for their announcement. Lillie waits until the table settles before beginning, “So we would like to thank you all for coming out tonight to celebrate. We originally intended this to be a sort of reveal of our engagement, but, well, you all ended up finding out before tonight in one way or another.” 

“Sorry,” Hau cringes, rubbing the back of his neck as the table laughs. It’s true that most of them found out from the cheerful young man, because the second he realized the love of his life said yes, there was no Pokémon strong enough to keep him from shouting it from the rooftops of every island. Gladion laughs along with the table, remembering when he missed a phone call that ended up being Hau and Lillie crying and yelling that it was official mere minutes after he proposed. 

He still has the voicemail saved and fully intends to spread it around during the wedding. 

Once the table is quiet once more, Lillie can’t keep from bouncing on the soles of her feet. “As it turns out, we did manage to keep a few things secret until now.” 

Hau nods, and unable to contain himself any longer (because it’s a miracle he made it this far without blurting it out), tells the table, “And one of those things is that the best man, to no one’s surprise, is my best friend and future brother-in-law, Gladion!” 

“He’s been incredibly supportive of us, despite a rocky start,” Lillie laughs, adding with a warm smile, “And we hope he knows how much we appreciate it.” 

The table cheers and the Aether President gives an embarrassed half-wave, still not used to having so much attention on him. He’s more than glad when Olivia shouts from the other end of the table, “Nepotism!” Then the table is back to talking amongst themselves as Lillie and Hau sit back down with matching grins. Waiters come by with plates of dessert, setting them along the center of the table, mugs being filled with coffee. 

As Ilima takes a sip from his mug, his eyes look to Gladion sitting next to him, asking the blond man with a smile, “So, nervous?” 

“For what, exactly?” he replies, the flicker of his eyes betraying that he’s incredibly tempted to steal a bite of the chocolate cake in front of him on the table. 

“To be the best man,” the trial captain elaborates, setting down his mug as he explains matter-of-factly, “It’s more responsibility than you might think. Kiawe and I took weeks to decide on who would be each of ours.” After a moment of thought and another sip of coffee, Ilima amends with a chuckle, “Well, I took a few days; Kiawe didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings so he took a bit longer.” 

“Please don’t reveal my vulnerable side,” his husband protests beneath the blush, having caught wind of the conversation. As Ilima laughs, Gladion takes the opportunity to sneak a bite of chocolate cake with no one looking, nearly spilling some into his lap.  

He manages to savor his bite before Ilima turns back to him, allowing the Aether President to reply, “At this point I’m essentially co-hosting the wedding anyway, and I don’t think I’d have it any other way.” 

“Ah, your control freak is starting to show,” Ilima tsks good-naturedly, wagging a finger at the young man. 

Though he laughs, Gladion feels something turn in his stomach at the phrase. Burying the feeling in his chest, he looks at his sister and best friend, rolling his eyes but smiling all the same as he watches them feed each other bites of cake in between giggles. “On that note, I’d like to ask the disgustingly happy couple who they chose as the maid of honor.” Ilima and Kiawe are equally curious, and turn their gazes to Lillie and Hau, who exchange a strange look between themselves. 

“W-well, nothing’s finalized yet,” Lillie finally stammers, her flustered state raising Gladion’s brow. She sets down her fork, her voice becoming steady once more as she assures, “But I’m sure you’ll all agree with my choice. Most of you, at least.” 

Most of us? Gladion wonders, although his musing is interrupted by Kiawe straightening in his chair as he asks, trying to hide his excitement, “Could we try and guess?” 

Ilima nods, smiling at his husband. “Good thinking; how about we start listing candidates and you tell us if we’re getting close?” 

Lillie bites her lip, clearly not half as enthused about the idea, but Hau senses the trio’s determination, and so he decides with a hesitant smile, “Sure, why not? Don’t think you guys’ll managed to guess who it is, though.” 

Now Gladion’s curiosity couldn’t get any higher, but he also feels himself growing annoyed at being so out of the loop, especially when he’s volunteered to help plan the wedding. He leans his chin in his hand, drawling, “Is it Hapu?” 

The young woman, who’s a few seats away and worrying about nothing besides finishing the flan in front of her, is an obvious, if unconventional, choice. Her and Lillie have grown closer over the years, and she often grounds the more neurotic young woman, despite being several years her junior. 

But Hau shakes his head. 

“What about Mallow?” Ilima ventures, glancing over at the trial captain who’s sitting right by Olivia and seems to be carefully dissecting the tiramisu in front of her in order to recreate it later. 

It’s another good guess, especially since Mallow is unofficially in charge of the catering, and is baking the wedding cake herself from scratch. She’s also proven to be a steady friend of Lillie’s over the years, especially in helping through emotional rough patches. 

Lillie hesitates, but ultimately shakes her head. 

“Lana,” Kiawe says almost desperately, the trio feeling themselves growing confused. 

She’s a riskier guess, as while Lillie enjoys the young woman’s company, she’s mostly a mutual friend through Mallow. Definitely close enough to be in the bridal party, but not quite a large enough presence to be a maid of honor. 

It’s no surprise when both Hau and Lillie shake their heads, still visibly nervous about their guessing but growing amused at their frustration. 

“Acerola?” 

Shaking heads. 

“Olivia?” 

Shaking heads. 

Burnet?” 

A giggle. Shaking heads. 

“Is she even here?” Gladion snaps, wishing the two would stop skirting around the subject and just spit out a name. He has no idea why they’re being so coy about it, or who they could possibly be considering that isn’t already an obvious candidate. 

Hau raises a brow, looking to his fiancée for permission, and after the blonde nods, he admits, “Actually, no. She couldn’t make it.” 

Ilima, Kiawe, and Gladion stare at the engaged pair with wide eyes, before exchanging a round of looks amongst each other. At this point, they’re resigned to never knowing, or that the kahuna and Vice President of Aether have lied to their faces. With a shrug, Ilima goes back to sipping his coffee, not wanting to worry himself any longer, although Gladion settles for glaring at the pair, letting them know that he’s absolutely going to be a toxic spike in their side about the matter. 

Kiawe is deep in thought, and then he lifts his head, eyes sparkling as he guesses almost victoriously, “Oh, Mina!” 

Ilima nearly chokes on his coffee, and Gladion whips his head towards the fiery trial captain. Then the two of them consider the guess and feel their eyes growing wider and their confidence rising as they turn back to the couple across from them, certain that Kiawe has managed to crack their little game. 

They shake their heads. 

A chorus of groans rings out as the trio slumps into their chairs, defeated once and for all. 

“I’m going to figure this out if it kills me,” Gladion mutters under his breath as he pinches the bridge of his nose. 

Lillie goes to take a sip of coffee, wishing it was something a little stronger as she mumbles, “Ironically, I think it’s going to kill you when you do.” 

 


 

It’s a nice day in Hau’oli City, the kind of weather that encourages waiting outside for someone to come to the door; unless you’re an impatient man with a busy schedule. Gladion taps his foot as he waits on the porch of a house he visits often. Checking his Dex, he confirms that it’s ten minutes past the time Hau had set, and so he calls him. It rings once, twice, and then there’s a click to let him know that the kahuna has picked up and the Aether President can unleash his irritation. 

“You realize this was your idea, right?” 

“Hi Gladion.” There’s a rustle in the background, and then the speaker is covered up and the muffled sound of Hau yelling something – something suspiciously like “Try Hypnosis again!” When he comes back on the line, the blond can practically hear the sheepish grin in his voice as he apologizes, “Um, things are a little chaotic here so – “ 

There’s a huge crash followed by a roar, and then Hau’s voice is no longer clear on the receiver but in the background, shouting commands. Someone might be crying, there’s a cacophony of footsteps, and several Pokémon cry out. 

“So I’m going to have to call you back,” Hau pants when he finally manages to get back on the line five minutes later. 

Gladion blinks, eyes wide as he mutters, “Arceus, who’s getting murdered?” 

“No one, it’s just – “ Crash. Roar. “ – I’ll be late – “ Shouting. Rocks crashing. “ – so go in and wait for me – “ Tree falling? More yelling. “Gotta go bye!” 

He’s left with more questions than answers. 

As he pockets his Dex, Gladion thinks, So rather than helping him pick out a song for his first dance at his wedding, should I be trying to save his life? Though every instinct is telling him to dash to Iki Town to jump in and try to help Hau with what sounds like a wild Pokémon gone out of control, he stops himself. Jumping headfirst into a situation he knows little to nothing about won’t help anyone in the chaos, and though he doesn’t always realize it, Hau’s more than capable of taking care of himself. With a sigh, Gladion decides he’ll give it twenty minutes. 

The spare key is still under the potted plant, and the front door opens with a creak. Gladion stashes the key once more only to freeze in the doorway, realizing that there’s music coming from the master bedroom down the hall. An Alolan Vulpix napping on the living room sofa confirms his suspicion. Of course she’s home even though Hau swore she’d be out all day, the Aether President grumbles to himself as he calls out, “Lillie? It’s just me.” 

At the sound of his voice the music abruptly stops, and as he begins walking towards the bedroom he hears shuffling and the familiar noises of someone trying to cover something up. “Hi Gladion!” his sister’s voice rings out with the faintest undertone of panic, “Give me a second, I –“ 

Nothing about this feels right, but Gladion holds back his suspicion as best he can, stopping outside of her bedroom door as he asks suspiciously, “Can I come in?” 

“Hang on, I’m, um, not decent!”  

There’s a second voice that he can’t identify. 

His eyes widen as he hears whispers and rushed murmurs. It could be a friend, he reasons; there’s no need to jump to awful conclusions. But then why would she be so secretive, so nervous? He figures there’s no way – his sister loves Hau too much, and neither of them are the sort to hurt the other like this. With the benefit of the doubt, he asks her, “Is someone else here?” 

The door opens just enough for Lillie’s head to pop out as she gives him a smile that borders on manic. “Nope,” she tells him, taking extra care to pop the ‘p’ as she slides out and leans against the door, keeping her hands on the doorknob behind her. 

She’s always been terrible at lying to him. “What’s going on, Lillie?” he asks with furrowed brows. 

“Nothing, Gladion,” she soothes, slowly letting herself let go of the doorknob and take another step towards him. She puts a hand on his back, frantically trying to guide him away from the room as she rambles, “You know, Hau might be a while, let me get you some water and we can – “ 

He steps back, taking in her stiff stance and forced smile with a sinking feeling. His hands turn to fists as he prods, “Who’s in there?” 

“I told you, no one,” she asserts, hands on her hips but eyes flickering to the door. 

“Lillie,” he warns as he puts a hand on the doorknob, causing her eyes to widen and her face to fall into panic. “Tell me what’s going on, or I’m going to find out for myself.” 

But she’s tight-lipped, assessing her options and realizing she doesn’t have any. Her brother’s caught her red-handed, and so all she can do is argue unconvincingly, “Really, nothing’s going on!” 

What happens in the next thirty seconds is a blur. 

They hear the unmistakable sound of a window being opened in the bedroom. Lillie lunges for the door as she cries out for him to wait, but Gladion is quicker and bursts into the room and freezes, feeling his heart crash through the floor and his brain come to a grinding halt at the sight before him. 

Moon is halfway through crawling out the window, staring back at him with storm cloud eyes that are wide like a Deerling in headlights. 

She’s different than he remembers, though ten years has distorted and blurred the image of her in his mind. Her black hair is longer now, and there’s a certain maturity to her style now. But it’s undeniably her; the freckles, the spark in her eyes, and the way she holds herself with a quiet confidence remain unchanged and take him back to a time when they were young and stupid and freshly heart-broken. He wonders if she’s going through the same thing, if she notices that his hand still shakes or that he’s taken out the two piercings that used to line his ear. The longer she looks right through him, the more he’s convinced she can see the changes below the skin, how he’s reigned in his impulsive streak, or how he still lashes out at the ones he loves most. 

No one says anything for a century two minutes. They simply stare at each other, lips parted in shock and pulses racing. She swallows hard, swallows a million questions she has and a million things she wants to scream at him and a million apologies she’s practiced in the mirror. Instead, she opens her mouth (and her voice has a slight rasp but is otherwise exactly how he remembers) and mutters, “This isn’t how I wanted this to go.” 

He still has no idea what he wants to say to her. There are thousands of conversations that are left unspoken between them, but he can’t think of a single one and instead only manages to ask, “And how did you want this to go?” 

She bites her cheek in thought, looking down and taking in her position: caught trying to escape meeting her ex-boyfriend by climbing through a window. “Truthfully,” she admits with the faintest hint of a smirk, looking back up at him, “I didn’t want to see you at all.” 

It hurts but only because he understands it, and thinking on it now, he’s not entirely sure if he wants to see her again, either. She wasn’t the only one hurt all those years ago. 

Still, with patched-up hearts neither of them can bring themselves to start yelling or sobbing or even just talking about what happened. In between them, as she hunches in a window and he grips a doorknob for dear life, there lays a mountain of memories, ranging from nights of fighting to dusks spent at the ocean, from tearful apologies to enveloping hugs of laughter, from a broken lamp to a first kiss. 

Slowly, Moon climbs back into the room, though she doesn’t move any closer to him, instead staying right by the wall. He keeps holding onto the door, because the second he lets go he might just collapse. “What exactly is going on?” he finally mumbles, looking from the half-stranger in front of him to his sister, who stands in the doorway with a guilty frown. 

Lillie only offers him a sigh as she replies, “Remember when you couldn’t guess the maid of honor?” 

And then it all clicks and he thinks escaping through the window isn’t such a bad idea. 

Before any of them can make a move, though, the front door slams open in the distance, and Hau’s voice booms through the small house, “Sorry for the wait! Where are you, Gladion?” 

“We’re all in the bedroom,” Moon responds, her eyes refusing to leave Gladion’s as she adds with an amused smirk, “Caught in a stalemate.” 

Hau all but sprints to the trio, managing to catch himself in the doorway and stop behind his fiancée, wide eyes glancing between the best man and maid of honor with worried and confused brows. He looks down at Lillie, who shrugs with a half-hearted smile before explaining, “Moon got an earlier flight.” 

“Well,” Hau starts slowly, scratching the back of his neck as he tells Gladion, “I told you that you’d probably never guess.” 

And he wouldn’t have guessed in a million years that his first love / heartbreak would be the maid of honor at his sister’s wedding while he played best man. He’s still not sure what he’s feeling, or if he’s looking forward or dreading the entire ordeal, but there is one thing he’s absolutely sure of. 

Nothing’s going to go smoothly from here on out. 

Chapter Text

 

Lillie apologizes profusely, Hau serves iced tea, and Moon and Gladion remain silent, looking at each other as if daring the other to say the first word. 

“Really, we were going to tell you soon,” Lillie concludes, watching her brother’s face carefully, “So I’m sorry you ended up finding out this way.” 

It’s Gladion who breaks the silent pact between the two of them. He turns to his younger sister sitting to his left at the square of the dining room table, asking with a raised brow, “Why not just tell me to begin with?” 

It’s Hau who explains, though, as he takes his seat across from Lillie. “We weren’t lying when we said it wasn’t final. We weren’t sure if Moon would be able to even make the wedding for a while, but she was able to work it out,” he says with a slight smile, doing his best to ease the tension that refuses to leave the air between the two exes. 

Gladion scoffs, past hurt bubbling up into his throat as he mutters, “So glad she could find time for her friends with all of her traveling.” 

Lillie and Hau pale, and their eyes snap to the woman in question, but Moon only raises a brow, a cunning smirk on her lips. “Looks like I might still be travelling with this unjustified guilt trip you’re trying to send me on,” she coos, before taking a sip of tea and enjoying the flicker of shock on his face before it’s replaced with irritation. 

“Unjustified?” he parrots, about to go on and light the dynamite they’ve set up before a warning glare from his sister. He picks up his own glass and wonders just where his self-control has gone, because it’s taken about ten seconds for her to goad him on. There’s no denying that she still has some sort of hold over him, but from the way she keeps watching him like she might hug or strangle him, she’s not entirely unaffected, either. 

The kahuna at the table clears his throat, cracking another of his endless smiles as he rambles, “You both want to be really involved with the wedding, and we’d really like that, so maybe you two could come to some sort of agreement?” Lillie takes his left hand, and they give each other a smile before turning their hopeful gaze to their two best friends. 

Which means they’re now at an impasse, because the longer Gladion and Moon sit across from each other, the surer they are that things cannot come to an easy agreement in the span of five minutes. She takes in the way his green eyes cut through the pale shade of his skin and hair, and feels something within her stir and refuse to settle. He takes another sip from his glass to keep his mouth from picking a fight or saying something he shouldn’t in public. Even if he manages to remain quiet, the silence between them is a volatile mix of nostalgia, spite, and curiosity, and it threatens to set the kitchen on fire. 

Still, the no man’s land between them is going on ten years, and there’s only so long they can pretend it’s the same that it was when they were two kids trying their best and hurting each other in the process. 

Moon sizes him up one last time before she glances down, seeing Lillie’s Vulpix rubbing its head against her leg. She picks up the Pokémon as she sits back in her chair, stroking the fur on its back not unlike a cartoonish villain (in Gladion’s mind, anyway). “What do you say, Gladion?” she asks in the same teasing tone she would always use on him, “Think we can call a truce on a bad break-up?” 

He’s not worried about the residual guilt and anger so much as he’s worried about the lingering warmth that even now is refusing to leave his chest. With a shrug, he gives her a smirk that’s halfway to a smile. “We can try.” 

Lillie lets out the breath she was holding and Hau gives her hand a squeeze before he picks up the empty pitcher and stands to rinse it in the sink. While he cleans, Lillie reaches into the handbag at her feet, quickly setting a light blue notepad and pen on the table. “You know, this might actually be a good time to go over what we need to start planning for the wedding,” she chirps, seeing the opportunity to rush past rocky waters and taking it full force. 

Her Alolan Vulpix yawns in Moon’s lap, and Gladion feels his heart clench at the tender smile the former Champion gives the sleepy creature. To distract himself he tears his eyes away and focuses on his sister as he mumbles, “Sounds fine.” 

After Moon’s nod of approval and Hau taking his seat once more at the table, Lillie flips open to the fifth page, pen in hand as she glances through her list. “Well, I think one of the first things we should settle is venue, especially whether or not we want something outdoors or indoors.” 

 

“Outdoors.” 

“Indoors.” 

 

Gladion and Moon lock eyes, set to spar. Lillie’s Vulpix – smelling a war on the horizon – jumps down from Moon’s lap and then the match begins and all talks of truces and putting aside the past are left in the dust. 

The Aether Foundation President frowns, explaining curtly, “If we have the wedding outdoors, we’re susceptible to weather.” 

The former Champion rolls her eyes, snorting, “Ah, yes, the horribly unpredictable weather of Alola; will it be sunny and gorgeous, or extra sunny and beautiful?” 

“The end of summer has the highest chances of rainfall,” Gladion bites, and because he can’t help himself he adds with a cavity-causing smile, “Although it’s understandable you’ve forgotten that, considering you’ve been avoiding Alola for nearly a decade.” 

“I haven’t been avoiding it,” Moon immediately snaps, and she forgets to regret saying just a little too much because the only thing she wants to do is take the man sitting across from her (the same one who broke her heart into three dozen pieces) down a peg. 

He doesn’t notice the worried and guilty expressions on Hau and Lillie’s faces because he’ too focused on rolling his eyes. “Well you haven’t stepped foot in the region in nearly a decade.” 

“That you know of.” When Gladion’s face falls from spiteful to confused, Moon smirks, explaining, “I’ve been visiting for years. I just never visited you, for obvious reasons, and made sure no one told you I was here.” 

His mouth falls open. He looks to Lillie and Hau, expecting, praying, one of them will laugh and tell her she’s ridiculous. Waiting for someone to call her bluff, he instead only finds two guilty faces that refuse to look at him, and Gladion suppresses a groan. “Seriously?” he hisses at no one in particular, adding under his breath, “I’m not a child who needs protection.” 

She sees another chance to go for the jugular and so Moon mutters, “I think we’ve clearly established –“ 

“We should really settle on what kind of venue we want!” Hau cheers, startling the three others and Lillie’s Vulpix, the poor creature just wanting to take a nap on the couch. He fidgets in his seat, the electric tension in the air setting him in motion as he does his best to steer the conversation away from the choppy waters it’s currently being tossed around. “I think an indoor venue is the safer option, but an outdoor venue would be really fun and require less décor.” 

Lillie nods, catching the less-than-subtle gesture to become the pacifists of the group. “I’m also not sure how easy it would be to make an outdoor venue private, although it would also give us plenty of space for all the guests.” 

But Gladion and Moon are far from finished with their verbal boxing match, and without skipping a beat Moon simply bites, “Not choosing an outdoor venue would be an utter waste.” 

“Choosing an indoor venue gives us more creative freedom,” Gladion spits back. Lillie and Hau deflate into their seats, sighing as they watch their efforts go to waste and the best man and maid of honor continue a fight that should have been over and settled years ago. 

“Don’t pretend like you have more of a say in this than I do.” 

“I’m not, but why should you have a say in this at all to begin with?” 

“Because I’m the maid of honor.” 

“Well I’m the best man!” 

“You’re the worst man I’ve ever met,” Moon deadpans. 

Gladion rolls his eyes, covering the stab wound she’s created. “Good to see your personality is still shit.” 

“Couldn’t be as shitty as your rebellious phase haircut.” 

“What, you wear mom jeans now so you’re suddenly stylish?” 

“That haircut was objectively bad. You had bald patches!” 

Hau and Lillie stare at each other from across the table, tuning out the continued verbal jabs in favor of exchanging looks that are a mix of worry and amusement. While the bickering pair continues to throw shallow punches at each other, Hau doing his best to keep from laughing, Lillie looks down at her notepad and the list of things left to plan for the wedding. It suddenly seems impossibly long, but all the same she picks up her pen with a sigh, and adds one more item to the bottom. 

Open bar. 

When she looks back up, Gladion has his arms crossed and Moon is gesticulating wildly as she chides, “I had to sew half your clothes anyway because you looked like an idiot with all those rips and holes, and you refused to do anything about it.” 

“It’s not my fault you’re so obsessed with appearances.” 

“Coming from a guy who wore eye liner on a daily basis, that’s rich.” 

“I only did that for a few months!” 

Lillie’s frown deepens, and she goes back to her list, amending it one last time. 

 

Open bar required

 

Chapter Text

As the president of the Aether Foundation, Gladion keeps himself a consistently composed and calm presence in the company. 

“She has some nerve.” 

At least he usually does. 

Today though, he sits in his office, trying to read paperwork but unable to actually focus on the words in the various memos and reports he has on his table. Instead, he silently fumes over the events of the previous day, occasionally voicing a thought to no one but his Silvally, who watches amusedly from his bed in the corner of the expansive office. 

“As if she has any right to talk,” Gladion scoffs as he remembers when Moon called him pretentious half an hour into their argument yesterday. 

Realizing that he doesn’t even know what he’s signing anymore, he throws his pen onto the desk and stands from his chair, taking a deep breath. Silvally perks up, watching as its owner paces to the expansive windows that overlook the Alolan ocean. Whenever Gladion finds work overwhelming, all he ever has to do is turn and look out the window to calm himself with the vast glittering blue. 

But now, he only frowns. As much as he may detest to admit, Moon refuses to let go of his mind and instead burrows herself further into his thoughts with all her well-timed jabs and snarky facial expressions. She's as stubborn as he remembers, and still manages to cut him to the core with a simple turn of phrase. Gladion continues staring at the ocean angrily, the gentle rolling waves doing little to settle the storm in his mind. Silvally stands from its bed, trotting to the president and standing beside him. When Gladion refuses to look at the Pokémon, Silvally leans its head down, tapping the top of its owner's head with its beak and a small whine. 

"Hm?" Gladion hums, still distracted as he takes his eyes off the window and looks at the chimera next to him. Noting the worry that Silvally exudes, the Aether president does his best to muster a smile and dispel thoughts of troubling exes as he pets the Pokémon's neck. "It's fine," he soothes, mostly to himself rather than to Silvally as he explains, "Really, it doesn't even bother me." 

He's told himself worse lies. Still, there's no denying that Moon's presence has had a greater effect on him than he could have imagined. The few times he's allowed himself to picture their reunion, he had an entirely different meeting in mind: he would be nonchalant and wiser, treating her like a near stranger as she listened to the stories of his success without her with a wistful smile. She would regret leaving, and he would feel comfortable knowing that his decision to not follow her wasn't in vain. 

He could finally accept that it wasn't one of the biggest mistakes of his life. 

Before he can spiral further into his thoughts of regret versus wisdom, there's a knock on the door. Gladion stops scratching Silvally's neck as the creature goes to his bed on instinct. While Silvally is well known to be one of the gentlest Pokémon in Aether Paradise, it's still scared a fair share of employees who've entered Gladion's office, only to be confronted with the seven foot "Beast Killer." 

"Come in," Gladion shouts, heading back towards his desk and grimacing at the sight of his disordered paperwork littering the surface. As he sits, Wicke enters the office, clipboard in hand and smile on her face that drops when she walks towards his desk and sees the mass of papers. 

She clicks her tongue, saying with a chuckle that's a mix of amusement and disappointment, "I was going to ask how the paperwork is coming along, but evidently, it's not." 

With a sigh, the Aether president apologizes, "I've been a little distracted this morning, Wicke. Just give me another hour and I'll have it all ready." 

"Is it Moon?" 

Gladion blinks, staring at his top Branch Manager with wide eyes. "How did - " 

"Lillie," Wicke replies simply, and her smile is back, but more understanding this time as she observes the young man in front of her. She adds, "I'm actually bringing you her latest report, and that's when she mentioned you might be distracted from your fight yesterday." 

"Not a fight," he quickly corrects, feeling himself growing self-conscious at his admittedly childish behavior, "Just a... debate." 

The deadpan stare his branch manager gives him is dubious at best. "Right," she mumbles, before unclipping several sheets of paper from her clipboard and setting them down on the only corner of his desk that Isn't covered in other paper. He glances at it, immediately recognizing it as the results of Lillie's latest experiment with Pokéball technology. Even as he goes to pick it up and read it, Wicke remains in place, watching him with a look he can't decipher. When Gladion raises a brow at her, the woman asks, "Can I speak to you as a friend and not an employee for a moment?" 

Considering she's watched him grow up, helped him escape when this place became a prison, and has consistently provided him the best advice of his life, Gladion can't imagine denying the request. "Go ahead," he nods. She takes a seat in one of the two chairs before his desk, straightening out her skirt and setting her clipboard onto her lap before looking him directly in the eye. 

"You're nearly thirty. Start acting like it." 

Gladion's mouth drops open slightly, taken aback at how candid Wicke has become. Her stern expression quickly shifts at his look of shock. With a sigh, she grows more patient as she explains, "I'm sorry for the moment of tough love, but you need to hear it. I know you're better than to pick petty fights with an ex." 

He sets the report back down, adding it to the mess of paper on his desk, and takes a moment to try and collect his thoughts. Wicke has always been able to see right through him, and though it's meant she's helped tremendously in making monumental business decisions, now it means that he can feel himself wanting to get defensive. "It was a simple disagreement," he argues, though even he doesn't believe himself, "It won't happen again." 

Wicke raises a brow. Gladion cringes. 

