Or I could say empty chairs, unread letters, and
presents that remain unopened in one's hands.
"You don't understand, do you?" Green whispers. "It's always been you."
But it doesn't matter in the end.
Ten years later, Green retires from the gym and moves back to Pallet Town. They're opening a lighthouse there and they need someone to run it. They're looking for someone intelligent, reliable, adaptable—someone who is used to being alone. Luckily, Green has all these qualities, and when he applies for the position he's accepted almost immediately.
His goodbye party is loud and merry, but over and over he finds himself in one of the corners of the gym, offering tissues and cracking jokes until one of his trainers gives him a tearful smile. "It's not so bad," he says. "You guys are going to be great."
When he hands the gym keys over to Silver the next day, the crowded gym is full of expectant silence. Lance looks on approvingly, cutting an impressive figure as the two gym leaders—one former, one future—sign the official League documentation. The press is everywhere, and Silver's mouth is pressed into a thin, nervous line until Green slaps him hard on the back and winks at him.
"Don't worry about it," Green laughs later, when Silver is drunk and leaning on his shoulder, trying to apologize. "It's always been your gym, really. I was just keeping an eye on it for a while."
Green isn't upset when he loses things because he realized long ago that he's never owned anything in the first place.
Eevee's eyes are bright and curious over Green's shoulder as he adjusts the weight of the box in his hands. He's whistling a tune that carries over the sound of the surf far below as he carries box after box up the winding dirt path, up the looming hill to the gleaming white tower that stands on the edge of the cliff. The top of the lighthouse is crowned with glass and a narrow balcony, the railing newly painted black.
Pallet is still at heart a sleepy fisherman's town, with its harbor lined in small handcrafted boats in a bright array of colors. But the nearby ocean, once guarded by generations of wizened sailors, is now crowded with the boats of outsiders: rival researchers who have finally realized why Oak placed his lab here and commercial fishers who want to capitalize on the bounty of the unspoiled seashore. The increased traffic to the area has brought a welcome boost to the economy, but it also means that—for the sake of those navigators unfamiliar with Pallet Town's rocky coastline—a lighthouse has become a necessity.
Green puts the last box down and fiddles with his new keys for a moment before opening the front door, his fingers clumsy from the new autumn cold. He's greeted by a billow of warm air and the smell of new construction, the sight of new paint and freshly-laid carpeting, and light spilling through the double-paned windows. They told him the place would come fully decorated, but he stops when he sees the furnishings. The simple wooden furniture is exactly like the ones found everywhere else in Pallet town, including the house where he grew up.
"Yeah," Green breathes, moving into the room to rest a hand tentatively on the sofa. "I guess I can get used to this."
He turns to see his pokémon sniffing at the banister. "Eevee, do you remember?" he says, waving her closer. When Green sits down on the couch, she jumps into his lap and offers her chin for a scratch. "It's similar to Gramps's lab, isn't it?" he says, obliging her. "I wonder if he designed this place."
Eevee gives the room a cursory glance but shows no signs of recognition; she's much more interested in Green's hands. Green sighs, tilting his head back to rest on the pillows. "Nah," he says, "Gramps would never do something like that."
He stays up for the entirety of the first night, sitting beside the ampharos as her tail blinks, blinks, blinks. Her name is Lucy, and she's Amphy's youngest daughter, a present from Olivine Town.
Lucy is a patient, stolid pokémon. Her expression says that Green's presence in the beacon room is acceptable, but not necessary. Green stays anyway; they're going to be working together for a long time, he tells her, so they should get to know each other. She bows her head in acquiescence, but she still turns away.
Eevee befriends Lucy more quickly than Green does, but Eevee's not as young as she used to be, and she falls asleep curled against the ampharos's side. Lucy carries her to Green, deposits her gently in Green's arms, and retreats to her dais. The room falls into silence.
Green stares at his reflection in the polished windowpanes, brightening and dimming with the flickering light. He thinks about the past ten years, the people he knew back in Viridian, the small things he's accomplished, the challengers he's beaten and lost to. He feels a little nostalgic, but he can't say he misses any of it.
After a while, he steps out onto the small balcony that surrounds the glass room. The wind is strong here, and it brings him the rich smell of the sea as he listens to the easy rhythm of the waves. He leans against the railing, feeling silhouetted by the warm light behind him, and stares at the stars and the weak ripples of silver that mark where the ocean is.
