Sometimes, a kid just wants to be left alone with his thoughts.
Silver is not what one would call a social butterfly; he's quite the opposite, in fact. Socializing when you've been living your life on the run from just about anyone and everyone is generally a bad idea. Talk to the good guys, they throw you in jail. Talk to the bad guys, they wrap you up in whatever bullshit scheme they're cooking up. Silver, therefore, avoided talking to any gym leaders any more than was absolutely necessary, and he certainly avoided talking to Team Rocket's grunts beyond berating them and stealing their already stolen Pokémon. As far as he's concerned, he doesn't need a social circle, no, he doesn't need any friends. Above all else, Silver doesn't need to be social because he doesn't need sympathy. He sure as hell doesn't want sympathy. He just wants to be alone.
So yes, Silver is mostly recluse. That's why he stays here.
"Feraligatr, Hydro Pump."
80% on target for that hit.
This is his favorite place in the region, he thinks. He's been all over Johto by now, pursued relentlessly by trouble and chaos - or maybe he's been following it, maybe he's drawn to it, maybe trouble is in his blood twice over. Maybe there's some genetic trait he was so graciously gifted by a mob boss and his admin that make him unable to escape a life of constant conflict. At the very least, he can hide from it here in the Dragon's Den. He's been traveling between here and Victory Road to train his Pokémon, trying to get stronger for his own sake: to protect them, or himself, or maybe to pass the time. His first instinct was to train until no one could possibly beat him, so that no one could take back the Pokémon he "rightfully" stole, the partners he's come to genuinely love.
Feraligatr was always his top priority: a Pokémon taken from the region's most well-renowned professor would surely have to return home one day, and surely, he would have to defend his partner with his life. Something in his head shifted between the time he stole the starter and the time he went to return it, though. Something shifted that made him want to return it. That was the longest walk he ever took, and the shortest sentence he has ever uttered was the hardest he's ever had to say.
The professor looked between Silver's expression and the pokéball containing his stolen starter, and something in Silver's eyes must have said it all, said the words Silver refused to say himself; I love this Pokémon with all my heart, and I really don't want to lose him.
"You should keep him."
That was the most relief Silver has ever felt.
"Hydro Pump, again."
It was, frankly, the most difficult - and yet the best - decision of his life. Looking at his starter now, he's more than happy to say he made the right choice. If he had stayed on the run like some deadbeat asshole of a father, the law would've caught up to him eventually, and he would've had his trusted Feraligatr taken away by force. There is some honor in coming clean, in defeat, in admitting defeat. That's something Team Rocket has never been capable of, he notes. No, Team Rocket adamantly refuses to ever, ever admit defeat. Even when their team was completely dismantled years ago by a trainer that's since been MIA, they came back with those smug grins and stupid black uniforms, shouting helplessly into a radio in hopes that their disappearing act of a boss would come back and rule the Johto region.
Even his kid is missing, too, he once overheard, standing dangerously, comically close to the young girl rambling on about the rumored child of Giovanni.
I bet he's gonna take over Team Rocket next, another hushed voice replied. It probably runs in the family.
The only thing that kept him from fighting them hand-to-hand was the nearby police station.
Silver snaps out of his daze. "Right. One more time."
Feraligatr uses Hydro Pump again, aiming at a small target Silver painted onto the wall with crushed berries (and yes, he tried to use normal paint. He's been prohibited from bringing "toxic materials" into the den, though. Something about it being bad for the dragons, or something stupid like that). In the split second it takes for the water to hit its mark, he can gauge just how accurate Feraligatr's attack is: 85% this time, give or take. That's a bit better than the average for Hydro Pump.
"You're getting there." He's aiming for 100%. He's aiming to hit that stupid Typhlosion in the face and knock him out in an instant.
"Ra!" Feraligatr sounds offended.
"No, the power is perfect. We're working up your accuracy, remember?"
"Ferrr..." He's getting bored, though.
"Alright, alright. We'll break for tonight. I'm sending Sneasel back out. You're on Surf duty."
With a cheerful snap, Feraligatr hops into the calm water.
"Sneasel, come on out. We're doing one more round for today."
Sneasel doesn't waste a second hopping onto Silver shoulders, and they're off to battle Dratini for the evening (he thinks it's evening, anyway. He's been awake for awhile). It's become a very natural pace for his team, a cycle of training and working up to be the best they can be. One of these days, Sneasel is going to Ice Punch that Xatu into the next century. They just need to train a little longer, and then they'll have that edge.
Not that Sneasel needs an edge to be valuable, though; he's something special. He always has been. Sneasel is the Pokémon Silver was supposed to be given on his tenth birthday, the day he was supposed to become a Pokémon trainer. The day came a little early and a little late, very bitterly and a little sweet.
Where are you going?!
Silver remembers shouting that at the tops of his lungs. He stood staring at the man who had, objectively, been a decent father until that point. He stood and watched him walk away, pause, turn back and answer without a trace of regret or remorse or anything in his voice.
And after two more hours of arguing, that was that.
"Sneasel, Ice Punch."