"Really, Wicke, it was nothing. Lillie might have exaggerated -" 

"She said you called Moon 'Alola's unnatural disaster'." 

He opens his mouth to argue.  

He closes his mouth, because he can't argue; he absolutely called her that and he absolutely realizes it isn't even that good of a jab. With a groan, he pinches the bridge of his nose and instead settles on muttering, "Lillie shouldn't be telling you this." 

"You shouldn't be saying those things," Wicke counters, adding with a frown, "You're getting older, Gladion, too old to be holding onto this grudge. Your sister is genuinely worried you won't be able to bury the hatchet for the sake of the wedding." 

The Aether president sits in silence, looking at his desk and doing his best to keep his expression unreadable. As much as he wants to reassure Wicke that he can forgive and forget, he's no longer so sure. 

If he lets go of the hurt, what will he use to cover the skip of his heart, the warmth in his stomach at her smile, the fond memories that refuse to fade whenever he looks at her? 

"It was just the shock of seeing her," he replies, looking up with a half-smile that feels hollow. "You know I can control my emotions better than when I was twenty." 

She's not so sure, but she stays quiet on the matter, instead letting her eyes drift to Silvally, who watches her intently. Wicke smiles, and pats her leg, giving the creature the signal to come closer, and it happily obliges, walking to her before laying down beside her chair, allowing the woman to scratch its head. The silence is heavy, and Gladion swallows, debating what to reveal to Wicke or not. As she continues to focus on Silvally, he admits quietly, "I just don't understand why it had to be her. Of all the people Lillie could have chosen to be her maid of honor, she goes with Moon." 

The branch manager nods in thought. "That's something you should ask Lillie," she tells him, giving Silvally a final pat before picking up her clipboard and standing. "After you get through this morning's work, of course." 

"Back to being an employee," he chuckles, because he's thankful that they're finally off the topic, even if it means he'll have to try and concentrate with even more volatile thoughts buzzing in his mind. 

Wicke gives him a final smile, saying before she turns to leave, "For now. I know we're both professionals, but I'm always here to offer an ear or advice." 

He hums and waits for her to close the door before collapsing back into his chair, missing the inquisitive look Silvally gives him. The creature observes as its owner frowns at the ceiling, unable to understand what could be bothering the man but concerned all the same. It lets out an inquisitive growl, and Gladion's eyes land on Silvally with a quirked brow. "Think I should stop letting this eat me alive?" he asks the Pokémon, who only continues to watch him. He sighs, thinking, Great, she's officially driving me insane again. 

The far-off cry of Wingulls begins to lull him into a trance of remembering what once was and dreading what may come. 

Then his Dex buzzes in his pocket and he's back in his office, Silvally going back to its bed in the corner for a nap, his desk more paper than wood at this point. With a sigh, he pulls out the device, expecting some benign message from Hau or a question from Lillie. 

 

From: Unknown [Tuesday 9:12] 
We should talk –m. 

 

His heart stops, climbs out of his throat, and throws itself out the window and into the ocean. Gladion blinks once, then twice, and then he closes the Dex with wide eyes, because there's no way he's responding to that in this lifetime. He has too many questions racing through his mind; the only thing he doesn't have to wonder is that it's definitely Moon. The number has an International Dex code and no contact information attached, but no one else would bother to be so blunt with him, and she still hasn't broken the habit of signing every text with her initial.  

Still, she got his number somehow, either through memory or through a friend. Not only that, but even after the colossal failure of a reunion they had yesterday, she wants to have a conversation. She really thinks that they'll be able to have a conversation for longer than five minutes, just the two of them, and not have it devolve into the war of the century. 

It's enough to make Gladion let out an incredulous laugh in his office, Silvally perking up from its bed. 

"What could she possibly have to say?" he wonders out loud, and though it comes out spiteful, it quickly turns into a legitimate question that has him frowning at the Dex in his hands. He opens it once more, going to the conversation, and trying to decipher those three words. Then he thinks she'll send another message, and he waits a minute (more like five) for the elaboration to come. 

It doesn't. 

He tries to swallow his panic. 

They're going to have to talk to each other again, of course. Neither of them are going to back down from wanting to help plan the wedding, and it would be cruel for either of them to expect the other to step down. The actual thought of seeing her again, and seeing her so often, is what sets his bad hand to shaking as Gladion continues to stare at his Dex. Could this be an attempt at an armistice? Could this be another attack? 

Could this be the conversation where he says too much and gives away the fact that for all his confidence and isolation, he has never felt lonelier than when she stepped out of his life? 

The Dex is shoved back into his pocket and his hands work on instinct as they go to the bottom drawer of his desk and dig past old office supplies until they reach the hidden item at the bottom. He pulls out a delicate golden chain with a moonstone pendant, and twirls the necklace in his fingers as he tries to calm his mind. 

"We need to talk," he mumbles, because that phrase is now all that bounces around in his head as he stares at the necklace he gave her all those years ago. He wonders if she even remembers it; he can't forget the night he gave it to her, on their one-year anniversary, and how she wore it proudly every day since. The moonstone was a permanent presence on her solar plexus, a constant reminder of him that she cherished, right until he broke her heart and she shoved it into his hands with eyes full of tears. 

 

"Give it to someone you actually love." 

 

Now it's a constant reminder of her that he keeps in his drawer. He'd pull it out and carry it in his pocket for months after they broke up. He still pulls it out on the rare occasion that she'd pop into his head, or when he needed something to fidget with during a big meeting or important match. From bitter reminder to lucky charm, he still keeps it hidden in his desk, and he's not sure what that says about him. 

The phone on his desk rings, and as if the landline itself is watching him, he shoves the necklace into his pocket before hitting the button. "What is it?" 

"You have a visitor in the lobby," the voice of his secretary informs him, and he can practically hear the smile when she adds, "And she's very impatient to see you." 

The necklace in his pocket becomes as heavy as his stomach as it sinks to the floor. She's determined, but she's not that tasteless, he convinces himself, though there's no denying that he wouldn't put it past the former Champion to show up at his door anyway; Moon's always been a woman of action over words (and he's not so different). 

He's about to tell his secretary to try and send her away when his Dex buzzes once more, and he hesitantly pulls it out. When he spots the name on the screen and the Kanto area code, though, he can't help but smile, and instead leans into the receiver as he says, "I'll be right down." 

 

From: E [Tuesday 11:53] 
Surprise! 

 


 

Gladion can't fight his growing smile when he sees her standing in the lobby in a long dress, holding a bouquet of flowers. Her eyes catch his and she gives him a shy grin, waiting until he's closer to say, "I hope this isn't a bother."  

She hands him the bouquet almost as an apology, and he chuckles, accepting the arrangement of Kanto flora. "Isn't it my job to get you flowers?" he asks, only a hint of a teasing tone. He's still more than aware that he's at work, and the receptionist in the lobby is doing his best to pretend not to be watching them; the sweet smile he wears while he types gives him away. 

She laughs behind her hand, brown eyes twinkling as she replies, "Not when I'm an expert in flower arrangement." 

He's careful not to squish the bouquet as he brings her in for a hug, whispering into her ear, "I've missed you, Erika." 

The gym leader smiles, a blush on her cheeks when he pulls away, his arm still around her. "So you aren't mad at the sudden visit?" 

"Not really sudden when you've been planning to come to Alola for a month." 

"I meant popping into Aether," she laughs. 

Gladion raises a brow. "Why would I be mad?" 

"I ran into Wicke outside," Erika says, adding with a furrowed brow, "She mentioned you might be under stress." 

The necklace in his pocket becomes an anchor, and he tightens his grip on the bouquet to fight it. "Ah, that, I just..." 

The words dry up in his throat, and he swallows them down. Erika watches him, tilting her head with an unspoken question, but he can't bring himself to answer it as truthfully as he should. Really, they've known each other long enough that he should have no problem bringing it up. He stands with his arm around her shoulder, mind racing with what could possibly happen if he brings up Moon's name. When he opens his mouth to finish his thought, he swears he's going to be honest. 

"Just have a lot more work to do for the wedding than I realized." 

So much for that. 

With a sad smile, Erika fixes a strand of his hair that's fallen out of place. "You always stress yourself out," she mumbles, "There's no need to worry before anything really happens." 

Too late, he thinks to himself with an internal grimace, remembering the fact that worrying about the future is exactly what's consumed his entire morning. However, he shoves the thoughts aside to instead focus on the young woman in front of him, telling her with an easy smile as he begins to guide her to the elevator, "And a great way to relax would be to take my girlfriend for lunch." 

And he doesn't even notice the buzz of his Dex in his pocket, just next to the moonstone necklace. 

 


 

From: Unknown [Tuesday 12:21] 
better late than never, right? -m 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Moon can't help but smile when the familiar chime above the door signals her welcome back to her favorite diner in all of Alola. The hardwood floors are just as worn as she remembers, with the lazy fans above making slow circles; they're useless compared to the wide-open windows that line the walls, letting a fresh breeze through the restaurant. Photos of family and friends take up the rest of the wall space, full of smiling faces. Moon can spot hers just above the counter, along with three other familiar, but younger faces: Lillie, Hau, and the ex who still hasn't texted her back. 

The smile is gone for half a second at the thought of Gladion, and his inability to come up with a basic response to a simple request. 

She remembers a time when he wouldn't hesitate to respond with the first thought that came to his mind. Part of her is relieved that didn't happen, considering the debacle they made when they tried to have their first conversation in over nine years - no doubt he has a few choice words he would love to throw at her. However, there's a much larger part of her that's irritated, wondering when he stopped being so forthright with her. 

Probably around the time she crushed his heart. 

"There she is!" Moon jumps a bit in her skin, eyes landing on the source of the voice that's pulled her out of a dangerous path of thoughts. Mallow smiles, long hair piled atop her head and apron around her waist. She leads the former Champion further into the diner as she says, "I'm almost done with my shift, and I have a booth set up for all of us in the corner." The trial leader watches as she slides into the leather seat, nearly bouncing as she asks, "Can I get you anything? What've you been craving since the last time I got to see you?" 

"I think we both know the answer to that," Moon chuckles, already feeling herself relax as though she's finally come home. 

The green-haired young woman gives her a wink before turning on her heel. "One Mallow Special coming right up." 

Alone at the table, Moon takes a moment to survey the diner. It's not too busy, with only a handful of patrons scattered amongst tables, and she's more than thankful. Though she's always excited to see a familiar face whenever she visits the region, the last thing she wants to do is cause a scene with her sudden appearance in Alola just days after landing. Still, she figures the public will eventually find out their former Champion has returned, considering she's going to be here for several months, and she suspects that when they do they're going to have too many questions she'd rather not answer. 

The bell chimes and signals the entrance of a short and tan young woman, a resting frown etched onto her face. Her eyes scan the restaurant before they land on Moon, who gives a wave and a laugh when Hapu's expression breaks into a wide grin. The Poni Island kahuna walks to the table, slipping off her gloves before sliding into the booth across from Moon. Hapu says with a nod, "I reckon it's been too long since we last saw each other." 

"Only two years," Moon points out, adding as a way of explanation, "I would've visited last year, but things at work got hectic." 

Before she can be questioned further, a large bowl is placed in front of her, Mallow cheering, "One Mallow Special, and a Miltankshake for my favorite kahuna." 

"Much appreciated," Hapu mumbles, a sparkle in her eyes from the sight of the delightfully pink milkshake set in front of her. Moon stifles a giggle as best she can, instead beginning to dig into her lunch. As Mallow goes to sit next to Moon, Hapu gives her a curious look, asking, "I'd hate to trouble you, but shouldn't we get something for Lana?" 

The fourth member of the bridal party is running a few minutes late, but that's not the cause of Mallow's pout. The trial leader huffs, "She still won't eat anything I make. She's convinced I'm trying to kill her with how spicy my food is." With a glance at Moon, Mallow laughs, watching her easily devour slices of Babiri. "That's why I missed my resident spice master so much." 

Hapu joins in on the laugh while Moon feigns a sigh. "I knew that's the only reason you keep me around," she bemoans, eliciting another round of chuckles from the two young women. She smiles, and her eyes travel to the door of the diner as it opens. In the doorway stands a blue-haired trial leader dressed comfortably for a day at the beach. Moon pauses eating and leans her elbows on the table, clucking her tongue as Lana walks towards their booth. "Speaking of bland taste..." 

"I thought I was the one with the bad jokes," Lana retorts, but her blank face quickly cracks into a small grin as she greets, "Anyway, I guess I'm glad you're here Moon." 

"Careful Lana, you're nearly showing emotion," the former Champion chastises, and she feels herself let go of her final trepidation as all four of them are laughing and smiling at each other. Whenever she visits Alola, she always gets a bubble of anxiety in her chest just wondering how things might have changed; she keeps in touch with everyone on a regular basis, but there's no denying that it's far from how close she could be with them if she still lived in the region. She wonders sometimes how she's changed, too, and if she's really lost touch with the girl she used to be back when Alola was her only home and the future was a set course with a happy ending. 

It's reassuring to know that no matter the time or distance, at least everyone she cares about are more than excited to see her. 

Well, most of them. 

But she can't dwell on reunions gone wrong as Mallow sets her sights on her, nearly pouncing as she asks, "So, what's been going on with you? Sinnoh still treating you well?" 

"I'd like to know a little something or other about the work you're doing," Hapu pipes up around her straw, half the Miltankshake already devoured. 

Lana adds with a mischievous spark in her eyes, "What about the rumors that you're getting married soon?" 

Moon chokes on the bite of Mallow Special she's taken, sending a glare Lana's way to let the young woman know that she's well aware that timing was intentional. Lana only wiggles her brows, content to sit back and let her question work its magic as Mallow and Hapu stare at Moon with slack jaws and wide eyes. "What? Who? When? How?" Mallow manages to stammer, Hapu looking between the two silent women and trying to find the secret she's missing out on. 

"I'm not getting married," Moon deadpans, "Lana's just a perpetual twelve-year old troll." 

The trial leader shrugs at the accusation, foregoing a rebuttal to instead loftily suggest, "I guess I just don't know what would be keeping you in one region after you complete the league." 

Considering her track record, it's a fairly legitimate wonder.  "I'm a modern woman," the former Champion drawls, running a hand through her hair. "Who decided to study environmental engineering and found a job in Sinnoh, after a little travel." 

Hapu scoffs, "A little travel? Partner, you've got yourself three lifetimes of travel under your belt." 

It's hard to argue that fact when she thinks back on those six years of nonstop movement, hopping from one region to the next and never looking back. She still has a box of league badge cases, all complete after years of work and training – though she doesn't display them, and can't even bring herself to take that cardboard box out of the back corner of the closet. Years of being a nomad, and now she's trying to tie herself down to Sinnoh, and she's still not sure if she's successful. 

She's still not sure if she should have left Alola in the first place. 

Moon sets her spoon down because her stomach has tied itself into a knot and she's lost her appetite. She looks at the three young women at the booth and explains hesitantly, "Maybe that's why. I've seen the world already. I'm ready to settle down for a bit, and Sinnoh was the best option." 

"Why not Alola?" Hapu asks before finishing off the last of her milkshake. 

The former Champion bites her cheek, doing her best to keep her poker face. She has several reasons, but now they sound like excuses, and she isn't sure what to tell the three waiting faces that watch her. Not to mention the fact that she isn't sure how many of those reasons are really rooted in an eruption that happened nine years ago and still haunts her as she waits for a message on her Dex that simply isn't coming. "Sinnoh is a nice change of pace for me," she begins slowly, doing her best to convince the three girls (and herself), "And it needs a lot more work to be done in terms of converting to renewable energy than Alola. It also helps that Valley Windworks pays well." 

It's far from the whole truth, but the whole truth is too complicated to start to untangle to a group of friends she hasn't seen in two years. She doesn't fool them completely, and from the looks the three young women exchange, it's clear that they all have their own theories that go beyond Moon's lackluster explanation (and probably include a blond or two). It's Mallow who saves the day by bringing the conversation back to its original purpose with a clap of her hands and a smile. "Right, well we have plenty of time to interrogate you about Sinnoh later. Now, we need to start thinking about what to do for Lillie's bridal shower and bachelorette party!" 

And as they dive into planning, Moon can't help but keep glancing at the photo above the counter, a snapshot of time that she's lost, and she isn't sure if it's now nostalgic or mocking. 

 


 

 

"Did we miss anything?" Gladion asks the two men and computer screen in front of him, looking up from the notes he's taken. Ilima and Kiawe think for a minute, and the gym leader on the video call also takes a moment to consider what they've discussed. 

After a moment, Brawly's eyes light up and he asks with an easygoing smile, "Oh, should we keep me flying in for the bachelor party a surprise?" 

A corner of Ilima's mouth lifts. "Hau might just combust on the spot if we do." 

"We can go to the first bar and have you already waiting for us there," Kiawe offers, the three other men nodding in agreement as Gladion jots down the latest addition to their plans. 

They sit in his office, the afternoon light filtering in and Silvally watching from the corner, still curious as to why its owner has visitors during his lunch break. Gladion gives the Pokémon a quick glance and smile, grateful that it's behaved so well throughout the hour. When the Aether President looks back to the computer screen, he can't help but notice how dark the gym Brawly is calling from has grown. "Thanks again for working this out in your schedule, Brawly," he says, Ilima and Kiawe nodding in agreement. 

Brawly gives a chuckle and thumbs-up as he replies, "It's no sweat, and I should be thanking you guys. This time difference is no joke, and I know we're all busy." 

"You should have just as much say in this party as we do," Ilima counters, using his index finger to emphasize his point, "Especially since you're even finding a way to fly out for it." 

With a shrug, Brawly tells them, "Hey, there's no way I'm missing this! I couldn't be more stoked for Hau, and everything we have planned sounds way too good to pass up on." He looks like he might add something else, but then there's the sound of a door opening off-screen, and his eyes look to the distance. After a voice the other men can't identify says something, Brawly replies with a nod, "Thanks man. Yeah, I'll lock up." The door clicks shut in the background and the gym leader turns his gaze back to the screen, giving them a sheepish grin. "Looking like I should probably head out. I'll talk to you guys soon." 

Ilima waves with a smile, Kiawe muttering, "Good talking to you." Gladion gives a slight wave before going to end the video call, watching Brawly's face disappear from the screen. He looks to his two friends, who sit across from his desk, silently asking a question that Kiawe quickly answers with, "He seems nice." 

"I can see why Hau is such good friends with him," Ilima comments. Considering his own words, he quickly adds with a little embarrassment, "Not to say that I don't like him. He definitely seems like someone who's very easy to get along with." 

Gladion sits back in his chair, humming as he fidgets with the pen in his hand. "Went better than I expected," he mumbles, eyes drifting to the computer screen. 

Ilima raises a brow. "To be fair, you expect everything to end in an apocalypse." 

"I'm a realist," the Aether President counters, though he'd be the first to admit the accusation is fairly accurate. Still, he knows introducing himself and initially getting to know people isn't exactly his forte; even years of being the face of a major corporation has done little to change his introverted and generally anti-social ways. 

With a determined spark in his eyes, Ilima leans forward in his seat as he purrs, "Speaking of apocalypses..." When Gladion only responds with a confused furrow of his brows, the trial leader elaborates with a smirk, "We heard about what happened with Moon." 

"Hau told us," Kiawe adds, having the decency to look a little more embarrassed and guilty than his husband. 

Gladion sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Does everyone in this region know?" he asks, tone dripping with irritation. 

Ilima shrugs, far less preoccupied with what gossip is spreading amongst the islands. He explains simply, "We met up with Hau the other day, and it's been bothering him. He's still incredibly sorry for blindsiding you like that." 

"Really, it's fine," the Aether president snaps. 

It's Kiawe who raises a brow, exchanging a look with Ilima before chuckling, "Didn't sound fine from what Hau told us." 

"Thought time was supposed to heal all wounds," Ilima muses, "But looks like this wound is an infection that needed antibiotics years ago." 

"Poetic," Gladion grumbles, not half as pleased as the trial leader is with the metaphor. Something Ilima mentioned earlier, however, bubbles up into his mind, and he drops his annoyance, asking, "What do you mean it's bothering Hau?" 

Kiawe frowns. "It's not exactly good news for the wedding if the best man and maid of honor are too busy trading insults to actually help." 

He has a point there, one that makes the Aether president involuntarily cringe at the mention of his lapse of self-control. It doesn't help that his conversation with Wicke pops into his mind at the same time, reminding him that he now has both his sister and best friend worrying about the state of their wedding. 

Then again, it's not entirely his fault. 

"I'll be more than happy to act civil when she does," he replies curtly, trying his best not to sound defensive (and failing). 

Ilima and Kiawe share another look, one that lets Gladion know he isn't going to like anything they tell him next. He finds he's correct when Ilima sends his stomach sinking just by asking, "So why not text her back?" 

"How do you know about that?" 

"We're friends with her, too," Ilima drawls, "I know you don't like hearing that, but we're seeing both sides here. And the fact that you're really waiting to respond to her is making things worse." 

Now he's really run out of arguments, but still he protests, "She shouldn't be airing dirty laundry." 

With a shrug, Kiawe explains, "She only told us because she knew you'd listen to us over her." She's not wrong, Gladion thinks, and seeming to sense his thoughts, Kiawe adds with a pointed look, "Which isn't great if you two are working together." 

Before he replies, Gladion glances at the time on the corner of his computer screen only to realize he's running late. "I'll text her back soon," he tells the two men, mostly to placate them rather than as an actual promise. He stands, and the trial leaders follow his lead, sensing his need to rush out the door. "I promised Erika I'd take off from work early to spend time with her." 

"That's right, almost forgot she's visiting," Ilima mumbles, before his curious side fights through and he can't help but ask with a smirk, "What does she think about this whole situation with Moon?" 

The Aether president freezes, feeling his blood run cold. 

I'm never going to hear the end of this.  

The amused twinkle in Ilima's eye makes Gladion's stomach flip as the trial leader lets out a stunned chuckle. "Arceus, she doesn't know, does she?" Gladion's refusal to answer is all that Ilima needs to confirm his suspicion. Armed with even more fuel for this fire, Ilima can barely hold himself back from interrogation, asking the younger man, "Does she even know what happened with Moon all those years ago? Have you told her anything about Moon?" 

"It hasn't come up," Gladion snaps. 

Except it has. The subject of the mysterious ex that he never seems to say more than five words about has occasionally popped up in Erika's questions; each time she's left to give him a mysterious look when he refuses to even begin on the subject. He isn't sure why he's so hesitant to talk about an ex from almost a decade ago with his current girlfriend, but he chalks it up to not wanting his current relationship to be stained with past mistakes that he swears he's grown from. 

Kiawe can see his husband on the brink of a full scientific inquiry, and so he steps in with a quick, "You shouldn't keep Erika waiting, and we need to head back to our trial sites for our next challengers." 

Ilima gives him a pout. "You're no fun." Still, he only gives Gladion a wink before turning on his heel, walking with Kiawe to the door before throwing over his shoulder, "And I say this with absolute certainty: the way you're handling things, Gladion, this is going to get messy." 

They close the door behind them, leaving Gladion in his office, Silvally watching from his spot in the corner and only growing more concerned at the frown on its owner's face. 

With a sigh, he admits to no one but himself, "It already has." 

 

Chapter Text

 

From: Unknown [Tuesday 9:12] 
We should talk –m. 

From: Unknown [Tuesday 12:21] 
better late than never, right? -m 

From: Type:FullofShit [Friday 13:04] 
        What do we have to talk about? 

From: Unknown [Friday 15:39] 
you wait three days to respond and  that's  your opening  line?   - m. 

From: Unknown [Friday 15:40] 
And you know wh at  -m. 

From: Type:FullofShit [Friday 19:31] 
               I'm busy until Sunday night. 

From: Type:FullofShit [Saturday 12:44] 
                                   What about you? 

From: Type:FullofShit [Sunday 10:07] 
          Are we meeting tonight or not? 

From: Unknown [Sunday 14:18] 
How's your own medicine taste? - m. 

From: Unknown [Sunday 14:19] 
Apt. 22, 17 Pele St., Konikoni City. 9pm-m. 

 


 

 

He realizes immediately how close it is to his own house. The second he saw the address, he felt his soul curl up on itself and wither away, leaving him to stare at the text and calculate the horrifyingly short walking distance. 

Gladion leaves his house at five minutes to nine, walks up the path, and stops in front of the small apartment complex. A glance at his watch reveals he has two minutes to spare. With a frown, he climbs up the stairs, finding her apartment at the other end of the building. Another glance at his watch. 

One minute. 

Stalling, he finds himself looking at the private courtyard the apartment complex provides for tenant's Pokémon. In the dark he has a hard time distinguishing the sleeping shapes, but then he sees the unmistakable feathers of her Decidueye, sleeping in the branches of a Banyan tree. With the ghost of a smile, he watches the creature sleep for a moment, remembering how he watched it grow from a runt of a Rowlet to one of the fiercest foes in the region. Before he completely loses himself in a past that barely feels like it belongs to him, he turns back to the door and the newest challenge of his life. 

Bringing his hand up to knock, he hesitates. 

On the one hand, he absolutely does not want to have to face Moon, no doubt drudging up old arguments and past spite as their words dance around the real heart of the matter. 

On the other hand -  

There is no other hand. For all his talk of maturing, Gladion can't let go of this final seed of hurt. When she would cross his mind before, he could never decide if he really forgave her, or if things would truly be set back to neutral once they met. Honestly, after those first few years he couldn't even imagine them meeting again; he was so sure that she was out of his orbit that he almost wondered if she'd been a delusion or a dream. Maybe he's held onto the resentment because that was the last thing he had of her. 

Or maybe he's just a grown man feeling like a teenager again as he hesitates to knock. His watch mocks him as it strikes nine exactly, simultaneously striking on the nerve that controls his fight-or-flight response. 

He knocks.  

If he's going down, he's going down swinging. 

She opens the door, and he opens his mouth to say something, but feels his throat close up. Moon leans against the doorway, sizing him up with a mysterious smirk on her face that seems maliciously amused. She's in an old t-shirt and ripped up jeans, hair falling out of its ponytail – he's in a similar state in his scuffed sneakers and hoodie. Still, there's something about her that hints that she has the upper-hand before they've even begun. 

"You're late," she drawls, knowing that it's barely a minute past nine. 

"I didn't want to be here," he replies, knowing that won't stop her now. 

With a quirk of her brows she turns on her heel, leaving the door open as she walks into the apartment. His feet, on the other hand, remain rooted to the balcony, and he simply watches her disappear further into the living room. Realizing Gladion's still outside, she glances over her shoulder with a raised brow. Something dulls the spark in her eyes, and her lips are fighting to keep from dropping into a frown as she adds with a sigh, "You don't have to come in, but don't leave my door open and waste my air-conditioning." 

It's an escape route, one that she finds herself offering freely. Looking at him, standing outside her door, Moon feels old memories clutch her heart and drag it to her stomach; she's nauseous and her plan to keep them both honest during this talk isn't going to help with that. 

There's a second when his eyes flicker to the left and she's sure he's about to bolt, but then he's stepping inside and closing the door behind them. He slips off his shoes and takes in the small apartment, clearly a rental with barely any signs of life. A few cardboard boxes take up a corner of the living room, next to the television, and before he can question it Moon explains, "I'm still unpacking, so sorry for the mess." She takes a seat on the white couch, watching him as he walks at a Slugma's pace towards her, eyes constantly scanning for the next sign of danger. "Making sure there aren't any lamps I could threaten you with?" she asks with a smirk and a half-hearted chuckle, "Or are you figuring out which wall you want to punch?" 

