"Stop fidgeting, you're making me antsy just by looking at you."
Ash shifts his weight from foot to foot, feeling like he's going to burst from all the pent up energy coursing through him. Pikachu had long abandoned his shoulder in favor of riding around on Silvally's back, and the two of them had run off a while ago—but not too far out of sight.
Gladion stands at his side, patient, amused, and Ash is actually quite relieved the blonde is there with him. He'd shown up in the early morning, figure silhouetted by the sun on the beach, Silvally faithfully at his side. An impromptu visit back to Melemele as a break from intense training had resulted in him being dragged along with Ash's plans for the day—and so, here they are.
Ash scans the water for the 50th time in the past hour and huffs. No sign of anything yet. The marina is surprisingly empty, and the chatter of cityfolk is distant, muted.
His relentless squirming is interrupted when Gladion nudges him with his foot.
"What are you so anxious for? It's not like this is some new person you've never met before."
"I'm not anxious, I'm excited!" Ash stresses, bouncing up and down on his feet. "I haven't seen Clemont in ages. I can't wait to see all the new inventions he's made, and hear about all the awesome Gym battles he's had!"
Gladion shakes his head fondly. "I still can't believe you trekked around the Kalos region with a Gym Leader."
"I've traveled with plenty of Gym Leaders," Ash says with a proud grin. "Misty, Brock, Brock again, Cilan, Clemont of course..."
"I swear," Gladion grumbles. "It's like you have some kind of superpower or something, being able to attract important people to you. And Pokemon. How many Legendaries have you met again?"
"I dunno, sixty? Give or take a few," the other Trainer answers casually. A while back Gladion probably wouldn't have believed that, but now, after seeing Ash encounter Guardian Deities and Ultra Beasts alike, it's not so far-fetched.
"I will never fully understand you, Ash Ketchum," Gladion says, but his voice is full of curious wonder.
“Ohh, Gladion! Look, look!”
Gladion tries to pretend that his heart rate doesn’t speed up when Ash suddenly clings to his arm, pointing to something on the horizon.
A boat drifts closer and closer to shore, only a visible speck amongst the waves, but as it approaches it becomes larger and larger.
A glance to the side confirms that Ash is hopping up and down in excitement, his eyes practically sparkling. He looks like he’s about to explode. Gladion rolls his eyes, but doesn’t comment.
By the time it pulls into the harbor, the black-haired Trainer is bouncing on the balls of his feet. He seems almost anxious with the way his eyes scan over the ship.
Gladion steps into his space and gently bumps his shoulder against the teen’s side.
“It’ll be fine,” is all he says, but Ash immediately relaxes and turns to him with a beaming, beautiful grin. If Gladion blushes up to his ears in response Ash thankfully doesn’t notice, or chooses not to mention it. (It’s probably the former. Ash may be brilliant when it comes to battles and reading his Pokemon, but he’s not so great at reading people. It’s okay, though. Gladion is patient. And also too much of a coward to admit his feelings, though he’d never consciously address that flaw.)
The ramp of the boat is lowered, and the captain announces their arrival in Hau’oli City. People start to come off the ramp in small droves. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of traffic, thankfully; most of the passengers are probably just commuting from the other islands. Gladion decides to watch Ash instead of the people on the boat, knowing that the Trainer’s reaction will clue him into which person among the group is Clemont.
It isn’t long before Ash’s impatient face lights up in a brilliant smile.
“Clemont!” He cries out happily.
Coming down the ramp is a boy around their age with round glasses, donning a blue sweater rolled up to his elbows and khakis. He has fair skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes, a defining Kalos trait. He totes a small suitcase behind him, as well as a messenger bag slung over his shoulder. Upon seeing Ash, though, he drops his case and beams.
He doesn’t even get to finish his sentence before he’s tackled by an over-excited teenager, who whoops in joy. Gladion watches them, amused, as Ash throws his arms around Clemont’s waist in a bear hug and hoists him up, spinning him around in circles. Clemont bursts into startled yet pleased laughter, his cheeks pink.
