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Eleven years since they first met on Route 5. Four since they started dating. (Officially, at least. Hau always claimed they were flirting scandalously for three years before that, and Lillie was the only reason he didn’t lock them into a room and save the rest of them.) In any case, it was time.

Gladion mounted the flight of stairs leading to the final room on Mt. Lanakila. Pausing midway to check his Pokemon over again, he swallowed. Today, there was no room for careless mistakes.

Today, he would defeat the Champion.

As he cleared the last few steps and came into view of the Champion’s throne, he saw Moon crouched at one side, refreshing her Ninetales. She turned, and her eyes lit up at the sight of him.

“Gladion! I didn’t know you were coming today!” she greeted cheerily, straightening. As usual, his heart warmed at the sight of her radiant smile.

“Thought I’d surprise you,” he said with a crooked smirk. “The team and I have been making plans for your downfall.”

Moon chuckled. “Oh? So you think that today will be different from the hundreds of other times we’ve battled, hm?”

"Of course.” His fingers closed around Crobat’s Pokeball, its familiar weight reassuring in his hands.

Moon dropped the teasing at once, eyeing him thoughtfully for a moment. Then she grinned.

“All right then. Show me what you’ve got, Challen—“

“Wait!”

Moon stumbled mid-throw, almost dropping her Pokeball (Kommo-o, probably). Wobbling, she regained her balance. As Gladion snorted, she glared at him in mock exasperation.

“Next time, warn me before you startle me like that, maybe?”

“If I win… I have something to ask you.”

Moon blinked. “O….kay? What is it?”

Gladion lifted Crobat’s ball in reply, and she laughed.

“Let’s go!”

As usual, the moment the battle began, the pent-up nerves plaguing him for the past few hours disappeared. Fighting alongside his team had become second nature to him, and battling Moon was always fun.

He loved watching her, marvelling at her instinctive reactions and sound judgment. He loved the way she moved, steady and relaxed, the way her hands gestured as she gave instructions to her Pokemon. He loved how she called out encouragement to them, her voice clear and confident.

Her words of praise and comfort each time a match ended. Her taunts at him, shot teasingly across the battlefield. Her honest admiration and appreciation each time he and his team pulled off an impressive attack or combination. Her eyes, sparkling with delight at the challenge.

He loved battling Moon, not just because he liked battling, but because she never shone brighter than when she was in battle.

His eyes almost ached from the radiance of her. She was wonderful, magnificent, perfect. Right from the start, she had inspired him to train harder, to become stronger, that he might one day defeat her. But now, it was more than just the title. He wanted to be strong so that he could be worthy of her. So that he could stand by her side, as an equal.

And now, here was the chance to prove it. Each time they battled, Moon had won, but Gladion knew that it was not impossible for that to change. Rather than a lack of ability on any side, it was a split-second judgment, or chance, or simply a careless mistake, that decided the outcome for each individual match.

His Pokemon were strong, and their instincts were good, and he was positive that they had a shot at winning. All he needed was a clear opportunity.

Kommo-o’s victory. Weavile’s win. Match to Toxapex. Porygon-Z. Porygon-Z again. Vikavolt. Silvally.

And then Moon sent out her Decidueye.

The two Pokemon clashed, claws ripping, dropping feathers, shrieking and whistling at each other. Silvally was physically stronger, but Decidueye was faster, and had the advantage of flight.

There! Decidueye landed and drew an arrow. Instantly, Gladion whistled. Silvally leapt into action, racing around the stadium, never letting Decidueye get a clear shot. But Decidueye was used to his movement pattern, and in a heartbeat, it fired.

Moon’s eyes widened. “Wait, Deci! It’s a Sub—“

Too late. Silvally pivoted as the Substitute collapsed, slamming into Decidueye with another Multi-Attack. Decidueye screeched in pain as one of his wings flamed, and he crumpled to the ground.

"That's it, Silva! Keep going!" Gladion yelled.

Silvally opened its mouth, readying a Crunch, but at Moon's cries, Decidueye opened his eyes and rolled to dodge. Silvally spun round---

And stumbled across the leaf vines Decidueye had stretched out under him.