It's enough to crack him, at least to the point that he returns her lopsided smile with one of his own as he takes a seat across from her in an armchair. Before he can match her quip, his eyes land on the coffee table between them, brows furrowing at the bottle of pale pink liquid. "What's that?" 

"Incentive." 

"For what?" he asks, reaching for the bottle and turning it to better read the label. Before she can answer, his brows shoot to the ceiling as he makes out the text on the bottle in the dim light of the living room. Pelipper Brewing Co. Gin. His eyes narrow at her in suspicion. "What kind of talk are you planning, exactly?" 

She rolls her eyes at his worry, bringing her legs up onto the couch and crossing them (and they both pretend they aren't remembering all the times he would tease her about her inability to sit in chairs normally). "Hear me out," she tells him, watching him continue to inspect the bottle, "We both have a lot that needs to be said. So, we take turns asking each other questions, and you either answer truthfully or take a shot." 

His deadpan glare speaks volumes. "This is idiotic." 

"Well I can't exactly trust you to tell me the truth otherwise." 

He bites his cheek, choosing to carefully place the bottle back on the table rather than look into her intense gaze. There's plenty going through his mind right now, but he has the distinct feeling that if he were to voice any of his thoughts their conversation would be over before it even started. Instead, he sighs, "So, truth or gin, essentially?" 

"I mean, if you want it to sound like a stupid college drinking game, sure." 

"This is a stupid college drinking game. You're just pretending that this is how mature adults act." 

"I never said this was mature," she says, index finger pointing to the air like a condescending professor, "But it's realistically the only way we're going to get to the bottom of things tonight." 

Of course, she doesn't really think they'll get to the bottom of much else besides the bottle. Moon knows far better than to humor the thought of them truly opening up and moving on with just a few hours of conversation. She actually has the distinct feeling this will make everything worse, but still she lights the fuse (and throws in alcohol to at least make it entertaining when this all goes down in flames). 

For his part, Gladion doesn't leave; he doesn't even argue further. Instead, he sits back, letting out a deep breath and closing his eyes. "You first." 

"I don't have a question," she drawls, resting her chin in her palm. 

An eyelid opens and a green eye peers at her, unconvinced. "Really? You're the one who wanted to talk. Is this the first time in your life you have nothing to say?" 

I have too much to say, she thinks as she watches him close his eyes once more. She could say he looks like an idiot even though he's probably convinced he looks aloof and cool. She could say she's guilty about making Lillie and Hau so nervous about how the wedding will go. She could say it's unfair that after all these years of convincing herself that he's nothing more than a regrettable boyfriend from her youth, looking at him now she feels Butterfree in her stomach. 

"Do you still have the Roxie record I let you borrow?" 

His eyes burst open and his head snaps to her. "You still remember that?" he mumbles incredulously. 

The corner of her lips curls into a lazy smirk. "Never forgot," she tells him, "That was my second favorite record." 

"You never asked for it back." 

"Yeah, didn't really get the chance." What with the whole hating-your-guts thing and touring every other region, she adds in her mind. He picks up on her thoughts, and they share a chuckle, because now, as they sit across from each other nine years later, it all sounds a lot more ridiculous than it felt. 

Still not able to believe this is their starting point, Gladion leans forward, wringing his hands absent-mindedly as he thinks. "It's in a cardboard box," he remembers, looking up at her with a smirk, "In storage. I'm sure you understand why I didn't want to have it lying around." 

She shrugs, but can't help but feel triumphant as she says, "You didn't get rid of it, though." 

He opens his mouth to speak but stops himself, feeling the ground under him drop and send him into a free-fall. It's a worrisome sign when the most innocuous of comments can make him question when, if ever, he really got over her. When his heart lands back in his chest, he swallows the truth and instead settles on muttering, "Would hate to destroy a perfectly good record." 

Moon nods, pretending she's satisfied with the answer for his sake. There's a moment of silence, besides the far-off chirping of nocturnal Pokémon beginning their nights outside her window. "Your turn," she says, gently breaking the silence. 

Gladion bites his lip in thought for a moment before he decides he's going to take her approach to this admittedly unorthodox situation. His gaze goes from the floor to her storm cloud eyes, asking with an amused lilt, "If that's your second favorite record, then what's your first?" 

"The Rabutas' Too Rough to Live." The answer sucker punches him, and he blinks with wide eyes; she laughs at his expression, admitting with only a little embarrassment, "After you played it for me, I became obsessed. It's still the best record in my collection." 

He tries to quell the pride bubbling in his chest, writing it off as his ego taking over. When the warmth in his stomach refuses to fade, he chuckles, "Not high praise, considering your awful taste in music." 

"Considering how often you borrowed my records, you're no better," she argues, sitting back and crossing her arms. For a moment, she wants the battle to begin, to see him put up a fight, watch him try to hide his smiles at their jabs. When he only shrugs in response, Moon tries not to deflate, instead focusing on her next question – she's going to have to bite the bullet. Still, she chews the side of her cheek, hemming and hawing over her wording to try and stall the inevitable. 

Gladion feels it coming, like the wind picking up before the hurricane strikes. He braces himself, watching her grow quiet and still, praying that the single floor lamp in the living room isn't illuminating the growing anxiety on his face. 

She takes a deep breath. 

 

"Why did you really break up with me?" 

 

He takes a shot. 

It's almost impressive how fluidly he goes for the bottle, unscrews the cap, and takes a quick chug. When the bottle hits the coffee table once more, she groans, "Seriously? You're already not answering?" 

"I'm not starting on that," he tells her, looking at his watch. Somehow it's 9:23, and he has work tomorrow and a cargo-hold of baggage that he lost the key to several years ago. Between that and the gin, his choice couldn't be clearer. 

"We have to eventually," she sighs, gripping her arms tighter to keep from shaking his shoulders. If I can't run anymore, she wants to scream, Then neither can you. But then she's done this to herself in how she set this up, and the escape hatch of her plan is now a glaring loophole. 

He knows he's being difficult; then again, they both knew he would be. Gladion takes a moment to weigh his options, realizing absolutely none of them are appealing. If he leaves now, he looks bad, and there's no way to redeem himself. If he starts answering, he knows he's going to have to give her answers that he hasn't admitted even to himself. If he keeps drinking, he's going to have to explain a hangover to Wicke and Lillie. 

Her eyes lock onto his and he takes a deep breath. "We can't take a shot twice in a row." 

She presses her lips together into a thin line to keep from chewing him out. It's not the answer she really wanted, but he's still sitting here and willing to try. "Fine." 

"You start." 

The chuckle that escapes her is humorless. "You don't want me to ask the question on my mind." 

"Is it a low blow based on how annoyed you are at me?" 

"Absolutely." 

"Okay, I'll start," he huffs, because the longer they draw this out, the later it gets and the more dangerous these waters become. He stares at the bottle on the table as he thinks, beginning to feel the effects of his last shot and realizing that in his haste he ended up starting a bit too strong. When he looks back up at her to ask his question, the irritation in her eyes has faded, and she's composed herself into a blank slate. With a frown, he asks, "Was there anything I could have said or done to stop you from leaving?" 

Her face falls, lips parted in surprise as she considers the question. It's one he knows the answer to, has always known the answer to, but he needs to hear it from her. She slowly shakes her head. "No. I've always been -" 

"Stubborn," he finishes with a nod, considering her answer, feeling himself transported back all those years ago, back when she first whispered about how badly she wanted to go, to see the world, to find something; back when he first realized he might not be that something. She started collecting maps and lists of sights to see, and he started collecting fear and resentment. Mulling the memories over, he thinks out loud, "It's just that..." 

He trails off, leaving them both to sit in silence, avoiding the other's eyes as they feel themselves slowly beginning to drown. In an attempt to keep treading water, she asks quietly, "What about you?" He furrows his brows in confusion, prompting her to elaborate, "Was there anything I could have said or done to make you come with me?" 

And they both know the answer, but still he replies, "No. There really wasn't." Gladion expects the impending silence to be suffocating, but instead it crawls over his shoulders and rests like a blanket. There isn't much left to do with their past besides slowly come to peace with it, and in the quiet he starts to believe he can do just that.  

Moon feels much the same, her eyes cast on the hardwood floor but seeing a film reel of memories that still prick at her heart but no longer draw blood. A few of the memories begin to revolve around the venom she created years ago, and she lifts her eyes to his with a guilty frown. "I shouldn't have said all those awful things to you." 

"What things?" he asks, as if he doesn't remember. As if he can't recall the time she snapped at him at Aether for being a control freak. As if he doesn't still sometimes think about the argument when she ended up shouting that he was a coward. As if he isn't reliving the moment when he was in her kitchen and she was gripping the counter, her shoulders beginning to shake as she called him dead weight. 

She observes him a moment longer, before shaking her head. He can feign ignorance all he wants, but she knows him far too well to buy it. "Every time I was mad and lashed out in the end," she tells him, nearly wincing at the image of her younger self, full of displaced rage and unspoken fears. 

But then he let the worst of himself get the best of him, too. "I wasn't much better to you," he mumbles. When she called him a control freak, he snapped back that she was apathetic. When she tossed the word "coward" at him he shouted that she was self-righteous. And as she faced the wall and told him he was dead weight, he grinded his teeth and muttered that she was a train off its tracks, heading towards its own destruction. 

"I'm sorry." She bites the inside of her cheek and feels a cold relief wash over her, yet it still feels incomplete. It's not much of an apology to begin with, and the fact that it's nine years too late only makes her stomach sink further. 

"I am, too," he whispers, and they drown in the silence, knowing this isn't the closure they need, but not sure where to go from here. He watches her with a frown, coming to realize something about the girl in front of him that he's never quite seen before. "Why didn't you break up with me?" 

Moon looks up at him, and she slowly comes to the same realization as him as she echoes, "Why didn't I break up with you?" 

Some final tension in him snaps and releases itself as a stunned, one-note laugh. "We were awful to each other." 

"You were awful to me first." 

"So you should have broken up with me." 

"But I didn't," she hums, and Gladion can tell she's becoming introspective from the way she bites her lip and shifts her weight on the couch. Her fingers tapping her leg, she wonders aloud, "We both let it drag on for months. I guess I didn't want to give up hope. _art of it was pride, too; I didn't want to admit that I couldn't fix things, or that I'd failed in some way. It didn't help that I -" 

 

Was so completely in love with you. 

Even when you never felt the same. 

 

"-was so nonconfrontational," she manages to finish, deciding tonight isn't the night she'll let go of her last shred of dignity. Moon watches his face, looking for signs that he's picking up on what she's trying to hide. When she finds none, she lets go of the breath she's holding. "My turn, then?" Gladion nods, though he still seems distracted by her answer. Her face twists with an ugly thought before she opens her mouth to ask, "When did you decide to break up with me?" 

He eyes the bottle for a solid minute, but just before Moon can roll her eyes and tell him to just drink already, he answers, "About two weeks before I actually did. That was when we couldn't hold a conversation that didn't turn into an argument. Before then, I thought we could handle the distance, that maybe it would actually help us." 

She gives him a bittersweet smile. "Make the heart grow fonder?" 

"Something like that," he mumbles, fidgeting with his hands. It's technically a lie (he knew the moment she started to wander) (the distance was always his enemy, was always a reminder that people leave), but he justifies the fib in his head and swallows the guilt when he looks back up at her. Realizing he feels the alcohol numbing his nerves and she's still sober, he considers his next question carefully, before a rare spark of impishness flashes in his eyes. He leans forward as he drawls, "How often did you consider trying to get back together?" 

The bottle connects with her lips faster than she can think, and it turns out gin is a lot easier to swallow than pride. Gladion chuckles, feeling himself growing cocky and the shot in him only encouraging it. "Too often?" 

If looks could kill he'd be six feet under, but the rage in Moon's eyes is taken over by her own mischief, and she smirks. "Well how often did you cry in the shower after we broke up?" 

And she laughs as his face falls and he takes his second shot. 

"Too often?" she parrots, basking in her turn to be triumphant. 

He wastes no time in coming up with his revenge. "Did you make a playlist about our relationship to cry to?" When her hand reaches for the bottle, he beats her to the punch, pushing it out of her reach as he reminds her with a cunning smirk, "Can't take two shots in a row." 

She mutters something under her breath that sounds suspiciously like "son of a bitch," only fueling his smirk. Her leg bounces as she leans her elbows on her knees, mirroring his position like a flustered shadow. Trying desperately to reclaim her dignity, she argues, "I make playlists for everything." 

"So yes," he mutters, resting his chin in his hands, "And it was probably the weirdest mix of riot grrrl and sad acoustic music." 

"Piss off," she says with absolutely no bite, because his laugh is infectious and he knows her all too well. Moon goes to tuck a stray strand of hair behind her ear, then reconsiders all together and instead takes her hair out of its ponytail. When it lands past her shoulders, she's still not used to the length, and runs a hand through it as she thinks of her next question, realizing that nine years has colored their nostalgia rather oddly. "Did you ever learn to sew?" 

He bites his lip, and she realizes that it's to keep back a chuckle; Gladion would always make the exact same face when she would make him laugh when he wasn't supposed to. "I always knew how to sew," he whispers, as if to keep her from hearing. She does, though, and her eyes nearly bug out of her head as he explains with a self-deprecating laugh, "I was just lazy and had an aesthetic." 

"Never say the word 'aesthetic' again." 

"What do you have against it?" 

"Nothing, just," her thought gets cut off by her shock as she leans back, running a hand through her hair. After her eyes have grown wide and she lets out a stunned giggle, she whines, "Why didn't you stop me from fixing all your clothes, then? I thought you needed my help." 

I always needed your help, some voice pipes up in the back of his mind. Gladion shrugs, unable to keep the amused smirk from turning into a smile. "I know how determined you are, and it made you happy. That's two questions, by the way." 

"So shoot." 

"Admit it: you liked when I wore eyeliner." 

"That's not a question." 

"Fine. Did you think I looked good when I wore eyeliner?" And he knows she'll take a shot but he laughs anyway, feeling the effects of the liquor beginning to fully form and give him a giddy shot of adrenaline. "Just say yes," he roars, feeling his voice grow louder without his consent. 

"I'll never give you the satisfaction," she hisses overdramatically, bottle still in her hand as she wipes at her mouth to hide her own brilliant smile. A moment passes and she tilts her head, gears in her head slowed down by gin. "Who's turn is it?" 

"Mine," he says, shrugging off his hoodie as he feels his body grow warmer. 

Moon frowns. "Want me to make it colder?" She doesn't even give him a chance to answer as she sets the bottle of gin back on the coffee table and goes to the thermostat. As she tries to figure out the console, she calls over her shoulder, "That doesn't count as a question, by the way." 

He chuckles, watching her struggle for a minute longer before replying, "Neither does this: Do you need help?" 

"I got it!" Though it's clear from her grumbling she doesn't, and Gladion stands with a sigh. 

He walks up behind her, reaching around and quickly pressing a few buttons as he whispers, "Here we go." The temperature displayed drops a few degrees and the AC kicks into life around them with a rush of cool air. She turns her head to look at him in slight awe, Gladion still leaning a hand against the wall. Pretending he doesn't realize how close her face is to his, he whispers with a dangerous smirk, "I'm more than just a pretty face, you know." 

She rolls her eyes, and when she pushes his face away, her fingers linger on his cheek a second too long. "I know." And the gin starts swirling and mixing with the bad ideas forming in her mind as she leans in just a hair closer, feeling his breath warm her cheeks. He swallows hard, forcing his eyes to stay on her gaze. 

And then she gives him a wink and a light slap on his cheek as she coos, "You're also a pain in the ass." 

What else did I expect? Before he can give his mind a chance to answer itself, Gladion rolls his eyes, watching her walk back, and choosing to take a seat on the floor instead of the couch, setting a foot on the coffee table in a position that he could only describe as very Moon. He follows and settles back into the arm chair before asking, "When you visited Alola, did you ever consider visiting me?" 

"A few times," she says with a shrug, wondering how he found out about her visits before remembering she was the one to reveal herself several days ago. How are we both this drunk? she wonders, before she sees that nearly a third of the gin is gone. That explains that. Realizing she's left his question half-answered and Gladion's watching her with a mysterious gaze, she adds, "Not at the beginning. I think around my third year of traveling. But then it felt awkward, and I was visiting less anyway, so..." She shrugs instead of finishing her thought, content to leave it hanging in the air. He laughs at something that the she knows she won't like, and her eyes narrow. "What?" 

He shakes his head, running a hand through his hair as he sizes her up before shaking his head with a grin once more. "You're drunk," he settles on saying – he may be tipsy, but he's still fairly certain exes don't tell each other that they're adorable when they're drunk, and so he'll refrain from doing just that. "And that was a question." 

"First of all, I'm buzzed," she argues, as if it makes all the difference in the world. "And second of all -" 

"Are you still embarrassed about the red beanie you used to wear because you thought it made you quirky?" 

She blinks, and he feels himself win a competition that doesn't exist as her cheeks take on a shade of pink. 

"Are you still embarrassed about that one pose you always did because you were convinced it was cool?" 

He freezes, and she takes back the win for only a second before her eyes snap to the bottle on the coffee table. His follow suit, and in seconds she's scrambling up from the floor, but not before he's lunged forward and taken a swig, deciding to sit on the floor with her before handing off the bottle. As she takes a long drink of gin, he sits back, gazing at the ceiling and wondering how late it is. 

"It's 10:50," she says before he can even realize he asked the question out loud. The bottle of gin sits on the floor between them, and she sighs as she sits back with him, both staring at the ceiling. The night goes on outside, a breeze rustling trees and Pikipek settling in the branches. 

Gladion considers all the decisions he's made that's led to this point before asking, "What are we doing?" 

"Staring at the ceiling," she deadpans, before she bites her cheek in thought, adding, "Getting drunk on a Sunday night. Being horrible influences on each other." 

He fakes an offended look, countering, "You're the only one here who's a bad influence." 

"Since when?" she scoffs, looking at him and already seeing dozens of examples that he could bring up for this very moment. If he has any good sense, he won't embarrass them both. 

(But if he had any good sense, he wouldn't have lost her in the first place.) 

"Since the days you spent terrorizing Kanto. And need I remind you of all the times you insisted we wouldn't get caught in the Champion's room?" 

Her mouth falls to the floor and she shoves him hard on the shoulder, trying to drown out his laughter with her accusation. "Says the guy who insisted he locked the office door before -" 

"Wicke didn't see anything!" 

"Well considering the state of our clothes she didn't need to in order to know what she interrupted." 

His pale skin is ignited with a brilliant flush at the memory and he groans, Moon laughing despite her own blush. As Gladion feels heat take over his body, she feels the chill of her air conditioning send a shiver down her spine. He frowns, asking, "Are you cold?" He doesn't let her answer before leaning over and retrieving his hoodie from the arm chair, passing it to her wordlessly. 

She accepts it without hesitation, as if nine years hasn't passed, as if she never left, as if they never broke each other's hearts. The sleeves are far too long, and she's drowning in fabric, but she's far from complaining. "You still use the same cologne?" she mumbles mostly to herself after the familiar scent hits her. It's faint but distinct, and has always made her think of the beach at dusk. 

He shrugs, and when he his shoulders drop he realizes their arms are touching and he's too drunk to try and move away. "What, you don't like it anymore?" 

"Just impressed by your consistency." She rests her cheek on her drawn up knees, staring him down; he doesn't budge, staring back and wondering what exactly she's thinking. 

What am  I  thinking, staying here this late and sitting this close? 

But the alcohol silences what little reason he has left in his body, and instead he tells her with a smirk, "One of us has to be." 

She rolls her eyes. "A little change can be good." 

"Example?" 

"You probably still only save people's contact info under an initial, don't you?" He bristles, fueling her laughter as she mocks, leaning in impossibly closer, "For 'safety reasons,' obviously." 

Some part of his mind wonders if he's stepped outside of reality. "I don't," he mumbles blandly, barely trying to bluff. 

With a triumphant grin like a Purrloin she coos, "Then hand over your Dex." 

"Hand over yours." 

"Why?" 

"Because you probably have all your contacts set as shitty puns." 

 After a moment of hesitation, she goes to her pocket and he goes to his, and they trade devices against their better judgment. 

When she scrolls through his contacts, she sits straight up, shoving the screen in his face with a victorious laugh. "I was right! I was absolutely right." 

"So was I," he chuckles, showing her the screen of her own Dex as he chides, "'Hau's It Going'? Really?" 

"You have to admit that's a good one," she says with a lopsided grin before going back to scrolling through his contacts. When she fails to spot an 'M' amongst them, she tsks, "And you didn't even save mine. If we're going to be the best man and maid of honor, you can't have me as an unknown number on your phone." 

He ignores her and continues looking through her contacts, immediately not recognizing most of them and not being able to decipher half of the nicknames she's used (TierNoMoreDancing? JaSteelMine? Lighthouse? It's a wonder how she remembers who any of these people are). "What do you have me saved as?" 

She grins but refuses to meet his gaze, snickering, "Type:Full of Shit." 

Gladion nearly drops her Dex before he deadpans to the wall with a sigh. Realizing this hasn't triggered a laugh, he looks over at her, only to see her frowning at the screen of his Dex, sitting far too still. He feels his stomach beginning to twist into knots when she continues to stare at the screen with a blank face. 

Her voice is small when she manages to ask, "Who's 'E'?" 

And he seriously considers taking a shot. 

 

Chapter Text

 

"Who's 'E'?" 

The living room is dim and silent, but now the world is too bright and loud for Gladion. Whatever alternate reality they've managed to construct has come crumbling down as Moon slowly turns to look at him with probing eyes. 

When he fails to answer, she asks with a wry smile, "Is it the girl Lillie mentioned you started seeing?" 

He nods, because his vocal chords still aren't responding and the gin in his body is no longer helping. She holds out his Dex, and he trades it for hers, the two sliding their devices into their pockets and avoiding each other's eyes. Sitting here in her living room is suddenly shameful, and to fight it Gladion asks slowly, "What did Lillie tell you?" 

The former Champion lets her eyes wander to the window, wondering if she could avoid this part of the conversation with a last-minute escape from her own apartment. Maybe she could blame it on the alcohol; never mind the fact she feels herself sobering up by the second. "She just said you were seeing a Kanto gym leader named Erika, for what, a couple months?" She turns to him for confirmation, and finds she can't decipher the look in his eyes. 

"Almost four," he mutters, sitting back and unsure how he wants to handle this. He opens his mouth to mention the fact that she was just in Alola, visiting for a long weekend, but then bites down on his lip. While this might be a great time to rub the fact that he's moved on and perfectly happy in her face, he finds himself withdrawing.  It feels wrong to discuss the present, not when they were just starting to scratch the surface of the past.  

But Moon is more than happy to keep them on the subject – whether to torture herself or remind them both of the world waiting outside, she can't tell. "So things are starting to get serious," she comments loftily, doing her best to swallow the bitterness as she adds, "And long-distance, no less." 

Gladion gives her a shrug. "The first two months she was touring Alola, so only recently long-distance." 

"Is that how you met?" Moon asks, purely out of curiosity (and certainly not from a growing need to compare herself to a woman she's never seen). He nods, keeping his eyes on his hands as he fidgets with his fingers. She rolls her eyes, voice oozing with sarcasm, "Arcues, Gladion, you just can't shut up about her, can you?" 

"What do you want to know?" he snaps, an incredulous laugh escaping as he looks at her and tries to understand what possible motive she could have for her masochism. "What could you want to hear about this?" 

She purses her lips, feeling herself standing on the edge of getting caught. Still, she shrugs her shoulders and plays it all off with a veil of nonchalance. "I'm an engineer. I want to know how things work." 

"This isn't a wind turbine," he teases, hoping she'll move on. They won't be able to go back to the part of the night when they pretended they were teenagers again, and maybe he doesn't really want that, but at the very least if she drops this conversation now they won't risk making things exponentially worse. 

"It's also not UB files we've been sworn to secrecy over," she argues, and both their minds begin to wander to the time they really did have to discuss those. Back then things between them were simpler and the world was far more complex, and they clung to each other for sanity and never looked back. Now they're drunk and avoiding any truth beyond the surface. With a sigh, Moon draws her knees up to her chest and lets her tone grow gentle. "I want to know what's going on with your life now. Especially if we're going to be seeing a lot more of each other over the next few months." 

And if he bites his tongue now, he'll be admitting to a lot more than having a girlfriend. "Right then," he sighs, turning his body to her while being careful not to knock over the half-empty bottle of gin between them. "Where do you want me to start?" 

"How did you two meet?" 

And how was it infinitely better than our first meeting? 

"She was with a conference of gym leaders who were taking a critical look at the island trial system of Alola and the reality of integrating such a system at large or replicating it." He can feel himself becoming the persona he adopts when he has to deliver bad news to critical reporters; if he treats this like a press conference, he can ignore all the bottled-up emotions threatening to take hold of his voice. "They also spent several days at Aether, looking at our conservation initiatives, and we ended up spending a lot of time together and hitting it off." 

"I'm swooning," she deadpans, though her face shifts into a smirk when he scowls. After a moment of thought and shifting her sitting position, she asks, "Who made the first move?" 

Did she have to instigate things like I did, or did she bring something out in you that I never could? 

He narrows his eyes suspiciously. "You're really going for details." 

"If you don't answer, you have to take a shot." 

"Those aren't the rules." 

"They are now," she huffs, glaring like a petulant child before they both crack into chuckles. Realizing she still has yet to cover up her questionable motives she adds, "I'm just trying to get a sense of where you're at in life right now." 

If he was less drunk he would think to turn the interrogation onto her, but instead he tells her, "I asked her out to dinner, so I guess technically me." 

She raises her brows, letting out a low whistle. "So you've made progress with flirting since we were together." 

"I guess it really did come with practice," he mutters, only realizing his phrasing after the words have left his mouth. Rather than try to take it back, he lets it hang in the air, reveling in the stunned look she gives him. For all her shrewd jabs, there's still a part of him she has yet to really know. 

"And how much practice are you claiming to have?" she hesitantly laughs, sure at this point that she's gone from curiosity to pure masochism. 

He raises a brow. "Are you seriously asking how many people I've seen since we broke up?" 

"Why not?" She forces another laugh, before explaining with a shrug, "We have a lot of catching up to do, and this is part of it." 

"But why jump to this part?" he insists, forcing his own laugh because he isn't sure what else to do with himself in the situation. 

Moon gives him a wink that's made entirely of gin. "Because it's the most scandalous and interesting. What, do you want me to go first?" He mutters something under his breath, shaking his head with a shocked chuckle, but she takes it as permission to go ahead and begins tallying in her mind. "As far as serious relationships go, I'd say...four? Don't give me that look, I've been busy and have better things to worry about!" 

She gives him a shove and he laughs, feeling himself relax just enough to admit, "Mine's at three, including my current one, so I'm not sure what I was so surprised about." 

"Speaking of your current relationship," she purrs, though she feels her playfulness fading fast and being replaced by self-destruction, "What's she like?" 

"Hard to describe." He laughs at her deadpan glare, relenting with a small smile, "She's quiet and humble, but incredibly hard-working and caring." 