“It’s so good to see you!” Ash gushes, finally setting him down. Clemont adjusts his glasses and smiles.
“It’s good to see you too,” he responds, and then fans himself a bit. “Whew. I knew Alola was hot, but I didn’t think it would be so humid...”
“Hoenn was like that too when I went,” Ash informs him with a grin.
“Well, then, you’re already used to it!” Clemont huffs, but his expression is playful. His gaze shifts over to Gladion, and he jumps a bit once they make eye contact.
“Oh! Um—is this one of your friends, Ash?”
“Yeah!” Ash races over to Gladion and tugs on his arm, bringing him closer to the other blonde. “Clemont, this is Gladion! He’s a really amazing Trainer and a super great friend of mine.” At the praise, Gladion feels his cheeks warming a little. Clemont seems to notice—but he only smiles, as if he knows exactly what the taller boy is thinking.
“And Gladion, this is Clemont. Like I’ve already told you, he’s one of my closest friends, and he’s the Gym Leader of Lumiose City!”
“It’s nice to meet you!” Clemont offers a hand and Gladion reaches out to shake it, blinking when he realizes the teen’s nose is covered in barely visible freckles. Huh. That’s kinda cute, actually.
Ash is on Clemont in seconds, his eyes wide with anticipation. “Clemont, listen! I want you to tell me all about the inventions you’ve made since I left Kalos—”
“Oh!” Clemont squeaks, apparently embarrassed. “Um, sure! I actually brought something with me that I can show you...”
The sparkles in his eyes betray his excitement more than anything else, and Gladion thinks that it’s the reaction to someone who’s hung the moon.
“Yes,” Clemont appears shy, but earnest. The dark-clad teen is starting to see why Ash likes him so much. “I promise this one won’t blow up, it’s already a fifth version of the prototype, so...”
“Science is so amazing!” Ash crows, and Clemont’s expression softens so much Gladion can practically see him melting. It seems this phrase is something the two of them shared often back in Kalos.
“We should head to the cafe first,” he speaks up. Clemont’s eyes shoot back over to him again, and with both of their attention on him, his stomach feels warm and fluttery. “Mallow and the others are waiting, remember?”
“Gladion!” The dark-haired boy whines. “Come on, that was supposed to be a surprise...!”
“Oh,” he blinks, and then looks a bit sheepish. “Uh, sorry. Guess I didn’t get the memo.”
"I doubt Ash would have been able to keep it a secret for long anyway," the bespectacled blonde says with a grin, and Gladion has to hold back a bark of laughter at the indignant "Hey!" that leaps out of Ash's mouth.
That's right, these two had traveled together for nearly a year, hadn't they? Clemont knows Ash as well as Gladion does—no, probably even better. And Clemont’s certainly spent way more time by his side. The blonde would normally feel a bit jealous at the fact (and bitter) but really, it’s his own fault he doesn’t spend as much time with Ash as he wants to. He did choose to go off training on the other islands, while Ash remains here at the Pokemon school.
The green-eyed boy can’t help but be curious as to what sorts of adventures the two of them had together back in Kalos. Knowing that Ash was involved certainly spells for lots of interesting and dangerous tales—he’s like a magnet for that sort of thing, unfortunate as it is.
Clemont looks around curiously, his eyebrows drawing together. “Hey Ash, where’s Pikachu? I was sure he’d be with you...”
Ash sets his sights towards the city, an adorable pout on his face. Gladion catches Clemont’s eye and both of them grin knowingly.
“He went off with Silvally a little while ag—oh! There they are! Hey, you two! Come back over, Clemont’s here!”
A happy cry of exclamation sounds off in the distance and before long there’s a small electric mouse charging towards them, cheeks sparking in excitement.
Clemont beams. “Pikachu, hey!”