He tried to handle it. He tried to just grit his teeth and bear it. His father had been in hiding for some time before he completely disappeared, just after his crime syndicate got torn apart by a ten year old and a half. He wondered why they stopped going to amusement parks, why their dinners out would get cut short, he wondered why his dad was suddenly skittish and why the curtains were closed during the day. There was never a proper answer, always a slew of white lies, sheets covering up the reality that Silver was always dimly aware of as a child: dad does stuff that's against the law, or something. It never mattered to him back then, though. That was just how his life was.
"Dodge! Icy Wind!"
Being stuck with a mother who didn't want him wasn't just how life was, though. That was the last straw. He stole Sneasel's pokéball and ran like hell. He's had a touch of kleptomania since then.
"One more time!"
And he's never wanted to be as weak as Team Rocket since then. He has never wanted to cower in a crowd and fall to his knees at the feet of some kid from some hick town.
"Draaa..." The dragon faints and falls to the bottom of the lake.
"Good. That was perfect."
Feraligatr continues to make his rounds through the cool pools, and his life goes on far beyond where he started.
Growing up is weird. He's still a kid, but he's also a homeless kid with a team of half stolen Pokémon. He may as well be an orphan, even if his parents are alive. Hell, he doesn't even know if Giovanni is still alive out there, and somehow he doesn't even care. This is where life dropped him off, and this is where he's going to have to stay. This is just... where he is, and this is how he's been living. Some part of him craves a more stable life, but he finds his stability in training -
"Sneasel, Icy Wind!"
- training his Pokémon and coming to terms with the past he never asked for.
"Aaaair!" A wave of energy comes from the Dragonair suddenly enough to bring Silver back to reality, hitting Sneasel and almost knocking him away.
"Hold on, Sneasel. Feraligatr, get to land."
His starter rushes toward the edge of the water, just slow enough to keep the Dragonair on their tail. Silver is not running, but he's not really eager to be on Feraligatr's back if the alligator starts battling.
"Ice Punch, go!" Sneasel's Ice Punch isn't as fast as Quick Attack, but he decided it would be better for battling dragons. He's eager to beat the hell out of Lance one of these days. He'd physically fight the dragon tamer himself if he weren't two heads taller than him. He might still fight Lance, actually. Him and his dumb cape.
"Draaa!" The icy bullet hits the dragon, which retaliates in an instant. She charges at the trio and knocks Silver and Sneasel off Feraligatr and into the shallow end of the water. Unfortunately, it's November, and it's just shy of unbearably cold.
The command is for Feraligatr, who wastes absolutely no time in attacking the Dragonair. The second round of Ice Fang comes after a Slam from the dragon, without a shout or even a whistle. Feraligatr knows how this training goes: if a dragon is out of Sneasel's experience level, Feraligatr handles it, because Silver refuses to let Sneasel faint during training. He would refuse to let Sneasel ever faint, but sometimes that's how a battle goes, and sometimes that's unavoidable. Everyone loses eventually. Sometimes you meet a trainer way out of your league, and you can't even begin to prepare yourself for the fact that this kid from the most rural town in the region is going to become the region's prodigal champion, and he's definitely going to hand your ass to you and make it worse by being so friendly and borderline affectionate.
No, Silver was not prepared for someone like Ethan.
"I see you're still training down here."
"Speak've the devil," Silver mumbles in Lance's direction. Lance is the devil, actually, not Ethan. Ethan's the furthest thing from the devil, and it's almost infuriating.
"Isn't it a bit late to be training?" Lance asks, as if Silver's starter isn't currently fighting a whole dragon.
"Dodge it!" Feraligatr dives under the water to dodge another pulse of energy from Dragonair, and suddenly there's waves and whirlpools kicking up. "I'm not about to run from a Dragonair, am I?"
"That's always an option," Lance comments. "Especially in this weather."
"Feraligatr, Crunch!" He hopes Feraligatr can hear him down there. "So?"
"It's close to 0 Celsius out there, and you're in here fighting in the water, hm?"
"Oh, shut the hell up." He's been trying to ignore the shivers from being slightly soaked. "Feraligatr!"
He sees his Pokémon bite down on the Dragonair with a Crunch, and she disappears deep into the abyss. Silver can only assume -
Yeah, he won. "Good job, Feraligatr. I know those ones are always tough."
Feraligatr crawls out of the water and slinks over next to Silver, which isn't helping him dry off at all. This would not be the first time this happened.
"Do you ever rest, Silver?"
"Not with you around," he huffs. "What are you even doing here? Don't you have a league to run?"
"I was visiting Clair." Of course. "I decided to stop by and make sure... just see where you are."
He glares at the dragon tamer. "I'm fine. Don't try and babysit me."
"I'm sure you are." Sarcasm. Silver is not having any of that attitude.
"Why don't you go back to your post and get beat up by another ten year old?"
"Watch your mouth, boy. You know that attitude doesn't get you anywhere."
He rolls his eyes. "Whatever. Just leave me alone, I have training to do." No answer. "Feraligatr, let's go."
With Sneasel on his shoulders again and Feraligatr between him and the water, Silver takes off into the cave once more. The echoing footfalls of Lance's departure are a welcomed sound.