You can just say she's prefect and nothing like me . 

Before she can think better of it Moon half-jokes, "Is she prettier than me?" 

Gladion blinks, not able to tell how serious she's being but scrambling for some sort of answer all the same. "You're both attractive in your own ways." 

"Very diplomatic." But she has no need for diplomacy and plows on, smirk growing as she can feel his discomfort rising. "Is she better at battling?" 

"I wouldn't know, considering I haven't seen you battle in years." 

"Does she cook better than me?" 

"Anyone can cook better than you," he drawls, biting back a laugh at the scowl she displays. 

"Who has better fashion sense?" 

Now he pauses in thought. "Erika." 

Not that it matters. 

"Who has better taste in music?" 

"You." 

Obviously. 

"Who made a better first impression?" 

"Erika." 

Should've seen that coming. 

"Who does Silvally like more?" 

"You." And before she can continue her tirade, he holds up an index finger to silence her. "Look, let's just finish up whatever this is, because I guarantee there isn't a single comparison you can throw at me that I won't be able to answer." 

Moon bites her cheek, the impish glint in her eye sending his stomach dropping. "You really think so?" 

"I know so." 

"Then who's better in bed?" 

He takes a shot and she laughs from the moment he unscrews the cap to when the bottle leaves his lips. Setting the gin back on the hardwood floor, he mutters, "Point taken." 

There's another silence, and it stands on the border between comfortable and tense. Gladion tries to gauge his ex's thoughts, but he's grown rusty at reading her and she's keeping her guard up, content to sit and stare at the floor with a thoughtful expression. He checks his watch and his eyes grow wide when the hands point to 11:33. Before he can begin mumbling about having work in the morning and step outside of the parallel universe they've settled in, Moon looks at him determinedly. "Who do you trust more?" 

Gladion freezes, feeling something stab his chest and leave him breathless. "You don't want to do this," he whispers, a barely audible warning that she ignores all the same. 

"It's just a question." 

But it's so much more, and she's reminded of that when he takes a breath and says, "Erika."  

The dull throb of a bruise begins to form in her heart, and she bites her lip. It's the answer she expected, and it's the answer she needs to hear before he leaves. In the past hour or so, she's tricked herself into forgetting how the years have changed them, how she's intruded upon his life and has no right to feel the way she does. She's beginning to slip into a rosy past that might have never existed, and it taunts her with its perfection and warmth. 

If she has to hurt herself in the process of destroying it, then so be it. 

"Who knows more about you?" 

"You." He gulps, seeing the path she's leading them down and following right in time with her step. She isn't the only one looking to twist the knife already in their chests. 

Moon's eyes go to the bottle, and her hand holds it by the top, gently rolling the neck in her fingers and watching the glass glide in circles on the floor, the pink liquid swirling inside. She can feel Gladion's gaze go to the bottle too, and they let the sound of glass on hardwood floor fill the silence for them. In the back of her mind, she wonders what he's thinking (but in the corner of her heart that's always been reserved for him, she knows exactly what's going through his mind right now). 

When she can't stand the sight of liquor splashing about in the glass, she sets the bottle back down once more with a sigh. He sits a little straighter, bracing himself for the slow torment they've wordlessly agreed to continue. 

"Whose family do you like more?" 

"I haven't met her family yet." 

It's a small victory that she immediately feels guilty for claiming, and leaves a sour taste in her mouth. Trying to get rid of it, she mutters with a smirk, "Better get on that."  

He grunts a response. She hums a rebuttal. They keep going. 

"Who do your friends like more?" 

"Depends on the friend." Now he goes for the bottle, fiddling with the cap to hide the fact that his left hand has set to shaking in response to the bundle of nerves blooming in his stomach. If she notices the effect her questioning is having on him – and she does – then she has the grace to bite her tongue and instead simply watch him twist the cap off and roll it in his fingers. 

"Who do you get along with better?" 

"As of right now?" They share lopsided, self-aware smiles before he looks back down at the cap, crafting his answer. "In a weird way, you, actually. Before things went..." 

Bad. Sour. Terrible. Wrong. 

But no word really fits in the moment so they keep the phrase unfinished. Moon watches the cap twirl in his fingers, remembering the lazy summer afternoons he would spend showing her the sleight of hand tricks he'd picked up in the days of misspent youth. She'd marvel at his deft work, up until he'd eventually fumble with his bad hand, muttering under his breath. He'd always been embarrassed about his left hand, treating it as a sign of weakness, something he desperately hid around everyone but her. And she would always take that same hand and bring the knuckles up to her mouth, gently kissing the pale skin and giving him a smile as she told him - 

"Who could you see a future with?" 

The last of the memories are violently shoved into boxes, and they're left to stare at each other sitting on the floor. He doesn't look away from her eyes, even as he feels his nerves explode into a frenzy. She holds his gaze just as evenly, feeling the last of nostalgia leave her lungs with a final deep breath. The pair settles into a bittersweet revelation as midnight approaches to break the spell they've cast. 

"Erika."   

The cap ends up back on the bottle, and they end up sitting and staring at the floor for another few minutes. His words settle into their bodies and the corners of her apartment, binding them back to the reality they temporarily outran. 

Moon starts picking at her bottom lip, her eyes on the ground. "I'm glad. From what I've heard, she's good for you." 

Better than I could ever be. 

There's a part of him that wants to reach out and put her mind at ease somehow. Instead he ends up on his feet, glancing at his watch and pretending to be surprised that it's three minutes past midnight. "I should get going," he mumbles, only to realize that the gin bottle cap is still in his hands. He goes to pick up the bottle, narrowly missing a collision with Moon as she stands, the two doing their best to force awkward chuckles out of themselves. Once the bottle is in his hands and closed, he's left to stare at the former Champion, who watches him with a half-hearted smile. 

Holding a hand out, she laughs, "I'll take that." 

"Right, of course," he stammers, nearly shoving the bottle into her hands and turning on his heel, going to slip his shoes back on and open the front door; he should have left hours ago and the realization hits him tenfold in this moment. 

She blinks, setting the bottle on her coffee table, realizing her arm is covered in a sleeve of fabric and calling out as he steps out onto the walkway, "Aren't you forgetting something?" 

He turns around, his eyes landing on his hoodie as she slowly slides it off her shoulders, sloppily folding it as she walks towards him and holds it out as a final peace offering. "Thanks," he hums, accepting it but keeping it in his hands, gripping the fabric until his knuckles turn white. He tries not to remember the days when he would pretend to be annoyed that half of his shirts ended up in her closet to hide the stutter of his heart when he saw her wearing them. Realizing he's still staring, he musters up something reminiscent of a smile. "And thank you for forcing this on me. It helped." 

I'm not so sure about that, she thinks, but instead she plasters on her own tired smile and nods. "I'm glad you came. Get home safe." 

"See you soon." 

 

And she watches him walk down the hall and take the stairs, only closing the door once he's out of sight. Her back meets the door, and while surveying her living room she lets out her longest, most defeated sigh of the night. 

And he walks home, putting his key into the lock before pausing, hit with a wave of thoughts that leave him leaning his head against the door. 

They ask the same question that neither of them knows the answer to and leaves them lying awake for most of the night. 

 

 

What are we  doing? 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

"Why do you want to leave so badly?"  

It's the same tired argument they've had at her house, at the beach, at  Aether . She picks at her bottom lip, eyes focused out the window and not on him, even as his stare continues to drive deeper into her heart, piercing and lasting.  

"Don't start again," she mutters, biting down on her thumb to keep from making her bottom lip bleed. She'd come to visit him at work to try and smooth things over, yet he immediately ushered her into his office to start an  interrogation which she can't win . He leans against his desk, staring at her as she curls up in the armchair, defensive before they've even begun.  

His brows knit together. "Then just tell my why."  

"I've told you -"  

"You've said why you want to travel," he  snaps , and she flinches at the tone of his voice. Regretting the  way  she looks at him with wide eyes, h is shoulders fall an d his  eyes betray his hurt.  "But you haven't said why you're so desperate to leave  Alola  behind. To leave everything behind."  

Everything including him.  

And she should assuage his fears, should soothe that she absolutely doesn't want to leave him, that of course he's being irrational. She should laugh and say he's acting as though she's going to try and leave behind the entire region, as though she's running away.  

As though, after all these years, she's still   that kid from Kanto – the one that runs from all that's good and that she  love s . The one that's   seen others   get hurt and ruin the people and things closest to them. The one that's suffocating under expectations she never  asked to have placed on her, a laundry list of people to please that grows every day.   

The one that's been running since the day she was born.  

She starts picking at her bottom lip again.  

"I just need to go."  

 


 

 

Whoever's knocking on Moon's front door at eight in the morning is singing a Perish Song; they must have a death wish to wake her up before noon. 

The former Champion stumbles from her bed in nothing but an oversized shirt she should have gotten rid of years ago, rubbing the remnants of her dream out of her eyes. "Who is it?" 

"Delivery!" a young man on the other side of the door shouts, muffled but far too enthusiastic for this early in the day. 

When she opens the door, she nearly lets out an audible groan at the sight of the beaming young man dressed in the Alola Post Office uniform, not a hair out of place and pure energy radiating from every fiber of his being. "I didn't order anything," she tells him, leaning against the doorframe and pretending it's half as comfortable as her bed was. She's not hungover, per se, but she's certainly drained from last night (and feeling far hollower than she expected). 

The young man is unperturbed by her behavior, instead letting his smile grow ever wider as he shakes his head and holds out a bouquet. Moon blinks, taking in the burst of petals and color, and spotting a small card hiding amongst the leaves. "It's a gift for Moonbeam. That's you, right?" 

He used my full name, she thinks with a shadow of a smile tugging at her lips. "Yeah, that's me," she hums, clumsily accepting the bouquet as she asks, "Do I need to sign anything, or -" 

"Nope, you're good!" 

Not sure what else to say and still not wanting to be awake, Moon pauses for a moment in the doorway, getting a better grip on the flowers. "Right, well, thank you." 

"It's no problem at all. After all, it's not every day I get to deliver to the first Alolan Champion!" 

Whatever was building itself up to a smile on her face collapses. Right, that. "Have a good day," she mumbles with a nod, closing the door and not hearing his response over the thoughts now beginning to swarm her brain. 

Over nine years since she gave up the title, and yet people can still recognize her, still remember her, still find her. The thought makes her fidget and itch, and she decides she needs to get the flowers out of her hands and into some sort of vase. She sets off to the kitchen with a purpose, putting the bouquet on the counter and opening cabinets in search of something that might be able to serve as a vase. 

It's not that she disliked being Champion. The title certainly had its perks, and she could see herself battling challengers for years to come; it's what came with the title that always rubbed her the wrong way. For all the shiny, golden glory that had been bestowed upon her by others as the first champion of the Alola region, no one had bothered to warn her how heavy gold is to wear as a young girl. 

She finds an old jar in the corner of a cabinet, and washes it off. This'll have to do, she reasons as she fills it with water and carefully transfers the flowers into it, Even though it looks stupid. As she begins to arrange the flowers, the envelope she's forgotten about drops onto the counter, and she pauses to pick it up and see her name scrawled in familiar handwriting. Her lips turn into a smile as she carefully tears open the tiny envelope and reads the small card attached. 

 

From one miserable soul to another.  

 

A laugh escapes her lips, and she decides to take the vase and card into the living room, placing them on the coffee table, just next to a nearly empty bottle of gin. Her eyes can't move away from the bottle, but all she sees is the highlight – lowlight, depending on perspective – reel of the previous night. It wasn't a complete disaster, but it leaves her feeling bittersweet, and wondering if she's said too much to a man she now knows too little about. 

A man she just dreamed about, and how she could see the fear in his eyes but was too clouded with her own to ever help. 

Pikipek cry in the distance of the morning, snapping her out of the reverie, and with a sigh she realizes it's about time to start the day. Without another thought she grabs the bottle, going to stow it in a cabinet, out of sight and out of mind. 

Well, out of sight at least.  

 


 

 

Charizard drops her off on the familiar pavement right between the ocean and grassy hills of Melemele Island. She gives the creature a smile and a pat on the neck before it's off to help the next trainer, leaving her to look at the simple house in front of her. 

No place like home.  

After three knocks, she hears an old Meowth meowing and footsteps approaching. Her mother opens the door with a lopsided smile, the sunglasses that used to be perpetually perched atop her head now a pair of reading glasses, and a few more gray streaks in her hair. Without a word, Kailani wraps her daughter in a warm hug, and Moon closes her eyes, holding her mother tightly. "I was wondering when I'd finally get a chance to see you," Kailani sighs, pulling away but holding Moon's shoulders as her eyes scan her with a frown. "Have you been sleeping well? You look tired." 

"Just my face." There's no need to tell her mom that in lieu of visiting her, she was getting drunk with an ex (although knowing her mother, it'll be a matter of minutes before she finds out anyway). 

Meowth makes his presence known with a lazy growl, nudging Moon's hand with his head. The young woman laughs before reaching down and giving the Pokémon a few scratches, her mother watching with a smile before ushering her daughter inside. "Have a seat. I put on the kettle when you messaged me that you were heading over, so the tea should be ready." 

Her home smells just like the last time she visited: laundry detergent and a light ocean breeze. She goes to the couch, taking a seat on the worn leather, and patting the spot next to her for Meowth to climb up onto, the creature curling up for a nap as she gives his head a few more scratches. Just as the Pokémon falls asleep, Kailani comes into the living room with two steaming mugs of tea, offering one to her daughter, who accepts it with a small thank you. Moon takes a sip, her eyes growing as wide as her smile as she asks, "Is this -" 

"When you told me you'd be staying for the wedding, I had your father send some more of your favorite oolong from Lavender Town," her mother explains. She takes a long drink from her mug, settling into the sofa, ignoring the raised brow her daughter sends her way. 

"You're talking to him again?" Moon asks, her body growing still. 

Kailani sighs. "For now. Have you spoken to him recently?" 

"Over the phone, on his birthday." Moon readjusts her hold on the mug, keeping her eyes down as she tests the waters and says, "He said you two were on better terms recently." 

"Relatively," her mom hums. Her brown eyes glaze over with a memory. "Although we haven't set a very high bar for friendly relations with how we treated each other when we were married." 

Moon chuckles, sipping from her mug as she remembers the nights she would spend in her childhood bedroom, pretending not to listen to every word of their arguments. She still remembers the first time she saw her mother cry, and the last time she saw her father sob, although she can't even begin to count the total number of heartbreaks she witnessed in her house.  

Kailani watches her in silence for another moment before her frown deepens and she shakes her head with a self-deprecating chuckle. "I didn't mean to start off your visit with that awful reminder of the past." 

Doing her best to shake it, Moon asks with a smirk, "Would you have rather started with remembering what an awful kid I was?" 

And she smiles as she watches her mother laugh, life slowly re-entering the woman's body as she reaches for her mug, taking a drink as she teases, "I say this with all the love in my heart, but you were truly a problem child." 

"You mean you weren't immensely proud of the delinquents I hung out with, the fact that I regularly skipped school, or the multiple times I got caught trespassing?" 

"Unfortunately, I can't say that I was." Kailani pauses, eyes growing soft and wrinkles reappearing on her face as she smiles, slowly reaching out a hand and gently tucking a strand of hair behind her daughter's ear. She says with a voice full of sunshine, "But I am proud of the woman you've grown up to become." 

After everything I've done, Moon thinks, feeling something warm and wonderful blossom in her chest, That's a small miracle. 

Before she can even begin to doubt her mom's words, the older woman shifts her weight in her seat, grinning as she says, "Now, tell me all about your flight and how the move went. Do you need any help?" 

You have no idea, Moon mentally sighs to herself, taking a long drink from her mug. 

 


 

 

She spares no details, from her baggage mix-up at the airport to her Arcanine's reaction to her apartment's courtyard. Her mother laughs and hums as she listens attentively, quickly picking up on the one detail that her daughter is meticulously avoiding. When Moon's just finished recounting the work she'll be doing with the professors for Valley Windworks, she goes to take a sip from her third cup of tea, and Kailani decides there's only so long they can beat around the bush. 

"What about Gladion?" 

Moon chokes, tea spilling as she sets her mug down on the coffee table. She blinks, looking at her mom and doing an awful job of recovering and faking nonchalance. "I'm sorry, what?" 

"I suppose that answers that question." 

Kailani laughs into her mug, Moon chewing her bottom lip. Her brows furrow as she tries to think of a satisfactory answer, her eyes on her hands as she decides what to tell her mom and what to conveniently leave out. Deciding to keep pushing for ambivalence, she shrugs as she mumbles, "Not much to tell. We had a bit of a rocky start, but we've talked things over and we're going to be cordial for the sake of the wedding." 

"I see." She sounds absolutely unconvinced, and her eyes narrow slightly. Moon chews on her cheek to keep from letting anything spill out of her mouth. Her mother stares her down a moment longer before giving up her silent interrogation with a shrug. "It just seems a little odd that it would go so smoothly after that kind of break-up." 

Moon avoids her eyes as she mumbles, "It wasn't that bad -" 

"I was there, honey. No use lying to me." 

Meowth wakes from his nap and gives Moon's arm a nuzzle, also seeming to remember when she showed up at the door, eighteen and freshly-heartbroken. She was a complete wreck, tears streaming down her face, and the sobs only growing louder after her mother opened the door and enveloped her in a hug. Though she won't admit it, the sight of her typically stoic daughter so visibly shattered still haunts Kailani; it's a pain she went through years ago, that she wished her daughter would never have to experience. 

"Well, turns out I'm not eighteen anymore," Moon thinks aloud, keeping her eyes on Meowth as she scratches his neck, "And we both know that time-honored Kanto tradition of destroying all human emotion that enters the body." 

"Moonbeam -" 

"Really, Mom," she sighs, her eyes pleading with her mother to end the conversation. With an unconvincing smile, she musters up what's left of her optimism. "Everything's fine." Before either one of them can call her out on her lie, she sets her mug on the table and stands, stretching her arms above her head and hearing her muscles groan from sitting still for nearly two hours. "I should also probably get going." 

Kailani raises a brow, laughing, "Running away from me?" 

Running away from anyone who shows me kindness, really. Moon waits for her mom to set her mug down and stand before giving her a hug. "I'm meeting up with a friend in a bit, but I'll visit again soon." 

"Then I'll see you for dinner next Tuesday," the older woman says, leading her daughter to the door. Meowth follows behind them, placing himself next to Moon as the pair of woman stand by the door. Her mother gestures to the Pokémon, feigning a sigh. "See, even Meowth agrees that you're leaving too soon." 

"Yeah, kind of my MO," Moon mumbles, responding to her mother's scowl with a self-deprecating smirk. "I'll see you two on Tuesday." 

"Feel free to invite others," her mother comments loftily. "Whoever you haven't gotten a chance to see, or who's dying to talk to you." 

Moon rolls her eyes as she opens the door. "Yeah, because people are really busting down my door to spend time with me." 

And when she opens the door, three camera flashes blind her and a small crowd of reporters try to shove microphones in her face as a cacophony of voices assault her ears. 

"Moon, how long are you planning to stay in Alola?" 

"As the former Champion, do you plan to reclaim your title?" 

"Just one question: will you bring back the bob?" 

Kailani slams the door as her daughter remains rooted to the spot, blinking and trying to process what just happened. She knew that eventually a few gossip magazines would catch on to her presence and accost her for a quick story, but she had been hoping she had a few more weeks at least until they caught up to her. 

With a sigh, her mother gives her a weary smile as she offers, "The back exit?" 

"The back exit." 

And she tries not to let the sour taste of everything she hated about her previous title invade her mouth as she escapes on Charizard. 

 

Chapter Text

 

It's quiet on the docks as Moon walks, admiring the boats floating in the Seafolk Village. There are a few she recognizes, a few that are new to her, and a few she remembers are missing. Over the years, she's learned better than to try and think the village ever looks the same on any given week, with so many nomads docking and then setting sail, all on their separate cycles or instincts. It's comforting to know that she isn't the only one who can't stay still. 

The sun warms her skin and the waves set a soothing rhythm as they hit the wooden poles of the dock. She can hear a Dhelmise lurking under her feet as she makes her way to the Wailord ship at the center of the dock. When Moon steps inside, she can't help but smile at the familiar smell and the sight of the nearly empty restaurant; it's a relief after being hounded at the door by reporters. The moment brought back bad memories and a bad taste in her mouth – a taste she's more than ready to get rid of with a little comfort food and a friend. 

"You going to sit down or what?" 

The gruff voice comes from the corner table, where Plumeria frowns at Moon. She sits like she owns the place, slumped and relaxed. Though she's frowning, it soon turns into a lazy smirk as she watches Moon approach her and take a seat. "I ordered for you since you were taking so long to get here," Plumeria says while adjusting the bandana she's using as a headband, "And I figured you'd get whatever seasonal gimmick they're offering anyway." 

"You'd be correct." She pulls out a chair, taking a seat and noting the pile of blonde and pink atop Plumeria's head. With a jerk of her chin she notes, "Still not sure what to do with it?" 

Plumeria shrugs. "It's a pain to dye it but I've been doing it for so long that it feels wrong any other way." She opens her mouth to say something else, but the waiter delivers two bowls of noodle soup, and the hunger in her eyes is clear as she goes to start in on her dish. Moon laughs, starting on her own late lunch to appease her growling stomach.  

She remembers when Plumeria first appeared to challenge her. It was three months into her being the Alolan Champion (and six years before the weight of that title crushed her). She'd nearly fallen over in her chair when Plumeria ascended the stairs, still scowling but something distinctly different about her. There was a new light in her eyes, one that Moon had never seen before, and in that battle, it was clear that though Plumeria was far from fully reformed, there was no denying she was on her way. Beyond that, the ex-criminal was a refreshing break from her usual competition – she was someone who wasn't after the title so much as genuinely wanting to prove herself. Even after she lost, she wanted nothing more than to improve. 

And after that first challenge, Plumeria did the very last thing Moon ever expected her to. 

She apologized. 

Sure, she'd sort of done it before, back when Guzma's life was on the line and the world seemed like it might end. That day in the Champion's room, however, she listed everything she did wrong, and then with her signature shrug insisted that she'd understand if Moon didn't forgive her, but thanked her for the battle.  

Before she could turn and leave, Moon went with her gut and told her to come and challenge her again soon. 

Plumeria had smiled, honestly smiled, and said that she'd see if she felt up to it. 

Several years and title challenge battles later, and the two have become an unlikely pair of friends that still keep in contact when they can. 

Not everyone was too pleased with it. Moon still remembers when she first mentioned it to her friends, and the slack-jawed looks they gave her in response. Lillie and Hau could brush it off fairly easily, trusting Moon's decision. 

Gladion, on the other hand - 

"Hey, you spacing out or something?" 

"Hm?" Moon looks up, blinking herself out of her reverie. 

Plumeria rolls her eyes good-naturedly, chuckling, "I swear, you're only friends with me because you don't pay attention to half of what I say." She leans her chin into the palm of her hand, taking a break from eating to consider the young woman sitting across from her. "I was asking who you've met up with so far." 

She gives her a list of names, from Lillie to Ilima to Hau to Burnet.  

She conveniently leaves one out. 

"What about good old Gladbag?" 

And Plumeria is sure as hell going to give her a hard time about it. 

"What about him?" She doesn't mean for it to come out so venomous. Moon sighs, playing around with the noodles left in her bowl, watching them swirl in the broth and losing her appetite. "Not much to say. We saw each other. It was a catastrophe. We met up again to talk. It was...less of a catastrophe." And more of a regretful evening that I can't stop thinking about. 

They go back to eating for a moment, the silence slightly tenser as Plumeria debates with whether to prod further. Their friendship has never been based too much on their private lives, instead existing just outside of their daily routines. But Plumeria has never been one to beat around the bush, and so she asks, "You still have feelings for him?" 

It's enough to make her choke on broth, pounding against her chest until she can breathe again. "What?" 

"Okay, so you do. Which is complicated since -" 

"I don't have 'feelings' for him," Moon argues, scowling and air-quoting for good measure. Really, she doesn't have any romantic feelings left (so long as she doesn't think about it). Still, Plumeria raises a brow; she's always been able to sniff out a lie like a Houndoom. "I mean, I have complicated feelings about him, sure. Our relationship meant a lot, and it ended awfully, and now I'm helping plan a wedding with him." She rubs her temples, feeling something coiling in her mind and waiting to snap. "It doesn't help that it's the first question on everyone's mind." 

"Yeah, must be annoying." They eat in silence for another few minutes, as Moon recovers and Plumeria thinks. The ex-Team Skull member finishes up the last of her broth and chews the inside of her cheek. She shrugs, sitting back in her chair as she mutters, "Not sure why I bothered to ask anyway, considering he hates me." 

When Moon opens her mouth to argue, Plumeria silences her with a pointed look, and Moon closes her mouth, because it's not far from the truth. 

From the beginning, Plumeria and Gladion never got along. According to Plumeria, she did her best to be a big sister to him but grew annoyed at his dismissive behavior, and according to Gladion, Team Skull was just a job and Plumeria had no morals or direction in life. 

Safe to say the sentiment never got better between the two of them. Even years later, when Moon tried to mention that she was helping Plumeria train and occasionally catching up with her, Gladion nearly had a heart attack. He spent at least half an hour outlining exactly why that was a horrible idea, and another twenty minutes on why Plumeria specifically was nothing but bad news. 

Moon tries not to scowl when she remembers the silent treatment he gave her for nearly a week when she refused to break off contact with Plumeria. Now that she thinks about it, her and Gladion had never actually talked about it again, much less apologize for how they treated each other over it; one day they were fighting about it, and then one day they weren't. 

And then one day we broke it all off. Not liking where her internal monologue is taking her, Moon instead tries to find any way to derail the conversation and settles on asking, "So how's the league been treating you?" 

Plumeria sighs. "Same old, same old. Still doing odd jobs for the Elite 4. They've been having trouble holding down a Champion since you left." 

"No one's willing to stay?" 

"No one's good enough." Plumeria shakes her head, leaning forward and a fire growing in her as she explains, "We have great battlers, but none of them are champion material, you know? They don't connect with Alola, not like -" 

"I'm not reclaiming the title." And here Moon draws the line in the sand, face now a stone and voice as strong and cold as iron. "Six years is more than enough." 

There's a tense silence, but Plumeria backs down and leans back in her chair, giving up the fight. It's an argument they've been having on and off since Moon left, and it intensified once Plumeria picked up a side job at the Elite 4 and gained a direct insight into what was happening at the league. In her mind, few challengers could measure up to Alola's first champion, and those who did could never accept the title full-time. Moon always responds with the same firm rejection of the idea, insisting that she was never the champion the region needed. 

She was never the champion she knew everyone wanted. 

Feeling herself begin to fidget from the silence, Plumeria decides to break it the only way she knows how: cynicism. "Can't blame ya. I've been thinking it's past time for me to get out of Alola." 

"Where are you thinking of going?" 

"Wherever will take me." A rare flash of melancholy takes over Plumeria's eyes before she blinks it away, looking out a nearby window rather than give away her weakness to Moon. "It's not realistic. Still have to finish rebuilding Po Town, still..." 

She lets the thought drift to Moon's ears, and she can translate the worry in the other woman's face with ease. "Still no word from him?" 