“Chupika!” Pikachu races up to the teen before springing in the air to climb up his arm and sit on his shoulder, joyfully rubbing his cheek against the blonde’s.
Clemont’s laughter fills the air, soft and all sorts of wonderful, and Ash looks like he’s going to burst from sheer delight. Gladion can’t seem to keep the smile off his face, either. Their happy energy is really contagious.
“It’s good to see you too—aha!” Clemont giggles, grinning wide. “Oh, that reminds me! I should let Luxray out to see you.”
“You brought Luxray?! That’s great!” Ash exclaims, his eyes glimmering.
“I wanted to take the others, too, but Bonnie insisted I let Chespin and Bunnelby stay with her,” Clemont explains while he withdraws a Pokeball from his pocket. “She’s practicing taking care of them on her own, along with Dedenne. I figured it would be a good opportunity for her, anyway.”
“Oh, that’s right! How is Bonnie doing?”
“She was upset she couldn’t come with me this time, but I told her I’d be sure to call her as soon as I could. And that I’d let her talk to you, too,” Clemont says with a smile.
After releasing Luxray, who swats Ash playfully with his tail and has a merry reunion with Pikachu, Clemont finally seems to notice Silvally. The artificial Pokemon is sitting faithfully at Gladion’s side, enjoying a light scratch under it’s chin.
“Oh, wow,” the blonde gasps. “I’ve never seen a Pokemon like that before.”
“Silvally is one of a kind! Right, Gladion?”
“Yeah,” Gladion says, feeling a bit apprehensive.
He’s sure that Clemont is trustworthy and has no bad intentions, but Silvally is as rare as they come, and has been taken advantage of one too many times to boot. He’s a bit protective of his partner, considering all they’ve been through together. But still...if Ash trusts Clemont, then Gladion can, too. Because if there’s anyone he trusts above all else, it’s Ash. Surely his judgement can’t be that poor.
“Actually, Silvally is...an experiment. An amalgamation of many different types of Pokemon,” he murmurs, gently petting the fur on the creature’s head. “I rescued it four years ago. It’s been my partner ever since.”
“Incredible,” Clemont breathes. “I’ve never seen anything like this...what a brilliant scientific achievement! But oh, I’m sure going through all that must have been difficult for you...”
Unsure how to feel about Clemont’s compliments, Gladion simply shrugs. “It turned out fine in the end, I guess. I won’t let anyone hurt it anymore.”
“You two sure are amazing!” Ash pipes up, his smile wide. Pikachu is sitting on his shoulder now, his rightful place.
Gladion scratches the back of his neck and looks away, his face warm. If his affection for Ash wasn't obvious to Clemont before now, it's practically like a neon sign at this point.
Thankfully the other blonde chooses not to comment—instead he crouches down a bit to be level with Silvally, watching it carefully.
Gladion almost startles. "Oh. Sure."
The teen brightens before moving in, gently running his hands over Silvally's fur. The chimera Pokemon wags its tail.
“Look at you,” Clemont marvels, his eyes wide with fascination. “Astounding! A creature made up of different Pokemon entirely. But completely unique in its own way...the science behind this must be groundbreaking. I’d love to study you more thoroughly sometime!”
“Uh,” Gladion mumbles, feeling somewhat uncomfortable.
Clemont backs away immediately, shaking his head. “Oh, please don’t get me wrong! I’d never endorse in any painful or dangerous sort of scientific study. I’m merely interested in what sorts of things it’s capable of, that’s all. The Pokemon should always, always come first! And I wouldn’t do it without your consent, of course.”
“You’ve always been a big ol’ nerd when it comes to this sort of stuff,” Ash chuckles, gently elbowing Clemont’s side.
The blonde pushes his glasses up his nose, laughing nervously. “Yes, well. Learning all I can will help me improve as both a trainer and an inventor, you know?”