"He's so annoying."
"Sneasel." He really loves Sneasel. He loves having someone around who understands him.
The water is calm now. It seems like he missed his window for the night, unless he wants to spend an hour at a time trying to stir up another Dragonair. Dratini tend to rest after sundown, as if they know it's dark outside. They know better than he does, at least.
"...head over to the far corner. I think we're shutting down for the night."
Silver more carefully hops off Feraligatr's back this time when they reach the small patch of land, recalling both his partners into their pokéballs. This is the patch he likes to curl up on to sleep for as long as his body thinks the night lasts. Anywhere from four to twelve hours seems acceptable for someone who's... not exactly in peak physical condition. Everything about his body is a little out of balance. Maybe he can steal another meal from the food market in Blackthorn tomorrow, or try his hand at fishing. Despite having learned how to fish for food, he's still pretty bad at it. Maybe if Ethan comes by, he'll bring lunch. He likes to do that.
Sometimes, Silver speaks out loud. It makes him more steady somehow; it makes the world real. It helps him orient himself, figure out where he is and what's going on. For as aggressive as a person as he can be, he finds himself floating three feet off the ground sometimes, struggling to even focus his eyes on the world he's in. Sometimes just... hearing something, validating his reality, can make him feel stable.
Ethan makes him feel stable.
Silver opens his eyes at last; he realizes his eyes were closed, rather, and now he's looking up at the cave's rocky ceiling again. The ground below his fingers is slick and wet, peppered with a thin layer of damp gravel. The slightest bit of light coming from the far end of the den trickles over to the water, bounces off the calm surface, and sparkles against the crystalline calcite overhead. It's the only way he can actually see in this cavern, a pattern of constant refraction and reflection at the lowest possible luminosity. The low light makes it harder to tell when a Dragonair is charging at him and his Pokémon, sure, but it keeps the headaches away. No light-triggered migraines if there's no light.
He splashes his fingers in a tiny puddle of water, a diorama of the lake just in front of him. It is getting cold, he has to admit it.
Silver shuffles over to the corner of the den, curling against the wall with the blanket that may as well be a rag at this point. Sleeping is going to be hard if it's this cold, because yeah, he kinda fell in the water earlier. He can't exactly dry himself off very fast in a water-filled cave, though, and he's not going outside right now.
"Fuck's sake..." he groans quietly to himself. It's these moments that make him wish he could just stay in a Pokémon Center forever, but they don't usually take kindly to squatters, let alone squatters who also have a team of partially stolen Pokémon. Someone who steals Pokémon could easily take another from someone staying in the Center, or some such logic. He... can't really protest, actually. The only reason he ever goes to any Pokémon Centers anymore is because he has Pokémon to heal. He's changed the pokéballs they reside in, though. If they're under his trainer ID, no one is any the wiser. Feraligatr is his most recently registered Pokémon, actually. The first person he battled after his starter was properly registered to him was -
Ethan is... Ethan. Silver can usually define someone in a word. Lance? Grating. Green? Workaholic. Lyra? Obnoxious. But Ethan? He's just... Ethan. Angel is the only single word Silver can think of for him, someone soft, loving, unrelentingly kind, both meek and brave in the same breath. It's almost sickeningly sweet, unbearable.
He's energetic, in a way, but also muted. He's an introvert who likes to socialize. He's shy, and yet he seeks out friendship and conversation. He actually spent more time talking to Silver's Totodile than to Silver himself when they first met, though. Stupid that he didn't try to stop Silver from literally stealing a Pokémon - not that he would've let anyone get in his way. Letting him get away with that starter was probably the best decision Ethan ever made on Silver's behalf.
The champion is nice to him. Too nice. Dealing with Ethan is hard because of that. No, it's not like he's aggressive or curt or disagreeable, nothing like Silver. It's the fact that he's so... soft. It's weird. It's hard to deal with because Silver doesn't know what to make of him, or what to do with him. Silver grew up in a family of crime and deceit and unpardonable evil. He grew up on the run as a criminal and a helpless vagabond. He did not, in fact, learn anything firsthand about kindness or warmth. He didn't learn how to be kind to his Pokémon on his own, or from Lance's curt scolding, he didn't learn from Team Rocket's very poor life decisions, no. He didn't even learn to be kind to his Pokémon by their own doing. Crobat did not evolve from Silver's friendship alone.
He does know something about gentleness, and all the shreds of it that Silver knows, he learned from a boy named Ethan Aurelia.
Perhaps that's what draws him to Ethan, then, this unrelenting tenderness in perfect opposition to Silver. Ethan is like a counterweight, a pound of feathers to Silver's pound of bricks, gold for silver. He means that quite literally, as Aurelia means something like "golden," he recalls. It's a fact Ethan mentioned during some stupid rambling of his.
"Our names match, huh?"
"What are you talking about?"
"'cause your name's Silver, and my last name means "golden!" So we match!"
"Ethan Aurelia." Golden. That's a single word to describe him.
...Silver needs to sleep. There's no reason he should be thinking about Ethan so much.