It's all getting too sentimental, too vulnerable for Plumeria, and so with a shake of her head and a scrunching of her brow she snaps, "Guzma can handle himself. He's probably trying to take a spiritual journey or some Taurus shit like that. Knowing him, he's yelling at some tree he doesn't like the look of." 

Moon can't help the laugh that escapes. "I can't imagine he'd make anything other than a bad nomad." Plumeria smirks, but stays silent, prompting Moon to soften. "He'll be back soon enough." 

Plumeria doesn't seem as hopeful but keeps it to a shrug. "Maybe. Maybe not. Honestly, I couldn't care less." 

And they both move on to the next topic of conversation, content to keep pretending that they don't care. 

 

Even when, as the years have proven, they will always care the most of anyone. 

 


 

 

As the sun beats down her back, Moon feels herself beginning to sweat on the trail through Vast Poni Canyon. She pauses, tying up her hair and fanning the back of her neck, glad that she's wearing appropriate clothing for the impromptu hike she's taking. 

After lunch with Plumeria, Moon was planning to head back to her apartment and finish unpacking. However, her Decidueye had other plans, as he seemed to sense their presence on Poni Island and escaped from his Pokéball, stretching his wings and making it clear he wanted the chance to fly through the wilds and the canyon. Moon has never been one to say no to her first Pokémon, and so she bought a water bottle from the PMC café and set off, following her Decidueye and smiling at his long caws of bliss. 

They reach an overlook of Vast Poni Canyon that nearly slaps Moon in the face with how beautiful the Alola region is – gold and red stone reveal centuries of history, while the gloriously blue sky stretches as far as the eye can see. Her Decidueye seems more than ready to stop and take in the sight as well as he rests on a nearby tree and watches the canyon, a breeze ruffling his feathers. 

Moon closes her eyes and takes a deep breath of fresh air, feeling at peace once more. 

"Whoa, so you're really back." 

And she nearly falls off the cliff at the voice behind her, heart hammering through her chest as she regains her balance, a pair of arms reaching out to help keep her stable.  

She looks behind her with wild eyes and lets out a shaky laugh. "Arceus, Mina, you can't sneak up on people when they're standing on a cliff." 

"Huh, thought I was being super loud." Mina gives her a lazy smile, removing her hands from Moon's shoulders when it's clear the young woman has regained her balance and the two of them move another foot away from the edge. "Well, good thing I didn't like, accidentally murder you before we could talk. That'd be a bummer." 

"A real bummer." Out of the corner of her eye, Moon can see her Decidueye leave the branches of the tree he's settled in, and after a quick circle, he lands next to her, allowing Moon to give his chest a pat. 

Mina lets out a low whistle, and Moon can practically see the artistic vision forming in her mind. "Talk about a muse, he'd look perfect in this one composition I have in mind." 

Her backpack slouches off of one shoulder, a pencil tucked behind her ear. Moon jerks her chin towards the supplies. "Sketching?" 

The trial captain nods. "Hiking?" 

"Wasn't going to, but this guy missed flying around the canyon." Her Decidueye ruffles his feathers before beginning to preen. She notices Mina's intense gaze on the creature, and says, "I've been needing a break, though, and I suspect Decidueye does, too. You're free to join if you want to try and sketch him." 

A corner of Mina's mouth lifts into something halfway between a smirk and a smile. "Dope." She sets down her things and takes out a sketchpad, sitting on the dirt path and leaning her back against the smooth wall of rock behind her. Moon joins her on the ground, watching as her Decidueye decides to settle back in the tree a few yards away, keeping watch as his protective instincts take over.  

"You've been gone a while." Moon looks over at the trial captain, but Mina's eyes are flitting between her sketchpad and Decidueye. As her pencil sketches the rough outline of the Pokémon, her voice is languid and lethargic to reach Moon's ears. "Must be nice to get to travel nonstop." 

Without meaning to, Moon bursts into an incredulous laugh, Mina pausing in her sketch and raising a brow. "That's definitely the exact opposite of the responses I've gotten." 

"How so?" 

Moon unscrews the cap of the water bottle, taking a long sip as she stews on her thoughts, trying not to roll her eyes as she remembers concerned faces and loaded questions that have been thrown her way for years. She laments, "Everyone can't seem to wait for me to settle down. They're three steps away from putting a ball and chain on my leg to keep me in one place." 

Mina nods, her pencil traveling across the sketchpad. Moon watches, growing calm at the soothing motion and soft sound of lead against paper. It's always amazed her how people like Mina can seem to so effortlessly create art out of the world around them. As she stares, Mina slowly says, "I feel that. My parents act like me wandering around is the end of the world sometimes. I get that they're worried, but I just want them to relax and let me do my thing." 

"You'd think that once you're twenty-seven people would stop trying to control you." 

If he could just stop trying to control me.  

Moon frowns at the thought. She really hates how her mind so easily wanders to Gladion, even miles away from where he is and hours after she's last seen him. Being in Alola always brings back the memories, though, and the first few days are the worst; she can only imagine what staying in the region for more than a week will do to her. Moon figures the nostalgia and regret will fade and tries to stop the nagging thought at the back of her mind that threatens to drown her. 

(And if they don't, well, she still has half a bottle of gin left.) 

As the sketch begins to take shape, Mina pauses in her work, examining it, eyes traveling between paper and subject with deep focus. Seemingly satisfied enough to take a break, she tucks her pencil behind her ear and turns her head to Moon with an understanding smile. "Feeling smothered is the worst. Like suffocating, but on like, kindness." 

"Kindness," Moon repeats in a whisper. That's never the word she applied to others' worrying, but the nauseating roll her stomach does reveals that Mina's hit the nail on the head. She nods, turning her eyes back to the breathtaking scenery to try and keep from getting lost in her own thoughts again. "That's what makes me feel guilty complaining about it." 

They sit in silence for a moment. Moon wonders what's going on in the trial captain's mind, especially since she's never been especially close to Mina; then again, this conversation is more or less how all of their talks go. Without meaning to, they divulge to each other, and with her easygoing nature, Mina makes it especially easy to ramble about whatever's troubling her. 

With a nod Mina says, "Doesn't mean you can't still complain. People are understanding." 

"Some." 

"Most." 

Moon hums. "You're more optimistic than me." 

"I think I'm more realistic." Mina smiles good-naturedly when Moon laughs, because the trial captain is the first to admit that it's an odd way to describe herself. Still, she doesn't back down from her words, instead digging her heels in as she goes back to work on her sketch. "I try to take life as it comes and see what's really happening. You kind of live in your head. I feel like you psych yourself out of a lot of things." 

It's startling, to say the least, and Moon frowns, fidgeting from being read so easily. I psyched myself out of every relationship I've ever been in. 

Mina laughs. "Sorry, was that harsh?" 

"No, just...disturbingly accurate, I guess." Moon takes a sip from her water bottle, taking a moment to collect herself; she forgets that people remember her, can figure her out no matter how much she runs. There are a handful of other people who can read her so well (and one of them she would never dare to name), and she tells Mina, "Actually, it kind of reminded me of Mallow. She'll just drop these kinds of insights on me out of the blue." 

She doesn't miss the way Mina tightens the hold on her pencil, or the pink blush that colors her cheeks under the line of pink paint. "Really?" 

With a knowing grin, Moon tests the waters. "I feel like you two would get along really well. If you ever wanted to come back from wandering Poni Island, that is." 

Mina smiles to herself, musing, "It's always nice to have someone to come back to." 

Yeah, Moon thinks, sitting back with her own bittersweet smile, I guess it is. 

And they sit in silence for a few minutes, letting the words ground them to the canyon, the vast sky suddenly making them small in a world in which they can only wander for so long. 

 

Chapter Text

 

Moon tells herself it won't be awkward. 

Then the second she steps inside Lillie and Hau's home and sees Gladion sitting at the kitchen table her entire body freezes in a cringe. 

For his part, Gladion doesn't react much better. He's idly scrolling through the emails on his Dex when he looks up at the sound of the door opening and swallows hard at the sight of her. He internally scrambles for something to say, something to bridge the gap they left when they had their surreal conversation too late at night with too many unspoken feelings. 

"Hey." 

It's the only thing he can come up with but it doesn't make him feel any less stupid. 

"Hey," she parrots, wide eyes remaining on his before she breaks his gaze, looking back at the front door, anything to keep from staring too long (or is it worse to not look at him at all?). "The door was open, so..." 

He nods, lips pressed together into a thin line to keep from saying one of the thousands of wrong things to say in this moment. Maybe, if Gladion really prays to Arceus or the tapus, the ground will open up and swallow him whole; maybe, if Moon really makes a run for it, she can finally escape through the window. 

Hau comes to their rescue, finally walking out of the kitchen with a pitcher of lemonade and a smile as he greets, "Alola, Moon! How's your day been?" 

"Nothing but paperwork." She takes a cautious seat, keeping her eyes on Hau but very aware of the emerald gaze threatening to cut her in half. "There was some confusion with the work visa, what a surprise." 

 

"Not a fan of bureaucracy?" 

 

She blinks, watching Gladion as he smirks, the challenge clear in his voice. He's offering them both an out of the awkward gray area they've stumbled into: go back to what they know best, if a little less venomous this time around. He watches her carefully, keeping his body relaxed even as his foot bounces in rhythm with his racing thoughts. 

And Moon takes the bait as she leans back with a pointed look. "Never have been, President." 

"I thought you two said you were going to be better." They turn to see Lillie entering with four glasses, a faux frown, and a laugh as she takes a seat at the table. Try as she might to just be kidding, there's an undeniable nervousness to her as she sits on the edge of her seat and waits for calamity. She gladly accepts the glass of lemonade that Hau pours for her, taking a sip before adding, looking between the pair, "You know, so that we can actually plan instead of watching you two insult each other for twenty minutes." 

"Wasn't it as fun as a barrel of Mankey, though?" Gladion smirks, watching the others laugh and sip from their glasses, his own sitting abandoned. 

Hau notices, raising a brow. "Still not a fan of my lemonade, cousin?" 

"He's sour enough as it is." 

Lillie keeps her wide eyes to herself, screaming internally as she takes another long drink and wishing she had something a little stronger. Hau hesitates in his laugh, gauging Gladion's reaction before he accidentally becomes the catalyst to a fight. 

Gladion gives her a lopsided smile. "It's to counteract your bitterness." 

Moon gives him a self-deprecating smirk. "Well someone has to." 

And now Hau lets himself laugh and Lillie feels the pressure on her chest lift. Moon and Gladion look at each other, and they know that the game is back on, but with a different set of rules; they may not be out for blood, but there's no reason they can't try and burn each other as they continue to let off steam. 

"Now how about we talk about that color scheme?" 

 


 

 

After twenty minutes, Lillie is pleasantly surprised that they're managing to discuss and compromise on a few of the smaller things – when to send invites and what to serve at the reception – but keeps herself realistic about tackling any of the larger discussion points. 

Once forty-five minutes pass, she's pleased with their progress but confident that they're pushing their luck, and any moment the delicate ebb and flow of agreement and faux-fighting between Moon and Gladion will change tide completely and they'll lose the rest of the afternoon in a hurricane of hard feelings. 

They hit the hour mark and Lillie is just about ready to buy a lottery ticket. 

She isn't the only one noticing the change in the air – when her eyes meet Hau's across the table, he grins at her before his eyes flicker between Moon and Gladion as they bicker with the teasing tone of a friendship that never quite evaporated. 

"How about indoors for the ceremony and outdoors for the reception?" 

"Well what do you know, maybe you do have the occasional good idea." 

Lillie nods, jotting something down on her notepad. "That sounds like a good compromise, and it works well with the Kalosian ceremony and Alolan reception we want." 

They look to Hau for his thoughts, and he gives shrug. "So long as we get married at the end of the day, I'll be fine." 

Moon raises a brow. "In that case, let's take malasadas off the catering menu." 

"You wouldn't dare." 

The table laughs and Lillie lets herself relax into it, her heart feeling lighter than it has in weeks. Between Aether and wedding planning and worrying about how this might all work out, she hasn't had much of a chance to truly let herself enjoy the engagement. Sitting here, though, with her brother, best friend, and love of her life as warm sunlight bathes her living room and they chat like they all did years ago, Lillie is sure this is going to be one of the happiest days of her life. 

Until she looks back at her list and feels her throat tighten. 

She bites her lip, debating whether she should really bring this up now – should she bring this up at all? But it's an unavoidable topic, and though she doesn't want to ruin the delicate spot of paradise they've created, she's not sure if there'll be a better time to bring it up. If she does it now, then at least there won't be the added venom of Moon and Gladion fighting to add to the sting. 

Hau's the first to notice her extended silence, and he knows the furrow of her brows all too well. He can practically feel the question coming (it's one they discussed briefly late last night, sitting on the edge of the bed and Lillie avoiding his eyes).  Moon and Gladin don't quite notice the weight of Lillie's silence, still too wrapped up in the glow of their unspoken truce. When she clears her throat, they share a look of apprehension and confusion. 

"There's something else we should probably discuss..." She releases the breath she was holding, making up her mind as she looks at her brother. "But I think it's best if we discuss it alone." 

"What are you..." But then Gladion realizes exactly what she's talking about and his eyes widen before they quickly narrow with years of anger and resentment. "No. That's not up for discussion." 

"I think it is," Lillie argues, but her irritation dissipates when she glances at Hau and Moon, who shift uncomfortably. Hau keeps his eyes on the table and his arms crossed, and Moon looks between the siblings, trying to decipher what exactly is happening. When Lillie looks back at Gladion, the plea is clear in her face but still she says, "But we can discuss this on our own, we don't need to -" 

"She's invited, that's enough." 

"She's our mother." 

The only sound in the living room is the cry of a lone Pikipek in the distance. A cloud passes over the sun, and the temperature in the room drops ten degrees. Gladion and Lillie stare at each other, not sure where to go from here but not willing to let it go just yet. Hau runs a hand through his hair and Moon picks at her bottom lip, neither of them daring to say a word about a matter that they both know isn't theirs to argue. 

It's unclear which of the siblings breaks first, but it's Lillie who speaks up after a small eternity of horrid quiet. Her voice is small and clipped but firm. "I want her there. I want her to have a speech. I want her to be welcome." 

Gladion doesn't agree. He's never quite agreed with her on the subject of Lusamine, not since they returned from Kanto and Lillie could talk about things like change and redemption and growth. 

He could only talk about the pain, the fear, the scars. 

Still, he bites his tongue, well aware that they have an unwilling audience and that this isn't about him. He lets a long, loud breath out through his nose, lets the anger that might be misdirected at his sister escape him as he settles into something bitter. "She'll have no part in the actual ceremony?" 

"No." There's more that Lillie wants to say; there's more that both of them need to say, but now isn't the time. She can see that Gladion is visibly on edge, that he still needs to sit with the idea before he's willing to really tell her anything, and so she sighs. "I'm sorry to bring it up, but I needed to make it clear." 

"It's fine." 

I mean it's clearly not fine, Moon thinks to herself, watching Gladion with a raised brow before casting her eyes back down to the table. What happened to the boy who said exactly what he felt? 

Hau clears his throat, making the other three jump a bit in their seats as he gives them all a tired, lopsided smile. "How about we wrap it up for today?" he offers, knowing when to cut their losses. 

The others nod, and Moon offers to help clear the table with Hau, the two leaving Lillie and Gladion in the living room. Out of the corner of her eye she sees them move into an apologetic hug, and then she goes to the sink to clean the glasses in her hand. 

"They still don't talk about her, you know." Moon looks over at Hau, who dries the pitcher with a towel and a melancholic look that has no business distorting his usually cheerful face. 

Moon nods, looking back towards the living room. "That doesn't surprise me." 

When they walk back out, Lillie is sitting once more with her notepad and Gladion is standing by the door, waiting for Moon. The siblings don't look at each other, but at the least the air is light enough to allow for everyone to breathe again. 

"How long does it take to clean a couple glasses?" Gladion scoffs, though the tone of his voice is off and it's clear his mind is on other things. 

Moon smirks, walking past him to open the front door. "If you had something better to do in those two minutes then you should have left." She turns before stepping out, waving to Hau and Lillie and smiling as they wave back. "See you all soon." 

Gladion mirrors her gesture but remains silent, his eyes focused on his sister. 

"Bye you two." 

The door closes behind them with a soft click. 

 


 

 

He doesn't call Charizard. He tells her he has too much on his mind, that he needs the walk and the ferry ride to Akala to clear his head. 

She doesn't say anything as she puts away her Ride Pager and walks beside him. 

They're quiet as they sit and wait for the ferry. The terminal is fairly busy, but besides the occasional announcement over an unseen PA system, the building remains fairly peaceful and quiet. Moon scrolls through her Dex, deciding now is a good time to review what she knows about Alola before she starts doing field work. Gladion remains silent, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and his right leg bouncing. 

"I'm sorry." 

Moon looks over at him with a tilt of her head and a hum. "What about?" 

He chances a glance at her, his bouncing foot now going double-time as he looks away once more. "Lillie was right. We didn't need to bring that up in front of you and Hau." 

Moon tries to shrug off her discomfort, but he doesn't buy it. She opens her mouth to say something else, something sort of soothing, something along the lines of "it happens," but the announcement for their ferry cuts her off and they shuffle over to join the line and board the boat. 

Once they're on, they're silent once more, leaning against the railing as the breeze ruffles their hair and they set off, the setting sun lighting the ocean to create a color somewhere between rose and indigo. Gladion watches a V-formation of Pelipper, letting his mind go blissfully blank for a few moments, keeping it empty of complicated pasts and uncertain futures. Moon takes the chance to stare at him, and she finds that his eyes betray him – he's not a man she barely knows now, or even the teenager she thought she knew, but a boy who's been hurt too many times before and doesn't know who to trust. 

 

"You don't have to forgive her, you know." 

 

He looks at her with wide eyes and she holds his gaze so that he knows she won't take the words back. Her fingers fidget for a moment as she debates whether or not to put her hand on his arm, but she decides against it.  

Her words are already too intimate for what they are. 

Moon bites her lip and shrugs, finally giving up her stare – she's stepped over the line, she can feel it, but they keep moving where the boundary is ever since their late-night conversation. She keeps her eyes on the ocean as she mumbles, "I know Lillie wants to; she's been trying. But you don't have any obligation to forgive your mother." 

Gladion follows her gaze, watching as the ferry breaks through the waves easily, Melemele Island growing smaller in the distance. He dissects her words, feels them hit a spot in his chest that he's kept guarded for most of his life. If he isn't careful now, he's not sure if that wall will begin to crack, and that's the last thing he needs with an ex-girlfriend he's just barely getting along with. 

So he does what he's always been best at: lashing out. 

"You forgave your father, didn't you?" 

Moon raises a brow, nearly laughing at the tonal shift he's trying to force. "What's that supposed to mean?" 

"You forgave Plumeria, too."  

She lets out a scoff but stops herself from spitting back at him. There's a reason he's trying to bring up all this bad blood, trying to distract her from the hurt young boy he's been hiding in his heart ever since she first met him.  

So she does what she's always been best at: listening. 

Gladion sees she isn't falling for the bait, and he sighs, realizing he's ten years too old to be trying these petty tactics on her. The sound of waves hitting the ferry, splashing and constant, help him pace his thoughts. She waits, watching the entire time but her expression unreadable, save for the curious spark in her eyes. When he meets her gaze, it still feels like he isn't looking at her. "You remind me of Lillie in that way. You're always willing to give people a second chance. You think everyone should be forgiven." 

It's something he used to admire about her, before he twisted it into a burden, a reminder of everything he isn't able to do so easily. 

 

"Not everyone."  

 

The answer throws him off for a moment, and she takes the opportunity to give him a smirk, trying not to reveal how much it hurts to know how badly he misremembers her (but then she never let him fully know her in the first place). "I forgive the people that I do because it's my choice to make, and I decide they've earned my forgiveness." He swears her eyes see right through him as her voice drops to a whisper on the breeze, "It's not my place to tell you who to forgive and who to not." 

"Then why were you so upset that I wouldn't forgive Plumeria?" 

"Mew," she mutters under her breath with the irritation of realizing yet another miscommunication between them to add to the list. "I wasn't upset that you wouldn't forgive her, I was upset that you were trying to control my decision to give her another chance." 

They stare at each other, muted conversations of other ferry passengers filling the silence between them. Moon cracks something that's not quite a smile, and Gladion lets out a hum and his brows knit together in thought. 

Still, he swears he knows her better than this, and he argues, "But your father -" 

"My dad left us, paid child support, then wanted to rebuild his relationship with me a few years later," she tells him in an absolute deadpan. At this point she can recognize that Gladion's just running himself in circles, just trying to get himself worked up so he can kick and scream some more – she knows better than to indulge him. "Your mom disowned you, opened a wormhole, and nearly destroyed the entire Alola region. There's really no comparison here." 

His mouth falls open slightly, watching as the setting sun gives her amused expression a warm glow and sets her freckles aflame and dancing on her skin. 

And then he laughs. 

She joins in with a chuckle, feeling that horrendously wonderful feeling in her chest return and wishing the ocean spray would help wash it off her. Instead it grows when his laughter subsides and he looks at her with a smirk, concluding, "I can't exactly argue with that." 

It's nice to see the heavy aura that was previously smothering him lifting off his shoulders and into the darkening sky (and nicer still to know that it was all thanks to her). 

Moon shakes her head. "You really need to stop doing that." 

"Doing what?" 

Worrying yourself to death. Assuming what I think. Comparing yourself to others.  

None of it feels right to say, not when they're just barely getting along and she still can't pinpoint what she's feeling when he looks at her like this. She tears her eyes away from him, forcing them onto the sight of Akala Island approaching, the lights of Konikoni City twinkling, her apartment not far off. "Nothing." 

What do you mean, nothing? Why do you always bottle things up?   

But the ferry is docking and he knows they're no longer close enough for him to ask, so instead he follows her off the boat, walking in the same direction and enjoying the approach of nightfall that coats the island in soothing blues and purples. 

They both realize it's the second time they've danced around emotional territory later than they should. Moon doesn't let herself think much else of it; Gladion dwells a little longer on the thought, and it pushes something out of him when they've reached his house. 

 

"That's part of the reason I broke up with you." 

 

Moon trips on nothing and stumbles a good three feet, arms flailing wildly and eyes wide as a Hoothoot. When she turns back to face him, trying to regain her composure, she can see him biting his lower lip to keep from laughing in her face. "Well how was I supposed to react to that?" He shrugs, far too pleased with himself, and she bites her cheek as she crosses her arms, doing her best to remain angry even when she wants to smile right along with him. "And what are you talking about?" 

His hands are shoved into his pockets, his bad hand beginning to fidget under her gaze. Maybe the dusk can cover his nerves as he realizes what an awful idea it was to say that. "I always thought you resented the fact that I couldn't forgive my mother, that you wanted me to make amends." She doesn't say anything, but her brows furrow and the frown she wears makes him regret a lot more things than he thought it would. "Guess I was wrong," he finishes lamely, the bittersweet aftertaste coating his tongue. 

"Yeah," she breathes, still looking at him almost like an injured Deerling, "You were." 

This is the part where he should tell her good night, and she'll turn around and go home and he'll unlock his door and go to bed. 

They remain standing, watching each other as the night continues to creep around them. 

"I was more upset that you wouldn't talk about her with me at all." 

She isn't sure why she tells him, and neither is he. It's taken her nine years to admit it, but it still feels too soon, still makes her look at the ground instead of him, still makes her grip her arms tighter. 

He's not the only one who still carries a scared child in their heart. 

"Good thing we were both so good with communication back then, huh?" 

It's enough to get a smile and breathless chuckle out of her and lets them both relax into the approaching night. She meets his eyes with a lopsided smile. "Kind of amazing how stupid you are when you're young." 

"Really is." 

Her stomach twists with the realization that there's a lot more she has to apologize for. She considers saying something now, but she can feel him trying to edge his way to his house, back to the life he's made for himself after she walked out. 

"I better head back. Still need to finish that paperwork." 

He hides the disappointment with a smirk. "Bureaucracy will be your downfall." 

"It really will be, President." 

Déjà vu hits them both in waves as they leave less drunk but otherwise in much the same way. They get too comfortable, they say too much, and they don't know how to patch things up before returning to the real world. It's not a routine either of them hoped to establish, but here it slowly takes its shape as Moon walks further up the path to her apartment complex and Gladion closes the door behind him. 

She realizes as she walks up the stairs to her door that she'll see him again next week at the fittings for the wedding. 

Moon tells herself it won't be awkward. 

 

 

 

Who is she kidding? 

 

Chapter Text

 

Technically, there’s no need for the groomsmen and bridesmaids to all have their fittings together; it was a headache to find a time when everyone would be available, and there’s no way that Brawly would be able to make it (though he has a local tailor who he assures is more than capable).  

Still, as Hau watches the friends he considers family at this point sitting around a tailor shop in Malie City, laughing as Gladion makes another quip and Moon pulls another face, he decides that it’s more than worth it. He leans his head against Lillie’s and out of the corner of his eye sees her smile grow, along with everyone else's. 

The only people who aren’t currently smiling are a certain maid of honor and best man. 

They frown at each other from across the room, seated on opposite loveseats as Ilima and Kiawe stand in their suits, measurements and notes being taken by the world’s most patient tailor – Hau makes a mental note to leave a hefty tip for having to put up with their group’s nonsense. 

Moon rolls her eyes, leaning back into her seat next to Mallow as she says, “I’m just saying some people can pull off a bow tie...” She gives a pointed look in Gladion’s direction, before shrugging with cold nonchalance. “And some can’t.” 

All eyes are now on Gladion; some, like Mallow and Lillie, wait with a raised brow for his response, while Lana and Ilima smirk, keeping score in their heads. He gives it a moment’s thought, before a rare shit-eating grin cracks his façade. “Anyone can pull it off; the real skill is putting it on.” 

There’s a chorus of groans throughout their group, and even the tailor looks like he may be in physical pain. Moon narrows her eyes into a glare, doing her best to coat her voice in venom instead of a laugh. “Don’t try and distract me with awful dad jokes.” 

“Why would I ever do that?” He very nearly bats his eyelashes, all too pleased to have the upper hand again. Gladion knows only too well that Moon has a hard time getting snippy with him if he’s making a fool of himself deliberately. 

But he’s not the only one who’s familiar with the opponent. Moon leans forward in her seat, purring, “I know all your tactics, and they’ve had nine years to get stale. Once this fails, you’ll try and distract me by bringing up the Roxie record.” 

“Leave some bickering for the actual married couple in this room.” They look to Ilima, who smirks at the two as the tailor finishes up pinning his jacket. 

Lana shakes her head, resting her chin in the palm of her hand as she drawls, “They would if you actually bickered. Domesticity made you guys boring.” 

Kiawe shrugs, careful to not move too much and disturb the poor tailor, who’s now pinning his trousers to the appropriate length. “I’d say it’s made us happy,” he argues, unable to resist looking at his husband with a warm, glowing love in his gaze. 

Lana’s frown deepens. “Absolutely disgusting.” 

They laugh, and Ilima jerks his chin to Hau and Lillie, teasing, “I hope you’re ready for her to treat you just as disrespectfully after the wedding.” 

Lillie shakes her head. “I expect nothing less.” Immediately she regrets the words at the impish look that crosses Lana’s face, and she winces, “Maybe a little less...” 