Gladion relaxes at this, and Silvally nudges Clemont’s hand with its snout. Clemont blinks before a soft smile blooms across his face, and he scratches behind the silver Pokemon’s ears. Silvally purrs long and low.
Guess he’s already gained your approval, the taller teen thinks fondly, almost tempted to roll his eyes at how easily his partner Pokemon is warming up to the new member of their group. (But really, Gladion doesn’t blame it. Clemont is pretty cute, after all.)
“Well, I guess we’re all good with introductions—oh, wait! Gladion, you should properly say hi to Luxray,” Ash insists, herding the large blue Pokemon over to where he’s standing.
It’s as nearly as large as Silvally, and by taking one look at its sleek fur and defined muscles Gladion knows that it’s extremely well-trained. Glowing yellow eyes bore into his and he can feel the power emanating from them. If this Pokemon were his enemy Gladion would definitely feel intimidated—it’s no wonder Clemont’s a Gym Leader, if Gladion can assume the strength of his partner with just a glance.
Luxray seems to study him for a moment, almost scrutinizing, and then it leans forward to touch its snout to his cheek. A crooked smile lifts up the corner of his lips and Luxray huffs, amused, before drawing back. Sharp golden eyes flicker between him and Ash for a moment, and its tail lashes. Oh. Oh?
Did it really pick up on his affections for Ash that easily?
Before Gladion can get embarrassed about how translucent he is concerning his crush, Luxray pads back over to Clemont’s side.
“I guess this means we’re good to go?” Clemont asks as he picks up his discarded suitcase.
Gladion walks over to join them, Silvally on his heels. “Yeah. The others are waiting.”
“Let’s go, then!” Ash chirps, tugging them both along. Their Pokemon follow faithfully. “Aww man, Clemont, just wait til you meet everybody! They’re all awesome! Lillie and Mallow, and Lana and Kiawe, and Sophocles too! I’m sure you’ll get along great!”
“They all sound wonderful,” Clemont agrees.
“I’m getting pumped up!” Ash squeals, doing a little hop into the air as they walk.
Gladion and Clemont chuckle at the same time, and, upon realizing, shoot each other amused glances. They’ve both been around Ash long enough to understand and appreciate his personality, as eccentric as it is.
Pikachu runs in circles around them, while Silvally and Luxray stroll side by side, seemingly conversing with each other. Ash is humming a soft tune under his breath while the sky stretches beyond them, a balmy Alolan breeze ruffling their hair. It’s a gorgeous day and definitely a good one for doing touristy stuff, Gladion notes with another glance in Clemont’s direction.
The bespectacled teen is watching Ash with a fond expression, his features softened by affection. Ocean blue eyes seem to dance between the dark-haired boy and the surrounding area, lingering on the names of shops and signs at the street corners before flickering back to Ash again. It’s kinda cute how he’s trying to keep his attention on everything all at once, Ash especially. Occasionally his nose will scrunch up as he thinks, freckles all bunching together, his eyes crinkling at the corners. Gladion isn’t sure what word he’d have for it, but at the very least it’s endearing.
Clemont’s eyes flit to Gladion next, who immediately clears his throat and looks away, embarrassed at being caught staring. What’s gotten into him, anyway? Maybe it’s the heat that has his head all muddled.
Ash turns around to face them and starts walking backwards, his hands behind his head.
“You two sure are pretty quiet back there. What’re you thinking about?”
They trade looks again, and Gladion swallows. How can he admit he was practically sizing Clemont up?
“Battle strategies,” he says before his mind can process. Well. That’s better than nothing.
Of course, Ash’s eyes gain that competitive little spark in response.
“Ooh, sweet! Got anything in mind? Are you focusing on Silvally or were you thinking about somethin’ for Lycanroc and Umbreon?”
“Uh,” Gladion falters under the storm of questions, nearly stumbling on the road.
Clemont tilts his head, curious. “Oh, you have a Lycanroc and Umbreon as well?”