"Sucker Punch!"

It was over. Silvally had fainted, and Moon was hugging Decidueye, cheering and laughing. Gladion walked over to his partner and lay a hand on his head. Silvally stirred, moaning slightly.

"You did your best, buddy. Rest now," he said gently, recalling him.

It was so close. They had been so close. For a short-lived moment, he really thought that they had won. The end had arrived in such a rush, leaving him with a slightly stunned numbness. But Decidueye's improvisation using the vines of his hood... Gladion shook his head in wonder.

"That was..."

"Amazing work there!" Moon said excitedly. "You and Silva must have worked really hard. I didn't know you'd taught him Substitute, and to be able to make one and switch it in without us noticing.... Genius!"

"We were still no match for you and Deci," Gladion said wryly. The tension he had felt had disappeared when the battle ended, and disappointment was beginning to sink in.

"That's 'cause Deci's always improving too, aren't you, boy?" She ruffled the leaves on his head, and he trilled at her. She grinned and turned back to Gladion. "But you two were still absolutely awesome. You've become so strong!"

Gazing at the sincere smile on her upturned face, Gladion felt his heart swell with warmth, and the slight bitterness that had engulfed it trickled away.

"You two, as well. That move with his vines, it was brilliant. Well done, Deci," he said, patting the ghost owl child.

Each time he lost to Moon, it was difficult to remain despaired, because she was always so gracious. Always praising him honestly for his efforts, and for everything he did that she found remarkable.

She really is the perfect Champion, he thought, his lips curving into a smile as he watched her recall Decidueye.

"I'm proud of you, Moon," he said.

Moon tilted her head to one side. "What's up, all of a sudden?" she teased. "No matter how you flatter me, I'm not gonna let you try my throne."

"Oh, for---! I've told you before, I'm not interested in sitting on cold, hard stone!"

"You're just jealous that I have a cool throne and all you got is a lame office chair."

"You don't like my chair?"

"Nope."

"I'll remember that the next time I catch you spinning in it."

Moon opened her mouth to retaliate, realised she had no good comeback, and pouted. Gladion smirked, and she punched him in the arm, laughing.

"I'm proud of you too, Glad." She reached over and embraced him. "Thanks for the great battle!" Gladion returned the hug, pressing his cheek against hers, enjoying the sweet, familiar scent of lavender wafting from her hair.

There goes the plan, though. Time to think of something else, I guess.

"Oh, wait," Moon drew back and gazed at him. "So... since I won, do I get to ask you a question then?"

"Uh--- what?" Gladion blinked. "I... suppose?"

Moon grinned. Before he could move, she plunged her hand into his right pocket and drew out the ring case he had secreted there. Gladion's eyes widened, and his jaw dropped.

"Wha…!! I... You... H-How did you know!?” he exclaimed. Moon grinned sheepishly.

"I was in your office last Monday... While you were at the meeting with Wicke, remember? I was playing with Silvally and he knocked over your bag. This spilled out, and he wanted to play fetch with it. And... I opened it. Out of curiosity," she admitted.

"You've known since then? And you didn't say a word?"

"Weeeeelll... I wanted to see how you'd ask." Moon giggled. "That's why, just now, I kind of guessed, when you said you had something to ask me."

"So much for a big surprise," Gladion muttered with a sigh.

"Hey, I really appreciate the effort. I mean, a guy who comes up with a completely new and effective strategy for a battle, and trains hard with it, just to propose? That's the most romantic thing I've ever seen." She snickered as he groaned, burying his face in his hands.

"Just kill me now," he grumbled.

"I'll take you up on that offer one night." Moon waggled her eyebrows at him, chuckling when his face reddened. "But for now..."

She opened the ring case. "We're getting married, right?"

Gladion lifted the ring from its silken nest and slipped it onto her finger. "The answer is yes."

Moon beamed, her eyes shining with love and happiness. He could feel the ridiculously big smile on his own face, threatening to split it. As he pulled her closer, he leaned over to whisper in her ear.

"Just so you know, I'm still going to take the title from you one day."

Moon laughed, and kissed him.