“Go easy on us for at least a few months,” Hau agrees, instinctively pulling his fiancée closer. Gladion notes the protective gesture with a small smile to himself; he misses that Moon does the same. 

Lana smirks. “No promises.” 

Moon can’t resist the chance to tease the younger woman, elbowing her as she laughs, “How else is she going to single-handedly take down the institution of marriage?” 

But Lana frowns as the others chuckle, opening her mouth before closing it and reconsidering her words. The room grows steadily quiet and still, the others realizing that they’ve struck some sort of nerve, the usually lackadaisical trial captain growing serious. “It’s not that I despise it...Just not sure if it’s for me. At least not for a while.” 

Kiawe gives her a gentle smile and understanding nod. “It’s not for everyone,” he concedes simply. “And you have plenty of time to decide.” 

Mallow as always reads the room and is three steps ahead of the possible tension, quickly diffusing it with a bright smile towards Lillie and Hau. “Well what about you two?” she chirps brightly, “Still excited for married life?” 

Hau’s grin is bright enough to light a small city as he says simply, “I’ve never been more excited for anything in my life.” 

A chorus of aww’s travels around the room, though Hapu in her armchair remains quiet and contemplative, glancing around the room. Her eyes land back on Lillie, who gives the others a small smile, not quite as confident as Hau but just as warm when she speaks. “I think we’re ready.” 

“More than ready,” Hau assures, giving her shoulders another squeeze, and Moon smiles at the gesture before her eyes flicker to see Gladion’s reaction – her eyes meet his as he does the same, and they both quickly look away, eyes back on the engaged couple. 

Hapu shifts in her seat, drawing attention as she clears her throat, shaking her head as she dives straight to her point. “I don’t know how you can be so sure.” 

Lana snorts, and Gladion smirks as he mumbles, “Not the most comforting thing to say this close to the wedding.” 

The young trial captain’s eyebrows shoot up as she realizes her lack of tact, quick to add with a sheepish smile, “I do apologize, it’s just...” She trails off, her eyes going to the ground as she frowns in thought. “I think I’m with Lana on this one. I don’t see myself ever quite settling down.” She pauses, and looks back up to see the others watching with understanding faces, and when she looks to Lillie and Hau, they luckily seem more curious than offended. Hapu gives them a lopsided smile. “Frankly, I admire you two – it's a rare thing to find someone you want to share your life with.” 

Mallow lets out a distressed noise, somewhere between a scoff and a guffaw. “Now hold your Mudbray! You’re barely 22, where’s this disillusionment coming from?” 

Hapu shrugs, biting back a laugh at the overreaction. “Not sure, I just can’t see myself walking down the aisle.” 

“What about you then, Mallow?” The others turn, slightly surprised that the question comes from Gladion, who only gives Mallow a curious look. Moon’s stomach does a flip, but she bites her tongue, forcing her heart back down her throat. 

“Oh! Well, um...” Mallow stumbles with her words, eyes wide before she chews on her bottom lip in thought. She gives her friends a sheepish grin as she says, “I’ve walked myself right into this one, haven’t I? Y’know, I think I’m in the same boat as Lana. I’m not entirely sure, but I think if the right person comes along, I’d love to.” 

Hau’s face cracks into a smug smile. “You mean the right artist?” 

The rest of the room chuckles knowingly as Mallow’s face drains of every single color. “Excuse me,” she blanches, not really a question so much as a stunned statement that has her cheeks heating up. 

Lana rolls her eyes, voicing everyone’s thoughts when she mutters, “You’re shit at hiding it.” 

Mallow splutters, “There’s nothing to hide!” 

“Well she’s right about that, considering nothing’s happened ever since you drunkenly hit on her at the last Alola Trial banquet.” Ilima smirks as the comment strikes a nerve, the others sharing knowing looks. 

In a desperate attempt to get out of the hot seat, Mallow hastily announces, “You know we haven’t heard from Gladion!” She looks at him, ignoring the surprise in his eyes as she blurts, “Would you ever get married?” 

Something in the air shifts as the room grows quiet; even the tailor stills his movements for a moment. Moon’s stomach flips once more and she no longer knows where to look, but she can’t tear her eyes off Gladion. She’s hyper-aware of every muscle, every flex of his brow, every twitch in his cheek, trying to tally them altogether into some sort of answer. 

But then what sort of answer is she so desperately wanting to hear? 

For his part, Gladion is too lost in his thoughts to have much of a reaction beyond stunned revelation. He gazes at the floor, all too aware of the eyes on him and the implications his words could have. The more he searches his mind for an answer, though, the further away he seems from one, and finally he’s left to conclude, “I actually never thought about it.” 

“Really? I would have thought you and -” Kiawe is promptly cut off with the glare that Ilima serves him, before his eyes flicker to Moon and he realizes just how far he’s overstepped. “Never mind.” 

It’s impossible to take the words back, though, and the unfinished thought leaves everyone to sit in silence, all haunted by a complicated past that keeps sending ripples. Moon looks to the ground, her flipping stomach now heavy as a rock as she realizes her dirty laundry is slowly hung up to dry in front of everyone; Gladion’s left hand begins to shake at the thought that one of the hundreds of things left unsaid between them is now left unsaid with all of their friends. 

He clears his throat, unable to bear the silence much longer and realizing that it’s on him to try and break the tension. “Guess my M.O. has been to live in the moment more than anything. I’ve only recently actually been thinking about the future.” He thinks it’s a perfectly fine answer, but still he can’t look at Moon, can’t look and reveal that on some level he’s lying – he never really thought about the future, but there was a time when he couldn’t see a future without her. 

“If it’s any help, I can say marriage has plenty of perks,” Ilima pipes up. 

Lana smirks, now seeing her opportunity to clear the air and tease her favorite married couple. “Name one.” 

Unable to resist the challenge, Ilima gives her a grin as he says, “There’s always someone to take care of me when I’m sick.” 

Hapu frowns. “That’s not a perk to the person taking care of ya.” 

Lillie laughs before adding, “You’ll always have a partner by your side.” 

“So you can’t run away at the first sign of catastrophe,” Mallow counters. 

Hau shakes his head, his eyes landing on Lillie as he smiles so sweetly that the others nearly feel like they’re intruding on a private moment. “Honestly I’m just excited to learn so much more about you,” he whispers, pulling her even closer and kissing the crown of her head, Lillie sighing into the embrace. 

Lana gags. “Truly gross.” 

A round of laughter takes over the room, and the awkwardness of before is left in the past as Kiawe says, “It doesn’t get boring.” 

“I mean, no offense to y’all but I think it certainly could,” Hapu argues. 

Gladion watches with raised brows. “Didn’t mean to launch a debate.” 

Ilima smiles as he chirps, “Too late! I love a good thought experiment.” Feeling emboldened, he looks over to Moon as she sits quietly on the couch, wrapped in thoughts as she picks at her bottom lip. Realizing that she might have thrown herself down a rabbit hole, he purrs, “You know, someone’s been awfully -” 

A ringtone brings the conversation to a halt, all eyes on Moon as she stands hurriedly, muttering, “Sorry, I need to take this.” 

She’s out of the building in record time, and as the dust settles, everyone is left to guess at what could have the former Champion sprinting away. Lana looks around at the curious and confused faces, tapping her fingers along the edge of her seat with an impish smirk. “So...we’re all gonna go spy on that phone call, right?” 

Ilima considers for a moment, mumbling, “Awfully tempting...” 

Kiawe looks at him, his expression somehow stern and scolding yet loving. “I thought we agreed to respect other people’s privacy.” Ilima pouts, but sighs in begrudging acceptance. 

Lana gapes, falling back into the couch as she moans, “Man, marriage does suck.” 

And as the others laugh, content to move on to other topics of discussion as Ilima and Kiawe go to change, Gladion feels his gaze drifting to the front door, left to wonder in the wake of Moon’s escape. 

 


 

When Moon walks back in after her call, Mallow and Lana are in their bridesmaid dresses, the tailor able to work a little more quickly with a third of the group now gone. Hau looks over as Moon takes her seat back on the couch. “That took a while,” he observes, the others watching with equal curiosity. 

Moon nods, not entirely there as she mumbles, “Yeah, I saw Ilima, Kiawe, and Hapu leaving. Sorry about that.” 

Mallow frowns, everyone sensing the air of unease. “Everything okay?” she asks, though she has her suspicions about what could be distressing the young woman after the whirlwind of a conversation they all had. 

Gladion, keen to not relive the previous discomfort, quickly supplies, “More trouble with the visa?” 

Her eyes snap to his as though she’s seeing a ghost; he nearly calls her out on it, but there’s something in the fear and the shock that silences him. It’s as though they’re back to square one, and she’s watching every word that she says around him, not sure where they stand and not sure where they’re going. Gladion swallows a lump in his throat, and Moon slowly shakes her head. “Ah...no, just had to confirm some things for my Sinnoh trip this weekend.” 

The half-truth is paper-thin, but Lana saves her from further scrutiny as she sarcastically says, “Right, to see your cooler friends.” 

“To be fair, the bar’s pretty low.” The smirk that Moon delivers is only half as lively as her usual, but it’s enough to comfort the others that nothing’s too wrong, and they can laugh. 

Hau shakes his head. “I can’t believe you’re going to make me revoke your wedding invitation, cousin.” 

“Unfortunately, I have to veto it because she’s the only one planning the bridal shower,” Lillie tells him, biting back a giggle when her fiancé pouts in response. 

Gladion shrugs, and seeing that Moon is drifting off to somewhere they can’t follow again, he does his best to bring her back by teasing, “Maid of honors are a dime a dozen.” 

But she doesn’t respond, and the silence is deafening, to the point that the tailor himself pauses in his work, asking incredulously, “No counterattack?” 

“Huh?” She looks up at the worried faces, doing her best to shake her slump but unable to get the fog out of her eyes. “Sorry, I wasn’t...” 

Mallow’s frown deepens, but she keeps her tone soft and patient. “Are you sure you’re okay? You’ve been awfully quiet.” 

Moon nods, looking right through everyone there, looking at something that they can’t see as she replies, “Just distracted.” 

And it shows as the fitting continues, the others doing their best to keep the conversation flowing as Moon sits deep in her thoughts about what she left behind in Alola, what she has in Sinnoh, and what keeps slipping out of her grasp no matter how hard she tries. 

 

She hasn’t thought of marriage before either. 

Now she can’t stop thinking about it. 

 


 

Gladion adjusts the tie, looking at himself in the dressing room mirror and letting the reality of his sister’s wedding settle and solidify into the suit he’s wearing. Watching everyone else try on suits and dresses was surreal, but this grounds him once more as he runs his hands over the sleeves, feels the fabric on his skin, and comes to the realization that his little sister is going to get married, and he’s going to be there, and a future he never imagined is coming towards him faster and faster. 

With a final check over his appearance he steps back out, Lillie and Hau sitting up straighter with approving smiles, the tailor immediately beginning his inspection as he asks, “How’s the fit?” 

“A little tight around the shoulders.” 

Hau’s brows furrow in disbelief. “Really? It looks great on you,” he assures. 

Gladin is about to argue when Lillie’s gaze travels to something behind him, her eyes widening as she coos, “Oh Moon, it’s such a lovely color on you!” 

“You think so?” She steps forward, looking down at the flowing dress and smoothing the skirt. 

Gladion’s mouth goes dry and his throat tightens. He hasn’t seen her this dressed up in years, and looking at how the fabric drapes, how she carries herself so differently, tugs at something he’s tried to bury years ago in his chest. When he realizes he’s staring, he only manages to quietly say, “It suits you.” 

Moon looks up at him and her mouth falls open as her eyes take him in and the turbulent thoughts threaten to invade her mind once more. She snaps her jaw shut tight before nodding, trying to tease but ending up only sincere as she tells him, “I’m glad I vetoed the bowtie. This looks...good on you.” 

Hau and Lillie smile between themselves, and even the tailor seems to be in on the secret as he continues writing down measurements. To snap the maid of honor and best man out of their moment, Lillie decides, “We really should find more excuses for you to dress up.” 

But Moon hesitates, looking down at herself and shifting uncomfortably in the gown. “Maybe,” she mumbles, and as Gladion watches her fidget, a strange sense of déjà vu washes over him, and a hot flash of guilt blinds him as he recognizes the signs he so dutifully ignored years earlier. 

 


 

The fourth annual Alola Trial banquet is held at the top of Mount Lanakila, and dozens of reporters and photographers surround the makeshift dancefloor, desperate to get another photo of Alola’s first Champion, eager to make speculations about her four-year reign and dissect every move she makes, from the speech she’ll have to give to the black dress that she wears. 

Moon dances in the center, the hand held in Gladion’s squeezing a little tighter as her eyes focus on the crowd - in this lighting they look like Carvanha, waiting for their chance to tear her apart, to rip away at the surface until they expose her to the world. 

She’s read too many of their articles, and she knows the exact headlines that will greet her tomorrow morning. 

“This happens every year, you’d think they’d have enough photos by now,” she mutters, finally tearing her gaze away and back to Gladion, who looks down at her with a sympathetic smile. 

“They’re just excited to have a Champion to write about,” he soothes, but it does little to calm her, and he feels a familiar frustration building as he’s left to guess at what goes on behind her eyes that seem to grow cloudier with each passing day. He leans down to whisper in her ear, “You look incredible.” 

Her lopsided smile quickly falls when she admits, “I don’t feel it.” 

And he’s left to ask the same question that she’s starting to leave unanswered more and more often these days. “What’s wrong?” 

Something flits across her face, but he’s too deep in his own desperation to really listen anymore, to decipher the look of someone who’s resigned herself to carrying her burden in silence. She gives his hand another squeeze (to reassure herself or him, she’s no longer sure). “Just distracted.” 

And they keep dancing in circles, never realizing that this is the beginning of the end for them.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Gladion has long suspected that he’s not a good boyfriend. 

 

Outwardly, he’s fine by most standards.  

Like a good boyfriend, he waits at the airport for Erika’s flight to land, Silvally by his side and a bouquet in hand. A few people gossip as they walk past, knowing full well that the president of the Aether Foundation is waiting for a certain Kanto gym leader, even if the two keep their relationship private. Like a good boyfriend, he pretends not to hear, and what he does hear he only smiles to himself about, secure enough in their relationship to laugh at tabloid fodder. And when Erika finally comes down the stairs, suitcase in hand and a tired smile on her face, like a good boyfriend he goes and helps her with her bag, handing off the flowers and placing a delicate kiss on her cheek. 

But as he walks her to the car, asking questions about her flight and trying to get Silvally to finally warm up to her as the Pokémon keeps its distance from the gym leader, he realizes that he may not be as good of a boyfriend as he’d like to consider himself. 

 

A good boyfriend probably wouldn’t have cringed at the thought of his girlfriend staying at his place on her vacation. 

A good boyfriend probably would have told her that he thought they were moving too fast, that the traditional trajectory they’re on feels off somehow. 

A good boyfriend probably would have mentioned by now that the maid of honor in his sister’s wedding is his ex-girlfriend that he hasn’t seen in years. 

 

“Is something wrong?” 

He glances over at Erika in the passenger seat, realizing that he hasn’t been listening to a word she’s said, too focused on the road and his own thoughts (which is decidedly not a good boyfriend move, but then he’s becoming a broken record at this point). 

“Just distracted.” He realizes too late that he’s heard that phrase recently, and it sounded so different when it came from her, so tired and just on the edge of broken. Gladion clears his throat, turning into the driveway as he explains, “Work has been hectic, and there’s still a lot to get ready for the wedding.” 

It’s not a total lie, but then why is he grasping at half-truths more and more often with her? 

Erika hums, watching him put on the emergency brake and turn off the car. “I’m sure it’ll work out.” Her tone is gentle, cautious, and it feels like they’re both looking before they step, avoiding eggshells when they speak despite four months to overcome their initial distance. 

He opens the back door for Silvally, who bounds away and to the backyard, and she opens the trunk, grabbing the flowers while he handles the suitcase. They head inside in silence, and it’s not quite comfortable as Gladion comes to the realization that he has, in fact, never been a good boyfriend. 

With only three other relationships that really approached being anything serious, the sample size is small but consistent: he keeps to his comfort zone, alone, with a twelve-foot tall wall surrounding him. 

He can’t help that he’s cautious – certainly not after his first (and his longest) relationship ended in such a spectacular catastrophe. It was only reasonable that he should be so guarded in the months that followed, throwing himself into his work to block even the idea of trying again. Perfectly acceptable that in the years after he kept things casual, and really, what could anyone expect when he finally did get into his next relationship? While that break-up was painful, it wasn’t nearly as explosive or heart-wrenching as his first, and there was some small comfort in knowing that it’s so much easier to let go of someone who doesn’t really know you, hasn’t seen the worst you have to offer and rejected you for it. 

Someone who doesn’t say they hate you before you walk out on them for the last time. 

But he’s had nine years to build up the courage, to take down the wall, and he only finds himself preparing another layer of bricks.  

He suspects that Erika can sense it, too, this hesitation to really begin anything, and it’s probably the reason why she wanted to stay with him on this trip; nothing else has worked, but maybe this’ll be the final push they need. 

And because he wants to be a better boyfriend he said yes, and he picked up flowers and brought Silvally, and he picked her up from the airport, and now he’s showing her the drawer she can use and watching her unpack, asking what she’s most looking forward to doing on her vacation. 

Erika smiles as she answers questions, tucking away her clothes as she says, “I’d love to see some more Battle Royals.” 

Gladion laughs, leaning against the wall with crossed arms. “You’re insatiable.” 

“They still haven’t caught on in Kanto,” she explains, closing the drawer and turning to look at him. “And I still have yet to watch you actually battle in one. Lillie told me you were a reigning champion a while ago.” 

 

Champion.  

 

The word stabs his gut, but he does his best to hide the grimace; he fights the urge to snap that he’s no champion, he’s never been the champion, he’s always come second and had to watch the real champion walk away from her title. 

“Emphasis on ‘a while,’” he explains, adding with a frown, “And recently I’ve only really participated when I needed to clear my mind.” 

Erika tilts her head. “Really? I’m always so flustered after a battle – all the adrenaline hits me.” 

“You? Flustered?” He laughs, “Now that I’d pay to see.” 

“It’s true!” 

“I have a feeling your definition of ‘flustered’ and mine are very different.” He can see her cheeks grow pink, and can’t resist the urge to tease her just a little further as he walks to her, tucking a stray hair behind her ear as he chuckles, “You managed to do everything elegantly – except for your one true weakness, eating a malasada properly.” 

Erika’s cheeks take on a lovely shade of pink as she sighs. “Hau did his best to teach me.” 

“Hau eats malasadas like a dying Salandit.” Gladion gives her a lopsided grin, explaining, “You were doomed from the start.” He’s about to say something else, maybe poke more fun at the kahuna – a favorite past-time of his that Erika graciously puts up with – when he spots a familiar envelope sticking out of the suitcase. It’s one he received in the mail several weeks ago, too, but suddenly it seems foreign, an unnatural shade of cream against a forest green suitcase. 

His hard stare doesn’t go unnoticed by Erika, who follows his gaze; her eyes light up when she spots the envelope, stepping back to the suitcase and pulling it out with a smile. “Malasadas and Battle Royals aside, of course I’m excited for the wedding.” She opens the envelope, pulling out the save the date and looking over the delicate typography and light blue stationary as she says, “And it’s such perfect timing with my visit. A bridal shower just before I head back to Kanto.” 

Gladion’s eyes remain on the invite with a frown, and before he can think better of it, he asks incredulously, “You got one?” 

Erika nods, not quite registering the shock in his voice. “I’m sure Lillie assumed I would be your plus one, but it’s still incredibly kind of her to send me one as well.” 

But Lillie didn’t send the invites. 

 

Moon did. 

 

And a puzzle Gladion didn’t even know he was trying to solve starts resolving in his mind as he realizes that Moon’s known about Erika for a while now, that of course Lillie compiled the guest list and sent it to Moon, and Moon must have been curious as to who Erika was, and so she asked and he’s sure Lillie panicked a little but told her plainly and simply and so Moon’s known about Erika this whole time. 

He’s not quite sure what to do with this information as it settles into a delightful nausea in his stomach, all of his sense preoccupied with the revelation and not with what Erika’s currently saying. It’s hard to focus when he’s dealing with another hot wash of guilt over the fact that his ex-girlfriend knows about his current one but not the other way around; better yet, that he’s had multiple chances to tell Erika, and he’s let every single one of them slip away. 

Oh, he’s definitely a bad boyfriend. 

Erika notices his silence, her fingers fidgeting with the invite as she watches him for a second more, hesitating before she does her best to tug her lips into a smile. “I think you’re distracted again.” 

Gladion hesitates for a moment, deciding that the wall is easier to look at than her questioning gaze. “I’m just surprised that you got an invite.” 

She bristles, and the air shifts – he's stepped on an eggshell and he can feel the crack in his own bones. 

“Why wouldn’t I have?” She tries to keep it casual and curious, but there’s an edge of hurt underneath. Erika searches his face for some sort of malice, and Gladion hesitates, trying to figure out where to step next so that he won’t crack another shell. 

“I just didn’t think you’d be invited.” 

He avoids the eggshell. 

And steps directly onto a land mine. 

Now Erika’s flustered, but Gladion’s earlier suspicions were correct; it’s a quiet sort of fluster, in which her cheeks are tinted pink and her eyes can’t quite focus, but it’s still driven, still composed, and now it’s on the defense. “Did Lillie say something?” There’s clearly more she wants to say, more she has to get out of her system, but if there's one thing he’s learned about her it’s that Erika is nothing if not polite. She’s always patients, waiting her turn and listening intently before speaking – he didn’t realize how intense she is until this moment, when that courtesy is turned on him full force. 

“No, it’s not that, it’s...” He trails off, realizing he’s really backed himself into a corner now, but maybe he can avoid mentioning his ex, avoid making this whole thing even worse and messier than it already is. He sits on the edge of the bed, needing the breathing room as he tries to compose a flurry of thoughts. “Lillie didn’t say anything, I just figured since I already got the invite...” 

Nothing sounds quite right coming out of his mouth now. The words are clunky and lofty, and Erika can see right through them. Still, she waits for his move, only prodding, “Did she not mention the guest list to you?” 

“Well technically she wasn’t in charge of the invites.” He feels like a child caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Part of him, the rational part, tells him to just come out and say it already. Erika isn’t going to drop it, not when he’s personally offended her like this, and dragging it out will only make it all the more suspicious in the end. The other part of him, the instinctual part that he swears he got rid of years ago, tells him to keep going, dig his heels in further. 

That part wins out and he keeps his mouth shut, gripping his left hand tightly to try and hide the shaking. 

Erika’s grip on the invite tightens. “Who was?” 

Gladion feels his own irritation – at himself? Erika? Moon? He can no longer tell – boiling just under the surface. “I’m sorry for bringing it up, it’s really nothing -” 

“Just tell me why I shouldn’t have been invited, Gladion.” 

“There’s no real reason - “ 

“Then why did you - “ 

“My ex-girlfriend was in charge of the invites.” 

 

A lone Wingull calls out, but it can’t cut through the thick silence. 

Gladion watches Erika’s face, but she’s as composed as ever, infuriatingly blank as he’s left to guess at her thoughts. Well what do you know, I made it worse, his inner voice chastises. 

Maybe he’s not a bad boyfriend. 

Maybe he’s the worst. 

He’s not sure what his next step should be. He could offer an apology, but he knows he’ll be rambling and stammering through it, not quite sure what exactly he’s apologizing for, and that’ll only infuriate Erika even more.  

“The same ex-girlfriend you won’t say anything about?” 

“There’s nothing to say.” Gladion answers far too quickly, but he doesn’t budge on it, answering Erika’s small frown with a shake of his head. 

She softens for a moment, shoulders dropping as she asks, quiet as a whisper, “Is that why you didn’t tell me?” 

They both know it’s not, and he drops his head, eyes now on his hands as he desperately grips at his left to hide the shaking. He feels the bed shift as Erika sits beside him, not quite close enough to touch him but enough that he can feel her warmth, patient and waiting and expecting. 

His mouth feels like cotton, and it takes him a moment before he finally mutters, “I’m sorry. It’s really not a big deal, I don’t know why...I don’t know why I treated it like one and hid it from you.” 

She shifts her weight, causing him to look up at her and see the concern in her brows as she watches him. “I’m more upset that you won’t talk about her at all.” Erika pauses, tucking her hair behind her ear as her eyes search the floor for something they won’t find. “She seems like she was a big part of your life, and yet the only thing I really know about her is that you two dated when you were younger.” 

Because as much as Gladion may try to deny it, Erika has long since picked up on the importance that the ever-mysterious Moon has to him. She truly does feel like a cosmic object in their relationship, never on display but always floating in the background of everything they do. The thought makes Erika’s skin itch, but she bites her tongue, patient and waiting and expecting. 

She’s not sure how much longer she can go on expecting answers that he doesn’t give. 

Gladion nods, biting his cheek, snapped out of his reverie when he tastes copper in his mouth. He takes a final breath and looks at Erika, mustering a half-smile as he explains, “She was my first girlfriend. We started dating when I was sixteen; she was fourteen. Four years later, she decided that she needed to find herself, and our relationship was going south, so she left to travel.” 

It’s laughably short. Gladion very nearly chuckles at himself, at the fact that he’s left out everything from how he pushed her away to finding out she’s been avoiding him on visits to Alola for years now, but he stops himself – Erika isn’t anywhere close to laughing. 

If anything, she might start pulling her hair out, though she hides it well with a curt nod. Releasing her frustration in a sigh, she looks at him and decides she’s probably only going to get one answer out of him, and she begins going through the lists of questions she’s had months to compile, picking the one that sticks out and picks her like a thorn she forgot to snip. 

 

“Why didn’t you go with her?” 

 

He hesitates, because he knows he can’t give her the real answer. “I had to run Aether.” 

But Erika pushes back, just slightly, just enough to prod, “But couldn’t Wicke have acted in your absence? I just know that you’re always talking about wanting to travel, and yet -” 

“There was a lot going on,” he tells her simply, effectively ending the discussion once more as he stands, “The logistics just wouldn’t have worked out.” 

She doesn’t believe him (and he doesn’t believe himself either). Erika only nods, standing along with him and doing her best to smile. “Right. I’m sorry to have brought all this up.” 

“Technically I did.” The corner of his lips quirks up, and Gladion adds, “But it’s good to talk about – I should have told you a lot of this sooner.” 

He should have told her more, should have finally ignored the eggshells, should have taken out the first brick in the wall, but instead he’s stopped them short and led them right back to where they began. 

And Erika knows but she smiles all the same. “Now let me finally finish unpacking and then we can grab some dinner.” 

Gladion nods, mumbling that he’ll go check on Silvally as he walks out, just a hair slower than usual, and waiting for her to stop him, to ask again, to give him that final reassurance that everything’s okay, that he’s okay. 

She just continues unpacking, patient and waiting and expecting, and he walks away, her silence all the confirmation he needs. 

Gladion is a bad boyfriend. 

 

 

Now it’s a question of whether he’s also a terrible person. 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Royal Avenue is buzzing with life just an hour before the first set of the day’s matches begins. Battle Royal fans mill about, all too engrossed in their conversations to notice the group walking around that might otherwise cause a bit of a scene. 