"I'm home," he whispers to himself. It sounds as foreign as it always has.
There's someone in town who he doesn't know, a girl who moved in after he left for his journey. She drops by twice a week: once to ask him what he needs and once to drop off the supplies he's asked for. He invites her in for tea but she never stays long—everyone in the town loves her and she does her best to divide her time evenly.
"Daisy told me to ask you if you wanted to come over this Saturday," she says. Then she frowns. "Why don't you come into town more often?"
"Pallet only needs one social butterfly, Leaf," he says, ducking when she swats at him.
She fills him in on the town's goings-on, but there's never enough to warrant pouring her a second cup of tea.
"Everyone talks about you, you know," she tells him as he sees her out. "I still see your face in the newspapers sometimes. You're one of the most eligible bachelors in Kanto."
"You interested?" Green says, raising a self-conscious eyebrow, and she laughs at him.
"They'll forget about me soon enough," he says with a shrug. And eventually, they do. But Leaf never does.
The only other person who spends time with him is one of Professor Elm's aides, staying with Professor Oak for an internship through the slow months of the autumn and winter. When she hears that Oak’s famous grandson is living just outside the city limits she immediately pays him a visit.
"I'm Kris," she says when he opens the door, extending a hand. Her handshake is firm and cool; her eyes are a deep blue, like the ocean in the afternoon, and he finds that he likes her almost immediately. She comes over a few times a week, a thick folder always underneath one arm. She splays out her research across the floor and works, the tip of one pen in her mouth and a second pen stuck behind her ear. Green cooks dinner and they discuss her doctoral thesis, her aborted pokémon journey, his time as a gym leader, the tiny insignificant moments in their lives that don't seem to matter until they look back and realize what they've lost.
"I don't know why I gave up," she whispers into the candle-lit dark, the glass of wine warming in her cupped palms. "Professor Elm says I could have gotten all the way to the Elite Four, maybe even become Champion. But now I'll never know."
Green sits beside her on the couch, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. He turns to look back at her. "Let me tell you," he says quietly. "You didn't miss much."
Kris searches his face. "Do you really mean that?"
"You're doing something you love. What's better than that?"
Kris's hand finds his; their fingers tangle together. "What about you?" she says. "Is this what you really want?"
No, Green wants to say. I've never known what I want. Then, No. There's nothing worth wanting.
"Yes," he says.
Professor Oak visits only once.
Green steps back from the door and moves towards the kitchen. "Make yourself at home," he says. "Do you want anything to drink?"
Despite his words, he doesn't offer to take his grandfather's jacket or scarf. His grandfather is forced to wait, his shoes sinking into the rug, until Green comes back with two glasses of water. Professor Oak doesn't seem to notice, though. He takes the glass absent-mindedly, his eyes roving around the walls and windows. Green stands beside him and takes a long sip of water, waiting until Professor Oak's eyes return to him.
"Hi," he says.
His grandfather looks taken aback, and then cracks a smile. "It's good to have you home," Oak says, and Green can hear how the words tread that fine line between truth and lies. Green's smile turns brittle.
"It's good to be back," Green says, bending to set his glass down on the table. "How's the lab?"
"Fine," Oak murmurs, staring at the ocean outside the window. "How are...things? Are you settling in well?"
"Well, it's not the gym," Green says carefully, watching Oak turn at the last word, "but it'll do."
His grandfather looks at him, his question unasked but obvious. Green's smile disappears.
"I wanted to do this," Green says softly. "And if you don't like it, you can fuck off."
Hurt flashes across Professor Oak's face. "I didn't—there's nothing wrong with being here, Green," he says, and the sincerity in his voice makes Green pause.
"You should come visit the lab," his grandfather presses in the sudden silence. "Kris has brought some fascinating new pokémon from Johto, you might—"
Green shakes his head. "Gramps," he murmurs, "I stopped playing this game a long time ago. It's about time you did, too."
Professor Oak shakes his head as Green takes the glass from his hand and escorts him to the door. "Green, I—"
"I'm just the kid you didn't want," Green whispers. "And you know what? I forgive you. But that doesn't mean we're friends."