That’s something he can latch onto. “Y-yeah. Umbreon in particular has been with me since I was a kid. It used to be an Eevee until I evolved it.”
“Umbreon’s really strong, just like the rest of Gladion’s Pokemon!” Ash beams. “Our battles are always so exciting! Back when we first met he did some super amazing things that really impressed me and Rockruff.”
Gladion hides a smile at this, his heart warm. “It was going pretty well until Team Rocket interrupted.”
“Team Rocket followed you all the way here, Ash?!” Clemont gasps, the grip around his suitcase’s handle tightening.
“Yeah, and they’ve been a real pain, as always,” Ash grumbles.
“Wait, hold on,” Gladion interrupts, somewhat confused. “Team Rocket bothered you guys back in Kalos, too?”
The deadpan expressions Ash and Clemont give him would be absolutely hilarious if the truth behind it weren’t so shocking.
“Team Rocket has followed me around for a long...long, long time.” This is the first time Gladion has ever heard Ash’s voice sound so dry and irritated. The pout on his face looks really kissable right about now and—no, bad Gladion. “They’re always trying to catch Pikachu. They did that lots back in Kalos, too.”
Clemont’s look of distaste is adorable. “They really haven’t changed, huh...for some reason, I’m not surprised.”
Ash shakes his head, huffing. “Let’s not talk about those guys right now! I wanna talk more about our battles. Yours too, Clemont!”
Immediately, Clemont’s eyes light up, a beautiful sapphire blue. “We definitely had a lot of fun ones together, yes!”
“Believe it or not, Clemont’s got a huge passion for battling just like we do,” Ash chirps. “You should have seen our Gym battle, Gladion! It was amazing.”
“It certainly was very thrilling,” Clemont recalls, his expression wistful and soft. “Probably the best battle I’ve had to date, I think.”
“Wait, for real?! Aw, man! I’ve had so many awesome battles over the time I’ve been a Trainer—but yeah, the one with you is definitely up there on my favorites list!”
Clemont’s cheeks are the color of peaches. “R-really? I’m glad to hear that...”
“Well, duh,” Ash says as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “Like I said, it was amazing. And so inspiring!”
The other teen bites down on his lip and bashfully looks away, his smile bright and his face flushed with pride. His expression is so familiar that Gladion nearly stumbles again, surprised and yet not at all. He’s seen that look one too many times before—and that’s because he’s usually the one making it.
Of course. Of course Clemont l—
His train of thought is abruptly cut off when Pikachu calls from up ahead. Ash spins on his heel, calling out a “What’s up, buddy?” before racing off to catch up with his little companion, leaving Clemont and Gladion trailing behind.
The air grows quiet—not quite awkward, but not super comfortable either. They’re still pretty much strangers, after all, drawn together by Ash’s weird yet attractive magnetic pull. Still, despite Gladion’s usual hesitance at opening up to new people, he doesn’t mind sharing things about himself with Clemont. He wants to know more about the other Trainer, too—especially what being a Gym Leader is like. Clemont probably has a unique taste for battles that neither he nor Ash have, due to his experience.
However, Gladion isn’t really sure how to bring this up. He’s never been good at initiating conversation—Ash is usually the one to take charge in that department, which the blonde happily lets him do. He likes listening to Ash talk, the boy always bright and energetic with so many interesting things to say.
Before Gladion can mumble out an awkward sentence starter, Clemont thankfully beats him to it.
“How...has Ash been?”
The question is so out of the blue that Gladion has to roll it over in his head a couple times before it finally clicks.
“How has he—”
“I mean,” Clemont squeaks, looking shy. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen him. We’ve kept in touch through emails and the occasional phone call, but...”
He gazes at the pavement, thoughtful.
“It really has been a long time...I just want to know if he’s been doing well. He has a knack for getting into trouble, and sometimes he’s really headstrong...so I’m sure he’s been through a lot here in Alola.”