Gladion realizes that they’ve unintentionally become a walking punchline. 

A kahuna, top scientist, the president of Aether, and a gym leader walk into the Thrifty Megamart... 

Besides accidentally turning them into a joke, he’s glad for Lillie and Hau’s presence – truthfully, breakfast with Erika was filled with silence as she tried not to fall asleep and he tried to think of something to say that would finally break the tension of last night. His sister and best friend seemed to sense it the second they opened the door, because Hau has dialed up his usual charisma to nearly lethal levels and Lillie has an arsenal of conversation starters to keep the mood light. 

“I’m telling you, anyone who actually buys food at the Battle Royal Dome is a chump,” Hau tells Erika with a wink, the gym leader laughing as they lead her through the aisles. Gladion and Lillie share a look, all too used to the soapbox Hau’s about to step on. “I mean, the cheapest superstore in Alola is right next door.” 

They reach the snack foods, Hau beginning to load up on popcorn and chips, with Erika raising a brow. “Are you sure we can sneak that in?” she asks nervously. 

Lillie laughs, placing a hand on her shoulder as she explains, “No, but I’ll talk him down from seventeen packs of fruit snacks.” 

“You know I get hungry, Lil.” 

It’s Gladion’s turn to frown in disbelief. “It’s two hours, Hau.” 

“I’m a stress-eater!” 

The quartet laugh as they continue walking around, grabbing candy and soda. Lillie does manage to talk Hau into downsizing his haul before they get into a checkout line, waiting patiently behind another group of Battle Royal fans. 

As Lillie and Erika discuss the competitors they’re about to watch, Gladion lets his eyes wander, eventually settling on the magazines by the register. He nearly rolls his eyes, but decides that he’s just bored enough to read some of the headlines, knowing full well that things like The National Gymquirer aren’t going to contain anything of substance.  

It seems like the usual nonsense; honestly, it’s been a while since Gladion’s kept up with the less factual side of Alolan media. It doesn’t particularly interest him, and the last time he must have actually read one of these is several years ago, when Lillie absolutely lost it over the fact that he was named Alola’s Most Eligible Bachelor by Alolan Insider. 

As they move forward in line, Gladion raises a brow at some of the more sensational headlines. 

 

Hoenn Superstar Lisia Pregnant? 

 

TOP 10 SECRETS TRIAL CAPTAINS DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW 
#7 will shock you! 

 

Smell Ya Later: Gary Oak Spotted Leaving a Night Club 

 

He can actually feel individual brain cells dying as he reads, but before he can look away with a roll of his eyes, he spots the front cover of the Daily Chatot and freezes. 

Without a doubt, Moon is on the cover, sunglasses on as she strolls through a city square, holding hands with a bored-looking man with a shock of blond hair. There’s a shot of her other hand with a close-up next to it, a red circle around a ring on her finger. Gladion’s mind is trying its best to connect all the pieces together before he reads the headline and the bottle of iced tea in his hand drops to the floor. 

 

SINNOH GYM LEADER ENGAGED TO FORMER CHAMPION? 

 

Lilile turns, Hau and Erika too wrapped up in their debate on the importance of type advantage to notice the sound of the plastic bottle dropping. Gladion feels her stare and tears his gaze away, reaching down and fumbling to pick the bottle back up – if he moves quickly enough, maybe his sister won’t realize what’s bothering him and he can have his existential crisis alone. 

But when he stands up, he sees that her eyes are now firmly on the headline as well; although, her reaction is a stark contrast to his panic. 

She purses her lips, simply mumbling, “Looks like her Sinnoh trip is going well, huh?” 

Gladion stares at her, horrified at how nonchalant she could be, when a terrible thought occurs to him. 

She knew. 

Before he can even begin to think of a response (deciding between pretending not to care or conducting a full interrogation on his sister), the line is moving and Gladion steps forward to pay, doing his best to not take a second look at the magazine. He brushes past Lillie, intent to focus instead on paying for his and Erika’s concessions, quick to try and enter her and Hau’s conversation. 

As the four head out, stuffing their jackets and bags with the contraband food, Lillie tugs at Gladion’s arm, forcing him to walk behind Hau and Erika for a moment. The two don’t notice, continuing their debate as they lead the way to the Battle Royal Dome; Gladion looks at his sister with a raised brow, about to ask what’s going on when she cuts him off short. 

She shoves the Daily Chatot into his chest, mumbling, “Page sixteen.” 

He freezes, mouth falling open as he watches her nonchalantly join back up with her fiancé and Erika, leaving him to hold the magazine against his chest. He looks down at it, his grip tightening as he considers his options. 

If he flips to page sixteen, he’ll know what this is all about. 

But he’s not sure he’ll like what he finds. 

Realizing that if he stays still much longer the others will notice, he slides the magazine into the inside pocket of his jacket, wiping the frown off his face as he walks quickly to catch up with the group, smiling as if his ex-girlfriend didn’t just get engaged. 

 


 

Gladion does well for the first hour. 

He’s cheering with the crowd and pointing out competitors to Erika, both of them excited as the adrenaline races and each battle reveals a new victor. He stands and stretches at halftime, arguing with Hau over who’s going to go home with the title today. 

Five minutes into the next round, however, and that damn headline pops up front and center in his mind. When he tries to focus his eyes on the competitors entering the ring, all he can see is that stupid magazine cover and the close-up of a ring. When he turns to ask Eirka some banal question, she’s half-asleep and the words evaporate from his lips, replaced with his own questions about something he definitely shouldn’t discuss with his girlfriend. 

Somehow, he doubts she’d love to have yet another conversation about the mysterious ex that haunts their relationship. 

The first round of the second half ends and a bell rings, but it’s faint and fuzzy in Gladion’s ears. His mouth feels like it’s full of cotton as he stands, grabbing his jacket. “Going to the bathroom,” he responds to the question no one in his group asked. 

If they don’t buy it then he doesn’t see it, instead managing to make his way down the row and up the aisle to the exit in record time. A roar ripples through the crowd as he walks out into a relatively empty hallway, his own nerves buzzing as he can practically feel the magazine through his jacket. Deciding that it's probably best to keep up his charade rather than be caught reading some gossip rag alone in the Battle Royal Dome, Gladion walks down the hall, steps echoing along with the questions in his mind. 

 

How much does Lillie know? 

Why didn’t Moon mention a fiancé at any point? 

Who is this guy? 

And just where the hell is the bathroom in this place? 

 

When he finally manages to find the men’s room, he walks into the first available stall and practically tears open the magazine to page sixteen, nothing but masochistic curiosity fueling him as he reads. 

 

Sorry ladies, it looks like Volkner’s finally tying the knot! 

 

He rolls his eyes, already hating himself for reading this, but the name along with the photo of the man creates a spark of recognition. Volkner’s a highly respected gym leader, if Gladion remembers correctly – he hasn’t kept up with league news, especially not in other regions. 

There’s been too high of a risk of running into Moon’s name. 

Knowing he can’t travel down that particular downward spiral of thought in the five minutes he’s bought himself, he keeps reading, ignoring the bile and sting in his stomach. 

 

The romantic spark between Sinnoh gym leader, Volkner, and Alola’s first Champion, Moonbeam, is no secret to any of us. 

 

At the rate he keeps stopping he’ll never finish the article, but Gladion can’t help but blink, scoffing to himself. No secret? he thinks, brows furrowed as his gaze wanders over the spread of paparazzi photos of the couple that crowd the page, Am I the only person who didn’t know? 

Then again, he’s also the only one who didn’t know she’s been visiting Alola for years now. 

The loudspeaker delivering audio of the match to the bathroom crackles with another roar of upset from the crowd, reminding Gladion of the limited time he has and urging him to keep reading despite his instincts of self-preservation. 

 

While the two have been spotted around Sinnoh for the past year, they’ve been notoriously private. The pair had confirmed their relationship eight months ago, but have since been tight-lipped, with few public appearances. 

 

It’s not much, but it soothes the burn at least a little as he can convince himself that he’s in the majority of people who’ve been in the dark. 

A pair of footsteps interrupts his thoughts, and Gladion looks up to confirm that he’s locked the door behind him, allowing him to continue reading. 

 

Moonbeam was Alola’s first Champion, earning the title at just fourteen years-old. Since stepping down, she’s traveled and competed in several leagues, as well as studied environmental engineering. She currently works at  Sinnoh’s Valley Windworks, which is reportedly how she first met Volkner.  

With such a long break since any public matches, however, we’re starting to wonder just what she has in common with Volkner, and we aren’t the only ones. A source close to the two confirms that Moonbeam hasn’t had an actual battle in years, and that this has caused some tension between the two; seems like there might be trouble in paradise! 

 

He bites his cheek, a frown set on his lips and brows. There’s something in the tone that feels off somehow, and his reservoir of anger wants to snap that they don’t know anything about her. It’s one thing to try ad guess at an engagement, and another entirely to try and guess at the intimate details of a relationship. 

Still, the article hasn’t offered any solid confirmation as to whether or not the two are actually engaged, and he skips to the end, not able to focus on much else until he gets the resolution he needs. 

 

While the couple hasn’t announced their engagement, we’re sure it’s just a matter of time before they go public with it. All we can hope for is that in the meantime, Moonbeam will pick up the slack, or Volkner will wise up and find someone a little more electric. 

 

And he sits back, magazine crumpled in his hands as he considers everything he’s read. 

Everything that he’s read about his ex while he sits alone in a bathroom stall. 

This is, probably, a low point for him. 

Outside his stall, a faucet runs and then the door closes after hurried footsteps, the loudspeaker announcing the end of another round. Still, Gladion can’t bring himself to move, unable to stop himself from feeling pathetic as he sits, clutching the Daily Chatot so hard that the cover tears a little. 

And for the first time in a long time, Gladion allows himself to throw a proper pity party. 

He stews on it for a moment, shoving the magazine back into his jacket before running his hands through his hair. Closing his eyes, he takes a deep breath and recaps what little he’s actually managed to learn. 

 

Moon is probably engaged. 

She is definitely in a serious relationship with some electrician. 

She didn’t tell him about any of this. 

She doesn’t have to. 

 

Gladion pauses, letting that final realization sink in his chest like a stone, falling faster and faster until it lands with a thud at his feet. 

Because the fact of the matter is that he didn’t tell her about Erika, she doesn’t need to tell him about Volkner, and they don’t need to be in each other’s lives. He can collect what remains of his dignity and walk out of this bathroom with the knowledge that what his ex does is none of his business. The fact that she’s long since moved on shouldn’t be news to him, so why would the idea of her getting engaged be so earth-shattering? 

He stands and walks out of the bathroom, too absorbed in this new path of thought to be thankful that the hall is still relatively abandoned. Alone with his thoughts, he tries his hand at compartmentalizing, packing away the awful thought that the world goes on and tucking it to the back of his mind. 

As he returns to his seat, offering a distracted smile to Erika, he’s feeling slightly better about the whole thing. He watches the match, laughing at Hau and Lillie’s trash talk, and Erika goes to hold his hand, giving him a small smile as the bell signals the end of another round. 

It’s a nice reminder that some poorly written article in a tabloid should be the least of his worries; he’s the president of Aether, surrounded by friends and family, boyfriend of an incredible gym leader, and objectively successful in every facet of his life. 

 

 

So why did she end up with someone else? 

 

Chapter Text

 

Moon’s just stepping out of the Dimensional Research Lab when she gets a call from a number she didn’t realize she still has saved. 

“What’s up, Wicke?” she asks, pleasantly bemused as to why the older woman is calling. While she’s kept her number just in case (because there’s really no one better in an emergency), Moon’s never actually used it, and it’s been a while since she last heard Wicke’s voice. 

There’s a long sigh on the other end of the line before Wicke mumbles, “I was hoping you could tell me.” 

And despite the fact that she’s ten feet from the door of the highly acclaimed lab where she works with well-established scientists, Moon feels like she’s fourteen and being called to the principal’s office. Then she swallows a chuckle because when you’re fourteen and you’ve saved the Alola region, the principal actually gives you a free pass to a lot of things. 

The doctor’s note for PTSD helps. 

Thinking back to the past few days, which were spent mostly in Sinnoh, Moon comes up with nothing and frowns. “Unfortunately, I don’t think so.” 

Wicke hums, a few voices yelling in the background on her end of the line – she must still be at Aether. “It’s about Gladion.” 

Moon rolls her eyes. “Heard of him.” She starts her walk home, deciding that if this conversation really is going to center on her ex, she’d rather not have her coworkers see the annoyed state she’s about to enter. 

There’s an exasperated chuckle on the other end of the line, one that Moon knows well. It makes her smile, remembering the times when she would accidentally push Wicke’s buttons, only for the woman to give her that same chuckle and a gentle warning. While Moon reminisces, Wicke continues, “I know this isn’t of much interest to you, but he’s been agitated all day today.” 

“That’s rough.” 

She doesn’t mean to be so petty (and it’s once again making her feel like she’s fourteen), but Moon can’t help it as she smirks to herself. It’s not often that she gets to hear the guy who broke her heart is struggling while she’s coming off the tail-end of a relaxing trip and a great day at work. She’s never been a big believer in karma, but it’s certainly hard to deny in this moment. 

Wicke’s end of the line is silent, but just as Moon enters Heahea City, she can hear a genuine laugh. “I figured that might be your reaction,” Wicke says, adding in a softer tone, “You’re obviously under no obligation to try and help, but it would mean the world to me if you could try to do something about it, especially since I have a hunch it’s about you.” 

The words are enough to stop Moon in her tracks with a frown, her heart betraying her by skipping a beat. “What makes you say that?” 

“Did you know you’re on the cover of The Daily Chatot?” 

She blinks, too thrown-off by the strange comment to continue walking. “No, I didn’t.” A shiver runs down her spine; she knows all too well the kind of headlines people like to pull from her name. She thought she’d finally shed the spotlight, and her stomach turns with the thought that she really is fourteen again, that her name is being plastered on glossy covers and her photos are being scrutinized and - 

“Gladion knows.” Wicke pauses, letting the words hang on the phone line between them before continuing, “Last week’s issue is on his desk.” 

Moon bites her cheek, humming in thought. “Why would that be?” 

“I think you’ll have to ask him yourself.” And she can hear the coy smile in Wicke’s voice just before the woman hangs up, clearly knowing something that she doesn’t. 

She slides the Dex into her back pocket, letting Wicke’s final words sink into her bones before shaking them out of her head and turning towards Diglett’s Tunnel. Wicke told her from the beginning that she’s not obligated to go see him, but the woman is also too clever to leave things at that; now Moon’s curiosity is involved, and they both know it’s an insatiable beast. 

Despite the chant in her head to go home, to mind her own business, her feet stop just short of entering the tunnel, and Moon lets out a sigh. Her hand is quick to dive into her bag and pull out her ride pager, toying with the button to call Charizard, weighing pros and cons and loose ends in her head. Wicke has left a dozen new questions to sprout in Moon’s head, the first of which is why on earth Gladion of all people bought a copy of The Daily Chatot.  

And that alone is apparently reason enough for her to call Charizard, refusing to entertain any other ideas about why she’s going to see her ex as she waits for the Pokémon to arrive. 

 


 

It’s been a hectic day at Aether, with Gladion running from one meeting to the next, checking in on the conservatory only to be running down to one of the labs moments later. All the while, he’s been distracted, barely able to keep up in conversations with his scientists and administrative team as the self-destructive side of his brain decides to fixate on that damned headline. 

 

FORMER CHAMPION ENGAGED TO SINNOH GYM LEADER?  

 

By the time he finally has a moment to take a break, he wants nothing more than to sit in his office and tear that article to shreds. 

When he opens the door, however, he’s greeted with what is, undoubtedly, his worst nightmare. 

Moon leans against his desk, flipping through  The Daily Chatot  that he left out with an annoyed expression. She looks up when the door opens, a shit-eating grin taking over her face. “Wicke let me in,” she explains, holding up the magazine as she adds, “So I decided to do some light reading while I waited.” 

“Why are you here?” It’s less of a question and more of an accusation, as Gladion stands frozen by the doorway and considers his options. Should he play off the magazine? Should he simply kick her out? Should he break one of the windows and fling himself into the ocean? 

That last one is tempting. 

“Wicke called.” She puts the magazine down, crossing her arms as she shrugs. “Said you were in a tizzy over a gossip column, so I had to see for myself.” 

There’s something she’s not telling him, but he can’t just stare at her forever, and so he walks in, closing the door behind him. As he walks closer to her, he realizes she’s in a striped button-down and slacks – she must have come straight from work. He wonders for a moment if this was inconvenient, if she went out of her way for him, if she would still drop everything she’s doing just to - 

“I’m not ‘in a tizzy,’” he scowls, stopping a few feet away and crossing his arms to mirror her stance. 

Moon raises a brow. “Yes, because you’re obviously in such a good mood.” 

Clearly he can’t play this off, then. His frown deepens. “Don’t you have better things to do?” 

“Not at the moment.” She smirks, tsking under her breath. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were trying to kick me out, Glad.” 

So kicking her out won’t work, either (unless he’s willing to physically throw her out, which crosses his mind for a moment but is quickly dispelled with the realization that she could probably take him down). 

That leaves jumping out the window and into the ocean as his last solution. 

It  is  tempting. 

“You know, we could try talking about this like adults,” she mumbles, tapping her fingers along the desk as she grins at a memory he can’t see, “It’s not like this is the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever caught you doing.” 

That’s true, and it at least relaxes him enough to slide his hands into his pockets. He’s careful with his next words though, feeling that same surreal atmosphere coming over them as their one late night – if he doesn’t shake it off now, he knows this won’t end for at least another hour (and probably not well). 

“Is it right?” 

Silver and emerald eyes flicker to the magazine cover, to the close-up of the ring. There’s a simple yes or no here, one that may end whatever they’ve managed to build between them. 

But she’s in a teasing mood, too comfortable with having the upper hand. “Parts of it.” 

And he lets out a long sigh, scowling when he hears her laugh. “Are you engaged?” he asks, just vitriolic enough to hide his bated breath, to cover the fact that even in his pockets, his hands are shaking. He forces his eyes to remain focused on her, and not dart to her hand to check. 

She purses her lips, something dark flashing in her eyes, but he blinks and it’s gone. 

“No.” 

Before he can let out a sigh of relief and reveal himself, she tilts her head and mutters flatly, “Now what are you actually upset about?” 

He hates that she can still catch him like this, can end up in his office and calm him down only to drive him up the wall a moment later. The longer he holds her stare, the surer he is that she’s not leaving on any of his terms, and whatever it is she came here to find, he’s not going to like it. With a sigh of acceptance, he walks towards his desk, brushing past her and leaning down, beginning to rummage around. 

Moon blinks, watching him as she asks the one question that’s been on her mind ever since he caught her halfway through crawling out a window. “What’s going on?” 

He finally rises, slamming a bottle of whiskey down on his desk. Just as Moon begins to raise a brow, Gladion mutters, “Turnabout is fair play.” 

And she knows she shouldn’t indulge him, shouldn’t indulge this part of herself that still wants to write every word he says on her heart, but she smiles. “I suppose it is.” As he cracks open the bottle, she walks around his desk to join him on the other side, leaning on the wooden table with crossed arms. “Although the fact that you have that under your desk has me slightly concerned.” 

Gladion snorts. “It’s for investors and partners. I keep a few bottles in case I need to get through to someone who keeps rattling on about ‘the good old days’ of business.” He leans back against his desk, placing the cap of the bottle next to a stack of mail, and holds up the bottle in a mock-toast. “Same rules as last time?” 

Moon nods, half of a grin on her face as she watches him place the bottle between them. She hops up onto his desk, leaning back and feeling worryingly relaxed as they slide into this strange song and dance once more. “You start.” 

He hesitates, crossing his arms and thinking it over. Now it seems rude to dive straight into the article, and he can feel her eyes on him, expectant and waiting. When he looks back at her, she’s clearly enjoying his inner battle, and he curses himself for being so predictable. He’s not sure when he got so calculating, so withdrawn, but it’s certainly biting him in the ass now. It’s too late to call this off, though, and so he starts with something simple. “If that wasn’t an engagement ring, then what was it?” 

She rolls her eyes. “Do you really want this to last three hours again?” 

“You have to answer.” 

And the look she fixes him makes it clear that she’s not amused, but she complies all the same, deciding to have some mercy on him. “My mom found an old ring of hers last week and decided she wanted me to have it. First time I actually wear it and it gets mistaken for an engagement ring, go figure.” 

He hums, tucking away the information as if he would ever have a use for it – the old habit of wanting to know all the little things about her didn’t quite die yet, then. 

She tilts her head, observing him for a moment before her eyes go to the window. If she had any decorum, she would wait until they’re at least a few shots in before asking anything salacious. Then again, he’s the one who’s supposed to be embarrassed here, and it’s been a while since she’s seen the ever composed Aether President truly squirm. “Last time we talked about how many serious relationships we’ve had,” she starts slowly, feeling her grin grow as he narrows his eyes suspiciously. 

“So how many people have you slept with?” 

Gladion goes three shades paler, trips over nothing, and lets out something between a shriek and a squeal. 

Moon chalks up another victory. 

 “That is, that’s...” He’s stammering, choking on air as he straightens himself out once more. With a quick deep breath and a scowl, he snaps, “That doesn’t matter.”  

But he hasn’t answered the question yet and they both know it. So single digits then?” Gladion rolls his eyes, but avoids her gaze as he takes a drink straight from the bottle, and her eyes light up with the realization. “Or triple digits?” 

“I had a phase and that’s all I’m saying on the matter.” His response is curt, but the blush coloring his ears and cheeks tells a different story. He still can’t look her in the eyes as he sets the bottle back down, fidgeting with his sleeves instead. 

Moon’s mouth drops open. As she openly gapes, a stunned laugh escapes her and she cannot believe her luck in stumbling across this. “Arceus, you really became a millionaire playboy!” He groans at the title, and she smirks wider as she teases, “Now all you need is a secret identity and crime to fight.” 

“Please stop, this is stupid and embarrassing enough as it is.” And painful, he adds in his mind. It’s not a coincidence that this phase lined up with the months after their breakup. He’s tried to block it from his memory, forget the lonely nights and overstaying his welcome at dive bars, and the reminder lights a fire of shame in him. 

He wonders if she had as much trouble with moving on as he did. 

Instead of probing further into this and risk revealing his hand, he mutters, “And since it’s my turn, I’ll go ahead and ask you the same.” 

She purses her lips and looks up at the ceiling, doing some mental math in her head. A few more moments pass in the silence, and Gladion’s brow slowly raises the longer she takes to answer. “...are you seriously still counting?” he asks, disbelieving. 

“At least  I  didn’t lose track.” Her cheeky smile triggers an eye-roll from him, and she quickly replies, “Twenty-three, give or take.”  

It’s lower than his number but he’s not sure what else to make of it. She decides she’s had her fun, and tilts her head as she steers the conversation in a different direction. “When are you giving me back that Roxie record?” 

“When I don’t have a wedding to plan on top of a company to run.” They share a quick chuckle, but his dies short as his eyes land on the magazine cover once more. They’ve steered away from the original purpose of this, no thanks to his willingness to stall the inevitable. If he lets her, she’ll drift them back into that in-between state they entered last time. 

But they’re in his office and she was almost engaged and he knows what he has to do. Gladion looks up, and forces his muscles to relax as he coats his words in a near-monotone. “How long have you been seeing Volkner?” 

“Little over a year.” She’s trying to keep up her half-smile, but his apprehension is contagious. 

His brows furrow, and before he can think better of it, he asks, “And you aren’t engaged?” 

“It’s not your turn, and it’s common to not be.” She didn’t mean to snap, and she quickly bites her tongue. Moon can’t stand the look of shock on his face, and so her gaze drifts away. Needing something for her hands to do, she picks up the magazine, running her thumb along the edge as she looks at the cover and frowns. All of this over a blurry, mediocre photo. She shakes her head, opening it back up to the article, though her eyes can’t focus on any of the words. “Why did you read this?” 

She listens as the bottle slams against the table after he takes another shot. With a sigh, she tosses The Daily Chatot back onto the desk, further away, and looks up to see Gladion staring right through her, green eyes piercing her in a way she forgot they could. “Do you live together, back in Sinnoh?” 

“No.” Her fingers are at her bottom lip, picking at it as she tries to think of her next question, desperate to get off this topic. His eyes soften, realizing he’s managed to put her on the defensive, and she hates feeling like a stray Litten waiting to run or attack. Her claws come out, and she looks up at him through dark lashes as she asks darkly, “Did it bother you that I might have been engaged?” 

He nearly goes for the bottle again, but then he remembers that rule of not being able to drink twice in a row and falters. Besides, he’s already starting to feel the effects of the first shot he’s taken, and that’s dangerous enough when she’s asking questions like this. “Somewhat...I don’t know.” His eyes are focused out the window, focusing on the line between the ocean and the sky and trying to blur it as he mulls over his answer. With a shrug, he explains, “It was odd, and it caught my attention, and it was a very poorly written article.” 

“I’m sure the very serious journalists at The Daily Chatot take offense to that.” 

They laugh, Gladion still looking out the window and Moon staring at the floor, because everything in this moment feels too intimate. He shifts, crossing his arms as he mumbles, “It’s just a strange thought. I forget, sometimes, that other people are settling down.” 

The one thing he could never figure out how to do – neither could she. 

“My turn?” He finally looks at her, just in time to catch her nod, and decides that he can’t push down his curiosity any longer. “Is everything all right between you and Volkner?” 

She looks like she’s trying to poison him with her eyes. 

Wrong question.  

“Didn’t realize you hold a degree in couples therapy.” She rolls her eyes, but when they settle back on the floor, she’s frowning. “Everything’s fine.” 

Everything is fine and that’s exactly the problem. Things have been just fine for years now, and she’s learned to live with it, learned to wake up every morning and expect that things will be just fine today and perfectly acceptable tomorrow and so on and so forth for possibly the rest of her life.  

Not liking where her thoughts are taking her, and not liking this game anymore, she tries to derail them completely. “Where’s Silvally?’ 

“Conservatory,” he replies quickly, intent to get back on track as he thinks out loud, “But if...” He bites his cheek, sizing her up and realizing that his next question may very well break her, break the fragile air between them. 

But it wouldn’t be the first time he’s broken things beyond repair. 

 

“Do you love him?” 

 

She takes a shot. 

The air conditioning turns off, robbing them of the only remaining noise in the room. Moon toys with the bottle in her hands, slow and methodical and unfeeling. 

“Why do you want to know?” 

He looks away, heat crawling up his neck – she could always catch him at his worst and call him out on it. “I’m curious.” 

“Give me the real reason or drink.” Her gaze is strong, unflinching, making it clear that two can play this game. She searches his face, but there are so many things he’s hidden from her that it only makes her dizzy. 

“Because I’m confused.” Gladion watches the whiskey dance up the sides of the bottle as she keeps turning it in her hands. “You’ve known someone a whole year, and yet it seems like nothing’s changed.” The bottle stops moving, and now they’re looking at each other, raw and cut open as if they haven’t spent the past nine years apart, as if they haven’t spent the past nine years stitching themselves back together. “I know you.  We  didn’t exactly wait a year to get serious.” 