Green leans against the closed door, holding his breath until he hears his grandfather's shuffling step retreating down the hill.
"Sometimes I think you stay over just to see Lucy," Green says. Once again he has woken up to find Kris already bringing Lucy breakfast.
Kris turns to him with a smile, arms around Lucy's neck. "I like her," she says. "She's a Johto girl, like me. Isn't that right?" she says, cuddling the ampharos, who gives a little burble of contentment.
Green picks a dirty plate up off the floor and hands Kris a brush. She takes it with a smile and begins to comb the sparks off of Lucy's rubbery hide. "Silver's from Johto too, isn't he?" Green asks. "Do you know him?"
The brush slips from her hand, but she manages to grab it before it clatters to the floor. "—You know Silver?"
"Yeah," Green says, eyebrow raised. "He runs my old gym now."
"He—" Kris blinks. "I used to know him when we were kids—that's how I met Professor Elm." Kris gets to her feet. She's looking at Green, but her mind is obviously somewhere else. "Where did you say he was?"
"Viridian City Gym," Green says, not sure if he's amused or dismayed by the sudden intensity of her expression. "But he's probably not awake yet."
"Perfect," Kris mutters under her breath. She bids him a quick goodbye and clatters down the steps.
Lucy gives him a bemused look. Green sighs and follows Kris downstairs, the empty plate in his hands.
He keeps the schedule he had when he was a gym leader except for a few necessary modifications.
He wakes up before dawn, takes care of Lucy after her long night of hard work, and then lures Eevee awake with bits of breakfast. After they're both dressed and fed and ready for the day, Green pulls on his old bomber jacket and they make their way down the slender trail cut into the cliff and onto the beach.
At dawn, everything is colored in shades of gray. There's never anyone else on this part of the shore: everyone sticks to the beaches closer to town, where it's safer. The lighthouse shore is studded with jagged, volcanic rock and the waves break too hard for anyone to swim here.
Pallet is a southern town, but even at the height of summer the ocean is so cold that it cuts right to the bone. In the winter, the water is brutal. It took Green years as a child to work up resistance, and now he spends months regaining what he's lost. He takes off his shoes, rolls up his pant legs despite the winter wind, and wades into the surf. His path traces a weaving line across the beach as he plays casual tag with the waves, in and out.
His other pokémon like to wander far up and down the beach, almost out of earshot. Eevee, his constant and only companion, jumps and splashes beside him, too well-insulated to mind the cold. She paddles out and surfs back in on the waves, her cheerful cry almost drowned out by the roar of the ocean. Green occasionally worries when he loses sight of her amidst the rocks, but eventually he learns to trust her to her own devices.
Sometimes he brings a ball with him, and throws it so Eevee can chase it into the surf; sometimes he brings an extra bit of breakfast, or a book. But usually he just puts his empty hands in his pockets and walks until his calves go numb. Every day he finds that he can go in a little bit deeper, that he stays on the beach a little bit longer.
Winter settles in around Pallet, and outside of their morning walks Green spends most of his time indoors, gazing out the window with one hand stroking Eevee's fur. Both she and Lucy upstairs are dozing, and combined with the muted ever-present sound of the ocean, it feels as if he's the only one awake in the world.
He hasn't really relaxed since he took over the gym ten years ago—maybe even longer than that, maybe not since he was a child. It feels strange. He doesn't know if he enjoys it, but he can't deny that he's grateful for the rest.
He takes a deep breath, slow and weighted with the quiet of the house, and allows himself to do nothing.
He's standing on the high balcony with Kris, with the late-night sky above speckled with winter constellations. She turns to him with the light reflecting in her ocean-blue eyes and he kisses her, and kisses her, and closes his eyes when her mouth opens beneath his.
Green's hands curl around her back to pull her up against him, the kiss deepening until her breaths turn shallow and her fingers tangle in his hair. The heat of her body is a welcome respite from the cold air. His mouth searches out more of it, moving to her jaw, her neck, nipping down to her collarbone, her familiar sweet scent rising from her jacket as he noses beneath it.
"Silver," she breathes, and then her eyes fly open. They both freeze, staring at each other for a moment before Green bursts out laughing.