Clemont’s concern is touching, so much so that it’s slightly flustering. Though Gladion can’t blame him—he worries about Ash, too, all the time when he’s not around him. Hell, he even worries about Ash when he’s with him. Ash just has the tendency to draw in all types of attention, good and bad. He takes it all in stride, though, and that’s one of the reasons why Gladion admires him so much.
“The amount of crazy situations he’s gotten us into is ridiculous,” the green-eyed boy finally answers. “And he attracts danger like a magnet. He’s stubborn and reckless and honestly a total doofus sometimes.” Clemont laughs at this, seemingly in agreement. “But, well—you traveled with him, so you know him pretty well. He’s faced everything head on and never backs down, even if it seems impossible. Ash is just...like that.”
Clemont looks utterly relieved, his eyes gaining that soft hue again.
“That’s good...” He breathes. “I know I shouldn’t worry, but I do anyway. When Ash told me he was leaving to go to Alola, I was honestly really scared for him...but it’s great to know he’s doing well here.” He tilts his chin downward and shoots Gladion a timid smile. “If he’s got a friend like you looking out for him, I’m sure he’ll be just fine.”
The blonde honestly doesn’t know how to respond to that, his mouth gaping uselessly. The honest compliment has butterflies erupting in his stomach as warmth overtakes his entire face.
Clemont’s attention is back on Ash again, who is chasing Pikachu around in the distance. Luxray tromps around with them, and Silvally is watching with a wagging tail.
“I’ve...really missed him,” Clemont admits, his face pink.
Gladion isn't stupid—he's more perceptive than most people, and he knows better than anyone what it's like to have a crush on Ash Ketchum. Despite that, though, he doesn't feel any animosity or jealousy towards Clemont, at all—which is strange, considering his emotions don't tend to be the kindest. He's a little bit (okay, a lot a bit) overprotective of Ash, and he thought upon realizing that Clemont has eyes for him too that it would immediately become a competition for Ash's affection. But it's not, not at all. It's almost like they've come to an...understanding? A silent, mutual understanding, a respectful nod to each other in passing. Clemont doesn't seem like the type to fight somebody for Ash, at least, not in the way Gladion would, and Gladion surprisingly respects him too much to put up a lot of fuss about it.
It's kind of nice, actually. Having someone who so acutely knows what he's going through. The endless struggle, the occasional frustration that comes with liking Ash. Again, that boy is as dense as a brick, and if he manages to realize either of their affections before they confess first, Gladion will be both proud and shocked.
“You two are really close, huh?” He asks, shoving his hands into his pockets.
The boy with the glasses nods. “He was my first real friend. And...my best friend.”
Gladion’s breath hitches in his chest, his emerald eyes wide.
Clemont stops, concerned. “Gladion? Are you alright?”
Gladion blinks once, twice. “I—”
He shakes his head, blushing.
“Me too,” he admits, his heart feeling like it’s going to leap up out of his throat and into the sky. “It’s...the same for me.” The realization that Ash is his first friend and his best friend as well makes him almost dizzy, but elated too. Like a weight has lifted off of him, somehow. It’s weird that he noticed his infatuation before his actual friendship status with the other boy, but stranger things have happened, he thinks.
Yeah...Ash really is his best friend, isn’t he? And Clemont’s too. It’s almost fitting.
Despite the fact that both of them are sweet for Ash, Clemont seems to disregard this completely, his smile brilliant and freckly. Oh no. That’s cute, that’s—
“Guess we’ve both got something in common, huh? Haha!”
Welp. Guess Gladion’s a goner. For both of them. Shit.
“Hey, you two! Hurry up! The cafe’s right around the corner!”
Ash’s playful shout interrupts their intimate moment, and both of them immediately snap to, sharing a delighted glance that seems to become more and more common with their acquaintance.
Gladion has a feeling he’ll be sharing these kinds of looks with Clemont way more often. Something special, just between the two of them—their little secret.