She sneers, “Yeah, and look how well that turned out.” Something dull stabs Gladion’s chest, and even she seems to regret the words, face softening and mouth opening to say something else before she shuts it. Moon sets the bottle back on the desk, though her fingers trace the neck as she mutters, “I want to take my time now. Admittedly, a  lot  of time, I just...” With a sigh, her hand drops back to her side. “It’s complicated.” 

Without meaning to, his mind wanders back to the last time he saw her in person, at the fitting, and her silence in that particular conversation. 

“Do you ever see yourself getting married?” 

 

Only to you.  

 

She takes another shot, deciding that thought is much better unvoiced – he doesn’t need to know that the only future she had ever pictured was one with him. 

He frowns, arguing, “You can’t drink twice in a row.” 

“I’m catching up to you.” It’s a weak excuse, one that he could easily cut down, and so she quickly asks her next question, picking at her bottom lip, “Did you ever try to contact me?” 

Several times, late at night, at those same dive bars where he began a very regrettable phase to get over her. He holds his hand out and she passes him the whiskey; he takes a generous sip, and he can’t help but feel like he’s back at one of those bars. She’s right next to him now, and yet it still feels like she’s impossible to reach. 

Wiping at his mouth and placing the bottle back on his desk, he asks, “Are you going back to Sinnoh after the wedding?” 

“Yeah, probably.” 

She shrugs, and he rolls his eyes, and it feels painfully familiar. “You don’t sound very sure,” Gladion snaps. He doesn’t even mean for old hurt to bubble up, but when she’s avoiding his gaze and mumbling about other regions, he’s back to insecure and twenty-one. 

And Moon’s back to eighteen and restless. “What else do you want me to say? That I don’t have a plan?” She barks a laugh and it falls flat in between them, clunky and awkward in the silence that follows. She looks up at him, out of the corner of her eye, and shakes her head. “You of all people know that.” 

It’s a very neat set-up for him to say something he’ll regret for  the rest of his life  weeks. 

“Still collecting titles to drop when you get bored?” 

He walks right into it and the shame is immediate. 

There isn’t a hint of anger in her eyes – it's a strange sort of bitter amusement, as though he’s become predictably rotten. “Do you ever get tired of being a broken record?” 

Though she tries to hide it, tries to play it off, her voice betrays the truth. 

He’s crossed the line. 

To his credit, he does try to backpedal. “I’m sorry, that was -” 

“A low blow? Very.” She reaches behind her and brings the bottle to her lips, drinking for a second too long. “And an untrue one at that.”  

Halfway to opening his mouth, she closes her eyes and manages to point an accusatory finger at him, despite holding the neck of the bottle. “Don’t,” she breathes, and it’s a sigh she’s been saving for ten years now, one that makes him ache when she finally opens her eyes and looks at him, “Just, whatever tired old argument you’re about to bring up...don’t. Everyone’s told me theirs, okay?” 

His stomach drops. “Everyone?” 

“You think you’re the only one who’s given me this spiel?” She rolls her eyes, taking another sip from the bottle. “Some people are settling down,” she mutters, echoing him and it sounds so hollow now, “But I...I don’t know. I thought – I'm just not the type.” 

In the quiet that follows, as the alcohol softens her edges, he can see the layers of hurt beginning to be revealed. As she looks out the window, he knows her eyes aren’t looking at the same ocean as him; in this strange, twisted attempt to pull her closer, he’s pushed her hopelessly far out to sea. Her final façade cracks, and he realizes that all the shiny trophies and prestigious titles are cheap plastic meant to distract from the girl running away from home – the girl who doesn’t allow herself to have a home. 

His voice nearly breaks, and when he manages to speak it’s as gentle as the glow of whiskey in his chest. 

“Are you happy?” 

She blinks, lips falling in fear of the answer, and as her mouth frowns at her own cowardice, she takes her longest sip yet. 

He watches as the glass hits the desk once more, but Moon keeps her tight grip on the neck for a second too long. When she finally lets go, she straightens her entire body and looks at him with the cold truth of being the one person to know him better than he knows himself. 

“Are you?” 

And she turns heel, walking out of the room with what’s left of her dignity, leaving him with a horrible sinking feeling in his gut. It brings him to his chair, his body collapsing as he considers his answer, chews the words in his mind. 

 

He takes another shot. 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

As Hau, Moon, and Gladion continue the tour of the third wedding venue this afternoon, Lillie hangs back to check her watch. 

It’s officially been two hours of no arguing between Moon and Gladion. 

It’s also been two hours of them not speaking to each other. 

Lillie frowns. As she catches up with the rest of the group, she finds herself more focused on the unnatural silence of the best man and maid of honor rather than the fantastic ballroom they’ve stepped into. As their guide goes into detail about crown molding and room capacity, Lillie watches as Moon crosses her arms and looks out the window and Gladion scratches at his neck and stares at the ceiling. 

They haven’t so much as looked at each other this morning, and it’s painfully obvious that something’s happened; the annoying part is that Lillie can’t get any information out of either of them. Both of them have assured her that they’re fine, that nothing’s wrong, but it’s with uneasy smiles and frantic glances. 

As a woman of science, she knows what she has to do. 

It’s time for an experiment. 

Hau thanks their guide, who leaves the group to look around. He smiles at the others, waiting until the venue’s guide shuts the door behind her before asking, “So what do you think?” 

Moon shrugs. Gladion hums. 

Lillie and Hau exchange a glance, and then the bride-to-be glances back at the other two. “I like it better than the Hano Grand Resort,” she says slowly, seeing the big red button to not push and slamming it as she adds, “But I’m still unsure about having an indoor venue for the ceremony.” 

Gladion visibly flinches, throwing his sister a betrayed glare. Then his eyes flicker to Moon for half of a second and his entire face softens into a frown. When he answers, he looks back down at the floor, and Lillie swears that he’s inching further away from the maid of honor. “I thought we were all happy with the compromise – indoor for the ceremony, outdoor for the reception.” 

Moon’s response is immediate and acidic. “You don’t seem to think we’re all happy.” 

Her glare hardens into daggers on Gladion’s neck as he shrivels, curling in on himself and biting his tongue. Instead of his usual fight, there’s guilt written all over his face. 

Lillie smirks. Bingo.  

Hau clears his throat, drawing the others’ attention. With an easy smile, he diffuses the tension, an idea sparkling in his eyes. “Why don’t we take a break? Y’know, Tutu has a day off, so he’d be more than happy to see us.” 

“Sounds lovely.” Lillie loops her arm through Hau’s, giving him a quick wink before turning to Moon and Gladion with an innocent smile. “I think we could all use a break to really think about what’s happened.” 

She’s less than subtle, and Moon and Gladion are quick to catch it. 

However, they don’t say a word, instead following Lillie and Hau out of the ballroom, Moon mumbling under her breath, “Some of us more than others.” 

And Gladion couldn’t agree more. 

 


 

Iki Town is quiet, full of sunshine and a gentle breeze that ruffles the grass around their ankles as they walk into the town square. On the wooden platform of the stage, Hala stands and watches with a smile as several children squeal, running around or poking at the very patient Hariyama playing gently with them. Hala’s laugh echoes in the square, and then his eyes settle on the quartet approaching him and his grin grows. 

“Look who came to visit!” 

The children turn, a few waving and smiling widely at Hau’s familiar face. Then a little girl yelps, and bursts out from the crowd, stumbling towards Moon and looking up at the girl with wide eyes. There are several gaps in her mouth as she asks reverently, “Are you the first Champion? ‘Cause Hala said somebody who looks like you named Moon was the first Champion.” 

Moon blinks, letting the words sink in before she looks up at Hala, an unamused and vaguely betrayed frown on her face. “I am, but I could’ve sworn I told someone to keep it secret...” 

Hala gives her a sheepish grin. “These ankle-biters are curious, and I can’t help that I’m proud of you.” 

It steals the retort right from Moon’s mouth, her lips parting slightly as her eyes widen. She swallows, clearing her throat and muttering something under her breath, no longer able to look at the Elite 4 member. Hau claps her on the shoulder, a wide grin on his face as he looks down at the young girl standing before them and tells her with a wink, “If you ask real nicely, she might show you her Pokémon.” 

“Oh, I don’t know if...” 

But a tiny mob of children forms around them, shoving them towards the stage as several kids shout and squeal, more than excited at the idea. Hala laughs, helping the two up onto the stage. Lillie and Gladion watch from a distance, unable to hear the words of encouragement from Hala and Hau that eventually convince Moon to bring out the team that she has on hand. 

A flash of light and a chorus of ‘oooh’s from the children later, and a Decidueye and Arcanine appear, the two being deemed the best around small, grabby children out of Moon’s four Pokémon. Hau’s Raichu joins a moment later, and it becomes an absolute riot onstage. 

Gladion feels something threaten to tug his lips into a smile at the sight of Moon laughing, helping that same little girl from before up onto her Arcanine, petting the creature’s fur lovingly and keeping a reassuring hand on the girl’s back. It’s something he’s always been a little jealous of – one of several things, though now is neither the time nor place to dwell. Whether she knows it or not, kids seem to love Moon, and during her time as Champion, she always made time to visit the Trainer’s School, or to speak with any children who came running up to her at parades and festivals. She can have any of them laughing and babbling about battling or contests or even just what they had for lunch in a matter of minutes. 

On the other hand, he gets the feeling that kids don’t particularly like him. Not that it’s ever been much of an issue, but he’s noticed at this point that if a school group touring Aether ever crosses paths with him, the kids grow quiet, seemingly bored or downright scared of him. 

He wonders, briefly, if it would be different with his own kids. 

He wonders, worryingly, if she would be different with her own kids. 

And then a sharp smack against his arm snaps him out of dangerous thoughts as Lillie looks up at him with a deeply irritated frown. 

Gladion gapes, rubbing at his shoulder as he hisses, “The hell was that for?” 

“For upsetting my maid of honor.” 

He opens his mouth to argue, but Lillie’s brows furrow further, and he knows he doesn’t have any ground to stand on. With a sigh, he steals a glance back at the stage, watching as Moon pets Hau’s Raichu, mumbling something to Hala. Gladion sighs to avoid wincing. "That obvious?” 

Lillie’s face softens, but she keeps her arms crossed. “What was it this time?” 

“I brought up something I shouldn’t have.” 

In other words, same as always. At this point, he wonders if he should look into surgery to remove the foot that’s permanently lodged in his mouth. 

"And she hasn’t accepted your apology?” 

Gladion pales, muttering something under his breath as he rubs the back of his neck. Lillie’s eyes widen only to narrow in sneaking suspicion a moment later, voice utterly disappointed. “You did apologize, didn’t you?” 

“I didn't start it, why would – ow, stop. ” He grabs her hand before she can go in for a third smack, glaring at his sister and feeling a flash of their childhood blind him for a moment. “You’re an adult, stop throwing a tantrum.” 

She lowers her hand, but her pout remains. “I could say the same to you,” she huffs, rolling her eyes, “Are you hearing yourself? ‘I didn’t start it.’”  

She steals a glance towards the stage, relieved to find that the others and the mob of children haven’t noticed their scene, and keeps her voice down when she turns back to her brother. “That’s not what matters and you know it.” 

He holds her gaze, even as the guilt twists his chest uncomfortably tight. It’s never mattered who started it, but he can’t tell Lillie that it’s the only thing he has to keep a grip on his morals. He’s already apologized to her about what happened, but it’s a far cry from a personal reckoning of how he treated her in the lead-up to their break up. 

But if she’s the one who started it, and if that mattered, then maybe he isn’t as awful of a  person  boyfriend as he thinks. 

“Whenever we talk it ends in disaster.” 

Gladion doesn’t realize he’s said it out loud until Lillie hums in response. She considers his excuse (because really, it’s just an excuse to avoid another apology, another brush with the past) but shakes her head a moment later. Her eyes cut right through him as she mumbles knowingly, “Maybe because you want it to.” 

Before he can even think to unpack that, or to question since when his baby sister decided to become a psychologist, she turns to join the others. He follows behind her, feeling his footsteps grow heavy when his eyes settle on Moon, who shows off Decidueye’s wingspan to the crowd of kids while Hau and Hala discuss something off to the side. 

“What did we miss?” Lillie asks with a smile, climbing up the stairs to join Hau and Hala. The moment she’s in reach, Hau wraps an arm around her, all instinct, and Gladion hides his smile at the sight. 

Hau tells the two of them with a wide smile, “Tutu had the best idea.” 

Hala laughs, and over the years the sound has only grown impossibly richer. “I don’t know if it’s the best, but I thought: what if you kids had the wedding here?” 

It’s certainly a good idea, and it’s clear that the siblings agree as they exchange a look. Hau’s very nearly vibrating in excitement, looking down at his fiancée with a sparkle in his eyes as he explains, “We can use the hall for the ceremony, and then have the reception right out here.” 

Lillie thinks for a moment, standing straighter as the smile creeps into her voice. “That would be incredible, I mean, as long as that works for everyone else.” 

Hala chortles, says something about how of course it’ll work, and everyone in Iki Town would be delighted, and there’s talk of logistics that Gladion really should be paying attention to as best man, but instead his ears pick up on the chorus of kids on the other side of the stage. He looks over, watching them beg with Lillipup eyes and wobbling lips. 

“Can we see you battle?” 

The girl with pigtails is front and center, with her hands clasped together as she whines, “Pleeeeeaaase?”  

Moon freezes, a barely audible, absolutely nervous laugh falling from her lips. Gladion can see how stiff her shoulders have gotten, can practically count the knots twisting into her neck and back at just the thought of battling. 

He frowns, wondering when she stopped enjoying the basis of her life. 

She hides her nerves with a smile, expertly sidestepping their request. “Do any of you have Pokémon ready to battle?” 

Seeing as how the oldest of them is barely six, she knows very well that none of them do. Still, they murmur amongst themselves, convinced that someone must have a Rockruff they can call (and ignoring that the creature would immediately lose). As they look around the crowd, a little boy looks over and catches Gladion’s eye, an idea sparking on his face. Just as Moon is relaxing once more, the boy makes his way to her and taps on her leg, pointing towards the Aether president. 

“What about Mr. Gladion?” 

The blond pales at being caught staring, and Moon’s breath hitches when she catches his eyes. Then there’s a shift in the air, and she considers him for a moment as a mysterious smile tugs at her lips. It’s certainly better than the glares being thrown his way this morning. He recognizes the curious look in her eyes; it’s the same one that led them into all sorts of trouble years ago. 

Trouble that he might have been missing for some time now. 

“What about it,” she mumbles, crossing her arms as a decades-old challenge creeps into her voice, “Mr. Gladion?” 

He can feel Lillie and Hau’s stares on his back, and Hala’s approving hum is just loud enough to reach his ears. At least part of her bravado is performative – they're literally onstage, and all too aware of the audience they have. Still, she could have asked Hau, Hala, or even Lillie. Instead, her silver eyes remain on him, and there’s something deeper that calls to him. It’s not all for show; some part of her really does want to battle him after all these years, to see how they both turned out, to discover any new tricks up his sleeve. 

There’s also the fact that they’re still in a fight (at least, that’s the word closest to whatever they find themselves in now). It’s not an exactly conventional way of dealing with the raw nerves and aggression, but then they’ve never really been the conventional type. 

And so Gladion smirks, fingers ghosting over his first Pokéball from his belt. “I only have two Pokémon on me, so it’ll have to be a short one.” 

“I’m sure these guys won’t mind.” The children nod, stumbling over each other to get out of her way as Decidueye takes his place by her side and she gestures to Arcanine. 

Everyone on stage is quick to get off, instead forming an audience on the grass. Moon is reminded of the festival so many years ago, the adrenaline of her first battle, the artificial stakes, the genuine joy when she came out the victor. She can’t pinpoint everything that’s changed since then, but if she could, she’d suspect it’d be a clear downward slope of everything that’s created a pit of dread in her stomach now. 

 

When’s the last time she battled in public? 

When’s the last time she enjoyed it? 

 

To be fair, he’s feeling a stab of self-doubt in his side, twisting that old insecurity of his: he could never beat her. It was the sort of thing he could laugh off, could hold Battle Royals over her head instead to feel a little better. All the same, it wore on him, rubbing him in all the wrong ways as his mind twisted it into something darker. 

 

When’s the last time he didn’t compare himself to her? 

When’s the last time he felt like her equal? 

 

He goes for the old Heal Ball on his belt and his Umbreon appears in a flash of light. The creature is curious, but quickly picks up on the situation, years of instincts kicking in as it crouches into a fighting stance. She motions for her Arcanine to go in, and he climbs up on stage and seems to smile as he mirrors Umbreon’s crouch. 

Moon’s quick to hedge her bets. “I might be a little rusty.” 

Gladion’s quick to doubt. “We’ll see.” 

Hala takes his place as their referee, standing in the middle and looking between the two with a smile half-hidden by his moustache and beard. His Hariyama watches behind him. "Are both sides ready?” 

Their eyes meet, and it seems for a moment like the world is holding its breath, like their nerves and arguments and clunky baggage have slid off their shoulders and everything else has slid into place. 

They’ve been ready for this for a long time now. 

And Hala raises his hand, lets it slice through the air as his voice rings out, “Begin!” 

 


 

 

The first round is close, but her Arcanine manages to knock out his Umbreon with another well-timed Flamethrower. While Gladion expected for her to try and get in close-range attacks, she instead kept her distance, even using Roar to keep his Umbreon at bay. 

He can’t help but chuckle as he withdraws his fainted Pokémon. “You’re just full of surprises.” 

“Always have been.” Her smile is lopsided, and her eyes are distant. “You just used to like it.” 

He doesn’t argue with her, but he does shake his head before bringing out his next Pokémon. Silvally appears, a Water Memory attached, and the creature takes a moment to take in his surroundings. Once his eyes land on Moon, however, the battle grinds to a halt. 

Silvally bounds past her Arcanine, ignoring his owners calls to stop. Moon laughs as the chimera nuzzles her chest, licks her face, and does everything within his power to show just how much he’s missed her the past few years. He very nearly knocks her over, and she only laughs as she scratches his head. 

Gladion scowls, mumbling a half-hearted, “Traitor.” 

But it’s hard to act offended when he can feel how soft Moon’s gotten. She looks at Silvally with warm silver eyes, petting his neck with a smile that goes from the bottom of her heart to her voice. “I missed you, too.” Her gaze flickers to the other side of the stage, and she hesitates but ultimately gives the Pokémon a playful wink as she mumbles, “Now why don’t we catch up with a battle so your owner stops glaring at me?” 

And Silvally seems to agree, turning and taking his place in front of Gladion once more, their makeshift audience of Hau, Lillie, and Iki Town’s children laughing at the sight. 

Hala looks to both sides before signaling for the battle to resume, and they’re back to shouting commands and ignoring the aching nostalgia that lurks under the stage. 

 


 

 

In the end, she wins. 

She always wins. 

But Gladion isn’t thinking about that as he withdraws Silvally; he’s wondering when she started training that Froslass, a new addition to her team, and he’s trying not to grin at how he countered her well-timed Confuse Ray. 

The kids cheer as the battlers walk towards the center of the stage, meeting in the middle to shake hands as a show of sportsmanship. 

They shake once, twice (and then their hands remain connected for a moment too long). 

Moon’s adrenaline has her eyes as brilliant as her smile. “You always knew how to give me a run for my money.” 

And for the first time in a long time, he believes her. It lights a small fire in his chest, one of pride and warmth that he can’t put out even as the kids flood the stage, yelling their praise of the battle. 

Lillie and Hau take the stairs, and the young kahuna smiles as he puts a hand on Moon’s shoulder. “Brush off the dust and you’ve still got it.” 

Hala’s made his way over to the quartet, hands on his belt as he grunts in approval. “You know my previous offer still stands.” 

Moon’s eyes widen, and Gladion can see some of the glow from her victory beginning to dull. She’s retreating into her thoughts, a hand going to her lip as Hala gives her an encouraging smile. Gladion asks, looking between the two, “What offer?” 

“That if I defeat the current Elite 4 and stand-in Champion, then I’d have the title again.” 

It’s nearly a whisper out of her mouth, but the words still hang heavy in the air for a moment, weighed down by ‘what-if’s and possibilities that Gladion can feel crowding his mind. He wonders how long this offer has been up in the air, has wondered how many times she’s turned it down and for what reasons. A sour taste enters his mouth at the idea that it might have been him; that after all these years, he’s still the thing holding her back. 

Even the kids seem to sense the tension, as they whisper amongst themselves, only able to wonder what might be going on in the world of adults. 

Hau clears his throat, giving Moon’s shoulder a pat to snap her out of her anxious daze. “I’m thinking we should get your teams to the PMC, right?” He turns to Hala, giving him a hug without warning as he shouts, “Thanks again for having us, Tutu!” 

Lillie laughs at the sight, but she’s close enough for Hala to pull her into the hug as well. She stiffens for just a moment, but then her arms are around both of them as she adds, “And thank you for solving our venue crisis.” 

“It’d be my honor to have us all celebrate in Iki Town.” Hala releases both of them, the mustache hiding the majority of his smile, but it still permeates the air around him. They exchange a round of goodbyes and he watches as the quartet starts their walk off the stage and towards the PMC, waving along with the kids and his Hariyama as he calls after them, “Now don’t be strangers!” 

The kids are waving and shouting after them, one breaking off from the crowd and nearly tripping over his feet to catch up. He runs into Gladion, who flinches, looking down to see a little boy with dark skin and hazel eyes gazing up at him with an excited smile. “Mr. Gladion, we really like your Silvally!” 

The boy’s practically bouncing in place, fidgeting with the hem of his shirt to give his hands something to do. Gladion pauses for a moment, taking in the unadulterated adoration and feeling it warm his entire body as he smiles down at the child. “You know, you’re more than welcome to see him if you ever visit Aether Paradise.” He looks up at the crowd of kids still on stage, spotting a few awed faces as he adds, “You all are.” 

They cheer, a few of them whispering to each other, clearly planning to either sneak off on boats or wheedle their parents into taking them to Aether. The little boy only grins impossibly wider before nodding, running back up towards his friends. 

Gladion turns to find the others watching, and for the first time today, Moon’s eyes are completely soft. Before she can think better of it, she tells him simply, “You’re pretty good with kids.” 

He shrugs to hide how high the praise is to be coming from her. “You think so?” 

She only nods, and they continue walking towards the PMC with Hau and Lillie. 

And if their minds can’t help but wander to somewhere idyllically domestic with the other person in mind, then they don’t say it out loud. 

 


 

 

Lillie and Hau rather conveniently remember that they have plans – dinner plans, says Lillie, at the same time that Hau says work things – and leave Moon and Gladion to stand in awkward silence at the PMC while they wait for the nurse to come back with their teams. With the adrenaline of the battle wearing off and the wedding venue taken care of, there’s nothing left for the two to talk about that doesn’t involve their last argument (or their last fifteen). 

She checks her watch. 

He taps his foot. 

Another minute passes of their mutual silent treatment, and while Moon seems content to stew in her annoyance with him for a little longer, Gladion can’t take the nagging guilt anymore. With a deep breath, he turns and looks down at her, waiting until she glances up at him from the corner of her eye. 

“I’m sorry.” 

She blinks. 

He thinks maybe she didn’t hear him, or he just imagined saying it, but then she shrugs her shoulders and goes back to looking ahead of her at the PMC counter. “Okay.” 

The silence is back and somehow louder, and now Gladion can’t help but ramble, can’t help but try to get her to look at him again. “Things got out of hand – I overstepped even when I saw you getting upset,” he explains, despite the bile rising; after all, it’s everything he did almost ten years ago to her. 

 

Upsetting her seems to come naturally to him. 

This time around, he hopes he can at least apologize for it. 

 

She doesn’t look at him, her eyes instead focusing on a poster about Antidotes. 

“Okay.” 

Her guard is up and she won’t say anything else. However, he’s seen too much of her and knows there’s something just underneath the surface that she won’t bring up. He tests the waters, watching her carefully as he mumbles, “...so things are fine between us?” 

And the poker face cracks as she lets out a snort. “I mean, obviously not.” His eyes widen, but before he can say anything, she’s turned to face him, silencing him with a raised brow. Her face contorts with annoyance and self-awareness, a strange self-consciousness coating her tongue as she says, “We can’t keep putting a band-aid on this just to rip it off the next day.” 

“I know.” And he means it, and a second voice – his sister’s – is ringing in his head as he looks down at Moon. “I don’t want this to end in disaster...again.” 

She’s silent again, but this time she keeps staring, lips falling open slightly. She swallows her words, tracing the lines of his face and trying to decode it. He simply keeps looking at her, and her voice is impossibly small as she admits, “Neither do I.” Then she seems to remember herself and her eyes harden as she turns to scowl at the Antidote poster. “But I’m still upset with you.” 

He can’t blame her for that, and it’s his turn for the one-word answers, though this time with a chuckle. “Okay.” 

She chances a glance at him, and what small attempt she’s made to build the wall between them back up is gone. Still, she falters, looking up at him with a frown. “And I can’t promise I won’t get upset with you again.” 

“I could say the same,” he replies, feeling his own defenses bristle. 

And she can’t blame him for that, and it’s her turn to be the one poking and prodding, though this time embracing the ugly sides they’ve become reacquainted with. "You know, we don’t  have  to like each other.” 

Gladion raises a disbelieving brow. "That was us trying to like each other?” 

She mutters something under her breath before they share a self-deprecating chuckle. Thinking back on the past twenty-four hours is a bit like watching footage of a train wreck, but a bright spot stands out: their battle. Everything from the lead-up to them leaving Iki Town felt like a natural rhythm, like they had still managed to strike a chord in harmony with each other despite the events of last night. 

They stand in silence for a few more moments, the coffee machine of the café in the corner buzzing to life. Moon starts picking at her bottom lip, reminding herself that for all their talk of truces and cordiality, he ended up shoving it all aside by overstepping the line last night. He had no right to make those assumptions, to question the inner workings of her heart and mind when he left them in such a state of disrepair years ago. 

But didn’t he just apologize? Didn’t they already apologize for everything between them? 

What exactly is she trying to hold onto with this fury? 

“Maybe -” She takes a deep breath, collecting her thoughts. His eyes are on her, she can feel it, and this time she looks up into his gaze, unflinching. “Maybe we don’t try to be cordial – we try to be better. Honestly try, even if that means more arguments and weird conversations.” The words come slow, but they’re steady because deep in her heart she knows this is something she’s been missing from her life for years now. 

She gives him what she can manage of a smile. “We’ve already seen the worst. Why not start holding each other accountable for it?” 

He blinks, considering her words as he crosses his arms; his left hand has started shaking and he needs a way to hide it. “That could get messy.” 

“Messier than it already is?” 

A nurse calls out their names, a tray of four Pokéballs in her hands, and Moon goes to collect her team, leaving Gladion to watch her with his lips parted in surprise. As she pockets the two that are hers, he comes and collects his team without a word. 

They exit the PMC in relative silence, and he only now remembers that he’s supposed to be getting dinner with Erika tonight. He’ll have to find a way to explain why he’s running late (that preferably avoids bringing up his ex). 

Messy indeed. 

He stops on the sidewalk, and she pauses, about to ask when he answers by extending his hand. It takes a moment, but the realization lights her eyes and she chuckles, accepting the handshake and sealing her improvised deal. 

 

“Then I guess it’s getting messy.”