He pulls away, shaking his head. His hands fall away from her sides and he settles one awkwardly on the railing. "Sorry," Kris murmurs, her deep blush spreading all the way down to her shoulders.
Green shakes his head, reaching out to pull her jacket back into place. "Don't worry about it," he says. "Is that why you haven't come around as much lately?"
Kris nods, head still bowed. The smile fades from his face, and he sighs as he loops an arm around her shoulders and tilts his head to bump hers, lightly. "First girl I've liked in over a year," he says conversationally to the ocean, "And I lose her to Silver."
"There's nothing wrong with Silver," she protests.
"Silver's a great guy," Green says, "But he's not someone I ever expected to compete with." His chuckle fades. "Oh well," he murmurs. "You find rivals everywhere."
Kris leaves a few weeks after that. She stops by the lighthouse to say goodbye, saying she'll be back to finish her research next autumn.
"Have a safe trip," Green says, giving her a hug. "Keep in touch, all right?"
Green watches until she vanishes down the hill, then heads back inside. He feels like he should think something trite now—like how it will be quieter without her, or how much he'll miss her—but nothing comes to mind. He's always known she was going to leave.
Leaf arrives a few days later with two milkshakes in her hands. "Let's go for a walk," she says. Green takes the cup she offers him and escorts her to the dusty nature path that threads along the edge of the cliff. The edges of the trail are starting to blossom with new spring green, and Leaf kicks at stray stones as they walk, her straw tucked between her lips.
"So Kris is gone," Leaf says.
Green looks away, out over the ocean. "Yeah."
She watches him for a moment. "Well, you've still got me," she says, "So don't worry about it."
Leaf fills in the conversation with chatter: the massage techniques she's learning from Daisy, the towns she's visited while running errands for Professor Oak, the terrible jokes she's picked up along the way until Green finds himself chiming in just to minimize the damage. Soon they're swapping stories until his sides hurt from laughing and the milkshakes are gone.
When the trail ends, Leaf stops him before they can turn back. "Gimme your phone," she says.
"Just give it," she says, plucking it off of his belt and punching in her number. As she returns it to him, she says, "You know...if you ever need someone to talk to, I'm always around."
Green's quiet as he takes his phone back from her. His silence lasts so long that she turns away, biting her lip, but Green lifts his head and gives her a small smile. "Hey," he says. "Thanks."
She smiles at him, relieved.
"But if you give away my phone number like my sister did," he says, "I will seriously hurt you."
"I would never—"
She laughs, slipping an arm around his shoulders. "Your secret's safe with me," she says.
A storm has passed during the night. The morning arrives bleaker-looking than usual, the air heavy with the promise of more rain later that day.
Eevee's acting a little different this morning, too. She's walking ahead of him, her fluffy tail lifted up out of the water. Green keeps an eye on her as she pulls further away, but he stops every now and then to pick up the pieces of driftwood scattered on the beach and hurl them back into the surf.
This storm was the first of many, he thinks, as they draw closer to monsoon season. In a few months the lighthouse will be even more important than before, guiding storm-hurled ships away from danger. He might have to spend a few more late nights with Lucy to making sure nothing goes wrong, but overall, nothing will probably change.
Suddenly, Eevee freezes, and Green looks up. Then before he can say anything she breaks into a run—crying, shrieking in a way Green hasn't heard in over ten years, and before he realizes it he's sprinting after her.
As he gains on her, bare feet pounding against the packed sand, he sees a gray shape that he's never seen on the beach before. His pace quickens. The shape comes into focus—it's a pokémon. A pokémon and a person. A lapras, and a man sprawled half across its back, unmoving. Green's breaths come harder as he flies across the beach, passing Eevee, until he sees a tattered red vest and his heart stutters and feels like it stops.
Green finally reaches him, skids on his knees in the sand and rolls him onto his back, pressing his ear to his mouth to listen for breathing. When he feels it, he jerks back to see if it's really true or if he's just hallucinating.
It's true. His cap is gone, his face is thirteen years older and weathered with lines that weren't there before, but he's real.
Green scoops his body up, cold and limp but undeniably alive, and presses him to his chest. He curls over him as Eevee finally catches up—burying his face into Red's neck and breathing in the overwhelming smell of the ocean, taking in great deep gasps until he feels like he's dissolving into it.